Monthly Archives: June 2015

Actively being saved, the resurrection and putting in the hard yards

Wow what rich readings this week. It’s hard to put it all together and say anything new, I can tell this week is going to be a wrestling match. When looking at the first reading I got to the description of Jonathan as a “brother” whose love “surpassing the love of women” seems to call for my queer lens.

But I felt ambivalent about on the one hand an obvious possibility for a queer reading, on the other hand with Sedgwick’s Epistomology of the Closet still ringing in my (metaphorical ears) I wondered if I should respect David enough to leave him in his closet. I also felt ambivalent about whether this possible, closetted, open secret was in fact liberating from a female reader’s perspective in light of Sedgewick’s scholarship about the role of the (male) closet in keeping women out of the centre even of the heterosexual relationships that supposedly define them. David did have an awful lot of wives and concubines after all.

But if you are interested in the idea of David and Jonathan being lovers, here is a fairly clear laying out of the argument for, and here is a perfect example of a circular argument against the idea that David could possibly be a dirty queer in God’s sacred text (the bible does not contain dirty queers because dirty queers are not anywhere in the bible because they are dirty unlike God’s clean bible that doesn’t contain dirty queers). The bible of course is nothing more or less than the handbook of how to be a good fundamentalist.

What strikes me a lot more than the possible queerness, is the waste of human life. These kings generate war, war equals death and tears are the result (I have this conversation with my kindergarteners about unkind-play and stick-play almost every day: some of them – unlike some powerful adults- are starting to understand the cause and effect). David here mourns the deaths of such close friends, and yet the next time we see him I am sure he will be off “slaying” someone again or putting a loyal friend in the frontline so that he can get with his wife perhaps (I still don’t understand how the possible respectful gay relationship we could speculate about David having had is a greater moral problem than his dealing with Bathsheba and Uriah).

But staying with David’s genuine grief and emotional pain for the time being, the psalm says it all. Out of the depths we do cry. We do want God to come along and redeem our nation from all its iniquities. We want David in the story to find a better way forward. We yearn for that utopian dream that some of us may call the “kingdom of God”. I relate to the cold, bored and yet burdened with massive responsibility watchman longing to go off shift. Yes God hurry up…but this is where my agnosticism sets in. I don’t frankly believe that just waiting around for some sort of salvific act as reliable as the passing of time itself (unless we mean the extinction of our species– which frankly I am not waiting for so eagerly) is a morally defensible strategy in the depths of the despair of a plundered, besieged, unjust, neoliberal world. Stay with me though, I am about to do something uncharacteristic and agree with a Pope!

I wasn’t really seeing much to work with in the second reading until I read this (note the author saying that Paul echoes Pope Francis’ sentiments, while I loved the article in general this expression made me give a shout of laughter which almost got me kicked out of the library). I won’t paraphrase Anderson’s excellent argument, or Pope Francis’ clear thinking on the topic of the environment but if we do read the second reading as arguing for radical redistribution (including the Christ-like courage to become poor to enrich others and restore a “fair balance”) then this seems to show a much more real and urgent way “out of the depths” than passively waiting. There’s resurrection thinking here, a way modelled by Jesus but like all real resurrection thinking it demands we put in the hard yards (What did you think resurrection meant? A fairy godmother waving a wand? If only!)

Is this how God redeems us from all our iniquities? It’s inadequate when you consider that the more powerful have the choice not to be transformed by this word and this teaching. The little people are going to have to do more than count on the generosity of the ruling class. But we are also not the smallest of the little people. We do need to use our relative power and privilege to achieve this redistribution “for the relief of others”.

