Category Archives: Reflection/Sermon

Being Privileged

I actually had no quarrel with the lectionary today. The first reading in it, if you are interested is worth looking up later. What it says was pretty similar to the first part of the gospel anyway.
I chose the reading from Alexis Wright as part of a personal project that I thought you would allow me to share with you. My project is to bring into my prayer life some voices of women of colour, and especially Indigenous women. I read, then I spend some time trying to become aware to broaden my mind and to be called out of my privileged view of the world.
I haven’t read all of Carpentaria yet, but Wright’s work makes me feel deeply uncomfortable and sad with a sadness I don’t know how to express. It’s not really my intention to share my discomfort (hence I chose a relatively mild passage) but as feminists we do need to remember that we have been asking for decades that men and especially ones in leadership positions would sit with the discomfort that WE bring and let it undermine an unjust system, rather than being emotionally lazy and dismissing us unheard.
So when it comes to an Indigenous woman, one who is not only speaking unfamiliar truths, but speaking them in epistemologically strange (to me) ways I need to take extra time to get to know what I am hearing and allow for its potential to change me.
Will this change us?
I’ve circled back to the original first reading which is echoed in the gospel. In the Kindom of God we are called to set the table not to build a wall around “church” and then become gate keepers. We are called to throw open the doors and give refreshment (even a cup of water) in the name of Life.
Imagine a church that had always recognised this?
Imagine centuries- not of converting and condemning others but (and here I borrow from Micah) of walking humbly with our God in the world. What collaborations of respect and mutual learning might have been possible? Instead of a movement for liberation, people like Constantine used the network of Christians as a vehicle for conquest to further ruling class interests. God of course has been subversively present even so.
We are hearing some of that sort of ideology in the promotions of a so called “Christianity” in politics. A Christianity that does not have compassion for refugees or the unemployed or the working poor? A Christianity that does not look after the aged sufficiently and spits on the integrity of the earth herself. Where I must ask is the “Christ” in all this?
The second reading seems to concur, warning the wealthy and privileged that what they have tells a story of injustice and abuse. Exploiting the worker or the earth is disrespectful of the integrity of creation as God’s image, it defies God’s Wisdom which calls us to live in love and hope. Consumerism in the short term can seem like a refuge from increasingly difficult thoughts- we can turn consumerism into apparently kind values – looking good for others, decorating and cooking for others (some others of course, those few we value at the cost of the many). Ultimately the economic and ecological problems worsen while we ignore them. This gospel is written not only for the 1%, the super-rich but also for us. What would it take for us to turn away from the unhappiness of addiction to wealth and take these messages seriously?
We could start by demanding that any leader who invoked “Christianity” also practice it- not just in turning up to a church once in a while but in policy and practice. Our “Way of life” is threatened more by people who claim to promote it, than by those who admit they are different. We must move forward into life.
As an unauthorised preacher, it is very tempting for me to take only words of comfort from the gospel, which reminds us that as church we do not have to control, endorse or forbid the ministry of others, God is well able to call whoever she wants. I need to read on, from the reassurance to the stern warning. While God calls me to speak, I must take care because if my words are the thing that derail or distract people from God then I will be held accountable.
God’s view of us is not just as atomised and empowered individuals (the neoliberal “can-do” vision), but members of a community- giving and receiving ideas, support and challenge to each other. It’s easy for me to focus on the ways the institutional church has sinned- denying the possibility of female ministry for example, encouraging queer kids to despair and fall away even kill themselves, leaving exploitative capitalism to run rampant, allowing clergy to abuse children. There is much to be angry about.
But the gospel comes not only to fuel anger, but self-reflection. How must I be part of building healthier communities? How must I walk a wise line between listening to wiser others and challenging them? This little church community gives me hope in this like in all things. People here work tirelessly for refugees and give generously to poor families. We don’t all agree on things, but we leave some room for each other’s creativity to unsettle and teach us. We truly seek to love better.
God knows she has called us and knows who we are working for. Let us find ways to amplify our prophetic voices and call a sad and lost world to account and thus back to life. Let us glean hope from the justice and compassion that is possible in each of our lives as leaders and participants in communities. Let us be the one who gives, accepts or celebrates the cup of water given in the name of unconstrainable Life.
Where there is good in our worlds, let us build and nurture it.
Let us sit with the possibilities for hope on this beautiful spring day. Let us dwell on the people and places that our hope is for. After a short time of silence, you may wish to share and connect with those around you.

