Rambling for Kirwan Uniting Church Keeping in Touch pew sheet 5 September 2021
If you have studied sociology, anthropology, social anthropology, or sociology of religion, you’ll have encountered the work of Margaret Mead (1901 – 1978). Much of her reputation-establishing research was conducted in our own back yard, in the Samoan Islands and PNG. “Coming of Age in Samoa” is perhaps her most well-known work. Not without controversy, she is still the foremost social anthropologist of the 20thC. So you might expect that she was something of an expert on early signs of civilisation in a culture. And those signs? Fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones? No, said Mead, the first sign of civilisation in an ancient culture was a femur (thighbone) that had been broken and then healed.
She explains that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts.
No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal. A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilisation starts.
By now, you’ll be reminded of where you’ve heard or read something along similar lines. Yes, Luke 10: ‘But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him.’
As counter-cultural in Jesus’ time as it too often is in our own. But it’s the supreme mark of civilisation. And our healer/binder-up-of-wounds/carer tells us what to expect when we expend ourselves in caring for broken minds, souls and bodies: ‘ ... and when I return, I will reimburse you ... ’