Messages of Hope

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Investing in the economy

Published / by Sandy

A statement from the National Assembly, Uniting Church in Australia, in response to this year’s budget, with comments from key leaders in the Assembly (originally published on the UCA Assembly website):

Dr Deidre Palmer, UCA President;
Claerwen Little, UnitingCare Australia National Director;
Pastor Mark Kickett, Interim Chairperson
Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress;
Jannine Jackson, Frontier Services National Director ;
Sureka Goringe, UnitingWorld National Director.

Jim Wallis (Sojourners) has said, “A budget shows who’s important, who’s not, what’s important, what’s not.” It’s helpful to remember that the Federal Government acts on the specific mandated responsibilities it has (as outlined in the Constitution) and does not act outside of those defined areas. ‘Who’s important, who’s not, what’s important, what’s not’ needs to be understood within the specific responsibilities of the Federal Government.

In considering the budget presented to Parliament, there will be matters of relevance affecting the work of the UCA agencies and networks.

Addressing aspects of the budget, the Uniting Church in Australia has welcomed the Federal Government 2021-22 Budget with its historic investment in social services as part of a range of measures focused on rebuilding the economy.

“We welcome this recovery-focused Budget particularly the record investment in vital services that will make a difference for many Australians” said UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer.

Dr Palmer welcomed record investment in aged care, mental health, women’s economic security, safety and participation.

“One of our key learnings from the past 12 months is that we are only as strong and healthy as the most vulnerable members of our society, and we welcome investment in measures that will improve the well-being of our whole society,” said Dr Palmer.

At the same time, Dr Palmer said there were also missed opportunities in areas which might bring about the flourishing of all people and all creation.

“It is disappointing to see there is next to no funding for renewable energy in the budget and no real plan for how Australia can invest in a more sustainable future and strengthen our response to climate change.”

Refugees and people seeking asylum are no better off from the Budget, with the Government continuing to invest in offshore and onshore detention and the absence of any new reforms to the community sponsorship program.

In their response to the Budget, UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little welcomed the Government’s focus on essential services and the Government’s comprehensive response to the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.

“As part of the Australian Aged Care Collaboration, we are pleased to see the $17.7 billion investment in aged care over five years and commend the Government’s commitment to transformation,” said Ms Little. “We are now on the pathway to address many of the challenges facing aged care.”

Ms Little also welcomed investment in homelessness services, mental health and policies that support women saying these measures will support thousands of families, individuals and communities.

In respect to funding for First Peoples, Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) Interim Chairperson Ps Mark Kickett welcomed some measures including a new Remote Jobs Program, but expressed disappointment that the Budget lacked the scope and scale to deliver lasting change.

“Sadly, this budget fails to deliver on Closing the Gap for First Peoples including a lack of funding for measures to address the overincarceration of First Peoples, such as support for justice reinvestment,” said Ps Kickett. “For there to be tangible and lasting change we need to invest in community-led programs and services across all key areas of policy, including health, mental health, justice, employment, disability, early childhood care and development, and families.”

Frontier Services National Director Jannine Jackson said the Budget had some steps in the right direction for people in rural and remote Australia but fell short of meeting the need. Ms Jackson welcomed the increased spending on digital mental health support targeted at fly-in and fly-out workers but said this was not enough to address the growing mental health crisis.

“While we appreciate the response, there is limited access to reliable internet and our concern is that when in a crisis, communication is critical. When you are dealing with delicate issues like suicide, having ongoing access to real people is essential.”

UnitingWorld National Director Sureka Goringe expressed concern that while COVID-19 escalates for our closest neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region, the Government’s international aid spending continues to decline.

“We acknowledge the work that is being done by the Australian Government to help our neighbours respond but greater investment is needed to manage the scale of the crisis which has plunged 120 million people into extreme poverty.”

“As a nation we are rightly proud of how we have managed the pandemic, but we believe we have a responsibility to leverage this success and contribute in ways that will ensure an equitable and just recovery for all.”

DNA of the UCA

Published / by Sandy

UCA theologian and blogger Rev Dr John Squires names 10 distinctive features of the Uniting Church in Australia that make up our identity and contribution to the mission of God in the world (originally published on UCA National Assembly website)

The Uniting Church is part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church – we see ourselves as just one part of a much larger whole. We do the things that other denominations within the church do: we gather for worship, preach the Gospel, care for the needy, witness to our faith, and connect with communities.

We have many organisations that cater specifically for pre-schoolers, school students, people with disabilities, theological students, adult learners, Indigenous people and aged and infirm people. We have chaplains in hospitals, schools, industry, and the defence forces. And we have congregations in many places across the continent.

When we worship, we feel connected with the people of God of all denominations across the globe. When we witness, we bear testimony to the faith shared by Christians of many varieties. When we reach out in service, we act in solidarity with people of Christian faith, people of other faiths, and people of goodwill of any stripe, in our communities and across the globe.

We share in the call to be missional, universal, set apart, and unified, as God’s people together. Or in more traditional theological language, we are part of the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic’ church.

But we believe that we have some distinctive elements to contribute to that larger whole. Our identity as the Uniting Church in Australia is marked by ten distinctive features.

I   In Ecumenical Relationship

When the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian churches joined together in 1977 to form the Uniting Church in Australia, they declared that this union was both in accord with the will of God, and that it was a gift of God to the people of God in Australia.

Since then, the Uniting Church has been a church which is committed to working ecumenically with other Christian denominations. That commitment is one very important aspect of our identity as a Uniting Church. We belong to the National Council of Churches in Australia and the World Council of Churches, where we co-operate with many denominations.

Nationally, we have participated in ongoing conversations with other denominations (Anglican, Lutheran, Greek Orthodox, and Roman Catholic). At the grassroots level, our ministers participate in local ministers’ associations in hundreds of towns and cities across the nation. Some Congregations share buildings with other denominations; some worship and serve together, especially in rural towns.

We are an ecumenical church.

II   In Covenant with First Peoples

A very important dimension to being the church in this country is that we are a church in Covenant with the First Peoples of Australia. From its earliest years, the Uniting Church has been involved in actions which express our solidarity with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Older members will recall events at Noonkanbah Station in the Kimberley in 1980, when Uniting Church members stood in solidarity with the traditional owners, the Yungngora people, against the mining of their land.

The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) was established in 1985, and a Covenant between the UAICC and the UCA was implemented in 1994. This Covenant recognises that working for reconciliation amongst people is central to the Gospel.

In 2009, the Preamble to the UCA Constitution was revised to recognise the difficult history of relationships between the First Peoples and the later arrivals, as Second Peoples. In 2018, we agreed to support a Makarrata process to give a clear national voice to First Peoples, and to support a national Treaty. Our present relationship is one which seeks to ensure that we commit to the destiny together which we share as Australians. One expression of this commitment is the Walking Together as First and Second Peoples Circle.

We stand in covenant relationship with the First Peoples.

III   A Multicultural Church 

In the same year that the Congress was formed, the Uniting Church declared that it is a multicultural church, which rejoices in the diversity of cultures and languages which are found across Australia. The Basis of Union recognises that we share much, as Australians, with people of Asia and the Pacific. The Uniting Church has maintained strong relationships with churches from these regions, as well forging new links with churches in Africa and the Middle East.

The Statement to the Nation, issued in 1977, acknowledged that the Uniting Church seeks a unity that transcends cultural, economic and racial distinctions. Within Australia, there are 12 national conferences based on regional groupings and people from 193 language groups who belong to the Uniting Church.

Each Sunday, worship takes place in Uniting Churches in 26 languages from cultures beyond Australia, as well as many Indigenous languages used in worship by first peoples across our church. We have learnt the importance of moving form “enjoying each other’s foods”, to conversing at a deep level about the hopes and expectations we bring from different cultural experiences. We have learnt that we need to be intercultural in our relationships.

Through UnitingWorld, we maintain partnerships with churches in Asia, the Pacific, Africa and the Middle East. We are truly a multicultural church. Through the Relations with Other Faiths Working Group and the Seeking Common Ground Circle, the Uniting Church has been active in developing relationships and building understanding of other faith communities. We have a long and fruitful dialogue with the Jewish community, and participate in a number of other interfaith conversations. We are firmly committed to constructive interfaith relations.

We continue to develop as a church in deepening relationships with many cultures and faiths. 

IV   All the people of God

The Uniting Church is a church which values the ministry of all the people of God and seeks to order itself in accordance with the will of God. Our Basis of Union affirms that every member of the church is engaged to confess Christ crucified, and every person is gifted by the Spirit to engage in ministry in their own particular way. We are a church that values the ministry of each and every person.

Throughout the life of the Uniting Church, we have held our structures and forms of ministry accountable to ongoing scrutiny. Alongside the Ministry of the Word, to nurture and guide Congregations, we have introduced the Ministry of Deacon, to focus attention on people living on the margins. We have introduced the Ministry of Pastor to recognise the giftedness of lay people, and that sits alongside the Ministry of Lay Preacher (which we have had since 1977) and the more recent accreditation of Lay Presiders in many locations.

We have also undertaken important conversations about membership and the relationship of Baptism to Holy Communion. We now have a clear commitment to an open table when we gather for The Lord’s Supper: all who are baptised (whether adult or child, whether confirmed or not) are welcome to share at this table.

We are a church which values the ministry of all the people of God.

V   Women and Men

The Basis of Union makes it very clear that we are a church which is committed to equality and mutuality of women and men in ministry. Even before 1977, the three previous denominations had ordained women to ministry. This is a very strong distinctive, especially in the Australian scene.

Since 1977, many women have stood on an equal basis alongside men, as Ministers of the Word, Deacons, Elders, Church Councillors, Lay Preachers, Lay Presiders, Chaplains, and Pastoral Carers. We value the insights and experience of women in each and every way that we seek to “be church”—as we gather to worship, as we witness to our faith, as we serve the wider community.

Both lay and ordained women have served in leadership positions across all councils of the Uniting Church, from Church Council Chairpersons to Presbytery Chairpersons, to Synod Moderators and Secretaries, to the Assembly General Secretary and President. Many couples minister together as husband and wife. Gender equality is most certainly part of our identity.

We are committed to mutuality and gender equality in every part of the church.

VI   Discernment

Another contribution that the UCA has made has been to highlight the importance, when we gather in council, of being open to the Spirit, and seeking to discern the will of God. We live this out in our councils by practising a process of consensus decision-making. The Manual for Meetings sets out the various elements that are involved in making decisions by discernment: a time of information, a time of deliberation, and a time of decision-making.

The infamous “coloured cards” are only one small part of the whole. The focus is on listening to the Spirit before we speak, and striving to find a way forward that most, if not all, people can see as the will of God for the church. This way of decision-making, which originated in the UCA, has now been adopted by the World Council of Churches and a number of its member Churches.

We are a church which deliberately seeks to discern the movement of the Spirit in our midst.

VII   Professional Standards

Over the last 20 years, the Uniting Church has developed a firm commitment to strong professional standards, for Ministers as well as for lay people who exercise leadership in the church. Our commitment to professional standards emerged initially in response to the problems of sexual misconduct within the church. A whole section of the Regulations is now devoted to this.

Since 1999, all Ministers have been expected to adhere to a Code of Ethics, and this has most recently been revised to provide a Code of Ethics Ministry Practice for Ministers and a Code of Conduct for Lay Leaders. Ministers and Pastors undertake regular training in aspects of this code, in ethical ministry workshops.

Since the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, we have intensified our efforts to ensure that our churches are Safe Places, valuing everybody, honouring integrity, avoiding negative and hurtful behaviours.

We are a church which values integrity and clarity about our ethical standards.

VIII   Open to explore difficult issues 

Over 40 years, the Uniting Church has shown that it is a church which is prepared to engage in difficult discussions about contentious issues. Our Basis of Union commits us to learn from the insights of contemporary scientific and historical studies, and affirms that we remain open to correction by God in the way we order our life together.

In the early years of the Uniting Church, debates about Baptism were the focus of great controversy. Infant baptism had been an integral part of the worship practices of each denomination which joined the Uniting Church, but Ministers and Elders Councils were receiving regular requests for baptism by adults who had been baptised as infants but had come to a personal faith later in their lives. After debates stretching through the 1980s and 1990s, the Uniting Church has developed a clear set of protocols to cover such requests.

Another area of enduring controversy has been that of human sexuality. There is a wide diversity of opinion within society relating to such matters, and this diversity is present within the Uniting Church. Once again, from the 1980s though into the present era, lively debates regarding human sexuality have taken place in the various councils of the church. We have worked through difficult decisions about sexuality and leadership, and then about sexuality, gender, and marriage. We continue to learn, explore, and adapt.

In dealing with such issues, we have learned how to debate with respect and integrity with ongoing conversations looking to employ a “Space for Grace” process to encourage respectful, empowering, and inclusive decision-making.

We seek to be a church that engages in the difficult discussions with honesty, transparency, and hopefulness.

IX   Advocating for Justice

The Uniting Church inherited from its predecessor Churches a strong commitment to advocating for justice for all. Many Uniting Church congregations and members are actively committed to serving those people who find themselves on the margins of society. This commitment was clearly articulated in the 1977 Statement to the Nation and it has been evident in many actions undertaken by Uniting Church members over the decades.

The Uniting Church has joined in common cause with other groups and organisations in society, in advocating for a welcoming attitude towards refugees; in lobbying for a fair and just system of caring for people who are experiencing poverty and homelessness; in seeking equity for workers in their workplace; and in many other issues.

A regular stream of policy documents and public resolutions point to a clear and unbroken commitment to seeking justice for all. Each federal election, we are provided with resources that encourage us, as people of faith, to consider the implications of our votes in the life of the nation. The Working for Justice Circle is one platform where UCA members share their passion for justice.

We are a church which is strongly committed to justice for all.

X   Environmental Sustainability

In like manner, the Uniting Church has always been a church which honours the environment and supports a sustainable lifestyle. Although such matters are firmly on the radar of the public now, they have long been integral to the identity of the UCA. Once again, the 1977 Statement to the Nation flagged such commitment. A series of subsequent documents attest to the ongoing determination of the church to live responsibly, in such a way that we minimise the damage we cause to the environment in which we live.

Our partnerships with Churches in the Pacific have intensified our awareness of the negative impacts that are resulting from climate change. We know that we need to act now, to reduce the threat. Each year, we experience catastrophic consequences from more regular and more intensified “natural disasters”—fires, floods, drought, cyclones. Just as we provide pastoral support in these situations through Disaster Response Chaplains, so too we maintain advocacy with governments, urging them to set policies which will turn us away from the trajectory of yet more environmental disasters.

Locally, many Congregations and individual members of the UCA are seeking to implement practices that will reduce their carbon footprint on the planet. We know that we owe it to future generations, to live responsibly in the present.

We are a church that lives, acts, and advocates for a sustainable environmental future.

You may have some thoughts about what I have articulated above. You may have thought, “what about …?” – something that I have overlooked, that you see as important. You may have some questions about how I have described some of these elements. I encourage you to talk with others about how you respond. Together, we are the Uniting Church!


Rev Dr John Squires is Presbytery Minister—Wellbeing in the Canberra Region Presbytery. He blogs regularly about various matters at An Informed Faith – John T Squires, including the identity of the Uniting Church. See https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/15/what-i-really-like-about-the-basis-of-union/ and https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/20/alongside-the-basis-of-union-there-was-the-statement-to-the-nation/

#IWMD April 28, 2021

Published / by Sandy

A reverent and touching International Workers Memorial Day service was held at Pilgrim Uniting Church on 28th April 2021. International Workers’ Memorial Day is supported by the Government of South Australia, Pilgrim Uniting Church, SA Council of Churches, SA Unions, Asbestos Victims Association, Asbestos Diseases Society of SA and Voice of Industrial Death, Worksafe SA. Everyone affected by a work-related death or significant trauma was welcomed to attend the service and were provided with the opportunity to contribute a personal item or photograph for the memorial display. The ecumenical commemorative service featured a candle-lighting ceremony as well as the symbolic release of doves.

Rev Liz Dyson presented the following reflection, based on Psalm 139.

“There is sometimes one moment in time, one image that speaks to and captures the imagination of many many people in many many places.
Some weeks ago as I’m sure you noticed, the world was witness to the funeral of Prince Philip. Whether you are a royal follower or not, there’s a strong chance that even if you didn’t stay up late to watch the event, you would have caught images of it on the news, in the paper or on social media.

There was one particular image that captured my imagination and has stayed in my mind, and I know the minds of many others from that event.
It was the image of the Queen of England, dressed all in black, wearing a black mask, head bowed, her hat hiding much of her face from the world, and sitting completely alone, at the funeral of her husband of over 70 years.
Such a profound image for so many reasons. A woman with many privileges yet suddenly not so different from us. Not immune from Covid restrictions. Not immune from sadness and loss. In the midst of grief.
Perhaps this image of grief was so profound for so many because there has been so much grief in our community and in our world in recent times.
We grieve our pre-pandemic world where we could feel safe, where livelihoods might not be threatened by shut downs and restrictions, and where we could travel to be with friends and family. A world where when significant events like funerals and marriages and birthday celebrations are organized we can plan to be there and then actually be there. We grieve for a world in which nurses and doctors and bus drivers and baggage handlers could go to work and not fear contracting a dangerous virus.

And in recent days too we marked Anzac Day – where we remember those who have lost their lives or their limbs or their mental health for the safety and freedom of others.

And then today, International Workers Memorial day we especially remember and share our grief for those who have died in or because of their work-place…

There is something sacred and significant and really helpful about being together at these important times. About grieving in community. About shared ritual and shared space and shared stories … and a shared hope and commitment for things to be different and safer in the future. It connects us. It somehow makes our grief shared. It helps us to carry the load together. And this is why we meet here today.

And yet I think too that what was so powerful about that image of the Queen was the reminder that however helpful it is to be together and share our grief with others, in the end it is also true that our grief is a very personal and individual thing.

There was only one person who knew Prince Philip like the Queen knew Prince Philip. If you are here today because someone you know and love died at work or because of work, you are the only person who knew that person in the way you did.

And we know too that grief is different for different people, and we grieve in different ways … there are the activist grievers who pour the energy of their grief into making the world a safer place for others. I’m sure we have some of those here today.

Then there are the still and quiet grievers who spend time and energy being present to the memory of the one they have lost.

There are those who throw themselves back into life in the hope that the sadness doesn’t swallow them up.

And there are many other ways of doing grief, perhaps as many ways as there are people who grieve.

Sometimes you may have noticed our different ways of grieving create tension – why aren’t they doing it like me? Why can’t they understand that I need to be quiet, or that I need to be busy or that I just can’t think about that right now.

Whatever your experience of grief our reading today is for you. It was written several thousands of years ago, but it is no less meaningful and relevant now than the day it was written down …

Psalm 139 tells us that whatever is happening for us there is One who knows… There is One who understands. “O Lord you have searched me and known me we read. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord you know it completely”.

This scripture tells us that however isolated our grief can make us feel, however long those sleepless nights of tears and pacing and sitting and lying down and pacing might be … we don’t suffer them unseen and alone.
This scripture reminds us that however baffled and confused our thoughts might be as we are reeling from our new reality, there is someone who can make sense of them.

When we find ourselves in the mustard aisle of the supermarket and inexplicably burst into tears. When that song comes on the radio and we are almost knocked over by a tsunami of sadness. When we just can’t get out of bed and we can’t exactly tell you why … there is One who notices and understands.

This is so for each one of us. And every person we love.

We can sometimes feel like we are falling endlessly inwards … but our inner world is known intimately by the God who created us and though we can get lost in there – God knows God’s way around.

And furthermore, this Psalm tells us that there is nowhere in the world, or the universe or on this side of life or on the other side where we or our loved ones can go where the God who created us and loves us is not already there.

You might be thinking … how close to this God do I really want to be – this God who has let me be in this place of great loss and sadness. Fair point.
You can feel free to be angry with God. God is big enough to hold your anger. God is big enough to walk with you in and through that anger and in time to enable you to grow around all that anger and grief.

Perhaps the words of the Psalmist resonate with some here today when they say “surely the darkness shall cover me and the light around me become night” Scholars tell us that the word for cover here can also mean bruise, crush or overwhelm. Surely the darkness shall crush and overwhelm me … But even the darkness is not dark, not overwhelming for God. When the way forward for us is unclear, when it’s hard to see a glimmer of light, the night is as bright as the day for God. Which means that in our darkness we are seen Even if we can’t see where to put our feet
There is one who can see the way forward and whose hand leads us
Whose right hand holds us fast.

If you did watch the funeral of Prince Philip you will have noticed that much effort was made in honouring this man’s life. There were soldiers on parade and cannons being fired, a thousand moving parts and everything choreographed down to the last second and the finest detail to mark the weight of this loss.

And then, perhaps most powerful of all, all of them, everyone present, and potentially most of the nation, and actually millions of people around the world all fell silent… all completely stopped what they were doing …to honour the passing of Philip…

And isn’t that how it feels when our loved one dies – that the whole world should stop. That people shouldn’t just go about their ordinary business.
Because the world has stopped for us.

And God knows this and understands this and cares about this. From the moment we are conceived to the moment we are welcomed into the arms of God when we leave this life we are seen, we are loved, we are known.

It is the same whether we are the Queen of England. Or the ancient writer of this psalm. Whoever we are, construction worker, politician, health care professional, job seeker, union official, cleaner, lawyer, carer, farmer…
The hand that formed and knit us together in our mother’s womb is the hand that continues to lead us and hold us fast.

Whoever we are, whatever we do, may we know deeply the life giving comfort, inspiration and strength of God’s all-knowing understanding presence with us, today and always. Amen”.

(Rev Liz Dyson, Co-ordinating Chaplain, Ashford Hospital, 28th April 2021)

The Gift of Years

Published / by Sandy

Like many viewers, I have enjoyed watching episodes from this season’s ‘Old People’s Home for 4 year olds‘.

What is so heartening is the relationship that grows between the children and the older people, and watching the older people grow in confidence and their willingness to be on the adventure the children embrace so readily.

In the film ‘Nomadland‘ the main character (Fern) in her 60’s is introduced to the concept of ‘ripening’. Joan Chittister writes, ‘All of life, at any age, is about ripening. Life is about doing every age well, learning what we are meant to learn from it, and giving to it what we are meant to give back to it’.

When we think about life as simply a linear trajectory, it is easy to focus on decline and loss – loss of mobility, loss of opportunities, loss of good health, loss of loved ones…. but when we immerse ourselves into each stage of life, as Sr Joan suggests, then we can look at how we do each stage well. “All human beings are continuously coming out of one part of life and going into another; clinging to what is familiar, but unable to stop ourselves from slipping into the next stage.”

It’s worth exploring Sr Joan’s book, The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully.

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat review of her book is enlightening:

The great adventure of growing older and being an elder is the chance to deepen and enrich our spirituality. Whereas we can find examples of this in the medicine men and women of indigenous cultures and in the seers of Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religious traditions, wise old souls are rarely depicted in Western movies and television programs. Usually old people are portrayed as frail, bumbling, or silly. People grow up assuming that they will literally be over the hill with nothing to look forward to once they pass the retirement age. Joan Chittister explores the sad consequences of stereotypes about ageing. She posits a different and very inspiring portrait of the gifts, not the lack, of years.

At a lecture in New York City in late April, Chittister told the funny (and not-so-funny) story of asking a store clerk for a battery charger for her iPhone. The twentysomething man just stared at her, so she repeated what she needed. Finally, he said, “Lady, you have an iPhone?” The message was pretty clear. He thought she was too old to have the latest technology, associated with people who are up and about in the world and need to stay connected with lots of people. We at the lecture had a good laugh over this, but at the same time, we agreed when Chittister added that it was a laugh that was accompanied by a “stab in the psyche.” When we see elders as static people, rather than constantly developing ones, we do them and ourselves a great disservice.

Old brains are no less intellectually competent than young brains. “Scientists have discovered that older people, while not as quick computationally as younger people, do think just as well as the young, but differently – with more depth, with more reflection, with more philosophical awareness.”

Living life to the fullest means active ageing, and one thing that can make the difference between health and unhealthy aging is lifelong learning. According to the Harvard University Longitudinal Study of Adult Development, continued learning determines “the degree to which life will be satisfying to us, as well as the degree to which we will be interesting, valuable, life-giving to others.” Learning projects that keep elders’ minds active also expand their horizons and give them opportunities to be in community with others on retreats, study groups, or in online e-courses.

In a series of short, bright, and snappy chapters, Chittister provides a tour of other elements of growing older gracefully. She is convinced that only the old can make this journey into an adventure, a sweet spot in time that abounds with pleasure:

“Old age is not when we stop growing. It is exactly the time to grow in new ways. It is the period in which we set out to make sense of all the growing we have already done. It is the softening season when everything in us is meant to achieve its sweetest, richest, most unique self.”

One gift of years is the additional time to be of service and to fulfill a life purpose. This may mean playing a greater role as a co-creator of the world through projects for the general welfare. It may mean exploring ethical choices more deeply and bringing our experiences to bear on the challenges facing our communities. “A blessing of these years,” she writes, “is to have the time to complete in ourselves what has been neglected all these years, so that the legacy we leave to others is equal to the full potential within us.” This is a deeply spiritual quest, and Chittister makes a fine guide.

Of course the church is concerned about ‘ageing congregations’ and longevity of ‘church as we know it’, but ministry with older people – not reckoned by a business model but a pastoral model – is strategic and life-giving when seen as connecting meaningfully with a deeply spiritual quest for those in the ‘third third’ of their lives.

ANZAC Day

Published / by Sandy

On Sunday April 25th we recognise ANZAC Day. A special ANZAC Day Evensong service featuring the Choir of Pilgrim Church will take place at 6pm at Pilgrim Uniting Church, 12 Flinders St, Adelaide. The service setting will be Thomas Attwood Walmisley’s D Minor Service and the anthem of Jonathan Dove’s, ‘They will rise’.

All are welcome to this free remembrance service

The Moderator of the SA, Mr Bronte Wilson, offered this reflection for ANZAC Day 2021:

This is the 106th anniversary of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, along with soldiers of many other nations, landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula, near the beginning of the First World War which was expected to be the war to end all wars. Since then, there have been over 100,000 deaths and more than 200,000 wounded in 29 conflicts in which Australia has taken part.

ANZAC Day is more than just a national holiday, it is a fundamental Australian tradition. This is not merely a date of some remote campaign, this is a celebration of the spirit of Australia. This is a celebration of the spirit of courage, of discipline, of mateship and solidarity, of resourcefulness and resilience; the spirit where we know that we stick together in adversity, and support each other; the spirit that goes the extra mile to make sure that things are okay.

Australians recognise the date as an occasion of national remembrance, which can take many forms. This year many events have restricted numbers, and like last year, we are encouraged to stand in our driveways at dawn to remember. In these and other ways, ANZAC Day is a time when Australians reflect on the many different meanings of war.

On ANZAC Day, along with Remembrance Day, we especially remember those Australian men and women who died or suffered in the great tragedy of war. Each year we pay homage not only to those original ANZACs, but to all who have died or been disabled in their service to this country. They enrich our nation’s history. Their hope was for the freedom of us all and we remember with pride their courage, their compassion and their comradeship. They have served and continue to serve on land and sea and in the air, in many places throughout the world.

