Elusive Archbishop of the slums

It is easy to categorise and be categorised. In many places in society the only way to get ahead is to sublimate yourself in the colours of the tribe.

But a true mark of faith and healthy personality is that you are ‘elusive’ to the box-carrying, label-making mechanisms of our world.

Jesus told a man, who was feeling an elusive breeze rustling through his straight-jacket religion, that:

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
John 3:8

There is something of this about Pope Francis and, as he prepares to visit the US, it has the American box cutters in a frenzy.

There is cause for hope in this archbishop of the slums.


Australia’s most hipster suburbs less so for the poor

Sydney inner west suburb Camperdown has been named among Australia’s most hipster suburbs, according to an article in Domain.

I know Camperdown exceedingly well and spend time with people who are invisble to hipster wealth and ideals.

Domain refers to Wikipedia for a definition of hipster:

“[Hipsters are] broadly associated with indie and alternative music, a varied non-mainstream fashion sensibility (including vintage and thrift store-bought clothes), generally progressive political views, organic and artisanal foods, and alternative lifestyles.”

And as a result these suburbs of hip young adults are:

According to Urbis’s Hip List, a hip suburb is at the “leading edge of cosmopolitan trends”, and offers an “unusually rich source of information on future consumer directions”.

In the middle of Camperdown’s hipsterness are a couple of buildings set aside for those who must have missed the hipster memo. Or maybe they are where hipster goes when life falls off (the wrong side of) the tracks.

I dropped in on a few on Christmas Day… home alone in small apartments where they had watched television all day or happily returned from a free Christmas lunch at Newtown.

Some will join us for our monthly Camperdown Community Breakfast at which strangely enough I’m yet to see any hipster representatives.

Not surprising that a real estate website would drool over the property values of a place like Camperdown and not include a paragraph like this:

‘Alongside the artisan cafes, boutique pubs and million dollar apartments, about 400 people live at the heart of the suburb who have never owned any property, do not sip lattes (soy or otherwise) at Deus ex Machina, may wear someone’s preloved clothing (not hipster if you have no choice) and who are variously seeking to overcome the ravages of homelessness, substance abuse, sexual abuse, unsupported mental illness, repeat incarceration, sickness and/or generational poverty. If you walk quickly with your eyes averted, you’ll barely notice.’

That wealth and poverty can coexist with so little genuine interaction is commonplace in the inner city but a tragedy none the less.

If we simply remembered the wisdom of ‘loving your neighbour’ and of ‘sharing our lives’ we might really have something to be proud of. Less hipster perhaps but more just and kind.

So if you live in Camperdown and can afford the rent or mortgage, come along to breakfast on January 4 from 8.30am at the Booler Centre, Lambert St, Camperdown. Hipsters welcome along with everyone else…

What is love?


In the shadow of a Sydney public housing tower, light and love break out in a post-modern expression of ancient truth.

The purely secular event, addressed at times by politicians of the left, fulfilled quite superbly the principle of the good Samaritan.

Christians came, not with authority or position, but with that greatest of all influences – genuine friendship.

Amazing Grace was sung over the event with more power and pathos than might be found in many church services – not arranged by any human plan but because the request for ‘one more song’ drew it from the heart of the Aboriginal singer who stunned us with her voice and her spirit.

A once-was-a-pastor wandered around, sharing conversation, bridging gaps and encouraging residents and the young workers who gave up their Sunday to serve the community.

He promised his chocolate wheel ticket, if it won, to a woman who has little but loyalty and dignity. It did win and she promptly tried to give the prize back even though it would likely be the only thing of beauty she would receive for a long time.

Old friendships were renewed and far from confessional or altar, stories were shared freely of recovery and new hope amidst old battles.

Then, as if to show that God was pleased and would not be left out, was not afraid to be included, the microphone was handed to a young mother who was there with a small child, there because of her heart that is soft towards those who have had the hardest of lives.

She too had a winning ticket but, before she could receive her prize, was required to answer a question in front of the entire gathering.

‘What is love?’ asked the MC. And what a surprising question this was.

The young woman, her daughter playing at her feet, searched for an answer that was both true and respectful of the moment. All eyes were on her.

‘Love is many things’ she said, tentatively. But then, finding courage.

‘For me, I think about what the Bible says that love is. “Love is patient, love is kind… it does not envy, does not boast, does no evil, keeps no record of wrong, always hopes, always trusts”.’