Advertisements

Tasting and living

Are any readers still with me? If so please forgive me for my long gaps between posts. This week’s readings were about Eucharist AND about mental health and I felt a connection to them. Initially the discipline was to write about readings whether I felt a connection or not, but life has got busier. I write when I can now.
In the first reading, Elijah is depressed and/or fatigued. I know it is anachronistic to call something BCE “clinical depression” but the parallel is close enough to be useful. Elijah is worn out, demoralised, has self-esteem issues and wants to just sleep and pretend he is dead. Relatable!
An angel calls him, not to remonstrate with him but to bid him to eat (the angel has provided the food). If we consider the heart of our tradition, the Eucharist then we know that eating symbolically means love, companionship, presence, sharing, healing, holistically the good of the soul as well as the body. The angel offers Elijah something that may be material (actual food) and may be a form of moral support, probably both. Food is caring, being told to eat is being told to self-care and being provided with food is being supported by a person or a community.
So we have God’s response to a depressed person. God gives care.
Elijah eats and says “that is nice” and lies back down still depressed and lack-lustre. The angel reminds him to self-care properly and acknowledges that the journey is long. The food offered is what is needed for the specific challenge facing Elijah. He gets up eats and drinks and manages a forty day marathon walk to the place of God.
Notice he is not forced into some sort of capitalist work-ethic but he is fed for a journey to God. He is fed to become part of the life-force that will awaken and feed others. Our business here on earth is becoming angels of hope and encouragement. I have been fed by many such angels this week.
The psalm bids us to “taste” God’s goodness. Taste is the sense of abundance and plenty. God in the psalm is so materially and closely to us “good” that we can taste the goodness. The afflicted one has called out and has been heard and rescued (please God remember the afflicted refugees). The human in the psalm calls out God’s goodness and also calls out to God. We are noisy beings seeking connection. God is food and protection and presence.
The second reading challenges us to seek peace and non-violence. It is hard not to feel so consumed with rage that we act out violently. But it makes the Holy Spirit sad when we do so. To connect in with the spirit is to connect in with radical and courageous peace. For me such a thing is definitely still work in progress. God was peaceful and loving first so we do have a model however (this does not always come through in some parts of the bible). Christ as an offering was “fragrant” again the sensory connection.
Perhaps all the Christian denial of the body at many times in history is flawed thinking. God might love us in our embodied, actual selves in a physical, material world made of scents and tastes and sounds. Let us see if this holds true travelling into the gospel.
In the gospel the official church does not like Jesus’ outrageous claims that he is bread come down from heaven. Jesus says that there is something that draws people to him for teaching. Jesus’ teaching then is rich once more in material ideas- bread, life, moving “down”, flesh. Jesus’s giving is radical and risky. Jesus trusts people to come nearer, enter his presence and learn his peace. How can Jesus trust this? A cynical part of me sees only the cross as an end to someone who believes that there can be any good in human nature.
Are we supposed to hope and trust in people after Jesus did so and was killed? This I suppose is the test of our faith, whether Eucharist means anything, whether resurrection is a fact or an escapist myth. But what if we turn away from the bread from heaven? We can only live if we eat this bread of calling upon people’s better self and offering wisdom.
God is relational and physically immediate in the readings and I pray for my relationships and my physical world (the reef, the Murray, the Bight). God feeds us and I pray I will receive the sustenance I need. God calls me and I seek a path to respond. We are here to feed each other. Jesus comes not to give us rules or punishments but to set the table and be the bread.
Let’s not build more walls, let’s make longer tables. Let’s set a place for every Jesus, the one we underestimate. Let’s allow each person to become the bread that feeds our understanding. Let us be the bread that brings life to others.
Arise, eat, you will need the strength.

Your abundance should supply their needs

I have had some internet and email problems this year and as a result, lost my roster for church (among other important things). I did not realise I was meant to be on the roster to lead at church this week until 9:30 last night when someone from the community called me to check up on what was needed this morning. She told me what the gospel for today was meant to be and I started thinking about what I might say.

 
When I got to church this morning, I was able to look up the rest of the lectionary readings and I had to do an “off the cuff” reflection. The fact I was able to do so at all, probably has more to do with this blog than with anything else, and of course God may well have helped me (I certainly asked her to).

