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The Today Show

October 15, 2018

It’s another difficult morning

sitting here on this planet

surrounded by one genuine orbiting moon

and a whole lot of real live lunatics

all just like me

as I think we all must be

to bother breathing

in this putrid air of hate and malice

not a clear thought

as our brains, starved of oxygen

have slowly shut down

first our vision

then empathy

our humanity

then justice

mercy

sense

and all our words

hacking

violent

coughs and splutters

spitting out

little vile judgement snots

that will infect and spread

trailing off with

a faux conciliatory wheeze

of self justification

for a little sotto voce

contrast.

and…cut.

 clapper

Cut – to distraction before we think about the consequences of our words.

Cut – and let the edge of our words sink deeper into those they have splayed.

Cut – out cardboard puppet people parading peroxide ‘personalities’

Cut – back to  basic blancmange types – hair, teeth, tan and tattle-talk.

Cut – open the wounds of the vulnerable afresh for voyerist dissection

Cut – connection to and understanding of 1.6 billion people. 

Cut – off our nose to spite our face

Cut – out my heart.

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the conversation among male christian leaders on the Blasey-Ford/Kavanaugh case.

October 6, 2018
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I am watching the online conversation among some male christian leaders in response to the Blasey-Ford/Kavanaugh hearings. I hear men defending men. I hear men defending a man they don’t know to preserve an ideal male powerful life. I hear them lean away from the idea that Ford is truthful, that Ford is genuine. The political consequences of the situation seem to negate the importance of her story for any of us to pay attention to carefully.
So I turn to speak to the Male Christian leaders amongst us:
Do you want to know how sexual abuse happens, and isn’t prevented, and isn’t addressed and is left to go another generation? Do you want to know?
Do you want to know.
 
I have heard evangelical leaders speak about being committed to take zero-tolerance measures for domestic violence and sexual abuse in the church, and in our communities.
 
If you want to know about this, you will need to hear the testimonies and just believe them. Not put on your ‘objective distance of evaluation.’ – setting yourself outside the situation as if you were not already tied to one side. You are tied by experience to one side.
I know I am tied to the side of the abused. I was given no choice about that. Be honest about your bias.
 
You ask to hear our testimonies but this – so far – is what seems to happen.
 
Another woman brings her testimony and you say ‘no not that one, that principal of the college has left now and things have changed, so tht one doesn’t count’.
Another woman brings her testimony and you say ‘no not that one, he’s a high profile church leader and this is part of a smear campaign, so that one doesn’t count.’
Another woman brings her testimony and you say ‘no not that one, there were always issues with her mental health so its messy, so that one doesn’t count’.
Another woman brings her testimony and you say ‘no not that one, its a fine line, who is to say what is consensual and not in a marriage, so that one doesn’t count.’
A woman brings her testimony and you say ‘no not that one, that happened too long ago, and its all messed up with american politics so that one doesn’t count’.
A man (because, yes #notallmen) dares to endorse her testimony and you say ‘typical lefty’ – so that one doesn’t count.
 
I tell you this.
Every single instance of abuse is messy, lines were blurred – that’s how it happens.
Every single instance of abuse reporting will threaten the career/marriage/position of someone in power and have some kind of political undertone – that’s how it is.
Every single instance of abuse will lack evidence, and boil down to he says/she says; word against word, because it is in those situations that abuse of power can occur, because males know that females can’t tell without losing their own credibility, that the odds of immunity are absolutely stacked in favour of the male. And look – you ably demonstrate this phenomenon – in public, right now.
 
So uphold the system if you like, but spare us the humiliation of asking for our testimony only to further strip us of our dignity. Spare us the offence of making pronouncements of being champions of women’s safety. 

Do I sound angry and gutted by your conversation?

Do I lack grace and poise.
Yes?
Ok -good.  This is what it is like for women who have been abused to hear your public conversation. We get angry, we are sick of drawing down on our stores of grace for repeat abuse. That’s not what grace is for.  
You. Christian leaders. If you are standing there with a stone for Ford, talking about her guilt, or motives or the politicisation of the hearings –
Thankyou at least for showing us your colours.
But I ask you – what do you think you are doing?
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The Hospitality of Now and Here.

September 30, 2018

berlin trees I am fascinated by how often, though an utterly  shy and introverted person, I manage to find myself in deep conversations with strangers who stop to chat. Conversation often turns to sharing the things that matter – family, love, a sense of meaning, our sources of joy, the things we find ourselves reaching for and believing in though they have no immediate or apparent instrumentality – but yet more deeply seem to beckon to us with a promise of purpose – and how this is surely richer than mere function.

And so it was, that I sat on the park bench before one of the immense and magnificent oak trees in Canterbury Gardens this one summer Sunday morning, my paints and journal beside me, my prayer liturgy in my hand and mid-contemplation drinking in the expanse of green before me, and canopied fresh, breathing shade far overhead, all the way across and beyond me, more meters than I can throw a tennis ball. As I was captivated in this living moving cosmos of greens,  an elderly man shuffling a little as he walked, paused and first looked my way. I could feel him study my face and then follow the path of my emerald eyes greening their way to the verdure of the tree.

After a moment he began, “There are magnificent trees here – look at this one!”

Indeed, a safe thing to say, as I already was enraptured by this particular tree.

“It’s very beautiful. I’m looking at all the moss growing so high up the trunk. It’s unusual to see moss that far above the ground. It must be so cool and shaded and damp.”

“Yes,” he agreed, “It’s unusual. and I hadn’t noticed.”

A small gentle comfortable silence falls between us, like dew drops on soft moss.

I turn to him, taking in his face for the first time. “Do you walk in these gardens often?”

And our conversation takes off.

He tells me in that brief polite factual way strangers converse, that he  moved into the area only a year ago, and then returns my question. I tell him of my childhood move here and that it has over the years continued to be a place I return to, then the conversation moves back and forth, in a flow that can’t be recorded in writing.

We speak and he unfolds stories of moving, of life’s shifting ground underneath him, of fragile loved ones, of difficult choices and agency, of finding new safety and help in neighbours, of confronting his own physical limits, of  the things he now looks forward to, anticipating life still coming at him, finding new company, and new rhythms to sustain old and dear relationships.

I have a few little cameo stories to share on  some of those themes too, but mostly I listen. Honestly I am captivated and inspired.

After about 20 minutes he continues on his way, having passed many smiles and nods of agreement between us, and I realise I am late for church. Formal church. Planned church. Dependable church.

Though I think that much of where I have been sitting and the conversation I have been having has been holy speech in the Cathedral of the Cosmos.

Is it Easy Church? Or perhaps Harder Church?

I don’t know, because ergonomic measures of effort don’t seem to fit the nature (see what I did there?)  of conversation, even more than the spoken words the way that as humans we shared time and space and sense.

Whether found in Proper Planned Church or in Spontaneous Sacralised Space, the blessing of the hospitality of here and now – place and time together, is a great gift among humans; especially those of us who live our everyday critically conscious of the measurements of minutes and pressures of possession as the markers of value, success, status, and for some the criteria against which  to battle even for survival.

This stranger and I welcomed one another in this simple hospitality of here and now,  with the equality of being that comes from neither of us owning the ground we stood on, both being travellers, guests, borrowers, and yet, also, welcomers, givers, sharers, enrichers of the other. Equally transient, equally present, equally vulnerable, equally brave.

This time, freely shared and preciously encountered in the gardens between me, the praying painter and he, the parkinsons pedestrian (though how irrelevant are those labels!), and the tree, deeply watered and  widely drooping with freshness – this was a moment of spirit, of creation, of incarnation. A moment of trinity. Trinity – not a doctrine or a propositional shibboleth – but a call. A call to meet one another in the shade of more than we can know or understand or generate or control.

These encounters happen when we arrive and locate our selves in relation to one another in this very present moment and place. There is a beautiful and liberating equality of being. All the wrestles of power and voice and authority and legitimacy and leadership and reaction and resistance and role that have plagued our faith and gatherings for centuries were dissolved.   There is no powerful man with the luxury of prepared words, nor the demand of the crowd for critical distance. There is no role of responsibility or pseudo parent, nor the passive aggression or hungry enthusiasm that brings fleeting, deceptive buoyancy, orswift crushing decimation to vision and call.

This encounter in the gardens, by this tree of life, was unencumbered grace.

The price for this sweet liberation, this pure sincerity, this genuine gift – uncomplicated and immediate, transparent and unconditional – is its impermanence.

The man who stopped and looked deep into my face, who followed my gaze to the beauty of the creation I was devoted to, who met my wonder with a proclamation of his own praise, who confessed his weaknesses and fears, and heard mine, who opened his heart story and gently received mine, who walked on in peace, just as he had arrived – ah this is the cost. There is no repeating. There is no fixing. There is no rescheduling.

That moment of trinity is gone.

But there are many more trees in the cathedral of the cosmos. Arms outstretched, harbouring thriving life all up and down its lines and wrinkles,  out along its branches and bumps.

Our faith communities must wrestle with the rhythms of meeting regularly, meeting as we have agreed to do, keeping our covenants of care and consistency with one another. Chance encounters with old men by even older trees in creation’s cathedral  is no substitute for gathering regularly and reliably, showing up for one another, and asking what our overlapping lives can express in the kingdom of God that can’t be expressed by an individual. The answer to this is  – almost everything of the good news of God’s living hope can only be expressed collectively.

