Amongst the many tragedies of the Dunalley bushfire was the grief associated with the loss of the studio of local artist and friend Gay Hawkes. In 2003 Gay and I contributed to a publication that expressed a vision for Tasmania. It was called “Future Perfect.” It aimed to show that “we can author our island’s tomorrow.”
My vision for Tasmania was that of strong community:
A “Future Perfect Tasmania will have a culture that enables relationships to flourish… that cross differences of race, gender, age, religion and economic and social status. The stranger sits and eats at table, in this culture of invitation and hospitality. God’s way of love makes provision for the outsider, the battler, the poor bugger. Therefore we will jettison our blindness and deafness to each other.”
Gay Hawkes expressed this through a paint on calico table cloth, “Dinner for strangers.” Sadly, ten years later, it is gone.
But the vision has not gone. In fact, it has been strengthened.
We see it when we get it right. A small group in Pontville, who on the outside might fit the stereotype of ‘Anglo-Saxons of Senior Years’ welcomed young Afghan men from the Detention Centre as “strangers at their table.” And they stood up to the naysayers and fearmongers.
In times of tragedy, like January’s fires, Tasmanians acted together, transcending the divisions of gender, age, worldview and socio-economic status.
But we can’t ignore our divisions. Robust debate is fine, but on any number of matters – industry, family, humanity, opportunity – we Tasmanians have weakened our community by insults, slander and disinformation. We have been shaped by simplistic stories, believing our own “spin” or the spin of those who have a vested interest in conflict.
Many Tasmanians feel their lives are determined by faceless others who do not understand or who choose not to listen. Investors dismiss opportunities because of the cost of battling through the vestigial remains of previous conflicts.
We are a state of conflict. Our story is of a table in which conversation has been shut down.
But this need not be.
My inspiration to “author our islands’ tomorrow” is Jesus Christ, the Author of Life himself.
Jesus founded and built community. He cut across human pettiness and engaged with human joys and sorrows. He did not shy away from truth, integrity, values; or from hard conversation. He got back to the basics, and spoke words of life, light, and love.
I ask the Author of Life to move and motivate us. With his help Tasmanian parochialism which runs deeper than geography can be overcome.
We need a Tasmania where everyone gets to honestly, respectfully and truthfully have a say.
Being “at table” in community doesn’t just happen. Forgiveness, peacemaking, relational giving and receiving are not just values; they are decisions to be made – to not walk away: ‘I do not get all that I want but I am not excluded.’ We choose to converse, and connect even with disagreement and difference.
The Author of Life reminds us of the necessary respect, the necessary care, the necessary “reaching-out” for such conversation to work. We therefore should value courtesy and respect and dialogue as “community values.” In my vision for Tasmania such values are not slogans, but deeply held convictions which are to be acted upon.
With the Author of Life we can author our islands’ tomorrow.
*This article was published in a series of articles looking at a vision for Tasmania, in the Examiner Newspaper, Launceston 27 April 2013 under the title, Painting gone but vision remains. I had titled the article, Sitting Down Together, but sub-editors get the last word and their’s is a good one. Thank you, Examiner. 🙂