‘God with us’ Christmas Sermon 2014

The audio recording of the sermon (which should bear some similarity to the speaking notes which follow!). Happy Christmas! :-)

Christmas Sermon: God with us: Comfort in risk taking. Do I follow? St David’s Cathedral 2014

Bible reading, The Gospel according to John 1:1-14

What joy! What happiness as we gather to worship this day: this very, very special day.

It is a time of joy, celebration, fun and unexpected discoveries. The centre of our attention is the baby Jesus.

Following last Tuesday’s media interviews here in the Cathedral, in front of our Nativity scene, a TV cameraman asked me to step aside so that he could take film footage of the Nativity. I, of course, understand why the cameraman preferred the manger to my best looking self!

But, suddenly a cry rang out, “Where’s the baby (Jesus)?” The cameraman was pointing at the empty crib! I thought, “Oh, no! We’ve lost the baby Jesus! And the media are here to report it!”

But then, salvation! I remembered: it was still 2 days before Christmas Day (we were still in the season of Advent) and the Baby Jesus had not yet been born. It’s Ok. We have not lost the baby. All will be well. We went in search of Dean (of the Cathedral) and asked if he could find the baby Jesus in order to take the filming.

Ruth, the Cathedral Administrator, kindly produced the baby Jesus who was filmed in the crib before being returned to a secret place. – I might add that I still do not know of the whereabouts of the baby’s secret lodgings as the Dean does not trust he bishop with such secrets! J

Ah, the fun and joy of Christmas! The baby Jesus appeared here last night in our Nativity scene. Praise God!

CHRISTMAS IS JOY.

Christmas is the joy of God with us. God is with us in the Baby of Bethlehem. The Christmas accounts sing this wonderful message; this love story: “God with us”. In our reading from the Gospel according to John we heard those profound words, “and the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us … full of grace and truth”. (John 1:14) What joy that the God of all glory and greatness comes to be with us, His creation! This is astounding!

To ‘be with’ someone is at the centre of relationships, of our human life. There is something special about being with one another. In a time of need it is particularly special when someone is with us.

This week I spoke with parents whose child spent 92 days in hospital. The parents rearranged their life so that one of them would be at the child’s bedside every one of those 92 nights. Do you think their child appreciated this – that his parents were with him? You betcha’ he did! They were with him.

In the same way, I am sure that you can recall times when someone was with you. And I am sure that you can also recall times when you have been with someone. To ‘be with’ is to share life, a moment, times, this season of life. ‘God with us’ shares our life, in fact, every moment of our life.

This identification of God with us, of ‘the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ is at the heart of our Christmas. It gives abundant reason to celebrate, to party, to thank God for the One who is full of ‘grace and truth’ who is God with us.

At the heart of the Bible’s account of the birth of Jesus is that God has had compassion on his people and done something about it: God has become human and has fully identified himself with his people. The birth of Jesus is the ultimate sign of God’s love for us.

Yes, firstly, CHRISTMAS IS JOY.

Secondly, CHRISTMAS IS LOVE’S COST.

The flight of the Holy family into Egypt (Mt 2:13-18) shows the drama of God’s costly love for this chaotic and damaged world.

Recall that the angels have sung praises to God for his extravagant love and yet human evil causes the flight of that very Love.  Emmanuel, God with us, is forced to flee from the very ones He came to help!

God’s love in the Incarnation, in the birth of the vulnerable Baby of Bethlehem, is of course quite extraordinary, indeed, quite outrageous!

A sincere non-Christian said to me of the Incarnation, “Bishop, it’s crazy!” I agreed with him, “Yes, I agree. If I was God I wouldn’t have done it!” But, God did do it. God in love lived among us.

This is awesome! God: Creator, Sustainer, Majesty on High, Lord, King of Kings, Sovereign Ruler, God of all glory.

All this speaks of God’s greatness and glory, and yet God decided to not just live with us, but to become one of us.

This is truly awesome and we rightly worship God.

For our each one of us, gathered here in this afternoon: what does this mean? Will we worship this One? Will we follow Him?

Thirdly, CHRISTMAS GIVES DIGNITY TO HUMANITY.

The coming of God to be with us as a human being, the Incarnation, demonstrates that each and every girl and boy, man and woman, is dignified, is honoured, is precious, is worthy of respect, and is of the uttermost value.

