Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Letter Sent Today...

Dear Friends of the Chaplaincy at La Trobe and RMIT,

I am forwarding along parts of a letter I received today from Sarah Wickam, current President of the La Trobe University Student Representative Council, asking that I help to gather some voices of protest and support for forthcoming action in Canberra on legislation impacting Student Unions at Australian Universities. Sarah has advised me that of the following:

"Earlier the reports out of Canberra and the coalition party room sounded like the VSU legislation would not get into the Senate before the end of the year, and that the legislation itself when passed would not be implimented until 2007.

"However, yesterday I received several phone calls from reliable sources including Jenny Macklin's education advisors that VSU is on the move, National Senator Joyce is as solid as he will ever be. In short, he is NOT voting for VSU. So this means that the Government needs one extra vote to get the legislation through. Their only option, the man they are looking at Steven Fielding, Family First.

"It seems that he has began to back down on his stance against VSU, although saying that he will support universities charging an amenities fee (Victorian style VSU) and that he will potentially move amendments to this affect. However he remain tight-lipped on what he will do if confronted with the full legislation or nothing. The Liberals are counting on him voting for the VSU legislation."

As a US citizen who is a permanent resident in Australia, I usually avoid commenting on national politics, but having finished my first year as a Chaplain at two Melbourne institutions, I am concerned that the prevailing mood favouring privatisation and fee for service may point to a future environment in tertiary education without adequate room or support for the unique culture of Universities. As I understand it, the proposed VSU legislation will severely restrict options for ancillary services and support that are crucial to a well informed and educated citizenry. My assumption is that the changes are designed to reduce left-wing political activism, but my fear is that it will be most hurtful and harmful in withdrawing necessary support services such as childcare, centrelink, clubs and societies and advocacy work etc. and will most negatively impact returning, mature age, and non-traditional students as well as those traditional students who have benefited from their association with student unions over the years.

I would not write to you if I did not see this as similar to a trend that has undercut Universities in the US for the last few decades, where the bottom line determines the value of the educational process. I would hate to see Australia follow the US lead in this sort of gutting of civil and social organizations. If you agree that this is a critical issue and one with deep moral, ethical and spiritual components that point to the importance of the whole community working together, I invite you to please write to Senator Fielding at the address noted below. The time is limited and your response may be crucial. Please consider writing as soon as possible.

As an American resident in Australia, I have found the idea of the "Fair Go" to be a noble foundation for a people seeking to live in community in a way that is both fair and good. It is one of the things I love and admire about this country. I fear that some of the forces behind the VSU campaign may be pushing against this in a way that could be extremely hurtful to the heart of this good land. I have seen where that road can lead in other places. I hope this land will not follow that path.


Robert Whalley, Chaplain,

La Trobe University
RMIT University

Steven Fielding’s contact details:

Parliament Contact:
Tel: (02) 6277 3711?
Fax: (02) 6277 5713?
Email: ?

Address in Canberra:
Senator S. Fielding
Leader of the Family First Party
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Electorate Office:?
PO Box 500?Box Hill VIC 3128 ?
Ph: 03 9897 3307
Fax: 03 9897 4578?
Toll Free: 1300 736 017?(Toll free number is only available Victoria)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The First Sunday of Advent - St.Peter's Eastern Hill

I want to start with a confession, which is that I make New Years resolutions several times every year. This doesn’t necessarily have to do with the post-fifty memory loss, although I do forget my failures more easily than I used to when I was younger, and I thank God for that. But it connects more with the sense that the life I live day to day has a graceful spaciousness that increasingly encourages me to try again, begin again, as if it were the first time, like I didn’t know any better. That is one of the joys of getting older: I now feel more free to take the risk of trying something new or something old in a new way. So I make resolutions for Advent as well as New Years, and will likely continue for Lent, Eastertide and Pentecost as well.

So, as part of my pre-Advent resolution, last week I started doing a series of stretching exercises on an almost daily basis. I follow a videotape that takes me through some yoga motions and progressive relaxation stuff. It’s not very heroic, no Jane Fonda routine, but it already seems to make a difference. For one thing, I am a little sore all the time, and also a little more aware of the grace and gift of my own body, this slightly over the hill and somewhat overweight God given miracle in which I live and move and have my being. So stretching almost every day comes to be a small way to say thank you for one of the amazing and complex gifts of life.

