Astrapi for kids

Astrapi is a Paris-based French-language magazine for 7-11 year olds. They distributed a two page supplement in clear language to help the kids of Paris.

It’s common sense, and although a couple of the references are specifically to Paris and France, I thought it was so well thought out that I have translated into English to help anyone respond at a personal level to the attacks. Just click on the link below.

Astrapi on Paris attacks

Buying into violence

Russia and France have intensified their bombing of Raqqa. ISIL are rejoicing. This is the war they want, the violence they have provoked, whether or not they are the masterminds behind the bombings over Sinai, in Beirut and most recently in Paris.


They want violence to bring in their caliphate. When the West obliges by responding with violence to its violence, the West is playing into its hands. Fighting fire with fire means that everyone gets burnt.


9781742376141I’ve been encouraged in the last few days reading A Good Place to Hide, where Peter Grose tells the story of ‘How one French community saved thousands of lives in World War II’. The village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and its neighbours in the surrounding mountainous area hid Jews and others on the run. A small regional railway was the main access to the village which boasted a number of modest boarding houses that had been built for ‘healthy Protestant family holidays’. The village was surrounded by remote farmhouses, many of whom were willing to secrete Jews in their attics or cellars or barns, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for the duration of the war.


Le Chambon is near the Swiss border, and the people of the village opened up a ‘pipeline’ smuggling Jews into neutral Switzerland. Teenagers became expert ‘passeurs’, people-smugglers, risking their lives for others.


This whole operation which saved probably 3,000 Jews, more than Schindler’s List, had its heart in the network of Protestant pastors in the Plateau area. The Huguenot people had a history of sheltering dissidents, whether they were Protestant, Catholics or Jews, and those displaced by World War II were equally welcomed and hid or smuggled out.


The pastor at Le Chambon, André Trocmé, made known his views on non-violence from the beginning of the war. Pastor Trocmé believed that even against the evils of the Nazi regime the only weapons allowed to Christians are the ‘weapons of the Spirit’. Even when the Resistance began to form around him, Trocmé continued to speak out for non-violent methods, including openly protecting foreign Jews and others wanted by the Gestapo. He agreed to go into hiding only when he was persuaded that staying would likely result in a violent Gestapo attack on his family.


The story of Trocmé, his colleagues and parishioners, is inspiring for our time.


We are daily being tempted to back the rush to more and more violence. Pastor Trocmé provides an example of someone who consistently refused to go along with violence as a solution to violent provocation.


We are daily being encouraged to pull the welcome mat away from vulnerable asylum seekers. ‘Maybe they are more a security risk than we first thought.’ The people of Le Chambon reminds us that there are only people – not Muslims or Jews or Christians – to be welcomed to our place.


When the Gestapo came to arrest Trocmé, he wasn’t home. His wife offered them a meal while they waited. They looked for opportunities to see the occupiers as human beings too, even when it made them unpopular with other French people. We cannot excuse or overlook the wanton violence of ISIL, but maybe we can see that those being radicalised are gawky young men looking for a place to belong – not monsters.


It suits the politicians to ramp up the fear following Beirut and Paris. But it suits ISIL more. We Christians need cool heads to not be caught up in the fear and so fuel the violence: remember André Trocmé and the villagers of Le Chambon.












God and Chronic Pain

I wrote this back in 2009 – and thought it worth sharing again:

The worst thing that the Western church has done is that we have turned God into a man. Ask any six-year-old to draw God, and she will emulate Michelangelo and draw an old man with a white beard. The orthodox Christians, the Jews and Muslims have taken much more notice of the second commandment: “Thou shall not make of the Lord thy God any graven image.” (Exodus 20:4).

And God said…

We may not believe that God is literally a human being, but we picture a transcendent God in physical terms. Children may believe God is the “Friend for little children//Above the bright blue sky” in an absolute literal sense, and adults often believe transcendence describes God’s distance from the physical creation.

