We live in a modern world of the individual where ties have been cut with corporate life. Not corporate in terms of the commercial world, but corporate in terms of community and belonging. No longer are churches, community groups and volunteer organisations central to people’s thinking. Unless these organisations particularly fulfil the individuals personal need it is, it seems, all about me and my need. I will only serve you if I first serve me.
The result? Lots of lonely people disconnected from real relationships within the world. People who have everything they want but little that they need. People who are individually fulfilled but socially isolated. Privacy has become the by word for our generation yet it is not a word that gives the satisfaction we sought. Too much privacy for too long leaves us bereft of the belonging we need.
In Johns Gospel we are reminded that God so loved the world he came in the shape of a human called Jesus.
Jesus is love with legs on. Striding, walking, wandering, gambolling, trudging.
Jesus is love personified. Love with personality, emotions, passion, depression.
Jesus is love practiced. Love that muddles. Meddles, moddycoddles and cuts loose – love in the hard light of the day and the dark abyss of the night.
This not a love that is gooey and sweet, something you can’t put your finger in without getting all sticky and stuck.
This is a love that is solid, dependable and exacting; nothing like the stuff you hear on the radio or see on tv. It is more classic opera than modern pop song. It has responsibilities, restrictions and accountabilities and it is for the other, not for self.
On this first Sunday of National Reconciliation Week it is time for all in this country to engage in emulating Jesus and becoming love on legs, love personified and love practiced. The theme for this year’s NRW is Don’t Make History A Mystery. We are to be reminded that the history of this country is a mixture of dark and light and those who have benefited from that history are now called upon to work with those who did not, to build a new future together.
Thomas Merton and James Baldwin, both integral to the 1960’s civil rights movement in America, write about whiteness as “the original sin of American history and identity, no cheap grace was available to transcend this sin”. They searched for a means of healing and suggested “This healing would need to go beyond superficial models of reconciliation and integration towards a radical repair and rediscovery of our common existence, as beloved human and planetary elements of the presence of God in creation.”
This very same whiteness, not skin colour, but a worldview that places all things white above all other things, is still the primary sin within our own country. Just a few days ago I spoke to a lady and said that I was probably more aboriginal than Christian, to which she replied in a state of concern for my soul, “You have it the wrong way round, you are to be Christian first and Aboriginal second. God wants all of you.’ This smacks of whiteness, of there being only one way to engage with the Creator Being and that is the white way and it supersedes all else. This reflects the position of imperial Christianity and the mission mind of those who engaged with Aboriginal people in this country.
It is not appropriate for Christians and the church to talk of love without addressing the issues from the past and the present that loom darkly over the future. Love requires us all to give up certain ideas and perceptions of ourselves to make room for the other whom we have dispossessed. Love requires us to disconnect ourselves from our whiteness and to engage with the shades of life we find confronting and challenging. We are to put some legs on love and walk with, beside and sometimes behind those we have always felt it our right to lead or control. It is only as we step down from our place of privilege and allow others to meet us on the road to peace that Reconciliation will occur.
It is important to understand that the damage done in the past is not just about the impact on indigenous people. It also involves the hurt experienced by the white society of the time as a result of the actions they and others took part in.
In the last couple of weeks I have had white people contact me with horror stories they have been told by their family involving their ancestors. It is plainly clear, without telling those stories again, that these people are continuing to carry the trauma of those events just as much as those who suffered at the time. Healing for this country is beginning as people begin to unpack stories they have heard and have sat hidden in the recesses of theirs and their families corporate memory.
In addressing history and bringing it to light we are beginning the necessary prerequisites for makarrata and healing for all. The outcome of this process will be a more united and inclusive country, not a perfect country, just a country muddling on the road to love.
Here at St Oswald’s we are leading the way. Our garden, the upcoming NRW service and our engagement/collaboration with the wider community places us at the forefront of love bringers in the everyday experience of others. It is what our strategic plan is about. It is why we open our doors daily; why we invite people in for concerts; why we find ways to collaborate with councils, community groups, schools, traditional owners and churches; and more.
God shares love with us in the person of Jesus and expects us to share that love through our personal relationships with the folks we live amongst. It’s not brain surgery. It is simply showing hospitality by opening our hearts and our spaces to include others and taking the risk to move outside of our own comfortable spaces into the places people muddle along – out there.
Love with legs on places us at the centre of the reconciliation or makarrata process. Love with legs on means we will reflect on our place of privilege and allow us to make the decision to relinquish our whiteness and become one with those we share this place with. Love with legs on will mean that this parish will continue it journey of discovery through giving of ourselves and our resources to bring about the possibility of hope for those we share this space with.