Elusive Archbishop of the slums

It is easy to categorise and be categorised. In many places in society the only way to get ahead is to sublimate yourself in the colours of the tribe.

But a true mark of faith and healthy personality is that you are ‘elusive’ to the box-carrying, label-making mechanisms of our world.

Jesus told a man, who was feeling an elusive breeze rustling through his straight-jacket religion, that:

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
John 3:8

There is something of this about Pope Francis and, as he prepares to visit the US, it has the American box cutters in a frenzy.

There is cause for hope in this archbishop of the slums.

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Ties that bind us in Gillard-gloating-blue to smoke-on-the-water purple

Tony Abbott wore a blue tie everyday of his Prime Ministership, bar one.

And was criticised for being partisan, or was that Parisian, or worse still, that he wore only gloating-at-Gillard blue.

Clearly he could have worn more inclusive tie colours (as the leader of a nation that by and large avoids ties like the plague).

An occasional Rudd-red for the Labor constituents, glamping green for the, well, Green citizens. Some mottled-dinosaur prints would have calmed down the Clive Palmer voters and perhaps no tie at all for the sex-party supporters.

But on the day of his Prime Ministerial demise it was noted he wore deep purple.

The traditional colour of faith and mourning; perhaps of Herod’s robe.

And certainly of smoke on the water.

Turnbull and Shorten, we are watching your ties, don’t let us down.

Watch Andrew Chan funeral: self-authored eulogy plus transcript

More than 1500 people attended the funeral service for Andrew Chan at Hillsong today.

Not long before he was executed, Andrew told a friend: ‘I love being a pastor in the prison, no-one can leave’.

The same sense of faith and humour is obvious in Andrew’s self-written eulogy.

‘Each day is a diamond. For each day is valuable, as you can never buy it back.’ Watch and/or read below:

‘Thank you all for gathering here on this day to witness something great. It’s a day that I will arise from my own coffin, rigandrew-chan-order-of-serviceht now as the words are spoken, in Jesus’ name, arise. Or I am just enjoying it too much in heaven, and I will wait for you all up there. Now I know it is a sad day, we would have all wished it didn’t come to this. However it is funny that even in death there’s still a lesson to be learnt.

‘We learned that we do not need to be old to die, nor do we need to have something wrong with us. But we learned that when it’s time to go home, God has the kitchen table and sink ready. Every person that is sitting here now has impacted my life in one way or another. The truth is, you have all taught me just as much as I have taught you. If I had to thank everyone individually, I don’t think I can place them on one sheet of paper.

‘And one of the biggest influences in my life is my brother. Stand up Mick, and look at the crowd, knowing that you’d hate to do that, because you don’t like the spotlight. People were touched by his love, time, effort, persistence, and many other things through him. And I’ve learnt a lot through Jesus too. I promised Mick I would not steal your birth certificate in heaven to make a fake ID.

‘Another person I learned so much from is my wife Feby. She has taught me the meaning of love and endurance, peace and much more. As I said, to all of you gathered here today, taught me something valuable in life which I have learned to cherish. Treat each day as a diamond, for each day is valuable, as you can never buy it back. Learn to use it doing the things you love, spend it with the people you care for most, because we just never know when we will say goodbye.

‘My last moments here on earth I sing out “Hallelujah!” I ran the good race. I fought the good fight and came out a winner in God’s eyes and men. I do have a story to tell, that story’s determined by you all on how you witness me. Ask yourself: “What did I leave with you?” That will determine my legacy. I leave now in peace and love. I pray that you will all know how I valued and treasured you. Treasure your love and friendship. As you all leave here today, who will you witness too, today?

Love Andrew Chan.”

‘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

A Grandfather’s Legacy

I hoped one day to write about these things and maybe eventually I will. But for now I could not find any better words than these…

josiah hallett

As you grow older you learn that not everyone has it all together. Those who were once giants in a league of their own – far above yours – turn out to be humans in the same beleaguered state as you. Merely human. But mere decay and mere confusion, this mere humanity of ours – it has many layers. I find I am being disillusioned constantly, realising the incompleteness of those who I look up to goes deeper still, and their flaws compound upon flaws. Thankfully I am introspective to a terrible fault so I’ve compounded my own flaws with bonus interest; this disillusionment doesn’t lead to despair nor cynicism nor any brash independence founded upon some realisation of “oh what…? I think I’m actually better than them!” Rather (but only in light of the love of God) it leads to compassion and grace.

And it’s never a shock. I’m…

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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

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…

‘She was the most wonderful woman that I ever come across’ – farewell Margaret Somerville

Many people have treasured memories of Australian missionary Margaret Somerville, none more so than the Aboriginal children she guided across the continent to safety during World War 2.

Connie Cole, one of the last survivors of this epic journey, said of Margaret:

‘She was the most wonderful woman that I ever come across.’

Margaret died last week aged 101 at a nursing home on the Central Coast.

A Memorial Service for her will be held at Rockdale Uniting Church on Friday, August 8 at 2pm.

