Wednesday, 20 April 2011

... and so we are blessed.

After the longest of Mondays our little boy was born.

Against an incoming tide of complications, and the kind of mysterious blur which only medical emergencies invoke, we were on our way to the surgical theatres.

Then a haze: for my beloved one of determination; for me of fear and bewilderment. And awe at the privilege of living in a time and place were events such as this no longer end in nothing but grief.

But then joy, and gratitude for blessings too vast to comprehend. A mother and child surrounded by the incomprehensible technology of our time which has made this moment possible, and yet together both completely outside of time.

Both well, and safe. Laughing even, at his size (4.4kg/9lb 8oz), and at the astonishing journey which has been our life together.

The following afternoon a big brother can't even begin to control his excitement. Big sister is more reserved: she's already developing a woman's sense of the sacred, and less than impressed with those who find this a moment for hilarity.

Although a smile bigger than the sunrise isn't far away either. And together we are richly blessed...


My deepest gratitude to everyone: you all leave me lost for words.

Special thanks to Drs. Wendy Hawke & Stephen Coogan, and all Prince of Wales Private team. And of course to the inimitable Dr. Clive Collier - at 20,200th epidurals given I don't think saying you're the finest obstetric anaethetist in the world is any exaggeration whatsoever - see for more info (then go back in a month or so to see how great we'll get the site looking after a makeover ;-).

Friday, 24 December 2010

Holding Fast & Still Fighting.

With all the garbage spouted in the name of Christianity by Sydney Anglican leaders and their sycophants it’s easy to forget that God is still very much present here. Contrary to the impression I worry my blog has often given, Christ hasn’t simply thrown in the towel and left. There are still parishes where those not prepared to baptise misogyny and bigotry are welcome, and where “biblical teaching” isn’t simply an oxymoronic euphemism for rehashing the same old theologically dubious misinterpretations of Romans.

Nor should anyone for a moment believe the official lie about these churches dying. They’re not. In fact the so-called “liberal” churches are flourishing. (To understand that term as it’s used in Sydney you need to remember that wearing a cassock and surplice is generally defined as “high church”, and women reading the Bible aloud in the presence of men is routinely derided as “liberal” by at least one member of standing committee.) Whilst Archbishop Jensen’s vision for 10% growth has proven a spectacular failure, many non-party line churches (i.e. those identifying with the broader Anglican Communion) have exceeded this target many times over.

It was at one such place that I spent a really wonderful morning a few Sundays back. The minister – someone I respect enormously – was celebrating his twentieth year of service in the parish. Between the regular congregation, prominent members of the local community, and a score of notorious diocesan troublemakers ;-D the church was packed with those whom against all odds were found by Christ and held fast in love: old-age pensioners, young professional couples and their children, more than a few ex-prisoners (including one fellow who looked suspiciously like he was out on day-release), former Moore-college lecturers and ne'er-do-wells, and teenagers just beginning upon the voyage that is faith. The sick, the healthy, the learned and the illiterate: together we sung God’s praise, declared our belief, shared in the Sacraments, and heard the Gospel proclaimed in the face of a machine which would deny many of us present have any right to call ourselves Christians.

After the sermon (which was one of the very few I’ve ever heard that can honestly be described as life-changing), the minister shared something of his own journey. I won’t repeat it here, but suffice it to say he’s someone whom can even speak graciously of the diocese which tried to sue his wife rather make a claim upon insurance policies (the case was quickly withdrawn when the local secular media found out). Nor was I the only one left feeling deeply empowered and encouraged by the time he’d finished.

As you’d expect the Anglican Church League power-brokers were conspicuous in their absence: no bishop bothered attending. The only diocesan representative was a single archdeacon, who left as soon as the service was over. As an old friend I was great to see again said afterwards, “Perhaps the venerable archdeacon just felt embarrassed by his ridiculous vestments” – in that part of the city on a Sunday morning the only people wearing a business suit are shonky real-estate agents. Even lawyers visiting clients whose Saturday night excesses have ended in the police lock up don’t bother dressing like that anymore – so much for the prevailing local “wisdom” that the best way for a priest to relate to the unchurched involves impersonating a business man.

