Monthly Archives: November 2015

Oh come thou, long-expected

An unexpectedly beautiful start to my advent was my son’s end of year school Christmas concert- our last one as a family at this tiny catholic school. I braced myself for the usual nod to the traditional story of Jesus, Mary, Joseph etc (gospels blended together as though they didn’t each have their own particular flavour) and then a whole lot of painfully consumerist crap centered on santa, presents and whatever other Christmas kitsch that truth be told is not meaningful for my family. What I got was song after song of the “real” (to me as a Christian I mean) Christmas story, generally separating the shepherds from the kings (each class seemed to have a particular theme of one of the Christmas stories and follow that in 1-2 songs).

My son also compered (“beyond compare” as he put it) the whole show with some very silly jokes but I must admit that kept my interest. I don’t do crowds, I don’t do Christmas functions with tinsel and all that crap and I don’t do mixing with other parents as well as I ought to and I expected to hand awkwardly at the back wishing I dared read my book about transformative practice in early childhood (which is ever-present like a security blanket in my handbag). I was only there because these are things we are supposed to do for our children.

Once the children began their excellently rehearsed and surprisingly meaningful show though, the cynicism fell away and I began (a few days early) an advent journey that I didn’t expect. Thoughts flashed into my head of the Greens‘ small triumph (please note that even though the major parties as a whole are awful on the issue of refugees there are some greater-minded individuals even in those parties)  for getting SOME children out of detention this Christmas as I watched children dressed in vague semblances of ancient Middle-eastern garb. On of the classes had a particularly interesting theme. Their two songs were “Knock, knock, knock at the door” and “No room at the inn”. I suspect both of these had been used by the school in previous years but having both of those songs together struck me as a stance of mild but insistent resistance to the common-place values of the day. When the one knocking on the door of the overburdened, overfull inn is a little cute baby that is also God- then who wants to be the one who can’t even find them a stable to sleep in (I do realise that almost all of this story is a kind of popular midrash and the bible doesn’t speak of harassed innkeepers and stables).

“Send me the link to your blog” one of my friends (you know who you are) reminded me at the conclusion of the concert and I realised that as the purple jacarandas waved their liturgical colour at me, it was time to take my pain and despair at the plight of refugees and struggling impoverished families, and dispossessed Aboriginal communities, and cast-out queer or pregnant children and take all those pains on a journey into the world of the advent of baby Wisdom.

Please note I accidentally did Year A readings which means I am running one year ahead. Sorry.

I look to the first reading with its beautiful and complex imagery of “beating swords into ploughshares” and though I can problematize the plough, in the context of the poor overburdened earth; with Vandana Shiva I want to look for small, sustainable farming answers to feed people not rip earth and human cultures apart for profit. I think that the very active idea of taking the sword into your own hands and beating it into a ploughshare by hand- the sweat and effort and struggle to make something visionary and better out of the reality you are presented with- is an activist idea, not an idea of waiting for God to do all the work of salvation. As Christ comes am I working toward a world of (active) feeding not fighting? There is an advent challenge here…

I turn to the psalm and with a rueful grin consider how my honest writing about my anger and criticism toward the church and world and my impious grappling and debating with scripture (which will continue) has led me back into the household of the church after all (partly thanks to the crazy trust of people who asked me to preach this year as well as other disgruntled Christians who walk with me). My heart is somehow “glad” and feeling at home when my feet were standing back “within the gates” of  the church although I have learned enough to never be able to be the child at the table again (like when you visit your parents after having your own house). For the sake of people I love and am inspired by I will try to modify my criticisms with a peace born of kindness. God has made me strong with the gifts of anger and criticism, the challenge is to keep myself honest with generous serves of kindness and peace in how I express my valid criticisms. But I won’t water them down, as I feel God’s pull more strongly when I am honest.

