Wednesday, April 23, 2014

It's Time for Archbishop Nienstedt to Resign

UPDATED: 4/24/14

Yesterday, Minnesota Public Radio released video and transcripts of testimony given by Archbishop John C. Nienstedt during a sworn deposition on April 2, 2014. (To read the full transcript of the Archbishop's deposition, click either here or here.)

A spokesperson for Ramsey County Attorney John Choi told MPR News that investigators and prosecutors are reviewing the information contained in the archbishop's deposition as part of their ongoing investigation into the archdiocese's handling of clergy sex abuse cases. Similarly, St. Paul Police spokesperson Howie Padilla said that police "will be examining this new information to determine its value to our current criminal investigations."

Astoundingly inept

Regardless of any possible criminal charges resulting from the archbishop's deposition, one thing is painfully clear: Throughout his deposition, John Nienstedt comes across as astoundingly inept as an organizational leader – and, in my view, a spiritual one as well.

Here's part of MPR News reporter Madeleine Baran's story on the archbishop's deposition:

Archbishop John Nienstedt acknowledged in sworn testimony that he took steps to hide information on abusive priests and never provided complete files to police, according to a transcript released today.

Nienstedt said he had followed the advice of a subordinate [then-Vicar General Kevin McDonough] that he keep no written notes of certain discussions, in case those notes should later become public in legal proceedings. He said that he didn't publicly disclose which priests were being monitored, and that he relied on others to keep parish trustees informed.

Nienstedt made the remarks in a four-hour deposition taken April 2 as part of a lawsuit filed by a man who said he was sexually abused by the Rev. Thomas Adamson in the mid-1970s. The man alleges the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona created a public nuisance by keeping information on accused priests secret. The man's attorneys, Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan, argued that the deposition could provide evidence of a pattern of deception by the archdiocese.

. . . Nienstedt has been under intense scrutiny for months since an MPR News investigation found that he failed to report possible sex crimes to police. Several priests have publicly criticized Nienstedt's leadership, and at least one has called for his resignation.

The Star Tribune's coverage of Nienstedt's deposition notes the following:

Archbishop John Nienstedt said he was not aware that known child sex abusers were working in various capacities at the archdiocese during his tenure, nor did he discipline anyone at the chancery for mistakes that allowed the abusive priests to continue working, a court deposition released Tuesday revealed.

Nienstedt often described himself as out of the loop on issues of child sex abuse, according to sworn testimony taken April 2, part of a lawsuit by an alleged victim of a priest.

When Nienstedt became archbishop in 2008, he said he had a briefing with key archdiocese officials about clergy abuse. He testified he didn’t remember any names of abusive priests mentioned at the time, how many were being monitored, and even the names of the archdiocese officials present.

Nienstedt said he did not request the list of “credibly accused” priests that all dioceses are required to maintain. Nor did he press for parishes to be told about the presences of clergy with histories of child sexual misconduct, who were being monitored.

“I believe we felt that we could monitor the situation without making a total disclosure to the people,” testified Nienstedt, who added that he no longer feels that way.

In her MPR News piece, Madeleine Baran quotes from the deposition transcript in reporting on Nienstedt's mind-boggling lack of awareness regarding clergy sexual abuse within the archdiocese.

Throughout much of the deposition, [attorney Jeff] Anderson appeared incredulous that Nienstedt would not have paid more attention to the problem of clergy sexual abuse.

Nienstedt said McDonough talked about the priests being monitored by the archdiocese for misconduct.

"Who were those individuals?" Anderson asked.

"I can't recall all the names right now," Nienstedt said.

"Why didn't you write it down?" Anderson asked.

"It didn't occur to me at the time to do so," Nienstedt replied.

"At the time, didn't it seem like one of the most important things you needed to do as archbishop, knowing the crisis in America of Catholic clergy abusing kids, to know who in this archdiocese had been accused and who are being monitored?" Anderson asked.

Nienstedt did not directly answer the question.

"Put on the spot" – and that's the problem

In sharing his thoughts on Archbishop Nienstedt's deposition, local blogger Terry Nelson writes: "The poor Archbishop looks and sounds like someone 'put on the spot' – and he was."

That Terry isn't fazed by the fact that Nienstedt, as an archbishop in today's church, should find himself "put on the spot" over the issue of clergy sex abuse is as mind-boggling as the archbishop's own woeful lack of awareness, as demonstrated by his deposition. How, as Catholics, have we come to tolerate such a terribly low bar when it comes to the caliber of our clerical leaders?

Terry prays that God will give Archbishop Nienstedt strength – strength to endure the ongoing "scrutiny and defamation." I see no evidence of defamation, and why on earth should anyone in a position of authority be free from scrutiny?

I too pray that God may give Archbishop Nienstedt strength – strength to do the right thing and resign.

I mentioned earlier that the archbishop's deposition shows that he is inept as both an organizational leader and a spiritual one. I stand by this claim. His deposition makes it clear that Nienstedt has failed the people of the archdiocese as an organizational leader. This is demonstrated by his lack of awareness of, interest in, and thus oversight of a range of issues relating to the clergy sex abuse crisis as it has been manifested in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. This failure also shows a lack of moral and spiritual leadership . . . and in John Nienstedt's case, in a very specific way.

Nienstedt's "shadow"

Let me attempt to explain what I mean, and let me start my highlighting the words and insights of author and psychologist John Neafsey that I shared this past Easter Sunday. These words and insights relate to the Jungian concept of "the shadow" – those parts of ourselves that, says Neafsey, "don't neatly fit with our ideal mental image of the person we think we should be, our idea of what a 'good' or 'holy' person is like." In talking further about the shadow dimension of the human psyche, Neafsey notes that:

[P]roblems . . . develop when we get caught up in . . . denying or repressing the shadow side of ourselves. Defensive denial of our inner reality reflects a lack of psychological honesty. When it is based on pretense and denial, being a "good person" can also mean acting as a kind of false self. If we are too defensive, too controlled, too good all the time, we lose touch with our authentic feelings and all of the vital life energies they contain. When we are out of touch with [for instance] sexual passions, our capacity for authentic emotional and spiritual passion can become blocked.

Unconsciousness of our shadow also makes us more prone to hypocrisy and judgmental attitudes toward other people. . . . We end up criticizing in others what we are actually ashamed of and afraid to look at in ourselves.

From the very start of his tenure as archbishop (in fact, even well before he was appointed coadjutor archbishop) John Nienstedt has been obsessed with demonizing consensual sexual relationships between same-sex couples and working to ensure that such relationships are in no way legally acknowledged or recognized. In terms of the latter, he has failed completely. The anti-gay "marriage amendment," which he tirelessly championed, was defeated and, shortly after, both the Minnesota House and Senate passed marriage equality legislation. Same-sex couples now have the same civil right to marry as opposite-sex couples. During the often contentious marriage amendment "battle," many Minnesota Catholics opposed Nienstedt's anti-gay activism. In 2013 they celebrated the victory of marriage equality in the civil sphere.

