When in Brisbane I spent time with a little boy called Leo who has cerebral palsy and is learning sign language. One of the signs is this – he uses this when he sees something unusual such as man with a grey beard and glasses. It means “That’s different”. I was intrigued. He hasn’t been taught that’s not the same but that’s different and by doing so he is encouraged to explore what difference is, not reject it because it is not the same
How easy is it for us to be stuck with the idea of sameness and not of difference? Sameness is the default of modern society. It is why we reject those who are not like us, who do not think like us, it’s why we have instituted organisations such as Border security – to filter out difference. It is why we like tradition when what we mean is we like things to be the same as always and we do not say ‘That’s different” when we meet something new
In discussion with an academic this week we discussed how modern education in universities is about teaching what is the same – what works for businesses, institutions and governments for the benefit of the economy and gets you a job.
There are very few people who are doing university simply for the joy of exploring the vast possibilities of accumulated and yet to be discovered truths. There is a move afoot by the government to require universities to demonstrate in terms of numbers how their courses get people into the workforce. It’s about jobs, stupid, and if you are not getting people into jobs with the skills they studied then your funding will be cut. The irony is this won’t affect theological colleges because they are now primarily career oriented institutions, providing education to those going into the ministry, and have long ditched the exploration of difference.
How would we read the scriptures and live our faith if we lived with a “that’s different” focus? What if we expanded our personal world view from the pragmatic to the exploration of the difference?
Take the universe for example. What if we began exploring how we are apart of large expanding universe and that we are in fact living in the future – all that we see has already happened and we are waiting for what happens next. Mark Chown in the New Humanist suggests that the light from the moon we see happened 1.25 seconds ago and the sun some 4.25 minutes ago?
What if we lived with a universe referent focus – looking away from ourselves towards the immense creativity and reality of the universe. We would read that God is not a personal God focussed on our petty needs but a God that is involved in the great act of creating this universe which comes to us already having completed what we are yet to experience. Can you imagine that? What ever is happening in this universe, in this place called Earth, in the country called Australia and in our own lives comes to us after being completed already.
Which brings us to our Gospel reading for today. Jesus places his story in the context of the kingdom and the need for the disciples to anticipate the coming of God amongst them. This story is firstly a story of the time and space it was rewritten for. It was about the returning Jesus and how they who had anticipated the immediacy of that and now feeling time was going by how they were to maintain their diligence and zeal.
Yet there is a perhaps another way into this passage. What if it was a story that expanded into the universe replacing the word kingdom (the wholeness and mystery of God) with the word Universe (the wholeness and mystery of the very thing that gives us life)?
Verse 32 would then read: ““Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the universe.“ The universe in this context is the fullness of creation, of everything we need to be fully alive and in relationship with everything else. It refers to the relationship we have with each other, all creatures and created things.
In verse 40 we read: ”You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” You and I are to live in anticipation of what it means to be waiting for what is yet to be. Being citizens of an unfolding and ever creating universe we are to live with an anticipatory worldview – looking for what is new, different, unexpected and finding ways to continue to live in relationship with all.
Anticipation means we look for and explore difference and diversity and in being citizens of the universe we are living in anticipation so we can say – “That’s different.” The Gospel story is about how would we live if we lived with a universe referent world view? How would we live if we understood ourselves to be indigenous or citizens of the universe, to the whole, to all of creation and time instead of to those like us, our own tribe or our own type?
Being indigenous to the universe that is the source of all existence, and by definition, our existence, means that our responsibilities and rights do not stop with our own. We may have a particular set of responsibilities and rights within a certain time and space but we also have a universal responsibility for all who share this planet with us.
If we are indigenous to the universe we are in a kinship relationship with every other human and created being. Kinship relationships define for us who we are responsible to and who we are responsible for. Being indigenous of the universe we each are responsible for the other, whoever, whatever and wherever we encounter them. New Zealand Maori’s refer to creation as “All my relatives” meaning flora, fauna, natural formations such as mountains, rivers and seas are as real to them as other human beings.
Yet being indigenous to the universe means we have specific kinship responsibility to care for those parts of creation that is not human but who feel, sense and communicate with each other and us. In fact one could say we are held accountable for our ability to do so or not do so because these elements, these our universe indigenous brothers and sisters have no voice but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours. We are all they have to ensure their rights and privilege to exist and to share their gifts with us.
What would it be like if we lived consciously, wilfully in anticipation of a full and reciprocal kinship with all that is, humans and the environment in such a way that all flourish and grow into wholeness? It would be living in the kingdom, the universe of God. It would be what our Christian beliefs promise us. It would be living in the resurrection glory of Christ because the earth would be alive to the sounds of the New Testament.
Now, That’s different!