Opportunity For Rome Talk


SAPOL invited me to provide a keynote presentation at their Police Chaplains Conference last week. They had found my work on Oasis at Flinders University on the Internet and thought the story might be of interest.

When I sat down with the Acting Superintendent of the Health, Safety and Welfare Branch and the Manager of the Volunteer Coordination Unit to get an idea of what they thought of what I was thinking for my presentation, I sensed that SAPOL was beginning to make a transition to ‘own’ chaplaincy more, and discovered that all of the police chaplains were Christian.

I wondered whether the transition SAPOL was beginning to make might be similar to what we made at Flinders, from Christian to multi faith and from Religious Centre to Oasis. But this invitation also gave me an opportunity to have an ‘inside’ conversation with my Christian colleagues in Christian language. As Boyce’s Third Law says, ‘When in Rome, speak like the Romans do!’

So I apologise in advance to my non-Christian friends who may want to follow what I had to say at the conference in this blog. Below is a link to the write-up of the presentation.

I tell the Oasis story within the framework of challenges, insights and responses. The overwhelming challenge was the practice of exclusion by Christians. Then I reminded my chaplaincy colleagues of the values and attitudes of the prototype inspirer of the vocation of chaplaincy, which happened to be consistent with the responses I had made to the challenges of exclusion. Finally, but I did not have time to present it, a brief theological rationale for chaplaincy in the pluralist public domain.


Since writing the ‘Theology’ it occurred to me that I ought to spell out in Christian language, what I mean by ‘human flourishing’. It is a phrase I picked up from the Yale Centre for Faith and Culture, where Miroslav Volf is the Director.

In my view, ‘Human Flourishing’ is the goal of chaplaincy. It is a universal aspiration, and therefore is an expression in language appreciated in the public domain. It can refer to both individuals and to society. For me it also refers to the global common good.

For a Christian, ‘human flourishing’ is equivalent to the Abrahamic concept of ‘shalom’ or ‘salaam’, usually translated into English as ‘peace’. It is a concept that refers both to the individual and to societies.

We often think of ‘peace’ as the absence of war. But actually, in its original context, it refers to right relationships, everything in its appropriate place. It is supported by ‘law’.

In Australian Aboriginal culture, ‘The Law’ about who may marry whom, when followed, results in right relationships, right genetics, right ‘peaceful’ societies. ‘The Law’ was given at creation and encompasses a whole system of how to live.

This passage from ‘Why Warriors Lie Down and Die’ by Richard Trudgen, referring to the Yolnju people of the far Northern Territory, expresses the concept eloquently:

The Madayin (the way to live) established the boundaries for each clan estate and empowered the clan and nation, for the teaching and maintenance of a rule of law for all Yolnju citizens. The Madayin taught Yolnju warriors the raypirri’ dhukarr – the
discipline of mind, body and soul, along with respect for all life and the greater
good of the community and cosmos over individual need or greed.

Since the beginning of time, the clans have assented to this law through a
ceremonial process called Wana-Lupthun. In this process the djunjgaya, the
person responsible for looking after the law objects for that particular clan,
stands on the water’s edge holding these law objects, which encode the law,
above his head. While he is doing this all members of the clan go into the water
and immerse themselves. Wana-Lupthun signifies that all Yolnju are under the
rule of the Madayin — no-one is above it.

This complex Madayin system is seen as holy, demanding great respect. It was given at creation to establish and maintain a state of mägaya. One of the images
the people use to describe mägaya is a flat smooth sea, or the surface of a lake
without a ripple, wave or swell – a glass-smooth surface. It is this tranquil state,
where every clan member can live in freedom from hostility or threat of
oppression, that the Madayin produces.

This is the same concept as the Jewish shalom, the Muslim salaam and the Christian peace.

For me, human flourishing embraces this concept of living free from hostility or threat of
oppression, and suggests a further element, human creativity.

Call it the ‘Kingdom of God’, the ‘Reign of God’ or living in the ‘promised land‘ of shalom-salaam-peace. ‘Human Flourishing’ might be the goal and the underlying vocational aspiration of every chaplain, particularly those chaplaining in the public domain.


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