The mysterious direction of first love

There’s a part of me I almost always hold back. Not consciously but by default.

It’s the bit that says absolute conviction, no holds barred, be a true believer.

Cause that bit of me is already given and you can’t give it again.

I’ll be on the outer when it comes to humanity’s great plans, and I know I’m not the only one.

But I will follow the mysterious direction of first love, even if it seem like the wind in the trees.

And if that calls for greatness or lowliness or never ending service I will die in my attempt to give it, but only because my eyes are on something over the horizon.

I’m not yours, I’m not even mine.

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When today’s posturing about what things are important is superseded by tomorrow’s, those things that are eternal, which have never failed, have never looked like waning, will continue on with little concern as to whether anyone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

 

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…

Executions cannot obscure a miracle

#IStandforMercy, Bali 9, Andrew Chan, Myuran Sukumaran
A section of one of Myuran Sukumaran’s final paintings showing the Indonesian flag dripping blood.

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.

Related: The role of faith before the firing squad

Related: Prisoners refuse blindfolds, sing Amazing Grace

Previous post: God help us: Bali Nine pray

What is love?

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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

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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??

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
Robert Kennedy, fighting into positive territory, letter to daughter

Fighting back into positive territory

Fighting back into positive territory is a cliche associated, most commonly, with the share market where it describes stocks, or indeed the whole market, moving from loss into gain.

Of course shares and markets are not personal beings that can fight back into anything and so it is a pity this phrase is so often wasted on the endless statistical variations of markets.

Where it is truly significant is in the story of human beings all over our planet who, against the odds, deliberatley and intentionally, fight back into positive territory.

An example I heard tonight was Senator Robert Kennedy, who shortly after the assassination of his brother, President John F Kennedy, wrote to his 12-year-old daughter:

‘Dear Kathleen, You seem to understand that Jack died and was buried today. As the oldest of the grandchildren, you have a special responsibility. Be kind to others and work hard for our country. Love, Daddy.’

‘Be kind to others and work hard for our country…’ – fighting back into positive territory.

This is one example among millions where people – confronted with loss, disability, disaster, sickness, suffering and tragedy – doggedly fight back into positive territory in their lives by choosing well on what to focus, on the words they speak, and the memories they entertain, or the perspective they maintain.

These are courageous, redemptive acts, all of them, and follow the great Redemeer at work in the world.

Keep fighting.

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

Return to me on the mountain and don’t smash your future

“Prepare two stone tablets like the first ones, and make a sacred chest out of acacia wood to keep them in. Return to me on the mountain, and I will write on the tablets the same words that were on the ones you smashed.” Deuteronomy 10:1-2

Bible, future, recovery, God, MosesMoses had spent 40 days removed from the normal rhythms of life in the presence of God receiving a blueprint for the future, an agreement for living, a look at how things could be, all written in stone by the finger of God.

Then God gives Moses those tablets, bearing the words of the 10 Commandments,  even though he knew it was going wildly skewiff on the ground. No doubt God was peeved too but it was Moses, tired and hungry after a 40 day fast and difficult climb, who took the ‘future’ and smashed it in the midst of his community’s messy ‘present’.

Things don’t always work out the way we expect. Our most holy moments can end up trampled on by golden calves. Outraged, brutalised, despairing, we smash the future in our all or nothing reaction just as Moses smashed the tablets God had given him.Read More »

Slowly, powerfully, turning the other cheek

But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also.” Jesus – Matthew 5:39

Turning the other cheek is easily misunderstood.

Rev Hammond may have been good with his fists, but he was better known for his compassion and care for the disadvantaged…

The story is told of how the great Australian social reformer and evangelist, Rev Bob Hammond, was once confronted with this verse by a heckler. As Rev Hammond preached on the tough streets of Sydney around the time of the Great Depression, the heckler called from the crowd:

“If I was to come up there and hit ya in the face, would ya turn the other cheek?”

Rev Hammond confirmed that he would. So the man walked through the crowd and hit him in the face. Rev Hammond – true to his word – made no effort to retaliate and went to continue with his message.

Not content, the attacker struck him on the face again, and this time the Rev Hammond looked at the man and said, “Jesus never said what I was to do when being struck on the other cheek.”

And with that, the large preacher who played in a premiership-winning Essendon football team as a young man, gave his assailant a hiding. Or so the story goes…

The illustration ‘turn the other cheek’ which Jesus gave as an alternative to seeking revenge is rarely done well.

Many when who think they are ‘turning the other cheek’ are actually just turning away, either in bitterness and smug superiority or in fear and self-loathing.Read More »

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.

Difference between ‘feeling’ and ‘being’ anxious unlocks an answer

“…for nothing be anxious.” *

I think there is a difference between feeling anxious and being anxious.

Photo by Jesse Therrien

Anxiety is a normal, perhaps even healthy, feeling when faced with the unknown, the unsafe or the unwanted. Usually this feeling of anxiety resolves when you pass through the situation and relief follows or, if your anxiety was justified, more concrete thoughts, actions and responses are required.

Sometimes it is the psycho-emotional effects of feelings of anxiety that help guide you through challenging situations – heightened vigilance, physical alertness (adrenalin), cautious progress.

But what if it is not so much that you ‘feel’ anxious, but that you are ‘being’ anxious; that you find yourself continuing in anxiety with or without an initial trigger.

Many of us in life can find ourselves weighed down with all the mental and physical responses of anxiety for hours, days or months. We are being anxious and we have forgetten how not to be anxious.

At such times, phrases such as the Biblical epigram for this post, “for nothing be anxious”, can seem infuriating and mindless to the person who would rather do anything but be anxious.

