Sunday, November 16, 2014

5 Things I've Learnt from Stephen Christian (Anberlin)

1. There is beauty in the small things

As kids we're encouraged to dream big. As adults, we often feel like we have failed these dreams.

When I was volunteering with World Vision Australia I was privileged to interview Stephen with a group of young activists. One things which is frozen in my mind is how Stephen seemed to come alive when surrounded by a small group of activists. I know he is charismatic, but he is also used to performing in front of large groups of people. Yet something lit up in him when he told us that we as a small group of people who cared about poverty and human trafficking will be the ones who change the world.

Life is a constant revaluation of our own path. Many who are who we want to be are not happy and want what we have. We don't have to be famous to live the good life or change the world, we have to be committed.

2. There is a time and a place

I think for the members of Anberlin, perhaps the easiest thing for them to do would have been to stay together. It was life as they knew it. I have great respect for Stephen and the other members as they are still choosing to follow their dreams when many of their fans think they are already living it.

I distinctly remember Stephen saying to me that his dreams are bigger than Anberlin. Although he plays internationally sold out shows, he will be called to do bigger smaller things. Sometimes we try to qualify what we do by the quantity of people that see it. But there are so many macro-ideological yet micro-relational things we are each called to

3. There is grace in honesty

Many Anberlin and Anchor & Braille songs deal with pain and suffering. I must admit, when I first heard them I brushed them off as an emo band. Song titles like 'There Is No Mathematics To Love And Loss' is a bit of a dead giveaway. In fact I refused to like Anberlin until a band member made us perform Unwinding Cable Car. I then realised music can be emotionally honest while still being profoundly interesting.

4. There is honesty in grace

Grace doesn't always mean being nice. In the face of violence and suffering Christian sings 'we owe this to ourselves, we can't just let this go'. 

I have also realised that Stephen believes it is important for leaders to not hide away their shadow self. In a recent interview Stephen was actually grateful to be able to reveal publicly the things he struggles with. In an age where our idolised leaders are caught up in a web of lies and scandals, taking the initiative of stepping down from the pedestal is unusual yet admirable. It means coming to terms with the gap between the 'is' and the 'ought', but it also separates us from the captivation of denial.

5. Practice, don't preach

It's often tempting to push our world view and morality on others. Rather than telling people how to act in his lyrics, Stephen considers both the suffering and hope we can bring about through our actions. I think a reflective rather than prescriptive communication of one's world view is a much more powerful yet less violent way of coming to a better conclusion.

Here is my 2009 Interview with Stephen Christian from Anberlin and Anchor & Braille.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

'Generosity Cap' : stepping towards a refugee solution

I have been involved in refugee advocacy for over three years. I have said a lot about what is morally wrong with how the state of Australia treats asylum seekers, and how the nation of Australia views them. I have also discovered that many on ‘my side’ of the fence, as it were, are somewhat more reluctant in putting forward a tenable ‘solution’, or at least a step in what we may believe is the right direction.

This is understandable as there are many contradictory ideological perspectives that can group together to attack how the state and nation view those seeking asylum. It is far easier to bond together on what we are against, rather than what we stand for. The reality is that those who are against the current treatment of asylum seekers do not all stand for the same thing, so we have grouped together around what unifies us.

Saul Alinsky says that ‘the price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.' Many of us are terrified of the word ‘solution’, because its heritage in Australian political discourse makes it seem synonymous with ‘deterrence’ rather than something that actually addresses the reasons as to why people are seeking our protection.

So here is my first try at a ‘solution’. I think this is humane, realistic, and a step in the right direction.

Refugee Camp: Sven Torfinn for the Guardian

'Generosity Cap' : a refugee solution

7.5% of Australia’s gross population increase should be reserved for protection visas with a minimum of 30,000 to be granted each year. Currently Australia’s population is increasing by approximately 400,000 people each year. 30,000 is a reasonable figure - we need the numbers regardless.

An additional 10,000 places should be made available for permanent protection reunion visas, where a refugee in Australia can sponsor a family member when they have the means to independently support those who they are being reunited with.

It’s difficult to come up with a number like 30,000 or 7.5%. One way of looking at it is to first consider that Australia has about a 1% share of global wealth.  There are just over 50,000,000 refugees in the world. This means that Australia’s fair share is around 500,000. It is difficult to assess over how many years the 50 million refugees have been ‘produced’. The UNHCR reports that there were 10 million new refugees last year along. It would take us about 17 years to become host to over 500,000 first generation refugees or 13 years if we are to include reunion visas. 

It is worth noting that resettlement is not always the best option. Many refugees are looking for peace, not resettlement. It would seem that the 5 million Palestinian refugees are not all desiring resettlement in Australia. But for many of the 50 million refugees in the world, resettlement is their only option.

This intake can only be increased by individuals or communities committing to hosting an asylum seeker, or asylum seeker families for periods of at least 3 years. Those who are hosted for three years by members of the public will not count towards the 30,000 cap. This is a fair compromise between collective responsibility towards those in need and individual. This is a ‘cap’ that is determined by the generosity of Australian citizens.

