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Monday, July 30, 2007

Bonhoeffer, Ethics and Kevin Rudd

Miss Eagle is thinking - hard. I don't know whether this will be the first or last post of this kind or whether this will the first post of a work in progress. I write four blogs. These blogs reflect the constant interests of a life of sixty-three and a bit years. The links are on the side bars. The blogs cover desert spirituality, social comment, home decor, and food. Into these blogs come other constants: books, film and television, rugby league football - particularly State of Origin, and - occasionally - craft and the refurbishment of furniture and furnishings.

The Eagle's Nest was the first blog but, as it progressed, it seemed too much of a jumble to put all my interests on one blog. As well, readers interested in one topic were not necessarily interested in any of the others. While there is occasional social comment in The Trad Pad and Oz Tucker which is relevant to their topics, I have - to this time - kept this blog free of social comment: a rant free zone.

But what I want to explore is in the manner of a spiritual reflection so this blog seems to be the most appropriate place to write about it. Elections for a Federal Government are due in Australia and are expected by December 2007. The government is a coalition of two conservative parties, the Liberal Party and the National Party. The major party of opposition is the Australian Labor Party. There are a few independents sitting in the House of Representatives. In the Senate there are a smattering of minor parties: The Greens, The Australian Democrats, Family First.

Our Prime Minister is John Howard. The Leader of the Opposition is Kevin Rudd. Until the last few years, religion has never been an issue in Australian politics as it is in the politics of the USA. Australians have never been fond of people who wear their religion on their sleeve. And they have been even less fond of politicians who display such a tendency. But this has changed or is changing. Pentecostal churches and their mega churches have acted as a lightning rod for this development.

Pentecostal churches have sought to mobilise their constituencies and have actually sought political power and influence. Politicians are always mesmerised by numbers and are only too happy to turn up to churches that can guarantee an audience of 5/6000 people.

John Howard was raised a Methodist. While he courts conservative Christians, there is little indication by the Prime Minister of his own faith in practice. We do not have any seminal statements of faith.

On the other hand, the Leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd, has been more overt about his faith and has actually bought into the debate of faith in public and political life. Rudd was raised a Catholic, lived in an Anglican college at the Australian National University (ANU) and married an Anglican. I am not quite certain but I believe he now attends an Anglican Church.

During Howard's tenure as Prime Minister, his government has been seen to implement policies which cut across Christian ethics:

  1. Detention of refugees in concentration camp like facilities
  2. Management of harsh immigration policies which have also scooped up Australian citizens into a disastrous web of detention and deportation
  3. Questionable attitudes based on the ethnic origins of Australian citizens and residents
  4. Xenophobic attitudes
  5. Introduction of legislation which has eliminated a just balance of workplace relations between employer and employee
  6. Failure to apologise to indigenous Australians for horrendous public policy such as that revealed by the Stolen Generations report, Bringing Them Home
  7. Poor funding and administration of public policy issues relating to Aboriginal people.
  8. A recent sudden interest in Aboriginal issues to the extent that the army has been sent to Aboriginal communities and constructive policies are being abolished at the stroke of a pen.
  9. Failure to sign up to Kyoto and - until recently - denigration of anything to do with climate change or altering behaviour to save the planet.

This list is a short list and for more details of these and other similar policies and attitudes you, dear Reader, are referred to The Eagle's Nest.

Kevin Rudd was elected Leader of the Australian Labor Party on 4 December 2006. While he was a familiar face on Australian television, Australians are still getting to know who Kevin Rudd is and what he stands for. He is ahead in the polls and it seems likely that in 2008 Australian government will have changed hands and Kevin Rudd will be Prime Minister.

Among those who long for the Howard Government and its meanness to humanity and the environment to depart from the halls of power, there is mounting concern about the man who would become Prime Minister. Who is he really? What does he stand for?

These questions are commonly being raised because, on a number of contentious issues, Rudd has supported the Howard Government when great ethical questions have been and are integral to such issues. People refer to Rudd's "me-too-ism".

The latest evidence of this is in the area of Tasmanian forest policy where Rudd has indicated that he will not move away from the policy of the Howard Government. This is clearly because a powerful trade union supports this policy. A more environmentally friendly policy enunciated by Rudd's predecessor brought protests from this union and cost the ALP two seats in Tasmania.

