In the club

The five women waiting at the station chatted excitedly and laughed often. They were all ‘of an age’ and wore deliberately ostentatious purple dresses and bold red feather-laden hats. I stopped to compliment them on how wonderful and happy they looked. One told me, “We’re going on a harbour cruise today because we’re celebrating 10 years of our club.”* They beamed with pride.

I wished them well and moved on to the sunshine further along the platform. I thought about clubs.

Not the places of lurid carpet and mysterious gaming rooms with furtive smoking areas and lots of raffles.  Not even sporting clubs which, although they are about passion and shared interests, seem so much to be about winning as well, sometimes at any cost.**

No, the clubs that are just about really liking something and doing it with others who share the same like (or love,  or passion or weird-but -harmless*** obsession).

At various times I’ve been part of formal or informal clubs, societies, teams and peer groups devoted to papercraft, appreciation of M*A*S*H, The Beatles, Orchestral Manoevres in the Dark (an 80s synthesiser band, not funny business) and pub trivia.

Some clubs last just for a brief poignant time like the purposeful weeks a bunch of us spent writing ‘We love you Shaun’ hundreds of times on hundreds of sheets of paper, all in the hope that Shaun Cassidy would one day come to our school. We had as much fun counting how many times we’d written the message in our rounded, loopy adolescent handwriting as we did imagining that he might one day reward us with a visit.

The first club I ever joined boasted a membership of two 9 year old girls who briefly idolized Suzi Quattro and spent hours after school putting up posters and playing Devil Gate Drive on a portable record player, repeatedly. It didn’t last long but left a significant impression on us (and on our bedroom walls once we stopped idolizing Suzi and took her posters down.)

At the moment I participate in online word games with people I’ve never met and number among the financial members of an Australian political party – a dwindling resource apparently. Being the mum of twins, I continue to belong to a national association for the parents of multiple births. I was once involved heavily in my local chapter’s committee and attending events. These days I love reading the newsletter and doing nothing else.

I’m also very much part of my local church and, as someone who knows Jesus as my king, helper, rescuer, teacher and brother, I’m also part of the worldwide church which just means his gang.

People see ‘church’ as a club – and often in a bad way. Many see church as a closed social group – designed for insiders and inaccessible to outsiders. This is a natural confusion because the Bible was originally written by people of the Jewish faith where there are insiders and outsiders. Church is very different.

Most people see church as a building as well, which is exactly not what is described in the Bible.

These are the ways in which the church is a club:

  1. All the members follow one person – Jesus – and have this is common.
  2. The club is defined by its passion. Love is the most important thing.
  3. The club has a handbook. It’s the Bible, a collection of 66 individual writings including letters, law, history, poetry, dreams, warnings, singing and Jesus’ words. There are a few rules but if members break them, Jesus will pay the fine. It includes some instructions for how to conduct club meetings but there is a lot of leeway.

These are the ways in which the church is not like most clubs:

  1. No specific meeting place, day of the week or time of day, just wherever makes sense for that time and situation.
  2. No specific uniform, just whatever makes sense etc.,
  3. No specific language, just whatever makes sense etc.,
  4. No specific members, … you get the message.
  5. Club officers aren’t elected, they are chosen by God and given what they’ll need in order to do the job.
  6. Anyone can join or just come along if they want.
  7. Membership is about following Jesus. Nothing else is required.
  8. No money need ever change hands.
  9. Someone who’s been in the club for one day is of the same value as someone who has been in the club since birth.
  10. Someone could be a full member without ever having visited the clubhouse but they would really want to if they had the chance.
  11. It’s possible that, apart from Jesus, the members have nothing in common with each other.
  12. Nobody wins anything except spending forever and ever with Jesus, the ultimate winner.

Anyway, like the women I saw on the train platform, being part of a club ought to bring joy and the pride of being part of something good.

I like church. Maybe, if you’ve always dismissed the idea of checking out a group of God’s people, you’ll decide to have a look? Remember it’s not about the building and nobody is an outsider.

*The Red Hat Society in case you were wondering.

** I’ve nothing against winning, except when it becomes the only acceptable outcome.

*** If the activity is weird-and-harmful it’s no longer a club, it’s a crime.

The feature image is of the play, The Club, which I studied at high school in 1982.This was the cover image on the copy I used.

