Monthly Archives: July 2015

This bread you are trying to feed me is stale

Another lovely slice of misogyny where men are people and women are just property to be used (by God) to make a point about the man’s sin. I am going to stop right there and rant about this issue I have with

A: the canon we still give such a privileged place to

B: the church and the power and privilege within the church and the blindness, stupidity, insensitivity or just plain cruelty of whoever establishes the lectionary

C: Patriarchy as the framework, justification and culture surrounding these agendas and ALSO the thing that erases resistance to these points of view or more commonly simply fails to register that resistance even exists

I have read Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror and I do try to see the horrible readings in this way. I do think there is a place for rape and abuse stories (however gut-churning, triggering and painful) to be told to avoid making victims invisible. BUT when you constantly tell the rape story just as an inconsequential footnote on the “real” story of the rapists I can’t see that that is ok. It’s not just that this story told and received uncritically is problematic, but this story is a form of abuse in and of itself and telling the story as if it is a valid and important story is an act of emotional/spiritual abuse! The multiple victims, the wives that get passed around from conqueror to conqueror depending on God’s whim and favour barely register in this story that is all about David, Uriah and God. Bathsheba sort of figures in the story, but not in any way that you could possibly hang any feminist hope on or even find solidarity for a critical approach (and believe me I have tried).

So why is it in the canon? Well quite understandably a patriarchal culture in which men were social actors and women (though probably really social actors too) were considered property and less than human would give rise to this sort of a story. Male privilege in these situations does not mean to be abusive of or even objectifying of women, it just does not see them clearly enough to even make a decision about “rights”. To have “rights” you have to exist, have subjectivity, have a point of view and be active in some way. Misogyny, xenophobia and classism are pretty much what you’d expect from an ancient patriarchal text like the bible. We can’t change the bible people would argue, it’s been handed down to us and we have to use it.

I think that’s a pretty silly argument actually if God has still been alive and working and relating in the many centuries since these stories were written. To petrify God in the ancient world, to say God was able to speak then but not now means we are not working with a living God. Surely nothing is given. I know it is frightening to cut loose from tradition because then what is it that grounds us and binds us together. It would be easier if we could just blindly lean on a common core a non-contested fundamental.

But the core here is patriarchy and a fundamental is invisible, casual, inconsequential rape.

I cannot worship a God that requires me to accept that.

I cannot. I will not. I can stare such a God defiantly in the face, because even assuming there is a “heaven” and a “hell” there is no possible “heaven” for me within a framework like that. I would put my soul on the line against rape, and I say that not only as a rape survivor but as someone who has feared for a sister and a step-daughter and an effeminate son in a still women-hating culture. So if God can casually hand over some objectified wives for rape and conquest then I spit in that God’s face.

And this is where I slam my bible shut and walk out.

But then…assuming I was not foolish enough to do that, to take the fight to this theoretical and canonised God Himself (pronoun intentional). Assuming instead that I have an apologist view toward this reading which is after all a product of a time and a place and does not necessarily have to be read as giving us a universal truth. Why focus on this after all, when there are so many, many other stories from the bible that might be more liberative or at least more nuanced?

But then we have the modern church in 2015, and this reading is seen by the church as so significant and full of good Christian treasures that it has pride of place as a Sunday reading over now two weeks (I won’t look ahead to see how many more). So it’s not just in the canon, it’s put into the lectionary, this story is meant to talk about equality or something. We’re meant to not notice the women getting casually sold off in the background and compartmentalise like the good white masculine subjects we are meant to be. The spotlight is on David, who cares about the non-entities suffering behind him. Uriah’s suffering trumps them all! As a woman, as a rape survivor, sister, daughter, some-time wife, mother and everything else that I am I call bullshit on that.

I won’t screw my face up into that particular squint to put the patriarchal blindspot over my own experience and my own interests.

THIS READING SUX.