The second reading gives a timely and stern talk to my activist self at a time of year when catching up with friends for drinks has become a high priority and plans need to be made for “the holidays”. It could also speak into the not-yet-published part of my lack of discipline. It’s time for me to wake from sleep and take the fullness of my life and call more seriously. Oh my call, how I try to run from it and neglect it! If I want Wisdom to come and transform my life and my overcrowded inn I need to be ready to make like a Christmas shepherd and leave the sheep to themselves long enough to visit her and give little world-changing baby Jesus a cuddle. I need to be like an angel and point out the extraordinary to interrupt the “business as usual” of the world. I need to be like a magus and follow the enigmatic call even though it drags me through the palace of Herod which seems counter-productive. I need to be like Joseph and not question the way God’s business becomes my whole life and my business. I need to be like Mary, so connected into the Wisdom of God that it wells up in me and grows and is born and changes the world. I can still have that glass of gluten-free beer with my good mates, I can still get involved with making things at work as good as possible, I can still enjoy the last weekend of Feast and the concert with Archie Roach that I am going to but this is not where my real life is. My real life is nurturing justice and resisting injustice and I need to wake up, have serious amounts of spiritual caffeine and get to it!

I’ve always had a problem with this gospel, but today I feel I can read it as a warning that “business as usual” is not going to cut it. In terms of the environment and the spreading hand of exploitation and oppression there is a lot of merit in an apocalyptic view toward politics. What is Christmas? Is it a holiday of excess and “God rest us all merry” while there are starving children and suffering strangers in the world we have built up for our ease and security? Comfort and joy for whom?

Sometime the “Son of Man” the “human one” is coming whether we look to that possibility or not. Scientifically our days as a species are numbered (and it’s a smaller number than people like to admit). What is the meaning of being? Do we hide from the interloper, Christ until he breaks into our lives like an unsettling thief? Do we acknowledge our need and look for the coming of one who will call us to radical transformation? Knock, knock, knock at the door. It’s advent!

Kingdom, power, glory and other distractions

“You say that I am a king.” Jesus throws that particular metaphor back on Pilate- back on the pseudo-objective, rationalist, judgemental part of ourselves, the part too cowardly to be moved by compassion and deeper visceral wisdom. Yes we do say that don’t we…we reify kingship and power and greed: patriarchy and kyriearchy in placing Jesus on side with the rulers of this world, with the fathers. Even when he criticises or replaces them he does it (in our storytelling) as a rival and a winner, as the hyper-masculine suffering body that triumphs. We have read this “truth” in this way for so many years and we have settled in this exile of Lords and Fathers. How can we sing Wisdom’s song in this desolate land? How do we differently make sense of the radical transformative action of Jesus.

I look at a greed-torn world, a “kingdom” of cowardly and wilfully blind citizens and I don’t see a “reign of Christ” in action. Not if Christ is God, is that still small voice of challenge, the call to justice, the instinct to kindness, the presence of love. Where is that in the ruling of this universe? How does the torn and poisoned earth experience Christ’s “reign”. I do not think that after two millenia of this we need to keep trotting out the same old pious Pollyanna-statements where when all else fails we are stubbornly “glad” because “Christ is king”. Religion becomes the equivalent of an ecstasy tablet, we take it to ignore reality and we feel damn good– meanwhile the oikonomia of God’s household is still in disarray. We are not taking care of our earth and our little human selves at all well.

Our so-called “king” is in exile. We are too damn racist to accept a king who sits on the earth with Indigenous people or travels in leaky boats with refugees. We are too misogynist to allow a queen within the eternal Christ/Wisdom person who walks with us and suffers with us and calls us to something simpler and truer and less glamorous than a “kingdom”. Where is the justice and kindness and simple barefoot humility that is “all” we are called to? We force this exiled, suffering Christ down onto a throne and nail a crown to his head and hail him as a human construction of oppression, as a “king”.

“Holy” we bleat, “God you are so cool”. We say “Lord. Lord, Lord, Lord” day and night and ignore the work to be done. Wisdom walks through the streets, mixes wine and talks to the “just anyones” that our church pushes out. Christ labours in the great harvest while we pour the chemicals of patriarchy and racism over everything and try to sell Christ short on infertile patented seeds of a pre-determined kingdom of euphoric nothingness. “Those who suffer the ecstasy of the animals”, snuffling up to the ankle or the hand of a master, behaving obsequiously and expecting a pat for it. “Those who glitter with the glory of the hummingbird” self made members of a royal court, dressed in the fine threads of someone else’s labour and feeling a nauseating delusion of superiority. This is our religion at times, a lip service to the truth of the labour of God’s struggle and an profound orientation to everlasting “death”.

