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).

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

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.

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.

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.

Support statement for Graeme Dunstan’s Rocky Tiger Ploughshares trial

My good friend Graeme Dunstan goes on trial one week from today for an action he did with Bryan Law in 2011. Together they disarmed a Tiger Armed Reconaissance Helicopter with a garden mattock (details of the action, including video, here.). Bryan died around Easter this year, so Graeme faces court alone, though with many friends present (including me). He asked me to write a statement of support for him, which I’ve included below. Graeme shaped it into this media release.

I am an ordained Baptist minister with the GraceTree Community in Melbourne. I wish to express my support for Graeme as he faces trial for the Rockhampton Tiger Ploughshares action, and will travel to Rockhampton to be present at the trial.

Graeme and I have been spiritual companions for a few years now, having first spent significant time together at a peace gathering near Canberra in April 2010. Graeme being a Buddhist and I a Christian has opened up rich opportunities for common understanding and mutual challenge and encouragement. I consider him a friend and a person of great integrity.

As an antiwar activist myself I have been involved in many acts of civil disobedience (see below), and been arrested half a dozen times including for trespass actions into Shoalwater Bay Training Area at the 2007 and 2009 Talisman Saber military exercises. In March 2011 I was part of an international delegation of peacemakers who spent time in Afghanistan to learn the reality of war for ordinary Afghans. Along with members of my church I have been involved in countless public demonstrations for peace and built friendships with the Afghan Peace Volunteers, an Afghan peace movement.

I admire, and am personally challenged by, the stance Graeme has taken in this Tiger Ploughshares disarmament action and trial. His and Bryan Law’s willingness to risk suffering in order to arouse the conscience of the Australian community on war demonstrates integrity of the highest order, not to mention exemplary citizenship. Civil disobedience is generally not well understood in this country, but it is one of the highest duties of any person when their government is acting immorally or unjustly.

Ploughshares actions take their inspiration from the Biblical books of Micah and Isaiah, which speak of a day when “swords will be beaten into ploughshares, and spears into pruning hooks”. The image is one of disarmament, the transformation of destructive weapons into creative farming tools. There have been more than 80 such actions since 1980, with three common elements: 1. being absolutely nonviolent towards people; 2. to remain and take responsibility for the action; and 3. to make some attempt to disarm a weapon and begin its transformation into something useful.

Disarmament is often seen as an impossible dream; desirable, certainly, but utterly unrealistic. It is precisely this societal torpor that Ploughshares actions seek to address. Ploughshares actions are an indictment on the imagination and moral commitment of contemporary society just to the extent that they are seen as outrageous, destructive, or utopian. While most of us ask, “Why would we reduce or even give up our ability to kill?” people like Graeme and Bryan gift us with the confluence of flesh, steel and carbon fibre, and ask, “Why not?”

In a time of perpetual war, it is high time we took that question seriously.

Holy Innocents Peace Procession 2012 reportback


Each December 28th for the past four years, a small group of us have held an event to mark the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the day when the church remembers the babies killed by Herod in his quest to maintain his own power, and those innocents killed by contemporary Herods in their quest for power and security.

One of the significant parts of the leadup for me was an email exchange with my friend Graeme Dunstan of, a Buddhist and a long time peace activist. It was largely a theological discussion of the similarities and differences between Christianity and Buddhism, particularly with regard to the Christmas story. This is the kind of deeper connection I was hoping to make post-Facebook. So while my Facebook absence meant more limited event advertising, it also meant deeper connection. So be it.


Graeme made an amazing banner, which we will be able to use for many years to come. I’m deeply grateful for his work and creativity.

Graeme has already done a great reportback on the event here. So rather than concentrating on recounting the event itself, I’ll concentrate on my reflections from it.

One, this event is a deeply significant one, now established as a permanent fixture on our calendar. This was our fourth Holy Innocents event in a row, and has become as much a part of Christmas as the turkey and plum pudding. And rightly so. As one of the processionists shared in the debriefing time afterwards, this is far more authentically Christmas than anything going on in the frenzy of the Bourke St mall.

