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…

Spiritual is more than meets the eye: fine moments from a free breakfast #3


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.

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


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

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

Me: No, I don’t think so, fire away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fine moments from a free breakfast

community, bteakfast, things people say, kindness, random acts of kindness

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.




Ode to Oak and hungrythirsty…

Hungrythirsty is a not a new idea in fact it’s not an idea
it would be more like a feeling.
When your are hungrythirsty you know you need something more
than a new car, Mad Men on Blueray or free food at the footy
and so you use two words to mask your fear.
I wish I’d seen a bearded lady at the fairground.
Only kidding, but I did grow a beard once, no kisses.
The best thing to kill hungrythirsty dead is the Oak of righteousness
we killed dead and left temporarily in a basement, or tomb as it were.
And that’s why He called himself Bread of Life Living Water –
full strength, full taste, full on!
Nails through his hands but all fingers intact.


Do you know what hungrythirsty is? No. Are you stupid?
My brother is, he’s in a basement.
Hungrythirsty is when you are neither hungry or thirsty
but a bit of both.
And there is only one cure for hungrythirsty and that’s Oak.
With its full strength and full taste it’s full on!
I wish I’d fed my son Oak when he was growing up.
Just kidding, I don’t have a son.
Well technically I do, but he’s in real estate.

Relieve spiritual hungrythirsty

More about milky hungrythirsty

Unless a tomato falls into the ground…

Lying forlornly in the dirt, like a yellowing tomb slit open, is the remains of an early season tomato from my garden that didn’t quite make it to the plate.

Sydney’s unseasonally damp summer has meant the vigorous tomato plant this specimen came from is long gone, afflicted by various diseases and my lack of care on occasions when life got too busy.

This shell-of-a-tomato was most likely not picked and taken inside for human consumption because it was marked or damaged or being eaten by a worm… In other words, it was rejected.

I know a Man who takes rejection, accusation and being cast aside and turns them into new life. He did it with his own life, saying, ‘unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone’.

February is late for growing tomatoes but no one mentioned this to my cast-aside tomato and without any assistance from myself, a veritable forest of tomato seedlings have emerged from their yellowing tomb.

With Sydney’s weather finally providing some sunshine and still plenty of rain, the young seedlings are thriving.

It’s not easy growing vegetables in an inner city town house. Pots are used, mainly, and these have to be carefully positioned to find sun and escape birds and the occasional visiting rat. (And Leroy our dog is known to occasionally pluck a tomato or strawberry for his own illegal consumption…)

It also means carrying pots and soil and shovels through the house to get to one courtyard or another, making an exercise such as repotting tomatoes a logistical challenge.

During the process I carried one of my new self-sown seedlings to another courtyard and realised I was carrying life in the palm of my hand. I also realised it was one of those ‘stock-photo-moments-of-hand-with-seedling-depicting-new-life’.

There is something about gardening that is renewing. Or perhaps the renewing comes first and then the energy to garden emerges. A bit of both I think.

As the cricket starts, and the sun bites, I’ve finished my little project and that pale shell of a tomato womb has birthed an array of seedlings, some already flowering, ready to greet the final month or so of summer warmth in Sydney.

There is not a soul among us who has not had at least a moment of being cast aside, left for dead, and lying in the dirt alone.

There is a God who showed himself as one of us, who placed  pictures of death and resurrection among us as reminders and who died an earthly death so he could share a heavenly life with many, many sons and daughters.

No doubt he is enjoying my tomatoey resurgence and if even one of these offspring is as productive as the original (bought from a stall at Leichhardt Public School fete), then we will enjoy a feast of home-grown tomatoes as the seasons approach change.

John 12:24


How full is full?

