Contemplating his own death, Paul in Philippians 1 expresses hope that whatever happens, he has on that day ‘sufficient courage’.
Then comes that great declaration ‘to live is Christ, to die is gain’ before the thought of continued ‘fruitful labour’ convinces him that it is better to remain ‘for your progress and joy in the faith’.
These two phrases became an early morning prayer for the day ahead… sufficient courage, fruitful labour… and have continued to be whispered in all manner of circumstances.
I’m content to have sufficient courage to be what I’m called to be and if this leads to fruitful labour, even better.
And to see progress in another’s joy or faith is certainly a great reason to keep turning up!
There’s a wounded person in heaven which means all wounded people may find their way there which is all of us.
After Jesus rose from the dead on what we now celebrate as Easter Sunday, it wasn’t long before he was showing the doubtful ones, which is all of us sometimes, the scars in his body so they would know that even in death there is life, even in brokenness there is victory.
I may not stand with Thomas and see the nail and spear scars with my own eyes, but the story rings resoundingly true, and as I’ve put my trust there, my own wounds have found meaning, healing and reconciliation.
The greater story – of God become human to bring all humans to God – makes sense of an otherwise senseless world. If God was just good but distant then what in the world is going on? But if God is close and wounded like us, for us, with us, then there is no quick fix but an everlasting answer.
Even in these dark coronavirus days we find light shining through the fresh wounds and thickening scars of a suffering world. Prayer where there was no prayer, gratitude where there was only blame, unity where there was only division, care where there was carelessness, time where there was only rush.
And for the sick and dying, we cannot look and find any worldly light other than courage and dignity and sorrow, but his scars let light in nevertheless.
This is not an attempt to find meaning in the meaningless. This is finding that light has been shining through a wounded people and planet always and at the fullness of time focused like a searchlight on one person’s perfect, divine expression of this.
As you take up his wounds, his life, his light, they become your own; his journey becomes your journey, and you know where he is today….
He cries out in the common tongue of his day, the first verse of Psalm 22:
My God, my God why have you forsaken me?
To me, today, it is not a cry of despair but of defiance. Having begun the Psalm, his well trained mind would have followed on through verses of violence, treachery and sorrow to finally arrive in praise, triumph and completion.
The Psalm ends, as does the suffering of Jesus, with this remarkable promise:
They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!
This is Good Friday.
The forsaken knows to his last crucified breath that he will save generations.
And not even time can hold him, certainly not death.
I don’t know how Great Uncle Roy died, only that he was lost on April 4, 1918, as the Australian Army scrambled to resist the final German offensive which included attempting to capture Villers-Bretonneux. And that his body was never found.
So I’ve imagined what might have happened, and I’m sharing it with you to mark Remembrance Day 2019. It’s from my yet-unpublished novel, Shot. Was it his final moment in my fictionalised story? You’ll have to read it to discover.
Lest we forget.
Waiting until he heard a heavy burst of fire, probably directed at Dickson and Tuite, Roy clambered out of the drainage pit that was their temporary refuge and threw himself down onto the sharp rocks of the railway siding. Taking a couple of deeps breaths he then crawled over the tracks as fast as he had ever moved, banging knees and elbows on the steel and wood, the smell of coal and diesel filling his nostrils. All of this failed to register in his conscious mind with his awareness instead focused on the shrill fact that, for a few seconds, he was visible to the enemy, if they should look his way. But these men who someone had decided should kill him and his, were preoccupied with keeping other parts of the Australian line pinned down, and so his almost comical scramble across the tracks went unnoticed and he rolled down into the ditch he had hoped would be there, with its promise of life-giving cover.
There was no time to rest and he crawled on his belly along the ditch, panting from the exertion, until he found the spot about 60 yards along where the lower corner of a paddock dipped towards the drain. He could see now the soil was black and damp and obviously a low spot where water gathered and the grass grew more thickly. He remembered the fields at home and the undulations – gilgai – that defied farmers’ efforts to sow them which meant they survived like little oases of ancient Australia surrounded by the grainy signs of progress.
Drawing on all his bushman’s skills he chose a path up into the paddock and the longish grass, trying to avoid disturbing it and alerting the Germans to his presence. Still on his belly, he made his way to the thickest part until the smell of crushed grass and clay soil enveloped him. As he rolled onto his back to rest, for a moment he could almost have been a boy again on the banks of the Hunter, contemplating a swim, a speckled sky above.
