What are we missing?
I heard an Indigenous woman speak about the state of grief in which her people exist. Her thoughts were that although much of that grief is unconscious, it is displayed in the contemporary issues existing today for the Indigenous community, essentially she says, the underlying issue for her people is grief over the loss of culture, community, belonging, family, as well as all the violence and oppression that has been imposed on them since the invasion.
Another person then brought up the fact that essentially us ‘white’ people are descendants of people who thousands of years ago lost their original culture due to varying invasions and colonionizations etc. I said to this Indigenous woman, “Perhaps we are all grieving, only for your people you know what you’ve lost, its still so raw and tangible. You know what you’ve lost, but we don’t. We have no chance of capturing what life was like in its original form.”
What have we as ‘white’ westerners lost? What are we missing? I believe the breakdown of extended family and community is a huge loss for society. Individualism and isolation are two massive killers of mental health and a functional community. We are encouraged to ‘chase our dreams,’ and ‘do what’s best for ourselves,’ meanwhile family and community breaks down, not to mention the decline of mental health, the rise of numbers of children in foster care and alternative care (hotels and staffed houses), and homelessness.
Reading a book on ‘Empathy’ (Bruce Perry, Child Physiatrist) shed light on these issues. He essentially believes that the breakdown of extended family is a tragedy we don’t put much thought into, and wrote the phrase, ‘Heaven is other people,’ which has stuck with me for some time now. He argues that the more healthy and nurturing relationships children have with adults (and other children), the more they will learn empathy and ability to form health relationships, and consequently grow into healthy adults. He also argues that largely the healing that traumatized children need comes from increasing the number of nurturing relationships in that child’s life, as well as explain that in cultures that are relationship focused mental health issues are treated without drugs to a much higher degree of successful rehabilitation. Its not rocket science, its relationship! And yet somehow rocket and other forms of science are more glorified in our society, to achieve is more important than to relate, to advance ones self is more important than to care for another.
As a Christian I feel like these thoughts confirm the way God made us. He made us for relationship with Himself, and relationship with each other. He decided right at the beginning that ‘it was not good for man to be alone,’ and after bringing man and woman together he directed them to make more people! The original Jewish culture was incredibly relationship and family/community focused, with the law coming into place to assist them to know how to love God, and love each other. This was functional, it was to have abundant and fulfilling life, in order for God to be revealed to the world.
But as western Christians, I feel like we are so far from being a light and representation of the relational God to the world. Are relationships our focus? We seem to give this much lip service, with little action and re-orientation of our values and daily lives. Do we enjoy the daily relationship we have with God? Loving Him, and seeking Him in the joy of this relationship? Do we value, and seek the good of our loved ones, do we make lifestyle choices so we can be relationship focused, so we can give to the poor, and include those in our families who are lonely, widowed, or frail? So often it seems we chase our own dreams, careers, and lifestyles at the expense of our relationships, at the expense of what is good for those we love, and those we could love if we made the time.
Of course there are wonderful exceptions, however largely our Western society remains fractured, stark, and empty as we go about our egocentric lives, battling the daily stress, anxiety, worry and fear that extends from a life without intimate relationship with God and others. We have swapped ‘love of God and our neighbor’ for ‘love of self and when there is time, love of God and others.’ Consequently, we reap what we have sown, and we are lying in the bed we made in our educated foolishness.
How do we change? The cynic in me says we won’t, because egocentrically we won’t as a collective whole, give up our chance to chase our own desires. The dreamer in me believes that God hasn’t given up on us, that as we turn to Him He will show us what it best for us. We have people to learn from, like the Indigenous Australians whose kinship ties are so beautiful and strong. As they grieve what they have lost perhaps we also will see what we have lost, and together we can find a better form of community for the future.