As we approach the third anniversary of of the black Saturday fires, I wrote, back then, a funny thing happened last week. It is my custom to choose the music for the coming Sunday on Tuesday, so that it is prepared for the music group rehearsal on Tuesday evening.
When we got to last Sunday, following what the media is now calling Black Saturday, as we began to sing the first song at 10.00 am, we sang, ‘It only takes a spark to get a fire going.’ Then, just as coincidently, the last song, Shine Jesus Shine, we sang, ‘flood the nations with grace and mercy. In our music, we had all the bases covered: the fires in Victoria and the floods in Queensland. It was not meant to be a perverse, insensitive act, but it is a funny coincidence in something so serious.
I find myself in a bag of mixed emotions, following this week of fires. On one hand, I am devastated by the appalling loss of life and possessions. On another hand, I am inspired by the outward signs of the Australian, perhaps human, resilient spirit. On another hand, I see the witness of the potential blooming of community, a community created by the common unity of loss and devastation. On the other hand, there is the potential division of community as one group begins to blame others for the events that have taken place, or the responsibility that seems to have been left upon a few. On another hand we witness the generosity of fellow Australians in their outpouring of support financially through donations. On the other hand we see those who would loot from properties that still stand, while victims cannot return to them, and police and CFA uniforms are stolen to make this possible.
Slipping from octopus to centipede, on one hand there is the outpouring of donations to the victims of the bush fires, who are expressing their feelings of being supported by the Australian public for doing so, and on the other hand, those CFA fire fighters, who have left their homes and families, have risked their lives to save the assets of these victims, who need to run chook raffles and shake buckets at traffic lights to raise funds for the equipment they need to do it.
I am a bag of mixed emotions. I am both devastated and angered by these events we have witnessed over the last week. We are witnessing all that is good about human nature and all that is bad about sinful nature. For human nature is all the good things and sinful nature is all those things that gets in the way of its goodness. The generosity to the victims is good. The lack of financial generosity to the CFA is not. I have to confess that I will not be making a donation to the victims of the fire, and I encourage all who feel that is important to do so. However, I feel moved by the work that I have seen to make my donation to the CFA.
The reality of life is that life, and our relationships together, is complicated. We are a mixture of both the good, of humanity, and the bad of sinful nature, and some of us are also ugly. It seems to me that we need to learn to accept and live with life that is complicated. The more we try and make it simple, the more trouble we seem to get into. In the Church, the more we try and make it simple, the more we are inclined we are to fall into heresy.
It is very easy and simple to say that those who lit the fires deliberately should, as the then Prime Minister Rudd said, ‘rot in gaol’. But it is not that simple. If anyone is going to commit such acts of atrocity, we can’t just write them off as bad, we have to acknowledge that they are mentally ill, sick. Whether or not they can be treated by human skills may be disputable, but they are, nevertheless, sick.
Both Naaman, named the commander ofAram’s Army, and the unnamed leper, both suffered leprosy. One was great, one was not. In a society where sickness and sin were seen to go hand in hand, neither of them deserved to suffer the skin disease that kept them out of interaction with others. As we see in the bush fires, there is no rhyme or reason why houses around should burn but one amongst them should remain untouched. Life is not simple and predictable. It is complicated and uncontrollable. Our pride gets in the way because we want to control life and it becomes very messy when we can’t.
But to these two lepers, one great and one flotsam and jetsam of society, Jesus desires to heal equally. One desired to control that healing, the other surrendered himself to the healer. One wanted life to be simple, so much so he made it complicated. The other accepted life was complicated, and simply asked. Jesus is willing to heal them both.
The fires are complicated. The reaction to the fires are complicated. The relationships of those involved in the fires is complicated. The reasons the fires burnt so savagely is complicated. It is even complicated because our natural environment is dependent upon fires to renew itself and we want to live in the midst of this natural environment.
The individuals involved and our nation need healing from the effect of these fires. Jesus is willing to heal if we only ask him and let him. The healing will come as long as we allow ourselves to accept that what has happened and our response to it, is complicated. There is no silver bullet to target one simple thing to fix it. The good news, however, in what we have witnessed of community and generosity, there is much to be excited about and hope for.