An Act of God?

Perhaps there was Divine concern about the sermon that was about to be delivered as Rev. Bob entered the Barwon Heads church to begin the worship service on Dec. 8th, but for no apparent reason the Achilles in his left foot ruptured and he fell to the floor.  Thinking someone had kicked his leg, he turned to see who it was, but no one was there.

Rising to continue the service, he had a limp, but was not in great pain; however, shock set in, and he needed to sit down during the singing of the first hymn.  Light-headed, he  soon found himself on the floor, with concerned expressions all around.

An ambulance was summoned, and within the hour Rev. Bob was at the Epworth emergency room, feeling almost normal again, with the exception of his left foot, now in a cast.

In most cases of a ruptured Achilles tendon, the gap between the two ends of the tendon is typically about half a centimetre, and will heal without surgical intervention, but Rev. Bob had a 3 cm gap. He had surgery on Tuesday, 17 December at St. John of God Hospital, and is now at home recuperating.  The good news  is (depending on your point of view), he will not miss any more church services.

Ladies Christian Group Service

About four years ago Merilyn Hanson started an interdenominational group for Christian women, which now has a regular attendance of up to, and sometimes over,  20 throughout the year. It meets on alternate Wednesdays during the school terms, and continues to attract new members

Members are rostered to prepare a short reflection and meditation around their chosen subject, including hymns and prayers, for an hour-long worship service from 1:30pm.  The Bellarine Community Choir sang at a recent service, with an address by Jean Murray,  followed (as usual) by a very ample afternoon tea.

As we were all in the Vestry afterwards it was hard to include everyone in the photos (below).

Shame!

The follow article appeared in The Age (13 Aug. 2019):

Kurdish refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani says future generations will judge this ‘‘dark period in Australian history’’, after accepting his fourth major literary prize for his insider’s account of detention on Manus Island.

Boochani’s No Friend But the Mountains, Writing from Manus Prison, was yesterday awarded the $25,000 National Biography Award, the nation’s richest prize for biographical writing, at the State Library of NSW.

Accepting the prize using WhatsApp, Boochani said the literary community was an important part of Australian civil society and ‘’resistance’’. ‘‘I think it is very valuable, and I do appreciate everyone for recognising my work,’’ he said. ‘‘I think history will judge this generation and will judge all of us in this hard and dark period of Australian history.’’

Boochani’s autobiography tells how the journalist-activist fled Iran in 2013 under fear of persecution and made the journey from Indonesia to Australia by boat, unaware of the Australian government’s decision to deny permanent settlement to any asylum seekers who arrived by boat. Six years later he is still refused entry.

The judges, Margy Burn, Dr Georgina Arnott and Professor Iain McCalman, praised Boochani’s book as an ‘‘astonishing act of witness and testament to the lifesaving power of writing as resistance’’.

Written in Farsi as a series of text messages sent to his translator and friend Omid Tofighian, the book was an ‘‘impassioned letter’’ to the authorities who would define Boochani as MEG45, his number in detention, the judges said.

‘‘Boochani describes life on Manus as only an insider can, recounting the shocking tiny details of cruelty, degradation, humiliation and constant surveillance. He finds beauty in strange flowers and the Manusian moon and draws solace from solitude when it can be found.’’

The writing was poetic and epic and steeped in the tradition of Persian culture and belief systems, the judges said. ‘‘The book is profoundly important, all the more so because of the means of its production, an astonishing act of witness, and testament to the lifesaving power of writing as resistance.’’

Feted by the literary world, No Friend But the Mountains has been honoured by the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and Australian Book Industry Awards.

It is hard not to agree with Boochani’s prediction that history, to our ever-lasting shame, will judge this generation of Australians harshly.  Even now, with the exception of the morally bankrupt, Australians experience the shame of having lived and supported a nation that excluded non-white immigrants under the “White Australia” policy, that within most of our lifetimes, denied citizenship to the indigenous peoples of this land and removed children from their families, and that even now, with the permission and (dare I say) the encouragement of people like you and me,  indefinitely imprisons men, women and children, and targets them for abuse in off-shore concentration camps.

