Category Archives: reflection on liturgy

Bootleg preacher attempts to be reflexive

Apologies for length. I will never know if you skim read, read just a paragraph or skip it entirely 😉

The missal has this to say explaining the role of the “homily”: “Through the readings, God has spoken to his people of redemption and salvation, and nourished their spirit with his word. Christ is present among the faithful in his word. The homily helps those present understand and reflect upon what they have heard.” (32). We are given no advice on how to discern the validity and “truth” of the homily, presumably we are left to trust blindly to the authority of the (ordained, male) priest. Nor is there any mention of the priest’s responsibility to preach ethically nor any ideas on how to ensure that this happens.

As a listener, I can remember slowly realising that the sermons I had taken as unquestionably truth were performed by biased, limited humans who might have thought they were acting responsibly in what they told us to believe, but did this without any respect for the critical abilities or experiences of the listener and with some fairly glaring gaps in their point of view. I realised this as an adult and as a slow process of disillusionment. By this time I had already heard many things passionately decried from the pulpit- contraception, homosexuality (on the bright side that was where I found out what homosexuality even was) and even feminism.

As a preacher myself, a bootleg-preacher who has no license (or possibility of being licensed) from the church magisterium I wonder then why should people trust what I say? Related to this is a question to myself- how dare I express and opinion and how do I keep myself honest? Part of my answer is that I truly believe that I am preaching not for personal gain, or to big-note myself (to the tiny handful of people who receive my words) but because the female, feminist, lesbian, single-mother, vegan point of view is part of the much wider and more diverse kindom of God and is a piece that has been hidden from sight and silenced from being heard. Therefore I speak not only myself but a silenced fragment of the Word of God.

So “God told me to” I say, and yet this as a claim must always be suspect. Much as I am suspicious of the authority of the clergy, so anyone ought to be extremely suspicious of my authority too- perhaps the more so if you only have my word for it. Within the messiness of that awareness I always preach carefully, self-consciously trying to remember that no one OWES me their trust and belief and that they will listen politely and then decide and possibly disagree with me. This is one safety catch to my preaching.

But then recently I had an experience where an academic article I wrote (nothing to do with theology) was rejected by the peer reviewers and one of their criticisms was that I had not established the VALIDITY of my research enough. This criticism has led me into a lot of reading and thinking about validity- what is it and how do we establish it? To problematize this further, there is no established blueprint for validity and even things that get taken for granted as the “gold standard” (scientific method) contain flaws and impossibilities. For an interesting view of some research that has claimed to “prove” things while in fact being full of flaws, read Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences by Rebecca M. Jordan-Young. This book rang true with me- many things that are accepted as “fact” seem built on a foundation of sand- but then where is the rock on which I can pitch my building (clever people will tell me the rock is God or Christ but that is a glib non-answer really).

How do I “keep myself honest” to do what I way I am doing, say what I claim I will say and show my working out enough so people can follow me (or spot where they diverge). How might I do it in research brings me back to the question of how do I do it as a preacher (blogger, speaker). I have some thoughts on this- mainly sourced from reading things written by Patti Lather, also Jill Green, as well as a lecture I recently attended by Yarrow Andrew.  I have not given links to their work but all are possible to “google scholar”. Even though all three are academic writers/speakers my thoughts here will remain more about my faith life rather than becoming academic in nature.

One of the first things that springs up whenever people consider qualitative research methods and especially the place of feminist thinking is the idea of reflexivity. Reflexivity means having some idea of who I am, what experiences have formed me to be this way and what gaps there may be in my knowledge and experience. In other words it involves identifying my bias and my point of view. For feminists reflexivity means both explaining how our experiences (of exclusion and discrimination) have led us to challenge what we are “supposed to” think and how we are “supposed to” account for it- so that our experiences become an impetus for questioning and breaking the rules (both the clearly stated and the taken-for-granted ones). We might find that the rules don’t “work” for us, or function only to keep reproducing the status quo and leave power imbalances intact. Then I as a preacher use my knowledge of who I am and what sort of people I might (partially) speak for to argue for my right and need to speak.

