Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve reflections.

A sad Thursday.
Last Thursday I had a reasonably busy day lined up, planning to go into town to do chaplaincy at about 11 a.m.  I rose had my breakfast and was beginning to carry on my work toward Sunday's service when the phone rang. It was still relatively early in the morning so I was expecting it to be the Night Shelter. It wasn't. This woman's voice said, "Hello Dave I am "X" I am "Z Y's" wife. He wants to see you." "Z Y" was a retired fire fighter who has been retired nearly five years. Ten months ago I had heard he had been diagnosed with cancer, and in April, just before we headed away to visit Edinburgh, I had heard that it was terminal and they did not expect him to last more than two weeks. "Z" is a nice guy and I had enjoyed talking with him as his chaplain. He had always made it very plain he was an atheist and didn't believe, or tolerate that religious "shit". But I liked him. He is a very skilled man and appreciated some of the things about life that I appreciate. But because he was an atheist and because he had expressed a wish that he did not want hordes of visitors, I did not go up to see him. I thought he may interpret any visit as me wanting to "save" him before he died. Before we went to Edinburgh I wrote a card expressing my admiration and appreciation of him as a person and wishing him all the best for whatever time he had left. He has lived all this time and a fellow fire fighter had been keeping me up on how he was doing. But now he was asking for me, so I made a time that afternoon to visit him. But more was to follow that morning.
Yet another funeral!
I set about doing work and the phone rang again. It was Jack. Jack had been a good friend of my Dad's. He and his wife, Florence had been like a younger Aunt and Uncle to us as children when we were growing up. They were part of my last congregation and I had been visiting them from time to time since my retirement. Both were in their nineties. "David" Jack said, "I need to let you know, its Florence, she has died this morning." He told me the details, how it happened and how he was feeling. She had been becoming more frail. They live in the same area of town that my retired "ZY" lived and I had thought that I could call on them after my visit to him. But now Florence, a lovely loving woman, was dead. "She would want you to take the funeral." he said. He had to hang up because a daughter was arriving, but I made plans to see him after I had visited my retired firefighter. I was choking up as I talked with him on the phone.
It was some afternoon. My terminally ill retired fire fighter was struggling to accept the inevitable. We talked and he asked me to lead his service when the inevitable happened. I promised to keep in touch. I visited Jack, and his two daughters and a grandson was present. We had a nice time of memories and reflection until the funeral director came. We made necessary plans and I stood with Jack as the funeral attendants prepared and carried Florence on her last trip down her garden path. As I held the door for them to load her into their wagon, I said, "Take care of her, she is a special lady to me." I know the funeral Director well. So on Wednesday this week once again I was up front leading a funeral ceremony. There was a big number of people there, and among them most of my old congregation. I felt a bit awkward because professionally the current minister should have been leading the service. But I have known this couple virtually all my life, I had led the weddings of their two daughters and knew them well. He accepted the situation when Jack mentioned it to him. 
I was told by many, many people, including the family, that I did an excellent job. I was relieved and again wondering how come I succeeded? 
Questionable Carols
Tonight in an hour or so there is to be a Christmas Eve service in the local Church. I am not leading it, the "Interim Moderator" is doing the honours, but he wanted the Carols, all eleven of them, on power point on the TV screen. So yesterday I found myself typing up Christmas Carols. I do not believe in the Virgin Birth as an historical event. I do not think that the "real" Jesus would like the theological adulation of him that goes on in Carols. I hate the sentimental hog wash linked to Christmas. So I spent time yesterday typing up these carols. "Lo he abhors not the virgins womb." What on earth is that? He better not! "But his mother only, in her maiden bliss, worshipped the beloved, with a kiss." "Maiden Bliss"? Is a normal woman who is sexually active somehow dirtied? The implications of the doctrine stink! So I will display the words like a good little helper, but some verses I will definitely not sing.
Happy Christmas everyone. Have a great day.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Oh dear, how embarrassing! I'm a "Local Hero."

Kiwibank runs a "New Zealander of the year" award thingy and the public are invited to nominate people. Well some people nominated me for my work leading the local Night Shelter Trust. From these nominations local hero's are selected, then next year the New Zealander of the Year is selected. I am most unlikely to be anywhere near that award, particularly since only my Night Shelter stuff is mentioned in the nomination. But I was selected as one of many to receive a Local Hero Award for the local region.  So we went to the Award ceremony last night. Here are some photos.
It is nice to be recognised, I guess, but a bit embarrassing. There are lots of people supporting me, for example my chief supporter and accomplice is my wife. Nothing is achieved on your own, we are all part of groups of people assisting each other on the journey. We went to the ceremony, where there were drinks and nibbles. Afterward we bought fish and chips for tea which we ate in our kitchen while watching TV. That is not a very fancy way to celebrate, perhaps we are getting cynical in our old age.
The inscription reads "New Zealander of the Year" and "Local Hero" award. On the back is my name.
The box is as flash as the medal!
The recipients... Sze-En Watts (third from right in the second row) received one on behalf of the Uni-Crew who organised the sleep out.  
The Uni-crew (student volunteer team) who organised the sleepout.

Friday, December 9, 2016

A letter to the editor - about Jesus.

The other day I got to stewing about things while I was reading the local paper.  That night and the next morning, a "Letter to the Editor" rose from somewhere in me. So I wrote it and sent it off. "They will not print that!" I said to myself. Days went by and it was not printed. This morning it was in the paper for all to see. I reprint it here...

