Tag Archive: strangers


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A hollow grief, a hallow grief

We light candles in defiance of the darkness
raising our lights high to honour those voices silenced and stories untold
mine goes out.
A small enough gesture and mine is snuffed out before
it can transmit its’, however fragile, beacon of hope.
Discouraged, I lower my arm and my head but
a hand, bearing a lighter, comes into my view.
We each have that power – to share the light we have.
I had forgotten but this stranger reminds me:
the fellowship isn’t only with the Other but each other too.
Touched by grief, I don’t immediately move away following the vigil
a Chinese international student approaches to ask in broken English:
“Why do these people gather here this way?”
I try to explain but realise asylum “seeker” evokes Potteresque imagery
I let it lie – elusive to gain, as much to do with luck as skill,
glittering just out of reach… there are worse metaphors.
“You all show much courage”, she says.
“How’s that?” I ask.
“In China, this would never be allowed.”
What seems little enough… not nearly enough…
is to this person unthinkable
and I am confronted by my privilege to be here.
She moves off and a man joins me on the library lawn
“The powers you must overcome…
they would keep you from expanding.”
He lights a cigarette.
“They are going backwards, except,
it seemed backward even the first time”
he sighs looking around, “It is little enough”.
It is little enough.

Tonight on the anniversary of the “Regional Resettlement” initiative 55 vigils are taking place across Australia. It is little enough. It is something…

 

