One wet Thursday evening in May, a throng of new Monash University graduands lined up to receive their academic awards from the Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences. Even though the velvet-capped doctoral students looked so very grand in their peacock finery, it had taken me three years of sheer hard work to complete my little Graduate Diploma in Psychology, so I proudly joined the group lining up to shake the Vice Chancellors hand, don caps and wobble across the stage to the applause of family and friends.
As is usual on such occasions, a member of the Monash Alumni was invited to give the Graduation Address. But by the time the hundreds of students had trundled past, the audience had got somewhat impatient and audibly groaned when the young man stood to deliver his speech. Arms were crossed cynically, ready for a speech encouraging the new graduands to “reach for the stars” or “follow your dreams” or “You go girl! You can do it”. But this was not the case.
The address had one simple message.
Where ever you are, whatever your work, always treat people with dignity and learn all you can in the place you find yourself.
Although the orator had worked hard at university to earn his degree in physiotherapy, when the time came to graduate, personal circumstances required him to grab the first job he could. He found himself working in a small suburban aged-care facility, which was a far cry from his dream job of massaging the Collingwood football teams injured muscles. Yet here, unexpectedly, working with the frail and aged he found passion for his work. His research and program development in the aged care sector has now led to a 40 per cent reduction in falls and injuries across rehabilitation hospitals in Western Australia.
We were reminded yet again of the importance of being open to new ideas in the ordinary places of life – right where we are. It was a keen reminder to me that the very same rigour brought to other academic disciplines must also be brought to matters of faith and theology.
What we believe, how we understand the bible, church history and theology is the bread-and-butter of our Christian faith. Whether we are ordained ministers, pastors, youth workers or lay members of gathered faith communities, we are called to bring all our intellect, sharpness of mind and deep thinking to the central questions – who is Jesus Christ and what difference does his life, death and resurrection make to the world?
We sometimes forget our Christian faith requires work. This is the sort of attention we have come to expect in the fields of economics, medicine, law and commerce. Yet, as disciples of Jesus, we are called to also continually read, research, discuss, ponder and think about issues of faith. This intellectual work can be both exhilarating and exhausting, occurring in the most ordinary of places.
Our local church did just this when it decided to have some ‘post-Easter discussions’. They used an old book of essays published way back in 1980, written by the then faculty of the Uniting Church Theological Hall. The book and the discussion series was titled ‘The Heart of the Matter: Reflections on the Resurrection Faith’1.
What ensued over the three-week series was challenging reading and deep discussions which took nothing for granted. Essays, written well over 30 years ago, opened up honest conversation and a search for truth around the central aspect of Christian faith- resurrection.
Not everything was resolved, nor were old ideas simply reinforced, but somehow there was an integrity in the discussion and an exploration of ideas leading to a growing confidence and mature reflection of faith. One person said she found taking the opportunity to rethink the issues of resurrection made her feel differently about her faith. Digging into the tradition and looking forward made a difference.
This sort of hard work is not just an optional extra for the enthusiasts. It is for all of us. Not everyone wants to complete formal theological study, yet this thinking work can be done in many places. Some people will find great depth in attending short courses or a lecture series. Some will find great stimulation auditing a subject such as ‘Doctrine Truth and Pluralism’ in second semester at Pilgrim Theological College. Some will find depth in joining a theological book group. Others may join a three-week congregation discussion series on the resurrection.
Just keep swimming.
The Monash University Graduation address reminded the gathered crowd that learning and life changing moments happen in the unexpected tumble of ordinary life. In being prepared to work, understand, question and learn, our lives can be profoundly changed. Our Christian faith deserves nothing less.
We are each called to talk more, read more, blog more, argue more and indeed analyse long-held entrenched beliefs. This is our work and it can lead to profound transformation in our own lives and those around us.
Rev Sue Withers
Field Education Co-ordinator
Centre for Theology & Ministry