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/

Standard
First Peoples in Australia

Another Time, Another Place: towards an Australian Church

A review of a book of sermons by Rev. Glenn Loughrey

Another Time, Another Place: towards an Australian Church

Published by Coventry Press (2019)

https://coventrypress.com.au

I have recently read this book, a collection of six sermons by Anglican priest, Glenn Loughrey, in which he articulates a plea for his church to move towards being a more consciously Australian church.

I had known of the innovative ministry of Glenn for some time, and was fortunate to have met him in person at a recent seminar. He practices what he preaches. He extols the character of love which Jesus exemplifies, which he describes in this manner: “grumpy, rude, difficult, alternative, disruptive, contrary, and more” (p.50). He does all of this in a constructive and challenging way. This book is a fine contribution to the enterprise of sharing this kind of love in a wider way.

The central image of the book is a pot plant. The Anglican Church, says Glenn, is like the pot plant given to you by your favourite Aunt, which you have kept, all these years, in that beloved pot. The pot is still intact. The plant, however, is stunted and distorted. It has not grown to the full potential it has. It is still in the pot. It needs to be transplanted.

Thus, the book articulates a plea to the church: be transplanted into the soil of this continent. Find the place where you can send your roots down, deep into the country where you have been sitting, no longer protected and constrained by your pot. Draw on the age-old wisdom of the country. Be nourished by the spirit of the land.

Glenn can articulate this challenge with authenticity. He identifies as a Wiradjuri man, with connections deep into the people and the land of that nation. In his ministry, as well as in his creativity as an artist and his rhetoric as a speaker, he sets forth his response to this challenge on a regular basis. His words and his artwork both articulate this desire for contextualisation in our church life, for grounding our faith and our communal expressions of that faith in the realities of Australian society.

Grounding our faith expressions in the deep seated spirituality of this land, is a pressing and primary need.

Glenn outlines four ways in which this contextualisation could take place, arguing that we need to come to grips with four key factors:

the history of the church in this country

the ethos of the space we now inhabit

the language and spirituality of this context

the need to mature as a nation, and as a church.

These four factors read, to me, as eminently sensible and entirely central to the task that the church as a whole faces—not just the Anglican Church, but every Christian denomination in Australia. It will not be easy for us to grapple with these factors. But it is essential that we do so. There are multiple challenges for the churches in Australia in addressing these factors with care and responsibility.

The book is a series of sermon-reflections on a number of biblical passages, which Glenn correlates with these four factors. John 6 leads to a discussion of “breaking the sacred pot” and grappling with the church’s history in Australia. Ephesians 6 is the springboard to considering the ethos of the space we now inhabit. “We recognise that … through a process of living, we have come to this place [of belief]. In the midst of the diverse landscape that is modern Australia, we are to leave space for others to come to faith in the same way.”

Mark 7 and James 1-2 provoke insights into language and spirituality, flowing into possibilities for maturity. Placing a story from the ancient desert fathers alongside the scriptural texts, Glenn proposes that our spiritual ethos and language might be characterised by being “doers … fair dinkum … [giving] a fair go … in tune with nature … listen to land/country”, and then asks: “sound like what we say we believe as Australians?” Indeed; and the challenge for the church is to live this to the full!

In the encounter between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7, he observes that “the woman and Jesus engage in such a transaction where both are visibly different as a result, but neither is diminished. Both grow in stature and in their understanding of who they are.” The bruising encounter which Jesus has with a person of his land models how the church in Australia needs to engage in intense encounters with the peoples of our land—and points to the transformation that ensues as a result.

The reflections conclude with Mark 8 offering a focus on transformation: “taking what you believe and planting it in the soil of relationships and community and watching it be shaken and broken by the winds of fear”.

4FDA9548-0BB8-4E9B-9C8E-77B2DC116D2D

Way back—over forty years ago—when I was a theological student, preparing for ministry in the Uniting Church, I was being challenged and encouraged to develop “an authentically Australian theology”. I remember that we looked at pithy sayings, like cutting down tall poppies, going in to bat for the underdog, and having a fair go for all, as well as trends in society like mateship, sexism, and the colonial cringe. These were identified as aspects that could well figure in the development of such a theology.

