16
Nov
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

Sitting in our café, I paid little attention to a young fellow who sat beside me until he rested his head on my shoulder. At first, I wondered if a substance was causing him to find it hard to stay awake, but it became clear that he was holding his head in a deliberate act of affection. No words had been said. Not all dialogue needs words. After what felt like some long minutes, we turned and looked into each other’s faces.Still without words, I got it. A fellow who had been doing well, was in a lot of trouble. “Can we talk?” he said as he got up and walked outside. It took a while to free myself from what I was doing, and find this fellow standing alone across the other side of Hughes Street. When the words started, they gushed. “Trouble” hardly begins to describe his situation. It was hard to understand how anyone could fit so much trouble into just a few weeks. The last time we met, he had the freedom of looking everyone in the eye. Today his eyes scanned every direction all the time, not just looking for cops; they are the least of his worries. I hugged the bloke and said, “Mate, you did this to yourself. There is no upside to this.” There was some more dialogue with few words. I hoped he could see his emptiness and my lack of words put us both together in a state of loss and grief. I hope by now he’s turned himself into the cops as he’d be a lot safer with them than just about anywhere else. My parting words were, “I’d rather be lost with you than saved without you.” We hugged once more and I pointed and said, “The police station is that way.”

I’m relieved that the same-sex marriage issue is resolved. None of us emerged from this period of debate well. The process has demonstrated with new clarity for me the polarising effect of the debate. The agony of these past weeks has been to see how people clustered together to push their point. Both sides, offering opposing arguments and gathering ever greater...[read more]
09
Nov
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

Welcoming a new life into a family, a tribe, a community and into humanity, with a special ceremony is usually a happy and beautiful occasion. Yet there are times when some try to manage the moment with such a fuss that tempers flare while the beauty evaporates. In the past few days, I’ve participated in several such ceremonies. One father was an outlaw bikie and at first glance, it was hard not to be taken aback. I must have been a prison chaplain for too long because when a face is heavily tattooed, my heart melts in a lake of lead. Thankfully, I was wrong again. I met a beautiful man who loved his family. We cracked jokes together and it was all going well until I asked which club he belonged to. I said, “Are you with ‘Deliveroo’ because that club seems to be everywhere lately?” I thought I was funny but it took me a long second to realise that outlaw bikies don’t joke much about their clubs.

At another such christening, a father greeted me reservedly, giving me the impression that he only reluctantly agreed to this religious moment. Within minutes he said, “You know I don’t believe any of this sh**!” Once again, I’m confronted with a character that thinks I’ll have some interest in the content of his cognitive propositions. I said, “Mate, I’m only interested to know if you believe in existence.” “What existence?” he asked. “Well, I’m interested if you really know that it makes a big difference whether you’re here or not.” I didn’t know at the time, but prolonged drug abuse had strained this marriage to breaking point. He spat some words at me. “How could that matter?” His question was confronting, and I was reminded of my aptitude for getting myself into a corner that I’d have been wiser to avoid. There is no argument to counter a, “Life is not worth living” statement. This fellow was well dressed, driving a nice car, living in a nice suburb, and broken. I said something like, “I’m...[read more]
02
Nov
2017
design
Dear Inner Circle,

Yesterday a group of business people asked me about resilience. The questions they asked made it increasingly clear that they thought that somewhere in everyone’s psychology lives a box that contains a quantity of resilience. “How do you keep the glass half full?” “How do you keep the passion for your mission alive and healthy?” “Don’t you get tired?” All these questions presuppose much the same thing. Some people are so certain of my inner resilience box that on occasion I get invited to write a book on the subject. Alas, the misunderstanding is profound. Our mission doesn’t live in me or in anyone else. It lives between us. There are times when I speak passionately about our mission of creating community with no 'us and them’, but they are only empty words unless the mission lives between us. The good news is that when the mission lives, I find myself to be necessary, significant and not central. Every time I flourish as a human being, whether in the context of my marriage, family, workplace or anywhere else, I find myself to be necessary, significant and not central. The joy that is unleashed by knowing it’s not all about me is all the energy I need. And it's all the energy we need at Wayside to keep doing what we do. When an occasion strikes where I think it’s all about me, I need to stand back enough to allow the mission to take the central position and to recognise it as living - not within, but between us.

