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.

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Unity and uniqueness

It’s good to stand together, prefer one another, consider others better, bear one another’s burdens, weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh. Re-digging the ancient wells of your father. It’s good to follow the narrow path, hear the call of God, use the gifts you have, make the most of the […]

Rev Bob Hammond,

Lord’s Prayer reveals divine priorities

Searching for ‘tweets’ in the writings of iconic Australian social reformer and evangelist Rev Robert Hammond, this comment stuck in my thinking:

‘The Lord’s Prayer does say: “And forgive us our debts,” but first it says “Give us this day our daily bread.”‘

In context, Hammond was suggesting before we worry about someone’s sin (wrongdoing), we should see to their daily needs of survival, in keeping with his commitment to practical Christianity.

This morning I woke early, and was thinking, among other things, of what other divine prioritisation we might see in a form of praying that came directly from Jesus. Whatever you think of Jesus, you would have to agree, understanding how he ordered his view of the world is worth considering.

Here’s a few early morning thoughts.

Our Father in Heaven: Not just God first, but relating to God so intimately that it transcends all of life and reaches to where God exists.

Hallowed (praised) be your name: Our choice to honour God’s identity, character, presence.

Your kingdom come, your will be done: His explanation of how to live purposely and perfectly now.

On earth as in heaven: Completing the circle – intimate relationship that honours the character and ways of God leads to a heaven on earth potential.

Give us this day: Not just ‘forever’ but living for today.

Our daily bread: Be practical about our (individual and communal) whole and healthy life

And forgive our sins: Be accountable for your own choices before God.

As we forgive others: Having the humility to acknowledge our own shortcomings means we might be able to release others from theirs.

Lead us not into temptation: Prepare for what choices we will face today by relying on God’s goodness.

Deliver us from evil: Prepare for the choices of others and the randomness of a broken world by relying on God’s goodness.

Your’s is the kingdom, power and glory forever: Come what may, be wrapped up in God’s completeness.

Amen: So be it.

The Lord’s Prayer, as it is commonly known to Protestant Christians, or the Pater Noster (Our Father) to many Catholics, is not so much a prayer, but a way of praying.

And as we have seen, it is also a way of living and seeing, today and forever.

PH

PS You can follow RBS Hammond on Twitter here.

Speechless of late

I know I’ve been speechless of late
Without utterance
It’s what happens when your ears are full
Your mouth is empty
And your heart is silence overflowing

I still see things and wonder and create
Small chains of ideas
But the energy to bother has been cruelled
Slipping through cracks
And running down the dirty city gutter

It occurred to me as a small example –
Our life addiction
How we settle for many impoverishings
Because we at least
Are alive to breath and remember

Or to notice the man with maddened hair
Dark tanned cracked face
Sitting on a shady step on hot King St
Counting his coins
Black eyes catch mine before we separate

Or to feel tears swell when crackly speakers
Come to life and bid
Us all stand and silently remember
I saw just a boy’s name
And recalled the worth of two quiet minutes

Here’s to all the dreamers and lovers and stealers
For the ‘sparks soul’
Where ‘love is the only art’; so mention
It again to yourself
And open wide your flailing utterance

More head miles than my legs can cope with

My New Year’s resolution to post to Utterance every day in 2010 has hit its biggest challenge recently thanks to a condition a good friend describes as ‘head miles’.

I first heard him use the phrase when I asked him why it was he stayed awake all night, most nights, walking the streets.

‘Oh, I just walk around and do lots of head miles,’ he replied calmly. He put it down to a combination of schizophrenia and the drugs used to treat his condition. I can claim neither as contributing factors for my mental mileage.

Unfortunately I also cannot claim the same positive side-effect of doing lots of walking. The phenomenon has dried up quite a bit since the City to Surf although I have turned to cricket in an attempt to stay fit. That, and about a kilometre quick-march as part of my journey to work each day.

Having watched a great deal of the big game of cricket on a small box in recent years, I was clearly lured into a false sense of my own ability. In a team made up of much younger men, including my sons, it has been somewhat embarrassing to discover my body simply won’t cooperate.

