A Mural and a Sign: Two Messages for Melbourne

A mural has appeared in Melbourne’s famous Hosier Lane. I’m not sure whether it’s commemorating or celebrating the egging of Senator Fraser Anning, but it’s there and no doubt it’ll gain national if not international attention by tomorrow morning.

It was only last night that I realised that this incident took place just up the road from where I live and from where my church is located. Frankly, I felt sickened that in my neighbourhood an event took place which is being described as an extreme right-wing political meeting.

 

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Photograph V.T Rudd

The egging was a 17-year-old boy’s response to Senator Anning’s comments about Friday’s terrorist attack in Christchurch, where 50 Muslims were murdered as they prayed in two separate Mosques. Senator Anning suggested,

“The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand… The entire religion of Islam is simply the violent ideology of a sixth century despot masquerading as a religious leader.”

He then had the audacity to misread and misapply the Bible as a proof text. Dr Andrew Moody has written a helpful article which explains what Jesus is saying, as opposed to the message Anning is communicating.

I find Senator Anning’s comments morally repugnant. As an Australian, I wish we would be more welcoming of refugees. I spoke to someone over the weekend who works among some of the poorest and more oppressed peoples in the Middle East. They reminded me of the continued needs that thousands of Christians, Muslims, and Yazidis have, who are looking for a new home, a place that is safe and where they can raise their families without bloodshed.  Also, as a Christian who is serving in a church literally down the road from Moorabbin, I find Anning’s use of Jesus’ words repellent.

Like many Australians, I understand why a 17 year old boy might be tempted to ‘egg’ the Senator when the opportunity arose. If I was 17 years old and the supermarket was close by, I might also be tempted to do likewise, but surely we don’t correct one wrong by making another, even if it a relatively harmless egg.

What has been equally sad in the midst of a grief that so many New Zealanders are experiencing this week, is to see politicians, journalists and social commentators throwing their own rhetorical eggs at each other, lobbing insults from left to right and from right to left. If tragedies like Christchurch are unable to bring communities closer together, we have drifted into an unseemly place in our society. It has reached levels where I prefer not to check my twitter feed, and where reading the opinion pages leaves one feeling more disillusioned and disappointed. I don’t think it’s because we have forgotten how to speak civilly and how to show respect by carefully listening to each other, it’s that we don’t want to, and when people do try they are often shouted down with a torrent of verbal insults. The aim of the day is to win the argument by shouting louder and making oneself appear more morally outraged than others.

A few minutes drive south from Moorabbin along Nepean Hwy and with a left hand turn into Mentone, there is a sign which has been displaying its message for 50 years. Thousands of cars drive past this sign every day, although I suspect most people take little notice; it certainly won’t gain the attention that the mural will receive. I understand why. However, the message does grab the attention of some people. At Church yesterday, a man shared his testimony before the congregation and explained how he was driving past Mentone Baptist Church a few years ago and the message on this sign stood out to him and left him wondering about his own life. He eventually started to attend the Church and he became a Christian, his life turned dramatically, and yesterday he and another young guy at Mentone were baptised down at Parkdale Beach.

The message he saw reads, “Jesus Saves”. It is simple and beautiful, its meaning is ancient and yet also current, it both repels and compels, it creates questions and gives an answer. The message is very different from the mural on Hosier Lane that is imprinting the Moorabbin incident onto the city landscape. In a couple of years time only a few people will remember the egging and by then the mural will have been painted over many times. But the good news message of Jesus Christ will still be here, not because there’s anything special about the sign at Mentone Baptist, but because He is that good. It is a message that not only stands against racism but all manner of thinking and living that deposes goodness and truth and life. It is a message that not only signals fault but speaks of an extraordinary and undeserving redemption.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

 

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Stan Grant’s Speech on Racism, and why we must respond

Over the past week I have been listening to people comment on the speech given by journalist, Stan Grant, on the issue of Indigenous reconciliation and racism.

I watched it today and found Mr Grant’s words compelling, sad, difficult and necessary. I would urge all Australians to take the 8 minutes it requires to listen to the speech in full.

In Mr Grant’s voice there was heart-felt honesty but no self-pity, anger but not rage, truth-telling but not condescension.

