Archive for June, 2022

WSCF Stories of Resistance and Hope

Saturday was the first day of the World Student Christian Federation General Assembly in Berlin. This is the first in person assembly of WSCF for seven years since the last GA in Bogota in 2015.

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Why take an interest in religion?

I have been pondering why I have such an interest in religion.  All my life my primary commitment has been to understanding truth.  That led me to refuse to attend religious instruction classes at school, because even as a child I rejected the dogmatic method that promotes claims that contradict common sense.  One of my favourite lines in the Bible is John 8:32 where Jesus Christ says

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Berlin tourism, playing music

Catching up a bit, I have put some public posts on Facebook, with photos and videos. Here are links, and also words of some songs we will sing at the Assembly.

  • Fete de la music in Berlin, celebrating the summer solstice, musicians come out into the parks and jam. I brought my plastic didgeridoo and played for three hours with a bunch of Moroccans. They were great! Would be so nice to do this in Australia in summer, 21 December.  I had to saw my didg in half to fit it in my backpack, no worries, as it makes it far more convenient. I made it from a piece of plumbing pipe, with indigenous art glued on from old calendars. The mouthpiece is made by grinding up charcoal and mixing with melted beeswax.  Kreuzberg where I am staying has population density about 20 times greater than my suburb in Canberra, it is nice to be in an urban place.
  • With friends Chung HiuFan Fanny, Pio and Alissa, from Hong Kong, Korea and New Zealand, over dinner in Kreuzberg, before WSCF Assembly. We had a good conversation about why Christianity is so unpopular among university students.
  • Berlin tourism, climbed the dome of the great Prussian Protestant Cathedral and visited the Gauguin South Pacific exhibition at the Art Gallery on Museum Island. Slightly consternated to see so many WW2 bullet holes in the walls and pillars of the centre of the city dating from the Russian conquest. Surprised to see dozens of church spires in the former atheist East Berlin in the view from on high. Enjoyed running there from my hostel.

I will be playing music for the Assembly, piano, guitar, didg and singing.  Yesterday I met Dianet Martinez, from Cuba, conference organiser, to work on the music, and we also met a bunch of people from the WSCF Executive Committee over lunch, General Secretary Marcelo Leites from Uruguay, WSCF Chair Bishop George from India, Fanny from Hong Kong, Paudie from Ireland and others.  Dianet and I went to the Zwingli Kirche where the assembly will be held, quite an austere old protestant church, and so interesting as symptom of the collapse of Christian faith in Europe, built for a world that is now obsolete.

I shared an Australian hymn, Community, by Dave Brown from Brunswick Uniting Church in Melbourne.  Here are the lyrics

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John R. Mott, WSCF Founder

John Raleigh Mott.jpg
John R. Mott, founder of the WSCF

As we get ready for the WSCF General Assembly this week, its first in-person meeting since before the pandemic, it is good to learn something about the long and venerable history of this great organisation.  Quite remarkably, WSCF founder John Mott won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946, in a time of massive global tumult and disruption as the western nations shifted focus from the war against fascism to the Cold War against the Soviet Union. 

There must have been many candidates for the Peace Prize as the world emerged from such bloody and stupid fighting, carnage and genocide.  To give this uniquely celebrated and distinguished honour to a man who focused on how the beliefs of university students can affect world politics demonstrates a remarkable insight and vision from the Nobel Committee.


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The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall

The astonishing physical barrier of division that separated West Berlin from its hinterland for three decades from 1961 to 1989 seemed when I was young to be a permanent and immutable feature of political geography.

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Christian Faith

An old friend recently advised me that in attending this religion conference, the General Assembly of the World Student Christian Federation, I should not discuss religion, as my views might challenge and shock other people

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First Day in Berlin Sunday 19 June

First day in Berlin Sunday 19 June

As you might expect, Berlin is an easy place to visit, with a great train network, and also with a heavy presence of history.  I quite easily caught three trains to get from the airport to my hostel this morning.

