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Thank you to the students and staff who contributed to the School Christmas Service. It featured four semi-fictional accounts from Albany's history, and three themes.
I wrote this reflection as part of the service with the prayer that the Christ of Christmas, who lives now, will break into all our lives this Christmas.
Into the daily grind of our lives
where sameness rules
- we think we can control our tomorrow
knocking at our door
you break into our lives
to scatter our complacency
and challenge us to change
Into the circle of our community
where we know and are known
knocking at our door
Change brings choices
will we shut the door to the stranger?
will we reach out our hands to welcome the stranger?
you break into our lives
to offer welcome
and challenge us to accept difference
Into the circle of our community
when we know and are known
prisoners of hunger,
prisoners of addiction,
prisoners of loneliness
knocking at our door
Change brings choices
are we free?
can we offer freedom?
you break into our lives
to offer freedom
and challenge us to set the captives free
Into the circle of our community
where we know and are known
anger turns to insults
insults turn to hatred
friends turn to foes
brothers turn to enemies
beliefs turn to bombs
knocking at our door
Change brings choices
will we repay evil with good?
can we turn enemies into friends?
you break into our lives
to offer peace
and challenge us to be peace makers
you break in
when complacency rules
with an angel's shout
or the quietest sound
you break in
in the form of the stranger
you break in
in the form of the prisoner
you break in
in the form of an enemy
you break in
and we change
all things change
when you break in
or we don't let you in
and you can't break in
and nothing changes
So you keep knocking… and knocking… and knocking…
May the Christ of Christmas bless you and your family this Christmastide.
As Christmas approaches, I am led, once again, to contemplate Christian belief in the incarnation (literally, the enfleshment of God's form in humanity).
John's prologue uses the phrase, "the Word was made flesh." This enfleshment of the Word is the unfathomable mystery and the overwhelming glory of the "divine-human fusion" found in Jesus. However, for the Christian faith to have any meaning for us today, Christ must be born in us and in our world. The enfleshment of God belongs not just in some history, but in every moment and in every place, otherwise, God has not come at all.
The enfleshment of God 2000 years ago in a completely foreign culture and time is an alien concept to the modern age. It only has meaning if the divine can somehow be enfleshed in this world now, my life now. Surely, this invasion of God, who is without space or time, into my space and my time in Jesus, is the real 'miracle' of Christmas. This miracle of the timeless and spaceless must be repeated each moment and everywhere for the message of Christmas to be real in any time and place. The unfathomable mystery and the overwhelming glory of the "divine-human fusion" found in Jesus has meaning in this moment for me or you or the world only if it is happening in the present moment.
The good news is, it is happening now, in you, if you let him. Christ is being born. Lawrence Freeman puts this in terms of our "need to become incarnate" in order to experience the transcendent, timeless, spaceless future to which our short lives are racing:
"It is not only the eternal Word that is made flesh. Time and eternity are partners in a marriage. We too need to become incarnate. Then we recognise what we are hurtling towards. We realise that what is coming towards us is also here. It is concealed in its self-revealing until we have been shaken up and transformed by the peaceful collision of Christmas."
By "becoming incarnate" I think Freeman means us living truly in this world, not in somehow going to and dwelling in separate other 'holy' place with God. No! The birth of Jesus indicates God's willingness to join us, in our space and time, not his desire that we should be removed from this tawdry world.
The birth of Jesus indicates God can only be found with us, in our space and time and in this present moment in this tawdry world and my tawdry life. The time and space in which we live is the only place we can follow Jesus to make the 'divine presence' a real presence in this world.
In this vein, Christine Sine writes in her Advent blog about welcoming Jesus at Christmas and making him part of our family's Christmas:
"But where will we welcome him? Do we really want him taking up residence in our homes or is it easier to relegate him to the stable, to see him as an outsider, not really part of the family? Seeing Jesus in an out of the way place where disreputable people like shepherds can come to worship without us having to worry about them messing up our homes makes life easy for us. We get that glow that tells us Jesus is here but there is very little commitment required of us."
This Christmas, take some beautiful and real steps in your family to welcome Jesus into your life.
This talk is given to Year Nine Homerooms to prepare students for Senior School.
"Give thanks whatever happens." (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Fears and insecurities produce stress and anxiety. We know that stresses and anxieties isolate you and stop you doing and being your best.
We know you're at your best when you can plan, focus, control your emotions, be aware of others and the situation, and be flexible and adaptive.
We know that fears stop you reaching these capabilities.
What, however, creates your ability to achieve your best? We've already looked at three:
You cannot become the person you should or could be, without these precious gifts. However, even with supportive friends and family, many teens fail to mature and grow into the man or woman they want to be. Look around. You, yourself, could name some examples of teens who are still struggling to 'grow up.'
I introduce two more protective and enabling factors to you: Compassion and Gratitude. These are gifts are already within you, but must be activated and practised by you.
Martin Seligman (positive education and psychology guru) says that scientists discovered that "doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested."
Every religion has known that the secret to a happy, fulfilling, stable life is compassion. That's why every religion in the world emphasises the practice of compassion and includes the golden rule: "treat others in the way you like to be treated."
In order to grow into your mature self, you must practise compassion. If your life becomes wrapped up in you feeling happy, satisfying your desires and achieving your goals, you will never be happy. Why? Because you will never know love and "…love cares more for others than for self… love isn't always 'me first.'" (1 Corinthians 13).
That's why you need to see and act on another's need (compassion) to be happy, because only then will your life have connection.
Connection brings both meaning and happiness. This is a need as basic as food or comfort. Think of the connection a baby's first smile brings. You may feel good when you do a kind deed for someone who appreciates what you have done for them, but be warned; don't do the kind deed out of selfish motives (to get happy or to gain advantage).
The fifth key is gratefulness. Thankfulness is the joy of receiving, while compassion is the joy of giving. Positive psychologists call gratefulness 'panning for gold.' Being grateful is also essential to maturity, because it is the other side of connection. It is responding when someone genuinely cares for you. Search for 'gratitude experiment' on YouTube to find many wonderful videos illustrating the effect of writing a letter of gratitude to someone who has supported you, then reading that letter out loud to the recipient. 
One of the practices to illustrate the positive effect of saying thank you is, according to Martin Seligman, "…to write a letter of gratitude to (someone significant in your life) and deliver it in person. The letter should be concrete and about three hundred words: be specific about what she did for you and how it affected your life…Once you have written the testimonial, call the person and tell her you'd like to visit …When you meet her, take your time reading your letter." 
Five keys to your mental health and a positive experience of growing are:
Enjoy the ride and don't forget to do random acts of kindness and stop and smell the roses on your journey.
"So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you'll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you're already doing this; just keep on doing it." 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Friends are the Best
Friends are the best. Best Friends Forever (BFFs) are even better. You are likely to make friends over the next few years who will be friends for life. Friends are essential in your journey to adulthood because you absolutely must have companions to journey with on the road to mature adulthood. Mum or Dad can't journey alongside you as a companion. However, Mum or Dad can help (or hinder) you on this journey. After all, they are already 'grown up' and have travelled the path you are now walking. Only friends are going through an experience with you for the first and only time. You don't have to explain to friends what you're going through - friends just know. Friends are in the same pit of despair as you or sharing the same mountaintop experience with you. Friends are the best because they can 'weep with those who weep' and 'rejoice with those who rejoice.'
We Need Friends When We Are Down
When worry and fear had paralysed a community of friends, St Paul wrote to them, "So speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you'll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind. I know you're already doing this; just keep on doing it." The situation was so serious that some of them had given up striving toward their common goal and stopped work altogether. Not a good idea! You or a friend may think, 'I want to give up' over the next few years. What you need is either a friend to encourage you, or you need to be a friend to offer a helping hand to another.
Friends Enable Us to Achieve Our Best
Paul's remedy for the malaise that had gripped the community? "Speak encouraging words to one another," and do it as a group. Working together builds up an ethos, not of competition but of support for one another. Only through active friendship can hope be built, and only through your group working together as a whole, will "no one be left out, no one be left behind." The educational evidence is clear: competition, because it is destructive of community, lowers individual achievement for all, whilst cooperation raises the outcomes for all students. True friends bring perspective, reality and enable you to believe in yourself.
Listen to the Bible's Advice:
"Just as iron sharpens iron, friends sharpen the minds of each other."
"How wonderful, how beautiful, when brothers and sisters get along! …Yes, that's where God commands the blessing." (Ps 133).
So, when you're with your friends, don't use your phones or Facebook or an app to communicate. You are an embodied person, in God's image. You are not your digital image. Your digital image is made in your own image. Since we humans cannot create an image of God, it is not you.
So, look your friend(s) in the eye, play, sing, exercise, communicate, recreate with them in person, not as a digital expression. The evidence is also clear: You cannot establish or maintain a friendship exclusively through digital communication. Find friend(s), be a friend, attend class together, be with your friends on breaks, work on study problems, shared questions, model answers etc… You'll discover that, as the Bible says, "By yourself you're unprotected. With a friend, you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn't easily snapped." (Ecc 4:12).
Commit yourself to say thank you to a friend today. Ask yourself: 'To whom am I a real friend?'
"Children, do what your parents tell you... God said, 'Honour your father and mother...' Parents, don't exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Lord." Ephesians 6:1-4
Mark Twain said, "When I was a boy of 14, my father knew so little I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."
Senior School years are years of growth and change into the man or woman you are becoming. One of the biggest changes is in your relationship with your parents. No doubt, you'll find yourself 'pushing away' from your parents and family. That is natural. When you start pushing away, your parents' instincts, particularly your mother's, will be to hold you tighter! Please understand that both your instincts and your parents' instincts are right and good. Your parents love you and want to keep you safe, so they need to enforce boundaries. You are right, too. You must take responsibility to shape your own life or you will never grow up. So, you and your parents need to work this out together, gently, gradually, in stages over the next few years.
The Senior School years of your life can be wonderful years of discovering that you can rely on your parents' support to face the (adult) challenges and responsibilities that now confront you. However, for that support to flow, both you and your parents need to make changes to your parent-daughter/son relationship. Although your parents still need to establish boundaries to keep you safe, you need help to establish your own boundaries to become who you are. Your parents then become your mentors, facilitators and advisors. Please don't see them in the roles of police-person, judge and enforcer of penalties. Give up your adolescent pushing against your parents, and discover and trust their care for you and your future.
For your parents to change, you must change, too. This involves a willingness and the courage for you to share some of your 'inner life' with your parents. This is not easy for many adolescents, particularly boys. Set aside at least one relaxed time per week when you can talk to your mum or dad, or both, about the concerns you have and the challenges you are facing. Remember, they've been where you are now and may have some wise advice.
Take time to say thank you to your parents or another adult who has stood by you and trusted you this year.
When Jesus was facing the greatest test of his life he went, with his three closest friends, to a garden. He needed to be where God was, in nature.
He was sad and troubled and told them, "I am so sad that I feel as if I am dying. Stay here and keep awake with me."
Stress is a Killer
Stress is a killer, a mental and emotional killer. Jesus said, during a time of great stress, "I feel as if I am dying." Anxiety kills any skills we have to think, study, learn, work, have friends, be a friend or relate constructively with those with whom we live and work, or those who love us the most.
Just the right amount of stress and you'll perform at your best, but too much repeated and severe stress and you'll start dying from the inside out until you collapse in a catatonic heap. Get over-stressed and you won't be bothered to rouse your true self. You may even fall into depression and constant anxiety and not be able to get up.
Because of the pressures of WACE scores, corrosive and disabling stress stalks students.
Keeping Stress at Bay
How can you stop yourself being caught in a cycle of stress?
Stopping Anxiety in its Tracks
When you notice your fears rising causing you to be anxious, STOP stress in its tracks by:
Crawling Out of the Pit of Fear
If you are caught in a cycle of stress, how can you crawl out?
Jesus made plans. As soon as his followers realised Jesus was their long-awaited king, Jesus, "set his face toward Jerusalem." Jesus planned and took action to fulfil his plans.
Last night, did you consult your diary or memory, note what is on today, then prepare the necessary clothes for today? Taking these steps each day teaches your brain to plan. School is a perfect opportunity to develop your adult skills. Planning, focus, self-control, awareness and flexibility are relevant every day and you need to practise them all, every day, for your brain to learn.
Planning Reduces Stress
Planning involves goal-setting, creating a programme and implementing it. For example, you can reduce the stress of exams by making and implementing a week-by-week, step-by-step plan now for the term exams. Planning reduces the anxiety and stress which destroys your ability to learn now and achieve your best at exam time.
You Can Improve
Be realistic when you plan and remember that failing is a necessary part of planning. Expect to find obstacles and plan how to get around them. However, you will need to modify your plans. Something like a disappointing result may send you off the rails and make you feel you lack control over your life. At such times, you may say to yourself, 'I'm hopeless, I'll never succeed because nothing works.' You find it hard to pick yourself up to even start to plan. A good strategy is to recall a test in which you did well. Remember the feeling it gave you. That will help restore your confidence to try. Build bigger success by building on small successes.
Anybody who has achieved anything in this world has planned, failed, and tried again, sometimes many, many times. So, remember: practice thinking ahead about your day, every day. You are teaching your brain an essential skill that you will use for the rest of your life.
I used the following poem at the Valedictory Assembly for the departing Year Twelve students last Friday. Some parents asked for a copy, so here it is. This beautiful poem reveals and acknowledges the inner recognition that the intimidating move from school to the world is, in reality, a following of 'the heart' - a necessary, inner momentum in each life to join the adult world. Our prayers are with our much-loved class of 2017 as they make their way into their own unique future in their own way.
For a New Beginning
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time, it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
a path of plenitude opening before you
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life's desire
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
for your soul senses the world that awaits you.
The following short talk was the first of six to be given to all Year Nine classes in their morning homeroom time in Term Four.
Essential Skills for Adult life
We announce the message about Christ so that all of Christ's followers will grow and become mature. Col 1:28
What do you worry about?
A recent Australian teenage survey asked teens about their worries. About 50 per cent of teens worried about being bullied; about 60 per cent about being different; and about 70 per cent were worried about their body image. However, worries about their future topped the list of teen worries at about 80 per cent .
We know now that many of the jobs for which you are being educated may not exist in 10 to 20 years, and many of the jobs that your fathers and mothers spent a lifetime mastering will be transferred to machines. At this school, we want to do our best to prepare you to cope with this future.
Social scientists have identified five key essential skills, which will assist you, whatever the future. 
1. Planning: Can you make plans, carry them out, and set and meet goal
2. Focus: Can you concentrate on what's most important at any given time?
3. Self-control: Do you have the ability to control how you respond to our emotions and stressful situations?
4. Awareness: Are you able to assess people and situations and fit these situations and people into a coherent picture in your mind?
5. Flexibility: Are you able to adapt to changing circumstances and situations?
Remember that no one is born with these skills, but we can all learn them over time.
Another recent study concluded that when middle schoolers were told, "You can change. Others can change too," this enabled change. To believe 'I can change' is an important foundation of change. So, start by saying to yourself, 'I can change. I can learn new skills.' Believing things can change and that you can change is fundamental.
During Year Eight, "I felt left out when everyone got invited to one of my friend's house and I didn't. It's like ... they forgot about me. Or even worse that they thought about me but didn't think I was cool enough to get invited." But, they continued, "No matter how much it hurt, (I knew) it wasn't going to last forever. ... They might even realize how much pain they were causing others and decide to change."
Although it is much easier to learn core life skills when you have had a strong foundation early in life, you are never too late. Brains continue to develop into our teen and adult years. Over the next few weeks, I am going to talk to you about these five skills and how you can develop these in your daily school and home life. The 'mature' person in Christ can focus and be flexible, is aware, plans and exercises self-control. You can become that person.
We begin each term with a Staff Chapel. Last Monday was a beautiful morning to hold a service on the hill looking over Oyster Harbour. The reflection's theme was A Community of Forgiveness, summarised below.
We claim the status of a Christian school. Any institution that claims the title Christian ought to be, according to Jesus, characterised by forgiveness.
Forgiveness is an essential and fundamental characteristic of those who follow Jesus.
The centrality of forgiveness is shown by the following:
Why is Forgiveness Necessary?
Forgiveness is necessary because, in relationships with others, in both small and large communities, we hurt one another. Sometimes it is deliberate, sometimes it is inadvertent but, inescapably, we hurt one another. This makes forgiveness essential from the smallest forms of community, such as marriage and the family, to medium size groups such as extended families, school, the footy or bowling club, churches, nations and the whole of humanity.
Forgiveness is essential to the survival of any form of community because letting go of past hurts is the one and only way marriages and families can move through conflict. Forgiveness alone can remove the power of the past to control the present. That is why accessing daily forgiveness gives us, every day, a new start.
Central to the daily practice of faith is forgiving those who have hurt us and saying sorry to those whom we have hurt. Because we are all wounders and wounded in relationships, forgiveness is essential at all levels of community. The more intimate the community, as in marriage or family, the deeper the wounds. So, the capacity to offer forgiveness to partners who have wronged us, and to make an unconditional apology when we have hurt others, is essential.
Forgiveness is necessary for reconciliation so we can move forward. We regularly wound, and are wounded, in relationships such as in our school community. Saying sorry to someone we have hurt and offering forgiveness to someone who apologises to us are essential elements in the continuing function of the school community. Essential because forgiveness saves us from playing the victim and being immobilised by that. Essential because forgiveness frees us from looking back to what has happened and frees us to look forward to what we can build together. Essential because only through forgiveness can we be freed from living the past, enabling us to move to a united present and build a future of hope.
Forgiveness is a commitment to move forward together with one another. It is never easy and sometimes impossible. When forgiveness is a bridge too far, wait, wait, wait. Eventually, you will find the hidden gift of release from the burden of your bitterness, anger and desire for revenge. Ridding ourselves of the burden of resentment is important even when there is no possibility, or even desire for, reconciliation. Forgiveness is important because it is a display of our humanity in the image of God.
We realise the centrality of forgiveness in relationships when someone asks our forgiveness. At last, we feel we have been recognised and our pain has been seen. When the one who hurt us sees our pain, we feel valued. This is the power of forgiveness. Being forgiven is the flipside of being hurt and saying sorry is the flip side of inflicting hurt. When someone says sorry to us, they are recognising us as a valuable person. They are also seeing themselves as a human person with the capacity to choose to say sorry. Both repentance (saying sorry) and forgiveness are images of God in us and both, when offered to another, allow us to recognise their humanity and to display ours.
Loving Our Enemies
Every person is of infinite value and worth, which makes hurting another a sin against them and against God. To love our enemies is a command to never take revenge when we are wronged. Inflicting hurt is always damaging, hurtful and painful and leaves a wound because we hurt a person like us. When we hurt others, we sin. We may even feel it our right to hit back. But Jesus said we should turn the other cheek. As Archbishop Tutu says, "You are a stand-in for God. You are a Viceroy of the Divine," so hurting another is not just wrong, hurtful and wounding; it is blasphemy. He calls racism "spitting in the face of God."
However, in loving and forgiving our enemies, we should never give up our human dignity. Jesus commanded us to turn the other cheek. Scholars recently explained the cultural background to this command. In Jesus' day, when a higher status assailant such as a slave owner hit a slave or person of lower status, the tradition was to strike them on the left cheek with the back of the hand. To use the back of the hand was a recognised form of disrespect. This meant that when the victim or slave 'turned the other cheek', for the assailant to strike again he would need to do so with an open hand on the right cheek. This meant the person of lower status was claiming equal status to the assailant and not taking revenge, yet claiming back their dignity.
Forgiveness is also vital because the alternative to forgiveness is revenge. Forgiveness means to give up our right to revenge. Forgiveness is free; it cannot be compelled, and forgiveness is unnatural. Revenge seems just and natural. If you hurt me, I hurt you. But that is what makes forgiveness important: revenge destroys relationships. Many families, communities and cultures have, and are, destroying themselves by revenge. Forgiveness is the only act that breaks the cycle of revenge.
Freedom and the Third Way
Forgiveness, like love, is a divine manifestation of human freedom. After an injury, I can view myself not as a victim or as an avenger, but as a person free to choose forgiveness. I can choose to remain a victim, play the victim and live my life with resentment and anger, or I can choose to plot and take revenge. Forgiveness is a third way. I can also choose to break the cycle of revenge by a free act of forgiveness. Forgiveness sees the other person, grants them value as we value ourselves and so enables reconciliation and an opportunity to build a future together. Forgiveness asked for and given then becomes the basis of reconciliation. Those steps are absolutely necessary for marriage and important in communities like ours. Sorry. I forgive. Let's move on.
Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. We do not forget and should not forget, otherwise we dishonour the past, deny the present and pollute the future. For example, as Australians, we should remain sorry for the Stolen Generations, aware of the effects of having removed children from their families in the past and move forward in partnership with Australia's First Nations. We have no right to forget until they do, each one.
Forgiveness requires Ubuntu. Ubuntu is a Zulu word translated as 'humanity towards others' and refers to what makes us essentially human - showing compassion and humanity to others. In post-Apartheid South Africa, Nelson Mandela realised that South Africa could not move forward to a 'rainbow' future without reconciliation. He established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where those who had terrible crimes committed against them came before the Commission. Those who had committed crimes could confess them and be pardoned. Mandela appointed Archbishop Desmond Tutu as President of the Commission. Tutu then introduced the beautiful word, Ubuntu, into the English language. After the Apartheid era, South African President FW de Klerk made his statement to the Commission and Tutu was found slumped in his chair, weeping. During his testimony, de Klerk did not make an unconditional apology for the sufferings his government caused. Tutu was devastated that de Klerk could deny his Ubuntu, his own humanity. In de Klerk's callousness toward suffering, he had denied his own capacity for compassion and become 'non-human' - a machine. Tutu wept for him. This Ubuntu, humanity, is found amongst many who suffer.
Let's make forgiveness part of our daily practise and prayer and part of our community, every day.
"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" (Jesus speaking to his followers).
Each of us has a deep feeling that we are significant. Even more, each of us has a deeper need to have our significance affirmed by others, especially by those who love and respect us. To know and claim our own significance requires an answer to the question, 'Who am I?'
Jesus asked his followers, "Who do people say I am?" Did Jesus' question to his followers spring from such a need - a need to discover who he was through the opinions of others?
I remembered this question of Jesus when I was looking out over King George Sound this morning. It is a view that is different every day but is always the same sea, rocks and islands. My presence or absence makes no difference to the (n)ever changing scene. Even if I was not there, dead or had never existed, this scene at this time would be this way, this day. I am irrelevant, insignificant. I do not matter. Is my 'significance' simply a necessary illusion? So concludes the epitaph seen on many ancient gravestones of the Roman Empire: "Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo (I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care)". The question 'Who am I?' occurs to all of us in times of reflection.
After my thoughts took such a dismal turn, I also thought of another image from the prophet Isaiah, "When you are set free, you will celebrate and travel home in peace. Mountains and hills will sing as you pass by, and trees will clap." Isaiah brought these words of hope and freedom to a people who had been imprisoned around (ironically) the area controlled by, until recently, ISIS around Mosul, modern Iraq. The thought of Breaksea and Michaelmas Islands skipping with joy at my freedom and presence and the trees of Mt Adelaide clapping my procession home along Marine Drive, made me feel a little better. Maybe, I am significant to the God who made those rocks, that sea, those islands.
