Category Archives: Uncategorized

Oasis is like…

I woke up this morning with two images my friend and colleague Alan shared with me yesterday.

Adeaide Ent. Centre

Oasis is like the dome-covering outside the Adelaide Entertainment Centre that gives shelter to the guests as they come and go, or mill around as groups gathering before or after the show.

In my mind, I see the dome complementing the centre; it adds to the experience of the big night out inside the centre itself.

Alan pointed out that the Oasis Team are like the posts that hold up the shelter, each grounded in their faith tradition.

I’m thinking that the dome could be held up by hot air balloons! We’ve had a few of those that come and go, a bit like the ultra-nationalist pro-Brexit campaigners! But what is more enduring in the long run, I think, has to have passed the tests of history.


The second.
The university may be like a car-making plant – if one part is making the chassis, another the body, the electronics, the painting and so forth, Oasis is like the engine. Without an engine, the car doesn’t go anywhere, unless you’re prepared to push it! As our colleagues at MoTiv in Delft identified some time ago, motivation is at the heart of both the creative process of universities and within the nature of religion and spirituality.

Advances in technology make car-making and the car itself more efficient.

Oasis is at the stage it is at because it has adapted to changing contexts and is still exploring new technologies, as it were, that respond to new contexts of spiritual sustenance.

I wonder what images spark your imagination?

Student Wellbeing and Prevention of Violence (SWAPv) Conference


Conference Connectors, Masters of Social Work students based in Oasis, helping Marja Van Breda with the many tasks involved in running a smooth and friendly conference.

Returning home from assisting and accompanying the Conference Connectors, whose job it was to assist in the creation of a web of friendly relationships among the delegates, to hear the news of the slaughter of innocent French celebrating their national day, and waking up this morning to the news of tanks in the streets of beloved Istanbul – this throws into perspective the enormous challenges for all who are concerned for the well being of the planet.

In the Nice situation, as in the Lyndt Cafe seige, the adage that the welfare of a society is determined by the extent to which we care for the least in our society is indelibly underlined. There can be no more important work than that of the Student Well Being and Prevention of Violence research centre at Flinders and the global network who are beavering away at develping strategies and resources for the education of children, who will inherit the mess humanity has made through repression, authoritarianism and war at all levels.

Only on Thursday I was talking with a Professor from the University of Nice. What shocking news to receive on the verge of her leaving Australia for home! What a psychological blow to her confidnece in the work she is giving her life to!

Every aspect of this inaugural three day conference, from the content of its keynotes and workshops, to the way it was constructed and conducted, affirmed the aspirations of Oasis at Flinders and its significance in the scheme of things. It was a real pleasure to be among those working for these aspirations, from the President of Malta and the Secretary of State from Timor Leste, with their entourages, working at a national level, to youth workers from Headspace at a local level.

Inspiration from the conference is now met with the challenges of being change agents in a world of change for the human flourishing of all.

My 2016 European Pilgrimage

Returning to Europe nearly every year is a kind of spiritual pilgrimage, a ‘retreat’ to refresh and advance my spiritual life; meeting new people and catching up with old friends, sharing conversations about our lives, as well as sampling diverse cultural activities along the way is one way I learn and revitalise.

For these few weeks of holiday I am thrown into the eddies of spiritual currents that run deep in western history and continue today. In the swim of it I feel the timeless dynamics of spirituality and materialism, of love and hate, liberation and manipulative deception, forgiveness and revenge, hope and despair, hospitality and alienation. And I learn quite a bit about myself!

Boarding the plane in Melbourne I take a copy of the lastest Australian and notice a small piece on page two about latest research showing a dramatic increase in the level of anxiety felt by everyday citizens in the west. ‘A first world problem’, I think to myself, ‘considering what refugees, and those stranded in war-torn countries, are going through! Why on earth are we, who have so much going for us, doing this to ourselves?’

Is it because through prejudice, ignorance, carelessness, or just plain hubris, that we in the west have thought we can survive without placing the spiritual at the centre of concern for the sustainability of a civilisation?


I take the spiritual temperature at a street market in Angel. I was a teacher near here in 1974.

