Archive for the ‘politics’ Tag

Pine Gap 4 Jailed

The Pine Gap 4 were jailed on Wednesday.

For more information and updates check these indymedia articles:

Perth: http://perth.indymedia.org/index.php?action=newswire&parentview=118919

Sydney: http://sydney.indymedia.org.au/story/pine-gap-4-imprisoned-berrimah-darwin-write-em-letter

Ireland: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/86180

Aotearoa: http://indymedia.org.nz/newswire/display/74916/index.php

U.S. wrecks climate talks

At COP13 in Bali the US have held their line until the EU caved on targets of a 25% to 40% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. Why is this being reported as the US making a U-turn? They signed up when they had wrecked it as much as they could.

I read in a Canadian paper how Canada was playing a mediating role between the US and the EU. How parochial, outside of Canada they are reported as being one of the wreckers, along with the US and Japan.

And what do we hear in the Australian press? Australia is playing a mediating role. OK, I don’t expect much from our press, but why is Don Henry from the Australian Conservation Foundation saying that ‘Australia is going to need to move into a leadership role in these international negotiations’? The Australian government is part of the problem, not the solution. It’s the EU who are pushing for targets, while Rudd is trying to finesse the issue.

All the talk is now about COP15 in Copenhagen in December 2009. COP14 in twelve months time in Poland seems to be a write off already. Looks like the world leaders are going to wait until the US has a new President in Jan 2009 before making an agreement. No reason to rush this, I suppose. It’s not like we have deadlines or anything.

Sermon on the Futility of a Labor Victory

Thoughts for a sermon that could be preached the day after Labor wins the federal election.

Matthew 18:23-35: The parable of the unmerciful servant

In the parable a king forgives his servant a ridiculously huge debt, hoping that this act will be replicated. However, the way that power works within society prevents those lower down the bureaucracy from replicating this act. The servant, shamed by his debt, must reassert his power in the bureaucracy or risk losing it; so he jails a debtor. Similarly the king, shamed by the servant who does not replicate his behaviour must reassert his power and jails the servant. Forgiveness has gone out the window despite being instigated from the top. So much for seventy times seven (verse 22). Despite this brief departure of forgiveness, both servant and king are captive to the system. Without systemic change, forgiveness is unattainable. (Or is it, without radical forgiveness, the system will remain?)

The same for a Labor government. They will try a few things, but real change will not result from their victory, because that requires systemic change, not just a change at the top. Pine Gap will remain, Talisman Sabre joint military exercises with the US will remain, troops will stay in Afghanistan and those in Iraq will leave to play our deputy sherif role policing the pacific. Uranium will be mined, furthering nuclear proliferation. All because the institutions and structures that control the resources and power of the country will remain unchanged.

No, what we want are non-reformist reforms. Of course it is better having a Labor government than a Liberal one. However, does their victory further the cause for systemic change or is it a reform that impedes further change?

Labor will have won on the back of the union’s Your Rights at Work Campaign. Does that campaign leave a grass roots movement ready to push for more radical change? No, the unions want systemic change no more than the Labor party. The campaign’s goal is to get Labor into power, which will leave everyday people disempowered. The campaign should encourage us that life will be a little easier for workers when Workchoices is softened so there will be more breathing space for movements that really want to change things. Instead, the campaign has empowered union officials, not the people. I predict that the day after the election (today?) the Your Rights at Work Campaign will go incredibly quiet, only being heard in a very token form, if at all. The reform has been won, let’s all go home. Imagine the alternative, an invigorated union movement with empowered members pushing their leadership for changes that really effect their lives. A nightmare for the leadership, but the possibility of restructuring the resources of the country for the benefit of the people…

It still needs work, but this could form the basis of a sermon to preach the Sunday after the federal election, saying, OK a Labor victory may be something, but don’t get mesmerized by the top of the power structure. Let’s keep on building a movement for change.

