Oasis in the City – Update



It is always difficult to introduce new ideas that necessarily involve creating new structures across existing organisations. However, conversations I have had with various people about the idea of an Oasis in the City, building on Oasis at Flinders, have been positive and have contributed to sharpening up the proposal.

Here’s the latest version: Oasis in the City #5

It probably needs a neutral, secular base to allow inclusion of all.
By ‘secular’ I mean that no one organisation, religious or non-religious, be privileged over another. At the founding of the State of South Australia, the idea of a separation of church and state in the City of Churches was meant to prevent such assumptions of entitlement or privilege. I believe that ideal is an achievement worth promoting.
For us, one implication is that the melting pot of diversity inherent in the concept of bringing transient visitors together could contribute to our understanding and practice of fostering inclusion in our pluralist society. For the visitors, the experience of being valued as guests in Adelaide, deepens respect and promotes mutual reflection on various situations ‘back home’.
Clearly, local contributors to the project would need to have a passion for inter-cultural and inter-religious harmony.

The core of the idea is open face-to-face interpersonal interaction.
Finding a suitable space to encourage this is an important first step. A centre is important as a focus, but is not the main object of the project, which is to bring transient people together in a non-commercial, open and ‘personalised’ environment. Empty spaces in the city already exist, but human interaction in them is usually only incidental to their designed purposes – commercial or other transactions. Creating a truly hospitable complex of spaces for interaction between ‘strangers’ is an architectural challenge. The team of architects who designed Oasis at Flinders as purpose-built for non-commercial hospitality have made an excellent contribution in this regard. The environment for an Oasis in the City must serve this primary purpose.

The world is in transition and visitors bring news!
A set of contemporary movements related to a transitioning Australian culture underpins the proposal. These include transitions in organisational practice, understandings of health and well being and adaption to technological innovation, to name a few.
My area of expertise lies in negotiating the interface between the ‘secular’ and ‘sacred’, ‘church and state’, and between differing belief systems. I am interested in the connection between people of different backgrounds and collaboration among differing institutions. Oasis in the City provides a point for informal engagement and a framework to openly explore transition beyond the usual cultural or institutional ‘boxes’.

Creating and Maintaining the Oasis culture
The Adelaide City Council recently published the results of research they commissioned to establish the level of health and well being of city residents. 484 people responded to the PERMA+ survey, measuring PERMA (Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment) as well as Optimism, Physical activity, Nutrition, and Sleep.

Findings included:
• Adelaide City Council residents scored higher than the global average PERMA
• females scored slightly higher than males
• those who scored higher than the group’s average of 7.2 were aged 65 to 74 years.
• those 18 to 24 years had lower PERMA
• one in five residents had very low overall PERMA (less than 6.0).

The strategy of Oasis at Flinders anticipated some of these findings by bringing students together with senior citizens. We expected cross-generational support to occur. The ‘Volunteer Team’ of mainly retired people not only provided sensitive listening and support to the students, but sustained the caring and sharing ethos of the centre itself; and they gained great satisfaction in being befriended by students from all over the world.

I hope that the Adelaide City Council will take up the idea of an Oasis in the City. I think there is significant congruence with their 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, which is framed around four key themes:

  • SMART – a smart city with a globally connected and opportunity rich economy.
  • GREEN – one of the world’s first carbon neutral cities and an international leader in environmental change.
  • LIVEABLE – a beautiful, diverse city with an enviable lifestyle that is welcoming to people at all stages of life.
  • CREATIVE – a multicultural city with a passion to create authentic and internationally renowned experiences.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle to getting this concept off the ground will be the creativity, imagination and flexibility of existing stakeholders currently promoting wellbeing in the city. This concept, by its nature, takes us further than the well being of those in the city – the mobility of transients makes a contribution, through the transformative experience of traditional hospitality, to the world. In the process, it places the City of Adelaide in the forefront of offering a unique complementary experience to international students and international visitors.



Happy Hearts Hub organised a lovely Harmony Day event last Sunday afternoon. It was great to sit around and meet people of all ages and backgrounds, sharing our stories and passion for multicultural harmony.

I had been asked to make a ten minute presentation of “The True Meaning of Hospitality”.

I decided to create a little booklet as a give-way, to release me to be relational in my presentation, rather than feeling I had to make all my points.

Perhaps it might also be useful as a resource for my engagement with international Masters of Social Work students that continues from my time at Flinders, by invitation from the School of Social Work.

