Holy relics travel the world and come home to see out their days

I bought them from a department store for a few dollars four years ago, not the coolest or the most expensive but they did the job.

They’ve flipped through the sand playfully and rested on tiles prayerfully with Bali’s beautiful peopleThey made an accidental appearance at Wimbledon, and may have suffered a dollop of warm cream from my strawberries.

A European summer was a fitting environment for these fine friends and not to be outdown by more practical measures

They tasted the dust of Rome’s ancient paths

Cooled in the light blue waters of Venician canalsStood beneath David’s marble features in Florence, dashing through the piazzas.

Not to be outdown by time and distance, they found their place in India’s complex culturesShopping for sarees on Commercial St, BangaloreA dash of tea near a St Thomas church on a steamy afternoon

The sands of Chennai clinging and the blood of the martyr as close as could be

And then there are the wonders of our broad landCarried along the in the far north during a Cape Tribulation stroll

The sounds of Italy and the smell of garlic down Leichhardt streets

windmill on a Brisbane hill looked down on my friends

The trams of Melbourne could not shake us apart

And many other places

But in the end, after taking eveything I could throw at them

Or even when I threw them at anything, many times

They have been undone by nothing more

Than the little cuts and grinds of wear and tear

And though my trust remains strong

My fellow travellers are approaching their last journey

And will abide as holy relics

 

AmazinGrace carries the cross in Jerusalem

The Amazing Race Australia on Monday, July 18 will feature some of the four remaining teams carrying large wooden crosses through the streets of Jerusalem as part of the episode’s challenges. Check out a preview.

In a city so taut with religious and cultural tensions, it is a daring and perhaps provocative act, that recalls for Christians the crucifixion of Christ.

One of the effects of global tourism is to take long-held cultural, religious and historical events, locations and practices and make them marketable commodities for tourist consumption. While there are respectful ways of doing this, the Amazing Race epitomises the dilemma of rich tourists enjoying foreign lands while running the risk of carelessly trampling upon them.

In this case, a deeply significant religious symbol and act is incorporated into a reality show game in a city which is sacred for three world religions.  It is an ‘amazing’ clash of ‘realities’ and hopefully will provoke thought about the interactions of tourists and destinations; and even more so, about the meaning of ‘carrying your cross’.

The wooden cross (the exact shape is debated, but not important) was used for capital punishment in Roman occupied Israel around the first century AD. Part of the cruelty was at times to humiliate the condemned person by forcing them to drag the heavy implement through the city before they were nailed, tied and hung from it, dying a slow and painful death.

From the film, The Passion of the Christ

The New Testament records this being inflicted on Jesus, after a heavy beating, and is known by some as the passion of the Christ. This term encompasses not just his physical and mental anguish, but spiritual as well.

From a theological perspective, this was God in human flesh, suffering the worst humanity had to offer as identification with us but also as a substitution. Though perfect, he allowed himself to be punished as the worst of criminals and cut off from God so that we might be forgiven and re-connected to God.

So the cross is a powerful symbol of God’s grace extended to all. Perhaps it’s fitting that the show Amazing Race is also AmazinGrace…

At another level, Jesus often used the phrase, ‘carry your cross’ as a way of describing the challenge of following him. This must have been powerful imagery for his first century audience.

They would have seen or heard of the terrible journey through Jerusalem and other occupied cities of cross-laden people, heading for their deaths, under the ruthless eye of their Roman rulers.

To liken the life of a Christ-follower to carrying the cross, was a clear sign that it involved selflessness, vulnerability, suffering, obedience and a stretching of every fibre of being.

Not unexpectedly, it may not be the most popular influence for Christians (or anyone else) when making life choices, but thankfully we have the Amazing Race to bring it back to our attention.

While the cross-bearing exploits in the Amazing Race are a pale imitation of the real event, what’s more important is what we all do without the silent witness of the cross and the call of Jesus to carry it.

