Today is not a great day to be in Melbourne … but there will good days to come

I wasn’t planning on writing another Monday travel post quite so soon, but I’m thinking of and praying for all my friends and family in Melbourne as they start a new stage of lockdown, with curfews and restrictions that are hard for me to imagine. And so they and their beautiful city are on my heart today.

I’ve visited Melbourne many times. So much that it’s been strange to now have had six months without a visit. It was the last place I visited, in late February when it was starting to become apparent that we’d all be travelling a lot less this year.

But I don’t have a huge number of photos from Melbourne, and certainly none that come anywhere close to capturing all its beauty and diversity. Perhaps because it is so familiar and doesn’t need recording for me to remember. Perhaps because I’m usually there to connect with people and work, not as a tourist. Or perhaps because I’ve always assumed I’d be back soon.

What do I love about Melbourne?

Growing up in Sydney, there’s a deep-seated inter-city rivalry with our country’s second largest city. Iconic globally recognised landmarks or quirky cosmopolitan laneways? 2000 or 1956? NRL or AFL? Traffic or trams? Harbour or River? Most well known or most livable? Less rainy days or less rain? There’s a good reason our politicians needed to find a compromise and build the capital somewhere in between!

And living in Adelaide for my adult life, there is a different kind of rivalry. Perhaps more of a one-sided younger sibling vibe that may at time verge on an inferiority complex in our side. Yes, we know that lots of things we do you have already done first, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t cool in our own way. (And most of us have almost forgiven you for the Grand Prix).

But spending a fair bit of time in Melbourne for work, study, and collaboration with various people over the last decade has truly developed my love for this city!

Melbourne has a great cosmopolitan vibe. From street art to high fashion, relaxed river walks to bustling nightlife. And plenty of amazing food! Delights from all over the world, not to mention everything artisanal from chocolate to coffee, dumplings to dessert.

(It was Melbourne, rather than Paris, where I had my first macaron)

I love the markets, large and small, with their fun and funky vibes.

The city views from up high are spectacular, whether from a ritzy event at the Eureka SkyDeck …

… or from a sneaky visit to the bathroom in a hotel on Collins St.

Melbourne also has a great arts scene.

(My second to last visit, late last year, was a crazy 18 hour whirlwind with an equally crazy friend to see a stunning musical whose themes resonate in the current season)

Melbourne loves its sport and does its sporting events so well.

Even for someone who is less “devoted fan” and more “casual spectator”, the atmosphere can’t be beat.

(Put 80,000 Aussies into the MCG for the Commonwealth Games and we all become instant aficionados of shot put, pole vault, and long jump)

What have I learned from Melbourne?

I hope it doesn’t seem unkind to reflect on all these great things about a city when its people can’t currently enjoy them. But I think part of lamenting includes naming what we appreciate (and therefore miss). All these things make Melbourne a great place to visit and we know they will again, hopefully in the not too distant future.

But even more than all the city has to offer, what I love most about Melbourne are the people I know there. And they are the ones who have much to teach me, as they have in the time I’ve spent there with them. Melburnians know what they like, they love who they are, and they lead in so many innovative ways.  Even in this last week, I have been challenged, encouraged, and inspired by many Melbourne friends as they respond to the situation they find themselves in with courage, grace, ingenuity, and good humour.

We Aussies love a good inter-state rivalry. But one danger we currently face is that our usually good-natured competitiveness, comparison, and ribbing can too easily turn into compassionless judgment, fear, or disdain. I hope that reflecting on this beautiful city invites all of us to stand with our neighbours in Melbourne today, praying for them, and looking in hope to how this challenging time will draw out their strength, community, innovation, and sense of fun in all kinds of new ways.

You’ve got this Melbourne. We love you.

And we’re cheering you on.

 

 

 

 

Time out in my own backyard … or today would be a good day to be in the Clare Valley

My Monday travel posts have seen me revisit cities all over the world – times and places that feel a world away right now. Perhaps it’s not a bad season in which to remember and celebrate the beauty, culture, and diversity of places far and wide. But for today, it’s where I spent the past week that has brought me back to blogging after a hiatus during these strange and constantly changing months.

While like so many I carry sadness for changed plans and lost opportunities, and grief due to the indeterminate separation from friends and family, like most South Australians, I am feeling exceedingly grateful, slightly guilty, and a smidge apprehensive to be enjoying easing restrictions unavailable to too many in our own country, let alone the world.

With international travel off the cards and even state borders currently closed, a holiday in my own “backyard” becomes the only option available.

I sought to take with me the perspective I have when visiting a brand new country or culture. To see with new eyes, to appreciate the simple pleasures, to notice the unassuming beauty, and to get lost in the little moments.

What did I love about spending time in the Clare Valley this week?

I am privileged to live in a land of incredible natural beauty.

I marvel at the variability I can too easily miss.

I listen carefully, inhale deeply, walk softly.

I reflect silently as each day passes from me.

I wonder about the stories of all those who have journeyed through these places.

I join them in worshiping the all-creating One in response to what I perceive.

And I acknowledge that I am interloper, walking on country not first my own.

