Saturday, December 29, 2007

Has this year held the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything?

I am conscious that I have been neglecting my blog in recent weeks, so here is a copy of an email letter I recently sent out to various family and friends to mark the holiday season, and the end of the year.

As I contemplate another birthday about to hit, and with that, the prospect of moving on from being the age of "the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything" (and if you have no idea what this means, you obviously need to read The Hitch-hikers' Guide to the Galaxy series), I send you belated Christmas wishes (as I didn't seem to manage to get my act together to do Christmas cards, or even a proper Christmas email this year), and trust that your Christmas was a special time of peace and blessing.
The past few weeks have held many things for me, and I will attempt to give you a snapshot of how it's been.
I continue to LOVE the CPE unit I'm doing at Peter Mac Cancer Centre. It is incredibly challenging and demanding physically, emotionally and mentally, but I am loving the work, and especially the privilege of travelling with the patients and their families as they experience hard times and some good times.

A particularly special moment for me came a couple of weeks ago, just after I had spent a very intense couple of days supporting the family and friends of a young woman who became very ill and then died. On my first visit to the ward after this had happened, I was almost pounced on by a patient who I had spent some time with the previous week; he was very excited, and keen to share with me some things he had written down, articulating his take on the meaning of life. He told me that he had been inspired by a conversation I had with him earlier, where we talked about issues of meaning, and he thought he should take the opportunity to write some stuff down, so that when he was going through dark times in the future, he would have something to come back to, as a kind of reference point. This encounter was a real gift from God, which helped to lighten my own spirit after travelling with the family and friends of the other patient through the heaviness and intensity of their grief the day before.

I currently have my mother staying with me (her first visit to Melbourne!), and since her arrival, we have done most of the important cultural icons of Melbourne: we did Lygon St the night she arrived; savoured Brunetti's the following night, then IKEA (and their smashing $2 breakfast!) the next day (and we even finally got around to buying the bookshelves I have been threatening to buy for so long, and now the many boxes of books that have been cluttering my living room for many months are now neatly tucked away).

Last night, I initiated Mum into the pub scene of Brunswick, as we had a counter meal at the Retreat Hotel for dinner. Then this morning we did Sydney Road, from Coburg, where I bought a sewing machine (something I have been wanting to do for ages, and saw a great bargain advertised on TV last night, so went out and bought it), then I introduced Mum to the Mediterranean Wholesalers, an amazing Italian supermarket/general store/cafe on Sydney Rd, and I bought some of their great pasta, and we had a cuppa there, before heading down to the local supermarket for some more mundane grocery shopping before I had to head into the hospital for afternoon/evening shift.

Of course, the biggest excitement of Mum's visit was going to the Boxing Day test match on Boxing Day, which even I enjoyed. It was a great atmosphere, we got to do the Mexican wave, saw the cricket up close, gave Hayden a standing ovation for his century, and even got a bit sunburnt (despite numerous generous applications of 30+ sunscreen). And Mum, being an utter sports nut, just loved it, even though she was hoping to see Ponting get a century, and he let the side down big time (in both innings).

Mum and I spent Christmas Day in Ballarat with my friend and neighbour Susan and her family. Even though we both shed many tears over the week or so leading up to Christmas, as it just didn't feel right not to have Dad around, it was great to be with the Malthouse family, who made us very welcome, and we had a special time with them, for which Mum and I are both grateful.

During her stay, Mum has also been trying, with some success, to bring some order to the chaos of my abode. So my kitchen and bathroom are now gleaming, and you can even see the floor in the living room, and there are numerous cockroach baits now strategically placed in the kitchen and laundry. (I think Mum got sick of me whingeing about the "bloody mainland vermin" so she thought we should take more direct action to get rid of them)... now if only we could do the same to get rid of the spiders and their pesky webs...

I think that's all the news for now...

I'd like to give special thanks to everyone who has been in touch to offer Christmas greetings to Mum and me, especially in the light of the sadness surrounding the celebration this year in Dad's absence. Even though I haven't managed to respond personally to all these greetings I really do appreciate them, so thankyou.

As I continue to work away through the summer at Peter Mac, I trust that some of you will be getting the chance to relax and refresh yourselves at this time of the year, and that the New Year of 2008 brings many joys and good things your way.

Thanks for your friendship and support, I really do appreciate it.

Happy Christmas/ New Year/ holiday/ birthday
(strike out where inapplicable)

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Professional boundaries

Yesterday (Friday), in my hospital pastoral care placement, a patient I have spent some time with on the ward where I'm working, was transferred to Intensive Care Unit, as things were not looking good for her.

Just before 8am, I received a call from ICU saying that this family was in need of pastoral care (the call came to me because I was the overnight on-call pastoral carer), but as the day duty person was likely to already be at the hospital by that time and it would have taken me half an hour to get there, I suggested they contact our department and speak to her.

Later in the morning, after I had seen the referred patients on the ward I was assigned to, I went up to ICU, to see how things were going, and whether the day duty person might need a break, as she had been with the family for a couple of hours by this time.

Because I already had a pastoral relationship with the patient and her mother, one of the senior pastoral care staff suggested that I should travel with this family for the rest of the day and be their main point of pastoral care, and so
I spent most of the day with the family and friends of this patient (about 4 hours in total).

As I left them at the end of the day, I told them that I would be going home soon, and encouraged them to have the pastoral carer on duty paged if they needed someone to talk to, or to be with them during the evening, or through the weekend.

As I went home, I had trouble getting this patient and her family out of my mind. Today (Saturday) I felt keen to know how things were going for them, and was sorely tempted to ring the hospital to speak to the ICU nurse to find out what was happening. I managed to resist this temptation, because I am not on duty, and there is someone else who is, and if there are any needs today, this person is the appropriate one to look after them.

So I am feeling slightly squished between the rock of genuinely caring about what happens for these folk (and also wanting to be involved in their pastoral care), and the hard place of professional boundaries, that providing care for them was my responsibility till 4pm yesterday, but since then has been the responsibility of other people on duty overnight and the weekend, (so I shouldn't butt in).

This is certainly an issue that raises lots of emotions for me, and confused thoughts, so I think I need to write it all down in more detail for my own benefit, and then take the issue to my next supervision session.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

another first!

Today as a colleague was listing the various religious festivals and holidays that are coming up during December, he commented:

"and of course the most important religious holiday is the day after Christmas"

Yes folks, here in Melbourne, that sports mad city, we have the Boxing Day Test coming up. I groaned.

But then this got me thinking... my mother will be here in Melbourne on Boxing Day... my mother is an utter sports nut... maybe she would like to go to the test on Boxing Day...

So tonight I checked out the prices and ticket availability (and both looked achievable- gee it's great being a student! :-), and then rang Mum to see if she would like to go to the cricket when she's here. Of course, she was delighted at the prospect, so I jumped onto the internet and booked us two tickets to the first day of the Test.

Mum was very excited and said it will be a first for her... and I think maybe for me too. I have been to one day matches at the SCG and MCG (all many years ago), but I don't think I've ever been to a test match (or as in this case, part thereof)... and as Mum said, if we get bored with it, we can always just leave and go home - she may be sports mad, but she's also a pragmatist, is my Mum.

