Girard, Dr Seuss, and the United Patriots Front

Rene Girard died this week. Thankfully his world-changing insights will live on, but we owe an enormous debt to a man who articulated them with such erudition.

Reading articles like this one on the ‘leader’ of the United Patriots Front, a far right group opposing Islam in Australia, reminded me of one of Girard’s insights that continues to hold deep explanatory power. Namely, that conflict does not arise because of difference, but because of sameness or proximity – that it is when two people or groups have only slight differences that conflict escalates. (Dr Seuss also helpfully made this observation in an even more engaging way with his story of The Zax.)

The irony of the UPF, with its violent ideology, persecution complex, religious imagery and language and determination to establish its ideals through violently conquering its enemies, is that it is precisely the mirror image of what it purports to oppose.

As Dr Chloe Patton, an expert in the visual imagery of extremism, notes in the article, “Here we have an individual who is clearly radicalised, who is brandishing firearms while preaching holy war.” No doubt this person would see himself as the opposite of Islamic extremists, yet he could hardly be more obviously similar.

This is the dynamic that enables people and groups to justify becoming monstrous in order to defeat what they perceive to be monsters, a dynamic which enables the West’s brutality towards Islamic State, itself (at least in part) a product of the West’s brutality across the Middle East and central Asia.

It is this neverending process of mirroring/imitation that Jesus warns us about in the last part of Matthew 5 (see my more in depth explanation here), encouraging us instead to break the cycle by imitating the ‘complete/perfect’ love of God (not just towards neighbour, but enemy also).

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Holy Innocents Procession 2014

20141228_164433Three days after Christmas, the church commemorates the Feast of the Holy Innocents, remembering the child victims of Herod’s pursuit of political and military power in Matthew 2:1-18. In our day, children and other innocents continue to be the “collateral damage” of political policies of power and control.

We gather each year to remember these contemporary innocent victims of Australia’s pursuit of power and control – in our wars, in asylum seekers, in foreign policy, and more.

This is the sixth year we have comemorated the Feast of the Holy Innocents, and it continues to be a significant event. This year there were fewer than usual of the antiwar crew, but a number of Love Makes A Way crew came along.

As usual we gathered out the front of Victoria Barracks, where we read the story from Matthew 2, and shared in prayer together. Strangely, no less than three wedding parties 20141228_154539turned up during our brief time there, to have photographs taken in front of the bluestone walls and cannons of the base. Perhaps a hopeful sign that love will eventually overwhelm these places until there is no need for them anymore? I must say it felt incongruous with the serious nature of the place and its activities, particularly given our reason for being there. Is our warmaking now just a background prop in the privileged drama of our Western lives? Consumerism and miltarism seem to have combined to make war a lifestyle accoutrement, decoration for an otherwise drab existence.

We had an opportunity to share a prayer for contemporary Holy Innocents, and to write their names on white crosses to carry with us. In particular, I was remembering the many babies of asylum seeker families who are being held indefinitely in immigration detention, with little hope of ever obtaining permanent residency here. These children, born in Australia, are being held hostage for the government’s purposes. Their families suffer enormous mental and physical anguish and distress.

Others remembered the victims of drone strikes in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (amongst others). Also the victims of terrorist attacks in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Then we walked together, first to Federation Square, through the crowds of people milling for Boxing Day sales and cricket matches. As we walked, the reaction of passersby was as telling as ever. Mostly eyes averted, little acknowledgement. A brief interruption to their disconnected reverie.

This year we had a flyer to distribute to those interested, explaining what we were doing 20141228_165522and why. Not an attempt to pursuade so much as explain.

For me, this is the importance of this event – not for others so much as ourselves. In the midst of a society content to live with superficial pleasures, we try to open a space for connection to the deep pain of the world. It’s an opportunity to puncture the illusion of our peaceful, secure land – a peace and security built on the subjugation of others, from the First Peoples to whatever country we’re invading and bombing next. In remembering and connecting to this reality, we lament, and commit ourselves to continued resistance.

