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]
24
Aug
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,
A gorgeous Aboriginal lady stopped me in the street this morning. “You know I’m a spiritual woman, don’t you?” “Yes. I know it and I love it,” I replied. “Well,” she said, “Lately I’ve been dreaming about you. I saw some long grass and you were laying down in it. As I was looking at you, you turned into a butterfly, a white butterfly, and then you flew off into a rainbow”. After a bit of a pause she said, “I don’t think you’re going to be with us for long”. We both paused for a bit while her kindly eyes penetrated deeply into my soul. “That day will be a bit like falling in love,” I said. “How do you mean?” “Well, when you fall in love, you never really know what you’re getting into but you know every cell of your being is being called and you just trust that it is being called to something good”. She started to smile. “I don’t know if I’ve got a long time or a short time but I think the day I fly off into a rainbow will be a good day”. Her face broke into the broadest smile and she said, “For me too”.

After the lovely moment shared with this Aboriginal woman, I turned to walk on to Wayside, and she called out, “Can you help me?” She rarely misses an opportunity to ask me for money. I opened my wallet, quite confident that it was empty and was shocked to find I had ten dollars. “Ten dollars would be good,” she said. “Gosh,” I said, “How much might this have cost me if you had good news?”

Keep reading here
17
Aug
2017
IMG_3846
Dear Inner Circle,

Our politicians well know that if they issued a postal vote on the question of ‘capital punishment’, many of the people would prefer we return to the dark ages. Thankfully, this issue doesn’t dominate us and divide us because a prior generation of politicians exercised leadership. No matter the result of our current exercise on marriage equality, I suspect we’ll pay a high price and suffer divisions and hurt that will linger for years.

At best, this exercise will tell our leaders how we feel, as if that were a sure guide to the right decision. Remember it was democracy that killed Socrates. A jury of 500 citizens found by clear majority that Socrates was worthy of death. A win for the democratic process deprived the world of its finest and clearest voice.

Not all who oppose this change are bigots, homophobes or even remotely religious. Not all who want the change are anti-religious or take any joy from merely overturning age old traditions. This is not a contest between lovers and haters but a cultural shift whose origins lie in a web of unnoticed or forgotten drifts in this highly fluid world of ours. People of good will are on both sides of the fence we are building.

Keep reading here.
03
Aug
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

A flash-looking bicycle circled around me and came to a skilful stop at the fence of our front garden. Only when the fellow got off the bike did I recognise a face that has been absent at Wayside for some time. The young man threw his arms around me and then moved to our deck in a gesture that showed he was exhausted. In just a second I made up several stories in my head about where this fellow had been. I looked at his sophisticated bike and began to wonder how he’d obtained such an expensive thing. In two seconds, I’d constructed a story of prison and a bike that had been “borrowed”. Thankfully I didn’t ask any questions before he started to tell me how he’d been working delivering furniture. He told me that it was the heaviest work that he could have ever imagined. He told me of lumping insanely heavy lounges up flights of skinny stairs. Eventually I said, looking at his bike, “Well at least you’ve got something to show for all that hard work.” “Yeah,” he said, “I’ve got jelly legs and a heart attack.”

If I were a rich man, I would have been at the Menin Gate in Belgium this week to remember the hundred-year anniversary of the battle known by most as “Passchendaele” or what some books call, “The Third Battle of Ypres”. In 1917, more rain fell on this battlefield than had fallen for seventy years, creating a version of hell unimagined before this time. Men and horses that fell into the mud could not be pulled out and a slow drowning followed, often as the soldier begged his mates to put a bullet in his head to speed up the process. The rain was so heavy that General Haig noted that it spoiled a tea party he held for his highest-ranking officers. Half a million people died in a fight to take a site of no strategic value, which was abandoned just weeks after it was taken. I stood at the Menin Gate a few years ago and thankfully no one tried to be wise. No one in uniform tried to say that something...[read more]
27
Jul
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

Botanic names have always hit my ears as unintelligible noise. My admiration for gardening guru Costa Georgiadis is profound and yet my brain seems to anticipate any utterance of botanic names with an attitude of, “Caution: this is going to be unintelligible.” To my horror last week at our Sunday gathering, our text likened life to a garden in which there were both fine plants and vigorous weeds. In the metaphor, the weeds aren’t necessarily other people but patterns of behaviour that threaten the health of good plants, stealing the nutrients from the soil.

