Towards the Quest for an Australian Jesus

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Queenie McKenzie, People talking to Jesus in the Bough Shed, 1995. Christof Collection of the Diocese of Broome. This painting was the theme image for Catholic celebrations of NAIDOC Week 2019.

HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies, a South African-based open-access journal, has just published a little piece that I wrote:

‘“A Pretty Decent Sort of Bloke”: Towards the Quest for an Australian Jesus’. HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 75, no. 4 (2019), e1–e10. (HTMLEPUBPDF)

Abstract

From many Aboriginal elders, such as Tjangika Napaltjani, Bob Williams and Djiniyini Gondarra, to painters, such as Arthur Boyd, Pro Hart and John Forrester-Clack, from historians, such as Manning Clark, and poets, such as Maureen Watson, Francis Webb and Henry Lawson, to celebrated novelists, such as Joseph Furphy, Patrick White and Tim Winton, the figure of Jesus has occupied an endearing and idiosyncratic place in the Australian imagination. It is evidence enough that ‘Australians have been anticlerical and antichurch, but rarely antiJesus’ (Stuart Piggin). But which Jesus? In what follows, I seek to listen to what some Australians make of Jesus, and to consider some theological implications of their contributions for the enduring quest for an Australian Jesus.

The article can be accessed here.

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JASON GORONCY IS A THEOLOGIAN, ARTIST, AND folk festival tragic WHO LIVES AND PLAYS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.

 

Faith: Love doesn’t come in specific sizes and shapes

He is a man fully present to himself. In the botanical gardens he wears a neat, close-brimmed hat and weaves through the crowd following a child. Deftly he catches her up, bringing her back into the gathering for the wedding ceremony. He is bearded and his body is compact, perfectly formed and compellingly small. He has such gravitas and is utterly himself. Later you will meet him and his partner, the mother of the doll-like child. While you are making introductions he will beam up at this woman who is beautifully round in ways that redefine the delights of a shapely waist and abundant breasts.

Her dress has a firm bodice and flares confidently in a full-skirted flounce. The floral fabric speaks happiness wrapped close to the heart of this woman. Her gaze carries such warmth that you feel immediately cosied. She gleams. Her dear friend is getting married. They did their doctorates together in a far place, and she has come to witness this wedding. Now we have seen the brides arriving and we are filled with delight.

That night you will see the man and the woman dancing. There is a live band, the music calls and people dance on the deck. The man has removed his hat and from behind you notice his upturned head and the fringe of hair that circles it. As the pair twirl you see them in profile, a picture of rapture so binding that you want to hold this moment, let the sweep of their love suffuse you. 

There is an easy grace in their dance-hold. They are not new to this posture and they inhabit it with the familiarity of old dance partners. This couple are young, perhaps in their 30s – yet old enough to have arrived into themselves in this way. Their physical difference might have once isolated them, made them “other”, the non-standard versions of shape and height. Here, now, they are so clearly content that their wholeness speaks love for themselves as well as each other.

So much is lost when beauty is homogenised to replications of tall men and slim women. It is also damaging. Celebrating only narrowly defined ranges of human loveliness is a form of un-love and a silent erasure. Constant exposure to the supposed perfection of celebrity stereotypes is designed to find us wanting. Jesus of Nazareth often responded to people whose lives were enacted outside the embrace of communal approval. He spoke with them and named them as faithful. By implication the harmful other-ing of their communities was faith-less. His censure to gendered power and religious entitlement remain provocations to this day.

[Reposted from The Sydney Morning Herald]

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JULIE PERRIN IS A MELBOURNE WRITER, ORAL STORYTELLER, AND ASSOCIATE TEACHER AT PILGRIM THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF DIVINITY. SHE KEEPS A WEBSITE, AND HER MOST RECENT BOOK IS TENDER. SHE LIVES AND WORKS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.

Before Good Friday

A few years ago, just before Easter, I pulled into the supermarket carpark. It was mid-afternoon on Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. I had been stuck in a one-way back street behind a truck revving impatiently. It was not the ideal lead-up to my observance of Easter.