Let’s take those readings as baggage and stow them aboard ready to cross over again to the other side with Jesus (cf last week) into this week’s gospel. This week’s gospel suggests to me both an obvious feminist reading (about the interruption of the invisible, unacceptable woman in the middle and Jesus’ deliberate action in making her visible) and troubles me with its portrayal of Jesus as the male savior of helpless, inferior women. I can read the hemorrhaging woman as active in her own healing, and I like the way this calls into question Jesus’ performance of his gender. But the consent-nazi in me is still troubled when we reconceive Jesus (almost as a trans man) as the next installment in the character of the once female Wisdom, who is kind of like a sexy exotic dancer “asking for it” (Yes Jesus affirms the women grasping at him and Wisdom constantly invited everyone to visit, seek and pursue her but…troubling). Also if we begin to reconceive Jesus’ healing in a different way, saving as an erotic game-play (I am indebted for this idea to a speech I heard ages ago by a lesbian theology scholar who claimed she doesn’t want to be “saved” by anyone at all…then she added in a more playful voice that maybe a woman in a white horse could save her. I always felt a bit uncomfortable with the gender dynamics and implication of power in the idea of being “saved” so this idea stayed with me) even then there is a problem because Jairus’ daughter is both underage and too unconscious to agree to be in the game.

So I am uncomfortable with the gender and power discourses I can take out of here. I am uncomfortable with queerying the gender and turning the “saving” into erotic play. I know the function of the bible isn’t to make me feel cosy, but this is too uncomfortable. What if I latch onto the word “daughter”? If I see Jesus’ relationship to the two women as parental, then I am still a bit troubled by “his” gender (in terms of theirs), but I can see him in a feminised role, similar to my role as a mother and a preschool teacher constantly getting interrupted and called for and jostled and grabbed at. And now immediately (to borrow Mark’s hyper-activity) I am drawn into the text as Jesus (very appropriate in terms of what Paul says about Jesus’ action becoming the model for our action).

And if I am called to be Jesus, not called to be saved by Jesus then I don’t need to unpack the gender roles so much but just follow Mark’s immediacy (see how many times Mark uses “immediately or actions rapidly following and interrupting each other) and get on with the job. Jesus has too much to do, he is called from every side and his never shrinking to-do list is complicated by immediacies where even his cloak is pulled at. The temptation must be to ignore the interruption and continue, or to growl at the woman who drained something from the already stretched Jesus. He stops, publically notes and affirms her action and then calmly continues onto the next healing. The next healing is occurring in the home of already privileged people and he asks for secrecy. I feel I am once more detecting Magnificat movement where the private and marginalised are publically affirmed, and the popular and central are refocused on the domestic (feeding their daughter) instead of given more celebrity status. Jesus here again is concerned with fair balance.

Here finally I run into a real brick wall, because I am neither as energetic as the Markan Jesus, nor as serene in the face of so many people wanting or needing a piece of me. Here the “good news” is more daunting than empowering. Am I really supposed to be constantly poured out for the good of others? Am I really called to act powerfully to address imbalances with a kind and healing word for everyone and anyone? No wonder the guy died in his mid 30s.

This gospel makes me want to be Jonah and throw myself into the belly of a big fish to escape my impossible vocation (but isn’t that pretty much what I have already wasted my life doing?) This gospel makes me cry with grief, guilt and frustration and look for a loophole. Because by myself I AM NOT JESUS. I am not all this. I am not a whole body of Christ within myself. The body of Christ is always and eternally supposed to be community. There is supposed to be a church around me, empowering, supporting and informing my potential for ministry. And there bloody well isn’t!

But before I let anger, guilt and grief turn into self-pity and self-pity hurl me back into the endless abyss of depression let me try to refocus myself on the cracks in the cement of the patriarchal women-hating (no that is not too strong an expression) church. I am not the only “other”, there are other “others” with their vocations twisted or wasted (I moved a church that technically ordains women but like many others found the language and practice still oppressively patriarchal). Some have learned to survive/thrive and nurture others, to channel away the toxins of their own feelings of betrayal and bitterness- referring to the truth of their pain only in ways that heal the “others” like me, who have failed to overcome their sense of alienation and find a place.

