On The Sacking of a Coach and Institutional Behaviour

I watched, with a combination of anxiety and sympathy and horror at the unfolding saga of the sacking of the coach of the Matildas (Our women’s soccer team), Alen Stajcic.

The first thing that astounded me, though I don’t know why it should after all this time, was the absolute ‘institution speak’ of the person making the announcement. It was like this “We have made a decision (exercise of power) to sack the coach. We have to give an account of it to the media. We cannot tell the truth because it is too embarrassing or complicated, or we don’t really know why. What can we say? Let’s speak in vague tones. Here is a quote from David Gallop, the Football Federation of Australia CEO. “These matters are accumulative and there was a real view that things had deteriorated over a period of time … and that’s why the decision was taken.” (ABC News 22nd Jan 2019.)


This reminds me that institutions will behave like institutions. The important thing is not to listen to what they say, but to watch what they do. They are like ‘black boxes’: things go in, and decisions come out, but how the decisions are made and what is going on inside the black box remains an unknown.


The Church is an institution. We cannot escape them. At a congregational level though, I think it is possible to be more transparent, more telling of the truth, and clearer about why things are done.


So what was accumulating? From my reading of some articles, here are some of the issues that lie behind it (1) Alen Stajcic was trying to lift the performance of the team to a new, world class level. This required an increase in performance from team members. Some of them did not like how he went about the task.


(2) In order to measure fitness Alen Stajcic was measuring skin folds. This was considered by some members of the team as ‘body shaming.’

(3) Some of the team members were in relationships with one another. What happens when players of equal ability need to play in the same team, after they have broken up with one another? Do members of the team who are in relationships get a single bedroom while those who are not have to sleep in single rooms?

(4) There were some people who had previously dedicated themselves to the rise of the Matildas, who were losing power in the new, more professional era. They did not like being sidelined.


Regardless of what the strength of these points, I experienced a shudder of recognition about the fact that someone who thought that they were doing a good thing finds themselves embroiled in issues that eventually lead to their demise.

How does ‘measuring skin folds to make sure that no one is overweight and very fit’ (a normal thing for athletes) become ‘body shaming’?


This must be to do with ‘Who has the power to name what is going on and make that naming stick?” This is a political question. If Alen Stajcic had support from higher up the institutional tree, then the complaints from the team might have been heard, but not taken seriously. If the power lines go from certain members in the team to the hierarchy of the institution, then the coach is caught in the middle, and must go.


In this regard, parishes are much like the Matildas.  In the present state of the Anglican Church there is much that resists the ‘lifting of our game’ that everyone must be involved in, if we are to respond to the challenges of the present time.


I have been asked, when talking about the need for increased baptismal discipline whether or not I am ‘questioning the faith’ of those who apply. I have been asked whether I want the Anglican Church to become a ‘sect’ when talking about the need to ‘lift our game’ when it comes to the rates of attendance and knowledge of members of congregations. I have known of clergy who have departed their dioceses for another because their bishop asked them for ‘mission action plans’


In some of the theory that I have read about how to be a parish priest there is talk about the tension that exists between ‘relationships’ and ‘task’. In the past I think that I have been too ‘task oriented’ in saying ‘This is what we need to do, and what we agreed to do when I came’. I have neglected the relationships. As such I spent my ‘clerical capital’.


In other places I have resolved to be more relationship focussed. Even then there were people in the congregation who did not want a relationship but said “I don’t know much about church, but I know what I want: and you are not doing it!”


This is the most difficult thing for me about being parish priest: I have felt responsibility for the future of the institution in the parish where I am, but have, like Alen Stajcic fallen foul of various institutional or parish powers, and I have not felt as though I have ‘succeeded’. On judgment day, I will say, though, that I struck  few blows for the Gospel. These kinds of reflections come in retirement!


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“Him Exalting Self Abasing”A Reflection

Last Sunday I was particularly moved by the hymn that we sang “May The Mind of Christ My Saviour.”  One verse grabbed me. It goes


“May the love of Jesus fill me

 as the waters fill the sea;

 him exalting, self abasing,

 this is victory”


I like the theologian Stanley Hauerwas. At one point he offered a critique of the movie ‘Dead Poets’ society”. In this movie, 17 year old youths are encouraged to ‘think for themselves and to make up their own minds’


Stanley Hauerwas said words to the effect “These young people are still being formed by their peer group, given their age and stage. They have not got minds worth making up! I want to teach them to think like me, then they will have something to work with, and can disagree from a position of strength and knowledge, not just uninformed opinion”


If Stanley is right, then there is no point people of younger than 25 or 30 singing ‘Him Exalting self abasing’, because their ‘self’ is in the process of formation, and in one sense there is no ‘self’ to abase. For younger people, I think the line should go “Him exalting, self unfolding”


The other thing that is true about this hymn is that it addresses my relationship with God in Christ.


