Monthly Archives: August 2019

In which our heroine/vilainess changes tack…

This week quite a lot of things happened. On the micro-scale… I managed to offend someone whose good opinion I really care about. My most trustworthy and hardworking colleague suddenly chucked a sickie and I got to teach a class I don’t usually get. I realised more about my own privilege. We finally got what felt like some winter weather (and I didn’t like it).

On the slightly broader scale- levels of discontent are rising. One of my friends got a job she really deserves. One of my children applied for an exciting job. Vegan diets and composting are on the increase and people are turning away from plastic bags. But only some people, and this is sad. Extinction rebellion staged a “die in” in work hours and it was well attended (but not by me).

On the larger scale. We have a “Christian” prime minister and a small and beloved Tamil family is being squeezed out of their loving neighbourhood and out of the country. The children are being traumatised even more than they have been. Another “Christian” man is trying to get out of serving his prison sentence for child sex offences. It is hard to believe him innocent given the weight of the evidence and his own lack of insight about sex-crimes within the church hierarchy. I am not reassured by our “Christian” leaders as the sea levels rise. I am stunned that we would “protect our borders” against bright little girls and their parents but open the gate and put the welcome mat out for Adani and Equinor.

I don’t know where to turn for faith this week though, because the lectionary mumbles anachronisms and dogma- dangerous to an aware woman. If I even am a “woman” which is a whole other question. I feel I should make an effort to go “back” to church this week, to recapture something I used to love. I have marking and editing and writing and even a lecture to plan. I have laundry and shopping and cleaning and admin work to do.

I am sitting here drinking coffee and feeling adrift because it is not like I didn’t try the lectionary but it is abjectly failing to speak to me. It’s not reassuring. It’s not challenging. It’s just off-key and sort of smug at me. So where do I take this doubt and this still desire for goodness and love? Where do I take this floating, unmoored feeling? So many psychs over the years have told me to “trust myself” more, but that is hard enough with earthly things. How unsafe, even narcissistic it seems to have the “self” as an authority in spiritual things.

So if not myself, then what can I become aware of? The scrabbling of tiny rodents in the walls when I am trying to sleep? The orange and glorious sunset I can just glimpse from my “hot desk” as I leave work later and later each night? The reed that encircle the shining lake? The student who mentions Paolo Freire before I even do? The paragraph in a paper that I am marking that sounds like it was written by an expert? The bitterness of the too dilute coffee because I am neglecting household tasks like shopping? That elusive reference just outside the reach of my growing but still slow brain? The…(but no some things I should not dwell on even if they seem divine).

Is the net of ripples and circles that I call my “experience” of the world also a sort of lectionary? Can I read the life of God in it? How do I orient myself, in which direction is this “God/Godde”? Is it behind my back in the brave personal battles of one of the other casuals? Is it behind a closed door in an office of one of the “real academics”? Did it leave when we had the restructure? No. It is here. It is always where I am and I am happy to be here even when the hard work almost kills me. I bring it with me, like the roses from my garden that I put in the lunch room, but others bring it with them too. Others I think I know but that have hidden depths. It is in the “care” of teacher for student, senior staff for newer. It is in the enthusiasm of the first-year whose family never went to uni. It is in the ability to quickly understand of the Masters student. It is in the way I thought I was something remarkable, odd or special but everywhere here there are people like me.

It is in the laugh at myself for having been less (and more) than I thought. It is in the student who catches my eye and knows that I know that there is more to life than the four walls of the classroom. It is in temptation (dumplings, mexican food, chocolate brownies and the tavern). The life of Godde is our life.

It is in the fluffy ducklings who do not know the world they have hatched into. It is in the koalas who will be desperate for water by high summer. It is in the brown snakes who wreak such havoc just by appearing. It is in the dying trees and the grapefruit trees, giving their bounty to all and sundry (who can reach). It is in the view of the ocean and the too-blue for winter skies. It is in the library, in the hidden corners and rustling pages and even the annoying blip of someone’s mobile phone. The life of Godde may be beyond humans, but when we touch it then it is here in our lives. If it can be in a cultural text (bible or lectionary) then it can be in other texts too (email asking me to take a class, me trying to fairly word my response to someone asking for an extension).

