Expectations, they can kill us and those we love.
I seem to have had a difficult year this year, and as I approach my 58thbirthday, some reflection is in order.
I have always enjoyed the cut and thrust of busyness, going from one job to another, achieving a good result, pleasing people with my ability to write or present or teach.
But lately I seem to be dragged down by others expectation of me. Not, I might add that it’s their fault at all. Its internal to me. Suddenly I feel weighed down by their expectation of what I can do and my own expectation of what I should or could do.
It’s a deadly mix that screws around with our heads, well certainly mine.
Why is it that something I have always loved seems heavy and complicated and difficult when once I thrilled with the challenge and enjoyed the ride?
Maybe it’s because I suddenly have been taking myself far too seriously!
I am not the saviour of the world, I am not the answer to everyone’s questions on life, the universe or God. I am not going to solve the indigenous situation or the refugee situation or even the homeless crisis on my own. And equally I am not going to change the world by my scientific endeavours!
I am simply a human being, an older one at that, just trying to do the best I can.
I do mediation using the Headspace app, and with the wonderful voice of Andy Puddicombe. In it he guides you to sit quietly, in silence, and prompts you along the way as you develop your skills. Because sitting in silence initially is quite difficult. But at the beginning he suggests that it is very important to know why you are doing the meditation in the first place. Today that question really spoke to me!
A lesson for all of life.
I think knowing why we are doing things is very important. I would like to say I do things because I love doing them, I want to help others, and it makes me a better person. My expectation of what others think, or what they think of me has been less important as to how I see myself. I seem to have lost my way a bit on this.
Yet I realise now that being true to ourselves is a large part of the answer to my own struggles. We are to find our true selves, the things that make us who we are, because if we are only doing things to satisfy others then a part of us is lost. If we do things to receive something in return we are often bound to be disappointed.
My faith in God, in a divine presence in all of creation, is still so strong, stronger now than it has ever been, but it involves so much less about traditional Christianity. But then I think Christianity has also lost its way.
Jesus calls us to love, forgive, and help, with no expectation of a return engagement.
But he also says that we are all children of God, regardless of how much we achieve, or how little. That the divine spark resides in everyone’s heart, and doesn’t disappear if somehow we stuff up.
Remembering that I think helps me, maybe it might help you.
If not, remembering we are all simply human beings, just trying to do the best we can, may .
And finally, have a laugh along the way. Lots of them. I think that helps us all.
Let me firstly say I am no expert on middle eastern politics, but just that I am a person who wants peace for all people. And I am confused about how to support those that are trying to make peace in Israel. So this is just a small reflection on what has been happening to me lately and what I have been thinking…..
Last weekend I went to a peace conference, organised by the ecumenical social justice roundtable, at St Georges Cathedral in Perth.
On the Sunday an interfaith panel was convened to talk about peace and faith. It included a young Jewish rabbi, a Muslim woman, a Buddhist monk, a Catholic nun, an aboriginal women doing a PhD on indigenous spirituality, a Uniting Church minister and a woman representing the Bahai faith.
I was particularly struck by the Rabbi who spoke not about tolerance but about love of the stranger, and how the Hebrew Scriptures mention this more than anything else.
Overall it was a hopeful message from a hopeful panel. That making peace rather than making war is the central message from all the faith traditions. Even if this vision gets distorted by those who seek to change things by violence.
Yet making peace is, well, pretty darn hard…
After the panel I went and listened to a young Australian Palestinian woman, speaking of the horrors currently happening in Israel. About the injustice and violence being perpetrated on the Palestinian people, who once belonged to the land that they are now strangers in. There is a film that I will organise to show at my church community early next year, called “The Stones Cry Out, which depicts this sorrow and grief and struggle, a struggle that has been going on for a very long time. This is not a war between nations but a war within a nation, and it is killing everyone.