We have one life to love God- not to worship in a way that distances God and makes a Christmas pageant of “Him”, but in a close, intimate way that is committed to the pain of always giving birth to justice, kindness and right-relationship. We don’t work, or suffer, or achieve things “for” God, for some distant and glittering king that demands things from us. We engage in the work that God is already doing, we orient ourselves toward life and love. We follow a beloved not extol a figurehead.

I realise I am quarrelling with tradition today and even with scripture and I have not had time to do a careful analysis of those readings so I am writing from the gut. But I am no courtesan playing political games and competing for the favour of a spoilt king. At my best I am a (junior) co-worker with the tireless justice-maker Christ, at my worst I might be distracted into the sort of pretty feel-good religion of the spectator at a royal progress. If we want to say that Christ “reigns”, then we have a lot of work to do to make love the new common-sense.

My heart is mutinous at the thought of a ruling class God!

 

Apology for taking a week off

She seems to be making strange demands of me and rekindling activist hopes I thought were dead and buried.

I have to prioritise following this up over against my blog. I dont think I have enough regular readers to really inconvenience anyone but if you need to reflect on something this week- here is an old thing that has caused me a lot of reflection since I was 8 years old and again recently

And yes I do love child-sopranos as they remind me of my son a few years ago

Stop enabling

I tried to write a blog about this week’s readings and I felt angry at all the different ways that exploitation of humans (women in each case) was reified as part of God’s plan and then I tried to pull back and find some good news in there to try to say that God was actually on side with the oppressed and we should…we should… and here I drew blanks. How do you respond to what is essentially a text of terror? And especially when the church uses it as a model for the Christian life that a good Christian is like Ruth or the starving widow or the almost penniless widow and is prepared to be used up and spat out in the service of God’s kingdom (or only to be nurtured by God as part of a greater plan of faithfulness to more important figures).

I want to radically follow God out of love, but not to be exploited and especially not to be part of a long tradition of the clergy and other all-male groups trivialising, exploiting and casually using women. NO FUCKING WAY.

So I wrote it and didn’t post it, I thought I would sleep on it. And then I checked my email and a friend of mine who is a sort of feral priest (ie too female to get any compensation or even acknowledgement from the exploitative Catholic church) had a rant in there about being “preached” to by people who have just got no idea. I won’t steal her story or her ideas as such, but that seemed a very productive track to go down to consider how dare I “preach” at all and who would I “preach” to and what presumptions and privilege might be contained within my preaching.

I don’t tend to like being “preached at” actually. I often feel like the person standing out the front going “blah, blah, blah, blah” wrongly assumes that I am many steps behind them on my spiritual journey and disrespects the ways I might be their equal or even ahead of them. I don’t believe we should preach that way as if to inferiors. I am not Jesus if I elevate myself (the first part of this week’s gospel makes that clear before moving into the text of terror which gets zoomed in upon in the opposite way to how the context sets it up).

The (mostly male) superior preachers who want to teach little old inferior me how to live (all without ever walking so much as half a step in my shoes or even bothering to make the smallest effort to find out anything about my life or experience) lack what we in qualitative research call REFLEXIVITY. They don’t stop to analyse who it is who is doing the preaching, that they are not just a wise conduit for God’s infallible wisdom (with a small “w” because it is not really Wisdom when it is bound by patriarchy) but that they are human beings caught up in webs of power relations in a society riddled with inequalities and that not only are they the relatively privileged, but that they also within the reign of God are pilgrims and sinners as are the “congregation”.