I thought all this focus on “reality” would go somewhere that I would talk myself out of this spiritual dryness into some sort of “relationship” or some sort of ability to “believe” but the world appears to be dying and my children are in it. I am lost. I do not know how to find Godde or faith in any of this after all. I do not know what meaning any of this has apart from the twisted and difficult pleasure I get from my work. Am I becoming a workaholic? Maybe. I am pursuing this academic dream partly because it gives me joy but also because I cannot see Godde. Can Wisdom be here somewhere? I miss feeling like I knew where she was.

I will wash my clothes as early as possible and take the bus into work to do marking and other things. I love this. I want this. But I feel I ought to understand or touch something bigger in it all. Right now this is all I have.

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The time has come…to talk of many things

“The time has come, the walrus said to talk of many things,

of shoes and ships and sealing-wax, of cabbages and kings

and why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings”

A few things happened this week to call me back to my blogging, but similarly I had a look at the lectionary readings and found them a particularly uninspiring bunch. See, the first reading seems so colonial and militaristic. It’s hard to read it any other way the week I had to teach a whole lot of undergrads about the colonialism in our (Australian) history and the subsequent racism and how as privileged (white) people we may be unaware of things…like we take for granted that “skin coloured” bandaids will be a good approximation for the skin we have. Bigger things too!

The psalm tells me to tell the “good news” to all the world, which would seem to me to be liberation. Something like “you can keep your language and your identity, you can keep your sexual orientation and your food security. You can keep your meaningful work and your butterflies. There will be no more billionaires and we will all be kin to each other”

That’s my idea of a “good news”. The good news to me more personally is the work I do, I have a job which is teaching, it is about sharing good news – that we can make a difference, that what we do matters, that the content of learning can be engaging, that young people are worth our hope and our labour. I love my job. And I am not finding the gospel in the lectionary I am finding it in my work. How can this be?

The second reading continues with the same old power differentials that have got the world into this mess. Fathers “scourging” their children. How is this to be heard by a church with a whole bunch of old, insensitive men who have crowned themselves “Fathers” and perpetuated a whole lot of abuses on others? As someone who used to work with children and raised my own without hitting them this is unrelatable. As someone who reaches students through showing my love for teaching and my care for the world they will influence this is almost unthinkable. Where has scourging got society? I am reading Foucault’s Discipline and Punish as well as Ecofeminism by Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva. I just can’t reconcile the toxicity in these two readings with what the world actually needs.

I am having trouble having faith (and yet here I am writing).

The gospel talks about a “straight and narrow way” an exclusive banquet and many to be rejected by God. We are not told here which values are the accepted ones and which rejected. I would read the whole of the text as preaching love and neighbourliness and justice to all but this text is also used by others for narrow obedience. I don’t feel that with the readings it has been selected it is of much help to my Spiritual journey at this time. Hence the walrus and the carpenter.

Why shouldn’t I talk about things other than the lectionary? If Godde is present to me at all she is present in the every day world of a burning Amazon forest, of a tonne of assignments I will need to mark next week (without ceasing to teach all my classes…I am not sure how I am supposed to do that). She may be present in a huge disappointment I suffered this week and in me having to try to explain my queer-trans identity and faith to a researcher. She is present in the joy I feel in the classroom, that grows whenever any of my students catch it off me (and they do!!!).

Shoes and ships and sealing-wax: the ethics of consumption, the difference between needs and distractions, the responsibility each of us has. Who makes our shiny goods? Where are they from? What sufferings and transport emissions do they conceal? We could talk of those things, there are no easy answers but there is joy in the small things I can do, like buy my coffee in a real ceramic mug (not a disposable paper thing) or bring my produce bags to the shop. Planting trees and eating less meat are things anyone/everyone can do. One thing won’t change the world but we must talk of the “many things” and do what we can.

Of cabbages, of gardening (which I do not do well), of vegan recipes, of food-miles and community gardens. Of kings- outmoded systems of power that bear examining and gently (but not over-generously) pensioning off. We do not need the billionaires, but we do need the butterflies and bees. And why the sea is boiling hot? And the icecaps melting? And the forest burning? And our government approving more coal mines? And we have “island-hopping” advertised to us but those islands will be underwater soon. “And whether pigs have wings” and whether our species has a chance of survival. I love my children.

I wanted to write on Wednesday night but instead I went out with my middle son to talk about vegan food and politics and his work and my work and why he makes ethical choices, and what his former tutor said to me.

