Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Who were they talking to?

The Christchurch Catholic Cathedral is to be rebuilt over the next ten years for 45 million dollars? Wow! They are not the only denomination to spend mega bucks on replacing earthquake damaged buildings with "same old" church buildings.  The Presbyterian parish I worship at in Dunedin, has two buildings. One an historical old church, the other a quaint little timber building. On a good Sunday just over twenty people attend Church. Millions are being spent restoring the big old historical Church.  ---Who did they consult? Did they consult Jesus? 

Must be a different bloke than I know. Maybe I am wrong, but it does not sit comfortably with me. I suspect he could think of a better use for the dollars.

Thursday, May 28, 2015


I "worked" away from home for about eight hours today. My first appointment was meeting with a possible intern for the Night Shelter at the university with a couple of other Night Shelter people. I went on to spend time at St John Ambulance, the brewery, fire stations and the Night Shelter. At each place I experienced conversation, friendship, and warmth.  As I drove home I began to think "that was a long day for a retired guy." But as I looked back on the day I felt privileged. At the fire stations I had two sorts of conversations.  I had long conversations with some firefighters I had known for 21 years. There was quiet familiarity, old stories and an openness between us. For example one of the conversations the man talked about his daughter's choice of secondary school. When she was a much welcomed newborn baby I conducted a naming ceremony for her celebrating her birth with their family and friends.  Secondly I enjoyed acceptance and growing inclusiveness by young fire fighters.  I had wondered if the new younger firefighters would accept this parson wandering around.  But I am growing more and more confident of their acceptance. They greet me with warmth and friendship. I am relieved. At St John and the brewery there were similar links and conversations. As I came home, lit the fire and started thinking about the evening meal, I felt tired but deeply, deeply privileged.  I am a very fortunate man. In the journey of life there is something sacred about conversations among friends. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Photos of an easy day.

The hills around our valley today. It was extremely cold taking this photo.
Last night a storm hit Dunedin. There was sleet, driving rain and snow. There were high howling winds, lightening and thunder. Today it has been icy cold with I am sure a very low wind chill factor. We have stoked up the fire and for most of the day stayed indoors. We were invited out for afternoon tea. A friend at Church has a yacht that he designed, did the drawings for, project managed its build and did some of the work himself. He is a quietly spoken shy man and we have been drawn to him for many reasons. Yesterday at Church he invited us to afternoon tea at his yacht, the Katherine Johnstone. 
I LOVED visiting, was in awe of his skills and the things he told me about it, and his love of boats. He owned his first yacht at age 17. It was such an interesting afternoon. I simply share some photos.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The journey continues...

View of the "Pretty City" Dunedin, from my Mountain top yesterday.
Ex firefighters hosted by current firefighters for a pre-christmas dinner. I was privileged to be invited.
I am enjoying the re-read years after my first read.
Walking with a friend this afternoon. She took this interesting photo of a creek near a reservoir.

Another Funeral
On Monday I took the funeral for a man who died still too young from cancer.  It was the second St John Ambulance related funeral in the last few weeks. I spent an incredible amount of time in preparation for the funeral. It did not go as well as I wanted but nobody else knew that.  I have received so much very positive feedback. I am good at funerals, but I think it is more difficult for me now than it used to be. I think when I was young I tended to confidently present what I thought was a pretty good funeral. It was OK, but each funeral was not tailored as much for each family. I was then, "God's gift to the Church." These days I am much more sensitive and aware of others' needs, so I make it much more difficult for myself.  I am very sensitive to each family's needs and demand of myself a very high standard. Each funeral is a nerve wracking experience for me, but it is so good when you know you have not just been "the minister" but that you have actually ministered. 
Still growing...
I am reading more theology and books about recent biblical interpretation. I have been enjoying an ongoing study of Jesus. I think I a have become an amateur "Jesus Scholar" or theologian.  It is all part of my journey as a follower of Jesus. I love being able to still grow and adventure in my faith journey. I love that my experience of following Jesus has a consistency and for me a sensibleness for me. My theology is a part of my life. It is interesting lately that I have gone back to reading the Theology text book we had in College in the 1970's, "Principles of Christian Theology". I recall that we had to do essays related to a few chapters in the book. My essays were late because I decided that, to understand it best, I had to read the whole book and not just the chapters we had to respond to. I enjoyed the book back then and my copy has so much underlining in it that shows my appreciation of it. He is an existentialist and systematic theologian. Over the years I have dipped into it fairly regularly, and reread bits relating to subjects I have been exploring.  I am enjoying it again, but strangely understanding it better and able to dialogue with it more. I am different than I was when I was in my 20's. I recall being disappointed when he got to the last section of his book, "Applied Theology". I wonder how I will find that section now after 40 odd years applying theology. 
But some don't keep growing...
I need help. I listen to sermons locally on Sundays. I have given up trying to look madly supportive and interested. It took heaps of inner strength not to yell "Bullshit!" last Sunday. These parsons are lazy about preparation and have poor presentations skills. But it has become evident that they are not still growing... they have confused thinking, old fashioned perspectives and disjointed theology. To any young ministers reading this, for God's sake, keep growing, learning and tying life together. Your experiences in life, your reading and your theology must be tied together and current and "burning" in your inner being.... not something from the 1950's.  Keep journeying!  .... I am still perplexed what to do about this local church. Do I stir things up or just quietly move elsewhere?
So fortunate...
I love the variety in my life. I visit a brewery nearly every week. I talk with and sometimes ride with ambulance paramedics. I am part of the culture and family of the Fire station and sometimes ride the fire trucks. I have a friend who trains racing trotters and visit his stables often. I get to climb and walk in the local bush. I enjoy fresh vegetables from my garden. I do DIY stuff and build. I have competed in half marathons and triathlons. I have dabbled in painting pictures... etc... Tomorrow I go to a friend's yacht. I am looking forward to this new adventure. I am so privileged to have this variety of experience in my life.   

