Messages of Hope

Month: June 2020

Sanitizing history

Published / by Sandy

To everything, there is a season (Ecclesiastes 3)


The pulling down, removal and defacing of statues around the world has had mixed reactions – some applauding the eradication of statues of slave traders, some saying the statues need to be retained to remember our history. Toppling statues marks a break with the past, but makes it more difficult to learn from it, and to see how that past still shapes the present.

In 2017, when the statues of Governor Macquarie, Captain Cook and Queen Victoria were defaced, Bill Shorten suggested that additional plaques be made to indicate that contemporary thinking may have moved on. Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt says, “Statues can remind us of things that were offensive. That’s a good thing. He also suggests some of the statues may be more valuable if an additional plaque is added to explain and honour a different perspective. That’s also a very good idea”. (Amanda Vanstone)

Similarly, Condoleezza Rice, former US Secretary of State and the first black woman to hold the position, has commented: ‘Don’t sanitize history by taking down monuments. I am a firm believer in ‘keeping your history before you’ and so I don’t actually want to rename things that were named for slave owners. I want us to have to look at those names and recognize what they did and to be able to tell our kids what they did and for them to have a sense of their own history. When you start wiping out your history, sanitizing your history to make you feel better it’s a bad thing”.

“Erasing the past, however painful it may be to remember it, is a mistake. Imagine if the German government sought to have all the concentration camps from World War II levelled to the ground. Wisely, they spend millions of dollars maintaining a visible reminder of a terrible past. It is right to say we should never forget the Holocaust. We need to be reminded just how terrible things can happen. We might be able to stop a repeat event. But how can we tell people to never forget something if we never told them of it in the first place?” (Amanda Vanstone)

Lea Ypi writes: Focusing only on whether statues should stay or go obscures how unjust histories are still borne by current structures. The struggle is broader than toppling offensive monuments and removing problematic traces of the past. If we scratch the surface, we may discover that since capitalism has historically relied on colonial structures to survive, it may be difficult to demand the end of one without demanding the end of the other.

Julia Baird’s article is worth reading. She writes: One of the more perplexing arguments made in recent days is that toppling, relocating or removing old statues amounts to the erasure of history. It is in fact the very opposite: it is history. To seek a fuller understanding of the past is not wrecking, but restoring, salvaging and deepening history. History is not just a set of facts but a series of questions, a mode of inquiry that seeks to comprehend and put flesh on dates, events and places, to understand and include all possible perspectives, all while knowing that, until about 50 years ago, history was almost solely written by white men, about white men. This history was comprised of flawed, incomplete and often deceptive stories that not only excluded vital records, but were frequently used for propaganda purposes, and the buffering of myths like: all war is good, mighty and noble, if somewhat sad; the expansion of empire was jolly impressive; all important people sat in parliament or courts; and women and non-white people have not done particularly much of note for millennia. What has happened to statues – rolled into harbours, set aflame on their plinths, defaced with graffiti, hung with signs – is merely the visible form of what historians have been quietly doing to the myths of the past for decades – documenting a more complete account. The time for a public reckoning with the ongoing legacy of slavery, the horrors of colonial expansion, and the fact that we have not considered violence against people of colour, or women, to be of particular note, has come. We need to stop thinking about history as a kind of binary “positive” or “negative”, as either nice or bad, but as something that reflects all of the wild chaos, dark violence, and glorious triumphs of humanity; the story of all of us.

The story of all of us.

What might this look like in considering the history and practices of the Church, and as we consider the Biblical narrative – the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures. What have we preferenced, and ‘placed on a pedestal’. What has been overlooked? What do we name, reframe, ‘tear down’, read or do differently? The following insights come from an article by Gretta Vosper in which she reflects on Jesus and Martin Luther (though the same lens could be used for other reformers). She writes:

Both Jesus and Luther honoured their traditions. Though we long assumed Jesus was Christian, we now know he wasn’t; he was a Jew. Luther learned the only acceptable religion of his day, a Rome-centred Catholicism. They were steeped in their traditional religions, born into and formed by them. Like everyone around them, they were supposed to fit in. Their education, far above the level of the average believer, was supposed to further hone their beliefs. It was not supposed to expose the little hypocrisies and gross abuses that had been so artfully woven into the everyday business of religion. Once noticed, however, the normal way of doing things became unacceptable. There were no options for Jesus or Luther but those that would bring about catastrophic change in their religious traditions. Even as others fought to maintain the status quo, forcing banishment or conspiring toward more final solutions, the Reformers laid out and presented their arguments. And the world changed.

