Advent addresses the Sterling Housing Scandal

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This reflection was delivered today at the Canterbury Classics Men’s Group at St Anselm’s Anglican Parish, Kingsley, WA.

Let me begin by acknowledging the people of the Noongar-Whadjuk nation and their custodianship of the land on which we gather. I pay respect to their elders past, present and future.

Thank you for inviting me to share an Advent reflection on our journey though the Sterling retirement housing collapse, currently under the scrutiny  of a Senate Inquiry.

Whenever I am asked to reflect on this journey that we have now shared with over 100 abandoned tenants, I find it helpful to frame our story within the theme of the church calendar. The seasons of the church year constantly give us the themes of the big story that is the background to the rich variety of our own stories.

Advent thrusts us into the brave declaration of hope in the midst of chaos and destruction. Indeed, through the opening gospel of the season this week, we hear Jesus saying to his disciples “When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand. Watch yourselves, or your hearts will be coarsened with debauchery and drunkenness and the cares of life, and that day will be sprung on you suddenly, like a trap. For it will come down on every living person on the face of the earth. Stay awake, praying at all times for the strength to survive all that is going to happen, and to stand with confidence before the Son of Man.”   

In these days of preparing for Christmas, we are given these apocalyptic images. Like the frog in the boiling kettle, we have become accustomed to the atmosphere of doom and gloom in relation to a global pandemic, climate change, financial corruption, the drums of war and the tragedies of those callously used as collateral by politicians and traffickers. To many, it is as if the four horsemen of the Apocalypse are already at full gallop through the regions  of the world.  The Way of the gospel is not to live in fear and trembling or resignation. It is to recognise that when fear either from our unconscious or the media or even our own personal tragedies seeks to manipulate us, we can choose the way of liberation instead.

The arc of the universe is long and bends towards justice. (MLK)

So let me share with you something of Jenny’s and my journey when confronted with our personal apocalypse.

There are events in life that thrust us into involuntary choices to sink or swim. On a Sunday night in June 2019, the  week we were to fly out to Singapore to celebrate 40 years of marriage, we turned on the TV news and heard about the collapse of the Sterling group. It meant that we, along with 160 others, were notionally homeless, having sunk huge amounts of money into trust from which our rent would be paid through life-long leases.

Through a chance flick of the TV dial, we discovered that we had lost an enormous proportion of our life savings and  the retirement accommodation it had provided. We were immediately plunged into our own personal apocalypse. Would we sink or swim?

The next day we contacted our property manager who confirmed that the trust had not paid our rent for several months. His advice was to contact the property owner and see what could be arranged to avoid eviction. We negotiated a holding pattern, a temporary reprieve, and flew out to Singapore to celebrate our ruby anniversary, the first overseas holiday we had ever shared, trying not to think of the conundrum that faced us on our return.

We were 12 months into retirement. My plans had been to rest, share company with Jenny,  recover from the intensity of 44 years of public ministry, and do some writing.  Instead I became an activist, helping organise rallies, lobbying and meeting with a range of politicians, and fighting a monolithic bureaucracy that had failed dismally in enforcing its own regulations. The grey army of Sterling fighters have become as familiar a sight on Perth Streets as the Hare Krishna devotees of the 60s and 70s. So much for a quiet retirement.

Sink or swim! Stay awake!

On return from our six days in Singapore, we soon found ourselves gathered with a capacity crowd at Peel Stadium in Mandurah.  All had been affected in some way by the Sterling collapse – tenants, landlords, real estate managers, investors. Present also were local politicians, the current Consumer Affairs commissioner and last but not least, the invited guest, Denise Brailey, President of the Banking and Finance Consumers Support Association.

Denise is an accomplished fighter who has been on a 25 year mission to expose and transform the Australian Financial system. Her notable accomplishments include millions of dollars compensation for victims of the Westpoint collapse, the WA stockbrokers scandal and numerous individual cases where banks have been derelict in their obligations to consumers. She was instrumental in setting up the recent Royal Commission into Banking. At our rally, Denise was able to quickly identify the complex but fraudulent nature of the Sterling Rent for Life scheme, the negligence of the corporate cop, ASIC, and rally the crowd to a strategy for compensation.

Thus began a long 30 month journey of public demonstrations, letter writing, meetings with politicians and bureaucrats and strategizing that has eventually led to the current Senate Inquiry into the Sterling Income Trust.