Christianity has a unique and fundamental belief: each human life matters, now and eternally, because each one and everyone finds their beginning and end in God's creative, never-ending and forever love. It is being chosen in God's love that gives each human life value.
Some of you may not be happy with me claiming that granting dignity to human life is uniquely Judaeo-Christian, but it is so. In the Bible, human dignity is affirmed in our creation in God's image and shown in an 'I' that both feels significant and can see and feel joy in appreciating the still, silent, beauty of King George Sound. There is simply no other adequate justification for that belief. There is, however, a second and greater reason; Jesus as the enfleshing of God. Jesus' existence is the reality of God mixing it with humankind as one of us, and this demonstrates and affirms the dignity of humanity. Not only that, Jesus shows that God is wrapped up not only in our humanity but also our inhumanity, destructiveness and degradation - all the evil that we humans force onto one another and our world. The reality of Jesus: "…affirms the goodness and joyful nature of creation and it does so by incorporating the dark side, the failures and tragedies of inhumanity, not by denying them." (Freeman) As Simone Weil said, … "Love of God is pure when joy and suffering inspire an equal degree of gratitude."
Jesus did not ask his followers who he was, to find out who he was. No, he asked to see if they had really come to see him as he already saw himself. When Jesus' followers responded with a variety of answers to explain what others were saying about him, Jesus dug deeper and asked, "But what about you? Who do you say I am?" Famously, Peter spoke for the group, "You are our long awaited divine king." From that moment, Jesus spoke openly about what that meant - the service of love being overwhelmed by evil in his death on a cross, followed by love emerging victorious and signalling the impending end of suffering and evil. Then, most shockingly, he told all who wanted an answer to their own question 'who am I?' that they would have to follow the same path of suffering service.
To follow Jesus, there is only one path - the path of loving service. That is why the holiest vocation of all is parenthood. It is parents who, through love, empower each child to grow in self-knowledge and from there to learn care for others. Without such knowledge and experience of love, education in the 3Rs is futile. It is love that makes parenting and teaching such sacred callings.
Cambodia Service Learning Tour
You may have heard of school tours to Cambodia being stopped by a school service learning trip organisation, and of criticisms of some of the tours as exploiting donors, volunteers and children.
Thisdocumentexplains the due diligence that International Children's Care and GSG have given to structuring the GSG Leavers' Tour to ensure that it is a legitimate and worthwhile venture for both students and Cambodia's poor.
"Jesus began to point out to his followers that it was necessary for him to … be killed, and be raised the third day. …The Jesus said to his followers 'If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me.'"
For Jesus, for us, for all people, the answer to the question 'who am I?' and the discovery of 'self' involves finding the incalculable treasure of knowing/experiencing that we matter. This knowledge is not head/mind/thought knowledge, but experience held in the heart.
This 'knowing' is discovered in silence, stillness, prayer. The experience of our 'made-in-the-image-of-God-self' (human consciousness?) does not exist independently of, nor can it be discovered independently of, our experience of being seen and valued. In silence, stillness, prayer ("Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer," according to Simone Weil) we find the acceptance we so deeply need. Then it becomes necessary for us to express that acceptance in our lives by accepting others. Love must be expressed or it has not been received.
From a child, Jesus knew who he was and the mission to which he was being called. He said to his anxious parents when they had lost him and found him in the Temple, "Didn't you know that I would be in my Father's house?" And as an adult, Jesus twice heard God's voice from heaven reassure him, "You are my son and I love you."
Jesus also knew that his identity as loved son involved a mission, a call, a task because Jesus' connection with God's love was also a connection with a suffering world. Jesus told his followers that that connection would be made complete in his being "killed and raised on the third day."
For Jesus, self-recognition as an object of God's love led to self-renunciation - giving up his life -which, in turn, led to his life being returned to him. The circle of Love. So, Jesus proceeded to tell his followers, "If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross and follow me." In order to follow Jesus, we must give away our 'self' in order to find our 'self.' As Simone Weil says, "To give up our imaginary position as the centre, to renounce it, not only intellectually but in the imaginative part of our soul, that means to awaken to what is real and eternal, to see the true light and hear the true silence." We can be included in that circle of love.
Shockingly, Jesus told all who wanted to follow him to "take up your cross," because the service of love was the only way to be included in God's circle of love. When we wish to find an answer to the question, 'who am I?', we too must follow the same path of renunciation and service. In order to discover ourselves, it is essential for, paradoxically, 'self' to die. In dying, we are, by grace, raised to new life to know our true self for the first time, in Jesus. This is the narrow door into the Kingdom of Jesus. It is becoming a child again with a new self, being born. It is the path to new life. God's love for us is expressed in our love for others. In a Christian school, Jesus' words place service at the heart of complete education.
This week Mr Ian Robson gave this reflection to the weekly staff meeting. I thought it worthwhile to reproduce here.
Excerpt from Cashman's Leadership from the Inside Out:
He recalls hearing a poignant story about a priest who was confronted by a soldier while he was walking down a road in pre-revolutionary Russia. The soldier, aiming his rifle at the priest, commanded, "Who are you? Where are you going? Why are you going there?" Unfazed, the priest calmly replied, "How much do they pay you?" Somewhat surprised, the soldier responded, "Twenty-five kopecks a month." The priest paused, and in a deeply thoughtful manner said, "I have a proposal for you. I'll pay you fifty kopecks each month if you stop me here every day and challenge me to respond to those same three questions."
Clearly, the priest saw value in being posed these three questions daily!
After reading this story, these three questions have resonated with me. I have found myself offering different responses to these questions each time I consider them. Some days my responses come from a professional perspective, some days from a personal point of view, and on others, I will slightly reframe the questions and respond from a more spiritual perspective.
I wonder if you were forced to respond to the question, "Who are you?" would the offering of your name be enough? Would you add the type of work you do? Or, to whom you're the daughter or son, husband, wife or partner? Would you add your interests and hobbies? At what point would your answer be complete?
For me the question, "Who are you?" inevitably leads away from a single answer and moves towards a broader response that encompasses the whole self. I take solace in this; because it means I can stuff up and not be defined by that mistake because I am more than one action, inaction, mistake or good deed. But for every comfort taken, a challenge is also issued; just as you are not defined by one mistake nor are you defined by one good deed. Who you are is therefore who you repeatedly are.
I wonder how many of us could answer these questions about ourselves?
And I wonder how much more effective we could be as teachers and colleagues if we knew our students and peers well enough to answer these questions regarding them.
"Stay away from those Pharisees! They are like blind people leading other blind people, and all of them will fall into a ditch." (Jesus)
Jesus told us to love our enemies, but he never shrank from making enemies. Like John the Baptist before him, Jesus' behaviour and words made him many rich and powerful enemies. Among these enemies were the religious leaders of Jesus' day. Among other insults, he called them "blind guides," "whitewashed tombs" who look good on the outside but inside are full of death. Jesus thought that religion (in the sense of inhumane rules and incomprehensible ceremonies) was an enemy of God.
As U2's Bono said, "Religion can be the enemy of God. It's often what happens when God, like Elvis, has left the building."
What provoked Jesus' anger against the religious leaders of his day? I think the answer to this question can be conveniently linked to Jesus' understanding of our obligations to love God and our brothers and sisters in the human family. Jesus taught that the Sabbath law was good but to use this law as an excuse for not helping the sick or rescuing an animal in distress were cases of putting rules above people (and animals?) and that was definitely wrong. For example, Jesus provoked the ire of the Pharisees when he deliberately flouted the Sabbath Law by healing a man (ie working!) on the Sabbath. It was no accident that he issued this challenge in front of a synagogue full of worshippers. He then noted the leaders' hypocrisy by saying they wouldn't hesitate to rescue one of their livestock from a pit on the Sabbath, so why not rescue this man?
Not only did Jesus say the leaders of his day put their rules above people, they also used their religious ceremonies to both display their own piety and avoid obedience to God. The religious leaders made a public 'show' of their devotion to God and leadership of prayer and ceremonial worship, but their hearts were far from God. According to Jesus, they were hypocrites - play actors - who washed the outside of the cup but ignored the dirty inside, the evil in their own hearts. These leaders heaped heavy burdens on others and strictly followed the minutiae of the law, meanwhile ignoring the intent of the law, which was to show faith in God and mercy toward others. The religious leaders of Jesus' day (and our day?) fail the 'pub test.' If the saying had been available in Jesus' day, I am sure he would have said they had their 'snouts in the trough.'
There are four aspects of true religion that Jesus reveals in his conflicts with the religious leaders of the day:
"With love and tenderness
I will embrace you again.
Now I will have mercy
and love you forever!"
The shock of Benno's tragic death has brought deep pain to all who knew him. As a school community, we express our love, prayers and support for Del, Tony and Benno's many friends. We will all deeply miss his friendliness, energy and infectious smile. Former GSG Principal, Mr Stuart Marquardt, wrote of his high regard for Benno: "Benno was a most treasured friend of Reuben, a frequent visitor to our home and we took great delight in seeing Benno and his friends grow from boys into young men." Benno's tragic death means that we mourn not just the loss of who Benno was, but also the loss of a wonderful life that should have been.
On Monday morning, those students who knew Benno gathered to hear the shocking news of his death and support one another, and on Tuesday the staff gathered to remember Benno and pray for all who are devastated by his death.
Many of us this week have felt the first signs of shock and grief: a sense of unreality ('it cannot be true') and feelings of being lost, alone, confused, disorientated, powerless and vulnerable. At times like this, we feel that we should be doing something to make the situation better, but we do not know what. Then come the anger and the questions: "Why should this happen to my beautiful son/friend/mate?"
It is a common cry in the Bible. The Psalmists puts their feeling like this:
"Out of the depths, we cry to you, O Lord. Hear our voice.
We wait for you, O God. Our souls wait for you."
Indeed "Out of the depths, we cry!" But we hear only our cry, not the Lord's reply. We cry out, "O Lord. Hear our voice," but there is no answer, only more silence.
There are good reasons why God is silent in the face of the death of a loved one. One is wisdom, for God knows - and we all know - that words cannot convey the answer we need. Our need is to have a great big hole in our hearts filled, and words cannot do that. So, when we come together and own our feelings of loss, we deep down know that words will always come up short. However, when we gather, shared tears and hugs bring what we ourselves need, and we offer to others what they need. I feel that the few seconds of holy silence as we held hands together (in the meeting of students and in the meeting of staff) were filled with the presence of a deep peace.
Another important reason why God is silent when we cry out in grief is that in the silence is God's call to show love to others. When we cry out, we are concerned with our own grief or fears, our unmet needs, and these needs are important. In silence, we discover needs of others to be seen, to receive comfort, companionship, recognition. In silence, we see others' unmet needs. The wonderful thing about touch, hugs and other wordless ways of telling another person that you matter to them is that you discover your own unmet needs are met by them reaching out to you. So, at a time shock and grief, we most need another person to be with us, and we with them.
The time for words, questions and resolutions will come, but right now we need one another. In particular, Benno's friends need adults in their lives (parents, but others, too) who can say (in spoken words), "You matter to me. I care for you and will be with you. We can get through this together."
Lastly, there is another reason for God's silence. Against Benno's photo above I have placed God's words to his people when they were going through a deep vale of suffering: "with love and tenderness, I will embrace you again… Now I will have mercy." God is silent now also because he wants us to wait in faith until our very deepest needs are answered by the tenderness and mercy behind all things. This is my faith that Benno now is embraced by the love from which it is impossible to separate him, "God's love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!" (Paul). It is for the perfection of that love that we, ourselves, wait.
Crowds of people had followed Jesus into a 'lonely place.' The sun was setting. Jesus' followers said to Jesus, "Let the crowds leave, so they can go to the villages and buy some food."
Jesus replied, "They don't have to leave. Why don't you give them something to eat?" Jesus was concerned about justice, particularly for the poor. He was thought to be a 'son of the devil' because he associated with the marginalised, the mentally ill, the disabled, the socially isolated, the lower status people (slaves, day labourers, women and children) and the proverbial "prostitutes, tax collectors, publicans and sinners."
It was no different in the early Church. Celsus (an early opponent of Christianity) tells how the Christian faith first progressed amongst the 'ignorant' classes, "We see, indeed, in private houses (manual) workers …and persons of the most unwitting and rustic character… when they get hold of children privately, and certain women as ignorant as themselves, they pour forth wonderful statements..."
Why were women, children and slaves attracted to Jesus and his infant Church? Because they were given recognition, they were seen and helped. The poor, the hungry, the ignorant, the disabled and the slaves are still invisible today. But not to Jesus! Nor to those who truly follow Jesus.
In Shūsaku Endō's novel Silence he identifies why Christianity first progressed in Japan. He says of the oppressed peasants of 16thC Japan that meeting the Catholic Priests was, "the first time they have met men who treated them like human beings."
U2's Bono has for many years worked to change the world. He said, "Twenty years on I'm not that interested in charity. I'm interested in justice."
In Year Nine Christian Studies we have been studying world poverty and a Christian response. The good news is that, despite a world population increase of nearly one billion people over the past 30 years, the number of people living in poverty in the world has halved. For example: "In 1990, there were roughly 472 million people in the East Asia and Pacific region living on less than $1.00 a day. By 2001, there were 271 million living in extreme poverty, and by 2015, at current projections, there will only be 19 million people living under those conditions." 
A large factor in this achievement is, working in guidance from the UN's 8 Millennium Development Goals (2000-2015), Christian and secular NGOs and governments, which have made facilitated education and health initiatives to tackle structural inequality. Community Health steps (such as clean water and mosquito nets) and simple means to reduce maternal death rates and bring gender equality to communities, combined with fair trade initiatives, have led to a dramatic improvement in the lives of the very poor. The effort continues under the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. We continue our work until "God's justice will produce lasting peace and security," (Isaiah).
Millennials (our students' generation) are, usually, apatheists (care neither about the Church nor God) but they are interested in fairness and justice, and, as a Christian school, our students need to know that when Jesus fed the hungry, he first ordered his followers, "You feed them!" Jesus still issues this command to his followers today. For when we assist the very poor, we are following Jesus' example by ensuring the poor are truly 'seen.'
"After finding a very valuable one, the owner goes and sells everything in order to buy that pearl." (Jesus' conclusion to his parable of the Pearl Merchant)
Recently, I was taught again that we should never underestimate the wisdom of a child. Children, especially, are not shy to ask very thoughtful questions about life. Last week a Year Two student (seven years old!) said to me, "Mr Marsh, I sometimes wonder why I am alive." I replied, "That's a very interesting question, why do you think you are alive?" "I think," she said, "I am alive because God needs people like me to look after all the animals he has made." What a beautiful answer! When I asked the other students to comment, I noted that, without exception, all used the word 'God' to express their idea about purpose or reason.
This fits in with recent psychological research indicating that children are 'born believers.' Dr Justin Barrett, a senior researcher at the University of Oxford's Centre for Anthropology and Mind, says, "The preponderance of scientific evidence for the past 10 years or so has shown that a lot more seems to be built into the natural development of children's minds than we once thought, including a predisposition to see the natural world as designed and purposeful and that some kind of intelligent being is behind that purpose."
The child as a 'born believer' seems to be independent of culture, religion, language and social and economic status. It seems we all forget God and must be 'born again' to believe in God. You have probably heard the story (true?) about the three-year-old who asked her mother for time alone with her newborn brother. She wanted to ask him a question. The mother was interested and decided to spy on the conversation. The girl asked, "Tell me what God is like? I'm starting to forget."
In the modern age of 'secular' education, children are taught by omission. Questions of 'meaning' or purpose of 'life' are 'too hot to handle.' Academics either think the questions themselves do not have any meaning or that, even if the questions are meaningful, there is no answer. Besides, many of the proposed answers are 'religious' and therefore sectarian and disputed. So, students can go through their whole schooling journey without ever being facilitated to address their deep questions in a non-dogmatic, non-threatening environment.
We know the answer is not scientific. Christians agree that since God is not a particle or energy in this world, "no finding of physics, chemistry, or biology (or mathematics RNM) provides them with anything like a good reason for asserting that God exists," (Alisdair MacIntyre).
Questions of 'God' and 'purpose' are not subject to any sort of proof that anyone, except the person who discovers them, can accept because the questions themselves involve searching, discovering spiritual, human not 'physical' truths. But when we discover what we have always sought - that we are known, accepted and unconditionally loved and that love encompasses us, protects us, sustains us and motivates us - oh the joy.
I am not saying this discovery has no evidence: "There is nonetheless that about nature which cries out for explanation… Given nature's starting point and the range of alternative possibilities that might have developed from it, it is an astonishing set of possibilities that have in fact been actualized." (Alistair MacIntyre)
When Peggy Lee sang, "Is that all there is, is that all there is/If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing/Let's break out the booze and have a ball/If that's all there is," she asked a question which remains unspoken in modern secular education. When Jesus told stories about seeking (a lost sheep, a lost coin, a lost son) and finding (a vast treasure, a priceless pearl) he was telling us that our feelings of being 'strangers in a strange land' 'wandering, homeless, seeking home' did have meaning. They are 'deep calling to deep' and asking us to, in Jesus' words, "come to me."
The seeds that fell on good ground are the people who hear and understand the message. They produce as much as a hundred or sixty or thirty times what was planted. (Jesus in his 'parable of the soils')
Moral questions which require a choice are placed before us every day. Every time we speak to another person we are faced with a choice about how we are to regard this person. Usually, these choices are not consciously made, but made by habit formed by our past treatment and behaviour. So, a habit forms character and character shapes destiny (George Eliot). In contemporary Australian schools, "character education is well and truly back with a vengeance." (Dr Middleton, The King's School, Sydney)
Perhaps why 'character is back' in education, is that the root cause of events like the 2008 financial crisis, the worst collapse of the world economy since the Great Depression (1929 on), are thought to be 'moral.' The 2008 banking crisis is widely thought to have been caused by "unregulated lust for short-term profit driven by ideas that bore no relation to real wealth" (Freeman). In other words, the devastation which befell the many was due to the pride, greed, lust and selfishness of a few. I think we could probably include all the seven 'deadlies' - pride (excessive self-belief), greed (excessive desire for more), lust (belief that more is better), envy (behaviour motivated by competitive jealousy), gluttony (excessive consumption), wrath (anger and condemnation of those who try to control/influence your behaviour) and sloth (the ability to see a coming crisis but too lazy to address the problem [regulators too?]).
Father Freeman writes, "I once spoke to a conference of business school academics shortly after the collapse of Enron. They were reacting to the shocking news of corporate bad faith and to seeing some of their best former students led off in handcuffs. …Should they have taught them differently? As educators what had they done wrong? They concluded the problem was that they had let the business ethics courses slip in favour of obsessively more success and profit-oriented training."
Father Freeman thought the proposed solution shallow and disagreed, saying, "With or without ethics courses people know when they are lying and cheating. What was needed, it seemed to me, was that these driven, brilliant business minds allowed themselves enough space to experience their own essential goodness, then the meaning of goodness in their personal and professional lives would become clear."
I believe this is true for students, too, especially Year Twelves caught in the stress of getting a competitive TER! In his parable of the soils, Jesus is asking us, "what kind of soil are you?" and advising that only the fertile soil of gentle heart that can receive the good news of his rule, "hear and obey" and yield fruit. He promised that if we had such a heart then our lives would provide a bountiful, miraculous harvest.
St Paul repeated Jesus' advice, "You will harvest what you plant. If you follow your selfish desires, you will harvest destruction, but if you follow the Spirit, you will harvest eternal life." The fruit of the financial crisis was very bitter for both the criminals and the victims.
The other important lesson is one we need to repeatedly learn: neither multiplying ethics or character courses nor multiplying laws and rules to control bad behaviour will yield good people (only people who will refrain from evil because they might get caught). The solution is found in experiences where we are regarded as someone of value. These experiences teach us not only about our own inherent goodness but also about the inherent goodness of others. Fr Freeman writes, "This experience of our essential goodness is simpler than and different from any other feeling… It issues both from our own spirit, and, most wondrously, our likeness to God. It is at the same time the most obvious and most difficult thing to believe about ourselves… Pure prayer itself changes us because it makes us real and simplifies us."
Our lives can never flourish without the virtues of moderation, prudence, justice (the strengths of the soul) and these cannot grow without prayer which germinates, "the seeds of these inherent virtues and thus strengthens us to resist the false voices of their opposing vices."
Parents and teachers in a Christian school play a special role in valuing each child so their hearts are prepared for the seed of faith because, "the faithful person will become truthful, just and peaceful because faith is the seed that opens up into love and all virtue is contained in love. The beginning is faith; the end is love."
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven…
"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock… And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand." (Jesus)
At our recent Foundation Day Assembly, the Chair of Trustees, the Honourable Justice John Gilmour, spoke about the history of the foundation of the school. He emphasised that the founders wished every generation of students at Great Southern Grammar, having heard the words of Jesus, to incorporate them into their lives so they would become citizens of integrity who knew how to serve. He urged us all to build our lives on a 'firm foundation,' which means building on the words of Jesus.
The words of Jesus, to which Justice Gilmour referred, are found in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. They are some of the most influential words ever spoken. The Beatitudes, Salt of the Earth, Light of the World, Lamp Under a Bushel, the Real Origin of Murder and Adultery, Oaths forbidden, Love your Enemies, Prayer, Fasting and Giving to the Poor, Treasure in Heaven, Do not Worry, The Splinter and the Plank, The Tree and its Fruit and Wise and Foolish Builders are some famous parts of the Jesus' teaching collected in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
These collected words of Jesus contain much that was new and revolutionary in Jesus' time. Loving family and friends OK, but whoever heard of 'loving your enemies'?
The 'Jesus lifestyle' lies at the heart of a Christian life and Jesus' words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount emphasise that it is the 'doing' of his words that forms the entrance criteria for his/God's Kingdom. Perhaps it was the fierce, inner demands of Jesus' words that prompted GK Chesterton to comment, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried."
But try we must, and show by the way we treat children and one another that loving others is the fulfilment of the God's law to love God and our neighbour. We will try but we also know we will fail and our ignorance and selfishness will often cause us to neither empathise with others, nor show compassion to them. That is why the demands of Jesus' words are also accompanied by his words to us of forgiveness and understanding.
In the Lord's Prayer, Jesus taught us that we should pray for and seek the kingdom and forgive others and then "all these things" (our daily bread) will come along and we will receive the forgiveness we offer others.
To encourage our students to build their lives on the words of Jesus so they may become "citizens of integrity who know how to serve" (Gilmour) is a worthy heritage to pass on to all students who attend this school. But that needs your commitment to achieve this worthy goal. Does Jesus have that?
"At the end of our lives we shall be judged not by what we have said but how well we have loved," (John of the Cross, Augustine).
I beg you to live in a way that is worthy of the people God has chosen to be his own. Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other. (Paul)
The really big questions of life are, 'why am I here?' and 'how should I live?'
As a Christian school, we are committed to students both becoming aware of the various answers that have been given to these questions and also being offered Christian answers.