Dear Sir,

Breakfast at our house includes reading the Otago Daily Times. On Monday I was reading the World Focus magazine, while my wife was reading the rest of the paper. “Castro” she blurted out, “did not want anything named after him. According to him, such individualism is wrong.” I looked up and commented, “That’s sounds very Jesus-ish.” - I doubt however, that Jesus would agree with Castro’s methods. At that point I was looking at the back page photos and saw the photo of the massive Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona.  My wife interrupted again and said something about “poverty in Zimbabwe.”
Like a cow chewing its cud, my mind chewed on these statements, the photo and Christmas. I got to thinking, would the real Jesus applaud the building of that cathedral in his name? Would the “real” Jesus like the endless adulation and unearthly glorification of himself in Church worship, in Christmas Carols and in the way we celebrate “Christ”mas? Would he be in tune with the “religious and worship focus” of the Churches?
I study the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I avidly read recent scholars and thinkers to seek to improve my understanding of Jesus of Nazareth then and now.  As I read of Jesus he seems to say, “People of the world seek power, money and adulation, but followers of my way will be different, you will be servants in the world.” I suspect a cup of water, a serving towel and a caring touch are expressions of Jesus’ way, not towering Church buildings, endless adulation, creeds and worship without loving action. I find myself disturbed by priorities in our churches and by the way we celebrate Christmas. Maybe Jesus would sing with Malanie, “Look what they done to my song ma… it was the only thing I could do half right and its turning out all wrong, ma!” These days I prefer to call myself a “follower of Jesus” rather than “Christian”, which seems to me to carry too much distortion and unhelpful baggage.

Dave Brown

I got a text from two fire fighters this morning thanking me for the "thought provoking letter" and one pointed out that I had won the paper's "Letter of the Week" prize! I had not noticed that. ... That is a surprise in this secular country and age. I came across a quote from the Dalai Lama. "If you want to make others happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." Pretty much sums up the message of Jesus for me. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Something has to be done!

Funeral outburst
I led this funeral yesterday. It was very stressful. It was for the 19 year old girl, a mother of a 3 year old, who overdosed on alcohol and morphine based painkillers. She spent the night with her boyfriend and they were drinking whiskey and she had pinched some painkiller pills from her dad's bathroom cabinet. She died over night, so yesterday I found myself standing in front of more than 300 people leading her funeral. Many of the people were young people. 

I was disappointed because the dad had said he wanted to speak on behalf of the family, but on the day he had changed his mind. I had prepared a short history of her life with some stories that depicted her personality, but I was leaving her dad to do the main job, as he said he would. I had offered to read family contributions and a couple were given to me before the service. I wished he had at least written one. I was introduced to an ex-teacher of the young woman, who wanted to speak. He spoke well, but was very emotional.  During the service I was handed about three sheets of paper from people with poems or messages on them, one I could not read the writing and I struggled to get through it! There were some of her friends who spoke. During the service too the family asked if another young man could speak, so for much of the ceremony I felt like I was winging it and a bit out of control.  It was the nature of this family and I half expected it might happen that way. I listened to the teenager friends speak proclaiming undying love and how they were there for each other in life, etc, crying their way through their presentations. I read the messages handed to me as best I could, but I began to feel uneasy. 
Now I could be wrong in my estimation, but it seemed to me that many of them were part of a partying/experimental/risky living, superficial culture that had ultimately killed this girl! It was in my notes to give some brief advice to bring some meaning to this event, but because of the way the service had gone the nature of my comments ended up being very blunt and to the point. By that time I was feeling a bit raw! The death seemed pointless and needless and was the result of a stupid decision and mind set, yet they were talking as if she was Mother Teresa herself! 
I left my notes and ad-libbed and the words I used went something like this; "I am an old man and because of the things I have been involved in and am still doing, I have encountered a lot of sadness in my life. This death has had its impact on me. It seems meaningless and needless. ... But we can give it meaning if in memory of (the person) we committed ourselves to two truths. First, you, each one of you is unique and precious, love yourselves! Look after your self. For God's sake look after yourself! (said fairly forcefully) Secondly the person next to you, here and wherever you are is a unique and important person. Love them. Look after them! Look out for them. For God's sake look after your mates! Lets in memory of xxxxx, commit to look after ourselves and look after our mates! Love yourself and love your neighbour are the guts of life!" 
I was angry that this young woman, who obviously had spirit, skills and a "presence" about her, had been killed by dubious values and practices which are part of our youth culture. In my time I have seen too many lives stuffed up by such an atmosphere or way of thinking.
The golden rule - why not teach it?
New Zealand is a very secular country. There is now almost an aversion to religion in Government departments (except Maori spirituality) and in the education system. The separation of Church and state is a basic principle and a way of life here. But I think with the lessening of the impact of Christendom (and I do not think that is all bad) we live in times when as a society we have no anchor, no clear base for morality. Greed, selfishness or just self survival takes over and truth, honesty, compassion tend to go out the window. I was talking to a man at the brewery where I am a chaplain and he was telling me about one of his kid's twenty first birthday party. He told about the consumption of booze that went on. Then he said, "It is different than in our day. We used to drink, and drink heavily, but we always looked after our mates. I discovered on the night of the twenty first, the kids today don't! If someone is comatose, they just leave them behind! We never did that even when we were pissed!" It rang bells because I have heard emergency workers saying similar things. Politicians lie and do not seem to be embarrassed about it. People take things (stealing) if they can get away with it, then boast about it! In our market place people cheat and lie blatantly. I had a man ring asking if I could help with a survey. I put him off because I was busy, but he insisted that he ring after work. He did so, the first few questions were survey type questions, then he began trying to sell me insurance. I told him, "You lied! This is no survey. It is false pretenses." He began to tell me again about this insurance deal, but I just said "No - you lied - goodbye!" It was blatant lies with no sense of guilt or remorse! We have lost our moral compass. But.... do not teach religion! Do not get to deep values! That is in personal opinion territory and dangerous, offensive even! Such depth is seen as offensive in our secular society. You work that out by yourself somehow!  
But... I got to thinking, the Golden Rule... "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." or variations of the same theme is a basic principle in 26 of the major religions and is expressed in the secular moral philosophy of many writers. It is such a basic principle accepted by such a wide range of thinkers, that surely in our education systems it should not be offensive to teach and explore that! Surely we can instill such an acceptable principle in our young people's minds and get them exploring its implications. It is not converting them to any particular religion, but just exploring a principle which has evolved in a variety of civilisations. The Charter for Compassion is a grand statement along this line which deserves attention, but even just the golden rule itself explored more often could become an anchor for our morality. Just thinking... as you do when you are confronted with the senseless death of a young person!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Death and Life.