At the spear head of the fight has been the group of approximately 100 affected tenants, many of whom are in their 80s or 90s. Street marches on the Perth offices of an unresponsive ASIC, a limited, somewhat helpful,  but culpable WA Consumer Affairs, and the WA Police fraud squad have been marked by Zimmer frames, crutches and wheelchairs amongst the placards and whistles.

When we visited the Finance Minister’s office at the Perth Stock Exchange, he refused to receive the bundle of letters, instead calling six burly federal police officers down to deal with us. Thousands of unanswered letters have been written to the Prime Minister and Treasurer. Five of us attended a business breakfast at which we presented the Federal Treasurer with a bundle of 100 letters from victims and their families, asking him to read them on the plane home. After the same gathering, a chance meeting with the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister won assurance that he would personally see that the Treasurer would read and respond to the letters.

In the meantime, powers from on high were working hard to discredit and divide our group. Political and media groups expected us to fade out, employing strategies that variously ghosted, ignored, or manipulated us towards false paths of resolution. Tenants by now were clogging the magistrates courts fighting notices of eviction. Cases were deferred again and again because of their complexity. Two notable and drawn out cases were heard and decided this year in the WA Supreme Court, resulting in evictions of the tenants on technicalities.

17 of our number have passed away, 6 are now in hospital as the result of stress induced illness. Many have been evicted, some have moved in with family members, others are couch-surfing.

The aptness of the apocalyptic imagery of Advent is not lost on us.

    

The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

In spite of the opposition and white-anting that adversaries visit upon us; in spite of efforts to sow seeds of dissension within the group; there has been a growing appreciation of the bond that unites us. We celebrate birthdays, arrange picnics and attend social gatherings. Several of my neighbours, also Sterling fighters, have had to move from the properties they rented as their owners took possession. We are still in  touch – we know each other’s children – we continue to share our dreams and aspirations.

The bond is such that when a rogue real estate agent jumped the gun and planted a “for sale” sign when she knew the tenant was in hospital, a dozen of us occupied the living space during the “home open.” It must have been one of the shortest home opens on record.

Daily social media is being used to encourage, console and inform our wide spread group. From my ministry background I’ve been able to offer a kind of chaplaincy role and resources and suggestions that assist its cohesion and direction. The leadership and strong advocacy of Denise Brailey has been a crucial factor.

She has a small guiding committee of six that she calls her “generals.” Denise is the field marshal expertly directing the campaign from her command post, a small cottage in the eastern wheatbelt.

The experience of union is not unlike that of a parish community and a sometimes disciplined army. It is strong, maintaining a resilience that can withstand the assault of discouragement and disunity. It is the seed-bed of reasonable hope for resolution.

Over 30 months the group has shifted its sole focus from a mere seeking of compensation, as important for survival as it is, to the more altruistic goal of reform of Australia’s financial regulatory system.

None of us were financially savvy when we entered the housing scheme. We relied on the guidance of accountants, financial planners, and lawyers, many of whom were blind-sided by the complexity of the companies involved and which should have been red-flagged by the corporate policeman, ASIC.  Even the financial planning and accountancy witnesses who appeared at the recent Senate hearings admitted the days required to unravel the spaghetti like arrangements behind Sterling and its multiple entities.

Over the months we have discovered that ASIC, bound by a rigorous application of the government’s caveat emptor doctrine, has been so constrained that it can do little more, at great public expense, than act as a librarian to what one of its previous directors referred to as making Australia the white-collar crime capital of the world.

From bitter lived experience, the Sterling tenants join thousands of other retired citizens of Australia who have been stung by what amounts to a series of officially sanctioned Ponzi schemes amounting to $40 billion losses over the last 25 years.

As devastating as the details of this knowledge is proving to be, it also serves as powerful ammunition to work for change in the system for the common good of the Australian community – and abroad.

Sterling is the canary in the mine. It is also the David facing a huge Goliath. What hope has it to effect system transformation?  Well, we know how the original story turned out for Goliath. And it is Advent, the harbinger of hope, peace, joy and love.

A close colleague, Brian Holliday of the Dayspring Community, this week drew my attention to something Evelyn Underhill said,  “The world is not saved by evolution but by incarnation.”

Evolution is mindful of “the law of the jungle”; “survival of the fittest.” It is constantly at work in our world, and it drives our hard-liner economic systems.