Our mission is not difficult but it is counter-cultural. The last thing Wayside or any other workplace needs is people who have loads of patience for visitors or customers and loads of judgement for the colleagues working at their side. Religions everywhere have people who wish to love and serve the whole world, but have an intense dislike for their brother and sister serving beside them.

Keep reading here.
26
Oct
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

This team at Wayside form one massive, gleaming tower of weakness. We’re all of us damaged people but our mission of creating community with no ‘us and them’ lives between us rather than in any one of us. For this reason, we embrace our mistakes as occasions of learning and we fight our battles with a feather of gentleness and a dose of humour.



This week I happened to be in our Kings Cross Community Services Centre when I saw two of our staff, Josh and Alana, demonstrate the power of powerlessness. These bright, able young people are the salt of the earth and could well apply their energies to an occupation with much larger financial rewards than they’ll ever find in the helping professions. A man had just lost control of his bowels in the shower and these two dear people had to deal with the messy bathroom so others waiting in line could use the facility without delay. I doubt that their study prepared them for such an exercise. It was a tough, smelly moment but each showed that you can only be rich to the extent that you can be poor. Inspiring!


Keep reading here
12
Oct
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

Growing up in Australia in the 1980s as a kid with dark skin wasn’t a lot of fun. The distance between the gate and the classroom was a long journey if the school bully was in a bad mood. I soon developed a lens set for rejection, which is a lonely place from which to view the world. It’s also an unreliable filter as it sometimes leads one to mistake moves made in love for rejection. As I walk into Wayside I see a lot of people with the same lenses on, all with plenty of good reasons not to trust anyone. Yet sometimes we see gambles being taken, and that’s where the real journey towards life can begin.

Yesterday, in our newly renovated café, I searched for a place to sit while delicately balancing my overloaded plate of lunch. A kind face beckoned me over. This man is usually eager to tell me a terrible joke but today he just looked terrible and frightened. As I sat down he shared how his body is slowly succumbing to a long term degenerative disorder. The process has quickened in recent months and now even simple tasks are burdensome and painful. We sat for a moment in silence. Then he looked at me and smiled, “It’s my birthday tomorrow, and I really love caramel cake, did you know that?” I got the hint. We hastily planned a party together – luckily everyone on his invite list is at Wayside most days. This guy shares a birthday with my mum and I love that he will be spoiled and lavishly celebrated here, just as much as my mum will be down in Melbourne. Where there is high risk, there can also be high reward.

Keep reading here.
27
Sep
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

One evening this week, I waited back to meet a young couple to sign forms prior to their wedding. Before they arrived, I did a quick walk around our building. The ground floor was busy, with a steady stream of people coming through the door in various states of crisis. One of our volunteers said, “There must be something odd in the air today”. The showers were busy with a queue of people waiting. The chapel had been turned into a pop-up café, while the much anticipated renovations are taking place in our regular café. It was rush hour for our volunteers, who were doing their best to serve quality food to an impatient crowd. To top off a busy floor, a game of bingo was being conducted by our Twilight Team. Diana, the team leader of our Twilight Team is nothing short of a miracle worker. The evening hours used to be our toughest time of day and thanks to Diana and her team, these same hours are often the highlight of our day.

On the first floor was a team from Credit Suisse holding a Community Dinner. These bankers really know how to engage with people. Under the guidance of the one-in-a-million Rob Holt, this team don’t just serve food, they share a meal with homeless people. If my memory is right, Credit Suisse have been sending a team here once a month for well over ten years! The dinner was noisy, but it also was buzzing with life.

Keep reading here
21
Sep
2017
yPevU
Dear Inner Circle,

After much consideration and with the sincerest belief that the next ten years should be our strongest, I have informed the Board of Wayside and the Uniting Church that now is the right time to start looking for the new person to lead Wayside. This is not a sudden decision, but the result of consultation and careful planning. Uniting Ministers negotiate their placements every five years. Currently, I have served for 14 years and my term is due to cease at the end of 2018. Succession is a most important matter and given the history and trajectory of Wayside, it is vital that we achieve a smooth generational handover. Making the decision now allows us to conduct an appropriate transition.

I have made the decision knowing in my head and heart that this is the right time.

When I was first employed at Wayside our building was rubble, our finances were difficult at best, and we had a tiny team of staff. We have come so far. With the help of volunteers, staff and our supporters, the next generation of Wayside’s leaders can take our mission further and deeper into the community. This is important, not just for the sake of Wayside as an organisation, but for the sake of the people we serve and for the people whose humanity flourishes when they get involved with us to create a community of no ‘us and them’.

