The Easy Bits

I am sitting at lunch with a friend who was a former executive in the SA Department of Education and Training. We are discussing the latest report into Child Protection in SA. There is a certain taste of irony in the air. The issues of Child Protection were in his Education portfolio until the new CEO met with David in his office and told him there was no place for him or his portfolio in his new regime – and by the way, what is it you do?

So now as a result of the new report a couple of years later, the structures and programs look like being re-instated!

How many reports does it take to change a light bulb?
Enough to keep the research and reporting industry turning over?

Academe tackles extremism

Universities need to work harder at minimising the risk of indoctrination of students by radical groups.
University of Southern Queensland vice-chancellor Jan Thomas told the Association of Commonwealth Universities conference in Ghana last week that it was imperative all universities “consider strategies to curb radicalisation”.
She pointed to British research showing “higher education at its best counters radicalisation through improving students’ self-esteem and sense of achievement and in enhancing their feeling of belonging to society”.
The role for universities in this area included educating students to be critical thinkers, conducting research to better understand radicalisation, and building resilience and cross-cultural tolerance, Professor Thomas, who is chairwoman of the ACU, told the HES.
However, Greg Austin, an international security expert and visiting professor at University of NSW, said universities had no role in monitoring students for radical thought and most staff had no qualifications to help de-radicalise students. Rather the focus should be on research.
“Australian universities have a relatively weak research base on most aspects of domestic terrorism and violent extremism in this country, he said. There are pockets of excellence on niche subjects, especially around the theme of countering violent extremism. However, the research scene has remained largely static in the past decade.”
Since 2010 the Australian Research Council appeared to have funded one grant focused on political science aspects of countering violent extremism, terrorism and radicalisation, Professor Austin said.
Greg Barton, a counter-terrorism expert at Deakin University, said universities should do more but the question was how.
“People dont like talking about countering violent extremism or radicalisation, it’s a very sensitive topic”, said Professor Barton, who is also co-director of the Australian Intervention Support Hub, a research centre launched last year to counter radicalisation.
“It would be good to work with Muslim student associations across Australian campuses, but if you go through formal channels the chances of meeting sharp opposition are quite high, partly because of the dynamics of campus politics.”
Professor Thomas argued it was important that Australian universities supported their peers in developing countries.
“There’s a massive opportunity in developing nations to influence how they educate their young people and to promote a peaceful and tolerant society across such a large swath of the world,” Professor Thomas said.
“Critical thinking skills are important in parts of the world where these extreme political and religious groups have a stronger presence.”
DARRAGH OKEEFFE

The Australian, Higher Education, August 3, 2016

I must say I was a bit aghast at  Bob Hawke’s rationale, at the launch of the new UniSA Hawke International Centre for Muslim and Non-Muslim Understanding in 2010. He believed that the best way to avoid a ‘clash of civilisations’ was through ‘understanding’. I have no problems with the necessity of education but need the source for cultural change be placed in a research institute? Is ‘understanding’ enough? How will this investment of $25m-plus affect the everyday person at their kitchen table? Will its affectiveness be gauged by yet more glossy reports sitting on book shelves? If so, it’s too superficial, too easy!

Recently I had a visit from Prof. Wesley Wildman, Professor of Theology at Boston University. He was making connections with people in our Theology and Philosophy Departments in his field of trans-religious theology (doing theology from multiple religious and non-religious perspectives). He described Oasis as one of the few trans-religious communities of practice in the world, enacting the research concensus about best practice in pre-empting religious radicalisation and in fostering cultural competencies among students.

What we need, I think, are communities of practice, informed by the academy.  Oasis is being successful by creating a culture of hospitality, informed not just in the head, but in the heart. We can point to students returning to their countries with the experience, understanding and commitment to promote peace in their cultures. It happens on a shoe-string through the experience, understanding and commitment of our volunteers who have embraced the vision of Oasis.

 

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Valuing Spirituality in Organisations

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When we talk about the spirituality of a person, we are talking about intangibles – that there is a world beyond the see-able, touchable and material. Spirituality is about the recognition, inclusion and valuing of intangibles into the frameworks we construct, the connections we make, to make sense of our lives. It is closely related to a seeking for wholeness, but a paradoxical wholeness that is open and ever expanding. The spirituality of a person is not dependent on a belief about God or not. What matters is an openness to the possibility that there is more, beyond our present knowledge and experience.

According to the film, ‘The Theory of Everything’, when pressed by his Anglican wife to state his belief about God, Stephen Hawking grins his characteristic grin and replies, ‘the universe is expanding!’