With respect to 'how should we live?' there are three basic approaches to ethics:
'Which of these is 'Christian'?' is a simple question because 'All of them!' is the answer. And the reason is simple, too. All the Bible's commands on how to live are given in the context of relationships, actions, a history, a family, a story involving both God and his people. Commands are never to be viewed as either calculated from below or sent down from above. All people have a face and a story and everyone's story involves them, their relationships and their social context and the God who made us all in his image. So, whilst Greek philosophers were seeking truth by contemplating nature and reason, Jews were telling and retelling their story - how God saw them suffering as slaves, heard their cry and came to their rescue. That story both defined their answer to the question, 'Why are we here?' and showed them 'How we should live.'
That model of finding truth in history and life is found in the Ten Words (Commandments) to Moses. These are not edicts from above, without context, but are given to a people whom God has chosen and whom he has rescued from slavery.
"I am the Lord your God, the one who brought you out of Egypt where you were slaves." The Bible sees the truths about why we are here and how we are to live, as embedded in our history, our story. It is no different in the New Testament. We, too, are to have "this attitude to another which was shown by Jesus," (Paul in Philippians 2) when Christ rescued us.
The commands to love God and our neighbour are placed in the context of God's love for us in Jesus. So, when Paul tells God's new people, "I beg you to live in a way that is worthy of the people God has chosen to be his own. Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other," he links "God has chosen you" in Jesus Christ with being patient, gentle and humble.
For example, our courts have now determined that we are to pay compensation to those asylum seekers we (for the Government acted our behalf) detained and to whom we caused physical and psychological harm. We could have 'stopped the boats' without mistreating the 'strangers,' the 'foreigners' who came among us seeking to be regarded as refugees.
We need to remember and note the context for 'stranger loving' in the Bible. The Old Testament says only once, "You shall love your neighbour (fellow countryman) as yourself," but it says in 36 places, "You shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt."
Our own context is that we have been regarded as strangers, foreigners in a strange land. We all know the experience. It is part of our group and personal history. Then, we ask: "Can I see my story and the story of God in the story of the stranger in our midst?" and "Can I see the face of God in one who is not in my image, whose colour, culture, and creed are different from mine?"
A Christian choice about how to treat others begins in recalling the story of God's grace in the treatment we have received from God and then to 'go and do likewise.'
A life lived in following Jesus is a fully alive and fully human life where "we love because he first loved us" (John). Only by living a life loving the God who loved us in Jesus, and loving Jesus in our neighbour can we discover answers to 'why am I here?' and 'how should I live?'
Out of the mouths of babes….
God created human beings;
He created them like God,
Reflecting God's nature.
He created them male and female.
(The creation of humans in Genesis)
Always recognise that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end (a universal categorical imperative from Kant).
I teach thinking skills and philosophy to Year Five students for one term each year. This is an interesting experience. Last year, when discussing how we could know "I really exist," Descartes made an appearance when one of the children said "Cogito ergo sum," not so much in those words! What the student actually said was, "there must be someone thinking those thoughts." Wow! I nearly fell off my chair.
Last week a little Kant rose up to speak to our group. We were trying to think about an example of when it could be right to steal. "Maybe we could steal from a bad person," suggested one student. So, we discussed whether it would be OK to steal the ill-gotten gains of a drug dealer. Some way into our discussion, our young Kant issued her categorical imperative, "No one deserves to be stolen from." Wow!
The Bible clearly affirms that freedom and dignity are the inalienable inheritance of every person. We accept that humans are free agents and even philosophers who are determinist agree that this belief lies behind all morality, law and justice. And we all also seem to feel that, "I have an innate dignity." Combine these two characteristics and you have the UN Declaration of Human Rights Article 1: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." ('should' implies 'can').
This idea of individual freedom and the universal equality and dignity of all humans is based on the Bible and, indeed, is the basis of the Biblical vision of humanity, beginning with all humans being in God's image in the first book of the Bible and ending with, "After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb" in the last book of the Bible.
The Jewish Mishnah quotes the ancient Rabbis, "When you mint many coins in the same mint, they will come out identical. God makes every one of us in the same mould, in his image, yet we all come out different." We do come out different, but the same; we all share a freedom and dignity granted by God. Science cannot teach us this truth. Reason alone cannot yield this truth. Religions and great literature see and catch a vision of this truth and we all seem to understand from our birth that 'I have value' and 'I am destined for freedom.'
When the student who made it a universal law that no one deserves to stolen from, they reasoned that even a thief, by reason of their humanity, had dignity and rights which ought not be transgressed. What I have I owe to others. Kant advised you to "live your life as though your every act were to become a universal law," so he reasoned not only that when, "by a lie, a man... annihilates his dignity as a man," he also destroys the dignity of his neighbour by not making her worthy of the truth.
By Kant's reasoning, thieving is morally wrong on two bases: it cannot be made a universal law so it is wrong, but is also wrong because it damages both the thief and the victim by annihilating their dignity as humans. It is all about respect for one another - giving to our neighbour the dignity we so deeply want acknowledged in us.
Rabbi Sacks wrote, "To defend a country, you need an army. But to defend a civilisation, you need schools… Civilisations survive less by the strength of their weapons than by the force of their ideals and their ability to hand them on to future generations. What is the contemporary world teaching its children? In developing countries, there are vast swathes of illiteracy. In conflict zones, children are being taught to hate those with whom they must one day learn to live. In far too few are they being taught the principles of freedom, responsibility and respect for difference."
Today, let us each play our role to teach the principles of freedom, dignity and respect for difference to our students, and live these principles out in our interactions with their parents and our colleagues.
and to keep your word.
Pray to me in time of trouble.
I will rescue you,
and you will honour me."
Dexter steak is tender and delicious. I know. I tasted some last Friday when Mr Gugenheim and the school hosted supporters of the Agriculture programme at Great Southern Grammar. It is wonderful that the school can now truly claim to offer a farming experience to all of our students from Kindergarten to Year Twelve. This is appropriate for a Christian school because a hands-on experience of the animals and plants which share our God-given life is a spiritual experience. Children can experience, enjoy and celebrate the gift and wonders of food and nature.
Psalm 50 is relevant here. We all share a human tendency to think that we have made what we have and so we are liable to become proud. This tendency has existed since ancient time. Greek tragedies use the word 'hubris' to describe "excessive pride towards or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis."
Our bias toward excessive self-congratulation when we accumulate wealth is evident in the Bible, too. In Psalm 50, God tells the people that when he wanted honesty, compassion from his people, all they gave was religious observance without heart. So, God comes in judgement and says, "Although you offer sacrifices, and always bring gifts, I won't accept your offerings/ of bulls and goats," because, didn't they know:
"Every animal in the forest
belongs to me,
and so do the cattle
on a thousand hills."
And God's ownership includes our Dexters and Angus, wheat and vegetables. At Great Southern Grammar, we now have an enhanced opportunity to celebrate nature and with that comes the opportunity to teach students to celebrate and to give thanks for all we are and have.
We all need to be often reminded that who we are and all we have is given as a trust from God. When we offer what we have back to God, we do not give to satisfy God's needs, "If I get hungry, do you think I'd tell you? All creation and its bounty are mine. I know every mountain bird by name; the scampering field mice are my friends."
If God doesn't want religious observance, what does he want? The Bible has a wonderful word for God's promises to us and our obligations to God: Covenant. God's covenant promises we would be his people and he would be our God. For our response, God does not want religious observance, instead he wants us to offer ourselves, who we are. Psalm 50 puts it simply:
"Spread for me a banquet of praise,
serve High God a feast of kept promises,
And call for help when you're in trouble -
I'll help you, and you'll honour me."
The truth is, of course, that in a Christian school we recognise that we have nothing except that with which we have been entrusted: our own lives, our families and communities, and all that we own, including Dexter cattle. In our homes, families and school this is what will enhance our lives and please God:
"I am the way the truth and life." (Jesus)
By saying "I am the way," Jesus was offering to faithfully and consistently companion us on our journey through life. By saying "I am the truth," Jesus was promising that he could bring a loving God near to us. But what did Jesus mean by saying "I am the life"?
There seems to be a progressive theme here: Jesus as companion on our life's journey (Way), Jesus as human representative of God (Truth) culminating in Jesus as the very 'life force' of creation and the spirit of new life (Life). As such, this remarkable statement of Jesus reflects an early belief in Jesus as intrinsic to who God is: God as Creator and Provider; God as Companion, Revealer and Communicator; God as the very breath of our lives.
The Bible connection between life and breath is strong. In the languages of the Bible, the same word is used for 'wind,' 'spirit,' and 'breath.' The resurrected Jesus associated the breath of life with the gift of God's Spirit when he breathed on (his disciples) and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."
Jesus breathing on his disciples to share his life with them culminates his ministry in John's Gospel. One of his last acts before returning to his Father is to give his Spirit of power and love to his followers. Just before he died, he had previously told them, "I am life" (In English the definite article 'the' is used before an object, however in the Bible's language the definite article is before abstract concepts like 'life' or 'truth' are indicated by 'the,' so Jesus' statement probably should be translated "I am life").
It could be that Jesus was associating himself with the spirit in Genesis 1. Before creation, like a nesting bird guarding and nurturing her eggs, God's Breath, Wind, Spirit was hovering over the waters, bringing the creation to birth. Again, in the Creation story it is God's breath that gives breath to every living creature. But there is more! In Jesus, not only do we have the breath of life in our life, we are also, as followers of Jesus, given the breath of God's Spirit to sustain us in life. Jesus breathed on his followers to indicate the gift of his breath to them, just as God breathed life into Adam.
The gift of the Spirit completes the three great festivals of the Christian Church: Christmas (Jesus' birth), Easter (Jesus' death and resurrection) and Pentecost (the gift of Jesus' Spirit to his people). When Jesus says "I am life," he claims a place for himself in our lives, as the very breath of our life. And by the gift of his Spirit, he offers himself to us as a guide through a full life to life eternal. Like all true truth, these words of Jesus can only be understood by being lived and experienced in following Jesus. Since God is love, we discover the abundant life Jesus offers by being loved and learning, in our faltering way, to love God and others as we follow him.
"I am the way, the truth and the life." (Jesus)
'Alternative facts' in the Trump era, has become another name for 'truth.' The phrase emphasises that everything (?) is a matter of perception and that my perception is not your perception. Unfortunately for those who think this way, facts are both hard and stubborn.
When confronted with Jesus's claims at his trial, I fancy Pilate thought, "Well that's your opinion," and, probably cynically, asked Jesus, "What is truth?" Jesus didn't reply. But, equally famously, Jesus told his followers "I am … the truth." That is the type of statement which CS Lewis described as giving us only two choices about the person who made the statement - the person is lying because they are either mad or bad, or the statement is true, in which case we should accept that Jesus is the truth.
Jesus' 'I am' statements in John's Gospel ("I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, Before Abraham was, I am, I am the door, I am the good shepherd, I am the resurrection and the life, I am the way, the truth, and the life, I am the true vine,") were all highly offensive to his audience. Why? Because 'I am' is the unutterable name of God, the divine name - YWH.
It is always written without vowels so the holy, sacred, ineffable name of the Divine could never be defiled by human lips. So, even today, orthodox Jews will write God as G-d and pause in silence when God's name appears in the text of the Torah. People may still think when Jesus said, "I am the truth" that his opinion was just that - his opinion - but they were not prepared to accept these alternative facts. Indeed, people were so offended with Jesus' egotistical statements that Luke reports, "They threw him out, banishing him from the village, then took him to a mountain cliff at the edge of the village to throw him to his doom."
There is good reason for the anger against Jesus. Jews (and Muslims) are strict monotheists and for any human to raise themselves up and claim attributes which belong to God alone, is highly offensive blasphemy. But, as Jesus himself pointed out in his trial, it is only blasphemy if it is not true. The followers of Jesus took nearly four centuries to come to a consensus on this. They knew through faith and experience that Jesus brought them to God, but they also equally affirmed that there could be only one God. So, Saint Athanasius famously maintained that only God could reach across the God/Human divide, and God had done so in Jesus. He had to be human and divine. So, Christians came to believe in an essential paradox: the Trinity. God is "one substance in three persons," is how they worded it.
The truths expressed by Jesus when he said "I am the truth" and the rest of the analogies he used, is that Jesus brings God near to us. As John wrote in his introduction to his Gospel, "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into (pitched his tent in) the neighbourhood."
This is important because it tells us that 'truth' for Jesus was not an abstract set of propositions about God or the world, rather, truth is personal. John also said, "God is love," and this means that God reached out to us in Jesus and loved us. The 'Truth' about God, the world and everything is the receiving and giving Love. Receiving love from God and other humans and giving love to others. God's language is love and this language, as Pope Francis has said, has two very simple rules for its grammar, "Love God, love your neighbour as yourself."
So, we conclude that when Jesus said "I am… the truth," the Truth about which he spoke is personal and loving - not abstract ideas or thoughts about God and the world. So, Athanasius said, "The Greek philosophers have compiled many works with persuasiveness and much skill in words; but what fruit have they to show for this such as has the cross of Christ? Their wise thoughts were persuasive enough until they died." When Jesus died he was resurrected and his words were fulfilled and the truth that love defeats death became real. By God's love, Jesus and his cross brings us close to God, brings us authentic life and brings us into the presence of the love that defeats even death. That's what Jesus meant by "I am the truth."
"I am the way, the truth and the life." (Jesus)
"…and [Saul who became Paul] asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem." (Acts 9)
It is of interest that the earliest followers of Jesus called themselves "followers of the way." From whence did they get this title? The 'followers' part of their title probably came from Jesus command to "follow me" and their practise of literally following Jesus as he moved about Galilee. Even after Jesus' death his followers still thought of themselves as following Jesus. They were lead by his breath or Spirit.
The second half of their self-description, "the way," may have come from Jesus, too. The way could refer to Jesus' way of living (the Sermon on the Mount) or, maybe, taken from the words of Jesus, "I am the way," which was an invitation to share their daily journey with their Master.
We learn from Jesus' self-description "I am the way" and Jesus' followers' self-description as "followers of the way" that the key to Christian life is heeding Jesus invitation, "follow me" and, since to follow also means to accompany and assist, taking his assistance, guidance and company as we walk through life.
"...we can see that when Jesus was calling people to follow him he wasn't just saying 'tag along behind me.' He didn't want people to just listen and believe in him from a distance. Jesus was inviting people to come close, to join him, and even help him with his mission. He wanted people to be vitally engaged and involved with him in both learning and doing the work of the gospel." (Margaret Mowczko's blog)
Life is a journey and we are companions with Jesus on the road. As we walk our path through our daily life, are we walking with Jesus? One everyday example is in family life, which is a vital part of many of our God-given vocations. As we journey through life with our children, we journey with Jesus as the companion of our family. Kent Hoffman of Circle of Security describes what it means for a parent to journey with a child the Jesus way of love:
"Here's what we now know: every child requires at least one person (preferably an adult) who embodies clarity, kindness and commitment. Consider it a mantra: 'I'm here. You matter to me. We're going to get through this together.' 1. Strength. 2. Kindness. 3. Unwavering follow through. ... we can't paste a 'new game plan' on top of limited awareness and commitment. ... Pronouncements don't make the difference. Honest, caring, consistent availability is the central requirement... Children actually (intuitively) know that they matter, even when they're sure they don't. This means they are waiting for someone to genuinely confirm their innate value in an ongoing way. I have yet to meet a child who will settle for anything less than firm, steady, no nonsense commitment… Once again: 'I'm here. You matter to me. We're going to get through this together.'"
M Scott Peck in The Road Less Travelled also summarises, in a different way, the same truth of the long term, faithful commitment of love that is necessary for all children.
"The feeling of being valuable - 'I am a valuable person'- is essential to mental health … such a conviction must be gained in childhood; … when children have learned through the love of parents to feel valuable, it is almost impossible for the vicissitudes of adulthood to destroy their spirit."
When Jesus calls us to follow him, he is not just telling us, "This is the way. Walk in it." Rather, he is asking us to recognise his presence and companionship as we journey on our path.
You will keep your friends if you forgive them, but you will lose your friends if you keep talking about what they did wrong. Proverbs 17:9
What we are called to respect in each person is first of all his life, his physical integrity, his dignity and the rights deriving from that dignity, his reputation, his property, his ethnic and cultural identity, his ideas and his political choices. We are therefore called to think, speak and write respectfully of the other, not only in his presence, but always and everywhere, avoiding unfair criticism or defamation. Families, schools, religious teaching and all forms of media have a role to play in achieving this goal. (Pope Francis)
Last year I subscribed to Donald Trump's Twitter feed. It was a mistake! Not so much because of the Donald's tweets but because of the abuse exchanged between Trump opponents and supporters in the ensuing comments. It seems the only form of argument on Twitter quickly ignores facts and descends to an ad hominem quid pro quo where each person attacks the other and the facts are ignored. It seems to be a standard pattern, particularly in discussions of religion and politics, for Twitter and Facebook to become echo chambers of lies, ignorance and abuse.
Young people's perceptions of world events and their world views are shaped by these forms of media. In the light of the Pope's words, "we are therefore called to think, speak and write respectfully of the other, not only in his presence, but always and everywhere," this is a worrying trend. This trend is all the more worrisome because, when using social media forms of communication, we are both blind and deaf. We cannot see the expression on the face of the recipients of our messages and we cannot hear the tone of voice in the reply. Yet these aspects are vital to 'real' face to face communication.
The simple either 'thumbs up' or 'thumbs down' also tends to mean that the morality of digital media is determined by popularity. Right and wrong have become handmaidens to celebrity. This has a corrosive effect on our humanity.
In addition, when our 'life, physical integrity, dignity, reputation, property, ethnic identity and ideas' are demeaned we tend to strike back to hurt others and digital communication soon becomes 'a race to the bottom.'
In light of this, it is incumbent upon us all, in our families and school, to explicitly teach 'face to face' listening and speaking skills and polite conventions in written communication. Pope Francis also said, "Human dignity is the same for all human beings: when I trample on the dignity of another, I am trampling on my own."
The only way out of this vicious hurt-anger-revenge cycle is confession-forgiveness-reconciliation. When we admit the injury we have caused another and they forgive us and there is reconciliation, the Pope's words are reversed, "Human dignity is the same for all human beings: when I recognise and enhance the dignity of another, I claim and enhance my own." Let's ensure that our communication with and by our children is informed by our love for them and not by patterns we inherit from sources that ignore that we are all made in the image of God.
"Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." (1 Cor 8:4 RSV)
"But knowledge makes us proud of ourselves, while love makes us helpful to others." (1 Cor 8:4 CEV)
Should Christians eat Halal meat, slaughtered with a Muslim prayer? Saint Paul was asked a strikingly similar question by the Corinthian Christians. "Should pagans converted to follow Christ eat meat slaughtered and dedicated to a local god in the pagan temples?" From the basis that idols have no real existence and since there is only one God and one Lord from whom and through whom all things come, Paul ruled that Christians are free to eat 'idol' meat. All things come from the one God and should be received with thanks. However, Paul added a rider to that opinion. His rider? Love trumps any rules, laws, knowledge, freedom and the law of love overrules the freedom to eat anything. Here is the paradox: a Christian has been both freed by love and bound captive by love. "A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject of all, subject to all." (Martin Luther).
'The law is an ass' for two reasons. Firstly, rules cannot take into account individual circumstances. Second, rules concern me, my achievement or lack thereof. Jesus' law of love, in contrast, considers my neighbour's needs first and encourages me to treat others according to their unique circumstances.
So, Paul advises that, though the Corinthian Christians are free to eat 'idol' meat, they should refrain from eating 'idol' meat if the consumption causes another Christian (of more tender conscience) to act against their conscience. Some Christians held the (mistaken) conscientious objection, that being a converted pagan, they were rekindling former allegiances if they ate 'idol' meat, so they refused to eat meat at all. Hence his brief summary, "knowledge (that you are free to eat 'idol' meat) puffs (you) up, but love (not eating 'idol' meat' in order to avoid hurting your neighbour) builds (your neighbour and the community) up".
In any faith community, as Saint Benedict advised, "No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else." That is the law of love. Remember this law next time you set about your daily tasks at home or work. Many tasks are required of us in our parenting, home and employment duties, and when we do these tasks bearing in mind that we pursue these activities, not to give ourselves credit or advantage, but we are doing them for our family, customers or work colleagues. Love transforms all we do by working on why we do what we do. Love places the focus clearly on our neighbour's good, not our own advantage. That is why the law of love rules. Remember, the rule is, "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, freedom; in all things, love". (a 16th Century Lutheran Pastor).
"We have only one God, and he is the Father. He created everything, and we live for him. Jesus Christ is our only Lord. Everything was made by him, and by him life was given to us (through whom all things came and through whom we live)." Paul, writing to the struggling church at Corinth.
The Great Southern Grammar community (students, staff, families) has been established as a 'faith community.' The foundation of our Christian community is (as above) "one God, the Father….and… one Lord, Jesus Christ." However, does this mean that all students, staff and families are personally bound to share that confession of faith? Clearly the answer must be no, because the purpose of our school is to offer a quality, modern, whole-person, Christian education to the families of Albany and the Great Southern, not to create another church in the Albany area. It seems reasonable to me that a church should expect a simple confession of faith for those who are members, but not a school open to all.
However, if it isn't that all individual members of our school community are required to confess belief in "one God, the Father….and… one Lord, Jesus Christ" that makes us a 'faith community,' what is it? I believe becoming and being a faith community such as our school requires a willingness to be part of a community which is built upon two essential items of Christian behaviour and mindset: our attitudes to one another and a commitment to serve others.
The first principle requires us all to recognise the dignity of others within our community: children, adolescents, young people, adults and their families. In other words, to "live in harmony by showing love for each other. Be united in what you think, as if you were only one person. Don't be jealous or proud, but be humble and consider others more important than yourselves. Care about them as much as you care about yourselves," (Paul's advice to the infant church at Philippi).
This was Jesus' inclusive attitude to others, and to become a faith community requires this mindset among all members. It is based upon the belief that all people are being loved by God and have the dignity of bearing God's image. Cultivating this mindset in one's self of the value of our neighbour is what is essential to building community and it is part of who we are as humans.
Read through Paul's instructions above again and reflect: how would my family, class, school be transformed if I cultivated this mindset? Bullying would be absent, for one thing. The second item that is essential in building our school as a faith community concerns our behaviour - the way we treat one another. The earliest Christian rule for building a faith community comes from Saint Benedict (and this rule has stood the test of time, having guided communities around the world for about 1,500 years).
"This then, is the good zeal which (monks) community members must foster with fervent love. They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another's weaknesses of body or behaviour, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he or she judges better for (himself), themselves but instead, what she/he judges better for someone else. To their fellow community members (monks) they show the pure love of brothers/sisters; to God, loving fear; to their Principal (Abbot), unfeigned and humble love. Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life."
