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offwego[A short paper presented to the Spiritual Reading Group 21 July 2015 on Michael Leunig]

So… Leunig… one of the questions he is most often asked and is always baffled by, is what does a particular cartoon mean? “People will say, ‘I don’t know what it means but I like it.’ Leunig replies… “I don’t know either but I like it too. I’m not trying to say anything but I hope it awakens something in you.”

Michael Leunig was raised listening to Oscar Wilde stories on the radio. He read Enid Blyton, Biggles and Childrens Encyclopaedias… he went to Sunday  school and always said he found it, “not full of God but full of stories.” It was lyrical and what was lyrical made him happy – Leunig heard Psalms and asked of himself “What can I do like that?”

Though born in East Melbourne in 1945, Leunig grew up in Footscray going to Footscray North Primary School and Maribyrnong High School. Many of Leunigs friends, and many of his teachers when he grew up in the 1950s were war refugees or were the children of people from Germany, Russia, Poland. It was a very industrial area –ammunitions factory with machine guns firing, meat works, cannery… it smelt awful and drained into the river… for Leunig this wasn’t bleak but held lots of peace and space. Not a lot of nature around, but then you appreciate and give more significance to what you have… a duck and the moon.

A duck bought from the market while doing the family shop imprinted on Leunig following him around everywhere, coming home from school he’d turn the corner and the duck would see him and come running. So he always got ducks after that considering them playful and good-humoured and innocent with those rounded beaks.

A formative misadventure at eight years, occurred while playing at the rubbish tip Leunig stepped up to his thighs in hot coals and wires – receiving horrible and incredibly painful burns with fear of gangrene and amputation – for five months he couldn’t walk and had long periods of feeling cut off from others and lost.

From paper boy to making sausages at butchers on Barkley St, Leunig didn’t do well at school, repeating his last year, and came to work in the meatworks himself. This was great thinking time and Leunig advocates manual work that keeps your hands moving and your mind free. He said: “Working in such places either toughens or sensitises you” and it sensitised Leunig… he became a humanist (is now nearly vegan) and finely honed his earthy working class sense of humour. Leunig was conscripted for the Vietnam war in 1965 – he was going to fight it, a conscientious objector, but was rejected regardless when found to be deaf in one ear.

In Curly Stories, Leunig talks about it “Being an advantage to grow up without art consciousness… nothing to aspire to but things to find and create”. Homeschooling his own four children would have allowed him to foster a similar environment for them believing “Natural ideas exist within children… their play should be “utterly free” and they must be allowed to be bored – they feel free to explore and discover and the world is new to them and there’s this sense of wonder” Leunig refers to childrens ability to ‘blank out’ looking at a teapot spout or light through a window being present to what is right in front of them, commenting: “The loss of that beauty is appalling… how do I address that as a communicator? How can I express what everyone is feeling?” The prophet expresses the grief of the people. The artist expresses what is repressed.

maxresdefaultWalking out of his 3rd year at Swinburne Film and Television School, it was 1969 when Leunig first began to work as a political cartoonist at Newsday, while the factories might have taught him to use humour – intellectual, witty, cynical – to deflect serious things, Leunig says “I was sung sentimental songs. Part of my first language. Fluent in that emotional language” His Grandma used to tell him: ‘All the world is bad, except for you and me, but even you’re a little strange.’ …perhaps this is where we meet The Creature… The Holy Fool– scribbled in the margins since school – amusing to his slightly hungover Editor, with a teapot on his head and riding a duck into the sunset, the image was put to print. Subhuman, primal, foetal, without gender. Leunig is somehow able to speak to our soul. To take small things and make them large, domestic things and make them sacred. For his own discipline he talks about the paradox of art theory – rules to follow, teachers to emulate >> how this stifles creativity. It’s about earning money, systematic success, built for efficiency, for velocity but you lose much, Leunig believes: “[You] cannot love or appreciate beauty at speed. How do you talk about it in ways that are unsuppressed and real? Might make a bridge with love, make a sandwich with love – it’s passed on to others. Love is what we go to bed thinking about.”the kiss by leunig

Since his first book in 1974, Leunig has produced 23 more – books of newspaper columns, poetry and prayer in addition to his prints, paintings and drawings. Leunig shares intimacy with us, personal and confessional – e.g. The Kiss. We are invited into the privacy of his love life, his soul searching… Leunig makes the private public. He takes the small dark fearful things and brings them out where we can look at them “crying with the angels for a world that is different – this is not fatalistic but hopeful”. Perhaps it is because he has offered his own soul first that we are willing to listen to him expound on many themes:

