Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Chelsea, Ella and I were standing outside Savers on Sydney Road last Saturday when a guy walked - or rather, hobbled - past us. He had a big bushy beard, wild hair and was wearing a filthy khaki shirt and pants. Tied to his leg with two strips of black cloth was a broom handle - a makeshift splint, presumably. He looked decidedly uncomfortable as he lurched awkwardly along the pavement.

After he was a suitable distance away, Chelsea (3 1/2) said, "That man was funny!" I was a bit unsure of how to respond. "Yeah," I said. "He had a stick tied to his leg!"

"No!" she laughed, amused by my naivety. "He wasn't wearing any shoes!"

to vote or not to vote?

I just wanted to plug a fascinating, exciting conversation that's going on at the Christian Activist Network e-list about the virtues and vices of voting and not voting (or ultimately, what does discipleship look like in the context of our political system?). Rather than rehashing the entire thing over here, I'll just suggest that anyone who is interested in following the conversation, or in being involved in it, subscribe to the e-list (go to http://www.freewebs.com/christianactivistnetwork and click on the Yahoo groups link). But here are a few tasters:

* "Surely the best way to get a better deal for the poor and the oppressed in Australian society is to have people in government whose policies are inclined to favour the poor and oppressed? If those who are on the side of the poor and oppressed don't vote, then politicians with policies that favour those who already have many things will be elected and working for the poor and oppressed will be that much harder."

* "Vote if you want to, for what its worth, but don't get sucked into the myth that you are doing anything very political. Not voting, on the other hand, can be quite political in a country with compulsory voting."

* "Ultimately this [voting] is similiar to the Empires compulsion to burn incense to Caesar. The burning of incense to Caesar was the acknowledgment of Caesars power, and diety. In a compulsory election, you are being forced to take part in a process that hands the authority,
and power to others to take human life, to imprison people, and to continue to see the oppression of others by state decree. By participating you are complicit in the handing over of power over others, to individuals."

* "It's a measure of how much stock we put in the world's power and methods that we're not willing to trust that God will make it come out alright, and that it won't often look like we expect... And that's really the bottom line for me...do we trust in the way the world works
or the way God works in Jesus? Even when it looks ineffective by the world's standards? So I say vote or don't vote if that's what your community has discerned faithfulness to God to be, not because of a perceived outcome."

Also, anyone interested in faith-based refusal to vote can attend a planning meeting tomorrow night (Thursday 25th) at 8pm at the Den (116 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne).

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


The latest in kids' fashion...

That's right! Rush right in and get your kids some KILLTEC! They're what kids everywhere are dying for...

just another day in brunswick

Julie, the kids and I were sitting in the study the other day when we happened to look out the window at an elderly Italian gentleman leaning on our front fence. There's nothing unusual about this: we frequently have elderly Italian gentlemen leaning on our front fence, because it's not too far from the shops, but far enough away to take a break if you're elderly, and presumably they've leaned on several other fences on the way, and I'm glad our fence can provide this hospitable service. As we watched him, he casually leaned over the fence and broke off a flower from one of the several rose bushes in our front yard. Again, nothing particularly unusual; people do that from time to time, and since we have plenty of them, it doesn't bother me.

But what happened next was definitely unusual. Rather than smelling the flower, or stashing it in his pocket, or engaging in any other manner of flower appreciation, he put the stem between his thumb and forefinger and rubbing it up and down proceeded to denude the entire stem of foliage. Every leaf and thorn was removed, including the flower. Then, with the stem all that remained, he bit into it and began to chew. Casually, like it was a licorice stick or some other snack he enjoyed from time to time. When he'd finished that mouthful, he had another.

Now I don't know if rose stems have some kind of curative properties; I'm no botanist or plant expert of any kind, but I confess I was somewhat dumbfounded and mystified. Anyone have an explanation for this? Has anyone tried rose stems as a snack?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The land of the free...

Seriously America...hang your head in shame.

October 17, 2007 -- Pace e Bene co-founder Fr. Louie Vitale, O.F.M. and Fr. Steve Kelly, S.J. were sentenced today by Magistrate Hector Estrada to five months in federal prison for nonviolent action they took at Ft. Huachuca, Arizona, a facility where Army training in torture techniques is carried out.

