Sorry sandblasts through to truth and hope
February 13 was an historic day — the Federal Parliament apologised to the Stolen Generations and indeed, more than that, there was an apology to all indigenous people for their mistreatment in the past.
It was a day when indigenous people were honoured and recognised. I was privileged to be in the Great Hall of Parliament House in Canberra with Vince Ross, the Chairperson, Shayne Blackman, the National Administrator and other leaders of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress.
It was very moving to be there — the mood was amazing, uplifting, full of hope. I could sense the joy, oozing and flowing out of the people around me, the expectation palpable, the weight lifting from the collective shoulders of the indigenous people present was like a great bird taking wings.
Of course, it wasn’t all good.
As people in the Great Hall stood up and turned their backs as Dr Nelson spoke to parliament I could feel their pain and found myself torn, unsure of what to do. I asked my chaplain, Pearl Wymera (an indigenous Australian) sitting next to me, “What do we do?” She said, “Sit and pray”.
Later, Pearl told me she had been taking the lead of one of the elders who was sitting and praying, and that was good enough for me. Pearl said: “You can’t expect everyone to suddenly be in the same place today.” But in the end, I don’t think anything could take away from the sense of empowerment and dignity indigenous people felt at the long-awaited recognition of what had really happened to them.
This “rewrite” of history was not about whitewashing what had occurred but rather about sand blasting off the whitewash to reveal the raw, cold, hard stone of the truth. Like sandstone washed clean there was, and is, a beauty in it.
Overall, my experience of indigenous people that day was one of people full of grace. May we all learn from their example.
At the ecumenical service later on in the day the Rev. Professor James Haire spoke briefly saying that this really was Australia Day — the day Australia became a nation — and that seemed to ring true.
I believe what happened on February 13 had more significance than many suggest. It is far more than simply the symbolic gesture. Although we know the issues and challenges are the same today as they were on February 12, as Christians we also know that repentance and forgiveness are powerful and necessary steps to renewing and changing lives.
We have now turned our backs on what has been — be it lies, good intentions gone wrong, cover-up, guilty justification, mistreatment or abuse. We are looking forward to what can be (a nation in which all people, indigenous and non-indigenous, have equal rights, equal opportunities, equal access to health services and education, life expectancy that is not significantly different) and working towards that vision with heart, mind and soul.
February 13, I am sure, was a day when God was smiling.
In January I attended Synod Summer Camp for those in high school. It was a great opportunity for me to meet and experience young people from all sorts of backgrounds within the Synod sharing together. I tried my skills at low ropes (even blindfolded) and we heard speaker, Dr Miriam Pepper, encouraging us to be green from a biblical perspective and as a dimension of Christian witness.
As a result, my wife Paula and I, having gone from two cars to one, are considering whether it might be possible to enter into a share car arrangement.
I would like to encourage congregations to sponsor young people, maybe even those on the fringes of or beyond the church in your communities to attend Winter Camp from July 13 to 18. These young people would be experiencing non-threatening, safe, inclusive, fun in a laid-back Christian environment in which they also have the opportunity to reflect on who they are; their life, faith and relationships.
It is a good investment!
Paula and I are proposing to lead our fifth trip to Tijuana, Mexico from December 29, 2008 –January 13, 2009. This is an opportunity to experience, be inspired, humbled and taught by people and communities living in poverty. At the same time, we build houses as partners in mission with the local church. The trip is suitable for families and participants of all ages. In the past we have had up to 47 participants with 50 per cent or more of the team members aged in their teens and early 20s (the youngest member was 8). If you are interested please contact me as we are looking for registrations by mid-April.