Gesher is the official journal of The Council of Christians and Jews (Victoria) Inc. The Annual journal Gesher 2020, Issue 3, Religion & Ecology: Community in a Time of Crisis is now online, along with the other issues from earlier this year and previous editions.
- educate Christians and Jews to appreciate each other’s distinctive beliefs, practices and commonalities
- promote the study of and research into historical, political, economic, social, religious and racial causes of conflicts between people of different creeds and colour
- promote education in fundamental ethical teachings, for the benefit of the community, common to Christianity and Judaism, that relate to respect and understanding between people of different creeds.
The shell is a symbol of eternity and of pilgrimage and contained in it are a number of things which are common to both faiths and traditions. The motifs of the tree of life, burning bush, and flames of spirit stand at the centre of the design. Behind the tree can be seen the cup of blessing, and surrounding the whole is the rainbow, the symbol of universal peace and a reminder to God and us of the covenantal promise.
For in those days before the Flood people were eating, drinking, taking wives,
taking husbands, until the day Noah went into the ark, and they suspected
nothing till the Flood came and swept them all away.
(Gospel of Matthew, 24:37-39).
I have been reflecting a lot this year on the ancient Flood story. It combines some of the themes that Gesher 2020 has been working with. It is quite clearly a narrative about ecological disaster – practically an “anti-creation” story. That was certainly the angle taken by writer/director Darren Aronofsky in the 2014 film “Noah”. Whether you take the film version or the canonical text, the story of the Flood is a story of a disaster for which human beings were responsible.
From another aspect, the Flood story is an archetypical story of apocalypse. It was a cataclysm that came when people least expected it. They were starting a new business, they were planning weddings and birthday parties, they were hoping for promotion, or they were getting ready for that big international holiday they had been dreaming of … when wallop! Disaster struck and all their plans were washed away in the deluge.
Does this all sound familiar? It should. Drought, flood, fire or pandemic, we’ve experienced it this year. Do you remember last year how you were planning to spend 2020? Even as the fires burned on New Year’s Eve, we partied in the hope that the new year would “be better”. If 2020 had an iconic sound, it would be the sound of a needle on a record player being scratched backwards.
Since Noah, our Jewish and Christian traditions have had their fair share of apocalyptic prophets of disaster. Jeremiah and Jonah come to mind. Jesus too was a prophet of apocalypse. In the Gospel of Matthew, he warned: “It will be as in the days of Noah..” But being a prophet of doom is a thankless task. If you say, “this disaster will happen unless you change what you are doing” and it doesn’t happen, you get ridiculed. If you say, “this disaster will happen unless you take steps to change the future”, and the disaster happens, then they will say “you should have told us you were serious.”
We had our own prophets, our Noahs and Jonahs and Jeremiahs, warning us about the coming disaster. If you have the stomach for it, watch the 2011 film “Contagion” and be amazed (it involves bats). Or maybe Google “Event 201” and read about a simulation sponsored by the World Economic
Forum and Bill & Melinda Gates in October last year to prepare for the possibility of a global pandemic. Or watch the ABC TV series “Big Weather” on iView. The first episode, also filmed in October 2019, has host Craig Reucassel talking to fire chiefs and emergency services commissioners “as they plan for an ominous summer ahead.”
I wonder what people thought of Noah, building his wooden ecological rescue unit in his back yard (three hundred cubits by fifty cubits by thirty cubits) during all those months of clear skies. I wonder what they thought when the storm clouds started to gather on the horizon. I wonder if they were still thinking, as the rain started falling, that it would be all okay because the science and technology boffins would come up with something before things got really desperate?
Gesher 2020 has collected many reflections on our current crises. Most of our authors have reflected on the challenges from the point of view of faith. People of faith are, in general, people of hope. We are convinced, along with Julian of Norwich, that “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” This hope is good because it is based on God and on God’s promises of faithfulness to us and to God’s creation.
But it is not good when it leads us to false security. For every Jeremiah, there will be a Hananiah (Jeremiah 28) whose popularity comes from telling everyone that there is nothing to worry about. You can keep on burning your fossil fuels as long as you have carbon trading, you can keep on landfilling your waste as long as you are putting the recycle bin out, and you can keep chopping down the forests as long as you have a tree planting day once in a while. If the word of the prophet does not call us to change our ways, it is not a prophetic word.
The prophetic word that Pope Francis uses again and again in his environmental encyclical Laudato ‘Si is “conversion”. He quotes from the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference that “we need to experience a conversion, or change of heart.” I believe that the conversion we need is not just toward the prophecies of our scientific experts, but also toward one another. COVID-19 has taught us (or should have) that we are “all in this together”. Truth is, we have a way to go on that. We need to think less of ourselves, and more of others, and of the coming generations.
This final issue of Gesher for 2020 has taken the theme “Community in a Time of Crisis”. It recognises the important role, amid the anxieties of an uncertain future, that the communities of faith around us play to sustain us and give us hope. I’d like briefly to acknowledge the work of our seven contributors.
We are very thankful for the series of “Seven Readings” by Rabbi Ariel Burger. Ariel came to Melbourne last year for the Writers Festival to speak about his book “Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom”. He dedicates his reflections to the memory of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who died while this issue was being assembled. Rabbi Sacks was a gift from God for both the Jewish and Christian communities. He was a wise prophet amidst the tensions of our modern world.
A variety of community voices on ecology and the COVID-19 crisis are represented in this issue. Thelma Parker speaks from the Wangkayujuru and Warluwarra Peoples about the importance of Country, about being caretakers, and learning from the Dreaming. Joel Lazar, the new CEO of the Jewish Climate Network, writes about the need for relationships of trust as the foundation of commitment to future action on Climate Change. We also invited two contributions from outside the Christian and Jewish communities. Zuleyha Keskin shares with us the experience of the Muslim community as they celebrated Ramadan during lockdown, and Winton Higgins gives a secular Buddhist reflection on the interplay between the response to COVID-19 and the response required to address the ecological crisis.
The three issues of Gesher 2020 have been very privileged to reproduce art work by local Australians. I pay tribute to artists Bev Hardidge, Rev’d Glen Loughrey, Greg Foyster, and Victor Majzner for their works which have been included so far. In Issue 3, we are very proud to be able to reproduce a considerable body of work from Debra Phillips. Her images are striking and complex. Each one is literally “multi-layered”! Towards the end of the issue, you will find Debra’s brief comments on each of the works.
We are also very privileged to be able to feature more of Philip Harvey’s rich poetry. This time a collection of “Seven Sonnets” vividly evokes our Australian environment. Appropriately for our focus on Religion and Ecology (and for the unplanned pattern of sevens in the issue so far), we finish off with Robert Alter’s fresh translation of the seven-day creation in Genesis, a narrative of foundational importance for both Judaism and Christianity.
From the Council of Christians and Jews (Victoria) Inc, annual journal Gesher 2020, Issue 3, Religion & Ecology: Community in a Time of Crisis is now online at: https://www.ccjvic.org.au/gesher/, along with the other issues from earlier this year and previous editions.
David Schütz served for 18 years as the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, after ten years as an ordained Lutheran pastor. He is a foundation member of the Jewish Christian Muslim Association for which he has served as secretary. He has served as Chair of the Faith and Order Commission of the Victorian Council of Churches. A sessional tutor at Australian Catholic University, David is currently a full-time student at the University of Divinity. He is a cantor in his local Catholic parish.