Messages of Hope

Month: March 2021

From glory to glory?

Published / by Sandy

Nadia Bolz-Weber is an author, ordained minister and public theologian. She served as the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Denver. She is also a three-time New York Times bestselling author. Here’s her theological take on Easter week (which will no doubt invite further reflection on atonement doctrines and theories).

Nadia writes:

I’d like to quickly make a case that we have experienced way too much death and grief and loss to skip holy week.

Palm Sunday used to just be Palm Sunday but in a lot of churches it’s become Palm/Passion Sunday because people were going from the triumphant “Hosanna” of Palm Sunday to the glorious “He is Risen” of Easter Sunday without ever going through the horrifying “Crucify him!” of Good Friday.

And hey, I understand the impulse. Who doesn’t want to go from glory to glory and just skip the messy middle…..like how Jesus ate his last meal with the people he loved most, all of whom (perhaps like me) would betray abandon or deny him, that these friends (perhaps like me) couldn’t even stay awake while he prayed in the garden, that the crowd (perhaps like me) would strike and taunt him for not living up to their expectations, that the people would (perhaps like me) shout crucify him! And twist him a crown of thorns, the fact that Jesus got himself killed in a totally preventable way never once showing enough self-respect to fight back or get himself off that cross…well maybe he had it coming – which is why the passersby would (perhaps like me) shout “for God’s sake, save yourself”. Why? Because we would save ourselves.

That’s the problem with the cross – it feels either senseless or condemning and sometimes both.

I know for myself that at the fundamentalist church I was raised in I was taught that the cross was about the fact that, because I was bad God had to send his son…(and God only had one!)… to suffer and die a horrible death because – well, someone had to pay for the fact that I’m bad. And therefore, being a Christian meant feeling bad enough about all of this that you would then try much, much harder to be good.

I’m not sure which is worse about what I was taught: the fact that we had somehow made God out to be a divine child abuser or that we had made God out to be an angry loan shark demanding his pound of flesh.

Either way, I don’t think that’s really who God really is. But I do think that whole mess is what we get when we think the cross is about us and not about God.

No wonder people want to go from glory to glory and skip the cross.

Because when we think the cross is about us, the only view we can have of God is of God standing in heaven with folded arms looking down at the cross judging us but punishing Jesus.

But the thing is, God isn’t standing above the cross. God is hanging from the cross.

Maybe the problem starts when we think we can know who God is by just looking at who we are and then projecting that up really big. We’re vengeful so God must be vengeful. We are power-hungry so God must be power hungry. We want to smite our enemies so God must want to smite our enemies. That’s why it’s hard to imagine that God would willingly choose to be poured out for us on the cross because, well, we’d never do a thing like that.

Yet in the end, it’s like that quote from Einstein “the same thinking that created a problem cannot solve the problem.” We cannot be saved by a God who is just a bigger, bad-er version of the worst parts of us or a bigger better version of the best parts of us.

But we can see who God actually (is), when we see how God chose to reveal God’s self in a humble cradle and on a human cross.

Because on the cross we don’t see a legal transaction where Jesus pays our debt. We see God. The Word made flesh hangs from the cross as though God is saying, ‘I would rather die than be in your sin accounting business anymore’.

From his rough hewn throne of a cross Christ the King looks at the world and no one escapes his judgment…those who betray him, those who execute him, those who love him, and those who ignore him. He judges us all. From the cross the pronouncement is made and the judgment is final and that judgement is….forgiveness. Forgive them Father for they know not what they are doing is an eternally valid statement. From his cross Christ loves the betrayer, the violent, the God killer in all of us and despite our protests he will not even lift a finger to condemn those who put him up there. Because it is finally only a God unlike us- a God who enters our human existence and suffers our insults with only love and forgiveness who can save us from ourselves.

And, I would contend that through the cross we know that God isn’t standing smugly at a distance but that God’s abundant grace is hiding in, with, and under all the brokenness in the world around us.

God is present with us in all of it.

And while the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross is not about you. It is certainly FOR you.

In fact, God is so for you that there is no place God will not go to be with you. Nothing separates you from the love of God in Jesus….not insults, not betrayal, not suffering, and as we will see at Easter – not even death itself.

So don’t go from glory to glory and skip the cross, because it is there that you will find a self-emptying God who pursues you and saves you with relentless, terrifying love and who ultimately will enter the grave and the very stench of death in order to say even here, even here I will not be without you.

Hosanna in the highest indeed. Whatever it ends up looking like, have a blessed Holy Week. We need it this year. Amen.

(originally posted on Nadia’s website The Corners on 28th March 2021, and slightly adapted for this post)

Nadia’s reflection is a catalyst to consider what we SING during Easter week, and the implicit/explicit atonement understandings in our songs and hymns. One song popular in many churches, In Christ Alone, has caused a lot of controversy. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has dropped it from the hymnal because the song’s authors refused to change a phrase about the wrath of God. The original lyrics say that “on that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied.” The Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song wanted to substitute the words, “the love of God was magnified.” The song’s authors objected. So the committee voted to drop the song. Ian Paul writes: ‘The real danger in talking of Jesus satisfying God’s wrath is that we separate the actions of the Trinity in the cross. It appears to portray loving Jesus saving us from an angry God who metes out his punishment upon the innocent. Instead, we should see in the open arms of Jesus a welcome by a loving Father, who no longer counts our sin against us – it is from our sin and its consequences that Jesus saves us, rather than from a hateful God’. (Read the article here).

Holy Week beckons us into thoughtful, prayerful reflection.

A litany for Palm Sunday

Published / by Sandy

Jesus, you began the week riding into Jerusalem
to shouts of “Hosanna. Save us.”
In this current climate of
the mass shootings and violence,
the intersection of racism and misogyny,
the dislocation of global migration,
the fear of variant strands and a third wave,
the flooding and environmental emergency,
we, too, shout “Hosanna. Save us.”
Hosanna. Save us.
In this trying time, grant us your peace and your strength.

Jesus, you experienced a parade of palms and shouts of joy.
Today, we struggle to raise our cries in jubilant celebration.
Many of us are in shock at the current state of the world.
Many cry tears of grief and loss.
Many live with fear and anxiety.
Many of us worry about the unknown future.
Hosanna. Save us.
In this trying time, grant us your vision and your hope.

You, Holy Other,
do not arrive in Jerusalem on a charging steed.
You enter riding on a donkey.
You, Holy Other,
confuse our love of celebrity with your humility.
You, Holy Other,
confound our lust for winning with your vulnerability.
You, Holy Other,
die on a cross.
You, Holy Other,
are executed.
You are not the way of imperial power and principalities.
You are the way of righteousness and radical compassion.
In your passion,
shake us, confront us, and teach us your ways.
And grant us your conviction and your courage.
Blessed are you who comes in the name of all that is holy and sacred.

(March 2021, Diaconal Minister Ted Dodd, United Church of Canada)

Earth Overshoot Day 22 March 2021

Published / by Sandy

(originally published in Insights online)

Monday 22 March was Australia’s Overshoot Day for 2021. This is the day that Australia has used up its yearly allocation of the earth’s resources. What should have taken 365 days has taken Australians 81 days. We are the seventh worst offender in this regard and if every nation lived as we did this year, we would need 4.5 planets. In 2020, the Earth’s Overshoot Day was 22 August. This was the date that the earth’s ability to regenerate last year was exceeded by humanity’s demand for ecological services and resources.

We are currently in the Anthropocene, a geological period of time commencing around 1800, where human presence and activity is ‘actually changing the direction and course of the evolution of the planet’. We are seeing mass animal extinctions, deforestation, heat waves and catastrophic fires, glacial and polar ice melting with corresponding rising ocean levels, indiscriminate mining and fracking, air pollution, floods and extreme weather events on an unprecedented scale. These are not naturally occurring, but are the result of human interaction with the planet. How did we get to this destructive place?

At a recent Mayoral Reception in Adelaide, Uncle Mickey Kumatpi Marrutya O’Brien, a Senior Aboriginal man and descendant of the Kaurna (Adelaide Plains) and Narrunga (Yorke Peninsula) people observed that white people often have a hierarchy with humans at the top. This meant that humans saw that everything else existed to serve them. For Indigenous Australians, however, this hierarchy is completely inverted. The land actually stands at the top because it gives everything else life – the plants, the animals and finally humans. As such, humans are there to serve and care for everything else, because land is the provider of life.

