Monthly Archives: September 2010

Pakistan floods: responses within and without

A good reflection on the Pakistan floods from Eureka St:

The war weary population of Shangla District in the restive frontier region of northern Pakistan have little time for self pity. Their response to Pakistan’s colossal flood disaster, aptly likened by UN Secretary-General Ban ki Moon to a ‘slow motion tsunami’, was decisive, the antithesis of victimhood.

While they warmly accept the staples of relief — food, water and shelter — they know through a history of crippling food insecurity and mass displacement that they are masters of their own destiny. Manfully they clear the roads, reclaim what remains and look to the ‘Rabi’ planting season and the blessings of Islam for comfort and strength.

The statistics are staggering; the swollen Indus River reaching 40 times its capacity, 20 million affected, thousands of villages abandoned then swamped. The asset base of agrarian farmers and livestock herders stripped and scattered from the land.

By all definitions, this flood disaster struck the loudest alarm bell and stirred the loftiest humanitarian compulsion to act. Yet only now, in the decisive period between emergency and recovery, are the gears of the response being engaged…

Read the rest here.

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26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C: 26 September 2010)

Forgiving debt—for Social Justice Sunday

1 Timothy 6.6-19
Luke 16.19-31

I mentioned the term ubuntu some weeks ago. I’d like to remind you of it again. Remember, it’s an African word meaning ‘the essence of being human’. Ubuntu means that we need other human beings just to be human. The Zulu and Shona people of southern Africa say: ‘a person is a person through other persons’—not apart from them. Ubuntu means that for us to do well, we need others to do well.

Desmond Tutu says (God has a Dream, chapter 2):

A person with ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole.

Tutu also says that in southern Africa, when they wish to speak well of someone they say, ‘So-and-so has ubuntu.’ So-and-so is a person who recognises others as persons. I want to suggest that this African approach to life is one that we could learn from.

The rich man in the ‘Pearly Gates-type’ story that Jesus retold did not have ubuntu. He didn’t recognise Lazarus as a person. Lazarus ‘longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table’. But Lazarus went hungry.

Do you notice something about this story? About who is named and who isn’t? In most stories, the rich and powerful are named and the ordinary people are anonymous. It’s the other way here. Jesus names the poor man. The other—the powerful man—is just ‘a rich man’. In fact, the ‘rich man’ is every person who has enough of the world’s goods—shelter, food, health care, education—yet who closes his or her heart to the poor. The rich man’s name could very easily be ‘Paul Walton’. Continue reading


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25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C: 19 September 2010)

Forgive. What? Why?

Luke 16.1-13

There’s a Spanish story of a father and son who had become estranged. The son ran away, and the father set off to find him. He searched for months to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read:

Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.

On the Saturday 800 Pacos showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers.

We all need forgiveness.

For three weeks, I want to concentrate on forgiveness. This week, what is forgiveness and why forgive? Next week, on Social Justice Sunday, forgiveness between nations and peoples; and in two weeks’ time, what do we do when it’s too hard to forgive?

Today, we heard the Parable of the Unjust Steward. This parable is not Jesus’ teaching on small business practice. Please don’t write to Nick Sherry, the Minister for Small Business, or to Bruce Billson, shadow minister for small business, asking either one to implement the business principles found in this parable.

This parable isn’t about managing a small business, but it is about what this rather cartoonish figure of a steward does with his master’s abundance. He spreads it around! Specifically, he forgives debts: ‘Quick,’ he says, ‘let’s adjust your debt downwards. A hundred jugs of olive oil? Make it fifty! A hundred containers of wheat? Let’s call it eighty!’

The steward is very generous indeed with his master’s stuff.

This is a parable about forgiving others. In Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says:

…forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone
indebted to us.

This parable says that it’s always a good time to forgive debts. It’s always a good time to forgive people. It’s always a good time to share God’s forgiving love. Continue reading

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Richard Rohr has written a new book called On The Threshold of Transformation: Daily Meditations for Men. I’ve ordered my copy, but excerpts are appearing in his Daily Meditations. (You can subscribe here.) I found today’s excerpt particularly helpful:

Much of a man’s life is spent going to work, running errands, cleaning house, mowing the lawn, waiting in lines, attending meetings, and tending to the necessary but endless minutia that make up life.  We know that we can’t live as if we’re in the middle of an Indiana Jones adventure.  We know that much of life is rather dull and repetitive.  That’s why it’s so important to be fully present to the ordinary things that keep us going: a movie, a concert, dinner with a friend.  Anything you do fully gives you joy.  Anything done halfheartedly will bore you.  People do not tire from overwork nearly as much as from halfheartedness.  Wholeheartedness requires that a person be fully present.  And people who are present are most ready to experience the Presence.

In the middle of the ordinary, in the midst of the tedium, if we pay attention to the Presence, we will be blessed by joy, grace, and simple, sustaining pleasures.  We no longer need religious highs to know God; the lows and mediums are more than high enough.

Wholeheartedly living in the ‘now’ is for me a great stress buster. If I am present to what I am doing—to the person I am with at the moment—I can attend with all I’ve got. I can then turn to something or someone else and give my attention where it now belongs. When I am able to do this, I am not preoccupied with what’s going to happen/what should have happened/what did happen. I am present to the Now.

It reminds me of a quotation from George MacDonald, a great source of inspiration for CS Lewis: he spoke of “living in the eternal carelessness of the eternal Now”. Isn’t that a great aim for life?

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24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C: 12 September 2010)

A short reflection; part of a Taizé-style evening service.

Lost and found

Luke 15.1-10

Some familiar words that we’re not singing tonight, in this Taizé-style service:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me;
I once was lost but now I’m found,
was blind but now I see.

We heard in tonight’s Gospel reading:

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

To the religious people, they were sinners, unclean, unworthy; in his parables, Jesus gave them their true name: ‘lost’. A lost sheep, a lost coin. And then a lost son, whom we usually call the Prodigal Son.

There’s a psychological payoff when we name people ‘sinners’. It means that we are not ‘sinners’. We can’t be sinners. How could we see their sin if we were?

There’s a psychological payoff when we name people ‘unclean’. It means that we are ‘clean’. We must be clean. How else could we see their dirt?

There’s a psychological payoff when we name people ‘unworthy’. It means that we are ‘worthy’. Of course we’re worthy. How else could we see their lack of worth?

Things are a very different when, with Jesus, we name people ‘lost’, if we always keep this in mind:

I once was lost but now I’m found.

We are found. But that means that we too were once lost. We too needed to be found. What’s more, we’re still needing to be found.

The parables Jesus tells are about looking for the lost. We can say that once we were ‘lost’; but do we know that we are still partly lost? Because we are. We’ve got ‘lost’ parts of ourselves. We doubt ourselves; we have our besetting sins, our disappointments, brokenness, failures and fears. We are both ‘lost’ and ‘found’. We belong in God’s lost and found department.

Sometimes our lostness can cripple us: these doubts, disappointments, failures and fears stop us from being the people God made us to be. But if we know what it is to receive the free gift of God’s forgiveness and acceptance, we can begin to accept the lost parts of ourselves. We know what it is to be separated from God—yet also to be brought into communion with God and with God’s people.

‘I once was lost, but now I’m found.’ That’s not the whole story though: parts of us are still lost; parts of us—our fears, our self-doubts, our bitternesses, our brokennesses—still need to be found. Our first instinct may be to hide these part of ourselves from God, as Adam and Eve tried to hide their nakedness in the Garden. But we can’t hide from God.

But why should we want to hide from the God who loves us? Let’s not hide these parts of ourselves from the God who seeks and saves whatever is lost. If we open ourselves to God, then the Spirit can work her hidden healing work in us. Let’s continue to open ourselves to God, to allow these ‘lost’ parts of ourselves to be found and healed and come to life. Amen.

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“Relational health warning”!

This is in today’s issue of The Age:

A POVERTY of human relationships, much more than an absence of material resources, puts children at risk, according to a US expert on child abuse and trauma.

”You are much more likely to be healthy, much more likely to be able to learn more readily, much more likely to be resilient in the face of chaos, threat and trauma if you have lots of healthy relationships,” said Dr Bruce Perry, who is both a child psychiatrist and neurobiologist.

”This is not to say that it’s great to be poor. All I’m saying is that the real determining factor on whether you are healthy or not is relational health and wealth, not economic wealth … it’s as simple and powerful as that.”

Dr Perry, whose visit to Melbourne is sponsored by the children’s service Berry Street, will speak this week to social workers, Children’s Court magistrates and officials from the Department of Human Services. He is also taking his message on ”relational enrichment” to Victoria’s Minister for Community Services, Lisa Neville.

Dr Perry, a professor at Northwestern University in Chicago, said research revealed that ”huge parts of our brains” were dedicated to reading, responding and communicating with other people, verbally and otherwise.

”But we are living more and more separately, and children are watching more and more television and adopting more and more electronic interaction,” he said.

”What’s happening, we believe, is that the relational experiences required to fully express the capacity to be humans are not taking place.”

Dr Perry said there was a ”ton of science” showing up these deficits beyond obvious at-risk populations where, for example, a child has a family member with a drug problem.

He cites a recent study by the University of Pennsylvania that examined measures of empathy among US college students.

”In the last 10 years the empathy measures have basically been cut about in half,” Dr Perry said. ”We believe it is related to [people having] far fewer opportunities to provide patterned, repetitive continuation to the relational part of the brains — that is, basically, human contact, human conversation.”

Loneliness has to be one of the great scourges of our time. Many people live alone or have few supportive networks. So if you’re reading this, thank God if you have someone who cares for you. If you can, get up and back away from the computer now. Go and talk to someone near to you—your partner, a work colleague, a child. Show them they matter to you. Say “Thanks”. If they are somewhere else, ring or text them. Let’s build healthier relationships, for God’s sake.

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23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C: 5 September 2010)

Darkness is no darkness with you

Psalm 139.1-18

We begin life in darkness. We spend nine months in the womb, changing, morphing into a recognisable human being. (Though sometimes I think it’d be better if we were called human becomings, because we’re all works in progress throughout our lives.) And I’m convinced that we do a lot of our becoming human in the darkness. Continue reading

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“God didn’t create the universe”—Stephen Hawking

According to ABC News, in a recently-published book called The Grand Design (sic? irony?), physicist Stephen Hawking writes:

Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist…It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going…

The article goes on:

In A Brief History of Time, Hawking had suggested that the idea of God or a divine being was not necessarily incompatible with a scientific understanding of the universe.

But in his latest work, Hawking cites the 1992 discovery of a planet orbiting a star outside our own Solar System as a turning point against Isaac Newton’s belief that the universe could not have arisen out of chaos.

“That makes the coincidences of our planetary conditions – the single sun, the lucky combination of Earth-sun distance and solar mass – far less remarkable, and far less compelling as evidence that the Earth was carefully designed just to please us human beings,” he wrote.

I’m unconvinced by this, and find it hard to take seriously. Although I know I must. Assuming the title of the book is ironic, the existence of ‘law’ and therefore a rational universe do not argue against God. Other planets (and other intelligent life ‘out there’) argue against God? How? God not a necessary hypothesis? Ok, so what? I believe in God because I am satisfied that I have experienced God, not as an explanation for being here.

Try harder please, Dr Hawking.


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