Monthly Archives: July 2017

Do this in memory of me

Recently I saw a sticker on the car. It was a Tyrannosaurus Rex eating the “Jesus fish” and it was supposed to be satirically atheist- sort of a triumph of a natural history view of the world (evolution) over faith (and creation). Seeing it I said “Do this in memory of me” and my son (14) laughed and immediately understood what I was seeing in it (which made me think perhaps I am not deluded).

I am seeing a powerful statement of the timelessness of Christ (Wisdom if you like) the idea that before human even existed there was a sacramental relationship between God and creation and also an eco-theological assertion about the place of ALL creation (not just humans) within a sacramental reality. In this symbol, Christ the fish (embodied in nature) gives Godself as food for the dinosaur. Food seems to be a universal need for all of life and for humans has become powerfully symbolic of well-being, nurture and connection. In the Eucharist we remember a meal Jesus shared and take into our bodies the actual, material reality of food- Jesus’ body.

The dinosaur in this picture asserts that evolution happened and is supposed to violently eat up our ability to have faith but the “Jesus fish” as a symbol that can function recognisably as food (think of all the feeding stories in the new testament that contain fish as part of the meal) can become a reinforcement of the stubborn tenacity of faith and the all-pervading grace and love of God. If we see “fishing” as a symbol of apostleship (see eg. Matt 4:19) then the symbol also has a dark side, this is also a text of terror about church leaders who consume the lives and wills of people. But I am seeing Jesus, the bread of life.

The Eucharistic prayer functions in the mass as a way of focusing us on Jesus as someone who enters our community as food- and on all the emotional and material things that food provides for us in our lives. I have found it to be boring and empty when I am too far from the altar, when there is too much pomp with the kneeling on sore knees while people swing incense and ring bells and use  pages and pages and pages of words in a monotone but I have also found it real whenever I have had the privilege of setting the table, helping with the liturgy or at least standing around the altar like a family called to a meal.

The many prayers then is a remembering of the people present in a bodily sense, or present through the union of similar rememberings or absent to us except in love. The Jesus story becomes our story when we remember it, Jesus took the bread broke and shared it and told us to do the same. We become bread for the world by remembering the story as set down in the bible and in liturgy. “The people” traditionally get to join in with three lines only (the memorial acclamation) and an “Amen” at the end but I think this is wrong. Ideally we would share stories in many directions not just from the voice of authority- we would co-construct our tradition making links between the Jesus story and my story and the work of feeding.

Some contemporary liturgies do this by having various sections read by different people or groups which I think is a step in the right direction and possibly more manageable than the ideal I envision where we actually make meaning together by saying what we remember and how Eucharist has touched us this week. I find it a little bit over-the-top in traditional liturgies where the movement of the prayers goes from praying to various others into a “For ourselves too, we ask some share in the fellowship…” section. Jesus never said “Come to my table begging for inclusion and grovelling for crumbs” he said “I am the bread of life”. Jesus came to wash our feet and feed us – our role was simply to accept this and then pass the action on to the world. NOONE EVER has to grovel and try to adjust their worthiness to receive sacrament. I wish I had known this as a teenager when I was raped and excommunicated myself because I felt unworthy of Eucharist.

Good sheep may follow the good shepherd, but we at times bring our Tyrannosaurus rex selves stomping up to the table of grace. The Jesus fish says “take and eat”. Creation is invited forever into sacrament, into life. God looks at all that she has made and it is inherently good (Genesis 1:31)

Forget the weeds, nurture the wheat.

This is a reflection i will deliver at church this morning. These are the readings .

“The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness”. May the Spirit bless this attempt to say something.

