Two Ways of Seeing. Two Ways of Living.

There are terrible things afoot, it is true. War, destruction, loss, death everywhere across the globe it seems, and sometimes I wonder when it might be our turn. There have been times to be ashamed and times to be proud. Our best selves seem to be rising again, although there is still much work to be done by all of us. There always is.
Sometimes the challenge is to stay positive without allowing either anger or despair to destroy us. I was searching for hope, but was amazed at the way it came to me, through an experience that had nothing to do with my head, or my intention, and everything to do with allowing another way of seeing.

Yesterday I woke in the hour before the sun rises. Happiness seemed to be all around me.
It is a favourite time of the year, the season when all those remarkable little birds return, and we wake to their presence. I breathed in the day, aware of the shape of my oldest and dearest friend resting beside me, his body heavy and warm.

The great clacking bird started its morning calls and I heard them being faintly echoed from a tree further down our still-dark suburban street. Twittering, chirping, fussing and excitement broke out all around. Magpies sing: I swear they sing and take joy in their own singing.

I lay still and listened. There was no need to open my eyes.

Today I considered for the first time, that their tiny bodies were on the other side of our closed window, outside in the big green street tree (the best one in street) but their sound was right here in our room, in the air, even in my body. It had travelled through the dusty glass and the cool dark room, retaining all the shapes and tunes of each individual song, and entered my ears. My ear drums were moving and the minute exquisite hammers were beating inside my head, setting off chain reactions of airwaves and chemicals, lighting up neurons and pathways, creating everything necessary for me to share in this miracle, without me organizing any part of it. All I had to do was to receive it, and luxuriate in its abundance.

I lay still even longer and let the happiness grow.

Ugliness and beauty do not exclude each other. I could choose whether to listen to the song, or not. It makes no difference to the birds. They have their own life, and we who think we are so important are actually irrelevant to their performance. At best we are a hazard for them to avoid. They attend to their business faithfully, that morning’s business being the pleasure of courtship and song.

There are still two realities, the harsh and the beautiful, in our world. Do you think that perhaps the tiny birds sing to cover the wounds of the world with their grace?

Thinking of it now, as I write, it is nearly time for the end of day flapping and bustle as they return to our big green best-tree-in-our-street to rest. I am smiling as I wait.

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Allowing for Surprise.

Allowing for Surprise..

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Allowing for Surprise.

ellis beach

We are on holiday : a real holiday. One where you get on a plane and change climate zones and feel warm instead of frosted over. For a while I have stopped moaning about living in such a cold house (while reminding myself that In summer I love that same thing about it.)

It is a strange thing to have to plan ahead for holidays. We have had to outline an itinerary and make some provision, as it is the high season for tourism in Australia wherever it is WARM. We did that knowing that we will expect the unexpected to happen somewhere along the way…

At first we found ourselves anxious to fit in all the required tourist destinations. It wasn’t until Day Two when we rushed off to see the village up a windy road to the top of a mountain (well, a hill really) that we learned we were going to give ourselves a miserable time. It was the perfect introductory lesson – there were tired markets exactly the same as in every other struggling town, cheap clothing by the rack full, and irritable and snappy shopkeepers trying to feed and coffee bus-loads of tourists. We were getting quite depressed until we were smiled at by a young man with a broom, happily cleaning up in his family’s business. It was a good omen: the rest of the family were also cheerful and happy and welcoming. They said it was because they were just that sort of people, and they just liked being together and working and having fun at the same time. Balance was restored, and sympathy for the people having to have their little town over-run daily by such as US.

We went back to our flat, and reassessed. We returned our glossy brochures to the rack, and recalled what we had actually come for. We let go of all that ‘stuff’ and changed this into our own time. It feels so good. We are back on track. This is our holiday where we are light hearted together, easy in being lazy with no responsibilities. If we feel like moving we do, if we feel like just sitting that is fine. We will eventually get to see the Great Barrier Reef, and the Daintree Forest, but other than that, we are ‘just hanging’.

When I booked our accommodation, I dithered so long, that all the cheaper places were gone, and so we are now absolutely forced to spend these next three days in a delightful little bungalow on the edge of the sand and sea. It costs more than we had planned, but it is so perfect that we just don’t care. I take it as a gift from She-In-Whom-I-Often-Don’t-Believe.

