19 August 2019
Playdough and PC
The other day, I was told that a six year old was very upset as her mother picked her up from school in Manurewa. She had gone off to school excited, clutching invitations for her birthday party. All her friends were invited, but five replies said I am sorry I can’t come because of religious reasons. This working mother asked me “ is it because the party is on Sunday afternoon?”
I assured her [a non Church person who knew nothing about the church] that while some of our Presbyterian ancestors would not have had such activities on Sunday, it would not be likely to happen today, but is was more likely to be a sect such as Jehovah’s Witnesses would do not hold with birthday celebrations on any day of the week.
The conversation continued, the local primary school apparently does not allow potatoes to be used for making prints. “Why not ?” I inquired innocently
“It is culturally insensitive” was the reply . “ To whom ?” I asked, intrigued that something so simple should have such sensitivity as to be banned in school. .
The mother replied that she was told by a teacher that there were so many children from countries where there was starvation that to play with food was insensitive.
“So what do they use for printing? “ I was getting drawn into it .
“ Plastic moulds” was the answer. I was silent for a moment as I contemplated the differences between using onhand, cheap, biodegradable potatoes [a good use for the sprouting ones in the bottom of my pantry] and the resources of money and energy, not to speak of atmospheric pollution , to make the plastic readymade Disney pictured printing blocks. Parental voices came crowding in from the past , “Eat up what‘s on your plate, there are starving children in Africa”
She continued, as I kept my thoughts, which were now wildly out of control contemplating whether it was more culturally insensitive to pollute the atmosphere making plastic moulds or to use potatoes, to myself..
“ They aren’t allowed to use play dough either” -
“But”, I said, “Play dough has to be edible, to be safe, little kids always try to eat it., and clay is really messy and makes them sick”
“Been there done that” I thought and felt immediately guilty about the play dough in the church office waiting for Kid Friendly to use.
“Maori also object,. Its culturally insensitive to play with food” She continued with a sound of puzzlement in her voice.
Well, my mum always said not to play with my food and I think I did the same to my children, the starving millions were inevitably mentioned but to institutionalise such things, always dubious in their effects , to make our off spring appreciate the plenty we have., seems to be a little excessive.
Yes, we do have to be aware of other perspectives. We after all here at St Johns, a culturally mixed congregation, many backgrounds and expectations come together, the Irish and Scots for a start have their own ideas and we are often finding out how we may think the same as each other but Samoan, Cook Islanders and Palangi have different ways of carrying it out. But maybe we take for granted the oness we have in Christ.
I find it sad that a six year old, who is a nice little girl full of hope and fun, suddenly discovering that what she does in innocence is seen by others as wrong. No matter what the motive, from her point of view, to refuse to come to her party gives a subtle message that something is wrong with her way of doing things.
And when parents who happily make potato prints for all the best reasons, find they are doing wrong according to another culture [if that is indeed the case} feel criticised and judged and get defensive it is not helpful. When people are made to feel like they are racist or bad people for asking why ? it does not build a good trusting society.
For many years our society has drifted in the assumption of the values of its Christian heritage, even although the person of Christ had been rejected along with Christian beliefs as a private matter by those making policy. However, people do not exist in a vacuum and in place of generally accepted values a mixture of ideas come rolling in , without opportunity to debate the reasons or the effectiveness of them. Often when culture is mentioned it has the effect of a divine mantra and those who just ask find they are guilty without trial.
The Good News of Jesus is that people can live together and can accept one another and even learn and grow richer from the sharing of culture. We are not measured as to worth by any particular culture but first and foremost we are humans, loved and valued by God, who comes among us in the humanity of Christ. , and our response is to love and value each other.
Peter and Paul struggled with this. Paul wrote to the Corinthians who were trying to work out what was more important, the cultural attitude to food which had been brought to the idols and food which Jewish culture did not allow. He said that they had been freed from those cultural restraints because they were told to love one another as a priority. Paul wisely suggested that sometimes they keep the other culture’s norms because not doing so will do exactly what happened to that six year old, it will feel to them like they are being judged .. At other times it is imperative that we use our freedom, because valuing others means it is important that we show that there is another way to break from customs which oppress people.
As those who follow Christ in a multi-cultured and multi-faith community let us be sure that our priority is people, not play dough. I prefer to make real dough and show the children how to bake bread anyway [and we will use the dough in the cupboard when we need to]. . We are invited to break the bread and share the life of Christ with others by loving them. This is what will change our world may we have the wisdom to know how to love our neighbour. as Christ loves each one of us
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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