Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

I want real substance in the election debate!

The election is not a game of rugby – it is important! It is not just another reality TV show. People’s lives matter. We have a beautiful country, with potentially great resources. We live in peace with a democratic system of government. But there are some big issues confronting us as a nation.

We have the highest youth suicide rate of all the developed countries in the world. Why? Have we lost hope? Are our values messed up? Don’t we have enough “connection”?

We have more homelessness per capita than any of the other OECD country. – In New Zealand!

In spite of the Prime minister and the Health minister ignoring the problem there is a crisis at Dunedin hospital. (Southern DHB) Senior Doctors are speaking out and patients (like myself) waiting for life saving tests and treatment will tell you this. I am sure other DHB’s have similar issues.

We have a high imprisonment rate, but of those in prison 51% are Maori, 33% European and 12% Pacific Island. Are we failing our indigenous people? It is estimated that 40% of those in prison have mental health issues.

We have serious alcohol and drug abuse problems. Why do we need to be self-medicating so much? One would think this beautiful country would provide sufficient stimulus for life?

The rich/poor gap is widening. The top 1% own 20% of the nation's wealth. The bottom 90% has less than half the nation's wealth. There are many examples of injustice, unfair conditions and inequality of access.

I could list more.  My point is that it is time to stop playing power games, or just fiddling with the deck chairs. We need politicians with compassion and a desire to address these people-issues. We need parties who do not just pander to our selfishness, but address the long-term deeper issues confronting us. We, the average citizen, need to be responsibly involved in the election process. Vote, and think deeply and with a wider perspective about the commonwealth of all. 

In saying this I do not think the full solutions to these problems can come from governments. I think we need to be thinking deeply about our lifestyle, culture and values. In discarding the old we have lost depth and meaning. But we are weeks away from an election and things need to change. We need leaders with depth, integrity and compassion. Vote responsibly and intelligently please. I love this country of ours. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Variation, theme for the day.

The donated ambulance in the Octagon (Centre of the city) ready to be dedicated and unwrapped.
As I drove home tonight reflecting on my day, I could not help but think of the variety.
Here was my day's activities; I began by checking emails related to the night shelter and responding to them. During that time I received a Skype video call from my son in Edinburgh. It was great chatting for a short time, interrupted by a phone call about local church matters. 
I then went into town, where my first visit was to the brewery where I am their workplace chaplain. I was received warmly and I wandered about talking with various workers. One guy asked if I had been in contact with a man who had been dismissed from the brewery several months before. He said, "We'll phone him and put him on speaker phone." So we did. The two of us caught up with him and chatted warmly then we all moved on. At another part of the brewery some asked how they could help out at the night shelter during a community work day? After well over an hour there I came away feeling like I had enjoyed warm and significant conversations. 
But I could not bask in the feeling, because I rushed to the Ambulance station to have lunch. I had to change some of my clothing. I was to be involved in dedicating a donated ambulance in the centre of town, so I had to look like a chaplain dressed for a formal occasion. On the side of the road, off came the high vis jacket, my jumper and the steel capped boots and on went flash black shoes, a tie, and a St John chaplain's jacket. I had a quick lunch with paramedics catching up on their busy morning, then walked to the Octagon in the centre of town where an Ambulance was placed all wrapped up with a ribbon on display. Local, regional and national St John dignitaries gathered.  The local police chief and fire chief turned up and of course there were important people from the bank which was making the donation and other members of St John, operational and administration staff. I chatted with the fire chief, the St John dignitaries and an unemployed friend who used to come to our drop-in centre. Then the ceremony happened and I had to put on a clerical stole and lead appropriate prayers. The flash new state of the art ambulance was unwrapped, people had coffee and chatted before going our different ways. I chatted with some of the city's vulnerable people, the street people of our city who recognised me, and were keen to catch up. The local Member of Parliament had attended and shook my hand warmly. As he was leaving he stopped and talked enthusiastically about changes in leadership of his party and the election campaign. I went on my way chatting warmly with the fire chief as we walked down the street together.  I drove home to prepare for the next part of my day. As I travelled I thought of the mixture of people I had shared with and Rudyard Kipling's poem, "If". The last verse begins:
 "If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch. 
If Neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you. 
If all men count with you, but none too much."
I felt thankful for the variety. 
Once home I prepared to lead a Night Shelter Trust meeting that night, printing off papers and doing some thinking of the issues we would talk about. My wife was doing her rostered afternoon voluntary stint as a St John "Friend of the Emergency Department" at the hospital, so I prepared vegetables and a casserole for the evening meal. She would come home while I was at the Night Shelter meeting. 
I then returned to town to lead the Night Shelter meeting, which covered reports about past progress, and plans for the future. 

Driving home in the dark to a warm house and a meal which I had helped prepare, I reflected on the rich variety of my day.
There was the variety of tasks. 
* Catching up on brewery workers and having significant conversations there in high vis jackets, among kegs, computers, machines and forklifts.
* Talking with Ambulance staff and leading in a dedication ceremony in the centre of the city, dressed in clerical garb suitable for a St John Order chaplain.
* Preparing food in the kitchen and planning a meeting.
* Talking Night Shelter business, finance and future plans with a Trust Board as I chaired a meeting.