Talk about the ultimate in mother-daughter bonding (or is that 'bondage'? :-)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

... it happened!

After more than 30 years, Bennelong is no longer a Liberal seat, and John Howard is no longer a sitting member. I heard on the news tonight that Maxine McKew has claimed victory in the seat (although the APH website still claims the seat is undecided).

This is the first time that I have regretted no longer living in that electorate (having grown up there and had John Howard as my local member for about half of my life). With the result so touch and go, it would have been the first time that my vote actually meant anything, as it seems that most places where I have lived since then have been very safe seats for one side or the other.

Before the election, I was planning to do a bit of a victory dance, singing: "ding dong! the witch is dead!" if Howard lost, but after his amazingly gracious speech conceding the election, I kind of feel sorry for the guy, and think it would be unnecessarily nasty of me to be so excited about his defeat.

So maybe I'll just have a quietly excited phone conversation with my mother about the joys of having a new local member in Maxine after so long with "Honest John".

Friday, November 30, 2007

The fine line between pleasure and pain



Today I had a day off from my placement at the hospital, because I am rostered on for duty on Sunday. If anyone asks me what I did on my day off, I'm not sure exactly how truthful to be.

The first errand on my list for this morning (and it was errmmm late morning by the time I got out of the house :-) was to get my legs waxed. I was aiming to get a full leg wax, but because the beautician at my local pharmacy was pressed for time, I had to settle for a half leg wax (ie from the knees down), or else come back later in the afternoon for the full leg, which I didn't really want to do.

As I was lying on the beautician's couch, chatting away to her as she violently ripped all the hairs on my legs out of their places, it occurred to me that there was something kind of enjoyable about the kind of pain I experienced as she did that.

Maybe I really am becoming a masochist, or maybe I just have a macabre sense of .. umm.. something... because I really find it fascinating to feel the sensation of the hairs coming out, roots and all ... and then looking at the evidence of their removal on the wax strip.

There's a similar sense of satisfaction in the feeling as I pluck my eyebrows, and feel (and see) the individual hairs come out of their sockets. I also get the same fascination from those blackhead removal strips that you put across your nose, and leave until it dries, and then rip it off, pulling with it the gunge from the pores on the nose... I just love looking at the debris that comes away on that strip after it's been removed.

Mind you, as the hair came away from the backs of my knees (one of the more sensitive spots), I was kind of relieved that my beautician didn't have time to do my whole legs, as my legs seem to get more sensitive (and hairier) higher up my thighs, and I don't know that I would have enjoyed the feeling of all of that hair being ripped out today.

So maybe I'm only slightly masochistic... I guess we all have to have limits.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

In celebration of election day

Today is election day for Australia. Here in Melbourne, a group of choristers (including some folk I know) were part of an impromptu choir led by Stephen Taberner, instructing folk how to vote today.

View the video of their efforts on YouTube here.

I'm off now, to take their advice :-)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Baptism of fire

This week I started a placement as a Pastoral Care Intern at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (as part of a Clinical Pastoral Education unit and field education placement for my training).

The Pastoral Care Dept at Peter Mac has a 24 hour pastoral care service, which means there is always at least one pastoral carer physically present at the hospital between 8am and 8pm weekdays, and 8am-1pm weekends, and someone on call at other times. Today (only 4 days into the unit) was my first turn on evening shift/on call, and boy, was it a doozy!

First up, as I was starting my rounds of the wards just after 5pm, an emergency code was called on one of the wards, so I needed to attend that to provide pastoral support to the family of the patient involved (and other patients in that room who were distressed by the emergency). Apparently the hospital normally has 3 or 4 of these codes in an average week, so I guess I was 'lucky' that one happened when I was on my first night shift.

After the emergency passed, and I was satisfied it was ok to leave the ward, I continued on my rounds (after a quick break for a strong coffee back in the department). By the time I finished my rounds, wrote up reports on the work I had done, it was after 9:30 when I headed home.

I just had enough time to heat up some leftover food for a late dinner, and kick my shoes off in front of the TV, before my phone rang. It was the hospital calling me back, as the patient from the earlier emergency had passed away, and the ward staff asked for me to come in to provide some support to the extended family who were now saying their final farewells to their loved one.

I stayed with the family until they were all ready to leave, and the funeral directors arrived to take the deceased into their care. It was 11:30 when I got to leave for home again.

I am now about to go to bed, with my pager and mobile on my bedside table, both set to their loudest and most piercing ring tones, so that if they go off whilst I'm asleep, I'll hear them and wake up.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Compass program lacks direction

Last Sunday, there was a program on Compass about the Uniting Church, promoted with the question "How united is the Uniting Church?" I have to say I found it a rather bland and flaccid disappointment.

I don't know whose agenda was being pushed here, but I thought that they did a bit of a "Richard Dawkins" on the UCA by focussing on the minority extremes of the Progressive Christian network (and the Rev Rex Hunt in the ACT) and the so-called Assembly of Confessing Congregations (and one of their main spokespersons, Max Champion) (together, these two groups would make up less than 10% of the whole membership of the UCA), rather than the majority that fall somewhere between those two positions. At the end of the program I thought “oh, is that IT?! where is the content?”

One of the things that I love about the Uniting Church is that there is a place in it for people with different views and theologies. There is a place for the Rex Hunts and the Max Champions, and everyone else in between. There is no call for strict conformity, or to check one's individuality or brain at the door of the church. I think the people who made this program completely missed the point by suggesting that the diversity within the UCA equals disunity. Sure, there are conflicts, and some issues that as a church we have not been able to agree upon, but like any family, we are trying to find a way to get on.

Darren Wright, a UCA youthworker in NSW/ACT has written a more detailed response to the program on his blog, here, which I think covers a lot of the issues that I would want to raise. It's worth a look.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Wake up call

I'm now officially "back" in Melbourne, after spending the last 3-4 weeks in Sydney with my mother. (I do have one brief trip to Tas next week, but after that, I'm seriously back, and jumping into my summer CPE placement).

One of the things about the flat where I live is that although I don't have any flatmates per se, I do not live here alone. There is a great variety of six-to-eight-legged creatures who freeload off me by living here without paying any rent. Some strategic applications of Baygon seem to have taken care of the cockroaches that had a tendency to jump out of cupboards at me when I least expected it, but I seem to be fighting a constant battle with spiders.

Every nook and cranny of this place seems to be a target for spiders' webs, and whilst most of these seem to be created by small and very innocuous daddy longlegs spiders, I do, on occasion meet some of their larger cousins around the place. And of course, the fact that I have been away for the most part of a month has given the arachnids free reign to take over the joint in my absence.

I have noticed various webs around the place (and I'm sure that when my dear friends did a "loungeroom blitz" a fortnight ago to tidy up the place for my brief return, they must have dispatched quite a few webs), but this morning I received a startling wake up call.

As I staggered, half asleep, into the bathroom to have a shower, a HUGE huntsman came scurrying out from behind my towel, and sat, looking at me, on the door frame.

I yelled.

Not because I'm terribly afraid of spiders, but more because having one come running out of my towel at me was a bit of a shock.

