Why My Wife is Voting ‘Yes’

As much as the author of this blog website, Universal Connection, would love to sway each of his readers towards his ‘traditional marriage’ bias, he’s more interested in truth, and opening vistas of dialogue via deep, raw honesty. So, in this inaugural guest-blog, Adele Sretenovic (David’s wife) passionately opines on the topic of same-sex marriage, explaining why she as a Christian must vote “yes” in the plebiscite taking place currently.

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[Written by guest blogger, Adele Sretenovic]

I’m about to write some of my perspective on the issue of same-sex marriage (SSM). I am going to say regardless of what you believe about same-sex marriage it NEEDS to be legalised. And I’m going to say it on behalf of the hurting people, on both sides.

This plebiscite is nothing more than a vote-saver for Malcolm Turnbull. He knows that it will be passed through this plebiscite, but now he can say to all those Christians who are against SSM and choose to vote for him that he followed through on his promise… AND to all those who wanted this law to pass, that he did do it. It’s just a political manoeuvre and we are the pawns and the victims of his games. I say victims because in the midst of our strong views that politicians like to believe is just law, are people. People who have hurts and pains like everyone in this world. People who don’t deserve to feel like less than people for the life that they have. People who will lash out like a wild animal in pain, when threatened and belittled, and I will admit that while this is happening on both sides of this debate it is those to whom this law matters most who are truly the victims here. Whether you are homosexual or not, whether you believe SSM is wrong or right, at the end of the day we are ALL just people. And this debate has dehumanised so many people and it is just not right.

So why do I say to Christians to legalise SSM? For many reasons, but firstly because law is not religion – religion generally tries to imagine the world as it could be. At its best it makes us strive to be better people, but it does not rule a society. The Law, in my mind, protects, it protects us from others and from ourselves. It acknowledges the reality that life is not perfect, humans are not perfect. And in this sense I can only say that Jesus himself acknowledges the need for exceptions. He said that God did not intend for divorce, yet He made allowances for it. Our law now allows people to have no-fault divorce, yet according to Jesus in the Bible unless there was evidence of adultery, divorce is not God’s intention and to remarry after divorce He declares it a form of adultery. Yet how many Christian’s today are divorced not because of adultery and are now remarried? I don’t condemn them; I understand life is beyond the ideal of Jesus’ words. In fact to be perfectly honest, I could have gotten divorced. As wonderful as my husband is, after we had children it was so hard. I wasn’t coping, he wasn’t coping and he and I just couldn’t seem to work things out (my polite way of saying, screaming, crying and arguing matches). Eventually, for us we were blessed to have counselling sessions that helped us resolve our differences and deal with our own issues.

I also believe Jesus didn’t condemn. For example, not long after he makes this declaration about divorce, he forgives the woman caught in adultery. But my question is why does not only society but many churches now accept people who are divorced? I believe it is because we understand that sometimes even though we try to understand each other in a marriage, it doesn’t always work out. And sometimes the better solution is to walk away so that we don’t spend a lifetime hurting ourselves and others. In some ways the Church can learn from the Law, it can learn to accept that life isn’t perfect and we must make allowances for this. That sometimes we need to imagine that the worst will happen, and explore how we will respond, which is what the Law does. My question at the end of this is: if you met someone who was divorced would you honestly tell them that they are condemned by God? Would you condemn them and convict them, disown them; tell them that you love them but not their actions? Would you belittle their life? Tell them of all the potential negative consequences of divorce on their children? If so, then you need to get the massive log out of your eye, because according to your beliefs, Christ died for them and he does not condemn them. If not, then how can you do this to someone who wants to marry someone of the same sex? Is it not the same thing, a lifetime decision against various verses in the Bible? Drop your stone my friends, we are guilty too. And if it is right or wrong to love someone of the same sex, it is not our place to judge. It is not our place to condemn and it is not our place to say that it should not happen. The only thing we can control is ourselves. So make a pledge with yourself to not marry someone of the same sex if you believe it is wrong, make a pledge with yourself to be a better person, but understand that this is the only true power you have in life, control over yourself and your attitudes.