Keep reading here.
14
Sep
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

A relationship exists between humour and suffering. It’s not that suffering is funny, but that there is something awesome about the human spirit that learns through suffering to recognise the humour. It’s the joy of declaring that the “emperor has no clothes,” or the joy that comes from just the sheer presence of others. At Wayside, it is among Aboriginal people that you will most often find sharp cries of pain but also the resounding sound of laughter. This week I was invited to our ‘Mob Lunch’, run by our Aboriginal Program Manager, Mon. This weekly event is so much more than just an opportunity to eat a meal, it’s a marvellous exercise in community development and brings together rich diversity of stories and people sitting side by side. I ended up next to a fellow with a dry sense of humour who began to tell me how to cook an emu. I’m wasn’t sure how seriously to take the cooking advice but I asked questions like, “How do you catch an emu?” A detailed explanation was given about how you entice an emu to come to you. He then described how to leave the animals above the fire, so that when smoke emerged from its mouth, you’d know it was cooked. Still unsure if any of this was serious, I asked how the cooked emu tasted. My mate said, “Oh, it tastes just like wombat!” I think when I left the room, I might have been the joke.

Minutes ago, I was in our café. I began a conversation with a lovely bloke who started to share how deeply he’d been in the grip of depression. We were joined by another lovely old fellow who jumped into the conversation. His voice is rather loud and so it was not a contribution that could be ignored. The new fellow to the table was not in any way psychotic and yet his contribution bore no connection to the conversation into which he jumped. I asked several probing questions in the hope that there might have been a connection that I couldn’t quite make out. There wasn’t. We were then...[read more]
07
Sep
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

Grandchildren give away family secrets without knowing it. One of my babies asked as we got into the car, “Can we go speedy of one hundred?” My reply was something like, “It’s my job to keep you safe sweetheart, so we won’t be going too fast”. She answered that with, “Well, Mummy does!” Another time, our four-year-old hopped into her seat and said, “Shall we keep our windows up so that people don’t hear us yell, ‘IDIOT!’”

Just ten minutes ago, a tall fellow in a large cowboy hat approached me out the front of Wayside. I expected him to bellow at me but instead a soft voice said, “I need a blessing. Can you do that?” We walked to the Chapel and sat awkwardly looking at one another. In these situations, I’m always shy about leading people to believe in magic. Any blessing is just a feature of a relationship. With some trepidation I asked, “Why are you needing a blessing?” I expected to hear a story of a looming court date or some health crisis or even just a naive hope that good can be conjured, like a rabbit out of a hat. To my surprise the softly-spoken man said, “I just want to know there is something outside of me; something bigger than me”. We held hands while I recited some ancient words. The big bloke seemed relieved and thanked me. We’d never met before today, but we both walked away changed and lifted.

Keep reading here.
31
Aug
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

A young man could see that I was trying to leave last night even though there were plenty of people who were determined to have a few minutes with me before I took off. The fellow made a loud announcement about how I was being called away to something urgent (he had no idea where I was going) and put his arm around me to assist my exit onto Hughes Street. He decided to walk with me to the corner, to fill me in on some news he was keen to share. We turned the corner and began the walk up towards the fountain and he kept walking with me. I said, “I thought you were just coming to the corner”. “Yeah,” he said, “Didn’t you see those coppers?” There were two policemen walking on the other side of the road. My mate said to me, “If you change direction in the sight of cops, they just think something is wrong and they follow you wherever you go.” You can have this tip for free - don’t change direction when in the sight of cops.

Twenty years ago, I helped a woman find a spot in a refuge. She was fleeing from a history of domestic violence. I remember this so well because the woman, who was softly spoken and seemed to exude kindness, only spoke Polish. She had a four-year-old son who spoke fluent English and Polish. All our communication happened through this little boy. Speaking to the distraught mother through the skill of her little boy caused me to be in awe of the child before me. At just four years old, you could see the goodness in this little kid. I’ve lost touch with the family but have heard indirectly that the mother had settled well, that she was a good manager of money and had found a comfortable house and made friends with many neighbours. I had heard that the boy had grown into a fine man who continued to show the same care for his mum. This was a fine young man, who had developed an addiction. It meant he never had money, even though he was always in work. He never stole from anyone and endlessly supported...[read more]