 
I will try to remember what it was I said. These were the readings, and I said something like this:
I remember going through a time in my life, when the patriarchy of the church and the male-centredness of the stories and beliefs we were taught made it very difficult for me to continue in the faith. It got to the stage where the maleness of Jesus himself was a problem for me- I felt a strong disjunction about who I was created and called to be with God and the church’s seeming insistence on the MALENESS of priesthood grounded in the maleness of the one we follow. I nearly fell away from the church over this, I could only bring to God my female body, my female-centred way of loving, my female experiences of life and work. If these were not holy then how could I approach God?

 
Today’s gospel perhaps speaks to those yearnings and questions I had as a young woman. I experience Jesus in this gospel within my own life where I have been a mother, and early childhood worker and in some degree and activist and I can relate to the way Jesus is being pushed and pulled and pressured every which way. So many different people demand things from him and each person’s need is urgent and real. Jesus sets off to help one person, is interrupted by another and as a result of stopping to help the second one, the first- a little girl dies.

 
Being Jesus he can make something of this, he can turn death into life which is certainly more than I can do. I don’t have the capability or the patient grace of Jesus in my own life as I juggle competing demands (all important) and try to discern where to turn my attention, where to channel my love. I often drop the ball, neglect something I should have done or arrive too late to something else.

 
I take heart then from the second reading that reminds me that God is not asking us to deprive ourselves for the sake of others, or to give more than we have. God is challenging us as relatively wealthy and comfortable people to give of our surplus. All it takes is allowing God to turn our greed and our fear into generosity and openness. Is that not an important lesson for our time?

 
How can we not pay heed to this call to share from our abundance? How can we bear to be part of incarcerating people and families on Manus or at Nauru? We are not just starving their bodies, we are not just taking away their lives we are starving them of hope. Of hope itself. I almost began to cry at this point as I often do when I consider the mother who lost her son or the man dying of cancer or the hundreds of others.

 
This cruel way of treating people, it really needs to be said is a sinful direction for our society to be going.

 
It is against God. The same goes for what is happening in the US where little children are being pulled away from their mothers and fathers (I didn’t mention our own stolen generations but I should have). I read this week about small children, some as young as three being forced to go to court to be sentenced and deported- all alone these children face this without even a loving adult by their side.

 
This is an evil beyond words, an extreme evil. I feel that word is not an exaggeration.

 
I have been reading bell hooks this week, “all about love”. In it she talks about our yearning for love and the way so many of us grow up not getting what we need from our families- not experiencing the emotional security of being loved. She talks about romantic relationships also frustrating this need and not delivering the love that is needed. I could relate to what she was saying the desperation and the lovelessness that she said is characteristic of people in the world today.

 
She said that people yearn to be loved but have never experienced it. That they do not know what it would feel like to be really loved and as a consequence they do not know how to love.

 
While I could see that there was some truth in what I was saying I could not agree with her that I had never experienced being loved. I feel that this is a community that has taught me a lot about love. I have been loved here and encouraged to grow into a more loving human being. I have had my gifts honoured, and my lack of giftedness forgiven. This is a place where we come to be loving and to heal each other’s capacity to love and to hope. How can we pour out our love to the world? How can we be the loving people that the world needs?

 
Let us think about that. Let us remember that God does not ask from us more than we are capable of giving. How can we be the love the world needs? How can we ask for and teach love to others? When we are pulled this way and that by the needs of others; and are poured out and fragile, how can we trust God to fill us up? How do we bring love, healing, and new life also to each other?

Fallenness…sin…human nature?

Are we “fallen”? Is there something really flawed and ruined about humanity? Do we need “saving”? Some theological perspectives would answer “yes” to these questions, or ones like them. In that sort of a theology, usually Jesus’ death is seen as the salvific act, the death is a necessary sacrifice, a good thing. I approach a perspective like that with extreme caution, even suspicion. What does it do to our collective psyche if some human deaths and suffering are necessary or “good”? I don’t like the implications of accepting the pain and sacrifice of another too blithely.

But we do need to grapple with understandings about our own nature and about who God is. These questions seem to me to go back to today’s first reading.

In the first reading Adam has sinned by listening to the “woman” who listened to the animal. He has embarked on a human pattern of othering any part of himself that causes him shame. He is hiding away from God, afraid and conscious of his own nakedness. Nakedness has ceased to be an innocent state, he needs a barrier between himself and the environment. Incidentally this is the first “nudey-rudey” self-shaming episode that many children internalise as parents battle them out of embarrassing habits.

