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Time after Time

November 8, 2016

now clockLoving God, time after time after time:
Beyond counting and measure, and beyond worthiness or reasoning

Time after time after time you seek us out, you chase us down, you call us back, you welcome us home, you invite us in.

And then with home well held in our hearts,  you send us out to adventure, again.

So your passion for us crashes over us like glorious waves of salty surf, stinging our senses with exhilarating freshness, energy and power that drenches us breathless.

You lift us up, you pull the ground from beneath us, you move us in your current. Not feeling entirely safe, and despite our nervous flailing, we are grinning- eyes wide open, heads thrown back in sheer joy.

A recalcitrant immersive baptism, that nearly drowns, and leaves us gulping in the air of life with renewed love and desperation. You make us breathe more deeply than we can stand, lungs extended to bursting.

What are we doing – splashing and surfing, when we are so tired, so pressured, so anxious, with so many demands and expectations, so vulnerable to eventualities unknown?

It seems folly, but it is you who call us in. You who dares us brave the tides, take the plunge and ride the waves.

The waves that return, time after time after time.

The Breath that is given, time and time and time.

Water and Breath : Double Signs of your abundant Spirit of Life, that assails us with wild and boundless grace, unmeasurable as the sea, and unaccountable as air.

Way out beyond worthiness or reason, yet within Grace and Truth.

Time after time after time,

Amen.

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Tell a Better Story

October 31, 2016

Judges speech given at the Omega Writers CALEB awards for Australian Christian literature.     Mulgoa, NSW. Oct 29, 2016

Good evening friends. Maybe you’re a Writer, a Reader, an Author, an Editor, a Scribe, or more of a scribbler, an Illustrator, an Appreciator, a poet, a publisher, a story teller, a story seller, maybe you’re the literati, or maybe your just like me -here for the party…

My name is Beth Barnett, I’m from Melbourne. I’m an author, I’m a children and families ministry teacher and a theologian. And I have had the privilege of contributing on the judging panel for some of tonight’s awards.

I served on the panel for the Children’s Illustrated Literature section. The children’s picture books. What a medium that is!

It’s a medium of communication, of such influence, of such transformative capacity and subversive potential. So called children’s literature is read by children of course. But it’s also read by parents, By professionals, by politicians, by pastors, by publicans, even by Prime Ministers. It’s a high-impact medium. Really, by rights it should be the most highly censored and regulated media of our society. Such is its power.

I read and reviewed these books in the midst of plenty of thundery noise – energy, heat, and flash points of light – being exchanged in discussions in our public arena on the value of faith, the place of principles in policymaking, the role of religion in regulations on relationships.

And yet for all the economic and educative energy various parties on all sides are exerting, listening in on public discourse, it is hard to see much traction gained or movement in any direction. In fact we’re not sure in Australia whether we can even talk about some things in the public anymore, safely.

And yet here we are: still writing, illustrating publishing – words, images, books, stories, characters, plots, alternate universes and also representations of this our cosmos, gifted to us, in brilliant, bright, clear lines for children, for young people.

Our stories celebrate subversively what might be missed in all of that nose, and our stories challenge what might be amiss.

The books that I reviewed in judging the children’s illustrated section embraced topics of the dignity in disability, negotiating our fears, the power of words to would and heal, our sources of conflict and belonging. These are mighty themes.

I have a little motto – for myself, and for those I mentor and teach and write for. It is this: tell a better story.

Perhaps calling this a motto is a misrepresentation. Let me rephrase: I have a vocation. Tell a better story.

It is a vocation I think many many in this gathering share: Tell a better story. We celebrate the telling of better stories tonight.

So let this continue to be a vocation for us:

I was inspired as I reviewed the books to Tell a better story than the formulaic, predictable good guys/bad guys comic book plot of winners and losers.

Tell a better story than the patronizing prince charming rescue and facile happily ever after ending.

Tell a better story than the endlessly dysfunctional family.

Tell a better story than the purposeless pursuit of point scoring.

Tell a better story than the too easy polarizing black and white judgments so common in the thunder and lightning show of public discourse.

And let’s keep working, true to our vocation, and tell a better story than the one we told before

– to keep working at our craft,

at our courage to create;

at our unconventional characterisations that make room for the non-typical our society fails to celebrate as they should;

to keep working at our content – our theology. Let’s keep asking what God inhabits the world of our story? Is it a God able to be loved with whole heart, soul mind and strength? – is it a God a who gives himself – and all his rights and righteousness up to do what only God can bear to do?

And let’s keep working at our audience, our mission. Let’s tell a better story where other messages don’t reach. To tell our better stories which can extend beyond our own churches and Christian cloisters and confessions – these stories reach way into the cracks and corners of our culture and find their way into the corridors of power. This is our great vocation: it is well worth our effort to tell a better story.