The resource is here.

Some responses to ‘Oasis in the City’



Ideas like Oasis in the City require a long gestation, but it has been good to get some feedback so soon after putting it out there.

It took nearly twenty years to get Oasis at Flinders to where it was when I retired; it has been relatively easy to extend what I learnt at Flinders to a new situation.

More input, critical feedback and continual modification of the vision, and finding diverse partners committed to bringing it to fruition, will be the next step.

I think that such a centre might work at at least two levels:

  • As a meeting point for organisations and individuals concerned with nurturing well being – hopefully to get synergies across that diversity – connections and collaborations.
  • As a place of practice, where those ‘passing through’ (if envisaged as an Oasis) – tourists, students, refugees –  experience the benefits of those collaborations, supported by committed volunteers.

The centre could therefore be both a service to ‘travellers’, and at the same time, an ever-evolving radical model of respect, inclusion and care, fostering global understanding and friendship that might be a resource for the city.

In response to some feedback, it could:

  • act as a hub for multi-faith spiritual care.
  • with a working model at hand, it could also be a school for chaplains and others, equipping them to better support their practice in the pluralist, public domain.
  • it could also be a place where spiritually supportive start-ups might be nurtured.
  • it might be a meeting point for networking among those who share the vision of a more equitable, caring, wholistic world and want to contribute to it.
  • as a likely place for placement of Masters of Social Work international students, and possible synergies with university social work people.
As long as we are heading toward human flourishing, and exploring and promoting spirituality within that, the sky’s the limit!
All of De Bono’s thinking hats will be needed in the first instance!

Oasis in the City?


I keep running into people who have ideas for human flourishing that seem to be obstructed because the vision they want to contribute is not valued by the institutions in which they work. Does that ring any bells?

Last week I had lunch with a good friend of mine, Leillie McLachlan.

Getting two activists together is always dangerous! Soon enough we began to envision a centre in the city that might provide a nurturing home for ‘ visionaries for human-flourishing’ and begin to bring these dreams and passions together in a tangible way.

My experience has been with university students, so naturally I thought of the hundreds of international students living in the city. And my experiences of ‘Couch Surfing’ and ‘Air BnB’ over the last decade have been so rewarding, as visitors share their stories while we provide hospitality. Many friendships with past students and visitors continue, reciprocated when we visit or are invited to their home countries. Could there be a better way of promoting the beauty of Adelaide than experience and word-of-mouth?

One of my passions is for personalising space. It is the difference between providing a commodified service, efficient as that may be, compared to an inter-personal supportive relationship intent on listening, respecting, empathising and understanding in the first instance. It is the difference between ‘telling you what I think you need’ and empowering the other to achieve their goals their way. It is the difference between fee-for-service and a free and open exchange of life stories that elicit edges of growth. It is the difference between grants and handouts and a working together on shared concerns. It is the difference between running programs (ask Aboriginal communities about this!) and trusting the other that together we have what may be lacking, and empowering the other at their edges of growth. It is us lucky and privileged ones sharing life with others in mutual respect and equity.

Why do we need such a centre?

Because I believe our western world is becoming so commodified, we are losing our sense of communal compassion and kindness – in the words of an ancient writer, ‘we are gaining the whole world, but losing our own soul.’

Those who come from overseas often have more respect for hospitality and a sense of community than we do in our suburban castles or cocooned apartments – we seem to be getting harder and meaner. The kind of centre being proposed is well understood by overseas visitors in their cultures. We don’t have to go on an overseas fact-finding mission, when they come to us!

Another passion I have, which I took from my teaching career, was the power of informal learning. Knowledge is out there for anyone on the internet. But not the experience of  inter-personal depth. Such personal interactions are difficult to convey to others, beyond mere words. There is something ‘caught’ in a personal interaction that can’t be ‘taught’. But it can be understood in observing a working model.

That’s why it is important to have an accessible working model that demonstrates what a culture of respect and care look like.

Here might be a beginning: Oasis in the City (updated, 4 April, 2017)

Let me know what you think?

Organisation for Wellness



On the evening of Thursday February 16, I presented a one hour workshop to the Urban Mission Network of the Uniting Church at their invitation, introducing an awareness of the work of Frederic Laloux. (above right).

Frederic Laloux, author of Reinventing Organisations, has recently produced some research about the way we humans have organised ourselves to meet collective needs throughout history. Laloux uncovers an emerging ‘Next-Stage’ organisational paradigm for our time. He calls it soulful organisation.