Hawking is reflecting a shift toward the primacy of spirituality over religion, of faith over belief, of life experience and imagination over dogma.

This shift is unpacked in the latest book by social researcher Hugh Mackay, Beyond Belief.

I think most of us still live in the age of the Enlightenment, within a Newtonian view of the world and the mechanical, rationalistic organizational frames of the Industrial Age that seem to have brought us so many benefits. But we are in transition to a Quantum Age – an Einsteinian view of space time, general relativity and uncertainty, expansively surplanting the mechanistic organisational culture of time and motion studies and risk aversion.

Perhaps spirituality is to religion as Einstein is to Newton?

Perhaps the exit from religious institutions, and institutions in general, by younger people, reflects a move toward intrinsic spirituality rather than the externally driven discipline of religious orthodoxy.

We know that a majority of younger people in work feel devalued, unable to contribute their skills and passions to a level they would like. The move toward ‘start-ups’ and entrepreneurship may well be a move away from the institutional, hierarchical, commodified nature of many businesses and public and government institutions, a move motivated by a strong desire to protect one’s spirituality, particularly the joy of imagination and creativity – move away from reductionism, instrumentalisation and mind-numbing coertion.

If so, then we do well to pay attention to emerging understandings of business management that enhance spiritual life.

This short video gives a good introduction to where I’m up to in my reflections on coordinating an Oasis community of practice intent on supporting spiritual life:
Agile and Lean Adoption
I hope you find it as stimulating as I do.

Oasis, Win-Win and Well Being

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I tell Bob that I’ve been working to change my profession, to get psychologists to work on the science and practice of building the best things in life. I assure Bob that I’m not against negative psychology; I’ve done it for thirty-five years. But it is urgent to redress the balance, to supplement what we know about madness with knowledge about sanity The urgency stems from the possibility that he is correct, and that people are now more concerned with hiding meaning in their lives than ever before.

So, Bob, I’ve been thinking a lot about virtue and about the positive emotions: ebullience, contentment, joy, happiness, and good cheer. Why do we have positive emotions, anyway? Why isn’t all living built around our negative emotions? If all we had were negative emotions-fear, anger, and sadness-basic human behavior could go on as it does. Attraction would be explained by relieving negative emotion, so we approach people and things that relieve our fear and sadness; and avoidance would be explained by increasing negative emotion. We stay away from people and things that make us more fearful or sadder.

Why has evolution given us a system of pleasant feelings right on top of a system of unpleasant feelings? One system would have done the trick.

I plunge ahead breathlessly and tell Bob that NonZero[1] might just explain this. Could it be, I speculate, that negative emotion has evolved to help us in win-loss games? When we are in deadly competition, when it is eat or be eaten, fear and anxiety are our motivators and our guides.

When we are struggling to avoid loss or to repel trespass, sadness and anger are our motivators and our guides. When we feel a negative emotion, it is a signal that we are in a win-loss game. Such emotions set up an action repertoire that fights, flees, or gives up. These emotions also activate a mindset that is analytical and narrows our focus so nothing but the problem at hand is present.

Could it be that positive emotion, then, has evolved to motivate and guide us through win-win games? When we are in a situation in which everyone might benefit-courting, hunting together, raising children, cooperating, planting seeds, teaching and learning-joy, good cheer, contentment, and happiness motivate us and guide our actions. Positive emotions are part of a sensory system that alerts to us the presence of a potential win-win. They also set up an action repertoire and a mindset that broadens and builds abiding intellectual and social resources. Positive emotions, in short, build the cathedrals of our lives.

If this is right, the human future is even better than you predict, Bob. If we are on the threshold of an era of win-win games, we are on the threshold of an era of good feeling-literally, good feeling.

Extract from Martin E.P. Seligman, Authentic Happiness (Random House Australia) p.256,7

I think Seligman is right.

So for Oasis to thrive it needs:

  • win-win management of the kind emerging from entrepreneurial start-ups and successful not-for-profits (of the ‘lean’, ‘agile’ kind)
  • win-win collaborations within the university, with community groups and with individual volunteers
  • a win-win dialogue culture for appreciative understanding among different faiths and cultures

[1] This is part of a discussion between Martin Seligman and Bob Wright, who wrote the book NonZero about the ‘win-win’ paradigm as an alternative perspective on Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection.

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.

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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

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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?

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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.

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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!

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Unter der Linden in the West

 

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Unter der Linden in the West

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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.

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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.

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While in Prague I had the chance to visit Wenceslas Square – the place where the people gathered to ‘let off steam’.  (https://www.pragueexperience.com/places.asp?PlaceID=605)

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.
(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Palach)

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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Open for all! 1989

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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.