Messages from Manus

Timeline: Four years of abuse

19 July 2013: Then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announces a new “Regional Resettlement Arrangement” with Papua New Guinea (PNG) so Australia can buy its way out of its ethical responsibilities. From this day forward anyone seeking protection and safety in Australia who arrive by boat will be forcibly transferred to PNG for processing and, if they are found to be refugees, be permanently settled there.
19 July 2013: The announcement causes distress amongst the people warehoused in detention in Nauru with peaceful protests escalating into violence.
3 August 2013: The Australian Government signs a new memorandum of understanding with Nauru similar to its Regional Resettlement Arrangement with Papua New Guinea.
17 February 2014: 23-year-old Reza Berati is murdered, and over 60 others injured, some of them seriously, on Manus Island. Numerous witness reports state Reza Berati was attacked by a group of G4S staff and at least one local staff member employed by The Salvation Army. Several eyewitnesses reported that one attacker picked up a large rock and hit Reza Berati on the head with it several times.
5September 2014: Hamid Khazaei, who was only 24 years old dies from a sepsis infection three weeks after he cut his foot at the detention centre on Manus Island. Inadequate medical care and delayed medical evacuation were later reported to have let to to Mr Khazaei’s death.
26 September 2014: The Australian and Cambodian governments sign a deal under which people on Nauru who are found to be refugees are to be resettled in Cambodia.  This second deal again allows Australia to buy its way out of its ethical responsibilities.
18 November 2014: Then Immigration Minister Scott Morrison announces that asylum seekers who have registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Indonesia after 1 July 2014 will no longer be able to be resettled under Australia’s humanitarian program.
5 December 2014: bill passes both Houses providing the Immigration Minister with the power to detain people at sea (including outside Australia’s jurisdiction) and send them to other countries or vessels, even without the permission or knowledge of those countries.
20 March 2015: The report from independent review into allegations of sexual abuse on Nauru is released detailing reports of women being raped and allegations of children being sexually assaulted.
20 March 2015: A boat carrying 46 Vietnamese asylum seekers is intercepted by Australia. Its passengers are held at sea for nearly a month and undergo “enhanced screening” before being returned to Vietnam on 18 April.
28 May 2015: Thousands of men, women and children seeking protection are abandoned at sea in what is now known as the Andaman Sea ‘boat crisis’. Regional governments eventually agree to allow the boats to land but then Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s callous response to Australia offering safety is “nope, nope, nope”.
4 June 2015: Nine months after the $55 million Cambodia deal, four refugeesarrive in Phnom Penh from Nauru. All of these people subsequently choose to return to their countries of origin, despite the fact that all four were found to have well-founded fears of persecution.
1 July 2015: The Australian Border Force Act takes effect making it a crime punishable by two years’ imprisonment for medical professionals, educators and others contracted by the Australian Government to speak about what they see in offshore detention.
5 October 2015: The Nauruan Government announces that the Regional Processing Centre will operate under an open centre arrangement.
29 October 2015: Amnesty International Australia publishes a report revealing evidence that Australian officials paid boat crews to return peopleseeking asylum to Indonesia.
8 November 2015: Fazel Chegeni, an Iranian refugee detained in Christmas Island Detention Centre, is found dead after escaping the centre.
19 February 2016: Australia again rejects the standing offer from New Zealand to accept 150 people from Nauru or Manus Island, failing to provide sensible, durable solutions for the people trapped there.
21 February 2016: Baby Asha, a one-year old who was transferred along with her family from Nauru to Brisbane Lady Cilento Children’s hospital for medical treatment is released into community detention. This came after the doctors at the hospital refused to discharge Asha after the completion of her treatment, fearing she would be transferred back to Nauru.
23 March 2016: At the Ministerial Bali Process meeting a declaration was released (the Bali Declaration) which for the first time identified the need toprovide protection to refugees in the region.
15 April 2016: A refugee in Nauru is convicted of attempted suicide, which was recognised as a crime in Nauru at the time.
26 April 2016: PNG’s Supreme Court rules that the transfer and detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island is illegal.
26 April 2016: Omid Masoumali, a refugee living in Nauru for three years sets himself on fire. After more than 24 hours he is medically evacuated to Australia where he dies in a hospital in Brisbane on Friday 29 April 2016.
2 May 2016: A young Somali refugee living in Nauru sets herself on fire. She is later flown to Australia by air ambulance suffering burns to 70% of her body.
5 May 2016: A boat with 12 Sri Lankan people seeking asylum who were intercepted by Australian authorities earlier in the week are screened at sea before being returned to Sri Lanka. They were reportedly arrested on arrival at Colombo airport.
10 May 2016: The Federal Court rules the Government must provide a woman,raped on Nauru, access to a safe and legal termination.
July 2016: Amnesty International’s Senior Director for research visits Nauru where she finds a system of deliberate abuse hidden behind wall of secrecy.
10 August 2016: The Guardian releases the Nauru files – thousands of leaked incident reports from Nauru detail assaults, sexual abuse and child abuse.
19 September: UN Global Summit for Refugees and Migrants in New York misses opportunity to find solutions to the global refugee crisis.
17 October 2016: In a new report Island of Despair’: Australia’s “processing” of refugees on Nauru Amnesty International find that the conditions to which refugees and people seeking asylum on Nauru are subjected amounts to torture.
30 October 2016: Immigration Minister Peter Dutton tries to introduce legislation to ensure anyone taken to Nauru and Manus and then resettled anywhere in the world, would never be able to come to Australia.
13 November 2016: The Government takes an extreme step in shirking responsibility byannouncing an agreement with the United States for some of the refugees in offshore detention to be settled in the US via a process administered by the UNHCR.
25 November 2016: Malaysia begins work on a pilot scheme to allow refugees from Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya minority to work in the country, which in turn reduces number of people forced to take dangerous journeys in search for a safe place to rebuild their lives.
24 December 2016: Faysal Ishak Ahmed collapses at the Manus detention centre. He dies on Christmas Eve.
31 December 2016: The Indonesian President issues a Presidential Decree for refugees which for the first time provides people seeking asylum and refugees in Indonesia with a more formal legal status.
14 April 2017: PNG Soldiers fire directly into the Manus Island detention centre putting lives at risk. 9 people are injured. No one is held accountable.  

On the weekend of 24-25 September Whitley College hosted a conference called Constitutions and Treaties: Law, Justice, Spirituality – these are notes from session 7 of 9. We acknowledge that this gathering, listening and learning occurred of the land of the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nations and offer our respects to their elders past and present, and all visiting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island visitors present.

Provide space for another person to find their own lifestyle (not adapt to that of the host) – this might be called a fearful emptiness.

img_1459

img_1460

img_1461

img_1462

img_1463

img_1466

img_1467

img_1468

img_1469

img_1470

Moved – relocated – dislocated – dispossessed… went from hosts to guests.

Mamaa – places where the Creator Spirit brings Christ and Wanjina together.

Our first learning: How to wait.

There’s a time to move.  Can’t go at our speed but the speed the people decide.

Leaves crackle when you burn them, this announces that guests are coming.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples need to be affirmed and respected as hosts of their own country.

 

img_1475

img_1476

img_1477

 

TOWARD A NEW TABLE FELLOWSHIP

Proud of my aboriginal heritage and being a part of the church.

