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...

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Easter Sunday, 2010

The sun had not yet risen, and it was still dark when I put the kayak into Middle Harbour, and started east to the sea. This is the part that always makes me nervous: speed limits mean nothing to amateur fishermen racing out for the day, and a lone layak sitting low in the water is hard to see at the best of times. Besides, I’ve seen them opening their first beers of the morning while the boat is still on the trailer…

Forty minutes later I passed under the bridge. A following wind and an incoming tidal swell made for a bumpy ride, and my arms were already starting to ache. Another half or so, and I reached the main harbour, directly opposite Sydney Heads:

Paddle straight ahead for another 1,500 miles and you’ll land somewhere on the North Island of New Zealand/Aotearoa. Turn about 45° to the left after you’ve cleared the heads and if you paddle for a whole lot longer you’ll end up somewhere in California. My little river boat had reached her limit, however, and keeping her upright while I took this picture was a feat of which I’m quite proud. A light rain was falling from the grey clouds overhead, but far off to east, where the sun was rising, was a new day; a light breaking through the chill gloom. And looking at this I thought of Easter, and how even the sky speaks of a resurrection which is both long ago, today, and still to come.

Turning, I surfed back into Middle Harbour, cutting in beneath the relative shelter of the Grotto Point Lighthouse. Then another hour into the wind, which was building as the sun climbed, and then home to waking children, and an Easter egg hunt, and hot cross buns and coffee, and a warm shower, and then the choral Eucharist at St. James’. Where, if I closed my eyes, I could still taste the salt spray, and hear the waves, and rejoice in the One whose victory over death is without conditions.

God Bless us all, and thanks for dropping by.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Yeah right, +Jensen.

Over the past fifteen years I’ve received unsolicited mail from two religious organisations: the Sydney Anglican Diocese and the Scientologists. In both cases this intrigues me, since during this time we’ve moved home quite often, and while there’s usually been a lag of about six months, eventually their databases have always - with no assistance from me – tracked us down.

The bottom line from both groups is always the same: they want money. Sure they’d like my participation/involvement/heart & soul/etc., but the closing paragraphs invariably include space for a credit card number and signature. Yet there’s also always something very different between their solicitations: one of the two never fails to begin by expressing concern for my well-being, both physical and spiritual, and warmly invites me to join them in their faith. The other only wants to make me aware of how crucial xyz project is, and how important it is I contribute financially. Despite having never made the slightest attempt to conceal my distain for their soul-destroying dogma, one group continues to profess – in their paraphernalia, at least – to offer a hand of friendship and welcome. The other appears to not care less about my personal circumstances: it’s their needs which are important, not anyone mine or my family's. And, for anyone who hasn’t already guessed, it’s the latter group of which Archbishop Jensen is the leader.

Given which I’ve found his Easter meassage bemusing. He’s quite right, Sydney, like any large city (and a great many smaller ones) can be an extremely lonely place. It is the role of the church to reach out to those who are lost and lonely, bringing them comfort and the love of God, and it’s wonderful Archbishop Jensen is professing a desire to reach those whom have been overlooked and forgotten by a world which measures popularity in terms of physical beauty and economic wealth.

It would be more wonderful, however, if the Archbishop was prepared to follow up his words with some sort of meaningful action, rather than just another distribution of Matthias Media’s “Essential Jesus”. The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the pressure being put upon “keep statistics favourable”, but the reality is that almost a decade of this pressure has produced nothing. Steady growth has occurred in those few parishes which could still be considered traditionally Anglican, but naturally no mention is ever made in diocesan propaganda of such an inconvenient truth. A cadre of politically and doctrinally acceptable parishes such as Christ Church St. Ives (which is located in one of Sydney’s most affluent suburbs, and at last count had a staff of 20) continue to be presented as Sydney Evangelical success stories, while parishes in less economically prestigious areas such as Sydney’s south west – a region encompassing over one million people – struggle with little support, no youth workers or outreach staff, and a succession of temporary clerical appointments. Archbishop Jensen may indeed care about the unemployed kids hanging around the main street of Lakemba, but none that I’ve ever spoken to know it. And I’ll guarantee he’s more familiar with London’s Heathrow Airport than he is with their world.

