Have you ever felt left out of something? What about the dreaded practice of team selection where you are one of the prospective participants, praying you will not be the last one standing? Or that party that everyone else seems to know about, that you haven’t received an invitation for? Or that television show people are talking about and you have yet to see?
Sometimes being left out is accidental, and sometimes it is a deliberate snub from others. How often does that scenario play out in the school yard (or work place) as friendship groups change and people jostle to find their place?
A few years ago I was on a Ned Kelly historical expedition with my family. Whilst this might sound dull, it was an interesting glimpse into one of the colourful legends of Australian folklore.
We ventured out to a number of Vicotrian country locations to look at a variety of landmarks connected to the Ned Kelly story. The kids enjoyed hearing the stories around Ned and his cohorts, and many discussions were had around whether they were heroes, villains or victims.
Have you ever heard of Joseph Byrne? He was a member of the Kelly gang and was shot and killed at the Glenrowan siege in 1880 and is buried at the Benalla cemetery in country Victoria.
The town officials of the day decided that being an outlaw, and therefore a despicable human being, he needed to be isolated from the rest of respectable society – even in death. His grave site is in the very back corner of the old section of the cemetery, under a lone pine tree, some distance from the other graves of that vintage. Secluded, isolated, alone.
A couple of thoughts struck me as I stood before his grave in this country town. First of all, it felt really cruel. It appeared to be a deliberate and obvious snub and effort to exclude, and its effect on me was to feel a level of sympathy for Joe, despite what he might have done in his life.
Secondly, even though he was isolated, there were obvious well-worn paths to this spot, more so than any of the other graves of a similar vintage. It was almost as if, by removing Joe Byrne’s grave from the others, it made it easier for people to discover his final resting place. To be honest, it was the only grave I was interested in finding there, despite other key people from this time also being buried in this cemetery.
It caused me to reflect on the ways I treat people. Do I make an effort to identify those that are on the fringes and take steps to include them? Do I ensure that I am not deliberately excluding others, but recognising people as worthy of attention? Why would I do that?
Firstly, I know what it feels like to be left out. I would hate to be the cause of that for others. More importantly, however, I also know that Jesus teaches us to demonstrate love to others.
That means more than thinking loving thoughts, but actually showing love through my actions. The Bible tells me in 1 John chapter 3 and verse 18 “let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
So thanks to a grave for an outlaw in a country cemetery I am challenged to think of ways to better engage with those I encounter every day. I hope you will be also.