Catching up with special friends.  
The CORE Education Community Service day team.
The Mountain top. 
The beautiful Otago Harbour from the top. 
A "Koru" - the young fern frond unwinding.
Josie on the left is a beautiful Sister of Mercy. We have known each other for nearly 30 years.
The Night Shelter Christmas tepee with the special star from a grateful client on top.
Last Wednesday evening we were invited to a friend's place for a surprise birthday party for a mutual friend. They are all people from our last Church. We have generally not mixed with people from the Church out of respect for their current minister, but we do seem to make contact with this group of people every few months. It was a delightful evening, and time seemed to fly as conversation ranged over a number of subjects and we warmly caught up on each other's journey. While there we "skyped" with the host's brother in London, and her mother in India. The ipad got passed around the table as we each said "hello". Friendships are one of the special gifts of life, and these days can span the globe.
Life 2.
There is an organisation called CORE Education in NZ who do "stuff" related to the professional development of teachers. I have a friend who works in the Dunedin team, and last year they had a "Community Work Day" coming to the Night Shelter and to do gardening and building. I got a message early last week that they wanted to come again and tend the garden that they planted last time. They came for half a day after spending the first half assisting another social work agency. Together we hit the gardens and paths of the night shelter like a tornado, weeding, sorting and installing new edging. It is so good and life-giving having such support expressed. They shortened my Night Shelter "to do" list considerably.
Life 3. 
As I began this week I knew it was going to be a busy one, with a workshop to run, an Annual meeting to prepare for and run, and a Church service, along with chaplaincy responsibilities. I was working away on Monday, reading, stewing and preparing, then on a whim decided to take a walk up "my" Mount Cargill. I "work" while walking, I argued, so away I went and puffed my way to the mountain top. It is so life-giving for me getting out in the bush, seeing expansive scenery and yet enjoying the little plant life along the way. I had not done it enough lately, and vowed to do it more often.
On Tuesday morning I was working away in my study for most of the morning, then began to get ready to go to town to do my chaplaincies. My phone rang and it was a policeman I know. He told me that an acquaintance of mine needed somebody to talk with. The man came on the phone and blurted out, "Its my niece, she's killed herself!" and dissolved into tears. I asked where he was and said I would be there in fifteen minutes. I have been drawn into this family's grief. A 19 year old mother of a 3 year old girl, accidentally overdosed on alcohol and pain killers. It is extremely sad. I lead the funeral in a few days time. I was talking to the funeral director who I know well, and said, "Why me? I am meant to be retired?" She grinned and replied, "Because people like being around you and having you around at times like this." I find such involvement stressful, but I also feel deeply the pain of the situation and ache for the people involved.
Death and life together.
That afternoon I went to the hospital to meet members of the family to support them as they visited their loved one in the "city morgue". As I walked through the foyer/reception area of the hospital I saw one of my fire fighters and his wife, obviously going home with their tiny baby. The baby had been born at 24 weeks and I had followed their journey on facebook and whenever I could catch up with the young dad at the fire station. It had been a tough journey as the baby, confined to a special unit in the hospital, went through all sorts of ups and downs, many times failing to breath. Now I rushed up to the couple and celebrated the fact that they could take their child home. The worst (hopefully) had past, and I was simply delighted as I looked at this little human venturing out into the big world of life. Then the irony hit me. I walked down a corridor from this happy encounter to meet the grieving family.  With some family members sobbing deeply, my policeman friend led us down to the room where this nineteen year old lay, cold and very dead. Life and death together in just a few minutes! We have a sad binge drinking problem among young people in New Zealand. 
I wrote the chairman's report for the 2016 Annual meeting of the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust. As I listed off the things we had done for the year I felt tired. It had been a busy journey restructuring and further improving the work of the Dunedin Night Shelter. I would love to be able to hand over the responsibility. I have been involved on the committee from the very beginning in 2003, and as I wrote the report, then the next night chaired our meeting, I felt the weariness of that long journey. 
The Anglican Cathedral in town had invited us, along with other agencies, to set up a Christmas "tree" depicting our work in some way. So the day after our AGM my wife and I were there with a friend from the Trust setting up our display. We were approached by a very nervous and very pregnant young woman and her husband. She said something like; "I wanted you to know that many years ago I used your service. I stayed at the shelter. " She hesitated, then said, "I would not be here today if it wasn't for you and what you do. Life turned out OK. This is my husband." she said turning and smiling at a very proud and loving husband. She led us to believe that we had saved her life, and she was so genuine in her appreciation. 
I was too dumbfounded to speak. She gave my wife Jean the star which is on the top of our tepee. That experience is about as good as it could ever get!  Nothing could top that moment. I simply floated out of the Cathedral feeling like it was all worth it after all!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Emotional journey.

A special bird sanctuary area on Waiheke Island. 
Bush scene looking toward the mainland.
Sub-tropical bush walking.

Looking at the main township and its beach on Waiheke. 
My wife measures up grandson Stanley for some new clothes.
I have found myself churned up a few times recently. No biggy but I just share with you some things...