The parable of the weeds and the wheat seems to me to be a very relevant one for our time. We live in a society that seems intent on punishing people we deem weeds, without worrying too much about the incidental damage to any wheat in the equation. Many examples spring into my mind, but two in particular, because the newspapers whip up fear and hatred for these groups of people almost daily. The first is the fear of “terrorists” and the willingness to exclude and imprison all refugees in order to protect ourselves from some terrorists who may or may not be in the mix. The second is the assertion that many or most welfare recipients are cynically milking the system for money while neglecting their children. As someone who lives mainly among welfare recipients (and yes some of them are very troubled people, especially after years of hardship and broken hopes) I feel pain and despair at the hatred and judgement currently being directed against people who have the same desires as any of us, to give their children an education and to live life connected to other people.

It’s interesting that the gospel makes no mention of proportions of wheat to weeds. I’ve generally assumed that the weeds that contaminate the field are in the minority, that most of the field is wheat, but we do not know that. Either way it is not for us to try to judge, sanction or weed out the “bad people” in a group we are nurturing- we simply nurture and God does any sifting that is necessary- after the event. I wonder how many people who appear to be weeds, become wheat given enough nurture?

I wonder if I have started to look like wheat yet, for I surely was weed for most of my life.

Taking the same metaphor and bringing it closer in, each of us is also not purely wheat, or purely weeds but a complicated, impossible to unravel mix of both. Often we have been encouraged to be self-critical and try to “weed out” of ourselves any sins, impurities, smallness of heart or lack of faith. Often I despair that I work so hard to be a better person and all I get is compassion fatigue, or the mesmerising complexity of a world where I simply don’t know what is safe to believe or want or do.

What if I stop trying to “weed out” the parts of myself that I think are flawed or unacceptable and trust God that she has planted beautiful golden wheat in there, grains destined to become bread of life, along with Christ. God insists that there is something wholesome and good in me and you, something that can generously feed the world with beauty and truth. Sure there are weeds there too (once again we don’t know the specific proportion in each of us) but my job is to nurture the good and trust in it, and let God eventually sort the rest if it needs to be sorted. That’s not a cop out. If I believe in the wheat of myself then I will act out of the generosity of the swelling grain- I will know that I am not depleted when I love and trust other human beings and seek a gentler, more compassionate world.

The kindom of God is not to be found in the act of judging and weeding, of keeping out unworthy types and outsiders. It is the tiniest mustard seed of possibility inside each of us. Mustard when it grows is a tenacious bush, even a weed- it gets into everything and the same birds that nest in it scatter the seeds far and wide. When I see a person who appears to my limited and prejudiced view to be a weed, then perhaps all the understanding I can summon up within myself is also tiny and insignificant like a mustard seed.

With God’s grace in my life, my mustard seed version of God’s love can grow into a real involvement in the lives of my neighbours, a genuine commitment to their well-being without patronage…the seeds spread also into their life, people can be transformed. As with a mustard plant we have little control of the process- growing things requires a measure of faith and hope.

My sister is a baker so I love Jesus’ third metaphor. I also have many memories of my mother staying up all night to bake bread. With her sourdough she made her own yeast, leftover from the previous batch of bread. It looked flaky and unassuming. In the same way the small generosity we can have toward each other can be small and initially almost powerless- maybe only the power of recognition to begin with.

This recognition is grounded in God’s great recognition of the wheat within us, the growth toward loving-kindness. Small and unassuming like yeast it begins, touching the flat, basic wheat and water of another person’s life; thus it swells into loaves. The bread of life.

It would be easy to focus on what we as individuals or as a society ought to do better. There is a place for critical reflection and for seeking to improve how we relate. But perhaps the call today is a more difficult one. Perhaps we can sit and become aware of the wholesome wheat that we are- in some significant proportion, each of us within ourselves. Forget the weeds for now, forget how you think you could or should be better and be joyful to be God’s wheat for a hungry world. Try to feel the joy of this being and ripening.

Then, when you are ready, I invite you to briefly share your own perspectives with the people sitting nearby.

Bread for everyone

“Ask and the church will deny it of you, because it is not how we have always done things, seek and you will be told off for being out of your seat and off-task, knock and the door will be slammed in your face.” This is not how Matthew 7:7 originally went, but it feels like how it is trying to remain in relationship with”the church” hierarchy as a queer, ministry-bound catholic woman, and now even more so as a borderline coeliac.

