I listen to the annual Boyer Lectures. These are a lecture series presented by the Australian Broadcasting Commission whereby prominent Australians speak on a topic to stimulate en-gagement and discussion. They were modelled, I believe, on the BBC’s Reith Lectures. (I’ve thought both are worth a listen.) This year’s Boyer lecturer is film maker, Rachel Perkins, of Arrernte, Kalkadoon, Irish, and German descent who presented and explained what the 2017 indigenous ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’ is about and placed it into Australia’s history. There is much for Australians to consider –and the Boyer Lectures’ aim was fulfilled again for another year. What struck me in particular was a quote from Rachel’s father, indigenous activist, the late Charlie Perkins, AO, “We cannot live in the past but the past lives in us”.
I find that perspective fascinating in many ways. It makes me consider and reconsider aspects of Australian history – the Australian story I’ve told myself about my country. It also reinforces an idea that has grown in me for about the last 10 years – and remember that my seminary training in the 1980s was 7 years in which we had 2 years of church history – that one thing I still need is a better knowledge and appreciation of church history, of the accounts of the theology, councils, and creeds that are part of the church today. To know the story of how God’s Word and God’s people interacted with their contexts can help me understand why the Church today – and to a degree the world today – is how it is.
I also find the quote almost sacramental. I know when I first heard Ms Perkins say it my mind went to Holy Communion and the mystery that doing what Jesus told us to remember (“Do this in remembrance of me”) was not about us thinking about Jesus of the past and what he did for us but is a receiving of Jesus who comes and is present – real presence! – with us at the altar (and beyond).
The new political landscape might be clearer now in the UK when you read this. What the future holds in details I’m not sure but the slogan ‘Get Brexit done!’ seems to have picked up the past – only 3 or so years old – or maybe older, as some people have told me, going back to the early 1970s – and lives in enough people who voted. And, as someone relatively new here, it makes me consider and reconsider aspects of the national story I’ve told myself about this my other country.
We cannot live in the past but the past lives in us. Yes, I think this is so true. Whether we’ve lived here all our life or are a migrant or refugee; whether we have had privilege or ‘hard knocks’ or a combination; whether we have been abused or abused, been forgiven or forgiven the heart keeps beating, the clocks ticking and time marches on and the past lives in us. This calls us to listen, to not consider others at face value, and to seek to understand –and yes, we are still responsible for our behaviour – but understanding the past is important. The legal system does it. So does the health system. The past lives in us whether we know it or not.
So how would it be if humanity knew its past in terms of origins – a story of choice and rebellion and the consequence of hardship, suffering, and death and also another story of grace and mercy and presence? Such a story might go back to a garden but it can be told in each generation. This story becomes ever so personal in a birth and also a death – but then there is a resurrection. And then the past never stays in the past again! Such a past and present story could change us and could change the world! GS