NOT King

I’m posting this late, it was from 19th November

I’m going to go out on a limb here, suspecting some of you might be on it with me and say that we should NOT still be deadnaming Christ as a “king”. Human history is littered with examples of powerful men and their military machines using such language to legitimate their oppressions of others.

The lectionary uses interesting framing to pretty much rewrite biblical history but let’s chat about how it actually went down.

The Israelites said “God we want a king, give us a king”.

God said, “Nah you don’t want that, kings are a bit rubbish”

But the Israelites (and it’s a criticism of the way we do human societies in general) kept pestering and pestering like the toddler that wants a McDonalds meal until God (like a tired mother) gave in and said,

“I don’t recommend this but mess around and find out” and from then on tried to help with damage control. The damage control didn’t stop the kings from being oppressive. Even David, the supposedly good one had Bathsheba-gate and all his wars and all the women he collected as trophies.

That’s not a good start. But we need to remember it was humans that INSISTED on this nonsense it was never a form of government recommended or valorised by God, God merely tried to stop it getting out of hand. God has a questionable commitment to free will which seems to be why it’s been allowed to go on for so long even though it is a mess.

I can’t think of a single king ever that was not oppressive, though some did charity work to redeem their public image (which is what Jeff Bezos is also now doing I notice). They take so much of it away as their privilege and then they give a small fraction back where they choose with much trumpet blasting and proclaiming their generosity. Such are kings.

The second reading appears to valorise “thrones or dominions or principalities or powers;” as being created through Christ and for Christ. Mark Medley has produced a wonderful counter-reading of that which biblically makes sense. He sees in this section a “lyrical capacity to transform political and socio-cultural realities, as well as to empower and mobilize protest and resistance against imperial hegemony and coercive structures of domination” (Medley 2019). Rather than adding legitimacy to oppressive powers, Christ is the one who comes to call them into question and undo relations of exploitation and abuse. Today’s liturgical booklet seems to take a similar subversive stance, asserting “mystery” and that “Christ is among us” unlike kings who are a kept from nasty mob like us behind guards and locked doors.

Ask your heritage- if you have any blood of people who have been illegitimately annexed by kings. There are Irish people here, I myself am Latvian. Christ’s supposed kingship has been used against our people and against Kaurna people and Ngarrindjeri people and First Nations over the globe. First Nations did not have “kings” that was a cultural imposition from white empire-builders. The reign of white-supremacist, capitalist, heteropatriarchy needs to end, and it is a misuse of Christ, an idolatry, a blasphemy to reconstitute Christ as a poster-boy for wrong relations.

Jesus in the gospel is suffering and being mocked. This is not a triumph of Christianity it is not desirable for Jesus the man, the grown-up baby of our sister Mary to have been tortured to death just because he thought and said and proclaimed liberative possibilities and healed people. Why do we celebrate this and not Christ the healer? Christ the vine? Christ the wine-maker?

It’s his enemies that positioned Christ as a dangerous radical and a king as they could not conceive of a power that was collective or kind or healing- therefore he must like them be a military leader. When Pilate asked Jesus “Are you king?” Jesus was VERY clear that the word “king” was Pilate’s terminology not his own. When he defined himself he was a foot washer, a friend, an opinionated preacher- the Word, a shepherd, a fisherman, a mother hen, and after all his father was a carpenter. Of all the beautiful words of Christ, and all the beautiful deeds of him, why have we allowed our leaders to push on us a name Christ did not choose a name that benefited Constantine’s expansionism, not the sharing ideology of the early church. Poynting and Donaldson (cited in Rozitis 2021) have pointed out that the suffering male body is often portrayed as a necessary sacrifice for manhood, to establish male supremacy and homophobic ways of being. This can be seen in some valorisations of the cult of sport, in the celebration of the “sacrifice” of young men in wars and in the way abuse by boys of other boys is routinely normalised and ignored.

