Astrapi for kids


Astrapi is a Paris-based French-language magazine for 7-11 year olds. They distributed a two page supplement in clear language to help the kids of Paris.

It’s common sense, and although a couple of the references are specifically to Paris and France, I thought it was so well thought out that I have translated into English to help anyone respond at a personal level to the attacks. Just click on the link below.

Astrapi on Paris attacks

Buying into violence

We Christians need cool heads to not be caught up in the fear and so fuel the violence: remember André Trocmé and the villagers of Le Chambon


Russia and France have intensified their bombing of Raqqa. ISIL are rejoicing. This is the war they want, the violence they have provoked, whether or not they are the masterminds behind the bombings over Sinai, in Beirut and most recently in Paris.

 

They want violence to bring in their caliphate. When the West obliges by responding with violence to its violence, the West is playing into its hands. Fighting fire with fire means that everyone gets burnt.

 

9781742376141I’ve been encouraged in the last few days reading A Good Place to Hide, where Peter Grose tells the story of ‘How one French community saved thousands of lives in World War II’. The village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and its neighbours in the surrounding mountainous area hid Jews and others on the run. A small regional railway was the main access to the village which boasted a number of modest boarding houses that had been built for ‘healthy Protestant family holidays’. The village was surrounded by remote farmhouses, many of whom were willing to secrete Jews in their attics or cellars or barns, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for the duration of the war.

 

Le Chambon is near the Swiss border, and the people of the village opened up a ‘pipeline’ smuggling Jews into neutral Switzerland. Teenagers became expert ‘passeurs’, people-smugglers, risking their lives for others.

 

This whole operation which saved probably 3,000 Jews, more than Schindler’s List, had its heart in the network of Protestant pastors in the Plateau area. The Huguenot people had a history of sheltering dissidents, whether they were Protestant, Catholics or Jews, and those displaced by World War II were equally welcomed and hid or smuggled out.

 

The pastor at Le Chambon, André Trocmé, made known his views on non-violence from the beginning of the war. Pastor Trocmé believed that even against the evils of the Nazi regime the only weapons allowed to Christians are the ‘weapons of the Spirit’. Even when the Resistance began to form around him, Trocmé continued to speak out for non-violent methods, including openly protecting foreign Jews and others wanted by the Gestapo. He agreed to go into hiding only when he was persuaded that staying would likely result in a violent Gestapo attack on his family.

 

The story of Trocmé, his colleagues and parishioners, is inspiring for our time.

 

We are daily being tempted to back the rush to more and more violence. Pastor Trocmé provides an example of someone who consistently refused to go along with violence as a solution to violent provocation.

 

We are daily being encouraged to pull the welcome mat away from vulnerable asylum seekers. ‘Maybe they are more a security risk than we first thought.’ The people of Le Chambon reminds us that there are only people – not Muslims or Jews or Christians – to be welcomed to our place.

 

When the Gestapo came to arrest Trocmé, he wasn’t home. His wife offered them a meal while they waited. They looked for opportunities to see the occupiers as human beings too, even when it made them unpopular with other French people. We cannot excuse or overlook the wanton violence of ISIL, but maybe we can see that those being radicalised are gawky young men looking for a place to belong – not monsters.

 

It suits the politicians to ramp up the fear following Beirut and Paris. But it suits ISIL more. We Christians need cool heads to not be caught up in the fear and so fuel the violence: remember André Trocmé and the villagers of Le Chambon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My open letter to the Hon. Julie Bishop MHR


Dear Ms Bishop

I am presumptuously early in congratulating you both on your election, the Coalition’s accession to Government and your appointment as our Foreign Minister. But I do wish you well in representing all of us in the wider world.

Like you, I am appalled by the use by the Assad regime of chemical weapons. I am appalled that they should use such inhumane weapons and I am dumbfounded that they should use them against their own people.

I agree that the rest of the world cannot sit by and by silence condone their use.

However, I cannot see the logical step by which President Obama and the Australian Government believe that the appropriate punitive response is a response of force. A military response, apart from the illegality of attacking a sovereign nation that is not attacking us, reduces us to the level of the Assad government.

Non-violent response to the use of chemical weapons makes a more powerful and far more ethical statement. The rest of the world should not bomb, strafe or murder Syrians. Rather we should

° firstly state our opposition and disgust in response to the Assad regime’s actions through diplomatic channels.

° Secondly the West should better target humanitarian aid so that the real victims of the civil war can at least survive in safety. Standing by the least powerful Syrians, whether in refugee camps or cowering in suburbs in Damascus or Aleppo is a strong condemnation of the war.

° Thirdly the world can use mass media and social media inside and beyond Syria to condemn the actions of the Assad government. Humiliating a tyrant with words is more effective than killing his cousins, which only inflames the situation.

