2019 May 19 -"Rusted On Or Moving On?

When the Spirit is released.

Over the past few months we have experienced a very public display of the best and worst that this country has to offer in terms of political leadership, public conversation, and the performance of the fourth estate.

One of the major dilemmas and challenges in all three spheres has been how to address people who are "rusted on” in their beliefs and allegiances. How do you get such people to re-evaluate their long cherished pre conceived ideas, and see things in a new light?

How people change, and why they don’t, is a fascinating and complex area of human psychology, especially seeing that, as far as I am concerned, we were not born that way. Have we not all seen those pictures or videos of little children playing together, seemingly oblivious to their differences of colour, wholly innocent of the gulfs of wealth and poverty, and certainly not the slightest bit aware of the differences in religious beliefs of their respective families?

It is only later, when parents or other authority figures, be they religious, educational or political, start telling them who they can and cannot trust, that they begin to differentiate and behave in new and often frightened and injurious ways.

One classic and nauseating example from the recent election campaign was an ad authorised by the Fraser Anning group, with a photo of a large Islamic family, and the caption, ‘How would you like to live next to a Muslim?”

And so begins the ‘rusting on” process, a tightening of views by the application of ever more constricting forces, until change becomes seemingly impossible to contemplate. Those forces can be highly compelling, especially when they are reinforced by all of the various authorities in one’s life. I had first hand experience of this growing up in Apartheid South Africa. The subtle messaging started in the home, where the menial tasks were done by a meagrely paid black domestic servant. The education system reinforced the gulf through racially segregated schooling, and the government repeatedly rammed home the message of superiority of the Whites through every sphere of life, including job reservation, and the nightly "news commentary”. Most churches either did nothing to challenge the prevailing tide of propaganda, or actively supported it. I just thank God for the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, which increasingly reflected an alternate and more equitable attitude in its structures. For me, it was there, in that brave if criticised environment, that the favoured link between and God and the so-called "chosen race” was challenged and finally broken. I suppose I should be thankful that at the time I was old enough and schooled enough to think critically, and young enough to be not too ‘rusted on’. And yet, I still had to get out of there to be truly free of the debilitating disease of racial discrimination.

Now I know that there are large swathes of the religious community that insist that challenging the oppressive structures is not the task of the church. I was recently trolled by someone on twitter who told me, and our church , to stop all this silly engagement in the secular world. I was lectured about going back into my room to pray. In the end, I had to tell them that their arrogance was nauseating, and I had to block them. (I am learning now to take the advice of Rev Rod Bower when dealing with twitter trolls- just block and delete, block and delete. You will never win an argument with a rusted on bigot.)

The funny thing about telling the church to stay out of the secular arena is that Jesus spent nearly all of his time ministering the community, albeit given that their society did not have the religious/secular divide that ours do.

In the light of all of this, it is instructive that, both last Sunday and this, we have heard the repeated story of how Jesus’ closest friend, Peter, had to undergo a revelatory transformation to free him of his "rusted –on” beliefs as to who and who was not acceptable to God.

And so Peter, having been confronted in a vision about his rusted-on attitude to religious law, both regarding animals and people, is finally able to accept that God shows no partiality between people of different culture, race or creed. All are welcome in the fold of Christ, and all have a role in bringing love to the world.

It is also enlightening that it is only after Jesus’ resurrection, and after the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, that the two greatest male figures of the Early Church are transformed to new attitudes by special revelation. Peter has his moment with the acceptance of the Gentile Cornelius, and Saul, the rusted-on Pharisee who hates Christians, had to be knocked off his horse by a vision of Jesus before he stopped he frenetic persecutions, and turned his life around 180 degrees.

So insidious, so intractable is the phenomenon of being rusted on by prejudice to outmoded and unhealthy ideas, that it sometimes takes a miracle to bring on change.

So just how do we change from bigotry to acceptance? It seems from the scriptures, and particularly in the Book of Acts, that the Holy Spirit acts something like a can of WD 40 on a rusted lock or screw. Something has to be dissolved before the corroded surfaces start to disintegrated, and vital parts start moving again. Maybe this is why Jesus said that unless we are like little children, we cannot enter the kingdom of God. We have to deal with a state of immobilising fear be returned to a level of innocence, where love can again flourish.

We have to stop assuming that God endorses our favourite prejudices, and go deep into the scriptures, and the creative, truthful spaces of our own hearts, for a rethink.

In this regard, Cathy Wilcox has a compelling cartoon where she ascribes quotes to various individuals starting with the words "God told me”:

"-That gays will go to hell

-To obey my husband

-to punish the infidel

-we are special

to get rid of foreigners

-to burn down the school

-to keep a secret”

This of course runs counter to the greater revelation of God in Jesus, for whom love was front and centre of all human relationships. It is in fact the power groups, in whose interests it is for us to conform to the prejudice and hate that keeps them powerful, and the people divided in their fear.

Thank God, we know from the biblical stories, and from our own better nature, that change is possible, even for the seriously rusted on. I heard, during the recent election campaign, about an elderly woman who had, all her life, voted the way her husband instructed her, following the advice of her own mother. Then, become a widow, she voted then opposite way for the first time. For the first time, she did her own homework, and listened to her own heart.

Now I know that I said that revelation is critical, but we do ourselves have a part to play in our own liberation from the attitudes of the older powers over our lives. I know first-hand how hard it is, after living for 28 years in an environment of racial superiority, to change. I am still working at it. Here are a few things that help:

1. EDUCATION: Reading, doing courses, seeking out facts in the face all the self-interested drivel we hear

CONFRONTATION: Allowing ourselves to be in situations where we are faced with people who do things differently, and see the world in different ways.
REFLECTION: Realising that our life scripts are written for us by our parents, and to a lesser extent by other authority figures, and it is only when we realise this that we are, for the first time, in the empowered position to change the way we behave.

A great diagnostic question to ask ourselves is this: "In the interests of which power group is it that I keep believing and acting as I do- my parents, my children, my spouse, my church my peers, my government.” When I have worked that out, I am free to decide whether I am OK, or have become rusted-on, and need to move on.

And finally, it is good to know that beyond all our own efforts at re-programming, there is a spirit of change that Christ has unleashed into the world. When we allow ourselves to come under that authority, the authority of God’s Spirit, anything can happen. We might even have our lives transformed in wonderful new ways, as the rust that kept us locked into old ways of thinking and acting is dissolved in the engulfing liberation of God’s grace.

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