Messages of Hope

Month: August 2019

Climate Justice

Published / by Sandy
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg meets with Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Photograph: Gian Ehrenzeller/EPA

Jeremiah 1:4-8 The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” “Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young”. But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Sixteen-year-old Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg has been cast as a modern day Jeremiah, lecturing leaders about the imminent catastrophe of climate change in gatherings large and small, and in countries around the world. 

She caught the attention of the world when she boldly shamed climate change negotiators at the UN Climate Summit in Poland, by saying, ‘you are not mature enough’. In her speech, she said, ‘you say you love your children, but you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes… until you start focussing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis withouth treating it as a crisis’. 

At the World Economic Forum in the Swiss resort of Davos, she told delegates, “Our house is on fire”, due to greenhouse gas emissions and rising global temperatures. “Adults keep saying: ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope.’ But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” She said, people like to tell success stories, but financial success has come with an unthinkable price tag on climate change. We have failed”. 

School students around the world have joined her “strike” each Friday to protest against their governments’ failure to do enough to combat “Climate Change”. They wield such placards as “You’re never too small to make a difference” and “Climate Justice Now”. 

Inevitably, this modern day prophet has been castigated by some in the media including social media. Here is an example in an online post: The idea that some 16 year old kid has insight that is worthy of ‘panic’ is absurd on its face. Like all 16 year olds she ‘knows’ nothing. She has zero life experience, has no idea what money is, has no idea how economics works, has no idea where her own wealth and lifestyle comes from, has never met real adversity, has never accomplished anything at all”. (Yessir Imafat) Others like Andew Bolt have weighed into this space, denigrating her with a statement calling her the ‘”deeply disturbed messiah of the global warming movement”. There will be more pushback, because the stakes are high.

Greta keeps reminding the world the stakes are even greater for her generation. Her passion, courage and plain speaking on climate justice resonates with the prophets like Jeremiah in the Old Testament, chosen by God as a young boy to speak truth to power. God anointed him as a prophet, not to sing the praises to the powers or to uphold the status quo of the politics of his day, but ‘to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant’. 

The nations of the world have put profits ahead of the Prophets, who remind us that the Earth is our home, our mother, and our only life support. Greta is a prophet herself, young like Jeremiah, trying to wake her elders to the consequences of their decisions and reckoning that lies ahead if they fail to see the signs of the times.

Greta invites us to be serious about our planet, and act, as the general consensus is that there are only 12 years left to turn things around. After that, it becomes impossible to achieve the global climate targets. She is standing at the door and knocking, trying to wake up the leaders of the world, inviting us to conversion of heart and lifestyle, and reminding us that every other ethical issue is moot if the earth becomes uninhabitable. May we have ears to hear, hearts to open, and hands to fulfill God’s call for us to be God’s companions in healing the Earth.

The UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer has issued a Call to Climate to the whole church, and encouraged people to join in the Climate Strike activities planned for September 20th.  

The NSW/ACT Synods of the UCA which runs a number of high profile schools, passed a resolution in July to endorse its 10,000 students and their teachers to ‘skip class’ for the September 20th climate change rally, as part of a broader push to respond to the “crisis confronting the planet”. Moderator Rev Simon Hansford said, “It’s their future that is at stake and their protests are genuine and informed and should not be ignored. And as a church this reflects the theological truth of God’s calling for us to be carers of the creation.” The church and its advocacy arm, Uniting, is also allowing its 8000 staff to take time off to attend the rallies, and is encouraging its 50,000 members across NSW and the ACT to support the strikes.

(this article has incorporated material from a number of media sources, and Christian Aid UK, and Bruce Epperly)

A Spirituality of Hospitality

Published / by Greg Elsdon

A Spirituality of Hospitality

by Arlene Scott OP

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.” [Matthew 25:35]

I was raised in a home where there was always room for one more. When I was young, my brothers, my sister and I thought that our mother must be a magnet for lonely, elderly people. Our mother would invite people who were alone to come to holiday meals. She would run errands for them and take them to the doctor. She’d see to it that they were cared for and remember them with gifts at Christmas and birthdays. She even invited some of them to stay at our home during hurricanes. She was drawn into their lives in ways she probably never imagined. Helping someone in need is, for our mother, the most natural thing in the world. Our mother has a spirituality of hospitality.

