Monthly Archives: January 2020

Year of Activism #3

January 26 is a day Australia sets aside as a public holiday to mark the invasion of the British onto the east coast by rogue Captain who didn’t follow orders and make a treaty or alliance with any locals he encountered. Like all colonial acts, lies and miscommunications, failures in the authorisation processes lead to damage of the land, people and all species.

I grew up under the Southern Cross and always feel disorientated when I can’t see her in the skies when I travel outside my celestial canopy. I can’t imagine the awe and wonder of arriving to this land and seeing for the first time so many strange and awesome sights. What began in the name of science, set a trajectory of death and survival.

Today I want to acknowledge the men and women who have taught me and been willing to forgive my ancestry and apprecenticed me into more understanding and invited me into ways forward both together and apart. People like the late Sonny Flynn, Bruce Hammond, Rosemary Wanganeen and the writers, poets and leaders I don’t know personally but who have shaped and influenced me such as Stan Grant, Anita Heiss, Bruce Pascoe, sporting stars like Nicky Winmar and Adam Goodes and all the people along the way who have come into my life and offered up their knowledge and guidance so generously to support my learning and correct misunderstandings.

I got quite active in the movement first during 1988 – the bicentennial of Capt Arthur Philip’s arrival into Botany Bay with what is known as the First Fleet. I participated in all kinds of events, learnings and actions. When I was a member of the Adelaide Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission for the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide, I wrote a ten point plan of action which included things like having the Aboriginal flag fly at the Cathedral (and for the record it still does).

I am struck at this moment, about how much I have to learn about the land. Having moved to a new place I am very conscious of how nude it is. There is almost no habitat for birds and bugs and that is my first priority. What belongs here and how can planting and be healing and restorative will help heal and restore me too. The inextricable bond between land and people is so familiar to indigenous people who have not been severed from their connection and I am yearning to get more connected. I have an inkling this is at the heart of what is needed to help us take the steps we need to take to protect our species and be able to live on this planet. It is time for us to care for the earth.

In theological terms we are shifting from stewardship to care. We have to give up the lording over and having dominion mind sets and behaviours to be in collaboration, partnership, tender care for our home. The evangelical call is clear from the voices of young ones through the ancient cloisters of the Vatican – even the same family who sent Cook and Phillip to our shores is divesting from fossil fuels!

Colonisation and racism and environmental justice are inextricably linked. Brown and black lives matter – they are the ones who have lost their forests first, their food bowls; they are the first climate refugees and we know they have already paid the price in disease and death of their ancestors as extraction and exploitation spread like wildfire as land, oil, gas, minerals were pillaged throughout the ages. It has been universal and Australia has had its dreadful moments. For me one such moment was in 1997 when Prime Minister John Howard, going against a High Court decision came up with a ten point plan of his own to correct (in his words) : The fact is that the Wik decision pushed the pendulum too far in the Aboriginal direction. The 10 point plan will return the pendulum to the centre. The plan included an adjustment that would impact on mining, land, air and water resources. While there have been many legislative and public policy moments in Australia, this one still stands out to me as one of the best examples of how authority was misused, the courts dis-respected and colonisation, racism and environmental injustice perpetuated.

I am heartened by the growing number of people in our land who commemorate rather than celebrate this day, who mark the occasion with reflection on who we are and who we are becoming as a country, who take the time to wonder what will it take to find just settlement, who explore what restitution and healing is even possible. To be active in these times, requires all kinds of help and calling on the Divine won’t hurt either. Even the great coloniser’s of the past are returning to their roots to their essence of fidelity to our only home. It’s not a bad place to start on this day to incant a prayer for our planet and our times where we are in so in awe of the land we are impatient to care for her and in doing so reach our human potential – which I can’t see is possible without the decolonisation we all have to do inside and out.

A prayer from Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures.

You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.

Pour out upon us the power of your love,

that we may protect life and beauty.

Fill us with peace, that we may live

as brothers and sisters, harming no one.

O God of the poor,

help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.

