Thursday, April 30, 2015

'Keep Hope Alive'

Last night, a gathering was held at Pilgrim Uniting Church, 'Stronger Together: A service of solace', to offer support for those grieving the state execution by firing squad of eight people in Indonesia. They had been convicted of drug charges, and the group included 2 Australians, 3 from Nigerian including  gospel singer Okwudili Ayotanze, one from Ghana, one from Brazil and one from Indonesia.

The eight death row inmates walked onto the killing field singing religious songs before they were executed. Pastor Karina de Vega, who had been present at the execution, said, “They sang one song after another. Praising God. They sang a few songs together, like in a choir. The non-Christian I believe sang from his heart. It was such an experience.” The 8 men refused to wear blindfolds, preferring to look ahead and face their executioners. The group was shot by a 13-member firing squad while singing ‘Bless the Lord O My Soul’. Pastor Karina said the men conducted themselves with 'dignity and strength until the end'.

 In recent months, Amnesty International had held a campaign, 'Keep Hope Alive', to seek a change to the death penalty and imminent executions in Indonesia. The campaign is associated with Amnesty's long standing opposition to the death penalty around the world but it became very personal to Australians who have followed the saga of the 'Bali 9', and in particular Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, who  received the death sentence and had been on death row for many years.

During their time in Kerobokan Prison in Bali, Andrew Chan had become a Christian and his life had been transformed. Recently he was ordained a Christian pastor and led services in the prison. He is reported to have said, "When I got back to my cell, I said, 'God, I asked you to set me free, not kill me.' God spoke to me and said, 'Andrew, I have set you free from the inside out, I have given you life!' From that moment on I haven’t stopped worshipping Him. I had never sung before, never led worship, until Jesus set me free."

Myuran Sukumaran and his art
Myuran Sukumaran
Myuran also converted to Christianity while imprisoned. He also become an accomplished painter, painting right up until the end of his life. He taught English, computer, graphic design and philosophy classes to prisoners. Prior to his death, he was working on a Fine Arts degree.

Both Andrew and Myuran had given their lives in prison to inspire, encourage and support others to make the most of this one precious life and to get involved in meaningful pursuits rather than waste their lives.

British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford, on death row in Indonesia, said of Andrew and Myuran:  
"I didn't know those men at the time they committed those crimes 10 years ago. What I can say is that the Andrew and Myuran I knew were men who did good and touched the lives of a great many people, including myself...the men shot dead were reformed men - good men who transformed the lives of people around them. Their senseless, brutal deaths leave the world a poorer place.

Richard Branson said:  (paraphrasing Oscar Wilde): ‘The only difference between saints and sinners is that every saint has a past while every sinner (should have) a future.’ “Everyone deserves a second chance. Let’s do away with the death penalty once and for all.”

Cheryl Lawrie, a prison chaplain with the Uniting Church in Australia, said: 'I hope one consequence might be that we embody the mercy that we wanted the Indonesian government to show - that I might show mercy to all those who are fighting for a second chance here in Australia, especially those I have too easily written off. That feels like a fitting tribute I can make to two flawed and remarkable men'. 

Embedded image permalink

A young girl is guided to place a candle on a flower wall that reads "#keephopealive" as part of an Amnesty international vigil for the Bali nine duo, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.
A young girl is guided to place a candle on a flower wall that reads "#keephopealive" as part of an Amnesty international vigil for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. Photo: Getty Images

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

prayers for Nepal

It is devastating to see the impact of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal, including the avalanche on Mt Everest. Rich Melheim (ELCA) has close connections with projects in Nepal and has asked for prayers for his friend Mochery who is on the Nepali border, and the 200 kids he's been tutoring with the RICH Learning experimental schools. Rich spent 7 weeks training Mochery, then he went to the Nepal border and started 4 of our experimental incubator schools with slum kids. Rich has been back in India with him twice to help him get started. Now he's waiting and hoping to hear if the kids are safe. Check out this youtube clip of the children's enthusiastic learning here

You might be interested in some of the prayers I've collated here for times of natural disasters that can be easily adapted for a particular context. 