Not only do we honour the memory of those Australians who have fallen in battle; we share the sorrow of those who have mourned them and of all who have been the victims of armed conflict. We remember with sympathy those Australians who have suffered as prisoners of war, and those whose lives have been dramatically impacted because of war.

We also remember those who stayed at home, and who still stay at home, and admire their strength and endurance as they support their loved ones in situations of potential danger.

On ANZAC Day we realise that we are not just thinking of those who fought in times gone by. We remember that we are still involved as a nation in peacekeeping efforts and that there are defence personnel serving in at least 16 locations overseas at this time, in the Middle East, the Pacific and Asia. We remember their duty, their courage, their teamwork and their determination, their initiative and resourcefulness.

We are reminded that remembering does not glorify war. In remembering we can hope that those times are not repeated. In remembering we can stand in solidarity with those who suffer in situations of violence and injustice. In remembering we can pray for God’s peace and reconciliation for the whole world. We recall that the Lord is our shepherd, and is with us, guiding us in difficult times of turmoil and war as well as in times of abundance and tranquility. In remembering we join with our brothers and sisters around the world to stand up for what we know to be right, for justice and fairness for all, for peace and compassion to reign.

On ANZAC Day we pay our respect and say thank you, to God, for the freedom that we enjoy today. We reflect on the notion of sacrifice, the ultimate example of which we have in Christ, and to pray for peace in our world. In commemorating ANZAC Day in the church, we do not seek to glorify war, but to give thanks for those who have laid down their lives for us, and to come alongside and pray for those who bear the costs of war, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Prayer: Loving God, we pause to remember those who sailed from this country many years ago, and all who have served down the years in time of war. We remember the many Australian service personnel who have given their lives in many theatres of war, resisting evil, defending our country and standing with others to protect freedom in the world. We pause in our lives to honour them today. We pray for widows and orphans and those who carry the scars of war in their minds and bodies. May we as a nation always be generous in caring for them and providing for their needs. May we be challenged by this costly sacrifice, to be a little less inwardly focused, and dedicate ourselves afresh to work for peace in our world, our country and our relationships with others. This we pray in Jesus’ name, who also gave his life for others. Amen.

(Originally published on the SA UCA Synod website)

Earth Day 2021

Published / by Sandy

Earth Day 2021 is Thursday April 22. It was first celebrated over 50 years ago, in 1970.

The 2021 theme is Restore Our Earth which focuses on natural processes and emerging green technologies that can restore the world’s ecosystems. The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have painfully reminded us about the impacts of human behaviour that break down natural systems and threaten the lives of so many species, including humans. Restore Our Earth reminds us of the opportunity we have to restore relationship, to reconnect with Creation, and learn to live in right relationship with people and the earth, and to pursue economic recovery programs following the pandemic that incorporate strong sustainability and low-carbon measures. The world could effectively use the exit from COVID-19 to accelerate a green transition. Every one of us needs a healthy Earth to support our jobs, livelihoods, health and survival, and happiness.

Christine Sine (Godspacelight.com) writes:

Like many early Christians, I believe that God speaks through two books – the Bible and creation. The great Irish teacher John Scotus Eriugena, “invites us to listen to the two books in stereo. He encourages us to listen to the strains of the human heart in scripture and to discern within them the sound of God and to listen to the murmurings and thunders of creation and to know within them the music of God’s being.”
(From J. Phillip Newell, Christ of the Celts, p50).

The Celts knew Jesus as the Word of God. They also saw scripture as the little (in size) book testifying to God, and nature as the big book revealing who God is. It was perfectly natural for them to go into nature and learn of God. This makes some folks nervous, and several years ago I would have been nervous as well. (*’Worshipping the creation rather than the Creator” is a significant warning about knowing the difference between the two. God fashioned creation to give testimony to who God is. This truth becomes evident as we re-read scripture, especially the Psalms and the parables of Jesus’).

We should take comfort in the words of Paul to the church in Rome: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things God has made.” (Romans 1:19-20)

Christine continues: ‘I am not alone in this. Christians increasingly meet with God through practices like Lectio Tierra and forest bathing’.

Did you know Rev Dr Jana Norman, former Minister at Pilgrim Uniting Church, is a Certified Nature and Forest Therapy/Forest Bathing Guide? See more about Jana here, and the focus for her second doctoral thesis here). Australian bushwalkers have known for generations that spending time in the great outdoors is good for the body, the mind and the soul. “It’s the slowness, it’s the stillness, it’s the deep attention to being in the place, so I notice shapes, and colours, and sounds”. (Dr Jana Norman)

As you celebrate Earth week this week, find ways to enrich your connection to God’s wonderful creation – on a walk, in the garden – and consider ways to continue “reading” this second book through which God is revealed, every week of the year.

(In the last week, a new video series, “the Lessons from COVID-19 for the Climate Emergence”, was launched by Dr Deidre Palmer, President of the Uniting Church in Australia. It is the Uniting Church Fellowship and Mission Support (UCFAMS) President’s project with the support of the South Australian Synod with collaborators including Rev Jennifer Hughes, Rev Lyn Leane, Rev Brian Polkinghorne, Dr Colin Cargill, and Leigh Newton. The series invites an informed conversation about the Climate Change crisis. All videos and accompanying study materials will be freely available).

30th anniversary – Royal Commission

Published / by Sandy

(from Bronte Wilson, the Moderator, SA Synod)

April 15th marked the 30th anniversary of the handing down of the Royal Commission report into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in Australia.

At that time the report, along with its 339 recommendations was heralded as an important step towards reducing the incarceration rate and deaths in custody of First Peoples.

Sadly, and to our national shame, in the 30 years since, few of the recommendations made and ideals expressed have been fully implemented and the situation has worsened.

The President of the Uniting Church, Dr Deidre Palmer and the National Chair of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, Rev Mark Kickett have released a statement which can be found at this link.

I encourage you to read the statement and as the President says, ‘We join UAICC in urging governments at all levels to work together to deliver substantive and durable change.’

In South Australia, our Synod meeting in November 2019 resolved to express to the South Australian Government, among other things, our continuing deep concern about Aboriginal imprisonment and black deaths in custody. In particular, the death of Wayne Morrison after unexplained events at Yatala Labour Prison and our continued grief over the high levels of imprisonment of First People in this state.

We believe it is evidence of the failure of our state to rightly relate to the First People of this place. We also expressed profound concerns about the structures and processes within SA Correctional Services.

We all stand with First Peoples and continue to strive for justice and work towards the adoption and implementation of all the Royal Commission recommendations. We continue to pray for the families and friends of those who have died and also pray for continuing reconciliation as we live out the Covenant between First and Second Peoples.

And this statement from Dr Deidre Palmer, President, Uniting Church in Australia, and Pastor Mark Kickett, Interim Chair, Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress):

On the 30-year anniversary of the report of Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) and Uniting Church in Australia have called on all levels of government to commit to systemic and lasting change to reduce the nation’s alarmingly high incarceration rates for First Peoples.

“Thirty years ago, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody provided a blueprint for preventing deaths in custody and reducing the incarceration rate of First Peoples. It’s now a generation later and governments at all levels have failed to act,” said Pastor Mark Kickett, Interim UAICC National Chairperson.

Since the final report was table in 1991, the incarceration rate for First Peoples has doubled. More than 450 First Peoples have died in custody in the past 30 years, with five dying in the past month alone.

“This is a national crisis that requires urgent, systemic and lasting change – not more buck passing, delay or deferral”.

“We should be building communities, not more prisons. We need a comprehensive, coordinated and holistic approach that empowers communities and shifts the focus toward investing in prevention, early intervention, and diversion approaches.”

Pastor Kickett noted a key theme in the Royal Commission’s findings was the importance of self-determination.

“Lasting change must be based on the involvement of First Peoples in the development, implementation and ownership of policies and programs that tackle incarceration and build strong and resilient communities.

“A Constitutionally-enshrined Voice would ensure First Nations full participation in the solutions – all we need now is the political leadership and commitment from governments to listen and act,” said Pastor Kickett.

Alison Overeem, UAICC National Executive member and co-Chair of the Uniting First Peoples Working Group, emphasised the need for a comprehensive approach that promotes healing and connections to culture, and recognises the impacts of colonisation and intergenerational trauma.

“Churning people through the justice system simply perpetuates a cycle of intergenerational grief, trauma and disadvantage. Governments should instead be supporting a whole-of-community, grassroots-led, and solutions-based approach – an approach that takes into account social determinants and the impacts of intergenerational trauma and child removal.

“Programs and policies to tackle incarceration need to be grounded in our strengths, our resilience, our cultures. The connections and reconnections to culture and community bring the strength that’s needed to sustain preventative measures.”

UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer said the 30-year failure to address Indigenous incarceration was a national shame.

“In the Uniting Church, we believe we have a destiny together as First and Second Peoples, and this calls us to seek out justice for all.”

“Today we grieve with our First Nation brothers and sisters the more than 450 Indigenous deaths in custody since the Royal Commission 30 years ago, including five in the past month.”

“It is unacceptable that nearly half of the youth detention population are First Peoples, with children as young as 10-years of age being torn away from their communities and locked away.”

“We join UAICC in urging governments at all levels to work together to deliver substantive and durable change.”

“Raising the age of criminal responsibility nationally is one action that Australian governments can take right now that will have an immediate – and generational – impact to reduce the over-incarceration and give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children a brighter future,” said Dr Palmer.

(Pilgrim Uniting Church is planning a series of events and activities in the next few months that we hope will resource the church further in raising awareness of these critical issues, including a forum with Rev Dr Chris Budden. Updates will be on the website and Pilgrim’s Facebook page and in UC e-news)

Hope in these troubled times

Published / by Sandy
Professor Dr Jürgen Moltmann

Renowned theologian Jürgen Moltmann turned 95 on 8th April, 2021.

For decades, he has shared books, lectures, presentations and discussions that have been received and beloved by audiences far and wide. With topics ranging from the afterlife, to justice, peace and the integrity of creation, Moltmann continues to make immeasurable contributions to ongoing theological formation. He came to prominence in 1964 with the publication of Theology of Hope, which offered a message that chimed with the turbulent 1960s and the search for a better future. He got public attention when the New York Times featured his theology of hope on the front page with the caption “‘God Is Dead’ Doctrine Losing Ground to “Theology of Hope”’.

In his most recent book, Hope in These Troubled Times (2019), he offers a frank assessment of the dangers that confront humanity, and traces our steepest problems to assumptions behind the modern worldview. But he also explores the root and character of Christian hope, and he envisions the form and shape of a life-affirming spirituality, one that can inform and enliven Christian faith in imperiled times.

In chapters composed over the last five years, Moltmann includes specific discussions of the ecological crisis, the encounter of world religions, terror and violence, social justice and compassion, as well as rethinking foundational philosophical and theological questions, particularly of God, creation, and being human, in light of these challenges. “Today’s many crises put the survival of the human species and of the planet at risk. What do Christians and Christian faith have to offer?”

Since Moltmann is one of the most widely-read theologians of our time, and remains so even today, in honour of his 95th birthday, the WCC is offering Hope in These Troubled Times (2019) for free for a limited time (downloadable PDF). Definitely worth a read!

Content
Preface
Christian hope draws the promised future of God into the present day, and prepares the present day for this future. As Immanuel Kant rightly said, thinking in the power of hope is not the train-bearer of reality: instead, it goes ahead of reality and lights its way with a torch. The historical-eschatological category is the category of the novum, that which is new: the new spirit, the new heart, the new human being, the new covenant, the new song, and ultimately, the promise: “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). In light of our faith, as Christians we can honestly assess and face the full force of humanity’s contemporary challenges yet also experience and instil a realistic hope of transcending them.
Part One: Facing the Future
Part One focuses on renewing theology and reasserting hope today.
A Culture of Life in the Dangers of This Time
The Hope of the Earth: The Ecological Future of Modern Theology
A Common Earth Religion: World Religions from an Ecological Perspective
Mercy and Solidarity
The Unfinished World: Nature, Time, and the
Terrorism and Political Theology
Is the City a Place of Hope? The Urbanization of Humankind – A Challenge for Christianity
Part Two: Learning from the Past
Part Two explores the historical and theological sources of our situation and our future.
God and the Soul, God and the Senses
The Unfinished Reformation: Ecumenical Answers to Unresolved Problems
Persevering in Faith: Roots of a Theology of Hope
The Passibility or Impassibility of God
The Mystery of the Past

The Youtube link is a lecture and book launch for Hope in These Troubles Times (1.43 in length!)

A prayer for Myanmar

Published / by Sandy

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Dr Deidre Palmer, has called upon church members to hold in prayer the people of Myanmar as they continue to face an ongoing state of emergency following the recent military coup on February 1. Daily protests have been ongoing in towns and cities across Myanmar after the military seized control. On April 1, the United Nations Security Council strongly condemned the use of violence against peaceful protesters and the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Myanmar.

As reports emerge of the use of violent force against peaceful protestors, and the rising civilian death toll, the Uniting Church echoes the deep concern of the World Council of Churches and Christian Conference of Asia about the deteriorating and volatile situation in the region.

“We hear the distress of the Burmese community in Australia, some of whom have found a home in the Uniting Church,” said Dr Palmer. “We stand with those members of our communities, and with the people of Myanmar as they protest for the restoration of democracy and freedom.”

“We believe that Christ comes to bring renewal and wholeness to the whole of creation, and so we reject violence, urging dialogue and a spirit of reconciliation to resolve conflict. We pray for God’s vision of non-violence, peace, and justice to prevail.”

Prayer
Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace,
in your death you absorb the violence and injustice we do to each other,
and in your rising
they are proven to be futile and false.
May it be so in Myanmar,
where violence and injustice overwhelms.
Reconcile what is broken.
Heal what is wounded.
Restore what is just.
Disrupt the forces of death once again,
so that we may see peace in our time.
Amen.

Easter: Hope and Courage

Published / by Sandy

“In the Easter Story, we hear of the hope and transformation that comes from following Jesus, as well as the courage this inspires,” says Dr Deidre Palmer in her 2021 Easter message. Deidre is President of the Uniting Church in Australia.

Dr Palmer has used her annual Easter video to highlight the courageous women in the Easter story and those speaking out against injustice today.

Just two weeks after tens of thousands of Australians gathered at Parliament House and in cities across the country for the March4Justice, Dr Palmer gives thanks in her Easter message to those raising their voices for gender equality.

Deidre recalls the women in the Easter story, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, who came to the tomb of Jesus while the other disciples were in hiding because they feared for the lives.

“It would have taken courage and deep love to come to that place to honour Jesus after his death,” said Dr Palmer.

“In the face of doubt and a society that discounted women’s voices, the women left that place and shared the good news with great joy.”

“The risen Christ inspires and empowers Christians today, to courageously advocate in the face of injustice: raising voices for gender equality, walking together with First Peoples and calling out for the healing of our planet”.

The Moderator in the SA UCA Synod, Mr Bronte Wilson has also issued an Easter message.

Easter is a time of hope, a time of new beginnings. As we approach Easter this year, our hearts go out to people, all over the world, who have been living in darkness and fear and uncertainty. And continue to do so. We think of people devastated by the global pandemic, physically, financially, emotionally and of those experiencing discrimination and disadvantage. We think of families living in situations of domestic violence and other forms of abuse and of those trying to rebuild lives and communities after natural disasters and events such as bushfires, droughts and floods. But as we approach Easter this year, we can also see, around us, situations of hope. As the rain arrives and the green shoots sprout on the ash-blackened trees, as community groups raise awareness of our biases and judgements, as we stand up for situations of injustice and oppression, as the Covid19 vaccine begins its uptake, there are signs of hope springing forth all around us. Easter is a time of hope. A time of new beginnings. Easter is also time of darkness and uncertainty, as we witness Jesus’ journey to the cross and the injustice of his death. But then, Easter brings the promise of new life, in resurrection power, as Jesus’ broken body, put to death on the cross, is transformed into a new creation. As is written in 2 Corinthians 5 if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! Easter brings the fulfilment of God’s promise of hope, of a new way of being. Easter brings the hope of reconnection and reconciliation, of all humanity to God, and to each other; the hope of reconciliation for all of creation. It is a time to leave behind the darkness and despair of the past. That doesn’t always mean our situations will dramatically improve. Natural disasters still occur, people still live with racism and oppression, inequality still exists, power still corrupts. But Easter brings a promise of a new way of being, a way of transforming these situations, in ways that we might never imagine; as the spirit of God works in our world, and in our midst. The spirit of God sustains and strengthens and empowers us both to live in these difficult situations of darkness and uncertainty, and to be transformed by them… so that we live out this hope and bring hope to others. Easter is a time of hope, a time of new beginnings. New beginnings and new opportunities.

Risen Life

Published / by Sandy
CRAIGIE AITCHISON ‘The Pink Crucifixion’, from the Methodist Modern Art Collection

A POEM ‘THE PINK CRUCIFIXION’
Pink: How shocking!
How outrageous!
How daring!
How bold!
Bright, shocking, in your face, pink.
The pink of teenagers making a statement, standing out from the crowd.
The breast cancer campaigner.
The pink of the Dulux advert: The young man goes to the best party!
– The Pink Crucifixion: People stop and stare. They talk…..
The picture challenges and shocks.
It’s daring and innovative;
Challenges to think outside the box.
It’s off the wall, in your face!
Perhaps not too far removed from Jesus…
Perhaps the picture reminds us of when we were first challenged by the Cross?
The Cross – A brutal place.
The work of Jesus on the Cross:
A symbol of hope and new beginnings. We are a risen Easter people.
We come in faith to the Cross.
We move forward beyond the Cross.
We place our faith in events we did not witness.
We give thanks for the first witnesses to tell their story;
For those who still give the message of “Good News” through their creative work.
We are reminded that we are washed, cleansed, forgiven, restored, redeemed and healed at the Cross.
Perhaps pink represents the vibrancy of Jesus…
A Jesus whom we serve, journey with, and give witness to?
Happy Easter.
He is Risen. Alleluia.

(Glenys Jones 2014)

Holy Saturday – hope deferred?

Published / by Sandy

Meditation
What was it like for the first disciples?
What was it like to live on that first Holy Saturday when all hope is gone,
when all that we love is lost,
when God is dead?
We know the end of the story.
We know of resurrection, so we do not wish to dwell in this dark place.
We want to rush on to Easter Sunday, when life returns.
It is too hard to live on Holy Saturday,
to spend our time in the dark and conflicted places of Golgotha and Gethsemane,
the place where despair has all the best answers to our questions.
But what of the people who have no choice?
What of the people who always live on Holy Saturday.
The child beaten and abused at home whose only hope is to run away?
The child living with alcohol misusing parents,
Trapped, too young, into adult responsibilities.
The disabled child, never given the chance to join in.
The refugee child, always a problem, never simply a person.
What must it be like to live on Holy Saturday,
when we do not know how the story ends?
When hope is absent, who will be there to look after them?
Who will be there for the children on their Holy Saturday?

A prayer of response
Lord Jesus help me to wait here
In the in-between of Holy Saturday.
For I cannot help but rejoice – you have come!
And yet still I grieve – for the world still waits – you have yet to come.
Lord Jesus help me to pray here in the in-between of Holy Saturday.
For you are risen and I can’t, won’t, don’t want to forget it.
And yet I mourn with those who still wait
for your kingdom’s fullness of peace, hope and justice.
Lord Jesus help me to live here in the in-between of Holy Saturday.
For your kingdom has come and is yet to come.
And I, in some small way,
hope to build – with you – all things new.

© 2011 Nigel Varndell www.thesanctuarycentre.org/whereworldandworshipmeet

From glory to glory?

Published / by Sandy

Nadia Bolz-Weber is an author, ordained minister and public theologian. She served as the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Denver. She is also a three-time New York Times bestselling author. Here’s her theological take on Easter week (which will no doubt invite further reflection on atonement doctrines and theories).

Nadia writes:

I’d like to quickly make a case that we have experienced way too much death and grief and loss to skip holy week.

Palm Sunday used to just be Palm Sunday but in a lot of churches it’s become Palm/Passion Sunday because people were going from the triumphant “Hosanna” of Palm Sunday to the glorious “He is Risen” of Easter Sunday without ever going through the horrifying “Crucify him!” of Good Friday.

And hey, I understand the impulse. Who doesn’t want to go from glory to glory and just skip the messy middle…..like how Jesus ate his last meal with the people he loved most, all of whom (perhaps like me) would betray abandon or deny him, that these friends (perhaps like me) couldn’t even stay awake while he prayed in the garden, that the crowd (perhaps like me) would strike and taunt him for not living up to their expectations, that the people would (perhaps like me) shout crucify him! And twist him a crown of thorns, the fact that Jesus got himself killed in a totally preventable way never once showing enough self-respect to fight back or get himself off that cross…well maybe he had it coming – which is why the passersby would (perhaps like me) shout “for God’s sake, save yourself”. Why? Because we would save ourselves.

That’s the problem with the cross – it feels either senseless or condemning and sometimes both.

I know for myself that at the fundamentalist church I was raised in I was taught that the cross was about the fact that, because I was bad God had to send his son…(and God only had one!)… to suffer and die a horrible death because – well, someone had to pay for the fact that I’m bad. And therefore, being a Christian meant feeling bad enough about all of this that you would then try much, much harder to be good.

I’m not sure which is worse about what I was taught: the fact that we had somehow made God out to be a divine child abuser or that we had made God out to be an angry loan shark demanding his pound of flesh.

Either way, I don’t think that’s really who God really is. But I do think that whole mess is what we get when we think the cross is about us and not about God.

No wonder people want to go from glory to glory and skip the cross.

Because when we think the cross is about us, the only view we can have of God is of God standing in heaven with folded arms looking down at the cross judging us but punishing Jesus.

But the thing is, God isn’t standing above the cross. God is hanging from the cross.

Maybe the problem starts when we think we can know who God is by just looking at who we are and then projecting that up really big. We’re vengeful so God must be vengeful. We are power-hungry so God must be power hungry. We want to smite our enemies so God must want to smite our enemies. That’s why it’s hard to imagine that God would willingly choose to be poured out for us on the cross because, well, we’d never do a thing like that.

Yet in the end, it’s like that quote from Einstein “the same thinking that created a problem cannot solve the problem.” We cannot be saved by a God who is just a bigger, bad-er version of the worst parts of us or a bigger better version of the best parts of us.

But we can see who God actually (is), when we see how God chose to reveal God’s self in a humble cradle and on a human cross.

Because on the cross we don’t see a legal transaction where Jesus pays our debt. We see God. The Word made flesh hangs from the cross as though God is saying, ‘I would rather die than be in your sin accounting business anymore’.

From his rough hewn throne of a cross Christ the King looks at the world and no one escapes his judgment…those who betray him, those who execute him, those who love him, and those who ignore him. He judges us all. From the cross the pronouncement is made and the judgment is final and that judgement is….forgiveness. Forgive them Father for they know not what they are doing is an eternally valid statement. From his cross Christ loves the betrayer, the violent, the God killer in all of us and despite our protests he will not even lift a finger to condemn those who put him up there. Because it is finally only a God unlike us- a God who enters our human existence and suffers our insults with only love and forgiveness who can save us from ourselves.

And, I would contend that through the cross we know that God isn’t standing smugly at a distance but that God’s abundant grace is hiding in, with, and under all the brokenness in the world around us.

God is present with us in all of it.

And while the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross is not about you. It is certainly FOR you.

In fact, God is so for you that there is no place God will not go to be with you. Nothing separates you from the love of God in Jesus….not insults, not betrayal, not suffering, and as we will see at Easter – not even death itself.

So don’t go from glory to glory and skip the cross, because it is there that you will find a self-emptying God who pursues you and saves you with relentless, terrifying love and who ultimately will enter the grave and the very stench of death in order to say even here, even here I will not be without you.

Hosanna in the highest indeed. Whatever it ends up looking like, have a blessed Holy Week. We need it this year. Amen.

(originally posted on Nadia’s website The Corners on 28th March 2021, and slightly adapted for this post)

Nadia’s reflection is a catalyst to consider what we SING during Easter week, and the implicit/explicit atonement understandings in our songs and hymns. One song popular in many churches, In Christ Alone, has caused a lot of controversy. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has dropped it from the hymnal because the song’s authors refused to change a phrase about the wrath of God. The original lyrics say that “on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song wanted to substitute the words, “the love of God was magnified.” The song’s authors objected. So the committee voted to drop the song. Ian Paul writes: ‘The real danger in talking of Jesus satisfying God’s wrath is that we separate the actions of the Trinity in the cross. It appears to portray loving Jesus saving us from an angry God who metes out his punishment upon the innocent. Instead, we should see in the open arms of Jesus a welcome by a loving Father, who no longer counts our sin against us – it is from our sin and its consequences that Jesus saves us, rather than from a hateful God’. (Read the article here).

Holy Week beckons us into thoughtful, prayerful reflection.

A litany for Palm Sunday

Published / by Sandy

Jesus, you began the week riding into Jerusalem
to shouts of “Hosanna. Save us.”
In this current climate of
the mass shootings and violence,
the intersection of racism and misogyny,
the dislocation of global migration,
the fear of variant strands and a third wave,
the flooding and environmental emergency,
we, too, shout “Hosanna. Save us.”
Hosanna. Save us.
In this trying time, grant us your peace and your strength.

Jesus, you experienced a parade of palms and shouts of joy.
Today, we struggle to raise our cries in jubilant celebration.
Many of us are in shock at the current state of the world.
Many cry tears of grief and loss.
Many live with fear and anxiety.
Many of us worry about the unknown future.
Hosanna. Save us.
In this trying time, grant us your vision and your hope.

You, Holy Other,
do not arrive in Jerusalem on a charging steed.
You enter riding on a donkey.
You, Holy Other,
confuse our love of celebrity with your humility.
You, Holy Other,
confound our lust for winning with your vulnerability.
You, Holy Other,
die on a cross.
You, Holy Other,
are executed.
You are not the way of imperial power and principalities.
You are the way of righteousness and radical compassion.
In your passion,
shake us, confront us, and teach us your ways.
And grant us your conviction and your courage.
Blessed are you who comes in the name of all that is holy and sacred.

(March 2021, Diaconal Minister Ted Dodd, United Church of Canada)

Earth Overshoot Day 22 March 2021

Published / by Sandy

(originally published in Insights online)

Monday 22 March was Australia’s Overshoot Day for 2021. This is the day that Australia has used up its yearly allocation of the earth’s resources. What should have taken 365 days has taken Australians 81 days. We are the seventh worst offender in this regard and if every nation lived as we did this year, we would need 4.5 planets. In 2020, the Earth’s Overshoot Day was 22 August. This was the date that the earth’s ability to regenerate last year was exceeded by humanity’s demand for ecological services and resources.

We are currently in the Anthropocene, a geological period of time commencing around 1800, where human presence and activity is ‘actually changing the direction and course of the evolution of the planet’. We are seeing mass animal extinctions, deforestation, heat waves and catastrophic fires, glacial and polar ice melting with corresponding rising ocean levels, indiscriminate mining and fracking, air pollution, floods and extreme weather events on an unprecedented scale. These are not naturally occurring, but are the result of human interaction with the planet. How did we get to this destructive place?