Our school faith community will always be a work in progress because all we members are works in progress. When Paul wanted to give instructions for the Jewish and pagan members of his infant congregation practical advice on building a faith community, he referred them to their foundation, "We have only one God, and he is the Father. He created everything, and we live for him. Jesus Christ is our only Lord. Everything was made by him, and by him life was given to us," and he applied that foundation to their attitude to one another and their treatment of one another. To continue to build our faith community, we must refer to our foundation but, more importantly, we must all make sure that we think the way Jesus Christ thought and act the way Jesus Christ acted. (Philippians 2:4)
"Though you were dead in legal offences… God made you alive together with Jesus, forgiving us all our offences….. by nailing (them) to the cross. He stripped the rulers and authorities of their armor …. celebrating in triumph over them." (Paul, writing to the church in Colossae)
Jesus' story of Lazarus and the rich man indicates that the rich man's sin lay in ignoring the hungry Lazarus at his gate. His riches induced a pride leading to a selfish indifference to Lazarus' suffering. However, surely there is a back story as to why Lazarus became destitute. If she/he was a modern man or woman, we could speculate why Lazarus lay at the gate of the rich man. Was it family violence, an addiction to alcohol, ice or gambling, unemployment, a marriage breakdown, mental illness or perhaps he/she was a victim of abuse? Here we see that if Jesus came to bring freedom to the captives, sight to the blind and good news to the poor, he has to do more than be an old-time Mother Teresa; he has to tackle institutionalised evil and bring justice. This he did in both his life and death.
At the trial of the Nazi criminal, Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt famously commented on the "banality of evil" meaning that, for the most part, evil deeds are not perpetrated by monsters, but by ordinary people who "value conformity and narrow self-interest" over the welfare of others. The truth is that systems, institutions, governments, companies, schools, the military, indeed any form of human organisation, all tend toward the evil of an intolerance to those who, for whatever reason, can't keep up, can't make their contribution to the group, can't fit in or can't hold their own.
The earliest Christian understanding of the cross of Jesus sees Jesus dealing with not only our individual and culpable offences against God and our neighbour (our 'offences' are nailed to the cross and our sins forgiven), but also dealing with an evil system where most humans have neither their dignity nor their humanity recognised or valued (on a world level, that is certainly true). In our age we think that because we have secularised and labelled these evils, we have them in our power. But, clearly, we do not. Evil may be banal but it is as powerful as ever. Paul spiritualises these powers and authorities as universal, non-human, evil powers. He says Jesus on the cross stripped them of their power and, like enemies defeated by the Emperors' armies, humiliated them in a public victory parade.
How did Jesus defeat evil through his death? Through the paradox of his own divine humiliation and weakness. It is no different for us. Those who follow Jesus work patiently and humbly at their God-given tasks - in many of our cases as parents and teachers. This is done by the 'banality of goodness' whereby we let neither conformity to human institutions nor self-interest blind us to the dignity and humanity of those we serve. And those of us who are leaders build into our institutions, protections for the weak and vulnerable. I know this is why Jesus got himself executed, but the Good News is, this is the way, the only way, to disarm the evil powers.
"When the Pharisees saw this, they said to Jesus' disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?'"
But when Jesus heard this, he said, '"Those who are healthy don't need a doctor. Sick people do.'" (Matthew 9)
Is your religion a religion of guilt? The traditional preparation for Easter (Lent) in the Western Church, has emphasised repentance for individual sins. In the main, 'sins' meant personal lapses which are 'my own grievous fault' (a quotation from the mass). In later tradition these came to be identified with the 'seven deadly sins' (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and laziness) which are individual and moral lapses that merit both punishment and penance.
This legal view, whereby we remain constantly 'miserable sinners' (the English Prayer Book), plagued by a guilty conscience and always needing forgiveness, dominates both Western Catholic and Protestant traditions. It is what is often referred to as 'Catholic Guilt,' which has two very nasty, false and serious consequences. It has made people feel, "I am a bad person," rather than, "I do things to hurt myself and others,"and it hinders people enjoying a happy, full life because they feel, "What's wrong, I'm feeling OK, I should be feeling guilty. I must be doing something wrong!" But, stop and look. Does this approach come from Jesus? Was this Roman, moral, legal model Jesus' understanding of God's grace? Clearly, no, is the answer to these questions.
The legal, moral view, which Western Christianity adopted, portrays Jesus as judge and enforcer. It is the exact opposite of the Jesus portrayed in the Gospels. The Jesus of the Gospels consistently acted out God's grace when he ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. Jesus defended his inclusion of 'sinners' in God's kingdom by saying, "It is not the well who need a doctor, but the sick." He called himself a physician and a shepherd. Shepherds pay attention and care. Physicians deal with sickness and heal. They never play the guilt card. "A shepherd doesn't punish the lost sheep. The physician doesn't inflict more pain on the suffering," (Freeman).
Jesus explicitly rejected a 'guilt trip' approach to religion when he condemned the religious teachers of his day. He said to them, "You teachers are also in for trouble! You load people down with heavy burdens, but you won't lift a finger to help them carry the loads."
I suggest that, though the 'seven deadlies' clearly are destructive of our humanity and need to be dealt with, a guilt trip is not the best way to tackle these shortcomings. Rather, we who follow Jesus should behave like he did toward those in need and show them and ourselves that the path toward change in us, lies in acceptance of others, forgiveness, and exercising a surprising kindness and mercy toward all people, including our 'enemies.' As Jesus promised in the prayer he taught us, when we behave that way toward others, we will, ourselves, experience the amazing grace of forgiveness.
What kind of parent or teacher are you? One who constantly looks for errors and faults in students and is telling students to 'be better,' or one who, like Jesus, comes alongside to enable a new start, for everyone?
In his Lenten address, His Holiness, Pope Francis, commented on Lazarus (the other person is a gift) and the rich man (sin blinds us to the needs of others).
Today, in the third section of Pope Francis' reflection on Jesus' story, he comments on the themes of 'justice' for the poor man and 'judgement' for the rich man.
"Then he died, this poor man, and was taken up by the angels to the lap of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell and in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham in the distance and Lazarus in his lap. He called out, 'Father Abraham, mercy! Have mercy! Send Lazarus to dip his finger in water to cool my tongue. I'm in agony in this fire.'"
The Bible affirms that "God is love" and love cannot exist without justice. This is difficult because justice cannot co-exist with mercy, which seems essential for God to truly be love. The fact is the rich man failed to see life from Lazarus' point of view and justice demands that they swap positions, at least for a time. Without the experience of real poverty, the rich man could not understand the demands of love, and without the experience of justice, the poor man would never have experienced the joy of love.
Pope Francis gives a title to this section: "The word is a gift," and just as our life and the life of our neighbours is a gift of God to us, so is this Gospel story a gift if we listen and learn. Pope Francis says, "The two characters suddenly discover that 'we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.'" (1 Tim 6:7)
In the after-life, "…the rich man speaks at length with Abraham, whom he calls 'father' (Lk 16:24.27), as a sign that he belongs to God's people… The rich man recognizes Lazarus only amid the torments of the afterlife. He wants the poor man to alleviate his suffering with a drop of water. What he asks of Lazarus is similar to what he could have done (for Lazarus) but never did. Abraham tells him: 'During your life you had your fill of good things, just as Lazarus had his fill of bad. Now he is being comforted here while you are in agony' (v. 25). In the afterlife, a kind of fairness is restored and life's evils are balanced by good."
"…The rich man's real problem thus comes to the fore. At the root of all his ills was the failure to heed God's word. As a result, he no longer loved God and grew to despise his neighbour. The word of God is alive and powerful, capable of converting hearts and leading them back to God. When we close our heart to the gift of God's word, we end up closing our heart to the gift of our brothers and sisters."
So the Pope concludes, "Dear friends, Lent is the favourable season for renewing our encounter with Christ…. May the Holy Spirit lead us on a true journey of conversion, so that we can rediscover the gift of God's word, be purified of the sin that blinds us, and serve Christ present in our brothers and sisters in need… Let us pray for one another so that, by sharing in the victory of Christ, we may open our doors to the weak and poor. Then we will be able to experience and share to the full the joy of Easter." The Pope also encouraged us "…to express this spiritual renewal also by sharing in the Lenten Campaigns promoted by many Church organizations in different parts of the world, and thus to favour the culture of encounter in our one human family."
The world is facing the largest humanitarian crisis since 1945, with more than 20 million people in four countries facing starvation and famine, the United Nations humanitarian chief says. VisitABC News Stephen O'Brien told the UN Security Council on Friday that "without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death," and "many more will suffer and die from disease." He urged an immediate injection of funds for Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and northeast Nigeria plus safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid "to avert a catastrophe," describing the current situation as a "critical point" in history.
If you wish to contribute to alleviate the suffering in North Africa, donation sites include:
"There once was a rich man, expensively dressed in the latest fashions, wasting his days in conspicuous consumption…
"A poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, had been dumped on his doorstep. All he lived for was to get a meal from scraps off the rich man's table. His best friends were the dogs who came and licked his sores."(Jesus parable in Luke 19)
After commenting on "seeing the gift of the other person" in his Lent Reflection, His Holiness, Pope Francis, comments on the causes and nature of the blindness of the rich man that caused him to fail to even notice the poor man at his gate, let alone receive him as a gift from God. Pope Francis continues…
"… In him (the rich man) we can catch a dramatic glimpse of the corruption of sin, which progresses in three successive stages: love of money, vanity and (then) pride.
(Love of money)… is the main cause of corruption and a source of envy, strife and suspicion. Money can come to dominate us, even to the point of becoming a tyrannical idol. Instead of being an instrument at our service for doing good and showing solidarity towards others, money can chain us and the entire world to a selfish logic that leaves no room for love and hinders peace.
The parable then shows that the rich man's greed makes him vain. His personality finds expression in appearances, in showing others what he can do. But his appearance masks an interior emptiness. His life is a prisoner to outward appearances, to the most superficial and fleeting aspects of existence.
The lowest rung of this moral degradation is pride. The rich man dresses like a king and acts like a god, forgetting that he is merely mortal. For those corrupted by love of riches, nothing exists beyond their own ego. Those around them do not come into their line of sight. The result of attachment to money is a sort of blindness. The rich man does not see the poor man who is starving, hurting, lying at his door.
Looking at this character, we can understand why the Gospel so bluntly condemns the love of money: (Jesus said) "No one can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or be attached to the first and despise the second. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money" (Mt 6:24)."
Francis also said, "This season urgently calls us to conversion. Christians are asked to return to God "with all their hearts" (Joel 2:12), to refuse to settle for mediocrity and to grow in friendship with the Lord." So it is wise Lenten practise for us all to check for our 'blind spots' where we fail to notice the needs of others and gently ask ourselves, "What among my attachments causes 'blind spots' to the poor and needy in my life?" and, "What I will do to change?"
You can read Pope Francis' addresshere
"There once was a rich man, expensively dressed in the latest fashions, wasting his days in conspicuous consumption.
"A poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, had been dumped on his doorstep. All he lived for was to get a meal from scraps off the rich man's table. His best friends were the dogs who came and licked his sores." Jesus parable in Luke 19
In his Lenten address, Pope Francis spoke about Jesus' story of the rich man and a poor man named Lazarus who lay at his gate. Here is what the Pope said:
"The other person is a gift.
The parable begins by presenting its two main characters. The poor man is described in greater detail: he is wretched and lacks the strength even to stand. Lying before the door of the rich man, he fed on the crumbs falling from his table. His body is full of sores and dogs come to lick his wounds (cf. vv. 20-21). The picture is one of great misery; it portrays a man disgraced and pitiful.
The scene is even more dramatic if we consider that the poor man is called Lazarus: a name full of promise, which literally means God helps. This character is not anonymous. His features are clearly delineated and he appears as an individual with his own story. While practically invisible to the rich man, we see and know him as someone familiar. He becomes a face, and as such, a gift, a priceless treasure, a human being whom God loves and cares for, despite his concrete condition as an outcast (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).
Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift. A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value. Even the poor person at the door of the rich is not a nuisance, but a summons to conversion and to change. The parable first invites us to open the doors of our heart to others because each person is a gift, whether it be our neighbour or an anonymous pauper. Lent is a favourable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ. Each of us meets people like this every day. Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect and love. The word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life, especially when it is weak and vulnerable."
In another article on giving he said: "…the way of giving is as important as the gift. You should not simply drop a bill into a cup and walk away. You must stop, look the person in the eyes, and touch his or her hands. The reason is to preserve dignity, to see another person not as a pathology or a social condition, but as a human, with a life whose value is equal to your own."
Surely to regard each child and adult who comes across our path today as a precious gift to us is what being a follower of Jesus means, and is essential to calling a school Christian.
"Angels came to help him….he went to Galilee…. Then Jesus started preaching." (Matthew)
Usually we are tested before we are given a role. Not so with Jesus. He was acknowledged as "My son whom I love" and given his mission (Jesus knew his way of service would involve his death because later he himself names the cross as the "baptism with which he must be overwhelmed [baptized]") before he was tested. Why? Because, Jesus was the expression of God's love for all "chosen before time began" (Peter) and God knew Jesus would be faithful, as faithful as God's love for all of us.
Lent began last Wednesday and is the 40 days before Easter. It is a time for all followers of Jesus to give up those things that hinder us in our journey as we follow Jesus, and take up those tasks which our leader assigns us: tasks that will reveal God's love in a needy world in the unique way that only we can.
Before Jesus begins his ministry he undergoes an assessment, a threefold test. Was he up to the mission God had given him? Jesus faces a threefold test: satisfy his hunger by changing a stone to bread, take a short route to worldwide power and miraculously demonstrate his Messiahship. Jesus was tested.
The word is 'tested' and should not be translated as 'temptation' which has an unjustified moral tone. In his testing in the desert, Jesus shows he can resist selfishness, he will reject the paths of power and violence to achieve his aims, and he will not opt for an easy way out. He passes. But his testing would remain with him until 'the last temptation of Christ' (Martin Scorsese's film recalling bystander's taunts of Jesus, "If you are the Messiah come down from that cross"). Praise God Jesus passed!
When we pass an assessment it reveals our capacity to move forward with our lives. That is why God's assessments for Jesus were important and as we follow Jesus we, too, will be tested and be called to offer our unique service to God and the world.
We are all called to follow Jesus and the way of service symbolised by the cross. Tests will come in our daily lives. Can we be faithful, too? Following Jesus, he warned, is a narrow and testing path. However, all are called and all who are called have the gifts and capacity to serve in the way Jesus served. Lent is time to examine God's gift and call on our lives and recall that even if we are unfaithful, God is always faithful to us.
A practical way of daily examination is to adopt St Ignatius Loyola's Examen. Seehttp://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examenand go to the website for practical hints.
For Lenten devotions you might like to try subscribing to some email devotions (weekly or daily for the period Lent).
Athttp://www.lentevent.com/get-involved/sign up for a daily devotion during Lent from the Uniting Church in Australia's overseas aid arm (UnitingWorld).
Athttps://www.abmission.org/resources.php?action=list-items&catId=28you can view Australian Anglican Aid resources for Lent and there is a Lenten 2017 App for your smartphone promised!
Athttp://www.caritas.org.au/projectcompassionyou can view the Lent 2017 resources for Project Compassion (Catholic Aid). Caritas also have a smartphone app.
Athttp://www.fortomorrow.org.au/site/lentyou can find Lenten Prayers and some wonderful art from TEAR Australia (a combined churches aid organisation) and use your email to subscribe to 7 weekly prayers and devotional posters.
Athttps://www.tearfund.org.nz/Lent2017you can sign up for emails from NZ TEAR "This year we challenge you to rethink ethical consumption, as we explore building an economy that includes the poor."
You are like babies… So I had to treat you like babies and feed you milk. You could not take solid food, and you still cannot. 1 Corinthians 3
Experienced teachers know that young children require firm clear guidelines. Strict limits are also essential for adolescents but parents and teachers know that teens will both resent and test these 'restrictions'. Emerging adults require support to establish their own foundations for life and decide their own boundaries. Our goal, as teachers and guides on the journey of life, is to, as I heard one parent put it, "provide the wind beneath their wings," so that each young person leaves this school with the confidence and capacity to be the person God made them to be. We want them to grow up. As Paul pointed out to the Corinthians there are still too many childish adults.
Childish adults, when looking for leadership in their romantic partnerships, families, schools, churches, local, state and national government fall back into little child mode and seek someone who will solve all their problems - a strong husband, wife, mayor, pastor or Prime Minister. This is another form of idolatry and evasion of self 'responsibility'. Even in Christian faith, the 'god' we form in the image of our desires to solve all our problems, is an impotent idol not the one true God. As Ronald Heifetz points out:
"Too often, we look for the wrong kind of leadership. We call for someone with answers, decision, strength, and a map of the future, someone who knows where we ought to be going - in short, someone who can make hard problems simple.… Instead of looking for saviours, we should be calling for leadership that will challenge us to face the problems for which there are no simple, painless solutions - the problems that require us to learn new ways. Making progress on these problems demands not just someone who provides answers from on high, but changes in our attitudes, behaviour, and values. To meet challenges such as these, we need a different idea of leadership and a new social contract that promote our adaptive capacities rather than inappropriate expectations of authority. We need to reconceive and revitalise our civic life and the meaning of citizenship." (Ronald Heifetz, Leadership Without Easy Answers Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap/ Harvard University Press, 1994)
Are you the kind of teacher or parent who specialises in 'providing answers from on high' or the kind that challenges children, adolescents and young adults to adapt their own attitudes, behaviour and values to match the demands of who they are and the situation in which they find themselves? Such teaching and parenting is what puts wind beneath their wings. It is to this kind of leadership we are called today, every day.
For an answer, Jesus called over a child… "I'm telling you, once and for all, that unless you return to square one and start over like children, you're not even going to get a look at the kingdom, let alone get in."(Matthew 18)
Relationships can be analysed in terms of a struggle for power and control. Nietzsche thought "the will to power" was the main driving force in human life. We can plainly observe a human desire to control others in marriages, families, schools, social institutions, within nations and between nations. Those who are seen as 'lesser' - children, women, the poor, minorities, the marginalised, even just the 'different,' are often objects of a human desire to control and shape.
"There is something in all of us that incites us to control the other. The crime of idolatry is, precisely, creating our own god, in our own image and likeness. Rather than encounter God in God's awesome difference from ourselves, we construct a toy model in our own psychic and emotional image. In doing this, we do not harm God… but we do debase and scatter ourselves, surrendering the potential and divine glory of our humanity for the false glitter of the golden calf… Just as we can cut God down to our own size and impose our own identity, so we can do this with other people. In prayer (meditation) we develop our capacity to turn our whole being towards the Other. We learn to let our neighbour be, just as we learn to let God be. We learn not to manipulate our neighbour but rather to reverence them, to reverence their importance, the wonder of their being. In other words, we learn to love them… Because of this, prayer is the great school of community." (Fr John Main)
Because parents and teachers deal with children, John Main's words are of special importance. Jesus' disciples were arguing about who among them was best qualified to hold power when "Jesus' kingdom came." Jesus was asked to judge between them. He refused. Instead, he took a child in his arms and said that they wouldn't even qualify to enter his kingdom unless they became "like this child," refusing even to allow the idea of power to gain a foothold.
Not even God, most especially God, will force you to become who you can be. As teachers, every day we are faced with children and their individual 'respondibility' and potentialities (their individual image of God). Every day, for every child, the Lord asks us to reject our desire to do violence to these 'little ones' by forcing them into our mould and so scattering ourselves and surrendering the potential for divine glory in both their humanity and ours. Instead, the Lord asks us to respect the sacred space between, look for the potentiality for good in that child, and give them the opportunity to call forth God's image of love in them. Every day. Every child.
You obey the law of Christ when you offer each other a helping hand. Galatians 6:2
A community where both children and adults are seen and respected is essential for a school to meet its educational and social goals. However, a respectful community is hard to create and easy to destroy. To create and maintain respect between members of a community requires the commitment of all members of the community. Most of the letters preserved in the Bible are written to infant Christian communities in immediate danger of fragmenting. So Paul writes to the Galatians: "If you keep attacking each other like wild animals, you had better watch out or you will destroy yourselves."
Your family or the community of Great Southern Grammar can only have a secure future when the members of a family or community are committed to respect all others in their community. That is why I was so pleased that this year's Year Twelve leadership group identified 'respect' as a key emphasis of their contribution to the school this year.
Respect is necessary because it ascribes value to persons. When we are respected we feel valued, are able to trust others and confidently offer our assistance to others when they are in need. When we are not respected it seems that we have little value to others and have nothing to offer, so we retreat into our shell and cope alone in a group.
Materialism and individualism have done their part to destroy community in our families, schools and other social institutions and feeling alone in a group is an almost universal malaise. Respect is the antidote to aloneness. Respect is essential because, "I can only discover my humanity in you." Bishop Tutu explains that the African worldview of Ubuntu involves this mutual recognition of our humanity, "In Xhosa we say, 'Umntu ngumtu ngabantu'…. 'A person is a person through other persons.'"
Communities are destroyed by disrespect or not regarding another community member as valuable and important to me. When the Prime Minister is called "Mr Harbourside Mansion" and he, in turn, calls the Leader of the Opposition a "sycophant to the rich" mutual trust is eroded. These terms may be clever, the backbenchers may think, "now we are winning," but at what cost? Does this abuse add anything to trust between people? Do these terms accurately sum up who that person is and what they have to offer? Do they contribute anything to good government? Do they have anything to do with implementing policies for the people? No! Yet they become the focus. How can we say to our children that calling others names is wrong when children see adults being congratulated for the same behaviour for which they are being rebuked.
With Saint Paul, I want to say to politicians of both sides, "If you keep attacking each other (…), you had better watch out or you will destroy yourselves (and us)!" I realise this is a political example but it illustrates why it is so important to give our children an experience, both in our families and our school, where they are valued for themselves independent of their race, gender, economic status, abilities (or lack of) etc.
To preserve communities in our classrooms and families we need to both avoid destructive put downs in the cause of winning and, as Paul also advises the Galatian Christian community: "Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so fulfil Christ's law. If you think you are too good for that you are badly deceived."
The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others. (1 Corinthians 12:7 CEV)
Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. (1 Corinthians 12:7 The Message)
Welcome students, families, teachers and GSG staff to the 2017 school year. We've had an exciting and encouraging beginning with new students and staff being welcomed at an assembly on Wednesday.
As I have experienced the various events of the school year, I have thought often of the importance and truth of the saying "It takes a village to raise a child."
In traditional terms 'the village' meant a safe place where the child and her family were known. The village was a place where parents knew that, though they, or even the child's extended family may be absent, the child was still safe, learning and being 'looked after' by adults and older children they themselves knew and trusted.
Whilst the context in which children are now raised has dramatically changed, children's need for emotional and physical security, as a context for their learning, has not. The knowledge, tools, skills and abilities needed for teachers to transfer information and techniques to students has increased manyfold over the past few years, yet still it seems Australian students are failing to achieve even the base levels of literacy and numeracy of previous generations. The answer to this problem is not to be found in still further improvements in the knowledge and techniques of teachers, but perhaps more in the context in which the child learns.