But the leaders of the church are blind privileged men who have never been raped and have never been threatened with rape and have never been casually handed over in transactions between others depending on agendas that have nothing to do with their own interests. And they deliberately stack the odds and make the rules to keep voices like mine out of being more than an occasional curiosity. Any woman who wants to serve as a minister needs to toe the party line, they need to ensure no real transformation happens to the patriarchal white elephant (and I do acknowledge that women and even some men do manage to act subversively at times, but when they are overt about it they may still be disciplined).

I did glance at the gospel, in case it somehow undermines the horror of the first reading. John has Jesus theorising about spiritual “bread” which is better than the material. And speaking as a sometime poor single-mother who came to Jesus and still was hungry and thirsty and knows for a fact that many, many people in the world believers or not are STARVING because of the same sort of blind privilege which reduced people in the first reading down to rewards for men/kings I don’t really want to hear that right now.

Damn straight Jesus I would follow you if you feed me or my children or my millions of starving brothers and sisters. I am not so interested in following, believing, working or seeing signs if my body and soul are left hungry by your church and by your world. Nor am I (like a woman in another reading) content with crumbs when there are some who are given an abundance.

I throw down my gauntlet. What “bread” is in any of this for those on the margins of the stories, of the churches or of our global prosperity?

Why the hell should I take any of this on board?

Advertisements

Sharing the small loaves: trusting that this is bigger than me.

Responding to lectionary readings. Where there are alternatives I tend to go with the first one I have a gut reaction to. Because this is not a scientific text and you are free to disagree with me.

Oh, here we go, the Bathsheba story! 😦

I have always hated that story even as a child. David is the villain, Uriah is the victim and what is Bathsheba? Nothing. Sometimes people blame her for what happened, sometimes not but she never gets to be a full person in the story- does not have a voice or a point of view, whether she is seen as actively “tempting” or as passively a victim, she is two-dimensional, a stereotype. She is just a woman when real character are men.

I hate the story. I don’t engage with it except in a resistant, sulky, want-to-vomit, gut churning, hating it too much to be coherent sort of a way which earned me one of my lowest marks in my theology degree. So I won’t waste any more of your time with my non-engagement but I will make the sort of faces children make when they think adults are full of offensive nonsense and will drag my feet and

Psalm 14. Hard to believe it was not written about the 2015 political scene, except of course all of our politicians say they are Christians (as opposed to our implied enemies the Muslims…and please note I don’t share this view) they don’t openly go about saying there is no God. They merely act as if “the economy” is their only God. I echo the sentiment here, none of them is good, no not even one. Judgemental of me I know and to be honest there may be a “good” person somewhere in that nest of vipers who is merely cowardly or ignorant rather than out-and-out evil. Only God knows. And God will show me my own cowardice and ignorance and selfishness for calling it in others, but I accept that and pray for grace to be better as I learn how.

But for those who would confound the plan of the poor- when the poor have a plan to flee from terror and death to a new country… when the poor have a plan to look after their children and their health…when the poor have a plan to be workers and earn enough to support themselves and also be things other than “worker”, and to have some leisure time…when the poor have a plan to subsist off the land or to live in the land without being flooded in poison…when the poor have a plan to continue culturally appropriate ways of life on their own original land…when the poor have a plan to better themselves through education…when the poor have a plan to marry the person they love…whatever plan about ordinary day to day life, about safety and food and water and family that the poor have…those who confound these plans risk offending God who is their refuge.

Oh that deliverance would come! Oh that justice would seem less impossible and distant. I also would be glad and rejoice. This psalm seems to build toward that Utopian vision and then trail off as if the psalmist doesn’t quite believe it either…

For this reason I think archaic ideas such as “bowing the knee” are no help whatsoever. Because that is what the ruling class want, a lot of blind obedience and bowing and humility by the oppressed. But every family in heaven and on earth does indeed take God’s name; we all come out of God as out of a labouring mother, struggling for breath and life and learning and desiring loving (re)union with that source.

