Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Thursday, March 31, 2016


I think this has a truth to it that is relevant to my rant.
Let me let off steam. I get annoyed at know-alls and I seemed to have encountered a few lately. These are people who will emphatically state their opinion on all sorts of subjects in a way that gives the impression that there can be no other way of thinking. I guess sometimes we all get like that. I find these days, probably because I am a bit hesitant, that people like to fill the void with their emphatic opinions. I sit there like a goldfish with my mouth gaping, saying nothing, while they continue to burble on. Underneath I am saying, "Yeah but..." "No that's a generalisation" "that's not my experience" or even under my breath, "Bullshit".  Sometimes people will tell me how to live!  "You really should get rid of that car!" "Why don't you buy a new house?" "Oh I wouldn't buy that!" or even more personal advice. I think to myself, "What right do you have to tell me what to do? I would never presume to say that sort of thing to you!" They don't know my budget, my responsibilities, my priorities, my circumstances, what my wife thinks.. etc??? I put up with it, but really feel repelled and just want to move away. That's often why I enjoy being a loner. 

When I get to feel like pontificating that way I wish some inner voice would say to me...

1. The world is not black and white.... there are often shades of grey, different circumstances and different perspectives.  Sometimes we don't like the insecurity of "grey". we would rather have black or white. "Dave... be open to grey."

2. Everybody does not experience the world in the same way.  I like coffee, she likes tea and is allowed to like tea. No amount of my saying "Coffee is the real drink" is going to change that. That is true of many things people pontificate about. Someone says "That film was rubbish" Yes that was how you experienced it but because of my experiences of life and tastes, for me it wasn't rubbish. "That car is useless." "Well no, within my budget and for the things that I want to use a car for it is ideal. It may not suit your circumstances, but for me it is fine!" "Dave own your own experience, but that's not everybody else's."

3. Who are you trying to convince by your pontification? I get to listen to a particular preacher and his style of message is often arguing against "straw men" who say different things. I actually suspect he is having some inner questioning going on.  His emphatic pontification is more him trying to make himself feel more secure in beliefs he does not want to let go of, than really face the nagging truth that maybe there is more mystery than he wants to admit.  Sometimes we are shouting at ourselves, because we would rather not face uncertainties.   

4. Is your reasoning that weak that you have to say things in such a way that no one dare question it? Or.. Why are you yelling?  There is the story of the preacher who was preparing his notes for his sermon. As he read them through he wrote in the margin, "Argument weak here... shout louder."  I often think that sometimes the stronger we say something, indicates how insecure we are about that point, but we don't want our insecurity to be seen.  Remember the man who said emphatically, "I did NOT have sex with that woman!"

I knew a man once who had some "differences and difficulties" in his life. He had been to a psychiatrist and this doctor had given him a certificate to say that he was "sane." He often used to say in debates and discussions, quite seriously, "I AM sane, I can show you a certificate that says so!" The very statement made you question the truth of it.

I have often found that the really wise are often the quietly spoken, the listeners and muses. They are the one's who see the consequences, perceive the breadth of any situation, the inconsistencies and the connections between things.  They are the ones who will say, "I wonder if.... " and put a new perspective quietly, in the form of a question. Those truly secure people, don't have to parade their security and knowledge, they just "be" and in a sense "let be".  

The Desiderata says; 
"Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself."

Anyway I seem to have had a number of "loud and aggressive persons" vexing my spirit lately and this is me letting off steam.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Everybody is special.