God of compassion,
You created a world for us
to know your love and peace.
Yet amidst the beauty of creation we encounter pain and hurt
and forces beyond our control.
At times like this our hearts are shaken and ache with sorrow
at the destruction of lives, homes and livelihoods.
Hear our prayers for those affected
by the disaster and for all those working
to bring relief and fresh hope. Amen. (adapted from a prayer by )

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Bonhoeffer - 70 years

On April 9th, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged. His courage and faith continue to shape our own lives of faith today.
He was born in 1906, son of a professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Berlin. He was an outstanding student. In 1930, a year too young to be ordained, he went to New York to Union Seminary, where he encountered Afro-American worship where "the 'black Christ' is preached with captivating passion and vividness. Anyone who has heard and understood the Negro spirituals knows about [this] strange mixture of reserved melancholy and eruptive joy"(1).  Bonhoeffer would later introduce some of the Negro spirituals to the worship services at the illegal seminary in Finkenwalde (possibly one of the first places in Europe to introduce such songs).
At the age of 25 became a lecturer in systematic theology at the University of Berlin.
When Hitler came to power in 1933, Bonhoeffer became a leading spokesman for the Confessing Church, the center of Protestant resistance to the Nazis. He organized and for a time led the underground seminary of the Confessing Church. His book Life Together describes the life of the Christian community in that seminary, and his book The Cost of Discipleship attacks what he calls "cheap grace," meaning grace used as an excuse for moral laxity. 
Bonhoeffer had been taught not to "resist the powers that be," but he came to believe that to do so was sometimes the right choice. In 1939 his brother-in-law introduced him to a group planning the overthrow of Hitler, and he made significant contributions to their work. (He was at this time an employee of the Military Intelligence Department.) He was arrested in April 1943 and imprisoned in Berlin. After the failure of the attempt on Hitler's life in April 1944, he was sent first to Buchenwald and then to Schoenberg Prison. His life was spared, because he had a relative who stood high in the government; but then this relative was himself implicated in anti-Nazi plots.
On Sunday 8 April 1945, he had just finished conducting a service of worship at Schoenberg, when two soldiers came in, saying, "Prisoner Bonhoeffer, make ready and come with us," the standard summons to a condemned prisoner. As he left, he said to another prisoner, "This is the end - but for me, the beginning - of life." He was hanged the next day, less than a week before the Allies reached the camp.
Reggie Williams, author of "Bonhoeffer's Black Jesus" writes, "As a brilliant, wealthy, Aryan man, he was killed by the forces that were attempting to construct a society specifically for him. But rather than be at home in what was billed as 'the ideal community' he suffered, like the outcasts, choosing to suffer the consequences for non-cooperation with evil."

In preparing for worship this week, the first Sunday after Easter, there is so much to reflect on from Bonhoeffer's life. About the life of the early church community, living together in a way that ensured that none had any needs and resources were shared. About the courage, even in the experience of doubt, to follow the way of Christ for justice, even to death. About the vision of life that endures in eternal company with God, that we are never separated from the love of God.

(1) Volume 10 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's works, Barcelona, Berlin, New York: 1928-1931 (Fortress 2008)

Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter morning - while it was still dark

Halleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

On Easter Sunday while it was still dark, I arrived at church to set up for the outdoor Easter Sunrise service on the plaza at the rear of Pilgrim Uniting Church.
We regularly have ‘rough sleepers’ under the shelter of the verandah outside the church office adjacent to the plaza. My arrival while it was still dark caused the person sleeping closest to the door to sit bolt upright and be on alert immediately for impending danger. I reassured him ‘it was just me, you know me, one of the Ministers here in the church’. With that he relaxed, and resettled into his sleeping position. I felt glad that we are able to offer a place of safety and sanctuary and that we know these rough sleepers by name. I went about the work of setting up for the service, and in deference to the sweet soundscape of snoring coming from the rough sleepers, I moved our usual location to one side so as not to further disturb them.
For the service, we gathered around a brazier fire and shared stories. Afterwards, we shared freshly baked damper finished off in the brazier coals, and fish fingers, and tea and coffee. The rough sleepers came and joined us, enjoying the sweet smells of freshly cooked food, and warm drinks after a chilly night sleeping out. It was perfectly normal for us all to be together - those who had warm beds for the night, and those who slept in sleeping bags on the cold bricks under the shelter of the verandah. And some of the rough sleepers generously helped us pack up afterwards.
On Easter Monday, I came across these images of a campaign by Homelessness charity Depaul, which has launched a new outdoor campaign to deliver varying messages about living on the streets to viewers depending on their positioning near the posters. The messages encapsulate two walls across a right angle. When one side is viewed stereotypes and negative perceptions of the homeless arise, but when both walls are visible are more complex picture arises. Quite literally, “there is another side to the story”. (see the two images below - one from a limited perspective, and then the other with a more complete story)
Each of our rough sleepers have their stories - encounters with bureaucracy and welfare agencies, broken relationships, time in prison, drugs and other things that diminish life. And there are many reasons they choose to sleep rough - with all its dangers and discomforts - rather than go through the system to find housing.
The example of Jesus enables us to see that human worth is not indexed to worldly success, and that each person is beloved of God, deserving of care and compassion.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Easter Saturday

Jesus is placed in the tomb
As Love lies vanquished, hearts and dreams are shattered;
those who believed him, frightened now and scattered;
tomb takes his body, boulder locks the light away –
hope is extinguished.

"This is Holy Saturday: the day of God’s concealment, the day of that unprecedented paradox we express in the Creed with the words: “Descended into hell”, descended into the mystery of death. We need the silence of God to experience again the abyss of God's greatness and the chasm of our nothingness which would grow wider and wider without God".  

'May we truly be people of Easter in the midst of history’s Holy Saturday'. 

"Holy Week from Iona: Stations of the Cross

14. Jesus is placed in the tomb

As Love lies vanquished, hearts and dreams are shattered;
those who believed him, frightened now and scattered;
tomb takes his body, boulder locks the light away –
hope is extinguished.

Photo: 'Oran's chapel' © David Coleman
Text: Taken from 'The Last Journey - A hymn for Good Friday' © Pat Bennett
Tune: 'Iste Confessor' from The Poitiers Antiphoner, 1746"

Holy Week from Iona: Stations of the Cross

Photo: 'Oran's chapel' © David Coleman
Text: Taken from 'The Last Journey - A hymn for Good Friday' © Pat Bennett
Tune: 'Iste Confessor' from The Poitiers Antiphoner, 1746

Three meditations on Holy Saturday

Kenyan tragedy

Tragic news from Kenya, with Al-Shabaab gunmen from Somali attacking a college campus, located 90 miles from the Somali border. Al-Shabaab militants have killed hundreds of Kenyans - on country buses, in churches, in remote coastal towns and Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall. A primary aim of such attacks is thought to be sowing terror. There's also a religious undercurrent, given Al-Shabaab's once and possibly future goal of creating a fundamentalist Islamic state. Needless to say, that aim isn't shared in most places - particularly in Kenya, where more than 80% of citizens are Christian.
No words can express the sorrow for the senseless loss of 148 young lives and the escalation of violence. Authorities say the attacks happened around dawn when a small group of militants roved from dorm to dorm, separating Christian from Muslim students and killing the Christians. A few students had woken up early to head to early morning Christian prayers.
Heartfelt prayers for peace and comfort for families and friends of the victims.
Prayers for wisdom by those in leadership to the escalation of violence by al-Shabaab, especially the growing persecution and violence towards Christians.
Prayers that Christian leaders and Muslim leaders will work towards peace and stand in solidarity against all forms of violence and religious persecution, especially by religious extremists.