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.

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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.
01
Mar
2018
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 Dear Inner Circle,

Sitting in my office late one night this week, a conversation with a young woman captured me and filled me with awe. For a short time, this woman became every story I’ve ever known about those whose life has turned from destruction, to life. Just a few years ago this woman’s life was literally one that was set on suicide. Her body bears the marks of her history and yet her face, her face… If only I had words to convey the force of life and energy that stream through this face, reaching deep into your heart and lifting you in a breath of inspiration. We’ve known each other for a couple of years. Our first meeting occurred in hell. She’d lost the will to live. Every meeting since has been a surprise and watching her embrace new challenges and increase the size of her goals and achievements, a source of joy. For some reason that I can no longer recall, I’ve given her the nickname of, “Tonic”. I’m such an old philosopher that I used the word as Aristotle did, as a musical term, suggesting, ‘one who brings harmony’. Naturally, the young woman herself, like everyone else, probably understands the term as a medical word. This week for the first time, I explained my understanding of the word. She told me that she loved the nickname I’d given her because her father always called her, “Poison”.

Another night this week, I also spoke to a young fellow who is also a story of turning to live, in spite of a long struggle with mental health issues. This fellow is making a fabulous attempt at learning English in a relatively short time. We don’t have much trouble understanding each other, but as it was quite late I offered to, “run him home.” A look of bewilderment came across him and he looked at my shoes. He was stumped at the suggestion that he and I would “run” from my office, all the way...
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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.

Keep reading here.
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.


Keep reading here
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.

Keep reading here.