Scripture and Theology

Human sexuality and the Bible

The recent Israel Folau controversy has highlighted various issues: freedom of expression in modern society, the place of religion in Australian society, the ethics of professionalism … and questions of biblical interpretation.

For people within the Uniting Church, the Basis of Union provides a foundation for careful and prayerful thinking about scripture. The Basis affirms that the witness of scripture is to be understood through the work undertaken by scholarly interpreters, by insights that have arisen in scientific and medical investigation, by understandings that have developed in society, as we better understand how human beings operate and how they function. All of these are important matters to consider when we think about human sexuality.

A number of passages are regularly cited in relation to matters of human sexuality, and particularly homosexuality. We need to think about those sections of scripture in the light of this way of approaching the biblical texts.

Elizabeth and I have written a brief discussion of the texts most often cited when “homosexuality” is debated by Christian people–especially conservative Christian people. It is an expansion of our earlier blog post (noted below).

A longer discussion of these issues is now posted on the Uniting Network website (see http://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/02-Human-Sexuality-in-Biblical-Perspectives.pdf) as part of a collection of resources for Open and Affirming Churches (see http://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au/open-and-affirming-project/)

LGBTIQ+ people often refer to these passages as the “clobber passages”, since they are regularly (mis)used to “clobber” people who identify as LGBTIQ or other related designations.

These texts were originally written either in Hebrew or in Greek, so there are questions about how particular words should be translated, whether there are exact equivalences in English, and so on. Many translations use the word “homosexual” where the original language actually requires more nuance in translation.

A second factor is that we need to reflect on the cultural customs of the societies within which the Bible came to be written. It is important to consider how these cultural customs have shaped the way in which the words were written. “Homosexuality” is a modern concept, which was not known to the writers of the biblical texts in the way that we understand it.

Scripture does not include anything relating to the loving, committed, lifelong relationship of two people of the same gender. So we need to take care when we use these “clobber passages” in our discussions. None of them should actually be used to criticise LGBTIQ+ people.

Alongside these passages, there are many sections of scripture which provide a more positive outlook on human sexuality. So we have offered a short reflection on a number of the key affirming and inclusive verses.

Our discussion of these passages can be read at

http://www.unitingnetworkaustralia.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/02-Human-Sexuality-in-Biblical-Perspectives.pdf

Geoff Thompson has a careful consideration of the cluster of issues in the Israel Folau scenario at https://theconversation.com/amp/why-christians-disagree-over-the-israel-folau-saga-118773

See also

https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/30/marrying-same-gender-people-a-biblical-rationale/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/01/13/affirmations-we-can-make-together/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/26/once-again-affirming-our-diversity-celebrating-joyous-marriages/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/01/15/when-you-suffer-the-whole-body-of-christ-suffers/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/10/26/marriage-of-same-gender-people-a-gift-to-the-whole-church/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/09/19/discernment/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/31/abundant-grace-liberating-hope/

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Environment

Australian Religious Leaders support renewable energy

I have joined more than one hundred and fifty religious leaders across Australia as a signatory to an open letter to the Prime Minister about the climate crisis. The letter has been released today, 25 June 2019.

We are writing because we have #NoFaithInCoal and we need to grow our use of renewable energy sources. We asking Mr Morrison to show real moral leadership by taking bold action along the lines that the school strikers have demanded:

Stopping the proposed Adani coal mine

Committing to no new coal or gas projects in Australia

Moving to 100% renewable energy by the year 2030.

You can read the letter at https://www.arrcc.org.au/no_faith_in_coal?utm_campaign=no_faith_in_coal&utm_medium=email&utm_source=arrcc

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Scripture and Theology

Freedom and unity: themes in Galatians

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery … For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters” (Gal 5:1, 13).

Paul’s letter to the Galatians continues in the Revised Common Lectionary for a number of Sundays. This Sunday, the focus is on freedom.

In last week’s reading, we saw that the gospel which Paul proclaims has the capacity to make believers “one in Christ”. This unity overshadows all divisions—as the most famous words in this letter declare, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female” (3:28). 

The threat against this unity has arisen through the insistence of other teachers, that true faith requires, first, circumcision (2:12; see Acts 15:1, 5). Paul asserts that they want their followers to be circumcised—although surprisingly, he notes that they themselves “do not obey the law” (6:13). 

Paul claims that the “circumcision faction” were preaching “another gospel” (1:6) in which they actually “pervert the gospel” (1:7). He calls them “false believers” (2:4) who have “bewitched” the Galatians (3:1). His vehemence at one point is such that he exclaims, “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!” (5:12). 

Paul’s problem, of course, is that he himself is circumcised, as he mentions at Phil 3:5 (a fact which he omits when he rehearses his past at Gal 1:13–14). How can he advocate the opening of the faith to those who are not circumcised, when he himself bears this sign of the covenant? 

He insists that the Galatians “become as I am” (4:12), and yet threatens that “if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you” (5:2). What applies to Gentile converts must be different from what is the case amongst Jewish converts. 

Circumcision was the pre-eminent sign of the Law for Jewish believers. Paul wants to move the Galatians away from their understanding of the Law. He re-interprets the scriptural passage which lies behind this Jewish custom. Galatians 3:1–5:1 thus contains a tightly-argued, complex argument concerning the Law. 

Paul uses the story of Abraham, the patriarch to whom the requirement of circumcision was first commanded, as a sign of the covenant (Gen 17). He interprets this story without once mentioning circumcision (3:6–18). It is the faith of Abraham, in believing God’s promise, which secured him righteousness (3:6–7) and opens the promise to Gentiles (3:8–9). It is that promise which is now fulfilled in Christ (3:13–14, 16, 29). This is the pathway to freedom in faith.

This letter demonstrates that freedom is at the heart of the Gospel. Paul offers this freedom anew to the believers in Galatia. The Gospel frees them from the complex web of duties and responsibilities under the Law. 

The call to freedom (5:1, 13) becomes a platform for ethical guidance, grounded in love (5:13–14), manifested in living by the spirit (5:22–26), not by the flesh (5:16–21). This ethic requires believers to “bear one another’s burdens “(6:2) and “work for the good of all” (6:10). In this way, they will become “a new creation” (6:15). The gospel which brings liberation in community (3:28) will also lead to liberation for the creation (6:15).

Galatians is important because of the central theme of freedom which it articulates. In what ways does your faith provide you with a sense of freedom?

Image: Painting of Paul from Cave of St. Paul in Ephesus c. 450 AD

See also https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/17/harness-the-passion-but-restrain-the-rhetoric-musing-on-the-role-model-which-paul-offers-in-galatians/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/11/17/let-your-gentleness-be-known-to-everyone/

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Scripture and Theology

Providing for the exercise by men and women of the gifts God bestows upon them: lay people presiding at the sacraments in the Uniting Church

The Uniting Church has a firm commitment to being part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. This is affirmed in our Basis of Union as well as in many places in liturgies and papers written on various topics.

Belonging to this body, along with many other denominations—Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Church of Christ, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and others—means that we seek to find the things in common, that we hold across the denominations. As members of that one body, we share many beliefs, practices, customs and commitments.

From time to time, however, one of those denominations will make a decision or implement a policy that sets it apart, in some, from the others. This process of differentiation is perfectly normal and quite understandable. Human beings are all different from one another. We have many things in common, but some things that set us apart as different.

The matter of presiding at the sacraments is one such case in point. For twenty-five years, now, the Uniting Church has authorised lay people to preside at the sacraments. In many denominations, this role is the preserve of the clergy who have been ordained, set apart for a priestly role, which includes presiding at the sacraments. So, for the Uniting Church to introduce the practice of authorising lay people to undertake this role, is a distinctive feature.

Of course, there are other practices within the Uniting Church which differentiate us from other members of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Ordaining women is one such practice; it is not done in many denominations around the world. Permitting ministers to be married is another; some denominations do not have such a practice. The ordaining of a person to the ministry of Deacon, a ministry that is equal in status and equivalent in function alongside the Minister of the Word, is another Uniting Church distinctive.

Despite these distinctive, we still maintain cordial and respectful relationships with other denominations where those practices are not found. We recognise that it is possible to be different within the one body. Diversity is not division, and unity is not uniformity. We co-exist in our diversity within unity.

We need also to note that, within the Uniting Church, authorising lay people to preside at the Sacraments is understood as being faithful to our commitment in the Basis of Union. In that document, the church affirms that the one Spirit has endowed the members of Christ’s Church with a diversity of gifts, and then declares that the Uniting Church will … provide for the exercise by men and women of the gifts God bestows upon them (Basis of Union para 13). Leading a gathering of faithful people in a celebration of one of the sacraments of the church is one such gifting, for which appropriate provision has been made.

Four four days over the last two months, Elizabeth and I have been working with a group of lay leaders from across our Presbytery as they prepare to fulfil this ministry within the community of faith where they worship and serve. It is always an inspiring opportunity, to work with committed people who are equipping themselves for new forms of service.

We take four days, across two weekends, to explore the Biblical passages relevant to the two sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, as well as the relevant paragraphs from the Basis of Union, which sets out the theological understandings held by the church in relation to these sacraments.

We spend some time exploring the structure of the liturgy for worship in Sunday services, where each sacrament “fits” within that structure, and what the component parts of each sacrament are. We look at the role of symbols, in life in general, and in worship in particular, and explore the various symbolisms inherent in each sacrament.

There are case studies and role plays included in the resources for the group to use. This helps participants to “get inside” the role of Lay Presider, both in the worship itself, and in the times of preparation for each sacrament, such as the pre-Baptism interview with candidates or parents of the child to be baptised.

We spend each Sunday morning attending the worship of a local congregation within the Presbytery, where Holy Communion is being celebrated. This gives participants an opportunity to experience worship led by an experienced minister (either ordained or lay), and then to reflect on the experience with critical insight.

Finally, there is a session for each sacrament devoted to the various practical considerations associated with each sacrament. Each member of the class takes a turn in leading a part of the liturgy, and we discuss matters such as voice projection, eye contact with the congregation, gestures, actions integral to the worship, and so on.

To complete the requirements of the course, participants seeking to become lay presieers must submit four written assignments followed by the conducting of a service with supervisory assessment of the candidate by an experienced Minister or Lay Presider.

In undertaking this course, we demonstrate the way that the Uniting Church works. Every one of the four councils of the church plays a role. We follow the national Assembly guidelines for Lay Presiders, using the educational resources provided by the Synod. The Presbytery (the regional body) offers the training. The local Church Council designates the candidate(s) for this ministry, who must share in the pastoral oversight of the congregation or faith community, and requests the Presbytery to approve them once they have completed their assignments.

The final step is for the Presbytery to approve for the conduct of Sacraments by the authorised Lay Presider within the designated congregation. Authorisation is for a designated period of time, and must be reviewed before it can be renewed, if appropriate, at a later time.

The process is relatively slow and complex, but that is to ensure that not just anybody can perform this role; those who do so must be recognised as gifted for the role, then trained and equipped for the role, before they are authorised.

In part, this is because the Uniting Church takes seriously the process of appropriate equipping people for ministry. In part, it is because of our ecumenical commitments, and sensitivities to how presiding at the Sacraments is understood and practised in other denominations within the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

And that is something for which, I believe, we ought to be most grateful.

The photo shows participants in the course, Understanding the Sacraments, held mid-2019 in the Canberra Region Presbytery.

For the Assembly guidelines on lay presidency, see https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/stories/ASCMinutes/2013/July/13.07Minutes-Attachment_A-_Lay_presidency_Guidelines.pdf

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First Peoples in Australia, Scripture and Theology

The DNA of the UCA (part II)

Two years ago, for the fortieth anniversary of the formation of the Uniting Church in Australia, I prepared a resource exploring the key characteristics of this church. This week, for the 52nd anniversary, I am reposting those thoughts. Here is a second set of five key characteristics.

VI A very important dimension to being the church in this country is that we are a church in Covenant with the First Peoples of Australia. From its earliest years, the Uniting Church has been involved in actions which express our solidarity with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Older members will recall events at Noonkanbah Station in the Kimberley in 1980, when Uniting Church members stood in solidarity with the traditional owners, the Yungngora people, against the mining of their land.

The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) was established in 1985, and a Covenant between the UAICC and the UCA was implemented in 1994. This Covenant recognises that working for reconciliation amongst people is central to the Gospel.

In 2009, the Preamble to the UCA Constitution was revised to recognise the difficult history of relationships between the First Peoples and the later arrivals, as Second Peoples. Our present relationship is one which seeks to ensure that we commit to the destiny together which we share as Australians.

VII In the same year that the Congress was formed, the Uniting Church declared that it is a multicultural church, which rejoices in the diversity of cultures and languages which are found across Australia. The Basis of Union recognises that we share much, as Australians, with people of Asia and the Pacific. The Uniting Church has maintained strong relationships with churches from these regions, as well forging new links with churches in Africa and the Middle East.

The Statement to the Nation, issued in 1977, acknowledged that the Uniting Church seeks a unity that transcends cultural, economic and racial distinctions. Within Australia, there are currently 12 national conferences based on regional groupings and people from 193 language groups who belong to the Uniting Church.

