Messages of Hope

Month: August 2021

Reflecting on compassion

Published / by Sandy

The lowest form of knowledge is opinion. It requires no accountability and understanding.
The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our ego and live in another’s world
. — Plato

A reflection on compassion by Stephen Shoemaker.

The main character in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose, is an ageing professor of history in the decade of the 1970s. He comments on life in America, noting that most people have undergone an “empathectomy,” their empathy surgically removed. It seems only to have gotten worse since. The absence of empathy is an indicator of sociopathy and can make people monsters.

Recent research has revealed that the church in America as a whole has been among the most antagonistic toward immigrants – and this from a people whose most repeated Old Testament command is to care for the widows, orphans and strangers (or immigrants).

Where has all the empathy gone?

The biblical word for empathy is “compassion.” The Hebrew word for it comes from the word for “womb.” The love of God is womb-like. Over and over again in the Gospels Jesus, God’s compassion made flesh, is described as having compassion and from that compassion healing people, feeding people, comforting people, lifting people up. The main characters in two of his most famous parables act out of “compassion” – the Samaritan who saved the life of the Jew lying beaten on the road and the father who ran down the road to welcome home his wayward son.

When Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” he was talking about empathy. Wendell Berry has paraphrased the Golden Rule: “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.” Empathy knows we all live upstream or downstream from someone else.

“Empathy knows we all live upstream or downstream from someone else.”

The Koran echoes the foundational moral virtue of empathy: “A person does not have faith until one loves for one’s neighbour what one loves for oneself.”

Rabbi Abraham Heschel described the God of the Bible as a God of Pathos. Empathy is one of the names of God.

Many in the world today have suffered an “empathectomy”. It has become deadly for us all, especially for the most vulnerable among us. The church can make a difference. We can start a contagion of compassion. Empathy can be renewed in our human hearts as we have hearts after God’s own heart. As it follows Jesus, the mission of the church is the increase in the love of God and neighbour.

A prayer for facemarks

Published / by Sandy

Face-masks are changing – from ill-fitting disposable* ones discarded after each use, to face-masks that are bright, colourful, personal, washable and re-usable. Rev Deacon Susan Wickham (see photo below), Minister at Church of the Trinity, takes the prize for one that made people laugh this week. Consider buying face-masks online to support the work of Catherine Hamlin Fistula Foundation which performs life changing surgery on women in Africa living with fistula, or another charity of your choice selling face-masks. Or one that will bring a ‘crinkled eye smile’ to others. Or even to show your support for your football team for the finals season!

We’re in this for the long haul with mandatory mask wearing until we’re given the ‘all clear’ from the health authorities. In the scheme of things a minor inconvenience if it serves to keep us – and our neighbours – safe.

A prayer for face-masks from the United Church of Canada:

Creator, as I prepare to go into the world,
help me see the sacrament in the wearing of this cloth –
let it be an ‘outward sign of an inward grace’ –
a tangible and visible way of living love for my neighbours,
as I love myself.

Christ, since my lips will be covered, uncover my heart,
that people would see my smile in the crinkles around my eyes.
Since my voice may be muffled, help me speak clearly,
not only with my words, but with my actions.

Holy Spirit, as the elastic touches  my ears,
remind me to listen carefully – and full of care –
to all those I meet.

May this simple piece of cloth be shield and banner,
and each breath that it holds be filled with your love.
In your name and in that love, I pray.
May it be so. May it be so.

(*If you do use disposable face-masks, remember to snip the straps when putting them in the rubbish, as there are reports of wildlife becoming entangled in the straps – see photo below)

It’s all too much…

Published / by Sandy

(a post by Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber on The Corners blog)


I used to live in a very old apartment building with super sketchy electrical wiring. Were I to audaciously assume my hair drier could run while my stereo was on, I would once again find myself opening the grey metal fuse box next to the refrigerator and flipping the breaker. My apartment had been built at a time when there were no electric hair driers, and the system shut down when modernity asked too much of it.

I think of that fuse box often these days, because friends, I just do not think our psyches were developed to hold, feel and respond to everything coming at them right now; every tragedy, injustice, sorrow and natural disaster happening to every human across the entire planet, in real time every minute of every day.  The human heart and spirit were developed to be able to hold, feel and respond to any tragedy, injustice, sorrow or natural disaster that was happening IN OUR VILLAGE.