God in this reading accepts Adam’s assertion that it was “the woman’s” fault and her assertion in turn blaming the serpent. God appears to be sanctifying the hierarchy we know so well. What is going on here? Why would an all-knowing and all-loving God create humans with not only the capacity but the yearning to “fall” in this way? Why give “Adam” such a flawed companion? Why allow the serpent to speak? The idealised “perfection” of Eden thus becomes reconstituted as a death-trap. Some theologies hold that God planned it all that way to make Jesus’ saving act all the more spectacular.

This also is problematic.

Let’s assume that God set up the fall and the resultant disconnection in order to make necessary and meaningful horrific violence and abuse many centuries later. At this point I can see some sense in the mocking atheists, the “spaghetti monster” people etc. If I understand my faith this way it does seem violent and compassionless. If I understand myself as so “fallen” I can see a need to repress my own emotions, my own impulses, my own over-loud heart.

I grew up with a faith related to that, and it didn’t do me much good.

But outside of this pericope, Genesis also tells us that we are made in God’s image. There must be some inherent beauty and goodness (ie grace) in our identity, whatever about “original sin”. How can we be made in God’s image and yet made only to fall and be fragmented and driven asunder? How can we be made in God’s image, yet in our very nature demand and need the violent death of another? What is “God” then?

Last week I mentioned George Monbiot’s assertion that human beings are intrinsically altruistic. While the bible does not specifically say so, this idea fits with many biblical stories and thoughts. It fits with the idea that we are made in God’s image. It fits with the idea that God loves us (why would God love the irretrievably fallen?). It fits with Jesus’ tendency to spread food and wine and joy together with his wisdom; to spread healing together with forgiveness; to spread love and hope in the world. To take blame and judgement as the main products of our faith is to miss the point.

“Out of my depths” of yearning to be more than some narrative of “fall”, I pass through the psalm where all things are redeemable into the second reading. Like the author of the second reading “I believe therefore I speak”. I may be wrong in what I say, but my theologising comes from a position of faith- my faith in God is important enough for me to have made this commitment. I am called to put in the hard work every week and write something, sometimes also to preach it. I often fail at this and other vocations in my life, but I also often break it into small enough steps to succeed at some of it.

There is more than fallenness and passivity and waiting in my relationship to God. I sweat real sweat of hard work over the computer each week. I shake with real anxiety when I stand up before people to preach. My collaboration with God is imperfect because I am a still growing-toward God little unfinished image, not because I am completely without hope and “fallen”. I sin less (I believe) when I think about what I am doing, when I focus my motivations on others (particularly on God) and when I make an effort. It is very easy to slide into all sorts of unhealthy relationships with myself, others, food, money, work and leisure. While I can’t make myself perfect through an act of will, or a decision or even through hard work I can make myself better or worse by trying or not. I need God sure, but God also requires of me a commitment of will and effort.

Seems like I am in a more complicated relationship with God than merely “fallen” or “saved”, each day I make choices (some without noticing) about who to be and how to be. I am like the babies I work with, I sometimes over-reach and other times I am tired or lazy or angry and do not try enough. I am human. I am flawed. I am imperfect. But I am intrinsically good.

I am made in God’s image.

The gospel cautions us against sin against the Holy Spirit. This is a debated text, but for an every-day reading I like to reflect on who the Holy Spirit is and where we encounter her? In the context of the reading, the Holy Spirit is to be encountered in Jesus who therefore should not be mocked or dismissed. We know from Jesus that we find him (therefore also the Holy Spirit) in our neighbour.

We are called to look for traces of good in each other and to recognise and honour the Holy Spirit in all. Are we willing to see these traces in our Muslim neighbour? In our lesbian neighbour? In our politician neighbour? In our militant vegan neighbour? In our private-school educated neighbour? What about the noisy child? The strangely dressed or pierced teenager? The overly talkative old neighbour? We are all made in the image of God and the good things we do (however fleeting or however consistent) all come from God’s Spirit. God’s creation cannot fail to have goodness at its core.

It is a denial of God’s spirit to dehumanise others, even others we disapprove of or disagree with. It is a denial of God’s spirit to be so cynical about humanity that we advocate violence or nihilism. It is a denial of God’s spirit to only value animals, plants or rocks only by how much money we can extract from what we do with them. Are these ways of thinking unforgiveable? I hope not. I hope God’s Spirit dwells so tangled and burrowed deep into our DNA that it is impossible to completely de-Spirit us.

That is what I hope, but Jesus DOES caution us not to be too small-minded to recognise and honour the Holy Spirit. If we mock Jesus, or if we mock those who have hope and idealism then we are doing a dangerous thing to our souls. Perhaps it’s not about getting our theology or our creed right in the end, it is about getting our relationship right.