A major reason teaching effectiveness has declined may be that we have ignored the importance of extended family and community to a child's learning. "Materialism and individualism have combined to make a world of false values"(Rabbi Sacks). The only antidote to this is the conscious creation of a community where a network of relationships exists to support each child in their learning and growing. Such is a Christian community where each person, young or old, sick or well, rich or poor, male or female, Indigenous or recently arrived in Australia, is valued for who they are. Each one is a child of God and gifted with their own "special way of serving others." Those are the words which Saint Paul wrote to a bitterly divided community. He commented that each child and adult in a Christian community was to be honoured because, "Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits." Education, like life itself, is an enterprise in which God's love is shown in all to all.
Community is essential for valuing children and each child is valued for what they alone can give - the compassion and caring for their fellow students which is uniquely theirs. Education is dehumanised and the child deprived when too much emphasis is placed on the child as a 'consumer' of knowledge. Children are to be valued for their gift of service to others. When "Everyone gets in on it" as Saint Paul says, "everyone benefits."
"He is the image of the invisible God . . . all things were created through him and for him." (Col 1:15)
A safe, happy, holy and blessed Christmas to all GSG families. Thank you to all students and staff who contributed to the Christmas service on Monday. The service included the lighting of the Advent Candles representing Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christ. Here is a summary of these key themes of the Christmas story of the birth of Jesus.
Christmas is a celebration of the coming of God in human form, as a baby. In Jesus, God joins our human life to his divine life and so brings to us the gifts of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love to us in our humanity.
In a time of quiet, reflect thankfully on the gift of Hope to you and your family. Open yourself to the gift of hope for your future, the future for the members of your family, community, our nation and our world. Claim that Hope. Work toward it. If it is a time of absence of hope for you in any of these areas open yourself to the gift of Hope Jesus wants to give you.
In a time of quiet, reflect thankfully on the gift of Peace to you and your family. Peace is both personal (internal) and communal (external). It is not the mere absence of discord, but the presence of a confident, calm harmony. During the busyness and materialism of Christmas, take some time to rest and reflect on the good things of your life. If you are facing a time of discord among your family or friends, rest with that and open yourself to the gift of Peace Jesus wants to give you. Pray for peace within and amongst all people of goodwill.
In a time of quiet, reflect thankfully on the gift of Joy to you and your family. Joy is not a transient emotion, but a transcendent substratum of our lives. Joy can always be found in the nooks and crannies of life. We just need eyes to see and an open heart. Joy surprises us with the sight of a Christmas tree in bloom, the voice of a dear friend, the touch of one who loves us. Be open to Joy and when she shows her beautiful face, rest quietly in the holy gift of Joy Jesus wants to give you.
In a time of quiet, reflect thankfully on the gift of Love to you and your family. Even in the most desperate of circumstances the Love of Jesus supports us and suddenly the light breaks through the clouds and the Love of Jesus comes to us in our life. Be ready to welcome Love. For love to be made real it needs to be continually offered. Be thankful for your capacity to give. Love also needs to be received. Imagine yourself as recipient of the love of Jesus that reaches out to us every day. In giving and receiving Love needs to be tenderly and gently nurtured for only then can the love within us grow strong and durable. God grant us to grow in the Love of Jesus.
These are the very real gifts that the coming of the Jesus, the Christ child, the Son of God, offers to all humanity. Are we open to receive?
Howard Thurman (1899 - 1981) was an American writer who left us with powerful thoughts and insights about Christmas. In his book, The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations, he wrote these stirring words:
When the song of the angels is stilled/When the star in the sky is gone/When the kings and princes are home/When the shepherds are back with their flock/The work of Christmas begins.
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To rebuild the nations
To bring peace among others
To make music in the heart.
Those of us who believe that Jesus is the 'human face of God' understand that the imperative to 'find, heal, feed, release, rebuild, bring, make' comes from our belief in Jesus Christ who set this example of living by the way he lived his life. Our relationship with him dictates that we live the same way.
There is a tricky part in all this for us. It is this: if this service of people ceases to be an activity which is 'a search for God' and becomes an activity only to help people to bring about a change for the better in their life, we are in big trouble. What happens if they do not respond? What happens if their lives do not improve?
Without the God connection to sustain us, we can get down-hearted and frustrated when the best of our efforts do not meet with success. When we see sad, miserable, poor people who remain sad and miserable despite our best efforts, the question arises: why am I doing this? Why am I wasting my time helping people who will not help themselves? These are questions from good people who have tried and believe they have failed in trying to help those described by Howard Thurman.
But the failure or success of our efforts is not the point. We are not called to be successful, but to be faithful. We must always remember that we follow him who was himself a 'faithful failure' (he died on a cross!). Jesus didn't promise his followers success when he asked them to take up their cross. Now we live to carry his gift of love to the world, he "died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again."
Mother Teresa's phrase of doing 'something beautiful for God' goes to the heart of the matter; we must have a good heart in what we do for Jesus Christ - a heart for Jesus. Children, especially, soon sense if we don't have a good heart, if 'the music in the heart' is gone.
Christmas is a time when we contemplate the amazing fact that Jesus Christ was sent by God to come and live with us and change the way we look at the world. Our Christmas gift to others, but especially the people that Howard Thurman refers to, is to be the compassionate presence of Christ in our world.
Based on a Christmas article by Fr Gary Walker SSC of the St Columban's Mission Society.
The greatest is Love (1 Corinthians 13:13)
Last week I alluded to a powerful metaphor for love: Love is being held and learning to hold others.
The 'holding' image is often used in the context of infant mental health. Infants learn to be human through secure attachment to a carer and we now know, for the brain to learn, each infant must be held, not just physically but also held tenderly and constantly in the mind of the carer. We never grow out of this need to be held, but growth comes in our capacity to hold others and keep them tenderly in mind.
Today, another metaphor for love: Love is being seen and learning to see others. The origin of life itself is being held in the awareness of God, without which nothing could exist. At the famous gathering ground of the ancient philosophers Paul quotes a pagan poet, "In him we live and move and have our being,"illustrating this truth. The origin of love may be divine, but expression of love is always human. God's love lives in people and is passed on through people, most perfectly in Jesus who is "love with skin on." Love is the experience of the 'self' becoming aware of others and holding them in mind, so becoming conscious of both me and you, what Martin Buber called the "I" and "Thou," the fundamental human transaction.
Love is awareness of the other and awareness of our self. So Jesus affirmed, loving God, others and self cannot be separated into different activities or parts. "For those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen." (the Apostle John).
In every act of love, God and our 'self' are involved as subject, and our neighbour as object. So when we think of love as awareness, it is impossible to love your neighbour without being aware of your neighbour and to be aware is impossible without care. When you care you also become aware of your 'self' as an agent of compassion, with the capacity to both care and act. Love exists in both the caring heart and the kind action.
In the blessing I used for Mr Sawle's commissioning, John O'Donohue mentions awareness:
"Remember to be kind
To those who work for you,
Endeavour to remain aware
Of the quiet world
That lives behind each face."
This is important in all human transactions but particularly important in teaching. In teaching, the one process of love works through awareness of the students and their needs by the teacher, and of awareness and trust of the teacher by the students. When awareness is present, this works to affirm the teacher and mature and affirm the students. Love as awareness is not a technique to be learnt (though it can be learnt) but a willingness to be open and aware of "the quiet world that lives behind each face." It is fundamental to good teaching. When this awareness is given and received, love flows and works its magic of connection, humanity, growth and healing.
But a warning: if love is expressed in awareness, the opposite can also be true. We can see people but not be open and aware or even want to be aware or care about "the quiet world that lies behind each face." We cannot be truly aware of someone - know them - if we don't care. When we care, love alone brings true connection and understanding.
Lawrence Freeman says, "Let's say the source of awareness is love and that this is illustrated through ordinary daily events when, in small acts of kindness, we experience our connection with others. We see and show that we are aware because we are loving." (The Unloving Know Nothing of God.) This is a way of understanding what the Holy Spirit is and what she does.
At a Picnic on the Hill overlooking Oyster Harbour, local Noongar elders met recently with many of GSG's Indigenous students.
Mr Sawle was welcomed by the elders, including Mr Aiden Eades whose words, "always remember this is Noongar land, but you are welcome to use it for the purposes of education," were recorded at the foundation ceremony of the School. Rekisha Satour (Head Girl, 2016) took time off from her study to farewell the elders. Mr Ethan Watson gave a moving tribute to Rekisha and the elders gave her a blessing as she leaves Noongar land to attend Bond University, Queensland. The Indigenous students (including Noongar students) have appreciated getting to know the elders and are thankful for the support they offer our students.
Last Wednesday, Mr Sawle invited church leaders to meet him for a prayer breakfast in the Library. About a dozen Pastors, Ministers and Priests of various churches in Albany met Mr Sawle. The history and nature of the school as a Christian school was explained. Without endorsing any particular Christian tradition, the School maintains faithfulness to the Bible and historic Christian creeds, while the Trustees hold the responsibility to uphold the Christian nature of the school. Mr Marsh commented that, in terms of Christian behaviour, the school emphasises the two great commandments and the beatitudes as sources for guidance and on the importance of providing today's students with a 'spiritual' perspective on life. Mr Sawle explained his commitment to teaching and learning in the school and his own involvement in care for the poor through a project in the slums of Nairobi.
Tomorrow sees Ms Simpson and Mr Barnett accompany the Year Twelve Leavers on their service learning tour of Cambodia. Our thanks go to them and to Mrs Sherree Hughes, tour leader, for organising the tour, and to Mrs Sharon Chapman (RN) for accompanying the group. The group returns on Sunday 4 December in time for the School Christmas Service and Awards Ceremony. We wish the students and staff a safe and rewarding trip. Keep an eye on the Grammar Facebook page for updates during the tour.
"Faith hope and love abide… the greatest is love." (1 Corinthians 13:13)
In what sense is love "the greatest"? Love is the greatest because it alone provides the essential connection between the transcendent or 'spiritual' aspect of life and life here and now as we live it in 'Trump's world.' Love is a doing word which, when lived, creates meaning.
All talk of the 'spiritual' or 'love' is nonsense if it means nothing to a teacher struggling with how to create the best opportunity for her student on the autism spectrum, or a teacher attempting to give confidence to a child who carries the scars of bullying or abuse or trauma, or an administrator seeking to balance finances to get the best outcome for the majority of students. If 'love' cannot make relevant connections to bring connection and meaning in our home, school or social lives then "no real meaning exists." We "can all just go home - except without meaning we have no home to go to." (Lawrence Freeman). Love is the greatest because it alone can create these connections and meaning. Love creates meaning because we are taken out of our 'self' to benefit another person in real, bodily life, lived in the here and now. The struggle to bring life and love to others is a 'spiritual' and 'divine' struggle and it alone brings meaning and connection to both the giver and receiver.
The love that is spoken of is not desiring love, friend love, or family love, but agape - the love which gives, not because of the worthiness of the recipient, but because of the nature of the Giver. This was the Greek word (rarely used at the time) chosen by Jews to translate God's love to the world and all people so frequently mentioned in the Old Testament. Agape seeks to name our experience of life because our lives are themselves a gift, and our lives are created and sustained in love. Our experience, too, is that God, in Jesus, has reached out to us in incarnate love. So, while Jesus reinforces the two greatest commands of Moses (love God and love your neighbour), almost every mention of love in the Bible speaks not our love toward God, but of God's love toward us. The beginning of love, then, is to receive. It is divine because it is only by ourselves being held in love, can we begin to hold others in love. The reason we are able to love, John tells us, is because, "God first loved us" (1 John 4:13). It is this 'enfleshment' of God's love in Jesus that is the link, connection, between the spiritual and the bodily worlds.
George Herbert's Poem Love (which, incidentally, led to the conversion of Simone Weil) speaks of the necessity of being receptive to the love of God as the origin of love:
"LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
'A guest,' I answer'd, 'worthy to be here:'
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.'
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'
'Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'Who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat."
"I will show you the most excellent way." (Paul, 1 Corinthians)
Many communities are dysfunctional. The fix is hidden in plain sight, but it is never easy.
We are fortunate that about CE53 the Corinthian Christian Church, founded by Paul about three years before, was split over many issues. 1 Corinthians is Paul's letter written to address these issues. There were racial and ethnic tensions between Greeks and Jews, conflicts over leadership, fights over theological issues, problems with ethics and different styles of worship. Sound familiar? There was jealousy, exclusion, members feeling superior while others felt useless and worthless. Into his letter Paul inserts his famous and probably known at the time, "hymn to love." He says, "I will show you a still more excellent way."
Paul tells us love is, first of all, essential:
"If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, 'Jump,' and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love."
Then, probably using a known song of the time he explains the nature of love,
"Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always 'me first,'
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Lastly, Paul explains that, as far as this life goes, love is one thing that is permanent, eternal, perfect, whole complete, sufficient, in fact 'divine.'
"Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled. When I was an infant at my mother's breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love."
Love is the one aspect of each of us that really matters because of all that we are and all that we do, it is the one thing that reflects the eternally divine in us. You can be whatever you want without love, but you cannot be human without love.
"Faith, Hope and Love abide… the greatest is love."(1 Corinthians 13:13)
It is clear from Paul's addendum, "the greatest is love," that Christian faith finds its origins in love for God, its belief in love from God and its manifestation in a life of love for others. This is 'Christian' faith and faith is not 'Christian' when the origin, object or manifestation is not love.
Today I grasp the nettle, bite the bullet and dive into the deep because I want to talk about faith as the substance of belief and address the question "How is GSG a 'Christian' school?"
The faith Paul speaks about when he says "Faith, Hope and Love abide…." is clearly faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ is not a vague religious awareness nor a generalised spirituality; it is a choice to follow Jesus and make a specific, personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord. When Paul says, "these remain: faith, hope and love" the faith he refers to, according to Bible Scholar Bishop Tom Wright:
"…is the faith which hears the story of Jesus, including the announcement that he is the world's true Lord, and responds from the heart with a surge of grateful love that says: 'Yes. Jesus is Lord. He died for my sins. God raised him from the dead. This is the centre of everything.'"
The community context for this kind of faith response is a church, a faith community - a gathering of believers in Jesus. By necessity, faith in Jesus Christ is individual and voluntary and cannot be required or mandated. Christian faith is also communal. Faith in Jesus Christ describe the beliefs ("I believe in God, the Father Almighty..") of the gathered community of the church. When discussing behaviour within the Corinthian faith community, Paul makes the confession "Jesus is Lord" central to his argument (1 Corinthians 12:3)
In this sense, this school is not, and never will be, a faith community - a church - made up of persons with a particular, or maybe peculiar, freely chosen faith in Christ. Does this mean it cannot be a Christian School because we do not, cannot and will not mandate a common belief?
This is an important question, because a school is an educational community and in an educational community, diversity of belief and freedom must always trump a monochrome compulsion or uniformity of belief. Diversity and freedom, amongst both staff and students, is essential for a school.
Though there are many Christian schools today that try to mandate faith, it seems to me that diversity and freedom make a school more Christian, rather than less Christian, otherwise we could make no progress toward knowledge of as yet undiscovered truth.
From a Christian point of view, Simone Weil said that if you are ever forced to choose between Christ and truth you should choose to pursue truth, because: "If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms." How can there be choice without diversity of beliefs and opinions, and the freedom to choose our own path? Diversity enables freedom and these are essential aspects of God's world (and in the church, since none of us have exclusive access to the truth).
Diversity is essential for another Christian reason. Each one of us, by virtue of our unique humanity, is a channel for God's grace to each other and the community. This diversity of uniqueness is inherent in our humanity. It is willed and gifted by God's Spirit so the many-sided magnificence of God's grace may become evident through all and to all.
Even if you don't think so, God's spirit is at work in your life calling, enabling, giving you life and love for others. Those, like me, who confess faith in Christ will be both willing to not only own our faith, but also willing to tolerate, respect and facilitate the expression of differing faith positions. To behave otherwise is to defy God's plan for humanity and the Holy Spirit's modus operandi.
Over 2000 years no organised religion has failed more spectacularly than Christianity to allow this diversity of faith, let alone encourage it. Apparently, the Church very early in its history decided that Jesus had got it wrong when he told us to "love your enemies," and we have been busy excommunicating, persecuting and sometimes killing our enemies ever since. Our intolerance has splintered God's people into thousands of fighting groups. Except for GSG. We are probably the first Christian institution in the world to have a low Anglican Principal followed by a high Anglican, a Lutheran and now a Catholic Principal. God and I say, "Hallelujah for Great Southern Grammar!"
Enforced uniformity is not only a Christian tradition. The Communist Party of China apparently sees organised religion as a threat to the state. A persecution which exactly parallels the persecution of the early church has begun in China. Public crosses have been removed from state-controlled churches. The State controls the appointment of clergy and monitors and regulates what the clergy say. Leaders of China's non-authorised house church movement, with members numbering as many as 100 million, are being jailed. Churchgoers are being asked to pledge loyalty to the Communist Party first, which one pastor (Pastor Wang) says,
"…cannot be done. 'Jesus Christ is my only belief, my only loyalty is to Jesus Christ,' he says. 'God says you should love your enemies, if they are hungry give them food to eat if they are thirsty give them water to drink, so we will pray for the non-believers. Let the spirit of Jesus move them and conquer them.'" (New York Times)
In this, the Chinese church has become a model of faith and hope for the world. They provide an example of both tenacious faith and a resilient faithfulness combined with the obedience to Jesus command, "love your enemies." I trust GSG will always have courage to facilitate, but not mandate, this faith in our community.
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about. (Rumi)
Following the WACE exams next year, GSG will again offer a service learning trip to Cambodia.
The tour visits Phnom Penh and supports building a house for the Flourish project (providing housing and employment training for AIDS-affected families). Students also visit other community development initiatives and cultural sites in Phnom Penh. The tour then proceeds north to take in a visit to the Light of Hope orphanage and the famous temples at Siem Reap. There will be a meeting for interested Year Eleven students and parents in the Library next Wednesday 3 November from 6.00pm - 6.30pm to explain the nature and cost of the trip. Please contact Mr Rodney Marsh for details firstname.lastname@example.org
"These three remain (necessary in community): hope, faithfulness and love. And the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13:13)
I used the word faithing last week to emphasise that faith consists in actions conveying God's kindness. Such actions build community. In fact, the word for faith can just as well be translated as faithfulness so, community is built upon three supports: hope, faithfulness and love.
When Mother Teresa said, "We can do no great things, we can do only small things with great love," she emphasised the importance of daily, moment by moment, faithful practice of kind words and deeds done with love. 'The long haul' is the essence of faithfulness, as in the title of the latest book by Eugene Peterson, translator of the "Message" version of the Bible: following Jesus is "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction."
No business or institution can survive without each and every functional unit fulfilling its allocated task. That is what a job is - fulfilling your function in the institution or business as best you can. In any job, including teaching, the daily tasks may be repetitive, boring and even burdensome, but that's the job, and the School, as an institution, cannot survive without this dutiful attention to every task by everyone, every day.
However, what is needed for a school is human community. Love is what changes institutions into a community. Communities are human and made up of persons, not machines, and people need love to thrive. Consider the smallest institution - marriage. When kindness becomes an obligation or purely instrumental (to achieve another goal), that relationship is headed for rocky times. That marriage has lost the kindness motivated by compassion and has ceased to be truly human. It has become instrumental and the relationship between partners will decay.
When love counts, it matters what our attitude is to our daily small duties. Are they small deeds done with great love? Only when tasks are done with love are we being faithful in the sense that builds community. The faithfulness that supports community is personal and relationship-oriented. Such faithfulness cannot be commanded nor even summoned up. Loving faithfulness never finds its source in ambition or a desire to gain advantage or the ego's requirement for approval or a need for material gain. Only from our own self, our unique soul, does the faithfulness of love emerge.
Faithfulness is primarily not exercised in obedience to a task or role but to being faithful to one's self - your gifts, your calling, your vocation. The faithfulness springs from our soul and is a form of deep integrity - a matching of the person to the task - which only you can know. It requires knowledge of self. A writer on Christian meditation says such self-knowledge leads to a deep integrity: a knowing "the good in oneself such that it hurts to go against one's own humanity," as well as another's humanity.
'Faithfulness' is personal, human and arises from who we are. For example, Julian Burnside QC's commitment to refugees was rewarded by a nomination for Australian of the Year, 2006. What motivated his in-faithfulness advocacy for refugees? His nomination script says, "He represents those who are powerless to represent themselves" because he is "advocating his own beliefs as a human being."
Another example. When Mr Geoff Waldeck led the singing of From Little Things Big Things Grow here at school, I felt it was a spiritual event. The song tells story of Vincent Lingiari's faithfulness to his own humanity. He heard the call of the land and the cries of his people and he faithfully held onto his vision until he felt the sand of his own land poured into his own hands.
The question for all of us is not, 'Am I a member of this community?' but 'how am I going to live in this community?' When we live faithfully with our soul and love, community will emerge.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7)
Faith often means holding a set of (irrational?) beliefs. The Queen in Alice in Wonderland, doesn't find faith hard. "Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast," she tells Alice and you have probably heard the Sunday School child's definition of faith: "believing something you know isn't true."
However, this view of 'faith' is very misleading. Faith should not be seen as an anti-rational aspect of religion that "asks the intellect to bow down before faith," where faith only starts when understanding ends. That attitude by church leaders has led to the shipwreck of many people's faith.
Faith, rather, is a way of knowing, suprarational rather than irrational. When faith is exercised, a person is given a gentler, more open perspective on life, which includes the rational approach, but is not limited by rationality. Faith is a way of living, a way of hearing, a way of seeing, a way of understanding, a way of knowing which increases our awareness, knowledge and appreciation of life. Faith isn't like believing in the sun because I can see it; it is knowing the sun has risen because I can I can now see everything in the sun's light.
Faith is like, when hearing Mendelson's violin concerto, knowing it is beautiful. As William Blake said, "A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees." Faith is an intrinsic, inherent, incipient behaviour based on an inner knowledge of who I am, you are, what the universe is. But, most of all, faith is a way of behaving with love: faithing.
Here is why faith is essential for each and all, every single student and staff, trying to live together in a school community, as we are, in this school. Paul writes, "Three elements of our community life will always remain important, Faith, Hope and Love, and the greatest of these is Love." Faith is essential for me to know myself, others and my place in the community. Faith is essential to love.
Paul wrote to a Corinthian church that had a problem of unity and diversity. What community doesn't? Diversity exists naturally and according to God's order. However, for the infant Corinthian congregation, difference, diversity meant division. Some felt superior to others, that they deserved and should have greater recognition and authority. Others were made to feel inferior, and still others were jealous of the greater exposure and praises some had. Paul uses the analogy of a body to argue that all members, each and every one, are necessary, valuable, and everyone makes an important contribution through what they do in the community.
Why faith is necessary for unity in community, is that every member needs to know they are valuable, part of the action, making a contribution, and, with their unique gifts, each one is already a channel for God's kindness to others. Others, by recognising each one's contribution, enable them to feel valued, and value themselves. This action of acceptance of self and others is 'faith' or 'faithing' since it is an action. This faithing is based on the belief that, "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." Do you believe that about yourself and other students and staff?
The belief here is that each member is gifted in a particular way to uniquely minister God's kindness, through acts of love. Faith is the action of accepting myself and others as an agent of God's grace. We exercise faith when we acknowledge that when I serve in this community I am a channel for God's grace to another, and when I am served, I am a recipient of God's grace. Through this faithing we create unity in community and the whole body grows "building itself up in love." (Eph 4:16). That's why faith will always be necessary for love.
