It’s a crescent moon in a darkening sky and later will come a southern cross, faint to city eyes.
She doesn’t like it when I give them names.
‘They’re not crosses, they’re staaaars.’
Life is literal as a two-year-old.
Tony Abbott wore a blue tie everyday of his Prime Ministership, bar one.
And was criticised for being partisan, or was that Parisian, or worse still, that he wore only gloating-at-Gillard blue.
Clearly he could have worn more inclusive tie colours (as the leader of a nation that by and large avoids ties like the plague).
An occasional Rudd-red for the Labor constituents, glamping green for the, well, Green citizens. Some mottled-dinosaur prints would have calmed down the Clive Palmer voters and perhaps no tie at all for the sex-party supporters.
But on the day of his Prime Ministerial demise it was noted he wore deep purple.
The traditional colour of faith and mourning; perhaps of Herod’s robe.
And certainly of smoke on the water.
Turnbull and Shorten, we are watching your ties, don’t let us down.
When I started my first WordPress blog on April 29, 2009 I couldn’t find anyone else I knew personally among the millions of WordPress bloggers.
Today as I read through some of the writing or reflective blogs I follow, I realised they were mostly by people I know in the real world and all offer something unique and encouraging.
So here they are, mostly on WordPress, why not check them out:
Chrissy Guinery, author of Falling Upstairs, reminds you why life is living large.
Bronte Sawtell, is 19 and thinking and has fallen in love with Newcastle.
Josiah Hallett is tossing out the pros and finds hope in the midst of angst.
Stephen Baxter is an old mate from Alive and On Being days and is keeping the heaven2earth connection going.
Rachael Stevens is a talented young writer (The Skeleton Diaries) and influencer and has a great website and blog which I daresay is designed by husband Tom.
I’m thinking there is groundswell of (Christian) writing evident here of which the sites I’ve listed are just a small sample.
Share your own favourites in comments (below).
More than 1500 people attended the funeral service for Andrew Chan at Hillsong today.
Not long before he was executed, Andrew told a friend: ‘I love being a pastor in the prison, no-one can leave’.
The same sense of faith and humour is obvious in Andrew’s self-written eulogy.
‘Each day is a diamond. For each day is valuable, as you can never buy it back.’ Watch and/or read below:
‘Thank you all for gathering here on this day to witness something great. It’s a day that I will arise from my own coffin, right now as the words are spoken, in Jesus’ name, arise. Or I am just enjoying it too much in heaven, and I will wait for you all up there. Now I know it is a sad day, we would have all wished it didn’t come to this. However it is funny that even in death there’s still a lesson to be learnt.
‘We learned that we do not need to be old to die, nor do we need to have something wrong with us. But we learned that when it’s time to go home, God has the kitchen table and sink ready. Every person that is sitting here now has impacted my life in one way or another. The truth is, you have all taught me just as much as I have taught you. If I had to thank everyone individually, I don’t think I can place them on one sheet of paper.
‘And one of the biggest influences in my life is my brother. Stand up Mick, and look at the crowd, knowing that you’d hate to do that, because you don’t like the spotlight. People were touched by his love, time, effort, persistence, and many other things through him. And I’ve learnt a lot through Jesus too. I promised Mick I would not steal your birth certificate in heaven to make a fake ID.
‘Another person I learned so much from is my wife Feby. She has taught me the meaning of love and endurance, peace and much more. As I said, to all of you gathered here today, taught me something valuable in life which I have learned to cherish. Treat each day as a diamond, for each day is valuable, as you can never buy it back. Learn to use it doing the things you love, spend it with the people you care for most, because we just never know when we will say goodbye.
‘My last moments here on earth I sing out “Hallelujah!” I ran the good race. I fought the good fight and came out a winner in God’s eyes and men. I do have a story to tell, that story’s determined by you all on how you witness me. Ask yourself: “What did I leave with you?” That will determine my legacy. I leave now in peace and love. I pray that you will all know how I valued and treasured you. Treasure your love and friendship. As you all leave here today, who will you witness too, today?
Love Andrew Chan.”
As soon as I heard about SBS’s Struggle Street I thought of Jon Owen, Minister-at-large, who has a long term commitment to Mt Druitt as part of Urban Neighbourhood of Hope (UNOH).