But Incarnation is also at work, constantly happening through what Underhill calls the “perpetual advent” – God’s constant self-giving of Christ to the world – God’s stooping to be present amongst the powerless and downtrodden – God’s energy transforming creation. God with us.

When chaos thrusts us  into times of forced transformation and suffering, may we also seek out the signs of union and opportunities for mature service that give expression to the power of perpetual advent – the living out of the presence of the ever-coming Christ in our lives.  

Today is All Saints Day

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One of the great things about absorbing an ecumenical spirit over a lifetime is the capacity to draw from streams of Christian tradition that are other than my own. My tribe within the Christian family has a very simple, lean, and adaptable loose-on-the-ground outlook, influenced strongly by the 19th century Second Great Awakening of the US frontier and the outcomes of the Wesleyan and Whitefield revivals of England. Catch cries and slogans like “Christians only, but not the only Christians,” and “no creed but Christ” mixed with sharp Lockean logic and sawdust trail evangelism marked us as suspicious of what was regarded as extraneous feasts and rites.

Hence the glazed over eyes and polite murmurings when I mention a desire to acknowledge All Saints Day – the day following Halloween (meaning “all saints eve”). My defense is a biblical one, taken from the Hebrews 12:1.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

A combination of my Celtic bones, researching family history and my septuagenarian awareness of my many mentors that are no longer physically present, having been promoted to glory, orient me to the worthiness of this ancient rite carried by other liturgical streams,

Hence, on the first Sunday in November, it was my practice in later years of leading congregations to lead rites of thanksgiving and reflection on the lives of church members, ordinary folk who had gone before us, commemorating their legacy and contemplating that which we would leave for those who came after. It was yet another avenue for honoring the eternal Christ who dwells in our midst.

And so happy All Saints Day! For a reflection that goes deeper, click here.

Do faith and politics mix?

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I responded to a version of this question a day or two ago. I would prefer to rephrase it “How do faith and politics mix?” It is being asked of our current Prime Minister and addressed this morning in an article by a previous one.

Most of my three years in retirement has seen me more active politically, out of necessity, as part of a badly regulated and collapsed retirement housing scheme. Together, with over 100 affected households, I have been writing, phoning and pressing the flesh with politicians from both sides of the political divide. Within my cohort, my function as a pastor has not been to the fore, but noted and occasionally drawn on. Yesterday a primary goal was reached, the launch in Federal Parliament of a powerfully appointed Senate Inquiry into the conditions surrounding the housing collapse that includes a focus on the role of the regulator.

Debate, discussion and strategising within the group has been rigorous, intense, and sometimes divisive, as one would expect amongst peers who are stressed, ill and cheated. As a survivor of decades of occasional ructions within faith communities, I trust I was able to bring a calming influence. Some insights into the manipulation and chicanery of the political machine also helped in matters of discernment and consultation with our joint leadership headed by seasoned campaigner and consumer advocate Denise Brailey, who fondly calls us her “generals.”

My answer to the question was “by applying the law of love to the law of the jungle.” It has to begin at a very personal level, and it is captured well in a prayer that came into my feed this morning and that I shared on social media:

May the Christ who walks on wounded feet,
walk with you to the end of your road;
May the Christ who serves with wounded hands,
teach you to serve each other;
May the Christ who loves with a wounded heart,
help you to love each other;
When you go out, may you see the face of Jesus in
everyone you meet, and may everyone you meet
see the face of Jesus in you. Amen

Whatever one’s faith stance, it will appear in our politics, for we have to live in community and how we live and think and act is our “policy.” The extent of self and other awareness we bring to life reveals how our politics and our faith function together.

Standing on the shoulders of those gone before

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Responding to prompts to begin writing down my memoirs, I’ve begun to gather the scattered anecdotes of my forebears’ pedigrees. After all, I carry something of their influence and makeup in my very bones. As I rummage through boxes of diagrams, letters, photos and reference works, what I have been discovering is a theme that was initially unsettling, but now strangely reassuring – the uncanny ability to turn wine into water, or gold into rubble!

One family line emerged from a failed banker at the height of the lucrative Industrial Revolution. Another neglected to patent a device common to flushing toilet systems today (O the irony that would today delight old college colleagues who, after pranking me, had dubbed me with the lasting nickname “Flush!”). Currently we are campaigning and trying to extricate ourselves from a collapsed retirement housing scheme that has become a national scandal.

