Marking a mark

December 21, 2017

I received a message via Facebook during the week from a woman who is renovating a house in North Croydon.

In the kitchen she found my name carved into the concrete.

The long arm of the internet meant that she could search me out nearly 50 years later.

Mmm, I certainly didn’t think that would happen when I wrote my name there.

The sad thing is I can barely remember doing it.

Did you ever scratch your name in wet concrete?

As a young boy it always seemed such a tempting thing to do. To immortalise my name. Set it in stone.

There is something about the permanence of writing in concrete.

Once it’s there it can’t be changed.

Presumably it’s why the 10 commandments were reportedly written on stone tablets.

In a world where the words of children mattered so little, writing in the wet concrete was an act of defiance. It said ‘‘I am here, and I matter!’’

All of us want to know that our lives matter.

The anxiety that year 12 students have been feeling as they waited for their VCE results and their precious ATAR score reveal a desire to be our best selves, to gain access to the course or career where they can make their mark on the world.

Barack Obama said, ‘‘Making your mark on the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. But it’s not. It takes patience, it takes commitment, and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. The real test is not whether you avoid this failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden or shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.’’

Counter to this desire for leaving a mark, making a permanent impact, putting our name in the concrete is the knowledge that nothing is permanent.

A much-quoted phrase from the Old Testament says, ‘‘All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades.’’ (Isaiah 40:6).

The phrase means that human life is transitory. Flesh is weak. Flesh is finite, limited, mortal. Flesh is grass, and we are flesh.

Great empires fall, the Soviet Union as surely as the Roman or Babylonian empires.

Things that look permanent; institutions, business enterprises, great buildings; all collapse over time.

Ironically, the things that last, the things that prevail are not things at all. In the end the truth comes out, in the end hate is overcome by love, in the end hope prevails, in the end there is peace.

In recent times we have seen a victory for marriage equality, the viral spread of ‘Me Too’ — women speaking out against sexual abuse by powerful men — and most recently the handing down of the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Institutional injustices, which seem insurmountable and permanent, also collapse under the persistent dripping of love and hope and truth.

The story of Christmas is an audacious tale of hope for all people who suffer the fate of the exiled: those who live in an Empire as conquered, imprisoned, displaced, and invisible to the dominant institutions of power.

God is on the side of the poor and oppressed. The babe of Bethlehem is part of God’s dramatic re-ordering of human power structures.

Mary sang of this in the song we call Magnificat. It goes like this: He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

This is the gospel, and it’s good news.

— Brian Spencer, Minister, Tatura Uniting Church

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