Bring healing to our lives,

that we may protect the world and not prey on it,

that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.

Touch the hearts

of those who look only for gain

at the expense of the poor and the earth.

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,

to be filled with awe and contemplation,

to recognize that we are profoundly united

with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light.

We thank you for being with us each day.

Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle

for justice, love and peace.

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Year of activism #2

With the words: It is not a drill Greta Thunberg opens the video message she and George Monbiot have prepared to highlight the need to protect, restore and enable our natural environment to tackle the climate crisis. The video is a must see for it’s direct and explicit messaging. The communicators are essential for mobilising. Their advice in this little video is to plant trees. Such a simple act. The stages are protect, restore, act.

I have just moved into a new home and the garden is a literal desert, save for a beautiful flowering gum that belongs next door and has found a way for some of its branches to fall over the fence. On my first Saturday here I went to find things to plant and support for the soil which has had no love in years it seems. Over the coming year this will be part of my own response to protect, restore and act.

These steps are steps for the activist too. We must protect ourselves from the loss and grief we are encountering lest it render us to a state of paralysis. This will mean going deep into our sense of regret, sadness, despair – that last bastion of hope. David Whyte writes Despair is a difficult, beautiful necessity a binding understanding between human beings caught in a fierce and difficult world where half of our experience is mediated by loss, but it is a season, a wave form passing through the body, not a prison surrounding us (from Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words).

When we face facts, it is in not a drill, we look at what we have done to get us to this point. It is personal, it is political. We move to protect ourselves so we can own the despair, move through it a pace where it can be integrated and take us to the place where we can be restored to our best version of ourselves. To that place where we can find the good in us to lead us to action. Protecting ourselves invokes poetry, music, beauty in our surrounds and in our relationships. To be there for each other without judgement or blame. To be seen sobbing and to be heard cursing. To be in the shelter of each other as we each fumble and find our way to restoration.

Restoring our selves – bringing ourselves back to a former state – a state of childlike wonder, a state of union with all that is needed to sustain us, a state of appreciation for all that connects us. Inside the process of restoration lies forgiveness, appreciation of all that has gone before, a eye to potential and discovery of essence. The acts that follow are grounded in fundamental, although occasionally some inconvenient truths as well, but they are acts with integrity and ones evolved through a process of recovery and renewal.

I am reminded of the principles of any 12 step program – admitting we have a problem, seeking support and guidance from and with peers, recognising we are not alone and calling on a higher power to get us through, making amends and evangelising to bring others to the process. It starts with despair though and this is a step we can’t skip over as it is fuel for hope. When we get to rock bottom, and the sirens are sounding, our vulnerability arrives with all its fragility, complexity, tears and tantrums and we know we can’t do it alone, then we can begin to road back to Eden.

As I am making a new home I am wondering what has been before, that can be protected and restored and have begun a little research in these first few days. I have been lent a copy of RetroSuburbia, joined a couple of Facebook groups about butterflies and gardening, turned up at a local nursery and had some loam and compost delivered. I have been blessed by dear friends with John O’Donohue’s Elemental Blessing for a New Home. It is a beginning, in this year of activism.

Elemental Blessing for A New Home

Before a human voice was ever heard here,
This place has known the respect of stone,
The friendship of the wind, always returning
With news of elsewhere, whispered in seed and pollen,
The thin symphonies of birdsong softening the silence,
The litanies of rain rearranging the air,
Cascades of sunlight opening and closing days,
And the glow of the moon gazing through darkness.
May all that elemental enrichment
Bless the foundation and standing of your home.

Before you came here, this place has known
The wonder of children’s eyes,
The hope of mornings in troubled hearts,
The tranquility of twilight easing the night,
The drama of dreams under sleeping eyelids,
The generous disturbance of birth,
The anxieties of old age unclenching into grace
And the final elegance of calmly embraced death.
May the life of you new home enter
Into this inheritance of spirit.

May the rain fall kindly,
May daylight illuminate your hearts,
May the darkness never burden.

