God’s liberating hope – Dr Deidre Palmer reflects on the wonderfully diverse church that is the Uniting Church in Australia.
All over the country, Australians are paying tribute to the contribution made by refugees in our communities.UCA
President Dr Deidre Palmer encouraged Uniting Church members to join Refugee Week celebrations.
“This week we celebrate refugees and honour their strength and courage in taking what was often for them a perilous and life-threatening journey to seek safety and freedom,” Dr Palmer said.
Across the world, there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people, including 3.7 million refugees in Asia and the Pacific. Each one is seeking the opportunity for a safe and secure life for themselves and their children.
Despite the urgent need, Dr Palmer said people seeking asylum in Australia faced added challenges as a result of policies focused on border protection, rather than solutions for people in need.
The Uniting Church has long advocated for a more compassionate response to refugees and asylum seekers.
“It is our vision that people who come to Australia seeking safety are treated fairly, that pathways exist for vulnerable people to start a new life and that they are made to feel welcome,” said Dr Palmer.
Currently, about 800 people seeking asylum in Australian remain in offshore detention in Nauru and Manus. While 300 have been approved for resettlement in the United States, there is no plan for those remaining. The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce has expressed its concern for the mental health of those in prolonged detention without any clear path ahead.
Meanwhile, drastic cuts to vital services for 1200 refugees living in our community have left people without the means to buy food, pay for rent and to access vital health care, including trauma services.
Assembly Associate General Secretary Rob Floyd said the Uniting Church and its members continued to work alongside others to create better outcomes for refugees and asylum seekers.
In a recent meeting with the World Council of Churches, United Nations High Commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi said the role of churches was “phenomenal” in helping refugees, in terms of both direct support and advocacy.
Mr Floyd thanked all those in the UCA who supported refugees, whether through advocacy, support services, as a volunteer, giving financial assistance or in prayer.
“An important way people can make a difference is to build strong relationships within their communities and with their elected representatives to create a more just and compassionate response to refugees.”
Mr Floyd recently attended the launch of a new policy plan from the University of NSW’s Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law which outlines how Australia can develop a more sustainable and humane approach to refugees going forward.
Centre Director Professor Jane McAdam said, “A successful refugee policy not only manages national borders, but also protects people who need safety.”
“Every person has a right to seek asylum. As a matter of international law people who come here in search of protection have not broken the law. Australia is actually breaking the law by not offering people protection when they are in need of it.”
The theme of Refugee Week is #WithRefugees with a focus on sharing stories and sharing food together to help build connections and a better understanding of the challenges facing refugees.
WANT TO GET INVOLVED?
Here are some ideas for supporting refugees:
- Attend a Refugee Week event and meet a refugee, or watch videos of refugees sharing their stories, maybe with a group of friends or your congregation. Go to https://www.refugeeweek.org.au/
- Write a letter to or visit your local MP to share your concern about refugees. You may like to join others who are doing this.
Join others: https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/
Tips on writing or meeting your MP: https://nswact.uca.org.au/social-justice/the-social-justice-forum/give-hope-for-people-seeking-asylum/resources/
- Update your social media profile picture with this UNHCR Australia World Refugee Day #WithRefugees frame to show that you support families forced to flee their homes!
- Support organisations assisting refugees. A number of Uniting agencies are doing this work.
- Pray for refugees in your worship: https://www.unitingjustice.org.au/refugees-and-asylum-seekers/worship-resources
- Download the Lost Sheep “Jesus was a Refugee” story for kids here https://www.lostsheep.com.au/stories/jesus-was-a-refugee/
Some years ago, David Hayward reflected on the terms “leader”, “leadership”, and “leadership team”. He commented that “leadership” can give the impression of directing others, telling them how to behave, someone in front of all the others, and that there is a goal to be strived for and conquered. It conjures up images of ambition, competition, manipulation, coercion, exploitation and success. It breeds discontentment for the present reality. It is based on a business model of people-management and is so strongly goal-oriented that it damages the beauty of what is. Love, in this milieu, is in danger of being used as a commodity to achieve the wishes of the visionary leaders.
He was suggesting instead a return to the word “elder”, a term he acknowledges as old-fashioned, but which may be more congruent with the nature of community. “Elder” is not so much about movement outward towards a goal, but is more about growth and maturity. It is about responsibility, service and care. It is about acknowledging the hard-earned wisdom of someone who has a natural influence among the people that isn’t fabricated or artificial, but tangible and practiced. There is less danger of using people to achieve ends. Rather, people are respected as the end in themselves. Love, rather than a means to an end, becomes the end itself.
It may be a good descriptor of Jesus’ ministry.
These reflections came to mind as I pondered the passing of two ‘elders’ in character in our Pilgrim congregation – Brian Jones on the 2nd June and Marjorie Brune this week on the 18th June. Both lived long fruitful lives, and served faithfully for so many years – both in their chosen vocations, and also in and through the church. I have been blessed and inspired by both of them.
