Palm Sunday and the failure of celebrity

“In general, celebrities are highly visible, well-known individuals who are widely recognised at either a national or international level. Although individuals such as Judi Dench, David Beckham, Mick Jagger, Lady Gaga or Princess Mary of Denmark may be instantly recognised, they do not know or recognise us. This is a one-dimensional relationship in which our consumption of celebrity news provides a level of one-sided intimacy and knowledge of their lives (Ferris 2004). Bauman (2007) has described this phenomenon as consuming life; when individuals appear closer because ordinary details of their lives are known, yet these lives are better than those observing. Put another way, the consumption of the lives and activities of celebrities provide a way for ordinary people to cope with the monotony of the everyday (Rojek 2001).” (Fitzgerald and Savage, 2014)

Audiences are notoriously fickle. We tend to have a love/hate relationship with celebrities which is grounded no doubt in envy and the one-sidedness of the relationship. It’s not even a relationshop really, it’s idolatry, fetishization. Nevertheless we insist on having celebrities and many people are weak enough to be sucked into that construction of themselves- to their downfall.

Can we understand the Palm Sunday Jesus in this way? I would hope not from his side, but certainly from the perspective of the crowd (which next week will condemn him with equal enthusiasm).

Greta Thunberg is perhaps a similar character. She’s been both praised and adulated, and condemned and criticised. Those who praise her want to use her as a “feel good” story, a license to be saved by her and not to do more. Those who condemn her point to any way in which she is not pure of ideology or lifestyle, her perceived attention seeking, her youth.

We also have a similar attitude to politicians. Jacinta Adern, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, AOC, perhaps for some Anthony Albanese. Who will be our idol? Who will save their people? How can we rest on our ordinariness, giving worship in exchange for permission to do less and worry less? Arguments over whether they are as good as they are portrayed or whether they are actually flawed- selfish or dupes of other powers abound. Either side of this misses the point. They are human. It’s not healthy for individuals OR the communities they represent to be singled out and held up in this way (for all that as far as we know it has been done in Western history in all times).

Is there greater wisdom in First Nations cultures, or in other cultures that have not colonised the globe? I’m a boring white-person so I can only speculate but if anyone from any culture that DOESN’T do this celebrity thing would like to comment feel free- only if it is your culture though, no co-speculating please.

What I can say is that the story of Jesus would undermine this way of viewing the world. Pyramid shaped power-structures are for Herods and Caesars and Pharisees, not for the Bread of Life, not for the Mother Hen who would rescue us if they could, not for the mustard seed which takes root everywhere and anywhere and is as tenacious as it is common. Jesus’ celebrity status at Palm Sunday is at least ironic (on a donkey) he comes to threaten not support the status quo and he is always/already condemned to death by those who would use his celebrity power to increase their own privilege. The sad fact is if the crowds had stopped demanding miracles and holding up a celebrity, instead they could have built a movement to eliminate the oppression they hoped he would single-handedly dismantle.

If Jesus is God, then God does not work that way. God is not an influencer, God is a mentor. God is not a “role model”, God is a parent (sort of, allowing for how problematic that metaphor is too). God is not an obstetrician, God is a midwife. God is not the one who stands over us in Lordship and glory (despite the way the Constantinian church/es has misused his message), God is the one who works with us- a God of mustard seeds and donkeys not hothouse blooms and warhorses. The difficult part of the message here is if God works WITH us not OVER us then we ar expected to do some of the work ourselves, and that includes the intellectual and emotional work. We don’t get to beg and obey and be saved, we get to be scaffolded and supported and encouraged (and perhaps sometimes debated or critiqued).

Instead of “Hosanna to our King…crucify him” we need to shift to “welcome to one of our own…nurture him”. But we didn’t, and generally we don’t, and now the planet is dying like Christ and we talk about how much we love it and make up all sorts of hippie narratives about it but we haven’t made the connection to NURTURING it and respecting its boundaries.

The crowds in Jesus’ day chose Barrabas. We in the days of the earth, kiss her with green-washed consciences and then choose economy. We are no better than they.

But please, please, prove me wrong on that. Let’s stop idolising people and things and start working with any good movement- seeing both what needs to be amplified and what needs to be constructively criticised. How do we get in amongst it all, not as spectacle but as connection?

Out of the depths

I have no faith today (and being as oppositional as I am I can’t ignore that, but want to pinch and pull at it and blog about it). It’s Sunday and I am reading the daily readings going “ho hum, so what”. I have never had a strong faith anyway as you know. I am angry at the lack of fairness in the world, the tenor of the sorts of people who label themselves with God’s name to perpetuate injustic and even violence. My nation wants to celebrate invasion this week, and just as I can’t wrap myself in an Australian flag and say “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie” and celebrate colonialism, so the words from the lectionary won’t wrap around me today either.

I am spiritually naked (though probably not completely, if I looked from a different angle).

I have COVID. I have lost my faith but what is worse I have lost my sense of smell. Roses are as nothing to me. Soap still cleans but doesn’t delight me (even the nice one I was given for my birthday). I can’t bury my face in the clean linen to give myself hope. My coffee is bitter water (thankfully caffeine still works).