Because if we manage to live according to the Holy Spirit- for a moment or a lifetime then we ARE Jesus’ family. That is what we are made for and always called back to as human beings, as earthlings. Let us pray that we know and do the will of God. Let us trust in God, our souls trusting in God’s Word. Let us love generously, recognising the family resemblance in all creation.

Not finding it in the lectionary this week

Edit: When I wrote this I was unaware that this week is reconciliation week. I feel a bit ashamed that I was unaware but I think some of my points work for that occasion. At church we reflected of reconciliation week, the need to decolonise, the recent arrest of the Catholic archbishop of Adelaide for covering up child abuse, our desire to move away from any model of church that is a “boy’s club” (a man said this), and our tears and love for the people suffering the fall-out of these toxic cultures. I also reflected on the fact that in the week gone we celebrated Pansexual and Panromantic visibility day and that people whose love is outside the box (but respectful, equal and between consenting adults) show the dance of the Trinity in their being.

The idea of “chosenness” that comes through in the first two readings and the psalm this week seems cosy and comforting but it actually if we look closer deeply problematic.

I speak with the anger and bitterness of the outsider- chosen last at team sports, excluded from games and parties and a child, ganged-up on, teased, criticised, harassed, written on with pen and then punished by parents for being written on. I speak with the pain of the eldest child in a large and dysfunctional family- although my feelings of being replaced and passed over were not (I now as a parent myself realise) a completely accurate reflection of reality, the feelings were real. I speak as the child who couldn’t speak English, the teenager who wore hand-me-downs from old people, the young single mother in a primary school where everyone else seemed to be comfortably middle-class. I speak as someone who has suffered mental illness, mild alcoholism, chronic dysphoria around sexual identity.

The minute someone is the “chosen people” you are also creating outsiders, the excluded ones, the ones who do not measure up. I felt this only on a gut level as a child – something about the presumed “chosenness” of the people of God (and lets not blame the Jews this idea is just as rife in the so called “New Testament”) something there seemed a bit off, even when I was a pious little child who assumed my inability to grasp this idea as “fair” and my desire to feel empathy for the ones who were not “chosen” was something I had to try to repress or grow out of (I spent my childhood repressing many things and got quite good at it, not so much now).

I speak with the amusement of the queer, feminist, deconstructive, almost post-Christian (except God doesn’t quite let me slip away). I speak as the outsider who no longer tries to fit in and be “normal”. My hermeneutic of suspicion is triggered by this first reading where we are supposed to believe that no one else ever experienced God until it could be done in the proper patriarchally approved and religiously institutionalised way in the correct sort of fire. This is what the Christian missionaries believed, the ones who worked tirelessly to aid colonialism, at times putting a slightly more benign face of it with gifts of food and clothing but nevertheless destroying cultures and families in the name of this great and good and only Lord and his structure of “rightness”.

Because if we are right then the others are wrong. If we are chosen then the others are rejected. If we have the only and one truth then the others have nothing of value.

And so it begins.

The gospel on this occasion gives no relief. Jesus is the proper rubber-stamped figurehead of the new world-order they worship him repressing their doubts and he commissions them to go out and reach everyone with his marketing message. We can try to cosy up to this, try to read the commissioning as preaching a gospel of liberation and justice, because that fits our theology it fits who we know God is and who we experience Jesus as.

What/who we know experientially and sacramentality is all we really have.

But the church has not necessarily read it this way, when they have seen “make disciples of all the nations” that has fed a deficit view of nations that are not already Christian and an expansionistic mission. Many missionaries no doubt meant well and some were kinder than secular colonists (mind you these colonists also would have considered themselves “Christian”) but this expansionistic mission did huge harm to many people, including perhaps my own people in Latvija colonised by German “Lords” and including certainly Indigenous Australians taken over and used as slaves by the English.

All of this was considered a faithful reading of today’s gospel. All of this is the shame I feel if I admit to anyone that I am a “Christian”.

I am not finding life or Godde in these readings (though perhaps a wiser preacher at church will glean something). I wanted to reflect on the Trinity, on difference and loving “other” or “thou” within God. I want to reflect on the diving dance “peripatesis”, as I learned at theology college the movement of the Trinity is in and out and through and around each other. There is love and beauty, there is relationship and great complexity at the heart of God.

Let’s leave behind colonialist traditions after seeing them for what they are and realising we will be called to account as a culture. Let’s reflect on how we are invited into the peripatesis of the Trinity, the respectful and madly joyful dance of God, the eternal turning toward the other. We are the image of God and as such are called to turn to the image of God in thoughtful listening like Jesus in prayer, in admiring love like the creator at Jesus’ baptism, in nurturing care like the spirit who flows in and through Jesus to the world.

I was hoping that the feast of the Trinity would remind us that “Wisdom has built a house” and invites all to celebrate. There is room then not to colonise, but to meet on equal terms the “others” who are not “Christians” but may have met Wisdom in another place because she likes to get out there- she is no enclosed victim-lady. Wisdom of course, the pre-existing companion of God the Creator is the one embodied as Jesus in the “New Testament”.

But if the lectionary has let me down, then I will dance right out of it to all of scripture and to the ultimate aim in life to understand and heal others. And I will pray:

Father, Mother, Creator of all, Midwife of each life that comes into being. Teach us to know ourselves in your image and see each other in your image. Teach us reverence for all your creation, showing us how to nurture seeds and stones and polar ice caps better. Thank you for naughty kittens and waddling penguins. Thank you for the clever things humans say. Thank you for the richness of which we see only a part. Call us deeper into the connection and love at the heart of your creative work.

Jesus, Christ, Wisdom, Sophia, Son, Word, Mother-Hen, Vine, Way, Truth, Life. As Wisdom you have the eye for detail and for joy. As Jesus you showed unbelievable courage and commitment. You are the one who seeks to protect, heal, scold, reform, feed, teach, guide, send-out and suffer for us and for all creation. You feed us your body and blood, you call us to honour what we eat and to live. Death cannot claim you because your nature is to live always. You bring us transformative possibilities and radical hope but nor without hard work and possibility of suffering also. If the whole world would love you then we would find newness of life. We will seek you and we will find you if we seek with all our heart.

Holy Spirit, dove, flame, fire, love, flow. Giver of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, reverence and respect of God. Pour out your gifts to us. Show us the Creator and the Word in our lives. Help us to read the gospels in the right frame, receptive to your Wisdom and closed off to hatred and abuse. Inspire us with life, fire us with pregnant possibilities like Mary pregnant with the Christ. Remain with us when we are troubled or suffering or even in death. Bring us back to our vocation to love. Bring us back into your presence giver of life.

Trinity of God may I see the love poured out in you each to the others and may I live my life in divine dance, seeking to connect as you connect, seeking to unconditionally love as you love, seeking where the hope is and strengthening there. May my life find meaning, joy, love, peace in you.

Amen.

 

She calls me (I have been lousy at answering lately): Pentecost

Sometimes I find other people challenging. I am tempted to avoid conflict, challenge, discomfort, potential criticism, giving offence and just trying to be radically self-sufficient (which if you know me at all is a laughable concept). I try not to emotionally “need” anyone (also laughable). I am an introvert, I could disappear forever into a rabbit-warren of books and writing and be perfectly happy…except it doesn’t really work that way.

Too little time being “bothered” by other people’s expectations and needs and opinions and ideas and blah blah blah blah can be even worse than too much. I become less and less productive. I can’t see the point of doing this or doing that. Why get out of bed? Why get dressed? why move? Why write things no one really wants to read? Why bother? Why breathe? Why be?

This is not a recent thing for me, but I have been at the extreme of the keeping-people-out cycle and sure I did it for my own protection but it hurt me more than it healed me. My longest-term friends are people who have been patient with my various inabilities to engage at various times and I am grateful for them. I will never be someone who can cope without the possibility of retreat and some alone time but I have learned that too much is as bad (or worse) than not enough.

Just when you thought none of this has anything to do with Pentecost, let me circle back to the first reading. Because for an introvert like me, a severe critic of the church, someone who often disagrees with what we are told to believe…there is a surprising truth in the first reading. The Holy Spirit did not come to atomised individuals, each locked in the safely self-perpetuating labyrinths of their own minds. She waited until they were all together, each having to deal with their own impostor syndrome, their own insecurities and awkwardness, each other’s loudness and stupidity and potential to be irritating and the way they all rubbed up against each other and had to constantly watch and redefine boundaries and feel left out or bored or angry or overwhelmed.