As our future Foreign Minister, Ms Bishop, please avoid adding to blood-shed by urging the world to act ethically and non-violently.

Yours sincerely

(The Rev’d) Ted Witham
Busselton

Episcopal theologian Frank Kirkpatrick has a similar take on Huffington Post.

Six Complaints about “Boat-People”


Asylum seekers arrive at Christmas Island

I’ve heard many complaints about boat-people in the past few weeks, no doubt fuelled by the inflammatory statements of some politicians. Here are six of those complaints with my response to them. For each of the complaints there is,  I think, an underlying and unnecessary fear. I have listed these as well because I believe that our community will not begin to resolve these issues unless we listen intently to these fears and reassure people of our safety.

Click on the link below to open a PDF file:

6 THINGS ABOUT BOAT-PEOPLE

Enough Law and Order


Politicians, particularly conservative politicians, are constantly talking up the need for more police and more prison places, and generally being tougher on crime. They are being dishonest and they know it. These campaigns are based on cultivating fear, and have nothing to do with the real situation.

The Hon. Christine Wheeler QC is a former judge of the Supreme Court of Western Australia who is trying to promote constructive public debate about crime. In a recent article, she lists these facts:

former Justice Christine Wheeler

The facts
• Most people think the crime rate is higher than it is, especially for violent offences, and overestimate the likelihood of becoming victims themselves;
• Crime is believed to be increasing, when it is on the whole decreasing;
• Rates of imprisonment in WA are very high, by world and Australian standards, and going up;
• Imprisonment costs the community a lot of money;
• Imprisonment generally does not prevent crime, and may tend to increase it;
• There are effective ways to prevent crime, and to treat many criminals, and people generally would like to see more expenditure in these directions; and
• When ordinary people, including victims of crime, are given all the facts of an offence (as opposed to a brief media report) they generally think the sentence imposed by the court is either about right, or a bit harsh. That is, current sentencing is far from “soft”.

Uniview, The University of Western Australia, Summer 2011-12, page 38

The impression that the media gives is that 50% of crimes involve violence: only about 7% do. This means that people overestimate their risk of being victims of crime. Women and the elderly are the least likely to be victims of crime, but their worry about their vulnerability is affecting their quality of life.

Imprisoning people actually increases the crime rate. When someone goes to prison, they meet other prisoners, they lose their relationships and their jobs. People who have nothing to lose are not deterred by the threat of imprisonment, so they re-offend, causing greater crowding in the prisons. The management of over-crowded prisons creates difficulties that are totally unnecessary. It seems that the more over-crowded the prison, the higher the per prisoner cost to the taxpayer. Currently according to Ms Justice Wheeler the annual cost for each prisoner is about $100,000. “In broad terms,” she writes, “for every extra year an offender is imprisoned, there is one less teacher or nurse or police officer the state is able to employ.”

Mental ill-health and drug and alcohol consumption are major issues in violent crime. There are too few treatment options for offenders coming before the courts. Investment in mental health would reduce crime, as would any measures aimed at reducing alcohol consumption.

Media reporting on crime is designed to heighten our awareness of crime, because the nature of the media is to focus on the drama. In addition, police rounds journalists report stories of three or four crimes in succession and this adds to the false impression of the quantity of crime.

Of course sympathy for victims of crime and outrage at violence are appropriate responses to individual crimes; but the next time you hear a politician claim that Western Australia has a law and order problem, call them and tell them they are lying.

Christian power: an oxymoron?


Yesterday the residents’ association of our village held elections. There was quite a tussle over the position of Chairman of the Social Committee, with arguments about the Constitution and fights about procedure. The sub-text was reasonably easy to discern: two strong people clashing and both leading with their shadows!

This made me reflect on the nature of power in Christian communities. You can’t avoid the reality of power and it usually plays out in the dance between leader and community.

When St Benedict wrote his Rule – or re-wrote that of the Master – he envisaged the Abbot as God for the monks. They owed him total obedience and he was elected for life. His absolute power was balanced by the requirement that he act to further the needs of the community.

The Rule of St Benedict

Benedictine communities could become dysfunctional. When they did, some believed it was because of the lifelong dictatorship of the Abbot. When St Francis of Assisi in the 12th Century, some four hundred years later, came to set out his ideal community, he made sure that its leaders had limited terms. When they had finished as leader, they went back to being a little brother again. Franciscan leaders are called Ministers, and their focus is to serve their brothers and sisters. Power, for St Francis, was exercised always by giving it away.

The downside of Franciscan leadership is that it can be chaotic, and when Franciscan communities are dysfunctional, it often manifests in fights that no-one has the authority to resolve.