Is there such a thing as a tribal curse? Are we doomed to play this morose minor key of failure from generation to generation? Framing is so important when assessing such influences.

My line might not be good at business, but we certainly know something about resilience. We know how to make nurturing compost from the dross and ashes of failure. The doomed banking line was the direct cause of the rise of an influential clergyman, a prolific writer whose works are republished over 120 years posthumously to this day. The Australian line of the plumbing enterprise is broad in variety and contribution to the wider community. Dig deeper, and you will find that the traits of generosity, hospitality, and positivity rise above the urge to accumulate. This hidden gold seam runs through all the ancestral stories of my line.

This is why I am reassured, for these are values that my wife and I hold dear, and that will see us through our current housing crisis. It seems to be in our DNA!

A West Aussie Hero Shows the Way

I just spent a weekend as a guest of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart (the Joeys of Mary McKillop fame) at their retreat house in Shoalwater, Western Australia. I was spending time with a peer group that meets for mutual growth and accountability. While there I became aware of the near 30th anniversary of the cruel death of Sr Irene McCormack. She was kidnapped and executed while establishing education programs in remote parts of Peru. The full story and artwork of “Resurrected Irene” is here.

What struck me as a sister was telling this story of her close friend who came originally from the wheatbelt town of Training, WA, was the proximity of the mix of living the life of crucifixion and resurrection to which Christ calls us.

Today’s daily meditation from Richard Rohr addresses the question of “choosing love in an age of evil.”

He says: “The Divine Mind transforms all human suffering by identifying completely with the human predicament and standing in full solidarity with it from beginning to end. This is the real meaning of the crucifixion. The cross is not just a singular event. It’s a statement from God that reality has a cruciform pattern. Jesus was killed in a collision of cross-purposes, conflicting interests, and half-truths, caught between the demands of an empire and the religious establishment of his day. The cross was the price Jesus paid for living in a “mixed” world, which is both human and divine, simultaneously broken and utterly whole.”

As I reflect on particular challenges that call us to engage in a world that is struggling on so many levels to survive and that sees many resorting to “me first” practices, the summons to love in a way that both embraces sacrifice, yet at the same time, releases new life is particularly poignant.

The story of Sr Irene inspires me to continue to embrace the pain and struggle of helping others blossom and righting wrongs in order to bring fulness of life with the courage and poise that is committed to the joyful outcome, no matter what.

Seventh Day Musings

It’s the last day of the year that everyone wants to forget, looking with rationally unsubstantiated optimism to 2021. But anxious questions linger.

  • Will the vaccine work?
  • Will the economy recover?
  • Will the populations of new unemployed survive?
  • What is the final but still evolving shape of the “new normal?”

It is also the seventh day of Christmas. Apparently it was usual in ancient Celtic culture to gather mistletoe to drape over the entrances to homes at this time. Mistletoe was deemed to have mystical healing properties that absorbed and dissipated the negative and exuded positive properties as a blessing. When Christianity appeared, this practice was absorbed into prayers and house blessings for the new year to come.

These prayers were simple, spontaneous and warmly lyrical. Here is one sample, easily adaptable to modern living:

Bless this house, O Lord, we pray.
Make it safe by night and day.
Bless these walls so firm and stout,
Keeping want and trouble out.
Bless the roof and chimney tall,
Let thy peace lie over all.
Bless the doors that they may prove
Ever open to joy and love.
Bless the windows shining bright,
Letting in God’s heavenly light.
Bless the hearth a-blazing there,
With smoke ascending like a prayer.
Bless the people here within…
Keep them pure and free from sin.
Bless us all, that one day, we
May be fit, O Lord, to dwell with Thee.

Nevertheless, such a prayer is a challenge in these uncertain times. My wife and I are part of a failed “rent-for-life” scheme that is in liquidation. Since June 2019, the several hundred affected folk have been running an exhaustive and exhausting campaign for redress against criminal fraud and regulatory negligence. Many have lost their life savings. It has been all-consuming of time and energy and led to much desolation and despair.

Yet such a prayer invites us to anoint the very abode which is under dispute – our home – with the eternal covering of grace and protection that emerges from faith in the Most High.

It’s a Seventh Day of Christmas prayer. It’s a threshold prayer as we step from a tumultuous 2020 that overused the word “unprecedented” into a 2021 that is unknown, yet covered by all who live out a practiced faith.