>> loneliness >> the 9 to 5 grind >> war >> sex >> consumption >> love >> god >> media >> religion >> politics

It was being asked to contribute a cartoon to a new paper in 1989, The Age, that Leunig started writing prayers to the horror of his friends… Rather than born-again Christian Leunig’s interpretation lay in the realm of John Keats’s “negative capability”, a word for the unsayable and profound in life. He wanted to say the words publicly as another way of addressing the problems of our time, of our society, of our psyche, of people’s personal suffering {1998} His friends reactions sort of egged Leunig on, wanting to see how much he could push believing that “until a man discovers his emotional life and his gentle, vulnerable side, until he gives it expression, he never will find his women or his soul, and until he does find his soul he will be tortured and depressed and miserable underneath a fair bit of bullshit”.

From Archbishops to Presidents, the Opera House, Australian Chamber Orchestra, National Theatre in London to clay figure animations for SBS and remote communities in northern and central Australia – Leunig has Gone Places and Done Things. Declared a national living treasure by the National Trust in 1999 and awarded honorary degrees by 3 universities for his unique contribution to Australian culture.

094The ‘war on terror’ following 9/11 was a watershed moment in Leunig’s cartooning work where, opposing the war and invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, he was at odds with many editors, commentators and members of Australian society – there became less gentle and lyrical themes and he stopped drawing the whimsical characters Mr Curly and Vasco Pyjama as often although the duck and the moon have still faithfully remained. Adding curls arose out of Leunig’s desire to communicate that “What makes you feel so alone and strange is in fact normal. There’s a lot of curliness in life and you can have a homecoming – there is a place for you and for that aloneness, that eccentricity, and there’s a fulfilment of it eventually, it’s no longer the cause of your outcastness. So that’s the curl. It’s the curious, unique self and, if you find that, you find the connection to the whole world because the world is curious and unique and authentic at its best level.” You might say the war, not understanding how people can fight other people this way, has been a breach to Leunigs sense of connection to Australian society and thereby rest of the world.

These days, Michael Leunig has 3 small dogs but no ducks. He enjoys talking to strangers and going to bed at night. He is a devout nature lover and spends his time between the solitude of the bush in Northern Victoria and a home in Melbourne where he enjoys walking in the local park, morning coffee in the café, chamber music in the concert hall, and attending to work in his studio .

When asked: “What is the meaning of life?” Leunig replied: “For humans as for all the plants and creatures: know yourself, grow yourself, feel yourself, heal yourself, be yourself, express yourself”… “I want to be a voice of liberation”. Leunig speaks not only for the wealthy or the poor but both, not only those armed and those without weapons but both, not only the pretty people or only the ugly people but both – he enjoys this inconsistency and variety. As Barry Humphries says “through the vein of his compassion and humanity and his humour – illuminating many a darkling theme”

Like Jesus with his parables and questions – Leunig doesn’t present us with solutions or easy answers but an invitation. He sees his vocation as cracking what is stoic and cold in society – to make us feel anger, grief, joy, sadness… Leunig believes we have something to discover in the wrongness… “Live without ‘knowing’, in mystery. Find things. Unlearn. Get lost. Get primal, getinfantile. When you have lost all hope – start to play. You have nothing to lose. Stay with it and don’t take it too seriously…”

I hope maybe it awakens something in you.”

I give thanks

oak tree california

in a cocoon of dappled sunlight

I am embraced between the roots

and the arms of this oak tree

here I find You

and know I am not alone

I am not unwanted

I am not without purpose

You make me daily

and I give thanks

for this daily bread

Talitha Fraser

Today I found

008copytoday I found an upturned tree

I selected a stone…

flat, smooth, hopeful

and I nestled it amongst the

roots to be safe

some part of myself

to be kept safe

always

or only

until the next high tide

or tempest comes

but for now, for today, safe.

Talitha Fraser

Small Things

You are a God of small  things.

