Reclaiming What, For Whom?

Reclaim Australia proponents scare me. They tell us that Muslims are taking over our country, they exhort us to wake up, tell us that the Koran promotes terrorism and that halal is Sharia Law. They want to reclaim Australia for all those who hold to ‘Aussie values.’ At the same time they stand for equality at law, claim women are equal to men (which if push came to shove I bet they don’t hold to) and they tell us they want to reclaim free speech… I suspect this is a veiled way of saying let us sling off at Muslims and whoever else we want to freely. Underneath all of this for many there seems to be a fundamental faith, and so all their views get couched in absolutes (http://goo.gl/lf0rY9).

These absolutes make it very difficult to enter into a reasoned debate with people of the Reclaim Australia ilk. I realise I am being uncharacteristically uncharitable and my feelings towards those who align with Reclaim Australia are potentially shrouded by the part of me that is still becoming. However my frustration continues, if you peruse their website most of it is couched in very religious language and information tends to get lost in this language and leaves the average person scratching their head as to what they are actually about. This suggests to me that they are not interested in a civil debate and are more about raising a fanatical flag of fear. They scare me!

The reclaim marches over last weekend appear to have been poorly patronised only boosted by the involvement of The United Patriot’s Front, a nationwide movement opposing the spread of left wing treason and the spread of Islamism (http://goo.gl/7Qxm6Y). (WTF!!) The Melbourne rally saw the most unrest with police firing capsicum spray into the crowd in an effort to subdue protestors. 5 protestors were arrested in Sydney and there was a punch thrown in Canberra.

But in essence what message comes across and what is the counter message from the anti-racism side, are there any elements in either side that can helpfully lead to a better Australia, that can reclaim or recreate Australia to be a place that we can all call home?

In an article in the Conversation Irfan Ahmad from Australian Catholic University connects Liberalism with the Islamaphobia showed by reclaim Australia (http://goo.gl/j7kPuX). Liberalism put simply is a political philosophy or worldview founded on ideas of liberty and equality (Google). This concept according to Harvard’s John Trumpbour is a child of the enlightenment and as such is shot through with Islamaphobia. Ahmad points out that a key premise of Liberalism is the individual and the rights of the individual. So why are people so antagonistic towards Muslims, aren’t they people, don’t they have rights too? Ahmad rightly sees that much of contemporary liberal thought, backed by the media treats Muslims as a collective.

An example of this, Anders Breivik kills 71 people in Norway, initially it was blamed on Muslims, later it was found out that Breivik identified as a Christian, immediately he was seen as a psychopath, just an individual. Contrast Brevik with Man Haron Monis who was responsible for the Lindt Café siege towards the end of last year. It took a long time for the media to recognise him as an individual. It may still be labelled an act of terror, where in fact again it was a lone gunman with a history of mental instability. So when there is extreme behaviour by a section of the Islamic community, the whole community is tarred with the same brush. Ahmad is right that the media has not really helped us understand the actors on either side of the police blockade. The focus has been on the clashes with the public left in the hands of the radio talk back community to draw their conclusions.

A case in point is included in Reclaim Australia’s 9 demands, demand 8 is to ban female genital mutilation (FGM). They are claiming it to be a Muslim act against women. However religious scholars such as Tariq Ramadan and Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad make it clear that FGM is a local custom and in some places is practiced by Christians as well as Muslims, this is not a particularly religious issue. While I am certainly not in favour of FGM, its causes need to be properly understood, not assumed.

Like Reclaim Australia, the anti-racism protestors have also for the most part come from a negative base, knowing what they are against, but not helping us understand what could be. One of the organisers of the anti-racist demonstration, Mel Gregson, lamented both major political parties are using Islamophobic rhetoric in order to demonise refugees and justify the invasion of countries in the Middle East (http://goo.gl/EjLATJ). Whether this is true or not, it doesn’t really lead us anywhere.

The president of the Australian Islamic Research and Education Academy, Waseem Razvi talking with RT (http://goo.gl/EjLATJ) refutes the claim that Islam is taking over Australia, stating that Muslims represent a 2% minority in Australia. Helpfully he sets a new tone for a patriot, seeing them as someone who would walk with minorities and respect the multicultural spirit of Australia. However he sees Muslims as scapegoats.

The sides are definitely set, the teams chosen and the game of culture clash is in full play. As you would have picked up by my opening comments I have a leaning towards the left and would more readily support the anti-racism position. However with the sides locked in conflict, I’m not sure that either can lead us anywhere. I’m challenged by a Facebook post from Jarrod McKenna, who very clearly states that he believes in transformation and is empathetic with people from both extremes, believing that if their story was his story he may very well react in the same way.

I believe the key to the future resolution of these clashes could be in his sentiments. I am a fallen creature, evidenced by my opening lines in this blog, I too believe in the possibility of transformation. I am transformed and continue to be transformed. Part of this transformation is beginning to see with new eyes, when I can look at a Reclaim Australia proponent through the eyes of love or an extreme Muslim and recognise them as the same as me, then and only then can I begin to act as a peace maker and begin with them the long and arduous journey of reclaiming or perhaps recreating Australia into the place that we can all call home.

Young Person Overboard

If you are a church goer, how would you describe the state of faith of young people in your church. For the purpose of this exercise think about people aged 12-25. How many are there in your fellowship? Over the past 5-10 years has the number of young people actively involved in your church declined? For those who remain how would you rate the vibrancy of their faith, 1 being alive, active, relevant; 10 being almost dead, going through the motions?

One of the metaphors to the describe the church is that of a boat, for many young people it seems the boat no longer provides safe navigation or is not heading where they want to go.

Rowan Lewis in his recent article in Equip, The State of Faith in Australian Youth: Haemorrhaging, Exodus or Exile, again sounds a warning gong that has been struck on and off for the last 40 years. Starting in the 70’s, research by Bodycomb commissioned by the Joint Council of South Australia showed marked decline in church involvement started from age 19. In many cases the report showed that the decline was due to a subconscious drift rather than conscious choice. Without seeing the report I’m presuming this means as work and family pressures increased keeping up attendance at church became a lower priority. In the 80’s and 90’s similar results were seen and analysed. In the 90’s there was a presumption that this was again due to life stage however the data showed this to be a mistake and in fact young people were leaving the church and not returning. It has become clear that over the decades there has been a progressive increase in the decline of young people from the church.

