January 26, 2016

Australia Day: Beyond Jingoism or Self-Loathing

So it’s Australia Day.  Who came up with that creative name, an engineer?  Better, I suppose than Guam Day or Laos Day. But nowhere near as colourful as Seychelles Day (somehow gathering sea-shells by the sea-shore seems like something one would do on the national day of the Seychelles).

Two defining, and I fear increasing, features of Australia Day these past decades, or at least the two poles of the one defining feature, are jingoism and self-loathing. Jingoism out on the political right, and self-loathing on the political left.  Sorry if you don’t like the terms, but they are the extremities of the positions, and they are increasingly on view.

Patriotic jingoism on Australia Day has taken on a slightly menacing tone recently, in which too loud and too proud Aussies assert their belief in all things “Strayan”, including their right to a good time, a few beers, and a desire for all things to stay as they were in Australia in roughly 1978.

This particular perspective has been louder, more packaged, and more self-aware in the wake of a strong swing against celebrating Australia Day, and calling it Invasion Day, which many of our indigenous people do.  Hence Facebook today in Australia oscillates between celebration and mourning; jingoism and self-loathing; calls to have a good time and calls to go into a deep sorrowful reflection about the way this nation has ended up.

As usual, and unfortunately, it seems that the aim of both groups is to strong-arm their particular narrative of Australia Day onto the pages of history.  History is written by the winners after all, so with iconic events such as Australia Day, there’s a lot at stake.

As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.  There is much to both celebrate AND to mourn about Australia Day.  Much good has come out of the last couple of hundred years of white settlement, and much bad also.  The problem with the social media slug-fest going on today on the likes of Facebook, however, is that it pretty much descends into hand-bags at twenty paces without a lot of middle ground.

(By the way, a request for my non-Australian readers: If you can come up with a better name for our national day than its current iteration, let me know.)

But how should Christians respond to Australia Day?  The pendulum swings of jingoism or self-loathing? Disinterest?  Somewhere on the spectrum?

The key, of course is remembering the words of Paul in Philippians 3:20

20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

This tells us a number of things

Firstly, be realistic: The city or country of our hope is in the new creation.  Which means we don’t despair when Australia is not all it should be, nor be proud when it ticks all the boxes we want it to. There are many thing about Australia that need to change, and there are many things about it that we should seek to maintain.  However our true hope does not lie in us getting our vision of what or who we are as Australians over the line.  It lies in the vision we share with the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11:16, “a heavenly country, a better one”.

Secondly your political ideology, political party, choice for Prime Minister, perspective on same sex marriage etc, etc, is not going to be the salvation of Australia – Jesus is.  So no matter how many Prime Ministers get knifed in the back, or whether your guy or girl gets over the line, or whether the plebiscite delivers what you want, just remember that flesh gives birth to flesh!

One day the creation will be renewed by God’s Spirit through both judgement and salvation, and the Australia that emerges out of that will be the one that God intended from time eternal.  That means there will be things you like about the broken version of  Australia that will be judged and removed, and there are things you don’t like about the broken version of Australia that will be exonerated and glorified.  So be humble about the things you like about this broken Australia, and be gentle with the things you don’t like. Just remember, you don’t have the final call on how this Australia thing will play out.

Thirdly we are called to work for change in our country – change for the better.  But whatever your theological and political slant, progressive or conservative, we are not called to usher in God’s kingdom on earth (or Australia), but announce with our words and our works that God will usher in his kingdom, and he has given us a tiny, fractured reality of that  through the church.  True, the good works of God’s people will bleed out into justice, mercy, compassion, creativity, love and hope in this age, but this age will not be brought to an end by our efforts.

 If we cannot even transform our lowly bodies to be like the glorious body of Christ, then be humble enough to admit that we can’t do that transformation to 24 million other bodies, (and much cattle) our country so desperately needs. If we cannot do even that, then we must be humble enough to admit that we cannot implement a full plan to bring our vision of glory to Australia.

God will work through his people to bring justice, holiness, truth and beauty to Australia, but at best that will only ever be a partial fulfilment, and at worst, when we remove our eyes from the heavenly citizenships, it will degenerate into our idealised/idolised view of what this country should be.

What happens when that reality falls off the radar?  We become angry or proud.  Angry when our vision is not implemented, or proud when it is.  And jingoism and self-loathing are fuelled by anger and pride.

So Christians in Australia today, it’s ok to look back today at the good and bad done in the name of our country.  It’s ok to look forward too at how we can make the place better.  But only do those things insofar as you look up first, because that’s where our true citizenship lies.

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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