Category Archives: Politics

Beyond #changethedate, how do we #changetheheart?

Here we are again. January 26. A day on which I am often tempted to engage with all kinds of ideas and questions and debates. Last year, I posted about some of the things that I have learned over the last couple of decades that have led me to think we need to #changethedate.

But this year, through listening to some of my Aboriginal sisters and brothers I have learned it is so much more than that.

We need to #changetheheart in order to #changethenation. 

Because in terms of the big picture, the reality is that since this time last year, nothing has really changed. Australia still has the world’s largest life expectancy gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people. A Human Rights Report Card released this month gives us a dismal F-minus for progress on indigenous rights this year. And changing the date will not itself change these realities.

Hearing again the statistics leads me to mourning and despair again. But I also know that my own heart has been softened, challenged, and broken further over this past year. And that is probably a good place to start.

This year I’ve tried to open my eyes to see the First Nations people around me in my city, to appreciate what I have to learn from them and to be confronted with the suffering too many of them are enduring.

While in Israel in April, what I saw challenged me to recognise myself as someone who lives on a land that is not my own, and to consider what it would mean in practice to identify myself this way.

After coming home, I took some time to read through and reflect on the Uluru Statement from the Heart. How can I respond to its calls for truth telling and walking together?

In June I was challenged to learn each day of National Reconciliation Week, hearing and sharing some of the horrific stories of the history of our nation’s response to our indigenous people.

In October I had the privilege of standing side by side with Aboriginal Christian leader Brooke Prentis as our church accepted her hand of friendship as we continue to journey in listening to our Aboriginal sisters and brothers.

This week I attended a service of Lament and Prayer and joined with indigenous and non-indigenous sisters and brothers in hope for a better future in this land.

I don’t list these things to make it sound like I have achieved anything or arrived anywhere. Each of these have been simple and small steps, and I have still have so much to learn.

But I want to keep challenging myself, and I want to challenge you, to keep taking steps of friendship and reconciliation. To let my heart and not just my head be impacted by what this day means for First Nations peoples and so to grow in understanding, respect and acknowledgment.

These are the things that have been changing my heart and I hope there are more to come. What is changing yours?

Photo of Common Grace #changetheheart flyer for 2019 prayer services

Crying over spilled leadership?

Last Friday afternoon I found myself, like numbers of my fellow Australians, glued to my phone, waiting and watching for the results of the latest Liberal party leadership spill. Waiting to find out who our Prime Minister was.

The flurry of social media polls and memes. The speculation and rumours. Then the results, the announcements, the reactions, the counter reactions, and the counter-counter reactions.

Now it’s a week later and  … it feels like nothing much has changed.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful to live in a country where we can have a sudden and unexpected change of political leaders without shots fired or bombs detonated, without mass protests or prison sentences. I recognise that throughout history and across the world, that is a pretty privileged position to be in.

I’m also frustrated that many of the policy decisions that disturb and outrage me remain unexamined regardless of who is in charge.

But I can’t help feeling like the change of leadership itself should matter more. That the very fact of who leads us should somehow be more significant in its influence and impact upon us.

Sure, for the political die-hards the conversation has continued. And amongst that group there have been plenty of ongoing discussions about the roles of gender and faith in political leadership, not to mention the leaking of several disparaging stories about various contenders. But most other people I have talked to have already moved on. Nothing to see here. More of the same. Whatever.

Perhaps it just shows how disconnected our political leaders are from most people’s everyday lives. Or perhaps it demonstrates our own apathy and lack of engagement in the electoral process. Maybe it demonstrates the lack of diversity amongst those who rise to the top in our system such that they become barely distinguishable from one another to many.

But as someone interested in leadership and influence more broadly, I wonder whether it also has something to say about our understanding of leadership itself.

Is there something to learn here?

If we’re honest, most of us in leadership roles like to think that who we are and what we do really matters. That people would notice if we were gone. Perhaps even that things would fall apart without us. It is disheartening to feel that we might be but cogs in a machine that will continue to turn unabated regardless of whether it is us or someone else in the position of influence and power.

And perhaps if we too were offered the opportunity for greater significance and prestige in leadership we might be tempted to do whatever it takes to grasp hold of it.

