Kevin Bates sm


As a kid, one of my frequent jobs at home was to “do the messages”. One of my favourite places to visit was Mr Carter’s butcher shop.

I remember the smiling welcome of the butcher and his team, the thud of the cleaver on the chopping block, the sawdust on the floor, the sight of carcasses hanging in the partially opened cool-room and a sense of a world full of purpose, pride and enjoyment.

As well as collecting the meat for our family, I’d get a good supply of bones for my dog Carlo.

The memories of the butcher’s shop conjure up images of wholesome work, warm welcome and good service delivered with a sense that we were all in our rightful place in the world.

From time to time one can still find such a butcher’s shop which exudes the same kind of warmth, service and earthiness.

A recent trip to the Pyrmont Growers’ Market reminded me that such enthusiasm, pride, service and depth of spirit are still alive and well in some quarters.

In more recent times we have a variety of sources for any meat we wish to buy. The supermarket ads boast of the freshness of their product and whatever we buy is wrapped in airtight packaging and complies to a raft of regulations about food safety.

Of course all food outlets are now governed by such rules, and I don’t know that we are any healthier than we were as kids when the rules were less obvious and the service was more personal.

We have wrapped our whole world in Glad-Wrap, foil and plastic, and often enough we wrap our relationships in the same way.

In many engagements with each other we consider the health risks before we consider the relationships involved.

We look to our rights and obligations before we consider the possible advantages of engagement, or the thrill of a new venture.

This kind of caution and fear extends far beyond our food industries and dictates much of public policy.

Risk assessment often precedes engagement. Legal requirements often loom larger in our minds than the relationship or project before us.

Undoubtedly there is a degree of wisdom and common sense in all this caution.

Perhaps however, the caution can serve to kill off what might otherwise become a worthwhile project or a life-giving relationship.

Fear and caution are often great driving forces in shaping our western economy, where we can easily become a collection of individual consumers rather than a community of people. Great energy and time go into protecting, insuring, pigeon-holing, rather than creating, imagining and sharing.

The Scriptures are full of invitations to us to “be not afraid,” and yet fear still governs so much of our way of being with each other.

Getting our hands dirty, risking engagement with each other, daring to create and dream are the stuff of the gospels and are therefore to be the raw materials of our lives as people of faith.

A little time spent this week reflecting on how much of my energy goes into self-protection and how much into creative engagement, might be worth my while.

It’s surprising how much a visit to the butcher’s can teach us!

Father Kevin