COP26 Diary: Snakes, stones and hypocrisy contrasts with the comfort of community
Aboriginal leader and Christian minister Ray Minniecon is in Glasgow, Scotland, for the UN Climate Summit COP26, and he’s keeping a diary …
Diary Entry #9 – Sunday 7 November – Monday 8 November 2021
I went to Church again today. I needed to be in community to help restore and heal my spirit after the news of the passing of my cousin. When I first attended St Silas, I felt that the congregation had developed a real sense of community over the years. It was a gathering of like-minded families and people that was focused on the “spirit of community.” It was that type of spiritual practice that gave me a sense of belonging to an extended family, even though I was a stranger to these people and this country. There was no ‘liturgy’ as such or ‘structured’ approach of how their church service should be conducted. It was simple and easy to understand and follow. I witnessed a lot more creativity and I felt the service was designed to facilitate and reflect the ideals of family.
COP26 Diary: Unexpected grief at the loss of my cousin and Aboriginal Pastor, Brian Lampton
COP26 Diary: 'I hate being treated like a dumb blackfellow!'
COP26 Diary: A David and Goliath battle for First Nations peoples, and meeting Twiggy Forrest
COP26 Diary: Prayer with the Archbishop, a message for Scott Morrison, and a hug from home
It reminded me of the type of ‘church’ my father would conduct. He would not have sat down and ‘planned’ an order of service. It would just happen. He would gather the people in community and believe that he was being ‘led by the Spirit.’ I remember those old times, where we would gather in someone’s back yard around a fire, or in rented halls and enjoy each other’s company and fellowship. Especially as we all struggled to find some sense of meaning under the brutal oppressive practices of the Queensland government’s Aboriginal Protection Act. It was a constantly, fearful daily experience! Especially when ‘gatherings’ of our people were not permitted under these laws. Those times are still etched in my memory.
I also came to St. Silas for the message. The Rector has been exploring the Sermon on the Mount with his congregation.
This week’s message was entitled ‘Judging Wisely’. Based on Matthew’s Gospel chapter 7:1-11. The focus of the lesson was on ‘Specks and logs’. ‘Pigs and dogs.’ ‘Stones and snakes.’ The very start of this passage starts with this command, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged…” Even though the message was tailored for this congregation, my mind and spirit was comprehending the message in the light of the many struggles and challenges of my people and the unrelenting burdens and stresses on our First Nations families and communities. I was also relating the message to my musings and observations at COP26. I had some deep reflections on this message.
Consider, for the past 200 years we have been judged by a powerful foreign nation who have invaded our lands and saw us through the logs in their own eyes. Judgments like Terra Nullius. The White Australia Policy. Social Darwinism. Native Title. We have had far too many Royal Commissions and Senate inquiries about “looking into” our problems and issues. The Australian Constitutions excluded us because we were seen as non-human. Incarceration rates and deaths in custody are beyond our capacity to act and respond adequately and appropriately. Then there are the multitude of studies, inquiries, report after report and all types of examinations. And a litany of media and other studies and judgments about us. Politicians, priests, police, lawyers, doctors and civil society have constantly viewed us through these huge logs in their eyes which to this day they have never removed. Perhaps it’s not a log in their eyes but the whole forest that blinds them and their actions and perceptions towards us?
We have experienced time and time again, the brutal outcomes of this type of character who judges us through these lenses. Our jails are overflowing with the results of these perceptions of us. Our children are removed at such an exponential rate by government policy. Our families are being torn apart. Our sacred lands destroyed forever. We certainly have a long struggle ahead because these logs and forests are in plentiful supply in our nation. And because of these perceptions of us and our land, we will continue to witness the devouring and destruction of our sacred treasure. Our sacred sites. Our rivers and waters. Our oceans and lands. Our families. Our children. Our youth. The scene of pigs and dogs feeding off our treasure as if it was of no value to us in this passage in relation to our struggles is very sobering and confronting. How sad! And I couldn’t help reflect on the fact that our Indigenous people have ‘cast our pearls’ our sacred knowledge and treasures before extractive capitalism and watched as they continue to devour us.
The passage also highlights another part of our challenges and struggles. “Stones and snakes.” We have asked for bread and fish from the tables of plenty in our own land. But we have been given stones and snakes in response. Consider the Mabo decision as an example. In my humble opinion, the High Court of Australia gave me an insight into one of the best definitions of sovereignty ever made on our soil, by the High Court of Australia, when it made this declaration: “…Declare that the Meriam people are entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of the lands of the Murray Islands;” It is a simple definition and for me it is easy to comprehend. Possession. Occupation. Use. Enjoyment. What profound simplicity! Uncle Eddie Mabo asked for ‘bread and fish.’ But the result of the Mabo decision was that we got the ‘stones and snake’ we called Native Title plus more expensive litigations just over land rights.
Among many other musings, the message from the Sermon on The Mount here at St. Silas did resonate strongly in my contemplations on the struggles of our people and the climate crisis we are discussing here in Glasgow at COP26. It is poignant that the passage also adds this message… “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” If there is one thing that is of massive supply here at COP26 it is hypocrisy. I also discovered the other two twins of dispossession and colonialism. Paternalism and patronisation. These two attitudes have dominated my spirit and observation here at COP26.
