The Information Age

On Saturday it came to the attention of the Australian population that yet another leaky boat had gone into distress about 300km off the coast of Christmas Island. Reports were varied, mostly because the government refused to comment on the boat, its passengers and its circumstances. They also refused to comment on what their response would be. Would they let these people drown? Would they send help? Would they tow the boat back to India? No one knew.

This non-response attracted the ire of citizens and MP’s alike. I suspect that this outrage was caused by both the less-than-glamorous history our country has in treating asylum seekers, added to our insatiable desire to know everything.

The advent of the internet has meant so many wonderful things, and a fair few unpleasant things as well. One of those is that I, and so many others, expect to know every piece of news as it breaks.

I don’t know a world where the news is aired at 7pm and to miss it means waiting 24 hours for the next bulletin. I don’t know a world where I only hear about news on my doorstep. In my world I have access to news from China, Afghanistan, and the EU. I know about the asylum seeker boats, as they arrive. I can watch them slowly sink, the cries of the passengers etching themselves on to my memory. More than this, I feel entitled to such information, because that’s the world we live in. Nothing is off limits, even if maybe it should be.

Perhaps this is part of why Operation Sovereign Borders is so offensive: it restricts information. Under this policy, I don’t get to see the boats arriving. I don’t get to hear a play-by-play of what the Australian Navy is doing to help them. I don’t get to watch the boat being battered by waves and almost sinking. I am forced into a position of trusting the government to do what is right, without the ability to check their behaviour.

I can hear your incredulous cries: ‘trust!? Why should I trust the government? They haven’t exactly instilled in me a great sense of trust’. I hear you. For me, it doesn’t help that my trust in the government is flimsy, at best.

It now appears that the boat has arrived at Christmas Island, all people still on board. Just because the government didn’t issue a statement telling us what they were doing does not mean they were doing nothing. I may disagree with Operation Sovereign Borders at almost every level, but I must refuse to level accusations at Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott when they are simply following the policy they implemented. It wouldn’t be my choice, but that’s very easy for me to say, sitting in my lounge chair, drinking my morning coffee.

An Open Letter to Scott Morrison MP

Dear Minister Morrison,

I am sorry. Sorry for the many times I have spoken ill of you, in public and under my breath. Sorry for thinking you couldn’t really be a Christian and act like this. Sorry for judging you to be a hideous specimen of humanity, and not a creation of the living God, loved by Him. I am sorry that I have not prayed for you more in what I can only imagine is an incredibly difficult job. I am sorry that I have spent more time hating you than loving you. I’m sorry that I have attacked you as I would a straw man.

Please forgive me.

It’s hard for me to know your personal views on this issue, partly because you’re in politics so the policies you are charged with implementing cannot simply be your own views. But more than this, I’m not sure you’re at liberty to state your own views, because you are the Minister for Immigration and that carries with it a whole lot of responsibility that I do not pretend to understand.

I’m not shy about saying that I disagree with the current policies regarding asylum seekers. I believe that as Christians, and as human beings, we are charged with the responsibility to show compassion to all people – this is both an Australian value and a Christian one. Compassion must be the litmus test by which we define the boundaries of possible responses to this issue.

Therefore, my question is this: Can we be more compassionate?

Like so many others, I do not want any more people to drown at sea. Neither do I want people smugglers to continue to profit from trafficking desperate people. Yes, you have stopped the boats, this I cannot argue with. I do not like the way you’ve done it, but you have stopped them. I’d like to know, what now? You have a unique opportunity to forge a new path through this complex and difficult issue. How will you make a mark on the political landscape of not only Australia but the world? Will you take the time to brainstorm ways to deal with the 52 million displaced people in our world?

Please don’t stop here. Please surprise me with a forward thinking, creative response to this issue.

For my part, I will try to turn my frustration into prayer.

Tess

In defence of #LoveMakesAWay

I am a Christian.