Nor will he be spending any time reaching out to them or anyone else in Sydney during the week following Easter – he’s off to Bermuda instead, where he’ll be planning to bring the same sort of “success” to churches in the rest of the world. With that sort of a role model it’s no wonder his faithful clergy aspire to do something more exciting with their time than minister to the lonely, the lost, the prickly and the unbelieving. Safer to just send them a letter asking for money, and leave the pastoral stuff to the Scientologists, eh guys?

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Christ rules (on both sides of the Tiber)!

“What separates the Jensen brothers from Cardinal George Pell?”

The answer to this quintessentially Sydney joke - “Hyde Park”- will be a mystery to those unfamiliar with the city’s geography (or the history of one of our more famous beats), and even less funny to anyone not well versed in the ecclesiastic quirks of Australia’s largest city. In which case I thoroughly recommend James Franklin’s brilliant Catholic Values and Australian Realities for an understanding into why this acerbic quip is so apposite.

Saying so will undoubtedly cause my two regular evangelical "admirers" to summon their cast of imaginary identities and furiously begin to post comments fantasising about the demise of my previous marriage, but the reality is that despite the fervour with which Sydney’s Protestant and Catholic fundamentalist leaders have sought to continue pursuing sixteenth-century battles their similarities are as obvious as they are ironic.

Yet the Gang (well at least the two members who are both adult and human - some details are still lost on Mr. 2 and the dogs ;-) was struck by the inspiring message on the front of the pew-sheet Mrs. Caliban brought home after attending St. Mary’s Cathedral last Sunday. It's reproduced here in full:

Third Sunday in Lent
Readings: Ex.3:1-8,13·15; 1 Cor 10:1-6,10-12; Lk 13:1-9

The resource I use to help couples prepare for marriage has questions for them to think about and discuss in between sessions. One of the quotations at the end of one of the chapters is, 'What effect would adultery have on your marriage?'

In one sense this hypothetical question is absurd. Dealing with the consequences of any sin requires time and place, context and contrition. It is even tougher to imagine the effect of any destructive behaviour in one's marriage even before the marriage has begun. Still, it never ceases to amaze me how this question usually leads the couple to have a very fruitful and frank discussion, not about adultery, but about their values, family history, commitment, fidelity and growing old together.

Sometimes, however, I cringe when the prospective bride or groom seems to give the green light to their future spouse by saying, 'Well I guess if he or she went looking elsewhere it would be my fault' or 'I love him or her so much that I know we could go on regardless'. Others say very clearly that it would alter the trust and respect of the relationship, but they hope they could look at the circumstances and rebuild the relationship.

The most mature couples do not wipe over the seriousness of the sinful action, but want to hold on to compassion, forgiveness and a commitment that it will not happen again. Couples like this have clearly understood the power of today's readings. The third Sunday of Lent is all about second chances. In Exodus we have a bush that is alight but does not burn and in Luke we have a fig tree that does not bear fruit, is earmarked for the chop and saved by the gardener. In both cases where we would expect to find destruction we find new opportunities for growth, nurturance and flowering.

Over the centuries the goodness of God that always gives us another chance has not been proclaimed as vigorously as it should have been. We have focused on Gods justice as though it was a once and for all, shape up or ship out sort of message. These ideas can be deducted from today's second reading where Paul seems to argue that God killed the chosen people for their complaining and infidelity. Paul was a tough man and for him Christian commitment was. no picnic. He was aware of how people were suffering and dying for the Gospel, so he was at pains to teach the people of Corinth that the commitment demanded from the Gospel could entail everything they had. His reading of why the Israelites died in the desert, however, needs to be read against the second chances of the other reading, especially the Gospel.

We believe in Lent that we enter a holy time in our year and visit a holy place in ourselves where the fire of God's love should burn brightly within us. We are offered these weeks to re-examine our values, family history, commitment, fidelity and growth so as to chart how best we can grow old with God. To do this sometimes requires lacing up to our sinful behaviour and making choices to change our lives. We can only do this when we trust that the fire of God's love is not about destruction, but compassion, forgiveness and a second chance.

May this Eucharist be nurturance for the foundations of our lives and a moment to take stock and to assess with honesty the fruitfulness of how, as a sign of Christ's light within us, we live out our faith in our marriage, at home, at work, and in the world.
Richard Leonard SJ
For all the criticism which can quite justifiably be levelled at Cardinal Pell, it can’t be denied that there’s no way you’ll ever find his Anglican counterparts permitting something as inspiring, touching, and challenging as this to be printed on a St. Andrew’s Cathedral pew sheet. Which might well help explain why Sydney’s largest Christian (and first multi-cultural) denomination continues to grow, and despite a desperate shortage of clergy continues connecting with the lost and disenfranchised at an unprecedented rate. While the second largest denomination has just concluded a year-long evangelism program with less influence, increased segmentation among congregations, and vastly fewer assets than when they commenced. And a whole stack of The Essential Jesus mouldering in the corner of nearly every parish’s entranceway.

Credit where it’s due, Cardinal Pell, your Cathedral is indeed ministering to the people of your city. And thank-you Fr. Richard, thank-you.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

In Memoriam: Catherine Peters.

It's been a year since Catherine rose beyond these Shadowlands, and a great many people have wept a great many tears. We never met, but catching up again with her parents Bosco (author of the incomparable and Helen was for me the highpoint of our family trip back to Christchurch last Christmas. Before going for coffee at the nearby Christchurch Arts Centre (where our waitress turned out to have been of Catherine’s best friends) they shared something of their wonderful daughter, who so remarkably transformed the lives of everyone around her.

It was her gifts as a photographer that startled me most: if I close my eyes I can still see the images Bosco shared. Witty. Insightful. Perceptive, with a wisdom vastly beyond her years. Her greatest areas of academic achievement may have been in languages and biology, and her ambition to have become a vet, but she observed life with the eye of an artist. She saw. And with seeing, she thought, and in so doing inspired others to also think.

It doesn’t take more than a few moments with anyone who knew her to realise Catherine lived with an exuberance that’s breathtaking. For her that life continues in a way we’ve yet to experience; for us there are tears, and questions, and memories, but if we’re prepared to listen her voice still urges us to continue living with the same fascination, wonder, and laughter which she brought to everything she touched Such are the blessings of the God whom she knew, and knows still. And in whom we shall all together, one day, dance again.

Please, as you read this take a moment to remember Bosco and Helen, and her brother Jonathan, and all her family and friends. If prayer forms part of your spirituality, then pause and pray for them; if not then uphold them in whatever way feels most appropriate. Either way, don’t stop thinking, or challenging yourself in the face of the incomprehensible adventure that is life. A remarkable young woman wouldn’t accept anything less.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

"The stone which the builders rejected..."

Last week I had the privilege of being called by a Priest wrongfully dismissed from the Sydney Anglican diocese about fifteen years ago. I won’t tell his story here; not just because it’s not mine to tell, but because my prayer is that he’ll soon find the strength to publish it himself. Suffice it to say it occurred as a result of a number of blatantly unbelievable (and completely unsubstantiated) allegations of a non-criminal nature. Were he to have been working in a secular field it would have – even then – been illegal for an employer to fire him on the basis of such ludicrous accusations, and he would be entitled to significant compensation.

