‘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?