27 August 2020

Faith Matters - Purple

Article by Mr Brendan Nicholls

Faith Matters - Purple

On the weekend a report was published about the exclusion of ex-AFL player Robert Muir from the St Kilda Football Club and the AFL broadly. The article spoke of the harrowing experiences he has experienced throughout his life, the systematic racism he faced during his life and the lack of support during his playing career and in later life. Although his playing career occurred in a different era the racism and the way he was denied dignity led to significant mental health issues, substance abuse and numerous suicide attempts.

As a lifelong Saints supporter, I was shattered. So many questions swirled around. How could my club have allowed this and more importantly why was Robert excluded? How could the club not have looked beyond his on-field transgressions and support someone who desires nothing more than the acceptance and love of the club? For a club that has done so much for inclusion and diversity with Pride Match how could they exclude one of our own?

Many people remember Robert as a brilliant player with a ‘quick temper’. He was a trailblazer for Indigenous players in many ways but his on-field violence was viewed as a stereotype of uncivilised behaviour. Supporters were happy with this simple explanation of his aggression and the lengthy suspensions he received. As he explained when interviewed, lashing out was the only way he felt he could stop the persistent and vile racial vilification he experienced. Robert’s account of the abuse has been supported entirely by fellow players and officials from the period and the empathy this affirmation causes is visceral.

Exclusion seems to be a hardwired trait in humans. We desire the affirmation of being in a group and will broadly follow what is accepted by the group for fear of being ostracised. As a community, the College actively pushes against this tendency. This week we are encouraged to participate in Wear it Purple Day this Friday. On Friday we as a community wear purple to show our value of diversity and inclusivity at our school. Although we are not together physically at this time we can still be together in spirit and advocate as a community for inclusivity and celebrate diversity.

The teachings of our Church and our friendship with Jesus further the desire to include and advocate for justice and dignity. Ignatius encourages us to ‘find God in all things’. Considering this viewpoint requires us to move beyond those ‘in our group’. It’s easy to love those who are like you. A mark of true discipleship is loving those who are different. In knowing Jesus we can live as he did and go out to those who are different and intentionally include them. As every person was created through God's love we focus on stripping away the differences and view and love the individual as God does.

To love like Jesus we need to know him. We need to study his words and actions. To have the strength required to be more like him we need to be close to him. The current period of restrictions offers us more time to focus on this essential relationship. How we develop our friendship with Jesus and the experiences that make us aware of his presence are unique and personal. During the coming weeks identify these things and enter into them often. In doing so you will find deep peace, personalise his vision of the world and contentment.

There is a wonderful Advent song called ‘Somewhere in Your Silent Night’ that mirrors Ignatius’ vision in the lyrics, “Emmanuel will meet you where you are”. Ignatius teaches us to “enter through their door but be sure to leave through your door”. In light of the persecution of Robert Muir and the human tendency to exclude rather than include this profound vision of encounter is transformative.

Including others does not mean accepting behaviours that we disagree with. To include others, we do however need to focus on the good and accept difference. We may not agree with the way the person lives their life or the decisions they make but we can meet them where they are and accept the person. Reaching out to someone and offering them kindness may be the act that transforms the other and leads to change in the things we find difficult in loving them.

As we look forward to Wear it Purple Day, consider who in society is excluded and how you might reach out or at least leave the door open for them. How can a simple act of advocacy in wear purple change your heart and those around you? What conversations might wearing purple this Friday bring about? How can you further the Gospel through your words and actions? Where is love needed? These questions are worthy of some contemplation over the coming days.

When I asked my mum as a child why we as a family follow the Saints She always said that “we follow the Saint because they are a good club and always play fairly”. This was a good answer but didn’t make sticking with a team who were serial wooden spooners as a kid easy but today I can see evidence of mum’s faith in the club. The day Robert Muir’s story was published the club responded with sincerity and humility. In the few days that have passed the club has committed to a deeper exploration of historical racism and why Robert was excluded when what he needed most was love and support. He has been heard and has been welcomed home.

With a little effort, we can become more whole each day and live and love as Jesus does. I pray that on Friday you are inspired to 'Wear it Purple', including those who are excluded and advocate for a better world.

Yours in Christ,

Brendan Nicholls  Liturgy Coordinator