We stand on the shoulders of great men and women. Countless Reformers dared challenge the norms of their day – religious, political, economic, and social. And they did it at great cost. We are grateful to them for their struggles, for their lives, for their blood, and for the first discomfort noticed that set them on their course. They created the world in which we live, the freedoms we cherish, the perspectives we are welcome to embrace or refuse, the right to make our own decisions, whether wise or foolish. They set in course the possibilities from which we have chosen our new realities and so have become, with them, co-creators of the world we know.

They also, however, created gross disparities and abuses that yet plague humanity and the planet: the economic enslavement of whole nations for the provision of privileges assumed by others; the legal jargons that entrap indigenous peoples in politically ritualized battles for sovereignty; the lines that set out who is worthy of the right to choose their own lifestyle and who is not; the notion that humanity is separate and above the natural world rather than enfolded within and vulnerable to it; the entertainments by which we anaesthetize ourselves to the truths that quake around us; the cruelties endured by herded, caged, and crated animals so we might pleasure our taste buds and sooth our sun-scarred skin. And we, in making our choices, remain co-creators, complicit in a litany of normals that, had we the heart of Jesus or Luther or the millions of unnamed men and women who have poured their lives out in the pursuit of justice and compassion and the building up of love in the world, would make every one of us a Reformer.

There is a legacy in the Reformation that I believe belongs in the middle of our work, calling out the power brokers, the hegemonists, the deceivers. Ours is not the work of complacency or settling for imperatives that take decades to conjure only because it takes that long to soothe the sensitivities of those still wielding ecclesial powers that make no difference to the challenges facing our world. Our reforms must be much bolder, our work in the world more creative than what those beyond our walls believe is all we do. It may be that humanity is facing the greatest crises of its too-brief history as it reels with the challenges of global warming and climate change, exponential population growth, and resource depletion. There may be no future moment for us to step up. Now may be all there is. Literally.

Change is our very birthplace. It is our right and responsibility as heirs of the Reformers, to stare down every comfortable “normal” that sings its siren song and refuse to be enchanted by it. It is our right and responsibility to count up every ease and privilege we enjoy and educate ourselves about its source – what makes it possible? Who pays for our pleasures and how? And when we find that “normal” is built on the subjugation of others – our tea, our chocolate, our party-ready shrimp rings – work to redistribute or limit those pleasures until all have access to shelter, security, food, clean water, and the joy of planning for their children’s futures.

Humankind:survival of the friendliest

Published / by Sandy

Rev Liellie McLaughlin (Community Connections Coordinator) is currently in Canada to be with family, and ‘enjoying’ the required time in isolation. She writes:
“I am so blessed to have heard some great ‘good news’ in the form of Rutger Bregman and his new book: ‘Humankind, where he places the emphasis of our future as the survival of the friendliest (rather than survival of the fittest).

Rutger believes that humankind is far kinder than most people assume as he quotes studies to prove that bystanders would help 90% of the time, rather than be mean. He asks those people who believe that compassionate work mainly comes from our own selfish desire to feel good, to wonder how the world would have been like if we felt nauseous if we did something good for something else….says that we are ‘wired to be inspired’.

(4.40 mins)
(11 mins)

If one basic principle has served as the bedrock of bestselling author Rutger Bregman’s thinking, it is that every progressive idea — whether it was the abolition of slavery, the advent of democracy, women’s suffrage, or the ratification of marriage equality — was once considered radical and dangerous by the mainstream opinion of its time. With Humankind, he brings that mentality to bear against one of our most entrenched ideas: namely, that human beings are by nature selfish and self-interested.

By providing a new historical perspective of the last 200,000 years of human history, Bregman sets out to prove that we are in fact evolutionarily wired for cooperation rather than competition. He offers little-known true stories: the tale of twin brothers on opposing sides of apartheid in South Africa who came together with Nelson Mandela to create peace; a group of six shipwrecked children who survived for a year and a half on a deserted island by working together; a study done after World War II that found that as few as 15% of American soldiers were actually capable of firing at the enemy.

The ultimate goal of Humankind is to demonstrate that while neither capitalism nor communism has on its own been proven to be a workable social system, there is a third option: giving “citizens and professionals the means (left) to make their own choices (right).” Reorienting our thinking toward positive and high expectations of our fellow man, Bregman argues, will reap lasting success.

On the flipside, when we want to blame (stereotype?) people for their poor decisions….. people’s IQ falls by at least 15 points in scale when they go through thin times. He concludes that if leaders assume the best in people, then our policies will be much kinder, inclusive, and create hope, and cites this quote from George Orwell: Poverty annihilates the future.

