Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Midweek Musing: responding to the story of Koala Blue

People have been listening to Blue, Koala? and sharing their responses to the story. Here is a selection for you to muse on, and be inspired to listen (and maybe even purchase and download) the story for yourself!

I feel so fortunate to have been involved in this project! I'm glad the world can engage with the story of Koala Blue. I had a great time creatively collaborating
– Grace Mitchell, Artist for album cover, and the forthcoming printed book 

I love the story. It took me on a trip, panic as I reflect on friends who are often in a hole and me unaware.
But also joy, so hear that people kept looking and kept close by even when not ready to come out of a hole.
I need reminding that those people are in my life too.
A resource I hope to use with my young people - where appropriate. And for personal reflection.
– Nicole, Adelaide

What a beautiful gift to the world. 
– Donna Marie, Black Mountain 

The story is truly clever and insightful, truthful and honest, and yet full of hope. There are some great lines that allude to some of the realities of mental illness: about Koala Blue having neither climbed up nor jumped into the river; about Goanna that 'if she heard then she did not understand'; and Wombat's comment that 'if she's in a hole I know how to dig', alluding to the why and how Wombat has the wisdom that Roo seeks out. It is thought-provoking and also encouraging for someone who can relate to some of the characters. Really enjoyed and appreciated it
– Alice, Adelaide

a story of depression, and friendship, written and recited by my dear friend Sarah.  Only $7! Great for big and little kids!!
– Melissa, Adelaide 

The book sounds wonderful, deep, honest, not scary but totally real.
You are an amazing artist, poet, story teller.
– Tamar, Jerusalem

Our friend Sarah Agnew has a story to tell. It bears learned wisdom worth hearing, and gentle challenges worth receiving. 
– Craig, Adelaide 

Monday, 16 October 2017

'Me too'. On being sold lies about beauty and human dignity.

Today I posted the 'me too' status update on Facebook, along with many, many – too many – women who are showing in the weight of numbers of these updates just how prevalent the sexualised objectifying of women is in our society.

My sisters were concerned. For the 'me too' statement says the one posting the update has been sexually harassed or assaulted.

I didn't mention – but I am now – the groping in a swimming pool when I was in my early teens, by a boy I didn't know, didn't even see as he swam past and copped a feel. I don't think I've mentioned it to anyone but the friend who was with me at the time as I surfaced, gasped for air, stunned almost to speechlessness. Truth be told, most of the time it lies forgotten. I shook it off as the immature idiocy of a teenage boy; but underlying that response is the deeper disturbance of being treated as an object that boy thought he had a right to touch, uninvited.

Instead I assured my sisters that my part in this is as one who has experienced the not so harmful harassment of cat calls when I was younger.

Predominantly, that is true. But it is still not 'OK'.

Who wants that sort of attention? To be ogled at, lusted after, like some possession they want to own. Nobody. And then the sad truth is that when you've been young and skinny with boobs and blonde hair and had that sort of attention then with time, health issues change your form so that you no longer receive that sort of attention, you feel yourself to be unattractive, undesirable, ugly.

It's not that the cat callers were necessarily deeming you beautiful, but that society has a picture of beauty that shape our notions of what is desirable and the cat callers affirm your adherence to those notions.

We need to change our pictures of beauty to be more nuanced, fluid, generous, to be richer and deeper. This will make advertising more of a challenge, the selling of 'beauty' products difficult, I'm sure, for a different understanding of beauty will no longer hold that some of us are 'broken' and need fixing with all those products and services we are forever being encouraged to buy.

Capitalism and commercialism have a lot to answer for in the shaping of our perspective of ourselves as humans of dignity and worth. We allow ourselves to be sold the lie that we are inherently wrong, in need of adjustments and improvements.

It is time to reclaim the narrative that humans are inherently good, to see and encourage others to see ourselves and each other as beings of dignity and beauty, find that within ourselves, not in bottles and treatments and products of enhancement.

It is time to shape our notions of beauty to those that will not encourage us to cat call, to grope, to treat another human as an object that we have a right to lust after, to touch, uninvited.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Midweek Musing: Created

Reflection offered in worship at Greyfriars Kirk, 8 October 2017


This is the story into which we are born, called, and must choose each day to embrace or reject.