At a recent Mayoral Reception in Adelaide, Uncle Mickey Kumatpi Marrutya O’Brien, a Senior Aboriginal man and descendant of the Kaurna (Adelaide Plains) and Narrunga (Yorke Peninsula) people observed that white people often have a hierarchy with humans at the top. This meant that humans saw that everything else existed to serve them. For Indigenous Australians, however, this hierarchy is completely inverted. The land actually stands at the top because it gives everything else life – the plants, the animals and finally humans. As such, humans are there to serve and care for everything else, because land is the provider of life.

If Second Nations people in Australia shared this attitude, would our Overshoot Day be as early in the year? Where did this white understanding of human relationship with creation come from?

Part of the answer lies with Christian theology.

Our theology often determines our behaviour. In simple terms, if we have a theology of domination, we are more likely to view creation as a resource for our benefit and we can thus use it any way we see fit. We will see the earth purely as a collection of commodities to use– trees to be cleared, minerals and ores to be mined, water to be wasted, land only as a place for development. Humans have long thought of themselves as living on earth. As Professor David Rhoads points out, For 20 centuries, virtually all Christian traditions have focused on the relationship between God and humans and between humans and humans. In so doing, we have given scant attention to God in relation to nature, nor our human relationship with the rest of nature, nor our relationship with God in and through nature’). We and, more concerningly, future generations are paying for this oversight.

Part of the reason for this is the understanding of Genesis 1:26-28, where God makes humans, blesses them, and gives instruction concerning the rest of creation. The Hebrew word kabash has been translated to subdue or to subjugate and the word radah as have dominion, rule or dominate. While the original writer may not have had violent or human-centred intentions when they first wrote it, over time, this translation has resulted in a very anthropocentric framework for understanding human relationship with nature. It was something created for humans and to be exploited as such.

If we have a theology of stewardship, hopefully we will see creation as actually belonging to God and we are to care for and protect it. We need to have a concept of humans being embedded in earth, that we belong to this planet. Human beings are mammals and have evolved alongside many other species. We are deeply reliant upon the earth for our survival. Clean air, drinkable water, sustainable food are necessities and we cannot produce these without the earth’s interaction.

New understandings of Genesis 2:15 may offer a more positive way of interpreting our relationship with creation. God puts the man in the Garden and he is to look after it in some way. Traditionally, the words abad and shamar are translated work and keep respectively. These are agricultural terms. Other translations for abad are serve, and for shamar are guard, watch or preserve and have more a sense of acts of worship. In this sense, the land remains God’s and we are to care for it in such a way to keep it pristine and nurtured. If we have this as our theology, then our behaviour should respond with protecting, sustaining and wisely sharing the earth’s resources because they are not actually ours, they are God’s.

Another area of theology that impacts our understanding of human relationship with creation is eschatology. If we understand that this planet is not our ‘real’ home and that God is going to whisk us away to heaven for our eternal life, we are less likely to care for the earth now. There is a sense in which God is going to destroy this earth anyway, so there is little point in humans caring for creation. If this is not the case, however, and God is moving toward a restored and redeemed earth and sky, which Christians are participating in, we are more likely to nurture and care for our planet and its creatures.

Another resource is the Earth Bible Project, where scholars read Biblical passages through the lens of ecojustice principles of the intrinsic worth, interconnectedness, voice, purpose, mutual custodianship and resistance of the universe, earth and all its components. By doing so, they try to set aside a history of reading scripture through an anthropocentric and patriarchal framework.

By valuing creation, seeing it as precious and humans as a dependant part of a complex whole, perhaps Christians can be part of changing the date of Overshoot Day.

Dr Katherine Grocott

Grateful thanks to Rev Dr Vicky Balabanski, Director of Biblical Studies at Uniting College in Adelaide, for her insights.

Prayer in response to NSW floods

Published / by Sandy

Torrential rainfall (a ‘once in 50 years event’) is battering the east coast of Australia and New South Wales has been declared a natural disaster. We are thankful no lives have been lost, while at the same time there has been tremendous loss of livelihoods, and property.

Amidst the beauty of God’s creation, we encounter forces beyond our control that bring loss and destruction. Fire, flood and drought are deeply etched into the Australian psyche. We ache with sorrow at the destruction of homes and livelihoods. We offer our prayers for those affected by the floods and for all those working to bring relief and fresh hope. Here is a prayer by Maren Tirabassi in response to the NSW floods.

God who walks across the water,
reach out your hand
to the people of New South Wales,
where the rains continue,
roads are flooded,
dams broken, rivers swollen,
families evacuated from their homes,
where the Australian government
names sixteen national disaster sites,
and rescue workers are at risk.
Reach out your hand, O God,
that makes in those who fear to sink
new Peters
finding themselves lifted
to help a neighbour,
to share food, seek shelter,
care for COVID protocols.
And bless, O Holy One,
the ministry of disaster recovery chaplains*
in the days of rain to come. Amen.

(Maren Tirabassi on her blogsite, Gifts in Open Hands, 21 March 2021)

* Disaster recovery chaplaincy is an ecumenical network of chaplains established to assist people who have been affected by disasters and major emergencies within their communities.

(World Water Day on March 22 is an annual UN observance day that highlights the importance of freshwater. The day is used to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. Still a high priority despite the floods in NSW).

Professor Will Steffen from the Climate Council writes:
It’s been devastating watching the worsening flooding disaster unfold. New South Wales and Queensland have been hit particularly hard so far, whilst 10 million Australians are currently subject to an extreme weather warning covering every state and territory except Western Australia. Many people have been asking over the past few days how flooding events are being influenced by climate change, so here are the facts.

Globally, the risk of extreme rainfall and flooding events like those currently devastating Australian communities is increasing with climate change. The global average temperature has already risen by around 1.1°C, and for every 1°C rise in temperature, the atmosphere is able to hold around 7% more water.

This extra heat and moisture means more energy for weather systems that generate intense rainfall, and in Australia, we’re already seeing an increase in the intensity of heavy rainfall events.

Our weather over summer and autumn has also been influenced by a La Niña event, which tends to bring more rain for much of Australia. But it’s important to remember: everything we are experiencing today is occurring in the context of a rapidly warming planet.

Reflections on Harmony Day 2021

Published / by Sandy

A sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce, on 21st March 2021 (Harmony Day)

Rev Dr Grace Ji-Sun Kim is a Korean-American who preached here at Pilgrim in 2018. She teaches theology, and is a prolific author. Grace introduced us to the notion of intersectionality, a framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities combine to create different modes of privilege – and discrimination. We all have multiple aspects to what makes each one of us – age, race, gender and sexual identity, physical abilities or disabilities, religious identifications, family background, marital status, education, income and social class. This gives privilege to some, and endless marginalisation, discrimination and denigration to others.

It’s a lot to get one’s head around, and especially when the common narrative from political and community leaders and media seems to be in the realm of binary, polarised, ‘us’ and them’ dualistic thinking.

I had cause to remember Grace this week when news came out about the shootings in Georgia this week with 8 people dead. Turns out the majority of victims were Asian, women from South Korea (Grace’s place of birth) simply at work in their workplace. It wasn’t declared a hate or racist crime because, according to the police spokesperson, the 21 year old white shooter, baptized a couple of years ago in a Baptist Church, was just having a bad day (dealing with is own demons). White privilege. In response, Grace wrote an impassioned article, urging people to listen to stories of people who live with discrimination, suffering, marginalization, racism, and racialization.

In her book, Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide, Grace challenged readers to imagine an intersectional church, a practice of welcome and inclusion that embraces difference and centres social justice along all the axes of identity including age, race, sexual identity and orientation, economic status and more. What would it look like to have church that is inclusive for all sorts and conditions of people?

March 21 is Harmony Day, celebrated each year, the same date as the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (which in turn recognised the 1960 Sharpeville shootings).

In Australia we celebrate cultural diversity, inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone. It is intended to celebrate the cohesive and inclusive nature of Australia and promote a tolerant and culturally diverse society. The message of Harmony Day is Everyone Belongs. It is a day of cultural respect for everyone who calls Australia home – from the First Nations people of this land to those who have come from many countries around the world. Our communities are stronger when we understand the stories, motivations and hopes of those we live alongside; when we recognise what connects us, not what separates us.

So, happy Harmony Day!

Harmony Day is a one day community celebratration that should be at the heart of our Christian community every day – our core DNA, that transcends the ‘isms’ and celebrates diversity as an integral part of God’s kin-dom family.

I was interested to learn about this statement from Duke Memorial United Methodist Church which is read in their church each Sunday: “As our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to love and accept every person, we welcome into our life together those of every age, race, ethnic background, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, family or socioeconomic status, educational background, and physical or mental ability. In our commitment to the reconciliation of all persons as beloved children of God, we celebrate our diversity and recognize the sacred worth and dignity of all. We invite you to join us in our faith journey toward discipleship in Christ with mutual respect, understanding, and love.”

What would it mean to focus our attention, not on people like us, but to people who are considered different, who are often ‘othered’? What would it mean to intentionally seek out greater diversity? 

This morning’s Gospel reading is set in Jerusalem, with an influx of visitors for Passover. People who spoke different languages, had different accents, food, customs, clothes. Some of the visitors had a Greek heritage. Foreigners – even if they lived in the same country alongside Jewish people. Some Greeks went to Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples. They had no doubt heard about Jesus, raising Lazarus from the dead. For some reason they didn’t feel worthy enough to approach Jesus themselves. They simply said, Sir, we want to see Jesus, to really see him, person to person, face to face. They wanted an encounter, an experience of Jesus.

Interestingly enough, we never learn whether these Greeks got to see Jesus. As soon as Philip and Andrew tell Jesus that some Greeks have come to see him, it sets in motion the transition to Jesus’ passion. Jesus begins a difficult teaching saying, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus immediately looks ahead to the cross.

Fr Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, in his book Falling Upward takes a look at the journey of life each person is on. He writes:
“One of the best-kept secrets, and yet hidden in plain sight, is that the way up is the way down. Or, if you prefer, the way down is the way up.” Jesus continues his difficult teaching on the grand reversal – the ones who love their lives will lose them; those who hate their lives, will keep them for eternal life. The way of greatness is in service and humility and sacrifice. The way down is the way up.

History tells us that countless others have also said, ‘We want to see Jesus‘. That’s what unified the early church – a focus on the inclusive and salvific love of Jesus. As the early church grew, it did so across ethnicities and languages. It cut across cultural barriers among rich and poor, men and women, leaders and servants, all now worshipping God together in spirit and in truth, living out of love for each other. It’s more than tolerance or friendship. The Gospel unites otherwise disparate people together in Christ.

Theologian Palmer Becker sums it up this way:
“Jesus is the centre of our faith,
community is the centre of our lives,
and reconciliation is the centre of our work.”

Each person is made in God’s image and is deeply loved by God and should be able to live life abundantly. We don’t actually need Harmony Day, because as a church we are called to live it every day – a church known by love for one another, of peace with justice, of healing and reconciliation, of welcome and inclusion.

Part of our confessional life must be to recognise the way we don’t live this out, to recognise that in the church we have people who remain on the margins – the powerless, the downcast, the outcast. We have silos of exclusion. We tend to keep to our own people, to what is familiar to us.

If those Greeks in our reading were to show up in our churches today, would they see Jesus, embodied in our living and our community?

A friend shared this poem this week by Rebecca del Rio:
“Come new to this day. Remove the rigid overcoat of experience, the notion of knowing, the beliefs that cloud your vision. Leave behind the stories of your life. Spit out the sour taste of unmet expectation. Let the stale scent of what-ifs waft back into the swamp of your useless fears. Arrive curious, without the armour of certainty, the plans and planned results of the life you’ve imagined. Live the life that chooses you, new every breath, every blink of your astonished eyes.”

Reflecting on this poem, Steve Koski writes:
“Arrive curious. Curiousity is a spiritual practice. Imagine the spiritual practice of meeting every single person, event, and feeling that shows up in your life with a deep and abiding curiosity. Imagine if you were able to pause and notice, observe, wonder and be curious instead of living from a state of habitual reactivity. Curiousity means instead of snapping at someone because you’re angry, you sit for a moment with the feeling and energy of anger in your body and notice it. Observe the angry tirade of thoughts. Imagine if you were able to sit with this uncomfortable feeling for a moment. As the poem says, leave behind the stories you’re telling yourself about this anger for a moment and, without judgment, be curious. What can you learn about yourself? Be curious: How are you being triggered? What old things are coming up for you? What if you became curious about the person who triggered your anger – what burdens are they carrying; what pain is unhealed; what grief do they hold?What would happen if you waited and didn’t react? What would your deepest wisdom advise in this moment? What is the most loving response you could have in this moment? What response would free you from those old patterns that no longer serve you? There is a space between whatever pushes our buttons and our habitual reactions. That space for most of us is razor thin. Curiosity is the spiritual intervention that widens that space and sets us free from those habitual reactions that no longer serve us. Curiosity creates calm, welcomes wisdom and helps us see things in new and unexpected ways.

Let us together commit to the spiritual practice of curiousity – to be curious about each other’s stories, to listen deeply, to build caring community. Together may we work for a world where we embrace our differences and stand strong, united in our shared humanity, embraced by the love of God. Together, may we continue to embody reconciliation, love and peace.

May it be so. Amen.

#March4Justice

Published / by Sandy

(originally posted on Uniting Church Assembly website)

Uniting Church women and men were among tens of thousands of people who took to the streets across the nation on Monday 15th March calling for an end to violence against women. The March4Justice rallies took place in 40 cities and towns across Australia, with huge crowds swelling the capital cities.

The rallies called for justice and equality in Australian society and an end to the systems, attitudes and culture that allow sexual violence and harassment to continue.

UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer applauded the women and men who took part in the March4Justice rallies.

“The exceptional turnout at the March4Justice events show there is deep desire in Australia to see meaningful change and justice for women who have experienced violence,” said Dr Palmer.

“I am grateful for all those women who have had the courage to speak out about their experiences and for the passion for justice among those who took the time to march.”

“As the Uniting Church, and as followers of Jesus, we are called to name gender-based violence as a sin against God and a breach of the love, trust and care that Christ embodies and calls us to model.”

“All women should experience safety, respect and dignity and the fullness of life that God intends for us all.”

“We support all those calling for justice. Enough is enough.”

Organisers at the rally in Canberra presented a petition to Government with more than 135,000 Australians calling for independent investigations and greater accountability over gendered violence connected to Parliament House. (Brittany Higgins addressed the March4Justice rally in Canberra).

A large contingent from Tuggeranong Uniting Church joined about 5000 people at the protest outside Parliament House. Minister Rev Elizabeth Raine said women within the congregation felt very strongly about the issue and wanted to make their voices heard. “This is a justice issue and there is a gender equality issue that needs to be addressed,” said Elizabeth. “My congregation includes retired public servants who understand there is a toxic culture that makes women more vulnerable when reporting sexual assaults and harassment.”

Elizabeth described the atmosphere as energising. “It felt maybe we could do something, change might be possible.”

Rev Sandy Boyce joined the March4Justice event in Adelaide.

“It really was good to be able to join the thousands of men, women and children who turned out to stand in solidarity and to call for change. The speakers were inspiring and spoke truth to power to a very receptive crowd. I deliberately wore purple, a symbol of lament, and wearing my clerical collar gave witness to the fact that the Church is also concerned about the safety and well-being of women. To quote Cornel West, ‘Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public’.”

Close the Gap 2021

Published / by Sandy

Close The Gap is held on the third Thursday in March each year and is an opportunity to send a clear message that Australians value health equality as a fundamental right for all, and urge meaningful action to be taken in support of achieving health equality for First Nations Peoples by 2032.

The 2021 theme is, Leadership and legacy through crises: keeping our mob safe‘.

The 2021 Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee report was prepared by the Lowitja Institute, Australia’s community controlled national institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research. (Click here to download the document).

In introducing the report, the co-Chairs of Closing the Gap write:

“We remain steadfast and persistent in the expectation that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing, being and doing will be respected and understood. The time for governments to deliver has long passed. We invite our readers to connect with the strengths-based examples of our peoples, professionals and communities managing the most complex of challenges such as climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and suicide prevention”.

“There are countless individual and community level success stories in Indigenous-led health policy, service delivery and human rights sectors. We chose a small section of these case studies for presentation here to demonstrate that investment in the programs that have been designed and led by our people is the most effective way to achieve better health outcomes. Self-determination is critical and to ensure that change occurs, our voices must be heard by governments at every level of society. We perpetually recommend the same approach: to involve us, to listen, to reform and invest. Be it in systemic reform, policy design, service delivery, evaluation or agreeing upon funding, “nothing about us, without us” will be the only successful approach”.

“There is considerable work to do. We remain the only country in the Western world that has failed to eliminate trachoma (preventable blindness) – an international embarrassment. The Indigenous youth suicide rate remains four times that of other Australian youth. We are greatly in need of finishing the unfinished business all Australians deserve: that of health equality. We should start by grasping the opportunity of the Uluru Statement from the Heart – with its full implementation of a constitutional voice, treaty and truth-telling processes. Over the past 12 months, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and allies have embraced the Black Lives Matter movement that helped inform many on the prevalence of systemic racism and the preventable deaths in custody of so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”.

“At times of crises true leadership steps up. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders moved rapidly to safeguard communities when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Their actions were decisive and designed with each local community in mind and avoided a potential catastrophe. Some of our homelands, once threatened with closure by governments in the past, became some of the safest places in Australia. We know what is best for our people and we are delighted to summarise some of this remarkable and ongoing work herein”.

“This report presents the voices of our youth – our future generations. Our young leaders are showing the way in matters of huge importance such as climate change. In the words of Seed Mob, as sea levels are rising globally, so too First Nations peoples are rising and demanding genuine action on climate change. Climate change is suffocatingly real yet our governments’ responses to the hottest of issues, the survival of all Australians and our planet, are tepid responses at best. Our northern homelands are disappearing under rising sea-levels, to the despair of Torres Strait Islander peoples attempting to sustain their communities as they have done for millennia”.

“In 2020 our leaders finally sat with government, negotiated and co-signed the New National Agreement on Closing the Gap as partners. The investment for health equity is relatively small but must be relative to a burden of disease 2.3 times that of other Australians. As repeated often, a country as ’great’ and wealthy as Australia is capable of delivering health equity for and with its First Nations peoples – just 3% of the population”.

“We present the passionate and wise voices of youth protecting Country and examples of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership successfully protecting communities. We have faith that leadership within governments can and will deliver Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander equity through partnership. We offer clear recommendations. Finally, as Campaign Co-Chairs, we would like to thank the wider Australian public and our members for their ongoing support and commitment to equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

Ms June Oscar AO, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner; Mr Karl Briscoe, CEO, National Association of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and Practitioners
Co-Chairs, Close the Gap Campaign

A prayer for Closing the Gap (by Dr Maleika Selwyn, a GP who is passionate about working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. She lives and works in NSW on the land of the Dharuk and Wiradjuri nations).

Dear Lord,
We thank you for this land of Australia. We thank you for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters who you placed as the original custodians and stewards of this precious land. We pray that as we begin to acknowledge the truth of past hurt it is the start of a deep healing in our nation.
We pray that the gap in health outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and Non-Indigenous Australians will be closed. We pray for all health professionals – doctors, nurses, carers, dentists, administration staff in health facilities – may these health professionals be filled with compassion, understanding, and love as they see their frontline role in helping to Close the Gap. We pray Australia will Close The Gap!
We pray for greater cultural understanding and improved access to health services. Show us how we can each, individually, be a part of making this a reality. Teach us how to love each other and journey together in this process of reconciliation and true friendship.
We pray for those that feel hopeless that they will find their hope in You. We pray especially for the families and communities of Aboriginal people who have committed suicide this year. We pray that you fill the families and communities each with a peace that surpasses all human understanding; that they will know that they are not alone in their grief, that You walk beside them and there is a community around them that loves, supports and cares for them.
We thank you for each of our Aboriginal Elders who have journeyed with their communities through much sickness, hardship, and grief. Fill them afresh with your strength and wisdom and courage.
As we pray for these Stolen Lives, we pray that we may be the agents of your healing, in Jesus name.

A time for healing…

Published / by Sandy

We will all have seen the #BlackLivesMatter actions after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police (and tragically, so many other African Americans who have also been killed by police brutality*). To raise public awareness, #BlackLivesMatter signs have been painted on public roads.

(*In a single week in March 2021, 3 Aboriginal people have died in police custody in Australia. Victorian Greens senator Lidia Thorpe describes the justice system as “deeply racist”).

Washington DC street sign: Black Lives Matter

In June 2020, Miriam Moran – an African American artist, together with her friends, took part in a community project to paint ‘Black Lives Matter’ on a main street in downtown Cambridge (Dorchester State), with the endorsement of the City Council. The idea was to paint a street mural depicting historical milestones of the city’s culture in the context of the words Black Lives Matter.

In July, in the middle of the night, a man in a pick up truck deliberately ‘burned rubber’, damaging the mural. (Apparently, a so-called friend in the passenger seat had encouraged him to do it.)

Security camera footage led to coverage on social media, and the driver was quickly identified – a 21 year old local. The driver saw the disappointment his actions had fostered, called police and turned himself in.

The artist said she felt ‘hurt and devastated’ when she found out the mural had been damaged, not just for herself, but for the community that helped create the painting.

The man and his parents met with the District Attorney (who could have opted to charge the man with a hate crime), the Mayor, the Police Chief, a detective, the artist, Alpha Genesis Co-Founder and Chairman, along with others. The State Attorney reported it was a ‘good conversation – and a difficult conversation’. The driver was contrite, and agreed to work with other volunteers, his parents, and his friends to repair the mural.

He also agreed to apologize publicly for his thoughtless act. His apology was heartfelt. There was genuine remorse in his voice, and genuine tears in his eyes. His mother stood by his side, quietly, even as members of the black community talked to him in no uncertain terms, not about him, per se, but about the burden of being black in America. They asked him what it was like to grow up white in the same community. The testimony was at times raw, at times uncomfortable, but never angry or accusatory. They got to know each other’s stories. It was meant to educate, and illuminate experiences that the driver was not tuned into, despite living and working in the same community. It was an opportunity to learn about what “Black Lives Matter” means to people who have often been treated as if they don’t matter.

As much as there was talking, there was also listening. A lot of listening.
The driver was given the opportunity to demonstrate his repentance. A black man would most likely not have received that opportunity.

The District Attorney (DA) spoke about the opportunity to make it a teachable moment, that it was important to work together to keep the situation from escalating further, and to find a path toward healing. The DA was confronted by Theresa Stafford, a career educator, and director of a public housing youth centre. She wanted a commitment from the DA that this kind of opportunity would also be extended to black youth that get into trouble for vandalism, to provide a path forward, as had been extended to the driver, who is white. He agreed he would actively seek opportunities to work with black kids to help them learn from their mistakes.

After the speeches and testimony, and hard questions, the volunteers returned to work. They added several elements to the mural. Tyre marks were incorporated into the repairs to the mural. Roses were added, and the words “Say Their Names” were added above “Black Lives Matter”.

The driver and his parents stayed till the end. The driver did whatever tasks the muralist Miriam Moran asked him to do.

‘It’s time for healing but also for accountability to one’s self to understand each other and also to do what is right’, said artist Miriam Moran.

A story shared by Rev Dr Ian Price on Sunday 14th March 2021. This post incorporates information from a newspaper article and a Facebook post by Lee Weldon (an artist Miriam Moran’s Facebook page).

When theology seems odd

Published / by Sandy

A reading for Sunday March 14, 2021 (Lent 4B) Numbers 21: 4-9
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water,
– and we detest this miserable food.” Then God sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against God and against you; pray to God to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And God said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Prayer/Reflection
God of the Scriptures, thank you for these stories,
even when they are strange, they help us think things through.
Even when the theology seems odd,
they push us to sort out what we believe.
Even when we are left scratching our heads at the weirdness,
they encourage us to keep searching and questioning and growing.
In a lot of ways, we can see ourselves in these stories.
We are wandering in the wilderness, too.
We are trekking through pandemics: viral and racist.
We are travelling in times of crisis: personal and environmental.
In all the binge-watching and over-indulging,
in the kneeling and knees on necks,
in the being overwhelmed and ticking climate change clock,
we pray for direction, insight, and wisdom.
And even though we know, in faith, that
water came from a rock when there was thirst, and
manna came from heaven when there was hunger;
we know, too, that we can be complainers,
griping and grumbling over the petty,
murmuring and mumbling with vindictiveness,
ranting and railing when we feel slighted.
Forgive us our trespasses.
Let us forgive those who trespass against us.
And so like Moses, we intercede for the people.
We pray for the planet.
We may not believe in the magic or sorcery of snakes on sticks.
We may not believe in the power of idols bronze or brazen.
We may not believe in a God who dispenses luck and antidotes
according to our will,
but, nevertheless, we still ask:
that we might face our fears,
that healing may come to the brokenness,
that joy may erupt in the barrenness,
that wholeness might come to this Earth.
May the poison and the venom and the serpents be taken away from us.
In as much as we are at fault, we also ask for forgiveness.
We take this Lenten moment to repent, to turn around,
to seek transformation for ourselves, our church, our society and our world.
May there be genuine healing, authentic redemption and real reconciliation.
Let us look on the Holy One, and live.
(Diaconal Minister Ted Dodd, United Church of Canada)

Hope is a bag of onions

Published / by Sandy

This week Extinction Rebellion protesters disrupted peak hour traffic for two hours when they glued themselves to the road on the corner of Gawler Place and Flinders St (a short distance from Pilgrim Uniting Church) near the SANTOS building. A 70-year-old North Plympton woman, a 65-year-old Flaxley woman, a 38-year-old Mile End woman and a 65-year-old Henley Beach South woman were charged with ‘loitering’. In a press release, the group said it was protesting against Santos and wanted the company to abandon fracking projects and invest more in renewable energy.

[In response to the protest, a Santos spokesperson said the company was a “corporate leader in climate action”, and that it had set a net-zero emissions target by 2040]

SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said protests were “a regular feature of most civilised communities. People have a right to express their opinions”. An excellent statement from Commissioner Stevens, in the context of a democratic society.

What does protest look like in a country like Myanmar where a coup d’état took place on 1 February 2021 (when democratically elected members of Myanmar’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy, were deposed by Myanmar’s military, which then proclaimed a year-long state of emergency and declared power had been vested in Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services. The results of Myanmar’s November 2020 general election were then declared invalid and a new election has been forecast at the end of the state of emergency even though most of Myanmar’s people are satisfied with the results of the election.

I was struck by this reflection by Maren Tirabassi on protest actions in Myanmar, and the creative ways that protest is able to happen even in military rule.