My only post about the Rio Olympic Games

An inspirational and emphatic win  (43-7) by Fiji’s Rugby Sevens team has made history for this beautiful place of more than 330 islands and fewer than 900,000 people.
This resulted in Fiji’s first ever Olympic medal (gold is a good place to start) since becoming a nation in 1970. Wow! That heaps scorn on the nations who spend the Olympics watching the medal tally jealously and feeling somehow cheated if they don’t get the gold they had expected!
 
It wasn’t just a great win or an excellent example of a sport well-played. It was a lesson in honour.
Many have noticed that the victorious team, rather than ripping off their shirts, flying like airplanes around the stadium or drenching themselves in alcohol, formed a close circle and broke into song. Not the kind of song performed (usually in private) by the Australian Cricket Team (and which we would probably not let our kids sing) but a song that the media has described as moving, emotional.
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This is the chorus of the song they sang, in two languages I think.
We have overcome
Halleluiah, Halleluiah
We have overcome
By the power of your name
Jesus you’re the one
Halleluiah, Halleluiah
The one who made a way for us to triumph in this day
 
At the medal presentation each member of the team knelt when receiving their gold medal from the presenter, Princess Anne.  They are big guys, that’s for sure, but the kneeling and the accompanying hand clap was part of showing respect according to their tradition.
Whether or not you are a monarchist, a Christian, a rugby fan or an addict of any sport as long as it’s part of the Olympics, (I think I’m only one of those things), it’s hard to go past this occasion as one of the most heartwarmingly real moments of true victory we will ever see.
A quick Internet search reveals that Fiji’s national motto is :Rerevaka na Kalou ka Doka na Tui
/ Fear God and honour the Queen.
Seems that Fiji is a nation that actually knows what it’s about. I know it’s not a perfect country – there is no perfect country at this time – but I think Fiji might have a clearer idea of itself than many other, more ‘developed’ nations. Oh and it is ferociously good at rugby. Fiji’s women’s team hasn’t had the same Olympic success as the blokes but if it shares this view of true victory that may not matter too much.
Aside

What we stand for

As you head out of the Kapooka Army Recruit Training Centre (ARTC) four white signs spell out the Army’s four key values: Courage, Initiative, Respect and Teamwork. CIRT.

I know this because I was there on Friday and Sunday to be part of my stepson’s graduation from basic training.

At Friday’s March Out Parade he and his platoon-members literally stood for these values, for almost two hours, in the cold, wet Wagga morning. He was dedicated to upholding these ideals, as well as upholding himself, his gun and his rakish slouch hat.

I’m so glad we were there to witness it.

After successfully enduring 80 difficult days, he is no longer a recruit but a soldier and now approaches something like full human status.

I am not sure how long it will take him to relax – if ever. As far as I can assess, he has been on edge for every minute of every day since 10 May. (There he was on Saturday, with free time and surrounded by his family, looking perplexed: “Nobody is telling me what to do, so I don’t know what to do”.)

It appears to me that the four values work out like this:

  1. Courage – to face the weight of history, the staggering number of rules, mystifying abbreviations, arbitrary traditions and the seeming limitless number of people who have power over the recruit.
  2. Initiative – to do only what you’re told and when you’re told to do it.
  3. Respect – to learn that what you thought was respect was something else altogether.
  4. Teamwork – to suffer in a group, to accept every one’s weaknesses, to be terrified of a wrong step and to be constantly afraid that you’ll be made to pay for someone else’s mistake.

The 7th Pattern Rising Sun Badge

Our boy has finished and he can not conceal his pride (and possibly amazement) in that achievement. He has new language, new clothes, new habits, a new cohort and a new sense of belonging. He looks in to a new horizon, with the beginning of a career and a future he can almost taste. He takes with him new skills, new questions and a few answers, new reasons for doing what he does and new ways of making choices.

He is now at a new location, commencing Initial Employment Training (IET). I wonder if it will feel different? I am sure we’ll see new aspects of Courage, Initiative, Respect and Teamwork emerging in him over time.

soldiers

In the drizzle of Sunday morning, as we stood outside the base’s front gate waiting for the ADF bus to take us to chapel, I had plenty of time to consider what list of CIRT values I would choose.

