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.

The Risk

I’d like to introduce you to Carl. I met him this evening. He was probably about 40 years old, although because of years of alcohol abuse he looked more like 50. He was pale as a ghost – most probably chilled to the bone. He was thin, too thin for a man of his age.

Our meeting took place under unusual conditions. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have noticed him if his words had not rung in my ears: ‘do you have any change miss?’ I walked past, casually indifferent to his plea – he was not bothered, he just said thank you and went back to huddling underneath his blanket – but his words hit me again and again. I turned back.

The temperature was 4 degrees and I was not excited about standing out there just making conversation. My feet were rapidly turning into ice blocks, my hands were numb and my nose running. Still, something in me persisted.

‘Would you like something to eat?’ I meekly offered.
‘Im actually trying to get enough money together to stay the night in a b&b’, he returned.
‘Oh right. How much do you need?’
‘Its £32 for the night and the guy washes my clothes and lets me stay til 6pm the next day’.
‘Where is this b&b? I’d be happy to pay what you’re missing’.
‘Its a 5 mile walk on the other side of town’.

And on it went. I was cautious. I’ve always been told to never give money to homeless people. He had a story about how there was no room at the shelter and how he had been sober three years and how he went to the church that he was sitting in front of and the priest himself had helped him get sober. I thought of every option. Can we walk with you to the b&b? No, it’s too far away. Can we take a bus? No, there’s not one that goes there. Can we buy you some food instead? Yes please.

He wanted to persuade me that he wasn’t lying so he took me to the priests house – who unfortunately wasn’t home – to prove his genuineness. I was still hesitant. I don’t know what to do in these situations.

He had a phone and rang a friend who then vouched that he wasn’t going to spend the money on alcohol. I talked to the friend on the phone and he even said that he’d ask for a receipt from Carl the following day. Was this all a big scam? Perhaps.

But he seemed so genuine. And needy. I was cold just standing there. I don’t know that I would survive if I had to sleep out there.

So I did it. I gave him the £26 he needed to stay in the b&b. Whether he is there I do not know. I pray he is warm and safely installed in a b&b in Oxford. I hope he finds a place to stay long term and doesn’t have to sleep on the freezing streets this winter.

Did I do the wrong thing? Many of you will think so. But I can’t get away from the fact that people like Carl are desperate. Yes, sometimes they are in those situations by some fault of their own. Sometimes not. I can really never know.

Desperation should not elicit from me a reaction of casual indifference. Whether it is a homeless man begging, or an asylum seeker risking their life to reach my safe country, or a woman fleeing domestic abuse, my prayer is that my heart will be warm and compassionate, not judgemental and cynical.

I think I’m happy to take the risk of helping a desperate person. Yes, it is costly. But how can I possible claim I can’t help him. I have just flown half way around the world for a seven week European holiday. So maybe I’ll buy one less souvenir because I took a risk and tried to help someone. I have been given so much. If you are reading this, you have been given much too. I can’t get away from Jesus’ words:

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. Luke 12:48.

What are you going to do with all that God had given you?

A challenge to a nation of racists

*the full text of my sermon on asylum seekers from women’s chapel at Moore College this morning.

Two months ago, our former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced a new policy on asylum seekers. This was it:

Asylum Seeker Policy under the Rudd Government

Asylum Seeker Policy under the Rudd Government

One month ago, Australians dismissed Kevin Rudd and installed Tony Abbott as our Prime Minister. If anything, the treatment of asylum seekers has worsened, not improved under this new government. Now, as well as removing all chance of being resettled in Australia, the government is refusing the release of information to the media about boat arrivals. It’s almost farcical.

We have a problem. It is, perhaps, a problem unique to the inner city, politically left-leaning people among us. Nevertheless, it is a problem.

Thousands of people are fleeing from their countries of origin to seek asylum in Australia. This is not new. Australia has a long history of resettling displaced peoples during international and regional crises. However, this issue has escalated in recent years, and even further in recent months.

Apparently, these changes have been introduced to stop people smugglers and to stop further loss of life at sea. It’s an admirable goal.

But the country is in an uproar. Why?