He wondered at how he had got here, how life had conspired somehow to bring him so close to death and with not one person at his side. What had driven him to this place? What had driven him always to the hopeless cause? He suddenly had a piercing memory of himself as a young boy reaching for the barrel of a gun and saying no. No to the unruly, stubborn brokenness of the world. And here he was, again grabbing at the barrel of a gun, mercy thick in his throat, and tears forming in his eyes. The scar on his foot seemed to throb in remembrance.
But the battle alertness that had carried him this far re-asserted itself and he knew there could only be a few moments before the counter fire of his mates would light up and his chance would come to make a run at the machine gun post. In fading light, he made sure of his gear, circling his fingers around one of his grenades, hoping he would have the presence of mind to deliver it with devastating effect against the Bosch who were targeting his friends. Lifting his head slightly to look back at the Australian line, he could just see Dickson and Tuite, still behind the excuse for a mound, holding each other now to make the most of their cover. There was little movement from them and he hoped he wasn’t too late. He could not see Ewings and the others from this position but then a racket started up from their way and he knew the time had come.
With his mates firing and yelling and carrying on as if they were launching a major attack, Roy got onto all fours, steeling himself for the run and then, the whole world seemed to move into that place between times. As Roy leapt up and made his run towards the machine gun pit, he felt the grimace on his face and the roar of his voice as if it was someone else. He saw the flash of fire from his enemy with perfect clarity, directed to his left, intended for the men he had left behind.
He made out four German soldiers who as yet had not seen him, busy feeding and firing their weapon against the noisy Australians who were apparently attacking from near the railway line. And then one of them turned and his eyes locked for a moment with Roy’s in mutual understanding. It seemed to Roy that in some kind of frozen motion, the man’s arm then flung out in his direction, pointing, his face contorting with a fearful scream and then all heads snapping towards this slicing silhouette that bore down on them.
Still moving fast, Roy drew back his arm and threw the grenade with all his strength. Even as he was doing this, the machine gun was whipping around towards him, shooting without break, delivering a curling arc of fire. Roy was now desperately seeking the ground but felt a tearing across his body just before he landed heavily. The explosion of the grenade ripped across his ears, a shock wave buffeting him. He held his breath and waited but the dreaded gun was quiet and had been replaced by the dying groans of men.
Only then did Roy begin to wonder if he had been hit but the chaos of war was not finished with him. A large explosion rumbled through the ground on which he was pressed and he propped himself up on an elbow in time to see brown dirt and dust resettling in massive proportion where Ewing and the others had been. He turned further left just in time to notice Dickson hoisting Tuite on his shoulder and making a run for it, no doubt oblivious as to what had been done to save their lives.
He lay back down and realised that two men would live at least a few moments more but a dozen had just perished and the sense of it was momentarily lost to him. Sliding his fingers down his side he felt the warm gush of his own blood, and a spasm of shock went through him.
‘It’s all right Roy, just a flesh wound,’ he told himself out loud and then curled up and covered his ears as more explosions filled the air. It occurred to him that there was no one left who knew where he was. How long could he lie here losing blood? Could he move himself back towards the Australian line?
The moaning from the German machine gun pit had stopped and he decided that he might still have a chance to make his return, but his legs stubbornly refused to respond. He lay there, trying to calm his breathing, wishing that Yirra was with him, knowing his friend would have seen him home safely. Soon enough they’d come back, he thought, remembering the determination of the Australian forces not to lose Villers-Bretennoux.
Then the whistle that was so familiar came louder than ever and it was if a hand reached down and picked him up, flinging him around like some plaything until he could not tell where he was, and it was silent. He lay still waiting, then opened his eyes and noticed a droplet on the lashes of his left eye, no doubt dew from the grass in which he had been lying, except he could no longer feel any comforting grass.
The faces of loved ones moved before him, Faith lying quietly in a hospital bed, a faint smile on cracked lips. Yirra prone in the back of a lorry, his hand moving to hold his side as the vehicle bumped its way into a prison camp, a nervous soldier guarding him with care. His father bending low over the hoof of a horse he was shoeing, frowning with concentration as he whispered quietly to calm the beast. His mother staring, sadly, through a kitchen window he did not recognise, the bustle of family behind her. Finally on older, quieter Wal, walking hand in hand with a young woman, down a familiar Singleton street, under a golden sun. And he knew somehow that he had done his job. Then there was a boy’s feet, toes wiggling, both scar free and pink with life.
