I can still feel my fingers
at the keys,
tapping out eternal warnings
to fellow thirteen year old
pilgrims on the OG
brains early in development
didn’t stop my confident assertions
I came at matters of belief
like a child soldier
lobbing theological grenades
in the name of
birthed from the faces and spaces
that flipped my assumptions
came divinely appointed
the world calls lesser
whom Jesus calls blessed
kept bringing me home to the news
never wanted appeasement
or child soldiers
or fear-based ultimatums
shudder at times
to think of my youthful arrogance
I know this current me-in-progress
fingers at the keys,
tapping out reflections
will appear immature
in my rearview mirror
twenty years from now
And even as
I look now at my own
children in development
I never want them to feel
ashamed of the winding path
they must walk
to come home to the news
only ever looks
It’s been raining for as long as this goldfish can remember
And the forecast shows no sign of change
And I am tempted to complain
about the moat forming around my castle,
I think of floodwaters
Rising to meet eaves
And the displaced ones
Scattered through churning streets
Tries to reckon with invasion
The places where displacement
Is not by nature, but by design
The gridlocked chess match
Of expensive weaponry and fragile egos
History is a finger painting of innocent blood
Much closer to home
I think of the friends who cannot sleep
Battling invisible mental beasts
They text me to pray for them
I pray Psalm 23 for us all,
For the whole flooded, bloody mess of it
Are there green pastures and quiet streams,
Amidst all the dark valleys and enemy tables?
Sometimes I lose sight of the shepherd
As it all swirls through my mind
To the sound of constant rain,
I am hyper aware of the shelter
I have from the storms
I am sheltered — physically and emotionally
And there is no entitlement in it
No deserving of it
The things I am most grateful for
Feel like subtle reminders of injustice
And I don’t know how to do anything else,
Except cry out for the shepherd:
Don’t hide now.
I am frequently paralysed by
the choices of the modern world:
from how to spend $50
to how to spend my own life
which streaming service to keep?
which show to binge next?
Leaves me flailing
on my back,
like a slater
Perhaps this has always been a problem
on some level,
no doubt exacerbated,
by optical fibre
but, how do you choose what you do
with these ticking hours?
Mary Oliver phrased it beautifully;
‘What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’
But sometimes I want to say back to Mary
‘What is it you plan to do with this one wild
selection of Netflix originals?’
Saint that she was,
probably wouldn’t have made the first choice
to even entertain the notion
of the Netflix scroll
She was just choosing which flower
to write her next poem about
and would probably
gently encourage me
towards the hum out the window
of life pulsing electric
through stardust and soil
Ghost Mary reminds me
the choice was never just
whether to rewatch the Matrix trilogy
or try something new
The choice was (and is)
to show up and write
some words on this page
or to distract myself,
catching up to
Of course you can watch movies
and show up
to your creative life
(arguably, it’s essential)
but I know when my own scales
here I am
beneath a thumping fan in the kitchen
I want to write the poems,
Every now and then
in quiet moments,
the desire for ‘greatness’ wells up to my surface
and takes the open mic in my mind’s stage
‘Where is your magnum opus?
Your mass following?
Your literary agent?
Your flowing royalties?
What have you been doing?!
How come you have not been ‘found’ yet?
Why have you not toured the world yet?
Why are you not publicly adored yet?
Well…what will you do about it?’
It is like my ego
has had a few too many drinks
and become narcissistically confident
and deeply self-critical
I feel both berated
remembering that I
am apparently someone special
of best-seller status
and viral TED talk fame
a bulging bank account
Though I have also
missed the boat, the train, the spaceship
I have turned at the wrong times
paused when I should have moved
moved when I should have paused
I have failed
the all-important and never-satisfied god of hustle.
The crushing weight
of my not-so-specialness
presses down upon me
And I’m washed by a wave of
that I have not become great yet
that I have not yet risen
from the ranks of apparent mediocrity
I’m still just here
where life is happening
steadily and quietly
I pour my ego a glass of water
gently caress the microphone
from his trembling hand
sit him down at the bar
I slap him
look him in the eye and say,
You are loved.
Do you think something is only great
if a million people see it?
Do you think being known by strangers
would make you feel more seen
than the eyes of your own children?
Do you think there’s anything out there
you don’t already have, right here?
