in service of the
Is Trump to be admired, feared or pitied? Will he achieve what he claims he is setting out to achieve or will his actions increasingly make such ambitions impossible? I speak of course of ambitions for security and prosperity – “making America great again”. Can America become ‘great again’ by walling itself in? It is so ironic that the West, which invented globalisation for its economic advantage, under Trump now wants to shut the doors. Is the fear genuinely about security, or is it that the rest of the world wants to share in the same prosperity through migration of people as well as goods? Clearly globalisation is fine as long as the flow is in one direction.
In the Church we have a three year cycle which focuses in turn on each of the Gospels. This year is the year of Matthew and at the moment we are looking at the Sermon on the Mount. Trump could not be more at odds with Jesus in this famous summary of Christian teaching. In these chapters (Mtt. 5 – 7) Jesus makes it abundantly clear that the kind of strong man brutality on display by Trump is in fact weakness and that respect and honour shown in meekness and gentleness is in fact the strength that delivers the essential ingredients of human well being and prosperity.
No one seriously doubts the world faces a security problem, but does poking it in the eye make it better or worse? It does not take a massive IQ to understand it makes it worse. Following September 11, did the Iraq war make that region and the rest of the world more or less secure? Since the invasion on 20 March 2003, the world has been a demonstrably less safe place. Will excluding citizens from countries such as Yemen, Libya, Sudan, Iraq and Iran make the world safer? Of course not. It is beyond dispute that the greatest resourcing of world terrorism since 9/11 can be traced back to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the former being one of the US’s most important economic allies.
Trump wants a special relationship with Putin, why? Would it not make far more sense to break with convention and forge a much closer tie with its long time Middle East foe – Iran? If terrorism’s roots are in the Middle East why not seek a closer relationship with the Middle East’s alternate power? Instead of poking those who seek to do harm in the eye, why not seek to forge a new relationship.
In terms of poking in the eye:
Would Trump’s penchant for insult and obscene ‘locker room’ talk help or hinder the fight against radicalisation in an atmosphere where the supposed sexual excesses of the West are claimed to be a provocation to followers of Islam?
Would Trump’s claim that Bush did not properly ‘finish the job’ and that he might well go back to Iraq and ‘take’ all their oil heighten or reduce recruitment to ISIS: this radicalised and perverted version of Islam that feeds on the proposition that the West rapes the people and resources of the Islamic world?
Would the outcome of Trump’s executive order that has prevented Iraqis, who risked their lives in helping the Americans in Iraq, from entering the US, help or hinder a perception of the US that it now abandons without shame anyone or anything that is no longer of any use to it?
And what about Australia, where is our voice, what have we to say? While Germany, Britain, and Canada have made it clear that the US is going down the wrong path ‘Turn around Go Back you are going the wrong way’: the Australian Prime Minister remains mute while Morrison, Bernardi and Christensen, the usual suspects with confessed Christian affiliations, seem euphoric about the direction Trump is taking.
Silence from the Australian Church is also quite deafening. The Christian community in Australia needs to be reminded that silence is acquiescence. Trump is taking the world down a very dangerous path, a path that is the very antithesis of the Christian path, of the Christian heritage about which America boasts.
This coming Sunday the Old Testament reading is from Isaiah 58. It is a passage about the dangers of self serving religious observance. It states clearly that any claim to religious righteousness that has no basis in justice, equity, and the care of the down-trodden is vacuous nonsense, despised by the divine.
May I quote a small section which follows a strong condemnation of self serving religious piety:
“Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the homeless poor into your house..." (Isa. 58 6-7).
Has popular Christianity in the Unites States of America, sadly with tentacles deep within the Australian Christian community, become nothing more than self-serving vacuous nonsense? It must not be allowed to be. Hope lies in voices of reason amongst the wider populace, voices that are rooted in a moral code. These voices can and will ultimately triumph over the voice of a president, if that voice continues to take the country down a path of self destruction. Surely the Christian community has not vacated this space? I don’t think so. It is important for the Christian community in Australia to understand that protests and demonstrations which have been widespread over the US in these last few weeks have frequently been led by Christian communities in partnership with members of the Islamic community. Comfort given to Trump by prominent politicians sympathetic to the Australian Christian Lobby whose leader attended the Trump inauguration, should be discarded for what they are: unless they are transparently grounded in justice for the poor and oppressed and characterised by the virtues on display in the Sermon on the Mount.