I mentioned in my comments written in Singapore yesterday my visit to Korea, where the division of the country between north and south remains in place today, as a source of considerable heartache for the Korean people.   Berlin of course has a similar history as a politically divided city between the capitalist west and the communist east, except that unlike Korea it surmounted the political challenges and reunified at the end of the Cold War in 1989.  Still you can see the bleak functional architecture from the Stalinist influence in East Berlin, very dull, conformist and ugly, contrasted to a more free creative spirit in the West. 

Another big contrast I have noticed in Berlin is that travelling at the solstice I have moved from the coldest and darkest part of the year in Australia to the hottest and lightest time in Germany.  At the winter June solstice in Australia it gets dark at 5pm and the mornings in the south of the country are frosty.  Here in Berlin it is hot, 35

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In Athens

In Athens, transiting.  First visit to Greece, regarded as the

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In Singapore, Korean memories

Just arrived in Singapore with Andika Mongilala, reminds me of the last time I was here, 33 years ago in July 1989, travelling to Pyongyang to attend the World Festival of Youth and Students in a WSCF delegation.
My dear wife Caroline Reid had to mail my visa to me here in Singapore as the North Koreans said I had to travel on the World Student Christian Federation visa, not the Australian Socialist Party visa which I had received. I had not received the visa from WSCF Geneva before going to South Korea, from where I had to travel all the way to Singapore to get to the Hermit Kingdom. I vividly remember going by taxi to meet the plane from Australia here at Changi Airport where the mail was tipped out on the tarmac and I found the letter with my WSCF visa. I got to the North Korean Soviet Ilyushin plane just in time at midnight.

Quite a stressful adventure, and interesting memories of a tumultuous time after the Tian An Men Square massacre and before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Tragic that North Korea remains such a backward and oppressive enclave while their compatriots in South Korea, with the same history and culture and language over 5000 years, are relatively rich and free.

We used to sing a song with the Korean Student Christian Federation “Our hope for unification, even in sleep it is our dream, we offer even our lives for the unity of our land. Come to us unification, all people in this land pray for you, we offer even our lives for the unity of our land.” Link

Visiting the two Koreas influenced me to see Christianity as having immense potential for reconciliation, and also to see that communist ideology is a source of poverty and tyranny. Seeing the contrast between systems inspired me to read most of the books of Solzhenitsyn mocking the Soviet regime.

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Sustainable Development Goals in the Bible

One of my church activities is to serve as Secretary for the Canberra Region Presbytery of the Uniting Church in Australia. In this capacity I represent the Uniting Church on the ecumenical Council of Churches for the Australian Capital Territory. I presented the following short Bible reflection at the meeting of the council yesterday, on Matthew 25:31-46, the Last Judgement. I call this text the SDGs of the Bible, comparing it to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The Last Judgement describes the centrality of works of mercy to the salvation of the world, in a way that is directly relevant to modern development priorities. The salvation proclaimed by Christ in this text is supremely practical, while also resting upon the spiritual call to have faith in the grace of God. The Biblical claim is that our connection to divine love is the main thing that matters, as the source from which all blessings flow.  Discussing the love of God for the world can inspire us to ask what we must do to be saved. 

The six works of mercy described by Jesus in the Last Judgement say the key priorities for salvation are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome strangers and visit prisoners and the sick. These all show how the love of God can appear in our lives through a transformation of our world.  These six actions are brought together in the seventh commandment, to treat the least as though they were Christ, like the story of God resting on the seventh day after six days of work to create the world.

Together these commands from Christ form what we can call the sustainable development goals of the Bible.  The starting point for sustainable development in this approach is to see the glory of God revealed in parts of our world that are often despised, rejected and ignored.   The vision of the reign of Christ in the Last Judgement calls us to live proleptically, which means living as though we were now in the kingdom of God.  Simple practical measures that show our love for the least work to include people who are excluded by worldly prejudice, challenging prevailing social values and enabling sustainable development. 

The vision of transformation here is like Saint Paul’s explanation in Romans 8 that the natural creation groans like a woman giving birth as God works for good through love. 

The priorities for change in this vision from Christ reflect the theme of the General Assembly of the World Student Christian Federation, “rejoice in hope” (Rom 12:12). The vision of planetary transformation for sustainable development in the Last Judgement gives a basis to rejoice in hope, confident that faith in God revealed in Christ can show a path to make our world a better place.  

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