Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A dig at my Aussie mates

I have been busy and life seems to be getting busier without me trying. I was in Wellington, New Zealand's capital city for an Order of St John Chaplains' conference for three days early this week. I had a phone call on Friday from a man whose father had just died. Years ago he had told me that he wanted me to take his father's funeral when it happened.  I had taken his mothers funeral in 2002. When he rang today my wife answered the phone and he said, "David said he would take Dad's funeral." Well I don't remember it that way, but what could I say. So next Wednesday I will be "funeralising." Not long before his phone call I had one from my sister. An old minister of hers, and now her close friend had died. I felt sad because he was a little part of my history as well, but he was a great support to her in her journey through life. I feel like I should travel the 5 hours to his funeral later in the week, he was a colleague. We also had a phone call last Friday from another ex-minister I have known all my life. He was principal of the Bible College I attended for a year when I first decided to train for ministry. He is now nearly ninety and is recovering after a nasty fall in hospital. He was a member of my old Church, but he wanted to catch up with us. I have visited him twice and while I was away my wife has been a support to him, doing his washing and supporting him in an important meeting about his health and future.  Today I spent most of the day at the Night Shelter doing odd jobs.
I am feeling flat, frustrated and mystified. I look at next week and I can see me working hard every day and still not getting everything completed. My disappointment is that I did not want retirement to be like this. I wanted to do some constructive community caring stuff, but somehow to slow down and do other things I had put on hold during my working life.  That slow down is not happening and I am worried it may not happen while I still live in this city. So tonight I am sad and flat. 
I thought I would perk myself up by including this joke for my Aussie friends. I lived in Australia for four years a long time ago and suffered four years of jokes against Kiwis. This is part of my revenge. I feel better already. To those further afield - "Wallabies" is the name of the Australian rugby team. "All Blacks" is the name of the New Zealand world champion rugby team. There is a World Cup starting in a few weeks time in the UK.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Social conscience.

Major Campbell Roberts.. a truly great man. 
Crowds protested throughout the country.
I like the cheeky sentiment. Our PM is in my view a slick, but shallow man.
Workplace Support Chaplains' Conference.
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week I joined with other chaplains in a conference entitled "Raising a Social Conscience". The speaker was a man I have admired from afar. Major Campbell Roberts from the Salvation Army Research and Parliamentary Affairs unit is often seen on TV making some comment on social issues. He talked of talking with parliamentarians and even the Prime Minister in the role that he has. He has been a clever advocate for the poor in New Zealand, he researches carefully, speaks wisely and bravely on public issues. He is a quietly spoken man who is not afraid to stand up to be counted so I was looking forward to the time to actually meet him and learn from him. He also has a history with Industrial Chaplaincy in Dunedin. He was the first chaplain in Dunedin, and Inter-church Trade and Industry Missions' first director.  So as he talked he knew where workplace chaplains were coming from and how we operate. Much of the material he presented on the Biblical call to be involved in Social Justice issues I was familiar with. He introduced us to the Neo-Liberal mindset that is prevalent in the world today and its impacts on life and society.  He also critiqued the opposite stance but suggested the Neo-Liberal position was showing some frailty, and that maybe the time was ripe for different perspectives and view points. I enjoyed the sessions he ran, he had depth and  a beautiful wise perspective. He also spoke from a position of years of practicing what he "preached". 
Night Shelter progress.
I was thinking that I could blot out all Night Shelter issues for three days, but even though I had limited access to the internet, I received emails and phone calls that demanded attention. I report now that we are down to "only" needing to raise $80,000 to complete our purchase of the Night Shelter buildings. Today I sent away an application for $50,000 and another seeking funding support from another Trust. I have other Trusts to apply to, so it is getting to the exciting stage when we might cross the finish line within weeks. When it happens I am determined to have a party to celebrate!
TPPA - Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
Our government is negotiating to sign this trade agreement. I was first introduced to this over a year ago when I had a conversation at a Farmers Market on Waiheke Island.  I have tried to sort out conspiracy theory from fact. First it is hard to know the facts because the negotiations and content of the agreement  are all secret and not even Parliament gets to vote on it. That rubs against my understanding of democracy and makes me feel unsettled. The documents that have been leaked seem to indicate that big overseas business corporates will have a lot of power to influence what goes on in New Zealand. I have seen documentaries about how some of these corporates rule the roost in the USA and impact food production, having all sorts of unfair power over ordinary farmers, environmentalists and legislators. I do not want that here! On Saturday there was a national day of action to let the powers that be know our discontent about this, and a protest march was organised to walk through the main street of Dunedin to the Octagon in the centre of the city. My wife and I felt so strongly about this that we interrupted our Saturday to join this protest. There were about 2500 -3000 people walking. (play the U tube clip to catch the spirit of it) There was a controlled sense of frustration and anger against the Neo-Liberal mindset behind the TPPA and the non-democratic and arrogant way it was being progressed. Cars hooted their encouragement, people on the footpaths cheered us and many joined in. The numbers involved were very impressive given that the day was cool and threatened rain. I felt excited and yet scared. Here was rebellious people-power, at this point controlled and well mannered, but you could sense the seething anger. It was a spine tingling experience walking along to the beat of a drum chanting slogans among so many people, young and old, rich and poor from all walks of life. The same sort of support was expressed in cities and towns throughout the country.  I doubt John Key and his ministers will listen, and that scares me! New Zealanders love their democratic rights and even apathetic people will rise up and rebel if these are seen to be trampled on. 