I had decided, just today that given how many people I have been openly telling about my blog, it might be time to tone down the criticism and to try to focus on whatever positivity I can find within my faith…but I guess God let me know a long time ago that I was never going to be allowed to get comfortable and complacent within “the church” that the voice God called out of me was a fish-wife voice (read the prophets though, feminists are not God’s first fish wives nor even the most ranty). So I apologise for the negativity I really do…but I was thinking calm and half-baked thoughts about how to write about the next part of the mass (the Eucharistic prayer) all week when a woman at church drew all our attention to the latest silly rule made up by Rome.

It appears that when Jesus asked “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?…” (Luke 11: 11-12; see also Matt 7:9-10 where the question is about giving a stone instead of bread) he wasn;t reckoning with the callousness and lack of empathy of certain self-styled “fathers”.

In effect forcing a celiac to eat gluten (or you know, be excommunicated) is just that! I guess I am not a true celiac because I just try to take the smallest amount possible at communion time and live with the gut pain. Yes I get gut pain from gluten, like a stone in your tummy, or a scorpion stinging your insides. There are people more intolerant than me who can faint from gluten, from having it once. Most people I suppose wouldn’t die from one wafer, but it does add a disincentive to the habit of daily mass (which used to be a big thing for me when I was young). So that is the first problem with this teaching, the excusion (or torture) of people with Celiac disease.

This is compounded by a compassionless society that we currently live in, where people delight in trying to point out that differences in people are due to all sorts of psychologically motivated weakness, “lifestyle choices” and generally being a “special snowflake” and trying to debunk everyone else’s special needs while acting entitled around their own needs, wants and choices. Celiac sufferers can find it hard to be taken seriously by friends, family and people who sell food. The church has not caused this giant empathy vacuum (or at least not single-handedly) but surely if we read the words of Jesus we are supposed to be the antidote to it, the counter-cultural voice insistantly reminding that “actually I care”. For the church to side with the sneerers and shamers (in this case I think by omission rather than intent) defeats the purpose of even having a church. Sacrament is hollow when it is only for the privileged (see eg 1 Cor 11:22 and the background around that). God made disabled people, allergic people, yes church-Fathers even the queer people. Difference is part of the divine design, “In God’s own image” diverse and challenging (but if you think humans are too varied, try to get your head around parrots some time),

The second problem is that while it might seem reasonable to have a reductionist view of “bread” where it is always wheat and water (I question if the little circles they hand out at church are such a faithful or recognisable version of anything “bread”like in any case, and as a child was frankly delighted with the surrealism of it all) this binds us into a culturally chauvinist reading of the Last Supper where Jesus is excluding the vast millions of people on the planet for whom the staple is rice (or corn, or quinoa or anything non wheat-based).The bible in fact does not give us a recipe for the bread used at the last supper, it may well be reasonable to suppose it was made from wheat, but “bread” has not always and everywhere meant “wheat” my own mother used to make it out of rye and barley; my sister, a professional baker adds things like chia seeds or sunflower, or whatever in all the varieties of “bread” that people want for their meals- their suppers and picnics and date-nights and lunch-boxes. We buy loaves, rolls, flatbreads, buns made of oats, spelt, chickpeas, rice, tapioca, etc, etc etc. Mexican dinners get wrapped in bread made from corn. People in Asia see bread as strange and exotic as they team rice with ever meal (yes breakfast too).

Why do we need to limit what “bread” means other than out of a desire to limit people or exclude them. Did Jesus limit? Did he give strict prescriptions? He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes but we can’t even eat with Celiacs or Asians? Surely this is nonsense!