There was a variety of people. Family in Edinburgh. Brewery workers. Paramedics. Dignitaries. bankers. Fire Chief, a Member of Parliament and caring responsible Night Shelter Trustees, as well as friendly vulnerable street people. 

I am indeed privileged, - but maybe a tad busy.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sleeping out in a frost.

Me on a park bench prior to 2014 sleep-out. This was in the local paper.
Four years ago when we as the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust were trying to raise money to buy our buildings, my friend and I, along with a local politician and another man, slept out in the Octagon, the park-like centre of Dunedin city. It was reported in the paper and raised our profile. 
The next year the Student volunteer centre at the University got in touch and suggested that we have another winter sleep-out involving students. We slept out in the Octagon again and through various fundraising schemes, the nearly 200 students raised $12,000 toward our purchase price. But more than that it launched the last few months of our campaign and raised the city's awareness of the need. We were able to complete the purchase in October of that year. So a student sleep-out in the Octagon in winter (July) has become something of a tradition and I have been privileged to join in them. Last Friday was this year's version. There were smaller numbers, about 70 students, and I shared with them for the night. It reached zero degrees centigrade, probably below that at the grass level, where we were attempting to sleep.  They begin at 7p.m. on the Friday evening with speeches, then had various musicians and entertainers with Zumba and breakfast at around 6 a.m. on Saturday, finishing at 7 a.m.
I unfortunately had responsibilities in the local Church early in the evening.  I had joined some students late afternoon to help them set up the Octagon, then helped look after a family fun night at our Church, (I played pool, foosball, twister etc. with kids in the church hall.) returning to the students about 8 p.m. My daughter who is treasurer of the Night Shelter Trust deputised for me with the opening speech. 
I had expected a friend and a local Member of Parliament to join me for the night, but both came and gave me legitimate reasons why they had to be looking after family instead. So here I was, a lone old guy (68 years old) among 70 students enjoying sleeping out on a freezing night in the centre of the city. I LOVED it all over again. 
I saw these young people caring for the cause that so dominates my life, but they had fun doing it. They made cardboard dwellings where they could sleep. These were judged and the winning team announced. The music talent was of a high standard.  Some "fire dancers" came and entertained, then opened it up to others to join in the activity. This went on for a long time, well past midnight. One particular bar in the Octagon had extremely loud music playing which we could easily hear, so there were a heap of students having a spontaneous dance party, doing some sort of line dancing, singing and laughing in the cold night air.  In our city the students often have a reputation for bad behaviour and drinking too much. This was an alcohol free event, it was freezing, but they were still obviously really enjoying being together. 
Me with the Student volunteer co-ordinator and members of the Uni-crew planning team a week ago.
One incident stood out. There was an asian dwarf girl who needed a wheel chair to go any distance, but who could walk short distances.  She and her carer joined in the fire dancing, laughing and grinning from ear to ear as they attempted the tricks. I was sitting in a deck chair dressed for the cold, just keeping an eye on everything. A man who had been walking through the Octagon sat beside me. He had been drinking and had slurred speech, but was friendly as we chatted a bit while we watched the fire dancers. It turned out that he used to do fire tricks, and for a while he went over and joined in, chatting with the leaders. He came back beside me. The little dwarf girl was attempting the fire dancing nearby and had taken off her jacket, hanging it on a traffic cone. She saw that he could be cold, and came over with her little jacket and offered it to my companion for warmth. He declined, but I was really impressed by this gesture. Here she was a woman with major challenges of her own to face, but still open to the needs of an unknown drunk guy sitting on the sideline.
People gathering for music.
Fire dancers entertained us.
The noisy bar continued to pound out music until 3 a.m. It was getting colder and I found it hard to get comfortable for sleeping. (I had forgotten to bring gloves) I snuck away to my van which was parked just a few metres away. It was not much warmer, but I managed about an hour's sleep. At 6 a.m. Zumba started and a group joined us to cook pancakes for breakfast. My daughter and son-in-law appeared, and we joined a few of the leaders in pulling down the cardboard dwellings and loading the cardboard into a student van and my van, then going off to appropriate skips to get rid of it. The clean-up had begun. We were finished by about 7:50 a.m. and I rushed off to the Farmers Market. There I stood for nearly four hours with a bucket collecting for the Night Shelter. Just after midday I headed home. I had got up at 6:30 a.m. on Friday morning for a radio interview, and from there until midday Saturday, I had only one hour of disturbed, cold, uncomfortable sleep, and had done a lot of work. Driving the 10k home I began to feel sleepy. At one stage I momentarily lost consciousness, but managed to wake up before the van wandered off the road. At home I made a cup of tea and sandwiches and crawled into bed for the rest of the afternoon.
Tucked up to sleep out in freezing temperatures to raise awareness about homelessness.
Zumba at 6 a.m. The dwarf asian girl tried Zumba in her wheelchair. Toward the left edge of the group.

It is nearly breakfast. 
The edge of the Farmers Market where I was collecting.
I felt really privileged to be part of such a wholesome event. There is much about the world to bring a sense of despair, but these young people lifted this old man's spirits with their compassion, energy and shear enjoyment of life. Well done to Otago University Uni-Crew.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Coping with "Know alls".