Finally we returned to the Shrine of Remembrance – this time no police or guards stopping us from entering, we walked up the wide boulevard and approached the Shrine. Pausing in the shade of adjacent trees for a final reflection, we were able to bring remembrance in that place to the usually forgotten victims of war – civilians and refugees. One participant reminded us that our discomfort from the heat we were experiencing was incomparable to that experienced by those incarcerated at Manus Island and Nauru.

I’m always deeply appreciative of folks for coming along in this time of year that we fill with so many other activities, and holding the space open for reflection and lament. May we continue to commit ourselves to resistance to the further victimisation of our innocent brothers and sisters, children and adults alike.20141228_171059

Dislocation: Simon’s soundtrack 2014

Dislocation Counting Crows

Somewhere Under Wonderland is Counting Crows’ first album of original material in many years, and I while I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite, it has some standout tracks. This one took a while to grow on me, but it’s the kind of rock I think CC have always wanted to make, and I can hear both Adam’s delight and sincerity in the lyrics.

I am written in the radio
I dream on my TV
Dislocation, dislocation
I am fading out in stereo
I don’t remember me
Dislocation, dislocation.

La Cienega Just Smiled Ryan Adams
The kind of laid-back, sprawling epic that Ryan Adams seems to put on effortlessly. If you want to chill out to a slightly melancholic anthem, put this one on.

Go Let It Out Oasis
Oasis never depart far from the script, but what they do, they do well. I love where the bass comes in on this track.

September Earth, Wind and Fire
Once again we did GraceTree movies over last summer. This song featured in a particularly joyful scene in The Intouchables, and brings up warm nights under the stars in summer for me.

Wiseblood Tender Mercies
Highly recommend this entire album – alt-country-gospel brilliance, and a side project for Dan Vickrey and Jim Bogios from Counting Crows (who often cover this and other Tender Mercies songs).

One Sunday morning at dawn you know they baptised my soul
But they held me down so long Christ I almost drowned
I was the kind of boy who never learned to smile, so I kicked and I screamed
‘Til I tore myself lose from all these, great big hands oh yeah.

Laid James
I was trying to decide between this one and Tom Petty’s Freefallin’. I just like the way this one is so unabashed.

Against Th’ Law Billy Bragg and Wilco
2014 was definitely a year of civil disobedience, not only for me, but for stacks of others. With the rise of Love Makes A Way, Maules Creek and a particularly eventful Swan Island Peace Convergence, this song felt topical, but somehow also reassuring. While my overly-literal kids argued “Not everything is against the law”, sometimes it feels like it hey Woody?

Strange Desire INXS
Early in 2014 I was one of those sucked in to the nostalgia of Michael Hutchence’s death – an event which really affected me when it happened, I was a big INXS fan and it felt like they were at the top of their game. So I listened to Welcome To Wherever You Are a lot this year, and was reminded of the era when albums were written as albums, to be taken as a whole, and not just a collection of random singles for radio or iPod. I couldn’t include the whole album though, so here’s one you probably didn’t hear much from that album.

In Between Days The Cure
I listened to The Cure a lot in the latter 1/3 of this year. A ridiculous amount. Being the band of choice for Goths when I was in high school I never listened to them much, assuming they were a bit obsessed with death and depression, but they’re actually more often love songs with an edginess to their pop.

Ch-Check It Out Beastie Boys
I listened to a fair bit of Beasties this year. Every time this comes on my mp3 player in the car, the kids say, “Is this the Sesame Street one?” because the “Ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-check it out, wh-wh-wh-wh-what’s it all about” part is on Sesame Street. And for that, I love Sesame Street.

OPP Naughty by Nature
I don’t know, I think it’s the Jackson 5 samples, but this one is just so catchy. Wrong, but catchy.

Bless the Lord Taize
Craig Farrell and I sang this in the Geelong police cells after the sit-in at Richard Marles’ office, as the cold air seeped in from the exercise yard and the concrete walls echoed with our voices. It doesn’t really fit musically in this compilation, but I couldn’t not include it.

God Only Knows The Beach Boys
I’ve heard this described as an utterly flawless love song, and I can see why.

