Messages of Hope

Month: August 2018

Hospitality in an age of migration and refugees

Published / by Sandy

The witness for 9.30am service on Migrant and Refugee Sunday
August 26th, 2018
Pilgrim Uniting Church
Geoff Boyce (published on his blog here)

Faith, Hope and Love abide, and the greatest of these is Hospitality!

I wonder whether it is time we dropped the word ‘love’ from our vocabulary, particularly when talking in the public sphere. Any check of the dictionary will show that the most common meaning of ‘love’ is reduced to a feeling!

Even among Christians the practice of agape is often twisted. ‘I love Muslims’ a Christian colleague once said to me, but I could see no evidence of it.

I think he ‘loved’ them because he was supposed to love them, perhaps in the sense that one should ‘love one’s enemies’! But equally likely, I suspect he ‘loved them’ only so he could try to convert them – a carry over from the so-called ‘love-bombing’ by Christian sects in the 70’s – a massive display of generosity in order to attract others to join them.  ‘Love’ with hidden agendas!

The word ‘love’ has accumulated so much baggage as to mean almost anything. ‘Love’ has become so ambiguous it can even justify violence if it makes you feel good.

I bet, in conservative Christian circles, George W Bush Jr could say that he loved Saddam Hussein! Saddam needed George’s ‘love’ for Saddam’s own good!

In our materialist age, agape is the casualty when translating the three Greek words, eros, filios and agape with the one English word, ‘love’.

We need a new word that embraces agape.

I am suggesting that, particularly in the public domain, that word is hospitality.

I know we have the same kind of linguistic problem, that ancient practice having been appropriated by the Hospitality Industry and reduced to being a polite, comfortable transaction – for a price.

The great pastoral theologian Henri Nouwen defines hospitality as the creating of space. 

This is such an appropriate concept for our age, when space is being squashed out of so many areas of our lives by higher and higher expectations and tighter and tighter deadlines. Time, after all, is money! And efficiency – doing more with less – is the name of the game. It’s the condition for your next pay rise!

This ‘Radical’ hospitality of Nouwen is a practice so desperately needed in the world.  At the same time I find an openness among those I meet in my public life to consider and embrace it. Whereas ‘agape’ seems to have passed its used by date.

This is what Nouwen is talking about:

Hospitality… means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.
Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.
It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.
It is not to lead our neighbour into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment.
It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit.
It is not a method of making our God and our way into the criteria of happiness, but the opportunity to others to find their God and their way.
The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations.
Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt a life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find their own. 

Just like agape, it turns the whole world upside down: No longer my interest first, but together with yours.

I visited my dear friend and colleague, Raimund Blanke in Germany again this year. I first met him in 2004 at a conference when he was the Catholic Chaplain at Cologne University. But, squashed out by his Bishop who wanted a conservative influence in the university, over the last eight years he and his colleague Peter have built a wonderful parish in Bonn in which hospitality is the key feature. No wonder so many families want to belong to it!

Raimund once told me about one of his congregation, a recently retired medical professor at the University of Bonn. He is a European authority on pain management.

About eight years ago this professor, in the prime of his career, decided to become a Catholic on the strength of what he saw in the life of Pastor Peter and the life of his congregation.

Modelling on those values he has initiated his own ministry – to the poorest and most disadvantaged in the parish.

He started by taking all of twenty plus of them on a cruise up the Rhine – a fantastic party to brighten their lives. 

Visiting Raimund again this year, he told me that the professor has opened his holiday house on the coast of Spain to the parish and gives these disadvantaged people a holiday there every year – every expense paid.

Raimund showed me a photo of the Professor with a disabled lady. He was hosting an outing in the country for people with disabilities. It was time for a walk together and the lady said she could not walk. Come with me he said, taking her arm, and they went on and completed the 4 kilometre walk!

His is not a ‘church program’ as such. He just comes up with these ideas to bring life to others. And he has the resources to do it without impacting the church budget.

No wonder, when the time came to help the wave of refugees, Raimund and Peter’s parish put their names forward to care for 1,000!

Being German, they are super-organised, a team of fourteen from the parish headed by a psychiatrist and supported by lawyers, social workers and health professionals. I’ve met them. Even the elderly in the parish, at first feeling frightened by these strangers, fell in love with them after they had met some of them. Now their ministry includes knitting for them.

This year they are caring for 1,300!

Hospitality is agape-love in action. Creating unconditional, friendly space for the other to sing their own songs, dance their own dances and tell their own stories.

Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is hospitality!

Responding with love, hospitality and inclusion

Published / by Greg Elsdon

President of the Uniting Church in Australia Dr Deidre Palmer has called on Australians to respond with love, hospitality and inclusion to a surge in anti-immigration rhetoric in Australian public life.

“Jesus’ great commandment to his followers was to love God and love your neighbour. As Christians we believe all people are created in the image of God and deserving of respect and dignity. Racism is incompatible with the Christian faith,” said Dr Palmer.

In recent weeks, inflammatory opinion pieces have suggested a “foreign invasion”, a neo-Nazi has been allowed to air his views on a news channel; there has been more fearmongering about so-called “African gangs”, and a Senator has used his maiden speech to honour the White Australia Policy and call for future migration to “reflect the historic European-Christian composition of Australian society.”

“The Uniting Church is a proudly multicultural church. Our ministry in Christ continues to be powerfully transformed by the strong and flourishing intercultural community we hold across our diversity,” said Dr Palmer.

“Every day I thank God for the blessings of our gloriously multicultural Church.

