From my heart to yours – March 2012

An inclusive Christian community in Auckland, New Zealand

From my heart to yours – March 2012

Greetings,

Saturday mornings, no alarm, time to change gear and relax a little.  Alas, last Saturday, it was different, the alarm sounds, roll out of bed, shower, get dressed followed by a quick breakfast and the obligatory cup of coffee, then off to meet my daughter at another second – hand book sale.  The local Lions Club here in New Lynn hold a regular monthly book sale, the majority of books are ex – public library with all books just a $1.00 each.  Most months I find a few treasures, but last Saturday, it was like I had entered a proverbial Aladdin’s Cave filled with books. One particular treasure was one I had been searching for; a book by Jonathan Sacks (Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth) called ‘The Dignity of Difference.’  Its focus is tolerance in an age of extremism.  I am savouring the thought of opening its pages, and allowing the words to feed my soul. Some books are read for pleasure or gaining information and knowledge that we may offer at some future occasion, while others, have a message we may feel is uncomfortable, yet we need to hear, for we are living in an age that is increasingly becoming polarised, with acts of physical and verbal violence being perpetrated on the innocent daily. This is one of those books that challenge the reader to look at their own attitudes around those who are different, not to expect sameness in dress, language and religion.

Occasionally when I hold a new book in my hands, I turn to the last page first, before I commence reading, I did this with Sacks’ book and there on the last page he concludes with a parable by an unnamed Jewish mystic, I offer it you:

Imagine, two people who spend their lives transporting stones. One carries bags of diamonds. The other hauls sacks of rocks. Each is now asked to take a consignment of rubies. Which of the two understands what he is now to carry?  The man who is used to diamonds knows that stones can be precious, even those that are not diamonds. But the man who has carried only rocks thinks of stones as a mere burden. They have weight but not worth. Rubies are beyond his comprehension. 

So it is, with Faith. If we cherish our own, then we will understand the value of others. We may regard ours as a diamond and another faith as a ruby, but we know that both are precious stones. But if faith is a mere burden, not only will we not value ours. Neither will we value the faith of someone else. We will see both as equally useless. True tolerance, comes not from the absence of faith but from its living presence. Understanding particularly of what matters to us, is the best way of coming to appreciate what matters to others.’

This parable raises more questions than it answers which in itself, is both useful and helpful, because it invites us to explore what matters to us.

What is important about our faith? What is it about our particular understanding of the Christian gospel that we want to treasure and value? To engage in these kinds of conversations is never an easy experience, because it calls us to explore and identify what we personally hold sacred and is the foundation for our faith journey.

The Presbyterian family, which is our heritage, is grounded in a tradition of exploring and stating often in very wordy tomes what we believe and stand for. This is a worthy exercise and essential for developing well trained people for ministry.  However, what is often

neglected is that we each have a responsibility to appreciate what is important about our faith, what are the diamonds we value, so we may appreciate the rubies, indeed the diamonds of another’s faith, culture and creed. This exercise of appreciating our own diamonds, so we may appreciate the wonder and beauty of another’s precious stones is a useful approach for us here inNew Zealand/ Aotearoa in 2012.

In our nation we are currently experiencing change at an incredible pace. We have become a mix of different cultures and creeds and faiths. This change will continue at an ever increasing pace as immigration continues along with an increasing birth rate across all cultures.  In recent weeks we have seen the debate over Waitangi Day, with some calling for another day of National Celebration embracing all cultures.  While for others there’s a strong desire to retain what we have, along with others seeing Waitangi Day as an opportunity for protest over past and current injustices committed against the Treaty’s principles.  Then there has been the furore over the selling of the Crafar farms to a Chinese consortium, while there was little protest over the selling of two Wairarapa farms to a Hollywood Film Producer. Also, there is a growing opposition to removing mention of the Treaty of Waitangi in the current asset sales process. Whether we like it or not, difference is present, we may choose to acknowledge and then ignore it, becoming fearful of what the future may hold. However, that will never remove the differences that are present; it requires courage and honesty to face our differences with dignity.

I could be mistaken, but, there appears to be, a simmering discontent, brewing in our land around race, culture, religion and the widening gap between the rich and the poor.  This is just below the surface; perhaps like a volcano that has lied dormant for thousands of years, which suddenly puffs out smoke and ash. Then it spews out molten lava and magna destroying vegetation, laying waste all that lies before it.

Perhaps, the imagery of a volcano is too dramatic and needs to be changed.

What image or metaphor would you like to use?

Sometimes, I am guilty of using the word change too lightly, but in regards to what is happening in religious affiliation inNew ZealandI decided to check out the Department of Statistics web site, which offers some interesting data; I discovered this from the last census in 2006:

 

Religion

1996

2006

Christianity (Presbyterian)

470,442

400,839

Hindi

25,551

64,392

Buddhist

28,131

52,362

Muslim

13,545

36,072

Sikh

2,817

9,507

Jewish

4,809

6,858

 

You may be interested to know that in 2006 there were 56,913 who identified with being Baptist compared to 64,392 who identified with being Hindi. A cursory glance at the above table and you can see the rise in the various religions and the decline in the Presbyterian Denomination. When the census is carried out next year, I suggest the figures will show a continued increase in religious faith other than Christianity.  This is New Zealandin the 21st Century, a salad bowl of cultures, ethnicities and faiths. How then do we want to live in this salad bowl, I hope with the dignity of difference?

It is a trait of human nature that we are fearful of that which we don’t know. We assume something or someone is …… and our behavior and attitude is determined by an assumption. Sometimes we may have aDamascus Roadexperience and discover something entirely different and we become free to behave and act in an entirely different way. I am reminded of the story of a man who had drunk far too much stumbled home and in the darkness tripped over a deadly snake. In his panic he froze and was sure that he had been bitten and would soon die. His fear took over and he believed that this was the end. That was until a sober friend arrived and turned the light on. As the light filled the room, the trembling ‘dying’ drunkard looked down and to his amazement saw a rope! His friend smiled and pointed out that his fear was based on the illusion that a snake and not a rope had appeared before him. Now he could relax. Everything was going to be OK.

I often think of this story when I see someone dress and practice their faith in a different way to me. Yes, there are concrete differences between people of different faiths, cultures and ethnicities as well as differences between people of the same faith and ethnicity.  Differences, I believe are the God given blessings for our humanity. Sameness is something that is at the heart of fascism seen explicitly in Nazi Germany, with its ingredient of control and the dehumanisation of others who are different.

I want to make a strong plea, that religious faith, is a vehicle for practising the dignity of difference. We can actually demonstrate the power of embracing the other who is different to us in so many ways. It will not be easy, we will be challenged, but I see no other way forward in our multi ethnic and religious communities that are evolving throughout our land.  At the heart of the dignity of difference is learning to appreciate the diamonds in the rough of our own humanity and faith tradition. Those precious stones are there within, waiting silently to be appreciated. When we can do this with our own inner beauty, taking delight to feast upon our own banqueting table, we are well on the way to appreciating and delighting in the beauty and wonder of those who are very different to us.

A poem that I am learning to appreciate each time I read it is: Love after Love by Derek Walcot

The time will come when, with elation you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror and each will smile at the others welcome, and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself, to the stranger who has loved you all your life, whom you for another, who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes, peel your own image from the mirror.

Sit.  Feast on your life.

 

Meanwhile Peace in the Dignity of Difference

Alf

8 Comments

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