On Fear, Guilt, Drowning at Sea & Politics

When Theodore was born we were sent home with a package for new parents, in it was a dvd on water safety and introducing your child to water. The dvd helpfully goes through a number of different ways to make your house child safe when it comes to areas of water and also how to introduce your child to having it’s head underwater and swimming. It’s a simple, well structured instructional on how to be water safe and aware with a new child.

I write this because, as a new parent I’m more than aware that drowning in water is a major fear factor, and dvds & programs like this encourage me to respect that fear and to find ways to still encourage my child to swim.

Swimming is a huge part of the Australian lifestyle, my wife’s parents have  a pool out the back of their house and she loves the water, my family’s regular holiday spot was on the beach. We are a nation surrounded by water, our borders are not made across deserts and sand but by ocean.

All the way through the year, and boosted over summer we are surrounded by tv adverts, poster campaigns, school programs all designed to help us be more aware of water safety. We are reminded that all pools need fences, all children should not be left alone around water, all children need to participate in a learning to swim program…

As such I can’t help but wonder if our natural, national fear/respect for water has been used in order to redirect our guilt, our responsibilities towards those who seek our protection by boat.

When discussing issues around refugees and asylum seekers the conversation seems to regularly get to the point where one person or another raises the “but there are so many people/children dying at sea, surely we need to stop that?” or “Why would a parent ever risk the life of their family or children by risking drowning?” (a side note to this, for the people who STILL bring up the “Children Overboard” story IT WAS A LIE)

We simply cannot think of anything worse than a water-related death for our loved ones, or for anyone else.

We cannot ever imagine a time or place where escape is the only real option, where the risk of the water or of anything that goes with it is a better option than anything else.

And this is where our fears and guilt are redirected.  In the same way that we cannot imagine any fate worse than death at sea, (especially for children) we believe that almost any deterrent put in place to discourage getting on a boat is worthwhile. We also tend to lean towards deterrents that resemble punishment, boat turn backs and indefinite detention are seen as worthwhile and worthy attempts to deter people dying at sea.

And so we feel less guilty over detaining children and families, adults and the elderly in Nauru or Manus if it’s in the noble cause of stopping deaths at sea.  Anything that happens in any of our detention centres, or as we turn boats back at sea is worth it if it causes less deaths in the ocean and we’re prepared to live with it whether it be sexual assault, maltreatment, withholding of human rights, abuse, depression, assault, midnight transfers of children and families or indefinite detainment.

Now, I’m not saying that the deaths at sea are not a tragedy, they are, but we need to be reminded that our policies have not stopped deaths at sea. It is suggested that 550 still died at sea during 2014 while the UNHCR reports that 54,000 people undertook sea crossings in the Southeast Asian region during the same time.

What I am suggesting is that our level of guilt, anger and unrest over our treatment of people seeking our protection is hidden/disguised/appeased behind the veil of our fear of death in water.

Don’t think that our politicians aren’t aware of our rational/irrational fear of drowning, don’t be so naive to think they aren’t using it to their own measures.

Perhaps it’s time that we stop allowing our fear of water to take precedence over our upholding of human rights and participating in the care of those seeking our protection and care.

Named Beloved – Rachel Held-Evans on Baptism

Baptism is a naming. Ultimately baptism is naming someone as a child of God. I think we’re all children of God and that baptism acknowledges that.

You don’t become a child of God when you cross off a list of things to do, or even when you are baptised, being baptised is simply a naming, an acknowledgement of someone’s existing belovedness.

When Jesus was baptised, he didn’t only begin to be loved by God when he was baptised, it was an acknowledgement of his eternal belovedness.

I really think that baptism is an acknowledgement of people’s belovedness, and when we treat it like that… in the orthodox tradition a part of the baptismal service is a renunciation of Satan and his daemons and of evil. The way I look at that and apply that is that baptism is a renunciation of all the competing voices that try to tell you who you are.

The world gives you names like screwup, faker, fat, slut, addict…

in baptism you’re named beloved.

The daemons, the world beckons with rich, powerful, pretty, bright…

in baptism you’re told you are beloved and that is enough.

I think that everyone wants to be told who they are, and in baptism we’re told that we are a beloved child of God and to renounce anything that says otherwise. It’s a defiant thing to do.

I look at baptism as defiance, because the world will always try to name us, and in baptism we say “no, my name is beloved.”

Whether that happens when you’re an infant and you’re remembering your baptism as God naming you beloved, or whether it happens as an adult, I think that when we think about the significance of our baptism it’s that we are named by God, and that is enough.