I have suffered an affliction all of my life. It happens because I do not have all the relational skills I should have. It happens because I lack a certain confidence or maybe courage. Sometimes it happens because I am wise.
I keep putting up with "know alls". Some of them are my friends. They come across as if they think they are authorities on all sorts of subjects and can pontificate assertively about them.  On the light side I often say jokingly, to the firefighters that "If I want to know anything I only have to ask a firefighter and they will tell me - whether they know about it or not!" (Don't tell them but often they are very helpful sources of information.)
I recall once I was doing some pipe work at the Church and this Church member came along and started telling me how to do it! - I trained and worked as a plumber - he was a paint salesman! I have also had all sorts of people trying to correct my Theology or tell me what the Bible says. I have spent decades studying the Bible. I appreciate opinions, but I appreciate informed opinions. I am going to build something and there will always be someone ready to tell me how to do it, or how not to do it - and there is only one way according to them. But they are often looking at it as someone with an limitless budget, and that's not me. When we decided to raise money to buy the Night Shelter, there were those who said we could not do it! I have listened quietly to "advice" from all sorts of people, on all sorts of subjects, from people who often like to give such advice without a hint of humility - they know! Often they do not see the full picture of what they are talking about. They are often comparing "apples with oranges", but that does not stop them prattling on and pontificating. They say things with such certainty that if I differed I would either have to call them a liar or stupid! ( I get the same feeling listening to some politicians - e.g. Donald Trump) They state things in such a way that "this is the way it is - and there is no room for debate!" Some times I want to scream- "Do you think I'm stupid!" - but I don't. Maybe I'm chicken. Only occasionally do I break out and contradict or question.
I saw a video on facebook recently with the camera focused on the face of a woman with a deadpan look, listening to some person and nodding and just saying "Mmmm" from time to time. Underneath was the caption, "Me listening to another bullshit artist!" That is often me. I am not skilled enough in being assertive in response so I just say "Mmmm", and fume underneath. 
Sometimes I want to disagree intensely, but I think, "What's the point? This person will never change their mind. They do not have the insight to have an intelligent conversation. They obviously are not willing to think differently. I will be wasting my breath and their time challenging them." Even Jesus said something about "Don't caste your pearls before swine."
Often I do not speak my mind because I learn to "choose my battles". Some things are worth the hassle, but other things are just not worth going on about.
Often I guess it could be that I do not have the courage to challenge the speaker. Sometimes I say things like, "That's an interesting perspective." in such a tone that I communicate that it is, however, not the way I see it, and the subject is dropped. I think too that my job has been to listen in a pastoral way, and people are more likely to mouth off to a "listener", so I am fair game for such people. If I'm with it enough, I will occasionally have the wisdom to ask a question that suggests a different perspective. 
I heard somebody describe another man as somebody "who does not suffer fools lightly. They call a spade a spade." Well I guess that's not me. I seem to be destined to "suffer fools." Just sometimes when the issue is important, or involves a slur on somebody else, I will "not suffer fools", but most often I am the non-assertive listener, and I guess I will be until I die. Just sometimes I wish I wasn't. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

My neighbourhood.

I went for a walk today in my locality. I have been trying to get back into running, but have not managed a run for nearly two weeks, so I thought a brisk 12k walk would loosen me up for a run later in the week. I headed out and ten minutes into my walk encountered a man from one of my chaplaincies walking his dogs. We stopped and talked for about five minutes and I went on. Around the corner came a cyclist on a fancy road bike, all in lycra. "Hello Dave" he said as he braked and turned around and rode back toward me as my mind raced to locate his name in my memory banks. I remembered just as he reminded me. He is the partner of a friend I have not seen for years so once again I stopped and talked. (I have been in Dunedin too long. This happens often. When my wife and I visit a hardware store in town, she jokingly says, "$10 for everybody we meet that you know.") I finally continued my walk, uninterrupted except for a quick talk with another couple halfway around. As I walked I began to really appreciate the simple beauty of the place I live. I live on the outskirts of Dunedin, in Sawyers Bay, which is the suburb next to the port "village" of Port Chalmers, the container and cruise ship port for Dunedin. I simply share some photos I took with my phone as I walked.
Careys Bay next to the Port.
Looking toward the mouth of Otago Harbour.
Historic Iona Church, part of "our" presbyterian Parish. It is in the process of being restored.
Port Chalmers Logo - Koputai is the Maori name for the locality. 
A murky Otago harbour looking toward Dunedin.
A fishing ship on its way from Dunedin Wharfs to the open sea.
Nearly at my house - I love the semi rural outlook. The days are short, so it is beginning to get dark - and it was raining!

I love New Zealand as a place to live. I enjoy Dunedin, and the Port Chalmers/Sawyers Bay community. I am indeed a fortunate man.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A gift to treasure.

Jean and I and our daughter and son-in-law received an invitation to the Night Shelter for morning tea on Friday. It came through my daughter and she said it was "just a thank you thing." So we went, and when we arrived there were a couple of other volunteers there and two of the staff. One of the staff is a down to earth "been-there-done-that" Maori woman named Matekino. She has been a great asset to the Night shelter and has been with us for about 18 months - 2 years. There was a table full of food to eat and warm cups of tea and coffee. I was wondering what prompted this, when Matekino spoke up and said she had something to give "Mr & Mrs B, David and Jean". She left the room and came in with two Maori cloaks or Kakahu. In Maori tradition the Kakahu was a sign of Chieftainship and was a significant honour or acknowledgement that was given to "special" people. Matekino had made these two Kakahu using as their base two donated blankets. She placed these over our shoulders and said they were a gift of appreciation for our acceptance of her into the work of the night shelter and our role in that work. I was lost for words. She is an over night supervisor for us and a community worker helping clients find accommodation and access the help they need. She is sort of shy and bashful, but wanted to express her regard in this special way. I think the job at the Night Shelter is one she loves and a significant step for her. She is good at it and says the Night shelter is her "whare" or home, "where she can offer hospitality".  I am not sure when or where I will wear it, but I treasure it and her loving gesture. It was a special time.  

