Monthly Archives: March 2016

What resurrection?

So we have had a week of the “Easter” season and we are all transformed. Our hope is refreshed and we see everything anew. All the angst, all our sinfulness and lack of way forward is transformed and we work with renewed favour to build the just and wise reign of God!

That would be a nice scenario wouldn’t it? In actually fact the heartbreak caused by the double threat of my own inadequacy and an uncaring and unjust world, the struggle not to thrive but merely to survive with some semblance of dignity continues (and I say this realising I am more privileged and have it easier than many). After Easter I have to go back to work, open mail that adds to my pressures and deal with the explosion of an already leaky tap. I am TIRED of the real world and I would like a space to be happy and refresh hope.

“Jesus is risen” so they say. Resurrection is not real unless I experience it. Relationship is a purely theoretical thing, useful for nothing until I touch it. What does it mean to merely “believe”? Truths that have no transformative power might as well be fairytales. With Thomas I find it hard to summon up the effort to “believe” in anything, to hope anything to endure what must be endured (1Corinthians 13:1-13…. has nothing to do with this week’s readings but I really think it ought to and it would be a darn sight more relevant than the first and second reading we have been given).

Then of course there is the question of double standard. If we are going to posit Thomas’ lack of faith as a deficit (he should have trusted in the word of the other apostles who were chosen by Christ for revelation) then surely we should ask equal questions about the “Twelve’s” initial scepticism in the face of a bunch of over-emotional, perhaps hysterical women flying from the tomb on the excitement of a risen Jesus. If Christ gets to decide who is allowed to receive the touch of personal revelation then surely they(we) were chosen first. So if we have a mandate to believe everyone God chooses (and think about how irrational and impossible such a claim actually is) then they ought to have believed the women to begin with! But somehow the 12 are rehabilitated with their flawed thinking (doubt) not even mentioned by the risen Jesus.

Either Jesus here is complicit on the boy’s club mentality of the ancient and modern church (but then why appear to the women at all) or maybe the way this reading is often used breaks down. Thomas is not being reproved for lack of faith. The idea that people are “still more blessed” for blindly believing the word of others (others as flawed as the twelve constantly showed themselves to be) is a strange one, so I am not sure why Jesus is quoted as saying something like that and how reliable we can consider it theologically. There’s my doubt again, right there. I doubt very much that in this story Thomas is in the wrong. Blind faith is dangerous and often lacking in love. Thomas’ inability to believe the impossible (the continuation of the mission of Christ, the presence of the one he loved) is grounded in a deep love. Love is never a theory, it is always an experience. Even when you believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. Even when you break from your inability to believe, hope, endure.

But as for mere spiritual “gifts” they will come to the end. As for organised religion, ordained priesthood, structures and hierarchies of human origin we see them fail and crumble and short-sightedly we often shore them up instead of trusting in what is eternal. We accept the ordained “twelve” who expect us to take their word as “truth”. But when we cannot do this, when they are untrustworthy or inaccessible and we flounder in faith, I pray that Jesus will turn to us and say “touch, know, believe” without the mediation of the “someone elses” who do not speak our language.

Then as church we can maybe stop squabbling over “you believe this and I believe that” and we can stop calling people naive for what they believe or godless for what they can;t or won’t believe. We gather in a room to share friendship, support, be together despite differences (big theological differences maybe like Thomas). We gather in the name of the Risen one whatever we believe or don’t believe about it all. And the grace is that we are touched, accepted, called.

Doubt no longer but believe? I don’t know about that. But I will seek and long for and be touched by. The resurrection comes to those who love.

 

 

 

Risen (by some accounts)

I really honestly don’t have time to write a proper blog post like I want to (I hope to come back and fix that)

But bottom line is: if you can believe in women’s preaching then Jesus is risen (Luke 24:1-12). If only ordained men (the twelve) can preach then they are going to talk about it and mansplain each other for a week and you may save your chocolates and your lovely easter lunch until then! Because so far Jesus is only preaching joy through women!

Wisdom still walks wherever she wants, not necessarily through official channels.

Jesus is always an ally in any struggle for justice.

Happy, happy Easter!! 🙂

Loss

People talk about tombs,

beautify them into wombs

but

in reality

not existing.

Being dead…

 

what was there when Jesus wasn’t?

 

 

To find a way back from nowhere

 

Is denial still the first stage of grief?

 

What happens if we accept that the death happened

he died, left, stopped being.

 

What would we feel if we didn’t yet know

that tomorrow is Easter?

