The Apology

For Lorca, Fiona, Yul, Layla, Jake, Freddie and so many more.

My grandmother saw the subs in Sydney Harbour
In 1942.
They were black, menacing, 
And undeniable.
They told the story plain and clear:
War was on the doorstep.

My father, nearly sent to Vietnam fields,
Saved by that tall, great man
With a voice like sweet thunder
Making my birth just that little more likely,
Relieved from that war they swore 
Was almost on our doorstep.

Mine has been a charmed life,
Safe from man-made quakes and thunder,
Bringing down walls and cutting off breath
And scarring bodies and minds and landscapes,
Killing both civilians and dreams.
These are saved for my television screen,
For I know war has never been on my doorstep.
But now I see the flames, and the dry,
Records broken without fanfare,
The blackened stubble of ancient forest
Rattling with the screams of fauna burned beyond nightmares.
The death count grows,
And river flows
Cease
For longer than they ever have before.

So I look into the eyes of my sweet friend’s child,
And I say:

“I’m sorry. 
They lied.

They said war never changes,
But it has. 
And it is here.
Only now we are not fighting men,
But man’s hubris.
We are not dropping bombs,
But raising degrees
And I cannot guarantee
That you will see
A life as full of green glory
And safety
And luxury
As I have been blessed to be living.

I’m sorry.
They lied.
Because even the blindest of us can see
This is not business as usual.
And yet here we are,
Standing in the middle of our very own D-Day
Wasting time as the clock ticks away,
Our greatest obligation
Ignored,
Refusing to acknowledge
That the war 
Is no longer on our doorstep.

It
Is 
Here.

I’m sorry.
We failed.
We didn’t beat down their doors
Threatening to eat them alive if they didn’t pay attention
Change the direction
And take the bitter pill to fix the sickness
Early enough
Or often enough
And now the burden is yours.”

Because she was born in smoke,
Two months old before she took a clean breath.
And I, three decades gone,
Only now with the fire in my belly
To match the rising temperatures.
But is it too little
Too late?

“But there are other considerations!”
Like what?
Party donations?
Tell that to her little, sweet face,
That won’t know entire species
Her mother drew pictures of
Out in Namadgi Forest.

Like what?
A coal-fuelled economy?
Not in this century,
Where even our buyers are looking to bail.

They’re criminals, all of them.
Warmongers, baying for blood,
When the time comes to send our children to battle
For oil
For false democracy
For whatever the septic tanks call for.

But a war that could be fought without a single life lost
No drop of blood spilt
That is already here?
No, that would be too much for the budget to bear.

But the war we waged on Earth is still here,
And we are not winning.
We are a heartbeat away from defeat,
With only ourselves to blame,
And only minutes until midnight.

And some of us could not be more sorry.

*****

This was going to be my submission for the Dubbo Eisteddfod 2020 in the Original Poetry section. But then Covid19 happened, so I’m putting it here instead.

Because even though we’re all stuck inside because of one disaster, we’re on the pinnacle of another, and we’re running out of time to stop it.

An Atheist’s Favourite Parable: The Good Samaritan

It may seem strange to think that a faithless woman such as myself has a favourite story from arguably the most influential religious text in our society, but it’s true. I do.

Here’s the quick version, which you’ve probably heard before.

A man is travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he’s attacked by a bunch of robbers. They stripped him, beat him, and left him to die by the side of the road.

As he’s lying there, a priest comes down the road. He sees the man, but ignores him and keeps walking.

Not long after, a Levite (a Jewish man who had a lot of status at the time due to heredity) came along. He too saw the gravely injured man, yet kept walking.

Finally, a Samaritan comes along, but unlike the others, he went to the injured man, bandaged and treated his wounds, before putting the man on his own donkey and bringing him to an inn, where he continued to take care of him. When he left the next day, he gave money to the innkeeper, telling him to look after the injured man, and that any extra costs the innkeeper incurred would be repaid upon the Samaritan’s return.

Now, Jesus tells this story to explain being “neighbourly”, and thus demonstrate the kinds of people who exemplify the way we should treat each other. Once he’s finished, he asks, “Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbour to him who fell among the robbers?”

The response given is obvious: “He who showed mercy on him.”

“Well, duh,” you might well say. But to take the story at face value without understanding its context in the period causes us to lose its most potent meaning.

Let me retell it in a modern context. It’s a little bit longer, so bear with me. (I’ve also added a bit of extra editorial in white that you can read by highlighting the text. I couldn’t help myself.)