Bregman states that he believes that the most dangerous thing to lose is hope….!

Sounds like the beatitudes without the Bible verses….

Enjoy!

(this post includes a quote from a Goodreads review)

Book published June 2nd 2020 by Little, Brown and Company

A Courageous Presence With Racism

Published / by Greg Elsdon

A Courageous Presence With Racism

Tara Brach explores four steps that help to deepen our attention to what is real so we can respond wisely to the suffering of racism. Tara Brach, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, an internationally known teacher of mindfulness meditation, and bestselling author.

This is the transcript of Tara Brach’s talk that explores how we can offer an honest and courageous presence to key domains of fighting racism. This talk was recorded amid the global events following the death of George Floyd in May 2020.

For the original presentation which includes opportunities for further reflection see: https://insighttimer.com/blog/a-courageous-presence-with-racism


There are, in these moments, continual protests in the streets ignited by the brutal murder of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by a white policemen. As we know the protests are about a world more than the tragedy of the particular killing last week; they are really about centuries of violence against indigenous, black and brown bodies, hearts and minds. William Faulkner said, “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.” I think this really applies. And in particular anti-black racism is the core wound of the American culture. And people are protesting now – and some of them violently as we know – because the trauma of the suffering just keeps going.

In one picture I saw a protest in Tampa, Florida. A 5-year old black boy said, “Stop killing us. Stop killing us.” Martin Luther King said, “A riot is the language of the unheard. As long as America postpones justice we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.”

So, my friends, I start like this because it feels like a crucial enquiry for us: What will end racial violence and oppression? I believe we each have a role to play in fighting racism; we each have to bring a medicine to these times, each one of us; and it matters that we bring it forth; it matters that we respond wisely right now. This is what we’ll be exploring together.

I’d like to acknowledge in this talk I am speaking as a white woman and like everyone in a racist society I am having to uncover my own racism; I am still in process; so I want to name that. And I am aware that while many of you are joining me are white, I am also grateful to know that many of you are black and brown and there are indigenous people. And I ask your forgiveness – I wanted to start this way on purpose – for any lack of understanding or sensitivity I might express.

I want to also name that this is one of the hardest talks of my life. And I think for most of us some expressions of suffering penetrate more deeply or more regularly than others. And for me racism is like that. I care so much. Black lives really matter, truly.

These last days watching that video of George Floyd’s murder and just this sense of the heartbreak of “yet another”, it’s been crushing. It’s been heart-breaking. On a Zoom call with one of my black friends I was so struck – this is what stood out – her tiredness, just this kind of exhaustion or despair at the daily-ness of violence against her people, tiredness and exhaustion. I’ve been in touch with others who feel devastated, anger, grief, everything you can think of, the whole range and called to act. I had friends on the streets yesterday in DC telling me “This was when the president called in the police and the national guard to shoot tear gas and flash grenades into a peaceful crowd and he was clearing his way to pose in front of a church.” And one friend filled with this fear and agitation about what’s going to happen said, “We have to be in the streets to save our lives. Will the president deploy military force against us?”

How To Respond To The Suffering Of Racism

So, we’re asking ourselves – and this is kind of collective, I’m joining you and you’re joining me in this inquiry – what are some ways that we can deepen our attention so we can respond wisely to the suffering of racism?

Step 1: Acknowledging What’s Real Inside Us

The first step is really the message of “start right where you are” — with the willingness to open to just what you are feeling right now. The friend I mentioned who is so tired – she is a black teacher, leader, very powerful woman – and she was saying, “Of course I’ll respond and soon but first I’m pausing so I can just feel what’s here.” And I just want to note for her, a dedicated activist, that’s not months of cave time but it’s knowing that for her to be her best, to be that medicine, she needed to pause and get in touch. We are so quick to strategize and fix that we can skip over really connecting inwardly. And then we just react from habit; we are driven by avoidance or fear.

This is the first step, always — and we have to keep coming back to it again and again, to keep pausing and honestly acknowledging just what’s real inside us. We can’t move to the second step – which is attending to those who are most vulnerable, most threatened – if we haven’t connected inwardly and acknowledge what’s here. We are just not going to have the presence that can see.

Step 2: Seeking To Understand

We are being called in these times to really look deeply at the pain that’s around us. And here I’m particularly addressing those of us who are white because if you are listening and you are black or a person of color – brown, indigenous – you may feel absolutely overwhelmed by the suffering of oppression and to white people… we can’t feel exactly what black people are feeling right now but we can accompany black people. We can bring our presence and commit ourselves to seeking to understand, to seeking to feel with.