I’m a mother. I don’t want to torture and sacrifice boys and neither did Mary want that for her son. It’s not a cause of celebration, the heroism of dying on a cross or in trenches or by suicide if you are gay. NONE OF THAT IS GOD’S AUTHORSHIP!!!!! It was human greed for hunger and control that killed Jesus though it was the tenacious love of an earth that wants vines that brought him back. Christ came back to console and feed, like a sapling after a bushfire, like a river when the drought breaks, but not on the backs of slaves and prisoners-of-war like a king.

Jesus accepted the desperate plea of the dying man for recognition, dignity and friendship but he did NOT emphasise the metaphor of “kingship”. Let’s work on moving beyond kyriearchy to genuinely liberative possibilities of the kindom (no g), the Kindom of Godde.

In our silence and sharing time, I challenge you to think of a metaphor for Christ- from the bible, from the life of Jesus, from our sacramental life together that rings true and brings healing.

Medley, M. S. (2019). “Subversive song: Imagining Colossians 1: 15–20 as a social protest hymn in the context of Roman empire.” Review & Expositor 116(4): 421-435.

Rozitis, S. (2021). “Understanding and celebrating advantaged boys: education that excludes.” Journal of Educational Administration and History: 1-11.


They say you can never escape the Catholic church- that even if you “lapse” in terms of turning up every Sunday, you can never really stop being a Catholic. The first reading tells us to bind loyalty and faithfulness around our necks, and I guess we must have done so, to keep coming back and back and back into a church that often-times rejects and harms some of us. But I keep asking loyalty to what? Faithfulness to whom?

Anna Hickey-Moody writes:

               ” Having faith can increase, or alternatively decrease, a body’s capacity to act. Faith can stop a person from connecting with another, can cause judgement, rejection, and create a “sharp edge” (Barad 2003: 803). Faith can also provide the capacity to reach out to others, to be there for others, to keep people going. Many people in my interfaith research tell stories of moving across worlds, living through wars, surviving change and separation from family, and their stories make clear the fact that faith can sustain people through very difficult times. Faith can give bodies the capacity to keep going. Faith can also generate embodied limits. For example, I was told I was going to hell for believing that all religions are equal by an angry Christian minister’s secretary in the conservative outer Western suburbs of Sydney. As such, faith can be thought of as (in)capacity, as enabling and disabling. ” (Hickey-Moody 2020)

Hickey-Moody has found that there is something constitutive of the human person in faith communities, faith cultures; both positive and negative experiences of them. She has found that people tend to keep affects and traces of their faith even after abandoning a formal belief system. She was speaking as a sociologist, not a theologian but it made me wonder if the part of faith that sticks to people is the sacrament not the dogma?

With that beginning, I wish to approach the readings not as a matter of weighing up facts or laws but as stories that give life, a way of living sacramentally, or as Elizabeth Adams St Pierre would say, something to “think with” (St Pierre 2021). I thought I knew Zacchaeus, but after spending far too much of the week angrily pondering that Mrs Zacchaeus probably had all the headache of preparing food and cleaning for the spontaneous Jesus-party, I realised that this view of Zacchaeus was based on a picture book. And that the other main source of “knowing” this story that I had, was a primary school song. So I had to go looking for what the adults were saying about Zacchaeus.

It is a problem that the Mrs Zacchaeuses and the servants don’t get their own story, however it turns out we can’t so blithely take for granted that there was a Mrs Zacchaeus. There is a controversy about Zacchaeus, and I’m going consider both Zacchaeuses side by side to see if we can find something productive in the story even without resolving the debate. This desire to entertain the multiple is probably a part of my queerness.

Zacchaeus the first, has been read as “traitorous, small-minded, and greedy” (Parsons 2001) his non-normative body (disability) a trope, indicating moral badness (Solevåg 2020). The second Zacchaeus differs in that his abject position- a figure of fun, an emasculated man who hangs around in a tree instead of confidently approaching others – is recognised by Jesus in a reversal of the trope at the end of the story. I was initially drawn to this reading, because it seems more complex and because playing with tropes is the sort of literary work I love.

