“Do to others as you . . .”

My parents modelled for me what a big heart looks like.

From a Dutch "dominee" (church minister) to an itinerant shepherd of restless Dutch migrants in Eastern Australia. With a long-suffering wife and four children aged 5 and under. What heart!

They gave up a comfortable life as a city-church minister in post-War Netherlands to leave all their relatives, friends and familiar surroundings and sail 5 weeks away to remote Australia.  Was that selfishness or a commitment to their wholesome Christian ethos?

As a migrant-chaplain’s wife, Mum often had new arrivals and “wounded birds” of many kinds as guests for a meal, a night, and if necessary longer.  She had the same care for injured animals, our pet chooks, rabbit, canary and cat, and her pride-and-joy garden.

My siblings and I (there were five of us) grew up with few words but many pictures of what commitment, practical Christian faith, compassion and service look like, and these memories have moulded all five of us.  “There but for the grace of God go I” and “Do for others what you would like others to do for you” are Christian statements that have become part of our daily language.

My brother had trouble with the validity of Christian faith from an early age but has stuck by his wife of many years despite a sometimes trying marriage, and I’m grateful that his compassionate commitment has paid off richly.  It’s not that I don’t believe that separation and divorce are unacceptable and unforgiveable, but I know from much observation that they are rarely an easy alternative to staying together.

Two of my sisters were each “dumped” by their original husbands but have not lost their heart.  One still weeps over her first love – but she’s also moved on, well and truly.  The other has worked with refugees and other “wounded birds” for many years.

Sister #3 is also in caring work – as a physiotherapist with disabled people, and as an advocate for MND (Motor Neurone Disease) patients.  This condition took my father and is also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or as Lou Gehrig’s disease in different countries.

Sure, having a heart can be painful, frustrating, unrewarding, and it invites abuse.  It can tempt us to become unrealistic or stridently angry.  And not everyone can maintain being compassionate without becoming eccentric.

Beyond my parents, compassion for me and many others is modelled on Jesus, whom almost everyone in developed countries agrees is our world’s #1 model and hero.  What a shame that we who claim to represent him sometimes fall so badly short, but that difference made Jesus unique.

I have always found that what we know about Jesus Christ gives us (amongst other things) a model of someone who kept opposite strengths in both balance and tension.  He could be both passionately angry and life-changingly kind, he knew when to speak and when silence was golden.  Although sometimes accused of it, he never became eccentric or nutty.  Because of this he could bring unique and sometimes unimaginable healing.

We can do worse than learn from and follow him.



  1. I hope I am not being intrusive in recording a few responsive thoughts.

    It was interesting to watch Dawkins and Pell duke-ing it out on TV, the other night.

    What Dawkins seems to have forgotten is that sometimes life is just too painful. We are not all psychologically strong enough to handle an unambiguous scientific truth, with which we are sometimes confronted; as when a so-called life-long partner decides to upstakes and move on.

    It was also somewhat ironic to see that Dawkins had a bit of trouble handling the fact that people were laughing at something he had just said in complete seriousness. Many years ago, Arthur Koestler gave us a scientific explanation for the humour in a joke, but that doesn’t ease the pain when people are laughing at moi….Ouch…easier to blame the jet lag or the ignorant audience.

    I believe that we can all benefit from our cultural myths, especially when the scientific evidence of life becomes too hard to face.

    AA’s call to a Higher Power, is a fairly unambiguous example of how the trust in a caring God can sometimes give us just enough energy to escape the grips of an otherwise intractable addiction.

    And sometimes the pain comes from within. The realisation that I may not be as pure as I thought I was.

    I got the strong feeling that Pell’s pain came from the realisation that he, and his institutional church, had somewhat overstated its case. He was clearly ill at ease with the notion of child abuse lurking barely beneath the surface, within the audience.

    Perhaps, the religious myths are at their most powerful when we are in a state of play; as when a child decides that a tree or a cardboard box can be a pirate ship, or indeed, anything it wants it to be. Such a mood of fanciful, possibility-laden play is well recognised as a source of a lot of childhood learning. Too bad we forget to play, as adults.

    So, why not make our churches venues for unbridled (albeit spritually healthy) play. Like Hamlet or the Little Match Girl, we can use use the power of the mythical play (the power of “as if”) to approach our full potential to achieve a better life.

    But there is danger in making Pell’s mistake of taking it all too seriously. It is after all mythical, not factual (Dawkins is spot on, there.) There is absolutely no scientific validity in belting a kid just because we believe the Bible says so.

    The Bible is to Science, as Hamlet is to the History of Denmark.

    But Hamlet and the Bible can both be powerful aids in easing the pain; even the pain of being deserted by someone we thought we could trust for the rest of our lives.

    There is always space for heaps of really nice stuff in our Universe.

    And yes, the pain will pass, or perhaps we can learn to function in spite of its on-going presence.

    • Thank you, Brian, for your reflections. It is always good to hear from you, and as far as I’m concerned, please never think you are being intrusive.
      Q&A’s recent Pell-Dawkins discussion has been much reviewed in the media and elsewhere, and this is welcome, Good on Q&A for setting this up. I find it’s rare that we (surely not only in Australia) reflect in a fair and measured way on the physical and metaphysical, the simplicity and complexity.of truth and life, on how we deal with science and faith, and yes, how react to the way others see us.
      I expect that whatever strident atheists say, the human mind and spirit will always recognise and value the deep and venerable Christian contribution to who and what we are today. I believe that many of our churches are learning from both their good and their painful experiences and are increasingly becoming healthy communities in the way for which you plead. May it be so.

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