Each year the International Day of Peace is observed around the world on 21 September. The theme of this year’s commemoration is “Partnerships for Peace – Dignity for All” which aims to highlight the importance of all segments of society to work together to strive for peace.
Here in Australia we are being challenged on a number of levels, both connected to the UNHCR day and words of Jesus as recorded in todays Gospel –
37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Domestic violence, crimes against children and the plight of refugee families appear to be very different issues and require different strategies and approaches, yet they are essentially the same issue – power and control gained through violence and fear.
Aylan Kurdi, William Tyrell and Luke Batty are united in their suffering and raise the question: how seriously do we take Jesus plea to welcome children?
As with most of Jesus pronouncements this one would have made those standing around choke on what ever they were drinking or eating at the time. Children, like women, were possessions, useful to have around but not necessarily valued for who they were. They had a job to fulfil and could be treated as the male wished.
I was talking to a lady from an Asian background and we were discussing domestic chores and how men were beginning to take a more proactive role. She mentioned that in her culture this still had a long way to go. She had recently shared a meal with members of her family. The husband of one of her friends simply sat in his seat, requesting, no demanding to be served, first, got a glass of water, provided with his every need and he did not move from his seat. His wife was up and down like a yo-yo fulfilling every one of his requests. In Jesus time that was the norm.
Children we not useful as children, they were an investment in the future, but right now they were useless and to be ignored. You simply wouldn’t welcome children like you would an adult. In fact you would ignore them, send them away.
Jesus’ words were revolutionary and shocking. They still are.
Despite our elevation of young people we still struggle to treat them as children who are vulnerable and innocent. We rush them onto national televised talent shows way before they are mature enough to understand what is happening (and 15 is too young); we push them to fulfil one after another of a range of unnecessary activities (music, sport and other recreational clubs); we measure, test and label them with diagnostic tools from both the medical (DSM V) and the educational sectors (NAPLAN etc); we hover over them to protect them from monsters under the bed, bad people and accidents of life, they are objects not subjects, they have ceased to be persons who are on a journey, striving for being.
The stories of Aylan Kurdi, William Tyrell and Luke Batty have become headlines for selling newspapers, supporting political interventions and demonising others. They have become the face of a disturbing trend – the recruitment of victims into campaigns and policy making who should never have been victims in the first place.
This is not a comment on their parents, but a comment on society. It speaks directly to how we value people and how we value ourselves. It speaks to a complacency which ignores the obvious until it can not be ignored and then turns the tragedy which occurred into a focal point for boasting about what we will, have or may do about the problem. And the violence continues.
In listening to the Queensland Premier speaking on domestic violence, she referred to working on strategies and programs which are evidence. ‘Evidence based’ is a catchphrase, narrow, overused and of little use. It means we won’t do what is necessary until we have the research to support it and because there is so little known about these areas, and that the context of each situation will always give rise to events outside the evidence, in the end little occurs. It is narrow because it only accepts the scientific method, ruling out tradition, spiritual and cultural solutions which have been with us for a long time.
Jesus ties it together well.
It is connected to power and control. All domestic violence and crimes against children are about power and control or the loss of power and control, cannot be resolved simply by devolving responsibility for these issues to others who will now have power and control of those involved. The argument about who is first is an argument about who has the power to make decisions, impose their will and control the lives of those involved. Jesus says you have it all wrong, you need to listen to those who you are not listening to now, those you have marginalised until they are useful to you. It is not just about creating welcoming spaces for children but about hearing them and responding, learning and sharing with
them. They have something to say and it needs to be heard, but I fear this will get lost on the surge for evidence based programmes and responses.
It is connected to a universal and transcendent presence. Jesus says if you welcome, listen to, respond to, the children, you welcome me, and you welcome God. Humanity cannot solve any of the issues raised by Aylan, William or Luke as single definable objective events. We are all connected to these issues and we can only solve them through dialogue, not just with ourselves but with all involved; by strengthening relationships, that is the meaning of welcoming through hospitality (not food but open arms and doors); and by limiting our reliance on diagnoses and evidence based responses and remembering that it takes a village to raise a child, and violence any where in the world has its home in each of us.
It is connected to practicing the companionship of empowerment. God empowers Jesus who empowers us to empower others. How do we do that?
By challenging the structures, systems and traditions which give rise to violence.
By challenging the sense of entitlement that abounds in relationships and not allowing that sense of entitlement to present in our relationships with others.
By challenging the language used by governments and corporates to disempower and control others.
By challenging stereotypes and traditional practices and languages with in religions and within the church.
By giving permission for those who are disempowered to have a voice, and then listening and learning from what we hear.
By consciously and mindfully reflecting on, and monitoring, our own language and practice, and making changes that empower others.
After I had spoke on a similar issue on Friday at the ABM Board dinner, several people came up questioning my right to speak because of my colour. I think they wanted evidence-based research to prove who I am. They were subtly exerting power in order to avoid dealing with the issues raised. This is what Jesus is addressing.
He is saying even those who do not look like they have something to say, are labelled as victims or deemed able to contribute to providing solutions, can. In fact they are key to solving the problem. Those in exile in fact are the only ones who can because they are the only ones who know what it is like, why it is like that and what may be appropriate action.
Jesus would stand squarely with the idea of partnerships for peace – dignity for all. And he would turn to us to do the same. AMEN