Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Thoughts on NZ funeral culture

Attending funerals hasn't been high on my list of things to do in recent years.  My medication tends to make me pretty poor company at such times. But we went to one recently with the Village Barbershop chorus in honour of the man who founded our little group before we came here.

Once more I was reminded how I feel our NZ funeral practices fail us. I am all in favour of so-called "secular" funerals if that is appropriate for the bereaved family. But when the event, whether "religious" or not, highlights only the life of the deceased and seems to not even notice that s/he has actually died, that's nothing to do with being "secular", it's a terrible way to treat death. And although the bereaved will gain a lot from a worthy celebration of a well-lived life I am disturbed that sometimes they are assured that their loved one is still around them, watching them. 

There's a kind of dishonesty about this. We are kidding ourselves. The reality is, "Sorry, everyone, somebody has died here. S/he may have had a wonderful life but is now gone. Part of the reason for our getting together is to acknowledge that fact. And the awful sense of loss that follows from it.

The funeral ceremonial must also address death.  It needs to answer some of our questions. And, hopefully, it might offer some strategies by which people could begin to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives and move on. A good funeral will set a climate in which grief can be properly expressed. Just getting together to share a bunch of happy memories doesn't always do that.

We watched the award-winning animated feature UP on television the other night. It offered a stunning insight into the nature of bereavement and learning to live again without a partner. The bereaved hero spent most of the film trying to fulfil his dead wife's lifetime dream, but in failing, he learned that he needed to move on with a new adventure instead. I wish some of that insight could seep into some of our lamentable funeral culture in this country.

Of course it's not easy. So we need a funeral to help us all accept the reality of death and loss and, having done that, move on. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Good on ya, Auckland!

Auckland Methodists are asking for relief from the Conference's requirement that all church buildings be brought up to 67% of the National Building Standard. I can't claim any credit for this sensible proposal, but I have previously stated my view that the church's response to earthquake risk was heavy-handed and likely to do great harm to the denomination. 

Auckland City Council is proposing 37% as the minimum standard and this is the figure that the combined Synod feels is appropriate for church buildings in this low-risk region. The City is also prepared to allow 30 years for some buildings to come up to that standard whereas the Conference wants everything put right in ten years.

As I said before, there is risk in everything. We cannot live without it. All we can do is estimate relative risk and make decisions based on our estimates. Earthquake death is not a high risk in any part of this country. The Synod paper points out that although nearly 500 people have died in NZ earthquakes since 1843, mostly in only two events in Napier and Christchurch, we have allowed about 37,000 people to die in road accidents in the same period.

I am delighted to hear about this recommendation and hope that it is listened to by Conference before more of our cultural and spiritual heritage, not to mention our financial resource, is lost. The recent closure of the charming Cambell's Bay Methodist Church has already meant not just the loss of the building but the loss of the congregation itself. This should never have been allowed, never mind encouraged.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Ca Pros report

Yesterday I heard the results of the two recent blood tests.
We’d expected that going off bicalutamide a month ago would temporarily lower my PSA and then it would rise again as before.
But that doesn’t seem to have happened. Both tests are the same, although ten days apart. In general, that suggests only some slowing of my recent rate of increases.

So we are going to do another in another ten days and review that in early August. Hopefully, I will pass this step towards entering the ARN-509 Drug Trial.

A miracle cure? Not at all. But if it's another step along the way to reducing the scourge that is prostate cancer, so much the better.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Opportunity even more lost!

A few weeks ago we worshipped in a room where the small congregation had been turned out of their church because of the earthquake code. I noted that the chairs were all arranged in rigid "railway carriage" layout. On 6th June 2014 I suggested that arranging the chairs in rows was a lost opportunity to create a more intimate, interactive fellowship than would have been achieved in the church.

This week we went to a weekday meeting on church premises and discovered a another room set up to serve the same purpose. This wasn't an earthquake refugee congregation but it seemed to be doing just what I have suggested many times for small congregations:  move out of the great big old building and set yourselves up in a smaller room. It was even called the "Chapel".

They had found a pleasant compact space, carpet on the floor and there were plenty of comfortable chairs stacked up against the wall for use. But instead of the flexible layout the chairs would have enabled, there were four pews! We had to move them for our meeting of about thirty. I helped put the pews back again afterwards with a heavy heart....

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Red Beach School Bible

At a meeting yesterday we heard from the Chaplain-at-Large of the inner city that Auckland has over 250 distinct ethnicities, more than Sydney or London. That must reflect a huge number of different religions.