Chasm (barriers to hospitality):

  • difference
  • misunderstanding
  • racism
  • sex
  • past
  • fear

Bringing people together:

  • similarities
  • past
  • hope
  • food
  • conversation

Join in moments of sorrow and celebration. Spent all our budget on food. Need to create spaces that bring people together and give them a chance to say, “Well, actually, I’ve been wondering about this…”

Hospitality across all cultures and all faiths.

Let us learn from you, instead you come and learn from us.

People started demanding and expecting hospitality… anxiety, misguided enthusiasm, on own terms/time, urgency, desire to ‘fix’… our elders are fragile and tired… who cares for the carers?

It’s not that we don’t want to talk/engage but we need time. Reconciliation can’t work by a drive-through approach.

Indigenous Unit is told ‘this is your job’ – it can often be overwhelming. People aren’t aware of what else is going on for our community.

These are the realities of our lived situation.

Trauma caused and trauma received.

Churches (and institutions) need to learn their own story – people go on experiential trips to the outback/red centre. Important to understand that you are on country here, now and always.

We need good and sustainable gatherings.

A time for everything – Ecclesiastes 3:1-14

Need to meet and share – get hospitality right.

Why binaries not working/helpful? Why working on Strong Spirit? Losing heart and tired.

Don’t understand the grace of Aboriginal people offering hospitality on a crime scene.

“You don’t look Aboriginal, what kind of food is this? why aren’t there more chairs? you aren’t dressed very aboriginally…”

People bound up in their own needs, expectations and demands.

 

N.B. this story contains offensive language and swear words


 

The streets of Melbourne speak.  Buskers busk, beggars beg and people hand out pieces of paper offering good deals on diamonds, discounted burgers or advocating for autonomy of Tibet – everyone has something to say. Mostly we veer round them, but not me.  I have started a new job working with a Christian community development organisation supporting the homeless in Melbourne CBD – these people out on the street are my neighbours, my friends, and I am going to help them and I will make a difference in their lives.

Speak Melbourne, I am listening.

I hop on the 57 tram at Collins St. As it is standing room only, I loiter near the rear door and sitting side-on to me is a man holding a bottle in a paper bag already quite drunk.  He looks old but probably isn’t. A face weathered by life’s experiences and dirt. He clears people to the other end of the tram by being, loudly, verbally offensive to everyone around us.

To the Indian couple opposite chatting softly, “Can’t you speak English? Speak English! F-ing come to our country, you can speak our f-ing language.”

To the Chinese woman beside him, “I can speak your language, sushi! Chopsticks! Kamakaze! Karate!”

To a young Middle Eastern girl, “You’re quite pretty… how much would it cost to buy you? That’s what you do where you come from, right?”

Everyone on the tram pretends to ignore him and looks away – whatever you do, don’t make eye contact with the crazy guy. I felt angry, and ashamed, worried that all these people might think that by staying silent we agree as I find I look away too.  Eventually, a young white guy halfway up the tram calls out, “Keep your peace mate, no one wants to hear what you have to say.”

Crazy Guy stands quickly, “You trying to be a f-ing hero? Showing off for your girlfriend?  None of your f-ing business.”

He has pulled a broken bottle out of his bag and is waving it threateningly. Collectively everyone on the tram holds their breath, still not sure where to look.  Eventually Crazy Guy sits back down again but the ‘hero’ turns to say something to the guy behind him and he’s up again throwing candles at him from his bag shouting, “Shut up! I’m going to burn your f-ing eyes out you c-!”

All of this over a surreal twenty minute ride. I arrive at my stop in North Melbourne and hop off, relieved, so very relieved, the Crazy Guy does not.  I have done nothing, said nothing, and feel upset and guilty.  “Aren’t I meant to know how to do this?”

I ask a colleague Gin the next day, “What I could have done differently?”

“What was his name?”

“Uh, I didn’t exactly introduce myself….” my tone quavering somewhere between sarcasm and incredulity.

“…next time, try and find out what his name is, it really helps to connect with people if you know their name.”

Oo0oO

 

Some weeks later I am hosting dinner at my place unwinding with others from work. The share house I’m in doesn’t have much of a backyard and we have improvised with fish and chips in the middle of the 5-way roundabout where Haines, Dryburgh and Shiel Sts intersect.  It’s a beautiful Melbourne summer evening and we jockey for the minimal shade offered by the three yet-young eucalypts as summer light fades into dusk.  We’ve been there a while when a man crosses the road to ask us, “You got anything to eat?” and we share what we have.

