Living in Canberra, Uncategorized

Hello. Thank you. We are with you. We support you.

Hello.

Thank you.

Salaam.

Thank you for being here.

Simple words. Everyday words. But words which were filled with emotion and sated with meaning, in the context in which they were spoken.

Everyday people. Everyday words. People going about their normal, everyday business.

They have been to work. They have driven their cars, parked along the verge. They are walking along the street; walking with intent, heading with purpose, to the place of prayer.

Hello. Thank you. Everyday words. Accompanied by smiles. Sometimes, by handshakes. Or by a hand held to the heart; no words, just a signal, that this was appreciated. Deeply appreciated.

In a curving street on a gently-sloping hill in a Canberra suburb, twenty of us were gathered, standing on the footpath, greeting worshippers as they arrived for prayer.

We were Christians. They were Muslims. We were white. They were, mostly, Middle Eastern, or Southeast Asian. They were coming to pray. We, too, would gather to pray; but not today.

Our day of prayer is Sunday. Their day of prayer is Friday. Today is Friday. It is their day of prayer.

So this Friday, we stood outside the mosque, a silent witness of support and solidarity. Smiling, bowing, shaking hands, offering a greeting; not speaking further unless we were engaged in conversation; simply, standing in solidarity.

This is what it is, to be a human being. This is what it is, to relate to our fellow human beings. Hello. Thank you. You are welcome. You are us. We are with you. We support you.

Simple words, short phrases; but deep emotion, and profound meaning. Just in these simple acts and words of human interaction.

Some conversations were longer. We discussed the issues, the personalities. We could see, and hear, and feel, the emotion.

It could have been people like these. It could have been these people. Ordinary people. Coming from work. Gathering to pray. People of faith. Ordinary people, committed people, people who share their lives with us each and every day.

They serve us in shops. They answer our phone calls. They draft our legislation. They clean our homes. They install and service our utilities. They collect our fares and drive our taxis. They are everywhere. They are people of prayer. They are people of peace. They are us. We are them.

What happened a week ago in New Zealand, at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre … and what has happened in Quebec City, and Kembe in the Central African Republic, and the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Minnesota, and in countless interpersonal interactions involving Muslims as victims … what has happened in far too many places, on far too many occasions, is a cause for deep distress.

We weep. We pray. And we stand, quietly, supportively, in solidarity.

Hello.

Thank you.

Salaam.

Thank you for being here.

Further reflections on the tragic events in Christchurch:

https://canberra.uca.org.au/uca-news/uca-statement-christchurch/

https://revdocgeek.com/2019/03/16/prayer-for-christchurch/

https://www.eternitynews.com.au/world/aussie-church-leaders-respond-to-christchurch-massacre/

https://www.eternitynews.com.au/world/dont-give-nz-terrorist-what-he-wants/

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Uncategorized

On the threshold, in a liminal space

Over recent months, Elizabeth and I have occupied what might be called a liminal space. Liminal spaces are the places of transition, from one place to another.

We have moved states—indeed, we have travelled the length of the continent, relocating from a Perth suburb just a few kilometres inland from the Indian Ocean, to a suburb in Canberra, in the anonymous territory that is hiding in the midst of the undifferentiated eastern states (at least, that’s how the sandgropers of WA view them).

We have moved house, to a residence that the church has recently purchased. That meant packing everything into boxes in WA, then waiting for delivery to the ACT, where we then unpacked everything and found new places for each item, each book, each piece of furniture.

We have also changed jobs, in association with this domestic move. We have each ended the work that we have been doing in Western Australia in recent times—for Elizabeth, a year-long Intentional Interim Ministry in a Congregation, and some months of resourcing of the Presbytery Pastoral Relations Committee; for myself, two years of restructuring and rebuilding the educational offerings and formation processes within the Synod. That has meant a series of farewells with colleagues in WA.

We are now both settled into congregational ministry—for Elizabeth, in a regular placement, and for myself, as an Intentional Interim Ministry in a Congregation which has experienced a series of challenges in recent times. That means introductions, getting to know new people, and sussing out the key issues in each place. This is a challenging place for us each to be!

