Innovate: Reimagining Reconciliation

3 Aug

This last week I found myself confronted by my
aboriginality.

A friend who had recently returned from a trip through
outback Australia commented on the Aboriginal people seeming to be doing
nothing productive, just sitting around listless and bored. 
Later I read a headline describing a NSW town as
having the worst ice epidemic in the state, while it was careful to say it
affected both black and white, the picture accompanying the story was of a
black man.
I read of a number of towns in WA trialling the
cashless welfare card, and I was confronted by the impact that will have on an already
marginalised and oppressed people.
Finally, I have been disturbed by the racial
vilification of Adam Goodes and the violence underpinning much of the
commentary in both mainstream and social media.
Perhaps we see these problems from the wrong place. Focussing
on the visible and presenting issues, we are missing the real tragedy at play
here. These incidents are metaphors for the destruction of the primal spiritual
essence of our people and symbolise the battle for the soul of our nation. Our
people are suffering from the cumulative effect of internalised oppression giving
rise to the situation we see in front of us. It will take imagination, humility
and a drastic rethinking of our own lives and the way we find value and meaning
in and for ourselves and others before we will be able to reach out to those we
continue to oppress.
I grew up in a town renown for its violence against
local tribes. Visiting the library, reading newspaper cuttings and letters from
the mid 1880’s to the early 1920’s, I realised the steps taken by my family to
hide my grandmothers’ heritage was a strategy deemed necessary for survival.
My grandfather made my Uncle promise to keep my
grandmothers indigenous heritage hidden. No one in my family speaks of it; her background
is shrouded in mystery. There is only a mother who registered the birth some
time later in a different town. No father is mentioned. She had the name of the
family she was left with when the small aboriginal community from which Jimmy
and Joey Governor, aboriginal men who killed 9 people during a fourteen week
rampage in 1900, and who inspired the book and movie “The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith” came, were forcibly moved out west
at the request of the white community. 
While it was our family secret, it wasn’t a secret to
the locals. I grew up known as ‘Young Darkie’ or ‘Young Blackfella’; my best
friend, when angry, called me the son of a drunken bush black; another friends’
father told a group of classmates they could be friends with me but to remember
where I came from. Bullying at school was a never-ending story for me.
My father lived in exile, caught between a world he
knew and a world he never knew, growing more bitter and angry as the years went
on. He acted out his violence through alcohol, directing it at anyone nearby,
particularly his family and I as his eldest son. He was never able to reconcile
within himself these two worlds even when he stopped drinking. It was bigger
than him and his family. It was the internalised oppression of a people and
country from which he was exiled.
In many ways our country and our church mirror the
difficulties faced by my father. We are stuck somewhere in the middle, a little
too white to be able to include the black or anyone who is different, a little
too involved in the tragedies which have and still occur to be able to step
away and see the situation for what it is, and, apparently, unable to reconcile
within ourselves the diverse pieces of our shared history to make a stand.
My relationship with the Anglican church changed when,
after a particularly violent evening at home I went  to the local rectory seeking assistance to
stop the violence. Bundled into the Parish car, I was dropped back outside the
house, left to deal with the situation myself. I was 15 at the time.
Paul writes:   
‘If, because
of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the
abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life
through the one man, Jesus Christ.’
Having been reconciled through Christ we have dominion
over the past, the present and the future. This dominion, wrought for us
through Christ, is one of empowerment. We are empowered to be the difference. This
is not power and control in secular or Old Testament terms, but the giving away
of power and control so others can fulfil their potential. We are to live out the
compassion of empowerment portrayed by Jesus in the Gospels.
Reconciliation begins with the gift of God through
Christ and continues as we begin to reconcile within ourselves our own and our cultures
past actions. Only then can we reach out our open hands to others.  Thomas Merton suggests this is hard work, writing,
“Do not depend on the hope of results.
You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and
even achieve no result at all………. As you get used to this idea, you start more
and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness,
the truth of the work itself. . In the
end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”
Having entered into the kingdom of God have become
companions of empowerment, and, by virtue of our relationship with Christ, we are
empowered to empower through relationship. Broken free from the ideologies,
practices, laws and restrictions of colonialism, secular or religious, we are
called upon to set others free. It is not a choice we can or cannot make, it is
imperative on each individual, institution and government who act under the
devolved authority of God to do so.
Shawn Copeland, the womanist Afro-American theologian,
reminds us: “If my sister and brother is
not at the table, we are not the flesh of Christ. If my sister’s mark of
sexuality must be obscured, if my brother’s mark of race must be disguised, if
my sister’s mark of culture must be oppressed, then we are not the flesh of
Christ. It is through and in Christ’s flesh that the “other” is my sister, is
my brother; indeed, the other is me……….”
We who have been reconciled and
are at last empowered to live a fully alive Christ life and have dominion over
our lives are the ones who are to co-work with God to complete this act of
union.
Today we formalise the Diocesan Reconciliation Action
Plan, putting into words our desire to make a difference. We are called to
Innovate, not in terms of programs or protest, but in terms of people. To engage
with indigenous people as autonomous individuals fully capable of living their
lives, to understand the pain deeper than skin colour and stereotypes, and make
a start to reimagine the primal spiritual need of all.
Let us put right what our colonial ancestors made
wrong, by holding out our hands in reconciliation and working together. Here’s
mine. 

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