One was young Venezuelan Diego Matheuz, a product of the country’s El Sistema that aims to give every child the experience of playing an instrument.
“El Sistema is for everybody”, says Matheuz. “And the beautiful thing is that you can see in the orchestra children with money, children without money, but in the orchestra they are the same … In the same community, it’s beautiful, it creates a different perspective of life in both of them … an orchestra is like that – a perfect community”.
Matheuz is the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor, but another welcome guest was Chinese composer Tan Dun, best known for his sweeping film scores. Tan Dun was in Melbourne to conduct his Triple Resurrection Concerto. Heritage, dreams, hope: these are all concepts that Tan Dun says inform his vision of “resurrection”.
In China, there has been a renaissance after the long years of the Cultural Revolution, when “the dream was lost, hope was lost,” he says. More than that, the hope is a “struggling, bumping around”, in today’s world with its problems such as pollution and natural disasters, the “terrible” hunting of animals.
“I thought this resurrection is about the people of today,” he says. “If we talk about resurrection, or passion, we automatically think about Jesus … but I think the celebration of a new life, that’s the meaning of the Resurrection.”
(More about these two conductors at the end of the newsletter in a new section called “links we like”.)
Finally a follow-up about an earlier story, commended to us from friends at St James Old Cathedral, West Melbourne, about a young Pakistani girl injured in anti-Christian violence at her own church. Kashmala had an operation in Melbourne on May 3. Prof. Leo Donnan decided to do both legs at the same time.
“She has what look like scaffolding on the outside of her left leg and the right amputated leg has been tidied up and made ready for the fitting of a prosthesis,” says a sponsor, Janette Wells. “Now comes the long-haul job of healing and rehab.”
“She is brave, determined to walk again and regain a normal life. We are proud of her and pray for the richest of God’s blessings to anoint her.”
Amen to that.
Gustav Mahler was an inspiration to Tan Dun. Here’s his take on the Resurrection.
From our Minister … What’s in a Name
Earlier this year we resolved on something of a naming regime for the congregation and Hotham Mission: “The Congregation of Mark the Evangelist, incorporating UnitingCare Hotham Mission”. In one sense this was a small step and merely an administrative one, but it has also made it easier for us to communicate to anyone interested the relationship of the principle entities that make up the life of the congregation. Over the next couple of months we will refine how this name is presented in our documents and advertisements of the congregation’s activities; a sense of how this is developing can be seen in the banners over our new-look congregational web site.
Another of our aims for 2014 was to raise awareness of the ministries of the congregation. To this end, the Church Council has begun to run notices about the congregation’s in the quarterly North and West Melbourne News. A new sign will also soon appear in front of the Hall, replacing the rather tired one currently in place. A fresh face is also developing on the grounds through the efforts of a small but very keen gardening circle!
Work continues on evolving our worship life, seeking to keep faith with the important traditions of the congregation while at the same time trying new things. In addition to the usual seasonal variation in our worship, a couple of “special” services are planned for later in the year: a Festival of Psalms (Sunday morning worship, August 17) and another special service for Christ the King/the Reign of Christ (Sunday morning worship, November 23). These will be “readings, anthems and hymns”-style services. From late June through to September the focus of the services will be a verse-by-verse treatment of the Beatitudes of Jesus. This will be “off-lectionary” but at least accords with the lectionary focus on Matthew in this liturgical year. More information will be available soon!
In the area of Christian education, Bruce Barber presented a much-appreciated series of talks during Lent, and about 17 people from the congregation and beyond are participating in the “Theopolitical Imagination” discussion groups that have just commenced. These look set to be very constructive discussion spaces. In November there will be another discussion series on a book by the same author, “Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire”. The November studies will lead into a series of services for Advent which explore the themes of longing and desire through the Song of Songs. Increasingly, information about these and other events in the life of the congregation will be available through our web site.