During my visits to London to see my son over the last twelve years or so, I have noted a recurring lament among more elderly Londoners. (see The Stayers posted on June 8, 2016). It is a lament about the loss of a consensus about British values that got England through the war. For the fruiterer in the photo,  British identity has been so eroded that ‘anxiety’ is being overtaken by despair. For him, colourful faces and alien languages are a continuous, confronting and tangible reminder of the end of the England he pines for; and an erosion of care for each other’s welfare, in my view, triggered by a lack of hospitality to difference.

Looking over the Channel from Amsterdam, what appeared to be a great act of democracy by Prime Minister Cameron has thrown Britain into political turmoil – now opening up a power vacuum to the far right, reminiscent of the fallout from what appeared to be the great allied act of liberation in Iraq. Interesting that Germany took no part in that invasion.

In Germany, Angela Merkel is fighting to keep alive the post-war vision of a Europe at peace. Since the end of the Second World War, Europe has experienced its longest period of peace and those who remember know the cost of it. Angela Merkel was an East German, so she has also had to withstand the criticism of betraying West Germany by propping up the East to help it get on its feet after the 1989 Reunification – and supporting the inclusion of other Eastern European countries into the EU as well. It is perhaps not well known that Angela Merkel is spiritually motivated by strong Christian values and beliefs – something she rarely discloses. Which perhaps explains her initial response to spontaneously opening the borders of Germany to the Syrian refugees.


Euro Cup Big Screen at the Brandenberg Gate, Berlin

Since my first visit ten years ago I have been tracing through conversations with my German colleagues how Germany has been dealing with the aftermath of the Third Reich, particularly its guilt. Some of the most interesting conversations have been with a Lutheran army chaplain, how the Germans have thought through some of the issues of ‘obeying orders’ that contributed to the brutality of the Nazi war machine. He and his psychologist wife both work as Lutheran chaplains in the area of ethics within the German army. By visiting their family over the years, they have helped me understand how the Football World Cup, held in Germany while I was there in 2006, has provided a conduit for the younger generation to draw a line under guilt, and at last to proudly fly their national flag without fear of the Nazi implications of that simple act in the past. It raises the question, when does national pride become nationalism? While the nationalists, on the pretext of national cultural purity, are on the rise (only defeated very narrowly in the recent Austrian elections), the post-war vision of cooperation and peace seems to be still holding out – just!

The common feeling here seems to be that the EU vision is right, but the EU ‘machine’ has become over bureaucratic. Feeling against the power of the EU as a threat to national interests, is growing.

In today’s Chronicle of Higher Education, in an article exploring the spread of the same spirit of corporatisation in Higher Education:

Tellingly, Pope Francis, who knows a thing or two about opaque and vast bureaucracies, delivered a warning during a recent visit to the European Parliament. Europeans, he declared, see “aloof” EU institutions “laying down rules perceived as insensitive, if not downright harmful.” The great ideas that once inspired Europe, he lamented, have been “replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of institutions.”

Meanwhile, in Australia, the far right are using the Australian flag to promote their own brand of racist nationalism! These are global issues. Travelling helps me appreciate that what may appear to be novel developments in my own home locale may actually have been imported from elsewhere!


Unter der Linden in the West



Unter der Linden in the West


Turkish street market in the East








Any visit to Berlin underlines these deep histories of calculated brutalities in the name of oppressive control, but also inspirational bravery in the name of freedom. Each time I have visited I have chosen to stay in Kruezberg in the East. I prefer the underlying ethos, an earthiness, a poverty struggle, yet a vibrant ethnic life that completely overshadows its grottiness and infinite grafetti. Good cheap food and coffee and a good laugh seem guaranteed! It’s alive, without pretentions! A contrast to the more formal, prim and proper western Berlin neighbourhoods and classic upper-class German cafes (which are nice in their own bourgeios kind of way).


I had planned to take up a long time invitation to stay with my colleague in Munich and, in particular, to have conversations about the refugee influx and the relationship of the churches to it, both humanitarian and also religious. A younger person who visited me in Oasis recently, at my colleague’s request, has been heavily involved in Munich as a volunteer in their welcome. So reconnecting would have been great! Unfortunately my colleague was away on sabbatical. So as I was stopping in Prague, I decided to visit nearby Dresden and then on to Leipzig before catching up with my good friends in Bonn.