Monday, June 19, 2017

Encouraging happenings.

I realise lately that I lead a pretty interesting, encouraging and fortunate life. I thought I would share some events with you.
Students raise funds - At the beginning of the University year I had a lecturer approach me through the volunteer coordinator at the University to see if his management class could partner with the Night Shelter. The idea was that his class would be split into groups and each group had to fund raise for the Night Shelter. They would be given marks for their work, with the group raising the most getting the most marks. I had to go along and speak to them and they made further contact with me if they wanted to ask questions. Recently they had their final tutorial of the class and I was invited along to speak and receive the proceeds. I will let the photo speak for itself.

It is quite a pleasant duty to be there and receive this generous donation from these bright young people.
Local's enjoy the space. We attend the local Presbyterian Church at Sawyers Bay/Port Chalmers. While at first we found it hard to fit in, we have been progressively becoming more involved. We felt we were needed there and could help the Church in its life. My wife and I are now on its Parish Council and I lead two services each month. We have been taking a lead role in getting the Church to relate more purposefully with the people of the local community and serve needs there. The Church is right next to the play centre and to the school, with school families using the Church car park regularly. My wife has begun a Tuesday afternoon coffee time when parents and others can come in at the end of school, catch up with each other and have a hot drink together. The numbers enjoying the hospitality of the Church supper room are slowly, but surely increasing. Secondly we recently started an intergenerational family night time in the Church hall. I have been repairing a pool table, a foosball table and we bought a table tennis table. We had our first night a couple of Friday nights ago, after letterbox dropping every house in Sawyers Bay. We opened up and waited. About five to ten minutes after opening we had a whole influx of Children and parents. We had nearly thirty through on the first night! It was a happy noisy time, which we have named Rumpus Room @Emmanuel. It was a good feel to be making new friends.  We look forward to building this service up. 

Toward the end of the evening when things had quietened down.
Brief break away-  My wife kept telling me we needed a break out of town, so on the Saturday morning after our Rumpus Room night we drove the two and a half - three hour drive to New Zealand's southern most city, Invercargill. We booked into an "executive suite" (with a spa) at a Motel and in time went out for dinner at an Irish pub, "Waxy O'Shea's" We came back to the Motel and enjoyed the Sky Sports on offer, watching the visiting Lion's Rugby team (UK) playing a local team. The next morning came the main reason for traveling south.  First we went around to a special Hardware store which we had visited a few years ago. It has old motorbikes (the original Bert Munro Fastest Indian) some old and interesting machines and tools and various classic cars on display. Apart from that the store stocks the most interesting array of hardware and tools. I wandered around in man-heaven, soaking in the sights. From there we went to the Transport Museum. On display were countless cars, vintage and classic, trucks of all sorts and farm machinery. There were other displays as well. So we wandered around in petrol-head-heaven for a couple of hours before retracing our journey home. It was an enjoyable break.
The Brewery where I am chaplain once had this with a tanker delivering beer to inner-city pubs.
We once owned an Ambulance of this model.

