Here I am, 70 years old and I feel my life is just beginning! If we are the sum of all we’ve learned, experienced and suffered over the years then, this is it!
I’ve been lucky, so lucky in my life. I can honestly say I am a really good and close friend of His Holiness The Dalai Lama. A link forged, I think in personal loneliness and struggle for survival. I am equally at home with the richest and most powerful in this land as I am on the streets with the poor, disabled and homeless. I can honestly say being homeless holds no fear for me as I’ve learned to survive there from some of the most honourable and ethical people I know who live there. My time spent with those on the edges of life who may be dying or in the depths of, or recovering from the personal horrors of addiction to drugs and alcohol have taught me to value each day as if it is my last and behave as such. That is to talk with people as if it is my last ever conversation with them so I don’t go to my deathbed regretting all those things I should have said but didn’t.
All this has taught me a lot about honesty and love and how important and life giving they are, It’s also taught me a lot about the myths around how important possessions and wealth really are I have learned that all we have of value is within us now. Right now, right in this very moment! It has taught me that this world isn’t changed by those in power. It’s changed by those who have nothing but give all they’ve got. Myuran Sukumaran’s funeral taught me that. All that human being needed he had in his prison cell at the end of the world and yet he changed so many lives. Thomas Merton with his vow of silence became the loudest mouth in the world through his writings to all and sundry.
Getting back to honesty, I remember being with people in recovery and seeing how honestly admitting to our own powerlessness over our addictions and madnesses is a powerful moment in our growing through them. I realised such personal honesty led to a searing personal moral inventory which in turn leads on to a fearless evaluation of our family members, friends and acquaintances, As I witnessed all this I remember thinking “How brave you are!” to then realise our very survival depends on it.
And this leads me to love. The only valid emotion there is. Kris Kristopherson wrote “Love is the last thing to leave”. But I think love never leaves. I remember once talking to an old man in his late nineties. He was very switched on and was up with all the latest that was going on in the world. But it was his loving nature that shone through. “You’re so loving!” I exclaimed. “Well Bill”, he said. “I’m so old now, I mightn’t be here tomorrow. So what else is there? I haven’t got time for anything else”. Usually, when we are gathered around the death bed, I have noticed a real sense of peace and lovingness there that is palpable. With the centenery of ANZAC just behind us, what we are left with is all those stories of the lovingness exhibited by soldiers going to certain death as they wrote last notes to loved ones or sacrificed their own lives for their friends.
I have learned that organised religions don’t hold the answers, love, out of what they come, does. I have found this love can be discovered in the telling and sharing of stories. Love is not something we can learn by rote or expose through formula it’s something that finds us in its own time and way when we go looking for it. We discover it after it has grabbed us.
We are told life itself began at The edges of those hot water outlets under the sea. New life comes from the edge. Not the centre where it’s all nice and safe. New life comes from the edges of life, a place of turmoil, struggle and possibly death. It’s not a safe or comfortable place at all. Like beautiful music, new life never arises out of comfort or planning.
Life, for me has not always been that easy. I was born in England while my father was away in the war and, I don’t think he really ever bonded with me when he came back. To me it seems like he was forever saying to me “Billy, don’t be this, be that.” Like I could never please him by simply being the person I was. We were like chalk and cheese. He was into making money and I was more interested in, what he considered were airy-fairy pursuits. My mother, I suppose had to make a choice between him and me and chose him. My father was an Engineer and his job made him move a lot, so I was moved from school to school. Most of them were public schools, although one was private. I was so badly bullied at the private school I lost all my confidence. The end result of all that was, I suppose a young person who spent a lot of time just trying to be invisible.
I can honestly say that the beginning of my “rehabilitation”, if you want to call it that was my discovering of The Wayside Chapel in 1970. At last I found a place and a community where I mattered. Alongside that I came across people who’d had and still have a worse time than me and I determined to do something about it. Initially that was really hard. I had such poor self esteem and no confidence I remember time after time having to lie flat on the floor and hypnotise myself into action by imagining myself being able to even shake the hand of one of Rev Ted Noffs’ (founder of The Wayside Chapel) politician friends let alone talking with them.
