Messages of Hope

Month: February 2021

Just a cup of coffee

Published / by Sandy

Australian Government ministers have agreed to permanently lift the base rate of the jobseeker payment by $50 a fortnight when the coronavirus supplement ends in March – the equivalent of just $3.50 a day. Not even enough for a cup of coffee at a cafe (average cost is $4).

Photo by dapiki moto, https://unsplash.com/@dapiki

Before the pandemic, the base rate of Job Seeker for a single person was about $40 a day. This week the Federal Government announced it would increase payments by $50 a fortnight, lifting the base rate to $44 a day.

The Uniting Church Assembly has joined UnitingCare Australia in expressing disappointment at this meagre increase in the base rate of the JobSeeker payment.

Those receiving the Job Keeper benefit will get $615.70 a fortnight, which is still a drop from the current rate of $715 a fortnight, when the $150 coronavirus supplement expires at the end of March.

The Australian Unemployed Workers Union described the $50-a-fortnight increase as a “cruel joke”. Perhaps appropriate then that the increase takes effect on April Fools Day, April 1.

The UCA President, Dr Deidre Palmer, said: “One of our key learnings from the pandemic has been that we are only as strong and healthy as the most vulnerable members of our society. The extra support delivered by the Government throughout the pandemic has been a lifeline for many Australians. COVID-19 highlighted in a new way that people who are unemployed need adequate funds in order to live with dignity, remain healthy and participate in society.”

“In 2020, we released our Build Back Better statement which called for a fair and permanent increase to JobSeeker to ensure a safety net for people out of work, but these changes fail to live up to those hopes,” said Dr Palmer.

“We need to do better.”

In recent months, UnitingCare Australia has joined other community sector agencies in calling for a permanent rise to the JobSeeker payment.

This week UnitingCare joined Anglicare Australia in condemning the changes that they say will plunge people into poverty.

UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little said the announcement was a devastating blow to individuals and families struggling to make ends meet.

“Unemployment payments need to be above the poverty line. Increasing the base rate by a mere $3.60 a day is not enough to lift people out of poverty.

“As one of the largest networks of community service providers nationally, we have seen first-hand the positive impact of the Coronavirus Supplement,” said Ms Little.

“One of our services spoke about a young father who is the sole carer of his three small children. He said the impact of the JobSeeker supplement meant that instead of living life on the edge, he has been enabled to be a better father.”

“No one deserves to live in poverty. We need a permanent, adequate increase to JobSeeker that actually enables people to meet their needs and live with dignity.”

Two weeks ago, UnitingCare and Anglicare called on the Government to raise the rate of JobSeeker after releasing research which showed people on the old rate of JobSeeker, which has been frozen for nearly three decades, had forced people to skip meals because their payments were so low.

Many were left with as little as $7 a day after paying their rent. Others were forced to couch-surf. Read the FULL REPORT.  

Facts and figures
March 2020: JobSeeker – $40 a day
April-September 2020: JobSeeker – $80 a day
October-December: JobSeeker – $60 a day
January-March 2021: JobSeeker – $50 a day
April 1 2021: JobSeeker – $43.50 a day
(Could you live on this?)
Those receiving the new Job Keeper benefit will get $615.70 a fortnight (or about $44 a day), which is a drop from the current rate of $715 a fortnight, when the $150 coronavirus supplement expires at the end of March.
Before the pandemic, the base rate of jobseeker for a single person was $565 a fortnight, or about $40 a day.
During the pandemic, the jobseeker payment was initially doubled with a $550 coronavirus supplement before the top-up payment was reduced in September 2020 and January 2021.
The relative poverty line for a single person – set at 50% of median income – is $914 a fortnight, while another measure, the Henderson poverty line, puts it at about $1,100 a fortnight.
Welfare groups, Labor, the Greens and even the Reserve Bank of Australia urging the Coalition not to allow the payment to fall back to the pre-pandemic rate.
Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) had called for a permanent increase to jobseeker of at least $25 per day ($350 a fortnight). The Australian Unemployed Workers Union, backed by the Greens, wanted it raised to $80 a day, which is closer to the rate paid at the height of the pandemic.

A new report from Anglicare Victoria found the coronavirus supplements had alleviated financial stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Anglicare Victoria chief executive, Paul McDonald, said: “The COVID-19 stimulus measures gave people without work a better quality of life, helping them meet their debts and restore their dignity. They gave people more ability to pay off outstanding debt and the research recommends that they should be permanent.”

Sourced from The Guardian, a statement by the Uniting Church in Australia, and ACOSS.