During the first game, not only did I manage to go out to bat with my pads on the wrong legs, wearing left-handed batting gloves and with my helmet in an oddly sight-reducing position, but I pulled my ham string fielding in the slips.Read More »

Some Friday fun at my expense: City2Surf photos

Ok, so it’s the end of the week, we are four weeks into an election campaign and two and a half months through a cold winter. On that basis you could probably use a laugh, so I’ll go out on a limb and share my City to Surf photos.

Firstly there are the photos taken by the official photographers, Marathon Photos, who through the wonders of modern technology, allow runners to view a range of photos taken during the race. Keep in mind that nearly 70,000 people finished the City to Surf so to do this is no mean feat.

When a certain member of my family first saw these, they were in such agony of hilarity that they rang me 50 times to tell me to look. Very funny. All I can I say is that they reveal the agony my legs were truly experiencing by this stage. To view the video of me finishing and a small collection of photos, click here. You’ll see some small thumbnails which you can click on for a larger view, if your game.

Secondly, I took a range of photos on my phone before and during the event and, once again, there are some mildly amusing results. I admit, I’m not good at the whole self-portrait thing… Enjoy, and go for a walk or a jog this weekend!

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To be beheaded, and satisfied…

Back in the early 1990s when I started out in pastoral ministry and church leadership there was a popular teaching used to inspire Christians to greater heights of service and vision.

‘There came a man sent by God, and his name was John’ reads John 1:6, speaking of John the Baptist.

We were asked to replace the name ‘John’ with our own to encourage us to believe we too had been called by God to do great things. Just as John the Baptist strode out into the Jordan and Judea in response to the call of God, so to we would make our mark on the world.

Of course there is a fine line between an ultruistic desire to change the world and egotistical need for recognition and I’m not entirely sure which was more developed by this reference.

That is not to say that God does not call people and that we should not have an unaffected, humble and life-changing sense of the purpose of God in our lives. Each one of us is significant beyond our comprehension, in terms of our seen and unseen influence on others but mostly because we matter to God.

But I don’t recall us, as we discussed this verse, following on from this starting point with John the Baptist through to the outcome of his call. John lived in the desert, wore animal skins, ate locusts, languished in prison, watched his finest disciples leave to follow another and was beheaded.

While Jesus called him greater than any Old Testament prophet, his entire ministry was designed to make way for another. One of John’s best known statements was that Jesus should become more, and himself less.

Serving God is ever the selfless act and if we substitute our own ambition for his glory we cross over into something different.

None of us carry off selflessness to perfection – even John the Baptist acknowledged a gradual retreat of his own name and a rising up of Christ’s. And many of us forget selflessness altogether and pursue ministry for selfish gain, cloaked in a spiritual mantle.

The telling will be in our ability to lay it down and celebrate its picking up by another. To be beheaded and satisfied that we have done well is the mark of Christian greatness. Now there’s a line we don’t see too often in leadership classes… PH

PS There might be something in this post for Kevin Rudd??!!

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 »

How will we create in 2020?

Ever wondered where the rapid spread and influence of technology, particularly in the area of digital communication, is taking us?

Author John Maeda has some interesting ideas of what our lives might look like in 2020. For him, digital technology will become more of an unconscious norm leaving us free to major on more nuanced, creative and physical realities.

‘We’ll witness a return to the integrity of craft, the humanity of authorship, and the rebalancing of our virtual and physical spaces. We’ll see a 21st-century renaissance in arts- and design-centered approaches to making things, where you-the individual-will take centre stage in culture and commerce.’

This may have implications for churches (and already is) where technology allows small, boutique churches to be heavily related to their own indigenous culture while powerfully connected in an organic way to global communities.

Read Maeda’s full article in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Prayer without walls but with Walkman

Mike walked into the prayer meeting, bare-chested, track pants low and blue headphones from his Walkman dangling over his ears.

He sat in various locations, including spread-legged on the floor.  The flow of prayer continued on around him.

