From Borderland to Life!

‘Borderlands’ is a fitting metaphor for many people as they exist on the fringes of being.  The borderlands are the spaces between the places of life, where the lost and lonely, grieving and displaced, confused and powerless inhabit.  Sometimes it is a journey that takes us through the borderlands, such as in the process of grief, where we journey into the dark and lonely place, ‘the valley of the shadow of death.’  It is a strange, confusing, complex world where we are in the liminal, black hole, kind of space where we can’t function and cannot move forward nor back.  It takes time and care to find our way back to the future and be able to re-engage in life anew.

Sometimes the borderland is the place where people live – mental, physical or spiritual illness, intellectual or physical disability, poverty, age, or social isolation.  Borderlands can be the place where people are driven because of who they are or what they believe or think or are able to do.  Others fear or distrust them.  Society excludes them.  Religions condemn them.  They live in borderlands, lost and alone.

I just finished Andrew McMillan’s book, Strict Rules, the story of the ‘iconic tour that shaped the Oils’.  It follows the amazing 1980’s tour of Midnight Oil and the Warumpi Band through Central and Northern Australia, bringing rock music to ancient and isolated Aboriginal communities and seeking to engage and learn about their life.  So much of the story describes the borderlands where too many people, especially younger generations, find themselves lost between the ancient wisdom and ways of life and the Western culture that has infiltrated and partially transformed them.  So many people are caught between what was, what is and what might be – without the resources to get there.  They live between the places, on an ancient land that their culture is more adept at surviving and living in harmony with this harsh, beautiful land.  They also have ancient lore, law and tradition that has survived millennia but are subject to Western culture, law and expectations that don’t always easily fit and work together – especially without resources, education, wisdom and the empowerment to be part of the decision-making processes.

Even more disturbing has been the well-meaning but ignorantly patronising interventions of whitefella institutions that have ‘taken children away for a holiday’ and never returned them to family and land.  The institutional removal of children and the colonising, civilising actions that denied land, belonging and hope from ancient and proud people and cultures, has them barely surviving in borderlands, the place between the places.  The sadness in the story is that many descend into hopeless powerlessness.  Addictive lives driven by boredom, confusion and existential alienation lead to desperate and hopeless young people.  And they remain forgotten and lost in distant communities.

The news of the day holds many sound bites and grabs of borderland people lost in the darkness of political decisions, military might, powers and principalities beyond their control that overwhelm their lives.  For others the severity of nature’s wrath overwhelms them as the fury of storms and cyclonic wind and rain create destructive havoc and total chaos, such as in the Bahamas.  Domestic violence is seriously deadly as women, in particular, continue to face brutality within their own homes.  Sixteen people each year die from quad bike accidents and legislation has been introduced to prevent it.  Current statistics indicate that 1 woman a week is killed by her partner, with many more suffering other forms of violence and abuse.  This is a serious borderlands issue – and there appears too little is really being done to change the culture of violence and abuse in family homes.

As a society we live in the borderlands of change due to the increasingly changing environment of the earth and its eco-systems.  Despite the firm denial by many politicians, a few ignorant nations and some corporations, the science continues to support the reality of a changing climate that is exacerbated by human civilisation and our impact.  The key compound is CO2 – Carbon dioxide.  It is rapidly accumulating in the atmosphere, severely changing the dynamics of water chemistry and heat exchange across the earth.  There are gross changes in water temperature and cycles of currents of warm and cooler streams impact the air currents and spread of warm and cool air, the creation of cyclonic conditions and so on.  The warming of the earth and waters reduces ice masses in the polar regions and raises the ocean levels.  Increased CO2 increases water acidity, which bleaches coral and changes the chemistry of water across the globe.  We live in the borderlands!

This week a simple story (Luke 17:11-19) has Jesus wandering along the borderlands between Galilee and Samaria.  The Jewish side was kosher.  The Samaritan side unclean and filled with hated enemies.  The Samaritans were hated from ancient conflicts and isolated from Jewish people.  As he wandered through this borderland, he encountered 10 lepers.  These 10 men were suffering from any of a range of skin conditions (probably not the modern form of leprosy called Hansen’s Disease but any contagious skin disease).  They were excluded and lived further in the borderlands of rejection, isolation and aloneness.  They had to stay away from other people and call out ‘unclean, unclean!’ if anyone came too close.  It was a warning to stay away.  These men were really beyond the borderlands and excluded from the life of the community in every way.  When Jesus came wandering down the great divide, they went to him, begging mercy and grace.  He sent them to the priest to show themselves as being clean – they would be returned to normal life; brought in from the wastelands beyond the borders and given life!

One, realising he was cleansed, returned to Jesus, threw himself to the ground and expressed his deep gratitude!  This one, was a Samaritan – an outsider who had received healing, welcome and inclusion in more ways than the others could comprehend.  This inclusion and welcome into the Realm of God’s grace was very real for him.  It was life-giving!  In Jesus’ gracious presence that day he understood what it means to be embraced into God’s Reign, know life and suddenly experience a place where there are no divisions, no ‘in and out.’  It was to be drawn out of the borderlands and into the place where life can be lived and all are embraced without fear or prejudice, superiority or judgement.  It is the place where love operates, and difference adds spice to the variety we experience in the diversity of people – held in a gracious unity of being.

It is perhaps a man who is desperate, has nowhere to go after being healed because he is still an outsider, who truly understands that his life will only find full expression and being, full identity, in Christ – in God’s loving embrace that will free him and enable him to become and be who he truly is.  This is identity and belonging.  This is grace!

Surely this is the hope and dream of so many in the borderlands.  I wonder what it will take for us to live into the welcoming, healing, loving communal way of Jesus?