Each Sunday, worship takes place in Uniting Churches in 26 different languages, not including the many indigenous languages used in worship by first peoples across our church.

Through UnitingWorld, we maintain partnerships with churches in Asia, the Pacific, Africa and the Middle East. We are truly a multicultural church. Through the Relations with Other Faiths Working Group, the Uniting Church has been active in developing relationships with other faith communities. We are firmly committed to constructive interfaith relations.

VIII Over 40 years, the Uniting Church has shown that it is a church which is prepared to engage in difficult discussions about contentious issues. Our Basis of Union commits us to learn from the insights of contemporary scientific and historical studies, and affirms that we remain open to correction by God in the way we order our life together.

In the early years of the Uniting Church, debates about Baptism were the focus of great controversy. Infant baptism had been an integral part of the worship practices of each denomination which joined the Uniting Church, but Ministers and Elders Councils were receiving regular requests for baptism by adults who had been baptised as infants but had come to a personal faith later in their lives. After debates stretching through the 1980s and 1990s, the Uniting Church has developed a clear set of protocols to cover such requests.

Another area of enduring controversy has been that of human sexuality. There is a wide diversity of opinion within society relating to such matters, and this diversity is present within the Uniting Church. Once again, from the 1980s though into the present era, lively debates regarding human sexuality have taken place in the various councils of the church. In dealing with such issues, we have learned how to debate with respect and integrity with ongoing conversations looking to employ a “Space for Grace” process to encourage respectful, empowering, and inclusive decision-making. Let us hope that this trait stays firmly embedded in the DNA of the UCA.

IX The Uniting Church inherited from its predecessor Churches a strong commitment to advocating for justice for all. Many Uniting Church congregations and members are actively committed to serving those people who find themselves on the margins of society. This commitment was clearly articulated in the 1977 Statement to the Nation and it has been evident in many actions undertaken by Uniting Church members over the decades.

The Uniting Church has joined in common cause with other groups and organisations in society, in advocating for a welcoming attitude towards refugees; in lobbying for a fair and just system of caring for people who are experiencing poverty and homelessness; in seeking equity for workers in their workplace; and in many other issues.

A regular stream of policy documents and public resolutions point to a clear and unbroken commitment to seeking justice for all.

X In like manner, the Uniting Church has always been a church which honours the environment and supports a sustainable lifestyle.

Although such matters are firmly on the radar of the public now, they have long been integral to the DNA of the UCA. Once again, the 1977 Statement to the Nation flagged such commitment. A series of subsequent documents attest to the ongoing determination of the church to live responsibly, in such a way that we minimise the damage we cause to the environment in which we live.

Our partnerships with Churches in the Pacific have intensified our awareness of the negative impacts that are resulting from climate change. We know that we need to act now, to reduce the threat.

So, many congregations and individual members of the UCA are seeking to implement practices that will reduce their carbon footprint on the planet. We know that we owe it to future generations, to live responsibly in the present.

For the first five key characteristics, see https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/18/the-dna-of-the-uca-part-i/

So: these are ten strands to our DNA, as far as my thinking is concerned. What about you?

Would you add anything? Take anything away?

What do you think are the essential aspects of our UCA DNA?

See also https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/15/what-i-really-like-about-the-basis-of-union/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/20/alongside-the-basis-of-union-there-was-the-statement-to-the-nation/

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Scripture and Theology

The DNA of the UCA (part I)

Two years ago, for the fortieth anniversary of the formation of the Uniting Church in Australia, I prepared a resource exploring the key characteristics of this church. This week, for the 52nd anniversary, I am reposting those thoughts. Here are the first five characteristics.

I When the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian churches joined together in 1977 to form the Uniting Church in Australia, they declared that this union was both in accord with the will of God, and that it was a gift of God to the people of God in Australia.

Since then, the Uniting Church has been a church which is committed to working ecumenically with other Christian denominations. That commitment is one very important aspect of our DNA as a Uniting Church.

We belong to the National Council of Churches in Australia and the World Council of Churches, where we co-operate with many denominations.

Nationally, we have participated in ongoing conversations with other denominations (Anglican, Lutheran, Greek Orthodox, and Roman Catholic). At the grassroots level, our ministers participate in local ministers’ associations in hundreds of towns and cities across the nation. We are an ecumenical church.

II The Uniting Church is a church which values the ministry of all the people of God and seeks to order itself in accordance with the will of God. Our Basis of Union affirms that every member of the church is engaged to confess Christ crucified, and every person is gifted by the Spirit to engage in ministry in their own particular way. We are a church that values the ministry of each and every person.

Throughout the last 40 years, we have held our structures and forms of ministry accountable to ongoing scrutiny. Alongside the Ministry of the Word, to nurture and guide Congregations, we have introduced the Ministry of Deacon, to focus attention on people living on the margins.

We have also undertaken important conversations about membership and the relationship of Baptism to Holy Communion. We now have a clear commitment to an open table when we gather for The Lord’s Supper: all who are baptised (whether adult or child, whether confirmed or not) are welcome to share at this table.

III The Basis of Union makes it very clear that we are a church which is committed to equality and mutuality of women and men in ministry. Even before 1977, the three previous denominations had ordained women to ministry.

Since 1977, many women have stood on an equal basis alongside men, as Ministers of the Word, Deacons, Elders, Church Councillors, Lay Preachers,
Lay Presiders, Chaplains, and Pastoral Carers. We value the insights and experience of women.

In this our 40th year, lay and ordained women serve in leadership positions across all councils of the Uniting Church from Presbytery Chairpersons to Moderators to the Assembly General Secretary. Many couples minister together as husband and wife. Gender equality is most certainly part of our DNA!

IV Another contribution that the UCA has made has been to highlight the importance, when we gather in council, of being open to the Spirit, and seeking to discern the will of God.

We live this out in our councils by practising a process of consensus decision-making. The Manual for Meetings sets out the various elements that are involved in making decisions by discernment: a time of information, a time of deliberation, and a time of decision-making.

The infamous “coloured cards” are only one small part of the whole. The focus is on listening to the Spirit before we speak, and striving to find a way forward that most, if not all, people can see as the will of God for the church. This way of decision-making, which originated in the UCA, has now been adopted by the World Council of Churches and a number of its member Churches.

V Over the last 20 years, the Uniting Church has developed a firm commitment to strong professional standards, for Ministers as well as for lay people who exercise leadership in the church. Our commitment to professional standards emerged initially in response to the problems of sexual misconduct within the church. A whole section of the Regulations is now devoted to this.

Since 1999, all Ministers have been expected to adhere to a Code of Ethics, and this has most recently been revised to provide a Code of Ethics Ministry Practice for Ministers and a Code of Conduct for Lay Leaders. Ministers and pastors undertake regular training in aspects of this code, in ethical ministry workshops.

This, too, is integral to the DNA of the UCA.

For part two, see https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/18/the-dna-of-the-uca-part-ii/

See also https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/15/what-i-really-like-about-the-basis-of-union/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/20/alongside-the-basis-of-union-there-was-the-statement-to-the-nation/

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Scripture and Theology

Harness the passion, but restrain the rhetoric. Musing on the role model which Paul offers in Galatians.

For the next few weeks, the Revised Common Lectionary includes sections from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I am interested to explore this text in relation to our contemporary context, and particularly consider what sort of role model Paul offer us, as he writes this short but potent letter.

The letter to the Galatians begins in a dramatic, striking fashion. There can be no doubting the passion that is driving Paul as he writes (or, more likely, dictates) this message to the Galatian believers. The very way that this letter starts is instructive.

Almost all of his letters begin with a prayer of thanksgiving, designed to strengthen the relationship between Paul and those to whom he writes. Not so in Galatians: in place of a friendly thanksgiving, Paul launches straight into a devastating criticism of the Galatians, with the wordsI am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you …[that you] are turning to a different gospel … [that] some are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.

In quick succession, he criticises their activities, attacks the beliefs they have adopted from their teachers, and invokes a curse on their heads (1:6-9). That is quite a dramatic opening section! As the letter proceeds, he accuses the Galatian believers of being fools who have been bewitched by deceivers; he accuses them of biting and devouring one another; he criticises them for urging Gentile converts to be circumcised and to adopt full adherence to the Torah. This is no gentle, reflective spiritual meditation; this is full-on partisan polemics!

What do we make of this language used by Paul?

Strong language is not uncommon in Paul’s letters. It was also widespread amongst the educated class of the day, who had been taught how to mount a strong and effective criticism by the careful use of rhetorical techniques. Rhetoric was taught to privileged young (male) members of Greco-Roman society—which would have included Paul. Many of the techniques taught in those schoolrooms are in evidence in the letter to the Galatians.

Paul uses familiar rhetorical techniques to address the situation in Galatia, to expose his concerns, and to articulate his point of view. Other teachers had visited the Galatian community, and had taught them things that were at odds with what Paul was teaching. Paul uses rhetoric to persuade the Galatians to dissociate themselves from the teachings which apparently had been so effective amongst them. 

If we knew precisely who the Galatians were, what group of teachers had been active amongst them, or what specific matters caused Paul to write this letter, we might be better placed to adjudicate on this matter. Unfortunately, we don’t have this kind of information.

The letter is sent to communities of faith in a whole region (Galatia, 1:2), not a single city or town. Acts indicates that Paul visited there with Barnabas he visited Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:14–14:23) and later with Timothy (18.23). But we learn no further specifics of the Galatian churches from Acts. There is a similar vagueness about the date of the letter; “late 40s or early 50s” is most often cited. So the specifics of the origins of this letter are not entirely clear.

Nevertheless, the dynamic that we can perceive within this letter, between its author, Paul, and the disciples in the region of Galatia, are quite interesting. Perhaps, even, disturbing. Certainly, to be sure, challenging. Not only with his dramatic language at the start, but also in the middle of the letter, Paul is in full flight: “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? … Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?” (3:1, 3).

And towards the end of the letter, he launches into the Galatians yet again, providing a long list of “the works of the flesh”, those negative things that they are doing (5:19-21), and then seeking to persuade them to change their behaviour , “Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” (5:26).

The letter is peppered with such robust, assertive, even aggressive polemic.

In the church today, as in the wider society, we regularly encounter similarly robust conversations, in which aggressive name calling and simplistic sloganeering abound. In the Uniting Church, debates over sexuality have, for decades now, often lapsed into accusations of heresy, advocacy of progressive views, reinforcement of allegedly orthodox stances, and charges of being inspired by Satan. Such is the way of our discussions together, sadly.

In reflecting on such discussions in the context of this letter from scripture, I think we can validly affirm the model that Paul provides, at least in this: articulating what we hold as important, in ways that are clear, through advocacy that seeks to be compelling, in terms that aim to be persuasive. We all need to implement this in our lives. Be clear about what we believe, stand firm for what we value. Those are valuable elements in the model that Paul provides for us.

At the same time, I want to quarrel with the apostle in terms of the manner by which he does this. Aggression which feeds conflict, confrontational polemic which becomes vituperative hate speech, serves nobody any good. Let us not take this element of the model that is provided in Galatians; let us steer away from personalised name-calling and theological sloganeering wherever we can.

Was Paul effective and successful in convincing the saints in Galatia to turn from the pathway they were travelling, to adopt new practices and implement new patterns of discipleship? We don’t actually know. We have his powerful words of persuasion as a testimony to his passion, but no follow-up communications indicating how the Galatians responded.

I suggest that it is good for us to hold to that passion which Paul exhibited, but we need to work hard to ensure that our discussions remain constructive, that our debates demonstrate respect for the other, that our words to one another will build up rather than tear down.

See also https://johntsquires.com/2018/11/17/let-your-gentleness-be-known-to-everyone/

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Scripture and Theology

“Do you believe in the Triune God?”

Every so often, I get asked the question, “Do you believe in the Triune God?”

My answer to that question involves consideration of a number of areas.

One. History

I accept that the Trinity is a helpful way of understanding God that the church has employed throughout most of its history. It arose within the debates that took place amongst philosophically-aware teachers of the church in the third and fourth centuries, so as an historical phenomenon, I can see that it makes a lot of sense within that context.

Three persons, consubstantial, of the same nature, co-inheriting, all makes sense in terms of the philosophical context of the day. Clearly, these were important ideas at the time; they generated vigorous debates amongst church leaders for quite some time!

That was how they thought and wrote, so analysing and describing God in terms of ‘persons’, ‘substance’ and ‘essence’, was utilising the tools of the time. From my studies of the period, and of many of the writings of these teachers as they debated and probed the ideas, I find I can generally admire their intellectual strength and spiritual insight in the course of these debates.

Viewed contextually, in their own time within history, the affirmations about God as “triune” make good sense. I value the concept of the Trinity as a fine example of good, honest, contextual theology.

Two. Scripture

I don’t find that there is a clearly-articulated awareness of a “three-in-one, one-in-three” divine being within either testament of the Bible. At best there are hints and clues which later investigators used, in the 3rd to 5th centuries, as the basis for their own theoretical speculations.