Just another Ashy day

Published / by Sandy

Diana Butler-Bass, writing on her website The Cottage, offered these reflections for Ash Wednesday, in her own context in the USA. Many here in Australia will resonate with her thoughts. She writes:

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent in the second Lent of the Great Pandemic of the early 21st century. 

On Ash Wednesday, Christians go to church, pray a solemn liturgy, are marked on the forehead with the sign of a cross made from ashes as “a sign of our mortality and penitence.” As the ashes are imposed, those who receive it are told: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
(At Pilgrim we use the words ‘Remember that God formed you from the dust of the earth and in God’s hands you shall remain. May this time deepen your faith and love in God‘).

But, I confess: the whole thing is wearying. How is Ash Wednesday really all that different from any other day in this interminable pandemic? 

The entire year has felt like Lent, so today is just another ashy day.

I know that some will protest – saying that Lent is a specifically Christian season to prepare for Easter some forty days hence, that it is necessary for us to consider our death in order to understand the work of God in salvation. 

When I say this entire year has felt like Lent, I’m not just saying that I’m tired of being introspective or don’t want to think about death. The point is that for more than a year now, that’s pretty much all I’ve done – reflect, pray, and read, mostly alone, all while worried that I might die, someone I love might die, or I’d unwittingly contribute (by my own carelessness) to someone else dying. Every time I put on a mask, I think of death and dying. In a year of a half-million deaths of other Americans and millions of people around the world, the Lenten discipline of contemplating mortality seems like one more painful day. 

Add to that all the climate-related crises of fire, ice, water, and wind that have killed far too many people this year, and we don’t need ashes to remind us that the world is heavy with sorrow, and that much that we love is being lost and is ending. Every single day is an exercise in mortality, as we see our dusty illusions of existence coming at us like a haboob (dust storm) in the desert. 

Frankly, I don’t need the church to remind me that I’m surrounded by death this year. I know that. Everyone I know knows that. We are covered in dust.

Dust. Ashes. I know these things. I grew up in Arizona. I know what it’s like to see the dust coming at sixty miles an hour with nowhere to go, to turn away from the dust to keep it out of your eyes, to feel your back blasted with stinging sand. I’ve lived in California. I know what it is like to see a hillside on fire, to know when to run so one isn’t incinerated, to walk in ashy landscapes of death. Dust and ash aren’t merely reminders of death – dust and ash are death. (We know this all too well in bushfire season in Australia and dust storms robbing farmers of their precious topsoil).

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

The church has always emphasized this verse (taken from Genesis 3:19) as penitence in anticipation of death. You came from nothing, you return to nothing. The starkest of all reminders of fleeting existence, the ever-present reminder of death. But the verse also points another direction — not toward death but toward creation. In Genesis 3:6-7 (a poetic account of the beginning), a spring wells up on the dusty earth. From the resulting clay, God fashioned a man, breathed on him, and thus created humankind: The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

Dust may be our ending, but it was also our beginning. Dust and ash are the stuff of creation.

Deserts do bloom. Charred landscapes birth new forests. From dust and ash come flowers and trees and fruitful fields. Dust is not nothing; ash is not nothing. Dust and ash are necessary for life. Repentance isn’t the point. Recognizing the circle of creation, the connectedness of all existence — that is the point.

Somehow, in this miserable pandemic, this endless season of death, even this dust and ash will become the humus of new life, a recreation of who we are, what we do, and how we love.

This Lent, I await the spring rising from the parched ground, and I wonder how we are being fashioned into a new people. I’m looking for water in this dry land. I’ve had quite enough of death. I’m longing for life.

‘About’

Published / by Sandy

‘I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth’ (Isaiah 43.19)

Day 1 of the SA Synod meeting (11-13th February) began with ‘..about’

Neryl McCallum read these words:

‘About…’, God says.
‘I’m about to do a new thing’.
And my mind floods with ‘about’ moments…
Coming in the kitchen and seeing the ingredients for chocolate cake lined up on the bench.
A tree in bud.
A violinist raising a bow as a dancer tiptoes on their toes.
A footy tam running onto the field.
The intense gaze of a basketball player standing on the three point line.
The nervous stance of a groom awaiting a bride.
The chortling of a chook ready to lay an egg.
The frozen bow of a cat stalking a mouse.
The unfolding of an eagle’s wings as the wind ruffles its feathers.
The first rays of gold emerging from the east.
Ants marching underground as rain clouds roll in,
A shower of glowing red sparks in a blackened sky as a fire advances.
The first pangs of labour.
The teetering raised foot of a toddler on the brink of walking.
The intake of breath before blowing out birthday candles.
A coffin held over the ground –

Our days are full of ‘abouts’.
Singular moments
that exist as specks in the expansive breadth of time.
They are loaded with a multitude of emotions.
From excited expectation to menacing fear.
And no matter how solid they seem
we cannot settle into them,
for they are by nature transitory and ephemeral.