So my emotional circuit breaker keeps overloading because the hardware was built for an older time.

And yet, when I check social media it feels like there are voices saying “if you aren’t talking about, doing something about, performatively posting about ___(fill in the blank)___then you are an irredeemably callous, priviledged, bigot who IS PART OF THE PROBLEM” and when I am someone who does actually care about human suffering and injustice (someone who feels every picture I see, and story I read) it leaves me feeling like absolute sh*t. I am left with wondering: am I doing enough, sacrificing enough, giving enough, saying enough about all the horrible things right now to think of myself as a good person and subsequently silence the accusing voice in my head?No. The answer is always no. No I am not. Nor could I. Because no matter what I do the goal of “enough” is just as far as when I started.

And yet doing nothing is hardly the answer.

So I wanted to share something with you. Every day of my life I ask myself three discernment questions I learned from one of my teachers, Suzanne Stabile:

What’s MINE to do, and what’s NOT mine to do?

What’s MINE to say and what’s NOT mine to say?

And the third one is harder:

What’s MINE to care about and what’s NOT mine to care about?

To be clear – that is not to say that it is not worthy to be cared about by SOMEONE, only that my effectiveness in the world cannot extend to every worthy to be cared about event and situation.  It’s not an issue of values, it’s an issue of MATH.*

So I try and remember,
1. We are still living through a global pandemic – and that means the baseline of anxiety and grief is higher than ever and shared by everyone.
2. The world is on fire literally and metaphorically.
But
3. I only have so much water in my bucket to help with the fires. The more exposure I have to the fires I have NO WATER to fight, the more likely I am to get so burned, and inhale so much smoke that I cannot help anymore with the fires close enough to fight once my bucket is full again.

So I try and tell myself that It’s ok to focus on one fire.

It’s ok to do what is YOURS to do. Say what’s yours to say. Care about what’s yours to care about.

That’s enough.

If immigration reform is yours to do, if it is the fire you have water to throw on, (thank you! and…) that is enough. There will be voices saying “but what about climate change? You don’t care that the planet is dying??”. Tune that sh*t out. I mean, you could turn around and ask the environmentalist next door why they heartlessly don’t care about immigrants, but there is no percentage in that. Instead, we could be so grateful for the people who are called to work on and respond to worthy issues that are not fires we ourselves are equipped to put out.

I’m not saying we should put our heads in the sand, I’m saying that if your circuits are overwhelmed there’s a reason and the reason isn’t because you are heartless, it’s because there is not a human heart on this planet that can bear all of what it happening right now. So thank you for being a person who cares about and responds to animals, or the environment, or immigration, or domestic violence or any of the other worthy-to-be-cared-about shit-shows we are in the midst of right now. Just, thank you.

Call for compassion and leadership on Afghanistan

Published / by Sandy

(Statement on Afghanistan, 17th August 2021)

The Uniting Church in Australia Assembly has joined calls urging the Australian Government to act urgently, swiftly, compassionately and with leadership in responding to the crisis in Afghanistan.

Taliban insurgents seized the presidential palace in Kabul on Sunday after taking control of the country in just over a week, following weeks of fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan Government forces and the withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan.

There is now grave concern for the safety of many who remain in Afghanistan as crowds of desperate people flocked to the airport in an attempt to escape.

UCA President Rev Sharon Hollis encouraged Uniting Church members to pray for the people of Afghanistan impacted by the violence and for those desperately seeking protection and safety.

“We hold in our prayers the people of Afghanistan who long for peace after decades of armed conflict, and we pray for the safety and security of all Afghan people in this latest crisis,” said Rev Hollis.

The UCA President called on the Australian Government to show leadership in its response to the crisis by taking steps to protect the safety of those who remain in Afghanistan.

There is particular concern for the safety of people who have worked with the Australian and other Western governments and non-government organisations as translators, security and support staff.

“We welcome the existing efforts of the Government in making arrangements to provide visas to Afghani people who have worked with the Australian Government and ask the Prime Minister to intensify efforts to bring people to safety.”

“Right now, Australia can offer additional refugee settlement places for Afghan refugees sending a strong message that the world is ready to share the responsibility to protect lives.”

