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.


Give your vote to an asylum seeker

What if you gave your vote to someone who doesn’t get to have one?

As we all probably know by now, the Australian federal election is coming up on September 14. If you’re anything like me, you’re pretty cheesed off with the current state of Australian politics. If the rising rate of informal and donkey voting is anything to go by, a lot of us don’t care anymore, or can’t find a candidate for whom it is worth voting. I personally haven’t voted since the 2004 Federal Election, and have claimed a religious exemption each time (you can read why here).

But I was hanging out today with a young guy from Zimbabwe who is seeking asylum in Australia – let’s call him Larry (that’s not his real name, just for privacy reasons).  We were talking about how in Zimbabwe, elections have been rigged for years, with Mugabe and other powerbrokers basically threatening or killing any opposition. At least here in Australia, he said, no one dies because they oppose the government of the day. It might not be pretty politics, but at least no one gets shot for their ideas. In Zimbabwe, he said, when a leader is knifed in the back, they’re literally knifed in the back. Here, he said, there’s peaceful politics.

As I listened to him talk, it struck me that Larry is more invested in the current state of Australian politics than I am. Partly that’s because he’s come from a place where politics is depressingly different, but it’s also partly because not only is he vulnerable in this land, but he’s completely disenfranchised from the system that will decide his fate, and the many tens of thousands of others in similar positions.

And then I thought: what if I gave Larry my vote?

So I asked him: if you could vote, who would you vote for? He told me, and gave a deeply insightful answer as to why. And then I told him I would vote for them on his behalf.

And then I thought: what if a whole bunch of people gave their votes to asylum seekers? We could, in some small way, give a whole lot of very vulnerable people a way to have their say about Australian politics.

So, here are some reasons why you should give your vote to an asylum seeker (if you have more, add your own in the comments):

1. If there’s a more marginalised, disenfranchised group in Australia, I don’t know what it is. I mean, the Australian mainland doesn’t even exist for these people. They have no power over their fate (hence the rates of suicide, self harm, etc in detention centres), and they can be locked up for years for doing nothing other than seeking a safe place to live. Even when they’re let out of detention they’re not allowed to work, or do many of the things we take for granted. Why not give them something that enfranchises them within the system even if just a little bit?

2. It means you’ll have to go and meet an actual asylum seeker. I did think about having a database or something that some asylum seeker advocate could put together that people could access like a gift registry, but that would mean people could do this exercise from a distance, without actually getting to hang out with a real person. There are plenty of ways you can meet people – including going to visit people in detention (it’s likely there’s one near you).

3. This teeny bit of enfranchisement will likely pay dividends for years to come, as they inevitably receive citizenship (statistically speaking, it’s highly likely they will) and want to invest more deeply in the political system. They would already have some investment in their new country’s system, and know a bit about it if they didn’t already.

4. Asylum seekers are often intelligent and insightful, but have always had incredible life experience that has grown wisdom in them. Why wouldn’t you want engaged, wise people voting?

Obviously you can’t literally have an asylum seeker go into the little cardboard booth for you (although it would be really cool if they could), but you can ask them how they would vote and then vote that way. It might not be the way you’d vote anyway, or it might be – but the point is that the system has to in some way acknowledge and enact their will, rather than an already enfranchised person’s.

This shouldn’t replace asylum seeker advocacy inside or outside the system – goodness knows we need a massive shift all over the country, at all levels on this issue. But this would be a small way for the system to be forced to acknowledge that these people exist, and have wills and intentions, and often better thought out ideas than the rest of us have.

P.S. If you don’t want to do this for an asylum seeker, do it for a child instead. After all, they have more investment in the future than the older folks who get to vote.

The Futility of Revolutionaries With No Gardens

“…the greatest change we need to make is from consumption to production, even if on a small scale, in our own gardens. If only 10% of us do this, there is enough for everyone. Hence the futility of revolutionaries who have no gardens, who depend on the very system they attack, and who produce words and bullets, not food and shelter.” – Bill Mollison

Simon Moyle Speaks…again

The below was originally posted at the Neobaptist Blog after a post which questioned the Bonhoeffer 4’s actions at Shoalwater Bay in 2009.   That blog has since been taken down, so here is my original post:

Firstly, I want to thank each of your blog readers and commenters, particularly those who are coming from a Christ centredness.  I really value the Baptist identity being expressed here also, as it is the tradition which I have chosen, or perhaps more accurately has chosen me.  I had a number of people come to me as brothers and sisters (ala Matthew 18), both supporting my actions and criticising them, and I am deeply grateful to both.  I want to say that it is entirely possible that I’m wrong in my position, and am very open to being corrected.  I believe it’s important that as brothers and sisters in Christ we be accountable to one another for our actions, and this is no exception.