In addtion to being an obvious sign of the lack of moral development among the Australian population and the government, the case of Boochani and many, many others represents the gross stupidity of the government’s policy, for it is denying Australia the wealth of talent possessed by those who want to live here, but are excluded. 

Future generations of Australian will come to know how post-World War II Germans felt about their nation’s crimes.

Bob Thomas, Sept. 2019

Money, Money, Money!

In recent weeks, the common lectionary, which we use to set our Bible readings for worship, has drawn our attention to money. On August 4th, the gospel set for the day, Luke 12:13-21, told the story of the rich fool who spent his time and effort organising barns to store his wealth, only to die without having enjoyed it.  The next Sunday, we followed on with Jesus’ teaching the people to sell what they have and give it to the poor in order to gain a greater treasure.  This reading also gives us a way to evaluate the state of our faith: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.? (Lk.12:34) So the following recent newspaper article was timely:

Rich-poor gap a $247b drag on our wellbeing

Matt Wade, The Age, 22-7-19

The income gap between rich and poor is a bigger drag on the wellbeing of the Australian community than previously estimated, a broad measure of national welfare shows.

The Age-Lateral Economics Wellbeing Index has lifted its estimate of the wellbeing cost of income inequality in 2018 by nearly $8 billion…

Debates about how to respond to economic inequality have emerged in many Western democracies over the past decade amid growing voter concern about the distribution of wealth and income. ( Rich-poor gap a $247b drag on our wellbeing – The AGE, 7:22:2019- Click here to read)

It is heartening to know this is a concern to people generally, as it should be, but what is the Christian response?  When the church speaks on such issues it often polarises people, including its own members. Those who lean to the political left decry the inequality in our society, whilst the right-wingers emphasise one’s right to hold on to that for which one has worked hard, and the value of entrepreneurship in the provision of jobs.

One can readily quote biblical guidance on this, for money is one of the common topics in Scripture.  It seems that God’s main competition for loyalty in biblical times, as today, was Mammon; hence, much was written about it. St. Luke tells us, in Acts, that the early followers of Jesus shared everything in common and to each was given according to need (Acts 2:44-45). 

It is easy to imagine how our present capitalist society would be anathema to Jesus and the people of ‘The Way.’  Nevertheless, we live in a very different culture. We are much better off than those living in the Roman empire of New Testament times in so many ways (and perhaps worse off in some), and much of the credit for the improvement in our lot must go to the capitalist economy. We cannot simply import first century wisdom to the 21st century without consideration of the cultural differences.

Nevertheless, one part of the biblical witness that continues to be relevant today and everyday is the command to love God and our neighbour.  No matter what arguments are put up about the best ways to run our society, if they do not have love as an essential consideration, they are, in the words of St. Paul, nothing more than a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1).  Indeed, they are worthless, and sometimes worse than worthless.

Of course, everyone is entitled to the fruits of their labours, provided they have not been gained by taking unfair advantage of another person or through cruelty to another creature or have resulted in the depletion of the resources of our environment.  It is not ungodly to be rich, and no one should feel guilty about their wealth, unless their wealth came at the expense of others or the earth. If love has been sacrificed for the sake of financial gain, then wealth is indeed something of which to be ashamed.

Given that  the readers of this are undoubtedly among the ‘rich’ of this world, and probably among the relatively well-off in our country as well, it will not require much reflection to realise it is highly unlikely that all our wealth has been gained without sacrificing at least some compassion.  As a nation, we Australians use about four times our fair share of the earth’s resources, create more greenhouse gases per capita than even the Americans or Chinese, more often than not are guilty of cruelty to animals and depletion of soil and water resources in our patterns of consumption, and we have supported, directly or indirectly, systems that empower the wealthy and are prejudicial to the poor in order to maintain our status. No matter how individually righteous we have tried to be, it seems that we cannot avoid having benefited personally from the unethical, unloving behaviour built into our society.

