People have asked me how was my trip to Alice Springs? Did I like it? Was it a good experience? I am not sure how to answer. And when some words begin to form, I find them slipping away, not really wanting to be put out there for others to hear.
You see, I had heard a lot about the Centre, the desert, the people and the Aboriginal problem and it was different to what I saw. I watched tourists and people on pilgrimages, seeking something from the country and the people in order to save themselves from them selves. I witnessed the harsh beauty of the landscape painted in red rock and carved on the faces of the people who lived there. When I am asked what was it like, I am not sure what people want me to say.
I listened to people wax romantically about the wisdom in the country, the dreaming and the ancient people who still live there, and find myself conflicted and challenged. I watched people worship this wisdom seeking absolution for the guilt of the past and fear that what they find will do little to change they way we, black and white, live with each other here.
The 7.30 report story on children in detention has created a stir but while the images are new, the story is not. This has been going on in our country for, the day the first white boat people arrived, was there at the day of Federation, experienced during my youth and I can share many a story from my years working on the streets of Kings Cross, Fortitude Valley in Brisbane and a range of prisons I visited as a Salvation Army Chaplain. No amount of commissions, inquiries or reports will change what is so deeply entrenched in the Australian psyche.
Stan Grant in an emotional powerful speech this week at the University of Sydney, a must read for everyone, makes it plain that bigotry and racism lies at the core of our country and without the honesty of such as a truth and reconciliation commission, as in South Africa, can we even begin to turn this around.
M K Turner, an Arrenta woman from Alice Springs speaks of Uteryea or the line or vein which runs through country and through people. Like a vein it carries the essence describing the character and truth of country and people. It is in us and runs through us on and out to others, it defines and claims us and remains with us always. It changes brings us into relationship with others.
Paul in Colossians brings us solidly back to a similar truth. It is no longer about us but about the life of Christ that lives with in us. And because of this we are different to before.
David A. Sanchez writes: “I am inclined to read this Biblical passage as a response by the author to a community that was struggling with shifting ethnic, social, and cultural demographics where one group attempted to conserve and validate a perceived privileged position based on what they recognized to be normative, entrenched, and original.” And so do I. Paul is attempting to bring about a cultural change that is already completed. By this I mean, when we encounter the resurrected Christ we are changed, now but not yet. It is now because it is the gift that occurs in the moment; it is not yet because it requires us to clothe ourselves in the life and example of Christ in the journey of relationships and experiences from now to forever. The fullness of that change only becomes real as we give life to it in our lived relationships.
And here is where it gets complicated, a word that came up continually in Alice – what about….. the answer always was, it’s complicated. It’s complicated being a Christian because it is hard to stay with the countercultural expectations of living Christ’s life in the world. It is so easy to move from inclusive love to hate, compassion to anger, generosity to scarcity and greed, and more. Paul is talking to a group of people who are needing to engage with a new world, a new way of being, with the inclusion in the community of people who are different, who they do not necessarily want there. They are struggling at the hardest place, the interaction between individuals, in the most difficult of places to do that, the church.
It is here our expectations are at their highest. We expect those who are like us to behave in a certain way, to be the epitome of everything a Christian is meant to be. And they aren’t we react badly. We are let down, disappointed and may even use it as an excuse to leave. Yet we are shocked when others see us in a similar way. Paul cheekily finishes this passage with: “In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!” even the one who is different, difficult, who hurt you, who let you down, who is not you. A constant theme coming from the indigenous speakers was we are one.
Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr, a Daly river woman writes: “Life is very hard for many of my people. Good and bad things came with the years of contact – and with the years following. People often absorbed the bad things and not the good. It was easier to do the bad things than to try a bit harder to achieve what we really hoped for… There are deep springs within each of us. Within this deep spring, which is the very Spirit of God, is a sound. The sound of Deep calling to Deep. The sound is the word of God – Jesus.”
How much we need that word in our country now! The word Jesus dwelling deep within creation and creatures, country and people to reconcile firstly ourselves to ourselves, and then to others. Paul is right. Blame and guilt does little and only works if we recognise others as not us and abled to be manipulated and mistreated. We are one, we are connected, and we belong to each other. The uteryea runs through us and when we sit together in dadirri we discover the truth deep down flowing like a river – we are the same, we belong in this place, in this country as one mob.
Without this word Jesus; fear, hate, anger and violence will continue to be the language we speak to each other and the resultant destruction of culture and country, the legacy we leave behind. Paul reminds us it is up to us, “you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.”
Without a fully reflective engagement with this word Jesus so that our veneer of respectability is torn open and our deepest prejudices and ideologies, our sin, is extinguished from our daily living in the light of this word Jesus then we will continue as we were before we encountered Him. No one can absolve us from Paul’s injunction. It is our vocation, my vocation, your vocation and it begins today. Let’s do it.