Hope is a bag of onions
I am praying for Myanmar and I am crying,
then I open my Australian newspaper*
and an article by “Anonymous”
tells me about new creative protest.
Some is by Generation Z surely,
those who do not remember
the horrific violence of 1988 or 2007,
but know they do not want
the coup to succeed.
The generation of “pop up” and “work around,”
is joined also by many others.
Every night is the “metal bucket protest,”
fifteen minutes of banging pots and pans.
Too short to pinpoint the homes,
and too traditional,
after all, it is
the way to drive out evil spirits.
Ten cars stop in the road, open their hoods,
tell police they’ve broken down –
traffic grinds to a halt.
A bride in a wedding dress
holds a sign telling the world
she doesn’t want her babies
to grow up under martial law.
And students cross the streets
with bags of onions,
except there are holes in the bags.
Cars stop,
while they pick up and bag again,
pick up and bag again –
onions, the same ones,
over and over again.
I am praying for Myanmar
in the midst of this terrible coup,
and my heart fills
with their tremendous courage –
today these onions do not make me cry.

(*“Eureka Street”, a publication of Jesuit Communications Australia)

#Sacred People, Sacred Earth 2021 – 11am March 11

Published / by Sandy

Global Day of Climate Action, 11am March 11 (‘the eleventh hour’)

“Sacred People Sacred Earth” is a multi-faith day of climate action organized by the GreenFaith International Network. The day will unite hundreds of actions around the world, in which people of faith step up to express a collective wish for bold solutions on climate change and social justice. Actions will take place at 11am on Thursday March 11 to symbolize the urgency we face. Make a noise about climate justice!

[At Pilgrim Uniting Church it will include bell-ringing at 11am to ‘sound the alarm’, followed at 11.05am by ‘Blue Planet’ musicians performing songs that highlight environmental concern (on the forecourt of Pilgrim Uniting Church, 12 Flinders St, Adelaide). At 5pm there will be a conversation with Mark Parnell at Wild Nectre Cafe, Victoria Square, exploring Sacred People, Sacred Earth – towards a Hopeful Path for 2040, with Philippa Rowland, President Multi-faith SA and MC’d by Leigh Newton, EAG UCA and followed by Q&A. Free event. All welcome. If posting any photos on social media, use the hashtag #SacredPeopleSacredEarth].

This global day of action will highlight ten pledges that were developed by a grassroots body of diverse religions from around the world. Over 100 high-level faith leaders have signed onto it, and the list of supporters is steadily growing. Please take a look and sign on and share with others. The bold multi-faith statement will be launched on March 11.

The vision is a world transformed. One in which humanity in all its diversity has developed a shared reverence for life on Earth; in which the era of conquest, extraction, and exploitation has given way to cooperation and community. Yet, across the world, more and more people are experiencing climate-fuelled disasters first-hand. COVID is cruelly worsening these impacts on our most vulnerable communities. There is a need to bring an end to fossil fuels and deforestation, and to create a renewable future. A better world is possible.

Green Faith International Statement:
We are united by a fundamental belief that all people, all living things, and the Earth are sacred. As we consider the state of the world today, our hearts overflow with concern. We are frightened and frustrated by the damage that COVID-19 is inflicting on our communities. The pandemic has revealed cruel injustices. The vulnerable suffer the most severe impacts.
We know about this injustice. We have seen it before. These same communities are disproportionately and catastrophically affected by the accelerating climate emergency. 
Grave threats are at our door as the world shelters in place. We see the rise of increasingly unaccountable or authoritarian governments, exploitive economies, and extremist cultural forces which pit us against each other, target women and oppressed communities, and foster doubt about the science required to save life on Earth. This is a world of widespread poverty, racial and gender injustice, massive income inequality, and the devastation of nature. This version of civilization is unsustainable at every level. Worse impacts lie ahead if we do not act now. 
A far better future is possible if our collective response to the pandemic and the climate crisis is guided by compassion, love and justice at a scale that meets this moment. We must not only provide the relief that so many need to survive. We must create a new culture, politics and economy of life that heals people and planet.
We envision a world transformed, in which humanity in all its diversity has developed a shared reverence for life on Earth. Together, we are building resilient, caring communities and economies that meet everyone’s needs and protect the planet. The era of conquest, extraction, and exploitation has given way to cooperation and community. The good life is one of connectedness—with each other and all of nature. It is a world of flourishing life that replaces despair with joy, scarcity with shared abundance, and privilege with justly distributed power.
The work to create this future begins now.
In the months ahead, governments and financial institutions will spend massive sums in response to the pandemic. Governments will present climate commitments at COP26 in November 2021. These actions must not perpetuate an outdated economic system that relies on fossil fuels and the destruction of the very forests, waters, oceans and soils that make life possible. Instead they should accelerate renewable energy development; ensure universal access to clean water and air, affordable clean energy, and food grown with respect for the land; create jobs paying family-sustaining wages to workers in safe conditions. Wealthy countries must take responsibility for a larger share of emissions reductions to support a global just transition. We must also prepare ourselves to welcome those who will be displaced by COVID and climate change.  
Compassion, love and justice require no less of us all.

International Women’s Day, March 8th

Published / by Sandy

Year after year, March 8 is celebrated as International Women’s Day the world over. It celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women while highlighting the problems they face in day-to-day life as well as in the professional environment. The day also marks as a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

This year, #IWD is being specially marked to highlight the challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. The theme, “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world” celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Writing about the #IWD2021 theme, Neelanjan Chakraborty says: It highlights how women can be equal partners in decision-making processes, especially those regarding policymaking. This year, the need of the hour is to bring to light the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and highlight the gaps that remain. According to the United Nations, only three countries in the world have 50% or more women in parliament. Women are Heads of State in only 22 nations. In fact, globally 119 countries have never had a woman leader as a Head of State.

UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said, “We need women’s representation that reflects all women and girls in all their diversity and abilities, and across all cultural, social, economic and political situations. This is the only way we will get real societal change that incorporates women in decision-making as equals and benefits us all.”

Neelanjan Chakraborty continues: “One thing which the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us is that when women lead, we see positive results. Some of the most efficient and successful responses to the COVID-19 pandemic were led by women. They are even on the forefront of humanity’s battle against the pandemic. Be it as front-line and health sector workers, or scientists, doctors, and caregivers. However, recent data released by the United Nations reveal an alarming disparity. These women frontline workers are getting paid 11% less than their male counterparts globally. According to United Nations Development Programme, in 2021, around 435 million women and girls are living on less than $1.90 a day. Nearly 47 million women have been pushed to poverty because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report also adds that women’s employment is at 19% more risk than men. That’s not all, as per World Economic Forum, while women make up 70% of health sector workers, only 24.7% of health ministers are female”.

UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer has offered a #IWD message and a prayer to use in worship (originally posted on the UCA Assembly website which includes Deidre’s video message for# IWD2021).

PRAYER FOR INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
Liberating God,
We thank you for the ways you lead us into freedom and expressions of our fullest humanity.
Empowering Christ, 
bless us with courage to follow you in advocating for all those who experience oppression.
Life-giving Spirit, 
Inspire us to shape communities of love, respect and mutuality.
We thank you for women who have led the way in our Church – who have been bearers of your good news through their teaching, preaching, and pastoral care.
We thank you for women who have led the way in calling for gender equality.
We thank you for women who have preserved culture and language and led the way in shaping a vision of society in which all cultures are valued and respected.
We thank you for men who share in partnership with women, in advocating for respectful relationships and a world of equality and mutuality, in which all people can flourish.
We pray for women throughout our world, who experience discrimination, and whose voice is diminished. May their voice be heard.
Through Christ, our Life and Hope,
We pray, Amen.

#Sacred People Sacred Earth

Published / by Sandy

Faith communities around the world are being asked to ‘sound the alarm’ for the climate and call for climate justice as we try to get our economies going in the wake of COVID. The biggest ever global faith-based Day of Action for the Climate is planned for 11am (the ‘eleventh hour’) on March 11, with the theme ‘Sacred People, Sacred Earth‘. After the Day of Action, ‘Green Faith International’ will call for a “Year of Action” in the lead-up to COP26 which will be held in Glasgow in November 2021.

On March 11 at 11am, each place of worship, faith-based small group or household will choose its own way to do this (eg by ringing its bells as will happen at Pilgrim Uniting Church). Action Kit for churches here.

Thea Ormerod from ARRCC (Australian Religious Response to Climate Change) speaks about the Global Multi-Faith Day of Action.

A statement for ‘Sacred People, Sacred Earth’
We are united by a fundamental belief that all people, all living things, and the Earth are sacred. As we consider the state of the world today, our hearts overflow with concern. We are frightened and frustrated by the damage that COVID-19 is inflicting on our communities. The pandemic has revealed cruel injustices. The vulnerable suffer the most severe impacts. We know about this injustice. We have seen it before. These same communities are disproportionately and catastrophically affected by the accelerating climate emergency.
Grave threats are at our door as the world shelters in place. We see the rise of increasingly unaccountable or authoritarian governments, exploitive economies, and extremist cultural forces which pit us against each other, target women and oppressed communities, and foster doubt about the science required to save life on Earth. This is a world of widespread poverty, racial and gender injustice, massive income inequality, and the devastation of nature. This version of civilization is unsustainable at every level. Worse impacts lie ahead if we do not act now.
A far better future is possible if our collective response to the pandemic and the climate crisis is guided by compassion, love and justice at a scale that meets this moment. We must not only provide the relief that so many need to survive. We must create a new culture, politics and economy of life that heals people and planet.
We envision a world transformed, in which humanity in all its diversity has developed a shared reverence for life on Earth. Together, we are building resilient, caring communities and economies that meet everyone’s needs and protect the planet. The era of conquest, extraction, and exploitation has given way to cooperation and community. The good life is one of connectedness – with each other and all of nature. It is a world of flourishing life that replaces despair with joy, scarcity with shared abundance, and privilege with justly distributed power.
The work to create this future begins now.
In the months ahead, governments and financial institutions will spend massive sums in response to the pandemic. Governments will present climate commitments at COP26 in November 2021. These actions must not perpetuate an outdated economic system that relies on fossil fuels and the destruction of the very forests, waters, oceans and soils that make life possible. Instead they should accelerate renewable energy development; ensure universal access to clean water and air, affordable clean energy, and food grown with respect for the land; create jobs paying family-sustaining wages to workers in safe conditions. Wealthy countries must take responsibility for a larger share of emissions reductions to support a global just transition. We must also prepare ourselves to welcome those who will be displaced by COVID and climate change.
Compassion, love and justice require no less of us all.

Pilgrim Uniting Church is a member of ARRCC (Australian Religious Response to Climate Change). ARRCC joins in the call for:
100% clean energy for all – especially the 800 million people in energy poverty
Global finance aligned with compassionate values – in COVID recovery and beyond – for renewable energy and sustainable food systems
Jobs and healthcare for all – necessary support for a just transition for workers and communities currently dependent on fossil fuel industries
Protection of Indigenous rights
Welcome for migrants who are compelled to find new homes because of climate impacts
No more climate pollution – net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in wealthy countries by 2030; accelerated finance/technology transfers for global net zero before 2050
An end to the planet’s desecration – No new fossil fuel exploration or infrastructure, industrial agriculture, or deforestation; no more habitat or biodiversity loss
Elimination of immoral finance – No further financing or COVID bailouts for all fossil fuels, industrial agriculture, or deforestation
Climate reparations from wealthy countries – wealthy countries should provide climate financing and technology transfer
Bold faith community leadership

Aligned with these demands, ARRCC is calling on the Morrison Government to:
* A formal commitment from Australia under the Paris Accord to achieving net zero emissions by 2030. It follows that Australia should offer Nationally
* Determined Contributions (NDC’s) that align with this goal.
* The use of post-COVID recovery spending to boost renewable energy and low carbon industries rather than fund a “gas-led recovery”.
* Provision of substantial amounts of finance for the UN Green Climate Fund, additional to the aid budget.
* Provision of support for an orderly, planned, just transition for communities currently dependent on the coal and gas industries.

For many, it’s a question of faith

Published / by Greg Elsdon

For many, it’s a question of faith

By Stephen Acott

It’s 6.47am in sunny Samoa. The calendar says its September 29, 2009, but when the clock strikes 6.48am, Frank Rees won’t need a calendar to record this day. Mother nature will have that covered.

Frank, principal of Whitley College in Parkville, is in Samoa holidaying with his wife and daughter. At just 2800sqkm, Samoa is your quintessential, picture-postcard speck in the ocean. This is a place to lose yourself, or maybe find yourself, depending on your circumstances – either way, not much happens in Samoa, so “relax” is at the top of most people’s to-do lists.

Frank won’t be relaxing today, as he’s about to discover.

At 6.48am, Frank wakes to the sound of rumbling. The room is shaking, furniture is moving. Frank has never experienced an earthquake before, but he doesn’t need a second opinion – this is an earthquake, 8.1 on the Richter scale. Some things just explain themselves.

His wife is also woken by the clatter and, not knowing quite what to do, the two of them run outside. This doesn’t really achieve anything and, besides, they’re not fully dressed so they return to their room, put on some extra clothes and head back outside.

By now there’s a siren blaring and one of the staff members is running around shouting the word “tsunami”.

Tsunami? Did he just say “tsunami”?

Frank doesn’t have time to fully digest the word, much less its implications. Before he knows it he’s underwater, trying to negotiate the non-negotiable.

“I’m under a wave that is carrying me away and thinking I’m about to drown,” he recalls. The moment is as vivid now, 11 years down the track, as it was then.

“My wife was carried in one direction inland and my daughter and I were carried into the rubble of the building we had been staying in. After the first big wave, I tried to swim, tried to swim, tried to swim, but in the end I couldn’t. But the wave had smashed up the building and we ended up on the ledge of a part of what was left of one wall.

“When I finally got my head above water, I found my daughter and we started to walk uphill. I had six broken ribs and a whole lot of other injuries and I was in excruciating pain, but we made it.

“We didn’t know if my wife was alive, and she didn’t know if we were alive, but we managed to find each other about an hour later.”

Each of us have had moments in our lives we’ll never forget, moments that have helped shape us and shift us and even define us. Your wedding day, for example.

Some of these moments are so totemic we aren’t the same person afterwards. We are irreversibly different. The birth of your first child, for example. Or surviving a tsunami.

 “I had the sense then that I’d been given another chance at life,” Frank, now a Reverend Associate Professor at the University of Divinity, says. “And I determined that I would do things that I really believed were worthwhile, put up with a lot less crap, and articulate as best I could the idea of a God who is with us in life, inviting us to life.

“The tsunami literally took away from me everything that I had, all of the possessions I’d taken to the island. I had no mobile phone, wallet, no credit cards, no clothes. When everything is taken from us, we discover what really matters, and that’s the potential for a new sense of faith, a new sense of that trusting and belonging. What can you really trust? Well, you can trust yourself and each other in the face of everything else being lost. And that I think is the potential for faith in God beyond ideas, beyond the idea of the God who pulls the strings and causes things.”

If you don’t have faith before a tsunami sweeps you to within an inch of your life, chances are you might have it once you wake up and have time to comprehend what just happened. Frank, now 70, lived to further his life. As did his wife and daughter. But 149 people weren’t so fortunate that day. Why did Frank live?

Frank, who is also an author and blogger, says he’s never tried to answer that question and who can blame him? There is no answer, just a responsibility to not take life for granted.

“I don’t think you can answer it with ideas,” he says. “The great temptation of Western thought is wanting to explain everything. I’m all in favour of trying to understand things, but I think there are times when we can’t understand and instead we need to respond. So for those who died, and this is happening all the time in different contexts, we have to respond with appropriate compassion and gratitude, gratitude for them, for what they gave to life, but also gratitude for our life. So that’s my response – not to explain ‘why me?’, but to say ‘thank God. I’m alive. I’m going to live’.”

The thing is, Frank didn’t need a tsunami to find faith or have faith. He’d been a man of faith long before he hopped on a plane to Samoa. He can’t pinpoint a precise “lightbulb” moment but remembers listening to a preacher back when he was 15 that had a marked influence on his faith.

“He was talking about the kind of faith that people can switch on and switch off according to whether it was convenient or not,” Frank says. “And I thought that whatever faith I was going to affirm it had to be fair dinkum. I was either going to be in or out. And that’s basically been my affirmation – I don’t want to pretend – so if I can’t articulate something, I’m not going to pretend. And authenticity as faith is trusting honesty. Honest trusting includes some believing and some ‘I’m not sure what to believe’ – actions that try to express oneself honestly.”

Faith is not a foreign concept. And yet, and yet … do we really, truly understand what it is? Do we have different definitions? Different parameters? Different levels? Can you switch it on and off, as the preacher described to Frank?

Faith isn’t hard to find; like everything nowadays, it’s only a mouse click away. It’s right there in Google, on YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest … any and all manner of platforms. Some of it is superficial, some of it is as deep and complex as a theological PhD. People have written countless books and poems and songs on the topic, there’s been movies and art and mass gatherings – you won’t struggle to find faith, but having faith, well that’s something else altogether.

How do you get faith? What does it involve? Is there a guidebook? A set of rules? Is it a case of simply believing?

Well, no.

Fr Richard Rohr is a Catholic priest and highly acclaimed spiritual writer. Highly acclaimed and prolific. Chances are he’s written four or five books while we’ve been in lockdown. The point is, when it comes to matters of faith there isn’t an angle he hasn’t considered and explored in print.

“Most people think having faith means ‘to believe in Jesus’,” he says. “But, ‘to share in the faith of Jesus’ is a much richer concept. By myself, I don’t know how to have faith in God, but once we know that Jesus is the corporate stand-in for everybody, we know we have already been taken on the ride through death and back to life. All we can do now is make what is objectively true fully conscious for us.”

Objectively true. That’s an interesting statement to say as fact, particularly in a society where many would argue faith is subjective and occurs, thrives even, in the absence of proof. Even The Bible seems to suggest this view: “Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Maybe we should let Richard explain himself further.

“Faith is not an intellectual acceptance of God, or believing certain doctrines to be true,” he says. “Such intellectual ascent does not usually change your heart or your lifestyle. I’m convinced that much modern atheism is a result of such a heady and really ineffective definition of faith.

“God refuses to be known intellectually. God can only be loved and known in the act of love. Love is like a living organism, an active force-field upon which we can rely, from which we can draw, and which we can allow to pass through us.”

Rev Nadia Bolz-Weber is a theologian and three-times New York Times best-selling author. She agrees with Richard that faith is not “intellectually assenting to a set of theological propositions”. To her, faith is “trusting God’s promises”.

“Faith is trusting we are who God says we are, that God’s promises are being fulfilled among us even if we’re not seeing it,” she says.

Nadia, who agrees with Richard’s proposition that sharing in the faith of Jesus is a richer concept than simply believing in Him, has a phrase for faith: “team sport”.

“Faith isn’t given in sufficient quantities to individuals, it’s given in sufficient quantities to communities. Faith is a team sport, it’s not an individual competition,” she says.

This is an interesting concept and one worth exploring further because everyone interviewed for this story said their faith was deeply personal and not in short supply. Yes, they belonged to a faith community – and rejoiced in the fact – but their faith was imbedded in their soul, it was part of their being. It was personal, almost individually-tailored.

Gus Yearsley is the state officer of the Tasmanian Council of Churches Emergency Ministry. Now 53, he grew up in what he describes as a “Christian household”, but says it took until his teens for his faith to get a strong foothold in his life.

“Faith is very personal,” he says. “For me, faith is about serving people and loving people and being a good example of who I think Jesus would be and represent Him as best I can.”

Or, as Hampton Park UC member Diane Leak puts it, faith is about “doing stuff”. “The best thing I can do is live out my faith,” she says. “I’ve become quite involved with what we’re doing at Uniting Place, which is what we call the church building. Before lockdown, we offered free lunches twice a week. And I was involved with religious education for about 30 years with the local schools. That was a bit of a seed-sowing ministry.”

If we accept that faith is fundamental to the human condition, it’s interesting to consider the fact we aren’t born with it. Faith is something we have to find, or allow ourselves to find, or allow faith to find us.

Think about when you first truly had faith? Did you hunt high and low for it? Or did it come to you in a rather roundabout, unexpected way? Revealing itself only when you were truly ready to receive it?

Richard says we “don’t really do faith”. “It happens to you when you give up control and all the steering of your ship,” he says. “Frankly, we often do it when we have no other choice. Faith hardly ever happens when we rush to judgment or seek too-quick resolution of anything. Thus, you see why faith will invariably be a minority and suspect position. You fall into it more than ever fully choosing it.

“Many scholars have pointed out that what is usually translated in Paul’s letters as ‘faith in Christ’ would be more accurately translated as ‘the faith of Christ’. It’s more than a change of prepositions. It means we are all participating – with varying degrees of resistance and consent – in the faith journey that Jesus has already walked.”

What does he mean when he says “you don’t really do faith”? Does he mean “faith” is not a verb? If so, he has an ally in Frank.

“One of the really unfortunate things in the English language is that we don’t actually have a verb for faith,” he says. “We don’t have ‘faithing’ in the way that the Bible does and, therefore, all too often people think of faith in terms of ‘do you believe?’ and when you get to belief then you get to specific ideas and content and a great deal of the theological tradition is focused on that, unfortunately.

“It’s really important to say that faith is a personal and relational stance in life. It has much more to do with trust and relating and engaging than it has to do with the traditional focus on belief.

“Faith is a natural human responsiveness to life itself. And it is a stance that involves relationships and ethics, action, emotions as well as some intellectual content. But for a great many people, the intellectual content is either not well developed and often not expressed in words.”

Beth Woolsey is an American author, mother of five, very down to earth and someone who believes finding faith does take some searching on our part.

 “Jesus said a lot of earth-shattering things,” she says, “but now that I’m a mum, I think this was one of the most radical of all: Askand it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

“It seems to me that Jesus’s words are a clear directive: ask, seek, knock. And then, if I’ve got this right, Jesus follows up a few verses later by saying that God will actually respond. God, the lover of us all, will reveal divine things. To me. To you. To anyone who asks. And God will do it without discretion or conditions. Without caution or prudence. Without making a list first of who has a right to which truth or who will handle the answers the best.

 “The revolutionary, almost subversive, thing about asking is that it goes beyond making it OK to have secret questions and inner doubts and gives us permission to raise our hands in God’s classroom with a ‘pardon me, but I don’t get it’. Or ‘I just can’t bring myself to believe what the rest of your class is telling me’.

“I suspect – a sneaking suspicion that gets louder as I age – that we’re somehow expected to keep asking. Out loud. And to keep seeking. And to keep knocking. Which has crazy implications on parenting from a Jesus perspective because typically when we don’t know something, we pretend we doThat’s in the Parenting Manual. Or the Being a Grownup Manual. Or the Christianity Manual. Or maybe it’s just being human.

“I had a conversation recently with my father about whether we’re obligated as Christians to be aspirational. ‘Are we,’ I asked, ‘supposed to hold ourselves up as an example of the Godly life? Because I’m afraid I lack what it takes for others – my children, my friends, my blog readers – to want to aspire to be like me and, therefore, like God’.

“He replied: ‘What if the root word of aspiration isn’t only to aspire to? What if the root word of aspiration is also to aspirate? To expel or dislodge the things that make people choke? To tell a truth that is so wild and so free that it helps people learn to breathe? What if you’re called to be that kind of aspiration?’

 “And I thought,‘by God, if this life is about helping people breathe, I can do that’.

 “Ask. Seek. Knock. Breathe.”

And if you ask and seek and knock and breathe and discover something, what do you do? Believe? Have faith? Or are they one and the same thing? Of course they’re not. In fact, according to outspoken agnostic (and author) Lesley Hazleton, faith can flourish in the absence of belief.

Lesley, 75, says “doubt is essential to faith”. “Demolish all doubt and what is left is absolute, heartless conviction,” she says. “You are certain you possess ‘The Truth’ and this certainty quickly devolves into dogmatism and righteousness – in short, the arrogance of fundamentalism. Like fundamentalists of all Christian stripes they have no questions, only answers. They’ve found the perfect antidote to thought and the ideal refuge from the hard demands of real faith. We have to recognise that real faith has no easy answers.

“Faith is not hard to find. It’s difficult and stubborn and involves an ongoing struggle, a continuing questioning of what we think we know, a wrestling with issues and ideas. It goes hand in hand with doubt and sometimes in conscious defiance of it. And this conscious defiance is why I, as an agnostic, can still have faith.

“What drives us is that, despite our doubts, and even because of our doubts, we reject the nihilism of despair. We insist on faith in the future and in each other. Call us naïve or impossibly idealistic, but call it human.”

Tanya Walker, 44, is a wife and mother and lay leader at Benalla UC. She is also a witness to a remarkable occurrence at her fortnightly Sunday worship. “I have a friend who comes every two weeks, reads the Bible with us, prays with us, but she keeps saying she doesn’t believe in God.

“I’m always intrigued about what is going through her mind. I’ve had several conversations with her about it and I think, for her, there’s too much of the faith aspect tied up with religion. And so the religion side of things puts up this massive barrier for people opening themselves up to actually believing in something.

“She said ‘I believe in Mother Earth’ and I think we’re just using different names, really. I think what you believe in and what I believe in is probably closer than we think. You’re very adamant about saying ‘I don’t believe in God’ because you have this picture of what you think God is, but if we break it down, it’s closer than we think it is.”

Diane had an interesting encounter once with someone who believed in extra terrestrials. He said he had no faith, but believed there was something ‘out there’ so I think underneath all that he had some kind of faith,” she says. “We both believed there was something out there beyond us that we don’t understand and sometimes we just have to accept that those things are there. We don’t know everything.”

Gus’s job sees him working with people of many faiths. He describes it as “an interesting space” and it has taught him that “faith means different things to different people, depending on their belief system”. It has also taught him that, no matter what “brand” your faith may be, questions always linger. There is always an element of the unknown.

“There are some questions we just can’t answer,” he says. “But that doesn’t undermine my faith in God.”

Faith may come in many ways and many forms to many people – there is no single “faith” packet you can grab off the supermarket shelf – so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to discover that once you have it, your experience with it, how it nurtures and nourishes you, will be relatively unique.

When asked to describe what faith provides, Tanya offers just one word: “Freedom.” When asked to explain, she says: “People without faith are missing out on a sense of hope, but also an element of freedom. By this I mean many people are living with the expectations that society and others put on them, sometimes it is what they put on themselves – an expectation to live up to what others want them to be and, in many cases, falling short time and again. This leads to feelings of inadequacy and failure and causes anxiety and stress.

“For example, a friend of mine who is a mother of three small children thinks that for her to have a good life she needs to be the ideal mother and not get things wrong. She needs to have more and more possessions in order to keep up with what is new and fashionable. She dresses nicely, she portrays herself as having an idyllic life, but when we dig deeper, she has many mental challenges that stem from the expectations she feels are on her. These mental challenges manifest themselves in physical ways on her body and cause more issues. The push in our world is to have more, to achieve more and to be more.

“My point is that having faith in a God who loves us no matter what and knowing that God forgives us when we muck up, gives me a sense of freedom in the way I live my life, that we don’t have in other ways.

“We don’t have to get it perfect, we don’t have to have everything, because ultimately that doesn’t matter and, if people judge us for what we don’t have or what they think we don’t have, then it doesn’t matter because I know that God loves me no matter what and that is more powerful than all other things. This gives me the freedom to not worry about everything else, but instead to put my energies into trying to love others as God loves us. Because that will make the world a better place. I don’t always get it right, but it is in the trying that God shows grace.”