My memories of Margaret go back to the early 1980s when I was a journalism student at the Institute of Technolgy (now UTS ) and we both attended Newtown Mission.

She seemed old to me then but in a sprightly, energetic way. Then again I was still in my teens so most people seemed old.

In preparing a radio documentary on the history of Christian mission among Aboriginal people, I interviewed Margaret at her home about her experiences. Her remarkable journey with a group of young Aboriginal children clear across the continent was, it seemed, just a small part of a long life of caring for others.

She understood that missionary endeavour among first Australians was criticised by many at the time but I remember, even in those early days of land rights protests, she was a compelling defender of Christian mission.

To see why, watch this trailer for Croaker Island Exodus:

Read more about Margaret Somerville’s life and legacy here

100 years on, enlisting for World War 1: the army medical

100 years, World War One, WW1, enlistment, Aboriginal diggers,
Roy Frederick Hallett

To commemorate 100 years today since the start of World War 1, here’s a section from my unpublished novel Shot: a great war story.

This section is based on the actual enlistment records of my great uncle, Roy Frederick Hallett, including the date and the recorded outcome of his medical. For a man who died nearly a hundred years ago, it is amazing how much can be gleaned of his existence from the service records contained in Australia’s national archives.

Of course, there is an imaginative element as well, the main one being that in my story, Roy is accompanied by an Aboriginal friend who was also seeking to enlist and together they needed to rely on some trickery for this to occur. Aboriginals were not allowed to enlist or leave Australia without Federal Government permission and so were often knocked back early in the war. But as the war outlasted most expectations, and with casualties mounting, it seemed to become easier for Indigenous men to join their white compatriots in the army.

A famous example of this is Douglas Grant on which I have based some of my character’s experiences, as a way of honouring his remarkable contribution.

During this commemorative year, Roy’s name will be projected onto the exterior of the Hall of Memory on:

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Please enjoy this imaginative reflection on what it might have been like to come in from the outback to join the army.

Roy and Yirra, Singleton, October 25, 1916

‘I know ye father and mother, and I know ye brothers and sisters, and with a wee bit of imagination, I may even recognise you in there somewhere Roy, but ne’er in me life have I met this fella ye be calling Arnold.’

Roy smiled as he stood across the counter from the local Singleton recruitment officer, Corporal Jock McIntyre, an old Scotsman who he hoped would help Yirra to enlist.

‘Well the point is Jock, sorry, sir, as you don’t know him then perhaps you’ll be kind enough to quietly accept my word that he is the adopted son of Addie’s second cousin twice removed, who has been frustratingly separated by flood and fire from all forms of identification but is awfully keen to enlist with myself. Surely you would not stand in the way of a proud Australian enlisting, given the trouble our boys are having over there,’ Roy said, while Yirra nodded enthusiastically.

It was a long shot, but with the recruiting drives such as Carmichael’s Thousand now in the past and conscription being hotly contested, he was banking on the pressing need for reinforcements to overcome the administrative challenges of Aboriginal men enlisting. They had filled out the form for Yirra under the name Arnold Trang, writing the date October 25, 1916 at the top, as well as presenting the letter of introduction from Mr Trang which fortunately was general enough to fit with their concocted story.

Read More »

Outrage of public ‘marking’ of athlete contrasts with deathly ‘marking’ of Mosul Christians

A highly-paid athletics coach publicly criticises a highly paid athlete, in the midst of our wealthy country’s medal spree at the Commonwealth Game.
Mosul, Christians, Nasrani, Isis, Iraq, Syria
Sally-Pearson-Eric-Hollingsworth-Commonwealth-GamesMassive media space is devoted to expressions of outrage and an attempt to understand how this could happen.

The coach, Eric Hollingsworth, is ‘stripped’ of his Commonwealth Games credentials and stood down from his role which is now described as untenable. The athlete, champion hurdler Sally Pearson, has received widespread support and will continue to compete at the Games.

No one was oppressed, no one lost their home, no one was killed, although Hollingsworth is being sent home in disgrace so must be feeling life is pretty bleak.

At the end of the day, it is a sporting drama which serves to distract us from the more chilling public shaming and marking occurring in the Middle East, in particular in the major Iraqi city of Mosul.

‘N’ for Nasrani

Some may think it is outrageous to link these seemingly unrelated events – Commonwealth Games spat and terrorist genocide – and yet the issues have jostled with each other for public attention, sharing page space and news feeds and pubic interest. They share the common theme, although of different scale, of those in power publicly ‘marking’ others in their charge and this is enough of a parallel for me.
Read More »

Atmosphere brings distortion but also life

image, SDO, lunar transit  NASA

‘Images of the eclipse show a crisp lunar horizon, because the moon has no atmosphere that would distort light.’

Atmosphere brings distortion but it also brings life. The moon may pose beautifully for photos but you wouldn’t want to live there.

So often the very things that bring potential for distortion or confusion or chaos or loss also carry along the things we value most, even life itself.

Passionate faith may lead to a life of unparralled service or unmitigated violence.