You may have never even heard of this call but it resonates through history and awaits your decision. After you watch the show, give the cross more thought…

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. Matthew 16:24-25

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18

God in action for Easter at Trinity Beach

The European name for the area known as Trinity Beach, far north Queensland, originates from Captain James Cook’s exploration of Australia in 1770.
He passed by this section of coastland on or near Trinity Sunday, June 10, 1770. The traditional owners of the region are the Gimuy Yidinji.
It is the first time possibly in my life that I did not attend a church service over Easter but being surrounded by family and God’s preaching through creation,  ensured a deeply spiritual experience.
A band of cloud crosses the reflected light of the moon producing the image of a cross. The light also produces a key-hole shape.
 
After a cross-shaped image created by the full moon on Good Friday, Easter Sunday's sunrise did not fail to bring a powerful feeling of resurrection.

Oprah’s visit recalls other Christmas arrivals

Oprah Winfrey.jpg
Photo: Wikipedia

So Oprah is coming to Australia just before Christmas, including a show at the ‘Oprah House’ on December 14.

Made me think of some other great arrivals around Christmas time and the counter-cultural nature of the Messiah’s mission – just as shocking today as it was then.

While Oprah is bringing her own audience of 300, Jesus had a few animals, shepherds and mum and dad.

Oprah is arriving on a jet plane with a crew of 150, while an unborn Jesus arrived on a donkey with no room at the inn.

Oprah will take over the Opera House with her American audience, crew and ‘thousands’ of Australian fans. When Jesus arrived at Christmas, the angels sang opera but only a shire of shepherds noticed.

Oprah’s visit is expected to be great for Australian tourism although we expect Austria may also get an unexpected boost. Meanwhile Jesus’ visit has sent people travelling all over the planet for 2000 years starting with Persian magi and including many who died for their efforts in pursuing His purpose.

Oprah no doubt will have her detractors but ‘all publicity is good publicity’ in the wild world of television. Jesus had a few detractors too and we know how that turned out.

I do love Oprah’s generosity in springing this great gift on her audience, self-serving as it may be, to a greater or lesser extent.

I do love God’s generosity in giving Jesus, the one purely altruistic act of history, which can be received freely, no strings attached. And the good news is that it is good news forever, not just for this season’s rating period…  

Cross carries comfort for Scott Rush

When Scott Rush arrived at Denpasar’s District Court on August 26 his white shirt shone in the Bali heat.

By the time he stood in court a dark, wooden cross, of the kind commonly carved and sold in Bali, was hanging around his neck, outside his shirt.

As he made his statement to the magistrates, he told them that his fate was in their hands ‘and the hands of God’.

During his statement, he made an apology for his actions, and as he spoke the words, his right hand lifted up, searching for the cross, which he held and caressed while speaking.

‘I wish to say to you, my parents, my family, and the community, how sorry I am for the crime that I have committed and the pain that I have caused.

‘I have brought much shame upon myself and my family. I have a deep sense of guilt for what I have done.’

In a recent letter to Australian Labor politician Chris Hayes (Member for Fowler), Scott Rush wrote:

”I truly feel sorry for the hurt and pain I’ve caused to my parents. I hope to have the chance to prove I am capable of reform. I want to give back to my community and be an ambassador against drugs.

‘Please say a prayer for me, and remember me to your wife Bernadette. I continue to pray every day and night.’

Rush, the youngest of the so-called Bali 9, has done it tough in prison. A strange episode where he was supposedly circumcised by Muslims being just one example of the spiritual, cultural and legal forces swirling around his life.

He has some strong support in his appeal including a letter from the Australian Federal Police saying he played a minor role in the heroin smuggling operation. An Australian academic respected for his knowledge of international law, has also made a statement on Rush’s behalf.

Now might be a good time to join young Scott in those prayers, morning and night.

And to bring the humanity of this incident more to life, visit the Scott Rush website, obviously developed by his family.