If Second Nations people in Australia shared this attitude, would our Overshoot Day be as early in the year? Where did this white understanding of human relationship with creation come from?

Part of the answer lies with Christian theology.

Our theology often determines our behaviour. In simple terms, if we have a theology of domination, we are more likely to view creation as a resource for our benefit and we can thus use it any way we see fit. We will see the earth purely as a collection of commodities to use– trees to be cleared, minerals and ores to be mined, water to be wasted, land only as a place for development. Humans have long thought of themselves as living on earth. As Professor David Rhoads points out, For 20 centuries, virtually all Christian traditions have focused on the relationship between God and humans and between humans and humans. In so doing, we have given scant attention to God in relation to nature, nor our human relationship with the rest of nature, nor our relationship with God in and through nature’). We and, more concerningly, future generations are paying for this oversight.

Part of the reason for this is the understanding of Genesis 1:26-28, where God makes humans, blesses them, and gives instruction concerning the rest of creation. The Hebrew word kabash has been translated to subdue or to subjugate and the word radah as have dominion, rule or dominate. While the original writer may not have had violent or human-centred intentions when they first wrote it, over time, this translation has resulted in a very anthropocentric framework for understanding human relationship with nature. It was something created for humans and to be exploited as such.

If we have a theology of stewardship, hopefully we will see creation as actually belonging to God and we are to care for and protect it. We need to have a concept of humans being embedded in earth, that we belong to this planet. Human beings are mammals and have evolved alongside many other species. We are deeply reliant upon the earth for our survival. Clean air, drinkable water, sustainable food are necessities and we cannot produce these without the earth’s interaction.

New understandings of Genesis 2:15 may offer a more positive way of interpreting our relationship with creation. God puts the man in the Garden and he is to look after it in some way. Traditionally, the words abad and shamar are translated work and keep respectively. These are agricultural terms. Other translations for abad are serve, and for shamar are guard, watch or preserve and have more a sense of acts of worship. In this sense, the land remains God’s and we are to care for it in such a way to keep it pristine and nurtured. If we have this as our theology, then our behaviour should respond with protecting, sustaining and wisely sharing the earth’s resources because they are not actually ours, they are God’s.

Another area of theology that impacts our understanding of human relationship with creation is eschatology. If we understand that this planet is not our ‘real’ home and that God is going to whisk us away to heaven for our eternal life, we are less likely to care for the earth now. There is a sense in which God is going to destroy this earth anyway, so there is little point in humans caring for creation. If this is not the case, however, and God is moving toward a restored and redeemed earth and sky, which Christians are participating in, we are more likely to nurture and care for our planet and its creatures.

Another resource is the Earth Bible Project, where scholars read Biblical passages through the lens of ecojustice principles of the intrinsic worth, interconnectedness, voice, purpose, mutual custodianship and resistance of the universe, earth and all its components. By doing so, they try to set aside a history of reading scripture through an anthropocentric and patriarchal framework.

By valuing creation, seeing it as precious and humans as a dependant part of a complex whole, perhaps Christians can be part of changing the date of Overshoot Day.

Dr Katherine Grocott

Grateful thanks to Rev Dr Vicky Balabanski, Director of Biblical Studies at Uniting College in Adelaide, for her insights.

Prayer in response to NSW floods

Published / by Sandy

Torrential rainfall (a ‘once in 50 years event’) is battering the east coast of Australia and New South Wales has been declared a natural disaster. We are thankful no lives have been lost, while at the same time there has been tremendous loss of livelihoods, and property.

Amidst the beauty of God’s creation, we encounter forces beyond our control that bring loss and destruction. Fire, flood and drought are deeply etched into the Australian psyche. We ache with sorrow at the destruction of homes and livelihoods. We offer our prayers for those affected by the floods and for all those working to bring relief and fresh hope. Here is a prayer by Maren Tirabassi in response to the NSW floods.

God who walks across the water,
reach out your hand
to the people of New South Wales,
where the rains continue,
roads are flooded,
dams broken, rivers swollen,
families evacuated from their homes,
where the Australian government
names sixteen national disaster sites,
and rescue workers are at risk.
Reach out your hand, O God,
that makes in those who fear to sink
new Peters
finding themselves lifted
to help a neighbour,
to share food, seek shelter,
care for COVID protocols.
And bless, O Holy One,
the ministry of disaster recovery chaplains*
in the days of rain to come. Amen.

(Maren Tirabassi on her blogsite, Gifts in Open Hands, 21 March 2021)

* Disaster recovery chaplaincy is an ecumenical network of chaplains established to assist people who have been affected by disasters and major emergencies within their communities.

(World Water Day on March 22 is an annual UN observance day that highlights the importance of freshwater. The day is used to advocate for the sustainable management of freshwater resources. Still a high priority despite the floods in NSW).

Professor Will Steffen from the Climate Council writes:
It’s been devastating watching the worsening flooding disaster unfold. New South Wales and Queensland have been hit particularly hard so far, whilst 10 million Australians are currently subject to an extreme weather warning covering every state and territory except Western Australia. Many people have been asking over the past few days how flooding events are being influenced by climate change, so here are the facts.

Globally, the risk of extreme rainfall and flooding events like those currently devastating Australian communities is increasing with climate change. The global average temperature has already risen by around 1.1°C, and for every 1°C rise in temperature, the atmosphere is able to hold around 7% more water.

This extra heat and moisture means more energy for weather systems that generate intense rainfall, and in Australia, we’re already seeing an increase in the intensity of heavy rainfall events.

Our weather over summer and autumn has also been influenced by a La Niña event, which tends to bring more rain for much of Australia. But it’s important to remember: everything we are experiencing today is occurring in the context of a rapidly warming planet.

Reflections on Harmony Day 2021

Published / by Sandy

A sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce, on 21st March 2021 (Harmony Day)

Rev Dr Grace Ji-Sun Kim is a Korean-American who preached here at Pilgrim in 2018. She teaches theology, and is a prolific author. Grace introduced us to the notion of intersectionality, a framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities combine to create different modes of privilege – and discrimination. We all have multiple aspects to what makes each one of us – age, race, gender and sexual identity, physical abilities or disabilities, religious identifications, family background, marital status, education, income and social class. This gives privilege to some, and endless marginalisation, discrimination and denigration to others.

It’s a lot to get one’s head around, and especially when the common narrative from political and community leaders and media seems to be in the realm of binary, polarised, ‘us’ and them’ dualistic thinking.

I had cause to remember Grace this week when news came out about the shootings in Georgia this week with 8 people dead. Turns out the majority of victims were Asian, women from South Korea (Grace’s place of birth) simply at work in their workplace. It wasn’t declared a hate or racist crime because, according to the police spokesperson, the 21 year old white shooter, baptized a couple of years ago in a Baptist Church, was just having a bad day (dealing with is own demons). White privilege. In response, Grace wrote an impassioned article, urging people to listen to stories of people who live with discrimination, suffering, marginalization, racism, and racialization.

In her book, Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide, Grace challenged readers to imagine an intersectional church, a practice of welcome and inclusion that embraces difference and centres social justice along all the axes of identity including age, race, sexual identity and orientation, economic status and more. What would it look like to have church that is inclusive for all sorts and conditions of people?

March 21 is Harmony Day, celebrated each year, the same date as the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (which in turn recognised the 1960 Sharpeville shootings).

In Australia we celebrate cultural diversity, inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone. It is intended to celebrate the cohesive and inclusive nature of Australia and promote a tolerant and culturally diverse society. The message of Harmony Day is Everyone Belongs. It is a day of cultural respect for everyone who calls Australia home – from the First Nations people of this land to those who have come from many countries around the world. Our communities are stronger when we understand the stories, motivations and hopes of those we live alongside; when we recognise what connects us, not what separates us.

So, happy Harmony Day!

Harmony Day is a one day community celebratration that should be at the heart of our Christian community every day – our core DNA, that transcends the ‘isms’ and celebrates diversity as an integral part of God’s kin-dom family.