The ocean meeting land offers the pleasure of being carried along in majesty but sometimes being crushed and killed.

Love soars in our hearts and makes us feel invincible but can leave us stripped bare and dangerously vulnerable.

We can live to avoid all these paradoxes and be free of distortion – like a crisp lunar landscape black against a raging sun. Many seek to live this way and risk the greatest distortion of all.

Or we can dare a life of atmosphere and its light distorting quality and find strength and insight from a greater light that gives courage and truth enough to live and love well.

Perhaps when we look at one another and our atmosphere-cloaked world we should set aside sharp dividing lines and take greater pleasure in the wildness of us all.

Image Credit: NASA/SDO – the photo was taken by NASA’S Solar Dynamics Observatory on July 26, 2014.

More details here.

Postscript: I am particularly mindful of many people of all persuasions seeking to draw and redraw crisp, clear lines on our planet in places like Ukraine or Gaza or Syria or Iraq or many troubled places in Africa and perhaps even the oceans around Australia. (And I’m a fool if I don’t think I do it too.) Places where lines have never succeeded but the blurriness of atmosphere has allowed communities to coexist in risky but lovely peace. Set down your lunar linemarkers l pray… and breath.

Something’s happening in Ukraine

Something’s happening in Ukraine
Yet the pictures don’t make sense
Seems some tourists must be visiting
Hope the locals don’t take offence

I see them lolling among sunflowers
I see them resting where they lay
Surely frolicing in green fields
Or dropping by for a farm-stay

Now they climb aboard the green train
More sightseeing must be their plan
Perhaps to Gaza they wiĺl travel next
It’s more than I can understand

That’s enough, we want you back again
Lovely travellers please come home
Yes something’s happening in Ukraine
You should not be there on your own.

PH

Love over information

It’s the information age and big data is going to save us and the more we know the higher we will rise, don’t you know?

Or perhaps it’s just that we want to prove we know more than the next guy, that we are in the know, in style, across the game, up with the Joneses, not missing out.

And maybe when we hear what’s going on we can’t resist contributing our superior knowledge and experience, looking down by enlightening.

But verses today put paid to all of that, put the lie to our culture’s view that it’s all about knowing, all about filling our heads with headlines and computers with a million files or leaking someone else’s files to the world.

And of course information, data, knowledge is a tradeable power on earth, but not in heaven.

Oh, and the verses:

‘Those who think the know something do not know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.’ 1 Corinthians 2,3

In other words, what ever you think you know is at best partly or minority known. But when ever you love you are competely and utterly known by the only One that knows everything.

Being known is what we all desire, at the heart of things. Love brings that, not knowledge. And just as well, or else all of us who know nothing would miss out.

Love over information.

This Anzac Day, we have 23 million redemptive opportunities

Anzac Day 2013, Anzacs, redemption, Australia, Australian, 23 millionIn discussing the amazing opportunity that lies before the 23rd million Australian who joined us last night, Michael Pascoe says that perhaps the most significant thing about being Australian is redemption.

‘…it came down to redemption, to giving people a second chance.’

Pascoe says that while he hoped baby 23 million would make the most of its first chance at a lucky life, he agreed with John Menadue that being Australian is all about the great second chance. Here’s some of what Menadue wrote at Australia Day:

‘…whether Australian born, migrants or refugees an equal opportunity in life, a second chance. That ethos of redemption is a core part of our history…. A friend of mine, Ian McAuley, said that whilst the British sent the puritans to America, they sent convicts to Australia and that we got the better of the deal. The underprivileged and the outcasts in Australia got a second chance.’

We see redemption also in Anzac Day and perhaps this is why it has become such a powerful national symbol. Young Australians caught up in a military mistake, a tactical disaster and a human tragedy find a way to redeem this hopelessness through courage, self-sacrifice, comradery and humour. We may have lost the battle and many thousands of sons, but we bought at great price a sense of national identity and pride.

If that is true, if as Pascoe, Menadue and McAuley seem to agree – redemption is at the core of who we are – then there is great hope because national redemption is still needed.Read More »

At six minutes and 14 seconds into the new year…

Sydney, New Year's Eve, Fireworks, 2013, Leichhardt, photo, time, new year

At six minutes and 14 seconds past midnight on January 1, 2013 I took this photo.

I didn’t know this at the time, but my phone did, on which I captured the image.

At the same moment a person in front raised their hand also to take a photo so that it appears they are balancing an explosion on their fist.

Here we all are, leaning forward toward the new year, counting down the solidity of year with the stuff of split-seconds.

We have so much information at our fingertips without trying, down to the unconscious moment of tapping for a photo… and yet faced with a new year we know nothing at all, not even today, not even tomorrow.

If the psalmist David was among the crowd on this balmy Sydney night, passing through the crowd with reflective gaze, he may have strolled back up the hill in his shorts, thongs and a Tigers t-shirt, typing as he walked:

“The life of mortals is like fireworks,
they flourish like a sparkle in the night.” *

And at the same time, sensing Someone eternal, walking alongside.

* Psalm 103:15-17 – The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,

 

 

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