15
Feb
2018
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Dear Inner Circle,

In another time, one of our staff members once worked for a racist regime. As a little boy, he was raised a racist. Eventually he entered a military force that trained him and rewarded him for unleashing hate and devastation in the cause of the racist regime. In his elite unit, there was one group hated even more than black people and that group was the white people who aided the blacks. He was taught that these people had turned their backs on their own kind. Our staff member has come such a long way. To see the affection he has for our Aboriginal people is always breath-taking for anyone who knows his back story. Yesterday in one of his tour groups, there was a person from his old country and a leader of the despised group that aided black people. Years ago he would have been greatly rewarded for this person’s head. What a situation! At the end of the session these two people rejoiced in the life they shared and the lady asked our staff member if they could hug. That image will never leave me. Right there was our vision embodied of ‘Love Over Hate’.

The other night I was walking past the Gazebo in Potts Point on my way to the car. I saw what looked like a young man placing a curse on a plant near the entrance to the bar. He was pacing from side to side and waving his finger while a torrent of words that sounded like abuse, flowed. I went a little closer to see if I knew the fellow or if I could help in some way. Close up, it was clear that I was witnessing a domestic argument. From what he was saying it seems that the plant had been sleeping around and he’d caught it out. The funny thing was that the wind was strong enough to make the plant shake, as if in response to the man’s fury. I figured I had no evidence of the plant’s unfaithfulness or otherwise and it was better for me just to walk past.

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08
Feb
2018
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Dear Inner Circle,


Walking through the main street with Wayside's Assistant Pastor, Jon Owen yesterday, a woman yelled out, “Hey! You’re too se*y to be a priest!” I’ve got a sneaking suspicion she was talking to Jon.

If you’re inclined to be obsessive, Wayside is a place that will either cure you or send you around the bend. To this day, significant things appear and no-one knows where they came from and significant things disappear and no-one knows where they went. In the little kitchen near my office, one of our staff members was lamenting that a piece of her property had disappeared. She told me how she had spent good money on this item and then labelled it in such a way that no one could pick it up and mistake that it wasn’t her property or that it should be removed from this particular kitchenette. I really desired to share her bewilderment and rage but instead I confessed that I’d just raided the fridge and taken a piece of bread, toasted it and raided someone’s butter from the fridge and then opened someone’s Wayside honey. It was lunch and I was still eating it. I could hardly feel indignant with my hands full of stolen goods.


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01
Feb
2018
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Dear Inner Circle,

Every genuine meeting has an element of surprise. Talking to a young mum this week, we both marvelled how her two-year-old daughter, pointed her finger in the air at her father and said, “You’re a silly b*gger!” As a young parent I was often surprised by how fast our children learned our good and bad habits. Surprises are of different orders. This week a meeting surprised me to the point of paralysis. A woman who’d made an appointment to talk about her extended family, poured out her heart with story after story of her own childhood. In this territory perhaps I’m hard to surprise but on this day, I could hardly bear what I was hearing. One story led to another. It was not the unfolding of one story upon which the lady was determined to tell at length, but rather one story seemed to spark another from another time and with a different form of abuse. I felt like I was doing a few rounds with Mike Tyson. Here was a woman who, for most of her life, has been treated with less respect than we’d give to an animal. She was abused by men whose only motive was to cause her mother suffering to see her child abused. The child herself was not considered human. Yet, I was captured by something awesome in this moment. The woman and I were present to one another. I didn’t know anything except I was there and she was there. She was not me. She was no projection of mine. She was no ideal of mine but she was there, real and with me.

We meet on a narrow ledge when we meet. On each side of the ledge is an abyss. On the one side is the abyss of individuality. In falling into this bottomless pit, all we care about is our desire to experience and our desire to use. People are of interest only to the extent that they yield a certain experience in me, or because they are useful...[read more]
17
Jan
2018
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Dear Inner Circle,

Outside my window just now a bloke yelled, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for I am the meanest son of a b**ch in this city.” How funny is that?

On my way into the building this morning, I was greeted by a smile that reached into my heart and robbed my brain of any content. A dear man who I have seen through many a ‘dark night of the soul’ was busting to see me and tell me that he hadn’t gambled since September. It isn’t alcohol or any other drugs that bring this fellow down, but the pokies. For years he’s poured what little money he had into those machines and each time it was as if he was feeding his character into them. The emptiness and self-loathing that followed was disturbing to behold. It was not just that he suffered the indignity of going for days without food or needing to beg for a bus fare. It was that he was willing to be robbed in this way. His body shows evidence of deep self-hate, with thousands of scars from deep, untreated wounds. Both of us knew the significance of this meeting, yet we did not need to say a word. His face said it all. He was here and he was ok and we threw our arms around each other because we both knew and rejoiced in it. Afterwards, we told some silly jokes to each other over coffee, his shout.

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21
Dec
2017
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Dear Inner Circle

Through all the tears and the laughter; through the exhaustion and the inspiration; through the failures and the successes; you’ve been with us. I can hardly believe another year is done. In a few days, another Wayside Christmas street party will take place and an extraordinary outpouring of goodwill will be revealed in plain view, to lift and inspire all who have eyes to see. Naturally, there will be some who don’t see. Some will complain that their prawns are not as big as the prawns on their neighbour’s plate. Love is always invisible to those who are driven to profit. Yet for many who are just tired or hardened by life, the awesome at the heart of this day will have the power to capture and to bring joy. Those most in danger of missing it are those who think they are manufacturing it. To our precious staff and volunteers, I say, “don’t forget to look”. To you, our inner circle, I can hardly overstate how important you are to our life. You have made time to read of our work every week this year. Some of you have written to share your own heart and your own life stories. Many of you have sent in shampoos, undies and socks. Many hundreds of you have sent messages of love that meant the world to us. Many of you have supported our “Donate a Plate” and Christmas appeal or arrived at our front door asking how you can help.