I am so torn. On the one hand what this young woman spoke about with passion was so moving. How can Jewish Israel be doing this to its fellow citizens? What about loving the stranger? These are not even strangers.
Yet I have also been to Israel, seen the passion there amongst the Jewish population, the grief and sorrow they have also suffered, after so many centuries of pogroms and massacres and death and destruction, and the fear that now resides in their hearts. You cannot go to the holocaust museum and not be shocked and changed by it. They would say, they have to protect themselves and their homeland.
In the end there are two sides, two warring sides that may never come together in peace. How do we find peace in a situation where peace seems so far away? And particularly when one group has so much power and one has so little.
There is a new pre Harry Potter movie out, meaning set before the time of Harry Potter, called Fantastic Beasts, Crimes of Grindelwald. In it the main character, Newton Scamander is asked to choose a side when a battle between good and evil looms. His response…. “I don’t do sides”.
I don’t do sides.
Maybe we don’t do sides either, maybe we choose love instead.
The bible, while full of first century imagery, talks to us about how Jesus called and worked for peace. Non-violently! He gives hope not through violent means, but through love. In the end Jesus goes to his death rather than respond violently. Our tradition in Christianity is one of nonviolence and love.
His words speak to us today or at least to me. Because we know the perils of war, we see it all around us. It is not the end of suffering but the beginning. What does war bring but more and more suffering, for those that participate, for those who are civilians and for those that oppose it.
War was a symptom of the dominant system of Jesus’s day and he showed how non-violent resistance attacked the system at it roots. This was true transformation. A Kairos moment. Jesus presented a choice to his followers, the kingdom or war. Hope lies in the kingdom, the kingdom of love and non violence and peace.
This is such a radical message, a confronting message.
So how are we to respond to so much pain and anguish and desperation and evil in the world?
Jesus presents this same choice to us. He calls us to respond with love. For all sides! And to find ways to peace that are non-violent.
But this is not just a Christian message, or for those that are Jesus followers.
So let me finish with a beautiful piece from Thich Nhat Hanh, a famous Buddhist writer and poet. This is from his address to Congress entitled, Leading with Courage and Compassion, Sept. 10th 2003.
Peace is possible
My right hand has written all the poems that I have composed.
My left hand has not written a single poem.
But my right hand does not think, “Left Hand, you are good for nothing.”
My right hand does not have a superiority complex.
That is why it is very happy.
My left hand does not have any complex at all.
In my two hands there is the kind of wisdom
called the wisdom of nondiscrimination.
One day I was hammering a nail and my right hand was not very accurate
and instead of pounding on the nail it pounded on my finger.
It put the hammer down and took care of the left hand
in a very tender way, as if it were taking care of itself.
It did not say, “Left Hand, you have to remember that
I have taken good care of you and you have to pay me back in the future.”
There was no such thinking. And my left hand did not say,
“Right Hand, you have done me a lot of harm—
give me that hammer, I want justice.”
My two hands know that they are members of one body;
they are in each other.
Maybe there is hope after all. The panel thought so.
I was moving my bookshelves the other day, and trying to reduce the number of books I have. Which is difficult because books seem to accumulate near me, like mess! Just when I get a book out of the house another one comes in.
As I was moving them, of course I took time to look at the ones I was keeping, and fondly remembered many. Some I can’t of course as I have got older and my memory is poorer about the details!
Anyway I found one, battered and dishevelled, that has been a constant companion for all of my life.