In fact what looked awfully like an unofficial boycott on the part of the heirarchy meant there was actually a bigger representation from the local mosque, who’d come to show their respect for someone they recognise as a leading “Man of the Book” than there was from those leading the diocese in which this minister has spent his life serving. Which can’t help reminding me of something I once read somewhere about prophets not being welcome in their own country…

So please - don't stop praying for us, or for dioceses like Newcastle (Australia) or Christchurch (New Zealand) where Sydney's Matthians (the more accurate term for what are often called "the Jensenites") have most aggressively pursued their tactic of border crossing. Your prayers are heard, just as are ours of thanksgiving for the faithful commitment to love, justice and truth shown by American Episcopalians, Canadians, and those in the C of E who haven't been seduced by a gospel of poison and power.

And never forget it'll take more than misogyny, bigotry and hatred to silence the Holy Spirit!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Don't miss this one.

It's early Saturday morning and I was just grabbing a cup of coffee and a quick peek at the Herald before taking the gang swimming when I saw this article: Macho boys' club 'cost Anglicans millions'.

It's a concise and accurate insight into the way the machine works here, and please pray for Rev. Bradford, the priest speaking out. He's going to need all the support he can get. Also please try to not split your sides laughing at Bishop Forsyth (who was - and continues to be - a member of the committee responsible for the diocese's disastrous and idiotically negligent investment policies) as he refutes the notion that a macho culture exists: "One of the problems with church organisations is they're often too nice."


Wednesday, 1 December 2010

For my Father.

It’s twenty years to the day since my father died. I remember the hospital calling at about 4 o’clock on a warm Saturday afternoon: December 1 is the first day of summer here, the jasmine was in bloom and the grass needed mowing. Already there were things I’d wished I told him, as well as things I’d wished I never said.

The world is a different place two decades later. Yes, those wishes remain, but they’ve lost their sting. Maybe that’s just the passing of time, although I think it’s got more to with my having now trodden some of the same dark paths through which his life also passed. Because in their aftermath I’ve found – much as he did – what it is to be surprised by the Grace that those who speak most of life in the next world too often fail to see in this one. And in the light of that Grace the regrets of the old dispensation no longer wield the same power.

To mark the day we laid flowers on the place where his ashes rest: rich-scented gardenias cut from our front garden, and a purple hydrangea Mister Two-and-a-Half picked from the driveway, next to where we park. Fiver and Blackstar were more interested in the tiny lizards hiding in the rose-beds, and Miss Four-but-Nearly-Five asked questions about the Grandfather she’s never met.

Answering her is never easy. She’s fascinated by him, but how do you explain a late Edwardian North English childhood to a twenty-first century child on the far side of the world? Or that he was sent away to boarding school when barely out of infancy? What hope can she – or any of us – have of understanding what it was to grow up in the shadow of the war to end all wars, every day another bringing another reminder of the boys whom only a few years previously had slept in your dormitory, but who now rested in rows beneath the poppies of Flanders fields? Or do I tell her of him training in the North Sea merchant fleet; or about the depression, and a well-off family falling on hard times? And then perhaps about a commission in His Majesty’s Navy, about mine-sweeping and the surrender of Italy, and about living through the dusk of an empire on which he’d been raised believing the sun never set.

“But what was your Daddy like?” is how she usually opens our conversations about him. Anyone who’s seen a picture of him laughs, and says “Just like your brother”, which is in one sense quite right; the resemblance is uncanny. Yet she’s already old enough to know that’s not really true. Her brother never fought in Britain’s darkest hour, and he’ll never have a lifetime of nightmares by which to remember that fight. He hasn’t watched an evil junta raping a nation with whom he’s fallen hopelessly in love. He knows nothing of Lenin, nor Comrade Stalin, nor can he ever live what it it was that drove so many young men of my father’s generation and class to embrace the Soviet Union as humanity’s last (and only) hope.

So I do my best to explain public-school cooking, and why he left McCarthy’s America in the 1950s. She asks how he met my mother, and if he ever went to New Zealand at Christmas time like we do. She puzzles over why he didn’t like ballet, but is awe of his ability to speak Russian: her second favourite DVD is the Bolshoi performaning Nutcracker. Her first is The Little Mermaid, but it will be years before I tell her what he thought of Disney and she still can’t quite believe that he died before DVD players were invented because for her people have always had them. Then her brother interrupts explain that Thomas the Tank Engine lives in England, just like Grandad once did, and it starts to rain so we run back to the car where I hug wet children and wet dogs and tell them all how much I love them before we drive home and make hot chocolate because unlike that December 1st twenty years ago today is cold and wet and the jasmine flowers still aren’t out but the grass is still long even though I mowed it only a week before.

One of the first memories I have of my father – perhaps my earliest memory – is of him laughing as he jumped from a car and ran into the house in defiance of a Singapore curfew. When we meet again he’ll be laughing in exactly the same way. And so shall I.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Talking it over.

“You’ve stopped blogging?” asked one of my closest friends. We’ve known each other since we were both testosterone-crazed fundamentalists, and having reconnected after a ten-year hiatus (so Facebook can be useful ;-) meet every month or so for lunch.

“Not really” I replied. “It’s just that life gets in the way. These days nearly all my time is occupied with convincing Mr. Two that the world really won’t end if I hang his Thomas the Tank Engine shirt on the line to dry before he puts it back on. Or attending countless presentations by Miss Four of ballets with names like “Swan Lake & the Nutcracker meet the Beautiful Princess Fairy” on our back porch, where I’m not only responsible for set construction and sound, but also for maintaining decorum among more easily distracted members of the audience - “Daddy, will you please tell Fiver that he’s not supposed to lick himself there during a concert. He might be a dog, but it’s gross, and that ballerinas find that sort of thing disgusting.”

“Then there’s work: the minor inconvenience I try to squeeze in between taking the gang to the library, to Kindergym, shopping, and making juice just right in the Wiggles cup that was ignored yesterday, but today is suddenly a matter of life and death.” I was about to continue with a detailed description of PHP syntax, and how constructing a browser-based mobile payment facility involves thousands upon thousands of lines of code – all which refuse to run if so much a single semi-colon is misplaced – but he’s endured that whinge often enough to see it coming...

He shifted the conversation to our waitress, a friendly young woman with a figure that looked like it had been designed by the Pamela Anderson Appreciation Society (Dirty Old Men Division). “Remember how there was once a time when we’d have been arguing whether she’d been sent by Satan to tempt us into impure thoughts, or by God as proof of the infinite wonders of his creation?”

I laughed: “Or by the Holy Spirit to inspire us to preach the good news that frees men and women from bondage and servitude to the flesh. So what do we reckon now?”

“How good it is to be a couple of middle-aged blokes who’ve finally learned to stop taking themselves so seriously. That she, just like us, is only trying to make the best of whatever it is that life flings in her general direction. And that ‘Judge not, lest you also be judged’ wasn’t something we ever really tried to apply – both when it comes to judging others or ourselves.”

I returned to the subject of my blogging – or lack thereof: “I guess that’s why I haven’t fought harder to make time for Caliban’s Dream. Ninety-nine percent of people who read the thing are amazing: intelligent, insightful and witty – I’m really honoured that they should take the time to read my ramblings about life in Anglicanism’s weirdest diocese. But that final 1% are something else. Pedantic. Utterly devoid of anything even remotely resembling a sense of humour or compassion. The kind of people who treat a post about a little boy’s baptism as an excuse to launch into a diatribe about the breakdown of his father’s first marriage fifteen years previously.”

“Yeah, but of course.” He replied. “They’re in a cult. Shit like that is what they live for. We were in it once ourselves. Other people’s messes help you kid yourself that your own aren’t so bad.”

“Do you think it really is a cult?”

“Either that or Scientology is therapeutically valid and really will one day clear the planet. And Burma’s a democracy. Get real, will you? This is an organisation that’s as nepotistic as North Korea, which has misappropriated millions of dollars worth of its members’ assets, and which refuses to act with even the most basic degree of transparency. Asking questions about transactions between the organisation and a private company controlled by its leader and his family members will get you permanently ostracized, and they’re convinced they have a monopoly when it comes to truth, God, and any form of afterlife not involving brimstone, eternal darkness and/or a lake of fire. Are there any boxes on the Cult-O-Rama checklist they don’t tick?”

“Ok, I agree. It’s a cult. So what’s the point of posting if all it does is enrage cultists? Not to mention nut-jobs like the one who keeps leaving 'Religion is stupid' comments”.

“Is he the same guy Father Christian calls 'little Brad' and claims is his long lost love-child?”

“Probably. At least the Chinese porn-spammers bother to change their text occasionally.”

