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Thursday, March 24, 2016

From the Wayside Chapel by Graham Long

Dear Inner Circle,

As a young man, I liked to think I was pretty bright. In my mid-twenties my head was awash with Freud, Ellis, Berne and the like. I wanted to serve people well but in the process I ran a solo commentary on how the world worked. I look back in horror and embarrassment at my pretentious twenty-something self. Knowledge comes through books but wisdom comes through pain.

In the little town of Waikerie, South Australia, I ran a visiting service for a government department whose primary responsibility was child protection. The office I used had no receptionist and no telephone; just a sign on the door to say that I’d be there on Fridays. No one had thought of mobile phones in those days. I started each visit with a full waiting room and I’d work until everyone had gone. They were often long days with no way for me to make enquiries for people or ask for help when my way got difficult.

One day a woman walked in with her daughter who I imagine might have been four or five years old. I will never lose the image of the little girl’s face. Her facial expression was akin to a snarling dog and yet she said nothing. I’m not sure she could talk. She seemed to be hiding a hand and so I gently pulled her arm up so that I could see her hand. Her little fingers were badly burned and blistered. The pattern of the burns suggested to me immediately that the burns were caused by a hotplate. The sore hand had received no medical treatment and had swollen to become as large as my hand. “How did this happen?” I asked the mother. She replied, “She tells lies”. I felt sick. Nothing I had ever learned was any good to me. I had no phone and no one to ask for advice. Under all my fundamentalist Christian formation was a question that gnawed at me for years. Where was God when that little kid’s hand was being held on the hotplate?

A couple of months later, I helped another mother with seven kids run away from the domestic violence of her drunken husband. The family lived on a part of the Murray River that was miles away from anyone or anything. On the day of escape, two of the children were unexpectedly with their father and so we escaped with Mum and five kids. When the husband returned, he was so incensed that his wife would leave him that he took his five-year-old daughter, put her in a weighted bag and lowed her into the river. The child died. My soul numbed for years until I could bare to ask myself where God might have been when that little girl was being lowered into the river.

It took me years to be able to ask my question let alone move toward an answer. Today, I know where God was when the little girl was mercilessly lowed into the Murray River. God was, “in the bag”.

Easter makes no sense except to reveal that there is no God-forsaken place where God isn’t. There is no person who is too far gone. The is no hole you can fall into where there is not goodness and hope at the bottom.

That is my Easter message for this year. When you are bewildered by Christians who observe this season and seem to honour what looks like an act of unspeakable brutality, understand that they know; God is in the bag.

Thank you for putting up with my odd religious message and thank you for being part of this inner circle,


Rev Graham Long AM
Pastor and CEO
The Wayside Chapel
Kings Cross


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