Roast lamb meal and a guinness at an Irish pub before the rugby started.
St John enrollment ceremony- On Monday night I went to an enrollment ceremony for St John Cadets. The Order of St John have cadet groups, and apparently it is the fastest growing youth movement in the country. I am proud to be their chaplain because they teach good core values and service to the community. Several cadets were being enrolled from various locations, and I as their chaplain had to receive the flag at the beginning of proceedings, and start the night with a prayer. I found the night an encouragement, especially when I was able to catch up on a mum and daughter (now an 18 year old) both involved in the St John Cadets in leadership positions, who I knew well. We had worked with them years ago in building their Habitat for Humanity home. It was delightful to chat with them in this different setting. I admire the Order of St John and its ethos and am pleased to be a volunteer chaplain for them.
Community Leadership Panel- Several weeks ago I got an email from a woman from the Otago Medical Students Association. They have been running sessions on Community Leadership for Medical students, and were planning a panel discussion with some people who had done leadership in the community. She asked if I would be part of this panel. Initially I replied, "Are you sure you have the right guy? I just muddle along." Anyway she had supplied me with questions to begin the discussion and last Tuesday night I went along to join two other panel members in front of about 30 - 40 students. The two others were the local Dunedin North Member of Parliament, David Clark, and Rachel, a lady heading up an interesting community hub project. The first question asked what experiences we had of community leadership? This was embarrassing, because I was by far the oldest. When I told my wife the question, she said, "Good Grief! Where do you start? You have been doing stuff since you were a teenager!" I recall my father in 1963 telling us boys, "Stop complaining about there being no youth group in the Church. Get off your butts and start one if you really want one." I did not bore the listeners in going back that far, but mentioned just some of the projects we had been involved in over the last thirty years. (Christmas dinners, Drop-in centre, Habitat for humanity and the Night Shelter. etc.) The second question was what is your motivation? I suggested mine came from my spirituality as a follower of Jesus, and how as such, I recognised the essential unity of humankind. I talked about the gap between rich and poor and much of what I had initiated was an attempt to in some way lessen the gap. I found the night encouraging meeting this group of caring motivated young people seeking to learn more about serving their community. But as I prepared for the questions I began to really appreciate the journey of life I have been on. It has brought untold experiences, I have met lots of lovely people, I have grown immensely as a person, and each of the projects has been fulfilling. Often it has been bloody hard work with tough passages, but looking back, I have few regrets, and we are still doing it.
I am the old bloke in the middle.
A dead mum - On Thursday last week I was in town between appointments and needed somewhere to eat my cut lunch. I took my lunch out to a suburban fire station where I knew there was a crew whose company I really enjoyed. I walked in and told them I was there for lunch, and we sat, ate and chatted. I was just washing my cup preparing to leave when the officer received a phone call. It was his wife, she was at the hospice where she was sitting with family around her dying mum. The first I knew of it was when the officer, who had departed the room to talk in private with her, re-entered and looking at me said, "What exquisite timing, I've got the Reverend here!" In due course I was asked to become involved. She died that afternoon, but had left instructions that there was to be no fuss, and no funeral. So on Friday I found myself at the funeral Director's in a room around the open casket of this lady with her four children. I asked about their mum. The told me about her tough life, her faithfulness, her devotion to being there for them throughout their life and her personality. There were sobs but also laughter. We then went into a brief ceremony. They had chosen some things to read and I led them through a final committal. Again I felt encouraged. I felt the extreme privilege of being let into this family's life and history, and sharing in this personal way in this intimate moment with them. But I also found encouragement in the effectiveness of the Workplace Chaplaincy model. They had no Church connections, but they looked on me as their "Reverend". Some years ago I had been through a tough time of bereavement with this family, and knew the officer well. I was so pleased that in a very natural way they could turn to me again and receive my support, and I could travel this journey with them also.

That is part of my never dull, interesting and fulfilling life over the last week or so. I am so so very fortunate.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Does it matter if some stories are "fake News"?

On facebook a friend reproduced this post about leadership as follows,
What is a true leader??

This is a pack of wolves. The three in front are old and sick, they walk in the front to set the pace for the rest of the group so that they don't get left behind.
The next five are the strongest and the best, they are there to protect the front if there is an attack.
The pack in the middle are always protected from attack with the strongest both sides of them.
The next five behind the middle pack, are also among the strongest and the best, they are tasked to protect the back side if there is an attack.
The last one, that is the LEADER. He ensures that no one is left behind. He keeps the pack unified and on the same path. He is always ready to run in any direction to protect and serve as a "bodyguard" to the entire pack.
Just incase you were wondering what it really means to be a leader... it's not about being out front and for all to see.
It means taking care of your whole team.

Hope you all had a good day x

Then of course there were the comments. One person said, "You know it is fake news eh. Makes a nice story though."
Another person wrote, "Fake news or not it demonstrates a leadership model that is so hard to find and one that is worth considering and practicing."
In other words, it did not matter if the story is historically true about wolves behaviour, its point is true and worth listening to. That makes sense doesn't it? 

Now I want to apply the same rules to stories in the Bible, many, perhaps most of which can be taken as parable or metaphor. We'll stick to the New Testament. Was there a virgin birth? Did Jesus make wine out of water? Did he calm the storm, multiply the loaves and fishes, heal all those people in a miraculous way, come back to life after death etc etc. Today in Church we read the ascension story from Acts. It reads, ".. as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them, etc." Now did that happen? Should we get into an argument about whether, and how it happened historically?
I believe for many of these stories in the gospels and Acts (and other books in the Bible) we must say, "Fake news or not, this story demonstrates a deeper truth that is worth considering." 

The late New Testament scholar Marcus Borg suggested this approach. Dominic Crossan suggested that many of the gospel stories and the gospels themselves are parables about the great parable teller, Jesus. This frees us to listen to their deeper meanings and not get bogged down and distracted by historicity questions.
Anyway that is about where I am at, and I could not help thinking of this when my friend posted this story about the wolves and leadership.

Monday, May 22, 2017

What a great model for the Church in our times.

At one of my chaplaincies there is a delightful woman in her forties. I call her the "girl racer of the forklift", because she is so skilled at driving a forklift, stacking pallets, loading a truck and organising the area she looks after. She used to play women's rugby football, then coached it and has always been a devoted member of her club. She recently became president of the rugby club, I think the first woman president of a Dunedin rugby football club. Usually these clubs are the domain of men, and women are just the "helpers". 
I was talking to her recently and she was telling me that the Rugby Club has in recent years opened its doors to other codes. There was a nearby association football club (soccer) which did not have facilities or a training ground. The rugby club opened its facilities and grounds up to this club. The soccer club joined the rugby club. Then a Netball team likewise did not have facilities so they too became one with the Rugby Club. They are all part of the one organisation though they play and train for their different codes. At the end of the season there is a prize giving night. All three groups join together and celebrate the season, with each group giving out their prizes as part of a combined celebration. 
In times past rugby union players looked down on soccer players as wimps, playing a "namby pamby" game. Soccer players scoffed at rugby players claiming they were "all braun and no brains". A women's and girls netball team would not be seen as important. But here the old battle lines of gender, age and code are crossed, and they support each other, share facilities and celebrate together in the name of sport. 

