Many of us have enjoyed the quieter zone of January where we have had time to breathe out, reflect on the past year, make and break our New Year resolutions because apparently they only last till January 12!
We have had time with friends and family and time to read, listen to music or simply bask in the slow joys of time off the treadmill. Now we are gearing up for the real year of work and school and turning up on time, being a team player, someone who can be relied on, a person of character and conviction. Our words and actions will speak of who we really are in the coming year.
January 26 is a day that reminds us what it is to be an Australian and how we contribute to our wider community. It is also contested by those who feel the weight of a history that erases a much more ancient history. This got me thinking of our much-vaunted value of the fair go and whether it is still central to how we see ourselves as a nation.
Jesus of Nazareth was the fair go guy of first century Palestine. He spoke to the poor and outcast, the fringe-dweller, the battler, the underdog – the many people whose lives under Roman rule were brutal and oppressive. With his fair go attitude and action a new way of being and belonging was introduced – the Christian community where all members were valued and included.
Jesus would have been a great Australian. He promoted the egalitarian ideal that all people were endowed with an equal dignity as human beings. He critiqued religious hierarchy and social stratification entrenched by power, position and privilege. His Kingdom had an open-door policy for all who had renounced sin, desired salvation and looked forward to eternal life.
Jesus spoke to women of all castes and beckoned children to come to him. He consorted with tax collectors and sinners, the lame and the lost, attended weddings with his mother and wined and dined with his twelve closest mates. He challenged those with vested interests, inherited privilege or powerful alliances. He challenged their sense of entitlement and their elitism as they looked down on widows and slaves and Gentiles and traders and out-of-towners. He challenged their supposed sanctity and their hypocrisy.
Jesus was a gentle and persistent subversive, a thorn in the side of an implacable orthodoxy who reduced further the sense of worth of those already seen as insignificant.
In Australia over 90% of us believe that the notion of the fair go is one of the country’s core values. However, recently some have argued that the fair go is a myth for many – the unemployed, the under-educated, carers, those who suffer chronic illness, those who stray from the norm, the elderly, the Indigenous, the newly-arrived. How can they feel the fair go in their lives when their demographic is demonised? How can they feel the fair go when they are stigmatised? How can they feel the fair go when we create an us and them division?
Where is the justice?
The fair go is about being fair and giving people a go – giving them the opportunity to prove themselves and fulfil their potential. And there are always those people who move beyond the fair go to do things that are heroic; to fight an injustice, to look beyond their own comfort and ease, to work relentlessly for a cause or for the lives of others. Often, these are ordinary people who step out of their own way to do extraordinary things.
The film, One Life, tells the story of Nicholas Winton (Anthony Hopkins/Johnny Flynn) and his peers who commit to starting a Kindertransport programme for the Jewish children under threat in Czechoslovakia in 1939. Like Oscar Schindler, he has a list and on it a thousand names. In the end, he saves 669 children, by organising eight trains from Prague to Liverpool. The ninth train never made its journey as it was due to depart on September 1, the day Germany invaded Poland. When discussing the situation with his like-minded colleagues he reminds them that ordinary people in the United Kingdom would not stand for this situation if they only knew what was happening. He says he is an ordinary person and his friends agree that they are too. Their effort is summed up by Winton’s co-volunteer, Trevor Chadwick, who remarks that they are “an army of the ordinary.” ( The scenes towards the end of the film had my sister and I sniffling at the Nova. This is a film that tells of history without the viewer seeing the horror behind it. Highly recommended **** ½ ).
It seems to me that we Australians can be an “ army of the ordinary” when we use the fair go to challenge structural inequities, speak up, act with radical kindness, be bold, look to the bigger picture of the common good whilst not overlooking the preciousness of each and every life. It seems to me that this is what Jesus wants us to do as his followers, each in our own way.
We need to reinstate the fair go in our lives, that loving of neighbour and stranger, who are our kin in God’s family. We have our one life and we are asked to do something useful with it. I am ever reminded of the famous quote from Hans Urs von Balthasar: What you are is God’s gift to you. What you become is your gift to God.
Perhaps in 2024 we can think about what we ordinary people who believe in the ideal of the fair go can do to build up and encourage each other so that we grow and flourish in, as the Irish say, the shelter of each other.
By Ann Rennie
Published: 2 February 2024