The scourge of racism, issues of migration, and the existence of indigenous spirituality, were each noted, but the deep connection between indigenous peoples and the land of this continent was not really canvassed at that time. Since then, an awareness of the importance of this has grown in Australian society. The voice of the First Peoples has been heard, most clearly, in the Statement from the Heart which was shaped at Uluru in 2017.

Now, the deep connection with the the land, and indeed the sovereignty of our First Peoples, are to the fore of our national conversation, and rightly call the churches to engage, listen, and be transformed through this conversation, and through undertaking work on the ground (as it were) with local indigenous communities.

This is a stimulating book, easy to read, consistently to the point, offering creative insights. I recommend it to my colleagues in ministry and to those exercising leadership in their local faith communities.

https://coventrypress.com.au/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=74

See also
https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/08/13/affirming-the-sovereignty-of-first-peoples-undoing-the-doctrine-of-discovery/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/08/10/the-sovereignty-of-the-first-peoples-of-australia/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/13/on-covenant-reconciliation-and-sovereignty/

Standard
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!!!

Standard
Environment

“Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” (4)

Fr Glen Loughrey, an Anglican priest from Melbourne, led the afternoon panel discussion at the seminar giving consideration to the encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato si’. He spoke an acknowledgement of country and lamented that this had not been done earlier in the seminar. In Australia, he maintains, the underlying issue for caring for the environment, is caring for and respecting the people who have long cared for the land.

Until we deal with the question of the land—whose land it is, how we go about retuning it to the original owners—Mother Earth will not enable us to deal with the problematic situation we are in. Respect the land on which we live and show our deep care for the land and its people; once we demonstrate this, it will be possible to move ahead.

The programme for the seminar includes a prayer from Aboriginal tradition, attributed to Burnum Burnum, whichncan be read at https://theviolethourmuse.wordpress.com/tag/burnum-down-the-house/

Dr Cristina Lledo Gomez, who teaches at Charles Sturt University, affirmed this approach of prioritising the place of indigenous people. As a migrant, she resonates with the experience of displacement and cross-societal existence. Within the church, there is a sense that we have been traumatised by the increasing environmental damage that we are learning about. Harnessing the resources to move beyond this trauma is an important learning we can undertake, learning from the way that indigenous and migrant peoples have done this.

The encyclical moves people of faith beyond a consideration, solely of their spiritual dimensions; the notion of integral ecology presses for an integrated human development in spiritual, social, sexual, psychological and environmental dimensions, as we work together for the common good. A fine model to use in doing this is See—Judge—Act. Look at your experience; analyse and explore what this means, and draw in the Christian tradition, the resources of scripture and work of subsequent centuries; before moving to undertake specific actions.

David Marsh is a farmer who has delved deep into the ethics of land care, and whose work in developing an ecologically sustainable farm has recently been recognised with a national award. He describes what he has done, as “not intervening and let the world get on with doing what it does”. He spoke of his appreciation of those who had already presented and urged us to press on with “more moral thinking about irrigation” and the consequences of how it is structured.

Then Philippa Rowland, from Catholic Earthcare, spoke about the importance of the dialogue between science and faith. They are “the two wings of one bird”. She has a sense that we are currently in the narrowest part of the hourglass; there is much that is being squeezed into the one space. We humans have become clever at a rate much faster than the rate of development of our wisdom. We need to allow the knowledge of where we are, connect more fully with our discernment of what is needed.

The growing sense of urgency goes alongside a patient working at what is essential. Technology and vision need to work hand-in-hand. Food, clothing and water are critical. Policy change needs to be encouraged and driven further. A federal parliamentary group focussed on climate change is now more active, driven by a group of independents. That is cause for hope.

See also

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-1/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-2/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-3/

Standard
Environment

“Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” (3)

In the afternoon session of a seminar today, we are continuing consideration of the encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato si’. Fr Bruce Duncan explicates the theology of the document: the glory of God is human beings, fully alive, in accord with the famous parable of Matthew 25. Is this Vatican 2, part two? … or, Reformation, part two?? An intriguing suggestion …

Certainly, this document challenges the long tradition within Christian theology, to place human beings at the centre of our world, to regard humanity as the crowing pinnacle of creation, and to foster the sense that “we need to take care” of the creation. On the contrary, we are a part–an integral part–of that creation, interconnected, no less and no more important than the other creatures and ecosystems of this world. This, to me, is the big change–and big challenge–that this encyclical provides.