To serve God by serving others, to love God by loving others, that is the heart of a spirituality of hospitality. Joan Chittister, in Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, asserts that, “The biblical value of hospitality has been domesticated and is now seen more as one of the social graces than as a spiritual act and a holy event.” For much of our society today hospitality has become something reserved for those we want to impress. Hospitality is a business endeavour for those who want to please their customers so to increase their revenue. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if hospitality was, rather, a way of showing respect and care for all God’s people with no return required or expected. A spirituality of hospitality is lived out of an attitude of care and respect for all creation and a belief in the dignity of the human person. It is why we do something that is often more important than what we do.

In order to offer hospitality in a spiritual context we have to take a look around. Who is in need and what do they need? Who isn’t included and how can they be welcomed? Who doesn’t seem to have a voice and what will help them to be heard? Most of us prefer to live in our comfort zones. We don’t notice the student always eating alone, the homeless man selling newspapers, the woman counting her pennies to buy groceries. Some people seem so different from us that we don’t recognize them as our brother or sister.

A spirituality of hospitality calls us to generosity and service. Hospitality requires that we consider how our words and actions affect others and our environment. It requires that we reflect on how our spending or use of materials effect people on the other side of our world. A spirituality of hospitality invites us to reflect on how life might be made better for those who are in need. It calls us to take that reflection to discussion and then to action.

A preferential option for guests in our home means that they have clean sheets and towels, that coffee will be ready in the morning. They are kind acts that help people to feel comfortable when they are away from home. Hospitality, in its broader meaning, is a way of living that goes beyond a thoughtful gesture. How does a preferential option for the poor invite us to be hospitable? We can give some of our time and resources to soup kitchens, food pantries or homeless shelters. We can insist with our voices and votes that policies do not punish people for being por. Those, too, are acts of hospitality. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me.” [Matthew 25:35]

To be hospitable is to be open and receptive to the ideas of another. Do we allow people their opinions? Are we always on the look out for ulterior motives, suspicious that there is a hidden agenda? Do we believe that we have been truly heard only if our own ideas prevail? Are we open to the possibility that others have a piece of the truth? Hospitality is about listening with an open heart to the perspective of another.

Hospitality is about promoting right relationships. Often, hospitality is a reflection of forgiveness. It isn’t easy to extend ourselves when there is a tension between us and the other person. The smallest inclusion or generous action can create space for reconciliation. The openness and invitation to reconciliation can be a most hospitable act.

A spirituality of hospitality is about relating to God through others. Jesus makes it clear, “whatever you did for one of these least of mine, you did for me.” [Matthew 25:40]

 [Arlene Scott OP [1953-2009] was a Dominican Sister. This article was originally published in the Adrian Dominican Sisters Newsletter, Voices in Mission.]

Look for the campfires (of kind and gentle Christian people)

Published / by Sandy

Recently, Mike Frost, author and missiologist, wrote this article for Common Grace. It resonated deeply with me, especially as a different lens for thinking about what’s happening in the world. Yes, troubles and strife have always been part of human history. I can understand why people don’t want to dwell on the difficult issues and to focus instead on the positives, to find what is life affirming and not what is life denying.

And yet, Christian faith takes seriously ‘Love God, love your neighbour as yourself’, for those in the midst of the troubles and the strife, and whose situation calls for compassionate care. Christian faith also calls us to advocate for the poor and marginalised, and to address systemic issues that oppress and dispossess people.

Mike writes:
I had just watched the documentary film, The Final Quarter, about the shocking and sustained racist attacks endured by Indigenous football player, Adam Goodes during the last three years of his career, and I was distressed. Initially I wasn’t sure why, but the outspoken displays of ignorance by columnists and broadcasters like Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and Alan Jones, as they attacked Goodes and defended the booing mob, really got to me.

