How do you balance being still before God and working in faith?

Dear Captivate slido person,

I assume you’re a real person. But if it was a bot’s question, I’ll be starting to worry for humanity. Nevertheless, thank you for asking it. It took me such a long time to write this because it’s such a big problem (and you asked a good question). So rest assured you’ve done us all a favor because you’re probably not the only one asking this. You’re wrestling with the importance of being before God and the work that you’re doing for him. Perhaps they almost seem like opposite ends of a seesaw. When one goes up, the other goes down.

I think it is a distinctly modern problem to see them as an either/or. If being still before God is opposed to working in faith, doesn’t that mean that the latter is more important? After all, Christians want to be first and foremost faithful people. And by gosh you’re right — there’s so much to do! How can we possibly be faithful with all the possibilities before us to do good? Aren’t we making time for God, the king of the universe, by doing his work? Maybe if we get time at the end of the day, or week, or month, or even year… we’ll get around to being still before him then.

Knowing that you have to be still before God on top of all that you have to do for him is a sure fire way for a guilty and joyless life. But what I want to encourage you to see is that faith is not a work. It’s the posture of your heart. As one lecturer of mine said, “faith is not trusting more in God, but trusting less in yourself.”

Being still before God and working in faith are not opposed to one another. In fact, being still before God is what it means to be faithful. It is its essence. It is in that stillness that we acknowledge our dependence and our need for him. Being still is like the breath of our soul. Have you ever tried to move around just by exhaling? It’s not fun and it doesn’t last very long. Inhaling by being still before God is necessary before doing anything else.

Let me elaborate on this. We need to decrease before God, so that he can increase. The reason why being still before God is essential to faith and even is faith, is because faith is not obedience, which is why Paul says he is charged with bringing about the obedience of faith (Rom. 1). Faith resides in the deepest corner of our heart as the object of our ultimate trust and dependence. To be a faithful Christian is to make a movement of the heart, change its posture, to trust less in ourselves and more in God as the one who establishes and justifies our existence.

Faith is how we see. When you understand this it changes everything. Our modern Western culture, especially in Sydney, values life based on productivity. It’s the first question we ask to find someone’s identity besides their name — “what do you do?” So of course faith is what we produce because it is our work that justifies our self worth and our life. It’s hard for these habits to go away when we become Christian because they were so ingrained into our old imagination of the world. You may even measure your faith based on how frequently you read the Bible and pray or how much you serve at church.

But we never measure up do we? Maybe you’ve felt the guilt that comes with spending time alone or with God. After all, there’s all this work that God’s calling and beckoning to you with. Being still before God feels like doing nothing. It feels like faithlessness. Doing nothing is so detestable to our culture that not being busy can even seem like a sin. We’ve got to be busy even on our vacations! Yet whilst we as humans are busy looking at outward appearances, God looks at the heart (1 Sam.). In fact, his eyes run to and fro on the earth looking for someone who first and foremost, fears him and trembles at his Word (Ps; Deut. 6.5). Remember the story of Mary and Martha?

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Lk. 10.38-42

My prayer for you then dear Captivate slido person, is that you learn like Mary to choose the good portion, to sit at Jesus’ feet, and learn silence, obedience and joy before him. And just like the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, you will know that your Heavenly Father cares for you, that nothing you do will change his love for you, and that his peace which surpasses all understanding, will be with you. Like the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, your work will be seen in all its beauty and God given glory. Because it is his and not yours. You simply have to be.

The Living God

How to read for transformation

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. Ps. 1.1-2.

Introduction

We’re entering the third month of lockdown. Even the most resilient of us are starting to feel the stress of living in such a strange world. Besides depression and anxiety, self-harm and suicides, one thing I haven’t noticed media report much on is the sense of spiritual dryness that people feel. Whether it’s mediums, self-help books, or religion, I’ve observed that people have realized how dehumanizing living in a sterile secular society has been. When the hamster wheel of working 9-5 stops, it can be hard to be motivated to live. No one tells the hamster why they’re running the wheel. A lockdown means that the demand for meaning is at an all time high.