In The Shared Village: A Reflection

Last Saturday during our weekly Satsang – that’s the gathering offered online for people that want to explore their questions – one woman spoke. She was born in Nigeria, and now lives in the United States. She was talking about how hard it is to just hold the magnitude of the violence, the horror of the violence, against black people here. And she shared an African proverb that I wanted to share with you. It says,

“The child who is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.”

This has been an important part of my reflecting and I’d like to invite you to join me in that.

In our shared village – at least for Americans – for over four-hundred years black people have been enslaved, demeaned, exploited, imprisoned and lynched. They are the tormented child. And we know this at least conceptually. To the white race black lives have not mattered. Expendable. 

So, to relate to this… I mean, how do we relate to this? How do we really let that in how that continues today? One of the ways is we can reflect how in our own lives we felt rejected from the village. Some of you may be listening and know that either in your family or in your social circles you are living with a sense of not feeling loved, not feeling accepted or respected. Each of us at some times felt rejected, marginalized, not okay. Some of you have felt really unsafe. Some of you grew up in situations and know the feeling of being truly threatened, shamed, physically violated. And if you are not black, some of us are brown indigenous or belong to religious groups that have been violated for generations. We know the feeling of the child that is being pushed away. We each know it somewhere in our psyche. So can we pause and remind ourselves of where we know about that? What has it been like for you to feel not belonging, to feel disliked, to feel hated, to feel unsafe with others?

There is a place in us that knows. We know from every vantage point of the village. And we know how natural it is when you feel like your life doesn’t matter to someone else, the feeling of hurt and rage, to seek your human needs, to meet them. And sometimes when we react to blame and aggression – sometimes violent aggression. 

We each have that capacity in our nervous system, it’s built into us, and as many of you know when we feel rejected, unlovable and violated we often burn ourselves in self-hate – it’s part of the process – we hate those that make us feel unlovable but some part of us believes that we are not okay.

What we are exploring here in this second step are ways we can stretch and seek to understand. And you might imagine, and this is for you who are white: Would you want to be black, treated in this society as black people are? I mean, can you imagine being anxious daily about your teen, every time they go out: “Will they come back? Will they be killed? Will they end up in prison?” Because so many mothers have to live with the truth that their teen is at great risk of being killed or injured, being put in prison.

About six years ago I participated in a vigil of grieving mothers grieving the deaths of unarmed black men in the street. And just bearing witness to that and then imagining: wow, what would it be like? Could you imagine that, having to be grieving because your unarmed child was brutally murdered by the police? Can you imagine it? It’s hard to go close to. And, more broadly, can you imagine daily being viewed as inferior, as potentially a criminal or as too angry or as dangerous?

This is the second step: We stretch ourselves to attend where this pain, woundedness, incredible injury of not belonging lives in black people in the village because the truth is our heart holds the village, we are holding the whole village, we can’t be awake and whole if a child in our heart is hurting. So we deepen our attention.

Step 3: Knowing Our Part In Causing Harm

Just as we’ve all been harmed by the village, because the toxicity of our culture harms all of us, and just as we can attune to those who are most horrifically harmed because we are part of the village, we participate in the harming. The third step of deepening attention is the courage to face this truth. And this is really, really difficult for many in the white race.

Here I speak again as a white woman to white people. The legacy of racism is not our personal fault. But we carry its poison in this assumption of black inferiority. Unless we examine ourselves we will not be conscious of it. And daily we reap the benefits of the centuries of violation. And that’s what’s meant by “white privilege”; it’s how we have this privilege of being able to have access to the best jobs, the best homes, the best education, the best healthcare and justice. It’s white privilege that so many whites will make it through this pandemic possibly — we’ll see but it’s likely  — without dying. Most of us will not die. Most of us will not be financially devastated, but black Americans are and will be. 

That’s privilege. That’s the benefit of the centuries of exploitation. And I’d say perhaps the deepest expression of white privilege is that a part of our village is hurting and they’re forced to try to save their lives and for white people responding to this pain feels optional. We may care, we may do some things, but it feels optional. We forget that this is a child in our heart.

Many of you perhaps saw what Barack Obama wrote last week. He quoted a friend of his. It was very powerful.

“The knee on the neck is a metaphor for how the system so cavalierly holds black folks down ignoring the cries for help. People don’t care. It’s truly tragic.”

A friend of mine in Oakland was describing a gathering she was part of and there was what she called “the howl” and it was a weeping and wailing chant, “Black Lives Matter.” She described just the chant going over and over again and how people were sobbing as they were chanting, and, of course, that got me crying. It’s like this asking the world to believe and know black lives matter.

