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Weekly Reflection

Each week the Dean offers a reflection through which he seeks to speak to the world in which we live and to explore how our life and faith intersect.

The riches of the Christian and other spiritual traditions, poetry, art, music and the writings of commentators who are trying to make sense of our lives and create a better world are brought together.

The Dean welcomes you feedback and insights.
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Monday 2nd August, 2021
Earth Overshoot Day

Last Thursday we observed Earth Overshoot Day….
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Earth Overshoot Day is the day when humanity’s demands for ecological resources (such as water, fish and other living creatures, forests and soil), exceeds what the Earth can renew in a year. More info: WWW.OVERSHOOTDAY.ORG. The fact that overshoot day occurs so early in the year means that we are running the Earth down.
 
As I see it, Overshoot Day asks three things of us:
1. To see that it is a more significant (and interrelated) challenge to our future survival than Climate Change. In fact, some of our solutions to Climate Change would see us using even more resources and so speeding up the depletion the earth.
2. To recognise that we need to attend to our relationship with the planet. We are called to overcome the idea that the planet is somehow ‘other’ to we humans. We are not separate but part of the whole. This means that there is ‘spiritual’ and relational aspect to the work we need to do to get ourselves out of the crisis in which we find ourselves.
3. To appreciate that the way ahead will only emerge once we have accepted that we are dealing with an incredible amount of complexity. Simplistic solutions, such as only moving to (the necessary) end of the use of fossil fuels without reducing our demands on the planet will not get us out of this problem.
 
Ultimately, we need individual and collective “ecological conversion”.
 
Peace,
Peter+

Monday 26th July, 2021
The Way of the Wise

The first king was on horseback.
The second a pillion rider.
The third came by plane…

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The first king was on horseback.
The second a pillion rider.
The third came by plane…

 Where was the god-child?
He was in the manger
with the beasts, all looking

 the other way where fourth
was a slow dawning because
wisdom must come on foot.
                      A Slow Dawning
— R S Thomas, Counterpoint (1990)

In A Slow Dawning R S Thomas plays with the imagery of the three kings visiting the Christ child. He introduces a fourth king to the story. The first three arrive using forms of rapid transport. They rush at and into the Christmass scene.

The fourth, wisdom, takes time to arrive.

The writers of the Wisdom literature we find in Biblical books like Proverbs help us to understand the essence of wisdom. They do this by comparing and contrasting the behaviour of the wise one and the foolish, the unwise.
       Those who gather crops on time are wise, but those who sleep through the harvest are a disgrace. (Proverbs 10.5)
       Wise people think before they act; fools don’t—and even brag about their foolishness. (Proverbs 13:16).
       The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice. (Proverbs 12:15).

Wisdom is a slow mover because wisdom comes from seeing clearly, noticing, and then thinking carefully about what is happening before acting. Sadly, intelligence is not a measure or guarantee of wisdom.

Peace,
Peter+

Monday 19th July, 2021
Compassion

Of all the public places, dear
to make a scene, I’ve chosen here.

Of all the doorways in the world…

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to choose to sleep, I’ve chosen yours.
I’m on the street, under the stars.

 For coppers I can dance or sing.
For silver-swallow swords, eat fire.
For gold-escape from locks and chains.

 It’s not as if I’m holding out
for frankincense or myrrh, just change.

 You give me tea. That’s big of you.
I’m on my knees. I beg of you.
                                              Give, Simon Armitage

One of the pivotal aspects of last Sunday’s gospel story was that of Jesus being moved with compassion for the crowds. Compassion is a deeply felt emotion. In fact, the Greek word used in the New Testament which we translate as compassion, literally means ‘to have your intestines wrenched’; to feel for another in the depths of your being; in your bowels.

The thing about compassion is that it spurs the one who feels it into action; it makes them into agents of change. Whether we become change agents or not in response to the plight of another, reveals whether we have felt compassion for them or merely felt pity. Experiencing pity in response to the plight of another leads us to hand out food and blankets. If we have compassion for them, we are driven to want to change the system. Pity can get fatigued; compassion doesn’t.

In his poem, Give, Simon Armitage plays with the word change. At first reading the homeless person who has inconveniently appeared on the front step of a hapless householder might be understood to be asking for a few small denomination coins. A deeper reading suggests that the change they are seeking is the one that can only be achieved by transformation.

Peace,
Peter+ 

Monday 12th July, 2021
Fragility

There are so many fragile things, after all.
People break so easily,
and so do dreams and hearts.
         Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders

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I have been thinking a lot about fragility lately, and about how we need to give it more attention.

The response to the Covid-19 pandemic, political shenanigans, the plight of our planetary system and the stories I have been hearing from members of our faith community have all led me down this path.

Authorities in various jurisdictions, football players and people who think that their party must go ahead have failed to see how fragile the safe place we have managed to create in this covid-affected world is, and how easily that safe place can slip away.

Many of our political leaders are prepared to stretch our democratic framework for short-term gain. Rorting, prideful, naked contempt for accountability, cynical messaging and pandering to powerful interest groups, all undermine the confidence that the people have in our institutions. Our institutions float on a thin bubble of trust. It is more fragile than a butterfly’s’ wing.