Maximum 10,000 refugees can be resettled through arriving by boat or claiming protection once in Australian territory. Only those who are found to be genuine will be resettled. Once the 10,000 cap is reached, asylum seekers will be forced to relocate either back to their home country or to a regional refugee camp which is co-sponsored by the Australian government unless Australian individuals and communities are willing to commit to hosting them.

Those who arrive by boat and are found to not be genuine should have the right to appeal. If they are unsuccessful or choose not to appeal, they should be sent back to their home country where possible. In the rare cases that they are unable to be sent back, they should be given temporary residency in Australia.

The Australian government should once a year check on the status of those who have been sent back through a trusted humanitarian organisation over the course of five years. If it is found that forced deportations have resulted in those who were thought to have not been refugees being persecuted then this policy must be reconsidered.

At least 20,000 refugees from camps, primarily in the Asia-Pacific region should be resettled in Australia each year. This should lower the number of boat arrivals and drownings at sea. There should be incentives for employers to hire refugees so that they can become ‘economic contributors’ as soon as possible (acknowledging that various studies have shown that refugees are currently contributing greatly towards Australia’s economy).

The Australian government should invest in online infrastructure to make it simple for members of the public to be able to host refugee families during their initial resettlement in Australia.

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Confessions of an (almost) pacifist


It's the name of the game. People tend to like to pigeon-hole others, and by implication - themselves, as far away from those with opposing views as possible. It forces each one of us into thinking in black and white. Shades are a compromise.

But even those who believe that shades hold truth, often believe it with the same force as those who hold fast to a black and white mindset. Any views, whether open on closed, progressive or conservative, left or right, which need to pigeon-hole others as a counterpoint for validation purposes are essentially black and white.

And yet black and white is incredibly attractive to us humans. We believe we have each eaten the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which convinces us that we are righteous judges. Perhaps more so, it convinces us that we are right judges. We have each been to the mountaintop and are so confident in our beliefs that we would commit murder to see them practised among the others.

Confessions of an (almost) pacifist

They came to the village with their weapons. Home by home, they raided. Life by life they ended. In order to do no harm, the villagers stood by watching their wives and children being raped and tortured.

I have a certain admiration for those in our military and police force. To the extent that they are willing to, or in many cases have already taken the courageous step of sacrificing their lives for others, they are the most noble among men. I often doubt whether I or many others would be willing to make the sacrifice they make - at times for their mates, at other times during humanitarian missions. To blindly criticise the army and police-force and what they have committed their lives to without any thought for their vision, hope, and aspiration reflects either blatant hypocrisy or one's own inflated ego.

Could I, as an advocate for demilitarisation and non-violent responses to conflict condemn those that are willing to risk their own lives to save the villagers in the italicised example above? I would suggest that I would have no right to condemn such people for their actions. I have not been in a war zone, I do not know what it is like to stand by while those I love are either being tortured, raped, or killed. What gives me the right to condemn those who are willing to risk their life and liberty for their families? Sometimes I want to blindly condemn such people - because deep down I still want the world to be black, white, and nothing else.

A third way

I believe that it is not inconsistent to admire those who sacrifice themselves for others and yet believe that there may be a third way that involves neither passivity or aggression as tools for overcoming evil.

Love inevitably overcomes evil. I believe that our nature is good and that goodness comes more naturally to us than evil. I believe that no individual created by a loving God is irredeemable. I believe that God still has good work planned for warlords and juntas; presidents and paedophiles. These fundamental ideas give me no other option than to believe that killing even the most evil of men is denying them the option of doing the good and loving works that God (still) has planned for them.

We could argue 'till the cows come home as to whether humans are in fact naturally good and whether all humans are created to respond and be transformed by simple acts of love. We will never get there in a debate. This is where I have to admit that my belief in non-violence which leads me to being an (almost) pacifist is not fundamentally based on rationality but my understanding of human nature, creation, and God.

And while some argue (rather convincingly in my opinion) that non-violence is the most effective means of overcoming evil in real world conflicts, I admit that I am not basing my beliefs on this empirical evidence. I believe that love wins. This is the hope that keeps me alive. 

Perhaps I am wrong

How will I answer if I have got this all wrong. Perhaps I have let innocent people die because of a faith-based axiom which perhaps could be, but is not in my mind, based upon strict and impartial logic. I believe this is a real possibility. If I am deluded and wrong, I can only ask for forgiveness.

None of us should believe that we are beyond reproach. Whatever the answers may be, a good starting place is to desire the good of others no matter who they may are. In seeking the good of others, friend or foe, we move towards an idea of 'good' for the commons and away from relentless polarisation and shouting matches.


If good does win at the end of the day, and if even the most wretched of us can be transformed through love, then there will never be enough time to practice this understanding and share it with the world. If the same God created Muslim and Jew, Christian and Atheist, then we must invest ourselves into building bridges rather than walls. If God is in fact good, and desires good for us, we have no enemy to kill and no need to be validated through polarising others.