Messages of Hope

Month: February 2020


Published / by Sandy

The coronavirus has infected nearly 80,000 people in 37 countries, causing at least 2,600 deaths so far. To date, South Korea has reported a total of 893 cases, the second most in the world and 484 came from Daegu, the hometown in South Korea of Rev Dr Paul Goh, Justice Officer, and Cross-Cultural Ministries in the SA UCA Synod office.

Paul wrote the following prayer:

Lord, in your mercy you healed those suffering in body, mind or spirit. We cry out to you now on behalf of those infected by the coronavirus. Heal the sick, and bind up the broken-hearted who grieve those felled by this illness.

As both infection and fear spread, we ask for courage and protection for healthcare workers risking their own well-being for the sake of others. We pray wisdom for government officials and those in decision-making positions. May they rightly discern what needs to be done to treat those already infected and prevent others from falling sick.

We know there are those in quarantine, afraid they might be exposed to illness, wondering when they will return to their normal lives, anxious about what might happen next. Comfort them with your peace that passes understanding and grant them patience during this liminal and frightening season.

Lord of all, we are intimately connected to one another no matter where we reside on the earth, and so we plead for healing, good healthcare, relief and wholeness for our siblings in China and in all the places where this virus has made its appearance. May our collective care, effort, resources and love bring an end to this epidemic. Amen.

Religious Freedom

Published / by Greg Elsdon

On 24 January 2020, President Dr Deidre Palmer took part in a forum in Sydney organised by the Public Interest Advocacy Centre on the latest version of the Religious Freedom Bills drafted by the Federal Government.

Thank you for the invitation to be part of this conversation. I hope that at this forum we can progress this important conversation.

The Uniting Church has for many years called for religious freedoms in Australia to be protected within a broader picture of the commitment to uphold all human rights. Our preference is for the development of a Human Rights Act or Charter.

Uniting Church members enjoy the freedom to practice our religion in Australia and we seek to do it in such a way that encourages the wellbeing and flourishing of all people, regardless of their race, gender, sexuality or religion.

We would not want, in exercising our right to practice our religion, to violate the human rights of others.

The fundamental Christian belief is that every person is created in the image of God, deeply loved by God and of infinite value, and that every person is equal before God and before the law.

We have and will continue to advocate for all people to be respected, treated with dignity, and to have their rights protected.

The first and second drafts of this Religious Discrimination Bill give us the freedom to practice our religion.

This is a good thing, although I might add it’s a right which we already enjoy without impediment.

My concern with the design of this Bill is to make sure that protections for religious belief do not undermine the rights, wellbeing and sense of identity of other people.

Over the years women, First Peoples, and LGBTIQ people have suffered from particular interpretations of Scripture and practices of religion that I would call “narratives of harm”, rather than “narratives of hope”.

Within the Uniting Church context, we would expect our congregations and ministry agents to express their faith in such a way that they are contributing to the wellbeing of people and communities in which they are ministering.

From my experience, Uniting Church schools and agencies do not discriminate in their employment practices, and don’t want to either.

The exception we have sought, is the ability to discriminate in terms of belief for key leadership roles within the Church and our agencies, roles that we see as crucial to the transmission of the faith and our ethos. (President, Moderator, General Secretary, chaplains). Generally, in job descriptions for such positions, it is clearly stated that these are essential requirements.

The Uniting Church supports this legislation, where it protects religious minorities who experience discrimination. We support protection for other faiths in Australia. People of Muslim, Jewish and other faiths are much more likely to be the subject of religious discrimination.

We have heard from the Jewish community about the ongoing anti-Semitism they experience and the research from the Islamophobia project has documented ongoing discrimination against people of Muslim faith here in Australia.

To be a welcoming, inclusive, multi-faith and multicultural society, it is important that people are able to freely practice religion without fear.

Christians of all persuasions enjoy and exercise a robust freedom of speech in Australia. But privileging statements of religious belief at the expense of other people’s dignity and wellbeing is not something we support.

Christians in Australia are not persecuted. In Australia, churches aren’t victims. To cultivate some kind of victim status is disingenuous. We are significant, influential organisations, actively contributing in positive ways to the Australian community.

Uniting Church agencies deliver community services to more than 1.4 million people.

Our schools educate hundreds of thousands of students.

To sum up, my understanding of Christian faith and the way of Jesus is that it is about liberation, love and justice for all people.

These are the positive values I’d like to see reflected when Christians speak about human rights.

Whatever the outcome of this legislation, I would hope that both within Australian faith communities and in our wider Australian society, that we would promote respectful conversation among people who have different viewpoints, for the common good of all.

Dr Deidre Palmer

President, Uniting Church in Australia

Salt and Light

Published / by Sandy

REFLECTION on Matthew 5:13-16 – 9th FEBRUARY, 2020
(by Annemarie Reiner, Coordinator, Listening Heart Contemplative Centre)

When we refer to a person as ‘the salt of the earth’ we all have an image in mind of what that means. When we say someone is ‘a light in my life’ we also know what that means. During the bushfires that have happened and continue to blaze across our lands and communities, we are now hearing of stories and experiences of where the ‘salt of the earth’ people, and those who are ‘a light in my life’ have emerged and are inspiring us amidst all the horrendous suffering and loss.

These people often make suffering bearable. They expose us to courage, vulnerability, goodness and what it is to have compassion, to nurture and to Love. Such shocking tragedies often bring out the very best in us. They help move us out of our complacency and apathy and we put all sensibility, selfishness and fear aside and simply ACT from that deepest part of us. We instinctively become vulnerable. How many stories of vulnerability have we heard and will continue to hear that have emerged during these past months? Countless.

