17
May
2018
Inner circle 17.5.18 v2
Dear Inner Circle,

As the finish line looms closer, I’m noticing things that I’ve always seen. A tall, skinny bloke in his thirties, made a direct and quick approach this morning as I walked into Wayside. His hand was stretched out from about four metres away. As he came closer I noticed he wasn’t smiling, so this wasn’t a “farewell” or “well done” but something more serious. In one of this world’s longest hand-shakes, he told me that yesterday a mate had told him of a free feed that was on offer in another part of the city. He described a generous meal that was set before him, “But”, and here came the weighty part of his news, “They began preaching at us.” Still in the one hand-shake he told me that he was humiliated. “Why couldn’t this Christian just make a gift? Why did they have to preach at us?” The final part of the speech was, “I’ve come to Wayside for years and I’ve been helped, I’ve showered and I’ve eaten here many times and no-one has ever preached at me. I just want to thank you!”

I’m noticing that tiny comments are sometimes acts of love. This morning I carried a coffee that I’d bought in the street and a Wayside regular said as I walked past, “There is an ingredient in that stuff called, ‘productivity’”. It made me remember that years ago this same fellow was part of a crowd that witnessed us giving some of our Wayside honey to a Premier of NSW. As the Premier graciously accepted the jar of honey, this fellow yelled out, “Be careful, there is truth serum in it!”
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10
May
2018
inner circle 5.10.18
Dear Inner Circle,

Since Professor Stephen Hawking died, I’ve been reading his most famous book. I’m loving it because it’s a bit of a head spin. It has made me realise that my education in philosophy is so thorough that my foundational understanding of science is fundamentally inadequate. It’s both a shock and a good adventure to have to rethink fundamental things. It wouldn’t matter how vivid your imagination is; no idea, no scheme, no construction could be as fantastic as the real world.

Some weeks here are particularly tough. Three unexpected deaths of young people have caused some of us to struggle this week. Two of these were well connected to Wayside and one only known to me. Gosh, the pain of a Mum and Dad who’ve just lost their child or a sister who just lost her brother or a wife who just lost her husband! I’m not sure there is a shock more brutal than this. When these things happen there are staff here who love and care for those concerned and the sadness can be seen, heard and felt. Many of our staff have lost close family members to tragic events and in such times their own raw nerves wake up. The greatest task for me is to fight the urge to appear wise. There are no wise words and telling people it’s not their fault when they haven’t even heard their own self accusations fully, amounts to telling people not to feel what they feel. I stood on holy ground this week. I didn’t manage anything. If anyone expected me to fix anything, I was a monumental disappointment. One person asked me to pray and I prayed the psalm, “Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord…” Although I feel rather useless, I realise that sadness is an important, even beautiful human state and we can meet each other to some extent in such moments. As I’ve seen the tears of our staff, I’ve fallen in love with them and want to thank them for making this world not just loving but real, and really human.

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03
May
2018
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Dear Inner Circle,

A young girl from South Sudan was separated from her father when one of the armed militias that roamed the country beat and imprisoned him. The girl thought that her father was dead. She and her mother and siblings had to do all they could to survive without their father. They found shelter in a derelict house that had no roof and because the mother couldn’t feed all her children, the little girl and her big brother were sent into Nairobi to beg or to eat as best they could from rubbish bins. The little girl was only ten years old at that time. While she was doing her best to survive, so too was her father. After he was captured, he was put in a hole in the ground with a steel grate across the top. He shared that hole with twenty other men for six months! In due course another militia invaded this area and set him and the others free. Running as fast as he could, he headed straight into the arms of a third militia who were suspicious of his story and locked him up again in another hole in the ground. After months of unspeakable punishment and abuse, this man was eventually released. He walked across two countries with no shoes, sleeping in trees at night time to avoid lions. He had no idea if his wife and kids were still alive but he kept going and sought asylum. He was granted entrance into Australia in 1998 and I was part of the team who welcomed him into the community. It took two years and a superhuman effort, but we were able to locate this man’s wife and kids and reunite them with their father. A beautiful African face captured my heart this week in the crowd of people who came to register at Wayside as volunteers. It was this same little girl, now a beautiful woman. Today she is a registered nurse, giving professional and compassionate care in the medical system of this country and soon to be a volunteer at Wayside.