The church has failed me, but God knew that would happen and called me anyway. I do realize that I have failed God. Like David I am caught up in the system that causes my deep grief and I am not an innocent, but like the watchman perhaps there is a shift change coming. There are others who have even less privilege than me, and they must be my focus for fair balance- not myself and my self-pity.  There is still a Jesus who crosses to my side, who tells me to come out of the crowd and touch and be acknowledged and healed, who calls me to sit up and eat, who is the one I must become, not just the one I can be passively saved by.

I have often felt that my vocation and even my faith was dead “why trouble the teacher further”? But Jesus keeps insisting stubbornly that it is only sleeping. How then do I awake?

Don’t tone it down: a relentlessly gay person considers the readings

Today, after having shared experiences with some other queer Christians last night who have a more or less critical relationship with the church, I want to hold in my mind an ideal of being “relentlessly gay”. I won’t get into the debate about whether I am gay by nature or choice. I will say that I shouldn’t have to prove I have “no choice” that whether or not I control my identity I would “choose” this as being an authentic and healthy way for me to be before God (compared to the dysfunctional heterosexual identity I tried to choose for myself). Am I made this way? Called to be this way? Did I choose this?

The part I can declare is you won’t change me by disapproving. You might see me as relentlessly gay or relentlessly feminist or relentlessly left-wing or relentlessly a nerd. Each of us is called to live relentlessly as ourselves before God, living reflexively in terms of our responsibility of care to other people and to the planet but not apologising for the flavour of being that is me. And in all seriousness I want to connect my relentless gay identity to my identity as a person of God, because the church as much as any other human institution oppresses and trivialises and destroys God’s people and particularly God’s rainbow people.

With that ideal in mind I now turn to the readings the lectionary holds for us this week (one of the versions). And I start with a reading I could read in purely historical way and look at the horrible violence and militaristic way of being in it, and shudder as I do at so many readings in the collection we treat as sacred, the bible. But I can’t help seeing something different in the story of David and Goliath. It’s one of those myths of hope against all odds, a fairytale where the underdog triumphs through skill, courage and being the good guy.

It’s a story I would like to consider casting neoliberalism as Goliath, or casting patriarchy as Goliath- or capitalism, fundamentalism, the ruling class, whoever and whatever oppresses and overcomes us and tells us that we are weak and barefoot. I watch David refuse the armor, the trappings of the system within which the odds are stacked so against him and he is already nothing more than a casualty of war. I watch him turn to his king and say “No. I am relentlessly David the shepherd” and I don’t look ahead to when he, himself is the corrupt wielder of power.

I was encouraged as a child to read this story as a lesson on why we should believe in God who is more powerful than everything and everybody and who can make all things possible. It’s an attractive story, it captures your imagination. The little guy finally defeats the big guy. All praise the Lord. I am not completely walking away from that interpretation…except… I know that it does not always work out that way in the real world. You can be the little guy full of integrity and walking with God and you can come up against an oppressive Goliath who is beating his chest and roaring “turn back the boats, turn back the boats” and maybe wants you to “Tone down” your gayness too, and you can’t always find a safe and effective way to fire your sling at that real life 21st century Goliath.

So I take the hope from this reading with caution. It seems to be encouraging courage in resistance, to take me back to that Magnificat utopian vision of the tables of power being turned. I sit with that, and read on…

Militaristic language aside, the Psalm continues the utopian vision. It is a call to God to view the injustice and to smite the wicked. I know that as nice Christians we are meant to endure all things and forgive everything and love everyone…but when I see the oppression levelled against single mothers, or refugees, or young people; when I see the earth itself torn to shreds in the name of nothing more than greed (and the good of a small minority) then I also cry out for a cleansing round of smitings. “Let the nations know that they are only human,” God. Let our government tremble with fear at what their arrogance is doing. Let us all be forced to turn to a more compassionate, just and sustainable way of being.