For white people, knowing our part as a race in causing harm, how do we hold it? And I invite you to look at that in yourself. Like how do you process that if you are white being part of a race that has caused so much horrific suffering? I mean, do we feel guilty or shamed? Do we feel angry because we feel, “Well, I didn’t do it personally” – that’s called “white fragility”. And do we blame people of color for being reactive or over-reactive – “You are too angry or too hostile, now you are rioting!”? Do we cut off? Do we get numb? Or do we just live with that experience – “Well, I have been wounded, too”?

I have heard this. It’s called “Oppression Olympics”. And the truth is there is huge intersectionality; that many groups are oppressed, that the society creates incredibly poison and harm for many of us, but the truth is that no group in America faces the same murderous type treatment as the black community – taking the lives, the bodies, the respect.

I don’t think we can examine racism and white privilege on our own. There are too many ways that it feels dangerous and we don’t want to be with it or we can’t really look. I think we need each other. We really need to be with other white people just as people of color need safe affinity groups, containers, to unpack their suffering.

It’s not my fault and yet I can be responsible

Some years back I led a year-long group with people on white awareness, a white group. It was one of the biggest wake-ups of my life. It was a painful process towards being more whole, like I really belonged to the village because my heart was opening to the child I hadn’t been paying attention to quite in the way that I needed to. 

Some time after I began a three-year group – that was a mixed race group – where we were exploring racism and really, in a deep process of getting to know each other, building trust. And for the first bunch of months I felt anxious and self-conscious and completely unnatural like I was inside tied up in knots. There was no spontaneity, it was hard for me to really listen or be real, I felt unreal. And then I got it: white guilt. And as a teacher and leader in my community I think underneath was that sense, “I can never possibly do enough to make up for this suffering.”

So I brought RAIN – that practice of mindfulness and compassion – to what I was feeling. I recognized and allowed it and investigated the belief that “I am failing, I am never enough,” and sensing how pervasive that was and bringing a lot of nurturing to that. The real message to myself from my high self or my awake heart was “Trust your caring.” And what was so interesting is that by working with that guilt, waking up from the guilt, it actually deepened my realness with others in the group and also my dedication, the sense of really fighting racism. It was the sense of “It’s not my fault and yet I can be responsible, I can respond.”

A Reflection

The point that I am hoping to explore with you is that it really takes intention to take off the blinders and wake up to the racism in us all. It’s society’s racism. It’s like fish in water; we’re breathing that air.

Writer Scott Woods puts it this way, he says,

“Racism is a thing you have to keep scooping out of the boat of your life to keep from drowning in it. I know it’s hard work but it’s the price you pay for owning everything.”

Step 4: Responding As A Part Of The Village

As we explore together, we really are looking at how a courageous presence is only possible if we put aside the judgment. We can’t get to healing unless we get to the truth of what’s happening inside and around us. Can we feel what we are feeling? Can we stretch and sense what others are experiencing? Can we have the courage to look at our own part, our own contribution, our own way of participating? This is the Buddha’s first and second noble truth: recognizing the suffering and its causes.

We’ve talked about these three steps. The third seeing our conditioning, our own conditioning to perpetuate the harm. The last step I’d like to talk about is responding. And there is no way to do this adequately. I’m just going to name some things. But I want to share a story before we close that’s really touched me. But before that Angela Davis writes that it’s not enough not to be racist, you need to be anti-racist, that’s active. “Lean into your courage and push aside your caution. No one benefits when allies are cautious.”

Taking the wisdom of these two women there are many ways we can each move forward. And each of you is going to bring your own medicine in your own way. But what’s important is your intention to engage, your intention to engage, not to wait. And one thing that many white people have found helpful is to join the organization SURJ – it’s called Showing Up For Racial Justice – to advocate justice for George Floyd, to help support the work of black lives groups like Black Lives Matters, groups that are fighting for police accountability and social justice, join rally’s or stay at the edges and be the physical barrier between protestors and police, speak up when you see police brutality, vote and when you go to the pol select leaders at every level not based on party but purpose: Are they dedicated to equity and social justice?

Last week at the satsang, another African-American friend attending – he is also a preacher and a psychologist – wrote a powerful call-to-action. He said,

“To my white brothers and sisters,

Helplessness is not an option. Our society has the virus of white supremacy built into every strand of its being. The thing you can do: address the strands that intersect your life. Go to the mat with your racist and racialist family, friends, community. Confront your wonderful innocent grandmother who doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about those black people. Challenge your otherwise loving and supportive brother who doesn’t see the big deal with Trump. Disrupt dinners that would be otherwise peaceful because you don’t talk politics.”

