Thursday, 17 September 2020

"So Forgive Someone Today"

Declaration of Forgiveness:If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, the forces of death would have claimed us as victims. If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, we would have fallen to the sword or been drowned by the sea. Dance and sing to the Lord who is on our side and is on the side of all God’s children. Amen Thanks, be to God!   

Preaching of the Word - And in Anger..., - Matthew 18:21-35   And in anger the Lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So, my heavenly Father will also do it to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart. NRSV Matthew 18: 34-35

This prayer of Forgiveness at the beginning of the Rev John’s service on Sunday the 13th September and the text for the Reflection/Sermon were reminders to me of the relatively harsh moments when we are reminded that forgiveness often has to be earned and it can sometimes be quite difficult for us humans.  As the Rev. John said; “This is not good news for those of us who have trouble forgiving.”

There are times for most of us when we can hardly remember what we are angry or upset about, yet we cling to our sense of grievance. That is why I try to “live by” a well-known adage; “People may not remember exactly what you said or did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”  I have not found any evidence of who actually said this, however there are lots of people claiming to be the authors of “wise sayings” that have obviously been their own versions of this saying.  I try very hard to use words carefully and avoid leaving hard feelings to linger or fester after I have moved on and forgotten an encounter. 

A friend once taped an interview with her 90 year old grandmother and one of the questions she asked her grandmother was; “What do you remember most about your father?”  The old lady quickly replied, “I remember he yelled a lot.”  At the time I heard this interview it hit me like a bolt of lightning – “the way I speak to and care for my children today will stay with them until they are perhaps 90 years old”.  I nervously asked my young daughters the next day, “If somebody asked you what you remembered most about your mother, what do you think it would be?”  They thought about it for a few seconds and agreed on their answer; “She gives great hugs.”   While breathing a quick sigh of relief I resolved to strive to remain careful, encouraging and loving, so I would be remembered positively even if they lived to 90 years old.

I also remember that the next day I heard a woman on one of the newly popular “talk-back radio” programs who was devastated to learn after her husband’s death, that he had died uncertain of her love for him.  She said she knew she loved him but had not realised he needed her to tell him.  The depth of the regret that poor woman felt was another timely lesson for me to always tell my husband, children, family and even my friends, of my love for them and my appreciation of them.

A person that I worked with came from a culture where men were considered as more important than women and money and success were so important that the men could have been considered by “happy-go-lucky” Australians as insensitive and mean.  In his culture forgiveness did not seem to be a priority.  I had a number of discussions about forgiveness with this young man whose idea of an apology was to say with a certain vehemence; “I will forgive – but I will never forget!”  

Was I wrong in believing that part of forgiving is wiping the slate clean and forgetting the grievance altogether?  I remember with some amusement how hard it was as a child to say those two words; “I’m sorry” but, the effort was always rewarded with a smile or a hug and the feeling of reassurance that I was loved anyway.

Before I had children of my own I was secretly highly amused when I visited one of my brothers and his wife; and their son was sent to his room for doing something naughty and told that he could come out when he was ready to say he was sorry.  Next thing my brother came back to join his wife, my husband and me in the family room and beckoned us to creep down the hall to listen to my nephew practicing his apology over and over with dubious success in sincerity as he faltered over those two soooooooooooo hard to say words – I’m sorry!  By the time the five or six year old reappeared in the family room he had mastered the delivery of his apology and somehow all four adults managed to keep a completely straight face.  

Yes, my dear little nephew learned that day forgiveness can be a joy – both for the giver and the receiver!     

