Justice for Melissa

Twenty five years ago last month my sister Melissa Hunt (Hallett) was beaten to death and her body dumped in a remote dam in the Newcastle region, NSW, Australia.

An inquest had two main suspects before it was ended abruptly and information handed to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Unfortunately nothing has happened since.

There was some attempt we believe to examine DNA evidence in 2000 and Operation Impey was created in a renewed effort to find Melissa’s killer.

Still nothing.

Recently an unknown person left comments on another post on this blog, speculating about who might be implicated. Obviously this was disturbing, the information was given to Crimestoppers.

Still nothing.

On Anzac Day April 25, 2019 – 25 years to the day since Melissa’s body was discovered in Burrenjim Dam, I visited the dam with some family members, to reclaim that place and that day and to bring (symbolically and spiritually) dark secrets into the light.

This video tells the story. Please watch, share and come forward if you know anything.

PLEASE VISIT JUSTICEFORMELISSA.COM FOR FURTHER UPDATES ABOUT THE UNSOLVED MURDER OF MELISSA HUNT (HALLETT)

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…

Excuses, forgiveness and salt on my tongue

CS Lewis writes of our generous ability to find excuses for our own bad behaviour but our stubborn inability to accept those excuses in another.

(Presupposing you accept the existence  of something so old fashioned as the idea of bad behaviour…)

He continues that even if there is reasonable excuse for a harmful or hurtful action or attitude, even if 99 per cent of the situation might be excused, it is the forgiving of what remains that counts.

If we only seek to excuse what we or another has done wrong (another old-fashioned idea) then nothing changes in us or them. But we become better at excuses – and entire industries are spawned.

God is willing to forgive the inexcusable in us which is why he makes this conditional on us forgiving the inexcusable in others. Even the niggling one per cent. Even after ’70 times 7′ occasions.

I find reading of these ideas helps build an accountability in my spirit which I need to rise even slightly above the dust of a groaning creation.

The moving of the Spirit on chaos, a cool breeze on an anguished face, salt on my wayward tongue.

 

 

‘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

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. 

 

 

 

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

image

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??

More than a label

image

I was walking in the sunshine at University of Sydney with my little grand daughter who needed a short break from church in the old Geology building.

We came across a tree (pictured) with beautiful patterned bark, soft and flakey, and gentle spindly branches that were almost silhouetted against the blue sky.

I laid my hand against the trunk and felt its warmth and encouraged Maddison to do likewise. She reached across and rested the palm of her hand on the tree.

I stepped back to photograph the tree which had won my heart and as we began to move on I noticed a tag or label nailed to it.

Read More »

Peace on earth, good will…

Peace on earth?

children, massacre, violence, peace on earth, Don’t tell me there’s a
book, blog or documentary
pope, priest or commentary
that will make it alright

Can’t yell me to believe in
stronger  legislation
better educate them
to take away the fright

I’m not going for no
positive reinforcement
expert’s free endorsement
to mitigate the sight

22, Chenpeng children, kitchen-knife stabbed, village school
20, Newtown little ones, gunshot dead, kindergarten classroom
10, Dawlatzai innocents, bombshell bled, collecting firewood
And that’s just this week

I don’t wanna make sense of
Everything that’s senseless
Everything that’s broken
to help me through the night

There’s nothing you can show me
That undoes all the madness
Liberates the sadness
Or sends all the children home

But I can still remember
A broken twisted traitor
Who said he was a Saviour
Who radiated right

And I can still feel
A resonance of matter
Perpetuance of laughter
An ever outsourced light

Good will…

Photo: Robert Davies, UK

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 »

Melissa, it’s not finished yet

Melissa,
I remember clearly standing here in the torrential rain, as we lowered your body into the ground to be buried and baptised at the same time.
The bottomless ache and overwhelming senselessness were disregarded by a deluge somehow fitting for an ill-begotten time.
We still remember, we still seek justice and I still fight murderers in my sleep. One day they will be vanquished. Until then…
Rest in His peace

Speaking in tongues comes to ABC news

Speaking in tongues has finally come to ABC News as journalist Amy Simmons investigates why Pentecostalism is “attracting the Sunday masses” and examines the rise of Pentecostalism in a separate story.