A poem (not by me)

I like this poem bar the last stanza (really?? You are going to ask to be smitten for not being better?). I always doubt that sentiments like that are sincere, however if they are the person thinking it needs urgent mental health help. But if there was less self-hate and masochism in the last stanza then it was a bid to be rehumanised by witnessing the suffering of “other”. To see God in the condemned and the suffering. To feel more. To be returned to a state of compassion. So because of that last bit I did not use this poem in my liturgy. However I am saving it here so when I look back on my spiritual ups and downs of the year i remember the call to compassion too!

Good Friday
Christina Rossetti

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon –
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

Stations of the cross

Rather than do all the stations of the cross (I would if this was my day job) I will look at two this year and God-willing will continue my blog another year and reflect on different ones.

1. Jesus is condemned to death

Often I look on this from the point of view of the one condemning. It is a worthwhile reflection to look at who and how we condemn, exclude and victimise others, but I want to see Jesus as walking in solidarity with us in our deep pains. I want to generate not just guilt (don’t we sit with more than enough of that?) but healing for the deepest pains. Because one way or another we are also condemned.

Condemned like the blind young man I saw this morning who was talking too much, because he is condemned to go through life without the grounding and reassurance of eye contact and facial expression so that to connect he must make conversation.

Condemned like a friend of mine who has to parent with a man who emotionally abuses her every time there is contact, who she used to love and perhaps still loves but is hurt and harmed, unfairly accused and burdened by. The way of her cross is to bear his insults and my temptation is to disengage from the whole thing and forbid her to show me all his text messages. But if I see her pain as related to the pain of the suffering (and also abandoned) Christ then I can walk with her the unpleasant and repetitive road of her ex-partner’s harmful words.

And can I not also speak of how I am condemned to despair and envy whenever I consider my vocation? That my vocation is a burden that can never go away, it is my life’s reason and greatest love but it is blocked by the necessity of doing other things and I am not strong enough or intelligent enough to fit it well around the mundane burdens of “women’s work”. I feel envy, yes, because I see “priests” living and working in comparative ease and while I am flawed, I am no more flawed than those who are found worthy. My life, my experiences, my flawedness is so different from theirs that there is little understanding that they can offer me (to be fair some occasionally try a little). It is my difference that makes my call urgent though, because there are so many other disciples trapped in “women’s work” and mundane matters who can relate to the temptations that I face, who I would be a more appropriate minister to (just as those who we have ordained may be better at ministering to some that I would not reach so well). So my pain is doubled because I see a church in need of a diversity of ministry that I am largely powerless to offer my contribution to.

I have lived with this pain since I was a small child. The pain of being called to an impossible vocation (not impossible, only difficult and I am a flawed and exhausted person). The job I do is women’s work which means miserly pay and humiliating, exhausting work-life.

Condemned to gender. Condemned to race. Condemned to be not taken seriously as youth or dismissed as old. Condemned to poverty and struggle and lack of choice. No end-point in sight, this is all you shall know until you die. If there is a meaning to life then it shall be beyond your grasp, it will exist in the dreams you are too tired to dream in colour and in the oasis which every time you see it is a mirage only. You are not valued, you are undesirable. You are too little, too late. You are unpopular. Away with her! Crucify her!

How does Jesus face this way of the cross? How does Jesus enter into every condemnation, every sentencing of every victim of systems of power and abuse and commit to walk with each of us the whole long, wearying road of heartbreak and failure?

Jesus give me grace not to be defined by those who reject and condemn me.

Holy Wisdom walk with me through insults and failures and pain and the fear of meaningless death.

Beloved truth, show me how to enter into the condemnation of others to disrupt the victimisation, to transform and to liberate.

 

8. The women of Jerusalem weep for Jesus

Jesus said to the women “weep for yourselves”, did he know how easily we get derailed into offering more compassion to a man’s suffering than in serving our own interests. Jesus’ words seem profoundly pro-feminist to me that even in the midst of real fear, real pain, real death he refuses to take the spot-light off women’s experiences, or to take women’s focus off themselves. How different from the many men who claim to be pro-feminist but constantly shift the focus to their own experiences and sometimes imagined slights.

Jesus, the Wisdom of God knows that a system that can torture and put to death an innocent man, deals less than fairly also with women. Women are silenced, alienated from their own children, raped, made dependent, trivialised, dismissed, beaten, exhausted by the demands of others and then gaslighted by male faux feminist “allies”.

Jesus makes no claim to “understanding” the experience of women, merely demonstrates the most important point, that women need to focus back on their own experiences, their own dispossessions, their own griefs and pains. Here, within the deep suffering of Jesus, far on the path to crucifixion we are given permission (more than permission vocation) as women to look at ourselves, to give voice to ourselves, not to feel like we are being “arrogant” or “narcissistic” (accusations often made by church people toward women who seek recogntion or equality) when we bring our own interests into the conversation.

