I found myself saying to a couple of friends recently as we were looking at the current Australian and world situation
“Life is a compromise, isn’t it?”
In order to live within family, community, nations and the world we need to compromise. However, I often find those with the least tolerance for any different thinking from theirs quickly resort to violence.
This past month (June) has seen the 26th Anniversary of the ‘Tiananmen Square Massacre’, an event that stopped the world. The most vivid images remain for me that brave young man with two shopping bags standing in front of an endless line of tanks with enough decency to not run him over. Whenever the tank moved, he moved to stand in front of it. He actually climbed on top of the tank and talked to the occupants. He then climbed down and stood in front of them again, and then again. No matter where they moved, he stood in front of them until he was bundled away.
Rumour has it is that he was executed.
The next image is of the students running with wounded compatriots on rickshaws, running to get help.
Then there was the statue of the Goddess of Democracy that the students made. It stood proudly in the square until the army thugs destroyed it.
For over forty years I have been involved with one oppressed peoples or another. Sometimes it is countries, sometimes it is individuals. Just a few weeks ago the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, in its Australian leg of remembering, Australian Armenian Church members served meals to the homeless in my Exodus Foundation’s Loaves and Fishes Free Restaurant. This has now become a monthly event.
Many of you will know I have been a supporter of Freedom for Tibet for decades. The most moving time in my life was to share with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in serving a meal to 400 of Sydney’s homeless, poor, disabled and needy. The people who would never in their lives ever meet a Dalai Lama! As he served their meals they loved him, kissed his feet and listened to his words of wisdom.
I have been involved with the Kurdish community who have suffered so much over the years, with so many countries denying them their birthright. Many times these Kurds in their own homeland have not been allowed to even speak in their own language and have even been denied the right to name their own children with traditional Kurdish names! I cannot think of any other way to ruthlessly destroy a people, than to deny them their very language or names!
In Zimbabwe I have worked with people who are struggling for freedom there. And met with peoples and heard their stories from the South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Iran, Cambodia; the list goes on and on. Many years ago I remember talking with a young boy from Iran. He was scared to go on the Sydney trains at night. “In Iran,” he said “the Ayatollah’s people dragged my father away while he was waiting at a railway station”.
What gives these buggers the right to do that? Religion and ideologies have a lot to answer for, eh? It is almost as if some individuals lose their own sense of self as they deny their own innermost being and attempt to fill that void with a literalist, word for word ‘certainty’ that really doesn’t exist. Then, they attempt to make this a reality by actively suppressing any alternate thinking, often by using one form of violence or another.
Much of that is big picture but it all starts with the small picture stuff. The way we treat one another.
When I started at the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross in 1970 I was shocked to my very core by the homeless, runaways, disabled, drug dependent, individuals and children who were attracted to its warm beating heart.
There I learned of kids born out of wedlock being ripped away from their mothers and adopted out to families who were so desperate for children they were willing to steal them from others. I saw young people addicted to drugs through self-medication from a traumatised childhood, I saw adults living in an alcoholic haze the result of PTSD attained during a world war, started by countries with ideas of grandeur and I saw ordinary people who did not quite fit in our society struggling to find a sense of self within a society that did not want to know anything about them. I found the churches could be one of the most powerful symbols of oppression as self-righteous members attempted to build a world in their image and along their beliefs.
I came, and still come across kids, who are forced to run away from the horrors they were experiencing, dragged back to the very places of abuse by so called caring officials. I remember one homeless, runaway 12yo girl I was working with later telling me she was raped in the police van by the four policeman who quoted law to me and ordered me to give her up for them to take back to her centre, which, because of abuse, she had run away from. I came across Aboriginal people denied rights by the colour of their skin. I came across gay people denied rights by their sexual orientation and having their very brains sliced by surgeons or being subjected to electric shock therapy. The only reason being they were different to the prevailing culture.
I happen to believe the only reason humanity is here is because of love. This love out of which we came and where we are headed is acknowledged by us living in freedom and achieving our full potential as human beings. Compassion is also a by-product of this love. The hate, the terror, the oppression we so often see is a symbol of those who try to deny that love exists and replace it by rules.
I have always felt that the statue of the Goddess of Democracy represents all that is fine in our humanity. To me she stands for the hope all individuals, families and countries can see can become. In the past year I have been truly humbled to be on the streets of Hong Kong with the Occupiers. There, I truly believe I witnessed first-hand concrete signs of hope that a better world existed just around the corner, just over the next hill. Young people were on the streets there, embodying freedom, parading their individual uniqueness, listening to lectures, being signs of a promise of a better world. I am sure that is what existed years earlier on Tiananmen Square. I am sure that is also what existed in Tahrir Square in Egypt at the flowering of the Arab Spring movement.
For years and years I have been trying to find a statue of that Goddess of Democracy. I even went so far as to find a sculpture who could make one. He was going to make one out of pure marble quarried from the quarry that produced the marble at the Parthenon. “It speaks to me, Bill” he said of that white stone. I wanted one made of that pure white marble with red feet to symbolise the blood spilt by so many for freedoms we westernisers regard as basic. However, in the past few months a group of people came to see me and asked if I could house, in our very church grounds a statue of the Goddess of Democracy they had made by an artist in the United States. I immediately remembered the old adage “You go out looking for something. But then it finds you”.
That statue is now proudly displayed at the rear of our church. To me it symbolises the hope against oppression everywhere. It is my sincere prayer that this statue becomes a centre of pilgrimage of people, who in the dark times, struggle to hold on to that dream.
In this world we seem to be hurtling into, the forces of darkness and chaos seem stronger and more prevalent than ever. The reaction of many governments, including ours is to want to curtail many of the freedoms we have always enjoyed. “In these difficult, dangerous times” they say “we need to do this” and “it will only be for the minimum time necessary”
Yeah, Right! If I have learned anything in this life it is “That which is most precious is always most vulnerable”. The external forces of chaos and darkness aren’t the only ones who want to take our freedoms away, there’s always someone in our very midst who is only too willing to grab the opportunity as well.
Rev. Bill Crews