Unmasking Humourless Powers


I salute my colleagues who were detained and strip-searched yesterday. I salute their courage, their grace and humour. Especially their humour. At the end of the day it is not they who stand naked and humiliated. It is the system that allows children to be indefinitely locked up in third world conditions.

I am outraged, but not surprised. Jarrad and Lorna, I know, have read Pace e Bene non-violence training; they have read Walter Wink; they have read Martin Luther King Jr. They know to expect the full response of the law if they go down the path of civil disobedience: fines, jail and all the police procedures that may go with them. They were prepared to pay the full price.

And they also know from their training that their opposition to the status quo will make it unstable, and their disobedience will provoke unexpected reactions. For their friends, it is distressing to see police attempt to humiliate them, but they are asking us to see beyond this.

Because what Lorna and Jarrad and their colleagues have achieved is to unmask the powers. For a moment we have glimpsed what Australia has become. We can thank the protestors for their courage in bringing to our attention not just the plight of asylum seekers and their children in detention, but the community attitudes that permit such cruelty.

The South African activist theologian Walter Wink points out that that the system cannot bear a sense of humour. Those who promote violence are enraged that they might be made fun of. A laugh is what makes us human. Those who stop us laughing must be stopped. #lovemakesaway

Love Makes A(nother) Way


Love Makes A(nother) Way

A New Strategy in Protesting the Treatment of Asylum Seekers

For those who come across the seas,
We’ve boundless plains to share.

So we sing in our National Anthem. But it’s not Government policy. Not at all for sharing our plains, are we at the moment. I disagree with much of what the Abbott Government, with the agreement of the Labor Opposition, is implementing in refugee policy.

I think:

  • Manus Island and Nauru detention centres should be closed.
  • Processing should be done on the mainland where possible.
  • Detention times should be reduced substantially.
  • Asylum seekers should be cared for in the community where possible.
  • Asylum seekers should be able to work and contribute to Australian society.

I don’t like the language the Government uses. Asylum seekers that arrive by boat are not “illegals”. Border protection is not the issue, rather humanitarian concerns should be the main consideration.

I dream of large projects on which refugees can work, like the hydro-electric scheme in Tasmania and the Snowy River irrigation scheme in NSW after the war.

I dream that the Government could send cruise ships to Indonesia, Pakistan and the Myanmar-Thailand border where refugees gather, and bring 2,000 at a time safely to Australia, rather than have them risk their lives with people-smugglers.

My views are the views of many on the left; I hold them with passion because I am a Christian and relate them to my Christian faith.

I support the #lovemakesaway movement. Friends are being arrested. If it were physically possible, I would consider joining them. All power to their arm.

I have written to the Minister, to the Prime Minister, to my Federal Member, to the Leader of the Opposition, to the Opposition spokesman and to other politicians. Some, like Richard Marles, Nola Marino and Scott Ludlam, take the time to reply. Others have their staffers send form letters.

These are the tried and true strategies. We beg Minister Morrison to be more compassionate, to be more prepared to show that Australia wants to share its boundless plains. And the more we beg, the more punitive his policies become. The last round of legislation whipped through the Senate is stunning in the removal of human rights from asylum seekers.

 “…the more we beg, the more punitive his policies become.”

My concern is that Mr Morrison is actually responding to the Christian left. The more we beg him to be compassionate, the more he believes he has the balance right, and the more licence he has to take a  harder line. We have become a counter-weight. Our strategies may be making things worse for asylum seekers.

I wonder whether we need a new strategy to add to the sit-ins and pleas for compassion.

 

I plan to write to Minister Morrison again, and affirm him. The policy area of asylum seekers is complex across the region. He deserves credit for dealing with a toxic mix: the push factors in dangerous countries like Afghanistan; the transitions in countries like Indonesia; the people smugglers and the dangerous journeys they sponsor, and dealing with Governments in the region about all this. He does well to keep on top of all these volatile realities.

Managing thousands of vulnerable people in detention is sensitive and difficult. There are outbreaks of serious self-harm and violence, but on the whole, they run smoothly. Christmas, Manus and Nauru are remote islands with limited access to modern technology. His department keeps the detention centres under some control.

