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Vicar's Musings for Ordinary Sunday 17

29 July, 2012

When I was a theological student I attended a series of lectures by the Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann. In his opening statement he underlined the profound otherness of the Biblical texts, especially the Old Testament. They are as linguistically, culturally, geographically and chronologically distant as almost any text could be. Our Sunday lectionary cycle and our familiarity with the English translations can lull us into a sense of security, but there are many stories and cultural perspectives that are deeply alien to our cultural milieu in twenty first century Australia. Another scholar who delves into the uncomfortable difference of scripture is Phyllis Trible, whose classic study Texts of Terror (1984) makes horrifying reading. She deals with the texts that rarely make it into the Sunday lectionary, texts that vividly describe and even seem to condone violence against women: abuse, betrayal, torture, rape and mutilation (see, for example, Genesis 16, 21; 2 Samuel 13:1-22, Judges 11:29-40, 19:1-30). In one sense these are alien texts of terror from a distant time and place, but a read of the news each day and perhaps the lived experience of some of us, reveals a disturbingly similar underbelly within our society today.

In 2005 the Australian Bureau of Statistics released a Personal Safety Survey. Of the more than 15 million people surveyed a staggering 35% of men and women had experienced physical assault since the age of 15. Of the women surveyed, 12% (117,000) aged 18-24 years were subject to at least one incident of violence in the past year, compared to 6.5% (97,900) of women aged 35-44 years and 1.7% (42,100) of women aged 55 years and over. Subsequent studies such as the National Survey on National Attitudes to Violence Against Women 2009 have deepened an awareness of the problem and disturbingly shown a desensitization in the community towards acts of violence. In a developed country such as ours, these high levels of violence and in particular violence against women, are unacceptable.

Our Diocesan synod last year recognized that the parishes are in a position to address this issue and be a force for change. As a result the Social Responsibilities Council of the Diocese, in partnership with Anglicare and Vic Health, appointed a Prevention of Violence Against Women (PVAW) field worker. Dr Ree Boddé and her team have since addressed all the clergy of the Diocese at the three Regional Conferences and they are now running regular workshops at a Deanery level. We are privileged to have Ree living and working in the parish and she has already given a presentation to our Vestry on the topic. A parish PVAW Coordinator has been nominated and will be appointed at next week's Vestry meeting.

As we read our Bibles and reflect on scripture together, it is important that we are sensitive to the violence of some of the stories and words we encounter. I trip up myself from time to time and value being reminded of this. Jesus' message was undoubtedly one of non-violence, and this should be a cornerstone of our faith: 'You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven' (Matt 5:43-45).

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster

Illustration for Ordinary Sunday 17 Musings

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