In May, former PM Bob Hawke died and there was a public memorial to honour his life. He will be remembered as a remarkable Australian ‘elder statesman’ who served his country with vision, courage and compassion.
I was reminded of ‘The Dash’ poem, about how we ‘spend our dash’ – the small line in a death notice or on a tombstone. The year of birth and death is less important than what’s between those dates – the dash – which represents the years of that person’s life and how they have chosen to live, about their growth and maturity, and about being prepared to take on responsibility, service and care.
I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning to the end.
He noted that first came the date of her birth
And spoke of the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars, the house, the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
And how we ‘spend our dash’.
If we could just slow down enough
To consider what’s true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile,
Remembering that this special dash
Might only last a little while.
(the full poem can be read here)
© 1996 Linda Ellis
Acts 16:16-34 John 17:20-26
Luke tells us that Paul and Silas were on their way to worship in Philippi when they ran into a young girl, a slave, who made a fortune for her owners by telling other people’s fortunes. As the apostles passed before her, the spirit of divination within the girl registered something of who they were – ‘slaves of the Most High God’ who had ‘a way of salvation’ to proclaim. Over the next couple of days, the spirit apparently compelled the girl to loudly announce what she had learned to anyone who would listen. Paul, having listened to the girl for several days becomes very annoyed. He finally orders this truth-telling spirit to be gone in the name of Jesus. Sure enough, it goes.
Why did Paul cast this spirit out? It was telling the truth. Paul and Silas were ‘slaves of the Most High God’, and they were proclaiming a ‘way of salvation’. So what’s the problem? Wasn’t everyone on the same side here? Paul appears not only to miss a golden opportunity to footnote his own authority with an pagan authority already recognised amongst his hearers, but he also prevents that authority from speaking its truth altogether. One could quite reasonably conclude that Paul has not been very bright at this point! Especially when we note that the immediate result is that he and Silas end up in prison!
We shall find some hints toward an answer by turning to John’s gospel. This passage is part of a prayer Jesus is said to have prayed at the Last Supper. Amongst the many remarkable features of the prayer is the close association it makes between right belief, or ‘truth’, and right behaviour, or ‘sanctity’. What counts as truth for the Christian, according to John, is conformity with the love of God as it is revealed in the relationship between Christ and his Father. The truthful life is a capacity for relationship, for loving, which has its origins not in our own, merely human, understanding or experience, but rather in the loving relationship between the Father and the Son. John teaches that truth is not an objective ‘something’ we invent or discover out of our own resources, but a quality of relating that is given by God, given insofar as we allow ourselves to be absorbed and included within the covenantal dance that is the triune God.
Now, what that means for the problem at hand is this; that the truth ain’t always the truth, even when that ‘truth’ appears at first glance to undergird or support our deepest beliefs. Christian truth consists in the bringing together or reconciliation of all reality within the integrating love of the Father and the Son in the Spirit. If we look at truth from that point of view, then falsity is anything that pulls things apart, that divides us into warring factions, any ‘truth’ which actually carves a fissure through the middle of all those things that God intended for each other: things like belief and holiness, theology and politics, prayer and economics.
Christian truth is about inviting everyone to the table, and recognising that which is God in them. False truth sees the other as the enemy. Christian truth is on about reconciliation and relationship, precisely because we are created different but equal. False truth is uttered by lips unwilling, or unable, to transcend the barriers that divide us. Christian truth presents a God who would love the world in and through all that is human and material and ordinary, a God who therefore desires to transform the world’s lust for ‘more’ into a holy desire to lay down what we possess for the sake of the other. False truth, by contrast, is trying to acquire what the other has for itself. It is a hoarder who is forever exacting a price from all who would sit at its feet to learn.
This, I contend, is the reason why Paul, like Jesus before him, refused the evangelism of the demon, even when it apparently spoke the truth. The spirit who animated the slave-girl proclaimed a belief in the Most High God. Yet it also exploited and enslaved the girl for the sake of capitalism, to make a great deal of money for her owners. This, as Paul and Silas were wise enough to see, made a nonsense of its claim to the truth. For the God of Jesus is love. The God of Jesus is not one to use or manipulate another for the sake of personal gain. There was a fatal gap, therefore, between the truth as it was told and the truth as it was lived.
I put it to you that Paul and Silas were thrown into prison ultimately because they privileged the God of love and liberation over the economic realities of dog-eat-dog capitalism, because they refused the right of that ‘reality’ to colonise the truth of love with its divide-and-conquer business plan. This is exactly what Paul did when he cast out that demon – liberation from the exploitative certainties of capitalism, and the gods invoked to support it, in order to create the possibility of faith in a God who loves, and nurtures, and welcomes all people.
Here there is an immediate response – Paul seizes the opportunity to lead the jailer and his family to become a believer in God and faith in Christ.
Rev Vikki Waller, 2nd June 2019
(with acknowledgement of Nathan Nettleton’s reflection)