I smiled as I thought about the wonderful father that my nephew had to guide him through life.  As my big brother, he had taught me valuable lessons about doing myself a favour and “letting go” of things that I could not change.  When I was in 6th class in Primary School I was coming home from school most days in a state of distress because I had been “kept in” with the whole class until a full blackboard of arithmetic had been finished.  This was a punishment for bad behaviour by a group of girls who habitually disrupted the last lesson of the day which was always history, which I really loved and during which I never did anything even remotely out of order.  The real unfairness of keeping in those who were well behaved, became intolerable for me because I was not ever good at maths and the badly behaved girls would rush through the punishment in record time and skip off home, while I was always the last person to finish and by then my bus had gone and I had to walk the four or five kilometres home from school.  My brother gently persuaded me that this was something I could not change and that it was not helping me to get upset and worry about the naughty girls not being punished.  He even suggested that my maths just might improve as a result of the extra work that was set almost every day.  So I learned that life is not always fair, but it is much easier if you forgive those people you can and accept that you can’t change some things. 

Put simply my older brother taught me; “It’s not so much what happens to you in life – it is more about how you choose to deal with what happens to you.” 

More than 50 years later a friend who was then in his eighties wrote wonderful stories about his early life in Rabaul, which he described as a “Tropical wonderland for children”.  One day he told a delightful anecdote about how, when he was a young boy, he stole a box of matches from the kitchen servants and started a wild grass fire. 

The next morning his mother told him “You had better go to Sunday school and ask God to help you stop being a naughty boy.”   He had the feeling from his mother’s tone that he was going to be “In deep trouble for some time.”  Unfortunately, that morning my friend’s Sunday School Teacher showed a picture of the crucifixion of Jesus and pointed out how sad Jesus was as she told the kids; “You can see how He suffered for us in this picture – just look at His sad face and His head hanging down with the crown of sharp thorns on it.”  The teacher then continued; “He suffered because of all the naughty things we have done.”    

l'eglise - St. Etienne (St. Stephen), Bar - sur - Seinne, France
Author - Mattana -  Mattis :  Wikipedia Commons Licence (c) free

As this was the first time my friend had ever seen a picture of the crucifixion and he admitted that as a child he was “naughty every day” he became very worried and began to think that his naughtiness had contributed to the agony of Jesus on the cross.  The teacher then handed each child a copy of the picture and told the children to try and keep inside the lines and do their best work because; “Jesus likes children who always try to do their best work”.

I have often wondered since hearing this story, how many children have been made anxious by their Sunday School lessons.  Perhaps this teacher did not properly explain the crucifixion using “love” words like the Rev. John used in his sermon on Sunday; “The cross is God's ultimate act of love and forgiveness. What God did through Jesus was not correct or legal or right. Rather it was pure love. God said to all humanity, ‘There is nothing that you can do that will end my love for you.’ 

It irritates God when we don't share the love and forgiveness we have received. So, forgive someone -- today!”

Do you ever come across a Bible reading that surprises you with harsh thoughts and violent stories and do you sometimes have problems fitting things together in the overall messages of love, peace and harmony? I liked the Rev. John’s thoughts about the text that he took for his Sermon because it offered a more gentle way of looking at God’s threats of the torture that might come our way if we hold back some of our debts to others and refuse to forgive those who have sinned against us.  This is just God acting as a parent and demanding a high standard from us when we are dealing with all His people. 

“It may be that the torture described in the text is just what happens to us when we refuse to forgive. The choice seems to be whether we will be right and miserable, wrong and miserable, or whether we will be forgiving and happy. There are some very clear words about this from Jesus that we all know: "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors," or in the familiar translation, "Forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Amen.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

No Person is an Island


On Sunday 6th September the Rev. John looked at the human traditions of community in his Reflection and he began by saying; “Solitary experience is contrary to human nature because we are social animals. For all human history life has been lived in the context of communities of one sort or another. This, of course, is simply sociology or anthropology. It is a neutral observation, because communities can be good and bad.”  

In the 21st Century there has been a significant interest and practical adoption of social anthropology by much of society.  I have been impressed by the appointment of anthropologists by charities and commercial companies seeking to expand their work into third world countries, while being committed to avoid disruption of the traditions and cultures of those communities.  I know of and commend some great work done by Microsoft Anthropologists to enable third world village women to play a role in supporting their families through culturally acceptable home businesses set up through donations of equipment and training that does not upset the balance of those societies.  

