Messages of Hope

Month: March 2014

Called to Recognise

Published / by Jana

The story of Jesus speaking to a Samaritan woman (John 4:5-42) is the perfect story for the work of reconciliation and renewal.

But you wouldn’t know that from some commentaries and sermons.

The traditional way of reading this text is as a morality tale. Jesus, our exemplar, acts with compassionate acceptance towards a “wayward” woman, who, “poor thing” is a foreigner to boot. Takeaway? Pity, a soft form of judgment but a form of judgment nonetheless, is our calling as followers of Jesus. Second takeaway? Religion is society’s sex police. Third takeaway? Faith in practice is solely a charity-based enterprise. Don’t challenge “the man”: let’s just keep our heads down and keep patting those poor lost girls on the knee. This is all there is to it, following Jesus.

What’s the alternative to this reading of the story?

Here’s a guide from commentator John Petty blogging at progressive involvement

“The woman tells Jesus, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus seems impressed with this statement. He tells her that she has spoken well–kalos eipes. He goes on to note that she has had “five men and the one you have now is not your man.” Why the compliment? Why did Jesus say the woman had spoken well when she said she did not have a husband?
The “husbands” are symbolic. After their conquest of the region in 722 BCE, the Assyrians took about 30,000 native Israelites out of the region and imported people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim (2 Kings 17:24) into Samaria. As people are wont to do, they intermarried with each other and with the native, Israelite, population.
These peoples are the woman’s “five husbands.” The one she is currently with, who is “not her husband,” is Rome. (Rome did not allow intermarriage.)
Jesus redefines the woman and Samaria. She is not an outcast, half-breed, heretic–she is a truthteller! The Samaritan woman acknowledges and ratifies Jesus’ interpretation of her national history. “Lord, I see that you are a prophet.””

What would that be like, to be recognised not vilified? To be seen as a truthteller (not a troublemaker) on behalf of your people who have suffered under the systemic policies of displacement and assimilation of a colonising power?

It’s a pity there isn’t anyone alive today who could tell us how that feels. You know, because this is ancient history….or….

“Recognition of the first peoples in the Constitution sends a message that you are valued, you are important, that we want to respect you, and we want to deal with the things that have caused us division and discord in the past. ”
That’s a quote from PATRICK DODSON, an Indigenous Leader involved in the Recognise Campaign

It takes a certain way of seeing to recognise, as we are called to in the Recognise movement; as we are called to in this story of Jesus the Jew and the Samaritan woman at the well.

Recognition is seeing with the inner eye.
Not stopping at the surface of things.

Stopping on the surface is what allows governments to think their duty of care begins and ends with welfare services, no matter how dehumanising the delivery of those services might be.

Recognition is seeing with the inner eye.
Not stopping at the duality of things.

Stopping at the duality of things had a perfect symbol to fit with this story in the segregated South of the US back in the day – separate drinking fountains for blacks and whites. That’s definitely dead water, not living water.

Recognition is seeing with the inner eye.
Not stopping at the physicality of our existence.

Recognition in the constitution is about the material security of the right to participation in our democratic system on equal footing with other citizens…but it is about so much more than that. As Richard Dodson said, “Recognition of the first peoples in the Constitution sends a message that you are valued, you are important, that we want to respect you….”

This story for today is a morality tale, there’s just a different moral to the story than the traditional reading assumes. The moral of this story from this reading is that we are morally obliged to recognise:
to recognise ourselves in the other
to recognise unity amongst human beings more essential than differences
to recognise that our fates are bound up all together…

to recognise that we do indeed have a destiny together

and to recognise the parts we each and we all together must play in making our shared destiny one of reconciliation and renewal of the whole creation.

** Listen to the full version of this witness here.

posted 24 Mar 2014 by Jana

Resilience is the thing

Published / by Jana

This week marks the 100th anniversary of Douglas Mawson’s return home, sailing into the port of Adelaide, after two years of exploration in East Antarctica.

(The following is excerpted from the BBC article “An Australian hero’s story of survival” of 26 February 2014 by Andrew Luck-Baker.)