A good life isn’t necessarily a lucky life. Our chapel this week, filled up with people who spilled out of the...[read more]
26
Apr
2018
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Dear Inner Circle,

We’ve just had our grandkids with us for six days. We love these kids more than we love oxygen in the air, even though we feel rather old by the time they go back home. Isn’t it just true that life comes when the comfortable options that we’d normally choose, are not available? We have a natural attraction to the most comfortable of our options but it is a trap! Engagement, not just with kids but with community in any form, is rarely convenient. All real living is meeting and rarely is it a comfortable experience – actually if you’ve been reading my notes long enough, you might understand if I said, “all real living is meeting and it’s never an experience”. By the time you know how you feel about a meeting, the meeting itself is over. Life does not approach us from within but rather from without. Comfort is a characteristic of sleep. We sleep each night and life comes for us in the morning – it’s not always a welcome or well-timed event, at best it is a surprise – it’s a new day and we’re in it. Who of us would choose not to be woken? Life is an invitation that we can refuse for a more comfortable option. Those who generally get their own way, know little of life or freedom. Robyn and I are already counting the sleeps until we see our kids again and do our job…the only job of a grandparent is to “create happy memories”.

If I could have been anywhere yesterday on Anzac Day, I would have been at Villers-Brentonneux in France. It was just at this time of year in 1918 when in spite of the years of cruel fighting, things on the Western Front were as grim as they had ever been. Australia played a key role at this crucial moment of the war. The Brits at the beginning of the war had a less than glorious opinion of the “colonials”, especially of our leadership. At the end of the war there was no denying the leadership and courage of the Australians at Villers-Brentonneux. I won’t give you a history...[read more]
19
Apr
2018
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Dear Inner Circle,

How does someone embrace life when a ghost lurks within, pointing out the history of failure and disappointments. How does someone who gets a glimpse of life’s potential overcome an active inner monster, trampling over the ruins of broken relationships? A man who has lived on the street for years has recently been housed and we had a conversation this morning. Although he was pleased to be housed and recognised what a significant step he’d taken, he told me that his anxiety was off the scale. It took a while for me to understand what caused the anxiety in what should have been a happy step forward. Slowly it became obvious that the addition of a roof over his head meant the loss of his community. This change seemed to occur just the right time when he’s had some success of not using drugs. He found himself longing for the community of the street, while at the same time dreading the community that normalises drug use. His need for companionship and social support seemed to invite the circumstances where he would lapse again into drug use. “Your greatest weapon” I told him, “is to call things by their real name. Anyone who is willing to see your life collapse on a fast track towards your death, is not a "friend". We talked for a while about what a friend is and is not. He expressed gratitude for all the support he’d found at Wayside and I was comforted to know he has people here who care for him.

Staff and volunteers often tell me of encounters with people that make our spirits soar. One story this week was of a man who had only just nursed his wife to her death. She was a Wayside supporter and on her deathbed, she told her husband that she wanted him to buy some blankets so that the winter would be a bit easier for the people we support. The dear man duly presented himself to our front desk this week, blankets in his arms and tears in his eyes.

Keep reading [read more]
12
Apr
2018
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Dear Inner Circle,

Friends, volunteers and staff sometimes bring people to my office because, “they need to talk to Graham.” Some awkward meetings have taken place at times when it has become clear that the meeting was less than a voluntary act. This week as I walked into my office I found a young woman, who looked as surprised to meet me as I was to meet her. This professional young woman was crying, unable to make eye contact and probably wishing she was anywhere but my office. It’s weird to encounter someone resisting what isn’t asserted. She didn’t have much to say except, “I don’t know who I am anymore”. With eyes that darted around the room, to the floor, then around the room again, she told me that she’d recently lost her job and a partner. A relationship that had begun with all the intensity of a wild movie had dissipated to a point where the young woman felt invisible in her own home. “Why do people forget to love?” was a question that almost vomited up from the depths of her soul. Eventually we looked at each other. What a face! What a mystery, that this face had been entrusted to another who had stopped looking or perhaps more correctly, stopped seeing. I didn’t fix anything, nor did I claim to know how to. The woman cried and talked a lot and I expect that really eased her burden. However when our faces met, I knew we were truly present to one another. She was not an interesting case for me nor was she a problem to be solved. She was herself, awesome, and beside me. I doubt that we’ll meet again but I will never forget her name and I simply appreciated the gift of her presence. I know she left my room a different woman because when she left, I was a different man. We were gloriously useless to each other and yet each added something priceless.

One of our more famous street dwellers stood up from her bed when she saw me walking past yesterday, she embraced me in a moment of tender silence. I said, “You are a good...[read more]
05
Apr
2018
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Dear Inner Circle,

Unreserved joy and support has flooded in all directions since we announced that Pastor Jon Owen would be my successor as CEO and Pastor of the Wayside Chapel. Months ago I had a conversation with David Gonski who is often referred to as, “The Chairman of Everything”. He asked me who my successor might be and at that point, I had no indicator about where our Board’s exhaustive process might terminate. He said, “Don’t appoint a manager. Appoint someone who is inspirational.” I indicated that his response surprised me, as he knew how large Wayside had become. He followed up by saying, “You can teach an inspirational person to manage, or you can hire the right skills to help them, but you can’t teach a manager to be inspirational.” My spirit soars because our Board chose an inspirational person to lead Wayside into the future.