Here’s to you, our precious inner circle. Thank you for being there for us.

On behalf of all of Wayside, I wish you a happy Christmas and a 2018 that is full of life. All the food has been delivered and our volunteers are in place for our Christmas Day celebrations, but if you have no plans I welcome you to join us as a guest on the day. If there is any danger of being lonely this Christmas, come and join us and let the sheer joy of this day capture you and surprise you. We will close Hughes Street and once again the road will be filled with celebration. We will help love prevail, as we do each Christmas....[read more]
14
Dec
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

So much heartache and confusion comes because we listen with our ears instead of our eyes. Predatory people have a way of using language, not to communicate but to paralyse. When I was a chaplain at Parramatta prison, I was struck by how often I heard the phrase, “Now see what you made me do!” I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve met kids and adults who were carrying crippling burdens of guilt for dreadful acts that they never committed. Predatory behaviour usually comes with its own propaganda and if you hear it often enough, it can restrict the ability to see. Last night a young fellow told me how his life had collapsed into a dark hole from which there seemed to be no escape. Several times he mentioned that he’d come from good circumstances and that his recent behaviour was unintelligible even to himself. I was interested to hear of the “good circumstances” from which he came and to my surprise the young man began describing a life of unspeakable abuse. It became clearer that his abuse always came with the kind of lectures that said, “Nobody cares for you except me” or “everyone is out to destroy you and all you have is me”.

An abuser can disguise themselves in many ways but one of the most effective ways is as a “crusader”. If you know history you’ll know that term was used to cover murder and robbery on a grand scale, all in the name of God. If I had my way I’d wire up every home, every church and every workplace so that a siren sounded whenever “crusader speech” began. There would be some homes, churches and workplaces where my siren would render people into blessed deafness. I’m sure many abusers believe their own propaganda. There was a time when the church controlled people by threatening fear of hell and while most today don’t buy it, they’re happy for politicians to remind them of the dangers - from which only they can offer protection. My sirens would drown out most political speeches....[read more]
07
Dec
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

I was sitting in our front garden yesterday when a woman ran towards me and shouted, “I need money!” I guess she hoped that I’d react to her sense of panic and find some cash in super-quick time. “What do you need?” I asked. “A thousand dollars” she replied. “Woah!”, I said, “You’re miles out of my ballpark to help.” “But you drive a Mercedes Benz!” she said. I was a bit surprised. “It’s silver and it’s convertible.” I confessed that I would love a Mercedes if I could afford one, but she was sadly mistaken, “A mate had one that I rode in it once but that was my only ride in a Mercedes ever. When he sold it, I needed a course of anti-depressants and some serious counselling.” The lady looked at me like she never believed a word. “But, you own this whole building” she said. She looked in awe at the front of the Wayside building. Lots of street dwellers have the view that the building in front of us is my personal possession. “I hate to ruin a good story but I don’t own any building of any kind, anywhere.” “Well, what about one hundred dollars then?” she asked. “How about two dollars?” I offered. The deal was done.

I’m writing this note a day early because by the time you are reading this, I’ll be in Brisbane to appear on “Conversations” with Richard Fidler on ABC Radio National. I’m taking three of my granddaughters with me so that they can visit their big sister who has fallen in love with a soldier in the Australian Defence Force and now lives in Brisbane. I lay awake at night thinking up new ways of making these girls say, “Wow”. What a trip this will be as my girls encourage me to break all the rules, only for them to promptly “dob” on me when we get back to Mum. If there’s more fun to be had than being a grandfather, I can’t begin to imagine what it might be.

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30
Nov
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,
There are few places where you can lament birthdays that won’t be celebrated, school assemblies that won’t be attended, weddings that didn’t happen and grandchildren that will never be born. The ache in a parent who loses a child remains forever. By the time you’re reading this today, I will be with some people who will make a public park a hallowed place. Time doesn’t heal all wounds and really some wounds ought not to heal. I never want to live as if I’d never lost a precious son and nor do I want to be a wet blanket for anyone else’s journey. Precious and few are the moments when such a deep pain can become familiar and even a friend. This morning I will lead such a ceremony. Tomorrow night, I will lead a similar ceremony in a Catholic cathedral that will be packed with parents who’ve lost their children. What a painful honour and agonising joy to share life in such fullness with others.

I have news to share regarding Robyn’s health. The short version of a long story is that although she was diagnosed as having had a stroke, eventually she was diagnosed with a syndrome that is caused by cerebral fluid not draining from the head properly, causing symptoms of paralysis and of a stroke. The good news is that in 95% of cases, people with this syndrome recover to full health. Now I’m not a betting person, but I like those odds, and I’m pleased and relieved to tell you that Robyn is home from hospital and every day she seems to be doing better than the day before. I can’t begin to express our relief. Thank you for the overwhelming number of messages of love and support in response to last week’s note.

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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]
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!


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