  • We paid a visit to my son and family on Waiheke Island, Auckland. (the north of New Zealand) I enjoy visiting the island, and it was great to catch up with Phil, Natasha and grandchildren, Edith and Stanley. Phil had me walking in the bush, kayaking and checking out the mechanics of a van he recently purchased. They have sold their house, and plan to move to Wellington. Sadly it will mean no more visits to paradise, and probably the house will get pulled down for property development. I am sad about this because Phil and I did quite a bit of DIY stuff on it. But the bright side is, they should be well off financially and they will be closer to us.
  • I have been astounded by the elections in the USA. A guy with such terrible attitudes, obvious personality problems and an addiction to telling lies will now lead this powerful country. It is beyond belief! But as I look at the sorts of values presented, it seems to me he portrays the very values communicated in TV shows, (especially rubbish reality shows), advertisements and in magazines. If enough people's minds uncritically absorb such crap this is what happens. God help us! I am glad I live in NZ, but the same tribalism and dumbing down of values and thinking is happening here. Tell Bernie to emigrate! He would enjoy New Zealand, and we could do with his thinking.
  • My brother from Australia visited and while in our city he celebrated his 70th birthday. My sister added to his birthday celebration by making it a family reunion, and cousins and friends from both my parents' sides of the family joined us, along with children and grandchildren. A powerpoint showed old photos that brought many memories. We smiled and laughed about numerous childhood events. There were sad/bad memories too, which I kept to myself.  At such times the journey of life floats to the front of your consciousness and you have a mixture of emotions.
  • A couple of weeks ago I led a Church Parade for the local St John Ambulance. The Order of St John was a Christian based organisation, so even these days it has an annual church parade. (and a chaplain to lead it.) Most in the organisation would not darken the doors of a church, so leading a Church parade is an interesting exercise. Last year instead of joining one of the inner-city churches, we ran it on our own, using a funeral chapel as a venue. This year they were keen to do the same. I love the challenge of putting together a service for basically a secular congregation, that to their surprise, is not boring and somehow links them to the sacred in life. Feedback suggests we succeeded, but the exercise was exhausting, physically and emotionally.
  • Last night at about 2:30 a.m. I got up and waddled down the hall toward the toilet. I suddenly became aware of the telephone ringing.  With bleary eyes and brain I answered it, expecting it to be some problem at the Night Shelter.  It was my son from Christchurch. "Hi Dad, just wanted to let you know we have evacuated and are at Beckenham." "Wh..What?" "Oh didn't you know... there has been a big earthquake and there is a tsunami warning for the whole East Coast!" He lives a few blocks from the beach in Christchurch. We turned on the radio and learned of the massive, (7.5) complicated earthquake which has impacted people from Christchurch through to Wellington area. There has been a lot of damage to roads, houses and infrastructure in mainly rural areas, but it has cut supply routes and railway lines. Christchurch damage was minimal, so my son's house was fine. No big tsunami eventuated and they are back home. The pictures coming in astound you. Railway lines were picked up and thrown around like they were a bit of string. Roads are completely buried by hillsides falling on top of them, and heaps of other devastation. There have been "only" two deaths. But the emotional drain on people whose homes have been wrecked, and they have to "stoop and build'em up with worn out tools," (Rudyard Kipling's "If") is incredible. I have found myself reliving emotions I felt when I visited Christchurch after the big quake there five years ago. I feel the pain of these people, and would love to be useful. We are about six hours drive from the epicentre. It did rock Dunedin houses, but we had slept through it.
So the last few weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions. I am very busy with my involvement in ministry activity in the local church, chaplaincy and night shelter. People ask "are you enjoying retirement? What are you doing?" I say "Yes - but it hardly feels like retirement." It is never boring!

Monday, October 31, 2016

An Imposter?

Facebook comment;
During the last week of August a retired firefighter delivered a donation of firewood to my house. I was blown away with gratitude. I blogged about it (August 31) but I also put it on Facebook. One of my facebook friends, is a clinical psychologist, workshop presenter and author. He did work for the local fire service and I met him initially in that capacity.  He commented on facebook with... 

You reap what you sow Dave! Conversely, the Grateful Dead once sung: "If you plant ice, you're gonna harvest rain". Not that I need to tell you that!!

Then my friend went on holiday and I followed his adventures on his facebook page. When he came back from holiday to my surprise he went and commented on the post again....

Six weeks later and I come back to this post, which has stayed with me since it was posted. When one radiates such generosity in life as you do Dave, then it somehow comes back in mysterious ways. Living a life based on unconditional giving is such a position to hold. All your hard work for the Fire Service, the Church, the Night Shelter and countless other worthy causes that you support, and the compassionate friendship that you offer others, builds engagement. Its the very stuff of living life well. Such a simple joy...

My reaction... I responded saying that this sounded too saintly for me..."in reality I just muddle along doing my bit."  To which he pointed out that he didn't say I was a saint, just a generous man... or something like that. I had two internal reactions. First his description of what my life was based on (unconditional giving) is in idealistic theory correct. This is the theological "ideal" I aim for. It is, to me, an essential part of being a follower of Jesus. But.... I have never talked theology with him? We have talked critical incident stress management of fire fighters. We have shared briefly running stories. I conducted his son's funeral. when he tragically died as a 21 year old. But we have never talked about my ideals in life.  So at one level, I was thrilled that somehow he had been able to see the theoretical ideals I live for in the way that I live. I was pleased about that.
But.... My reply on facebook holds true... the glowing comments about me, "can't be me, he must be mistaken?" "He does not really know me." You see I know the mixed motives and the inner "sins" and the many, many times I fall far far short of the ideals.  So my reaction is, he does not really know me and if he did, he would not say these things, and would be horribly disappointed. 

It happened again this weekend. I went down to the Church where there was a bit of a market, selling baking, displaying arts and crafts. I ended up sitting behind the baking table with a woman who has just taken over the treasurers job, thus saving the Church over $2000 a year. One of the ministers commended her on her willingness, and she pointed to me saying, "He guilted me into it!" After the minister had gone, I said that I hoped anything I had said in sermons had not made her feel guilty. "No" she responded, "I just saw how much you were prepared to put into the welfare and purpose of the Church, and that inspired me to "get off my bum". Again, I thought, "is that me she is talking about?" I led a St John Ambulance Church Parade on Sunday. We had the Salvation Army Band helping us with the music, and after the service one of the band members I had never met before came up and said, "You really are a great speaker aren't you?" "I have had plenty of practice, I guess I ought to be able to do it by now." I replied. But he went on about it. I had very positive responses from various people, and somebody put on facebook that "a great man was leading the service."  But .... in anguish, I still repeatedly asked my ever patient wife several times throughout the afternoon and into Sunday evening, "Was it alright this morning? Did it come across OK? Did I make a fool of myself?" I cannot accept accolades, I know the real me!