My dad had this sort of perspective, and for that I am grateful.
A torpedo hoe in the hands of a master can do wonders!
Valuing people and their abilities.
On Facebook I saw and shared a statement that I keep in mind as I journey around workplaces. It says simply; "I was raised to treat the janitor with the same respect as the CEO." I think we too readily write people and their skills off.  I have heard it said, "Oh, he was only a tradesman." (or "tradie")  My mother desperately wanted us children "to be 'professionals' not tradesmen like your father." Dad on the other hand used to say, "I'm not too worried what they do, so long as they do it to the best of their ability and give a good honest day's work for a good day's pay." I have come to value the particular skills in each job. I get to see firefighters at work and see them working out tactics, the right use of the hose, the best point of entry or which part to deal to first etc.. I see brewery workers doing their thing. Fork lift drivers have a special skill. The engineers I love watching. I love traveling with St John Ambulance crews and hearing them assessing their patients. They bring medical knowledge but they also bring an ability to calm people, and help them cope with difficult situations. Recently I have picked up another "sort of" chaplaincy. There was an accident with a lawn mowing machine at the local botanical gardens. The group contracted to mow lawns wanted someone to come in and talk with those who witnessed it or were involved. I got sent in and sat on the grass debriefing (chatting) the crew, thinking it would be a one off visit.  But the management seem keen for me to keep up the contact. So I now chat to a few of the people working in the gardens on a regular basis. I was talking with their leader and he showed me where the tools are stored. He looked through the torpedo hoes, showing me one which was well worn. "I wonder how long that has been in use here to get that small? What stories that could tell, aye?" he commented. He chose one which was quite worn, small and sharp and we headed down a path to catch up on another staff member. "See here," he said pointing to the pathway, "The boy hasn't edged that correctly. This here is how you do it." With his hoe in hand, as we slowly walked, he ran the edge down the side of the path and gave a flick of his wrist every now and then and the path looked neatly edged and cambered. I could not do that! It would take me years to learn to do that so quickly and neatly.  As we have talked things through he has shown me the various jobs the group does, and once again I have come to value the work of the gardener. There are special skills, ways of seeing things and earthy wisdom that this man has that people should not write off with comments such as, "He's only a gardener."  I learned to appreciate skills as a secondary school pupil. I got a holiday job helping the janitor at a furniture factory. There was a timber yard there and my job was to assist the janitor to stack the timber for drying. This timber was the various types of wood that the factory made into furniture. It was seasoned in the yard and sometimes it was put through a kiln to dry it further. Fergus (Ferg we called him) was the janitor's name. He was a chain smoker and wheezed, coughed and swore his way through the day. But he knew all the various timbers and their characteristics. He would tell us what furniture they would be used for and what the grain would come up like. He would stack them with love. He knew how to handle planks of timber, moving one sideways with deft movements of his hand. He could look at a plank and estimate how long it was. We would check with the tape and he was always within a few inches. I went to that factory thinking this is "just a labouring job, easy peasy, I intend to do something 'higher'."  I came away with a real appreciation for the skills, knowledge and passion Ferg had. It was an important lesson that has enriched my life.
"The Lady in the Van."
My wife and I went to the films last night. It was the story of a homeless lady who parked her van outside the house of a playwright. She was elderly, cantankerous and not very hygienic.  The film follows the relationship these two and the neighbours had.  It turned out that she used to be a concert pianist but her experience as a nun and an accident led her to end up on the street. It was in part a comedy, with delightful characters and some great lines. I enjoyed the night out, but I ended up pensive. Through our drop-in centre in my last church I had encountered many similar situations. An old bloke Bill, wheezes his way around town, battles depression and various mental health issues. He used to be a lead guitarist in a band. Another man, (dead just now) used to come and I'd let him play the piano in the Church. He used to play piano and croon in a dance band, but drink and drugs took over his life. Another seemed quite mad, but had a memory that few could match. He could list off historical dates and mathmatical details as quick as a wink. I never saw him beaten in chess. "The Lady in the Van" is a great film, you would enjoy it. But as you watch it, know that the next "street person" you see could have a similar story and untapped skills locked inside them.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Scrapbook of thoughts

St Patricks Day gift

A man in one of my chaplaincies today raced off saying he would catch me in a few minutes. I was talking to another man when he re-appeared and handed me a plastic shopping bag saying, "Happy St Patricks Day." Here is a photo of his gift. I love sipping a Guinness.