A Christmas reflection on a Senior Housing Crisis

This is a sermon requested by a church following the collapse of a rent-for-life scheme that targeted senior citizens, mostly in Western Australia. A public eighteen month long campaign for redress continues. As participants in this struggle, Jenny and I shared these reflections today at the Mount Hawthorn Community Church. It is but one of many stories emerging from the Sterling New Life housing disaster.

Fence pillars depict Advent gifts of hope, peace, joy and love on author’s failed “Lease for Life” home.

A couple of days ago I saw this Tweet from @Fred_Buechner

“Listen to your lives for the sound of him. Search even in the darkness for the light and the love and the life because they are there also, and we are known, each one, by name.”

Some time ago in a small regional town a young girl received some troubling news that would change her life forever. She was pregnant through no act of her own. Although exposed to future gossip, scandal, ostracism and the possible loss of her betrothal – even her life, she accepted and eventually welcomed her circumstances. The messenger had cast a light on the way forward for her. Luke’s written down account tell us…

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

What do we hear in these words? Resignation? Fatalism? Passive acceptance? Or, rather – resolution, purpose or response to a calling?

Mary was bearing within her the Christ, the Word that was in the beginning, the Word through which all things, indeed that which is beyond what we can know, came into being, the Word that is from God and is indeed God. Planted within her as a zygote, growing into the embryo, foetus and neonate that would be known to us as the human being, Jesus of Nazareth.

The Christ who in Creation gave birth to us all was also, at a time in our history, our story, birthed from a young peasant girl from the backblocks of Galilee.

Richard Rohr recently published a list of reflections on how we too bear the timeless Christ within us, by virtue of his first coming in all of Creation, bearing the divine DNA of God’s intention and purpose, then sealed by his incarnation through the service of Mary that enabled this Word to become flesh to dwell amongst us.

Great church pioneer of the early centuries, Irenaeus said, “Christ became as us that we might become as Christ.”

Mary has become an icon of all who carry the Christ within them. Truly, we are Christophers – Christ-bearers!

This is why Fred Buechner urges us to “Listen to your lives for the sound of him.”

This is the setting for a story that some have asked me to share with you today.

It is the story of an arduous journey that Jenny and I have travelled over the last 18 months.

In June last year we were drawing to the anniversary of our first year in retirement from salaried work in ministry. We had enjoyed making our new home in a property for which we had arranged a life-long lease. The community in the northern suburbs was developing, neighbours were moving in and we had enjoyed being part of it all.  This was also the month marking 40 years of our marriage and we were preparing for our first short trip overseas together – six days exploring Singapore.

We sat down to watch the news on the Sunday night of the week of our departure and couldn’t believe our ears when we heard the announcement that the company that managed the trust fund for our lease had gone into liquidation and that the funds of 105 couples, along with our own, had disappeared and rendered us all technically homeless.

The news item was already showing vision of an elderly couple packing their effects and moving into a caravan in their daughter’s backyard!

Frantic phone calls over the next few days confirmed the bad tidings. We had lost the funds assuring  our living arrangements and we were now living in something the liquidators were calling an “onerous property.” It was not the first time in our lives that we had experienced that sinking feeling. It was the first time we realised how deep that elevator in your stomach can descend.

We did manage to act swiftly enough to find and contact our property owner who was servicing the mortgage from our lease payments. We mae some temporary arrangements that enabled us to stay on while we explored possible avenues for a more lasting solution. Jenny and I flew out to Singapore that Friday and celebrated our Ruby Wedding Anniversary in style.

On our return we learned of the mobilisation of all the affected tenants and a few property owners. They had engaged a campaign leader, Denise Brailey of the Banking and Finance Consumer Support Association, to address the matter of reclaiming our lost funds in order to ensure home security. Many were pensioners who had no other equity and their needs were urgent. Some were of advanced age and living with co-morbidities.

We soon became involved in discovery of what had gone wrong, uncovering a sorry litany of fraud, corporate crime, failing regulation, political negligence and media compliance.

The group of affected tenants has become close knit and, under Denise’s guidance, has written thousands of letters to Federal Cabinet, met with local members of parliament, held rallies to draw public attention to regulatory failure, spoken to TV and newspaper reporters and engaged in social media warfare. In the meantime 16 of our number have died, many deaths hastened by stress related illness.