But if I use this as a sort of catharsis of my feeling of fear and powerlessness and then leave it all to God while I enjoy a takeaway coffee from a disposable cup made by 4 year olds in another country where’s the good of that? The call to God does not get us off the hook waiting for an anointed David. We are David, we are the ones God has given vocation and agency to. There will be no social change without our participation and struggle. The questions are still more than the answers, and I have stopped being relentlessly gay (if gay also means carefree or happy).

Behind the guilt-trip of the second reading is a fairly accurate portrayal of struggle. Much is to be endured. Many hardships are to be faced. And relentlessly, in this reading the writer (Paul or one of his imitators) claims to have been relentlessly Paul, to have been relentlessly characterised  “by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God;”. How does it speak to us, longing for justice if “now is the acceptable time” and the day of salvation? We are not called it seems to wait on God’s salvific action, or to look outside ourselves for a David or a Paul.

Who are we called by God? Who do we become in the struggle for justice? How do we make this the day of salvation? I can only hope the final reading holds the key…

The reading begins promisingly for a “relentlessly gay” reader with Jesus crossing to the other side. How much of queer identity (or even the choice to be a queer ally) is about crossing and recrossing boundaries, separations, binarisms to become part of a new terrain an otherness and the other side. The reading does not claim that Jesus bats for the side he crosses to but somehow his crossing causes controversy, he may be treading where he (the pure son of God), some would think ought not to go.

If I am going to read in this way, zooming in on symbols and connecting them to modern experiences, then I also need to look at the boats that are crossing. Jesus is in a boat on stormy waters. His friends are perishing from the dangers of the crossing. Where in a modern context might we find a story like that?

Jesus in this reading is a boat person, a daring crosser “to the other side” (and consider how often in art he appears almost as a cross dresser) and there is a storm which within the narrative is just a natural thing of waves and wind, but might represent all sorts of storms that the church starts up when Jesus keeps company that is not white, middle-class, hetero-sexual or led by the correctly rubber-stamped men. He is in the struggle, he is on the struggle, he manages to sleep but the struggle goes on.

Are we like Jesus asleep in the boat?

How wonderful if we like Jesus on waking could stretch out our hands and still the tempest of controversy and hate-mongering and xenophobic discourse. But we can still it’s power at least to define us and limit who we may be. If we are not Jesus, not the apostles but the boat itself what then? We are caught in storms that threaten to capsize us (of anxiety, of broken relationships, undeserved criticism, powerlessness) and we toss and turn and the light of the world that is in us as followers of Christ (or if you like because of baptism) isn’t doing a hell of a lot against the hopelessness. And we need to wake the Jesus inside and say “make the storm shut up” and all our self-doubts and our self-hate, our fatalism and need for escapism, our addictive behaviours and excuses for inaction will be still.

And we will relentlessly bear that sleeping, living light to the “other side”. And we will endure all things and we will overcome the arrogance of nations and rulers and slay Goliath.

Relentlessly the people of God, people of hope, agents of change.

Common Sense

This is another of those concepts I will use again and again so I will make an aside I can link to.

When I say “common sense” I don’t generally mean “good sense” even though this is the Oxford meaning of the term.

I mean instead, the sense that is taken-for-granted and held in common. A lot of writers in education use it this way, but I think it all goes back to Antonio Gramsci.

To make it very easy to understand here is an example. If “everyone” knows something then it becomes common sense. It used to be common sense that the earth was flat.

so common sense is not always true or helpful as a way of looking at things. But to believe anything else, to read in any other way goes against the grain. Which brings me back to this weeks reading…

Interviewing Mark 4:26-34 and some of his friends

What if someone (not necessarily a man) would scatter seed? Someone desperate for growth, for ears of golden corn, for an end to the spiritual famine. Someone who lives on the fringes. Someone who has carefully saved up the seeds from meagre gleaning, who has survived for many years on the crumbs that fall (if only you give up your dignity to crawl), fall from the table of grace.