And in that moment we all knew it was true, and quietly, without preaching, many were encouraged to remember the Source of love.

Joel Edwards of Micah Challenge speaks of the church no longer holding institutional or official power but needing to find grassroots legitimacy through its acts of justice, mercy and humility. I see evidence of this often. I saw it in action in the shadows of a public housing tower.



A community breakfast in this neighbourhood will continue at the Booler Centre on the first Sunday of each month, 8.30am to 9.45am. 




Hunger is where you find it: fine moments from a free breakfast #2


George has a long history of telling me jokes that I cannot decipher and last Sunday was no exception:

George: Did I tell you the one about the man who went into the burger shop?

Me: No, I don’t think so, fire away.

George: See a man went into a burger shop with his friend and said to him, ‘Gees, I’m starving!’ His friend says, ‘You can’t possibly be starving.’ ‘Why’s that?’ says the man? ‘Because your Australian!’

Those of us who heard the joke were left scratching our heads but the playful grin on George’s face was worth a thousand jokes and I had to laugh.

I’ve pondered this joke since and know it has a deeper meaning (but possibly not a punchline…)

Told by a man who frequents free meals around the city, it’s a reminder to the comfortable classes in this blessed land that we are privileged and well-off and that by world standards we have little to worry about, including starvation.

But maybe it also reminds us that despite our taking for granted the abundant provision we enjoy, there are all around us people who are starving.

Some who spend their few dollars each week on alcohol or drugs and as a result know they will face several days with nothing to eat. Some who have seen their family, home and identity leach away until they are disheveled wanderers of urban deserts. Some who were born into nothing, have not dealt with it well and now cannot conceive anything different. Some for whom mental illness has isolated, ostracised and disarrayed until life is a constant chaos or a mundane coma. Some who were born into plenty, have not dealt well with it and now cannot conceive anything different…

And it is with these friends and others I will surround myself on Father’s Day morning because if a father cannot demonstrate compassion then what good is he to his children.

I may have to listen to more of George’s jokes, or worse – the despairing tales of men who never see their children or women who never knew a decent man. But maybe I can be something of what they have lost by the sharing of my life.

Photo: The staff of a local community project, having recognised something of value in our little breakfast, created this ‘billboard’ for local people. It warmed my heart when I stumbled upon it.

Breakfast at the Booler is on this Sunday from 8.30am and we’ll join in the festival in some way on September 21. But where to go from there??

Dennis Prince refuses to let atheist convention go unchallenged

Rupert Murdoch has been hailed as an entrepreneurial risk-taker in launching a Sunday tabloid into the “mature and declining” market of printed newspapers with his launch of the Sun on Sunday.

This has not deterred Dennis Prince from launching The Regal Standard, as a direct challenge to the second Global Atheist Convention to be held in Melbourne from April 13 to 15.

The semi-retired pastor co-founder of Kingston City Church and long-time publisher of Resource Christian Music has produced a (presumably) one-off 12 page tabloid to counter the convention being held “in our backyard – on our watch”.

“If this event were to be held in, say, New York, we would expect Christians there to unite boldly and decisively to honour God and proclaim his greatness. That lot has instead fallen on us,” Dennis says on The Regal Standard’s website.

Dennis told Fairfax Media that he “has a tiger by the tail” by creating the Regal Standard, designed to counter atheist arguments. Fairfax reports that there are already orders for 25,000 copies of the 12-page tabloid, which will be distributed to churches, dropped in letter boxes, given to the curious, and sent to convention speakers.

‘Mr Prince… felt God telling him that the convention was happening on his watch, and he had to respond. He has spent $5000 and some 300 hours producing the paper, and needs to sell 45,000 at an average of 20¢ each to recover his costs.’

Dennis advocated for a positive but energetic response to the convention that would stimulate thought and conversation but could see the gullible “led down the garden path”.

Speakers at the convention include Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Peter Singer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and, perhaps somewhat in the “den”, Marion Maddox, who with a PhD in Theology will participate in panel discussions. (Marion and my paths crossed when we were both children living in and around the Uniting Church’s old Leigh College in South Strathfield…).

Christopher Hitchens is also pictured on the speakers page for the convention, perhaps a sign that the atheist’s are slightly enamoured with the idea of life after death…

PDF sample of The Regal Standard
Atheist Convention 2012

Some Utterance encounters with atheism…

Atheists sick of atheists
Atheism led me to faith
Ethic classes new atheism in slim disguise

Or search the tag atheism

Oh little town of Bideford… where prayer has been over-ruled

Debates over prayers in Parliament or council meetings periodically emerge as another place where institutional secularism seeks to usurp institutional religion.