And then let me say that I don’t expect to win you over with what I say, but I do wish to explain my actions in a way that will hopefully assist you in understanding somewhat where they come from.  These were not actions I took lightly (as you can imagine being married with three children under 6), nor were they undertaken without a great deal of thought, prayer and accountability to my family, church, and denomination.

Which brings me to one of the first things you wrote Stan: “The first question that arises in my mind is what on earth his deacons or elders think about him swanning around North Queensland.  The average Baptist deacon would have an apoplexy if he found out that the minister was doing what Simon is.”

I chuckled as I read that because as it happens, at the precise moment that I was swanning around Central Queensland (Shoalwater Bay is just north of Rockhampton), the deacons and elders of my church were standing out the front of Flinders Street Station in Melbourne demonstrating their support, and talking respectfully to passersby about what was happening.  As a church we’ve gone on this gospel journey together for many years now, so it certainly didn’t come as any surprise to them, they had been actively supportive.  In fact, we try to take seriously the practice of mutual accountability and even mutual submission that is so out of fashion in the average evangelical church.  So we’ve hashed these ideas and actions out together as a community.  It was not a unilateral decision.

It’s funny (or maybe not funny) how when we hear stories, particularly online (I confess I do this too) we so often caricature or stereotype the people in them and make all sorts of assumptions about the way they think – usually the worst assumptions rather than assuming the best.  We’ve been called everything from “theological rats poison” to “unthinking leftists” and all kinds of stuff by everyone but those who know us, which might tell you something.  I’d appreciate it if when people respond to this they could check their assumptions at the door and ask questions instead.

Stan, you also said, “Simon and his other three cohorts are known as the Bonhoeffer Four, or B4. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is well known for both his pacifist stance, and also for departing from his long held pacifist views and participating in a plot to kill Hitler.  The plot was uncovered and Bonhoeffer was executed as a result.”

It was partly challenging this caricature of Bonhoeffer (which, perhaps understandably, is all people know) that we hoped might be a by-product of naming our action after him.  I guess there were a few reasons for naming our group after Bonhoeffer:

1. It gave us an opportunity to speak directly to Kevin Rudd about his military spending plan, and to call him back as a brother in Christ to what he claimed in his article in the Monthly before he was elected.  People were always going to be cynical about the claims he made there, but we had hoped he wouldn’t give people reason to be.  It is difficult to see the consistency between Bonhoeffer’s actions which intended to stop war, and Rudd’s ongoing war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, let alone with his recent Defence White Paper which recommends a $100 billion military spending plan.  This despite the admission by that same white paper there is no anticipation of Australia being under threat for at least the next 30 years (except from climate change, which strangely gets a paltry sum in comparison).

2. It gave us an opportunity to encourage people to think harder about Bonhoeffer’s legacy than simply to label him as a failed or lapsed pacifist, let alone an advocate of violence.  I work a lot with nonviolence movements, and many of them simply write Bonhoeffer off because of his participation in the plot to kill Hitler.  This does the complexity of Bonhoeffer no favours, as it abandons him to those who would use him to justify violence (a fact which Bonhoeffer would be frankly horrified by) and the nonviolence movements also miss out on an amazing, complex man.

3. People want to use Bonhoeffer’s example to justify war, and then in the same breath cite Romans 13.  If we want to argue that Romans 13 means we should never oppose the state under which we are subject, then Bonhoeffer did the wrong thing because not only did he participate in the plot to kill Hitler, but he actively participated in the resistance movement.  In actual fact, if you want to follow Bonhoeffer’s action to its logical conclusion today, you’d probably have to attempt kill either Kevin Rudd or Obama, or possibly both.  If you’re not going to be nonviolent in your opposition to war, you’d have to be violent in your opposition to it.

Incidentally, what people often forget is that Bonhoeffer failed in the assassination attempt, and there is ample evidence that far from undermining Hitler, the failed attempt actually strengthened him, giving him God-like claims to immortality.  This is just one of the many problems with violence backfiring.