Jesus has said “here in my moment of suffering I am calling you as women to reflect on your own suffering with compassion, with grief, with the authentic feelings you offered to me”.

Jesus I am weeping for my largely wasted life and learned cowardice.

Holy Wisdom if my pain as a woman held back by patriarchy, is by your comment akin to your carrying of the cross, then make me with you a sign of the emptiness on the cross. Give me courage when I am poured out to be reborn in resurrection.

Beloved humility, show me who I am gaslighting or overshadowing and teach me to be as courageous, honest and inclusive as you.

In conclusion

Year by year we face the honesty and confrontation of Jesus’ way of the cross. Day by day we suffer small reminders that the cross is also in our lives. We must not give in to the temptation to celebrate suffering, our own or that of others. It is a terrible thing that Jesus was abused in this way and felt all this and experienced so much degradation and pain. Next time we see Jesus condemned and suffering will we recognise him? How will we respond? What transformative power might we have at the foot of the cross?

But it is not yet Easter. We may be empty and frightened and grieving. This time let us not skip ahead to the “spoiler” of knowing that the resurrection will happen in a cloud of chocolate and celebrations. Let us face and feel the emptiness without escapisms. What deeper consolation might God give to us?

Jesus remember me when you find a way through this seemingly endless darkness and come into your own.

 

 

Take, eat, this is my body

“Take my body and eat, take my blood and drink” that all seemed very confusing and creepy when I was a child, and from reading male “experts” on faith I think it can seem creepy to them as well. But perhaps there is a type of person for this is actually a very ordinary and sensible thing to do? I am referring of course to those very ordinary people known as MOTHERS.

I am not going to claim to be Christ in any sort of a grandiose way, but of course there is something of Christ in an ordinary human experience…which is the point of Jesus grounding all his teaching in ordinary things like meals and weddings and wheat and fig-trees and shepherds (which may be exotic to the 2016 Australian reader but were ordinary and common-place to the original hearer). I would argue sacrament too is ordinary. Beautiful, precious but ordinary as a kiss from your mother, as your child’s grubby hand seeking yours.

In 1996 I first experienced my body being broken to give life to another person. This “breaking” was alleviated by some very good pain-killing medicines and the experienced midwives and a reasonably comfortable and clean bed, so it was not completely like crucifixion, my suffering was limited and I was safe and tended. But for the first time in my life I realised how powerfully creative pain and suffering can be; I could understand a love that would willingly (mostly) enter into pain and suffering. I had spent months giving the nutrients of my body over to the small and so far unresponsive life inside my womb, I had vomited and fainted with the trauma of it…I realise this is an ordinary thing that every mother does. But I had literally used my body to feed another, to nurture another so that then my body could be broken radically transforming that smaller life and giving it meaning, power and independence.

A couple of years later, it all happened again and suddenly I had two children. Both children listened to me and loved me and were free to think their own thoughts and to be themselves. Not long after this I first discovered feminist theology and I was struck by the way that the patriarchal church has to take on very ordinary things like birthing, feeding, forgiving, loving and make big liturgical “events” of this; which you could argue is a beautiful celebration of women’s work except when they say that only men can preside at celebrations of baptism (better than birth), communion (better than food) and marriage (better than just sex). And many feminist have argued that the sacramental reality is already in the mundane event itself.

I thought at once then of my mother, her hands sticky with dough night after night when she gave up hours of sleep to make fresh bread. She loved us, she loved baking…it was a sacrifice of love and in the morning we broke fresh fragrant bread like the people of God do in the sacraments. Her womanly hands were good enough for this work, despite not being ordainable because she (and I) were “only women”. Sometimes I took her work for granted, took the fresh roll for my school lunch, didn’t eat it at school (most kids at times forget or refuse to eat their school lunches) and then unable to face the sadness of my mother’s face seeing that I had wasted her labour of love and fresh ingredients I threw the roll out of the train before I got home. I remember the guilt of doing that so vividly.

But is that not also the nature of sacrament? Of the death and self-giving of Jesus that at times it is rejected, wasted, or we are unable to absorb it. Sacrament is extravagant love to those who are loved, not just to those who deserve. I pondered thoughts like this as I went home and fed my baby breast-milk which for some people is an enjoyable process, but for me was painful and difficult. It became clear to me how much nonsense the church weaves around sacraments, mystifying and codifying the very stuff of life. It is like putting a handful of good fertile earth into a golden reliquary where it can no longer feed a seed.