While not phased by someone off the street suddenly appearing (relationship is a great leveller), there may have been a subtle shift in the group’s prayer to cover Mike, but not conspicuously.

Mike is a strong, nearly 40 man with partly shaven, partly spiked hair, a keen intelligence and the demeanour of an 11-year-old at a party. He can have an angry streak – I have talked him down from an Ice-induced rage on one occasion – but it was no where in sight this night.

‘Can I borrow your vacuum cleaner to vacuum my flat and then bring it right back,’ he said in a loud whisper to Patrick as the prayers continued. Pat quietly suggested they talk about it later.

He continued to find new seats and at times the music in his headphones was so loud, pray-ers had to lift their volume to compete. A gentle wave from one participant, suggesting he turn it down, was greeted with an obliging thumbs up.

As Mike got more jumpy, not in a disturbing way, but slightly distracting, I decided to invite him out to the kitchen for a cup of tea.

He gladly came. ‘Tea or coffee?’ I asked. ‘Tea,’ he said. ‘I like coffee but you said tea and tea reminds me of my grandmother. Can I have three sugars?’

I started preparing the tea and he asked me my name. When I told him he said, ‘I had an uncle named Peter. He was the shepherd of the family, that’s what my grandmother used to say. He was the only one to keep in touch while I was in gaol.’

‘That’s great, that there was someone like that in the family, who would keep an eye out for you,’ I replied.

‘Yeah it was good, although he did steal all the money I had saved up,’ he said. I was stunned by his gentle correction of my appraisal. ‘Well it sounds like he had a good heart, even if he made a few mistakes,’ I said.

‘Yeah, a good heart, even if it was false,’ he said, with no sign of malice. There was no way he was letting Uncle Peter of the hook even though he seemed well disposed to him.

Just as I was feeling a bit clever that I had successfully diverted Mike from disturbing the prayer team, he grabbed his cup of tea and said, ‘Can I go back out there?’ And before I had time to reply he took off, cup in hand, and I hurried after him with mine, realising I didn’t really want a cup of tea.

Mike sat in various locations again, spilt and then finished his tea and became perhaps a little too animated during some passionate prayer.

Finally, the leader of the meeting wound things up and asked if he could pray for Mike. He readily agreed to the prayer and to a hand being laid gently on his shoulder. The prayer began, with Mike giving a whispered sub-text.

‘Lord, deliver Mike from a spirit of fear and a spirit of rejection,’ Rick prayed with strength.

‘Cook it up!’ encouraged Mike.

‘And we pray against the spirit of violence that  troubles Mike.’

‘And that has disappeared,’ stresses Mike.

‘And Lord, let your love and your peace cover and fill him.’

‘Finally!’ Mike says.

With encouraging Amens, the prayer ends and Mike stands up, gazes around and with a big smile says, ‘That was great, and it was all true, all true. Look, I’m getting my goosebumps back, look at them all on my arms.’

Just another day at the church with no walls… PH

Names changed, true story. Creative non-fiction, Christian style…

What drives you – plot, character or both?

In literature, stories are said to be either plot-driven or character driven, but what about life?

Some novels are all about the plot – the unfolding of action and drama – while the development of character is less important. A Matthew Reilly novel would be an example – we don’t really need to know his characters other than have a vague sympathy or antipathy for them, as long as something blows up every few paragraphs.

Some novels are character driven – the characters are highly developed and the plot flows out of who they are. Jane Austen meticulously crafts her characters and we watch and see how they negotiate the life that unfolds from the authentic decisions they make.

Of course no story can be one or the other – plot requires people and unless we replace them with plankton, some degree of characterisation is required. People do things and have pleasures and problems and so a plot will develop. If all we had were just endless descriptions of people, we might prefer they were plankton.

For me it is the issue of starting point, of emphasis. One emphasises things happening more than the people to whom they happen. The other wants us to see inside people more fully as things happen.

I can’t help but draw a line to real life, our lives. Is our life more about plot – what’s happening next – or more about character – who we are as things happen?Read More »

No Christmas joy for Charlie despite $2 million a week

Charlie Sheen is America’s highest paid television star, being paid $2 million for each episode of Two and a Half Men.

