Messages of Hope

Month: April 2020

Break the Silence Sunday

Published / by Sandy

Dr Deidre Palmer, President, Uniting Church in Australia, was the guest preacher at the Break The Silence Sunday (BTSS) at Pilgrim Uniting Church, 26th April 2020. This is her sermon.

As I reflected on the message to share with you on this “Break the Silence” Sunday, at the forefront of my mind and heart are those women and children who are not safe in their own homes, or in their communities. Many of them are our neighbours, a friend, a classmate, a work colleague, a member of our church, or a member of our extended family.

People in our communities, who are living with fear, uncertainty and walking on egg shells, with a controlling and violent partner, or an abusive parent.

In this time of responding to the global pandemic COVID 19, “Stay at Home” is a message that is important for us to hear. Limiting our physical social contacts is a major way that we can contribute to controlling the coronavirus impact and protecting the most vulnerable people in our communities.

When physical distancing restrictions were first put in place, I thought of the women and children for whom home is not a safe place. We have been hearing reports of an increase in calls to Domestic and Family Violence helplines across the globe from women who are more isolated than ever, and whose social supports and safety plans are in jeopardy.

The United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres has “..urged all governments to put women’s safety first as they respond to the pandemic.”

In more recent days, as the isolation continues, we are hearing reports, that some domestic violence support services, are not receiving as many calls. The disturbing concerns around this development is that women and children are now isolated at home with their violent abusers, and are not able to phone or contact support people, because of the control the perpetrator has over what they are doing.

This is a time of uncertainty, confusion and fear for many of us.

An important message that we are hearing from our political, health and faith leaders, is that in response to the COVID19 pandemic, we need to work at supporting each other. We may be physically distanced, but we are in this together, interconnected in ways that we may not have imagined 10 or 20 years ago. Being part of community, being connected is important for our flourishing as human beings.

Last week in Adelaide, a 35-year-old woman was murdered. The police have arrested and charged her ex-partner. Sadly, some of the witnesses interviewed by police, had heard a disturbance on the night before, and a woman crying for help, but the police were not contacted. The police officer, who reported to the media and public noted: It is a sad reflection on society, that people would hear a cry for help and not call police. “I am at a complete loss as to why somebody would not go to the aid of a woman crying for help.”

Today we are observing “Break the Silence” Sunday. It is a global movement that calls for us to speak up about rape, and domestic and family violence.
As we face this global pandemic crisis together, we are called to speak up about those who are victims and survivors of domestic violence. We are called to open our ears and hearts, when women and children speak up. We are called to listen and to hear them.

Our Gospel reading today is from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 24, verses 13-35. In this story of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel, two disciples are walking on the road to the village of Emmaus. It is on the evening of the day when Jesus had risen. These disciples are afraid and confused. They are talking intently. Jesus walks alongside them and asks them a simple question: What are you discussing with each other as you walk along? He listens to their story. It is a story of hope: “Jesus of Nazareth, was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people”. It is a story of violence and distress: “our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him”. It is a story of sadness and disappointed hope: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel”. It is a story of astonishment and what seemed an impossible hope: “Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive”.

Jesus comes alongside the disciples in their fear and confusion and brings a message that indicates: perhaps this impossible hope, is not so impossible after all!

In our sadness and confusion, in our distress and isolation, the risen Christ comes alongside and reminds us of who and whose we are.

We are beloved children of God – created in God’s image, of infinite value.

Jesus comes alongside us and listens to our grief, our hopes and dreams, and reminds us of God’s transforming love and liberation.

There are many ways in which the Spirit of Christ continues to journey with us, opening our eyes and hearts and transforming our lives and the lives of the people around us.

As we follow in the way of Christ, as Jesus journeys with us, we are called to walk alongside others, offering hope and compassion. Compassion is “to notice the suffering of another and to take action to alleviate that suffering.”