But in our gatherings, we have much to learn from the serendipitous encounter by the tree.  Learnings about simplicity, about other, about common ground, about strengths and weakness and respect, about leading and listening in conversation, about art and nature and movement and story and spiritual sincerity. About who we really are as spiritual and human gift to one another.

Professionally I have focussed on the problem of freshness and longevity in spiritual life; ageing and being age-deprived; the absence of emotional and behavioural maturity among older followers of Jesus and the meaning that christian orthodoxy attributes to the life and ways of the child. I particularly pursue what makes for freshness and sustainability in ministry – whether indeed that can be attained.

I am constantly drawn back to the rolling of seasons of planting and plenty and fallow peace, before flourishing continues.

I wonder what further explorations of the hospitality of here and now – and the trinity of spiritual encounter – might help to release among burdened congregations and burnt out leaders, all the anxious, frustrated, exhausted, disempowered saints – those in the pulpit and those in the pews and those in Ikea or the cricket club or the backyard.

By what rhythms can we find one another? Day by day, week by week, month by month, or in seasons of outward growth and inner dark waiting? Gently soft rustling stalks and leaves, and heavy fruiting. What rhythm and patterning shapes our community life together. Or are we trapped in working our faith life on a schedule and order that pays its dues to the incessant uniform repetitions of  industrialisation?

“There are magnificent trees here – Look at this one!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Googling the Prime-minister, generalising gender, and grating generationalisms

September 25, 2018

Eagle hunter, grandson and mother. Mongolia. ‘All Secure’, Tariq Zaidi.

Journalist Annabel Crabb, challenges readers to google high ranking male politician’s names and ‘juggling’ and ‘children’. Her point is that men are not asked how they will ‘juggle’ their demanding work roles and family life. This question is regularly discussed in relation to women. Crabb calls out this gender disparity of accountability, and unexamined expectations of women as responsible for child-rearing.
This speaks not only to assumptions about men and women, but to the view of children as ‘burdens’ and ‘work’ – and lower-class work at that.
The privileged classes know that the more menial and distasteful a task, the more essential it is. Belgium carried on for over 500 days without a government being formed.
Australian parliaments have all but abandonned doing any actual work of governance, in favour of party politics and leadership shuffles – meanwhile life goes on.
 
The care of children – so essential for the wellbeing and flourishing of society – is thus regarded as a menial, low status, unskilled task (hear all the parents who have been well bested by their two year old in the simple task of going to bed recently laugh out loud).
 
So the alignment of women with children underscores both the perception of women as best fit for low status – but essential – tasks, and the perception of children as a low status task.
 
Nevertheless, the realities of parenting and working with children in our midst are also artificially obscured. Many men and women accomplish all of their daily work with children present. Children are generally more flexible and adaptable than adults in this arrangement.
 
The model of child as burden and women as best beasts of burden also depends on a mythology of caring for children as a 24/7 intensive single-focus role. Anyone who attempts parenting in that way will do themselves and mental health injury and most likely have frustrated and thwarted children. This is not recommended by anyone who understands what makes for healthy childhood development. Children are not best raised by mothers or fathers but by communities.
My professional life has engaged the field of working for better thinking and practice in communities around the experience of age relativised against the affirmation of all humans as whole persons and equal contributors and participants and dependents on human community. I listen carefully to the experiences, expectations and interpretations of people of different ages in their endeavours to relate to one another in a society that has gone mad with obsessive generationalism. 
I hear stay at home mums struggling to control their children – a futile and unworthy aim in itself, yet one they feel an intense obligation and unrealistic ambition for. I hear their isolation, trying to tough out hours of life in a house  geared for anything but health, play, creativity and relationship as the sole adult with a child or two or three. I hear their reticence to accept company and help from older women and men, mostly for fear of judgement of their parenting (as if it were a scored examination) and backed by a fair degree of judgement for the older generations and their ethics and style of parenting. In all of this intensity around the care and nurture of children, the personhood of children is decidedly absent. The story of children as investigators, initiators, workers, discoverers, skill acquirers (at the most phenomenal rate of adaptation and application) as spiritual and relational, as lovers and sensors is suppressed.
In Crabb’s aspiration for interrogating our male political leaders on family life and work interaction, the personhood of children is still marginalised.
Gender equality – a cause I support noisily too – is the point being pressed.
But can we press this point without regarding the connected issues of whole personhood articulated in other columns of the intersectional matrix. I think we can’t, and I think we ought not.
 