The sheer size of the earth and its abundance – its extravagant abundance – lead us to think that it is stable and infinite. In fact, it is fragile, held together by frogs eggs and gossamer threads. The recent heatwaves in North America, wildfires across the globe, including here, remind us of the inevitable consequences of shattering the earth’s system. No amount of political spin or hubris-driven self-assurance will put a shattered eco-system back together.

People are fragile too. Our culture talks too much about independence, resilience, and self-reliance. Such talk makes people feel like they must be strong and impervious. Many assume that others can and should take whatever they dish out. Yet the truth is that some who seem to have it all together are holding on by their fingernails.

If we understood one another’s fragility, we would be more kind.

Peace,
Peter+

 

Monday 5th July, 2021
NAIDOC Week

This week is NAIDOC week.
The theme for the Week in 2021 is Heal Country.
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We are invited to recognise that the wisdom possessed by the First Nations people of this land, a wisdom that recasts our understanding of our relationship with and to land, provides us with a way of dealing with the ecological and climate catastrophes that have been manufactured by our current approach to land. It is a week for dedicating ourselves to listening.
 

Look up, my people,
The dawn is breaking,
The world is waking

To a new bright day,
When none defame us,
No restriction tame us,
Nor colour shame us,

Nor sneer dismay.

Now brood no more

On the years behind you,
The hope assigned you

Shall the past replace,
When a juster justice
Grown wise and stronger
Points the bone no longer

At a darker race.

So long we waited
Bound and frustrated,
Till hate be hated

And caste deposed;
Now light shall guide us,
No goal denied us,

And all doors open

That long were closed.

See plain the promise,
Dark freedom-lover!
Night’s nearly over,

And though long the climb,
New rights will greet us,

New mateship meet us,
And joy complete us

In our new Dream Time.

To our fathers’ fathers
The pain, the sorrow;

To our children’s children
The glad tomorrow.
                   A Song of Hope, Oodgeroo Noonuccal.

Peace,

Peter+

Monday 28th June, 2021
Coming of the Light

This Thursday, 1 July, is the 150th anniversary of The Coming of the Light to the Torres Strait Islands.

A Reflection from the Anglican Board of Mission, Australia:

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The London Missionary Society with Melanesian leaders landed on the shores of Darnley Island and introduced the Bible to the people who lived there. This event, The Coming of the Light, is an integral part of cultural identity to Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is marked as a public holiday within the region and there is much joy around its anniversary. It is also an important anniversary for the national Anglican church, hence its being in our lectionary.

The Coming of the Light invites us to reflect on our national history, on the good and the bad. It invites us to celebrate mission and ministry, particularly within the Torres Strait, and it invites us to listen to the church in the Torres Strait, which is made up of vibrant communities of hope.

In 2020, the Melanesian Brotherhood established a household on Thursday Island. The Melanesian Brotherhood is the world’s largest Anglican religious order and is headquartered in the Solomon Islands. The Brothers will live and minister at the cathedral on Thursday Island, nurturing community and supporting clergy and lay ministers across the islands of the Torres Strait.

The Anglican Church of Australia faces many challenges, and in the words of the Rev’d Canon Victor Joseph, it is time for the church to be “missioned to” by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian leaders. The church in the Torres Strait has much to teach the church around Australia, much salt and light to offer. The Coming of the Light is not simply an historic event, it is an invitation for all of us to be changed by the work of God in the Torres Strait.

St John’s will be hosting an event to celebrate this anniversary on Sunday 4th July at 2pm.

Peace,
Peter+

Monday 21st June, 2021
Refugee Week

On 1st May 1517 the streets of London erupted. Angry locals attacked immigrants and looted their homes. Thomas More was the deputy sheriff of London at the time. He tried to protect the immigrants by reasoning with the crowd. The day came to be known as Evil May Day.

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In the late 16th Century William Shakespeare and two collaborators sought to bring prominence to the story. They wrote a play called The Book of Sir Thomas More. Shakespeare was responsible for penning a pro-immigrant speech which is placed on the lips of More. The original hand written manuscript of the speech is the only piece of writing existing in Shakespeare’s hand.

The authorities at the time banned the book and prevented the play from being performed for fear that its pro-immigrant stance would stir up resentment. The book was banned for 400 years.

Here is part of the speech Shakespeare wrote:
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding tooth ports and costs for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you. You had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.
                          Sir Thomas More: Act 2, Scene 4

Shakespeare invites the reader to stand in the shoes of the despised immigrant.
What if it were you seeking asylum?

This week is Refugee Week.
The challenges remain unchanged.

Peace,
Peter+

Monday 7th June, 2021
PTSD (Land Forces Expo II)

Hi,
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge…

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Hi,
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.*
Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est

* Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori = It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. (Horace)

This week I am still reeling from the fact that last week Brisbane was host to the Land Forces Expo, a trade fair for weapons.

I am not against having a defence force, but as US President Eisenhower warned in his farewell speech at the end of his presidency in 1961, to have an armaments industry that is driven by the profit motive and the need to grow businesses destabilises the world rather than making it a safer place.