We need to act because we are part of the village. We need to save and serve all of our lives. Martin Luther King says, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.” When we stop being silent there really is this deep goodness that we feel, it’s really in alignment, that we are moving toward wholeness, being who we really are, and then we can bring our care and sincerity to acting for justice.

Digging Soil At A Lynching Site

I’ve been following this ongoing memorial service on the site where George Floyd was murdered where people from different races are gathering peaceful with candles and prayers and they are sharing their food and a remembering, there is something about remembering and caring that really nourishes our spirit. And you can feel this kind of soul-nourishment in the story told by a social justice activist Bryan Stephenson. He says,

“We have been doing this thing where we have people go to lynching sites. And we have them collect soil from the lynching site and put it in a jar. And in our museum we have hundreds of these jars of soil that were collected from lynching sites. And we have the name of the lynching victim and have the date of the lynching. And it’s been really powerful to give people an opportunity to do something tangible, to do something redemptive, to do something restorative, and people come and they go to these places, we give them a memo, and it’s really powerful. 

We had a middle-aged black woman come to one of our events. And she was nervous about going to a lynching site by herself but she was fired up and we gave her the jar and we gave her the memo. And she went out to this lynching site, pretty remote area. She got really nervous but she decided to do it. So she went to the place where the lynching took place. She was about to start digging when a truck drove by. And there was this white man in the truck who slowed down and stared at her. And then she said the truck stopped and turned around and drove back and the man stared at her some more. And then it stopped. And then this big white guy got out and started walking towards her. And she was very nervous. 

Now we tell people, ‘You don’t have to explain what you are doing. If you want to say you are just getting dirt for your garden feel free to say that.’ And that’s what she intended to do. But when this white man walked up to her and he said, ‘What are you doing?’ she said ‘Something got hold of me and I turned to that man and I said, ‘I’m digging soil because this is where a black man was lynched in ninety-thirty-one and I’m going to honor his life.’’ And then the man stood there and said, “Does that paper talk about the lynching?’ and she said yes. And he said, ‘Can I read it?’ She gave the man the paper and he stood there reading while she was digging. And then he put the paper down and stunned her by asking, ‘Would it be okay if I helped you?’ 

And then she told me that this white man got on his knees and he started throwing his hands into the soil with such force and his hands were getting coated with black soil, they were turning black, and he was putting them in the jar, he kept throwing his hands, and it moved her. And she said the next thing she knew she had tears running down her face. And he stopped and said, ‘Oh I am sorry. I am upsetting you.’ And she said, ‘No, no, no. You’re blessing me.’ And they kept putting soil in the jar. And they got the jar almost full and she noticed toward the end that the man was slowing down and his shoulders were shaking. And she turned and she looked and she saw the man had tears running down his face. And she stopped and she put her hand on this man’s shoulder and she said, ‘Are you alright?’ And that’s when the man said to her, ‘No. I’m just so worried that might have been my grand-parents that were involved in lynching this man.’ And she said they both sat there with tears running down their face.

At the end of it he stood up and said, “I want to take a picture of you holding the jar.’ And she said, ‘I want to take a picture of you holding the jar.’ And they both took pictures. And she brought this man back and they put that jar on our exhibit together.

Now, beautiful things like that don’t always happen when you tell the truth about history, when you try to actually look for redemption and restoration, when you have every reason to be afraid and angry but until we commit to some acts like that, until we tell the truth, we deny ourself the beauty of redemption, the beauty of restoration.”

Each one of us has a medicine to bring to these times. Each one of us can put our hands in the soil and participate. It’s about courageous presence, telling the truth about us seeing the truth in others and creating a village that really embraces and creates safety for all its children, the world that we believe in. 

Pastoral Statement – Racism and police brutality

Published / by Sandy

3rd June 2020, originally published on the UCA Assembly website

(a special service of lament will be uploaded to the Pilgrim Uniting Church Adelaide Youtube channel on Friday 5th June which may be used by individuals, groups or churches)

The national leaders of the Uniting Church and the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress have shared grief, outrage, and prayers of solidarity with civil rights protesters in the United States, where the murder by police of African American man George Floyd has sparked global anger against racism and police brutality.

Assembly President Dr Deidre Palmer and the Interim UAICC National Chairperson Pastor Mark Kickett have issued Pastoral Statements.