But is that what leadership is really all about? Is leadership really about us at all?

Some of the commentary on the events of the past week has pointed to a deeper concern. The bipartisan chord struck by Senator Richard di Natale’s fiery speech suggests that maybe many are actually looking for a different kind of leadership. That in the midst of crises and trials, we are looking for leaders who put their service to the people they represent above their own interests and ambitions. For a kind of leadership that empties itself and seeks the good of the community first and foremost.

This kind of leadership appears to be much harder to come by. Not just because we don’t often see it in our political leaders, but because I know myself how much I struggle to embody it. And how often we can be tempted to disregard it.

But it is the kind of leadership that has been demonstrated to have a different kind of power: the power to truly transform lives and through those lives to change the world for good.

Jesus of Nazareth said to his followers, “You know that the rulers of the nations lord power over them and their high officials wield authority over them. It is not to be like this among you. Rather, the one who wants to become great among you is to be your servant and the one who wants to be first among you is to be your slave, just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

And when His followers have taken those words to heart and followed His example to lead by serving, when the church has been at its best, lives, communities, and nations have been transformed. This is the model of leadership many are crying for.

So whether the political conversation simmers down for a while or boils over again soon, as I reflect and think out loud about my responses, my question today is this: How can I let the dissatisfaction I am feeling with our national leaders challenge me as to what kind of leader I am and want to be?

Can we be thinking about how leadership might be ‘spilled’ in a different kind of way, in the pouring out of ourselves for the benefit of others? Or in other words,

What does it look like for me to lead by serving?

Walls and Windows: an initial reflection

I spent most of April in Israel and the West Bank, perhaps my favourite part of the world, and also one of the places I find the most confronting, confusing, challenging and heartbreaking. There is so much I want to share but so much I am still processing and so much I don’t understand. So much that I want those who live there to be able to share for themselves. It’s difficult when people ask for highlights to try to summarise what stood out. But looking through my photos from this trip, I was struck by the preponderance of these two images: walls and windows. Perhaps exploring them will capture something of all that I am reflecting on.

Walls represent barriers, boundaries, and demarcations. They stand for keeping people in and keeping people out. They often divide. Each one tells many stories, all with at least two sides.

Windows represent visibility, perspective and viewing. They are there not so much to be looked at as to be looked through.  Each one invites reflection, and the opportunity to look at things from a new angle.

Ancient city walls

Walls have been part of human history for millennia. This gate, built by the Canaanites in the second millennium BCE, is what remains of the oldest wall I saw, one which it is probable people like Abraham would have passed through.

It’s at a site called Tel Dan, where there are also these ‘newer’ Israelite city walls – dating to the 9th century BCE.

At Megiddo, excavations lay bare the layers of various city walls built over thousands of years in this city which was destroyed and rebuilt 25 times.

At the entrance to the city are the walls of the fortified city King Solomon built.

At Masada, the remains of walls built to protect a desert mountain fortress still stand.

And inside the ruins of Herod’s palace, parts of the walls of an opulent bathhouse can be glimpsed.

Jerusalem Walls

The Old City of Jerusalem can certainly be called a city of walls – it is surrounded by them and contains within it one of the most famous walls in the world. The current walls around the city were built in the Ottoman period, dating to around 1540 CE. In places like this, you can also see the remains of much earlier walls.

The city’s main northern entrance is the impressive Damascus Gate, built on top of a gate dating back to Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century CE.

On the other side of the city, the Zion Gate bears bullet marks from the 1948 Israeli War of Independence.

Within the Old City are remnants of much older walls, including the broad wall built by Hezekiah in the 8th century BCE.

And inside the newly excavated Kishle, remains of a wall built during the Hasmonean period of Jewish independence in the 2nd century BCE.

And of course, in the heart of Jerusalem are the remaining parts of walls of the Temple built by King Herod in the first century BCE. This is the Temple Jesus visited, taught at and pronounced judgment upon.

The Herodian stones are massive and impressive, up to 13 metres in length.

The closest part of the wall to where the Temple was forms a centre of Jewish worship and patriotism in the Old City, commonly called the Wailing Wall. Thousands gathered to received the priestly blessing during Passover.