Needless to say, I was 100% awake by this time (and that the spider didn't last very long on the door frame. If there is an arachnid afterlife, he will now be experiencing that). I also closely inspected every wall, corner, nook and cranny of the bathroom before I got into the shower, and gave my towel a mighty shake and close inspection before using it (just in case the huntsman had a friend or two having a party in there).

For the next week or so, I think I will be a little hypervigilant when it comes to looking for 8-legged critters around the place... and it's probably time to buy a new can of Baygon... just in case.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Good intentions

They say the road to Hell is paved with them, and I'm beginning to see why...

When I made my lightning trip home to Melbourne just over a week ago, I returned with my laptop and a suitcase full of theology books, class notes and good intentions to write lots of essays in between dealing with the stuff of settling Dad's estate here in Sydney.

Well, it's now 3 days till my return to Melbourne, and I have to confess that I haven't done anywhere near as much work as I had planned. Most of the books have remained in their piles on the dining room table, unopened; and I think I've written a couple of hundred words towards one essay, but nothing more.


The last couple of days have felt like a second wave of grief rolling over me - just when I thought things were starting to get back to resembling 'normal' and the main tasks of getting things organised for Mum are done, I have been hit by new waves of sleeplessness, tears and general agitation (but no desire or ability to settle and read or write serious theology).

I hope I get my brain back soon...

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Men are from Mars... ? Women are from... ?

Sometimes it feels that way...

I was reflecting today on the amount of stuff I have shared with people about my reaction to my father's recent death, both through this blog, and via emails. Is it all overkill? Do all of my friends really want to know the minutiae of how I'm coming to terms with the emotional aspects of my loss, or the practicalities of managing the other aspects of my life that have taken a back seat to the grief of this time, or even how complex it's been helping my mother to settle Dad's estate here in Sydney?

This made me think of a conversation I recently had with a female friend, who has been going through some difficult experiences in her own life. She told me how her reaction has been so different to that of her husband's in response to the same experiences that have affected them both. It's probably no surprise to hear that for her, she felt the need to confide in one or two of her closest girlfriends, to talk through some of the stuff and her feelings about what was happening, but her husband not only didn't want to share anything about the situation with others, but couldn't understand why she would want to do that, and how it could possibly be helpful for her to do so.

Perhaps it is true that men and women come from completely different planets when it comes to emotional things, or dealing with internal and deep matters... (or even some things that are not so deep).

I remember earlier this year, I had a conversation with a close male friend who was about to head overseas for a number of weeks. Conscious that I would miss him during his absence, I sought reassurance that he would keep in touch whilst away. He said that he would "probably send the occasional email", and then suddenly got all tense and said, "you're not expecting me to send postcards, or detailed email circulars of everything I do, are you?"

My response: "umm... err... I guess not" (as I shifted nervously, thinking that he was making a thinly veiled reference to my own regular email tomes, once again making me question whether people really want to read everything I write in my emails and blogs).

I reached the conclusion that perhaps it was just the male/female divide, flavoured a bit by the variety of individual personality.

And of course, the great exception to this male female divide is my good mate BB, who is far more prolific a blogger than I (well, he seems to write longer, and deeper blog entries than my bits of fluff :-)

(One final word on the Men from Mars, Women from Venus thing- I have never read that particular book, but I do have a book written as a parody of it, called Women are from Bras and Men are from Penis. Hilariously funny, and much thinner than the original :-)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Today was a good day

Life moves forward.

Today Mum went to tennis (her weekly 'hit and giggle' with friends) for the first time since Dad died, and said that it went ok for her.

I also managed to speak to a solicitor who is going to charge us significantly less to help us settle Dad's estate than the cost quoted to me by another solicitor last week.

Today we also received in the mail Dad's death certificate (which means we can now actually move ahead with the things we need to do to settle the estate) and the DVD recording of the funeral service (so this afternoon, Mum and I watched it through and had a good cry together, and I actually got to take in more of the sermon than I did on the day- Randall is such a good preacher! :-).

We also received more cards (we are up to 52 now, with at least one more on the way, being redirected from Melbourne).

Tomorrow will be busy, with lots of visits to banks and other agencies to start the official transfer process, and a visit to the solicitor in town early next week.

It's looking like things will now definitely be in hand by the time I leave to go home on Friday week, which is good :-)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Reflecting on the last week

After a flying visit to Melbourne over the weekend, I now have my laptop with me in Sydney, which also contains my full email address book, so this afternoon I took the opportunity to send out an email update to my rather extensive and eclectic group of friends, with the main news of Dad's death.

One response I received from a friend who had also had some difficult times during the year seemed very apt:

Don’t you wonder how folk cope who don’t have the support and care of a faithful group? Our experience of being sustained by the ‘cloud of witnesses’ this year brought home to me how important it is to claim, if you like, the need to be prayed for.

I have certainly found this to be true. Without the incredible support both through prayer and other more concrete expressions of care, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to cope with Dad's passing, and provide some support for Mum in the process.

I had coffee yesterday with the minister from my home congregation, and I commented to him that it feels like I have experienced "Church" at its best, through the fellowship and prayerful support of the people of God at this time.

A tribute to my father

As mentioned in an earlier entry, here is the Tribute/Eulogy that I delivered at my father's funeral.

We’re here today to remember and celebrate the life of my father, Neville George Field. Neville was the only child of George and Gladys, and lived most of his life in the Ryde area.

He left school at the age of 14, and in his working life held down a variety of jobs, the first as a courier for Greater Union, delivering canisters of film to cinemas on his pushbike (and he got to watch lots of movies, which he quite enjoyed). Later he worked with his father for a company that laid parquetry floors, and became a self-appointed expert and critic of parquetry floors.

It’s interesting the things that stick with you- on Tuesday when Mum and I were having a cuppa in the hospital café, she looked at the floor and said, “Dad would have liked this floor- it’s real parquetry, not like those pretend modern jobs”.

Neville also worked in a service station, and I think “BPeeeee” was one of the first words that I learnt to say as a child. He later worked as a postal contractor in West Pennant Hills, where he was known to many on his run as “Laughing Boy” because of his cheerful and jovial demeanour.

After the postal run, he moved on to a job as Out Door Attendant on the maintenance staff at Macquarie Hospital (or North Ryde Psychiatric Centre as it was then known). He worked there for about 17 years, and climbed up the corporate ladder to become Out Door Supervisor, which meant he got to drive the big white van with the flashing “Security” lights on the top.

He brought home many tall tales and true of his exploits at the hospital, which all seemed to conclude with the same observation: that most of the patients were saner and more sensible than the doctors, proving that the adage: “you don’t need to be mad to work here, but it helps” was certainly true of the Macquarie Hospital.

Neville made many deep and lasting friendships among his workmates at the hospital over the years, and it broke his heart when he was forced to retire early, at the age of 55, due to ill health.

But there was much more to Neville’s life than just work.

As a teenager, he was a member of an amateur entertainment troupe called The Merrymakers, who provided revue-style entertainment at places like hospitals and nursing homes. It was there that he met the most gorgeous girl in the world, who also just happened to have the best – and longest – legs in the company.

