Category Archives: Reflection/Sermon

Stations of the Cross IV

This is my fourth year of doing stations of the cross. Two per year. If you want to look back you can find 1 and 7 here, 2 and 8 here, 3 and 10 here.

Station 4- Jesus meets his mother

Imagine being the mother of Jesus. Imagine being any mother. Imagine spending years holding your baby close, talking with your growing child, doing everything you can to give them opportunities and instil some wisdom. But still they do things we would not have chosen and have courage we would not have for them.

Any child has some sort of devil/cross to carry on their back as they get older.  Any child is condemned and rejected by others at some point. Any child falls and wonders whether they will go on.

We are not giving our young people hope, that is the trouble not only today but going back at least to my generation and maybe further. My parents loved me but they gave me cynicism and sarcasm and a refusal to listen to my concerns that the planet was dying. We still ridicule the young. We tell them nothing is more important than having a job, and then we show them that there are no jobs. We tell them that this is the country of the “fair go” and show them refugees (mothers and their children, hollow eyed men whose mothers loved and nurtured them like Christ) we show them these people locked up, with the key all but thrown away. We tell them (our beloved young) that the world is so bad because of their addictions (which we have fostered) to iphones and smashed avocados. We are very quiet about our own addictions (to coal-powered economies, to sanctimonious inequality).

The face of Mary looks at her son. She does not ask “where did he go wrong?”. She does not blame herself for letting him grow up brave and wise and question the system. He would be half the man he is if he were otherwise. Wise Mary knows that Jesus is suffering because the system is unjust. Like the women on welfare who cannot feed their children or get home to them in time she weeps.

Jesus,

Your mother sees you and I see you too. Your mother is a face in the crowd, but one that does not mock or judge you, one that knows this does not “serve you right”. It can be hard to look on her, on the face of the one who understands terrible suffering and wants to relieve it. It can be hard  not to cling and beg and depend but you grew up.

Jesus, I am afraid for my sons. I am afraid for the children of the world, I am afraid for me. I am afraid to show my truth, to show that I am oppressed, to be one with those who carry stigma- the mentally ill, the unemployed, the ones who get blamed. Give me the courage of Mary who never ran even from this. Give me the love which kept walking with a broken heart.

Some situations are completely without hope, and yet we must be the face of love. Always and everywhere unflinching. Love stares suffering and death in the face and remains love.

Make my love courageous.

Amen

Station 11- Jesus is nailed to the cross.

Just when the indignity and exhaustion has been so relentless that you cannot bear it they make it worse. Nails splitting skin and sinew. Blood, pain, jeering, hung high above the crowd which understands the opposite of your message. I’ve had a small taste of being hated so much and for the wrong reasons, but I’ve only had my picture defaced in a way that my indignant son said was symbolic of domestic violence, but was powerless to really frighten me. But real people are beaten, made to bleed and bruise, gas-lighted, told they are worthless, spat upon.

“Why didn’t she leave?”  we ask of the woman who puts up with it year by year, akin to the thief asking why Jesus didn’t waltz down from his cross and prove he was more than a man, prove he was God. We don’t understand suffering, we do not wish to identify with victim-hood we see no strength in broken endurance, but Jesus sees. Jesus calls his sisters out of domestic violence, yes but he sees also the invisible nails that keep them there.

Jesus calls the child in the school-yard to speak out and end their victimhood at the hands of a bully, but Jesus sees the social stigma that stops the child telling. Jesus stands with the ousted whistle-blower (even when he is an imperfect human being). Jesus stands with the impossible child. Jesus stands with the undiagnosed and the misunderstood and the wrongly medicated. Jesus stands with the victims of the church’s myriad abuses and turns an eye of anger and shame against the perpetrators, however powerful.

Jesus stands with all victims everywhere, not to sanctify and reify victimhood but in solidarity. Jesus would end the pain and the shame if he could (let us be clear about that and not too cosy about his “heroic” victimhood). Jesus suffers terribly and is retraumatised when we suffer or when we cause suffering.