The sea is grey and choppy, and quite loud and heavy in its rhythm, so I swam in the pool today, in water just cold enough for that first dive to take the breath away and clean me completely from any fogginess of mind and intention. Two little girls swam near me, and counted how long they could stand on their hands with their legs in the air. They were so beautiful, so full of the promise of their lives, gently arguing about how fast to say ‘One elephant, two elephants….’


Did I say we expected surprises?

Just after writing that much, I walked back to our little pretend home and made a plate of lunch while my husband slept. As I walked out to the little deck, I slipped down a step, and sprained my ankle badly. Plans were turned upside down again, slow had to reach a new dimension of slower.

It became a blessed time of gentleness and kindness between us. Accepting the limits opened the spaces for contemplating such dear things as the familiar curve of the body of a husband, time for laughing at our creakiness together but also sharing the trepidations  of our aging, time to treasure the memories of why we set out on life’s road with each other. Loving each other.

I think I hear a soft laughter from She-In-Whom….

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Ordinary Power.

Sometimes it get a bit hard to be positive and enthusiastic if you are trying to influence change, especially change for the ‘little people’ in the face of giants. I’ve heard and shared in conversations to this effect lately, many peppered with expletives, and found myself getting weighed down and overloaded.

We have all been asking similar questions. How do we keep going? Where do we find sources to renew our energy? Is it hopeless? These feelings were exacerbated, when we were confronted with both ugly overt racism and arrogant political corruption at the same time. I was angry but this time it was an energy for action that could not be denied. I had to do something. I cast around still just sharing the ideas and observations, still wondering if sharing on Facebook and Twitter was enough. We all talked and shared some more.

Then things changed. It was as if there was a tipping point at which enough people were angry and frustrated, for the energy to turn into positive communal actions. Instead of fuming separately, the actions manifested in many ways at once, reminding us that there is power for change in sharing amongst the ordinary people.

The many little actions erupted across the state and then the country. There were #statements, posters to put in the window, a whole football crowd dressed in red shirts with the number 37 on them, the NRL players decided to do a dance when they scored.  Little children at the Garma festival in the NT painted number 37 on themselves when they were dancing.

The energy of the actions was contagious. They were not grand undertakings, but what they released grew. People spoke out publicly and strongly about the racism in this country that is unspoken and denied. They named it, and showed that in spite of all the despair, this time there were many more who understood what it meant at both a personal and structural level.  It was targetted at one man and shown as support for that man, but there was no misapprehension that it was simply a personal thing.

Yes, it is a pity it didn’t happen earlier. Yes, our Prime Minister was missing in action.  Sure, there is still ignorance and arrogance aplenty being given airspace. But it did happen and I believe we are one step further forward because of it. I have to hang on to that.

By the way, it was a younger Aboriginal player who led the action to support Adam Goodes and to show that waiting for such abusive behaviour to go away was not an option.

His name is Lewis Jetta. It was a sweet moment when he kicked the first goal of the match this weekend and even sweeter that he did a celebratory dance…  Watch this man. He is a leader.


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A Man Sings.

I have just been listening to a man sing to his friend and his people, at a funeral service.

Such a gift is always something to move the hearers to tears, and I always marvel at the ability of the singer to ‘hold it together’ long enough to finish.

The music carries a meaning that is deeper than its words or melodies, as it is woven with shared histories, with shared memories and emotions. The choice of musician carries honour. Sometimes the audience sings the music, too, with tears of release. Sometimes they listen out of respect and ponder the reasons for the choice. As always, the music leaves us open.

In this case, the song was sung by Barack Obama, the President of the United States, at the funeral of nine black Americans murdered by a white supremacist, while in church.

Nothing could have said more powerfully to the grieving people, to the whole country, or to the world, that he was one of them.
It was not scripted or announced. He didn’t ask people to join in, although they did.
He didn’t ask for accompaniment, although after a few lines, the musicians gladly played.

He was simply a black man at home.

That is the thing. He owned all of himself and his heritage, all he is, in the way he sang. He was simply a black man opening his heart, expressing it in the way that is his by birthright.

I know there are many who criticize him for not being able to work miracles in his role, but today I saw a man unafraid to stand alone and say in his very person the truth that cries out to be said to racism, to structures of oppression, to histories we would all rather erase and forget.

He said it has not gone away, this is still present and part of our living now.

He knows the danger. He knows the fear for his children. He knows the fear and despair of the congregation. He too is never safe simply because he is black. He is outraged and angry, but he does not stop there…Even in the middle of anger and grief, as he challenges the evil that needs to be challenged, he reaches out to the whole nation. The offer is there.