In a recent article on the ABC Ethics and Religion site, ECAJ, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, takes a swipe at me and APAN (Australia Palestine Advocacy Network) for being anti-Semitic, but more significantly nails its own colours to the mast when it describes APAN as an ‘Anti-Israel’ network. The only inference one can draw from this statement is that from the ECAJ perspective, to support the rights of Palestinians is necessarily to be opposed to Israel.
It is hard to exaggerate the significance of this self revelation from the Israeli lobby which has considerable influence within Australian politics. You will remember that Australia was recently the only major country in the world to declare its support for Israel following the UN Security Council resolution which condemned the continuous erection of Settlements on the West Bank, inclusive of East Jerusalem. APAN has long condemned the building of these Settlements which are constructed at the expense of Palestinian land, Palestinian homes and Palestinians hopes. The continuous building of these Settlements has made hopes for a two-state solution forlorn. What can never be accepted would be the illusion of two states. This would be the case if what remained of Palestine were to be a series of non-contiguous islands of Palestinian population corralled into non-sustainable, non self-governable pockets of dense population, stripped of the dignity of realistic nationhood.
Because it fails to condemn settlement constructions the Australian government is supporting them by stealth. By default therefore it is supporting the eventuality of one State. The Australian government constantly applauds Israel as the ‘only liberal democracy in the Middle East”. To be genuinely a liberal democracy the rights of all residents have to be equal. This is not the case within Israel and it is far from the case on the West Bank where the advantages and privileges of the settlers, privileges taken by force at the expense of the Palestinians, are protected by the Israeli army against the Palestinian civilian population. APAN vigorously advocates for the rights of Palestinians on an equal basis to the rights of Israelis.
APAN does not oppose Israel. APAN along with many in the Jewish community, both within Israel and in the Diaspora, longs for an Israel that is a beacon of genuine liberal democracy, where the rights of all are equally respected and upheld.
This year will be the centenary of the Balfour declaration. Much will be written about this historic statement and its place in the history of the establishment of the Jewish State. I simply want to point out here that this declaration, which expresses commitment to a Jewish State in Palestine, does so only as long as the rights of the indigenous population are protected and upheld. This is what APAN stands for.
The statement of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry seems to imply that Israel has to trample on the rights of others in order to exist, otherwise why would it say that those who speak for the rights of others speak against Israel.
I therefore contend that APAN has a higher expectation for Israel than the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. I contend that Israel can and should exist without trampling on others, indeed, because of its many strengths, it can and should be a loved and respected neighbour that others would like to emulate. At the moment it is sadly many worlds away from this reality.
The 2017 Trust barometer by Edelman, the world’s largest public relations firm, has documented a worldwide ‘implosion’ of trust. Ominously Australia has experienced one of the biggest falls.
While lack of trust in the Church, the Unions, and the Banks is clear and deserves exposure, I want here to talk about government, especially the Australian Government.
What is the role of government and why do we need it? The reason we need it is because we are social beings whose lives depend upon negotiated outcomes in the interest of common good, in the interest of us all. My interests are valid, but they must always be responded to in the context of wider society. So it is for everyone. The role of government is therefore to negotiate outcomes that are in the public interest. Debate about what is public interest it fair and right. There will always be a variety of opinions about emphasises and priorities. What is clearly unacceptable is government that negotiates outcomes, not in service of common good, but out of personal or political self interest, or out of the interest of a wealthy or powerful support group.
Sadly that is now apparently the norm. One of the fastest growing industries is that of lobbyists. I am in the Federal Parliament building two or three times a year. What most strikes me is the time allocated by politicians to lobbyists, not the needs of their constituents. As is well known, retired politicians more often than not find a new role as a lobbyist.
We are told that just 8 people have accumulated wealth equivalent to 50% of the world’s population. Australia is no different. It is a fact of life that the wealthiest have the greatest lobbying power. Disparity of wealth on its own is not the greatest threat to the world’s harmony and peace; it is the power that is exercised with it that is the greatest threat.