Cited in Lewis, researchers (Hughes and Mason, in separate works) in 2007 noted that there were dramatic losses of young members from various churches, at the same time there was an increase in ‘no-religious identification.’ They concluded that there was little doubt about the main destination of this exodus from the church. The bad news continues with Hughes noting that young Australians who in 2001 connected with a church, 500,000 of them decided that in the 2011 census they had no religion. For many the 2011 census was the first time they could assert their independence and show where their sense of connection lied or where it didn’t as the case may be. Goodwin in 2013 demonstrated that it was not only young adults who were leaving the church but in fact younger teens were leaving as they transitioned from childhood to youth.

Lewis concedes that young people are leaving the church in droves but they may not be leaving the faith, at least not in the first instance. He believes they are in an exile state caused by a church that is not engaged in the current cultural landscapes and portrays a black and white faith that doesn’t allow room for mystery, lament and doubt. Added to this I see a church that largely doesn’t know how to constructively raise its voice in the public debate around inequality, justice, poverty, public space and a plethora of other nuanced issues. Related to this inability and connected to an impoverished spirituality is an inadequate discipleship model that in many cases disciples people to an institution rather than the person of Christ.

I grew up in traditional Baptist churches and it was only as I moved from Sydney to Adelaide did I begin to see the inadequacy of our discipleship. I couldn’t have articulated it then, however there seemed to be a massive dichotomy between ‘Sunday’and ‘Monday.’ It seemed to me that we didn’t look any different to those outside the church. Young adults of my vintage were concerned with the cultural norms of education, earning money, buying a car, a house etc. For the most part I didn’t witness a grappling with faith, an asking the serious questions of what does my faith say to my everyday? How am I to be salt and light in the places and spaces that I occupy? Sure there were bible studies, but quite often serious questions would be skirted around and not addressed. The question of formation was one left to the colleges, which only a fraction of people attended.

So then as the research shows many people of my vintage left the church, now I haven’t tracked with them, but I suspect they have never returned and are perhaps now inoculated against faith. For the most part I suspect they don’t enjoy the benefits of an intimate walk with Jesus and receive his peace in the most surprising ways, despite the complexity of the situations faced. Perhaps they don’t get to experience the sense of walking into who they were created to be and seeing the joy in our Father’s eyes as he welcomes them home. I’m not going to speculate on whether they are saved or where they will spend eternity, that is up to God, however in the here and now the church of my generation has not served them well. They and the Church are the poorer for it.

At times as hard as I’ve tried, I’ve not been able to walk away from the Church. I believe God is at work in the world outside of His own people, however the Scriptures tell us that God is especially present with His people and that there is a grace conveyed in that presence and so our faith is a unified and sacramental one. Lets be clear though, walking away from any particular local expression of Church is not necessarily kissing all of that goodbye, however if people have not been equipped for a faith journey outside of a local church, then I fear they are in real trouble.

Lewis points to the need for this type of equipping, but localises it to youth ministry. I would go further and say that the basic orientation of how we equip people needs to shift. The Church once again needs to fix its gaze universally and recognise that God is so much bigger than any local expression or denomination. With this as a framework we can begin to walk the unity we have as the body and then we can recommit to our purpose for existence, being salt and light in the places and spaces where we are called to be. Letting the mystery of our faith, our doubts and laments as well as our joys and celebrations be the flavour and the light which permeates the world. If we can swallow our fear, trust in a big God and be big hearted enough to embrace ourselves and others, we may just find that those looking to jump overboard might reconsider.

Neighbourliness: A Key to Mental Health

Despite not being a sports fan, it’s obvious the murder of Phil Walsh has had massive ramifications for the Adelaide Crows and the AFL more generally. Not to mention the devastation that has been played out on the Walsh family, as they come to terms with the murder and the alleged actions of one of their own. The word tragic doesn’t come close.

Of course as always there’s lots of speculation associated with events such as this. Initially it was thought that Walsh’s son, Cy was on Ice, this has been downplayed by investigators, with Cy being held at Nash House Mental Health Facility, in Adelaide (http://goo.gl/OF0vK3). With this tragic event most likely being perpetrated by someone with a mental illness, it got me thinking about mental health in our country. In many circles there still seems to be a stigma attached to acknowledging that you have a mental health issue. As many will know this has become a live one for me as I continue to suffer with anxiety.

I’ve recently been rekindling an old friendship, on our first meeting after a number of years he told me about his recent journey with Bi-Polar and some of the ups and downs that have ensued. Like my anxiety, for the most part his Bi-Polar is under control. For both of us this is partly because of medication, great support networks and partly because of deliberate choices to not let the illness take over our lives.

Sadly for many with a mental illness this is not the case and they are left to flounder in isolation and sometimes in quiet (or noisy) despair. Misunderstandings around mental health in Australia are surprising with one in five Aussies aged 16-85 experiencing a mental illness in any year. The most common forms of illness are depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorder. 8.5% of Australians have two or more disorders often referred to as complex. Almost half of our population will experience a mental illness in their lifetime… yet we continue to not talk openly about these issues.

I wonder if this plays a factor in the 65% of people with a mental illness not accessing any treatment. And for those who do seek help, it may not come in the form they expect due to serious problems in detection and accurate diagnosis (http://goo.gl/3Av2Si). The statistics roll on with women more likely than men to seek help, and the older you get the less likely you are to experience a mental illness (http://goo.gl/P38p5f). Surprisingly for many, the connection between mental illness and violence is not automatic, with 90% of people suffering mental illness having no history of violence.

Unfortunately for the Walsh family it seems Cy maybe in that 10% where mental illness and violence collide. However despite what can often be a disturbing exterior most people with mental illness are looking for connection and a sense that they can be understood and respected. Organisations like Beyond Blue seek to diminish the stereotype and even encourage us to ask RUOK. Perhaps that simple question with a little bit of knowledge might go someway to helping include people who quite often feel on the outer of society.

We live in an affordable housing complex and Amy asked an interesting question, do the people in the front office, who deal with all kinds of issues arising from an eclectic bunch of residents know mental health first aid? The concept is similar to physical first aid. It draws on the fact that many people do not get professional help or delay doing so. An informed person in their social circles could help them navigate the options available to get the appropriate assistance. They are also able to help in a mental health crisis. For example, if a person is feeling suicidal, harming themselves, having a panic attack or being acutely psychotic, the skilled helper can reduce the risk of the person coming to harm. Since 2001, 1% of the total adult population of Australia have received this training, but its not enough (https://goo.gl/dOWqnQ). I wonder if someone in Cy Walsh’s social circle had been in a position to apply mental health first aid, could the tragedy have been avoided?