I have to get better so I can face work. I have to get better so I can keep participating in this messed up society accelerating itself over a cliff. I am finding it hard to motivate myself to do anything, to care about whether kids can read and write, to care whether I ever finish my thesis – this is unlike me. I tenttively shared my lack of motivation with someone who usually snaps me back into trying to do better, she’s often wise enough to get the impatience and understanding in the right balance so it works. This time all she said was something along the lines of “you are not well enough to read or think at the moment” and that was so unexpected but a relief.

Because it implies that the failure of this moment is not the failure of forever.

I talk to Godde, and usually I would feel that even though I don’t know whether Godde is real or not there’s some point to it. Right now I feel like a mad man ranting to a playing card. Perhaps I am just lonely. I was relieved when the paramedics came last night to stick things on my chest and measure my health (pretty good for someone with COVID apparently). I felt like I was in love with the woman who spoke to me. I just hadn’t seen an unmediated (ie real life) human face for a few days. Through her double layer of mask she was beautiful just because she was human. After 3 days- geez I am a weak one. Imagine being in solitary for a month. My inboxes are full of people’s care I am not so badly off- the paramedic was surprised and pleased at the level of care I said I was getting from a distance.

Which means not everyone gets it. Which is horrifying.

Watch how every time I try to talk about Godde I keep moving it back to humans. Today more than ever before I feel like Godde is a made up thing, a fiction. I love my church friends and I don’t want to let go of them. I try to be humble enough not to assume they are all wrong about Godde because the fact is I don’t know. Noone knows. But I feel very strongly that there is not.

The best thing about having a history of mental illness is knowing that feelings are not facts. That’s a double-edged sword of course. Feeling like there is no Godde is not a fact. Feeling in the past that Godde (or God) was real was also not a fact. I am left not actually knowing.

I prayed for a sign but being me I prayed for a very specific sign (the refugees suddenly, unaccountably being let free- which would be good for human rights AND the economy AND my faith). I put it to this theoretical “God” very rationally giving my reasons (eg that does not only affect me it also is a blessing on so many others so Godde would be showing love to many). As a back up plan I asked for a more personal and smaller sign that I am ashamed to share here. In the past I would have “heard” Godde saying “your children are safe, you are going to recover, stop pushing it” or something like that with laughter in her voice. Or even “what do you think I am the ATM?”.

Only mad people hear Godde and so right now I would expect to hear her more than ever.

Can it be that being utterly without hope and pushed down by chest-pain is the “sanest” I have ever been? If this is sanity then take it away from me. I can;t even entertain myself with stories inside my sterile, sterile head (my go-to when too sick to read). I have nothing, I am nothing.

My friends keep telling me they appreciate my words so there’s some sort of a dormant seed in there somewhere. I need more coffee. Instead of the body and blood of Christ today is the contagion of Christ. The phlegm and the droplets of cough. Bodies are dirty. The paramedics put on their “10 layers” (possibly an exaggeration but I was not going to call them out on it) and came to see me and reassured me I would not make them ill.

The full PPE of Christ.

Amen.

Out of the depths of COVID I cry to you Godde,

please hear my voice and speak back

we’re pretty messed up as a species

but when I think that

I think of paramedics and their reassuring manner

and that is essentially human too.

My soul is waiting for literally anything to happen

I don’t know which words to believe

my chest is longing for health restored

more than watchman for daybreak

I want to believe there is something

good ahead, again.

I don’t know what to do with the last verse

I don’t know what to do with the last verse

unlike the psalmist

I am stuck in these depths

not of despair but of something colder

the failure to remember how hope feels

but I will reassess this

when I can breathe properly again

for Godde, are you not spirit and breath?

My wheezing is rich in oxygen (she said)

and my unfaith also may be healthier than it feels.

Look beyond Herod to the Wisdom that threatens power.

It seems as if the lectionary, which we know was put together by powerful men who were currying favour with earthly powers (the church’s history is scandalous that way) has once more missed the point of the gospel, in the juxtapositions it chooses to highlight. In theological college we were encouraged to look beyond the short pericopes of the daily readings, to read each exerpt in it’s wider textual context and not to make assumptions based on shortened, decontextualised versions of a translation.

I am no scholar, and I won’t pretend to come out with some “right” version for all time, but I think it is worth engaging with the empiphany ethically, and given the colonialist message the lectionary (and many loud-mouthed Christians) try to steer us to, somewhat critically and deconstructively.

Because so much harm has been done by the missionary zeal, the form of “evangelism” which is not “good news” at all to people expected to give up their identities and bow to someone else’s religion which becomes perverted into economic relations of exploitation and a racist politics. And a brown little working-class baby, from an ethnicity which was oppressed by empire, has been used as a tool to further the sorts of oppressions, that Jesus grew up to oppose to the extent of offending and threatning empire and being put to death.

So Constantine was wrong, we do not need a new Christian empire and the magi are bringing not tribute but gift. They are not having their best extracted from them as a show of power, they are choosing to put effort and expense into showing generous love. Notice I am not saying “3 kings” or “wise men” because we actually don’t know that they were 3, or kings or men (I like to think they were wise enough to be drawn to Baby Wisdom).

Ok, so here’s the gospel story without assuming all the kyriearchal stuff about kings and tribute and colonisation:

There were these magi and they used their own spiritual practices which seems to have involved some star-gazing. So you can stop looking down on your friends who like astrology right now. You don’t have to believe what they believe but you also don’t have to force them to see things your way. It seems that Godde can speak/beckon through stars and practices other than Christian.