Today Australians do not believe government negotiates outcomes for the common good, but perceives that outcomes are negotiated for the wealthy who lobby. The mining industry has enormous lobbying capacity, but it is clearly in public interest that their self interest is not massaged. Australia and the rest of the world need to move quickly to renewables, for environmental and economic reasons. The banks have great lobbying capacity and so far have managed to restrict reasonable requests for transparency. We do not simply have an expenditure problem, we have a revenue problem. The big end of town has been very successful in their capacity to minimise taxation and maximise ‘creative’ concessions.
Another cause of the lack of trust in government is the factionalism which besets all parliamentary parties. Clearly deals are done to satisfy factional power rather than negotiate outcomes for public good. Factionalism for the party in government is always more serious than for the party in opposition, because it is only in government that policies can become law. It is abundantly clear that the present government is riven by its factional loyalties, particularly loyalty to the hard right faction which appears to have power out of proportion to its numbers. Unless or until the government governs without giving way to the conservative rump, trust will continue to wither.
What can or must be done.
1. Financial gifts to politicians or political parties from individuals or institutions must be outlawed immediately. Funding of political parties should come from the public purse on a pro-rata basis, administered by an independent body.
2. No retired politician should be allowed to become a lobbyist for at least five years after their retirement.
3. Democratic process must take the place of factionalism in political appointments.
4. Retired politicians should not be able to ‘double-dip’ the public purse. Salary associated with appointment to a public position by a former politician should be their only remuneration while that appointment lasts.
5. CEOs should be restricted to a salary without bonuses. This salary should be set at a specific percentage of the basic wage.
Trust is the oil that enables human interaction in both private and public life. Its absence creates dangerous friction. One of the outcomes of a lack of trust in public life is a rise in populism. Populism in politics is like teenagers being given charge of the family home. Teenagers are usually quite clear about their preferred options, but seldom think through the medium to long term consequences of those preferences. Such is the danger of giving populism power.
The political right must be feeling so grateful for the intellectual tour de force on exhibition from Bronwyn Bishop over the expenses scandal engulfing Sussan Ley. It is hardly surprising that cartoonists are linking the expenses scandal with the other scandal: Centre Link’s ham-fisted approach to those considered by the national computer to have received more than they should. Putting the two crises side by side, it appears that those in positions of privilege can receive tax-payer largesse on the basis of flexible rules, while those who are struggling are assumed to be cheating, even when they are doing their best with a few hours of part-time work that the national computer calculates against them.
Bronwyn Bishop has chimed in with the intellectual gem that it is all the fault of the socialists who are out to destroy private enterprise. I presume her remarks mean that if you take tax payer money to aid your private business this is to be lauded as a legitimate exercise in the much vaunted free enterprise known as individualism, whereas if you receive support because of obvious need you are somehow destroying civilisation as we know it.
When I was a boy growing up on a dairy farm up in the 50’s the reds were under all the beds and Epsom salts or Castor oil was the cure all for all complaints, including bovine maladies! In Bronwyn Bishop’s world individuals not only have the right to prosper, but they have this right at the expense of public or social equity. She surpasses her mentor Margaret Thatcher in claiming there is no such thing as society, only individuals. Interesting to read that Theresa May, Britain’s second female Tory Prime Minister, has publicly eschewed this nonsensical ideology. To dear Bronwyn, ‘socialists’ are the ultimate enemy.
Well, I have two responses to that. First, you will be very hard pressed to find a socialist (in the Karl Marx sense) in power or seeking power, anywhere in the world. The Australian alternative government as I understand their policies; is far from socialist. Russia and China have become two examples of rampaging capitalism, not socialism. It is remarkable that Russia, China, North Korea and the US appear now to have much in common. All of them appear to laud (or at the very least accept) ambition in their leader for dynastic favour. All appear to permit, excuse, or encourage their leader to make as much money as possible regardless of what appear to be obvious conflicts of interest. All appear to denigrate (or worse) any who dare to criticise what they stand for, and all seem to thrive on fake news.
