Monthly Archives: January 2017

Beginning of a new phase

My intention when starting this blog was to follow the lectionary readings, and there was a two-fold idea in there. One was that since I am called to preach, but not allowed to do it weekly from a pulpit, I had to find another place to preach each week. I thought the discipline of struggling with the readings week by week would be a good proof to myself of whether or not the call I had was real- if I couldn’t do it then it wouldn’t be real. As for who to preach to, I guess I needed first of all to preach to myself as at times I haven;t received the preaching I have needed (although currently I am in a community where that is not really true anymore) but then there might be others out there too who needed a Catholic framework but a female/feminist perspective. Not that I can speak for or to ALL women, I don’t think that sort of a generalisation can be helpful. Also I do think men need women’s preaching a lot more than they realise.

But just as God was nagging me to preach, albeit I didn’t have a formal role anywhere so I figured if I put it out there God would find people who want to read it (whether they agree or disagree) so I told a few trusted friends but didn’t waste a lot of time promoting my blog. If God finds it useful then God will support it and if not then promotion isn’t helpful. I still feel very strange talking without cynicism about my faith but I do think that God works in the world even if we have frightening amounts of freedom as humans.

Anyway I could go on following the lectionary forever (I haven;t completed the three years I intended yet) or I could try to find the liberative bible readings that DON’T get included in it and bring them back into the centre. This is a worthwhile activity, one that has already been done by wiser heads than me but a conversation and movement I could engage with so I won’t discount it as a possibility in the future. But as far as the lectionary goes I seem to have got into somewhat of a repetitive pattern where the reading is constrictive and kyriearchal. I tell it so. I find the little bits of hope and tell myself I need to be a better activist in the world. Well and good but I have actually done that already and while for the first cycle the process shaped and honed my thinking, at this point I need a fresh way of seeing so that I don’t make a “routine” out of my blog.

So I had a lot of prayer and reflection time as well as reading some exceptional books (look back on previous blog posts for some of them, currently I am reading “Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory by Chris Weedon) and I have had the opportunity to work (unofficially) with some people at the liturgy itself. I would like to then break the mass up into small sections in its logical order and do some deconstructive and reflective work on the meanings of the words and rituals and what it means and how this functions in the life of a “lay” person, a woman, whatever I am (and hopefully in a way that helps others find their similar or differing perspectives).

This week is just an introduction while I try to locate my very, very worn Sunday Missal which I was given by my parents on the occasion of my “First Holy Communion” an exciting day when I got to play dress-ups in a white dress and veil and finally allowed to go to communion from now on forever and ever (until I was 19 and got raped and thought I was excommunicated for a while). My very battered old missal is a symbol of my relationship with the mass (and sacraments) in terms of having been carefully red (the black writing and the red writing and the variants we never used in our church) and consulted for the reflection my parents encouraged me to make on Sunday readings before we even got to church (a-ha so maybe it is their fault I want to preach). In a sense it was my first lectionary too. It has been an exciting and treasured possession, a constricting and difficult document, an out-dated part of my past but somehow I have held onto it.

It symbolises my long, rich, deep and sometimes troubled relationship with the church- the way I used to choose to go to daily mass as a teenager, my discomfort from the time I was two years old at how passive I was expected to be in the service, the ways I found to do “Something” (such as being a reader or “special minister”) and my envy at brothers who were altar servers. I  really did grow up as a “sacristy rat” as many clergy claim to have done, but I was more rat than most because my place in the sacristy was transgressive and contested, I was more rodent than guest there (being a catholic girl). The euphoria of the sacraments- is it life giving, living water? Or is it just opium of the masses? Being dragged in to pray for vocations to the priesthood and even at the age of eight knowing how ironic it was of them to ask me to pray for this.

“Why didn’t you make me male?” was a prayer that automatically came to mind since it was so strictly held that only men could be ordained, “that would be one more priest”. My prayer was missing the real point but since either God was wrong to make me female or the church was wrong that females couldn’t. Sorry church but I have more faith in God.

