Category: radical discipleship


I listen to people talk about a “new normal”. I hear it as something ‘out there’ and I wonder, “Who’s making it? Who’s working on building the new normal?”

Sometimes I catch up with friends (over zoom or for a socially distanced walk) and they’ve discovered something wonderful in this season and they ask: “What can I do to keep this? How can I keep living my life with this in it once things go back to normal?”.  There is that word again. Normal. This idea that normal is something that happens outside of us and is controlled by forces outside of us. But what we’re really talking about is life, or culture, and culture is made up of ‘the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviours shared by a group of people’.  How and why is lockdown having an impact on these?

In trying to come up with a parallel for this lockdown experience, I started thinking about the idea of pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is a conscious stepping aside from life as normal in order to explore and experience a totally new environment such as: a journey to the Red Centre, walking the El Camino or doing an internship, or taking a sabbatical often for a time of discernment or at a time of transition such as a relationship or job ending.  Anyone who has had experiences of this kind will know that it is not the destination that teaches us something, but rather what we learn along the way.

We have not been able to choose to take this pilgrimage, but regardless there are similarities: We have needed to let go of the ‘way things have always been’ and consider what else they might be. The routines aren’t there, the busyness, the commuting, the activities and events that take up our time… the bustle of life has slowed because we cannot travel more than 5kms and need to be home before a curfew. There is an invitation here to consider, what is essential to us? What can we survive well without or even is a relief to stop? Unbidden, we are being asked to reconsider, “What are my values, beliefs, assumptions…”?

Here’s what can happen on a pilgrimage: when you sit with a empty horizon before you and allow the land to speak to you, you will discover how full it is; or when you walk (and walk and walk) and hold silence within yourself knowing yourself to be walking where many others have walked, and will walk again, you can identify both as singular and part of the collective of all of humanity; or when you visit a new country and experience being the person who doesn’t know the language, the food, courtesies, jokes or the slang and might know for the first time that you can be the ‘other’ too… it’s not the place we go that changes, or the places we come back to – but us.  I don’t know that change is the right word for this because, really, it’s remembering, and re-membering. A coming back to the wholeness of who we feel called to be, and how we can be – and become – that which we lost sight of somehow.

Here’s what can happen on a pilgrimage: when you walk, you meet and get to know your own neighbours, you might discover a little library, a lovely garden, a cute letterbox – familiar and new as if you were trying to memorise the face of a loved one before you lose them, suddenly there are details you never saw before and they are precious; or when you are removed from friends, family and the usual social circles, you paint a spoon for Spoonville, put a teddy bear in the window, or leave groceries at the free pantry. Learning without words, without touch, without ever meeting, I can connect with someone and that can be profoundly meaningful; or when you are stuck with someone, or stuck apart, stuck in a job you need or stuck on a job you love and can’t go to right now, you recognise the fragility of life and how important it is to do what you love with the people you love best and who love you well – what will it cost you to have that? What is it worth to have that?

This seems the spot where you might easily drop T.S. Eliot’s ‘the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time’. T.S. Eliot wrote these Four Quartets during World War II and the air-raids on Great Britain. It is good to remember that these times ARE precedented. Pandemics have ravaged with worldwide impact before, as disease arrived on cruise ships so too it came with the First Fleet. People have lived through experiences wondering if the world would ever be the same again, wondering whether a safe world would exist for their children to grow up in. It is this line from Eliot that drew me today:

last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.

The new normal belongs to you.
It is yours to discover. It is yours to remember.

I invite you to gently and creatively engage with any/all of these questions through journaling, a vision board, mind map, or other mindfulness practice you enjoy, as you make your way onwards.

Is there anything you have discovered a lockdown love for? Make a list… what did this teach you about yourself you didn’t know before? What needs did these meet?

Make a list of things you have felt you’ve missed or lost in lockdown. What do you value about them?

Are there things that you haven’t missed? What has putting these down, freed up capacity for?