Secondly, when Bronwyn Bishop speaks out of her phobia that ‘socialism is on the march’: in the Christian Gospel sense – I would respond “if only that were true”. But there appears to be little evidence of it, quite the contrary. Church leaders at the turn of the 20th century equated socialism with the Christian Gospel. What they meant by this was not that Christianity was camouflage for an economic theory, but that there should be an attitude within society that those who have much should not have too much and those who have little should not have too little (2 Cor. 8:15). In other words, the Christian gospel assumes a commitment within society that those with skill and ability should find fulfilment in exercising that skill in a manner which simultaneously enables their own flourishing and at the same time, the prosperity of society as a whole. It is anathema to the Christian faith that those who have should walk by on the other side when confronted with those in need. And yet that appears to be what we now do. It is not simply the domestic scene. This is bad enough. The prosperous are still not being made to pay their fair share of tax with multiple means available to them of minimising it. Unconvincing arguments continue to be strenuously made that schemes such as negative gearing are assisting the average mum and dad, when it is abundantly clear that the investment market is the prime reason why property prices continue to escalate and society is being divided between those who own and those who will forever rent. All of this while responsibility for the much vaunted ‘budget repair’ falls on society’s vulnerable. On the international scene our appalling decrease in aid as a percentage of our GDP, arguably the lowest level since WW11, should embarrass and appal all Australians.
No Bronwyn, socialism is not on the march, would that it was. What is very much on the march is a sense of entitlement from those halfway (or higher) up the ladder, a sense which appears not immune from destroying rungs below, so that others may not also ascend.
Just because a person is wrong about one thing does it automatically mean they are likely to be wrong about most things? Of course not! That would be a terrible reality because it would mean none of us were ever right about anything.
However, if the reason why we are wrong is because we are too lazy to look at or discover the facts, or worse, because we make up our mind regardless of the facts, or perhaps worse still, out of self interest we speak in a partisan manner; then there is an increased likelihood that we will be wrong about a great deal of things.
One Nation’s Senator Malcolm Roberts is well known for his disdain for any scientific facts about Climate Change and for his absurd insistence that the accumulative actions of the global human population has absolutely no impact on global climate through the burning of fossil fuels and release of greenhouse gases. His insistence that changes are cyclical over millennia is of course correct. What he appears incapable of understanding, or refuses to understand, is that past ‘natural’ cycles happened gradually over centuries or millennia giving ample opportunity for life to adjust or evolve. What is different in our current context is that this human caused change is so rapid (and increasing in its intensity) that species adaption and evolution is not possible with dramatic and projected devastating effect.
Is it a surprise then to find in the last few days that his comments about New Zealand’s support for the UN resolution 2334 condemning Israel’s illegal settlements in the Palestinian Territories are equally bizarre and completely, perhaps dangerously, ill-informed? He bases his ire against New Zealand on the grounds that 100 years ago ANZAC forces fought against the Ottomans, most famously in the Battle of Beersheba. He argues that 2017 opposition to the Israeli constructed illegal settlements on Palestinian land is somehow to insult or degrade this military effort 100 years ago.
It is most unlikely that Senator Roberts wants to be informed about anything, having seemingly made up his mind about everything. However he should know that success against the Ottomans was secured through the Arab uprising. In turn the Arab uprising was achieved through encouragement given to the Arabs by the allies that post the war Arabs might enjoy semi or complete autonomy with many imagining a single Arab State from Aleppo in the north to Aden in the south. That this did not happen and that with the exception of the powerful Saudi tribe, the rest was largely carved up by the British and the French is a matter of history.
Following the ‘between wars’ protectorate of Palestine by Britain, subsequent international arrangements for the establishment of Israel have been made on the assumption that pre-existing rights and interests of the Palestinian population would be preserved and safeguarded. Even the Balfour declaration which celebrates its centenary this year makes this point quite unequivocally.
Therefore those who proposed UN motion 2334 condemning the actions of Israel in the occupied territories, far from disregarding, undermining or insulting the sacrifice of those who fought in the past have done the complete opposite, they have sought to maintain the balance upon which the only hope of lasting peace in the region is founded. Winner takes all is a recipe for continued violence and war as we know from the Treaty of Versailles. Only when the rights of Palestinians are protected and they have as much opportunity to live in freedom and prosperity as anyone else, will peace come to this land; and the hope of greater security emerge for the whole global community.
Finally, it is a fabrication of Israel’s effective propaganda strategy to tell others that to oppose settlements is to oppose Israel. Rubbish! When those with influence in my life have told me to stop doing something because it is wrong, hurtful to others, counterproductive, or for whatever other reason, they have not been opposed to me; they have been opposed to what they perceive I have been doing. In the same manner to tell Israel it is not only breaking the law, not only demeaning and oppressing another people, but that in the long term it is undermining itself is what friends with courage and integrity should be doing. We should admire New Zealand’s courage and integrity as a true friend of Israel and be appalled and embarrassed by the absence of such virtue amongst Australia’s political elite.
Many will find the heading bizarre. Surely to be a Christian is to be conservative? Well, yes and no! If being conservative means protecting values such as truth, integrity, fairness, justice, equality; then being conservative and being Christian are on the same page. If being conservative means being modest or circumspect (conservative) about oneself in order to advance another then again being conservative and being Christian sing from the same song sheet. If being conservative means a refusal to exploit, a desire to protect culture, diversity and the environment then again, being one could mean being the other. If being conservative is an ambition to use gifts and talents to the fullest and for the good of all, parables of Jesus applaud this mind set. If being conservative is to value all lives equally regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or religion then being one is to exemplify the other.
If however being conservative means promoting an unregulated free market even when it is clear that an unregulated market produces gross inequity and promotes growing division between rich and poor then being conservative and being Christian cannot be on the same page.
If being conservative means growing a military budget out of proportion to budgets on welfare, education and health, being conservative and Christian cannot be the same.
If being conservative means being critical of science and scientists when they warn that exploitative human activity is damaging the natural order, being conservative is a choice against creation and therefore a choice not to be Christian.
If being conservative means everything is for sale and little if anything is to be held in public trust then being conservative is at odds with being Christian.
If being conservative means such an emphasis on the self governing individual that under all circumstances tax is to be minimised, welfare is to be avoided, overseas aid is to be cut back and every activity is to be ‘for profit’: then being conservative and being Christian are at polar ends of the spectrum.
If consideration of human ethical behaviour by a conservative mindset is solely cocooned in personal morality so that matters of sex, gender, marriage, abortion and euthanasia occupy the front and centre, pushing social justice, exploitation, greed, dishonesty and misuse of power into the closet, then conservatives have not heard the teaching of Jesus.
I grew up on the land, the son of a dairy farmer. My early ambitions were all to do with the land. My only venture into party politics was as a member of the Country Party younger set in the early 1960’s I consider myself a natural ‘conservative’ in that I implicitly understand that the destiny of the earth and the destiny of all human lives are inextricably bound together. I understand that we human beings must tread lightly and not allow our combined hubris to exceed the limits of our ‘appropriate place’ on the planet – indeed the universe..
What now passes for conservative politics frightens and appals me. It appears to be all about, the individual, selfishness and populism with no intellectual base. Fear appears to be its primary political tool. 2017 is shaping up to be the year of the political conservatives. Its proponents, Donald Trump, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen, Cory Bernardi, Pauline Hanson, George Christensen, Tony Abbott, are each in their own way very influential.
Because many of them are well known for their Christian convictions, two implications that might flow from connecting Christianity with the politics of conservatism, need to be guarded against. The first is that some Christians may be drawn to this aberrant, and in my view, dangerous form of politics, because of an implicit assumption that conservative politicians are necessarily Christian. The second and equally appalling outcome would be for Christianity to lose even more of its credibility as a voice worth hearing in the public arena because of its perceived association with this brand of politics as has happened with the Tea Party in the US.
2017 needs to be a year of considered debate and public discussion so that popular grabs like ‘I will make America great again’, or ‘I stand for common sense’, or ‘we stand for family values’, are examined to discern what they really mean and whether the ideology that lies behind the headline delivers its intention, or is in fact its antithesis.
In a globally relational world if individual freedom means each individual can and should do what they consider to be primarily in their best interest without reference to others, then, as the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur argues, ‘freedom’ of the individual (or nation) has become the source of the world’s violence and evil.
The recent resolution 2334 of the UN Security Council which condemned Israel’s illegal settlement building on the West Bank has received widespread international support, including from the US.