Bruce explained that groups of eminent scientists and social scientists have worked with the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace in the preparation of the document, which is thus grounded in the very best of current scientific understanding. At its launching, a group of Muslim scholars published their parallel statement in accord with Laudato si’. The orientation is to foster human wellbeing across, not just denominations, but other world religions. It is about what we all have in common.

Dialogue with indigenous peoples, right around the world, is also integral to the approach taken in the document. This is a highly important matter in South America, in particular in relation to the region of the Amazon—the area of the world from where Pope Francis comes. The indigenous contact with nature is vitally important if we are to shape a sustainable future.

Emily Evans (who works with the National Council of Churches in Australia) then offered an ecumenical perspective. Churches have been working towards justice, peace, and the integrity of creation for four decades. These are three aspects of the one reality; three perspectives on the one unified matter.

Numerous meetings of the full World Council of Churches and its justice commission have reaffirmed and developed this commitment from all the member churches. Ongoing actions and statements have furthered the work of seeking conversion about how we relate to, and live within, the created world. The WCC is now calling people across the world to join in a Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, to engage in transformative actions together.

There are three intersecting and overlapping journeys involved: via positiva, celebrating the gifts; via negativa, visiting the wounds; and via transformata, transforming the injustices. These are particularly in view each year during the Season of Creation, which runs from 1 September to 4 October (the Feast of St Francis).

Of particular relevance to the theology of the document are these sections:

68. This responsibility for God’s earth means that human beings, endowed with intelligence, must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibria existing between the creatures of this world, for “he commanded and they were created; and he established them for ever and ever; he fixed their bounds and he set a law which cannot pass away” (Ps 148:5b-6). The laws found in the Bible dwell on relationships, not only among individuals but also with other living beings. “You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and withhold your help… If you chance to come upon a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting upon the young or upon the eggs; you shall not take the mother with the young” (Dt 22:4, 6). Along these same lines, rest on the seventh day is meant not only for human beings, but also so “that your ox and your donkey may have rest” (Ex 23:12). Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.

69. Together with our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly, we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: “by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory”, and indeed, “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Ps 104:31). By virtue of our unique dignity and our gift of intelligence, we are called to respect creation and its inherent laws, for “the Lord by wisdom founded the earth” (Prov 3:19). In our time, the Church does not simply state that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of human beings, as if they have no worth in themselves and can be treated as we wish. The German bishops have taught that, where other creatures are concerned, “we can speak of the priority of being over that of being useful”. The Catechism clearly and forcefully criticizes a distorted anthropocentrism: “Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection… Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness. Man [sic] must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things”.

See also

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-1/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-2

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-4/

Standard
Environment

“Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” (2)

Continuing the sessions at a seminar where we are considering how Christians across various denominations might respond to the encyclical of Pope Francis

Professor Quentin Grafton, from the Centre for Water Economics, Environment and Policy at the ANU, spoke about water: the need to provide water and to ensure the sustainable management of water resources and sanitation services, for all human beings.

Currently there are 2.1 billion people without access to safely managed drinking water and 4.5 billion people without access to safely managed sanitation services. Well over 4 billion people experience lack of access to a safe water supply on a periodic basis. We westerners take for granted our continuing supply of clean water and flushing toilets; we are in a highly privileged situation.

Around 700 children are dying EVERY DAY from diarrhoea, linked to unsafe drinking water. That’s already an unacceptable situation—an immediate challenge to the way that we manage water supply and sanitation services.

Yet, our future food production is imperilled by the steady reduction in water in underground aquifers in so many places around the world. We are making the problem worse, not addressing the underlying issue.

Prof. Grafton said that the claim, “it’s just the drought”, totally misrepresents the situation that we are facing in Australia. Irrigation takes a steady supply,of water, but as there is a steady decline in input, so the residual water available to “the environment” (and our consummated usage) declines—at an alarming rate. Our federal policy makers appear to be resolutely deaf to these facts.

Water Justice is what is needed. This entails the fair and just distribution of water; a recognition of multiple values, not just market values; full participation by all people in decision-making relating to water; and the development of long-term sustainability.

