Live in the moment and forever

Some things are intended to be fleeting, to finish, to fade away. Others are forever, eternal, of enduring value.

Too often we confuse the two. We grip a New Year’s Eve sparkler and hope it will light the year ahead. 

We invest our emotional security in passing things, such as possessions or fame or wealth, holding them too tight, and then struggle with a persistent sense of despair.

Or we commodify the deep things of life, such as relationships, beauty or belief, discarding them too easily, and then find ourselves living in a murky shallow pool of want.

Many modern societal structures (including some that should know better) push us to view the world this way because it is good for business. 

Often people are lost in this reversal but others have quietly realigned their thinking, perhaps when confronted with suffering or loss, and learn again how to live in the moment and forever.

New Year's Eve, sparklers, fireworks,

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And then they kissed… twice

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

 

PH

 

Sydney Central Pedestrian Tunnel #4

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.

central-station-pedestrian-tunnel-sydney

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].

The Presence of God

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.

The Presence of GodEarlier 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.

And just as well… I take a terrible selfie…

‘My struggle with Struggle Street’ – Jon Owen

struggle street, sbs, documentary, blacktown, mt druitt, Jon Owen, UNOH
SBS promo shot for Struggle Street

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

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?

image

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. 

 

 

 

Good Anzac

While leaders erred their courage held
Bloodied birth waters for a young nation
Anzac Day.
Not so far from there a crowd yelled
Bloody minded in their mob betrayal
Good Friday.

Quiet days that soar still on our modern calendars
Far places weighing on our clever consciences
Calvary and Anzac Cove say, ‘Not my will, lest we forget’.
Great defeats born with blood, borne by love
Teaching us still decades, centuries, eternally
That winning is not always won in victory
But sometimes by the brave, in loss.

The good die young, die in sand and mud, die in their thousands
And we remember them, more than ever, more than mostMoved and strangely weeping.
But listen, echoing along with shuffling feet on dawn’s street
The sound of metal striking metal
Wood giving way, and flesh
And the cry of an only Son
Who dies on a tree, dies with scorn, dies alone
Not my will, lest we forget.

Peter Hallett

Good Friday Fashion

Pockets of unbelief
Some bulging overcoat-size, fit the world in here Doctor Who style
Others faux, stitched, finger-blocking and smug, for appearance
Many inside jackets, back of jeans, silently or savagely stashed

Superior, mildly scornful, more dismissive, of my
Happy Easter greeting, not returned.

Broad swathes of just-believing cloth
But blowing in the wind, somewhat faded, trouser leg
Or sensible dress, unbuttoned sleeve, residual with faith’s fragrances
Pinched and creased and stained by paedophiles and penchants and pus

Didn’t even mention, neither for or against
Unobtrusive, benign, begrudging, slightly bitter? God, it’s Easter.

Collars, cuffs and hidden hems of belief
Heady justification, muddy footslog trailing threads and quick cuffs
Plunged diabolically or deliberately into pockets stirring
Or dipped in sweat of need or heartfelt hidden, hemmed in at home

Not just another day, more than a holiday
The core of my being, nothing more or less, forgive me Easter.

Good Friday fashion eternally of choice and destination
One garment disdained, gambled and divided and sworn
Another devotedly wrapped and wrapped and tears
And what will we wear world, garment of praise, garment of the age?

Lying still, pause for breath if nothing else
It’s a day that defies the pace and my mind turns to, strangely
Good Friday Fashion

…they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
…took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth

PH

The complexity of command, conscience and covenant: new year reflection

The Christian life is a complex interplay of command, conscience and covenant – and none of these words are particularly popular or well understood in our culture or, perhaps, by many in the church.

traffic, conscience, right, wrong, covenant, maturity, choice, freedomFrom time to time debates rage in one corner of Christendom or another as to what Christians should or shouldn’t do and rarely is a mature understanding of these coexistent realities displayed.

Simplistically we could draw understanding from the humble traffic light. Red and green are commands and amber is more or less a matter of personal decision or conscience. Red does not ask you if you feel you should stop, it tells you that you must. Amber however allows you some measure of consideration. And green, like red, is a command to go and if you are in doubt about that you have not experienced missing a green light in Sydney traffic.

The context for the command and conscience of the traffic light is the covenant we all have with each other that we will obey the traffic rules, including traffic lights, and likewise drive safely and responsibly. When we as a community balance command, conscience and covenant well, there is relative safety and amenity on our roads. When these three are out of shape – frustration, damage and even death can result.

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Why should the devil have all the good computer games?

When Larry Norman sang Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music in the seventies he was fighting back against a religious world-view that said music could not be ‘Christian’ unless it was played on an organ and written in old English.

Which is not to say there’s not some great music in that genre, but when it came to Christian rock, Larry was proclaiming it was time to hear some music which was ‘good’ in its own right. And the message it carried would be lifted as well:

“I ain’t knockin’ the hymns, just give me a song that has a beat.
I ain’t knockin’ the hymns, just give me a song that moves my feet”

I can still hear Larry’s nasally voice in my mind when I read those words…

Anyway, time has moved on and there is plenty of good Christian music, in fact arguably, contemporary Christian music, musicians, songwriters and singers breath much-needed life into rock, soul, R & B and all kinds of music every day.