He hangs with us a bit under the darkening sky, asks if we’re Aboriginal, if we’re sitting here because the land is significant to us, and asks my friends Christop and Mehrin when they are getting married, “I can just tell…” though they were only dating then.

Gin asks “What’s your name?”

“Gordy.”

“Where are you staying?”

He points to the flats across the road.

Crazy Tram guy is my neighbour, and now I know his name.

I wait till Gordy leaves to tell the others the connection.  My workmates have been helping me process the experience I had on the tram and it’s almost hard to credit this could be the same person. Calm, softly spoken, clean-shaven, friendly, interesting and interested in who we are.

Gordy is my neighbour, and now I know his name.

IMG_0835 - Copy

Oo0oO

homeless memorial service 005 - Copy
I go to the 10th Annual Homeless Memorial. Once a year a motley community gathers to remember those ‘streeties’ or ‘parkies’ who have passed away. You can get hot soup, a hot dog, and warm clothes are available to take away but it is about more than that. It offers an opportunity to reflect on those people with whom we create connections, those with whom we feel ‘at home’, regardless of any material shelter. We remember those who now, or have in the past, offered light or warmth to our lives. Voice is given to the pain of separation from parents, siblings, children, society. Voice is given to the pain of decisions that cannot be unmade, things which cannot be unsaid and knowledge that we cannot go back – only forward. A humble gratitude is offered to ‘the people from the organisations represented here’, supported with warm applause from the crowd in and around the marquee.

We sing. Songs we all know the words to, or hum, or make up. There are no song sheets. You  don’t have to have learned to read to belong here. Our hands are free to cradle lit candles and sprigs of rosemary.

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you don’t let show
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on


They say we stand for nothing and
There’s no way we ever could
Now we see everything that’s going wrong
With the world and those who lead it
We just feel like we don’t have the means
To rise above and beat it
So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change
It’s hard to beat the system
When we’re standing at a distance
So we keep waiting
Waiting on the world to change


We hold a minute’s silence, and it is deep and rich and full.

There are names unspoken…tears unshed…and hope unlooked for. We only need to look around to know we are not alone in this grief. We only need to look around to have more than our hunger fed, our coldness clothed… instead we know the truth.

 

We are not strangers to one another as we thought when we arrived.

 

And a last a cappella chorus rings out…

 

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see

 

Oo0oO

Another pleasant Melbourne evening, my housemate Freya and I are walking her gentle dog Nala to the oval for a play. We have an Ultra Grip Ball Launcher and even with both of us humans to the one of her we know well who will get tired of the game first.

We meet up with Gordy as we cross the road, he is heading home as we head out: “What kind of dog is that? Bitch looks like a dingo.  I’ve killed two dogs with my bare hands, they were coming at me and I just grabbed their front legs and ripped ‘em apart.”

Once he’s gone I try and explain how I don’t think he’s a risk to our pet but I think I make a bad job of it and there’s heightened awareness and extra company on walks in the weeks that follow.  I know enough to know now that Gordy was pretty level tonight.  Eyes clear and cleaned up, he must be in a good place.  He’s just making conversation.  Speaking his truth.  Why do we think about what we need to do to protect our dog and not think about what happened to Gordy that he’s in a situation somehow where he’s defending himself, his life, with his bare hands?

I used to look for the right answers once.  Now I look for the right questions.

Oo0oO

A stranger stops my friend Lyn and I, as we are walking down Swanston Street, to ask an inane question.   She and I do lunch now and then to catch up since I dropped off the corporate ladder. I say something harsh and unkind about him once he leaves. Gormless.

My friend smiles and says, “Sometimes you are very Christian, and sometimes you are so not.”  My smile twists and becomes wry, “No. I’m a Christian all the time,” I say, “…sometimes I’m better at it than others.”

I used to think that helping the poor would make me holy somehow. But I am as holy, and as human, as I have ever been.  Riding that 57 tram home later that day, I see Gordy again. He stands up to let a lady sit down and, when other women get on board, chastises other guys into giving up their seats too.  He flirts with a few girls and makes general conversation, “Hot ain’t it? Where you goin’?”

He says hello to me and I reply “Hi, Gordy, how are you?”

Confused, he answers “I don’t know you, I don’t know you”

I explain about meeting a few times, a long time ago and far apart but he just repeats, again and again, “I don’t know you”.  I get off at the stop after ours, cut home through the park, following the path that winds back and forth instead of cutting across the grass directly like I usually would.  It’s slower. I hold Gordy in my mind. I hold scared Gordy in my mind and slowly make my way home, hoping he’s made it ok to his.

