Friday, February 05, 2010

seachange, foreshore and seabed, as a theological category

Earlier in the week I blogged about seachange as a important strand in contemporary Australian identity and the wonderful article by Wendy Snook in Reimaging God and mission, edited by Ross Langmead. As I read, a number of factors were resonating for me and with me.

First, was the importance of the foreshore in Kiwi cultural identity. New Zealand is an island nation. All people that arrive in New Zealand must come by the sea. The recent foreshore and seabed issue simply highlights the importance of the sea for identity, both for Maori and Pakeha (recent developments here). For Maori it is a place of feeding. Equally, Kiwi theologian Neil Darragh writes of the impotance for Pakeha

“the beach, the sea, the sand, not so much as the holiday beaches of sun and sea, but the sand – shifting margin between solidity of land and fluidity of water, a standing-upon, walking-upon, lying-upon margin of sound and touch and taste and smell and sight.” (“The Experience of Being Pakeha,” CIT, Unpublished paper, May 1991.)

In coming to Australia, aware of the symbolic importance of the outback, I feared that this strand of identity might be lost for me. So it was such a joy to see it narrated as essential for Australia.

Second, it resonated with some Biblical work I’ve done around the seashore. In the midst of the foresore and seabed controversy, I began to read the gospels, wondering what Jesus did on the foreshore. What happens when we read looking for change on the beach? Here is some of what I wrote:

Sea(as-a-place-of)change is a recurring motif in the ministry of Jesus, as he engages with human identity, history and relationships. There is a dynamism at work, in which boundaries are challenged, dis-placed, and re-storied. The call narratives (Luke 5:1-11) occur on the seashore and it becomes a place of encounter, call and commitment. On the seashore, Jesus announces the Kingdom, as in the Kingdom parables in Matthew 13, which are placed “by the lake” and Jesus challenges the ethics of Pharisee encounter with anOther.

Above the seabed Jesus miraculously demonstrates his identity as Son of God. The calming of the sea (Matthew 8:23-27) illuminates Jesus as the Lord of Creation. The fear of the disciples, caught without warning in “a furious storm,” is symbolic of the fear of a land-locked nation. In response, the Son of Man turns chaos into order and bring peace by facing the storms that are part of seachange.

In John 21:1-19, the seashore again stands as a place of encounter, call and commitment. This post-resurrection narrative places the disciples doing what they do best, working the seabed, and the foreshore as a place of encounter. Jesus is on the foreshore, where he has lit a fire and is cooking some fish. One might suggest that the narrative theologically places Jesus as exerting his customary fishing rights as Lord of Creation and Chief Fisher of people.

Hence the metaphor of seachange is both a sociological reality shaping identity (Australiasian) and it’s a theological category that invites us to consider life change. It’s also an ethical category, in light of climate change.

Posted by steve at 12:49 PM

1 Comment

  1. Australians seek out the sea during changes and turmoil, but a large number of them also traverse the interior, albeit temporarily. We live with our backs to the desert most of the time but sometimes enter it seeking. I live in Alice Springs and often ask travelers Jesus’ question, “What did you go out into the desert to see?” (Luke 7:24). It is rare to get an answer that does not allude to spirituality in some way.

    Comment by kerry — February 6, 2010 @ 9:33 am

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