Thousands more came to celebrate national pride on the country’s Independence Eve.

Spending time at the wall to welcome in the Sabbath is a pretty amazing opportunity to see something of the celebration and joy that Jewish worship can encompass – in a multitude of different ways all at the same time.

The plaza in front of the wall is divided by a different kind of wall, separating men from women, leaving mothers to stand on chairs craning to look over as their sons undergo their coming of age ceremonies.

One of my favourite Jerusalem walks is up on top of the Old City walls, where it is usually quiet and you can look down into the city upon all these things and ponder the stories they tell and the values they signify.

And you can also look outside the old city and in the distance catch a glimpse of the most modern of the major walls in this land … the Separation Wall.

The Separation Wall

Israel started building this wall in 2002. It is actually only a wall when it surrounds towns. For most of its length it is two barbed wire fences with an exclusion zone in between.

The Israelis say this is a security barrier to protect them against terrorists.

Many Palestinians call it a racial barrier or apartheid wall.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice found that the wall violates international law and in response the United Nations passed a resolution 150-6 (with 10 abstentions) condemning it and calling on both sides to meet the obligations they had already agreed to under the ‘roadmap’ to peace. I find it difficult to comprehend that my country was one of the six.

Politics aside, it’s hard to overestimate the psychological effect  growing up inside a wall like this has on children.

Frustrations and heartbreak are expressed by locals and visitors alike in graffiti and art all along the wall.

Famously, UK artist Banksy has painted various iconic images of subversive peace on it.

He also founded this establishment that bills itself as “the hotel with the worst view in the world.”

Inside is a small museum examining various perspectives on the impact of the wall.

Most mornings, those workers who have the right permits line up in this corral to cross the wall from Bethlehem into Jerusalem. Unless of course it has been closed for some reason – which seems to only be for those who live and work here, not tourists. Even when it is open to all, crossing a checkpoint with ease when most around you are questioned and searched is certainly a humbling experience.

Near the wall are a number of ‘refugee camps’ – but quite unlike what that name might suggest to many. Established just after 1948 and still under UN agency control, Aida camp, for example, is a rabbit warren of streets and apartment blocks home to five and a half thousand people in an area of 0.1km2.

Its residents use parts of the wall as memorials to children killed in fighting with wall security forces.

It is hard to see hope here. Surely there must be a better way forward. This kind of wall grieves me and I believe it grieves my Father. The founder of the Bethlehem Icon School painted this beautiful commission on the wall, a symbol of grief from this town’s most famous mother.

Windows

I have no solution to offer to this mess. And it wouldn’t be my place to offer one anyway. All I can do is share what I have seen, heard, and felt. But if there are any glimmers of hope I see in this place it is from the people I met who live there and are seeking to find and walk in ways of reconciliation, restoration, and peace. To me, in this place of walls, they are like windows.

I think of this window in Jerusalem from a church called Dominus Flevit, meaning the Lord wept. It looks over the Temple mount and remembers the place where Jesus paused to weep over this city. It causes me to ask where He is pausing and weeping today.

Or this window in Nazareth picturing Mary receiving the most surprising news of God coming in a completely unexpected way. It causes me to hope that just because we can’t think of a way forward doesn’t mean there isn’t one. God can still bring Peace in unexpected ways.

Most frequently, I found myself struck by many of the modern, abstract stained glass windows we saw in various churches in this land.

And the way each one reflects light in its own unique, often surprising, way.

From Nazareth to Bethlehem, Jerusalem to Galilee, I found myself drawn to the ways they let in and refract the sunlight.

The same sunlight, yet each has its unique beauty depending on its shape, colours and position.

To me that is a beautiful metaphor of what it means to be people of peace. People of light. People of faith.

And I met people like that in this land. People whom I continue to pray will find unexpectedly beautiful ways to shine light in the darkness.

A particular favourite of mine are these windows in a church at Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee. They are made of very thinly sliced alabaster. I am attracted to their incredible beauty, but I’m also intrigued by their very existence.

Windows made of stone. Who imagined that possible? And is it therefore possible that there might be a generation in this place who are able to imagine the impossible and even somehow turn walls into windows?