Here's the crux of the matter: The time and energy that Nienstedt expended on demonizing gay relationships and attempting to deny such relationships legal recognition in civil law, could and should have been focused instead on creating a local church reflective of gospel values, including confronting and dealing with the many issues relating to clergy sex abuse within the archdiocese; issues, which Nienstedt openly admits in his deposition, he was "out of the loop" about.

I think Nienstedt's cluelessness about so much of the external crisis around him stems from his inner unconsciousness of his "shadow," and I believe that Nienstedt's shadow may well be to do with issues related to his own homosexuality and its integration into his life. Remember, according to Neafsey, the shadow is comprised of those parts of ourselves that "don't neatly fit with our ideal mental image of the person we think we should be, [and] our idea of what a 'good' or 'holy' person is like."

It's also important to note, especially when we are talking about a situation of repressed homosexuality, that "the word shadow does not necessarily mean that these aspects of ourselves are bad or sinful, but rather suggests that some dimensions of our inner experience . . . may not comfortably fit with the kind of self we aspire to be in the light of day."

As has already been mentioned in relation to Nienstedt's obsessive and misguided focus on same-sex relationships, people who are unconsciousness of their shadow are more prone to judgmental attitudes toward others. They often project their shame, fear, and anger about the reality they are denying and/or repressing out onto those who are successfully integrating into their lives this same reality.

Also, credible studies suggest that those who harbor and/or express negative feelings and hostility toward gay people may themselves be struggling with suppressed feelings of same-sex desire. (See, for example, here, here and here.)

I believe that John Nienstedt has failed to prevent his own inner struggles and issues from distorting and misplacing his priorities as both the organizational and spiritual leader of the archdiocese. Such failure demonstrates a profound and tragic lack of psychological honesty (i.e., the taking of responsibility for the shadow dimensions of ourselves) and has played, I believe, a significant role in his divisive anti-gay activism and in his scandalous lack of awareness and action with regard the clergy sex abuse crisis in our local church.

Nienstedt's situation is not unique. I've written previously about how (closeted) gay men in the church's clerical caste are "giving the rest of us a bad name."

But yesterday's disclosures regarding Nienstedt's disposition bring the issue very much into the here and now. Accordingly, for his own good and the good of the archdiocese, Archbishop Nienstedt must resign.

4/24/14 Update:
Former Top Church Official Kevin McDonough Disputes Archbishop's Clergy Abuse Testimony – Madeleine Baran (Minnestota Public Radio News, April 24, 2014).

Recommended Off-site Links:
Nienstedt Admits Archdiocese Hid Info on Abusive Priests – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio News, April 22, 2014).
St. Paul Archbishop Claims He Was Unaware of Most Child Sex Abuse Issues – Jean Hoppensperger and Chao Xiong (Star Tribune, April 22, 2014).
Nienstedt Deposed – Grant Gallicho (Commonweal, April 22, 2014).
Statement Regarding Nienstedt Testimony in Sworn Deposition – Eric Fought (, April 22, 2014).
Twin Cities Task Force Reports 'Serious Shortcomings' in Archdiocesan Policies – Brian Roewe (National Catholic Reporter, April 18, 2014).
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough" – Bob Beutel (The Progressive Catholic Voice, November 10, 2013).
Healing Can’t Start Until the Knife is Removed from the WoundThe Progressive Catholic Voice (November 5, 2013).
Homophobes Might Be Hidden Homosexuals – Jeanna Bryner (Scientific America, April 10, 2012).
Homophobic? Maybe You're Gay – Richard M. Ryan and William S. Ryan (New York Times, April 27, 2012).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Time for a Fresh Start in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, the Unravelment Continues
The Journal of James Curtis: Part 7 – The Note
Progressive Perspectives on Archbishop Nienstedt's Anti-Gay Activism
Thanking You, Archbishop
Quote of the Day – August 23, 2012
Casey Michel on Archbishop Nienstedt's "Crusade Against Gay Marriage"
It's a Scandal
PCV Publishes Archbishop Nienstedt's Marriage Amendment Directives to Priests
Pastor Mike Tegeder Challenges Archbishop Nienstedt's "Bullying Behavior"
Thoughts on Archbishop Nienstedt
What Part of Jesus' Invitation to "Be Not Afraid" Don't the Bishops Get?
The Talk of the Archdiocese
Interesting Times Ahead
Coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt's "Learning Curve": A Suggested Trajectory

Monday, April 21, 2014

Happy Birthday, Dad!

In Australia today my Dad celebrates his 77th birthday. Happy Birthday, Dad!

I've said it before but it's worth saying again: My brothers and I are very fortunate to have Gordon James Bayly as our father. He is a man of integrity, compassion, and selfless service to others. We experienced and witnessed such qualities growing up in Gunnedah, and they are qualities that are still very much part of our father today.

I love you, Dad, and can’t thank you enough for all you continue to be and give to me, my brothers, our family, and so many others whose lives are touched by yours.

For some great photos of Dad through the years, click here and here.

The photos that accompany this post were taken during my recent trip back to Australia (March 20-April 17, 2014). In the opening photo, taken last Monday, April 14, Dad is pictured center with (from left) Mum, my younger brother Tim, me, my niece Sami, and Sami's friend Connor.

Above: Mum and Dad – Monday, April 14, 2014.

Above: Dad on that part of Town Beach where he and I and Mum spent time pretty much every morning during my recent stay with them in Port Macquarie. As you can see, it's a lovely spot!

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Happy Birthday, Dad (2013)
Happy Birthday, Dad (2011)
Happy Birthday, Dad (2010)
Happy Birthday, Dad (2009)
Congratulations, Mum and Dad
Catholic Rainbow (Australian) Parents
A Visit to Gunnedah

Related Off-site Link:
"He Wasn't a Superhero But He Was a Hero"A Prince Named Valiant (February 21, 2011).

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Discerning Balance Between Holiness and Wholeness: A Hallmark of the Resurrected Life

The Wild Reed's 2014 Holy Week series concludes with a final excerpt from John Neafsey's 2006 book A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal and Social Conscience. (To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)

Unlike the previous four excerpts shared in this series, today's focuses not on suffering but on the authentic life or, as Neafsey puts it, "living as though the truth were true."

Why have I chosen to share this particular part of Neafsey's book today, Easter Sunday? Because I believe that another way of talking about the authentic life is to talk about the resurrected life.

After all, if we are truly to be followers of Christ then we must follow Christ out of our various tombs – tombs of fear and of hubris, tombs that cause isolation and inaction – and into the new life of resurrection. It won't, of course, be the full life of resurrection as, obviously, we're still living with our finite bodies. Nevertheless, we're called each day and in all kinds of situations to open ourselves to the transforming love of God and so die with Christ and rise with Christ.

Put another way, we're capable of experiencing and embodying intonations, aspects, qualities of the resurrection in our daily lives; capable of being – indeed, called to be – people of the resurrection.

In the following excerpt from A Sacred Voice is Calling, Neafsey explores wholeness and holiness. He contends that the call to a life of authenticity requires us to discern balance between being ourselves (wholeness) and behaving ourselves (holiness). Seeking, finding and embodying this balance is an aspect of the authentic life or, as I like to say, the resurrected life.