Now it may come as a surprise to those of you who have only known Neville during the past 30 years or so, to discover that he was in fact a very timid, shy little thing as a young man, and as such, was pretty hopeless when it came to the opposite sex. However, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that Isobel got so sick of waiting for Neville to make the first move that she asked him out, and their first official date was at the Woolworths staff Christmas party, where Isobel worked.

One thing led to another, and it came time for Neville to meet the family. You can imagine the culture shock for an only child like Neville to find himself dating a girl who was the youngest of 11 children- and whose older siblings were a tad protective of their baby sister. So off he goes, to afternoon tea, being very careful to mind his P’s and Q’s; eager to make a good impression on Isobel’s mother and sisters.

When served up his cup of tea, he helped himself to his usual 2 spoons of sugar, and in a supreme act of self control, managed to not pull a face, or gag when he tasted the first mouthful. He said that the thought running through his mind at the time was: “Geee…. This doesn’t taste like the tea Mum makes”. But, stoically, always the polite young man, he fought his way to the bottom of the cup without a word, and only after he finished the last drop, did Isobel’s sister Lew collapse with laughter, and confess that she had substituted salt for the sugar.

Before you feel too sorry for him, you need to know that Neville did manage to get his own back on Lew at a later date, with the old ‘foam rubber lamington’ trick, so it seems that he fitted into the family well, and the rest, as they say, is history. He and Isobel were married on Jan 26, 1957, and in January this year, they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, which was a particularly joyous occasion for all of us.

As you have probably gathered from the guard of honour present today, the fire brigade played a significant part in Neville’s life, and his dear friend Doug Crampton (who introduced him to the brigade) will share more about that aspect of Nev’s life in a few minutes.

Having lived at 91 Parklands Rd for over 40 years, neighbours played an important part in Neville’s life. During the course of building their house, Neville and Isobel got to know John and Kay Shepherd, their next door neighbours. The Shepherds allowed them to use their electricity for various jobs, and in return, Neville gave their plumber permission to run their plumbing across part of his land, thus giving them access to the new sewer system (and making the Shepherds and Fields the envy of the whole street, as the first properties to be connected to the sewerage system, which was a pretty big deal at the time). This was the start of a beautiful relationship across the side fence, and over the years John and Kay have been indispensable friends, especially during times when Neville was ill.

When all the neighbours in our street had young families, we had regular street parties- every Christmas Eve we would get together at the Standens’, and on New Year’s Eve at the Fields’, when Nev would be King of the Barbie. He developed this ‘special technique’ for ‘tidy’ BBQing, without the need for wood or charcoal. Simply take one metal kidney dish, pack it full of sawdust, drench it with metho, and let her rip!... Sound like a neat trick? Don’t try it at home.

After he retired, Neville became very active in his own style of Neighbourhood Watch – when he was in the neighbourhood, he was always watching. Nothing escaped his eagle eyes, and so when he saw a strange young couple poking about in the house next door (on the other side), he felt duty bound to bail them up, and check out who they were and what they were up to.

This same young couple later reported that as they were inspecting the house for sale, they thought it rather touching that “The Old Man” next door had his daughter pegging out his washing for him. This was not the first time… or the last, that the age difference between Isobel and Neville (a whole year!) was taken to be significantly more than it actually was.

Despite this rather unauspicious introduction, Justin and Michelle, did end up buying the house and moving in next door. Since then they have become fast friends to Nev and Is, and provided them with a brood of surrogate grandkids, which took the pressure to procreate off me, (for which I thank you).

Neville always loved kids, and the arrival of Jessica, Beth and his special mate Joe, along with the visits of Kay and John’s grandchildren, gave him a new lease on life, and he loved using his woodworking skills to make some special toys for them to enjoy.

It’s interesting how even when you’ve known someone all your life, there are still new things to discover about them. I was surprised to learn, a dozen or so years ago, after I had been singing with various choirs for many years, that Dad quite enjoyed choral music- something he had never told me before. After that, we were able to share that interest together a bit more, and he even got to attend a couple of concerts where I was singing.

Likewise, something I learned about Dad only this week was that he had an inherent sense of spirituality. Mum told me about a conversation she had with him only a few weeks ago, when she was reflecting on the path that my life has taken in recent years, to train to become a minister in the Uniting Church.

She said to him, “I don’t know where Carolyn gets this religion thing from”, to which Dad replied, “I do. She gets it from me.” This caused me to think back to some significant times in my life, when Dad was there in the background quietly supporting some of the things I was interested in, and encouraging me to practise my own faith. One example of this was when we went together to see the film Jesus of Nazareth. When it first came out, in its original, unedited format, it was quite a marathon (and made the Lord of the Rings films look like shorts) and Dad didn’t just endure it for my sake, but actually quite enjoyed it (which is more than can be said for his response to Jesus Christ Superstar).

This new insight into Dad’s relationship with God, whatever form that might have taken, reinforces my confidence that, after a life wrought with pain and illness, especially in the past few years, he is now safe in God’s care, and for that I give thanks.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A few days on...

It's been an interesting few days. Our main focus has been on planning for Dad's funeral, and ensuring that all the details that won't be covered by the funeral director are done and sorted out.

As I said the other day, I'm very grateful that Randall Prior, the Principal of our Theological College is coming to Sydney to conduct the funeral, and in addition, 4 of my friends from Melbourne are also making the trip up for the funeral.

I have been so overwhelmed by people's kindness and love, shown in so many ways at this time. At home, we have received numerous cards (including one from my former work colleagues in Hobart, which was lovely), and a number of floral arrangements (I think the total count is up to 6 now), and numerous people have been dropping by with gifts of food, so we are certainly not short of things to offer visitors who drop in.

I have just finished writing a eulogy (tribute to my father), for the funeral, and hope that I don't get so overwhelmed with emotion that I lose the plot and can't get through it on the day. I remember a few years ago, looking on in admiration as friend of mine spoke at her father's funeral, and thought that I would never be able to hold myself together to do that... (hopefully I was wrong).

We have also selected some rather lovely pieces of music to play in the background as people are entering and leaving the chapel, and I have put together a Powerpoint slide presentation of pictures from my Dad's life to play during the service.

After the funeral, Mum and I will have lots of other things to work through as we attempt to sort out Dad's estate.

Apart from all the pragmatics, Mum and I are experiencing grief in waves... waves of control and feeling ok, and waves of just bursting into tears at the slightest provocation... all in all it feels like a pretty normal grief response, so I suppose we just have to ride it all out, and eventually things will even out.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Was it really only yesterday?

It feels like so much has happened in the hours since Dad died yesterday morning. The phone has been running hot all day, folk have been popping in to offer their condolances, and flowers have started arriving.

By far the most touching tributes were the cards made for us by the children who live next door (aged 8, 5 and 4) who have been 'surrogate grandkids' to Mum and Dad for many years. After their parents broke the news to them of Dad's death, their spontaneous reaction was to make these cards for Mum and me, because they knew we were sad. I suspect Mum will treasure these cards above all the others.