I read this line as saying “Please God, let my whole being be more and more be shaped by the way Jesus is. Then, when my ‘self’ is in operation in the world, with others, the ‘self’ that I show forth will be a ‘self’ that is shaped by the reality of Christ, and nothing else.


To be like this is nearly impossible, because there are so many other influences on my ‘self’  but I hope that over time, the amount that I live before the face of Christ increases, and the amount that other influences have on me decreases. That is my prayer for me now, as a person whom, I hope, has a ‘self’ worth abasing.


But there are other interesting questions that arise when this phrase is applied to my relationships with other people.


I have written before about the difficulty I had with the medical profession where I live, and how in my attempts at advocacy on behalf of another person, they have ignored me, cancelled my appointments and resisted my efforts by wanting to eject me from the surgery.


Now I argue that my motivation was the love and compassion for this person, and my not wanting to see them in pain and without medical attention (however difficult they are). In this context I fit the bill of ‘May the love of Jesus fill me’. AS well, my ‘self’ suffered some rejection and assault as I tried to ‘exalt’ the love of Christ on behalf of this person. I think then that assertive advocacy on behalf of another is a way of fulfilling the line of the hymn ‘Him exalting, self abasing’ this is victory! It means that victory for me means having the courage to suffer some assaults on my ‘self’ for the sake of others. This is the basis of the non-violent approach of the Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King. They said: “In the name of the dignity accorded to us by Christ, We will not be excluded from the buses, schools and cafés, but we will not fight with violence either.’


This is a different emphasis from the one expressed chorus which we used to sing at Sunday school that said ‘J-O-YJesus first, Yourself last and Others in between.”


But there is a self-assertiveness that derives not from the Love of Jesus, but which derives from insecurity.


This is the hardest kind of ‘self -abasement’ for me. People, being kind used to say: ‘He is his own man’, but what I think that they really meant was that “He is so insecure, that any kind of deviation from his own path is impossible.’


Well now, I am not that person. I like the idea that St. Paul promotes: that of ‘Mutual submission in love.’ Being in a relationship requires constant decision making and negotiation about whose will is going to prevail at any given moment, over any given issue. (This is the deeper truth behind the jokes about squeezing the toothpaste tube from one end or the other!).


I am afraid that by continually submitting to another, I am opening myself to being disrespected. This is because I am not sure whether the assertion of the other’s will, to which I am submitting is in fact an assertion in love, or an assertion in the same kind of defensiveness that makes me ‘my own man’ and as such, inflexible!


I remember a Roger McGough poem that went “I wanted one thing, you wanted another, we couldn’t have our cake, so we ate each-other!”


Doubtless any exchange between two people may have in it elements of their love and desire to help and their defensive self-assertion, my desire for mutual submission in love, and my own defensive resistance to being pushed around.’


Becoming conscious of this four sided monster and learning how to make choices about how to proceed in the face of it is one of my most difficult challenges. Hence the hymn’s power for me.

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The Thousand Ways Bureaucracy Removes Hope

The conditions on Mannus Island and Nauru have been well documented, and it seems as though the sentiment of the Australian people has changed from ‘Lock ‘em up! Stop the people smugglers’ to “It is terrible that we punish one group of people, the people smugglers, by holding in indefinite detention, people who have done nothing wrong, and who have a legitimate right to ask for asylum here, and, as it happens, to try to come here.


The government has done all in its power to demonise asylum seekers by persistently calling them ‘illegals’ when there is in fact nothing illegal about them. They are not even ‘unauthorised’ arrivals, since the refugee convention ‘authorises’ them the right to try to go to a place of safety.


The government has spent a large amount of money fighting judicial orders to bring people top Australia, for medical treatment.


All this is bad enough, but last week I read in the papers to what lengths our government will go.


Here is the story. There are detention centres in Australia. Some of them are in Melbourne.  The government has now made it very difficult for those in detention to be visited.


They make it necessary to make an appointment, in writing weeks in advance to see a person in detention, and then may cancel this appointment without reasons, at short notice.