The book is, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, by Harper Lee, first published in 1960, the year I was born. I read it many years ago and have reread it a number of times since, in fact it is the only book I have ever read twice. I am sure many if not all of you have read it too. But just in case, the book is set in the 1930s, and is about Atticus, a widowed southern lawyer who represents a black man, Tom Robinson, falsely accused of rape in a small Alabama town filled with prejudice and hate. The book is written through the eyes of Scout his daughter who is 6, and through her eyes you see Atticus representing all that is good in the world, even against incredible odds, while still having time for her and her older brother Jem. The book is and has been pivotal for many people, Atticus was the perfect man — the ideal father and a principled idealist, an enlightened, kind, wise, honorable, an almost saintly believer in justice and fairness. In real life, people named their children after Atticus. People went to law school and became lawyers because of Atticus. The book was made into a movie which cemented its influence, and is one of my favourites, shot in 1962 in black and white with gorgeous Gregory Peck as Atticus. The movie is also famous because Boo Radley, the reclusive neighbour from next door who firstly frightens and then rescues Scout on Halloween, after the kids are attacked, is the first time you see Robert De Nero on screen.
Here is a story which combines the innocence of childhood, with the reality of the world as it was. The trial and subsequent events expose the children to the evils of racism and stereotyping, which in turn expose the readers.
I remember clearly some of the scenes written so powerfully in the book and acted out by our man Peck, particularly this one, when the verdict is read –
Finch is at the front of the courtroom with Robinson. The jury files in. In the balcony, the book’s narrator—Finch’s daughter, Jean Louise, or Scout, as she’s known—shuts her eyes. “Guilty,” the first of the jurors says. “Guilty,” the second says, and down the line: “guilty, guilty, guilty.” Finch gathers his papers into his briefcase. He says a quiet word to his client, gathers his coat off the back of his chair, and walks, head bowed, out of the courtroom.
“Someone was punching me, but I was reluctant to take my eyes from the people below us, and from the image of Atticus’s lonely walk down the aisle,” Scout relates,
“Miss Jean Louise?”
I looked around. They were standing. All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet. Reverend Sykes’s voice was as distant as Judge Taylor’s:
“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.”
Ah it brings back such sweet memories! All my life Atticus has been my hero. A man going about his business, not as a civil rights activist, but a good and decent man. As he said to Scout, ““If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks, You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Then something happened a few years ago!. I read what was touted as being a sequel to “To Kill a Mocking Bird” called “Go Set a Watchman” written also by Harper Lee and also in my library. I remember feeling very excited until I found out it’s not really a sequel, as it seems to have been an earlier draft of the first book.
Apparently “Go Set a Watchman” was the original title “To Kill a Mockingbird”. The phrase comes from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, in the King James Bible:
“For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seeth.” – Isaiah 21:6
“Isaiah was a prophet. God had set him as a watchman over Israel. To set them straight, to keep them on the right path.
In the case of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch served as the watchman.
While written in the third person, “Go Set a Watchman” reflects Scout’s point of view as an adult: The novel is the story of how she returns home to Maycomb, Alabama., for a visit — from New York City, where she has been living — and tries to grapple with her dismaying realization that Atticus and her longtime boyfriend, Henry Clinton, both seem to have become bigots and racists. In this book set in the 1950s, Jem is dead, and it is a time of one of the most monumental changes in American society. We see increasing civil rights tensions and an end to segregation, exposing the prejudices between races, North versus South and the different generations. In “Mockingbird,” Atticus was a role model for his children, Scout and Jem — their North Star, their hero, the most potent moral force in their lives. In “Watchman,” he becomes the source of grievous pain and disillusionment for the 26-year-old Scout (or Jean Louise, as she’s now known).
Suddenly Atticus is not the paragon of virtue but a man influence by his surroundings and the turmoil and politics of the time. He is wanting to protect his town and his people from the changes that are coming. He wants to protect the Southern way of life. So he seems to accept that he has to deal with people with incredibly racist and outrageous views while at the same time still believing that the rule of law and justice is for all, regardless of race. A contradiction for Scout. Yet Atticus’s attitude seemed entirely authentic to me. His heroism and his prejudices are part of the same package, as it is with most humans. As Jennifer Burn said, when reviewing this book some time ago, “Racism is not reserved for “white trash” such as the Ewells and the Cunninghams, smelling of pig pen and booze. It taints the clever too, and the well-meaning. Even the great Atticus Finch, even though that’s hard to say”.