Paul wrote to the ethnically mixed, infant Ephesian church, "God is building a home… Now he's using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together… - a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home."
At their final chapel the Year Twelve students heard the story, Mamang (Noongar word for whale). Mamang is a local, recently discovered and translated Menang story about 'our clever, brave ancestor,' a Noongar man who, Jonah-like, takes a trip inside a whale. When the whale finally beaches, the story says, "After a long time the whale became part of the sand and the rocks of that beach, and part of all the people there…" The whale, the people, the sand, the rock formed an organic/physical/spiritual unity.
Here, we see the Aboriginal understanding that the land, the place, the home was part of people and their life. The people are not separate from creation but intimately connected to the land and animals of the sacred, enchanted place in which they live.
During the holidays I read in Tim Winton's Island Home, "This country leans in on you. It weighs down hard. Like family. To my way of thinking it is family. It's good for the spirit, to be reminded as an individual or a community that there will always be something bigger, older, richer and more complex than ourselves to consider. Despite our shared successes, our mobility and adaptability, there remains an organic, material reality over which we have little control and for which we can claim no credit. To be mindful of that is to be properly awake and aware of our place."
Winton argues that we, as Australians, need to dialogue with the 40,000 year old wisdom of Aboriginal culture. He quotes David Mowanjarlai, "We have a gift we want to give you… All we want to do is come out from under all this and give you this gift… It's the culture which is the blood of this country, of Aboriginal groups, of the ecology, of the land itself."
I make the link between Mamang and Island Home because I think part of a full education for life is to help students know they belong; they have a place; that their life has meaning. Meaning comes through community and place. Connection is what brings meaning and belonging and, by virtue of living in Albany or the Great Southern, we already have a connection to country - the mountains, rivers, rocks, beaches. We have a home.
This connection "leans on you… like family." This connection is, I believe, established through God's Spirit who enables us to know us our true self, to know others, and to know our 'place.' We discover the beauty and kindness of God in the land, our relationships and our own unique spirit. We learn that, when we come to know our land, we have a home, we belong and we have value.
My wish for all students who attend Great Southern Grammar it is that they will come to know they belong; that they have a place, a home; that they are persons of infinite value. This knowledge comes through a community where all are valued and have a sense of place. Hence, the images of both Winton and the Bible about belonging are home and family images. We could say that, in Christ, God is building a home here between the King and the Kalgan and he is using each child and adult to build a home in which he can live. Brick by brick with deeds of love, God is using each one of us to build a home, a place, a family where each child is valued and each one knows they belong right here between the King and the Kalgan Rivers.
To finish the term, here are two more reflections about hope.
Optimism and Hope
I looked at the mountains, and they were quaking; all the hills were swaying.
I looked, and there were no people; every bird in the sky had flown away.
I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert; all its towns lay in ruins
(The 7thBCE prophet Jeremiah)
Hope in the Bible is very different from optimism. Optimism is a positive attitude to the future. A positive attitude is important because, if we or the children we teach do not believe we can achieve success, we won't even begin to try. Simple as that, and true. Hence the importance of positive education.
In a previous generation, Rev Norman Vincent Peale's book The Power of Positive Thinking exemplified America's 'can do' optimistic attitude to all things. Consider this quote:
"Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade. Your mind will seek to develop the picture… Do not build up obstacles in your imagination."
Good advice, but only when taken with a grain of salt and a dose of realism. Senior School teachers are probably now thinking of some Year Ten student visioning no obstacles to them achieving super marks in Specialist Maths, Chemistry and Physics next year.
I discovered last week that a young Donald Trump was a member of Peale's congregation in New York. He clearly took Peale's advice in his business dealings and ignored Paul Keating's quip, "Rooster today, feather duster tomorrow."Trump's slogan to "make America great again" came to mind again when I saw a famous image from my youth, an image of a badly burnt, naked Vietnamese girl fleeing America's napalm bombs. To make America great again may simply fulfill the rapacious, oppressive, greedy desire of the rich and powerful!
The Christian faith teaches that we need to be very careful of optimistic sayings like Trump's slogan or "Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better,"which, incidentally, like Peale's book, is a saying from a 1950's psychologist. They always need to be balanced by a realistic appreciation of the selfish desires for wealth or power within each of us.
Fortunately, there is hope even when there can be no optimism. Take Jeremiah. I have quoted part of Jeremiah's attack on the rich and powerful of his day. He predicts abandoned villages, environmental devastation, starvation, women and children being victims of war and massive population displacement. Unfortunately, Jeremiah's prediction is once again being fulfilled a few kilometres NE of where Jeremiah wrote those words. Not much room for optimism in Syria. But there is always room for hope. The pessimistic, 'weeping' prophet of doom, Jeremiah, is also a prophet of hope.
Rabbi Sacks draws this important distinction between optimism and hope:
"Optimism is the belief that things will get better. Hope is the belief that, together, we can make things better. Optimism is a passive virtue, hope an active one. It takes no courage - only a certain naivety - to be an optimist. It takes courage to sustain hope."
And, "Given their history of suffering, Jews were rarely optimists. But they never gave up hope. That is why, when the prophets saw evil in the world, they refused to (remain silent) be comforted."
This is still God's world and where God is, there is hope. Hope, because wherever God is, God's people are and so is God's image of love in all and God's Spirit at work in the world. In deeds of love lie the origin and power of hope for individuals and the community. In a Christian school, hope is central because it involves practical expressions of love directed toward students and other teachers. These deeds of truth through love enable others to believe they can fulfill their destiny and use their own gifts and themselves, serve others. Hope is an active virtue which enables us to work together toward our goals of facilitating each child becoming who they are in God's sight.
Values and Hope
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
The prophet Jeremiah giving hope in a time of great despair.
Hope in English denotes a mood and emotion. However, the Bible meaning of hope is not an emotion or mood. The rapper Lazy Habits asks an eternal question, "Deep down does it ever even out, does it even even out, even out in the long run?" Hope in the Bible is a sure confident answer of 'Yes' to Lazy Habits' question. Hope is the promise that the one God of justice and love will ensure that all things will even out in the long run. Hence, the distinction between hope and optimism. You cannot be despairing and optimistic at the same time, but you can have hope and be in despair at the same time. And we all can.
In the Bible, ethics cannot be separated from a flourishing life. Hope is expressed in daily working to bring God's goodness, justice and love to our neighbour. That is 'virtue,' 'goodness' and 'obedience' in the Bible and is necessary for a fulfilled life. A word for hope in the Hebrew Bible is a feminine word tikwah which, in itself, is a metaphor. The word means 'chord' - that which attaches us to the life force of our mother as hope connects us to the life of our future (as in the above quote from Jeremiah). Moses said to his motley group of freed slaves, "I set before you this day life and death. Therefore choose life." He was telling them that God's way to a fulfilled life was love of God and neighbour.
This connection between ethics and hope is vital. When Martin Seligman wanted to choose a word on which to build a psychology based on wellness rather than illness, he chose Aristotle's word eudaiomia (to flourish or to be happy) to denote the spirit of a positive and fulfilling life. In choosing eudaiomia he committed the positive psychology and education movement to the belief that you could only be happy by being 'good.' A 'good life,' a 'wholesome life,' a 'fulfilled life,' a 'positive life,' is, necessarily, a 'virtuous' life. So from the Greek tradition we also have an argument that virtue is necessary for happiness and any hope of a positive future.
Aristotle could have chosen another verb, hedonia, to describe a happy, positive and fulfilled life but he did not. Aristotle did not chose hedonia (from which we get hedonism) because he knew that, though pleasure did bring happiness, this happiness was a selfish, transient mood disconnected from a fulfilling and fulfilled life. Aristotle, by reason rather than revelation, agrees with Moses that a fulfilled life has a necessary condition - to live with virtue.
Last week a SixR student, as part of learning about 'positive education,' gave me a letter of appreciation, which he had freely chosen to write specifically to me. It made me feel good. It made him feel good. It was positive because of the truth that, "You are more blessed when you give than when you receive" (Jesus).
Positive education, essentially and necessarily, is about valuing others and ourselves and not about inducing an optimistic 'positive' little red engine 'I think I can…' attitude or a 'happy feelings' or an 'I accept myself' attitude to life. If positive education becomes a new magic formula to turn kids into positive, self-believing and achieving automons it will fail. Just like the recent 'self image' and 'resilience' movements, it will become what the Bible calls the foolishness of 'chasing the wind'. Why? Because when positive education becomes separate from a 'purpose' of life to love God and our neighbour, it separates itself from values and so loses a necessary element of a fulfilled life. When happiness, fulfilment or flourishing becomes ends in themselves we lose sight of the needs of our neighbour and so we lose our way in life. To have hope in life it is necessary to see and love others.
Today we said farewell to Mr Mark Douglas and Mrs Kellie Douglas, as well as to Logan and Archer Douglas, as they prepare to depart GSG at the end of term.
Mrs Douglas leaves a great legacy of care for Senior School students pursuing vocational pathways, and Mr Douglas' commitment to and hard work for students and staff in the Junior School will be sadly missed.
Recent research demonstrates that the most important aspect of student achievement is the empathy of their teachers and, at the level of leadership in schools:
"Accomplishing the maximum impact on student learning depends on teams of teachers working together, with excellent leaders or coaches, agreeing on worthwhile outcomes, setting high expectations, knowing the students' starting and desired success in learning, seeking evidence continually about their impact on all students, modifying their teaching in light of this evaluation, and joining in the success of truly making a difference to student outcomes."
(John A.C. Hattie, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning)
The real judges of whether Mr Douglas has fulfilled these goals should be the students, so I asked Mr Emberson's Year Six class to send an email to me about what they liked about GSG and about how Mr Douglas had influenced them. One student commented: "This is why I like being at GSG: the school is like a big family. I love coming to school every day because it is such a nice community and all the teachers and students are so nice and caring."
Here is a selection of comments the students made about Mr Douglas:
"He is always interested in what you say and do."
"The stories he told us were funny and interesting to listen to. It helped me to know more about new things."
"He likes to do things with us, like riding at camp."
"He makes learning enjoyable and fun."
"He is friendly and understands everyone."
"He always puts the students first eg: he will always show up to some student's sport game, no matter what."
"He helped me in my math strategies and in many different ways."
"He made me happy when I was down or sad. He also had nice chats with me in the morning or afternoons."
"He congratulated me on my achievements."
"He is a kind and honest person who has the ability to make lessons fun, while still educating children."
"He is supportive and has made me enjoy my Junior School years."
"He organises fun things. He has a good sense of humour and he is my favourite Head of Junior School."
"He has influenced me immensely."
"He has always been interested in and willing to talk to each student about their interests."
"I loved the lessons he taught us."
"He is very welcoming and he always asks how I am going."
"He always makes schoolwork fun."
"He is always willing to share his knowledge and stories and is an unrivalled teacher."
"He dedicated his time to do cricket training with us at lunchtimes."
"I like how he comes into our class and tells us about all his stories."
"I like how he's always happy."
"He is nice and compassionate to me and all other students."
"He always lit up my day with his smile and a laugh."
"He is always interested in what you have to say and do."
"He always has a story to tell us about and is easy to talk to."
"He comes into class and introduces us to big words and interesting stories of his past."
"He makes learning fun and enjoyable."
"I was always happy to see him in my class in the mornings."
I think you will agree that the judgement is in. The students have declared Mr Douglas has been a great teacher and leader of the Junior School. As one student said, "I hope that he teachers the same way in his new school, so that the students can enjoy their years in Junior School."
We wish Mark, Kellie, Logan and Archer well at their new school.
Perhaps the last word should be left to one of our judges, "He was the first person I met at the school. I am sad that he is leaving."
Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we've been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven - and the future starts now!
God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The day is coming when you'll have it all - life healed and whole. (Peter)
I was interested to note that during Dr Phil Cummin's keynote address at the GSG Connects Conference he specified 'hope' as a major component of a curriculum that deals with the character formation and life issues of students. But what is hope? Where does hope come from? How is hope justified?
Most of us agree with Shakespeare's Macbeth who sums up life as a, "a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." That seems, on the surface, an accurate summation of the randomness of life and the fact that hope has no basis. As the Bible says, "our lives are like 'water spilt on the sand - soon gone."However, no one lives without hope. We live as if my 'sound and fury' in life is really important. As communities, the Bible observes that "without hope, the people perish." Hope is the most counterintuitive aspect of human life, but it is also the most universal.
Hope is one of the three pillars - faith hope and love - that hold up a Christian community, and hence are of relevance to we who call ourselves a Christian school. It has always been of interest to me that our school shares something with the Dockers and early Christian communities. What? The symbol of an anchor. The Dockers, because Gerard Neesham's secret strategy of 'stun and run' was going to revolutionise the AFL and win them the flag in their first year. Unfortunately a vain hope. The Dockers were stunned and over-run. Our anchor presumably symbolises our hope to provide an education that allows every student to flourish. I hope, not a vain hope.
The earliest Christian symbols were the fish and an anchor. These were used during Nero's persecution in the fifties, and predate the Christian symbol of the cross by hundreds of years. The anchor was the Christian symbol of hope. And hope for them meant, according to Peter, that Jesus' resurrection was the assurance that, "we've been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven-and the future starts now! God is keeping careful watch over us and the future. The Day is coming when you'll have it all-life healed and whole." Hope was, for the earliest Christians, not an optimism consisting of certain desires for a better future, but a confident embrace of God's future for them and for their world. Hope was an aspect of God's relationship with the world.
I think hope is the vital aspect of education. Children can only be taught that their lives do not 'signify nothing' if they themselves are significant to the adults around them. All children need to be surrounded by those who love them. Those who love them are actively ensuring that the future for them is secure. Then they will own hope themselves.
"I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another." (Jesus in John's Gospel on the night before he died)
This week in Chapel I spoke about choices and said to both Middle School and Senior School students:
"Your parents have chosen to send you to a Christian school. What does this mean? We know what it does not mean! You will not be bullied into participating in a whole lot of meaningless ceremonies. You will not be brainwashed into believing a whole heap of things you really cannot or don't want to believe.
Attending a Christian school should mean (I hope it will mean) each person experiencing recognition and acceptance. In order for this to happen, attending a Christian school like ours means that you will be encouraged to offer acceptance to others through deeds of compassion. That is what Jesus offered to all through his ministry and he was explicit; we cannot experience the acceptance of God's love if we are not prepared to show that acceptance to others.
Attending a Christian school, then, also means you will hear Jesus' invitation, "follow me," and when we begin to follow Jesus we begin to become like him and to learn, gradually, to obey his command, "Love one another, as I have loved you."
Following Jesus means living a life like Jesus lived: living each day as a person who shows compassion to those in loneliness or pain, being someone who is always respectful of others, being someone whom people trust and know they can rely on and someone who bridges difference with love. That is what trusting Jesus and following Jesus means.
Our school values: compassion, respect, tolerance and integrity are not just words. They are lived values. They are the values of a Christian school. On this basis, whether you attend a Christian School is up to you. The only ones who can make this a Christian school is you and you and you. This is because values like compassion, respect, tolerance and integrity are lived values and the people who must live them are each one of you. The only way you can learn this way of living is, each and every day, to choose to live this way. The choice is always yours."
"Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem." (Luke 9:51) and he expected his disciples to follow him.
Francis Leong is the local Diocesan Director for Catholic Mission and here is the story he told at a recent PD I attended. This story is about the photo here
About twenty years ago, Francis was working with the Jesuits in a refugee camp of 3000 children in Zambia. There was political trouble in neighbouring Angola and Francis had gone to Angola to bring some children to the safety of Zambia. When he and the children were nearly to the border of Zambia his ute full of about 15 children was stopped at a road block. Three young men of about 16-18 years of age with loaded AK-47 rifles told him he could go to Zambia but the children must stay with them. A choice.
Frances said, "I cannot leave the children." Soldiers cocked their rifles, pointed them at Francis and again said, "You can go but you must leave the children." Francis was faced with a choice but he knew what the choice must be. He was afraid and in his confusion he said, "I must take the children. Fr Ernesto will be angry if the children do not return." It was a lie. He had only briefly heard of Fr Ernesto and he did not know why he said that, but the expression on the faces of the child soldiers suddenly changed. Their leader said, "Father Ernesto! Is he still alive?" Francis replied, "Of course he's alive. He's waiting for the children."
Francis had connected with a spark of humanity in these child soldiers. It turned out that, a few years before, they had served as altar boys to Father Ernesto. They then became confused because the boy soldiers now faced a choice. They said, "We cannot let the children go with you. What shall we do?" So in a second inspired suggestion, Francis said, "Why don't you come with us?" They asked, "Can we go to school?" "Of course!" So they hid their army fatigues and guns in the bush and joined the children travelling to Zambia. The photo shows Francis with the three soldiers and children.
Every day we face choices. Not choices as dramatic as Francis faced, but very significant, nonetheless. Jesus faced a choice and he chose to 'set his face to Jerusalem'. The Christian life is a path to follow Jesus daily. We do that by the choices we make and, as is said, 'we make our choices and then our choices make us.'
"You'll not likely go wrong here if you keep remembering that Jesus said, 'You're far happier giving than getting.'" Paul's advice to early followers of Jesus.
Service learning, like the Cambodia trip, is an essential aspect of an education for 'the whole child' because it teaches by participation in another culture and this facilitates students' experience of an essential part of a happy life: giving to and sharing life with the 'poor.'
Some of the words used to describe student responses to the Leavers' Cambodia trip were: Intense…. shocking… powerful… brilliant… rewarding… eye-opening…(and, of course), awesome.
Two GSG Leavers' service learning trips to Cambodia have been held to date. Both groups were interviewed as the students prepared to return to live in Australia. Some of the main lessons learned through service can be gleaned from these comments by participants in the 2013 and 2015 trips.
From the 2013 trip:
"The work we have done has really helped Cambodians."
"We've been able to help others, which is a great feeling."
"I really enjoyed working with the group and I have made some great friends."
"A really great experience of another culture."
"The fact that there are so many people out there believing in change, believing in good and believing things can be better is so affirming…"
From the 2015 trip:
"Confronting, but life changing."
"An incredible experience… I loved the food."
"Look at my I LOVE CAMBODIA shirt. It says it all."
"A really good trip. I learned a lot. It changed my perception of Australia and how we live."
"An incredible experience. I really enjoyed it."
"(I saw) a lot of really, really amazing things happening to counteract that (the poverty)."
"A really great experience. I learnt a heap about culture and had a great time. It's hard to see the poverty that the Cambodians live in but I really enjoyed being able to help just a few people and make a difference to their lives."
"It changes your perspective on life. We take for granted how much we have, (Cambodians) are so happy despite the fact that they don't have a lot."
"Seeing all the kids…really touched my heart and the best thing was meeting Tola, our Baudin House sponsor child. He's a gorgeous kid and so happy even though he's been through so much."
These comments are from students who experienced first-hand the rewards that come to those who help others. Such experiences are essential to forming character and learning the school's values through participation in deeds of service.
Jesus told a story about people who had shown compassion to him. These people were unaware that they had served the Lord. "When did we see you hungry and feed you?" they said. Others had seen Jesus in need and were not aware they had ignored the Lord. "When did we see you naked and clothe you?" they complained. The answer to both groups was the same: "When you did/didn't do it to the least of these…. You did/don't do it to me". God hides himself in what Mother Teresa called, 'the distressing disguise of the poor.' Service learning needs to be an integral part of any Christian school as we seek to assist students to become citizens who value service.
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the sky proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19)
One effect of the rise of Science is what sociologist Max Weber called, the "disenchantment of the world." Weber thought that in traditional cultures, "The world remains an enchanted garden" and this is certainly true of Australian Aboriginal culture. But now the mystery and magic of the world has been stripped of anything sacred by a scientific understanding of the world.
By 1904, Weber had predicted the rise of a "mechanised petrification,"embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For the 'last man' of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: "Specialist without spirit, sensualist without heart; this nullity (nothingness) imagines that it has attained a level (of humanity never) before achieved."
In a secular education system, Weber's prediction contains a warning. STEM subjects necessarily must approach Creation as not a place full of mystery and magic but a place of symbols, numbers, models and things we use to understand, control and manipulate the world. Unfortunately, humans themselves then soon become objects in this giant machine and we are constantly absorbing the message that only the functional and the useful has 'real' value. Eventually the old, the disabled, the stupid and the very young have no functionality and so no use, which comes to mean they have no value. Indeed, they are less than valuable because their cost to society outweighs their contribution.
Meanwhile, our hearts and minds are torn because, inherently, we regard ourselves and those we love as beautiful, valuable, mysterious, living beings inhabiting a beautiful, valuable and mysterious world. Have we reached Weber's predicted state of "mechanised petrification" of being "specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart" whilst still embellishing ourselves with convulsive self-importance?
In all this, has teaching and learning become itself a technique of manipulation and have schools become manufacturers where the output value must outweigh the cost input? Clearly not. Many scholars have shown this has never been true nor will it ever be true of teaching and learning because both teachers and the students know that, in schools, what matters most is the relationship between teacher and student. To commodify information, to turn teachers and students into objects in a process, to turn teaching into techniques of 'information transmission' and to regard students as 'information absorbers' is to destroy schools and any chance of real learning.
"…education is elementally about the love between a teacher and a student and if you mention the word love in a congressional hearing they look at you like you are Oprah - but the Christian community speaks naturally in that language and gets to the core of things and if you want to learn the truth about bad attachments, bad love I've found that only the Christian community can give you the language to understand those problems," (David Brooks New York Times).
Neils Bohr recognised that in the real world (of quantum mechanics) "profound truths are recognised by the fact that the opposite is also a profound truth." On another occasion, when seeking a solution to a scientific problem, he said, "How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress." Paradox, too, is at the heart of life itself, Christian belief and schools, just as incompatible truths are at the heart of a scientific understanding of matter and energy.
For a Christian school, I believe, we need to re-sacralise our thinking and the world, and, without denying the truths Science affirms, we also affirm each human life as sacred, endowed with value and dignity and a holder of the mystery of divine likeness. These truths can only be realised in a community of love. We do not denigrate STEM, but we hold as equally true, opposite truths about ourselves and our students. We bear God's image, we have innate dignity, we are owed respect, we are responsible for the choices we make - all of the things that are essential to a Christian understanding of who we are.
Let us then daily re-value ourselves and teach, STEM subjects included, not with "mechanised petrification," without spirit or heart but, instead, as humans capable of showing empathy with and compassion to younger humans, who, in that process, are also learning empathy and compassion as they learn the curriculum. That is the essence of a Christian education that is true to who we are.
"Evil is lying in wait for you, ready to pounce; Master it before it masters you." (Gen 4:7)
The Bible starts on a high. Humans are made in God's image and entrusted with a beautiful, useful creation. In God's own words, it is all "very good." Like being present at the birth of one's own baby, it seems that nothing could disturb this perfection before us. However, as in our lives, the first family soon goes wrong. Having been ejected from the garden, the elder son, Cain, becomes so jealous of, and angry with his brother, that God warns him, "sin is lying in wait for you, ready to pounce; it's out to get you, you've got to master it." Cain fails to master his emotions and kills his brother. The first murder within the first family in the first world. Cain's punishment is not capital. Instead, he is marked, like all of us, and sentenced to wander East of Eden. Cain lives out his life, homeless, alienated from his family and forever searching for what he himself had destroyed.