And this dignity is given to everyone. Unfortunately, at times we are tempted to consider that some people are less worthy than other people.

Do you recall to whom God sent the angel choir on that Christmas night? Yes, to the shepherds! In those days shepherds were social outcasts.   Australian scholar Leon Morris says it this way, [Leon Morris, Luke, IVP London, 1974, p.84],

“As a class shepherds had a bad reputation. The nature of their calling prevented them from observing the ceremonial law which meant so much to religious people. More regrettable was their habit of confusing “mine” with “thine” as they moved about the country. They were considered unreliable and were not allowed to give testimony in the law-court. . . . they did come from a despised class”

God in love sent the angelic choir to these social outcasts; not the Village mayor. Not the Governor but to those on the margins of society.

We are to treat all people with honour, worth, dignity and respect. And that includes people fleeing from persecution!

Each and every person is precious to God. Each and every person should be precious to us, and our Government, also.

Thirdly, then, Christmas gives dignity to humanity.

Fourthly, CHRISTMAS IS INVITATION: God’s invitation to “Come on home!”: for us to be with God.

At Christmas, in the Incarnation, God puts up His ‘Welcome’ sign. God takes the risk of inviting us all into the safety, security and sustenance of His embrace, His eternal home. God took the risk of inviting us into His family.

But just as the Holy Family was rejected by the rulers and had to flee to Egypt for safety, so also, some people reject Christ and members of Christ’s followers today.

Yes, brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering for their faith in Christ even as we worship on this Christmas morning.

If we understand this how can we be indifferent to the plight of our fellow Christians? That which we can celebrate at this time of the year is a matter of life and death in other parts of the world.

I might add that the Western world’s indifference to this suffering is a scandal. (More information is available at #wearen, the Barnabas Fund and The Vicar of Baghdad.)

We should indeed be remembering all who suffer persecution and injustice. This leads us to ask some difficult questions about our own nation at this time.

For the child, whose birth in Bethlehem we celebrate grew up in Nazareth and then called people to follow him in ways of truth, justice, purity, service and self-giving.

To be a Christian is to be a follower of Jesus.

Do you follow?

How are we as a Christian community, as families as individuals, following Jesus in truth, in justice; in purity of life; in service; in self-giving and in worship?

Can we follow God’s way of invitation; of welcome and let love make a way for being with people, including difficult people, including asylum seekers?

Love carries risk, and it is the risk that the Divine Lover takes.

God took the risk of becoming human that we might experience true love but sadly we humans have not responded well to the divine invitation, to God’s welcome. Indeed at the very birth of the Baby of Bethlehem, there was welcome neither in the Inn nor in the Holy Family’s home province.

In the face of problems does God withdraw His invitation to us? No, God’s invitation continues to be extended to us, even amidst difficulties and disappointments.

Can we follow God’s way of invitation, of welcome, and let love make a way for asylum seekers?

Can risk-taking love prevail in Australia today? – Of course it can, and we are here to say and to do so.

Today we celebrate the joy of God’s love in Christ.

Today we celebrate God’s costly love.

Today celebrate the dignity of all girls and boys, men and women.

Today we celebrate Christ’s invitation and welcome to all people.

Today we celebrate our commitment to follow Christ.

Today we celebrate God who dwells with us.

Happy Christmas!

Bishop John Harrower

NOTE: As you came to the Cathedral for worship this morning did you notice the Christmas sign?

The Cathedral sign encourages us to ask: Firstly, what does the sign mean? And, secondly, having determined that the sign refers to following Jesus, to ask, do I follow Jesus?

At the heart of the sign is the letter (N) ن in arabic script, equivalent to the letter “N” in the English language script. This “N” sign has become a symbol of persecuted Christians throughout the Middle East. How did this sign become well known?

Thankyou.God@Christmas

Laughter, excitement, conversation, a jumping castle, donkey rides, BBQ lunch, Christmas pudding, gifts – all saying “Thank you”! Truly, a fun filled ‘Bishop’s Christmas Party’.

This annual event, initiated by my wife, is an occasion to thank and honour the Tasmanian Anglican Ministers.

In providing a Christmas celebration for the whole family, and especially the children, we seek to recognise the dedication and sacrifice of the families throughout the year. This honours the adults in front of their children and gives opportunity amidst the excitement to publicly say, “Thank you.”