Frank says faith provides “a framework of ethics, a life style”. “What we often call a ‘lifestyle’ is actually a ‘deathstyle’ – it’s life-denying,” he says. “And I think faith provides a life style, the Christian faith with its affirmation of death and resurrection is actually a way to live.”

Sometimes, when trying to gauge the worth of something, it pays to think of what the world would look like without it. Just how essential is it really? When push came to shove, could we live without it?

Diane says a world without faith is not a world we would recognise. It wouldn’t work,” she says adamantly.

“Faith and love and hope are what carry us through this world. We are moving to a place where faith is in the margins, but I think we’ll move back again. Throughout history it has swung backwards and forwards. I don’t believe God will ever leave the world.”

 Frank believes the swing back is already happening and is there for all to see. “I call it bikes, Bunnings and brunch,” he says.

 “Sundays used to be preserved for church by a portion of society, but these days we see an extraordinary number of people exercising or doing healthy things. You see people doing stuff about homemaking, to enhance their homes. And others get together for brunch. Now those three things are immensely life-affirming and the getting together part of it is enormously important. Inherent in all that is a quest for life, the quest for belonging, the quest for a kind of life that affirms, rather than divides, the kind of life that is growing and nurturing, rather than stultifying.

 “And the future of faith is with that movement and I’m hopeful that out of all that we might reclaim the ideas of justice, peace, Shalom. And God is already in all of that. The church has never had an adequate doctrine of the Holy Spirit and if we believe that the Holy Spirit is the spirit of the whole creation and not just limited to people who go to church then the Holy Spirit is at work in all of this stuff. That’s why I’m hopeful.”

Frank has every right to be hopeful and every reason to have perspective – he’s survived a tsunami. If that doesn’t grant you perspective, nothing will.

___________________________________________________________

Stephen Acott is Editor of ‘Crosslight’, a publication of the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. This article was first published in ‘Crosslight’ on 16 February 2021.


Stephen Acott is Editor of ‘Crosslight’, a publication of the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. This article was first published in ‘Crosslight’ on 16 February 2021.

Just a cup of coffee

Published / by Sandy

Australian Government ministers have agreed to permanently lift the base rate of the jobseeker payment by $50 a fortnight when the coronavirus supplement ends in March – the equivalent of just $3.50 a day. Not even enough for a cup of coffee at a cafe (average cost is $4).

Photo by dapiki moto, https://unsplash.com/@dapiki

Before the pandemic, the base rate of Job Seeker for a single person was about $40 a day. This week the Federal Government announced it would increase payments by $50 a fortnight, lifting the base rate to $44 a day.

The Uniting Church Assembly has joined UnitingCare Australia in expressing disappointment at this meagre increase in the base rate of the JobSeeker payment.

Those receiving the Job Keeper benefit will get $615.70 a fortnight, which is still a drop from the current rate of $715 a fortnight, when the $150 coronavirus supplement expires at the end of March.

The Australian Unemployed Workers Union described the $50-a-fortnight increase as a “cruel joke”. Perhaps appropriate then that the increase takes effect on April Fools Day, April 1.

The UCA President, Dr Deidre Palmer, said: “One of our key learnings from the pandemic has been that we are only as strong and healthy as the most vulnerable members of our society. The extra support delivered by the Government throughout the pandemic has been a lifeline for many Australians. COVID-19 highlighted in a new way that people who are unemployed need adequate funds in order to live with dignity, remain healthy and participate in society.”

“In 2020, we released our Build Back Better statement which called for a fair and permanent increase to JobSeeker to ensure a safety net for people out of work, but these changes fail to live up to those hopes,” said Dr Palmer.

“We need to do better.”

In recent months, UnitingCare Australia has joined other community sector agencies in calling for a permanent rise to the JobSeeker payment.

This week UnitingCare joined Anglicare Australia in condemning the changes that they say will plunge people into poverty.

UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little said the announcement was a devastating blow to individuals and families struggling to make ends meet.

“Unemployment payments need to be above the poverty line. Increasing the base rate by a mere $3.60 a day is not enough to lift people out of poverty.

“As one of the largest networks of community service providers nationally, we have seen first-hand the positive impact of the Coronavirus Supplement,” said Ms Little.

“One of our services spoke about a young father who is the sole carer of his three small children. He said the impact of the JobSeeker supplement meant that instead of living life on the edge, he has been enabled to be a better father.”

“No one deserves to live in poverty. We need a permanent, adequate increase to JobSeeker that actually enables people to meet their needs and live with dignity.”

Two weeks ago, UnitingCare and Anglicare called on the Government to raise the rate of JobSeeker after releasing research which showed people on the old rate of JobSeeker, which has been frozen for nearly three decades, had forced people to skip meals because their payments were so low.

Many were left with as little as $7 a day after paying their rent. Others were forced to couch-surf. Read the FULL REPORT.  

Facts and figures
March 2020: JobSeeker – $40 a day
April-September 2020: JobSeeker – $80 a day
October-December: JobSeeker – $60 a day
January-March 2021: JobSeeker – $50 a day
April 1 2021: JobSeeker – $43.50 a day
(Could you live on this?)
Those receiving the new Job Keeper benefit will get $615.70 a fortnight (or about $44 a day), which is a drop from the current rate of $715 a fortnight, when the $150 coronavirus supplement expires at the end of March.
Before the pandemic, the base rate of jobseeker for a single person was $565 a fortnight, or about $40 a day.
During the pandemic, the jobseeker payment was initially doubled with a $550 coronavirus supplement before the top-up payment was reduced in September 2020 and January 2021.
The relative poverty line for a single person – set at 50% of median income – is $914 a fortnight, while another measure, the Henderson poverty line, puts it at about $1,100 a fortnight.
Welfare groups, Labor, the Greens and even the Reserve Bank of Australia urging the Coalition not to allow the payment to fall back to the pre-pandemic rate.
Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) had called for a permanent increase to jobseeker of at least $25 per day ($350 a fortnight). The Australian Unemployed Workers Union, backed by the Greens, wanted it raised to $80 a day, which is closer to the rate paid at the height of the pandemic.

A new report from Anglicare Victoria found the coronavirus supplements had alleviated financial stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Anglicare Victoria chief executive, Paul McDonald, said: “The COVID-19 stimulus measures gave people without work a better quality of life, helping them meet their debts and restore their dignity. They gave people more ability to pay off outstanding debt and the research recommends that they should be permanent.”

Sourced from The Guardian, a statement by the Uniting Church in Australia, and ACOSS.

Just another Ashy day

Published / by Sandy

Diana Butler-Bass, writing on her website The Cottage, offered these reflections for Ash Wednesday, in her own context in the USA. Many here in Australia will resonate with her thoughts. She writes:

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in the second Lent of the Great Pandemic of the early 21st century. 

On Ash Wednesday, Christians go to church, pray a solemn liturgy, are marked on the forehead with the sign of a cross made from ashes as “a sign of our mortality and penitence.” As the ashes are imposed, those who receive it are told: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
(At Pilgrim we use the words ‘Remember that God formed you from the dust of the earth and in God’s hands you shall remain. May this time deepen your faith and love in God‘).

But, I confess: the whole thing is wearying. How is Ash Wednesday really all that different from any other day in this interminable pandemic? 

The entire year has felt like Lent, so today is just another ashy day.

I know that some will protest – saying that Lent is a specifically Christian season to prepare for Easter some forty days hence, that it is necessary for us to consider our death in order to understand the work of God in salvation. 

When I say this entire year has felt like Lent, I’m not just saying that I’m tired of being introspective or don’t want to think about death. The point is that for more than a year now, that’s pretty much all I’ve done – reflect, pray, and read, mostly alone, all while worried that I might die, someone I love might die, or I’d unwittingly contribute (by my own carelessness) to someone else dying. Every time I put on a mask, I think of death and dying. In a year of a half-million deaths of other Americans and millions of people around the world, the Lenten discipline of contemplating mortality seems like one more painful day. 

Add to that all the climate-related crises of fire, ice, water, and wind that have killed far too many people this year, and we don’t need ashes to remind us that the world is heavy with sorrow, and that much that we love is being lost and is ending. Every single day is an exercise in mortality, as we see our dusty illusions of existence coming at us like a haboob (dust storm) in the desert. 

Frankly, I don’t need the church to remind me that I’m surrounded by death this year. I know that. Everyone I know knows that. We are covered in dust.

Dust. Ashes. I know these things. I grew up in Arizona. I know what it’s like to see the dust coming at sixty miles an hour with nowhere to go, to turn away from the dust to keep it out of your eyes, to feel your back blasted with stinging sand. I’ve lived in California. I know what it is like to see a hillside on fire, to know when to run so one isn’t incinerated, to walk in ashy landscapes of death. Dust and ash aren’t merely reminders of death – dust and ash are death. (We know this all too well in bushfire season in Australia and dust storms robbing farmers of their precious topsoil).

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

The church has always emphasized this verse (taken from Genesis 3:19) as penitence in anticipation of death. You came from nothing, you return to nothing. The starkest of all reminders of fleeting existence, the ever-present reminder of death. But the verse also points another direction — not toward death but toward creation. In Genesis 3:6-7 (a poetic account of the beginning), a spring wells up on the dusty earth. From the resulting clay, God fashioned a man, breathed on him, and thus created humankind: The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Dust may be our ending, but it was also our beginning. Dust and ash are the stuff of creation.

Deserts do bloom. Charred landscapes birth new forests. From dust and ash come flowers and trees and fruitful fields. Dust is not nothing; ash is not nothing. Dust and ash are necessary for life. Repentance isn’t the point. Recognizing the circle of creation, the connectedness of all existence — that is the point.

Somehow, in this miserable pandemic, this endless season of death, even this dust and ash will become the humus of new life, a recreation of who we are, what we do, and how we love.

This Lent, I await the spring rising from the parched ground, and I wonder how we are being fashioned into a new people. I’m looking for water in this dry land. I’ve had quite enough of death. I’m longing for life.

‘About’

Published / by Sandy

‘I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth’ (Isaiah 43.19)

Day 1 of the SA Synod meeting (11-13th February) began with ‘..about’

Neryl McCallum read these words:

‘About…’, God says.
‘I’m about to do a new thing’.
And my mind floods with ‘about’ moments…
Coming in the kitchen and seeing the ingredients for chocolate cake lined up on the bench.
A tree in bud.
A violinist raising a bow as a dancer tiptoes on their toes.
A footy tam running onto the field.
The intense gaze of a basketball player standing on the three point line.
The nervous stance of a groom awaiting a bride.
The chortling of a chook ready to lay an egg.
The frozen bow of a cat stalking a mouse.
The unfolding of an eagle’s wings as the wind ruffles its feathers.
The first rays of gold emerging from the east.
Ants marching underground as rain clouds roll in,
A shower of glowing red sparks in a blackened sky as a fire advances.
The first pangs of labour.
The teetering raised foot of a toddler on the brink of walking.
The intake of breath before blowing out birthday candles.
A coffin held over the ground –

Our days are full of ‘abouts’.
Singular moments
that exist as specks in the expansive breadth of time.
They are loaded with a multitude of emotions.
From excited expectation to menacing fear.
And no matter how solid they seem
we cannot settle into them,
for they are by nature transitory and ephemeral.

But a moment can change everything.
‘About’, God says. ‘I’m about to do a new thing’.

Groundhog Day – that time of the year (again)

Published / by Sandy

February 2nd. Groundhog Day in the U.S.A.

I love the Bill Murray/Andie McDowell comedic movie Groundhog Day and have watched it many times. It’s profound and philosophical. 

I was interested to read this recent reflection by Neil Carter:

Groundhog Day is an audiovisual dissertation on philosophy disguised as cinematic entertainment.  Every year when Februrary 2nd rolls around, I have to pull this movie back out and watch it again because there are so many things about it that I love.  For example, who wouldn’t want a chance to get do-overs for all of their mistakes?  And how many times have I wished that I had all the time I need to read whatever I want to read, have all the conversations I want to have, learn to play an instrument, or learn a foreign language?  It has quite a few of my favorite movie lines as well.  But on a deeper level, Groundhog Day asks a question: What If There Were No Tomorrow?

What if there is no afterlife?  How should we then live? What will order our priorities and guide our choices if “tomorrow” (i.e. life in the hereafter) were removed from the equation?

After spending a long miserable day in his least favorite place in the world, Phil Conners (superbly played by Bill Murray) wakes up the next morning only to discover that he has to relive the same day again in the exact same miserable place.  Then the next day it happens again.  And the next day, again.  And again, and again, and again. 

The movie explores the many stages a person might go through upon learning that they can do practically anything they wanted.  If you were to let a someone have whatever they wanted as many times as they wanted it, how might it change what they want? Upon realizing that he can do whatever he likes, and that there are no lasting consequences for his actions, Phil first embarks on a hedonistic thrill-seeking adventure.  He robs banks, evades cops, crashes cars, seduces women, and gorges himself on every unhealthy dish the local diner has to offer.  Since there’s no meaningful punishment, there’s nothing to stop him from doing as he pleases.  But this only satisfies him for so long.  Eventually the novelty of it all wears off and he decides to set his sights a little higher.  The most interesting and attractive person in town is his producer, Rita (played by the beautiful Andie MacDowell), but she proves much more difficult to acquire.  Intelligent, sensitive, and beautiful, she needs someone much more altruistic and self-actualized than Phil to swoop her off her feet.  He tries but fails to win her affections and soon descends into a period of nihilistic despair.  He tries to take his own life a number of different ways, but he always wakes up again the next morning unscathed.  No matter how bleak the days get, life goes on.

This pushes Phil to re-evaluate what would truly make him happy.  The sensual pleasures were fun for a while but people are complex and therefore want more complicated things.  Phil starts to read interesting books, learns to play jazz piano, learns to ice sculpt, and teaches himself French.  His morning broadcast becomes more and more poetic as he begins to contemplate the deeper questions of human existence.  Before long, this self-absorbed weather diva learns to appreciate the company of people he previously thought were too far beneath him for his time and attention.  In time he learns that the enjoyment you receive from helping others satisfies something deeper than food, money, or sex could ever satisfy by themselves.  He learns the value of contributing to the lives of people around him, not because he would be rewarded the next day for his good behavior, but just because it’s the most enjoyable way he could envision spending this eternally recurring day.

Phil’s impressive knowledge of the intimate details of every person in town revealed that he had spent countless hours sitting and listening to people telling their stories, which is perhaps the most powerful education anyone could ever have. In the meantime, he also learned more about himself and about what really makes a person happy – what makes life worth living. He discovered that investing time and care into the lives of others made for a more fulfilling life.  He had all the time in the world to try out every other way of living and that’s the one he chose in the end.  He would never land that dream job working for the big network, but he would find a way to make his ‘day’ as meaningful as it could possibly be under the circumstances in which he found himself. This is what humans do if allowed the time and freedom to discover for themselves what truly makes us happy.

What Groundhog Day suggests is true of human nature:  We are equally capable of both great selfishness and noble altruism, but the enjoyment of the latter ultimately eclipses the thrill of the former if only you’ll give people the time and opportunity to figure that out.

In the end, Phil grew into his full potential as a human being.  He learned to sympathize with others and to identify with them in their life situations.  He learned compassion, cooperation, and humility.  He also grew in his ability to love and to appreciate beauty.  All the external motivators were removed, and he became a better man for it, the kind of man which Rita wanted to be with in the first place.  In the end he got the girl after all (who doesn’t want the story to end that way?).  He broke the curse by becoming more than the man he was when he entered this purgatorial time loop.  The next day finally came, and a new man greeted the morning, ready to find out what new things could be learned and explored.

2021 Awards, 26th January

Published / by Sandy
Grace Tame, Australian of the Year 2021

Grace Tame, who took on the law over rape silencing, has been named Australian of the Year for 2021. She is the first Tasmanian to be named Australian of the Year. After a sexual assault at the age of 15, she was unable to speak about her experience due to Tasmania’s sexual assault victim gag laws. Ms Tame ultimately applied to the Supreme Court for the right to publicly self-identify as a rape survivor and won. Her case is one of those that has prompted the Tasmanian government to reconsider the gag law, for which it is now taking community submissions. Ms Tame has continued to use her media profile to advocate for other vulnerable groups in the community. In her acceptance speech she said she was focused on empowering survivors and using education to prevent child sex abuse.
(1800 RESPECT is the national sexual assault and domestic and family violence counselling service on 1800 737 732)

Dr Miriam-Rose Ungumerr Baumann (AM) of Daly River in the Northern Territory was named Senior Australian of the Year.

Dr Miriam-Rose Ungumerr Baumann, Senior Australian of the Year

Dr Baumann, 73, is an Aboriginal activist, educator and artist who in 1975 became the NT’s first fully qualified Aboriginal teacher. She campaigned for years for visual art to become part of every child’s education, and has served on the National Indigenous Council. In 2013, she established the Miriam Rose Foundation, which drives grassroots reconciliation. to bridge the divide between Aboriginal culture and the rest of Australia.
Dr Baumann said, “We have lived in this great country for many thousands of years and 200 years ago we began to interact with whitefellas. And now, Australia has become multicultural. Since then we have adapted to a new way of living. We learnt to speak your English fluently. For years, we have walked on a one-way street to learn the white people’s way. I’ve learnt to walk in two worlds and live in towns and cities, and even worked in them. Now is the time for you to come closer to understand us and how – and to understand how we live, and listen to what needs are in our communities. When you come to visit or work in our communities and leave your comfort zones, I ask that you bring your knowledge and wisdom, but we ask you also to learn and understand how we live and function in our communities, and listen to what our needs are.”

The Young Australian of the Year was tonight revealed to be 22-year-old social entrepreneur Isobel Marshall.

Young Australian of the Year, Isobel Marshall

Isobel is a full-time student at the University of Adelaide, where she is studying medicine and surgery. She was just 18 when she co-founded women’s organisation TABOO with school friend Eloise Hall. The pair crowdfunded $56,000 to launch their range of hygiene products in August 2019, selling organic cotton pads and tampons to Australian buyers, with all profits going to One Girls, a charity that provides education programs for girls and women in Sierra Leone and Uganda.
Ms Hall said, “Menstrual products should be accessible, affordable, not a luxury or a choice. But the reality is one in every 10 girls around the world can’t afford menstrual products and culture stigma forces women and girls to isolate the days they bleed.”

She called on all Australians to join the cause. “Firstly, let’s change the conversation around menstruation. Those on your period, expect respect in place of shame and be proud of what your body can do. Families and teachers, invest in creating an environment that understands the importance and the strength of the menstrual cycle, and don’t shy away from the conversation. And, of course, let’s all commit to fighting period poverty around the world.” TABOO also provides free hygiene products to Vinnies Women’s Crisis Centre, for women in need of emergency accommodation in South Australia.

Migrant and refugee advocate Rosemary Kariuki was named Australia’s Local Hero. The 60-year-old – the subject of 2020 documentary Rosemary’s Way.

She arrived in Australia from Kenya in 1999, fleeing family abuse and tribal clashes. Her early lonely years in Australia made her realise how isolated migrant and refugee women could be – with many unused to going out alone, having no transport, and struggling to speak English. “It took me a while to feel like this country is home”.
Ms Kariuki encourages women to become involved with the community, creating with the African Women’s Group the annual African Women’s Dinner Dance, which attracts a crowd of hundreds. She also ran the African Village Market, which helped migrants and refugees start their own business. Currently she is the multicultural community liaison officer for the Parramatta Local Area Command, specialising in helping migrants who are facing domestic violence, language barriers and financial distress.
She urged people to embrace Australia’s multiculturalism.
“Together we can make this wonderful country that I call home even greater. So let us share what we know and give each a helping hand. Let us embrace our multicultural nation, more building on it and looking for the opportunities and positives. I would like to encourage every one of you to meet someone new from a different background this coming week and see what doors open to you.”

Australia’s local hero, Rosemary Kariuki

National Australia Day Council chairperson Danielle Roche (OAM) congratulated the recipients. “Grace, Miriam-Rose, Isobel and Rosemary are all committed to changing attitudes in our society and changing lives. They are strong, determined women who are dedicated to breaking down barriers and advocating for people’s rights – particularly the rights of women and children.”

Inspiring women! Inspiration for us all!!

(Text sourced from Channel 9 news report, 25 January 2021)

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God bless. Peace be with you [Editor]

A fresh look at Jonah

Published / by Sandy

(A sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce, 24th January 2021).

If we can think beyond boats, storms and whales from Sunday School lessons about Jonah, we might find ways that the story is surprisingly relevant.

God called Jonah the prophet to deliver a hard message to the city of Ninevah. God had seen their wickedness and Jonah was to call them to repentance. Jonah was reluctant to go. More about that later. Instead, Jonah fled in the other direction. Sunday School lessons have given a negative spin on Jonah. Shouldn’t he have been like those fisherman in today’s Gospel reading who just dropped what they were doing and followed Jesus, no questions asked. Shouldn’t Jonah have just eagerly shared God’s message to the people in Ninevah?

Let me tell you about Ninevah, the largest city of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, on the outskirts of Mosul in what is modern-day northern Iraq. Nineveh was a city great in power, culture, and size. The citizens of Nineveh felt secure behind its massive walls – some 30 metres high and broad enough for three chariots to be driven abreast on the roadway running along their top. The Assyrian Empire was powerful, and sought to conquer the world. Enter Jonah, a Jewish man, who God asked to leave his own country of Israel, and go into the heartland of an enemy people, to declare the coming wrath of God.

Now, the Assyrian empire considered the Jewish God inferior to their own, especially since their own gods had prevailed. Ninevah as a city was thriving, defeating enemies, gaining power and wealth. Nobody would have felt they were evil and needed to repent – they just relished the success they had achieved.

To maintain its power, the Empire had a way of dealing harshly with anyone who challenged the status quo. Jonah knew he risked imprisonment at the very least for the message he would bring. Ninevah was infamous for mutilating and torturing its prisoners. He faced the prospect that he might even be killed as soon as he opened his mouth. The prophet Nahum had called Ninevah ‘the city of blood’.

Jonah declared, “40 days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” He had the audacity and courage to speak truth to power, right there in the centre of the city that served as the capital of the Empire. Just 8 words (5 in Hebrew). And God wasn’t even mentioned. Nor was there any mention of what the people should do in response.

But, surprisingly, the city listened, took it seriously, and acted. A fast was proclaimed; everyone wore sackcloth. Even the King put on sackcloth and sat in the ashes. I’d like to see a few current day leaders repent, don the sackcloth and repent! The King declared everyone should turn from their evil ways and from the violence that was in their hands, so that God’s mind would be changed and the people would not perish. Indeed, that’s what happened. The threatened calamity was averted. I could round this off by saying this passage from Jonah reminds us that people can, in fact, turn from their unfaithful ways, and that the voice of a prophet can be extremely powerful!

But we need to read on – the punchline is that Jonah was angry with God when the Ninevah actually put on a show of repentance. He was angry because God’s mind could be changed so easily, just because the oppressor had a temporary change of heart and put on a bit of a show. In fact, the Assyrian Empire would quickly return to its ways. History reveals Assyria conquered Israel in waves in the late 8th century deporting most of its citizens. A remnant remained in the north, but the nation of Israel was under Assyrian rule. Tens of thousands were deported and put to work as servants in Assyria. And then, the Assyrians began to populate Israel with people from other nations they had defeated (2 Kings 17:24).

This was a practice called geographical migration, or transmigration, where they would invade an area and uproot the heart of their society, forcing them to move to another region of the Empire. It’s a strategy still used in our world. The resulting confusion and terror ensured that the people can never rise against their oppressors. Scholar Christy Randazzo cites three factors: ignorance – since the people had no knowledge about the new place in which they were forced to live and work; starvation (“uprooting” was meant literally: they lost their carefully tended fields, which often took generations to cultivate); cultural trauma because so many cultural practices had been linked to the physical landscape, the land itself. Many turned to the gods of the Empire for comfort.

Empire would cut the heart out of a people, in effect killing their entire sense of “peoplehood.” This form of cultural genocide was, and is, irrefutably “evil”. It’s part of our Australian story and the dispossession and dislocation of First Peoples. It’s why the conversation about January 26th matters.

The Assyrian Empire was clearly the oppressor in this story. Violence. Nations and patriots. Power, privilege and entitlement was on their side. Oppressive systems and structures.

Jonah was a lone voice calling for change, for justice, for repentance. Jonah’s call for change, had it led to transformative change, would have enabled the nation of Israel to safely live in peace, to be unafraid. His call for change is replicated in those voices from the margins over the centuries calling for transformative change, for the sake of the poor and marginalised. Repeatedly, the biblical witness tells us that God’s priority is for the welfare of the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed. The groundswell of such voices led to the Black Lives Matter movement. To the Civil Rights movement. To recognising Aboriginal people in the 1967 Referendum.

How does the Church speak to the Empires of our day? How do we listen to the voices of the prophets in our midst calling for justice, mercy and repentance? To turn from evil and towards good. Modern day prophets, like Jonah before them, will be angry when repentance is lip service only and does not lead to changed lives, nor substantive systemic change that disrupts power and privilege. Injustices need to be named, and structures that created and sustained injustice completely reimagined. Anything else is cheap repentance, the cause of Jonah’s anger.

What is needed is a change of heart.

The Book of Jonah may have been written in the context of Jewish people encountering cultural genocide by the Assyrian invaders, to explain what was happening to them. They would have resonated with Jonah’s rage. How could Ninevah, the centre of the Assyrian Empire, the one that would destroy God’s own people, be reconciled to God? Jonah lamented, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you’re a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing”.

God: gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love. God’s love is for all, even enemies like the Assyrian Empire – when there is repentance. The prophet Isaiah (Ch19) says, “Behold the days are coming when God’s promises are all fulfilled. Behold the days are coming, when I will bless Assyria, my people Egypt to my chosen, and Israel, my inheritance”. There is the possibility of many blessed, beloved chosen peoples.

God never gives up hope on anyone, even the least likely.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Epiphany 2021

Published / by Sandy

A sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce, 10th January 2021

The Day of Epiphany, in the Western church, is celebrated on January 6, completing the 12 days of Christmas. Traditionally Epiphany marks the visit of the Magi, the wise men – Gentiles from another culture – who recognized Jesus’ kingship and bowed before him in worship. It begins the season of Epiphany in the church calendar when Christians celebrate how the light of Christ spreads to all people and all ethnic groups. The true identity of Jesus as the revelation of God is revealed afresh to us.

Usually, the Day of Epiphany gets a liturgical nod and not much more. It’s when Christmas trees and decorations are often taken down, and the nativity set packed away. 

This year Epiphany began in a quite different and shocking way. We had good reason to contemplate the actions of an anxious leader with a manic claim to power.

I’m speaking, of course, of King Herod.

History remembers him as a leader who had no hesitation using violence in a bid to ensure no-one would be able to challenge his authority and absolute power. His power depended on his capacity to convince people that his power alone was legitimate, that he alone had the capacity to protect the interests of the citizens in his part of the world. 

King Herod was enraged when he learned from the Magi, the wise men, that there was an infant born in Bethlehem who they were seeking to worship. He smooth talked his way with the wise men, using them as pawns in his quest to protect his own power. He asked them to inform him about where he could find Jesus, promising he too was a devout religious man, that he would like to worship the infant king too (Matt. 2:8). Epiphany this year is a sobering reminder that religious language and symbols can be co-opted as a weapon of earthly political power. Herod was also happy to use his own religious advisers as pawns to retain power. 