What do I say to you O Jesus,

As you are nailed to the cross. Is it the cross of my prejudice? Is it the cross of my impotence to create change? Is it the cross of my inability to hope? Is it a cross not of my own making, but one I would rather not confront?

So easy to look away and walk past, because what after all is the polite way to speak to someone who is suffering and dying to keep me in my first world (minority world) lifestyle? Are you languishing in a factory in China owned by someone in my country? Are you a calf brought up in the dark and filth only to be slaughtered? Are you a fish in the Murray river? How do I confront you when to see you crucified is to confront my own privilege, which I prefer to keep invisible?

How dare you hang there on the cross! How dare you spoil our public holiday with your suffering! How politically correct of you to demand some recognition.

But dearest Jesus, you know I am not really like that. I see in your face my own humanity. I will do better. I will not walk past injustice. I will become conscious even though it is like thorns digging into me. I will speak out though I am afraid. I will practice holy solidarity with anyone who is oppressed.

One of my students said to me that we need to find the place of no more crosses, the place where no one is crucified. She thought she was being rude to my religion but my heart leapt at the idea and I agreed with her. Show us that your followers ought never be the ones who drive the nails in or even stand idly by.

Let us build a world of hope, a world without crucifixion.

Solidarity brother Jesus

Amen.

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Mandated this Thursday

Bread in a drought. We are overusing the earth and stealing from the rivers. We are feeding up animals just to slaughter them in horrible conditions. We are ripping out every other plant to grow more vines so we can drown our middle-class scruples and sorrows in wine (reduced when you buy by the dozen).

We don’t want to wash anyone’s feet, we Christians, unless we have chosen them for their likeness to us. We don’t want Muslims and we don’t want trans disciples, we don’t want inconvenient voices calling out for a stop to rape and toxic masculinity, we don’t want vegans or cyclists, we don’t want unionists. We want a small, narrow, white and bland kingdom of a three-word-slogan God who will medicate us back to sleep.

Thoughts and prayers. Thoughts and prayers. It’s all too hard. God save us. This is a test of faith and we cry when a great cathedral burns (and well we might). But the birthing trees are bulldozed on out and we don’t care. Brown children are trapped in factories with no water but overpriced, plastic packages sold back to them despite their tiny wage. Monkeys in metal collars are forced to harvest coconuts for smug minority world festival goers. Mea culpa, I love a festival and coconut water too.

We care more for who gets into Eurovision than who gets into parliament or what their policies will mean. We want gross domestic product…and the word “gross” really is apt! Wellbeing be damned we want measurable outputs to prove we are winning.

But then it is lent and we are called to become aware of the wilderness we are wandering in, the barren emptiness of lives focused on having not being, focused on distractions not deeds, on status not right relationship. It’s been lent and yet we can so easily sit in out “sty of contentment” as Eliot put it, or in some close approximation. And now it is the eve of Maundy Thursday. “Maundy” because there is a mandate here (the words are related) but the mandate is not just to be the king washing the feet of the properly submissive beggar but to wash the feet we would rather not touch.

I grew up with a liturgical foot-washing, a bishop with many attendants serving him pouring some water over feet of 12 respectable men in suits. As an adult I found more inclusive places, the washers and the washed were varied but still it was the respected and the respectable performing ritual. Noone’s foot was actually very dirty and the symbol was mildly uncomfortable rather than wildly destabilising.

But now our refusal to be destabilised may cost us our lives. We are facing climate change, and the main argument is still over who to hate, who to blame, who to exclude. My former partner told me that I have learned nothing through the years and I still don’t love myself and I felt angry and started to argue. “No but really” he said “I want you to hear me”.

It’s Maundy Thursday and I am still not hearing people. I am still busy trying to be the Martha at the table of grace and afraid to be the Mary. I want to be “good” and “kind” and “wise” and “worthy” so someone will love me, to take away from me the burden of having to love myself. I want to make a bargain with God, shake hands on a deal where I will not have to confront things anymore. I am like my corflute after all, flat and polished and smiling on demand.