What a great model for the Church. In my last Church I tried to get our central city located Church building to be home for all sorts of life enhancing groups. It worked to a degree. At one stage we had monthly multi-ethnic "family" nights celebrating the cultures, music and foods of different nations. We hosted people working on and teaching about sustainability, climate change and the environment, encouraging their work and in a sense sponsoring their events. Many of these folk were atheists, but we connected with their passion, and they found a home in our wider community.  In earlier years too, we had Sunday night ventures where once a month we "Celebrated the Community." We enjoyed choirs, drama groups, musicians, authors and others who would come together in a cabaret style setting to express their talents. I think, however, that this wider vision of "Church" was something many of the traditional Church folk found hard to cotton onto. It was not fully supported. I saw these wider groups as somehow part of our wider "family" or "Church Community" but the more traditional Church members saw them as just community groups getting cheap use of our facilities. The Church people did not support our multi-cultural family nights as much as they could have. In some ways they missed out on the breadth of God's world. If God is "in all and through all" and if we believe that "in him we live and move and have our being" then Churches should be open to celebrating "life" in all its richness. Anyway as my "Fork lift driving rugby club president" told me about her club and their activities, I could not help thinking what a great model. They join together to celebrate "Sport" not just one code. The Church could/should join with others to celebrate "Life" not just be a religious club of a certain denomination.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Passing the peace or arranging a coffee date?

We attend a little local Church with the number of people attending on a good day being only in the 20's. Apart from the Sundays that I lead, we have visiting ministers. One of them tends to lead quite a formal service, in this very small friendly congregation. He dresses in robes and follows very set and religious sounding prayers. Always near the beginning of the service he invites us to share in "Passing the peace" where we are to shake the hand of people in the congregation, and say the words, "May the Peace of Christ be with you." Sometimes he has a difficult job getting order back in the service as this group of people greet each other very warmly, with very little formality. One Sunday he could be seen up the front surveying the noisy rabble looking most uncomfortable, and when he finally got silence returned, he commented that he thought he should bring a bell to signal "time up". Last Sunday he invited us to pass the peace, and a lady across the aisle wrapped her arms around my wife in an enthusiastic hug, to which my wife responded warmly. The woman then moved on to me. "I'm not giving you a hug, it wouldn't be proper!" she joked. I feigned disappointment, as we grasped each others hands and said, "Great to see you!". As I moved about the melee that ensued, I noticed not all were saying the right words, some were catching up on stuff, there were "high fives" with the children and general warmth, smiles and laughter. I over heard a conversation my wife had. The woman she was greeting said, "We'll have to go for coffee again. When can you make it?" and it carried on. When we got home I joked with my wife. "You were not supposed to be arranging a coffee date! This is worship. You were meant to be passing the peace?"  "I think God would prefer us to sort out a coffee break." my wife responded. I think she may be right.  Love shared is God shared, and what better way to share love and life than having a coffee break.
We have been told we are "not viable" as a congregation. We are just a small group of mostly elderly people but the love and friendship between the group makes us more than viable. The regular gathering is worthwhile, healthy and life giving, even if we don't obey directions.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

I wept singing the National Anthem

Looking down on Sawyers Bay, Port Chalmers and the mouth of the Otago Harbour. The community I love.
Coming down "My" mountain at about sunset.
The golf course opposite our house.
Main Street Port Chalmers. 
The actual "Sawyers Bay" - New Zealand is a nice place to live.
In New Zealand we have ANZAC day. It is held on April 25th every year and communities across Australia and New Zealand remember those who have died in wars. The day marks the day when Australian and New Zealand soldiers landed on Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. That battle was a major disaster with scores upon scores of casualties and eventually the troops withdrawing. 

There are dawn services held, but my wife and I attended the mid-morning local Port Chalmers ceremony held in front of a monument and flagpole in the main street of Port Chalmers. Standing there we found that people about us did not sing the hymn, "Oh God our help in ages past." Then just about the last thing in the service was singing the National Anthem. Again a few more, but not many sang it. I love the New Zealand national anthem. Generally only one verse is sung, but I sometimes use it (without the third verse) as a hymn/prayer in a Church service. 