Unlike the makers of this program, he lives within the community he works with, has local people coming and going from his family’s home and is in every way an integral part of the neighbourhood.
Here’s a bit of what he had to say about Struggle Street in his regular email newsletter, called The Huddle. It is not only insightful commentary on this program, but also on the opportunity, more broadly, for journalists to either hurt or heal, to reveal people or problems:
‘Journalists have the power to heal or to hurt.
‘There is no doubt that there is some satisfaction to be gained (and perhaps ratings) by unfolding a story that invites ridicule on the part of the wider community who knows little or nothing of the neighbourhood I call home.
‘There is a dark side through our whole culture that seems to enjoy feeling a bit better because there is always someone else to look down upon.
‘We ought to be wide awake to any attempt that looks like it might be concerned for the community that might really be inviting disgust on a large scale.
‘Journalists can investigate and reveal “problems” or “people”. If they take the time to ask why someone might be living in a deplorable state, they can show a story that explains the circumstances that reveal the person.
‘The effect of such a exercise in journalism would be to cause the viewer to discover a neighbour in need.
‘The effect of revealing mere “problems” will cause a viewer to recoil in judgement and disgust.’
Someone like Jon has earned the right to speak on a topic like this because he has done the hard yards of ‘incarnational life’ in the community where he longs to see life and hope flourish. It’s a good model of ‘sharing our lives’ that the New Testament exhorts us to (and that Jesus modeled) in preference to a distant preaching…
Let’s hope we all learn something from this process. Read more from Jon Owen on Struggle Street
I hoped one day to write about these things and maybe eventually I will. But for now I could not find any better words than these…
As you grow older you learn that not everyone has it all together. Those who were once giants in a league of their own – far above yours – turn out to be humans in the same beleaguered state as you. Merely human. But mere decay and mere confusion, this mere humanity of ours – it has many layers. I find I am being disillusioned constantly, realising the incompleteness of those who I look up to goes deeper still, and their flaws compound upon flaws. Thankfully I am introspective to a terrible fault so I’ve compounded my own flaws with bonus interest; this disillusionment doesn’t lead to despair nor cynicism nor any brash independence founded upon some realisation of “oh what…? I think I’m actually better than them!” Rather (but only in light of the love of God) it leads to compassion and grace.
And it’s never a shock. I’m…
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Surrounded by scared politicians, corrupt officials, chaotic processes, frenzied monetized media, public outpourings of hate through to mercy, courageous grieving families and the rest of us who can only really guess at how this ever came to be – a Pastor and an Artist, loved sons both – have ‘died well’ alongside fellow prisoners they had comforted.
There is a miracle here, but for now sorrow and grief. Anger will bloom in many and there will be a turning on one another, personally, nationally. But we who know the Cross know ‘in the world you will have trouble but I have defeated the world’ and ‘death where is your sting’. I refuse to take my cue from rampant media and jostling politicians but from the Rock of salvation on which these two men had learned to trust.
Even as this unjust tragedy moves past us, carried away by an insatiable news cycle, other horrors will rise up to replace it. And while we are often spectators, we can pray for the participants and commit them to ‘the God who is there’. Each time we act justly and mercifully and choose to continue walking with God in the ‘trouble’ we ourselves must face, we make a difference that no headline will report.
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…
Don’t lose heart and don’t lose vision! Run your race with perseverance and keep your eyes on the most important things, that are already yours, that money can’t buy:
Serving God, strengthening your family, building character, being honourable and generous, finding wisdom, rejecting despair and self-pity, enjoying the little things of life, working hard, always learning, always growing but not comparing or envying.
Everything flows from decision, so whatever course you choose (that builds for the future) rest in it, pray, make room for God, stick to your plans, be alert and one day you will look back, like we do now, and see God is faithful to provide all our needs.
Only remember the poor, value people, forgive and make peace, trust in Jesus.
Consider how much human energy is expended in discovering what’s inside us.
Entire industries, advancing technologies and schools of learning exist to help us peer into our physical beings.
A billion words have been written in developing insight of our emotional and psychological beings.