  • Comedy, Improv, Repertory and Talk show perhaps. (my dream career)
  • Challenging, Impractical, Ratty and Troublesome. (me in the morning)
  • Chocolate, Ice-Cream, Rocky Road and Toffee. (some of the foods I like a lot.)
  • Champagne, Irish Coffee, Rum Daiquiris and Tia Maria.(drinks I like a lot.)

Or

  • Christ, Immortality, Redemption and Truth.(four things I totally believe in.)
  • Colossians, Isaiah, Revelation and Timothy. (four books of the Bible that I like.)

How about Care, Integrity, Realness and Trust. I like that list.

I think I’d be useless in the Army.

 

 

Really really really really really really …

Now that I live at Umina Beach I daily move through the beautiful place known as Woy Woy.

It is one of the places in Australia whose name is an Aboriginal word repeated.

The name Woy Woy is said to be an Awabakal Aboriginal term for ‘deep water’ or ‘lagoon’. The repetition is a bit like how we use the words ‘really’ or ‘very’.

It reminds me of the beginning of the Bible in the account of God creating the world. At the end of each of the first five days God looks at what he has made and pronounces it to be good.

After the work is done he looks at it and pronounces it to be very good.

God rests because he’s done what he sets out to do. (And Jesus ends his very bad day of being executed with the words, “It is done”.)

All of this is a challenge for our culture where we struggle to find enough superlatives to really express just how MUCH.

In the 70s and 80s we used the word MEGA, or the Ockerised ‘rooly rooly’ to replace Super or Extra. And every decade seems to embrace its own – heaps, tonnes and we mustn’t forget, on steroids. These days we have ‘repurposed’ a German word – Uber – now a successful business name.

A keen observation about language is that the more we use a word the less impact it has. I tried to explain that once to a client who sought to emphasise the uniqueness of his business proposition and wanted me to use the word ‘unique’ at least once on every page. Hmmmmm, no.

(In the same vein, I mourn the authentic use of “awesome” – whereby something would inspire awe, good old-fashioned jaw dropping amazed astonished admiration.  Not a synonym for “great”.)

As with so many things we ought to take the lead from the first Australians and keep it simple. Likewise we ought use the model in Genesis 1 and just say what we mean. Good. Good. Good. Good. Good. Very good.

And to quote Forrest Gump: “And that’s all I have to say about that.”

 

The Permanent Lint Removal System

I love my black overcoat though it’s been around for more than a decade. It is mid-thigh length and still fits me, despite the changes that come with motherhood and middle-age.

I bought it on sale at the Sydney Town Hall in 2001 when I last worked full-time and felt the cold wind reserved for commuters waiting at bus stops and stations.

Winter 2016 is my first as a commuter from the Central Coast (I catch the 6.18am from Woy Woy when I can). The station platform is only a couple of metres from Woy Woy Bay. The air that comes off that body of water in the pre-dawn hours is genuinely icy.

I held out for as long as I could. Over days I watched smugly as my fellow-travellers resorted to their polar fleece hiking gear and bank-robber beanies much sooner than I felt I needed to. While they shuffled their feet and violently rammed their hands in to pockets I relished the cool sharpness against my cheek and embraced my new coastal lifestyle.

Of course I finally relented, retrieving the coat from the cupboard. I was amazed at how well it had survived. Not threadbare and I could still do the buttons up.

But.

Under the stark lights of the carriage, everything is different.

The thick, clearly delineated lint zone clinging firmly to the edges of the coat flaps and sleeves seems like an army of white insects, travelling along the black woollen terrain with precision and determination. I pick at it from time to time, feeling powerless against its force. No matter how much I pick, more appears. Lint is apparently eternal.

At home, my resolve to use the lint removal brush fades immediately, overshadowed by bouncing children and my husband serving dinner and the prospect of wine. My mother insisted I have it; bought me my own after I’d used hers once or twice. It’s very effective, if you use it.

The following week, as I was getting ready to catch the train the next morning, I remembered the lint and I removed it with the lint brush. Or most of it.