We are still waiting to see the same commitment to artistic imagination and excellence in the realm of film and literature but there are plenty of people trying. Which is sometimes the problem.

And now a Sydney Morning Herald blog writer has opened up a whole new area of discussion with the question, “why are Christian games so often so bad?”

Now I’m not really a big fan of computer gaming – mainly on the principle that there are games that you can play for 80 hours a week for the rest of your life and never come to an end… and there are too many people trying to accomplish this.

But Ash Walmsley’s blog tackles the whole arena of faith and culture via reference to gaming (having arena and via in the same sentence is a nice Roman touch I think, they liked their games too…)

He writes:

“Joshua Topolsky, founding editor in chief of The Verge writes for the Washington Post about his recent trip to E3. ‘Finally, one thing I found surprising and more than a little disappointing was the increase in graphic violence in games, as well as developers’ apparent inability to think of anything more than a gun to place in the hands of lead characters,” Topolsky wrote.

“‘There were a handful of games that explored a space outside the run-and-attack mechanics of many titles, but few tried to tell adult stories without gunshots and stabbings.’

“The world has become scared to acknowledge God. Do that, and you have to acknowledge sin and eventual judgement, which is as uncomfortable as the itchy, high-hitched trousers your mum used to make you wear to Sunday School. And yet we have greater acceptance in some areas, such as school chaplains being given the OK by the High Court (although the funding model needs a tweak).

“Could innovative, soul-searching, conscience nudging, mortality-facing games with Christian themes take gaming to another level? I shall be keeping my eyes on the Gamesmen catalogue to find out.”

Bad does get boring and once the rabid R-rated gaming fraternity wears itself out on its newly won ‘bound-freedoms’, perhaps they’ll even come looking for something more…

Read more of Ash Walmsely.

PS I love a line adaptation in Larry’s Youtube clip above: “Why should the devil have anything?”

Meyer, Warren, Lucado out-tweet Gaga, Perry and Kardashian

The New York Times has used social media compilation tool Storify to show that spiritual leaders such as Joyce Meyer or Max Lucado receive massively greater response from followers to their tweets than celebrities such as Lady Gaga or Kim Kardashian.

While celebrities have far more followers, there is very little interaction with their messages while for the ‘spiritual leaders’ with less followers (but still large numbers) there is often strong engagement with the messages they deliver through Twitter.

Perhaps this says something about why people  follow Rhiannon and other celebrities in comparison to Rick Warren and the ‘spiritual leaders’ group. Or perhaps it is about the content of their respective tweets – Trivia vs transformation?

And if Twitter and Storify are new to you, this is a helpful insight into how both platforms are being used across the planet to connect and influence. See Storify here:

[View the story “Comparing responses to spiritual leaders’ and Twitter celebrities’ tweets” on Storify]

PS> Dear WordPress, please introduce a Storify embed option. Thank you.

Model’s faith no secret as she leaves lingerie behind…

“I am still modeling but only with brands that respect my decision not to wear lingerie,” tweeted former Victoria’s Secret model Kylie Bisutti, aged 21.

The Californian Christian won Victoria’s Secret Model Search  ahead of 10,000 other girls in 2009 but has quit the company because of her Christian values.

“Victoria’s Secret was my absolutely biggest goal in life, and it was all I ever wanted career-wise,” she told FOX411.

“I actually loved it while I was there, it was so much fun and I had a blast. But the more I was modelling lingerie – and lingerie isn’t clothing – I just started becoming more uncomfortable with it because of my faith. I’m Christian, and reading the Bible more, I was becoming more convicted about it.”

Her comment that “her body should only be for my husband” was widely reported, and ridiculed, but for Kylie “it’s a sacred thing”.

“I didn’t really want to be that kind of role model for younger girls because I had a lot of younger Christian girls that were looking up to me and then thinking that it was okay for them to walk around and show their bodies in lingerie to guys.”

She has a number of career opportunities ahead including an appearance with Jennifer Lopez and will continue to model for companies that respect her decision not to model lingerie.

“It is a very hard industry to be in without falling into things you don’t want to do,” she said.

Husband Mike had apparently prayed that Kylie might come to this decision but allowed her to reach it in her own time.

In a world where people do anything to achieve success, particularly if it involves celebrity, it is encouraging to see someone allow their conscience to guide their decisions and trust God with the outcome.

Follow Kylie on Twitter at @vskylie

LL Cool J opens Grammys with prayer for Whitney Houston

“Tonight, we ask ourselves how do we speak to this time, to this day. There is no way around this, there’s been a death in our family. And at least for me, for me, the only thing that seems right to me is to begin with a prayer.”

And so LL Cool J begins the 2012 Grammys in Los Angeles, leading the large group of celebrities, many with heads bowed, in a prayer for Whitney Houston.

“Heavenly Father, we thank you for sharing our sister Whitney with us. Today our thoughts are with her mother, her daughter and all of her loved ones. And although she is gone too soon, we remain truly blessed to have been touched by her beautiful spirit, and to have the legacy of her music to cherish and share forever. Amen.”

Prayer is so often the cry of our heart in the midst of tragedy and joy and many other circumstances.

If you are in need of prayer and are struggling for the words, simply express yourself as you would to a good friend and believe that God who loves you is listening. For more prayer help, visit Wesley Mission’s prayer page or Hillsong’s prayer and support page.

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