And that was the final point made by the (very articulate) woman at my church (please note the way I have teased out each point and the possible errors in my thinking are my own). That all this sternness over what can or can;t validly be called “bread” and this lack of understanding around how it is for some people (with real food intolerances, or from diverse cultural backgrounds) makes a laughingstock of the church. It gets harder for us to explain why we would want to be associated with it…which is fine if I am only worried about my vanity, my friends get to see me as a weirdo…I can live with it. But if there is actually something life-giving and possibly transformative within our tradition then surely we need to keep it as open and accessible as possible and avoid turning people off over trivialities!

I once again think of the huge and horrible scandal of abused children and how much harm has been done by the church’s REFUSAL to intervene in a serious matter- and then they get all upset over what recipe of wafer is being used. Clearly I am not a bishop or a cardinal but I fail to see the confusion here. Surely the life and well-being of children is a serious issue and the proper recipe for bread is a side-issue? Not the other way around. They make such a fuss over the right gender for priests and the right grain for bread and probably the right grapes for wine and yet the right treatment of human beings is something they are far too slow to speak or act upon. Why is that? And how does it look to the world? And how hurtful to be marginalised in so many ways- as a woman, as a queer person and now even as someone with a food intolerance (and in solidarity with Asian friends for whom “bread” is not what it is for a European/Australian like me).

Googling around the issue to try to double check that there really was such an edict from “Rome” I came across several stories of people working hard for many, many years to try to get around this rule by removing gluten from wheat (yes that is seen as more natural than making bread from something other than wheat). These recipes, which have taken over a decade in some cases to make successfully in a form that the Vatican allows, seem to have been developed by nuns.

So men make these unreasonable rules and women work harder than ever to ensure that the children are fed nevertheless. And who do we see as “ministers” of the sacraments and of God? There is a whole other feminist rant in that (as usual) division of labour but I am sure any reader who has got this far can see it for themselves.

I enjoy my habit of finishing with a prayer.

Loving God who created bodies- black, white, any colour, skin colour rainbow of browns and pinky-browns and tans. You created food- an abundance of food- grains of all kinds for bodies of all kinds, for stomachs of all kinds. You call us to break our “bread”, our everyday food and share it in memory of your body broken- you feed us body and soul to remind us to do the same. To take the grain, to make the bread, to labour and to love. To shape the meal to feed the needs of the body, to carry our celiac neighbour to safety. To bless wine and enjoy the complexity- the richness, the celebration, the friendship,

God you could have stamped us all out the same, as white round wafers are all the same but you chose to give us rainbow spirits in rainbow bodies- each one different, unique, needed to make the image whole. Harlequin God of shifting colours and differences bless us. Be our breads. Be our wines. Be the way we address our differences in love. Be the hand that offers health and acceptance with the bread.

We ask, we seek, we knock. We hunger and so do our brothers and sisters.

For more than crumbs, abundant God. For more than tokens on the margins. For more than a self-righteous ache in an irritated gut.

Embrace and feed us forever.

Burdened: Of flesh and spirit

I was able to share this reflection/preaching at church this week. The readings are here. My wonderful community as usual helped me in myriad ways and I am left feeling extremely grateful to be part of it.

They call it “catholic guilt” that feeling that the whole world is on your shoulders, crushing you and that you are always a frivolous and questionable human being that should be doing more, sinning less, always loving, always giving, always more and more good. To me it sits easily with the second reading’s scorn for all things “flesh”. I know I eat too much, sleep too much, lust too much, waste time and get distracted too much. I can get paralysed in labyrinths of self-loathing.

Historically the weighty, worldly, inferior “flesh” has been equated with women and those of us who are women tend to have taken that on especially strongly, hypercriticising ourselves about everything we do or don’t do, even how we look. Our bodies seem to let us down at times, for a large chunk of our adult life they have a cycle of sensitivity and weariness with tears and bleeding which seems to schedule itself to appear especially at the times when we would have liked to seem most invincible. We have been expected to take up more than half of the burden of cooking and cleaning and child-raising all the tasks which bring us very much into our bodies and force us to deal with the realities of other people’s bodies.

