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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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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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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15th Assembly, Uncategorized

Called to discern new ways of relating

The General Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC) is currently meeting in St Louis, USA. This is a gathering of nearly 1,000 delegates, elected by annual conferences of the Methodist Churches from around the world. Half of the delegates are laity (non-clergy members), half are clergy. A description of this body can be found at http://www.umc.org/who-we-are/general-conference

The Conference is meeting in Special Session, for the specific purpose of discussing (once again) human sexuality. There is a report from the Commission on the Way Forward, which specifically considers the way to maintain the unity of the church in the face of the polemical disagreements that have been occurring with regard to marrying people of the same gender.

Continue reading

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Uncategorized

Living with Heatwaves

We know that climate change is a reality, and we are seeing more frequent and more intense extreme weather events (floods, fires, heatwaves). This is a blog from a guest blogger, Vivian Harris, on how to cope with heatwaves.

Vivian blogs from Bega on the south coast of NSW, where she writes the Climate Action Blog (Sharing our journey to a low carbon future and fighting for climate action) at https://climateactionbega.blogspot.com/2019/01/climate-migration.html She was previously an active member of the Queanbeyan Uniting Church, which recently reposted this blog.

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We have just sweltered through another heatwave with climate change making them more frequent and more intense. It can be tempting to retreat to our house, turn the air conditioning (if you have it) up full bore and binge watch on Netflix.

However, the extra load on the electric network not only increases the amount of carbon emissions, thus making climate change and heatwaves worse, but the heat emitted by your air conditioner increases the heat experienced by your neighbours and the electricity network can be overloaded leaving people without any electricity.

Heatwaves need to be taken seriously. They kill more people than any other natural disaster in Australia (including bushfires). They kill older people, children, people with chronic diseases, outdoor workers and bush walkers.

So how can we keep ourselves cool without contributing excessively to even more and worse heatwaves?

There are immediate, medium-term and long-term solutions. We all need to start putting the long-term solutions into place because this summer is only the beginning of the new normal.

Immediate

Pay attention to heatwave warnings and prepare with salads and plenty of ice blocks and ice cubes.

Close up the house in the early morning. Close windows and curtains/blinds in the entire house.

Turn off lights and any appliances that don’t need to be on. All electric appliances emit heat as they work (including televisions). Plan not to cook anything because that puts a lot of heat into the house. Put boiling water in a thermos for later.

Close off all rooms you don’t need be in, particularly those on north or west side of the house. Minimise the space you need to cool.

Don’t put air conditioning (if you have it) on until it is uncomfortable and when you do set it to 25 degrees Celsius not 18. Turn it on for short burst only rather than all day. Evaporative air conditioners are much cheaper to run and these work more efficiently by turning them on low early on the days that are forecast to be hot, than running them on high and trying to bring the temperature down.

Put off doing anything that requires you to go outside in the hottest part of the day.

Use fans and wet clothing to cool yourself.

Don’t have cold showers. Cold showers close down your surface circulation which is how your body cools the core temperature. Have a warm shower it will cool you better long-term.

Drink lots of cold water. High sugar drinks actually pull water out of your body.

Ice packs on your neck can help drop your core temperature.

Open up the house at night to get air flow and cool the house down. Open windows, curtains, leave doors on screen doors.

Find public places, like libraries, public buildings, movie theatres and shopping centres with air conditioning to spend the day in.

Move mattresses to the coolest part of the house to sleep.

Sleeping with a wet tea towel on you and a fan can drop your core temperature enough to get you to sleep.

Check on vulnerable people without air conditioning and invite them to spend the day with you if you have air conditioning.

Medium-term

Stop the heat getting into your house by blocking it before it gets to your windows or walls. Use greenhouse material in front of windows/walls.

Long-term

Plant more trees. We have all felt the drop-in temperature when you walk into a park with old mature trees on a hot day. Plant non-deciduous trees on the western side of your houses and deciduous tree on the north (we still want to get heat in in winter). Planting trees is the best way to reduce the urban heat island effect that can see temperatures of 70 degrees Celsius in areas with lots of concrete and roads.

Build a pergola with a deciduous vine on the north side of the house.

Insulate the walls and ceiling. Install a ceiling fan.

Don’t build a house that depends on air conditioning to keep it cool. Houses can be built that use insulation and air flow to keep them comfortable in heatwaves and winter.

Put on solar power so you can turn on air conditioning without contributing to further heatwaves.

Campaign to get your local council to plant more trees along your street.

Heatwaves are here for the long term. We need to learn to adjust our behaviours and houses to cope with it.

Vivian Harris

https://climateactionbega.blogspot.com/2019/01/living-with-heatwaves.html

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