The Calling of Moses – Ann Desmond

The following is a reflection by Abrahamic Council member Ann Desmond, given at our Council Meeting in May 2022.

The calling of Moses in Exodus, Chapters 3 and 4 is one of the most striking passages and important moments in the Biblical Story and is common to each of our Abrahamic faiths.

God appears to Moses at the burning bush. It is a holy moment. God reveals his mission, to rescue the Hebrew people out of Egypt. This is a wondrous moment … until, that is, God reveals that he wants to send Moses to implement and share in this deliverance.

That is when the excuses start. Moses contends that he could not possibly be the right person. We would find it comical if it were not so painfully close to home for so many. How many times have we used similar excuses before God, rationalising that the Almighty has somehow got it wrong?

In the middle of this discussion, God asks Moses a very important question: ‘What is in your hand?’ Moses’ shepherd’s staff is in his hand. It is a symbol of his gifts, his skills, his occupation, how he spends his time.

In our imagination we can picture Moses getting up each morning and walking with that staff as he shepherds the sheep under his care. At this point he may have been doing this for forty years The staff, in one sense is a symbol of what Moses can do, what he can uniquely offer.

Might we ask the same question of ourselves: What is in our hand?
What is it that we can do or offer?

The interesting thing is that God next asks Moses to give him the stick, to hand it over, surrender it by casting it on to the ground. On the ground, in front of the burning bush it is now in the hands of God. It turns into a snake. God invites Moses then to pick the snake up by the tail, and it returns to being a stick.

What can we learn from this? Here are a few thoughts that might be useful to think about in terms of God’s call on our lives. Firstly, God is as much on mission today as he was in the day of Moses, and still invites the ordinary people of this world to surrender who they are and what they can do – to place all into his hand.

Secondly, it is our availability and not our ability that matters. In fact, when we think we can carry out God’s plan on our own, when we rely on our own ability, we miss out on so much of what might be possible through partnering with God.

Thirdly, when you do answer the call, it is amazing what God can do with it. Using our imaginations once again can we see that staff in Moses’ hand as he makes his way to connect with his brother? Perhaps it is in his hand as he walks into the presence of Pharaoh and says, “Let my people go!”

Perhaps it is in his hand as those plagues are enacted, or as he embarks in leadership of the people in their Exodus from Egypt. Was it in his hand when the sea was parted? We’re told that he struck a rock and water came from it. Did he carry it to help him climb Sinai to collect the tablets of stone inscribed with the law? Did he have it in his hand when he took in the view of the promised land just before his death?

A friend, who is a retired Presbyterian Moderator and Minister, was on a retreat many years ago at one of those beautiful retreat places where there was lots of country path and native trees, but also some, deciduous trees. She was out walking, contemplating, and enjoying nature, and took a turn around a corner. She was absolutely struck by a bright red maple with the sun shining on it.

She cried out, ”God, you’re amazing. Look at your beauty”!

And she felt something like electricity going through her. When relating this to her spiritual director, she was asked to re-read the story of Moses and the Burning Bush to see if God was saying something to her. And of course that’s the call of Moses to free the slaves.

And as she prayed into it, something that had been very slowly, but at the bottom of her gut, began to come up and it was a new call on her life.

I wonder how many of us have had Burning Bush moments – might not necessarily have been a Burning Bush, but that deep sense that one minute your life’s going this way and the next minute you are turned around and you know that there’s a call on your life, which is maybe very different.

The point is simple: you have no idea or control over what God has planned for you, when he calls on you.

Refs
The Methodist Church, UK,
Keynote Speaker, GA18, 5 Oct 2018, Very Rev Marg Schrader

Public Event: Diversity within our religious communities (NOTE NEW DATE)

The Wellington Abrahamic Council is pleased to invite you to a unique event which explores the beautiful diversity within each of our religious communities.

WhenWednesday 15 June 7:00 pm
WhereSalvation Army Newtown Centre
4 Normanby St, Newtown
SpeakersJewish: Mona Williams, Yuval Zalk, Yoel Samson
Christian: Maya Bernardo, Ben Cola, Rota Stone
Muslim: Mohamud Mohamed, Weng Ng, Jean Khan

Free event, all welcome, no RSVP necessary.

All of us are guilty of stereotyping people from other religions. But each of our religious communities is surprisingly diverse, not only in our ethnic origins, but also in our beliefs and how we practise. And within that amazing diversity, there is a common core of belief and practice – not only within our own religions, but also within our family of Abrahamic religions.

Come along to this event to listen to these diverse perspectives, followed by a panel discussion, Q&A, and plenty of time to mingle over a cup of tea.   