There is some sort of sacrament here, and I need it and I hunger for it but I don’t know how to receive it. How can I be so dark and disillusioned on this weekend in particular? If there is meaning and I have strived for it then why don’t I feel it? Why does the love of my friends, and especially of my children reduce me to tears? If I am loved after all, cannot that be a sign?

Many years ago, when I was pregnant with my third child I had lunch with a friend of mine, an ordained minister. He spoke to me about the desire to over-eat, that he prays “only you can fill me God” before every meal.

I sit here full of chips and migraine, politics and study, the housework I should have done and the sleep I wish I could get. I sit here full of performative faith: “Don’t you dare leave me God”. I sit here with leftover suicidal ideation I have learned to control but not really to forgive or heal. I am full of fear and sadness and resentment. I know that I will more than likely be a failure and if I succeed that I will be attacked. I know myself to be lazy and a coward. I worry that I might sell my beloved for 30 pieces of silvered silence away from the struggle.

I don’t know how to be empty so that I can be filled by Godde

I see people’s faces turned toward me, seeing something more heroic and strong than I feel myself to be and I know that I have made idols of others to avoid having to be responsible. I feel Godde’s presence with me, tolerant, but it is not Godde whom I have harmed. Those people I admired, did they feel the weight of my worship? How could I expect them to be so much more than I was ever prepared to be? When I have thought leaders to be pompous and arrogant, even narcissistic was it their shield against my need for them to be gods?

Who was Jesus at the last supper? Did it hurt to be bread and wine? How much did he consent to and how much was he created by his followers?

It sounds like blasphemy to say that Jesus was “only human” and yet if he wasn’t then what is this for us? We do not have another millennium to wait to be saved from our need to create church as institution and ritual as hiding. Jesus did not say “cringe and cry to me”. He did not say “avoid anyone different”. He did not say “I will save you from yourself”. Jesus said “I am the least of your siblings”. He said “take up your cross and follow me”. He said “you can’t be part of this unless I wash your feet.”

So much of the world is crying for the bread they don’t have and for the wine that is never shared with them. Factory and field workers collapse too exhausted to hope. Refugees share inadequate meals in uncomfortable buildings behind wire. I have pedicured my feet ready to seem clean when I am washed. I turn up for religion, but hide from the Holy Spirit.

Like an anorexic I turn away from the Bread of Heaven.

I am addicted to the hunger.

The fig tree, the burning bush and my lenten call.

I have been absent, and yet my graphs show that readers have checked in here (thanks for doing that). after a busy and somewhat stressful few weeks, my body and mind exhausted beyond belief I am seizing some time to rest and self-care. And so, with a sense of luxuriating in the thing I love, I turn back to the lectionary, trying to feel guilty neither about how long it has been since my last blog post, nor about the things I am leaving undone to write this. This after all is a better use of my time than any sort of procrastination would be (and I am so tired I would not be more productive).

The first reading is the story of Moses encountering the burning bush. Is that what it would take to make me fully human again? A great phenomena like a burning bush, a place to take off my shoes and know mystery? A reminder that activism is all very well but encounter is where God happens. I have an hour and a half to choose something and I choose this. Pondering the readings, taking off the shoes of my roles as teacher, co-ordinator, bread-winner and politician. Here I am just Stef the human, here I am small and confused and trying to listen to a voice. The voice is the God who liberates, telling Moses of specific moments in salvation history and reminding me that I am called to fullness of life not just busyness.

But God is also the God who will send Moses out into the struggle to liberate a people, a God who will put me back into the struggle with all the good activists and advocates and seers and comrades. This space is not a place of escape or retreat, it is a place of sustenance FOR THE STRUGGLE. God ultimately refuses naming, refuses to be owned or branded. God is loyal to her own values not to an institution. The bush burns but it is not consumed, rules may be broken. The Spirit blows wherever she will and I do not own, control or parcel her out. This is perhaps a warning to all would-be theologians and preachers (noted).