Despite this, somehow he found himself so desperate, angry and dysfunctional that he held a knife to his wife’s throat on Christmas Day and threatened to kill her.

If that doesn’t convince us that fame and fortune are not the real source of happiness, nothing will. Not even a Man rising from the dead… PH

Are you what you do or something more?

I caught a glimpse of a new television commercial, I think for the Commonwealth Bank, featuring a man walking along a dusty road, whispering regrets to himself.

‘If only I would do something instead of just thinking about what I might do’ he says, or something like that.

Sounds like a carefully market-researched sentiment inserted into an emotive scene to echo what most people have thought at one point or another. Or continually.

Then the screen splits and a second, identical man is seen walking purposefully the opposite direction down a paved, tree and building lined road. The first man stops and stares after him.

The words ‘You are what you do’ fade on to the screen, along with the bank logo.

The implicit suggestion is that by associating with this bank, we will move from the ranks of the regretful thinkers to the have-it-all doers.

I don’t think so… If what we do is the sum of who we are, then we immediately dismiss those who can’t measure up – and ultimately that is all of us.

Read More »

Dear CheapBranded, thanks for your caring email…

My computer makes a doorbell sound, ‘ding-dong’, that used to be associated with Avon calling but is now better known as Windows default for a new email.

A shadowy preview of the new message appears in the lower right of my laptop screen and tells me it is from someone called ‘CheapBrandedViagra’.

(Just mentioning the word Viagra in my blog will send the spam protection software for this site into overdrive, such is the inter-connectedness – euphemism for lack of privacy – on the internet.)

A train of thought begins, thanks to my new friend CheapBranded, and I wonder if many of us realise how often we turn to the latest email, Facebook status, Twitter tweet or blog comment to fill deep emotional needs and stave of dreariness.

If our dearest friends are those who connect with us electronically, I have an amazing friend in CheapBranded as he has shown incredible determination to bypass not only my own spam protection, but that of my internet provider.

(I thought you should know I have worked with great commitment to avoid any unfortunate Viagra puns in this posting…)

But wait, perhaps CheapBranded is just that, not a caring friend who searched me out today with a loving email as my life faces precipitous change, but a cheap charlatan hoping to profit by pushing his brand at some perceived need.

Read More »

On getting off drink and closer to God

Walking away from the small community centre, past the sitting smokers, down the path in the warm sunshine, he stops and calls me Pete.

‘Pete, there are a lot of people on the streets who could get up if they wanted to but they don’t want to.’

I nod in agreement, ‘None of us make any changes in our life unless we really want to, so I guess that applies to people on the street too.’

‘I was homeless you know Pete,’ he says. ‘But I got myself up. Drugs are the real problem. Drugs and alcohol. I’ve never used drugs but alcohol was my problem.

‘But after I did 15 years straight of a 20 year sentence, the last thing the parole officer said to me was, “Are you going to give up drinking?” and I said, “Yes.”‘

And I haven’t drunk for 34 years.

‘That’s an inspirational story, you’re a great example,’ I say.

He chuckles, and fixes his ebony eyes on me and I feel privileged that this elderly man who carries a remarkable sense of wisdom and dignity, chooses to tell me his stories, week after week.

‘There was one time when I was drinking that I got picked up on the street by three policemen and put into a police van with three deros. When we pulled up at the station we all got out of the van and the police each took one of the deros into the police station and I walked straight across the road and into the Oxford Hotel,’ he says with a chuckle.

He talks about people in prison who ‘became’ Christians to get out of the big house. ‘I’m not a Christian, never will be, but I wouldn’t do that, just put it on.’

He recalled the advice of his mother. ‘She told me that God keeps way off in the distance and always has his eye on us. He’ll get them…’

Might not be great theology but I can feel the faith in this man, I can feel that he has a closeness to God that is born of respect, honour and honesty. One day I might just get to help him see it. I am encouraged. PH

Wellbeing snapshot shows huge divide

Imagine you were asked to rate your current life between zero and 10 and your life in five years time? As you chose a number to describe your sense of wellbeing now and prospects for the future, would you be thinking of how you are feeling today (not enough sleep last night… stressful meeting at work today…) or rather the underlying factors (good health, housing, employment, stable government, personal freedom). How might your faith affect your view?