I was interested to learn about this statement from Duke Memorial United Methodist Church which is read in their church each Sunday: “As our Lord Jesus Christ calls us to love and accept every person, we welcome into our life together those of every age, race, ethnic background, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, family or socioeconomic status, educational background, and physical or mental ability. In our commitment to the reconciliation of all persons as beloved children of God, we celebrate our diversity and recognize the sacred worth and dignity of all. We invite you to join us in our faith journey toward discipleship in Christ with mutual respect, understanding, and love.”

What would it mean to focus our attention, not on people like us, but to people who are considered different, who are often ‘othered’? What would it mean to intentionally seek out greater diversity? 

This morning’s Gospel reading is set in Jerusalem, with an influx of visitors for Passover. People who spoke different languages, had different accents, food, customs, clothes. Some of the visitors had a Greek heritage. Foreigners – even if they lived in the same country alongside Jewish people. Some Greeks went to Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples. They had no doubt heard about Jesus, raising Lazarus from the dead. For some reason they didn’t feel worthy enough to approach Jesus themselves. They simply said, Sir, we want to see Jesus, to really see him, person to person, face to face. They wanted an encounter, an experience of Jesus.

Interestingly enough, we never learn whether these Greeks got to see Jesus. As soon as Philip and Andrew tell Jesus that some Greeks have come to see him, it sets in motion the transition to Jesus’ passion. Jesus begins a difficult teaching saying, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus immediately looks ahead to the cross.

Fr Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, in his book Falling Upward takes a look at the journey of life each person is on. He writes:
“One of the best-kept secrets, and yet hidden in plain sight, is that the way up is the way down. Or, if you prefer, the way down is the way up.” Jesus continues his difficult teaching on the grand reversal – the ones who love their lives will lose them; those who hate their lives, will keep them for eternal life. The way of greatness is in service and humility and sacrifice. The way down is the way up.

History tells us that countless others have also said, ‘We want to see Jesus‘. That’s what unified the early church – a focus on the inclusive and salvific love of Jesus. As the early church grew, it did so across ethnicities and languages. It cut across cultural barriers among rich and poor, men and women, leaders and servants, all now worshipping God together in spirit and in truth, living out of love for each other. It’s more than tolerance or friendship. The Gospel unites otherwise disparate people together in Christ.

Theologian Palmer Becker sums it up this way:
“Jesus is the centre of our faith,
community is the centre of our lives,
and reconciliation is the centre of our work.”

Each person is made in God’s image and is deeply loved by God and should be able to live life abundantly. We don’t actually need Harmony Day, because as a church we are called to live it every day – a church known by love for one another, of peace with justice, of healing and reconciliation, of welcome and inclusion.

Part of our confessional life must be to recognise the way we don’t live this out, to recognise that in the church we have people who remain on the margins – the powerless, the downcast, the outcast. We have silos of exclusion. We tend to keep to our own people, to what is familiar to us.

If those Greeks in our reading were to show up in our churches today, would they see Jesus, embodied in our living and our community?

A friend shared this poem this week by Rebecca del Rio:
“Come new to this day. Remove the rigid overcoat of experience, the notion of knowing, the beliefs that cloud your vision. Leave behind the stories of your life. Spit out the sour taste of unmet expectation. Let the stale scent of what-ifs waft back into the swamp of your useless fears. Arrive curious, without the armour of certainty, the plans and planned results of the life you’ve imagined. Live the life that chooses you, new every breath, every blink of your astonished eyes.”

Reflecting on this poem, Steve Koski writes:
“Arrive curious. Curiousity is a spiritual practice. Imagine the spiritual practice of meeting every single person, event, and feeling that shows up in your life with a deep and abiding curiosity. Imagine if you were able to pause and notice, observe, wonder and be curious instead of living from a state of habitual reactivity. Curiousity means instead of snapping at someone because you’re angry, you sit for a moment with the feeling and energy of anger in your body and notice it. Observe the angry tirade of thoughts. Imagine if you were able to sit with this uncomfortable feeling for a moment. As the poem says, leave behind the stories you’re telling yourself about this anger for a moment and, without judgment, be curious. What can you learn about yourself? Be curious: How are you being triggered? What old things are coming up for you? What if you became curious about the person who triggered your anger – what burdens are they carrying; what pain is unhealed; what grief do they hold?What would happen if you waited and didn’t react? What would your deepest wisdom advise in this moment? What is the most loving response you could have in this moment? What response would free you from those old patterns that no longer serve you? There is a space between whatever pushes our buttons and our habitual reactions. That space for most of us is razor thin. Curiosity is the spiritual intervention that widens that space and sets us free from those habitual reactions that no longer serve us. Curiosity creates calm, welcomes wisdom and helps us see things in new and unexpected ways.

Let us together commit to the spiritual practice of curiousity – to be curious about each other’s stories, to listen deeply, to build caring community. Together may we work for a world where we embrace our differences and stand strong, united in our shared humanity, embraced by the love of God. Together, may we continue to embody reconciliation, love and peace.

May it be so. Amen.

#March4Justice

Published / by Sandy

(originally posted on Uniting Church Assembly website)

Uniting Church women and men were among tens of thousands of people who took to the streets across the nation on Monday 15th March calling for an end to violence against women. The March4Justice rallies took place in 40 cities and towns across Australia, with huge crowds swelling the capital cities.

The rallies called for justice and equality in Australian society and an end to the systems, attitudes and culture that allow sexual violence and harassment to continue.

UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer applauded the women and men who took part in the March4Justice rallies.

“The exceptional turnout at the March4Justice events show there is deep desire in Australia to see meaningful change and justice for women who have experienced violence,” said Dr Palmer.

“I am grateful for all those women who have had the courage to speak out about their experiences and for the passion for justice among those who took the time to march.”

“As the Uniting Church, and as followers of Jesus, we are called to name gender-based violence as a sin against God and a breach of the love, trust and care that Christ embodies and calls us to model.”

“All women should experience safety, respect and dignity and the fullness of life that God intends for us all.”

“We support all those calling for justice. Enough is enough.”

Organisers at the rally in Canberra presented a petition to Government with more than 135,000 Australians calling for independent investigations and greater accountability over gendered violence connected to Parliament House. (Brittany Higgins addressed the March4Justice rally in Canberra).

A large contingent from Tuggeranong Uniting Church joined about 5000 people at the protest outside Parliament House. Minister Rev Elizabeth Raine said women within the congregation felt very strongly about the issue and wanted to make their voices heard. “This is a justice issue and there is a gender equality issue that needs to be addressed,” said Elizabeth. “My congregation includes retired public servants who understand there is a toxic culture that makes women more vulnerable when reporting sexual assaults and harassment.”

Elizabeth described the atmosphere as energising. “It felt maybe we could do something, change might be possible.”

Rev Sandy Boyce joined the March4Justice event in Adelaide.

“It really was good to be able to join the thousands of men, women and children who turned out to stand in solidarity and to call for change. The speakers were inspiring and spoke truth to power to a very receptive crowd. I deliberately wore purple, a symbol of lament, and wearing my clerical collar gave witness to the fact that the Church is also concerned about the safety and well-being of women. To quote Cornel West, ‘Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public’.”

Close the Gap 2021

Published / by Sandy

Close The Gap is held on the third Thursday in March each year and is an opportunity to send a clear message that Australians value health equality as a fundamental right for all, and urge meaningful action to be taken in support of achieving health equality for First Nations Peoples by 2032.

The 2021 theme is, Leadership and legacy through crises: keeping our mob safe‘.

The 2021 Close the Gap Campaign Steering Committee report was prepared by the Lowitja Institute, Australia’s community controlled national institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health research. (Click here to download the document).

In introducing the report, the co-Chairs of Closing the Gap write:

“We remain steadfast and persistent in the expectation that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing, being and doing will be respected and understood. The time for governments to deliver has long passed. We invite our readers to connect with the strengths-based examples of our peoples, professionals and communities managing the most complex of challenges such as climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic and suicide prevention”.

