Messages of Hope

Month: September 2021

UN International Day of Older Persons (IDOP)

Published / by Sandy

The United Nations established the International Day of Older Persons (IDOP) in 1990 as a way to focus attention around the globe on the barriers to respect and dignity for older people caused by ageism. IDOP is recognised  on October 1st each year as a celebration of the older people in all societies, and a reminder to continue developing a society for all ages. It is an opportunity to challenge negative stereotypes and misconceptions about older persons and aging. It is widely recognised that older persons are an asset to the society; their wisdom, value-system and experience helps in guiding and mentoring the present generation.

In 2021 the IDOP theme stresses digital equality for older people. Digital access has become a more important issue with the challenges of the COVID pandemic.

“Imagine … an Australian community where older people are valued and included in community life, enabled to maintain health & independence, are able to contribute their talents and wisdom, pursue their interests, nurture relationships, maintain their culture and spirituality and be in control of their future. Imagine if those who need support can receive it in a way that supports the above, and is provided with dignity and respect”.
(UnitingCare Australia submission to Productivity Commission – Caring for Older Australians, 2009) 

What is important is not merely adding ‘years to life’ but also adding ‘life to years’.

Meaningful ageing experiences for Australians are facilitated by care and support that put people in the centre and build on their interests, strengths and capabilities. A good support system empowers older people, families and carers, service staff, volunteers and the broader community to live and work together in communities where they experience relationships, joy and hope. People of all ages have a valued place in their communities. Older people enjoy respect and dignity, can exercise their rights, and continue to live and grow to their full potential across all of the dimensions of their humanity. Where people are vulnerable, care and support systems reach out to them in partnership with their communities and are tailored deliberately to meet their needs, preferences and aspirations. (Ageing to our full potential – preparing for an older Australia, UnitingCare report)

Uniting Churches are being encouraged to recognise the human rights and dignity of older people on the first Sunday after the IDOP. This year the date is October 3.

“The Uniting Church’s life is enriched by its many older members who remember faithfully and watch hopefully for where God is leading, and nurture and encourage others across the generations. We give thanks for their worship, witness and service” (Rev Sharon Hollis, President, Uniting Church in Australia)

The proportion of Australian church attenders aged 60+ (48%) is much higher than the proportion of people aged 60+ in the general population (26%). In the Uniting Church, according to the NCLS survey, the Uniting Church had 67% aged 60+ (higher than other denominations [Lutheran (58%), Catholic (55%), Anglican (51%), Pentecostal churches 21%].

While the Australian population continues to age, with the elderly making up an increasing proportion of society, those denominations with established ministries for older residents may find their activities and experience of value to offer their local communities.

We believe in God who is creating all that is,
who knows our hearts and loves us as we are,
who speaks to us in our deepest beings,
who calls people of all ages
to abundant life and wholeness.
Christ Jesus shows us the Way,
guiding us and healing our bodies and minds,
sharing our joys and sufferings,
crossing all human barriers and distinctions,
transforming the power of death into new life.
The Holy Spirit is the gift of God’s life with us now,
giving us the courage to take new paths,
and the strength to continue the journey
in different stages and ages of our lives.
In solitude, vulnerability, compassion and love,
the Spirit reveals her presence with. Amen.
(Source: Worship resources, Older Persons Sunday: dignity and hope for all ages)

Is older age an ‘underlying health condition’?

Published / by Sandy

In the lead up to the UN International Day of Older Persons (October 1), this opinion piece by Dr David Berger, an emergency doctor in northern Australia, provides a thoughtful perspective on how ‘older people’ seem to be viewed in a COVID embattled world. Is age an ‘underlying condition’?

(Published 7 September 2021 in the Sydney Morning Herald)

At the daily press conferences in NSW*, deaths are parenthesised by age and “underlying health conditions”. We are being indoctrinated into believing that these deaths are happening not to healthy young people – the economically productive, important, “valuable” members of society – but rather to the old, the weak, the infirm.

The dead wood, in other words, for whom it would be crazy to jeopardise the success of the economy, or even interrupt people’s pleasure-seeking. We would expect them to die soon anyway, COVID or no COVID.

The Scandinavians, living by forest metaphors, categorise these people as “dry tinder”, that fragile underbrush accumulated on the forest floor and ready to combust, waiting only on the inevitable spark. The narrative is compelling in its implied imagery and quasi-Darwinistic simplicity: a powerful battalion marches forward, its muscular forearms and resolute jaws redolent of the factory worker on a 1950s Soviet poster.