So over the next few weeks I will look at the liturgy as we have it. What the priest says and does and what we say and do and how the little girl/teenager/woman that I was experienced it all. And what scripture, theologians and other thinkers tell us when that can inform my thinking. And my struggles to articulate female-friendly liturgy that is faithful to the essence of sacrimentality (but also the reality that God created women/priests, we are not as the church would have us think divine mistakes). I will be very critical. But there is love here- always love.

I keep circling back to the love that exists in the gaps between the patriarchy. The love of activist, assertive women and nurturing, listening men. The love of the children who make noise during the service and the “communion services” where we are not allowed to use words that sound like consecration (but where at times I have experienced a far more consecrating reality). The love of a cat who wanders in and tries to pull down the altar cloth and of the sudden giggle that comes up in a serious moment. The love of the people who take so long to give everyone a “sign of peace” and resist going back to their quiet places. The love of a pot of coffee and plate of biscuits, of elaborately decorated altars with flowers and draped material and candles, of wearing my “Sunday best” or just shorts cause I rode a bike to church. The love of children who go to church just to humour their parents.Love of water, bread, wine, word, flame, breath, hands.

Liturgy remains the work of the people- infused with love.

 

 

 

 

Prayer

I was trying to copy down some of the liturgy resources from church into a dropbox and as I always do when I work with liturgy resources I felt a need to make my own. I am thinking of doing my blog a bit differently for a time and this might be a good transition to it. It feels like a change I need and I will try it out and if it isn’t right will return to what I have been doing. My intention here was to use some humans apart from “mother” and “father” and also get away from the anthropomorphism to show it’s a metaphor not a literal “truth”. But still to honour the human experience of the world because we are humans and life and body are good things.

Author of the ongoing story:

history, herstory, earthstory, lovestory;

Midwife of our better selves

taking us forth from the earth out mother

and placing us in her arms;

Living water running through our veins,

Spirit: wild wind of change, exhaled breath,

kiss of life;

Fire the yearning in our spirits for liberation,

the passion for justice and to be in beauty;

Word and Wisdom,

Way, truth and life;

we reach for you

hold us.

Amen.

Life-affirming creed

Please note: I know I can’t draw but I wanted to show what I meant. I never let children tell me they “can’t draw”, as I think we express something even if it isn’t a beautiful product. So try to see it as a child’s drawing. When I can draw it better I will change the picture

New year, new me and all that and I thought about how I began by writing a creed and had meant to write a new one from time to time- not necessarily to reject the old (though I would be allowed to outgrow it if it happened) but to keep trying to articulate to myself what I believe and what all this is about. So it would be time to write a new one.

Then I have been reading “New Feminist Christianity” and whenever I read things theological I feel a stirring to write it and preach it. I thirst to be a priest but at least I have my blog and a couple of side projects. And finally I have been watching “Call the Midwife” aided and abetted by my youngest son who bought me season 3 for Christmas. I have a love/hate relationship with the series but in all honesty more love for it’s emotional directness, themes of love, laughter and women’s friendship as well as birth and sometimes suffering and grief. Also I am a sucker for women’s history ESPECIALLY when they show it with nice frocks and hairstyles.

So then when I go to write a “creed” I have been affected by these influences of all the feminist theologians telling me to get over the kyriearchy (I agree) while Jenny Lee (a fictional midwife) reminds me every episode that the centre of life is love. And I think that my new “creed” will be not so much an “I believe” statement but more of an “I eperience love” statement which is more to the point. I often think about who and how I love and as an examination of conscience this is the right focus. But a creed is even more basic than that. A creed is not about me and how I am, it is about the reality around me. How do I experience and access being loved. When I finally realised I was loved and lovable, when I was 35 it changed my life. Up until then I had wanted to be lovable but had never believed it was possible. Once I was healed of my inability to know myself I became aware of love from a lot of different people and real love (not just grudging duty-love) from God.

So my transformed, liberated “creed” is an “I am loved” statement. Knowing and experiencing are ways of “believing” I suppose but without that rationalising and legalistic edge. Here is my attempt then:

As we awaken in the womb of God,

quicken in the depths of her who conceived us,

Jesus, our midwife reaches

to hold and steady us

on our terrifying journey.

Feeling squashed and stretched,

helpless and falling

 

Jesus takes and wraps us

to bring our newly born selves

back into the arms of the Mother.