The arrival of the Magi was a catalyst for Herod to unleash violence. Matthew’s Gospel (Ch 2) highlights that there was “fear,” “terror,” and “lies” when the Magi come calling on Herod. Herod was anxious, and the people under him were cautious and apprehensive. The Magi discerned something was wrong.

The Magi, we are told, did find Jesus and pay homage to him, and then instead of returning to Herod, went home by a different route. 

This year, the story has particular poignancy, with the power plays of Herod and the feigning of religious belief and appropriation of religious symbols.

Like the Magi, we too may need to find a different route to travel on from this point.

We speak about Epiphany as a time of light and illumination, a time of revelation, to see more cleraly the revelation of Jesus. Epiphany this year was also a wake-up call – that we need a new direction to head as a global community. 

We are tired. Tired of the pandemic. Tired of political life that exploits and delivers partial truth. Tired of economic and political movements that promote nationalism, isolation, and versions of xenophobia. Tired of wealth that is hoarded by a few people while others struggle to simply survive. Tired of the way policy is guided by insecurity, fear, prejudice, and racism. Tired of the overwhelming reality of global climate change and so little we can do when those with power refuse to confront the issues for the sake of future generations. The earth is groaning. 

We need a prophetic vision, focused on the light of Christ. A vision that invests in human flourishing and well-being. The story of the Magi is a story to enliven our own faith. They had seen something hopeful that propelled them to undertake a long journey. It was this hope that sustained them. Such a hope in the God revealed in Jesus is one to sustain our actions, our prayers, our relationships as we share in God’s redeeming work in the world. 

The Genesis reading we heard today begins, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. . Scholars believe it actually says, ‘In beginning…’. An action, rather than a time. And that action continues. 

Mark’s Gospel states its intention with the words: ‘the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’. It suggests the beginning of a new order, a new world that is to come. And it happens through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Mark’s Gospel begins in the wilderness on the far side of the Jordan, on the Jordanian side of the river. UNESCO has declared Bethany Beyond the Jordan a World Heritage site, identifying present-day Jordan as the location where Jesus’ baptism is believed to have taken place. The Vatican and Orthodox Christian patriarchs have given their blessings to the site. This location was also closely associated with the foundational identity of the Jewish peope. It was where the miraculous crossing of the Jordan into the promised land took place, under the leadership of Joshua. 

The location is significant. It meant that a large number of Israelites symbolically left their land, and then re-entered the land. A fresh start. And immersion in the Jordan’s waters. Dying to the old ways of living, and rising to the new ways of living, to God’s way. 

What happened this week as Epiphany began was shocking but it also provokes an opportunity for us to examine our own lives, about what’s important. Like those who John baptised, who symbolically left their land and then re-entered it fresh from baptism, we need to ask what we need to leave behind and how we re-orient our lives to the way of Jesus. To pause and ask ourselves what it means to be a follower of Jesus. To ask, who are we? What are our values? How do we love our neighbours as ourselves, those we agree with and those we don’t? How do we follow the Jesus way?

Jesus invites us to the way of truth-telling, of mercy and justice, of love, of forgiveness, of repentance, of reconciliation. We reorient our lives to this calling. The prophetic work of the church is to take up the slow work of repair, of re-forming our churches around the deep, unchanging truths of the light of Christ. To reconstruct communities where we can know and speak truth, serve the needy and the poor, love our neighbours, learn to be poor in spirit, and witness to the light of Christ amid darkness. To bring wholeness, and healing. To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with God, as the prophet Micah said. 

The Jesus Way invites us find a different route than the one that has led us to this point, because there will always be another Herod whose fear and hold on power leads to violence and death. Let us journey through this season of Epiphany, seeking the revelation of Jesus in our midst. 

And this blessing for the journey: 

May God strengthen you for adversity and companion you in joy. 
May God give you the courage of your conviction 
and the wisdom to know when to speak and act. 
May you know peace. 
May you be gifted with deep, true friendship and love. 
May you have laughter to fortify you against the disappointments. 
May you be brave. 

© Valerie Bridgeman, December 18, 2013

Never lose hope

Published / by Sandy

A reflection by Mary Lou Kownacki:

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news
of great joy that will be for all the people.”
(Lk 2:10)

The promise can no longer be contained. Every day this week a messenger arrived “bearing glad tidings”.

Gabriel walked into the Holy of Holies and announced good news to Zechariah and Elizabeth: “Joy and gladness will be yours … in these days God is acting on your behalf.” An angel entered the dream of Joseph and whispered, “Do not fear … you shall call him Emmanuel … God is with us.” And Mary is greeted with words that praise and comfort: “Rejoice O highly favored daughter! Blessed are you among women.” Immediately and in haste she carried the message into the countryside inviting the entire universe to a festive procession.

One has an image of an angelic choir on its feet rushing toward earth leading the way to Bethlehem, then the poor shepherds, dressed in rough sheepskin clothes, still drowsy, still dazzled by the light, still bewildered by the music, the voices, that announced “Peace on earth.” Next the Magi, arrayed in splendid robes, faces aglow, bearing humble gifts; and behind the seekers come travelers of every nation, advancing on horseback or on foot, followed by their camels, dogs and oxen.

If you can imagine this procession of creation, you can also hear the song that envelops the earth as these pilgrims make their way toward Bethlehem. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of those who bring glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, ‘Your God is King’.”

Do you hear that song as you journey towards the stable? Do you believe it?

People on their feet, walking toward a promise, is revolutionary. People on their feet, walking toward a promise, can topple empires. People on their feet, walking toward a promise, can create a vision of the Promised Land. Processions are like that.

Remember Gandhi’s Salt March, the small cadre that swelled into a national nonviolent army marching for freedom. How beautiful are the feet of those who bring God’s peace. Remember the euphoria of Solidarity in Poland, Lech Walesa carried on the shoulders of the working poor, the throngs singing in the city streets. How beautiful are the feet of those who bring God’s peace. Recall the day of victory when the Berlin Wall toppled. Hear the church bells ringing, see the people embracing and dancing in the streets. How beautiful are the feet of those who bring God’s peace.

Stay in touch with the Christmas story, a wonderful mystery marking 2000 years of beautiful feet walking the Judean hillsides, walking toward the Star of Bethlehem, the promise of peace.

But, you may argue, Herod soon begins the slaughter of the innocent and the shadow of a cross looms in the distance. Or in time the “little people” are crushed again. Or despite millions of people for peace nothing changes. It only worsens.

Yes. Yet for one second in time everyone has a taste of new beginnings, new possibilities, new life. Christmas. For a moment, the Kingdom is come.

And who knows – in the 60’s Mama Cass belted out the promise, “There’s a new world coming and it’s just around the bend.” We believers in the Christmas message would have to agree around the bend is always a surprise; around the bend could be a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, whose name is PRINCE OF PEACE. And there’s only one way to find out – keep following the Star of Bethlehem.

It is this promise, this hope we call Christmas that will feed the flame within us and lighten the path for the next generation.

Mama Cass (1970) There’s a new world coming…

Burning with the anger of injustice

Published / by Sandy

“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”
Malachi 4:1-6

Joy Connor evokes the deep grief and anger of Malachi as she reflects on the injustice that still surrounds us, as part of the ‘For the Weary’ Advent series…

Malachi is a cranky man, full of grief and anger. As God’s messenger in a culture where revenge and retribution were the answer to wrong-doing, his message brings a whole lot of Malachi with it.

After a year when three horsemen of the apocalypse: fire, flood and pestilence, have rampaged through the land, I wish I had his energy and that I wasn’t just so weary.

Malachi is incensed at hypocrisy, at the loss of reverence for the creator God. He burns with anger at the human hubris which sets the world out of kilter, ignoring the proper balance of the human presence in the light of the eternal, revealed through the ancient law and stories of his people. Hypocrisy which brings sick, useless and worthless offerings to contribute to the care of the temple. These days it is like pretending that the mining of coal seam gas will look after our fragile planet as it destroys the deep ground water. It’s like ignoring the deep wisdom of the Statement from the Heart and just fiddling around the edges, believing that this will fix the racial oppression suffered by our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Malachi hates the arrogant sense of entitlement which is deaf to another’s pain. Like inferring that people seeking asylum are illegal potential sex offenders, criminals and terrorists who deserve to lose their youth in off-shore and onshore detention. Decision making which means that people seeking asylum live with no unemployment assistance through a pandemic in order to stop the “pull factor” which causes the deaths at sea of other desperate people.

The thought of putting a bit of heat under the suits who perpetuate the lies is quite attractive after I have listened to people who have been abandoned in detention for 7 years or more. I mentioned this to my dear communist inspired friend. She was horrified. ”That’s just not OK Joy” she said, “You are a Christian, you shouldn’t even be thinking like that.”

And she is right. The “Elijah” that Malachi is longing for who “Comes with healing in his wings” doesn’t come as a vengeful militarist God but as a tiny baby born in poverty, living in the midst of the injustice and oppression of an occupied country, sharing the pain of racism and weariness. ”God with us,” as Paul says ”the hope of glory.”

Advent means that the Creator loves us and became one with us in love. The message of compassion and justice doesn’t change but following the one who has shared this pain shifts how we deal with the wrongs whose effects just don’t go away.

I try and start each day sitting or lying down when I am very tired. I shut my eyes and let the sun of God’s love soak in. Letting God love me is sometimes hard. The worries, the things to be done, the hurts of others and my own brokenness constantly interfere. But our God is just crazy about us. “We are all God’s darlings” as Lady Julian of Norwich wrote in 1492.

Joy Connor is a long term social justice activist. She is currently Chairperson of the Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group and regularly visits refugees in detention.

For the Weary is a daily email devotional series that has been crafted by a diverse group of contributors, and reflects on the lament of the Advent story and the hope that we share. Encourage your friends, family and faith community to sign up here. It’s not too late to sign up!
Promote this series in your church or faith community this weekend with PowerPoint slides and social media assets available here

Advent: when waiting is the work

Published / by Sandy

(prompted by an article by Laura Jean Truman, Advent: When Waiting Is the Work)

I’ve just spent a week with a family with young children. It was joyous. The four year old would proclaim, in the intervals between activity, ‘I’m bored’. It’s an expression she’s probably picked up from kindergarten, or Bluey, or any number of places. One time she stretched out full length on the couch to rest, assuring us she was bored again. I wondered what bored must feel like, as I adore the moments in between activity and things to do, when there is a time of gentle quiet. So the four year old philosopher and I chatted about how those moments in between activity and the way it lets the brain and body rest.

Perhaps the experience of lockdown in this strange and difficult year has meant the experience of ‘being bored’ has woven its way through many adult lives where ‘inactivity’ too easily equates with boredom. The ‘in-between activity’ moments have been difficult to manage when ‘being busy’ is often worn as a badge of honour, or at least can be an expectation.

My ‘smart watch’ tells me when to take time to breathe deeply for one minute. It pops up when you least expect it, and sometimes at inconvenient times (like in the middle of a meeting!). Making the time for deep breathing has great benefit for body health – a simple and natural tool to reduce stress and anxiety, pain, and high blood pressure. When you become stressed or anxious, the brain releases cortisol, the “stress hormone.” By taking deep breaths, your heart rate slows, more oxygen enters our blood stream and ultimately communicates with the brain to relax. Deep breathing also ups your endorphins, the “feel good” chemical. Breathing is in charge of 70% of cleansing the body of toxins (the other 30% is through bladder and bowels.) If you do not breathe fully, your body must work overtime to release these toxins.

Similarly, meditation improves mood, decreases stress, increases attention span, even increases creativity. Contemplative practices have been a staple of Christian spirituality for thousands of years, as a way to encounter God and our deep self.

Laura Jean Truman reflects: And yet it can be hard to make the time for these practices, to make space for stillness. There is always just so much to be done. Injustice is everywhere and the work is never-ending. When we look at the suffering of the world, being still feels like a sin. How can we justify stopping, resting, breathing, waiting?

Into this anxiety and restless busyness, the liturgical year invites us into the holy waiting of Advent. Into a culture that prioritizes productivity over presence, Advent invites us to believe that we have value even when we are still. Into a culture that tells us if we don’t do it, it won’t get done, Advent asks us to stop working for a season. God is going to do a new thing, and all we have to do is wait.

There is a time for everything, Ecclesiastes reminds us, and the liturgical year leads us through this sacred time that runs alongside secular time — through a time to feast, a time to fast, a time to repent, a time to be forgiven. Yes, there is time to work alongside God bringing in the redemption of the world. And there is also a time to stop working, to sit and be still. It’s tempting to say that the “sitting still” is just a preparation for the work, but it would make just as much sense to say that the work is preparation for sitting still. Neither the steady work of ‘Ordinary Time’ in the church calendar, or the patient waiting of Advent, is more important.

During Advent, the waiting is the work. 

When the earth rests in the winter, it’s not non-productive. In stillness, the earth is replenishing. In waiting, the earth works. In COVID lockdown, the earth had a chance to breathe again, to do some healing in the interval when humans were doing less driving, less travelling, less consuming.

In Advent, we acknowledge that there are forces at work beyond our own heady dreams of fixing the world. We admit that even when we stop, God still works. We put down our tools and put down our pride, and wait for the morning that God always brings in.

Waiting is hard because our culture has worked tirelessly to disciple us into the myth that life’s meaning is tied to our productivity. The world has taught us to be unsatisfied and to always strive for more – to be more, have more, get more, do more, fix more. Unlearning that is hard work, and it takes practice. 

No one has taught us that the work goes on, even when we are still. No one has ever taught us that God can break into the world even when we have stopped working.

Advent teaches us how to wait and be still. The rhythms of the church year echo the rhythms of the seasons and the rhythms of night and day. Winter always moves to spring. Night always shifts to day. The loneliness of Advent always gives way to the God with us, Immanuel, of Christmas.

****
Laura Jean Truman, Advent: When Waiting Is the Work (published on Church Anew blog)

Jesus and the Reign of God

Published / by Sandy

Richard Rohr reflects on Jesus and the Reign of God. The last Sunday of the Church year (Nov 22) has a focus on the Reign of God (Reign of Christ), before we move into Advent.

Jesus announced, lived, and inaugurated for history a new social order. He called it the Reign (or Kingdom) of God and it became the guiding image of his entire ministry. The Reign of God is the subject of Jesus’ inaugural address (see Mark 1:15, Matthew 4:17, and Luke 4:14–30), his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), and the majority of his parables. Once this guiding vision of God’s will became clear to Jesus, which seems to have happened when he was about thirty and alone in the desert, everything else came into perspective. In fact, Matthew’s Gospel says, “From then onwards” (4:17), Jesus began to preach.

In order to explain this concept, it may be helpful to first say what it is not: the “Kingdom” is not synonymous with heaven. Many Christians have mistakenly thought that the Reign of God is “eternal life,” or where we go after we die. That idea is disproven by Jesus’ own prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

Thy Kingdom come” means very clearly that God’s realm is something that enters into this world, or, as Jesus puts it, “is close at hand” (Matthew 10:7). We shouldn’t project it into another world. What we discover in the New Testament, especially in Matthew’s Gospel, is that the Kingdom of God is a new world order, a new age, a promised hope begun in the teaching and ministry of Jesus – and continued in us.

I think of the Kingdom of God as the Really Real (with two capital Rs). That experience of the Really Real – the “Kingdom” experience – is the heart of Jesus’ teaching. It’s Reality with a capital R, the very bottom line, the pattern-that-connects. It’s the goal of all true religion, the experience of the Absolute, the Eternal, what is.

God gives us just enough tastes of God’s realm to believe in it and to want it more than anything. In the parables, Jesus never says the Kingdom is totally now or totally later. It’s always now-and-not-yet. When we live inside the Really Real, we live in a “threshold space” between this world and the next. We learn how to live between heaven and earth, one foot in both worlds, holding them precious together.

We only have the first fruits of the Kingdom in this world, but we experience enough to know that it’s the only thing that will ever satisfy us. Once we have had the truth, half-truths do not satisfy us anymore. In its light, everything else is relative, even our own life.

(Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Bookser Feister,  Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1996), 3–4, 29, 109–110, 111)

Our Values Matter

Published / by Greg Elsdon

Our Values Matter

A sermon from The Most Rev. Michael Curry is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

And now in the name of our loving, liberating, and life-giving God, father, son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak and taught them….” Matthew 5:1-2
 

I

The Beatitudes, just read in a variety of voices from around our country, are part of a compendium of some of the teachings of Jesus that tradition has called “The Sermon on the Mount.”  They are so named because the setting for these teachings of Jesus is on a mountaintop. That is not an incidental detail.

In 1939 the late Zora Neale Hurston published a novel that retold the biblical story of Moses and the Hebrew freedom movement recorded in the book of Exodus. She told it in the idiom of African slaves in America, but she wrote it as an ingenious critique of lynching and the immorality of Jim Crow segregation here at home, and a critique of the rising tide of fascism, authoritarianism, hatred, and bigotry around the world that would lead to the Second World War. She titled the book, Moses, Man of the Mountain.

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain and taught them.”

The mountain is not an incidental background detail. When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain and began to teach them. Matthew was deliberately and intentionally invoking the memory of Moses around what Jesus was doing in the sermon on the Mount.

It was on a mountain called Sinai that God confronted Moses and challenged him to live beyond mere self-interest and to give his life in the service of God’s cause of human freedom. “Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land, and tell ole Pharaoh, let my people go.”

Years later when the Israelites had won freedom, it was on that same mountain that Moses received the Ten Commandments; God’s law and principles for living with freedom.

And at the end of his life, it was on another mountain, Mt. Nebo, that God allowed Moses to, as the slaves use to say, look over yonder to behold a promised land.

Centuries after Moses, in Memphis, Tennessee, a follower of Jesus named Martin, on the night before he was martyred for freedom’s cause, spoke of hope in the biblical language of the mountain. “I’ve been to the mountaintop, and I’ve seen the promised land.” No, the mountain is not an incidental detail.

The mountaintop: That is where prophets and poets look over yonder, to behold not what is but what ought to be. To behold the promised land of God; a new heaven, a new earth, the kingdom of God, the reign of God’s love breaking in, the beckoning of the beloved community, a reconfiguration of the landscape of reality from the nightmare it often is into the promised land of God’s dream for the human family and all creation.

“When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain and taught them.”

What did he reveal from that mountaintop? He told them about the way to the promised land.

Blessed are you when you’re poor and broken-hearted. Here’s the way.
Blessed are you when you’re compassionate and merciful. This is the way.
Blessed are you when you’re humble and meek. This is the way.
Blessed are you peacemakers who will not cease from striving until human beings learn to lay down their swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more.
This is the way to the promised land.

Blessed are you when you hunger and thirst that God’s righteous justice might prevail in every society, in every age, for all time.
This is the way.

Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.
Love God, your neighbor, yourself.
Love when they spit, shout and call you everything but a child of God.
Love!
This is the way. the way to the promised land.
When you live something like this, when you look something like this,
when we love like this, then we are on our way to the promised land.

You may be thinking, this sounds wonderful in church, but will it work in the world? Can such lofty ideals about hope, beloved community, and the reign of God be translated into human reality and society? Some years ago I was in the public library working on a sermon. I took a break and walked around the stacks looking at books. In the religion section I came upon a little book with an old black binding, published by St. Martin’s Press titled, The Great Sayings of Jesus.

The forward to the book was written by Richard Holloway, who once served as the Primus or presiding bishop of the Scottish Episcopal Church. He said that in Gospels generally and, “In the Sermon on the Mount, in particular, we get from Jesus something of God’s dream for a transformed creation. But the epilogue [the rest of the Gospel story] reminds us that the dream is costly, that dreams are cruelly disposed of by the world as we know it. Yet the dream lives on, nothing can kill it for long; and Jesus goes on breaking out of the tombs into which we have consigned him.”

“The dream lives on.” Do not underestimate the power of a dream, a moral principle, eternal verities, virtues and values that lift us up and move us forward. For true and noble ideals and the dream of a promised land have their source in the God who the Bible says is love. And God, as my grandmother’s generation used to say, God is still on the throne!

Our ideals, values, principles and dreams of beloved community matter. They matter because they drive us beyond service of self alone, to commitment to the greater good of us all. They matter because they give us an actual picture of God’s reign of love, and a reason to struggle and make it real. They matter to our lives as people of faith. They matter to our life in civil society. They matter to our life as a nation and as a world. Our values matter!

II

They matter in some simple and yet significant ways. A number of years ago Robert Fulghum wrote a wonderful book titled, All I really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.
Here is a list of the things – the values – he learned: 

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.

Imagine a world in which these basic values don’t matter.

Share everything? Imagine a world in which the value of sharing is replaced by greed and selfishness.
Play fair? No, cheat, lie, steal. That would make for an interesting World Series, NBA Championship, Super Bowl, election, democracy.
Wash your hands before you eat. No, let’s spread the germs.
Flush. I rest my case.
“When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.”
No, it’s everyone for themselves.

Our values matter! A world, a society, a life devoid of values and ideals that ennoble, that lift up and liberate, is a world descending into the abyss, a world that is a dystopian vision of hell on earth.

Mahatma Gandhi knew something about the power of ideals, dreams, and values. He said it this way.

Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.


Our values matter!

III

The values and dreams we hold as a nation, our shared American values, they matter even more. We hold this prayer service in the midst of a national election, in the context of profound divisions that left unhealed could prove injurious to the fabric of democracy itself. The right to vote and to participate in the democratic process is a value of the highest order.

To be sure, no form of governance attains perfection. The preamble to the Constitution wisely reminds us that each generation must continue the evolving work of forming “a more perfect union.” No, our democracy is not perfect, but it offers the best hope yet devised for government that fosters human freedom, equal justice under the law, the dignity and the equality of every human being made, as the Bible says, in the image of God.

Reinhold Niebuhr said it well, “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”

Despite our flaws and failings, we have some shared values. One of them is the preservation and perfection of representative democracy itself, “that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

We don’t think of it this way very often but love for each other is a value on which our democracy depends.  On the Great Seal of the United States, above the bald eagle are banners on which the Latin words, e pluribus unum are written. Those words, e pluribus unum, literally mean, “one out of many.” One nation from many diverse people.

But do you know where those words come from? They come from the writings of Cicero who lived during the time of the Roman Republic. Cicero said, “When each person loves the other as much as himself, it makes one out of many.” Cicero who gave us those words said that love for each other is the way to make e pluribus unum real. Jesus of Nazareth taught us that. Moses taught us that. America listen to Cicero, Jesus, Moses. Love is the way to make e pluribus unum real. Love is the way to be America for real.

We have some shared values.

Thomas Jefferson gave voice to these shared values in the Declaration of Independence.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We have shared national values. Abraham Lincoln gave voice to them when he said in the Gettysburg Address:

“Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

We have shared national values. Every one of us was taught these words as a child in school.

I pledge allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America
And to the republic for which it stands
One nation, Under God, Indivisible
With liberty, And justice, For all

 We sing our shared values.
 

America. America.
God shed his grace on thee.
And crown thy good with brotherhood.
From sea to shining sea.

At a church picnic, many years ago when I was a parish priest, I happened to be sitting at a picnic table with parishioners, several of whom were veterans of World War II and Korea. One of the men sitting there, then well into his 80s, was one of the Tuskegee Airman, the first black air unit to fight.

He started talking about Eleanor Roosevelt, and he spoke of her with great reverence and respect. He went on to explain why. In the beginning the Tuskegee airmen were being trained to fly, yet they were prohibited from flying and fighting for their country because of the color of their skin.

At the time there was a great debate in Congress and the country as to whether or not a black person had the lung capacity to handle altitude. And, if they had the brain capacity to handle the intellectual rigors of flying. Scientists were brought in to argue the case on both sides. Nothing changed. The Tuskegee Airmen kept training.

The tide turned when Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States, went to Tuskegee and brought the press with her. While the cameras flashed, she got in a plane piloted by a Tuskegee airman and flew for 45 minutes over the Alabama countryside. The picture of her in the plane with the black airmen went viral. And it changed the debate.

What led Eleanor Roosevelt to stand with them? In a spiritual biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, Harold Ivan Smith said she “wanted her critics to join her in working toward a new America that lived out the Declaration of Independence and the Beatitudes of Jesus.” She was holding on to deep American ideals, the values of this country. And lifting up the values of God.

What led the Tuskegee Airmen to fly, fight, and even die for their country? Between 1943 and 1945 those airmen flew over 15,000 sorties. Recognitions included 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Silver Star, 14 Bronze Stars, 744 Air Medals, and 8 Purple Hearts. In 2007 President George W. Bush awarded 300 Tuskegee Airmen the Congressional Gold Medal.

I was raised by folk like those guys sitting at that picnic table. In her living room, my grandma proudly displayed the pictures of her two sons who fought in World War II, serving in segregated units within the Army Air Corps. My wife has her grandfather’s discharge papers; he fought in a black unit in World War I. This I know: They loved America even when America didn’t love us. They believed in America because – even when America falls short – the values and ideals of America, the dream of America, stands tall and true and will one day see us through.

So whatever your politics, however you have or will cast your vote, however this election unfolds, wherever the course of racial reckoning and pandemic take us, whether we are in the valley or the mountaintop, hold on to the hope of America. Hold on to hope grounded in our shared values and ideals. Hold on to God’s dream. Hold on and struggle and walk and pray for our nation, in the words of James Weldon Johnson…

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.


This sermon has been shared with Church Anew with permission by the Office of the Right Reverend Michael B. Curry, The Episcopal Church, in its entirety. The Most Rev. Michael Curry is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and the author of the book “Love Is the Way: Holding On to Hope in Troubling Times”.

Always was, always will be (NAIDOC Week 2020)

Published / by Sandy

NAIDOC Week 2020 acknowledges and celebrates that Australia’s story didn’t begin with documented European contact. The very first footprints on this continent were those belonging to First Nations peoples.
NAIDOC 2020 invites all Australians to embrace the true history of this country – a history which dates back thousands of generations.
It’s about seeing, hearing and learning the First Nations’ 65,000+ year history of this country – which is Australian history. We want all Australians to celebrate that we have the oldest continuing cultures on the planet and to recognise that our sovereignty was never ceded.

Always was
Always will be
The Lands I walk on
And the Lands that walk within me

To know the history of First Peoples
Is to know the importance of place,
To know what being on country is,
Is to know and feel the connection

To want to hear the stories and feel the stories is our call to all,
To want to know and hear the Lands
as a gift, to our being and knowing,
To know and hear from First Peoples, is how we as First and
Second Peoples are called to the growing

To know the significance and compass that abounds us,
as First Peoples through place,
is to know our links to the Land surpasses all time and space

But in knowing that connection
Is to know and reflect on, dispossession and its true realisation,
To hear the Land relation, is a call to know
and reflect on the impacts of invasion and colonisation

What is country, what is milaythina ningee (Mother Earth) in the
now and in the forever time for First Peoples?

Stolen lands,
At the colonisers hands,
Stolen connection,
By forced removals,
Under the myth of protection.