“You should feel honoured to have showed up on his radar. And if the spammers can find it in themselves to show a little creativity, so can you. It’s the least you can do for the other 99% dropping by.”

“Fine. But what the hell can I say that hasn’t been said before?”

“Probably nothing. But why let that stop you? Just try and make a few of us who’ve also banged our heads against the wall stop and smile for a moment. That’s more than enough to remind the bullies they’ll never win, and every moment they spend seething with rage at you is one they can’t devote to attacking someone whom they could actually hurt. Blog about this conversation if you like.”

“How about I write about the waitress, and give the address of this cafĂ©? That way all the Sydney Evangelicals furiously reading this will come to get a few furtive thrills checking her out, and with all the extra customers she’ll be able to afford the surgery she’s going to want when gravity inevitably kicks in?”

“Nah mate. Fundies are lousy tippers. And didn’t Jesus say something about not casting pearls before swine?”

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Till we have faces ...

Jeff was my friend, and he died last Sunday. He’d been very sick for some time, so his passing came as no surprise, but it hurts regardless. What did come as a surprise were the comments about him posted on Twitter by Gordon Moyes. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so stunned, since Moyes is a truly loathsome huckster-for-Jesus and state politician with more dubious academic qualifications than the Rev. Dr. Troll, but I’d thought as someone professing to be a follower of Christ he would at least had the compassion to keep his poison to himself for the sake of Jeff’s family. Alas no…

You see, among other things Jeff was famous: former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam once described him in a speech delivered at NSW Parliament House as “the best attorney-general in Australian history”. How we met doesn’t matter here, and each of us found the other’s life journey almost incomprehensible – but a shared fascination for the role played by popular theology in Australian history meant we could (and did) talk for hours. Like me he'd made mistakes, but he’d also found the reality that in Christ we are more than just the sum of those mistakes. Yes, as the newspaper headlines have all blazed, and Gordon Moyes obscenely gloated, alcohol played a terrible role in those mistakes: perhaps drinking was easier than going crazy, or starting to cry and never being able to stop again. Either way there’s can be no doubt about this: Jeff Shaw drunk was still ten thousand times the man Gordon Moyes will ever be sober.

Of course what those now queuing to stick their knives into his memory never mention is his lifetime of work for those whom most lawyers weren’t interested in caring about. While silks in the big end of town were falling over themselves to represent the mining companies, Jeff’s door was always open for those suffering asbestos-related illnesses. When his driving-conviction (to which he pleaded guilty, and never attempted to deny) forced his retirement from the bench his enthusiasm for the position I and another friend found for him was palpable: he knew most of the clients in this street-level practice didn’t have a hope of paying and didn’t care, he was just excited to be once again representing those who needed his help most.

Sadly the ghosts which we all hoped would cease haunting him weren’t exorcised by the change, but that’s not for a moment to suggest that there weren’t plenty of occasions on which his sparkling wit and piercing brilliance were still very present. As was his compassion for the downtrodden, the lost and those mishandled by the judicial system of which he’d once been in charge. It’s this side of him which lives on, no matter how desperately his opponents might attempt to recall the demons which are now no more.

We’ll finish that conversation on Sydney Evangelicals and the alienation of workers in WW1 some other time, Jeff, but I promise to heed your advice to keep researching the link between the Sydney Diocese and the sickeningly corrupt Askin government of the 1960s. And thanks for all the encouragement you gave me to start thinking again about why things are the way that they are.

God Bless you mate: I miss you already.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

How dare you ask that question!!!

From Questions under business rule 6.3 at 2009 Anglican Synod (p.14) (Yes, I know I have better things to do with my time, but I'm sitting here waiting for a file to compile and upload, and was just surfing around ;-)
Questions: 20 October 2009
                Mrs Pamela Shaw to ask –
11. In the spirit of Connect09 what action has been taken, or will be taken, to
heal the hurt caused to the Anglican community both within Australia and
within the world-wide Anglican community, by our Diocese not being
represented at the Lambeth Conference in 2008?

To which the President (Archbishop Jensen) replied –

11. I am informed that the answer is as follows –
This question is out of order under business rules 6.3(4)(a) and (c) as it contains a number of assertions and offers an argument.

With that sort of pastoral response it simply amazes me how anyone could possibly call the Sydney Fundamentalist machine arrogant. And as for why their efforts at evangelism keep failing so spectacularly...