Just the other day, a couple who managed to escape from Aleppo in Syria three weeks ago found their way to Hope’s Café at Clayton-Wesley Uniting Church in Norwood. Both of them in their mid-30’s, early 40’s, she speaks a little English and he is confined to the response, “Zero English” when spoken to. An Adelaide Armenian fellow named George, who’s been here a long time, somehow heard about the welcome and hospitality of Hope’s Café and brought them around for a cup of tea.
There are differing accounts of how the war in Syria began. One possibility, reported on the website www.news.com.au in a story called “10 Simple Points to Help You Understand the Syria Conflict” is that “the catalyst was the jailing on March 6, 2011, of some children who painted anti-regime graffiti. Some were killed in detention, and this led to public protests which spread around the country – fuelled by the failure of the government to punish the perpetrators.”
Children in strife in detention whilst the government fails to do anything about it: that’s hitting terribly close to home right now.
A recent commentary in The Age written by as formidable a coalition as Frank Brennan, Tim Costello, Robert Manne, and John Menadue, indicates:
The difficulty of the asylum-seeker issue is that both these arguments are true (the arguments being a)stop the boats and b)offshore detention is unconscionable). If we were to repeat what the Rudd government did in 2008, the results are predictable – the arrival of many tens of thousands of asylum seekers, the death by drowning of many hundreds, and the creation of an even more virulent anti-asylum seeker public opinion.
On the other hand, if we allow the present situation to continue, the result is no less predictable – the slow death of 1750 innocent people for which Australia is now, and will remain forever, morally responsible.
This is very divisive stuff, we argue about it in our pubs and parlors. Meanwhile people die and harm themselves.
The article above offers what the authors hope is “a practical way for Australia to escape from this impasse and this dilemma.” Their suggested solution incorporates retaining the turn-back policy, swiftly and humanely processing people out of Manus and Nauru, and cooperating closely with Indonesian authorities to keep the tight lid on people smuggling. It represents compromise to both sides of the politics around asylum seeking, but might it also represent life to those people caught up in the big picture of conflict around the world. At the moment, almost 34,000 people a day flee their homes due to conflict and persecution, according to the latest statistics from the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”
Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh write, “‘To bring fire to the earth’ refers to the lighting of an outdoor oven, called “earth.” (They reference other passages that make this indication.) Furthermore, “It is an idiom for getting things started.”
This is not, therefore, an image of judgment of fire raining down on earth and destroying everything. It is Jesus anxious to get things started.
What things? Well, things we’ve heard about in the same gospel of Luke. Compassion for the stranger and enemy, who is actually neighbour – as in the story of the Good Samaritan. Economies of grace instead of greed – where there is no hoarding and treasure is a matter of the heart. Communities bonded by friendship not ordered by hierarchy – “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” (John 15:15). An image of a vine with a taproot of love bearing good fruit.
Just after he talks about lighting the oven, Jesus says, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”
Here’s the thing about division. It’s the way things grow. Cells divide and new life is born. This is not an argument for cultivating division, whether for the sake of it or for the sake of some other, hoped-for new life. Donald Trump seems driven to divide for the sake of division. And although cellular division is necessary for growth, I do not believe it is necessary for change and social transformation. It is often a precursor, however. Some things have to be broken open in order to let a new thing emerge.
The trouble comes when we focus on the division itself rather than what is trying to break forth.
We must be the ones who are ready to look past divisions in search of fresh integrations. There is a better way, a third way, out of every conflict. Come, let us be people of the way.