20121228_105943Two, having been permanently established it is in some ways in danger of becoming rote. While we changed some things from previous years, others I think could have been improved. I’ve tried to keep it a reasonably simple, accessible, DIY event, being post-Christmas Day and in a season people are busy. But perhaps with some creativity we can make more of a public splash.

Part of the tension of this particular event is the balance between it being a form of public action and a discipleship formation event. I see part of my role as being an evangelist (some have said ‘prophet’, I prefer evangelist) to the church, encouraging us to see our calling as bringing the good news of Jesus and his gospel of peace to bear on all societal problems, rather than simply a matter of private morality. And in particular to see our story, the great narrative of Scripture (as played out in the church year), as our primary resource20121228_104113 for making that practical. This means deepening our commitment to and practice of our story, rather than throwing out the parts we don’t like (as the left often does), or abstracting and reducing it to the merely personal (as the right so often does). So the two dimensions of this – namely, educational and inspirational for us AND the bearing public witness for them – need to both be present. I think I’ve tended to err on the side of the former, perhaps at the expense of the latter.

We did change the route this year – walking from Victoria Barracks to Defence Plaza was just too long a distance, especially with children, so we instead went Vic Barracks to Fed Square and back to the Shrine. One thing I missed with the change of route was 20121228_110120processing through Bourke St Mall. The small interruption to “business as usual”, the irruption of reality into the reverie of bargain-hunting, has been a significant feature of previous years, and I missed it.

Having said that, finishing at the Shrine of Remembrance I think was deeply significant. As I noted at the end, these days 90% of casualties of war are civilians. Where are the Shrines of Remembrance for them? Where are the Shrines for the refugees, for the terrorised and the maimed? For at least a time, we were that Shrine. That was beautiful and significant.

As always, the presence of children at these events is not just a bonus, but essential to its spirit. I’m so grateful for our children and all they teach us, which makes the Holy Innocents remembrance all the more devastating, knowing what other children and parents are going through.

In our closing, many people referenced the small size of our gathering. I recalled the story of Jesus, who gathered just 12 people, and ended up alone. Hence Daniel Berrigan’s dictum, “A good peace movement starts out small and gets smaller.” Because keeping awake in a time of permanent war is hard – the “narrow path” as Jesus describes it. We are in exile – strangers in a strange land – and always there is a small remnant who carry the tradition forward, finding new expressions and ways of being faithful.

I finish with an excerpt of my rant at Victoria Barracks – really the nub of this event for me. A reflection partly birthed in the interfaith discussion between a Buddhist and a Christian. Thanks be to God.

“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.”


Holy Innocents Peace Procession 2012

187.jpgIn the days after Christmas, while most people are recovering from the indulgence of Christmas Day or deeply immersed in the liturgy of the Boxing Day Test, the Church calendar commemorates the Holy Innocents, the children killed by Herod in a bid to maintain his power and privilege. This is a part of the Christmas story which gets little attention in churches, yet it forms a major part of the biblical birth narrative. It is a day when we remember children and other innocent people killed by today’s Herods, who consider such innocents to be acceptable collateral damage in their quest for power and security. Children are still the most deeply affected by wars around the globe – 65% of Afghans are under the age of 18. 90% of those killed in wars are civilians.

Join us on Friday December 28th for a peace procession from Victoria Barracks in Melbourne to Federation Square, and returning near the Shrine of Remembrance. We will begin at 10am with prayers at Victoria Barracks on St Kilda Road, and process to Federation Square and then back to the Shrine for further prayer and reflection together. We will be finished around 11:30am.So make some space in your post-Christmas calendar to remember the victims of global warmaking, and to encourage one another to acts of resistance.

Please pass this invitation on to anyone who might be interested. (Facebook event here)

Reports from previous Holy Innocents processions:

(I forgot to write a report on 2011’s event :))