Finally, the hour had come for me to learn and use some botanic names. I discovered that the weeds referred to in our text have names. “Now see what you made me do” is a common weed. In the years when I was a prison chaplain, I think I saw evidence of this weed every day. This weed thrives when a good plant fears it is destined to fail but cannot and will not face its fear. Instead it looks for an opportunity to fail when there is a lesser plant around that can be blamed for the failure. Another common weed is, “Ah ha! I got you!” This pattern of behaviour causes healthy plants to be fixated on the wrong doing of others. Imagine being short changed by five dollars and then working this wrong doing into every conversation for years to come. This plant can irritate an otherwise healthy plant or it can grow strong and eventually choke a good plant to death. Another common weed is named, “I was only trying to help”. This weed does its work when someone really tries to impose their will on another but never admits their bald desire to impose their will. When there is push back or rebellion, the act of power is confused and camouflaged because, “I was only trying to help”. Another weed we see a lot is called, “Courthouse”. This weed is evidenced when in relationships we have a “judge” an “accused” and a “prosecutor”. I was called once to a home where a man...[read more]
20
Jul
2017
IMG_3515
Dear Inner Circle,
A successful businessman sat with me this week in an act of great courage. He has a gnawing worry that he’s losing the love of his life and everything he’s trying seems to make it worse. There’s been holidays and expensive gifts and dinners. There’s been difficult discussions that seem to heal nothing. There is no evidence of a competing love anywhere. There is plenty of consummation but not much giving going on. You cannot take what can only be given. Forcing love; reminding a partner of their obligations can only fuel resentment. While there is a lot of consummation happening, there is little contemplation. 80% of the joy of anything is in the contemplation of it rather than the consummation. I asked the man what would happen if he ate food in the same way as he sought intimacy with his partner. Woofing down food as if there will be none for the next few days, would rob the act of eating of its joy and context. Imagine that I had been away for some time and upon my return, Robyn had cooked my favourite meal and taken extra care to set a pretty table with flowers. Imagine if I walked in and got that meal down as quickly as I could. I wouldn’t particularly enjoy the food and I wouldn’t see the real gift that Robyn had made.

An impressive businesswoman this week told me how her life was unravelling. She has a loving husband and a healthy family and yet her business has parked itself in a difficult spot. This woman is really a professional problem-solver and it hurts to admit that the advice she would offer to others at such a time, appears to be flimsy at best. She’s been through scrapes before and found a way through and perhaps this is just another passing phase. The issue seems to be an accumulative emotional burden, “a weariness with life”, as my mother would call it. This woman heard me speak at a public forum where I explained how life does and should ebb and flow between highs and lows; between daytime and night time;...[read more]
13
Jul
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

On Tuesday I had to duck out for an appointment and in the middle of the footpath, two blocks from here, I saw a fellow very clearly under the influence of some substance. I knew him by sight but I don’t think we’ve ever spoken. I crouched down next to him, hoping to engage in some way. “It’s got me Rev". Without thought I said, “Step one might be to call this thing by its real name”. Although we exchanged these syllables, there was really no conversation. The “it” that had him should be called severance or alienation. Eventually, I walked away a bit disappointed that I’d sounded so judgmental. The world is full of good people who use drugs. Humanity, for as long as history has been recorded, has used substances for various purposes. I guess there has always been some who fall into addiction. Addiction seems to develop when someone latches onto one good and calls it the whole good. In this way, I’ve seen fitness fanatics forfeit life and I’ve seen religious fanatics forfeit life in just the same way as a heroin addict. The problem isn’t in the substance but in what’s missing. Generally, addicts lack a balance of friendships, exercise, relaxation, play, learning, hobbies, sleep, religion or philosophy. It seems to me that the good of life is multiple and a good life is a whole life, with a balance of all these things.

Few announcements come with more relief than when I can tell you at this time of year that we reached our goal for our Winter Appeal. Every year we set our goal, and I think as the leader and someone of some faith, I ought to be pumping up our troops like a football coach, saying, “Come on people, we can do this!” The truth is that I’m the one on the team who is most intimidated by the task and quietly whisper under my breath, “Only a miracle.” So I pay tribute to our donors. Some of our donors are wealthy. I don’t think I’d met any wealthy people before I started work at Wayside. The...[read more]