Friday, August 30, 2013

A way of thinking about an often asked question.....

What do you 'do'?

I have a dream.....

Dr Martin Luther King Jr I have a Dream
Martin Luther King Jr addressing the crowds at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963
This week has recognized and celebrated the infamous 1963 March on Washington, where 250,000 gathered at the Lincoln Memorial and where Martin Luther King Jr delivered the stirring ‘I have a dream’ speech. 

Mahalia Jackson was also present, offering a stirring rendition of the spiritual, ‘I been ‘buked and I been scorned’.

The New York Times has revealed a story that most of us would not have otherwise have known. When Dr King was about half way through his prepared speech, Mahalia Jackson shouted out to him from the speakers’ stand: ‘Tell ‘em about the ‘Dream’, Martin, tell ‘em about the ‘Dream’!’ She had heard him speak about the ‘Dream’ on other occasions, but it wasn’t in his prepared speech on that day in 1963. So, he pushed aside the text he was reading from - a sobering assessment of current social injustices - and began to improvise, speaking with passion about his ‘Dream’, which would become the vision and rallying call for the civil rights movement, and one of the most recognizable refrains in the world. ‘I have a Dream….’

Anyone who has heard this speech can still hear the echoes of his voice – emotional, courageous, powerful, stirring, visionary. His voice, rising and falling, trembling with emotion. His ‘Dream’ – a radiant vision of hope - stirred imaginations and hearts on that day, and continues to do so. “I have a dream,” he declared, “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!” The speech remains a powerful influence for those who seek and work for justice around the world.

I live in Australia, and it is just over a week until the national elections. I’m sure many voters long for leaders who do more than ‘huff and puff’, and long for substance rather than short sound bites carefully chewed over for easy digestion and delivery. Pragmatic politics and the aspirations of leadership seem to be the order of the day - and not just in Australia. 

People long for leaders with a vision where all have a place to belong, where privilege and power can make space for those who are on the margins, and the ‘least and the last’. Where people are judged not by the colour of their skin or their country of origin, but by the content of their character and what they can offer to shape the nation.

There have been moments when brilliant speeches, or even simple heartfelt speeches, have stirred our imaginations. But who is speaking about the ‘Dream’ in our contemporary context that will stir our minds, our hearts, our imaginations, and encourage us to commit ourselves to the ‘common wealth’ and the ‘common good’?

Jim Wallis’ begins his latest book, On God’s Side, with this paragraph:

‘Our life together can be better. Ours is a shallow and selfish age, and we are in need of conversion – from looking out just for ourselves to also looking out for one another. It’s time to hear and heed a call to a different way of life, to reclaim a very old idea called the common good. Jesus issued that call and announced the kingdom of God – a new order of living in sharp contrast to all the political and religious kingdoms of the world. That better way of life was meant to benefit not only his followers but everybody else too. And that is the point of it. Jesus told us a new relationship with God also brings us into a new relationship with our neighbour, especially with the most vulnerable of this world, and even with our enemies. This call to love our neighbour is the foundation for re-establishing and reclaiming the common good, which has fallen into cultural and political – and even religious – neglect'. 

Writing on the Sojourners blog this week, Wallis said, 'King taught us that day our complaints or critiques, or even our dissent will never be the foundation of social movements that change the world — but dreams always will. Just saying what is wrong will never be enough to change the world. You have to lift up a vision of what is right.The dream was about King’s vision for “the beloved community,” drawn right from the heart of his Christian faith and a spiritual foundation for the ancient idea of the common good, which we today need so deeply to restore'.

‘I have a dream’…….

Monday, August 26, 2013

A sermon for Migrant and Refugee Sunday

(Scripture Reading: Luke 12:10-17 – the bent over woman)

Inconvenient timing!

The woman has been bent double for 18 years, and she has to be healed on a Sabbath??? Jesus sees her condition, calls her over and says: you are set free.  The word used means ‘to release’, much like the donkey is untied (v.15). She is set straight again – both in her stature, and in restoring her to the Abrahamic community which she has been cut off from for 18 years.

Jesus is deliberately provocative in the healing of this woman. All he had to do was wait for sundown when the Sabbath would be finished. But he goes out of his way to be inflammatory.