Today we met with the funeral director, who was marvellous, and we planned the details of the funeral process- pending, of course, the Coroner's release of Dad's body (which fortunately was confirmed later this afternoon, so all can go ahead). I am very grateful to the Principal of the Theological College in Melbourne, who has very kindly agreed to come up to Sydney to conduct the funeral service for us. I'm very relieved to have someone so experienced and skilled in pastoral ministry to be leading the service, and by our side for the occasion.

We are hoping that the funeral will be held on Tuesday at 2pm at the Macquarie Park Crematorium (the official notice will be in Friday's Telegraph newspaper)

The pointy end of life

... and I thought the pointy end of the semester was bad enough!

Today my father died.

When I received the call on Sunday night from Mum to tell me that he was in hospital (again!), I had a strange sense that this time something was different... then when I received a further call from the ICU doctor on Monday morning to say that Dad's kidneys were failing and he was refusing dialysis (without which he wouldn't last more than 24 hours), I dropped everything and booked a flight to Sydney as soon as I could manage.

I arrived at the hospital in the late afternoon, and found that Mum had managed to convince Dad to have the dialysis, so he was alert and lucid and aware that I was there. Early this morning we had a call from the nurse to say that he had a good night, and was feeling better, and wanted her to let us know... but at 9:30 we received the summons to come in straight away, as he was sick.

He slipped from this life at 10am, just before Mum and I arrived at the hospital. We were greeted by the triage nurse and a doctor, who took is into the "Quiet Room", loaded us up with tissues, and explained what had happened, and what we could expect over the next little while. We then sat with Dad for a while; he looked so peaceful- finally at rest after many years of chronic illness and many hospital visits. (I used to joke with him that he had so many frequent flyer points with Concord Hospital that he could almost qualify to be an extra on All Saints*). Fortunately, I remembered to bring my camera with me from Melbourne, so I was able to take some last pictures of Dad, with both Mum and I bidding him a final farewell.

All of the hospital staff have been marvellous, both in the way they cared for Dad as a patient, and for Mum and me in our grief today. All of the nursing staff, the doctors and the social worker have gone out of their way to ensure that we understood what was going on (especially in the light of the involvement of the Coroner, which meant that we needed to hang around the hospital until 2pm, to meet with the police and formally identify the body), and that we were coping.

Throughout the past two days, as this has all unfolded, I have felt greatly loved and cared for by God, through the support of those around me: from the friend who came to drive me to the airport and held me steady as I sobbed on his shoulder, and my minister who rang to touch base and see how we were coping, and the theological college principal who also rang, and kept reassuring me that I am in the right place, and that being here is the most important thing right now, and the stuff that I've left behind in Melbourne (two weeks to the end of semester- assignments due, exams coming up etc) will all be sorted out when I get back.

I probably should stop now and go to bed (although I don't know that I'll sleep much)... but there's a funeral to plan and a whole lot of other stuff to do tomorrow, so I suppose I should at least make an effort to close my red, puffy eyes).

* for those unfamiliar with pop culture, Concord Hospital is the site used for the location shots for All Saints TV show

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Summoned home!

Well, kind of.

As a ministry candidate, it is my home Presbytery (Tasmania) which is ultimately responsible for making decisions about my progress through the different stages of my training and journey to ordination. Of course, they are advised by the Theological College here in Melbourne about my progress academically and in formation for ministry, but it's also helpful for them to see "Exhibit A" from time to time, so they can hear my reflections on how I think things are progressing, too.

So, in order to do this, the Presbytery of Tasmania made the decision that they should have at least one deliberate and formal conversation with me each year (in addition to the various ad hoc, informal opportunities that arise for me to see members of the Presbytery at various times). So, in mid-November, I'll be heading south to attend a meeting of the Tasmanian Presbytery in Launceston, to share some of my journey this year with the whole Presbytery, and then to have a slightly more in-depth time in a meeting with members of the Pastoral Relations Committee the next day.

In addition to the joys of catching up with folk from the Presbytery at the meeting, I'll be staying in the state until Sunday, specifically so I can attend worship at the congregations at Launceston North and Lilydale, where I spent the majority of my placement last summer. By that time it will be almost exactly a year since I started my placement there, so it will be great to revisit the places and people of those congregations. (And I'm also hoping it will be possible to make a side trip to Poatina whilst I'm in the state too :-)

Alive and well...

At lunchtime today, we had the Annual General Meeting of the Theological Students' Association of the United Faculty of Theology (or, if you like, the AGM of the UFT TSA :-)*

After a less than thriving year this year, at our last committee meeting, we were concerned that the TSA might need to go into recess in 2008, due to lack of student support, and people interested (and with the time) to do the job of organising the activities of the TSA.

However, at the AGM, we managed to achieve a goodly quorum, and even managed to elect a committee which includes a number of pretty keen people (and in case you're wondering, that doesn't include me. I have done my 2 years on that committee and have gracefully retired). So that's pretty exciting, especially as the bleeding-heart lefty in me was feeling pretty sad at the prospect of the TSA going into recess, as I'm a firm believer in the importance of student representation in educational institutions.

* The UFT TSA is the association that's open to all students who study at the United Faculty of Theology, which includes candidates for ordination from all three of the constituent colleges (UCA, Anglican and Jesuit), as well as a large number of independent/private students from all kinds of backgrounds. This is different from UCCA (the Uniting Church Candidates' Association- open only to candidates for ministry within the Uniting Church Theological College) to which I was elected President last week. We used to be known as the UCA TSA, but changed our name this year to avoid being confused with the UFT TSA.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

What have I let myself in for?

On Friday, at the Annual General Meeting of the Uniting Church Candidates' Association (UCCA- don't you just love that acronym?), I was elected as President of UCCA for the next year.

I feel honoured that my fellow candidates have entrusted me with this role, and I hope that I will fulfil it well and diligently.

Although, I have to say that with my current level of busyness and stress over assignment deadlines (a number of which have already gone whooshing past!) and other commitments, I'm finding it a bit hard to get excited about it just yet.

Maybe after exams are over and assignments are all in :-)

Saturday, October 06, 2007


Yesterday in our College Chapel service, one of our professors preached on the topic of holiness. He talked about one of his old teachers who had recently passed away, and commented on how this man had been a truly holy person in many ways.

As the preacher expanded and expounded the theme, I had a mini-gestalt moment, as it occurred to me that this holiness thing was probably the 'X Factor' that I could never quite name, that is a characteristic of one of my dear friends from Hobart.

I can remember being somewhat awed by the earnestness of this guy's faith, and his almost childlike obsession to seek first the Kingdom- which has been a yardstick for just about everything he does and all decisions he makes. It occurs to me now that this 'earnestness' is certainly of the same ilk as the 'holiness' about which my professor was preaching.

Of course, if I said this to my friend, he would probably find that hard to believe (and his wife would no doubt roll around on the floor in hysterical laughter :-). But I can't escape the fact that over the years, as our friendship developed, and we had many D&M discussions about life, the universe and everything, whenever I spent time with this friend, I would always come away feeling like a better person, and wanting to be a better person. This wasn't because of anything in particular that he had said, but just because of who he is. I have begun to realise that this was, at least in part, due to a sense of personal holiness that is present in his life.

I thank God for friends like this; they are certainly gems.