The psalm celebrates God’s kindness, commitment to justice and strengths-based approach to humanity (pardoning sins and restoring life and liberation). I weep with gratefulness at the thought of kindness and mercy- yes give me that as a relief from politics and the negative speeches of so many. But kindness and mercy are not just gift but also call. I am asked to be the kindness and mercy of God, as human beings we are meant to embody the divine, not just anger (even when we are sure it is righteous). The kindness is stressed again and again, as sure and surpassing as the sky itself. God is kind so I must be kinder. As my exhausted mind ponders this I feel that maybe this kindness could even extend to myself, not to pander myself in inactivity but at least to allow rest and joy back into the mix.

Always back to the good things, back into the struggle for justice and also back into the solace-point, the “home” that God is to our hearts.

The second reading seems to be reminding us that tradition and institutionalised religion are no guarantees against error. Admittedly the recent events around “Cardinal” Pell have led me to embrace this interpretation. We must remember the values of the family of God (mercy, kindness, justice, advocating for the little) instead of just following rules and rituals or relying on our history and tradition. Our tradition/s are not a place to stand secure and judge others (other religions, sexual orientations or lifestyles) they are places to take off our shoes and gain some humbleness about what we have…and what in justice we ought to share. I have no patience with people who abuse power and privilege to harm others, as shepherds called to tend the people of God we have a vital DUTY OF CARE. This is true for all of us, the unofficial and petty shepherds as well as the ones considered “great” by the institution. That mercy and kindness of the psalm needs to be shared to the last and the least and the one who we do not think has the strength to answer us back (you’d be surprised what is possible with God).

The verse before the gospel tells us to repent (be radically transformed for the better) and to see the kindom of God.

The gospel begins with Jesus threatening dire things to anyone who refuses to repent and be transformed. This could be as true for an institution/church as for an individual (maybe more so). Just when we are sure that the gospel is a terrible judgement, the parable at the end switches it. God is endlessly patient, tending and calling and giving the fig-tree more time (though beware because at some point even the extra time may run out). If we have not borne significant fruit YET then this lent comes to give us another chance and our lives may be cultivated and fertilized that we might finally bear fruit.

I’ve been a slow-bloomer in anything I have ever tried in my life. I have both a slowness to understand, a reluctance to really back myself and am endlessly ready to quit and concede failure. God bids me garden myself more carefully, give myself time to grow (amidst the great role-models and mentors who always told me this was possible). Noone says that it doesn’t matter that the fig-tree is barren, noone suggests that it should keep failing to thrive, failing to produce. But Jesus suggests that if all that is needed is more time and caring then that can be provided by a patient and relentlessly loving God.

This lent we are given the time and kindness to grow, and the warning that we must encounter God ourselves, not rely on ritual and tradition. I will seek the quietness of lent, the gathering dark of autumn, the parrots in the fig-tree, the super-worm moon and the promise that something will come again out of all the deaths of the world. I will give myself time.

Rushed thoughts from the midst of the chaos

Welcome to the sieve that is life, that will shake you up and demonstrate what quality you are as a person, as a God-being-image, as an agent who thinks and speaks and embodies values. So goes the first reading. I have seen much of this lately, people being shaken and the best or worst of them appear. I am working on being kind and tolerant of people who are flawed when shaken and thus able to cope with my own limitations too. Some people surprise and inspire me even under the greatest pressure. I would like to have that sort of courage and integrity. Based on picking up values from people we choose to spend time with and listen to I guess I have a chance of developing that way.

The psalm continues in this vein, telling us to be grateful to God and to keep our integrity because ultimately we will thrive or perish according to the health of our values and our inner self. I am not sure that real life always demonstrates this well, but on the other hand I was cheered when in answer to a question about her “legacy” at Writers Week Gillian Triggs said “I don’t think I am anywhere near finished yet”!!!

Maybe this is what: “They shall bear fruit even in old age” means.

I myself feel so week and fearful and dependant on others but maybe I can learn. Triggs talked of being mentored and supported at times, she talked of benefitting from systems that were there to support her. None of us can do it alone and I need to have some faith in the integrity (spoken and lived) of the people who are in my life.

The second reading talks about our human preoccupation with the deaths and hurts of this life but claims that through God we can hope through that to a greater depth of meaning and success. We have to find the incorruptible, immortal things to clothe ourselves in, and the implication is that these are values. We must be “firm, steadfast and fully devoted” to God’s work, but let’s remember that God’s work is not nitpicking the lifestyles of others but upholding the vulnerable (the “widow and orphan”) and loving those who need our love, calling to account the powerful (see eg the Magnificat), feeding and healing the world in LOVE. We must have integrity even in how we treat our enemies, we can attack the position and corruptibility of people like Cardinal Pell and decry the words of people like Andrew Bolt, but it is not God’s work to personally attack these people (although when victims of their crimes do it we should be understanding).

Death is swallowed up in the victory, the immortality (“legacy” if you like) of the good work we do. I want to think of immortality as some good people have left or are leaving the university I got work at, where I would have liked them to continue on and mentor and befriend me. Some people do remain who understand what has been achieved and my task is to hold firm. Things of value are larger than one person, they are larger than human cycles of loss and death. Meaning is never something we hold forever but always something we must chase and wrestle with and contest with others and find in fragments.

I don’t like that it is always so difficult, but the tone of the readings is comforting, that God will reward all our efforts even if the world does not.

The gospel mocks me for my reliance on my teachers. They also are human and “blind” as I am and I must learn to be equal to them and work like them not simply follow them (not even heroes like Gillian Triggs). The other side of the coin is that I as a teacher and a leader should not be grand about my own status, but should accept the rights of people to disagree with me, challenge me and find their own way to work alongside and not beneath me. It’s easy to always criticise others instead of looking at how we can contribute something of worth, or at what is blocking us from doing better.

But reassuringly if we are good and healthy on the inside (grounded in values) if we are fruit of a good tree (a tradition, a person, a way of being) then we in turn will produce good fruit. We will speak the truth of what we truly believe which is what we truly are. I will seek to embody (and ensoul) in myself love and radical, healing hope.

I am afraid for the future but God’s will be done. I will learn to stand fast!

Overflowing measures

We are made in the image of Godde.

Admittedly that is easier to see in some people than others but every human, all creation in fact somehow reflects the sacredness and beauty of God. The human has intrinsic worth and dignity and life is therefore a good. I think that is how I have to read David’s grandiose refusal to slay “the Lord’s anointed” because in fact I am frustrated by this King, by this rich and powerful man choosing to prolong war (ie ultimately killing so many people who I suppose he deems as less worthy) instead of quickly putting an end to it by killing Saul. Instead David is reconciled with Saul, predictably has to flee for his life again and carries out raids (on invisible others) to sustain himself.

I can’t bring myself to believe that this militaristic, elitist attitude is the word of God (no, not even if we talk about historical context), but I can see how we ended up with clergy who think that being “anointed” they are above the law and can get away with atrocities.

Sorry lectionary, I tried to let what you said have some good in it, but I am too angry. I have to speak truth for the people who have left “the faith” because of our refusal to confront what is unhealthy in our tradition. Some parts of the bible just tell me about toxic masculinity and militarism and I see something so sinful being aligned with Godde and I must be honest that THIS IS NOT THE GODDE I KNOW.

I met Godde again this week through some human beings and birds splashing around in bird-baths and in the taste of a single perfect fig and the bitterness of wonderfully brewed coffee as well as in meaningful work (too much of it). Through the voices of my wise children and one beloved and generous voice. Godde looked at me and said “you know me, I am here” and I can’t unknow that to believe patriarchal words written down centuries ago.

But the psalm reassures me that God is kind and merciful and will pardon all my “iniquities” even perhaps if I accidentally or through stubbornness write heresy (I can only be honest about what come through in my prayer life). As a mother wants to see the best in her children and gently teach them to think more deeply, so God will have gentle teaching-instinct toward me.