“I was delighted to meet leaders of eleven of the Uniting Church’s National Conferences in Sydney recently and to hear first hand about their amazing ministry, which is transforming lives and communities around them. These Conferences include Uniting Church members from South Sudan, Indonesia, the Philippines, Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, the Middle East, Vietnam, Niue, Korea, and China.

“When I think of ‘Christian values’ I think about overcoming racism and discrimination in all its forms. In his ministry, Jesus challenged religious and social prejudice and sought to break down the barriers that separate us from each other socially, religiously, culturally and politically. Christian values are about inviting people to create communities, where all people can flourish.”

Outgoing Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane recently condemned politicians for race-baiting and sections of the Australian media industry of using racism as part of their business model.

Dr Palmer called on Church members to boldly bear witness to the reconciling ministry of Christ that we proclaim.

“Jesus’ call is to love in the face of hatred and to embody God’s generous hospitality. As Martin Luther King Jr famously observed – hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“So I urge Uniting Church members and all Australians to embrace the multicultural nature of our society and respond with love and compassion to those who are being made to feel unwelcome,” said Dr Palmer.

Prayers for Lombok

Published / by Sandy

Only a week after a magnitude-6.4 earthquake hit the Indonesian island of Lombok, two more earthquakes caused more devastation. Registering as a magnitude-7.0, the first of the two earthquakes struck on the night of Sunday 5 August causing widespread severe damage to the northern section of Lombok and was felt by nearby, Bali. The second hit less than 24 hours later and registered as a 5.2 on the Richter scale. The death toll has since risen to 430 people with many hundreds more seriously injured and many more still missing.

Rescue teams have found it difficult to provide aid and support due to road blockages caused by debris and power, communications being completely cut in some areas, thousands of homes and buildings destroyed, and damage from landslides. Most of the damage occurred outside the city centre in regional areas. Since the first earthquake hit, over 20,000 people have been left homeless and at least 18 remote villages in northern Lombok’s mountains have been cut off from relief teams due to damaged bridges and roads from landslides.

The Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management’s spokesman, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho has said that hospitals are overflowing and not everyone is able to be treated. According to reports from the ABC and the BBC, locals have been forced to tend to their broken limbs at home due to the overcrowded hospitals; one woman has even given birth at a temporary health station aided by the Indonesian Red Cross.

At this time of tragedy, Uniting Church SA Acting Moderator, Rev Dr Graham Vawser encourages members of the Uniting Church to pray for those affected.

“The Uniting Church members have always responded generously when alerted of the needs of people in Australia and around the world.  We are aware of people facing the drought in Australia, bushfires in Europe and the United States, and now the significant earthquake in Lombok (following on from the lesser earthquake last week). God’s gift of compassion rises in us as we see images and hear stories of destruction and struggle, particularly for our closest national neighbour.

We pray that God will show us ways to transform our compassion into action so that people who are grieving will be comforted, people who are injured will be healed, infrastructure and housing will be repaired and restored, and hope will be rekindled in each affected community. May God support and enable all those who use their skills and abilities to bring God’s blessing.”

UnitingWorld operate several aid programs in Bali, for more information on these projects or to donate visit unitingworld.org.au

(Source: New Times e-news)

Mind your language …

Published / by Greg Elsdon

2018 has seen a profoundly disturbing escalation of the language being used in the Australian press and in public discourse to talk about the problems of violence and lawlessness perpetrated by some young people of African, specifically Sudanese origin.

Headlines are warning of “marauding criminal gangs of Sudanese youths”, and some politicians are talking about “ethnic groups who will never integrate into the Australian way of life”. Now it’s clear that there is a problem, particularly in some areas of Melbourne. But racist headlines and xenophobic slogans do nothing but further inflame fear and stir up social unrest and violence.

Christian faith ought to cause us be at least uncomfortable with public displays of racism and scapegoating? And if that is so, what does our discomfort require of us; what does it motivate us to say, to do? What opportunities do we have as individuals, and together as faith communities to testify to another way of responding to fear and violence in our community.  Do we have Sudanese neighbours or contacts in the community we can talk to, encourage and befriend? Can we work within our communities providing safe places for respectful listening and building friendships which expose the lie of racism and hatred.

There are no quick or simple solutions to these challenges, but there are many simple things we can do to turn down the volume of hateful voices and increase the trust and respect for others that increases social capital and builds better communities for all. We can start by minding our language!

Remembering Hiroshima – August 6th

Published / by Sandy

This week the world remembers Hiroshima Day, August 6th, 1945 – 73 years ago. The threat of nuclear war remains ever-present. Remembering the past has the capacity to inform the present and shapes the future.

Adam Quang:Paper Crane installation

A PRAYER FOR HIROSHIMA DAY

Like most traumatic scars, the ones that are found in Hiroshima and Nagasaki are permanent:
reminders of the terrible damage human beings can inflict.

Similar scars can be found in the hearts and souls of people around the world who understand this terror: scars of grief, sadness, fear and even shame.

None of these scars promise an end to war and devastation.
Instead, they serve as a reminder of healing and renewal – of a return to life.

Gracious God, Spirit of Life and Love, help us to see our scars:
those we have created,
those we are called to witness,
and those we can soothe and heal.

We are deeply grateful for the buds and blossoms
that even the most scarred offer as a revelation to the world.

And, especially on this anniversary of Hiroshima Day,
we renew our commitment to peace individually, collectively and globally:

To “peace within” which calms our anxieties and fears,

To “peace between” which overcomes differences, animosities and conflict,

And, to “the great peace,” beyond even our understanding,
that is God’s gift and which we attempt to be stewards of for the world. Amen.

(Source of prayer: William G Sinkford)