“There are countless individual and community level success stories in Indigenous-led health policy, service delivery and human rights sectors. We chose a small section of these case studies for presentation here to demonstrate that investment in the programs that have been designed and led by our people is the most effective way to achieve better health outcomes. Self-determination is critical and to ensure that change occurs, our voices must be heard by governments at every level of society. We perpetually recommend the same approach: to involve us, to listen, to reform and invest. Be it in systemic reform, policy design, service delivery, evaluation or agreeing upon funding, “nothing about us, without us” will be the only successful approach”.

“There is considerable work to do. We remain the only country in the Western world that has failed to eliminate trachoma (preventable blindness) – an international embarrassment. The Indigenous youth suicide rate remains four times that of other Australian youth. We are greatly in need of finishing the unfinished business all Australians deserve: that of health equality. We should start by grasping the opportunity of the Uluru Statement from the Heart – with its full implementation of a constitutional voice, treaty and truth-telling processes. Over the past 12 months, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and allies have embraced the Black Lives Matter movement that helped inform many on the prevalence of systemic racism and the preventable deaths in custody of so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”.

“At times of crises true leadership steps up. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders moved rapidly to safeguard communities when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. Their actions were decisive and designed with each local community in mind and avoided a potential catastrophe. Some of our homelands, once threatened with closure by governments in the past, became some of the safest places in Australia. We know what is best for our people and we are delighted to summarise some of this remarkable and ongoing work herein”.

“This report presents the voices of our youth – our future generations. Our young leaders are showing the way in matters of huge importance such as climate change. In the words of Seed Mob, as sea levels are rising globally, so too First Nations peoples are rising and demanding genuine action on climate change. Climate change is suffocatingly real yet our governments’ responses to the hottest of issues, the survival of all Australians and our planet, are tepid responses at best. Our northern homelands are disappearing under rising sea-levels, to the despair of Torres Strait Islander peoples attempting to sustain their communities as they have done for millennia”.

“In 2020 our leaders finally sat with government, negotiated and co-signed the New National Agreement on Closing the Gap as partners. The investment for health equity is relatively small but must be relative to a burden of disease 2.3 times that of other Australians. As repeated often, a country as ’great’ and wealthy as Australia is capable of delivering health equity for and with its First Nations peoples – just 3% of the population”.

“We present the passionate and wise voices of youth protecting Country and examples of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership successfully protecting communities. We have faith that leadership within governments can and will deliver Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander equity through partnership. We offer clear recommendations. Finally, as Campaign Co-Chairs, we would like to thank the wider Australian public and our members for their ongoing support and commitment to equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

Ms June Oscar AO, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner; Mr Karl Briscoe, CEO, National Association of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Workers and Practitioners
Co-Chairs, Close the Gap Campaign

A prayer for Closing the Gap (by Dr Maleika Selwyn, a GP who is passionate about working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. She lives and works in NSW on the land of the Dharuk and Wiradjuri nations).

Dear Lord,
We thank you for this land of Australia. We thank you for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters who you placed as the original custodians and stewards of this precious land. We pray that as we begin to acknowledge the truth of past hurt it is the start of a deep healing in our nation.
We pray that the gap in health outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and Non-Indigenous Australians will be closed. We pray for all health professionals – doctors, nurses, carers, dentists, administration staff in health facilities – may these health professionals be filled with compassion, understanding, and love as they see their frontline role in helping to Close the Gap. We pray Australia will Close The Gap!
We pray for greater cultural understanding and improved access to health services. Show us how we can each, individually, be a part of making this a reality. Teach us how to love each other and journey together in this process of reconciliation and true friendship.
We pray for those that feel hopeless that they will find their hope in You. We pray especially for the families and communities of Aboriginal people who have committed suicide this year. We pray that you fill the families and communities each with a peace that surpasses all human understanding; that they will know that they are not alone in their grief, that You walk beside them and there is a community around them that loves, supports and cares for them.
We thank you for each of our Aboriginal Elders who have journeyed with their communities through much sickness, hardship, and grief. Fill them afresh with your strength and wisdom and courage.
As we pray for these Stolen Lives, we pray that we may be the agents of your healing, in Jesus name.

A time for healing…

Published / by Sandy

We will all have seen the #BlackLivesMatter actions after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police (and tragically, so many other African Americans who have also been killed by police brutality*). To raise public awareness, #BlackLivesMatter signs have been painted on public roads.

(*In a single week in March 2021, 3 Aboriginal people have died in police custody in Australia. Victorian Greens senator Lidia Thorpe describes the justice system as “deeply racist”).

Washington DC street sign: Black Lives Matter

In June 2020, Miriam Moran – an African American artist, together with her friends, took part in a community project to paint ‘Black Lives Matter’ on a main street in downtown Cambridge (Dorchester State), with the endorsement of the City Council. The idea was to paint a street mural depicting historical milestones of the city’s culture in the context of the words Black Lives Matter.

In July, in the middle of the night, a man in a pick up truck deliberately ‘burned rubber’, damaging the mural. (Apparently, a so-called friend in the passenger seat had encouraged him to do it.)

Security camera footage led to coverage on social media, and the driver was quickly identified – a 21 year old local. The driver saw the disappointment his actions had fostered, called police and turned himself in.

The artist said she felt ‘hurt and devastated’ when she found out the mural had been damaged, not just for herself, but for the community that helped create the painting.

The man and his parents met with the District Attorney (who could have opted to charge the man with a hate crime), the Mayor, the Police Chief, a detective, the artist, Alpha Genesis Co-Founder and Chairman, along with others. The State Attorney reported it was a ‘good conversation – and a difficult conversation’. The driver was contrite, and agreed to work with other volunteers, his parents, and his friends to repair the mural.

He also agreed to apologize publicly for his thoughtless act. His apology was heartfelt. There was genuine remorse in his voice, and genuine tears in his eyes. His mother stood by his side, quietly, even as members of the black community talked to him in no uncertain terms, not about him, per se, but about the burden of being black in America. They asked him what it was like to grow up white in the same community. The testimony was at times raw, at times uncomfortable, but never angry or accusatory. They got to know each other’s stories. It was meant to educate, and illuminate experiences that the driver was not tuned into, despite living and working in the same community. It was an opportunity to learn about what “Black Lives Matter” means to people who have often been treated as if they don’t matter.

As much as there was talking, there was also listening. A lot of listening.
The driver was given the opportunity to demonstrate his repentance. A black man would most likely not have received that opportunity.

The District Attorney (DA) spoke about the opportunity to make it a teachable moment, that it was important to work together to keep the situation from escalating further, and to find a path toward healing. The DA was confronted by Theresa Stafford, a career educator, and director of a public housing youth centre. She wanted a commitment from the DA that this kind of opportunity would also be extended to black youth that get into trouble for vandalism, to provide a path forward, as had been extended to the driver, who is white. He agreed he would actively seek opportunities to work with black kids to help them learn from their mistakes.

After the speeches and testimony, and hard questions, the volunteers returned to work. They added several elements to the mural. Tyre marks were incorporated into the repairs to the mural. Roses were added, and the words “Say Their Names” were added above “Black Lives Matter”.

The driver and his parents stayed till the end. The driver did whatever tasks the muralist Miriam Moran asked him to do.

‘It’s time for healing but also for accountability to one’s self to understand each other and also to do what is right’, said artist Miriam Moran.

A story shared by Rev Dr Ian Price on Sunday 14th March 2021. This post incorporates information from a newspaper article and a Facebook post by Lee Weldon (an artist Miriam Moran’s Facebook page).