So these Magi knew from the signs of their own non-Judeo-Christian spirituality that something significant had happened. Because they lived in a kyriearchal world their best interpretation of what/who had been born was a “king”. We too are limited by our social-political worlds and discourses. Logically they figured a King would be born in a palace, they went to ask Herod about him.

Herod knew that this “king” was nothing to do with him, was going to challenge or undermine him one way or the other. But he didn’t want to challenge these influential people and cause a diplomatic incident. Herod to me seems like the first ever political leader to label himself Christian: “I will do him homage”, without letting the Christ child actually transform his values or practice.

I do call out and judge the powers of the day. I think it is far worse to pretend to be “Christian” and still torture and abuse people, than it is to just be straight-forwardly evil. Not that torturing and abusing is ever admirable. There are little brown children kept in cages- large or small cages in this country, in other wealthy countries; and the leaders who allow this to happen are Herods. I feel unapologetic for judging people more powerful and privileged than myself (whilst acknowledging I have some responsibility not to support oppression).

So the magi, being drawn to wisdom finally worked out that Herod was not connected to the important star-baby and they found this unprepossessing child in a manger (or maybe a house by now) with his young mother and carpenter father. They brought him gifts that were rare and hard to come by, that sparkled and gave off fragrance. The world is a world of beauty; of stars and flowers as much or more than Herods and Emperors. They gave it to one who would not be able to reward them in this world; as a token of love and respect not as the “quid pro quo” of politics.

But being star-gazers they were also dreamers, in touch with unconscious, unarticulated truths. Something about Herod had given off red flags, they could not trust him. After meeting the real Wisdom at the heart of the universe, the herods and emperors are as nothing. You might say they practiced civil disobedience. They went home another way. They were not “converted” or brought into the fold, they remained Eastern magi and continued to find Wisdom in their own religion- because Godde can be present there too.

Please consider following some of the hyperlinks in this blog post to people wiser than me giving you more nuanced information but I leave you with a couple of questions.

How do we learn to focus little displaced baby Wisdom more and the narcissistic herods less in the lifestyle choices and politics of our everyday life?

Where is Wisdom, what start can guide us there? Are we going to abandon our every-day concerns long enough and generously enough to find the baby?

Happy epiphany

Rest ye merry

I didn’t post this on the 25th because I don’t actully want to ruin your Christmas. It’s been a hard year, we’ve all worked hard and most of us want to hold our loved ones close and not think any hard thoughts for a while.

But when I reflect on the words of many of the carols, on the messages about consumption, “beauty” (in the narrow and privileged sense), and the good life at Christmas I see a disconnect between the lavish and smug way we sink into our entitlement about excesses of food, piles of presents for the children to swim in, and new decorations year after year.

Our poor planet. Where is the Wisdom in this? Would the shepherds even be welcome at our table? Would the Herods of our modern world feel remotely threatened by the joy we claim?

I don’t want to think these thoughts, I want to rest but they come to me like a plaintive call by a widow to an unjust judge. They sit next to the pain in my heart where the church I grew up in consistently labels me as “sinful”, for my lack of conformity to the phallocentric world-view that is all too comfortable with inequities. I will speak my truth.

On whom “His” favour rests

The children gather with joy

so cute with garlands of tinsel and bells.

The Great King comes again

enthroned among us with many gifts.

We come to do him homage,

to receive his bounty and sing him songs.

We eat our fill and more,

laugh in contentment and rest full of peace

and one last piece of cake.

“Peace on earth” we say

deluded by our overfull troughs,

our beautifully decorated sties of contentment.

Behind barbed wire and in war-torn lands,

newborn again

scrawny wisdom without beauty, without majesty

wails her hungry plea

unheard among our joyful carols.

The Visitation

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Cartoonist Alison Bechdel has become famous for a tongue in cheek comment she put into the mouth of one of her “Dykes to watch out for”. This character says she only watches movies that have a scene where two named female characters have a conversation about something other than a man. This means the character has not been to the movies for several decades. It’s more than just a joke, when people bring the “Bechdel test” to popular culture and the classics, very few things pass the test.

If you are already spotting that the test is flawed, you’d have that in common with many commentators, but it needs to be remembered that this comes from a cartoon, as a provocation rather than a rigorous hermeneutic tool. Flawed or not I find it useful. As you can imagine, very few bible stories pass the Bechdel test. In the Old Testament we have Ruth and Naomi, a story that does not seem to feature in the Sunday lectionary. In the New Testament we have today’s absolute gem of a story.

Like John the Baptist I leapt for joy when I saw that I was rostered alongside what is possibly my favourite gospel story the ONLY ONE THAT PASSES THE BECHDEL TEST. I have several times written about it in my blog, but I feel I will never exhaust my love for this reading.

I have chosen to lengthen the pericope given in the man-made lectionary. I think I am justified in doing so, but it takes up time so I will be careful not to speak for long and just briefly skim over some of the points that strike me. This is a rich story we could return to again and again, always for more meaning.