He moves us to go further than tears. He moves us to respond, to find hope and courage to continue wherever we live or work. How we do that will be the measure of who we are.

He stands there and sings and people join in, reaching to be connected to hope again.

Amazing grace.

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Dragging Monsters From Under the Bed.

Did you ever have a fear of the looming dark as a child? Did you ever think there were monsters lurking in the shadows on the wall, or hiding under the bed or in your wardrobe?  What did you do if a large angry dog barked at you – even from behind a fence as you passed that house on your way to school?

There is a whole field of children’s books that deals with fears, mostly of the unknown. Adults are attracted to the crime and horror genre, and if you want to get published that is the best way to go. They sell well because they meet the common need to exorcise fear and see a happy restoration to order and safety.

On two days this month, I had my schedule cleared unexpectedly. I considered the messy cupboards and the cluttered shelves, but then decided to take a while to decide what best use I could make of these free gifts. That is how I ended up watching the live streaming of The Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse. It was Case Study 28, the one set in the Catholic world of Ballarat.

Although you may think it odd, I thought that I could be a witness to all that pain and suffering. Those courageous men and women who were standing up to tell their stories will probably never know that I watched, but they deserved to have my attention to honour them. There is no way I can adequately describe their courage: to dredge up so much humiliation, fear and anguish, and to give voice to it in front of an audience and cameras and in the formality of the court process. Whole lifetimes of grief were spilt out there, grief for people’s own lost lives, and for those of others. Each person recounted the deaths of other people who did not make it through the despair, and it seemed to me that they had a community of love between themselves that left me with awe and trembling.

It was hard to listen and to watch, and it drained me. My intention to stay was not changed though. It became more intense. If they had had to live through this horror, as vulnerable little children, then the least I could do was ‘stay and watch a while’, to listen without defensiveness and understand what I was hearing – accepting that this knowledge would change me.

So now I ask: Did your parents comfort and reassure you that there was nothing in the shadow or under the bed? Have you ever comforted and reassured a frightened child – your own or someone else’s? It is an adult human reaction to protect the child, surely…surely?

What though, when there was no comfort? What then, when the monsters were real and they didn’t go away or shrink to size? Even worse, what when you were young and in terrible pain and torment, and you hoped so desperately for it to stop that you tried to ask for help – and were punished for asking? What happens inside you when, after risking everything, you were raped again and again by other people – even the ones you asked for help?

What if the people who did this to you were in your eyes, and in all your training, the voice and representation of God?

What if you were the parents, when you realize that you had been unable to protect your child from people you trusted totally and revered? It breaks a parent, that. Witnessing the destruction of your child destroys you too.

I wonder how the survivors are going to cope with the after effects of their public disclosures. When every vestige of safety has been ripped away from the foundational core of your identity, as an adult this exposure – even when chosen in an act of freedom – takes you into the very area of danger in which you were so powerless. When survivors talk about PTSD, this is what they mean: life is always a constant fight to retain an even keel, and the past pain and terror can suddenly come alive and overwhelm without warning, as if it were happening again. They can’t be offered a few sessions of counselling and then it will be over for them. Only they can say what they need to rebuild the rest of their lives, as best they can.

The church as institution has the responsibility to open its heart and provide for these needs. In the realm of theology this was called having  ‘a firm purpose of amendment’ wasn’t it? Didn’t we say ‘restitution and reparation’ and link that to forgiveness for our sins?I don’t recall anything about ‘what we can afford’  or ‘what that will cost us’ being in there at all.

I hope their courage will bring them freedom, but to have that freedom they need to have the affirmation that they are heard and believed. They need witnesses who stand up and say so. It isn’t ‘nice’ and it isn’t impolite to talk about it, although I have been clearly given the message that I am hurting the church by doing so, and in some way disloyal.

I have discovered much about secrecy, lies, Canon Law and the desire to protect an image: a desire that is twisted in and out of culture and history until it is eating the heart of what it was developed to serve. It is time to see that the glow of vestments in candlelight can either uplift to the transcendent, or hide naked emperors and corrupt systems of power. It is time to stand in the shoes of the survivors and see the whole story from their point of view. It requires a complete and permanent change of mind and heart, and nothing else will suffice.

It cannot be done to ‘save’ the church so that it can reclaim its effectiveness. It can only be done because it is the right thing to do. If the church has started to learn anything surely it has learned that motives matter.

The witnesses who have voluntarily returned to this trauma and stood up in court, are not making  an act of revenge. It is a decision to stand in their own truth. The teaching of Christ is that the truth will set you free. Opening our hearts to freely accept and understand the full dimension of that awful truth, and take on all its associated challenges, is the only way we can stand in ours.

