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For king and country

Deborah Lovely stands on the podium after winning a gold medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Photo courtesy of Griffith University Sports College

IN RECENT years in Australia we have heard the word ‘patriotism’ thrown around in the press with a degree of spite.

In the wake of the 2005 Cronulla riots the front pages of newspapers all over the world brandished images of adrenalin fuelled young men wrapped in the Australian flag and calling for violence, and the words ‘Aussie Pride’ drawn in the sand.

Is this true patriotism?

Journey spoke to two Australians who understand patriotism and act it out through their faith and their work.

After serving in the Australian Army in the 1970’s Sunnybank Uniting Church member Robert Lippiatt had nothing to do with the defence force for twenty years. He is now the President of his local RSL club.

For Mr Lippiatt there is a blurring between how he behaves as a Christian and how he shows pride in his country.

“Patriotism to me means accepting that I am very blessed and privileged to live in the country I live in, and that others before me have paid a price to give me this privilege,” he said.

“So I need to honour that, maintain that and in time hand it on to those who will come after me, at least in as good a shape as I found it and hopefully better.

“To me that is the basis of what patriotism is about and it’s being prepared to admit that not everything is right and true and good.”

Mr Lippiatt prefers to use the word ‘citizenship’ over ‘patriotism’.

“The problem is that ‘patriotism’ has been given bad press by people who have used it for the wrong purposes. You have to spend a lot of energy in redefining the word.

“For me I would say it is about ‘citizenship’… Jesus said you are a citizen of heaven.”

Commonwealth Games weightlifting gold medallist Deborah Lovely has received many awards for being an outstanding citizen.

The Ipswich local is active in the Presbyterian Church and is in demand as a motivational public speaker. She said being a good citizen is about living out her faith.

“You’ve really got to balance that desire to help other people more than yourself and to look at other people’s needs and help the community and other people around you, but you also need to help yourself and be good at what you do,” she said.

“I guess being a good citizen is doing your best in everything, in what you want to achieve and also doing your best for other people.

“I feel that the fact that I have been successful in my sport is a platform God has given me to be able to reach the community.
“Now I have achieved something, I can speak and people actually listen to me.”

Without a doubt one of Ms Lovely’s proudest moments was winning the gold medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

“That was pretty amazing because it was the first time I have ever won something really big.

“I saw the cameras were trying to get really close to see if I would cry, but I was actually laughing because I was in disbelief.
“The first thing that went through my head was, ‘I can’t believe God let me win this competition’.

“All I could do was look out at the crowd, at my parents, family and coach and realise how much support they had given me.

“When you are representing your country you are proud as anything because you are wearing the Australian uniform, everybody knows that you are an Australian, but deep down I still feel that number one, I am a Christian and however much patriotism I am feeling, which is a lot, it is overridden by that feeling that I am even more important because I am a child of God.”

Having fought for his country and working daily with people who have done the same Mr Lippiatt sees events like Australia Day and Anzac Day as opportunities for churches to share their common heritage with local communities.

“The Christian faith is not necessarily inconsistent if we see patriotism as the great gift we have been given, not only the country and all that we have, but we also have another gift.

“Most of the things on which our communities and nation are built are in fact Christian principles.

“They aren’t secular processes, they didn’t just happen, they were faith people who articulated these things and were prepared to stand up and argue for them.

Many of the things we take for patriotism actually come out of that Christian foundation.

“My grandmother used to say it is more important to do and to be than it is to speak and I just wish so many people in the church would get out there and be and do.”

Ms Lovely agrees.

“I really believe God has blessed Australia a lot. We have a Christian heritage, and for me that is where it is special to be an Australian. I feel like I am part of carrying on that Christian heritage.”

Mr Lippiatt said that being prepared to defend your country is an important responsibility, but not necessarily with force.

“You need to be ready to defend it, but not always with a riffle or a bomb. It is about being prepared to speak out against injustice, speak and stand with those who are being bullied and oppressed, and be willing to help those who don’t enjoy the same things that you enjoy. That is what courage is.”

And that is living out your faith.

Photo : Deborah Lovely stands on the podium after winning a gold medal at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Photo courtesy of Griffith University Sports College