The U.K. Economic and Social Research Council promotes the study of Social Anthropology on its website, saying; “Social anthropology plays a central role in an era when global understanding and recognition of diverse ways of seeing the world are of critical social, political and economic importance. Social anthropology uses practical methods to investigate philosophical problems about the nature of human life in society.”

While on a river cruise through Germany about ten years ago my husband and I were taken by bus into the city of Nuremberg for a tour of the city and a visit to the “Documentation Centre”.   We were not really sure what this involved, but were to discover that this is simply a name for their Museum about Nuremberg and the Nazi years.  This name was derived to avoid any possibility of glorifying the Nazi History, but is also supposed to underline the evil past and give no place or focus for neo Nazi’s to enjoy or have as a rally point.

Ninety percent of Nuremberg was destroyed by the Allied bombings so most of the city was built after the end of World War Two with much of it in the very bland 50s and 60s styles of architecture.  Some areas were rebuilt in their original style and look older than they are.

It was hard to know what to expect from our guided tour - but the impressive young guide we had was a sociol anthropology graduate from the local university and his “lectures” were very much based on sociology lines with absolutely no attempt to excuse or avoid the difficult moral issues that must be confronted by German people today.  Obviously, even with all the training in sociology and the attempts to apply all the theories of human behaviour, it appeared that he and the current generations cannot understand or comprehend how a whole generation of good people could have been drawn into such moral destitution that allowed the Nazis to do the terrible things they did.  We had been wondering how a guide could approach the history of Nuremberg for an audience of visitors from several cultures and the attitude of this educated young man filled us with some hope for the future.  We all know the quote by Edmund Burke; “All that is required for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.”

We were surprised to learn that many of the dreaded concentration camps were already in use in the early 1930s and we also learned some of the reasons why Nuremberg, with its central location and long history as a trading centre with successful Jewish traders who had also suffered a terrible massacre in 1298, became of such interest to Adolf Hitler and his Nazis.  Nuremberg was the site of the first German railway and became a huge hub and this contributed to its role as the venue for the huge Nazi rallies from 1927 to 1938.  It was incredible to stand in the vast place where these rallies we have all seen on TV or movies took place. 

Scene of the Nazi mass marches (above)

Photos of Nazi march displayed in the Documentation Centre (below)

We learned details of Hitler's wild plans and dreams of impressing the world with his might and power and learned how some of those plans were flawed from the start.  In his megalomania he appears through history as a really pathetic figure as you stand and view the failures of his building plans with the evidence of his unfinished projects which he refused to hear just could not work.   We found it quite moving to stand below the windows of Court 61 as we listened to our guide’s descriptions of the Nuremberg Trials that took place there.

Courtroom for Nuremberg War Crime Trials

I found that in some ways the feelings of the young Germans paralleled with the thoughts of many Australians about the ill treatment of our aborigines – while we don’t feel personally responsible for what was done, we can’t quite understand how other essentially good Australians allowed it to happen.

The Rev. John then spoke of the difficulties we humans have living harmoniously in the communities we crave.  He said; “The bad is easy to recognise, because the history of humankind is as much as anything a history of war and conflict. We read in the record of the past and see in the news of our day that humans have great difficulty getting along with one another—whether it be in the neighbourhood, village, city, state, nation, or world.”

Sadly, there are currently many dangers to the traditions of community looming, as a result of this distracting Covid 19 Pandemic, because the “rules” of keeping people safe from the deadly virus, contravene the way those who “gather together in Jesus’ name” care for each other and share their love of God, their troubles and their triumphs.  Daily we see the tragedy of Christians being locked out of their churches, children being locked out of their schools, workers being dismissed from their jobs, old people being locked in their retirement villages, families kept apart and bosses who have built up businesses and taken satisfaction in knowing they provide security and keep families safe from homelessness, hunger and distress all fall into some level of despair. 

Yet it goes much deeper even than that and our feeling of the loss of our freedom threatens all communities and the very ties that hold them together and deliver a measure of good, kindness and justice in our society.