The second reading also puzzles me coming across as a “typical man” (apologies to my male adult children who are not like this), compartmentalising things that should flow together, making a false binary only in order to hold it in tension. Earthliness and spirit should not be two different things and I though that was precisely the point of the Jesus story. Of course Eve (usually blamed for Adam’s sin) does not even appear in this argument, Jesus is the “second man” a representative only of Adam and not of Eve. I will stick to my rainbow lorikeets and my sarcastic feminist friend as images of God and remember to add to them the gleaming sun slipping into the ocean, people opening their door and offering me a glass of water on a hot summer’s day when I am being a politician, and the adjective “amazing” used to reassure a new worker. God is in earthly spiritual things and in spiritually earthed things too. God is in the generosity of Eve as much as in the curiosity of Adam and if there is sin, the sin is throwing each other under the bus and forgetting that God is love.

I work with naughty toddlers, delightful toddlers, toddlers we have to reprove one minute and comfort and affirm the next (or quicker) so I think I know these things. In a beautiful church garden this week they ran straight to the “forbidden” tree of unripe apples and when we pulled them back they still found a way to sneak back there and each grab one. Earthly toddlers like Eve, like Adam. Their teachers and parents still love them AND SO DOES GOD. Jesus was born a baby as a toddler he must surely have stretched his plump and tiny hand out to forbidden things and cried when he was told “no” and done it anyway. It’s not a sin to yearn to know the world and to discover your own agency. It is a sin though when curiosity and desire for self-actualisation becomes greed and cruelty and that can happen too. Jesus chose not to go down the path of “power at the cost of others” and that is where we too must draw the line. Adam was new to all this let’s remember (and Adam’s first admission was how dysfunctional he was without an “other” so it makes no sense to write Eve out of the story). Let’s move on to the gospel.

Jesus in the gospel is not (I hope) advocating for a doormat disposition but for a courageous attitude that is radically peaceful and loving. Jesus himself showed anger at times (in context) and spoke out against wrongdoing and injustice in the strongest possible terms. But Jesus here is saying that to love those who massage our egos is easy and no sort of a virtue at all. The challenge is to love the difficult ones, the impossible ones, the hurting and hurtful ones, the so broken they can damage us ones. I am reminded that really I do not love Scott Morrison. I could try to paint an insincere smile on my face and talk about his “intrinsic worth” as a human being but I am not feeling it. I think I was better at that when I was younger, I sincerely loved everyone, even people who I didn’t think were very good. I don’t know what to do now except challenge myself that I am supposed to love, that I can express needed critical perspectives but need to leave room for people to be called by God to do the right thing after all. I challenge myself to keep my criticism measured and relevant to the issue and not to let hate be my motivating factor. I need to see the humanity in Nicole Flint’s eyes when we have to meet for various forums. I have been asked not to “go easy on Nadia Clancy” and I won’t, but at the end of the day she is a human being and possibly trying to do her best as I am trying to do mine.

Part of loving others is holding on to the knowledge that I too might be wrong and flawed and full of sin and nevertheless loveable and beloved. I have been my own enemy, when I was younger and loved others so easily then my one enemy that I couldn’t love was myself. My call to challenge myself to love more was my call into not neglecting the needs of the child of God that was myself. Somebody I once read long ago wrote that the bible was written for men, but women sometimes commit the equal and opposite sin, instead of emphasising the self over other they may idolatrise the other (especially the man) and neglect the self. Of course being an intersectional feminist I can understand this as being about privilege and see that I can simultaneously oppress some others and idolatrise others. My love needs to flow to whoever is neglected in my understanding of Goddeness.

Thus loving self and loving other are twin challenges and as we perfect our love for one of these we may also discover a better means to the other.

I wrote these words this morning before church, but at church I discovered that the person preaching had also wrestled with the first and second readings and had discovered she found a much better grounding for the gospel in an except from John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty. I have run with a picture of that book in which O’Donohue finds (much as I did above) that any act of caring that we engage with or that we are blessed by shows us the presence of God.