I do believe in Jesus Christ. I do believe that approximately 2000 years ago, he lived, died, and rose from the dead. I do believe that he is now in heaven, with God, waiting for the time when he will come back to earth and take those who believe in Him to be with him in heaven. I believe that the only way to get to heaven is by believing and trusting in Jesus Christ. I do not believe that good things we do on earth contribute to whether or not we get to go to heaven.

I do believe that the Bible is the final and sufficient word for all crises of faith and conduct. I do believe that following Jesus is a radical decision. I do believe that I have forgotten just how radical that decision can be.

I do not believe that seeking asylum is a crime. I do not believe that it is right to lock people up indefinitely because they asked for help. I do believe that it is important for a nation to have an immigration system. I do not advocate a total abandonment of policy and an indiscriminate ‘opening of the gates’. I do not believe that the current system is legal or compassionate, despite the pleas of government. I do not believe there is one decision that is going to satisfy everyone.

I do not believe it is right to continue letting people die at sea. I do believe that people-smugglers play on people’s desperation and need to be stripped of their power.

I do not believe that the only available option is locking people up.

I do believe that locking up people who are fleeing everything they’ve ever known, in pursuit of safety, is adding insult to injury. I do believe that imprisonment scars a person, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I do believe that to inflict such a fate on anyone, let alone a child, is cruel and in this case, unnecessary.

I do believe that God had a hand in electing our current government. I do believe that means I need to submit to their authority. I do not believe that means I must get back in my box when my objections to policy are squashed. I do believe that means I must be willing to suffer the consequences of disobedience. I do believe that democracy offers many avenues of objecting to decisions the government makes. I do believe that letter writing, conversations with MP’s, and rallies are all valid ways of expressing dissent. I do believe that in some cases it is right to pursue a more radical course of action. I do not believe that it is ever appropriate to be violent.

I do believe that as a Christian, I am Christ’s representative on earth. I do believe that Jesus Christ managed to walk the fine line between love and justice, because he was perfect. I do believe that I am called to try and walk in the same way.

I do believe that #LoveMakesAWay is trying to walk this line. I do not believe that they have a comprehensive solution to the way Australia is currently treating asylum seekers. I do not believe they need to. I do not believe that a lack of a comprehensive solution diminishes in any way the message they are circulating. I do not believe that this is a media stunt. I do believe they are trying to raise awareness. I do believe they are trying to help ordinary people engage with a complex issue.

I do believe that it is my responsibility to defend those who have no voice. I do believe that the non-violent direct action of #LoveMakesAWay is one way to do this. If I’m wrong, and this is completely out of line with what Jesus has called me to do, even then, I do believe that that will not be beyond God’s forgiveness. I do believe that I’d rather act in the face of a grave injustice that sit silently and debate with other likeminded people the merits or otherwise of non-violent direct action.

May God have mercy.

a prayer for the broken

The sound of my voice rings in my head:
‘Here are the things you could have said’.
Weary but restless my body cries out,
‘Leave me alone, stop persisting in doubt’.
Tonight the voices have won,
I turn on the light so I won’t feel alone.
The sting of tears fills my eyes,
An ever present reminder of the mess in our lives.
I cry out to God:
‘Where are you now?
How can I go on?
I feel so alone’.
I listen, but silence mocks me,
Where is this God of love and peace?
When will He come and make things right?
When will I no longer fear the night?
When will the pain and tears cease?
When will I meet my long-lost niece?
When will death meet it’s final end?
When will the days be fully spent?
When will I have the guts to say
The thoughts that occupy my night and day?
Lord, I don’t want to live this life,
I need your grace to fight the fight,
To stand and walk, step by step,
To pray and trust and take a breath.
I cannot do this on my own,
Lord have mercy, until my time is come.

On Inactivity

I have nothing to do today. Literally nothing. I’ve never been in this position before. Sure, like most people I take holidays and have occasional ‘nothing days’ but mostly, I fill my time with people and writing and exercise and people and shopping and adventures and people and travel and work and people. For as long as I can remember it’s been like that.

I find it a strange kind of thrill to be busy. Well, honestly, it’s probably more like manic. There’s something comforting about not being alone with my thoughts for too long. I think I’m probably a little bit afraid of my own brain. But now, now I’m alone. Alone with my brain. Alone with myself. I read this article the other day on how to help a child be a writer. It was both heartening and distressing. This sentence stuck with me: ‘First of all, let her be bored. Let her have long afternoons with absolutely nothing to do’. Check. I’m extremely bored. I believe the point was to ensure that the child has enough time to let her mind wander and to embrace creativity. The rest of the advice was also quite helpful, but also disappointingly accurate.

Boredom: check.

Loneliness: check.

Secrets kept: check.

Failure and mistakes: check.

Finding my own voice: I’m getting there.

The Challenge.

I graduated from College last week. That is, in one night, I saw the culmination of four years of tears and hard work. To be honest, it was a bit of an anticlimax. I desperately wanted to be there – I even won the argument with my doctor as to whether or not I was allowed to go having come down with the flu the day before. In many ways it didn’t disappoint. The memory of standing on stage with my teammates will not quickly vanish from my mind. Still, as I look back over the years, the few hours we spent dressed up in Harry Potter-esque capes and hoods did not equal the pain and tears of four years. There should have been fireworks, and a marching band, and circus performers, and and and.

So here we are. Graduates. Oh my.

Each of us had to write a sentence describing what we’re doing this year, having been pushed out of College into the big bad world. Here’s mine:

Tess is pursuing a ministry in writing, hoping to use what she has learnt at College to write theologically rich articles showing both how the gospel is good news in every sphere of life, and also how Christianity is both intellectually and emotionally credible, in a world which so often discredits it on both these counts.

It’s true. I want to be a writer. I just love words. I love their power to persuade and heal, to hearten and stretch. I’m not silly though, I realise that I have chosen a career in which the days are either brilliant or rubbish, that the middle ground is famously hard to find. I realise that I cannot make the words come, any more than I can make the rain come, and that I depend heavily on my creativity to make this work. I realise that this is an unusual choice, but still, it is my choice.

This brings us to the challenge I am setting myself. One article, every week for the rest of the year. Hopefully I’ll have time to do more than that, and hopefully there’ll be opportunity to be published in actual real live journals or newspapers or magazines. But this is the minimum. I’m setting myself this goal, at least partly because I have become completely institutionalised and need structure. But also partly because I have become immobilised at the immensity of the task that I have chosen. This is my way in.

I heard Mark Scott, the Managing Director of the ABC, speak the other day. He said that people who have successful careers in their 40s and 50s are the ones who worked really hard in their 20s and 30s. This is exactly what I plan to do.

Saying Goodbye

Could this be the most hideous word in the English language? Could any other word convey such deep levels of sadness?

I always think there are so many things I want to say when I’m saying goodbye. I should know. I’ve moved over 30 times in my life and at least half a dozen of those have involved significant geographical dislocation. I want to say how much that person has meant to me. I want to let them know just how thankful I am to God and to them for their kindness and their friendship. I want to say how surprised I was that we became such good friends, and how now I can’t imagine life without them.

I have always believed that it is important to actually utter the word ‘goodbye’ when someone is leaving. Not because the friendship is ending. Not because you’ll never see someone again. Not because you don’t care about them anymore. No. It’s because no matter your intention, things will not be the same, and saying ‘see you later’ implies (even subconsciously) that the relationship is not changing. It’s important to recognise the change.

As someone who has moved so much, I know this. And I try to put it into practice. But in the end, the only thing I end up saying is, ‘I don’t know what else to say, other than I’ll miss you’, usually blurted out between uncontrollable tears.

In the moment of saying goodbye, I’m not thinking about logic or being reasonable. I’m thinking about the pain. And it feels like a piece of me is being removed. It’s precise, like a surgeon is using a sharp scalpel to remove a Sarah-sized piece of me. I can’t fight it. I can’t be reasonable. And in reality, I don’t want to. I’m both excited about her new adventure, and devastated at the forthcoming change in our friendship.

My grief and sadness overpowers any other desire to explain just how much this friend means to me. Just how much I have loved being friends with her. Just how much God surprised me with her friendship. The weird thing is, I think she knows. I think she feels it too. She feels the thankfulness. The depth of the friendship. She knows how much it’s going to hurt.

