Have you looked at Rundle Mall recently? That’s a silly question. Most of you would have. The Mall has been changing over the last year or so, with the new paving and decluttering removing the last vestiges of a street and creating the impression of an elongated plaza. I have mixed reactions to the changes. I like the paving, but I am not happy with the way that the old fountain has been imprisoned in a cell of black blocks, like a refugee from another country. Most of all, I wish they would finish the job.
However, the changes continue. Not so long ago, tall shiny metal poles appeared at either end – sewer vents, I thought. Then came parallel wires – Aha! I realised, postmodern stobie poles, or maybe power for trolley buses? After that, industrial looking lights appeared on the lines. What next? Outdoor tennis or basketball courts, or maybe a mall-length night-time assembly line for submarine construction?
How closely have you looked at the Mall recently? I am pretty familiar with the Mall at ground level. The other day, I deliberately walked down it with my eyes up, determinedly looking above the ground floors to the upper levels and tops of the buildings (except for the occasional tug back to reality, with an apology to a pedestrian I bumped into, or a startled leap at the sound of the horn of some vehicle driving down the pedestrian Mall).
At ground level, the buildings along the Mall present a tedium of shopfronts, each different of course, but all alike, displaying themselves in the same sort of way: sheet glass fronts full of invitations to explore the treasures inside. But up above, the buildings display their uniqueness and their own character, things that modern advertising wisdom or council regulations cannot control – bright old structures like the Adelaide Arcade boasting of diligent maintenance, other buildings with a tired elegance patiently awaiting restoration, and then next door, modernistic dark tinted glass sheets or a wasteland (wastewall?) of stone panels granting anonymity to rival that of a secret agent, while other buildings, like the Myer Centre, scream “Here I am!” And then there are the curious signs: what really is an adventure room? Where is the door to the pawnbroker? In what parallel universe do we find “solid gold diamonds?”
Then my walk along the Mall started me thinking about the nature of church, in all its senses: building, congregation, denomination.
How do we encourage people to look at us, above the ground level? Certainly, people in our secular culture know that churches are different, that is, different from the norms that now hold in society. But do they know how different we are among ourselves? Just as the shopfronts at ground level all look pretty much the same, I wonder if people feel that there is not much difference between churches, beyond window-dressing. Part of this uniformity is foisted on us by the simplicity of representations in the media. We know that our faith is complex, but complexity does not fit into the short sound-bite preferred by the media.
How do we communicate who we are, with our commitment to inclusion, social justice, and generosity to others, flowing from our understanding that God is a god of loving acceptance who does not dwell on differences but is ever-ready to reach out to welcome outsiders into community?
Or perhaps I am barking up the wrong tree. At ground level, there is one store in the Mall that is different. A computer retailer has reversed the norm; the store has nothing in its broad expanse of windows, as if to say, “There is no outside or inside; you are already part of us.”
That is a message we can learn from. Peter
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