Category Archives: Reflection/Sermon

I'll believe when Christians stop oppressing others.

I thought I would at least look at the lectionary before I went off in my own direction again. The first reading once again is one of those- helps you see why so many Christians treat others so badly, why so many more sensible people lose their faith. I want an excuse to believe in Godde but it’s certainly not here, nor in the words of people who bible-bashed me recently who were preaching an individualised opiate grace that is blind to the oppression in the world. I don’t want to make my peace with the oppression. I don’t want to “believe” that my privilege will continue no matter what. I don’t want to follow some narrow and personalised “morality” that condemns others (morally and materially). This is how according to Beauvoir people were in France just before the German occupation of world-war II. They too (and the Nazis themselves) thought of themselves a “Christians”. I cannot follow a Godde that would want that in their name.

In the first reading God has “degraded” the land but is portrayed as deserving a cookie for having stopped. Very toxic masculinity. Very kyriarchy. Very much NO. God stopping degrading the land has made everyone as happy as people who are dividing the spoils after invading someone else’s land. Cue for rape humour and roasting animals (invisible referrents abound). This is progress, one people’s liberation bought by the genocide of another. Once again I am disinclined to save this pericope from itself. Not so many people read me anyway (thank you if you do).

The psalm is nice. At times I have felt that way about “beautiful Wisdom”. My feeling in the moment is “Where is she?” even if I ignore the word “Lord”. When I went away fro a few days I had actually stopped clenching my jaw and my gums had stopped bleeding for the first time in over a year. While I was away I had a full nights’ sleep and a whole 24 hours without a headache. My writing got easier as well but alas I had to come back. Life is not about those moments of escape anyway though my son did put the bins out and wash dishes in my absence. The cat cuddled me and purred, my escape had been her anxiety. We are all each other’s light and salvation except when we get too worn out, anxious and depressed to do it well. I need a longer lasting shot of something. Something. Not wine. Not caffeine. Not even salad. Light and salvation. Don’t we need some? There is one thing I ask…some sort of hope. Some sort of reason to keep going.

The second reading talks about that scene in Life of Brian where the People’s front of Judea is definitely NOT the Judean people’s front or any of the other cliques. I see this is real causes that I am involved with. People’s egos get in the way of real progress, partly to be fair because issues really ARE that complex. It’s always hard to decide where to draw the line. What can I work with for the sake of harmony and progress and at what point to I have to conclude the real point of the movement, it’s essence has been lost? It doesn’t help that the right is good at steamrolling us all under it and sowing seeds of doubt in us. It’s a reminder to me to try to work with other people, to trust them and to focus on their needs and thoughts not only my thought. It’s a reminder to me to practice holy silence which I am outwardly maybe getting a little bit better at but inwardly…well coming back from Goolwa has not helped.

I read the gospel and today it would take too much work to see past the male hero calling men to make a church that people like Scott Morrison and Trump and all their ilk can feel comfortable with. Where’s the liberation in that? I feel it should not be up to me to call Jesus to transgress (through the ages and the pages). Has it been arrogant of me in the past to try to stitch together some sort of meaning, some sort of inclusion (illusion/illness/ill-used). Has it been naive like expecting Indigenous Australians to “celebrate” January 26th. Why is it that on the one hand people are told to “get over” oppression and move on but on the other hand the oppression does not stop?

So unhappy oppression day. Unhappy invasion day. May the roasted animals (on our plates and in our bushfire zones) stick in our throats, may the coal dust make us cough our way to repentance for letting this happen, may the hailstones and big as golf-balls that feel on Canberra this week not fall on deaf ears. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh nine times. WHY??? WHY???? Were there no women in Egypt to call for change? I am not prepared to leave it until we lose our first-born (or any-born) sons. Jesus said “Repent for the kindom of heaven could be at hand”. Could it? Why do we sometimes seem to repent in the wrong direction? I don’t care who is wearing makeup or sleeping with whom (though religion is no excuse to bully them) I want to repent from the suicidal impulse of white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. I want to repent from the exploitation of land and the bodies of beings (human or not). I want to repent from a work-ethic and a precarity that is honestly starting to feel like it is killing me, to repent from that without having to do only joyless routine work that harms my body and heart.