Perhaps a well-informed neighbour can make all the difference? Urban Seed and Life Expedition (community development organisations in Melbourne’s CBD) are running Good Neighbour month during July. Their grand vision is to see neighbourhoods, cities and nations transformed through good neighbourliness, into spaces where everyone has a place to belong. They see the key to this being compassion (http://goo.gl/xNwauF). If compassion could be cultivated in the places and spaces that we occupy what difference would it make to how we experience work, home, our local community? Instead of seeing people as strangers to be feared or at least to be wary of would we instead be open and recognise them as neighbours we haven’t met yet?

In this way I wonder if we would uncover at least some of those around us who are suffering a mental illness exacerbated by loneliness and shame?

21 Today!!

Amy told me that today, our marriage is old enough to drink in the US. Not sure how significant that fact is, however the past 21 years have certainly been significant, wonderful, challenging, loved filled and an amazing adventure. I’m so grateful that I have gotten to share them with the love of my life, as we have supported each other through life’s ups and downs and have both grown and changed as people.

Of course in today’s climate where the definition of marriage is being questioned, I can’t help but feel the current debates are missing the point. Whether between people of the opposite or same sex, marriage is so much more than a state or church sanctioned right, symbolised by the signing of documents. Rather it is the union of two people in what each intentions to be a life long commitment. A commitment to grow together, to hold the other in the highest regard, to learn together, make mistakes together, laugh and cry, raise kids, explore, have adventures… simply shape and travel the journey together in the bonds of care and love. From a Christian perspective it is also and I dislike the cliché a union under God. Words fail me here as the sacrament of marriage (undeserved favour of God revealed) is conveyed from each partner to the other in a reflection of the way Jesus loves.

In the hustle and bustle of life, I’m not always as conscious as I’d like to be about what marriage means to me, but for the last 21 years I’ve been privileged enough to live in this bond. However, not everyone can believe that we have been married that long and shared so much. Twice in the last couple of weeks people have commented on how young we look, how fresh our relationship appears and have shared their amazement that we have a 16 year old son. So I guess there are some advantages to marrying young! Well many advantages from where I sit, however not everyone saw it that way. I remember talking with my Dad and receiving his view that 20 was too young to get married. In fact Amy was only 19 (we married 11 days before her 20th) and I love being able to say she was my teenage bride. However it appears those commenting on the age we got married were right, at least statistically speaking. In 1990 the average age of first marriage for a male was 26.5 and female 24.3. This has increased, with the 2010 averages being 29.6 and 27.9 respectively (http://goo.gl/LXssN1).

Other friends at the time also expressed their concern, encouraging us to wait until after we had finished study and had jobs. Even back then we had the sense that our path would be different and if we waited for the steady income, we could be waiting a long time. In fact truth be told we’d still be waiting. Reflecting back, to our detractors, it seemed that marriage was just another thing that you did in the long line of expected cultural norms, which included going to university, getting a well paid job, buying a reliable, preferably new car and a house. Joe Hockey would be pleased!

For me in 1994 marriage signalled the beginning of an adventure, a joint journey where together we would try and figure out what life was about and how to live our faith authentically in the changing world around us. Of course we are still trying to answer those questions in the face of having a teenage son, having experienced paradigm shifting burnout and both exploring new avenues that will hopefully better allow our true selves to be expressed and through that our faith. The journey continues and we continue to cling to each other.

Sadly for many married people in Australia this has not been the case. For a whole plethora of reasons from financial stress, domestic violence, falling out of love to communication difficulties, differing life goals and infidelity, couples end up separating and eventually divorcing. At the outset of a relationship, through to the decision to get married people generally don’t picture themselves in the family court working out custody issues or who gets the vinyl copy The Times They Are a-Changin’ by Bob Dylan. Yet this becomes the reality and acting out of pain and hurt, reasonable people go to extraordinary lengths to inflict more pain and suffering on each other.

It seems that even in relatively healthy marriages we have strayed from the original intent and believed the lie of our culture that it really is all about me. Perhaps its stems back to the reason why we enter relationships in the first place. If we start a relationship with someone in order to meet our need for company, fulfilment, sexual release, a sense of belonging or any other need we have, then we will bond with the other person as long as they continue to meet that need. If they stop, or if we perceive someone else will better meet our needs then we begin to stray. The alternative is to enter into a relationship desiring the best for the other. Putting the meeting of their needs above the meeting of ours. As we do this it opens the opportunity for the other to respond to us in similar ways.

I realise this is hopelessly simplistic and recognise there are times when it is not emotionally safe to offer ourselves in this way and that some relationships need to end. However the principle stands, that ultimately in one way or another marriage or any relationship for that matter will fail if we focus on the meeting of our own needs. In marriage if we can truly trust ourselves to the other and look for their best interest we might not only make a successful marriage, but thrive as two individuals.

So AmyNoel I give myself to you again, to love, to cherish, to esteem, to honour, to hold, to protect, to put your needs above mine… I love you!

Identity Crisis

From where do you get your sense of identity? This question has come to the fore with the revelation that US ‘black’ activist Rachel Dolezal was in fact born a freckled white girl. John Elder in a Sunday Age article about Dolezal writes, “In a post-modernist world, identity has become a do-it-yourself project.” This week I was running a consultation with business leaders around the importance of relationships in the workplace. Inevitably at one point in our conversation, the focus turned to social media. Someone made the apt comment that everyone is now a brand. On Facebook and LinkedIn people promote themselves like advertisers promote a product or sell an image with a particular brand.

The promotion and selling of the self as a brand raises many questions; What is the true self? What is false? What do we enhance? What of these things do we believe to be true about ourselves? Do we end up believing our own lies? Concluding the same article by John Elder, Dr Monima Chadha a philosopher from Monash University says, “A deluded inauthentic identity is one which has few, if any, convergences with stories that others tell about us.”

Stephen Covey in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, first published in 1989 but still very relevant today, talks about beginning with the end in mind. In this section of the book, he asks, what would you like people to say about you at your funeral? He believes that if we can get a picture of the self we want to be remembered for, it will help us shape our present, future and ultimately our identity.

So we come back to the core question, from where do you get your sense of identity? Training I first undertook in the mid nineties and still teach from time to time asks the question this way, How do we form the picture we have of ourselves? Many of the answers given are outlined below.