And if through the Spirit and indwelled by Christ we are strengthened in our “inner being” (by implication there is some sort of pure goodness at the inner-part of each of us) which will cause us to be rooted and grounded in love- then maybe hope will come. Because maybe we will begin to comprehend the mystery of the infinity and eternity and surpassing fullness of God’s love. But I don’t say that for us to have an apathy toward injustice as if it doesn’t matter that hideous things happen to people because God’s love is greater than anything that happens.

It matters a lot when any of our creation-family is hurt or injured or oppressed. God’s infinite love wraps that person so completely, that when that person suffers and injustice God in love also suffers. And if we love God then this suffering is painful (luckily in a smaller way) even to us. So to learn to accept the injustice would be to learn to love God less and to take God’s love for us for granted a little more. That sort of neglect is a type of abuse. We need to nurture God as a beloved, as a child, as our dearest treasure and to desire justice is responding to God’s boundless love with passion. God’s power within us will somehow accomplish something mysterious and transformative. The writer of Ephesians says : “ to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

I paraphrase it: “BRING IT ON!!!!!!”

Much could be said about the gospel, but in the context of desiring justice within a parsimonious society, I think there is a very simple lesson here. Jesus simply does not accept excuses about not having enough for everybody. Jesus is not interested in your “efficiency dividend” or your preventing of a budget deficit or your cost cutting measures. Jesus sees hungry people and wants to feed them. He gives them “As much as they wanted”. Materially of course that is not possible from 5 loaves and 2 fish. Something is going on here.

Jesus blesses and distributes, and we could simply see this as a miracle in the naïve sense: a magic trick. Which is no help at all in the real world because having tried as a child praying and praying for magical miracles like that, and getting nowhere I need to find something here more transformative than the passivity of waiting for Super Jesus to rescue us with magic. I prefer to look to the verse before Jesus distributes where he is “testing” Philip by asking “Where do we find food for these people?” “We” is a collaborative word, not the individual Jesus but the “we” of faith must grapple with feeding the people. Philip responds with an understandable despair “What is that among so many?”

Jesus takes it and blesses it and distributes it. This is Jesus who will walk on the water, and defy the forces of despair and chaos. Whatever tiny amount we have to distribute we begin the job. How does Jesus continue it? There is mystery there, perhaps he also asks someone else- not just Philip. Perhaps some other disciple knows some other person with a fragment of food. Sometimes all it takes is beginning a movement- or following one, sometimes you can’t do everything as an individual. Philip does not feed the people, but he does respond to Jesus’ demand that he begin the impossible task and somehow the task is accomplished.

My challenge this week then is to find where in my life there are five loaves and two fishes I can begin to distribute. Where are the crumbs of justice for a hungry people? Jesus intends them to be satisfied with “as much as they wanted”; my little cannot do all that, but it can be a beginning….somewhere….blessed and increased in the fullness of love that calls this from me.

Not doing justice to Wisdom Herself

Please note I seem to have departed from the Revised Common Lectionary by speaking to the readings that I heard at church instead of working ahead. I am not sure where the readings this church used came from but the preacher spoke as if they were from the lectionary. I liked the readings and used them for reflection. The first reading was excerpts of Proverbs 8. The second (gospel) was either Matthew or Luke (which is puzzling because we are in Year B).

Last Sunday’s reading was about Lady Wisdom calling through the streets, nagging like a fishwife. Tenaciously reminding us to pay her attention, to not be seduced away from her. I actually went to church and listened to a sermon, where the preacher consoled us that even though this reading can seem insignificant and reads as “gibberish” (I disagree on both counts) it has a context. In the context Wisdom is the contrast to the evil seductress who has tried to entrap the naïve young man. At this point, caught between two female stereotypes and asked to inhabit the consciousness of a young man having to choose between them waves of depression rolled over me again. Because I have never read Lady Wisdom as the goody-goody slut shamer. I have not read her as an enemy or rival to the “other” woman in her desirability. I’ve read her as powerful, determined, active, voiced (oh so loudly and persistently) and desirable within her power and the beauty of her unflagging persistence.