I believe an understanding of his work is critical to the effective functioning of human institutions today.

The organisation-for-wellness handout summarises the content of the workshop I presented and points to some further resources for consideration and discussion.

Good News from Syria?


Posted on August 24, 2016 by Phil Tanis

In war-torn Syria, hope is fading for many. After five years of civil war, there are few who have not lost family members or close friends, but life needs to go on for those who are alive, for those who have stayed. They struggle to continue with their lives every day, to study and work, although jobs have become scarce, and to maintain as much normalcy as possible amidst the war and the ever-present threat of attacks, while dreaming about a better future and peace.

However, as Najla Kassab, WCRC Executive Committee member and director of the Christian Education Department of the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL), points out: “In the Middle East, war always influences how we see each other; it clouds our view of the beauty of the other’s religion.”

So what comes after the war, how will the Syrian people, mostly Muslim but with a significant Christian minority, be able to relate to each other and reconcile as neighbours when the conflict has caused so much mistrust? How can interfaith relationships be restored, when, after five years, there is now a new generation growing up that has never experienced life before the war?

A group of young people, members of a NESSL congregation in Homs, Syria, have started a project to achieve just that. “Space for Hope” came to life in the fall of 2014. It is a space for children and youths, girls and boys, between the ages of 9 and 17 from the different religions and sects of Syria to come together in team-building activities.

There have been four events so far, and in the last one, that took place in September of last year, the team was able to successfully involve 180 people from the different neighbourhoods of Homs City in the yard of the Evangelical School, a place that was almost destroyed in the war, but has been rebuilt.

Twenty-one volunteers were involved in the events, all young Presbyterians from different walks of life—students, doctors, teachers, lawyers, secretaries. The reason why these young people were so enthusiastic about their project is simple: love for their neighbours, no matter their background. “We are a part of the team because we want to show the children how to smile and tell the whole world that there is a space for hope in Syria. We hope to light a peace candle around the children of Syria and hope for our project to arrive to the whole world,” they say.


“The most recent event was carried out over five weeks, two days a week for two hours each,” tells Mofid Samir Karajili, pastor of the Presbyterian congregation in Homs and co-founder of the project. “Every day consists of two sessions: the games session where we use team games to build or make up relations, and the teaching session that includes time to reflect about what we have learned from these games.

“We have learned that it is very possible, even lovely, to be with the others that are males or females, Christians, Muslims or Alawites, in the same team to face the same challenge, to work hard to get the same target on the very same ground. This was the target of the event, to put in the minds and the memories of these youths that they can live together, regardless of their religious background and conflicts. We are also committed to make the parents of the youths feel comfortable and safe.”

“It isn’t common in Syria for children or people in general to interact much with the their neighbours from other religions. Here, they forget the differences, because they want to be happy,” adds Loujain Saad, one of the young people who initiated the programme. “This project is so important because in Homs during the five years of war, kids have never seen any kind of happiness, only war, murder, weapons. This project makes the kids love each other and work with each other. It is also important for our community because we need this peace, we need to love all people in our country and say to them ‘Don’t be afraid, “Space for Hope” is here for your children.’”

Pastor Mofid Karajili is pleased with what has been achieved so far: “I think we got our targets. We know that we can’t change the world, but we can make at least one right step towards a better life. And we did that. The most important thing is that ‘Space for Hope’ became a team. We created a team that has a vision to make different events under this title, in different places that need the light of hope in these very dark days.”

A new “Space for Hope” cycle will start in September. Some new activities will be included, such as painting, sculpture making, piano and dancing. The team is currently looking for instructors in some of these fields, because, as they say: “We wish this event to be the first step of a very long episode.”

A Lesson in Hospitality

I really enjoyed this extraordinary film: Florence Foster Jenkins (Trailer 2016).

In many ways it is a story of true hospitality – the creation, and in this case, the maintenance, of space for the other – not to change the other but to release the other to be who they are, no matter how flawed.

Such hospitality is transformational – but in this case, it’s the hearers of hilariously bad singing who are won over to create the space in their hearts for this amazing woman.

Florence Foster Jenkins is tone deaf. What she hears in her head and what comes out of her mouth are distinctly different things!

But music is her life. She is totally committed to sharing music for the benefit of others and her passion to sing is unbounded. It’s not her singing that wins, it’s her unstinting generosity, belief and courage, nurtured and protected by the paradoxical unfailing love of her husband and the wisdom of her complicit supporters.