James Panthalanickel (2019), however takes the first Zacchaeus, the one who is dishonest and exploitative in his dealings with others and has “sold out” to an oppressive system, and reads it in the context of corruption, poverty and global injustice in Africa. To read Zacchaeus, the sinner in this way (from our privileged place in a wealthy country) seems to me to have equal subversive potential to the other. So I am not willing at this stage to let go of either reading.

When I assume that a good reading of the gospel is always already subversive, I am making a statement about who I believe Godde is and what I believe the call and the kindom are. I don’t see in the person of Jesus, son of Mary, an empire builder, but rather a thorn in the side of empires. Panthalanickel would seem to agree, and invites us to recognise a “normativity of the future” in how we experience the story of Zacchaeus.

A normativity of the future, assumes that the project of God’s reign is never finished in our world, always imminent. The future is the place where Godde breaks into our ways of being to lead us to better inclusivity and justice. This idea may be problematic. The orientation in this view is to becoming not to being, this seems to me to not encompass everything that we need to thrive. On the other hand, the beauty of this idea is it encourages an activist theology, a theology of teaching and learning, a theology of being intentional and acting to bring God’s reign nearer.

In this reading of Zacchaeus, Panthalanickel insists that in Luke the rich can only be saved if they give up everything, but acknowledges that Zacchaeus bucks the trend as he is not asked to give up everything, nor does he depart in confusion or grief. Instead, Zacchaeus proclaims a just stewardship. He will not cheat anyone, he will not hoard. Far from business as usual, the new praxis is the oikonomia of Godde. Am I naughty if I speculate that there are no tax breaks for the rich in this oikonomia?  Jesus shows and demands a way of being grounded in inclusivity, a flow of abundance outward to the poor and the defrauded.

In this reading Zacchaeus’ words have a future orientation. Before the influence of Jesus , he is a small-minded, greedy man and after his encounter he becomes generous. This can be a useful way to view the story in a world where the economy of Godde, the ecology of Goode has not yet been ratified in human affairs. Like Zacchaeus in this reading, we live as best as we can, entangled with unjust leaders and systems and corporations in an oppressive economy. When we thrive, someone else is suffering. Like Zacchaeus we yearn for something more than a niche in the market, we are fascinated by Christ’s ambitious vision of kindom, triggering our loyal, faithful, perhaps stubborn insistence on finding better ways to be human, better ways to be kin.

Solevag (2020), sees Zacchaeus slightly differently. She explores how Zacchaeus is presented as dwarfish, disfigured, comical and unmanly. That word “unmanly” yields both feminist and queer possibilities. Climbing a tree is not the action of a “real man”. Zacchaeus in this reading is abject, scorned by his neighbours and seen as tainted by the job he does, collecting taxes. This would fit with last week’s gospel reading where the tax-collector was a symbol of the abject. Jesus drew attention to him only to turn the expectation of the listener on its head:- better the honest reaching for God of one rejected by society, than the sanctimony of holy men. As a queer person, rejected from ordained ministry by default, having a body that is unmanly and therefore seen as lesser by the church this reading also seems valuable.

Whether Zacchaeus needs most of all to repent and be changed, or to be recognised for the good he already is, Jesus stops and looks into the tree. Here Jesus is choosing to minimise the social distance between himself and Zacchaeus. Panthalanickel views Zacchaeus giving away the bulk of his wealth as a similar action, choosing a side- decreasing his social distance from the poor (and perhaps increasing his distance from other rich men). Zacchaeus here is presented as a contrast to the Pharisees in Luke 11 who rob the poor. It’s important to remember here that we shouldn’t other the Pharisees as if the criticism is only for the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ time. Jesus struggled with the hegemony of the church, the tendency for rules to be used to serve the self-interest of the clergy and unjust relations. They were for Jesus the “proper church” and his point of departure was not to bring in a new unjust hegemony but to liberate us from unnecessary and unjust laws.