Then it occurred to me: I’ve often seen these right-wing commentators being quoted by church people to ‘disprove’ things like gender dysphoria or toxic masculinity. Like their favourite Greek chorus, they’ll retweet Bolt, Devine, Jones and Latham whenever they want to defend religious freedom or slam ‘leftists’ for trying to impose cultural Marxism on society. In fact, in their fight to protect our perceived Christian heritage, some church people take great comfort in the broadcasts and columns of Andrew Bolt and the others.
And here they were, that same Greek chorus, baying for the blood of Adam Goodes.  

Moral outrage, when it has power, is deaf. And it’s easy to feel like neither satire nor the Gospel will stay its brutal hand. When right-wing columnists and shock-jocks speak with the same voice as some Christian voices and church leaders, you can be sure we live in a distressing time for those of us committed to the values of the Kingdom of God like justice, reconciliation, beauty and wholeness.

In these dark days, important moral issues are reduced to smart-mouthed hot takes, which sound for all intents and purposes like homophobia, and racism, and fossil fuel yahooism (while always being denied as such, of course). 

In times like these, it’s tempting to go to ground, to be circumspect, to wait for another day. But if we remain silent now we tacitly play into the general assumption that Christianity is only concerned with ending same-sex marriage, supporting indefinite offshore detention, backing the coal industry, and fighting tooth and nail for its own freedom of speech. And this at a time when Australia is obviously being wracked by the evils of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, islamophobia, systemic poverty and ecological devastation.

In a time as cynical and corrupt as this, you need to look for the campfires of kind and gentle Christian people.

These are those good-souled followers of Jesus who yearn for justice for men, women and children seeking asylum on our shores. Not just yearn, but march and tweet and sign petitions and visit their local politicians and take refugees into their homes.     

Look for the campfires of those followers of Jesus who yearn for justice for and reconciliation with their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters, who yearn for an end to family and domestic violence, and who seek protection for our environment, and peace on earth.  

They want what Dr William Barber calls a true moral revival. Speaking about his own country, the USA, he says, “Some issues are not about left and right, Republican and Democrat – they’re about our deepest moral values. And we believe that you have to have a campaign, a movement, that seeks to reshape the moral narrative.” Martin Luther King referred to these people as the moral defibrillators of our time, to shock this nation with the power of love.

We need to show the love of God’s people who remain committed to ending poverty, and violence against women, and offshore detention; to fuel a renewed commitment to creation care and peacemaking, and racial reconciliation.  

I see their campfires in the direct actions of a group like Love Makes a Way, and in the advocacy of people like the Common Grace team, and in communities like Fixing Her Eyes and Parish Collective, and events like the Justice Conference and Surrender. And now is the time for more such campfires to be lit.

As Rabbi Tarfon, a 2nd century Mishnah sage, once wrote, reflecting on Micah 6:8, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” 

(Michael Frost is a Common Grace supporter and the founder of the Tinsley Institute at Morling College. He has written extensively on a missional paradigm for the church in a post-Christian era and has pastoral experience in several Baptist churches across Sydney)

God and Suffering

Published / by Greg Elsdon

by Sally Douglas

Suffering and death are difficult subjects to talk about in Australian culture, particularly western culture.

I recently spent time with someone who was weeks away from death and asked them how they felt about dying. They said I was the first person to ask them this question.

While sex may no longer be a taboo topic within the context of popular culture, death and suffering certainly are.

The silence around suffering and death is fed by fear and the consistent messaging from social media and advertising that insists we should be happy, pain free and living our “best lives” – that is, consuming and achieving.

When we are not, when suffering takes our breath away and we are not able to be “productive” or “successful”, it can be compounded by guilt in that we have failed at living.

The common language of “battling” cancer or losing the “fight” supports this way of thinking and re-inscribes responsibility on to a person who is actually just ill. Such people are not losers in a battle. Instead, in their very bodies they defy the narratives of our culture and testify to the truth that we would often rather not face: suffering and death are part of life and will come to all of us.