For those who are willing to concede a civil union but not marriage, here is my view. The church does not own the word marriage – it was in place before the Bible and used within many different cultures and religions, many with no knowledge of the Christian or even Jewish faith. There are many different definitions that have evolved over time, from a transaction between families, to a love match. I mean, even in the Bible there are difference definitions, with the Old Testament allowing (if not promoting) polygamy: great patriarchs such as Jacob, David and Solomon all have multiple wives. Yet the New Testament states that a deacon can have only one wife. So it is not a question of redefinition of a word, such as ‘trinity’, which is exclusively used in Christianity; ‘marriage’ is a word that both secular and religious people use. I see no controversy from Christians stating that they are appalled, offended and refuse to recognise the marriage of non-Christian heterosexuals; often Christians are willing to recognise these ‘marriages’, even if a celebrant not a minister performed the ceremony and there was no mention of God in the service at all. So if marriage is not a Christian-only institution, why try to stop this redefinition? My reasoning for allowing it to be called marriage is because words have connotations (I’m an English teacher, connotation is my world) and if a civil union looks like marriage, sounds like marriage and is basically marriage, then why create a new word that will cause potential discrimination? If the only difference between a civil union and marriage is the gender of the participants, then it is discriminatory. How do you say that someone is equal if one group have one word to describe their relationship and another group a different one? It becomes a way of division instead of love and unity, a way to judge a relationship as lacking, incomplete or inappropriate. Will you also protest a civil union relationship calling their partner their wife? I understand you are trying to compromise, but it is not enough if we want to live in a society of peace and inclusion.

Finally, I just ask that those Christians putting forth their ‘no’ point of view to stop looking at this as though it is not personal. It is very personal, especially for a group of people who already have been hurt, abused and belittled in our society; they do not need your judgement too. They do not need you to say that it’s not you judging them but God, they don’t need you to espouse views that you think are impersonal, but are very personal to them. They don’t need you to say that they are going to screw up any kids that they have. As a parent I don’t think there is any perfect parent out there, and there is potential for both heterosexual and homosexual parents to damage the psyche of a child. Divorce damages, single parenting damages, but it also has the potential for good.  I know some wonderful, amazing, single mums who are doing an amazing job raising their child. Honestly, are any of these any worse than a married Christian father who abuses his child? There are many risk factors to the physical, emotional and mental health of a child, I know that, in fact I’m sure many of us have hidden scars from our own childhood. But everyone is different and we can’t judge all homosexuals on an anecdote where someone experienced pain being raised by homosexual parents. At the end of all this I just ask that you see homosexual people as PEOPLE first. Not as theology, not as right versus wrong, not as hypothetical problems, but as people. As your mother, as your sister, as your father, as your brother. That is how I believe Jesus lived, he saw people, that’s why His ministry was with the lowly, the fishermen, the tax collectors, the prostitutes. He didn’t condemn Zacchaeus’ life, he didn’t say, “You’re wrong, you’re greedy and I’ll prove all of this to you by quoting the prophets of old”; instead he said, “Let’s go have lunch together.” I get that it is hard to not feel as though SSM is threatening you personally, but in time I hope you can see the people, not the topic. I hope you can forget the topic and just love the person.

I’m not perfect, I can’t see the future any better than you, but I trust God to bring healing and wholeness to a situation that is full of hurt, confusion and righteous indignation. I trust God to help me be compassionate to all people, homosexual or heterosexual, Christian or non-Christian, and because of this I am choosing to vote ‘yes’. Because essentially the greatest commandment Jesus gave was to love God and love one another as ourselves. So before you say anything more on this issue, think whether is it loving and err on the side of silence if unsure.

And as a side note please be wary of a politician who cares more for votes than he does about the emotional welfare of his people.

How About We Sabotage Our Own Society?

In this blog, David Sretenovic laments the heightened sense of tension surrounding the simple matter of being honest.

