Christmas 2016

May the ancient story of a child born in occupied territory open our hearts to the work of defending human rights.

May the birth of every child call us to our communal responsibility to protect children, to take them on wild adventures and to let them grow into the unique person they are called to be.

May the image of a family forced to seek refuge and asylum far from their home inform our political choices as citizens of a global village.

May our messages of good wishes and happy holidays not blind us to the work of justice making and non-violence.

May the lights and decorations of the season remind us of our mission to bring light to the darkness and celebration to life.

May our gifting be generous as we remember those who live in situations of poverty and exploitation.

May we hear angelic voices singing our dream of peace on earth

Image is the work of Mark Knight cartoonist at The Herald Sun in Melbourne

Queensland Community Alliance Reflection

The last week of October 2015 was spent at the the historic Woodlands estate just outside suburbia in Brisbane. Its history is a rich tableaux of family, religion and education on the land of the First Nations Peoples of Australia. It’s walls and grounds hold the stories of private families and public institutions.

I joined a group colleagues from the Queensland Community Alliance who came together to develop skills as social change activists with power brokers on the public stage. Our participants included representatives from Trade Unions, Churches and Community organisations such as mine, Micah Projects  Inc

The QCA works to establish a community organising alliance in south east Queensland to forge a better community. QCA aims to be an alliance of faith groups coming together with charities, unions, community organisations and ethnic associations to work together for the common good This alliance will be based around the personal relations we will build across organisations in our local area. We will identify and train people to become leaders in community organising, who will decide our priorities for action together, through a process of listening to stories of pressures that our members face and witness.

The  alliance draws on the community organising practice  of the United States, and is linked with and based upon the model of the Sydney Alliance. Also check out Citizens UK.

The 6 Day National Training is a program for people committed to understanding the craft of community organising – who want to play a key role in leading the activities of the Alliance inside their organisation and acting as a bridge between our member organisations.

The residential course builds a close community of leaders across participating civil society organisations that represent the diversity our communities in Sydney and Queensland. The 6 Day National Training is also open to those seeding new Alliances across Australia.

Leaders are equipped with the tools they need to be more strategic and effective and to build and strengthen their organisations in the process. The course focuses on power, organisations, relationships and leadership.

The core process of the program builds around our understanding of power and relationships. The prepatory work included writing a personal biography and some pretty in depth analysis of a  slab of good old fashioned Greek tragedy, the Melian DialogueOther resources for this training include the work  of Michael Gecan.

The origins of this work in the Alliance comes from the Industrial Areas Foundation

Founded in 1940, the Industrial Areas Foundation is the largest and longest-standing network of local faith and community-based organizations in the USA.

The IAF partners with religious congregations and civic organizations at the local level to build broad-based organizing projects, which create new capacity in a community for leadership development, citizen-led action and relationships across the lines that often divide our communities.

The IAF created the modern model of faith- and broad-based organizing and is widely recognized as having the strongest track record in the the USA for citizen leadership development and for helping congregations and other civic organizations act on their missions to achieve lasting change in the world.

Tools that we explored for our work in social change

1. Relational Conversations are conversations that have intentional direction to build relationships for action in the public domain. There is a framework in these conversations that builds on sharing common commitment to action for social change and a civil community. The relational conversation develops a skill in deep listening.

2 Public actions are  opportunities to invite people into a new model of leadership and political engagement. Some public actions are  free flowing such as rallies. Others have a structure to achieve a reaction from decision makers with whom we engage. This process comes from a relational culture of organising.

3 Listening: facilitated group listening in our context is usually described as “Table Talk” This allows a diversity of stories to be heard so that a  common thread can be teased out for action.

So, what did I take away from six intensive days of engagement with this process?  The main learning comes from the Alinsky model of the distinction between the private and the public sphere. Click here for a good critique of this model.As this is the model adopted by members of the Alliance here in Queensland we  now face the challenge of adapting it to our local situation as a tool of social change and effective political engagement.