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 Some that are missing include, the media, colleagues, achievements and natural abilities. A picture is then drawn that looks like a dunny on an island. The island is seen as the true or potential self that is fluid and changes with every encounter and experience. In contrast the dunny is seen as a fixed structure, rigid, with part of it protruding outside the real or potential self. This represents the picture that we believe to be true about ourselves, even the parts that aren’t true ie those bits outside the real self, which we call the illusion. Dr Hayakawa of San Francisco University says that we spend the majority of our time protecting, reinforcing and enhancing the picture we have of ourselves. Seems to fit with the brand culture that many portray on social media. But the diagram is not finished. A line is drawn from within the dunny stretching through the real self to the outside. This represents the difference between I can and I can’t and the fact that we base our decisions on whether we can or can’t do something on that small picture we have of ourselves.

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In the Dolezal conversation it’s the illusion that is of interest. Through events in her life it seems that she has been led to feel a stronger affirmation with the ‘Black’ community than her own genetic background, even to the extent of working to change her appearance. An article in The Conversation by Clive Hamilton of Charles Sturt University (http://goo.gl/EJTA1t) relates, referring to work by psychologist Shelley Taylor. Taylor calls the illusion benign fictions, which are essentially the lies we deploy to defend our happiness. Linking thoughts, Hamilton sees that if we deceive ourselves about our strengths and weaknesses, we create a veil that distorts our vision of the world, rendering it more agreeable. To the extent we do this, Hamilton believes we maybe sacrificing the opportunity to find a more authentic self from which to live.

The search for the authentic self has been a live topic for me over the last 12 months. It even resulted in me leaving my role as CEO of a small not for profit to pursue writing, teaching, storytelling, study and hopefully, eventually a career in academia. This journey has not been a simple one and led me to anxiety and depression, a state it seemed that I needed to enter to begin to hear and listen to more of my authentic self.

Although the journey has not been easy I believe the benefits far outweigh the cost. Hamilton sees that if we continue to fabricate a false self in order to find happiness we become open to manipulation and ultimately we sacrifice our freedom. It’s been interesting reflecting this week with my wife and a friend, about an organisation that we were all apart of. We each recognised there were times that due to the perceived urgency of the task and its believed importance in the larger scheme of things we made choices that were not true to who we really were. At those times I believe we were operating off a false self that sort amongst other things approval and belonging.

It’s been affirming that as I’ve begun to better listen to my true self I am less susceptible to that kind of manipulation. It is with somewhat of a red face that I admit last year to being inspired by West Wing and certain that I was destined for a career in politics. So glad I never acted on that conviction. I used to be able to notice myself swaying slightly under different influences in the drive to be recognised, approved of, wanting to make a difference, these potential wanderings were made possible by not listening to my authentic self. There is a peace that comes as you settle into your own skin, who you were created to be and then act out of that realisation.

It is very obvious that for whatever reason Rachel Dolezal is not happy in her own skin and until she becomes so, she won’t have the opportunity to truly appreciate who she is and the wonderful person she was created to be. Sad really!

Consumerism: The Not So New Religion

I once had a religious experience in a shopping centre. Driving into our local Ikea, we parked under the building and proceeded to join the happy throngs in ascending to the showroom. On arrival, it was like an epiphany, I became aware of the religiosity around the act of consuming. Like in many churches you follow some set rules to ensure that your experience is as smooth as possible. There is a certain order that you observe. The order encourages you to think a particular way about the goods and services you are encountering. Of course at the end of your experience you pay your money and proceed to the café for fellowship.

What happens after the ‘service’ it could be said is where we see the most striking resemblance occurring. This resemblance relates to our motivation in seeking the religious experience in the first place. Both consumerism and religion seek to fill a gap in our lives, inject a sense of meaning in what Victor Frankl refers to as the ‘existential vacuum.’ Think about it for a moment, how do you feel as you are making a significant new purchase for example a fridge, washing machine, surround sound home theatre, a car? If you are like most people there will be a rush of endorphins as you purchase the new item, get it home, unwrap it, set it up etc. There will be a sense of satisfaction, the world will feel right for a time. Your drive for meaning will be usurped or fulfilled by the joy of the new thing.

Similarly for many as they go to church and enjoy the ceremony, they leave with a sense of fulfilment, their longing for meaning fulfilled by consuming the religious goods and services on offer. The search for fulfilment quenched.

Advertisers have picked up on this vacuum of meaning and are perhaps the prophets of this not so new religion. Many of the ads we see on TV are dripping with value laden language and concepts. The ads tend to sell the lifestyle that the product promises as opposed to the product itself. Vicki Cosstick in her article Hijacking the Holy: The use and abuse of Spiritual Language in Advertising, Believes that the search for meaning in our culture has been diverted by the advertisers. Ultimate questions such as Who am I? What am I here for? How and to what do I belong? How can I achieve wellbeing, happiness or fulfilment? Are answered by a new car, a soft drink or a fantastic insurance package or holiday.

Traditionally religion and particularly Christianity has sought to answer these ultimate questions through an explanation of creation, election, salvation, ecclesiology and eschatology. However in the new cultural landscape that we find ourselves, advertisers have the jump on most expressions of religion. Advertisers know that in order to entice people towards their goods and services, they need to bring them to a state of desire and then provide the answer to their longings.

According to Caroline Cat and her animation on YouTube Religion and Advertising we are drawn to this state of desire through our emotional connection to the familiar. However there comes a point where the familiar becomes ineffective and so advertisers have needed to invest in new strategies to continue to draw us. This has seen the rise in the use of religious concepts and imagery to ‘shock’ us and point us towards the solutions to our longings (https://goo.gl/HQ4bLd). Thus putting religious values on what would have traditionally been seen as non or even anti-religious. One of the earliest examples of this was a Xerox ad where a monk pens the copy of an important religious document. He takes it to the head monk who then asks him for 500 copies. The next scene is the monk in what seems to be a copy shop of some sort, where the copy guy sets up to do the 500 copies. The end result is the monk receiving the 500 copies, looking up to heaven and saying ‘it’s a miracle.’

Since these humble beginnings advertisers have melded our search for meaning, belonging, community, transcendence, wellbeing, flourishing, even generosity (https://goo.gl/iZqkvy) with the selling of their products. An old Honda ad says it well. You may remember the encouragement to dream the impossible dream. It was particularly spectacular when played at the cinema (https://goo.gl/L13obE).