This week’s poem was written by Wilfred Owen, one of the soldier poets, who responded to the carnage of World War I by writing poetry that stripped away the romanticism of war. Owen was himself treated for shell shock, which we now call PTSD, during the war. He was killed in action just one week before the war ended. The poem is stark in its imagery.

June is PTSD awareness month. Owen and his colleagues want us to remember that war is incredibly costly in human terms. We still have PTSD sufferers in our midst who served in World War II and Korea.

The Land Forces Expo received funding from the government, public money.

We say we value peace, but I have never heard of our governments funding a peace expo.

Blessed are the peacemakers….

Peace,
Peter+

Wednesday 2nd June, 2021
The Land Forces Expo I

This week Brisbane is hosting the Land Forces Expo.

Largely unadvertised to the public the Expo is a three-day market selling weapons and military support services.

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This week Brisbane is hosting the Land Forces Expo. Largely unadvertised to the public the Expo is a three-day market selling weapons and military support services.

It is happening despite there having been no public conversation about our involvement in the international arms trade.

At the end of his two-term presidency of the USA in 1961, Dwight D Eisenhower, a former General, tried to warn his nation about the potential effects of what he labelled the Military-Industrial Complex. The Military-Industrial Complex is made up of companies that specialise in making and selling weapons. Like all businesses they want to grow. To grow they need people to use their weapons. Eisenhower could see how this market driven approach to weaponry could lead to an increased likelihood of armed conflict.

Eisenhower noted that before the World War II most armaments had been produced on an as needs basis by companies that manufactured sewing machines and other products for civilian use. These would turn their hand to making weapons when a conflict broke out in much the same way that several engineering companies have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic by retooling to make ventilators. Eisenhower’s words were not heeded and so the Industrial-Military Complex has grown. Large portions of the world have been destabilised.

Our Federal Government has the aim of making Australia one of the top ten producers of armaments in the world. The Land Forces Expo is part of promoting this expansion.

The Land Forces Expo is being held against the backdrop of our withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Afghan conflict is numbered by Australian academic, Henry Reynolds, amongst the list of Australia’s ‘unnecessary wars’. Reynolds contends that our leaders are far too willing to send our service personnel into conflicts. He says they use war, which has long term consequences, for short-term political gain.

The allegations that war crimes were committed by service personnel in Afghanistan remind us that war is a shadowy place. A place we should be reticent to send people. Too easily the rest of us allow our defence force personnel to go into places we would not go ourselves.

Siegfried Sassoon was a soldier and one of the World War I poets. The war poets were highly critical of the way leaders and people alike tend to treat war in a trivialised way:
You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go[1].

To the politicians Sassoon said:
Go round the soldiers’ cemeteries; and then
Talk of our noble sacrifice and losses
To the wooden crosses…[2]

Sassoon also wrote of the ‘impotent old friends’ sitting ‘snug at the club’ talking about how lucky their sons were to be at war.[3]

June is PTSD Awareness Month. We still have amongst us veterans for World War II and Vietnam who are living with PTSD, and increasing numbers produced through our involvement in Afghanistan. The human cost is high and long-felt.

And yet here we are aiming to become one of the top ten producers of armaments in the world and hosting a weapons Expo.

On the sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that the peacemakers are blessed, and the writer of Isaiah had a vision of swords being beaten into ploughshares. The presence of this Expo in our midst and our government’s ambitions  for our armaments industry suggest that we are a long way from achieving that vision.

[1] Siegfried Sassoon, Suicide in The Trenches, http://www.greatwar.nl/children/suicide.html

[2] http://jamesmanlow.com/siegried-sassoon-first-world-war-poems/

[3] Siegfried Sassoon, The Fathers in Counter-Attack and Other Poems, 1918. https://www.bartleby.com/136/10.html

Peace,
Peter+

Monday 31st May, 2021
Trinity Sunday

Hi,
On a tranquil night, in deep silence
my boat softly glided onto the immense Ocean…

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Hi,
On a tranquil night, in deep silence
my boat softly glided onto the immense Ocean.
All was resting under the vault of the heavens
and seemed attentive to the great voice of God.
But suddenly great waves arose
and the fragile vessel disappeared beneath them.

It was the TRINITY which drew me to itself.
There I found my centre in the divine abyss.
I shall no longer be seen on the shore.
I dive into the Infinite, there is my portion.
My soul rests in this immensity
and lives with “the THREE” as if in eternity.
                                                   Elizabeth of Dijon

Sunday was Trinity Sunday, the day when we celebrate God, as three and one:
Father, Son and Holy Spirit or
Source of All Being, Eternal Word and Holy Spirt or
Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.

The idea of God being three and one has, down the years, led to some very complex theological writing. It takes a lot of head space to get around he idea that One can be three and three can be one.

Elizabeth of Dijon reminds us that the church came to the idea of God being a Trinity though experience, and she calls us back to that appreciation. As her poem suggests, if we give ourselves over to experience, particularly the experience of prayerful attending, then we are far more likely to ‘get’ God, despite God continuing to be a mystery.

Peace,
Peter+

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