But a moment can change everything.
‘About’, God says. ‘I’m about to do a new thing’.

Groundhog Day – that time of the year (again)

Published / by Sandy

February 2nd. Groundhog Day in the U.S.A.

I love the Bill Murray/Andie McDowell comedic movie Groundhog Day and have watched it many times. It’s profound and philosophical. 

I was interested to read this recent reflection by Neil Carter:

Groundhog Day is an audiovisual dissertation on philosophy disguised as cinematic entertainment.  Every year when Februrary 2nd rolls around, I have to pull this movie back out and watch it again because there are so many things about it that I love.  For example, who wouldn’t want a chance to get do-overs for all of their mistakes?  And how many times have I wished that I had all the time I need to read whatever I want to read, have all the conversations I want to have, learn to play an instrument, or learn a foreign language?  It has quite a few of my favorite movie lines as well.  But on a deeper level, Groundhog Day asks a question: What If There Were No Tomorrow?

What if there is no afterlife?  How should we then live? What will order our priorities and guide our choices if “tomorrow” (i.e. life in the hereafter) were removed from the equation?

After spending a long miserable day in his least favorite place in the world, Phil Conners (superbly played by Bill Murray) wakes up the next morning only to discover that he has to relive the same day again in the exact same miserable place.  Then the next day it happens again.  And the next day, again.  And again, and again, and again. 

The movie explores the many stages a person might go through upon learning that they can do practically anything they wanted.  If you were to let a someone have whatever they wanted as many times as they wanted it, how might it change what they want? Upon realizing that he can do whatever he likes, and that there are no lasting consequences for his actions, Phil first embarks on a hedonistic thrill-seeking adventure.  He robs banks, evades cops, crashes cars, seduces women, and gorges himself on every unhealthy dish the local diner has to offer.  Since there’s no meaningful punishment, there’s nothing to stop him from doing as he pleases.  But this only satisfies him for so long.  Eventually the novelty of it all wears off and he decides to set his sights a little higher.  The most interesting and attractive person in town is his producer, Rita (played by the beautiful Andie MacDowell), but she proves much more difficult to acquire.  Intelligent, sensitive, and beautiful, she needs someone much more altruistic and self-actualized than Phil to swoop her off her feet.  He tries but fails to win her affections and soon descends into a period of nihilistic despair.  He tries to take his own life a number of different ways, but he always wakes up again the next morning unscathed.  No matter how bleak the days get, life goes on.

This pushes Phil to re-evaluate what would truly make him happy.  The sensual pleasures were fun for a while but people are complex and therefore want more complicated things.  Phil starts to read interesting books, learns to play jazz piano, learns to ice sculpt, and teaches himself French.  His morning broadcast becomes more and more poetic as he begins to contemplate the deeper questions of human existence.  Before long, this self-absorbed weather diva learns to appreciate the company of people he previously thought were too far beneath him for his time and attention.  In time he learns that the enjoyment you receive from helping others satisfies something deeper than food, money, or sex could ever satisfy by themselves.  He learns the value of contributing to the lives of people around him, not because he would be rewarded the next day for his good behavior, but just because it’s the most enjoyable way he could envision spending this eternally recurring day.

Phil’s impressive knowledge of the intimate details of every person in town revealed that he had spent countless hours sitting and listening to people telling their stories, which is perhaps the most powerful education anyone could ever have. In the meantime, he also learned more about himself and about what really makes a person happy – what makes life worth living. He discovered that investing time and care into the lives of others made for a more fulfilling life.  He had all the time in the world to try out every other way of living and that’s the one he chose in the end.  He would never land that dream job working for the big network, but he would find a way to make his ‘day’ as meaningful as it could possibly be under the circumstances in which he found himself. This is what humans do if allowed the time and freedom to discover for themselves what truly makes us happy.

What Groundhog Day suggests is true of human nature:  We are equally capable of both great selfishness and noble altruism, but the enjoyment of the latter ultimately eclipses the thrill of the former if only you’ll give people the time and opportunity to figure that out.

In the end, Phil grew into his full potential as a human being.  He learned to sympathize with others and to identify with them in their life situations.  He learned compassion, cooperation, and humility.  He also grew in his ability to love and to appreciate beauty.  All the external motivators were removed, and he became a better man for it, the kind of man which Rita wanted to be with in the first place.  In the end he got the girl after all (who doesn’t want the story to end that way?).  He broke the curse by becoming more than the man he was when he entered this purgatorial time loop.  The next day finally came, and a new man greeted the morning, ready to find out what new things could be learned and explored.