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As a preacher I am aware of the tenure of peoples’s reactions to words; forgetfulness often quickly follows acknowledgement.  A problem with speeches like Mr Grant’s is that we are moved by them, and for a few days we agree with them and believe that action needs to follow, but soon enough we have forgotten those beliefs and emotions, and words, and nothing changes.

For example, in 2009 Rev Dr Peter Adam gave the John Saunders Lecture. He spoke on the issue of indigenous peoples in Australia, and in particular he addressed the issue of land ownership and recompense:

“No recompense could ever be satisfactory because what was done was so vile, so immense, so universal, so pervasive, so destructive, so devastating and so irreparable.’’

‘We European Australians often claim that one of the strengths of the Australian character is ‘caring for the underdog’. That claim is hypocrisy – we do not act with justice, let alone care.”

At the time, Adam’s lecture gained attention in the media, with it being reported in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald. I remember it well because it was the first time I was convicted to think seriously about reconciliation issues with Indigenous Australians.

Will this be another speech remembered for its oratory or for the change it brought to this country?

The God whom I know and worship is the God who made the heavens and earth, and who made all humanity in his image.

It was out of this theological conviction that Martin Luther King cried,

‘I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.’

This God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world because humanity was bent on throwing away the dignity of the imago dei. Humanity’s actions have resulted in the belittling of human life in a thousand different ways, including the abhorrent belief of racial inferiority

We cannot live in the past, but living in the present can remain most hard when our history remains unresolved. To this, I am looking forward to the Day when God will put away forever all that is wrong and evil, but in the present we remain responsible for our words and actions, and to ignore the call for reconciliation when it is given us, is simply iniquitous.

At this time, let us re-issue calls to include in our national constitution a statement recognising the first Australians. Of course, the wording of such an inclusion is incredibly important, and so instead of deferring it because the task is complex, let’s move forward.

Also, January 26th is our national holiday, and on this day I will give thanks for the many blessings we enjoy in our country. It  does seem as though the date has evolved beyond the tall ships in Botany Bay, as it is now cherished by many thousands of immigrants who have no connection to 1788, but who have made their home here from all corners on the globe and who celebrate becoming citizens on this date. But I am still  conscious of the fact that for many Indigenous people, ‘Australia Day’ is not so celebratory.

Are we so tied to this date that we cannot move to another?

I have heard it suggested that  we should make Federation Day our national day. It’s not a bad idea, except that it’s January 1st!

These two changes may be symbolic, but they are also tangible expressions to our fellow Australians that we recognise their pain, we acknowledge past sins, and we are eager to pursue reconciliation.

A letter to Adam Goodes

Adam Goodes of the Swans in action during the AFL 2nd Qualifying Final match between the Adelaide Crows and the Sydney Swans at AAMI Stadium, Adelaide. (Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)

(Photo: Michael Willson/AFL Media)

Dear Adam Goodes,

We met briefly a few years ago and you graciously allowed me to take a photo of yourself with my two young boys. They were only aged 7 and 6 at the time, but they remember the occasion still. 

Like many other Australians, I would like to see you participating on Grand Final day at the MCG. As a footballer, you have achieved success at a level that very few players will ever reach, and for that reason alone it is fitting for you to be recognised on that day.

Whether you decide to participate or not, I will not judge you. I believe it is too easy for non Aboriginal people (like myself) to arrive at conclusions as to how Indigenous Australians should or should not think and feel about their roles in Australia today.

I am sorry that you have been treated with such disdain on account of your race. I am offended for you. It must surely concern Australians that issues of race persist in 2015. While many prejudices and stereotypes have been taken away, it is clear that we have not yet arrived at where we need to be.

As a Christian I accept the Bible’s picture of what heaven will be like, and as part of its canvass the Bible describes how the nations will be present. The word that is used for nations has less to do with geo-political boundaries and is more about people groups. Race is not diminished, and no race is exalted over another, but on account on Jesus Christ peoples from every language and tribe are welcomed and received. While I am confident of where history will end, it is right to pursue this heavenly vision in our present time. To this end, we need to hear the stories of Aboriginal people, to learn, and for Australians to repent of past and present sins against the First Australians.

I wish to extend my congratulations to you on a great football career, and should you decide to take part on Grand Final day, I would hope that you receive a worthy applause.

Yours Sincerely,

Murray Campbell