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A new flag for New Zealand?

The old 12th Century Biddenden Church 
Tollbooth Tavern ... once a prison.
Part of me does not want to dignify the flag debate with comment. To me it is a red herring floated by our prime minister. I am not a big royalist.  It annoys me the way the media prattle about the royals. I know too that we are an Asian nation, and I am a proud Kiwi. “Home” is here for me, not Great Britain. But I was looking at our flag while posies were being laid at the cemetery on ANZAC day. I saw the Union Jack on the flag not so much as recognising political dependence, or even allegiance, but rather pointing to our heritage.  For me it is a reminder of the type of society we are. In the UK there are reminders all around of the fact that it was there that values like democracy, justice (a fair deal) and freedoms, were hammered out on the forge of history.  A couple of examples are; A stone in a Church in the village in Biddenden in Kent recalls two martyrs who died seeking religious freedoms. A plaque on the Tollbooth Tavern in Cannongate in Edinburgh tells the story of people imprisoned there for wanting freedoms we take for granted.  There are hundreds of such places recalling the path toward a free and fair society. The Union Jack on our flag is a reminder that we in NZ are a product of that history. It says to all we are a country where democracy, justice and freedom are valued.  It speaks of the important ethos and heritage we have received. We need that reminder. Perhaps our leaders want to forget it? In the face of such things as the lack of transparency around TPPA, the increasing difficulties for the poor, the ridiculing name calling of any opposing stance and the arrogance displayed by our political leaders, we need to retain that reminder.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

May we learn from the Musk Ox!

I briefly watched a nature program on TV.  My wife had muted it and left the room, so upon entering the room,  I watched TV for a short while with the sound turned off.  It was set somewhere up near the arctic and showed a herd of, what I have learned since, were Musk Ox. Two white wolves were stalking them. They set their sights on a calf, the most vulnerable beast in the group.  As the herd began to run from the incoming wolves, these wolves singled out the calf, holding it firmly in their jaws, one at the front at one at the rear.  They were dragging it down, and it looked like this poor calf was destined to be "wolf dinner." The running herd stopped and turned around and saw the plight of this vulnerable member of the herd. Briefly they watched the struggle, then as if they were an army given an order, the whole group put their heads down and charged back at the wolves. The wolves confronted by this oncoming angry group let go of their dinner and retreated to a safe distance. The animals surrounded the stunned calf in a circle, all facing outwards glaring at the circling wolves protecting this vulnerable beast.  The wolves, who had split up hoping to have a second chance at the calf, decided to slink off.  

This herd of Musk Ox had stopped and gone back to protect and pick up the most vulnerable member of the group. Once they had done that they continued on with their journey.

Once New Zealand's ethos reflected that sort of value. These days that seems to be gone. The vulnerable sink more and more into hardship and hopelessness. The top end of society carries on oblivious to their struggles. 

Politicians, economists and leaders, please learn from the Musk Ox.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

46th Anniversary trip away.