I am not saying that priests never examine their own conscience and never engage in their own spiritual journey, it would be wrong of me to speculate on that and God I am sure sees whatever good work or gaps exist in that work. I am simply saying that by setting up a one-way power relationship where “the people” are not meant to see “the priests” humanity there is a sort of dangerous hubris that leads to the greater and more dangerous abuses of power. It is also both discouraging and unhelpful to have to humour these people by listening to their self-satisfied and often superficial drivel week after week with little or no opportunity to speak back.

Having said that I hope that anyone who wants to take issue with what I am “preaching” is free to leave a message disagreeing with me, which provided it is not abusive I would allow on my wall. And you also are not a captive “congregation” but can tune in or out of what I choose to write as you wish.

I have tried to make it clear in this blog who I am- a disenchanted “Christian”, a graduate of theology, a single mother, a lesbian, a white middle-class person with a job and all the rest of it. In all those claims about my identity I am identifying what my bias might be and realising for me to try to speak from some ivory tower of “knowing” to you whoever reads this is arrogant, unless I realise that your different “knowing” might be equally enlightening to me, and unless I show that my struggles with these difficult texts are part of my Christian journey of NOT having all the answers and NOT always being “right”.

So Ruth makes herself available to Boaz so that she won’t starve and conceives a son for Naomi. The widow and her son are saved by God ONLY because of God’s interest in the survival of Elijah. Despite Jesus’ words about the exploitative hubris of priests, all the church sees in the widow’s donation of more than she can afford is a great role model for the poor and down-trodden in the pews to be guilted into following. Jesus is the ultimate high priest, advocating for us before God not constantly haranguing us that we are “not good enough” but other priests do NOT advocate for the oppressed within church and society and just preach spiritual opium and escapism to the masses.

The church is riddled with cancerous growths called patriarchy and privilege. It is bound into service of the ruling class and regularly commits adultery by serving the interests of capitalism rather than its spouse, Christ/Wisdom. It is addicted to its own cleverness and relatively easy place in a troubled world. We, the people must stop enabling. We must stop making excuses for the black eyes and hurt feelings, stop separating ourselves from the things that can give us life and stop being unconditionally faithful to the abuser, the patriarchal church. We must stop hurting Wisdom herself by blindly following and excusing, stop collaborating in the myriad oppressions of the world and the church.

If we have one coin between ourselves and death, we must use that coin to buy bread for our children not let it be sucked up by a not-even-grateful church. If we have a vocation we must dance it away from those who steal our labour and our dignity…somehow this must be possible. We must glean some sort of future for ourselves the widows and orphans of the institutional church!

Free Will

This is the third part of a work of fiction (bible fan-fic) Original. Here are part one and part two. It’s best to read them in order. This is where the story gets messier (but wait until you see part 4, that is even more so). 

And so we came into Terra Nullius, the empty land, the land that had belonged to noone. I see you frown my love, and prepare to reprove me but I am not speaking an objective truth for all time, just recounting how it was for us; for Adam and Adam’s helpmate.

Something about the confrontation had broken Adam, and I had to be strong for either of us to survive. I was full of pity and a kind of guilt and felt tender toward him for a long while and tried to give him attentive listening and care as he “worked” to name every mountain range and map each river and I only did the mundane things like grow vegetables and erect a makeshift roof over our heads. He’d come home and murmur the names of the places, the animals and the birds he’d named in the evening and I would stroke his sweaty brow and heat his food and let him creep between my thighs (which were now hardened to it) for comfort.

My bleeding seemed to have stopped. Indistinctly within myself I head a sound. Was it the voice of God? What did it have to do with my bleeding, or non-bleeding? I felt a heat of mysterious possibility and danger and I forgot to resent the narrowness of my life with this pitiful man.

As you rightly reprove me, earlier I too had objected to calling our new home “Terra Nullius” I struggled to understand Adam’s feeling of loss and emptiness, he kept saying he felt the loss of his wings, that he had been cut off from “real life” and now lived in a meaningless prison of flesh. In paradise when he named all the creatures, his contemptuous term for the ones who couldn’t fly was “terrestrial” but now we were terrestrial also. I had never flown so I didn’t feel the loss the way he did.