Like Mulder I “want to believe”. But the ones who claim to speak for Godde make that very hard! Instead I ask with the Black-Eyed Peas where is the love, the love, the love?

No easy answers

Content warning: frank discussion of suicidal thoughts

I’m not getting anything from the lectionary today. It seems like just grand narratives of salvation and I am acutely aware that there is so much suffering and threat in the world and people don’t get saved, justice does not get done and in the words of the psalmist “the wicked prosper”. I have worked so hard for so many years to reclaim the patriarchal grand narratives to try to coax them into some semblance of grace, to wash them and pat and flatter them and try to see them in a feminist light. And it occurred to me only this week that this is like a toxic (heterosexual) marriage.

Don’t get me wrong I have been a critical, nagging witch/fish-wife at the lectionary as you may have seen. I have ranted, I have demanded reformation, I have made ultimatums but ultimately I have sunk back into doing ALL THE WORK and trying to find a place for myself in a church that from where I stand this moment seems irredeemably patriarchal. Nevertheless I don’t want to give up on my church family, I feel they are a good influence on me and keep me safe and sane and I reserve the right to be as irrational as a woman and keep going for the substance even if the form is all nonsense.

Perhaps that means that somehow I still have faith in Wisdom when she speaks in peoples lives of loyalty and kindness and passion for justice and altruistic care. I will read the lectionary of the (mainly women) people who inspire me. I will read the lectionary of my own power in the world. For my Sunday worship I will go down to Basham’s beach and gaze in awe at the white-tipped teal and cerulean waves. I will listen to the holy choir of seagulls, the wind-ruffled willy wagtails and the flight of wedgetailed eagles. I will write poems of whales, penguins and mermaids. For my pentitential rite I will gaze in sorrow at the now brown and stinking waters of the Coorong. For communion I will have chips with too much fat and salt but no regret. If I am able I will give the sign of peace, a greeting to an old person or a smile to a baby or a pat to a dog. I thought this was going to be a very negative reflection but I am finding something green in the ashes after all (but much has been lost and I don’t make light of it).

My readings will be listening to Lady Blue by Emily Wurramara. Next finishing the memoir of Simone de Beauvoir that I have been reading so slowly. My gospel will be trying to turn my notes on my literature review, agonisingly in words we (my co-authors and I) can use. I can’t really be an atheist though I am a crying, shaking mess of faith-loss and grief at the moment. The church is so inadequate in responding to increased knowledge of abuse and inequality and environmental vandalism. The church prays too quietly and lets the rich “prey” and call themselves Christian. From de Beauvoir’s book I am getting a sense that the rise of Hitler and conquest of France was enabled, and brought with it similarly aggressive Christianity to the sort we are seeing today in our leaders and in many church lobby groups. Never mind that most church-goers are well meaning and gentle folk (some clergy may be too). There is nothing of creative and everloving Wisdom in an aggressive Christianity. It is a golden calf only, there is no substance in attacking drag queens or welfare survivors. There is no Eucharist in enabling mining and leaving people to burn. There is no baptism in buying warjets and not protective equipment for firefighters.

Eleison, eleison, eleison, enough of these generations of nonsense, these excuses to divide and despoil and exploit. My jaws hurt from clenching and my right hand is numb on the steering wheel and my body is full of pain and out of touch with its needs. I need things I cannot put into words.

I have considered suicide again, it seems such an easy option now that I am older and more capable than I once was.

Driving along twisty country roads with playlists from my past. Robbie Williams “I know life won’t break me” what nonsense life breaks everyone in the end, it’s why we have cemeteries. The point is not to avoid “breaking” it is to find and make meaning in the time in between (but how do people do it without faith?). “She offers me protection” he is singing about a female-gendered being who sounds divine, I have thought of Godde when I have listened before but now I bite at the inside of my mouth in anger. Noone is offering me protection, we are all going to suffer, we have no tangible hopes left for our beautiful children. I need to be with Aboriginal people, I need to learn their gritty resilience and humour. I’ve heard this before from people- people who drink too much and people who manage not to. People who are always poor and needy and people who manage to get the good jobs. So much survival without tangible hope. I need the grit, I need to be what I have seen.