Roger Shutz arrived in France from Switzerland during World War 2 looking for a site near Lyon to establish a community of reconciliation. By 1945, the community at Taizé was working, with Brother Roger as its founding Prior. Leadership, for him, was that of Prior, first among equals. He was evidently aware of the shortcomings of both Benedictine and mendicant leadership, and his Rule shows a new emphasis. Not only should the Prior consult with the majority of the community, but should also pay special attention to those in the community without power: the young, the voiceless, the marginalised, and allow those voices to be celebrated and followed.

Brother Roger’s style of leadership resonates well with our era. Its downside is that it requires a great gift of discernment to hear the voice of Christ when it is not the voice of mainstream members of the Christian community.

I beleive that the heritage of Christian leadership has much to teach us. We are, we claim, the Body of Christ, and the way in which we exercise power should reflect Christ’s way of power.

Brother Roger

Firstly, Benedict teaches us power is for the community more than the individual. Francis teaches us that power becomes oppression when it is held for oneself. Roger of Taizé reminds us of the ways the Bible holds up the little one.

These styles of exercising power can be seen in parishes and all Christian communities. There are some parishes where the priest is Father, and Father knows best what is in the interest of his parish. Father initiates people in Christian faith, particularly in the sacrament of baptism, and Father prevents the nasty nature of some people from dominating the parish agenda.

Other leaders are very conscious that their time in the parish is temporary. The minister is there to coach the ministries that were there before she came and will continue after she leaves. She is an enabler, and an encourager, and above all, she models the way in which Christ gave away his power to others.

In other parishes, the smallest member is heard. Children are on worship committees, clients of the soup kitchen design the ministry for the hungry, and the majority give way to the smallest voice with grace and gratitude that in them they have heard the voice of Christ.

Of course,no parish is purely one or the other of these leadership styles. But I hold them up like this partly as a warning that each can be dysfunctional. If we know that Abbots can become dictators, Ministers can be disengaged, and Priors can so honour the voice of the little one that they desert the way of common sense.

Power can spoil any community, and understanding how it works in the Body of Christ can lead to vibrant community living.

Spitting at capitalists


Tax and God
Calls to destroy capitalism and boycott Facebook and Google resonate well with Franciscans. They are a way of dealing with our anger at the greed of corporations and the selling of our personal lives to advertisers. My Facebook wall is filled with slogans against this consumerist plague.

But slogans are not an effective way to critique capitalism. Slogans have no hope of achieving their purpose, because capitalism is so entrenched that its power permeates everything we do. Our slogans will simply accrue to capitalism’s benefit as we use Google or Facebook to shout them. Religion scholar George Gonzalez puts it this way, ‘Capitalism buys and sells futures and shares in the ideas of its own enemies.’

A more thoughtful response will admit the value of capitalism. In the 19th Century, wealthy Christians wanted to respond to the growing urban poverty, and used the new technologies of the industrial revolution to raise many out of poverty into respectable working lives. They poured money into enterprises that not only gave workers the financial means to house and feed their families, but gave them consumer goods, infrastructure like electric lighting, and the sense of well-being that only meaningful work can supply.

The surplus money generated recycled into this system, and most of us in the West have seen the final results of this Christian endeavour in our living standards. Think of the difference in housing, consumer goods, entertainment, and communications in the last fifty years. These are the fruits of capitalism, and few of us protesting its evils are willing to give them up.

In the urbanisation of India and China today, we are seeing millions being lifted out of poverty annually, as the benefits of capitalism trickle down.

When I was young my parents taught me that I should always spend real money that I had actually had earned or owned. I should restrict debt to buying a house, and I should ensure that any shares I owned were shares in real life productive industries.

A rule of thumb current in the sixties was that CEOs should earn no more than four times the wage of their lowest paid employee, and that virtuous companies produced useful goods or provided useful services.

Most people failed to acknowledge the importance of the creative tension between unions and bosses. For this system to work at all the employers need to insist on making a profit to continue the operation of the industry, and the workers’ associations need also to insist that workers are paid fairly and that conditions uphold human dignity.

This ‘modest capitalism’ works. I am neither Calvinist nor conservative, and I believe, for example, that relying on the ‘trickle down’ effect is an abrogation of responsibility, but I understand that this system has its value and should not be easily abandoned. What makes me angry is the distortion of this system. We know the symptoms:

1. Executives paid thousands of times more than their lowest paid employee.
2. People exposed to risk through virtual money, derivatives and futures which relate to nothing in the real world.
3. The commodification of human beings to be sold by giant corporations to advertisers.

These expressions of greed should be condemned, but slogans are not sufficient. We need to understand more fully how the system we have inherited actually works and to thoughtfully articulate good reasons why these practices despoil the vulnerable and destroy our community.

I submit that the responsibility of Franciscans (who are called to be sensitive to the use and abuse of money) is to grow in their understanding of economics, to be real about how capitalism lifts people out of poverty, and from that position of understanding articulate their critique of greed.