Metzger ( 2007) has shown, that the grammar of Zacchaeus’ declaration emphasises not the giving, or the money but the poor. The agenda here is kinship, kindom.  Writing from a perspective of the poverty in Africa, Panthalanickel finds in this gospel pericope a theology that calls for excessive giving, “rehabilitation of the oppressor and a subversion of those socio-economic and political structures which may be exclusive and exploitative.” (Panthalanickel 2019). Solevåg (2020) shows that the dwarfish, disfigured, comical, unmanly Zacchaeus is presented as a role-model of Kindom attitudes in his generosity and hospitality and Jesus’ table is populated by such outcast and abject folks that the church may dismiss. Both readings seem not only productive, but needed in a world where both economic injustices and social exclusions abound.

Whether we read Zacchaeus as a rich man in need of redemption or a grotesque, abject figure finding in the loving gaze of Jesus a dignity that gives light to others, the call of todays gospel remains constant. If we put generous giving and just recognition of the other at the heart of our life together, then we will prioritise sacrament over systems. Perhaps it is that after all which anchors us, and draws us back again and again, sharing our journeys with each other, seeking healing, offering belonging.

Hickey-Moody, A. (2020). “Faith.” Philosophy Today.

Metzger, J. A. (2007). Consumption and wealth in Luke’s travel narrative, Brill.

Panthalanickel, J. (2019). “Towards an Inclusive and Just Community: A Reading of the Story of Zacchaeus (Lk: 19.1-10) in the Context of Sub-Saharan Africa.” African Christian Studies 32(1): 86-106.

Parsons, M. C. (2001). “‘Short in Stature’: Luke’s Physical Description of Zacchaeus.” New Testament Studies 47(1): 50-57.

Solevåg, A. R. (2020). “Zacchaeus in the Gospel of Luke: Comic Figure, Sinner, and Included” Other”.” Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies 14(2): 225-240.

St. Pierre, E. A. (2021). Post qualitative inquiry, the refusal of method, and the risk of the new. Qualitative Inquiry27(1), 3-9.

Mothers, wives and “prostitutes” – the trivialising of women in our tradition

For Mary Magdalene 24.7.22 

 There are so many patriarchal traps when attempting to talk about Mary Magdalene, and given the short space of time I have now, it will be hard to unpack that with any degree of nuance. Being a non-binary person however, I am willing to avoiding the extremes and binaries involved. We need to recentre what saints like Mary Magdalene can teach us, back into the heart of our faith, acknowledging all our sisters, all the women within and outside of the church.

Mary Magdalene has been mostly constructed for us through a male lens. She is marginalised in the gospel stories which is bad enough, the twelve didn’t listen to her which is absolutely shameful but it has only gone downhill from there. How do I quarrel with the people who have circulated unhelpful stories and stereotypes around the great apostle (and rebel) Mary, without casting shade in turn on women even more vulnerable? Well, I have to attempt it!

The patriarchs and mansplainers of the early centuries of the church, tended to portray Mary Magdalene as a prostitute or adulteress. More recently I have heard male preachers, who consider themselves “pro-feminist” extoll her as Jesus’ girlfriend and claim that is a liberative reading because it is “sex positive”. Ok it’s an attractive idea, and like many heterosexual men I enjoyed the portrayal of her in Jesus Christ superstar. A beautiful woman lights candles and gets out the oils to tell you “everything’s alright”, to reassure you, yeah that’s pretty cool for the person she is seducing! But I have questions.

