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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I’ll be writing more regularly for the rest of year, now that I am more busy than ever. Please subscribe.

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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 »

The dealings of grief and possibilities

‘The emotion of it was still strong. There was a bitterness in him that he continued to chew over as Digger did not. For Digger it had been one time of his life among others; a time, simply, that had laid hard responsibilities on him, but ones that were too deeply ingrained in his nature now for regret. He accepted them. He made no complaint.

‘For Vic the injustice that had been done to him was absolute, a thing he could not forgive. Some possibility had been killed in him then, and though he had found others and made what he could of them – that’s how he was; that was his nature, his character – that other possibility, the one that had been starved and beaten out of him, seemed especially precious.’ The Great World, David Malouf.

An old war veteran died today. Like all of them, Claude Stanley Choules no doubt had his own way of dealing with the grief of war.

‘He served in two wars but he hated war – he just saw it as a job,’ said his son Adrian. At 110 he had been the last remaining World War 1 combat veteran.

Incredible grief and loss is buried in the lives of many who have returned from war but also in many who have never been. Australian author David Malouf captures two of the dealings of pain, loss and grief. Does one or the other resonate with you?

Some of us integrate it and become something a little more, or perhaps a little less, than we might have been. Others are driven and cajoled by what might have been and never truly settle. Even achieving great other ‘possibilities’ does not assuage our sense of loss.

There is a Way that releases us so that now and not the past becomes the arena of living.

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

Hope against all hope in the midst of change

It has been a year of unprecedented change for our family, some if it chosen, some of it not – and it’s not over yet.

Change, whether initiated or imposed, is often challenging – especially when it affects the deep things of your heart and your future.

In the midst of some difficult moments this month, I had a speaking engagement where my theme was to be hope. Having been planned long before, it almost seemed laughable that I would contemplate hope when I was more prone to panic.

Of course, God has a sense of humour and that is good reason to be hopeful – it helps not to take yourself too seriously.

There is something unique about the Bible that when you turn to it to prepare some thoughts for others, it has an amazing power to instead prepare you.

And so, for all those pondering their future, wondering their past and wandering right now, let there be hope:Read More »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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…

Nature, nurture and the spiritual life

Nature versus nurture is an ongoing debate in the scientific community but what implications does it have for the spiritual life?

Is our identity, personality and behaviour fixed by our genes or is the raw material of ourselves molded by the environment into which we are born – our family, parenting, experience.

Likewise does a person’s spiritual origin determine what they look like or is it more to do with spiritual environment in which they live?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.

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 »

Transcendent story of Easter

 

E – everyone, everywhere

A – all the time, all year round

S – story to begin, end, transcend all stories

T – The… The Christ, The Lord, The Word, The Lamb

E – ending sin, death, the work of religion

R – rising, ever risen, the first of us

Photos: Man-made blue cross on church; God made cross structure in Whirlpool Galaxy. Happy Easter. 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

Action interrupted, truth stumbled

The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it. Chinese proverb.

What have you stopped doing because of a voice, internally or externally, saying  it can’t be done, you can’t do it or you can’t do it well? Avoid these interruptions.

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most pick themselves up and hurry on as if nothing had happened. Winston Churchill

As opposed to the interruption of doubters, truth is worth taking note of. What truth have you stumbled over, even and embarrassing or inconvenient one, that you have done your best to ignore but keeps tapping on your shoulder. Stumble back to truth, it always set you free.

Incidentally, I came across these quotes while reading Organic Church by Frank Viola. Still trying to decide if this book is interruption or stumbling truth. Probably a bit of both… PH

What are you growing this year?

We grow what we feed. We feed what we see. We see what we choose.

Rediscovered roseI have a miniature rose in a pot in the front courtyard of our home. I had paid it little attention in the past 12 months until late October when I decided to move my tomato planting efforts to this same courtyard (inner city vegetable growing is a ‘particular’ art).

Each day as I watered, fertilised and generally yearned over my tomatoes, I would give a similar treatment to the random plants that happened to be in the same location.

The tomatoes plants duly bore fruit but what really surprised me was the literal revival in the other plants, especially the long neglected rose. It grew bushy and is now covered in about a dozen flowers.

Which illustrates well: we grow what we feed; we feed what we see; we see what we choose.

What will you see in 2010? Your choice. You may have something in the courtyard of your life waiting to flourish, but unnoticed.

Having seen it, how will you feed it? Your words, your prayers, your faith, your time, your action.

Having fed it, there is no question – it will grow. So make sure what you focus on and feed is the very will of God.

Strangely, my rose is flowering because I focused on the fruitfulness of my tomatoes and there was enough focus and feeding left over for something beautiful.

Follow the fruitful callings of God in your life and something beautiful will spring up in the midst. PH

Check out my full message on this theme titled “12”.

Eyes of Fire focus on 2010

New Year 2010

It’s 2010 and after seeing another year in from two different locations around Sydney Harbour, one of my new year’s resolutions is to post everyday to Utterance.

breath | speak | breath – a good rhythm for life and communication. Feel free to join me this year as I search for meaning, significance, laughter, the absurd, wonder, beauty, horror, warmth, hope, life and God in each and every day. I hope my search inspires yours. PH