My son working on one gate we made in our fences.
From left, daughter-in-law, son, my wife and grandson during afternoon "smoko" break. 
One fence completed.
Much more interesting from behind.
The house with timber fences we made on each side. 
Tekapo when we arrived on Monday. 
The weather closed in. 
Snow on the hill tops when we awoke this morning.
Last Friday just after lunch time we headed for Christchurch, nearly five hour's drive away. Our son and daughter-in-law live there and we planned to spend Saturday and Sunday doing some work on the section around their house being built. We booked into a cabin in the local camp ground and by mid morning on Saturday were at work on two fences my son wanted, to make the backyard of the house private and secure for the family.  I enjoyed the next two days working with my son. He is doing an adult building apprenticeship and I have had years of building experience with Habitat for Humanity. We work together well. I have had special times of doing DIY projects with each of my children and with them all we seem to work together well. My wife also enjoys joining in doing various jobs, she too has had lots of Habitat for Humanity experience. 

The Sunday was a special day. Here in New Zealand it was "Mothers' Day" so my wife received messages from our children. - My son in Auckland sent a cake of chocolate with his love, along with a book he had just finished reading. In a note he said that he thought his mum would enjoy it too - but - "I might grab it back off you when you are finished with it."  But Sunday was also special for us because it was also our 46th wedding anniversary.  On Saturday when we were talking about Sunday's work, my son said, "But its Mother's Day and your anniversary and you're going to spend it working around here?" We assured him it was OK. In actual fact where else would we rather be than spending time with and helping family on such a day. We worked well and achieved all we wanted to do. My wife and I rushed back to our cabin, showered and went out for an anniversary dinner. 

We left there on Monday morning, and drove to a beautiful area in the middle of the South Island of New Zealand, Lake Tekapo. The lake there is blue because of minerals washed off the rocks in the surrounding mountains and hillsides. There are also some heated pools there. They are not geothermal heated pools like some in New Zealand, but these are connected with an ice rink on the site. They use lake water for both the rink and the hot pools, but they use the latent heat from the ice making process to heat the hot pools. It is really nice lazing in these hot pools amidst lake and mountain scenery. So we booked into a comfortable motel (expensive for pensioners) and enjoyed the rest of Monday and part of today there, before driving the nearly four hour trip home. 

I went away knowing that my St John Ambulance friend in the hospice may die and that I may have to make a quick trip home to attend to his funeral arrangements. Also while away I received and sent emails and phone calls related to the Night Shelter. (I am chairman of the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust.) It feels like when I have "time out" I can't switch off.  That has been the case for years, but now I am meant to be retired. Maybe there will be a time when I ought to retire from my voluntary positions also so that I can visit family "guilt free."  I woke up in the early hours of this morning at beautiful Tekapo and began dreading the prospect of coming home. Emails had reminded me of responsibilities and challenges I have to attend to in the next few days and they will once again fill up the hours of every day and take me out of my comfort zone.  I love doing building type work. Physically it is challenging but Night Shelter politics and challenges are, for me, anxiety producing and full of things I cannot control.

I love spending time with family. I enjoyed our wedding anniversary weekend. During my career as a minister, family and marriage often came down the list of my priorities. In retirement surely that ought not happen.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

I talked briefly with a dying man.

It is mid autumn here and the trees have nearly lost their colourful leaves.
I took a funeral a couple of weeks ago.  Attending the funeral was a retired workmate of the man who had lost his wife. He had in fact worked with both husband and wife. He was on crutches and had a bandaged face. He has terminal cancer and when I touched base with him he asked if I would take his funeral when the time came.  I said that I hoped it was a way off yet. He later rang me and asked again, and I said I would catch up with him this week. 

I rang his home several times today, and then fearing the worst went to the Ambulance Headquarters and they told me the story. He had been sent to hospital yesterday, and today they had transported him to the local hospice. I loved this gesture. Apparently they drove out of the hospital and the driver took an unexpected left turn and diverted to the Ambulance station (not far away) so that his old colleague could have a last look around his old workplace.  When the driver saw his boss he said, "I hope I won't get in trouble?" The boss appreciated the gesture and assured him he wouldn't. After a brief visit around the building, with sad but warm farewells, they took him to the hospice. So I went down to the hospice and caught up with him. He was pretty dopey because of medications but he recognised me and we talked briefly. He seemed pleased that I had caught up. 