In discerning and embodying this balance we must be prepared to acknowledge and take responsibility for the shadow dimensions of ourselves, those parts of ourselves that, as Neafsey puts it, "don't neatly fit with our ideal mental image of the person we think we should be, our idea of what a 'good' or 'holy' person is like." I think it's possible to view the story of Jesus' descent into hell, between the time of his death and his resurrection, as a powerful metaphor for acknowledging and dealing with the shadow. Of course, exploring such an idea could comprise a whole post of its own! For now, though, I share a fourth (and final) excerpt from A Sacred Voice is Calling, one focused on holiness and wholeness in the call to a life of authenticity.

In the call to authenticity there is an inherent tension in our strivings for wholeness and holiness. The tension centers around the complex moral task of finding a discerning balance between being ourselves and behaving ourselves.

Holiness and wholeness have different associations in the minds of most people. They seem to be organized around different principals, oriented toward different aims, motivated by different values and ideals. Holiness is usually associated with our aspirations toward moral perfection or self-transcendence. It has to do with rising above our human weaknesses and limitations so that we can live up to certain standards of righteousness and good behavior. From this perspective, holiness requires efforts to tame or conquer our unruly, disordered, sinful selves, which might otherwise incline us in unholy directions if we are not careful to keep them in check and focused in the right direction. Wholeness, on the other hand, is associated with strivings for integration or completion or self-realization. Instead of focusing on overcoming the self, the emphasis is on embracing or accepting or expressing ourselves in all our complexity and imperfection. In a nutshell, wholeness is about being ourselves and holiness is about behaving ourselves.

We are called to both wholeness and holiness. Although they have different emphases, it is possible for these seemingly contradictory aims to work together in harmonious and complementary ways. Perhaps the most complex moral challenge we face in our discernment of these simultaneous calls is the problem of what to do with all the aspects of ourselves that don't neatly fit with our ideal mental image of the person we think we should be, our idea of what a "good" or "holy" person is like. In psychoanalysis, this is referred to as our ego ideal. For example, if our ego ideal centers around the idea that we should always and everywhere be loving and compassionate, we are likely to experience considerable discomfort when we experience feelings and inclinations in ourselves that do not seem particularly "nice" or loving or compassionate.

The shadow was Jung's name for all of the dimensions or parts of ourselves that do not conform to our ego ideal. The word shadow does not necessarily mean that these aspects of ourselves are bad or sinful, but rather suggests that some dimensions of our inner experience are darker or morally ambiguous and may not comfortably fit with the kind of self we aspire to be in the light of day. In my clinical practice I have worked with many idealistic, conscientious people over the years (especially those from Christian backgrounds) whose shadow side is often associated with thoughts and feelings related to anger, sex, and personal emotional needs. For example, feelings of anger that are perfectly appropriate in certain situations make some people extremely anxious and guilty, usually because anger conflicts with their idea of what it means to be a loving person. Natural sexual feelings and desires can also create inner conflict and tension because they are perceived as self-centered or sinful. In a similar way, normal human needs for attention and love from others may be perceived as "selfish" because they do not seem to be sufficiently generous and other-centered.

The shadow is perceived as emotionally, spiritually, and morally dangerous for good reasons. If we act out our shadow side thoughtlessly or irresponsibly, we are likely to get ourselves into all kinds of unhealthiness and trouble. Anger that is not carefully sorted out and expressed properly can be hurtful to others and damaging to our relationships. Irresponsible acting out of sexual feelings, of course, can also have disastrous consequences for ourselves and others. Likewise, an excessive and unbalanced focus on gratification of our own needs is a manifestation not only of egocentrism but also of a poorly developed conscience. And so a discerning attitude, common sense, and self-restraint are called for in all of our dealings with the shadow side of ourselves.

On the other hand, the seemingly dark and destructive feelings and inclinations associated with the shadow can also potentially play an important and constructive role in our personal growth and development. While impulsive action has its dangers, problems also develop when we get caught up in the opposite problem of denying or repressing the shadow side of ourselves. Defensive denial of our inner reality reflects a lack of psychological honesty. When it is based on pretense and denial, being a "good person" can also mean acting as a kind of false self. If we are too defensive, too controlled, too good all the time, we lose touch with our authentic feelings and all of the vital life energies they contain. When we are out of touch with our anger and our sexual passions, our capacity for authentic emotional and spiritual passion can become blocked.

Unconsciousness of our shadow also makes us more prone to hypocrisy and judgmental attitudes toward other people. If we are unable to admit our weaknesses to ourselves, we are more likely to project them onto others. We end up criticizing in others what we are actually ashamed of and afraid to look at in ourselves.

. . . And so the call to authenticity requires psychological honesty, which means that we need to acknowledge and take responsibility for the shadow dimensions of ourselves. . . . Just because something makes us uncomfortable does not mean that it is bad. From God's perspective, things might look very different.

The challenge centers around finding the proper attitude to take toward our shadow, the right kind of discerning consciousness with which to regard our inner experience. In psychoanalysis, this complex attitude or state of consciousness has been referred to as "conscious, loving self-restraint." The basic ingredients of conscious, loving self-restraint are psychological honesty and a commitment to loving care and respect for ourselves and others. We must be courageously honest in acknowledging our own inner truth, including shadow feelings and inclinations that may seem objectionable, while also being very conscientious and responsible about our attitude and behavior with others.

In the Zen Buddhist tradition, something comparable to "conscious, loving self-restraint" is summed up by the term "mindfulness." The essence of this attitude or state of consciousness is a relaxed, compassionate, non-judgmental awareness of whatever we may happen to be experiencing at any given moment. This includes our experiences of events and people in the external world as well as the thoughts and feelings that enter into our awareness within the internal world of our own mind.

. . . The great emotional and spiritual challenge of the call to wholeness is learning to acknowledge and accept and love ourselves as we are. . . . [The] humbling awareness of our own weaknesses helps us to be less judgmental and more forgiving toward other imperfect human beings. Paradoxically, the capacity to love and care for our imperfect selves is exactly what enables us to develop a more mature and generous love for others. The calls to wholeness and holiness come together in a right love for ourselves that frees us to be more just and compassionate in our dealings with others.

– John Neafsey
A Sacred Voice is Calling
pp. 51-62

For previous Easter reflections, see:
A Girl Named Sara: A Person of the Resurrection
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection
Easter: The Celebration of the Sacrament of Transformation
Jesus: The Revelation of Oneness
The Resurrected Jesus
Jesus: The Breakthrough in the History of Humanity
Resurrection: Beyond Words, Dogmas, and All Possible Theological Formulations
The Passion of Christ (Part 11) – Jesus Appears to Mary
The Passion of Christ (Part 12) – Jesus Appears to His Friends

See also:
There Must Be Balance
Prayer of the Week – October 28, 2013
"Then I Shall Leap Into Love"
The Soul of a Dancer
Seeking Balance

Related Off-site Link:
In Easter Message, Pope Remembers Areas of War, Conflict Around World – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, April 20, 2014).
"Every Life is Different Because You Passed This Way and Touched History": Easter Meditation Points – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, April 20, 2014).

