Hope for the future in the past

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15_hope-for-justiceHope for Justice & Reconciliation by Howard Wallace and John Bottomley,  United Academic Press, Melbourne, 2012
Review by Rev Richard Arnold

In this thought-provoking book, the authors reflect on a turbulent period of Israel’s history through the poetic imagery of the prophet Isaiah. In this period, Israel drifts away from the worship of God and is seduced by the gods of surrounding nations which promise certainty and control. It then falls into moral decay, is destroyed by invading armies and the people are sent into exile. Eventually, after a number of generations, they return.

The authors propose that the experience of Israel is being mirrored today in Australia.

They state that, since the Enlightenment, God has been relegated to the sidelines. The promise of control over nature and certitude has dominated the lives of those people who have become partof modernity. However the promise has failed to deliver.

The authors believe Australia is already ‘in exile’, as its captivity to the Enlightenment myth begins to reap environmental degradation, mental illness, work-related heart disease and the chaos of work-related deaths.

This is a detailed argument based on the authors’ immersion in the real world of pain, suffering and injustice as experienced through the work of a church agency (Creative Ministries Network) in the contexts of Indigenous Australians, workplace deaths and injustices, Vietnam veterans, and governance issues for UnitingCare agencies.

The authors acknowledge that a great distance lies between Isaiah and contemporary Australian cultures and situations. However, as the title highlights, they believe that there is hope for justice and reconciliation for Australia grounded in the sovereign rule of God, poetically revealed through the words of Isaiah.

The first chapter of this book focusses on the injustices born by Indigenous Australians.

Through a collective reading of Isaiah, the Federal Government’s ‘Apology’, and the preamble to the Uniting Church constitution, the authors propose that indigenous Australians are actually the Suffering Servant, God’s servant(s), calling the colonial oppressors and their descendants to acknowledge that their hearts are crushed by the pain of a disintegrating society. There is a simultaneous call to turn back to a faithful relationship with God, to live by God’s ways, and together live mutually fulfilling lives.

The authors find a strong resonance between understanding God’s work and the Indigenous idea of “Deep Listening”. In the Ngungikurungkurr language of the Daly River region in the Northern Territory, the word for “Deep Listening” is “Dadirri”, translated as deep and respectful listening that builds community.

In this place of deep listening and confession it is hoped that non-Indigenous Australians may be moved to a radical questioning of the Enlightenment modes of confident certitude which often influence decisions and actions at an unconscious level.

Much of the rest of the book explores the struggles faced by people caught up in the chaos and pain of the structures of modernity. There are chapters on the understandings of CEOs from a number of Uniting Church agencies, workplace deaths, Vietnam veterans, and the governance of UnitingCare agencies. There is an invitation for the church and its agencies to become “bilingual”; that is to combine secular discourse on corporate governance with reflection on God’s presence in all that the agencies do.

“These are the stories the whole church will need to hear in worship, and discern a response through deep listening. An imagining of the new hope promised by God to those who return to trusting their security and mission to God’s life-giving purpose is essential.”
This book is a ‘must read’ for all who are burdened and down-hearted by the disintegration of long-held and valued structures and systems.

Given the recent crises and pain within many denominational churches in Australia, it would be timely for all members to begin conversations about the future using this book as a foundation.

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