He’d spent more than a decade fighting for justice, and was finally told he could have the matter referred to the appropriate tribunal for review. “But”, Archbishop Jensen told him, “irrespective of the tribunal’s findings his license would not be renewed.” His many years of faithful service, both in Sydney and as a missionary abroad, counted for nothing: the arrogant vision of our diocese's present has no place for the wisdom of its past.

Through the struggle his marriage has remained intact, as has – even more surprisingly – his faith. Granted, there was an obvious cynicism in his voice when our conversation drifted to the machinations of power-brokers like the Anglican Church League, but even this was overshadowed by his hope for a future in which the bright young stars of the church’s firmament are encouraged to seek out lost sheep with the same fervor as they do clerical advancement and a seat on the more prestigious committees. “It’s the waste that God must find so appalling”, he said, “the waste of all this talent, learning, and understanding. While the Catholic process is to seek restoration between those dismissed and their church, we just discard them in a rush to find the next aspiring Philip Jensen.”

The vision we discussed was of a fellowship to support those who – for whatever reason – are on the journey through which he have passed. As we spoke we recalled those we once knew personally that have also since been flung upon Sydney Anglicanism’s dung-heap - not just the divorced, the gay, and the mentally ill, but all of us, including the internationally recognized theologian made to resign from Moore College for “heresy” (if he’s a heretic Luther was a Mormon) and the brilliant historian considered crazy for leaving academia to develop - among other ministries - a vibrant parish community among Sydney’s transvestite and transsexual sex workers – a ministry shut down as soon as he was forced to retire. The simple act of once more saying their names felt empowering: it doesn’t matter what a person accomplished before their fall from grace: once you’ve gone nobody can ever mention you again. Books and papers are dropped from reading lists, and life-long friendships never existed. Phone calls are never returned. Chance meetings in the street become awkward: don’t ever expect the hastily made promise to “catch up for a coffee” will be kept. Perhaps exclusion is part of the punishment, or – more likely – they’re worried whatever you’ve got is catching.

Which is why this idea of a support group is so exciting: the pathetic failure of the Connect 09 evangelism campaign to make any impact whatsoever upon society is proof enough that young men who think they know everything, but whom have survived nothing, cannot be the sole guardians of our church’s future. Certainly it’ll take a while for our vision to become reality, but I promise to post more about it here along the way. In the meantime anyone interested in finding out more is welcome to email me - I think you’ll find what emerges will be a pretty varied bunch of characters, both theologically and socially, as well as in terms of our experiences, but one thing I know will be constant: Christ didn’t give up on us, and we won’t give up on you.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Ours is not a caravan of despair...

Sydney Anglican numbers may be declining, but they gained one new member this past Sunday with the baptism of the gang’s youngest. We had to keep things quiet, since his parents’ notoriety caused all sorts of complaints and problems in the months following his older sister’s baptism (I guess “suffer little children” doesn’t apply if your father has the temerity to speak out against injustice and pharisaism, and refuses to play by the rules imposed upon former clergy), but thanks to a dear friend - and one of the wisest and most inspiring Priests ever - a welcoming font in the diocese of Sydney was found.

The title of this post comes from a line in the liturgy he wrote for our little chap, and for me it sums everything about what the absurd voyage that is a life following Christ should be; an adventure of joy in which the questions are relentless; a caravan of wonder, not despair. Which is why I’ve posted this picture of him in one of sister’s fairy costumes: not only has a Duck Noodle Gangster slipped through the Donatists’s net, but a cross-dressing one at that!

Ok, so the costume is part of the role assigned to him by his ballet-obsessed older sister: she has to recruit her corps de ballet from somewhere, and when you’ve only got one sibling you can’t be too picky. Which means that if he insists on wearing a t-shirt underneath his tutu that says “My Dad Rocks” she’s long understood that sometimes you’ve just got to compromise…

May he grow up to be part of an Anglican Church that displays the same accepting grace as his almost-four-year-old sister. A church that takes Jesus’ compassion for the little ones of our world seriously. A church which has forsaken the temptation to be nothing more than a caravan of despair.