Thank you for the hundreds of messages of thanks and congratulations. It is such an honour to be stopped on the street by so many who just want to wish me well. The only compliment that’s hard to hear is something like, “Well, you really built an empire.” I have no defence to this statement as clearly we’ve grown dramatically, but we’ve only grown because in this age where some people are busy building walls, our mission of creating a community with no “us and them”, captures people and speaks to a deep longing for a better world. If I leave behind executives or managers who are set on growing their empires, I’ll nurse a sense of deep regret, for we who have been captured by the awesome become the greatest of all human contradictions when we think we have a franchise.

Keep reading here.
29
Mar
2018
Dear Inner Circle,

Engaged in discussion with a young fellow this week, the world shattered. We’d met a few times and he’d shared at depth his history of abuse at the hands of his father. Until now, his discussions only referenced his mother as a glowing, almost saintly hero. This week, while describing the circumstances of his background, he told a couple of stories that stunned me, but registered no emotion in the telling. His mother had clearly abused him in ways so unthinkable that I dare not tell of them here. All I said in response was, “Gosh! I thought your father was the monster!” and his whole world shattered. Tears and wailing were all he could manage. It seems that in order to distance himself from his father, he’d constructed a saint-like mother. As soon as he saw his mother as an abuser, or less than heroic, he could not bear to look anymore. I felt like I’d made him an orphan with just one short statement. At that point, I believe I saw a chick breaking out of an egg. It was awkward, it was painful, it was bursting out of relative comfort into a fearful yet promising, unknown.

As a much older man spoke to me this week, we marvelled together at the lengths to which he has spent his life seeking the approval of his family. The approval never seemed to be delivered, even though it was often promised. This man is no “spring chicken” and yet he has spent most of his money and ordered much of his life in an effort to achieve his longed-for approval. He was with me this week because he’d just copped some dreadful verbal abuse from his parents and some close relatives, even though he’d just emptied his bank account for them. He felt like a donkey chasing a carrot on a stick, that moved further away with every step he took. When he stopped walking in moment of exhaustion, the family seemed to bring the carrot closer. The words they used on him were vicious this week. They suggested that they’d be better off if their son was dead –...[read more]
29
Mar
2018
Dear Inner Circle,

A young bloke from Melbourne arrived at my office fifteen years ago, asking if I could show him around the toughest places in Sydney. He made it clear that he wanted to settle in the place where he found the most need. His plan was to bring his wife and two little kids to Sydney and simply improve the lives of people by building community. He was determined to live on the same amount of money as someone who relied upon the dole to exist. On the one hand, I was inspired by this fellow and on the other, I wondered if he wasn’t a bit crazy. He was a qualified social worker and his wife had a PhD in pharmacology. They could have made lots of life choices that would be fulfilling and more comfortable.

In a previous life, I’d spent most of my time in Mount Druitt, Penrith, Blacktown and parts of Campbelltown. I showed him streets where most windows were broken, every fence was tagged and where domestic violence was often heard from the footpath. I showed him the worst and I think my motive was to talk him out of his silly project. The next time I saw him he was back with his wife and I conducted a similar tour for them both. I repeatedly tried to make the point that to choose to live in any of these streets would demand a high cost, especially on their young kids. My warnings seemed to encourage them which left me feeling wise, much older and not nearly as brave.

Keep reading here.
15
Mar
2018
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 Dear Inner Circle,




A couple in their late seventies, who had been together for fifty years, presented here about a month ago to sign up to get married. They were both quietly spoken and it was difficult to discover why they had decided to make their marriage a legal arrangement at this late stage of their lives. They didn’t need to offer an explanation to us for their action and we were happy to do all we could to make this a beautiful wedding. They arrived yesterday and our Op Shop found something lovely for the bride to wear. Some of our marketing people nipped out to the local florist and returned with a beautiful bouquet of flowers for the bride. Pastor Jon conducted this wedding on our rooftop garden. The bride walked down the aisle with a beautiful volunteer on one arm and a beautiful member of our Aboriginal community on the other. Jon invited the couple to exchange rings and the groom said, “I bought her a ring a few years ago and she lost it. I’m not buying another one!” It doesn’t sound like a romantic moment, but I suspect it will live on as a precious memory for both of them. It was easy for the couple, the witnesses and Jon to fit in our lift and as it opened on the ground floor, our staff and volunteers welcomed the couple like they were rock stars. A lovely Wayside moment.

When you watch a life implode, there is an unmistakable loss of language that bears witness to loss of identity and character. All of us who are “by the Wayside”, live in an atmosphere of limited vocabulary. I’ve heard the “F” word used to construct whole sentences; most nouns here are “F…’n” things. I’ve heard it as a proper noun. It’s often a preposition, many things are “up” around here, qualified as, “F…’d up”. I’ve heard it used even as an adverb. My concern is not merely with...
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