Fair go is no go for Mr Jovicic

I love living in Australia, and could not imagine living anywhere else. I appreciate our cultural adherence to giving everyone a "fair go". But what about a fair go for Mr Jovicic? Mr Jovicic was born in France to Serbian born parents, and has lived in Australia with his family for 36 of his 38 years. Because of thefts to support a drug addiction, Mr Jovicic's visa was cancelled and he was deported to Serbia. Now Mr Jovicic is homeless , unwell, and stateless. Serbia does recognize him as a citizen, and he is not able to work or receive welfare assistance. Mr Jovicic has not been given a fair go, but a death sentence.
Click here for more of the story in the Age. Mr Jovicic is camped outside the embassy in freezing temperatures in a final effort to be given a fair go by the country that until recently was his home.

"I've explained to the embassy if I'm considered Australian trash that I will rot on Australian soil,'' Mr Jovicic said (The Age, November 24th 2005).

Where is our national compassion? Mr Jovicic is not unique in Australia for having a drug problem, and for turning to thefts to support his habit. Mr Jovicic needs counselling, not cancelation of his visa. He needs rehabilitation, not rejection from the only country and culture he has ever known. It is a sad state of affairs when the closest an unwell Australian can get to his country is the freezing steps of the Serbian based Australian embassy.

I am further disturbed by the fact that very few people seem to be talking about it. Who is crying out for a fair go for Mr Jovicic? Justice burns deeply in the heart of God, and should burn deeply in ours. Even as I type, I know why so many of us are silent. It is not necessarily because we are apathetic, many of us do care. It is because we feel powerless to do anything about it. I saw a photo of Mr Jovicic in the paper earlier this week. It was a side view, and he was crying. I may be unable to do anything except pray for him and his family, but I will not be unmoved.

What would Jesus do?

This is part two of my reflection on Encounter from last Sunday. The initials "WWJD" are immediately recognisable for most Christians thanks to rather successful marketing. I think that is helpful to stop and reflect on Christ-like responses to situations we face in our daily lives, but perhaps it is possible to overdo it. There is the "What would Jesus Eat" cookbook. How about "What would Jesus drive?" Click here for a website that uses this catchy slogan to support Christian environmental responsibilities. I agree with the principle of creation care and responsible stewardship, but this way of looking at it amused me. (Now what would Jesus have driven? Would Jesus have gone for a hybrid car, a big people mover [for all the disciples], or maybe he would have caught buses and trains)…

Andrew McGowan has this to say about the "what would Jesus do" phenomenon:

"And that religionless Jesus himself, supposedly above history and culture, always becomes the mirror image of the era’s own cultural values. ‘What would Jesus do?’ ends up as something like a nice and thoughtful version of ‘What my friends and I would probably like to do anyway’."

Truly living in the way that Jesus lived is radical and counter-cultural. I may stop and wonder "what would Jesus do" in a particular situation, but how often would this reflection lead to action, and then to action that genuinely reflects the nature of Jesus and not simply my own cultural values? Not often enough.

Sales vs sacraments

Last Sunday morning I listened to Encounter on Radio National. It is a program that tackles a variety of spiritual topics. Last week part of the program was based around a talk by Andrew McGowan on 'religion'. His basic premise was to reclaim the 'religious' in Christianity. He said a number of things that got me thinking.

From a conservative 'religionless Christian' perspective, he says that

"doctrine, and in particular the Bible, is all that really counts; as to whatever practices are continued, adapted or invented, all that matters is that they are seemingly effective in communicating the ideas – sales, rather than sacraments, take priority."

This view of Christianity sounds as though it has a great deal in common with marketing. In the Australian church scene, it is not hard to identify churches that are effective in 'sales'. However, it is interesting that he juxtaposes selling of doctrine in pretty packaging against 'religion' as captured by his reference to sacrament. I don't think that they have to be mutually exclusive. Religion could be seen as a set of practices that have and convey spiritual meaning. The nature of the packaging or the skill of the marketing impact on the accessibility, style and attractiveness of the practices. However, I think that doctrine is more pertinent than these considerations. For example, 'sales' related to the prosperity gospel must be critiqued as strongly on doctrinal terms as on the pitch.

It is also an interesting thought to consider in regard to the emerging church scene. Many of the more obvious trappings of religion are abandoned, or reconstructed in creative ways to give new meaning. Sometimes very ancient religious practices are explored and revived. There is the potential for great spiritual depth within the varing emerging communities, even though they may not appear on the surface to be particularly religious. They are often very small gatherings, so the diversity of method could not be really considered successful sales pitch. I am not sure that as Christians we should be into sales pitch at all. Somehow the words seem opposed to authenticity and honesty. God does not need spin.

On a more personal note, when people ask me if I am religious I generally say no, and add that I am a Christian. For me Christianity penetrates far deeper than a set of external practices, although though it may find avenues of expression in them.

grief cycle

I wrote these few words about grief seven years ago – in the midst of a very painful personal situation. The analogy may be a bit corny (bearing the mark of a dreadfully amateur wannabe poet), but the sentiment makes sense.

The grief cycle
Leaves you
Brutally wrung out,
And left out to dry…

There are days when ministry leaves you feeling this way too. Today is one of them.

Follow the sun

I have just got back from Queensland. I left Melbourne in rain and cold, and returned to the same. I was glad to bring out my winter clothes again, but there are things that I will miss about Queensland. It is an earthy, natural place. Almost every meal was eaten outdoors, on our friends' 'queenslander' verandah. Simple and refreshing. I never managed the time difference so I essentially went to bed and got up with the sun. It is as though the day itself is the organising life principle, rather than alarm clocks, tv, internet, and the myriad of other things that compete for a slice of our life action. Who would have thought daylight savings would make such a difference? I did hear on the radio that it was considered the primary reason for the Queensland entrant to Australian Idol failing to make the grade last week. It actually made it to a heated parliamentary discussion. Surely there are more pressing matters for our nation obsessed with terror and industrial relations…. I was only away for four days, and busy ones at that, but I feel relaxed. Something just feels right and uncomplicated about life on a verandah, breezes and sunshine.

You could have it so much better

I am on a get-fit kick at the moment, and my "torture" of choice is an early morning run with my dog and my mp3 player. I have resisted the I-Pod craze, and have an I-River. Not so funky, very chunky, but at least I only need to carry one accessory – my headphones. My music of choice? At the moment I can't get past Franz Ferdinand – "You could have it so much better". An album that kicks along at a frantic pace from one track to the next, with a couple of unexpected and rather charming beatlesque ballads that seem to appear in time for my slow uphill trudges. In those moments I feel less guilty about the fact that while I am running I could easily be overtaken by the less keen walker. The album is clearly a continuation of their previous self-titled debut, but the songs are distinctive. Their style seems to have matured and the bass runs have got me hooked. My favourite track at the moment (apart from the ballads that match my running pace) is "do you want to". No obvious maturity in the lyrics here, but the guitar licks and pace get me moving faster. This is not a safe driving album.

Chicken soup for the blogger’s soul

Most of my posts on my previous blog were critiques – of church, theology, movies, politics. Perhaps not dissimilar to some of the blogs that I read. On Saturday night I had dinner with friends who introduced me to the RealLivePreacher. They also lent us his book, a collection of posts. The preacher does look critically at himself and life around him, but there is also optimism, posts with heart. Stories about things we might miss. A little more thoughtful than "Chicken Soup for the Soul" style stories, but a similar capacity to capture the essence of what is good and to be celebrated in life. Hopefully some of this will permeate my musings…