Monthly Archives: August 2015

Domestic violence and the bourgeoisie

This is from another blog that I often find worth reading. I really think this needs to be said

No Place For Sheep

Domestic Violence Silence

In the last few weeks two rather disparate male journalists, Martin McKenzie-Murray in The Saturday Paper and Mark Latham, late of the Australian Financial Review, have observed that the current orthodox position on domestic violence against women and children holds that domestic violence can affect any woman, in any demographic, and is not socioeconomically determined.

Both men contest that position, arguing instead that women living in poverty are disproportionately vulnerable to domestic attacks, and that current opinion is based on the erroneous belief that patriarchal notions of male domination, entitlement and privilege (otherwise known as rape culture) are the cause of violence against women.

Personally, I don’t subscribe to the concept of so-called rape culture as the sole cause of violence against women, but neither do I agree that violence against women is predominantly determined by socioeconomic conditions.

What I find interesting is that two white middle class…

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My beloved said it was spring

Lectionary link here

What a beautiful first reading, and well placed in time now, when we are all sick to death of winter as well as of the wintry political climate. How seductive of “my beloved” to come bounding up proclaiming spring and escapism and endless possibilities rekindled. Yes, if vocation is like this how impossible to resist (no wonder I can’t focus on the things I am supposed to be doing, my beloved must be distracting me with spring and flowers and song). The psalm follows that being more of an admiring love-song for a possibly unreachable (there is already a queen by his side) but infinitely desirable other. Where’s the usual militaristic and pious language? Scent of spring indeed in these words!

The second reading brings me a criticism of my habitual angry state of mind, one that has far more persuasive power with me than usually when people tell me to lighten up and be less angry. In this epistle I am reminded to be slow to anger because my anger does NOT give rise to God’s justice. That is true. In and of itself negativity does not bear fruit. I am actually mellowed by those words in the context of the beloved prancing around in an ecstasy of spring. Sometimes we wait and wake to a natural hope which we have not ourselves been able to accomplish. The next verse asks me to be meek however, which is going too far. Not even for you God!

The remainder of the reading shows us that we need to have a commitment to social justice and a transformed and transformative way of life, not just pious “yes man” attitude to God. Just being “spiritual” is a sort of narcissm, the real living word of God needs to be actualised in transformative action. For me, writing words every week on a blog that not so many people read I guess I need to reassess. What is my grappling with the word of God achieving? How can I live as a “beloved” and an ardent lover of God? In what way have I not yet responded to my calling?

I don’t have the answers, but the desire is kindled within me to become open. Hopefully God will move me. I turn toward the gospel.

The gospel seems to be reminding me to look beyond superficial signifiers of “belonging” and “complying” to the real substance of the behaviours that are or are not worthy of God. And I become aware of sin within myself. What is it that comes out of me that defiles? Am I quick to judge people because I feel that my own struggles make me more deserving than others? Is there some malice at times when I criticise, does it degenerate to gossip and sarcasm and mockery? Not only is this cruel and destructive but it is also a distraction from real change while I bury myself in negativity.

So perhaps the call by my beloved is to discover an idealism not of purity, but of sweetness and forgiveness. I can never forgive what our society is doing to helpless refugees, nor the church’s misogyny but I can forgive the ignorance and powerlessness and human weakness in real human beings- in my friends, in my enemies, in myself. When our “society” or “church” is broken up into the actual individuals who make up these corporate entities, how do I bring my compassion and wisdom to stir people?

I observe myself as a teacher of 3-4 year olds. I have found there that using kindness, encouragement, dwelling on the positives, encouragement and affection bring the best out of them- with criticism only useful when it is used sparingly in a loving context. Why cannot I do this more with adults? Is it because I see “them” as more powerful than me, as more capable, by implication “they” ought to be better than they are, ought to be better than I am. Even the way I talk to myself is full of “oughts” and “shoulds” and “why didn’t yous” when as one of my friends once told me I ought to kiss myself and say “it’s ok darling” instead, like I would throw my arms around a crying child and keep them safe.

“This is who you might be” my beloved says to me, “This is who I see in you. Come away from the despair and the cold and the isolation. Embrace my people and be embraced.” Desire burns away my fearful and small minded excuses. Spring is here!

