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.

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A majority of one

Australia’s new federal government now officially has a parliamentary majority of one after the final seat was decided by just 37 votes.

It seems politics in Australia is now a game of inches, no doubt true also of the Olympics which are about to begin in Rio.

Presumably the level of motivation and organisation for all government Members of Parliament will be at gold medal standard when it comes to voting on bills, knowing that even one latecomer, dozer, long-luncher or call of nature could result in a hung parliament.

It would do us all well to live life as if we are a majority of one. That in every aspect of existence our presence and participation is crucial to the outcome.

Too often we drift through the world as if nothing really matters or worse still, that who we are and what we do is somehow less valuable than someone whose face is instantly recognisable.

When the bells sound for a vote in the next sitting of the House of Representatives, every MP will be mindful that their presence counts heavily. It should always be that way.

There are bells ringing in our lives right now – bells calling for kindness, forgiveness, justice, outrage. Bells calling us not to be another person who just walks by.

We are a majority of one in helping our relationships and families to be strong, resilient and loving – don’t leave it to someone else.

We are a majority of one in ensuring there is truthfulness, fairness, humility and welcome in our society.

For Christians, the founder of our faith had unswerving commitment to changing the world through his majority of one. But it was us he called alongside, to take up our own cross, to also find a way to shine and be a light in an often dark world.

The next time you feel inclined to helplessness, despair, boredom or self-interest, picture our politicians bolting for the Chamber knowing their vote counts.

Remember, no one is unimportant. We are all a majority of one.

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And then they kissed… twice

Sometimes you need to remember what is real. Is it the prevailing tide of opinion in all its digital cacophony, of feeds and tweets and posts and oh so shareable commentary?

Closed minded fools masquerading as open minded elite, intellectually dishonest assuming the cleverest of ground, storytellers spinning their own fairy-tales in self-congratulatory wonder.

For a moment or more I despaired.

“I’ve been thinking bout everyone
Everyone you look so empty” Stars, Switchfoot

Then I attended a Christian wedding with my happily-married wife of 32 years in a church that continues vibrant Christian worship more than 100 years after it was built. The stained glass reminded me of a good shepherd and I recalled being at the Christian wedding of the parents of today’s bride.

The gathering was ablaze with faith. There was humour and poetry and music and beauty and family and community and generations but must dazzling to me, faith.

The pall of the morning’s mourning was replaced by a mantle of praise and a bringing to life of what Paul described as mystery – how the of the union of a man and woman somehow spiritually, fundamentally, intrinsically pictures God’s love for his called-out-to-gather people.

It was the realest thing by far.

And then they kissed… twice. Before the minister had time to invite the anticipated physical display of affection, the young groom leapt forward and planted a long kiss on his smiling bride, stepped back, and then did it again, both all red faced innocence and joy.

When today’s posturing about what things are important is superseded by tomorrow’s, those things that are eternal, which have never failed, have never looked like waning, will continue on with little concern as to whether anyone else notices or not.

“For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present nor things to come.  Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom 8:38-39

 

PH

 

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…

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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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.”

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

The deepest parts

Baby_in_womb

Consider how much human energy is expended in discovering what’s inside us.

Entire industries, advancing technologies and schools of learning exist to help us peer into our physical beings.

A billion words have been written in developing insight of our emotional and psychological beings.

If our skin and organs were transparent and our thoughts and feelings were unflinchingly displayed in speech bubbles above our head, many people would be out of a job and the world far less mysterious.

Read More »

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. 

 

 

 

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

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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

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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??

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.

 

 

 

‘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

‘It is nothing’ – the assassination of Franz Ferdinand

To mark 100 years today since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinaz of Austria and his wife Sophie, here’s a chapter from my unpublished WW1 novel, Shot: a great war story, that among other things retells the events of that day.

 

June 28, 1914

‘One comes here for a visit and is received with bombs…. It is outrageous!’

Franz had never felt so furious. How could this be, how could they let this happen? To think that his life and that of his Sophie had been in mortal danger from the actions of some fool in the crowd.

He saw again the slow loop of the explosive as it headed towards them, first bouncing off the bonnet of the car, before he had instinctively swatted at it, knocking it away. Then only to learn that Eric and the Count had been badly wounded in the car behind. And now this simpleton of a mayor is intent on giving a welcoming as if nothing has happened.

The scorn of his uncle and the Imperial court over this debacle would be insufferable, Franz thought, when he felt Sophie take his hand. She was standing by his side at the top of the town hall steps, where they were supposed to be basking in the warmth of an official welcome and the appreciation of the people, and where a stunned mayor stood fingering his notes.