I now know why people talk about the beauty of Prague. It seems to have largely escaped the ravages of modern war. So the massive multi-storied apartment blocks in all their different hues of pastel colours create a continuous backdrop of centuries past. Here Einstein drank with Kafka in the intelligencia social set – much like the Impressionists in Paris.

The ‘coffee culture’ continues! And it’s interesting to reflect on how much it has taken off in Australia. Why is this? A sense of belonging in the public space? A place for ‘edge’ conversations away from the psychological strictures of the work environment?

It is interesting that participation in these cafe conversations gave Einstein the courage, the confidence, to step out into the dark with what he intuitively felt was true- which later gave us the theory of general relativity. This illustrates to me an important spiritual dynamic for a university chaplain- it is part of a chaplain’s role to ‘give courage’ (encourage) – so vital in a university setting, which is so committed to asking questions that have never been asked before.

Unfortunately, for Kafka, he didn’t have that confidence, and asked for his writing to be destroyed when he died. But fortunately for us, his best friend denied his request and we are now the beneficiaries of his writings.

Aware of this role over the years, I have given courage to all kinds of university staff and students, who have, through accompaniment, taken a more daring and productive path. Encouragement to overcome fears is a vital spiritual gift to give; in fact, essential to human flourishing.


While in Prague I had the chance to visit Wenceslas Square – the place where the people gathered to ‘let off steam’.  (

This was the place, in front of the statue that looks down on the long avenue, where students held demonstrations of resistance to the bullying of the occupying Soviets.

In August 1968, the Soviet Union had invaded Czechoslovakia to crush the liberalising reforms of Alexander Dubček‘s government during what was known as the Prague Spring. Prague-born Palach decided to sacrifice himself in protest of the invasion and set himself on fire, in Wenceslas Square, on 16 January 1969.

According to Jaroslava Moserová, a burns specialist who was the first to provide care to Palach at the Charles University Faculty Hospital, Palach did not set himself on fire to protest against the Soviet occupation, but did so to protest against the “demoralization” of Czechoslovak citizens caused by the occupation.

It was not so much in opposition to the Soviet occupation, but the demoralization which was setting in, that people were not only giving up, but giving in. And he wanted to stop that demoralization. I think the people in the street, the multitude of people in the street, silent, with sad eyes, serious faces, which when you looked at those people you understood that everyone understands, that all the decent people were on the verge of making compromises.

The funeral of Palach turned into a major protest against the occupation. A month later (on 25 February), another student, Jan Zajíc, burned himself to death in the same place. This was followed in April of the same year by Evžen Plocek in Jihlava, and by others.

Led by the visionary poet-philosopher Vaclaf Havel, and with the support of the west, the Czechs overcame Soviet occupation and later, Czechoslavakia became the Czech Republic. From 1989 (the fall of Communism) to 1992, Havel served as the last president of Czechoslovakia. He then served as the first president of the Czech Republic (1993–2003) after the Czech–Slovak split.

This history gives me hope that courageous young people will continue to name and overcome bullying and oppression in all its guises.




Exhibition in Dresden

Probably the most extreme of these guises was coopted by the Nazi Germans in their quest for racial superiority. The spiritual dynamic of hope was effectively abused by the Nazis in Poland as they rounded up Jews to be sent to the gas chambers. The Nazis generously offered them hope, by convincing them that they were being taken out of harm’s way and that they should take their most treasured possessions with them on the journey, in the hope of return. The Jews gratefully obliged and the Nazis got all their treasure.


In the Catholic cathedral in Dresden there is a stark memorial to the deportation of the priests and activists who opposed the Nazis. There is also a striking memorial to the fire-bombing of Dresden by the Allies in February 1945, an act that should go down as as big a war crime as any. When victors write the history, its good, if not shocking, to hear the other side of the story! For examplw, it was news to me that the Americans did as much looting as anyone, but they eventually gave back what they stole. Not so the Russians. Angela Merkel recently cancelled her acceptance of an invitation by President Putin to open an art exhibition in St Petersburg when she found out that it included art stolen by the Russians from Germany during the war. The repercussions continue!


On the top of a hotel in Dresden there is a huge line of letters: Ein Leben ohne Freude ist weite Reise ohne Gasthaus. (Literally – A life without Joy is like a wide travel without a place to stay).