We are invited to join others across the world, in Australia and in our neighbourhoods, and notice the suffering of those who are experiencing domestic and family violence. We are called to see others through the lens of God’s love and liberation, and be agents of that love and liberation ourselves.

Samantha Power, worked for President Barack Obama advising on human rights policy and served as the US Ambassador to the United Nations. In her Pulitzer Prize winning book: “ A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide.” Power reflects on the situations of genocide around the world, including Armenia, Sarajevo, and Rwanda. In this study of genocide, she coined the word “Upstander”

She describes those who try to prevent genocide or stand up against the ‘genocide’ as “upstanders” – contrasting them with bystanders.”

While she notes that many of us will not be victims or perpetrators of genocide. There are small ways in which we can choose to be “Upstanders”, rather than “bystanders”

“But every day, almost all of us find ourselves weighing whether we can or should do something to help others. We decide, on issues large and small,
whether we will be bystanders or upstanders.” (Samantha Power, The Education of an Idealist, William Collins publishers, 2019, p.132)

Now, more than ever, is an important time for us to be “upstanders” actively engaged in supporting the most vulnerable in our communities.
Now, more than ever, we are called to attend to our neighbours, friends, and family members.

I encourage you as members of the Uniting Church, in this difficult time, to stay connected with your neighbours, your friends, family and people in your communities.

Please continue to reach out and support people who are at risk during this time of physical and social isolation.

In breaking the silence, we are called to listen, to hear, and believe the cries of those who are in situations of domestic violence.

As the people of God, embodying God’s compassion and liberation, we are called to shape environments, personal relationships and communities that are safe havens, where there is mutual respect, care and nonviolence. Environments where people are able to flourish.

As Christians, we have a narrative of hope to which we witness, of a God who loves us infinitely and desires us to be in loving, life-giving relationships with others. We have a responsibility, as followers of Jesus, to be bearers of this hope. Our teaching and preaching, the ideas we uphold about God, relationships and ourselves, can contribute to our understanding of equality and partnership between women and men, and to a healthy sense of mutual, respectful relationships.

During my life time, I have had the privilege to hear women’s narratives from around the world. They are often narratives of hope, of women exercising their gifts, of being invited into their fullest humanity, contributing to the wellbeing of church and wider communities. I have also heard narratives of harm, from women whose sense of identity and giftedness have been undermined by those who have sought to diminish the voices of women and girls, and limited their opportunities. I am deeply saddened, when the diminishing of these women’s voices, has been through an interpretation of Scripture that has sought to justify this as God’s intention for them.

When we promote or support Biblical interpretations and theological understandings that contribute to the inequality of women, to their submission, their subservience, it leaves the door open for the abuse of women and children.

The Uniting Church is among a significant number of Christian communities and churches, whose theology and Biblical understanding affirms that all people are created in the image of God, all are called to express their gifts and are invited into human relationships that are equal, mutual, respectful life-giving partnerships. We are part of global and local movements promoting the equality of all people.

On this Break the Silence Sunday, I urge you to listen to the cries of those who are in situations of domestic violence, and I urge you to break the silence with narratives of hope, of the inclusive, liberating love of Christ.