I read myself as desiring her (of course) but also as being asked to watch and learn, to emulate her to allow her into my life and body, to allow her to move me to become part of her household; but not as a protection against other scary and impure women but because she herself is everything, demands attention- calls, commands and seduces.

So my response to the nagging call of that old Wisdom that I have successfully shut out of my life and heart for so many years? Learned deafness and a bunch of lame excuses apparently, because I did not even write my blog post on this beloved reading. As usual I regretfully turn my back on Wisdom. She is not for me. I do not measure up. I had a burst water pipe, a blocked toilet, extra hours at work, a transition, an opportunity to see my sons, visitors from overseas, and huge exhaustion and maybe a little bit of despair that my voice may be insignificant, unheard or plain wrong. I rationalised it thus “If wisdom is already calling, how presumptuous, how arrogant of me to chime in with my foolishness and twisted thinking. Wisdom herself will call to the people, I am not her.” Which is true enough, but riddled with the sort of defeatism Jesus (surprisingly) said God takes a dim view of  which fits more ancient portrayals of God as well. I am not saying I am hellbound for my laziness and lack of confidence, just acknowledging that it is not respectful of my call.

Like a choir mistress, Wisdom is not interested in the fact that my voice is not as good as someone else’s and in no way approaches the purity and beauty of hers. She may sing the solo, but she needs many voices to harmonise and counter-melody and build up a roaring sound of a great festival of wisdom to roll through a more than ever foolish world and bring some hope, some hints of green in the cracks of the neoliberal façade, a beginning of a way forward, a dance beyond despair.

“You need to lift your voice, sing louder. Listen hard and then sing” she might tell me. I can rehearse what my voice will let out but at some point comes the time to voice it, to quit fear and dare to speak with her, sing with her and even to try to speak for her (trusting her not to ever be limited by the limits of my thinking). Beautiful, forgiving Wisdom who returns again and again and begs us to try harder; to take some responsibility for the relationship for a change.

And attempting to at least begin to acknowledge Wisdom’s claim on me, or at the very least my desire for her- I turn to the gospel. The gospel reminds me that the foolish man builds his house on the sand. Disposable, transient, novelty house- planned obsolescence, a huge waste of the labour and materials that go into building something that will not stand up to time and weather. The economy (oikonomia) is also like a house/household (I don’t remember all my biblical Greek, but oikos was house). I can see the foolishness of building the economy upon the sands of capitalism, upon the ticking time-bomb of exploiting the earth who will eventually kick back at us way mightier than we give this ball of minerals, gases and mystery credit for.

We build relationships on the sands of conspicuous consumption, of performative encounters online or of fear of ourselves and the desire to possess, manipulate, exploit another and then when marriage (for example) becomes a joke, more about dresses and flowers; cars and honeymoons than about people then we blame the queer community because of course it was “them” that undermined the sanctity of marriage (isn’t it nice that when I was searching for a link to this all I could find at first were arguments against the fundamentalists and sarcastic spoofs). Because we could never, ever, not-ever blame capitalism for doing that (apparently you need ironclad evidence to indict capitalism as opposed to the vague rumours needed to accuse gays). We can’t blame capitalism for anything (unemployment, austerity, despair, refugee crises, climate change) because it is such a foundation of our day to day life. It is the sand we have built our multi-storey home on for many generations and denial bids us to insist that it IS rock – steady, immovable, inevitable.

And then even where we see rock we blast it open in strip mining and fracking to take even more from earth, to build another gable on our capitalist mausoleum of denial build on shifting sands. It’s crumbling and we spray in some sort of polymer in the cracks and insist we can’t feel the wind and rain through them. We use anyone poorer and weaker than us as human shields to protect us from the cracks in our capitalist way of life.