Consider for example the nonsense of children not being allowed to receive communion until they are old enough to magically be entered into this sacrament. I accepted this no question as a child, I loved the thought of earning a privilege through growth and learning and being more than I had been before. But if we say that only those who “understand” the Eucharist ought to have it then I suspect none of us should, or very few of us. And if the oh-so-clever but celibate male fathers of the church had only asked a REAL parent about feeding children they would see how silly it is to only give nutrition for a child’s growth after the child has already been growing for a few years. Silly ideas about child development I suppose were part of the root cause.

But any mother, even a half-arsed one could tell you, you have to feed the baby.

Once I considered this,  I considered that my babies were at least as worthy of Eucharist as I was, and considered moreover that they had already received whatever physical, tangible “reality” of Eucharist there is in the wafer and wine through their umbilical cords, just as they received the nutrients and minerals they needed through it and just as they received first language and then hopefully the Word of God through their ears and through their experience. And I made it an act of faith-activism to ALWAYS breastfeed my baby during or immediately following communion so that I was self-consciously saying “the body of Christ” to the baby at this time and passing on whatever gift of grace I supposedly received from it. And this meant that I was saying that my body was a suitable conduit for God’s embodied grace and since only women (mothers) can breastfeed I was claiming something Christlike about a mother’s body. Which was a direct disagreement with the idea that only the (male) priest can represent Christ. But after all God made a world where babies are fed by breast-milk and when you look into it whatever the mother eats seems to be passed into the baby for good or ill. So if I participated in communion as a breast-feeding mother that also logically was passed to the baby. So I marked it as sacrament.

Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me” and perhaps he was referring to breaking bread together and talking about the gospel events like we do each Sunday. Perhaps he was referring also to washing feet (serving) and feeding, giving our bodies for the well-being of others, radical sharing, radical giving of life, transformative relationships such as the mother-baby one (but any mentoring and gifting relationship could also mirror this sacrament). Jesus used humble, ordinary events in many societies presided over (or invisibly performed) by women to take us into the deepest realities of radical grace. Jesus did all this and then was killed for being too radical, going too far.

Jesus didn’t say “make safe, ritual versions of this with some special people who are more important than the rest of you and who can emphasise how much more important the ‘sacramental’ version is than the ordinary version”. Jesus said “do this to remember me”. We can be ordinary. We can be real. We can enter into grace and provide grace for others. In memory of Christ, for the growth of those we feed. Ordinary, women’s-work grace. Heartbreaking, body-wearing, radical gifting in love. Sacrament.

 

Bit parts in the story?

Palm Sunday, the big things begin.

At first I thought I was going to write about the idea that Jesus is more than a popular movement or a celebrity. There is this huge movement into Jerusalem to popular acclaim, they are all screaming their welcome like all the ticker tape parades and whatever we do these days to make a big deal out of a popular or important someone. It irritates the leaders of the temple and Jesus says:  “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

I have focused on this in the past, the idea that God’s saving good news is essentially unsilenceable. For me that is proved in the way (for example) the church has at various times tried to silence women and especially feminists, and yet somehow there bursts within us always through many, many generations a wellspring of hope and the need to call out and critique. At times it may have slowed to a trickle (or just been hidden from posterity) but at times it gathers momentum into a flood of reforms. That is one example, but there are many. God’s people seek the gospel of liberation and human dignity. God’s people who believe in Christianity and also God’s people who are in indigenous cultures or who find God somewhere other than the scripture (however much you love the scriptures they are only books of human writing after all and God is in them and beyond them).

But then I found out about this page. The idea that “stones will shout” can also be mobilised for reactionary purposes. The “stones” here does not mean the natural environment, mother earth screaming out her pain at the foolishness and abuses of humanity. The “stones” are now reconfigured as a wall, creating law and order and keeping out the non-compliant. The bible readings in and of themselves are double edged weapons and anyone it seems can wield them in any way…or can they?

Where is the evidence in the text?

Yes there IS the links with tradition in how the story unfolds and the kyriearchal language. I must say, this is sort of a manifesto statement but if the kyriearchy really is as intrinsic and necessary to faith as more conservative voices in the church claim then with tears I have to depart. There is nothing for me in a dazzling kingdom of privilege and dominion. Who are the Pharisees then telling the disciples to stop shouting, stop praising Jesus. I know the website I linked to above would have it that the “liberals” within the church, especially more progressive clergy are attempting to silence the eternal “truths” of tradition.

