16
Nov
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

Sitting in our café, I paid little attention to a young fellow who sat beside me until he rested his head on my shoulder. At first, I wondered if a substance was causing him to find it hard to stay awake, but it became clear that he was holding his head in a deliberate act of affection. No words had been said. Not all dialogue needs words. After what felt like some long minutes, we turned and looked into each other’s faces.Still without words, I got it. A fellow who had been doing well, was in a lot of trouble. “Can we talk?” he said as he got up and walked outside. It took a while to free myself from what I was doing, and find this fellow standing alone across the other side of Hughes Street. When the words started, they gushed. “Trouble” hardly begins to describe his situation. It was hard to understand how anyone could fit so much trouble into just a few weeks. The last time we met, he had the freedom of looking everyone in the eye. Today his eyes scanned every direction all the time, not just looking for cops; they are the least of his worries. I hugged the bloke and said, “Mate, you did this to yourself. There is no upside to this.” There was some more dialogue with few words. I hoped he could see his emptiness and my lack of words put us both together in a state of loss and grief. I hope by now he’s turned himself into the cops as he’d be a lot safer with them than just about anywhere else. My parting words were, “I’d rather be lost with you than saved without you.” We hugged once more and I pointed and said, “The police station is that way.”

I’m relieved that the same-sex marriage issue is resolved. None of us emerged from this period of debate well. The process has demonstrated with new clarity for me the polarising effect of the debate. The agony of these past weeks has been to see how people clustered together to push their point. Both sides, offering opposing arguments and gathering ever greater...[read more]
02
Nov
2017
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Dear Inner Circle,

Yesterday a group of business people asked me about resilience. The questions they asked made it increasingly clear that they thought that somewhere in everyone’s psychology lives a box that contains a quantity of resilience. “How do you keep the glass half full?” “How do you keep the passion for your mission alive and healthy?” “Don’t you get tired?” All these questions presuppose much the same thing. Some people are so certain of my inner resilience box that on occasion I get invited to write a book on the subject. Alas, the misunderstanding is profound. Our mission doesn’t live in me or in anyone else. It lives between us. There are times when I speak passionately about our mission of creating community with no 'us and them’, but they are only empty words unless the mission lives between us. The good news is that when the mission lives, I find myself to be necessary, significant and not central. Every time I flourish as a human being, whether in the context of my marriage, family, workplace or anywhere else, I find myself to be necessary, significant and not central. The joy that is unleashed by knowing it’s not all about me is all the energy I need. And it's all the energy we need at Wayside to keep doing what we do. When an occasion strikes where I think it’s all about me, I need to stand back enough to allow the mission to take the central position and to recognise it as living - not within, but between us.

Our mission is not difficult but it is counter-cultural. The last thing Wayside or any other workplace needs is people who have loads of patience for visitors or customers and loads of judgement for the colleagues working at their side. Religions everywhere have people who wish to love and serve the whole world, but have an intense dislike for their brother and sister serving beside them.

Keep reading here.
17
Aug
2017
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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
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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]
22
Jun
2017
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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
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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.
11
May
2017
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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
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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
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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
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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]