I have spent a lot of time over these three years in Edinburgh with Paul’s letter to the Romans as the test case performance at the heart of my PhD (which is now submitted and in the process of being examined). Most themes and stories and experiences now call to mind for me something from the letter. And so it has been with the theme for today’s worship. These words come early in the letter.

Rom 1:20–23

Ever since the creation of the world
Creator’s eternal power and divine nature,
invisible though they are,
have been understood and seen
through the things Creator has made.
So they are without excuse;
for though they knew Holy One,
they did not honour them as Holy One
or give thanks to them,
but they became futile in their thinking,
and their senseless minds were darkened.
Claiming to be wise, they became fools;
 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal Holy One
for images resembling a mortal human being or birds
or four-footed animals or reptiles. 

Paul describes what he sees as the consequences of rejecting our call to live the story of being created – he gives some more specific examples, then this vast list:

Rom 1:28–32

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge Holy One,
Holy One gave them up to a debased mind
and to things that should not be done.
They were filled with every kind of wickedness,
evil, covetousness, malice.
Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness,
they are gossips, slanderers, Holy One-haters,
insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil,
rebellious towards parents,
 senseless, disloyal, unfeeling, without mercy.
 They know Holy One’s decree,
that those who practise such things deserve to die—
yet they not only do them
but even applaud others who practise them.

When we live another story that places ourselves or other idols in the place of the Creator, the consequences are the diminishing of life and wellbeing for us all. Ourselves, our ideas of what is right, even the Bible, can become idols we worship instead of God.

Apparently, it is not so easy to tell from my accent anymore, but I am from Australia. Back home at the moment the people are being invited to complete a one question survey on whether we think the laws about marriage should change to allow same sex marriages. Now, I don’t mind where people stand on this question after faithful interpretation of the Bible and Christian tradition (I’m going to focus on our tradition, for I cannot speak for any other faith tradition).

What I do mind is the way that people, and it is mostly on the negative side of the argument and claiming Christianity, are not respecting those who differ from them in faith, interpretation, lifestyle, sexuality. There is much waving around of the bible and particular interpretations as unerring, enduring Truth with a capital T; there seems to be more concern for protecting one’s ideas than concern for our fellow creatures and their dignity. For to vilify those we fear is to fail to see them for what they are: created. Just like us.

In my work as a storyteller I have composed and performed a series of stories from such settings as WWII, the protestant reformation in Holland, and catholic persecution in Elizabethan England. In all the stories of the (in)humanity series humans do unspeakable things to each other because they do not see each other as human, as being as worthy as themselves. Humans in these stories also act with incredible courage because of their understanding of themselves as created in relation to God, and of others as created and thus having inherent dignity.

For me, the story of Agnes Magnusdottir as told by Hannah Kent in the novel Burial Rites is about a transformation of vision. She is sent to live with a family while she awaits execution, and the family gradually let go of their fear, and embrace love. I was so moved by it, that I wrote my own poetic version of this story of transformation.

Agnes’s Story 
(you can have the video of this, filmed at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, and on location in Iceland)

We are not only called to affirm the dignity of fellow humans, but of all that is created. Francis of Assisi, or we might even say Australia’s own Steve Irwin, saw such dignity and worth in the animals of earth, fellow creatures to love and celebrate. On days such as Harvest Thanksgiving, which we celebrate today, the church celebrates the gift of being created, being part of all that is created, living, dying, sustaining a cycle of precious, wondrous, life.

Jesus came to issue the invitation again, from within the flesh and blood of humanity, the dirt and dust of the earth. Taking the place of the created, while simultaneously being one with the Creator. What a mystery that is, and what a gift of love.

Jesus, as I experience both him and the biblical tradition, follows the line of Wisdom tradition from the Hebrew Scriptures – we heard of Wisdom at creation, Wisdom who shows the way to God’s heart, the way to live well, issuing the invitation to all to participate in the story of the created.

How to live the story … I was struck by Paul’s words that nothing in all creation can keep us from that story and our place in it – not even death. Not even life. That struck me in particular – not even life.

I have wondered whether our fear of death leads us to idolise life, as we seek every way possible to hang on to it. Lezley told us the story some months ago of the dragonfly before it is a dragonfly – all they see beneath the water is the loss of another into the unknown. But when they emerge themselves above the water, they discover flight, and light, and life!

To be created is to know only in part, as the dragonfly before it flies. We are not the Creator. It is difficult to let go and flow with the cycle of life, to imagine what life might follow from this one we know.