We look forward to seeing you there, face to face.

You can help us with publicity by inviting your friends to come along to this event with you or downloading our attractive flyer, printing it out, and posting it in your place of worship.

For more information, contact Dave Moskovitz, dave@abrahamic.nz, 027 220 2202

Peacenic 2022 – warm fellowship whilst dodging raindrops

Wellington Abrahamic Council (WAC) went ahead and held its third annual Peacenic on what was forecast to have been a wet Sunday afternoon in February. Miraculously, after heavy rain all night continuing late into the morning, it remained dry for the duration of the three-hour event.

Someone commented dryly (no pun intended), “What’s the worst that can happen? We get wet!” And a Jewish member of the council said, “Funny thing is, we have prayers in Judaism for dew and rain, but I’m not aware of any for dryness.”

Like all WAC events in current times, this one was entry by vaccine pass. All three religions are clear on our obligations to protect ourselves and others from harm, including infection.

The small gathering of Christians, Jews and Muslims met in the newly selected, family-friendly location of Trentham Memorial Park in Upper Hutt, half an hour’s drive from downtown Wellington.

The food people brought to share was mainly vegetarian and it was good to see the sensitivity shown towards others’ religious requirements in this respect.

One attendee who was welcomed was Massey University chaplain Jill Shaw, who had driven from Auckland for other reasons and took the opportunity to meet the diverse faith group.

New connections were forged and beneficial projects were discussed.

Peacenic began in Auckland in 2016 under the auspices of the Council of Christians and Muslims (CCM). It grew out of a desire to replace the polarising bad-news stories that dominate the media with real experiences of hospitality and friendship in our own backyard. The simplest gift of sharing time and food is rewarding in itself but goes beyond that to offer a glimpse of the world as it could be.

In our increasingly multi-religious, multi-ethnic community, the desire was to help build bridges across the divisions that have historically separated Muslims, Jews and Christians.

The weather and the pandemic combined to put many people off attending this year’s event, so WAC are looking forward to next year’s Peacenic (Sunday 12 February 2023) and clearly hoping for better weather, a pandemic in retreat, and greater numbers attending.

David Blocksidge

Peacenic 2022 – An Abrahamic picnic for peace

Join us for the Third Wellington Peacenic, a picnic for peace!
Where: Trentham Memorial Park, Upper Hutt
When: Sunday 20 February 2022 2pm-5pm

We’ll get together with our Jewish, Christian, and Muslim friends, share some food, enjoy conversation, play some games, and make new friends.

Peacenic began in Auckland in 2016. It grew out of a desire to replace the polarising bad-news stories that dominate the media with real experiences of hospitality and friendship in our own backyard. The simplest gift of sharing time and food is rewarding in itself but goes beyond that to offer a glimpse of the world as it could be. In our increasingly multi-religious, multi-ethnic community, we want to help build bridges across the divisions that have historically separated Muslims, Jews and Christians.

Trentham Memorial Park is just half an hour’s drive from Wellington CBD (put ‘43 Brentwood Street’ into Maps). Bring food to share but be sensitive to other faiths’ dietary requirements; ask if you are not sure. Please take rubbish away with you. Invite friends of other faiths, consider car pooling…and enjoy yourself!

There will be a maximum of 100 people at this gathering, and vaccine passes will be required.

For further info, contact David Blocksidge on 021 054 8443.

You can also download our flyer if you’d like to invite others from your faith community or post it in your church, mosque, or synagogue.

Climate Emergency Workshop – Results

The Wellington Abrahamic Council held a Workshop on the Climate Emergency on 20 June 2021 at Te Herenga Waka / Victoria Univesrity of Wellington. Facilitated by Dave Moskovitz and Jonathan Boston the event was attended by 50+ people representing Jews, Christians, and Muslims. We heard from inspirational speakers including Sarah Livschitz, Paul Blaschke, Geoff Troughton, Amy Ross, Waseema Ahmed, Taufil Omar, Paul Morris, and Estelle Henrys.

Focussing on this vital issue together provided an opportunity to meet others from our different communities and to learn a little more about our respective traditions within the Abrahamic family. From the initial presentations by representatives of each of the three faiths it was clear that the teaching of our Abrahamic traditions about sustainability and the natural world provides a rationale and motivation to address this defining issue of our time as a priority.

During the workshop, we identified themes which were of interest to the attendees, discussed them within our own faith communities, and then brainstormed ways of working together on those themes accross our religions in small groups.

At the end of the workshop, we each filled in “commitment cards” outlining actions we were each committed to take within our own families, within our faith communities, and and within wider society.