Opening image: Subject and photographer unknown.

Easter: The Celebration of the Sacrament of Transformation

'The tomb was empty,' the Scriptures said later, metaphorically perhaps but pointedly, nevertheless. People had known His presence again, not the same as before the crucifixion, true, but real, nevertheless. Transformed. Somehow or other Jesus had defeated death, had snatched new life from its cavernous throat. The implications were overwhelming. Death, even once transcended, could never be permanent again. In fact, life itself could never be the same again. Jesus risen from the dead made life the stuff of eternity. Jesus transformed leads us to look beyond the obvious, to allow for the presence of God in alien places in unanticipated ways. Resurrection begs the scrutiny of the obvious, the celebration of the sacrament of transformation.

– Joan Chittister, OSB

For previous Easter reflections, see:
A Girl Named Sara: A Person of the Resurrection
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection
Jesus: The Revelation of Oneness
The Resurrected Jesus
Jesus: The Breakthrough in the History of Humanity
Resurrection: Beyond Words, Dogmas, and All Possible Theological Formulations
The Passion of Christ (Part 11) – Jesus Appears to Mary
The Passion of Christ (Part 12) – Jesus Appears to His Friends

Related Off-site Link:
In Easter Message, Pope Remembers Areas of War, Conflict Around World – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, April 20, 2014).

Friday, April 18, 2014

A God With Whom It is Possible to Connect

Continuing with The Wild Reed's 2014 Holy Week series, I share today a fourth excerpt from John Neafsey's book A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Justice. (To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)

As with all the excerpts from Neafsey's book shared so far in this series, this fourth one focuses on suffering, a key theme in the Gospel narratives of Jesus' final days and a reality which, to some degree or another, we all experience in our lives.

In the twenty centuries of the Christian tradition, contemplation of the image and reality of the crucified Jesus has served as a saving lifeline to God for suffering people. One evening, on a recent visit to Guatemala, I observed a group of very poor people in a church patiently waiting in line for their turn to pray in front of a life-sized statue of the crucified Jesus. Each person, in their turn, went to the foot of the cross, and, as they prayed quietly about whatever was on their minds or in their hearts, they reached up and literally clung to the legs of Jesus. From the looks of life-long suffering etched into their faces, I suspect that some were hanging on for dear life.

Although distorted forms of Christian piety can become morbidly preoccupied with the passion and death of Jesus, authentic Christian spirituality is not about suffering for its own sake. It is about the redemptive breakthrough of love and compassion through suffering, or in the midst of it, or in spite of it. "Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!" The crucified Jesus offers people an image of God that captures the heart and the imagination. This is a God with whom it is possible to connect – a human God, a God who suffers, a compassionate God who is able to appreciate what it is to be a suffering human being. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses," reads the Letter to the Hebrews, "but . . . one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin." The one who is able to sympathize or empathize with human weakness and pain is accessible, approachable. "Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we mat receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

In a mysterious way, the crucified Jesus not only provides us with a concrete image of God's love and compassion for suffering humanity but also evokes compassion in us for the God who suffers. The image of the crucified Jesus gives us a feeling for the radical vulnerability and helplessness of God. We are touched and moved by the suffering of God. There is a give-and-take of compassion, an experience of shared suffering: God feels for us and we feel for God. The evocative words of the African American spiritual "Were You There?" capture this poignant feeling for many people: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? / Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble / Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

The image of Jesus can also serve as a point of compassionate connection with suffering humanity, with the God who is suffering right now in suffering persons and in the "crucified peoples" of the world. We move from personal, private, inner contemplation of the suffering God into the world of social suffering, to the encounter with God in the lives of suffering human beings. We experience God very concretely in those whose pains and needs are crying out for our attention, in the experience of solidarity and sharing in their suffering, in our attempts to be of service in some way. "I am endeavoring to see God through service to humanity, " wrote Gandhi, "for I know that God is neither in heaven, nor down below, but in everyone."

– John Neafsey
A Sacred Voice is Calling
pp. 127-129

For previous Good Friday posts, see:
Jesus and the Art of Letting Go
No Deeper Darkness
An Expression of Human Solidarity
The Most Dangerous Kind of Rebel
The Passion of Christ (Part 7) – Jesus Goes to His Execution
The Passion of Christ (Part 8) – Jesus is Nailed the Cross
The Passion of Christ (Part 9) – Jesus Dies

See also:
Why Jesus is My Man
Bishop Gumbleton: A Priesthood Set Apart and Above Others is Not the Way of Jesus

Recommended Off-site Links:A Holy Week Reflection on Church and State and Pope Francis – Betty Clermont (The Open Tabernacle, April 17, 2014).
Pope at Foot-washing: Jesus Wants Everyone to Serve Others with Love – Carol Glatz (National Catholic Reporter, April 17, 2014).
Good Friday 2014: Origins, Observances and Fasting RulesHuff Post Religion (April 17, 2014).
"There Is No Such Thing As Foreign Suffering": Good Friday Meditation Points – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, April 18, 2014).
Good Friday on Jerusalem's Via Dolorosa Marked by Christians Commemorating Jesus' CrucifixionThe Huffington Post (April 18, 2014).
Did Jesus Really Die for Our Sins? – Christian Piatt (The Huffington Post, October 18, 2011).

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Suffering and Redemption

Continuing with The Wild Reed's 2014 Holy Week series, I share today a third excerpt from John Neafsey's book A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Justice. (To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)

As with all the excerpts from Neafsey's book shared so far in this series, this third one focuses on suffering, a key theme in the Gospel narratives of Jesus' final days and a reality which, to some degree or another, we all experience in our lives.

Suffering does not always have a redemptive outcome. Painful life experiences have the potential to deepen and mature us, to make us wiser and more compassionate, but this is not always how things work out. Pain can also make us numb or bitter or self-absorbed. It can make us so preoccupied with our own discomfort that we have little energy or interest left over for anyone or anything beyond ourselves. Suffering can soften the heart – or it can turn it to stone. And so we should be careful not to romanticize or spiritualize suffering too much, to assume that it will inevitably have ennobling or transformative effects upon consciousness or character.

One factor that determines whether suffering will have a redemptive outcome is our attitude toward it. "Suffering by itself is no cure," says author John Sanford, "it only cures us when we have the right attitude toward it." From this vantage point, the issue is not the particular form the troubles takes (e.g., illness, injury, depression, poverty, persecution) or even the degree of pain associated with it. Rather, what makes the difference is how we look at the difficulties life sends our way. How we see our problems has a profound impact upon how they are experienced, including the degree to which they are felt to be either meaningful opportunities for growth or meaningless obstacles that are better avoided.