Saying, “Thank you” builds one another into the individuals and community that God desires.

The Christmas season is a ‘Thank you Season’. We thank God for coming to live among us.

The enormity of God’s love is overwhelming. I cannot begin to imagine such love: love so amazing, so divine, unmerited favour, amazing grace. How privileged to be so honoured by the Divine Lover, God Himself!

I do not know if God’s decision to come to earth as a baby was an easy or a difficult decision. What I do know, however, is that it was a very costly decision for God. Moreover, I know that I am grateful beyond words to God for this act of love.

It takes time and planning to say “Thank you” (just ask my Bride about the Christmas Party!) and so we, too, must plan and take time to thank God.

In my Christmas schedule, I have set aside time to thank God for coming into this messy world. I place “Thank you, God” time in my schedule.

Please join me in setting aside time this Christmas to thank God for the miracle of Divine Love in the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.

Shalom,

Bishop John :-)

PS Also take time to say “Thank you” to one another. :-)

Love makes a way: Christians for asylum seekers

Sermon at ‘Love makes a way’ – St David’s Cathedral Hobart, Sunday 21 December 2014. The audio version is, here.

A Service of Hope: Christians together for Asylum Seekers

Bible readings: Matthew 2:13-18 (the Holy Family’s escape to Egypt) & Revelation 21:1,3-5

The flight of the Holy family into Egypt (Mt 2:13-18) shows the drama of God’s love for this chaotic and damaged world.

The angels have sung praises to God for his extravagant love and yet human evil causes the flight of that Love. Emmanuel, God with us is forced to flee persecution!

God’s love in the Incarnation, in the birth of the vulnerable Baby of Bethlehem, is of course quite extraordinary, indeed, quite outrageous!

A sincere non-Christian said to me of the Incarnation, “Bishop, it’s crazy!”

I agreed with him, “Yes, I agree. If I was God I wouldn’t have done it!”

But, God did do it. God in love lived among us.

This is truly awesome! God: Creator, Sustainer, Majesty on High, Lord, King of Kings, Sovereign Ruler, God of all glory. All this speaks of God’s greatness and glory, and yet God decided to not just live with us, but to become one of us. This is truly awesome and we rightly worship God.

For our each one of us, gathered here in this afternoon: what does this mean?

What does the Incarnation, God born as human, mean for us?

Firstly, the Incarnation gives dignity to humanity.

The Incarnation demonstrates that each and every girl and boy, man and woman, is dignified, is honoured, is precious, is worthy of respect, and is of the uttermost value.

And this dignity is given to everyone.

Unfortunately, at times we are tempted to consider that some people are less worthy than other people.

Do you recall to whom God sent the angel choir on that Christmas night? Yes, it was the shepherds!

In those days shepherds were social outcasts.   Australian scholar Leon Morris says it this way, [L Morris, Luke, IVP London, 1974, p.84],

“As a class shepherds had a bad reputation. The nature of their calling prevented them from observing the ceremonial law which meant so much to religious people. More regrettable was their habit of confusing “mine” with “thine” as they moved about the country. They were considered unreliable and were not allowed to give testimony in the law-court. . . . they did come from a despised class”

But God in love sent the angelic choir to these social outcasts; not the Village mayor. Not the Governor but to those on the margins of society.

We are to treat all people with honour, worth, dignity and respect. And that includes people fleeing from persecution! Each and every person is precious to God. Each and every person should be precious to us, and our Government, also.

Firstly, then, the Incarnation gives dignity to humanity.

Secondly, the Incarnation is invitation: God’s invitation to “Come home!”

In the Incarnation, God puts up His ‘Welcome’ sign.

God takes the risk of inviting us all into the safety, security and sustenance of His embrace, His eternal home.

God took the risk of inviting us into His family.

Can we follow God’s way of invitation, of welcome and let love make a way for asylum seekers?

Love carries risk, and it is the risk that the Divine Lover takes.

God took the risk of becoming human that we might experience true love but sadly we humans have not responded well to the divine invitation, to God’s welcome.

Indeed at the very birth of the Baby of Bethlehem, there was welcome neither in the Inn nor in the Holy Family’s home province.