Oo0oO

 

[Five years later…]

I am making my way to Coles to pick up some ingredients for dinner on the way home from work when I see Gordy sitting on the corner of Flinders and Elizabeth St with the cutest puppy sleeping on a blanket at his feet.  My momentum carries me past before my brain catches up and my spirit stirs.  I hesitate, and go back.  “Hey Gordy, I’m just heading into the Coles here, have you eaten? Can I pick up anything for you or the puppy?”

He says, “Nothing for me” proudly, “but some biscuits for the puppy would be great.”

I head in and dither over what to buy: puppy vs. adult food, large dog vs. small dog food, how big a bag if Gordy has to carry it around vs not being generous.  I finally get clear and head to the corner and… I can’t see them… oh.

My mind starts running, Gordy had sort of flinched when I used his name.  He never remembers me.  Maybe he felt suspicious of my motives, paranoid?  I check all directions from the intersection, check out the tram stops hoping to catch sight of him.  Damn it.  I just spent $15 on dog food I don’t have a use for.  Should I leave it here at the corner in case he comes back?  Did I take too long?  Did he assume I wasn’t coming back? Sigh.  The reasons for stopping in the first place were right.  It doesn’t matter that he isn’t here.

But it does.

I am disappointed by the ‘squandered’ generosity that goes unappreciated.

Oh well, Ray and Ben’s dogs will have a litter of puppies soon – it will be used eventually…

I cross to Flinders St Station and wait on the platform for the train. Last I know he lived in North Melbourne – I’m heading to Footscray where I live now – same line so I’m still scanning the platforms hoping to catch sight of him. Nothing. No sign. I find an empty seat on the train when it pulls up and slump down in the keep-to-myself-don’t-talk-to-me mode I generally assume on public transport.  The train moves off, the doors at the back of the carriage open and I idly muse on what it is people are looking for when they move down through the train while it’s moving when there are free seats everywhere? As I stare blankly at the dark tunnel walls slipping past.  The group, two guys and a girl, sit down across the aisle from me, and… beside me.  One of them is Gordy.

I very casually say, “Oh, could you pass this over for me?’

I see the surprise. Surprise I see them? That I will talk to them? That I will recognise Gordy without his hand out?  That I actually came through with the dog biscuits? Gordy moves to sit next to me with the puppy so ‘he’ (the puppy) can thank me, he is soft and adorable.  We chat all the way to Footscray, one of his mates eats the Snickers I threw in. Gordy says “I’ll definitely remember you this time.” I have my doubts and sitting together, sharing together, it feels entirely unimportant.  Though I have hope.

I’m still not holy.  Gordy isn’t a hero in this story, nor am I. We’re pretty much still the people we were at the start.  Still living.  I have learned that I can’t wait on the world to change. I have to start with myself.  Our conversation falls into silence, and it is deep and rich and full.

I don’t need Gordy to remember my name; that might be too hard or asking too much.  What I want him to remember is being reached out to, the mutuality of our exchanges. Equal parts in the same whole… it humbles and humiliates me.  I hope he feels looked for, I hope he feels found – as I have been.

The streets of Melbourne speak.  Buskers busk, beggars beg and people hand out pieces of paper offering good deals on diamonds, discounted burgers or advocating for autonomy of Tibet – everyone has something to say. Mostly we veer round them, but not me.  I’m in a different job these days, these are still my neighbours though and my friends – I know better now.  We help each other sometimes and our lives are different, better, for the knowing of each other. Listen Melbourne, I am speaking…

“What’s your name?”

 

 

Talitha Fraser


 

I wrote this piece a short story entry for the inaugural Brotherhood of St Lawrence Hope Prize “to encourage writing that transcends stereotypes of ‘the poor’ and reflects the resilience we know that people show in the face of poverty and testing times”. I didn’t win or anything so I can share my piece here – the years that I worked with the homeless community (largely through Seeds and Urban Seed) in Melbourne were transformative and it feels good to have an opportunity/ excuse to reflect on and share some learnings from that time. Thanks to Katherine, Susan and Sally for handholding me through the writing and editing process – this is noticeably tighter than my usual work thanks to you!

On salvation

IMAG0151

I am sitting in the local supermarket collecting for Red Shield Appeal. A pensioner has just given generously and thanks me for my generosity taking the time to sit there.