A man who was previously considered an upstanding, caring, intelligent and valuable leader in an Australian community is nowadays so easily sidelined and made into a pariah. A woman who is confided in, relied upon, leads and protects can be, at the click of a button on social media, catapulted to a status of notoriety and suspicion. A citizen who for years has been a pillar, upon making an admission regarding politics, will have shade cast upon their very legacy. Important contributors – those who are known for their work ethic, qualifications, and abilities – are so quickly being turned over and replaced with … others.

You see, if someone admits to questioning something controversial (you name the hot-button topic of the moment: burqas/head coverings; vaccination, same-sex marriage/ gender/sexuality; evolution/creationism; refugee policy; support for a leader such as Trump or Obama; global warming…) –  this has so much power at the moment. It has the potential to see someone’s reputation tarnished in a day. Take, for example, a doctor who allows and supports patients in making a conscience-call on vaccinating their children: such a doctor is today hunted down and swiftly discredited by authorities. This doctor, prior to admitting his opinion on vaccination, would be considered a pillar of society: intelligent, reliable and one who brings healing and health to many. But no longer – all that swept away with one admission (regardless of whether that admission contravenes any laws or not). The teacher who students and parents have heralded and trusted: instantly considered a traitor to the school and society if they dare admit they support traditional marriage and gender norms. All the brilliant work that a teacher does in supporting students, building the community and imparting knowledge, casually tossed aside due to the revelation of his opinion – the ramifications of an honest comment.

The knock-on effect is where this bites. Who replaces them? I can tell you this much: it’s not someone who will be willing to make the same mistake. They will know exactly what not to say. And if they do in fact hold a contraband opinion, rule number one will be to withhold their truth and never be honest. One could of course see this as a good thing. It could be the civilizing effects of political correctness. It could be the initiation of a new social order which has washed away the dregs of outmoded and archaic beliefs and ways of being – a social cleansing of sorts. But let’s just examine closely exactly what it is that has triggered, in the past decade or so, this rapid cleansing.

Honesty. It is precisely this: an honest comment. Without those words of personal truth, that individual would have retained their honoured, valued and established position of citizenship and contribution. All those things which take years of hard work, which a society celebrates and needs, and which it strains and toils in order to build into a person: discarded over what? An honest word, and a venture into vulnerability.

I’ll tell you what, I don’t know of a better way to sabotage an entire society. We’re losing out on so much by operating this way. And it’s not necessarily clear which is worse: discarding the quality, or discouraging the honesty. But if I had to choose, I’d say the latter. It’s a dagger to the heart of us all.

Book Review of ‘Raising Hell – The Short and Sweet Version’ (Julie Ferwerda, 2016)

As a lifelong Christian who has always critiqued and pondered deeply the core teachings of both Christianity and religions in general, David Sretenovic has a particular interest in the doctrine of Eternal Conscious Torment in Hell. In this blog he reviews a brilliant book by Julie Ferwerda, ‘Raising Hell – The Short and Sweet Version’ (2016, Vagabond Group).

Years after I read and was blessed by Raising Hell (2011) (the earlier edition to the subject of this review) I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with its author, Julie Ferwerda. This struck me about her: she loves and cares for people, and she is honest. And this is the wonderfully human sense you get as you read the book. In particular, the autobiographical elements show her internal, personal dialogue as she followed her conscience – prodded by the innocent questioning of her young daughter – into examining the way the traditional doctrine of ‘eternal hell’ seems incongruent with the heart of a loving Father God. The image of the Prodigal Son’s father frenziedly running to greet his returning vagabond is a refrain throughout Raising Hell – The Short and Sweet Version (2016) (Raising Hell (TSSV)) . This will capture your heart and intellect if you let it.

Any reader who opens their heart enough to feel the compassion behind the book will be blessed to encounter the rigour and logic which Ferwerda applies in deconstructing the centuries-old edifice of children-parents-and-friends-torturously-burning-in-hell-while-we-are-happily-coexisting-in-heaven-forever. Raising Hell (TSSV) is a welcome précis to the original book, yet its scope remains balanced and thorough. Ferwerda draws on robust scholarship, including the Jewish and Universalist traditions, and amply utilizes both classical and modern analogies, timeless quotes, poetry and biblical worldviews to unlock the paradigm. Much of the book is also dedicated to rebutting common pro-hell arguments, including the “What about Hitler?” quip!