It is good news

Link: The Work Of The People – Named Beloved

Baptism – Bring On The Wonder

water-and-conflict-featuredI’m preparing for the baptism of Theodore this weekend and have been reminded of this beautiful piece by Roddy Hamilton from his Mucky Paws collection.

Create a central space filled with various bowls, of glass, filled with (warm) water.

Twist ribbons of coloured paper through them with the words ‘bring on the wonder’ printed on them.

There is
in a bowl of water
a mystery
that brings on the wonder
that is true life
and it is only truly found
in what this water
washes away to reveal
in us
that has always been there
but without being open to it
or allowing it to live
it lies there dormant
undisturbed
under the dust accumulated in this world

Water washes through us
This symbol of who God is
and what God does
is not something that we are given
like a present
Baptism isn’t a gift
in the way it is something we get
Baptism is a gift
in the way it reveals what is already there
It washes…
It cleanses…
We readily talk of it in these terms
little knowing what it means:
It removes the grim
and when you wash
you reveal what is already there

It’s like a restorer of a great painting
slowly
lovingly
ever so carefully
removing the decades or dirt
that the canvas has accumulated
to reveal the colour and texture
the brush strokes
and the patience and skill of the artist
more clearly
more honestly

Pablo Picaso said:
“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”
Perhaps he didn’t know water is the original art

Baptism is like that
in a very real way
a revelation
a revealing
an epiphany
that uncovers
what God has already placed there in us
at birth
at the start of time

that human being
that eternal light
that beauty and grace
that has been pushed down in our souls
for too long

bring on the wonder

We aren’t doing anything more
in baptism
that being the restorers
of great artworks
great god-works
that have been shaped and sculpted
ever so lovingly
and daringly
and whose beauty
has been somewhat lost
under the grime of the lives we lead
better known as worry and anxiety
and the injustice and pain we create and suffer from
the hesitation of living upward

so this water
brings on the wonder
brings on the song
that is us

So
and this is the PS
baptism is an ever renewing sacrament
While we get wet once
at each baptism
we remember
or imagine
our own baptism
and let that same water
restore us
renew us
reveal in us
the wonder
that our artist God
has chosen to create
called us

But perhaps we hesitate still
to believe the grim is removable
and the colour that is our humanity
can be still brighter

So
only if you might find it appropriate
you are invited to touch the water
place a whole hand in it
or just a finger or two
rub your hands together
form a ross on the back of your hands
whatever you feel is right
and only you understand that
and know
it washes away
cleanses
and reveals
the wonder God created
when God first imagined us

rgh
12th january 2013

Sermon: Proper 8B/Ordinary 13B/Pentecost 5

Today I don’t want to preach on the miracle, I don’t really want to preach at all.

Close friends of mine currently sit by their newborn son in ICU as he struggles to survive, Hyperplastic Left Heart Syndrome has meant the two week old has had to undergo over 16 hours of surgery and currently struggles for his life. They sit by him, unable to hold their loved one due to the tubes surrounding him and the surgery undergone, praying, loving, hoping.

This week the Gospel story is too much for me.

Why is it this week that we hear these stories?

Why this week do we hear these stories and prayers of grief as parents pray over their child in the slim hope that he may survive.

I don’t want to preach on the woman who was healed, or the child who was not dead.

Instead, I want to give space for the 12 years of grief, of struggle, of prayer the woman had experienced as she suffered and lived as an outcast of her community. I wonder how many times she cried out to God, how many times she felt that she was not heard and sat alone in pain. I wonder how many times she felt that the community around her, and even her God had abandoned her.

Instead, I want to give space for us to hear the cries and the grief of a parent as they deal with the reality of loosing a child.  A father who seeks out a prophet, one who has been causing their community a lot of trouble as a last ditched effort to heal his child. I wonder what goes through the mind & heart of the parents of a dying child that makes them so desperate to reach out to this prophet.

Instead, I want us to hear the grief of another, rather than to forget it, quickly bypassing it in the celebration that follows the healing of the child as we are told she is only sleeping.

I would like us to hear the grief of the other, just for a while, to listen to the cries and suffering and to live in that grief, appreciating the struggle that brings you to the space where you risk it all for that last chance of healing, that last hope that your child may have for healing.

The grief & despair and loss of hope that comes with the possibility of losing the thing you love the most.

I would like us to hear the grief of David as he mourns the loss of Saul, the King and Jonathan who he loved as a brother. To hear his grief as he cries it out to the Lord in the knowledge that at least God will hear his grief.

I would like us to hear the grief in the prayer of Psalm 130, where “Out of my depths I cry Oh God.”

Sometimes we ignore the depth of grief and pain of others, because we only want to focus on the hope, the healing, the laughter and joy that comes with realising that the child is merely asleep.