The Burmese Crisis

One of my fellow ministry candidates sent me an email with information about a campaign by a group called to support the people of Burma in their current crisis. is a community of global citizens who take action on the major issues facing the world today. The aim of is to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people shape global decisions. members act for a more just and peaceful world and a globalisation with a human face.

One of their current campaigns is related to the crisis in Burma.
Burma is ruled by one of the worst military dictatorships in the world. Last month Buddhist monks and nuns began marching and chanting prayers to call for democracy. The protests spread and hundreds of thousands of Burmese people joined in -- but they've been brutally attacked by the military regime.

I just signed a petition calling on Burma's powerful ally China and the UN security council to step in and pressure Burma's rulers to stop the killing. The petition has exploded to over 500,000 signatures in a few days and is being advertised in newspapers around the world, delivered to the UN Security Council, and broadcast to the Burmese people by radio. The organisers are trying to get to 1 million signatures this week, please sign below and tell everyone!

The website where you can sign the petition is here.

A small, but hopefully effective, way to be a neighbour to the people of Burma.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Out in the pastures..

Or so it seems.

During the past week or so, it feels like I've had more than my fair share of pastoral conversations.

All of them were with various fellow ministerial candidates, and in most of them, there were elements of me caring for them, and also them caring for me. We are all stressed, tired, and overly busy. Yes folks, it's now officially The Pointy End of the Semester, where we feel the breeze as assignment deadlines go whooshing past, and miss meetings and commitments, as we are too busy to look at our diaries.

But I am fascinated (and more than a little relieved) by a comment made during one of these conversations about what it means to be 'pastoral' in relating to others. We were talking about another student who is managing a very heavy study load, but seeming to keep on top of it pretty well, thanks to having a very organised and focussed personality. As I was thinking that perhaps I should spend more time with this uber-focussed person, in the hope that some of that quality might rub off on me, my friend posed the question:

But I wonder what would happen if someone had a bit of a crisis on the day that this person had set aside to work on a particular assignment? How would they handle it? Whose needs would win- the friend in crisis, or the need to finish the assignment?

An interesting question indeed, and one that I think we all need to ask about ourselves on a regular basis. Made me think about last Sunday's Gospel reading from Luke 16- the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. It was interesting that in this parable, the rich man was not portrayed as a bad person, and had not been accused of actually doing anything wrong, yet still he ended up in Hades, whilst Lazarus ended up in a place of comfort. It has been suggested that the rich man's 'sin' was the fact that he just failed to notice the starving Lazarus sitting outside his gate. He was never mean or nasty to Lazarus, just oblivious.

I think that being truly pastoral or hospitable, has an element of allowing the chaos of another person to enter our own lives, even when that might muck up our plans. But then I reckon in ministry there are also the times when we need to be a bit hard with our priorities, and not let pastoral emergencies always take up all the time and energy that they might seem to need (because unlike uni essays, a minister can't exactly get an extension for a sermon when the week has been insanely busy.) I can just imagine it, on Sunday morning:

"Sorry folks, it's been an insane week- I've had 3 funerals to manage, so my sermon isn't quite ready yet. Come back on Wednesday, and it should be done then!"

I'm beginning to think that learning to set boundaries and priorities will probably be more important things to my ministry than all this theology I'm studying. I certainly hope that my progress into third year will bring with it some kind of automatic increase in wisdom and discernment! :-)

Friday, September 28, 2007

Spell with flickr

Something that has been a pleasant distraction on a day when preparing sermons and writing essays are taking it out of me. Passed on by a friend out in the aether.

from the site:

C a R O

Cute, eh? :-)


I always suspected I was a bit of a nerd, but now thanks to a quiz I found on Louise's blog, I have confirmation. Serious confirmation. says I'm a Highly Dorky Light-Weight Nerd.  What are you?  Click here!

So it seems that I am now to be known as a Highly Dorky Light-Weight Nerd (perhaps if I'd been able to lay my hands on a hard copy of the Periodic Table within 15 seconds, I might have done better as a Science Nerd).

I'm sure my mother would be proud.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Summer placement details confirmed!


Today I received word that I have been offered a place in a CPE course over summer at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre.

This is exciting because out of the three centres I applied to, Peter Mac was my first choice. This is partly because its Pastoral Care Department operates in a slightly different way from the traditional hospital chaplaincy model (which I am interested to check out more fully), and partly because I am keen for the challenge that will be presented in the context of a specialised cancer hospital, where pastoral care needs will most likely be more intense, as patients will be more strongly confronted with life/death situations than in a general hospital.

For the uninitiated, CPE is Clinical Pastoral Education, which is an intensive course in pastoral ministry, based on an action-reflection model. So for the 11 weeks of the fulltime course, I will be largely engaged in actually doing pastoral ministry on the wards of the hospital, and spending time reflecting on that work in private, via journalling and theological reflection; within a group of peers, and also in individual sessions with my supervisor. There is a double dimension to CPE, both to develop practical skills in pastoral care, which involves things like skills in empathetic/reflective listening; and also to look at my own self and what I bring to the pastoral situation- the gifts to be celebrated and built on, and baggage/issues to be dealt with.

So, it will be an intense and full-on experience: personally challenging as well as academically demanding- but great- I can't wait to get into it!

A hot time in Hobart

I was rather distressed to hear of the massive fire in the Hobart CBD over the weekend, centring on the Myer store in Liverpool St. Given the way in which the Myer city store is connected with other shops and the whole Cat & Fiddle Arcade, it's a miracle that the fire brigade were able to contain the fire pretty much to only the Myer building, with minimal damage to the surrounding shops.

Unfortunately for Myer (and the Heritage factor of Hobart's CBD), the beautiful Heritage façade fronting onto Liverpool St has been totally destroyed, along with all of Myer's stock and internal structure of the store.

This photo was taken by a Hobart guy, Ian Stewart, who I don't know personally, but have seen a fair bit of his work zooming around the intenet. (He also took some amazing photos of fork lightning during a wild electrical storm over Hobart a couple of years ago, and of the bushfires on Hobart's Eastern Shore a year or so ago). His online photo gallery contains more pics of the Myer fire, (and lots of other stuff) and is here
(don't be put off by the ad for the site which will probably come up first, just click the link at the top which says something like: "through to deviantART")

Thursday, September 20, 2007

One for the book-lovers

Of course, I found this quiz on the blog of the biggest book lover (and book-hoarder) I know- Thanks Avril! :-)
(and apologies for the appalling font qualities below, but for some reason, I just can't make it look any prettier- the code just would not be edited!)

Like Avril, though, I wasn't sure of my first answer:

You're The Dictionary!

by Merriam-Webster

You're one of those know-it-all types, with an amazing amount of
knowledge at your command. People really enjoy spending time with you in very short
spurts, but hanging out with you for a long time tends to bore them. When folks
really need an authority to refer to, however, you're the one they seek. You're an
exceptional speller and very well organized.

... so I decided to try again, with some different answers. And I think this is more like it:

You're Watership Down!

by Richard Adams

Though many think of you as a bit young, even childish, you're
actually incredibly deep and complex. You show people the need to rethink their
assumptions, and confront them on everything from how they think to where they
build their houses. You might be one of the greatest people of all time. You'd
be recognized as such if you weren't always talking about talking rabbits.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

The need to be strong... and vulnerable

One of the things about being a candidate for ministry is that the Theological College appoints each candidate with a Faculty Advisor, to assist with working through the process of formation for ministry.