Adam swore oaths, he was obsessed with finding a way to appease Go and regain his celestial status. He had a mania to “prove himself”. I thought of the smallness of God that I thought I had seen and wondered about all the striving and proving. But I had my own concerns, my body was becoming round like the full moon and my ankles had swelled up so that walking was difficult at times. Adam looked at me with disgust and decided that while he was out “working” I was sitting idly at home eating more than my fair share. He tried to hide and enclose food so that I couldn’t have it, but this presented a challenge for him since my work was gardening and harvesting and cooking. He had enjoyed my body more before the monthly bleeding had stopped, before I had heard the voice of God which brought me out from the shadow of having belonged to him.

I felt now that I belonged to some mysterious power that I held within my own flesh and in my heart. I struggled to understand how this could be possible in the hideous deformity of my flesh but the thrum of it was undeniable, there was power there. I feel your discomfort at my words darling, do not object to them. Let me kiss you to silence for now and later when I have told the story you will have ample time to protest every facet that was wrong in my thinking. But you have already healed so much.

You already know some of this story, you saw it written all through me. You remember how hungry and worn I had grown from having to eat only in secret. How he started beating me again, for even less reason than formerly. I needed to protect the small fire of possibility deep within me, so afraid as I was, I ran away. Remember?

I had made it as far as the lake, and had found a cave for shelter. I knew I shopuld gather firewood against the approaching cold and danger of night but I was dizzy with exhaustion and pain. My feet were sore and my stomach cramped with hunger and there seemed to be too many steps between me and any sort of rest or sustenance. Hating myself for it I burst into tears, and began to curse the absent God.

“Why did you make me?” I stormed at the divine deafness, “There is noone in the whole earth like me. I am so tired and weak and alone.” I wasn’t looking, I didn’t see who approached.

“You’re not Adam.” you said, surprise in that rich honey-dark voice of yours. When I looked up you were in the light, outlined by the setting sun so that at first I thought it was shadow only that made you look so dark. Your skin I later saw was beautiful- like earth, like the eyes of God – your nakedness surprising after the time we had spent “civilized” by Adam’s fear of God into wearing heavy clothing.

My eyes even then, drank in the sight of you- deformed like me. “Woman!” I exclaimed in wonder that somehow you contrived to look beautiful not ill-shapen.

“What is ‘woman’?” You asked, and I couldn’t stop looking at the curve of your hip, the rounded breasts, the hairless chin.

“Woman means not looking like Adam. Not chosen.” I tried to explain, but even so a voice inside me asked how I could say I wasn’t ‘chosen’ when Adam needed me so much more than I needed him.

“A person?” you asked, you seemed honestly puzzled.

“Not a man. Not important.” I tripped over my words and could not make you understand. You seemed to think you and I were both “person”.

“God made me.” you said slowly, “She said I am important.”

“God’s not ‘she’!” I said horrified

“Who said?”

“But Adam…” I paused. Adam knew everything but I considered what he knew. I thought about his “truth” that the serpent was evil and we would kill it, his “Truth” that we’d needed to hide from God’s judgement even if hiding meant eternal suffering.

“Did God say you are important?” I asked shyly. My whole skin burned with the belief that you could well be. You came up close, your eyes serious. I was afraid but wanted to be brave so you wouldn’t back away.

“You need food and rest.” You told me and somehow contrived the magic of both food and rest without me having to do it all. You stroked my hair and held my hand and told me off when I tried to help. You said I was safe and you wouldn’t let anything attack me.

You were strong and brown and wise and beautiful and I wasn’t alone.

I wanted you more than the food and rest I so sorely needed but you promised to be there when I woke and you smiled at me as though I had pleased you though I had done nothing and it was you who had attended to my every need.

“I will serve you,” I said, grateful beyond expressing- humbled by the way you had responded to my need, but you laughed.

“You need rest,” you said, and your lips brushed my temple briefly. I didn’t know then that it was called a “kiss” but I hoped you had done it on purpose. You must have seen my hope, because your eyes said “yes” and so I knew when I woke that I could also run my lips over you, to return the kiss and to ask for more of them. You gave me everything I asked except permission to be less than you.