Messages of Hope

Month: April 2016

The wall of separation

Published / by Sandy

Rev Sandy Boyce is a member of the national EAPPI Committee (Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel). This is a program of the World Council of Churches that supports volunteers living in the West Bank for 3 months. They offer a protective presence to vulnerable communities, and monitor and report human rights abuses. The volunteers join Palestinians and Israelis who work in nonviolent ways for peace and support the local churches. The hope is that the occupation of Palestine will end and both Palestinians and Israelis can enjoy a just peace with freedom and security based on international law. Several Australians have served as EA’s over the last few years.

crane

News in April has not been good, with Palestinian Christians facing more loss of land. Bir Ouna Issa al Shatleh explains about the construction of the Separation Barrier on his land (report from World Council of Churches, 27 April 2016):
A crane began lowering 12-meter concrete slabs into place in the Cremisan Valley, near Bethlehem in occupied Palestine on 6 April, marking the final phase of construction of an extension to the Israeli separation barrier. The World Council of Churches, through its Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), has been alongside the affected Palestinian community in the valley, both Christian and Muslim, throughout their legal struggle to stop the construction. If the wall route goes ahead as planned it will separate 58 Christian families from their land in the Cremisan valley. The area is known for its refined olive oil and now the community has lost more than half its olive trees to the building of the wall. The loss of this essential source of livelihood could have a devastating economic impact on this community, and is a new obstacle to economic and social development in the town of Bethlehem

Just a year ago, it seemed like a good day for Palestinians and for Christians in the Holy Land: “The Israeli Supreme Court ruled against plans by the Israeli military to take 75% of the convent’s land in the Cremisan Valley, surround it on three sides by the 12m high separation barrier, divide it from the neighbouring monastery, deprive 58 Palestinian Christians of their land and prevent over 400 families from accessing their land without a permit. However, just 4 months later, the Israeli courts ruled that their decision only applied to plans affecting the monastery and convent and not to the other landowners.” (Katherine, a British EA currently serving with EAPPI in Bethlehem).

prayers

Days after that court decision, the Israeli military arrived without warning to uproot the 1000+ year-old olive trees in the valley in advance of the barrier’s construction. They came while daily ecumenical prayers were taking place among the olive trees, organized by local churches to protest at the illegal confiscation of their land and pray for protection for the trees. A Methodist minister present described how they continued around the destruction: “Normally when we say the Lord’s Prayer together in English and Arabic, those saying it in English finish first. But on this day as we prayed while bulldozers uprooted olives trees that were older than the time of Christ, no one was able to finish the words of the prayer, we were so overcome with sadness.”

trees

Landowners held regular peaceful protests and local churches held regular services on the site in August and September 2015 to draw attention to the confiscation of the land. But after the Israeli military used teargas to disperse those gathering for the services, the organizers felt they could no longer continue.

Following a legal appeal by the affected communities, on 30 January 2016 an Israeli court ruled that construction could continue for security reasons. The ruling contradicted the International Court of Justice’s 2004 Advisory Opinion which stated that construction of the barrier on Palestinian land breached article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and could not be justified for security reasons.

“Throughout February, March and April we have seen construction of the barrier happen before our eyes,” Katherine says. “But nothing prepared me for the impact of seeing those first concrete slabs go in and divide the valley in two. It is not until you stand under them that you experience the fear and separation the wall creates”.

Issa, a Palestinian Christian and one of the landowners whose olive trees were destroyed, told Katherine of his concern that the extension of the separation barrier would speed up the already increasing emigration of Christians from the Holy Land. “We are the living roots and soon there will be no Christians left in the birth place of Christ,” he said.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem has publicly expressed its “profound disappointment” over the continuation of the construction work, calling it “a violent offense against the peace process”.

The WCC’s Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel is urging Christians around the world to write to their elected representatives and foreign ministers asking them to put pressure on the government of Israel to:

  • immediately stop the construction of the separation barrier through the Cremisan Valley,
  • dismantle the sections of the barrier already constructed on all occupied Palestinian territory, and
  • replant the uprooted olive trees and compensate farmers who have lost their trees.