Last week I had a meeting with my Faculty Advisor, and as part of our conversation, I shared with him some general details of a pastoral situation I had been involved with, in which I had made a rather significant stuff up earlier in the week, which had caused me to feel pretty low (and to be strongly annoyed with myself for making what I considered to be such a stupid mistake).

After he let me finish my tirade of self-deprecation, he asked me whether, in my relationships with friends and others, I felt the need to always be the strong one.

"Do people come to you with their problems because you are always the strong one, or are there relationships you have where you can look to others to be strong for you?"

Interesting question (also a bit too bloody insightful for my liking! Damn you, Chris Mostert!! :-)

It certainly got me thinking about my network of relationships, and I realised that there are quite a few, where I feel that I am always the strong (and sometimes even "wise") one for others, and that this seems to define the normal pattern for those particular relationships; (and that this could even say more about me, and my need to be strong for others, than their need for me to be strong for them).

But as I thought further, I realised that in addition to these particular relationships, there is a whole other group of relationships I have; longstanding, deep friendships with people who I love dearly, and know well, and who also know me well. These are more balanced in the sense that we can 'take turns' at being strong and weak for each other. I feel safe with these people to share my insecurities and vulnerabilities.

I was especially grateful that in the wake of my 'pastoral stuff up' of last week, I had a visit from a couple of such friends, who were passing through Melbourne on their way to Tassie for a conference there. It was great to be able to share with them some of what had happened, and my feelings about it all. It was therapeutic (as well as just downright enjoyable) for me to spend time with them.

As I see how many friends like this that I actually do have, I feel very blessed and privileged that there are so many people who carry me in their hearts and for whom I can do the same, as part of our relationships of mutual strength and weakness that have lasted so long.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

What an exciting week!

This week I am surrounded by a number of friends and colleagues who are experiencing significant points in their own ministry calling and directions.

after participating in the Synod Selection Conference last weekend, some friends have just received news of their acceptance as candidates for ordained ministry, to commence next year. Whilst the news from the panel wasn't good for all of them (as not all the applicants were accepted), there is the opportunity to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn, and trust that the future directions will become clear.

Secondly, a group of 6 final year candidates met yesterday with the Synod Placements committee, as part of the process of matching them with their Internship placements to commence next year. So an exciting time for them as they are looking at their next step after leaving the Theological College at the end of this year.

In the midst of all this flurry of excitement, emotion and change for others around me, it's kind of nice to be just tootling along with my own study, knowing that most of next year will bring 'more of the same' for me in terms of the focus of my life- just keeping my head down and beavering away on the various subjects I'll be doing.

Talk Like a Pirate again!

Yes folks, it's that time of year again.... International Talk Like a Pirate Day is coming up next Wednesday, September 19. (I thought I'd get in a bit early to remind you, as I'll be in Sydney for the next few days).

For ideas on how you can get some Pirattitude to help you celebrate this auspicious day, check out the website:

Arrrrrrrrrrrrrr.... me hearties!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

An advantage of being married?

The other day I was reflecting to a friend that, although as a single person, I don't at all regret my lot in life, but it has occurred to me that there would be one distinct advantage to being married.

A married person (and of course we are assuming a good, healthy relationship here) would be in a position where he/she could take turns at being in charge/ taking responsibility/ making decisions; and wouldn't have to always be the one who had to make decisions or be responsible for their lives, on their own.

I think the one thing I like least about being single is the fact that the buck always stops with me, I can never relinquish responsibility for making a decision about my life to anyone else, and sometimes this can be so exhausting.

Today, I discovered another potential positive to being married (or at least living in a household with someone else). When you stuff up, and feel really crappy about it, and all you want is for someone to give you a big hug and tell you it will all be ok- there's someone there who can do that.

I could have used one of those hugs today.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Today I met a beautiful man

Now before you go getting all excited about this, let me explain.

I think I have mentioned before in my blog that my local congregation, Brunswick Uniting Church, has embarked upon a new program, to try to increase our connectedness with our local community. Called "The Olive Way", this involves on three mornings every week opening up the church complex as a kind o drop-in centre, staffed by a couple of volunteers from the congregation.

We have signage out the front on Sydney Rd, inviting people to come inside, either into the church itself for some quiet reflection or prayer; or to the coffee house at the back, where they can have a cup of coffee or tea, a biscuit or piece of fruit to nibble on, and a casual chat, a read of the newspaper or the like.

This week I have been fairly buried under the weight of essays and CPE applications, and was tempted to try to swap my shift this morning for another week, but am really glad that I didn't because otherwise I would never have met John (not his real name).

John is an older man, who lives a suburb or two away, in a Housing Commission flat on his own. He spends a fair bit of his time at the Brunswick Club, which is across the road from our church. This week there was an article about "The Olive Way" in the local paper, and I suspect John had read it, and was talking to one of his mates at the club about coming over to check us out. His mate didn't want to join him in this adventure, so John wandered in on his own this morning.

As he sat and told us bits of his life story (which was certainly not the story of an easy life), there would be times when John's face would light up with a beaming smile, as he remembered something significant from his past, and then he shared that with us. He struck me as a pretty gentle soul, who struggles with a number of things, but doesn't let the struggles define his attitude to life, and so despite any of the negative influences in his life, he is pretty positive to be around.

He told us that he had had some connections with the Methodist Church in the past (mainly through his parents), and so Barry, my fellow volunteer, asked John if he would like to have a 'tour' of our church building and hall, out of 'historical interest', so off they went.

We had commented earlier in our conversations about the weather, and how the light showers we experienced throughout this morning were nice, but nowhere near enough rain to make any kind of dent on the drought. When John was about to leave, he told us, almost sheepishly, that he had prayed for rain when he was inside the church.

As Barry and I packed up at 1pm, and had to battle utterly torrential rain to get to our cars, I couldn't help but grin at the interesting timing of John's prayer for rain, and the sudden downpour almost immediately following.

Now, I know many people with deep, theological brains tend to scoff at the prospect of things like praying for rain, which would imply that we view God is an "interventionist God" (which I have been told is not such a good image of God). However today I couldn't help but wonder if maybe there is some connection between the rain and John's prayer, not because God is an "interventionist God", but rather because God is a loving and encouraging God, who seeks to reach out to his little ones in ways that they can relate to.

I hope John comes back to visit us again sometime. Maybe his mate will be brave enough to join him next time.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The marvels of modern technology!

On a lighter note- I may have mentioned that I seem to be surrounded by a number of friends who are currently expecting babies (and the three couples who immediately spring to mind, it is the first child for all of them!)

Last night, one of these couples (complete with le bulge) came for dinner, and because I am the achetypal Queen of Clucky, I had instructed them to bring with them any pictures from ultrasound or the like that they might have, so I could cluck away to my heart's content...

Well- I think I hit serious pay dirt! Not just a photo, but a DVD with video footage of the ultrasound, complete with sound, so as we sat around my laptop watching the outline of the baby moving around in utero, we also had the running commentary from the doctor as he performed the scan, and answered the questions that my friends were asking him as he went.

