25
May
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

A couple of weeks ago I wrote some uncharacteristically harsh things about drug testing as a condition of support for unemployed people. The same day that I wrote harshly, the Prime Minister spoke of the issue as a question of “love”. He stopped me in my tracks. I spoke like a politician and he spoke like a spiritual leader! Some may have seen the PM’s words as naïve, or as an attempt to manipulate the naïve, but I know the man and he spoke from the depths of his heart. When has a Prime Minister ever used such language?

The PM sees the mechanisms of government to be perfectly congruent with love. I have a mate (a QC and an ex Attorney-General) who sees the law itself as a loving provision for a community. I get it. Without the law and all that government provides, the country would quickly descend into a chaotic and unlovely place. If we were a healthier culture; if we had not become a culture of victims, crusaders and opportunists, perhaps we could have heard his words and been elevated by them.

Keep reading here.
04
May
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

A gorgeous young fellow who makes the world a better place just by waking up in the morning, was in the café today after some months away. I was delighted to see him but concerned because he’d clearly lost a lot of weight. I asked him about his health but he insisted first on discussing my health. I’ve had a few challenges with health this year and this fellow knew enough to prevent me from switching the attention back to him. As we talked, the kindest eyes in the world kept focus on me. I could have been talking to my father or my daughter. Eventually I needed to keep moving and I thanked him in a lighted-hearted way to almost balance the intense love in my face. His words too were light-hearted, and yet we both knew the depth and weight of the care we exchanged. “You’re a gentleman and a scholar,” I said. “I have my moments,” he replied.

A couple of weeks ago, our staff at Bondi travelled up to my office in an unusual gesture because they were so concerned about a woman whose situation was so dire, they believed it was a matter of life or death. The small unit in which she lived had become infested with bedbugs and all manner of insects. The person was handicapped and unable to move without the aid of a chair and someone to assist. Various agencies had been involved but they had mostly ceased any support out of concern for the health of their own staff. Our staff at Bondi had badgered government departments and various private agencies to the point of becoming a total nuisance. No-one felt it was their job to help. The person themselves had so lost the will to live that in conversations with our people, as bugs crawled over her face, no effort was made to even brush off the vermin. Wayside has no budget or capacity for such an emergency and yet I was convinced that death was a real possibility of inaction. I have a band of angels who have indicated from time to time that I can call on them in extraordinary circumstances. My...[read more]
27
Oct
2016
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Dear Inner Circle,

More nourishing than a hot plate of food, more refreshing than a dip in the ocean on a sticky day, is a conversation whose theme is, “Wow! Look how far you’ve come!” Every week, perhaps most days, I have a conversation with someone where we look back in wonder in order to appreciate a life now opening up and beginning to bloom.

A gentle, sensitive fellow was sharing something of his present struggle. Unthinkable early damage in his life has left something like a parcel of infection, a bit like a boil that needs to be lanced every now and then. Like many, perhaps most, his radar was permanently on the lookout for wrongdoers. He has a need of enemies. Luckily, when you look for evil, it’s everywhere to be found. So a lifetime of refining his ability to judge and condemn is beginning to look like a wasted life. Many times now we’ve sat together to discover that people are just people. The only way you can hate a person is to take a snap shot and call it the whole movie. I’ve witnessed his need of enemies diminish in recent years and proportionately, I’ve seen him take up new interests, including a love of reading and history in particular. What a joy to be able to say, “Wow! Look how far you’ve come.”

Keep reading here.
01
Sep
2016
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Dear Inner Circle,

From about fifty feet away, a booming voice yelled, “Is the complaints department open yet?” “No” I responded, unable to match the volume coming at me. “I never take complaints before the first cup of coffee”. The voice could register on the Richter scale and I wasn’t sure it was friendly until I was right beside a bloke that looked like he’d lived rough for a long time. Although the face was uncared for, a smile communicated wonderful warmth. I sat beside him and it became clear that he was just happy to talk to me for a while. When I got up to walk away, he said, “I’ll save my complaints for another day”.

How disappointing love can be. I remember when my son was little, after a rough day I’d rushed home without a chance of buying him one of the little surprises that I’d normally have with me. He searched my pockets and could hardly believe that he found nothing. I tried to calm him by saying, “Dad doesn’t have any lollies or surprises today, I only have love.” He threw the biggest tantrum imaginable. Countless times since then I’ve brought discontent when all I had to offer was love not lollies; presence not presents. It’s especially hard when someone asks me to fix something that I’d desperately love to fix. Then I’m a disappointment to myself. When my son died, I was helping his widow get the kids through the bath one evening and our four-year old looked at me with a hopeful face that I will never forget. “Can you bring my Daddy back?” she asked. I was shot in the heart and stayed that way for days because there is nothing in this world I wanted to do more than bring her Daddy back. It took me ages to realise that I could do no more for this precious girl than I could do for anyone else. I could only be with her. I was living in the shock. I was living in the disconnect of the unthinkable. I was living in the powerlessness and the broken heartedness of love. How I wish I was superman, faster...[read more]
04
Aug
2016
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Dear Inner Circle,

