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Winter Warmth Humour

John 10: 1 – 10
Rev. Vladimir Korotkov
15 May 2011


A man lies on a psychiatrist's couch:
Look, call it denial if you like, but I think what goes on in my personal life is none of my own damn business.1

Human communities construct a Third-Space between each other
In our children's story we read today, Rose meets Mr Wintergarten2, two different communities interact because of a mutual interest! A football that they kick into Mr Wintergarten's overgrown yard! One community is inhabited by Rose and her friends, the other is the unknown Mr Wintergarten who lives next door in a dark house with an overgrown garden.

But what makes the connection complex and fearful for the children is a third Other-space, a discourse about the Other. It is as if a third community stands between them. This third-space develops chaotically as the kids add their scary stories and images onto the already existing neighbourhood stories about this dark, overgrown, unknown other, the Wintergarten space: that he is mean, has a dog like a wolf, a saltwater crocodile, and the worst thing, he eats kids!

Even Rose, who represents the caring, sensible person and who tries to avoid such fabulations, internalises this discourse. She represents the human need to belong and identify with her own community, which pushes her to believe this discourse.

According to Ronald Heifetz and his colleagues, who are Leadership consultants:

[Human] systems become tenacious quickly. From the first day in the life on an organisation, the elements begin taking shape: the structures, culture and default responses....
As early as the second gathering of any group of individuals, the structures, cultural elements, and defaults that make up the organisation's system begin to take roots. Behaviours begin to transform into patterns, and the patterns over time become entrenched.3

This third space about this Other, internalised within us, also becomes deeply entrenched, providing a way for us to express our desires and project our fears and anxieties. Even in Rose's home where the sun shines and the flowers grow, fears and anxieties exist.

Such an imaginative construction illustrates our human capacity and power to construct truth and knowledge about the stranger, to use the language of Michel Foucault. This "third space" connects and separates two different communities. As Jonathan Sacks writes in his new book, The Home we Build Together, we are "producing a society of conflicting ghettoes and nonintersecting lives". The kids internalise and overcook the ingredients of this "third space", and it makes them anxious about any form of contact with this fearful stranger.

Shepherding beyond limiting institutional and cultural enclosures
All this is suggestive for our interpretation and application of our reading in John 10:1-10.

The images of "robbers", "steal, slaughter and kill, and "enclosures" in this parable make us aware that Jesus is dealing with institutions and leaders who are not providing adequate economic, spiritual, social and political care for the people. Institutions, leaders and people in power always construct discourses. These discourses not only justify dominant and sanctioned practice, but confer and construct a hierarchy of worth, humanness, value an identity. A Third-space is constructed which "kills" particular people, which demeans their humanity!

John's Jesus constructs a discourse about a shepherding power that seeks the goodness, care and safety of all people, especially those who are most vulnerable. Such a discourse of the value of all human life disrupts and dismantles the power, knowledge and truth regimes that marginalises and demeans. Such empowerment enables people to reflect on the discourses they inhabit or inhabit them, so as to reconstruct their whole lives, which is living in the fullness of life.
As Bruce Epperly writes,

In light of Jesus' mission statement, proclaiming his vision of abundant life for all, John 10:1-10 can be read as a testimony to divine love for all creation. Yes, we may go astray. Yes, there are spiritual leaders whose teachings and practices can harm their followers. Yes, danger abounds in the economic and political marketplace. But, God is calling us toward wholeness individually and in community!4

Resurrection spirituality: Re-imagining ourselves, one another, differently
Our texts today call us into new possibilities. We are co-shepherds with God. We are not just nice, white, woolly sheep, dependent and needy. We are those who are called to construct our lives out of the ground of love, and with the confidence that God will accompany us on our journeys. We are called to reconstruct all disempowering institutions and discourses.

All re-imagining and change of our personal lives, family relationships, institutional change become a hazardous journey. Unconscious anxieties and fears will always rise like a storm.

In the French film, I've Loved You so Long, Juliette Fountaine, powerfully played by Kristin Scott Thomas, is a former physician who returns to Nancy after a mysterious fifteen-year absence to live with her younger sister Léa and her husband and children. The reasons provided for her absence are only "awkward euphemisms about long trips, being 'away' and the most shattering admission from her long-estranged younger sister, léa, that their parents told her 'you no longer existed.’"5

And Léa responds with great emotion to her husband's cold and calculating demands that she talk to her sister and pressure her to find a place of her own:

"It takes time! It isn't easy. My parents killed my sister in my mind!"

Again, we witness how discourse can produce performative violence, and tear and divide the world.

"Brittle and unsure of herself, Juliette awkwardly stands to one side, sipping coffee while the family sits at the breakfast table, her status as outsider palpable. Léa is almost desperate to reconnect with her sister, inviting her to outings, dinner parties, the local pool, a weekend in the country. Slowly, tentatively she entices a wary, bitter Juliette to step back into the world, a world Juliette says she realised got along without her very well when she was gone."6

I won't destroy this exceptional movie by telling you any more except that the writer-director Philippe Claude! has produced a moving metaphor about living beyond parallel-living, about negotiating friendship and love. Léa's commitment to a respectful, honest, and brave relationship evidences a Christ-like person.

To use psychoanalytic terms, her persistent yet respectful love and friendship intervenes into the dimension of fantasy that structures her sister's inner world and brokenness. She is shutdown and emotionally near death. Yet Léa must also learn how she can reframe inner fantasy constructions so that she can become a real friend and companion. Both women are on a journey of ex-change, deconstruction and conversion, as is their whole community.

Rose's mum is the shepherding figure, empowering others to negotiate "third space" separators. Compassionate, non-judgemental, reflective, enticing us as readers into an ethic of openness, courage and curiosity, she leads others to participate and interact in everyday life to face our greatest fears, anxieties and challenges. A truly human and God accompanying life involves: Engagement, flexibility, and experimentation! Only such courage will dismantle what inhibits fullness of life, and engages in creative reconstruction.

William Loader wrote on this passage:

The passage ends on a note to celebrate: the goal is 'life, abundant life' (10:10). This shorthand summary of the good news needs unpacking. It brings us back to the centre: God's will and intent. For John that is rooted in God's love. God's being in love, in relationship, is the source and pattern for a vision which might include all in such unity. Globalised, it engages us in a vision which embraces diversity and difference, but has no place for exploitation and marginalisation. 'Shepherd' first scratched itself on stone as advice to rulers about social justice and care for the poor. It is therefore bigger than the Jerusalem disputes about Jesus and the tensions of first century Asia Minor. It is ultimately a way of engaging and being engaged by God and being called out into the day.7
1Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, Immunity to change, 46.
2Bob Graham, Rose meets Mr Wintergarten.
3Ronald Heifetz et al, The practice of adaptive leadership, 50.
5Linda Barnard, Toronto Star, Nov 07, 2008.
6Op cit.
7Bruce Epperly,

© Rev. Vladimir Korotkov, 2011

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