So why is Australia one of the very few countries to break ranks, indicating that while it is no longer a member of the Security Council it would not have supported the resolution?
The arguments of our foreign minister, Julie Bishop, make absolutely no sense at all. On the one hand she says she is firmly committed to a two-state solution in which Palestine and Israel exist side by side in mutual respect and trust, urging both sides to do nothing which might jeopardise this outcome. Yet on the other hand when presented with a situation in which there is a virtual international consensus that Israel’s tactics are destroying any opportunity for the desired outcome, she gives Israel comfort to continue on this destructive path. Why is it destructive? Because it will ultimately mean one State which will either be Jewish or democratic, it cannot be both. This is an outcome of perpetual insecurity for both Jews and Palestinians.
Netanyahu and presumably Julie Bishop will continue to argue that the settlements cover only a tiny fraction of Palestinian territory. But that is not the point. With every new settlement there are more settlers to be protected by the Israeli army causing further impossible restrictions placed on Palestinians in their own territory. With every new settlement there are more roads and other infrastructure that crisscross the West Bank with more and more no go areas for Palestinians. With every new settlement there are more ideologically driven settlers who believe it is their divine right to occupy the whole territory and if possible drive out all non-Jews. With every new settlement more scant resources such as water are liberally made available to the settlements and further restricted to the Palestinian community. With every new settlement there are many Palestinian homes destroyed and countless other Palestinians who cannot gain construction approval. Every new settlement means further disempowerment, frustration and resentment is heaped upon the Palestinian administration, weakening any capacity it might have had to negotiate.
So why does Australia stubbornly hold its position of support for Israel in its settlement building, defying all logic and ignoring the overwhelming weight not only of international political opinion but the stated opinion of ethicists and jurists the world over?
Is it because Jewish money is a major factor in Australian politics, with coalition MPs being particularly dependent upon it?
Is it because the majority of Coalition MP’s (State and Federal) have taken an all expenses paid trip to Israel and as a result feel beholden?
Is it because the Zionist Lobby is so strong that it imposes a fear factor upon Australian MP’s?
Is it because a sense of guilt still prevails in relation to the holocaust, guilt that blots out normal moral obligations to others? If so, why Australia?
Is it because Australia’s right wing media, to which the Coalition is clearly beholden, will punish any political figure who dares to speak about Israeli indiscretions?
Is it because Australian right wing politics is influenced by powerful Christian figures who subscribe to Christian Zionism, that is to say a bizarre belief that Israel must secure all of the biblical lands before Christ returns.
Whatever the reason, Australia’s obdurate and dangerous position needs to be exposed. There is no rationality in the argument. Indeed the position is contradictory. The very position that is being argued for is at the same time being undermined. No ethical or moral value is being upheld. Quite the contrary. Whether diplomat or soldier, NGO employee or faith adherent; anyone who visits the Palestinian Territories knows immediately that a terrible injustice is being imposed without relief on a people who cry out for nothing other than the opportunity to live as human beings universally aspire to live, in freedom and prosperity.
It is strange how cyclical life can sometimes seem.
Last night was the annual carol service here at Long Beach. A ‘Carol’ was originally a circle or ring song accompanied by dance. The appropriation of this popular folk medium by the Church to convey Christian themes is often attributed to Francis of Assisi 800 years ago. The association became so complete in the western world that, as a boy, a carol for me became exclusively a song in celebration of the birth of Jesus. The reality today is quite different although not obviously so. The songs are still sung in the lead up to Christmas. However I have to confess that I now feel very annoyed that community ‘carols’ are most often organised quite independently of the Church and without any real connection to the real meaning of Christmas. Most songs these days are sung in honour of Santa, that great and popular saint of department stores. What is being circled is not humanity in all its vulnerability, but commerce in all its voraciousness.
In the past, religions, especially Judaism and Christianity, absorbed and transformed pagan festivals associated with seasons of the year, to mark events that celebrate human interaction with the divine; moments that throw light on the journey of human beings towards meaning and fulfilment in every generation.. The Festival of Weeks in Judaism (Shavuot), or Christmas and Easter in Christianity are very good examples. These days the movement has been in the opposite direction, religious festivals have remained, but they have been turned into festivals of commercial opportunity.