As we challenge ourselves (earthly ones, spirit-filled ones) to be more loving, to care in real and practical and sacramental way; as we see that all of creation is God’s
anointed” and able to break our bread and bring us to life; as we find the gorgeously glowing beauty that is God within our capacity to love and within the capacity of the world to surprise us with beauty we forgive the flawedness of our history at church. We do not forgive as doormats who will allow it to happen. We do not stand idly by while others are oppressed. There is space here for anger.

But there is a space here also to redeem what is good in our tradition- while the Buddhists may talk of karma and the Wiccans have their rule of three we can know that they are right. We too are told the same thing by our own Wisdom (Christ), that the measure which we measure will be measured out to us generously. Abundantly. What we give is what will overflow in being given back to us. May we give love.

Amen. Z�3�����

Blessings and woes

Dedicated to the women (and some men) who have co-created my future and my hope with me. Who have mentored and encouraged me. With thanks, with every blessing.

“The will of God is always an offer of co-creation.” (Joan Chittister, 1990, 49). I have no desire to replace any part of the gospels, and especially not that activist manifesto that we usually call “the Beatitudes”. What I do feel the need to do, is bring the gospel into my life and world and bring my life and world into the gospel. So I will have a go at co-creating some Beatitudes that are secular, but grounded in gospel values. I will endeavour to be faithful to the original but express my specificity.

I invite you to either pray mine with me, or use them as a departure point for your own. Let’s affirm the way the people who inspire us are following God. Let’s recognise their work (love) as deeply transformative…

Blessed are the angry feminists, because they shall make daughters and sisters of all women,

Blessed are those who are underpaid and undervalued, for they call into question our striving after money and shiny things,

Blessed are those who put aside or demolish their own privilege, because they shall have right relationship.

Blessed are the queer ones and the misfits, those who are judged, excluded, misunderstood or lied about, they will become lights to the world.

Throughout history prophets (and especially prophetesses) have always been mistreated and rejected by the reluctance of the collective consciousness to grow.

Woe to you if you live by the exploitation of others, you will always fear losing what you unfairly have,

Woe to you if you gaze with joy on inequality and label it “meritocracy”, you will be found wanting and discarded

Woe to you if you hate those who are different from you, you will imprison yourself in certainty and fail to connect with others

Woe to you if you are defined by what you own, what you can buy or your success, the triviality of your life will overwhelm you and you will always be exhausted.

But we are all partly in the “woe” category” by virtue of the society in which we live. I pray for grace to heal our woe. I pray for God’s loving voice to nag us out of our discontented compliance with capitalist half-lives. I pray that the blessing will flow from the blessed ones, the saints of our time also to us. I pray that we will bring healing and hope to each other.

God’s kindom come.

Lips, life and liberation

“…this has touched your lips” said the angel.

As a sociologist I find the first reading tantalising. It’s not possible to be purged of the “unclean” discourses of your context in time or space. I think the cultural errors of any age boil down to what “original sin” is, the way that some grace-filled possibilities are shut off, rendered unsayable or drowned in a mire of the “inevitable”, we cannot even see our error because out language sets up binaries and misleading questions with closed off answers.

But the desire to rise above our context and to liberate others from it, this is utterly relatable and I like to think of God as the one who burns through the crap that bogs us down and sends us out to make sense of things after all. “My eyes have seen” something, some beautiful reflection of God’s presence, some possibility for liberation for us all…this is what it means to have “faith” perhaps. The eyes of our spirit yearn not to be enslaved to sin and the overbearing meaningless of the consumerist “life”. We want life to mean something, but meanings elude us.

The drive to speak is familiar, I first felt the need to be a voice, first heard the call I suppose when I was a little girl. “Here I am, send me” or when I try to be humble and not say that, then things fall apart into greyness and fear. Perhaps at times my motives have been mixed with the less than ideal, I have craved status, wanted to be “special” but over the years I learn what hard work it is to be a truth speaker, how easy it is to get it all wrong and how alone you can feel. I learn (with joy) that God has never called only me, not even mainly me. And then I can reclaim pride not as an individualising sin “I am better than the others” but as a virtue “I am made in God’s image like you, and you, and you, and our sister”.