Is the “kingdom” of God like that? The starving household of the same God? The fringe-dwelling widows and orphans of the “kingdom”. Excommunicated for disobedience, for living with open eyes. I was hungry God and the church refused to feed my spirit.

Do we sleep? Do we rise? Do we walk away? Something calls us back to scatter our seed again and again, to waste our potential on hard and stony ground, to hope against hope as our seed chokes among the thorns of common-sense.

Does it sprout? Does it grow? By their words you shall know them. Or was that works? No, by their fruits.

4:28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.

And on those who say that feminists are narcissists, that say that women who seek to be ordained are acting out of the sin of pride (I won’t add those links as I don’t want to give them traffic) I ask them to look again. Do we claim to have any more control over the seed than any other sower, than any other patch of earth? Do we claim to choose where we are sown any more than the helpless grain of wheat?

Where are we in the story?

Do we sleep? Do we rise? Do we feed and teach our children and maybe someone else’s too?

4:28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.

And where then is our harvest? We sow love but we do not reap respect. We sow wisdom but we do not reap justice. Wives and mothers are just wombs and breasts, helpmates and servants. Wisdom choked by thorns of heedlessness, trivialised by stony silence of privilege.

4:29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.

He goes in does he? When do we go in? Where is our harvest? Even the dogs may gather the crumbs, oh God.

What if the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed? What if we had faith the size of a mustard seed? But my faith is shrivelled and old: past its season. I never had the courage or the strength to move a mountain.

Perhaps it is after all mustard I am sowing, tiny seeds unheeded to make a shrub we could all underestimate. My words that I sow I will be forced to eat – hot burning mustard to kill the decaying taste of patriarchy in my mouth, to season the blandness of a faith too privileged to see that I exist. mustard spreads like a weed, try to pull it out, eradicate it if you can!

the master’s house infested with this tenacious mustard, which are the little birds that will now make their nests?

Hearing parables, I always get the itch to tell my own. What does a woman know of sowing? Resisting, resisting, resisting the straightest reading of the text I weave it through and around other sections testing to see how they intersect, are the strands strong? Do the colours clash or make a rainbow?

Apparently I am not a “disciple” my bible doesn’t have the answers in the back for me to check my work.

But what if someone would scatter seed?

Someone desperate for growth…

Among women

So I did try to be a good girl and focus on this week’s readings. The first one had some potential being God trying to talk the people out of having a king with all the sort of symbolism of hegemonic masculinity, militarism, ruling class parasitism and all the rest of it. Well done God! Now you know how I feel trying to speak out against “common sense” (that’s common sense in the sense of Gramsci) arguments. God of course didn’t prevail and was whipped enough to give the people what they wanted.

I am a bit conflicted by seeing God that way. I guess I could have turned it into a discussion about free will, family loyalties, vocation…..etc, etc, etc.

But I am sad enough to have missed last week’s Visitation story. Not only (as I already mentioned) is this a bible story that actually passes the Bechdel test but I have always thought that at some point I need to talk about Mary. When I was a little girl I was in love with her. I didn’t know it was called being in love and I didn’t know lesbians existed or that I was one. I just used to stare dreamily at the blue-clad statues (sorry this is not a protestant-friendly post…if statues offend you feel free to give this week a miss and come back next time). I was catholic so any of the myriad churches my mother, father and especially my grandmother brought me into had statues of Mary. She wore blue. I have always loved the colour blue on women (correlation or causation?)

Once at least the statue was in a rose garden, there was what at my young age almost seemed like a maze and at the end of it the beautiful blue woman serenely holding her smiling baby and her eyes down-cast which was supposed to signify humility but to a three year old signified eye contact. She looked at me. She loved me.

I was encouraged to think romantically about this beautiful woman by my catholic relatives, especially by my grandmother who was also devoted to her (maybe more innocently…maybe not). A lot of older women wearing black brought Mary flowers- roses mainly and kissed her feet and touched her hands and I wanted to as well very much but my parents told me it was not really the right thing to do to touch the statue.