Twenty five years ago last month my sister Melissa Hunt (Hallett) was beaten to death and her body dumped in a remote dam in the Newcastle region, NSW, Australia.
An inquest had two main suspects before it was ended abruptly and information handed to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Unfortunately nothing has happened since.
There was some attempt we believe to examine DNA evidence in 2000 and Operation Impey was created in a renewed effort to find Melissa’s killer.
Recently an unknown person left comments on another post on this blog, speculating about who might be implicated. Obviously this was disturbing, the information was given to Crimestoppers.
On Anzac Day April 25, 2019 – 25 years to the day since Melissa’s body was discovered in Burrenjim Dam, I visited the dam with some family members, to reclaim that place and that day and to bring (symbolically and spiritually) dark secrets into the light.
This video tells the story. Please watch, share and come forward if you know anything.
PLEASE VISIT JUSTICEFORMELISSA.COM FOR FURTHER UPDATES ABOUT THE UNSOLVED MURDER OF MELISSA HUNT (HALLETT)
In countless nooks and crannies around Sydney, locals come out onto the streets for a glimpse of Sydney’s New Year’s Eve fireworks. To see the Sydney Harbour Bridge while just wandering around the corner in bare feet brings a kind of suburbly pride that mixes with warm humid midnight air, mobile phone photography and a temporary congregation of neighbours. Some carrying glasses of champagne, many with their kids and we with our step-ladder and a milk crate to see over the crowd – a trick learned from the Parisians at a Bastille Day parade we once stumbled upon.We are joined this Sydney night by our little grand daughter whose passion for life never ceases to amaze but who nevertheless nearly falls asleep as Sydney’s one great eye sparkles, eyebrow raised, blinks several times, then calls it a night.
‘I love you and you and you and you and me and you and you and me and you and you!’
Pointing at four of my grandchildren in turn and occasionally at myself for comic relief – it was a fun game with a happy message.
‘Funny Pa Pa, you love yourself?!’ said the oldest who at nearly 4 has a remarkable grasp on the subtleties of life.
‘It’s good to love yourself,’ I said, ‘Because God has made us amazing and loving ourselves helps us to love others.’
The moment moved on quickly but it stuck in my mind which means it stuck in her eminently more absorbant mind.
Loving self is the third of three loves forming part of Jesus’ Great Commandment. It is as hard to get right as the other two and in fact all three are contingent on the reason for it all – God so loves us.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31 NIV
I pulled up on Norton St near the Palace Cinemas on my way home from an early Saturday morning appointment.
Two skim whites from Berkelouw were in my sights and as I took my free half-hour parking ticket and placed it on the dash, I noticed the little, older man who is often seen around Leichhardt selling hand-made cards.
He was wearing an unzipped tracksuit top over a t-shirt and below were a pair of long, shiny soccer shorts that were at least three sizes two big. Some thongs over socks completed his attire along with a bag slung over one shoulder.
It was a cold morning, he was under-dressed and I decided I would buy the inevitably proferred card. As I walked down Norton he noticed me, and began his distinctive card selling routine. He reached deep into his bag and pulled out the small paper card. His arm then snapped out to full length with the card facing him and he stared at it intently. Satisfied with what he saw he then extended his arm in my direction with the face of the card towards me, and waited.
As I drew closer, I stuck my hand in my jean pocket and pulled out a dollar coin, said hello, smiled, exchanged the coin for the card, wished him a good day and headed towards the cafe. He didn’t speak or smile. Everyone else I saw on the street walked past.
In the more comfortable world of the cafe, with the smell of Campos and the buzz of conversation, the chasm between our worlds opened up and I felt guilty for my one dollar.
Walking back, the thought crossed my mind that I could stay on the opposite side of the road and cross closer to the car, avoiding the card man. There was a slight yearning for this within me, I didn’t really want to bother with the card man’s need. Although it was morning at the start of the weekend I was deeply tired.
But I owe too much to Someone else to give in so easily so I headed back towards the man and he went through his card presentation routine.
As I juggled the coffees and pulled out my wallet, I reminded myself I was doing no great thing, that the man had brought his hand-made cards to stand for hours in the cold to be ignored by most people to earn a few coins. This was were the courage and commitment lay.