When our friends or spouses or colleagues tell us to ‘get over it’ when that is the one thing we can’t seem to do, we feel even more anxious. That is presuming anyone but ourselves even knows. In most cases, these predicaments are carried with silence, a supreme act of the will considering the turmoil inside.

So when the Bible says ‘for nothing be anxious’ do we have yet another voice condemning and consigning the anxious person to deeper isolation?Read More »

Let the little children come to me, echoes Barbara in life and death

The funeral of Barbara Holborow today showed that she was a woman of faith as well as the woman of constant action that we all knew her to be.

No doubt planning the event meticulously, she included a welcome to country by Millie Ingram and then the funeral continued with the ‘negro spiritual’, Shine On Me:

‘Shine on me
Let the light from the lighthouse
Shine on me’

Phrases such as “Therefore in faith and hope we turn to God, who created and sustains all things” sat alongside Scriptures such as “I am the resurrection and the life, says the Lord. Those who believe in me will live, even though they die.”

The congregation was invited to pray:

“Heavenly Father,
in your Son jesus Christ
you have given us a true faith and a sure hope.
Help us to live as those who believe in the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
and the resurrection to eternal life;
through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen”

Beautiful hymns, the Lord’s Prayer, Scripture readings from Ecclesiastes 3, Amos 5:24 and Psalm 23 accompanied perhaps the most fitting passage for a woman who devoted her life to the protection and nourishment of children: Mark 10:13-16, which includes the well-known words of Jesus:

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

One sign of Barbara Holborow’s guiding hand was the involvement of clergy from the Anglican, Catholic and Uniting Churches and the Salvation Army. The tributes from Father Chris Riley AM and Reverend Dr Bill Crews AM, both close friends of Barbara’s, were deeply moving as they spoke of the sadness and challenge and love felt as she approached death.

There were many other highlights for the those gathered, including the Irish recessional and Goodnight Sweetheart sung by Col Joye as young men – perhaps some who have benefitted from Barbara Holborow’s benevolence – carried her towards her last earthly journey.

Armondo Hurley sang What A Wonderful World which connected with a radio interview with Richard Fidler in which Barbara had spoken about her hopes for a wonderful world. Hear it here.

One memorable quote, in response to the question, “Have you upset many of the lawmakers over the years?” Barbara answered, “Oh yes, and I still am. The day I stop is the day I know the marrow of my bone has melted.”

Many have asked the question since the death of Barbara Holborow, who will step up and continue her role as a champion of the most vulnerable of society. Probably it will not be just one, but will take many, similarly equipped – as she apparently was – with a faith that brings hope and love.

As my wife and I go through the process of becoming foster carers, we hope in some very small way to be part of continuing her legacy.

If God seems far away… he isn’t

Growing up in Taree from about 1967-72 I was the proud owner of a purple dragster bicycle.

Not indentical, but a close match for the dragster I use to ride. This one, an original, is selling for $2,800...

High-rise handle-bars, a T-bar gear shifter midway along the top-tube (in hindsight, perilously located), and banana seat with sissy bar meant I was the height of late-60s, early-70s bike-riding fashion… something that escaped me as a nine or ten-year-old.

I can still recall riding around Nicoll Cres with my friends singing Bopping the Blues (Blackfeather, 1972 – not that I actually knew who the band was at the time) or pedalling down to the corner store for a 15c can of soft drink. Saxby’s I think.

I can also recall my mother giving me a sheet of flouro pink stickers that had Christian mottos or sayings on them for the purpose of encouraging people to think about God.

When I started riding the bike to school, we attached a bike rack at the back (I’m finding this hard to imagine but I know it’s true because my school case once fell off it in the middle of the road outside Taree West Primary School and while scooping my belongings back in, I found about 15 cigarettes lying there and scooped them in too – but that’s another story).

Anyway, we used to park our bikes in racks at the side of the school and I can distinctly remember two boys, walking past as I was preparing to leave for the day, stopping, reading the sticker, laughing and moving on.

The good news was that they appreciated the humour of the flouro pink sticker and this saved me from a moment of ridicule which I had been fully expecting.

The sticker read:

‘If God seems far away, guess who’s moved?’

Now, in 2012, this is an extremely old line which still gets trotted out. But in the late 60s, early 70s – it was brand new.

And the saying has remained associated with these memories ever since. Of my purple dragster, of my mother’s eager new faith and desire to share it with others, of my own childlike faith and an innocence in putting my beliefs on the line, of wearing green button-up shirts to school, drinking warm flavoured milk in small foil-lidded bottles at recess and falling off the monkey bars and smashing my head open one lunchtime (yet another story).

Forty years on and recently I have paused to reflect on the whole idea of our relative location to God and the reality of him feeling far away.

If I had my time again, and was a wise nine-year-old, I would say to those two older boys, as I say to you:

‘Everyone is moving all the time and often without even knowing it. But wherever we go and how ever we get there, God is never far away, even if that’s what we feel. We may take 10,000 steps away from him but it’s always only one step back.’

The past few years have seen some changes in my life that I could never have anticipated, to do with who I thought I was and what I was doing with my life. A lot of movement occurred, often outside my control, but thankfully the most important things of life – faith, marriage, family, health – have remained true and near. God has indeed seemed distant, often, and yes, it was me who moved in those times.

But if God seems far away to you today, he isn’t. He’s close enough to whisper in your ear and know the longings of your heart.

Psalm 139

Oh, and because I know you can’t get that tune out of your head, here’s Blackfeather with Boppin the Blues

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.