A New Way of Living
One of the many joys I find about having grandchildren is that I can again ‘playact;’ I can enter roles that evoke different characters, have fun and games while we walk in the bush or razz about in the backyard. They have reminded me how important it is to play. In great part they simply have fun, but they also act out roles, explore feelings and ways of being, even sort out relationships, I am told.
But while play comes naturally to my grandchildren, they also help me enter into that fun way of being and they draw other adults into the fun and joy of games also. They help me to realise that I need to explore playfulness and humour and not be so weighed down by the importance of being adult, focussing on work, or religion or ‘pious living’! More generally humour and the ability to laugh at oneself is the gift my children give to me. Perhaps it is the reason why Jesus spoke about his followers needing to ‘become like children.’ Jesus’ actions and teaching often drew attention to the pitfalls of religion and ‘pious living.’ His words, and, in the end, his death, also highlight the way these pitfalls are multiplied when they become mindsets that shape the whole community culture and attitudes. And speaking of play and humour, it is why great tyrants and dictatorial governments haveno sense of humour and why they suppress comedians and satirists. This kind of enculturated seriousness and rigidity runs counter to the faith of Jesus. But in fact, he uses the notion of ‘playacting’ to point out falsity and enculturated or biased community mindsets. We see this, for example in this week’s Wednesday gospel in Matthew 6:
“When you give alms do not trumpet it aloud before you, as those who are playacting do … And when you pray do not be like those who are playacting for they love to pray while standing in our gatherings and on the street corners … And when you fast do not adopt a solid countenance as those who are playacting…”
So, in contrast to the spontaneous, innocent fun and games of children, the religious playacting referred to here by Jesus is the very opposite of the life of the child at play whom we are to emulate. Here in Matthew, Jesus points out that the person giving alms, praying or fasting can become ‘hypocrites’ - the more usual English translation of ‘playacting’. It is no longer ‘what you see is what you get’ but rather, what you see is a false self, or a self that has taken on board religious or social mores – perhaps, but not necessarily - in order to impress or get along in the world. It may be that ‘playacting’ has just happened subconsciously because that is what has been impressed upon us by our religious or social culture. We no longer see our actions in their true light: they arise from attitude or disposition that not only bind me but also can draw others into the bind as well! I read an article this week by a young American-Vietnamese woman who, as part of a majority white church went on a mission trip with people from that church. She was constantly reminded in subtle ways of her difference and saw many instances of the subtle but underlying racism of the mission group. When raising the issues of racism with her minister she was accused of being too ‘political.’ She left that church. Of course, we have blindness like this in Australia. The BLM movement in America has forced us to see and hear First Australians yet again, but they have been regularly speaking up about the 437 deaths since the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody delivered its final report in 1991. And as someone Tweeted this week, “Two women with spray cans intheir possession allegedly defaced Captain Cook statue. Charged. (As you would expect) Rio Tinto admits to destroying 45,000 Aboriginal Cultural site. No charges. (As you would expect)” It is commonly the case that we do not see what binds or blinds us, our own privilege or prejudice. It’s like the proverbial fish in the sea who know nothing about water because it’s their very existence. I wonder what I do not see about my church and my attitudes and behaviours? So, what if we start ‘playacting’ in the child-like sense and not as the ‘hypocrites’! What if we started to enter the world of the ‘others’ in the same way we might enter the world of the child. What if we explored the worlds of the ‘other?’ This might mean, as it does with getting to know the child, entering relationships imaginatively, then actually building relationships with those who know what they are doing, or with those who have experienced life as an ‘other’ person, as a first Australian, as a refugee, as an unemployed person, or a person with mental health issues, as a child … ?
This kind of ‘play’ might mean we realise a new way of living, the way of Jesus in our church, in our society, our world.