“I don’t like people… I love people.
We need to support each other… I believe this… be there for each other.
Salvation?? I give for this Salvation…”

I come home and look up the word “salvation”.

From the latin salvatio – being saved or protected from harm or being saved or delivered from some dire situation.

Imagine for a moment an army, a large number of people, committed to saving and protecting people from harm, an army of people committed to saving and protecting those who find themselves in some dire situation… religion aside – that still might be something to believe in.

I might sometimes worry that collecting takes me away from my core work – it is good to have this reminder that it provides an opportunity for others to participate in it.

Making Space

IMG_7381

Christop Booth sharing a workshop on making a cup of tea -“at the Indigenous Hospitality House we’ve found that sharing tea can help to make space for the stranger and can be an opportunity for reconciliation”.

Make a cup of tea…

What are your associations?

What do we know about its origins and history?

When we reflect on any every day activity, we might consider…

  • how do we want to change the world?
  • how does this activity connect me to people/world/environment/others we will never meet
  • how might I bring sacred/imbue meaning to the activity

059

I wake early on the second morning in my new house. I’m still learning the new sounds and lie half asleep trying to associate each noise to an action: that is a drawer opening, that is someone coming downstairs, that is someone going out the front door, that is someone being really careful to be quiet in the kitchen… How considerate. I roll up thinking: if I let them know I’m up, they can stop worrying about waking me.

The lights aren’t even on! How is anyone meant to get ready for work in the dark.  I flip them on to tease my housemate, “Thanks for being considerate but you don’t have to tiptoe around in the dark!”  and realise very quickly that this roughly-dressed man coming out of our pantry is not she.

I think we both froze and then I followed up with something stellar like, “Hey”

I follow that up with just what’s on the surface.

“Are you looking for something to eat?,” and continue babbling as I move into the kitchen, “Do you want toast? I could make toast. And coffee.  I can’t really function before I’ve had coffee.”

He says, “No thanks” and we move into a conversation about the purpose of the Footscray Community Outreach house.  He’s on the street and looking for housing but we’re really set up for families with children so he can’t stay here … “How did you get in?” I ask.  “Knocked”. He replies casually.

I talk about our open community dinner.  I don’t have housing referral information but if he comes back tonight I’ll print stuff out.  Eventually we run out of small talk and I indicate I need to start getting ready for work. “No problem,” he says, “I’ll show myself out.” But I follow him to the door anyway, see him out, check it latches, then check all the other latches. Just in case.

Later in the day I fire an email around: “Hey guys, think we need to be making sure the doors are secure at night. Found a community member in the kitchen at 6.30am!”

Aah, but, as it turns out, my new friend is not a known community member and I’ve been having a chat with someone whom I guess may have been casing the place looking for something to take.

There’s lots of different ways to respond to finding someone you don’t know in your kitchen at 6.30am.  Apparently, “What the hell are you doing in here? Get out!” {with optional further swearing for colour}, is a more common response…  and quite a confrontational one.

At the first point of contact, I am standing in the doorway that, as far as this guy might imagine, is the only way out of the room.  He will have to go through me to get out.

I’m in my pyjamas, I’m not wearing my glasses and (sorry to let the side down) I’m a girl.

I genuinely didn’t feel unsafe at the time.  My confusion was probably an advantage to him – had my housemate just let him in? was he known in the community? has he lived here before?  

What is your need?  I have just unpacked in the kitchen, bought some food… is there anything I would really miss? Anything I couldn’t give you?

It starts to sink in more as the community responds to my blithe email.  Housing referral information, sleeping bag, dinner, someone to be with me when he comes back to the house (it will be a bloke), clear boundaries to be communicated, all residents are informed and offered support – “How can we continue to make this feel like a safe space?”… it may have been out of the box, but as the story spreads beyond community to friends and work colleagues I am asked again and again “Why didn’t you tell him to get out!?”, I can only respond helplessly, “Well, if I’m choosing out of hostility and hospitality… I can back hospitality up yeah?”

In responding out of my pre-coffee and ignorant state I have possibly  dialed back a scenario that might have been unpleasant.  I’ll give you that.  But I am interested in what the factors were that made my response different from what it might have been  because it seems how spaces are set up and what our expectations are of those spaces purpose can impact the range of responses available to us when welcoming strangers:

 

  • I expected my home space to be a common one and for stranger to be welcome there
  • As a lead tenant of the house –  hosting folks who rock up is part of the position description
  • I expect people looking for something at 6.30am need it. I don’t do anything at 6.30am without a really good reason.