Notably, this good news centres not only two women, but the women’s powerful, courageous and somewhat revolutionary voices.  The man-made lectionary seems to miss this point, cutting out Mary’s rant. It’s more cosy for the patriarchy if we think of Mary and Elizabeth as two nurturing wombs – Elizabeth is old but has miraculously been turned back into something that is useful for patriarchy after all. For those of us who are casualised workers, or whose worth is somehow seen as contingent on usefulness to others this reading is constricting. Similarly Mary is often read as kind and unselfish, as always putting the needs of others before her own. Thus dealt with, the patriarchal reading pushes the two women into the background, as if the only real characters here are the two unborn babies. I wonder if you can think of any chilling contemporary parallels to this in America, or even closer to home.

The feminist reading comes to the text asking what if a woman is more than just her ability to reproduce and nurture? In the hope of finding any stories of faith that pass the Bechdel test, we can look at the reading centring the worth of Mary and Elizabeth to themselves as characters, as social agents, as more than just a vehicle for men’s birth or salvation.

Elizabeth needs to have a baby, it is true. Her age and seeming infertility have been a huge misfortune not because all women can only be happy or complete with a baby, not because of a biological fate determined by God, but because of a social fate determined by man. Man, despite the assumptions our social world run on, is not God. Elizabeth finds herself in a patriarchal culture, her economic wellbeing is tied to her kinship to a father, a husband or finally a son.

Mary’s long journey to see her is not just “kindness” but is a startling act of independence, empowerment and a centring of a relationship between two women. They both have a need for this relationship of friendship, not economic dependency. They need someone to talk to who will listen and understand, there’s affection here and solidarity but definitely something more than just baby talk.

As soon as Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting the child leaps for joy. Elizabeth is carrying not just any baby, but perhaps the greatest prophet of Holy Wisdom bar one. The rest of this reflection will show who the even greater prophet is. So the child who leaps for joy is John the Baptist, who will grow into a truly courageous, relentless and revolutionary voice that threatens the status quo, specifically in the person of Herod. I guess John the Baptist would know good news when he hears it, and the good news that he reacts to here is the VOICE of Mary resounding. Before even her words are formed, there is resonance that something vital and worth hearing will be told.

We know Jesus as the word of God, but if we say he was fully human we must acknowledge that someone had to teach him language and moral discourse. Jesus the child grew up closely following and listening to the same voice that John the Baptist is so impressed by even before he is born. Mary has been chosen not just as a womb but as a prophetic voice of reason, of right relation, of revolution.

So if Mary’s voice has excited the prophet John the Baptist, and been the foundation for developing Jesus, himself, how dare we cut off the story without listening to her words. We too should be excited to hear her and should find the potential in her words to make God’s Wisdom present. I have previously reflected that we should not get so bound up in words and spiritual things that we neglect the body. Now I acknowledge that nor is it fair to reduce women to bodies and reproductive capabilities only, to thus deny them the Godde-given capacity to preach that is so clearly outlined in this reading. Mary preaches to Elizabeth and seemingly little ears are preparing themselves to listen too. John’s preaching later (see last week’s gospel) contains more than traces of Mary’s subversive politics. Mary was chosen by God for her voice, her mind, her integrity at least as much as for her previously unoccupied womb.

Outspoken, courageous, strong Mary with her BFF and cousin Elizabeth (she of the loud voice in today’s gospel) refuse to be cut out of the gospels. At Cana again Mary will show her inability to remain silent and will kick-start her son’s ministry. Elizabeth’s husband has been temporarily silenced by the truth of her underestimated body.

The Almighty does indeed cast down the mighty and elevate the invisible- such as women. God’s preferential option is for the poor, the refugee, the exploited worker, the single- mother, the one outside the gates.

In what way are we the hungry who will be filled by Godde with every good thing?

In what way do we allow ourselves to be the privileged, who miss the point of grace and are sent empty away?

Wisdom is so near to us this time of year, let us reflect on Mary’s certainty that God’s kindom runs counter to the inequitable status quo.

Christ our kin

I was asked to give a reflection on the feast of “Christ the King” but I conscienciously object to monarchs. The more history I learn the stronger my conviction that kings are always oppressive (yes always) and that they are grounded in always/already oppressive ways of relating. So what could I say? Apologies that it has taken me until the eve of the 3rd Sunday of Advent to even post this.

I’m Latvian, part of a tiny country that was taken over by powers from other countries. I associate kings with colonising, enslaving, exploiting. I also play chess where the king needs protecting but is a useless bit of dead wood and the queen has to do literally everything and protect the pawns so they become queens. Perhaps you could say I am biased, but it is not possible for me to sincerely see the metaphor of “king” or “kingship” in a positive way.

In the past I have attempted the convoluted spiritual gymnastics where I take language that is alienating, and relations that are in real life oppressive and try to twist them. #NotAllKings or something like that. But I am a simple history teacher, I am tired and not feeling very philosophically or theologically agile. I want a faith that heals and feeds me in a heartbreaking and frightening world. I don’t want to have to twist the word of Godde to make it pronounceable. I don’t want to have to take the stale bread that is Word yet again and soak it to try to bring back some goodness.