The "right" attitude enables us to discern meaning in our sufferings. Meaning is what makes it possible for us to make spiritual sense of what otherwise seems senseless, to bear what would otherwise be unbearable. According to Victor Frankl, whether suffering becomes an occasion for spiritual triumph or defeat depends entirely on our capacity to discover a meaning or purpose in it. Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who wrote of his personal experiences of extreme suffering in the Nazi concentration camps in the class Man's Search for Meaning, emphasized the human capacity to choose our attitude toward suffering regardless of external circumstances. "Everything can be taken away but one thing, " he wrote, "the last of human freedoms – to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances. . . . Fundamentally, even in the worst of circumstances, we can decide what shall become of ourselves mentally and spiritually, retaining our human dignity even in a concentration camp."

– John Neafsey
A Sacred Voice is Calling
pp. 115-118

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Intimate Soliloquies
One Overwhelming Fire of Love
Revisiting a Groovy Jesus (and a Dysfunctional Theology)
In the Garden of Spirituality – Paul Wapner
In the Garden of Spirituality – Caroline Jones

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Diamond Head

On Friday, April 4, I visited Diamond Head with my brother Tim and sister-in-law Ros. Diamond Head is just south of Port Macquarie.

As you'll see from the following images, it's a very beautiful part of the Australian southeast coast.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Yaegl Country

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Way of the Wounded Healer

Continuing with The Wild Reed's 2014 Holy Week series, here is a second excerpt from John Neafsey's book A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Justice. (For Part One of this series, click here.)

As with the first excerpt, this second one focuses on suffering, a key theme in the Gospel narratives of Jesus' final days and a reality which, to some degree or another, we all experience in our lives.

Sometimes callings originate in painful life experiences that serve as a kind of initiation into the way of the wounded healer – the person whose sufferings become a source of healing to others.

The vocational theme or pattern of the wounded healer can be discerned in many religious traditions through the ages. It is perhaps most dramatically illustrated in the spirituality and healing practices associated with shamanism, an ancient, primordial form of religion that is still practiced in many indigenous cultures today. Parallels to shamanism are found in many of the world's major religious traditions. The theme of the wounded healer can be detected in the life pattern of the historical Jesus as well as in the lives of many people in the contemporary world. Henri Nouwen's well-known book, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society, is centered around the idea that the minister's own wounds, if tended properly, can become a source of healing for others.

Although a great diversity of spiritual beliefs and healing practices exists among shamanistic cultures throughout the world, certain patterns are encountered whenever shamanism is practiced. One of the most striking is the phenomenon of the "initiatory illness" in the calling of the shaman. In many cultures, it is common for the shaman-to-be to experience a painful physical illness or psychological crisis at some point during childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood. During the initiatory illness the young person typically has vivid visions and dreams (often while in a state of unconsciousness or delirium) that contain striking religious imagery centering around images of death and rebirth, spirit journeys, or encounters with various kinds of good and evil spirits associated with illness and healing. Black Elk, for example, received his calling through a complicated and remarkable vision during his own illness experience, which occurred when he was only nine years old and lasted over a period of twelve days while he was deathly ill in a coma-like state of unconsciousness.

Eventually, the shaman recovers from the initiatory illness and begins a period of formal training and apprenticeship in preparation for healing work with others. Significantly, the illness experience is interpreted by the community as a sign that the young person has a special calling to the work of healing. After Black Elk recovered from his own severe illness at the age of nine, an older shaman by the name of Whirlwind Chaser said to his parents: "your boy is sitting there in a sacred manner. I do not know what it is, but there is something special for him to do."

. . . There are many parallels to shamanic themes in the life of Jesus. Although there is no evidence in the gospels that he experienced an initiatory illness, Jesus' forty-day ordeal in the wilderness prior to beginning his public life as an itinerant healer and teacher can be likened to a kind of shamanic initiation during which he personally "worked with the spirits." From the perspective of shamanism, Jesus' assertive dealing with the temptations of the Satanic spirit in the wilderness would likely be seen as the source of his later power and "authority" over unclean spirits – which are often noted in the gospel accounts of his healings of tormented people. Jesus' visionary experiences in the wilderness (e.g., journeying with Satan to the top of a high mountain or to the pinnacle of the temple) are also reminiscent of the "soul journeys" or "spirit flights" of the shaman.

The gospels also suggest that, from the beginning of his public life, Jesus strongly identified with the mysterious "Suffering Servant of Yahweh" figure (the one who brings good news to the poor, heals the brokenhearted, brings liberty to captives) from the writings of the prophet Isaiah. In Christianity, there is a long tradition of belief that Jesus was the fulfilment of this countercultural redemptive figure foretold by the prophet: the "man of sorrows" whose wounds would become a source of healing and redemption for others.

– John Neafsey
A Sacred Voice is Calling
pp. 115-118

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Well, Look Who's Coming to Port Macquarie . . .

Yes, the legendary Petula Clark will be performing May 7 at the Glasshouse as part of her Australian tour in support of her most recent album, Lost in You. Unfortunately, I'll be back in the U.S. by then, but my parents are seriously considering attending.

Here's how the Glasshouse is advertising "An Evening with Petula Clark":

Britain's most acclaimed star returns! Petula Clark is Britain's most successful performer of the 20th century. Embracing every aspect of show business, her worldwide career has virtually defined the term "International Superstar." She has been a massive star since World War II - on stage, screen, TV, radio and in the pop charts. She is one of the most distinguished, enduring and best-loved entertainers the world has ever seen. Petula's concert will include all of the hits from the '60s, new songs from her latest Sony CD Lost In You, as well as selections from movies and stage shows.

Following (with added links) is Steven Rosen's insightful April 2013 review of Lost in You for Blurt magazine.

As much a surprise as finding a new album by 80-year-old Petula Clark (singer of the 1964 pop-rock classic “Downtown”) on a label that also features Art Brut, The Prodigy, Cradle of Filth and Anvil is the fact that it’s really good. Not just good, but contemporary in its production and (for the most part) material, creating a showcase for Clark’s reserved but convincingly involved voice.

Clark, who as a child made her singing debut on British radio during a World War II bombing raid, went on to international fame in the 1960s collaborating with Tony Hatch on bright, catchy hits (“Downtown” “I Know a Place,” “Don’t Sleep in the Subway”). Before that in the 1950s, and again after the American Top 40 presence ceased in the 1970s, she had also been popular in France, singing in French.

While Lost in You is an English-language album, her French experience serves her well – the introspective coolness of the chanteuse has an ageless quality and is quite becoming to her. It’s also a great way for a voice that understandably has lost some of its youthful range to still be expressive, through smart use of nuance and asides.

For this project, she has partnered with producer John Owen Williams, whose own long career in the British music business includes production and A&R work for many younger rock acts like Alison Moyet, The Proclaimers, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine and many more. They have selected a savvy group of other collaborative producers, arrangers, players and writers, including Paul Visser, Steve Evans, James Hallawell (Waterboys) and Sarah Naghshineh.

The songs are just right for Clark – subtly minor-key with a quiet beat, tastefully reflective string arrangements, stately piano and enough guitar to move things along. When they wander into ever-so-slight electronica, as on “Every Word You Say,” there’s just enough mysterious distance in Clark’s voice to give off a chill.