A man is walking through a dangerous part of the city at night, when he’s set upon by a gang of muggers. They steal everything he has, strip him, beat him, and leave him the gutter to die. He barely manages to crawl out onto a street where there is a bunch of foot traffic before passing out.

As he’s lying there, a preacher comes down the road. He sees the man, figures it’s all part of the Lord’s plan, and keeps walking.

Then comes a politician. He also sees the injured man. He figures he’s probably going to die, so no point burdening the health system by calling an ambulance. Plus, he doesn’t look like the kind of guy who’d vote for him anyway. He keeps walking too.

Then a rich man comes through in his limousine with tinted windows. He rolls down the window to see what that thing by the side of the road is, then once he’s clocked the injured man, he rolls his window back up and tells his chauffeur to keep driving. As they leave, he mumbles something about “druggies” taking “my tax money” through welfare.

Finally, a Muslim woman sees the injured man. She calls an ambulance and rides with him to the hospital. She waits in the hall to see if he’s going to make it. When he wakes up, she helps him lodge a police report and cancel his cards before she drives him home. Over the next few weeks, she continues to check on him, bringing him food to make sure he’s eating properly, until he’s fully healed.

And so the question remains the same: Who’s example is it that we should follow? Who is our true neighbour?

So, what’s the purpose of changing the identity of the characters, from the priest and the Levite, to the Samaritan?

It’s quite simple: those who walk past the injured man are always the people with the power in the society, often admired and glorified by many. In this world, that would be the rich capitalists, the politicians who make laws that favour the rich capitalists, and the religious right (especially those who can be found preaching the Prosperity Gospel, which is utter bosh).

More importantly, you could change the identity of the Samaritan character to any of a number of disadvantaged groups that are regularly discriminated against: a trans person, a person with a disability, someone in financial difficulty, an Aboriginal Australian… It’s sadly quite a long list, but the point is that it’s not the identity of the person that we should concern ourselves with but the actions.

And that’s why this isn’t just a “do the right thing” story, it has this question of identity that is at its core.

The name “Samaritan” doesn’t mean “a good person” in the way it does to many today. The Samaritans were, and still are, a specific religious and ethnic group within the Israelite races, and in the time of Jesus, the Samaritans and the main Jewish population hated each other. They destroyed and defiled each others temples, which is probably the most severe way I can think of telling someone you’re never going to be friends short of actually killing them. Even once the story is over, the man who asked the question that prompted the telling refuses to name the Samaritan as such, calling him only “he who showed mercy”. Pretty damn telling, that.

And yet, this story focuses not on the background of the Samaritan and whatever preconceptions Jesus’ audience may have had about them, but rather the actions of the individual, proving they matter more than whatever you might think about the person before they perform said actions. It’s this tendency to cling to ideas about what people are or should be rather than looking at evidence of what it is they actually do that is the fuel for racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and every other shitty way of thinking that pervades the way some members of our species think.

The other reason why this story is so important in our modern context is that those who walk past the injured man not only do so in the story, they walk past those in need in the real world every single day. The religious right put their desire to be a bigot before recognising the needs of the LGBTI+ community (and others outside their church) to be seen as human and to be treated with love and respect. The politicians treat the poor with disdain through programs like Robodebt, or refusing to raise the rate of payments that haven’t risen in real terms in over 25 years, and are well below the poverty line. The rich don’t pay their taxes and treat their workers (and the rest of us) like dirt.

I’m not a complete fool; I know there’s nothing we as individuals can do about the rich and the religious right. There is, however, one group that we do have influence over: politicians, especially given so many of them profess to be of the Christian faith.

The fact that this story is still so incredibly clear in the work of our political class clearly demonstrates that a significant number of folks who proclaim to be Christians, most notably the hierarchy, has a long way to go in earning their place in their own eternal life.

So if you see your local Christian-identifying MP at church, or if you feel the impulse to write a letter or give their office a call, ask them: what are they doing, not for the priest and the Levite, but for the Samaritans?

For it isn’t the way we treat our friends that demonstrates our morals and our worthiness.

It’s the way we treat everyone else.

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This New Year Needs A New Climate Attitude

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, New Years Eve is usually my favourite time of the year, but naturally this year was different. The smoke haze covering Canberra is near Dickensian, and I started my night with the news that my aunt and uncle had just lost their home to the bushfires near Ulladulla. In a horrific twist of irony, members of my family regularly gathered there to usher in the new year. To put it incredibly frankly: shit is fucked.

To have all this happening at a time when I’m trying to recover from 18 months of PNES bullshit and some of the most severe depression I’ve had in a long time makes me feel like taking time for myself is selfish and impractical. This is a time when I personally really need to be focusing on the smaller picture rather than the bigger one, but it’s the latter that feels like it needs addressing first.