Those visiting are not allowed to bring presents for the detainees, except when the detainee requests something. The appointment for this giving of presents may be on a different day from the visit.


There is an overly strict drug-testing regime. People have been turned away from a scheduled visit because their clothing or parts of their skin test positive for ‘opioids’. This is happening to people who have never taken such drugs. When questioned the staff say something like ‘You might have sat next to someone on public transport who has been handling them, and some has rubbed off on you.” Clearly the machines are over sensitive.


The effect of all of this is to harass the visitors, and to make it difficult for them to visit those in detention. This is the method employed by governments the world over: low level harassment.


They cannot be accused of ‘refusing visits’ but they can make it as difficult and capricious as possible.


But worse, the effect on the detainees is to remove hope from them. The great value of organisations like Amnesty International and the Refugee Council of Australia etc. is that they say to a person, ‘You are not forgotten, you count, there is hope for you because I know you.’


And you do not have to look far to see that our God is on the side of the refugees and visitors and not the government. We hear ‘Do not be afraid I am with you, I have called you by your name, you are mine’ (Is. 41:1)


And of course hope is such a big theme in both the Common Testament and the New Testament. Jeremiah, in speaking to those about to be carried off as slaves into exile says of God “These are the plans I have for you, for your welfare, and not for evil. To give you a future and a hope.’ In the resurrection of Jesus, we have the grounds for hope because now we see what God can do. God is the God who holds out the possibility of new life for all who are oppressed in Jesus. Hope is at the centre of Christian faith, and here the bureaucrats at the behest of our politicians are working to remove hope. Psalm 94:20 describes the situation exactly when it says of God “Will you be any friend to the court of wickedness that contrives evil by means of law?”


And that great statement of God’s purposes, the Magnificat describes the way God acts, and for whom god acts. “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.”


There is just nowhere in the Bible where being cruel to refugees, and those who want to support them finds a place.


Nearly all of the secular meaning making about Christmas focuses on the fluffiness of ‘families getting together’ and the way in which a baby can draw from us all kinds of compassion.’


But I think that in keeping Advent, we discover that Christmas is not  about fluffiness at all, but it is about how God’s love presents itself to us in vulnerability, not in the callous exercise of power in order to dehumanise those in need, and in order to remove their hope.


When Christ comes to us he will ask us “How did you treat the least of these, my brothers and sisters’. It will be a truly royal commission.


Here is a link to a report on this from the Refugee Council of Australia < https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/publications/reports/detention-visitors/&gt;

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Religious Discrimination, Money, Schools, And Conformity


This week, the ‘Ruddock Report’ into religious discrimination has been released. I am writing before this happens, but the airwaves have been full of discussion about what it will mean.


Here is what I can glean so far. First, the whole thing is mostly about schools. Second, no one wants to be able to expel a student for being gay. OK. But here is the issue.


But then comes the hard part. Some people in some schools want to be able to hire and fire staff, and teach in their schools on the basis that the school has a religious ‘ethos’ which they claim they have a right to make the sort of ‘dominant culture’ of the school.


This ethos involves the doctrine that marriage is only ever between a man and a woman; that being Gay is a fundamentally disordered state; and that sex is only moral when it is an activity of married people.


The question is ‘Can the commonwealth government make laws that allow the religious schools and other institutions to teach such doctrines, when these doctrines contradict what the law of the land is in the secular world. In workplaces for example, it is not permissible to discriminate on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation (ie say that being Gay is fundamentally disordered). Companies can have an ‘ethos’, but they cannot have an ‘ethos’ that interferes with a persons sexual life.


But then, most companies are not interested in a person’s sexual life. They do sometimes have ‘meditation’ or ‘mindfulness’ sessions, and they do sometimes make claims on people’s lives as part of their ‘culture’ that I would resist. But they are not allowed to discriminate on the basis of such differences.


My problem is that the religious schools want it both ways. They want to receive government money to subsidise the school’s operation, but they then ant the government to have no say in the running of the school.


I think the debate would be much clearer if the schools said ‘Well, we want to be free to have a different ‘ethos’ from that of secular schools, so we will fund our own schools, where we can be free to hire and fire as we like, and teach what we like. This is what happens with ‘home schooling’ does it not? All this is possible.