 

How can we make: “What is the need that brings you to this place?” our first consideration in responding to others? (whether that’s kids, partners, work colleagues, or randoms in off the street…)

Not a bad thing to pick up the first week on the job.

 

 

 

I followed

IMG_5600

I followed the three
through the gate
past the roadworks
down the track
imagining they led the Way.
They climbed a fence.
I spoke from my side:
“I thought you knew the Way!”
“We know a Way.”
“Oh. Well, I supposed I should follow?”
“Here.  Let us help you.”
Holding my sandwich and handbag
they politely look aside as I clamber
awkwardly to where they are standing.
“A ten for execution?”
We laugh and go On.

Talitha Fraser

139

On the 410 bus…

{for your entertainment, please note that font size denotes volume of the conversation happening on a crowded peak hour bus}

“How old are you?!”

“33”

“What?”

“33”

“Are you married?”

“No.”

“I’m looking for a woman!”

“…spoken for though”

“What?”

“Spoken for.”

“What?”

         “I’m not available!”

(silence)

“You dye your hair.”

“YOU DYE YOUR HAIR?!”

“Yes, yes, I dye it”

“What colour is that?”

“Red.”

“Oh. What colour will you dye it next time?”

“The same.”

“Oh. What colour is it underneath?”

“Blond”

“You follow footy?”

“No.”

“What’s your name?”

“Talitha, what’s yours?”

“Stanley”

#communityengagementinFootscray #onyastanley #thisismystop

welcome

 

This beautiful artwork is used with permission of  the talented artist Liz Braid www.lizbraid.com

As of April 2014 there are 1138 children in detention in Australia’s detention centres.  It has been hard to know how to respond in the face of Australia’s inhospitable and inhumane policies/treatment of refugees seeking asylum.

Our God is Undocumented, a book by Ched Myers, offers a biblical exegesis for the American context and is drawn on below to consider the Australian context through the use of reflective prayer stations.

map of 006the world – how can we identify with the journey of refugees, pin where we are from, our parents, our grandparents… use different coloured pins {Our God is Undocumented, p.10 “We should never forget that the first immigration “crisis” on this continent came as a result of European colonisation of the Americas. This resulted in three great disasters: the obliteration of First Nations sovereignty and cultures, the violent removal of millions of Africans to the Americas in the slave trade, and the impoverishment of countless people due to relentless resource and labor extraction… poor immigrants today are simply following the trail of wealth stolen from their land centuries ago.}

Australian has its own unreconciled history with its First Nations Koori people.  Koori people have lived on this land for 50,000 years, us white folk less than 250 years.  There is a bit of a “We outnumber you and ours is the dominant culture, why don’t you just assimilate/get with the programme”  Where do we belong? What right did our ancestors have to arrive by boat for resources such as land and gold or to avoid famine?  How can we use our own personal stories/history to develop a sense of compassion for those still arriving today?  As can been seen at the Melbourne Immigration museum there have been waves of refugees from Vietnam, Philippines, Africa (Ethiopian, Eritrean, Sudanese…), Middle East (Iran, Iraq, Lebanon…) – what is the role of Australia in conflict/securing resources in these areas?009

Say (or hear) Lords Prayer together in different languages.  Spirit of Pentecost Acts 2.6,8,11 …in their own tongue. Didn’t all understand Latin/Greek but heard scripture in their own language.   {Our God is Undocumented p.28 “Perhaps it recognises that language is one of the fundamental things that makes us human and that linguistic distinctiveness characterised the original forms of human organisation before the rise of imperial monocultures.  The ancient wisdom preserved in this story reminds us that cultural heterogeneity is as essential to human social ecology as species diversity is to a healthy biosystem… more than 95% of the world’s spoken languages have fewer than 1 million native speakers.  Half of all the languages have fewer than 10,000 speakers.  A quarter of the world’s spoken languages and most of the sign languages have fewer that 1,000 users… It has been estimated that 20-50% of the world’s languages are already moribund, and that 90% (possibly even more) may be moribund or will have disappeared by 2100.”}

Does your congregating community have members from other cultures who attend? If not, why not? What are some ways to acknowledge, celebrate and affirm the cultural differences within our community? Language/stories/songs, festivals, wisdom of prophets/spiritual leaders, colours/fabrics/flags, food at morning tea, clothing… we all of us are made in God’s image – male/female, brown/yellow/black/white, no matter where we’re born. How can we draw on the richness of diversity in the God we worship?