The other function of “reflexivity” is to call to account the speakers and preachers who have defined “truth” for us and told us what to believe. So for example when the preacher told me that women feeling erotic love for other women was “sinful”, I could have asked him how he would know this (I was about eight and he was beyond question). He was a man with a public commitment to be “celibate” therefore not to be in intimate relations with a woman himself. He had lived for many years with other celibate men (although it is probable that some of the domestics who looked after him and certainly some if not all of his secretaries were female). Nothing about his standpoint means he is necessarily “wrong” it just means he would have had very little empathy for what it was like growing up as a female who was female-centred in her unspeakable desires, who was sent to an all girls’ school etc. He was speaking to me from a very, very distant point from my experience across a whole host of assumptions that came out of his own limited perspective and which I was expected to take-on wholesale.

At the time I did take them on, because I didn’t have the years under my belt to know that anything I could feel, imagine or experience had any sort of meaning. Life was confusing and I experienced myself as a misfit and a hated mistake. This of course was not the preacher’s intent and I would not have seen any part of how depressed and self-hating I was to have stemmed from what I heard at church. If I was older and more opinionated/feminist I would have had questions about how he knew what he “knew” and where such thinking came from. He would have had answers for all my questions of course but I could question the answers and keep questioning or at least work out of a hermeneutic of suspicion- which we know to switch on as soon as someone is claiming to speak “absolute truth” and not showing reflexivity about their own possible failures to “know” or “understand”.

In addition to reflexivity, Green talks about “catalytic validity”, that is, being aware what it is we want to change through our research. For the preacher there can be no clear “catalytic validity” because it would be unethical to tell people how to live or specifically what to do (in the past some preachers have told people how to vote but tempting though that is- that is an abuse of the power to preach). So as a preacher instead my “catalytic validity” is the desire to be moving in my own life toward the kindom of God- so I am preaching to myself, I am trying to shift my own self into better praxis and healthier relationships. In that sense preaching must be a giant (but honest) thinking aloud exercise where I am showing my own faith journey and allowing anyone who listens/reads me to walk it with me. They get to choose their own role on my journey, they could be observers, participants, co-walkers, respectful disagree-ers or disbelievers or attempt to change my direction. People sometimes shift between different roles in engaging with my faith journey but just as I do not get to define their journey, so they may speak back by sharing their own but they don’t get to take my journey from me and forcibly change my direction or derail me.

I wanted to say a lot more about triangulation (not letting one person being your only source for what to believe) and how also some of ideas around how concepts of “validity” are problematic, fragmented and don’t always perfectly come out but I am aware that this is already an overly long piece of writing.

If you wish to- share in the comments what sort of things a preacher may say, do or be that make you more likely to trust their preaching (or mistrust it) and also how you bring your own hermeneutic of suspicion into how you engage with someone’s preaching.

In addition for anyone who preaches, I would like to know (if you can simply reduce it for us) how you make sure you are saying things that are right, valid and helpful for others; also do you undermine your own authoritative voice in any way to assist people to remember to listen critically and with discernment?

But perhaps you will feel this conversation would go better over a bottle of scotch and several hours…

Where’s the good news?

A lot of other people have written good stuff on “the gospels” so I am not going to discuss which parts I think are true/factual and which are made up (my opinion varies anyway) or point out that the significant differences in them, or even nitpick the patriarchal view of any or all of the gospel writers (or gospel writing communities which seems more likely). I do think it is problematic how we often privilege the gospel over the rest of scripture and how that fits with the anti-semitism of the OT/NT world-view. I also think it is problematic how little we dare to criticise the words or deeds of Jesus (as recorded) and tend to assume if it is in the book then it is automatically both good news and true.

And I guess that is where I want to come into the liturgical moment of the “gospel reading” and ask a few hard questions to make sure we are not being sold “fake news” in the guise of “good news”. Even though I like history as much as anybody and more than some, I don’t think the point of history is to look back and find some sort of objective “truth” about exactly what happened and I don’t think the bible is only history in any case- it has mythical status as much as anything else and I neither want to reify nor debunk all that.