However, if that’s too pointed how about this: this reading comes up in the lectionary on September 14, 2008, if you are preaching, or involved in a bible study, why not give my interpretation a whirl then. Possibly a good time to preach this, as the shine would have started to wear off the Labor government.

Reference:
William R. Herzog II, Parables As Subversive Speech: Jesus As Pedagogue of the Oppressed, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 1994, Chapter 8, “What if the Messiah Came and Nothing Changed?”.

Note that Herzog sees verse 35 as a later addition by Matthew and discards it for this interpretation, departing from Matthew’s use of the parable.

Free markets, free trade and … communism

There is a myth that free markets and free trade go hand in hand with democracy.

In The Age today John Roskam from the Institute of Public Affairs has a go at the churches for advocating aid to Africa, because “the evidence is irrefutable. Free political institutions, free trade and free markets are the best way to get people out of poverty. The difference between the economic development of Africa and Asia is proof of this.”

He claims the churches have lost sight of the facts, but presents none of the “irrefutable” evidence for his position. The closest he comes is “Many Christians are uncomfortable with the idea that their desire to buy and enjoy the consumer goods made in the factories of China and Vietnam can be as effective in defeating poverty as giving away 10 per cent of their weekly salary.”

China and Vietnam? Free political institutions? Both one party states under communist rule.

At least he could have mentioned India, which is after all a democracy, although the government does need the votes of the communist parties to keep its majority in parliament.

Howard wrong on parable of the Talents

Last night Lateline reported John Howard’s Hillsong address to churches around Australia.

JOHN HOWARD: Parable of the Talents, to me has always been, has always seemed to me to be the “free enterprise parable”. The parable that tells us that we have a responsibility if we are given assets to add to those assets.

He’s got it completely wrong. Here’s a sermon I preached a couple of months ago:

The Parable of the Talents
Matthew 25:14-30

[The congregation was first asked what the parable means and which figure represents God.]

I have some problems with the interpretation you have just given me, with the Master representing God [or Jesus], the first two slaves as good and the third slave as wicked.

To begin with, is this what God is like? “I knew that you were a harsh man” “You knew, did you?” “throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. Is God like a harsh man? One who throws the lazy into the outer darkness? Hey, God may be cruel, but he’s fair! Is that the God of peace and love and justice proclaimed by Jesus?

Secondly, the Master is pleased with 100% return on an investment. And if you can’t get that, at least get some interest for it. Does God support usury, the lending of money at interest? It is forbidden elsewhere in the bible. Has God changed his mind? And is it just, to double your money with investments? Who pays the price for this?

And what do we make of this phrase:
“For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”
How easily this can be used to say I deserve my wealth, whereas those without deserve their fate.

And my final problem is that this is not the way you tell a story. It is always the third person who provides the lesson. We should be drawn in by the first two characters, people who behave as expected, and then the third person should surprise us with something unexpected and teach us the lesson. The story of the good Samaritan is like this, the first person, not unreasonably, passes by on the other side. The second person does the same, as would we. But the third person – The Samaritan, of all people – provides the lesson and teaches us who our neighbour is. Any good joke follows the same pattern. But with the parable of the talents, we get the lesson straight away. The first slave does the right thing – he uses his talents wisely and is rewarded. Good on him. The second slave does the same thing… ok, we get the idea. And the third slave… does the wrong thing and is punished. The good are rewarded and the bad are punished. Where’s the twist? The surprise at the end, that gives the lesson? Sounds like a fairly mediocre parable.

Now I don’t want to throw away the parable, but I do want to throw away this interpretation and find a better one. And to find that, let’s first look more closely at what this parable is about, before we decide what it means.