Initially, at least some of the objections arose out of the political nature of the debate. Others were concerned with our international obligations. With the change of government has come a shroud of secrecy surrounding boat arrivals leaving Australians uninformed and frustrated. Yet others have applauded the hard line taken by both Kevin Rudd and Prime Minister Tony Abbott, seeing the hard line policy changes as a necessary step in dismantling networks of people smugglers. Christians sit on both sides of this debate.

Perhaps you don’t feel it. Maybe you feel like you’re drowning in essays and exegeticals and exam study. Maybe life at college is all consuming. Maybe you’re busy trying to keep up with your family and your friends. Maybe you are worried about your parents failing health. With all that, you might feel like you don’t have any more mental or emotional energy to think about this issue. Perhaps you are perplexed by the complexity of the issue. Perhaps you cannot see a way through. It seems easier to not think about it.

I get that. I really do. I wish I had an answer. I don’t. I can see valid points on both sides, but I recognise that there is not one simple solution. A multi-faceted approach is required, but this will take time, creativity, and regional co-operation to say the least. Nevertheless, I believe it is possible to carve out a way through the political rhetoric, through the emotive language, and through the general state of overwhelmedness that many of us feel.

With such a complex and emotive issue we need a multi-faceted approach. And here it is.

some thoughts on asylum seekers

some thoughts on asylum seekers

The image of God.

The humanity of Jesus.

‘us’ and ‘them’.

Three massive topics. One little sermon. Put your thinking hats on.

First, asylum seekers are in the image of God.

This argument is both pervasive and persuasive. It goes something like this: we should care about people because they bear the image of God.

Christians often argue that that the dignity of the human being is grounded in the fact that he has been made in the image of God, usually citing the famous passage in Genesis 1:26-27.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth”. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

But let’s be real about this.

We have here only 2 chapters worth of description of the unfallen human life. And descriptions of what it actually looks like to have dominion and to rule in the unfallen world are not exactly profuse. The image is described largely in terms of responsibilities (having dominion, ruling, subduing, filling) rather than the mental abilities or emotional capacity of Adam and Eve.

This has led to an enormous amount of ink being spilled over the question of what it actually means to be in the image of God. At least part of what it means is to be relational. God speaks to them, and they speak back. This is one of the major differences between man and the animals.

Much more has been made of the idea of rationality and reason as those human characteristics that image God. Those who are steeped in our tradition have suggested that

‘the rational soul is made to the image of God in the sense that it can make use of reason and intellect to understand and consider God’ (Augustine).

There is something very appealing here. We are educated, upper middle class Christians. Most of us have one, if not two university degrees. We are rational. And we value rationality in others. If being in the image of God equals possessing a rational mind, then many of us can be confident that we are in the image of God. It is persuasive because we can point to faculties that we possess to assure ourselves that we are in God’s image.

BUT

This isn’t grace. If I can rely on my rationality to be assured of bearing God’s image, I am no longer relying on his generosity in making me in his image in the first place. We are made in his image, and we bear it still, even though we are plagued by sin.

It is true: all people are made in the image of God. But the question still lingers: what does being in the image of God actually mean? Answering this question will help us navigate a way through the complex issue of asylum seekers.

Casting our eyes to Jesus, we see the one who bears the image of God fully and perfectly. Jesus is the true image bearer. Colossians 1:15 says,

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.

He shows us what it truly means to be a human being in the image of God. We can learn a lot more about bearing the image of God from Jesus than we ever could from Adam and Eve.

Jesus took on human flesh. Paul tells us how it is:

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men (Phil 2:5-7).

So also John:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

The gospels tell us the story of why Jesus took on the likeness of men. It was so that he could stand in our place, take the punishment for sin that we deserve, and redeem sinful humanity, thereby opening up the way for humankind to once again be in a right relationship with God.

This was God’s decision. It was not based on the inherent worth of the individual. Once before he had made a different decision. Cast your minds back to Genesis 6.

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

But he promised to never do that again. Never again! This promise was yet another example of God’s enduring commitment to his people

In the incarnation of Jesus we see this commitment take on a whole new level of self-giving as God the Son takes on flesh and enters the world as a human.

