“Endeavour by every possible means … to conciliate their affections”

As a sign of respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the first inhabitants of this continent and its islands, we need to change the date of our national day.

On 26 January 1788, the commander of the First Fleet, Arthur Philip (pictures), placed the British flag into the soil of Sydney Cove. Journals of the time record that the British had already set foot on the land a week or so earlier, at Botany Bay. However, because Philip couldn’t find fresh water there, he sailed further north. In Sydney Cove, he found fresh water in the Tank Stream, and this determined the site of the first British settlement.

At the time, this settlement was an expression of colonial expansion, claiming a new colony as “Britannia ruled the waves”. Today, we can see that it was an act of colonial imperialism, with inherent violence at its heart and aggressive marginalisation of the inhabitants of the land.

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The profound effect of invasion and colonisation

This Sunday, 20 January, Uniting Churches around Australia will be holding services which focus on a Day of Mourning, ahead of a day later in the week (26 January) marked in many calendars as Australia Day.

These churches will be doing this in accord with the decision of the 15th Assembly of the UCA, held last year, “to request members to support a Day of Mourning to occur on the Sunday prior to 26th January each year, and to engage during worship services in activities such as reflection and discussion of the profound effect of invasion and colonisation on First Peoples” (see https://uniting.church/28-day-of-mourning/)

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“When you suffer, the whole body of Christ suffers”

There’s been a new contribution, from North America, to the long-running and still ongoing discussion of the place of same-gender attracted people within the church. It’s from the the Bishops of the United Methodist Church (USA). (See http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/council-of-bishops-letter-to-the-global-lgbtq-community)

But first, before considering this, let me say something about the Uniting Church in Australia. Specifically, about the proposal made in the middle of last year, when the 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church had on its agenda a proposal to prepare an apology to LGBTIQ people from the church.

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Affirmations we can make together

Last year, I posted a series of Affirmations relating to sexuality and same-gender attracted people, and their place in the church. These Affirmations were inspired by a summary that one of my colleagues made of various resolutions adopted by the National Assembly of the Uniting Church or its Standing Committee (thanks Avril). [You can read that post at https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/20/seven-affirmations/]

Recently, one of my colleagues commented that these Affirmations would make for a good creed (thanks Neil). I played with them for a bit, and came up with the series of Affirmations below. I think this sequence flows well and the key issues are identified.

I have kept pretty much the wording of the formal resolutions, although they are “tweaked” at some places, to make for a more amenable pattern for saying together in a liturgy. We have moved and developed in our understandings as a church, so the evolving language and ideas reflect that.

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A Prayer for the Uniting Church in Australia

This Prayer from the President of the Uniting Church has been issued today, along with a Pastoral Letter advising that “the Assembly decision on marriage stands, and will continue to be lived out in our Church, in various faithful expressions”, and noting that the “broader focus [of the Church includes] the ways we can witness to God’s reconciling love, which is beyond measure and has power to transform people’s lives and the life of our society.”

A PRAYER FOR THE UNITING CHURCH IN AUSTRALIA

Written by President Dr Deidre Palmer

six months after the Fifteenth Assembly

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So, what just happened? (An Explainer, Updated)

The last six months in the Uniting Church has been something of an intense roller-coaster, revolving around the issue of marriage. Our processes are somewhat idiosyncratic and, as events unfolded, matters came down to a rather arcane provision in the UCA Constitution.

I offered An Explainer about this process some months back. In light of more recent events, here is An Updated Explainer.

Continue reading “So, what just happened? (An Explainer, Updated)”

As the old year passes, we cry for our struggling world. A hymn for the new year.

Thanks to David MacGregor for this hymn for the new year:

1. As the old year passes we look back, reflect:

times of joy and promise, times we’d best forget.

God of the ages, help us walk your way.

Help us greet your future, seize tomorrow’s day.

2. As the old year passes sorrow wells within:

loved ones no more ‘round us, all that could have been.

God of compassion, heal each ailing heart.

Guide us to your future where new life may start.

3. As the old year passes we cry for our struggling world.

Climate ever-changing, fighting too-often heard.

God, you have called us to cherish all you give.

Call us to your future where all in peace, might live.

4. As the new year dawns now we would give you praise.

Faithful God, come lead us onward in new ways.

We’ll love and serve you in the faith of Christ,

in your Spirit’s future; people of new life.

Words: David MacGregor © 2007 Willow Publishing

Music: Noel Nouvelet – TIS 382

The depth of God’s presence in our midst

Today (in the Eastern Church) is designated as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. (It was celebrated yesterday in the Western Church.) This festival day commemorates the story of “the Slaughter of the Innocents”, reportedly ordered by King Herod, and recorded in the opening chapters of Matthew’s Gospel (and nowhere else). It is a tragic story, a myth which is filled with pathos, and it resonates with events in the world we live in today. It is a story with great power (as are all myths).

But this story is strikingly absent from the usual array of carols that are sung at this time of the year. Sugar-coated reminiscences of the cute li’l baby Jesus (“holy infant so tender and mild”, “the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head”, “but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes”, “gentle and lowly lived below”) take us well away from the murderous acts of the tyrannical ruler.

Most of the traditional carols really want us to focus on Jesus the exalted Lord, resplendent in glory, coming to earth from heaven, so they move us quickly away from the vulnerable infant, and especially from the grim political and social realities of the time.

Some of the traditional carols take us to the edge of the story of violence and repression, and then leave it unspoken, or rather, unsung. “Unto us a boy is born” refers to the fury unleashed by Herod in slaughtering the baby boys, but fails then to go on and narrate the flight undertaken by Joseph, Mary and Jesus. In “The first Nowell”, the three wise men see the star in verse 4 and come to find Jesus in verse 5, but nothing further is told of the ensuing events of Herod—slaughter—flight into Egypt.

A similar dynamic happens in verse 4 of “O come, all you faithful”, verse 3 of “Angels, from the realms of glory”, verse 3 of “Silent night, holy night”, and in verse 3 of the rollicking calypso carol, “The Virgin Mary had a baby boy”. “Brightest and best of the stars of the morning” spends one verse describing the cradle scene and two verses reflecting on the gifts brought to the infant Jesus, but nothing more as to how the visitors had come to him via Herod.

“As with gladness, men of old” devotes three verses to the story of the men of old seeing the star and bringing their gifts, but then dovetails into a pietistic plea to Jesus to “keep us in the narrow way”. No mention of the scenes of slaughter of the innocent infants and the fearful flight of refugees in these carols.

The star and the visitors from the east get prime billing; the murdered children and the hastily-departing family of Jesus, seeking the safety of refuge in a foreign country, are passed over very quickly.

Why is this state of affairs so? The lack of reference to the murderous acts of Herod and the fearful flight of the family of Jesus indicates that our Christmas carols sanitise and sanctify this foundational story, gilding the lily, reshaping our perspective on the story. They completely omit any references to a part of the story that has gained such traction, and that occupies such attention, in the minds of carefully critical contemporary Christians. Children continue to be sacrificed today, in the course of jingoistic warfare waged for ideological reasons. The tragedy continues today …

A number of contemporary hymn writers have turned their attention to this story. Shirley Erena Murray is right on the money when she highlights the violence and fear at the heart of the story, claims that the infant in the story has “come to plead war’s counter-case”, and articulates the hope that “goodness will outclass the gun, evil has no tooth that can kill the truth.”

Summer sun or winter skies, Christmas comes —

shepherds, angels, lullabies, words recorded by the wise:

read it in the book — take another look . . . .

Shadows track the hawk in flight; Christmas now —

children born in fire and fight, silent night a violent night,

hawks are in control of a nation’s soul.

There where terror plies its trade; Christmas now —

children learn to be afraid, minefields of distrust are laid,

evil is in force on a winning course.

Child of peace, God’s human face, Christmas now —

come to plead war’s counter-case, bring the dove a nesting place,

though her wings are torn, though her blood is drawn.

Winter skies or summer sun, Christmas comes —

still the threads of hope are spun, goodness will outclass the gun,

evil has no tooth that can kill the truth.

That is why the ancient story retold at Christmas resonates so strongly with our situation today. Not because “it really happened, exactly like this”, but because it takes us to the centre of our humanity and reveals the depth of God’s presence in our midst. We ought to sing more about it!

See also https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/12/28/the-counter-cultural-alternative-narrative-impact-of-the-person-of-jesus/#

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/12/26/ye-who-now-will-bless-the-poor-shall-yourselves-find-blessing/#

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/12/24/resonating-with-christmas-a-story-of-restless-travel-and-seeking-refuge/# 

and https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/12/25/away-in-a-manger/#

The counter-cultural, alternative-narrative impact of the person of Jesus

Today (in the Western Church) is designated as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. (It is celebrated tomorrow in the Eastern Church.) This festival day commemorates a tradition known as “the slaughter of the Innocents”, reportedly ordered by King Herod.

Continue reading “The counter-cultural, alternative-narrative impact of the person of Jesus”

Ye who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing

Today is the second day in the season of Christmas, which technically runs from 25 December to 5 January. This day brings together an unlikely combination of characters, worth pondering.

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