Which seems to give some point to the complaint of Jeff McLintock to the Human Rights Commission about the Values in Action programme at Red Beach School, just over the road from our home. It is clear that the Values in Action curriculum has moved a long way from what used to be called "Bible in Schools". And it certainly doesn't appear to engage in the disgraceful, fundamentalist kind of "evangelism" that led me to refuse to participate in religious instruction in schools fifty years ago.

But the two sample lessons on the VIA website are both coat-hangered on passages from the sacred writings of just one religion. This may be thought to be OK in somewhat monocultural Red Beach - though Jeff McLintock, from the perfectly legitimate perspective of one with no religion, obviously doesn't agree. The VIA religious emphasis would certainly be quite unacceptable for the inner city as we heard it described yesterday. And the discomfort for children of parents who "opt out" of any "voluntary" programme - as distinct from "opting in" to a programme of personal choice - must surely be a matter of concern.

The style of the VIA looks great. I recall having some really stimulating times with school children in Panmure in 1964, involving them in these kinds of discussions. But what other volunteers taught in those days discredited whatever values a few of us managed to convey. So I became a conscientious objector to religious education in schools.

While I remain unconvinced that that faith can be "taught" I am all in favour of encouraging children to explore "values" in the school setting. But tackling values through the faith of just one religious group says something a little negative about the values of those who do it.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

"Give me a child...."

After Barbershop Chorus practice this morning Bev and I sat at morning tea in a somewhat one-sided conversation with another member. From somewhere she had learned that I was a minister so she embarked with enthusiasm on a convoluted story about revival of Christianity in the country. She said that one primary school of 400 pupils now had 100 who had given their hearts to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now I signed a Decision Card for Christ in 1944 at the age of nine so perhaps I should have not experienced the sudden sinking feeling in my heart at our friend's delight over this statistic. But my evangelistic zeal has long since moved away from persuading children to make rather glibly what I think should be an adult commitment.

Two of us have been working for some weeks on the century-long story of Russell Methodist Church that closed last year. As we look over the available resources of the 1940s and 1950s we find many warm reports of Sunday School, junior choir and youth work in that church and community. Working with children was obviously a very high priority for this congregation which never numbered more than 27 members in 100 years.
Of course, many of those Sunday School children had to move away for secondary education or work. But whether they stayed or left, statistics suggest that relatively few found their way into an adult commitment in the adult church anywhere. Certainly, none remained in the Russell congregation by the 1990s. So when most of the last half-dozen local members of our congregation died, it seemed logical to close the church.

It’s a little ironic to me that the building has passed into the hands of another denomination which also places a very high value on ministry with children and young people. Perhaps in decades to come some of them will also enthuse about the programme and the fun they had. But will they graduate to an adult, thoughtful, reflective, living faith that brings compassion and understanding to an ailing society? 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Life in the Villa

I celebrated Independence Day with my first blood test for screening for the ARN-509 trial. I won't hear about it until after the second one in ten more days. Then it will be an interview and a series of more sophisticated tests to see if I fit the trial profile. It all seems a rather slow process... I just want to get on with it!

To add to the interest of my medical life I have been treating a number of minor skin cancers on my face and head with Effudix cream. This resulted in a few days of bleeding all over my pillowslip at night. So, to ease this laundry crisis I took myself off the daily Cartia which thins my blood slightly. One morning a week later I was wobbling all over the place so I promptly resumed that. Now I can stand up but bleed less.

Around these minor medical affairs, we have been flat out lately. Our Barbershop Chorus has performed twice.  We've had quite a few visitors popping in. And I'm in the middle of writing and manufacturing two books at once as well as publishing yet another run of Brian Malcouronne's absolutely splendid book of funeral resources. These three jobs would have been pretty ordinary a few years ago but they are the first attempts at binding work for nearly a year. The cool damp weather is simply ideal for reconditioning printed pages for binding but having them spread all over the garage floor is not quite ideal. At the same time I've commissioned a separate computer to run Windows XP (safely off-line at all times!) for my publisher and video and scanner programmes, none of which will run on Windows 8 - thank you for nothing, Mr $8billion Bill Gates. Thank you for everything to James, the Village Computer Club expert!

In the very cold snap that the ski companies are enjoying in the school holidays, we're keeping very comfortable in our cosy villa and learning all kinds of things that nobody bothered to tell us: we can buy milk from the Village restaurant cheaper than at the supermarket, and we can pick up beautiful scones and cakes for a dollar or two any time. Mind you, Bev is flat out baking all kinds of goodies day after day; not because we need the sweet stuff but, I suspect, because she enjoys the kitchen so much. Quite a few others are benefiting.

It's just about a year since we made the decision to move closer to family and to a better environment for both of us. Everything about the move has turned out to be for the best. We're enjoying good health and fitness but are in the best place possible if those should change. We're very lucky.