“We also offer our support and prayers to the many Afghan Australians and Afghani refugees and temporary visa holders based here in Australia. As they desperately seek news of loved ones and in some cases face uncertain futures themselves, we ask that the Australian Government will do all in its power to support them and their families. One first step is to provide permanent protection for the 4300 Afghans on temporary protection visas to provide certainty for a safe future without the fear of return to an unsafe situation.

The Taliban takeover comes after weeks of violent fighting between Taliban insurgents and Afghanistan forces and follows the withdrawal of the US, Australian and other Western troops.

The Refugee Council of Australia said reports have emerged of executions and forced marriages of young women and girls. Members of religious minorities are also at grave risk, including the many Shia members of the Hazara community.

There is also fear the Taliban will undo years of work to support the education, safety and autonomy of Afghanistan’s women, including in programs funded by the Australian Government.

World Council of Churches calls for prayers for people of Afghanistan as fears of violence grows.

Prayers that could be incorporated into services can be found here.

Beautiful music and images from Rev David MacGregor, Lament … Afghanistan (on Vimeo here)

Article on The Conversation.

Consider also ways to financially support relief organisations caring for the welfare of those who have fled violence with only the clothes on their back. Here’s one example of an emergency appeal through Asia-Pacific Network of Refugees. There will be other reputable organisations you can consider as well.

 

 

National Day of Prayer (Aug 22) – COVID pandemic

Published / by Sandy

Uniting Church in Australia President Rev Sharon Hollis is encouraging UCA members to join in a day of prayer for all those experiencing the ongoing impacts of the pandemic. 

It follows an invitation from the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) for churches to mark a National Day of Prayer in their worship services on Sunday 22 August.  

“I encourage you to join together in prayerful ways as we acknowledge the loss, anxiety, fear and uncertainty facing many people in Australia and across the world,” said Rev Hollis. 

“While we are physically apart, we draw together with churches across the country and the world, united as the Body of Christ, and reminded of a God of love who cares for us all.” 

“In recent weeks, many congregations across Australia have again found themselves in lockdown and gathered worship has moved online. I am thankful to all those who are making it possible for us to come together in worship in creative ways and support each other pastorally in what continues to be a very challenging time.” 

“We are also mindful that this is a global challenge, and many people across the world are particularly vulnerable to the health and economic impacts of the virus.” 

“We welcome the additional supports for people impacted economically provided by the Australian Government, for which UnitingCare Australia has advocated,and we continue to call for vaccine equity across the globe and vital support for vulnerable nations called for under the End COVID for All campaign.” 

“I encourage you to be mindful of the ways we can continue to be kind and compassionate to one another and to seek to be life-giving communities of faith within the context we all find ourselves.” 

“Thank you to all those who are already or making plans to be vaccinated. We know that vaccination is a key step to overcoming the challenges of COVID.” 

The President invited UCA members to pray for those impacted by COVID in the week from 16-22 August and particularly in their gathered worship, whether it will be online or in-person on Sunday 22 August. 

Rev Sharon Hollis has written a prayer which people are encouraged to use and share in their worship. During the week from 16 –22 August, the Assembly will continue to share other resources for prayer.  

Prayer from Rev Sharon Hollis, UCA President

God of mercy and compassion,

We pray for the world as across the globe we face the challenges of COVID.

We give you thanks for those who care for the sick,

for those who work on limiting the spread of the disease

and those who develop and administer vaccines.

We remember before you all those affected by COVID,

Comfort those who mourn the death of a loved one,

Heal those who have COVID-19 or suffer the long-term effects of having had COVID.

Sustain those who work in health care, testing and vaccination.

Encourage those who are supporting education remotely,

Console those who must stay at home,

And bless and protect those whose work is essential for our wellbeing.

We long for a world where access to health care and vaccines are shared equitably

Strengthen the efforts of those who work to end COVID for all.

And fill us with a desire to work for justice and care for all. Amen

Reflecting on ongoing delays, disappointments and lockdowns

Published / by Sandy

(originally published on Nadia Bolz-Weber’s website, The Corners 11th August 2021 and written in the US context. Slightly adapted)

“Mental health is a dedication to reality at all costs” (M. Scott Peck)

Fifteen months ago, in the baby stages of the pandemic, I wrote a piece in which I described how I was ok staying at home to “flatten the curve” because I was sure that when it was all over in a few weeks, I could still preach at the cathedral on Pentecost (2020). Then Pentecost (2020) came and went. As did the next event I was hoping to attend. And the next one.