So what are we to do with these competing ‘religions’ both offering us, and to a certain extent delivering similar qualities? Perhaps this guy sums it up, https://goo.gl/j05GSa. On a more serious note, an Erasmus article from 2014 (http://goo.gl/skLx9g) draws some distinctions. Pope Francis sees the advertisers promoting a consumerism with its capitalist roots that gives priority to the outward, the immediate, visible, quick, superficial and provisional. I guess its appeal is the promise of a quick fix, but like any quick fix, pretty soon another is needed and then another. Sociologists tell us that our happiness increases with wealth and the more we have, up to a certain point, usually around what we need to adequately survive. After this the curve flattens out dramatically and our levels of happiness do not increase.

So perhaps a more sustainable future is to strive towards some of the values that religion and advertisers hold out to us. Values such as connection, belonging, purpose, meaning, generosity, compassion, forgiveness. I suspect however we are not going to find these in a product, even a very good one or specifically in a particular religious expression in and of itself. Though together as we work towards a society with these values, we may just touch the divine.

Family, Can’t Live Without Them…

I haven’t seen my Mum and Dad for close on 12 months, and today is the day. In a little over 4 hours, we’ll meet them at the airport and there will be warm embraces, opening the opportunity to share life face to face for a week. I’ve been married for close on 21 years and for the majority of that time we have lived interstate from both sets of our parents. I sometimes wonder what the relationship would be like with my parents if we had lived closer together. Would we have shared Sunday lunches, regular family outings, done more life together, or would we have been distant emotionally, like we are geographically.

Don’t get me wrong I and we as a family generally have a good relationship with my parents. There are issues we see quite differently and aspects of each others’ lives that we don’t fully understand, but on the whole things are positive. We are certainly products of our respective generations. The baby boomers tending to work for the security that their parents never had, or at least perceived they didn’t due to war and the Great Depression. For us in the Gen X camp we experience the legacy of individualism and a breakdown of community including extended family. In the midst of that whilst there still is a strong urge towards individual acquisition, aging as a generation there is an increasing search for the meaning of our existence. Our children in turn are tending to be more conscious of the environment, politics and broadly speaking the betterment of the world.

In all of this what is family and what part does it play in our continuing development as people? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in the 2012-13 statistical year, Australia consisted of 8.9 million households, 74% of these were family households. That’s 20.1 million people living in famiies! A family household is described as couples living in registered marriages, de facto, step and blended, single parent and parents with visiting arrangements. Families with children of any age make up 58% of family households (3.9million), 74% of those have dependant children, 2.8 million with at least one child aged 0-17 years. 14% of families were single parent families (http://goo.gl/SkSqIG).

Family in this context is seen as people living together in predominantly a single household or at a stretch, when a parent lives elsewhere. Those in the conservative Christian camp have been concerned about the constant barrage on this unit. They would see the ideal family consisting of a Mum, Dad and their biological kids, known as the nuclear family. The term is a relatively new one although there is some evidence that the concept dates back to before industrialisation, perhaps even thousands of years. Since industrialisation, the nuclear family has been seen as a viable financial unit. From the 17th Century in Western Europe and New England the nuclear family concept has thrived due to the influence of the Church and successive theocratic governments (http://goo.gl/tuJW3).

Don’t hear me wrong, I like the nuclear family, I’m a product of one and I live in one and I’m very happy about that. However over the years as we have lived away from family an interesting phenomenon has taken place. Those around us have become family. At times those I have been working with have taken on parent roles, there has been and continues to be brothers and sisters, comrades in the work that I have felt closer to than my own flesh and blood. At those times my family has been geographically distant, at times understanding the work and standing with me, other times not appreciating the journey in the same way as those around me. I’m writing this conscious of the way my own family particularly my Mum and Dad may feel when reading this, however I’m wrestling with the role of family verses other forms of connection.

Whilst I’m reflecting predominantly on the relationship between parent and adult children, I’m also aware that as a nuclear family our relationship with our wider family has not been particularly strong. I’m not in regular connection with any aunties or uncles, similar on my wife’s side and for her there is only one sibling out of three with whom she has regular connection. Now there are all sorts of reasons for this, however the role of the broader family has certainly been picked up by colleagues, friends and those around us.

There are some idealists who want to structure society so as to encourage familial care, particularly as family members age. However because of life choices, conflict and a whole plethora of other reasons, I see this as unrealistic and have experienced and see developing new types of family emerging on the landscape. I long for the day when the communities that we live in, though they may not be flesh and blood actually reflect family, where people can experience deep connection, where they can have the freedom to explore who they are and develop towards their discovered potential.

From one ideal to the next… we may never reach what I am describing however as we look at the universal brother and sisterhood that my faith points to we see a Dreamer who dreamed that the world He created might one day reflect the perfect community that He experiences. My sense is that as we work towards this ideal, we are joining with Him in His longing and struggle and that’s got to be a good thing.

It’s time to Let Them Out

The debate around same sex marriage in Australia is on again, particularly in the wake of the Irish referendum. Irish revellers took to the streets last week as the yes vote resounded around the country with 62% of voters in favour of allowing marriage between people of the same sex. Ireland joins another 21 countries that either fully or at least in some states support same sex marriage (http://goo.gl/IIBUvu). In my view it is time as a society and as people of faith to let the LGBTI community out of the closet once and for all.

The political journey towards same sex marriage

In Australia we have been slow to join the rainbow parade and sanction same sex marriage, despite the legislative pathway being relatively simple. Like so many other significant issues, that we as a nation need to tackle, gay marriage has become politicised. In an article in ‘The Conversation’ Carol Johnson from University of Adelaide outlines the political roadblocks (https://goo.gl/V03jmy). Firstly, with no definition of marriage in Australian Federal legislation, the Howard government introduces legislation in 2004 banning same sex marriage. Howard’s hope was to use a ‘values’ issue to sway conservative Labor voters. Labor agreed with the legislation and it became law as they feared losing the worker vote in Sydney’s west.

Politicians on both sides of the fence were compelled by binding votes to remain loyal to the spoken view of the party. Thus we saw examples where Penny Wong (a known Lesbian) needed to walk a fine line between her own views and that of her political affiliates. Also Australia does not have a charter of human rights, which played a significant role in bringing same sex marriage to Canada. So it was left to the minor parties and gay and lesbian activists to advocate for same sex marriage, hoping to change the views of the major party politicians. The closest the activists have come to success so far is Kevin Rudd’s recognition that same-sex relationships need to be seen legally the same as hetero-sexual defacto relationships. The definition of marriage was not on the table, which helped to reassure socially conservative and religious voters.