But I partly want to debunk the idea that Christ is more present in the official gospel, than in the good news of some of the “Old Testament” readings for example, or the good news of “Acts” or the “epistles” or my life or yours or the rainbow I saw one week on my way to church. All of that is God’s good news, therefore gospel. So I want to wonder aloud about good news- what is it and how do we find it and how do we know we can accept it?

When I studied homiletics, we were warned to ensure we were finding the “good news” even in negative texts. At the time I had a fairly hippy “everything is awesome” view of church and God’s kindom (not that’s not a typo) and a fairly negative view of anything that spoke about “sin” or anything other than God’s unconditional and always redeeming love. I still believe in the kindom of God and that it is built on a foolishly generous and eternally hopeful outpouring of unconditional love by God to all creation, but also that this love may contain strong anger toward injustice, especially the stubborn sort of injustice that refuses persistently to be called to account. That is, I do not think God will punish us (or perhaps anybody) for getting things wrong, but I think the sin that leads to the suffering of humans or of the earth is a real problem for God and one we need to try to address to live faithfully and lovingly with our ultimate friend/lover, God.

So I find the balance trickier now, because I don’t enjoy or find helpful overly positive readings of the world or the text, that try to explain away or erase conflicts and the terrible injustices in our lives (our lives in the broad sense where we are connected to each other). And yet the heart yearns always for hope, hope is the breath of the soul and we asphyxiate when our environment is too polluted by fears, suffering and despair. So the “good news” is still the heart of what we seek in God’s word. We come to God not just to be challenged or debated with but to be loved and affirmed. But then we come not as overtired babies to be simply soothed but as partners who seek also to soothe God and make her comfortable and accepted with us equally to the comfort and acceptance we seek.

So we make ourselves into gospel, into Good News also for God, because in some way maybe God also can be nourished by nothing else. I have been wondering about that as I continue to read Carter Heyward’s “Saving Jesus from those who are right”. How do I make myself and my life “good news” for God? Any grandiose plans where I give everything in some radical way are fleeting because I have children and friends and a job where it matters whether I am fully present, so I begin by being fully present to my near ones and those dependent on me, and also to my gifts. Even that is difficult, even that is a large thing to attempt (and I am not claiming to have achieved it) but then there are the political things we can do- we can band together with others- listen and support and do what we can to choose and change the world we live in. The balance between looking after my small world and my big one is one I never seem to manage. At times I have poured myself out (though not as much as some others I admire) to do things for “good causes” and I have begun to neglect my family and friends or my own health. More recently I have generally erred on the side of allowing myself some personal time and valuing my social contacts and “coffee dates” (and the never-ending conversation of my son) but then who will be an activist or an organiser for anything?

And how/when do I write? And is it just a self-indulgence?

For me it is no simple task to become “gospel” to the cheering of God’s heart but I must remember both that God loves me already and sees all the traces of gospel that I am, even if I am not a great masterpiece. And I must also remember that just as in the text, the bible we are given four “gospels” and just as we can find God’s good news in many places and people and texts so God has all creation to draw her own gospel and her own incentive to kindom from not just “me” the individual.

I will continue to think about that in a world where sometimes “good news” is hard to find and at church when sometimes “good news” is not as apparent in the words we are supposed to assent to as we would like. I will wonder not “where is the good news” but “how can I become part of the good news in this story”.

We are the good news to the world and to each other.

Our love and passion always for you, beautiful Wisdom!

ReWording

I missed my self-imposed “deadline” although I have been thinking a lot about the second reading and it’s place in the liturgy and my own journey with those readings – often seeming like mini sermons but even more boring when I was a child and only really gaining any life when I studied Greek and also acquired a collection of feminist lenses (hermeneutic of suspicion but also the tendency to read between the lines and try to gather crumbs of liberative promise in the texts).