The second thing is this. I am not sure what Christian schools are doing. I cannot speak for Muslim schools, but my experience of most Anglican schools is that they play very little part in the religious formation of young people, and I know of no research that says that ‘My current religious practice is a function of having gone to a Christian school’


It seems to me that the place for Christian formation and Christian education is the Church. A school is a community of education; a Church is a community of faith formation. I think that it is a mistake to expect a school to do the Church’s job.


Then young people can experience in their own lives what it means to be a Christian: to be in the world, but not of the world.


I cannot see why parents cannot then say to their children “Well, you are going to a secular school, the values of a secular school are not those of the Christian Faith as we see it. Experiencing this difference will be a part of your life from now on because you are a Christian.”


This was my experience. Now I might argue about the ways in which being a Christian is countercultural. I would rather, for example, that we stand against secular society in terms of compassion for refugees, that we stand against secular society regarding gender politics and sexuality. But that said, I think that saying ‘That is not our way’ when ‘our way’ represents more love, not less, and a wider embrace, not a narrower one is something for which I want to stand up.


We talk a lot about diversity, but I do not think we do very well when it comes to building in ways of expressing diversity or living with it.


I know someone who goes to a Rudolph Steiner school. There they have morning blessings and thanksgivings. Some of these strike me as not Christian, but there is a great deal about these schools that I can affirm. I would like to think that either a person would be praised for saying ‘I don’t think I can participate in this because I am not sure about it’, or that ways could be found for a participation that did not run counter to a Christian sensibility.


So in some ways too, we are being forced into a kind of uniformity of view, based on what the society at any given time thinks is a ‘fair thing’. The difficulty for me is the ‘forced uniformity’; while at the same time people are praising ‘diversity’.

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Elections, The Public Good and Christian Faith

The results of the election last Saturday sparked my interest. The thing is, that I have previously thought about what leads to the populism that is on the rise in the US and in Europe. The recent changes in the leadership of the Liberal Party have been, in part, due to a move on the part of the right of that party to capture some of the ‘populist’ vote by being ‘tough on immigration’ (Melbourne’s streets are clogged because there is too much immigration), ‘tough on crime’ (African Gangs) and ‘tough on the dole bludgers.’ (the ‘lifters and leaners’ slogan or the more current ‘Have a go and you’ll get a go!?)

Now it could have been argued that this mood was also part of Victoria’s landscape. This looked to have been the assumption behind the Liberal Party’s campaign.

But the result of the election showed that this kind of thinking did not resonate with the community.

Instead some socially progressive policies were proposed, which found a place in the hearts of the voters; The safe injecting room in Richmond was seen as a good thing, in general; People liked the removal of the level crossings, and the plan for a ‘ring rail’ in Melbourne which will connect up people across the city, and in public transport, but which will not be finished for a long time; people liked the attempt to do our share in the fight to ameliorate the worst effects of climate change due to our pollution, by the subsidies on solar panels and batteries.

So I’m wondering what is going on?

Matthew Guy said that the first job of the government was to keep the people safe. Say for the moment that this is true. It looks like people found more insecurity (unsafety) in the effects of climate change than in African Gangs. They felt more safe by a harm minimisation strategy in Richmond than in a ‘tough on crime’ approach.

Many people are staying out of their cars, and using public transport: we need a government that will plan for this change.

At the risk of sounding like a person who always thought things were better in ‘the good old days’, I can remember when water was not privatised, and the water board planned for long term building of reservoirs. I can remember when the SEC planned for our electricity needs, and trained apprentices.

It seems to me that much of the trouble we are in is the result of introducing the profit motive into activities that are not good at being subject to competition. Instead we are gouged by companies that have a monopoly, confused by complicated plans and the long term planning that is needed for infrastructure and dealing with long term issues like climate change. These issues look to be better dealt with out of the political cycle and away from the profit motive.

I think that most people know this.

So now comes the hard question. Does being a Christian help in making decisions about such issues?

I think so.

There is some grounds for thinking that the rise of Methodism in the 18th Century helped to prevent a revolution in England as they had in France. There is some grounds for thinking that a combination of Methodism and roman Catholic Social teaching gave us the regulation of unfettered capitalism which then meant that we could be entrepreneurs and ambitious and so on, but that the poor and weakest among us were not punished for it, and that a persons income was not solely determined by their economic value.

So here is my take on things.