I had hooked my hope on something in the future and as each hope dissolved, I’d find another hook. Until finally, reality sunk in. 

I go on in that piece to describe the Stockdale Paradox:
An Admiral in the US Navy, James Stockdale survived 8 years as a POW in a North Vietnamese prison camp. When asked who of his fellow prisoners struggled to make it out alive he replied,

“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart….”

So the “Stockdale Paradox” is the ability to hold two opposing but equally true things at once:

You must have faith that you will prevail in the end

And at the same time you must confront the brutal facts of your current reality.

I WROTE THAT 15 MONTHS AGO

…why….WHY am I still having to learn that same thing???

I say this because right now I do not want to “confront the brutal facts of our current reality”. I want it to still be like a few months ago when they said fully vaccinated folks didn’t need to wear masks or socially distance themselves. I want it to still be like a few months ago when I was finally able to say yes to some in-person speaking gigs. (Because I really miss my job).

But many of those events are now also cancelled. And hospitals are full again. And masks are coming back.

Last week a friend said it could actually be years and years of COVID variants and various restrictions and protocols.

But I wonder – what is healthier for us: to keep acting and wishing and hoping it’s over soon and then having our hearts broken over and over – OR – maybe just assuming it is going to be years of this and acting accordingly. Planting gardens. Learning to cook more stuff. Meeting more neighbours. Living the life our dogs want us to live. Because then if it DOES end soon or even soon-ish, we get to be overwhelmed with joy and surprise. But if it lasts for years we are prepared (kind of) and able to live each day to the fullest possible extent.

I am just once again aware of how much my mental health depends on accepting reality. Not endorsing it, but accepting it.

So yeah…we can grieve. We can grieve our dead. We can lament, and fight and struggle. We can register our complaints. But let it all be based in a relationship with actual reality.

Because actual reality is also the only place where actual joy is to be found. If joy is delayed until a preferred future comes about, we set ourselves up for despair. But if there is hope in THIS day. Joy in THIS reality. This life. This body. This heart, then certainly we can prevail.

We can. We will. We are.

Be gentle with yourselves right now.

-Nadia

Nicola McDermott – leaping high

Published / by Sandy

Nicola McDermott won the Silver medal in women’s high jump. She became a Christian at the age of 16 years and has been very public about her faith and calls it a conscious decision. She considers her Christian faith more important to her than her sport.
As a primary school student, she discovered Little Athletics, and the joy of high jumping. In 2005, she wrote about her Olympic dream…

But because she was significantly taller than everyone else, she was also an easy target for bullies. Kids can be cruel and they didn’t miss the freakishly tall girl with the long ponytail who moved like a giraffe. She dealt with it as best she could, getting used to the daily barbs, but when her parents decided to change schools in Grade 6 she was anxious. “I was so tall and I was so used to getting bullied,” McDermott recalls. “I remember going into that new school thinking I’m going to get eaten alive here.”
The school was Green Point Christian College, a 20-minute bus ride from her home in Tascott, just outside of Gosford on the NSW Central Coast. She braced herself for the worst given there were 1000 students at the school, which certainly increased the ratio of potential bullies. But from day one something was different. No one was commenting about her height, in fact they were doing something completely different.
“When I walked in, I was immediately met by this overwhelming, non-judging love from the students and teachers,” she says.
“I was like, ‘What is this?’ I was just loved by them and it left me with all these questions as I was envious of how they were able to show that sort of love.
“They said we love because Jesus loves us. I said, ‘Well, I’m sold’ because I had never experienced a love quite like it. It was simple yet it changed my entire life. I got welcomed into a faith community that loved me. It changed the way that I thought of myself as a misfit. It gave me passion and purpose, and I think in 2017, it was my big moment when it flicked a switch, and I decided to pursue God over sport and whatever comes with sport is a bonus. But I am already complete and perfect in love regardless of it. That has just allowed me to soar over every high jump bar and not be scared anymore. Because I am loved. That is the most important thing.”