In 1940, Aboriginal Christian Leader William Cooper asked all churches to set aside the Sunday before January 26th as Aboriginal Sunday, a day of Christian solidarity calling for full citizenship rights to be granted to Aboriginal peoples. More recently, Common Grace has reclaimed this day and asked churches around Australia to mark it each year. We worshipped on the lands of the Eastern Maar nation using prayers by Aboriginal Christian leaders, and together reflected on one of many Biblical passages which link following God’s way with the health of the land.
As Solomon dedicates the Temple, he prays: When heaven is shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against you … if there is famine in the land, if there is plague, blight, mildew, locust or caterpillar … whatever suffering or sickness there is … listen to the prayers of the people of the land, forgive their sin, teach them how to live and heal the land … Likewise for foreigners. (2 Chronicles 6:26-33, super simplified summary of text).
Who do you identify with: the people of the land or the foreigner? How does being on climate-affected stolen land shape your reading? What sins might we need to repent of? What word does this text speak into our lives today?
- We noticed that God’s law and land health are intimately linked here. That is, rains are withheld when people sin; repentance means learning and living God’s way; and God will then send rain. Likewise, other forms of climate disruption.
- When they heard the word ‘foreigner’, one person thought ‘refugee.’ Then they suddenly realised the foreigner in this passage is us, that is, the colonizer. They commented on the pain of that realisation – a realisation they make again and again – and yet affirmed the necessity of sitting with this pain.
- We observed that the foreigner is included in this text. That is, it does not set up a binary of ‘people of the land = good’ and ‘foreigner = bad / unable to follow God’s way / unable to care for the land.’ Instead it suggests that God will listen to the prayer of the foreigner; that even the foreigner can learn and follow God’s way; that this will lead to health for the land; and that in this lies our hope.
- We thought about God’s way and what it entails: love, justice, mercy, celebration (not exploitation) of creation, care for the vulnerable, care of neighbour, shalom (healthy integration of people, place and God).
- We commented that in this passage God’s dwelling place is heaven, with a presence in the Temple to which there is limited access; and that we follow the Risen Christ whose dwelling place is in and among us through his Holy Spirit and to whom there are no limits of access (so the Ethiopian eunuch, Cornelius etc.). This lens enables us to read Solomon’s prayers of dedication of the Temple and apply them to our own situation.
- Someone said their grade two kid has been watching Horrible Histories. Last night, he asked what era we live in (Georgian? Victorian? …). She thought then said, ‘Post-capitalist and post-colonial!’ and explained that she hoped we live in an era when we are realising all the things we have done badly, and learning how we can begin to rectify some of the damage we have done. ‘Maybe,’ she said, ‘we’re in the age of renewal?’ (For this, let us work and pray.)
What do you plan to do on 26 January?
Background: 26 January is the anniversary of the day that the first colonizers set foot on this continent and claimed it for the British Empire, beginning the process of genocide; it is marked with a national public holiday. Officially it is called Australia Day, but many call it Invasion Day. This date has only been consistently recognised by a public holiday in every state and territory since 1994. It is considered by many to be a celebration of white supremacy, and there is a long standing and growing campaign to #ChangeTheDate. So, do we celebrate the day? Do we use it as a time of reflection? Do we ignore it and hope it goes away? Do we reject it?
- One family used to go to a big party on the river with all their friends, but in recent years their teenagers have asked not to, out of respect for First Peoples. Now they acknowledge the suffering, and spend quiet time at the beach / on the land giving thanks for the land. They haven’t told their friends why they no longer attend the party, but one day, perhaps, it will come up.
- Some feel conflicted. They themselves don’t celebrate, but they see Aboriginal leaders celebrating, receiving awards, and giving concerts. They wonder why any celebration of their own feels wrong, when some First Peoples engage well with the day, or turn it on its head through celebration of culture. Is this the ongoing legacy of being a colonizer? How can we celebrate in ways which celebrate Indigenous and hybrid culture?
- In 2008, one of us was nominated as an Australian of the Year. It all felt very strange, we are told: ritzy parties and dignitaries and uber-fake. And yet, we see good outcomes of this platform for workers and activists e.g. our very own Wenn, for autistic and transgender people; Grace Tame, for survivors of sexual assault; Georgie Stone, for transgender people etc. But surely we can have Australians of the Year lifted up on another date!
Our final word came from local singer-songwriter Archie Roach as we meditated on his song Let Love Rule. (Listen here.) And with the song, our conversation, doubts, conflicts and inconclusions were gently held and blessed, and all the people said: Amen! Ω
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