Feast of the Holy Innocents Peace Procession – Melbourne reportback

About fifteen of us gathered outside Victoria Barracks on a perfect sunny day in late December.  It was a day many people were hunting for the post-Christmas Day bargains, and many others were immersed in the dramas of the Boxing Day test.  It was also the eve of the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the day the church commemorates the children killed by Herod in an attempt to get to Jesus and maintain his grip on power.  A day we remember all modern day regimes which see thousands of lives as acceptable “collateral damage” in their quests for power, control, resources and military might.

Beginning with an acknowledgment of the history of this feast day, and of how far away such wars seemed to us, we read the story from Matthew together.  We then spent some time naming modern day situations where innocents continue to be killed by power-hungry elites.

East Timor.  Afghanistan.  Sudan.  West Papua.  Phillippines.  Iraq.  Australia’s refugee policy.  Each with thousands of innocent victims of power politics and military domination.  Each considered acceptable collateral damage.  We rang a bell for each of them.

Finally, we remembered the plight of the Palestinian people, recognising that even as we sat together, thousands of people were gathering on the Egyptian side of the border with Gaza, preparing to nonviolently break the blockade, bringing food, aid and medical supplies to the people of Gaza.  This was particularly poignant given the Matthew passage, which speaks of “a voice heard in Ramah” (the modern day West Bank), “wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be consoled, because they are no more.”  The contrast of fear exhibited by Herod and modern day Israel, and the resulting victims of their fear, with the angels appearing to Mary, Zechariah, the shepherds, each time greeting them with the phrase, “Do not be afraid!”  These stories continue to play themselves out before our eyes, on the evening news.

With that, we rose together and began to make our way north to the centre of the city, led by our four metre banner reading “End the Afghanistan War”.  In peak shopping season, the city was packed.  Reaction was mixed – from mouthed “thankyous”, clapping and nods, to rolled eyes, to outright hostility.  Mostly it just registered on people’s faces as an interruption to business as usual (literally).

Turning through Bourke Street Mall we made our way west to Defence Plaza, a fairly nondescript city building housing the Defence Department in Melbourne.  Here we paused to reflect on the experience, on connections we had made, and on where to from here.

We finished with prayer, and dispersed from there.

My own reflections are on how we do this action/reflection stuff deeply and honestly and yet involve our children.  War and its effects on innocents are confronting issues.  We brought our kids (3 under 6), and did our best to explain to them the significance of the day.  I think it’s important that we continue to do that.  But we shied away from anything graphic or affecting, talking only in general terms.  This is something we will continue to wrestle with as parents and as activists.

I also think that continuing to act in concert with the liturgical year will greatly enhance our understanding of the gospel and our faith and discipleship, and our ability to sustain action over the long haul.  Wrestling with these stories as part of an action brings them home, sharpens their contours, and deepens our engagement.

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!