What am I learning from taking time out in my own backyard?

There is much that I don’t understand about how this world works.

Even as I enjoy the solitude, there is plenty to ponder, to lament, to mourn.

The space and the quiet bring acute awareness of my own limitations, my loneliness, my mortality.

Awareness and reminder of the world’s current uncertainty, sorrow and lament is never far away.

And yet there are gifts of grace to be found even in the darkness.

The sun rising anew each day is a promise of new mercies and great faithfulness.

And there is always someone who has walked these paths before to point me to the presence of the One always in the midst of all things.

Thinking about words in this season …

There are so many words that could be said, and are being said, about living in these difficult coronavirus times. We’re learning new words and phrases like  ‘covidiot’ and ‘zoomed out’,  we’ve understood the meanings of  ‘pandemic’ and ‘flattening the curve’, we’ve endured the unprecedented use of the word ‘unprecedented’. A number of conversations and experiences over the past month have got me thinking (out loud) today about the power and importance of language in all this.

Some of the words we use no longer seem relevant, perhaps revealing the cavalier and even meaningless ways in which we too often use them. Conversation starters like ‘how are you doing?’ and ‘what are you doing?’ sound jarring as we realise the answers are, respectively, everything and nothing. We need to find new words to connect with one another … and hopefully move beyond starting every online meeting with a literal ‘can you hear me?’ to words of genuine affirmation:

‘Yes, I hear you.’

Some of the words we share need to be more carefully parsed or compassionately toned. With different people and different places at different stages of response in my community, how do we avoid judgement and finger-wagging while sharing community wisdom and best practice? A friend shared her challenge in knowing how to tactfully respond to someone asking her family over for dinner. Is it simply, ‘No, we can’t do that anymore,’ or is there an opportunity to dig deeper and ask, ‘what is the heart of what we’re missing’ and ‘how can we do life together in new ways?’ Online, the disparity between where people in different countries are at amplifies the need to use our words with grace and care.

Some of the aspirational words we have been using about our communities are now being tested in the fire of new situations. Or as my pastoral colleague says, now is our opportunity to live out who we say we are. Our church has been deliberately using the word ‘gathering’ rather than ‘service’ for a few years, how does this helpfully shape our choices in how we move online?  What does it really mean to call our church ‘family’ in a time when we are advised to only have contact with those who live in our household? And on a global scale, how do we even begin to talk about the coming impact of this disease on poorer communities and recognise the privilege inherent in language like ‘social distancing’ or ‘lockdowns’?

In my own small ways, I’m finding that giving people space to use words in creative ways has seemed to resonate for many. Our gathering last Sunday included the creation of a word-cloud where we each contributed words that captured something of where we have seen God at work in the midst of this difficult season (picture at top). The resulting image has been widely shared and provides a picture not just of our shared language, but our shared experience of grace and hope in the midst of the darkness. A performance poet friend inspired me with the idea of #bookspinepoems, creating a poem out of the titles of books on your shelf. I enjoyed and found it strangely moving to create my own and have taken much delight in seeing those of my friends; gaining glimpses into how they are travelling at this time (or at least what their preferred reading genres are). As a verbal processor, and for all of us in wrapping our heads around things, I hope there are many more of these ideas to come.

And then there are the words we pray in this season.

We continue to proclaim the truths we believe even when they are difficult to see. Last Sunday, I had one of the most awkward and yet beautifully profound worship experiences of my life, with our worship leader on my computer screen, an older member of our congregation on the other end of my phone, and me in my living room, all singing out of sync, and yet affirming the same words of hope and truth about the Cornerstone in whom we find hope through the storm. I’m intrigued that Nigerian singer Sinach’s Waymaker went ‘viral’ among churches in the months leading up to this season, with its declaration of a promise-keeping God who never stops working, even when we don’t see or feel it.

The words of the Psalms continue to provide comfort and point the way. I taught a class last week on lament and I know this is a language we will embrace more and more in the coming weeks and months. The lament psalms give us permission to name our sadness, anger, doubt, confusion or fear; to wrestle honestly with God in an act of bold faith that declares nothing is out of bounds when speaking with him. Making these words our own declares our conviction that we have a God who hears our deepest and darkest groans, who is present with us in the darkness, and who enters into the darkness with us. As we prepare for Good Friday this week, the truth of a God who participates fully in our suffering may be more important for us than ever.

And of course, there are many times when words simply fail us. In numerous settings over the last few weeks I have found myself starting a prayer with and for others with a simple, honest, ‘I don’t know what to say God…’ as we sit in these unfamiliar and uncomfortable spaces and listen for his still small whisper. Praying for a friend in Africa waiting for the ‘tsunami’ that is coming left me grasping for words and babbling like a toddler.  I wonder if naming that I have no words is sometimes the most significant language I have to offer.

And for no one but myself, a simple practice these weeks has become to light a candle each night before I go to sleep, and simply sit in the presence of Jesus with the gift that is wordless prayer. There I am finding a peace that passes understanding, which I’m quite sure no words of mine will ever be able to adequately explain.