We could even see cross sections of the baby's organs, including the chambers of the heart, as it beat happily away- how amazingly cool is that?!

But as cool as this technology is, it's not half as cool as the mere fact that this baby exists; and is growing and getting ready to make its* debut in the outside world in just a few weeks. Certainly put me in mind of the words of Psalm 139 (which just happened to be the Psalm set in today's Lectionary):

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

* This couple has chosen not to know the sex of their baby, and whilst after looking at the ultrasound, I could possibly hazard a guess, I have been instructed to keep my speculations to myself! :-)

Strength to Love

I'm currently writing an essay for my "Theology of the Human Person" class on the topic of Desire and Love. As part of the reading for this, I have been looking at a book titled Strength to Love, which is a collection of Martin Luther King's sermons on the topic of love.

Picture if you will, the man himself preaching the following words:

Time is cluttered with the wreckage of communities which surrendered to hatred and violence... For the salvation of our nation and the salvation of mankind, we must follow another way...

To our most bitter opponents we say: "We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you... Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory."

Martin Luther King. Strength to Love (Hodder & Stoughton: London), p.40.

The power of these words, first preached in the early 1960s, stopped me dead in my tracks, and moved me to tears. It also made me re-examine some of my own interactions with people this weekend which were less than loving. King here is advocating a radical and sacrificial love for 'enemies'... and yet I had trouble behaving in a civil way to people I call 'friends'.

Not one of my greatest moments. :-(

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

It's THAT time of year again...

Yes folks, as a current resident in Melbourne, I can't help but notice that this week marks the beginning of Finals time for the footy.

In what can only be described as a miraculous second half of season, the Swannies have managed to scrape into the top 8, and on Saturday night (after only a single round's interlude)
will again meet Collingwood at the G.

Surely the Pies can't beat the Swans twice in a row... can they? To help prevent this, I expect my mother will be donning all of her red and white finery, for an unadulterated evening of screaming at the TV as the match unfolds. So good luck to anyone who DARES to ring my parents' home on Sat night! (... unless they want to talk to Dad... which no-one ever does... :-)

Oh well, there's nothing left to say, except,


Cheer, cheer the red and the white,
Honour the name by day and by night,
Lift that noble banner high,
Shake down the thunder from the sky
Whether the odds be great or small,
Swans will go in and win overall
While her loyal sons are marching
Onwards to victory

Friday, August 31, 2007

Educational stuff

This weekend, starting tonight, the Uniting Church Assembly's Ministerial Education Committee is meeting at the CTM here in Melbourne. So, members of this committee, (including principals of all Uniting Church Theological Colleges) from around the country, started arriving in Melbourne this afternoon.

It was great to see some familiar faces like Bronwyn from my home congregation in Hobart, Peter Gunn (also from Hobart in the past, but now working at Parkin Wesley College in Adelaide). It was also great to meet some people for the first time who I had heard of (and read their books).

So some of these folks were around today for our usual College Worship and then during drinks after worship, more of them arrived. Over drinks, I had a couple of really delightful conversations with principals of two different colleges- Andrew Dutney from Parkin Wesley College, and Lee Levett-Olsen from Coolamon College (UCA's distance education college) also based in Adelaide.

As I was talking to Andrew about how excited I get over my studies (something that regular readers will be quite familiar with!) the conversation also wandered onto how my interpretation of Scripture has changed since I commenced study, and especially the buzz I got from my very first unit of study, back in Hobart that I did through Coolamon College as part of my Period of Discernment.

This unit was an introduction to the Old Testament, and was designed and written by Lee Levett-Olsen, and at the point when I started waxing lyrical about how significant it was for me to do that unit of study, and how it opened my eyes to a whole lot of aspects of Scripture interpretation that I had never heard about before, Andrew dragged Lee into the conversation so he could hear what I was saying. It was rather special to be able to share with Lee how significant his course had been for me, and how much I appreciated the insights I gained from it, and the discoveries I made.

I think this experience brings me back again to dwell on the sense of privilege I have mentioned before, and feel so strongly, to be in the position to be studying theology full time- engaging my faith with my intellect- and having conversations like this with teachers and scholars who are highly regarded in their fields of study.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Gotta love those Benedictines!

I am conscious that I have not blogged for a while, and that I have promised to write more about my New Norcia experience, and am still yet to do so. Hopefully this will stop the gap just a little (but only a little, as I have other writing - of a study nature- to which I need to attend more urgently and diligently).

One of the things that I really loved about my time in New Norcia was joining with the monks in their daily Holy Offices (times of communal prayer). In New Norcia, there are 7 Offices observed throughout the day, which are: Vigils (5:15am), Lauds (6:45am), Mass (7:30am), Midday Prayer (12pm), Afternoon Prayer (2:30pm), Vespers (6:30pm) and Compline (8:15pm).

And yes, I did attend all of these each day, AND coped with getting up at 5am each morning!

The style of prayer, which consisted mostly of psalmody (Gregorian chant of the Psalms) as well as some other readings, anthems and canticles for the different liturgies, took a little while to get used to, but once I started to recognise and feel comfortable with the rhythm of it all, there was a lovely sense of just relaxing, and letting the words ascend to God.

There were five UCA candidates in the group who went to New Norcia, and when we returned to Melbourne we were all keen to share some of the prayer we had learned with our community here at the theological college. So the first Friday of second semester, we led morning prayer as a group, and set up the CTM chapel in 'choir formation' (two rows facing each other) and used the Friday Lauds liturgy from New Norcia (which Fr John kindly emailed to me with advice on how we might adapt it to our circumstance.).

That was well received (although with only a single experience, it was probably less than ideal for those who had never experienced such prayer before... after all, those of us who went to New Norcia felt that after a week, we were just starting to get the hang of it). Hopefully we will have the opportunity to do it again sometime.

Tonight, I had another reason the thank the Benedictines. I was asked to lead Evening Prayer at Queen's College Chapel tonight (I was asked this last Sunday, when it became evident that the person who had been lined up to preach and preside had pulled out at short notice, and the chapel coordinator was going to be away). It was suggested that instead of working on a sermon for the night, that we have a service of readings- from Scripture and selected poetry. Then one of the choir suggested that it would be nice to do a Lectio Divina style reading in lieu of a sermon, and this is what I ended up doing.

I basically followed the standard Evening Prayer order of service that is used each week at Queen's, but before the Gospel reading, I gave a brief introduction to the method and aims of Lectio Divina (sacred reading), and then had two sizeable chunks of silence after each of the two readings of the Gospel passage, finishing up with a blessing. After this, I resumed the standard order of service.

The feedback I received from people was that most had appreciated the opportunity to be silent and meditate on the reading (because, let's face it, in the Uniting Church we really don't do silence enough... or well). A number of people also suggested that it would be good to do something similar again sometime.

So once again, I find myself indebted to Fr John from New Norcia, who led our group in two sessions on Lectio Divina whilst we were there; the first to outline the hows and whys of Lectio Divina, and the second to actually DO it in the group. This experience was invaluable for me in preparing to lead tonight's service.