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.
27
Jul
2017
IMG_3577
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]
22
Jun
2017
IMG_2782
Dear Inner Circle,

This week you have me again, Jon Owen, Wayside’s Assistant Pastor, stepping in for Graham Long. Thank you for welcoming me into the space you share together. Graham is recovering well and looks forward to sharing with you next week.

“Jonny, got a dollar?” My pockets were empty so I offered him a chat instead. This kid had sent us all into a spin when he inexplicably disappeared for a few weeks. The alert that he had gone missing was raised after a friend who hadn’t seen him for a while spotted him eating out of a bin in another part of the city. A few days earlier I’d stopped by his mum’s house to check in on him. I was met by her new boyfriend at the door who told me that the kid was “doing his own thing” for a couple of weeks to give them some space. He was 11 years old.

I was relieved to see this little fellow was safe and I told him how worried we’d all been. He shrugged, laughed his absence off and quickly moved the conversation along. His keen mind skipped around a variety of topics, using language filled with colour and regularly returning to the phrase “deez nutz” for comfort. The expression sailed right over my head, a clear sign I’m getting old. Much like a Sunday drive on a winding country road, our chat casually covered some ground and just when it all began to feel a little familiar, he steered it around a sharp corner. “I don't think anyone actually plans to have kids, they just happen and then they get in your way”. Then his mouth was off again in another direction until another flash of inspiration. “You know stuff about religion right? So did God have parents or didn’t they want him either?” His voice tapered off as he heard his own words spill out, realising it was too late to stuff them back in. His eyes darted to mine then down, in a look that was somewhere between shame and resignation.

Keep reading [read more]
25
May
2017
IMG_2201
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.
11
May
2017
IMG_2024

Dear Inner Circle,


Costly kindness changes the world. The Kings Cross police were called to attend to a lady in the main drag the other day. The woman was in poor health and barely conscious, I presume under the influence of a bucket-load of alcohol. It was a sergeant who attended, so I guess things must have been pretty busy for police that day. The policeman engaged the lady with purpose but with the tenderness of a son dealing with a beloved Mum. As he helped her to her feet, she grabbed him on a part of his body that guaranteed maximum pain. She refused to release her grip and you’d have to forgive the man if he’d have put her on the ground as he could have easily done. In spite of the pain he was enduring, the policeman continued to smile and offer comforting words. After a few minutes, she released her grip as he made it clear he hadn’t come to lock her up but was interested in finding a better place for her. How often do you hear police commended for costly kindness? I can tell you that many times over this past thirteen years, I’ve witnessed such kindness on the part of police. There is sometimes a cop around who has seen too many American movies, but on the whole, certainly in Kings Cross, we have every reason to be proud of the police.

Earlier today a frail old man who had become disoriented through years of sleeping in bus stops and in parks, had reached a point where we had to organise medical treatment, whether the man liked the idea or not. Our John, the gentlest man in the world with the softest heart, did his best to assure the man that medical help would make him more comfortable. In reality, the lack of medical care would kill him in short order. The man resisted to the point where he threatened to strangle John with the telephone cord. Worse than this, he accused the kindest man in the world of every cruelty he could express. Most people would let it roll over and off them, but such things lodge in John’s...[read more]
16
Feb
2017
wordswag_1487203467189
Dear Inner Circle,

Miss four-year-old asked me last week, “So what did you do when you were four?” How lovely to be asked such an unexpected question. “I don’t know,” I said, trying to look for a satisfactory answer, “I think I ate my dinner.” “But did you eat all of it?” she asked in a flash. “I think I did,” I said, beginning now to sound unconvincing. “Well,” she said, “I only like b’skettie”. I treasure such precious conversations.

Rarely have I been accused of being religious and perhaps to protect my reputation, stories from our congregations appear rarely in this note. Last week in the Bondi congregation, there was no sermon but Rev Graham Anson, Wayside’s Executive Minister in Bondi, interviewed a bloke who had spent a third of his life in institutions. All of his jail time was related to addictions to various substances. This healthy-looking fellow hit rock bottom when his addiction lost him his job and his partner. Born outside of Australia, there was no social support available to this fellow and he was reduced literally to begging in order to stay alive. With the help of AA and our staff at Bondi, he is on his road to recovery. He’s working again and keen as mustard to offer help to others through our facility at Bondi.

Keep reading here.
09
Feb
2017
IMG_6376
Dear Inner Circle,

In the café yesterday I saw a young fellow, who had cooked his brain, walk around aimlessly picking up items that clearly didn’t belong to him. It didn’t look like his intention was to steal but rather it looked like he had no idea what he was picking up or why. Eventually, someone noticed that their coat was in the possession of this kid who seemed to be laying it out on a table as if to iron it perhaps. Naturally, all hell broke loose. Our staff were on it quickly but it provided a genuinely distressing few moments. I was sitting with a bloke who I’d not seen in some time but our conversation had to end in such an anxious atmosphere. Everything settled and the bloke next to me said, “I love Wayside because you get dinner and a show”.

