Sunday, January 31, 2016

Watermarked: Reflections on Baptism and Faith


Lent. The word brings up dreadful masochistic images of sackcloth and ashes. But in reality, it is an annual rhythm which many Christians use to reflect more deeply on their faith. The forty day period culminates in the Great Paschal Vigil (the Easter service), which is the service at which, traditionally, new Christians are baptised, and all Christians reaffirm their baptismal vows.

Therefore, I have put together a book of readings on baptism, one for each day of Lent. The reflections are not theological arguments. Rather, they tell of people’s lived experience of baptism. They draw from all quarters - fiction, poetry, and memoir, sprinkled with stories from members of my congregation. Some reflections are moving, some are pensive, and some are just plain hilarious! Each reflection is followed by a few questions and a suggested prayer.

If this is something you would like to use, I'd be glad to send you a copy. Send me an email: alison [at] southyarrabaptist [dot] church. It is in pdf format, designed to be read on an iPad. The readings begin with Shrove Tuesday, which is on 9 February this year. I will also post each day's reflection here on the blog.

The painting of the baptism of Jesus is by Paul Gahan, a member of the South Yarra Community Baptist Church.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

God or taxes?

So a friend told me a few things and began to weep, and another friend saw us and said, “Hey, are you alright?” “Not really,” said the first, “but I’ll have a coffee and a cigarette and pull myself together.”

“Shall I sit with you?” I asked.

“Whoa!” said the second friend, “watch out for those Baptist ministers! I’m going to the city to do my taxes, wanna come?”

“Sounds like it’s God or taxes…,” I said, laughing.

“Right now,” said the first, “I probably need a bit of God.”


We didn’t specifically talk about God. We talked about work and kids and exhaustion and suffering and hope and love and karma. We talked about the future, and some of our dreams. I didn’t fix anything. Mostly I just held the space and listened. My job is simple, but some people find it threatening, so maybe it’s time I tell you just what we ministers do: Often, it’s no more than being ready to listen when someone chooses God over taxes.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Gifts for the Common Good

How many times have you been told to make something of yourself? To do something significant in this world? To stand on your own two feet? All through school and, for some of us, university and beyond, we are told that if we work hard and make good choices, we will achieve success. If we’re struggling to work out how best to use our gifts, no worries: hundreds of books and podcasts and websites and careers counsellors are devoted to helping us achieve personal fulfilment and success.

To read more, click here.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


No sermon at South Yarra tonight. Instead, following the reading from Luke 3:13-22, several people shared the story of their baptism. This was mine:

When I was baptised
   there was no River Jordan,
   just a dented tub in an ugly room.

There was no hairy prophet,
   but a smooth-skinned man
   who told me to read Tillich first.

God’s voice didn’t thunder.
The heavens stayed resolutely shut.
Not even a small bird floated down from the skies.

Coming up from the waters
   I felt silly, adolescent,
   awkward, strange.

No more sure of God’s love
   or my direction
   or my self.

Yet somehow, in all its smallness,
   it was enough.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

God gives us a future

It is the darkness which measures growth only in numbers, and ignores growth in the important things: faith, hope, and love; courage, generosity, hospitality; acts of creativity; acts of humble service; depth of spiritual life; commitment to prayer...

To read more, click here.

Friday, January 1, 2016

In which I discover that a lounge room is more important than I thought

Above: My new, streamlined study

In the middle of last year we tried an experiment. We got rid of the lounge room and set up a study in there, instead. It was good for a while, at least for me. I found it easier to work at home, but we missed having a room where people could stay; we missed watching movies together as a family. Then one day my nine-year-old and I were in an op shop looking for a dress when she spied a big brown modular couch, ran over, flopped on it, and ordered me to buy it.

I don’t usually take interior design instructions from a nine-year-old. But when I flopped on the couch, I too was sold. We bought it, it was delivered the same day, and the desk is now in the shed. And I am again without study.

Mostly, it’s been okay. It hadn't realised how much we like to watch movies together; and as my daughters get older, this will only become more important. I love cuddling up to my girls as we laugh our heads off at Inspector Clouseau, or sigh at Elizabeth Bennett and all her pretty sisters. And I had underestimated how much I like having friends come and stay, something they could not do while the room was a study, but can now it is a lounge room again.

As for my work, I’ve been working in public libraries, or at the kitchen table, or, when the kids are home and the libraries are closed, in a nursing chair in a corner of my bedroom, laptop balanced on my knees. Some days I feel like a pushover, sacrificing my needs to that of my family; other days, I graciously accept that, at this stage, the needs of the family and the demands of hospitality are more important, and I am lucky to have libraries, quiet kitchens and nursing chairs to work in. The current arrangement forces me to be streamlined, and that is a blessing to this messy person; all the same, it is frustrating not having anywhere to leave things out. Everything must be packed away before the next meal or when the library closes, then pulled out again at the next opportunity.

So it's a mixed decision. There are times when I fantasise about houses with studies, or extra rooms. Yet we used to live in one of those houses; but other values impelled us to move here, instead. And it’s not that our current house is too small. It has enough rooms. But the big lounge is at the front of the house, where nobody much hangs out; while the small reading room is just off the kitchen, and is everyone’s favourite place. The small room would make the better study, but the family will not forfeit it, even though it doesn’t fit a couch; the big room really is too big for a study, and contains the piano and the telly. If only I could swap the location of the small room and the big room, so that the big room opened off the kitchen and the small room was up the front - then everyone would be happy!

My husband suggests building a studio in the garden where I can write and think. But my kids fight up in the tree house; the little boys next door constantly wail for their mum; and the boys on the other side kick a soccer ball until midnight several nights a week. It’s noisy out there; building is expensive; and I’m not sure it’s a good option. More realistic is to accept that important values led us to this situation, and then do what so many parents do: wait a decade until the kids move out, and take over a bedroom.

Or maybe just move house.

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