“On 10 November 1912, Mawson, Mertz and Ninnis took 12 dogs and two sledges and headed for the far east of Cape Denison, aiming to explore and map the coastal hinterland.

Mawson’s diary reveals that their initially high spirits began to slump after several weeks of intense exertion and hardship….battling through frequent blizzards and crossing two large and dangerous glaciers (subsequently named Mertz and Ninnis). They reached a point more than 500 km from their base.

Then a series of catastrophes ensued, beginning on 14 December.
As the team crossed an ice field, riven with crevasses concealed by snow, Ninnis and the six strongest dogs fell to their deaths into a chasm hundreds of feet deep. Most of the human food, all of the dog food and the main tent went with them.

The accident left Mawson and Mertz with 10 days’ food supply for a journey back to base that would take at least a month. Mertz died on 8 December.

Mawson had another 160km to slog across to reach the safety of his base on the coast. And he had a deadline – 15 January. That was the date by which all the sledging parties had to return for the imminent departure of the expedition’s ship, the Aurora, for Australia. The ship would not be able to return for at least eight months, after the next Antarctic winter.

The psychological trauma of Mawson’s ordeals after the death of Mertz cannot be underestimated, says Mark Pharoah, curator of the Mawson Collection at the South Australia Museum (here in Adelaide). “He had to erect the tent each evening by himself, which could be very hard in a blizzard. (He had to) navigate and just try to keep a handle on his own anxieties about missing the boat, about the next crevasse. It was a very disturbing time in Mawson’s life.”

His one stroke of luck was to come across a stash of food and a note left by a search party. But slowed by raging blizzards and his ravaged physical state, he reached the final approach to the base only to see his ship far out to sea on 8 February. He wasn’t alone, there were 6 volunteers waiting to help him, but they couldn’t recall the ship because of weather conditions not permitting the telegraph signal to reach it.

Mawson had to remain for another year and endure a second ferocious winter in the land of the blizzard.

Here is how Mawson described going outside the hut in a mid-winter blizzard: “A plunge into the writhing storm-whirl stamps upon the senses an indelible and awful impression seldom equalled in the whole gamut of natural experience. The world a void: grisly, fierce and appalling. We stumble and struggle through the Stygian gloom: the merciless blast – an incubus of vengeance – stabs, buffets and freezes; the stinging drift blinds and chokes.””

It sounds awe-some. As in, to say, it sounds inspiring of awe. Like the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1-9). Jesus and three disciples are caught up in a dazzling blizzard of glory; all is white and all encompassing. There is no other reality than the super-intense, stinging glow all around them and the howling voice, “This is my beloved son, listen to him.”

Mawson, Mertz and Ninnis on the physical plane; Jesus and the three disciples on the metaphysical plane – all caught up in the awesome swirl.

Mawson described in his book what it was like to arrive back in Adelaide after all of this: “The voices of innumerable strangers – the handgrips of many friends – It chokes one…”

Imagine Peter, James and John when, after they had fallen prostrate before this astounding vision, Jesus touched them and said, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

But these are stories of larger-than-life heroes in extraordinary circumstances, right? This is the stuff of myth and legend. Nothing to do with us.

What if…Just the living is the adventure, the expedition across unknown fields of both beauty and hidden perils.

I have fallen into the odd crevasse in my time. I’ve been caught up in the writhing storm-whirl of grief. I’ve been too, too far off base. You?
I have even been to the mountaintop in my time. Struck dumb by a look of love, felled by beauty, bedazzled by the infinite. And I hope you have too.

People have left me provisions, and in strokes of luck I have found them and been enabled to return to safety, community, warmth, myself. I’ve sat there for a long time, in a tight and stale little cabin, unable to go further towards home. But then my ship has come in. And I made it across, scarred but standing. Felt the grip of friendship.

Resilience. That’s the thing. Feel the touch of compassion, get up, and do not be afraid.

(for a fantastic poem about resilience, go to poetryfoundation.org and find Trevor West Knapp’s poem “Touch”)

cheers, Jana

posted 04 Mar 2014 by Jana