Behind it all is the demand for immediate restitution of lost moneys, a call for a full Royal Commission with wide terms of reference into Australia’s financial regulatory systems, and justice for the perpetrators of fraudulent activity.

This remains the current status as together we head into our second Christmas under the swinging blade of Damocles’ sword.

So how do we reflect on all this as Christ-bearers, heeding Buechner’s call “to listen to our lives for the sound of him?” How do I reflect on the “spiritual journey?” of it all?

Several classic frameworks commend themselves.  

Can we look at this through the prism of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey?

We could certainly write our own Odyssey of how the Common Person of no account (how most of us see ourselves) have our ordinary lives interrupted, finding ourselves stepping over a threshold into a strange and unfamiliar landscape. Here we find allies and adversaries; and they are sometimes interchangeable. There are all sorts of strange encounters, a meeting with a wise mentor who gives us a quest which carries a boon, a life changing reward, a final nail-biting struggle which enables the journey back to where we started from, but never the same.

Many rich possibilities there – but difficult for reflection until the journey is complete.

I like to look at such journeys as the one with which we are engaged through the lens of Alexander Shaia’s four questions:

  • how do I move through change?
  • How do I handle pain and suffering?
  • How do I recognise joy and union?
  • How does all this deepen mature service of others?

These are all questions that invite me to “listen to my life for the sound of him.”

CHANGE
Victims of this Ponzi scheme were certainly thrust into the experience of overwhelming change. We were no longer securely housed senior denizens in our respected communities but shamed pariahs scammed by the unscrupulous. Initially some politicians and regulatory bureaucrats sought to dismiss us as “silly old fools” who should have known better than to fall for such a scheme. My habitually compliant, self-doubting and self-critical nature might have been inclined to agree, but “listening to my life for the sound of him” encouraged us to find strength in our numbers who were finding enough voice to push back and say “we all did our due diligence – the regulator got it wrong and here’s the evidence.” We changed from victims, to survivors, to fighters.

For eighteen months now the core group has maintained a vocal and determined focus on redressing the wrong that has grown from being merely personal but collective as we care for each other, and systemic as we have learned of repeating patterns in the ideology and practice of financial regulation in this country. Ask any of the group now to give an economic dissertation and they could tell you things they didn’t even know this time last year. This has been like climbing a mountain and seeing things that we never saw down on the plain. It is Moses’ Mount Sinai where he chiseled out the law that set the course for the lost and wandering tribe of Israel. It is Mount Horeb from which he viewed the Promised Land. It is the Mount of Transfiguration where we heard anew the Voice that said “Listen to Him/” It is the Mount of Matthew where Jesus outlined a fresh and deep blueprint for living.  

SUFFERING

The group has certainly had opportunity to learn to live with the pain and suffering of this momentous housing security collapse. Some have endured district court appearances and now face having their lease’s validity tested in the Supreme Court. This includes a couple in their 80s. Others, unable to sustain the stress of uncertainty, have abandoned their leases. Still others are keeping equilibrium in the face of harassment from predatory real estate agents. Some have walked away from the group to attempt their own path. Property owners whose tenants are unable to pay rent (and who argue they are not liable for the 40 years upfront lease they paid for anyway) are contemplating handing their keys to the banks and walking away As news of another death reaches the group the clouds of despair grow heavy. Exhaustion, despair, depression and feelings of excruciating hopelessness have been owned and articulated within the group. All this is part of the journey. We embrace it and own it. We steer through it because we can’t go around it. On this pathway it is hard to listen to our lives and hear his voice.  These are the terrified disciples trying to awaken a sleeping Jesus while the stormy waves threaten to swamp and sink the boat. It is Elijah sitting in despair in the desert wilderness, not even noticing the ravens that have come to feed him.  It is Mark’s  panicked women fleeing the empty tomb and saying nothing to anyone.

UNION

On the flip side, the shared journey of change and suffering is bonding the group. The camaraderie and joy that has grown in the delight of each other’s company at rallies and picnics knows no bounds. Whether it’s marching through Perth’s financial district to deliver a parcel of letters to a recalcitrant Minister for Finance, greeting the grinning Federal police he sent to intercept us, or riding the trains as either the Mandurah or the Joondalup faction and meeting up as one, we have discovered the unique personality of our collective cause. We listen to our lives and hear his voice calling us to live abundantly even in the midst of a crisis that seems to go on and on. It is in the songs and poetry that emerge from within. It is in the passion and ardour of the Song of Songs. It is John’s heavenly banquet where all are equal and all are fed to fulness. It is in the flashes of insight where we not only know, but feel our Oneness.