They were all “in one place together” an introverts nightmare and it gets worse, because the Spirit prompts them to reach out to OTHERS and include those who speak different languages. Significantly (and I have probably said this before) she did not work on the hearts of ears of the foreign listeners to change them so that they could understand, she changed the preachers to be heard and understood in people’s own languages. I believe this is something the church gets wrong very often. We say “here is my message now you change to understand it” instead of saying “how can I learn your language to preach love and good news in?”.

Obviously it is disingenuous to pretend that no change at all is demanded from hearers of the true gospel. I am not saying we should be preaching “Keep on competing and exploiting and buying and meaninglessly celebrating nothingness with you novelties and toys that you don’t even really like. Keep on overeating and trying to kill emotional pain by distracting yourself with addictions and fixations and replacements for real life. Keep on denying climate change and protecting borders and trying to return people to narrow and rigid “values” that never worked to begin with while you overwork and turn up your entertainment too loud and invest in brighter lights and flashier baubles and prettier words and hold up social media as a flattering mirror (beauty mode) to avoid facing your own damn loneliness”

I am not saying we shouldn’t call people (ie ourselves) to change.

But what if we stop sweating the small stuff, like what religion someone is or what sexual orientation. Many churches find such an idea controversial but I wonder if we could get further by finding the humanity and good intention in each other.

George Monbiot in his book Out of the Wreckage, asserts that altruism and a desire for connection is intrinsic to human nature to the point that humans are defined by these things. No other animal wants to do acts of kindness and generosity for no reason at all, but humans again and again over centuries (and in some truly horrendous situations) have been observed doing irrational things for the good of others, sometimes strangers, often completely peripheral to their own lives. That is a beautiful thing to be defined by and Monbiot is very persuasive about it.

If I read the bible about how Godde has walked with human-kind and how Christ became embodied with and in and for us then Monbiot’s idea makes perfect sense. He writes from a secular perspective but the eyes of faith see evidence also that he is right. Then I won’t listen to the people who tell us that kindness is about projecting the ego (or something) or that generosity is about passive-aggressive self interest or such nonsenses that try to deconstruct human relationships to transactions and affective bonds to something market-based. Those sorts of thoughts are strong now, they drive our politics. It never fails to amaze me that people can strongly advocate a “Christian” hegemony and a neoliberal one together as if Christianity did not specifically contradict the politics of self-interest and the reduction of the human person to a unit of the market.

But the Spirit has never been about units at all. She flows between and around us when we relate to others. She inspires us to LOVE to truly love each other and ourselves.

So the second reading continues with a celebration of difference, but also of connectedness (what good are severed body parts?). The gospel finishes the glory and triumph of the Easter season (alas over so quickly) with a reminder of the Risen One standing among us giving peace and breathing into us Spirit. It matters how we treat people. It matters what we label and call out as “sin” in ourselves or others. It matters what we let slide. Let’s think a little more about living an Easter reality, alive with the Spirit and attune to the needs and goodness of each other.

Let’s sing the traditional Pentecost sequence, or find our own:

 

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
Shed splendid radiant light
Come, Mother of the poor

show us how to better share the treasures

you have already brought us.

Shine in our hearts

let our intrinsic worth and desire to love

burst forth.

 

You love and cradle us,

comfort us and draw us out of despair,

inactivity, disengagement

be welcome in our souls

dancing within and setting us dancing.

Refresh us, for we are made for

more than toil or labour

show us how to refresh each other,

give us coolness in the heat

of our passions- anger, fear, desire, disgust.

 

Beautiful light that is Godde

shine within our hearts

let us be beacons of you to each other.

Let us forget our addictions

and know that only your light, your dance

can fill us.

 

Without you we have nothing

(but you are with us so we have all).

Heal our wounds, our strength renew

on our dryness pour thy dew

wash the stains of guilt away

(washerwoman God we know you in the waters)

bend the stubborn heart and will

melt the frozen, warm the chill,

(cast down the mighty from their thrones

and lift up the lowly)

guide us so we don’t jump off a cliff

and take so many species with us.

 

Give us the intrinsic reward of knowing you

let us remember that it is about love

not just saying “Lord. Lord” and bending a knee.

Pour out your gifts, your joys, your inspiration.

Make us embodiments of every radical hope,

make us reckless in generous love,

make us beautiful and light-filled

like YOU.

Amen. Alleluia.

Good or bad shepherds

This picture is The Young Shepherdess by Julien Dupre

People talk about “sheeple” and all of that these days. I have heard ministers refer to people who come to their church as their “flock” in a fairly demeaning way. I try to be vegan. All in all I find the metaphor of Christ as a shepherd something I am ambivalent about.