Genesis seems to specialise in family conflict: Abraham and Lot, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah, Joseph and his brothers, and it all always comes down to choice: our choice.
John Steinbeck, in East of Eden, comments on the Hebrew verb in verse seven, "sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule (mayest rule) over it. …the Hebrew word, the word timshel - 'Thou mayest' - that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if 'Thou mayest' - it is also true that 'Thou mayest not."
As teachers and parents, we are helping children and adolescents form what Segal calls mindsight maps of their own internal world, the minds of others and the relationship between the self, others and the world. Children's minds form their basic architecture by age 30 months. The framework is set for how they view themselves, others and the world. Even for the little ones, there is a unique universe within by which they view the universe without. From that point forward it is our choices that influence the internal mindmap of self, others and all things. And in our choices, evil is always crouching at the door. And God's advice, "Thou mayest rule it," is already in the room. Whether we will rule evil or not is up to us. Again, Steinbeck: "I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . Humans are caught - in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too - in a net of good and evil. . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well - or ill?"
Teachers and parents have great power over students: power to influence, inform, mentor, guide, and with great power comes great responsibility. Each year I read to Year Six and Seven students Cain's story in the form of a modern midrash by Rabbi Sandy Sasso. Near the end of the story are these words: Time passed, a long time. The world was not new anymore. People built cities and made homes there. Yet people often spoke angry words. And with angry words they drew their swords. Swords turned to guns and guns to bombs. One killing became two, two became four, and four became sixteen. Sixteen killings became war. Entire worlds were destroyed.
When anyone dies, "entire worlds are destroyed," and, just as distressing, when any child is put down, ignored, does not receive love and respect, entire worlds are reduced. Creation is no longer good. On the other hand, when a child is respected, listened to, supported by love, entirely new and beautiful worlds come into existence. This is our privilege, our responsibility as parents and teachers.
A special visitor to the Great Southern Grammar staff conference, GSG Connects, held on 17 and 18 July, was The Very Reverend Richard Pengelley, Dean of Perth. Richard is an Anglican Priest with experience as a parish priest and as a school and university chaplain. He is well qualified to speak about what makes a school 'Christian.' His speech at the conference was thought-provoking and well received. It is reproduced in fullhere
To begin Term Three, Years Four to Twelve students gathered in the Multi-Purpose Sport Centre to celebrate NAIDOC week.
Menang Elder, Mr Lester Coyne, delivered a Welcome to Country address and Head Girl, Rekisha Satour, gave the following reflection.
Rev Rodney Marsh | Chaplain
Today's assembly is to celebrate NAIDOC Week. The theme of NAIDOC Week this year is Songlines.
NAIDOC is a time to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and achievements and is an opportunity to recognise the contributions that Indigenous Australians make to our country and our society.
Great Southern Grammar is proud to
recognise the 50,000 years of Aboriginal connection to land;
recognise Australian Aboriginal culture is the world's longest living continuous culture;
recognise the importance of the school's land to local Noongars past and present;
value the contribution that Indigenous Australians are making to our nation and society; and
value the wonderful contribution that Indigenous students are making to Great Southern Grammar.
A Victorian Aboriginal elder said, "Culture is central to identity. Culture defines who we are, how we think, how we communicate, what we value and what is important to us… Every area of human development, which defines the child's best interest, has a cultural component. Your culture helps define HOW you attach, HOW you express emotion, HOW you learn and HOW you stay healthy."So please respect and honour my culture and yours.
Let me tell you about my own cultural background: I am a Noongamarie woman from Daly River in the Northern Territory.
My dreaming is the blue tongue lizard and I go by the name Wombungee in my home community.
My culture is very important to me, as yours is to you, because, as have just stated, it makes me who I am.
My home place is Nordic, where my Great Grandmother was born. Nordic holds my family's history and is part of a songline that holds a special place in my heart.
Today is a time in this school to build respect and trust between students of different backgrounds and a time for us to learn about Aboriginal histories, cultures, identities and successes.
Great Southern Grammar has 23 Indigenous students, 12 of whom are Yalari students. We sincerely thank these students for their unique heritage and wonderful contribution to our school. Some come to us with a great Noongar heritage and history and others from Aboriginal nations around Australia.
Please be proud, with these students, of the wonderful way they have shared their lives and country with us at Great Southern Grammar.
Miss Rekisha Satour | Head Girl
"If you are guided by the Spirit you won't obey your selfish desires." (Paul to the Galatians)
There is no doubt that the prophet Jeremiah was right: "the heart suffers from an incurable illness - self-deceit." For example, a neuroscientist comments, "One of the things we know is that the brain is really good at self-deception. I've experienced this myself. I happen to think…my brain tells me that after four or five single malt scotches I'm uproariously funny, but people around me say it isn't so." (Daniel Levitin)
When using meditation mindfulness we can become a victim of this self-deceit. Acceptance can be interpreted as resignation, "Mindfulness has taught Leanne to accept things as they are: rubbish, expensive, unfair and out-of-date every six months." Or, alternatively, narcissistic self-absorption. "Clive likes to practise loving-kindness meditation … Clive finds this easier than bothering to meet his friends or lending them money." (from the Ladybird Book of Mindfulness).
However, despite meditative reflection being open to misuse (because of the inherent deceitfulness of the human heart), it remains the only means of changing destructive habits of mind or emotions.
Oftentimes we become trapped in negative and destructive thought patterns and emotions and discovering the kindness at the centre of all things through meditation will mean we change, inside. This change will be invisible to our mind, underneath our 'conscious self' and will affect those parts of our 'self' which are beyond words or rational control. This change takes place in the 'self' which is the home, not only of our true self, but also God's Spirit. Change here remains the only effective way of changing us deeply and permanently.
This, too, has a moral and ethical perspective. Deep down change wrought by experiencing ourselves as accepted, loved and valued goes hand in hand with a change in how we treat others. If there is no change in the way we feel, or our negative 'self-talk,' or the way we treat others, this shows there has been no experience of loving kindness at the centre of our being. This is the link between faith and virtue and both are essential to a fulfilling and fulfilled life.
Christian fathers and mothers of meditation have called this form of prayer the 'journey inward' and the life lived in the service of others the 'journey outward' and both are essential to our own wellbeing. When we think about what the Bible calls 'wisdom' and our emotional reactions, the inward/outward journey is how we are called to 'be' in God's world. And we grow both by journeying inward and journeying outward.
We discover a sacred trinity within ourselves: our true self, the divine being in us and loving kindness for our neighbour. In our inward/outward journey we rediscover ourselves as a loved and loving being made in God's image.
Give us the courage to face ourselves, the wisdom to be loved and the boldness to serve. Amen
Then Elijah was told, "Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by."
"A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn't to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn't in the earthquake; and after the earthquake, fire, but God wasn't in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper." (The Book of Kings in the Bible)
Our mind is a tree full of chattering monkeys. Meditation is a brain skill that quietens the inner storm and enables us to really listen.
After winning a great victory against the prophets of Baal, Elijah had become suicidally depressed. He travelled South East to the desert mountain where Moses had spoken with God, first out of a fire, then later out of dense smoke and blazing light. Perhaps, he thought, God would speak to him. While he was hiding in the cave, God said to Elijah, "Go out and stand on the mountain, I want you to see me when I pass by." There was a cyclone, earthquake and firestorm. But God was not in the roaring wind, nor the loudly cracking stones, nor in the flames of the fire. Instead, God spoke to Elijah in the 'sounds of silence' that followed. Pope Francis recently used the term 'sonorous silence' to describe Elijah's experience. Some synonyms of sonorous are 'resonant, rich, full, imposing and majestic.' That sounds like a very loud silence!
Australian Aboriginal languages usually have a word for listening to the silence. One such word is Dadiri (from a Victorian language). Aunty Miriam Rose says, Dadirri "recognises the deep spring that is inside us. Dadiri is a special quality of inner deep listening and quiet still awareness." It is both deep listening to the land and paying attention inside to the soul. Elijah practised Dadiri and heard the voice of God. To hear the voice of God you need a listening soul. You must learn to quieten not only your mind and emotions, but your obsession with yourself. Such quietness is only learned through practise. Pope Francis said, "It is so difficult to listen to the voice of Jesus, the voice of God, when you believe that that the whole world revolves around you: there is no horizon, because you become your own horizon." Children and teenagers are notoriously egocentric so they especially need teachers who listen to them (inside) so they, in turn, can learn to listen.
For a Jesuit like Francis, emotions play a crucial part in hearing the voice of God to one's soul. By reflection, we observe our emotions, accept that we are sad or angry or whatever, then we think about the triggers of our emotions in our experiences of the day and about why we felt or feel the way we do. Then, crucially, we 'play' with our own 'desires' and 'passions' and assess both their origin and destiny. Those imaginings that leave us feeling loved, positive, peaceful and joyful are labelled as 'consolations' and those that leave us feeling alone, bitter, frustrated or sad are labelled as 'desolations.' Our 'consolations' are God's way of leading us in his way. Generally speaking, this access to inner self needs the assistance of both a competent psychologist and a spiritual director.
Freud spoke of psychoanalysis as a 'speaking therapy' but really it is a listening therapy. We see that there is deep healing for the soul when we speak and are deeply listened to. "Is there enough listening in the world today? Do we, in marriage, really listen to our spouses? Do we as parents (or teachers) truly listen to our children? .. Can we really claim to be listening to the voice of God if we fail to listen to the voices of our fellow humans? .. From time to time we need to step back from the noise and hubbub of the social world and create in our hearts the stillness of the desert where, within the silence, we can hear the still, small voice of God, telling us we are loved, we are heard, we are embraced." (Sacks)
In our interactions with those who cross our path this week, can we listen to the silence within to hear the voice between? In the space between we hear the voice of God.
Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. (Paul, to the Believers in Rome)
The Atlas of Emotions lists five human emotions: anger, fear, disgust, sadness and enjoyment. For each of these emotions a 'mood' is described which, when triggered, gives rise to a particular emotion. For example: a sour mood gives rise to the emotion of disgust, the emotion of anger is easily triggered in a person who is habitually irritable. According to the Atlas:
A calm, balanced frame of mind is necessary to evaluate and understand our changing emotions. Calmness ideally is a baseline state, unlike emotions, which arise when triggered and then recede.
But where do I go to get beyond my mood and find that 'balanced frame of mind' from which I can evaluate my changing emotions? My emotions are triggered, rise up, take control of my actions, and, before I have the opportunity to reflect, the damaging deed has been done or hurtful word has been said! Unfortunately, I think the Dalai Lama wasted his $750k on this website. He got a very bad deal because the website's creator, Paul Ekman, provides no advice whatever on how to find and develop that 'balanced frame of mind' that Eckman thinks should be the basis of our response to our emotions. I quote a Buddhist teacher:
Two primary Buddhist tools for dealing with emotions are mindfulness and equanimity. There's no guidance on how to develop these.Source
Meditative mindfulness is a simple human activity of using our mind to concentrate our attention. It is not religious and, although meditation is found in all religions, it 'belongs' to no religion, nor is it secular. It is a human activity. However, I believe that humans are Homo religious, and when we meditate, we are discovering who we truly are and who God is.
I submit that a baseline state of calmness can only be discovered and grow where we are loved. This makes a Jewish/Christian view of meditation as an encounter with the God of love through prayer, a great explanatory tool of our experience. Neither Buddhism nor science can explain why mindfulness works. The Christian faith provides an excellent reason, involving the nature of God as love, and the dignity of humans made in God's image to explain the effects of mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness uncovers a quiet place within us, a place of love where God dwells and we experience acceptance, forgiveness, peace and freedom.
I think meditation is a form of prayer and in prayerful meditation we discover the inner self where we are deeply, eternally and perfectly loved. This works because it is who we are and who God is and at the heart of all things is tender acceptance.
In other words, mindfulness does not work because it is spiritual or religious or scientific, but because it is truly human.
Paul advises, "fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out." This is the sweet spot in life, the place to find the baseline state of calmness. For me, that means fixing our attention within and listening attentively. When we are still and listen we will discover the freedom to respond to our emotions as we wish to, not according to habit.
Be angry but do not let your anger lead you to do the wrong thing. (Paul's letter to the Church in Ephesus)
My first teaching post was at Mount Barker. I was used to walking on the left hand side of the veranda, but I soon discovered large senior boys walking straight toward me and I had to step aside. When I tried walking on the right hand side the students decided that they, too, needed to walk on that side of the veranda. My naiveté was overcome. The students were wishing to provoke an incident of 'veranda rage,' but I did not play. The game was 'chicken' and I had lost. This was a power a struggle and I was a 'loser.'
I remembered this incident when looked at the Atlas of Emotions. Anger is triggered by interference and one of the innate triggers for anger is "interference with locomotion." The list of triggers for anger is:
The Bible says, "Be angry" indicating that when our locomotion is interfered with, the emotional response of anger is appropriate and cannot be condemned. However, once anger registers, we do have a choice in how to respond. So Paul advises "Be angry… but do not sin;" that is, do not let your emotional response lead you to damage yourself or hurt someone else. Some prompts to anger are harder to deal with. Being put down by an authority figure is more likely to lead to supressed anger, and rejection by a loved one will more likely lead to more permanent, deep-seated, seething anger.
The Atlas of Emotions directs us to source our response to anger triggers from, "A calm, balanced frame of mind." When Paul tells us "Be angry but do not sin" he supplies a context for developing the calm and balanced mind from which we can live a fulfilling life in relation to others.
Firstly, individually, we are to live out the 'image of God' in which we were created and in which we are being re-created. Paul says, "…put on the new self, created to be like God." Living the Christian life is reclaiming and living out the love of God in which we were formed. This is the self from which we respond to feelings of anger. Secondly, Paul gives "our calm, balanced self" a place in community. He tells us we are all "part of the same body." Together, we "grow and become strong because of love." Love cannot exist without relationship and we, in relation to Christ, learn to love from a place that is the gift of love to us, within us, and between us. Without that living love experienced, received, growing and being lived, we do not have the choice to "become strong" because we are trapped into actions which fit our culture.
Did those Mt Barker boys have a real choice not to play sidewalk chicken with those in power? Only if they live in and experience a community where others choose to make it a culture of love, not power. Everyday, that is our choice, too.
As surely as rain blows in from the north, anger is caused by cruel words.(Proverbs)
The Dalai Lama has done his bit to create more self-aware, compassionate humans, but he wants more. So he commissioned American Psychologist Mr Paul Ekman to create "An Atlas of Emotions."
Ekman worked on the Pixar movie Inside Out and, in his Atlas, he distilled five basic emotions: anger, fear, disgust, sadness and enjoyment. In the Atlas, behind or below each of the emotions, lies a state of mind. For example, the state of mind behind anger is feeling irritable, behind sadness is feeling blue, and behind enjoyment is elation. But, according to the Atlas, still more fundamental than these sources, we can access, "A calm, balanced frame of mind" which is "necessary to evaluate and understand our changing emotions. Calmness ideally is a baseline state, unlike emotions, which arise when triggered and then recede."
The Atlas outlines various levels of the anger response, from annoyance to fury, and helps us identify the trigger points for anger. Anger is sparked by innate triggers like interference with locomotion, interference with action, rejection by a loved one or an irritable personality. Learned triggers to anger are cultural or personal and include: inefficiency or bureaucracy; being put down by an authority figure; encountering offensive beliefs; and being wrongfully accused. Anger also leads to various innate or chosen actions ranging from disputing to insulting or using physical force.
The model confirms two basic Christian beliefs. Firstly, we have a choice. We cannot choose not to be emotional, responsive beings, but we can choose our ways of responding to our emotions.
Our chosen behaviour determines the kind of life and relationships we will have. In communities like ours, the experience of students and teachers alike is probably more determined by our style of relating, and how we react to our emotional states, than it is by any goals chosen by the institution or values supposedly held by the institution. Values are only in the DNA of the organisation if they are in the DNA of the individuals who make up that organisation. It takes a very short glance at either our own life or a look around the world - values are not innately in anyone's DNA. They must be taught and lived and lived and taught. In order to achieve goals, the school community members (staff and students) need to both encourage and make good choices about how we react to our feelings of anger.
Secondly, in dealing with emotions, it takes a lifetime to receive the gift of calmness. The Bible calls calmness Shalom, a place of peace from which we are freer to choose who we are becoming. In itself 'calmness' is a place of settled relationship with God and ourselves; just what the Christian faith offers, and there is only one path to find this place, by living with the commandments of love, both as subject and object.
"Don't make friends with anyone
who has a bad temper.
You might turn out like them
and get caught in a trap." (Proverbs)
Our school motto includes 'wisdom,' but what is wisdom? This saying, attributed to Clifford Stoll, "Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom," places wisdom at the top of the DIKW pyramid where, "Typically information is defined in terms of data, knowledge in terms of information, and wisdom in terms of knowledge".
Perhaps the most famous parody of a teacher who only stuck to the base of this pyramid is Dickens' Mr Gradgrind in Hard Times.
"NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!"
In Hard Times Mr Gradgrind gets his comeuppance and every student of his academy, lacking any sense of morality or wisdom, ends up betraying and disappointing him.
Wisdom, in terms of the Bible, is not just, "the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement" (Dictionary definition), but has, in addition, an ethical and moral tone without which humans cannot live a fulfilled and satisfying life. Those who are able to live wisely live happy, fulfilled, satisfied, flourishing lives because they have learned and practised wisdom.
This wisdom is universal. The above wise advice, "Don't make friends with anyone who has a bad temper," is part of two chapters of the Hebrew Bible in Proverbs taken directly from a second-millennium Egyptian work, the Instruction of Amenemope.
This wisdom is moral. Wise people look after themselves and others. Who could doubt this advice from Amenemope and the Bible? "Don't be a heavy drinker…you will end up poor with only rags to wear."
This wisdom is also relational. "Make your parents proud, especially your mother,"is wise advice in any language.
So let's be a wise school that has teachers who value each person, value fair and moral behaviour, value beauty in art and music, for then, and only then, will we be able to have wise, not just knowledgable, students. "Knowledge puffs up, Love builds up" and wise students need wise teachers.
"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."
1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV)
"Now all we can see of God
is like a cloudy picture
in a mirror.
Later we will see him
face to face.
We don't know everything,
but then we will,
just as God completely
1 Corinthians 13:12 (CEV)
A little intellectual humility goes a long way. When it comes down to it, we know a great deal about the world and ourselves, but the more we know the more we begin to realise the vastness of that which we do not know. Mystery deepens. Not despite the advances of science but because of the advances of science, do we realise that life itself, and individual life in particular, is a great mystery.
The greatest mysteries: consciousness; gravity; the self; quantum entanglement; the mind or soul; seven dimensions; causation; parallel universes; and time itself all resist our understanding. Some can never be examined or understood (parallel universes), while others, when they are understood, just give us glimpses of even greater complexities.
Before writing the The God Delusion, Dawkins would have done well to read Wittgenstein's reflection, "The whole modern conception of the world is founded on the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena… the modern system tries to make it look as if everything were explained." The ancients used to stop at God and nature, the moderns stop at the so-called laws of nature. Why? Good question.
Wittgenstein was one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. Though of Jewish extraction, pressure on Jews meant he baptised Catholic. During WWI he fought for Austria and continuously made notes for his first and only book Tractatus Logico in which he examined the limits of languague. With supposedly his last shilling he purchased the only remaining book in a Tarnow (Poland) bookshop.
Wittgenstein himself said that Tolstoy's book kept him alive during the war. He memorised passages of it by heart and is said to have carried The Gospel in Briefwith him at all times, through his illustrious career in England until his death in 1957. He also maintained his attraction to the Catholic faith. Was the most rational man of all men, superstitious? Not really. Though clearly an agnostic, he simply left room in his life for the mysteries of faith and humanity.
Wittgenstein's most famous quote comes at the end of Tractatus Logico. He speaks of philosophy as a ladder to be climbed and then discarded and concludes, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." However, if I followed that dictum I would be out of a job. So I speak as one pleading and persuading you not live your life arrogantly, always leave space for God and have a listening ear for love, which is God's language. In our modern age of STEM emphasis in education, we need to especially remember this in our classrooms, unless we wish to end up with a heap of knowledgeable fools.
GSG Parents' Prayer Group
An informal gathering of GSG parents who pray for the school and our students has been gathering off campus. Would you like to join the group? The coordinator is Mrs Jennifer Wingard, T: 0429 153 322. Future meetings for prayer will be on campus and at a convenient time for parents wishing to drop off their children. Meetings are held on the last Friday of school each month. You are most welcome to attend the next meeting on Friday 27 May 8.00am-8.45am in the Pratten Centre (SS15).
Help the GSG Leavers' 2016 Cambodia Trip by sponsoring a child.
Over several years now, GSG Leavers have visited Cambodia under the very capable leadership of Ms Sherree Hughes (assisted by her family). Sherree and her husband, David, have worked in Cambodia for many years. They purchased land and set up a training workshop and housing for AIDS-affected mums and their children, called Flourish. GSG students have built two houses at Flourish in 2013 and 2015. We plan to build another this year.
For many years, Sherree and David also led tours for groups to visit Cambodia. Because both the tours and Flourish have grown so much, these projects have now been linked with International Children's Care (Australia). So another highlight of our Leavers' Cambodia trip is the visit to the ICC children's village. This visit was made even more significant last year because it gave our Baudin Leavers the opportunity to meet with Baudin's sponsor child, Tola. Sherree Hughes writes, "Did I mention to you that Tola's older brother was found on the streets and is now at Light of Hope, living with his brother. He is much quieter than Tola but still very forthright in his own way. He is really wanting to please and has settled in nicely and from all reports is very clever at his studies (this is his first opportunity to study)."
As part of the GSG Leavers' 2016 Cambodia Trip, students are requested to raise $1,200.00 to support the building of the house and the work of ICC. Mrs Sue McNeil, Mrs Penny Simpson and I can personally guarantee that donated money is both needed and very well used. Sherree suggested that half of the money needed for the 2016 trip could come from GSG families sponsoring a child at the ICC children's village. This involves a donation of $50.00 per month for a minimum of 12 months. These donations are tax deductible.
The children at the ICC village live in homes with about 10 or 11 'brothers' and 'sisters' cared for by wonderful Cambodian parents. This ensures that the children both keep their Khmer heritage and language and are raised in a home filled with Christian love. Sponsored children know who their sponsoring 'parents' are and send updates on their progress as they grow.
Seyha's parents both died due to illness when he was a very young boy. His neighbours took care of him until they could no longer support him, and they decided to abandon him in a village market some distance away from their home village. Sadly, local authorities have not been able to identify Seyha's home village or his extended family, so Seyha was referred to ICC for proper care.
ICC Australia will use your sponsorship funds to help Seyha live in a safe and caring environment with nutritious food, medical care and the opportunity to complete an education.
Your sponsorship will help build a brighter future for this precious boy.