Over the years I think I have become less inclined to apologise for the text- to make excuses for it or try to redeem it from itself. Yes many readings are riddled with patriarchy. At the same time I find I no longer demand that the text show me “truth”. The text and I are sometimes like friendly ex-lovers or like best friends who have lived through their differences. I have learned when to refuse to listen and when to argue. Familiarity breeds contempt they say. There may be danger in this.

We do need more than one reading from tradition, but I do wonder why the lectionary is so set in stone, why we don’t sometimes use other letters, poems, stories, sermons or even paintings as our “second reading”? Or as our psalm- the use of the psalm is even more puzzling and unimaginative in the “set in stone” lectionary and liturgy. Psalms are about emotion, exaggeration- the artistic expression, the tantrum, the make-up sex of the bible. Why do we never draw or dance a psalm of our own instead of piously trying to follow a (usually uninspiring) tune placed on the anachronistic words?

I write and pray and make my own psalms all the time. Sometimes on a sunny day if I can get away with it I make a psalm by rolling down the hill or throwing autumn leaves at a friend (usually a child) or running with my son onto every sandbag at the beach or splashing water or photographing a rainbow or dancing at 3am (rarely now). Those are the songs of praise but I also construct a psalm in too much chilli in the soup when I have the sniffles, or in angrily burying the dead mouse my cat brought me or turning off the news because I am powerless to respond to it adequately or crying into my pillow or being awake in the middle of a work-night and fearing the death that already claimed my younger brother.

I’m not trying to “show off” with this sort of talk of psalm making. I am guessing everyone does this. How is it not a psalm unless it is written on scraps of papyrus by men from an ancient civilisation?

So the psalm would have endless possibility if we prayed with fewer boundaries keeping ourselves out of our prayers (and the melodramatic language of even the ancient psalms or sanitised fragments of psalms we pray at church have some potential).

And the second reading! Why not a reading from the wisdom of bell hooks? or Paolo Freire? Ok so that is a teacher’s bias in choosing those wisdoms. Why not Einstein? Why not Jane Goodall? All the readings that reveal Godde. A reading from the journal of a domestic violence survivor. A reading from the rap sheet of a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. A reading from the appeal by a refugee facing deportation. A reading from the weekly budget on someone whose Centrelink has been cut. This is our Jesus and we are crucifying him.

Or praise Godde and have a reading from a poem by a seven year old. A reading from a photo album of a childcare centre. A reading from a love letter kept for over 30 years. A reading from a bestselling novel. A reading from a wine critic describing a wonderful Shiraz (my bias thus shown). A reading from someone coming out as gay on a facebook status with all the attendant supportive messages from friends and family. For Godde so loved the world that she gave us sons and daughters to nurture and listen to. So that everyone who believes in them (the “least of Jesus’ brethren remember so I am not on heretical ground here) will have eternal hope and work to make the world better.

Last week’s second reading talked about the “stone rejected by the builders” and I thought of all the good solid stones and even the rubble filler that the church father’s rejected in initially building the church and how we have let our rejections become habit. The stuff about being “chosen” and “priestly” should have flattered and heartened me I suppose but all I was seeing was the multiple rejections we base our building on.

And yet Godde’s “cornerstone, chosen and precious” is one such (or every such?) rejected stone. We try to keep what is bad outside the church and we lose too much of what is precious. If we trusted Godde even a little we would be a people of hands and hearts not of walls and border-security.

The rejected people, outsiders,

borderland dwellers, liminals and criminals,

refugees, strangers, fallen women and women too bound to fall,

over here ones, queer ones, a rainbow of misfits,

labels peeled and worn, gaping holes and jagged edges,

rough diamonds or maybe just broken glass

extra-canonical, challenging or just plain wrong,

revised, rewritten, disputed,

“does not meet our current needs” or text of terror,

trivial or unpalatable.

Let us find in this text, this experience and this person, the Living Word.

Thanks be to Godde.