Do you really think
the wildly successful version of you
in an alternative universe
isn’t still losing sleep over your crap?
And let’s keep walking
the beautiful path before us.
He drinks his water,
wipes a small tear from the corner of his eye
I breathe deeply
in the wonder of my life
and walk outside.
It is happening just like they said it would:
they are growing up fast
I used to hold him like a football
Yesterday he kicked one over the fence
He used to know no words
Yesterday he told me he could see
‘The soft-feathered wings of the day’
6 and he already spins better poetry than me
dresses up like a pirate
like a paramedic
like an astronaut
And I’m still wondering
is he dressing up as a 4 year old?
or has that much time actually passed
since we first met?
They are growing up fast
And you find yourself uttering that phrase
even though you know how cliche it sounds
And I wonder,
if it is just an easy-to-reach-for substitute
for things that are more difficult to say
If you pause too long to ponder
the volumes you’ve already forgotten
the mispronounced words
the day before walking
the night after coming home
it’s dizzying to think about
the rollercoaster tracks in the rearview
And when I say
they’re growing up fast
I think what I really want to say
is that I’m horrified by how casually
I am passing through this gift shop
And I know,
it’s easy to be sentimental
when the household is asleep
and you are writing poems in the quiet hour
And I don’t want to romanticise
the slog of it
the shit of it
the thousand little deaths of it
There are honestly days when I fantasise about
going back to before
back to morning sex
and midday movies
and deciding to go to the beach
and then just going, straight away
this is what horrifies me
more than my kids growing up
It’s the curse of casually spending every season of your life
wanting to space-jump
backwards or forwards
when the miracle, in all its bloody wonder
is always and only ever happening
where you are now.
And you casually let it play
like background music.
You are skim reading the body of your life
You are swallowing without chewing your life
You are driving on auto-pilot through the rich landscapes
of your one life,
Sometimes I feel
like every poem I write is the same
I only really talk about
trying to be present
trying to see the wonder
trying to live and give
from a deep well of gratitude
I write about it so often
because it is
as it is difficult
And the best things are often so
like raising these kids
who are growing up
at the pace of growing up
And maybe all you can show them
is that none of it is casual
none of it is granted
none of it is cheap
Every time oxygen fills those God-given tanks
Every beat that is thumped from that drum in your chest
It is all more dazzlingly wondrous
than any Sci-Fi reality anyone’s ever dreamed of
It is nothing to be casual about.
This everyday miracle.
These are my sons, Noah and Leo.
They both have a penis.
And they both have adorable long hair.
Noah’s favourite shirt has a pink glittery flamingo on the front. Leo collects shiny things like a magpie in his bed.
They are both rough and gentle and kind and fierce and infuriating and fantastic. They are all kinds of wonderful and wild.
This morning the three of us were sitting in one of our favourite local cafes having a babycino date. Sunshine out the window, double-shot flat white in my hand and the glorious site of chocolate mono-brows emerging as my kids made contact with the rim of their cups after every sip.
Another family came in and sat behind us. I could hear the parents talking to one of their children about the exposed air conditioning system and what those large silver tubes snaking all over the roof were there for. I smiled; we had just had this conversation.
When I got up to leave, the mother looked at me with kind, parental solidarity and asked, “How old are your girls?”
My boys are five and three, I thought.
“…Five and three” I said, opting to avoid any awkward vibes.
“We have two the same age. Except they’re boys. So they’re very busy!”
I smiled and walked out, leaving behind the familiar gift of assumptions with a side of stereotypes.
Before I continue, I want to say, this family seemed lovely. There was genuine warmth in the interaction, and I have no doubt these are good parents who love their busy boys well. There was nothing malicious in this interaction.
But isn’t it amazing how quickly our minds make links? My sons have long hair, so the snap judgment is that they are girls. And if they are girls, they must be less ‘busy’ than boys.
I have interactions like this every week. I don’t have time to write a blog post about it every time (that’s what this poem is for).
But this morning I was still stewing over an interaction from the night before.
I was sitting round a table playing board games at a mate’s place. (Gender stereotype much? Sidenote: it doesn’t help that basically every board game ever only refers to players as ‘he’ in the instructions. Seriously. Go read instructions for any strategy game. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it).
Anyway, it turns out one guy’s wife is pregnant. Congratulations are exchanged. Then someone asks, “Are you going to tell everyone what the gender is?”