How to communicate a truth?
"A big group who cant keep up."
I was asked to talk to a Lions group about the Night Shelter Work. I have talked to many groups and have discovered that many people do not understand the plight of the poor in our cities. People my age and older grew up in a very stable society. There were always plenty of jobs. People with mental health issues were often locked in institutions and looked after out of sight. Others who perhaps were "below average" could find manual or manufacturing work. Often in the groups I talk to are middle class and up people who have lived a fairly comfortable sheltered lifestyle. They see any loser as losing because they are lazy. They live in comfortable suburbs and don't realise the numbers of people who are struggling. Life has changed. Mental health sufferers are out on the street, often without the necessary support. The workplace has changed. It has become digital. Manufacturing has moved overseas. There are not the jobs for the less able. More and more people are struggling, and it is hard to communicate this reality to older, comfortably off middle to upperclass people. The illustration I used to this group: "I have often run half marathons. In a half marathon there are elite runners who take off and run great times. The are a group up front. Then there is the middle group of average runners, plodding along happy to finish and enjoy the run. But in every half marathon there are the strugglers. These are people who have not got the stamina for a long run. People who haven't trained sufficiently. People who don't have the ability, try as they might. If they finish it is when the marshalls have started packing up. Many give up running and walk. Many just stop and find a way home. There is always a group who can't keep up. .... (then I pause briefly and look at my audience) I am here to tell you that in the journey of life in our society there is a bigger and bigger group of those who just can't keep up! In our super efficient, digital, fast changing society, there's a growing group of people who cannot keep up." I said this so forcefully that there was absolute silence and I had everybody's attention. I went on to expound on the reasons for this and why we needed the Night Shelter and its work. 
I wished I had said, "You hate seeing things you love badly treated" 
We had a Church meeting on Sunday. We are a small virtually rural congregation with visiting ministers doing the preaching. I think their leadership of the services is below par. We were invited to be honest and open at this gathering so I said some positive things about the Church, but then said essentially that I could not encourage any friend to attend here, because I found that in general the services were "disappointing." "To me" I said, "They lack thought and preparation." A little later in the meeting I commented how I got angry sitting in Church. I tried to tell the truth in love, and I did say encouraging, positive things too but I think there were those who thought I was just a grumpy, judgemental old man who was being nasty about ministry colleagues. Later I wondered how I could have communicated in a better way about why I am at this point. I wished I had said: "Imagine if you were a dog lover. You kept dogs and cared for them intently. You loved dogs and throughout your life did everything in your power to improve the welfare of dogs in your community. Then one day you saw somebody neglecting and mistreating a dog. How would you feel? You would feel sad, angry and want to do anything in your power to make the neglect and mistreatment stop. In my life I have given most of my years to advance the way of Jesus in our community. It has been my passion, my reason for being and absorbed most of my energy. I have lived trying to express in word and deed the way of Jesus, because I think it is so 'right' and life enhancing. Now I sit in a Church where I see this way neglected, distorted and mistreated every Sunday. I cannot help but feel sad, angry and want to do everything in my power to stop this mistreatment of the way of Jesus." 
They are still young.
My wife and I had coffee in a cafe yesterday. There was a group of elderly people at a table close to us. There must have been about a dozen of them, they had joined a few tables together and were a noisy bunch.  One man at the head of the table had a party hat on and it was obviously his birthday that they were out celebrating. There was much lively, noisy conversation and laughter. They had a glint in their eyes, were teasing each other and were full of life, humour and conviviality. I thought, "They are just like teenagers!" Then I realised a truth. Our bodies get old, but at heart we still feel young. Scratch the surface of any elderly person and you find a young person trying to get out. Good on them! You go guys! You rock! 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

"Rage, rage against the dying of the light!"