Social researchers at Gallup have collated a global snapshot of wellbeing using data collected in 155 countries or areas since 2005. Gallup classifies respondents as ‘thriving,’ ‘struggling,’ or ‘suffering,’ according to how they rate their lives based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale:

Please imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time? (ladder-present) On which step do you think you will stand about five years from now? (ladder-future)

According to separate research, people tend to answer these questions from the perspective of life evaluation (judgements of life) rather than daily affect (feelings). It is called a self-anchoring scale because it allows people to interpret their wellbeing from their own perspective rather than external measures such as how much money they earn, levels of education or political conditions.

In other words, if the research is to be believed, people across the globe are saying, ‘this is how I feel about my life’ not on the basis of  ‘I have a headache today’ but on the basis of ‘I feel my life looks like this’. A poor person in Africa might actually feel very happy in the midst of their poverty but when stepping back and assessing their prospects, they realise they are up against it and so report low ladder scores. A rich person in Denmark might be feeling gloomy in the midst of their wealth but when stepping back to view their life, realise they have plenty to feel confident about.

So what were the results of Gallup’s global wellbeing research? It reveals a vast divide that underscores the diversity of economic development challenges around the world.

Read More »

Between our worst and his best…

Between the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ there was an agonising pause for his disciples.

Faint memories of a promised return battled with abject shame, guilt, confusion sorrow and fear.

This pattern is often repeated in life. The despair of our worst is tested by time – the wait, the replays, the not knowing, the what-ifs, the wondering if God might still intervene.

If only we knew that amidst the dark soil of our worst is the good seed of God’s best. Like all seeds, it is a few days before the first inkling of new life, new hope, is evident.

Somehow stay in reach of his resurrection. Be a Mary Magdalene approaching the tomb; be a Peter or John grieving together; be a Thomas, wanting but doubting; be an Emmaus pair walking and talking, if not understanding.

Between our worst and his best is a wait. God never said it would be pleasant, only that it would end well. PH

Jesus’ heavenly appearance at Easter Show

 

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Utterance reported on Wednesday that the Royal Agricultural Society, organisers of Sydney Royal Easter Show had refused the Bible Society of NSW a stall on the basis that it was of a ‘religious nature’.

More than 200 volunteers and thousands of resources had been arranged for the Easter, All About Life stall that was to be linked to the recent Jesus, All About Life media campaign.

Fittingly, Jesus did make an appearance at the Show today about 1pm thanks to the heavenly intervention of a sky-writer.

With the sun as an exclamation mark, Jesus All About Life appeared brightly in white against a brilliant blue sky, easily visible at the show in Homebush Bay. The words spread broadly in the gusty wind covering the whole city.

They made quite an impression in Sydney’s inner west where I managed to take the photos above on my trusty Nokia E71 phone and also an Olympus MU9000. Of course, the mandatory buildings, telegraph wires and even an obliging plane accompanied my city pics.

It’s good to be reminded that even the day the Jesus was crucified is Good and is all about life! PH

Utterance 2000 times and not counting

Utterance, an attempt to encourage reflective pauses and thoughtful communication, has just recorded 2000 visits – not including my own!

This may be a result of family and friends visiting the site 20 times a day, but hopefully it is an indication that an invisible community of people have been connecting and finding something here that enriches their day.

Utterance is a conglomeration of creative expression, timely information, spiritual devotional, critical comment and reflective observation and half the time, I don’t know which is going to come next.

And then there is the side-bar… glowing with widgets, I wonder if you noticed, that among all the ways you can search or subscribe,  it feeds news from Christianity Today and shows Utterance on Twitter – Twutterance – although I’m yet to find time to get this moving regularly.

As to where this is heading, the best part is not knowing. PH