Perhaps you might consider contacting your Federal politician and the Department of Foreign Affairs about this situation? You might like to find out more about EAPPI, or even consider being an EA for 3 months?

wall

ANZAC Day 2016 Homily

Published / by Sandy

(This homily was prepared for the ANZAC Day Evensong Service, 25th April 2016, Pilgrim Uniting Church)

Image: Nicki Mannix, Flickr
Image: Nicki Mannix, Flickr

ANZAC Day 2016. A time to remember the landing at Gallipoli by Australians and New Zealanders and servicemen from other countries who went ashore at the Gallipoli Peninsula. A time to remember defence forces who have been involved in many other military engagements, and to remember those who have served as peacemakers in many regions of the world. A time to remember the ANZACs who were described as standing for ‘reckless valour in a good cause, for enterprise, resourcefulness, fidelity, comradeship and endurance’ (C.Bean). It is a time to offer a tribute to all those who have given their lives to love of country and love of liberty, those who have served, and those that still today step bravely into the unknown to serve our country. It’s time to acknowledge the service of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, who have served in Australia’s armed forces in every military conflict since the Boer War. And to the Sikhs who fought alongside the ANZACS at Gallipoli with the 14th Sikh Regiment suffering possibly the highest casualty rate of any force during the Gallipoli campaign, with only 4 survivors. And there are more examples of the cultural diversity in the ANZACs that would become a defining characteristic of Australia. This is a time to acknowledge the way those who have served in war are inextricably woven into the soul and identity of our nation.

It’s a time to talk about war and dying, as well as peace and living. It’s a time for gratitude, for remembrance. It’s a time for lament. It’s a time to remember those who are caught between life and death in war zones, and – for some defence force personnel – caught between life and death when they return home, when they find life has lost its loveliness. It’s also time to remember those who seek places of safety, to escape from those same war zones. It’s a time to gather all the stories. So many stories will have been told today all around this great country. So many stories will have remained untold, set aside because they belong to the arena of war and are too hard to tell.

The last of the ANZACs died 14 years ago. All the stories have been told that will ever be told by those who were there. What happens to history when there are no more first hand witnesses, when the last story and memory has been told? When that history is passed over to the succeeding generations? How is the history cradled and valued? How is it possible to allow the story to simply be the story without embellishment? How might we learn the lessons from the arena of war? And in what ways might we recognise when that history has been appropriated for other purposes? One contemporary historian suggests, ‘history can be used to define and even distort our national heritage and national values’.1

Certainly, the ANZAC legend has taken on a special significance at the heart of the Australian story. The legend is enhanced by privileging some stories over other stories – stories that give primacy to strength and resilience despite adversity, stories that embed courage, endurance and tenacity, mateship, courage, and loyalty as part of our national character. All very worthy. Stories of the ‘underside’ of war take a back seat in the process.

As the legend grows, it may actually fail to honour those who served, whose real stories need to be told. People like the men and women on the WW1 Honour Rolls here at Pilgrim Church, whose stories have been researched and now are no longer simply names on a board. These are stories of courage and victory and camaraderie, as well as defeat and loss and grief. All the stories need to be told, not only those that serve the greater narrative that has become the ANZAC legend. What stories are missing? Whose stories are missing? How do we honour all these stories? How do we listen well to the wisdom of those whose stories need to be told? How do we listen to and learn from the experience of defence force personnel serving now?

The wisdom of the ANZACs themselves was that ‘most battlefields are unsatisfactory places to resolve arguments and conflict’. One of the last ANZACs, Ted Matthews who died in 1997, reflected, “The whole point of ANZAC day has been lost. It’s not for old diggers to remember, it’s for survivors to warn young people against romanticising war.”

A preparedness to recognise failure alongside victory surely serves as a caution against romanticising war. Not to focus on failure in a way that dishonours those who have offered their service and their lives in any war efforts, but that cautions us that the arena of war holds death and destruction and grief and weeping – even as it strives to achieve an outcome of peace. And the casualties of war may continue on long after the battles are concluded, with the experience of returned soldiers and their families and communities. Which narrative do we tell that reflects the truth about those who serve in military engagements, and when does the ANZAC legend actually serve to discount the lived experience of so many defence force personnel, where stories are left unspoken?

ANZAC Day services are solemn occasions, with remembrance of those who have served in war and those who have died. These times are also times of lament – lament for each time that the possibility of peace is fractured, or discarded. Lament for each time small and large hostilities are allowed to be fanned into flame. Lament for those whose lives have been diminished. “Lament is a cry to God. Lament is the cry of those who see the truth of the world’s deep wounds and the cost of seeking peace. It is the prayer of those who are deeply disturbed by the way things are.”2

To lament, we must stop, and notice the way things are: the conflict and the chaos in the world; the political rhetoric of demonizing others; and those in the community who denigrate others – for their religion, ethnicity, their social and economic circumstances; and those whose privilege keeps them at a safe distance to the despair of so many. We need to allow these things to sit heavy in our spirits, these things that are the seeds of dis-ease, conflict and violence. And then we need to allow a rooted hopefulness to grow – the confidence that there is another way, a better way, that can be found for the common welfare and good of all. And we are all part of that process.

Let us sit in that place. And then let us honour the sacrificial service of defence force personnel in military engagements in this last 100 years. We cradle their stories, each one. We honour them, each one.