This is a collective act of truth, a collective act of justice taken by heroes.

Holy truth and holy justice.

blog photos

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The word ‘sacrifice’ has had problematic meanings over the course of my life.

This coming ANZAC day has me pondering its meaning again. The thoughts are all bound up with memories of the smell of my dad’s suit as I ran to him, when he got off the bus on the way home from work, and he swooped me up into his arms. I snuggled into his shoulder and cuddled into the musty odour of tobacco pipe, and I can still see the view of the patch of greenish coloured suit coat with an RSL badge on the lapel, that was the border of security and intimacy re-established at the end of the day.

This year my brothers are going to walk in the ANZAC march wearing Dad’s medals. Mum had to search them out. Dad was not one for medals after the first few years. He just tossed them in a drawer and left them there. They carried more weight for him than any of us ever realized.

As a woman born one month after the end of World War 2, I grew up in a world in which sacrifice was the currency of the conversation, but was misunderstood by a generation born and raised here that did not experience war, or see its devastation, directly. Our family lived in a whole new suburb of ‘War Service Homes’, where the reality of war was never shared by the men returning home. It is only now that we know that we lived in a suburb of families whose fathers were suffering in one way or another from the effects of deep trauma, and who themselves were caught up in that unexpressed suffering.

We were the generation who decried war, and the iconic play of our time was ‘The One Day Of The Year’, which explored that gap in perception and the division it caused in families. We did not even begin to comprehend the layers of what we did not know; there was no room for conversation across that pain and the feelings of rejection and misunderstanding our brashness must have caused.

(We also lived with the ‘New Australian’ refugees from Europe, and understood even less what pain and loss they carried with them. That is another whole post altogether).

We meant well. We did understand that war is no solution to problems that are caused by so many hidden factors and power struggles, that the participants – the ‘foot sloggers’ so to speak – are the ones who make the sacrifice, but are also unknowingly the sacrificed. We didn’t know that they realized this too, and even so were willing to commit themselves.

The word ‘sacrifice’ is so deep in the national psyche, that it has attracted layers of cultural meaning that have been used again and again to appeal to the heroic impulses of young men and now to young women as well. We should not find it hard to understand the attraction of disenfranchised young people to that word. We use precisely the same dynamic to ensure a ready supply of ‘cannon fodder’ for our own purposes.

Nonetheless, under all the complexities of history, geography, power and politics, true sacrifice is real, and the courage to make it is undeniable and must have its due respect and gratitude. Only from the viewpoint from the seventieth hill, am I able to understand it deeply.

Towards the end of Dad’s life, I video-taped a series of programs that centred on the last men who saved Australia from the northern invasion. The threat was was real, not imagined or constructed for manipulative purposes. Our Dad was there, sitting in the extremely vulnerable rear gunner’s turret, saving our way of life and many of our lives, as I just floated in the warm cocoon of Mum’s womb.

As I worked on the medals, Mum and I shared a few stories that Dad had told us right at the end of his life. Mum spoke about her regret in not knowing them before that, and how much difference it would have made if she had.

The one that has stayed with her most strongly is the one that he said was the worst moment of his life. He was out there on his own in the turret flying over the Owen Stanley Range (where today adventuring Australians challenge themselves on the Kokoda Track). A Japanese plane drew so close that Dad and the gunner in it could see each other’s faces. There was a moment of recognition when they each truly communicated what they saw: that they were two young men doing what they had been told was the best for their country, and they were now having to try and kill each other.

Dad thanked me for the effort of taping those programs but said he didn’t want them.

The brother who always lived interstate feels deeply his inability to have had the long conversations at the end of Dad’s life that he wished for. For him, marching in the centenary parade is a way of connecting with Dad again. His twin brother is walking with him and I wonder what it means to them as men. I wonder what they will know after walking in their father’s footsteps for a short time.

Mum is not able to see fine detail enough to restore the medals herself, so with the help of our friendly neighbour, I found myself holding the bronze stars and silver discs and folding the ribbons that were such a small visual reminder of so much history. I felt privileged to be able to do it.

Our neighbour, who turned out to be the same generous Legatee who helped Mum with the layout and a spare ribbon and bar, said that she should definitely not clean the medals. They are meant to be worn carrying their story as witness.

I have to confess that they are just a little bit cleaner now though. In the sewing, there were tears.

Dad's Medals

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