Oh I have been naive in my privilege. I start telling myself off for giving myself a hard time and wondering if I am adding another layer to my insanity by trying to police even that about myself. Trying and failing because to hear me talk you would think I am some sort of overachiever (far from it). And I think of Kierkegaard who is reputed to have said that for the genuinely ethical person there is never peace of mind.

“I am ethical as fuck then” I yell internally, staying firmly on the left so a truck can overtake me.

Am I ethical? Or is this another escapist mindgame. I need to stop thinking about myself. I spend the next few kilometres calling to mind everyone I know who has been patient or generous with me, who has inspired me and especially people who say they like to read me (that is the best antidote to suicidal thoughts). I dwell on their brilliance and virtue and then I smile to acknowledge flaws in them too. They have flaws. I have flaws. Are we human? Wheatus is singing “Teenage dirtbag” and I tell myself off for needing to turn other people into dirtbags like me instead of myself being better.

“You are sanctimonious today” I tell myself, almost at the market where (I don’t know this yet) this week I will find the salsa verde I particularly like. Dido comes on, “I will go down with this ship. I won’t put my flag up and surrender, there will be no white flag above my door”. That’s the spirit. No suicide today. No surrender. Besides, my children need me. More capable yes but then also more indispensable. Imagine how I would have felt if I lost my…oh never mind.

Keep your eye on the road and remember to get some cherry tomatoes at the market. Writing will happen. There is no rush. I did the right thing to get away by myself and not be crazy in other people’s space. All the casual academics are crazy in January and most of them are dirt poor too. Oh I am the lucky one. Finish the shopping because in the words of Emily Wurramara, “Lady Blue she is calling me”.

Yea though i have retreated to a valley to reflect.

I am feeling ill. I am fearing ill. There is a pillar of cloud overhead that (it is rumoured) used to be flame and it is not friendly. Easy childhood fairytales of chosenness have fallen away. The valley is no longer green like in the January of 1992. It is dry and brown with the grey-brown sky. At 1pm it is as dark as a winter evening.

“That’s not cloud cover” says the man in the general store, the one who has been to fight the fires.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;[a]
    he restores my soul.[b]
He leads me in right paths[c]
for his name’s sake.

It seems relevant to reflect on all this. I thought I came here to restore my soul but as a critical leftist feminist I have no time for “Lords” and as a vegan I see “shepherds” much the same way. I reflect on coffee with an atheist that I had recently. There was no room at all for my tenuous faith/doubt in conversation with her (and others but less recently). Are they right after all? Lords exploit the peasant. Shepherds make the ultimate exploitation and eat their flock (or sell it to consumers). I have little reason to follow such a one and less reason to love. My teenager was until recently uncommitted to believing or not believing but seems to have turned towards believing.

If there is a Lord who is my shepherd then I will rebel. I will practice civil disobedience. I will transgress, I will flee.

When was the last time I lay in green pastures without feeling guilty about my privilege and apprehensive that my days are numbered? I don’t mean death, I mean extinction which is different again. I have stopped feeling there is eternity for me and I gaze into a widening void. I can’t sleep except in fits and I wake with a clenched jaw. My gums bleed. I have been grinding my teeth.

But she is beautiful.

I don’t want to unpack the materialist here-and-now things I could mean by that. I see Wisdom like a silly little girl, like a monkey, like a possum, like a cheeky rainbow parrot hanging from every tree laughing at me and daring me to join her. I see the earth split open by the ocean, the once small blowhole at second valley now a roaring channel of white water. I reflect that it has been almost 30 years since I sat here in wonder and awe.

The awe of the child was somewhat naive, all things were my friend and none wished me ill except for humans. Now I know myself as a human not as earthling. Now I see the sheep and alpacas flee from me, the kangaroos hide and jump away. Predator. Vandal. Saboteur. Consumer. Human. My thin sandals are ripped by the rocks, my bad knee gives me trouble. Am I burning?

“UVs have never been higher” says my son and Googles the fire danger for all the places we want to visit.

“I am glad we did not go to Kangaroo Island” he says.

What is the right path, and whose name should I be invoking? Lead kindly light but then on the other hand we know these days “the hostile light, that does not warm but burn“. We Australians at the start of 2020 know it so much better than poor Emily ever did. But there is wisdom in taking only the one step. Pastures and quiet waters (or rapid white waters for that matter). The sheep will be eaten but perhaps a day under a shady tree is worth being born for.

