I read a brief review of the most recent book by social researcher, Hugh Mackay, called: “Australia Reimagined – Towards a compassionate, less anxious society” It describes things we mostly know innately, that there is radical change that causes us to feel somewhat adrift, inducing a state of anxious uncertainty and even fear. Mackay describes a fragmented society where important connections are breaking down. The four major faultlines, as he calls them, are politics, religion, gender and education. There are challenges and threats through massive change, along with the stalling in other parts of the revolution, such as gender equality. We have decreased trust in major institutions and many of our leaders. We are in increasing indebted and addicted – to devices, drugs, shopping, materialism… He speaks about depression, anxiety and suicide, which are pandemic and symptomatic of deeper problems such as the massive degree of change and instability we all face. Increasing diversity, emotional breakdown (echoing breakdown in community), social isolation and fear all contribute to deeper anxiety, uncertainty and depression in a cycle that spirals downward.
It is clear that life in Australia in the early decades of the 21st century is not as easy as we might expect, given the relative growth in affluence and economic prosperity. It is clear that the ways of yesteryear, with their stable, predictable and comfortable expectations and cycles of life, are no longer relevant or significant. What we did a few decades ago no longer seems to work in ways we may want to expect. Careers are changing and most people will have multiple careers across their lives, some of which for future generations have not even been thought of or created yet. Artificial Intelligence is changing the way people work and the jobs that humans will be employed in. There are so many functions that computers and machines can do more effectively than people. There are functions that only humans will be able to do – things that involve emotional responses and relationships in particular. Amidst the technological advances, and revolutions in communications and transportation that we all take for granted, there are the associated changes driven by these advances. New knowledge and experiences open our minds to new ideas and ways that transcend what was and we cannot return.
Never-the-less, the future remains unsure and uncertain, fuelling fear and anxiety as we are unclear where we are heading and there may be unfolding recognition that what once worked or once seemed real and important is no longer sustainable. Some of the values, beliefs, priorities and things we trusted are less firm and certain. We need a new program, a new approach to living and being, one that, as Mackay suggests, is more compassionate and respectful of one another despite differences in culture, ethnicity, belief, gender, sexual orientation and capacity. We need a new, perhaps ancient, way that will lead us into life that is more inclusive, communal, gracious and compassionate.
I am drawn into this topic by reflecting on the well-known and somewhat strange story about Jesus turning water into wine that is the Gospel reading for the week – John 2:1-11. This story is filled with various symbols that point to God’s lavish, over-abundant generosity that turns the world and our cultural expectations on their head! In a shameful oversight they ran out of wine at the wedding. Coaxed by his mother, Jesus told them to fill 6 stone jars used for the water of purification, which contained around 900 litres between them. In Jewish tradition one glass of water was enough to purify 100 people for worship. Therefore, this picture of 6 large jars holding 900 litres symbolically holds enough water to cleanse the whole world! The abundant new wine of God’s Reign replaces the old ways of purification and offers blessing for the whole world.. The new wine is a symbol of God’s new age arriving, the age of shalom. The sign of good wine stands alongside the feeding of the 5000 in John’s Gospel. Both point to God’s embracing all people and feeding us – body, mind and spirit. The wonder of the steward when he tries the new wine also symbolises God’s abundant grace that gives us the very best. God’s love is abundantly present to all of us and reaches out to the world with lavish, generous grace that releases and realises the true potential within each person.
All too often this story is lost in the ‘miracle’ or the confusion as to what it actually means and why it is there. We miss the bigger picture that John’s story of Jesus points us to a new way in the world. The old way isn’t working. It has become narrowed, and lost in religiosity and political power struggles, the dualistic thinking of right-wrong, in-out, black-white. People have been diminished and relationship with each other, God and the earth broken. Belief systems have taken over grace and generous love that is the heart of God and needs to be reflected within humanity. When we recognise the full humanity of Jesus (along with divinity) we understand that we are invited into a deeper understanding of what it means to be more fully human and how the Divine is reflected within us, in our being and creation as people in whom the Spirit is present (God breathes God’s Spirit into people – Genesis 1).
The old ways are decayed and abusive as power, might and wealth are used to separate people from others and define who is right or wrong, good or bad, strong or weak, deserving or not. Jesus revealed that old ways had died and needed to be laid to rest as we embrace a new-ancient way in the world – the way of God. This is as true now as 2000 years ago. When we look at how we deal with various issues in our lives and the world, we might recognise how we often continue to try the same approach and we continue to be drawn into more chaos and confusion. Our fear and strong arm approach to asylum seekers continues to create myriad difficulties, not least for some of the world’s more vulnerable people. The economic cost of keeping people in detention centres on Pacific Islands is astronomical and the emotional/psychological health of these people is seriously compromised. Our defensive stance towards the Aboriginal people and the practices of European Australians over 200 years has not brought peace and relationship but only delivered more pain and struggle for many of our indigenous people. The constant response to conflict and difference that is to drawn arms and fight hasn’t worked for a long, long time but we still do it. We still invest in armaments and get bigger and bigger weapons to combat other nation’s even bigger weapons and the only ones who really gain are owners and investors of armaments manufacturers.
We need to approach life in new-ancient ways that build relationship, open ourselves to mystery and wonder, become humble and vulnerable before each other and seek reconciliation and peace, respect and grace, mercy and compassion – the way of Jesus!