It’s less clear how that is a liberative message for anyone who identifies with Mary Magdalene. There are people who are burdened with all the emotional labour, caring labour, even the sexual labour that holds other people and families together. These people are almost always women. On the other hand the minute the same woman who is making other people’s life bearable has any agency or pleasure of her own within these roles she is judged for that as immoral. Reducing women to WAGs (wives and girlfriends) for heroes is not a wholesome version of “sex positive” it’s merely patriarchy positive. At the same time if I get my grumpy middle-aged prude on and dismiss the sexualised and caring components of this picture, I risk heaping even more erasure and contempt on women who do bear those aspects of the fully human. The fully human includes caring labour!

Now; without going off on a tangent about sex-work, it’s worth nothing that portraying women who have sex for money or rent as either as malicious temptresses or as victims is not a fair or adequate response to their realities. We need to move away from “slut-shaming”; to understand the complexities of the economic system we have and the way it is grounded in the gender order. We need to recognise the right and need of to exercise whatever agency they have within that. People seek survival for themselves and their children, but dignity is also a human need and depends on being able to choose some of your own terms. There’s a big conversation to be had here, but perhaps it’s mostly outside the scope of today’s celebration.

Similarly, women who do make their main identity in life being the partner of someone or the nurturer of children, who don’t have the mental energy, capacity or access to another role deserve out sisterhood not our contempt. Wives are valid, girlfriends are valid, messy emotional humans who just want to connect are at least as valid as hardened individuals, if not more so. For this reason I stuck to that lovely, romantic reading from the Song of Songs. We don’t need to dismiss the romantic and the affectionate in people’s experiences or desires.

I am left wanting to talk back to these men who have decided she was a sinner, or a sex-worker, or a wife; And while rolling my eyes that good women always have to be mothers or wives and bad women are always sexualised; I don’t want to close off these meanings for Mary Magdalene either. I find the texts that comprise the gospels imperfect and full of human error but they have one really great strength in my opinion and that is the slipperiness of categories, the vagueness of labels within them. Was Mary the same woman who anointed Jesus’ feet? Probably not but let’s talk about both these women! Was Mary the beloved disciple or was that John? Which reading is liberating, probably either can be depending what you need liberating from!

If we look at the apocryphal gospels where Jesus turned Mary Magdalene into a trans-man and commissioned him to lead, that also can be liberative (or it can be used to reify painful stereotypes that only men can lead…but we should not use it that way). So the very gaps and silences in the gospel lead me to question, lead me to find many possible Marys. The mis-readings by a patriarchal tradition demand two layers of answer. Firstly, if you are going to label her, I will argue that she is not necessarily who and what you say she is. Secondly, even if she fits any of these categories, that does not diminish her worthiness or her importance. I am left with a multiplicity of Marys a proliferation of Marys and since Mary means rebel, the rebels are proliferating.

I return with this idea to today’s gospel and immediately it bears fruit. “The twelve” here are the tip of the iceberg. Some women were there too (on some level we knew that). Now we go back and reread other stories where women are not mentioned and wonder them back into the frame, what were they doing when they were ignored? Mary. Joanna. Susanna and many others!

The many others remind me of my favourite interpretation of the “beloved disciple” in the gospel of John (I don’t remember where I heard this interpretation)”  It was proposed that the name was intentionally left blank to draw the reader in to the story. The beloved was you. It was me. All the disciples. All the women. Mary, Joanna, Susanna and all our mothers, all our sisters and all the women who had a vocation but were passed over by the patriarchal church. They broke bread with Jesus- fed him, homed him, listened to him, debated with him and cried over him at the crucifixion. To reclaim Mary we should reclaim every disinherited, erased or demonised woman. And regardless of gender, each of us could also reclaim our own capacity to be emotionally present in the ups and downs of life, to connect with affection and loyalty to another human being, to express appropriate emotion.

With the feminist biblical scholars who have gleaned what we have for us, we reclaim our sister Grief, her daughter Anger. We welcome our mothers Joy and Laughter and acknowledge in ourselves the need to be seen and listened to. Let us sit for a moment with the emotions and contradictions of Mary Magdalene and other women disciples. Let us find such contradictions, tangles and loyalty also in our own selves and each other.