We are not in the same boat

Published / by Sandy

I heard that we are in the same boat.
That ‘we’re all in this together’. 
But it’s not like that.
We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.
Your ship can be shipwrecked and mine might not be.
Or vice versa. 
For some, lockdown is optimal: moment of reflection, of re-connection.
A chance to relax, read, walk, cook, do a craft, binge on Netflix. 
For others, this is a desperate crisis.
For others, it is facing loneliness, doubt, depression, uncertainty.
For others, home is like a prison and they want to escape. 
For some, a peace, a pause, a rest time away from busyness.
Yet for others, torture: how am I going to pay my bills?
Some ‘fall through the cracks’ – jobs lost, and no chance of financial relief. 
Some are enjoying a feast of music, dramas, orchestras from the internet,
while the artists, actors and musicians are now without incomes.
Some enjoy the chance to ‘let it be’.
Others dread the words, ‘we’re letting you go’. 
Some have come to enjoy the isolation – a slower pace, less responsibility.
Others have found the separation from loved ones painful. 
Cancellations of flights, holidays, events, shows, weddings, and funerals where people can gather to celebrate a life well lived.
For some, life is on hold, joy and celebration delayed. 
Others enjoy a chance for baking and creating, living in the moment. 
Others are concerned about putting bread on the table, and empty shelves. 
Some have enjoyed setting up their “home office” .
Some are anxious about how they will survive financially.
Some families enjoy time with children, creating happy memories.
Some families are pushed to breaking point, emotions running high.
Some want to go back to work because they are running out of money.
Others want to take action against those who break the lockdown.
Some need to stand in long lines at Centrelink.
Some criticize the government for the lines.
Some think the Government is doing a great job. 
Others are concerned about the loss of civil liberties. 
Some are early adopters and adapters, flexible, agile, energised by change. 
Some are disoriented by change, and find it hard to navigate a ‘new normal’. 
Some have experienced the near death of the virus.
Some have already lost someone from it.
Some are not sure their loved ones are going to make it.
And some don’t even believe this is a big deal. It’s just the flu. I’ll be fine.
Some of us who are well now may end up experiencing it. 
Some believe they are infallible and will be blown away if or when this hits someone they know.
Some have faith in God and expect protection and intervention.
Some say this is God’s punishment for an endless array of ‘sins’.  
Others say the worse is yet to come. 
Friends, we are in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat.
We are going through a time when our perceptions and needs are completely different.
And each one will emerge, in their own way, from that storm.
Some with a fresh perspective on what’s important in life.
Others will be burdened with scars on the soul, hidden from view.
Do not underestimate the pain of others even when you do not feel it.
Do not judge the good life of one and condemn the bad life of the other. 
Let us not judge the one who lacks, as well as the one who exceeds them.
We are on different ships looking to survive.
Let everyone navigate their route with respect, kindness, compassion, empathy and responsibility.
(Original author unknown, adapted)

Living with pandemic uncertainty amid the ‘Great Disruption’

Published / by Greg Elsdon

Living with pandemic uncertainty amid the ‘Great Disruption’

by Jonathan Cole

The human psyche is dependent on regularity and predictability for its health. Imagine the psychological pressure of trying to continuously adapt to a world in which the sun rose and set at a different time each day, or perhaps rose for five days and then set for two, then rose for a mere eight hours followed by ten straight days of darkness. Imagine trying to maintain sanity in a world in which there were no seasons, just random daily weather events: minus 6 Celsius and snowing one day, 35 and sunny the next day, a tropical thunderstorm the day after that.

While human social existence by definition cannot attain the level of regularity and predictability found in the natural world, it does come close. This is because humans are veritable creatures of habit, predisposed to create and impose order and regularity wherever possible. Our professional, educational, recreational and familial pursuits and activities are ordered by daily, weekly, monthly and yearly routines, whether it is the fixed times and days of school, work or worship or when, where and how we shop, play and socialise.

With some tailoring here and there for individual predilection, most of us live by the predictable rhythms of personal, social and societal routine. It is this regularity, complementing the regularity of the natural world, that affords us the psychological security to not only live our lives in the absence of daily neurosis, but also to plan for the future, confident in the knowledge that such plans have a reasonable chance of success.