Fleeing persecution, the Holy family sought asylum in another country: in Egypt.

In the face of problems did God withdraw His invitation to us? No, God’s invitation continues to be extended to us, even amidst difficulties and disappointments.

Can we follow God’s way of invitation, of welcome, and let love make a way for asylum seekers?

Can risk-taking love prevail in Australia tody? – Of course it can, and we are here today to make it happen! We commit to pray and work for love to make a way for asylum seekers.

Today we will ring the Cathedral bells to sound out God’s love in Christ.

Today we will ring the Cathedral bells to sound out the dignity of asylum seekers.

Today we will ring the Cathedral bells to sound out Christians’ invitation and welcome to asylum seekers.

Today we will ring the Cathedral bells to sound out that love makes a way. Amen.

John Harrower, Bishop of Tasmania

NOTE: There is no Temporary Protection Visa in God’s kingdom. God’s invitation and welcome is to an eternal home.

Tasmanian Anglican Articles – December 2014

In the December issue of the Tasmanian Anglican, which is available to view online, I talk about giving ‘Thanks’.  It is about taking time to say ‘Thank You’ and to also remember to take time to thank God for the miracle of Divine Love in the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. You can read more of my article here.

Other articles included in this issue:

 

Chinese Ministry 25th Anniversary Service 16.11.14

What a privilege and pleasure to have Chinese Brothers and Sisters in Christ in the Anglican family in Hobart and Tasmania.

Now for a quarter of a century, from the beginnings in the Parish of Holy Trinity, North Hobart, to the current ministry at the Trinity Centre at Wellspring Anglican, Sandy Bay, Hobart, the Chinese congregation has been faithful in reaching out with the life-changing Gospel of Christ.

They have followed the way of Christ, reaching out and offering hospitality to students and other Chinese-speaking members of our community.  Within the growing global community of Chinese Christians, this congregation in Hobart has made its contribution of evangelism and discipleship.

Our life as an Anglican Diocese has been enriched through their sharing in the ministry and mission of God’s Church.

I, personally, have had the joy of worshipping with the Brothers and Sisters of this congregation, hearing testimonies of faith, and sharing the joy of baptisms and confirmations.  The opportunity to share with the three Chinese pastors – Jacob, Pang, and Michael – and their families has been valuable to me and a great encouragement.

Like all mature congregations, the Chinese ministry has faced its difficulties.  Many members face the tyranny of distance from loved ones.  The development of understanding by Hobart locals sometimes happens slowly, but it has happened.  The need to support those who have been part of the community, but have now left Hobart, remains a burden for prayer.

In the midst of this, it is clear that the mission of the Chinese congregation flows from the heart of God.  Their participation in this mission of love and salvation is done with great dedication and joy.

As Bishop I thank them for their passion and commitment, and for being faithful to being “in Tasmania” for Jesus.  I can testify to the fruit of their ministry, and what a wonderful encouragement that is to us all!

With this 25th anniversary history we can look back and rejoice at the faithfulness of our Saviour, and look forward with prayer and joy to the One who is the Hope of all nations.

Praise Jesus’ Name!

See Wellspring Chinese Minister, The Revd Michael Chau, here. Chinese language information here.

Note: The words above comes from my ‘Welcome’ in the 25th Anniversary Book distributed at the Anniversary Service on 16 November 2014 at the Wellspring Anglican Church, Sandy Bay in Hobart.

Sermon for Retired Clergy

Canon David Lewis shared this sermon recently at the Southern retired Clergy luncheon and with his permission I would like to share it with you.

Popular, some years ago, especially for those times when we sing ‘songs’, was the one which had the verse “be still and know that I am God”. It is sung three times, before moving to verse two.  Calming, gentle, nice, and yet as is often the case, only half the story.

The words come from Psalm 46, which we have just said, and come in the midst of the battle, as an encouragement: to think on the truth that God is with us, — and as St Paul says (Romans 8:13 ) “If God is for us, who can be against us? !!”.

Paul goes on then to list some of the things that are against us, things that might separate us from God’s love, from Christ’s presence. (Note: (Separate) us from God. Not God from us, He is always with us!!).  Things that might cloud our realisation, our faith, that God is for us: things, (life’s happenings) such as: affliction, hardships, persecutions, hunger, danger,…his list goes on – for the battle we call life: goes on!