Our meeting came up with several eco principles for faith communities

  • Contributing to eco sustainability is part of our faith commitment today.
  • Not just individual effort but collective eco action as faith communities is necessary.
  • Eco stewardship is worship because the world is God’s creation and belongs to God.
  • We need to contribute as faith communities by collaborating with other eco groups.

Our meeting identified several necessary strategies:

  • We need to reinterpret our sacred texts, theologies, and faith practices in order to express eco activism as an imperative of our faith commitment.
  • Any planned actions in transition to a more eco-centric society need to be just, avoiding consequences or further disadvantaging already poorer groups in our society.
  • We need to be making an active contribution, as faith communities, towards the public debate on climate change issues.
  • We need to form alliances with other faith communities, beyond the Abrahamic, in order to be more effective in our public contribution to climate change debates. 
  • Each faith community has a role of encouraging an eco-commitment among its member families at the household level.
  • We need to commit to this as a long-term aim.

Becoming an Eco faith community

Each congregation or group (Synagogue, Mosque, Church, Tangata Whenua) can review the environmental impact of its activities and plant, including transport by which these are accessed by its members, in order to progressively move towards having a minimal ecological footprint as a group.

Self-assessment programme available at ecochurch.org.nz – note that most of the content and principles on this site are applicable to mosques and synagogues as well as churches.

Other available tools / resources:  

Kopua Monestary visit

On the last weekend in May a small group from the Wellington Abrahamic Council visited the Abbey of Our Lady of the Southern Star, also known as the Kopua Monestary, near Takapau in Central Hawkes Bay.

Made up of a group of Jews, Christians and Muslims, the Abrahamic Council seeks to promote understanding and acceptance between members of the three faiths that trace their roots back to our common father Abraham, and also tolerance of all faith communities within the wider New Zealand society. Having heard about Kopua at one of our meetings, several Council members were interested to come to the monastery, as this particular form of spiritual life is not present in their traditions. 

While at Kopua we attended several of the Offices and the Sunday Eucharist. One even got up at 4 am for Vigils. They meditated with the monks after Vespers and in the morning before the Eucharist, a shared spiritual practice in silence that transcends the symbolic framework of each faith tradition. They spent some time with Fr Niko Verkley before breakfast on Sunday. Around a warm fire in the evening in the peaceful atmosphere of the Guest house common room we had time for a good conversation with each other. We all appreciated the vegetarian food the cooks had gone to the trouble of providing for us.

The visit highlighted certain similarities in the faith practice within the three traditions. All share, in their own style, the rhythm of prayer throughout the day. Each involves, in their own form, ascetic practices to help us become responsive to God as the source of our lives and being. All are based on devotion to God through response to the gracious divine Word that is heard, in its own way, within each of the Abrahamic traditions.

Appreciating what we share with each other as Abrahamic peoples not only helps us to understand others from different traditions, but also appreciate more deeply the divine gift we have been given.

Nick Polaschek

Climate Emergency Workshop

Jews, Christians, and Muslims working together for sustainability

When: Sunday, 20 June 2021, 1:30-5:30pm
Where: Victoria University, Rutherford House, Room RHMZ03 (next to the Railway Station)
Admission: Koha, but tickets are essential as space is limited

KeynoteHon James Shaw, Minister of Climate Change
FacilitatorsDr Jonathan Boston, Dave Moskovitz
Jewish SpeakersSarah Livschitz, Dr Paul Blaschke
Christian SpeakersDr Geoff Troughton, Amy Ross
Muslim SpeakersWaseema Ahmed, TBC
SummationProf Paul Morris, Estelle Henrys

At this workshop, we’ll listen to some inspirational speakers about our religious traditions and their approach to sustainability, both in the historical and current context. We’ll then break into groups within our own religious groups to discuss how we can integrate these learnings into our own lives, and identify themes of action. We’ll then meet in mixed groups aligned with specific actions to discuss how we can work together to achieve our goals. We’ll conclude with an action plan we can all commit to.

If you’re concerned about the future of our planet, do come along and contribute to our interfaith efforts to work together for a sustainable future.

Tickets are strictly limited by the size of our venue, do get a ticket if you’d like to come. You can help publicise this event by downloading the poster and posting it at your synagogue, church, or masjid.


Tickets at: https://q5.nz/abrahamic-climate

Public Discourse – the Abrahamic approach

Update: You can download or listen to audio from the event:

Public Meeting
Wednesday 11 November 2020, 7pm
At Parliament House

(We recommend you arrive at least 15 minutes early to go through security)

Does it matter if public figures are rude and untruthful in interviews?