Snapped shoe laces, the sticking utensil drawer

Outreaching arm over the cold side of the bed

Watching the bus you’re meant to be on go by

(and the one after that)

Siren chaser, conflict avoider, the job I don’t want to go to much today

What I needed to bring and forgot,

What I wanted to say but didn’tplaydough people

(the stupid thing I say instead)

You – in my fears, real or imagined

You – my consolation and my comfort

You – there always in all things

You

Talitha Fraser

020copyHere in this vortex of risk, vulnerability, hope and fear,
I stand with you.
Our paths are not the same
But for the ways in which they mix and
tangle in each other,
sometimes parallel,
sometimes perhaps at cross purposes,
yet never quite falling out of sight
I am glad and grateful.
May the journey bring answers,
growth and joy.
May the stepping out be its own reward.
May you be bold, and honest, and safe,
and return to me.

~ Bronwyn Hayward

http://www.pallotticollege.com.au/

There is a joy

in knowing the truth of oneself

whatever that may be

for it was meant

Talitha Fraser

Leunig

“God be with those who explore in the cause of understanding, whose search takes them far from what is familiar and comfortable and leads them into danger or terrifying loneliness. Let us try to understand their sometimes strange or difficult ways; their confronting or unusual language; the uncommon life of their emotions, for they have been affected and shaped and changed by their struggle at the frontiers of a wild darkness, just as we may be affected, shaped, and changed by the insights they bring back to us. Bless them with strength and peace.

Amen.”

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On the 410 bus…

{for your entertainment, please note that font size denotes volume of the conversation happening on a crowded peak hour bus}

“How old are you?!”

“33”

“What?”

“33”

“Are you married?”

“No.”

“I’m looking for a woman!”

“…spoken for though”

“What?”

“Spoken for.”

“What?”

         “I’m not available!”

(silence)

“You dye your hair.”

“YOU DYE YOUR HAIR?!”

“Yes, yes, I dye it”

“What colour is that?”

“Red.”

“Oh. What colour will you dye it next time?”

“The same.”

“Oh. What colour is it underneath?”

“Blond”

“You follow footy?”

“No.”

“What’s your name?”

“Talitha, what’s yours?”

“Stanley”

#communityengagementinFootscray #onyastanley #thisismystop

Seedy Stations – Jan 2015

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KNOW THE WORD

What is the kingdom of God like? To what can we compare?

Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

What are you discussing as you walk along?…..What things?

Are you not misled because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?

022 copy

Queries What is our honest experience of Jesus Christ?
What are the stories that found and shape our lives, our locality, our culture?
How will we discern the Living Word who speaks to us through the biblical story, prayer and the people and situations around us?
How do the questions from the gospel stories shape our understanding?
 What are the connections between the story of the Bible, our world and ourselves?

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GROW HOME

Do you also want to leave? Did I not choose you twelve?

Have you anything here to eat?

If there were not (many homes in my Father’s house), would I have told you that I am going to prepare a house for you?

What were you arguing about as we travelled on the road?

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Queries Who are our kin/mob/family? (Mark 3) 
In what ways will we or will we not ‘be there for each other’ as ‘family’?
How do our families of origin and previous experiences of community affect us now?
How can we practice the disciplines of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience in this locality?
What are our economic necessities? (home, household, village…etc.)
What does it mean for us to be the body of Christ? Where am I putting my own body?

014

GO ENGAGE

When I sent you forth without a money bag or a sack or sandals, were you in need of anything?

How many loaves do you have?

Which one was neighbour to the robber’s victim?

Do you want to be well?

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Queries 
How does Jesus’ life, incarnation, death & resurrection shape our practice of mission?
Who is at our table? Whom are we offering hospitality?
 Are we dependent on those we serve? Are we experiencing hospitality from those we serve?
 What is my vocation/calling? What voices are shaping our choices?
 What is ‘good work’? 
In what ways can we put those considered least at the top of our priorities?
 How are we deepening our understanding and practice of Teaching, Healing and Exorcism in light of the Word?

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Rest here awhile

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you, dear child

you exert so much energy

trying to be something other then

how you were made.

Rest. Rest in Me and know

that you are loved, you are

a delight to me and I am

proud of you – just as you are.

Come to me those who are weary

and heavy laden and I will give

you a real rest.

Rest. Rest in Me and know

that you are loved, there is no

one else you need to prove yourself

to or meet the expectations of,

there is no ‘right’ way or ‘normal’.

Each person must walk their own path

and I made each of you unique

– though your path may travel along

aside another’s, it may not, or may

not always and it is not given to

you to know the Way… I know

the Way. I AM the Way, and I am

with you always.

Rest. Rest here awhile with Me.

We can go on when you are ready.

Talitha Fraser

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb
tonight.

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

— David Whyte
from The House of Belonging
©1996 Many Rivers Press

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