Let me conclude with this text from Lamentations, and may hope in God’s faithfulness and mercy and love orient our own lives towards those things to which the ANZACs committed their lives – to peace, justice, freedom and reconciliation.

Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

  1. Source: The Age, from the epilogue written by Henry Reynolds and Marilyn Lake for What’s Wrong with Anzac? edited by Henry Reynolds and Marilyn Lake
  2. Emmanuel Katangole & Chris Rice, Reconciling All Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace and Healing (Resources for Reconcilation, p. 78

Armenian Genocide & ANZAC Day

Published / by Sandy
Memorial Board - Pilgrim UC
Memorial Board – Pilgrim Uniting Church, Adelaide

On the 25th of April Australia remembers the ANZACs and their sacrifice at Gallipoli in the First World War. On the 24th of April, one day before ANZAC Day, Armenians remember the martyrs of their nation, victims of a Genocide that was fuelled by political and cultural hatred.

Armenians also remember the ANZAC soldiers who saw the injustice that they were suffering and stopped to help them. The ANZACs created the first relief for the victims of the Armenian Genocide and provided them with the much needed medical care, and in many instances, keeping them safe from the hands of the Turkish soldiers.

Historically, Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, similar to other ethnicities, were considered second grade citizens. They were forced to wear different colours identifying their ethnicity. They were persecuted and marginalised. They were not allowed to occupy certain positions, and were not allowed certain jobs. They were not allowed education and many had gone to Russia or Georgia for their education.

Between 1894 and 1896, the Sultan ordered the killing of 200,000-300,000 Armenians, which was known as the Hamidian massacres. The Armenians, in trying to defend themselves, came together and formed a coalition of freedom fighters which was called the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF).

In 1908 the Young Turks took over the government, and introduced reforms. These reforms gave Armenians the opportunity for education and some of the positions they were denied in the past. Those educated abroad returned and the Armenian community prospered.

The Young Turks government considered this development a threat to the Empire’s existence and on April 24, 1915, the day before the ANZACs attempted their invasion in Gallipoli, the Turkish government rounded up and arrested some 250 intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople. The genocide was carried out during and after World War I and implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied male population through massacre and subjection of army conscripts to forced labour, followed by the deportation of women, children, the elderly and infirm on death marches leading to the Syrian desert. Driven forward by military escorts, the deportees were deprived of food and water and subjected to periodic robbery, rape, and massacre.The total number of people killed as a result has been estimated at 1.5 million. A further 1 million were displaced. The deserts of Syria are filled with the bones of dead women and children. The Syrian government has given the Armenian community a piece of land in the city of Deir Ezzor, which was the final concentration place for annihilating the Armenian deportation caravans, where a memorial to the victims of the genocide was built.

Although religion was used in many instances and the phrase “Allah u Akbar” was heard when killing Armenians, this was a purely political decision. The government abused the religious difference to entice Turks to kill their Armenian neighbours. Many of the Muslim Turks, however, decided to protect and help their Christian neighbours from the government troops who came to kill them.

The governments of Great Britain, France and Russia at the time condemned the acts and considered them as crimes against humanity and civilisation. Churchill called it an unnamed crime, because the term genocide did not yet exist. Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish jurist, coined the term genocide in 1943, and mentions in many of his writings that he was troubled by the Armenian mass murders as a young boy which made him work tirelessly to coin the term genocide and make sure the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on December 9, 1948.

Since then, Armenians have been working to encourage organisations and governments to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide. Read more here.

The 14th Assembly of the UCA held in Perth in July, 2015 unanimously resolved to:
* Acknowledge that the Armenian massacres and forced deportations of 1915-1923 constitute a Genocide.
* Commend the NSW and SA governments in acknowledging the Armenian Genocide and encourage the Federal and other state governments to do the same.
* Affirm the value of recognising a date on or near the anniversary of the Armenian genocide, as a day of observance and commemoration of the Armenian Genocide and request the National Consultant Christian Unity, Doctrine and Worship to prepare
* a prayer to be provided for all congregations of the UCA for use on the day; and
* in consultation with others, educational and liturgical resources for congregations to use.

A prayer
God of remembrance,
help us this day to remember the sacrifice of the first ANZACs at Gallipoli.
In your hands are the destinies of this and every nation.
We give you thanks for the freedoms we enjoy in this land
and for those who lost their lives to defend them.
We pray that we and all the people of Australia,
gratefully remembering their courage,
may have the grace to live in a spirit of justice, of generosity, and of peace.
We pray that people around the world,
remembering their sacrifice in providing aid to a people being massacred,
may have the compassion to reach out to those in need.

