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Lenten Meditation 1

About 500 people seated at tables of eight gathered for a special breakfast at the Adelaide Convention Centre to acknowledge the Fifth Anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations.

Kevin Rudd, the then Prime Minister who made the Apology, spoke about that day, five years ago.

As I have reflected on his telling I am impressed by three things:

1. Inspirational leadership demands a vision of a bigger world and has the courage to open its doors to allow others to enter.

Rudd sensed the time was right to make the Apology his first act as Prime Minister, not really knowing how it would be received. Reaching out his hand to the Leader of the Opposition following his speech was a complete act of faith, and inviting him to carry the Coolomon, a gift of the Stolen Generations, out of the Chamber with him, a bold gesture of reconciliation, considering the previous ten years of denial!

2. Inspirational leadership understands the significance of symbol and metaphor.

Rudd and his wife received the invited members of the Stolen Generations, who had come from all corners of the land, in the Great Hall of the People. Rudd arranged for them to enter through the entrance reserved only for special dignitaries- they would have passed right by the Office of the Prime Minister.
“S/He anoints my head with oil,” says Psalm 23, an act invariably associated with the coronation of kings, but offered by God, according to this Psalm, to all who respond to the invitation to feast at the table of Life. Rudd was lifting this people.

3. Inspirational leadership is profoundly pastoral.

Rudd based the Apology on his experience of listening to a member of the Stolen Generations. He read the politically correct brief provided to him by his staffers and promptly put it in the bin. It was completely incongruous with that experience. He took out pen and paper and wrote from the heart. It was still in process in his mind ten minutes before being due in the Chamber to deliver it. He poured every last moment into that speech.

And so, five years on, Rudd was once again lifting this people. Profoundly visionary, profoundly significant and profoundly pastoral.

Most of us left the breakfast needing space to take it all in.

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The European Atrocity You Never Heard About

I think we all like a good conspiracy theory.
But I have to say that I keep wondering whether the world I experience day by day ‘on the surface’ is not some kind of dream – a world away from harsh realities that are just under my nose, but remain hidden by the presenting gloss I encounter.

The sermon at Grace Cathedral on Sunday was based on a reading from the Book of Samuel. The people demand a king for themselves. They want to be like all the other surrounding nations.

(As an aside, on our travels I am amazed to discover that so much of what I thought was innovative back home has been copied across international boundaries. And vice-versa! So that’s why our pollies go on these overseas trips!)

In the history of the Jews, until this time, they depended on the prophet for wisdom and direction. Samuel seeks God’s direction and surprisingly, God responds, ‘Give them what they want, but warn them first’. Samuel paints a bleak picture of the consequences to the elders. But their minds are made up.

Does this sound familiar?

The exhortation of the preacher is to live examined lives. ‘Why do we want what we want? And what are the consequences?’

The article from The Chronicle Review is timely. It points to a world behind my world. It affirms the work of honest scholarship. It helps me appreciate my refugee neighbour. It prompts me to be more critical of political grand designs and what may lie behind them. And it challenges me to self-examination and a life of compassion with a view to the just world Jesus pointed to.

Please read the article and reflect on the possibility of Australia’s complicity.

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I wonder whether you heard Rodney Cavalier’s commentary on Morris Iemma’s resignation from being Premier of NSW on Geraldine Doogue’s Breakfast Program last Saturday? He reckons the zeitgeist has moved from a period of “belief” to “managerialism”.

Iemma is a ‘belief’ leader.

“I took what I believed to be a package of renewal, reform and refreshment, for the party, the Cabinet. That was not accepted, so I tendered my resignation” – Iemma at his resignation press conference.

Iemma was not prepared to do the rounds of wooing and cajoling necessary in a managerialistic paradigm. Now it will be up to his successors to either change the vision to suit them (the way politics has become poll-driven) or to accept the realities of managerialsim and do the hard yards of jusification – time and energy spent not on developing the new ideas but on trying to get everyone on board.

This signifies a shift to a new conservatism – the bureaucrats no longer serving the agenda of leaders, but moderating them. It’s a shift in power toward the “bean counters”.

Cavalier observes that a climate of managerialism is no environment for nurturing new ideas.

The same dynamics pervade our universities.

I was talking with an academic this week about the time and energy he has to put in just to maintain his research centre. He reckons that at the bottom of it all there’s a breakdown of trust. No longer is he the ‘thought leader’ who is supported by a system that values his intellectual enquiry (belief) – rather he is on a self-justification treadmill (called “accountability). (What has happened to the idea of the professor – the professional?)

It’s a great way for political idealogues to domesticate universities!

At the turn of the twentieth century, leaders of some of the Protestant churches, no doubt inspired by the idea of Federation in Australia, started to declare that the coming together of churches in Australia was a worthy vision, to be pursued regardless of the opinion of the ‘mother churches’ in the UK and Europe. The actual signing off of the coming together of Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational Churches as the Uniting Church in Australia, some seventy years later, was a signing off on a shared vision. The rules and regulations, the ‘how’, could follow.

If there is a crisis in government, universities and churches today, it might be that the cart has been put before the horse. We need institutions that nurture ideas and vision rather than “manage” them. We need resources to be risked rather than accounted for. We need relationships that begin with trust rather than doubt.

Otherwise, good people will bow out because it just doesn’t seem worth fighting the ‘blackhat’ people who find satisfaction in the ease with which new ideas and initiatives may be obsessively criticised, scrutinised and ultimately crushed.