Through my car radio came the mellifluous tones of Lucky Oceans’ afternoon show on Radio National. Lucky introduced an album by Sam Baker called Pretty World. The back-story is that Baker was in Peru in 1986 on a train blown up by the Shining Path Maoist group. He was forced to witness the death of a 14-year-old boy beside him. His own permanent injuries meant re-learning the guitar, so he could fret with his right hand. Brain damage resulting from the injuries meant he had to ‘go picking for words like you’d pick fruit in an orchard’.

All of this is present in his song ‘Broken Fingers’. There is a certain heaviness in the emphasis and pronunciation, the words don’t come easily. You can tell they are sung by a man who has to hunt for words. Sam Baker was surrounded by a crew of supporting artists, friends willing him into making his music again. The album is his tribute. It invokes the memory of the boy and names Baker’s own loss. The lyrics are simple and eloquent:

These broken fingers
some things don’t heal
you can’t wake up from the dream
when you know the dream is real.

Sam Baker’s song takes hold of me. Suddenly I am weeping in the supermarket carpark. Some things don’t heal. There is a respectful knowing that doesn’t try to force healing or hope on people. I do the shopping slowly, with a new sense of gratitude.

In my childhood, I periodically heard preachers insisting on a kind of victorious Christianity. As if barracking for Jesus put you on the winning team where nothing could touch you. It felt like denial.

In the evening, I participate in the foot-washing ritual our church holds every Maundy Thursday. The night recalls the Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. Later that same night, in the Garden of Gethsemane, they abandoned him.

Prayers are spoken by candlelight in the darkened church. I am offered water for my feet, and fragrant oils, then towels to enfold them. I am offered wine to drink and bread to eat. In the quiet darkness I remember people who carry wounds that don’t heal.

This story is one of 60 collected in Tender: Stories that Lean into Kindnessby Julie Perrin and forthcoming by MediaCom Education. Previously published in The Sunday Age faith column and Spinifex Blessing.

You are also invited to the book launch:

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JULIE PERRIN IS A MELBOURNE WRITER, ORAL STORYTELLER, AND ASSOCIATE TEACHER AT PILGRIM THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF DIVINITY. SHE LIVES AND WORKS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.

Mary at Christmas

When Mary came to our house on Christmas Day she smelled of smoke and found it hard to walk. She had a croaky voice and a deep laugh. Our young children circled shyly around this strange new person as she sat on our loungeroom sofa. Mary kept saying thank you for inviting her and apologized for being emotional when tears came to her eyes.

I had not wanted Mary to come. My husband was her Volunteer Guardian and was resolute about inviting her for lunch before we went off to our big shebang with the extended family. He said living in a Special Accommodation Rooming House was lousy at the best of times, worse on Christmas Day. I did not feel a corresponding sense of grace. I said the children would not cope, I said Christmas was a family day, I claimed it was too complicated. My husband said it was simple – she had nowhere else to go. I got angry, I said I couldn’t bear it. He said it was only for lunchtime and he would do whatever it took – he wasn’t giving in.

We ate on our laps in the loungeroom because Mary couldn’t come to the table. Once I could see the kids were okay I let myself sit near her. I was cautious and curious to be near an adult who would speak with the honesty of a child. There was a strange magnetism about her acute directness; she was straight up. The children stayed close by her and held out their toys to show her. ‘Thankyou for having me,’ she said again. I felt like blushing.

When Mary said ‘I gotta go,’ I showed her to the loo. But still she didn’t stay long. ‘I need a lie down, I have to go back.’ Mary wanted to say goodbye to the kids, ‘Can we come in the car?’ they asked. My husband drove Mary back to her Rooming House in St Kilda. On the way home she asked to stop in at her local Milk Bar – they’d let her borrow two dollars and she wanted to pay it back.

Mary died later that year. She never made fifty. She’d had a life full of hardship and been ripped off and abused in more ways than I could begin to imagine. My husband keeps a framed photo of her – she’s wearing a pink cardigan and smoking. I always think of her at Christmas; Mary, so unlike the Christmas card version of her namesake. She was not young or beautiful, she did not gaze heavenward with her hand on her heart. I think of her as a gravelly voiced angel messenger announcing, ‘Do not be afraid.’

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JULIE PERRIN IS A MELBOURNE WRITER, ORAL STORYTELLER, AND ASSOCIATE TEACHER AT PILGRIM THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE, UNIVERSITY OF DIVINITY. SHE LIVES AND WORKS ON WURUNDJERI LAND.