This is part 6 in a 7-part series “7 Reflections on Reconciliation”, for Reconciliation Week, based on interviews with Christians from Indigenous and non-Indigenous backgrounds.
Interviews by Ben Clarke, Supporter Engagement Officer - TEAR’s work with First Peoples.
Revelation 7:9 gives us a peek at a multitude of people from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages worshiping before the throne of God. Even though Paul teaches us (Galatians 3:28) that in Christ, there is no Jew or Gentile, that does not mean that God does not value culture! Rather, it shows us that culture can be included in the inheritance that comes through faith.
Rhanee Tsetsakos, an Adnyamathanha woman from Port Augusta with close family ties to country and family in the northern Flinders Ranges - Adnyamathanha country, works for the Uniting Church in South Australia.
People could think that reconciliation means that we all become one and the same, leaving our cultures behind and coming under one culture but I don't think that's what God intends for us. There is a beauty in being different and sharing where we've come from and what we know with each other. This also makes me aware that part of reconciliation is about receiving as well as giving.
In the Bible we are taught to “come as you are.” So for us, “come as you are” means that we can come as black people, with my black talk, my black way of living life and I'll be accepted and I can be a Christian. I want that! And Jesus doesn't want us any other way. If we do come any other way there's already a disconnection because if we are made in the image of God then how I am now is exactly how God intended me to be. And that's all that is needed to have that relationship and for reconciliation to occur.
When I'm home on country when I'm speaking my Anangu language, when I'm getting passed down stories wisdom and knowledge from my elders and my leaders, the spirit that is talking to me in that moment is the same spirit and the same voice that I hear when I'm sitting at church when I'm surrounded by white fellas. It's the same voice I'm hearing. I can't discern any difference. I can't tell if it's this voice or that voice to me. It's the same voice, it's the same Spirit. So that's telling me that the Spirit from my people is the same spirit that came over on the boats with Christianity. We say that God was already in Australia before colonisation, before the original boat people arrived. it's the same spirit.
Tanya Riches is a Christian academic whose PhD focused on worship and social justice initiatives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian leaders.
When I reflect on the different nations, tribes, peoples and languages worshiping before the throne of God in heaven (Rev 7:9), I think about the indictment Richard Twist1 gave to the white American church. He said that when we turn up at the throne and all the nations, tribes, peoples and languages are there it will be really obvious who has been excluded from the church on earth. That might cause some grief for the power holders.
There are so many layers to how reconciliation affects our cultures but I hope that as people of God we are able to walk together and reflect Jesus in different ways in different seasons and different times.
1 Richard Twist was a Native American educator and author. He was a member of the Sicangu Lakota Oyate.
Steve Bevis, a TEAR Board member, is the Senior Minister at Alice Springs Uniting Church.
My friend, the late Kumanjayi Granites, spent a lot of time reflecting on the story of the woman at the well. He looked at Jesus’ encounter and noted that that woman had “true” water. So Jesus talked about “life giving” water. It was no accident in Kumanjayi’s mind that there was a woman at a source of water because that’s a powerful image for Aboriginal Australia, the connection between a spiritual story and country, between spiritual story and place. Jesus would have recognised that something important was happening here in this woman at this place. This was an important insight for Kumanjayi.
For me as I have sat with him over the years thinking about that story it has made me realise that Jesus was also having an encounter with someone from outside his group. When people meet across groups there is an opportunity for something different to take place. These are encounters where people come together in ways were we share truth that lies underneath all the usual propaganda, and the lies that keep us apart. They are encounters where we have the opportunity to be true about our lives and about the part we play in these things.
I think there are encounters and places of rich learning in those stories like the woman at the well, where you see people from across groups interacting around what is spiritually true and what is ultimately true in God's eyes.
NOTE: Not everyone is comfortable with the word reconciliation. Reconciliation talks of returning to a place when relationship was good and that has never been the case in Australia. Most people, however, continue to support the aims of the reconciliation movement.