Most recently Labor has changed its platform, now supporting same sex marriage. Rudd on his return in 2013 saw that the church and the state can have different policies on marriage in a secular society. At this point when there was a vote in parliament around these issues, Labor was given a conscience vote, which showed the separation between church and state was not complete, with the vote being defeated.

One comment coming from Johnson is that in Australia the issue has religious framing and has not been fought so much on the grounds of equality. If equality had been the focus, it may have had a quicker path through the parliament. This is where events in Ireland are so important, if a country so steeped in Catholicism can support same sex marriage by a 62-38 majority, we need to acknowledge that times are changing.

Understanding the gay and lesbian journey

Last week, The Australian Christians political party posted on Facebook; “’Progressive’ Christians are destroying Christianity, churches and traditional ethos. You may know them by their support of euthanasia, abortion, redefining marriage, legalising of illicit drugs, severe political correctness and their support of the Greens agenda. We must unite to defend true Christianity and all life, giving true liberty to our society.” Firstly, talk with most ‘progressive’ Christians and they will tell you that their convictions are not as black and white as portrayed by this statement and in fact they may support some of the list but not other parts and for a whole range of reasons. Categorisation and broad statements never reveal the truth of a position and the complexity of the human psyche in coming to that position.

Secondly the Australian Christians is a political party that somehow have gained the opinion that they have the ability and right to declare who is a ‘true Christian’ ie those who think like they do from those who are damaging the faith. Throughout history when political parties have made declarations of this ilk, it has always been dangerous. A view expressed in this way tends to shut down conversation and prevent the true meeting of those who see the world differently so the gift the other has can’t be shared.

The sharing of gift in terms of presence, perspective, search for mutual understanding is something that has repeatedly gone missing in the debate around gay and lesbian sexuality and indeed same sex marriage. I feel heavy as I think of the damage done to countless individuals as they struggled with their same sex attraction. They only found more pain and heartache if they were gutsy enough to speak to a youth pastor or church leader. Being confronted with ‘the fact’ that their orientation was a sin. Then those that truly ‘wanted to change’ (ie the cultural pressure being too much, the cost of staying out, too high, belief that being heterosexual was the only way to be acceptable to God) were led to an ex-gay ministry. Where for many the light at the end of the tunnel was a freight train. Some even became so desperate about not being able to turn the gay off that they contemplated, attempted with some even succeeding in committing suicide.

Anthony Venn-Brown a former Pentecostal preacher and now gay ambassador got to a point where he felt he couldn’t lie to his church, his family or himself anymore and admitted that he was a gay man. In 2007 Venn-Brown appeared on 60 minutes with a live online chat following the program (http://goo.gl/4BtWP3). During that chat he talks about what it was like coming out. He states that for him coming out was not an empowering experience but more a reluctant acceptance of his sexuality. It would take a further 6 years for him to celebrate his identity. He talks about losing everything, but yet gaining a peace and sense of resolution. ‘Had I known earlier that I could live a happy fulfilled life as a gay man, I probably would have made that choice a lot earlier.’

During the online conversation Venn-Brown was asked where he stood with his Christian faith and if he attended church, loved God, followed Jesus. ‘ Yes, initially I thought my choice was to be heterosexual and a Christian or to be homosexual and go to Hell… I now understand that my morality is a choice, my sexual orientation however isn’t. Today I have the most amazing relationship with God that I’ve ever had. Something I thought would never be possible.’ He goes on to make a comment about the homosexual vs Christian debate; ‘(It’s) actually over… There are pockets of controversy, and some denominations that are tackling the issue, but critical mass has already been reached. The rainbow revival has begun.’

Picking up Venn-Brown’s point about orientation, the American Psychological Association (APA) states that sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic and / or sexual attractions to men, women or both sexes (http://goo.gl/eYz1BB). In terms of what causes a particular sexual orientation there is no consensus among scientists. It is most likely a complex mix of genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences. Both nature and nurture potentially playing a role in sexual orientation. The most important contribution that the APA play in this conversation is they state; ‘…most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.’

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) (http://goo.gl/P6EmyX) agrees with this stance, strongly opposing any view that lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are suffering a disorder associated with their sexual orientation. They rightly also oppose any approach to practice or research that attempts to change that orientation, these interventions are often referred to as reparative or conversion therapies (including ex-gay ministries). In their position paper on same sex orientation they state there is ‘no psychological research objectively documenting the ability to ‘change’ an individual’s sexual orientation.’ Empirical evidence shows that attempts to change sexual orientation can be harmful. Research conducted in 2002 reported that ‘conversion therapy’ resulted in psychological harm (including depression, suicidal ideation, reduced self esteem, sexual dysfunction), interpersonal harm (including social isolation, loss of social supports, damage to intimate relationships) and spiritual harm (including a loss of faith, sense of betrayal by religious leaders and excommunication).

Most prominent ex-gay movements have ceased operation for these reasons added to which they have been banned in some countries around the world. Unfortunately in Australia they subtly still exist in the form of emphasis and influence, mainly from church communities. Again my heart breaks at the damage that continues to be done.

A Personal Reflection

For me personally these simple, yet well researched, statements take sin off the table as far as same sex attraction is concerned. Sexual orientation is not a choice, therefore it is something created by God and needs to be recognised as such. Venn-Brown raises an excellent distinction between orientation and morals. There may not be a choice about which gender you are attracted to, however what you do with that attraction is the issue. Reflecting biblically, the weight of the biblical story comes down to love, which in this conversation, talks about committed relationships, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual in nature.

For those of faith how are we to respond? I realise all this can be confronting and can certainly shake our theology and tradition. Taking all the above into account what we have in front of us is an issue of equality. According to Tania a Churches of Christ minister, people of same sex orientation, who are in a committed marriage like relationship need to have the same legal standing as people in hetero-sexual unions. This will enable them to be present in the case of serious medical issues and point of death, as well as receive the rights accorded to ‘widows / widowers.’

Tania believes that as people of faith our key responsibility is to love others as we love ourselves, this calls us to look after and stand up for those who are oppressed in any way. Johann Arnold in his book Seeking Peace agrees. He writes;

In Psalm 85 we read, ‘Justice and peace shall kiss; truth shall rise up, and righteousness smile down from heaven.’ If we have faith in this promise – if we believe that these words can become reality, not only in some glorious hereafter, but on this earth – then we must be willing to risk everything. We must reject injustice in every form, whether economic exploitation, social inequality, racial division or political oppression.

