Tag Archives: Refugees

Celebrating and weeping on World Refugee Day

Some thoughts from World Refugee Day three years ago … still very relevant, although the number of refugees and displaced persons worldwide is now well over 65 million and rising fast.

Thinking Out Loud ...

Image Copyright Michael Leunig/The Age http://www.theage.com.au/photogallery/national/cartoons-for-wednesday-15-august-20120814-246ud.htmlImage copyright Michael Leunig/The Age

The UN General Assembly agreed in 2000 that June 20, today, would be celebrated as World Refugee Day. It is designed to be a day on which the world takes time to recognise the resilience of forcibly displaced people throughout the world.

It is good to celebrate. We can often think of people who have had to flee their home country due to war or persecution primarily in terms of their suffering. But so many refugees show themselves to be not only resilient, but incredibly gracious and compassionate, going on to make incredible contributions to the lives of people in their new home countries and around the world.

Did you know authors Victor Hugo and Joseph Conrad were refugees? As were actors Andy Garcia, Rachel Weisz, Marlene Dietrich and Jackie Chan, scientist Albert Einstein, artist Peter Carl Faberge, businessman Aristotle Onassis, philosophers Sigmund Freud and Freidrich…

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Australia Day. It’s complicated.

There is much to celebrate about living in Australia today. We have incredible natural beauty, material riches, social opportunities, political freedom, and cultural innovation. A national day is a good occasion to name and reflect upon all of these things. I’m grateful for my country.

There is also much to grieve over in living in Australia today. Issues of domestic violence, suicide, binge drinking and racism, among others, are too often hidden behind our “she’ll be right mate” attitudes. A national day is also a useful opportunity to reflect on who we want to be and what we need to change. I want to participate in seeing my country grow.

There is a huge challenge in marking this day of all days as our national day. Two hundred and twenty seven years ago today we didn’t win a battle or make a political declaration or join together with a vision for a nation. We invaded someone else’s land, and we still haven’t really come to terms with the systemic and generational problems we wrought upon those people. I grieve for my indigenous brothers and sisters.

There is also great irony in remembering the day people like me arrived in this country uninvited by boat in the current context of our national policies and attitudes towards those who make that same kind of journey today. It’s difficult to sing the second verse of a national anthem which proclaims we have “boundless plains to share” when we imprison children whose parents have tried to take us up on that offer. I am horrified by my complicity in how my country is treating refugees.

Australia Day is a complicated day.

Today, many Australians will enjoy a day off work, head to the beach, share a barbie with mates, watch fireworks, wear green and gold (or red, blue and white – even that is complicated!) Others will attend ceremonies honouring some of our citizens for acts of bravery or lifetimes of service, or become citizens themselves, pledging to play their part in making this country what it can yet become.

Today, I am inspired by some good friends to add to my Australia Day some practices that acknowledge the complicatedness of this day. I want to pause to acknowledge what happened on this day. Rather than pretend we can forget the past, I want to remember it rightly. My friend Julian wrote a thought-provoking piece that gives me some ideas on how to begin to do this. And I want to seek God’s forgiveness and favour on this land and all her people, no matter who they are or where they have come from. My friend Ellen wrote a beautiful lament last year that gives me some words to begin to do this. I hope they will inspire you as well.

So many words. Who is really listening?

Listening - FDR Memorial

There has been so much going on in the world over the last few weeks. Gaza. Israel. Ukraine. MH 17. Iraq. Syria. Nigeria. Nauru. I’ve found myself in the paradoxical position of feeling lost for words … and yet wanting to say so much.

But when I scroll through my facebook or twitter feeds I see link after link to articles and opinion pieces and blog posts. So much virtual ink being spilled. So many words. So many people speaking.

It makes me wonder.

Who is listening?

Certainly not the people commenting on many of the opinion pieces or blog posts I have read. Mostly they seem to be talking past each other, in a hurry to accuse each other of being on the wrong side, or of saying or thinking the wrong thing.

So many strong opinions. So many assumptions that one comment made implies a whole host of other opinions and positions. So many implications that there are only two sides to an issue and one is completely right and the other completely wrong. So many black and white pronouncements. So many accusations.

Yes, I have informed opinions about what is going on in Gaza. Yes, I have strong feelings about what is happening to the Christians in Iraq and how it is (or isn’t) being portrayed in the mainstream media. Yes, I have thoughts about the shooting down of MH 17 and how our country has responded to it. Yes, I have passions about how the Australian government is talking about and treating refugees arriving by boat. Yes, I am still concerned about the missing kidnapped girls in Nigeria and violence against women everywhere. Yes, I could go on.

I could write post after post about each of those situations. I have tried to educate myself about each of them. I have some experience with the issues involved in some of them. I hope I bring a thoughtful, theological perspective to bear on them.

But before I say another word about them, I have two questions. One is for you and the other is for me.

First, to you. Would you listen? Would you really listen to me? Or would you use what I said to judge me and pigeonhole me and decide whether I am on “your side” of an issue or not? Would I simply confirm what you already think, or lead you to dismiss my thought processes because you have already decided you disagree with my conclusion? Is there any chance that something I say could change how you think about these situations? Because if there isn’t, you cannot hear me.

Second, to me. Have I really listened? Before I speak, have I taken every opportunity to really hear those who are directly affected by the situations the rest of us are opining about? Because I fear that what I see too often is people like me, people in comfortable, wealthy, educated, privileged positions, pontificating about situations in which real people are suffering. How many of them have I listened to? I mean really listened to. How many of them have I greeted by name, sat down with, and genuinely sought to hear?

I was wondering the other day how different the internet would be if there was a rule that you could only write a blog post or an opinion piece about a situation in the world if you were actually on a first name basis with a real person living in that situation and had listened to what they have to say. No doubt that’s an idealistic, unworkable idea, but it’s one that challenges me and keeps me asking questions rather than making statements.

The apostle James spoke these words of wisdom nearly two thousand years ago.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”

What would it look like for us to listen, really listen, to these words in the way we respond to the crises around our world? Do you think perhaps it could somehow make a difference?