One specific focus for 2014 was “To sponsor a conference in 2014 on the themes of ‘faith in secular society’, hopefully in co-operation with the Uniting Church’s Centre for Theology and Ministry.” For a number of reasons this has not proved feasible for this year, at least, although the intention of this conference may be met in part by the book discussion groups planned for the year. At the same time, another proposal touching on similar themes has recently been developed. Arising from conversations between the ministers of the congregations that have been direct supporters of the University of Melbourne chaplaincy, a “vision” is being worked up which would see the establishment of a new discipleship ministry for young adults (18-30ish). This is modelled on a successful program in NSW, although we are thinking about more than just an annual conference for the Melbourne ministry. MtE will be a significant partner in this venture, and the church council has agreed to provide some seed funding to begin the ministry. I will be going to Sydney in July to see the NSW program in action and to discover how that ministry works in terms of administration and funding. More about the proposed Melbourne ministry can be found at its web site.
Of course, there is much more that the Church Council is working on, and Hotham Mission in addition to that, as you will have seen in the occasional reports in the pew sheets and in MTW. Just as important as tending to these specific plans for 2014 is the normal, day-to-day work of the congregation. This is made possible by the part played by each member, whether via a rostered role on a Sunday or in your seeking to be a faithful follower of Jesus in day-to-day life. Keep up the good work, and continue to support each and the congregation in prayer! This is all that is required of us.
Shining a light
The younger children also worked first on their own individual candles so they developed some skills – stripping off the masking tape and tidying up with super sharp scalpels (older ones only) were the highlights.
Church Council Update
Membership of Church Council
Uniting our Future and our Development Plans
The two main outcomes were to follow this with a further meeting which would also include representatives of the Property Board, to further investigate the divestment justification and the transitional financing question. This meeting is expected to be in mid-June. As well we decided to continue to explore development planning options for the campus. This is being handled by the Property and Finance Committee which is progressively reporting progress to Church Council.
The issues are complex and we will continue to keep you posted as we did at the AGM, for example, when a full report was presented.
A related event was our discussion in April with Gary Heard, the minister at the Eighth Day Baptist church in West Melbourne, which is also deeply involved in development plans. He talked to us about the financing and development plans for their new site, and offered ongoing advice and support with regard to the Mark the Evangelist development plans.
Promotion of Mark the Evangelist
Worship and Study
A stimulating and worthwhile workshop was led by Craig after the service on 30 March on the topic ‘Preparing Intercessory Prayers’. The workshop was for Church Council members and other interested members of the congregation with the emphasis on understanding the place of these prayers in worship, and helping members to be involved in their creation.
Church Council continues to monitor the sound system, the arrangement of the worship space, and the placement of the children. You will be aware of a number of recent changes. We are experimenting with the current seating arrangement with a view to creating greater intimacy and inclusion for the children, and monitoring the effect of this on how clearly our services can be heard. We are keen to have your feedback on these ongoing concerns. Please make your views known to the elders and Craig.
Mark the Evangelist Day was held on 27 April. It too was well attended and was a great celebratory and social occasion. Thanks to Bev and her helpers we were able to cater for this event ourselves and good reports were received.
The Sunday Conversation program after worship on the 3rd Sunday of the month continues to be well attended and provides opportunities to hear of programs and ventures that extends beyond our congregation. The program is coordinated by Heather who brings ideas for speakers to Church Council meetings. You are invited to talk to Heather if you have speaker suggestions of your own.
UnitingCare Hotham Mission (UCHM)
Annual General Meeting 25 May 2014
Feedback and queries from members of the Congregation will always be welcomed by members of your Church Council: Gaye Champion, Belinda Hopper (Secretary), Wendy Langmore, Gus Macaulay, Heather Mathew, Rod Mummery, Tim O’Connor, (David Sutherland), Craig Thompson, Alan Wilkinson, and Ann Wilkinson (Chair).
Beginning at the Beginning: 2014 Lenten Studies
The topic was offered under the heading: Beginning at the Beginning or: why is it like this? What followed was an outrageous simplification of the past 4000 years! I suggested a further sub-heading: Theology as Geometry, since I am an enthusiast for diagrams – on the premise that one in the eye is worth two in the ear. Not all share such enthusiasm, of course, and it may be that not all such teaching aids were compelling.