When theology seems odd

Published / by Sandy

A reading for Sunday March 14, 2021 (Lent 4B) Numbers 21: 4-9
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water,
– and we detest this miserable food.” Then God sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against God and against you; pray to God to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And God said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Prayer/Reflection
God of the Scriptures, thank you for these stories,
even when they are strange, they help us think things through.
Even when the theology seems odd,
they push us to sort out what we believe.
Even when we are left scratching our heads at the weirdness,
they encourage us to keep searching and questioning and growing.
In a lot of ways, we can see ourselves in these stories.
We are wandering in the wilderness, too.
We are trekking through pandemics: viral and racist.
We are travelling in times of crisis: personal and environmental.
In all the binge-watching and over-indulging,
in the kneeling and knees on necks,
in the being overwhelmed and ticking climate change clock,
we pray for direction, insight, and wisdom.
And even though we know, in faith, that
water came from a rock when there was thirst, and
manna came from heaven when there was hunger;
we know, too, that we can be complainers,
griping and grumbling over the petty,
murmuring and mumbling with vindictiveness,
ranting and railing when we feel slighted.
Forgive us our trespasses.
Let us forgive those who trespass against us.
And so like Moses, we intercede for the people.
We pray for the planet.
We may not believe in the magic or sorcery of snakes on sticks.
We may not believe in the power of idols bronze or brazen.
We may not believe in a God who dispenses luck and antidotes
according to our will,
but, nevertheless, we still ask:
that we might face our fears,
that healing may come to the brokenness,
that joy may erupt in the barrenness,
that wholeness might come to this Earth.
May the poison and the venom and the serpents be taken away from us.
In as much as we are at fault, we also ask for forgiveness.
We take this Lenten moment to repent, to turn around,
to seek transformation for ourselves, our church, our society and our world.
May there be genuine healing, authentic redemption and real reconciliation.
Let us look on the Holy One, and live.
(Diaconal Minister Ted Dodd, United Church of Canada)

Hope is a bag of onions

Published / by Sandy

This week Extinction Rebellion protesters disrupted peak hour traffic for two hours when they glued themselves to the road on the corner of Gawler Place and Flinders St (a short distance from Pilgrim Uniting Church) near the SANTOS building. A 70-year-old North Plympton woman, a 65-year-old Flaxley woman, a 38-year-old Mile End woman and a 65-year-old Henley Beach South woman were charged with ‘loitering’. In a press release, the group said it was protesting against Santos and wanted the company to abandon fracking projects and invest more in renewable energy.

[In response to the protest, a Santos spokesperson said the company was a “corporate leader in climate action”, and that it had set a net-zero emissions target by 2040]

SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said protests were “a regular feature of most civilised communities. People have a right to express their opinions”. An excellent statement from Commissioner Stevens, in the context of a democratic society.

What does protest look like in a country like Myanmar where a coup d’état took place on 1 February 2021 (when democratically elected members of Myanmar’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy, were deposed by Myanmar’s military, which then proclaimed a year-long state of emergency and declared power had been vested in Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services. The results of Myanmar’s November 2020 general election were then declared invalid and a new election has been forecast at the end of the state of emergency even though most of Myanmar’s people are satisfied with the results of the election.

I was struck by this reflection by Maren Tirabassi on protest actions in Myanmar, and the creative ways that protest is able to happen even in military rule.

Hope is a bag of onions
I am praying for Myanmar and I am crying,
then I open my Australian newspaper*
and an article by “Anonymous”
tells me about new creative protest.
Some is by Generation Z surely,
those who do not remember
the horrific violence of 1988 or 2007,
but know they do not want
the coup to succeed.
The generation of “pop up” and “work around,”
is joined also by many others.
Every night is the “metal bucket protest,”
fifteen minutes of banging pots and pans.
Too short to pinpoint the homes,
and too traditional,
after all, it is
the way to drive out evil spirits.
Ten cars stop in the road, open their hoods,
tell police they’ve broken down –
traffic grinds to a halt.
A bride in a wedding dress
holds a sign telling the world
she doesn’t want her babies
to grow up under martial law.
And students cross the streets
with bags of onions,
except there are holes in the bags.
Cars stop,
while they pick up and bag again,
pick up and bag again –
onions, the same ones,
over and over again.
I am praying for Myanmar
in the midst of this terrible coup,
and my heart fills
with their tremendous courage –
today these onions do not make me cry.

(*“Eureka Street”, a publication of Jesuit Communications Australia)

#Sacred People, Sacred Earth 2021 – 11am March 11

Published / by Sandy

Global Day of Climate Action, 11am March 11 (‘the eleventh hour’)

“Sacred People Sacred Earth” is a multi-faith day of climate action organized by the GreenFaith International Network. The day will unite hundreds of actions around the world, in which people of faith step up to express a collective wish for bold solutions on climate change and social justice. Actions will take place at 11am on Thursday March 11 to symbolize the urgency we face. Make a noise about climate justice!

[At Pilgrim Uniting Church it will include bell-ringing at 11am to ‘sound the alarm’, followed at 11.05am by ‘Blue Planet’ musicians performing songs that highlight environmental concern (on the forecourt of Pilgrim Uniting Church, 12 Flinders St, Adelaide). At 5pm there will be a conversation with Mark Parnell at Wild Nectre Cafe, Victoria Square, exploring Sacred People, Sacred Earth – towards a Hopeful Path for 2040, with Philippa Rowland, President Multi-faith SA and MC’d by Leigh Newton, EAG UCA and followed by Q&A. Free event. All welcome. If posting any photos on social media, use the hashtag #SacredPeopleSacredEarth].

This global day of action will highlight ten pledges that were developed by a grassroots body of diverse religions from around the world. Over 100 high-level faith leaders have signed onto it, and the list of supporters is steadily growing. Please take a look and sign on and share with others. The bold multi-faith statement will be launched on March 11.

The vision is a world transformed. One in which humanity in all its diversity has developed a shared reverence for life on Earth; in which the era of conquest, extraction, and exploitation has given way to cooperation and community. Yet, across the world, more and more people are experiencing climate-fuelled disasters first-hand. COVID is cruelly worsening these impacts on our most vulnerable communities. There is a need to bring an end to fossil fuels and deforestation, and to create a renewable future. A better world is possible.

Green Faith International Statement:
We are united by a fundamental belief that all people, all living things, and the Earth are sacred. As we consider the state of the world today, our hearts overflow with concern. We are frightened and frustrated by the damage that COVID-19 is inflicting on our communities. The pandemic has revealed cruel injustices. The vulnerable suffer the most severe impacts.
We know about this injustice. We have seen it before. These same communities are disproportionately and catastrophically affected by the accelerating climate emergency. 
Grave threats are at our door as the world shelters in place. We see the rise of increasingly unaccountable or authoritarian governments, exploitive economies, and extremist cultural forces which pit us against each other, target women and oppressed communities, and foster doubt about the science required to save life on Earth. This is a world of widespread poverty, racial and gender injustice, massive income inequality, and the devastation of nature. This version of civilization is unsustainable at every level. Worse impacts lie ahead if we do not act now. 
A far better future is possible if our collective response to the pandemic and the climate crisis is guided by compassion, love and justice at a scale that meets this moment. We must not only provide the relief that so many need to survive. We must create a new culture, politics and economy of life that heals people and planet.
We envision a world transformed, in which humanity in all its diversity has developed a shared reverence for life on Earth. Together, we are building resilient, caring communities and economies that meet everyone’s needs and protect the planet. The era of conquest, extraction, and exploitation has given way to cooperation and community. The good life is one of connectedness—with each other and all of nature. It is a world of flourishing life that replaces despair with joy, scarcity with shared abundance, and privilege with justly distributed power.
The work to create this future begins now.
In the months ahead, governments and financial institutions will spend massive sums in response to the pandemic. Governments will present climate commitments at COP26 in November 2021. These actions must not perpetuate an outdated economic system that relies on fossil fuels and the destruction of the very forests, waters, oceans and soils that make life possible. Instead they should accelerate renewable energy development; ensure universal access to clean water and air, affordable clean energy, and food grown with respect for the land; create jobs paying family-sustaining wages to workers in safe conditions. Wealthy countries must take responsibility for a larger share of emissions reductions to support a global just transition. We must also prepare ourselves to welcome those who will be displaced by COVID and climate change.  
Compassion, love and justice require no less of us all.

International Women’s Day, March 8th

Published / by Sandy

Year after year, March 8 is celebrated as International Women’s Day the world over. It celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women while highlighting the problems they face in day-to-day life as well as in the professional environment. The day also marks as a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

This year, #IWD is being specially marked to highlight the challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. The theme, “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world” celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Writing about the #IWD2021 theme, Neelanjan Chakraborty says: It highlights how women can be equal partners in decision-making processes, especially those regarding policymaking. This year, the need of the hour is to bring to light the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and highlight the gaps that remain. According to the United Nations, only three countries in the world have 50% or more women in parliament. Women are Heads of State in only 22 nations. In fact, globally 119 countries have never had a woman leader as a Head of State.

UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said, “We need women’s representation that reflects all women and girls in all their diversity and abilities, and across all cultural, social, economic and political situations. This is the only way we will get real societal change that incorporates women in decision-making as equals and benefits us all.”

Neelanjan Chakraborty continues: “One thing which the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us is that when women lead, we see positive results. Some of the most efficient and successful responses to the COVID-19 pandemic were led by women. They are even on the forefront of humanity’s battle against the pandemic. Be it as front-line and health sector workers, or scientists, doctors, and caregivers. However, recent data released by the United Nations reveal an alarming disparity. These women frontline workers are getting paid 11% less than their male counterparts globally. According to United Nations Development Programme, in 2021, around 435 million women and girls are living on less than $1.90 a day. Nearly 47 million women have been pushed to poverty because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report also adds that women’s employment is at 19% more risk than men. That’s not all, as per World Economic Forum, while women make up 70% of health sector workers, only 24.7% of health ministers are female”.

UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer has offered a #IWD message and a prayer to use in worship (originally posted on the UCA Assembly website which includes Deidre’s video message for# IWD2021).

PRAYER FOR INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY
Liberating God,
We thank you for the ways you lead us into freedom and expressions of our fullest humanity.
Empowering Christ, 
bless us with courage to follow you in advocating for all those who experience oppression.
Life-giving Spirit, 
Inspire us to shape communities of love, respect and mutuality.
We thank you for women who have led the way in our Church – who have been bearers of your good news through their teaching, preaching, and pastoral care.
We thank you for women who have led the way in calling for gender equality.
We thank you for women who have preserved culture and language and led the way in shaping a vision of society in which all cultures are valued and respected.
We thank you for men who share in partnership with women, in advocating for respectful relationships and a world of equality and mutuality, in which all people can flourish.
We pray for women throughout our world, who experience discrimination, and whose voice is diminished. May their voice be heard.
Through Christ, our Life and Hope,
We pray, Amen.

#Sacred People Sacred Earth

Published / by Sandy

Faith communities around the world are being asked to ‘sound the alarm’ for the climate and call for climate justice as we try to get our economies going in the wake of COVID. The biggest ever global faith-based Day of Action for the Climate is planned for 11am (the ‘eleventh hour’) on March 11, with the theme ‘Sacred People, Sacred Earth‘. After the Day of Action, ‘Green Faith International’ will call for a “Year of Action” in the lead-up to COP26 which will be held in Glasgow in November 2021.

On March 11 at 11am, each place of worship, faith-based small group or household will choose its own way to do this (eg by ringing its bells as will happen at Pilgrim Uniting Church). Action Kit for churches here.

Thea Ormerod from ARRCC (Australian Religious Response to Climate Change) speaks about the Global Multi-Faith Day of Action.

A statement for ‘Sacred People, Sacred Earth’
We are united by a fundamental belief that all people, all living things, and the Earth are sacred. As we consider the state of the world today, our hearts overflow with concern. We are frightened and frustrated by the damage that COVID-19 is inflicting on our communities. The pandemic has revealed cruel injustices. The vulnerable suffer the most severe impacts. We know about this injustice. We have seen it before. These same communities are disproportionately and catastrophically affected by the accelerating climate emergency.
Grave threats are at our door as the world shelters in place. We see the rise of increasingly unaccountable or authoritarian governments, exploitive economies, and extremist cultural forces which pit us against each other, target women and oppressed communities, and foster doubt about the science required to save life on Earth. This is a world of widespread poverty, racial and gender injustice, massive income inequality, and the devastation of nature. This version of civilization is unsustainable at every level. Worse impacts lie ahead if we do not act now.
A far better future is possible if our collective response to the pandemic and the climate crisis is guided by compassion, love and justice at a scale that meets this moment. We must not only provide the relief that so many need to survive. We must create a new culture, politics and economy of life that heals people and planet.
We envision a world transformed, in which humanity in all its diversity has developed a shared reverence for life on Earth. Together, we are building resilient, caring communities and economies that meet everyone’s needs and protect the planet. The era of conquest, extraction, and exploitation has given way to cooperation and community. The good life is one of connectedness – with each other and all of nature. It is a world of flourishing life that replaces despair with joy, scarcity with shared abundance, and privilege with justly distributed power.
The work to create this future begins now.
In the months ahead, governments and financial institutions will spend massive sums in response to the pandemic. Governments will present climate commitments at COP26 in November 2021. These actions must not perpetuate an outdated economic system that relies on fossil fuels and the destruction of the very forests, waters, oceans and soils that make life possible. Instead they should accelerate renewable energy development; ensure universal access to clean water and air, affordable clean energy, and food grown with respect for the land; create jobs paying family-sustaining wages to workers in safe conditions. Wealthy countries must take responsibility for a larger share of emissions reductions to support a global just transition. We must also prepare ourselves to welcome those who will be displaced by COVID and climate change.
Compassion, love and justice require no less of us all.

Pilgrim Uniting Church is a member of ARRCC (Australian Religious Response to Climate Change). ARRCC joins in the call for:
100% clean energy for all – especially the 800 million people in energy poverty
Global finance aligned with compassionate values – in COVID recovery and beyond – for renewable energy and sustainable food systems
Jobs and healthcare for all – necessary support for a just transition for workers and communities currently dependent on fossil fuel industries
Protection of Indigenous rights
Welcome for migrants who are compelled to find new homes because of climate impacts
No more climate pollution – net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in wealthy countries by 2030; accelerated finance/technology transfers for global net zero before 2050
An end to the planet’s desecration – No new fossil fuel exploration or infrastructure, industrial agriculture, or deforestation; no more habitat or biodiversity loss
Elimination of immoral finance – No further financing or COVID bailouts for all fossil fuels, industrial agriculture, or deforestation
Climate reparations from wealthy countries – wealthy countries should provide climate financing and technology transfer
Bold faith community leadership

Aligned with these demands, ARRCC is calling on the Morrison Government to:
* A formal commitment from Australia under the Paris Accord to achieving net zero emissions by 2030. It follows that Australia should offer Nationally
* Determined Contributions (NDC’s) that align with this goal.
* The use of post-COVID recovery spending to boost renewable energy and low carbon industries rather than fund a “gas-led recovery”.
* Provision of substantial amounts of finance for the UN Green Climate Fund, additional to the aid budget.
* Provision of support for an orderly, planned, just transition for communities currently dependent on the coal and gas industries.

For many, it’s a question of faith

Published / by Greg Elsdon

For many, it’s a question of faith

By Stephen Acott

It’s 6.47am in sunny Samoa. The calendar says its September 29, 2009, but when the clock strikes 6.48am, Frank Rees won’t need a calendar to record this day. Mother nature will have that covered.

Frank, principal of Whitley College in Parkville, is in Samoa holidaying with his wife and daughter. At just 2800sqkm, Samoa is your quintessential, picture-postcard speck in the ocean. This is a place to lose yourself, or maybe find yourself, depending on your circumstances – either way, not much happens in Samoa, so “relax” is at the top of most people’s to-do lists.

Frank won’t be relaxing today, as he’s about to discover.

At 6.48am, Frank wakes to the sound of rumbling. The room is shaking, furniture is moving. Frank has never experienced an earthquake before, but he doesn’t need a second opinion – this is an earthquake, 8.1 on the Richter scale. Some things just explain themselves.

His wife is also woken by the clatter and, not knowing quite what to do, the two of them run outside. This doesn’t really achieve anything and, besides, they’re not fully dressed so they return to their room, put on some extra clothes and head back outside.

By now there’s a siren blaring and one of the staff members is running around shouting the word “tsunami”.

Tsunami? Did he just say “tsunami”?

Frank doesn’t have time to fully digest the word, much less its implications. Before he knows it he’s underwater, trying to negotiate the non-negotiable.

“I’m under a wave that is carrying me away and thinking I’m about to drown,” he recalls. The moment is as vivid now, 11 years down the track, as it was then.