Even Christians themselves are realizing how dependent their faith was on being productive rather than a rich inner life of knowing and being known by God. So many have encouragingly tried to return to the bible to seek and know God for who he is. Unfortunately, Christian habits often mirror their culture. And in an industrial society, reading the bible has a purely functional purpose. It’s read like a manual to follow or a textbook to understand. Returning to that habit only reinforces the problem. We’re still looking for something to do.

But what if life was more than doing? What if living itself is more than moving around? What we need is not just to read more but read differently. In the same way that lenses give us another perspective, reading the bible existentially gives us another reality. This is where the ancient Christian practice of lectio divina can help.

What it is and how to do it

The lectio divina is an early Christian practice developed by our monastics and church fathers. Its goal is to develop communion with God and increase the knowledge of God’s Word. According to one commentator, ‘it does not treat scripture as texts to be studied, but as the living word.’ And it is this sense of reading and communion that I think modern Christians have lost.

Its roots go back to Origen in the 3rd century, after whom Ambrose taught them to Augustine of Hippo. But it was first established as a monastic practice of in the 6th century by Benedict. It was then formalized as a four-step process by the Carthusian monk Guigo during the 12th century. First a passage of scripture is read, then its meaning is reflected upon. This is followed by prayer and contemplation on the Word of God.

What makes the lectio divina distinct is that it doesn’t stop with a theological analysis of biblical passages. But it views them with Christ as the key to their meaning. For example, take Jesus’ statement in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you”. Exegesis would focus on why Jesus said this during the Last Supper, the biblical context, etc. But in lectio divina, one “enters” and shares the peace of Christ rather than “dissecting” it. What a Christian is trying to do is to hear Christ speak through the inner voice of his Spirit into their current situation.

Why Christians should do it

The reason why I think this is important is because how we read determines what we become. Reading the bible as words to master makes it subservient to us. Reading the bible to be mastered by its words makes us subservient to it. For evangelical Christians, there’s always a danger of objectifying God. We forget who he really is and equate him with what we know. Whether it’s a doctrine or a moral teaching, we can come to think that we have faith because we assent to these beliefs. Too often, we read the bible like a textbook or a newspaper and then proceed to go on with our day.

But faith is not what we know. Faith isn’t even what we do. Faith is a passionate emptying of trust in our selves. It’s to know our highest need in God. And to follow him where he may lead. We forget his Word is to be lived throughout our day so that we become the embodiment of truth and therefore of Christ. If rational study is hearing his Word then contemplating it is to listen to him. And to imbibe it is to live as him — as his mouth and ears, hands and feet. Without this, we can never truly become who we’re meant to be. We’ll remain infants needing rules to follow. Without connecting his Spirit to our everyday lives, we’ll be unable to love from the heart though we may fake it with our head and outward acts of obedience.

Where to apply it

I think I’ve said enough to introduce the topic. And hopefully you can see both how we can read the bible differently and why we need to do so. One immediate way to start applying this is follow Redeemer Presbyterian’s guide to the lectio divina. They’ve provided instructions both at an individual and group level.

https://www.redeemer.com/learn/prayer/prayerandfasting/lectiodivinadivinereading

Heralds of what’s to come

I woke up

Felt the room

Or better yet

The room felt me

Amidst coos and caws

Above our roofs

Stillness pervaded

In my room

Dust trickled

Rays of light

Children played

And the air heralded

What was and is

And is to come

It was warm

Not a midsummer night’s dream

Nor a winter’s frosty morn

But it was a different dawn

The sun embraced me

Rather than I it

Creation sang

And I was silent

I did not have to strip myself

Cooling off this clammy skin

Nor cover up

The shame beneath and within

Today’s clothes

Heralded what was

And is and is to come

Green, brown, and orange

The mess of the sidewalk

Whispered by trees

And under gentle breezes

Cherry blossoms danced

To the tune of spring

Dandelions and daffodils

Stand at attention

The sun also rises

A rolling call

Today the risen sons will come

Dogs bark their sergeant’s orders

Rather than pay attention

The pigeons nearby soar

Into the skies merging

Heaven and earth

And perch still on the telephone poles

The boy next door skips

Like a calf coming out

Of its stalls

When’s the parade mommy?