Ferwerda scaffolds her thesis throughout by supplying the important questions which she, and any searching reader, need to ask to distill the truth on the matter. Questions such as: Doesn’t the New Testament mention hell more often than heaven? Is there a viable Christian theological position historically and scripturally that doesn’t teach a literal, eternal hell? How could millions of devout Christians and theologians over many centuries have been duped (and who am I to question authoritative scholarship)? Moreover, the author delves into the intricacies of Bible translation through the ages and interpretation. The chapters explore these well, and Bible study and discussion-starting scaffolding are also supplied (although fewer than in the first edition of the book).

The following quotes from Raising Hell (TSSV) are most illuminating for anyone who is warming to the idea of ‘raising hell’, and wanting to be shepherded towards a better hope, as the gospel suggests:

The notion of hell is suspiciously missing from the OT as the destiny for most of mankind, unless you read the KJV or TM (The Message), both of which include the word hell over thirty times. Do KJV and TM know something others don’t? Why the inconsistency?…Here’s the deal. KJV translates Sheol as hell whenever they want to convey it as the fearsome destination of the wicked (e.g. Ps. 55:15, 91:17…). However, when portraying the fate of the righteous, they translate it grave (e.g. Ps. 89:48, Job 14:13). Same exact Hebrew word in both cases!…

The word most often translated hell in the NT is the word Gehenna, found only twelve times – once in James and the rest occurring in the Gospels. Jesus warned about Gehenna on four unique occasions in Matthew. Mark and Luke only use it in one passage (repeating Matthew), and John doesn’t use it all. (Raising Hell (TSSV), p.26-27).

It makes you think, doesn’t it?

For more information and a link to a free download of the Hell Raising books, click on this link: http://www.raisinghellbook.com/#wrap . Follow the book and Julie Ferwerda on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RaisingHellBook/ .

Additional resources on the general topic of “hell” via my public Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Hell-free-Christianity-203963783004656/

Your Freedom to be Masked; Our Freedom to Encourage Face Liberation

How do you feel about citizens routinely being masked or veiled? If you are as enamored by the human face as David Sretenovic is, you may appreciate his exhortation to encourage the liberation of the face in Australian culture.

I once posted a Facebook comment which elaborated on the sheer magic and vitality of the human face. It was deliberately positive-subversive in its intent to stave off the creeping influence of those sub-cultures which practice face-veiling (covering the face with a mask or veil of some sort) in general civic life, especially targeting women. The communicative value, the beauty, the identity-symbolism… applying veils to women’s faces publicly has an effect akin to land being starved of water until drought sets in. To me, there are very few things which are more dehumanizing, identity-crushing, esteem-destroying, marginalizing and barrier-raising than the act of covering a face. Of course, the magnitude of these potential ill-effects for the individual will depend on how much personal volition is involved versus imposition. But I think there is a way in which the rest of society suffers for the loss of a face, regardless of the individual’s perception of it which can be relative to their personal experience.

As I see it, the practice goes right to the heart of social foundations. I wonder what the reader might consider to be the absolute foundations for their ideal society. For the average twenty-first century citizen, you could easily pluck a feel-good platitude from the barrel of political correctness: freedom, liberty, democracy, self-determination, law, justice… the list goes on. My pick from this list would be freedom. But I’d say that the human face is no less important than freedom. A healthy society requires freedom, and it needs faces equally — possibly more so! I’m risking overstating the argument here, but to me it makes sense to put it so strongly.

So to the ends of encouraging healthy foundations, I’m going to speak to those who feel that face-veiling is important, and especially to those pushing for religious face-veiling (e.g. the Muslim niqab/burqa). In the case of Islam, I do not see a convincing case that the religion requires it. There are too many Muslims globally who do not wear it for that to be true. According to the Quran, neither Allah nor Mohammed demand or expect Muslim women to wear face-veils. It would be inaccurate — and actually quite an affront to their own religious freedom — to suggest that a woman with an unveiled face is any less holy or devout than a woman with a face-veil (find a further rebuttal to the Islamist interpretation of the Quran via this link). If we were to take a sample of Muslim women from across the globe, there would be a mix of attires: some all in black with face-veils, some not even showing their eyes, some would have more colourful garments, some with just head-scarves, some without any head-covering at all. The popularized understanding of Islam in Australia is this: it is a woman’s choice as to whether they wear a face-veil. It’s a free choice! And when it’s a free choice, there is room for cultural considerations. So naturally we in Australia will encourage women to liberate their faces, as this is our cultural value here.