Another thing I was ambivalent about this week was having to lead a service and preach. Usually I love this (as regular readers would know) but I am kind of tired and depressed and have low levels of faith and it was my weekend for going away with some friends to relax and I wanted someone else to take it off my hands and run with it. I wanted to be organised enough ahead to write the whole thing and put it in their hands and be free.

But I had car trouble and computer trouble and money trouble and a cat with cancer and it did not happen and I was left having to cut my holiday short and come back. And I had to move on and WRITE SOMETHING so I could go on the holiday in the first place instead of using Saturday to try to finish it.

And I had no idea what to do with these readings.

Well I DID end up going camping with a whole bunch of lesbians and their children in a wine region and God was there with us in so many ways (even though half the time she was quarreling with me) so no regrets. And I had not written a reflection as such but I had written some questions and I played some Latvian music that speaks to me of Godde (even though the song itself is pagan I guess). I can’t find that track on internet so I will link one called (my terrible translation) “with god you have long tables“. I played the song that celebrated the diving in ordinary things (weaving, eating, being) but of course it was not in a language anyone there speaks so I gave them a sheet of questions focussing on the readings.

Initially I had many more questions but I cut it down to one page of largish font and tried to make them sort of fit together in a theme. I was also reflective as I wrote a slightly grumpy collect.  People prayed about all the things in the world that hurt and upset us. It was a very sad prayer time which fit where I am in my faith life but it was my job to lead so at the end I said “we have shared or pain, fear and sadness but we bring to you also love and laughter, good friends and beautiful meals shared” I really, really hoped noone thought I was trying to silence or invalidate their horror and honesty but I wanted them to be in a safe space too!

This is all I have this week, sharing a difficult job leading…made easier OF COURSE by the wonderful, supportive, participative people who taught me everything about liturgy so of course did it all with me and appreciated my work. I had apologised for the way I always “talk. talk. talk” at them and set up my lack of real preaching as a blessed reprieve from me when I wasn’t giving into the temptation to be always talking.

One of the leaders who is a fantastic thinker and one of the best preachers there said to me at the end she hopes (and that everyone hopes) I WILL keep on giving into the temptation to preach. Which was a beautiful affirmation. It was honestly the kindest thing to say.

So having over-explained the piecemeal blog this week I will post the shortened sheet of questions :

“all of you … should know
that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean
whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead;
in his name this man stands before you healed.

He is the stone rejected by you, the builders,
which has become the cornerstone.”

 

What might we have rejected, that in fact contains God’s grace and God’s word to us? How do we overcome our prejudices and our need to draw lines to find Jesus in the “stone rejected”?


“There is no salvation through anyone else,
nor is there any other name under heaven
given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

 

Given this sort of statement, how do we work with other faiths in the world? If Jesus is the “only name” then what is his relationship to other faiths? How do we avoid having a colonising attitude to others?

 

I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

How to work toward this with respect not chauvinism? How to achieve unity without erasing culture and diversity? Science and creation tell us that diversity is a good thing- let us reflect on the difference between “unity” as control and true unity based on trust and connection.

“what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.”

Sit with the mystery and the potential and resist the temptation to formulate answers. We shall be more…

 Those were the shortened set of questions. If anyone is curious as to the other questions comment and I will post them as a reply.

I would also like to share my penetential rite and collect.

Penitential rite

God of all kindness, when at times we are heartsore, apathetic, rudderless, downcast, empty, defensive, lonely or hungry.

Teach us to take refuge only in you.

If when we look at our neighbour and we see difference, folly, laziness, lack of worth, overwhelming need or shallowness,

show us that what we reject has worth to your better way of seeing.

Risen one we can see ourselves as weak and irrelevant.

When at time we live as if what we do has little importance

teach us your power of knowing and caring.

God of all love, you have created, companioned

and continue to call us.

Teach us to know you in one another.

 

Opening Prayer

But we are more than sheep oh Risen One

(or perhaps it is that we have underestimated ourselves

along with sheep)

we know your voice because you called us-

out of the abyss of rejection and gave us purpose;

out of the dimness of unbeing and gave us breath.

we know your voice and we know your presence.

When we face down wolves

you stand with us and for us.

 

Anyway this was my attempt this week. It’s a community where I am and I am a participant not the leader or the star so all was well. I think anyone would do well in a community like that. I pray that for everyone, that they find God with/in people who teach, support, commission and then again support their ministry.

And I will try to write a “proper” reflection next week.