Where’s the king?

And his donkey?

A bewildered stare flashes

Silly boy she says

It’s all in the past

Under a garage door

An old man snores

His car dented unprepared

His wrench to the floor it falls

These old bones

Creak and groan

Struggling out of bed

It moans and moans

And moans some more

Still covered in sores

We are locked down

Locked out

Not all ready

Nor expectant it seems

Spring will have to go longer

Winter will come once more

More than many hoped

Eternity breaks in

Rather than jolt us up and out

Like a rude alarm

On a Saturday morn

Spring reminds us

The battle’s over

The war’s won

Resurrection’s done

A herald of what was and is and is to come

So arise sleeper

Wake up and rub

Those weary eyes

And see the sun who shines

Upon this very day

Letters from lockdown: The dangerous games we play

Clearance required to travel outside your suburb. No work given to anyone without the government supplied injection. One hour of outdoor time is allowed daily. No more than one person in a household allowed out at a time. Faces are to be covered in public at all times. Helicopters and cars will patrol at random. A curfew of 9pm to 5 am is necessary for problem people. This sounds like a scene from a dystopian novel. Yet here we are in Sydney, August 2021, in the midst of the COVID19 delta pandemic. In efforts to control the spread of the virus, the government has pulled and tugged at every straw.

They’ve tried to become the hero the people want, rather than the one they need. I don’t know whether these Herculean expectations come from the people or from the politicians presuming to be the new patheon on Olympus. I suppose it’s a bit of both. After all, I don’t remember governments ever being blamed for failing the eradicate the spread of a virus. I mean… did people blame the king for the bubonic plague? Like Medicare, if something’s broken, people want the government to fix it. And in trying to fix everything, they inevitably make everything else… well, worse. Vaccines be damned.

The truth is it’s the world that’s broken. So being the hero people want is a dangerous game to play. I don’t fully blame them. The people made it necessary. This government has had to enforce and coerce and infringe on as many freedoms and privileges it can, short of a riot, just to cajole citizens to obey the advice they were giving before. ‘I strongly advise you to have no more trips to Bondi.’ It’s sad that we’ve come this far.

The limits of a scientific imagination

The government’s not without sidekicks. Their best one is “what the science says.” Scientists? Which ones? It’s often portrayed in the media as though science is a uniform term with enshrined dogma no one can disagree with. That’s not how it works though. Especially not in a postmodern age. Modernity’s fetish for rationalism keeps coming back. But it’s bunk with the people. All they’ll see are politicians playing power monopoly.

Is listening to science, even if it was unanimous going to work? By making eradication of COVID the measure of a healthy society, I think the government inevitably misses things. Like the effects on the economy. Like the widening gap between rich and poor. Like the mental health stress of the vulnerable whether elderly, ill, female or child. Going with what the ‘science’ says assumes that science also defines the good life. From a scientific point of view, this is no less than life without death, without viruses and illnesses.

We’ve yet to see the full cost of pursuing a solely scientific mindset to addressing this virus. One would think that now would be a good time for Plato’s philosopher king to make an appearance. Because many scientists a wise man does not make. Science as it is, tries to look at the world objectively, to make detached judgments, focusing on empirical data, to the expense of all that is natural and human; to the expense of life itself. Listening to “the science” under the pretense of objectivity actually makes people and society more detached and less human. NSW after all isn’t a laboratory and people aren’t lab rats.

The relationship between a government and its people

The biggest thing it has missed here is the relationship between power and responsibility. Uncle Ben was right. With great power comes great responsibility. The more the government tries to lockdown the virus and its people with science, the more it’s taking responsibility both for the virus and the welfare of its people. I wonder if it’s up to the task of making people happy. If it has the power to lock anyone and anything down, it should also be able to reimburse forced closures. It should be able to reimburse mortage debts. It should compensate for suicides and abuse under lockdown. That’s a tall order the people will ask for. It’s like what 1 Samuel says, the people will cry out for their king to deliver them but he will not hear.

