Making All Things New

Posted on: September 6, 2019, by :

On our recent trip to Adelaide, rounding a bend just before Ararat, we were surprised to see a tent city nestled amongst the trees, looking more permanent than a weekend campsite and displaying a range of signs and flags (including the indigenous flag). We were travelling too fast to read all the signs but on the way back we were ready and took particular notice. We discovered that it was the ‘Djap Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy’ established to prevent the proposed duplication of the Western Highway from destroying a site that holds great significance in the history of the local Djap Wurrung people. An excerpt from their website summarises the story: Sacred birthing trees on Djap Wurrung country need protecting. Over 50 generations have been born on these sites & the birthing trees themselves are 800 years old. We are protecting them from the planned highway extension that is set to destroy this dreaming landscape. This is one of the longest blockades and one of the strongest stands against colonisation and cultural devastation Victoria has seen this century. VicRoads threaten to desecrate sacred women’s birthing trees and cultural land for the brief and unnecessary extension of the Western Highway. You can read and see more on this story at https://dwembassy.com .

I felt a particular resonance with this campaign because VicRoads is about to start work on the Mornington Peninsula Freeway extension in my own ‘backyard’! I walk at least 4 days a week through the Mordialloc wetlands, enjoying the natural bush, the billabongs, the birdlife, the frogs, the occasional snake and so much more. Heather and I recently watched a magnificent hawk feasting on a small bird it had caught. It’s a beautiful natural habitat that is about to be destroyed by a four-lane freeway. I understand the need for traffic management and progress, but at what cost?

There is a complex clash of values underlying these and so many other planning policy processes in our society. Less traffic congestion and shorter travel times imply a reduction in greenhouse gas emission which is clearly desirable. But the loss of open space and destruction of natural environment – the erosion of the ‘green wedge’ that runs through the southeast of Melbourne – impacts on people’s quality of life and connection with nature. How do we decide what matters most?

A different but similar clash of values is at play in the proposed deportation of the Sri Lankan family currently being held on Christmas Island. In the face of overwhelming community opposition, including the pleas of the Bileola community amongst which the family live, the Australian government is taking a stand ‘on principle’ – the rules are the rules and there is no place for compassion or flexibility (which the government believe would be a sign of weakness). Trouble is, these are real people, not theoretical people, and it is clearly inhumane to treat them in the way we are.

One of the scripture readings in our gathering last Sunday morning was from Revelation 21 and included the ‘promise’ that I am making all things new. Often we assume that making things new means ‘out with the old and in with the new’ – whether that applies to roads or to refugee policy, to taxation or to ethics. But sometimes ‘making all things new’ actually means reclaiming values that have stood the test of time rather than compromising them in the name of progress or regulation. Making all things new is less about change for the sake of change and more about creating (perhaps returning to) a stronger, healthier, more harmonious community by re-affirming values that may have been lost or compromised in our single-minded quest for development.

The wisdom of Jesus is that communities and cultures can be ‘made new’ by affirming and acting out of the eternal values of compassion (for all things – people, creatures, nature, etc.), generosity (theologically framed as forgiveness) and grace (perhaps an attitude of kindness toward self and others). I wonder what responses we might make to the scenarios above if those values were paramount?

David.

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