The opening song “Cut Copy Me” (by Naghshineh, Visser and Williams) is startlingly effective, from the computer-referencing title to the auto-tuned echo of her voice to the acoustic-guitar/piano interplay. It’s haunting and mysterious.

She also does a harder-edged, dramatic version of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” that shows how her pop-rock version can work as well as Bettye LaVette’s recent soulful take. And on “Reflections,” a song adapted from Bach’s “Sleepers Awake,” lyrics about her childhood in Wales accompany the grandeur of the keyboard-and-strings arrangement. It’s a bona fide art song, and brings to mind how Procol Harum turned Bach into “A Whiter Shade of Pale” so long ago.

Of special note is a new version of “Downtown,” her ebullient breakthrough American hit. It is now a ballad, her voice sometimes narrating the words as much as singing them. At the chorus, where the original song had her voice rise on “down” – connoting excitement – this time she straddles turning “down” into a minor-key note. The result is to make the song elegiac, a salutary tribute to a friend (the original version) from long ago.

The album doesn’t need her cover of Elvis’ “Love Me Tender” or John Lennon’s “Imagine” – they’re musty rock-classic selections that work against musical relevancy. Still, Clark has shown that a good pop stylist can stay as interesting in her eighties as can a more “authentic” roots singer, with the right material and production support.

The Rolling Stones used to point to Muddy Waters as an example of how blues-rockers can age gracefully and still be vital. One gets the feeling a lot of young pure-pop singers will look to Clark the same way after Lost in You.

Here is Petula Clark's chilled-out cover of the Gnarls Barkley hit "Crazy." Enjoy!

Recommended Off-site Links:
Petula Clark on the Making of Lost in You – All Pet Productions Limited and Troubador Limited (2013).
Petula Clark’s Pop Comeback, at Age Eighty – Ben Greenman (The New Yorker, April 2, 2013).
A Review of Lost in You – Philip Matusavage (MusicOMH, February 25, 2013).

For more of Petula Clark at The Wild Reed, see:
Pet Sounds

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"To Die and So to Grow"

Here at The Wild Reed I have a tradition of sharing a special Holy Week series of posts (see, for example, here, here, here, here, and here). This year I'll be sharing excerpts from one of the books I've brought with me on my current visit home to Australia from my other home in the U.S. This book is John Neafsey's A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience, about which the following has been said:

Both younger and older adults will find in John Neafsey's thoughtful, often moving, and inspiring excavation of vocation, social conscience, and the prophetic tradition a compelling tug to the Center – an awakening to the cry of those who bear most of the social cost and to the sacred within, among, and beyond us.

– Sharon Daloz Parks, author,
Big Questions, Worthy Dreams

A gentle, winsome reflection on the call of God. . . . This book will serve well those who hope for and engage an alternative way in the world.

– Walter Brueggemann

Drawing widely on the wisdom of saints and sages, John Neafsey describes a path to living in the place, as Frederick Buechner has put it, "where our deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

– Orbis Books

The part of A Sacred Voice is Calling that I'll be drawing from for this year's Holy Week series focuses on suffering – which is, of course, a predominant and important theme of Holy Week. And I believe it is such an important theme because it's an important reality of human experience, including Jesus' experience.

I start today with Neafrey's thoughts on the call to authentic personhood and, in particular, the commitment to continual growth and change and the associated willingness to undergo emotional and spiritual pain and discomfort that such a call involves.

"Life is difficult" is the first line of M. Scott Peck's popular and influential book The Road Less Traveled. the "road" to which he is referring is the path of emotional and spiritual growth. The title implies that most of us prefer to take the easy way because the path to genuine growth and maturity can sometimes be so rough, so rugged, so difficult. It is not easy to change and grow, to honestly face our problems, to be loving and authentic persons in an egocentric, artificial culture.

Because of our egocentrism, all of us are inclined to resist the process of growth. Something in us doesn't want to change, and so we cling to the known and familiar rather than take the risk of following the Voice into the unknown. This is completely natural and understandable because there are no guarantees that we won't end up hurt and disappointed when we allow ourselves to be led into the new or the different. Sometimes letting go of an old way of being so that something new can come into being is so painful it feels like dying. This, I think, is what Goethe is talking about in his poem "The Holy Longing": And so long as you haven't experienced this: / To die and so grow, / You are only a troubled guest / On the dark earth.

The call to authentic personhood involves a commitment to continual growth and change, which requires a willingness to undergo the emotional and spiritual pain and discomfort that are a necessary and inevitable part of the process of coming to know ourselves. Self-protective, defensive efforts to avoid the pain of self-knowledge almost always end up bringing us other kinds of trouble. "Neurosis," says Jung, "is always a substitute for legitimate suffering." The neurotic misery of an inauthentic existence, it seems, is the price we pay for refusing to embrace the pain and risk of living an authentic life. We end up living as "troubled guests" on the earth, spending our precious time and energy anxiously trying to escape from the risky business of becoming the persons we are meant to be.

The call to love also entails pain and risk. We experience growing pains with every step we take in the direction of becoming more loving persons, with every increase in our capacity to give and receive genuine love. Mature love requires that we find the energy and will to make the moral effort to extend ourselves on behalf of others – even when we don't feel like it. "I am sorry I can say nothing more consoling to you," says Father Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov, "for love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams."

– John Neafsey
A Sacred Voice is Calling
Pp. 110-111

For the The Wild Reed's 2013 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Albert Nolan’s book Jesus Before Christianity, accompanied by images of Jesus that some might call "unconventional"), see:
Jesus: The Upside-down Messiah
Jesus: Mystic and Prophet
Jesus and the Art of Letting Go
Within the Mystery, a Strange and Empty State od Suspension
Jesus: The Revelation of Oneness

For the The Wild Reed's 2012 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Cynthia Bourgeault's book The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind – A New Perspective on Christ and His Message), see:
The Passion: "A Sacred Path of Liberation"
Beyond Anger and Guilt
Judas and Peter
No Deeper Darkness
When Love Entered Hell
The Resurrected Jesus . . .