Dying while bringing sight to the blind

The headline read ‘Taliban massacre big-hearted team devoted to helping Afghans’ and accompanying the written report was a video featuring the widow of one those killed.

Before the video plays, on the SMH online site, it is preceded by an advertisement for electric toothbrushes.

The team killed in Afghanistan was providing basic medical care, including eye and dental care and one of the workers was a dentist who had handed out thousands of toothbrushes over the years, to children who had never seen one.

This juxtaposition reminds us of the implausible position we in the west too often take – that our wealth and freedom has no connection to another’s poverty  and restraint.

This post is in honour of the six Americans, two Afghans, a German and a Briton who were slaughtered on August 8.

Many of them were Christians, most having given up their life in the west to embrace life in Afghanistan so they could be an example of kindness and goodness.

Read the full report here.

Watch the video report (minus toothbrush ad) and particularly note the response of widow, Libby Little, as she calls down God’s mercy on those who killed her husband.

Read the full statement about the deaths from International Assistance Mission, the Christian organisation for whom the team worked. This is an example of a deeply committed, intelligent, genuine Christian response to the world’s poor.

Asking the poverty question.

Jeffry leaves us far too quickly

One of the boys lingers after morning devotionsOne of the last times I saw Jeffry alive was as we gathered around a single candle flickering on the white tiled floor of the children’s home in Bali.

It was the first time that I had stayed overnight at the home and, although the home-parents had set me up in my own room with a fan, a blackout had left me too hot to sleep.

As I listened to the noises of the night – geckos, frogs, dogs, babies – it seemed only moments before I heard the sound of children and adults rising to share devotions.

As the children began to sing, I shuffled bleary eyed from my room and sat on the floor among them. We sang to Jesus, candle shining, and the tiles providing at least some coolness.

Jeffry was there, nurturing the candle as boys love to do, singing with the others his love for God.

Later that morning – it was still only about 7am – I enjoyed a specially procured breakfast of fried bananas and took photos of some of the kids as they headed off to school. Four other boys travelled on the back of motor bikes, but Jeffry rode his bicycle.

I had ridden his bike myself a day or two before. It was just before church at the children’s home and I was wearing my preacherly best, but caught up in the playfulness of children, hopped on the bike, riding up the lane, much to the amusement of the kids and arriving churchgoers.

Jeffry loved to call my daughter (Rebekah) bebek which means duck. She would ask for the names of animals to say back, and her attempts left Jeffry and the children rolling with laughter.  

A couple of days later I flew home but that little corner of Bali, down a back lane in Denpasar, is never far from my heart, or my family’s.

There was no candle, no white tiles, no smothering humidity when I got up yesterday morning, heading to make coffee and breakfast.

I noticed a text had arrived on my mobile. I opened it and read: ‘P please pray 4 Novi, motor bike accident young Jeffry died Novi in coma we r at hospital.’ Later we learned a drunk rider had collided with the two children.

My own sadness at this news cannot be compared with my daughter’s who has used almost every available holiday in the past few years to visit these children. We can only imagine the aching grief of those whose lives entwined with Jeffry every day.

It was many years ago when I sat in the room of a small boy as he died of AIDS, contracted from his mother. He had spoken of visions of Jesus coming to his room to speak with him. These memories tell me that Jesus is never outdone by tragedy.

Experiences like that, like this, remind us that every child is beautifully special and that somehow God, in his great love, makes provision even in the darkest hours. Our prayers and our presence are part of that provision, the reason we care, that we go.

One of Jeffry’s  ‘sisters’ at the home wrote, ‘everyone very sad , and also still not believe that Jeffry must go quickly…’

It is true, he has gone far too quickly for us, but he finds himself in a place where time, or tears, will never bother him again. Till we meet again…

Bear Grylls a wild man of faith

A few young Christian men I know got together recently with the big highlight of their evening being watching Man vs Wild featuring Bear Grylls.

Turns out it was a more spiritual activity than they may have realised with Grylls revealing this month in Relevant magazine that he is a strong Christian.