The Land is us,
And we are the Land
Imagine and reflect on what happens when that is taken away?
May our Churches and agencies discern,
For it is in Nature’s classroom that we truly learn
Learn the struggle and the survival of a people and place in realisation,
Hear the cries of our people at the hands of colonisation

Reflect on Always was Always will be,
Not in words, but in action too
And embrace the message to unlearn and be free,
Not just in words but in hearts, souls and spirits too
And reflect on the privilege of the Land walked on and with:

Know its stories
Feel its stories
Feel its call
And feel its heart

The Land is my compass
It connects me
It connects me to place past present and future too
It’s who I am
It’s who we are as First Peoples
And in the discerning of justice for Land return,
It’s the knowing of the importance of Place,
The healing of Place is the place to Learn.

It’s in knowing this connection to Land, through this lens of
discernment the true lessons are learned
Honour the land and the stories
sitting within Country wherever you may be,
And be in the knowing and the growing of:

Always Was
Always Will Be
As you gather

Can you hear the stories of place?
And as you walk and gather and stand?

Can you hear the connection in the forever time
of First Peoples’ Connection to Land?

Walk it
Feel it
Know it
Hear it
Honour it
Sit and be

With what it means to truly honour,
The words “Always was, Always will be”

Alison Overeem, UAICC Tasmania
Leprena
November 2020, NAIDOC week

Alison also included specific reference to Lutrawita (Tasmania):
In Lutrawita, the 9 Nations of our ancestors
lived in harmony with the Land,
The Land is us,
And we are the Land
Imagine and reflect on what happens when that is taken away?
Declaration of “The Black War” here in Tasmanian must be told and must be heard,
The impacts of broken Treaties must be learned.

For such a time as this

Published / by Sandy

The world watches on as the U.S. waits for the outcome. So, this week, the following reflections may give some scaffolding to our hopes and prayers. (Not just for this election, but for the way we want to live in our global community).

     Choose this day whom you will serve...
          but as for me and my household, 
          we will serve the Holy One.
                                          —Joshua 34.15

Choose, this day.
As for me, I will follow the Beloved.
I will spurn violence and all claim to dominion.
I will stand for justice:
that all may be included in the blessings of life.
With the Crucified One,
I will cast my lot, and my vote,
with the poor in spirit, and those who mourn,
with the gentle, and those who hunger for justice.
I will stand with the peacemakers
and those who are persecuted.
I will follow the one
who fed all who were hungry,
who healed all who wanted to be healed,
and welcomed all who were pushed to the margins.
I will speak only the truth, and only lovingly.
I will examine, confess and resist
my own complicity in systems that harm,
and surrender what I can
so my living may be a blessing for the poor.
I will accept the power God gives me
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves.
I will live with hope and gratitude,
with courage and generosity and kindness.
Choose this day whom you will serve,
but as for me, I will serve the God of love.
[Friends, pray for America…]
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)

Rev Steven Koski, First Presbyterian Church Bend Oregon, writes:
I want to publicly announce who I believe will lead us out of the mess we’re in: YOU. Whoever wins or loses, what is at stake in this election and it’s aftermath is the kind of people we choose to be and become. No election can decide whether we will become bitter or better. No election can decide if we will shrink in fear or step up and in with courage. Only we can make that decision. Regardless of the outcomes of Election Day, the world we wake up to tomorrow will be on edge, fear will threaten to overwhelm and hate and violence will continue to be a threat. The way we choose to love is more important now than ever.
Whether today results in the outcome we fear the most or the outcome we most desire, the holy work of love that is ours to do remains the same:
To bring love where there is hate; to resist hate without becoming hateful ourselves; to shine light in the darkest corners; to offer hope where there is despair; to overcome evil with goodness; to be the presence of mercy where there is cruelty; to offer healing where there are wounds; to work for reconciliation where there are divisions and restoration where there is brokenness; and to extend generosity where there is need.
We don’t simply cast votes on Election Day. We cast votes every single day with our hearts, voices, hands and feet. Our best hope is not in who wins the election. Our best hope is in you, in us, together.
Turn aside for a few minutes today from the anxiety of election results. Find a way to practice kindness reminding yourself of the power of goodness that resides within you, a goodness stronger than evil. Take deep breaths today breathing in “Love wins!” and breathing out “Love always wins!” reminding yourself that if love isn’t winning, it just means the story isn’t over yet.
What is the holy work of love that is ours to do? That work is now more important than ever.
(Source: Steven Koski’s Facebook page, 3rd November 2020)

God of Justice and Peace, as the world rotates today, may your calm filter each corner of our communities. As many of us wonder “what happens next” in this very unusual year, we seek spaces free from anxiety.
God, my soul aches for humanity. I hurt when I don’t see my neighbors remembering that, they too, are connected with everyone else. The choices we make today impact not only ourselves but our neighbors across this planet.
As we walk this surreal landscape, we pray that we can choose to love our neighbors across this world. Turn the feet and the minds of those who bully, those who hate. May the dawn of your hope fill our souls with new possibilities, knowing that tomorrow may bring the light for which we’ve been searching. Amen.
(Source: Rev. Michelle L. Torigian, posted on revgalblogpals)

God, you are creating a world where everyone can live an abundant life. We confess that we often work against your creative spirit, instead creating systems that privilege a few and leave behind the rest. We confess that we benefit from injustice, and we often do not want to give up our spot at the top. We confess that sometimes the words we say and sing in the sanctuary do not match our actions in other parts of the building, let alone other spaces in our lives. We confess that we prefer to offer you what is easy and hope that is good enough to get us through the week. Forgive our inconsistent faith, our hypocrisy, our hard-heartedness. Open us to your way, and give us courage to walk your path of healing, reconciliation, justice, and peace. Amen.
(Source: Teri Petersen)

For those of us who want to see democracy survive and thrive – and we are legion – the heart is where everything begins: that grounded place in each of us where we can overcome fear, rediscover that we are members of one another, and embrace the conflicts that threaten democracy as openings to new life for us and for our nation. . . .
Of all the tensions we must hold in personal and political life, perhaps the most fundamental and most challenging is standing and acting with hope in the “tragic gap.” On one side of that gap, we see the hard realities of the world, realities that can crush our spirits and defeat our hopes. On the other side of that gap, we see real-world possibilities, life as we know it could be because we have seen it that way. . . .
If we are to stand and act with hope in the tragic gap and do it for the long haul, we cannot settle for mere “effectiveness” as the ultimate measure of our failure or success. Yes, we want to be effective in pursuit of important goals. . . . [But] we must judge ourselves by a higher standard than effectiveness, the standard called faithfulness. Are we faithful to the community on which we depend, to doing what we can in response to its pressing needs? Are we faithful to the better angels of our nature and to what they call forth from us? Are we faithful to the eternal conversation of the human race, to speaking and listening in a way that takes us closer to truth? Are we faithful to the call of courage that summons us to witness to the common good, even against great odds? When faithfulness is our standard, we are more likely to sustain our engagement with tasks that will never end: doing justice, loving mercy, and calling the beloved community into being.
Richard Rohr writes: Parker Palmer’s understanding of the “tragic gap” recognizes that no matter what we do, we can never completely solve the problem. In all our actions, there is always a space left incomplete, imperfect, which God alone can fill. The search for “the perfect” often keeps us from “the good.” The demand for one single issue about which we can be totally right actually keeps us from reading the whole picture – often this is true in regard to voting. 
Reference: Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 10, 17–18, 191, 192–193.

Contemplating a ‘new normal’

Published / by Sandy

As Melbourne comes slowly out of lockdown this week, we all breathe a collective sigh of relief across Australia. (Well done, Victoria! It’s been hard but you’re on the way now).

In this time we can tentatively begin to describe as ‘post-lockdown’ (post-COVID is a long way off yet), it will be tempting to simply pick up life and begin the return to ‘normal life’. What will the ‘new normal’ look like? We’ve had months to contemplate what is possible, that we never considered possible before or even thought possible.

The following is an edited excerpt from a conversation between Common Grace CEO Brooke Prentis and Christian ecological ethicist Dr Byron Smith, facilitated by Common Grace’s Creative and Communications Director, Brigitta Ryan. It is titled 2020, the Year of Disruption: COVID-19, Black Lives Matter and the Climate Crisis. Listen to the full conversation here.

DR BYRON SMITH: So, one of the things the pandemic has done is reveal that the window of possibility [for climate action] is wider than perhaps we thought. And that, I think, is one of the key lessons. Change is possible. Another world is possible. And, you know, that cuts both ways. Things can actually get worse, faster than we think as well. Things can get better, faster than we dare to dream. The question is, will we allow ourselves to be defined by the stories of the past and the stories that have shaped and governed our lives, stories of capitalism and technologism and individualism and stories in which the profits of the few, are placed ahead of the health of the many and the health of the planet, or how are we going to live out new life-giving stories grounded in ancient wisdom from First Peoples and in the Scriptures but creatively applied to our new context? And that really is the challenge of today.

BRIGITTA RYAN: We’re talking about the resources for change and how we could go about creating change to care more deeply for God’s Earth. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, who’s been described as one of the world’s leading marine biologists, said in Time magazine that “we can’t solve the climate crisis without people of colour but we could probably solve it without racists.” That’s really a frank way of putting what you’re saying there Byron, that the interests of a few are really being placed ahead of the interests of many.

DR BYRON SMITH: If I could jump in there, it’s not just the interests of the few being ahead of the interests of the many. It’s the interests of the few and the preferences and whims of the few put ahead of the needs of the many. What the rich have to lose is their opulent riches, unnecessary riches, and their immense, unaccountable power. What the poor have to lose and are currently losing are their lives.

BROOKE PRENTIS: I realise my lived experience of injustice is as an Aboriginal person in these lands now called Australia. We are exhausting ourselves, trying to make the possible possible, but we actually need the rest of the Australian population to come on board to change the systems and the structure, the systemic racism, the systemic injustice in so many of the structures built in these lands now called Australia. And so it’s not just about fixing them. We actually have to ‘dismantle’ these systems. And then we’ve got to build something new.

Richard Rohr talks about the movement from Order to Disorder to Reorder. This year we have seen the sudden movement from ‘order’ to ‘disorder’ with the global pandemic. He wrote recently: Disorder is already upon us by reason of our planet, our history, our politics, our economy, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the widespread increase in mental and emotional unhealth. Our job is to make “Good Trouble”* – and probably even “Necessary Trouble”* – so that humanity can spiritually and politically mature. It is about falling – but, as always, falling upward.

What does this liminal time in history call us to do and to be? What will the ‘new normal’ look like that will bring health and healing and wholeness to all, and not just a few. What systems and structures need to change? What might ‘good trouble’ and even ‘necessary trouble’ look like?

(*US Senator John Lewis, who died of pancreatic cancer this year, said,
“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”)

Thessaloniki

Published / by Sandy

1 Thess. 1:1-10
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the Christian community in Thessolonica, in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you, and peace. We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith – your faithful service, and labour of love, and perseverence and steadfastness of hope and in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that God has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction and assurance. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.


The Lectionary begins a journey through the earliest letter of Paul, written to the Christian converts and fledgling church in Thessaloniki.
Thessaloniki was (and still is) an important seaport about 300 km north of Athens. In Paul’s day, the northern region of Greece was known as Macedonia. The city had supported Emperor Augustus, so the Romans made Thessaloniki a free city in 43 B.C. We’re told that Paul, Silas and Timothy went to Thessaloniki, and attended the Jewish synagogue 3 times to present their case for Jesus as the Messiah. As a result, there were converts, primarily among devout Greeks (Acts 17:4) – Gentiles who were sympathetic to Judaism, but had not yet converted to the Jewish faith.
So there were those in Thessaloniki who continued with worship of idols, those who were part of the Jewish faith, and those who became followers of Jesus. The different faith traditions continue today. In Greece, religious affiliation is aligned with ethnicity – to be Greek is to be Orthodox. It is the state religion. Non-Orthodox churches can face legal restrictions and discriminatory governmental obstacles. They have to have a permit from the Ministry of Education and Religion to operate legally as a ‘House of Prayer’. The Pastors of Protestant Churches can be taken to court for proselytizing.
Paul and his team were preaching and proselytizing, and faced determined opposition. The Jewish leaders at the time were enraged and caused a riot, which was enough to run Paul out of town. Paul headed south to Berea and began to preach again, but the Jewish leaders followed him there and again caused a stir. So Paul headed south again, this time to Athens, and then to Corinth. We are told he was by that time he was in weakness, in fear and in much trembling (1 Cor 2:3). He was very discouraged. And yet, his attention was focussed on the churches he had founded. He didn’t want to leave them with only a distant memory of his teaching. You see, there was no church building or church ecclesial structure as we know it. Just a group of new believers who had responded to the teaching about Jesus and chose to follow the Jesus way. Then Silas and Timothy came to Paul from Thessaloniki with great news: the church there was going strong. The local organization was basic, but sufficient enough to carry on the business of the church, even when Paul was no longer present to guide them. Paul became so excited that he dashed off this letter to the Thessalonians. It’s what we’re reading today, and understood to be the first letter penned by Paul. He wanted to help focus their attention on being a community of mutual interest, care and fellowship.
The Thessalonian Christians had experienced the integrity of Paul and his colleagues – their unselfishness – their agape love. They were confident that Paul and his colleagues were truthful and that they were serving God rather than promoting some sort of private agenda. Having decided Paul and his team were people to be trusted, the new Christians in Thessaloniki responded by imitating them. Then, in turn, they became examples to others in their community. Everybody asked, ‘What has happened to these Thessalonians? These people have broken their idols: they worship the one God; they trust in Jesus. They are no longer drunken, dishonest, impure, contentious.’ The new believers became witnesses to others by the way they lived. People noticed the difference in their lives.
The new believers simply shared with their neighbours and friends what God had done in their lives. They explained the new joy and peace that had come into their hearts. Then, when their friends began to ask questions about what had happened, they shared their faith with them.
Now, being a busy seaport, the word about the new believers in Thessaloniki spread all over the country, silently, and without fanfare. People far and wide were stirred by what was happening in the lives of the new believers. Faith is not merely belief; it is something that changes you. Faith makes you turn from what is wrong to what is right, from dark and hurtful things to right and true and healthy things.
Paul writes to them, that they are beloved of God. Now, the Jewish people reserved this descriptor for supremely great men like Moses and Solomon, and to the nation of Israel itself. Now, this accolade is being extended to the humblest of the Gentiles. You are the beloved of God.
Henri Nouwen wrote: “Personally, as my struggle reveals, I don’t often “feel” like a beloved child of God. But I know that that is my most primal identity and I know that I must choose it above and beyond my hesitations. Strong emotions, self-rejection, and even self-hatred justifiably toss you about, but you are free to respond as you will. You are not what others, or even you, think about yourself. You are not what you do. You are not what you have. You are a full member of the human family, having been known before you were conceived and moulded in your mother’s womb. In times when you feel bad about yourself, try to choose to remain true to the truth of who you really are. Look in the mirror each day and claim your true identity. Act ahead of your feelings and trust that one day your feelings will match your convictions. Choose now and continue to choose this incredible truth. As a spiritual practice claim and reclaim your primal identity as beloved daughter or son of a personal Creator”.
In this letter, Paul writes the famous triad for the first time: faith, hope and love. But Paul’s stress is not on these virtues as an end in themselves, but rather upon what they produce. Their faith produced work – as is the nature of true faith. Their love produced labour. The ancient Greek word used for work implies toil that is strenuous and sweat-producing. Their hope produced patience, which is the long-suffering endurance needed to not only survive hard times, but to triumph through them. Paul writes in this way so that we may see these as the great motives of the Christian life.
Jesus said that he came “not to be served, but to serve” (Mt 20:28, Mark 10:45). The verb douleuo (to serve) was apparently never used in a religious sense in pagan literature. No Greek or Roman could take in the idea of ‘serving’ a God… There was no room for it in their religion. If life was to be a moral service rendered to God, it must be to a God quite different from the ancestral worship.
In reflecting upon this passage this week, I remembered my friend Verena, a German woman who has been living in Thessaloniki for about 3 years, supporting the refugees. She attends the International Protestant Church in Thessaloniki, where about 8-10 people take turns preparing the services. Small, just the way the early church began. She wrote to me this week, reflecting on the passage from 1 Thessalonians. “I remember the first time in Thessalonica when we were reading passages from Thessalonians. Three years later, I still get excited reading this passage.The Bible has become even more personal since I moved to Thessalonica and this passage (1 Thess. 1:1-10) has become precious to me. It has been encouraging in times of my personal difficulties when moving to a foreign country, learning a language, figuring out daily life.
This passage has been encouraging in the work with refugees. In the camp where I have been going I play with and teach the children. It has been encouraging in the work on the streets where we distribute food, clothes, and sleeping bags, and in the organisations where I am working.
It’s been encouraging when on every Tuesday and Saturday we distribute groceries, vegetables and clothes. Families, many with children, don’t have any support from the government. So they are coming because they have literally nothing to eat anymore. When I start to think about the coming winter, I know there will be hundreds of people in the city of Thessalonica who will hide themselves in the street in order not to be found by the police who are doing illegal pushbacks – to Turkey. I think about past winters and the snow we had one year ago and the flimsy tents that broke down under it.
(1 Thess 1:6) “For you received the word in much affliction…” Verena says, I see the refugees in Thessaloniki who were able to leave the island of Lesvos in Turkey, and the Moria camp which has now burnt down, and who say “we want to go back to the hell of Moria, because here it’s worse.”
(I think you may have heard the same sentiment from those living in the hell of indefinite detention in Australia and offshore in immigration detention).
In Thessaloniki, the refugees live in an overcrowded camp or on the streets. The traumatized children cannot stop screaming or are frozen or simply don’t speak anymore. The shoes of the people are inadequate, too small, too big, too cold. A desperate situation that is getting worse and worse.
She says, Then I am thankful to know, to see, to live what I can read (1. Thess:1.5): “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” This power is so necessary in this work, where is no end in sight. Where people after years still don’t speak English or Greek. Where there is no infrastructure and the camps are not made for integration. Where things are not getting better but worse because the European Union is happy with the Dublin II-law that determines that refugees have to apply for asylum in the country in which they arrived – which of course are the few countries on the edge, one of them being Greece.
“…to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess 1:5) Thessaloniki has so many people in need. How could I do this only by myself? I can’t. Knowing that God put me here to serve makes it possible. When people ask me what they can do for us here, I ask them what Paul did for the church of the Thessalonians then: “constantly mentioning [us] in [your] prayers” (1 Thess 1:2).
So, please hold Verena in your prayers – and the people she supports.
Her experience has many parallels with life for refugees and those seeking asylum in Australia. Refugee advocates report that over 60 asylum seekers – including women, children and infants – who are in community detention in Adelaide have been given just 3 weeks to find work and a new place to live (now extended to six weeks). The youngest is just 8 months old. They are being transitioned to “Final Departure Visas”, which means they will receive no income support. Some individuals are already without an income. If they cannot find work, authorities have advised they “will need to return to a regional processing country or any country where they have a right of residence.” A third of these people are stateless. This would be a huge challenge for anyone at any time, but the fallout from the COVID19 pandemic takes this desperate situation to a whole new level. Community groups are assisting with food, bus tickets, mobile phone vouchers, medicine, utility bills and emergency accommodation. (If you would like to donate a few dollars in support, head to COFA Circle 110).
Last week I did the ‘drop off’ of food packages to families as part of the program to support refugees and those seeking asylum who have no work due to COVID. You know Libby Hogarth had been involved in this program, coordinated with Catherine Russell. I’d love to hear from you if you’re interested in being available to help in any way with packing or delivery.
And on a really positive note, an Afghan family Libby has been working with were able to board their flights to Australia yesterday. The sponsor (husband and father) is already in Adelaide and has been struggling with the weight of all the stress. He looks forward to welcoming his family including his teenage daughter who is seriously ill and needs medical attention. Pray for this family, on this long flight, and for the joyous reunion that awaits them.
Let us continue to be the kind of community that is known by faithful service, labour of love, and perseverence and steadfastness of hope in Jesus Christ. Amen.

(A sermon at Pilgrim UC by Rev Sandy Boyce, Sunday 18th October 2020)

Build Back Better – & the National Budget

Published / by Sandy

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Dr Deidre Palmer has welcomed the Federal Government’s investment in job creation and recovery measures but says the 2020 budget is a missed opportunity to bring about a more equitable and fairer Australia.

Dr Palmer commended the Government’s focus on getting people back into work, particularly young people, but says the budget as a whole neglects those who need the most support to recover from the pandemic.

“As we noted in our Build Back Better statement, COVID-19 has highlighted the stark inequality and disparity in our Australian society,” said Dr Palmer. “Going forward we need a plan that will build resilient communities and a sustainable future, but this budget fails to live up to those hopes.”

The Budget announced last night failed to raise the base rate of JobSeeker, a move which would have provided much needed security to those who are out of work and who do not qualify for the tax cuts at the centre of the Budget.

Unless further changes are announced, those on JobSeeker will return to the pre-COVID-19 rate on 31 December 2020.  

Last week Uniting Church women leaders called on the Government to prioritise measures to support women, but the budget has little support for women struggling right now.

The Government has prioritised incentives for construction and infrastructure, over social care services, sectors which employ high numbers of women and which would generate far more overall economic benefits.

Other missed opportunities include no investment in more affordable housing and no significant funding for renewable energy or climate action. Rather the Government has invested more than $60million in gas projects and infrastructure.

Also, disappointingly, the refugee humanitarian intake has been cut and financial support has dropped for asylum seekers living in Australia.

In a media release issued last night, UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little warned that despite record spending and investment, millions of Australians are still at risk of deepening disadvantage.

“We are disappointed that the Government has not taken this moment to raise the base rate of JobSeeker and provide confidence and hope for millions of Australians facing poverty and a very bleak Christmas” said Ms Little.

“This budget is also a missed opportunity to invest in social housing and ensure that everyone has shelter in the storm of this recession.” Watch the video of Ms Little address media in Canberra this morning. 

Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Interim Chairperson Pastor Mark Kickett said despite some measures to support Closing the Gap and specific health measures, overall our First Peoples have been neglected.

UnitingWorld National Director Sureka Goringe welcomed the $4billion for Overseas Development Aid including additional money to assist with COVID-19 recovery in the Pacific but was concerned it fell short of addressing the growing need in the global context of the pandemic.

Frontier Services National Director Jannine Jackson welcomed increased funding for mental health care but warned this may prove insufficient for the combined impacts of COVID-19, bushfires and drought and failed to address the gap in health services for people living in rural and remote areas.

Dr Palmer added: “As we chart a path to recovery at this critical time in our nation’s history, we strongly encourage the Government to prioritise measures that support the well-being of all Australians.”

Build back better

Published / by Sandy

In responding to the COVID19 pandemic, governments all around the world did things that previously they had resisted doing. Support for people who were no longer in paid employment was doubled. Homeless people were provided hotel accommodation, to protect them and the broader community from the spread of the virus. Child care services were provided without charging families a fee for them.

The COVID-19 crisis still has a while to run yet. Many developing countries will be very vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19 due to their more limited health care systems.

The question we face as a community is, do we need to return to the way things were before the COVID-19 crisis, or can we build back to something better?

On May 15th, the World Council of Churches, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, the Lutheran World Federation and the Council of World Mission issued a joint statement about the world we seek to build as we move to recover from the COVID-19 crisis. They stated:
Even as capitalism supplants the impulses to love, care, and share with the urge to compete, the crisis has seen communities all over the world mobilizing deep reserves of compassion, kindness, and generosity, particularly where markets have failed. This underscores the potential of an economy based on care of the most vulnerable, each other and the earth‘.

The church bodies called on all of us to be nurturing communities:
Loving, caring, and connectedness are key elements for resilience in the face of Covid-19. Physical distancing has needed to be counterbalanced by familial and social solidarity. As we nurture community, it is possible that new models and values for our economies could flourish rooted not in competition but in care for each other and the earth; that new conceptions of family beyond the restrictions of patriarchy and kinship relations and led by the visions of the most vulnerable would form the foundation of our communities; that borders would fall, racism be dismantled and xenophobia be replaced by radical hospitality’.

They called on churches and church members to play a prophetic role at this time, seeking to transform systems:
Covid-19 is overshadowing many with fear, overturning their security and even undermining their faith. In this moment of crisis, we need a liberative theology coupled with a redemptive economy. The human causes and systemic roots of this pandemic point to the exigency of systemic change if we are to be converted by the revelation Covid-19 is offering us, even as, like some latter day Shepherd David, it brings some of those giant systems to their knees. We must build back better, to ensure an Economy of Life that is founded on justice and dignity for all.
This is a prophetic moment. As churches we can see here a path towards the new creation. This struggle could bear the fruit of the earth’s redemption from wanton exploitation. This is eschatological hope rooted not in the end of days, but in the fall of sinful systems. All shall be changed (1 Corinthians 15:51) if the truth is told, the old idolatries of empire and economy cast down, and the care of the Creator reflected in a creation not exploited endlessly but blessed deeply’.

This is a bold and loving vision. We may be sidetracked by the bleak path that screams at us from the media. We may be immobilised by our anger and disbelief at greed and corruption. This gloomy future would involve governments slashing services and reducing taxes, with voices in the media owned and controlled by billionaires already making such calls. Like excluding environmental groups from the Australian budget lock up, where is is expected that details of the Coalition’s plan for job creation will be revealed, including an expansion of gas extraction and fast-tracking of project approvals. Like reducing the top-up payment by $300 to welfare recipients in September, which will leave 2 in 5 people living on less than $14 a day after paying their rent (Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) report). Four in five people living on pandemic-boosted welfare payments will be forced to skip meals if the coronavirus supplement is reduced. Almost half of recipients will also have to ration their medicines. Meanwhile many Executives have pocketed millions from JobKeeper payments. Unbelievable corruption and waste while so many people are in dire situations.

We must resist the bleak vision and put forward the prophetic vision that reflects God’s love for all humanity and for the planet. Let us all play our part.

The Divine Centre

Published / by Sandy

Richard Rohr offering some simple but urgent guidance. It’s written in the context of the U.S. in the lead up to the November election and the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. It also insight and wisdom more generally for the global community.
(from a post on Center for Action and Contemplation, 19 September 2020)

He writes:
I awoke on Saturday, September 19, with three sources in my mind for guidance: Etty Hillesum (1914 – 1943), the young Jewish woman who suffered much more injustice in the concentration camp than we are suffering now; Psalm 62, which must have been written in a time of a major oppression of the Jewish people; and the Irish Poet, W.B.Yeats (1965 – 1939), who wrote his “Second Coming” during the horrors of the World War I and the Spanish Flu pandemic.

These three sources form the core of my invitation. Read each one slowly as your first practice. Let us begin with Etty:

There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too … And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves.
—Etty Hillesum, Westerbork transit camp

Note her second-person usage, talking to “You, God” quite directly and personally. There is a Presence with her, even as she is surrounded by so much suffering.