“Yeah, I think we will”.
“Good choice. You don’t want to end up with a whole bunch of yellow and grey clothes.”
True. You definitely don’t want that. What could be worse?
I gently offer an alternative perspective, “You could just let your child wear whatever clothes they want?”
It was a genuine suggestion, but grey-hater builds on what he perceives to be a joke about how PC the world is becoming, and chuckles: “Yeah. You need to wait until the child decides if they are a boy or a girl first!”
He then tells a story about how his son always plays with trucks and cars as vehicles, but everytime he has seen girls play with trucks and cars they become characters talking to each other. His son never does this. His trucks and cars never have a conversation. He finishes the story by making the point that in the case of his son “it’s not a social construct”, just an observation about how his boy is wired. Read between the lines: he’s following those good old fashioned rules about what a boy is supposed to be like. Phew.
Once again, I am sure this guy is well intentioned and that he and his wife love their little person who has the good sense to play with trucks like they are trucks, rather than characters having an emotional ‘girly talk.’
And I know, in the grand scheme of things both of these interactions may seem small and trivial.
But that is kind of the point.
It’s why I often don’t know how to respond when people project their assumptions on to my kids. It feels like I would be the one making a ‘big deal’ about gender and hair length. Meanwhile, pouring kids back into the moulds they supposedly came from is so socially acceptable you seem like a revolutionary for suggesting yellow and grey aren’t the only colours up for grabs if you don’t yet know whether it’s a penis or a vagina?
This large, invisible framework of gender roles/stereotypes/expectations is actually made from mountains of ordinary, everyday, seemingly harmless moments like these.
That’s the whole point.
If you think your kid is free of any social construct, but the first question you ask someone when they are expecting is whether they are going to announce the gender….then sorry, I’ve got news: you’re handing your kid a pretty clear script for how they are supposed to perform in this world.
And from little things, big things grow.
Could there possibly be any connection between these busy little boys whose trucks don’t talk and these risk taking teenagers who don’t articulate their feelings and these grown up men who are angry and violent and isolated? It doesn’t happen in a single moment, but a lifetime of messaging about what the world does and doesn’t expect from you….might just produce exactly the kind of results we see on the other end?
If you’re not allowed to wear certain colours when you’re an infant how many other options are already being taken away from you? How many unnecessary walls have been built for you to climb, before you have even learned to crawl?
I’m not under any illusion that my house is some kind of magical neutral zone free of social constructs. Our kids are going to have plenty they need to unlearn. But I hope that every time we become aware of an invisible rule, we talk about it. We put a spotlight on it. We ask questions about it. We decide whether or not it is life-giving.
And when the rules are questioned, some of them get ditched.
I live with these wonderful little people who see themselves as poets and artists and inventors and scientists. They paint their nails and love dinosaurs and build towers and collect flowers and kick balls and ride bikes and cry and laugh and scream and give me high fives and kisses on the lips. All of these things are true. Shocking, I know.
And I am sure it is confusing when we leaves our house where we’ve tried to dismantle these rules, and they walk through a world where some people call them she and some people call them he, and then people treat them differently based on which one of these they see. It can feel like it’s a lose-lose. We either start playing by the ‘rules’. Or we prepare for the ongoing bafflement and confusion and social awkwardness.
But at the end of the day, I don’t think is my choice to make. If my kids want to rock long hair and pink flamingo shirts, I’m not going to stand in their way.
Instead, I will try my best to create conversations about why this might confuse some people. I will share about the old stories, the invisible rules that have existed for a long time. I will also emphasise that they aren’t written in stone and they don’t deserve the weight they are given. We will talk about how I am a man and Mama is a woman, and that does mean something, but it has nothing to do with colours or hair or emotions or skill sets. We will ask together, what do these words mean, ‘man’ and ‘woman’? What could they mean? And what are the deeper words we would use to describe who we are?
Maybe sometimes there’s no better word for who you are than your very own name.
If you’ve read this far, could I ask you to consider a simple suggestion? A concrete action that we could all easily take?
It’s one small brick in a big wall, but if we all took down one brick a day, that would make a profound difference (and maybe we could do away with some wrecking balls in the process).
Ready for it?