And that turns us into a community that can’t embrace, or live with the grief of others.

It turns us as a community who can only read the scripture primarily as a text of hope and joy, praise and miracles and ignores the voice of grief and lament that the Bible holds within it’s pages.

I would like us to be a community who can meet each other and embrace each other in our grief, in our brokenness, a community where we can share our grief with each other without being told to get over it, to find the silver lining, that God loves us and that everything happens for a reason.

How can people enter into our faith communities and express their grief?

Maybe thats why the gospel reading is bracketed by Psalm 130, a lament which portrays the “proper” way to pray, pointing the depths of one’s self towards God, crying out for mercy in grief.

Maybe that’s why this Gospel reading is bracketed by two different forms of lament in the story of David as he laments the death of a King and also laments the loss of his brother, Jonathan who he loved more than anyone.

Psalms come in forms of praise, thanksgiving, there are also Psalms that come from the depths of our grief and pain, we call them Lament.

Lament is a form of prayer that directly points the suffering and pain of a person or a community towards God in the knowledge that God hears our prayers and takes them seriously.

Psalm 130 is one of the more polite forms of Lament, many other’s aren’t so well spoken and are quite irreverent and angry, many of them are not solemn at all. They’re not solemn because in the depths of our anger and grief we are not concerned about being quiet, solemn or polite.

Maybe these readings are here to remind us that grief is allowed in this space, that questions are allowed in this space, that yelling out in anger to God is allowed in this space.

Maybe these laments are included in this lectionary to remind us that our God is big enough, strong enough, ugly enough and loving enough to take on our grief, to both hear our cries and to take them seriously.

These readings remind us that not only is God able to take on our grief, but reminds us that our community needs to be a community that can embrace, listen and take on each other’s grief.  That if we are ever to make a difference in the world that we need to be a faith community where people can share their pain, anger and grief and that we do not shy away from it in fear.

We need to be people who love like God, who pray like people of passion, who love until and beyond it hurting.

I want us to ponder.

When did we last grieve?

When did we pray our last prayer of Lament?

What it would take for us to be a community where Lament is possible?

Is now the time for us to be able to do that?

To remember that God is big enough, loving enough and ugly enough to embrace our grief, to sit with it, knowledge it and to love us through it.

As a nation we are a country who is causing harm to the most vulnerable amongst us, and we need to be a community who is able to grieve over it and name the injustice for what it is, to express our anger and to point it towards God in the knowledge that God hears our cries, just as he hears the cries of those our country is mistreating.

I wonder what goes through the mind of parents and family who face their last chance to escape violence, torture, famine and genocide to get on a boat and make their way to another country. I wonder what it will take for our community, our country to give space for their cries to be heard and for our cries to join with theirs.

The Island by Armin Greder

resized_9781741752663_224_297_FitSquareTitle: The Island
Author: Armin Greder
Illustrator: Armin Greder
Publisher:  Allen & Unwin
ISBN: 9781741752663
Teacher’s Notes: Notes for teachers (PDF)
Teacher’s Reviews: Reviews by teachers (PDF)

Awards: Short-listed, CBCA Picture Book of the Year Award, 2008
Winner, Die Besten Sieben, Focus, DeutschlandRadio (The Seven Best Books for Children), 2002

Themes: Prejudice, Racism, Refugee, Migrant, Neighbour, Violence, Fear, Freedom, Difference, Power, Humanity, Compassion, Care, Human Frailty, Exclusion, Embrace, Inclusion, Politics, Intolerance, Xenophobia & Human Rights

The Island is a powerful, dark & haunting parable without redemption which holds a mirror up to our fears and violence towards “the other” and shows no compassion for the way we fail to embrace our neighbour.

As such, it’s probably not a “children’s book” and probably should be read to an older audience.

The parable that deserves to be told and retold until we can finally recognise the image projected of us and cast it away with the violence in our hearts as we allow compassion to fill the void that’s left.

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A man arrives on the shore of an island, the ocean had brought him there on his frail raft overnight. The islanders notice one thing very quickly… he’s not like them.

The islanders find all kinds of ways to live out their fear of the stranger, initially taking him to the opposite side of the island and locking him up continuing to exercise the power of racism, fear & violence. Their thinly veiled attempts at “doing something for the stranger” only show their unwillingness to act with compassion in any way.

Throughout the story a voice shines out in the darkness, it’s the voice of the fisherman who consistently calls to the islanders “we must help him.” The fisherman however is still not an innocent in the story, while he calls the people to take him in, to give him a job the fisherman never seems to offer anything but a veiled attempt at compassion, even his call to offer a job came with the line “he would probably work for less pay.”

The islanders continue to spread rumours, encourage fear and treat the stranger badly… they even inspire their children to have nightmares of the stranger!