I found the program somewhat challenging from a cultural perspective. It has a very “American” cheer leader feel to it  i have described  it as a cross between going to an Amway meeting and  watching TV evangelists.The public events of the alliance are proscribed and scripted to an extent previously unknown in the Australian political theatre. There is a lot of work needed to give the Alliance a home grown feel Downunder.

Living with a group of people even for such a short time can build relationships that we want to nurture and continue.This is the strength of the Alliance which creates a new space for collaboration and political outcomes

QCA 2015 National Training Participants

Queensland Community Alliance National 6 Day Training Marburg Qld

For Those Who Come Across the Seas

Our anthem is sung from small school assemblies to footy finals. Most know the first verse and are even surprised to discover the second verse with its lines that challenge Government refugee policy of recent times:

For those who come across the seas
We’ve boundless plans to share

These lines will now be given life and fire as the title of this year’s Social Justice statement from the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council The statement  summary in video format may not have the  the grandeur of a full choir and orchestral setting.of the anthem, however it  presents lyrics that touch our hearts.

It is a subtle presentation of the facts about refugees and asylum seekers in our world and local community.It is also a challenge and an invitation to action.

We all have a role to play
What can we do as individuals and a community to help our brothers and sisters and work for a conversion in our nation? The task is not easy, but there are many things that we can do.

First, we can make sure that Australians understand the issues better. Quiet conversation and
example are powerful tools for conversion.

We can also support the organisations that work to help asylum seekers: organisations like the Society of St Vincent de Paul, Catholic Social Services, Jesuit Refugee Services, Asylum Seekercentres and many others.

We can work within our parishes to ensure that they are welcoming places. Creating social events, organising or joining support networks, introducing refugees and hearing their stories: all these are ways in which we can recognise the humanity of those who have come in need of protection.

Politicians need to know that we feel passionately about this issue, and not just at the ballot box, when we cast our vote. Writing to local members and ministers does have an effect, and can give encouragement to those in Parliament who also seek a better way.

The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office is a valuable source of advocacy and information. The Office provides education resources for schools and materials for the annual World Day of Migrants and Refugees – the last Sunday in August.

The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council distributes a Ten Steps leaflet that will include ways in which we can work to promote understanding and help such people in practical ways.

Many dioceses have very active Justice and Peace offices that can make suggestions about practical steps you can take or organisations you can support.

At the Brisbane launch we sang All are Welcome, a song that gains new meaning in the light of this statement.

 

An Online Prayer Vigil for Those Facing Execution in Indonesia.

This week begins with the news that the Indonesian Government intends to proceed with theexecution by firing squad of ten people convicted of drug offenses.

As part of the global movement for the abolition of the death penalty I invite you to join me in vigil for these people.

Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso;
Serge Areski Atlaoui;
Myuran Sukumaran;
Andrew Chan;
Rodrigo Gularte;
Raheem Agbaje Salami; 
Martin Anderson; 
Sylvester Obiekwe Nwolise; 
Okwudili Oyatanze; 
Zainal Abidin.

–Sister Helen Prejean, C.S.J.
Used with permission
God of Compassion,
You let your rain fall on the just and the unjust.
Expand and deepen our hearts
so that we may love as You love,
even those among us
who have caused the greatest pain by taking life.
For there is in our land a great cry for vengeance
as we fill up death rows and kill the killers
in the name of justice, in the name of peace.
Jesus, our brother,
you suffered execution at the hands of the state
but you did not let hatred overcome you.
Help us to reach out to victims of violence
so that our enduing love may help them heal.
Holy Spirit of God,
You strengthen us in the struggle for justice.
Help us to work tirelessly
for the abolition of state-sanctioned death
and to renew our society in its very heart
so that violence will be no more. Amen.

Palm Sunday 2015

Our cries of “Hosanna” must echo the cries for freedom and liberation of those detained because they seek refuge and asylum in our land.

This week will not be Holy unless we refuse to crucify the innocent.
This week will not be Holy unless we break bread and drink wine with the poor and abandoned of our community.
This week will not be Holy unless we walk the passion of the earth.
This week will be Holy if we commit to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with all that is sacred.