Archives for the month of: August, 2013

You were once strangers
in a strange land.
But never in Australia –
of course, you understand.
For never ‘cross our pristine shores
may strangers come and go
Unless we give them leave before
they must depart, you know.
We have a proud tradition
of settlers in this place
Who come from pure British stock –
the highest human race.
We’re forward-thinking democrats,
enlightened Christian roots;
Generous to the others,
but only when it suits.
There were perhaps some early folk
who camped but did not farm,
but they did not debate our claim
and brought on their own harm.
We treat this land the right way –
we profit and extract.
We’re literate and tidy
and by the law we act.
Of those who’re coming to us
we don’t know what they’ll do –
They wouldn’t handle freedom,
the ATM or modern loo.
We’ve far too many people
for this island nation state;
We can’t just let them pour on in
at this avalanching rate!
So someone’s got to stop them –
a Christian or Israelite
Remembering God’s words to us –
sure he didn’t get them right!

I was reading Deuteronomy 10:19 and the great irony of our situation in Australia hit me. These terrible things people are saying – and believing them!

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A few months ago I wrote this poem. It seems to fit today’s reading very well: “It is easier for a camel to go  through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God…But for God all things are possible.” Mat 19:24,26

What does all our wealth, even wisdom and advice, matter at that point in life?

The Rich Man Who Got Old

Blue heelers make good pets;
they care, and raise us all
to the pitch of a bark.
When onions are full grown
I’ve heard it’s best to hang
them to keep in stockings.
I browse the DVDs,
turn away, drunk instead
on sweet reality.
The lawnmower just needs
a bit of oil on wheels
spun ripe for the munching.
The full moon just come up,
red, hooks me into now –
a space I don’t dare leave.
When the heater is on,
don’t leave the door open
for cold to wander in.
Work and play is balance
I have not learned but ask,
“Can you both play and work?”

Blue moons bark at a bit
of oil in stockings, drip,
one sweet at a time.
Now not reality,
that came too late, hook
to wander in a bark.
Play and work, pet, instead
I’m drunk on what, forget
name and don’t you dare leave.
Don’t open on wheels, hang
it up, advice, munching
ripe for the space of full.
Stockings of DVDs
at Christmas no onions
keep lawnmowers away.
But ask, “What is this life
now I am leaving it?
What still glitters, cold, now?”

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(Photo by Anne Foale)

In the green is my indoor soccer team (the Strikers), as usual getting flogged by our opponents. I am in the goals, where I sometimes take an overestimated turn and usually end up amplifying the opposition’s score. Though I outdid myself on Wednesday – the last match of the season – when I magnanimously kicked a goal for them too! However, I must say that we have tried everything. When losing by around 20 points each week got a bit boring, the scorers would try things like giving us a goal when the opposition kicked one or giving us a goal when one of our members kicked it through the basketball hoop instead! On better weeks we lost by 5 or 6 points and one magic time we drew the game. For the season, we got 35 goals and let in 161 from others.

It sounds like a tale of woe. But actually it is the tale of a team. If you looked at the statistics, you would have had us pull out after the first few rounds. But we stuck together through thick and (mostly) thin, in good times and (painfully) bad. We tried different combinations to build on our strengths, we coped with our best players away and we definitely improved our form throughout the season. None of us were aggressive players, some were new and we had to rely on brain over brawn. In an adult mixed competition, we were the only team to field women, and we were proud of it.

Lately I helped to organise a pub night with the theme of ‘Sport and Religion…Sport as Religion?’ and this raised a whole lot of issues, from commitment, drugs, fanaticism, coping with loss, rules to respect. What I related to was the aspect of teamwork – that your team will be with you no matter what – as God and God’s family is too. No matter how many goals we let in, no matter how many times we stop to tie our shoes, no matter how many missed shots. I know that is how God operates, and I pray that our Church can live up to this ideal too. Sport can teach us something here…

Back before the invention of indoor soccer, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews knew this too. On Sunday at Mass we will read “We should throw off everything that hinders us, especially the sin that clings so easily, and keep running steadily in the race we have started. Let us not lose sight of Jesus, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection…Think of the way he stood such opposition from sinners and then you will not give up for want of courage.”

This message sounds just right, the intersection of sport and religion. We need discipline, commitment, energy and perseverance to be Christ’s followers. It sounds like what a coach would say at half-time in a game. However, the game, like life, is not straightforward and winning or losing is not the ultimate goal. Every time, at the end of our predictable defeat, our team would say to each other, “We did well. We improved. We had fun.” And somehow I think Jesus just as well understands our failings, and yet how hard we try. And in our thick-and-thin relationship, we might even find the ultimate gold.

The children saw our car bumping slowly towards them on the rough (oh, so rough) hill road, and ran towards us. They ran towards us with bouquets and headdresses made with flowers. “Free! They’re free!” they said in broken English. We took pictures and shared some snacks. Then our car bumped slowly on, on the rough (oh, so rough) hill road.

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Later, I traveled further up the mountains of Papua New Guinea, to the town of Mount Hagen. We were 6 Sisters of Mercy traveling from Goroka, 4 to stay and 2 to go on to a further village. The 2 got a message when we arrived. “Come quickly, so you can pack up your most important things!” Their village is subject to continuous tribal warfare and this time the target was the house next to theirs. The other Sister living with them was afraid it would be burnt down, and theirs along with it.

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I stepped outside their gate, to be confronted by this pile of rubbish. Even things that could be reused, like drink bottles, were thrown away, crushed under vehicle wheels on the road. It was local election time and utes were traveling around town with loudspeakers, promoting this or that candidate. The Sisters were pleased that there seemed not too great an amount of violence this time. Even so, one went outside to buy some veges for tea, just outside our house. But she returned a few minutes later with no sweet potato. “They were firing guns, everyone was running away!” she said.

It was only a month ago I was in PNG with the Sisters, nearly all of whom were born there. Some were raised in villages that could only be reached by foot; most had achieved year 10 level of schooling by their late 20s or 30s. Recently they put out a statement saying that 40% of New Guineans live on less than US$1 a day. 87% of the working-age population are unemployed. We watched a video about the people of Mortlock Island, near Bouganville, who will have to leave there very soon as the seas are rising. However, they face uncertainty in Bouganville as they are not ‘wantoks’, or neighbours, and do not have ancestral land. Others of our Sisters work in Kiunga with the refugees from West Papua who eke out an existence on next to nothing.

And this is where Australia wants to resettle refugees permanently? Are free flowers the only humane solution?

We are all weighed down by the harshness of Labor and Coalition plans for asylum seekers who arrive to Australia by boat.

I met one of these men once, who had come by boat from Sri Lanka. He spoke with regret about having been married when still a child to avoid being conscripted to the Tamil Tigers. Yet he also spoke with love about his wife and two children, who he desperately missed. He had been in exile in India, before returning to Sri Lanka and having to escape again to Malaysia, Indonesia and finally Australia. It was a long journey to this point and, finally landing in Australia, he faced having to be returned to Sri Lanka or living in suspense for years in our unwelcoming country.

Biography in Brief

Married at eight
to escape my fate,
exiled at twenty years old.
Now twenty-seven,
I’m almost for heaven,
life’s over and death has a hold.

But though we did part
you still hold my heart:
each second you are in my mind.
My family dear,
I’m wishing you here;
in our distance don’t leave love behind.