Tania continues and I agree, that as faith communities we need to look at the bible as a whole story and not a grab bag of proof texts. As we do this we see overwhelmingly that that our stance is to be one of inclusivity, that all people are welcome to find a home with God.

A Final Word

Some in the conservative camp have expressed concerns about same sex couples raising children. In 2011 in Australia there were 6,120 children under the age of 25 living with same sex couples. Melbourne University spearheaded the world’s most comprehensive study into the health of children living in these environments (http://goo.gl/eddGxC). They are the first to admit limitations to the study and that it was based on parent reporting. However the overwhelming indication is that these children are faring well on most measures of child health and wellbeing. Fascinatingly the households demonstrate higher levels of family cohesion than other population samples. A core concern were the negative effects on wellbeing as a result of stigma, even when seeking healthcare. This points to the need for societal and policy change, not the effect of being raised in a same sex household per’se.

Tania’s right when she says the issue comes down to love. If same sex couples are prepared to love a child then they should be allowed to express that love, even if it involves surrogacy. In the midst of this the important thing is for children to be exposed to not only loving parents (same or different sex) but a loving community where they can be nurtured by both men and women, exposed to different views and allowed to grow to reach their potential.

Conclusion

Drawing all these threads together, I believe; sexual orientation is not a choice, the damage caused by reparative therapy and ex-gay ministries is widespread and well documented, the call from God is to love and be inclusive, the wellbeing of children of same sex couples is generally very high… so, as a society and as a people of faith more specifically, it is definitely time to let the LGBTI community out of the closet once and for all.

Postscript

I want to acknowledge, as with so many other complex issues this is just the tip of the iceberg. In coming weeks I plan to explore same sex relationships from a number of different perspectives, hopefully opening the door to more conversation and more understanding.

Nope, Nope, Nope

In recent days PM Tony Abbott has strongly reiterated his government’s dis-compassionate stance on asylum seekers and refugees. At least those coming via boat. The ‘nope, nope, nope’ comment came in response to questions about Australia accepting the Rohingya refugees who have been captive to the high seas, with up until recently no country willing to accept them. Last Wednesday saw Malaysia and Indonesia change their stance, saying they are willing to take refugees as long as they are settled or repatriated within a year. Our government, that looks after a country with more ability and space to care for refugees remained steadfast.

I have no evidence to back this up, however I feel over recent years our successive governments have ruled with an increasing hardness of heart. Both sides of politics have sought to keep some of the worlds most vulnerable off our shores a potential safe harbour, refuge and source of new life. Whilst the vulnerable living amongst us continue to be shunned and exiled, often effectively prisoners on their own land as was seen in the Northern Territory intervention. Of course the most recent example being the government cutting funds to essential services for people experiencing homelessness.

Trying to work out the government’s motivation, I heard on a recent episode of Hack someone lament that refugees and asylum seekers use to be a bipartisan concern, above party politics, but that unfortunately the debate has slid and parties now respond to political pressure, rather than a humanitarian conscience. Questions are raised for me about individuals versus party politics. I find it saddening and hard to believe that our leaders are so distant as to give such a flippant response to the suffering of two thousand fellow human beings. I’m sure there are all kinds of rationalities that can be offered about choice and so forth, but I guess I’m left wondering does Tony Abbott go home to a quiet place and cry for the lives of these people on the boats and then feel powerless to move from the position held by his party? Do those in government care, can they see the pain of others or are they simply blinded by power, wealth and the concerns of this wealthy nation that is all around them. I guess compassion fatigue hits us all at some point or another however this government seems to have gone beyond that to a meanness of spirit, that leaves one wondering how we are perceived on a world stage. And as for motivation is it simply political expediency, following the loudest, most convincing voice or is PM Tony Abbott, genuinely scared that these people from across the sea are a threat to our way of life?

Up until writing this blog I’ll admit I was ignorant about the plight of the Rohingya. The ethnic group calls Rakhine state in the west of Myanmar (Burma), home, with the area bordering Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal. They number about 1.1 million and are considered by Myanmar as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Burma does not allow them citizenship, education, to register marriage or to work, the government even encourages communal violence against them. The United Nations (UN) considers them one of the world’s most persecuted people. Two waves of violence in 2012 aimed at the Rohingya and instigated by the majority Buddhists in Rakhine sparked religious unrest throughout the whole country.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) Senior Researcher, Sunai Phasuk states ‘The atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state is a crime against humanity and bordering on ethnic cleansing.’ Essentially the Burmese government want them out of Burma, and will use any measure to achieve their end. They have become a scapegoat for all the country’s poverty and lack of social services.

The survivors of the waves of violence have not been able to return to their homes, forced to live in ghetto-like facilities. And so the motivation to leave for a better life becomes clearer. However the journey they sign up for, hoping to get to the mainly Muslim Malaysia is a dangerous one, and expensive. The people smugglers charge US$5000 and then they have to pay twice more, at risk of death or rape for non-payment to enter either Thailand or Malaysia.

Even if they survive all this, the Thai government is officially seeing the Rohingya as illegal immigrants and they are under threat of being put in indefinite detention, with no access to Un refugee channels. On a brighter note the US has pledged to help the region ‘bear the burden’ of the refugees. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf says, “The US stands ready to help the countries of the region bear the burden and save lives today. We have a common obligation to answer the call of these migrants who have risked their lives at sea.”

The small nation state of Gambia is also willing to help the refugees by offering them a place to land. They believe it is there ‘sacred duty’ to alleviate the suffering of fellow Muslims. They are appealing to the international community to send tents, bedding, household materials and medicines to set up “habitable camps with decent sanitary conditions.”

I can’t help but feel our Government’s response in comparison is juvenile at best and like a petulant child at worst. An article in the Drum by Dr Matthew Davies of the Australian National University, argues our ‘Stop the boats’ policy has helped unravel global norms around refugees, which in part has been the cause of the Rohingya being catapulted around the South East Asian Oceans

The same article points to the wisdom shown by Bill Clinton during a speech at Yale University in 2003. He suggested that American foreign policy should be conscience of the Nation’s eventual decline as a superpower. America sat on a crossroads in 2003, it could enjoy its power and break the international rules it helped to create or it could “create a world with rules, partnerships and habits of behaviour that we (the US) would like to live in when we’re no longer the military, political and economic superpower in the world.”