It seemed like an exclamation mark on my three days of learning about and discussing social justice topics. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

You are as good as the people around you...

Me and my friend from the politicians office. He called me "legendary"?
The "Dongle" that got left behind!
The St John Colour party practice while I panic!

People gathering for the service unaware of the drama.
A Legend?
When I was talking about our night sleeping out in the centre of town I mentioned that as I was being introduced to the crowd the speaker called me "an all round legend".  One of the guys that works for the local politician had a photo on his face book and the caption read, "It was a real pleasure to sleep out in the Octagon with the fantastic team from the Dunedin Night Shelter and the truly legendary Dave Brown." Yeah right?  When I was collecting during our street appeal week people often came up and gushed, "You are doing such a good work! You are sooo good!" On the Saturday I was collecting and this young woman arrived in front of me asking questions. She had asked one of the other collectors if I was around. (My photo has been in the paper so often) He had sent her to me. She asked questions about the Night Shelter. Then asked questions about me. "How did you get involved?" "Why are you involved?" As she left she gushed, "I told my partner I just had to meet this man. I have heard and read so much about you!" 
Now I cannot really take such affirmation and adulation seriously. Mostly it is just polite flattery that is felt to be fit for the occasion. When I hear it I squirm. I want to shout, "It is not me! It really is the people I mix with." Whether my achievements are seen as the annual Christmas Day dinners; the Habitat for Humanity stuff we did; the Drop-in centre at the Church; the various community ministries; the chaplaincies; the Night Shelter etc. - all these are not my doing, they are the result of group action, groups of people pulling together for a cause.  You really are as good as the people you have around you. Others lift you up. Others draw you out. Others make up for your weaknesses. I am not a legend. People power is the legend - people working together make things happen. 
Near melt-down at Church Parade!
The Order of St John where I do voluntary chaplaincy, has a once a year Church Parade. At the Area Committee, which I am part of, they reminded me that I had to organise one. I groaned inwardly. It is quite a task to get ourselves invited along to the usual service of one of the inner-city churches. They have to change some things to suit this group of people coming along - and you never know how many will attend - and St John has to fit into whatever liturgy, religious language that they have going on. In the experience of many it probably does not work out well for both groups. The next meeting I made a suggestion. "Why not have our own, St John, Church Parade?"  Now while historically St John is rooted in Christianity, these days it is quite a secular group of people. They agreed to give it a go. So we took over the funeral chapel of a local Funeral Director firm (They were happy to host us and extended warm hospitality providing afternoon tea) I arranged a service called "Celebrating Compassion" and we advertised. The day turned out to be snowy in Dunedin and the roads in many of the suburbs were impassable, so that limited numbers. But we had our service and also dedicated a new ambulance. It was not without incident. The chapel was about 15k away from our home. I had all sorts of things on power points - song clips, wording for the hymns, a reading and movie clips. I wanted to make it an interesting service for the secular people attending.  I went in on Friday and tried it all out, with the manager of the firm being most helpful. My Apple laptop needed a "dongle" - a little connector adapter so that it could connect into their system. On Friday I had it with me.  On Sunday, however, I drove in thinking I had everything I needed and when we were unpacking realised I did not have this little "dongle"! My wife said she would go back for it. It would be at least 35 - 40 minutes to do the return trip, and I had very little confidence she would find it in my messy study when she got there. She insisted, which left me there feeling helpless. I rang my daughter several times but she wasn't answering her phone. I rang a friend, who lived closer, and she rushed down with several "dongles" but none were the right one. My daughter seeing my many frantic phone calls on her phone arrived, and my ever patient son-in-law rushed off to see if he could find one at his work. Eventually my wife returned with about a quarter of an hour to spare, (She must have sped!) AND she had found the right one! My daughter and the manager hooked up the "dongle" and we began the service on time and all went well without the congregation knowing of the drama. But I must confess I was "crapping my pants" as they say. If I did not have that dongle my service would have been ruined! I would have looked incredibly silly and unprofessional. The traditionalists would have said, "We told you so!" I had adrenalin rushing through my veins, I was pacing and at the same time trying to converse and organise other facets of the service with others. I was close to meltdown.... but again, the people around me enabled me to conduct the service as if nothing went wrong. You are as good as the people around you!