Why this theme? The truth is that this vast period has shaped Western culture in ways not all have registered, and equally, therefore, it has a direct impact on how Christian faith has been understood throughout so many conceptual changes. Although in a formal sense, most people are not aware of the exact shape of this long history, we all live it in so many ways, either negatively through rejection of frequently anachronistic paradigms, and so in understandable disbelief, or else positively, though oftentimes in bad conscience.
What I attempted to do in this impossible assignment was to offer individual trees that might be seen to make a coherent wood. The sessions moved sequentially from a beginning in the primitive naturalistic fertility cults, from which the Abrahamic faith departed with such a radical alternative shift into a much more promising historical paradigm. We then looked at two alternative philosophical belief systems in ancient Greece, in the persons of Plato and Aristotle, which set the foundation for the sophisticated theologies of medieval Catholicism. This in turn set the stage for the long processes of secularization, aided by the Renaissance and Reformation, only to get bogged down in the rigidities of the so-called Wars of Religion and the confining categories of Protestant Orthodoxy in the seventeenth century.
At the same time, and in protest at all this, the Age of Reason was being born. We looked at the continental figure of Descartes, as its most significant representative, and then at the philosophies of Hobbes, Locke and Hume, known as the British empiricists, in each of which we recognise so many of the unexamined assumptions of Australian culture. We then turned to two figures who sought to offer a new way of speaking about God, the philosopher, Immanuel Kant, and the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher. We concluded this historical journey with the grim negative assessment of Friedrich Nietzsche, and an outline of the twentieth century attempts at a viable alternative, primarily in the person of Karl Barth.
The final session concentrated on four biblical texts, each offering potential new beginnings for theology. As such, they represent resources frequently relegated to the background, but whose conceptual novelties continue to offer genuinely liberating new possibilities.
And all this in something like five hours! Why do it? Because everyone deserves to be liberated from wilful misrepresentations, not to speak of downright caricatures. But of even more importance, if Christians are to have any confidence about a viable future, we need to go back to understand what we can be free from and free for as the millennium unfolds.
Should there be any who would like to read what we attempted, a full text is available from the church office.
Adam Goodes, Australian of the Year Champion Sydney footballer, said “The total injustices that have been played out since colonisation are absolutely shameful, and I now find it hard to say I am proud to be Australian. Australia has a very black past; Utopia shows real-life stories of what has happened over the past 225 years.” And Fred Chaney, former minister for Aboriginal Affairs 1978-1980 and Senior Australian of the Year, 2014, said “It is always painful to replay the story of dispossession, dispersal and continuing deprivation of the first Australians. They are entitled to an honest telling of their history, and they are entitled to an honest assessment of continuing failures. John Pilger rubs our noses in some brutal realities, but his expose is shallow in comparison with other accounts of the treatment of Aborigines in the Northern Territory.”
Fred Chaney added “But a focus on wrongs without remedies, on failures of policy rather than learning from the causes of failure and the causes of success seems to me likely to continue the past.”
Utopia may well be long on indigenous injustices and short on solutions, but it will remind us of the need for past wrongs to be acknowledged before we attempt to consider solutions for the future. Solutions were the focus of another very perceptive article by Callum Denness in Eureka Street (Vol 23 No 19) last September titled The ethics of paternalism in Aboriginal policy.
Callum Denness’s essay was written when the country was embroiled in a debate about racism in modern Australia. The trigger for the debate had been the abuse received by Adam Goodes during last year’s AFL Indigenous round. Callum Denness observed that while the media was humming with the Adam Goodes experience, the Northern Territory had “introduced its Mandatory Alcohol Treatment Bill which, if passed, will see more Aboriginal people incarcerated.” Denness pointed out that “in 20 years the proportion of Aboriginal people held in custody has grown from one in seven to one in four. The introduction of laws which would criminalise alcohol consumption and introduce more Aboriginal people to jail made the news but did not incite the passions of the . . . public, being devoid of sport stars and television personalities.”