It’s true that the Bible often anthropomorphosises God: God walks out before the armies of Israel; God picks up and cuddles the human person, like a mother and baby (Hosea 11:3-4). In general, however, the Bible has a sophisticated notion that God is (a) holy, that is set apart from his creation, and (b) intimately involved in creation.

God is a wind (Genesis 1:3), an unseen and uncontrollable energy that stirs up of the raw materials of creation. God “sits above” the thunder and lightning (Psalm 39), more powerful than the raw energy of the storm. God stills the seas (Psalm 65:7), not with a giant hand, but with an irresistible will.

If you have chronic pain, your picture of God matters. If you think God is a sophisticated human upgrade, if you make God in the image of human beings, your God will not be strong enough to make a difference to your pain. Your picture of God will limit your ability to receive the powerful healing God wants for you.

In the last ten or so years, my picture of God has changed radically.

Sometimes this journey has been dangerous. I have wondered if I have lost my faith. The God I had believed in was not big enough, and certainly not powerful enough to positively affect my pain, and I had to let go of that picture of God.

In Peter Jackson’s 2001 film, The Lord of the rings: the Fellowship of the Ring, an underground sequence has the wizard Gandalf confronting a Balrog on a crumbling rock bridge. The hobbits run as fast as possible to get to safety. Gandalf falls with the monster to their death. Growing your faith in God is like that rush across the bridge of Khazad-dûm. When you let go of your picture of God, everything crumbles and precious ideas die.

But let me encourage you. The only way to have a picture of God adequate to your pain is to stop believing in the God you think you know. There is a well-trodden path to this believing atheism, and it is the path of mysticism.

1. Any picture of God you have is by definition too small. To continue to believe in it is to commit idolatry. You have no choice but to let go your picture of God.

2. When you let go of God in this way, you become an atheist in the sense that you have no God to hang on to. What you must then believe is that God is hanging on to you. You cannot know what manner of God this is, you need to trust only that you are being held.

“Blessed be the Lord day by day,

who bears us as his burden;

he is the God of our deliverance,” says the Psalmist (68:19)

3. As this trust develops, so you may begin to grope towards a new understanding of the God who is holding you. You may for example, begin to find new metaphors to describe God. God is energy; God is universal heartbeat, God lives as the tiniest cell in living things. These God-cells begin a process of healthy change in your body, and your pain is reduced.

4. But these are again pictures of God. The irony is that the process of letting go of your new pictures of God must continue.

I invite you to image a Spirit, a larger reality and to open yourself to encounter this Spirit. In this process, you may experience the reality of how deeply you are loved, how surely you are held, and how extraordinary is your future in this compassionate universe. This is what I call, and only for convenience’ sake, “contemplation”, the experience beyond muscle relaxation and centring.

I invite you to relax further into this journey into the Unknown God. I encourage along the only path through deeper atheism, which as it unfolds leads to a deeper experience of the power of God in healing your mind/body.

Anzac re-visited

Stephen Daisley, Traitor, Melbourne: Text Publishing 2011, paperback 291 pages

from $AUD16 online

Reviewed by Ted Witham

Traitor is a sensitive exploration of the Anzac myth through the life of David Monroe, hero of Gallipoli and the trenches of France. While wounded, David takes it on himself to guard a young Turkish doctor, Mahmoud, who had been captured when the two of them were trying to save the life of an Australian boy. He forms a deep friendship with Mahmoud, who teaches him about Sufism and the poetry of Rumi. He decides to help Mahmoud escape to his home village, but they are betrayed by their Greek boatman. David is sentenced to death for desertion, but the war ends and he is pardoned.

David then returns to the quiet life of a shepherd in New Zealand, unable to ever make good in a society which never completely forgives him for his ‘treachery’.

Traitor is Daisley’s first novel, and was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Award in 2011. Daisley is a West Australian writer who delves deeply into the Australian psyche. I found myself coming back to the book again and again, unable to put it down. The story begins with David being questioned by intelligence officers, a scene with a Kafkaesque edge, and then unfolds as the past impinges on the present.