“Be still” in the midst of the battle, and remember: reassure ourselves that God is God, and God is with us, God is for us.

You can find the full sermon here.

Leaders and Followers

This blog is from an article written by James Oakley (Leaders and followers – equipping our children).

I want to raise my children to live well in community. I’m not willing to buy into the prevailing cultural notion of the rugged individualist. The Jack Bauer/John McClane/John Rebus type of character, who beats the system as well as the bad guys, is fine in fiction, but it’s not real life.

No, I want to raise my children so that they can live well and lead well in community with others. I was struck the other day, while listening to a recording of a talk given by Tim Hawkins, by the link that he draws between becoming a good leader and being a good follower. He even titled his talk ‘followership’, describing this as the missing key to great leadership. To become a great leader, it is necessary to be a good follower. To lead others well, you need to be able to model how to follow well. Living well in community with others involves the ability to submit to the leadership of others in that community.

Now there are a whole host of objections that sprang to mind when I was listening to this. I was thinking about poor leadership, or evil leadership. (And in this context I was hardly thinking at all about any current federal governments that happened to be governing the country.) I was wondering what he would say about when human leadership conflicts with God’s rule. Working through scriptures such as Romans 13 and Acts 4, Tim answered these objections.

Firstly
, it is prayerful. Imagine that your church leadership is considering a change in the arrangements for Sunday morning children’s ministry – a change that you’re unhappy with. A good follower will respond humbly and prayerfully to a leadership decision that he or she does not like. After all, we’re human and we make mistakes. We don’t always have the whole picture. I was challenged to approach God humbly, asking that he address my heart and attitudes. I must make room for the possibility that the decision is in accordance with God’s will, and that I need to change! Contrast this with a rebellious response, which will either ignore prayer entirely, or will pray asking God to change the decision or the leader!

Secondly, good followers listen. Having prayed, I might think that I’m still right and the leader is wrong. If I am properly submitting to authority I will respectfully ask the leader to explain, and will listen to the reasons for the decision, genuinely trying to understand. Again, look at the contrast with a rebellious response: the rebel is trying to gather ammunition for the coming fight, and trying to think up counter arguments.

Thirdly, a good follower will present his or her opinion. What if I am still convinced that the decision is poor? Then I will speak with those in leadership with as much persuasiveness, passion, reason, evidence and conviction that I can muster. I will advocate for the course of action that I am convinced is right. But I will do so with respect, and will avoid personal attacks. The rebel, by contrast, will speak about those in leadership. Their attack is directed at the leader, rather than the decision.

Finally, a good follower will either submit to the decision, working for the goals established by the leader, or will respectfully and peacefully withdraw. Even if I am convinced that I was right, my choices are to either support the decision, or to pull out of the involvement I had, acknowledging that right of the leaders to lead! A rebel continues the white ant campaign, and may even actively work against the decision.

This is a brief sketch, which would need adapting for different circumstances, but I hope that you can see the principles underlying it.

To read more of this article, please go to: Leaders and followers – Equipping our children

Of titles and character

‘Congratulations!’

I recently congratulated a friend upon his election to a new community role by commenting, ‘Congratulations! You have been collecting new titles with alacrity!’

His response, ‘I have a few titles. They come and go-but character is what really matters.’

What a wonderful response!

Titles can be fun: ‘The Right Reverend’ and ‘The Very Reverend’ are titles which raise a smile at their degree of overstatement. Surely being ‘reverend’ is sufficiently grand, if not challenging!

Moreover, if this one is ‘the right reverend’, where is ‘the wrong reverend’ or where is the ‘Not-so Very Reverend’, and who of these persons would we want to invite home?

Titles are important designations of leadership and responsibility. We are urged to pray for our leaders both within, and without, the Church.

Leadership will only fully fulfil its roles and responsibilities when infused with life-giving character. Character infuses life into leadership and life into the community.

We are not alone when seeking to strengthen our character.

Firstly, the Holy Spirit is at work within each and every follower of Jesus Christ. The work of the Holy Spirit is that of transforming followers into the likeness and image of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 3:12-18)

This is God’s will for us. (Philippians 1:6) We are being chipped away at or, more Biblically speaking, we are ‘being transformed by’ God, the Holy Spirit. Truly amazing!