My useless flesh rejects your mansplaining

Wow do this week’s first and second readings want to get any more patriarchal? Everyone was forced to listen to the important leader man saying “blah, blah, blah” and mansplaining at God for ages with false humility meanwhile no one else gets to speak especially not women and the all male clergy probably slap each other on the back about a job well done, meanwhile the average housewife is bored as hell (especially when I look more closely and realize this really long-winded reading is heavily abridged!!) and wishes she could spend any time away from her housework doing something more interesting than standing on her weary feet trying to stop the kids hitting each other while Solomon/Joshua goes on and on and on.

Then the people of god were relieved the mansplaining was finally over and shouted “hurrah, amen, we agree” to avoid provoking a longer speech.

If we see “righteous” as meaning “oriented toward justice” then I like this psalm for all that it is Utopian and not grounded in real experience (I like the uncut version infinitely better). But that’s the psalms for you, they are sort of bipolar channels for your extreme emotions, passions and grandiose ideas. Which would be why I have always liked them. So on to the second reading which still makes me giggle as I remember my Dungeons and Dragons playing days.

Put on your belt of truth (armor class 7) and your breastplate of righteousness (+3 to defence against media magnates). Yes I am sure the militaristic language was more appropriate and relatable in its time to the implied (male) listener. But I think that I am already too inclined to think of the negative things that happen in the world in these terms, so that people become my enemies and I feel some sort of a desire to “fight”. And resistance is something very complex and subtle, it’s not a matter of flaming swords and winged sandals.

So ok, from my woman’s place (caught between my childcare job and my going home to be a mother) I am not getting a lot out of the first couple of readings. Let’s hope the gospel has something for me.

The gospel is rich enough so that I could ignore the bits that trouble me and just take some sort of spiritually correct orientation toward Christ out of it. But the troubling bits are there. The complete discounting of the flesh as “useless”. Yes, so your words are spirit and life- but I get to live in a world of food and food allergies and sleep and sleep deprivation and belly dancing, and bubble baths and sex and rolling downhill and swimming in the ocean and the salted-caramel dairy free icecream I can share with my son and busting for the toilet and having to pay bills, and heavy layers of clothing because I am cold and coughing into my elbow so I don’t spread germs and the ectasy not just of the beautiful words but having to turn the page to get to them. And no “Lord”, my flesh is not useless. I have hated it, and wished to escape it and it sometimes weighs me down but it is beautiful, it is human, it is earth.

And I can only be a Christian in a material sense- just as I wish to give the refugees the material good of homes and food and schools and playing football at the park not just words of comfort.

My second stumbling block is this gatekeeping “Father-figure”. If Jesus was to ask me “Do you wish to go away?” I don’t think I can speak with Simon-Peter. I don’t think these words are life for me. I think I will be more like “Leave me alone, I have a headache. I am sick to death of you and your mates expecting me to be an audience for your mansplaining and your pompous speeches and your extremes and binaries while my experience is so completely invisible”. Because this teaching is not just “difficult”, it’s downright insulting in places.

So then maybe I will call up my good friend Wisdom from last week and take her up on the offer of wine and maturity. She won’t brag about ascending or ask me to unquestioningly believe things, or screen me through her “father”. She has her own place and understands that bellydancing and cuddles and purring cats are far from “useless” even for beings with a spirit.

After writing this rant I woke in the middle of the night with a hymn distractingly running through my brain

Yes Lord I believe

That you are the Christ

The son of god, the son of man

Who has come into the world” (note the less than feminist wording)

 

The hymn is “I am the bread of life” and like many things from childhood it has embedded itself in my brain. I was trying to get some sleep before a 7:30 start at work but this hymn kept waking me up. When the third time I work up sweating and clenching my teeth with those words invasively banging around in my head I told God I would write in a footnote that I do realise that Jesus and Wisdom are the same people. I am not rejecting Jesus I am just having some fairly significant creative differences over “his” association with patriarchy.

 

I don’t (as I explained to God) repent of what I said, or of my anger. I do now feel I should be clear that my criticism comes from a position of overall faith (however imperfect), conflict is part of any relationship. Maybe my overactive conscience is a delusional part of myself, but once I had made that commitment I fell asleep and slept until 4 minutes before the alarm went off, just as I wanted to.

 

Surely if there was no love there I could easily dismiss the whole baggage of church and faith and God as irrelevant. Anger means that in myself I know that what I am being excluded from, or kept on the margins of is in some way significant.