“My wife was carried in one direction inland and my daughter and I were carried into the rubble of the building we had been staying in. After the first big wave, I tried to swim, tried to swim, tried to swim, but in the end I couldn’t. But the wave had smashed up the building and we ended up on the ledge of a part of what was left of one wall.

“When I finally got my head above water, I found my daughter and we started to walk uphill. I had six broken ribs and a whole lot of other injuries and I was in excruciating pain, but we made it.

“We didn’t know if my wife was alive, and she didn’t know if we were alive, but we managed to find each other about an hour later.”

Each of us have had moments in our lives we’ll never forget, moments that have helped shape us and shift us and even define us. Your wedding day, for example.

Some of these moments are so totemic we aren’t the same person afterwards. We are irreversibly different. The birth of your first child, for example. Or surviving a tsunami.

 “I had the sense then that I’d been given another chance at life,” Frank, now a Reverend Associate Professor at the University of Divinity, says. “And I determined that I would do things that I really believed were worthwhile, put up with a lot less crap, and articulate as best I could the idea of a God who is with us in life, inviting us to life.

“The tsunami literally took away from me everything that I had, all of the possessions I’d taken to the island. I had no mobile phone, wallet, no credit cards, no clothes. When everything is taken from us, we discover what really matters, and that’s the potential for a new sense of faith, a new sense of that trusting and belonging. What can you really trust? Well, you can trust yourself and each other in the face of everything else being lost. And that I think is the potential for faith in God beyond ideas, beyond the idea of the God who pulls the strings and causes things.”

If you don’t have faith before a tsunami sweeps you to within an inch of your life, chances are you might have it once you wake up and have time to comprehend what just happened. Frank, now 70, lived to further his life. As did his wife and daughter. But 149 people weren’t so fortunate that day. Why did Frank live?

Frank, who is also an author and blogger, says he’s never tried to answer that question and who can blame him? There is no answer, just a responsibility to not take life for granted.

“I don’t think you can answer it with ideas,” he says. “The great temptation of Western thought is wanting to explain everything. I’m all in favour of trying to understand things, but I think there are times when we can’t understand and instead we need to respond. So for those who died, and this is happening all the time in different contexts, we have to respond with appropriate compassion and gratitude, gratitude for them, for what they gave to life, but also gratitude for our life. So that’s my response – not to explain ‘why me?’, but to say ‘thank God. I’m alive. I’m going to live’.”

The thing is, Frank didn’t need a tsunami to find faith or have faith. He’d been a man of faith long before he hopped on a plane to Samoa. He can’t pinpoint a precise “lightbulb” moment but remembers listening to a preacher back when he was 15 that had a marked influence on his faith.

“He was talking about the kind of faith that people can switch on and switch off according to whether it was convenient or not,” Frank says. “And I thought that whatever faith I was going to affirm it had to be fair dinkum. I was either going to be in or out. And that’s basically been my affirmation – I don’t want to pretend – so if I can’t articulate something, I’m not going to pretend. And authenticity as faith is trusting honesty. Honest trusting includes some believing and some ‘I’m not sure what to believe’ – actions that try to express oneself honestly.”

Faith is not a foreign concept. And yet, and yet … do we really, truly understand what it is? Do we have different definitions? Different parameters? Different levels? Can you switch it on and off, as the preacher described to Frank?

Faith isn’t hard to find; like everything nowadays, it’s only a mouse click away. It’s right there in Google, on YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest … any and all manner of platforms. Some of it is superficial, some of it is as deep and complex as a theological PhD. People have written countless books and poems and songs on the topic, there’s been movies and art and mass gatherings – you won’t struggle to find faith, but having faith, well that’s something else altogether.

How do you get faith? What does it involve? Is there a guidebook? A set of rules? Is it a case of simply believing?

Well, no.

Fr Richard Rohr is a Catholic priest and highly acclaimed spiritual writer. Highly acclaimed and prolific. Chances are he’s written four or five books while we’ve been in lockdown. The point is, when it comes to matters of faith there isn’t an angle he hasn’t considered and explored in print.

“Most people think having faith means ‘to believe in Jesus’,” he says. “But, ‘to share in the faith of Jesus’ is a much richer concept. By myself, I don’t know how to have faith in God, but once we know that Jesus is the corporate stand-in for everybody, we know we have already been taken on the ride through death and back to life. All we can do now is make what is objectively true fully conscious for us.”

Objectively true. That’s an interesting statement to say as fact, particularly in a society where many would argue faith is subjective and occurs, thrives even, in the absence of proof. Even The Bible seems to suggest this view: “Faith is being sure of what you hope for and certain of what you cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Maybe we should let Richard explain himself further.

“Faith is not an intellectual acceptance of God, or believing certain doctrines to be true,” he says. “Such intellectual ascent does not usually change your heart or your lifestyle. I’m convinced that much modern atheism is a result of such a heady and really ineffective definition of faith.

“God refuses to be known intellectually. God can only be loved and known in the act of love. Love is like a living organism, an active force-field upon which we can rely, from which we can draw, and which we can allow to pass through us.”

Rev Nadia Bolz-Weber is a theologian and three-times New York Times best-selling author. She agrees with Richard that faith is not “intellectually assenting to a set of theological propositions”. To her, faith is “trusting God’s promises”.

“Faith is trusting we are who God says we are, that God’s promises are being fulfilled among us even if we’re not seeing it,” she says.

Nadia, who agrees with Richard’s proposition that sharing in the faith of Jesus is a richer concept than simply believing in Him, has a phrase for faith: “team sport”.

“Faith isn’t given in sufficient quantities to individuals, it’s given in sufficient quantities to communities. Faith is a team sport, it’s not an individual competition,” she says.

This is an interesting concept and one worth exploring further because everyone interviewed for this story said their faith was deeply personal and not in short supply. Yes, they belonged to a faith community – and rejoiced in the fact – but their faith was imbedded in their soul, it was part of their being. It was personal, almost individually-tailored.

Gus Yearsley is the state officer of the Tasmanian Council of Churches Emergency Ministry. Now 53, he grew up in what he describes as a “Christian household”, but says it took until his teens for his faith to get a strong foothold in his life.

“Faith is very personal,” he says. “For me, faith is about serving people and loving people and being a good example of who I think Jesus would be and represent Him as best I can.”

Or, as Hampton Park UC member Diane Leak puts it, faith is about “doing stuff”. “The best thing I can do is live out my faith,” she says. “I’ve become quite involved with what we’re doing at Uniting Place, which is what we call the church building. Before lockdown, we offered free lunches twice a week. And I was involved with religious education for about 30 years with the local schools. That was a bit of a seed-sowing ministry.”

If we accept that faith is fundamental to the human condition, it’s interesting to consider the fact we aren’t born with it. Faith is something we have to find, or allow ourselves to find, or allow faith to find us.

Think about when you first truly had faith? Did you hunt high and low for it? Or did it come to you in a rather roundabout, unexpected way? Revealing itself only when you were truly ready to receive it?

Richard says we “don’t really do faith”. “It happens to you when you give up control and all the steering of your ship,” he says. “Frankly, we often do it when we have no other choice. Faith hardly ever happens when we rush to judgment or seek too-quick resolution of anything. Thus, you see why faith will invariably be a minority and suspect position. You fall into it more than ever fully choosing it.

“Many scholars have pointed out that what is usually translated in Paul’s letters as ‘faith in Christ’ would be more accurately translated as ‘the faith of Christ’. It’s more than a change of prepositions. It means we are all participating – with varying degrees of resistance and consent – in the faith journey that Jesus has already walked.”

What does he mean when he says “you don’t really do faith”? Does he mean “faith” is not a verb? If so, he has an ally in Frank.

“One of the really unfortunate things in the English language is that we don’t actually have a verb for faith,” he says. “We don’t have ‘faithing’ in the way that the Bible does and, therefore, all too often people think of faith in terms of ‘do you believe?’ and when you get to belief then you get to specific ideas and content and a great deal of the theological tradition is focused on that, unfortunately.

“It’s really important to say that faith is a personal and relational stance in life. It has much more to do with trust and relating and engaging than it has to do with the traditional focus on belief.

“Faith is a natural human responsiveness to life itself. And it is a stance that involves relationships and ethics, action, emotions as well as some intellectual content. But for a great many people, the intellectual content is either not well developed and often not expressed in words.”