Neither the Hebrew Scriptures nor the Greek New Testament are informed by the developed neo-platonic worldview which was held by those Christian teachers of later centuries. So none of the writers of books which are placed into scripture can articulate things in the way that was later developed.

It is clear to me that a number of the individual elements (both the ‘persons’ and their attributes, or qualities) which made up the fourth-century concept of a triune God, are all to be found within the works of assorted first century followers of Jesus, which were eventually collected together as part of Christian scripture, the New Testament.

It is also clear to me that many of these elements are most certainly not found, in the way they are used in Christian theology, in the Jewish writings from centuries prior to Jesus, which were collected together as Hebrew Scripture.

So the individual elements can be seen if we identify a number of New Testament texts, extract those elements from their context, and combine them artificially into a new combination of ideas that we then grant the status of a reality. Clearly, the fully-fledged, totally integrated concept that the later fathers developed, is not there. Scripture does not testify to the “three-in-one” concept of God that is articulated in later theology.

This is an important distinction to maintain. Perhaps you can argue that individual elements are present in some biblical passages for assorts books. But certainly I cannot see how the final, integrated idea is put forward at any point in Scripture.

And, of course, there are numerous ways of understanding God, articulated in both testaments, which are not of primary consideration in the “doctrine of the Trinity” that arose over time. Hebrew and Greek writers offer a wide range of diverse insights into what God may well be like. A “triune God” is one, but by no means the only, deduction to be drawn from scripture.

Three. Liturgy

Personally, I find that the threefold pattern of prayers and litanies that have been developed within the church is a useful, and often quite poetic, help in shaping public worship and private prayers. And that makes sense, since the pattern of threes is a common technique in public speaking, in speeches, in jokes, and so also in liturgies.

However, I don’t for one moment imagine that the way I shape my litanies and prayers is a full and final reflection of the inner nature, the “essential being”, of God. That points in some ways to God, but by no means defines the essence of God. So I am open to other patterns and structures in worship, and in talking about God, as well.

Four. Doctrine

I do have a degree of frustration with the way that what appears to be a fixed, solidified understanding of ‘the Trinity’ or ‘the Triune God’ has taken hold, not only in many liturgies, but also in much theological writing and thinking, and doctrinal treatises, in our own time. This doctrine seems to have become a touchstone for orthodoxy, a test as to how genuine one’s doctrinal understanding is. We have solidifed our view of God into a Trinitarian formula.

The effect of this “solidification” of views about God has been that it has squeezed the life out of a wide range of other expressions as to who God is, how we relate to God, and what we understand of the mystery of the deity. Our doctrine (teaching) about God needs to be open to our range of experiences as we encounter and engage with and meditate upon God.

One way that systematic thinkers have grappled with the doctrine is by focussing on the notion that the Trinity places the idea of ‘community’ right at the heart of God; and that this then provides a mandate for exhorting our fellow human beings to live relationally, in community, with one another. That is an attractive idea, to be sure — and one that is much needed in modern society.

But how do we really know what is at the heart of God? what is the essential nature of God, within God’s own self? We can’t be sure that this is actually how God is. And why do we need an abstract theory of ideas and concepts to validate the exhortation to live in community? A theoretical philosophical doctrine, shaped so long ago, isn’t really a convincing argument in modern public discourse, I would have thought.

Five. Polemics.

Modern theologians are quite taken by the notion that the doctrine of the Trinity provides some unifying vision that enables Christian believers to feel content in their close relationship with God, and affirmed in their positive relationships with other people of faith (and beyond …).

I find it ironic, however, that the process by which this unifying vision emerged was through a series of entirely pragmatic political powerplays exercised by a group of church fathers who soughty and gained control over the church.

Those patristic patriarchs “played hard”, confronted alternative points of view, argued vociferously against them, expelled their proponents from the church, and created creeds which shut out these so-called ‘deviant’ or ‘heretical’ opinions. They were convinced that they possessed The Truth, and any other view was Beyond The Pale.

The irony is that such modern theologians can so readily overlook the hardball powerplays of the patriarchal pugilists, and create theories and pictures of trinity-as-communion, trinity-as-unity-in-diversity, and the whole idealistic perichoretic thing.

I’m somewhat sceptical of the conclusions to which such modern theologians arrive (very nice as they are, very appealing as they emerge), largely because these theologians appear to be completely oblivious to the rough, painful and highly politicised process by which the doctrine was created.

I wonder: would any of the fathers of old have been up on Discipline Charges, given they ways that they prosecuted their arguments and dealt with dissidents, if they were miraculously transported into the contemporary church??

Six. Prayer

It seems to me that the doctrinal stranglehold of the Triune God has limited, confined—even belittled—our human grasping after God, our human imaginings of who God is, our human efforts to articulate something of how we might gain access to the inner workings of God.

I am actually quite unsure as to how we human beings can do this with final, definitive confidence, so I much prefer the openness of pondering about, and praying with, God, that is not limited by trinitiarian formulae and dogmas. Prayer, after all, is opening ourselves to a renewed encounter with the divine.

I do not believe that the Trinity as a doctrine has nothing at all to offer to us today. That is not so. But, by the same token, there is so much more to ponder, explore, and explain, beyond this strict triune formula, so I think we need to be regularly reminded that we ought to be opened up to those possibilities.

So I am happy to have a place for “the Triune God” amongst the various ways in which I think about and relate to God. But it is not the one and only thing to be said, or thought, or prayed, in relation to God.

Seven. Mission and Meaning.

So, I reckon that Trinity Sunday provides a new missional opportunity. The missional task that we face is to follow the example provided by the contextualised development of doctrine by the church fathers. This Trinity Sunday, instead of sermons that grind through abstruse and remote arguments for the Trinity, I would hope we can begin to find ways, in the contemporary context, where we can talk about God and bear witness to our faith, using concepts that are understandable and ideas that are enlivening.

If we want to talk about the divine delight in deep relationships and God’s desire to relate fully to our world, then concepts of incarnation, God coming “down” to earth, hypostatic equality, co-inherence and perichoresis, just won’t cut through in the contemporary era.

We need to move beyond the ossified conceptualisation of God from so many centuries ago, and begin to create our own language and our own ideas for bearing witness to what we know in God. Mere repetition of ancient speculation and debate will not suffice.

It seems to me that, if we want to engage adequately in mission, we have to be immersed in our world, fully part of the communion of daily life. One critical problem is that when we devote time to speaking of the Trinity, using abstract philosophical terms drawn from the foreign languages of antiquity, then we are privileging the voices of male patriarchs from antiquity, over the lived experience of faithful people in these present time.

The Gospel is surely that God’s generous self-outpouring is evident in actions which foster justice and deeds which demonstrate compassion; in loving relationships and in living the values of the kingdom. Words which are uttered about concepts which are about imagined entities and their relationships, will not suffice. We need new images, concepts and doctrines: new images to reflect who God is for us, new concepts to help us think further about God, and new doctrines to speak clearly about God in our contemporary context!

(The image is a literalist personification of the doctrine of the Trinity, from the so-called Dogmatic Sarcophagus, c. 350 CE, kept in the Vatican Museums)

Geoff Thompson has recently written a thoughtful and challenging reflection on the Trinity at http://xenizonta.blogspot.com/2019/06/trinitarian-disruption.html

Craig Mitchell has offered these words (to a familiar tune) which provide a supportive expression of how we encounter the triune God in our lives at https://craigmitchell.typepad.com/mountain_masala/2012/05/creator-companion-comforter.html?fbclid=IwAR39O1mfvMFx4dKIPtUhuUKfldiW4LAZZp2zgh4A6j37AGCh4tPDyWjGDqQ

For my musings about the creeds and what they contain, see

https://johntsquires.com/2018/10/30/affirming-the-teachings-of-jesus/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/11/02/interpreting-the-creeds-in-a-later-age/

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Scripture and Theology

The Paraclete in John’s Gospel: exploring the array of translation options (John 14, 15, 16)

The Gospel reading for this Sunday (John 15) contains a rather unusual word, which is translated in various ways across the range of English translations. The word (in Greek) is parakletos. It appears four times in the Gospel of John (14:16, 14:26, 15:26, and 16:7) and once more in the first epistle of John (1 John 2:1). How should this word be translated?

First, a word about translations. There is a range of possibilities for undertaking a translation of the Bible into modern English, stretching across a spectrum that ranges from formal correspondence translations, all the way to dynamic equivalence translations. 

At one end of the spectrum, formal correspondence translations place a high value on sticking closely to the original biblical language. They follow, as closely as is possible, what was written in the original language. Where the original Greek or Hebrew is obscure, it may attempt to assist the reader in some measure; but the sentence structure of the original language is basically adhered to, and there are approximately the same number of words in the translation as in the original. 

At the other end of the spectrum of translations, dynamic equivalence translations move the emphasis away from the original language; the overriding concern of the translators is to communicate the meaning of the text in contemporary, idiomatic English expression. There are anumber of such translations that have been published over the years.

When we turn to this single Greek word, used in John and 1 John to describe the Holy Spirit, we find that the Revised Standard Version translates this word Parakletos, as Counsellor. The same term is used in the New International Version.

Both translations aim at formal correspondence as much as possible. The term counsellor infers that the spirit is a guide for Christian faith; one who relates one-to-one with the Christian person, who walks alongside them, encouraging them and offering advice where relevant. This is a fair translation of the Greek word used here.

The New Revised Standard Version has made a significant change from its parent translation, the RSV. In place of the term Counsellor, the NRSV prefers the term Advocate. The Jersualem Bible and the New Living Translation also use this term. It has quite a different nuance in English. 

The usual location for the term advocate, in contemporary English, is the courtroom; so we move from the intimacy of the counselling relationship, to the public realm of judicial hearings. By describing the spirit as an advocate, these translations are describing the spirit as a person who represents the Christian person and stands up for their rights, who ensures that the believer is given a full and fair hearing at the day of judgement. 

The NRSV translation, Advocate, is equally as valid as the alternative, Counsellor, since the Greek term they both translate actually contains both shades of meaning  it refers to one who walks beside and supports, as well as one who stands on behalf of and represents. Either translation corresponds formally to the original term. But, in opting for one or the other of the nuances of the term, the meaning has actually been specified far more narrowly than in the original language. Such are the limitations of translations. 

The Good News Bible, a dynamic equivalence translation, translates the word for the Spirit in John 14-15 as Helper. The New American Standard Bible and the translation made by J.B. Philips also use the term Helper.

This choice of word is obviously related to the sense of Counsellor, but it is very limited in meaning. A counsellor can certainly help; usually they have specific skills and expertise that they bring to bear into a situation. By contrast, the word helper suggests someone who is in a subordinate position, one who pitches in by assisting with the more menial tasks, and perhaps one who is at the beck and call of the one requesting the help. 

This kind of nuance might give some insight into the role of the spirit, who does come to the aid of the Christian person and provide assistance. Nevertheless, the English word helper sits somewhat at odds with the broader Christian conception of the Holy Spirit. It is a limited, over-simplistic view of the role of the Holy Spirit.  

A fourth option for translating this term is the word Comforter, which appears in the King James Version, the so-called ‘Authorised Version’ of 1611. This also is an accurate translation of the word Parakletos, for it was used in ancient writings to describe the comfort, or consolation, to those who were aggrieved. By opting for this translation, the KJV was also being faithful to the text. 

However, there are other considerations to be made here. Because the KJV is so old – it is over four centuries since this translation was made  it can sometimes be less relevant to contemporary understandings. The word “comfort” has shifted in meaning over the centuries, and to us it now conveys an image of the kindly parent, hugging the distressed child, drying their tears, settling them down into bed; a domestic image which may well describe something of the role of the spirit, but which loses so much of the broader scope inherent in the term.

In addition to the formal correspondence and dynamic equivalence translations, a third type of bible version which can be bought today is the Paraphrase. Although some of these versions claim to be translations, there is a significant difference. A paraphrase will happily move very far from the original text of the Bible, in order to convey in precise detail the particular nuance of the passage being translated. Most paraphrases deliberately use a number of words, a phrase, to convey one of the possible meanings of the original word. 

A popular contemporary paraphrase is The Message. In this instance, it uses just one word for Paraclete, which it renders as Friend. That is nice and cosy—but not quite grasping the range of meanings in the Greek! 

Finally, let me note a fifth option for translating the Greek term for the Holy Spirit in John 14-15. The Jerusalem Bible translates the term parakletos as Advocate; but in revising the JB, the New Jerusalem Bible has decided simply to transliterate the term from Greek into English. It thus uses the non-English term, the Paraclete, at this point. The virtue of this is that all the possible meanings are inherent in the term. We need to explore what it means, using biblical dictionaries or commentaries. Thus, this translation has encouraged us to work out what the word means for ourselves. 

The disadvantage of this translation is that, from a simple reading of the text, we have absolutely no idea what a Paraclete is. It is not an English word, and it is as puzzling as reading the original Greek. We cannot simply read this translation; we have to stop, think, explore, and question. Depending upon the situation, this may be appropriate and valuable, or frustrating and unhelpful.