Producing, living, loving – these are the people charged with fulfilling the social and biological destiny of mankind. Of course, they can carry the infirm and the old to an extent – they are not heartless, after all – but only to an extent. As soon as the burden starts to impinge too much on the progress of the Great March Forward, it is time to shed sentimentality and with it those unproductive elements that hold “us” back.

The fact is that one in two Australians has at least one chronic condition and more than one in five of us are over sixty, so it is a nifty trick to get us to believe that these people are all somehow “other”. They are not, they are us, and we are all of inestimable value.

It is a further cynical fiction that soon the rest of “us” will be able to circulate like vaccinated super-beings, impervious to the virus as it scythes down the weak, the infirm, the old. The examples of Israel and other highly vaccinated countries, which are reimposing restrictions hand over fist, show this to be blatantly untrue. A letter from the Business Council of Australia with 80 signatories urges “opening up for the sake of the economy”. If we put aside that this is a factually incorrect position, as the best performing economies have uniformly been those that have opted for eliminating COVID, we are still left asking “what exactly is the economy” and “precisely whose benefit is being served here”?

In a way, “the economy” is really code for movement, the continual displacement of people and things for the purposes of creating profit. Restricting movement – the most powerful weapon against any novel pathogen – impedes the efficient creation of profit. By convincing the bulk of the herd that it is only the weaker animals at the edge that will be picked off by predators, the bulk continues on. No matter that this is not true and that it is a swathe of the bulk itself that is eliminated: population growth will soon fix that in a few years. The essential thing is to keep the herd moving.

Several decades of libertarian political philosophy have resulted in the partial destruction of the idea of collective fates and collective action. All that matters is the individual, who is mendaciously instructed they must keep moving and abandon the weak for the sake of “the economy”, a construct whose purpose increasingly appears to be to deliver excessive profit to fewer and fewer oligarchs.

* The daily press conferences in NSW have been abandoned by the NSW Premier since the publication of this article in the SMH.

Season of Creation – Week 2

Published / by Sandy

A sermon by Rev Sandy Boyce, 12th September 2021

An interesting insight from Paul Farhi from the Washington Post about the ‘crawl’ or ‘ticker’ that feeds the constant news cycle. Those banners on the bottom of your television screens with snippets of breaking news. And we all catch our breath hoping it’s not another disaster, another tragedy. On 9/11, less than an hour after the first tower collapsed, Fox News began a scroll of text across the bottom of the screen, to summarise the events for those wanting to catch up on what was happening. The other channels quickly followed. The crawls were an improvisation, that remained part of what we have become accustomed to, whether it’s on the television, or scrolling through headlines on our smart phones and devices. The crawls became little conveyer belts of doom and dread. They remain, and act now as a reminder that something terrible could be happening, somewhere, to somebody, by somebody – even when there isn’t so much going on at all in a slow news cycle. It can create a perpetual air of crisis and frenzy and partial facts generating opinions. And it leads to a kind of startled paralysis – too much happening in the world so we retreat to our small safe world in our homes. 

Until that small safe world isn’t anymore – and the reality of storms, bushfires, floods, extreme weather events and other so called natural disasters come calling. And the reality of climate crisis, climate justice, climate emergency become something experienced by young and old, rich and poor. We awaken to the real world consequences of our warming climate. Tough news is what we’ve come to expect. Humanity is gaining a glimpse of the dystopia scientists have long warned of due to our profound disruption of the earth’s balance.

Pope Francis’s encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si, says that climate change is real and mainly “a result of human activity.” Humans have pushed the climate into unprecedented territory. The problem is urgent. “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years.”  We must all change our day-to-day actions to live more sustainably.  “Reducing greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility.”  On a larger scale, our leaders must be held to account. “Those who will have to suffer the consequences . . . will not forget this failure of conscience and responsibility.”

Solving climate change means protecting the planet and vulnerable people, and we must hear “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”  Faith can guide us. “The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains – everything is, as it were, a caress of God.” The problems are big and urgent. But hope remains if we act in honesty and love.  “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home . . . Truly, much can be done!” “We need to ensure that the environment is cleaner, purer and that it is conserved. We must care for nature so that nature may care for us”. 