I learned a lot from Rev Ted. Probably the most important lesson I learned was that your authority to speak comes from your involvement. Today your authority to speak has to be earned. It is no longer given because of your position, status or breeding but comes from being on the edge with those who have been driven there.
However I have learned that being on the edge is lonely and messy and scary and to cope with living there I have a very small group of people who I can turn to, to keep me sane.
So, I consider myself to have been on a 45 year journey into the light. There have been countless ups and downs along the way. Many of the ups have been really up and many of the downs have been bloody terrible. I’ve been praised, betrayed, had almost all the life sucked out of me, experienced unimaginable joy (often on the one day), and am now ready and biting at the bit for even more.
At the Wayside Chapel, where I eventually ended up running all the Social Work programs there, amongst other things, I started Prevention which morphed into Child Abuse Prevention Service (CAPS); Was involved in starting Life Education Centres, The Wayside Chapel Crisis Centre and the Shepherd of the Streets program. After I was ordained a minister in the Uniting Church in 1986 I moved to Ashfield Uniting Church where I established The Exodus Foundation which, amongst other things, provides over 1100 meals a day to needy people and to date has raised some $55 plus million or more. The next step was to form a trust that could be bigger than any one Church and any one country. The Bill Crews Charitable Trust runs, amongst other things, Literacy programs in Sydney, Darwin and Gladstone; A food van in Liverpool; Youth Hubs in Bangkok and Hong Kong; A Film Festival and is also involved in projects in The UK.,The USA and Cambodia. Of particular excitement is a new school we are establishing in Sydney and in London for disaffected 11-14 yo kids.
People ask me why don’t I retire? The truth is that even if I did retire, I would still be doing exactly what I was doing now. Using all of my passion, expertise, experience and knowledge for good. My passion for the underdog has, if anything, increased over these years. I actually see how the “born to rule set” as Paul Keating contemptuously calls them, actually do believe they run the world and inflict unbelievable hardship on those who don’t fit in to a narrow vision of what life is all about.
A few years ago, as the result of an accident, I had to get my knees replaced, both of them. That operation is long and complex and I remember lying flat on my back on a trolley wired up to all sorts of gizmos and realizing if any one of those gizmos failed, I would be in dark do-do’s. It was a sense of helplessness I never wanted to feel again. It was an old nurse who got me up and walking. “I can’t do it. It’s too hard” I said. “C’mon we’ll do it together” she said and I slowly began the long process of walking my way to recovery. I have been good friends with Doctor Bob, our Exodus doctor, for years. Shortly afterwards he said to me “Bill, my wife and I want to look after you. We want to make sure you are fit and healthy.” So, for the next year or so, I went through every medical test available and had everything fixed that needed fixing. I even have had my brain looked at!
But of course you can’t do all of that without looking at your weight. I found a dietician and over the next year lost over 30 kilos. For my health, I had always walked 40 minutes every day but I realized that wasn’t enough and so found a sports physiotherapist who gave me a set of exercises to do to keep me healthy for the rest of my life.
So, every day now, to keep fit I walk for 40 minutes and do the exercises prescribed for me. I also found there’s an acupuncture process for energy. “It clears your Chi”, he said. “If you keep doing this, in a couple of months you will be jumping out of your skin.”
So, In many ways, I feel this blog is my “coming out” to invite you to join me in my quest. I feel we are living in an increasingly divided world pitching brother against brother, country against country, society against society, religion against religion, the rich against the poor and the ignorant against science and it’s my feeling I can be a force for good in all of this.
My early work with kids running away from institutions, adoptive families and abusive situations taught me how poor we are as human beings not only in looking after our own children but worse when looking after “somebody else’s”.
My work with drug and alcohol dependent people taught me how we’ve taken on a simple slogan “Drugs and/or alcohol make you feel better”. My work with the homeless has taught me how we as a society don’t really want to look after our wounded brother or sister. My work with politicians has taught me that they will do anything to get elected.
You can join me by simply donating to the cause, by volunteering to help, by offering advice or assistance or by simply spreading “good Vibes” in our direction.