Bonus track: Possibility Days Counting Crows
It was hard to choose just one track from this album, and probably this is my favourite track from it, so I had to include it. They know how to bring a song – especially ballads – to a climax, and to get the right lyrical mix of redemption and regret.

So you pull down the shades
And you shut out the light
Because somehow we mixed up
Goodbye and good night…

Support Dave Pocock

A couple of days ago, rugby union player Dave Pocock and 7 others (including Rick Laird, a local farmer) were arrested for locking on to a piece of coal mining equipment in the Leard State Forest to slow the expansion of the Maules Creek coal mine which is devastating local livelihoods and ecologies and fuelling climate change. Dave wrote eloquently about his reasons for acting, which you can read here.

As a result of his actions, Dave has since been given an official warning by the ARU, who claim it has breached their code of conduct for players. He deserves our solidarity and support. So this is what I wrote to the ARU in response, and I encourage you to contact them too to express your support for David.

I was really disappointed to read that you have given David Pocock an official warning for his peaceful act of civil disobedience at the Leard Forest. The implication is that he had done something wrong, when in reality he had done something very right in taking nonviolent direct action to protect the planet and the future of humanity.

There is a significant difference between the usual self-interested or thoughtless acts of law breaking that footballers engage in, and selfless acts of thoughtful, principled civil disobedience such as that David engaged in. I would have hoped your code of conduct would reflect that distinction, as does my own code of conduct as a Baptist Church minister. I would respectfully suggest that such a clause be written in to such codes of conduct in future.

This official sancion against David for his actions demonstrates an organisation which is sadly out of touch with the reality of the world in which it operates. The ARU cannot ignore the reality of climate change, or any other social justice issue, as though it exists in a separate world. Moreover, acts like David’s make him a remarkable role model of integrity and selflessness, and the ARU’s response should reflect that.

I urge you to reconsider both your response to David, and any future act of nonviolent civil disobedience for social and ecological justice.

Warm regards,
Rev. Simon Moyle

You can also express support on social media using the hashtag #StandWithPocock.

Lisa Simpson and the “War on Terror”

Every time I hear someone say that the war on terrorism or the latest governmental breach of civil liberties is making us safer, I think of the following exchange between Homer and Lisa Simpson (wish I could find the clip, but it doesn’t appear to be online):

Homer Simpson: Not a bear in sight. The Bear Patrol must be working like a charm.

Lisa Simpson: That’s specious reasoning, Dad.

Homer: Thank you, dear.

Lisa: By your logic I could claim that this rock keeps tigers away.

Homer: Oh, how does it work?

Lisa: It doesn’t work.

Homer: Uh-huh.

Lisa: It’s just a stupid rock.

Homer: Uh-huh.

Lisa: But you don’t see any tigers around, do you?

[Homer thinks about this, then pulls out some money]

Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.

Vine and fig planting

IMG_20120926_115626This is the spiel I wrote for the vine and fig tree planting at the 2012 Swan Island Peace Convergence. It was used again in 2013. Anyone is welcome to use this with appropriate acknowledgement (I am myself indebted to Harry Wykman and others for the idea and many of the connections herein).

Climate change, not terrorism, is the greatest threat to world security. Yet the world continues to spend trillions of dollars every year on weapons solely designed to take life and destroy property. We must begin to see that poverty, climate change and militarism cannot be tackled in isolation from one another, because they are inherently connected.

For that reason militarism, economics and politics cannot be understood apart from one another. We are among the world’s rich because of our history of colonialism, dispossession and ongoing exploitation of people and the earth, an exploitation we can only maintain by a military mindset of domination at all costs. We’re mindful of the Wathaurung as traditional custodians of this land, who no doubt had their own vines and fig trees.

In climate change we are reaping the harvest of our economic and military exploitation of the earth. By treating it as a resource to be expended rather than a garden to be tended we have denied our relationship of dependancy on the earth and sown seeds of toxicity that will be reaped in harvests of sickness and death for generations to come.