I wanted to write on Thursday night but instead my youngest son wanted to tell me how angry he is about injustice and about the government selling off the trains and trams. He wanted to discuss economics and ecology while eating three serves of the vegan food I left on the stove. I lied to him and told him I didn’t need it for a work-lunch the next day and I thought of all the vitamins in his growing young body. He washed the dishes anyway.

I wanted to write on Friday night but it was noisy at work so I came home expecting and empty house. My eldest who never comes out of his room came and sat down and asked me about my work and looked over my draft (very unusual) and started telling me about the public health system and how important it is and how we should not erode it. He mentioned the environment “everyone has their thing” he said “and mine is the Great Barrier Reef. I just don’t know how to go on without it”. Of course I told him I love him and need him to keep on even if things are very rough for the earth. He talked about animals going extinct and he didn’t weep, but there was unvoiced weeping between us.

My children. The loves of my life. The only thing I consistently put some positivity into even in the bad years. I can’t let go of this planet and I can’t let go of hope. I don’t care about people believing things or paying tribute to some “Lord” in fact I think that way of conceiving God’s sovereignty is counter-productive. If Godde must have sovereignty let it be the sovereignty I witness from Aboriginal people. “We know how to wait” says Vincent Lingiarri in Kev Carmody’s song. These are a people who have unfairly suffered much but survive and hope and nurture. This is sovereignty and I can see gospel in it the good news of Godde even though I want to cry at the colonialism and put it in the bin. I can’t see Godde’s “love” in punishment, the less I punished my children the more they developed into ethical beings. I don’t know where the narrow gate is but if it is not wheelchair accessible then we need to pick a different venue (my campaign manager last election taught me that).

So thanks lectionary, but no thanks. I am going to get an expensive haircut to restore my queer aesthetic and I am going to finish my article and submit it. I am going to handwash clothes. I am going to buy food for the week. I am going to make an anti-plastic video. I may go to church for the beautiful people not for the readings. Godde is in the ways we mean well. Godde is in the way we orient to each others needs and wellbeing. Godde is in the earth herself. Words can be good, but must be used with care.

If you don’t like my words, you are free to find your own. If words don’t cut it, you might dance a prayer instead. Happy surviving 🙂

Agency, choice, science.Being sentient.

Dear Creator,

You made us like this. You gave us the capacity to think, to reason, to debate, to examine evidence.

You gave us the deep desire to love, to connect, to communicate, to share ideas and feelings. You instilled in us a potential to build our empathy, to understand complexity and contradiction, to examine standpoints, to listen and to learn.

As far as we know we are the only species who can do this.

As far as we know.

So why…

are we the species who plunder and loot, who exploit and overuse, who use escapism and denial to hide from our responsibility to be that “higher life form” our art and philosophy used to tell us we were?

are we the species who fear our neighbour and lock up CHILDREN to feed our own fear?

has human history consistently been full of war, abuse, terror, greed and squabbling over things that are not ours?

Creator was this inevitable? Did you know we would be like this? Why did you not know? Why did you make us? Have we ever been better?

Can we be better?

Can these dry bones live? Is there a hope that is not just denial? Is there a joy that is not just excess? Is there a love? Any real love? Not desire or neurosis or need or charity but just that pure and redeeming thing…love?

At church today we talked about Dominic asking us to contemplate the good, the beautiful and the true. Help me to find that in my species. Help me to find it in myself.

The good. The beautiful. The true.

Life

Love

Amen

Human, and made that way

I am ambivalent about this week’s readings. On the one hand they dismiss wealth and the striving after it as trivial. In 2019 and facing climate change that seems pretty relatable. Vanity of vanities, the way people keep stressing out over promotions and presents and their love-lives. When I say “people” I’d be lying if I pretended to be superior. I am writing lesson plans all week, not engaged in the political struggle, I almost even forgot to write my blog this week. But maybe that too is a vanity, for a tiny handful of people to read, mainly just to humour me. These readings have come around again, I have written on them already.