To complete the transformation, in some places it is no longer deemed appropriate to wish others a ‘happy Christmas’, but a ‘happy holiday’.
The reason why I find this very sad is not simply the loss of a ‘Christian tradition’, but because an expression of deep meaning for another, indeed for the world, has been replaced by something ephemeral or trivial.
I am not the only one who feels in my bones that humanity is at a profound and perhaps irreversible turning point in our very short evolutionary history on the planet. Who are we? What is our identity? What is our purpose (if we have one)? There was a time when a circle dance, metaphorically at least, circled the community – all were included – kept safe. Cooperation and inclusion was known to be essential for the well being of all. As each year passes we seem to be moving further and further away from that place, indeed travelling as fast as we can in the other direction. Capitalism’s advertising has successfully transformed our identity. We pay grudging allegiance to our belonging and its responsibilities and place most emphasis on our having. So, what we have, or own, and the competition necessary to achieve it, indeed to protect it and exclude it from others, is far more important than sharing, or helping, or giving.
2016 has seen some of the most shocking human events to ever beset the planet. Aleppo, Mosul; floods of asylum seekers; refusal to respond adequately to the threat of global warming; the rise of world leaders who turn cruelty, selfishness and introversion into popular virtue; and the election of a person who lies about everything, has not paid his debts, does not pay tax and maligns those who are different, as the most powerful person in the world. These are some of the marks of 2016 global humanity.
In contrast, the passage of modern time is marked by the birth a little over 2000 years ago of one who marched to a very different beat. He came to say, that yes you are of immense, even irreplaceable value, but you do not live alone. The irony of blessedness (happiness) is that it resides in humility. Giving has about it much greater joy than receiving. You are accountable: accountable for your brother, sister, neighbour, accountable for the proper stewardship of possessions, and accountable to the one is the source of your very breath. This message is not a burden, but a joy, the failure to hear it, or more particularly to appropriate it, is to miss out on the depth of life that is possible, life to which all humans are born. Not to hear it or appropriate it is to allow the Aleppos of this world to occur without seemingly to blink an eyelid, or to watch as more and more of the worlds wealth is captured by fewer and fewer people.
Therefore to wish someone a ‘happy Christmas’ is a very different matter to wishing them a ‘happy holiday’. It is to wish another a depth of experience that brings true happiness. It is also both an expression of hope for the world and a commitment to actions upon which that hope relies. It is to invite another to be out of step with the hordes waiting for the Boxing Day specials and to be in step with all the beautiful people of the world in whom Christ is born afresh, in whom light shines and hope springs eternal. It is to be in step with the one in whom the essential character of humanity resides. Is there a possibility that the spirit of Christmas may last long after the holidays have been forgotten and that 2017 might have about it some of the characteristics of humanity at its best? May the characteristics that came amongst us in the person of Jesus prevail: for our sakes he corralled heaven to earth that earth might ultimately be corralled to heaven.
May I wish you a very blessed Christmas?
Dear Prime Minister,
I don’t suppose ordinary citizens are supposed to understand how politicians make their decisions especially when they fly in the face of logic. But sometimes a lack of logic and common sense, together with the seeming absence of any care for the interest of ordinary Australians, let alone the rest of the world, is beyond bewildering - it fills one with a mixture of anger and despair.
Your decision this week to rule out even the possibility of an “emissions intensity scheme” is in this category.
Have you received advice from your chief scientist that a scheme like this is essential if Australia is going to play its part with the rest of the world in avoiding catastrophic global warming? Yes you have.
Have you received advice that implementing a scheme like this will ultimately be a net positive for the national economy? Yes you have.
Have you received advice from industry that bipartisan political support for a scheme like this would be welcome and provide the necessary certainty required for planning and investment? Yes you have.
Have you received advice that a scheme like this will save each household unnecessary escalation in electricity prices in coming years? Yes you have.
In the light of all this advice and what we understand to be your own reasonable knowledge of the facts you still chose to appease the rightwing ideologues in your party rather than act for the good of the country. Presumably your own position of power is more important than anything else. In these circumstances how do you expect to warrant respect let alone trust as our Prime Minister?
Your characterisation of the states as irresponsible because of the goals they have set reminds me of a kindergarten child making silly comments about other children when it is they who have sulkily refused to participate in the activity of the group.