Patriarchy, the rule of men over women has been analysed as being kyriearchal[1]. Even most men are oppressed within such a rigid hierarchical structure. Having brought up sons I have witnessed their heartbreak and confusion when their heart wants to connect with the world, but there are so many messages out there for young men trying to forbid it. Forbidding connection leads to having powerful men in our world who think thrusting an expensive rocket into space is a higher priority than saving our fragile blue bead on the necklace of the deep, our planet. Forbidding relationality and vulnerability leads to the rape culture in parliament house and the denial and avoidance of deep shame that comes with it. Layers upon layers of lies. We become less human. Instead of a loving parent, sibling or song we have a king. We build an institution. We construct rules and walls to keep the wrong people out. We use shame and punishment and pomp and ceremony to hide from the emptiness we fear may be at the heart of it all.

We can refuse that.

Vicki and Jane have sensibly provided us with a theme for today “God of tender care, you have loved us into birth.” That image to me sounds more like midwife than king and I am tempted to drop the “g” as we sometimes do and celebrate Christ the kin. Kin not just to you and me, the privileged ones but kin to the refugee and the dispossessed. Kin to the creeks[2] and mountains that make up Country. Kin to the butterflies who pollinate the plants so we will still have bread tomorrow. Donna Harraway says that in the face of the way humans have irreparably changed the natural world there is no place for hope OR despair but only for making kin and learning to live wisely without hiding in an innocence that does not convince[3].

Harraway says “make kin”, and talks about string games where many hands have to pass the pattern to each other -watching and trusting, receiving and then relinquishing the shape of the whole. Can I “make kin” anywhere within todays readings?

The second reading is a beautiful contrast to the first, as a string game, like cat’s cradle it has all the power of juxtaposition and movement. Daniel has taken his substances his vision inducing herbs and is trying to articulate the greatness and exceptionalism of a God who is greater than humans, but lacks the imagination to take this outside of patriarchal fantasies of power over. The hymn discreetly subverts invoking an “Everyday God” a God who makes kin of us, a God who works collaboratively even within their own trinitarian self.

I love that I just used the pronoun “they” for God by the way.

In the gospel we have Pilate, who is only concerned with human, phallocentric politics trying to trip up Jesus who is more of a rebel than even Pilate understands. Jesus comes across as frustrated, “you are reducing me to king, that’s your language, that’s your narrow worldview, it’s not quite what I am claiming” but I’d venture to suggest none of us fully understand any identity claim by Christ. It has to be bigger than this delusional talk of “kings” and “governing” and the trickling down of the practically empty rivers and the hell our govenrments seem intent on building upon the fracked and desolate earth.

Jesus’ body too is fracked and made desolate by the empires of the greed and vanity of men (and let’s be honest given the chance women too can be greedy and vain). Jesus is the land that is burning in the too hot, too dry summer. Jesus is the young shoot hit by a hailstone as large as a golfball. I don’t believe that God will magically make climate change go away, any more than God sent legions of angels to take away the agony of the cross from Jesus.

But stubborn Jesus testifies to the truth and so can we. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to the truth and so might we. We might call Christ the “king” or “midwife” or “blade of wheat” or “water of life” but the words are our words, we are expressing our own world-view and identity in what we try to limit Jesus to. The Word of God will not play that game with us any more than Jesus did with pilate.

King is a human term, our salvation is not in kings but in the whole truth albeit we can’t grasp the totality of it.


[1] Fiorenza, E. S. (1992). But she said: Feminist practices of biblical interpretation. Beacon Press.

[2] Povinelli, E. A. (2016). Geontologies. Duke University Press.

[3] Haraway, D. J. (2016). staying with the trouble: making kin in the Chthulucene.

“Bread for all and roses too”

19th week Ordinary Time: year b. 8.8.2021

Stef Rozitis

“Bread for all and roses too” the quote from suffragist Helen Todd, which has become popular in the unions is on my mind as I reflect on today’s readings.

The religious people in the gospel are under the misconception that familiar, ordinary things, cannot be divine. They know Jesus, he’s ordinary he’s one of them and they are reluctant to see more in him. He’s remarkable in not being limited by that.

In my life, I have had teachers who have said “Look, there is something inside you, you can be more than this.” or they say “what you are telling me is true,” and help me articulate or develop it. Jesus did not have that support, he was lost among people who wanted to push him down, to prevent him from overtaking them, to put him back in his place. Maybe this was even well intentioned, when people do this to their children they call it “managing their expectations”. We need to stop trying to “manage the expectations” of our young, we need to stop telling them they can’t have roses and their bread must be stale and made from ashes.

Every child we meet might be a powerful prophet- imagine if Greta Thunberg had been taught to know her place and dial down her voice?

I’m not subscribing to the narrative that she will save us. We’re overburdening the young when we tell them they are our leaders, they are our saviours, they are our only hope. This is a twisted role reversal, it’s an abuse. We should hear the children and teens who are asking for a cleaner, fairer world and then WE need to oppose fracking, and refuse to vote for alleged rapists, and stop buying so much plastic!! WE need to do something for our beautiful earth, for our living bread, for the body of Christ- the body we are born from and feed on.

The women’s suffrage activists, the union women said that we should have more than bread. We should have roses too. They meant that a human life cannot be reduced to “basics” (the Indue card is all wrong). Jesus said something similar “You cannot live on bread alone”. He was talking about the beauty of the Word, but roses are a Word of beauty too. They are scented like heaven, the petals are so soft and velvety that when I was little I couldn’t stop rubbing them on my face until the poor roses were bedraggled. Roses are so sensuous, and strangely hardy even in an Australian summer. For butterflies and bees they are like bread- they are the necessary food to sustain life and keep their species going. If we love our non-human cousins we will grow them flowers.

Flowers are surprisingly important, despite often being seen as a symbol of the unproductive and the vain.

In the first reading, God shows us how to deal with someone who is too depressed to be “productive”. Fed twice, Elijah’s energy and willingness to live and do God’s work comes back. I love that the feeding happens twice…we often try to rush people into being “better” the minute we do anything for them. God realises that healing is like gardening, it takes time, you have to commit to it. Fed twice, Elijah learns that God will not abandon him. Fed more than just the once Elijah realises he is cared for and the care will not only be in proportion to his usefulness. We are so quick to establish “mutual obligations” or conditions when we help someone, to turn it into a debt not a gift.

When I say “We” I am aware that there are people in this community and other parts of my life who are the opposite, who are only ever generous but we need to spread wider that sort of energy to society not just in individual interactions. As a society we give up on people too easily, or use them. We encourage them to give up on themselves.

We are told not to make the Holy Spirit sad in the second reading, as a child I read that in an almost gaslighting way- as if I was never allowed to feel angry or stand up for myself or others. I don’t think it means that- for example I am not going to smile and feel cosy that billionaires are wasting precious resources of the planet simply to make expensive joyrides out beyond the atmosphere. They could put that energy to better use to solve the world’s problems- or just stop stealing the wages of the poor and pay their taxes.

Nevertheless we are responsible to God for the cultures we build, and for our interactions; the ways of treating people that we normalise and for seeking to be respectful even when we disagree. A small point that I like at the end is where Christ as a sacrifice is said to be a “fragrant aroma”. Roses again!

I’ll be honest I don’t know what “eternal life” means. This life here and now is mystery enough and I can leave the rest to God. But Jesus says he comes to us as bread. He comes to feed us. His flesh is here for the life of the world. We also are called to become bread- to be the presence that feeds, strengthens and brings life. I’ve put pictures of bread in the prayer-sheet today which are not just basics for grudgingly keeping an exploitable body going. I have deliberately chosen to picture bread of luxury and enjoyment.

The life we are called to (bread AND roses) is rich in meaning, connection, and every good thing. Let us reflect on bread which is better than manna, a sacrifice which is fragrant, rain on rose petals, crusts falling open to reveal the softness of bread.

Zoecentric

Readings can be found here: https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/062721.cfm

What I read for work affects how I read my faith, just as the faith I try to live informs my ethics and beliefs about the purposes of my work. I’m reading post-humanists at work and I found many crossovers between what they say, and this week’s readings.

I tend to find binaries problematic. I don’t fit comfortably into the supposed binary between male and female. I’m not allowed to be a male because of my body and I don’t manage to convince myself I am a female because that’s just not ever been an identity that’s worked for me- politically, sexually or in terms of how I can live with myself. I find the body-soul or body-mind or matter-spirit binary less than helpful which I have outlined before.

So when I am reading that the life-death binary stems from patriarchal philosophy and politics (and church) I am open to trying to understand this. Braidotti and others point out that the preoccupation to define exactly what counts as “human” and what counts as a “life” is ironically necrocentric- obsessed with death and loss.

They’d argue that much of the politics that has destroyed this planet comes out of necrocentrism- militarism, greed, the othering of humans who are different, the othering and exploitation of anything non-human. A necrocentric view of the world sees not what I would call an “image of Godde” but sees only resources and the need to cling to power, security, rights and compensations.

If instead we embrace a zoe-centred way of being, one than accepts our individual life-death as a small component of the larger dance of life we open ourselves radically to other people, animals, things, and ways of standing beside not triumphing over the other. Life proliferates around us but Barbara Bolt reminds us that we are charged with a responsibility to respond ethically.

How could I read all this without thinking of the first reading?

God our zoe-centric God is not about the power of death to define or delimit us. The world has beginnings and endings, cycles of renewal and love, capacity for life to continue or change after death. The molecules that make us up are intimately ours but close to timeless and will go out into otherness after our own cycle of being. These molecules will still be in the air, earth and water, embodying other beings after we are not the phallocentric, egocentric “I” anymore.

Another binary gets challenged in the second reading. Being rich or poor are constructions of a necro-centric society. Instead there are only ever 2 things. The need for a body’s bodily and emotional needs to be met, and our capacity to relationally respond to the needs of the other. Who are we consuming and who are we feeding? Regardless of our status and luxury we will not live forever. How do we embrace the life that we have today, and the rivers and rains which flow through our fluid bodies that supply our abundance without holding us accountable?

It’s not wrong of us to wish to prolong our life and be comfortable, but it is wrong to hollow out the other in serving the self. Instead we should acknowledge the way we are entangled with the other and relationally flow into and around the planet and all species including our own.

So we come to the gospel and the zoe-centric flows around Jesus as an important man comes to him to ask for healing for his daughter.

Mark’s gospel is full of sudden twists and turns so typically this life-and-death situation must be interrupted.

I’m bleeding currently as I do every month so I read this woman’s situation with horror.  Imagine 12 years of uncomfortable, wearying flow, always worrying about how you stand or how you sit, always dealing with the rawness and the smell and leaving embarrassing traces of yourself on your clothing and perhaps elsewhere. Imagine the laundry of those 12 years! The painful and despair inducing failed attempts to be cured.

