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Furthering Ourselves

Saturday, 16 October 2010  | Steve McAlpine

The sticker du jour on tradie vehicles in Perth's eastern suburbs states bluntly, “F... off, we're full” Combined with a silhouette of Australia, you are left in no doubt as to the premises under pressure. There is a certain irony in spotting this offensive missive on the back windscreen of a hot V8 ute, purchased on the proceeds of a migrant-driven building and construction boom.

How full are we? And what are we full of? People? Possibly, given the well-documented environmental pressures a growing population has placed on our dry and drying continent. Bricks and mortar? Definitely. Australia has the the largest freestanding homes in the world; an average 245 square metres of steel, stone, cement, polished timber, vinyl wrap and home theatre, all plugged in in microchip rows onto sub-division circuit boards.

Yet by any measure we are a vast and empty country; a nation of fringe dwellers shackled by a landscape that shuns our attempts to go west, east, or anywhere too far from ocean. The liveable bits are filling rapidly. Technically we are not full, but you can “f... off” anyway because the suburban dream is getting cramped. The bouncers are patrolling the northern doors for good measure, all bully and biffo to ensure no one sneaks under the red ropes and has too good a time.

The dilemma is that non-indigenous Australians, as a self-consciously pioneering people, are bent on furthering themselves. Many migrated to further ourselves economically and socially. The proof of our success is seen in a second furthering: The more we further ourselves up from others, the more we further ourselves away from others. Up and away. Not for us the urban crush, the terraced housing, or the shared flat with extended family forcing us to invent new forms of privacy. Work hard enough and we can all own an unshared space.

At least it used to be like that. But we are filling up. In 2007 an additional 332 000 people arrived in the country, the highest one year figure in history.[1] And where are all these people going to fit? Next door of course. And maybe not even the next block, but the battle-axe at the back, or the unit with which you share a common wall. And if you do live in the far-flung suburbs, they will soon fling another one out past you. That local bushland, your literal breathing space, will be razed to make way for houses better designed than yours. The drive to work is slower, the pace of life quicker, the cost of living higher, the queue at the shops longer, the window of opportunity narrower, people angrier. Furthering ourselves is under threat.

How do Christians respond? We're the bumper sticker experts after all! An apologetic sotto voce “Excuse me, we're full” with a fish sign? Maybe, but perhaps we have bought into the myth a little too much. After all, why would a recently retired pastor and his wife buy a remote 250 acres, put a house on it, and tell me it is their “slice of heaven”, if not because getting away from it all gives them the peace and contentment that suburban church life did not.

As one involved in paid Christian ministry I understand their sentiment. However I am cautioned by the realisation that clinging to a created heaven might mean the revealed heaven of John's Apocalypse will disappoint. The revealed heaven is not merely a city, but a populous one, and cube-shaped to boot. People, people everywhere and not a spot to think. And not just people; people not like us! People who our bumper stickers are directed towards. All tribes and tongues gathering not furthering. What was God thinking? Conversely the “grey town” of C.S Lewis's The Great Divorce will be the bliss of hell to those who crave space; an eternal furthering, drifting imperceptibly, but inexorably away from each other into eternity. How crafty Lewis is: “All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World.”

Is it just possible that a “city with foundations”, one that our forefathers longed for (Hebrews 11:8-16) is God's way of fulfilling our well-intentioned but misdirected desires to ‘further ourselves’? What if furthering ourselves is the opposite of what we think it is? Dante's understanding of hell was “proximity without intimacy”. What if intimate proximity, not just sexually, but across all types of relationships is true heaven? The recent film version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road is grim for all but the last scene, in which the hope of both intimacy and proximity is held out in a muddy, grey dystopia that is literally Lewis's hell on earth.

How do we prepare ourselves to be citizens of a city that God has prepared for us? By furthering ourselves in another way altogether, a way that is as startling as it is subversive. It requires one to take a deep breath of the Holy Spirit before it can be contemplated. What does this God-oriented, person-affirming furthering looks like? Try these for starters:


Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus… (Philippians 2:3-5)


My brothers and sisters, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favouritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here's a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1-4)


We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbour for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” (Romans 15:1-3)


See how subversive it is? At every level it flies in the face of “F... off, we're full”, but if offers the liberty such sentiments crave. Sadly, many of our Christian gatherings haven't begun to scratch the surface of the gathered joy that obedience to these commands can bring. Yet the promise is that, as we practice them in the face of a culture hell-bent on furthering itself, God is building a city of intimate proximity beyond the wildest dreams of fearful, frightened, angry Australians.

So perhaps we should print some bumper stickers. Bumper stickers that fly in the face of the “F... off.. we're full” culture. See what it says as you drive behind?:

“The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” Rev 22:17




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