Land, family, law, ceremony and language are five key interconnected elements of Indigenous culture – how have the interventions and new laws of the lockdown impacted how these elements in your life have looked over the past few months? Was there somewhere outside your 5kms you longed for? How were rituals different, such as birthdays, weddings or funerals? Have you been using Zoom, Google Hangouts, Discord… or silenced by in accessibility of software or skills?

Has this time brought up things from the past that have been painful or difficult? Honour that. Celebrate what you know about survival. Consider doing a compare and contrast of then and now as a way of seeing how far you’ve come and how much resiliency you have learned. If someone was absent – who is present? If someone harmed – who is healing?

Has this time brought attention to or caused areas of your life to become painful or difficult? Honour that. What is this telling you about what’s important to you? One way to enter into this conversation might be to map What Is/What Could Be. Know you are worthy of dignity and respect and a life that fulfils you and brings you joy. Are there any steps, however small, that might create movement between what is and what could be? Take them.

Did you take up new, or see changes in, the roles and relationships you have through COVID? As teacher, partner, parent, friend…  acknowledge these shifts. Have you learned something about your expectations of yourself and others?

Maribyrnong river footscray


The Maribyrnong river in Footscray on the lands of Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung and the Bunurong peoples of the Kulin Nation

 

Read the following items offering an indigenous lens on relating to country applied to the COVID-19 lockdown. How can other ways of knowing and wisdom of elders, inform how we might live out our own discipleship or radical discipleship within community during these times?

‘Aboriginal people talk about Country in the same way that they would talk about a person: they speak to Country, sing to Country, visit Country, worry about Country, feel sorry for Country, and long for Country. People say that Country knows, hears, smells, takes notice, takes care, is sorry or happy… Country is a living entity with a yesterday, today and tomorrow, with a consciousness and a will toward life’.

Deborah Bird Rose ‘(08) Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature

 

A poem by Ngāti Hine/Ngāpuhi writer Nadine Anne Hura

Rest now, e Papatūānuku
Breathe easy and settle
Right here where you are
We’ll not move upon you
For awhile
We’ll stop, we’ll cease
We’ll slow down and stay home
Draw each other close and be kind
Kinder than we’ve ever been.
I wish we could say we were doing it for you
               as much as ourselves
But hei aha
We’re doing it anyway
It’s right. It’s time.
Time to return
Time to remember
Time to listen and forgive
Time to withhold judgement
Time to cry
Time to think
               About others

Remove our shoes
Press hands to soil
Sift grains between fingers
               🍃 Gentle palms
Time to plant
Time to wait
Time to notice
To whom we belong
For now it’s just you
And the wind
And the forests and the oceans and the sky full of rain
Finally, it’s raining!
Ka turuturu te wai kamo o Rangi ki runga i a koe
                   (may the tears of Ranginui rain down on you)
Embrace it
This sacrifice of solitude we have carved out for you
He iti noaiho – a small offering
People always said it wasn’t possible
To ground flights and stay home and stop our habits of consumption
But it was
It always was.
We were just afraid of how much it was going to hurt
– and it IS hurting and it will hurt and continue to hurt
But not as much as you have been hurt.
So be still now
Wrap your hills around our absence
Loosen the concrete belt cinched tight at your waist
Rest.
Breathe.
Recover.
Heal –
And we will do the same.

rāhui –  is a term that has been used by some in NZ to apply in lieu of terms such as  ‘lockdown’ or ‘shutdown’ or ‘isolation’

https://maoridictionary.co.nz/word/6420 (verb) to put in place a temporary ritual prohibition, closed season, ban, reserve – traditionally a rāhui was placed on an area, resource or stretch of water as a conservation measure or as a means of social and political control for a variety of reasons which can be grouped into three main categories: pollution by tapu, conservation and politics…

So if a water source has been compromised it might be indicated as a rāhui being in place until it is cleansed, or if hunting has been done in an area, it might be rāhui so that it’s not hunted two seasons in a row which might impact the wildlife population numbers. By referring to lockdown as rāhui, a different intention can be applied to this time – concepts of sacredness and healing are evoked.