If your family would like to share in giving a Cambodian child a chance in life visithttps://www.iccaustralia.org.au/where you find a number of boys and girls whom you can help, like Seyha. Profiles of children requiring sponsorship can also be found at GSG Reception.
At the ICC website you can find children from other countries to sponsor, if you prefer.
Please inform me, Mr Ross Barnett or Ms Penny Simpson by email if you choose to sponsor a child so that we can inform ICC and have the sponsorship included in target total for the GSG Leavers' 16 Cambodia Trip.
All donations are tax deductible so keep your receipts.
You can sponsor a child by either a monthly donation of $50.00 or an annual donation of $600.00.
An uninvited, disreputable woman turned up at Simon the Pharisee's house when he was entertaining Jesus. She behaved disgracefully, but Jesus did not rebuke her.
Simon frowned and silently objected. Jesus, turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, said, "Do you see this woman?" (Luke 7)
American anthropologist Ruth Benedict was the first to draw a distinction between 'guilt' and 'shame' cultures. At the behest of the US Office of War Information, Benedict wrote material which was published in 1946 as The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. The US wanted to 'understand their enemy' in order to predict the behaviour of the Japanese in World War II.
"In shame cultures, what matters is the judgment of others. Acting morally means conforming to public roles, rules and expectations. You do what other people expect you to do. You follow society's conventions. If you fail to do so, society punishes you by subjecting you to shame, ridicule, disapproval, humiliation and ostracism.
In guilt cultures what matters is not what other people think, but what the voice of conscience tells you. Living morally means acting in accordance with internalized moral imperatives: "You shall," and "You shall not." What matters is what you know to be right and wrong.
People in shame cultures are other-directed. They care about how they appear in the eyes of others, or as we would say today, about their "image." People in guilt cultures are inner-directed. They care about what they know about themselves in moments of absolute honesty. Even if your public image is undamaged, if you know you have done wrong, it will make you feel uneasy. You will wake up at night, troubled. "O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me!" says Shakespeare's Richard III. "My conscience hath a thousand several tongues / And every tongue brings in a several tale /And every tale condemns me for a villain." Shame is public humiliation. Guilt is inner torment." (Jonathon Sacks)
There is another important difference. A shamed person is a bad person, and that cannot be changed. Their shaming follows them and their family to the grave. In a guilt culture, a person who has done something wrong is not a bad person. They may be a sinner, but sinners can still be loved and forgiven. Love the sinner, hate the sin, the saying goes. Surely this Judaeo Christian understanding lies behind the recognition of "the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family" which is "the foundation of freedom, justice and peace" (UN Declaration of Human Rights).
Social media is particularly prone to the use of shame to exclude members. Online anonymity enables immediate shaming of any member of any community by simple unlikes. This makes the teaching of young people to 'do the right thing because it is the right thing' all the more urgent. We also need to teach, by example, to be honest and apologise when we hurt someone, which also means that we, too, must learn how to forgive when others wrong us.
Perhaps that was what Jesus meant when he said to Simon the Pharisee, "Simon do you see this woman?" He identified with the shamed woman, accepted her and forgave her. An example of facing up to both guilt and shame.
God spoke to Moses: "Speak to the congregation of Israel. Tell them, be holy because I, God, your God, am holy. …… Love your neighbor as yourself. I am God." (From Leviticus 19)
The above rules were formulated to keep together and stable as a community a small group of fleeing slaves. Notice how, in any functioning community, the key thing seems to be looking out for one another. Don't spread rumours, help when you can, forgive and treat people fairly. Pretty simple to understand, really. Just hard to do.
Here's how I put the rules to staff:
Be holy as God is holy and this is what it means.
Don't show favouritism to either the poor or the great.
Treat everyone as valuable, from the youngest child in Kindy to the Principal.
Don't just stand by when your neighbour's life is in danger.
Always, without judging, be willing to help every person going through a hard time.
Don't secretly hate your neighbour. If you have something against them, get it out into the open.
Don't seek revenge or carry a grudge against any of your people.
"Love your neighbour as yourself….. I am God."
Any community is built on these foundations of respect for one another: marriage, family, school, city, or world.
In many communities we too often pass off the responsibility for the 'common good' to leaders (be it the Principal or Prime Minister) and expect them to create a healthy, functioning community. Rabbi Jonathon Sacks says that too often, "we look for the wrong kind of leader. We call for someone with answers, decision, strength, and a map of the future, someone who knows where we ought to be going - in short, someone who can make hard problems simple… Instead of looking for saviours, we should be calling for leadership that will challenge us to face the problems for which there are no simple, painless solutions" and "Making progress on these problems demands not just someone who provides answers from on high, but changes in our attitudes, behaviour, and values." Wise words at a time when we as a community are choosing a new Principal and our nation is choosing our representatives in our Commonwealth Parliament.
The blessing below was used when Mr Marquardt was inducted as Headmaster of Great Southern Grammar and was used again at his farewell assembly yesterday afternoon.
The blessing is for a leader - For One Who Holds Power, by John O'Donahue - and comes from his book To Bless the Space Between Us. It is eerily prophetic in respect of the graces he has shared with us as a community.
May the gift of leadership awaken in you as a vocation,
Keep you mindful of the providence that calls you to serve.
As high over the mountains the eagle spreads its wings,
May your perspective be larger than the view from the foothills.
When the way is flat and dull in times of gray endurance,
May your imagination continue to evoke horizons.
When thirst burns in times of drought,
May you be blessed to find the wells.
May you have the wisdom to read time clearly
And know when the seed of change will flourish
In your heart may there be a sanctuary
For the stillness where clarity is born.
May your work be infused with passion and creativity
And have the wisdom to balance compassion and challenge
May your soul find the graciousness
To rise above the fester of small mediocrities
May your power never become a shell
Wherein your heart would silently atrophy.
May you welcome your own vulnerability
May integrity of soul be your first ideal,
the source that will guide and bless your work.
A big thank you all students who participated in the Easter Service. It was a wonderful time of reflection and celebration.
Mr Marquardt washing students' feet as a symbol of his service, Jessica and Adriana's beautiful dance and the Senior Vocals singing Down to the River to Pray were highlights. I wish particularly to thank Rev Geoff Westlake who brought an inspiring message, not just to the Easter Service but also to the Year Seven and Eight camps.
Now, my second reflection on Easter..
You were raised with Christ. (Paul writing to the church at Colossae)
Easter has two parts: the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus. Neither can be understood without the other. The resurrection is God's 'yes' to Jesus' obedience and faithfulness on the cross. The key to Easter is to realise that we are involved in both Jesus' obedience and faithfulness on the cross and his victory in the resurrection. We are involved not as mere observers, but as participants. We know this because when Jesus shared his last meal with his disciples he used the bread broken and the wine poured out to symbolise his impending suffering. Then he shared these gifts with his followers, indicating their involvement in the events which were about to happen. When Jesus said "eat, drink" he spoke to all of us who wish to follow him.
We, too, though separated from Jesus by two thousand years, died with Jesus and were raised with him. "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" the black spiritual song asks, and every follower of Jesus responds with "Yes I was!"or rather "I am," both in suffering and glory.
We know we are, by virtue of our humanity, involved in suffering. We daily observe or experience suffering, psychological, physical and spiritual, and God in Jesus, by the cross, voluntarily, obediently and faithfully joins himself to all human suffering and every human sufferer. Indeed, Paul lists the suffering of the non-human world as included amongst the birth pangs of a new universe brought about by Jesus' death on the cross.
The best news is that not only are we joined to Jesus' suffering, we also participate in Jesus' victory over suffering and evil through his resurrection. On the cross Jesus himself affirmed his faith in God's faithfulness to him. When Jesus said, "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" he was quoting the first verse of Psalm 22 and Jesus probably either continued reciting the Psalm in full from the cross or, at least, understood that the observers of his death would themselves complete the Psalm in their minds.
Psalm 22 refers not only to events that were happening to Jesus at the time (the taunting of Jesus, saying, "Where is your God now?", the gambling for his clothes, his thirst) but also to his impending rescue and restoration ("When I cried out, he listened and did not turn away," "People all over the world will turn and worship you, because you are in control," and "People not yet born will be told, 'the Lord has saved us!'")
By simply being alive we participate in suffering, but Jesus' resurrection assures us that there is a new world in process of being born. Death does not have the final say because we were raised to new life when Jesus was raised. Because God in Christ has entered into our lives our suffering is neither lonely nor pointless. Suffering, as at Easter, become the vehicle of transformation. As we share in his sufferings we also share in his victory. It is Christ's faithfulness that brings us this new life and hope and joy. Then, we live out Christ's resurrection life by loving God and our neighbour with renewed vigour and hope.
The greatest mystery of Christianity is not the resurrection of Jesus, but his crucifixion.
Not only does the impending death of Jesus occupy the Gospel writers, the Gospel narratives are dominated by a description of the last week of Jesus' life. Paul makes an unmistakeable historical allusion when he quotes what is probably the earliest recorded Christian hymn:
"He didn't claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death-and the worst kind of death at that-a crucifixion."
On this Good Friday we wonder, what does Jesus' death mean? Paul makes it clear that Jesus' death was an act of service to humankind (When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human!) and an act of obedience to God (he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death). It seems clear, by the cross of Christ, God planned and Jesus implemented, a plan to rescue the cosmos (universe). The cross is the world's salvation.
Oftentimes, however, in our modern age, Christ's 'rescue' of the world through the cross is trivialised, individualised and perverted by people being urged to 'cross the line' and 'go to heaven when you die' by 'accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour'. This is but a small part of what it means to follow Jesus. Marilyn Robinson writes:
"Theologically speaking, the cosmos has contracted severely. The simple, central urgent pressure to step over the line that separates the saved from the unsaved, and after this the right, even the obligation, to turn and judge that great sinful world the redeemed have left behind - this is what I see as the essential nature of the emerging Christianity. Those who have crossed this line can be outrageously forgiving of one another and themselves, and very cruel in their denunciations of anyone else." (p102 The Givenness Of Things)
Christian faith, both corporate and individual, in Christ and his death is not just a 'ticket to heaven when you die.' This message, too, falls on deaf ears (especially among the young) because it is irrelevant to life now and becomes an 'escape from the world' rather than being a call to become the 'servants of the world,' the role Jesus envisaged for his followers. Fortunately, this unGospel is not the true message of the cross in the Bible. The purpose and effect of Jesus' obedience and service through the cross is to rescue and renew the world. And Jesus commands his followers to walk the same path of service, obedience and suffering. This path is the path of loving, obedient service of God and our neighbour.
A better understanding of the message of the Bible is explained by John Chrysostom (350-407 CE) speaking about Jesus who 'came not be served but to serve'.
"Consider how great the benefits would be if it [to serve as Jesus served] were everywhere in abundance - how there would be no need for laws or tribunals or punishments or avenging or any other of those sorts of things, since if all loved and were beloved, no human being would injure another. Yea murders, and strifes, and ward, and divisions and rapines, and frauds and all evils would be removed and vice unknown even in name." And, "if this were duly observed, there would be neither salve nor free, neither ruler nor rules, neither rich nor poor, neither small nor great." (quoted by Robinson)
This invitation to follow Jesus is a much higher calling than the 'ticket to heaven' modern perversion of Jesus' message.
"The Lord's Spirit/has come to me/because he has chosen me/to tell the good news to the poor." (Luke 4)
After his Lenten test, Jesus went to town and defined his mission. He quoted the prophet Isaiah, "The Lord has chosen me/to tell the good news to the poor."
The poor are those who lack resources. Who are the poor in our classrooms? Those children who do not have the physical, emotional, intellectual or social resources to achieve their potential. These are 'at risk' children.
Jesus specifically became poor himself to serve those who were poor, especially children. Which is why Jesus said, "Unless you become as these children (poor) then you cannot enter into life." To follow Jesus, the rich had to themselves become poor. Then Jesus sends his poor followers to serve the poor, not the rich. To Jesus, the poor were "blessed" because they were both the recipients of God's special love and the conveyors of God's special love.
In God's eyes it is the rich in physical, emotional and intellectual resources who are the real 'poor,' because their technology and their wealth give them an "illusion of omnipotence." Pope Francis said on St Francis day last year, "The real poor are revealed as those who refuse to see themselves as such. They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor. This is because they are slaves to self, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars. The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow. It can even reach the point of being blind to Lazarus begging at their doorstep." (cf. Lk 16:20-21)
He goes on, "The (literally) poor have a special place at the heart of the Gospel."And he lamented, "The blindness and 'illusion of omnipotence' which often afflicts the rich and powerful who close their hearts to the poor and end up themselves being the poorest of the poor."
Who are those resource-less children in our care? Utilitarianism would put these children last on our list to receive help. God puts them first. And if we, the rich, are labouring under "illusions of omnipotence" when we seek to serve the poor we soon discover that our estimate of our own capacities is indeed overblown. We begin to realise we must become poor in ourselves and rich in love if we are to help any children.
The school community is invited to gather to celebrate the GSG Easter Service on Thursday 24 March at 2.00pm in the Multi-Purpose Sport Complex.
All parents and friends of the school are invited to attend this significant event in the school calendar. Parents of Middle School students may like to attend the service before they pick up their children from Middle School camps. The 2016 visiting Chaplain, Rev Geoff Westlake, will speak at the Easter Service.
As part of students' preparation for Easter, Mr Westlake will share in daily Holy Week Chapels for Senior School students and visit the Year Seven and Year Eight Camps to share the message of Easter.
Mr Westlake was formerly Pastor at Lakeside Baptist Church and is now Director of Outreach and Church Ministries (OCM). He is author of an Easter App for iPhones and iPads which guides us through Easter events. You can download this app from the Apple store via this link
I trust that you will join the school community to celebrate the joy and hope of Easter.
Jesus returned to Galilee with the power of the Spirit (Luke's description of the beginning of Jesus' ministry following his time of testing).
The testing Jesus underwent in the desert was undoubtedly traumatic but, according to Luke, he "returned to Galilee with the power of the Spirit." Jesus had demonstrated that he could fulfil his mission "to serve and not be served" and now he would.
Ruby Wax recently wrote a very descriptive account of her descent into depression whilst writing her latest book Frazzled. Later in her depression she found the strength to write.
"With depression, you're completely aware that you're gone and that's what's left of you: a zombie who can only steer you into the bathroom and find food. That's about it."
Fortunately after several months Ruby's depression lifted. She uses her considerable skills of self-description to courageously write with brutal honesty about her depression and recovery. Such sharpening, insight, growth will happen to all of us when are reflective on our life experience; the only other option is to fail the test, not become reflective and so become bitter about what we have gone through. Peter advises Christians being persecuted, "Rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials."
So next time God puts a test in front of you, be reflective and return to your life renewed with the power of the Spirit, like Jesus.
The victims of the recent Cyclone Winston in Fiji need our help.
The Methodist Church of Fiji is prominent in Fiji and is an agency well placed to meet the needs of people on the ground. You can learn about the effects of Cyclone Winston and give assistance through an appeal launched by Uniting World (the Uniting Church in Australia is the sister church in Australia of the Methodist Church in Fiji). You can be assured that your tax deductible donation will be well used.
Follow this link to learn more, and donate.
"You are my Son…" At once, this same Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild. (Mark 1)
Last week I asked us to engage in a Lenten reflection on how we act toward others and how we relate to others because, "This is who we are and who we are lies behind how we behave."
Oftentimes I think that God does not wait for us to reflect on the 'person we are becoming.' Instead, God uses circumstances to force us to reflect and to test our real intentions. This is what happened for Jesus. Jesus' reflection on his 'life task' led him to be baptised and his role as the One God was affirmed by the gift of the Holy Spirit and accompanied by the words, "You are my Son." But, immediately, according to Mark, Jesus faced some serious questions about how he was to fulfil this role. Jesus did not choose this 'testing time.' Rather, Mark says Jesus was forced out, expelled, pushed out, thrown out, driven out into the desert for a time of testing. Mark uses the same word (cast out) to describe Jesus making a whip and driving out the money-changers from the temple.
So, too, when we choose a 'people profession' like teaching (or, indeed, we do something like get married) circumstances will soon arise which challenge our real motivations. These challenges will be in a form which will force us to stop, reflect and make us look deep within ourselves to assess the resources we have to fulfil the role we have chosen and again choose to become the person we want to be.
Jesus faced three tests: to satisfy his desire for food whilst fasting; to attain power and glory by serving self; and to have God to spectacularly rescue him from public danger. In three tests Evil seeks to divert Jesus from his mission: "to serve not to be served and to give his life to free others."
Children and adults can instantly pick up if we are less interested in them than we are in pleasing ourselves, if we are going through the motions so we can be paid, if we are seeking self-affirmation or glory rather than to listen to them and seek their good. The test comes when we realise that our hypocrisy has been spotted and our real motivations revealed to us. Can we reassess what we are doing and how we are doing it? I think we can only pass this test of self examination, if we, like Jesus, can face up to our darkness, turn to the light and reaffirm our goal: "to serve and not be served."
All verses from Luke 9.
During the season of Lent we join Jesus on the path to Good Friday and Easter Day. Lent started last Wednesday, Ash Wednesday. Traditionally, Lent is seen as a season of repentance and self-denial. Lent is that but, during Lent, we ask something much deeper of ourselves: 'Will I take time to pay attention to who I am and who I am becoming?' The skill to pay attention is root of "judgement, character and will." (19th Century philosopher, William James). His quote in full is:
"The faculty to voluntarily bring back wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgement, character and will. An education which improved this faculty would be an education par excellence."
Before we are teachers, administrators or workers, we are wives, husbands, partners, fathers and mothers, children, brothers and sisters, and before any of these roles as employees or family members, we are persons. The way we exercise the roles as family members or teachers is based upon who are as people.
As James says, the repeated bringing back of wandering attention is the only way to discover who we are. Only by paying attention can we reflect on how we act toward others and how we relate to others. This is who we are and who we are lies behind how we behave as teachers, family members or in other people-centred roles. Any growth and change in how we relate and teach absolutely requires 'the faculty to voluntarily bring back wandering attention' so we learn who we are called to be.
The model of Jesus' journey toward the cross, in Luke 9, gives us an idea of what this self-reflection involves.
Notice how God's affirmation of Jesus as a chosen and beloved Son follows on from Jesus' realisation (through attention and reflection) of who he is called to be. In the life of faith affirmation, confirmation follows on from stepping out to become who we are.
Can you, over the six weeks to Easter, take some time to 'voluntarily bring back wandering attention' and pay attention to your own self and to those who you love and to those who love you and to those whom you serve? Take some time each day, each week to reflect, make the changes you are being called to and make connections with others. Reflect, act and connect and so get to know who you are and who you are called to be.
by Chanie Gorkin
Today was the absolute worst day ever
And don't try to convince me that
There's something good in every day
Because, when you take a closer look,
This world is a pretty evil place.
Some goodness does shine through once in a while
Satisfaction and happiness don't last.
And it's not true that
It's all in the mind and heart
True happiness can be attained
Only if one's surroundings are good
It's not true that good exists
I'm sure you can agree that
It's all beyond my control
And you'll never in a million years hear me say
Today was a very good day
Now read it from bottom to top, the other way,
And see what I really feel about my day.
"You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you." God's words to Jesus at his baptism.
For every Great Southern Grammar student, Monday is a new beginning. It is a BIG thing for a little person, Pre-Primary, Kindy or Year One, to begin their schooling journey. We all look forward to the apprehensive, beautiful faces of the Year One students as they receive their badges from the Year Twelve students next Friday.
The Year Threes will be moving up to their new rooms in the Junior School. The Year Sixes have the dignity of moving into their Amity classrooms. Year Seven and Eight Boarders move into Boarding on Sunday and start Middle School on Monday, with uniforms they will soon grow into. Year Sevens are starting Middle School. The Year Tens begin the challenges of Senior School and, last but not least, the Year Twelves are facing their final year of schooling. Along with a few books, what a jumble of hopes, fears, dreams and anxieties students will bring on Monday! As parents we have our own share of hopes, fears, dreams and anxieties on behalf of our children.
Jesus made a significant new beginning when he began his public ministry. It is interesting that, in all the Gospels, before he started on his journey of discovery he chose to be baptised by his cousin, John, in the Jordan River. Three of the Gospels report 'verbatim' what was said to Jesus: "You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you." These words have been important to me, for all of us need to know that, "I am God's beloved child, God is pleased with me." From the inexhaustible well of God's unconditional love, Jesus gained strength to fulfil his mission.
From whence comes the strength for our children to take the new step they will be taking on Monday? Just as Jesus was supported by love, our children need to know that they are (in truth) unconditionally loved by us. That is, our love as a parent does not depend on how well they cope, how well they do, how many friends they make or any other factor. Our love is still as pure (though perhaps now a little clouded by harsh reality) as at the moment they were first placed in our arms, at their birth.
Jesus knew he was supported by such love because he heard God say it! So say it on Sunday or Monday (Dads, too)! "I love you. I am proud of you. Have a great day." If Jesus needed such support, how much more do we and our children?
"In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" (Paul)
The Leavers' Trip to Cambodia leaves today! We fly out of Perth at 4.30pm. Here is a list of attendees:
Abby Richards, Brittany Freeman, Freya Brown, Isabel Waideman, Matthew Darby, Sophie York, Tiffany Bradshaw, Danielle Johnston, Brittany Harrison, Katherine Fjastad, Denae Ruland and Samuel Cook. They are assisted by: Ms Olivia Ellis, Mrs Sharon Waideman, Mr Rodney Marsh and Ms Penny Simpson.
Thanks are due to our Headmaster, Mr Stuart Marquardt, for giving this opportunity to the GSG Leavers to have such a wonderful holiday following their exams, experience a unique and wonderful culture and, most of all, gain a great deal of satisfaction by making a difference to some of the world's most disadvantaged children and families.
Cambodia (population 15.7m) is the second poorest nation in Asia. The UN Development Agency states that 47 per cent of the population "live in multi-dimensional poverty, experiencing hardships in health care, lack of education, inadequate living standards, lack of income and disempowerment."
In the next few days GSG 2015 graduates will do their bit to give the Khmer people a helping hand. We will build one of ten homes planned to house AIDS-affected mothers and their children at the Flourish Cambodia project in Koh Thom village. The project was started and financed by Ms Sherree Hughes and her family. Women are already receiving training the textile industry at Flourish. Sherree will be leading our tour.
In Phnom Penh we will visit Baptist Pastor Nuthpic's project to house, feed and educate 16 orphans in his own home, along with a community feeding programme for around 60 children.
On the second half of our trip we head north to join children in the rural province of Kampong Thom. We visit Baudin House's sponsored child in the Light of Hope orphanage and deliver essential schooling items. Here, too, students will have a sleepover in a village and be asked to feed the host family and themselves with food they purchase at local markets.
Our tour ends in Siem Reap where we will view World Heritage listed temples. We arrive back in Albany on Saturday 5 December. We will keep The Anchorupdated with our progress over the next few weeks.
Please mention us in your prayers and give thanks for the wonderful young people willing to serve others. We are privileged to have such delightful and caring students in our school who remember that Jesus said, "Giving brings more blessing than receiving."