What exactly is Oasis?

I have been trying to work out why I can not find a direct answer to the question, ‘What does a chaplain do?’ or ‘What exactly is Oasis?’

I am in complete sympathy with the questioner, genuinely wanting or needing to know. I should have an answer. But I can’t seem to nail it.

I have tried to console myself that if you ask a person to describe what a banana tastes like, they would have great difficulty explaining. But as the Oasis Coordinating Chaplain, shouldn’t I know what Oasis is? Shouldn’t I be expected to reel off a cogent answer?

My problem has come to the fore again, because we have begun to meet with the Campus Planner to work out what needs to be done with architects and builders to fit out the ‘new Oasis’ – starting only with the shell of the building we have been moved into.

At the same time, the new Director of Student Services needs answers to that question to become confidant that what the university is providing for students fits in with the university’s strategic plan, is comprehensive, and its elements are not unknowingly being duplicated by different student service agencies.  Fair enough!

And the University of Tasmania are flying me over to Hobart in April to consult with them about what we have been doing at Flinders, and what is this ‘Oasis’ thing?

As a result, I have been beating myself up of late for not having some clear answers.

But I am beginning to see what should have been obvious from the start – there are no neat answers! The defining question is incompatible with the very nature of Oasis, and also with chaplaincy. Or put another way, the nature of chaplaincy and Oasis is likely to be incompatible with the culture of a utilitarian, segmented, consumerist, institutionalised bureaucracy. Universities have become competitive, multi-million dollar businesses. Chaplaincy may easily be seen as small fry of little consequence.

Chaplaincy evolved out of the church’s need to provide religious services to those geographically displaced from their local church – those in hospitals, prisons and armed services, for example. There is no such need in today’s universities because most religious needs can be met in the local community.* The days of traditional ‘looking after our own’, sectarian chaplaincy in secular institutions are numbered. Such chaplaincy is of little consequence to a modern university,

At Flinders the changed role for university chaplaincy emerged from the internationalization of the university. Harmony on a pluralist campus requires attention to social cohesion in the face of difference. This attention to the quality of relationships, a concern quite central to religions, broadened the scope of an inclusive multifaith chaplaincy to attend to the whole campus – pastoral care to all, regardless of faith or no faith.

In an ideal world, all university staff would be pastoral carers, customizing every situation and conversation to individual students – students who come from highly diverse cultural, national, religious and academic backgrounds. In a pastorally caring university there would be little need for chaplains or for a centre like Oasis. But the pressures of the modern university have created new needs – we do what the university would normally be expected to do but is unable to do.

To take up such opportunities requires a major shift in thinking for chaplains – no longer the ‘rescuing’, ‘telling’ salvation paradigm, but the hospitable, listening, empowering and long-term-committed mentoring (‘walking beside you’) paradigm.

It means being closely connected to the life of the university but not meddling in it, filling gaps collaboratively, connecting the disconnected, doing what needs to be done without taking over, enriching, enabling, and avoiding the turf wars and ego games.

Because Oasis is adaptive, continually responsive to the expressed and unexpressed needs of the university, it might be thought of as an ever-changing, process-centred community responding contextually and existentially to presenting situations. That’s a mouthful!

So there is no neat answer! Just an evolving, fluid narrative.

I think ‘God’ is comfortable with that!

Whether universities are, remains mainly to be seen!

 

* (The exception might be Muslim Friday Prayer, because the Muslim ‘holy day’ is a Friday, a working day. And the provision of Muslim prayer rooms is a priority because of the logistics of prayer five times a day.)

 

Radical Hope

There is a story told in a book by Jonathan Lear entitled Radical Hope, a reflection on the life and destiny of Plenty Coups, the last great chief of the Crow nation of Native Americans, a people whose way of life was destroyed by white settlers supported by a white government.

As the great chief sank deeper into despair for the future of his nation, broken by the destruction of all that gave his people meaning, Plenty Coups had a dream. He took the dream to the tribal elders who accepted, processed and interpreted it.