This is a picture book that deserves to be read, with dark and harsh charcoal illustrations that are hauntingly fabulous, it’s honesty and refreshingly stark storytelling however leaves us with no happy ending, no learned moral, no welcomed stranger and will hopefully leave the reader(s) changed, or at least challenged.

 

Flight by Nadia Wheatley & Armin Greder

flight
Title: Flight
Author: Nadia Wheatley
Illustrator: Armin Greder
Publisher: Windy Hollow Books
ISBN: 9781922081483
Teacher’s Notes: Flight Teacher’s Notes

Themes: Refugee, Asylum Seeker, Escape, Nativity, Fear, Hope, Pilgrimage, Oppression, Journey, Despair, Prayer, Family, War, Violence, Vulnerable, Epiphany, Christmas, Persecution, Challenges

Tonight is the night.
The family has to flee.
They’ve been tipped off that the authorities are
after their blood.

This is a beautiful first-time collaboration between Nadia Wheatley (My Place, Luke’s Way of Looking) and Armin Greder (The Island, The City, The Great Bear).

The cover of the book portrays a familiar scene, a man, a woman, a donkey, but there’s a baby in the mother’s arms, this is not the Christmas story…

Flight that evokes the story of the “escape to Egypt” from the story of the Nativity and places it in a modern space, allowing the reader to imagine the story as if it were a refugee story from recent times.

The flight is a well used theme throughout the renaissance, and Armin uses his particular style to deepen the emotion and reality behind the story, inviting the reader to imagine the depth of the darkness and the heat of the sun, the song of the lullaby and the strength of the parent’s prayer.

The horizon never changes throughout the story, through day and night you get the sense that this will be a long and difficult journey, the vastness of this space is overpowering.  You feel the loss of the donkey, hear the sound of the tanks as they thunder over the land, and experience the fear of the parents trying to find safety for their child, their family.

Armin has used very little colour in this story, you’re encouraged to enter the hopelessness of the journey, to feel the fear and to experience a deep unease and sadness at the lack of resolution as the story ends.

For, as the story ends and the fourth wall is broken it is the reader who is invited to hear their cry for help, and with it the cry of many others like them.

As they wait for someone, anyone to do something, to hear their story we are left with the invitation to re-tell the story and to become a part of it.

Beautiful and haunting this story left me speechless.

 

 

Brian Mclaren On Gospel & Culture

There is no such thing as a pure gospel, if by “pure” you mean a gospel that’s not articulated within a culture”
– Mclaren quoting Newbigin

“We must start with the basic fact that there is no such thing as a pure gospel if by that is meant something which is not embodied in a culture…The missionary does not come with the pure gospel and then adapt it to the culture where she serves: she comes with a gospel which is already embodied in the culture by which the missionary was formed”
– Newbigin’s actual quote from “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society”

I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good…

I hate a song that makes you think that you are not any good. I hate a song that makes you think that you are just born to lose. Bound to lose. No good to nobody. No good for nothing. Because you are too old or too young or too fat or too slim or too ugly or too this or too that. Songs that run you down or poke fun at you on account of your bad luck or hard traveling.
–Woody Guthrie

Update

Greetings,

Unfortunately a database update and my combining three blogs into one has lead to a few minor linking problems.

Regular service will return within the week

Then I’ll be making a few changes to what and how I write here…

One Night by Penny Matthews & Stephen Michael King

One Night 3
Title:
One Night
Author: Penny Matthews
Illustrator: Stephen Michael King
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 978-1-74299-027-9
Teacher’s Notes: One Night Teacher’s Notes

Themes: Christmas, Advent, Animals, Nativity, Gift, Present, Remembering, Community

The narrative of the nativity has been told and retold in a number of ways over the years. Together, Penny and Stephen create a new and beautiful re-telling where the animals of the world maintain the act of remembering, and in doing so create a space for something magical.

In a different slant to many of the Nativity stories out there the animals take on the act of remember the story of a baby born in a stable. The Owl tells the story of the star that shone so brightly, the Nanny Goat speaks of the sleepless night all the animals endured as they awaited something wonderful to happen while the donkey remembers that it was one of his kind that carried the mother of the child to the stable and the cows speak of how they gave the mother and father milk to drink.

The animals are both the actors and the storyteller in this whimsically illustrated book that has quickly made a huge jump up my list of favourite Christmas books. I cannot think of any illustrator that I’d invite to paint the Christmas story other than Stephen Michael King, he continues to bring colour and life to a tale that may seem old, this is the third book I own where he adds his imagination to the tale told from house to house over Christmas.

May there be many more…

because ministry is more than faith by numbers…