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By geoffstevenson

Relationships, Forgiveness, Love and God’s Community…

Last Saturday we celebrated the wedding of our daughter.  It was a really wonderful day – the service, the celebration afterwards and sharing with family and friends.  This event brought two families together through the wedding of Katelyn and Andrew.  We came together as a ‘new entity’ through the marriage service, celebration and rituals, feasting and the sharing of stories.  People, family, from across three nations (Australia, New Zealand and England) have been connected through this wedding and the clans extended, broadened and relationships forged.  It was wonderful on the day to meet people from ‘across the ditch’ and recognise new connections, new relationships, and to realise that we are drawn together as ‘family’.

Such connections are essential to life and who we are as people.  At every level we find ourselves connected – to people, place, the earth and its creatures, culture, and the Divine that pervades all life.  Founder of the Centre for Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr, says that ‘The universe is relational at every level, and even between levels.  Relationship is the core and foundational shape of reality, mirroring our Trinitarian God (eg Genesis 1:26-27)’.  He makes the point that the essential nature of the universe and all things is relationship – everything is relational.  The very atoms that make up all matter are relational structures where neutrons, protons and electrons are held in relationship.  The power of the atom lies not in its constituent parts, but in the relationship.  That is why so much energy is released when atoms are split because the power lies within the relationship.  Our bodies are built on relational systems of organs and tissues that work within each system and together to make our bodies function.  The earth has eco-systems and all life is part of a web that connects us all.  At this deeper level, we are all connected and everything belongs because we are held in the deepest, most profound relationship that is grounded in perfect love.  We call this relationship, the Trinity, the Divine heart from which all things originate, belong and return.  The pattern of all things is derived from Divine relational community and is imbued with relational life, being and grace.

Indigenous cultures are more attuned to such relational being, through their deeper connectedness to the earth, its creatures and the world in which they live.  Their relationships are complex and profound and have sustained culture and communal integrity for millennia.  When we learn to appreciate the world around and understand that we are connected to every part of life and the world, through sharing the air we breathe, the water that sustains, and the sun that shines upon us.  Atoms in our bodies have been part of rocks and trees, animals and rivers and originally stardust, recycled through breakdown and renewal – the dying and rising, death and resurrection inherent in all life.

This week I have wrestled with a tough passage from Luke (Luke 17:1-10).  It follows from the previous chapters of Luke where Jesus speaks of God’s response to that which is lost – a lost sheep where the shepherd leaves 99 and seeks out the 1.  A lost coin whose absence breaks the integrity of the whole collection from which it comes – when 1 of us is lost, we are all impacted.  He tells that wonderful, archetypal story we call the ‘Prodigal Son’ (others refer to as the ‘Profligate Father’).  A boy makes the outward journey away from home, family and the place of origin, birth and belonging.  He goes with the egocentric certainty that typifies all of us as we begin processes of individuation.  He treats his father as dead, denying, ignoring and rejecting him BUT the father never forgets nor gives up on the son!  Every day he seeks to son and when he returns welcomes him as the son he has always been – this is grace!

The next chapter of Luke has stories of a cunning, shrewd steward who comes to understand that relationships are more important to his future than wealth and he uses what he has to nurture relationships to ensure his future.  Finally, a story of 2 men, a counter-cultural story of the reversal of fortunes following them into death.  The rich man is nameless and suffers post death whilst the poor man is called Lazarus and he finds comfort in Abraham’s presence.  Luke’s point: Wealth blinds us and draws us away from relationships, compassion and justice as we focus on ourselves and accumulating more.

In the current story, the sense of relationship continues as we are encouraged to build and sustain community through confronting those who do wrong with their offence and then to forgive when they seek it.  Forgiveness sought and given is essential.  Jesus even suggests that if someone seeks forgiveness 7 times in a day for the same repeated offence we are to forgive (this assumes that the offence is not of an order that is criminal and violent, which requires deeper response from the community).  Relationship is paramount and to deny relationship is to cause ‘little ones’ to stumble and fall.  We are invited into the place where we seek to nurture and grow relationship at every point and place relationship above ‘goodness’ and moral perfection or belief systems.  This requires faith – the faith we already have. The level of faith that is a small as a mustard seed.  In other words it is within our capacity if we have the will!

Jesus moves on to give a harsh teaching whereby he suggests that those who are servants do their job and are not praised for doing what they are supposed to do – it is expectation.  Some in the crowd would have cheered at this recognition of levels of society, classes, perhaps.  ‘Just get on with your job and stop complaining about doing what you are supposed to do…’  Then Jesus confounds us all and suggests that we are like servants or slaves.  We should not hold ourselves up as ‘good people’ and believe we deserve some reward for being good or doing what we know is right.  Doing the right thing and having faith is good and proper but it does not make us better, more deserving or greater than those who are different.  We are who we are through grace, whether we recognise this or not.  We find our identity through the gracious gift of love, forgiveness and mercy from God, in whom we belong and derive life.  Such grace is poured upon all people but not always recognised nor received.  The sun shines and the rain falls on those who are ‘good or bad’ alike.  We are, like the younger son in the story from Luke 15, the children of God whether we understand this, recognise this or even want this.  We can choose to ignore and even reject that love and grace or live into it – this is salvation and eternal life!

The community of God’s people should be an open, radically accepting, caring and loving community where forgiveness sought and given is normal.  We embrace those who are different, who are on a different part of the life/faith journey and hold relationship as central in all things – because God, the Trinity is a relational community of love and grace and the ground of all being, of all reality, of all things.  We reflect this Trinity of love when we love enough to reprove and forgive, and to be agents of reconciling love and grace.

By geoffstevenson