But not if you can see the well-worn path to the abattoir.

I do not ask to be made blind, I tried that and it wasn’t for me. I was not born for opioids. I was born to have a loud voice and a fighting attitude. When I try to be other things everything falls apart. I have played the prodigal too. If I say I was “born for this” then I am acknowledging some purpose, some call. Still she plays in the trees just out of sight and refuses my interrogation.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[d]
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

“if this is Second Valley then where is the first valley?” My son’s question is identical to the question I asked at his age. I begin to speculate as does he. But fear is the darkest valley and we walk it now the whole human race. It seems naive and criminal to trust in “rods” and “staves”, in authority and phallocentrism at a time like this. Our “Christian” prime minister wants the freedom for “Christians” to bully people like me. In any case he would sell us all for a lump of coal and a week in Hawaii.

Come on then Godde? I am here in the valley of the shadow of death. My brother is in a capital city where the air for weeks has been orange-brown with dust and the people wear masks if they go outside. A woman died after her lungs went into shock when she flew to the city. The air quality is not fit for humans and my lovely little nephews and nieces are living in it. “Yeah though I walk” we all walk. Am I my brother’s keeper? I am the eldest and I feel I should do something. I feel so powerless. I honestly don’t know what to do. Better to face death fighting and with the children behind me if I knew which direction it was coming from more precisely.

Oh I fear evil.

I fear the apathy and ignorance that will open it’s ears and its heart to evil and blame the Greens or the climate strikers for the sins of the powerful rich, white men. I am no sheep but a scapegoat, still hardly a silent one. Why have I not blogged lately? I meant to reflect on Christmas and on the Eucharist. The body of Christ…we are all marching toward crucifixions some of us don’t yet want to talk about. Will it be easier on the ignorant? Even so I do not ask for that.

How does she live, the atheist? What motivates her to do good? Am I inherently corrupt because I need a “Godde” to exist to give my moral code meaning. I need a relationship I don’t see anything objective about who I am as a human being. I don’t see a natural “right” and “wrong” but it becomes right through love and wrong through selfishness. She lives what she mockingly asserts she does not believe…I know very little about her really, but if she were not good then I would not sense her goodness.

I say I question everything but there are things I “know”.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely[e] goodness and mercy[f] shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.[g]

But privileged folk have always been so smug about their “chosenness” and to me this goes against the radically unsettling Godde preached by the authoress of the Magnificat. “My table…my cup”

“She sends the rich away empty”

“You anoint my head with oil” but John the Baptist lost his head following beautiful Wisdom even into the barren and uncomfortable places. I am an overthinker, there is no chance I will come out of this unscathed. Goodness and Mercy follow me? I am looking who/what to follow but perhaps that is the wrong way around. When I lie on the rock in the sun a monarch butterfly lands on me. Stillness is worth something (still the gritted teeth and the wheezing). The animals in the fields still don’t want a bar of me although I have dutifully eaten chickpeas and mushrooms instead of “slice of their brother”.

I shall dwell in the house of (call her what you will I will not say “Lord”) my whole life but how long is life? Somebody told me she really didn’t want eternity. A few voices joined in mocking the preservation of aging bodies and meaningless stretches of time forever. What is life for? Why would we want eternity? Why would we not? I miss my family who have died. I am in a blind panic at the thought of certain other people dying. I suppose if I died I would not notice it after the event unless there is something more,

 

I don’t know the answers but I know it matters how we treat not just Life (my life or a moral principle) but lives. Your life and autonomy must not be sacrificed to my grand narratives. Your life human, woman, disabled person, animal, maybe even plant (I am not advocating that we stop eating plants). We could leave the coal in the ground if we saw it as earth’s organs. Or would we? Reading Foucault makes me doubt that the powerful are ever humane. Would I be so corrupted?

 

Would I think it was my “duty” to defend the structures that gave me power and privilege. What have I done this week against my own race and class privilege in any case. Fine words “Lord, Lord, Lord”. What right to I have to live? What right to I have to question living? What do the old people experience seeing what we have wrought? Why is everyone not on the streets protesting? Why am I not “holding my hose” toward the fires?