Laudato si’ paragraphs 30 and 31 affirm that access to safe drinking water is a basic human right, and this right will be crucial in securing the future of humanity.

30. Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity. This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor. But water continues to be wasted, not only in the developed world but also in developing countries which possess it in abundance. This shows that the problem of water is partly an educational and cultural issue, since there is little awareness of the seriousness of such behaviour within a context of great inequality.

31. Greater scarcity of water will lead to an increase in the cost of food and the various products which depend on its use. Some studies warn that an acute water shortage may occur within a few decades unless urgent action is taken. The environmental repercussions could affect billions of people; it is also conceivable that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century

Prof. Grafton said that our commitment to one another means that we need to choose to stand in solidarity with the poor and vulnerable in the present, and to ensure a future for generations to come. This entails truth—humility—respect—wisdom—honesty—love—bravery (these are “the seven grandfathers, as articulated by an indigenous group in North America; see https://www.nhbpi.org/seven-grandfather-teachings/)

He ended by quoting St Francis of Assisi: “Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

Then, Prof. John Williams of the ANU (and the Uniting Church) spoke about food and clothing. He began by declaring: “What you eat and what you wear, has more impact on the creation than anything else you do.” We can see the impact on our current lifestyle in this diagram:

Agriculture has a huge impact on our biodiversity; it changes land use and impacts the supply of fresh water; it disturbs the valuable nitrogen and phosphorous cycles of the planet. We. Are choices about our agricultural practices; those choices are based on our values. Our faith feeds into the development of those values.

The projected increase in demand for all foods is 102%; that will require changes to our current practices. Achieving real sustainability in food production means going beyond an approach that simply minimises environmental impacts. That means a global transition, with significant social and ecological changes. There are powerful forces opposing the changes required. There is also indifference amongst far too many policy makers.

The vision that Prof. Williams presented, is for sustainable governance and management of ecosystems, natural resources and earth system processes, to ensure we are operating within a safe place globally.

His closing words were: “The creation, as a whole, is indifferent to the wellbeing of any particular individual person living within that creation. God, however, is a creative, loving God, who has joined with us within the creation and has an intimate interest, with us, in solving these issues.”

See also

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-1/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-3/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-4/

 

Standard
Environment

“Laudato si’, mi’ Signore” (1)

“Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.

Elizabeth and I are participating in a seminar today considering how Christians across various denominations might respond to the encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato si’.

The full encyclical can be read at http://m.vatican.va/content/francescomobile/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

A summary of its contents is provided at https://www.catholic.org.au/commission-documents/bishops-commission-for-justice-ecology-and-development/laudato-si/1711-encyclical-summary/file

The day opened with words from Aunty Dianne Torrens from the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, who shared something about her faith and how the land is so important for First Peoples.She brought words from her husband, Tim, and reflected on the changes that are noticeable in our environment today.

Professor Tony Kelly then spoke about developing “an integral ecology”, the focus of the day. Fr Kelly offered this striking observation: “No one has all the answers—that is part of the grace of today.” Searching for those answers, talking together and learning together, is the way that we experience the grace of God and, through that, develop a helpful response to the changes that are occurring.

He read from his work, An Expanding Theology: Faith in a world of connections. He observed that our very existence itself is a gift; we all share in the communion of life, and so “this new sense of the mystery of the cosmos is often accompanied by a stirring of ecological conscience as we wonder at the universe has brought forth life in all its precious variety. With such an expansion of consciousness in science and moral concern, faith is temporarily tongue-tied.”

Fr Kelly posed some critical questions: “How can our Christian vision encompass the wonder and responsibility that a new sense of reality inspires? How can faith make, and live, these new connections?” Our response to the environmental changes draws people together, bridging ecumenical and interfaith, cultural and national boundaries.

As human beings, we are all called to work together in addressing this situation. In this regard, he acknowledged that the First Peoples of Australia had long lived with this awareness, with regular connections and co-operation across the lands of the various nations that have existed here for millennia.

The full text of An Expanding Theology is accessible at

https://resource.acu.edu.au/ankelly/preface.htm

The day is continuing with further speakers, panel discussions, dialogue moments, and informal fellowship.

See my further blogs at

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-2/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-3/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/laudato-si-mi-signore-4/

Standard
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

Standard
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.