Because of this, for me the idea that we need to “rise above” flesh and be all about spirit sounds like a very privileged and misleading claim. People who consider themselves “spiritual” still have bodies after all and someone has to prepare food for them and clean up after them. It seems to me more honest to stop pitting the spirit versus the body and to allow them to nurture each other- thus allowing every person to be both.

Carter Heyward in her book “Saving Jesus from those who are right” looks extensively at how we can find God through respectful, mutual relationships with others (human and otherwise) and within our embodied realities of life and love. I want to return to the second reading with Heyward’s assumption that my bodily, lived reality and relationships are where I encounter God.

We are not ONLY flesh. We are not ONLY limits and needs and mortalities. We are “Spirit”, something greater than an individual person or handed down tradition, greater than the group of “insiders”.

Spirit is radical connection, embodiment toward the whole- it is galaxies and stars and planets, blades of grass and tiny fish, children born into poverty and adults who want to be able to afford an education. Spirit in humans may look like art and literature, dance, hopes, visions and dreams, physical exertion simply for the glory of it and warm prickles of water washing our skin in the morning. It is giving. It is loving. It is reaching outside myself to include someone more in my circle of care. It is also hunger and thirst and need: the persistent call for greater justice.

But we (spiritual beings) are embodied. We need to be kind to our limited selves too. Jesus in the gospel is not inviting us into that constant nit-picking that I started with but offering us a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light.

We are called to become who we secretly want to be- more human, more authentic to the image of God we were made in- more compassionate and wise and filled with meaning NOT out of guilt, but out of the joy of living authentically. To do this, we need to let go of the fearfulness that God will ask more from us than we are capable of giving. Instead we may seek to find the desire in ourselves to give generously.

I struggle with this, not because I don’t believe it is there but because enthusiasm gives way to exhaustion and distraction and the effort of juggling too many different things  at once… I have not yet found a truly, deeply AUTHENTIC way to live my vocation.

The hope lies in that we are yoked with Christ and with all who are yoked with Christ. We share the burden and hopefully pull more or less in the same direction- toward the liberation and life of all.

It is not “I” alone who must achieve my vocation we are called into the love of Jesus, our vocation is to be community and within it is rest, refreshment and the ability to share the load.

 

Let’s just sit for a moment with the invitation to an “easy” “light” load and to “rest”. How will our deepest longings and God’s deepest longings begin to actualise without us beating ourselves up all the time? How do we “learn from” this wise Word of God? How could we become?

The “best interests of children” is not best determined by bishops.

Did anyone notice I didn’t post a blog last week? Now I have a sermon (ok a “reflection” because only boys can write “sermons” in my church) to write and I feel on the one hand full of the hope and happiness of what I want to say about the readings this week coming, and on the other point blocked up…theologically constipated as though last week I didn’t manage to get out what I needed to say and I am now sick with it. It will probably lack coherency but I will cry and I will write it.

What I wanted to say, I started writing a few times in a few different ways. I couldn’t come into the part of the liturgy I was “due” to write about because I feel profoundly angry and sad and resentful at the church and sort of not in synch with them. But it’s complicated because I am absolutely in synch with my lovely community who affirm me and challenge me and act like sisters and mothers and such to me.

I am still finding it hard to write about my anger and pain but the whole thing was compounded today by what I view to be a HUGE piece of hypocrisy. This (trigger warning, this has made people depressed and even suicidal so be careful if you want to read it closely).

In a nutshell, this document from the Catholic bishops of Australia paints gay marriage as a threat to family life and to children. Yep! Apparently they don’t see anything tragically ironic about talking about “the wellbeing of children”p6 and “the best interests of children” p8 and the rest of the time wax eloquent about the wonderful and important place of mothers and fathers (which with qualifications I agree with) and generally how much we should all celebrate the huge “difference” between men and women and the lovely celebration of gender binary that marriage is meant to be and sorry gay people you miss out with your “friendships” that are not as awesome as all the “differences” that people can only “enjoy” in their “masculinity” and “femininity”.