They began their sentences immediately.

Major General Antonio M. Tacuba, who served in Iraq and wrote a report critical of torture carried out at Abu Ghirab prison, phoned the Franciscan and Jesuit priests the night before to convey his support and to express his belief that "history will honor your actions." Their lawyer, Bill Quigley, shared General Tacuba's words of support with the court.

The judge, who confessed that the case had put him in "an uncomfortable position," meted out to both men three months in prison for trespass and two months for disobeying an office. They will be incarcerated at a federal prison in Florence, Arizona.

Before the sentencing, Vitale and Kelly read a statement to the 50 people who had gathered to support them. As part of their declaration, they said: "We will keep trying to stop the teaching and practice of torture whether we are sent to jail or out. We have done our part. Now it is up to every woman and man of conscience to do their part to stop the injustice of torture."

We pray for Louie and Steve -- and invite people everywhere to follow their conscience in resisting violence and in building a culture of nonviolent options.

Challenging the Politics of Fear

Below is the text of a talk I gave at the recent Pax Christi event "Australia's Security and the New Nuclear Threat", complete with bad jokes and shameless self promotion.

I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet tonight, the Wurundjeri people, and acknowledge the way in which they have been victims of the politics of fear.

Speaking of the politics of fear, as people about to be subjected to a monologue by a Baptist preacher you have every reason to be quaking in your boots. But in a demonstration that even irrational hope can win over fear, this Baptist preacher has been given 20 minutes maximum. I don’t know if that’s brave or hopeful or just na├»ve. At least it should calm some of your fears.

I want to talk with you this evening about how we might begin to challenge the politics of fear. I’m pretty sure we’re all reasonably familiar with this idea of the politics of fear. It’s a tool that has always been used by governments and those in authority to keep a population under control, as famously observed by the Nazi Reichsmarshall and Chief of the Luftwaffe Hermann Goering in the Nuremburg trials, “The people can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders. All you have to tell them is that they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.” As we have seen here, whether it’s the children overboard, or Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, or more recently Sudanese refugees, it really does work the same in any country. When people are kept in a constant state of fear, no matter how much they are told to be alert not alarmed, they are much more susceptible to control, to unquestioning obedience, and to maintaining the status quo.

But I think we need to acknowledge that it’s not just conservative governments who use fear to keep populations under control, the left uses fear as much as right does – global warming, nuclear power, even dare I say it here nuclear weapons. There’s no denying there’s much to be afraid of, but it’s worth acknowledging that the left is not immune to using the politics of fear, they’re just different fears with different outcomes. Whereas the right tends to use fear to enforce the status quo, the left tends to use fear to undermine the status quo. Both methods, dare I say it, are mirrors of and reactions to each other, a transferral of the same types of destructive dynamics. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the ends of both are, in fact, quite legitimate, but if the means by which these ends are achieved is fear, I believe it’s illegitimate regardless of your motive.

What I want to propose is that not only must we transcend these categories of left and right, but we must transcend fear as a way of motivating people, whether that motivation is designed to sedate or inflame. Gandhi had this idea that means are like the ends in seed form; so in the same way that if you plant an acorn you have to expect an oak tree, if you use fear you have to expect a world of fear. So a world without fear will require different means.

So what I want to suggest is that one of the best ways that we can begin to challenge the politics of fear is to refuse to cooperate with it at all. That is, we must refuse to allow it to control our lives and our decisions, but also that we must refuse to use it ourselves to control others’ lives and decisions. I agree with Thoreau who said, “If you want to convince someone that they are wrong, do right. But don’t try to convince them. People believe what they see.”

Of course refusal to cooperate with fear is not without risks – indeed, the very basis of fear is usually the idea that something we have is under threat. Whether it’s our freedom, or our possessions, or someone we hold dear, we are indeed a people with much to lose, particularly in the West. But if we only fear losing that which we hold on to, then perhaps letting go of all we do not need is the key to freedom. As Aung San Suu Kyi has famously said, “The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.”