English version

God of Nations at Thy feet,
In the bonds of love we meet,
Hear our voices, we entreat,
God defend our free land.
Guard Pacific's triple star
From the shafts of strife and war,
Make her praises heard afar,
God defend New Zealand.
Men of every creed and race,
Gather here before Thy face,
Asking Thee to bless this place,
God defend our free land.
From dissension, envy, hate,
And corruption guard our state,
Make our country good and great,
God defend New Zealand.
Peace, not war, shall be our boast,
But, should foes assail our coast,
Make us then a mighty host,
God defend our free land.
Lord of battles in Thy might,
Put our enemies to flight,
Let our cause be just and right,
God defend New Zealand.
Let our love for Thee increase,
May Thy blessings never cease,
Give us plenty, give us peace,
God defend our free land.
From dishonour and from shame,
Guard our country's spotless name,
Crown her with immortal fame,
God defend New Zealand.
May our mountains ever be
Freedom's ramparts on the sea,
Make us faithful unto Thee,
God defend our free land.
Guide her in the nations' van,
Preaching love and truth to man,
Working out Thy glorious plan,
God defend New Zealand.
As the gathering sang the National Anthem, my wife and I began to sing well, thinking we at least should do our bit, since many about us stayed silent. I unfortunately was so moved by the anthem and what it stood for that I choked up. I teared up just now listening to You Tube versions of it. Why? It is not the remembrance of dead soldiers that moved me. What is it that moves me? I have been stewing on what it could be. 
I have decided that it is love of my country and what it, ideally stands for. But the sadness comes from the fact that in my life time the NZ values that I grew up to be proud of have, in my view, slipped.
When I grew up we learned to be proud of the egalitarian nature of New Zealand. The class system of England had been left behind, and New Zealand was a place where fairness for all was a basic value. That is not so much the case now. The gap between the rich and the poor has expanded. Money talks too much in politics. The "system" favours the rich.
I grew up proud of our democratic tradition. We were the first in the world to grant the vote to women. Politicians were people of integrity who could not be bought, and who you could generally think of as seeking the "common-wealth" of all. I see politicians now telling lies and getting away with it. There have been dodgy dealings, and the appearances of dodgy wheeling and dealing exposed in our political arena. I have seen leaders feathering the nest of their rich mates.  They often turn the blame on the poor for the costs to tax payers, when often corporates have been the biggest tax dodgers and bludgers of public money. You are much more likely to be chased, and charged for benefit misappropriation, than rich corporates are of being charged for default of taxes for much bigger amounts.  Often they are forgiven, while beneficiaries are the scape goat.
We were proud of our social security system, our public health system and our free education systems. Lately all these have been eroded, and the first questions surgeons ask if you need an operation is, "do you have insurance?" If you don't, waiting lists are massive. Mental health care is, frankly, collapsing.
All of this, with globalisation and technology change brings real hardship for people. There is a shortage of affordable housing, with sad stories of families living in garages or cars. There are few manufacturing jobs available, with lots of people at the bottom of the heap living lives with little hope. This in turn leads to alcohol and drug problems, illegal activities and downward spiraling lives.
Alcohol abuse, binge drinking and resultant issues are a growing problem in New Zealand. 
I worry about the fact that we have no real moral roots or anchors. I wonder about the values people buy into as expressed in our TV programming. 
I could go on with depressing perspectives. I still love this country and would not live anywhere else. I must say too, from my Night Shelter, Christmas Dinner and Habitat for Humanity experiences, there still are many down to earth generous caring people out there, who give freely when they are made aware of a need. New Zealand still is better in most areas than many places in the world.
I think my sadness is, that I am coming to the end of my time, and I am deeply aware of the suffering of many people in NZ, and that New Zealand is not as "nice" a country as when I grew up. Everyone hopes they will leave a better world for following generations, and I don't think I can say that. I have given my life to making a difference for good, and will still do that, but I know that when I die, there will be heaps of problems for following generations. I am just not sure we now have the resilience, or the basic ideals to tackle them. Scratch the surface of New Zealand and I see the same values as those expressed by Donald Trump existing, and those values will not solve the problems the world is facing. I sense what Victor Frankl called, an "existential vacuum" problem, people with little meaning in life.  

It may well be that I was naive about the New Zealand I grew up in, and look at it with rose coloured glasses? There have been positive advances in the way we see things. We are more tolerant of diversity now. Somehow we have to get back to that "common-wealth" ideal, and away from the individualism, and dog eat dog tendencies I see. I weep because I see people, at all levels of society, struggling to cope in life. In our beautiful country, it ought not be that way.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Cathartic rant about life.