In the poverty of the developing world and even here in Australia we see the domination and exploitation of the world’s  poor for the sake of the world’s rich. With our militaries we keep the poor in their place even while rising sea levels and greater food scarcity hit the poor first and hardest.

In militarism we see the enforcing of the politics of domination and exploitation. We invade other countries for their resources. We invade them because our economic exploitation of the poor leads to resentment, and resentment to violence in the form of terrorism. We leave toxic legacies of depleted uranium, white phosphorus and other toxins for future generations to deal with.

But all is not lost, for this is God’s world, and we are the hands and feet of Christ. Hands that can reach out to make the connections across national boundaries, across ideologies, and hands that can work to cooperate with God, with the earth.

The vine and fig tree is an ancient image of peaceful self-sufficiency – where no one has too much and no one too little, where we tend the earth that supplies our needs, and where war has been abolished. What if we were to make flesh and blood and bone the transformation the Bible speaks of? What if we begin the transformation here and now, in this place, with these hands, and this soil?

The world needs such acts of prophetic imagination to see that such a world is not only possible, but is already here in a people gathered under the name of the God of all the nations.

And so we will begin this transformation of the Swan Island military base, in the name of the God of peace. We’re going to have an opportunity to share a thought, then we’re going to do some planting, and then we’ll share in the Eucharist together, of the broken body, and the crushed grapes.

Merton on hope

“The only thing that is to be regretted without qualification is for a man to adapt perfectly to totalitarian society. Then he is indeed beyond hope. Hence we should all be sick in some way. We should all feel near to despair in some sense because this semi-despair is the normal form taken by hope in a time like ours. Hope without any sensible or tangible evidence on which to rest. Hope in spite of the sickness that fills us. Hope married to a firm refusal to accept any palliatives or anything that cheats hope by pretending to relieve apparent despair.”

-Thomas Merton, Letter to Czeslaw Milosz, September 12 1959 (emphasis mine).

Holy Innocents 2013 reportback

20131228_110032It’s tempting at Christmas to focus on love, peace, joy and hope as abstract sentimentalities – particularly for those of us who live relatively privileged lives. Yet we dare not forget the context of Jesus’ birth – the violence of an oppressive regime which imposed its own order at all costs, even the lives of innocents. The Feast of the Holy Innocents on December 28th reminds us that in the midst of Christmas joy the lives of innocents are still at risk from the Powers – through our war-making, our treatment of asylum seekers, and the sweatshops in which our gifts are often made.

This was the fifth year of commemorating Holy Innocents, and it has become a fixture on the calendar. Though many are away on holidays at this time, there is always enough to hold it together.

We began on the grass at Victoria Barracks, where we read the story from the book of Matthew, followed by a minute’s silence. Then Erika read this prayer from Walter Brueggemann’s Prayers for Privileged People:

Christmas…the Very Next Day

Had we the chance, we would have rushed to Bethlehem
to see this thing that had come to pass.

Had we been a day later,
we would have found the manger empty
and the family departed.

We would have learned that they fled to Egypt,
warned that the baby was endangered,
sought by the establishment of the day
that understood how his very life
threatened the way things are.

We would have paused at the empty stall
and pondered how this baby
from the very beginning was under threat.

The powers understood that his grace threatened all our coercions;
they understood that his truth challenged all our lies;
they understood that his power to heal nullified our many pathologies;
they understood that his power to forgive vetoed the power of guilt
and the drama of debt among us.

From day one they pursued him,
and schemed and conspired
until finally…on a grey Friday…
they got him!

No wonder the family fled, in order to give him time
for his life.

We could still pause at the empty barn –
and ponder that all our babies are born under threat, all the
vulnerable who stand at risk before predators,
our babies who face the slow erosion of consumerism,
our babies who face the reach of sexual exploitation,
our babies who face the call to war,
placed as we say, “in harm’s way,”
our babies, elsewhere in the world,
who know of cold steel against soft arms
and distended bellies from lack of food;
our babies everywhere who are caught in the fearful display of ruthless adult power.

We ponder how peculiar this baby at Bethlehem is,
summoned to save the world,
and yet
we know, how like every child, this one also was at risk.