So, the parable of the talents is about… talents. So, what was a talent? Well, it was an amount of money, but how much money? Now if you’re like me, your main cultural reference for the worth of a talent is a scene in “The Life of Brian”. A beggar comes up to Brian and his mother and says: “Spare a talent for an old ex-leper”. Brian’s mother replies: “A talent! That’s more than he earns in a month!” Unfortunately this is highly misleading. Who would have thought that Monty Python was not historically accurate, but there you go. A talent certainly was more than Brian earned in a month. A talent was about 15 years wages. In today’s terms, taking a wage of say, $65000, a talent comes out to one million dollars. Hardly the amount a beggar would be asking for on the street, unless he were very ambitious.

Now, what exactly was the household described in the parable? The Master has five, plus two, plus one, talents. Do any of you have eight million dollars lying around and need other people to look after it for you? This is not a household like the ones we live in today. In fact, at the time, power was concentrated in cities. And the cities controlled the surrounding countryside. But within the cities power was held by large households – the Packers and Murdochs of their day. It is in these households that you would find a master with eight talents, lying around needing looking after, while the Master went away searching for other business opportunities.

So we’ve looked at the talents, looked at the household, now, what about the slaves?

Who are these slaves? Well, any sizable institution, like a household, needs a sizable bureaucracy to manage it. And at the top of the bureaucracy are these slaves, entrusted with looking after the household’s vast wealth. The slaves have played the game to rise to this position, and must maintain it if they wish to stay where they are.

Let’s leave the parable for a while and see if we can make some connection with these slaves. What have a I got here in my hand? A credit card. But this is no ordinary credit card. It is an Australian Government Purchasing credit card, and it’s got my name on it. What does this allow me to do? It lets me spend someone else’s money – in this case the Federal Government’s money, tax payers’ money. Now could you put your hand up – this is the interactive part in case you’ve tuned out – put your hand up if you have ever had control over money that was not yours, not part of a business you owned, not a relative’s, but someone else’s money. The money of a Government, your employer, a church, a school, a community organisation.

Ok, everyone with a hand up – like the slaves in this parable, you are a manager of other people’s money. This parable is about you and me. You can put your hands down now.

We often have parables about the poor, but we’re not poor. We have parables about the rich, and again, we’re not rich, that’s somebody else, we’re off the hook. But this parable, it’s about the managers. And at Ringwood Uniting, we should pay attention, because for many of us, this… is a parable about us.

Now if you didn’t have your hand up. If you’re a worker, a small business owner, a student, unemployed, looking after children full time, you’re off the hook today. You can just glance at all the managers and look smug.

Now, back to the parable. Let me suggest that it’s not a parable about the Kingdom of God at all. It doesn’t begin with ‘The Kingdom of God is like’ as many other parables do. No, this is a story about the world, and what the world is like.

The Master is not God. The Master is just a master. The Master is harsh, he believes those who have, should get more.

And how do they get more? Well, one of the ways large households doubled money, was to lend it out to farmers and charge them exorbitant interest. The real money was not in the interest, but in foreclosing on the loan. Getting the land and crops when the farmer could no longer pay the loan back.

People who no longer had land, had to go to the city and sell their labour, and would be the sort of people hearing this parable as Jesus told it. A parable about the people who had ripped them off. What would Jesus’ audience think of the slaves? Not very nice things, I reckon.

So how do we see the parable now? The head of a large and powerful household goes away leaving three able slaves, his Senior Management team, in charge of 8 million dollars. The first two slaves do what it takes to double their money. “Those evil so and sos. We all know someone who’s lost their land to them” is what we’re meant to be thinking. But such unpleasantness is avoided in the polite conversations between the Master and the first two slaves. “I have made five more talents” , “ Well done good and trustworthy slave”. No mention of people thrown off their land. The slaves just enjoy their master’s happiness that the finances have gone so well.

The third slave is the hero is this story. For whatever reason, he decides he cannot partake of this any longer. He decides to become what is now called a “whistle blower”. Instead of using the money to make more money, instead of entrusting it to bankers, he takes it out of the system, burying it in the ground, where it can do no harm. When the master returns, it no polite chat. Rather, the third slave says the unmentionable, making plain where the Master’s wealth comes from. Telling it straight to the Master. “ I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed” – a description of reaping a harvest sown by others who have been thrown off their land by the Master. The Master does not take kindly to this, giving the usual slander of idleness and immorality that accompanies any whistle blower: “You wicked and lazy slave!”.