On the Ancestors Singing Facebook page they’ve been having Friday night fireside chats and a couple of weeks ago Aunty Judy spoke to COVID and learned wisdom about strength and resilience:

  • We care about family, take care of our kids and our elders
  • Go back/connect to a place where your strength is
  • Place your feet on the ground/draw strength from the land
  • Check in with your body, what is it telling you?
  • Grief, resilience, strength… we know something about that. Especially want to acknowledge the loss being triggered if you have kids you can’t see or grandparents you can’t see because you’ve been separated from your family before
  • It’s not the work of people that heals, it’s the land. As soon as you can, however you can, connect with the land.
  • Diploma of Community Recovery…working on developing this qualification.

gum leaves

What arises for your community with these readings?  How does this lens align or affirm  or differ from our thinking/experience of lockdown?

How might using a word like rāhui with implications for healing and sacred time change the way we feel about ‘lockdown’?

I’ve seen lots of people making bread, planting food, crocheting… from kombucha scobies to sourdough starters  – is this to control/participate in food systems? how we would like to spend our time if we always had more?  A return to ‘old’ ways? What “powers” are interrupted by those choices?

What new things (if any) are people doing? What is honoured/kept by those rhythms? Are there new practices that we’ve started during lockdown that we want to keep? 

Does the list from Aunty Judy make you want to try something else to heal?

 

Further reading if you’re interested:

Nourishing Terrains: Australian Aboriginal views of Landscape and Wilderness by Deborah Rose

 

This activity was a mash up of a few ideas for community members to check in with each other and themselves and be connected through that activity. How can we recognise that what’s going on for us might impact others in expressed and unexpressed ways? There is lots of change but not all change is necessarily bad? How can we hold where we are at as a community gently?

 

Activity: The People’s Mike

So the idea behind the People Mike is that folks shout out words, it’s a Wild Church tool, eg: what is holding us back from living the lives we’re called to? What are we afraid of? One person shouts it out and then we all shout it out together in chorus. This acknowledges what impacts one of us, impacts all of us, and is a way of “holding” those fears and feelings together. Each part, one body.

We were attempting this reflection by zoom which is not an easy medium to hold space for people speaking in chorus/at the same time. We asked folks to share something they miss or feel the lack of and something new they’ve discovered, enjoyed or had more time to appreciate and captured those words on pegs. 

To understand where the pegs come in you might like to read this short little story I’ve got you pegged from back to 2012, but the gist of it is that you can bring to mind, and hold gently, special time/people in ordinary and every-day ways. This is a way of acknowledging the strangeness of now with the juxtaposition of a number of things that go along as they always have – like hanging out the washing.  A way to hold the now and the not-yet.

i've got you pegged

What are you grieving right now? Or looking forward to having again soon?

What new things are you enjoying and discovering?

20200419_172904

sculpture bunjil bruce armstrong moonee ponds land of the Wurundjeri Willam people

‘Every Bird’ sculpture by Bruce Armstrong, on the land of the Wurundjeri Willam people (in Moonee Ponds)

 

We weren’t able to share this spiritual reflection today as there was an urgent need to address a community response to the COVID-19 virus but it feels like the witness of radical call and holy, foolish hope is necessary too in these times. And also, here’s an Aboriginal written guide to Coronavirus preparation & care for Mob by Natalie Cromb… may the Spirit of the land protect us all and keep us safe.

 

A few years ago I went to a Bartimaeus Institute and heard Bill Wylie Kellermann share reflections on the Stations of the Cross walk they have done in Detroit for over two decades. In a public and political way, they meet and pray where people are suffering – a jail, the site of a shooting, places where decisions are made: courts, corporate offices; places where needs are met: a shelter, a soup kitchen. I felt a strong desire to do that in Footscray, Melbourne and it felt like a wonderful confluence to discover that IHH already do a walk for indigenous reconciliation based on the model created by Norm Habel.  The story I want to read together today seeks to make that link again between the faith that calls us to live our lives differently and the lens of Aboriginal spirituality.

Read the following text as one story – it has interspersed texts from Bill Wylie Kellermann’s Seasons of Faith and Conscience and Norman C. Habel’s Reconciliation: Searching for Australia’s Soul (italics).