Yes, Nouwen’s concept of hospitality as making space for the other and the transformations that result are good lenses with which to view this film.




A One and Different World

On the Sunday before I was to meet with the Vice-Chancellor, Christians across the world were reflecting on the Biblical story we call ‘The Temptations of Jesus’.

Before beginning the ministry that would lead to his arrest and execution that Christians remember each year at Easter, Jesus goes out into the desert ‘for forty days’ to ‘find himself’.

The story is a fable, meant to teach us moral lessons. There is more to life than the material (‘Man cannot live on bread alone’) and we are mortal creatures, not Gods (‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’).

But it was the second ‘temptation’ that resonated in the back of my mind as we began our conversation in the VC’s office on the top floor of the new glass cube called the Hub. As the VC exulted with me in the magnificent panoramic view, looking to the north over all of Adelaide, I wanted to celebrate with him. A better view than Mt Lofty or Windy Point! But I was completely thrown by the Sunday text still reverberating in my mind: ‘Then the Devil took him up and showed him in a second all the kingdoms of the world…all this will be yours, if you worship me’!

I had always admired the symbolic action of the former Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide, Len Faulkner, when he was first appointed to Adelaide. He immediately bought a simple house in the western suburbs and quietly invited a group of Vietnamese nuns looking for a home, to take over his Palace, situated among the mansions in leafy North Adelaide.

So here I was, distracted and conflicted in my mind before we had even sat down!


Just for fun, I had forwarded the VC some Leunig cartoons, suggesting they might be some source of discussion.

They weren’t!

I had assumed they might lead us into some of the big issues in the university. So my already messed up mind was further thrown into disarray, with C.P. Snow’s ‘clash of cultures’ to also contend with – me, an arty intuitive, at home with images, symbolic action and metaphor and the VC, at home in the analytical and logically linear world, as you would expect of someone graced by a distinguished career in genetics.

I had come to explore what common ground there might be for Oasis with the yet unreleased new university strategic plan. What part could Oasis play?

In the conversation I mentioned how corporate the university had become.

“What do you mean by ‘corporate’?

The symbolism of the ‘top floor view’ immediately came to the front of my thoughts. So I took a deep breath and launched in.

I said that I thought the corporate was characterized by a group of people who had a top floor life of their own, up there engaging in executive decision making, while the grassroots below got on with the daily realities of their vocations – and little real communication took place between the two.

That, the VC thought, was just ‘bad management’.

Every school teacher worth their salt knows that if you really want to find out what’s happening in the school you talk to the caretaker or the groundsman. At Flinders, my confidante had been the Student Union printer, who was as sharp as a tack and had been around from the beginning. Big loss to me when he lost his job in the restructure caused by the Howard government’s assault on student unions.

A few days after my uncomfortable top floor conversation I was down in the Caretaker’s room as part of my rounds. I joked about a huge stack of toilet paper, yet to be delivered. ‘That’s for the Hub and this is for the rest of us – the Hub gets two ply and the rest of the university gets one ply!’

‘Bad management indeed!’ I thought. I don’t know about you, but I always fold my toilet paper to make three ply!

In our modern world, issues are rarely black or white – God or the Devil. Life is often a balancing act of conflicting interests and negotiation of different perspectives.

We construct our worlds – whether those worlds are religious, social or organizational. They can be constructed on self-interest, achieved by economic power and assumed authority and status. In fact the first step toward corporatization might be to make self-interest a virtue!

Is there a place for those of us who are constructing a different world on the values that have contributed to the flourishing of civilisations and not their ultimate demise?


This post was inspired by an interview with Human Rights Commisioner, Gillian Triggs, ‘I knew I could have destroyed them’, recorded in the Saturday Paper, April 23-29, 2016.



Out of the mouths of babes…


You may have seen the video of the little boy with his father, trying to make sense of the massacre in Paris last week.

“The flowers and the candles, … they’re there to protect us,” he concludes.


Michael Leunig put it this way:

There are only two feelings: Love and Fear
There are only two languages: Love and Fear
There are only two activities: Love and Fear
There are only two motives: Love and Fear
There are only two results: Love and Fear
Love and Fear.

The little boy chooses love.
He chooses beauty – flowers and candles.
These will protect us.
They are symbols of love.
And love always overcomes hate.