God of love and grace,
we praise you
for all those who stood firm in their Christian faith in the face of persecution, exile and death;
for all those who endured the Armenian Genocide.

Hear our voice as we pray
for all those Armenian men, women and children who were deported, driven in death marches, and massacred mercilessly;
for all those who continue to trample on truth, justice and human rights.

We pray
that this nation may not perish but prosper under your care;
that you may uproot from our hearts every trace of hatred and the spirit of vengeance;
that those who are the descendants of those noble martyrs may have a deep sense of gratitude and a deep sense of responsibility.

Grant that
we may value the freedom and security we are privileged to enjoy in this beautiful country;
that your power of resurrection may inspire us to live as a righteous people
prepared for every good work;
that we may be a compassionate, forgiving and loving people.

Amen.

What sort of shepherd?

Published / by Andrew

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake…

This favourite psalm which will be read in churches across the world this week, offers a way into one of the collision points between governments and churches, and the arguments about religion and politics.  The shepherd was a common image for rulers and leaders in the ancient world; the shepherds of the time walked in front of their flocks to lead the sheep to safe pastures.

God had issues with the shepherds of Israel; that is, the kings and the other leaders of the nation. In the midst of his complaints about Israel, Ezekiel says in Chapter 34:

The word of the Lord came to me: 2Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.

7 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; 9therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand…

And that’s about half of the complaint!

Scripture makes absolutely no division between religion and politics. In the eyes of scripture, the politicians are subject to God. And politicians have always resented God’s intrusion into their affairs, not to mention the dictators! A church which seeks to be faithful to its tradition— faithful to Jesus, the old words say— will always feel some tension with the state because Jesus claims to be the Good Shepherd, in stark contrast to the leaders of Israel. (John 10:11) Jesus is the measure of those in power. That claim has never lapsed.

In Ezekiel’s words it sounds like this:

Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? 19And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?

20 Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

In Jesus’ words it sounds like this:

You shall love your neighbour as yourself… (Mark 12:31)
The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd…. (John 10)
“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” 45Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (Matthew 25)

He will not be a shepherd relegated to readings for funerals, or to sentimentality. His teaching, even though always needing to be interpreted in the complexity of everyday life, goes the heart of how we live as a society.

Believe whatever you want

Published / by Jana

I see my light come shinin’

From the west down to the east

Any day now, any day now

I shall be released

-Bob Dylan

 

Our story from the gospel of John for today – a story we hear every year on the second Sunday of Easter – is a story of release.

The disciples, huddled in fear after all the death and absence, are released from fear into peace. In the story, Jesus is felt, known, sensed, experienced among them. They’d been holding their breath in fear of what was next; a spirit of peace releases them.

A deep breath right now puts us into the story.

The American Institute of Stress promotes something called the Relaxation Response, which is “a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress (e.g., decreases in heart rate, blood pressure, rate of breathing, and muscle tension).” The key to eliciting this response, you won’t be surprised, is focused deep breathing.

To be released into peace is only a deep breath away. It is an experience of the sacred in our midst.

The disciples, first invited to release themselves from fear into peace, are next invited to release each other from judgment and negativity. “If you release the sins of any, they are released,” says Jesus, and “if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

A good news story this week about a restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio: it’s a high-end French restaurant owned and operated by a chef named Brandon Chrostowski. Brandon’s vision is to provide ex-offenders with a second chance, and so the staff is made up of ex cons who receive 40-50 hours of training every week in everything from the front to the back of house operations of a fine dining establishment. To date 114 students have graduated from his program, 90% are employed, and no one has re-offended. The restaurant is called “Edwins” named after his grandfather but also as a nod to the idea that Education Wins. Brandon says, “to overcome challenges, through education, is to win again. No one forgets the taste of winning. It’s not on our tongue, but it’s in our soul, and it’s contagious. So if you can overcome a hard challenge here at Edwins, it’s a win. It gives you confidence. That’s our secret ingredient.”

Now that’s a breath of fresh air.

Our gospel today releases us from fear, encourages us to release each other in freedom, and releases us all to go out from here.  Jesus says to the followers, “As I have been sent, so I send you.” Where will you go, whom will you love, how will you live when you accept again that you are sent to be alive and well in this world; to be a breath of fresh air in every stale situation. Do you believe it? Better still, do you trust it?

When Jesus speaks to Thomas, it is often translated, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” It is better translated, according to linguists, “Do you trust because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to trust.”

Take a deep breath and follow your gut.

Feel your way forward, out of doubt.

Into trust.

 

Believe whatever you want – in science, in proof, in reason.

In the power of story and the possibility of miracle.

These are precious gifts.

Believe what you want.

 

And – or but – or also: trust.

Trust what can be known more deeply: you are loved; you are released.

(all the best, Jana)