About a red car

It was a small red car, its paintwork pockmarked with tiny dints left in the wake of an unexpected hail storm. The insurance company said it was a write-off, not worth repairing, even though the engine was undamaged. cloned-cars-scrap-yardIt wasn’t my car but I felt sad and a bit indignant to see it taken away to be broken up for its still usable parts before  ending up in a machine that would squeeze it into something that looks like a metal sandwich.

I’m the kind of car owner who barely notices things like scratches or dints, let alone make, model or colour. As long as my vehicle has a working motor, four wheels and a comfortable seat – well, heating and cooling too – I’m happy.

The fate of that little red car got me thinking about the importance our materialistic values place on perfection.  We are encouraged to cook like a Masterchef contestant, furnish and decorate a house like those featured in a glossy home magazine, find time for an exercise class that will ensure youthful slimness, as well as coach the under10 football team and be meaningfully employed. I get sucked into some of this and then feel guilty  when I don’t measure up.

Social media would have us believe that expectations like this are the norm for a successful life. If you add Catholic to the mix, then, like me, you’ve also  inherited some religious musts  labelled “ You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

As Kathleen Norris says in Amazing Grace – A Vocabulary of Faith, ‘The good news about the word perfect as used in the New Testament is that it is not a scary word as much as a scary translation.’

I don’t think Jesus’ understanding of perfect was the same as ours. That sentence about being perfect is tucked in right at the end of Chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel, a chapter that begins with the Beatitudes, refers  briefly and beautifully about us being salt and light, then goes on to talk at length about what it means to live  justly.

It’s an invitation to grow into our individual God imprint, to live it out in real time, wherever life takes us. Yet somewhere early on in Christianity the institutional church slid into confusing perfect with catholic. Practicing catholics or ‘devout’ catholics, as the print media usually put it, can confidently tick off a list that begins with going to Mass on Sunday and includes a whole raft of pious practices. Women and men who  move beyond the boundaries of institutional religion in search of spiritual growth are labelled lapsed or disgruntled, as if not following the man-made rules signified a loss of faith.

There will never be just one way to live the Gospel life, just as there can never be a set of rules that are one-size-fits-all. Perfection the Jesus way means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others –as a parent, a friend, a spouse, or the stranger.

That’s not a tidy process and you’ll end up looking like that little red car, dints everywhere. But the engine, the faith that drives you, will still be strong.

Judith Scully

 

Easter challenges me

Easter challenges me – culturally, theologically and liturgically.

The churchy me is familiar with the symbolism and traditions that underpin the liturgies of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter vigil, but the realist me is frustrated by their wordiness and what I consider a lack of relevance to the world I live in. Maybe I could better appreciate the words and symbols that centuries of churchmen have wrapped around Jesus’ death and resurrection if I had just experienced the cold and bleakness of a northern hemisphere winter and was oh-so-ready to rejoice in budding trees, golden daffodils and frolicking lambs.

My reality, however, is down-under Australia where the days are getting shorter, not longer. I live in a world of apartments and quarter acre blocks, supermarkets, weekend sport, flexi time, email, scattered families and crowded roads. There is a divide between what the churches call Holy Week and the shopping centres know as Easter. The churches invite me to wave palms, wash feet, kiss a cross, light a candle, renew my baptism promises and sing joyful alleluias, while down the road the shopping centres encourage me to buy bags and boxes of chocolate shaped eggs and rabbits.

In an increasingly technical world most people have little opportunity or desire to become familiar with the religious and symbolic language that is traditionally used when speaking of the death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s easier to enter the mystery that is resurrection of Christ if we keep in mind that the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and death are our stories too. We are constantly living our own Good Friday and Easter Sunday stories, telling them to others, sharing them on Facebook. Every time we watch the evening news we are drawn into the life-death of people we have never met.

In my lifetime I’ve seen the Jesus story relegated to the pages of the unread Bible on a bookshelf or a pile of discarded school books. The life of Jesus as we read it in the Gospels is as earthy as our flesh and our blood. Like us he knew grief, the joy of friendship, misunderstanding, dashed hopes, obstacles overcome, hope restored, shared meals, loneliness and leaving home, living in a family and the wonder of growing things. He knew what it was to face death. It’s all there in the Gospels, but we’re slow to read God in our own stories.

There isn’t a person in the world that doesn’t yearn for what Jesus’ resurrection promised. Whatever our age, gender or nationality, however many mistakes we have made, depressions we have fallen into, hurts we have inflicted or received, tiredness that sometimes overwhelms us, we long to believe that the future can hold the possibility of new beginnings. We long to be eastered.

But year after year the divide between the way Christian churches celebrate Good Friday and Easter Sunday and the options chosen by the non-churchgoing public seem to get further away from that first week we call holy. My words or even my angst aren’t going to fix that. I’m not sure Pope Francis is having much luck either.

This Easter Sunday some of my family, and friends who feel like family, will come for lunch. To mark the day I will place a growing plant on the dining table along with the chocolate Easter eggs. We may not be celebrating with bread and wine but the substitutes will be enjoyed. There will be laughter and stories followed by an after-lunch Easter egg hunt for the children. And I will know that Jesus, even if he is not named, is a guest at our table.

However you celebrate Easter, be on the lookout for an Alleluia moment or two and thank the Giver of Life.

Judith Scully