He is still relatively young, just a few years older than me. He is a nice guy and has been battling ill health of one sort or another since his retirement. When he was involved with the Ambulance station we had often talked. We had talked through issues of his job, his life, his history and current events. We had often laughed and we agreed together on many issues. I liked talking with him, he was a thoughtful guy.  Since he retired my contacts have been few. But as I looked at this man in the bed in the hospice, I was deeply aware that he has only a day or so to live.... then I will never get to chat with him again. New Zealand author Michael King when writing about past friendships said, "One remains grateful for the fruits of friendship and the memories they store up. But the passage of those friends and the ending of relationships by death is the most difficult and the most perplexing aspect of living."  (He wrote that when he was facing terminal cancer himself - although he died in a car accident.)  I expect death. It is the way of all life. I have taken lots of funerals, I have watched people die, I know death is a passage of life. But at the same time I am still somehow shocked by it. It really is so final for those left behind. I may never see this man again, he will be gone. ..... This living, thinking person; this person who can love, smile, relate and care will be gone; this personality will cease to be for me! ..... I remember being with a man from our drop-in centre when his brother died. He just looked at him, rubbed his brother's brow, then looked at me and simply said, "What a bugger."  I know death is an inevitable passage of life, but it is still a "bugger".

It makes us cherish our days though!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Harvest Festival.... and earthquake.

My beautiful Auckland grandchildren in beautiful nature.
Last Sunday at the little local Church we had a Harvest Festival service and we sang;
"We plough the fields and scatter
the good seed on the land,
but it is fed and watered, 
by God's almighty hand. etc. etc."
With the chorus;
"All good gifts around us,
are sent from Heav'n above,
then thank the Lord,
Oh, thank the Lord,
for all his love."

This Sunday I planted broadbeans in my garden. They are a week late. Traditionally they are meant to be planted on ANZAC day, 25th April. Today too I harvested potatoes. While I was digging potatoes I got to thinking three roughly linked things about God and creation....
An old joke...
A non-church goer was a very good gardener, his flowers were beautiful, his vegetables prolific. He lived next to a devoutly religious man. The religious man was coming home from Church and saw his non-churched neighbour in the garden. With righteous religious fervour the religious man commented, "My, you and God sure do a great job of that garden!"  The gardener glared back, "Well you should have seen the mess it was in when God had it by himself!" Maybe the weeds in my garden prompted this memory.
Spuds and creator..
I was digging my potatoes and enjoying pulling a good quantity of big spuds out of the ground. I was thankful I really was. If God made my potatoes, I thank Him for them.... but I have harvested potatoes with heaps of worm holes in them. On Thursday evening I prepared the veges for dinner and was frustrated because a few of the potatoes were full of holes, and today I pulled a bug out of a potato backwards. I got to thinking .... "If God made the potatoes for me, he also made the bugs that ruin my potatoes! That was a flawed plan! - not very efficient!" I went on in my thoughts... "God also made the possums that ate my plums, pears and apples." .... I have troubles with God as creator. 
In Nepal authorities so far have counted over seven thousand people dead because of earthquakes, with predictions that the final toll may go higher than 10,000! Did God make that creation that caused that! ... How do we sing, "then thank the Lord, Oh thank the Lord..." and pray for Nepal at the same time?

And.... what about the lady whose funeral I took last week... 49 years of age with two children still needing a mum... my heart broke for the lovely young twelve year old girl sobbing her heart out. And what about the lovely man who has spent his life serving people, who phoned me wanting me to take his funeral. Cancer has taken away half his face and will soon kill him. Where is God the creator? 

I believe God is a movement amongst us, a layer of reality, bringing love, hope, freedom and justice in our world.  I sense the call of God on my life... God is a reality in my life.  But I am wondering if it is necessary to believe simplistically in a creator God? 

Since I was a teenager I have seen the Genesis story of creation as myth or metaphor.  I see in it truths about relationships rather than literal truths about what happened at creation. I have though still believed in a creator God who works through evolution etc etc. ... but in recent years... 

.... It would not worry me if the world just "is" .... and the creation stories in scripture tell us about important relationships in what "is". We have a responsibility toward creation... a stewardship relationship... we have a unity with creation - we are made out of clay ... we have an essential link together... etc. etc. I value some incredible truths about the essence of life that are communicated through the creation stories.  But often I feel a creator God raises too many problems. ....I love the natural world. The other day I saw a Tui in a tree in the University grounds when I was on my way to a meeting. I stood under that tree a few minutes listening to this beautiful NZ bird and talking to it - with young students going by I must have looked like a nut case!.....
But....... I find myself more and more worshiping and serving a God in and beyond creation who does not have to be "the creator!" "He" is for me the eternal essence within what "is" but not necessarily the creator.   Have I gone too far? .... maybe .... here I stand, I can do no other.