So, how did I feel about this so called sequel? Well, if I must own up, I felt slightly hurt and slightly cheated when I read it, what happened to gorgeous wonderful Atticus. Yet Scout is brave and independent in the book. She realises she has to let go of the idolised person her father was and find her own voice. She has to basically grow up. And growing up means seeing all sides, having empathy for all those involved, without losing her own compass. In the end Scout sees Atticus for who he is, a human being, influenced by his time and place. And realises that to change things in her town and in her state she has to start the change herself. While Atticus was the watchman in Mockingbird, I think Scout becomes the watchman in this second book.
A great example of the young, and a woman making a difference to us all.
Even though I have only read the Watchman once and “To Kill a Mockingbird” numerous times I pine for Atticus the hero? I do! Yet while Atticus the hero is rather tarnished to me maybe that’s what a good story does. It leads us to find our own voices in a struggle or situation, rather than leaving it for someone else. Even though it has been hard, perhaps I grew up just a little bit myself, when Atticus was exposed as being human. For we all are!
Stories like “To Kill a Mocking Bird”, and even its sequel can reveal deep truths about who we are and where we have come from and even where we might be heading. How we use stories is important, for they can reveal something to us about life, about our life with each other. Those clever enough to write them can quite often lead us to new places. Transform us in ways we would never have dreamed of.
Maybe I should read a few other books twice!
I learnt some things yesterday at Church. I learnt that a simple service, taken by someone in their 80’s can be a very profound experience. Not for them power point, new words to old hymns, or even a progressive view of God. But they spoke powerfully, from the heart, in such a way that the truth of it supersedes all the words used.
Abandonment, the preacher spoke about abandonment. Are there times when we feel abandoned by God? What about when life seems lonely and there is no support from others. Or when we lose people we love. Deep, deep questions about what it is to be human.
The God question is the easiest for me to ponder as a progressive Christian. I do not hold to the idea that we have to do things to please God, believe things or somehow pray hard enough for God to be present . I believe God is present everywhere, at all times and in all places, part of the creative order, which includes us. It’s not like the spirit comes and goes on a whim depending on how good we have been or how bad.
But I know it may feel otherwise.
When things get rough, the light of God seems to dim amongst the darkness of sorrow or grief or pain. And the darkness takes over. A bit like Job on the ash heap when he had lost everything. Yet my overwhelming response to this is that the divine presence is always present, regardless of whether we acknowledge it or not. Working in us and the world, never abandoning creation, even if it may seem otherwise. My hope is that we will always find our way back even if it takes a life time.
People, on the other hand, are another matter.
We abandon people all the time, particularly in our society, those that don’t fit, those that are different, those that are difficult, and those going through great pain and sorrow, so much that we freeze and don’t know what to say or do. So we leave them, alone and isolated. A terrible indictment about our world and about us as individuals, and I am guilty as much as anyone. God does not abandon us, so why should we abandon others?
And then there are our own experiences of abandonment. We are sometimes the one no one comes to support at a time of crisis, or to comfort at a time of sorrow or grief.
What about when someone dies, does this feel like an abandonment? Maybe.
Particularly if that loved ones dies suddenly. Yet as God does not abandon us, and we should not abandon others, neither does the person we loved, who has now gone, really leave us.
I have watched how someone I care about has coped with the loss of his beloved wife. And it is a lesson in grief and love and in the power of the spirit to comfort and renew.
Nev writes frequently about life after the death of his loving Marg, a fellow traveller and confidant. About the reality of what it means to him. He ponders it deeply.
He has discovered that Marg has not gone, because the Marg, who loved unconditionally is present in those who now support and love him, the Marg who loved her family is found in the love of the family to each other, and the Marg who loved life and who worked for those who suffered hardship and heart ache is found in those who continue this work. Marg is found in all those she touched, including Nev himself, whom she shared an ongoing loving relationship with for many, many years. A gift that once given is never taken away, even after death.