The substance of the dream was this:

  • Our traditional way of life is coming to an end…that life is about to disappear;
  • We must do what we can to open our imaginations up to a radically different set of future possibilities;
  • I need to recognize the discontinuity that is upon me…I need to preserve some integrity across that discontinuity;
  • I do have reason to hope for a dignified passage across this abyss, because God – Ah-dabt-dadt-deah – is good;
  • We shall get the good back, though at the moment we have no more than a glimmer of what that might mean.

The great chief’s dream turned out to be a guide, an experiment to seek a new way of living in the world, a new way that avoided both the resignation of despair and the suicide of resistance to white power, the latter an option taken by other tribes.

To live out of this revelation requires that one not be filled with plans or blueprints or schedules or budgets or creeds or “six easy steps’. It can only be lived out by that which God gives.

This way of hope is the work of ministry in an age of despair.

Doing advocacy for good causes is urgent. But more urgent, in my view, is the nurture of venues of obedient imagination in which unuttered possibility is uttered, thoughts beyond our thoughts are thought, and ways beyond our ways are known (Isaiah 55:8-9). In such circumstance, walking by sight is likely a return to the old ways that have failed. Walking by faith is to seek a world other than the one from which we are being swiftly ejected (Hebrews 11:14).
Walter Bruegemman, Reality, Grief, Hope – Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks. p128

(If you would like to read the context for this post, download the PDF Hope and Despair – Brueggemann from the Resources page of this website)

Ladies and Gentlemen – an announcement!

From 2013, Oasis, is being hosted by the University – funding a Coordinating Chaplain, an Administrative Assistant and Oasis initiatives.

What is Oasis, I hear you say?

In 2012, the chaplains described Oasis in these terms:

Vision
As a unique interfaith collaborative, Oasis promotes peace and understanding among the people of diverse cultures, faiths and backgrounds who form the tapestry of campus life in Australia today.

Mission Statement
Serving students and staff of all religious denominations and traditions as well as those whose values are secular or atheist, Oasis aims to provide a welcoming, enjoyable and helpful environment in the promotion of friendship and wellbeing on campus.

The University has said ‘yes’ to the Oasis vision of harmony and well being and its initiatives of welcome and friendship.

As a Christian chaplain, I welcome this development. And as I reflect on it, I am reminded of two trees mentioned in the Christian Bible , nice bookends to the sixty six books. The very first book, “The Book of Beginnings”, mentions a “tree of life”. This is a tree in the Garden of Eden, one that gives knowledge of what is good and what is evil.

The last book of the Christian Bible, describing a vision of the new world, mentions a tree “whose leaves are for the healing of nations”. For “nations” we could read “cultural groups”. So the vision is one of protecting the integrity of cultural groups and harmony between them – for which, incidentally, one needs to understand and discern good from bad, with an inference of enacting the good.

I think Oasis embraces these two aspects of healing and understanding – twin trees at the waterhole.

Today a PhD student from SriLanka, who comes in to Oasis regularly as a break from her research, described how she was helping a new arrival overwhelmed by the new experience of being a new student, in a new university, in a new country – she is helping her find her way in a new culture, a new language (where the natives talk too quickly!), a new environment, new people, new customs, new food…

Right there – Oasis at work through her.

As chaplains of all beliefs, we promote and support that ethic.

The 9/11 Story You Never Heard About – written by Sandy Boyce

This weekend, we visited St Paul’s chapel, adjacent to the 9/11 memorial site. Even though it was so close to the World Trade Centre, right across the road, it was miraculously left undamaged without so much as a broken window when the towers fell. For a grueling 8 months, 24/7, relief and rescue ministry was provided by St Paul’s. The exhibition inside the chapel was moving and inspiring, telling the story of selfless volunteers supporting workers in the rescue and subsequent clean up at ‘ground zero’. The church has turned St. Paul’s into a kind of national shrine.

The surprising thing is, there was no reference to Lyndon Harris (pictured in this early video) in the various poster walls and information in the church, the pastor who was actually responsible for the refuge operation. He has been airbrushed out of the story. But it’s worth finding out more about him. (I first heard Lyndon Harris tell his side of the story at a seminar on forgiveness – how he learnt to forgive – at the 2008 Parliament of World Religions in Melbourne – Geoff)

Rev Harris joined the staff of Trinity Church/ Saint Paul’s Chapel in April 2001 in order to develop, at Saint Paul’s Chapel, a “laboratory for urban evangelism and alternative worship.” It was hoped he would re-animate the tiny group of worshipers and establish a ministry for young people. But bigger events overtook this commission.

