Category Archives: Dark Valley

Flipping is a trick not a way to travel: a biassed critique.

After I wrote my post it occurred to me all the ways it could come across as hypocritical or “clever” which was not the intention. As I was reflecting on that the birds outside started YELLING so I went out to see them. There was a huge and active flock of honey-eaters (who even knew they hang out in such large flocks) and I took a photo but alas all you can see in my photo is leaves and the tree they were centring their activity on. When you look at my photo please try to imagine the loud and shrill birdsong from about 30+ beaks and the flutter of wings just out of sight. When you read my similarly inadequate words (even Foucault fell into using “truth” to deconstruct the possibility of “truth”- Butler, 2005) please imagine that I am trying to get at something “real” that is similarly elusive and hard to pin down.

Recently I actually had an academic article published (my first). I asked my three sons to come with me to the “launch” of our special issue and one of them initially said “no” and then over a couple of gin and tonics asked me about the other people there (mostly academics) before telling me he doesn’t mix with academics. I’ve been a try-hard rather than a “real academic” for a long time so certainly he’s not had the opportunity to mix with academics much, but he might be surprised that some people that he quite liked as a child were actually academics. I tried to give him some sense of this.

“I have a recurring nightmare” he finally told me, “of being stuck at a party with very clever people and they are asking me what I think about Tolstoy. I can’t stand Tolstoy, I have a phobia of him”. After more discussion over what he meant by “Tolstoy” which I think to him was symbolic of intellectual pretentiousness and superiority, we made a bit of a joke about it. My son ended up coming to the party (greater love hath no man) and noone expected him to know about anything other than the fancy beer he was drinking. But when a friend asked me to read and comment on this article by Samuel Wells, I immediately saw the “Tolstoy” and immediately (even though I myself read things only pretentious people read) my hackles rose, detecting someone being “clever”. This was also borne out by the “flipping” of a popular idea.

I liked what one of the intents of the article might have been, to remove the idea of a top-down hierarchical God that we must cower before. I think in the context of people like Pell Pot and the myriad abuses of power in the wealthy and patriarchal church(es) over the centuries this feudalistic model of deity is certainly more than spent. I felt though that this intent (if it was there) was overlaid by a desire to recuperate the church as the centre of people’s spirituality, or to recuperate the church’s power to define reality at any rate and I have become deeply suspicious of such an aim considering who can rise to become “clergy” and who cannot. I also felt that above and beyond any other agenda was the desire to look clever, an agenda which I have deep sympathy for (I also have a narcissistic streak) but also I have to admit that when I am being most “clever” and especially when I am feted for it I am frequently saying the least of actual substance. When I say something meaningful (or at least with the integrity of me trying to make meaning) it is often unpopular and hard to follow.

So no judgement on a flashy preacher trying to look clever. I go to the fringe to watch acrobats performing feats of balance and flips and such and I don’t get sour that walking on your hands is an inefficient and impractical form of transport. I think we go to preachers at least as much for entertainment as for any grains of “truth”, any less diluted “truth” comes to us in the darkness as we tremble with fear and tears, or maybe is as uneventful as the song of lorikeets as we walk down the street ignoring the obvious. I realise that when I critique preachers…well yes I realise that.

But flipping while a neat trick and one that is fun to perform is not actually as wise as it often claims to be. “Flipped classrooms” for example seem to me to be a dishonest way to intensify learning, making a “more but not better” scenario and trying to make the learner responsible for self-cramming while also devaluing teachers (a longer game). Similarly just because Godde does not ask us to cower before her/him/them does not imply that Godde cowers before us. The reverse of the spent non-truth is not the truth either, just as Foucault (my Tolstoy I guess) insists that to call reason into question does not have to mean embracing irrationality. I would have preferred if the preacher/writer here had acknowledged that a flip at most can shake us up and make us question our groundedness, but that the mirror image is as illusory as the original. Also I would have liked the preacher to acknowledge the myriad feminist theologians that have made the same point but less dogmatically, I did not like the tone of “this is a brand new wisdom” for something we have known at least since the 90s (that Godde suffers and is powerless). And I don’t accept that I have to forgive Godde, because the one abusing the earth and allowing the abuse of children is emphatically NOT Godde. I reserve the right NOT to forgive genocide or rape as Jesus said “those whose sins you retain, they are retained”. Godde does not have to take the blame for cardinals who endorse child-abuse but I do demand that Godde distance herself from them to prevent the spread of germs (Ok that was me trying to be clever). I refuse to demand a crucifixion. I refuse to see an execution as “good”. I don’t want consequences for my sins, but I’ll take my consequences in preference to putting them on another. I stand with my sister Mary and see Jesus as someone’s promising and beloved son. WHAT A FUCKING WASTE!!!