A sign of the times.
On Saturday I was co-celebrant with the father of the bride at a wedding. The father of the bride is a good friend of mine, so I was happy to do it. So I found myself waiting outside under a rustic pergola waiting with the Groom and his groomsmen. The bride and her party came into the grassy area and processed up to the sound of a singer giving a good rendition of "Alleluia". The Bridesmaids arrived first, and the main bridesmaid leaned over to me and whispered, "You have to make an announcement that nobody is to post on social media." "Oh" I said, "I could do that at the end of the ceremony, that will be fine." Her eyes widened, "No... You have to do it now! They do it during the ceremony." "Really?" I said. "Yes" she replied, obviously frustrated at this old fool's lack of understanding of the situation. "I'll do it if you don't want to!" she said in an urgent whisper.  "No, I'll do it now." I responded wondering what the "congregation" would have been thinking about this rushed conference as the bride and her father walked toward me. So I did. I asked the people not to post photos onto social media, then we began the ceremony proper. I had heard, ironically via social media, of the problem before, but had not encountered it in any wedding I had conducted. It was a new experience for this old parson.
Nostalgic fun.
The wedding was held at a spacious scout camping ground where there were various grassy areas. After the ceremony the guests were invited for drinks and games in yet another grassy area. I had a couple of drinks and talked with various guests. At one stage I saw that the little boys were playing cricket, and that the adults who had started with them had stopped. I saw this one boy bowling to his cousin who was batting. There was just one fielder chasing the ball and returning it to the bowler. I knew that that would be frustrating for all involved because the batsman could send the ball in all directions. So I joined in as a fielder. Others came and went, but I spent quite a lot of the time between the ceremony and the wedding meal fielding the ball with these kids. I enjoyed it. I remembered childhood family picnics and the hours of backyard cricket I played as a kid with my brothers, friends and cousins. I recalled games of cricket I played with my boys, wearing a patch on the front lawn and wrecking the hedge chasing the ball. It was simply good to be a kid again playing cricket with kids, helping them enjoy their time together. I heard a psychologist talking on TV and she said something like, "... the two year old in us wants to..." She implied that part of us remains a child. I enjoyed being a kid again playing backyard cricket.
But I'm too old to ...
A man at my St John Chaplaincy has challenged me to join him on the starting line of the Moro half marathon in September. I have done many of them before, but not since 2007. The last race I ran in was a 5k Business House Fun run in 2010. In September I will be 68. I have begun my training, walking regularly, before taking some short runs, and mixing my exercise between running, walking and cycling. I discovered my running shoes were starting to disintegrate, with bits of rubber hitting the ground before others. So I went to buy new running shoes. I went into the sports shoe store and was looking at the running shoes when a grinning young shop assistant asked if he could help. "Yes," I replied, "I want to buy a new pair of running shoes. My ones are falling to pieces." He looked at me as I was twisting a shoe in my hand. He looked me up and down. He was sizing up my age and stage.  "You'll want walking shoes won't you? We have a good selection over here." gesturing away from the running shoe section to another corner of the store. He had aged and graded me and thought I was too old, too fat or too whatever else, to be running. "No" I said, speaking slowly, clearly enunciating the words, "I am going to try to do a half marathon in September. I want running shoes!" "Oh"he replied, and then became quite helpful. To his credit he resisted the temptation to roll his eyes. I maybe too old to run, but I am going to give it a try. It was interesting how he summed me up and assumed my lack of ability. For the record, I jogged ten kilometres on Sunday afternoon, and it felt OK.
But I am guessing at words...
My wife has suggested for some time that I am growing deaf. I think there is a bit of selective hearing there, but she is right. We were watching a David Attenbourgh nature show on TV and he was waxing on about this little bird who made a beautiful sound. The film showed these little birds opening their beaks and making the sound, a sound I could not hear. I checked with my wife. "Did you hear the sound they were making?" "Yes" she said triumphantly, "Can't you hear that? See I told you so!" She made an appointment with the appropriate audiologist. The audiologist lady, who looked to me like a teenager, was asking me questions about why I thought I needed her services. I told her, "In my life I have often encountered grumpy old men who have complained that everybody is mumbling, and that the younger generation does not speak clearly. I have deduced that it was their hearing that was going." "Yeees." the teenager said, obviously wondering where this was going. "Well," I said, "I have become one of those grumpy old men! I need a hearing test." Sure enough when the tests were done and dusted, she advised me that I needed two hearing aids. We are looking into it. 

In summary... This old parson encountered a problem of modern social media; enjoyed being a child again; was insulted when a young salesman assumed he was to old to run; and faces the evidence that the problems of old age are indeed happening.