Interestingly, the people who have been most strident in their criticism of the Bonhoeffer 4 are those who are not particularly invested in the war themselves.  I have friends who are soldiers. Our conversations with soldiers have been always respectful, and often we agree on most things.  Many were even openly encouraging of us and our actions.  Most soldiers we met understood that we cared about them, about the costs they and their friends were bearing, and we cared about the situation that they were heavily involved in, and even criticised those who criticised us as “disengaged from reality.”  They knew we cared enough to act even at risk to ourselves, and bear some costs for it, and that gave us a platform from which to listen and speak that those who criticised from a point of disengagement did not have.

Those who accuse us of being disrespectful to soldiers gravely misunderstand us.  As organisations such as Stand Fast, Iraq Veterans Against the War and Courage to Resist demonstrate, just because you don’t support the war does not mean you do not support the troops.  In most cases supporting the troops means ending the war.

The question of Christian ethics and war and peace are complex and vexed, and there’s no way to cover it adequately here.  Suffice it to say that I don’t consider myself a ‘pacifist’, even though many people describe me in those terms, I consider myself to be primarily a disciple of the crucified and risen Christ.  Christian ethics, I believe, is not based on so-called ‘values’ or even principles, but on a person, and a story.  It’s not a matter of extracting some universal principle from the story, but a living into that story (as one of my heroes, the great Jesuit priest Fr. Daniel Berrigan SJ says, “to fit your life into Jesus’ life.”)  It is not, however, a story devoid of content.  So the question is, what is that story?

The central event, I’m sure we would all agree, is the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.  I don’t think we can meditate on it or what it means for us enough.  All of Scripture must be read through this lens.  So many facets reveal themselves.  One of those facets for me is this: that Jesus is the fullest revelation of God that we have.  Therefore this is the way God responds to our violence.  God doesn’t crucify God; we do.

This has (at least) two implications; one, that our violence – MY creation of victims, whether by action or inaction – is always against God.  And two, that this is the way that I am called to follow – the way of being the suffering victim in the course of faithfulness to the Kingdom, rather than the causer of victims.

Jesus calls us to follow him in these terms: “If any want to become my followers, they must affirm their own right to live, take up their gun, and kill their enemy.”  No wait, that’s not right…“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Ouch.  Take up our cross?  Of course, we’ve spiritualised that away to mean pretty much any discomfort or difficulty.  But crucifixion had a concrete social and political meaning for the early Christians.  It was the price of sedition, of loyalty to a regime other than Rome.

Ultimately it’s a question of where you put your faith – what you trust in to save you.  Is it in the sword or in the cross?  Do I trust in the gun and the bomb to save me, or do I trust in the crucified agape of the cross, which allows itself to be crucified before it will call down armies?

This way, of course, sounds weak and foolish to the world, just as Paul says (or as I think Servus put it “dumb resistance”).  Such weakness could not possibly triumph, surely?  Yet we know that it has – which is why “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  It is possible that this way of the cross could result in my death (as it did for Jesus – Mark 8:35 “whoever wants to save their life will lose it”) or the death of ones dear to me (as it did for Jesus’ disciples and family).  I do not wish for or seek such a death, but am aware that faithfulness to the kingdom sometimes results in same.  Jesus is explicit about it, yet somehow we have missed it.

Because death is not the end – which is why the disciples don’t get excited when Jesus dies, but when he rises again.  If even death cannot win, what have we to be afraid of?  What can anyone do to us that God has not won over?  This sounds like good news for the poor and the oppressed!

And so we are called to actively resist evil and injustice, even at great cost to ourselves (this is the context of the actions of the Bonhoeffer 4), just as Jesus did (this is the context of the exorcisms, and of the healing stories, and of actions like defending the adulterous woman or the cleansing of the temple).  But he did so nonviolently – refusing to perpetuate the dynamics of domination – which does not mean passively, it means actively putting oneself in the way of injustice without mirroring that injustice.  If one does not actively and creatively place oneself in the way, one is being PASSIVE, not NONVIOLENT.  So the choice is not between being violent or doing nothing, which unfortunately is what most of your readers assume.  This I think is what Bonhoeffer unfortunately failed to understand, in the context of a church who also failed to understand it.  I wish he had gone to meet Gandhi, as he planned to do.  Gandhi might have helped him understand nonviolence much better.

In terms of why Bonhoeffer made the choice he did to participate in the plot to kill Hitler, I think this post says it better than I could:  But on top of that, I’d want to say that Bonhoeffer never renounced his pacifism, recognising that he may well be making the mistake of his life that would land him in hell, and consequently throwing himself on the mercy of God.