I have no doubt that the visionary who built this hotel sincerely meant these words. They were meant to convey the spirit of hospitality that undergirded his vision for his hotel. But if subsequently the management of the hotel deduced that the signage was translating into profit, then it becomes advertising and it is only a short generation before the staff have lost the passion and vision of hospitality of the founder; and then the hotel becomes just another comfortable, efficient, but soulless space to lay one’s head at night, like the rest of them. A guise for true hospitality.

Fortunately the priority of cultural endeavour in Europe mitigates against such a deadening. Investment in the arts – music, opera, sculpture and visual arts keeps reminding the people of their history and the significant myths and freedoms that enliven the human spirit.

On a national and international scale, this is what churches do, Sunday by Sunday, reminding people of who they are by holding up the mirror of the great stories of the Bible and relating their meaning to the present.

Such was the role St Nicholas Church in the centre of Leipzig, when the US escalated the Cold War in Europe in 1979 by deploying medium range ballistic missiles in West Germany. In the DDR the ecumenical youth movement instigated a ten day celebration of peace in November 1980. The symbol chosen was the beating of a sword into a ploughshare, a reproduction of the Soviet monument located in the United Nations Park in New York, based on the Bible verses of the prophet Micah, 4 verses 1-4. The GDR persecuted the young people wearing this symbol. They had not anticipated pacifism!


Open for all! 1989



Still open for all, today!

This prompted a more powerful momentum for reform through peace services held in St Nicholas every Monday at 5pm, instigated and organised by grassroots action groups, protected by the church.

By the end of the 1980’s the movement had swelled to over 70,000, well beyond the punitive power of the DDR security forces and documented on film smuggled to the west.

In the end, November 1989, the DDR admitted it had lost the battle to control the lives of its citizens and the Berlin Wall fell. Prayer meetings for peace and freedom, candle-lit vigils and demonstrations, the Peaceful Revolution, changed the course of European history! And it had its genesis in this Leipzig church, which has as its motto, ‘open to all’!

Fortunately, the peace leaders were able to stop the destruction of the records of the Stasi (secret police) and we are able to visit their former headquarters to marvel at the extent to which they sought to control every aspect of the lives of the DDR citizens.

My pilgrimage has impressed upon me, that whether from the Nazi right, or the Stazi left, or anywhere in between for that matter, we must always remember the cost of the freedoms and justices we enjoy and be vigilant to name and object their erosion in any guise.

‘If the world were only pain and logic (and ‘management’), who would want it? Mary Oliver. (my italics)

‘The planet does not need more ‘successful people’. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.’ (The Dalai Lama)

The overwhelming conclusion I came to on my pilgrimage is that it is the quality of spirituality that is at the heart of the flourishing of any community. And the great danger to western civilisation is the uncritial acceptance of materialist reductionism that places commodification and consumerism as essential qualities for its growth and subsequent survival. The consequence is inevitable division between elites and the remainder, the haves and have-nots, and the cultivation of a seedbed for greed, inequality, authoritarianism, exclusion and ellimination of any impediment by self-entitled elites.



Toward the end of the Pilgrimage

July 7
It is afternoon in the lounge of Raimund’s flat in Bad Godesberg, just out of Bonn, looking out over a garden like ours at home, in a quiet woody residential area just by a lovely walking forest.
The second of my two days of solitude is coming to a close. No phone or internet!
Earlier Raimund and I spent nearly two whole days catching up with each other, dining in Beethoven’s old pub and visiting a medieval village on a mountain to drink coffee and talk and revel in the beauty.
I have met a team of volunteers from the parish who are taking responsibility for 1,000 refugees – taking time out from their professions of psychiatry, social work and law to marshall the resources of the parish and to connect with the authorities on their behalf. And I am introduced to some of the refugees – who have little language- or anything for that matter!
Raimund told me a lovely story, among many, of an elderly lady of the parish who came to him on behalf of herself and others in her neighbourhood, who were frightened of the refugees moving in close by. It is understandable that they have no experience of meeting such ‘foreigners’.So Raimund went to the Mayor and suggested that something be done. Subsequently a meeting was arranged for the residents to meet the refugees. Once they had met face to face and the elderly had heard their stories, their fear evaporated. Now, in true German fashion, the elderly have organised themselves to provide baby sitting, clothes, food and so on! Who would have thought they would embrace them so warmly?
That’s Oasis in action, right there! Contact, listening, empowering, advocating, accompanying…creating space for the other to ‘dream their own dreams, sing their own songs and dance their own dances’! Life in all its fullness as the elderly find meaning in their final days and the needy find the love and acceptance they so desperately need!
Now in these days of solitude I confront my demons and draw spiritual strength and insight from my tradition. Sleep-ins, late morning coffee at the local café, reading and writing poetry, walking, reflecting and connecting the thoughts running through my head, accessing Raimund’s wonderful CD collection, sipping cups of tea.
Bruce Cockburn sings about ‘trying to keep the latent depression from crystallising’. Having entered into the history of some of the worst that men do to each other these last weeks, I think Cockburn hits the spot:
These shoes have walked some strange streets
Stranger still to come –
Sometimes the prayers of strangers
Are all that keeps them from
Trying to stay static
Something even death can’t do
Everything is motion –
To the motion be true