Beth Woolsey is an American author, mother of five, very down to earth and someone who believes finding faith does take some searching on our part.

 “Jesus said a lot of earth-shattering things,” she says, “but now that I’m a mum, I think this was one of the most radical of all: Askand it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

“It seems to me that Jesus’s words are a clear directive: ask, seek, knock. And then, if I’ve got this right, Jesus follows up a few verses later by saying that God will actually respond. God, the lover of us all, will reveal divine things. To me. To you. To anyone who asks. And God will do it without discretion or conditions. Without caution or prudence. Without making a list first of who has a right to which truth or who will handle the answers the best.

 “The revolutionary, almost subversive, thing about asking is that it goes beyond making it OK to have secret questions and inner doubts and gives us permission to raise our hands in God’s classroom with a ‘pardon me, but I don’t get it’. Or ‘I just can’t bring myself to believe what the rest of your class is telling me’.

“I suspect – a sneaking suspicion that gets louder as I age – that we’re somehow expected to keep asking. Out loud. And to keep seeking. And to keep knocking. Which has crazy implications on parenting from a Jesus perspective because typically when we don’t know something, we pretend we doThat’s in the Parenting Manual. Or the Being a Grownup Manual. Or the Christianity Manual. Or maybe it’s just being human.

“I had a conversation recently with my father about whether we’re obligated as Christians to be aspirational. ‘Are we,’ I asked, ‘supposed to hold ourselves up as an example of the Godly life? Because I’m afraid I lack what it takes for others – my children, my friends, my blog readers – to want to aspire to be like me and, therefore, like God’.

“He replied: ‘What if the root word of aspiration isn’t only to aspire to? What if the root word of aspiration is also to aspirate? To expel or dislodge the things that make people choke? To tell a truth that is so wild and so free that it helps people learn to breathe? What if you’re called to be that kind of aspiration?’

 “And I thought,‘by God, if this life is about helping people breathe, I can do that’.

 “Ask. Seek. Knock. Breathe.”

And if you ask and seek and knock and breathe and discover something, what do you do? Believe? Have faith? Or are they one and the same thing? Of course they’re not. In fact, according to outspoken agnostic (and author) Lesley Hazleton, faith can flourish in the absence of belief.

Lesley, 75, says “doubt is essential to faith”. “Demolish all doubt and what is left is absolute, heartless conviction,” she says. “You are certain you possess ‘The Truth’ and this certainty quickly devolves into dogmatism and righteousness – in short, the arrogance of fundamentalism. Like fundamentalists of all Christian stripes they have no questions, only answers. They’ve found the perfect antidote to thought and the ideal refuge from the hard demands of real faith. We have to recognise that real faith has no easy answers.

“Faith is not hard to find. It’s difficult and stubborn and involves an ongoing struggle, a continuing questioning of what we think we know, a wrestling with issues and ideas. It goes hand in hand with doubt and sometimes in conscious defiance of it. And this conscious defiance is why I, as an agnostic, can still have faith.

“What drives us is that, despite our doubts, and even because of our doubts, we reject the nihilism of despair. We insist on faith in the future and in each other. Call us naïve or impossibly idealistic, but call it human.”

Tanya Walker, 44, is a wife and mother and lay leader at Benalla UC. She is also a witness to a remarkable occurrence at her fortnightly Sunday worship. “I have a friend who comes every two weeks, reads the Bible with us, prays with us, but she keeps saying she doesn’t believe in God.

“I’m always intrigued about what is going through her mind. I’ve had several conversations with her about it and I think, for her, there’s too much of the faith aspect tied up with religion. And so the religion side of things puts up this massive barrier for people opening themselves up to actually believing in something.

“She said ‘I believe in Mother Earth’ and I think we’re just using different names, really. I think what you believe in and what I believe in is probably closer than we think. You’re very adamant about saying ‘I don’t believe in God’ because you have this picture of what you think God is, but if we break it down, it’s closer than we think it is.”

Diane had an interesting encounter once with someone who believed in extra terrestrials. He said he had no faith, but believed there was something ‘out there’ so I think underneath all that he had some kind of faith,” she says. “We both believed there was something out there beyond us that we don’t understand and sometimes we just have to accept that those things are there. We don’t know everything.”

Gus’s job sees him working with people of many faiths. He describes it as “an interesting space” and it has taught him that “faith means different things to different people, depending on their belief system”. It has also taught him that, no matter what “brand” your faith may be, questions always linger. There is always an element of the unknown.

“There are some questions we just can’t answer,” he says. “But that doesn’t undermine my faith in God.”

Faith may come in many ways and many forms to many people – there is no single “faith” packet you can grab off the supermarket shelf – so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to discover that once you have it, your experience with it, how it nurtures and nourishes you, will be relatively unique.

When asked to describe what faith provides, Tanya offers just one word: “Freedom.” When asked to explain, she says: “People without faith are missing out on a sense of hope, but also an element of freedom. By this I mean many people are living with the expectations that society and others put on them, sometimes it is what they put on themselves – an expectation to live up to what others want them to be and, in many cases, falling short time and again. This leads to feelings of inadequacy and failure and causes anxiety and stress.

“For example, a friend of mine who is a mother of three small children thinks that for her to have a good life she needs to be the ideal mother and not get things wrong. She needs to have more and more possessions in order to keep up with what is new and fashionable. She dresses nicely, she portrays herself as having an idyllic life, but when we dig deeper, she has many mental challenges that stem from the expectations she feels are on her. These mental challenges manifest themselves in physical ways on her body and cause more issues. The push in our world is to have more, to achieve more and to be more.

“My point is that having faith in a God who loves us no matter what and knowing that God forgives us when we muck up, gives me a sense of freedom in the way I live my life, that we don’t have in other ways.

“We don’t have to get it perfect, we don’t have to have everything, because ultimately that doesn’t matter and, if people judge us for what we don’t have or what they think we don’t have, then it doesn’t matter because I know that God loves me no matter what and that is more powerful than all other things. This gives me the freedom to not worry about everything else, but instead to put my energies into trying to love others as God loves us. Because that will make the world a better place. I don’t always get it right, but it is in the trying that God shows grace.”

Frank says faith provides “a framework of ethics, a life style”. “What we often call a ‘lifestyle’ is actually a ‘deathstyle’ – it’s life-denying,” he says. “And I think faith provides a life style, the Christian faith with its affirmation of death and resurrection is actually a way to live.”

Sometimes, when trying to gauge the worth of something, it pays to think of what the world would look like without it. Just how essential is it really? When push came to shove, could we live without it?

Diane says a world without faith is not a world we would recognise. It wouldn’t work,” she says adamantly.

“Faith and love and hope are what carry us through this world. We are moving to a place where faith is in the margins, but I think we’ll move back again. Throughout history it has swung backwards and forwards. I don’t believe God will ever leave the world.”

 Frank believes the swing back is already happening and is there for all to see. “I call it bikes, Bunnings and brunch,” he says.

 “Sundays used to be preserved for church by a portion of society, but these days we see an extraordinary number of people exercising or doing healthy things. You see people doing stuff about homemaking, to enhance their homes. And others get together for brunch. Now those three things are immensely life-affirming and the getting together part of it is enormously important. Inherent in all that is a quest for life, the quest for belonging, the quest for a kind of life that affirms, rather than divides, the kind of life that is growing and nurturing, rather than stultifying.

 “And the future of faith is with that movement and I’m hopeful that out of all that we might reclaim the ideas of justice, peace, Shalom. And God is already in all of that. The church has never had an adequate doctrine of the Holy Spirit and if we believe that the Holy Spirit is the spirit of the whole creation and not just limited to people who go to church then the Holy Spirit is at work in all of this stuff. That’s why I’m hopeful.”

Frank has every right to be hopeful and every reason to have perspective – he’s survived a tsunami. If that doesn’t grant you perspective, nothing will.

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Stephen Acott is Editor of ‘Crosslight’, a publication of the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. This article was first published in ‘Crosslight’ on 16 February 2021.


Stephen Acott is Editor of ‘Crosslight’, a publication of the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. This article was first published in ‘Crosslight’ on 16 February 2021.