Impostor syndrome... I have a friend that I have run with (these days, "walk with") most Sunday afternoons for at least the last twelve years. We often debrief our week and talk over stuff during our exercise hour.  She is very successful in the field of education, working for a not for profit group who have responsibility for research, teachers professional development and other educational contracts. She has also succeeded academically, continuing to progress through various university courses with high marks. Many years ago we discovered this common feeling. We have both made the comment about ourselves that goes something like this; "One day people are going to discover that I am not all that I claim to be. One day I am going to be exposed as a fraud who knows nothing, and is just bluffing my way through my work and life." Over the years we have laughed often that both of us, again and again have admitted to this feeling. It is such an intriguing phenomenon. I do know that as a follower of Jesus I fall far below the ideals he sets before me. That is taken as read because the ideals of love are high. But this experience of, "You must be talking about a different guy?" whenever I receive any adulation, is such a consistent feeling and one I have never grown out of. My friend discovered a book called "The Impostor Syndrome" and she said she was going to read it and report on it to me. We'll wait and see. 

Wikipedia says... "Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud".[1] Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Some studies suggest that impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women."
Its comforting to know it has a name and that others experience it too... though I can hardly be described as a "high achiever"!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Two Photos...

Sad losses
This picture is gut wrenching. All these lives from the Otago, NZ area were lost on the Somme in WWI. Each cross represents a young man whose life was cut short. Such a line up of crosses makes you realise the terrible impact, and we should remember. I got to thinking - though perhaps not remember in the same way - but I would love to line up a similar display to see the terrible number of lives washed down the sewer by our economic systems, the greed of the richest, the failing mental health systems and our often upside down values. I used to look at the twisted lives of our drop in centre people and weep inside. I met one old bloke I've known for 30 yrs the other day. Now well into his 70's he was shuffling down the road with his walker, nearly blind from cataracts, dribbling, making his way back to his rented, powerless house.. Very sad. Some how "NZ" has failed him.
Crosses in the Queens Gardens, Dunedin, NZ
Fantastic Quiz Night
Congratulations to the Dunedin firefighters and the team there who ran a great quiz night last night with proceeds going to the shelter. A good successful night, REALLY appreciated. Helping to mark the answer sheets for 26 teams kept us busy though! I know the provisional amount raised, though yet to be announced. It looks like it could get to $5000! But the support offered, the feeling during the night and the persistence of the firefighters to make this happen was amazing. I was blown away by their companionship in my journey.
A Quiz night at Dunedin Central firestation to raise funds for the Night Shelter.
Update: Through the quiz night Dunedin Fire Fighters raised $5000 for the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust. So cool.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Life in the fast lane...

Funerals continue..
I have now led seven funerals since we came back from Scotland at the beginning of July. I have also attended two others as doorman/sound system operator/bell ringer at the local Church. Maybe it is proof that I am getting old? The last one I led was different. We went through to Christchurch to catch up on my son and his family there one weekend. On the Saturday I had a call from a paramedic from St John Ambulance, (where I am voluntary chaplain) to say that the mother of an ex-worker there was dying, and the ex-worker was asking about possible funeral plans. At 7 a.m. (sleep in time when you are on holiday) on the Sunday morning I had a text to say that the mother had died. On the way back to Dunedin the next day, I had a phone call from the ex-worker to ask if I would lead a ceremony. The mum had moved to New Zealand from the UK a year or so ago, to be with her daughter, so knew few people here. They lived on a little farm property a few kilometres north of Dunedin. Between us we designed a funeral that suited the family. Mum was cremated and on the next Saturday evening at sunset, on the lawn of this little farm overlooking a misty valley, about  eight people gathered for a ceremony. The mum had been born in Glasgow so two pipers, friends from St John, began the ceremony. I was in effect master of ceremony, so introduced things, had a reading, then two members of the family spoke. I spoke some more, reflecting on the mother's life, then shared some words of committal. The pipers cranked up again and when they ceased we all had a nip of whiskey to honour life and the mum. Then, with it being dark by this time, fireworks marked the end of the ceremony and the setting free of mum's being. Again bagpipes finished proceedings. It was in fact very moving and appropriate for this family. 
I have agreed to lead services at the little local Presbyterian Church two Sundays in four. I had felt strongly that there was a need for consistency, pastoral care and a drawing together of the Church community. It is early days, but I feel that there has been an increase in attendance (at least when I am leading) and a more positive, "together" spirit about the place. I am enjoying the experience and feeling more and more relaxed in the role. Today's service was one where I involved a few people from the congregation doing various parts. A family shared their musical meal time grace with us, and we participated. The father of the family led a couple of songs with his guitar. Our parish session clerk lead a prayer, and a young teacher led our prayer for others. Each one played their part very well. Our Parish session clerk is a vital woman in her eighties. I had asked her to lead in a prayer of thanks for the life of a member who had died, and whose funeral we shared on Friday. His widow and daughters were in the congregation. Her prayer was something very special. It was born of love for the family, reflected the wisdom that came from her own experience of losing her husband a few years ago, and was extremely well worded with a beautiful economy of words. She did better than I could have done. When I announced that we would finish by saying "the Grace" together and "if you like you can join hands" there was a spontaneous move as the whole congregation joined hands with each other. I think we can do something with this little group of mostly elderly, but essentially loving people.
We own three 1990's vehicles. We have a little Toyota Starlet which is my wife's runabout, a red Nissan Bluebird which is a great car for trips and my Nissan Diesel long wheelbase van. We have a system in NZ where the vehicles have to go through a Warrant of Fitness check every six months. This is a nerve wracking process when you have old vehicles. The little Starlet has no problems. The van generally passes relatively easily, but often requires work between Warrants. The red car almost got through, but failed on an important difficult-to-fix problem. I have started repairs on that. The van lately has been causing me grief. I replaced the radiator. The windscreen wipers broke, so I repaired these, having to dismantle nearly everything under the dashboard to do so. One of the hoses to the transmission sprung a leak, causing the whole side of the motor and under carriage to be covered in oil, and of course, no drive. I fixed the hose, but could not find out how much transmission fluid to put in the gear box. I was advised by the man in the parts shop as he looked at his computer, but advised incorrectly. I put a way too much in, and upon driving it, it squirted out of the dip stick holder. This led to fusing of the glow plug system. I fixed all that, then discovered it was overdue for a Warrant of Fitness. The mechanic checked it and passed almost all of it. Except he said, "There is too much shit about, I can't see to check the fuel system."  I brought it home, got some degreaser, and lying under the van and in the motor compartment, took the dirt off the vehicle, transferring most of it, I'm sure, to me! I took it in to be rechecked and the mechanic passed it. I must say it seems to be driving better than it has since I purchased it. People say that I should dump all my old cars and purchase one newer model. I am unconvinced. A man I know purchased a newer vehicle more than twice the price of all my cars put together. (Total purchase of my two old cars and van comes to $3,800) In the last year he has spent $4000 on mechanical repairs. All my vehicles have paid for themselves several times over. I have a versatile variety of vehicles, one which can transport big stuff, (firewood, furniture, tools, ladders etc, and we can camp in it) another for comfortable sedate trips, and an economical runabout. It is a satisfying feeling when you repair them, but just sometimes they can test my patience, and I envy those with flash new vehicles. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Day's Demand.