Praying, yearning, struggling, working, dancing, being, caught up in prayer

O breathe on me, breath of God/ fill me with life anew/ that I may love what thou dost love/ and do what thou wouldst do. I am going to skip ahead in my walk through the liturgy, to the “Prayers of the Faithful” because I am reading Carter Heyward’s book, Saving Jesus from those who are right. I am going to reflect on the ideal we hold in praying together, what might we mean by the “faithful” and what is the point of praying anyway? Please don’t expect definitive answers to any of those questions but they are my reflecting questions today.

Heyward talks about relationality being the ground of our being when we pray, also the Spirit praying through us (a biblical concept) in a deeply emotive, yearning movement towards God. Can God yearn for God? If God is more than an individual then there is dynamics and relation WITHIN God and then our role within the dynamic that is God is the question. But the hymn above goes on to put a possessive and almost forceful spin on God’s work to assimilate us, to remake us better whereas I don’t think there is anything forceful or disrespectful in how God makes us one-with each other, the earth and Godself. Rather than a forcing or making (see eg Donne for a rape-battery metaphor for the process) the spirit blows through us (like in Winter’s beautiful hymn) and we like well-crafted musical instruments respond WITHIN THE NATURE THAT IS INTRINSIC TO US- making music of the breath of God.

So it is like a call from a lover, or child to remind us that our priorities need to line up with the love-of-our-life rather than being a coercive, conscriptive process to a good that goes against our selves and our personal good. We are not born to be individuals, we are not born into aloneness, birth itself is going from intimacy (within our mother) to intimacy (in the arms of a family and community). Death is going from intimacy (the people who’d much rather we weren’t leaving) into…what? Memory? Some new form of life? What we do know is we are relational/mutual by nature and we are called to be true to that by an eternal God. That means something for who we are.

“Who we are is how we pray.” That’s the title of a book by Charles Keating that I have never read but it seems to me there is a wealth of wisdom even in the short title. And so “prayers of the faithful” could also be called “prayers of the relational” or “prayers of the responsive” as we come together to respond to each other and to our world and to ground that being in God and God’s desire to call, relate and respond to us. I like it better in communities where everyone can pray- at times we talk about the trivial, the personal and at times we look widely to the world but we pray aloud and we hear each other’s prayerful preoccupations and the miracle is the way we are sometimes able to respond to each other, or at the basic minimum be with each other in the complexities of life.

Does prayer “achieve” anything? I tend to intellectually think that there is no interventionist function in God (otherwise surely s/he would respond more strongly to save refugees and other innocents and not bother too much with trivialities like where I put my car-keys or how hard it is to find a date). That said when I “need to be rescued” I do send up that clamour to God, whether God does anything much with my selfish requests is another issue. But not all requests are selfish. We want a better world for everyone. We want answers about how to make this possible. We pray about the big things in our lives and our world.

I suppose an analogy could be the tendency we have to take home whatever happened at work (or wherever) and talk it over with out lover or get on the phone to a close friend about it. Why do we do that? Rarely do we want practical “help” or “advice” and even when we want those we can’t always get them in the way we think we need. But talking things through with someone who loves us is intrinsically helpful an God loves us. But now I am almost sounding like God is our invisible, imaginary friend that reflects back at us whatever we want to hear. This is a dangerously individualistic and relativistic theology.

God loves me, but God is not all about me, me, ME: wrapped around my ego like some sort of flag or reinforcing layer. I read a horrible blog today by a woman who has cast out her own son for being gay. The blog was full of sadness but also a toxic form of self-congratulation that having made such a big sacrifice “for Jesus” she was some sort of a heroine. That decision too could have come out of a more-or-less genuine attempt to pray. Just because we piously reference “God” in our decisions does not guarantee their rightness. If I knew how to guarantee rightness I would share the secret- but until then I find it important to remember when dealing with people who are “wrong” that I am also “wrong” a lot of the time.