“Come eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed”

I know this is an idealised account of Solomon and we could read him in the context of his patriarchal world and the patriarchal text as a whole, but I want to consider this idealised image in and of itself. I have a romantic liking for ideals, sure I fall short of mine but I can’t help always thinking it is good to have them and when I don’t get everything I want out of life it is comforting at times to have lived by ideals- hedonism in my experience only leads to emptiness and doesn’t stave off disappointment and hardship.

So Solomon realises his privileged position, and the fact he has it by fortune, not merit (which is a lot more humble than you would expect from one of those larger than life Old Testament figures). He asks for wisdom and understanding. If only he was able to take the tiny extra step of realising that the understanding that privilege must ask for is the understanding of the “other” the ones who are not the king, not wealthy, free or male but we can insert that into the story when we remember that for us the “other” the “least of our siblings” is always Christ. So to ask for understanding from God is to seek to listen to those with less privilege than we do.

The overtone of judging and discerning in 3:9 then becomes a matter of justice and advocacy. Solomon is often presented as wise and unbiased but God in Jesus in fact never presented as unbiased. God is constantly biased toward the poor and oppressed. For us first-world, relatively comfortable people this may be a hard pill to swallow- we often try to present a “balanced” God. But to act is to be biased and God takes the part (consistently throughout many biblical texts) of the widow and orphan (and refugee).

The alternative first reading (I realise I am not using the lectionary correctly here but I don’t really care) has Wisdom inviting us to her house for a party. It’s a party with food and wine in a house with seven pillars (I guess a nice house then) but it’s a party that will change you forever. You go in to eat her food and drink her wine and you leave your old foolish ways and become irrevocably enmeshed with her (she’s upfront about that at least). It’s a pity you have to choose between these two first readings if you are running an actual church (as opposed to ranting online) because they are actually beautiful read together. Solomon has been seduced by wisdom, she invited him in and he can’t lust for anything else.

I want to be in Solomon’s shoes and as I read the readings I feel that even wanting to be there is a good thing – it’s not everything because there is still the old immaturity that must be laid aside when entering Wisdom’s house, but desire is the beginning of such an intimate and life-changing relationship.

I’ll ignore Ephesians because even though it basically says the same thing it couches it more negatively “stop drinking and having fun and instead do what is right” whereas I prefer the Old Testament version which was “come and get drunk and be seduced and you will begin to want to do what it right”. The beer o’clock Wisdom is a lot more enticing than the grumpy preacher/ schoolmaster Paul.

In the gospel, Jesus echoes Wisdom, offering himself now not only as the hostess with the mostest but as the food and drink in itself. This is more than life changing, this gives us life forever. I find it hard to know what to make of the “life forever” imagery all through John to be honest. As a child I thought there is this place called heaven where we all end up and then when I got older I thought – it’s not a physical place but our internal essence and personality is somehow preserved in relation to God and everyone. And now I just don’t know. I don’t know about “live forever” when even things that are good in this life never last forever. The weather or your mood changes, the people you love move away or get busy, you find you have to be preoccupied with new concerns. The positivity and optimism with which I begin any project, endeavour or relationship at some point begins to flag.

We eat the bread that we believe is Jesus and even if we get on some sort of a spiritual high (and in the past I have done just that) then we return to real life, to ordinary life and not only is life mundane but we are still flawed and mundane too. So is Wisdom a liar? Is it really just a one night stand? At times I have felt that as well, I have felt that this whole “faith” deal that I have been seduced into is a huge con and I have felt very angry. And when we read on about Solomon, sure he did some impressive things but he’s not perfect ever after.

But then when we get back to Wisdom she asked us to leave aside that immaturity; the need for constant reassurance and convenient on-demand grace, the expectation that God will take all the responsibility for this relationship and we don’t have to work at it at all. If I am honest I don’t always “work at it”; I used to dutifully “pray” every day, by set formulas that I was taught and that I did to prove my commitment and I used to beat myself up about how much my mind wanders during those times. What I did I did out of guilt and feelings of unworthiness, out of a commitment that was more fear than love.