I am choosing to send this letter to you via my blog, because I have come to the conclusion it is a waste of time to write to you directly.
In the adult world to which I belong, when there is a problem, wide discussion takes place as to the best way of providing a solution. In an adult world one does not normally rule out best solutions because someone spits the dummy in advance.
I am hoping that all who read this letter will pass it on, and that what you and your government have decided not to do this week will never be forgotten. While we often bemoan lack of leadership, seldom if ever has genuine leadership been so absent as it has been this week
Bishop George Browning
Speaking truth to power is a dangerous job, especially if the seat of power is vengeful. Jillian Trigg and Margaret Latham of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) have had recent experience of power’s vengefulness.
It can also be humiliating if you are told that it is not your place. On several occasions Federal and State politicians, children of the Enlightenment, have told me that I should stick to my field of religious piety and leave them to get on with their business of running the world – or at least the country.
The problem with this is that, the Enlightenment notwithstanding, the role of the Church is not simply to corral a few holy souls to heaven, but to be agents in corralling heaven to earth. Is that not what the Lord’s Prayer would have us pray? Is this not what the New Testament is all about?
Today is Advent Sunday, the first day of the new Church year. It celebrates a very human emotion – anticipation. Human life in its fullness is not possible without anticipation, an emotion which excels in children but often dies in adulthood. We humans are used to marking significant personal life moments which often follow a long gestation period of anticipation. But in our western materialistic culture we are no longer very good at anticipation as a shared public or corporate longing for fulfilment.
It was not always thus. Most ancient societies and cultures held several annual celebrations, often associated with the change of seasons to express hope that life is on offer, darkness is being overcome by light, etc. It is ironic that those cultures that are still reasonably good at these life giving celebrations are cultures that have not yet been totally absorbed by western material values.
Advent is a corporate celebration which anticipates the coming of heaven to earth. Its immediate focus is the incarnation, the birth of Jesus, the pitching of the divine tent in the midst of the temporal and finite world. The coming of Jesus is the divine act that purposes all that is temporal and finite to be stamped with the character of the eternal. This anticipation was expressed in the familiar Isaiah reading for today (Is. 2:1-5) in which we are to anticipate power being challenged, weapons of war are to be transformed into tools of peace.
In these post Enlightenment days Advent is sadly reduced to an ‘out of this world’ anticipation of the second coming of Jesus when life as we know it will come to an end, judgement will take place, evil will be vanquished and the ‘saved’ will be vindicated. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that in the fullness of time light will overcome darkness and what is transient will give way to what is eternal.
However the focus of the New Testament is not primarily about this; it is primarily about the coming of heaven to earth and the consequences of this coming in a new ‘kingdom’, a kingdom which pivots around sacrificial love. Tragically, worldly power is hardly ever about sacrificial love and that is why the kingdom of Jesus is so confrontational. When we proclaim ‘Jesus is Lord’, we make a radically subversive statement about true power and where it lies.
Let me give a very contemporary example. Most of the world is at war with what it calls ‘terror’. How this terror morphed into its current manifestation is extremely complex and is certainly a mixture of both the consequences of ill-informed western interference and of a religion that has yet to deal adequately with sacred text that allows (perhaps even authenticates) violent interpretation. However resolving the issue will not be ‘bombing the hell out of them’ as Donald Trump has often promised. Resolving the issue will only occur when grace prevails; when those who are recruited refuse to join because they are included in and have experienced what for them is a better way.
Almost every day somebody reflects back to me what I am constantly thinking: “the world is in a hell of a mess”. Everywhere political systems are inadequate and democracy everywhere seems to have been diminished through manipulated and very blatant self-interest.
There has never been a more urgent time for truth to be spoken to power. Shamefully the Church has undermined its voice through mimicking many of the traits that need to be overcome in the wider world.
We may well be tempted to keep our heads down and restrict ourselves to pious rhetoric, but in the season of Advent this simply will not do.
In the season of Advent we anticipate ‘earth being kissed by heaven’. The Kingdom that Advent anticipates is a vastly different kingdom to the one that values power over service, profit over compassion and individual rights over the common good of God’s whole creation.