For my part, this is a message which ought to be put plainly to the Australian public: Islam does not require face-veiling, therefore discouraging it is not religious intolerance. It cannot be religious intolerance driving this message because we understand that Islam allows the freedom to choose; we are not rejecting the religion, we are asserting it. No, rather it is the value of the human face which is driving this message. I simply don’t think we ought to be backward about telling Muslim women what our preference here is! It’s their choice: the Aussie way or not, but we would truly be blessed if they would allow their face to be seen. (Of course, they can still be Aussie with a face-veil, but honestly, they are opting out of a liberty which is as fair-dinkum at the heart of Aussie identity as the Simpson Desert and as true blue as the surf).

The reality is that there are “cultures” (or communities and political groups) which do enforce face-veils, but rejecting these cultural practices is far from attacking Islam or practicing religious intolerance. Here in Australia it has not traditionally been our culture to encourage face-veiling. But we are also a nation which generously opens our borders and welcomes the world, so our culture will have a fluidity to it. As I said above, there is too much at stake at the foundations of our society to encourage face-veiling, so I’m interested in shaping our culture for the better.

In order for cultural practices to be meaningfully swayed, one looks to authorities to set the tone and direction. So who are the authorities in Muslim countries and communities where face-veiling is prevalent? It seems to me that it’s largely men. In Muslim communities typically the men appear to have the positions of authority in public civic matters, and if this is true then the burden of responsibility rests more on their shoulders at this time; minimally, men in such contexts have more power to influence attitudes towards wearing face-veils (whether rightly or wrongly, and regardless of Western ideals). To bring this point to a head: men, do you wish for the faces of women to be covered in public? I’m asking that, in Australia, you use your roles and positions (whatever they may be) to encourage and nurture the benefits of veil-free living in Australia — we here value women’s faces in public. Clearly this would not be crossing Allah…so what could possibly be convincing men to do otherwise? Hmmm…

Folks say that in Australia, individuals are free under law to wear what they wish: face-veil or no-face-veil ought not to be anyone’s concern. But this is only one layer in the picture. In reality, folks are bound by the behaviour of those around them, as well as expectations. Let me give a few analogies to illustrate. If someone were to be living in a household which hates witches and practices violence against them, it would be very difficult for that individual to own up to having taken up witchcraft. Of course by law they are “free” to proudly practice witchcraft but they will not have that sense of freedom due to their surroundings. Other examples: peer-pressure in schools; “coming out” sexually; admitting that you are dating or marrying cross-culturally. These are all scenarios where “freedom” according to law is a false reality, or at least they are situations where the law only facilitates a shallow experience of freedom.

There are also laws under laws. An eighteen-year-old is legally permitted to buy and drink alcohol in Australia, but not if he’s at school; the school law binds him in that context. And there are general “laws” of authority in place culturally — social norms if you will. One crucial social norm for the matter at hand is the persistent idea that a man has authority or superiority over a woman in some way. Wherever this is a cultural norm, even in Australia, then the assertion of “male-female equality” is no more than a façade; what the male expects will be the law that holds sway there. Another important social norm is Sharia Law, even if it is not legislated at a federal level. The crucial question is this: does Sharia Law encourage women to wear face-veils? If not, then it’s all the more weight upon the shoulders of Muslim authorities in Australia to discourage face-veiling. But if it does, then clearly women are not as “free” to choose whether they wear face-veils as Australian law suggests.

Appendix: My Assumptions in this article.