What point is there after what has happened? Franz thought. Someone has tried to kill us! The realisation of how naïve he had been, how unrealistic, began to dawn on him. He turned to Sophie, feeling her trembling, seeing her lip quiver, and reached to wipe a tear, then noticing a slight graze on her cheek.

‘Sophel, oh my dear wife, I see you have been injured in the blast. My God, how close we have come to tragedy!’

She flinched from his touch, produced a handkerchief from her sleeve and dabbed at the graze.

‘I am all right, Franz, do not fuss. We must not be overcome by this. Look, the people do really love you,’ Sophie said,  whispering in his ear.Read More »

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 »

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

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

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

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

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

Read More »

Dennis Prince refuses to let atheist convention go unchallenged

Rupert Murdoch has been hailed as an entrepreneurial risk-taker in launching a Sunday tabloid into the “mature and declining” market of printed newspapers with his launch of the Sun on Sunday.

This has not deterred Dennis Prince from launching The Regal Standard, as a direct challenge to the second Global Atheist Convention to be held in Melbourne from April 13 to 15.

The semi-retired pastor co-founder of Kingston City Church and long-time publisher of Resource Christian Music has produced a (presumably) one-off 12 page tabloid to counter the convention being held “in our backyard – on our watch”.

“If this event were to be held in, say, New York, we would expect Christians there to unite boldly and decisively to honour God and proclaim his greatness. That lot has instead fallen on us,” Dennis says on The Regal Standard’s website.

Dennis told Fairfax Media that he “has a tiger by the tail” by creating the Regal Standard, designed to counter atheist arguments. Fairfax reports that there are already orders for 25,000 copies of the 12-page tabloid, which will be distributed to churches, dropped in letter boxes, given to the curious, and sent to convention speakers.

‘Mr Prince… felt God telling him that the convention was happening on his watch, and he had to respond. He has spent $5000 and some 300 hours producing the paper, and needs to sell 45,000 at an average of 20¢ each to recover his costs.’

Dennis advocated for a positive but energetic response to the convention that would stimulate thought and conversation but could see the gullible “led down the garden path”.

Speakers at the convention include Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Peter Singer, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and, perhaps somewhat in the “den”, Marion Maddox, who with a PhD in Theology will participate in panel discussions. (Marion and my paths crossed when we were both children living in and around the Uniting Church’s old Leigh College in South Strathfield…).

Christopher Hitchens is also pictured on the speakers page for the convention, perhaps a sign that the atheist’s are slightly enamoured with the idea of life after death…

PDF sample of The Regal Standard
Atheist Convention 2012

Some Utterance encounters with atheism…

Atheists sick of atheists
Atheism led me to faith
Ethic classes new atheism in slim disguise

Or search the tag atheism

Oh little town of Bideford… where prayer has been over-ruled

Debates over prayers in Parliament or council meetings periodically emerge as another place where institutional secularism seeks to usurp institutional religion.

The latest has been the English town of Bideford where a former councillor took Bideford Council to court over official prayers during meetings.

The High Court ruled in his favour on what it described as a narrow point of law that it was not legal for councils to make prayer part of official business.

Some are seeing the ruling as having wider ramifications as secularism continues to reframe the nature of our societies.

Bideford may yet become a byword for a nation and nations loss of spiritual identity.

Read The Guardian’s report

Would the real Jesus please not wear a robe?

SMH.TV has brought us another amazing documentary, this time about a man claiming to be the Messiah and living in the wilds of Siberia.

Vissarion, the Teacher, Jesus… wearing a flowing white robe, sitting on the side of a hill and teaching his followers, who also are wearing flowing white garments.

Vissarion’s real name is Sergey Anatolyevitch Torop who was born in 1961, served in the Russian Army, became a traffic policeman, before losing his job and becoming Christ.

In many ways Vissarion is reminiscent of our very own North Queensland Jesus, Allan John Miller who also lives in a remote location and is busy gathering followers and building utopia. Although Siberia looked quite warm in the video, I can only imagine Miller would be a better choice in winter…

It is interesting to see the faith of many who follow, and there is a certain sense of harmony apparent in the documentary, produced by a combination of the community’s music and the beautiful scenery.

But with the benefit of distance, there is also strong sense of religiosity, stifling spiritual deception and a shallow confusion of thought.

One thing we know, both Miller and Torop can’t be right – one of them is an imposter, or more obviously both.

Jesus, of the New Testament, warned that many would claim to be him, but not to run after them. He can be found, right where you are.

Watch Jesus of Siberia
Wikipedia’s bio of Vissarion