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Release the humans and relinquish entitlement

May 20, 2014

I have been pondering over this for a while, wondering whether it is right to say.

It is, at the very least, the bleedingly obvious.

I look from side to side, trying to read the signals, the eyes, the body language, trying to decipher why it remalns unsaid. What is at stake? What apple cart might I upset by saying this outloud?

I guess, there is only one way to find out…

Yesterday a number of people I know as either friends or colleagues or both, many of them ministers or christian workers met to sing and pray in the offices of Federal opposition leader, Bill Shorten and Prime-minister Tony Abbott.

They are gathered under the banner of an  informal movement #Love makes a way, and their simple request is ‘Release the Kids’.

Currently over 1000 children are held in detention centres under Australian guard, seeking asylum, with their status as yet undetermined, and with no clear process or projection of how their free residency will be settled, either here or anywhere else.

Release the kids.

I think anyone short of the most belligerent white supremacist isolationist would have a hard time arguing that these children ‘deserve’ detention.

Release the kids – it sounds so straight forward.

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art: christop booth

But here is the unspoken thing that we all know. The call to ‘release the kids’ cannot be taken seriously, without the corresponding call to release their grownups, their carers,  their families.

Children ought not be separated from their kin – whoever it is that they are attached to in life. These relationships of attachment are important for the safety and protection, the thriving and flourishing of children. The removal of children from their communities on political and ideological agendas has left a dark stain through the pages of Australian history. We know better than to repeat such a mistake.

The call to release the kids, must mean that, if only for the sake of the children, we release their grownups too. Still, straight away we can see that it’s not just for the sake of the children, but for the sake of humanity.

Here we come to the reason children are so important in our midst: the call to release the children comes for our deep sense of their vulnerability, and ultimately their humanity.

Children in our midst remind us that to be human is not to be invincible, but to be vulnerable. The Christian tradition celebrates a humanity made in the image of  a vulnerable God. A God who loves and whose love is abused.

Children are not a ‘different’ case of humanity – they are the common case, and indeed they inspire in us the ‘common cause’ for humanity. Biblical narratives repeatedly feature a cild who, though ‘powerless’ inhabits a prophetic place in the power struggles of the community. The child, even in its death, that is conceived from David’s rape of Bathsheba is a catalyst for adult accountability. The child placed by Jesus in the midst of the disciples is for the sake of the grown ups. The child who offers a small parcel of food to Jesus instigates a large scale egalitarian food distribution for – and the text points it up – men. Children make our otherwise brilliantly advantageous and streamlined plans for success untenable. They limit us in the very best ways, in order that we might be liberated from ourselves. They implicate us in relatedness, and yet defy absorption.

Those with political investment in the system of detention and fears for what the liberation of asylum seekers might mean for a redistribution of power and resources in Australia, realise that the rightness of the cry ‘release the kids’,  also vindicates the rightness of the cry ‘release the humans’. ‘Release the kids’ throws a spanner in the gears of our individualising machinery. Children remind us that we do life communally, and individuals ought not be plucked out and set adrift. ‘Release the kids’ means we can’t get away with thinking of adults in detention as random individuals. ‘Release the kids’ re-instates the identity of grown ups in detention as mothers, fathers, uncles, aunties, cousins, or carers who have picked up the repsonsibility of being a kindred alongsider for children.

I listened to federal treasurer Joe Hockey defend the budget decisions on QandA. http://iview.abc.net.au/#playing

He responded well, I thought, with calm and clarity in most cases. He was brave enough to say he thought you don’t have to lie to get elected, and that no election promises were broken in the budget and take the outrageous laughter this drew.

What really caught my attention though, was that he  returned several time to the phrase ‘we have to do what’s right’. Acknowledging that people will be impacted, there will be struggles, yet he is convinced that this budget has positive moral content. I personally don’t think our moral systems align, but I find it commendable and interesting  that his argument is morally motivated.

Here is a treasurer who says ‘let’s do what is right – even if it means stretching our comfort zone, taking some cuts, relinquishing our sense of “entitlement”‘. And so I find myself strangely in agreement with his rhetoric – if only it would be applied to our policies for  those who seek asylum.

Joe Hockey, do please continue this call – talk about it with the rest of your team – remind them from us – that we ought to do what is right, even if it seems to cost us in the short term, even if it stretches our resources. And remind your colleagues that the age of entitlement is over. Those in power have no entitlement  to Australia over those who seek its solace.

Release the humans, relinquish entitlement.

 

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