Peter also flipped the crucifixion (or so we are told) but I think Peter over his career learned some humility. The way I look at it, violence standing on its head is still violence and if Godde has nothing for us but the gaslighting of “I suffered even more than you” then I have no answer to my atheist friends who critique my faith. And there I must sit. My faith now is as precarious as a long-held friendship. Do we even have anything to say to each other?

“Stop being clever” says the Holy Spirit “and dance”. I don’t know what to believe but it seems relationships are stronger than ideas. Whether I dance or refuse to, there is a bond there…with something. Sorry that’s probably not much use to you.

If this is faith, I should have ordered the spaghetti

Holy Saturday morning, I lay in almost until 8. I was lying there thinking of Jesus dead in the tomb and (probably inappropriately) envying him for having a full day with no thoughts.

I thought of myself- unproductive, discouraged, without much faith in the wake of world-events and the church’s really worse than inadequate response to sexual abuse. As good as dead, I thought but with racing thoughts. I wondered if Jesus really counted as “dead” if he was just going to come back anyway. It seems like rest then not death. But without thoughts.

In my lack of faith a prayer escaped me. God laughs I think at the way I make the world’s worst atheist. I prayed that none of this would be happening and God did not grant my prayer. I prayed that noone I know will die of COVID-19 and I know that God will not grant that prayer. There is a 0% chance that by the end of this noone I know will have died. I listed the people I particularly can’t afford to lose, and tried to bargain with God. I would rather it were me than any of them. Unlikely whispered the hollow silence at the core of the universe. And selfish it added knowing I would rather be mourned than mourn.

But I cannot afford to lose the ones I love the most. And I envied Jesus for being the one mourned not the mourner, although of course I would not want “Good Friday” to happen to me. But I wondered if our tendency in stories for centuries now to put men at the centre- achieving, acting, suffering, living, dying- and women at the margins- watching powerlessly, mourning, questioning, following, staying is the problem with the world (envy now for NZ who have a woman at the helm instead of a smirking idiot).

After the bushfires the pandemic and of course still the suffering caused by child-abusers in the church. How dare Pell act like some sort of an innocent victim, when at best he enabled the abuse with his lack of listening. He says “only God can judge me” making God partly to blame for his ability to walk free and keep spreading his unloving, uncompassionate words and deeds. I want to remind him that God is not mocked but I am actually shocked by the lack of faith in the “leadership” of the church like also our “Christian” prime minister who promotes churches but neglects the widow and orphan.

It turns out I must believe in God after all because the blasphemy of all these “Christian” men, these “Christian” leaders really disgusts and saddens me.

But who will hear my prayer for the ones I love, and the ones I would love if I knew them better? People are already dying, the fact that those people have not touched me is not the point. Who will guard the nurses and the childcare workers and the fast-food workers (like my son)? Who will guide us to see this plague as a call to turn away from the Pharaoh’s of this time? Who will be Miriam and sing and argue us out of bondage (I’ve had enough of Moses and Aaron’s posturing). Miriam means “bitter” and someone who I listen to told me to be “bitter” for as long as I need. But I know from experience I don’t make a good leader.

Maybe there will be more than one. Maybe we will lead each other with dancing and rolls of toilet paper for everyone.

May Jesus quiet my mind and may I be dead to the anxieties and even to the marking for a day

for a day

or even an hour would do…

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”.