Interruption

In the midst of an usually-too-hectic work life, this is a favourite story I used to tell my colleagues

While visiting the University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, ‘You know … my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.’ —Henri J. Nouwen, Reaching out: the three movements of the spiritual life. London: Collins, 1976, p52.

Pilling

The Church Times (6 Dec 13) is disappointed by The Report of the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality. How unsurprising.

The Pilling report, The Report of the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality, adds a shade more civility to the gay debate. It talks of repentance for homophobia, and begins its findings and recommendations with a statement of welcome and affirmation of the “presence and ministry” of gay people in the Church of England. And at various points in the report we can feel the group’s members, or rather most of them, yearning towards a greater liberalism. Its concession, however, that same-sex partnerships might be “marked” in church has been construed as the very least that the group could have recommended. The C of E, if it has the stomach for it, now faces the prospect of two years of facilitated conversations, “conducted without undue haste but with a sense of urgency”, about a move that will be moribund unless it encompasses same-sex marriage, and will do little to convince the gay community, and society at large, that the Church really knows the meaning of the words “welcome” and “affirmation”. The report was always likely to be disappointing. When it was set up in 2011, the Pilling group’s task was to reflect on the post-Lambeth ’98 “listening process” and merely “advise the House [of Bishops] on what proposals to offer on how the continuing discussion about these matters might best be shaped”. In other words, it was not being asked about policy, only about process. Even this modest goal of directing how future talks might be modelled proved too difficult, damaged by the fact that one of its number, the Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Keith Sinclair, queried even the continuation of the listening process on the grounds that no further discernment is necessary. His dissenting statement, which, with his appendix, takes up more space than the group’s reflections, is a key factor in the report’s ambivalence. If evidence were needed on the brokenness of the Church on this matter, here it is. A narrow brief and internal disagreement have made for a tame report, one that is hardly likely to enliven further consultation. Bishop Sinclair does his best to portray it as dangerously radical, but his description of it as undermining the Church’s teaching about homosexuality is inaccurate. The undermining has already happened: the report’s most radical act is to reveal in an official document what is already widely known: that a significant proportion of churchpeople regard that teaching as flawed. Faced with this gulf between conservatives such as Bishop Sinclair and, say, almost everybody under the age of 30, it is easy to see why the majority in the working group latched on to the concept of “pastoral accommodation” with such enthusiasm. But this merely takes the Church’s ambivalence into a pastoral situation, saying to a couple, in effect: “We agree with what you’re doing, but are too weak to prevail against those who disapprove of you.” This is hardly a convincing response to the missiological challenge that the Pilling report identifies.

The churches are weary with the whole business; they have no heart for any more arguing and wish it would all go away. It might “go away”, if we could (a) agree on how to decide what is right and true on a matter that is not essential to the faith and the Gospel, (b) decide accordingly, and (c) all abide by the decision in good conscience.

That’s not possible, at least not this millenium.

So the sooner we agree that debates about sexuality are not important and that we can live with disagreement and difference of practice, the better it will be for ourselves and for God’s service. Otherwise these tediously endless debates will not go away. If we cannot agree to differ on sexuality (and other things), we risk permanent distraction from the work of the Gospel and from God’s presence.

Labor’s UNAA report card: good overall, but two serious failures

The United Nations Association of Australia publishes a periodical United Nations Report Card, which details Australia’s performance and participation in the UN. The 2013 Report Card, edited by Professor Alex Bellamy, focused on the performance of the Labor Government 2007-13. Each author assessed Australia’s performance across a number of specified criteria and awarded a grade from A to F.

The Report Card overall paints a positive picture of the past Government’s performance. The great failure, concerning Refugees and Asylum Seekers is all the more stark. The authors write:

We have given the Australian Government an ‘F’ on the topic of refugees and asylum seekers due to the serious questions that remain about the compatibility of government policy with our domestic and international legal obligations. The Australian Government also scores poorly on the issue of climate change given our dependence on fossil fuels and the uncertainties over our commitment to reducing emissions compared to many other developed countries.

2013 Report Card Grades on the Australian Government’s performance in the United Nations

SUBJECT GRADE COMMENT
UN Security Council and General Assembly

A

It was significant, and a credit to Australia’s diplomacy, that
we were elected to the Security Council on the first ballot with 140
votes in October 2012.
Human Rights

B

Australia has been a strong advocate across a broad range of issues.
Humanitarian and Development Aid

B

Australia’s record on overseas aid is very mixed.
Climate Change

D

Australia must raise its mitigation ambition, increase its share of international climate finance and develop a transformative national energy policy.
Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding

B

Australia has demonstrated a clear preference for deploying forces outside the UN framework.
Disarmament

B

Australia has had a mixed history with nuclear weapons and has
demonstrated a lack of consistency both internationally and
domestically.
Indigenous Peoples

C+

Some positive steps have been taken toward implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 
Gender Equality

B

Australia is an active participant in UN Forums on gender equality,
including the Commission on the Status of Women and the Convention.
Refugees and Asylum Seekers

F

Australia’s response to asylum seekers has been marked by increasing hostility and a near-total absence of any concern.

The United Nations Association of Australia’s goals are:

  • to promote among Australians greater awareness of the purposes of the United Nations, and
  • to ensure that the Australian Government fulfils its obligations as a member-state of the UN.

Australia’s representatives were amongst the most committed participants in negotiation of the UN Charter at San Francisco in 1945 and Australia was one of the founding members of the Organisation. The preamble to the UN Charter says that “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war . . . to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights . . . to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom, . . . have resolved to combine our efforts to accomplish these aims.”

We will decide?

Sadly, all too current …

2001
We will decide
Who comes into this country-
And the circumstances
In which they come. [Prime Minister John Howard, Liberal Party election campaign launch, 28 Oct 2001.]

Like a piece of poetry it was,
the toughening iambics,
those sharpened ‘c’s, like angled pikes,

the two-beat lines that got us going –
except line 3 which had its extra
fist banged on the table.

Note the subtle half-rhyme, too,
‘country’ matched with ‘come’
and how the preposition ‘in

assumes its proper place.
Like most great poetry, of course,
it’s mainly made from echoe

the glorious Three Hundred Greeks
who held Thermopylae
and Winston Churchill roaring still

“We shall fight them on the beaches . . .”
Like all such deathless works of art
it’s shivering with myth:

the golden hordes who spoil our sleep
across two centuries,
the bard far back with lyre and smoke

declaiming his alliterations,
the ancient battles of his race
with dragons, gods and men.

No wonder, then, that those who might
have shown us something else,
defeated now by poetry.

had nowhere left to turn.

Geoff Page. Overland 181:92, Summer 2005