The latest has been the English town of Bideford where a former councillor took Bideford Council to court over official prayers during meetings.

The High Court ruled in his favour on what it described as a narrow point of law that it was not legal for councils to make prayer part of official business.

Some are seeing the ruling as having wider ramifications as secularism continues to reframe the nature of our societies.

Bideford may yet become a byword for a nation and nations loss of spiritual identity.

Read The Guardian’s report

Would the real Jesus please not wear a robe?

SMH.TV has brought us another amazing documentary, this time about a man claiming to be the Messiah and living in the wilds of Siberia.

Vissarion, the Teacher, Jesus… wearing a flowing white robe, sitting on the side of a hill and teaching his followers, who also are wearing flowing white garments.

Vissarion’s real name is Sergey Anatolyevitch Torop who was born in 1961, served in the Russian Army, became a traffic policeman, before losing his job and becoming Christ.

In many ways Vissarion is reminiscent of our very own North Queensland Jesus, Allan John Miller who also lives in a remote location and is busy gathering followers and building utopia. Although Siberia looked quite warm in the video, I can only imagine Miller would be a better choice in winter…

It is interesting to see the faith of many who follow, and there is a certain sense of harmony apparent in the documentary, produced by a combination of the community’s music and the beautiful scenery.

But with the benefit of distance, there is also strong sense of religiosity, stifling spiritual deception and a shallow confusion of thought.

One thing we know, both Miller and Torop can’t be right – one of them is an imposter, or more obviously both.

Jesus, of the New Testament, warned that many would claim to be him, but not to run after them. He can be found, right where you are.

Watch Jesus of Siberia
Wikipedia’s bio of Vissarion

Christmas speaks to the messy, bloody birth waters of our soul

Birth of Jesus by RembrandtChristmas as we know it has been culturally crafted over thousands of years around a base narrative concerning a family in Roman-occupied Israel.

Each December various scientists, atheists and pot-shotters are trotted out with their latest theories debunking Christmas and erstwhile Christian intellectuals and apologists bravely rally to defend the seasonal ground. Others argue over various cultural accoutrements to Christmas such as dates and customs and commercialistation. They act as if the average person is not intelligent enough to distinguish between later attempts to mark something significant and the significant thing itself.

Certainly the habitual attacks on the historical origins of Christmas or Easter or any Christian belief along with the confusing but largely irrelevant criticisms of the cultural artefacts that accompany those traditions, have a gradual, destabilising effect on the faith of the wavering or nominal who are probably the majority of believers in our nation. Around the globe however the effect is infinitesimal and Christian faith continues to thrive and multiply in amazing diversity with scant disregard for broadsheet column centimetres.

That is because at the heart of it, the Christmas story – to quote myself – ‘a base narrative concerning a family in Roman-occupied Israel’ is so shockingly familiar to our own human experience it reaches us where the debunkers and apologists never could, in the messy, bloody birth waters of our soul.

Here are just a few examples, in no particular order: Continue reading

Off with the moustache and up with the Christmas tree

December 1 tomorrow and a traditional date for many to put up their Christmas tree while listening to carols and eating cherries – in the land down under at least.

But increasingly it is also the day when bathrooms across the nation are littered with much-loved or much-maligned facial hair as it is removed to mark the end of Movember.

The moustaches, including my own, are somewhere in the range of impromptu, uncalled for, optimistic, unrealistic, threatening, questionably bushy, occasionally beautiful and down-right awful but regardless, most of them will go.

To give the many readers of Utterance (he says hopefully) an opportunity to give to the worthy cause of men’s health – prostate cancer, depression – I’m posting this final-hours photo of my Movember mo (with Oscar N in the background) and whilst wearing my Mr Mo shirt. Continue reading

In a digital world, hackers are the new guerilla warriors

If something strange happens to Utterance in the next few days, it has been probably been hacked. If it can happen to a French magazine, a Mexican drug cartel and Iranian nuclear facilities, it can happen to anyone.

With so much of life, business, industry and finance heavily reliant on computer and digital processes, it make sense that groups of hackers would begin to use their skills for a cause, not just to create havoc. Some have government backing while others are loose networks of computer geniuses but either way, they are emerging as powerful new players in the world’s political, religious, criminal and even national conflicts. Consider the following three examples. Continue reading