In this cold commodity culture
Where you lay your money down
It’s hard to even notice
That all this earth is hallowed ground –
Harder still to feel it
Basic as a breath –
Love is stronger than darkness
Love is stronger than death
The gift
Keeps moving –
Never know
Where it’s going to land.
You must stand
Back and let it
Keep on changing hands
Hackles rise in anger
Heat waves rise in sex
The gift moves on regardless
Tying this world to the next
May you never tire of waiting
Never feel that life is cheap
May your life be filled with light
Except for when you’re trying to sleep
The gift keeps moving –
Never know
Where it’s going to land
You must stand
Back and let it
Keep on changing hands.

The Gift  Bruce Cockburn

Now Alfred Brendel has finished his magnificent recital, so it will be time for another cup of tea and to look forward to our final get-to-gether tonight with Raimund – to watch France and Germany in the semi-final of the Euro Cup. Then I leave early tomorrow for Paris to meet Sandy, who has been at a committee meeting in Versailles, to make our way home.

A Prayer of Praise and Thanksgiving

God of all life
God of all grace
God of all beauty
God of free space
God of all mercy
Great God of grief
God of deep comfort
God of belief
God of all silence
Of music and dance
Of being, creating
Great God of romance
Great God of nuance
Of life irony
Paradox, laughter
The pain in my knee?
God of life’s hope
Of all energy
Great God of friendship
And community
God of all joy
Below and above
Great God of wonder
Of freedom and love.

I praise and thank you!
Each breath in the stillness,
A prayer:
On earth
As it is in heaven!

Oasis is like…

Oasis is like…

I am having breakfast on the balcony of the apartment of my AirBnb student host in Dresden, Germany. There are some swallows darting around and I notice there must be a nest under the gutter of the apartment opposite. I am reminded of the story of a mathematician who was also observing swallows flying outside the train he was travelling on. It got him thinking- in all their darting about, how do they know which way they are going? Is there a leader? No- it’s all so chaotic! So how could their behaviour be described mathematically? These thoughts led the scientist to make advances in particle (chaos and complexity) theory.

Now I notice a plane flying above the swallows, it’s vapour trail marking its path between airports A and B. It is probably a well travelled route and the planning and execution of each flight guarantees its objectives.
Flights between airports is ‘managed’. The separate services within an airline are coordinated to achieve the best A to B results for its paying customers.

In an institution like a university, much of what we call ‘services’ is like the airline. Different services help ‘clients’ get from A to B; ‘management’ is important for the institution to achieve its own and its students’ A to B goals.
But Oasis is envisioned more like the behaviour of the swallows, seemingly chaotic, yet knowing where the nest is. There are no direct flight paths.

Birds somehow learn how to sing without sheet music. Some human musicians play or sing like birds; they can’t or won’t ‘read music’. Others go through the discipline of training. Yet both benefit from each other in the music community; though I suspect the untrained are more often than not discriminated against. It is fascinating that two musicians can play the same notes of the same music, yet one is playing only notes, while the other is playing with soul. I know which I prefer!

This is a conversation I have with my music student host. She understands implicitly. She is taking Master Classes during her immanent holidays and is committed to mastering the technical challenges of her instrument and revelling in the experience of contributing to the Dresden Opera and other orchestras, as invitations to draw on her musical expertise come in. Yet she loves to improvise. We listen to some of her improvisations and we join together doo daa-ing to one of her recordings!