The inevitable paper-work to process thousands of asylum seekers under these conditions is handled competently. People-smugglers often force their clients to ditch their identity papers. Sourcing information about individuals in war-torn countries is a big ask, but the Department obviously succeeds regularly.

These, and other behind-the-scenes tasks, deserve credit. If we only beg for more compassion, we are heard as angry, ill-informed and obstinate.

Mr Morrison does many difficult things well. If we tell him so, he may continue the habit, and start doing other difficult things as well!

Father Algy Robertson SSF: died November 23, 1955


Fr Algy and Brother Douglas are often credited as the founders of the Society of Saint Francis; certainly these two early members of the Society represent the two poles of our charism – order and serving the poor.

Brother Douglas, who earned the name ‘Apostle to the Wayfarers’ died on September 7, 1957. He was a priest and Oxford professor of economics. Thousands of men were thrown out of work in the Great Depression and made homeless and moved from shelter to shelter around the English countryside. Brother Douglas put on a pair of overalls painted with a large cross and joined them for two summers before setting up Hilfield Farm as a community to minister to the wayfarers.

All Franciscans recognise this kind of ministry as typically Franciscan, to be expected of both Brothers and Third Order members. Brother Douglas inspires us to serve the poor where we meet them.

Father Algy’s skills were very different and sometimes overlooked. He had a sound knowledge of the religious life, and he was originally invited to help train SSF novices. Algy had an intuitive understanding of the kind of man who should join the fledgling SSF and a detailed plan for its organisation. In her history of the European Province of SSF, This Poor Sort, Petà Dunstan refers to Algy’s reputation as co-founder of both First Order and the Second Order, the Community of St Clare.

There is no doubt that Fr Algy’s eccentricities, and his reluctance to relinquish all his personal wealth, especially his car, caused friction in the Order as it grew. He was a human being and no claim has been made that he was a saint. However, his gift for organisation continues to shape the First Order and to remind the Third Order that you need structure to stay together.

The Third Order also acknowledges another priest, Jack Winslow, the writer of our Principles, for his role in our founding. His attention to the configuration of the Third Order continues to provide the glue for Tertiaries to live together in loving service.

But on this day, November 23, we thank God for Father Algy SSF and his gift of order to the Society of St Francis, the gift that facilitates our Orders to fulfil our calling to loving service.

Rite of Passage


On this day 55 years ago, 21st November 1959, Bishop Ralph Hawkins confirmed me into the Anglican Church in St Mildred’s Church in Tenterden. This was the first time I wore long pants – my new school uniform, in fact. Bishop Ralph preached on the unlikely theme of ‘Motherhood’, earnestly admonishing us to love the three Mothers, our earthly Mother, our Motherland Australia, and God. A feminist sermon before its time. I remember nothing of this sermon, but my mother (earthly mother) reminded me of it frequently!

My grandmother had prepared me for confirmation using the Scripture time at school for this catechesis. I don’t think I was a good student. I got stuck on the first question in the catechism, ‘Question: What is your name? Answer: N or M.’ I made absolutely no sense of this.

Bishop Hawkins prayed:

Defend, O Lord, this thy servant with thy heavenly grace,
that he may continue thine for ever,
and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more
until he come to your everlasting kingdom.

And I, as I had been taught, answered,

Amen.

St Mildred’s in Tenterden

Psalm 34 for WA


Psalm 34:1-10 for WA

I will bless the Lord at all times:
his praise shall be in my mouth.

Let my soul boast of the Lord:
The battlers shall hear it and be happy.
O praise the Lord with me:
let us lift up his name together.

For I looked for the Lord’s help and he answered:
and he freed me from all my fears.

Look towards him and be bright with joy:
your faces shall not be discouraged.

Here is a wretch who cried, and the Lord heard me:
and saved me from all my troubles.

The angel of the Lord places his mia mia behind me:
and kindles his campfire to protect me.