To-day - and this is the catalyst for Miss Eagle's personal ethical reflection - Martin Flanagan is questioning Rudd's decision and relates Rudd's statements to his previous declared admiration for Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his ethics. Martin Flanagan is a distinguished writer and journalist and a favourite commentator of Miss E. He is the brother of the much-awarded Tasmanian writer, Richard Flanagan.

Miss Eagle has had half-a-lifetime of active political involvement within the ALP ( as candidate and political staffer) and the trade union movement (as an active member and a union organiser). She is in retirement. She resigned from the ALP six years ago. She keeps up trade union linkages particularly through the Your Rights at Work campaign. Miss Eagle thinks she can see what Rudd is doing. He is not going to be distracted from the goal - and certainly not when he is so far ahead of the Prime Minister in the polls. The Prime Minister is a master of what is known as "wedge politics" and Rudd seems to have developed some deft skills in avoiding the wedge.

When Rudd takes a me-too stand, it seems to have the effect of taking contention out of the political debate. Flanagan describes this aptly thus: The game he is currently playing with the Prime Minister is known in yacht racing as tacking.

So the ethical question is this:
Opinion polls are showing that a majority of Australians want a change of government. There are great moral reasons - in the view of many but not all Australians - why the Prime Minister should leave office. How ethical is Rudd's position of tacking, of keeping on track, on keeping the campaign ship on an even keel?

Miss Eagle has raised similar questions at The Eagle's Nest asking for Rudd to display his backbone, to let us know his vision, to let us know what are those issues from which he would never resile his position.

Is Kevin Rudd correct? Just as Bonhoeffer was prepared to accept the murder of Hitler as a necessary but lesser evil in the affairs of state, is Rudd's attitude of tacking and me-tooing his way to The Lodge a small price to pay, a lesser evil, to rid this nation of Howard's tainted governance? Is the failure to enunciate a clear, environmentally friendly forest policy less important than doing what it takes to rid the nation of the Howard Government?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Existential Jesus

Imagine, dear Reader, a reading group in an Australian academic institution. Most of the members are not Christians and yet they decide to read the Gospel of Mark and read it intelligently in a manner similar to the way the group would approach other texts. The deliberations of the group have now become the subject of a book, The Existential Jesus, by Professor John Carroll, a sociologist at La Trobe University here in Melbourne. Miss Eagle went to hear John Carroll speak last Thursday night at St Martin's Anglican Church at South Yarra. This is not the historical project of the Jesus Seminar. This is more like a Lectio Divina group style except that most of the group are secular and they are approaching the work intellectually, not prayerfully. The insights are remarkable and worthy of note. Make up your own mind.

Rumi and The Right Work

The Essential Rumi - Translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne, A.J. Arberry, and Reynold Nicholson. Published by Castle Books, 1997.

The Melbourne Writers Festival program is out to-day. How can one ever get to everything that sparks attention! How can one ever afford it! Over at Barnabas quotidian, Barney has used a quote from Rumi. Top of Miss Eagle's list are two Rumi events. Check the information here and here. It is a challenging quote and gives much to ponder:

The Right Work

There is one thing in this world that you must never forget to do. If you forget everything else and not this, there’s nothing to worry about, but if you remember everything else, and forget this, then you will have done nothing in your life.

It’s as if a king has sent you to some country to do a task, and you perform a hundred other services, but not the one he sent you to do. So human beings come to this world to do particular Work. That Work is the purpose, and each is specific to the person. If you don’t do it, it’s as though a priceless Indian sword were used to slice rotten meat. It’s a golden bowl being used to cook turnips, when one filing from the bowl could buy a hundred suitable pots. It’s a knife of the finest tempering nailed into a wall to hang things on.

You say, “But look, I’m using the dagger. It’s not lying idle.”

Do you hear how ludicrous that sounds? For a penny, an iron nail could be bought to serve the purpose. You say, “But I spend my energies on lofty enterprises. I study jurisprudence and philosophy and logic and astronomy and medicine and all the rest.” But consider why you do those things. They are all branches of yourself.