 

Aboriginal spirituality is the belief in the feeling within yourself that allows you to become part of the whole environment – not the built environment but the natural environment… Birth, life, and death are all part of it, and you welcome each. Aboriginal spirituality is the belief that all objects are living and share the same soul or spirit that Aboriginals share. Therefore, all Aborigines have a kinship with environment. The soul or spirit is common – only the shape of it is different, but no less important.  – Eddie Kneebone

 

 

For 4 months they have gathered and prayed: a Methodist pastor, members of the Catholic Worker movement and a handful of Catholic priests. Holy Saturday 1983 they gather to act at a cabin up the road from an air force base in Michigan with first strike capability for nuclear attack:

All of us had long ago concluded that such weapons were not only illegal by international standards and immoral by ethical ones, but also theologically blasphemous, the power of death writ large.

At 2:00 a.m. we begin the liturgy of the Word… there is in Christian liturgy no finer  collection of readings from the Hebrew scriptures: the story of creation, the flood Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, the Red Sea Crossing, Ezekiel’s new heart and spirit, the valley of the dry bones called to live, and the like. A feast of faithfulness, passage and hope.

There in the cabin we also made intercession, marking names and peoples upon a sheet subsequently to be used as an altar cloth: children, the poor, friends in prison, soup kitchen guests, the dead and disappeared of Central America… a communion of the living. A solidarity of the spirit, this prayer for passage, this claim upon the future. After singing a hymn, we exited into the night.

At the barbed-wire fence we paused and circled in preparation for two symbolic deeds. The first was to light the Paschal candle. Into these, our dark times, enter the light of Christ. So we prayed, flame in hand. The second, indeed one with the other, was to cut the fence. …Twang! The security of death guarding death was broken in liturgy. The wall was breached.  

 

When we talk of God – and the old fellas know – God is not the Whitefella way, up above here. God is here with me. That’s the way it is. God’s not just grounded, hiding behind the butt of that tree. The presence of the Creator is there in the tree, in the land, in each one of us. You don’t need to do a Pentecostal type service, right? You don’t need to carry out all sorts of observances. You just need to communicate with the Creator. And that Creator’s always been with the Aboriginal people. (Gilbert 1996, p.62)

 

…the seven of us began our three-and-a-half-mile trek towards the high-security area, the loaded B-52s.  It had been our intention to paint at the foot of the runway, in six-foot high letters legible from a landing plane, CHRIST IS RISEN! DISARM! We had toted along supplies sufficient: buckets of yellow paint, brushes, rollers. The wet and freezing snow, however, foreclosed that plan.

We walked on, mostly in silence, lying down periodically in a fumbling comedy, to avoid the view of patrolling security cars. As the nuclear storage bunkers came into sight, we arrived at a small building, the enclosure for some sort of electronic equipment. Here on the walls we inscribed our message, paint congealing in the freezing drizzle. And here we carried the vigil liturgy another step forward: we renewed our baptismal vows.

I had not foreseen the personal power of that moment: to look down in the runway towards the machines and their cargo, and there to “renounce Satan and all his works.” There I promised in a way not fully understood before to “persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever I fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord.” A life can be called back to such moments, indeed it may turn on them.

 

The Creator Spirit is crying because the deep spiritual bonds with the land and its people have been broken. The land that is crying because it is slowly dying without this bond of spiritual life. The people are crying because they long for restoration of that deep spiritual bond with the Creator Spirit and the land. – Rainbow Spirit Elders

 

The sky had begun to lighten. Birds were rousing. Shivering, we conferred and decided we had had enough of the dodging and weaving. We would proceed upright with dignity, in the manner of right worship. Here an astonishing phenomenon occurred, one reportedly not uncommon in such undertakings. We passed unseen! On one side were the bunkers, encircled with barbed- wire, lit like perpetual noon-day, driven roundabout by a constant patrol of vehicles, and observed from above by watchtowers, beneath which we processed. On the other side, parked for maintenance and refuelling, huge bombers stood in a line equally well-lit. It was as though the waters had parted. We walked unhindered to the open entrance of the high security area where the planes on alert stood ready to fly.