The incarnation is not a new attitude towards humans. It is the actualisation of God’s self-giving love for his people that he has always had for them. It is the next step in salvation history and yet another declaration that he is committed to his creatures. It is God’s declaration that human beings are valuable. And their value is derived from God’s own attitude towards them. This attitude is marked by love and sacrifice.

The sacrifice of Jesus was his death. His vindication was his resurrection. And his resurrection was nothing less than miraculous! He was raised to life in an actual physical body. Not an apparition. Not a ghost. Not a spirit. An actual body.

Jesus coaxes the disciples to touch his resurrected body to prove it:

“See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” (Luke 24:39)

A human in his life. A human in his resurrection. There is continuity. If there were not, then death would not really be defeated.

‘But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead’ (1 Cor 15:20).

The resurrection of Jesus signals Christian hope for bodily resurrection in the age to come. In a profound sense, I am my body.

If we thought God’s commitment took on a whole new level in the incarnation, in the resurrection of Jesus we see him raising it even further. The resurrected Son of God affirms the goodness of the created order.

Even this is not all there is! As the physically resurrected Jesus, he is taken into heaven. Luke records it for us:

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight (Luke 1:9).

There is nothing in the creeds of the early church to suggest that when Jesus ascended to heaven, he somehow left his body behind. And any view of the incarnation that ceases with the ascension is actually a sentence of condemnation.

If he dropped his humanity, our humanity, then he has effectively dropped us.

What we have here in Jesus is a summary of God’s attitude towards humans. They are the objects of God’s love. He has declared it to be so in his Son.

If this is true, then it changes the way that we think about humans.

It changes the way we think about asylum seekers.

We are not the first to think this.

The 1860s saw a great deal of racism directed towards Chinese immigrants. A group of Christian ministers penned a letter to the public in response. It read:

We need not remind you that the record of redemption lays down the grand principle that God made of one blood all the nations of men. Common in their origin – one in their fall – the objects of the same divine compassion – they are sharers of the nature of him who was found in fashion as a man. He lived and died and rose again for the redemption of all mankind.

Much has changed in the intervening 152 years. The world is a very different place. But in many ways, nothing has changed. Racism is rife. People still need to be reminded, perhaps more than ever, that all mankind shares in the nature of Jesus.

They need to be reminded because we live in a nation of racists. And it’s not just out there. It’s in here. In this room. In my heart. In our hearts.

And Asylum seekers are different to us, aren’t they? They have a different culture. A different religion. Different family structures. A different language. They are not the same as us.

But let’s not jump universally condemn this differentiation between ‘us’ and ‘them’. It might actually prove to be a little bit useful.

To begin with, this is the way that God exists in relationship with himself. Yes, I am talking about the Trinity.

In John 14-17 Jesus says,

‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me’ and ‘All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said to you that [the Holy Spirit] will take what is mine and declare it to you’.

This could be the subject of a whole sermon, but here’s the take home point: Within the Trinity, each person dwells within the other. Each is distinct. Together they are one. This is very hard to understand. Don’t think about it too much. It’ll make your brain hurt.

As we have already traced, he gave his Son to bring the offer of redemption to all humans. This is simultaneously the declaration of the value of the human, and the revelation of his self-giving love for people. Jesus Christ the man gave up his life to welcome God’s enemies into his eternal communion.

We know that he did it for his enemies because of Romans 5:6-8:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Did you notice that? Again, it’s God’s enduring commitment to humanity. For those who are his enemies.

God the Father relates to the Son and the Spirit as ‘others’. Now we see that as the Trinity, they are the ‘us’. We are the ‘them’. We, the sinners.

On the cross,

‘we, the others – we, the enemies – are embraced by the divine persons who love us with the same love with which they love each other and therefore make space for us within their own eternal embrace’ (Volf, Exclusion & Embrace).

The life of the Son is the gift of the Trinity as a whole. He gave his life to make space for the ‘other’, the sinners, to enter into communion with God.

Such an offer of embrace was costly for God. It cost the life of his beloved Son.

The offer is extended to all people. But it is not unlimited. The death of Jesus is both a yes and a no. God will not embrace every person. Nevertheless, God’s self-giving provides a model for welcoming the ‘other’ and the ‘stranger’ into the Australian community. God’s own response to his ‘other’, his enemy, is to open up himself and extend the offer of welcome.

As tensions escalate and frustrations are expressed, the Christian may bring a word of surprising comfort.

Every person is both an ‘us’ and a ‘them’. It is a matter of perspective. This must be held tightly together with Jesus being the true image bearer. God has declared the eternal value of human life through the incarnation, resurrection and ascension of his Son, Jesus Christ.

By willingly donating his life, Jesus has opened up the possibility of moving from being God’s other to being part of his eternal communion.

In the same way, we may pursue sacrificial giving of our social expectations and our very selves. We might do this so that we can welcome others as God has welcomed us.

Yes, it will open up the possibility of rejection, failure and even violence.

But it will be a response to asylum seekers not driven by fear of the ‘other’, but by the love of God.

Now that’s a better place to start.

Ché: my revolutionary hero.

Confession: I have an ideological crush on Ché Guevara. You may know him as the face plastered on the tees of young anarchists today or perhaps as the man who used to be second in command to Fidel Castro in Cuba. He was an instrumental part of the Cuban Revolution and a pivotal part of many other South American revolutions.

20130911-191819.jpg

Aside from the obvious handsome factor, I simply love that he saw injustice, corrupt dictatorships and poverty; and he acted. He couldn’t be persuaded to return to Argentina and be a doctor. He wanted to see change.

There are obvious questions to be raised about his approach – not least his appropriation of arms in his battle against capitalism. In the end, his turn towards violent revolution led to his name being added to the CIA’s ‘most wanted’ list, and his assassination in 1967 in Bolivia. Things didn’t end so well for him.

My whole life I have wanted to be a revolutionary. I’m not happy to sit back and watch the world go by. I want to be involved, to have a say, to see things I hate, and to invoke change. It’s why I sign petitions. It’s why I attend protests and rallies. It’s why I read the paper and write letters to the editor. But I never feel like I do enough.

I read about child labour in sweatshops but I still buy cheap clothes. The revolutionary in me wants to jump on a plane and overthrow those who run sweatshops.

I watch as our government introduces an unjust and illegal policy for asylum seekers and write a letter to the editor and a few blogs. I go to a few protests. The revolutionary in me wants to camp outside government house til they change the policy.

I see children exposed to pornography on the internet in the name of free speech and grieve the loss of innocence. I do nothing. The revolutionary in me wants to find a way to boycott those websites that are so wicked.

I do less than I’d like because I like my life. I don’t want to lose my freedoms and my upper-middle class privileges. Revolutionaries don’t think about their own life. They think about others. They are visionaries and picture not what is, but what could be.

I hate guns and don’t at all advocate Ché’s use of them. But still, I want to be a revolutionary. I want to work for change. I want to imagine a better world. Do you?

Disillusioned.

Rant begin.

I voted for Kevin Rudd in 2007. He’s not perfect, in fact, I think he’s far from it. But still, he seemed to stand up for his convictions. It is my understanding that he is perhaps not the easiest person to work with, but having no personal experience of him, my decision to give him my vote was based solely on his political platform and convictions. I was incredulous at the leadership coup staged by Julia Gillard and the subsequent hung parliament for a few weeks in the middle of 2010. I was always sceptical of Julia after that, not sure if I could trust someone who would do that to her leader. I was not entirely displeased when Kevin Rudd was reinstated as Prime Minister last month.

Now I don’t know what to think.

The announcement today of the Papua New Guinea ‘solution’ to the problem of thousands of asylum seekers arriving by boat is the latest in a line of government policies that marginalise an already displaced group of people. They are desperate. How is this difficult to see? Would you jump on a boat you knew was likely to sink, putting your life at risk (and the lives of your family) simply for a spot on the beach? Unlikely. This is an act of desperation. Seeking asylum is not a criminal act, but look at our policies. We treat it as one. I’m sorry Mr. Rudd, but this is NOT NEARLY meeting our compassionate requirements under the UN Convention.

I think you just lost my vote.

Rant over.

*more here: http://www.deaconessministries.org.au/_blog/Blog/post/asylum-seekers/