The notion of balancing work and family or juggling work and family, artificially disintegrates the person. I am always a mum, and always a scholar, and always a colleague, and always a culpable consumerist. The binarisation of work and family is not a self evident binary – but like most binaries, one that is socially constructed to privilege on over the other. A deliberate disintegration and opposition of two things presented as competing agendas or forces (in much the same way binaries of gender and race are configured as artificial antagonisms) where in fact they are mutually co-contributive parts of a life of health and thriving.
As I have protested many many times before, the whole paradigm of ‘having’ children itself is a moral travesty. Speaking of children as if they are things to have, possessions is dehumanising and sets people up for being surprised and frustrated when children are not able to be coraled like possessions. When children exercise their humanity it makes for existential angst in the adult parent.
Further to this, describing some adults as having children and some as not having, implying a system of haves and have nots is both a deplorable reiteration of classism, and a misappropriation of who we are in belonging with one another, not to one another. In most formulations, the expression of having children is an extension of the idea of one’s spouse as property – those who have a wife, might also have children. We are in a tragic hell of relational poverty in this situation. This betrays a rubric of considering a number of human persons, including children, including various ethnicities, including certain politicisations as units of currency and the means for political-economic bartering, rather than whole, essentially contributing and justifiably dependent persons. 
The discourse of child care and women, is of course about anything BUT the welfare of children, and rather about affirming certain kinds of power and liberating certain behaviours from healthy accountability.
If we are to initiate the most pressing conversation with our Prime-minister concerning the welfare of children, it is not going to be about his own, but the children of immigrant and asylum seekers, incarcerated indefinitely, illegally, and immorally off shore.
 
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A poem for threadbare hearts

September 20, 2018

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it goes way back

this tight wound thread

constricting the heart

and tangling the head

spooled round every nerve,

and  bone

winds round each touch

that’s ever been known

binds up body and soul

shapes how they’ve grown

each memory that’s joined

by puncturing stitch

with the merest tug

no wonder we twitch

 

the urge to cut

to slice through flesh

attempt to sever

ties that enmesh

or to take a point

that’s sharp and prick

and pierce the layers

with needle stick

 

but neither skin deep

nor in muscle is found

the end of the thread

to be unwound

 

so so far back

in the kernel of soul

lies the start and the end

that connects to the whole

 

yet also there – within –

an ancient  spool

waiting long

since cosmos was cool

with unmade waters

and destiny dark

and sun and spirit

were barely a spark

the shape of one

on which would wind

all the threads

of humankind

the spindle of God

centripetal core

all ends all threads

love’s gravity draws

 

we fray and twist

twine and knot

caught within

our own  damn plot

 

we try a little love

to weave

but warp threads break

and warped hearts leave

and neither better

is the weft

where truth is thrust

when trust  has left

Yet we are worked by spinner God

whose fingers tiny swift and deft –

 

gently hold and wind and reel

and gracious yet our fibres feel.

*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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And on the seventh day

August 27, 2018

africa woman

Let there be rest

Be overwhelmed by so much blest

 Reminisce humming tunes old and dearest

 Lazy grazing over yesterday’s fest

Go not too many steps away

Carry no load at all today

Delight in creation’s beauty

for beauty’s sake alone

Seeing what has past,

its very goodness known

Time for holding all love has meant

Let go task and measure and judgement.

Your sabbath I would be

A gift that comes around regularly

one

in six

and year of jubilee

when all regrets are set aside free.

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Sub-plot specialists

June 11, 2018

303317-cosmo

There are times when you lose the plot
The plot of your own story.
And the best you think you can hope for is
to find yourself a secondary character
in the subplot
of someone else’s story.
Some of us have so much
difficulty developing our own plot line
with any consistency or conviction,
that we make an art form
out of weaving in and out of other plots.
Sub plot specialists.

Perhaps this is in fact a vocation.
Maybe some of us aren’t called to be main characters.
But to appear in cameos,
delivering an essential line here and there,
that shift the action in some different direction,
or explain something that was unclear,
or to mirror the grand narrative in a smaller, more accessible form
– and bring its claims and hubris back down to human proportions.

The subversion of the subplot.
The subliminal meaning-making of the subplot.
The substitution of earthy commoner for elevated elite in the subplot action.

Secondary characters who carry subplots are typically more colourful, not the fine lady, but the crone or the gypsy, not the nobleman but the valet or the sergeant.
The servant, the thespian, the cook, the lover, the fool, the cripple, the musician, the shoe maker, the traveller.
The child.

The child is always a subplot.

These are the characters
that move
that come and go.
They are revealers of other people’s truths.
They are lightning rods and catalysts for tension and resolution.

They are time sensitive – timely and timed out.

The child. The child is always a subplot.

Poking open hearts
to uncover the deepest of human vulnerabilities, fears and loves.
Posing questions of motive and meaning from the side.
Creating problems for the cunning and contriving strategists.
Carrying innocently inconvenient scandals for the virtuous.

So in stories upon the stage and the page, so in our very lives.
Sub-plots specialists.

there is a whisper though,
that we are all subplot specialists
in a vast story of immense complexity and proportion
and sovereignly separate cosmic character
Reading ourselves as children
is the wisest way of knowing our character
and finding our cues for the drama of life.