In addition to the damage that has been done to the health of our society and the strength of the nation, consider the deleterious, putrefying effect it has had on the soul of the individual.  In most cases, without knowing, our life styles and our involvement in perpetuating the system have been separating us from God, simply because of the absence of love for others in our eating, buying, driving, voting and in many of our other life choices.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way.  We live in a democratic society, the shape of which we choose (in theory).  The most obvious choice is the way we vote, but our most effective choices are in the way we live, which in turn, affect the choices of those with whom we share this community and nation, and very importantly, affect the way business is done in a capitalist economy. 

I could write a book on the beneficial changes people like you and I can make to help  restore balance and equality in Australia, but fortunately, someone else has already done it.  Damon Gameau’s 2040 (both a documentary film and a book) is intended as a handbook for Australians who want to create a brighter, better nation and world. As a practical path forward for all people, I highly recommend it.

Please note, I am not suggesting the sort of communism practiced by the members of the early church. There is no need to take from the rich and give to the poor, and indeed, this type of arrangement tends to lead to resentment from the ones who have to give something up, as well as feelings of resentment and inadequacy from those who find themselves objects of charity.  The most important and necessary change required for a fairer and more compassionate society is to remove the imbalance of opportunity, so that everyone is able reach their potential if they choose to strive for it. 

Of course, removing such imbalances is, itself, revolutionary, but following Jesus is to follow a revolutionary path.  To have a fair and just society, the role of the luck of one’s birth must be minimised. There is nothing we can do about the genetic attributes with which we are born, but we can make sure there are no social or economic structures  that create advantage or disadvantage.  For example, in a fair and just society the disparity in the quality of education would be removed; i.e. there would be no elite private schools for the rich, and all government schools would receive adequate funding.  University education would be free and available to all. All children would have access to early childhood education, not just those whose parents can afford it.  Bad parenting would be moderated by communal child care. All children would have adequate housing and nourishment. Expensive, you say?  Not at all, because money spent on such things is an investment that would be paid back through value-adding to people, the greatest resource we have. 

I also can imagine that the cost of removing prejudicial structures from society would be largely self-funded, in that one obvious form of imbalance has to do with our flawed and ethically questionable * notion of inheritance as a right.  If we really believe in equalising opportunity, then not only should a person not be disadvantaged by the luck of birth, but no one should be greatly advantaged either.  Large inheritances, which would usually go to a child born into a wealthy family, can be used to provide funding for the upgrading of education, medical care, housing, etc for all, and thus avoid much of the increase in other taxes that typically are a drag on the economy. 

The changes required won’t happen overnight, but they will never happen unless each of us starts now to live differently.  Buy wisely and compassionately, live sustainably, and do not support any structure, directly or indirectly, whether it be social, educational, economic or political, that gives more opportunity to some than to others.  Yes, it might mean you will have to disadvantage yourself or your loved ones along the way, but “do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

Common Dreams

The fifth Common Dreams conference was held in Sydney on 11 – 14 July at Newington College Sydney at which Matthew Fox featured as the distinguished international keynote speaker.  Ocean Grove members, Geoff and Carol Naylor, attended, and returned high on the excitement of this triennial gathering of advocates of a more progressive * Christianity in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.

After worship on the 28th, Geoff and Carol, spoke to the congregation of their experiences.  Here is a summary of their presentation:

At the recent Common Dreams conference in Sydney, we were called to stewardship of the earth as well as other issues of social justice.  The Common Dreams website

(2019.commondreams.org.au)

has extensive information about the conference program and speakers and also the music, art, drama and poetry.

The primary overseas keynote speaker, Matthew Fox focused on eco-theology.  His thesis is that the earth is sacred and is as important a neighbour as our fellow humans.  His challenge to us all is to love and care for ‘Mother Earth’ which is currently crying out for help.  Matthew Fox explores this and other reflections in his blog: dailymeditationswithmatthewfox.org.

