In this last weeks we have witnessed some unsavoury sides of society, both here and overseas. The inappropriate behaviour of Eddie Maguire and friends along with the strident responses to the tragedies in Orlando and in England with the death of Jo Cox have bordered on the bizarre. Interestingly enough we have not heard the same responses to the multiple deaths in non-white communities.
Eddie McGuire and friends have forgotten a very important fact of life. Culture, corporate culture, church culture, societal culture is what you do. If what you do is bullying by nature and you do it enough it becomes the culture. The AFL and clubs such as Collingwood have trumpeted a culture of inclusion and zero policy to bullying and harassment. Unfortunately that now looks a little lame.
Now the church is not immune from the same criticism. Our performance in handling the child abuse issues, bullying, gender based issues at both Church wide and parish levels is often out of sync with the culture of love we preach and promote.
Academic Andrew Macleod writing in the SMH, commenting on these and other issues within social media and online forums writes:
‘Initially, when I signed up, Twitter and Facebook were places to debate public policy. They were places to send and receive alternative views, to refine one’s opinions and sometimes to change one’s views based on new perspectives.
But recently the tone of social media has changed. Social media is now a place where there is lots of talking and very little listening. While debates no longer take place, shouting matches do. While new online friends can be made, real ones can be lost. I found myself becoming guilty of this, too.’
He goes on:
‘When something tragic happens now, social media gives us a platform, not to speak, but to yell. Not to engage, but to bully, not to consider, but to scream. Social media has lots of proclaiming and no listening. Things can be said online that threaten friendships in reality.
And I found myself doing this and I didn’t like what I was becoming.’
Culture is what we do. And if we are not careful what we do will begin to mimic the world in which we live. Like the frog in the saucepan of cold water placed on a stove, we only know we are in trouble when it is too late. The water is no longer cold. We are no longer living the culture we thought we were, we are now living differently.
James and John in the Gospel reading, find themselves in this very situation. These loyal disciples and companions of Jesus, living within the cloistered culture Jesus was developing act, not out of that culture, but out of the culture of the world around them. The justly earn the name of Sons of Thunder for their outburst. They throw a tantrum because things weren’t going their way and wish to punish, no, annihilate the Samaritan village that had not welcomed them.
Jesus rebukes them for their break from his code of practice, his expectations of those who followed him. Paul takes up the same idea in his letter to the Galatians – here he is directly addressing how those within the Christian church treat each other. This is about respect, love and modelling of the right behaviour. The hardest thing to be is a Christian because we must at all times be reflecting on our practice and assessing what is the culture we are modelling. Paul writes: “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”
Aubra Love writes: “To avoid ‘devouring one another’ (5:15) requires personal responsibility, restraint and stewardship of care for one another.” This requirement sits firmly on all who profess faith in Christ and not just the Vicar, Wardens, Parish Council or others in positions of authority. It is the requirement of all who participate in the corporate life of the body of Christ.
Responsible for the culture of our community. How we treat each other, how we allow members to treat others and how we model the culture of respect, inclusion and safety. Inside schools and workplaces the role of the bystander is emphasised. A bystander is someone who sees or knows about bullying or other forms of violence that is happening to someone else; they can either be part of the problem (hurtful bystander) or part of the solution (helpful bystander). It’s easy to ignore incidents of bullying, or walk away thinking “at least it’s not me. But believe it or not, by doing nothing you are contributing to the problem — and you may be giving bullies the “okay” to carry on with their behaviour. Research shows that bystanders can effectively stop bullying within 10 seconds of an intervention
Showing restraint and thinking carefully before you speak or interject or make a judgement about another. The Galatians had a habit of marking who was in or who was out, of identifying others and judge them and their actions. We are all called to be aware of this for a judgemental culture is a bullying culture and it is the very culture Jesus and Paul speaks against. One of the comments Andrew Macleod makes about online and media commentary is that it often lacks restraint and goes to the extreme. This can be seen in the 3 cases I mentioned earlier. In each we have had people stridently using the situation to make a point without stopping, taking time think and reflect on the whole story before commenting. Restraint is vital if we are going to build a welcoming, inclusive and respectful Christian community.
Stewardship is not just about money, it is about how we manage our relationships wherever those relationships maybe. Stewardship is defined as: the responsible overseeing and protection of something considered worth caring for and preserving, in this case relationships and the stated culture of the church. The Galatians had the stated culture of Christian love and inclusion but instead were intent upon devouring each other over minor issues, jealousies, set ways of doing things and the need to get their own way. James and John showed little restraint and stewardship towards both others and the culture Jesus was advocating for. In fact, they showed little stewardship toward their relationship with him for he was indistinguishable from the culture he represented. This is a challenge for all of us in terms of maintaining relationships. How much do we value others so that we speak up when we see others being bullied or harassed is the question the Bystander program asks. It is one we need to ask our selves with responsible restraint.
St. Augustine of Hippo said it this way: ‘love, and do what you will.'” The full passage reads: “Once for all, then, a short precept is given unto you: Love God, and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: In all things, let the root of love be within, for of this root can nothing spring but what is good.”
In other words, Augustine is arguing objectively rather than subjectively–that when the love of God is the governing principle of our lives, then all that we think, say, and do will necessarily be yielded to that love. If our love of God is real and profound, then obedience and faithfulness, right thinking and right actions will flow irresistibly from that love.
May we live responsibly, with restraint and deep stewardship the relationship of love demanded by our relationship with Christ in all that we do. May we remind each other of this as necessary as we join in living the culture we desire.
As usual Paul has the last word: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”