When you are interacting with a parent and/or their child for the first time, ask an open question without gender assumptions, like this:
"How old is this little person?"
"What is this little person’s name?"
90% of the time the answer will be something like.
“She is two years old.”
“His name is Rupert Made-up-child the Third!”
If they say a name but not a gender, then just use their name in your follow up questions:
“What does Rupert like to do?
This might not seem like a big deal. It’s not going to eliminate all our ingrained stereotyping and assumptions and invisible rules.
But I guarantee you, if you train yourself to ask a question like this first — that little shift in awareness will ripple out in all kinds of beautiful and helpful ways.
After all, from little things big things grow.
The dreamer and the doubter
sit side by side
on my brain’s front porch
The dreamer sits on a pile of pallets flogged
from various roadside heaps
(where he sees great potential)
The doubter is the original armchair expert
feet up on an old recliner,
mirroring his sceptical raised brows
The dreamer points to the nearby door,
entryway to my brain proper
“You know what’s in there?
Ten thousand poems, and a novel or three
a revelatory memoir and a PhD
a groundbreaking series of documentaries
a business model that values artists
a church that restores hope to wounded roadside pilgrims
all integrated with the qualities of
a present father
all-round neighbourhood hero”
“There is so much potential behind that door”
The doubter leans forward and his armchair squeaks,
One thousand and one dreams that will never take form
all scattered, half-baked or halfway gone.
He only ever writes the book’s first page
only ever runs the first half of the race
and it’s derivative drivel
and it’s a sad sight to see.
It’s all wasted potential,
If you’re asking me.”
Suddenly the door creaks open
and a head peeps out
It belongs to the doer,
and he opens his mouth,
“Excuse me fellas, trying to work in here
Bringing to life a couple fresh ideas
And it’s fine if you want to come chew his ear
every now and again with all your hopes and fears
But maybe you’ve both got the goalposts confused?
Maybe the world’s not as clear-cut as win or lose
So, have your little chat but if you want to keep judging
maybe get off your chairs and come make something.”
Before I was born
my mother and father
moved from respective country towns
became same city bound
and together found
the quiet, Australian, Christian values
they were raised with
became the awakened zeal
of passionate university evangelists
My Dad, always wanted to be a pastor,
he is an architect,
but I realise now he has always been a pastor to me.
There were four kids before I came on the scene
six by the time the family was complete
I, number five
was born breathing Bible stories into lungs
immersed in words faithfully sung
seeing Old Testament violence filtered
through animated vegetables using clever puns
I was suspicious of Santa from an early age
I was singin' baa baa doo baa baa to Colin Buchanan tapes
At five years old
in the kitchen with my mother,
I asked Jesus to enter my heart.
Nothing deeply profound
and yet, as simple and beautiful as it still sounds.
Years later I would question the validity of my five year old faith
but now I think a five year old’s faith carries no hate
a five year old’s faith knows no shame
a five year old’s faith can be pretty great.
to when I am
fourteen years old
I think life is swell
I am on MSN messenger warning my friends about hell
I hate Muslims, atheists, gay people as well
I am very confident I know how everything works
I love Jesus, but my faith is full of darkness unsearched
collections of unwritten biases
I was unconsciously given
At Seventeen years old
I am leading classroom debates about the age of the earth
I am turning the public schoolyard into a church
I am passionate, naive and clumsy at best
I avoid alcohol, swear words, gay people and sex.
In the eyes of some I am a success;
in the eyes of others, I am a threat
Nineteen years old
I wade through Philosophy tutorials and set texts
I add to my self-righteousness undergraduate pretentiousness.
My mind is engaging more deeply,
but my answers are still pre-determined
God is still a middle-class, capitalist white boy like me
and I still know how everything works
Twenty years old
I spit raps in juvenile justice facilities
I begin to see aspects of faith a little differently
I begin to wonder if these kids would be welcomed at services on Sundays
I begin to confront aspects of myself that seem a little ugly
I begin to wonder if I have misunderstood how some things work.
The seeds of new questions are planted in the soil of my soul
Twenty-five years old
I become a father
two months later I become a pastor
both of these roles bring questions harder
than any I had grappled with prior
chinks to the armour
having casual existential crises between Sunday sermons
trying to exercise leadership that looks more like service
I’m hyper conscious that I’m in a position of power and authority
trying to follow a rabbi whose life was marked by sacrifice and poverty.