Many churches had a place where you could light a candle then go kneel by the statue and you were supposed to pray but all I prayed was “here is your candle dear Mary you are so beautiful I want to touch you”. Why should I see sexuality in that when I was only three? Because 33 years later when I realised I was a lesbian, when I recognised the lesbian feelings inside me the particular sort of nostalgia I felt the next time I saw a statue of Mary  (who looks alarmingly young to me now) helped me connect the dots.

I guess it was more like courtly love than a modern version of romantic/sexual love in that I never saw myself as Mary’s equal. I half wanted her to touch me and half wanted to be her and I wanted to be close to her and make her happy and be worthy of her. Catholics are allowed, even encouraged to pray to the saints and especially to Mary. I prayed to her even more than I did to God. Because I was taught that God was male and inaccessible and without an image HE was alienating. Mary was welcoming and I could understand the idea of unconditional love in her soft look (and I consider myself non-visual). When I dreamed of God, I dreamed of Mary too. When I dreamed I died and had to face judgement (which was something I worried about all the time since I was told just how sinful and unworthy I was all the time) I always dreamed there were three figures who were God (I hadn’t heard of the trinity) and one looked like Mary only with a crown of flowers on her head as if it was Jani.

When I googled this week’s gospel (Mark 3: 20-35) with the word “feminist” a poem by Brian Wren came up about Mary. It made me think about the scene I missed last week of Mary and Elizabeth having their exclusively female community of support when huge things happened in their lives. Wren has thus managed to connect 2 very different gospel stories by seeking a pro-feminist reading. The joy of seeing each other causes so much oxytocin that the child in her womb seems to leap. That can happen, the mother’s emotions can move the baby. But is Jesus also thrilling to be allowed into this intimate female space- not as a colonising privileged male but as a voiceless witness to unselfish, courageous friendship and wisdom.

Mary is wise. She comes out with the Magnificat a great manifesto of the kingdom of God who “casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lonely” (If you click the link please note the Magnificat is actually from the bible and the catholic church do not own it, just as they don’t actually own marriage either).

But God casts down the ruthless, expoitive ruling class and lift up the proletariat; casts down the privileged white person surrounded by white culture and lifts up the every other race; casts down the wealthy authoritative male and lifts up the single mother; casts down….down with all privilege, all domination, all exploitation and lifts up and liberates the 99%.

Here is some real good news!

Yes please God. Mary’s vision is one to make everything within us leap for joy, to help us reach out in friendship to one another even when it takes a huge effort to offer that support. I am not trying to continue some sort of awkward older-woman crush that I had when I was 3 years old when I look now to Mary for revolutionary wisdom, guts and authoritative discipleship.

If Jesus, the young man had his moment of not being interested in his mother and brothers (sounds like my son) then so be it. I wonder though, what was Mary doing all this time? What acts of radical discipleship might there be behind the masculine world of the text which focuses on the one shining figure of Jesus? What words of friendship and wisdom might have gone unrecorded? Mary most often gets remembered or celebrated for being a womb…but there are snippets of evidence that she was other things too.

I don’t pray anymore by closing my eyes and imagining Mary touching me. But I see her as sister-disciple, mentor, inspiration, wisdom’s daughter and mother. I hear last week’s gospel about Mary and Elizabeth embracing and talking radical politics and I think here is a sacred site in the text where people like me and experiences like mine exist and are sanctified. Sisterhood is no longer something alien to the kingdom of God.

Hail Mary indeed.

Say it isn’t so!!!!



Last week I dutifully did the lectionary readings noting with joy and excitement that the visitation was coming up. You know, the visitation? Possibly the only story in the bible that passes the Bechdel test?

I once did a queer reading and I was going to dig it up for this…

Now I look again at the lectionary and see that alst week the visitation was alternate readings. Last week when i didn;t particularily enjoy the readings I was set!

I am going to go home tonight and sleep on whether it is time to ignore the lectionary and just have fun with a queer reading!