In September, I participated in the Moderator’s Living Water Tour of the Murray River. It was a tour “of” not “on” – the cost of travelling on the water was prohibitive. We spent many hours in a bus going from place to place and only really got “on” the river for the trip to the mouth. In four packed days we visited several places on the Murray River in SA and met many people. The stories they told us were memorable. Time and again we heard how people have had to change – to set aside old endeavours and start anew, perhaps farmers watching as the plants their parents had planted were ripped out to be replaced by something more suitable for today’s circumstances or, for the Ngarrindjeri, their experiences of disruption following European settlement and their ongoing struggle to maintain continuity with their traditional culture and identity. One farm we visited had enclosed acres of orchard in netting. This was to protect the fruit from the winds which can cause blemishes on the skin through rubbing against a twig on the tree. There is very little demand for blemished fruit, even if the damage is only skin deep and little juicing industry in SA. Their new niche was first class fruit for the overseas market.
A constant motif in these stories was that of lack, in particular, lack of water through low rainfall, drought or limited flows in the river because of usage upstream. The dredges which operate continuously to keep the mouth of the river open were a stark symbol of the lack of water in what looks like a lake of plenty.
One incident stands in contrast to this. River water is traded like stocks and shares. A person or organisation might purchase the rights to a certain amount of water, and then sell the actual water to other users each year. Our group met someone involved with water trading. He opened his briefing with a strong statement that he did not want to talk about negatives, but focus on the positive. (Later, he said that he avoided the news, because it was bad, and had stopped watching the ABC.)
No doubt that in a community struggling with the stresses caused by lack of water, there is social value in keeping an upbeat approach. We are often told to look on the bright side of things. After all, does not God love us and care for us, more than sparrows? Certainly, this is true. Yet the Bible does not shy away from presenting the negatives. The gospels record several occasions when Jesus spoke about the risk of death. The other writings record stories of hard times, when things were not happy for God’s people. Failure, crucifixion, is embedded in the Christian story.
Hope is also embedded in the Christian story. Failure is followed by resurrection. We affirm God’s love for us along with all creation, love that surrounds us no matter what negatives abound. Hope and love define a new context for consideration of negatives. This is not a naïve “get-out-of-jail-free” context, like expecting a royal pardon for espionage. No, hope and love enable us to look at a negative situation from a new perspective, because we are not defined by failure or problems, but by our membership in God’s community of universal love. The new perspective draws strength from God’s love and shares love with others. The water trader’s comments made me think of that old pun: we were not talking about a river in Egypt (the Nile/de-nial) but about the Murray River and the experiences of the people and ecosystems associated with it. Openness about the negatives of life combined with the steadiness of love in community may enable us to work forward to a positive position – new life! That is our hope.
The day before the tour was World Suicide Prevention Day. As in previous years, Scots held an awareness event on the forecourt. The motto of the Synod’s campaign, Suicide: It’s No Secret, is “It’s time to talk.” Holding difficulties, worries, negatives inside can corrode the soul. Talking about these things can lead to hope, a resolution.
At the present, negative issues abound for us as individuals as well as wider communities of people and ecosystems. Mental health and the Murray-Darling system are just two of these. Denial will not improve matters. If not from our faith, then purely pragmatically, love in community offers a more hopeful path.
Rev Dr Peter Trudinger
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