For The Wild Reed's 2011 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Albert Nolan’s book Jesus Before Christianity, accompanied by images of various cinematic depictions of Jesus), see:
"Who Is This Man?"
A Uniquely Liberated Man
An Expression of Human Solidarity
No Other Way
Two Betrayals
And What of Resurrection?
Jesus: The Breakthrough in the History of Humanity
To Believe in Jesus

For The Wild Reed’s 2010 Holy Week series (featuring excerpts from Andrew Harvey’s book Son of Man: The Mystical Path to Christ), see:
Jesus: Path-Blazer of Radical Transformation
The Essential Christ
One Symbolic Iconoclastic Act
One Overwhelming Fire of Love
The Most Dangerous Kind of Rebel
Resurrection: Beyond Words, Dogmas and All Possible Theological Formulations
The Cosmic Christ: Brother, Lover, Friend, Divine and Tender Guide

For The Wild Reed’s 2009 Holy Week series (featuring the artwork of Doug Blanchard and the writings of Marcus Borg, James and Evelyn Whitehead, John Dominic Crossan, Andrew Harvey, Francis Webb, Dianna Ortiz, Uta Ranke-Heinemann and Paula Fredriksen), see:
The Passion of Christ (Part 1) – Jesus Enters the City
The Passion of Christ (Part 2) – Jesus Drives Out the Money Changers
The Passion of Christ (Part 3) – Last Supper
The Passion of Christ (Part 4) – Jesus Prays Alone
The Passion of Christ (Part 5) – Jesus Before the People
The Passion of Christ (Part 6) – Jesus Before the Soldiers
The Passion of Christ (Part 7) – Jesus Goes to His Execution
The Passion of Christ (Part 8) – Jesus is Nailed the Cross
The Passion of Christ (Part 9) – Jesus Dies
The Passion of Christ (Part 10) – Jesus Among the Dead
The Passion of Christ (Part 11) – Jesus Appears to Mary
The Passion of Christ (Part 12) – Jesus Appears to His Friends

Sunday, April 06, 2014

A Visit to Gunnedah

Recently my parents and I travelled from Port Macquarie to our hometown of Gunnedah in northwest New South Wales, Australia. The drive from Port Macquarie inland to Gunnedah is about four-and-a-half hours. It had been three years since I last visited Gunnedah.

In writing about my visit in February 2011 I noted that the town of Gunnedah is located in the Namoi River valley of north-western New South Wales, and serves as the major service centre for the farming area known as the Liverpool Plains.

The town and its surrounding area were originally inhabited by indigenous Australians who spoke the Kamilaroi (Gamilaraay) language. The area now occupied by the town was settled by Europeans in 1833. Through my maternal grandmother’s family, the Millerds, my family can trace its connection to Gunnedah back to the town’s earliest days. For more about the town’s history and my family’s connection to it, see the previous Wild Reed post, My “Bone Country”.

Above: My parents, Gordon and Margaret Bayly, with their long-time friends Malcolm and Rosemary Sinclair – Thursday, March 27, 2014. That's the Gunnedah Town Hall behind them.

Left: Gunnedah Town Hall in 1934 – three years before the addition of the building’s clock tower. For more about the history of this landmark building, click here.

My parents and I travelled to Gunnedah to attend the funeral of Keith Moore, a good friend of my parents. In the photograph above my parents are pictured with Keith and his wife Judy at the 1962 Catholic Ball in Gunnedah.

Right: Dad and Keith at Moonbi Lookout, just north of Tamworth, New South Wales. I believe this photo was taken in January of 1985.

Above: My younger brother, Tim; me; Mum; and Judy & Keith Moore at the Moonbi Lookout – January, 1985.

Above and below: Dad and I at Gunnedah's Porcupine Lookout – Wednesday, March 26, 2014. That's the Breeza Plain pictured behind Dad. As I note elsewhere at The Wild Reed, part of the 2006 film Superman Returns was filmed on the plains near the village of Breeza, 25 miles south of Gunnedah.

It rained for most of our time in Gunnedah . . . which was a very good thing as the area desperately needed rain. Noted the March 25, 2014 issue of the Namoi Valley Independent:

It's been the most promising fall of rain the district has seen since the drought first took hold, and there is more on the way according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Gunnedah shire farmers awoke to the precious sound of soaking rain yesterday morning, with impressive falls of up to 60mm recorded in Mullaley.

Until 9am yesterday morning, Mullaley's official tally was 42mm, Gunnedah and Boggabri each received 29mm, Tambar Springs 20mm, Blackville 17mm, Breeza 25mm and Bundella and Caroona recorded 16mm.

The rain has been triggered by an inland surface trough and an upper level low which has resulted in a combination of humidity and cold air. The widespread downpour began late Sunday afternoon and continued into Monday morning. More rain is expected up until Friday, with the bureau predicting between 8-25mm for Gunnedah shire on Tuesday, between 3-9mm on Wednesday and 2-15mm on Thursday. The rain will ease by the weekend, with only possible showers forecast for Saturday and Sunday.

It's been a much-awaited welcome relief for farmers who have been battling one of the worst droughts in decades.

Above: Mum and Dad with our good friends Peter and Delores Worthington – Tuesday, March 25, 2014.

Left: Dad partnered Delores when she made her debut in 1954.

Above: For 40+ years it was a tradition for our family to visit the Worthingtons on Christmas Day morning. This picture was taken in 1985 and shows my parents with members of the Worthington family. From left: Louise, Peter, Andrew, Delores, Dad, Mark, Alison, Mum, and Jane. Absent from this photo are my two brothers and I and Sally Worthington.

Right: Long-time friends John and Heather Sills, with whom my parents and I had dinner the first night we were in Gunnedah.

Growing up in Gunnedah, my family lived next door to John and Heather and their three children – Jenny, Troy, and Jillian – who were the same age as my brothers and I. And, yes, as with the Worthingtons, a Christmas Day visit to the Sills' was also a long-standing tradition. We'd go over just after opening our presents!

Above: Dad (center) with his good friends Don Bruce (my Mum's cousin) and John Sills. Because of their close friendship (and no doubt their fresh-faced looks), an older friend, Mavis Grace, used to refer to the three young men as Huey, Dewey and Louie!

Above: A 1982 photo showing (from left) Heather, Mum, Jillian, my younger brother Tim, Jenny, and John.

Above: Mum with Heather Sills and my paternal grandmother, Belle Smith, in 1981. Don't you just love our family's funky '70s-style stereo?

Above: Mum and Dad with John and Heather Sills at my brother Tim and sister-in-law Ros' 1990 wedding in Wagga Wagga.

Above: With Aunty Ruth, my Mum's younger sister, and good friend and "girl-next-door" when growing up, Jillian (John and Heather Sills' youngest daughter) – Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Left: Aunty Ruth, looking very glamorous in the 1960s. Ruth graduated from the Royal Women's Hospital in Paddington, Sydney, in 1968.

Above: Ruth in the early 1970s with her daughter Emily.

Above: Ruth in 2000 with her husband Rex and their children Emily and Greg. Uncle Rex died in 2006.

Above: With Abby and Noah, my cousin Greg's girlfriend's children. Abby is dressed as the White Witch from C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for a school pageant.

Right: My maternal grandmother's dove. Nanna Sparkes died in 1997, and this dove must be close to 20 years old. I'm glad it's still with us, as it's a lovely reminder of Nanna.

Above: Nanna Sparkes dancing up a storm at my older brother Chris' and sister-in-law Cathie's 1988 wedding in Melbourne. That's Nanna's youngest daughter Ruth behind her, and granddaughter Emily at right. At left is family friend Wendy Tunbridge.

Above: My maternal grandparents, Olive and Valentine Sparkes at my parents' 1959 wedding in Gunnedah.

Above: Having breakfast at Gunnedah's Bitter Suite Cafe and Wine Bar – Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Above: Gunnedah's main thoroughfare, Conadilly Street – Tuesday, March 25, 2014.

Pictured above with my childhood friend and neighbour Jillian at the Gunnedah Services and Bowling Club on the evening of Wednesday, March 26, 2014, and below 26 years earlier in 1988.