******

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

Standard
First Peoples in Australia

Learning from the land (4): Naiame’s Nghunnhu—fishtraps at Brewarrina

Last year, Elizabeth and I visited a site in southwest WA, where the remains of some ancient Aboriginal fishtraps could be seen. They were on the shoreline of Oyster Harbour, near the mouth of the Kalgan River just east of Albany. They were built and operated by the Menang people of the Noongar nation.

In 1790, three decades before the British established the Swan River Colony (on the site that is now  Perth), British explorer George Vancouver arrived on the southern coast of Western Australia. Despite naming King George Sound, various inlets and bays, and mapping the area, he did not encounter any Noongar. But he reported evidence that Noongar were there. 

Vancouver wrote that he found a “native village; fresh food remains near a well-constructed hut; a kangaroo that had apparently been killed with a blow to the head; a fish weir across what is now called the Kalgan River; and what appeared to be systematic firing of the land.” (This citation is sourced from https://www.noongarculture.org.au/wagyl-kaip-timeline/)

8A0267BC-B025-46E4-9DC7-E3F90EC07B92

The traps (one of which is pictured above, from our visit in 2018) were constructed by the Menang peoples and are dated at over 7,500 years old. As the tide moved out, the fish would be stranded inside the courses of the stones, which were topped with brush, then collected at low tide. They provided food for the regular gatherings of the peoples each year.

There are eight separate weirs shaped as crescents, each of which is believed to consist of thousands of stones. They are now protected under local indigenous oversight. They are an amazing testimony to the ancient skills of the Menang people.

These fishtraps are one part of the evidence which demonstrates that the Aboriginal people were not “primitive nomadic hunter-gatherers”, but rather, settled people, who cared for country and developed the technology which enabled them to build structures which assisted them in harvesting the natural resources of the land. 

Western society has done the same, and we congratulate ourselves on our technological capacities. This evidence indicates that Indigenous peoples had done this very thing, many thousands of years before “Western civilisation” had developed.

These fishtraps were obviously sustainable. They lasted over thousands and thousands of years, being used to catch regular harvests of fish. The Menang people came back each year to gather what they needed, and then allowed the fish to replenish. Would that our modern ways showed the same, respect to the land and its rivers, and that we farmed and harvested in a sustainable way.

We can learn from the land, by attending to features such as these, and reflecting on what they tell us about the First Peoples of this continent, who have lived here for millennia—and pondering how we, today, might relate respectfully to the land, care for the creation, and live in ways that are sustainable.

I recently read a fascinating account of Baiame’s Ngunnhu [pronounced By-ah-mee’s noon-oo]. These are stonewall fishtraps at Brewarrina in NSW, created by the Ngemba people. They are similar in technology and purpose to the ones we saw in WA. (See https://newmatilda.com/2019/02/05/australia-one-oldest-human-made-structures-earth-meh-nmfhpotae/)

These fishtraps are possibly the oldest known human-made structure on earth. The Australian Government’s National Heritage Register notes, “The structure of the Ngunnhu demonstrates the development of a very efficient method for catching fish involving a thorough understanding of dry-stone wall construction techniques, river hydrology and fish ecology.”

(See http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/places/national/brewarrina)

8C50B976-4B5D-40C8-A12C-301BF35FAE1F

You can find a discussion of these fishtraps and many other such ancient Indigenous features, in Dark Emu: Black Seeds: Agriculture Or Accident? (Magabala Books, 2014), by Bruce Pascoe.

There is an excerpt from Dark Emu, with a description of how the fishtraps were worked, at https://www.foreground.com.au/environment/decolonising-agriculture-bruce-pascoes-dark-emu/, and there is a fascinating discussion of Pascoe’s book, some related works, and the implications for modern agricultural practices, at https://theconversation.com/friday-essay-dark-emu-and-the-blindness-of-australian-agriculture-97444 

Debate concerning the age of this particular construction, the Ngunnhu, is not settled; it may well be up to 40,000 years, which would make it more than 10 times older than Stonehenge!  That is certainly worth honouring, and protecting.

The National Heritage Register also notes that this location, in Brewarrina, was the place where people from the various indigenous groupings of the area could draw their own supply of fish on a regular basis, and where they would all meet together, on a regular basis, to celebrate, and to trade.