Remember the deep root of your being, the presence of your lord. Give your life to the one who already owns your breath and your moments. If you don’t, you will be exactly like the man who takes a precious dagger and hammers it into his kitchen wall for a peg to hold his dipper gourd. You’ll be wasting valuable keenness and foolishly ignoring your dignity and your purpose.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Lives: radical and changed

Christian mystics do not dabble in altered states.

They seek radically altered lives.

From an interview
with Bernard McGinn
by Sarah Miller,
The Christian Century, 2003.
Discovered this posted at

Monday, July 16, 2007

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

PolMin, along with the Victorian Council of Churches, the Uniting Church’s Commission for Mission and Anglican Church’s Social Resposibilities Committee is sponsoring a forum about Dignity at Work.

The guest speakers will be three minimum wage workers from the USA who are in Australia on an ACTU sponsored tour.

The forum is being held in the marginal federal seat of Deakin and forms part of PolMin’s Just Work campaign.

Dignity at Work Forum - Minimum Wage Workers from the USA speak out

Thursday 26 July 2007
St John’s Catholic Church
494 Maroondah Hwy Mitcham

If you require a .pdf file for printing, please email Miss Eagle

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tabling: Ancient Prayers and Blessings

I am indebted to Following the Ancient Paths for bringing to prominence the ancient prayers of the Jewish tradition - particularly those that relate to blessings before meals and after meals. Truly beautiful.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Prayer of Charlemagne

Charlemagne by Albrecht Durer
The Prayer of Charlemagne

Creator Spirt, by whose aid
The world's foundations first were laid,
Come visit every pious mind,
Come pour thy joys on humankind;
From sin and sorrow set us free,
And make us temples worthy thee.

Attributed to Charlemagne, translated by Dryden

Friday, July 06, 2007

Life happens: Part 1

Table Setting at the first meeting of Dawn of Life, St Thom's, Upper Gully

There comes a time in the life of a blogger when what happens is life...life to be lived...life to be organised and planned...a life in which one must be enjoined, one must participate. This explains the absence of Miss Eagle.

Highlights of the absence are:
  • Establishing a support group for widows and widowers at St Thom's. The group has chosen to call itself Dawn of Life.
  • Attending a conference in the Anglican Diocese of Ballarat - Rural Ministry in the 21st century.
  • Taking the opportunity to play tourist before and after the conference.
  • And, while all this was going on, Miss Eagle was also planning and working on a Pray Vigil held on Wednesday afternoon from 1pm-4pm at St Thom's.

St Thom's is a smaller parish - approximately 125 people attend two services in Upper Ferntree Gully each Sunday. We are, like so many Anglican congregations, ageing. In the last twelve months or so, though, aged diversity is creeping in the doors. Miss E is overjoyed. You see Miss Eagle does not agree with these aged specific Gen X, Gen Y churches. Miss E heard recently about a couple turning up at St Hilary's Kew, Melbournes largest Anglican church - Anglican of the evangelical variety. They were re-directed to the service for those over 40.

Now Miss E has the view that we are the Body of Christ, that God does deal with people in families. How does age-segregation help with communication between the generations? Miss Eagle is 63, she is widowed, she has no grandchildren. But she delights in the babies and toddlers in the church. There's Georgia who is somewhere between 11 and 13 who is making wonderful progress in the guitar. There has been a quiet pleasure in watching Callum and Nicholas - the children of Susanne and Jonathan, our ministering couple - grow up and start high school. There is Claire who has grown up in the church and is now at university. It is wonderful to be able to stay in touch with her life and ambitions and plans. And this is a two-way street. Young people learn about communicating with older people. Surely, this is the way God works things out. Surely, this sort of community can be a gift to a broader more individualistic society.

So, in this parish with a substational ageing demographic, there are quite a few widows and widowers. Needless to say, there are more widows than widowers. Two of us were widowed at a young age: Miss E at 45, but Madelin even earlier, in her thirties with young children. Most are recently widowed. So, at our first meeting, we had only one man. The others were busy - so time will tell whether the others come along. If they don't, we may lose our one man and become an all female group.

We have made a good beginning. We are not a lonely hearts club and we are likely to carry on a range of activities: social, first person, speakers. Miss E wants to also guide people in to looking at the role of the widowed in the church - then and now.

...to be continued