Farewell to my first hero, my father

COMMENTARY | Tim Costello

Eternity #70 June 2016

My father was my first hero. A school teacher by vocation, Dad was a natural figure of authority and learning in my formative years but he was also a source of great love, nurturing and wisdom. Growing up I was fortunate to be very close to him – for a few years I saw him every day at school as well as at home and in those precious times together he conveyed to me so much about love and belonging, about responsibility and care, and about the joy of life.

But Russell Costello, who passed away at the grand old age of 97 years last week (24 May), taught me most by his actions. He was a powerful yet humble role model, a committed Christian who along with my mother Anne was a founding member of his local church now known as Crossways that began in their home. He also tithed 10 per cent of his salary every week of his 35 years of teaching career to charities and Christian missions.

Although it was a concept from the Old Testament, it was clear to me even as a kid that Dad very much drew on the spirit of the New Testament in his tithing, seeing his capacity to give as a blessing; he was a cheerful giver. He felt blessed. It’s a tradition that I’ve carried on in my own life, tithing 10 per cent of my salary, but it has struck me for some time that a modern-day parallel to tithing is the percentage of our taxes that go to fund our aid budget. This is the means by which we can automatically guarantee that at least some of the wealth we generate goes to help the world’s most vulnerable people. Senator Bob Day says Australians should be giving at least $1 out of every $100 of GNI (Gross National Income). The British, Dutch and Scandinavians are already giving the equivalent of 70 cents whilst Australia under the Coalition has cut ours to the lowest level ever – just 22 cents!

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It is profoundly disturbing that one of the wealthiest societies in history has chosen to cut our aid program at a time of greatest need. Our treatment of refugees – and I include those refugees we’ve consigned to such a terrible limbo on Manus and Nauru – remains a rebuke to the Christian conscience.  In effect, the last three years of aid cuts that have stripped $11 million from the budget have undermined our ability to relieve the suffering of those who are suffering the most. If we, with the rest of the world, funded our fair share of the international effort to assist those who have been forced to flee their homes in places like Syria and South Sudan, and before they’ve gone too far, provide them with adequate shelter, food and importantly education for their children and their future, then we would at least have a fighting chance of people deciding not to attempt to make perilous journeys across the globe in the hope of a better life.

History shows that the most successful social justice movements are those that are faith-based.  Faith gives ordinary people like you and me the courage to do extraordinary things. Over 200 years ago, the faith of William Wilberforce compelled him and others to start a movement to abolish the British slave trade. It was in that spirit of Wilberforce that 13 heads of churches pleaded with Scott Morrison before last month’s Federal budget not to cut Australian aid again, but this fell on deaf ears.

The death of a loved parent is always devastating, no matter how old the parent or the child. You want to rage against the dying of the light. But death is also a time for faith and for reflection and as I have reflected these past days I have taken great comfort in knowing that I have lived by my father’s lessons.

Featured image: ‘My Fathers Funeral’ by Stephan Ridgway. Licence at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0.

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