Speaking for myself I never have enjoyed the “femininity” which has been imposed on me nor the “masculinity” of men and that view of heterosexuality makes it seem toxic to me even before they use it as an excuse to exclude homosexual people from having their families recognised as “real”. In the view of marriage where men and women are opposites and are forced to take opposite roles I think few women and not all men can be said to “enjoy” their difference which can easily become a divide of misunderstanding and exploitation. I am not saying all marriages between a man and a woman are necessarily unhealthy, but not all are based on an essential and universal “difference” either!

But also if mothers and fathers are so important for a child’s well-being, why does the church have such a poor history of listening to them. Why can’t mothers and fathers in the church get together and produce a document on what is best for children, rather than a bunch of supposedly celibate men who have neither wives nor children themselves. Why in the past when mothers complained about their children being terrorised and abused in various ways by the clergy did the church not recognise their now supposedly God-given role in the centre of their child’s life and dismissed them as “hysterical”.

To me this document is very offensive coming from the same church that STILL refuses to confront the extent of the organised networks of child-abusers, to have any humility or reflexivity about what needs to be changed or even to reach out to LISTEN or give healing to victims of horrendous abuse.

I have prayed a lot about “Cardinal” George Pell this week. I feel very worried for him, he seems intending on appearing a soulless, heartless husk of a man. Can anyone really be so? I pray he will break down and feel pain to his core at what he has done. I don’t feel any sort of love for him whatsoever, only for his victims but I feel that he must be a human being somewhere in there…there must once have been a vulnerable little boy and hopefully even a well-meaning man in there though it is hard to see traces of that now (and I just can’t).

But he is a bishop of the Catholic church. He has long been too cowardly or arrogant to face the charges of child abuse and has made excuses to stay away all while hair-splitting about what Catholics are and aren’t allowed to believe.

The very idea of bishops lacks integrity while the church still tries to pretend the horrendous abuse never happened and then they try to tell us “gay marriage” is a threat to the safety and emotional and sexual health of children and families? They can say all this without shame? They can continue to persecute? I know a lot of lesbian couples who are bringing up children, have met at least one gay man who fosters with a lot of love and know others- lesbians and gays who childlessly live what seems to me to be a very Christlike and beautiful example of “two become one” in a love that flows between the couple and so out to the world in generosity and hope. Yes there are some heterosexual couples too who inspire in this way. My point is that this sort of love has NOTHING to do with the gender binary and everything to do with being radically committed in love and ready to make a long-term project of collaboration that affects every aspect of life (career, friendships, creativity, politics, faith).

But anyway whether gay marriage is “right” and “wrong” a bunch of bishops don’t get to make that decision citing the interests of children, when they can’t even face the widespread abuse of children perpetuated by some of them and ignored by others.

Let us pray. (Ineptly, inelegantly, but with great need)

Holy Spirit, by the fruits of our lives people may see whether or not our words are full of you. Teach us to listen carefully- to children and parents and lovers and friends who respect and nurture each other or who ask for our protection. Teach us to listen to the children and parents and lovers and friends who love and nurture each other and who are vulnerable or call to us for protection and justice. Teach us not to give too much heed to the voices of power that would silence your little ones or hide behind overly neat and structured hierarchies that allow abuse.

Sophia you danced with God “like a little child” from the beginning and were embodied in the baby-toddler-boy-youth Jesus who grew to adulthood in a less than respectable family. Give us grace to dance with all who truly love and to celebrate and protect the young and the hopeful, the old and the hurting.

Creator God you always queer our expectations and upset our ideas of “normal” in the breadth of diversity that is your creation. Help us to recover from our need to limit and control others for the sake of a “church” that we have built to consolidate human power not as a centre of your influence among us.

Make us wholly committed to your dream and your dance of love. Paint rainbows with us. Give healing to those who have been harmed. Give voice to those who cry out to you. Give us ears to hear the call to healing and peace.

Help us get through this time in history. Show me how to carry this stone in my heart and gut.

Loving God hear our tears.