Grief is hard and can be a long, lonely road, and it may seem that even God cannot be found. Yet the spirit is everywhere, in love given and received. Marg is alive in each one of these moments, a reality I think Nev has discovered and found great comfort in.
The final type of abandonment referred to yesterday was about things, what things can we let go in order to find who we really are. What we own and what we earn becomes linked to our worth, such that we feel we cannot abandon them or the quest for them without losing ourselves in the process.
Freedom comes when we realise we are gifts to life itself, just as we are, without money or houses or cars or bank accounts. Life does not require a mortgage for us to be worthy of it. Life is life, and God is God and neither presence is determined by the amount of stuff we have.
When Jesus asks the rich young man to give up his riches and come follow him (one of the readings), he is saying something very profound. We are a gift to others as we are, and we can make a difference by being just that. We cannot gain anything from God more than we already have, but we have much to give others. Money and power can blind us to this.
It can blind us to what we can be to others.
What does a grieving person or a person suffering and alone require, but presence, and love. Nothing more and nothing less. We can make a difference by being ourselves, guided by the ongoing universal presence of the spirit. Sharing time and acknowledging everyone is of value can be the greatest gift we can give. Rather than abandoning people, seeking to protect ourselves, perhaps we can love them instead.
I think this is a truth which is easily forgotten in our high pressure, high possession, consumer driven world.
Thanks Geoff, a great sermon.
I sit here after another week in the Mowanjum Aboriginal community has come and gone. I think this was my 8th or 9th trip and I am consistently reminded that while on the surface, things look grim, there is more going on underneath than you imagine. There are many people and organisations quietly working to improve the lives of those living there, their children, grandchildren and extended families, including in the community itself. Attempting to keep the culture, the traditions and the art alive, and to give the next generation pride in who they are and where they come from.
But while there are positives if we look, there are also deep, deep issues that they face, some that are so hard to imagine, living in Perth as a white Australian.
For one thing the grief of this small community is palpable. In the last few weeks they have lost four of their elders, the most recent one being a long-time supporter of the Boab Network. This wonderful man died quickly from cancer, which is unusual, as many die from kidney disease, but all die much younger than you or I will.
This is on top of the many deaths of young men in particular over the years, There are mothers in the community who have lost sons, brothers and fathers to early death. The grief sits underneath everything, like a black shroud, darkening the sky. It is not an excuse for the things that occur but it is a pain that is hard to overcome or for us to understand
There are also the wider issues, which most of us already sadly know. The moving of the community over and over again, so that they are not on their traditional land, the many agencies that come and go but do little , the lack of jobs, the lack of social services, roads and even a decent playground. and the hopelessness many feel. And of course the scourge of alcohol and drugs which make things so much worse.
While these are huge issues, and I am no expert in answering these challenges, the more I go to the community, the more I know a way forward. And it is to listen, listen, and listen.
Every trip we meet more people, hear more stories, go that little bit deeper. This trip we took another step.
We went out to the Derby (Bungarum) Leprosarium, which is about 60 kms further along the Gibb river road from the community. It is like a sacred site, being very significant for the indigenous people of the northwest of Western Australia. And for the community at Mowanjum. It was specifically established for aboriginal patients with Hansen’s disease, or leprosy in 1936. Approximately 1200 people were inmates of this institution over the fifty years it was in operation. Inmates because most were unable to leave.
When we saw it, it was like a whole small town that once existed but is now empty and forgotten. Except for the names of the 350 people who died there, which are inscribed on a metal wall as you enter the cemetery. Names and people who have links to those living today. They are in unmarked graves, only designated with white crosses.
Bungarum was overseen by the nuns of the Sisters of St John of God, the community of Catholic Sisters whose members nursed and educated the patients and who also lived and died there, sacrificing much to care for them. Their graves are marked.