If we stop at Psalm Sunday we are then at a stand-off. “We” are authentically praising God and “They” are trying to silence us, claims each side. Perhaps I have finally realised why the passion reading also takes place on a day when I would have though the palm story was enough! We look to the Passion for clues to who Jesus is. To find out some deep “truths” about a person look to what they are accused of by their enemies, and where they stand when they are less than glamorous.

Jesus in the Passion is accused of crimes against the state (the colonists, the ruling class) and of crimes against the established church. He is accused of upsetting the comfortable lifestyles of the wealthy and the privileged. He is not known for judging and constraining the poor, the gospels echo with his raucous criticisms of those who are powerful, hypocritical and judgemental. Those who are powerful and rich need to use hypocrisy and judgements to retain their privileged place in their society and this is how Jesus becomes a threat. And so he is put to death shamefully.

To me this answers the question on whose side he is on. The answer is he is on the side of love and justice; equality, compassion and whatever makes us uncomfortable within our consolidated “Sties of contentment”. So when we turn to judge our opposition, we do not have Christ with us, except if we are being a genuine voice for the liberation of the poor and oppressed. As an ego-trip no one gets to win the argument, no one gets to claim the Christ. Christ never follows us, but always leads. My sometimes anger and focus on what the patriarchal church does wrong needs to be reconfigured into the love that walks the way of the cross NOT AS A DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIM…not anymore silenced, unaware or self-harming. Not compliant or subservient. However I am equally not there to assume some sort of moral high ground and feed my ego. I am there to orient myself in love toward Christ (Wisdom), always to make my interests align with Wisdom’s interests of justice, kindness and right relation. I can trust that the love of God is better than worldly success and more long lasting even than life itself.

This does not mean I abuse or neglect myself or my worldly life- I think that can be misguided too. But my focus is radically the Word of God, the living love-driven manifestation of God that became a person in Jesus’ human story of friendship, words, political activism, acclaim, betrayal, suffering, death and faithfulness (we’ll get to that). In research there is a growing emphasis (started by the feminists- who else?) on reflexivity, in knowing who I am as I state my point of view and interrogating my motivations and interests and the power networks that allow me to say some things and not others. I think faith needs a measure of reflexivity too, even when we are opposing oppression we need to bear in mind who we are, what our emotional baggage is and reorient ourselves toward the justice of God rather than point-scoring and anger.

So I began my reading of the Palm Sunday even, thinking that this was a case of a popular celebrity being picked up one moment and spat out by popular support the next because where are they when he is arrested and tried and killed for goodness sakes? But Luke tells us that “All” his acquaintances” and particularly underlines the presence of a core of supporting women, all of these were at the cross, standing some way away and perhaps awkwardly wondering whether they dare say anything, what all this means and whether they are next.

And in a society that is steadfastly refusing to radicalise despite HUGE and unfair reforms that take away our little and redistribute it upward to the already rich, that pick on the refugee, the elderly, the low-paid worker, the unemployed, the mentally ill and the single mother; in a society like that can we not relate? We love justice but we don’t want to “start trouble”. We don’t want to be accused of being “selfish” or “naïve” by demanding a better, kinder, happier society. We will add ourselves to great parades and popular shows of believing in causes, but who among us actually moves toward the foot of the cross to wipe the face of Christ, or dare lift him from the cross. Who speaks a word to try to halt the crucifixion? Who takes him into our arms preventing his capture? We all look for leaders to do that for us, we are all “only the crowd” or “only the women” and our role is feeding, supporting, following. Noone dares to begin what could be a large movement of resistance to the ongoing crucifixion of Indigenous communities, public education, disability supports, the earth itself.

When I say “nobody” I of course mean people like me, because in fact some few individuals DO give their time and effort to oppose injustice and the chaos of killing Wisdom. But why do they stand so alone? Why do we as a whole lack the energy and courage to stand against unfair shows of power by the ruling class? What does it take? Must our God always be sacrificed to the status quo? Have we nothing more than tears to give? I don’t know what it is that stops me living more faithfully, not precisely. But the deep emotional response I feel to follow Jesus on Palm Sunday and then the deep tears of Good Friday, the many current parallels to the way of the cross tell me that SOMEHOW I must break out of that background place that the followers of Jesus have in Luke’s account of the passion. If we love, why do we stand back bracketing our religious life so far outside our REAL life, bracketing ourselves into mere passive spectators in the story of Jesus?

In Luke’s gospel there is the teasing hint of an untapped potential and there are significantly constant women who might start something. Might they? Might we? In between chanting “Hosanna this, hosanna that” might we listen for the call inside us of Sophia. Wisdom who has suffered more than enough through our inaction. How will she stir us this time?