I also notice that Romans 13 was dragged out the discusions of our actions.  Its context must be understood and implications need to be worked through (it’s preceded by Romans 12 for a start – Bless those who persecute you…Do not repay anyone evil for evil…Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God…if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good…hardly arguments for supporting military interventions.)  Hitler loved to quote Romans 13 – a misreading of it is one of the reasons the German church was so complicit in the horrors of World War 2.  Under such an interpretation, Bonhoeffer’s and the Confessing church’s resistance to Hitler was unacceptable, as are our invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.  If a Muslim state were to invade Australia (as you surmised) then we ought to obey such authority as it is “instituted by God”.  You simply can’t have it both ways. So what are the limits of such ‘obedience’? I believe that any government decision which is not consonant with the Kingdom of God is not for me to obey.  The Lordship of the crucified and resurrected Christ is our authority.  If Christ is Lord, then Caesar (or Kevin Rudd) is not.  I see Romans 13 in the light of the events of Jesus, and of the early Christians including the apostles (all of whom were imprisoned, and most of whom were killed by their government).  We are to submit to the punishment of the state for our loyalty to the inbreaking Kingdom, and by such suffering love (as with the slaughtered Lamb), the Kingdom triumphs.  As such I do not advocate evading the punishment of the law (see Rev. Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail for an excellent exposition of this – “it must be done openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to pay the penalty”) but submitting to it.  That’s why we take responsibility for our actions by “staying and praying” rather than “hitting and splitting”.

By the way, this is about discipleship for us, about where we place our bodies, not media attention. If the media want to tell our story, then that can sometimes be a bonus (although most of the time it’s an unhelpful caricature).  But concrete, faithful action is what is important, not media attention.  Outside of the context of our lives, this might look like a mere ‘stunt’.  But in the context of lives of engagement and solidarity with the victims of our society, it looks more like a witness to the Kingdom coming.  Unfortunately if it looks like an isolated stunt, that’s at least partly because the church has largely failed in its mission to be a giant Jesus in the world.

We could go on and evaluate the war in Afghanistan too, but then we’d have to look at history and realise that the US set up, trained and funded the Taliban to fight against the Soviets.  Now they want to oust them because it’s politically inconvenient to have them there.  So we can moralise all we like about this war being about saving women from being oppressed, but just a few years ago we were actively supporting the Taliban.  We’re still doing nothing today about the Burmese junta, or Darfur, or Zimbabwe and other places.  So we need to question what our government is telling us about our reasons for going to war.

Whatever else we do as Christians we MUST appeal to the story in which our salvation is invested, that of Christ.  I invite anyone who wishes to respond to do so from that point of view.  Let’s call one another to faithful discipleship.

So much more to say, but I’ll leave it there and invite questions.  If people want to comment or ask questions off the blog, feel free to email me at and I’ll do my best to answer them.  I’d much prefer the opportunity to meet up to discuss these issues, as they’re best hashed out face to face (or better, over a meal!).  So if you’d like to meet up to discuss them, I’d be more than willing.

Unitarian podcast goodness

Here’s a podcast of me preaching at the Melbourne Unitarian Memorial Peace Church (right click the link and select ‘save target as’ – it’s a 7mb file) on ‘Another World is Possible, Another World is Necessary, Another World is Already Here’.  First comment after I sat down was, “Wow, you got away with a lot.  That’s the most Scripture I’ve heard from that pulpit in…well, ever.”

A follow up letter from another member said, “Your message was well received and it was good to hear so much Scripture quoted.  Unitarianism has tended to move away from its original inception and your speech has helped to move it back.”

Judge for yourself!

How about using Kev’s Manna to stimulate some generosity?

The Age published another opinion piece of mine yesterday, this time around the stimulus package and the Manna from Kevin campaign, which just encourages people to think a bit differently about the stimulus package in the light of social and ecological justice.  Derryn Hinch read it and liked it so he got me on his Drive program on 3AW to talk about it all.

The opinion piece (which seems to have people talking – great!) is here.

The audio of the interview is below, as well as the response from subsequent callers.

To listen to the files, just click on them or to download them to your computer right click on the link and select ’save target as’.

3Aw interview – Simon Moyle with Derryn Hinch

3AW callers

Opinion piece

So like I said I have a new role at Urban Seed, so I’ve been thinking about articles I could write.