The leprosarium was closed in 1986 when better treatment and a cure was found for leprosy. It’s like they just left in mid-sentence, with files and papers still there. Yet for so long so many called it home.
It was an eerie, moving place.
We also went again to Old Mowanjum, where the community once lived before they were forcibly moved in 1975 to the current site. Overgrown and desolate, it speaks of another time, another home. A time when the community seemed to be settled. And it speaks of the lack of self-determination that has characterised the lives of aboriginal people, over and over again.
Another eerie, moving place.
It is not hard to see how the past can and does affect the present, and the future. It all blurs into one.
But I believe there is hope. There is always hope.
Hope in the resilience and spirituality of a people who have roots in this country going back 50,000 years, in the new generation who see the value of culture and language and tradition, but who also see the need for education and skills, and in the many non-aboriginal people willing to share, understand and stand beside communities like Mowanjum.
People like Gail who teaches in the kindy/pre-primary school but who also has a heart for the people, Greg, the “wood man”, who helped young children and older teenagers learn new skills building wooden drums, windmills and cars, with gentle guidance and care, and Liz, a community nurse who checks skin and sores, helps parents to prevent and clear up infections and has a real love for the families. And of course in the members of the Boab network who come up every school holidays to run activities for the kids, some educational and some just great fun!
This is a hope that things can change, can be transformed, and then being called to become part of the transformation. Sometimes it seems too hard, too challenging, and then I remember the stories, the dreams, the people, the gifts they have given to me. And I am inspired.
One day we will see justice and equity and peace for our first peoples and wholeness for ourselves in this country. Because while they suffer, we are diminished as well.
In the end we will realise they have so much to teach us, if we listen!.
I have pondered this sermon for a while, thinking of how I could incorporate last weekends Synod experience, the discussion we had on Monday over David Galston’s book, Embracing the human Jesus, and even what I have been feeling lately into it. In the end I decided to write you a letter. I am inspired by Nadia Bolz-Weber who did a similar thing for her congregation. Because I want to share some things.
A letter seems more personal, and I want to be personal today.
So, dear members
I want to speak to you about trust, and about belief and about life. Rather than the footy! Which is of course very personal to me.
I have been on the Christian journey for a long time, actually it seems a life time really. For me it’s had its ups and downs and sometimes I have screamed to get off it, to run away and maybe join the circus, not that I can juggle like Matt. The demands are too great, I don’t feel religious or spiritual enough or compassionate or generous enough. Sometimes , I just want to go on holidays, and leave everything behind! Sometimes, I don’t want to worry about whether I am good enough for the ride! Sometimes I just want to enjoy the ride.
Maybe this is some of you.
Yet there has always been something underneath my occasional despair, that lifts me out of it.
Something that draws me back to the path, a still small voice that speaks to my heart, about what it is to really live, with passion and love and forgiveness and hope. When I act more expansively, and am less worried about myself and what I want or need, and more about what is good for other people, this voice becomes real. So real.
Although this is slightly presumptuous, I sense this is a truth found deep within all of us, those that are here, and those who would not be seen within a mile of a church. A truth that says, when we give up things, when we deny things for the sake of others, we somehow become happier, more settled and more content. We seem to find life, a fullness of life. Sometimes, surprisingly, we may even find God, I know I have.
Yet It is almost impossible to convince someone else of the veracity of this great and abiding truth. Why, because we live in such an individual, ego driven world and God is usually dismissed as an ancient, unbelievable idea, which has outlasted its use by date.
Yet I am not talking about a God in the sky or an old man who whimsically acts occasionally for some, while leaving others alone and lost, but something sacred in life that gives life. A presence that cannot be described, only experienced, a presence found in all things at all times in all the universe since the beginning of time. That urges us to be better than we are, more loving, more compassionate, more forgiving. You can call it what you like, but many people seek it and find it, and their lives and the lives of those around them are better for it. This is what keeps me going, in a world that thinks we are slightly crazy.