Corpus Christi

Remember when I used to blog about the readings every single week? I haven’t psoted since April, because I got the feeling that my very few readers were just catching my work as it happened in real time. Today someone reminded me I have a blog so I will post the three reflections I have done this year (and soon I will post this Sunday’s too). This was back in June for the feast of Corpus Christi.

After some very spiritually focused big Sundays- Ascension, Pentecost, Trinity, we are reminded to come back to the material and every day, the stuff of real human life. Bread. Sharing food book-ends the passion of Christ. The events of Good Friday and Easter occur between the “Last Supper” and post-resurrection meals shared.

In a society where we have overabundance, I struggle with a tendency to overeat, to make every meeting up with friends centre on coffee or wine or a meal…but this is because psychologically and physically food is so central to life. We need food to live and it needs to be more than fuel for us. I would not see it as progress if we could simply swallow a nutrition pill each day, for all the hassle of growing or buying food, deciding, preparing, cleaning up, our senses blossom into joy at the scents, tastes, textures and colours of food, the sound of sizzling, the satisfying crunch of celery, the pounding together of spices with a mortar and pestle. Some people manage to make lifestyles where they escape ever working with food- such people are missing out.

Even ineptly and resentfully throwing together two-minute noodles is sacramental. Making food is providing self or others with life. Growing food is the same, the blush of tomatoes ripening or the full bushy greenness that shows the carrots underground are almost ready. The birds collecting nectar or fruit noisily from the trees know sacrament just as surely as my cat licking dew from the grass knows that water is life.

Melchizedek in the first reading knows that more than words are needed for blessing. Food seals the connection between people, invokes God’s everyday orientation toward blessing the world. Food speaks of earth and air and water, the fire of quickening, the elements and our own connectedness and dependency to the broader sweep of creation. Extinction Rebellion when they stop traffic sometimes give out cupcakes or bickies, treats for the drivers as an apology for the inconvenience, but also because if we want to keep enjoying cupcakes and breathing and having somewhere to go we need to cut out our dependency to fossil fuels.

We were wrong to let ourselves believe we could get mastery over creation. Jesus did not say “I am the plough or I am the goldmine” he said “I am bread”. Elsewhere he talked about grains of wheat- dying to give birth to many, falling on fertile ground, the wheat becomes bread, becomes more than the instrumental basics of life (hence wine too) but becomes connection and sharing and the Word that is more than words.

Sometimes there are people whose words or even more so whose listening to us is like bread, we walk away satisfied and hopeful and ready to be our best self. In the darkest hour Jesus doesn’t say “I will be your guilt trip, I will be your judge” he comes as servant, he comes as bread. Washing, feeding, making the quiet warm moment that allows us to go on, into the dark and shocking moments where his disciples will be ripped apart from everything they know. They would have been traumatised when he was seized but did they remember that he was bread, that he was wine?

After the resurrection he proved his real presence by eating, by preparing food for them. We celebrate this real presence by the way we celebrate Eucharist, by waiting for each other to eat together, by allowing some peace around our eating but also by having coffee and morning tea at Sophia every month. We bring Eucharist back out into our worlds of families we need to feed, work colleagues we share food with, friends we make time to have a glass of wine with. “I haven’t seen you for too long, let’s do coffee” is a way of saying “you are alive to me, I want to be alive to you”.

When we share food and friendship, when we listen to the wisdom of friend or neighbour, when we meet together to make the world a little bit better; may we be proclaiming the Risen One, the Wisdom who is Bread, the one who calls us to feed all bellies and comfort all hearts.

I invite you to take a moment in silence to reflect on where the Bread that feeds you comes from, then we will break the bread of our thoughts together, before moving on to breaking the bread of the Eucharist.

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.


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.