The other morning I was on my way to work when I saw my neighbour, and we stopped and talked. I asked how she coped in the heat last week – three 44 degree days in a row – and she said not so well. Then she started to talk about global warming, and how she thought that might be the cause because we’ve never had heat like that before that she can remember (and she’s been in that house for more than 50 years). And then she threw up her hands and said, “What can you do? Nothing.” And I immediately thought “no! that’s terrible! we can’t think like that!” but then I thought “but what can I suggest that would be useful to an elderly lady?” and basically said something feeble about having to do something. And then on the way to work I remembered the Wendell Berry quote and the article was born. Enjoy.

Fostering a dangerous climate of addiction

MY OLDER Italian neighbour was lamenting the recent hot weather. “I think it might be climate change,” she said, and threw up her hands despairingly. “What can we do?” She sighed. “Nothing really.” I could sympathise, of course. Despair about the future of our planet is in no short supply. But I couldn’t help feeling that despair is a luxury we cannot afford.

As Wendell Berry, the Kentuckian agrarian poet and essayist says of the climate crisis, “The great obstacle is simply this: the conviction that we cannot change because we are dependent on what is wrong. But that is the addict’s excuse, and we know that it will not do.”

The science is overwhelming. Greenhouse gases, caused largely by our insatiable appetite for cheap, abundant energy, are heating the planet, melting ice caps and altering the climate, and we are nearing the dangerous tipping point towards catastrophic runaway climate change. Yet we continue to rely on unsustainable fossil fuels and our water use ignores the reality of this dry continent.

If this is the reality, why do we continue living as we do?

I work for Urban Seed, a community that has made a home in the heart of the city of Melbourne for about 15 years. We offer a free lunch, and often share it with the city’s most marginalised, many of whom struggle with long-term drug, alcohol and gambling addictions. Over the years we’ve learned a thing or two about addiction — how insidious it can be, how destructive of wellbeing. But most of all, we’ve learned that addiction is not confined to someone shooting up heroin in a back laneway.

Often the executive on Collins Street buying the latest technological wizardry to “keep up” or the person shopping for this season’s designer handbag are equally addicted — though some addictions are more socially acceptable than others.

Often I would sit with Luke as he slumped, defeated, over his lunch.

His addiction to the pokies had seen him blow his entire pension cheque at the casino — again. He would speak of how he had told himself just the night before that this time he wouldn’t do it. But the human capacity for self-delusion is immense. His denial of the odds led him to believe that this time it would all be different.

Such is our problem with climate change. We are addicted to the very things that accelerate global warming. We know the problems but remain in denial about what it is going to require of us to fix them. Like an addict who thinks they can control their addiction or stop any time they like, we cling to the train as it hurtles towards the abyss.

Addictions often develop because of a need to escape a reality that is too difficult to face. Whether it’s a heroin user escaping childhood abuse or an insatiable society escaping the reality of a world of finite resources, the same dynamic is involved.

Rudd’s recent “consume our way out of recession” policies are a perfect example. Despite the fact that we know our overconsumption is accelerating global warming, this Government, which was elected on taking “real action on climate change”, is encouraging us to buy more, consume more. The desalination plant is another exercise in contradiction — the logic of replacing one problem (lack of water) with another more destructive one (pollution, massive energy consumption). Yet without the Earth there is no human life and no economy.

Perhaps what we need is a 12-step program to rid ourselves of our addiction to destructive habits. Our experience at Urban Seed is that addictions are not cured by government policy or one-size-fits-all solutions. They are cured by slow, costly, patient, local, personal work. So it will be with climate change.

We need prophetic communities of imagination who can lead us to an alternative future — one that does not deny the realities of the ecologies in which we live but co-operates with their processes and yields to their limits.

But as any addict knows, the first step is admitting you have a problem — first to ourselves and then to each other.

So let me begin with this: My name is Simon and I am an addict.

Reverend Simon Moyle is public engagement co-ordinator for Urban Seed.

The 08/09 veg season

Back in late September I dug over and planted out my veggie patch. It’s been a year in the making, having removed two huge stumps, composted, and pulled out three buckets full of little river pebbles. So these were the before and after pictures:



I now have zucchini, tomato, strawberries, onions, pumpkins, beans, basil, cucumber, and various kinds of lettuce in there. Then there’s the pots with capsicum, carrots, roquette, and lemon, lime and orange trees. And all of this companion planted with nasturtiums and marigolds.