It notes: “While the Ngemba people are the custodians of the Ngunnhu, it was Baiame’s wish that other tribes in the region, including the Morowari, Paarkinji, Weilwan, Barabinja, Ualarai and Kamilaroi should use it in an organised way. He allocated particular traps to each family group and made them responsible under Aboriginal law for their use and maintenance. 

“Neighbouring tribes were invited to the Ngunnhu to join in great corroborees, initiation ceremonies, and meetings for trade and barter. The Ngunnhu were, and still are, a significant meeting place to those Aboriginal people with connections to the area and continue to be used.”

So, as well as a sustainable lifestyle, the Ngunnhu demonstrate how different groups can live together peaceably and co-operatively, sharing natural resources, and enjoying respectful relationships with each other. That, surely, is another lesson that we can learn!

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2019/01/30/learning-of-the-land-3-tuggeranong-queanbeyan-and-other-canberra-place-names/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/12/18/learning-of-the-land-2-ngunnawal-namadgi-and-ngarigo/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/12/17/learning-of-the-land-1/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/10/13/on-covenant-reconciliation-and-sovereignty/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/08/13/affirming-the-sovereignty-of-first-peoples-undoing-the-doctrine-of-discovery/

https://johntsquires.wordpress.com/2018/08/10/the-sovereignty-of-the-first-peoples-of-australia/

Standard
First Peoples in Australia, Living in Canberra

Learning of the land (3): Tuggeranong, Queanbeyan, and other Canberra place names

Living in Canberra, I am encountering a whole collection of indigenous words which are used as placenames. Why, Canberra itself is said to derive from an Aboriginal word. I have been exploring what these words mean, in my ongoing commitment to learn from the land on which I live and the people who have cared for it over the millennia.

The land on which we live is officially described as Ngunnawal country. However, this is contested; it seem there are a number of groups from the First People who are linked with this particular area. That makes sense, if it was, indeed, an ancient meeting place for various groups of people, who met each other on this land on regular occasions, perhaps at an annual festival gathering. Rather than there being just one nation for whom this was traditional land, it seems there were a number of nations which met here regularly.

Continue reading

Standard
First Peoples in Australia

“They are to be hanged up on trees … to strike the survivors with the greater terror.”

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

It is not just about what happened 231 years ago on this day, 26 January. It is about what the events of that day began. Within a short space of time, mere months, and continuing for an extended period, well over a century, the impacts of the white invasion of the land were felt by the First Peoples who already inhabited the continent.

Continue reading

Standard
First Peoples in Australia

On Remembering: Cook and Flinders (and Trim), Bungaree and Yemmerrawanne

The location of the grave of Matthew Finders (1774–1814) has been identified in Euston, England. Flinders was the first British person to circumnavigate the continent of Terra Australis, in the early 1800s, and he was the one who suggested the name Australia. His cat, Trim, is well-known for accompanying Flinders on this trip.

Trim even had a novel, written by Bryce Courtenay, named after him (Matthew Flinder’s Cat, 2002)—and there is a statue of Trim outside the Mitchell Library in Sydney, with an epitaph from Flinders himself, extolling: TRIM. The best and most illustrious of his race. The most affectionate of friends, faithful of servants,and best of creatures. So Matthew Flinders, and his cat, have significant places in contemporary Australian history.

Continue reading

Standard
First Peoples in Australia

“Resembling the park lands [of a] gentleman’s residence in England”

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

Remembering 26 January as our national day embeds at the heart of our national identity, a story of dispossession, violence, marginalisation and oppression, perpetrated against the people who were already inhabiting, and caring for, the land we know as Australia.

Early explorers looked at the land, and the people, and decided that they saw uncultivated land and primitive, uncivilised peoples.

Continue reading

Standard
Uncategorized

“They stood like Statues, without motion, but grinn’d like so many Monkies.”

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

Since the colonisation of this land in 1788, white Australians have consistently and regularly demeaned and dishonoured the original inhabitants of the land, who had cared for the country over millenia. This isn’t “black armband” history, this is simply the reality of the early decades of white colonisation of the continent.