And the fact that it could have been addressed ten, twenty, even thirty years ago has me infuriated.

On December 11, there was a protest in Sydney’s smoke haze calling for action on climate change. Living in a very, very safe Nationals seat, it felt like anything I could do in solidarity would be pointless, but I still felt like I had to do something. Two days beforehand, I decided I would have a sit in out the front of my local Federal MP’s Dubbo office. I didn’t care if I was doing it alone or with company, still I posted my plan on Facebook to welcome those who wanted to come along. I managed to get six others to join me, and we got a lot of support from people walking and driving past.

What we weren’t expecting was for Mark Coulton MP to be there.

After an hour of standing in the heat, we were beginning to consider going home when our MP walked out of his office, carrying a suitcase.

Coulton asked us what we were doing, and we told him that we were there in solidarity with friends and family marching in Sydney. We asked him if he had any comment to make. He laughed and replied, “No, no comment.”

Our group expressed significant disappointment and frustration as politely as we could. His response? “I support those who do practical things.”

Practical things. What a crock. This is a man who has the ability to write and vote on legislation that could turn this situation around. This is a man who voted to repeal the carbon tax, which was proven to have had a positive impact in terms of reducing Australia’s emissions. This is a man whose entire electorate is in severe drought with no end in sight, and is at incredible risk of longer, hotter droughts in the years to come due to climate change, whose government signed off on giving 12 billion litres of water, caveat free, to Adani for their new coal mine.

As citizens, there’s only so much we can do. One hundred companies are responsible for 70% of the world’s emissions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a significant portion of them currently pay little or no tax. Hell, in Australia they’re likely getting Government funding. We can do all the practical things we can – moving to electric vehicles, putting up solar panels, divesting from companies that invest in fossil fuels, using minimal electricity, going vegan – but all of those things are a drop in the ocean when it comes to the greater picture of the Australian carbon emitting numbers.

We’re doing so little, to the point of actually blocking the motions of other countries trying to do their bit, that we scored the lowest in the world on the Climate Change Performance Index, a scale that measures the effectiveness of governments’ climate policies. We literally got 0.0, and just so you’re aware, they don’t score it like a game of golf. Even India, China and the United States (who were second last) beat us in terms of having better climate policies. How utterly humiliating.

We all came away from the conversation with Coulton feeling like we had been brushed aside and weren’t being taken seriously because we weren’t supporting the Nationals’ position. While I had initially gone into the protest more as a way to feel a little less helpless in the face of the bushfire disaster, climate change and the fact that science keeps getting ignored by our government, Coulton‘s dismissal of our presence, let alone our concerns, as not “practical” only made me angry. I came in passive; I left pissed off.

Just before Christmas, I was interviewed by The Daily Liberal about the protest and what we felt about Mr Coulton’s response. You can read it here, but the worst bit is easily the part where he denies that the current weather events are unprecedented, because people in the 1800’s died because it was hot and they didn’t have air conditioning. (Thankfully, the journalist writing the story linked up a more accurate source to refute his claim that this kind of weather is normal, which is tragically refreshing in the modern commercial media landscape.)

What annoyed me more than anything was that he didn’t even pretend to care. Sure, he seemed to be in a rush to head somewhere given his suitcase, but he could have placated us by recommending we call his office to book an appointment to meet him (and then never followed through on getting back to us), or suggested we put something in writing for his records (so he could send back a dismissive form letter, like he did to another friend of mine before the 2019 election). Instead, we were treated with absolute contempt.

But like I say: I’ve got a bee in my bonnet now. I have friends with young kids who are going to be living on this planet after I’m gone and I want to make sure that they’re not living in a world that’s more reminiscent of the Fallout franchise than the one I grew up in.

So I’m not going quietly.

Edit: due to an increasing number of paralysis attacks, the following project has been postponed until further notice. I did, however, organise a second protest on January 10, and intend to maintain monthly gatherings until the Government makes a decent effort to stop reduce Australia’s carbon emissions and move away from fossil fuels.

Every Wednesday lunchtime from January 8th, I’m going to be hosting a busking singalong somewhere on Macquarie Street in Dubbo. I’m calling it “Wednesdays Against Warming” and there’ll be lots of protest songs, with the emphasis on a different song for the singalong every week. (Week 1 will be “No Longer There” by The Cat Empire.) There’s no Facebook group or event, though maybe I will make one sooner or later – it’s all very ad hoc because I’ve never done this before, organising some sort of resistance.

But I have to try, because we can’t just accept this as the new normal. Our lives depend on it.