The Constant

I've just yesterday flown back to Sydney from a holiday in the States; as I left the country, the story of the attacks in Paris were unfolding and unfinished. Every news channel in the hotel displayed a barrage of information—'experts' spoke of the social situation in France, issues over immigration and inculturation, economic pressures among migrants, dissatisfaction over political reforms, involvement of the French military in North Africa, the 'War on Terror', various riots in The Republic over the past years, the history of Colonial power, religions intolerance, religious tolerance, freedom of expression, temperance of that expression, a new device that can hold any smart phone in your car's air vent, the upcoming Super Bowl, how the French government should respond, what mistakes were made by French Intelligence, the inevitable surveillance state, and so on. 

Then, I flew for fourteen hours from Los Angeles to Sydney and all that fell silent. Most international flights are, for now, still free of any internet or broadcast news incursion. You've only your own reflections on current events to mull over (my 'entertainment display' was non-functional so I also did not have the selection of films to peruse either). 

All these diverse and discordant voices—everyone has some opinion. Some are willing to voice them; some turn to violent action. How can I comprehend the situation of someone whose life is so different—who has a whole set of values and beliefs that are either many degrees separated or outright antithetical to mine? It takes significant dialogue (and, of course, a willingness to engage in that for both parties). But what, in the human experience of our engagement with one another, is the constant? All discussions and interactions involve variables; some of the elements can be reconciled but the equations seem to be too dynamic in the moments of conflict and confusion. What is the static constant that we all share no matter our culture, history or faith? It's silence; we are forgetting how to respect the silence of our togetherness and risk losing the only thing that we can always hold in common.  

I know that the news is necessary; but I wish, for a given event, there could be an embargo for some time—that the first response, in the face of tragedy, would be silence and time to reflect. The immediate impulse to find blame, identify the early childhood traumas of the perpetrators, or trace the path of money and weapons is not, primarily, the issue at hand. These events all spring from our inability to hold a balanced space together; there is a rupture in society that tears right down through individuals because they can't find a way to hold life on common terms. 

We recognise, after the fact, the necessity of silence; in memorials, in the streets, in Parliaments, there is 'a moment of silence' held by all, no matter what their political bent or religion. We need to find a way to hold silence together beforehand; we need to find these ruptured men and women in their time of injured vulnerability and learn to be silent together; to hold the quiet that leads to a discussion. What they are receiving, instead, is that onslaught of noise and rage from every quarter that drives them into further despair. If every space of mind and spirit is filled with the clamour of so many competing ideologies, there will be no room left for the common silence. What remains for the catalyst of peace? We'll face a future of desperate commentators trying to unquietly uncover why?

Evening in Antwerp

Last night, I went into Antwerp with John and one of the interns, Cammaria. We were to check out a youth hostel for the upcoming Moslem-Christian exchange. Ironically, the hostel is next to a synagogue in the heart of Antwerp’s large Jewish neighbourhood. John approached an Orthodox man on the street and asked if our group might meet with someone from the synagogue (one day in Antwerp is dedicated to a “faith safari;” the city has an extensive religious history). John first mentioned the youth were coming from Israel; however, when he clarified that the youth are from Jaffa and East Jerusalem, the man looked a bit incredulous. He said he would contact us though; hopefully there is an opening for discussion and some civility in the midst of all that’s going on currently in and around Israel. Unfortunately, conflict is a sticky thing that clings to the feet of those who travel. No matter how far one tries to walk away, there seems to always be some vestige of it left. In 1981, in peaceful Antwerp, the Synagogue was hit by a car bomb; I’m sure the wound of that is not forgotten or completely healed. I wonder how the Jewish people living there will react to a group of Palestinians coming into their midst; I wonder what will go through the minds of the Palestinians as they walk through the middle of the Jewish town, surrounded by Orthodox Jews and billboards in Hebrew, to get to our meeting location.


Antwerp is a place where, in the heat of European wars between Catholics and Protestants, icons and people alike were burned for what they stood for. Massive churches and cathedrals stand beside each other in peace now; the conflicts of long ago remembered now only in pub names and the engravings on grey statues. Can we somehow look forward to such a future after our current conflicts? Last night, outside the church pictured above, a man juggled knives. That seems to be the history of God in the hands of man; it’s an impressive feat to put all those blades in the air, but make one slip and the wound can be fatal.