Do you recall the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our character?

See Galatians 5:22,23: ‘love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ What a blessing!

Secondly, the Christian community is called to exhort and encourage one another in love and good works and so to grow the character of each and every member of the Body of Christ.

Thirdly, intentional character formation is aided by the intentional ministry of mature Christians who come alongside and assist in giving focus to the Holy Spirit’s work in the Christian’s life. This is often referred to today as mentoring: Christian mentoring. A definition (note 1):

Within intentional, empowering, unique relationships, Christian mentoring identifies and promotes the work of God’s Spirit in others’ lives, assisting them to access God’s resources for their growth and strength in spirituality, character and ministry.

Like my friend I can say,  ‘I have a few titles. They come and go – but character is what really matters.’

Thus we are all called to strive and pray:

Transforming Holy Spirit, work in my life and strengthen me to keep in step with your work in my life, that I may be being transformed into the image of Christ. Amen.

Shalom,

+ John
Bishop of Tasmania

Note 1:  A book by an Australian author which I have found to be very helpful is: Rick Lewis, Mentoring Matters, Monarch Books, Oxford, UK, 2009. Note 1 is on page 20.

WV Director’s Field Visit: Australia Program

WORLD VISION AUSTRALIA BOARD MEMBER’S FIELD VISIT

AUSTRALIA PROGRAM TEAM MEETING AND WARLPIRI COMMUNITY AT WILLOWRA,  NT

Bishop John and Mrs Gayelene Harrower, 21-27 August 2014

Our initial contact with the members of the Australia Program occurred on the Thursday evening of their week long gathering in Alice Springs. It was an easy introduction with valuable time spent in conversation.

During Friday, plenary and small group work canvassed work issues and the challenge of building comprehensive knowledge and communications across the length and breadth of Australia: a not insignificant issue. I participated in a governance panel discussion along with staff who specialise in governance in indigenous communities: a learning opportunity for me. Clearly, the regular gathering of the Australia Program team is strategic.

The Bruderhof Community from Elsmore NSW are keen supporters of the Australia Program and four of their members attended the gathering on Thursday and Friday. Their enthusiasm for the Australia Program is palpable and grounded in prayer, presence and financial generosity. The Bruderhof Community’s partnership with World Vision is also significant for our Christian foundations and engagement with the Church.

I spoke at the Alice Springs’ Anglican Church at the Sunday Morning Worship Services and the Parish hosted an afternoon World Vision information time where Liz Mackinlay, Liz Mullen and I spoke of the work. I am proud to say that the Anglican afternoon tea demonstrated generosity in abundance! :-)

Monday and Tuesday we spent with the Warlpiri Community at Willowra, a 4½ hour drive from Alice Springs. A key to the Early Childhood Care and Development project in which World Vision has been invited to partner, is the Reference Group of Yappa (Indigenous Women) to guide this work. The skills and advocacy capacity will then be applied to other areas of their community life. At the Early Learning Centre we observed a meeting of the Reference Group.  Our experience was enlightening, to say the least, and I must say that Project Facilitator Robyn Wagner’s gifting in capacity building was exemplary.

The evening campfire gathered the community and we shared food and chatted as the children played, camp dogs wandered and the wild donkeys brayed. A special time.

Travel for hours along dirt roads is hazardous and one of our tyres had given up the struggle on the journey to Willowra. Annette Fuller, ably assisted by Liz Mackinlay, changed the damaged tyre on our vehicle .
Changing a TyreOn Tuesday morning at the Early Learning Centre we joined about 12 children, some mothers and staff in the Playgroup.  The respect and acceptance of the three WVA staff: Annette, Robyn and Liz, was evidenced by their being greeted by the Yappa with their ‘skin names’. Of course, being related has its consequences. As Liz is a ‘daughter’ to one of the women, her ‘mother’ ordered her into the kitchen to make damper! We all benefited from this ‘skin name’ relationship at morning tea! :-)

Time travelling around Willowra allowed further glimpses of community life. I mentioned one item on Facebook and Twitter: “Just heard Qantas are upgrading Q Club Lounges. I expect the Willowra Q Club is on their list. :-)” It drew some interest!Willowra airport and Qantas Lounge

My comment sought to point to the challenges of remoteness and the necessity for capacity building in order that indigenous communities, in the pursuit of their hopes and dreams, determine the participation of stakeholders..