The article covers some familiar territory – it seems each new generation of journalist keeps “discovering” the non-traditional traits that have made the Pentecostals the fastest growing Christian movement across the globe in the past century. 

There’s plenty in the article to allow people to make up their own minds about Pentecostal churches and some areas of belief such as healing and speaking in tongues.

Of course, most Pentecostals would rightly point to Jesus as being at the centre of their beliefs and that without a clear understanding of and vital relationship with the Son of God, then the other elements of faith are worthless.

Academic Associate Professor Rick Strelan of the University of Queensland is called on to deliver the “objective expert” view and is reasonable in most of his comments, which is noteworthy in that Pentecostals are not overly accustomed to having their faith and practice discussed in a reasonable way.Read More »

Enabling churches to be more inclusive

‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ Luke 14:21

Christian Blind Mission Australia has long worked with the disadvantaged across the globe but has recently fixed its gaze on an apparent injustice closer to home.

According to a CBM, disability ministry is a growing need yet only 5 per cent of Australian churches have any intentional programs to include people with disabilities.

Inspired by Jesus’ call in Luke 14, CBM Australia has developed a program of the same name that seeks to better equip churches to meet to be more inclusive of people with a disability.

Information about the launch of the program says:Luke14 is a CBM initiative aimed at equipping churches to welcome and include people with a disability. It is a process that assists churches to both reach in to improve church access and understanding, and reach out to offer support and friendship to people and families living with a disability in the community.

‘Many Australians living with disabilities aren’t a part of a caring church family, let alone involved in ministry. Luke14 seeks to help make our churches places where every person is appreciated, welcomed and encouraged to serve.’ 

CBM’s Luke14 will be launched with special guest speaker Therese Rein, wife of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, at St Anne’s Ryde Anglican Church Conference Centre on Thursday, November 25 at 9,30am and in Wollongong at Figtree Anglican Church on November 26 at 9.30am. Both launches are free. Check out the CBM website for details.

His friend the ex-mercenary finds God

My Friend the Mercenary by James Brabazon is one of the most brutal, true stories you may ever read and yet streaming through it is a remarkable and unlikely friendship.

Brabazon was just beginning his career as a documentary maker and war-correspondent when he was invited to film rebels fighting against dictator Charles Taylor in Liberia, west Africa.

He was introduced to one of Africa’s most notorious mercenaries, Nick du Toit, who had an ambiguous history as part of South Africa’s special forces at the tail end of apartheid.

As James discovered, the sheer need to survive turns the theoretical world of objectivity on its head but also allows friendships to forge that might not otherwise exist.

Alongside the brutal description of rebels executing government soldiers and in one case cutting them up and eating their heart, there is a remarkable, tender portrayal of friendship between two men of different backgrounds.

After Liberia, James is invited by Nick to film the overthrow of the government of Equatorial Guinea. He is part of a small band of mercenaries who are working for the instalment of an exiled leader to replace yet another brutal, corrupt ruler.Read More »

If love is value, how do we make it real?

Sy Rogers is a Christian minister, married father and a man who lived as a woman for two years in preparation for a sex change operation.

Around that time, as he ventured into an average American church, he learned something of the real meaning of love, a message he shared in Sydney on the weekend, some 20-30 years on.

Feeling that the word ‘love’ has been over-used and stripped of meaning – we love our family but also love our new shoes – he replaced it with the word ‘value’.

‘For God so valued the world, the he gave His only Son…’ or ‘Greater value has no one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends’. 

He said love – or his definition for it – value, is delivered, communicated or made real to others through three things:

1. Acceptance – which says ‘I’d rather have you messy than not have you at all.’ Because someone is valuable to God and valuable to us, we accept them as they are. This is where love/value begins.

2. Accountability – which says ‘because you are valuable I won’t leave you where you are, but hold you accountable towards a better day’. It’s the kind of accountability that doesn’t leave a friend playing dangerously on a busy highway, but says ‘ for your own good, because your valuable to me, get off the road’.