When people are forced to face suffering, the common expectation is to medicate or simply get over it. If a person’s suffering won’t conform to these expectations and persists, platitudes of the greeting card variety are often deployed. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or “every cloud has a silver lining”. Such sentiments, which may be offered in genuine sympathy, are greeting card versions of folk Christianity that have little to do with the God of Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, such views (again) imply those who continue to suffer, or who cannot see the good in their suffering, have somehow failed, or have been unfaithful.

Our inability to sit with the real – the realities of our own suffering and the reality of others’ suffering – does so much damage in already profoundly difficult situations. Those journeying with ongoing mental health issues, or their loved ones, will perhaps know this better than any others.

While our culture seeks to deny suffering by medicating or placating it away, the way of Christ has something rather different to say. It is not easy and it is not popular. The strange reality of Christian conviction is that the naked Divine enters the very abyss of our suffering and dying in Jesus and does something from within this vulnerable, awful space.

The reality that Jesus endured a state-sanctioned execution was a terrifying embarrassment for many of his first followers. Their hero and hope had been killed in the most shameful and agonising way by the government. Paul responds, not by downplaying the scandalous nature of Jesus’s crucifixion, but by claiming that in Jesus’s apparent weakness the nature of Divine power is revealed (1 Corinthians 1.18-31).

To take this seriously is to contemplate the shocking reality that Divine power is non-violent, Divine power is forgiving and Divine power does not lord it over others.

Instead Divine power gives of self utterly. And despite, or rather because of, this reality, this Divine “un-power” is more powerful than all our cruelty and violence and hate and fear and death and cannot be extinguished.

These claims about Jesus’s death and risen life are not simply intellectual ideas to be agreed with or dismissed. Nor are they claims that relate only to life beyond this life.

Paul is suggesting something far more provocative: that something is able to happen in our own living when we let this Divine One near us in our suffering. For people who follow Christ Jesus – the one who has been to hell and back – when we allow this One close to us in the midst of our suffering, Spirit can give birth to strange, risen life within us and among us (eg 2 Cor. 1.3-7; Rom 5.1-5). This might come in the shape of fresh wisdom, or surprising peace or wide-open compassion.

These are not qualities achieved through an effort of willpower or positive thinking. They are gifts woven together by the Divine in the vulnerable space that is made available when our egos and certainties have been smashed by life’s circumstances.

In my experience, it is about daring to sit in the dark and be with the pain and questions, not numbing or avoiding them, but naming them and letting the Divine sit with me in these frightening places. It’s then – and only then – that She is able to birth grace.

As the Franciscan Priest and spiritual writer Richard Rohr says: “We must learn to stay with the pain of life, without answers, without conclusions, and some days without meaning. That is the path, the perilous dark path of true prayer.”

No one else can do this for us. The journey for each of us will be different. However, followers of Christ can trust the Divine who we know and name is the One who knows our pain and suffering from the inside, and who will not let us go, and who will accompany us each step of the way.

At the recent Synod Meeting I spoke on the floor about a Christian theology of suffering. This was because we were being asked, as a Synod, to discern our response to the Victorian legislation that has made allowable, within limited circumstances, Voluntary Assisted Dying.

Ultimately the Synod discerned there was a range of faithful Christian responses to this legislation. While this may be true, it is crucial we hold fast to our theology of suffering, both in discernment about our own living and dying, and as we journey with others in their discernment about their living and dying.

In a culture that is terrified of suffering and that seeks to alleviate or ignore it at all costs, in a culture that values productivity and success above all else, our theology of suffering is a radical and disruptive word of hope that is desperately needed.

We are not failures when we suffer. We are still of value when we are not productive. God is not on the side of the successful or the positive thinkers.

The Divine we give our hearts to enters into the horror of our suffering in Christ Jesus in vulnerable compassion and is with us in our pain, and if we let Her close, she who knows us by name, will labour with us, and within in us, to birth unexpected gracious life.

Rev Dr Sally Douglas is minister at Richmond Uniting Church and an associate lecturer at Pilgrim Theological College.