The cord may be cut

but the milk flows.

 

The Spirit confronts us in the mirror.

We trace our ancestry:

the deepest reality of the universe

beating in each breast.

Beloved child, allowed to grow and choose

but never a stranger

from the arms of our Mother.

Chloe’s people, John’s people, Jesus’ people and the call to me

I am not in the mood to pretend that I feel “enlightened” or full of hope. I think it is a big mistake when people use Christianity as an opium for themselves as an individual or for the masses. If what is wrong with the world ceases to hurt in the euphoric escapism of being “saved” then God is a great big ecstasy tablet and the believer is some sort of socio-path. Because real life and the earth and human bodies matter a lot. We live in that pre-salvation darkness when we let families be locked up on Manus, when we make selfish and life-denying decisions, when we let greed and fear rule our world.

“For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.”

We can hope in this vision of the reign of God, but we are deluded if we see it as already fully realised. But it does give us a hint about which prophets to believe, and where to look for the authentic Wisdom in a world of competing truths and wisdoms. God does not deny the yoke that oppresses us but SMASHES it, radically works to undo and make impossible the oppression of her people. “Saving” is not some sort of magical act, but is liberation, removing the unjust power of whatever enslaves us (and our unjust power to enslave others). Wherever there is true liberation, there is the action of God. Wherever we (or anyone) are still being oppressed the light is yet to shine.

In the psalm I “believe” in the goodness of God. If this goodness in my life was already fully realised I would not have to believe any more than I have to “believe” in the roof over my head or the food in my bowl. I “believe” because there is something of God’s effect over my life that still exists as potential energy, poised to unfold in some way I may not grasp. Courage and stoutheartedness is needed as we wait (and these are in me, in short supply I confess).

I can’t say I completely resound with what Paul is on about in the second reading. Granted it is disheartening and counter-productive how often churches and other communities of hope become splintered as people polarise over some issue and refuse to work together. What is equally hurtful however is the false unity that makes invisible any minority or less privileged group. I am currently reading New Feminist Christianity and finding it full of diverse and oftentimes critical voices of various groups of WOC, queer folk (once again varied and diverse), workers in DV prevention and healing, people from various church traditions. They don’t all say the same thing, but they make up a wonderful patchwork of views that turn into a polyphonic dialogue that never intends to be completed or closed.

Instead churches and other organisations often opt for a “unity” that is hegemonic, restrictive, exclusive or downright abusive. Rivalries and petty politics ARE every bit as bad as Paul says, but I want to remind him of Jeremiah 6:14, and warn him that sweeping differences under a carpet is NOT a way forward. Simply putting Christ in the centre in a kyriearchal way is more problematic than I think we often like to admit. He is “the Lord” and simply trumps everyone else is an easy answer but not a real solution. Once again I am indebted to the book I mentioned above, quite a few of the theologians have challenged me to look beyond kyriearchal, individualist interpretations of the “Jesus story” to the “everyone else stories” that Wisdom has always woven through (being the sort of girl who goes exactly where she wants and won’t stay put). Wisdom (although I have a borderline problematic tendency to anthropomorphise her) is in fact neither male, female not in any way human and her story is not the story of an individual. If she is revealed “in” the historical man, Jesus (I would agree that she is) then she is also more than this historical individual.

But having asked for caution when demanding too much from Jesus and his story I nevertheless read the gospel with interest. John has been arrested and instead of falling to pieces in some way Jesus rolls up his sleeves and gets on with John’s work. Remember “repent” was John’s slogan wasn’t it? Jesus affirms John’s ministry by grounding the beginnings of his own in continuing it. He may or may not make some departures from John’s teaching or develop his thinking further but he shows the respect to his forerunner to accept the work that has already been done. Also as with a literature review in a piece of research this places Jesus’ work within the already established work of John as a continuation. Jesus is both respectful and strategic in positioning his ministry in this way, however it also undermines our tendency to want to see Jesus as a peerless exceptional superhero. Jesus himself seems to be implying he is part of a tradition of critique and struggle, a continuation of good work that can happen before (and by implication after) his time on earth.

