A response to the Asylum decision: Maybe we need to pitch some tents

One of the ways we learn to live and understand our world is through our repeated habits. As Christians rituals like eating bread and wine remind us of Jesus death.  In the ancient world the making of tents at the time of tabernacles helped the people remember their time wandering in the wilderness.

These actions involve a process we call anamnesis  which involves the act of recalling the past or reminiscing.  In this process we as community remember things we may have forgotten and in so doing we are meant to be transformed.

I can’t help but think that maybe as an Australian culture we should engage in some communal acts of anamnesis – like building some tents to remind us of the first settlers who came here from other lands.  That we came as strangers into this land with total disregard to the first peoples.  That many of us were forced arrivals and as time progressed some of us arrived escaping hardship and seeking a better life.

Maybe if we made some tents and told the stories we would remember how our ancestors treated the first peoples and maybe we would learn a deeper sense of respect and compassion for those who are seeking asylum on our shores now.

As complex as the issue of refugees may be I am yet to find a rationale in which Christ’s words “I was a stranger and you welcomed me” bears any connection to the concept of mandatory detention.

As our President Stuart McMillan has said the idea of returning children to detention is a test of our morality.

Let us pitch some tents and remember our history and exercise some compassion.


Why a Christian?

Recently when I asked a group of people to write down why they were Christian. One person responded with the answer, “I don’t really know why.”  A little confronting, yes!  But then the next sentence, “I did not really have any choice in the matter.”  And then the insight of faith “God chose me.”

Sometimes we don’t need to know why.  Sometimes we don’t need to understand everything.  Sometimes we don’t need to be in control of the situation. Sometimes we just need to hear the word of grace that God chooses us.

God chooses us to be Christians.  People from all around the world.  People from all kinds of socioeconomic groups. People of all different ages.  People who think differently about God and life.  People who don’t always agree or act nicely.  God chose us.

“I don’t really know why.” seems to be an answer that was shared from a place of deep faith and trust.  Maybe a place that acknowledges that “I” am not in control and don’t have to have all the answers but that remembers that whatever the reason, whatever we know or don’t know, God chooses us.  A sign of God’s love?

I wonder why are you a Christian?



A Day to Remember

For many years now there has been a debate about the appropriateness of celebrating Australia Day.  This is because it is also remembered by Aboriginal Australians as Invasion Day or Survival Day.  For many this debate falls on deaf ears.  It seems distant from the invitation to have a day off, enjoy the summer sun and share around a BBQ.  Nonetheless, it remains an important debate because how we recognize our sense of being Australian can far too easily exclude some, especially the first peoples.  Celebrating Australia Day can far too easily fail to recognize the tragic history of dispossession and violence.

In the Scriptures Jesus speaks, in possibly his first sermon in Nazareth, of the ‘year of the Lord’s favor’.  This is often taken to mean the year of Jubilee which was a time of restitution and reinstatement, a re-balancing of imbalance that can occur in a community.  As an Australian community there have been steps towards restitution and restoration with Aboriginal and Islander people’s taken – Paul Keating’s speech in Redfern, the Native Title Act and the apology by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

As the Uniting Church in Australia we have also grappled with this issue of our history. Establishing the UAICC was an important step, as was the Covenant made in 1988 and then more recently the decision to add an Preamble to our Constitution, which recognized First Peoples. In these things, the Uniting Church has sought to witness to that ‘year of the Lord’s favor’ which Jesus proclaims and, so also, invites us to participate in.

How ever you decide to relax and celebrate on Australia Day in this multicultural, multi ethnic, pluralist society remember that for some Australians it is also a day of mourning and a day of remembering an unwelcome Invasion.  It is a day of honoring ‘Survival’ against the odds. Maybe pausing to take stock of this awkward truth is another step towards the recognition and reconciliation that we still long for, a step towards the year of Jubilee.



And can it be!

Today we will sing “And Can it Be” in church.  It has been and remains one of my favourite hymns even though some of the imagery is foreign in our contemporary world.