The third slave is stripped of all of his responsibilities and they are given to the other slaves. No longer part of the bureaucracy that has supported him, the slave will soon be destitute, living in the world of the poor – the outer darkness, as the Master sees it – where people do indeed gnash their teeth, whether in anguish, or chattering from the cold.

Having looked at what this parable is about, I will now close by looking at what it means.

For managers like many of us, it is a call to be awake to the realities of the institutions we manage. Is injustice kept hidden behind polite language and euphemisms? Is it time to say “no more”? Do you have the courage to risk the consequences of speaking out? Possibly losing your employment, your reputation?

Now we don’t do altar calls in this church. But I’m tempted to say “Do you feel the spirit is prompting you to reveal the truth with us today? If so, come on down and share with the congregation.” Maybe you do feel this way. But that would be unfair because there is one final bit to this parable.

Government whistle blower Andrew Wilkie has said, “Some would have followed me out the door before the [Iraq] war, if only they felt they could have. But in reality most people find themselves constrained either by their sense of duty or by financial consideration – they cannot afford the instant loss of a career with little immediate prospects of another. Or else they feel powerless to make a difference and are overwhelmed with despair.”

Yes, the fate of the whistle blower can be harsh as this parable attests. But it is not the end of the story. The hearers of Jesus’ parable would detest the manager-slaves, but this story encourages empathy for the third slave. Not “one of those so and sos has finally got what they deserve”, but rather “he’s now in the outer darkness with us. How should we treat him?” With no support the whistle blower would be hungry, thirsty, he would be a stranger, lacking clothes, he could get sick, possibly imprisoned. Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes, the very next passage in Matthew is the “Last Judgment”, the one with the sheep and the goats, where we are encouraged to feed the hungry and thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, because that is where we meet Jesus.

So there is a message here for the church as a whole. You non-managers don’t get off scott free today after all. Whistle blowers may end up in the outer darkness, but that is where the church should already be. With Jesus, providing the necessary resources to those outside of the system.

If the managers of our society really believed that the church would support them spiritually and economically, they would be more inclined to act like the third slave and blow the whistle when they see injustice.

Delivered Sunday April 22nd 2007
Ringwood Uniting Church, 9am Service

References:

William R. Herzog II, Parables As Subversive Speech: Jesus As Pedagogue of the Oppressed, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 1994, Chapter 9, “The Vulnerability of the Whistle-blower: The Parable of the Talents”.

Ched Myers and Eric DeBode, “Towering Trees and Talented Slaves”, The Other Side, May-June 1999.

Andrew Wilkie, Axis of Deceit: The Story of the Intelligence Officer who Risked All to Tell the Truth about WMD and Iraq, Schwartz Publishing, Melbourne, 2004, p 146.

Inspirational Speech

In the midst of the large protests of J18, Seattle (N30), Washington (A16), Melbourne (S11), Prague (S26) , Ottawa (A20) and Genoa, the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement started it’s alternative annual meeting the World Social Forum.

Local and Regional Social Fora were encouraged and one has just happened in the US.

Michael Albert, who runs the Z magazine web site, has written a review containing the speech he wished had been given at the end of the US Social Forum. It’s quite long, but here’s an excerpt:

We are trying to win a new economy in which there are no classes. No one in the better world we seek will own workplaces, resources, or other people’s ability to do work. There will be no owners of Walmarts or Microsofts. There will be no private profits. There will be no wage slaves, working under the dictates of others. Further, no one will monopolize empowering conditions at work, as doctors, lawyers, engineers, and managers so typically do now, and on that account rule over those left only menial and obedient tasks. No one will earn inequitably whether from property, power, or output. No one will have more say over decisions than the fair share that we all are entitled to in accord with how much we are affected. There will be no top and no bottom of who decides what for whom. There will be no order giver and no order taker about production, allocation, or consumption. There will be no class responsible for decisions while another class is suppressed and responsible only to obey. We will all be elevated to use our fullest capacities and express our fullest desires, rather than most of us learning only to endure boredom and to obey orders showered down on us by the anointed masters of all that occurs. Our new economy will be classless, at last. Out with the old boss – and out with any new boss, too. We will enjoy a participatory economy, operating as one part of a participatory society.