Nevertheless, despite the potential to make big mistakes in everything we do an decide, it remains important to do things- to confront the dilemmas and injustices of the world and to seek to be more loving and also to insist that everyone be treated with love, inclusion and fairness. We can’t simply acknowledge that “everyone has their own opinion” and retire from the debates and struggles over social goods and access to them. Nor can we “give it to God” in any sense that undercuts our own responsibility to respond and to work toward answers. God isn’t going to magically save the earth from environmental disaster and the unfair thing is many of those who make/made the decisions to degrade the earth so much either won’t live to grapple with the fallout or will be rich enough to be protected from the worst of it (initially). I’d love God to “cast the might from their thrones” and heal the earth but God is looking to us, “the faithful” to pray more actively than just with words of resignation but to enter the social and political arenas of our lives.

“Lord hear us” we used to say, as if we were bringing supplications to someone higher in status that ruled over us and even when we do tweak it to try to make it less kyrierchal the imperative “hear us” seems to still separate the “us” praying from the more powerful “Thou”, God. How else could we put it? Love you hear us (indicative not imperative). Love you stand with us. Love infuse us. We pray in the Spirit. We pray together. We pray in God. We pray in Love.

Or sometimes I think just the old “Amen”. Just a way of bringing ourselves into the words and beyond the words, making the “words” part of prayer, part of conversation and whatever else the sharedness of the presence of God in our lives entails.

It is not “my” individual prayer or faithfulness that is at stake here. It is the way we take up each others prayers that makes us faithful and brings us into God. God pours Godself into whatever is other and when we are “the faithful” that is the work/dance we also engage with.

Being found within and outside texts

The first reading is often though not always from what we smug Christians tend to refer to as the “Old Testament”. It also gets called the “Hebrew Scriptures” which is less dismissive in a way but can ignore the significance of these scriptures to “us” and the fact that they are not just about our past but are an ongoing part of our journey.

At times instead of the Hebrew Scriptures, we have a first reading from Acts of the Apostles or occasionally I think one of the epistles which is not classified as Paul (or Paul’s copycats). With Acts we tend to do almost the opposite of what we do to the OT, we take it overly seriously and uncritically accept its Utopian claims. In the time of Facebook we ought to view Acts pretty much like we might view someone’s Honeymoon pictures on social media. Not as “untrue” but as an idealised performance of “happily ever after” before the real and ongoing shit of life has stepped back in.

When I was a baby-feminist, which was my phase immediately after my wide-eyed pious believer stage I began to realise how much violence, misogyny and generally yucky events and opinions can be found in the scriptures (this is not unusual) and like many Christians I attempted to locate all the violence and misogyny in the “Old Testament” in a pre-Christ reality which of course Christ challenged and overturned. It has taken me years to unpick that overly simplistic way of “sewing up” the problems in the text/s. The fact is there is plenty of problematic ideology in the “New Testament” also as well as gaps and silencings of all but the most privileged voices (and some subversive remnants of “other” voices too). Equally Christs (incomplete) challenging and overturning of oppressive structures is rooted in his Jewish tradition: in the work of Sophia/Wisdom who transgresses human order to call everyone to deeper knowing and more joyful being, in the more radical mutterings of some of the anti-establishment prophets (Micah immediately springs to mind since he is my favourite) and in some of the historical figures who stepped outside their social class (David) or their gender (Miriam) or their age (Hannah), culture (Ruth), xenophobic society (Pharaoh’s daughter) etc, etc, etc.

I don’t want all this richness to be “cancelled out” by a shiny Christus Rex that shows us Emperor Constantine more than a fisherman of dubious parentage from Nazareth who embodied subversive Wisdom. Nor in the apparent idealism of the Acts of the Apostles do I want to lose the invisible Apostles who cooked and cleaned and cuddled babies and were told to cover their heads and shut up (despite the fact that Wisdom who moved them is a disobedient and immodestly opinionated woman who goes about the town as she pleases). There are crumbs there anyway. Who was Dorcas really? Or Lydia? And anyway how do we know about the first appearances of Jesus if the women were commanded to never speak?

