Pastor Ray Minniecon is a descendant of the Kabi Kabi nation and the Gurang Gurang nation of south-east Queensland. He is also a descendant of the South Sea Islander people, with deep and abiding connections to the people of Ambrym Island. He leads Scarred Tree, an Aboriginal, Torres Strait and Australian South Sea Islander ministry based in St John’s Glebe, Sydney. Pastor Ray is journeying with Tearfund throughout this year to help us unpack the theology of Jubilee and its implications for Tearfund as an organisation.
This year's NAIDOC theme, “Heal Country,” takes us back into Genesis 1 and 2. If we are going to understand creation justice or climate change we need to understand what the original design was. What was the original architecture and what does that look like?
If we don't have that original picture in the back of our minds how do we know that we've healed something? How do we know what it looks like when it is healed?
We must start in Genesis 1 because that is where God started. We do not start in Genesis 3, where most western theology has placed a lot of emphasis, with the problems of disobedience and an angry God. Much of the western church’s missionary activity among Indigenous people started in the God of Genesis 3, not in the Genesis 1 story where everything was created “good”. This type of theology has focused on a guilt-orientated theology rather than one oriented to what God has already done and continues to do.
Genesis 1 and 2 reveals a God of love, rather than a God of judgment. We will need to consider how to change the mentality that focuses on a deficit in all humanity and learn to see what God continually described as “good”. We need to adopt a more holistic asset-based understanding to come to grips with Healing Country. Everything is connected to everything, and you can't disconnect that from the land and all of God’s creation. It's just not possible. Many Indigenous people can't even think that way actually!
There is a term, “solastalgia”, that brings this into focus. Solastalgia is a term coined by the Australian researcher Glenn Albrecht. He talks about the homesickness you have when you are still at home. This research points to the traumas of losing connection with, and sight of, your country, or not even being a part of your land. It highlights the mental and spiritual trauma of being dislocated from Country. This estrangement is very powerful and something that all human beings feel. I think that we can trace it back to that curse in the garden. God said, “You're out of here now,” and we are left with solastalgia – that feeling of being homeless all the time. It's part of the Genesis curse.
From Genesis 1 and 2 we get a really good understanding of what God created. This includes the land, sea, stars, fish, birds, everything, and He created us in this story as well. Everything is a part of that very, very important story in Genesis 1 and 2. You can't escape it. For First Nations people, it is like the Dreaming – it just “is”. There is no other way to say it other than it just is very “good”! “Being good” rather than doing good – just being good. That is what God created.
Genesis 1 and 2 also suggests that the creation story predates all our human ancestors, and yet, it is indeed a vital part of who we are and who we are meant to be. If we start to read the Bible from Genesis 3 it is as if we only look at Australia’s history from 1788 onwards. We miss all the original story and the way things were and were meant to be. I'd like to see the church spend the next 200 years studying Genesis 1 and 2!
The sacredness of life is relationship centred rather than centred on some institution, whether it be a church or a denomination. We have this great sense of community, our elders, our ancestors and all creation.
There is debate about how God made the whole world, whether He created it in a week of 24-hour days. But read Genesis 2:4, it says: "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens." (ESV) This beautiful passage talks about the “generations of creation”. That makes sense to me. We are not talking about one day, a 24 hour period, or even a week – God took his time because the creation of relationship making takes time. God wanted to make sure that everything He made was perfect and in harmony. Then he put these things that He calls humans in the centre of His creation and authorised them to be co-creators with Him and be co-custodians of His creation. God wanted to make sure that everything was in place for the humans, made in His image, to enjoy and to live a life that was full and fruitful and prosperous.
I think many non-indigenous people have real difficulty when trying to see the connectedness of things in my country. Most non-indigenous peoples don't know who they really are. And if they don't know who they are, how can they connect to where they are? If you look back to 1788 when your ancestors came on a convict ship, then you've already been dislocated from your country, your people, and your land. From your family, community and from your identity. So perhaps decolonisation has to take place in the minds of non-indigenous peoples as well in order to really understand who they are. Non-indigenous people need to learn what it means to be truly indigenous and reconnect with their history because, as one old Aboriginal lady puts it, “We are all indigenous from somewhere” and if we are, then we've got a lot of learning to do, together.