The manger is empty a day later…
the father warned in a dream.
Our world is so at risk, and yet we seek after and wait for
this child named “Emmanuel.”
Come be with us, you who are called “God with us.”

Then we had the opportunity to share stories of contemporary innocents who have been killed as part of our society’s quest for domination and security. Greg shared a story of child victims of drone warfare. I shared a story of Zukoom (9) and Hashim (8), killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul in opposition to the Bilateral Security Agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Others shared about Gaza, asylum seekers, and West Papuan Independence activists. Each name or group was written on a white cross, a bell rung, and a reverent silence observed.

I then shared this reflection:

We know that hundreds of children have been killed in drone strikes. The Australian government continues to lock up children and adults alike in inhumane conditions simply for fleeing persecution by boat.

We must recognise, confess, and begin to undo our complicity. It is our power and privilege that is maintained by the standing armies we have – in other words, by force – and we do not resist the use of force in our names as much as we could because we are afraid; afraid, amongst other things, to lose our power and privilege, within our own society and in the rest of the world.

To our fears, the angels have one thing to say: Do not be afraid. To Zechariah, as he learns that he will soon father a child who will become John the Baptist, forerunner of the Messiah, the angels say: do not be afraid. To Mary, as she learns that she will carry God in human form: do not be afraid. To the shepherds, as they learn that the Saviour of the world has been born: do not be afraid. To those Herods, ancient and modern, who wage war out of fear, the angels say: do not be afraid. And to those of us who resist, the same message: do not be afraid.

This is the original ‘war on terror’ – not a violent military bent on destroying their enemies but a nonviolent heavenly army announcing peace on earth and goodwill to all. The bright light in the sky over Palestine shining with the glory of God, not the white phosphorus of today’s wars raining down on the terrified people below.

As we reflect on the absurd mismatch of the Christ child in a manger pitted against the might of an empire, we remember that it does not take great strength of arms to prevail over the culture of death, merely great vulnerability. And that is something that you and I possess.

Then we made our way up St Kilda Road to Fed Square, singing spirituals. There police informed me that the Shrine guards would not allow us to proceed onto its grounds – that under the Shrine Act we would be risking arrest if we proceeded, and that they would 20131228_115445confiscate our banners. The Shrine Act apparently dictates that a) only ceremonies commemorating servicepeople are authorised to take place on Shrine grounds, and such events must be granted advanced permission and b) banners were banned from the Shrine grounds except for such authorised events. We had a decision to make.

After a brief pow-wow in the shade, we decided together to proceed to the Shrine, with the intention of holding our closing circle, and if turned away we would lay the wreath there. This meant we would not avoid the confrontation, and would force them to turn us away, but we would not risk arrest. With a range of experience levels in the group, this seemed like an excellent compromise.

We were met at the entrance to the Shrine by three police cars, two Shrine guards in full dress uniform, and six or seven police. They explained the rules, and told us we could go no further.

It seemed somehow fitting to be turned away – remembering the story of the Christ-child, exiled from his own society, forced to flee from the army of his own people. And here the powers of our society dictate that only those who perpetrate war are to be remembered and honoured, and all innocent victims will be shunned, forgotten, ignored, acceptable collateral damage. This despite the fact that 90% of war’s casualties these days are civilians, caught up largely in a struggle for power that has nothing to do with them, and the benefits of which they will not experience. Where is the shrine to civilian victims? Why is no sacred ground is dedicated to their remembrance? I think we all know the answer.

So the wreath was laid, and the police and guards bore witness to our prayers and lamentations. As long as this event remains in the church year, it will ensure the victims of warfare, and of oppressive political rule, are remembered. In the runup to Anzac commemorations in 2015, when the sacrifice of society’s sons in war will be glorified, it is all the more important that we remember the forgotten victims.

20131228_121741Thanks to Sam, Jade and Erika for sharing the facilitation of this year’s gathering, and a HUGE thanks to Graeme for his amazing gift of visually spectacular banners. And thanks to all who participated.

