Messages of Hope

Month: November 2018

A timely word

Published / by Sandy

John Squires recently wrote a blog that provided some solace for the soul in a difficult time in the Presbytery and Synod of SA, Uniting Church in Australia.

He writes:

I have been thinking in recent days about modes of speaking; ways of proclaiming deeply-held beliefs, ways of engaging in constructively and fruitfully with people who hold different opinions from me. Life these days in the church – and life these days in the public arena, with political debate and social media interaction – seems always to be challenging me, in the way I think about ideas, and speak with other people about those ideas.

Years ago, when I was immersed in studying the letters of Paul, in the original Greek. I came across a fine Greek word, parrhesia, a most suitable and fitting word for Paul to use to describe his modus operandi. It is variously translated as boldness, frankness, courage, assurance, a fearless freedom in expression, an unreserved style of speaking … or, perhaps most simply, “plain speaking”. It was a quality in public speaking which had been valued, long before Paul’s time, and would continue to be valued, after his own lifetime.

I came across another verse in one of Paul’s letters … another word, another idea praised by Paul, another quality which had long been valued and honoured and promoted within the Hellenistic literature. The verse is a short one in Philippians 4, where Paul is addressing the believers in the Roman colony of Philippi in Macedonia. There had been some tensions amongst this group of believers; Paul exhorts them to express unity of purpose, to support one another, and to live in a way that honours the faith they share together. Then, he says, “let your gentleness be known to everyone” (4.5). 

That instruction is striking for two reasons. First, it is oriented towards “everyone” … perhaps a more literal translation would be, “to every human being”. Not just within the community of faith, but to everyone whom they encounter and engage with, anywhere in society.

The second, even more striking, feature, is Paul’s use of the Greek word epieikes (epi-ay-case), which the NRSV translates as “gentleness”. This is almost the polar opposite of parrhesia. Instead of boldness, frankness, and the directness of a hard-hitting public argument, Paul encourages gentleness, mildness, a sense of fairness in the way that believers are to engage with others. To be reasonable. To offer generosity in attending carefully to the other. To offer forbearance and patience.

But there is more. That word epieikes (gentleness) encourages an honest and thoughtful engagement between people, to indicate a way of engaging constructively, respectfully, openly, with other people. Indeed, the word has, at its root, the short verb eiko, which means, to yield, to give way to, to surrender.

So, Paul instructs the Philippians, at this point, to engage in respectful conversations with each other, in which one party yields to the other party – one party steps back, steps aside, pulls back from their boldness and frankness, stops and listens, ponders and reflects, allows the other party to express their view and to have it heard and registered.

John concludes: It seems to me that this is surely “a word of the Lord” for our time. For our place. For our current discussion. For our church, rent by divergent and disputing views. But especially, for the Uniting Church in Australia, for those who have spoken out long and hard, in boldness and frankness, about marriage. Let’s just demonstrate some epieikes (gentleness). Let’s yield. Let’s be gentle. Let’s live the Gospel of abundant grace and liberating hope. Indeed.

And finally, these words from the Seasons of the Spirit resource: “Everything that we plant will not grow; everything that we build will not stand; but continue to plant seeds of hope, and build communities of love. Do not be discouraged, because we do not work in vain. May the grace of God, the love of Jesus, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, continue to work with and through us.”

Time to Stand Together

Published / by Greg Elsdon

Uniting Church in Australia President Dr Deidre Palmer has called on the nation’s politicians to show leadership that will unite rather than divide Australians following the Bourke Street attack in Melbourne.

Dr Palmer expressed her deep sympathy for the family of much-loved restaurateur Sisto Malaspina who was stabbed and killed in the attack on 9 November.

“I join with others across the country in condemning this horrific act,” said Dr Palmer.

“It is important to remember at times like this, we are stronger when we stand beside one another and remain steadfast in our commitment to work together for a peaceful and inclusive community.”

Dr Palmer expressed concern at comments made by Prime Minister Scott Morrison linking Islam to a “radical and dangerous ideology” and for his dismissal of mental health issues faced by attacker 30-year-old Hassan Khalif Shire Ali as “an excuse”.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also made comments in relation to the Bourke St incident urging Islamic community leaders not to withhold information from police.