Oasis is more concerned with soul, the feel of things, the intangibles that make all the difference to the quality of the experience. Oasis complements the managed services of the university. It is not a service as such to be managed. Nor does it try to do what other services are doing. It plays indiscrimatory like the swallows, improvising to contribute, inspiring others to soar in their own way. There is a ‘science’ to spirituality, but it can never be tied down.

In my book An Improbable Feast I compare traditional hospitality with today’s hospitality industry. It is interesting to see how this is being played out as I choose to use AirBnB – the potential sharing economy version of the hotel.
My host in Dresden is a music student with a spare room who has recently begun hosting. Her reason is to get a little cash on the side to help pay her way through Uni. As we sit on her tiny balcony sipping tea and coffee, she tells me about a couple who came and were appalled at her conditions. So she suggested that if they did not want to have the AirBnB experience, they should go to a hotel – which they did!
What is the AirBnB experience? For her it was what we were doing right there and then, sharing our lives and experiences. The focus is on the hospitality rather than the conditions. The conditions take care of themselves when true hospitality is offered. My offer to take her to dinner to celebrate finishing an exam is matched by her choosing a good restaurant and taking me to an incredible evening of music with her music friends at the Jazz Club. It doesn’t matter to me that there is a nail holding a power lead to the wall plug in the kitchen, or that her tiny plastic kettle has no on-off switch, or that the bathroom drains are showing all the signs of blocking up pretty soon! She is offering me what she has, not what she hasn’t! Going about our own lives, we open space to each other, to enrich each other’s lives.

But even at this early stage of AirBnB the signs of the power of consumerism and the corrosive power of the spirit of unfettered economic gain is taking hold. In Amsterdam they have had to legislate to control the wealthy from buying up apartments as sources of AirBnB income that is depriving rental housing in the city centre. The unscrupulous always seem to find a way to screw up a good idea and make life difficult for everyone!
Need I say that Oasis has always chosen to avoid any commercial aspect to its operation on the grounds of accessibility to all, regardless of financial situation. And like the generous, hospitable experiences many of us have experienced when visiting the poor, Oasis aims to enrich the lives of its visitors by sharing what we have with each other, together, particularly the spirituality of our common humanity.

Traditional hospitality is likely to always pose first world problems and be subverted by materialists who are either ignorant or prejudiced with regard to the primacy of the spiritual for human sustainability, or fall for the myth of protectionism, putting up fences and charging admission using the pretext of controlling imagined risks.


As we travel, I have been endeavouring to read for half an hour before breakfast. The book I’m reading at the moment is ‘Nurturing the Prophetic Imagination’, a series of essays in tribute to Walter Brueggemann’s classic, ‘The Prophetic Imagination’. (Sandy got me a signed copy of his new edition when she met him at a conference in the US last year!)

This morning I discovered another saint I identify with, German Protestant theologian Dorothee Soelle (1929-2003).

Apparently she often told a story from Berthold Brecht’s play, ‘Mother Courage and her Children’.

The play takes place in Northern Europe during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) that pitted Protestants against Catholics and emerging nation states against the consolidated interests of Rome. The play ends in 1636 as one of Mother Courage’s children, Kattrin, a young girl who cannot speak, is told “Pray, you poor creature, pray! when soldiers lay siege to the town during the night. As all the others bend their knees and begin to recite well-known prayers, Kattrin slips away to the rooftop of the barn and plays her drum. The sound of her drumming wakes up the sleeping town and gives them a chance to fight for their lives. Kattrin loses her life in the battle but her actions save the village. Kattrin’s prayer is one of action and defiance rather than quiet acquiescence.

This was a story Soelle told in 1968 when she was still simmering with anger at her own country and how it acquiesced to the Holocaust. In the great silence of the German people, where were the rooftop drummers? (Just go to church and pray quietly…get an education and get ahead…don’t ask too many questions about the government or military police…)

Later, she reconciled prayer and prophetic action for herself as ‘living out God’ in daily life – embedding the vision of ‘on earth as it is in heaven’ in our hearts, minds and hands.

To live out God is to celebrate freedom, dignity and hope in the midst of daily life, together, right here and now.