“I join with Christian leaders from around the world to express my outrage and deep sorrow over the murder of George Floyd, and the evil of racism, which gives birth to such acts of inhumanity,” said Dr Palmer.

“I offer prayers for the Floyd family and for all those in the US who live in fear and ongoing discrimination because of the colour of their skin.

“We join in solidarity with all those who are working for justice, equity and healing in the US and particularly with our partner churches, who are deeply committed to this struggle for justice.”

Pastor Mark Kickett described the inhumanity of Mr Floyd’s death in the US as “mind-boggling”.

“Today, along with so many people and communities worldwide, I encourage us to be that light that shines upon the darkness of bigotry, racism, intolerance and hatred and to be that beacon of hope and life with a message of hope and peace that emanates from the Prince of Peace, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ,” said Pastor Kickett.

“As Christians we are called to arms and to stand up against injustice and oppression. The Prophet Amos (Amos 5:24) speaks very clearly in relation to this matter where he says; ‘But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream’ – a line Rev Dr Martin King famously echoed in his “I Have a Dream” speech.”

The Assembly President commented on the US President’s inflammatory response in co-opting a Washington church for a photo opportunity.

“In the Bible, our sacred text, we hear God’s cry for justice for those who are living in poverty, those who are oppressed by unjust systems, those who are excluded and discriminated against.”

“For the President of the United States to brandish the Bible as an assertion of power over people seeking justice, is an affront to the prophetic and radical call of Jesus.

“The Jesus we know from the Gospel stories, calls leaders to use their power in service to others, to call forth in others compassion, justice and kindness, unity and community. These are the leaders, we are called to be and that we need in the world today,” said Dr Palmer.

Both Dr Palmer and Pastor Kickett urged Australians to focus their attention on racism in our own country, particularly at the end of National Reconciliation Week.

“Here in Australia I am constantly reminded of the journey that First Peoples, my people, have had to endure and are continuing to endure and yet the resilience of the First Nations continues to shine through such great adversity,” said Pastor Kickett.

“We began this National Reconciliation week by saying we need to strengthen our actions for justice, healing and reconciliation,” added Dr Palmer. “This is not an abstract call – it is seen expressed daily in our relationships with one another in this country.

“It is seen when we:
* call out racism.
* tell the truth about the history of colonisation, dispossession and the undermining of First People’s culture, language and spirituality.
* advocate for First People’s voice to be heard in determining their future.
* respect and appreciate the culture and stories of First Peoples, and work together to deepen our relationships based on reconciliation that arises from justice, and leads to healing.
* live in harmony with the sacred land that we share.

“To stand by and remain silent is to be complicit in contributing to a system and world that is against God’s intention for us all. What God desires is for us to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8)”.

Prayer by Dr Deidre Palmer
Risen, Crucified God,
We cry out for justice for the family of George Floyd and for comfort for all those who mourn his death.
Forgive us for the sin of racism, and the ways we fail to acknowledge that all people are equal, created in your image, deeply loved and of infinite worth.
Forgive us for our silence, and the ways we are complicit in racist attitudes and actions.
Stir in us vision, courage and determination to work for justice in Australia.
May your Holy Spirit fill us with your compassion and reconciling love, that we might walk together as First and Second Peoples in mutuality, respect and delight in our shared life and destiny together.
Through Christ, our liberator we pray. Amen.

World Council of Churches statement on racism in USA

Summoned to faith

Published / by Sandy

Professor Walter Brueggemann is a highly respected Old Testament scholar, teacher, prophet, pastor. He writes prolifically online and in print. He has just published his 100th book, Virus as a summons to faith. In the forward to the book, Nahum Ward-Lev writes: ‘ “The summons Brueggemann hears in the devastation caused by the Covid-19 virus is the same summons that all prophets hear in the midst of calamity: the call into right relationship with Living Presence, a call into deeper, more caring, and mutually beneficial relationship with all that is. The devastating effects of the virus summon us to renew our covenantal relationship with God and to renew our responsibilities within that relationship.”

In an online article entitled, Abandoned, Brueggemann reflects on how we move forward in faith amid despair, through disciplines of faith. He writes: The coronavirus has caused many people to feel abandoned, and in actuality to be abandoned. I have been thinking about biblical articulations of a season of abandonment. To be sure these abandonments are not on the scale of being God-abandoned, but they no doubt move in the same sphere. We are all familiar with Jesus’ cry of abandonment on the cross: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34), quoting from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1)

It is worth noticing that Psalm 22 moves at the end to a great assurance and affirmation: “From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the midst of the congregation I will praise you.
” (vv. 21-22). It is possible that Jesus implied the entire Psalm, speaking not only of abandonment but also of God’s rescue. God is always present. As a result, abandonment on the lips of Jesus is not the final word.