 

Starfish hill wind-farm and my son’s opinions on renewable energy and ethical crops (we share a joke about hemp even though there is truth in the jest). A government that wants to take us closer to armageddon/rapure/extinction. Meaning death as Eliot said but also there is grace dissolved in (this?) place. My baby is a teenager. I have never been so lonely in my whole life. This time, unlike the loneliness of the past I don’t feel needy for others I just feel that connection would ground me to life having meaning. I yearn to connect and feel and BE. I am self-sufficient AF but also useless and empty.

 

What good am I? What good am I? I will look for work to throw myself into and stop questioning.

 

Sheep used to think they could safely fucking graze!

Merry

I was not looking forward to Christmas. I am exhausted from a year of politics, work, grief and loss, anxiety, activism, editing, marking, failing at housework and estrangement from some. My year has also had meaningful work, writing, beautiful food, roses (I mean literally), music and most of all love so I am not looking for pity but I am tired and anxious and I am always unmotivated about cleaning and it takes a lot of self-coaching now to even cook.

Added to this my children are now adult or almost-adult men and I don’t want to be the woman in their lives who “makes the Christmas magic happen”. I hate the memes about that on Facebook equating self-exploitation with love meanwhile the same women posting that about their mother are in tears and in some cases closet drinking because of the pressures of Christmas. We circulate to each other the “greater love hath no woman” myth of the perfect Christmas and the patriarchy wins once again by what we label “love”.

So I said “nope” to that and we did minimal cleaning (I insisted the sons help but I did not give up my whole freedom either to do it for them or to police them). We divided up the cooking tasks (after initially looking unhappy with it they all pitched in quite happily). We kept presents to a minimum (with some people asking for a donation to their favourite charity instead of more stuff to try to find a space for),

Christmas eve I was meant to go to church. I love my church community and I was all set to do my duty but I felt heavy-hearted at the way for feasts to official church takes us over. In fairness, it is people WITHIN the community that want and value (and ask for) this but some privately and very quietly have said to me “we shouldn’t need a priest coming in, we are quite capable and should have someone from the community ordained. But ordained we (mostly women and some married men) are not. So to avoid Christmas and Easter being the usual “leftover” the crumbs from the table of grace we ask a priest to come in and help us

The one we ask is quite a nice person too. He does it very well and very respectfully and I have no problem with him personally (neither does anyone else). He still runs with out liturgy and our “reflection”. He is what I think a priest should be and was one of the first people I was able to talk honestly about my vocation. He reproved someone for interrupting and trying to silence me and he has been very respectful ever since. So I have no problem with him at all as a person and kind of as a priest too- except we should not have to bring someone in.

Now that my dad is a priest I have all the complicated feelings of betrayal and abandonment around that. I tried to bury them deep but this year they have started coming out more and more…but this is not a good place to unpack that. But it’s a factor in how I relate to the other priest who lives in the same house as him.

All of this means that I was going to go to Christmas Eve church with duty not joy. It’s a happy sort of duty to be with the community because they are spiritually my family but I generally don’t see them anywhere else except church. Over the years the community has accepted my children’s misbehaviour as well as my transgressive and evolving theology and terrible attempts to decorate the altar when it is my turn. They’ve accepted me at times in bare feet, talking too much, crying or poor (also I think sometimes poised, intelligent and almost-neat…at least that’s what I attempt now). But when my eldest son started making cashew and lime-based sauces in the kitchen and offering me Irish whisky and my youngest came in from working in the garden and decided to order take-away food I decided to join them. I am good at feeling guilty so I felt guilty but there is was again.

I looked at the clock it was time to get ready for church and I said “nope” to that,

The third one I still feel guilty for so I won’t discuss it, but there was one other thing I said “nope” to this Christmas. I was preserving my mental health and the healthy boundaries around some off-duty/rest time that my last psych told me to. I was doing what I was role-modelled as a child. See how defensive I am? I still feel guilty but to have done anything else would have made the day an ordeal. I will have that ordeal but for Christmas I was off duty (mostly).