Giotto The Marriage at Cana 1303
Image via Wikipedia

In John 2 Jesus attends a wedding in a Galilean town called Cana.
Like many people at wedding receptions, it seems he took a low profile, perhaps feeling like he was on the edge of the relationships at the heart of the wedding.
Besides, celebrations can be hard when a difficult reality is always on the edge of consciousness. Jesus somehow carried the emotional burden of his impending sacrifice through all he is recorded doing in the gospels. This is how I know he understands that many of us can standing smiling at a party or shaking a hand warmly and at the same time be holding off sadness or fear or grief or anger or doom. Apparently there is a freedom for miracles even in the midst of this paradox, judging by Jesus’ example in John 2.
When the wine run dries Jesus is called on to intervene and he uses what is at hand: servants, clay jars, water, his own sense of what is good and right, and perhaps just a little passion for the surprising.
John records that there were six jars of 20 to 30 gallons capacity. We each have a certain capacity, some days it’s 20, some days it’s 30. Either way Jesus’ command was to fill them and they were filled to the brim. He is less concerned with our actual capacity – which will vary from person to person, day-to-day, season to season – as to whether we will receive his command to be filled.
The result was breathtakingly good and everyone benefitted. If you are like me you may also appreciate some breathtaking good right now… ‘Fill us full Lord!’
And then there’s the secret art of servanthood. While everyone enjoyed the ‘best for last’ wine, John says only the servants knew where it came from. Being a servant will mean you are not usually the one at the head table tasting the wine, but it may mean you get to share in a miracle, a touch of heaven, a piece of grace, that you will treasure forever. This is the unspoken reward of serving and it is sometimes little appreciated. Never mind, there will always be those who are still and obedient enough to hear the words – ‘fill them up’ – and go into the world and do just that. Let’s be among them today – only be sure to serve ‘full’!

Overcoming walls, discerning calls

‘So how do you know if God is calling you into an area of ministry or service?’ the young person asked as we stirred our flat whites at Deus ex Machina.

It’s a question you are asked many times as a pastor and it is rarely as black and white as people would like.

I told some of my own story of leaving* my ‘calling’ as a journalist to take up a ‘calling’ as a pastor many years earlier. The point being that we serve God in whatever we do when it is submitted to him.

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Red castanets and other amazing things

Yesterday my father lay in intensive care having come through a long and delicate operation to remove a tumour on his spine and to repair the damaged vertebrae. With wires and tubes protruding everywhere, and a neck brace surrounding his head, he raised his eyes and in his post-surgery  voice said, “He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities… and by His stripes we are healed. Thank you, Father. You know its amazing that this God of ours is called Father.” And tears came to his eyes as he contemplated the love of God. Faith well in tact I’d say…

Today as I walked through Leichhardt I came across an old man, grey hair and beard, skinny legs protruding from crumpled shorts, walking with stilted step. He gazed around with a slightly bewildered look and with each step he shook a bright red castanet. As I continued down Leichhardt St, I could hear the regular shake of the castanet as he slowly followed my path. Strange? Perhaps. But give me a red castanet over the hammer and knife wielded on the same streets just days before.

On King St south Newtown we followed a golden Honda Jazz with its back windscreen covered by an intriguing web address – Now there’s a thought….

And the most unbelievable thing of the week – I took my father’s car to the Kmart Auto in Annandale to investigate possible problems with the brakes and some strange noises. After a thorough inspection, Peter told me the car was perfectly safe and although some work was required in the future, “it would be a waste of money to do it now”. Bring it back in a couple of months was his suggestion, “And, there’ s no charge today. I hope your old man is ok.” A mechanic choosing not to do some work now but send you home with no charge. That’s mighty unusual… but beautiful! PH

The nearly most important thing

We tackle some heavy issues here at Utterance but this is serious stuff tonight.

Yesterday I found a large take away coffee on Norton St for just $3. That’s right, $3 – at least $1.10 below the usual premium rate you pay for coffee in Little Italy.

This cheap brew is hiding away in the baby cakes outlet in Norton Plaza. I guess the plan is that you buy a cheap but tasty coffee and a small but expensive cup cake.

Well, I just stuck to the coffee and it’s not too bad. What’s more, it’s organic Fair Trade!!

Feel free to share your own totally indulgent coffee story… PH