Sometimes the impossible confronts my eyes, defying me to explain it or daring me to be arrogant enough to explain it away. It’s not easy to stand before the impossible, baffled and in awe. A man came into my office just now to offer me a slice of apple cake. Perhaps this doesn’t sound like a moment that could arrest the progress of time, but it was. The man was wearing a long apron and a white beret. This fellow is our baker. He’s learning his craft with the help of some of our fabulous staff and he’s thriving as he discovers himself doing well. I said, “I can’t begin to tell you how inspired I am to receive this cake.” “Well,” he said, “You say often on Sunday that, ‘God says you’re ok’ and no one has ever told me that I’m ok.” This fellow spent many years living on the street and perhaps in the order of twenty years fighting an addiction to heroin. We’ve shared the ups and downs of what is a daily struggle and broken our hearts as his story is revealed. It’s a story of an intelligent man who never had much but lost everyone and everything in life. Too humble to fight for a place in the world and too sensitive to blame his losses on others, he lived the life of a hermit, his only shelter and only comfort to be found in drugs. What I just saw was a man engaged; engaged with this community, engaged with life and moving on a path to health. Awesome, bewildering, impossible but real.

Here is an offer you’ll get from nowhere but Wayside! A lovely bloke involved in our program for people living with long-term mental health issues, is putting on his own exhibition. Pee Wee is a treasured part of this community and he’s always had a thing about pillows. He makes them and carries a collection wherever he may be. We are holding a “Pillow Exhibition” at Wayside Monday 8 August from 5pm to 7pm. There will be no pillows for sale and we won’t be asking anyone to part with any money for any reason. We want to...[read more]
02
Jun
2016
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Dear Inner Circle,

A good mate sent me a text this morning to say that he’d found a homeless man near where he lives and offered him a perfectly good doona so that he could be warm at night. The homeless man refused the offer by saying, “Sorry mate. I’m downsizing!”

First thing yesterday I spoke to a hundred or so Year 12 boys at a large Catholic school. I don’t normally do this kind of thing because there are others here at Wayside that would do a much better job. The teacher who invited me could ask me to speak at the South Pole and I’d grab a jumper and be off. I first met her when she was the eldest of five children, homeless because of unthinkable domestic violence. I found refuge accommodation for the family and in due course assisted in finding public housing. This senior teacher was just 13 years old when we first met. The battle she had just to do her homework would have discouraged anyone. On the day she enrolled in university, I was by her side to support her. On her graduation day, I was there taking the part of a proud father. I performed her wedding ceremony and baptised her child. Is there any man on earth who knows such blessing? She’s now around 40 years old and to see this competent, respected, senior teacher yesterday was such a special thing. She introduced me to the school and I hesitated for a minute, waiting for Jesus to enter the room. What a wonderful day.

Keep reading here.
19
May
2016
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Dear Inner Circle,

A lovely man who has a bit of a gift for finding the hard way to do anything, really owes his life to Alcoholics Anonymous. The man was born into alcoholism, literally, on a park bench because his mum couldn’t get herself to hospital. All his life, the foetal alcohol spectrum disorder made everything hard. Schooling was impossible and so now as an adult any reading and writing is a major obstacle. Thanks to AA, this fellow has been dry for at least 10 years and he’s undertaken a lot of coaching to try and gain some of the opportunities lost to him because of an alcoholic daze that lasted from birth until about 30 years of age. I’m a big fan of AA because I’ve known many people, like this bloke, for whom it was just the right answer. People who are immersed in it tend to develop a language all of their own. Often in a conversation, this beautiful man will launch into “Rule 5” or some other aspect of AA. He’s inclined to quote “the big book” quite often. Yesterday he was talking about a situation that is really testing him. “Like the big book says,” he told me, “Patience is a virtue”. We talked about what he might do to help move his situation forward a bit and at one point he reminded me about, “A stitch in time… like it says in the big book”. We talked about how so many things lately had not worked out as planned and I chipped in, “Well, like it says in the big book, ‘shit happens.’” He looked a bit surprised and asked me where such a thing was said in the big book. Having misquoted the bible a half dozen times now he asks me for references! “Well,” I said, “I think the big book says that ‘shit happens’ from cover to cover.’” There was an embarrassing pause before a joke was detected.