My heart has felt the insane expansion of parental responsibility
My past now looks like a bread crumb trail of judgmental hypocrisy
I no longer know how everything works
But I am still convinced that Jesus is the hope of the cosmos,
Thirty years old and here’s where I’m at:
My faith is a vibrant patchwork with some open gaps
I’m no longer desperate to hide every hole
I have lost the illusion that God is mine to control
I believe my body is not just a container for a heaven-bound soul
but instead part of a cosmic broken temple being made whole
I'm ashamed thinking of people my faith was wielded like a knife at
particularly the ones who weren’t present to fight back
all the people I had ridiculed before meeting round tables
ideas formed without relationship, based purely on fables
I grieve often for all my friends who have faced
a choice between a faith community or an honest faith
that should never have been a choice in the first place.
If nothing else, shouldn’t church at least be safe?
These snapshots of my evolving faith
are pictures of broken humanity sprinkled with grace.
There are past versions of me I struggle to like
I hope the future versions of me look more like Christ
Sometimes it feels like everything I believe has changed
except one thing,
at the centre remains.
I know how very little works
but now I think maybe that’s ok.
I still believe Jesus loves me
like when I was five years old.
I process life as a human on planet earth through poetry. Love, loss, wonder, wounds, parenthood and more recently pandemics. Here are 9 poems I wrote during March and April, as we grappled with the biggest global disruption in living memory. You can also hear me read some of these poems on the Poetic Beings podcast.
After bushfires, a global virus
I look into my lions' irises
my children - making their earliest memories
within a globe that rocks unsteadily
gig economy, cancelled concerts
anxious crowds, hidden monsters
and sometimes I wonder how to teach them
God is love, the ground beneath them
sometimes I wonder how to teach me
God is love, the ground beneath me
The sun shines brightly here
while the world is humbled
we lose the control we never had
like the ferris wheel stops spinning
the car tyre is flat
the light globe blows
but the sun shines brightly here
the breeze still blows
the birds still sing
and the pen still writes
when some things are taken,
other things are left
and maybe nothing's ever birthed
without some kind of death
There are new griefs here
more subtle than the classic losses
we have tasted in the past
The wave of fave local cafes
ending their operation
knowing you can't sit at that table
drink that coffee
made by that barista, anymore.
Then there are the places trying to stay open
you think about how difficult this must be
your shoulders sag a little for their burden
You just had a stack of new books arrive
you will not be able to launch in person
and you wonder,
who wants to buy poetry books right now?
And you enter the tangled mental knots
of plans interrupted
likely losses passing before your eyes
business plans scrapped
And there are beautiful innovations
seeds of new creativity
little sprouts of hope
like 'going to church' this morning
on couch with sons snuggled close
And there will be new life
there will be wondrous, unexpected beauty
but don't miss the grief
it deserves to be felt
don't live out of the despair
but don't miss the grief
it deserves to be felt.
The centipedes don't know
Life continues normally for them
and the billions of other life forms on earth
that don't go to the cinema
or the pub or the library
It says something about us
that these places feel like
part of who we are
limbs we only notice when they're lost
These are the places we swap stories
watch them on screens
borrow them printed and bound
part of who we are
is in the telling
and the showing
and the sharing
And we will do this
in our homes
and on our phones
if our meeting places close
But maybe it's a good reminder
that what makes a human creature
is a little more than hunt and gather
a little more than food and shelter
a little more than 'the essentials'
And the more is in connection
so we must not lose connection.
The parks are closed
the swings hang still
dust gathers on the window sills
of restaurants with doors now shut
Centrelink brims with the latest cuts
And I lay in bed to pen this poem
safe and fed, here at home
and I don't know what words to write
one minute, everything feels alright
but sometimes a breath is all it takes
to feel the fear, to sense the weight
guilt that we don't suffer more
terror that we might suffer more
And being human is a fragile thing
and we rest our trust on paper wings
but they're razor thin
and maybe life on a knife edge is always life
and privilege is just another word for blind
going to bed earlier
spending less money
sitting on the deck
outside when it's sunny
writing more poems
calling more friends
thinking more about
who I'll be when this ends
reading more headlines
feeling more anxious
craving more wine
acting impulsive and restless
I get stuck in my mind
when there's nowhere to run
and I wonder
where I will be when it's done
In some ways I feel better,
in other ways worse
and maybe the mix
of the two just affirms
I'm still broken and beautiful
like I was before
I'm still held by grace
no less and no more
12/4/20 (Easter Sunday)
Death and resurrection;
In the time of crucifixion or coronavirus
this hasn’t changed
every ending, a rebirth
waiting to be reframed
check your tombs for rolled stones
and messiahs playing gardener
like when it all began
If the story teaches anything
maybe it’s that Christ often resides
in ordinary places unrecognised
and seeing requires more than just eyes
So check your tombs
and don’t be surprised
if new life walks out
of the burial sites
Exercise has returned to nature
We used to sleep in our homes
but did we live in them, like now?