But our project is not just about economics – we are not economistic. We realize that life is not working and consuming alone. For example…

Read the whole thing here.

Pine Gap Appeal

Just heard that the Christians Against All Terrorism have had papers served on them for an appeal.

The government is not happy with the fines handed down against the activists and is appealing, presumably to try and get prison sentences.

Follow their progress on their blog and get the word out to support them.
From their report of the initial sentencing:

Pine Gap Trial – SENTENCE Fri June 15th 2007

NO JAIL FOR PINE GAP FOUR

Four Christian pacifists are celebrating after being spared prison sentences in the Northern Territory Supreme Court today.

The Pine Gap Four, found guilty of breaching the Defence (Special Undertakings) Act 1952, have been handed minor fines.

The public gallery erupted into song, applause, cheers and hugs and the feeling of victory and vindication was in the air.

Justice Sally Thomas noted their good behaviour and co-operation in the sentencing decision.

“All four were very genuine in the cause they sought to espouse,” said Justice Thomas, “however their actions – no matter for what cause – cannot justify the breaking of the law.”

Jim Dowling has been fined $1250, Bryan Law fined $1000, Donna Mulhearn fined $450 and Adele Goldie fined $550. They have also been asked to contribute $2500 each towards cost of fence repair.

Talisman Sabre Reports

Twenty-one people were arrested at the recent Talisman Sabre Military Exercises in Queensland and across the top of Australia.

Among those arrested were a group of five Christians, mainly from Melbourne, who walked onto the base and up to a runway, where they looked for soldiers to talk with.

Here are writings from three of them:

Simon Moyle was interviewed by RTR fm (Perth Community Radio) (3.5 mb) and Sonshine fm (Perth Christian Radio station (6 mb).

They will be having a fund raiser soon as they will need to travel back up to Rockhampton for court.

Others Actions

Activists were arrested for crossing the line and others stayed several days inside the base. I’m not sure if they were arrested. (Can anyone give me an update?)

Two people who locked on to a military vehicle will have mentions (a pretrial hearing) in the Rockhampton Magistrates Court on 13th July (in two days time). The rest will have mentions on 13th August.

For some background on Talisman Sabre have a look at this this overview by Dave Andrews where he also discusses what else the $130 million could have been be used for.

The focus of SiCKO

Democracy Now reporting on Michael Moore’s film SiCKO:

It focuses not on the more than 40 million people who don’t have healthcare but on the 250 million who do – many of whom are abandoned by the very health insurance industry they paid into for decades.

What a stoke of genius. Instead of making a film about how bad the health care system treats poor people (those without health insurance), make it about the middle class who would generally have insurance.

Instead of middle class viewers thinking, ‘Isn’t that terrible what happens to poor people’, they will think, ‘Aargh! That could happen to me.’ That’s the way to change things.

However, my partner reckons, ‘They’ll fix the system for the middle class and the poor will still get nothing!’

Stopping War

Ciaron O’Reilly writes about those maintaining a vigil outside the Enoggera Military Base in Brisbane.

…We feel if everybody in Australia who seriously oppose this war made their opposition visible by holding vigil for an hour each week – at a military base, outside a government building, on their campus or in their community – this would have quite an impact on waking our society from its slumber. A society that is largely sleeping through this war as these young men and women at Enoggera are being prepared for deployment.

Here are some pictures of the vigil.