When Jesus returns


It doesn’t really matter what we do
in our own finite occupation
of planet earth, so one theory goes.
All the pollution and the global warming
and the depletion of the fishing stocks
and the extinction of various species;
not our problem.
And all the refugee camps in border regions
and the ragged children on the smoking
garbage mountains and all the repression
and the fear
and the greedy corporate exploitation
and all the political lies; about these things
we need have no concern.
Because Jesus is coming back.
Yeah, Jesus is coming back
and he’ll wave his hand, his magic
Holy Spirit hand, and the new heaven
will replace the old, and the new earth
will take over from the old
and everything will be clean and fresh
and smell like a pair of shiny new shoes
just out of their box.
Or so one theory goes.

© Ken Rookes

Another poem from my collection Promptings & Provocations, with some relevance for Sunday’s gospel reading

Don’t stop now

We set out on our journey
when the words of life were spoken.
We knew we had to travel;
we knew the world was broken

We knew we had a message
that would breathe a new-found hope,
we knew it would not be easy,
we trusted we would cope.

We left behind our cares,
our fortune and desire.
We gathered up our courage;
we would set the world on fire.

Or so we hoped and so we prayed,
we studied and we plodded.
We collected our resources
while the Spirit pushed and prodded.

We saw our destination
unfold just like a vision;
we knew we had a calling,
we knew we had a mission.

Good news for the poor, we cry;
good news of love and grace!
The light is coming, now it’s here,
it shines upon each face.

We journey in the darkness,
we journey in the night,
we dine upon the wine, the bread
set at the table, white.

Injustice casts its shadow,
we feel its dreadful threat;
we know that love will triumph,
that love’s not finished yet.

So we confront the cruelty
the oppression and the greed;
dig deep into our calling
and find the strength we need.

But bitterness won’t go away
and fearfulness persists;
we weaken and grow weary,
and still the call insists.

“Let us go,” with worn-out cry
we make our loud request.
“The journey is too difficult
we need a place to rest.”

“All these years we’ve journeyed
we’ve struggled on and on,
but no-one seems to notice
and no-one sings our song.

“And no-one seems to care,
the world has not been righted;
this kingdom’s too elusive,
it is so seldom sighted.

“All people should be saved by now,
and dwell in heavenly bliss!
There are not many left of us,
we can’t go on like this!

We cannot help but question,
we have to voice our doubt;
where is the gospel power,
where’s that hallelujah shout?

We didn’t really plan for this;
Ha, we didn’t plan at all.
No planning but a simple “yes,”
when caught inside love’s thrall.

We stand within the silence,
we wait for a reply.
The road ahead seems unconcerned,
the road behind asks, “Why?”

“Why?” and “What?” and “Can it be?”
“How can we know the way?”
We search inside the stillness
for a reason not to stay.

“Don’t stop now!” the call responds,
“Keep on the road, my friend!
You know that once you’ve started
you must see it to the end.

“You think you’ve made a sacrifice,
perhaps you have, that’s fine.
Your gifts of love are noted;
all gifts of love are mine.

“There’s beauty in your weariness,
there’s beauty in persistence.
There’s glory in defiant acts,
in grace, and truth’s resistance.

“The destination’s guaranteed,
don’t worry you can’t see it.
The journey is the place of truth
for those who choose to be it.

“This broken world’s still waiting
for my children to arrive,
to build the peace and bring the love;
to make it come alive.

“So don’t forsake the journey,
no, don’t give up the fight;
and don’t forget my Spirit’s yours;
walk in the Spirit’s light.

And though the way be painful,
and though the night be strong,
remember that you’re not alone;
come join the angels’ song

© Ken Rookes

I shared this poem at my final Presbytery meeting on Tuesday. As I reflected on it it seemed to have some relevance to this Sunday’s Gospel reading.

Painting 1977

The man in the Peter Booth landscape
stares out with red eyes
while the city burns behind him.
Fearful and anxious blacks and greys
give birth bloodily to the distress and pain
of orange flame and scarlet moon.
(Or is it the sun?)
The standing white dog observes without judgement;
nothing that these mortals do can surprise him.
Booth’s apocalyptic vision
could have been referencing this Lucan passage,
speaking as it does, of celestial signs
in the firmament above,
and distress upon earth.
The literalists get excited,
talk fervently of the day that is coming,
of end-times, judgement
and of the hope of heaven’s compensation
for earthly hardship and indignity.
Vindication for the righteous.
They look to the skies, eager to be the first
to see their Master surfing the clouds,
hoping for a mid-flight rendezvous.
Look, Jesus, here we are;
we’ve kept ourselves nice!
It is not in the skies
that the work of faith is to be done,
but here, among earth’s dust,
where the faithful wait
with yearning and with tears,
and with defiant love; costly, unresting.
They press on, determinedly declaring
in the midst of indifference, uncertainty and distress:
The kingdom of God has come near!