I was searching through a big book of poems I have, looking for something for the funeral I was preparing. This one was unrelated but struck me as so relevant to the age we live in. For me, not just in NZ but in other places too, it feels like..... "Wrong rules the land and waiting Justice sleeps." Change the "men" to "people" though....

The Day's Demand

GOD, give us men!
A time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands;
Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office can not buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will;
Men who have honor; men who will not lie;
Men who can stand before a demagogue
And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking!
Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty, and in private thinking;
For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds,
Their large professions and their little deeds,
Mingle in selfish strife, lo! Freedom weeps,
Wrong rules the land and waiting Justice sleeps.

Josiah Gilbert Holland, 1819-1881

May there indeed be such people willing to step up.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Sound off.. Good and bad.

Four funerals - two Church services and two chaplains conferences. - Phew!
I have conducted three funerals in the last three weeks, and yesterday I was doorman/sound system operator at a fourth.  Two of the funerals were for men I would count as friends. The fourth was for an elderly lady in the local Church whose health has been going downhill for quite some time.  They have a bit of a tradition here of ringing the bell of the Church at the end of the funeral. They ring out one chime for every year of the person's life. My friend Robert used to be the bell ringer on such occasions. At his funeral one of the local cafe owner's came and offered to ring the bell 73 times. Yesterday after this lady's funeral I rang the bell 83 chimes.   It has been an interesting journey.  I am still saying "bugger" about my local friend (Robert) who was found dead. I miss his presence at Church and in the local community. I looked forward to our conversations and life seems more empty without him around. 
I have led worship at the local Church the last two Sundays.  Though they were not my best, I enjoyed introducing dialogue, doing some pastoral care toward a grieving congregation and feeling like I was sharing something important.  I enjoyed too the creative process of exegesis of the readings and working out how best to communicate the message of them. It is an art and I enjoy being the artist. 

A gift of grace...
The day after my last funeral, a retired firefighter phoned me asking if he could come and see me. "I need to see ya!" he said over the phone, "Are you gonna be home this afternoon?" So we tidied the lounge, got afternoon tea ready and waited for his arrival, wondering what he had to see me about. He arrived in his farm ute, with a crate on the back, filled with macrocapa firewood all chopped and split. Macrocapa is one of the best and most expensive woods for fire wood. He poked his head out of the cab window and in a gruff tone yelled, "Well, where d'ya want it?" We unloaded this surprise gift and went in for a cup of tea and a friendly catchup chat. How cool is that. As I left I looked at the pile and said, "Thank you so much! You are so great!"  "Look in the mirror and say that to yourself! See ya!" he retorted and away he went. My mind went back nearly twenty three years ago when I first met him. All I said was, "Hi I'm Dave Brown, I'm the new chaplain." and he told me "take your f***ing Christianity to Wellington and shove it up the bums of those F***ing bastards up there. Don't bloody Bible bash us!" We now enjoy each other's company. As I stacked the wood a couple of days later I realised the tremendous amount of work he had done in cutting it and splitting it. It is such a warm expression of friendship.
Women.... learn some manners!
It may be because I have been busy and tired, but lately I have decided mature women need a lesson in good manners. I do a lot of extra voluntary stuff. I'll fix a tap, or do some little handy man job for somebody, or do maintenance around the Night Shelter or Church.  In the last few weeks I have had what only can be called "demands" made by women. "I need a key." "The toilet is leaking" "I need paint, what about that paint you've got?"  I have noticed how rudely a succession of women have asked for favours. If it had been men they would have said, "Hi Dave, I know you're busy, but I need a key. Would it be possible for you to get one for me please? If that is OK? Are you sure its OK? How can I pick it up?" But not this woman, just an email, "Hey Dave I need a key!" It is as if you are one of their employees and they are the boss. Its a demand, with no "please" and "thank you". In musing on this I decided that its the way they talked to their children, and they carry it over to mugs like me. I have expressed frustration a couple of times and that has brought about a lessening of their demand. "Oh I know you're busy, just when you can." 
Is a funeral the time for a sermon?
I sat through the last funeral as the sound system controller, doorman, janitor. There were folk I knew from St John there and I knew that most people there were not Church goers. Many were people from the local community I see in the supermarket and garage. I like the guy who was leading it, he is a loving man, but it was a "religious" funeral with Christian dogma, jargon and cliches. Under the heading "Words of Comfort" in the order of service he gave a little sermon. In essence he said, "The Bible says death is the 'enemy'.(the metaphysical pro's and cons of this considered) We can defeat death by believing in Jesus Christ. Our deceased 'sister' did. So I commend to you her faith - if you believe then you too will defeat death and have something to look forward to at the time of your death."  I was embarrassed. Here in the church I attend, representing the congregation I fellowship with, this guy was hitting people with this 1950's dogma! Reading the body language, most of the congregation had switched off anyway. I am not a follower of Jesus to get to heaven when I die! If heaven is a reality (and I think some kind of ongoing dimension is.) I cannot believe in a God who would ban people from heaven on the basis of believing the right dogma? I felt sick and did not want to be identified with this congregation. In spite of his desire to commend Jesus to people, I suspect he would have had the opposite impact. At least he did on me. I felt repulsed by this sort of Christianity, though I actually like that particular minister as a man. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

I nearly cried.