The wild life adventurer who allows himself to be dropped in remote locations so that he can be filmed attempting to survive, says that he had a ‘natural’ faith as a child, although hasn’t always found believing easy.

‘It’s been kinda a wiggly, messy journey which is still continuing,’ Grylls told Relevant, a description that might also suit his TV show.

‘Christianity is not about religion – it’s about faith, about being held, about being forgiven. It’s about finding joy, finding home.’

Turns out Grylls is an avid supporter of  Alpha, a 10 week introduction to the Christian faith, written and presented by Nicky Gumble of Holy Trinity Brompton.

Gumble, a mentor and friend, says of Grylls, ‘I think Bear has a very simple faith. And simple in the good sense of the word.  It’s a strong personal faith and he lives it out in his everyday life.’ PH

PS. Man vs Wild screens on SBS Mondays at 8.30pm and SBS says ‘the program has performed strongly since its debut with an average audience of 535,000 metro viewers.’

Fairer chocolate and quicker check ins!

Catching up: I had my first enjoyable taste of Fairtrade Cadbury’s chocolate today.

Cadbury’s hoped to have all their chocolate in Australia and New Zealand certified by Easter and I have finally caught up on Mother’s Day (thanks Aud!).

The move by Cadbury’s in Australia and New Zealand to seek Fair Trade certification is expected to triple the volume of Fairtrade certified product currently sold. It will mean that farmers in Ghana, where Cadbury’s source their cocoa, will benefit from a guaranteed minimum price (or higher) for their cocoa. This could result in an additional AU$500,000 for these communities. Well done Cadbury’s! Let’s hope that other mainstream chocolate-makers do the same.

Forging ahead: I had the pleasure of startling flight attendants on Friday when I was an early adopter of mobile phone check-ins.

Sitting in my motel room late Thursday evening, I was wondering how I could do an early on-line check-in without access to a printer. Right at that moment (there is a God!) I got a marketing email from Virgin Blue, announcing they had just begun mobile phone check-ins. I quickly visited their site, received a SMS a link to a bar-code which displayed on my phone. This was later scanned at the departure gate, allowing me to board the plane.

Staff were suitably impressed and I did my best to look like I’d being doing such things all my life. However I was so sleep deprived that when one attendant asked me how the mobile process had gone, I spoke two strange non-words, convincing her, I think, that I spoke only Czechoslovakian. My moment of technological dominance was dashed to the tarmac. Nevertheless, it was very convenient. Well done Virgin Blue. PH

Noah’s Ark claims highlight shift in global church

The Chinese-Turkish Noah's Ark team

Who claimed to find Noah’s Ark this week is almost as interesting as what they found.

The team is described as being led by ‘Chinese and Turkish evangelical Christians’. Neither country is renowned for freedoms given to evangelical Christians and yet here they are – exploring Mt Ararat, conducting press conferences and influencing Christian and world agendas.

It is a reminder of how the burden of Christian faith has moved from the west to the east. While the western church languishes in its past glory, the churches of Asia and even the Middle East are rapidly growing, fiercely faithful and increasingly see their mission to the world. But that’s a blog for another day. What of Noah’s Ark?

Christians are understandably nervous of mention of Noah’s Ark discoveries as the world’s press and scientific communities love nothing more than to pour scorn on poorly researched and prematurely declared discoveries. Perhaps the journalists and scientists are so ready to pounce because if a valid, scientifically-sound discovery is reported, they will all be forced back to their Bibles…

It is early days for this latest claim and Christians are among those that are wary of it.

In case you missed it, a Chinese-Turkish team from Noah’s Ark Ministries International held a press conference on April 25 in Hong Kong to present their findings and say they were “99 percent sure” that pieces of wood found at above 4,000 metres elevation and dated as 4,800 years old were from the biblical Noah’s ark. Read More »

We found you Roy, 91 years later…

Roy Frederick Hallett

When I first saw the name R. F. Hallett carved in the stone of the Australian War Memorial, Villers-Bretonneax, France, in 2009, it was if it shouted out to me, ‘Hey, here I am, where have you been?’