“I share the concerns of Muslim leaders who are rightly disturbed by such comments which can be alienating for the whole Muslim community,” said Dr Palmer.

“Islam is a religion that actively promotes peace and we know that Muslim leaders in Australia work very hard to share this peaceful message of Islam and counter any misrepresentations.”

“I encourage Uniting Church members to pray for all those caught up in the tragedy and to continue to work together with all who seek peace in our communities.”

#kidsoffNauru

Published / by Sandy

In the last couple of weeks a number of children and their families have been flown from Nauru to Australia (including Adelaide) for urgent medical attention. This is only right – many children have spent their entire lives in immigration detention, creating a generation of damaged children. #fiveyearstoolong. Paediatricians note that the brain is particularly vulnerable to stress in the first three years of life. During this period of rapid growth and organisation, a rise in stress-related hormones may impact the development of emerging neural networks. There is evidence that these children on Nauru have significant medical and mental health issues, as well as patterns of behaviour such as self-harm and resignation syndrome. They live with uncertainty for the future, rather than the security they need for flourishing and well-being. The longer the children (and their families) are on Nauru, the more risk there is of long term damage. There is no case to be argued for the children to be brought to Australia only when there is a medical crisis. This is a systemic issue and needs an immediate response. A letter signed by 6000 doctors makes that point clear.

On Friday night, hundreds gathered for a prayer vigil for #kidsoffNauru campaign, with people young and old all longing to see the right thing done for these children. People shared a concern about children in immigration detention on Nauru, with the limitations and deprivations of life the children have experienced and the medical, emotional and psychological damage with which they now live. Ben Clarke was one of the speakers. He began by including a quote from MLK Jr: For many long years we have declared to the darkness that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. Remember that, though we have not seen the end of this sorry tale of destruction and brokenness, we do see that truth justice and love prevail! He went on to say: For many years we have held up the light of truth to a world willing to live in the darkness of ignorance. When we gathered to read the incident reports leaked off Nauru, when we called on our elected representatives to remind them that seeking asylum is not illegal, when we sat on the steps of parliament house, when we sat in prison cells and stood in courtrooms making statements, when we persisted in talking to our neighbours, family colleagues and anyone who would listen we were declaring the truth that all human life is sacred. Together for years we have called for justice. Not for ourselves in the self-interested way of so much political lobbying, but for our neighbour, not for our economic advantage but for their right to flourish in safety. We sought justice because the pain of another has somehow become lodged in our souls and we know that our liberation, our humanity is caught up in the freedom of all. We have called for justice not because we want to see people getting their just desserts and suffering under the law but because we know that justice has a twin sister Mercy, and Mercy teaches us that that we are all in need of shelter, protection and compassion. Compelling words for those who had gathered in the swirling, cold winds that had gathered in the city, yet who remained undaunted to stand in solidarity with children and their families detained on Nauru.

Brad Chilcott, a long time advocate for refugees last week said:

It is right to celebrate that people are being released from an environment our Government knows, and has always known, will harm people and especially children. It is true that Prime Minister Morrison is now pushing for children to be rescued from Nauru “quickly and quietly” and this is excellent news for those children and their families. This is happening because of the significant pressure put on the Prime Minister by tens of thousands of Australians, 6000 doctors, celebrities, lawyers, advocacy organisations and politicians from both the right and left side of politics.

He went on to say:

However it’s important to remember these things…

Minister Dutton spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in court to prevent sick kids getting the health care they needed, spending your money to make sure they didn’t leave Nauru and the harm being done to them

It is only because of public and political pressure that children are now being brought to safety – and so we need to keep the pressure on

The families now in Australia remain in a state of limbo with no certainty about their future and regularly reminded they will not be allowed to stay. At the same time the Government is refusing to accept New Zealand’s offer of resettlement.

There are 38 children who are still on Nauru – and hundreds of adults who will remain indefinitely on Nauru and Manus Island once all the children have been sent to Australia. Detention harms everyone and we have mourned suicide after suicide of men broken by a system designed to break them.

(Let us not forget the almost 30,000 or so currently in Australia but stuck in limbo with TPVs)

Every person who came to Australia hoping for our protection only to suffer at our hands – because of our broken politics and seared conscience – needs a pathway towards hope, healing and a home.

May we be part of the solution we seek.