A world view is rarely changed by persuasion and reason. At what point did Jesus realize that what he was teaching about, what he was envisioning, was simply beyond people to see? Were there times when he 'just did it?' And bore the brunt of people’s response to the perceived crisis, the clash of values?

The criticism he receives is nestled within the Law. And on a point of technicality the leaders of the synagogue are right - as long as the place you begin is with legal argument and ‘policy’.

The foundation for Jesus’ action is that what God desires is focused on people’s well being.
Commandments, rules, guidelines, traditions, laws, scriptures are  subordinate to God's loving purpose. God’s focus is generosity and giving, restoration and healing, encouraging and renewing.

There is an absolute clash of world-views in this story. Jesus and the leader of the synagogue - two serious and devout Jews - are dumbfounded by each other.

The leader of the synagogue well may ask, How can you break the Law like this? There are six other days! You could wait! How can you insult God like this? The leader of the synagogue is not being petty. His God has been insulted, ignored, and belittled by what Jesus has done. It is sacrilege.

Jesus may well ask, and does, How could you make her wait one more day!? Can you not see her agony? Healing is here! God wishes her well! Why withhold the blessings of God? What kind of God do you believe in?!

How we imagine God is directly related to how we imagine what it means to be a decent person.

Today is Migrant and Refugee Sunday, celebrated by the churches in Australia on the last Sunday of August every year. This year it comes with the most inconvenient of timing – two weeks before an election, where the treatment of refugees has become aligned to gaining electoral advantage at the expense of the poor. This reading has a great deal to say to us in the way we are managing the issues around refugees and asylum seekers - for those who are recent refugees and those who have been in camps for years, possibly as long as the 18 years the woman in the story was waiting, hunched over, waiting to be able to stand tall.

Like the woman, Jesus may well ask, How could you make them wait one more day!? Can you not see their agony? Release from war, violence, oppression and the stench and terror of death is here!

The asylum seekers and refugees are ‘inconveniently’ arriving in our region. Their method of arrival is construed as ‘inconvenient’ and deemed ‘illegal’ by the two main political parties. It is not illegal to seek asylum! People who arrive by plane and seek asylum are not carted off shore for processing. Only those who feel they have no option left but to board a small boat and undertake a perilous journey from Indonesia to Australia are then are told they will never live in Australia. Australia’s current policies regarding refugees and asylum seekers are premised on a different set of values than compassion, especially given that 97% are found to be genuine refugees.

Australia's political leaders are formulating policies aligned to electoral advantage, and trading on people’s fear of the ‘other’, and then making 'the law' an idol that takes precedence over compassion.  (I’m sure Australia is not alone in making this stance – it is politically advantageous to do so).

The values we hold as followers of Christ are premised on the knowledge that God's chief focus is love and care for people and creation. The reign of God grows from acts of compassion; acts where people use law and scripture as a guide rather than immovable rules that leave others in pain or need. The reign of God runs and grows on compassion!

(acknowledgement of Rev Andrew Prior and Rev Dr Bill Loader for some content)

Floods in Brazil


Because of the rain since Friday, the four rivers Sinos, Gravatai, Cai and Jacui are receiving too much water, and this water will arrive in Guaiba Lake (Porto Alegre lies on the southern edge of the lake, in southern Brazil). People along the rivers and living on the islands are getting ready for floods. Please include this worsening situation in your prayers. Thank you!

In a report in Hurriyet News, landslides and floods caused by heavy rain have already killed at least 59 people and forced more than 43,000 from their homes in southern Brazil.

Porto Alegre seen from Guaiba Lake
Please pray for the people of Brazil - those preparing for floods about to come, those already devastated by floods in southern Brazil, and for emergency workers as they provide practical assistance to those in need.

Compassionate God, source of all comfort,
We pray for the people whose lives have been devastated by rain and flood.
Grant them comfort, we pray.
May the vulnerable be protected.
May the weak be strengthened.
May the spread of disease  be halted. 
Have mercy on all those working to rescue the stranded and to feed the hungry.
And may our response to their suffering be generous and bring you praise.
For we ask it in Jesus Name, Amen.
(UK Christian Aid prayer, adapted)

(And there are news reports of devastating floods in China, and - incredibly - in the Sudan where 48 people have been killed and more than 500,000 affected by the worst floods in Sudan in quarter of a century. The region around the capital, Khartoum, was particularly badly hit, with at least 15,000 homes destroyed and thousands of others damaged. Across Sudan, at least 25,000 homes are no longer habitable. A UN official described the situation as a disaster.The flooding, caused by continuous rains, has damaged public buildings, including schools, clinics, offices, shops, markets and water and sanitation facilities. Roads have been inundated, disrupting transport).

