Arrayed in long, showy robes,
(first century Armani,
bespoke, suits cut to impress);
commanding attention.
We know that they are important,
social and religious heavyweights;
demanding to be taken seriously.
They are among the nation’s leaders,
and clearly know better than the rest of us;
soaring high above the crowd,
magnificent, learned, erudite.
Highly respected,
these Scribes lack nothing;
except compassion.

© Ken Rookes 2015



He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
Isaiah 8:29

God is idle,
declares the small white badge
purchased from the NGV
after viewing an exhibition of contemporary art.
In spite of the confident declaration
of the ancient prophet,
I find myself forced to agree.
The god who intervenes in human affairs
giving power to the faint and strengthening the powerless,
appears to have gone missing.

Who has less power
than those who cross hazardous seas
in nervous wooden boats;
fearful, fleeing; seeking, pleading
for refuge and compassion?
Their anxieties compound, multiplying
behind iron gates and barbed wire.
They cry out in desperation, but god
and the bastard gaoler politicians
who pretend to serve him,
neither hear nor act.

We can only hope
that there might be another god,
human-shaped, bleeding, weeping;
whose spirit resides in at least a few faithful hearts.
Perhaps this god is listening;
perhaps the servants of this god
have open ears,
and are not idle.

© Ken Rookes 2015

Open Letter to Christians on Austrralian Asylum Seeker Policy

 This letter was published in the Age Newspaper on Wednesday 30th July.

July 2014

This letter is an open-hearted appeal for a Christian response to people seeking asylum in Australia. It is a call to church leaders and people to inject a new urgency as Asylum Seeker policies plumb new depths. For two reasons: one, Australian politicians, including the Minister for Immigration Scott Morrison, and the Prime Minister, declare they are Christian. They make this claim while acting in increasingly brutal ways toward people seeking asylum. The Immigration Minister now declares that his pronouncements define ‘reality’ with regard to boats approaching Australia. He is engaging in a ‘politics of concealment’. And, secondly, for years church leaders, agencies and congregations have provided and continue to provide, pastoral support for refugees, while also protesting the policies imposed on Asylum Seekers. It appears to suit politicians to have the church’s pastoral practical assistance – and even critical pronouncements, which may be readily ignored. Regrettably both major parties appear to share this approach.

Although this letter addresses Christians in Australia, it does not diminish the role played by many Australians of various convictions, who visit detention centres, provide financial and emotional support and legal advocacy, and rally on the streets of Australian cities and towns, as they seek to humanise an increasingly inhumane environment, and declare their welcome for people seeking asylum. Not least are the widespread and insistent voices calling on the Australian Government to honour its legal and human rights obligations.

Have we moved beyond mere pronouncements? Some church leaders apparently think so, and have moved to direct action. They recently occupied political offices in various states. Their protest presses the question whether widespread non-violent civil disobedience is now required. True, that suggestion is at odds with a longstanding church attitude that insists on obedience to civil authorities. There is, however, another robust and longstanding church tradition which insists (following the Swiss Reformer John Calvin) that Christians have a duty to resist unjust rulers and oppose their unjust laws.

During the past century resistance was played out in the civil rights movement in the United States led by church people such as Rev. Dr Martin Luther King. In 1930s Germany, the German Confessing Church leaders published the Barmen Declaration as a means of declaring opposition to the Nazi Government. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was but one of a significant number of German church leaders who believed they must act in the name of a higher authority, namely Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer’s call to costly discipleship recognises that we can remove ourselves from the church.

We are pressed to ask what is required of Christians in the face of cruel asylum seeker policies in Australia? Is it thinkable that churches in Australia might be led to declare that in these policies a line has been crossed? That those who participate in such brutality have removed themselves from the Christian faith?

No doubt such a step will itself be accused of being unchristian! This is not a dispute about mere ‘practical politics’. It concerns basic church teaching and life (doctrine). Faced with South African Apartheid, the church in South Africa called on the world church to assist it in the struggle. The World Council of Churches declared Apartheid to be a heresy and, in the Program to Combat Racism, promoted practical action including economic boycotts by its member churches. There we see a church response that does not stop at making pronouncements but develops its teaching to intervene in situations of injustice. Similarly, some years ago the World Council of Churches was invited to send a working group to investigate and report on Australian treatment of its Indigenous people.

This open letter is calling for urgent and radical action which will break through the political silence practised by the Immigration Minister. It calls on Christians to speak with a common voice with other Australians – and with Christians around the world – to resist the government’s dangerous and brutal policies.