We are foolish, but we have nice wine and beautiful clothing and 1000 friends on facebook who all felt jealous at the dessert we ate last night. Because friends of course are people to instil envy in, and life is about flitting around the globe as fast as possible sampling everything- food, wine, people, experiences, places and fuelling our narcissm  with the well-roundedness we feel we have bought. And after all you know we are nice and charitable people and we sip “fair trade” coffee which means the workers may have been paid a tenth of a fair wage instead of nothing at all. And how would they survive if we stopped buying from their masters?

But now that I have constructed this dystopian vision of the society founded on sand where is wisdom? What is the rock we ought to build our society/home on instead? There are voices of wisdom advocating for compassion, justice, love, peace, sustainability, resistance. On the large scale, immense change is needed but on the small scale I hear wise voices each week at work when I think I am leading “group time” but the children demand that I change the written story I am reading them and remake the story more compassionately, more justly or with an idealism that only a child would have the courage to admit to!

When will we become idealists like children? When will we demand that that which is inevitable, which is written and already settled be rewritten to bring in what we know of compassion and of justice?

Does not Wisdom keep demanding that we follow her lead? Can we not let her begin a movement for change, for more solid values at the foundation of our society? “ Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her..” (Proverbs 8:10-11). Might be worth taking her instruction on board then.

Because I am adding the links, it’s taking me a couple of hours just to post the articles (additional time to actual writing) so with uni starting back I am thinking of reducing or eliminating links. Even though it can help me clarify my thinking to do them.

[S1]

Defending the sacraMENts vs the weaker sex and others- warning: contains boasting

For anyone who wants this week’s readings in their entirety, please look here. I zoomed in on a tiny verse this week inspired by another (smarter) person’s facebook rant.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

Boasting of my weakness. That is actually exactly what I do every week when I dare to post a blog on the readings. I am trumpeting before anyone who cares to read my failures to live, speak and perform in a way that would have resulted in me being ordained, that would have rubber stamped me to lead the people of God. But my “weakness” and “failure” of which I boast go deeper still. Being born female in the church is still a very big failing. Sometimes I feel baptism should acknowledge this reality, there should be some words about “only a girl, what a disappointment” somewhere in this liturgy welcoming the child and endorsing membership of the people of God, to reflect the lived reality of the community we call the church.

Of course people would be up in arms over such sexist and offensive language, but the insidious idea behind it IS embedded in every so-called liturgy (or nearly every). That level of misogyny is commonplace and I think keeping it invisible only makes it harder to fight against. So let’s be honest. As a church we really don’t like girls (except as wives and mothers).

The most popular imagery of baptism (that of rebirth) in itself contains a deeply deficit view of femaleness. Right when we are celebrating something that is uniquely female (giving birth) we have to reject this giving birth process as dirty- connected to earth, the body and therefore chaos and sin and we need to “rebirth” in a more masculine place presided by a still usually male priest, with a very masculine set of words and practices to correct the sinfulness of the birthing performed by the mother and give the child a chance to be allied to heaven, the spirit, order and grace. Women of course are necessary to produce the raw ingredients for these perfected spiritual post-sacramental beings.

When I gave birth to my youngest child, I squatted there screaming and growling like everyone else does and I thought to myself (there is water here, God is with me this is baptism. His real birth is also his baptism) while I also sweated and bled and gritted my teeth in the pain and the glory of it. We were a team- the midwife, the child’s father, the child (beautiful little God-bound soul) himself and I and we were engaged in a great and powerful struggle for life, for triumph so why not also against sin and despair? As the child left my body, slid out to make his own way in the world and into individual relationship with God now unmediated by me I cried out in triumph and I thought of Jesus’ words “It is complete”. Even though noone was crucified, noone died in this joyful moment.

