Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
During the week I was sorting through some books and I found a book that gives a brief account about how each Suburb in Sydney got its name. Our congregation comprises of three churches in three different suburbs: Campsie, Earlwood and Clemton Park. Campsie is named after Campsie Fells and Campsie Glen in a beautiful picturesque part of Stirlingshire, Scotland. Clemton Park is named after Frederick Clements who lived in the area and manufactured a family health restorer named Clements’ Tonic. You can still buy Clements’ Tonic Liquid in pharmacies today. It is a herbal remedy that claims to assist athletes recover. Earlwood was a farming area first known as Forest Hill, then it became Parkstown and finally Earlwood in 1905. It was named after a former mayor of Canterbury called Earl and after two brothers called Wood who had a pig and poultry farm on Wolli Creek. I thought it interesting that Earlwood is a combination of two different names originating from two totally different stories: local politics and farming.
As I reflected over the last week about reconciliation, I have thought how little there is in Australian vocabulary, for example in place names such as the names of Sydney suburbs that mention or acknowledge the first nations peoples and the cultures that have been here from time immemorial. Many of the place names come from lands far away and from people who settled on land taken from the first nations people.
So many of our names only reflect the history of those settlers stretching back 232 years. Few names reflect the rich cultural history stretching back into time immemorial. Likewise, when I think of the vocabulary used in Christian circles today in Australia I see very little that reflects the coming together of First Nations peoples and their cultures and dreaming and beliefs with the religion of those who have settled in Australia since 1788.
I guess this does not surprise me because in the history of the Christian Church it has been the vocabulary and language of the dominant that has been retained and the vocabulary and language of the ‘heretics’ has been marginalised. From my own background the richness of Celtic Christianity and its deep connectedness in the environment in which humans live has been marginalised in favour of ‘right’ doctrines and creeds and dogma that emphasise what to believe rather than how to live. A Christian discourse that has developed in Australia over 232 years without the vocabulary and language and influence of first nations peoples and their cultures and dreaming and beliefs and without influence from the natural environment of Australia seems to show to me that we have a very much imported Christianity rather than an organic Christianity rising from Australian earth. We have brought our gods with us rather than finding our God is already here.
So called ‘Western’ thinking permeates so much of church life, saturated with colonialism, Christendom and empire. The history of the church in Australia is dominated by a story of church and state hand in hand destroying first nations peoples and their cultures. The church may have stepped back overtly from this relationship of destruction but covertly and embedded in the rhetoric of Australian Christian discourse are still woven themes that reflect the darker sides of colonialism and empire which are expressed in consumerism and lack of environmental care, growing divisions between the richest people and the most disadvantaged peoples etc. We may be rightly appalled with mining company Rio Tinto, whom we heard in the middle of reconciliation week had destroyed a sacred indigenous site that is thousands of years old; but where are our own deep connections to this ancient land and to the influences of the wisdom and cultures of its first peoples?
Sadly the church has often taken what is known as the great commission to make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and in many ways enforced it as part of the programme of colonising culture upon colonised peoples all over the world. It seems to have forgotten that "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Jesus)” and thinks all authority has been given to it the church to do as it sees fit and it has forgotten the Jesus of the Gospels, the Jesus who loved and liberated people, the Jesus who promises to be with us always, to the end of the age and replaced that Jesus with a Jesus that demands all to leave behind their cultures and rich connections with the world in which they live and to leave behind their connections with the mystery of the Creator going back to time immemorial and to accept the Jesus culture riddled with consumerism and colonialism.
Just as the name Earlwood draws together two stories into a name and uses the names of three people to construct the name, the Christian Church refers to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit –three persons. The word Trinity is not used in the Bible, but the term to baptise in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit comes from Matthew 28:19. In naming God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that does not mean putting a restriction on our faith around which we build fences that protect us from the dilution of our faith, rather it is an opening up the diversity of our understanding and experience of God, that God is not just found in the words of the bible or the doctrines and creeds of the church but in the world around us and in all people and in all creation. It tells us that God values relationship, loving relationships; that relationships are at the heart of God. Jesus says, “... and go teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. What is the commandment of Jesus? To love one another as I have loved you. Love is expressed through mutual relationships not through doctrines and dogma. We have a long way to go in Australia when it comes to reconciliation between our First Nations peoples and all who have come later. In reconciliation we may together discover that God was always here waiting for us to discover God here in this, God’s place.
(Photo: Tuggerah Lake, NSW)
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation