Archive for February, 2014

As much as I’d love you, my dear reader, to be at church on Sunday morning, I know it’s not always possible. If that’s the case I would encourage you to listen to JD on Sonshine fm, and guess what? You may hear me. I’ve recorded six three-minute messages that will be played on Sonshine fm on Sunday mornings. Here’s one of them:

Lady Di at Sandstone, Western Australia

Lady Di at Sandstone, Western Australia

Wedge Tailed Eagles feeding off the carcasses of kangaroos were the main feature of a trip I had some time ago between Leinster and Mt Magnet in the Mid West region of WA. So it proved to be a welcome change when we came across the tiny township of Sandstone. There was a mass of white roses along the wide main street and this contrasted with the red dirt and immediately announced that there was something different about this place.

For a period of six years from 1907 Sandstone had a population of 6,000 to 8,000 people. It had four hotels, four butchers, many cafes, stores and business houses, as well as a staffed police station and two banks. During this boom period, in July 1910 the railway came to the town, however by 1919 only 200 people remained. The population has continued to dwindle.

As we drove slowly through the deserted streets we spotted someone waving to us and heard a voice call out, “come and have a cup of tea”. It turned out that Lady Di, as she is affectionately known, has lived in Sandstone for 12 years and three days a week runs a sausage sizzle in the park, cooking up her own recipe of herbs and spices to provide a hearty welcome for the visitors who pass by on a regular basis.

So a cup of coffee and a chat with Lady Di was a welcome relief from the long, hot drive and gave us a picture of a community that was struggling to survive, but was welcoming of strangers, and keen to make its contribution to the wider community of travellers.

Communities that look after their own, are wonderful, but communities that welcome strangers and contribute to the lives of those outside have an element that is unforgettable.

There’s been plenty of criticism of the church over the years, and some of that criticism is warranted. But from the first century when the church first came into being, the idea of welcoming strangers was always at its heart. The church was not intended to just be another country club, or a secret society where only those who could recognise the password could enter.

Jesus ate with the people who nobody else wanted to mix with. He identified with those who were outcasts, the people with disabilities, the people whose behaviours made them unacceptable in a “good” society.

Every community needs a Lady Di who is prepared to put up with the heat and flies to offer a welcome to outsiders, but I think all of us need to have that sort of commitment to reach out beyond ourselves to welcome strangers.

If you’re not a part of a local church I’d encourage you to find one that welcomes strangers, a church that offers you the opportunity to grow to be more like Jesus yourself. A community where you can receive the support and help you need for your own spiritual and emotional growth, but where you can become a person who reaches out to others with the love of Jesus.

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The Gift of a Word

Posted: February 16, 2014 in Uncategorized
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This week I met with a Noongar elder to share the details of a forthcoming book that, in part, will chronicle our shared stories. Myrtle Yarran and I talked about a time more than 70 years ago when her father and mine first met at the little wheatbelt railway siding of Badjaling. Here’s what I read to her:

It had been a tiring day for Bob Mead. He had been fox hunting all day and was walking along a dusty road towards his home at Badjaling. Foxes were an introduced species, and they caused a lot of trouble to the farmers who worked in the area, so Bob found some satisfaction in proving his hunting skills and at the same time collecting a small payment from the white farmers who hired him. The Nyungar people were barely recognised by the farmers, but they were considered useful when it came to getting rid of pests like foxes.

As he made his way to Badjaling, with a bundle of fox carcasses dragging behind him, Bob spotted the new school teacher. He was a young man, only twenty-one years of age, but already going bald at the front. They chatted for a while about the fox hunting expedition, then, with a twinkle in his eye the Nyungar elder said: “Mr Douglas, say ngangk!” The young Irishman had been told that the Badjaling people only spoke English; this was his first realisation that while English was used widely, there was something about these people that he had yet to learn.

His first attempt at repeating the word Bob had asked him to say wasn’t too successful, so Bob called over his seven-year-old son Aubrey, one of the thirty-eight children who attended the tiny corrugated iron school now in the hands of this young teacher. Aubrey screwed up his nose and said, “ngangk.” The teacher screwed up his nose and tried again to repeat the word.

“When you can say that word, I’ll teach you another one,” Bob said. “Ngangk is our Nyungar word for mother, and it’s also the word for the sun in the sky because the sun is the mother of us all.” Wilf Douglas had received his first lesson in both the Nyungar language and traditional Nyungar beliefs.

When my Dad received the gift of that first word from Myrtle’s Dad, few people had ever written the Noongar language. He took that gift with appreciation and over many years wrote down and described the language, giving it back to the custodians of that language in a format that would help preserve it forever.

Each day we receive gifts from the people around us – a kind word, a shared story, an expression of concern or love. When someone shares a word, don’t brush it off or disregard what was said. Receive it as a gift. These are blessings that represent something of the person who has made the gift, but they are not gifts for us to hold for ourselves. As we receive them we have a responsibility to consider how we can return them with an added blessing.

It’s Facebook BC450

Posted: February 9, 2014 in Uncategorized
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ImageI think I’ve come across one of the earliest examples of social media. Nehemiah was a governor in Persia when he asked permission to return to his cultural home of Jerusalem and rebuild the walls. He was doing pretty well, but there was a small group of men who were opposed to what he was doing and were trying to distract him.

It sounds like Facebook BC450 when Sanballat and Geshem sent out an unsealed letter making all sorts of accusations against Nehemiah. Being unsealed meant that as the letter was passed along, anyone who wanted could read it and spread the news they read.

The letter commenced with the words: It is reported among the nations and Geshem says it is true – two phrases that are repeated regularly in the 21st century:

“It is reported among the nations” – or more commonly, “everybody is saying it” and “Geshem says it is true”, more commonly paraphrased “If it’s on Facebook then it must be true.”

Gossip may have been around for the last 2500 years or more but it’s taken on a fresh form in the world of social media. At church this morning I talked about this and prayed that we fix our eyes on Jesus and allow Jesus to guard our ears, control our fingers, direct our tongue, and protect our mind.