For Life is a complex mystery and I have come to accept that and even love it most of the time. When I was younger, I must admit, I just wanted someone to give me a simple instruction manual, preferably with lots of pictures! I’ve changed on that and I now wish that someone had taken me aside instead and told me some things like, “truth can be very big and very small, and it often has more than one side”. “You’ll find that some things are very important, some things are not important at all; and you won’t always know which is which until you reach the end.” “The one thing that we are absolutely sure of is that nothing is simple to understand!”

So Life is complex and paradoxical. And the reality of God, that ultimate truth, which we know and touch and celebrate here as the creative love, the day to day neighborliness, the sweet conspiracy of God is the biggest paradox of all. The reality of God is both completely simple and clear, and – at the same time - almost impossible to get your mind around. The Good news is that you might not ever be able to understand it, but you can take it into your heart and soul and you can live it out in every part of every bit of all your life. But it is complex, and maybe especially in Advent!

Here’s a story from Joan Chittister that came from our Thursday Night Advent Study series, which, by the way, I commend to you. She writes:

The Talmud teaches that every person should wear a jacket with two pockets. In the one pocket, the rabbis say, there should be a note that reads, "I am a worm and not completely human." And in the second pocket, the rabbis say, the note must read, "For me the universe was made."

That is very similar to what the modern Buddhist teacher Shunru Suzuki used to tell people, “You are perfect as you are, and you could improve a little too!”

But I will admit these simple and complex and paradoxical truths can be small comfort when evil and terror threaten to come round with force and surprise, and peace and hope seems far away. Then it makes sense that we want to be big enough to deal with big threats, that we would seek a mighty God to marshal the forces, battle with all those malignant powers and principalities we see on the nightly news. So, like Isaiah, we might cry: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence.”

That just might happen at the end of time, the Scriptures hint at it, or at some equally cinematic vindication, but we don’t get surety. What we do get instead, and what we remember and celebrate, especially in the season of Advent, is a promise of a companion on the way, en-fleshed as a child. For the Good News that comes to live with us, in the very heart of who and where we are, is an ongoing relationship seen in the midst of a human life lived in love. A life that is a light from God, that can be very small, newborn, like a precious gift, but somehow this gift enlivens us to live more deeply and love more freely, right in the midst of being small and human and living and dying. And this means that we, as we are, in the midst of our smallness and our limits and our humanity have enough and are enough.

As Paul writes, “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end... [For] God is faithful; by him you were called into the community of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Again, some more Joan Chittister:

“When Advent seeps into our souls, we come to understand that small is not nothing and empty is not bereft. To be small is to need, to depend on the other. Smallness bonds us to the rest of the human race and frees us from the arrogant isolation that kills both the body and the soul. To be empty is to be available inside to attend to something other than the self. We become full of the blessings of life.

“Then, emptied out by the awareness of our own smallness, we may have the heart to identify with those whose emptiness, whose poverty of spirit and paucity of life is involuntary. Then, we may be able to become full human beings ourselves, full of compassion and full of consciousness.”

So that is the hope of our faith and the shape of our journey, our liturgy and our ministry as people of God, here and everywhere, in this community of St. Peter’s Eastern Hill as well as all the communities where we live and move and have our being. All the places where we stretch out and give thanks for this great complex package of life and death and for the deep love that creates, redeems, sustains us at every step along the way.

Here’s the last hypothetical lesson I wish I learned earlier: “Learn to be still and to move well, learn to stand tall and to bow often.”

There are a lot of us here who bow and light a candle as when we enter the Lady Chapel and this is a good thing. The Blessed Virgin is certainly a primary model for our ministry, both corporately and as individuals. To quote another part of the booklet for our Advent Study:

“God's 'Yes' in Christ takes a distinctive and demanding form as it is addressed to Mary. The profound mystery of "Christ in you, the hope of glory" has a unique meaning for her. It enables her to speak the 'Amen' in which, through the Spirit's overshadowing, God's 'Yes' of new creation is inaugurated. … Mary's 'Amen' to God's 'Yes' in Christ to her is thus both unique and a model for every disciple and for the life of the Church.”