 She touches Jesus and is instantly healed.

Unlike the failed doctors, Jesus does not take control of her body or her situation. He is a healer without agency, he is used and perhaps depleted like a river. His openness leads to her healing, there is a moment of connection and flow that he is not consciously the author of.

What can this mean about the nature of God? We are so used to centring the self-determining individual in our discussions of morality. Goodness we think consists of making ethical choices, virtue is cultivated through agency- that is what separates humans from other species.

What if God’s goodness is otherwise, a goodness-by-nature not a goodness-by-choice? What if God is good like a river or a dragonfly or wet soil? If no amount of WORK will ever PRODUCE a value for us or make us more or less the image of God that we already are. Perhaps then also plants, animals and the earth itself cannot be known according to instrumental measures such as somebody’s profit or quality of life.

But even this binary is flawed because the next minute Jesus seizes back his agency and calls out this non-consensual encounter. This human can’t just drain Jesus-as-other but must witness publically that something happened. If sacrament is encounter with God, then she has celebrated a sacrament in first touching Christ, then using her transformation for witness and as a nexus for us also to be called to touch and draw healing power.

I wouldn’t identify as “female” but I am woman enough to be rejected for ordination and I experience this call by Jesus as revolutionary.

He is saying “here she is, this rejected woman, deemed filthy and contaminating. She has drawn my power into herself and now must witness to it publicly.”

No bishops were consulted in the making of this vocation. Her faith has saved her (says Jesus). She is cured of her affliction (says Jesus). Which affliction? Just the bleeding or also the patriarchal framing of her body as unworthy and unimportant? As a disabled student reminded me this week- exclusion hurts more than the disability itself.

Meanwhile the little girl has died. It’s not Jesus’ fault but it’s too late. Jesus shows a naivety about this and is ridiculed for hoping when it’s too late. Binaries are important. Boundaries are important. Nothing can be done.

Boundary-transgressing Jesus calls the little girl back to life, touches and calls her. She responds to the call and is given something to eat. She becomes a foreshadowing image of a later scene in our faith-story, where the risen Jesus eats to show he is alive. She experiences the flow of molecules into her body, to live is to take in and release other.

This little girl, another SHE, becomes a witness to the zoe-centric power of Christ. She’s only a girl, in patriarchal terms not worth much. Jesus in reconfiguring social rules, is good news for those of us who have ever found ourselves on the wrong side of a boundary or trying to navigate a liminal position.

If the power of God is the life of the whole world and not just humans, how do we centre ourselves on that life without fearing death?

How do we open ourselves to ethical relationality and responsibility as mortal but zoe-centric beings?

What is the value of a body and a self or other? What is the life we are called back to today?

Åsberg, C., & Braidotti, R. (Eds.). (2018). A feminist companion to the posthumanities. Springer.

Microbes, stardust and the body of Christ

Cecelia Asberg and Rosi Braidotti ask us to consider that:

“…the sheer number of microbes that inhabit our bodies including bacteria, viruses, protists or parasites, exceeds the number of our bodily cells by up to a hundredfold.”[1]

We pray for a better world. We gather to share in the body of Christ and we ask God to deliver us from all the evils of the world- inequity, hunger, war, climate change, illness including mental illness. Atheist friends tend to portray prayer as escapism, asking to be saved instead of doing something about it. Personally I don’t think it has to be an either or.

Even though God is not magically going to fix everything, we have been told “ask and you shall receive” and in any case years of telling little boys to put their socks in the wash, telling students to hand up their papers, telling employers I need to be paid in a timely way, telling governments to fund things properly have trained me in the not-so-subtle art of nagging. Like all the others God too gets to hear my perspectives on what would make the situation better.

Like a mother nagging a seven-year old to put things in the wash, I need to be involved in the work I am promoting, and this I think is the point of the first reading. Being religious and going through rituals won’t in and of itself achieve either my personal holiness or the more crucial aim of a better world. Our hearts and our over-worked, over-fed, over-stimulated bodies are hurting and the first reading tells us how to heal. First attend to the needs of the hungry, the poor, the oppressed and then come to God. Not that God is demanding some sort of tit for tat, but like babies copying their parents’ facial expressions, in doing the things that are the work of God we identify with her. We become like her and she recognises us. I like to think that even for God love is more than duty-of-care, I like to think that God too feels the ecstasy of recognition when seeing a loved one.

God does not force herself on the world or onto our lives, we invite her in by collaborating in the agendas of the kindom, we show our desire for God’s love and God’s action and then prayer is connection.

Corpus Christi reminds us that the Word of God is embodied. Embodied literally, living with a body, in a body, as a body.

We’ve been affected by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas and we try to spiritualise everything – men in the past idealised the triumph of mind or spirit over body, something that was harder for anyone born with ovaries and a womb. Some of us spend a large chunk of our lives bleeding monthly and end up expected to look after the bodies of everyone else. Is the work of the philosopher superior? Someone has to bake his bread and weave his clothes. People who “rise above” their own bodies end up exploiting the bodies of others.

Jesus’ last supper was physical- bread and wine shared by bodies gathered around the table. Hands touched the bread, feet were washed, eyes met. The smell of sweat, the fear of approaching death, the light-headedness of confusion. Each of them breathing, the physical act of forming words that hang in the air between them.