But what about Jesus. I started my journey looking for God, when dissecting dead people and have ended up here. In a different culture and country I may have ended up a Hindu or a Muslim or even a Jew but instead I am a Jesus follower. I sometimes have thought about my faith with and without Jesus, and realise I can’t quite leave him behind. He seems to be with me wherever I go, not literally but spiritually.
So as each of us seek to find who Jesus is, let me share my vision. I see a man of his time, a courageous, feisty, loving and inclusive man, who more than I realised was way, way ahead of us all. Women, the poor, the outcast, they were his friends, and he spoke to his followers and to us in ways that left indelible marks, that have lasted 2000 years.
But while David Galston, a modern New Testament scholar and part of the Jesus seminar, identifies mostly with his wisdom teachings, or how we are to live together, many others including me want to broaden Jesus, give him a more varied job description. He was more than a teacher, he was a prophet, calling us to change and turn from our destructive ways, he was a healer, bringing people together, breaking down barriers, and he was a mystic, a spirit person, revealing the deep presence of God in all of us.
Dominic Crossan describes him as a non-violent revolutionary who practised non-violent resistance to the powers of in justice until death. And in so doing revealed most fully the creative and life giving presence of God in this world.
What he isn’t, is the singular savour of individuals so that they can escape the world and go somewhere else. A divine rescuer, or as Nadia Bolz-Weber calls him, your magical puppy in a pound. That if you choose him he will be yours. And with your personal magical puppy will come all the warm feelings and love and blessings you can imagine. And you will not be required to do anything in return.
But this is not what we hear today in the reading from Mark, (8:28-37 for those interested), whose community knew so much persecution.
What we have today is not a magical puppy, but a flesh and blood human being, who calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. And if you try to save your life you will lose it and if you lose it for the sake of the gospel you will gain it.
It’s such a powerful reading, lose your life and you will save it. It seems to summarise everything that I have been pondering. Take up the sometimes incredibly difficult task of loving and forgiving and sharing and we will find life. Give up our egos, and our power for the sake of others and we will find life. Give up violence as a way of solving our problems, give up the idea that we are more worthy of God than our enemies, deny the idea that we are individuals that can do it alone, and we will find life in community.
Yet as I said before , it’s almost impossible to convince others of this truth, even as I stand before you, supposedly trying to.
Even Jesus himself had problems convincing those who were closest to him. He asks Peter, who do you say I am, because Peter was so blinded by the culture and religious norms of his day. Peter takes Jesus aside to try to talk sense into him, because he doesn’t really get the message. So if Jesus can’t do it, neither can I.
All I can do is share my own experiences, along this path.
Whenever I feel I want to give up the ride, and go my own individual way, I come back to the beginning. I actually believe very little, but I seem to know a lot. Heart knowing. Because faith is about knowing and trusting.
Trusting that the way of Jesus gives life. Fullness of life. Trusting that the mystery of God gives hope, for all. For we are all God’s children.
Even if it may appear otherwise.
Your pastor Karen
We are having a clean-up at home, for those that know me this is a revolutionary thing, as I have trouble throwing anything away. Actually its more than just a clean-up, we are rearranging rooms, and finally I am going to have my own study, rather than sharing with Matt!
In this process, which is ongoing, I found a DVD of Joni Mitchell (thanks Marion), and was reminded of her incredible talent. I do have quite a few of her songs on my phone, and listen to them now and then, but to see her perform is something else.
For those who don’t know her or haven’t watched “Love Actually” she is a fantastic folk singer, social justice activist, and writer from the sixties. She is still singing and performing but rarely puts out albums. When asked about this some years ago she said something which is very relevant for today. She said “I spent the last couple of years pissed off, I was mad at America, mad at the government, mad at the people for not doing something about it. All that loss of freedom and everybody just kind of oblivious.” She was referring to the Bush years, but they could equally be applied to America today.
