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.

Ye Shall Know the Truth and it Shall Frustrate the Bleeding Life out of You

In this blog, David Sretenovic takes the reader to that fork in the road where, in daily routines, you have a choice as to which truth to speak. Captain Obvious swoops in like Superman to do his thing too.

“Well, thank-you, Captain Obvious!” Have you ever heard someone say that? It’s said with a double dose of sarcasm, sometimes in jest but other times with spiteful disdain. (If you haven’t come across this colloquialism, it’s directed at someone who has made an unhelpful and unnecessary observation about something which is plainly clear to all present.) Sometimes it amounts to being told, “Make yourself useful for a change, would you?”

I had a funny thought though (go with me for a second):  isn’t Captain Obvious telling the truth? Doesn’t the “truth set you free” (according to the popular, biblical maxim)? Soooo, if Captain Obvious were a Superhero, then telling the truth would be his super-power… that would make him the greatest liberator of all the Superheros! I’m being silly of course, but to be honest I know people – often religious, preachy folk – who actually think that that’s the way it works. Unfortunately it’s not: simply stating something which is true doesn’t miraculously liberate someone. Moreover, it seems to be a largely unappreciated reality that some truths are simply not worth stating. In fact, in any given circumstance, there are always multiple truths on offer (and you can’t say them all!). Developing my perspective here, I’d like to point to two of the more important truths which present themselves in any given circumstance, one of them being pertinent particularly for the Christian Believer.

I face the choice over and over – and marriage circumstances, particularly arguments with Wifey, spring to mind – as to which truth to speak, to harness, to thrust into our discourse. Something has gone wrong in the home: perhaps a child was disappointed because their favourite pyjamas were unwashed for bedtime; perhaps dinner preparation was left too late and the whole zoo rioted – and I am locking horns with her. I know I am right, and I can retell the story for her, stating each excruciating fact, exactly as it happened. In brutal prosecutor fashion, I could piece together the machinery of her failure so no judge or jury could deny my case. (As an aside, I’ll point out that such an approach, brimming with factuality and truth, tends to have to the objective of putting the blame onto her and off me). But, as a Believer who is possessed by the Holy Ghost, I always have another truth ringing in my ear. “Your wife,” He says, “is a Queen, a gift to you, blameless before Me, and achieving exactly what I have intended for her in life, and in your marriage. She is a holy saint, made exquisitely and perfectly, for you and for Me, and her words right now are emissaries from my throne. I, your God, am speaking to you, David, through her! She is Love to you, right now! And what she did in causing this present disappointment looks to you like a habit and a character flaw which you cannot justify or overlook, but this is not her true character; her true character, in Christ, is peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control… just as the Bible says.” For me, in that moment of heated quarrel, both of these are absolute truths. And at that instance, I can only choose to say one of them. The question is: which one is more helpful? To make this point more generalised: in any situation, you can either state the observable truths, or the gospel-driven, spiritual perspective. 

What I believe is a great challenge of life, and indeed a blaring reason for our need for God and the Holy Spirit, is to be able to make the right choice of which truth to be uttering at the right time. And this is my exhortation: choose the best truth you can at every given moment! Choose the best truth that YOU can see! There is no moral obligation or coercion (on pain of post-life culpability before the Great Judge, as some imagine it) to take one or the other, just simply choose that one which is your best and dearest! Choose it now! Choose it later! Choose it every day, for every person, in every circumstance! Choose the best truth you know, and speak it. 

And THAT, my friend.

THAT will set you free.

Peace.

Jet’s Moment of Truth

David Sretenovic retells a story of a moment which revealed something beautiful about how his toddler-son was growing to handle conflict.

Some moments of truth just take your breath away — especially when it’s your toddler’s personality which is being revealed. There have been moments when my two-year-old son’s expression of frustration has made me wonder how he will handle conflicts; some kids cower, others lash out, some have the knack to stand their ground. With Jet, I’ve seen much more of the latter two. But today was a wow-moment: I saw something which impressed me and truly made my heart burst.

Taking some time to be with my Aunty Maria at a local cafe, we’d unleashed Jet and his elder sister on the indoor children’s playground. It’s a veritable wonderland for kids, and there were dozens of them racing around and playing, ranging from rug-rats to primary school aged. At one stage Jet was manning the toy cash-register at a mock restaurant when a much older and bigger kid — literally almost double his size — joined him and helped himself to Jet’s operation. Jet wasn’t too happy with this and redirected the boy’s hands. The boy persisted in reaching for the controls but Jet pushed his hands away again. This happened a couple more times with Jet verbalising, “No!” to no avail. He even tried moving the boy away with gentle nudges to the chest. At the point of near exasperation, Jet turned to face him. He stretched both his hands out, as wide as he could, and looked at the boy earnestly as he hugged him with tender vigor. Having pacified the situation and given up the cash register, Jet happily rounded to the other side of the boy while motioning towards the other play-equipment. He was moving that way but had to halt as he realized his new mate wasn’t in tow. He turned and called out, “Come me! Come!” whilst beckoning him with his little waving hand. Despite his pleas, the new friend wasn’t coming, so he ran off to play anyway. He’d already forgotten about the cash-register because the ball-pit was calling.

My Aunty Maria had also witnessed the little altercation and she remarked, “Wow, he’s so resourceful! He tried one way and it didn’t work, so he tried another way. Beautiful boy.”

My precious little boy — what a winner you are! God bless you, my son, and may your generous heart and caring spirit blossom as you grow, in Jesus’ name. These are the gifts of God’s Spirit in you!

20161107_075228.jpg

Stepping Stones for Andje

David Sretenovic shares a poem inspired by time with his daughter, and reflects on the stepping stones of her growth into his family faith.

Earlier in the week I captured a special moment with my daughter Andje [AHN-jee], who is now three and a half years of age, in a poem. The picture attached is similar to the view I had as she sat on my lap outside 🙂 .

Rain, Snuggles and Tears

You sit on my lap wrapped in your special blanket
We breathe the rain-soaked air and feel the fresh breeze
You snuggle up and smile because you just love to
I hear your voice uttering unfiltered delights
You describe the world around and the world inside your heart
Every idea is magic to me
And just as I see the lines of your pure little cheeks
I see that you will need me to teach you as you grow
But if I am gone before that time
I know God will
The tears they come and fill my heart like the rain
Tears of joy for you, my beautiful daughter

This week has in fact been special: I’ve seen my daughter grow in beautiful ways. Little milestones of independence such as dressing herself and cleaning up spontaneously, next-level manners, and for the first time actively clarifying alphabet letters for her name and others’. And today as we were reading some kids Bible stories, she consciously engaged as never before with the events of Christmas and Jesus’ life story: I saw pennies dropping like a poker machine payout. It was a precious moment, because images from Christmas, Easter, and other New Testament events are so dear to our psyche as a family and our extended Christian community. She was partaking of our faith in a new way. These are moments I’ve been anticipating with joy: sharing with her the hope which the gospel gives to us and the whole universe — and not just potential hope, as some factions of Christendom offer, to “the elect” or to “those who say the correct prayer”. It was a thrill for me to share with her our faith, and to inspire a hope-filled outlook as she faces both life today and also the sadness of death. I was amazed at the hope I heard in my own voice – it was real! By telling her what I believe, my heart and voice communicated hope. And in time, because I have shared my faith, she too will have an opportunity to believe what I do … but regardless of her future choices, I believe I have already instilled a sense of hope into her spirit, something beyond words and intellectual understanding. I do believe this.

What joy my daughter brings. Thank you, Heavenly Father!