In a very real way, many of us have become sterile and allowed our ‘salt to become tasteless’, and have ‘hidden our lights under a tub’ – that is until something happens (like the fires) that can plunge us into who we truly are – people who have each other’s backs, people who will risk their own lives for the other and the ‘whole’, people who are generous, and are suddenly prepared to be vulnerable in ways they never imagined. All of us have been moved and horrified at the same time as we have watched and heard the stories. Many of us may well have been those who truly risked their lives for their ‘neighbour’ (regardless of colour, race or creed) and have survived to share their stories.

Almost certainly their lives and our collective lives will never be the same again. The Australian psyche has been forever changed and the World too has watched on in disbelief.

It seems that mostly we have to lose something before we are able to receive something. This seems to be part of our human condition. Whether it’s losing our security in such a wonderful country, whether it is the loss of loved ones or possessions, or whether we have experienced powerlessness in the face of what is before us, all suggest a loss of something, but also an extraordinary ability to become consciously vulnerable within it all. And it is this vulnerability that has the capacity to change everything for us and for our world.

We live in a time where our Earth is shattering many of our dreams. We no longer can feel secure and are scampering around trying to find ways to sure up our security and our consumerist world, we have been confronted with our powerless in the faces of the many natural forces our beautiful Earth has faced us with, and we are also confronted with just how vulnerable we are in the face of it all and we feel the very essence of our life is being threatened on many levels. We do not like it. Life as we have known it on our Earth is changing – that is our reality now. As long as we scurry around like rats in a feeding frenzy trying to shore up what we have had, and continue the life we have largely enjoyed, to bury our heads in the sand, to ignore our Earth that is pleading with us to LISTEN to Her, then we are like a person holding a garden hose to ward of being surrounded by hundred-metre-high flames in 100km hour winds. It can’t be done.

Our Earth is sending message after message to listen to her. Our scientists are begging us to see that life cannot go ahead with ‘business as usual’. We are not co-operating with our Earth; we are actually working against Her. Australia is quickly losing its credibility on the world stage firstly with our record of the way we treat refugees and secondly as a country that is in denial with regard Climate Change. There is no vision, no preparedness to become vulnerable, and no capacity to see past those words ‘a growing economy’.

Our politicians (on both sides) play us for fools, lie to us about reaching our emissions targets, play economic games with emissions figures, and encourage us to build more coal fired power stations, more dams, ‘adapt’ and become more ‘resilient’ is the advice coming from our Government. We are in CRISIS just as those who have braved these shocking fires are in crisis and are courageous enough to enter into a state of vulnerability and risk everything to survive and help others to survive. In this situation, if we are not prepared to risk, to become vulnerable, to be ‘salt of the earth’ people, to be ‘a light to the nations’ people, then we are leaving nothing for the generations to come and our very survival is in jeopardy.

Even if we doubt the Science (but with what evidence?), if we feel ourselves bound by blind political idealism and damaging loyalty, if we sense our own apathy, the call is to RISE and ACT – why would we jeopardise our human survival and the survival of all life on this planet because of our own selfish needs and often ignorant belief systems? But don’t we keep doing it?

If we are not prepared to become vulnerable, in every sense of the word, then we are ignoring the calls and cries of our Earth. If our Earth weeps, we will weep eventually. When we weep and our Earth weeps, the God within us also weeps. Our God is surely weeping even if we are too blind to see it. If we are not weeping within the Crisis we find ourselves in, then surely we do not know the God we proclaim to know? It is not a political issue, and yet we have politicised it. It is not an ‘us and them’ matter, and yet we have divided it in such a way. It is not ‘she’ll be right mate..’, because it isn’t right. We have now ignored the Scientific warnings and predictions for decades and we have had a taste this summer of what might lie ahead of us in future years – a summer that Science predicted. Our Earth simply will not tolerate being ignored. She is reactive to our ignorance and selfishness, because She, like us, has a deep desire to survive and live to Her full potential. She is like all of us and we are like her.

For those who do not want their privileged lives disturbed or disrupted, for those who have the most to lose as far as assets and business are concerned, for those who can’t be bothered with it all, for those who blindly go along with a particular ideology pushed by power mongers and so often received in ignorance and wherever the rest of us fit into this picture – the message is we must open into becoming vulnerable. We must learn to become courageous, be images of goodness, be people of compassion, and nurture Love all around us – including our Love of the Earth and Her Love for us. We keep breaking the bonds of that Love by our ignorance and refusal to ACT.

It seems pretty obvious that we would be most unwise to rely on the shocking and shameful inaction and political game playing operative within many of our politicians on all sides of politics. It is we the people who must now act. It matters the way in which we choose to live our lives. It matters what foot print we leave upon the Earth. Our consciousness about the Crises we are well and truly facing, matters deeply.

We have great power within us to change what our politicians are refusing to act upon. If we play politics with this, then we lose. What we need to do is embrace the Divinity within us that is prepared to become vulnerable for each other and for our World in a way where we truly become ‘the salt of the Earth’ and ‘a light to each other and other nations’. Because so many of our political leaders are gutless to truly lead, does not mean that is also our lot. It isn’t.

There have been extraordinary lessons emerging as these fires have burned through our various States and communities, and they have scarred deeply our souls and our landscape – our preparedness to become vulnerable perhaps being the most evident and the most Grace filled.

As Marianne Williamson says, and so many of us are familiar with this powerful quote, but perhaps we need a reminder of its confronting challenge to us all:
‘Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’
© Annemarie Reiner, originally published on Facebook 5th February 2020