It helped that I had read other people’s ideas comparing Jesus’ work of suffering and struggle with the idea of giving birth- giving life and blood to another-take in nutrition from my umbilical cord, take and eat from my body and blood when you take in breastmilk. Take and eat. In theory my child was as yet un-baptised and as yet too young to receive holy communion. I deliberately put him on the breast every week as soon as I had received communion. Any sacrament that applied to me applied also to my children. This argument will probably not seem strange to most parents. To love is always to be sacrament. It would be good if church recognised this already sacramentality of the family and celebrated it rather than trying to correct it with the “better birth” and the “only real” food.

So weakness equated with femaleness, bodiliness, earthliness is something to brag about. God does not transform our weakness into some sort of patriarchal hardness, despite all the imperial imagery around many of the readings, songs and prayers at church that call to mind the Christian life as crusade rather than as breastfeeding, as holding close, as claiming kinship.

Weakness is always part of any “othering” discourse; it is the sort of language used around people who “lose the struggle” against themselves and return to gay lifestyles, relationships or ways of being. Gay and lesbian churchgoers are supposed to closet themselves firmly in Christian respectability. I did this. I married. I bred. I wasn’t very good at the sort of “good behavior” that was required. Something in me kept yearning and questioning and had to be constantly put down and repressed (repressed so soundly that I would not even become aware of it). I had to find less dangerous ‘sins” and adventures to distract myself with to avoid confronting the truth of what I was.

I did not listen to this week’s reading, I spoke a lot about grace but I did not really trust it. God’s grace was not sufficient for me to leave the safety of what I had been taught and to boast about my weakness. I am weak. I am unacceptable. I am queer. Instead I was dishonest and blocked my “weakness” from being part of God’s power in me and I missed some crucial turning-points in my life, in the career that wasn’t. But God doesn’t call us to give us a comfortable life and a successful career. God gives us nothing except grace. Is grace the persistent and sometimes irritating voice that still pokes and prods at me to remain in God somehow?

Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

But since I was little this reading has been a stumbling-block to me. I don’t want weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. Perhaps I ought to want to bear all that to prove my deep and radical love for Christ. As the offspring told us “the more you suffer, the more it shows you really care, right, yeah”. But I don’t care in that way, if I am being persecuted, abused or belittled in a relationship or because of a relationship I seek to leave it. I don’t find my strength in being trivialised, silenced or judged.

As a gay person therefore, as a woman, I have lacked the courage to bear all the insults (usually disguised as the “proper” language of the liturgy) the feeling of having to choose between believing in all “that” or believing in myself (in a very basic way), the self-persecutions I have been tricked into, the calamities of self-hatred. This weakness never made me strong and I fell and fell and fell away from being ordained, away from church, away from everyone I knew, almost into death (by suicide).

ALMOST. That word. Why didn’t I kill myself? There is no safe way to answer that. If God somehow saved or helped me then it begs the question why not all the others? Why not my very dear friend who did die of rejection and suicide? But no. I was never “content” with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions or calamities.

And now we have the whole question of marriage equality, and once again the church is coming out to “defend the sacraments”. And once again the sanctity that is being defended is a sanctity that reeks of power and privilege, not a sanctity that reeks of manger straw, and fishing boats, and the cross. And all the wise things that could be said on the topic have already been said. All the hypocrisies have already been pointed out. All I can do is add my voice to the more articulate in some way. And I do it with a sigh of exasperation that once again – like birthing and ordination/vocation, once again the church has taken something that is sacramental (in this case human sexuality) and turned it into a bunch of rules and exclusions.

And I say at the end of the day I don’t even need to keep looking for the (obvious) holes in their logic. The fact that the church wants to keep a stranglehold over a sacrament so that most people won’t be special enough to qualify for it already has my suspicious feminist spidey-senses tingling.

Like the boys who build a cubby house for the express purpose of putting a sign on it saying “no girls” and “no pansies” they have built themselves a church. But for those left outside- perhaps God’s grace will be sufficient after all!