The apparent pride that put me off in the first reading, has served instead to interrogate and redeem me as still called (among others).

I am feeling that psalm today, partly as I reflect on my call and my co-travellers with their calls too. God has answered my prayer and whenever I think of God listening to me and bringing me out of despair it brings me back to the huge transformation of my life when I realised the obvious (that I was a lesbian) and the way this identity has increasingly been a blessing in my life. I haven’t had lovers but I don’t want to make a virtue of that or pretend that “celibacy” is the only or best option for queer folk. I will be honest there is nothing celibate about my mindset I just have not found someone I can share and celebrate this with in that way.

Ironically the “uncleanness” that I needed a coal set to, to burn away, was not my lesbian identity at all but my inability to see God’s grace and act of co-creation in who I was. My being PRAISES God in a way that my self-hate never did. As the psalm rejoices at God “you built up strength within me” oh yes she did and she has not finished. Through the grace of God and the grace of everyone I travel with I am getting STRONGER. I can depend on Wisdom within and outside of myself (in both places for balance). God has placed gentle hands on me, like a sort of spiritual chiropractor or masseur, repairing and working with what is there to bring out the best in me. As the psalm tells me I will not be abandoned, I am not yet my perfect being but God is still working on that with me.

Some of this may sound arrogant but it is as true for an ant or a blade of grass as it is for me. We are extremely significant and “special” but not more so than each other. We have the responsibility to respond authentically and to grow with God into the gentle movements of God’s healing hands on us. Someone smiled at me this week and God was absolutely in her smile and I saw my own goodness and beauty in this wonderful person’s face. Everything reminds me of that moment. I saw God in a person, who is objectively probably as flawed as me. But who wants to be objective when they see God?

I won’t spend long on the second reading (read it) but I feel it is paraphrasing the same thing I am trying to say. Paul (or someone) is finding his place in the community of transformation, he is trying to articulate the pride and joy of that without coming across as arrogant. He is working to show that God is behind all these feelings of belonging and hope, God’s beautiful face shines out at us in the communities that accept us (and sometimes one person).

In the gospel Jesus uses the identities of Simon and the sons of Zebedee as the places where they can encounter God. He makes following God about being a fisherman (just as Wisdom makes following God for me about motherhood, writing, being queer or caring). In a way there is a “leaving behind” that happens, after the encounter with Jesus the fishermen are transformed but they are “fishing for people” their vocation is still a continuation and celebration of the way they know themselves.

I have always found this reading terrifying and mysterious because there is no flesh-and-blood Jesus I can unambiguously follow down the coast and away…I have to always find my way and strain to hear an ambiguous call. Perhaps I underestimate the leap of faith (and questioning and at times depression) of the apostles, who are portrayed as just “knowing” Jesus, recognising him in a flash. Perhaps it was not so easy (it is not so easy for any of us except the sociopaths who end up doing untold harm). What is the “everything” that I have to leave? I cannot speak to people if I make myself too alien to them. I cannot set myself apart from the world I must live in for practical reasons (I need to feed and home myself or die) and for spiritual reasons (separateness leads to vanity and irrelevance). The question of faith is the same as the question of politics. How do we authentically be with others (a splintered individualist approach achieves nothing) but do not become “sell outs”? When do lines need to be drawn? Where is the most honest place to draw them? How do we leave everything and yet bring everything with us?

The fact that all my spiritual “insights” lead to unanswered questions is frustrating but simply means I am not dead yet. This week I am a person who was smiled at. I want to curl up in a little ball and do nothing ever again and simply save that moment to myself…that is not how it works. Within the full net is not solace forever but a call further. God provides for us so that we can grow to be the ones who bring it. The moment of grace is always that, always the moment of having to stretch ourselves and follow more deeply.

I can only try.

I can only try.