May those who dwell here in the unseen
Watch over your coming and going,
May your lives of love and promise
Refine and deepen the mind of the land.

John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us

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2020 Year of activism #1

The year has started for me in Mexico City and it is a fine place to get an apprenticeship in revolution. From bullet holes attributed to Pancho to the student protests of 68, to the countless acts of courage against state and organised crime violence, there is no doubting the human spirit is constantly seeking to be liberated from oppression of all kinds.

One of the lessons in revolution, is there is a cost. Sometimes that cost is in lives. And in my own country Australia, and so close to home, those who have lost their lives in the fires and may come to be known by future generations as climate change martyrs. They aren’t the first and they won’t be the last. If Mexico is going to provide me with another lesson on this front, I am worried that we don’t learn and in fact just keep repeating our mistakes and there is no real turn around in power, equity and justice.

Another lesson is the importance of sticking together and being family where-ever you can. Family comes in many forms, but the centrality of making decisions from the perspective of a child and what they will inherit is as good a compass as any. One of my lessons from my Aboriginal friends is the essential connection of being family and if it is not in the DNA then it comes by the relationship – through desgnations of aunty, uncle, sister, brother. If we think of everyone as family where will that take us? The centrality of Earth as our Mother can only help us take the steps we need to take to heal and build a future not so anthropocentric.

A third lesson is air quality – and not just the amount of toxins in the air – but how we share air space in conversaions and where the air stops us in our tracks to get down deep inside of us to ensure our body knows just what it means to have the life sucked out of us if we keep behaving like we do – polluting the air with words that don’t serve us and poisons to kill us. Mexico City is a place traditionally known for its poor air quality was not the worst place on the planet this past week, in fact my home town of Adelaide took that honour as the smoke and ash from Kangaroo Island blew into town. The pristine ecologically significant place now wrestling with some species at the point of extinction and with almost half of the land burnt, literally millions of creatures dead including two humans – a father and son – another example of what it means to be family.

The quality of conversations, sharing the air space, making room for the quiet voices, listening with a compassionate heart, finding ways for all the voices to be heard and coming to clarity that is greater than the sum of all the voices into one united voice is one of the great challenges of our time in the crowded spaces. High quality space and holding spaces where diversity can co-exist and anxieties can come to rest with compassion are skills for this time.

While I have been on the other side of the planet, and the irony of this experience is not lost on me, another lesson I have been gifted is the gift of distance. Being outside of your own context often gives you some time and space to see things a little more clearly. It doesn’t need to disconnect you from what is going on (thank you email, social media and internet). In spite of being here to be with some of my family, I have also been supporting the online community I founded to write a climate emergency statement, get organised and continue sharing their goals and aspirations. I have also been able to dip into actions of others and bring my values and experience to decision making for events and governance in organisations that I am involved with. Different time zones have their advantages and I have benefiited from that for decades now, this really helps me connect to the global citizenship experience. For me, it is the act local, think global adage, in practice.

The practice of staying connected, and being apart, feels like the heart of my reflection this week. Keeping space for both is the balancing act. I arrived when the moon was new and am leaving when it is full, having been at the steps of the Pyramid to the Moon in between.

A Blessing for Stability

May you have time to be still, when the world is a whirlwind.

May you have space to stand, when the Cathedral is choking with bodies.

May you have stairs to climb, when the ancients call you.

May you have tears to spare, when young ones seek you.

May you have internet access, when your signature is needed.

May you have funds to donate, when your House is on fire.

May you have a laugh in your belly, when the sobs stop falling.

May you have sun rays and moon light, when darkness descends.

May you have generous guides, when you don’t know what you are in for.

May you have the wisdom to know this is all an apprenticeship.

May you have seeds offered to you, when you have no idea of what they might yield.

And may you be blessed with a compass stable enough, to point you in the direction you need to revolve towards.

Seeds from Erythrina Americana a plant that is native to Mexico, attracts hummingbirds, provides colour and is used by children in play as little weapons because of its spiky flowers. These seeds were at the Teotihuacan Pryamids.