Now as a border-line atheist…well not a very good one…I rarely force myself to pray. Now prayer is more something I fall into when I walk in nature, or at work when I am patting the children to sleep or late at night at my best friend’s house when my head is spinning with the wine the writer of Ephesians doesn’t think I should be drinking. And at church too when the vibe happens to be right. I fall into a prayer which may be hard to give words to- or which might just quote words of songs or bible texts, poetry or something I read. I fall into prayer that says “I am here, please help me find meaning in that” prayer that says “please let me feel that you are here”, prayer that says “I want things to be different” “I want to be different” and lately preciously “I now know you love me and I want to weep with relief at that knowledge”

And from moment to moment I have not always been able to find traces of grace in my life, I have not always felt the transformative presence of God and I will still have the grey empty days of weeping and the night terrors of God’s absence. Part of any relationship is absence, emptiness and disconnection after all (it took me a long, long time to accept that). From moment to moment I can’t and don’t believe that I have eaten something remarkable, the bread of life. But when I fall into prayer (like falling in love) then I trace the eternity within that moment not only as an ecstasy or euphoria (which marked more of my “spiritual” experiences early in life) but as a quiet acceptance of self and other and a quiet dissatisfaction with injustice that I feel was planted in me the first time I met Wisdom and now makes up most of what I acknowledge as my identity (even though I don’t always know what to do about it).

And when I look at the journey of my 3 year old self, my childhood, adolescence, turmoils of my early adulthood to middle-aged me – at the same time that the aging process begins to make ideas of “eternity” more ridiculous than ever there is some sort of faithfulness and stubbornness by the presence of God that makes me cautiously hope there is meaning somewhere in the journey. And why would an eternal God be faithful to a slow-learning and non-eternal me? So I am always up for some of Wisdom’s bread and wine and transformative possibility.

When liturgy is women’s work: self healing and being loved

Even though I made claims at the beginning of this story which did not turn out to be true as I travelled through my story, I will not edit the beginning partly because I am so time-poor but mainly because I think there is an honesty in keeping in the way I delude myself and the way I try to avoid the obvious.

Given my estrangement from the lectionary at the moment and the fact I need to study I will not bother looking up a reading, will just recount a spiritual experience I had this week. I was challenged by it, back when I was more “churchy” I would have mistrusted what I felt or felt I had to turn it into a Christian framework somehow.

Instead now, I just want to tell it the way it was, with possibly my Christian prejudice still in place and my feminist bias too but not deliberately turning it to a familiar framework. I will trust the whatever, the God-thing to be real enough not to need me to fabricate Her realness with a framework. I will trust myself to love and follow the God-being enough not to need to force myself back into a box I never was all that comfortable in and have long outgrown.

As I say to the pre-schoolers “This is a true story, but there are still a lot of questions about how I know this story and whether someone else would know the story or tell the story differently”

I was unhappy yesterday, with an unhappiness that was probably just the after-effect of letting my happiness get too high like a drunkenness a few hours before. There is a person that makes me happy, euphoric and I always get drawn into a transfiguration type experience with her and then like in the biblical story (which wasn’t going to be part of this story) I want to make some sort of tent around the experience to prolong and own and predict it into my continued life. And it is a gift, but it is not that sort of a gift…the fragrance of beauty and possibility fades.

Later on she was short with me, I had a half-heard comment from someone else who laughed with her and I felt shut-out, the outsider. I felt they were mocking, and she rejecting me. Actually very little happened. It was a feeling, an after-effect of a high but I felt like shit. I wondered if I should work harder at not being in love with this person. I wondered how I would live without the glow of that love…I panicked at the unsustainability of it no matter what.

And though I didn’t feel like it I met my friends for belly dancing. My friends surrounded me. Often they have been sad and I have tried to commiserate and comfort. This time they were happy, bubbly, full of plans. They laughed at my emotional pain but in a loving way. I saw through their eyes that I was being stupid, overreacting – but they were not cruel enough to say so. One of them spoke with me at some length challenging my rigid meanings of what had happened- offering other softer meanings allowing me to begin to let go the self-hate and resentment.

But there was still sadness.

“I’ll dance it out” I said unconvinced, I wanted them to believe I was being brave, that I was at least trying not to be so stupid. “Yes dance it out” a friend agreed, that worked for me last week” but I had loved dancing last week and all week as I practiced and now I just did not want to dance. I felt too stupid and hideous and like a great big lump of sadness and I wanted to cry not to dance.

We went into dancing and the teacher welcomed us, the group had already started and they drew us in. We called instructions to each other (actually I was new to this and didn’t say anything but I appreciated that the more experienced dancers did). I had learned so much by practicing over the week but now my mind was full of tears and my body heavy, uncooperative. I forced myself to follow half a beat too late, my feet all wrong, my body ungainly.