Denness acknowledged that over many decades billions of dollars have been spent by governments on Aboriginal disadvantage, and this has been done “with the finest of intentions”. What does that mean, asks Denness? Such intentions, he says, include “the desire to see Aboriginal people achieve the same standard of health, education and opportunity as every other Australian. Rarely do these fine intentions . . . actually include handing power to Aboriginal people to achieve these goals. Fine intentions amount to, in a word, paternalism”.
Denness observes that “from the earliest days of colonisation, to Aboriginal protection boards, the Stolen Generations, the Northern Territory intervention, and its successor, the Stronger Futures legislation, a common thread has weaved through Aboriginal policy: the patronising and corrosive notion that governments know better.”
Denness focuses on a number of aspects of the Stronger Futures legislation and on the NT Mandatory Alcohol Treatment Bill. He describes these as “tough measures” designed to limit child abuse by removing from Aboriginal people their autonomy in choosing how to spend their money. But his question is whether the end justifies the means.
“For Aboriginal people,” Denness says, “the answer to that question can be found in rates of abuse and alcoholism which have not reduced despite the intervention, or its continuation under Stronger Futures. The answer can be found in an adult incarceration rate 14 times higher than non-Aboriginal adults, and 31 times higher among Aboriginal juveniles. And it can also be found in a life expectancy gap of 11.5 years for males and 9.7 years for females.”
The same story will also be seen in the annual “Closing the Gap” report that was released, as well as reported and responded to by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, on Thursday 13 February 2014 – the anniversary of the 2008 National Apology delivered by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
Take a moment and have a look at Callum Denness’s article at the end of the online newsletter. What is Denness’s well-justified conclusion? “Paternalism never has, and never will work for Aboriginal people.” Governments must find ways to give back autonomy to Aboriginal communities and enable them to participate in and claim ownership of the solutions to the serious disadvantage they continue to face.
Gross National Happiness
A small country wedged between India and China at the foothills of the Himalayas called Bhutan has found another way to achieve national happiness. The population of Bhutan is less than a million. The per capita GDP of Bhutan is now $2200. They still don’t have a railway. They don’t have motorways or highways of the sort that we have here in Australia. They don’t have many cars on their roads. People walk to shops or to markets and carry their loads on the back. They are the healthiest people I have ever come across in my life. When I taught school in Kalimpong, north India, in the early 1960s, I had a number of children from Bhutan. They were some of the best-behaved students I encountered.
In an article in The Observer, “Gross national happiness in Bhutan: the big idea from a tiny state that could change the world”, Annie Kelly writes “Bhutan measures prosperity by gauging its citizens’ happiness levels, not GDP. Now its ideas are attracting interest at the climate change conference in Doha.”
“Since 1971, the country has rejected GDP as the only way to measure progress”, Kelly continues. “In its place, it has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through formal principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment. For the past three decades, this belief that wellbeing should take preference over material growth has remained a global oddity.”
In a world beset by collapsing financial systems, gross inequities and wide-scale environmental destruction, Bhutan’s idea of measuring wellbeing on the basis of GNH sounds like an approach that Christians might embrace. Interestingly, Bhutan is a Buddhist country. Many Bhutanese have never heard of Christianity.
The greatest calamity facing the world today is climate change caused by our endless pursuit of GDP. One wonders whether GNH is the way to go to save the world from climate change.
“Blessed – the Beatitudes of Jesus”: A sermon series from late June to September
“Theopolitical Imagination”: Reading groups in May, June and July
“A festival of Psalms”: Sunday worship, August 17
Later in the year
“Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire”: November reading and discussion groups
“Christ the King”: Readings, hymns and anthems – Sunday worship November 23
“The Song of Songs: Longing, Beauty, Desire, Possession”: Advent sermons, December
Editor’s last word
If you can think past the winter that lies ahead, our next newsletter has the theme “Spring clean!” We’d like short or long pieces (in “letters to the editor” style about anything that’s on your mind, from issues raised at church to the proposed Federal Budget.
Email me at email@example.com, or hand in written submissions to Cindy in the office, or Rod at church. A postcard or two would be appreciated!
The deadline is 24 August.
Thanks, and enjoy the winter sunshine,
Suggested by Wendy