Freedom is; liberty, autonomy, lack of restrictions, self-determination, independence, choice, free will, and sovereignty.  I decided long ago that to live in complete freedom I would need to leave my husband, children and grandchildren, and cut off all ties with friends and neighbours.  I would need to leave all behind and move to a place with no laws or rules; where no one would question any of my actions.  No matter how anti-social or selfish I was, there would be no one to control my dominion or question my rights. 

And there would be no one to care!  Yet caring for and being cared for by other humans is one of life’s great rewards and joys.

Do I want freedom if that is the price?  No - I like to be held accountable for my actions; and I consider it my moral duty to obey the laws of Australia and to follow the rules of God as set out in the Bible.  I believe it is a privilege to have a husband and family to share my life, even though this means they sometimes expect me to do something for them in return for the love we share.  I also enjoy being a part of a sociable community.

In order to keep this civilized and enlightened social order that we call society, the enforcement of rules and laws must generally be seen to be the right outcome to preserve the rights of the majority.  It is in fact ironic, that the price for a person who exercises what they may consider to be their personal freedom, in an anti-social way in a “civilised” society, is often punishment by fines or imprisonment, inflicted by that same society. 

This of course, brings up questions about the morality of the deprivation of freedom in many specific circumstances.  Particularly in these disrupted times, many previously law abiding but frustrated people are questioning the mandatory removal or suspension of their previously guarded and accepted “human rights” and the right of society to punish them for breaking these “new laws of humanity” being made to protect the life and health of us all – even strangers.  I suppose it is selfishness that stops those who can’t see and understand that to protect their own loved ones and even themselves, they must consider the needs of everyone not only in their own society, but also in other connected societies throughout the world.

The Rev. John said in his sermon; “We do gather in Jesus’ name. We re-call him to presence with us. And that makes him a part of us and of what we do. That is what we experience at each Eucharist—we in him and he in us. But we don’t celebrate Eucharist alone. If only the priest shows up for a mid-week service, for instance, there will be no celebration of the Eucharist. There is no community for whom to break bread.”  This reminded me of an interesting moment in 2011 when my husband and I arrived at a beautiful church in the French village of Bergholtz-Zell very late on a Friday afternoon; after a beautiful day spent looking for the most perfect village along the famous Alsace wine route.   

"Where two or three are gathered together in my name"
Bergholtz-Zell Church, Alsace, France

The church is famous for its exquisite wooden carvings, but as we quietly entered, we discovered that the priest was talking to two women in the church and he was ready to start a service where there really were just “two or three people gathered together in God’s name”.  As the service began, I found it both sad and yet lovely to see the fulfilment of this often quoted phrase, although I was a little disappointed to see that the two ladies stood one behind the other in about the fourth and fifth rows back from the priest in the front of the church.   As our understanding of the French language was almost completely non-existent, we quietly left the church and continued on our journey.

The conclusion from the Rev. John was; “Today Jesus makes it clear how important we are one to another. Through our link to one another through Christ, there is a power in our community, uniting the values of God to our values on earth. This is how Jesus enables us to use God’s power for making healing and life-giving love more effective among God’s people. We come together, we stay together, we work together—in our Lord's name, bringing to focus the presence of God and unleashing the power of the Spirit to transform our lives and the lives of all God’s children.

“Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Friday, 4 September 2020

John Wesley - Peace is Never Easy


Over the past month we have learned a lot about the Rev. John Wesley and last week our Rev. John highlighted his conservatism and his loyalty to King and Country.  This week the Rev John spoke in his sermon of Wesley’s Thoughts of War.  In his book “John Wesley for the 21st Century” John O’Gooch wrote; “John Wesley was not fond of war.  He did not leap to the notion that we have to support the King in time of war, no matter what.”   O’Gooch stressed that Wesley tended to blame both sides equally in war – including the American War of Independence - certainly a battle of his own time. Gooch also stated; “And yet Wesley was not a Pacifist.  He thought war was foolish and wasteful and there should be better ways of solving international disputes.”