Walking into the building this morning I recognised a vaguely familiar face. We stood face to face before I realised that I knew the man quite well. “My Lord,” I said. “I couldn’t recognise you...[read more]
03
Dec
2015
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Dear Inner Circle,

Normally bright and positive, I saw a young fellow lying flat on our café floor yesterday. Several times our staff or volunteers asked him to get up and sit at a table, as they should. In the afternoon I saw him sitting alone, his facial expression was deeply distressed. He explained to me that a few days ago, he had several ribs broken while he was, “assisting police with their enquiries”. It’s not hard to imagine him being cheeky with police. This young man was in dreadful pain. He’s sleeping rough and there is nowhere for him to straighten out to rest. He’s had a couple of nights sleeping in a friend’s car but its been impossible to be comfortable. Years ago I came off a motorbike and broke all my ribs down one side. The memory of that agony revisited me. I remember living in fear that I would cough or worse, sneeze. I remember trying to turn in bed and I had a comfortable bed. I had Robyn to help me move and feed me. I invited the man to the fourth floor where one of our meeting rooms has a large lounge. I worked from that room for an hour and a half to give him some rest. He went out like a light and I felt dreadful waking him when I had to go to my next appointment. As I lowered myself to bed last night, my poor brother was on my mind and in my heart.

Most of life’s precious moments come as an interruption in our effort to achieve something else. I admit to almost running through our café at times in the hope I can move from A to B. Ducking and weaving toward my office a giant of a man called, “Rev”. Almost reluctantly I turned to look up into the face of this big bruiser who only wanted to hug me. I embraced him and he said to his mates, “I can’t believe the Rev gave me a hug”. A woman just 6 feet away and not with this group of men stepped over and said, “Can you hug me too Father?” As I put my arms around her, she said, “I’ve been diagnosed with stage 3 cancer.” She put her head on my shoulder...[read more]
20
Aug
2015
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Dear Inner Circle,

“I’m sick of being good enough to sleep with but not good enough to be with” said a young woman in my office yesterday. The words didn’t come from anger but from a profound brokenness. She told me that she’d been crying for three solid days and as soon as she stepped into my office, a new wave of grief hit so that every word was convulsed rather than said. A lover had just moved out and given a lecture about how he didn’t want to be, “in a relationship”. It became clear that the pain belonged not just to the events of this week but to the accumulated pain of ten years and at least five such unhappy endings. This young woman was perfectly groomed, in expensive looking clothes and had a pretty face. My son would have said she was, “hot” and not only so, her inner and outer beauty was stunning. Yet, she proclaimed herself to be the girl “that no one will love”.

Gosh the world has changed but I think it's a tougher world on women who long for stability and for children. When I was young, if you touched a girl’s bra strap, you were automatically engaged to be married. I was raised in a ridiculous, extreme culture but today I think we’re at another extreme and it’s a tough world. If I could coach young people today, I’d encourage them to say at the beginning of a relationship, “Slow up, this is not going to be easy! This is going to be expensive! This is going to cost time and energy and I expect you’ll gladly embrace the cost and want to tell the world of our love. You’re going to have to try hard to prove you’re a worthy mate.” When intimacy is easily won, it can be easily lost. A partner can opt out whenever it’s inconvenient and be confident that there will be another bus coming along in five minutes. Woo, I’m sounding like an old man. Speaking of old men, I noticed that ABC 702 were advertising the inner circle on their web page with the hashtag “#thedadyouneverhad”. Yet more proof these...[read more]
06
Aug
2015
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Dear Inner Circle,

The treasure of this country does not lie under the ground but is to be found in our schools. I haven’t stepped foot into a school since my kids were little and last week I spoke across NSW in 12 schools. Actually I stopped counting after school three but I think it was 12 schools. We frequently hear expressions of despair about our young but to actually tour our schools and meet our kids would fill anyone with hope and optimism. I was blown away by the beauty and the character of the hundreds of kids I met. Surely education should be the first priority for investment by our governments and teaching should be esteemed as among the highest of professions. The NSW Australian of the Year crew are to be congratulated for turning an annual award into an event that inspires hundreds of school children. The tour itself in my view was more important than the award. We raced from school to school from Annandale to Wagga Wagga. Award winners, Jules, Genevieve, Cory and I had only just met on Wednesday and yet we worked as a well practiced team born out of mutual respect. It became obvious along the way that I was a city boy. In Temora (I think) I asked a kid what kind of farm he lived on. He said that his dad grows canola and wheat. “Any animals?” I asked. “He has a thousand head of sheep” he said. I then asked, “Does he have any whole sheep or just heads?” The look on the little boy’s face was priceless.

A tough little nut said to me just now, “I know you’re a hard man”. “Not only am I not a hard man” I said, “my only trick is that I am a tower of weakness for people”. “Well you’d look down on me” he said. “Are you fighting something big?” I asked. He began to weep and we sat on a bench at the front of our building. He told me why he’d served a long prison sentence. Most everyone I know holds something against themselves. It shows in how quickly we are to look down on someone else. If we can make a judgement...[read more]