After the 9/11 attacks, he came to believe the chapel had escaped destruction for one sole purpose: “It is the chapel of the people. St. Paul’s is the refuge for the people in the pit (ground zero).” He spontaneously opened the chapel to the firefighters, police officers and sniffer dogs, soldiers and steel workers, for all the tens of thousands who came to work and seek survivors. When the President called for a nationwide bell ringing, St Paul’s bell tower was opened. The bell was hit with a found iron pipe. Twelve times the bell was struck, and all around swirled the white dust of the dead from the 2 towers. For a brief few moments, the roar of heavy machinery subsided around Ground Zero, then complete silence, with some workers kneeling in the ashes.

Rev Harris organized food and drink, free for everyone at Ground Zero, around the clock. Over a million meals were served in 8 months. Health inspectors tried to intervene, but the police pushed them away. The steel workers welded huge grills and Harris cooked food for the people. When power was finally restored, the food was prepared in the sacristy. As time went on, New York’s top restaurants and hotel kitchens chefs prepared food for 3,000 a day. Members of the community organized several thousand volunteers who flocked to St. Paul’s: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, Sikhs, Hindus. Boxes full of donations began to arrive – clothes, socks, soap, chocolate, underwear, pillows, blankets. Food arrived for the search dogs, and also overshoes on their paws. The church was full of workers sleeping in emergency beds and on benches; massages were offered for anyone who strained their back after hours of searching in the bone ash. The chapel became the triage and emergency room for the burned feet of the 9/11 rescuers. And music – jazz, Mozart, Bach. Every day someone played – ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Danny Boy’. Letters of support from children everywhere. St Paul’s became ‘heaven’s outpost’ (as described by a firefighter).

Remarkably, donations for the relief efforts kept coming in, which meant there was no financial burden on the church’s relief efforts.

So far, so good? But that’s not how the story continues…..

The Rector, who had been away for a family reunion, returned to find the chapel taken over by all this activity. He demanded that someone be held accountable for the perceived ‘utter mess’ of the chapel. He invited influential friends in the powerful law firms to witness what had happened. As expected, the lawyers were horrified by what they saw in this historic church: the filthy, the exhausted, the weary and wounded seeking refuge in the safety of St. Paul’s. “Who are all these strange people?” the Rector demanded to know. ”When will St. Paul’s once again be a church?

To which Harris replied, ” We were never more one church!”.

Pettiness got the better of the church authorities. The rescue workers and their families were refused a Thanksgiving meal. Harris was told the church’s liability insurance did not cover his activities at Ground Zero. A ‘protective custody order’ effectively closed the chapel, so it could again become a ‘beautiful chapel’. And most ironically, it was announced the chapel would close on Easter 2002. Just when the stone is rolled back from the grave, the chapel was to be closed!

Lyndon Harris was fired in October 2002, officially in order to ‘continue his theological studies without pay’. When his health failed (lung disease from constant exposure to the dust), the church left Harris and his family without even health insurance. Harris’ marriage broke down, he lost his house to foreclosure, he was declared homeless, and he had no further offers for ministry placements*.

This story is sobering for many reasons, and I haven’t even outlined the hyprocrisy and pettiness of those in authority, and their own grab for fame and fortune.

But it certainly made me reflect on the tension between keeping the church pristine and ‘holy’ as good stewards of the legacy we have inherited from our forebears – and the need for the church to be responsive in any way it can be to the mission of God in the world. It invites me to consider how we as a church reflect on using our property as a place of welcome and hospitality, reflecting God’s grace and offering God’s generosity to all. May we remember afresh Isaiah’s words, that we are called to share in preaching good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted…. to comfort all who mourn, and ….to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

May it be so.

This article includes information from HARTMUT M. HANAUSKE-ABEL, 60, a member of the parish of St. Paul in Manhattan since 1999. http://louisville-wedding-photography.net/

* Out of the ashes of Lyndon Harris’ despair, forgiveness began to bloom. He spent two years as a consultant to The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine (Episcopal) in New York City.

As his health returned, he travelled to Beirut, Lebanon, to visit Alexandra Asseily. She had begun a movement to plant a Garden of Forgiveness in her beloved Lebanon after its civil war, which claimed more than 300,000 lives. The greatest gift to one’s children, Ms. Asseily teaches, is to become a better ancestor. And that, she says, is done through forgiveness.

When he returned from Beirut, Harris joined with Dr. Fred Luskin of the Stanford Forgiveness Project to found their own non-profit group: The Gardens of Forgiveness project. They want to fulfil Asseily’s vision by planting gardens around the world. What better way to express life-affirming qualities of forgiveness than by cultivating living beauty in the earth?

Harris and Dr. Luskin also developed a forgiveness curriculum for middle-school students. Two New York City schools began teaching it four years ago, and more schools will soon come on board. The Gardens of Forgiveness project has planted gardens throughout New York State and in Chicago. The project also has partners in Durban and Soweto, South Africa; Uganda; and Liberia that are exploring planting Gardens of Forgiveness. Harris also dreams of a garden at ground zero in New York City one day, and one at Gettysburg, Pa., to help heal wounds that linger from the Civil War.

St. John’s Lutheran Church in New York’s West Village has asked him to become its full-time pastor. “They loved me back to church,” Harris says. As part of an agreement between New York’s Episcopal and Lutheran bishops, clergy between the two denominations may now serve in each other’s parishes.

Most recently, Harris travelled to Rwanda, where he hopes to plant an extensive Garden of Forgiveness in memory of the almost 1 million Tutsis who died in the 1994 genocide there. As Harris’s fellow activist, Rwandan musician Jean Paul Samputu, says: “Forgiveness is the most powerful unpopular weapon against violence that exists.”

Adds landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy, who went with Harris to Rwanda: “Having learned about forgiveness himself, Lyndon goes into the world to make that emotional experience palpable to others. He sees that by creating a garden you can stroll through and experience with all your senses, you can make a path that leads toward forgiveness, toward transformation and a state of grace.”

A Visit to the Hare Krishna Temple

The Hare Krishnas have been in Adelaide since the 1970’s and are well known for their low cost restaurants and free food distribution to the aged and homeless. I was interested to know from Sucharu (centre, above), my guide for the morning, whether the needs of those they serve in Hurtle Square are growing – whether, in their experience, the gap between the “rich” and “poor” was growing – as I had heard reported on ABC Radio recently. The answer was a definite yes. They are finding that the disposable money of those they serve is eaten up by the struggle to keep a roof over their heads and basic survival.

Our conversation then turned to the bigger picture of cooperation among religions in serving the community. For the Hare Krishnas, every moment is a moment of consciousness of God, every person is a child of God, and every act, an act of service to God. In Sucharu I found no impediment to cooperation among religions.

In fact, we agreed that we live in a time in history when we need to put aside what is not helpful in our religious traditions to utilise the best of our religions to work together on the big issues facing humanity.

I came away, refreshed by their generosity of spirit – and also by a lovely morning tea of mango, gulab jamun (an Indian sweet desert) and orange juice.

New friends!

 

 

A Prophetic Moment

In the religious wilderness of the United States of America a fresh shoot has sprung up which promises new hope for a harmoneous multifaith society.

On September 6, 2011, Claremont School of Theology, a distinguished United Methodist seminary with roots back to 1885, joined in partnership with The Academy for Jewish Religion, California, and the Islamic Center of Southern California/Bayan College. Together, they and a number of other affiliates have joined to create Claremont Lincoln University (CLU), an institution like none other, training imams, pastors, and rabbis. Seminarians will have separate curricula and degree programs for clergy formation, part of a larger set of offerings and degree options focused on the interdisciplinary, intercultural, and multireligious needs of the world in the 21st century.
Click here to read the full article. 

The keynote address at the opening was greeted with cheers and a standing ovation!
Here it is:

Claremont Keynote

Greetings to the Muslim Community on the Eve of Ramadan and in response to the Tragedy in Norway

Assalamu Alaykum!

The chaplains at Flinders University of the Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Pagan faiths bring greetings to the Muslim Community at Flinders on the eve of Ramadan.