I’m sure there would be no argument about this from any ordinary, thinking and fair minded person some almost 230 years after his death.  While a Chaplain in New Guinea in 1943 my father wrote home in a letter; “What a mad futile business war is!”

In 21st Century Australia when we think of war most of us will think about those wars that we Australians, our parents or our grandparents and for some even their Great Grandparents, took part in at the end of the 19th Century and during the 20th Century.   “Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them” is a quote attributed to George Elliot the author, who died in 1888.  We older people have probably already passed on our personal memories and thoughts about war in some way to the following generations.  I have already written about my father and others in World War 11 as part of my Family’s History and also shared some of those stories about World War 11 with the readers of Margaret’s Blog.

For the centenary of the Great War of 1914-1918 I was inspired to write a book to share the memories of my husband’s grandfather’s family.   I called the book, “One Australian Family’s War 1914-1918 and beyond.”  My husband’s Grandfather died on the Western Front in January 1917 and another brother left to serve at the front just two weeks after his brother’s death.  Their younger brother had already died from wounds the day after the Gallipoli landing.  One of their first cousins died in May 1915 and his body was never identified.  He is one of 4223 Australians commemorated on the Lone Pine Memorial at Gallipoli, along with another cousin who died unidentified at the Battle of Lone Pine in August 1915.  A third cousin who died in July 1916 was one of the Lost Soldiers of Fromelles and his identification in 2012 brought large numbers of their scattered families together to share our family history more widely and discover new family ties and friends. This also brought about amazing links between our families and some wonderful French people from the towns of Fromelles and Villers-Bretteneaux and the present day children of the schools in those towns who have carried on the traditions of previous generations from their towns and “Always Remembered Australia” and our soldiers.  Think bush fires!  Do you remember all the “good news” stories after our summer bush-fires when these and other French communities once again made generous donations to our Australian country people to care for our native animals and repair our schools.

In all eight first cousins of my husband’s grandfather, brother and three cousins, who died in France and Turkey also left Australia to fight for “the Empire” on the other side of the world.   This story is not unique, but is a heartbreaking reminder to us all of the horror, stupidity and heartbreak of war.  However, as a Christian, it helps me to believe that even in the worst possible circumstances we can look for and find love, loyalty, ingenuity, forgiveness and ultimately even be inspired by the good in humans as we ponder God’s “mysterious ways.”  By writing for my family and sharing my thoughts with a much wider family group I hope that in some minute way I may be helping to reduce the bitterness in the world and help people to work towards peace and understanding with responsible reporting of the “people’s history”.  As I wrote in this Blog some weeks ago; my Christian values tell me that tolerance is the glue that holds any society together. My book about war began;

Each year the moving Service of Commemoration held at Anzac Cove Gallipoli on 25th April takes place against the gradually changing backdrop of Anzac Cove in Turkey, with a mesmerising change from a dark night sky to a beautiful pink tinged pale blue dawn sky. The gentle lapping of the water and the silent expectation and reverence of the crowd presents an extreme contrast to the scene in 1915 when hell broke loose in that place.

The “trouble in the Balkans” which finally led to the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro - Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo on 28th June 1914 brewed and had many eruptions before the declaration of this first truly global war. The often used term, “trouble in the Balkans” is in itself an expression of the inability of any person to completely understand the complexity of the situation which was partly geographical, partly cultural and partly historical, but was rooted in the legacies of centuries of other wars and unsatisfactory and conflicting peace treaties between the many opponents. It was eventually bound to ignite into uncontrolled chaos and that fateful shot at Sarajevo in 1914 was the trigger that unleashed the horrendous consequences which changed the world forever.

