Prophetic mourning (in the aftermath of the Freedom flotilla deaths)

Action following Israel’s attack on the Gaza aid flotilla 1 June 2010

“I believe that the proper idiom for the prophet in cutting through the royal numbness and denial is the language of grief, the rhetoric that engages the community in mourning for a funeral they do not want to admit. … I have been increasingly impressed with the capacity of the prophet to use the language of lament and the symbolic creation of a death scene as a way of bringing to reality what the king must see and will not”. — Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination (1978)

(Thanks to Talitha Fraser from Urban SEed for the image and quote)

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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!

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.

Washed up at 31

So I’ve started a new role at Urban Seed doing public engagement and advocacy, and as I work on the ideas for a newly developed Seeds website I’m discovering that I’m about 3 years behind technology and social practice. And now I’m wondering if I can catch up.

Isn’t 31 a little young to be too old?

Defence White Paper public consultations

Eight of us from inspiral went to the Defence White Paper public consultations last night. Submissions were overwhelmingly for more peaceful means of defence and security. This is the verbal submission I made on behalf of Urban Seed.

Thankyou for this opportunity to voice some of what I believe about defence and security. As someone who has committed his life to pursuing peace and justice through the method and lifestyle of nonviolence, it is all the more important that we hear alternative voices to the increasing reliance on violence, alienation and threat power that characterises most foreign policy these days. Once again we must listen to the voices of Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Thich Nhat Hanh, voices for creative nonviolence.

I know a bit about defence, security, and safety, from working for an organisation called Urban Seed. Much of our work takes place just around the corner from here, in Baptist Place, which Urban Seed has called home for about 15 years. Every day we welcome some of the city’s most marginalised people into our homes and lives, mostly through sitting around a lunch table enjoying good food together. We call it Credo Café because it expresses something of what we believe about the world. Those who come for lunch at Credo are largely people whom the average citizen feels threatened by – the homeless, the mentally ill, those with drug and gambling addictions, people who have often led violent lives. In such a place, security becomes particularly important, especially when it is not merely a workplace, but a home. But what we’ve discovered is that safety based in threatening or excluding or hurting others is not safety at all. If security is to be real, it must be mutual.

And so we’ve been experimenting with nonviolence – not a mere refusal to act violently, but a creative, active power that sometimes aggressively and provocatively, but always lovingly, confronts situations of violence or oppression. Nonviolence is transformative of conflict because it does not seek to dominate or threaten the other, but to win them over by confronting them with the injustice of their actions. It is this kind of creative, self-giving love that characterises the safety of Credo, and it’s a safety that extends out into the surrounding neighbourhood. By welcoming people rather than shunning them, by extending active love rather than threats or violence, people are invited to respond in kind. Often we have people over for lunch who might ordinarily feel they have nothing in common, such as lawyers and homeless people, and as they sit around a table together, understanding is fostered, and friendships are formed. Sometimes when they leave Credo, potential enemies have become friends.

What happens on this local level can and should happen on a global level. Unless we extend active love to those we believe threaten us, the cycle of violence will continue.

And so I call on this committee to reject the logic of violence, which yields only bitterness and hatred and further violence, for the creative, powerful force of nonviolence. I call on you to equip our brave defence forces not with more weapons to kill, maim and destroy, but weapons of love that will build our nation into something we can be even more proud of, that will be of benefit to even our enemies. I call on you to transform our army, navy and air force from a domestic defence force to an earth defence force, which takes seriously the greatest threat to our existence, which is not terrorism but global warming. I urge you to stop buying weapons of mass destruction and instead use those billions of dollars to lift those in our own country and overseas out of poverty, to feed, clothe, heal and educate. By demonstrating such love we will have no enemies, no need for defence, and the only real security that exists.