Upon reflection, the Warlpiri culture is so utterly different to anything we had encountered. One of the attributes that struck us was their gentleness and delightful sense of humour.

However, they have been, and continue to be, disorientated and dispirited by constant changes in Government policy and practice. We were told that each new Government throws out its predecessor’s policies and pours more millions of dollars into their own “great” new ideas and solutions. Tragically, little if any time is spent taking time to sit, wait and ask the community what are their hopes, dreams and needs. It takes a long time for trust to grow and dare I suggest that Governments like to make media headlines with their new policies and then stop 3 or 5 years later and the policies change. It is clearly a very slow process which is so foreign to the majority culture’s way.

Mistrust has tragic results: frustration, apathy, anger, withdrawal, which all makes subsequent engagements less likely to succeed.

We were very impressed with the World Vision staff who are clearly committed to patiently being with and walking beside indigenous Australians for the welfare of the children and their communities.

May this good work bring life in all its fullness to the original custodians of this vast and precious land.

Shalom,

Bishop John Harrower
30 August 2014

See also my World Vision Australia Director’s Field Visit to the Solomon Islands in 2010 to participate in the delivery of a Channels of Hope for Gender Program to reduce domestic violence. Solomon Islands: Media brief.  http://imaginarydiocese.org/bishopjohn/2012/10/23/solomon-islands-media-brief/

Mary Meets Mohammad: Review & Curriculum Guide

James Oakley worked as a lawyer with Legal Aid prior to his current role as the Children and Young Families Ministry Co-ordinator with the Anglican Church in Tasmania. I am grateful to James for reviewing both the documentary film and its Curriculum/Study Guide. James’ review:

There is a magical moment midway through the film Mary Meets Mohammad. Mohammad had already told much of the story of his time in immigration detention, but because cameras were not allowed in Pontville Detention Centre, we never saw his face. Midway through the film, Mohammad tells us how one of the guards says to him:

‘You’re going to freedom. You have your bridging visa. You’ve got half an hour – go and pack your bag.’

As Mohammad relays his awe and amazement at his release, his face fades into focus for the first time.

Mary Meets Mohammad is a film that gives human faces to the asylum seeker controversy in Australia. Mohammad and his Hazara friends in Pontville Tasmania lend their faces and names to the thousands of others who have fled persecution in their homelands – those thousands of men, women and children who are known to officialdom by their boat number and to the Australian public as statistics. Through Mohammad’s eyes, the viewer experiences something of the human cost of Australia’s asylum seeker policies – a cost paid in mental health, isolation, demonization and despair.

But Mohammad’s is not the only human face in the documentary. The viewer also meets Mary – a Christian pensioner whose attitudes and fears are echoed in countless homes, clubs, social groups and workplaces throughout Australia. Mary gives a human face to the many ‘ordinary Australians’ who feel threatened and disempowered by the perception of an influx of asylum seekers. The magic in Mary’s story is more gradual and more subtle, as her contact with Mohammad slowly releases her bonds of fear and unfamiliarity. Mary’s face shows her heart as it softens and warms towards asylum seekers generally and Mohammad in particular.

Not all people respond as Mary does, and we meet a number of ‘ordinary Australians’ whose views on Australia’s asylum policy are still governed by anxiety and misinformation. The strength of the film here is its capacity to evoke sympathy for these people, who lend their faces to those whose fears we might otherwise dismiss as mere bigotry.

Last year Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM) released a Curriculum/Study Guide to help schools use Mary Meets Mohammad in their teaching. The guide provides helpful ways to use the film in studies of history, geography, society, government and politics, civic values, and English. The curriculum guide provides much helpful information about the legal, geopolitical and historical background to the asylum seeker issue, and gives numerous links to useful sources and authorities on the issue. The curriculum deals with this in a factually sound and politically neutral manner, encouraging teachers and students to evaluate for themselves the facts of the issue and their responses to it. I would think that churches that wanted to grapple with this complex issue would be assisted greatly by both the film and the accompanying curriculum.

*Links to Mary Meets Mohammad  and the Curriculum/Study Guide.

I, Bishop John, attended the Premiere of the Film. See my Review: Mary Meets Mohammad.