People say that the lockdown brings out the worst in us. But I think it reveals what’s in us. We’re seeing where everyone’s faith was placed (or perhaps misplaced). That’s why the government is under so much pressure. It’s where our faith’s been all along. We’re desperate for order in a disordered universe. We need someone or something to blame so that we can at least pretend we’re in control. And our government happily plays along to be the hero in our darkest hour.

Every disaster requires a sacrifice to the gods believe will save us. Whether it’s mortgages or mocha takeaways, we’ll find an offering to plead the gods we believe will take COVID from us. But people don’t sacrifice their livelihoods easily. They don’t do it without requiring a return — one that’s eternal. The question is — is the government’s treasury big enough?

See the Joker was also right. You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain. The heroes we want, like science or the government, won’t save us. Because what the hero we need is the one who’ll save us from ourselves. So when the gods we put our faith in, inevitably reveal that they’re human and all too human (vaccine rollouts perhaps?), then there’ll be a clamor for new gods on Mt. Olympus. But trying to replace a society’s gods never goes smoothly.

Letters from Lockdown: Faith, Hope and Love

What will get us through a lockdown, pandemic and Afghanistan

1 Corinthians 13:12–13 (ESV): For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

When lockdown started I wondered how I was going to cope with isolation. Well it’s been two months now. And the result is: pretty well. That’s not to say I’m thriving. But I’ve been able to use it to recharge and focus on my responsibilities. Daily tasks have been more convenient. And though it’s a struggle to be self-disciplined, I’ve had a wonderful wife who helps me structure my life more effectively. Most of all, I’ve had more time to enjoy her. Excluding our Sydney elites and the professional middle class, I would say that I’m okay. Not good or great, just okay.

That’s the problem of contemporary life though isn’t it? We live in these self contained silos. It just serves to reinforce whatever we already think life is like. No wonder the protestors hate the anti-protestors and the vaccinators the anti-vaxxers. If self-righteousness wasn’t a problem in the past, it’s unavoidable now. It wasn’t until I encountered the stories of how others were doing through close friends and family and those they work with that I realized that I had become a cold-hearted chad. I mean I was burnt out. Maybe this didn’t make me any less selfish. It just revealed my self-centeredness more. Enjoying Amazon deliveries and Ubereats while people protested on the streets was solipsism at its finest. If a man killed himself during COVID and I wasn’t around to see it, then he wasn’t really a man.

In the nursing homes, the lockdown is taking its toll on the elderly. Isolated from family, some have stopped eating. They would rather die. Some have faked illnesses to draw attention even from staff because they’re so lonely. Others have become a shell of themselves and lost all personality. My wife cried as she performed a physical assessment of an old man with dementia. As she checked on him, she held a phone to his trembling face. And as he heard his daughter’s voice, he couldn’t stop weeping. He was blind and mute.

I watched as hundreds of Afghanis flooded Kabul’s airport attempting to escape the Taliban. I watched as many clung onto the wheels of the airplane, knowing that it was certain death. And I watched as they fell hundreds of feet from the air. They were in such fear from the Taliban that they would rather have dropped to their deaths. I watched as the president of the most powerful country on earth turned his face away from a country his nation had shaped for 20 years. He blamed his predecessors. And he explained that his motives came from a desire to protect American lives.

I listened as a relative of mine narrated her struggles through the lockdown. I felt her loneliness, her anger and her question of “why?” I saw that such isolation for her was torture. And the longer it went on for, the dimmer her hope grew. Because life as she knew it, was disappearing from her eyes. Though she was doing all she could to stay home and stay safe, in her heart, she was there with the protestors, fighting for their homes and businesses and livelihoods and freedoms. And yes even amidst the anarchists and conspiracy nuts.