For each of us takes a part in bringing the Word made flesh into our world through the work of our daily vocations. In that we become, in some sense, Theotokos, like Mary, God-bearers, bearers of God in human form. And here is where we all might learn to stretch a bit more in our ministries in this Advent.

In a moment we will gather at the altar for a blessing on the daily occupations where each of us as lay and ordained persons serve as ministers of Christ’s presence in this good world. I hope you will come up and share your ministry and that we may pray together for all the ministries that proceed from this place.
But I ask you one other thing, that before you leave the church this morning, you walk into the Lady Chapel and look at the statue of the virgin and child there, and resolve that you will look for the places where the love, the forgiveness, the healing presence of Christ waits to be born in the world. This can be a surprising exercise, it can stretch your understanding and your ability for ministry. For Christ is coming to be born in surprising places and to live and die and rise in simple and complex ways. And if you take time to see, then it may be that not less than everyone, friend and foe, neighbor and stranger, is a place where God’s grace and glory, hope and peace, is waiting to be born.

So take your place this season, as faithful witnesses and ministers of the place where God’s unquenchable spirit meets our human flesh. Like Elizabeth, Mary, Zachariah, Joseph, Simeon and Anna, take up the ministry of honoring this child who comes to join in our own humanity, this Emmanuel, God with us, to be born in the midst of us, and give thanks for this wonderful Advent.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A thought for a Monday

Today at Morning Prayer I had a bit of a inner warming when we read the beginning of Psalm 19. It starts:

“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.”

And I thought: there’s the perfect refutation to the fundies, to the unbelievable arrogance that says words can encapsulate reality. I know a bit about poetry, and I know that good poetry points beyond itself to a truth that is beyond words. Good religion, spirituality, truth—telling, call it what you will, does th esame. It points beyond to something that is beyond belief, but something that can somehow be perceived subtly, dimly, by that open attitude some called faith.

in the 1920s a Mayor of New York City said that nobody was ruined by a book. I doubt that anyone was saved by one either. Words can be like that infamous Zen finger pointing to the moon, they can head us, open our hearts to reality. But the farther I go on the journey, the more I know that reality – and life and love and mystery and anything else worth looking at and risking for – is bigger than we can ever understand.

Sermon - The Feast of All Saints

All Saint’s Parish
6 November 2005
Preston, Victoria, AU

There are many stories in this great big world. Everybody has at least one. One story that I bring to you this morning is that I came here from California four years ago to work at a local parish, then last year to return to work in University chaplaincy at La Trobe University and, alongside Father James, at RMIT University. It is good to be here, to do work I love with people I care about, in a country that gives a fair go for its people, a country with a good heart.

But I must admit sometimes I miss the place I came from, I miss the sight of the ocean fog when it comes into San Francisco Bay through the Golden Gate at the end of the hot day. I miss the sounds of certain bird songs I know, even though the birds here are so bright and wonderful and so very noisy. And, even though I’ve made some great friends - people I care for, people who care for me - I do miss the faces of friends and family known all my life, people who knew me before I was born. I miss the land of my old memories, though in so many cases, memories are all that remain. Friends and family have, died and gone, moved on, and even if I were to return to what used to be home, it would not be to the place that lives in my heart and mind: for even if I am far away, they have gone farther. I will not see them soon, but I know that they are in the sight of God, and not far from this table. But sometimes it still makes me sad that the world is so big and so much is lost from my daily sight. Sometimes I wish my arms were big enough that I could reach out and hold all my family and friends, near and far away, close to my heart. But the world is so big and I am not that big. None of us are. But the feeling abides. We all feel like that sometimes. It is a part of our story as living human beings.

Here is a version of another, very old story that a man named Elie Wiesel tells.