And this week, we are both “trainers-in-training” at a course on The Fundamentals of Transitional Ministry. This is part one of a two-part course, auspices by the Interim Ministry Network (based in the USA, but taught with an Australian accent for the Australian context by our colleague, Rob McFarlane). You can see more about this network at http://imnedu.org/

Part One of the course is subtitled The Work of the People. Part Two (scheduled for June) is subtitled The Work of the Leader. The two courses complement and inform each other.

The Basis of Union of the Uniting Church articulates a commitment to this process of change and transition. Obviously the motif of “a pilgrim people on the way” (para 3, also para 18) is a key motif, and the Basis refers explicitly to persevering through the “changes of history” that we experience (para 4). There is great encouragement for us to develop creative new expressions of church in another obvious phrase, referring to “fresh words and deeds” (para 11). So this should be fundamental to the way we operate as a church.

It is clear that Ministers undergo a process of change and transition in moving from one placement to another: moving through ending in one community, and leaving behind the ministry exercised there; to joining a new community and coming to understand and appreciate the context within which ministry now takes place. (And then, of course, exiting the community at the end of the period of ministry.) As well as all of the learnings, adjustments, developments, readjustments, further learnings, reshaping and continuing developments that are inevitable within the course of a good ministry placement.

Alongside this, the Congregation or faith community has work to do, and this is recognised in the second course. This work entails a series of tasks, which the Intentional Interim Minister is charged with overseeing and stimulating. These are summarised quite succinctly as dealing with understanding heritage, refreshing leadership, relational connections beyond the community, developing missional identity, and committing to the agreed future. That’s quite a lot of work!

So, all of these changes that we have experienced in recent times—changes in jobs, changes in residence, changes in location, and changes in the faith community to which we are connected—all bring challenges with them. We are in what anthropologists and sociologists call, a liminal space.

The word liminal comes from the Latin word līmen, which means “a threshold”. Technically, that is the place that marks off one space from another. Its origin was the strip of wood or stone at the bottom of a doorway, which was crossed in entering a house or room.

The thresh is the place where one treads as one enters a room. So the threshold, is where you put your foot as you walk into a new room or new place.

So, we are on the threshold, in a liminal space.

Anthropologists define liminality as “the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a ritual”. It is the moment when participants no longer hold their preritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.

During a rite’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which completing the rite establishes.

The concept of liminality was developed in the early twentieth century sociologists. It was applied particularly to religious rituals marking the movement of a person from one stage to another. We can see this in the traditions of the church: for instance, Confirmation as a move into adulthood, Marriage as a move into long term partnership, and, of course, Baptism as the movement into life outside the womb, in the world as we know it, and Funerals as the move into life beyond death, life in the world beyond that as we currently know it. These are liminal moments for all human beings.

More recently, usage of the term has broadened to the political and cultural arena, alongside the religious or faith area. So it is a useful concept to be applied to the places where we are ministering and the changes that are among place, or need to take place, within those communities.

During liminal periods of all kinds, the experts tell us, “social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt. The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established.”

[I found this on Wikipedia, which references the source as Agnes Horvath, Bjørn Thomassen, and Harald Wydra, Introduction: Liminality and Cultures of Change (International Political Anthropology 2009). Accessed 18 March 2019.]

That means, then, that we are facing opportunities at this moment, in the liminal space—opportunities to dissolve traditions, opportunities to reshape practices, opportunities to cast doubt over long term certainties, opportunities to lay down new patterns of functioning that will be healthy, life giving, and resilient in the longer term. Now that’s a set of challenges to be met!!!

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15th Assembly, Uncategorized

Called to discern new ways of relating

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

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

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Uncategorized

Living with Heatwaves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immediate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use fans and wet clothing to cool yourself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medium-term

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

Long-term

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

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

Insulate the walls and ceiling. Install a ceiling fan.

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

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

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

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

Vivian Harris

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

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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.

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