I also reminded myself that I am included in this message. I too need to heed this message. I also need to ask myself. How many logs and forests are in my eyes? ….Please Lord, forgive me and show me Your mercy for my hypocrisy also.
But there were other surprises for me at St Silas. I met one of the grandsons of the 29th Governor of NSW. His name is Dr Michael Reader-Harris. His grandfather was The Right Hon Baron Wakehurst, who served from 1937 to 1946. I was informed by Michael, that he was the last Governor of NSW appointed by the Crown. NSW began to choose and appoint their own Governors after his tenure from that time onwards. He told me about some of his photographic collections and other fascinating stories. I suggested that he come to Australia and do a series of talks about his grandfather. When I get home, I will ask the Governor if she may be interested in bringing Dr Reader-Harris to Sydney to give an insight into this amazing Governor’s story.
I also discovered another piece of really important personal historical information. One secret in my family tree was a Scottish ancestor named Colin Campbell. He is the father of my Kabi Kabi grandmother. I had no idea where to look for this ancestor. Imagine my delight and surprise to discover that the church, St. Silas was started by three Campbell brothers. And very close to the suburb where I am staying here in Glasgow, Anniesland, is a place called Butany on the Kelvin River. This is where they sent their convicts to Botany Bay. I now have information to begin the search for his ancestors. But wait! There’s more! I had a bite to eat with a young couple at church. The husband is a doctor. His wife is a teacher. Her nee name is Campbell. No wonder I feel at home here at St. Silas! It was great to feel loved and belonging especially when I was also grieving the loss of my cousin.
On Monday afternoon I had the privilege to address the faith community, both in-house and online. The topic was about the funds divesting the funds and asset portfolios that the Church and other faith communities uses to invest in the fossil fuel industries and other climate-destroying industries. I took the privilege of reminding them that the Church is also wedded to the dispossession and destruction of Indigenous peoples throughout the world, because of the power and evil actions that were wrought with such brutal force because of the Doctrine of Discover. These were Papal edicts of the 12 -14 centuries. These doctrines gave nations to invade, slaughter and annihilate the so-called pagans enjoying their freedoms in their sovereign lands and territories. I suggested that a reinvestment strategy should include Indigenous peoples. We would be very pleased to be the recipients of those divestment funds.
I also included that apologies and restitution needs to be made by the church to all Indigenous peoples, in a spirit of repentance based on the Zacchaeus principles. I pray that the Church will be obedient to His Spirit and that they may see the value that investing in the lives of people is a more Biblical principle.
Ancient of Days, My soul is still weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. Help me find courage and fortitude in your word because the unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple, including a simple fool like me. I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word. I live among a people who have rejected You. They give lip service but have drifted so far Your ways. I will cry out to the heavens and the earth today. May they be my witness and that they may judge these people who destroy your Creation and turn their backs on Your ways and Your sacred laws. Heaven and earth, you be the jury. Listen to God’s case: “I had children and raised them well, and they turned on me. The ox knows who’s boss, the mule knows the hand that feeds him, But not the Australian people. These people don’t know up from down. They act so shamefully! And openly! They are like misguided God-dropouts, staggering under their guilt-baggage, They are Criminal gangs, a band of trespassers and looters. Ancient of Days, even Your people have walked out on You. They have turned their backs on Your Word and your sacred laws. Many Indigenous people know, that Your laws are written in the land, the sea, the waters, the air and sky. They enjoy their trivial religious games. Their monthly conferences, weekly gatherings, their special meetings. Meetings, meetings, meetings!—can You stand any more meetings in Your Name? Meetings for this, meetings for that. I believe that you hate them! We have worn you out! Aren’t You sick of all this religion, and more religion, and more religion while they go right on sinning? When they put on their prayer-performance, will you be looking the other way? Will you be listening to them? Ancient of Days, they have been tearing people to pieces. They have been ripping up your scared lands! Your creation! They are blowing up Your sacred sites and places. And in Your church, all their hands are bloody. Ancient of Days, don’t forsake us. Give us strength to say no to wrongdoing. Teach us again to learn to do good. Empower us once again to work for true justice for our people and for all people. Teach us again to heal and care for our lands and repair our climate crisis. We admit that we have failed to stand up for the homeless. The widow. The refugee. We don’t even stand up and support the prisoner. Our single mothers. The defenceless and voiceless ones among us. Ancient of Days, let me confess our shortcomings, our offences and our faults again today. Ancient of Days, only You are able to keep us from stumbling and to present us before our Creator’s glorious presence without fault and with great joy through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages. We sincerely ask you to be gracious and restore our dignity as Your people. I ask these kindnesses in Jesus name, our Ancestor in the faith. Amen.
Ray Minniecon is a descendant of the Kabi Kabi nation and the Gurang Gurang nation of southeast Queensland. He is also a descendant of the South Sea Islander people, with deep and abiding connections to the people of Ambrym Island. He leads Scarred Tree, an Aboriginal, Torres Strait and Australian South Sea Islander ministry based in St John’s Glebe, Sydney.