‘I’ll have one thanks,’ I said. There was no sign of recognition of the previous purchase.
‘I’m Peter, what’s your name?’ There was a harsh throaty reply but I couldn’t make it out.
The same reply and I was none the wiser. I looked at the card, it had on it just the word ‘love’.
I fiddled in my wallet, saw a ten – still that persistent reluctance – but grabbed the twenty.
As I gave it to the man he looked at me, and then looked at the note for several seconds. He looked at me again as if to confirm I was sure, and then in one motion the note was flicked out of view as he turned and walked quickly down the street, presumably happy now with his morning’s work.
As I walked towards the car I reminded myself that I didn’t pay the money to have the man fawn over me or so I could look good. Any act of kindness or generosity must be enough for its own sake.
Nearing the car, I saw a flouro-vested, female parking inspector standing near the bonnet.
‘Hello, is everything okay?’
She looked at me with an expression of fear and astonishment. I realised she was about to book me, and confused, I opened the car door, still balancing the treasured coffees, to show her the ticket I had placed under the windscreen.
It was then I realised I had placed it upside down, distracted at the time by watching the card man. These could become very expensive cards, I thought.
I held the ticket towards the parking inspector, in a proferring routine reminiscent of the card man’s.
‘Sorry I didn’t realise it was upside down!’
‘Well I can’t read it if I can’t see it can I love,’ she said, finding her voice after realising I wasn’t going to yell at her.
She studied it intently and gave me a small nod and seemed to clear an entry in her little hand-held machine.
‘Thank you’ I said realising how close I’d come to a fine. I wondered how quickly my feelings of mercy and resolve to do good would have evaporated when faced with a parking ticket.
I laughed at myself, sipped my coffee and reflected on who had been kind to who and the apparent randomness of life which is less random than we may think.
Australia’s new federal government now officially has a parliamentary majority of one after the final seat was decided by just 37 votes.
It seems politics in Australia is now a game of inches, no doubt true also of the Olympics which are about to begin in Rio.
Presumably the level of motivation and organisation for all government Members of Parliament will be at gold medal standard when it comes to voting on bills, knowing that even one latecomer, dozer, long-luncher or call of nature could result in a hung parliament.
It would do us all well to live life as if we are a majority of one. That in every aspect of existence our presence and participation is crucial to the outcome.
Too often we drift through the world as if nothing really matters or worse still, that who we are and what we do is somehow less valuable than someone whose face is instantly recognisable.
When the bells sound for a vote in the next sitting of the House of Representatives, every MP will be mindful that their presence counts heavily. It should always be that way.
There are bells ringing in our lives right now – bells calling for kindness, forgiveness, justice, outrage. Bells calling us not to be another person who just walks by.
We are a majority of one in helping our relationships and families to be strong, resilient and loving – don’t leave it to someone else.
We are a majority of one in ensuring there is truthfulness, fairness, humility and welcome in our society.
For Christians, the founder of our faith had unswerving commitment to changing the world through his majority of one. But it was us he called alongside, to take up our own cross, to also find a way to shine and be a light in an often dark world.
The next time you feel inclined to helplessness, despair, boredom or self-interest, picture our politicians bolting for the Chamber knowing their vote counts.
Remember, no one is unimportant. We are all a majority of one.
I’ll be writing more regularly for the rest of year, now that I am more busy than ever. Please subscribe.
Sometimes you need to remember what is real. Is it the prevailing tide of opinion in all its digital cacophony, of feeds and tweets and posts and oh so shareable commentary?
Closed minded fools masquerading as open minded elite, intellectually dishonest assuming the cleverest of ground, storytellers spinning their own fairy-tales in self-congratulatory wonder.
For a moment or more I despaired.
“I’ve been thinking bout everyone Everyone you look so empty” Stars, Switchfoot
Then I attended a Christian wedding with my happily-married wife of 32 years in a church that continues vibrant Christian worship more than 100 years after it was built. The stained glass reminded me of a good shepherd and I recalled being at the Christian wedding of the parents of today’s bride.
The gathering was ablaze with faith. There was humour and poetry and music and beauty and family and community and generations but must dazzling to me, faith.
The pall of the morning’s mourning was replaced by a mantle of praise and a bringing to life of what Paul described as mystery – how the of the union of a man and woman somehow spiritually, fundamentally, intrinsically pictures God’s love for his called-out-to-gather people.