For me, Oasis has always been about just that – embedding this vision of a renewed earth through the quality of relationships we form and breaking the silence about whatever demeans human flourishing.

But we ‘break the silence’ not so much by words, but paradoxically, by listening – for only when there is someone to listen can the deep world of the human heart find expression (Nouwen).

And we may also break the silence by symbolic action, eliciting a response and therefore opening a conversation.

Brueggemann says, if all that we see and touch has been been imaginatively constructed, then it may equally be re-imagined, and reconstructed. That is the meaning of ‘Prophetic Imagination’.

Oasis is a re-imagined community of hospitality to each other that involves inclusion of all and has a heart and mind for well being.


The Stayers

I am in London.

This morning I was chatting with a Brit selling fruit in a traditional East London lane market near where we are staying. He had picked out three mangos for us that were neither too hard nor too soft. I said that it was because of friendly people like him, London was such a great place. He said London was ‘finished’. ‘A woman could fall over at a bus stop and the line of people would just walk over her where she lay.’ There was a despondency, an inner bitterness, a profound sadness and a dispirited sense of resignation welling out to me as a ready listener. He was 76, though I thought you’d never know it; in his mind, too old to make a new go of it; passing time in a world of passing faces from other worlds, each moment reminding him that his golden age was gone forever. I was happy to celebrate it with him.

The lady selling eggs was equally as friendly. Having decided on our dozen, she was happy to chat away with us about things we could do and places we could go – like the fruiterer, passing the time – every day at the same spot, setting up early, cheerfully engaging with  customers, closing up, restocking – a relentless life routine, day after day.

I admire these folk. They provide still points for those of us passing through. They do us such a cultural service. Without them life would be like a standardised shopping mall – all gloss but no soul, all show but no intimacy. They are beacons that remind me of no ‘progress’ without hospitality, of no greatness without goodness, of no Life without love of life and love for each other.



Oasis and International Students

Presentation Notes provided to the International Committee,
Flinders University Faculty of Education, Humanities and Law
Wednesday 11 May 2016,  Oasis Common Room

A tour of Oasis preceeded the meeting. The concepts behind each part of the centre were explained.
The short film of the ‘Cultural Conversations’ BBQ the previous Friday evening was shown and the history of the evolution of this group and the multiple networks involved was explained.


Oasis evolved from the Religious Centre, gifted to the University at its inauguration by the Christian churches and Jewish communities.

In the 1990’s the Religious Centre was influenced by intra –religious rivalry and the protection of identity and boundaries among Christian groups – primarily between Evangelical and Liberal, represented by externally appointed “staff workers” and to some extent reflected in the Christian denominations, represented by denominational chaplains.

As universities internationalized, the growing presence of students of other faiths relativised the intra-Christian rivalries. The desire by other faith communities to have representation in the Religious Centre resulted in a multi-faith chaplaincy. The first multifaith event, with the support of Asian Studies and the Student Association, took place in 1999 in support of Indonesian students being targeted by Australian students as a result of events in East Timor.

The multifaith chaplaincy worked with the University to ameliorate historical and emerging conflicts in the Religious Centre and to promote respect between groups. A weekly, shared chaplains’ lunch built strong friendships and a shared vision based on universal human values embedded in traditional religions, coming to fruition in 2008 with the launch of Oasis – a metaphor for refreshment, openness and intercultural-interfaith friendship.

The VC placed Oasis within the newly formed entity, Flinders One, that provided administrative support; then in late 2012, Oasis was embraced within the administrative structures of the University, funded jointly by newly introduced student service fees and the University. It was situated within Student Services under the management of the Head of Health and Counselling. Two staff were appointed – myself, as Oasis Coordinating Chaplain, and Lisa Chandler, formerly from the International Office, as Manager of the centre.

The Present

The re-positioning of Oasis within the University validated a process that had been well underway – the negotiation of the religious in a secular institution and the re-imagining of chaplaincy as unconditional pastoral support across the University.

