Make A Difference

A forum to position ACU as an engaged university

Anne Cummins
July 14th 2006-06-29 McAuley at Banyo

I work in a thirteen storey building in the heart of the Sydney CBD. It is a small building in Sydney terms. Most people who go into the building (with the exception of those visiting the dentist!) stay in the building all day. I have set myself a mission to be achieved before Christmas! You see we have a passive aggressive entry hall!

We push to get into the lift, we block the buttons, we ignore people still on the stairs and we are terrified of any human contact. In fact the toilet is friendlier than our lift!

So I am on a mission, and it is hard work, to get people to say "G'day!"

You might be thinking that Community Engagement is about a bigger picture than my building and it is. But it starts with who we are as people and how we define our humanity collectively and individually.

Let me explore three contemporary themes that offer both threat and promise in defining our humanity and suggest why ACU is well placed to assist in these areas.

The three themes are:

  • The spiritual quest in the 21st century
  • Understanding and valuing people
  • Building contemporary institutions

The spiritual quest in the 21st century

We live in a time of endless possibilities and few certainties. We enjoy the benefits of rich traditions and histories. Our collective wisdom is vast. However for many people in our society there is a barrier to accessing this.
Our western culture is compromised by consumerism and individualism.

Consumerism has hijacked the arts, created a pressured and confused, perhaps even fused set of wants, needs expectations. Our senses are bombarded by advertising skilfully targeting our neediness. Aspiration and identity battle it out on the surface of our lives in a frenetic time zone that keeps us from engaging at deeper levels. Consumerism works by selecting a part of the person, The Athlete's Foot, Computer World, My Store: Myer and creating a set of wants around that part. To connect the parts or address the whole would drive us into the spiritual quest. There is huge pressure to keep people from that. And consequently we experience significant dislocation and suffering.

Barry Jones, on ABC's Talking Heads recently claimed it was Art: (a renaissance Madonna was the example), which sustained him and explained life for him. BARRY JONES: Art is also a great obsession. And from really early childhood, one of my favourite paintings was this 'Madonna and Child'. It's not absolutely certain who painted it, but it's very much in the style of Van Eyck, and it dates from somewhere around 1450. But the work that I want to draw attention to - 'The Man of Sorrows in the Arms of the Virgin' by Memling, another work from Flanders painted slightly later from the 'Madonna and Child'. But here you have the scene of the Madonna consoling the crucified Christ. Notice his eyes are still open. And notice on her cheeks you've got three tears on each cheek, three tears symbolising the trinity. And you have actions. You have the hammer and the nails. And the whip. And the faces of people who have been mocking. It's a very powerful work and I think one of the great treasures. Art has sustained me throughout my whole life. It helps make sense of existence. And I've got no doubt it will sustain me right to the end.

The Catholic University has a long tradition of protecting and presenting the truths and icons of Christian culture. While the Dark Ages had scholars burying parchments, our own somewhat Dim Age needs scholars to illuminate the past and articulate its connection and value to the present and the future.

This goes beyond ACU's role as an exponent of contemporary Christianity or Catholicism and engaging in the debates of the time. While these are important they should always be grounded in a deeper tradition of

Understanding and valuing people

ACU educates professionals who work closely with people as teachers, in ministry, as nurses, in business, in the arts and in sport and recreation. The University profile stretches into the lives of families, young people, those who are vulnerable and those who are powerful.

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