Constant rain and flooding in Brazil

People in southern Brazil fleeing the floods by boat

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Philippines floods - a call to prayer

The city of Manila is flooded from incessant monsoon rains over the last four days. The Philippine archipelago is among the most battered by typhoons and storms in the world. About 20 tropical cyclones hit the country every year.
Manila is at a standstill, with 60% underwater. The city is low-lying, and people have been forced to stumble through waist or neck-deep waters, holding on to ropes strung from flooded houses. Flights have been cancelled, and offices, banks and schools shut down. Many of the city's most vulnerable people live in affected areas. Many villages are flooded, thousands of hectares of riceland and vegetable farms are flooded. Tens of thousands of Filipinos have been forced from their homes. 
This 1 minute video is worth a look
And this article provides general news

Please uphold in your prayers Deac Emma Cantor (President, Diakonia Asia Pacific) who lives in Manila, and the Deaconess associations in the Philippines as they respond to this emergency in their communities.

God of all goodness and love, in whom we can trust in every time of need:
be close to all who live in fear and distress at this time of flooding.
We pray for wisdom and strength for all who seek to help,
and that through this time of emergency, people and communities
may be drawn more closely together in service to one another;
We pray for all who are suffering the effects of the floods:
for those whose have been injured, and those who have died,
and those who have been separated from loved ones.
We pray for those whose homes have been lost or damaged,
and for those who have lost even the little they have called home. 
We pray for those living with fear and uncertainty. 
We pray for our diaconal sisters in the Philippines
as they take their part in responding to this crisis,
and for those who themselves are caught up in this emergency.
Be with all those affected, we pray, that they would know the calm of your presence,
through the One who stilled the raging of the storm, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
[Adapted from a Prayer by Christian Aid]


People cross a flooded street to evacuate to higher ground in Marikina City, Philippines, on Tuesday, August 20. Tens of thousands of Filipinos have been forced from their homes and at least seven have died due to heavy rains and flooding.

A visit to Korea

The WCC Assembly, held every 7 years, will meet in Busan, Korea, from 30th October to 8th November, 2013. It’s a unique moment for the whole fellowship of member churches to come together in planning, prayer and celebration. Korea was selected to host the Assembly because of the unique ecumenical “horizon” that the witness of the Korean churches offers the wider ecumenical movement. The theme is 'God of life, lead us to justice and peace'.

Along with the WCC member churches, partner organizations and other churches have a strong presence at the event. This makes a WCC Assembly the most diverse Christian gathering of its size in the world. It is a unique opportunity for the churches to deepen their commitment to visible unity and common witness.

The DIAKONIA World Federation (DWF) has been invited to attend as an ecumenical partner, and I am privileged to represent DWF at the WCC Assembly. 

I will also have an opportunity to visit some of the sisters in the Diakonia Sisterhood in Korea. I am inspired by their work, and especially at their care and compassion for older citizens, giving them a sense of purpose in older years.

Serving older people - Sister Rhee, Young-Sook
The Diakonia Sisterhood in Korea (originally published here)
“There are so many old people in Korea who have nobody to care for them. We have decided to take them in so that they can live and die in dignity”
(Sister RHEE Young-Sook)

It is mainly old people in need of care who find care and refuge with the Diakonia Sisterhood. Using donations, the sisterhood is building an old people’s home.“Where are our talents most needed?” is the question that the sisters always ask themselves afresh. So in the last few decades their work has continued to develop. They began with a health project that became a pilot project in the region around the port of Mokpo. Some years later the greatest need was care for old people because industrialization had destroyed traditional family structures. And so the sisters began to care for elderly people who were living alone in the poor areas of Mokpo. Working with the city, they built welfare centers for them. They help with the practicalities of life and take care of old people who are sick and without health insurance or caring relatives. Some of the chronically sick live in a home on the sisters’ premises. Fifty men and women have found a new home in the recently opened nursing home. There they are cared for and given pastoral assistance and spiritual companionship until their life’s end. The sisters are planning to extend the old people’s home.

