Yesterday I joined with a whole heap of others at an ANZAC Day celebration. We were at the gathering at Glenorchy, one of the cities that makes up greater Hobart. It was a good sized mob there and I quite enjoyed the service, apart from, sadly, the ‘religious’ bits. The scriptures (John 15 “greater love” etc, and Romans 8 (“nothing can separate us from the love of God”) were well read by a local pastor. However there was no context given, so we didn’t KNOW they were the words of Jesus to his loved ones, or why Paul was saying what he did. And then the prayers were led by a very stereotypical priest (black suit, black shirt & dog collar) who did a “Lord” this”, “Lord” that, and “Lord, we just ask Lord” type prayer that felt a bit like going through the motions. Yes I know this is judgmental, but that’s how it came across.
Despite this, I very much appreciated the service and gathering. It was time well spent, as an experience in its own right, and also as a timely opportunity for insight and reflection on some recent reading.
I have begun reading Alain de Botton’s book “Religion for Atheists”, and am finding it fascinating, challenging, and very enjoyable. De Botton’s thesis in a nutshell is that the claims of religions, and any belief in a supreme being, are “daft”, but also that in rejecting these, secular society has lost some important things. He believes that religious communities and practices have offered some important understandings, rituals and practices to societies, and that to lose these in the process of throwing out the beliefs would be a great loss: something about throwing the baby out with the bath water.
As I participated in the ANZAC service, I realised that I was seeing and hearing his argument in action. We NEED times, spaces and some structures for community to get together: to tell its stories, to celebrate/honour/grieve its people, to get all ages in one place with common purpose, and even to have a good old sing together! This is what the ANZAC service on the memorial lawns did. It had quiet, it had wreaths laid by community leaders, groups and schools (LOTS of schools!): it had the emotional engagement of “The Last Post”. It had a hymn (“Lead, kindly light”) and people had a go at singing it. And then they got right into singing “I am, you are, we are Australian”.
I know that people went away moved by what we had done together and was glad of that, even though I believe that there could have been a much better engagement with the gospel of Christ, if this had been presented better. The gospel DOES have something to say, and to hear, in this context, and it was a lost opportunity, but there you go. It remains for us to learn how to do this better, and to engage creatively with the rhythms and meanings of the community around us…
Who knows, maybe we could even do prayers, or something, at the ANZAC Day footy!