We question nature and order,
the certainties of the past,
the discoveries of new days,
yet find you are not silenced. 
You are in life and all we learn,
even if not known or fully understood. 
How you care will always feed our questions –
why we suffer pain and grief and loss?
how we live and laugh and breathe?
Those words come from Lezley Stewart’s reimagining of Psalm 8 for her doctoral project.

We seek to know our place in creation, and come again and again into the story to remember to see ourselves, each other, and the earth and all that lives
as we are : created.

May it be so.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Introducing 'Blue, Koala?'

In this video, I tell you some of the story behind my new album, Blue, Koala?, which will be released on 10 October 2017.

Monday, 2 October 2017

feeling sad, sick, and unable to keep silent

I'm quite sad this morning.

The call for a change to the marriage laws in Australia is stirring up some fear in many, and I struggle to understand what it is people are afraid of.

This fear is evoking harmful behaviour, vitriolic language, and blatant lies.

As it stands, the dominant view of marriage excludes many from the choice to have their life-long partnerships recognised by the laws of our land. That directly and negatively affects those people and their families.

A change to the law will open the definition, and directly and positively affect some of our fellow Australians.

It will not change the understanding of marriage for those who want to view it differently: your views are yours and can be what they are.

It will not stop men and women from marrying each other.

It will not change the way religious communities conduct their business – religious celebrants are and will still be free to determine at whose unions they preside. Some religious communities may change their definitions of marriage to broaden the choice of unions at which ministers and priests may preside. Take it up with your own tradition. Not the law. The law applies to more than just the Christians.

Fear is clouding perspective.

To affirm the dignity and worth of others does not limit the dignity and worth of yourself.

Denying the dignity and worth of others DOES diminish your own dignity and humanity.

Unacknowledged emotion is clouding logic.

God doesn't ordain marriage anywhere in the Bible. The Bible reflects the customs and understanding of the humans who wrote the stories of their encounters with God and the world. The customs and understanding of marriage change throughout the biblical narrative. Jesus may indeed have ascribed to the Jewish norms of heterosexual marriage. Paul saw no problem with slavery. Humanity continues to grow and change since those men walked the earth two thousand years ago.

Cementing the Bible in printed books has limited our ability to engage with its content as living, vital, stories to guide our dynamic living in each new time and place. It's made us fearful of changing interpretations and applications, so that we think these new interpretations are 'wrong'. What would be wrong would be to apply the understanding of a previous age to a new age: it's inappropriate, out of time, and causes harm.

What remains true is the spirit of the law: love and honour for all that lives.

Insisting our version of 'right' is the only version does not honour anyone, least of all a God who is bigger than our human understandings of what is 'right'.

Insisting our version of 'right' is the only version is leading people to contradict other teachings they say they hold to. Lying is not encouraged in the Bible. Speaking harshly with condemnation for another is not encouraged in the Bible. Arrogance, a lack of mercy, kindness, generosity: all not encouraged in the Bible.

By all means, differ in your opinions. Please, let us take care how we are doing that.

I don't feel sad, actually. I feel ill at the foul language used by a stranger in response to my expression of my opinion, my interpretation of the Bible.

There is room for difference: THAT is celebrated and affirmed throughout the Bible, not least, for Christians, in the broadening of the invitation into God's realm (aka kingdom) of ALL.

Monday, 25 September 2017


Release date: 10 October 2017 

Blue, Koala? has been enjoyed by live audiences for a number of years, in many places.
When Koala Blue (known as Ruthy to her mother) gets herself lost inside a dark hole, her friends search for hither and thither for her. With the help of a new friend made along the way, Koala Blue's friends keep her company as she slowly makes her way back into the light. 

A story of depression inspired by my own story and many dear and courageous friends who have sat alongside the darkness whenever I have fallen in, Blue, Koala? is a gentle but honest depiction of the experience of depression. This is a story for anyone who has sat in or beside the depth of despair. 

The cover artwork is by fellow Adelaide artist Grace Mitchell, and isn't it gorgeous?!

The release date for the audio recording of Blue, Koala? is 10 October 2017, World Mental Health Day. Mark it in your calendar, and spread the word with your friends: here is a story to honour the experience of depression, and celebrate the gift of friendship.

Recorded in Adelaide, 2016, with the assistance of patreon donors.