At the heart of Christianity is this idea of the costliness of this freedom – we talk of following Jesus, often somehow conveniently forgetting that Jesus’ resistance to empire and fear led to his crucifixion. The very central motif of Christianity is the cross, the idea that one must lose one’s life in order to save it. So bearing the costs of our resistance should not be alien to the Christian life. I’m involved with a group of Christians who for some time now have been exploring the power of nonviolent resistance to empire, and beginning to recognise the costs associated with that.

We have been greatly concerned for some time about Australia’s increasing reliance on violent military strategies to engage international conflicts rather than nonviolent ones. In June this year 20,000 US troops joined with 12,000 Australian troops in a series of military exercises called Operation Talisman Sabre. It takes place in a pristine wilderness area called Shoalwater Bay, which is about 80 kilometres north of Rockhampton on the central Queensland coast. Talisman Sabre involves live fire exercises which includes bombing and the use of active sonar, which has a devastating effect on the marine life and the Great Barrier Reef. They were practicing, amongst other things, offensive invasion tactics.

And so five of us began our resistance, our challenge to the politics of fear. As part of a wider peace convergence, we headed north to demonstrate that another world is possible. We wanted not merely oppose them, but do so in such a way that our very actions would point the way to a better alternative – in the words of Gandhi, literally be the change we wanted to see in the world. We knew that if the military had any reason to believe that there were civilians in the training area, they would have to stop the exercises, so the best thing for us to do would be to gain access to the restricted military zone and make our presence known.

Inspired by the prophet Isaiah’s vision of a day when people will “train for war no more”, we wanted to see the base transformed from somewhere where war games were played to somewhere peace games were played. And so we brought a frisbee with us. It was a ridiculous gesture, in many ways; walking into the middle of thousands of troops engaged in war games, asking them to stop in order to play frisbee and talk about nonviolence with five Christian peace activists.

We entered the Shoalwater Bay Military facility armed only with a peace flag, a frisbee, and two letters for the generals explaining why we were there. After three hours of walking through the bush, we found the main air force base where the generals commanded their troops and began to walk up the middle of the landing strip, where we could be seen easily, to invite the soldiers to talk. When we found them, we told them we were peaceful, unarmed people, that we wanted them to stop their war games and play peace games instead. Expecting to be told at gunpoint to lie down on the tarmac, we were rather surprised when they agreed not only to talk with us, but to play frisbee as well. At that point they shut down the base, and miraculously we got our wish – for more than an hour and a half we saw the base transformed from a place where people trained to kill those they disagreed with, to a place where people talked respectfully with those they disagreed with. From a place where missiles, bombs and bullets cut through the air to a place where frisbees glided gracefully through the air. When it started raining we were invited into the hangar area where we were given food and drink and talked with the soldiers for about an hour and a half about violence, nonviolence, Iraq, and US foreign policy. Shortly thereafter Queensland police arrived, arrested us and charged us with trespassing on Commonwealth land. Our trial is likely to be around March next year.

For us, this act of noncooperation with fear was deeply empowering. One, we were not cooperating with a system that says you need a violent military in order to be safe. We believe that violence only breeds fear, only nonviolence can breed love and peace. Secondly, we were not cooperating with a system that says do not challenge the status quo. The fences and signs around military bases and threats of legal action are all designed to frighten the average citizen into silence. By refusing to have our resistance dictated by those barriers, we demonstrated in a very small and humble way that it is possible. And thirdly, we were and are continuing to challenge a system that says if you do challenge the status quo, we will unleash sanctions on you that will make you think twice about challenging it again. The whole legal system is designed to intimidate and control you. When we were arrested we were thrown in a large police truck that is designed to cause sensory deprivation – metal walls, and no windows. In the watchhouse there is a total lack of privacy down to the toilet facilities. But the whole time we maintained our joyful attitude. As we sat there making jokes, singing and telling stories one of the policeman said to us, “You guys are enjoying this way too much.” When the system designed to intimidate does not intimidate, it loses its power.