I was impressed by the lightness of touch in the story-telling: it is beautifully crafted, and the reader is rarely aware of the mechanics of the story. I felt I was in David’s world, and that the little things in his present really did touch off his memories. I felt I could taste the cold in the New Zealand air and smell the after-birth as he moved about the lambing flats, and I felt nauseated by his descriptions of death in the trenches, and genuinely moved by his love for Mahmoud and the woman he could never marry, Sarah.

I am looking forward to diving into Stephen Daisley’s second novel, Coming Rain.

Blessed be God for the animals!

Sermon for St Francis’ Day

October 4, A.D. 2015 St Mary’s, Busselton

Readings: Genesis 2:4-20a            Mark 11:1-11

In the + Name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sustainer, Amen.

This story about Jesus and a mule comes from one of the apocryphal Gospels, one of the writings that didn’t make it into the New Testament. But I’d like to imagine it tells us about how Jesus thought and felt about animals. Here’s the story:

They came across a man with a pack-mule. But the animal had fallen because its load was too heavy, and the owner beat it so much it started bleeding. So Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, why are you beating your animal? Can’t you see that it is not strong enough for its load, and don’t you know that it feels pain?’

But the man replied, ‘What is that to you? I can beat it as much as I want to, because it is my property and I paid a lot of money for it.’ …

But the Lord said, ‘Can’t you see it bleeding? Can’t you hear its cries of pain? ‘

But he said, ‘No. Can’t hear a thing.’

And the Lord was sad and exclaimed, ‘That’s bad news, that you can’t hear it complaining to its Creator in heaven, and crying to you for mercy. Very bad news for those it complains about in its distress.’ And the Lord touched the animal. It got up – its wounds healed!

Jesus then said to its owner, ‘Now carry on your way and don’t beat the animal anymore, so that you too will find mercy.’

No one here would treat their pet like that mule owner.

I’ve been impressed by those dogs which have earned a medal in the war in Afghanistan for their bravery in sniffing out hidden explosive devices, bombs and mines, before they blow up and maim and kill people. I think the Army awards the medals because they know that the dogs are brave. The dogs understand the danger, and the dogs do their dangerous job to protect their humans. It’s quite wonderful.

War is a strange place to start on St Francis’ Day. St Francis thought that trying to get peace by going to war was a bizarre idea, like hammering stones to turn them into water: wrong tool, wrong method, wrong materials. Yet St Francis spent at least three months with the Crusaders in the Nile Delta, nursing the wounded and the soldiers who had succumbed to mosquito-borne diseases. He caught malaria himself during this time. He looked war straight in the face. War is part of the human experience. St Francis cared about soldiers because he knew that God cared about them.

I don’t think, though, that there were dogs helping the soldiers in the Fifth Crusade in Egypt. To have dogs helping in war, you need to know how intelligent they are and how people can bond with them, so that man and dog become a team to accomplish a task. Of all the thousands of knights and soldiers at Damietta, Christian and Muslim, I guess St Francis was the only one who really knew that it was possible for animals and humans to have such a strong bond. We’ve learned a lot from St Francis.

There’s a legend that St Francis tamed a wolf that was terrorising the village of Gubbio. Now, that may have been only a legend, or the baddie in the legend may have been a human bandit or terrorist nicknamed Il Lupo, ‘the Wolf’, but it is possible that it was a real wolf. There are people who have such a connection with animals, like St Francis, that simply by his calm presence, the wolf sensed that Francis was friend, not out to chase and kill him.

The idea back in Genesis where Adam names the animals is that in the beginning we had that close rapport with animals. We are supposed to feel a connection with them. When a pet comes into our home, we give it a name. That’s what we’re supposed to do. It’s more than a childish game.

I grew up with animals on a farm, and our parents emphasised on the one hand that we shouldn’t make pets of our sheep and cows, but on the other hand, they treated the animals with care. They knew that they felt pain. Dad knew that if the sheep were spooked in the shearing shed one year, they would remember and be frightened the next year. It simply made good sense to treat them well.