We recognise the contributions you make to the Australian community and particularly the university community and our sincere hope is that you will be successful in your studies and that those of you who will return to your home nations with carry full and content memories of your time in Australia.

We bring our best wishes to you as you enter this special time of fasting and remembrance of those in need amongst us.

In this last week we have heard news of a tragedy in Norway in which a fanatic, who has called himself a Christian, has destroyed buildings in Oslo with a bomb, and gone on to slaughter innocent young people who were camping on a nearby island. It took no time at all for newspapers to assume that the bomb was the work of Muslim extremists. They were wrong.

Some of you come from countries where such acts of violence are a present reality. But this is Norway’s first taste on their home soil.

On Saturday afternoon, Norwegian students will gather to mourn their loss and confront their grief. They and their families are the ones in need of your prayers today and during Ramadan.

As Chaplains we pledge that Oasis is, and will remain, a focal point on this campus for the open and honest acceptance of people of good will regardless of faith, and the promotion of the tolerant, accepting Australian society we believe in and strive for. We remain pledged to the principles of cooperation and dialogue, to extending warm hospitality and understanding to all who use our facility for prayer, for worship, for study, for scholarship, and for cultural promotion. We are enriched by your presence.

Assalamu Alaykum!

The Chaplain and International Students 1


This video interview reveals a positive relationship between a local church in Denmark and the local University – the university recognising it had a problem and the church willing to help. As a result, a chaplain and a psychologist have begun working as a team to identify the critical issues and to work on them for the benefit of the students.

Dom Helder Camara and the Arab Spring Uprising.

Dom Helder CamaraI had the good fortune to meet Dom Helder Camara, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife in north-east Brazil, in the 80’s.

He lived with no lock on his door. The incident of the hit-man from the military government, who had come to kill him in the night, being overpowered by his welcoming embrace and deep spirituality, is a legend. He was a man of considerable moral impact! As an aside, he mentioned that while in Australia, away from his diocese, he expected priests at home to be killed and bull-dozers demolish villages, as had happened when he travelled in the past.

Camara would rise at two in the morning to read and write poetry. There was not a square centimetre of his face that was not lined with grief for the sufferings of his people or instantaneously creased by his puckish beneficent smile. His eyes were dark and playful, sunk deeply into dark sockets. He looked physically dead, only an indomitable spirit keeping him from the grave by a whisker.

I can’t remember what he spoke of that day, but the impact of his image and his compassion for human justice remains.

Today I picked up a book of his from a second hand book table. “Spiral of Violence” was written over forty years ago, yet its message is as clear today. It brought to mind the recent “Arab Spring Uprising”.

 If true development implies the development of the whole person and of all people, then there is not in fact a single truly developed country in the world…You will find that everywhere the injustices are a form of violence. One can and must say that they are everywhere the basic violence, Violence No.1.

No-one is born to be a slave. No-one seeks to suffer injustices, humiliations and restrictions. A human being condemned to a sub-human situation is like an animal – an ox or a donkey – wallowing in the mud.

Now the egoism of some privileged groups drives human beings into this sub-human condition, where they suffer restrictions, humiliations, injustices; without prospects, without hope, their condition is that of slaves.

This established violence, this violence No.1, attracts violence No.2, revolt, either of the oppressed themselves or of youth, firmly resolved to battle for a more just and human world.

When conflict comes out into the streets, when violence No.2 tries to resist violence No.1, the authorities consider themselves obliged to preserve or re-establish public order, even if this means using force; this is violence No.3. Sometimes they may go even further…in order to obtain information, which may indeed be important to public security, the logic of violence leads them to use moral and physical torture – as though any information extracted through torure deserves the slightest attention!…It is the old Inquisition, with the technology of the nuclear and space travel age at its service.

Let us have the honesty to admit, in the light of the past and, perhaps, here and there, in the light of some typical reactions, that violence No.3 – governmental repression, under the pretext of safeguarding public order, national security, the free world – is not a monopoly of the under-developed countries.

There is not a country in the world which is in no danger of falling into the throes of violence.

With this in mind, I commend to you our work at Oasis with students from all over the world, seeking to live as a community of difference, at peace within itself, and at work for peace in the world.