I’m aware that many people think these kinds of acts are strange, but I don’t think they are. Not doing anything is strange. Failing to resist, accepting the way things are, that’s what is strange. Allowing the government to spend $55 million dollars a day on military machinery we don’t use while our own people go hungry and homeless for lack of resources – that is strange. Putting the needs of the economy before the needs of people and the earth on which all of our lives depend, that’s strange. We need to redefine normal back to what is proper for human life and society instead of the economy.

And I think that’s exactly what is at stake here, our very imaginations. Instead of seeing a world that is catastrophically irredeemable, we need to see a world that is pregnant with possibility, ripe for change.

Like I said earlier, that’s not to say that there aren’t costs involved. But if we’re prepared to send our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters off to fight war, how much more ought we be prepared for peace to cost us? And if we are not prepared for it to cost us anything, why are we surprised there is no peace?

The words of Trappist monk and nonviolence hero Thomas Merton have become one of my mantras, “If this task of building a peaceful world is the most important task of our time, it is also the most difficult. It will, in fact, require far more discipline, more sacrifice, more planning, more thought, more co-operation and more heroism than war ever demanded.”

And so with Christian peacemaker teams I want to ask you what it might be like if people committed the same resources to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?

It is this kind of imagination, and willingness to pay the cost that will characterise any effective challenge to the politics of fear. It’s a challenge I would invite anyone to take up.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Meryl and Lee's wedding

Well it was quite a wonderful day, though definitely emotionally intense for all concerned. I include here the text of the little spiel I gave, in case anyone's vaguely interested.

Well it’s been quite a journey for both of you to get here. It’s always a bit nervewracking for couples on their wedding day, not knowing what to expect, so Lee you’ll be relieved that Meryl hasn’t gotten on any flights today, and no doubt Meryl you’re relieved that Lee isn’t taking shorthand on the proceedings for Monday’s MX.

But I want to share with you a quote that sums up what I would wish for you both on this day, a quote by a woman by the name of Edith Wilson. I have no idea who she is but what she says here is gold. “Marriage is not a lifelong attraction of two individuals to each other, but a call for two people to witness together to God’s love. The basis of marriage is not mutual affection, or feelings, or emotions and passions that we associate with love, but a vocation, a being elected to build together a house for God in this world.”

A vocation to build together a house for God in this world. What on earth might that mean? Are we talking about building a temple? A church? An ark? A three bedroom brick veneer? Well our traditional idea of marriage is very much as Edith Wilson describes; a lifelong attraction of two individuals, based on mutual affection, feelings, emotions and passions.

The problem with this view is not that it’s entirely wrong, but that it’s incomplete, it’s too small. Because let’s face it, if this is the God of the universe that is doing the calling, then the vision must be for something larger than just you two. If marriage is a vocation to build a house for God in this world, then it’s too small a vision to say it’s just about your love and affection for each other. Besides, any marriage that is built solely on affection, or feelings, is unlikely to last, regardless of what Hollywood will tell you, because feelings change, often several times in a day.

And so this quote refers to marriage as a vocation. The word comes from the Latin word vox, or voice, and vocare, meaning to call. Vocation, then, is not something that happens merely inside yourself, but is a call from outside of you. In the case of marriage we’re talking about a religious vocation, in the same sense as monks and nuns have a vocation (only without the celibacy thing). Marriage is two people who have been called together by God to demonstrate in a particular way what the love of God looks like in the world – to literally be the image of God’s love for others.

Because the God who calls us to love is Herself, love – not the kind of love depicted in a quirky romantic comedy, or the romance in the climax of a fairy tale or even a steamy sex scene. The love we see lived out in Jesus is an unconditional acting in the best interests of the other, a costly love that gives of itself seeking nothing in return. This is an active, creative, transforming love that does not allow suffering or injustice to go unchallenged, a love that looks outwards welcoming all people, especially those who think they’re not worthy, and a love that heals and reconciles brokenness of all kinds.