A notice board I made for the local Church. 
My wife working with me on adding legs and repairing an old pool table. 
My special friend Cyril. 
The Devil Incarnate
Let's be clear I do not believe in a literal Devil. I have been astounded by the fact that Donald Trump was elected President of the USA. He sounded horrible during his campaign. He was over the top, with untruths, showmanship, and divisive language.  I was sure there would be enough "sane" people to out vote those who did not see the emptiness in him. But he became President. But then I thought and hoped he would modify his behaviour and actions. I also kind of hoped that the people in the Republican party would help him see some sense, and modify the outcomes. So far I am disappointed. Every time the TV or Internet shows him signing some new executive order with his arrogant comments, I see "the Devil Incarnate." The directions he is leading the USA are winding back the clock of progress by decades. He is like a vicious flat earth person, dragging people back to primitive outlooks and divisive behaviour. He is evil, but he is not the source of the problem. I think the superficial lifestyle and values we have increasingly accepted as "normal" are the source. In an interview I just watched, Al Gore was discussing the rise of Trump and the problems we face. He said something like,"An important part of the problem is the way we share information. ... The line between news and entertainment has almost dissolved and the ratings have a big impact on what stories are covered and how they are covered." These days in NZ after the "news" we have a choice between "Seven Sharp" the superficial rantings of Mike Hosking, or "The Project" - extremely brief superficial- semi humorous looks at the stories of the day with lots of giggles. (or Shortland Street - God help us!) Gore is right! Compared to the real interviews and discussions of the past from the likes of Ian Fraser, Brian Edwards, Bill Ralston and even more recently Paul Holmes and John Campbell, these are like weak, dumbed down, poor excuses of journalism. John Key got away with too many "I can't remembers" and nobody really digs deeper than superficial, immediate and entertaining causes for issues.
I am surprised by sadness. A 96 year old friend died last Wednesday. I had known of Cyril since I was a boy, he was in my parents' wider circle of friends. I know old men die and I am sure he was OK with it, but in my life he became important. He has been a fine example for me, and over the last 30 years he has been a tremendously supportive friend and often a listening ear. I knew whenever the going got tough he was there with quiet loyal support. Since my "retirement" we have not had as much contact, but in these last two days I have been surprised by deep feelings of loss. Cyril was an accountant and treasurer for a couple of charitable Trusts and would come into my office to get his balance sheets photocopied. They were all beautifully handwritten with such neat handwriting. They were like works of art.  On these occasions I would sometimes offer him a cup of tea and we would discuss life. He was a deeply religious man, but his "Jesus" led him to have a liberal, progressive outlook. My father died when I was a young teenager, so in some ways he became a surrogate dad over the last thirty years. We once had a difference of opinion. He phoned me during a busy day, and one of my "low" days in my love hate/relationship with Church. He phoned me at the office to complain. This was not like him at all, so I knew it must have been a serious issue for him. From time to time we had been using an Australian colloquial language paraphrase of the New Testament readings. Cyril thought they were a little too colloquial, and wanted to register his distaste. He commented that in all the changes I brought I should remember to be "mindful of the older people in the congregation." I recall debating with myself. Would I just lamely say "thank you for the feedback" and leave it at that, or would I discuss it. I decided that I knew Cyril well enough to be honest. So I explained why I used that paraphrase. (to make people sit up and listen in a new and different way)  I also commented that in my years of ministry at the Church, I felt that one of my faults had been that I was too mindful of the "older people" and too cautious to make changes. That I had neglected the preferences of younger people in order to avoid conflict. So we entered into an intense, but respectful discussion. Cyril always was careful to choose the right words in conversation and was very wise. He was a master of the English language and so there were lots of pauses as he thought carefully about what I had said and how he would respond. We came to a point where we sort of "agreed to differ" but knew that each had heard the other. He had worn some of my angst and frustration of ministry, and I had been a little unfair to bounce at him. Then he said, "There is one more thing before I go." I wondered what else was coming. There was one of his pauses as he searched for the right words.  "I admire your work. .... I really appreciate your ministry..... I enjoy your emphases. I have enormous respect for you.... (he hesitated) .. no its more, .... I love you like one of my own. You need to know that there has been nothing in this conversation that changes that. You will always have my support and love." I was stunned, and assured him the feelings were mutual. When I hung up all I wanted to do was drive to his house and hug him.... but I didn't. He was a lovely man. He had been an officer in  the Royal Navy during the war and still carried himself like an officer and gentleman. Beautifully spoken, caring, but he loved watching sport. He never missed going to a rugby test in Dunedin in 70 years!  I remember interviewing him in a Remembrance day Church Parade about his experience of being away during the war years. He answered with depth, humility and wisdom. He was in fact a bit of a pacifist at heart. His wife died 15 years ago and on the night she died when I arrived at the hospital he wrapped his arms around me, cried on my shoulder and just said, "Oh David, she's gone. Joan's gone!" My wife and I and he and his family gathered, holding hands around her bed and he asked me to pray. I could barely express myself.  On the day of my final service at the Church when I came to say goodbye to him in the morning tea room, we both choked up and hugged each other tightly.  He simply choked out the words, "Enough said." patted me on the shoulder and went out the door, I am sure with a tear in his eye, because there was certainly a tear in mine.  We live our lives, but underneath like the piles or foundation stones of a house, we have people who are supportive of us, who show an example, who love us. Well for the first day or so after his death I felt like one of my supports had gone. Well lived Cyril. We were different generations, and I have lived a very different life with some different outlooks than you, but you, and the way you lived, were so so important to me. 
Neighbours' Day
Last weekend it was Neighbours Day in NZ and people were encouraged to get to know their neighbours. My wife had the great idea for the little local Church to host a Neighbours day afternoon tea for the locals. She worked hard toward it. The afternoon tea at the local Church was a success, in spite of a cool rainy day! I did a heap of work getting a table tennis table, fuzzball table and a pool table repaired and ready. My wife letterbox dropped every house in Sawyers Bay and did a heap of baking. With me running the morning Church service and then us hosting the afternoon, I was totally exhausted at the end of the day.  I wish I had taken photos, it was great seeing kids enjoying the hall, and neighbours learning about each other and sharing stories and phone numbers.
Maybe a bit of grief. Maybe with Night Shelter, chaplaincy and Church responsibilities I am a bit too stressed and busy. Maybe the uncertainty of waiting for a prostate biopsy also contributes. It can be too that my loner, introvert personality contributes to it. The last week or so I have struggled with sadness, or depression. I have felt like telling the world to get stuffed.  There are quite a few uncertain and pressure things I am dealing with on my "to do" list. But I will emerge out the end and keep going. I visited a firefighter yesterday who is battling terminal cancer and coping with pain. I went on to call on two other friends in their 90's who recognise the end of their life is near. I know that the things I do make a difference and in the midst of depression, and when my end comes I can look back with satisfaction. That is something I have found is a powerful motivator to keep me going in spite of the way I feel. Money can't buy that.