Sunday, October 05, 2014

Act Justly, Love Tenderly, Walk Humbly A Model for Building a New Civic Community

Presented at St Mary's in Exile Community

Tony Robertson 4 October  2014

October 4 this year is a sacred day celebrated by the three major Abrahamic Faiths. It is the Jewish Feast of Yom Kippur, a day of fasting, almsgiving and prayer atoning for  failure of the past year.

It is the Muslim feast of Eid-al-Adha, the Festival of Sacrifice that commemorates Abraham’s submission to Allah.

And we gather as do many Christians to celebrate the life and witness of St Francis of Assisi.

On January 24 2002 leaders of the world’s religions including Christians, Muslims and Jews gathered  to approve the Assisi Decalogue of Peace which we read today. The words of the Decalogue echo the ancient cry of the prophet Micah to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God.

In March 2003 the Coalition of the Willing led by nations with a Christian heritage and tradition began the invasion of Iraq. Today our country is again engaging in another  military intervention in Iraq. We continue to read and proclaim the Decalogue of Assisi because the servants of peace will not be silenced by the masters of war.

In 1219, almost 800 years before this document was published Francis of Assisi accompanied by one other brother breached the security of the camp of the Sultan of Egypt, Malik-al-Kamil in Damietta . This was a bold act of civil disobedience against explicit Papal directives that would be a significant moment of conversion.

The encounter between Francis and the Sultan as depicted in the Icon by Robert Lentz has left us with a model for inter-religious dialogue to inspire and encourage us today.

In the Icon Lentz has the two men standing on common ground surrounded by flames. In Islamic and Christian art flames of fire signify holiness. The text at the bottom is from the beginning of the Koran: "Praise to God, Lord of the worlds!" 

The meeting of these two men of diverse faiths and opposing cultures cut across the politics, and religious disputes of their day for Francis and the Sultan became absorbed in each other’s grace and good will. They shared prayer, food and a desire to reflect and understand  each other outside the violent power play of their day.

What really happened we may never know as the polemic and media of both sides claimed the upper hand. What we do know is that both men defied the dominant culture of violence and sought a path of peace for their communities.

They went their separate ways but both were changed forever. Francis abandoned a culture of heroic martyrdom for Christianity and wrote a radical set of norms for relationships with non-Christians into his rule. The Sultan was renowned for his compassion for political prisoners and his respect for Christian and Jewish holy places

Again in this encounter we can see the threads of that ancient call to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with your God.

A little aside re this story. I posted this item and image on my Facebook page today. It was shared by Shane Howard who you will remember from his visit to the community some years ago. Shane wrote: “I still have fond and vivid memories of visiting the mediaeval fortress city of Assisi and the Basilica with Ian Morrison in 1984. It was something of a pilgrimage.

We shot some Super 8 footage there that made its way into the Goanna film clip for 'Common Ground'. St. Francis remains a hero for our times with his  celebration of the divine in nature, his deep empathy to all living creatures and his enlightened approach to people of other faiths, in the Thirteenth Century.”

We continue to tell the remarkable story of Francis and the Sultan because the servants of peace will not be silenced by the masters of war

Our peacemaking begins in our hearts and relationships with those around us. The story of Francis and the Sultan challenges us to expand our circle of relationships to build a new community that will collaborate across our cultural and religious diversity.

We have an opportunity to become part of a new model of such relationships in the Queensland Community Alliance.

The alliance brings faith groups, charities, unions, community organisations and ethnic associations to work together  for the common good.

This alliance is based around the personal relations we will build across organisations in our local area. It identifies and trains people to become leaders in community organising, who will decide  priorities for action through a process of listening to stories of pressures that members face and 

The   alliance draws on the community organising tradition of the United States, and is linked with and based upon the model of the Sydney Alliance.

The Queensland Community Alliance offers a program for acting justly in the local community. From the relationships formed across the membership groups commit to action for a more civic and inclusive community.

The Queensland Community Alliance invites partners and participants to take up the challenge to love tenderly. We know the  political culture of tough love, which is radically  different to the relationships  encouraged by the alliance.

Our faith community can bring to the alliance the commitment to love tenderly. That practice is a universal way of love described by Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. To love tenderly we are challenged  to be patient, kind; to avoid  envy, not to boast, to avoid pride. A commitment to love tenderly means we do not dishonor others, we arenot self-seeking, not easily angered. We keeps no record of wrongs. Tender love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

The Queensland Community Alliance walks humbly with diversity. The opportunity to bring unionists, community workers, Church representatives and people of good will together calls for maturity and humility.

Today I invite you to consider participating in the Queensland Community alliance with Micah Projects, one of the founding partners.

On Wednesday October 29 there will be a Queensland Community Alliance Assembly at St Mark’s in Inala.  The assembly will be an opportunity  share stories that demonstrate the common values that unite us, and make a commitment to each other to work build the Queensland Community Alliance.

So, inspired by history, united in solidarity across our religious diversity I invite you to celebrate the grace that comes when people act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly together.

Tzom Kal, Eid Mubarak, and blessed Feast of St. Francis!


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