Dear Inner Circle,

Surprisingly, a middle-aged, successful man sat with me this week, confessing his stupidity. He is not a stupid man but like an astronaut who from a rocket looked back at the earth for the first time, he looked at his life with some degree of astonishment and wonder. He told me that all his life, the more he met others, the more he became bound up in himself. Every meeting was an event that happened inside him. This is a tall, good-looking, successful, rather lonely man. A while ago he was giving a lecture to one of his kids, trying to make a point about how heavy his responsibilities were and how much he’d sacrificed for his children. His daughter rather innocently asked, “Is this the path you really want, Dad?” The question tore the heavens open, not because he suddenly needed to think about alternate paths but because his daughter rose up from being a kid, to a real, living person, joining her Dad in proximity and speech. It was like he’d never met her until this moment. A member of our inner circle for a long time, the man sought me out to have a couple of discussions. Slowly he’s beginning to know that his, “I” is not located “in” him but between him whoever he meets – ‘meets’, rather than ‘manages’. This man is respected in his profession but he’s not so much at home. There may be a difficult road ahead and some bad habits to be confronted. Maybe, perhaps, possibly, new life is on the way.

Only four times a year, the Wayside staff meet as one group. Last week in our staff forum we recognised that since the State Government asked us to extend our hours to 10:30pmeach night (and fund the cost of this change) we have been surprised by the number of...[read more]
Dear Inner Circle,

Growing up in Australia in the 1980s as a kid with dark skin wasn’t a lot of fun. The distance between the gate and the classroom was a long journey if the school bully was in a bad mood. I soon developed a lens set for rejection, which is a lonely place from which to view the world. It’s also an unreliable filter as it sometimes leads one to mistake moves made in love for rejection. As I walk into Wayside I see a lot of people with the same lenses on, all with plenty of good reasons not to trust anyone. Yet sometimes we see gambles being taken, and that’s where the real journey towards life can begin.

Yesterday, in our newly renovated café, I searched for a place to sit while delicately balancing my overloaded plate of lunch. A kind face beckoned me over. This man is usually eager to tell me a terrible joke but today he just looked terrible and frightened. As I sat down he shared how his body is slowly succumbing to a long term degenerative disorder. The process has quickened in recent months and now even simple tasks are burdensome and painful. We sat for a moment in silence. Then he looked at me and smiled, “It’s my birthday tomorrow, and I really love caramel cake, did you know that?” I got the hint. We hastily planned a party together – luckily everyone on his invite list is at Wayside most days. This guy shares a birthday with my mum and I love that he will be spoiled and lavishly celebrated here, just as much as my mum will be down in Melbourne. Where there is high risk, there can also be high reward.

Keep reading here.
Dear Inner Circle,
A successful businessman sat with me this week in an act of great courage. He has a gnawing worry that he’s losing the love of his life and everything he’s trying seems to make it worse. There’s been holidays and expensive gifts and dinners. There’s been difficult discussions that seem to heal nothing. There is no evidence of a competing love anywhere. There is plenty of consummation but not much giving going on. You cannot take what can only be given. Forcing love; reminding a partner of their obligations can only fuel resentment. While there is a lot of consummation happening, there is little contemplation. 80% of the joy of anything is in the contemplation of it rather than the consummation. I asked the man what would happen if he ate food in the same way as he sought intimacy with his partner. Woofing down food as if there will be none for the next few days, would rob the act of eating of its joy and context. Imagine that I had been away for some time and upon my return, Robyn had cooked my favourite meal and taken extra care to set a pretty table with flowers. Imagine if I walked in and got that meal down as quickly as I could. I wouldn’t particularly enjoy the food and I wouldn’t see the real gift that Robyn had made.

An impressive businesswoman this week told me how her life was unravelling. She has a loving husband and a healthy family and yet her business has parked itself in a difficult spot. This woman is really a professional problem-solver and it hurts to admit that the advice she would offer to others at such a time, appears to be flimsy at best. She’s been through scrapes before and found a way through and perhaps this is just another passing phase. The issue seems to be an accumulative emotional burden, “a weariness with life”, as my mother would call it. This woman heard me speak at a public forum where I explained how life does and should ebb and flow between highs and lows; between daytime and night time;...[read more]
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.

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Dear Inner Circle,

Walking down Hughes Street this morning, I met a woman whose face was swollen around one eye and cheek bone. It was a familiar face, even though we have probably only ever spoken perhaps once in the past twelve months. I remember her because she speaks with extraordinary warmth. While I have no idea of her background, my hunch is that she was raised by grandparents because she dresses like a woman double her age and her vocabulary is full of the kind of euphemisms that I associate with a kindly old aunt. “Oh gosh!” I said, “What happened to you?” She took one of my hands as if I needed comforting and said, “I was sleeping under the railway bridge last night and a complete stranger jumped on me and insisted I give something that I didn’t want to give him.” Her rough but warm hand really was extraordinarily comforting as I tried to express my sadness of the horror she’d lived through last night. “Don’t worry Rev,” she said with the best smile she could give through a sore face, “I fought like a tiger!”

What a fabulous time of year to be in love with Sydney. In these perfect autumn days, it’s an ideal time to walk around the city and notice how clean it is. It’s a good time to notice that although there is often helicopter noise overhead, they are not shooting at us. Our evenings a little cooler, the real bitter winter hasn’t yet set in, and the conditions are perfect for walking around the city to see how the Vivid Festival lights up our city with astonishing, moving colour. Last night I stood mesmerised in front of the famous Coca-Cola sign in the Cross. What is normally just a landmark or advertising is animated in ways you would think impossible for such a sign. And on the billboard beside it is a moving show of what must be hundreds of...[read more]
Much of what looks like critical thinking is nothing more than a shift in fashion. We like to think ourselves wiser than previous generations but the evidence is not always conclusive. Maybe this generation is wiser in some respects but not all change indicates progress and not all progress indicates an increase in wisdom.

So much of what forms the foundations of Western society, comes to us from generations long since forgotten. Much of what forms our cultural bedrock has never been examined because it is indeed, the ground upon which all our judgement is exercised.

One of the most fundamental ideas passed to us through history is the idea that there is such thing as a single human being. Every part of our culture accepts that the basic human unit is the individual. Our education system teaches that individual effort will reward and bring advantages over those who are less able or less willing to learn. All of our law is based on the idea of the responsibility of the individual for their behavior. Our popular culture preaches the power of one at every opportunity. Most movies begin by revealing an injustice of some sort and then a story unfolds of how an individual saves the day, often with the assistance of that instrument most able to confirm this illusionary idea of the power of one; the gun. Even our attempts to heal social dysfunction mostly leave people more isolated in the process. We give people pills, pamphlets and programs and we form individuals as patients, clients and cases but “One” is lonely; it isn’t human.

To see the illusion and rethink the situation will cause us to look afresh at every aspect of our human arrangements. What if the fundamental number in the basic human unit is two? What if we are radically, hard wired as social beings? If the fundamental human unit is two, there is no human presence until there is community. The word, “I” could only ever at most describe, half of something.

An individual is only half human....[read more]