All throughout my life, I’ve stumbled across signposts that help me figure out what I’m supposed to be doing, and why I’m here. I firmly believe God has a masterplan for each one of us – but we don’t get a manual for when each new model of human appears… we must pray, partner with the Spirit and put the jigsaw puzzle together as we go.
There are days when each of us feel like we’re a million miles away from our purpose, and may question whether there even IS a purpose to our life… but then there are days in which it seems like a light goes on, and we suddenly see further into the future than we ever have before, with a contented fulfillment replacing our questions with answers.
For me, such a day occurred when my friends Reuben and Sarah Singleton asked our band, ‘Speaking of Sarah’ to worship lead at a conference, for their mission agency International Teams. A session I attended was led by a man called Mark Soderquist, who works in Chicago. Mark is actively involved in reconciliation within an urban environment (think white versus black, gangs, crime). He asked his host to show him the area of Sydney most notorious for urban crime and renowned as a problem area, and found himself in Redfern. It was around this time that a fourteen year old boy, “T.J. Hickey” was killed in a high speed pursuit by Police (T.J. was on a bike at the time), and the roads closed while grieving relatives and friends refused to allow Police entrance back into ‘The Block’, a well-known epicentre for Aboriginal activism and identity. These riots were quickly over, but angry sentiment remained in the air, – Aboriginal deaths in custody and treatment at Police hands still topics that incited seemingly unwarranted rage.
Redfern station was about two streets from the house where I lived. This meant I paid a lot of money for our car insurance, but for me personally, what the location provided was a different kind of insurance – inoculation against middle-class complacency, the type that would allow me to feel a sense of gravity around the importance of buying a sedan wagon rather than changing the world with my remaining days left. I found that working in a church environment came along with a strong urge to clean up the messiness of life – to have a spotless marriage, to settle down in a ‘good’ area, and, to prove to church members that I was like them, locally-based and concerned with what are often middle-class problems – however all the while, my heart was with the Aboriginal men and women who busked outside the IGA in Newtown. I knew Redfern’s streets well.
Mark gave a slice of the street life in Chicago, and the barriers to entry that black American people often feel in entering white American churches. He spoke of his shock in understanding that racial difference as a deep river running underneath all the visible interactions between ethnicities, with violent outbreaks proving how little either side really understood each other, and meaning or significance in certain events and interactions often lost by the one side.
He shared with us a quote he had found written on the walls of a church in Redfern while walking around. It was the first time that I had ever seen racial alienation in my own town of Sydney Australia:
“the aboriginal Christ crucified on every city sidewalk should be free in his own church among his own people in Redfern.”
In reading this quote, I think an ordinary Australian’s first impulse is to be angry, to declare that there IS no Aboriginal Christ, that Christ is not black. Like us He deserves a middle class, white church. We proclaim pridefully that Christ is not on the city sidewalks, we have built Him beautiful buildings of honour. We do not consider him crucified but proudly resurrected… the glory of the whole earth. He is not hindered but is freed by our religion…
But Christ is not white or Asian – surely if anything he would best be described as ‘Middle Eastern’… and still many of us see Him like ourselves… So is it wrong for an Aboriginal to write this? Would we be prepared to be disgraced by a God who chose to come as a Jewish baby in a Roman world, to make friends with prostitutes and tax collectors, and to die upon a garbage heap in order to save us from our sins… would we still choose to follow if this God chose to worship in a little church in Redfern, among “his own people”?
Big questions. What do you think??