Today, however, we find ourselves living through the total disruption of the stability, regularity and predictability on which our psychological health depends. History may come to know this moment as the Great Disruption — one of those truly seminal events in human history that will animate generations of historians in perpetuity. The sun mercifully still rises and sets with its prior regularity in the Great Disruption, but the stability and predictability of our erstwhile social existence has been left in disarray by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Many have lost their jobs or businesses and find themselves in the grip or on the precipice of financial ruin. Many of those fortunate enough to still have a job find themselves working from the confines of their homes, once the domain of recreation and recuperation away from the pressures of work. Many have additionally been thrust into the role of amateur teacher, in an unprecedented mass home schooling experiment, valiantly and vainly attempting to manage the total collapse of the boundaries that once delineated work, school, recreation and home life. Individual movements have been severely curtailed and social interactions restricted. We can no longer engage in many of the activities that have long given meaning and order to our lives. We now live in the temporary, the ephemeral, the ever evolving and the perpetually changing. Our short-term future uncertain, our long-term future utterly obscure. Time is at a standstill.

We are all painfully aware that we are living through a moment of great political, social and economic upheaval. Our daily lives, right down to what we can do with our hands and where we can do it, are now dictated by a bipartisan, technocratic national cabinet, incorporating every blue and red state and territory government, the federal government and previously obscure medical experts. Bereft of the luxury of time, and thus of careful planning, the national technocratic cabinet (where every word that leaves a politician’s lips “is following the best medical advice”) no longer pursues policies; it announces sacrifices.

But we also live a less remarked, but no less profound, disruption. This is the disruption to our psyche that is a consequence of the myriad uncertainties, individual and collective, created by the wholesale disruption of our social and societal regularity — a regularity that many of us perhaps previously took for granted, but have quickly learned to mourn. Four newfound uncertainties, in particular, now impose acute and previously unknown psychological strain on peoples everywhere.

The first relates to the immediate health crisis. We must all now live with the immediate psychological pressure of knowing that each and every one of us, or somebody we love, could at any moment become infected with COVID-19, and while the statistical probabilities of dying from it vary according to age and co-morbidities (a new word with which we are all now morbidly familiar), no one is immune from being the statistical exception that proves the rule.

In addition to confronting the immediate risk of our own potential infection and death, we live with the attendant psychological burden of being capable of unwittingly transmitting death to others, as political leaders and health experts are wont to remind us daily, if not hourly. We also live with the uncertainty of not knowing the true scale and scope of our disaster. No two experts can agree on the disease’s mortality rate, as it is too early and the data too patchy for accurate diagnostics. We have some insight into a worst-case scenario in Italy and Spain, but remain uncertain whether Italy and Spain foretell our destiny or whether a more benign course, a la Singapore and Taiwan, is still in prospect.

The truth is that we cannot even be certain that Italy and Spain represent the worst-case scenario and Singapore and Taiwan the best, as the virus is a long way from running its full course and the variables of government policy, community responsiveness and demographic profile make predicting the course in its national particularity all but impossible. The horror story of Italy and Spain today might come to represent the best-case scenario in a month or two for many countries back stream. The worst-case scenario a month or two from now might prove to be unimaginably worse than either Italy or Spain today. So we are left in the certain knowledge that the virus will cost lives and disrupt every facet of our existence, but at the same time the painful uncertainty of not knowing how devastating the virus could turn out to be even a month from now, let alone three, six or twelve.

The second uncertainty relates to the sacrifices we are being asked — and in many cases, forced — to make individually and collectively. We simply do not now when, if and to what extent they will work. Will they help Australia avert the fate of Italy and Spain or is delaying the inevitable all one can hope to do under the circumstances? Will we even be in a position to know when, if and to what extent they have been successful? The sacrifices we are making are an investment promising an uncertain return. No one, including the experts, can say for sure when and if the sacrifices will be successful? Indeed, “success” is not clearly, nor easily, defined in this situation. One certainty is that the sacrifices will be painful and, once made, cannot be unmade — at least, not easily and quickly. So we sacrifice on trust: trust that our immediate suffering is both absolutely necessary and will prove efficacious.