It was the realest thing by far.
And then they kissed… twice. Before the minister had time to invite the anticipated physical display of affection, the young groom leapt forward and planted a long kiss on his smiling bride, stepped back, and then did it again, both all red faced innocence and joy.
When today’s posturing about what things are important is superseded by tomorrow’s, those things that are eternal, which have never failed, have never looked like waning, will continue on with little concern as to whether anyone else notices or not.
“For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come. Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom 8:38-39
For nine months of my life I walked this tunnel twice a day and sometimes I wrote down the snippets of conversation as a kind of random urban poem. I decided to do it tonight for old time’s sake. And something unexpected happened at the end.
Two male office workers, in Friday casual:
‘Yeah yeah yeah. Yeah exactly.’
Twenty something female to friend, both with headphones:
‘And I was like, “My mum made the decision.'”
Man to women wearing hajib and looking skeptical:
‘Don’t know, probably.’
Twenty something man in high-spirits to two friends:
‘Yeah but actually she doesn’t live there anymore.’
Curly haired young woman on the phone at the bus stop:
‘I’ve just hopped off at Central and I’m waiting for the bus… actually I’m pooped.’
Man who approached quietly and is standing close to me:
‘ I don’t like to do this but my son and I haven’t eaten… I lost my job and… [hand out clasping gold coin].
Me: [reaching for wallet deciding with joy I’ll surprise this man with a note]. What’s your son’s name?
Begging man: ‘His name is Sean. S-e-a-n.’
Me: [Giving meagre $5] Well my name is Peter and I’m a Christian and God loves you whatever the story. [I don’t believe his spoken story and I don’t care].
After community breakfast yesterday I visited the home of a friend, clambered over belongings 60cm deep and took in his joy at his painting on the wall.
Earlier he had arrived late for breakfast but we unpacked again so we could chat while he munched on a large bowl of cereal.
We prayed for his parents and he told me that Mary backwards stands for both
You’re Really A Mess
You Really Are Magical
because life isn’t static but we are always coming out of tough times, recovering; or doing better, enjoying life.
I said it reminded me that we are made in the image of God (magical) but fallen and broken and frail (mess) and that Jesus gave his life to forgive and heal our mess and to restore and discover our magical.
My friend thought this was a reasonable interpretation of Mary backwards.
And I still count it a privilege after all these years to be asked for the simple act of brotherhood of a shared meal and to be given the honour of a private artistic viewing and to discuss the profound meaning of words backward.
I know we in the church (and more broadly) argue a lot about the presence/reality/felt existence of God and some say we only need our faith in the Scriptures and others that we find him as we sing or pray and maybe others think that a pilgrimage is required and perhaps all are correct together.
But I remember Jesus said what you do for the least of these you do for me as if he would be intentionally present to renew and reassure us and that’s what I felt after just a few hours sleep, an hour of setup, serving 40 breakfasts including one home delivery, two after we closed, praying with troubled souls and discussing backward anagrams.
Not tired. Renewed, reassured.
And I know whose presence I was experiencing, right where He said He would be all along.
Likewise the day before nursing a baby in the cool of the night waiting for him to settle into sleep. Likewise the next evening being alongside a daughter and her aged mother as they negotiated the challenges of daily life and shared grief with nobility and tears and laughter.
The presence of God is everywhere when we forget to look at ourself. Life is not one long selfie.
CS Lewis writes of our generous ability to find excuses for our own bad behaviour but our stubborn inability to accept those excuses in another.
(Presupposing you accept the existence of something so old fashioned as the idea of bad behaviour…)
He continues that even if there is reasonable excuse for a harmful or hurtful action or attitude, even if 99 per cent of the situation might be excused, it is the forgiving of what remains that counts.
If we only seek to excuse what we or another has done wrong (another old-fashioned idea) then nothing changes in us or them. But we become better at excuses – and entire industries are spawned.
God is willing to forgive the inexcusable in us which is why he makes this conditional on us forgiving the inexcusable in others. Even the niggling one per cent. Even after ’70 times 7′ occasions.
I find reading of these ideas helps build an accountability in my spirit which I need to rise even slightly above the dust of a groaning creation.
The moving of the Spirit on chaos, a cool breeze on an anguished face, salt on my wayward tongue.