We’re pretty proud as Australians about how we deal with a crisis. Mateship. Working together. Cooperation. And if the earth itself is the one in crisis, can we pull up our sleeves and help to make the change that is needed? Well, yes, we can make adaptions. 

We do what we can with home insulation, recycling, solar panels, fuel efficient cars and other things in our sphere of influence, and mainly in the home. But thinking beyond that is overwhelming. Trying to get the government to make radical shifts to mitigate the effect of climate change seems huge – setting realistic targets and identifying actions that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions and limit the warming, and meet the goals aspired to by the United Nations or by the Paris agreement. One writer said there is a cacophany of mitigation panic. The tragedy is we’ve had the abiity and the roadmap to make major strides in reducing emissions and mitigating climate change for many years. 

But how might our thinking change when we think about earth as our common home. This year, the theme for the season is A home for all? Renewing the Oikos of God. With the followers of Christ from around the world, we share a common role as caretakers of God’s creation. We see that our wellbeing is interwoven with its wellbeing. We rejoice in this opportunity to care for our common home and the sisters and brothers who share it.

Effective mitigration of climate change requires changing human behaviour, ingrained geopolitical and economic power structures, and built infrastructure on a global scale. It requires convincing people to invest for the common good of other people, often decades into the future. “No nation can solve this crisis on our own,” said Joe Biden. This year he called on countries, especially the largest economies, to step up their ambition, including providing greater financing to help vulnerable countries mitigate the impacts of climate change and adapt to a warming world. Biden announced the U.S. would double its climate financing to developing countries by 2024. “This is a moral imperative, an economic imperative,” Biden said. “A moment of peril, but also a moment of extraordinary possibilities. Time is short, but I believe we can do this. And I believe we will do this.” 

Climate despair is a real thing. But as Christiana Figueres says, we can be and need to stubborn optimists choosing to build a better future together. Re-balancing the earth will only be possible with active, forward-moving conviction. The choice that we each must make every day requires that we are fully aware of the reality that we see, not blind to it, and at the same time filled with the conviction that we possess the ingenuity, innovative capacity and determination to change that reality for the better. Outrage and Optimism are both needed at this time. Hope needs to be cradled and cherished lest despair overwhelm and paralyse us.

Take the example of 29 year old Kenyan woman Nzami Matee, who invented a brick stronger than concrete that’s made entirely of recycled materials like plastic. Then there’s Peri Coleman talking about how salinity is effecting the SA St Kilda Mangroves and how nature will move back in and re-generate if given a change. and her fight to preserve the St Kilda mangroves here in South Australia. And an Indian man who has transformed a treeless landscape over the last 20 years. And so many more inspiring stories that give hope! 

9/11 re-membering

Published / by Sandy

It is twenty years since the four coordinated terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda that killed 2,977 people — 2,753 of them at ground zero in New York City. A post from Diana Butler Bass written 10 years after 9/11 (slightly adapted for the 20 year anniversary). Still pertinent.

More than anything on this anniversary I wish to be silent. A few may protest saying it is important to remember the events of two decades ago. That is true. A people must know their past. But who alive has forgotten? Indeed, the media will not let us forget. The images of 9/11 are seared in our minds forever, replayed millions of time on television and across the internet.

There is, however, a difference between memory – the snapshots that stay in our minds always – and remembering.  ‘Remembering’ means to ‘put back together’ the pieces of the past, to rearrange the pictures of memory in order to make meaning, to heal, to forgive or to inspire. Memory and remembering are related, but they are not the same thing. Memory is simply not forgetting, the process in which we feel the power of events once again. Remembering is the hard work of seeing, understanding, making sense of, and learning from the past.

In the two decades since 9/11, we have not forgotten. But we have treated the events of 9/11 rather like taking a video of a loved one’s death – and replaying the end over and over and over. Anyone who has suffered the pain of death knows that endlessly playing a DVD  of the last moment’s of that person’s life will never lead to healing. Indeed, watching death do its worst repeatedly opens grief and wounds anew, imprinting the immediacy of suffering on the minds of the mournful. In order to heal, to ‘move on’ as counsellors say, one must do the hard work of death – to patiently remember the whole life of those who have died and to learn from the gifts that person left behind. Remembering is a process, a spiritual one at that, by which we come to terms with mortality and flawed humanity, as well as the power of courage and abiding love.

We all have a memory of 9/11. But have we remembered?

Silence makes room for remembering. I don’t want to hear patriotic songs, jingoistic speeches, or even well considered rehearsals of ‘what happened on that day’. I want to see no pictures of burning towers or flag waving. I wish for empty public space, a communal practice of quiet, to reflect not only what happened on 9/11, but in the long sad decades since. For just a brief time, I long for, in the words of an ancient hymn, ‘all mortal flesh keep silence’ in the face of fear and trembling that gripped us one September day 20 years ago.

I wonder what we would find there – of ourselves, our neighbours and God – in that void of words?

How has September 11 affected our Christian communities? What shadows did it reveal among some? What strengths did it evoke among others? What has happened to us in the years since?

A hymn for the anniversary of September 11th: O God, Our Hearts Were Shattered
O God, our hearts were shattered On that horrendous day;
We heard the news and gathered To grieve and then to pray.
We cried to you and wondered, “Where did the violence start?”
The world as we had known it Had just been torn apart.

We heard of those who perished — Of heroes’ sacrifice.
We paused again to cherish The gifts of love and life.
We worried for the future; We hugged our loved ones then.
We cried, “Can peace be found here?” “We can’t let terror win!”

Some sought to answer terror The only way they knew —
With anger toward the stranger And calls for vengeance, too.
Yet this is not your answer, Nor what you would create.
May we live toward a future Where love will conquer hate.

God, give us faith and wisdom To be your healing hands;
Give open minds that listen To truth from all your lands.
Give strength to work for justice; Grant love that casts out fear.
Then peace and not destruction Will be the victor here.
Tune: LLANGLOFFAN D (“Lead On, O King Eternal”; “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers”)
Text: Carolyn Winfrey Gillette

(You might be interested in an open online ‘pop up’ class exploring the impact of 9/11 and all that followed on Christianity, with Diana Butler Bass, Tripp Fuller and Brian McLaren – six sessions, pay what you can, watch anytime over the next 12 months. The 6 Feature Sessions are: 20 Years of Religious Decline; The Rise of Authoritarianism; Repentance & Resistance; Inter-religious Learning; Theology & Spirituality in Times of Rupture; Christianity – Should I Stay or Should I Go?)


Season of Creation

Published / by Sandy

It’s spring – a time for fresh life and abundant growth!

It’s the time we have the opportunity to celebrate the Season of Creation. This is a world-wide ecumenical movement to recognise the wonder of the gift of the earth and the living world. This world speaks to us of God.

This year the Season of Creation has, as its theme, ‘A Home For All? Renewing the Oikos of God’. This is our home, but not ours alone.

The Season of Creation draws our attention to caring for the entire ‘web of life’. We are understanding more and more that what we do has an impact on the earth and all living things and that we have a role as healers in our world.

Climate change and it’s ramifications can weigh on us heavily.

Maybe it’s time for spring cleaning – local, national, global, personal, communal, political?

One small step at a time. Is it enough? We know how dispiriting and overwhelming we can feel in the face of one crisis after another.

What sustains hope for renewal?

Christiana Figueres, a former diplomat and longtime climate change leader, presided over the 2015 Paris climate talks for the United Nations. She sees optimism as a key solution for climate change. She introduced the concept of relentless (stubborn) optimism to fight for the future. In fact, her whole brand is optimism. She founded a group called Global Optimism, and co-authored a book titled, “The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis.” She believes the only choice we have is to take a determined, optimistic mindset.

“It is only by doing something positive to contribute to the solution that you actually dispel the bubble of despair and move into a much more constructive frame of mind and a much more impactful space in which you can make a difference. Yes, we have a very difficult situation in front of us. But if we are negative about it, I guarantee we will not be able to get out of it,” she explains.

She considers optimism is imperative in the struggle for climate justice.

How do we take that stance – relentless stubborn optimism – in our own lives?

How do we live with the weighty matters that cluster around climate change, while maintaining a relentless stubborn optimism?

It is a question that needs resolution so we can get on with global ‘spring cleaning’.

She goes on to say, “If we do not devote our energies, our thinking, our actions, our decisions, our finance, our policies, toward addressing climate change, we are implicitly, or in fact, even explicitly contributing to more inequality. It is precisely because of the inequality that we have to address climate change”.

Spring cleaning = positive resolve… participation … priorities … prayer