The bottom line, for me, is: use a range of translations … explore the alternatives that are chosen in each of them … and use this range, to ponder the significance of the text that is under investigation!

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First Peoples in Australia

Reconciliation on the land of Australia: living together with respect

In his book Hidden in Plain View, Paul Irish has found many records that demonstrate the positive relationships between the colonisers and Indigenous people at various locations in the coastal Sydney region.

One story concerns the area in Sydney Harbour known today as Watsons Bay.

The original inhabitants of the area that is now known as Watsons Bay, were the Gadigal people. The Gadigal referred to the area as Kutti. This indigenous group of people fished and collected shellfish in the waters and bays off South Head. They acquired their resources from Camp Cove and carved rock engravings there, although many have since eroded from the cliff faces and rock surfaces that line the coastline.

Watsons Bay was named after Robert Watson (1756–1819), who had arrived with the First Fleet as quartermaster of H.M.S. Sirius. After some years at Norfolk Island, Watson was given a land grant at South Head. When the lighthouse at South Head was finished, Watson was installed as its first superintendent in November 1818.

In the early decades of the colony, there was a group of Aborigines which used Camp Cove as their base for fishing. They co-existed with the whites who began settling in the area. Later events would challenge, and then unravel, this positive relationship. There is a lot of tragedy and much sadness in the relationships between First Peoples and the colonisers, in the ensuing decades. But perhaps we need to look back to those early positive, respectful relationships, as the model for our lives today?

See also

http://home.dictionaryofsydney.org/paul-irish-hidden-in-plain-view-the-aboriginal-people-of-coastal-sydney/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/27/we-are-sorry-we-recognise-your-rights-we-seek-to-be-reconciled/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/28/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-learning-from-the-past/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/29/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-bennelong-and-yemmerrawanne/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/30/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-bungaree-and-mahroot/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/31/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-cora-gooseberry-and-biddy-giles/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/06/01/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-these-are-my-people-this-is-my-land/

On the doctrine of discovery: https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/13/affirming-the-sovereignty-of-first-peoples-undoing-the-doctrine-of-discovery/

On learning from the land:

https://johntsquires.com/2018/12/17/learning-of-the-land-1/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/12/18/learning-of-the-land-2-ngunnawal-namadgi-and-ngarigo/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/01/30/learning-of-the-land-3-tuggeranong-queanbeyan-and-other-canberra-place-names/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/02/08/learning-from-the-land-4-naiames-nghunnhu-fishtraps-at-brewarrina/

On difficulties and tragedies in the early relationships:

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/16/the-profound-effect-of-invasion-and-colonisations/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/18/endeavour-by-every-possible-means-to-conciliate-their-affections/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/20/we-never-saw-one-inch-of-cultivated-land-in-the-whole-country/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/22/they-stood-like-statues-without-motion-but-grinnd-like-so-many-monkies/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/24/resembling-the-park-lands-of-a-gentlemans-residence-in-england/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/01/26/they-are-to-be-hanged-up-on-trees-to-strike-the-survivors-with-the-greater-terror/#more-424

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First Peoples in Australia

Reconciliation on the land of Australia: “these are my people … this is my land”.

During this National Reconciliation Week, I am recalling the evidence for various positive and respectful relationships that existed between First Peoples and the invading colonisers from Britain, drawing on the work of Paul Irish in his recent book, Hidden in Plain View. (See https://www.newsouthbooks.com.au/books/hidden-plain-view/)

Earlier this week, I mentioned Bungaree, an early Aboriginal leader. He is reported as living, at various times, at Broken Bay, Sydney Town, and the Hunter region. Paul Irish reports that his first wife was Matora (1770s-1820s) and his second wife was Cora Gooseberry (1770s-1852). Both women were from the Sydney Harbour area, and Cora became known as the “Queen” of coastal Sydney in her latter years.

I love Bungaree for his clear and forthright declaration, when he was part of an Indigenous group meeting with a group of sailors from Russia in 1820. In one such meeting, he apparently declared to them: “These are my people … this is my land”.

Right on!!!

(Irish cites this from a report by Glynn Barrett in “The Russians at Port Jackson 1814-1822”, published in 1981. Barrett’s work relates to Russian ships travelling from Europe to Alaska, which often stopped at Sydney, anchoring at Port Jackson. Naval Officers and Sailors had close dealings with the Aboriginal people of the area.)

Bungaree spoke truth. This was (and still is) the land of his people. But the colonial powers of Britain failed to listen and respond appropriately. During Reconciliation Week, we need to foster an attitude of respectful relationship and careful listening, as we engage with our Indigenous sisters and brothers.

See also

http://home.dictionaryofsydney.org/paul-irish-hidden-in-plain-view-the-aboriginal-people-of-coastal-sydney/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/27/we-are-sorry-we-recognise-your-rights-we-seek-to-be-reconciled/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/28/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-learning-from-the-past/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/29/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-bennelong-and-yemmerrawanne/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/30/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-bungaree-and-mahroot/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/31/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-cora-gooseberry-and-biddy-giles/

On the doctrine of discovery: https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/13/affirming-the-sovereignty-of-first-peoples-undoing-the-doctrine-of-discovery/

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First Peoples in Australia

Reconciliation on the land of Australia: Cora Gooseberry and Biddy Giles

As well as known Aboriginal men who were leaders of their clans and figured in ongoing relationships with the British colonisers in the coastal Sydney area, there are Aboriginal women who are recorded in the early colonial records. Paul Irish recounts what is known about some of them, in his book “Hidden in Plain View”.

Cora Gooseberry was the widow of Bungaree (see https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/30/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-bungaree-and-mahroot/). She was born around 1777 and lived until 1852. Cora was a well-known identity in the Sydney streets. Born as Carra or Kaaroo, she was the daughter of Moorooboora, leader of the Murro-Ore (Pathway Place) clan, named from muru (pathway) and Boora (Long Bay).

Irish reports that Gooseberry’s mob, including Ricketty Dick, Jacky Jacky and Bowen Bungaree, camped in the street outside Sydney hotels or in the Domain, where they engaged with the British invaders by giving exhibitions of boomerang throwing. In July 1845, in exchange for flour and tobacco, Cora Gooseberry took Angas and the police commissioner W.A. Miles on a tour of Aboriginal rock carvings at North Head and told them ‘all that she had heard her father say’ about the places where ‘dibble dibble walk about’, an inference that he had been a koradji from that region. (See http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gooseberry-cora-12942)

Biddy Giles, 1810 to 1888, lived first in the Illawarra, where she had two daughters to Burragalong, known as Paddy Davis. Davis lived with Biddy from 1850s on a farm at Mill Creek, off the George’s River. Biddy was skilled at fishing and hunting with a pack of dogs. Irish reports that she ran guided tours in the bush land near George’s River down to the Heathcote area, from the 1850s onwards, and then tours to whale engravings near Bundeena in 1860s and 1870s

About the time Paddy died around 1860, Biddy moved to the Georges River, with a new partner, an Englishman called Billy Giles. They lived on the western bank of Mill Creek, known to the Dharawal as Gurugurang, in a farmhouse built earlier by Dr Alexander Cuthill. They had fruit trees, goats and abundant bush tucker from the river and its banks. During the 1860s, Biddy and Billy acted as guides for groups of travellers in shooting or fishing parties, sharing their knowledge of the river and its wildlife, telling stories and sharing skills. These trips ranged from Mill Creek east all the way to the ocean and south into Dharawal country as far as the Shoalhaven.

Some of these travellers wrote accounts of their trips with Biddy, marvelling at her unfailing ability to find fish, her control of her hunting dogs and the skill with which she could rustle up a delicious meal from local produce. (See https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/giles_biddy)

Such women are fine models for us to ponder during this National Reconciliation Week.

(In the picture, Cora Gooseberry is top right, Biddy Giles is bottom left.)

See also

http://home.dictionaryofsydney.org/paul-irish-hidden-in-plain-view-the-aboriginal-people-of-coastal-sydney/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/27/we-are-sorry-we-recognise-your-rights-we-seek-to-be-reconciled/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/28/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-learning-from-the-past/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/29/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-bennelong-and-yemmerrawanne/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/30/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-bungaree-and-mahroot/

On the doctrine of discovery: https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/13/affirming-the-sovereignty-of-first-peoples-undoing-the-doctrine-of-discovery/

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First Peoples in Australia

Reconciliation on the land of Australia: Bungaree and Mahroot

Paul Irish, in his recent book, “Hidden in Plain View”, introduces us to various Aboriginal people who are noted on a number of occasions in the early colonial records. One of them was Bungaree (1770s-1830), who came from the area we know as Broken Bay, at the northern end of “Coastal Sydney”.

Bungaree, or Boongarie, was born around the time that the First Fleet was being gathered together in preparation for the long trip to the Great South Land. As an adult, he adopted the role of a mediator between the invading British colonists and the Aboriginal people. He sailed in that capacity with Matthew Flinders, becoming the first Australian to circumnavigate the continent on that voyage of 1802–03.

It is said that, during this voyage, Bungaree used his knowledge of Aboriginal protocol to negotiate peaceful meetings with local Indigenous people. later, in A Voyage to Terra Australis, Matthew Flinders subsequently wrote that Bungaree’s ‘good disposition and open and manly conduct had attracted my esteem.’ (In A Voyage to Terra Australis)

In mid-life he found a patron in Governor Lachlan Macquarie, who made Bungaree ‘Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe’, set aside land and gave him a boat for fishing. In his later life Bungaree, while still respected as an Aboriginal leader, was regarded as the best-known character in the streets of Sydney.

Bungaree died in 1830. There is a substantial entry on him in the Dictionary of Sydney (https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/bungaree)

Another Aboriginal leader was Mahroot (1790s to 1850), who was also known as “Boatswain”. Mahroot lived with his wife at Botany (near the site of the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel), and it is recorded that he worked there as ferryman and guide in the 1840s. It is also claimed that several white people lived there, as his tenants. (https://dictionaryofsydney.org/person/boatswain_maroot)

Mahroot had regular and consistent engagement with whites in the colony; it is said that Mahroot and the British colonisers happily co-existed. He gave evidence to the Select Committee on the Condition of the Aborigines in 1845 where he spoke frankly about his life, his family, his Country and the impact on Indigenous people since 1788.

See also

http://home.dictionaryofsydney.org/paul-irish-hidden-in-plain-view-the-aboriginal-people-of-coastal-sydney/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/27/we-are-sorry-we-recognise-your-rights-we-seek-to-be-reconciled/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/28/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-learning-from-the-past/

On the doctrine of discovery: https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/13/affirming-the-sovereignty-of-first-peoples-undoing-the-doctrine-of-discovery/

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First Peoples in Australia

Reconciliation on the land of Australia: Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne

During this National Reconciliation Week, I think it is worth recalling the evidence for various positive and respectful relationships that existed between First Peoples and the invading colonisers from Britain. We are accustomed, now, to reading of the violent conflicts and massacres that occurred. These are tragic parts of our history that we must not deny, overlook, or ignore.

But in the early stages of the colony—and, indeed, stretching throughout the colonial period—there were mutually respectful relationships between these groups. National Reconciliation Week seems to be a good time to recall this.

Perhaps the best known persona from amongst the First Peoples encountered by the invading British coloniser was Bennelong, born in 1764 on the southern shore of the Parramatta River. Paul Irish (in Hidden in Plain View) notes that his various family connections meant that Bennelong had connections to country on Goat Island, at Botany Bay, on the lower north shore of Sydney Harbour, and along the northern side of Parramatta River.

Bennelong was kidnapped in November 1789, under the orders of Governor Arthur Phillip, who thereby set an unfortunate tone for the relationship with the locals from the very early years of the colony. Phillip apparently assumed that Bennelong was a “King” of the local people, and thus the correct person with whom to negotiate about co-existing in the same area. It was an attempt to build a constructive relationship, even if it was carried out in what we now recognise to be an entirely flawed manner.

It is said that Bennelong took readily to life among the white men, relished their food, acquired a taste for liquor, learned to speak English and became particularly attached to the Governor. At the end of his term as Governor in 1792, Arthur Phillip travelled to England with Bennelong and another Aborigine, Yemmerrawanne, a Wangal man of the Eora people.

Yemmerrawanne was described by Watkin Tench, in his work, A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson (1793), as a “good-tempered lively lad” who became “a great favourite with us, and almost constantly lived at the governor’s house”. (See https://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/yemmerrawanne)

Yemmerrawanne never returned home from his trip to England. After a long illness, he died from a lung infection on 18 May 1794 at the home of Mr Edward Kent at South End, Eltham in the county of Kent. His gravestone in Kent marks his life, and death.

Bennelong stayed in England from 1792 to 1795. On his return to Sydney, he was able to develop more positive relationships with the British, and functioned as an advisor to Governor Hunter.

Bennelong lived his last years with one of his wives, Boorong, at Kissing Point, with an extended group of about 100 people, until his death on 3 January 1813. He was buried in the Kissing Point orchard of the brewer James Squire—no relationship! Squire had been a great friend to Bennelong and his clan; another sign of positive, respectful relationships between Aborigines and the colonisers. We need to learn from such stories in our history.

See the extensive article on Bennelong in the Australian Dictionary of Biography at http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bennelong-1769

The image portrays Bennelong, the grave of Yemmerrawanne, and the 2019 National Reconciliation Week logo and theme.

See also

http://home.dictionaryofsydney.org/paul-irish-hidden-in-plain-view-the-aboriginal-people-of-coastal-sydney/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/27/we-are-sorry-we-recognise-your-rights-we-seek-to-be-reconciled/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/28/reconciliation-on-the-land-of-australia-learning-from-the-past/

On the doctrine of discovery: https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/13/affirming-the-sovereignty-of-first-peoples-undoing-the-doctrine-of-discovery/

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First Peoples in Australia

Reconciliation on the land of Australia: learning from the past

During this National Reconciliation Week, I think it is worth recalling the evidence for various positive and respectful relationships that existed between First Peoples and the invading colonisers from Britain.

We are accustomed, now, to reading of the violent conflicts and massacres that occurred As the invading colonisers settled on lands which had belonged, for millennia, to the First Peoples of the continent. These are tragic parts of our history that we must not deny, overlook, or ignore. (See my earlier posts on this aspect, noted below.)

But in the early stages of the colony—and, indeed, stretching throughout the colonial period—there were mutually respectful relationships between these groups. National Reconciliation Week seems to be a good time to recall this.

Paul Irish, in his recent book, Hidden in Plain View, has traced the evidence that shows the positive and respectful relationships that existed in the 19th century “between the colonial settlers and Aboriginal people in Coastal Sydney”. (See https://www.newsouthbooks.com.au/books/hidden-plain-view/)

Irish maps an area stretching from Port Stephens to the Shoalhaven, as far inland as the headwaters of the Parramatta and George’s Rivers in the Sydney Basin, but including coastal spurs along northern and southern edges of the Basin. (Pretty much like the current urban sprawl of Newcastle-Central Coast-Sydney-Wollongong-Kiama-Nowra.)

According to Irish, this was an area within which many of the Indigenous peoples moved about, living in different locations at different times, because of their long-established family and clan links with those locations. His interest in is mapping the relationships between the colonisers and Indigenous people at various locations in this coastal area.

Irish refers to “those whose links to coastal Sydney extend back hundreds of generations, whose ancestors met the first Europeans, and who found a way to create an ongoing place for themselves in the oldest and largest city in the country.”

He writes about their “remarkable story of survival through cultural strength and cross-cultural entanglement that sits in stark contrast to commonly held views of colonial and Aboriginal Australia, and to the experiences of most Australians today”. (There is an edited extract from his book available online at https://insidestory.org.au/atween-here-and-the-georges-river/)

Paul Irish refers to men such as Bennelong, Yemmerrawanne, Bungaree, and Mahroot. He also refers to women such as Cora Gooseberry, Biddy Giles, Matora, and Mary Ann Burns. They were leaders in their communities and they were able, for the most part, to relate to the colonisers who had invaded their lands, with grace and respect. In this National Reconciliation Week, we would do well to reflect on them and to follow their example.

(More reflections to come as the week continues …)

See also

http://home.dictionaryofsydney.org/paul-irish-hidden-in-plain-view-the-aboriginal-people-of-coastal-sydney/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/05/27/we-are-sorry-we-recognise-your-rights-we-seek-to-be-reconciled/

On the doctrine of discovery: https://johntsquires.com/2018/08/13/affirming-the-sovereignty-of-first-peoples-undoing-the-doctrine-of-discovery/

On learning from the land:

https://johntsquires.com/2018/12/17/learning-of-the-land-1/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/12/18/learning-of-the-land-2-ngunnawal-namadgi-and-ngarigo/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/01/30/learning-of-the-land-3-tuggeranong-queanbeyan-and-other-canberra-place-names/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/02/08/learning-from-the-land-4-naiames-nghunnhu-fishtraps-at-brewarrina/

On difficulties and tragedies in the early relationships:

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/16/the-profound-effect-of-invasion-and-colonisations/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/18/endeavour-by-every-possible-means-to-conciliate-their-affections/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/20/we-never-saw-one-inch-of-cultivated-land-in-the-whole-country/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/22/they-stood-like-statues-without-motion-but-grinnd-like-so-many-monkies/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/24/resembling-the-park-lands-of-a-gentlemans-residence-in-england/

https://johntsquires.com/2019/01/26/they-are-to-be-hanged-up-on-trees-to-strike-the-survivors-with-the-greater-terror/#more-424

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First Peoples in Australia

We are sorry, we recognise your rights, we seek to be reconciled

Yesterday was National Sorry Day. It has been observed for only a decade. On 26 May 1997, the Bringing Them Home Report report was tabled in Federal Parliament. This report addressed them impacts of the fact that in the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century, Australian government policies resulted in many Stolen Generations, in which thousands of Indigenous children were separated, often forcibly, from their families, with the aim of removing them from their culture and turning them into “white Australians”.

Because of this, the date 26 May carries great significance for the Stolen Generations, as well as for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and its supporters among non-indigenous Australians. So Sorry Day is an annual event that has been held around the continent on 26 May since 1998, to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of the country’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.

Today marks the start of National Reconciliation Week. This week was initiated in 1996 by Reconciliation Australia, to celebrate Indigenous history and culture in Australia and promote discussions and activities which would foster reconciliation. It is held between 27 May and 3 June of each year, with the dates holding special historical significance.

27 May marks the anniversary of the 1967 referendum in Australia, which gave the vote to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, while 3 June marks the anniversary of the 1992 judgement by the High Court on the Mabo v Queensland case.

Sorry Day (26 May) and the National Apology (made in Federal Parliament on 13 February 2008), the 1967 referendum, the 1992 Mabo decision, along with the Wik decision on native title (delivered by the High Court on 23 December 1996), are considered to be key events in addressing the historic mistreatment of indigenous Australians, and in taking steps towards reconciliation and restorative justice.

But these were only steps. The path still lies ahead. We need to take more steps, foster deeper relationships, advocate for a more embedded restoration of justice, work for wider and more lasting reconciliation within our communities. May we tread that pathway with compassion and intent.

The picture montage shows a Sorry Day poster, celebrations after the 1967 referendum, Eddie Mabo who brought the High Court case that was resolved in 1992, Gladys Tybingoompa dancing outside the high court in Canberra on 23 December 1996 following the Wik people’s native title win, and the front page of a national newspaper reporting the National Apology in 2008.

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15th Assembly

Once again: affirming our diversity, celebrating joyous marriages

Last year, the Assembly resolved to allow Uniting Church ministers and authorised celebrants the freedom to conduct or to refuse to conduct same-gender marriages. Some within the church were not happy with this decision. Many councils of the church across the country reviewed the decision. Most affirmed it strongly or unanimously. Some questioned it. A few asked for it to be revisited. In the end, the decision stood, and still stands today.

There are some within the church who are not able to let go of their angst about this decision. They hold on to old understandings and continue to fight past battles. Most recently, we see that they are feeding sympathetic journalists in the media misinformation, making misleading and mischievous claims. But the decision has been made, and stands firm.

It was a good decision, and it provides a good expression of our faith. We recognise that there is a diversity of opinion across the church. The Assembly explicitly affirmed that, amongst the members of the Uniting Church, there is “a diversity of religious beliefs and ethical understandings” in relation to marriage. Nobody is excluded. Nobody is being forced out. Nobody is being pressured to act contrary to their beliefs.

The Assembly determined that “the Church is able to accept this diversity within its life and make the decisions necessary to enable its ministry and members to act with integrity in accordance with their beliefs”. We continue to hold to that affirmation.

This affirmation of diversity is strategically significant. It speaks of who we are—as people of the church, and as people in the wider society in which we live. In making this decision, the Uniting Church remains faithful to its commitment, as articulated in the Basis of Union. We are, indeed, a pilgrim people, on the way towards the promised goal of the kingdom that God has in view.

The decision about marriage involved so many difficult conversations and challenging moments for many people. The decision of Assembly steps out in a new direction. Some are not able to let go of their angst about this decision. They hold on to old understandings and past battles.

In my view, this decision demonstrates how the Uniting Church continues, today, to look for a continuing renewal. Last year, I wrote that, in that search, we clearly affirm our readiness to go forward together in sole loyalty to Christ the living Head of the Church. This decision is one that many people believe is a faithful response to what God is today calling the Church to be and to do. It is a signal that we seek to remain open to constant reform under his Word.

Throughout this process, I believe that we have continued daily to seek to obey his will, and to discern ways by which we might confess the Lord in fresh words and deeds. We continue to do that now, as Ministers across Australia implement the decision of the Assembly and rejoice in the celebration of joyous marriages, within the church, of couples of the same gender.

As this takes place, I am certain in holding to the belief that we are not apostate, we have not betrayed our faith, as some critics stubbornly maintain. We continue to hold to the essence of the Gospel in all good faith. The marriages of people of the same gender serve to remind us, in a fresh way, of the grace which justifies [us] through faith, of the centrality of the person and work of Christ the justifier.

As our President has reminded us, we are all included in that abundant grace and we look with anticipation to the promise of liberating hope.

And, as my Anglican colleague Chris Bedding has affirmed, “The Uniting Church in Australia, in its very foundation, has already offered an ecumenical witness to the church. I believe The Assembly decision to offer marriage to all couples is an evolution of this witness. The impact of this decision will be felt by people across all Christian traditions in this country for many years to come, because, every LGBTQIA+ Christian will know that somewhere out there is a church that will affirm them, and marry them.

“If the ‘ecumenical question’ is ‘What if marriage of same-gender couples in Uniting Churches is a gift to other Christians, which can foster unity and strengthen evangelism?’,  I think the answer is a resounding yes. When the histories are written, this pioneering decision will be seen as one of the signs that the snow is beginning to melt, as together we fulfil the great commission.” (See https://johntsquires.com/2018/10/26/marriage-of-same-gender-people-a-gift-to-the-whole-church/)

For the Uniting Church’s affirmations on human sexuality and same gender relationships, see https://johntsquires.com/2018/10/20/seven-affirmations

For the President’s statement about the inaccurate and misleading ABC report (dated 26 May 2019), see https://assembly.uca.org.au/news/item/3015-statement-on-abc-news-report

And see also https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/31/in-celebration-of-diversity/

https://johntsquires.com/2018/07/30/marrying-same-gender-people-a-biblical-rationale/

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Living in Canberra

Discovering new futures … letting go of the old

This month, I am taking up a portion of my future placement in the Canberra Region Presbytery, in a 25% supply role, alongside of my 75% IIM Placement. This will run through into early next year, when I will move into the full time role as Presbytery Minister—Wellbeing in the Canberra Region.

I was asked to offer some reflections on the theme for the May meeting of Presbytery, when we will be considering what it means to be discovering new futures and letting go of the old. So, here goes …..

From time to time I hear people reminiscing about “the ways things used to be”. Often, the narrative is one of “things just aren’t as good now as they used to be”. You might know the script; it goes something like: “not enough people ‘come to church’ on Sunday mornings … we have no Sunday School … there is no Youth Group … the Women’s Fellowship has closed … the rosters have empty spaces … nobody wants to do the flowers … there aren’t enough greeters.”

I hear these things. I listen. I nod and make empathic noises.

I start to talk about how things are, indeed, different now. How the church is in a different place in society. How society itself is different, now, from 30 years ago, 50 years ago, 60 years ago. How people are looking for different things, now. How the Sunday morning four-hymn sandwich, sitting quietly and listening to a 20 minute monologue, is not what “younger people” accept as valuable, any more. (And some “older people”, too!)

I might push back a little more. What does this congregation offer, to people who are looking for a place to connect with their faith? How do we welcome people? How do we disciple people? How do we connect with people in the ways that they best appreciate and look for? What are we doing to grow our own sense of what it is that people in the community around us are hungering for?

I wonder whether this is the right line to take. I wonder whether this just reinforces the resistance and strengthens the frustrations of those who express these things to me.

So, could there be a different line of approach to take? From time to time, I mull over a different kind of response. One that goes something like this, instead:

The challenge that faces the church as our numbers decline, is in fact a wonderful opportunity. It is an opportunity for us to renew ourselves. It is an opportunity to become deeply incarnational. It is an opportunity for us to contextualise the way we express and live out our faith. It is an opportunity to discover new futures.

To be incarnational, means to enter fully into the reality of human life that we find all around us. It means to “take on the flesh” of the society of which we are a part.

(Don’t freak out—that is entirely biblical. That is what, we say, Jesus did, when he “became human” and “pitched his tent in our midst”—to paraphrase John 1:14.)

To be incarnational, means to live in this world, amongst our fellow human beings, as one of them, bringing into this situation a sense of the “more than” that the Gospel offers; a sense of the “dimension beyond” the immediate that we proclaim.

To be incarnational is to be contextual. To be immersed in the context. To be part of the community that lives, sleeps, eats, shops, works, plays, and relaxes, within the very neighbourhood where the church is.

Instead of yearning for more people to come to church on Sunday morning, perhaps we should become more active in engaging with people out there in the parks, the shopping centres, the gathering places, in our local community. These are the new futures waiting for us to discover them.

Instead of lamenting decline, perhaps we need to be seizing the day, grasping the opportunity, becoming deeply incarnational, ensuring that we are thoroughly contextual, as we discover the new futures that God has in store for us.

The church, in many places, has lost contact with people in the wider community. Long ago, the church was at the centre of society. Every local church was a community hub. People from the community, with minimal or no religious commitment, were regularly in the church, on the premises, interacting with church people.

Over time, the church lost those connections. We gradually moved closer to the edges. We lost this strong central position, this robust community engagement. Slowly, but surely.

So now, the challenge is to recapture that central position, to re-engage with the community, to reconnect with people across the spectrum of society, to be incarnate within the community, to let go of the old and discover our new futures.

The challenge of the moment is the incarnational opportunity. Can we hear the call, to let go of the old, and discover new futures? Let’s seize it with enthusiasm!

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Uncategorized

A prayer for Mother’s Day

One of the delights of the worship that takes place each week in my current placement, is that the Prayers of the People are led by a range of people from within the Congregation. This provides prayers which are “grounded” as well as reflecting the diversity of perspectives found within the people.

Today, Mother’s Day, Marg Cotton led with this thoughtful prayer. I share it with her permission.

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Creator God, as we come to you in prayer help us to pray in your spirit and truly enter into a time of stillness and simplicity.  Give us courage to be open to your unfathomable goodness, and imponderable light.  While we cannot ever know the depths of your being help us to see enough of what is truly mysterious to break down our pride and recognise that we need to rely on your grace and mercy.

We have much to be thankful for.  Living in freedom in this land.  Having access to education and health care, food and water, warmth and friendship.  Being able to worship in peace and security.  We give thanks for the many blessings you have given to us and the many people who have been part of our lives.

On this Mothers Day we particularly acknowledge the role that those who nurture us have had in our lives.  For some of us we have fond and happy thoughts about our mothers: their love and support, sacrifice and hard work, compassion and teaching.

For others, perhaps our experiences and memories are not so sweet.  The difficult mother or embarrassing mother, the times when our mums could not cope, the absent mother, the one who was addicted self obsessed, or struggling with mental illness.  

As we think of our mother on mothers day let us show her the respect of acknowledging that she was always more than we ever understood.  Like the God we worship she came before us and she labored to bring us into this world.  Let us acknowledge in the words from Deuteronomy 32:18 “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.”  

In the same way we have been often been unmindful of the women who gave us birth and of those other nurturing figures who supported us in many steps in our lives. Help us to acknowledge appropriately those who have helped make us who we are.

But as we acknowledge this help us not be complacent.  Help us to see that some of our own struggles may have come in part from our upbringing and our expectations.  Help us to turn to you and see that our lives can be transformed and made more whole as we seek a path of hope and reconciliation.

We are aware that there is much darkness in our world.  We hear every day of terrible injustices, of violence, of hatred, of feuds, of greed. We see this both at the personal level, at the political level and at the global level.  Break through our complacency and help us see when we are jealous or spiteful, not prepared reconsider our own prejudices, not able to acknowledge the hurt we caused. 

Help us to be aware of the needs of others and take our part in caring for those who are facing difficulties.  We know that there are some people in our midst who struggle to find hope and justice in our community.  For people living with illness or disability, let us ensure that our health system and the NDIS are available to provide the best kind of help available.

For those struggling to find employment let them not be disheartened by the complex structures that sometimes make a secure job seem unattainable.  

For people who are seeking to exercise leadership.  Please grant clarity of thought and honesty of purpose as to all who are involved in important decisions.

For the forgotten people who toil without recognition or thanks.  May we sometimes notice and give thanks for their work and commitment.

As we join together and to share praying the Lord’s prayer I invite those of you who would like to acknowledge the non-gendered divinity of our God to begin this prayer

Our Mother in heaven….

Hallowed be your name,

Your kingdom come,

Your will be done,

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins,

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Save us from the time of trial

and deliver us from evil.

For the Kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours 

now and forever. Amen

 

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Environment, First Peoples in Australia, Living in Canberra

To care for, honour, and respect the creation, we need to #StopAdani

Elizabeth and I attended the #StopAdani climate crisis rally outside the Federal Parliament this morning. The crowd present was estimated at around 5,000 people. There were people from churches, schoolchildren, union members, as well as members of many community organisations and climate change action groups participating.

Author Richard Flanagan addressed the crowd in his inimitable poetic manner, marking the issues and telling the truth:

“Jabbering ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ in a hi-vis shirt does not make you a leader”

“The Franklin was more than a river. Adani is more than a mine.”

“Was there hope with the Franklin!? Yes, there was. Is there hope with Adani? Yes, there is!”

Two young female school-age climate strikers stirred the crowd with pointed rhetoric and a call to action. “Change is never implemented by the oppressors. Change must always be demanded by the oppressed.”

Other speakers from various organisations urged the large crowd to hold fast, stand firm, and work for change. “We are on the right side of history. We will Stop Adani.”

Adrian Burragubba, an elder of the Wangan and Jagalingou people of the Galilee Basin in central western Queensland, reminded the crowd that Adani does not have the consent of the First People of the area, whose ancestral lands, waters and culture would be destroyed by the mime if it went ahead.

Paul Kelly sang two song, including “My island home”, and then Bob Brown brought the rally to a climax with his clarion call: “There will be no divine intervention. The onus is on us. And we will take it.” He noted that there was “a bigger crowd here today, than Bill Shorten will have in Brisbane, than Scott Morrison will have, whenever he has his campaign launch.” Popular opinion is clearly against the development of this mine.

Why is it important to protest against this mine, and to petition our leaders to ensure that the Adani mine and associated works do not go ahead?

The Great Barrier Reef. The mine will see ships travelling through this unique World Heritage Area each year, risking ship groundings, coal and oil spills; and it requires further dredging within the World Heritage Area causing water contamination, destruction of dugong habitat, impacts on Green and Flatback turtle nests, and more.

The Great Artesian Basin is our greatest inland water resource, covering 22% of the Australian continent. Putting control of all that land, and water, into the hands of a foreign commercial enterprise, is foolhardy. The mine will take at least 270 billion litres of groundwater over the life of the mine; put aquifers of the Basin at risk; and dump mine polluted wastewater into the Carmichael River.

It will threaten ancient springs and 160 wetlands that provide permanent water during drought, and leave behind 6 unfilled coal pits that will drain millions of litres of groundwater, forever. Adani’s associated water licence allows unlimited access to groundwater for 60 years for free. Putting control of all that land, and water, into the hands of a foreign commercial enterprise, is foolhardy.

The Great Coal Swindle. Pollution from burning coal is the single biggest contributor to dangerous global warming, threatening our way of life. In Australia, ‘black lung’ disease has recently re-emerged among coal miners, with at least 19 workers in Qld identified with the disease. The coal from the Carmichael mine will be burnt in India where 115,000 people die from coal pollution every year. Developing renewable energy is more responsible for the environment and more energising for the economy.

The Great Employment Myth. There are 69,000 tourism jobs related to the Great Barrier Reef, which rely on a healthy Reef. There are thousands of farming jobs in the inland areas under threat. The Adani mine and associated works will pollute, despoil, and degrade both the land area and the associated offshore seas, impacting hugely on the Reef. Adani claims the mine will bring employment opportunities to the region, but in reality there will be far fewer jobs if the mine goes ahead. The mine will decimate local employment opportunities.

The Great Commercial Swindle. Adani companies are under investigation for tax evasion, corruption, fraud, and money laundering. Nine of the 20 Adani subsidiaries registered in Australia are ultimately owned by an entity registered in the infamous Cayman Islands tax haven. That is beyond the regulatory reach of the Australian Government.

Adani Group companies have an appalling environmental track record with a documented history of destroying the environments and livelihoods of traditional communities in India, and failure to comply with regulations. They will do the same in Australia if the mine goes ahead.

There are other reasons—environmental, economic, political—that mean we should not go ahead with the mine.

And, for me, there is a fundamental theological principle undergirding this issue: God’s good creation is in our hands; we are called to act responsibly, to care for, honour, and respect that creation. That means that we act to lessen our carbon footprint, restructure our energy infrastructure to grow renewable sources, and refresh our national policies so that we prioritise the planet over personal preferences.

The Uniting Church has affirmed, “We seek the flourishing of the whole of God’s Creation and all its creatures. We act to renew the earth from the damage done and stand in solidarity with people most impacted by human induced climate change. Government, churches, businesses and the wider community work together for a sustainable future.” (See https://uniting.church/visionstatement2019/)

The Church has issued a Vision Statement which sets out the following desired Key Actions:

1. A national climate policy that drives down greenhouse gas pollution, including no new coal or gas mining in Australia and investment in renewable energy.

2. Just and sustainable transition for communities currently dependent on fossil fuel industries for employment, towards more environmentally sustainable sources of income.

3. Equitable access to renewables for all Australians.

4. Policies which support people and nations that are most vulnerable to climate change.

There is No Planet B. We have no choice but to #StopAdani.

See also https://wanganjagalingou.com.au/our-fight/

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/stopadani/pages/1816/attachments/original/1497939723/factsheet20.06.17.pdf?1497939723

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/lockthegate/pages/5429/attachments/original/1521596433/Adani_Water_Factsheet.pdf?1521596433

https://www.unitingjustice.org.au/environment

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Uncategorized

Friendship in the presence of difference: a Gospel call in a world of intolerance and hatred

 

In recent weeks, we have seen Muslims murdered as they gather for Friday prayers; Jews murdered as they meet for Sabbath prayers; and Christians murdered as they congregate for Easter worship. These tragic events point to the intolerance, even hatred, held by individuals who identify with a faith “other” than the one where people have been killed. They indicate that, even in this contemporary world where we recognise that there are people of different ethnicities, nationalities, and religions, this intolerance and hatred remains strong and incessant.

The Uniting Church has been advocating for some decades, now, that as we live in a multicultural society, we need to recognise and engage constructively with people of other faiths. There are some keynote resources that deserve our attention and ongoing reflection.

The Ninth Assembly (2000) adopted a statement prepared by the Doctrine Working Group, entitled Living with the Neighbour who is Different: Christian Vocation in Multi-faith Australia.

It set out the following theological affirmations as the basis for the way that we are to relate to people of other faiths:

God is calling us to engage in conversation with people of other faiths. The development of hospitable and respectful relationships with those of other faiths is a proper response to Christ” who “calls us to live in harmony with all other people and so contribute to a world of peace, justice and hospitality.

Christians are called to love the neighbour who is different. The movement from exclusion to the embrace of neighbours who are different is of the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christians discover the will and power to enact this gracious embrace of the neighbour as they become more deeply immersed in the indiscriminate love of God.

God has placed the contemporary church in an ideal situation to engage in genuine dialogue with those of other faiths. We no longer relate to those of other faiths from a position of assumed political and social superiority. From nearer to the margin of society we are free to relate to other people as servants of the unifying, reconciling purposes of God revealed and embodied in Jesus.

God delights in diversity and seeks unity. Diversity, woven into the heart of creation, is a gift of God. The unity God intends for humanity does not destroy difference but weaves difference into a single human mat.

The Spirit is present in all of life. No part of life, no person is without the influence of the Holy Spirit…the Holy Spirit is present through the whole fabric of the world, yet is uniquely present in Christ and in the fellowship of Jesus’ disciples. It does not follow, however, that the life and work of Jesus exhaust the work of the Spirit or exclude the presence of the Spirit in other faiths.

The Centrality of Jesus Christ in Christian believing is not to be compromised when we engage in interfaith dialogue. Christ is the foundation of Christian believing and living. We live “in Christ” and our way of being with others should be consistent with the way pioneered by Jesus.

In 2010 the Relations with Other Faiths Working Group commissioned Keith Rowe to write an updated statement. The title of this statement, Friendship in the presence of difference, is carefully chosen. Real differences do exist in humanity. The gospel imperative calls us to live in friendship.

Individual and corporate friendship robs difference of its power to divide, to foster distrust or to sanction violence. Friendship in the presence of difference is a gift greatly needed both in the Christian community and within the human family as a whole.

The word ‘friendship’ is chosen because it includes a sense of growing relationship, empathy, warmth and care for others. While we may rejoice in similarities among the affirmations and wisdom of the various religions we do not want to deny the existence of very real and important differences. World religions differ in their understanding of the Divine dimension within life, the purpose of our living, the nature of human fulfilment and what it means to live together in a world of many faiths.

Our Christian uneasiness in the presence of difference is something we need to recognise and address. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks puts it well: “In our interconnected world, we must learn to feel enlarged, not threatened, by difference”. (The Dignity of Difference, Continuum, 2003, p. vii). The possibility of the religions and people of religion being able to contribute to peace rather than conflict in our world depends on the capacity to relinquish the desire for uniformity based on what serves our comfort or power.

The Thirteenth Assembly (2012) adopted a statement prepared by the Working Group on Relations with Other Faiths, entitled Friendship in the Presence of Difference: Christian Witness in Multifaith Australia.

In introducing this theme, the statement said:

Friendship in the presence of difference is regarded as being a central Christian attitude and value. Engagement with those of other faiths is welcomed as a pathway on which we may rediscover the heart of the Christian way while also being enriched by wisdom others have to share. Distortions that have crept into Christian living and believing often become apparent in informed conversation with those who believe differently. Friendship in the presence of difference can be a significant doorway into the renewal of Christian discipleship and theology.

It offered the following Conclusion:

As a church we are grateful for our developing friendship with those of other faiths. Christians have deepened their understanding of God and of the tasks we face together in our divided world in friendship and conversation with people of other faiths. We look forward to developing deeper friendships and discovering ways we can live together generously and work together for the common good.

We encourage politicians, decision makers and opinion shapers in commerce, industry and the media to grow in sensitive and accurate knowledge of the faiths within our society. Where religious beliefs contribute to conflict and division, we ask our national leaders to strive for understanding and reconciliation among those whose beliefs differ. We believe that lasting peace in our world is not possible unless the religious dimension of life is recognised.

Each part of the Uniting Church is invited to make the building of friendship in the presence of religious and cultural difference a priority missional objective. Whatever theological or spiritual stream of the church’s life we belong to we all have a positive role to play. Trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord and in the power of the Holy Spirit, the Uniting Church commits itself to cultivating friendship in the presence of difference.

Clearly, the call that the Gospel places before us at this time, is to offer and receive friendship in the presence of difference.

See https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/Ministries/ROF/images/stories/theology/livingsummary.pdf

https://assembly.uca.org.au/rof/about/theology/item/1876-study-guides-for-living-with-the-neighbour-who-is-different

https://assembly.uca.org.au/fipd

https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/Ministries/ROF/images/stories/resources/appendix_1_-_Friendship_in_the_Presence_of_Difference-Christian_witness_in_Multifaith_Australia.pdf

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/22/hello-thank-you-we-are-with-you-we-support-you/

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Living in Canberra, Uncategorized

Hello. Thank you. We are with you. We support you.

Hello.

Thank you.

Salaam.

Thank you for being here.

Simple words. Everyday words. But words which were filled with emotion and sated with meaning, in the context in which they were spoken.

Everyday people. Everyday words. People going about their normal, everyday business.

They have been to work. They have driven their cars, parked along the verge. They are walking along the street; walking with intent, heading with purpose, to the place of prayer.

Hello. Thank you. Everyday words. Accompanied by smiles. Sometimes, by handshakes. Or by a hand held to the heart; no words, just a signal, that this was appreciated. Deeply appreciated.

In a curving street on a gently-sloping hill in a Canberra suburb, twenty of us were gathered, standing on the footpath, greeting worshippers as they arrived for prayer.

We were Christians. They were Muslims. We were white. They were, mostly, Middle Eastern, or Southeast Asian. They were coming to pray. We, too, would gather to pray; but not today.

Our day of prayer is Sunday. Their day of prayer is Friday. Today is Friday. It is their day of prayer.

So this Friday, we stood outside the mosque, a silent witness of support and solidarity. Smiling, bowing, shaking hands, offering a greeting; not speaking further unless we were engaged in conversation; simply, standing in solidarity.

This is what it is, to be a human being. This is what it is, to relate to our fellow human beings. Hello. Thank you. You are welcome. You are us. We are with you. We support you.

Simple words, short phrases; but deep emotion, and profound meaning. Just in these simple acts and words of human interaction.

Some conversations were longer. We discussed the issues, the personalities. We could see, and hear, and feel, the emotion.

It could have been people like these. It could have been these people. Ordinary people. Coming from work. Gathering to pray. People of faith. Ordinary people, committed people, people who share their lives with us each and every day.

They serve us in shops. They answer our phone calls. They draft our legislation. They clean our homes. They install and service our utilities. They collect our fares and drive our taxis. They are everywhere. They are people of prayer. They are people of peace. They are us. We are them.

What happened a week ago in New Zealand, at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre … and what has happened in Quebec City, and Kembe in the Central African Republic, and the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Minnesota, and in countless interpersonal interactions involving Muslims as victims … what has happened in far too many places, on far too many occasions, is a cause for deep distress.

We weep. We pray. And we stand, quietly, supportively, in solidarity.

Hello.

Thank you.

Salaam.

Thank you for being here.

Further reflections on the tragic events in Christchurch:

https://canberra.uca.org.au/uca-news/uca-statement-christchurch/

https://revdocgeek.com/2019/03/16/prayer-for-christchurch/

https://www.eternitynews.com.au/world/aussie-church-leaders-respond-to-christchurch-massacre/

https://www.eternitynews.com.au/world/dont-give-nz-terrorist-what-he-wants/

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First Peoples in Australia

Another Time, Another Place: towards an Australian Church

A review of a book of sermons by Rev. Glenn Loughrey

Another Time, Another Place: towards an Australian Church

Published by Coventry Press (2019)

https://coventrypress.com.au

I have recently read this book, a collection of six sermons by Anglican priest, Glenn Loughrey, in which he articulates a plea for his church to move towards being a more consciously Australian church.

I had known of the innovative ministry of Glenn for some time, and was fortunate to have met him in person at a recent seminar. He practices what he preaches. He extols the character of love which Jesus exemplifies, which he describes in this manner: “grumpy, rude, difficult, alternative, disruptive, contrary, and more” (p.50). He does all of this in a constructive and challenging way. This book is a fine contribution to the enterprise of sharing this kind of love in a wider way.

The central image of the book is a pot plant. The Anglican Church, says Glenn, is like the pot plant given to you by your favourite Aunt, which you have kept, all these years, in that beloved pot. The pot is still intact. The plant, however, is stunted and distorted. It has not grown to the full potential it has. It is still in the pot. It needs to be transplanted.

Thus, the book articulates a plea to the church: be transplanted into the soil of this continent. Find the place where you can send your roots down, deep into the country where you have been sitting, no longer protected and constrained by your pot. Draw on the age-old wisdom of the country. Be nourished by the spirit of the land.

Glenn can articulate this challenge with authenticity. He identifies as a Wiradjuri man, with connections deep into the people and the land of that nation. In his ministry, as well as in his creativity as an artist and his rhetoric as a speaker, he sets forth his response to this challenge on a regular basis. His words and his artwork both articulate this desire for contextualisation in our church life, for grounding our faith and our communal expressions of that faith in the realities of Australian society.

Grounding our faith expressions in the deep seated spirituality of this land, is a pressing and primary need.

Glenn outlines four ways in which this contextualisation could take place, arguing that we need to come to grips with four key factors:

the history of the church in this country

the ethos of the space we now inhabit

the language and spirituality of this context

the need to mature as a nation, and as a church.

These four factors read, to me, as eminently sensible and entirely central to the task that the church as a whole faces—not just the Anglican Church, but every Christian denomination in Australia. It will not be easy for us to grapple with these factors. But it is essential that we do so. There are multiple challenges for the churches in Australia in addressing these factors with care and responsibility.

The book is a series of sermon-reflections on a number of biblical passages, which Glenn correlates with these four factors. John 6 leads to a discussion of “breaking the sacred pot” and grappling with the church’s history in Australia. Ephesians 6 is the springboard to considering the ethos of the space we now inhabit. “We recognise that … through a process of living, we have come to this place [of belief]. In the midst of the diverse landscape that is modern Australia, we are to leave space for others to come to faith in the same way.”

Mark 7 and James 1-2 provoke insights into language and spirituality, flowing into possibilities for maturity. Placing a story from the ancient desert fathers alongside the scriptural texts, Glenn proposes that our spiritual ethos and language might be characterised by being “doers … fair dinkum … [giving] a fair go … in tune with nature … listen to land/country”, and then asks: “sound like what we say we believe as Australians?” Indeed; and the challenge for the church is to live this to the full!

In the encounter between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7, he observes that “the woman and Jesus engage in such a transaction where both are visibly different as a result, but neither is diminished. Both grow in stature and in their understanding of who they are.” The bruising encounter which Jesus has with a person of his land models how the church in Australia needs to engage in intense encounters with the peoples of our land—and points to the transformation that ensues as a result.

The reflections conclude with Mark 8 offering a focus on transformation: “taking what you believe and planting it in the soil of relationships and community and watching it be shaken and broken by the winds of fear”.

4FDA9548-0BB8-4E9B-9C8E-77B2DC116D2D

Way back—over forty years ago—when I was a theological student, preparing for ministry in the Uniting Church, I was being challenged and encouraged to develop “an authentically Australian theology”. I remember that we looked at pithy sayings, like cutting down tall poppies, going in to bat for the underdog, and having a fair go for all, as well as trends in society like mateship, sexism, and the colonial cringe. These were identified as aspects that could well figure in the development of such a theology.

The scourge of racism, issues of migration, and the existence of indigenous spirituality, were each noted, but the deep connection between indigenous peoples and the land of this continent was not really canvassed at that time. Since then, an awareness of the importance of this has grown in Australian society. The voice of the First Peoples has been heard, most clearly, in the Statement from the Heart which was shaped at Uluru in 2017.

Now, the deep connection with the the land, and indeed the sovereignty of our First Peoples, are to the fore of our national conversation, and rightly call the churches to engage, listen, and be transformed through this conversation, and through undertaking work on the ground (as it were) with local indigenous communities.

This is a stimulating book, easy to read, consistently to the point, offering creative insights. I recommend it to my colleagues in ministry and to those exercising leadership in their local faith communities.

https://coventrypress.com.au/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=74

See also
https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/08/13/affirming-the-sovereignty-of-first-peoples-undoing-the-doctrine-of-discovery/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/08/10/the-sovereignty-of-the-first-peoples-of-australia/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/13/on-covenant-reconciliation-and-sovereignty/

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Uncategorized

On the threshold, in a liminal space

Over recent months, Elizabeth and I have occupied what might be called a liminal space. Liminal spaces are the places of transition, from one place to another.

We have moved states—indeed, we have travelled the length of the continent, relocating from a Perth suburb just a few kilometres inland from the Indian Ocean, to a suburb in Canberra, in the anonymous territory that is hiding in the midst of the undifferentiated eastern states (at least, that’s how the sandgropers of WA view them).

We have moved house, to a residence that the church has recently purchased. That meant packing everything into boxes in WA, then waiting for delivery to the ACT, where we then unpacked everything and found new places for each item, each book, each piece of furniture.

We have also changed jobs, in association with this domestic move. We have each ended the work that we have been doing in Western Australia in recent times—for Elizabeth, a year-long Intentional Interim Ministry in a Congregation, and some months of resourcing of the Presbytery Pastoral Relations Committee; for myself, two years of restructuring and rebuilding the educational offerings and formation processes within the Synod. That has meant a series of farewells with colleagues in WA.

We are now both settled into congregational ministry—for Elizabeth, in a regular placement, and for myself, as an Intentional Interim Ministry in a Congregation which has experienced a series of challenges in recent times. That means introductions, getting to know new people, and sussing out the key issues in each place. This is a challenging place for us each to be!

And this week, we are both “trainers-in-training” at a course on The Fundamentals of Transitional Ministry. This is part one of a two-part course, auspices by the Interim Ministry Network (based in the USA, but taught with an Australian accent for the Australian context by our colleague, Rob McFarlane). You can see more about this network at http://imnedu.org/

Part One of the course is subtitled The Work of the People. Part Two (scheduled for June) is subtitled The Work of the Leader. The two courses complement and inform each other.

The Basis of Union of the Uniting Church articulates a commitment to this process of change and transition. Obviously the motif of “a pilgrim people on the way” (para 3, also para 18) is a key motif, and the Basis refers explicitly to persevering through the “changes of history” that we experience (para 4). There is great encouragement for us to develop creative new expressions of church in another obvious phrase, referring to “fresh words and deeds” (para 11). So this should be fundamental to the way we operate as a church.

It is clear that Ministers undergo a process of change and transition in moving from one placement to another: moving through ending in one community, and leaving behind the ministry exercised there; to joining a new community and coming to understand and appreciate the context within which ministry now takes place. (And then, of course, exiting the community at the end of the period of ministry.) As well as all of the learnings, adjustments, developments, readjustments, further learnings, reshaping and continuing developments that are inevitable within the course of a good ministry placement.

Alongside this, the Congregation or faith community has work to do, and this is recognised in the second course. This work entails a series of tasks, which the Intentional Interim Minister is charged with overseeing and stimulating. These are summarised quite succinctly as dealing with understanding heritage, refreshing leadership, relational connections beyond the community, developing missional identity, and committing to the agreed future. That’s quite a lot of work!

So, all of these changes that we have experienced in recent times—changes in jobs, changes in residence, changes in location, and changes in the faith community to which we are connected—all bring challenges with them. We are in what anthropologists and sociologists call, a liminal space.

The word liminal comes from the Latin word līmen, which means “a threshold”. Technically, that is the place that marks off one space from another. Its origin was the strip of wood or stone at the bottom of a doorway, which was crossed in entering a house or room.

The thresh is the place where one treads as one enters a room. So the threshold, is where you put your foot as you walk into a new room or new place.

So, we are on the threshold, in a liminal space.

Anthropologists define liminality as “the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a ritual”. It is the moment when participants no longer hold their preritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.

During a rite’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which completing the rite establishes.

The concept of liminality was developed in the early twentieth century sociologists. It was applied particularly to religious rituals marking the movement of a person from one stage to another. We can see this in the traditions of the church: for instance, Confirmation as a move into adulthood, Marriage as a move into long term partnership, and, of course, Baptism as the movement into life outside the womb, in the world as we know it, and Funerals as the move into life beyond death, life in the world beyond that as we currently know it. These are liminal moments for all human beings.

More recently, usage of the term has broadened to the political and cultural arena, alongside the religious or faith area. So it is a useful concept to be applied to the places where we are ministering and the changes that are among place, or need to take place, within those communities.

During liminal periods of all kinds, the experts tell us, “social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt. The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established.”

[I found this on Wikipedia, which references the source as Agnes Horvath, Bjørn Thomassen, and Harald Wydra, Introduction: Liminality and Cultures of Change (International Political Anthropology 2009). Accessed 18 March 2019.]

That means, then, that we are facing opportunities at this moment, in the liminal space—opportunities to dissolve traditions, opportunities to reshape practices, opportunities to cast doubt over long term certainties, opportunities to lay down new patterns of functioning that will be healthy, life giving, and resilient in the longer term. Now that’s a set of challenges to be met!!!

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“Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” (4)

Fr Glen Loughrey, an Anglican priest from Melbourne, led the afternoon panel discussion at the seminar giving consideration to the encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato si’. He spoke an acknowledgement of country and lamented that this had not been done earlier in the seminar. In Australia, he maintains, the underlying issue for caring for the environment, is caring for and respecting the people who have long cared for the land.

Until we deal with the question of the land—whose land it is, how we go about retuning it to the original owners—Mother Earth will not enable us to deal with the problematic situation we are in. Respect the land on which we live and show our deep care for the land and its people; once we demonstrate this, it will be possible to move ahead.

The programme for the seminar includes a prayer from Aboriginal tradition, attributed to Burnum Burnum, whichncan be read at https://theviolethourmuse.wordpress.com/tag/burnum-down-the-house/

Dr Cristina Lledo Gomez, who teaches at Charles Sturt University, affirmed this approach of prioritising the place of indigenous people. As a migrant, she resonates with the experience of displacement and cross-societal existence. Within the church, there is a sense that we have been traumatised by the increasing environmental damage that we are learning about. Harnessing the resources to move beyond this trauma is an important learning we can undertake, learning from the way that indigenous and migrant peoples have done this.

The encyclical moves people of faith beyond a consideration, solely of their spiritual dimensions; the notion of integral ecology presses for an integrated human development in spiritual, social, sexual, psychological and environmental dimensions, as we work together for the common good. A fine model to use in doing this is See—Judge—Act. Look at your experience; analyse and explore what this means, and draw in the Christian tradition, the resources of scripture and work of subsequent centuries; before moving to undertake specific actions.

David Marsh is a farmer who has delved deep into the ethics of land care, and whose work in developing an ecologically sustainable farm has recently been recognised with a national award. He describes what he has done, as “not intervening and let the world get on with doing what it does”. He spoke of his appreciation of those who had already presented and urged us to press on with “more moral thinking about irrigation” and the consequences of how it is structured.

Then Philippa Rowland, from Catholic Earthcare, spoke about the importance of the dialogue between science and faith. They are “the two wings of one bird”. She has a sense that we are currently in the narrowest part of the hourglass; there is much that is being squeezed into the one space. We humans have become clever at a rate much faster than the rate of development of our wisdom. We need to allow the knowledge of where we are, connect more fully with our discernment of what is needed.

The growing sense of urgency goes alongside a patient working at what is essential. Technology and vision need to work hand-in-hand. Food, clothing and water are critical. Policy change needs to be encouraged and driven further. A federal parliamentary group focussed on climate change is now more active, driven by a group of independents. That is cause for hope.

See also

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-1/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-2/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-3/

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“Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” (3)

In the afternoon session of a seminar today, we are continuing consideration of the encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato si’. Fr Bruce Duncan explicates the theology of the document: the glory of God is human beings, fully alive, in accord with the famous parable of Matthew 25. Is this Vatican 2, part two? … or, Reformation, part two?? An intriguing suggestion …

Certainly, this document challenges the long tradition within Christian theology, to place human beings at the centre of our world, to regard humanity as the crowing pinnacle of creation, and to foster the sense that “we need to take care” of the creation. On the contrary, we are a part–an integral part–of that creation, interconnected, no less and no more important than the other creatures and ecosystems of this world. This, to me, is the big change–and big challenge–that this encyclical provides.

Bruce explained that groups of eminent scientists and social scientists have worked with the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace in the preparation of the document, which is thus grounded in the very best of current scientific understanding. At its launching, a group of Muslim scholars published their parallel statement in accord with Laudato si’. The orientation is to foster human wellbeing across, not just denominations, but other world religions. It is about what we all have in common.

Dialogue with indigenous peoples, right around the world, is also integral to the approach taken in the document. This is a highly important matter in South America, in particular in relation to the region of the Amazon—the area of the world from where Pope Francis comes. The indigenous contact with nature is vitally important if we are to shape a sustainable future.

Emily Evans (who works with the National Council of Churches in Australia) then offered an ecumenical perspective. Churches have been working towards justice, peace, and the integrity of creation for four decades. These are three aspects of the one reality; three perspectives on the one unified matter.

Numerous meetings of the full World Council of Churches and its justice commission have reaffirmed and developed this commitment from all the member churches. Ongoing actions and statements have furthered the work of seeking conversion about how we relate to, and live within, the created world. The WCC is now calling people across the world to join in a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, to engage in transformative actions together.

There are three intersecting and overlapping journeys involved: via positiva, celebrating the gifts; via negativa, visiting the wounds; and via transformata, transforming the injustices. These are particularly in view each year during the Season of Creation, which runs from 1 September to 4 October (the Feast of St Francis).

Of particular relevance to the theology of the document are these sections:

68. This responsibility for God’s earth means that human beings, endowed with intelligence, must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibria existing between the creatures of this world, for “he commanded and they were created; and he established them for ever and ever; he fixed their bounds and he set a law which cannot pass away” (Ps 148:5b-6). The laws found in the Bible dwell on relationships, not only among individuals but also with other living beings. “You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and withhold your help… If you chance to come upon a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting upon the young or upon the eggs; you shall not take the mother with the young” (Dt 22:4, 6). Along these same lines, rest on the seventh day is meant not only for human beings, but also so “that your ox and your donkey may have rest” (Ex 23:12). Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.

69. Together with our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly, we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: “by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory”, and indeed, “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Ps 104:31). By virtue of our unique dignity and our gift of intelligence, we are called to respect creation and its inherent laws, for “the Lord by wisdom founded the earth” (Prov 3:19). In our time, the Church does not simply state that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of human beings, as if they have no worth in themselves and can be treated as we wish. The German bishops have taught that, where other creatures are concerned, “we can speak of the priority of being over that of being useful”. The Catechism clearly and forcefully criticizes a distorted anthropocentrism: “Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection… Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness. Man [sic] must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things”.

See also

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-1/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-2

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-4/

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“Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” (2)

Continuing the sessions at a seminar where we are considering how Christians across various denominations might respond to the encyclical of Pope Francis

Professor Quentin Grafton, from the Centre for Water Economics, Environment and Policy at the ANU, spoke about water: the need to provide water and to ensure the sustainable management of water resources and sanitation services, for all human beings.

Currently there are 2.1 billion people without access to safely managed drinking water and 4.5 billion people without access to safely managed sanitation services. Well over 4 billion people experience lack of access to a safe water supply on a periodic basis. We westerners take for granted our continuing supply of clean water and flushing toilets; we are in a highly privileged situation.

Around 700 children are dying EVERY DAY from diarrhoea, linked to unsafe drinking water. That’s already an unacceptable situation—an immediate challenge to the way that we manage water supply and sanitation services.

Yet, our future food production is imperilled by the steady reduction in water in underground aquifers in so many places around the world. We are making the problem worse, not addressing the underlying issue.

Prof. Grafton said that the claim, “it’s just the drought”, totally misrepresents the situation that we are facing in Australia. Irrigation takes a steady supply,of water, but as there is a steady decline in input, so the residual water available to “the environment” (and our consummated usage) declines—at an alarming rate. Our federal policy makers appear to be resolutely deaf to these facts.

Water Justice is what is needed. This entails the fair and just distribution of water; a recognition of multiple values, not just market values; full participation by all people in decision-making relating to water; and the development of long-term sustainability.

Laudato si’ paragraphs 30 and 31 affirm that access to safe drinking water is a basic human right, and this right will be crucial in securing the future of humanity.

30. Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity. This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor. But water continues to be wasted, not only in the developed world but also in developing countries which possess it in abundance. This shows that the problem of water is partly an educational and cultural issue, since there is little awareness of the seriousness of such behaviour within a context of great inequality.

31. Greater scarcity of water will lead to an increase in the cost of food and the various products which depend on its use. Some studies warn that an acute water shortage may occur within a few decades unless urgent action is taken. The environmental repercussions could affect billions of people; it is also conceivable that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century

Prof. Grafton said that our commitment to one another means that we need to choose to stand in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable in the present, and to ensure a future for generations to come. This entails truth—humility—respect—wisdom—honesty—love—bravery (these are “the seven grandfathers, as articulated by an indigenous group in North America; see https://www.nhbpi.org/seven-grandfather-teachings/)

He ended by quoting St Francis of Assisi: “Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

Then, Prof. John Williams of the ANU (and the Uniting Church) spoke about food and clothing. He began by declaring: “What you eat and what you wear, has more impact on the creation than anything else you do.” We can see the impact on our current lifestyle in this diagram:

Agriculture has a huge impact on our biodiversity; it changes land use and impacts the supply of fresh water; it disturbs the valuable nitrogen and phosphorous cycles of the planet. We. Are choices about our agricultural practices; those choices are based on our values. Our faith feeds into the development of those values.

The projected increase in demand for all foods is 102%; that will require changes to our current practices. Achieving real sustainability in food production means going beyond an approach that simply minimises environmental impacts. That means a global transition, with significant social and ecological changes. There are powerful forces opposing the changes required. There is also indifference amongst far too many policy makers.

The vision that Prof. Williams presented, is for sustainable governance and management of ecosystems, natural resources and earth system processes, to ensure we are operating within a safe place globally.

His closing words were: “The creation, as a whole, is indifferent to the wellbeing of any particular individual person living within that creation. God, however, is a creative, loving God, who has joined with us within the creation and has an intimate interest, with us, in solving these issues.”

See also

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-1/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-3/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-4/

 

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Environment

“Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” (1)

“Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

Elizabeth and I are participating in a seminar today considering how Christians across various denominations might respond to the encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato si’.

The full encyclical can be read at http://m.vatican.va/content/francescomobile/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

A summary of its contents is provided at https://www.catholic.org.au/commission-documents/bishops-commission-for-justice-ecology-and-development/laudato-si/1711-encyclical-summary/file

The day opened with words from Aunty Dianne Torrens from the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, who shared something about her faith and how the land is so important for First Peoples.She brought words from her husband, Tim, and reflected on the changes that are noticeable in our environment today.

Professor Tony Kelly then spoke about developing “an integral ecology”, the focus of the day. Fr Kelly offered this striking observation: “No one has all the answers—that is part of the grace of today.” Searching for those answers, talking together and learning together, is the way that we experience the grace of God and, through that, develop a helpful response to the changes that are occurring.

He read from his work, An Expanding Theology: Faith in a world of connections. He observed that our very existence itself is a gift; we all share in the communion of life, and so “this new sense of the mystery of the cosmos is often accompanied by a stirring of ecological conscience as we wonder at the universe has brought forth life in all its precious variety. With such an expansion of consciousness in science and moral concern, faith is temporarily tongue-tied.”

Fr Kelly posed some critical questions: “How can our Christian vision encompass the wonder and responsibility that a new sense of reality inspires? How can faith make, and live, these new connections?” Our response to the environmental changes draws people together, bridging ecumenical and interfaith, cultural and national boundaries.

As human beings, we are all called to work together in addressing this situation. In this regard, he acknowledged that the First Peoples of Australia had long lived with this awareness, with regular connections and co-operation across the lands of the various nations that have existed here for millennia.

The full text of An Expanding Theology is accessible at

https://resource.acu.edu.au/ankelly/preface.htm

The day is continuing with further speakers, panel discussions, dialogue moments, and informal fellowship.

See my further blogs at

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-2/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-3/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-4/

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