Interestingly, the challenges Fox presented have been independently echoed in the press in the last few days.  For example, Gareth O’Reilly says in The Age on Monday, 29 July, that as individuals or organisations we should ask ourselves two key questions.  ‘Do I operate within one-planet constraints’? And ‘Do my actions help move us out of ecological overshoot’?  (On Monday it was World Overshoot Day when ‘we will have consumed more resources than our planet has the capacity to regenerate over an entire calendar year’).

For me, the creative activities that were interspersed and available throughout the conference acted as a bridge between the positive and the negative.  A highlight was the performance poetry of two young poets, Joel McKerrow and Roje Ndayambaje.  Joel, who has performed at the Sacred Edge Festivals at Queenscliff, covered topics spanning despair and depression, but also the hope and joy that his two young children bring to his life. 

Roje, a young African refugee from the Rwandan wars spoke movingly in rap style about his nightly prayer as a child which was that when someone came to kill him in the night that it would be by gunshot and not by machete.  He also writes of his hope to be a Dad one day, given that his Dad died (was killed?) when he was a child.  His courage and optimism and strong faith were incredible – and we were told at some earlier point in the conference that in African languages there is no word for loneliness.  I have been puzzling over that statement, and perhaps it means the possibility of Hope prevailing over Despair.  Roje’s story and his optimism have become a personal touch stone for me.

I encourage anyone who is interested to read some more, and think of small and large ways that our Congregation can act for the universe.  In all of this we were encouraged to adhere to beauty, awe, wonder, joy, delight, gratitude, reverence and to look, and laugh with astonishment – to share astonishment!

Carol Naylor

One of the speakers was the Fr. Rod Bower, an Anglican Priest in Gosford, NSW, who gained the attention of the wider public with his church signage.  If you would like to see some of his work, visit the Facebook page of the Gosford Anglican Church Sign Appreciation Society.

* “Progressive” is perhaps not the best term to describe the movement. Perhaps ‘genetic’ is more accurate,  for this movement is an attempt to return to the beginning; to the teachings of Jesus, freeing them of all the religiosity and superstition that has grown up around them over the centuries, and clouded their truths. 

Neither is the progressive movement particularly new, for ‘progressive’ voices have never been completely silent throughout the history of Christianity, although the church has often done its best to ensure they were not widely heard. 

Borrowing from the website of Progressive Christianity, we can affirm that…

  • following the path and teachings of Jesus can lead to an awareness and experience of the Sacred and the Oneness and Unity of all life;
  • the teachings of Jesus provide but one of many ways to experience the Sacredness and Oneness of life, and that we can draw from diverse sources of wisdom in our spiritual journey;
  • our community is inclusive of ALL people, including but not limited to: conventional Christians and questioning skeptics, believers and agnostics, women and men, those of all sexual orientations and gender identities and those of all classes and abilities;
  • the way we behave toward one another is the fullest expression of what we believe;
  • grace is found in the search for understanding, and there is more value in questioning than in absolutes;
  • we strive for peace and justice among all people;
  • we strive to protect and restore the integrity of our Earth;
  • we commit to a path of life-long learning, compassion, and selfless love.

Since articles of faith are, by definition, unable to be proven, we cannot say anything is correct or incorrect; we can only judge them as helpful or unhelpful. If a belief leads to a more compassionate, loving, open, aware, just, fair and free individual and society, then we can support it, even if it is not a belief we share.  If, however, a belief brings disharmony, hatred, prejudice, violence, repression, injustice and evil into the world and into individual lives, then it must be questioned and challenged, and it is our responsibility to do so.  Over the centuries, the church has harboured both helpful and unhelpful beliefs.

(Click on this link to read how the Gosford Anglican Church describes itself as ‘progressive)

(Click on this link to visit the Common Dreams FaceBook page)

 

Happy 100th Birthday, Allen

Guess which one is 100

After a party with family to celebrate his (maiden?) century, Allen Cover attended a service at Maroochydore Uniting Church at which he spoke.  He thanks all the folks at Barwon Heads/Ocean Grove Uniting Church for the card and the good wishes.

An open, virtual door to the world