Jesus also aligns himself with a criminal, a trouble-maker- not charismatic John that Herod liked but arrested John that threatens the state. I am liking this Jesus. In this context “come after me” to the fishermen makes it clear once again that Jesus is not seeking for personal followers and fame, but to expand the work that is being done to continue the struggle and to have it continue beyond him. Right at the start he is already asking for help…needing “others” to ensure his vision will eventuate. We cannot do these things (like ministry) alone.

So he calls some fishermen (a working class movement perhaps, not one for elites) but does he also call housewives baking and mending and sweeping? We can’t assume he did not just because the patriarchal text masks our view of the women at the back of the stage.Paul clearly has as working relationship with “Chloe’s people” whoever they were. Jesus’ inclusion or otherwise of women remains invisible- not interesting enough to the male historians of the time (but that’s a familiar scenario).

Perhaps in the end the “great light” that dawns on the people is that it is not up to the exceptional individual like John the Baptist, or even to Jesus to actualise salvation for us all. It is not something I can do on my own and also not something I ought to leave to stronger or better others to do for me. We are all invited to leave our mundane concerns and go kindom building with Jesus, with the interweaving of Wisdom with a relentlessness that survives all sorts of suffering and crosses every gap.

 

I did not know about your vocation, but I remained open to seeing the Spirit in you

In between the unrelatable metaphor of “servant” (exploited labour) and the nicer but possibly still dangerous concept of “light” to the nations the first reading is telling us that God’s knowing of us, relationship and call go back to when we were in the womb, pre-existing any decisions, social influences and learning we had acquired. This to me is what grace means, that we do not earn or compete for positions in the household of God but we are already called before we even take a breath. To be called into being is to be called into the household, the body of God.Our vocation is not a skill-set or an honour it is our deep and true IDENTITY. What God knows us as, is what we were always meant to be- beyond questions of recognition of the church.

We know this about Jesus. We read about the annunciation and the visitation and the baby in a manger and we are already seeing God in the swell of Mary’s belly, the kick of joy from the baptist (already following his vocation in the womb), the first staggering steps holding a parents hands begin the thousand steps of a ministry. It’s true for each of us. We are already physically star-dust and emotionally God-stuff before we choose how to inhabit that identity.

The psalm agrees. Our deepest longing is for God to come and recognise this in us, the deep longing to be fulfilled in the vocation to follow Christ (as toddlers follow the admired older sibling), to be bigger than our littleness- to strive into the fullness of God. Which is our essence. We are the image of God (we and all of creation) and we are ourselves truly when we honour the possibilities for deep love and hope in ourselves and others. “here I am God, a better thing than any sort of commodified “thing” of religion, more meaningful than sacrifices and offerings- here am I and my deep longing for and delight in your Word, in my potential to actualise you” I love the unsilenced jubilation of the final verse of this psalm, I have for many years on taken it on as a sort of motto:

“I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.”

I did not restrain my lips…but of course I did when I was young because I was told that women were supposed to. Luckily the sinful state of silent obedience was unnatural for me and God’s constant egging on broke through it. Of course once we unsilence ourselves we do become responsible for what we say. God’s justice (and some translations add loving-kindness) are worthy topics for ranting.

The second reading is very short, only just long enough to introduce ideas of being “called”, being “sanctified”  Part of our work is building a communion of the called and sanctified, that is recognising the Godness of each other and the vocations in others. It makes me a better person, renews my hope and sense of purpose to be recognised by other humans and it diminished and depressed me for years that the church could not and would not recognise me (but now for me “church” is whoever brings Christ to me and not associated with the hierarchy except sometimes by coincidence).

So then with the customary “Alleluia” we turn to the Word made flesh who chose and chooses to live with and in us. To Jesus the purest version of who we are supposed to be.John the Baptist as the established church is busy practising his ministry, at times having trouble being heard but having a power of sorts. What does he do when his younger cousin Jesus comes up filled with vocation? He not only moves over and makes room for the ministry of Jesus but he proclaims and assists that ministry. This is a part of the servant-leadership of priesthood that can be hard- sharing the spotlight, easing the ministry of others and the paths of people to the good news as proclaimed by someone who is not ME.