Then, the perennial classic wisdom of the Psalms:

In God alone is my soul at rest.
God is the source of my hope.
In God I find shelter, my rock, and my safety.
Men are but a puff of wind,
Men who think themselves important are a delusion.
Put them on a scale,
They are gone in a puff of wind
.
—Psalm 62:5–9

What could it mean to find rest like this in a world such as ours? Every day more and more people are facing the catastrophe of extreme weather. The neurotic news cycle is increasingly driven by a single narcissistic leader whose words and deeds incite hatred, sow discord, and amplify the daily chaos. The pandemic that seems to be returning in waves continues to wreak suffering and disorder with no end in sight, and there is no guarantee of the future in an economy designed to protect the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and those subsisting at the margins of society.

It’s no wonder the mental and emotional health among a large portion of the (U.S.) population is in tangible decline! We have wholesale abandoned any sense of truth, objectivity, science or religion in civil conversation; we now recognize we are living with the catastrophic results of several centuries of what philosophers call nihilism or post-modernism (nothing means anything, there are no universal patterns).

We are without doubt in an apocalyptic time (the Latin word apocalypsis refers to an urgent unveiling of an ultimate state of affairs). Yeats’ oft-quoted poem “The Second Coming” then feels like a direct prophecy. See if you do not agree:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


Somehow our occupation and vocation as believers in this sad time must be to first restore the Divine Centre by holding it and fully occupying it ourselves. If contemplation means anything, it means that we can “safeguard that little piece of You, God,” as Etty Hillesum describes it. What other power do we have now? All else is tearing us apart, inside and out (no matter who wins the US election or who is on the Supreme Court). We cannot abide in such a place for any length of time or it will become our prison.

God cannot abide with us in a place of fear.
God cannot abide with us in a place of ill will or hatred.
God cannot abide with us inside a nonstop volley of claim and counterclaim.
God cannot abide with us in an endless flow of online punditry and analysis.
God cannot speak inside of so much angry noise and conscious deceit.
God cannot be found when all sides are so far from “the Falconer.”
God cannot be born except in a womb of Love.
So offer God that womb.

Stand as a sentry at the door of your senses for these coming months, so “the blood-dimmed tide” cannot make its way into your soul.

If you allow it for too long, it will become who you are, and you will no longer have natural access to the “really deep well” that Etty Hillesum returned to so often and that held so much vitality and freedom for her.
If you will allow, I recommend for your spiritual practice that you impose a moratorium on exactly how much news you are subject to for a while – hopefully not more than an hour a day of television, social media, internet news, magazine and newspaper commentary, and/or political discussions. It will only tear you apart and pull you into the dualistic world of opinion and counter-opinion, not Divine Truth, which is always found in a bigger place.

Instead, I suggest that you use this time for some form of public service, volunteerism, mystical reading from the masters, prayer – or, preferably, all of the above.

You have much to gain now and nothing to lose. Nothing at all.
And the world – with you as a stable centre – has nothing to lose.
And everything to gain.

A ‘greening’ of the spirit

Published / by Sandy
Hildegard of Bingen

A post by Kate Kennington Steer, originally published on Godspacelight.

I have long been fascinated by and inspired by Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), not least because despite her struggles with persistent ill health, she was a writer, a composer, a scientist, a preacher, a prophetic visionary, and an Abbess of two Benedictine convents; and because, for me, she personifies what I called back in 2016 ‘expressive strength in creative weakness’. Here’s my concluding passage from that post:

It seems to me that it takes a very particular type of strong personality to be able to continue to live a creative, fruitful, flourishing life in the service of God and others; and that such a life-force is only found in those whose strength is based on a recognition of their absolute vulnerability and powerlessness. For Hildegard this life-force came from what she idiosyncratically identified as ‘viriditas’, a ‘greening’ of the spirit that forms the innate connection between God’s goodness in the heart and God’s goodness in the earth; a connection Hildegard personifies as Grace. ‘Greening’ is the epitome of God’s blessing to those God loves… As I struggle to find ways in which I might join every day with the Creator in creating and healing, Hildegard’s expressive, exuberant celebration of the ways in which we may all still be greened continues to echo down the centuries to encourage me this day.

Hildegard’s earthly ambitions were tempered by persistent ill health, and yet, her trusting perception of viriditas beyond the surface of all things, is what helps me, hundreds of years later, see the ‘greening power of God suffusing all life and creation’.

Christine Valters Paintner describes viriditas as the force sustaining life each moment, bringing newness to birth. It is a marvellous image of the divine power continuously at work in the world, juicy and fecund … The prophet Isaiah writes that “the wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing” (Is 35.1-2) This abundant blossoming is the provenance of viriditas. We are called to wander through the desert tending to the abundant gifts of viriditas, the creative life-force of everything alive. Hildegard’s wisdom is for living a life that is fruitful and green and overflowing with verdancy. She calls us to look for fecundity in barren places …(Christine Valters Paintner, Illuminating the Way, 161-2, 164, 170)

In one of her books of visions, the Liber Vitae Meritorum, Hildegard receives a dialogue between two characters: Heavenly Joy and Worldly Sadness. In the opinion of Heavenly Joy, Worldly Sadness is sad because she does not ‘observe the sun and moon and stars and all the decoration of the greenness [viriditas] of the earth and consider how much prosperity God gives man(sic) with these things’. By contrast, of herself Heavenly Joy says: “I possess heaven, since all that God created, and which you call noxious, I observe in its true light. I gently collect the blossoms of roses and lilies and all greenness [viriditas] in my lap since I praise all the works of God, while you attract sorrows to you because you are dolorous in all your works.

Hildegard’s viriditas reminds me to notice the gifts I am given in the ordinary details of my life around me. Viriditas reminds me that the Spirit always waits in readiness to ‘green’ my soul’s barren places and our planet’s damaged earth. There is always hope within viriditas. In the action of the Spirit’s ‘greening’ I am becoming who God longs for me to be. In the light that is itself a gift, I am called to notice and collect together the incidents of greening around about me, like where ‘moss trails over flocked rocks/ inviting me to clamber into depths of evergreen’. The Spirit’s ‘greening’ invites me to open my eyes, to see where the Spirit ‘sets me down’ to find even more green, and though at first I may appear surrounded by ‘lostness’, the ongoing ‘greening’ of my soul promises always to lead me into the heart of God’s calling for me.

Viriditas symbolises the continual flow of emergence and re-emergence of gratefulness in me, which inexorably leads me to pause to praise my Maker the Great Artist, with thanksgiving in my heart, before I move on, powered by viriditas, into the day God lays before me, welcoming whatever it may bring. Today, using Hildegard’s words of praise of the Holy Spirit, I ask that viriditas will bless us this day, and all the days to come.

An extended version of this post can be found at Kate’s blog here.

In the silence

Published / by Sandy

September is the time to celebrate the Season of Creation, and the 9.30am service is focussing on water, wind, earth and fire. Sunday 13th was ‘wind and breath’ and the Bible reading was 1 Kings 19:11-12.

The narrative takes place at Mt Horeb, ‘the mountain of God’, a place closely associated with the presence of God. It was to this place that the prophet Elijah had retreated, to hide in a cave – tired, depressed, despondent, overwhelmed, alone, uncertain, discouraged. That was then, this is now. We may identify with many of those feelings in 2020, where the dominant dominant narrative is the ongoing pandemic, and the associated experience of scarcity, fear, greed, and violence. In response, many of us will have experienced the emotions of tiredness, depression, despondency, uncertainty, loneliness, and discouragement. When we see the reality of our collective life (the virus, the economic meltdown, the crisis of climate, the loss of confidence in democratic institutions), we no doubt feel overwhelmed and helpless, because the issues are so big, and there is low confidence in the capacity of leaders to address them.

Elijah’s outlook from high up, in the cave, was breathtaking. He could look out over the vast desert, the rough and stony plain devoid of plants, the great mountain walls of red granite, the peaks reaching up into the blue sky, the magnificence of the night sky. The cave to which Elijah retreated was surrounded and protected by granite cliffs. And there was silence. Sheer silence. You may have been in such a place of silence and experienced awe.

The Hebrew Scriptures say that God told Elijah to stand on the mountain, for God was about to pass by. How would Elijah recognise God? Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks, but God was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but God was not in the fire.

God was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. God is Spirit, known in the eye of the storm, where there is silence – even while the storm rages on the outer. God is to be found in the still small voice, in the sound of gentle stillness, in the whisper to Elijah’s soul. God spoke to him, to tell him to go home for there was more God wanted him to do. That is what you do after a tragedy or challenging times. You survive it and go on living, and you look for ways to put your life together again.

How do we recognise the presence of God? How do we make space and time to do so? Many people recognise the presence of God in the beauty of nature. Indeed, during COVID-19, getting out for walks in the parks, at the beach or even smelling the roses on a walk around the block has been life giving, promoting resilience and positivity. Everybody needs beauty, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. Nature inspires awe, and the measurable impact of awe in nature is resilience, the capacity to face and deal skillfully with the difficulties of life.

Elijah was to learn that God would be revealed not in the extraordinary, but in the ordinary. God is in the quiet, in the gentle influences which are ever around us, without any visible or audible signs of God’s presence. So much in nature that is life-giving happens in silence. And so we seek the gentleness and silence as a means to be present with God. It is the practice of sacramental living.

Ironically, time and silence are two things that many people have had during this COVID19 time of trial and yet the gift of time and silence has for many people been held captive by fear, anxiety and loneliness.

The psalmist says, “For God alone my soul waits in silence.” (Psalm 61:1)  “Does not everything depend on our interpretation of the silence around us?” (Lawrence Durrell). Where some find only silence, absence and emptiness, others sense the presence of God. Love is found in the eye of the storm.

These lines from Paul are words to remember when storms rage: For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation (fires, storms, earthquakes) will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8.38).

May it be so. Amen.

(adapted from a sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce, 13th September 2020)

National Child Protection Week (6th-12th September 2020)

Published / by Sandy

A prayer for all those who work in child safety and protection
Christ Jesus,
You welcomed children and brought healing and hope to their lives.
We pray that as your Church, we will create places of welcome, care and safety for all children, reflecting your love and compassion.
God of love and comfort,
We pray for children who have been neglected or abused.
We pray that people will come into their lives who love and nurture them in healing and life-giving ways.
We pray for child safety workers and all those working in child protection. We thank you for their dedication and the gifts they bring to their vocation to protect and improve the lives of children.
We pray that you will sustain their vision, and uphold them in love and grace.
Christ Jesus, as your church, you call us to be a faithful embodiment of your care and love.
We lament when we have failed to be communities of safety and care.
Challenge and correct us in our failure, and reform our life.
We commit ourselves as your Church to being places of safety, free of abuse and exploitation.
We commit ourselves as your Church to be communities, where people can flourish in ways of trust and love.
We pray that your Spirit will empower us to be advocates for a society in which all children can flourish.
Through Christ, Our Light and Life, we pray, Amen.
(Source: 2017, Dr Deidre Palmer, current President, Uniting Church in Australia)

From the SA Synod website:
The gospel for the 6th September is Matthew 18:15-20, beginning with ‘if your brother or sister sins against you’ speak to them when you are alone, and then describes the process if they fail to listen. It ends with promises regarding answered prayer (19) and the promise of the continuing presence of the risen Jesus (20). The passage is part of the five major discourses that are a feature of Matthew’s gospel and this one focuses on the nature of community.
At the beginning of the chapter there is a clear statement about the inclusion of children in the Christian community, which would have been counter-cultural in Jesus’ day. Then in verse six there are the robust warnings about not putting stumbling blocks in the way of these little ones. The parable of the shepherd follows, and in this context it strengthens the importance of pastoral care, especially not causing little ones to be lost.
When we talk about processes for protecting children in our communities, such as screenings, increasing the number of adults in any Sunday School class, increasing the oversight of Church Council over activities and the like, some people murmur about government regulation and compliance. Matthew 18 reminds us that Jesus, from the very beginning of the Church’s life, placed a high priority on protecting the vulnerable in our communities. It is not only about compliance or the fear of being sued, it is a basic gospel value. People thrive when they feel safe. It is even more difficult to become the person God intends you to be when you first need to be healed from abuse and neglect. National Child Protection Week is an opportunity to pause and commit afresh to being communities where vulnerable people feel safe, are protected and are encouraged to become fully alive in response to the generous grace revealed in Jesus.

Music: O God, when trust is shattered
(Tune: PASSION CHORALE 7.6.7.6.D, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”)
This 2018 hymn responded to news of abuse by clergy; it was written with input from survivors and counsellors. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Permission is given for its free use with acknowledgement of the author (see below).

O God, when trust is shattered
by wolves among your sheep,
when youth and children suffer,
when those remembering weep,
when victims tell their stories,
when leaders hide abuse,
bring healing, love and mercy!
Bring justice, God of truth!

When leaders side with evil,
when people do their worst,
may we reach out to victims
and put their healing first.
If any member suffers,
we all will suffer, too.
Bring healing, love and mercy!
Bring justice, God of truth!

We pray that the abusers
will learn sin’s awful cost,
and – making no excuses –
will know that they are lost.
Then may they find redemption –
as we all need it, too.
Bring healing, love and mercy!
Bring justice, God of truth!

May all who serve in churches
be careful, watchful, wise.
May we prevent abuses
and hear your children’s cries.
We pray that institutions
will seek your way anew.
Bring healing, love and mercy!
Bring justice, God of truth!

Tune: Hans Leo Hassler, 1601; harmony by Johann Sebastian Bach, 1729
Text: Copyright (c) 2018 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. All rights reserved.
Email: bcgillette@comcast.net New Hymns: www.carolynshymns.com

The essence of divine activity

Published / by Sandy

(A sermon presented by Rev Sandy Boyce on 30th August, 2020 at the 11am service at Pilgrim Uniting Church)

Moses was introduced to the reader as a baby, born to Hebrew slaves. According to the biblical account, Moses’ parents were from the tribe of Levi, one of the groups in Egypt called Hebrews. Originally the term Hebrew had nothing to do with race or ethnic origin. It derived from Habiru, and described a class of people who made their living by hiring themselves out for various services. It made sense in the context of the Israelites living in Egypt and needing to secure work. The biblical Hebrews had been in Egypt for many generations, and had become a threat because they were so numerous, so the Pharaoh enslaved them. Then, Pharoah ordered that every male Hebrew child be drowned. Moses’ Hebrew mother placed him in a little makeshift basket in the reeds, where he was found by a royal princess and adopted as her own child. We are told his mother was enlisted by the princess to nurse the infant, so she continued to be in his life. Moses enjoyed all the privileges of growing up in the royal household. So far so good.

But then, when he was 20, he saw a Hebrew slave being beaten by an Egyptian overlord. In anger, he killed the Egyptian official. Fearing retribution from the Pharaoh, Moses fled to Midian, in what today we call Saudi Arabia. He was in exile for the next 50 or so years.

By chance, he encountered some shepherdesses being harrassed by shepherds and rescued them. Their father Jethro invited Moses to stay in Midian with them. No doubt he could recognise the qualities of the well educated man from Egypt. Jethro was a Midianite priest. The Midianites were descendants of Midian, a son of Abraham through his concubine Keturah (Genesis 25:1-21). So, the Midianites weren’t in the chosen line, but they would have had knowledge of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It seems likely that the Midianites worshipped a multitude of gods. Moses ended up staying, and married one of Jethro’s daughters, Zipporah, and settled down for the next 50 years or so to raise a family – in exile, in Midian.

I’m intrigued about the religious influences in his life – his Hebrew mother, the royal Egyptian court where the Pharoah himself was considered a god, as well as the complex system of polytheistic beliefs and rituals framed around the many deities believed to be present in, and in control of, the world. And finally the religious traditions of the Midianites.

Which makes Moses’ encounter with Yahweh in the burning bush remarkable.

In our reading today, Moses should have been ready for retirement, surely. He’s reported to be 80 years old. He’s had a good working life. And that’s where the story might end. Put your feet up and relax. Possibly a round of golf? Well, you know the story of Moses is really just begining at this point. The burning bush, a divine calling, and a long journey. Mischief, murder and mayhem along the way. More of that in the weeks ahead. I encourage you to read the story as it unfolds in Exodus in the Old Testament.

Retirement as we know it today is a new concept. In the past, people kept working, paid or unpaid, until they ran out of puff. Work until you die – or until you can’t work anymore. That was how it worked until the late 19th century when German Chancellor Bismarck introduced modern pensions. He wasn’t really motivated by compassion for the plight of the working class but wanted to pre-empt a growing socialist movement in Germany before it grew any more powerful. Now, retirement seems normal in many countries. Even so, many modern retirees are as busy as they were in earlier life. Some will enjoy 20 or 30 years of life after retirement in which to enjoy good health. But perhaps not all retirees have a sense of meaning that animates their life and gives them a sense of purpose. In his book, From Age-ing to Sage-ing, Rabbi Zalman Schachter- Shalomi suggests that retirement is a time for “harvesting life,” taking time to reflect on ways that God has worked in our lives, celebrating the contributions we have made and acknowledging the wisdom we have gained through life‘s difficulties and losses. It is also a time for the rest of us all to recognize the unique and often undervalued gifts and wisdom our elders are able to offer. As people of faith, perhaps these retirement years might be a time for spiritual growth and renewal?

Deep questions may arise on the journey of ageing: “What is the meaning in this ageing process?” What is of eternal value? How might we discern a fresh way to see who God is and what God is doing? How do we reflect upon the words of Jesus in our Gospel today: set your minds on divine things, not on human things; if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me; those who lose their life for my sake will find it. When we hold these words up like a mirror to our own lives, what do we learn about ourselves, our values, our priorities, our concerns?

Some of you may have heard about the ancient practice of writing ‘ethical wills’. We are all familiar with legal wills by which we make clear our wishes in relation to financial and material matters. In contrast, the ethical will, which can be written at any point in our life, is an opportunity to record the values and beliefs, experiences and life lessons by which we want to be remembered. It is a kind of spiritual legacy to family and friends, and church communities. What is important to you? What do you want to be remembered by? What of your life counts, and has eternal value? Perhaps you might put aside some time to begin this reflection process?

Back to Moses. In his senior years. A man with family responsibilities. Still tending sheep. And then, this encounter with God in the burning bush in the desert – burning but not consumed. “Take off your shoes, Moses; this is holy ground”. Given his diverse religious influences and practices he is right to wonder who has called his name. Who wanted his attention in the middle of desert country?

The speaker is identified as the God of Moses’ father, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is immediately followed by a call to a very costly call to help the Hebrew people in Egypt – Moses’ own oppressed people, whom, up until that point, he had probably not given a second thought to in all those long years in Midian. The enslaved Hebrew population had to work very long hours daily for minimum wages in order to meet the economic objectives of the Pharaoh. God said, “I have heard the groaning of my people in Egypt. You, Moses, are to go confront Pharaoh and tell him to let my people go” (Exodus 3:9-10). This call from God asks Moses to leave his comfortable and predictable life, and go back to Egypt, to confront the cruel and demanding Pharoah – leader of Egypt, and to demand he let the Israelites go free from slavery. No wonder Moses came up with so many convincing excuses not to go!

Why this man – why not one of the Hebrew people living in Egypt? Because human life was cheap and disposable. Anyone who raised their heads on behalf of the people, for basic human rights, was quickly seen as a threat to be eliminated. Only a few days ago (17th August 2020), a Filipino human rights activist, Zara Alvarez aged 39, was murdered, one of many extra-judicial killings, outside the law but condoned by Government. She was a legal worker and human rights champion with the ecumenical group Church People-Workers Solidarity, working on behalf of landless farmers in the Philippines. Bishop Gerardo Alminaza said, “I bleed of this never-ending injustice and violence, when someone closest in my work with the oppressed is murdered. I just cannot believe this continuing madness of senseless killings! These systemic killings of human rights defenders and activists must be condemned and must stop. I thank the Lord for knowing you, Zara, my dear little child of struggle. I promise to ever continue our work in the service of God’s poor. You inspired me in many ways to be a pastor of the anawim [the poor] of God’s kingdom. Your active involvement in the Church People-Workers Solidarity is worthy of emulation – always reminding us to be prophetic in our work of evangelization and social justice.”

This week, the world remembered the anniversary of the ‘March on Washington’ 1963 and Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech on 28th August 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial. Listen to how it resonates with the experience of poverty and slavery of the ancient Israelities.

I quote: ‘Five score years today, Abraham Lincoln, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition’.

These words resonate still in the #blacklivesmatter movement.

Moses may have been slow to respond to God’s call, but once he does he holds fast to it with conviction until his death. His particular call had social, economic, historical, and political dimensions. The Israelites were oppressed, enslaved. God entered the human arena as the compassionate liberator. Moses was to be the means by which this liberation would be achieved. Moses needed to know for himself the anguish, hardship and suffering of the Hebrew people, and then to play his part in their liberation. Over and over again,the biblical God is revealed to be on the side of the oppressed, not the powerful.

Indeed, the Exodus story continues to inspire and sustain political struggles for liberation all over the world. Oppressed and marginalized people see themselves in the story. They are moved by the compassion of God who hears the agonizing cries of people crushed under the weight of oppression, the God who sees their plight and takes their side, and acts to liberate them from a life of subjugation, dehumanization, and bondage. This is the God who particularizes divine universal love by preferentially opting for the poor and the oppressed. This is the God who stands with the marginalized against the Pharaohs of this world and their life-negating powers.

The pioneer African American theologian James H. Cone maintained that “the liberation of the oppressed is a part of the innermost nature of God. Liberation is …the essence of divine activity(Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, 67).

May we all, young and not so young, find our part to play in God’s reign of justice and liberation – the essence of divine activity. Amen.

‘Unprecedented Hope’

Published / by Sandy

Rev Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor in the U.S. She was recently asked to give a talk on ‘Unprecedented Hope’, and what follows below is a mini-sermon from that talk (originally published here on July 27, 2020) in the context of her personal life journey and the events unfolding in the U.S now. Scroll to the end for the video of Nadia presenting this reflection.

First, a reading from Romans: We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. -Romans 8

1.   Labor Pains. As a woman who herself has groaned in labor pains, I love – like, I adore this passage from Romans. I was in labor for 44 hours with my first child; a relentless freight train of pain that just got progressively more intense.  I’m not sure “groaning” is a primal enough word for the sounds I made. To be honest, I was scared and overwhelmed …but the one thing that kept me from completely going over the edge was to think about, despite how weird it all felt, how abjectly normal birth actually is. I kept repeating to myself “Every woman. Every woman.” If every woman throughout history who has birthed a child has ridden this freight train then I can too. Somehow I had to reach back to my fore-sisters and grasp on to their fortitude, their strength, their resiliency. Had I been the only one to ever experience childbirth I would have given up, sure I couldn’t possible survive it. 

2.   Ordination. I was 39 years old when I knelt in front of the bishop in the stone chancel of a beautiful old church as I made some promises. Images of the saints, made from tiny pieces of stained glass, looked down as I vowed to pray and study the scriptures, to bear the burdens and keep the confidences of those I served. And eventually I was asked to make my favorite ordination vow: I promised to not offer “illusory hope”.
Then the bishop and the other clergy gathered around and laid their hands on me, as clergy had laid hands on them at their ordinations by they who had had the same done to them at their ordinations and so on. Merging us all with those saints robbed in colored light, into something strong enough to allow me to answer “I will, and I ask God to help and guide me”
I think illusory hope in that moment of my ordination would have been to cheerfully claim, based on my own feelings or my own history or my own virtues  that yes, I could keep these promises myself. But realhope came from the strength of all the women who had fought for that moment but never saw one of their own, real hope came from the martyrs and the suffragettes and the really old prayers spoken by generations of the faithful.
Somehow I had to reach back and grasp on to the succession of the apostles who came before me. Had I been the only one to ever experience ordination I would have given up, sure I couldn’t possible fulfil it.

3.    Pregnancy. Ingrid Rassmusen is the pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in South Minneapolis – the church that happens to be directly across the street from the police precinct that was burned down in protest of George Floyd’s murder. The day after it burned Ingrid posted a video (see below) showing us the scene around her church – police in riot gear, smoke rising, helicopters overhead. A few minutes into the video you realize Pastor Ingrid is moving a little slowly because she is 8 months pregnant. Before the video ends she’s in tears, both about her community burnt down around her, but more so about the generational pain and injustice that caused the upheaval – and in a halting voice she reminded us of Harlem the Langston Hughes poem …that what happens to a dream deferred is that it explodes. Her congregation, by the way has been transformed into a massive food bank and community organizing center and is feeding and providing services to their community in profound and needed ways as they rebuild. I think I saw the real thing in that video – like, actual hope. It was a hope of the Christian variety because it was the kind of hope that still stands after being drudged through good Friday first. I’ve thought about her so much recently. Her baby nearly ready to be born as helicopters circled above Minneapolis, Minnesota.

4.   Death. Over 130,000 Americans have died from COVID in the last few months. Maybe one or more of them were people you yourself loved. One of those who passed was Michael Van Myers. Mike served as a minister at my parent’s church of Christ for 47 years including in the mid-eighties when, God bless him, I was in his youth group. That day in the Winter of 2008, when I knelt and promised not to offer people illusory hope, I was ordained as a Lutheran Pastor…. but the church I was raised in doesn’t allow for such things. Women are still not permitted to preach in most of those church, although many have been called. Mike and I still saw each other a few times a year and we shared a deep love and affection for each other. And he would tell me that he was proud of me and my work.  When it was clear that Mike was not going to make it, and was near to death, hundreds of his friends and parishioners gathered in the parking lot circling the hospital, socially distanced and in masks and they sang hymns while he passed from this life to the next. The human eye could not see it, but my friend Mike was already pulled way too deeply into the arms of his loving savior to bother with hope in the form of wishful thinking. When he passed, surrounded by the hymns of his church, Mike reached forward to the great cloud of witnesses in which he now resides.

5.    Unprecedented Hope. So… all of that is to say, I realized this week that my struggle with knowing what to say about unprecedented hope was not about the hope part after all – it was about the unprecedented part. Because for it to be a hope on which I can truly rely, it has to be a hope for which there is indeed a precedent. It has to be a hope that has been worn smooth by the tears and prayers and struggle of our ancestors in faith, through Sarah’s laughter, and Hagar’s steps and Mary’s labor. For it to be a hope in which I can trust, it can’t be unprecedented. It must be already established in those who came before me. By Martin Luther and Fannie Lou Hamer and Marsha P Johnson. Those who have come before us have already lived through pandemics and social upheaval and loss and grief and death and labor pains. Which means we are never alone in our struggles. That has never mattered more to me than it does now. 

By the way, a few days ago Pastor Ingrid Rasmussen had her baby. Due to COVID, she had to do it without her husband present, but she said that she felt surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses. They named him Lars. He was born on the 50th anniversary of women’s ordination in the Lutheran church (U.S.). 

So, I guess I just want to say that no matter what our lives look like in this moment, that something stronger, deeper and more beautiful is moving around us, sweeping us and all those who came before us, and all who will follow, up into God’s really big story. 

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. From our first breath to our last and beyond. Amen.

(Nadia has podcasts under the name of Confessionals. She is the author of three New York Times bestsellers – Shameless, Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the wrong people, and Pastrix).

Posted by Ingrid C. A. Rasmussen on Friday, 29 May 2020
Rev Ingrid Rassmusen on Facebook Live, walking in the neighbourhood around her church in South Minneapolis in the aftermath of riots after George Floyd’s death