The first two lines are very much at the heart of my faith:

And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Saviour’s blood?Died he for me who caused his pain – for me, who him to death pursued.

When I was younger and my faith seemed to be more about what happened when I died I would only associate my ‘pursuit of Jesus to death on the cross’ with my personal demons and the struggles of the relationships that I had with those around me. The hymn provided a moralistic release from guilt.

Whilst not inappropriate to think in these terms when I sing these words today I consider more carefully the consequences of my pursuit of Jesus to the cross in terms of a bigger picture.  Jesus death confronts us not only with what we are prepared to do God but even more poignantly to each other.

Like so many who may have stood at the foot of Jesus cross so long ago we too have become spectators to the macabre and disturbing images that assault us each and every day.  We are implicated in the suffering and death of others even on distant shores and from distant times though we do not even know it.

Our choices pursue Jesus to the cross and put others alongside him: our choice to speak or stay silent on matters of justice: of child labour, of exploitation of workforces, of refugee and asylum issues, of sexism and racism, of bullying and domestic violence, of climate and ecological violence; our choice to participate in the consumerist culture; our choice to preference our own group over others; our choice for generosity or greed with regard to those who are in need.

Where do we understand the suffering of the world? How is it dealt with?  So often my answer to this is to say that Jesus takes all this into himself as he dies for us.  Yet in saying this I must recognise the lives of others who have suffered, hidden in Christ, that often have contributed to the privileged in way in which I live. I am left asking “whom else to have I to death pursued?”

My only sense of hope is that Jesus bled for the whole of Adam’s helpless race: people of every nation, of every religion, or every culture, of every age and of every gender. Though I cannot see it, though I cannot contain these problems in the hollow limits of my compassion, the good news of the risen Christ is that there is release for the suffering we have caused God and each other and hope for all: release for the perpetrators and victims alike who share the bond of being God’s loved creatures.

“Tis mercy all, immense and free!”


The Goal Cannot be as Short Sighted as to Stop the Boats

Today I heard that the response of the Prime Minister Tony Abbott to the images of the 3 year old boy Aylan Kurdi’s body being retrieved from the beach in Turkey was a tragic reminder that we need to ‘stop the boats’.

Sadly this naive view of stopping the boats seems incredibly short-sighted and misdirected. Is this all we can say?

Maybe stopping the boats will stop such innocence lives being lost at sea.

But let us not think for one moment that it stops the barrel bombs and the guided missiles, let us not think that it stops the bitterness and the hatred, let us not think that it makes us more compassionate and more caring, let us not think it ends the suffering and the terror, let us not think it gives safety and security for those who are seeking out the people smugglers, let us not think that it will make the refugee camps any better at providing for the millions in need.

With the constant daily news of refugees dying at sea, or in trucks and shipping containers, or being placed in mandatory detention, or trapped on the borders of countries or at railways stations people are still choosing these potentially deadly options rather than stay where they are.  There need is dire and desperate.

No this is not just a tragic reminder that we need to stop the boats.  It is a reminder that we are one humanity, that our divisions destroy us, that war is evil, and that we need to learn the ways of justice and mercy and peace and compassion.

And more than that it is a reminder that when we watch on from a distance as these events unfold our place is on our knees praying and crying out to God for forgiveness and mercy and for comfort.  Comfort for Abudllah Kurdi whose wife and two children are now dead; mercy for the millions who are displaced and seeking safety no matter the risk; forgiveness for our inhumanity as a whole human race.

I long for peace in my time and as I approach Father’s day my thoughts are with this man who now faces his future without these beautiful children who were every bit as precious as mine.


Don’t lose heart

I had the privilege of hearing Andrew Peterson when I traveled to the US a couple of years ago.  In this song “Day by Day” Peterson picks up on our quest as humans to find Neverland (eternal youth) and juxtaposes it with the hope of 2 Corinthians 4:16. As we stare into the face of our mortality don’t lose heart.