Even in what we think, what we know and how we feel our bodies are implicated-  the endorphins when we move capably, the oxytocin when we spend time with the people we belong with, the dopamine to help us still our racing thoughts. When our bodies or minds don’t get what we need they fail each other. Some people need medication for “mental illnesses” meaning the stresses of their actual, lived reality have drowned out the body-mind’s capacity to renew itself.

We all need food. We all need rest. Our ears need to hear bird-song and the voice of the beloved.

Like Jesus after the last supper, we don’t always get what we need.

The second reading debunks a “prosperity gospel”. Being a follower of Christ does not mean endless feasting and celebrating. If we are going to exclude then we may as well not bother (I suspect this goes for churches as well as individuals).

A sacrament is more than just a celebration, perhaps we don’t have to be ascetic but neither should we use religious reasons to overconsume. A sacrament is an interruption to “business as usual”, more than permission to feel good or to escape from our daily reality.

Jesus who had multiplied the loaves and fishes, who had provided the wine (echoing Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures), who had healed, and loved, called and sometimes condemned sits down to dinner, having completed the work asked for in the first reading. Sunday is a time to reflect on, feed and sometimes refocus the good we do in the rest of the week. We all have homes to feast in, yes, but God also notices the homeless person who is not feasting who we might walk past on our way to church. The body of Christ, broken, splintered by inequities.

We live on a planet that may be dying, and that also is the body of Christ. This planet gives us life- makes our breath and grows our food. We are, and we are called to be earthlings, bodily creatures of bread and wine and water (wind, and stone, and fire). Just as we are called to tend the humans who are missing out, we are also called to grow flowers to feed the butterflies and to refrain from plastic so that fish would have homes. Bodies move upon the earth and in the air and water. Bodies that are all kin to us, bodies that are Christ.

Bread comes from wheat, wine from grapes, food needs insects to pollinate it. Human lives need bread and roses. Christ’s body, like all bodies needs a complex eco-system to support it. We gather to celebrate Eucharist, to thank God for our lives, our bodies, the opportunity to restore right relationship with each other and our planet. We are able to break bread because of earthworms and bees and butterflies, because of the lifecycles of plants and animals, because of tides and weather patterns and our cosy, life-supporting atmosphere. We came from stardust but we are not ready as a species to return just yet.

We are here to share and heal. We are the body of Christ.


[1] Åsberg, C., & Braidotti, R. (2018). Feminist posthumanities: An introduction. In A feminist companion to the posthumanities (pp. 1-22). Springer, Cham. 

I danced on a Friday when the sun turned black

it’s hard to dance with the devil on your back

At last a portrayal of Jesus that is theologically reputable. Here we don’t have violence and abuse written into the system as necessary or even desirable. The idea of God the Father, in control, allowing the abuse like an incompetent LNP Prime Minister has always shocked and saddened me at a gut level but this song sees it differently.

“The devil” is trying to repress the dance. Jesus in this song is “emotionally intelligent” in a way usually associated with women. He is trying to dance, trying to survive, keeping the positivity alive for others in his suffering. It’s only a metaphor, but a strong one for Australia in 2021.

Grace Tame. Brittany Higgins. Dhanya Mani. And the poor brave soul who tried to live with her emotional wounds after a rape and mockery and abandonment by her colleagues and superiors. Suicide is a word that attempts to put responsibility back on an individual for complex and painful situations. Jesus was bullied to death by the Roman Empire and this woman was bullied to death by a toxic and misogynist government, a petty but hurtful bunch of tyrants.

She didn’t kill herself straight away, oh she tried to dance with a devil on her back. Jesus did not die immediately, he had to endure abandonment, mocking, various forms of physical and psychological torture and even the moral torture of “your work has achieved nothing” but his last words “it is accomplished” were defiant. People argue over which words in the gospel the historical Jesus actually said and which (probably most of them) were scripted in later by the community. What of it? The community is putting defiance into the mouth of Jesus and thus proving him right. When we carry on the hopeless and yet hope-building struggle against men’s violence, rich people’s entitlement, social and economic injustice we are proving that Jesus’ work touched and liberated us, called us out, inspired us (and not in a soppy social media way).

Meanwhile two beloved little girls are still growing up in detention. Corona virus still affects the poor more than the rich. The Australian government has once again reduced welfare payments which puts a burden on families and literally starves those who have no family. It also makes it harder for small business to survive.

We haven’t learned from the pandemic (predicted by scientists since the 80s) or from the bushfires and coal mining, fracking and buying too much shit is still the main basis of our society. The militarism of absolutely everywhere is increasing. South Australia is “celebrating” that we will make weapons to incite wars all over the world, making the refugees we don’t want to take in. The nuclear dump keeps being slipped back onto the table for discussion. Black lives are still overwhelmingly arrested, tortured, put to death like a certain carpenter’s son we were talking about a moment ago.

Smaller hurts like insecure work and wage theft also slowly break us.

It’s hard to dance.

It’s hard to dance.

It’s hard to dance.

Let’s acknowledge the pain and hardship but

Let’s dance

Here are a few more

and probably my favourite

I have a shoulder injury. I “dance” by just listening to the music and being unapologetic for existing.