After the events of the past week, but really the events of the last decade, Joni Mitchell made me ponder our own governments, both liberal and labour. Whether they have been visionary and uplifting or narrow and self-defeating? Whether they have made all lives better or just a few, at the expense of many? Have they made us more fearful, or more open and compassionate. Have they been global in outlook or nationalistic in focus, leading us to ignore what is happening around the world and to the world?
We will have an election next year, if not sooner, and the words of Joni Mitchell stress the need for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike to get involved, to be more than spectators in the process.
However, as people with faith in a divine presence at the core of life, that seeks love and justice for all people, and for those who are followers of Jesus who lived out this inclusive message in the world, it is essential for us to take it further. Not that those with no faith or a different faith do not have this same responsibility, for I believe the spirit works everywhere, but it seems to me that faith is often used to justify certain measures as though it automatically makes them right.
As Jim Wallis, Editor of Sojourners, a magazine and organisation, with a by-line, “Faith in Action for Social Justice” has said previously, “we hear politicians who love to say how religious they are but utterly fail to apply the values of faith to their public leadership and political policies.” Remember if politicians start talking about God and the Church and then want to lock up people who are seeking refuge, remove safety nets for the poorest in society, want to follow policies that entrench stereotypes of racism, or behave like vindictive, power seeking individuals, as has been the case here in Australia, we may have a problem.
We really need to test whether the policies put forward by our governments match what we know will bring about a compassionate, caring and just society and world. Christians are called not just to participate in political debate but to apply what we believe is a faithful response to God and Jesus.
I believe the principal we are after is something called the “Common Good”. A radical proposition these days. We want policies that do not just focus on the rich, so that they can get richer, or big business so they can become more powerful, or the first world so they can use more of the worlds resources or jobs and growth, so that we decimate the environment further, but rather ones that take into account what makes for a fulfilling life for all. Where food, shelter and education are basic rights, community is promoted and encouraged and where we embrace the challenges and responsibilities of being global citizens. Where the common good is the focus.
While I do not in any way want to be a moral compass, because it is not about labour or liberal, perhaps some simple guidelines will help when we are engaging ourselves in this process.
What we need and want are policies that promote compassion, economic justice and equity, community, peace and environmental responsibility. And maybe even policies that both parties agree on.
Here are some examples put forward by Sojourners for the US elections.
- Policies whereby working people earn enough to support their families and those that don’t work are supported with dignity.
- Policies where public education, health and housing are sustained at a level needed to give all people long and fulfilling lives.
- Policies that address poverty not only in Australia but also in the wider world, with a commitment to overseas aid and projects.
- Policies that attempt to reduce global conflict, protect the victims of these conflicts but see war as the very last option.
- Policies which attempt to reduce our societies division along racial and financial lines, often seen in sentencing and incarceration rates, health and education accessibility, and particularly in relation to aboriginal people.
- Policies that support compassionate and just immigration laws, and conform to international treaties we are signatories to.
- Policies that promote religious tolerance, defend the rights of women and LGBTIQ people, fight torture worldwide and contribute to programs and measures that improve the health and wellbeing of people in developing countries.
- Policies that protect the weak and marginalised from violence, either within families or outside.
- Policies that attempt to restore integrity to our civic and business practises and transform our culture of violence, materialism and consumption.
- Policies that help to reverse global climate change, prioritise clean air and water and develop clean and renewable energy.
Now I know these will be regarded as almost “pie in the sky” ideals, wishful thinking to a cynical public, particularly after the events in Canberra, but also what has emerged from the banking Royal Commission and what is happening to refugees who seek our protection.
But as followers of Jesus, a man who challenged the Roman Empire, lets us not be too afraid. We live in a democracy, and our role is to image the future, and then call it into being by our actions. We are to live with hope and faith, that change can and will occur.
So let’s start by expecting more from our politicians and our government and then holding them accountable by entering the debate.