So we cry. We do not need to speak. Together we grieve this loss. This change. It shows me the strength of our friendship that even now, we can sit and cry together, exchanging knowing looks about how much we will miss each other.

This is the pain of being human.

And today? Today I spend the day with a lump in my throat, on the edge of tears, as I process the grief of a best friend leaving. If you see me, please don’t ask me how I am.

On chasing dreams

Chase your dreams.
Nothing is out of your reach.
The sky’s the limit.

These were the mantras of my childhood. I confess, I like them. The outer curves of my imagination also function as my limits. These ideas are very precious to me.

Oddly though, I have always found that my dreams weren’t that difficult to catch, my reach actually extended farther than I thought, and the sky was surprisingly close. It’s not that things have always come easy – I have certainly had a fair amount of struggles and difficult decisions – but more that once I decided that I wanted to do something, and then I just went and did it.

I started a PhD right out of uni. When I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore, I decided I wanted to do ministry, so I did that. Then I decided I wanted to go to Mexico. So I bought a plane ticket and went. Then I wanted to go to College, and guess what, I went.

I know this makes me sound spoilt, as though I’ve never had any battles. That’s so far from true. The battles I have had just haven’t been of the employment variety. I’m coming to see that such an experience is something of a blessing.

But now. Now I face the awful dilemma of knowing what I want to do, but being unable to grasp it. All of a sudden my dreams feel like pipe dreams, all I feel in my fingers is wind, and the sky is cold and distant.

Where do I source the energy to keep applying for the job I want? How do I not give up hope? How do I not take all the rejections personally?

The Commuter’s Life

My alarm goes off at 6am. I am barely awake but my finger knows the sleep button well and before I have a chance to prod my brain into action, the alarm is off and I return to slumber. 6.10am. This time I am slightly more awake and face the physical battle to swing my legs off the side of the bed and sit up. It usually takes til about 6.17am for my feet to hit the floor.

The cat is hungry. I feel my way to the laundry and fetch her bowl, narrowly missing stepping on the cat who weaves in and out between my legs as I walk. She likes to live on the edge. Cat fed: check.

I creep back to the bathroom where my eyelids are still fighting the losing battle to be shut. Who is that girl in the mirror? She looks tired. I desperately wish I had chosen my clothes the night before. Jeans: sure. That red top: ok.

Clean and dressed I make my way to the kitchen. Breakfast. Yes, I should eat something. Cereal is easy, let’s do that. I sit down with a bowl on the couch. I look at the stereo. 6.44am. Is that really the time? I wolf down the rest of the cereal, and leave the bowl soaking in the sink. No time to wash up. I’m already late.

My shoes go clickety-clack as I head back to the bathroom. Makeup: ok. I almost paint my eyeball with mascara. Oops. I stand in the bathroom looking lost, wondering: ‘what else do I have to do here?’ Ah yes, teeth. Clean teeth: check.

I collect my bag from where I dumped it last night as I came in and head out the door. Stop. I forgot to give the cat her tablet. Find cat. Wrestle cat. Lull cat into false sense of security and then execute ‘plan: cat meet tablet’. Back to the door. Stop. Am I wearing earrings? No. Back to my room to find some matching red earrings. Back to the door. Stop: do I have my train ticket. Rifle though bag until I find the ticket. Yes. Ok, let’s go.

On the train my eyelids sense an opportunity to get back in the game, and get in cahoots with the gentle rhythm of the train to make me very drowsy. I give in. I doze. It feels good.

Eyelids: 1. Tess: 0.

Walking to work, I smell coffee. Yes, coffee. This is what I need. I wait patiently to order. It comes. My eyes light up as I take the first sip.

Hello addiction.

Date a Girl who Reads

This, from Rosemarie Urquico:

You should date a girl who reads.

Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes, who has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she has found the book she wants. You see that weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a secondhand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow and worn.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas, for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry and in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who read understand that all things must come to end, but that you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes.