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!

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

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/

Our capital city circular street naming system: stability, structure and symmetry

I’m enjoying the learnings that I am being exposed to by living in a new city (Canberra).  Alongside the ubiquitous roundabouts right across the city, for which Canberra is so well known, there seems to be an interesting set of road naming protocols at work. There is a clear hierarchy involved.

Continue reading “Our capital city circular street naming system: stability, structure and symmetry”