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.)

 

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 European Atrocity You Never Heard About

http://chronicle.com/article/The-European-Atrocity-You/132123/?sid=wb&utm_source=wb&utm_medium=en#top

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.

Instrumentalism

Rather than telling students to study for exams, we should be telling them to study for learning and understanding.

If there is one student attitude that most all faculty bemoan, it is instrumentalism. This is the view that you go to college to get a degree to get a job to make money to be happy. Similarly, you take this course to meet this requirement, and you do coursework and read the material to pass the course to graduate to get the degree. Everything is a means to an end. Nothing is an end in itself. There is no higher purpose.

When we tell students to study for the exam or, more to the point, to study so that they can do well on the exam, we powerfully reinforce that way of thinking. While faculty consistently complain about instrumentalism, our behavior and the entire system encourages and facilitates it.

http://chronicle.com/article/Stop-Telling-Students-to-Study/131622/

Yesterday I had a conversation with PhD student in Creative Writing. She asked what “Spiritual Counselling”meant – it’s written on the outside-facing window of Oasis along with other descriptors of what may happen in Oasis.

Beneath her question was a longing for her work to be understood beyond the technical domain. She had suffered much abuse in her childhood and is writing about her transformation toward wholeness. But who is prepared to really ‘listen’ to her, to give her space to explore the spiritual dimensions of her work? No-one, it seems.

I thought Kylie, our Pagan chaplain might be a good person to be her spiritual listener. I introduced them and invited her to join the chaplains for our lunch together next week, to affirm her yearning for spiritual insight and to join a community who value her journey and will support her in it.

The ‘instrumentalism’ embedded in the university goes much deeper than study and exams. It pervades every aspect of university life.

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!