In his speech during the Anzac Day Service in 2014, the Governor General of New Zealand, Sir Jerry Mateparae said; “When we remember our brave forebears we pay them the honour they deserve. It is also a time for reflection on war and its impact. And it is a chance to enlighten new generations about the events that shaped their world, and to encourage them to strive for peace. Looking out from where I stand this morning, it is very moving to see so many people assembled for this Dawn Service and to know Anzac Day services are taking place in many countries throughout the world. The scale of these commemorations shows how deeply people have been affected by what happened here.” During his speech, the Governor General quoted Neill Atkinson, Chief Historian for the Minister for Culture and Heritage, the organisation chosen to plan the Centenary of Anzac Celebrations for New Zealand. Neill Atkinson said: “History is a responsibility we carry with us now and into the future”.

My husband is currently reading a book, entitled “The Great War” written by John Terraine, which was first published in 1965, and he shared this emotional quote from a German man Rudolph Binding (page 46).  Rudolf Binding was born in Basel in 1867. He studied medicine and law before joining the Hussars. On the outbreak of the First World War, Binding, who was forty-six years old, became commander of a squadron of dragoons. Except for a four-month period in Galicia in 1916, Binding spent the whole of the war on the Western Front.  His diary and letters, “A Fatalist at War”, was published in 1927. His collected war poems, stories and recollections were not published until after his death in 1938, rather ironically just before the horror was about to be repeated, although it was actually written by Rudolph on, or very close to, the 11th November 1914 – only about three months after the Great War started and exactly four years before that war ended.  This was written by a German soldier in the context and immediate aftermath of the “First Battle of Ypres”, and at that time British losses alone had reached 89,000 with The Ypres battle alone accounting for 58,000.

Rudolph Binding, in his gloomy billet in Flanders, found time to set his feelings down.  “When one sees the wasting, burning villages and towns, plundered cellars and attics in which the troops have pulled everything to pieces in the blind instinct of self-preservation, dead or half-starved animals, cattle bellowing in the sugar beet fields and then corpses, corpses and corpses, streams of wounded one after another – then everything becomes senseless, a lunacy, a horrible bad joke of peoples and their history, an endless reproach to mankind, a negation of all civilization, killing all the belief in the capacity of mankind and men for progress, a desecration of what is Holy, so that one feels that all human beings are doomed in this war”. Then John Terraine continued; “It is a matter for awe to see how race after race was drawn in”.

Before 1914 the Great Powers were in two big alliance blocs: The Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente. The Triple Alliance (which consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy) later drew in more allies and was joined by the Ottoman Empire (Turkey plus the Middle East) and Bulgaria - its allies were then known as the Central Powers.  The war also quickly involved other countries who joined with the Triple Entente of France Russia and Britain, so the opposing side became known as the Allies and included Serbia, Russia, France and its Empire, Belgium, Montenegro and Britain and its Empire - including self-governing colonies like Canada and Australia.  Italy changed sides and joined the Allies in 1915. Other Allied nations included Portugal, Japan, Greece, Romania, China and, towards the end of the war, various South American countries, including Brazil and Peru. The United States fought alongside the Allies from 1917, but as an ‘Associated Power’ with no formal military alliance.

And what did it all achieve?  Four imperial dynasties—the Habsburgs of Austria-Hungary, the Hohenzollerns of Germany, the sultanate of the Ottoman Empire, and the Romanovs of Russia—collapsed as a direct result of the war, and the map of Europe was changed forever. The United States emerged as a world power, and new technology made warfare deadlier than ever before.  And once again the failure of negotiated Peace, along with the rise of Fascism in Italy, German aggression in Europe, the worldwide Great Depression and the rolling eruption of sniping invasions and unrest throughout the world, the hell of a Second World War was soon killing military persons and civilians in their millions amidst senseless destruction beyond belief.

There is no doubt, without God we humans make a mess of things!  The Rev John said in conclusion; “The Beatitudes call us above all to a sense of openness before God. We don’t see God until we see the face of Christ in others, we learn to do that by pursuing justice and kindness toward all people. We don’t see God until we stop trying to control and begin learning to walk humbly in God’s presence. But when we practice doing justice and loving kindness and walking in humility, the Spirit continues to work in our hearts, purifying us. And blessed are the pure in heart, for they are seeing God.”