On the wall at our local shopping mall.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Like many countries colonised by European nations, Australia has a sorry two century history of poor treatment of our indigenous peoples, resulting in a significant reduction in their numbers and the quality of their lives. But they have survived, their numbers are building again, and many indigenous leaders are become more forthright in their pleas for greater recognition.
NAIDOC week, which is finishing as I write this (I wrote this Sunday night but only posted it Wednesday morning), has been set up as a celebration of the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It has been, in my view, a resounding success.
Australia’s indigenous peoples form a small minority (2.8%) in the country they once had to themselves, and have suffered significantly since white colonisation (which can reasonably be seen as an invasion). About three quarters identify as christian.
They tend to be a spiritual people, but it can be difficult for them to meet with other indigenous christians, because of their small numbers and often remote locations. Grasstree Gathering was organised to offer this opportunity.
Grasstree was held in Sydney this past week. 85 indigenous christian leaders and potential leaders attended for several days, some leaving their remote community for the first time. Non-indigenous christians were invited to support the Gathering in several ways, including attending several of the events.
We were privileged to attend, and meet many of the delegates.
A full day symposium was held to inform white Australians like me about indigenous culture and viewpoints.
Aboriginal christians see their indigenous spirituality as consistent with the christianity they now believe, and one theme of the symposium was correcting what they see as a wrong impression among non-indigenous christians that their traditional spirituality is pagan or worse. They believe, I think with some justification, that they have a lot to offer the white christian church.
They naturally feel they have in the past been unfairly invaded and mistreated, and since then displaced, marginalised and disrespected. They feel they are still often treated as second class citizens who have to change to adapt to white people’s ways that they often feel are not good. It is hard to argue against this, even though it hurts to admit that “my people” have perpetrated injustices and mistreatment.
Even more hurtful is the clear fact that many white Australians simply don’t care about the hurts aboriginal peoples have suffered, and still feel, often thinking they should “just get over it”. I was asked by one aboriginal leader why I think that there is so little empathy and support even from white christians, was the issue simply too political? I had to say I suspect it is laziness and lack of christian love – for if we care, we will have to do something about it.
The interesting, and sometimes surprising, thing is that the aboriginal christians bear so little malice. Their plea is simply that we non-indigneous christians walk with them. They ask us to be accomplices in making change, helping make a better Australia and a stronger church.
The symposium also addressed aboriginal history, writing, art and education. I learnt a lot, and made a few new friends.
Uncle Rex and his wife Ida, from remote Central Australia are interviewed by Steve Bevis (a white pastor and singer from the same area) about life, spirituality and art.
Artist Safina Stewart explains the genesis of one of her artworks.
At a previous Grasstree Gathering, Brooke Prentis, who organised this gathering, had a vision of a place she had never visited, where she foresaw aboriginal and non-aboriginal christians gathering together to pray for reconciliation. Almost two years ago, Brooke came to speak at our church, and we took her to Kurnell, where Captain Cook first had dealings with aboriginal people. There she saw the place she had seen in her vision, a significant location in Australian and aboriginal history.
Her vision came to fruition this week as a large group of indigenous and non-indigenous christians (as in the photo at top) came together to pray for unity and to symbolically express solidarity.
It was a deeply moving time for me.
Sand and ashes from places all over Australia were placed on the map of the 300 aboriginal nations, and mixed, to symbolise the unity in diversity of indigenous and non-indigenous christians across this land.
Safina explains the symbolism of the sand and ashes.
This was more of a fun night, as a range of indigenous artists performed song and dance.
An ad hoc singing group from North Queensland and Torres Strait.
Aboriginal artworks, one of which was presented to the school whose venue was used for the night.
The day after the gathering concluded, we led about 30 of the delegates on a sightseeing day around Sydney city and harbour. It was a great opportunity to make some new friends.
On the ferry.
The group after lunch at Watsons Bay.
Grasstree 2018 was a great blessing to us. We learnt, shared a small part of the journey, made new friends and gained a new status as “accomplices” in bringing indigenous and non-indigenous christians together. I don’t see this as my main mission in life, but I think christian love demands that I respond as best I can.
Aboriginal people have much to offer the Australian church – for example their humour, their sense of community, their laid-back nature, their spirituality and their focus on the essentials of following Jesus.
I hope many Australian christians are willing to journey with them, learn from them, support them and make a better Australia.
Christianity began as a minority group within Judaism and within the Roman Empire. But from the time Constantine made it acceptable, christianity became the dominant religion, and Christendom was generally the dominant social force, in Europe and colonies in Africa, the Americas and the Pacific. Christianity was often the state religion, most people were nominally christian, and churches had significant influence.
For a couple of decades now, thoughtful christians have been warning that the age of Christendom and of privilege was over. And we are starting to see that more clearly.
Difficult issues series
This has been perhaps the most difficult post I have written.
I’ve avoided writing about this issue because it is so divisive, and because I wasn’t sure I had anything worthwhile to say.
But while I don’t pretend to have a solution to the argument between the traditionalists and the progressives, I can’t help feeling that there should be some things christians of goodwill from both sides can agree on, and which might ease the tensions a little.
There is also the issue of how the secular world sees christians – surveys show that the perceived anti-gay emphasis of christians is a major barrier to non-believers ever seriously considering the claims of christianity.
This community-based social enterprise has something to teach christians.
There are many Wild Rumpus organisations in the world, but this post is about Wild Rumpus in Wollongong, Australia.
It seems to be a paradoxical fact that there are so many more people around in big cities, and yet people are lonelier. The crowds tend to isolate us rather than force us together. Smaller communities generally have a greater sense of, well, community.
Yet some people are trying new ways to break this down.
The dictionary defines an extremist as “a person who holds extreme political or religious views, especially one who advocates illegal, violent, or other extreme action.”
Search for photos tagged as “extremist” (as I did for this post) and the majority of the photos are of Americans protesting against their government, especially their President. The one I used is one of the milder and least extreme!
But ask Americans what actions they think are “extremist” and you’ll get some interesting, and perhaps surprising, answers.
I have several times posted here and elsewhere about relationships between christians and atheists, and my wish that we do better at this, for example:
So when I saw a book in our local library by an atheist with a similar interest, I had to read it.
It was worthwhile.