Did this article stimulate some thoughts? Are you interested in supporting or alternatively opposing any of my or others’ thoughts on the matter? Go for it! Rigorous, honest and passionate dialogue is what we need. This appendix is designed to be a source of suggestions for where debate may be helpfully and practically directed. In this article, my assumptions include:

  • Islam does not require face-veiling as a religious imposition, or a requirement of Allah or Mohammed.
  • Australian culture does not encourage face-mask wearing as a public norm. (Despite Ned Kelly’s legendary status 😛 ).
  • In Australia, men and women, boys and girls are equally valued.
  • In some countries, men and women are not valued equally.
  • Men do not have authority over women as a natural right; women have equal eligibility for authority as men, including equal social status and are equal value in civic, business and governmental spheres.
  • Those in a position of privilege and authority have more power, and a burden of responsibility, to initiate changes for good in society.

A Good Shepherd; More Than Sheep

Ever looked back at a time when you were a bit of a “sheep”? Ever been mistreated by an authority figure? David Sretenovic shares a meme and a thought on that plight of humanity: to be shepherded.

memekraftsheepcrook(Meme by MemekraftDS, 19/02/17)

I got to thinking this week…

We’re all sheep in a sense, but there is an awakening process. I also think there are different types of shepherds out there. I think of pastoral figures, but also authorities across society, from politicians and doctors to teachers and parents. There’s a fine line to walk. A shepherd has a privilege and responsibility to nurture humanity but not clutch at control.

John 10:11 is also gold.

Peace on your journey!

— David

Free to Reject (spoken word poem)

“The ultimate in unconditional, gospel love… at least that’s my goal.” In this spoken-word poem, David Sretenovic expresses his vision and faith for life and life after death: hope for all, bar NONE. (Video and lyrics only)

Free to Reject (spoken word poem)

By David Sretenovic — November, 2016

You are free to reject this; That’s what makes it the gospel; I won’t use coercion, pure and simple; There can be no threat, if agape is in use; and risk can’t exist if omniscience and love fuse; To me the gospel’s simple: it’s unconditional love; selfless and pure, guaranteed from Above; And here’s the kicker: there’s no catch to it; You can give Christ the finger; And tell God to shove it; You’re free to curse Him; You’re free to hate; go ahead and murder Him; I’ve done worse to date; And you’re free to oppose me; You’re free to prove me wrong; if enemies abuse me, gospel love echoes-on; Attack the church; join a cult; change your gender; what’s the result?; Nothing changes from God’s POV; The gospel embraces every single body; Because God sees it coming; And technically you can’t bother; The king on his throne; Who’s got your back like a brother//

For me the Good News is that heaven is for all; Otherwise, it can’t be heaven at all; That’s the beauty of the Christian game; We all came from love and our destination is the same; If God is truly able to do as He desires; Couldn’t he choose to quench Hell’s fires?; Sure I’m not God, I can’t see beyond the grave; but I’m just not inspired unless all are saved//

Think for a moment what has captured the human mind; the most divine images your heart can find; The purity of a child; The nurture of a mother; a wild west sunset; The climax of a lover; Reading that love letter; tasting a vintage wine; memories from that picture; a symphony sublime; The love of a dog; or a campfire moment; finding a galaxy; oooh that perfume scent; Perfect geometry; sculptures of Rodin; surfing Oahu’s wave; holding her hand; Your head on his shoulder; dancing slow; That desert rose; the orchid in the snow; These are all a taste of a heaven guarantee; our souls are meant for a garden of ecstasy; This is the hope I have to share; the gospel of Christ takes us all there; And you’re free to reject it; That’s what makes it the gospel; who needs coercion? Not Christ in the Bible; The truth is that love is everywhere and nothing is at stake for a perfect God of care

Xenophobics Anonymous (Diversity 101)

Diversity has some crucial foundation stones, and the idea of welcoming and including others into your life is one of them. David Sretenovic serves up some morsels from applied linguistics and parenting his toddlers, to give a message of hope for lovers of diversity.