Montage of wedge tailed eagles in full flight on blue sky with copy space

And when we meet a wild animal, a lizard or a kangaroo, say, our first instinct should be to acknowledge it. The way St Francis did this was by calling every creature his sister or brother. The pair of wedge-tail eagles we sometimes see over our back fence at Novacare are magnificent, and they come from God. They are our brother and sister.

The more we learn about animals, the more we should respect their complexity. We know that dogs and cats communicate, and they learn more ways of communication to fit in with their human companions. But ‘chooks’, hens, also communicate. When they are out foraging and scratching, one always stands guard, and she has a different squawk to indicate a predator over-head or good food underfoot. And it’s vital that her mates understand her straightaway. Scientists have done experiments to show that fishes feel pain, and they give sophisticated intelligence tests to octopuses!

Animals are not dumb. They share our planet as our sisters and brothers, so we bring our pets for blessing, thanking God for all they give to us, whether they are domesticated pets like cats or dogs, working animals like the donkeys Jesus borrowed to ride into Jerusalem, or whether they are wild animals with no human contact. We thank God for them all – and welcome pet rocks, cart-horses and orcas, and everything in between, for a blessing today..

But St Francis went a step further. In his Canticle of the Sun, he calls the sun and moon, the earth and wind and weather, all the inanimate things that make up the environment, that support life, he calls all those things brother and sister too. Because we are all connected. Our bodies are made up of mud and oxygen – water, earth and wind. The trace elements that make the subtle difference and bring us really alive come from Brother Sun and the other stars.

One place to read more about this is in Pope Francis’s latest encyclical Laudato Si’. The Pope even takes the name from The Canticle of the Sun, ‘Laudato Si’’ means ‘Praise be’ and is the first two words of every verse of the Canticle.

The writer of Genesis saw the garden, the river, the trees and the animals, and the humans, as a whole, a gift from God, to be cared for and nurtured. Blessing pets is not just something nice to do: it’s a commitment to care for each other, for every living thing, and for everything that supports life, to the glory of the Creator.

The mystery of love

Now love is primarily a sharing: letting oneself be hurt by someone else’s distress, putting oneself at their side, living with, suffering with, begging with. She naturalises herself as one of the poor: this is where love works. And this process of sharing liberates the power of love to change the world; by her astonishingly fruitful activity, she contributes to changing the world. This is the very mystery of Mercy.

  • Paul Milcent on Saint Jeanne Jugan, founder and first Sister of the Little Sisters of the Poor.

St Jeanne Jugan

Moral Leadership?

I am glad the Australian Government has finally agreed to take more refugees. But what a missed opportunity for moral leadership! The politicians were dragged to it by a community shouting our willingness to respond compassionately and sensibly to the crisis in the Middle East and Europe.

Country towns like Katanning and Albany offering to re-settle asylum seekers, and householders with spare bedrooms reaching out to integrate new people into the Australian community have put the Government to shame.

Instead of leading with compassion and with sensible plans for bringing people to this continent, the Government have played politics firstly with numbers – can we stretch to 10,000 or 20,000? – and secondly with cherry-picking those considered in greater need than others.

At this point in the crisis, both limiting numbers and having the luxury to choose between desperate people are irrelevant. Sure, we need to be practical: Australia cannot take 800,000 refugees in a year like Germany, but there is no danger of that happening. Any discrimination in favour of one group, whether it is Christians or Yazidi, will inevitably be perceived as discrimination against other groups. This morning Muslims are complaining, and rightly so, that yet again, our Government is treating Muslims as less than human.

As citizens, we should thank the Government for their willingness to consider increasing our humanitarian intake and encourage the Prime Minister to stretch his imagination to be as generous as possible. (

We should also encourage those who express generosity and offer practical help to them if we are able to provide it (Katanning Shire President: ; Albany Mayor ).

We should also look around the facilities that are ours with the same generous imagination. Is there anything we can do as individual families, churches or community groups to welcome refugees, and what action do we need to take to initiate that welcome?


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