© Ken Rookes 2012

Link to Peter Booth’s Painting 1977

Truth; does it still exist?

What, indeed, is this stuff;
the subject of the pilatean enquiry
nearly two millennia ago?
A large group of self-appointed custodians
recently forfeited any claim
to represent truth,
having betrayed their Master
by placing the needs of reputation
ahead of the fruits of compassion and justice
of which he was wont to speak.
They were not the first.
There are others, so caught up
with notions of what is and is not correct,
that they become blind to what might be true.
We squeeze it, push it,
poke and prod it into strangely shaped vessels
that can never properly contain it,
and then express our surprise when it bursts out,
spilling its disquieting trouble
over those standing too near.

We search anxiously for something convenient
with which to wipe it away.
Like the Roman governor
we don’t really expect an answer to our question.
The prisoner’s silence serves us well;
we welcome the stillness,
pretending that it is the same as peace.
But our evasions remain incomplete,
and in the determined hush
the remembering persists.
We recall his teachings, his defiant words
that tell of hearing and seeing and reaching.
Other tales intrude too,
including his own troubled story,
about to be made complete
with betrayal, bleeding and weeping.
The stories stealthily invade our silence;
to weave around and through a living parable
catching us up into his unavoidable truth
with all its disturbing expectations.
© Ken Rookes 2012

A bit of a work in progress. I may return to it later in the week.


Beware that no one leads you astray.

The first thing they will do
is try to make you doubt
yourself and your calling.
They will ask you questions;
make it seem that there is one set
of correct answers,
and that these are all-important,
mistakes will be penalised
and your relationship to eternal life
will be at risk should you fail to make the grade.
They are wrong.
Faithfulness is not about getting a pass
on an orthodoxy exam,
but the way that you hear
the commandment to love,
and how that idea takes form and flesh,
flowing through your waking hours
to give shape to your deeds,
your words and your thoughts.
One thing, this thing
we are expected to get right;
everything else is grace.
If they try to tell you otherwise
don’t believe them;
laugh in their faces.

© Ken Rookes

George Pell doesn’t get it.

George Pell doesn’t get it. Blaming the press for creating the outrage over paedophilia reveals a man who simply does not understand what is going on.

The Prime Minister of Australia has just announced the establishment of a Royal Commission into institutional paedophilia, including by the Catholic Church. Cardinal Pell, Australia’s senior cleric, considers this unnecessary, but sees an opportunity to ‘clear the air, to separate fact from fiction.’

No, it’s not just about the Catholic Church, but the fact is that more than a few priests of the Catholic Church appear to have been major perpetrators of criminal activity, while pretending to be upholders of all that is good and honourable.

Cardinal Pell doesn’t get it, and he isn’t the only one. Some of his bishops probably do, and those who sit less rigidly with the structural hierarchy. It has been clear for some time that damage inflicted upon children who were sexually abused by trusted priests and laity has been compounded over many decades by the Church’s processes of evasion and denial. The effects on both victims and their families has been profound and often tragic.

The defence of the sanctity of the confessional is simply another example of George Pell’s unwillingness to face the truth about the evil in the Church’s midst; evil manifested both in the perpetration of the crimes of sexual abuse and in the evasion and cover-ups that showed a sometimes callous disregard for the innocent victims.

If the confessional has become a tool for evil, then it can never be defended.

At every point, such behaviour is a wilful rejection of the teaching of the one who should be the true head of the church, Jesus from Nazareth. Everything he taught screams in outrage against those who abuse, and those who put their reputation ahead of the need for justice.

Cardinal George Pell and his ilk just don’t get it. They are surely presiding over the destruction of the very institution they claim to serve. They also betray the many faithful women and men, priests included, who truly seek to live as disciples of Jesus

Earlier this year I wrote suggesting a way forward for the Catholic Church. If the current hierarchy don’t wake up there will be no way forward.

Ken Rookes