The third uncertainty is a consequence of the disruption of time. In addition to the aforementioned uncertainties, we live in complete uncertainty regarding just how long we will have to endure our total disruption. Experts tell us it will be a minimum of six months, possibly twelve, but also plausibly eighteen. We do not know when and if we will overtake the mythic curve we are chasing. Nor what it will actually mean if we do, given vanquishing the curve does not ostensibly promise an end to our social paralysis, a vaccine being anywhere from twelve to eighteen months away. In the meantime, our lives are universally held hostage to the disrhythms of the Great Disruption’s temporal stasis. And so we must carry on our disrupted lives in suspended time under the spectre of death at the hands of a pandemic the deadliness, trajectory, duration and denouement of which we cannot know.

The fourth and final uncertainty is that we do not know who, what and where we will be once the Great Disruption finally ends and a new regularity emerges in its wake. Instinct and common sense suggest that we will be changed by the Great Disruption in ways large and small. It defies belief that we will be able to return to the old patterns of life, as if waking from a nightmare. An even greater uncertainty — and one that compounds an oversupply of anxiety — is that we have no way of knowing at this juncture whether the new post-Great Disruption order will be better or worse than the ancien régime.

We thus live with the tension of multiple plausible futures, ranging from short, painful and recoverable to long, drawn out and apocalyptic. Will the Great Disruption prove to be a moment of creative destruction, a period of intense, extremely painful, yet ultimately short disruption followed by an efflorescence of euphoria, optimism, social cohesion, innovation and creative energy leading to the dawn of a better world? Or, will it prove to be a Hobbesian vision of mass death, bankrupt states, economic ruin, political turmoil, mass unemployment, decrepit health care systems and traumatised societies which have lost faith in the old idols of prosperity, progress, globalisation, capitalism and liberal democracy?

The human psyche is not built to cope with the prospects of a future so variable and unpredictable. Our present lot, then, is to stoically endure the pandemic uncertainties of the Great Disruption in the hope that the new order that comes in its wake will be formed from the fruits of creative destruction, and not simply destruction.

____________________________________________________

Jonathan Cole is Assistant Director of the Centre for Public and Contextual Theology at Charles Sturt University, Canberra. He is the author of Christian Political Theology in an Age of Discontent: Mediating Scripture, Doctrine, and Political Reality.

This article was first posted on Monday 6 April at:

https://www.abc.net.au/religion/pandemic-uncertainty-and-the-great-disruption/12124804

Entering ‘the last week’

Published / by Sandy

(Rev Sandy Boyce shared this witness for the 9.30am Palm Sunday service on 5th April 2020).

Our Lenten journey in the midst of the COVID19 pandemic feels somewhat dystopian. We are living in uncertain times. Lent seems ‘more Lenty’. The theme of ‘the wilderness’ seems more real this Lent, even from the safe confines of our homes.

The streets are empty here in my quiet suburban street, and in streets around the world. Tourist hot spots deserted. Animals venturing out and reclaiming some territory in the absence of humans. It’s all quite surreal.

Self-isolation and other measures will certainly help ‘flatten the curve’ in the battle against COVID19. We may be pre-occupied with our self-preservation, ensuring we stay well. At the same time as we keep ourselves safe, we hope others are doing the same, so that it will soon be safe for everyone. Otherwise, we risk this situation going on for months.

Some of us may relish self-isolation, to enjoy reading, crafts, gardening, catching up on jobs around the house and other activities. Some of us may feel isolation constrains our ‘rights’, and will be itching to regain freedom. Even those in 4 star hotels in Sydney bemoan their temporary enforced confinement. Perhaps the self-isolation suits some personality types more than others. There’s a call out to introverts to check on their extrovert friends, because they don’t know how to do this solitary thing. We need to look out for each other.

Self-isolation with families can be fraught with problems. Like the family at home with young children where a 3kg tub of honey was liberally spread around the house over ever surface, including the TV and computer etc. Not a happy ending!! Self-isolation also raises the stress for those living with domestic violence, and for children who cannot be at school which was the only safe place they had. There’s a lot happening behind those suburban front doors.