But it does not always feel like vanity to work, to strive, to desire, and yes even to write. It feels human, life is empty unless we have purpose and connection. I can have empathy for the writer of Ecclesiastes but I don’t think it is a healthy headspace to see all things as “vanity”. It is like some of my colleagues and students who seem overly scandalized about other people’s sex-life choices. We don’t need to dismiss or judge everything we see, sometimes it is just the experience of being human that is in front of us- whether that means sacrificing sleep time to get a promotion (vanity) or it means over-eating the delicious lentil bolognese (vanity) or it means feeling sad and lonely when you should be sleeping and being jealous of people who actually HAVE a sex life (vanity). But to limit people’s joys too much is a type of purity that limits our own capacity not just to feel and experience but in the end I think also to live and love. Why are we on this planet? Is it all just chasing wind? Noone should be forced to labour so long or deal with such hardship that life is vain. We live, not to enrich others but to enliven ourselves, to enloven all things.

Do we hear her voice then as the psalm seems to think we do? How do we stop our hearts being hardened when we are facing destruction, when people even less deserving than us prosper, when we are overlooked or hurting? God turns us back into dust as if we never were? What dust? Could it be star-dust? Is it “dusty” like after a great night out? What is this”wisdom of heart”that is not scared of it’s own mortality?

Kindness imbues us, it brings great (and undignified) joy. There is a morning after the night of ruminating. Whose heart needs to stay soft, ours or Godde’s? I will move forward in case wisdom is waiting.

There is some sort of renewal in the second reading, I am suspicious of it because to me it sounds Platonic, it sounds like the epistemology of the mind without a body, a patriarchal way of finding meaning (while expecting women to do all the real work). Enlightenment, the privileged man’s luxury and yet didn’t I flee from the world of children into academia as soon as I could? My issue with texts about rising above the body is envy. I want to be so male that my body ceases to matter. I want to be all spirit, pure mind and I want food and home and cleanliness to magically appear in front of me while I read and think deep thoughts. Unfortunately I am woman enough to know that is nonsense.

So rather than the advice from this all too male and privileged writer of Colossians I say “put to death that which calls you to be in denial about the fact that you are a child of earth. You are dust, remember the psalm told us. Vanity is also freedom perhaps, but there is love. Put to death your reluctance to face your own mortality and messiness. Put to death how easily you compartmentalise and ignore the pain of others. Put to death a church that is built on the fear and crying of children, the exclusion of women, the exploitation of the poor. Put to death inhumanity. Don’t be so foolish, God made our bones out of earth and our substance out of stardust. Put to death your illusion that you are superior to the bleeding, emotional woman or the starving, struggling poor person. Remember that you are dust. Vanity/sacredness/humanity.

In the gospel Jesus says something that is either healthy boundaries or lack of empathy. I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, because we all too often judge each other for healthy boundaries, but I am afraid of the tradition of interpretation that would tell us that the things of this world (justice, fairness, having enough to live on) are insignificant and Jesus is all about the spiritual. I see a grittier Messiah with dusty feet (though admittedly washed by a woman of more kindness than reputation). I see a Jesus for whom John was not worthy to undo his sandal (or maybe just didn’t want to touch such filthy feet). No I am being a bit silly, I am breaking out in possibly inappropriate humour. I am tired from the vanity of my week. Maybe Jesus was too tired to play judge. Maybe he said as I said to my students this week “you are qualified to make this decision yourself”. One of them told me it was a “cop out” but I begged to differ. I think Jesus gives me that sarcastic smile if I try to call him out there. Ok, Ok you rascal, you always catch me being incoherent!

But the wealth-hoarders get short shrift here. Jesus might as well be talking about certain churches I think…or maybe as a first-world person I ought to hear this. Am I working too much? Is my greed taking me away from my real calling? How about the way my work is more love than just profit, does that count for anything? Is this a reassurance for the person who has no super, or is Jesus going to remind me that my (lack of) super is not his problem?

I am without answers but I sort of feel like Jesus is a hopeless rebel like me too. Maybe we can discuss wine and debate philosophy? Maybe we can pray? Maybe it only matters that I love. Maybe it is valid to spend a few hours washing clothes and writing and NOT interacting with others.

If everything is vanity, there are no KPIs and there are no “targets” for the kindom of God. Spend some time in joy and peace today as you don’t know when you will be able to again. But also Jesus implies there is a wealth that “matters to God” not airy-fairy things I dare say but meaning and connection. Breast-milk as much or more than ideas. Chickpea patties as much or more than a promotion. Kind and understanding words or just and loving anger.

God knows we are human.