If our skin and organs were transparent and our thoughts and feelings were unflinchingly displayed in speech bubbles above our head, many people would be out of a job and the world far less mysterious.
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.
A young professional joined in our breakfast and told of some recent spiritual seeking.
Eve: ‘I spent the week at a temple learning some Buddhist meditation.’
Me: ‘Are you Buddhist?’
Eve: ‘No!’ She seems incredulous I would draw that conclusion.
Eve: ‘As someone has said, being spiritual is a good start.’ I busily serve food and try to understand this comment, wondering if it’s a polite put down for people who have faith but don’t act.
Me: ‘So what about this, what we are doing here. Is it spiritual?’ It’s her turn to look incredulous.
Me: ‘Yes. It’s spiritual, because there is more happening here than meets the eye.’ And I think of the exchanges of hope and grace that have occurred all morning.
Eve: After reflecting for a while. ‘I think what happens here is communion.’ I’m stunned by this insight.
Me: ‘You are right. The Last Supper was communion, where this began, the coming together of people, of speaking of important things, of a price paid for others. You should read an account from the gospels.’ It’s an incomplete description but a snatched beginning.
Eve: ‘I will. I’ll think about this all week.’
* Our month of breakfasts has finished but we’ll be at a community festival in Camperdown on September 21 as we consider our next step and keep looking for God’s open door.
* Names and details changed in this story to protect privacy. The people involved in the conversation are not in the photo.
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??
Brian*: ‘Oh, and I’ve found Jesus.’
Me: ‘Yeah? That’s great.’
Brian: ‘He was on the corner of Ross St and Pyrmont Bridge Road.’
Me: ‘Mmm, well that’s as good a place as any.’
* named changed for privacy
Stories from the ‘sharing our lives’ community breakfast being held at the Booler Centre, Lambert St Camperdown, August 10, 17, 31, September 7.
Hype is a danger to leadership because it can become organisational doublespeak – sounding excited becomes compulsory regardless of results. Hype is no substitute for strategy. In fact talking it up can obscure the reality that nothing is happening. #faithnotfake There’s a place for speaking positively about what will happen to create an atmosphere of […]
Self-centredness is a kind of blindness we all experience to some degree – the inability to look past ourselves and see others. Being true to yourself is best accomplished when self is illuminated by the love of God and enriched by a love for others. Peter A Hallett
Many people have treasured memories of Australian missionary Margaret Somerville, none more so than the Aboriginal children she guided across the continent to safety during World War 2.
Connie Cole, one of the last survivors of this epic journey, said of Margaret:
‘She was the most wonderful woman that I ever come across.’
Margaret died last week aged 101 at a nursing home on the Central Coast.
A Memorial Service for her will be held at Rockdale Uniting Church on Friday, August 8 at 2pm.
My memories of Margaret go back to the early 1980s when I was a journalism student at the Institute of Technolgy (now UTS ) and we both attended Newtown Mission.
She seemed old to me then but in a sprightly, energetic way. Then again I was still in my teens so most people seemed old.
In preparing a radio documentary on the history of Christian mission among Aboriginal people, I interviewed Margaret at her home about her experiences. Her remarkable journey with a group of young Aboriginal children clear across the continent was, it seemed, just a small part of a long life of caring for others.
She understood that missionary endeavour among first Australians was criticised by many at the time but I remember, even in those early days of land rights protests, she was a compelling defender of Christian mission.
To see why, watch this trailer for Croaker Island Exodus:
Read more about Margaret Somerville’s life and legacy here
To commemorate 100 years today since the start of World War 1, here’s a section from my unpublished novel Shot: a great war story.
This section is based on the actual enlistment records of my great uncle, Roy Frederick Hallett, including the date and the recorded outcome of his medical. For a man who died nearly a hundred years ago, it is amazing how much can be gleaned of his existence from the service records contained in Australia’s national archives.
Of course, there is an imaginative element as well, the main one being that in my story, Roy is accompanied by an Aboriginal friend who was also seeking to enlist and together they needed to rely on some trickery for this to occur. Aboriginals were not allowed to enlist or leave Australia without Federal Government permission and so were often knocked back early in the war. But as the war outlasted most expectations, and with casualties mounting, it seemed to become easier for Indigenous men to join their white compatriots in the army.