Continue reading

Standard
Uncategorized

“We never saw one inch of cultivated land in the whole country”

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

Early encounters between the inhabitants of the continent we know as Australia, and seafaring explorers sent by imperial European powers, set the scene for what took place when the British colonised the continent.

These early encounters failed to develop a deepened understanding of each group by the other. Journal records show instances of failed encounter, misunderstood communication, and skewed interpretation (on the part of the journaling explorers) of “the Natives”.

Continue reading

Standard
Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Standard
Uncategorized

The profound effect of invasion and colonisation

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

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

Continue reading

Standard
15th Assembly

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

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

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

Continue reading

Standard
15th Assembly

Affirmations we can make together

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

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

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

Continue reading

Standard
15th Assembly

A Prayer for the Uniting Church in Australia

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

A PRAYER FOR THE UNITING CHURCH IN AUSTRALIA

Written by President Dr Deidre Palmer

six months after the Fifteenth Assembly

Continue reading

Standard
15th Assembly

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

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

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

Continue reading

Standard
Uncategorized

Learning of the land (2): Ngunnawal, Namadgi and Ngarigo

So, now we are here in the Australian Capital Territory, to take up new opportunities in ministry. We live in a suburb named after an early Australian poet (Adam Lindsay Gordon), on a street named after an obscure Victorian racehorse trainer (Michael Holt). That strikes me as a curious juxtaposition, indeed.

In fact, all the streets in this suburb are named after Australian sports people. Some are well-known people from Australian sports history, like tennis player Harry Hopman, yachtsman Jock Sturrock, athletics coach Percy Cerutty, jockey Darby Munro, horse trainer Tommy Woodcock, footballer Jersey Flegg, and cricketers Jack Fingleton, Sid Barnes, Clem Hill and Bill Woodfull (captain in the Bodyline series).

A number, however, are obscure figures like Lewis Luxton (born in Australia—but he rowed for Great Britain in the 1932 Olympics), Clare Dennis (a swimmer who won gold at those same 1932 Olympics), Noel Ryan (another 1930s swimmer) and Fred Lane, whose name graces the intriguingly-named Fred Lane Crescent. (Fred was a swimmer in the early 1900s.)

But the region in which we live is named Tuggeranong—a word derived from one of the indigenous groups who lived in the area, the Toogoranoongh. And we live in a city named Canberra, quite possibly drawing on an indigenous word (Koyanberra, or Kanberri, or perhaps Gamberri) which means “meeting place”. Which is what it is today. It is the place where, in contemporary Australia, lawmakers from across the country gather on a regular basis to meet in parliament.

Continue reading

Standard
Uncategorized

Learning of the land (1): Eora, Biripi, Whadjuk Noongar

Earlier this year, I attended a national Uniting Church meeting where all of the participants were asked to introduce themselves by stating their name and their nominating body, and then by identifying the First People of the land on which they lived and/or worked.

I took a few liberties with the required formula, and introduced myself as “John Squires, from the Synod of Western Australia. I was born on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation; I rejoiced, for some years, to live and work amongst the Biripi people, on their lands, beside their waters; and currently live on the lands of the Whadjuk people of the Noongar nation.”

Continue reading

Standard
Uncategorized

Perth Peacemaking Conference Statement

On the 10-11 November this year, more than 60 people gathered for the Perth Peacemaking Conference to coincide with the 100 year anniversary of the end of WW1. The Conference included an Interfaith Forum (pictured) with representatives from a range of religious faiths.

After the Conference, members of the Ecumenical Social Justice Roundtable agreed to issue a Statement which emerges from the material presented and discussed at the Conference. You can read the Statement below.

Continue reading

Standard
Uncategorized

To articulate faith contextually

“The ability to articulate faith contextually within our multifaith, in our multifaith, multicultural society, in covenant relationship with the First Peoples.”

I’m at a national gathering of theological educators who teach at the accredited Uniting Church colleges across the country. We are exploring, together, how we go about educating people within the church for discipleship and leadership, and forming people for ministry in the various ministries that we recognise in the Uniting Church (pastor, lay preacher, deacon, and minister of the word).

These words have been ringing in my ears for much of my time here. It’s one of the things that we say we want to achieve in forming people for ministry. What does it mean, though, “to articulate faith contextually”, in the kind of society that we are living in today?

Continue reading

Standard