This is not to understate the pressing and necessary work to be done by the Australian government to respond to people who seek to flee to Australia, and the thousands of displaced people in our region. It makes church action all the more urgent. Will that action come from the National Council of Churches in Australia, or from the councils of particular churches in Australia, or from coalitions of various church agencies and movements or, especially, from congregations? Perhaps all of these. Certainly, it will also come ‘from below’. In cities and towns across Australia Christian people will gather together in coalitions of opposition to the present brutalising and concealing policies.

These coalitions will then be a prompt to politicians who claim the name ‘Christian’ and seek to act in opposition to the current Australian government actions. Let the discussion here prompt church action, reaching out to politicians and community leaders who want a different Australia from the politics we are now experiencing. Let us all as brothers and sisters in Christ become accountable to one another. As our brothers and sisters in need call for our help, let us all examine our hearts. We must proceed here with great caution, yet with utmost seriousness, because we know how fragile all Christian witness is, and how prone we are to compromise. With that confession, is it not urgent, now, to declare that those who craft and implement these brutal and hidden asylum policies are removing themselves from the church and Christ’s gospel of grace?

Drafted by the Revd Dr Wes Campbell (Uniting Church Minister retired. Member of Pax Christi)
in consultation with colleagues

Endorsed by signatories

Olivia Ball
Stephen Balwyn
Revd Gordon Bannon
Romina Beitseen
Victorina Beitseen
Alex Bell
Peter H Bennett
Linda Blyth
Revd Robert Bos
Jennifer Bourke
Prof Mark Brett
David Buller
Joseph A Camilleri
Rita Camilleri
Beverley Campbell
Margaret Carter
Revd Ross Carter
Revd David Connolly
Margaret Croxford
Revd Ron Croxford
Newton Daddow
Karyl Davison
Margaret Eldridge
Patricia Fitzgerald
Lorender Freeman
Andrew Gador-Whyte
Revd John Gardiner
Mary Gardiner
James A Gilmour
Helen Gilmour
Revd Kim Groot
John Hart
Fr John Harte SJ
Bruce Henry
Dale Hess
Ros Hewitt
Kathleen M Holgate
Revd Rodney Horsfield
Heather Huberet
Revd Coralie Jenkin
Fr Pancras Jordon
Revd Harry Kerr
Revd Pam Kerr
Geoffrey Lacey
Revd Michele Lees
Rebecca Lim
Revd Prof Mark Lindsay
Alistair Macrae
Enid Mannion
Revd Alan Marr
Derek McDougall
Revd Monica Melanchthon
Revd Paul SG Moore
Anne Morrison
Fr Claude Mostowik msc
Revd Chris Mulherin
Ailsa I Neil
John V Neil
Marie Therese Nilon
Geoffrey Nutting
Solway Nutting
Ellen O’Gallagher
Peace and Social Justice Network of Victoria Regional Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Bev Polzin
Helen Praetz
Revd Randall Prior
Ken Rookes
Jane Rookes
Bart Seaton
Janet Secomb
Revd Greg Shanahan
Anne Shay
Revd Eric H Smith
Greg Smith
Revd John H Smith
St Margarets Uniting Church Mooroolbark Church Council
Caitlin Street
Damian Sweeney
Jill Tabart
Revd Dr Geoff Thompson
John Tomlinson
Majella Tracey
George E. Tripp
Marie Twyford
Revd David U’Ren
Gwenda Watson
Arnie Wierenga
Jon Watson
Fay White

Additional name, (I am happy to add others to the list on this blog)

Jeff Shrowder
Julienne O’MARA

Tel: 0431 847 278

Kevin Rudd: He’s not the Messiah

How deluded Kevin Rudd must be, to have believed that his return to the leadership of the ALP would somehow reverse an irrevocable tide. And how desperate and frightened the Party must have been to believe him.

 It was always an impossible task. To win the election he has to overcome:

  •  Three years of the most negative, slogan-driven opposition that was able to seize upon serial blunders and crucial back-flips, to create, with the aid of a complicit press, a perception of total failure by the government.
  • Three years – and more, of the most negative and hostile Murdoch press, controlling two-thirds of the nation’s newspapers; along with a range of vile misogynist radio shock-jocks, that gathered into a baying crowd, demanding the removal of both Julia Gillard and the Labor Government.
  • Three years of his own intentional undermining of PM Gillard. How could he possibly imagine that the damage he inflicted upon his own party and its credibility would somehow heal itself when he returned to his ‘rightful place’ as its leader?

 The government, if allowed to run on its record, might have had a good chance of being re-elected. Its economic management was sound, it passed important legislation and achieved some significant reforms. But its poll-driven, policies-on-the-run approach to some important issues, (and both Rudd and Gillard were guilty of this), means that they always appeared uncertain and desperate.

 For many reasons the government deserves to lose. The sad thing is that Tony Abbott and the coalition parties do not deserve to win. They have been a slogan-driven opposition, articulating little of substance. They have created fear and uncertainty, promoted sectional interests, and somehow, (see dot points 1 & 2), evaded scrutiny.

 And on one terrible, slogan-driven issue, there has been little of significance between the major parties, anyway. On the matter of asylum seekers arriving by boat, both major parties continue to put forward policies that shame our nation. To deny the human rights of damaged and broken people, to treat them with cruelty and to inflict even more damage on them in order to deter others from similar flights of desperation, is both inhumane and immoral. Both parties use the language of illegal immigration and border protection, to engender racist and religious intolerance, and promote fear to achieve their political ends. At the beginning of its term in office Labor had just and compassionate policies, but lacked the courage to stay with them.

Tony Abbott will win on September 7th, (the polls can’t be that wrong), and will claim a mandate (overwhelming?) to do everything he has threatened. Such is democracy, and such is the state of democracy in Australia.

 Kevin Rudd was never the messiah. Just the latest in a long line of false prophets.


Last week’s poem had something to say about the failure of both major parties when it comes to Australia’s terrible treatment of boat people. Click here

Everywhere I look

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have,
for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.  Hebrews 13:16

Everywhere I look
I see words,
hear a voice that calls me
to love my enemies,
to bear fruits of justice,
to live the grace,
to welcome the strangers,
to visit the prisoner,
to forgive without counting,
to have compassion on the wounded,
to care for my neighbour,
to extend generous hospitality,
to not be afraid,
to treat my fellow mortals
with dignity and respect,
to gather treasure in heaven
and not upon earth,
to guard the interests of the weak,
the vulnerable, the widow and the orphan,
to give the cup of cold water to the one who thirsts,
to offer food to the one who hungers,
to be a servant,
to make peace,
to be the least,
to follow Jesus.
Everywhere I look.
And these blaspheming party leaders
who tell me they are Christian,
want me to vote for them
so that they may deal cruelly
with the weeping and broken ones,
in order that boats might be stopped.
© Ken Rookes 2013

They shall be like snow

In times beyond remembering,
when stories were told and not written,
the gods were believed to hold
in their collective hands the keys to the future:
the rains, fertility, harvest and so forth.
And so, in order to keep the gods happy
and pleasantly disposed towards humankind,
holy places were marked out with stones
altars were erected, idols sculpted,
festivals declared, solemn assemblies called,
animals sacrificed, dances cavorted,
entreaties wailed and offerings made.
No evidence can be found as to the effectiveness
of all this religious activity, but the practitioners
were no doubt convinced that,
had their pious processes remained undone,
life would have been more of a struggle
than it was.
The Yahweh-God of the Hebrews, however,
wryly observing that religious devotion
could be a convenient cloak
for less than pious attitudes;
radically declared that she/he
was not much interested in such adorations.
This strange God preferred
to be pleasantly surprised by a people’s concerns
for justice, goodness, generosity and compassion.
“When this happens,” this straight-talking God
declares, “White shining divine grace
shall abound in human affairs,
to overcome all the sins and the fear,
and, in the midst of the darkness,
bringing hope.”
© Ken Rookes


Nearly seven decades ago
a cloud hung horrible
before finally distributing Hiroshima’s  toxic dust,
Nagasaki’s too, between the four winds;
who dutifully dispersed it
among the planet’s oceans,
forests and deserts and cities.
Violence is not so easily eliminated,
its half-life is long;
the ghost-cloud of cruelty lingers
and expands with each season
of corruption and war.
The ghost-cloud continues its cold journey
drawing earth’s violent excesses
and storing them in cavernous shelves:
the smoke from death ovens,
the cries of the tortured,
the wails of women brutalised,
the tears of children abused,
the scandal of holy wars and crusades,
the shame of detention centres
and politics.
The ghost-cloud feeds upon misery.
Gloating, it mocks good people,
and gives succour to the powers of darkness.
Only defiant prayings,
Yearnings, weepings and seekings
seem to diminish the cloud’s shadow.
These, along with occasional acts
of kindness, grace and peace, ascend
to erode the cloud at its edges,
and to bring hope.
© Ken Rookes 2013