In this post we will look at the last of the four focal points in relation to the pot and the plant.
- Coming to grips with the need to mature both as a nation and as a church.
This is a complex and problematic topic. How can we approach this question without insinuating that somehow something is wrong with both the nation and the church. What does it mean to be mature in both and what does it look like to not be mature?
It is all about identity and how we see ourselves and whether or not how we see ourselves gives us sustains us as authentic selves without the need to appeal to others (nations or ideologies) to affirm us. It involves the self assurance that we are ok despite consisting of all the human failings any institution will experience. Why? Because we, nation and church, are made up of the general public and that makes us problematic at best.
Are we able to look ourselves in the mirror and be able to say, collectively that we are ok; not perfect, not with out great errors of judgement, ill-informed practice, out dated world views or unexplainable fears, but o.k? Are we able to own our past, our biases, our prejudices, our ‘isms and be ok about them and seek to be transformed in such away that these no longer reign supreme in our psyche?
Maturity places us where we understand that what we wished for, what we were told and who we are, are three completely different experiences. We are mature when we are comfortable with who we are and then can speak and act out of that place. This happens when we no longer blame others for failing us because they told us stuff that didn’t come true; it happens when we put aside what we wished for in childish hope for the impossible; it happens when we are ok with the disparity between these and the reality we experience everyday.
When we are ok with that were are beginning to mature and own our own story in away that empowers us.
This is the challenge for us as a nation – to own our past (how we became a nation and how we treated the FNP), our biases (white Australia policy), our fears (boat people and refugees), our aloneness (the need for a mother – UK or a big brother – USA), our struggle with cutting our ties with England (republic) and more. These are questions we have been afraid to answer out of fear of what will happen if……. Yet we know from recent events such as giving FNP the vote, welcome Vietnamese boat people, welcoming refugees, embracing multiculturalism, that the sky has not fallen and neither will it if we stand up and address these issues.
These issues are not dissimilar to those faced by the church. It too has to address its past, make a break from the English church, address its blindness to systemic failures, include LGBTQI, disabled, homeless and others and make a decision to be Australian in Australia. Again these may seem deeply challenging but we know that despite the warnings, the church has not collapsed because it ordains women or because it has been forced to face the child abuse scandal. The roof or all churches will not fall in if we begin to mature so that we let go of our preconceived theological and structural positions and listen to the Great Creator Spirit in this land of the Dreaming.
In Mark’s Gospel two people, Jesus and a Gentile woman, of Syrophoenician origin, have public and frank confrontation. They were as different as chalk and cheese in terms of race, just as the Jesus and the man he meets next.Lamar Williamson, Jr. (Mark, Interpretation) connects these texts with verses 1-23 with, “If in the preceding passage Jesus “declared all foods clean” (7:19), in these stories he declares all persons clean, whether a Gentile woman in a pagan city or a man of indeterminate race in the unclean territory of the Decapolis. The stories are two examples of the sample principle: Both advance Jesus’ repudiation of traditional taboos (p. 137).””
“The racial and religious differences between Jesus and the Gentile woman are unchanged. But what has changed is that courage and caring for a daughter have been shown to be acceptable to God – even when they come from a Gentile heart; even when they come from a woman’s heart; even when they come from the heart of a woman who has publicly shamed herself by being out alone, by speaking to a man, and by daring to speak back to a man.” (David Ewart, 2012.)
In this scenario who is the most mature, who is the one who is fully aware of themselves and their shortcomings in this confrontation, but believes so strongly in what has to be said that they say it firmly and with deep conviction? On the surface, it’s not Jesus.
It’s the women. She is mature enough to know what the situation is and what she wants and that she deserves to get what is right. She will not bow to racism, clericalism, gender power or imputed shame. She is ok and therefore it is ok to be here, now and say what has to be said.
Jesus responds with affirmation, you are o.k. All are included in this kingdom no matter what labels or biases society puts on you or in your way.
Reflecting on the James reading, Daniel B. Clendenin suggests, “We judge, discriminate, and play favourites for many reasons – race, religion, gender, intelligence, politics, and nationality all come to mind. James uses the example of Christians who favoured the rich over the poor.”
“James wasn’t telling the church to be good to the poor and thereby earn salvation. He was saying that if their faith was genuine, they’d actually be loving their neighbours as themselves.” (Rick Morley, 2012.)
Maturity is the strength to engage with the unknown without the need for assurance that all will be well. It is the ability to address past errors and mistakes and own the responsibility for putting right the future. It is the capacity to hear another out with resorting to fear, ideology or dog-whistle politics. It is the capacity to make the changes necessary for a worthwhile future for all.
The woman and Jesus engage in such a transaction where both are visibly different as a result but neither is diminished. Both grow in stature and in their own understanding of who they are.
The challenge for both the church and the nation is to face the fear of losing what we have or have been privileged to have, to let go of the past and all its warm fuzzy memories and face what is required of us in this new world. A mature nation and church will embrace modern thought, science and practice. It will announce itself confident in its identity in this place, letting go of the need for crutches from another era. We will become inclusive of the diverseness of creation in terms of peoples, faiths, practices, genders, disabilities and races.
The key to this is an educated populace who refuse to be spoken down to by those in power and, like the woman in our story say, enough. We are here. Take us seriously.