And yet, we need to recognise the lived reality of people’s lives – the genuine experience of divine absence and the real experience of being abandoned. Any assurance that flies in the face of this lived reality is not likely to be compelling or reassuring.

Let us entertain the claim – pastorally, theologically, historically – that Israel in exile was indeed God-abandoned (and that Jesus on the cross reiterated and replicated the abandonment of Israel). This claim is pastorally useful amid the virus, because it recognizes honestly and takes seriously the lived reality of those who die without the presence of loved ones, those who are left economically bereft, and those who are mandated to continue to work in unsafe environments.

The summons of faith amid abandonment is that we should in such circumstance maintain, with intentional resolve, faithful practices and disciplines that belong to our baptism. There is an antidote to despair in the regular practices of the disciplines of faith. It does not seem a far stretch to imagine that these practices that fend off despair include at least the following:

  1. In seasons of abandonment people of faith tell sustaining stories.
    In ancient Israel they told the big stories of YHWH’s faithfulness, accounts of deliverance and transformation. These are the stories that evoked the characteristic mantra of wonder in Israel: “For God’s steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1, 2, 3, ff.) The telling of stories of the actions of the faithful (like Elisha who fed a hundred hungry people, 2 Kings 4:42-44), resonates with contemporary stories of generosity and sacrifice amid the virus. The telling of such stories keeps our attention fixed on life-sustaining reality in contexts that seem death-delivering.
  1. In seasons of abandonment people of faith sing defiant songs.
    There can hardly be any doubt that singing is an antidote to despair. The songs of Israel are indeed these stories, big and small, set to rhythmic beat. The repertoire of such singing is limited and clearly defined, staying always with the wonderful transformative wonder of God, and with the attentive compassionate mercy of God. The singing constitutes a defiant act that refuses to permit life to be defined by circumstance. Life – the whole life of creation! – is occupied by the unutterable wonder of God. Such singing is not unlike the “We Shall Overcome” singing of the Civil Rights Movement. Israel’s hope-filled singing is not restrained by the shabbiness of circumstance.
  1. In seasons of abandonment people of faith pray without ceasing.
    The prayers of Israel, along with the songs and stories of Israel, focus relentlessly on the wonder of God. The prayers of Israel are prayers of praise and thanks, voicing God as having faithful powerful agency in the world. The prayers of Israel easily address God as “Thou” (You!)
    Your way was through the sea, your path through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron” (Psalm 77:19-20).
    In the presence of this overwhelming “Thou,” however, Israel does not hesitate to voice the legitimacy of “I” and “we”: “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God; In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord…I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints” (Psalm 77:1-3).
    Thus the prayers of Israel, with articulation of “Thou” and claim for “me,” gives voice to both sides of the fidelity that sustains in the midst of abandonment.
  1. In seasons of abandonment, people of faith perform story, song, and prayer.
    These covenantal acts, however, do not permit faithful people to withdraw into a closed or simplistic sense of “I-Thou” or “me and Jesus.” People of faith practice neighborly obedience. Thus Zechariah can say, just as Israel emerges from exile:
    Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor, and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another“. (Zechariah 7:9-10)
    There is nothing remarkable about this catalogue of obligations, except that it is mouthed just at the cusp of homecoming. In its season of abandonment, Israel had not forgotten – and always remembered – that the performance or covenantal fidelity – even amid abandonment – consists in radical, restorative neighbourly actions for those left behind. To the familiar triad of “widow, orphan, immigrant,” the prophet adds “the poor.” Action toward the left behind who are treasured by God is a primary strategy for resisting despair in abandonment. Even abandonment does not diminish the urgency of the life of the neighbour!

These practices that might be given many forms of articulation are disciplines of resistance. Even (or perhaps especially) in dire circumstance of abandonment Israel does not cease to be the faithful people of the absent God. Such actions refuse despair, because they constitute an act of both remembering and hoping. At the same time these disciplines refuse denial because they look circumstance full in the face. For every praise there is a lament. For every thanks there is voiced need. For every act of neighbour, there is a sense of the legitimacy of self. By such resolved practices faithful people are not overwhelmed by circumstance. They rather redefine circumstance as a venue for a chance to live differently by fidelity that yields energy, courage, and even joy.

Brueggemann concludes: I am not, dear reader, making this stuff up; you can see it every day among the faithful!

This is adapted from the first of three articles in a series published by Church Anew.