The Sound of Silence: Soundtrack 2013

1. The Sound of Silence – Simon and Garfunkel
I’ve spent much of this year learning how to pray; which is to say, to be silent, to listen. So this song has been on heavy rotation in between.

“The sign said
The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls,
And whispered in the sounds of silence.”

2. Crosstown Traffic – Jimi Hendrix
I just like this one.

“You’re just like crosstown traffic,
So hard to get through to you…”

3. Ingrid Bergman – Billy Bragg & Wilco
Mermaid Avenue was by far my most listened to album of this year. It’s a collaboration between Billy Bragg and Wilco, putting music to some of the 3000 Woody Guthrie songs that were discovered without music. I probably could’ve picked any one of about five favourites from this album, but this one is just a cracker love song, complete with raunchy double entendres.

4. Elegantly wasted – INXS
I miss INXS. Or rather, I miss the Michael Hutchence-era INXS. Listened to this in the car a lot this year.

5. Hospital – Counting Crows
I saw CC live again this year, and although they were not in particularly good form, they still have some great songs. This is off their album of covers of mostly little-known songs, and anyone who suffers from any form of mental illness can probably relate.

6. Jesus Walks – Kanye West
Great lyrics to the second verse, in fact I had a similar conversation (without the rhymes) with a cop when he was arresting me in September at SIPC.

“To the hustlers, killers, murderers, drug dealers even the strippers
(Jesus walks with them)
To the victims of Welfare for we living in hell here hell yeah
(Jesus walks with them)…”

7. 99 Red Balloons – Nena
For Ascension Sunday this year we all tied gospel messages to helium balloons and released them. I played this song as part of it. It’s from the early 80s Cold War period, about releasing 99 helium balloons in Berlin and the military mistaking them for an attack and starting a nuclear war.

8. Jacob’s Ladder – Pete Seeger
This year at GraceTree we did a series on Genesis/Exodus, looking closely at the stories of the patriachs and matriarchs. This is one of the songs we used.

9. Down in the River to Pray – Alison Krauss
At the Swan Island Peace Convergence this year there were 15 arrests after a walk-on incursion, and as each person was ejected from the base we sang the modified spiritual:

“As I went down to Swan Island to pray,
Studying about that good old way
And who will stop this ugly war
Oh Lord show me the way…”

10. Same Love – Cam Nacson ft L-Fresh the Lion
L-Fresh the Lion had a few of us over to his place to watch Q & A early in the year. He’d just done this cover of Macklemore’s song. He’s a lovely guy, check out his music.

11. Empire State of Mind – Jay-Z
It’s been growing on me.

12. Drown – Smashing Pumpkins
I watched the movie ‘Singles’ again, and realised how brilliant the soundtrack is. It’s deeply etched into my late-teen self.

13. Oh Freedom – Harry Belafonte
I’ve been trying to collect movement songs/spirituals to adapt to various protest/resistance circumstances, that are easy to learn, catchy, and easy to adapt. This is definitely one of them.

14. Jumper – Third Eye Blind
The catchiest song about suicide you’ll probably ever hear.

15. Buses are a-comin’ – Bernice Reagon Johnson
From the documentary Freedom Riders.

When all you have is a hammer…

Jon Stewart nails, in a moment of vulnerable candour, why the US wages so-called “humanitarian” war despite the fact that it has always proven utterly counterproductive. At 11:50:

Jon Stewart: It is heartbreaking, because you see, what these children want, and what these people want is to just live in peace without having this imposed on them, and I think we don’t know what to do to help. You know, there are passages in the book about the United States, uh, and uh, we come out great [smiles sarcastically at audience] but there, there is, you know, there are attacks in Swat and in those areas with drones and talk about a man, a CIA, uh, agent, who shot two men in Lahore, uh, Raymond, uh..

Malala Yousafzai: Davis.

Jon Stewart: Davis. And this is, is…I think we have a common want, and desire, but perhaps are not accomplishing it in the manner that shows the people how we, how we feel, but it’s, in some ways, we don’t know what else to do.

And this is the problem. Because they don’t know what to do, they do the only thing they know how to do; wage war.