Once upon a time, there was a great and holy teacher, and whenever trouble came to his people; he would go into a certain part of the forest to light a fire, and say one special prayer, and the people would be spared. Years later, when one his disciples saw misfortune coming he would go to the same place in the forest and say: "Master of the Universe, please listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer." And again a miracle would happen. And years after that, in another time of trouble, still another person of faith went into the forest and said: "I do not know how to light the fire, I do not remember the prayer, but I know the place and this must be enough." And it was. Then more time passed, perhaps up to the present day, and trouble came again, And this time it fell to one old woman, the wisest and most holy teacher in her town, to do something. Sitting in her chair, her head in her hands, she spoke to God: "I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is to tell the story, and this must be sufficient." And it was.

That story can be good news for us because we, all of us, live in a world where we feel that we no longer know the whole story: the world has gotten so big. Sometimes it feels like we have forgotten how to light the fire, say the inspired prayer, even find the place; and even though we might remember where the path was, sometimes it seems like the path might have moved.

That is why is why we are here today on this Feast of All Saint’s. To recall that no matter how big the world is, how wide the gathering of people over time and place, no matter how much seems lost, it is all found in the love God has for us, all of us, living and dead, lost and found. We are here to recall how God’s wide arms encircle us, hold us together in this and every place, church and village, town and country, past and present and future, here and now.

The stories we come to remember around this table on this Feast of All Saint’s are very old stories, told over thousands of year in many places and in many languages. Even though they are not always easy to hold on to, they are true. For they tell us that even though time and travel may take us far from what we used to know and where we used to be: the God of the universe is here and now. God is present in the life and love of Jesus Christ and the inspiration of the spirit, willing to bring us into the fullness of life, to the fullness of the present moment, to the fullness of the unknowable future.

So we look back into letter that St. John wrote almost 2000 years ago, to come to understand the life that Jesus shares with us, to live in his hope, and be enlightened by his life and insight. Remembering we are children of God. That God’s love is our family name, our most intimate home, both the place where we are planted and our hope for a future we cannot yet fully understand, for what we will be has not yet been revealed, but when he is revealed, we will be like him, and we will see him as he is.

And with that hope in our hearts we can look forward to that wonderful picture in the Revelation to John, that great poetic vision, where the ones who have come through great ordeals have washed their robes and made them white: all home now; no more hunger or thirst, no more blazing sun or scorching heat; for the shepherd guides them to springs of living water, where every tear wiped away, every scar washed clean.

And we look to Jesus, meeting us in the present moment at this table to assure us that whoever and wherever we are right now, we are found in his love. When we mourn, are poor in sprit, hunger and thirst for righteousness, practice mercy; work and pray for peace, meet persecution, pain, misunderstanding on the way – and we all do - then we are blessed, here, now and always; for that way – the way of peace, mercy, forgiveness, acceptance - is God’s way and God’s way will be our way home.

So, now we come to this table to give thanks for this true story, in the company of all the Saints and martyrs, known and unknown. We come together with the prophets and priests, the angels and archangels, the living and dead, the whole company of heaven: to join in praise, to lift our hearts and hope, to eat the bread of heaven and drink the cup of salvation. And to know in God’s good glory nothing and no one will be lost, and in God’s love and forgiveness all creation will be found, and finally be brought home.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Melbourne Cup Day!

Melbourne Cup Day!
Originally uploaded by Chaplinesque.

Too Busy and Too Hot!

It feels like Monday but it is actually Wednesday and, for some reason, that seems to say it all!

Life is very busy lately and I've been all over the map. End of the academic year stuff, lots of letter writing and reporting, and some crucial fundraising, meeting with students and staff with semester finishing tensions, a quick trip to Adelaide for a special birthday party, plus preaching a sermon at a wonderful wedding: life is full on!

Yesterday was Melbourne Cup Day and I went to the Flinders Street Train Station to look at people dressed for a day of horse-racing and partying. Australia does know how to party! Found an air-conditioned theatre and saw the newest version of Pride and Prejudice, came home and napped for a long time. It was a good underdone day.

But I've lost the discipline of writing regularly on the blog, And I repent! So I will try to try again, as soon as the pressure lets up!