Please pray for preparations for WCC and also for the Diakonia Sisterhood in Korea and their life-giving work to vulnerable and elderly people. 

Monday, August 19, 2013


I've added a 'Skype' button to the blogsite (under main photo), so there's an easy way to have a 'chat' via Skype messaging. Would love to hear from members of DIAKONIA World Federation!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

DOTAC Central Committee

The DOTAC (DIAKONIA of the Americas and Caribbean) are on their way to meet in Porto Alegre (Brasil/Brazil). Let us uphold them in our prayers, that their meeting together will be a time to celebrate unity in Christ, and share in discernment about issues of importance to the region. DOTAC President Lisa Polito will provide leadership for the meeting.

Flat Lisa on her way to Rio!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Egypt - July 16, 2013

Please pray for the people of Egypt at this time, with escalated violence and killings in the street. See related Huffington news article here (17th August, 2013) and this article, 'Understanding the present situation in Egypt' to consider the broader context.

Many Muslims have been killed as well as the armed forces. According to official reports (mid August), 45 Christian churches have been burned and pelted with rocks and molotov cocktails, and a further 11 church institutions have been burnt and damaged. Read a report here. The patriarch of Egypt's beleagured Coptic Church has cancelled weekly audiences with worshippers for fear they would be targeted by militants loyal to the ousted President Morsi. A coalition of Egyptian human rights groups warned that violence towards the Christian minority was spiralling out of control with authorities unwilling or unable to provide protection.

Please pray that the calm will be restored, that the police and army will work with wisdom and tact, and that churches and mosques alike would be places of refuge and safety. Please pray for the people of Egypt, for grieving families, for those who are frightened by the violence that has taken place. 

Sr Joanna
Daughters of St Mary community
Please pray also for Sister Joanna and her community - the Coptic Orthodox community, Daughters of St Mary, a member association of DIAKONIA World Federation. According to one report (link above),The Nuns School and St George School have been damanged in Beni Suef.

Pray for the sisters that even in the midst of chaos, confusion and fear, they would show compassion and courage, uplifted by the certain knowledge that God is with them and blessing them in their ministry, and that peace and reconciliation are at the heart of the reign of God. 

The WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit has called for prayers for healing, justice and peace for all Egyptians. In an official letter to the WCC member churches in Egypt, he wrote: “The only way forward is for mutual recognition as equal citizens within Egypt, sharing responsibilities and authority, accepting the diversity of political opinions and religious beliefs. The World Council of Churches and its member churches are greatly concerned by the violent turn of events in Egypt and call for an immediate end of violence from all sides". He went on to say the people of Egypt have been going through a difficult moment in history since the political developments in 2011. However, Tveit added, “The Egyptian people showed on different occasions their belief in a multi-religious and multi-cultural society where all parties join hands in facing the current challenges and building a better future. This affects the whole of Egypt. I hope that this will not be interpreted as a conflict between Christians and Muslims" Offering prayers for all Egyptians, Tveit concluded: “may God grant them comfort, heal their wounds and accompany them on their way to justice and peace.”

You will have your own words to pray, but these familiar words from Numbers might provide a way to uphold our diaconal sisters in prayer:

'The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn his face toward you, and give you peace' (Numbers 6:24-26)

A thoughtful prayer (and analysis/commentary) can be found here
God, Egypt’s problems are so big, other nations are getting involved. May their help be helpful.
Egypt has enough problems. Give wisdom to her friends to know if they are helping or hurting.But in the end, God, find Egyptian solutions to Egyptian problems. Even if others can come alongside, may this political crisis conclude in greater consensus for all.
Give Egypt peace on her borders, God.
God, give wisdom to the Brotherhood. Help them to hold on to what is right while discovering their wrongs. Grant them the ability to extricate themselves from this crisis, and mould them into that which is good for all of Egypt.
God, give wisdom to the government. Help them to pursue justice transparently and use this historical moment to find a grand solution for Egyptian ideological diversity. Grant them the ability to deftly respond to pressure with necessary political acumen.
God, make both humble. Purge all groups of their power-hungry manipulators, so that those who remain will serve Egypt with a pure heart. Reveal this to the people, and place sovereignty in their hands.
And for all outsiders who wish to help, God, make them honest as well. Allow Egypt to be a domestic mess for as long as necessary while as short as possible. But prevent foreigners from adding complications, God. Stability is greatly needed.