Genesis is a starting point for theology from an Indigenous perspective. The good news starts here. The first few chapters of Genesis reveal that it is not only the land that is created, but also the animals and fish, the trees and all the environment, even the stars and the moon, the sun and everything. God created everything, and for Indigenous people these things are still important to us. The sacredness of life is relationship centred rather than centred on some institution, or object, whether it be a government, an individual, a church or a denomination. God has created for us this great sense of community, with our elders, families, our neighbours, ancestors and all of His creation.
In Genesis 3 we learn about shame. It was their understanding of shame that made Adam and Eve hide from God. But western thought and theology is very guilt-oriented. Western theology says that I am already guilty before God yet Adam said that he was ashamed. He couldn’t have sweet communion with God as he was accustomed to because of his shame. In my humble opinion, western theology has a guilt orientation focus rather than a shame orientation. With a guilt orientation, I can claim that I’m innocent until proven guilty. Even though I might have committed a crime I’m still perceived as innocent until proven guilty. The focus of guilt orientation is on the individual. But with a shame orientation it's not so much about me, the individual, and what I have done wrong, but that by my wrongdoing I have actually included my family and my community in wrongdoing. That results in the shame of others, even though they have not committed a wrongdoing. Shame is much more of a community, family-based orientation and could even include nationally based shame.
I am of the opinion that this guilt orientation, rather than shame orientation, allows westerners to avoid being ashamed of what they are doing to Creation and they often don’t feel guilty because they haven’t been found to be guilty before God’s law. In the Genesis story, you see very clearly that if we do something wrong, we've brought shame upon the whole of creation, not just shame upon our own selves. In Indigenous philosophy, all of our rituals, ceremonies and cultural practices were designed to always try to maintain the sacred balance between all networks of relationships in all creation. The result is that all living things can be at peace and harmony with all Creation. Indigenous peoples performed these ancient ceremonies to make sure that all of those relationships are being maintained and sustained for future generations.
That's what Genesis teaches us. Yes, we've done the wrong thing in the Garden of Eden, but there are ways in which you can make things right with our Creator through proper ceremonies that actually point us back to the beginning. Back to the harmony relationships in Creation, as well as the laws that govern those relationships. God has given all of humanity an opportunity to make things right. And for Indigenous peoples, that law is “written” in the land. God’s law has always been there in the land. You don’t need it written in stone or even in a book and you don't have to go to a court of law to understand it. The law of our Creator is written in the land. God’s law is written in the whole of creation. Healing Country is more than just healing the land, it's healing the relationships between ourselves, creation, each other and God. That is total healing.
The story and ceremony of Jubilee in the Bible helps us to understand God’s laws. God knew full well that we would exploit and misuse His creation, especially the land. We would do sinful things to our neighbours. We would do evil deeds that were not according to his law. So every 50 years God provided an opportunity to reset the relationships between humans, land and His creation. Jubilee is an invitation for us to come back to the beginning. To start again. To think, act and behave in ways that we practiced in Genesis 1 and 2, before Genesis 3. Whether you were a perpetrator or a victim you could come back to that place of equity, harmony, sacredness and stability.
“Healing Country'' is a profound Jubilee theme. What kind of a world would we live in if we practised it? Can we even imagine what our world would be like if we practised Jesus' words, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”? If we could practise every day, and every 50 years, this ceremony, we would have restored our rightful place with all of God’s creation. Jubilee would enable us to rethink our place, our space, our roles and responsibilities and all the things that we need to do to and with each other and His creation.
In the final analysis of it all, Jubilee means the Cross of Jesus. Jubilee means the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jubilee means that “God so loved the world”! Jubilee means that God has made it possible for the great reset! A reset that God has ordained. And we can all play our part in God’s reset.
Tearfund provides support for Australia's First Peoples through programs led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian leaders. Together, we mobilise Australian Christians for a more just and equitable society for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.