Over the years I’ve gained some expertise in Applied Linguistics, and there’s one particular concept which stands out head and shoulders above the rest; for me, it’s possibly more powerful and worthy of attention than any other in the field. And I think it holds some of the keys for unlocking and harnessing the depth of human diversity. It is captured by the term “an additive environment”, in the sense of “more value, quality and information” being introduced. In its original usage, an additive language environment contrasts starkly to an environment where another language, or even culture, is undervalued to the point where it gradually atrophies and eventually disappears. Here in Australia, it may come to as a shock to my friends that nurturing an “additive language environment” may in fact be an historical weakness for us as a nation, considering the hundreds of languages that have become extinct since Europeans arrived… but many of us are keen to reverse this uncouth trend! And every time someone uses the word “diversity”, they are echoing this sentiment of historical reversal. When we call for diversity, we are calling for inclusiveness of others… but walking the talk wasn’t easy when Europeans first arrived, and it ain’t easy now. But read on if you love the ideas of diversity, community, inter-generational connection and reciprocal respect.

Inclusiveness. It’s inclusiveness that gives us access to the gold mine which resides within our neighbour (in the biblical sense). But the reality is that living inclusively is hard; moreover, it requires a paradigm shift away from the “fluffy” and “rainbows and candy” slogans which governments and the media use to depict diversity and multiculturalism. It’s so easy to share a meme which lampoons anti-immigration, or to vote for the political party which is welcoming refugees…even go to a candle-light vigil. But including these foreigners, and carrying their burdens… understanding their culture and appreciating which parts of it are sacred. Getting to know why they struggle. Visiting their ghettos and being confronted by the violence in their worlds. Man, that’s life-interrupting stuff. It takes time, effort, money and Saturdays. Public holidays. Sacrifice. Oosh.

I find myself struggling to include my kids sometimes. Well, actually, sometimes I struggle to include anyone but me. Don’t even mention my long-term, Aussie next-door neighbours… let alone the indigenous community on the outskirts of town. The refugees being resettled locally are way down the subconscious priority list – most people ought to admit that to themselves. It’s like step one at AA. I think Australia needs to go to an AA type meeting over this, actually. Xenophobics Anonymous? XA we can call it… hmmm, that’s a bit weird, maybe XO? Yeah that’s better: Hugs’n’kisses Anonymous. And we can advertise it with free beer! I’m being tongue in cheek, of course, and a little harsh too (Australia is awesome!)… but a bit of fair dinkum introspection can go a long way.

Now, although I’m as selfish as any other bloke, I do think I have applied the right idea with my kids from time to time. My daughter, Andje (3 years of age), and Jet (2 years of age), will be sitting and playing beautifully: giggles, interactive banter and intelligent imagination – such a delight to a parent’s ears! But then Jet might pull her hair a little too much. She’ll react, and he might not stop yanking. This spirals into raised voices, shrieks, banging … I’ll be holding back from intervening in the hope they can mediate for themselves. But inevitably sometimes they need me to provide some scaffolding. I’ve pondered what the best forms of intervention are and I think there’s a qualitative difference between these two interventions:

  1. “Jet, stop pulling your sister’s hair!”
  2. “Jet, listen to your sister… she’s upset.”

There are variations on these interventions, but the latter has captured my imagination because I feel like I’m shifting the focus away from me, and onto them. It’s no longer about stopping the screaming (so I can get back to what I was doing, or even to stop Andje’s discomfort). It’s now about engaging with the kids and making this a moment of personal growth and care for one another: I am actively mentoring Jet; Jet is being directed towards empathizing; and Andje is being listened to. Our day’s activity becomes less about an external goal and more about our relationship, shared experience and making space for each other’s very different worlds.

I’ve had to lay down what I’m doing more. I’ve had to let my Saturday plans go sometimes. I’ve had to give up some career ambitions. Oh man, but to see my children’s eyes widen with the discovery of each other and themselves… to see them enjoy the sense of family in all its diversity: it’s so worth it.

To me inclusiveness encapsulates the ethos of an additive environment: adding the priorities of others to your own life without sabotaging yourself. Sure it takes time and energy, and a meaningful sacrifice in order to include the young, the old…those with different languages, strange cultures. But there is a way you can do this without excoriating your own identity and values, or expecting them to either.