3. Affirmation – which says ‘I’m going to show you that your valuable, not just by what I say, but by how I treat you.’ Affirmation is when we communicate that what happens to someone we love, matters to us – rejoicing with those that rejoice, and weeping with those that weep. We need affirmation because of insecurity – ‘a fancy word for fear, a fear that says “I doubt my value”‘.

May your day be full of the giving and receiving of acceptance, accountability and affirmation because you are of great value!

Discovering why we do what we do and the guts to change

Most of us spend some time wondering why we do the things we do and not always finding answers.

There is an ancient Christian spiritual discipline that I know of as ‘examine’ in which the believer is encouraged to take time out during the day, consider the activities and emotions they have been experiencing, reflect on them with the assistance of God’s leading, and hopefully receive insight and awareness into why we do what we do.

This is in keeping with the Biblical imperative of 2 Corinthians 13:5 – ‘Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves…’

I am always fascinated when I find concessions to a deeper or spiritual life in unexpected places. Such as a marketing blog on the internet. While Seth Godin is not your usual marketing writer in any case, it was still a surprise to discover his recent blog ‘The places you go’ which I’ve quoted in part below:

‘Occasionally we encounter emotions at random. More often, we have no choice, because there’s something that needs to be done, or an event that impinges itself on us. But most often, we seek emotions out, find refuge in them, just as we walk into the living room or the den.

‘Stop for a second and reread that sentence, because it’s certainly controversial. I’m arguing that more often than not, we encounter fear or aggravation or delight because we seek it out, not because it’s thrust on us.

‘Why check your email every twenty minutes? It’s not because it needs checking. It’s because the checking puts us into a state we seek out. Why yell at the parking attendant with such gusto? Teaching him a lesson isn’t the point – no, in that moment, it’s what we want to do, it’s a room we choose to hang out in. It could be something as prosaic as getting involved in a flame war online every day, or checking your feeds at midnight or taking a shot or two before dinner. It’s not something you have to do, it’s something you choose to do, because going there takes your emotions to a place you’ve gotten used to, a place where you feel comfortable, even if it makes you unhappy.

‘…you realize that there are some [emotional] rooms you’re spending way too much time in, that these choices are taking away from your productivity or your happiness. Why are you going there again?

‘Every time you go to that room, you get unhappy, and so do we. Every time you go to that room, you spend more time than you expected, and it stresses out the rest of your day. Every time you go to that room you short-circuit the gifts you give to the rest of the team.

‘Once your habit becomes an addiction, it’s time to question why you get up from a room that was productive and happy, a place you were engaged, and walk down the hall to a room that does no one any good (least of all, you). Tracking your day and your emotions is a first step, but it takes more than that. It takes the guts to break some ingrained habits, ones that the people around you might even be depending on.’

Go for it Godin. This is the beatitudes of Jesus packaged in a 21st century medium and preached by a secular prophet.

‘You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.’ Matthew 5:8 The Message Bible

Faith shines, undaunted by broken bodies

I have witnessed holy moments this week, acts of faith largely unseen but shining brightly in an invisible kingdom. They have left me humbled and undone. The first I witnessed personally, the second through the eyes of others.

Standing in a rehabilitation hospital I am surrounded by septuagenarians and find myself playing the role of the younger generation, nice for a change.

The first stood, fire in his voice, to pray for his friend sitting in a wheelchair. The pray-er has this year come through life-threatening emergency surgery to remove a massive tumour that was destroying his spine. Remaining full of faith throughout, he feels more qualified to pray for healing, not less.

He wags his finger lovingly at his friend who finds herself in a wheelchair after tumbling down a cliff, breaking her neck and bruising her spinal column.  

‘Don’t ever think that God wouldn’t want to heal you just because you are old. He loves you unconditionally and wants you to have life to the full,’ he says. Read More »

Confronting comfort

Comfort: – verb 1. to soothe, console, or reassure; bring cheer to. 2. to make physically comfortable. 3. to aid; support or encourage.

To truly bring comfort to the discomforted, we are almost certain to be rendered uncomfortable. No wonder the Holy Spirit is called the Comforter. Rather than comfort ourselves, we comfort others making room for the Spirit to comfort us with an everlasting comfort. PH