The next day the coat kept me warm. The lint left me cold.

 I Googled ‘permanent lint removal system’. There isn’t one of course. But it seems to be a thing. Other people have tried to find one too.

Turns out that white lint on a dark coat is a great metaphor for the things that are wrong with the world. We can believe it’s not there. Then when a light is shone on it we can’t deny it. Then we can try to pick it off, bit by bit. Even if we do a brilliant job and get everything off, we know that there will be more, eventually, to remind us that we can’t do it ourselves.

We need a once-for-all, permanent lint removal system. Don’t you think?

Through the cracks

Yesterday we had a visit from Aaron, a friend from church and a licensed builder, who gave us some ideas about things we’d like to change in our new home.

He lives near us, in a street on which I travel when taking my children to school. He said we would easily spot his place: it’s the builder’s house, with half-finished, over-optimistic extensions and an entrance hall the size of a smallish bedroom. He has ‘improved’ the house he bought five years ago, to the point that only a few planks of wood remain from the original. And it will possibly never be finished.

Like plumbers with dripping taps, doctors who smoke, graphic designers without business cards, IT workers who don’t back up, mechanics driving around with bald tyres and builders who never complete their renovations, I am a writer who, too often, doesn’t write.

In the blogosphere I am not a rare creature.

In 2014, there were 76.5 million blogs on WordPress alone! These things I know for sure:

  1. There are many, many more blogs now in June 2016
  2. A good percentage of these blogs have not been added to for more than a year.

Like this one.

Dear reader, I’m a Christian and, as such, I firmly believe in new beginnings.

This blog has been resuscitated once already but now, rather than returning to its old life, it is now breathing again as a completely new creature. A new heart beats in its chest.

(For further study: read about the Heart Transplant mentioned almost 600 years B.C.

God says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26)

So stick with it, and me and let’s see how this new life unfolds.

Stuff I have to say

I have always hated the idea of the death penalty, unapologetically. Wherever it occurs: China, USA, Indonesia and beyond. It is barbaric to take a life. Regardless of the heinous crime committed by the life in question. That has always been my position.

The tragic and simply horrible impending death of nine people in Indonesia as punishment for drug-trafficking has brought the realities of the death penalty, and the sovereign rule of nations, into stark focus. It seems today that the executions will go ahead and that nothing in this life can save the people soon to be put to death.

But we can learn things; valuable things.

1. We can’t trust human justice to save us. For the past few months, since it became clear that appeals for clemency were failing, people in Australia and beyond have felt that saying ‘It’s not fair’ should somehow make a difference. As if public opinion can somehow change the direction of circumstance. I wonder why they think it should. Since when has fairness even been a consideration in the dreadful death of our brothers and sisters. Four days after the horrendous earthquake and avalanche in Nepal, when has it ever been fair? Like it or not, the Indonesian leader can do what they like, regardless of public opinion.

2. Execution is a brutal way to die, but is it more brutal than death by heroin overdose, traffic carnage, cancer or brain injury, drowning in a flooded drain? Dying is dying and is (I think) the only thing that happens to everyone that nobody likes. Nobody yearns for death by firing squad, but in reality we won’t all get a chance to say goodbye or to make peace before we leave.

3. We are all under a death sentence. We will all die and nobody will escape it. Our human bodies are dying from the moment we are conceived. The Indonesian law has always been clear (rightly or wrongly) for those caught in drug trafficking offenses (rightly or wrongly). In this case, repeated requests for clemency have been ignored.

Some see a parallel in the black/white of God’s law but it’s not a complete parallel. Here are some differences: God is God and not a human law maker. God is not corrupt or power-drunk and not capricious in the way he treats people or circumstances. God has not just heard our cries for clemency but has provided the way that clemency can be received.

4. I will see Andrew Chan and Myurun Sukumaran again and though we’ve never met, we will know each other as brother and sister. We all share the faith of the Bible which foreshadows a time when there will be no more death or tears or pain or grief. Others who have died knowing that Jesus will await them on the other side of this life have sometimes gone singing. In any case, on the other side, there will be singing more joyful than ever before. One day I’ll be there.

God bless them and God bless you. And thank God that death, as we know it, is not the end.