Mostly the teacher did not comment. At one point she reminded me that it was early days for me and that it was just good to try. She reminded me to layer the moves, to only focus on the feet if I couldn’t get feet, hips, hands, upper body everything. In tribal belly dancing you layer move upon move upon move. Beginners don’t have to move their whole body. We move as a team, we try to all move together and be together and flow as one. We signal to each other the moves we will choose in the changes and we take turns leading the group.

I am a raw beginner, no damn good at it but the mathematical precision of where I ahd to put my feet gradually took over and my hips wanted to follow. My arms were too high so the teacher helped me drop them and stretch them out as they should be. Other dancers, more experienced than me also had small adjustments, but the teacher was always very positive to us and always broke it up into the smallest most logical steps possible. It was a type of maths, it took my brain and body over. I was still sad but not as heavy with it. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight; each move was eight beats (more or less) and they always happened in pairs. The feet. I placed my feet right, corrected or caught up when I needed to. I moved around the circle suddenly confident and keen to lead when it was my turn- then once again confused and lost.

The teacher had let me pass on leading the previous week, this time she saw that I was emotionally ready…with the right scaffolding, she suggested the move I should “lead” and remindingly took me through it. It was a parody of leading only, but I know from my pre-schoolers that that is how you become someone who can do. You imitate the appearance of doing, you slowly take over a step or a feeling of doing and you keep trying.

“You’re actually ok for someone on their second lesson” a friend reassured me

“I am trying to speak to myself as I would to the kids I teach” I admitted, “that it’s ok to take some time to learn a skill”

“It’s like a different language” she challenged, “You can only learn by doing. I love bellydancing. It’s all types of women…all ages, all sizes, all shapes. Well it is in tribal anyway”

At the end after our cooldown I realised I am quite fit. I was less breathless than many of them. I need to gain skill and the right sort of intelligence to understand which move comes next and remember how to do it but I am fit enough for this. When I stop panicking I will be flexible. I felt a glow of happiness that I would one day have the chance to be better at this as the teacher brought us into a circle.

“This is what we do, this is what tribal dancers do in every country” she told us, “If you don’t know their language you still dance with them and we finish with this” we brought our arms out blessing our sister- first to the right then to the left. We brought our hands together into the centre of our body “this prayer is also for ourselves” we knelt to the earth and blessed it with our outstretched hands and folded bodies, we rose up and travelled clockwise together then once more blessed our sisters to the right and to the left.

I felt sisterhood. I felt the “otherness” and the presence of God. I felt connectedness to the earth. I felt a humility creep into my body- what were my sorrows or my mistakes after all? What significance do labels like “Stupid” or “unattractive” or “rejected” have. The divine presence was flowing through me and my “sisters” and we were deeply emotionally and connectedly intelligent, we were attractive with a glowing light of beauty and love that flowed from us to all people and the earth we were accepted, welcomed, beloved by each other and the earth and the divine.

“I will try to be ok about her not loving me” I tried to pray but it came out differently.

“There is no significance in wondering and wishing and hoping about her loving or her not loving. There is dignity in me because I love her. There is dignity in me because I see dignity in others. I will walk into greater compassion and kindness toward others. Real love for someone leaves the other free.” I wasn’t moralising at myself like I have tried to when I try to pray the “right” way, I was letting go of pain and feeling a calm self-acceptance that was loving toward others. I felt connected to everyone- to my accepting friends, my dancing group, to my child and to my friend’s partner who was babysitting him, to the partners of all my friends, the friends I have not seen for a while to the friends who need my help, the colleagues who love working with me and the ones who rub me up the wrong way.

I am connected to the person who may or may not find significance in that, and to people I have not wanted intimacy with. I am connected to the people who bullied me in high school and helped me become such a nervous wreck but they are human and forgiven because I am filled with redemptive grace and beloved. I am human and forgiven for my blunders. I am called to mean well and to question.

Sisterhood in this case was inclusive, it was beautiful and because it honoured the specificity of our femaleness there was a spirituality of deep healing grace here. On the way home I ignored my anxiety about starting work at 7:30 the next morning and stopped for pizza and immature jokes with some of my “sisters”. I wasn’t going to turn this back into my Christian paradigm but what was that if not Eucharist?