There, measured by a sudden flurry of activity within, we were finally noticed. Armoured vehicles and pickup trucks rushed to surround us. We spread our altar cloth of intercessions on the runway. About it we scattered blood, brought in small bottles, to signify the blood of the innocents, the blood of the Lamb. Producing the elements of the eucharist, we completed the service at gunpoint, surrounded by young airmen armed with automatic weapons.

We were a dishevelled band. Bedraggled, dressed in plastic garbage bags as makeshift protection against the unexpected weather, we were soaked nonetheless and cold to the bone. In witness and exhaustion, we suffered a sense of our own foolishness.

 

[The] land is a living place made up of sky, cloud, river, trees, the sand; and the Spirit has planted by own spirit there in my country. It is something – and yet it is not a thing – it is a living entity. It belongs to me, I belong to it. I rest in it. I come from there – Pat Dodson

 

The airmen held us in their sight but did not approach. Extending the service, we sang plaintive gospel songs and hymns of resurrection.  At long last an officer approached us.

“Are you,” he asked tentatively, “base personnel?”
“No.”
“Do you work on the base?”
“No.”
Then surveying the scene yet again, “Well, would you pick up your trash and leave?”

It was clear almost immediately that our breach of security was so severe an embarrassment that should we simply depart quietly, no record or mention need come to the attention of community public or even military higher-ups. We consulted among ourselves and declined.  The liturgy was complete in its own right, but it had momentum and direction we did not intend to abandon. Herded into a bus, strip-searched, interrogated by various agencies military and civil, we were in the end dumped unceremoniously at the front gate without charges.

Our friends awaited us with leaflets in hand. At the gate to the base and the doors to the churches in town we distributed the news. Leaflets described the cruise and it’s meaning for policy. They described our pilgrimage. And they offered this simple confession of faith:

We believe that God has already intervened in this dark history of ours.

We believe there is hope. Many people have yielded to despair. They can already hear the terrible sound of the door slamming shut on human history. But we are here to say otherwise. Someone is hidden at the heart of things, breaking in to break out, on behalf of human life.

We believe that God rules our common history. Not the Soviet Union. Not the United States. Not the NATO or Warsaw Pact forces. Despite their big and competing claims.

We believe that human beings (so says Easter) are free from the power of death in all its forms and delivery systems. We are not stuck with the balance of terror arrangements. We’re not in bondage to these weapons. We are truly and fully free to unmake them. Now. Not tomorrow or next week or next year. But this very morning.

We believe that God who raised Christ from the dead will also quicken our imaginations, and thereby our bodies and lives.

We believe this is the meaning of the resurrection. And we’ve come to say so. 

 

Individual Australians are not guilty for what happened to our families. But if you fail to respond to what you know that will be another thing. If you do not help to ease the pain, that will be your act for which you are responsible. – Pat Dodson and others at the 1997 Australian Reconciliation Convention

 

What arises for you/r community with these readings?

What is the significance of doing the 7 Healing Rites for 7 Sites walk as a community?

Have you ever had an experience of connection to or with the Spirit of the land? What was that like? How did that impact your faith?

Where are you feeling called to break into and break out of?

What might public and political liturgical action look like in a time of social distancing, when Easter services and walks might not be on?

Waste not

Our garden isn’t in good shape, but in one particular corner the soil is full of rubbish – broken plastic, tin, glass… it’s kind of not that safe to work in. I’m trying to get time in our outdoor space regularly figuring every little bit helps, and at some point it will tip to beautiful. The other day I felt a glimpse of that when, in addition to all the rubbish above, I started pulling out whole bottles. After about an hour I had a bunch of them lined up.

I think that it might have been easy to think, “I’m just going to dig out this whole section and get clean fill in here”, but there was something to taking a slower approach, picking through and being more careful with my spade. Someone was careless putting all the rubbish out here but I will be care-full in trying to restore it. When we’re looking for ‘good soil’, maybe it’s important to know there may be things in the bad that are worth keeping as a promise of things to come.