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The Short-Legged Liturgy

October 30, 2016

There is stretch of parkland that runs along a freeway for many kilometers, that over the years has become a sacred space for me. It is where I’ve regularly run my ’10ks of sanity’ but  also where I’ve also strolled with friends, picnicked, taught my lads to ride, and been the site of my adventures into interactive community art installations that open bible text and prompt prayers in the open public unaffiliated green space of the park.

Over the years it has become to me a favourite corridor in the larger Cathedral of Cosmos. The idea of viewing life in the ‘Cathedral of the Cosmos’ is a way I have of locating myself constantly in the reality of sacredness of all space – opening myself to encounter God and others in the framework of grace, and to resist the privileging of some structures (architectural, intellectual and cultural) over others as more likely hosts of Spirit and Word.

Running through this especially beautiful space, of nature and community, has grown in me attention to what I think of as a ‘Short-legged Liturgy’. As I pound along in praise and prayer, I empty out all the pride and pity, loves and longings, sabotage and shame,  hopes to hasten the holy, weary darkness, wrought tensions, cries for cracking open of justice across creation, lurking lies, unbearable burdens and broken bits from my my heart.

By the end of my run all of my sins have sweated their way to the surface; there they sit stinking, my stench, out exposed confessed to the world, and waiting for washing in daily baptism.

Although there is  much solitary inner world work, the path is peopled to greet with  peace.

koonung-trailYesterday morning, the sun bright in an unobstructed pure blue sky illuminated the entire landscape; the brilliant sparkle of black bitumen before me on the path, the gleaming greens grass beneath and gum leaves overhead. Deep in my own heart discussions, ahead on the path I saw a woman, slight framed, middle-eastern complexion in jumper and jeans,  stop under a Lemon Gum that shaded the path. She paused and then extended her arms into the air, her palms unfolded before the sky,  fingers elegantly extended in a posture of peace and freedom. Surely this is a prayer I am watching.

She remained like this for a few moments, then moved to set her bag down on a nearby bench, by which time I was not 2 meters from her.

I could not help myself. I stopped and approached her.

“I saw your arms reach up and open under the tree; it looked like a prayer. Were you praying?”

“Yes!” her look of surprise at being addressed by this red faced runner dissolved into a sparkling smile.

“It was so beautiful, I thought it must have been a prayer. I run here and all my steps are prayers too. It is such a sacred place.”

Affirmations and agreements poured between us – two strangers – on the beauty of the world around us, the openness of God we encounter within this beauty and the instinctive response of prayer it calls forth in us both.

“Do you have a particular faith or religion you identify with – or is this kind of prayer  here in the parkland your spirituality?” I enquired.

“I am Muslim, and I know Jesus. Because Jesus has spoken to me in dreams.”

I smile back at her. “I know Jesus, too. I follow Jesus. But this place is also my place of knowing and loving God, a place of prayer in a way, that is larger than a christian church, larger than my tradition.”

“Are you a Christian?”

“Yes I am.”

And then a long beautiful peace-filled conversation unfurled in which we affirmed the complexities of faith, which, when lived in the world spills over the boundaries of our religions. We find ourselves drawn by a God who will be known and loved, however it is that we might be found by that knowing and loving.

“Do you know of our prophet Mohammed?’ she asks.

“Yes, I do. I have read a small amount of islamic writings, only a bit…” I confess.

“Our scriptures say that a person can only have faith if God wants it, if it is God’s will.”

Again, I find connection: “The Christian scriptures also say this. That faith is a gift that is given by God. Faith doesn’t come by our own efforts, by trying, by learning. If we have faith, it is because God has given it to us.”

And so we continue to open the scriptures that each of carries in our minds to one another – we talk of Sarah and Abraham, Paul and Moses. We speak of their lives interrupted by God’s voice and truth and love.

She says to me “I am glad to meet you – a Christian. I do know other Christians, but you are different.” (if I had a dollar for every time someone had called me different…) “My neighbour is a Christian but she’s so strict and always worrying and crying. And she is not sure how I can be a Muslim and love Jesus too.”

She continues “I think I want to go to church, but when I talk to Christians they want to teach me things: to give me a Fasi Bible to study.  I want to love Jesus. That isn’t just to be learnt.”

Here, this Muslim Christian who prays in joyful expressive freedom beneath the open blue sky,  puts her so gentle and gracious finger on one of the sorest points of the contemporary church. Our compulsive behaviour of learning beliefs. Our one narrow epistemology – which has distorted the beauty of our faith – a faith of gift and a faith of grace; a faith of loving and knowing as one reconciling action.

She asks if I go to church. That’s a complicated question, for one who serves across many denominations, has found much grace expressed in the strength and weakness in them all, but only temporary nesting places, before the wind stirs again, topples me from my branch and moves me on. And I have just recently moved on, and belonging is still feeling fragile. But there are also long long long term steady communities and practices that sustain and connect me to others of faith, which I give my whole heart and much time to.