So your wedding today is not just about you. If marriage is a vocation to build a house for God in this world then marriage is not about you two sheltering each other against the world, it’s about you two working together for the good of the world. It’s about you two mirroring what God is like, and in so doing beginning the work of redeeming the world around you.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Nonviolence calendar

David Johnson, Quaker and peace activist, has spent a couple of years now compiling a nonviolence calendar. For every day of the year, he has found a story of nonviolence that happened on that particular day. With priority going to lesser known stories (there are many of them that we don't hear about very often! particularly involving women and minorities to whom the recording of history has often been unkind) he has managed to fill all but two days of the year. Each entry has a summary and then the extended story.

November will be available on the Quaker website this November, with the entire thing due out in 2008, but I thought I'd just give a taster he just passed on to me. This is an amazing resource, and I encourage you to seek it out when it is released in its entirety next year.

11th October
Thomas Lurting 1632-1713 British naval sailor turned Quaker returns pirates to their homeland Oct 1663.
Thomas Lurting (1632-1713) was pressed into naval service in 1646 aged 14, and fought as a gunner and boatswain. After contact with Quakers on board he (probably 1654) sighted his gun against the enemy, when "the word of the Lord ran through me - what if I had killed a man?". From that moment he refused to fight. In Oct 1663, ten pirates boarded a merchant ship he was on, and Lurting persuaded the captain and crew not to attack them, and eventually to return them unharmed to their homeland Algiers. His nonviolent response encouraged the pirates to be nonviolent, and they parted the Algiers shoreline as friends. Returning to London a celebrity, Lurting told King Charles II "That I thought it better for them to be in their own Country".

12th October
Elizabeth Fry 1780-1845 Quaker prison and social reformer
Elizabeth Fry (21/5/1780-13/10/1845) was born into a Quaker family, and though a socially active and light-headed in her youth was transformed into a compassionate and tireless worker for the poor and the imprisoned. Initially she found herself fearful and uncertain what to do, but as she followed her leading she was given confidence and courage. Her gift was to bring light and love to all situations. She mixed inspired compassion with hard work and commonsense to became a leading advocate of prison reform, starting her work with women in Newgate prison, London.

13th October
Bob Hunter 1945-2005 Nonviolent environmental activist & legendary Greenpeace leader
Bob Hunter (13/10/1945-2/5/2005) was a Canadian environmentalist, journalist, author and politician. A member of the Don't Make a Wave Committee in 1969 which sailed to Amchitka in 1971, and co-founder of Greenpeace in 1972 with Patrick Moore. Hunter was a long-time campaigner for environmental causes and helped lead successful campaigns to ban commercial whaling and nuclear testing. A highly unconventional individual who pioneered many nonviolent direct actions, such as using zodiac inflatable boats, it has been said "Greenpeace will forever bear the mark of his crazy, super-optimistic faith in the wisdom of tilting at windmills."

Croft Ave

Some images from Croft Ave, just over the road from The Den...

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Now I'm not much one for poetry, but Wendell Berry is absolutely amazing. Enjoy.
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

--Wendell Berry

In the laneway

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


Went to Blackstump Christian Music Festival for the first time on the weekend, as part of my work with Urban Seed. About 6000 people go to this thing, mainly for the music, but we were there to run some workshops, worship spaces, and participate in panels. As usual then, Urban Seed ended up around the edges…

The highlight for me was just hanging with “the mob” (Kate, Spriggsy, Brent, Emma, Jason, Gemma, Bec and Charlie) and spending time getting to know these people better. Our sessions seemed to go really well too, with me running nonviolence for the first one and Brent, Kate and I sharing the second one. I was on a panel too, talking about politics and faith. I shared the stage with Donna Mulhearn, two guys from the public service (Labor) and a guy from the Australian Christian Lobby. A bit hard to unpack the complexities in just under an hour, but it was good fun to have a rant anyway and challenge some deeply entrenched cultural ideas.

As usual at these sorts of events, it’s the things that go wrong that make for the most amusing and fun moments, so thanks to Formule 1 motels, cranky people and Hugh Evans for the entertainment.

Good too to catch up with Donna Mulhearn and spend some time chatting over the events of the past couple of years (Pine Gap 4, her human shield time, G20, APEC and Talisman Sabre).