In this time of self-isolation and ‘social distancing’ there are also incredible acts of generosity and kindness. You’ve probably seen some of this in the media. You may have been on the receiving end of acts of kindness. You may have played your part in contributing to acts of generosity. Or you may have simply rediscovered what being neighbourly means. You may have seen how important it is to direct our energy to serve the common good. The late Margaret Thatcher, former PM in Britain, once famously said, ‘There’s no such thing as society’. And now the current British PM has said, ‘you know what, there is such a thing as society’. A revelation, that the fabric of a robust society is built on the common good, cooperation, collaboration and goodwill.

The reality of COVID19 has unleashed energy and fresh hopes and determination for how we might live together in our global village. It is interesting that the aspiration to preference the common good comes at a time when everyone is confined to home isolation. Maybe it’s like the whole world has been sent to their rooms to give some time to sort out better ways to act and behave with each other. This is the gift of liminal space – that time between what was and what will be. Thanks to COVID-19, normal is what was. It is gone and will be gone for quite some time. ‘Normal’ as we have known it may not return at all. As Greta Thunberg has astutely pointed out, ‘normal’ was already a crisis. We need a new way forward. One not based on competition and greed but on the common good, and the values and priorities of the reign of God. There needs to be a seismic shift in the way things happen after this period of confinement at home.

Each of us have to choose how we live in this liminal space, to find ways to occupy our time without work, sports entertainment and lists of things ‘to do’. It may be a time to develop spiritual practices. To take up new practices – or recover them. To be more intentional about being neighbourly. To make more phone calls to friends and family.

Despite being physically separated, together we can embrace our shared humanity and the shared experience of facing the unknown together. As those who follow the Way of Jesus, our call is to open our lives to God in a way that is transformative, so that we lean towards empathy, compassion, justice, kindness, care and generosity.

Our 9.30am service of worship on Palm Sunday began with a song that Geoff Boyce wrote this week:

We are…We are the church where we are
We carry the Way in our hearts
Caring together, apart…
Free, Free for the fight for equality
The freedom to live life with dignity
That comes from a sharing humanity
This is our call, to be the #churchwhereweare.

We do not need to wait to regather in the church building to be the church, to live out our call to serve others, following the example of Jesus.

The empty streets in our neighbourhoods and citiies are such a contrast to the procession we know as Palm Sunday, with the colour and spectacle and noise, as people accompanied Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. Perhaps the only connection with the story is that the military was deployed to keep things in order. The might of the Roman army deployed to ensure their presence would keep the festive crowds under control and keep the peace. The Australian Army personnel deployed to help with logistics in a time of COVID-19.

Jesus entry into Jerusalem was a subversive counter-procession. Jesus had a different vision of what God’s reign should be. Not might and power, but justice and mercy. Not the sword and violence, but peace and well-being, healing and wholeness. Jesus entered Jerusalem with the quiet determination to stand for truth and what is right. It would inevitably bring him into confrontation with the authorities. That is the journey that unfolds in Holy Week, to the cross, and to risen life.

As we stand at the threshold of Holy Week,
what does this liminal time in self-isolation ask of you?

Let me finish with this prayer by Brian McLaren: “Spirit of Wisdom, Truth, and Peace, guide us through this difficult time, and help us to resist the temptation to dream nostalgically of the old normal we have lost. Instead, help us lean forward toward a new normal, a wiser and better way of life that is more in harmony with your love for all people and for all creation. Help us better understand and value our interconnectedness on this beautiful, fragile planet. Empower all who serve the common good, encourage all who suffer, and expose all who mislead, whether through ignorance, greed, fear, or malice. Give birth to a new generation of moral leaders around the world, moral leaders who are guided by a just vision for the future rather than limited habits of the past … in our families and faith communities, in our cities and states and nations, and around this interconnected world, for the good of all. Amen.”