MATURE SERVICE

There is a marked difference between the first rally that gathered 18 months ago and the most recent get togethers. The shared pathways of change, suffering and union have seen the development of a body that is more mature, savvy and compassionate in the honouring of self and one another.

Each has discovered their role of service. Led by a campaigner who has the runs on the board, who has come out of retirement and often works eighteen hour days on our behalf. A true leader she is firm and direct and knows how to delegate. Others assist her in dealing with media, finding a voice they didn’t know they had. Delegations have visited politicians and armed with some hard won facts, entered some respectful and meaningful conversations. Preparing placards, researching Freedom of Information documents and minutes of meetings, engaging social media. All have played their role. And yes old dogs cam learn new tricks. They said they would never use Twitter. Having had thousands of letters ignored the grey army is now learning and employing hashtags and handles to create the perfect Twitter storm. The hiatus of Federal Parliament recess is being put to good use by the grey power fighters who are creating a Twitter trend that the minders will catch and take to their political masters. Listening to our lives for his voice inevitably takes us on Luke’s road to service for the greater good. It is a pathway of focus and purpose.

It is Luke’s road from Nazareth to Bethlehem along which we travel with Mary, carrying the Christ within us, but also serving his daily birthing in our encounters with one another and the events that otherwise may threaten to overwhelm us.

We began our reflection with a troubled Mary abandoning herself to the outcome of the angel’s startling announcement. It’s only a few verses on in the opening chapter of Luke’s gospel that  we witness the joyful encounter between the expectant mothers, cousins Elizabeth and Mary, and Mary’s ecstatic hymn that rings down through the millennia.

Luke 1:46b-55
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

Rocky Road

Matthew 16:13-20 goes bush

Photo by John Salzarulo on Unsplash

Fishing, sinking, flailing, drowning
Blustering, flustering, arguing, clowning
Sometimes trusting, oft with a lurch –
On this rock Christ builds his church.

Setting out with Christ to walk his way
Recognising that our faith can sway,
Devoted to grow and serve and search –
On this rock Christ builds his church.

Some keys and a rooster tell Peter’s story
Seems stars and mud lead him to glory
On all of this does our pilgrimage perch
For on this rock Christ builds his church.

(c) Dennis Ryle 2020

She came asking…


Photo by 
AZGAN MjESHTRI on Unsplash

Matthew 15:21-28

She came asking for help, I don’t know why
she thought the Boss would turn and meekly comply
He needed a break, so we had come far away
To this place we could hide and have some rest and some play.

She shouted and clamoured and broke through our line.
We’re not really bodyguards and she refused to decline.
We plead with the Boss to send her forthwith.
He agreed telling her, “I’m not for you; it’s my own that I’m with.”

“Evenso,” cried she, “I’m hanging about.
Any leftovers there are, I claim – don’t you doubt!”
The Boss looked astounded, and turned with a grin.
“Take what you need. And, boys? See how she’s not out, but in!”

(c) Dennis Ryle

Getting wet feet

Matthew 14:22-33

Photo by Tommaso Fornoni on Unsplash

My Dad knew a bloke who could teach me to swim
My seven year self set off feeling grim
This whole new experience filled me with doubt
Nevertheless, togs and towel after school I set out.

The Port Canal was the place where we mustered
A small group of kids and a bloke where we clustered
He had a harness and a long bit of rope
One waited one’s turn ‘twixt dread and hope.

My turn came and I stood full of fear
“When I say ‘Now’ just jump off the pier.”
Counterphobic me, I failed to wait.
I jumped right in and encountered my fate.

The rope was slack and I sank right down
I spluttered and splashed thinking I might drown
The bloke hauled me in saying, “Too quick, young man,
Learn to trust directions if you possibly can.”

I read of Peter getting out of the boat
Walking on water! Better than afloat!
The Christ had summoned him, had called him ahead
Peter started out well, then sank full of dread.

Christ hauled him in asking “Where’s your trust?”
Your transformation means risks are a must.
Risks on your own are a pattern to avoid
Keep your focus on me and you’ll always be buoyed.”

(c) 2020 Dennis Ryle