In my last post I told how Robert, a local friend of mine had been found dead.  I had once met one of his brothers who lives in another city, but did not really know his family. I heard that this brother was on his way to Dunedin.  I felt that when his brother arrived to deal with funeral arrangements, he may not know where to begin to contact the local Church. I drove past the house several times to see if he had arrived.  Finally on Tuesday morning as I left to go into town to meetings and chaplaincy work, I dropped a sheet of paper with the interim moderator's and the session clerk's phone numbers on it into the letterbox. I also had my name and number and the offer to help in any way. I expected that the interim moderator would take the funeral. Later that day my wife called at the house and met his brother. She and he rang me, and he asked if I would lead my friend's funeral. I agreed, though I knew that it would be emotionally tough. The brother came for dinner that night and we chatted about it, his memories and made necessary arrangements. I attended a St John Chaplains' conference in Wellington City for two days, and caught up with the larger family on Friday. The old Iona Church is part way through a restoration project and is seldom used. As we cleaned and prepared the church for the service and did the set up, we realised that my dead friend was the one who usually did a lot of these jobs on such an occasion.  On Saturday, in the historic Iona Church in Port Chalmers, I led his funeral. There was quite a crowd there, including at least six senior Presbyterian ministers. I was aware that my ceremony would be different than theirs, but I thought I had to be true to my approach. As I came to the end of my eulogy I found my voice cracking with emotion and was glad to hand over to family members to share their tributes. After a couple of other speakers, I safely negotiated the remainder of the service. Robert had promised to play "Finlandia" in Church for me when I next led a service, and the brother had chosen that tune for the organist to play as we led the casket out of the Church. As I walked ahead of the coffin down the Church isle listening to this tune that he and I enjoyed, I found my lip quivering with emotion and the beginnings of a sob happen. I bit my lip and carried on. As they loaded the coffin into the hearse I wanted to yell, "Bugger!"  
Today I led Sunday worship deeply aware that Robert was missing. He always appreciated what I offered. But I did feel that once again I was minister to a Church family who needed encouragement and love. 

While I was in Wellington one of my firefighters phoned my wife. He was sitting with his siblings around his mother's hospital bed and she was expected to die. Would I lead her service when the end came? First thing on Friday morning I phoned him and assured him I would. I had a long association with both him and his wife, marrying them many years ago. Later that day as I was preparing Robert's funeral I received a call telling me that she had died. A couple of hours after finishing my friend's funeral, I was once again sitting with a grieving family planning for a funeral this coming Tuesday morning. 

I am at once energised and exhausted by this ministry, that seems to follow me. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

"Bugger!" is all I can say.

to brighten the mood - spring is coming. These were on our lawn. 

Since retiring and worshipping at the little Presbyterian Church here, we have got to know a lovely, quietly spoken, gentle man who lives alone. He has been a bachelor all his life working as a draftsman. He lives with diabetes and the early stages of Parkinson's disease. 
He and I have similar theological perspectives and have often chatted about our faith journeys. Also since I am essentially a shy guy who works hard to push my boundaries, I understand and appreciate this man's quiet lack of confidence and hesitancy, that is where I come from.  We both like being bits of loners, but we have enjoyed each other's company. He has taught himself how to play the pipe organ. He designed and built a beautiful boat and had promised to take me for a ride in it. In spite of his quiet uncertainty, he was in fact, a very clever man. 

Last week he had the misfortune to discover a friend of his dead in her house. She had Alzheimers and he had lovingly kept an eye on her since her husband's death earlier this year. He would ring her each morning, and this particular morning she had not responded. When he rang us to tell us about this experience last Wednesday we invited him to come for the evening meal. We listened to him tell us what happened and reflect upon it, but we also found ourselves chatting about life easily and warmly. I was pleased because he seemed to relax in our company.
He was not at Church yesterday and I was not too worried because I knew his deceased friend's relatives would be in town and he could be busy with them. I also knew that the preacher we had for the day was not our favourite and that he may have avoided coming for that reason. At church though, others told of instances when he had been found in the beginnings of a diabetic coma. We began to be concerned because he had said that he would see us at church. We made attempts to contact him at his house where his car was still in the driveway, and by repeated phone calls. We were not able, but were not that despairing, thinking others may have visited him and taken him somewhere. We were not certain of his plans so did not feel we could call the police to break into his house.

Today we heard that they had found him dead in his house, I assume from some sort of diabetic event. I have tried to do stuff, but have found that numbing distracting feeling of grief demotivating me. Every time I have thought of him and his friendship today I have just said, "Bugger!" I have lost yet another friend out of my life. "Bugger" is the only appropriate word. I am sad. Getting old is not easy, sadness seems to be a recurring experience. Since coming home from our trip to the UK I have now lost three fellow, friendly companions on the journey of life. Bugger! 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Is NZ becoming a third world country?...and sadness again.