John did not “know Jesus” but being an open sort of a person he “saw the Spirit” alight on him. This is our challenge to remain open to the Spirit in each other and in nature. We need to look beyond ourselves and beyond our pre-determined ideas of God. In Scripture and beyond scripture. In the church however flawed it might be and beyond the church into the apparently sinful world and apparently dangerous nature and apparent heathens and queers and transgressives of all types. And even the hierarchy (Elizabeth Johnson does this well and shames me for so quickly dismissing the “church Fathers”).

John teaches us to look for and recognise God in our cousins and other young upstarts- but Jesus trusts John to work with him and comes to him openly too. The church is not one individual- it isn’t about superstars and heroes. We listen, affirm, work together. We see the Spirit in each other, we baptise each other and confirm the pre-existing touch of God in each life.

Our ministry is not judgement and separation. It is connection. It is love.

Cuddles and baby-talk

Ok so my brain is fried from the heat and I have been busy this week with my son who I didn’t see for a couple of weeks before that, but I will try to have a go. Because if i wrote about Joseph just before Christmas, and Matthew’s construction of an enlightened, spiritually attune and emotionally honest masculinity then I guess the epiphany (which occurs every year) continues this.

The gospel doesn’t tell us the gender of the Magi (and that lack of certainty can sometimes be fun to play with) but tradition has decided there were three of them and they were all male: Balthazaar, Melchior and Caspar. This is not entirely satisfactory and the exoticisation of them as various shades of black (set next to the improbable sight of a white Jesus) is certainly problematic. But let’s just for a moment visualise them as traditionally they have been painted and repainted. 3 wealthy blokes.

Suddenly they follow a dream, or an inner conviction or their intuition or something (a star no less) and trek half way around the world to see a baby. I was at a pool party today and there was a small baby there. One of my friends who usually comes across more or less as a big tough man came in and immediately scooped up the baby and started baby-talking to him and cuddling him. He brought the child over to his very pregnant wife and let the baby “make friends” with the other baby in utero. My scepticism about the way Matthew portrays men dissolved somewhat in seeing that and I suddenly pictured Balthazaar, Melchior and Caspar jumping off their camels and squatting down and baby-talking and all wanting to cuddle little Jesus. Meanwhile maybe the exhausted Mary had a backrub from Joseph or a nanna-nap or I would like to visualise her popping out for a cup of something with no baby…but maybe that couldn’t (and didn’t) happen in biblical Bethlehem.

Of course I don’t want to make too much of a big deal of men who want to be fathers and uncles and basically decent human beings around children because as has often been pointed out it’s a bit silly that men are “heroes” for doing the things women are supposed to just “naturally” gravitate to. A redeemed masculinity when portrayed the way I have portrayed it is no greater than an ordinary femininity. But maybe we can line the baby-cuddling, emotionally intelligent “wise men” up with Mary who walked miles and miles WHILE PREGNANT to emotionally support her cousin without even the emotional reward of seeing a baby. Matthew’s wise men line up with Luke’s wise woman. Maybe it’s not just about gender, but it is about being a decent and open individual.

Herod’s need to control and dominate is threatened by these strange people with their strange lifestyle, with these powerful men coming past to celebrate a baby’s birthday. The mundane is political. Everyday acts of love and walking humbly with are transgressive against the power regimes of the world. Oh yes Herod is VERY threatened by this queer behaviour and would like to kill them or kill Jesus. We can sanitise the ending as happy- both the magi and the child’s family get protected by the providence of God (and once again their willingness to pay attention to dreams). But there is a human cost.

When we celebrate the epiphany we forget that very male child under 2 was murdered by order of a paranoid king. Where was God in that event? How do we celebrate the transformation and liberation of the privileged individual WITHOUT making invisible the many who are unfairly made to suffer? If we are to embrace a good news, we can’t do it just by framing the action to sweep the abuse of children under a carpet.

The church has tried that course but we need to move beyond it! The child who escaped to Egypt was the child of God and so was the murdered infant and the assaulted mother. So is the child of God the baby born on Manus island and the baby whose mother has her centrelink cut off. As a society/church we need to put our Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh where our God is. We need to love our neighbour.

I apologise if my coherence is affected by the heat