Unbound

I gardened today in the rain because I picked up sales plants from Bunnings last week and I haven’t had a chance before now to get them in the ground. I know the odds on these plants aren’t great but I feel like they’re the underdog and someone needs to root for them [lame pun intended]. With our new business I’m working to fill in our boundless backyard on a budget with cuttings – foraged and from friends, seedlings, and these sale specimens… Look at how much life is in them. Look how far and wide and deep they want to go and how much they want to grow.

Gardening is good thinking time. It’s only mid-February and I am saying “No” to things. There’s no room. There’s no resource. But I wonder whether perhaps I am like this plant, with so much life in me that somehow I don’t need less but more. More time, more space, more light, more to drink (cheers!)… what does it look like to consider tending to myself in this way? This year I am eking out a writing day again and it feels kind of wonderful.

Unbound, just how big could I grow?

What if, when a season ends, or a job, a community, a relationship… what if we imagined it to look like this? That we have grown all we can here and there is no more room. We need a new space, we need a new environment.

Is your environment nourishing you?

a picture of sustainable gift tags celebrating love

Our friends Marita and Andrew got married today, a beautiful celebration of love and embracing difference. As a small token we gave them sustainable gift labels I had made… they will have many moments beyond today to celebrate together and consciously choose ways to love each other, and to give and receive love back and forth between them. A covenant of family, friends and community… a covenant of love that connects us all, one to another.

Leaf prints in Carlton, Melbourne from ochre coloured dust swept off
Latji Latji Country, 540 kilometres away

Read these brief stories about Jesus and William Barak. How can stories of others’ formation, knowing the lives they went on to live, inform how we might live out our own discipleship or radical discipleship within community?

Mark 1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan

This is our introduction to Jesus in Mark. Nazareth is so small and insignificant that it’s not mentioned anywhere other than the New Testament – a marginal village of maybe 400 people at the margins of the country Israel. Nazareth was based on the outreaches of Sepharus (the admin base of Rome and capital of Galilee)… other that being the birth place of Jesus this is mainly known for the Sepharus uprising, a rebellion of the Jews against Roman occupation. The Romans crushed Sepharus and enslaved everyone. Nazareth is only 4 miles from Sepharus and Jesus would have been 10 years old when this happened and he would have been able to see the city burn. Jesus and his Dad were techtons (labourers, construction workers) hired to help rebuild Sepharus for the colonial occupiers.

[Ched Myers, Bible studies series at the BCM Kinsler Institute 2015]

William Barak was born into the Wurundjeri clan of the Woi wurung people in 1823, in the area now known as Croydon, in Melbourne. His father Bebejan was a ngurunggaeta (clan head) and his Uncle Billibellary, a signatory to John Batman’s 1835 “treaty”, became the Narrm (Melbourne) region’s most senior elder. As a boy, Barak witnessed the signing of this document, which was to have grave and profound consequences for his people. (Culture Victoria)

Note: This Treaty was overruled by NSW within months.

And the second paragraph here, “I was born…”

william barak my story

What arises for your community with these readings?
Who are your community apprenticed to?
(traditions, elders, movements… tell these stories)
In either our personal stories, if people want to share them, or in the history of the community – what are the significant events of our formation?  What powers shaped us?
What powers might be shaping us/influencing our formation now?

tree with overarching branches

You are God’s servants, gifted with her Wisdom and visions
Upon you rests the grace of God like a woven cloak
Love and serve the Divine in the strength of the Spirit.
May the deep peace of God take root in you, the open arms of Christa sustain you and the eucharistic power of the Holy Spirit transform you in every way.

A feminist reworking of the Urban Seed/Credo/Seeds benediction for the Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies planning day.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
It is not as the world gives that I give to you.
Do not let your heart be troubled, and do not let it be afraid
Jn14:27

We have watched Australia burn for weeks. We thought to head out east for our hike but a thunderstorm is due and we’re not sure we can risk being in an “extreme fire risk” park with a threat of lightning. The You Yangs are in the traditional Country of the Wadawurrung People in the west, granite peaks arising in the plains offer panoramic views of the rain coming in, and to the east, the city. We had feared the weather would be “too much” but it was not enough – barely wetting the ground and not cooling the air. We are waiting yet on the Change to come through. We are waiting for change.