Davies points out that Australia too has a choice like this to make. Currently we can throw our weight around, and begin to fracture the web of the international regime around asylum seekers, but not without consequences, which some of the Rohingya are paying with their lives. We are again at a point where our professed beliefs around human rights and our actions don’t match up. This contradiction must stop! Australia and Australians have the ability to be a nation that displays generosity, hospitality and offers hope to the most vulnerable around us. There is a sense throughout the Bible that those who are blessed have an obligation to be a blessing. This can be interpreted at a national level but also interpersonally as we think about our interactions with those around us, especially those who aren’t like us.

Perhaps as we do this we can change the heart of the government to see that the humanitarian cost of going down its current path is too high and that there is another way. They cry ‘but we stopped the boats.’ The events of the past week clearly show they have not stopped the boats, merely, like playing classical music at a train station to stop drunk teens gathering, they have just pushed the problem further up the line. After all out of sight is out of mind.

References

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-20/brennan-history-repeats-with-the-rohingya-crisis/6483530

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-21/explainer-who-are-the-rohingya-fleeing-myanmar/6487130

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-21/fisherman-recounts-rescue-of-starving-migrants-off-indonesia/6485330

Melbourne: The world’s most liveable city, but for how long?

According to an article in ‘The Conversation’ by RMIT’s Ralph Horne and Megan Nethercote, Melbourne is in danger of losing its prestigious title of being the world’s most liveable city (https://goo.gl/rbBZsI). Contrary to other major cities, construction in Melbourne is comparatively under-regulated. Latest CBD constructions have been called “vertical slums,” 1-2 bedroom apartments, half of which are under 50 square metres, according to the article, not much bigger that a generous double garage.

Apartments under 50 square metres do not allow for adequate ventilation, and also lack enough storage and living space. Another practice taken on by Melbourne city developers is designing bedrooms with no windows, these rooms need to ‘borrow light’ from shared spaces like lounge-rooms. This practice is illegal in cities with much higher populations like New York, Hong Kong and Vancouver. The article states that a recent report unfavourably compares Melbourne’s high-rise rules to those of other world cities. I guess at one level this is understandable as the inner city growth is only now beginning to ramp up to a new level. However the time is now to put tighter rules in place. Currently we are allowed to develop at four times the density of cities such as New York, Tokyo or Hong Kong, with no obligation for developers to contribute to public infrastructure. This could include leaving space for affordable housing and community facilities.

The issue of developer contribution is a critical one as we consider the wellbeing of communities and the liveability of cities. Similar issues face local councils in outer suburban areas like City of Wyndham (West) and the Shire of Cardinia (South East), where there has been massive growth, with cookie cutter houses going up in their hundreds. Unfortunately much needed infrastructure that enables people to live well is lagging behind. Community consultations in these areas tend to bring up similar issues around access to adequate transport and places for individuals and families to gather and just hang out or perhaps play some games.

As someone with a passion to see people thrive and flourish in the context of the places and spaces they find themselves, the community side of housing developments is of great interest. It’s beginning to shift and Wyndham is a happy example of this, however many councils still believe that community building is about providing space and running events. The truth is much more complex and involves understanding the relational web around people and what happens when it breaks down. Good community building is about fostering a different attitude that recognises the value and worth of everyone in the community, enabling vision and ideas to flow from that base.

The City of Melbourne recognises this in the prelude to their housing strategy document for 2014-18, ‘Homes for People’ (http://goo.gl/yQfbdR).

We support our community members – whatever their age, sex, physical ability, socio-economic status, sexuality or cultural background – to feel like they can be active, healthy and valued. We plan and design for our growing city, including safe, healthy and high-quality public spaces.

Picking up on a few of the housing challenges that the report highlights; more affordable housing, ie subsidised; buying in the inner city is out of the reach of many households; current high level housing supply isn’t delivering a good housing mix or social diversity; quality, amenity and performance are decreasing while density is increasing; mix and affordability impact on long-term community building and support for a vibrant cultural life.

I’m not sure if I can paint the picture adequately, our city is growing, more people are and will be living in the CBD, this is a global trend as cities expand. Currently in Melbourne, what’s being constructed will not meet the needs of this growing constituency. Most apartments do not meet the needs of growing families and thus there will be a stilting in the demographic of those living in the city, affecting the mix, cultural diversity and the ability to build sustainable communities of wellbeing.

This is an issue close to home, literally, as I’ve mentioned before I live in an apartment in an inner city suburb. Apartment living is good! This is the second stint that my family and I have had in an apartment, the first being in Dandenong. Both times we downsized, relatively easily from a four bedroom suburban house. Growing up I never thought about apartments, although I grew up in a relatively small house, it was on the, at that stage typical Sydney quarter acre block. When Mum and Dad sold the land was worth much much more than the house.

Currently Amy, Josh and I live are on the 7th and top floor of our building. We look directly onto a public housing estate and in fact our building is an experiment that brings together public, social and affordable housing options, for that mix of social demographic. However from our balcony you can see a corner of the city to the west and the Dandenongs in the far off distance to the East. Literally million dollar views as they say.

Yet the social mix and liveability of the building has not been a simple one to juggle. The organisation contracted to manage and develop the building have focused on creating a great space to live, yet have lacked the focus, resources and skill to effectively build the community. In fairness there have been factors outside their control, which has meant the task of community building has been made more difficult. The community centre that was initially to be for the use of residents and others wishing to hold gatherings, changed to be managed by the local council who attached fees to the hiring of facilities, making its use unattainable for most in the building. There are no other indoor spaces where residents can easily gather together.

In the beginning of our time here a small group of us attempted to work with management to develop some community building processes, including events but due to personal busyness, shifting priorities and frustration with management this is largely defunct.

For me this highlights the importance of people in the midst of development. Although it helps its not enough to offer well planned and designed apartments, even if they are affordable. Richard Wynne, the current Victorian Minister for Planning has released a discussion paper, ‘Better Apartments’ (http://goo.gl/7Mt9LS), it sets the context, however focuses on the internal design of apartments and complexes and misses the community infrastructure argument.

I agree apartments need to meet standards that make them liveable for people and families with varying needs, however if these are built and people move into higher density living without the proper social and community infrastructure, we will be in danger of creating ghettos of loneliness and despair, lovely ghettos that they may be.