But all I could do was #staysafe. What I realized is that we need to face the reality of the situation. Lockdowns benefit those who can work from home. They drive up property prices. They increase debt to those who can ill afford it. And they increase the gap between rich and poor drastically. So with the courage of honesty, maybe we need to explore some ways of navigating through this together at a community and state level rather than just muzzle dissenters, professors from UNSW included, to claim that “the experts are on their side.”

This is not an anti-lockdown rant. But maybe it’s a plea. I don’t know to who. To God perhaps? I doubt Gladys would see this. With some help from the apostle Paul, we need to think about the state of the world as it is. We need it to drive us to seek the knowledge of both God and ourselves. And we need that knowledge to transform this world, in faith, hope and love.

What we need to stop doing is pretending that hiding in our homes, ordering take out, and online shopping are moral badges to be proud of while we blame the pandemic on everyone outside today. The ones outside are the ones delivering our food and parcels. Faith in God, hope in Christ and love for him and our neighbor. After all our toys and things, and our skills and competencies, that’s all that remains. Those are the essentials. So in earnestness you can pray for the lockdown. But pray more for the elderly, for the vulnerable and most of all for yourself. Because how we’re responding is showing us who we are.

A Doxology of the Knowing God

O’God I heard Berkeley once say

Esse est percipi

To be is to be perceived

Above us an abstract concept seems

Deep down every hearts’ dreams

To know and be known

That is what we wish

To be remembered not forgotten

To reside not be lost

And neither to be missed

In the vicissitudes of time

In the abysses of the sea

In the shadows of the mind

You are still yet with me

You watch our going out

And you see our coming in

Form us in our innermost

We go forth without boast

Bodies of ashes

To ashes we return

Dust to dust

Foxes have holes

And birds have nests

Lilies dance in fields

But humans forget

Your favor and yields

Remember us Lord

We are fickle and we forget

Yet not one of our hairs fall

To the ground

Without you ever being around

Remember us and make us

Like the birds of the air

Like the lilies of the field

Let us know in your son

The grace of knowing you

That rest is won

Give us silence

Obedience and joy

And empty us of our ploy

Though a tree falls

In the woods

No one’s around

It resounds loudly

Because you are its ground

Ground of being

Omniscient one

We ask this in your son

Your kingdom come

Your will be done

Letters from Lockdown: Look Each Other In The Eye

Dear you,

I’m addressing you as a you because that’s what you are. You’re a person; a human being. Yet you’re also a you because that’s what lockdown has made you. Without face or name, you’ve become an indistinguishable person. You’re more than an individual. Yet you’re also less than one. You’ve become a crowd. And what I’ve noticed about lockdown is that you’ve been split into two faceless crowds. Like my most painful tooth extraction, you’ve become a bifurcated you. On one hand, you see our greatest need to be the protection of our rights. On the other hand, you see that to be a society means giving up our rights out of our obligations to one other.

And you’re right. Humans are meant to live with a center. Perhaps you could call this a soul. You’re meant to be integrated both as a society and as a person. But as the wisdom of Facebook has said, “the lockdown has brought out the worse in us.” One of these is the bifurcation of our souls. Someone who struggles with bipolar disorder struggles to exist. Do you think that you can cut off your other half without harming yourself?

I know that your other half seems to be a demon. It’s annoying. It lies. It didn’t save up the money you’d work so hard to earn. It blew it on whiskey and clubs and $10 avocado sandwiches and Netflix. Isn’t housing unaffordable enough? It tells horrible jokes. Jokes like, “the government can’t tell us what to do. Lockdowns don’t work. Live free!” You want to laugh in its face. It’s easy to demonize him. Especially when he shows up at a protest the next weekend. Damn. Just when you thought you’d locked him at home, he gives you the finger. He’s the reason you got in this lockdown mess in the first place.