A third world country?
Example 1. The Night Shelter in Dunedin needs a new weekend supervisor because of the resignation of one of our guys. I have advertised in the local paper and have been emailing and sometimes sending out by "snail mail" the job descriptions and the application forms. It is the "snail mail" that annoys me. At one time when you posted a letter in Dunedin to a Dunedin address, it was sorted in Dunedin and virtually the next day, or at the most, the day after was delivered. These days it goes all the way to Christchurch, (364 Kilometres) is sorted, and brought back to Dunedin. Here these days we only receive mail on three days a week. (It used to be every day) So when I am posting these things out I am aware that the application form I post will take quite a few days to get there, and then when they post it back, it will require a few days to get back to me. Applications close next Wednesday, so it could be tricky for those relying on "snail mail". It used to be reliable, quick and easy. These days it is a relatively poor service. Are we becoming a "third world" country?
Example 2. A retired firefighter has been in hospital with very bad lung problems. He was full time on oxygen. His prospects looked very grim, and he had resigned himself to dying in the next week or so. There is a drug that could possibly help, the relevant agency in NZ has approved it, but has not purchased it. If they did it would cost heaps. It can be purchased more cheaply via India, but it will take some time to get into the country. It will not arrive in time. It somehow feels "third world". 
Example 3. My friend is spending his last days in Dunedin hospital. There has been a public outcry because the powers-that-be decided that rather than cook meals at Dunedin Hospital, the supply of meals will be contracted out and they will come from Auckland. (1061.71 Kilometres North of Dunedin.) People have reported that the meals, reheated, taste terrible and are of a poor quality. I have thought it was a daft idea flying food all that distance and was annoyed at the loss of Dunedin jobs. But I have not got too worried about the quality of meals, after all you are not in hospital very long. I visited my friend, however, and he said through his oxygen mask, "The meals are crap - the papers are right." When the meal was delivered to him last night while I was visiting he said, "I have to beat myself up to eat them." I thought - here he is, life almost gone, and he has to spend his last days eating bad quality "old" reheated food! I was thinking of ways we could bring in nice food and perhaps some wine, since he loved his wines. Are we a third world country? It feels like it is.
... In the early hours of this morning my friend sadly died. One of my jobs this week will be leading his funeral.
Sadness hits.
I have known my firefighter friend for nearly twenty three years. In that time he went from being a station officer to being deputy chief of Dunedin Fire Service. In all that time, even though he was not an active church man, he has been very supportive of the chaplaincy service. I have interviewed him in Church and on a radio station service. He has confided in me and pointed me toward people needing support. He was the first to get his crew assisting with our community christmas dinners. He has been a supportive presence when others thought a chaplain was not needed in a modern fire service. He called me "Skypilot" a term from his navy days. Today I have moped around grieving, feeling sad. I spend time tomorrow with his family and will later in the week, lead his funeral, but just now, I am sad. It feels like the older you get, the more often you encounter this sadness. Apart from reminding you of your own mortality (he was only three years older than I am) you realise that you are losing people who have journeyed with you.  He and I had stories to tell, history together and things to laugh about, and now he has gone. As he said in a matter of fact way when I first visited, "It happens to us all. That's life." My last words to him were that I would "Love and leave him for now and come back and see him." Sadly I was wrong. His last words to me as I left his room last night were, "Look after yourself."  I'll try Trev, I'll try.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Still going...

A team of American Students spending time at Otago University.

My opening speech. I wore many layers to keep the cold at bay.

Around midnight there was a bit of a dance party going on.
Some of the students looking attentive for the national TV slot. We made it to national TV on two channels!
Sze-En Lau Watts (Student Volunteer coordinator) David Clark (Local Member of Parliament) and me.
Both people are great people I am privileged to share with. Sze-En has a way of inspiring people to do great things.
David Clark and I were judges of the team "Forts"
The Town Hall and Cathedral in the Octagon.
A final thank you speech - "You encourage and inspire the Night Shelter Trust members. Thank you."
Student Sleep out.
Last Friday night I joined about 150 university students and some other friends and "slept out". Last year in mid winter, around 200 students slept in the Octagon, a space in the centre of the city, to raise awareness of homelessness and to raise funds for purchasing the night shelter. Then we raised $12,000 and it was fantastic. This year the students wanted to do it again and they worked on it, doing a lot of work while I was in the UK and their coordinator was also overseas. I kept up with it all via emails and through their special facebook page. It all came together and we gathered at the Octagon. We had heaps of packaging cardboard, to build ourselves forts and entertainment was lined up from 7 p.m. until about 1 a.m. A friend and I constructed a fort, but when it came to sleep in it I decided it was too cosy for two men to sleep in. I "slept" outside. There are bars all around the Octagon and they were playing loud music until after three in the morning. I don't think I got a full hour of sleep. I had to do an opening speech. Here is what I said roughly.... 
- The students planning it had said, "At this point Dave, you can tell us how much you love us." So first.. I love you all for being here.
- When I was a boy I loved climbing cliffs, and on family picnics I would go off on my own and climb a cliff near by. One time I got stuck. I was on this cliff face and every time I tried to step to get a foothold, the stones would give away under me, and would tumble down the cliff. Every time I tried to get a handhold it would give way. I was frozen there. I had run out of options, everything I tried failed, and I remember just staying there awhile petrified, not knowing what to do. Well people who come to the Night Shelter, or Phoenix lodge are often like that. They have run out of options, and struggle to get a foothold or handhold to move on in life. The money you raise tonight is going toward ways we can reach out to them, and give them a hand to take the next step. I love you for being here to help us to do that.
- I love you also because of what your presence means. Every day we hear of hatred, division and bloodshed in the world. We hear of angry people seeking to destroy others. But here in the little city of Dunedin, at the bottom of the world, there's a group of young people who are saying "No, there's a different way, the way of compassion, of care and constructive love." Thank you for taking that stand, in the face of all the evil in the world... for that I love you .... Lets have a fun night together!

And that is what we did. At 67 I was a young man sleeping out with a lot of idealistic, energetic dancing students. Snow, wind and rain had been forecast, but it was a calm but cold night. It warmed my heart to be part of it.
Back into it, maybe...
I have been approached by the Session Clerk of the local Presbyterian Church and asked if I would take a more active part in leadership there. It has been a bit frustrating and tough there. I have agreed and we are working out a way we can do it, without hurting the ministers who come to speak, or seeming to take over too much, but in a way my wife and I can help lead, give some pastoral care and help more in worship. It all has to go through the proper protocols, and it does not mean I am back into "ministry", but just able to do more than we are doing at the moment. I am excited but in some ways scared by this, but have decided that if we are going to attend the Church, this is what is needed to help it be the presence it can be in our community. Watch this space.