Rarely am I in a state of shock but the revelations from the church about sexual crimes against children have caught me off balance. The world that I knew changed this week as it was revealed by the church that up to 40% of people in one religious Order could be considered to be predators. In other religious Orders the estimate was 20%. I just can’t seem to regain my balance. I’ve been inclined to defend the church because I’ve known hundreds of nuns and priests who have served humanity with their whole selves, embodying all that is finest and inspiring in their roles of teachers, philosophers, social workers and chaplains. I have two academic degrees from Catholic institutions and I will be forever grateful for the depth of love and the incalculable gift of philosophy, theology and history poured into me by masters in their fields.

Keep reading here.
02
Feb
2017
IMG_6306
Dear Inner Circle,

A couple came to see me a few months ago. They’d had a stable marriage and seemed to have found a way to work together, maximizing the opportunities life offered and building a successful life. A sudden revelation brought all of this crashing to the ground in the speed of a text message. I’ll never forget the look on their faces in my office as each one looked at the other as if they were alien. I think the problem was that the two had become one. They seemed to know each other so well that each was utterly predictable to the other. Each could count on the other and there was little, if any, mystery. Oh, the joy of not knowing. Oh, the misery of knowing someone so well that they become invisible. They saw me again this week. Again, the look on their faces rendered me speechless. The change is hard to explain. Wonder and not knowing had returned. They each looked at the other as if waiting for a revelation. I asked how they could explain this turnaround; half-hoping I might have said something wise that might have helped. They told me that the only real change they could observe is that they no longer let the television run in the evenings, and at an agreed time, they turn their phones off. For months now, they listen to the news and then for the rest of the evening they talk to one another. This week, neither one offered me any observations to help me understand the other. The only pronouns they used were, “We, us and our”. Talking is a miracle. By talking they had discovered that there was much they didn’t know about the other and each was relieved of the burden of being the “smart” one in the relationship. I could barely believe I was talking with the same couple. Stability is not always a sign of health or life. Many years ago, I did a placement at a psychiatric hospital and I almost worshipped my supervising psychiatrist. In those days, the prevailing language in that world was Freudian and I lapped it up. At the end of the...[read more]
25
Jan
2017
1
Dear Inner Circle,

That we live in such a peaceful, prosperous part of the world is the achievement of very few of us. Most should leave some space today to thank someone else for such good fortune. Today I offer my thanks to a young bloke, starving in the potato famine in the county of Tipperary, Ireland. James Long’s father was an alcoholic, which must have added a level of misery to what was already an unbearable situation. The young James made a drunken goose of himself once at a funeral and decided from that moment on that he would never drink again, and he never did. Rumours of the gold fields in Australia must have sounded like a fairy tale to this poor Irishman at the bottom of his social ladder. All around London at the time there were signs on boarding houses that said, “No Irish”. Any chance for a life out of starvation must have seemed to be worth a shot, even if that meant a boat trip that would take months, to a destination far away from everything he knew and with little or no prospect of return. From this desperate situation and from this radical decision, much of the “luck” of my life was set in place.

James arrived in Ballarat, Victoria, and discovered many things about this strange place. He found just enough gold to start a small business making cakes and confectionary for miners. In due course James Long Confectionary employed 140 people with factories and offices in Perth and also New Zealand. The alcoholic father got news of his son’s success and decided he too would make the journey to this country. One day in a pub near Ballarat, after drinking all day, he rode his horse to the edge of town and fell to his death. The local paper wrote a story that marvelled that he had managed to ride as far as the edge of town at all. The business of James Long eventually became the Sunshine Biscuit Factory and James died one of Victoria’s wealthiest citizens. What a pity none of that wealth got passed down through the family! Funnily...[read more]
22
Dec
2016
img_4554
Dear Inner Circle,

It’s happening! The outpouring of goodwill melts our battle-weary hearts. Young children come through our front door having bought a present to be given to some other child who has less. People stream through the front door with offers of help – undies, socks and razors in the hands of loving people who’ve been saving up in order to make a practical difference for those doing it tough – donations of food for our street party on Christmas Day flood into the place – companies ring and ask what quantities of prawns or other goods we require – we just say a number and it arrives here by truck – no charge. Volunteers overwhelm us with more offers of help than we can possibly use. It’s impossible to witness the sheer volume of goodwill without being moved and inspired.

While most wind down for Christmas, we wind up. Yesterday there must have been a couple of hundred people in our building at various levels, engaged in community celebrations or end of year functions. As I walked into one of the functions an Aboriginal man embraced me and said with tone I’d not heard in his gravelly voice before, “My family is here”. Suddenly I noticed that there were quite a few younger people and a handful of young children in the room. With every passing second, the look on the old man’s face glowed with intensity and pride. I complemented him on having such a fine collection of young children that clearly reverenced him as a relative and senior person in the family and a big singular tear ran down his lovely face. It’s a rough time of year for many but at the same time and without denying any of the toughness, there is a wave of well-wishing that gathers up many to lift and inspire.

Keep reading here.