I know your other half seems to be a demon. It’s cruel. It’s a tyrant. Every day, it seems to crack its whip at you, driving you further towards despair. It whispers lies like “being a good person means listening to everything the government says.” “Protesting the lockdown means that you only care about happiness of the majority.” “You should’ve saved up and gotten a job you Centerlink bum.” It seethes with resentment at every line that isn’t toed. You’ve worn yourself out listening to it for much of your life after school. But there’s been nothing to show for it. Instead of freedom, there’s tyranny. Instead of happiness there’s only mediocre conformity. He’s the reason you got in the lockdown in the first place.

Order and chaos. Rights and responsibilities. The ethical and the aesthetic. Conservative and liberal. These paradoxes capture the struggle of what it means to be human. This is the tension between truth and love. Sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes love hurts the truth. It can be maddening living with that tension. I know it keenly myself. But I believe that’s what we’re made for. You see, life is a constant struggle to integrate these two halves of yourself spiritually. The ethical and the aesthetic part of life are the melody and harmony which consummates in the ultimate religious life — what’s transcendent and beyond all values, God himself.

One of the things about media like the press or Facebook is that it all takes place behind closed doors. You can post under digital identities to people you’ve never met or heard of. You can participate in causes beyond your time and country. The anonymity of distance means that you can become someone and something else. You can engage with other people who are just this faceless Other, someone less than you. And so you can let fly whatever corrupting impulses you feel at a particular moment into the internet void towards people who are no longer people.

Media especially social media tries to eradicate this tension of being human. It amplifies extremes. It gives your natural corrupting urges a platform to be heard at any moment. And it reinforces these impulses to be who you really are. There’s no center to you. Just one polar ideology that demonizes the Other. And so you’re either proud or disgusted, elated or angry, jubilant or despairing.

Dear you, please look beyond social media. Look each other in the eye. Because what you see is who you are. In hating them, you’re just hating yourself. It’s not hard to imagine that you wouldn’t act differently given the circumstances. Neither our rights nor responsibilities makes us who we are, but it is before God that I am and that you are. You’re neither protestor or persecutors, neither anarchist or tyrant. Look each other in the eye. Really look. Only then will you be able to see the log in your own eye and pick the speck out of your brother’s. Only then will you be able to be integrated, one and whole. Look each other in the other eye. And look to God. That’s your greatest need.

From one human you to another,

Nathan

Letters from Lockdown: Today I Saw A Sunset

The heavens declare the glory of God

And day to day pours forth knowledge

What was today Lord

That your poured out your paints

And dipped it in palettes

Orange white blue

Purple navy

Pinks and hues

What did you want us to know

Where did you want us to go

The clouds are your messengers

The winds your vessels

And I your child

Sitting here with head nestled

I tried to chase the sun

But darkness fell

And so did the fun

It was too quick Lord

And I too frail

I’m a gust of wind

A breath of air

I stand no more

But your clouds declare

The Sun will rise

And your mercies anew

And tomorrow will be

Fresh with dew

”My mind hums with poetry and madness”: The Toughest Semester Ever

My mind hums with poetry and madness. Virginia Woolf

I turned in my final paper for the semester on Friday, July 9th and waited for that sigh of relief. You know, the one every student experiences at the end of each term. It never came.

All I could think about now was the coming week. Semester 2 would start in 3 days. And I would be flat, burnt out like the Lancer-made donuts around Auburn, before I could even start. Worse, I was scheduled to preach at Captivate Presbyterian on July 18th on Psalm 100-101. It was the toughest semester I had ever been through. And yet when I finished it, there was no rest, no relief and no end in sight. Had it truly ended? That’s what I thought as I shoveled bits of rice and eel into my mouth.

I don’t even know how I got to this point. Without a day off, and one extension after another, the last 3 months have just become a blur. I feel like I’ve done nothing and yet everything. I remember moving houses at the end of last year. I remember leaving a job I fairly enjoyed. I remember leaving my church to become an intern at another. I remember making friends in the unlikeliest places. At the same time, I’ve never taken so many extensions. I’ve never had ongoing medications for my health. And I’ve never felt so empty in my life. There’s never seemed to be so many fires to put out. With so many things out of my control, I couldn’t help but ask myself — Was I a failed student? Worse, was I…a failed human being?