Is it important to have a ‘church’ identity at all?  Just this week I had settled on a slightly cheeky ecumenical identity, drawing on the legacy of the late twentieth century Baptist fringe expression ‘The House of the Gentle Bunyip’ associated with the great scholar Athol Gill. I had found a resonance in the identity of Gypsy Bunyip. But I didn’t think I could really make a convincing acquittal of this messy life to my  new Irani parkland companion.

I simply say – ‘Yes, I meet with others who follow Jesus, in lots of ways, and running here on the trail is also a way meeting with God even more strongly and beautifully than I might in a church – and today I have met with you, too – a person of great faith.

Our conversation begins to daw to a close, and we speak of the faith we hope and trust for our children, well, young men.

In the end, I say to her ‘You spoke before of Moses. Moses was called a friend of God – he was with God face to face as a friend. That is the faith I see in you, and the faith I seek myself. We are here. face to face as friends. We are Friends of God and Friends of one another.

We shared peace with each other, shaking hands, smiling deeply into each others face, then this Muslim Christian, and this Gypsy Bunyip embraced long, as if friends of many years, and went each on their path onward through the Cathedral of the Cosmos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Iron to iron; face to face

October 24, 2016

Iron sharpens iron
so we’re sharper than before
but deep the cuts have left
our spills of blood upon the floor
though iron sharpens iron
might we lay our weapons down?
or beat them into ploughshares
and work some common ground?

True, iron sharpens iron,
but might we live beyond the blade?
And would I give up my armour
that I’ve worn through blasts and raids

for death is never satisfied
the eye is never quenched
the tears are full to brimming
and the fist is fully clenched

the crucible for silver
the furnace is for gold
the vanity and violence scorches
how our story’s told

the metal polished mirror
the glint of flashing steel
only  bounces back distortions
and our selves are not revealed

for love is no contest
no defense of iron is needed
love cannot be won or earned
nor conquered,  nor defeated

Love’s time will bring whole  knowing
in being – face to face
unshielded, clear reflected
Love’s open heart of grace

after Proverbs 27:17-21; 1 Cor 13

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Coastlines

September 21, 2016
blowhole

The Blowholes, Cape Bridgewater.

let us know our coastlines

the rough reaches of our cliffs

the sharp outcrops and salty scrub

and the crumbling edges of our soft sandy selves

*

let us examine our tides

the ebb and surge of living

let us listen for the roaring rhythms

and crashing cadence

and observe the high water marks and debris

gifts of moments gone

*

let us heed the streams of tears and loves

that gather in our heights

and make their winding way down

carving the courses of caring and craving

through our souls

to our valleys 

finding their fill and flow

released and met with the wide welcome of the ocean

a watery endlessness of embrace

*

let us survey our shores

sketching the enduring enigma

where our selves disappear

submerged

and yet ever emerging in the eddys

washed with waves of hope

that break in grace 

in droplet upon grain

spanning rock and cliff and sand and shore

reshaping, renewing, reconciling

in infinite terrible tender power

*

let us know and love our liminal lives

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Vulnerable and Wild

September 3, 2016

Don’t ever let me be so sure

Just from what’s been said before

That I don’t seek Your Very Face

And ask to know You more

Don’t let me trust the memories of words held in my head

But bring me to my knees to hear afresh what you have said 

44b7daf6e51b5d48b409af0988d795c0

“Trust in me

Come as a child

Vulnerable and wild

And free.”

 

If only there were pages with words in black and white

That I could read and confidently say what’s wrong or right

If only there was somewhere written down a list of rules

By which I could tell evil from the good and wise from fools

But Black and White together now for so long have mixed to grey

So bring me to my knees to hear  afresh what you will say

 

“Trust in me

Come as a child

Vulnerable and wild

And free.”

 

So all I have’s this Living Word still breaking into light

And the gusty Spirit that billows in, breathes out and blows my mind

And this company of sinners who are washing out their hearts

And listening for the whispered clues for where on earth your Kingdom starts

 

“Trust in me

Come as a child

Vulnerable and wild

And free.”

April 2004, 5 weeks into the first subjects of my M.Div, after an altercation with the lecturer, this was my poetic attempt at making a covenant of posture for studying – to be vulnerable and wild. 

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Sensitivity:it makes sense

August 25, 2016
rabbit080216b

 

the sandpapered soul,

the hair-trigger heart,

the psyche stretched

skin tight to resound

the slightest tap,

the alarm full wound…

 

twas every twitch of country rabbit

from long ago a life long habit

I cannot read your mind

but your soul is here on mine divined

and mirror matched

for mine was snatched

and grabbed and teased

and pounded, plundered

rubbed and then upon quite spat

and left, so leaving after that

evermore tis finely set

to feel the dry the damp the wet

the change away

barometer of your fine day,

it has no dial no switch to throw

so ever reading on I go.