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.

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!

 

 

Sitting

One lovely and pertinent story that was told at our recent University Chaplains annual conference came from Aboriginal scholar Nerida Blair. She had been trying to recover lost aboriginal culture of a Nation in the north coast on New South Wales. But all seemed lost forever – language, artifacts, history…

One day she was talking with renowned Australian landscape photographer, Ken Duncan, who lives up that way. She was conveying her sense of loss and frustration at the complete annihilation of that once Nation. Ken quietly said to her: “Sit in country and it will tell you its story.”

I wonder whether, in our culture of the quick fix, we do enough sitting. I wonder whether we give our ‘country’ the opportunity to speak to us – at least to give us perspective about what is really of value, what we can hold and what we can let go, what really matters and what is ephemeral.

Managerialism

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.