I felt like Roy Frederick was waiting impatiently for someone to come find him, his body never recovered from the killing fields on which the memorial came to be built.

Under the warm sun and surrounded by the peaceful green fields of rural France, my wife and I had made our way from Paris to Amiens and then on to Villers Bretonneax as an act of remembrance for my father’s uncle who never returned from World War 1.

Ironically, Roy went to war with a bullet scar already showing on his foot, perhaps the result of an accident while hunting or working as a stockman.

Or maybe he belonged to gun club, as did many of those recruited around the same time, into the 36th battalion.  Ambrose Carmichael, Minister for Public Information led a recruitment drive from the rifle clubs of NSW in early 1916. The battalion became known as ‘Carmichael’s Thousand’. Carmichael led by example and enlisted as well, serving in the battalion as a captain.

Whatever the source of his bullet scar, he was to see much, much worse in his short but bloody tour of duty along the battlefields of Europe.

While Roy never returned, his scant belongings did and among them were two religious books. Our family history is not particularly religious but it sounds as if Roy may have found some solace in faith in the face of death.

The rest of his story, as gleaned from Australian war records, follows and is my contribution to Anzac Day… Lest we forget.

Read More »

One year on, a fresh look for Utterance

I wrote the first blog post of my life on April 27, 2009, nearly a year ago, but it wasn’t until a hastily conceived New Year’s Resolution that I got serious about blogging (nearly) every day.

Utterance’s first thousand hits took about 10 months and the next two thousand just two months – I still marvel at those sites that have millions of hits in a day!

I’ve had some amazing feedback in that time, learned a great deal and rediscovered the joy of writing (if not, perhaps, the skill). I have even at times felt like a journalist breaking news – it’s hard to get the printer’s ink out of your blood (sorry, old journo saying…)

The full version of the Utterance header photo

To celebrate a year of Utterance, and to reflect the change of seasons, I’ve employed one of WordPress‘ favourite themes, Misty Look. The photo in the header was taken by myself at Hawkeshead in the Lake District, England. It shows a gate, a tombstone and a rather shiny clock on the old cathedral. Quite symbolic I think, but I’ll leave you to consider the conjunction of these elements. Happy reading and don’t forget to breath – speak – and breath again…PH

 

From cage to carefree cooking

Harry*, a healthy, happy young boy cooking tempe at the children's home in Bali.

I first met Harry (not his real name) in Bali when he was jut a few years old. His mother, overwhelmed by the need to work very long hours for a pittance, had been unusually cruel to him, locking him in a cage and even attempting to kill him.

Someone knew of Tania’s (not her real name) children home and convinced the mother to allow Harry to be cared for there. As supporters of the home, we were privileged to meet the little fellow who was fast recovering from his ordeal.

The spark of intelligence in him was unmissable and his need or attention irrepressible. But the steadfast love of God expressed through the beautiful staff of this home, has met the need for attention in the most healthy way – balanced, unconditional, accountable love; and at the same time helped him excel in all kinds of way – cooking and surfing being just two.

This is one of many great stories coming from this home which is a partnership between a local woman and other staff and western people who want to reach out beyond their own comfort zone.

There are many huge organisations that do wonderful things for communities and nations at the aid and development level but we must never lose the ‘amateur lovers’ of this world who are moved of heart enough to change a child’s life through hugs, smiles, a room and one good day after another. PH

Sun strikes horizon, beautifully

Kuta Beach may not be the cleanest in the world, but the sunsets remain untainted by tourism, pollution and souvenir sellers. It is at the junction of things that we often experience the most beauty. As the ocean beats the shore or the sun strikes the horizon we find the richest images. In life too, it is the collisions, the surprises, the challenges, the beginngings and endings that so often throw up the most strident beauty.