ModeratorHon Golriz Ghahrahman
JewishProf Paul Morris
ChristianCharles Waldegrave
MuslimDavid Blocksidge
Māori SpiritualTe Awa Puketapu

Admission is free, but due to parliamentary requirements, a ticket is essential. You must get your ticket before midday on Monday 9 November.

Get your ticket at:
https://abrahamic-public-discourse.lilregie.com

These days, politicians globally are becoming more and more offensive about their opponents. Some even tell lies. And it’s not confined to politicians – all of us could improve our interactions with others.

Uncivil behaviour matters because it undermines democracy, incites people to violence, deepens divisions in society, and has other harmful effects.

You can help to resist this by coming along to hear insights from the three Abrahamic faiths – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – and perspectives from Tangata Whenua about how we conduct public discussions.

It promises to be a lively evening full of insights and good manners. Just what you’d expect of a civilised city like Wellington.

You can download our attractive flyer if you’d like to help promote the event.

For more information, contact Dave Moskovitz, mob 027 220 2202.


A reflection on patience

David Blocksidge

The following reflection on Patience was given by Abrahamic Council member David Blocksidge at our meeting on 15 October 2020.

Islam teaches us that we should, ideally, only ever be in one of two states of mind.

Most of the time we should be in a state of shukr – gratitude in English. It’s pretty clear to anyone of faith that we should show gratitude for God’s many blessings. So far so good.

The difficulty – for me at least – comes with the second state. When we are facing difficulties, we are told we ought to display sabr, or patience.

I mention it now, with Covid-19 still among us, work uncertainties, health issues and various other problems we may be facing.

Sabr is clearly a very important concept for Allah. The word occurs in the Qur’an about 90 times, most memorably in Surah Al-Asr, chapter 103, in which the final line says: “Wa tawaasaw bis sabr” – “and recommend one another to patience.”

It’s one of the shorter chapters in the Qur’an so I learned it early on to be able to recite when I lead prayers. However, it has often troubled me because I felt inadequate; I’m not the most patient of people, so I felt a little guilty reciting this particular line and not being able to live up to it.

But there is hope for me and I will explain why. I have learned that, as a translation, the word patience really does not do the word sabr justice. It’s yet another example of an English translation butchering and diluting the richness and depth of the Arabic.

Other meanings of the word include to stop, detain, refrain and withhold.

But the root of the word sabr is the most interesting aspect. It is derived from the Aloe plant known to Arabs as sabbar, 300 species of which grow natively in the desert.

What the aloe plant is known for, other than its healing qualities, is its ability to sustain drought and heat in the harsh climate of the desert. It withstands harsh conditions to force its way to grow tall and strong and needs very little maintenance and watering.

It has an abundance of beneficial functions. It can cool burns, help with allergies, condition hair, protect skin and detoxify the body. It has anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties and can heal wounds, stimulate cell regeneration and be used as toothpaste or mouthwash. It can even promote blood circulation and lower cholestorol when drunk as a juice.

With the aloe plant in mind, the word sabr translates more accurately as perseverance – a dogged will to survive and thrive and achieve its purpose no matter how bad the conditions around it are.

Patience, withholding, refraining etc are all passive, whereas perseverance is positive. Exactly how we Muslims – indeed, all human beings – should be. Always positive, always active, and always persevering no matter the situation, so we can achieve our purpose and give benefit to others around us.

As impatient as I can be, at times I am capable of great perseverance. Thank you for your patience.

David Blocksidge is a Muslim member of the Wellington Abrahamic Council.

Religious attitudes to racism

Public Meeting Online
Tuesday 30 June 2020, 7:30pm on Zoom
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87012063664

Video from the event:

We need to talk.

In the wake of Black Lives Matter, we need to talk about racism. Each of the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – has a chequered history of how we treat “the other”, and all three religions have also been on the receiving end of hatred.

But what do our prophets, our history, our traditions, and our lived experience in the contemporary world tell us about racism in the twenty-first century?

Come join our Zoom meeting, where we’ll discuss how our three Abrahamic religions approach racism.

ChairProf Paul Morris, Victoria University
ModeratorMeng Foon, Race Relations Commissioner
JewishJuliet Moses, NZ Jewish Council
ChristianCharles Waldegrave, Family Centre Social Policy Research Unit
MuslimAnjum Rahman, Inclusive Aotearoa Collective

There will be time for questions and answers immediately following the panel discussion.

We hope to see you there.

For further information, contact the meeting host, Dave Moskovitz, dave@abrahamic.nz or phone 027 220 2202.