As a result:

  • The mission of Oasis was re-stated in secular terms in order to foster inclusion.
  • The mandate of Oasis was reframed to foster interconnectedness across multiple perspectives, directed toward well being.
  • The primary vehicle for transformation was identified as hospitality- the making of space. (Nouwen 1975 [i])
  • The immediate effect became understood as a personalized home-way-from-home; a small community of regular Oasis users began to grow.
  • The activities within Oasis tended to be student initiated – Oasis acting as host, rather than offering formal programs, thus creating space for student and staff initiatives.
  • A theoretical model, focusing on listening, underpinning the practice of the Oasis volunteer team, was developed, sustained by a professional skills development program.
  • The Oasis team was openned to those committed to contributing from their life experience to the vision and values of Oasis. It meets weekly for lunch and monthly for professional skills development.
  • A Lean-Agile-Scrum model of organization was explored and adapted.
  • Empowerment of opportunistic relationships energized university staff and students to take initiatives to enact their own ideas, while fostering the values and activities of Oasis.
  • Religious observance (apart from Muslim) was displaced to religious organisations in the community; and Flinders religious clubs and societies to FUSA.
  • The architectural imagining of a purpose-built centre supporting the aspirations of the evolving Oasis enabled Oasis to be at the international leading edge of progressive initiatives in the domains of peace-building, resilience and intercultural and interfaith practice through pastoral care.
  • A theology of religious pluralism and inclusion continues to evolve.


From Health and Counselling perspective, Oasis acts as a safety valve, complementing the formal medical model of Health and Counselling – sickness, appointments with experts and requiring bureaucratic formality – Oasis focusing on wellness, informality, ongoing support by volunteers and peers, and person-centred learning.

Some staff have introduced particular students to Oasis as a safe place to relax and renew.

The accessibility of the kitchen, encouragement of a culture of sharing, and the offer of free tea and coffee have assisted some students who face financial challenges, while also providing a focal point for intercultural connection.

Oasis has provided a mutually enriching opportunity by collaborating with the School of Social Work – Oasis acting as a kind of laboratory for applied Social Work practice. Five students, supervised by a member of Social Work staff, are on placement in Oasis, undertaking a number of negotiated projects in support of Oasis and the university.

In fact, Oasis can be thought of as mirroring the New Venture Institute, as an innovative centre of social entrepreneurship.

Oasis has also been working with SWAPv, centred in Education, providing a sounding board for ideas for the hosting of their first (international and cross-disciplinary) conference in July on the basis of a shared interest in promoting well being.

Liaison with the wider community sometimes results in the recruitment of new Oasis volunteers. Recent connections with Rotary International promise exciting opportunities for international students and re-invigoration of local Rotary clubs.

Oasis also operates at Tonsley, a small number of staff acting as the Oasis volunteer team; and at Sturt, where a part-time member of staff leads a small team of community volunteers supporting international students via a regular morning tea.


[i] Nouwen’s Concept of Hospitality

Hospitality… means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbour into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment. It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit. It is not a method of making our God and our way into the criteria of happiness, but the opportunity to others to find their God and their way. The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt a life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find their own.


Henri Nouwen. Reaching Out: The Three Movements in the Spiritual Life. (1975 Doubleday. New York) p. 68


The Complexity of Oasis in Action

An event last Friday evening illustrates the complexity of Oasis, yet alludes to what may be achieved by collaboration across established boundaries – staff, student, community/ the Academy and Service Providers/ teaching, research and community engagement.

During the New Year break, three Chinese students reflected on what would have helped them most as international students. They concluded that connecting with locals would help them with colloquial Australian language and Australian culture.

They decided on a strategy and went to International Student Support for advice and support. Because of the close relationship between Oasis and ISS, I was invited into the conversation. The students were encouraged to talk with FUSA and to perhaps create a club. This would give them a financial and structural foundation. Oasis could host their meetings and work with ISS to give moral support. It was agreed that the students had opened up a big issue and it might get beyond them – so I negotiated with the Social Work staff to provide support from the social work students in placement.

Coincidentally, one of the Oasis Team was talking with Rotary International about Rotary re-invigorating their support for international students.

The film captures the coming together of all of these strands – the initiators of the club, international students, the FUSA International Officer, members of the local community, including Rotarians exploring what they might offer, ISS staff and some of the Oasis Team.

During this process over last few months, one of the initiators of the club has suffered a relationship break-up and a sudden bereavement. Providentially, the relationship we had enjoyed provided a good basis for Oasis to offer emotional support.

The complexity of networks creates a sense of belonging, friendship, trust and support. And new opportunities for good.