020share communion together {Our God Is Undocumented p. 200 “Remember what has been dismembered.  This exhortation lies at the heart of the church’s eucharistic ritual, repeated with each element for emphasis. It reiterates and sums up the deep wisdom of biblical faith, the product of a people all too familiar with distress, displacements and near disappearance.  Whenever you ingest this memory, said Jesus on the eve of his execution, you join yourselves to our historic struggle to make the broken body whole.  It was, and is, both invitation and imperative, equally personal and political.  If we refuse to heed it, we are doomed to drift forever on or be drowned by the tides of empire, refugees all.”}

This is one loaf of bread. One body.
It’s broken.

As Jesus’ body was broken on the cross for us.

this bit might be me…
this bit might be Jarra…
this bit might be Ahmed…
this bit might be Rajesh…
this bit might be Sam, or Maya, or Bob, or Shirley…

When we eat this bread it is a reminder that we are all part of one whole – we might be a different colour, we might be a different size of a different shape  – but we are all part of the same body… connected.  And we are all of us broken.  In each taking a peice, and eating it at the same time, we are invtied back into wholeness with God and012 with each other.

Angels – paper cut out? Something we can take away with us/put somewhere prominant to remind us to welcome the other {Our God Is Undocumented p.67 “…account of the angel travellers similarly attacked in Sodom, a violation that also ended in that city’s destruction (Jgs 19:15-25-Gn 19:1-11). …cautionary tale… “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb 13:2).

#LoveMakesAWay is a movement of Christians seeking an end to Australia’s inhumane asylum seeker policies through prayer and nonviolent love in action, you can see their Facebook page here.  This is high-level commitment advocacy but there are less “extreme” places to start…

There is an initiative in Switzerland that suggests putting stickers on your mailbox to let your neighbours know what is available to borrow – we used to be able to knock on our neighbours door but nowadays spend more time online than in realtime…

Communities like Urban Seed in Melbourne offer a free meal to those marginalised by homelessness in Melbourne – but here’s the thing, they don’t only offer food to people who are homeless, they offer food to anyone that shows up for lunch as they explore what it means to be good neighbours in a busy city of commuters and extend us the invitation/challenge to do the same through their Strangers Are Fiction campaign.

Who are your neighbours? Do you know their names? What might be one thing you could do that might lead you into connecting with them? [fruit or flowers from the garden you want to share, or baking, maybe you take the initiative to borrow something next time you realise you’re low on milk or the grass is getting tall…] …who knows where this might lead?

Dolls house – have sample forms and invite people to write their own and take them home as a way of symbolically creating space for the other in your home {Our God Is Undocumented p.107 In my fathers house there is lots of room (Jn 14:2)

I went to an art exhibition last week with some art works around the theme of showing welcome to refugees such as that by Liz Braid above – they had some mock forms on the wall that said things like:

ASYLUM SEEKER
PROCESSING FORM

Please come in. What a
terrible journey you’ve had!
I’m so glad you have arrived
safely and to imagine, once
you’re healed, how much you
have to offer us.  Let me help
you with your bags, we’ll have
you unpacked in no time…
You are welcome here. APPROVED

Invite people to write their own words of welcome, take them home and put them in a room of our own house with some intentionality and deliberation – symbolically creating space for the other is a good place to start and this can create some mindfulness to extending hospitality/welcome when an opportunity presents itself.

 

Anne Lamott has said, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.”

Let us hope. Let us try and do the right thing.

 

“hanging around”

Caught sight of someone “hanging around” our fence, thought “What on earth are they doing?” Sort of bobbing up and down against the fence… moved out of my line of sight so I shrugged and went about my day…

I wandered out the front half an hour later to realise with dismay my bobbing friend was still pacing out the front of our house.

“Hello?” I say, “Are you alright? Do you need any help?”

“Thank you for stopping.  I’m not a bad person. I know how this must look…”

“Where are you going? Do you need anything? Directions?”

“Cigarettes.”

“Oh, I’m sorry I don’t smoke… wait, you want to buy cigarettes? There’s a milk bar just up the road there… where the traffic lights are…”

“Thank you.  Thank you so much for stopping.”

I don’t know what condition he might have that would make him bob up and down or become disorientated. I don’t know if he’d had a serious fall or been beaten or why… I do know we were courteous to one another and it was ‘enough’.