O taste and see that the Lord is good:
happy are they who find sanctuary in him!

Be in awe of the Lord, all you his holy ones:
for if you are, you will have all you need.

Dingoes may go without and be hungry:
but those who seek the Lord lack nothing good.

  • David Frost (A Prayer Book for Australia) adapted Ted Witham

Mia mia and campfire Photo courtesy noongarculture.org.au

The One Horse Race


It’s only a bit of fun. Yet strangely, it’s an essential part of out nation’s psyche. The Melbourne Cup, the Horse Race That Stops A Nation. It’s a day when a non-gambler like me will buy a ticket in a sweepstake, and take an interest in the winner of the race at Flemington.
But even when I lived in Melbourne, I never roused more interest than that. If anything, the second Tuesday in November brings out my inner wowser, and I feel sorry for the millions who prop up the alcohol industry today, when it may be the only thing they are capable of propping up.
We look back in 2014 fifty years to zoos where proud lions where imprisoned in tiny cages in which they could barely turn around, and felt sad because their coats were mangy and there was defeat in their eyes. Today’s zoos with savannah spaces and artificial dens lions can seek out are much better. We can feel some pride ourselves that we care for lions much better and that our zoos are becoming 21st Century Noah’s Arks conserving endangered species.
Another century and a half earlier our great-great grandfathers gathered to stir up roosters to scratch and peck each other to death while howling humans urged them on to greater acts of blood-letting. In the time of the first Queen Elizabeth, bears were pitted against each other in the ring. Are we not now so much more humane in the way we treat animals?
The excuse then was that the animals enjoyed it. Maybe the animals did take some pleasure in pleasing the men who had fed and cared for them, preparing for them to take to the ring. Maybe they did. But maybe, if you could give them the whole choice, the animals would have preferred not to be there at all.
Of course, today’s horse-racing industry is highly regulated, and vets and stewards put a stop to egregious cruelty. But in another hundred years, we may look back at the way we bred horses for racing, horses with ankles as slender as humans’ so they break down, horses who are temperamental, for some reason objecting to running against the herd when nature wants them to run with it, and with some pride in ourselves for stopping the cruel business of making animals race for the pleasure of humans.
Then we will say proudly, we are the Nation that Stopped the Horse Race.
But I can’t say that today, can I?

Confession Worth Reading


William Peak, The Oblate’s Confession, Secant Publishing 2014.
416 pages.

$US18.54 (pre-order on-line)

«««««

A novel set in a monastery in 7th Century Northumbria? Certainly the promise of the historical religious setting drew me to it. I was pre-disposed to enjoy the tale of Winwæd, given to the monastery at Redestone as a boy – the oblate of the title – and living through changes brought to that enclosed world by disease and by impinging politics.

William Peak’s first novel is beautifully told. Winwæd luxuriates in language, in seeing things aright. His tale is both textured and layered. The details, both of daily life in 7th Century England and in the shifting power of kings and warriors – all lovingly researched and presented – create Winwæd’s world convincingly. The guilt Winwæd carries, and which he expresses in his confession, creates the tension in the story as his understanding of his actions grows, and ours with it.

We experience the changes as he grows in the different friendships Winwæd establishes, from Prior Dagan, who takes him on as a very young boy, to the friendship with the hermit living in the mountain, and to the Brother who runs the furnace, are well drawn.

As Winwæd learns to pray from the hermit, so we too learn mystical prayer from him. The hermit’s story of the young child lost in the forest who runs here, there and everywhere, looking to find his way, is pertinent. The child eventually exhausts himself just at the moment of spying a light coming from a cleared field. He collapses before a thick hedge, unable to find a way or to move forward. At the bottom of the hedge is a small space, just big enough to wriggle through, and thus he finds his way home: such is prayer.

Redestone monastery stands for a Christianity not quite settled in its environment, just as Roman Christianity was returning to Britain, but still remembering its Celtic roots. It may be this sense of being at odds with its society that makes this work of fiction speak so clearly to the reader.

I thoroughly enjoyed Winwæd’s confession. He kept me wondering until the end.

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