we used to drive on our streets
but now we walk them, rediscover them
I have never seen so many people
walking their local pavement
It helps that these last few days
have been the glory of autumn
warm sunlight after cool mornings
I wonder about winter
maybe it is time to learn to hibernate?
If we could sleep 6 months
and wake on the other side, would we?
Is there enough life here
to be here,
But that is always the question
in our privilege or our poverty
we gaze towards unrealised horizons
replay waves of yesterday's waters
Here is so often the most difficult place to be.
But here is where we are,
walking our streets
drenched in Autumn light
as ordinary and extraordinary
When my grandkids ask me
about living through the coronavirus
I hope I can tell them
I trod gently on sacred ground
and didn’t squander all my thoughts on the survival of my comfort
The preservation of privilege
turns our gaze from the sacred amongst the suffering
Christ, the ground of being
is always positioned with the suffering
That is why sacred ground abounds
the woman whose home reeks
with bulldog masculinity
the bruised child facing bullies
haunting homes and not just schoolyards
the elderly who miss the glint in grandkids eyes
(not captured on screens)
single ones whose skin will
only know its own touch for months
not to mention the frontline workers
or the very ones who suffer the virus
I have been known to trample
over sacred ground
in my anxious rush to feed my ego
but I hope that when my grandkids
ask me about the days the world changed
I will be able to say
I changed with it
I trod more gently
I loved tenderly and fiercely
among all the sacred in midst the suffering
Lately I’ve been splashing around in the waters of contemplative prayer. Like a kid. I’m no expert. I don’t understand how it all works, but I’ve found some water I want to jump around in. Ironically, it’s the kind of water that makes me want to stop jumping around. To sit, to be still, to feel every sensation, the cool liquid my toes can drink from, the sun settling softly on my tightly wound mind.
The last few mornings I’ve started each day with centering prayer. I sit in my armchair in my office, focus on my breath and use the word ‘spirit’ as a focusing point. Breathe it in, breathe it out. There is spirit here. Magic here. Wonder here. Christ here. The sitting perfectly still part feels kind of like planking. Or holding some other kind of stretch. Like when you can feel the muscle stretching, straining in physical exercise. I can feel my mind stretching, straining. Wanting to snap back to familiar fidgeting, distractedness, permanent state of rush. But instead I choose to sit through the stretch and let it grow me.
For each of the last few nights I have closed my day with the Examen prayer. I sit straight against the back of the bed (if I lay down, I’ll be asleep in seconds), and I run through my day in mind. I see myself: so rushed, so distracted, so anxious. I see brief moments where I was present. Kind. Available to my children, my wife, myself. I see the seemingly wasted moments and the deeply wonderous ones. And as I hover over my day in my memory, I speak to God. How could I have done this differently? Where were you breaking through amidst the ordinary? It feels like I am sifting through my inner world. It feels like a muddy bundle of sticks and leaves and treasure that I am holding in my hands. Some of it is very ugly. Some of it is very beautiful. God promises me, we are sifting through it together. This bundle of muddy nature that I am; we are making something out of it.
I feel like I have been fascinated with the contemplative for a long time. At least at a theoretical, cerebral level. I like the idea of it. But right now it feels like I am beginning a practice. Like a child learning to ride a bike. It is a fumbling and beautiful and clumsy thing. But I can feel the brief moments of what it could be like, to ride this bike down a glorious hill, to feel the wind, the spirit, hammering me with glee. So I will keep splashing in these waters. I will keep trying to ride this bike. I will keep sifting through this muddy mess with God.