So we had a small low-key lunch (with far too much food) that was all vegan. Decorations was one bunch of flowers I bought myself for submitting an article (it’s what I always do) and another vase with a sprig of pine that the cockatoos threw at me and a sprig of holly that crawled over the fence from the neighbour’s yard. I put on a playlist of choral songs interspersed by children’s songs, retro music, modern tracks and even joke songs. My son ended the evening playing his new computer game (second-hand from his brother) in his room with three empty tubs of vegan icecream stacked next to him and a spoon (oh to be 17 again!). I read my new book “Feminist theology from the third world“, which my kids had burst out laughing when they saw and they said “That’s so mum isn’t it? Typical”. I felt cosy about that though, they know who I am. We went for a walk in the evening and there was a woman and a little girl, both in hijabs delivering junk-mail (a job my sister used to do and sometimes I would walk with her and help her). “Happy holidays” I said to them while my youngest son glared at me for randomly talking to strangers and embarrassing him. The woman grinned at me as if she had no idea what I said but decided I was harmless, she might not have understood English judging by the expression on her face. I started the usual guilt about “It’s not a holiday for them they are clearly working” in my own head but then I heard a clear voice speak back to the guilt and say “it’s not an observation, it’s a wish for them to HAVE a happy holiday, if not today then on their own choice of day”.

My son chatted to me of worker’s rights and of redistributing wealth and I suddenly thought about what this Christmas had been. My three children all wanted to see me, even though I was not providing lavish presents or taking responsibility for all the food (they had to help). All three of them took an opportunity to sit or walk with me and talk about things I care about and ask about things I care about. I did the same for them too of course but that’s in the “mother” job description (besides which when I look at those handsome young men I still see the baby that used to need me so much). All three showed a connection with me over ethics, humour and a confidence in my work in the world (and therefore hopefully their own). We talked about the earth, human diversity, politics, death and generousity (also a lot of puns and teasing). I had avoided church for the reasons discussed above and because living with a “Christianprime minister and other members of parliament makes me a little less devout myself. But “church” my own family as a community of faith and practice was with me and therefore so was the sneaky and hope-inspiring Wisdom of Godde.

I reflected last night on the people I love and the people who love me but more significantly the people with a big enough love to love the world. I thought about Freedom Hill Sanctuary, where the humans were forced to suddenly evacuate without their four-legged friends and they were distraught with guilt, fear and grief. They came back to a charred mess of buildings but the animals had been wise enough to take shelter in the dam. I thought of all the awful stories, but the small spots of happiness and hope. I thought of firefighters all around the country and again felt guilt because it’s been a tough year for me but much tougher for some others. I thought of little girls imprisoned over Christmas by a “Christian” government and how such cruelty hurts the whole community.

I found myself not praying for the big things but for little insignificant things that matter only to me. I felt Godde like a wall against the guilt that such self-reflection sometimes engenders. I thought of my nutroast with a stuffing inside made of breadcrumbs and I thought of the Syro-Phoenecian woman gathering her crumbs of grace with dignity. “Dogs”. As a vegan I see dignity in a four-legged child of Godde too. And I thought how the world needs loaves and loaves of the Bread of Heaven for refugees and fire-fighters and thirsty rivers and farms. But that did not mean that there was not an abundance of crumbs for people’s small hopes and relationships also. And that survival is in the loaves but joy is sometimes in the crumbs that make stuffing for the festival-food. God wants our small happiness as much as the larger picture of social justice and a thriving ecosystem. The new mother Mary, thought less of Herod or Caesar on Christmas night than of her baby’s perfect little toes and perfect little eyelashes and dove-like little newborn cries and her own exhaustion and how good it was to give the baby to Joseph for a few hours and sleep.

I woke up this morning to see what a friend had posted on Facebook. “I’m not Christian, but the story of a baby born in a shed who grows to an adult who leads the downtrodden against oppression is a story of triumph over adversity, of love over hate, of compassion over cruelty. ” Typical of Wisdom coming out in a self proclaimed “non-Christian’s” post. This person went on to say that the worst is not inevitable and our efforts are never futile and that we should radically orient ourselves toward hope and community-action in the coming year. I am reading that, unable to see the difference between that and “Christian” in the real sense, just as I cannot detect Christ in any sort of law that allows bigotry and hatred or that keeps selling out our earth and communities for fossil fuels.