Throughout life, in all of our words, and feelings and actions, we seem to be measuring ourselves up against some ideal. We’ve got some vague sense that we’re not who we should be. What is it though? Does this ideal exist somewhere in society? Is it in my mind? Or is it made by me? Am I just making myself up as I go along? Beyond our successes and failures, the worst thing to fail at is as a human being. Yet… we can’t seem to agree on what that is. And maybe that’s why I felt such despair. The uncertainty and the failure around my life made me ask myself if all these things really reflected who I was and what I was like as a human being. If we’re ultimately responsible for our lives then the failure to live up to your constructed identity is yours, and yours alone.

These thoughts ran through my head. They ran through them when I was faced with my grades. Or when I was forced to acknowledge that I was never going to meet that deadline. And they ran through my head just as it dropped down on my soft pillow to sleep. It’s too bad these thoughts were nothing like my pillow. I remember thinking, “my mind hums with poetry and madness.” Words and images. Feelings and sounds. Without any narrative, any story, what are they? My head, no my life, just becomes full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. So I’ve come to realize this semester’s the toughest one I’ve ever had. Not because of anything I did or didn’t do. But because of who I was. It’s made me have to come face to face with myself. And when you see the shadow of who you truly are, that can be terrifying. Sometimes it’s a monster in the mirror. This semester was the toughest one not because of successes or failures, but because through it all, I had to ask the question, “did I fail… as a human being?”

Dangerous Bus Rides Along Camperdown: A Letter To The Editor

Dear Sir,

Or is it madam? I want to assure you that I don’t discriminate when it comes to leaving dangerous items on public transport. And in the case of a thermoflask on a bus, it is a most serious matter. As I overheard this girl named Shirley, who was sitting in the back row say, “when you crinkle a wrapper in a silent study room, you become public nuisance number one.” She’s right. Dear sir or madam, when you left your polished gray metal thermoflask on that busy bus, you became public enemy number one. You may as well have left a bomb behind.

You might be wondering why I’ve targeted you or your innocent thermoflask. Dear sir or madam, I have no qualms about thermoflasks. I am quite content for thermoflasks to take buses or trains or ferries or trams. Sometimes I even cheer them on as they ride past on their Tour De P’arramatta, nestled snugly under their riders’ bikes. Which brings me to my original point. Thermoflasks are free to roam anywhere they choose just as my Woolworths free range chicken does before I eat it.

But thermoflasks like dogs, need to be accompanied at all times by their rightful owner. Else who knows whose poor lawns may be targeted next when your dog decides to redecorate the earth? Who knows whose poor ears will be split and deafened when your thermoflask decides to drop the beat? Those bottles seem to have a life of their own and struggle to stay up more than my dear wife after her stroke.

My dear, I love thermoflasks. But I do not love you. You have been a most negligent owner. And you are moments away from becoming a domestic terrorist in my eyes. So I write in an effort to assuade you from the path you’re on. I too, know what it’s like to be young. I was young once. Young man, or woman, listen to me. Or listen to my dear friend Shirley at the least. She sounded wise. As I sat resting my eyes and enjoying the conversations of young people, I noticed that you had left your thermoflask in the back row. Out of the goodness of my heart, I steadied it and popped it upright to give it the seat it deserved just as I steadied myself with my cane. Then the bus suddenly lurched. Again my cane was my stead. But my ears had no one and nothing.

The moment that thermoflask dropped, thunder broke, my eardrums were rent and you became public enemy number one. There is nothing irredeemable in that. With time and a good conscience, I am sure you will take wonderful care of your many thermoflasks in the future and spare many from the curse of lifelong deafness. But as I prepare to see my audiologist tomorrow, I want you to know that you don’t want to be private enemy number one. I am just as good at kicking whipper snappers off the bus as I am keeping them off my lawn. The next time you think of leaving your thermoflask on the bus think again. Sydney is a small place. And you never know where one man and his cane may be hiding.

Yours sincerely,

A Concerned Citizen