First, the letter of John says ‘Perfect love casts out fear.’ This means to me that if governments want to keep us safe, they should be thinking about the ways in which we can love one another better. This goes for ‘African Gangs’ and for those who commit crime, and for those addicted to drugs. The power of love is the power to keep together, or to bring into communion those who belong together. We all belong together, and it behoves us to exercise the harder kind of love that keeps us together, than the kind of response which simply excludes those who offend us.

Second, Jesus says that the first commandment is to love God, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. Then he goes on to say that we cannot serve (love) God and Money. And that the love of money is the root of all evil. He also says to the devil ‘People shall not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from God’s mouth.

But we have changed everything into something that can be exchanged for money. This does violence to the true nature of those who are not means to something, but ends in themselves. This is why I like the idea of the common good, and long term planning for its sake. I also like the removal of the profit motive from such necessary long term planning.

So I think that the Victorian voters have said that the issues we face that make us insecure are not the can not be dealt with by short term-ism, or knee jerk reactions, but are of such a kind as need love.

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Being ‘Tough On Crime’: Being Christian. Some Models

The temperature has died down a bit recently, but one of the great themes of this state election has been ‘Law and Order’ ‘Crime’ and ‘African Gangs’.


When I was working as a Chaplain in the prison system, the mantra that used to be repeated was ‘There are no votes in Jails!’ Pentridge was terrible, and we kept on asking for better conditions, to no avail. When I was working there, the Victorian prison population was about 1500 people.


But then private money became involved in building and running jails. Now there was profit to be made. Is it any wonder that the prison population is now over 4,000 (up 70%from 2004)? It costs us 11,358.80 to keep a prisoner in jail (not counting the capital cost of building it)*


Did you know that privatised prison companies lobby governments to keep harsh drug laws in place and to be ‘tough on crime’ because their business model relies on people being locked up.**

The worst thing about private prisons is that they place the profit motive between us and those who offend us. More, they put distance, and less accountability between us and them.

The way it used to be was this: Those who offend us should be punished. We decide what an ‘offence’ is, by means of our elected representatives. We hand over that job to them. As well, we hand over the power of locking people up or not to the judges. We also hand over the power to use force to the police.


So we are not allowed to ‘take the law into our own hands’ because as a community, we have handed over these rights to those who act on our behalf, and on behalf of society as a whole.


This system has its limits, as the introduction of ‘victim impact statements’ has shown. When we hand over so much to others, we feel alienated from the system of justice that is operating on our behalf. We feel powerless.


This is different from the days of the stocks, or the pillory, where a person could come into direct contact with those whom they had offended, or where in severe cases, capital punishment was a very public affair.


The problem is that the prison system, while punishing, does not do much to help to reconcile those who have offended with the rest of us. The rate of recidivism is about 42.00% (this number of people are back in jail within two years of their release.)


The heart of the Christian gospel is that whatever happens, we are meant to be reconciled to one another, because Christ has made that possible. We, in our ‘Tough on Crime’ selves, are not much interested in reconciliation, but revenge.


But I know of some places where a different approach is working. The Justice Reinvest programme in Bourke is designed to use money that might otherwise have been spent on locking people up, on community development programmes. In fact, instead of looking for a ‘silver bullet’, they work on co-ordinating a myriad of small steps. *** Here is a summary of the results in Bourke between 2015 and 2017. Crime rates fell by:

18% for major offences

34% for non-domestic violence related assaults

39% for domestic violence related assaults

39% for drug offences

35% for driving offences. ****

The other form of restorative justice that I know about comes from the Koori court in Shepparton. Here, while the sentencing laws are the same, there is much more involvement of the Aboriginal elders in the process. Victims are present at a sentencing conference, as well as people whose job it is to support offenders. In order to participate, offenders must plead guilty.


The aim of the process is to restore the offender to his or her community, with appropriate support.


How I wish that these stories were told, instead of the ones that pander to our baser instincts.


It is an anticipation of the Reign of God in Christ when these projects are successful. It is the victory of love over profit, of love over individualism.


As we sang last Sunday

‘All praise to our redeeming Lord,

who joins us by his grace,

who bids us, each to each restored, together seek his face.

*Source. http://www.corrections.vic.gov.au/utility/publications+manuals+and+statistics/corrections+statistics+quick+reference

** Sourcehttps://www.thedailybeast.com/for-profit-prisons-are-bad-but-the-drug-war-is-the-problem

*** Source http://www.justreinvest.org.au/justice-reinvestment-in-bourke/

**** Source <https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/oct/09/unique-community-policing-sees-rates-plunge-in-bourke&gt;

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