Whether in the crumbs or in too many tubs of icecream Merry Christmas to you and yours. May the barred gates spring open, may streams flow in dry places and may there be Bread for all.

Thanks be to Godde.

I haven’t Blogged much lately. I’ve been thinking about writing things but work just keeps me too busy. But I was on the roster at church this week and managed to throw together a reflection on the readings. I used these first reading, psalm and gospel and added in Marina by T.S. Eliot (an old favourite of mine as regular readers know) as the 2nd reading.

I spoke without having written down my thoughts, because now that I teach and lecture that seems easier than reading…but later I reconstructed more-or-less what I had said. I also used a “Eucharistic prayer” that I wrote back in March but hadn’t had an opportunity to use today. It’s been sitting in a cupboard at church with noone aware it exists. It focusses on the earth.

Here  is my “reflection” on the readings:

I grew up with a “face value” reading of today’s gospel which I didn’t (in retrospect) find very helpful. In this way of thinking the Pharisee was wrong for thinking so highly of himself, whereas the tax collector was to be emulated as being humble and not thinking well of himself. I cultivated my low self esteem carefully, thinking it was virtuous to do so. It became self-hate and was quite a toxic thing to live with. I want to be careful today not to repeat the same mistake, to look with a more nuanced eye at today’s parable.

Parables are not simple surface-level morality tales anyway. They are meant to deeply challenge us, to niggle away at the things we think we know and invite us to come deeper, experiencing otherness rather than analysing it from the sidelines. Our experience of a parable should be a long journey of learning not a point of revelation or answers. Today’s section of the journey will be looking through the lens of the first reading. When the lectionary gives us groups of readings it is an invitation to consider them together and in light of each other.

So I will look back on Sirach. This reading is about God being responsive and empathetic to the plight of any who suffer from not being heard or having their needs disregarded.  God desires justice and will advocate for the widow and the socially, materially or emotionally vulnerable. The reading also has teeth- although I don’t like the violence sometimes present in the Hebrew scriptures I feel there is a risk when we sanitise our tradition too much. God break’s scepters, acts with anger and destruction toward those who hold unjust power. From our vantage point in a wealthy, overconsuming, exploitative country we would do well not to sanitise this part of our faith out.

But the focus is certainly comfort for the oppressed. God is not neutral is clearly taking sides here. This is consistent with a 20th century Catholic teaching that used to be spoken about more- that God has a “preferential option for the poor”. God is present in the relationships and angry at the inequities of our social world.

So if we take this social justice focus back to the gospel, how to we view the two men in Jesus’ parable? The pharisee is not wrong to think well of himself and his achievements, but he is displaying a faith that is performative rather than relational. His focus is on impressing other people, comparing himself and feeling superior to others who he can pre-judge at a glance. He has filled in all his spiritual KPIs but become separated from other human beings.

The tax-collector has no such shield against the world. He has come to God with his vulnerability, his knowledge of his own failings. I am probably projecting a modern-day understanding onto him if I talk about his awareness of privilege, but I will try to explore that idea in view of what tax-collectors were and did in Jesus’ day. The Roman Empire used to impose taxes on the people- these could be crippling, and the men who collected them added their own fee to the tax they collected. They were hated in part because people hated paying the taxes, but also because many of them may have added on an exorbitant fee and so enriched themselves.

A tax-collector then might be caught between the competing demands of his family (who will struggle or starve without his income) and the injustice and imbalance of the empire’s taxes and perhaps his own added fees. He is caught up in a system of injustice and oppression, not just caught up in a web of dependency but maybe even benefiting from it. We know this too, that although there is much that is wrong with the world these days we are often the ones who benefit from the inequitable distribution of wealth and the exploitation and demonisation of others. The tax collector brings his awareness and his worry to God, not able to find answers but showing a willingness to let God inform and infuse his life for a better future. Jesus says that he rather than the escapist priest is the one “justified”.

What does this mean? How does it help to be “justified”?

What is it that we come to church for?

Dare we be honest and less than shiny before God…and what does this look like?

If God listens to the poor and oppressed, what is our role in all of this?

There are no answers in the back of the book, but we can reflect on these challenges and share our thoughts with each other.

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 🙂

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.