A famous example of this is Douglas Grant on which I have based some of my character’s experiences, as a way of honouring his remarkable contribution.
During this commemorative year, Roy’s name will be projected onto the exterior of the Hall of Memory on:
Please enjoy this imaginative reflection on what it might have been like to come in from the outback to join the army.
Roy and Yirra, Singleton, October 25, 1916
‘I know ye father and mother, and I know ye brothers and sisters, and with a wee bit of imagination, I may even recognise you in there somewhere Roy, but ne’er in me life have I met this fella ye be calling Arnold.’
Roy smiled as he stood across the counter from the local Singleton recruitment officer, Corporal Jock McIntyre, an old Scotsman who he hoped would help Yirra to enlist.
‘Well the point is Jock, sorry, sir, as you don’t know him then perhaps you’ll be kind enough to quietly accept my word that he is the adopted son of Addie’s second cousin twice removed, who has been frustratingly separated by flood and fire from all forms of identification but is awfully keen to enlist with myself. Surely you would not stand in the way of a proud Australian enlisting, given the trouble our boys are having over there,’ Roy said, while Yirra nodded enthusiastically.
It was a long shot, but with the recruiting drives such as Carmichael’s Thousand now in the past and conscription being hotly contested, he was banking on the pressing need for reinforcements to overcome the administrative challenges of Aboriginal men enlisting. They had filled out the form for Yirra under the name Arnold Trang, writing the date October 25, 1916 at the top, as well as presenting the letter of introduction from Mr Trang which fortunately was general enough to fit with their concocted story.
A highly-paid athletics coach publicly criticises a highly paid athlete, in the midst of our wealthy country’s medal spree at the Commonwealth Game.
Massive media space is devoted to expressions of outrage and an attempt to understand how this could happen.
The coach, Eric Hollingsworth, is ‘stripped’ of his Commonwealth Games credentials and stood down from his role which is now described as untenable. The athlete, champion hurdler Sally Pearson, has received widespread support and will continue to compete at the Games.
No one was oppressed, no one lost their home, no one was killed, although Hollingsworth is being sent home in disgrace so must be feeling life is pretty bleak.
At the end of the day, it is a sporting drama which serves to distract us from the more chilling public shaming and marking occurring in the Middle East, in particular in the major Iraqi city of Mosul.
Some may think it is outrageous to link these seemingly unrelated events – Commonwealth Games spat and terrorist genocide – and yet the issues have jostled with each other for public attention, sharing page space and news feeds and pubic interest. They share the common theme, although of different scale, of those in power publicly ‘marking’ others in their charge and this is enough of a parallel for me.
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‘Images of the eclipse show a crisp lunar horizon, because the moon has no atmosphere that would distort light.’
Atmosphere brings distortion but it also brings life. The moon may pose beautifully for photos but you wouldn’t want to live there.
So often the very things that bring potential for distortion or confusion or chaos or loss also carry along the things we value most, even life itself.
Passionate faith may lead to a life of unparralled service or unmitigated violence.
The ocean meeting land offers the pleasure of being carried along in majesty but sometimes being crushed and killed.
Love soars in our hearts and makes us feel invincible but can leave us stripped bare and dangerously vulnerable.
We can live to avoid all these paradoxes and be free of distortion – like a crisp lunar landscape black against a raging sun. Many seek to live this way and risk the greatest distortion of all.
Or we can dare a life of atmosphere and its light distorting quality and find strength and insight from a greater light that gives courage and truth enough to live and love well.
Perhaps when we look at one another and our atmosphere-cloaked world we should set aside sharp dividing lines and take greater pleasure in the wildness of us all.
Image Credit: NASA/SDO – the photo was taken by NASA’S Solar Dynamics Observatory on July 26, 2014.
More details here.
Postscript: I am particularly mindful of many people of all persuasions seeking to draw and redraw crisp, clear lines on our planet in places like Ukraine or Gaza or Syria or Iraq or many troubled places in Africa and perhaps even the oceans around Australia. (And I’m a fool if I don’t think I do it too.) Places where lines have never succeeded but the blurriness of atmosphere has allowed communities to coexist in risky but lovely peace. Set down your lunar linemarkers l pray… and breath.