Above: Mum with family friends Gary and Wendy Tunbridge – Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Left: Gary and Wendy on their wedding day in the early 1970s.

Above: For many years Wendy worked as a secretary at my Dad's farm supply and grain cartage business in Gunnedah. I'm pictured with her in 1983, which was my last year of high school.

Above: Dad with Wendy and Wendy's mother Gwen Riordan – Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

As I note in a previous post, during my childhood my family and I would often spend time on the Kelvin property of Gwen and her husband Ray, about 20 kilometres outside of Gunnedah. With Gwen, her sister Barbara, and one or more of Gwen and Ray's adult daughters and their families we'd hike through the Kelvin Hills. Those adventures in the Australian bush remain very special to me.

Above: With my childhood and neighbourhood friends Dianne and Louise.

Right: Louise and her brother Gary with their mother Daphne. The photo was taken on Gary's first day of school, circa 1970.

Above: That's me next to our family's dog Deano. Behind me (from right) is Dianne, her brother David, and my younger brother Tim. We'd all been out with Dad collecting sandstone rocks for Mum's garden. I'm thinking this photo was probably taken in 1979.

Left: With Aunty Fay, my Mum's older half-sister – Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Above: My maternal grandmother, Olive Sparkes, with two of her four daughters, Fay and Ruth, and Ruth's daughter, Emily – 1990.

Above: My maternal grandparents, Olive and Valentine Sparkes, with their four adult children, front row from right, Fay, Margaret, Ruth, and Michael; and their two son-in-laws at that time, back row, Bertie Wicks and my Dad, Gordon Bayly. This photo was taken in 1962 at the wedding of my Mum's cousin, Helen Millerd.

A number of the photos in this post were taken on March 26, 2014 at a dinner my parents and I shared with family and friends at the Gunnedah Services and Bowling Club. My paternal grandmother, Belle Smith (pictured above, second from left) worked for many years at this establishment as Catering Manager. At that time it was known as the Servicemen's Club. This picture of Nanna and her colleagues (including, at left, her good friend Dawn Weakley) was taken sometime in the 1970s.

Above: A photo from the mid-1970s showing my older brother Chris with Emily "Gran" Simmons (1892–1982). Gran was mother to Nanna Smith, grandmother to my Dad, and great-grandmother to my brothers and I.

Above: With Mum and Nanna Smith on Christmas Day, 1991.

I can't say I miss that hair, but I definitely miss that shirt!

Above: Blackjack Mountain, just outside of Gunnedah – Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

Notes Ron McLean in The Way We Were: Sesquicentenary of Gunnedah, 1856-2006:

Coal has been an integral part of the fabric of life in Gunnedah for 125 years. The first mine was a crude pit on the slopes of Blackjack Mountain with the coal hauled by dray to the railhead in the 1880s.

Coal mining has always been a tough industry with more than its fair share of tragedy. For so long, Gunnedah's miners laboured stoically, in terrible conditions, cramped and stifling, working with crude equipment. Working in pairs, they cut coal by hand, filling one-ton skips drawn to the surface by patient pit ponies. . . . They worked eight-hour shifts five days a week and six hours every alternate Saturday.

there were years of high production when Gunnedah coal was keenly sought by buyers, domestically and, later, overseas. But there were also times of despair, when the mines went into mothballs and men were cavilled out, many unable to find employment and having to ride out the tough times until the mines started up again.

And there was another recurring feature of mining -- the fatalities. Twenty men aged between 21 and 54 have lost their lives in mining-related accidents in the Gunnedah area, the first way back in 1897, the last in 1986.

As I note in a previous post about Gunnedah, my maternal grandmother’s first husband, Jack Louis, was killed in an accident in a mine workshop in nearby Werris Creek. The eldest of their two children, Eric (my Mum’s half-brother), collided with a coal truck as he rode his motor cycle to his job at the Gunnedah Mine on a very dusty road. He was only in his early twenties at the time of his tragic death. Both father and son are honoured on Gunnedah's Miners’ Memorial.

Above: A photograph taken at Blackjack Colliery in April 1917.

Above: A store front in the main street of Gunnedah that aims to disseminate information about the downside of coal seam gas.

A February 21, 2013 Namoi Valley Independent article notes the following about the issue and the opening of the storefront:

A group of local farmers are determined to tell their side of the story when it comes to concerns over coal seam gas (CSG) – and they’re doing it next door to energy giant Santos’ Gunnedah office.

The group has taken a lease on a Conadilly Street property to inform the community about what they believe are potential threats to the future of agriculture in the shire.

The idea came following “frustration” over Santos’ ongoing advertising campaign spruiking the benefits of CSG in rural communities.

The aim of the main street property is to offer people an opportunity to find out more about CSG, and provide information about the extent of development in Queensland, results of scientific research, quotes from various professors and environmentalists, concerns about impacts on water and various media clippings.

“We’ve got a whole country at risk,” said Willala farmer Alistair Donaldson.

“The (Santos) ads don’t show the full picture.

“Gunnedah needs underground water and too much evidence shows it will be affected to some degree.”

Farmers fear that NSW will follow in the footsteps of Queensland where there is mass CSG development and infrastructure.

In Queensland alone up to 40,000 wells are expected to be drilled by 2030, leaving landholders fearing for their livelihoods and our nation’s food bowl.

“Santos advertisements aim to create a perception in people’s mind that this is a safe industry, that there will be plenty of jobs and that the process of recovering CSG from coal seams will not pose any threat to underground water,” Mullaley farmer Robyn King said.

Ms King also questioned the direct benefits to local communities.

“If we need the energy, why are we exporting it?”

Santos has always maintained it is confident that responsible CSG development and production provides a safe, clean solution for the state’s energy needs and one that can be delivered in a timely fashion.

Mr Donaldson and Mrs King thanked the Vernados family for their generosity when it came to leasing the main street premises.

They also believe the local campaign against CSG is gaining momentum.

It follows a recent survey carried out by Mullaley farmers where 98.5 per cent of 297 people in the shire supported a no-go CSG zone in the area.

Above: The Kelvin Hills, shrouded in rain.
For a view of them on a clear day, click here.

Two Gunnedah portraits of me . . . At left at age five . . .

. . . and at right in 2014, just a couple of years away from turning 50!

Above and below: Returning from Gunnedah to Port Macquarie on Thursday, March 27, Mum & Dad and I stopped in Tamworth to visit my cousin Emily. She and her husband Matt have just had their first child, Lewis Rex.

Above: Little Lewis Rex!

Left: With Emily and Matt's dog.

Above: Mum and Dad – Thursday, March 27, 2014.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Journey to Gunnedah (2011)
This Corner of the Earth (2010)
An Afternoon at the Gunnedah Convent of Mercy (2010)
My "Bone Country" (2009)
The White Rooster
Remembering Nanna Smith
One of These Boys is Not Like the Others
Gunnedah (Part 1)
Gunnedah (Part 2)
Gunnedah (Part 3)
Gunnedah (Part 4)