But rather than dismiss the patriarchal text wholesale (or go back to the idolatry of seeing in it “Truth” rather than a series of partial and biased truths) I think of it as a photo album. We like to think that a photograph cannot lie, but we forget that nor does it show us everything. Someone stood there and chose and angle and a framing for the photo- they might have chosen it for technical reasons, ideological reasons or sometimes perhaps by accident but someone chose what to show us and from what standing-point. Outside the frame of the camera there is a lot we will never see. We see the pretty girls dressed up to go to their school formal, but we may not see which one had to borrow a dress because she has no money, and which one is secretly a lesbian, and which one will get drunk and disgrace herself at an unpictured part of the evening (or maybe family stories do tell us some of these details). We see a mother with her three sons but we may not see that this is the first time she has seen one of them in two years or that one of them thinks he has cancer or what any of them look like when they take away their “best clothes” and stop celebrating and just get on with life. We also don;t see that while they were having their picture taken the cat managed to steal half their lunch or the phone was ringing but they didn’t hear it or the person taking the photo was in love with one of them.

Which is not to say that family photo albums are misleading or “false” just that it is impossible to record every detail of even one of the people in it, and we tend to get an edited view- especially over generations as people forget more and more details. Something may be written down, but it is not possible that everything would be and so people make decisions about what is important or about what is evidence for what I am trying to show. This is true of the bible as well. Over the centuries the literate and the relatively powerful were able to make decisions about what to write down, which writings to preserve, which of the saved writings to edit or privilege. Those with the leisure and literacy to do this, and the influence to have their choices accepted by society were generally men- free and relatively wealthy men.

When you think of it this way then the traces of critical perspectives and the social justice agendas that come through cannot be taken for granted. In human and historical terms the fact that kings and battles and patriarchs are the “stars” of so many bible stories are not surprising at all- what is surprising is the reoccurring of so many calls to treat the poor with justice (rather than mere charity) and so many instances of women characters who call into question the gender order. If I was going to believe in divine inspiration, this would be the evidence for it- not the expected material but the unexpected liberative flashes (for all that at times we have to search hard for them). But that’s Wisdom too- she is elusive and difficult to track down but she crops up where you don’t expect her and undermines the foolishness of human structures.

For me this blog has been an opportunity to try to come to terms with some of the “photos” from the album of our shared faith journey as Christians grounded in a Jewish history. Like any deconstructive reader, my interpretations are to some degree personal and shifting- no more “right” than the official or “common-sense” interpretation. My hope for any reader is not that I will convince them to my way of seeing but that they will enter into the dance of interpretation with me, celebrating some of my observations perhaps and rejecting others.

If we avoid the idolatry of seeing the text itself as infallible”Truth” (that for women and many others has often been privileged in a way that erases the equal validity of our own experiences) but instead see the truths of the text and of our own bodies, relationships and each others perspectives all as entry points. Then we can weave and unpick and reweave all these different partial truths in ways that create beauty and understanding, all in order to dance with the joy of living. And the real Truth (Godde/Love) will not be pinned down, but will find us where we dance.

Let us find in this day and each other the Living Word of Godde

Thanks be to Godde.

Collecting our thoughts: opening prayer

 

The part they never seem to remember to do in the “opening prayer” (also called the collect in some churches) is the part where everyone prays silently for a while. What I didn’t realise as a child, is silent prayer is the part where noone can tell you what to pray, you do not have to conform to anyone else’s idea of God or priorities so there is a possibility to be very genuine and liberated in the silence (which is often not observed). I am irritated that the missal says “celebrant and people pray silently for a while” so that the celebrant is not “people” and there is a line drawn even when everyone is doing the same thing and could theoretically be on the same level.

Although the collect is not placed within the liturgy of the word in the missal, it always seemed part of it because it referenced the readings and because that was the point where I had to turn to the blue ribbon (readings of the week) instead of the red ribbon (order of service). When you turn to the mass of the day the collect is set out like this.

The celebrant says, “Let us pray” and then in the silence there is a bit in square brackets that tells you what to pray for. The irony here is of course that not everyone is a pious little eight year old who got a missal for their first holy communion so most people have no idea what is in the square brackets, so it controls the thoughts only of the priest and little girls like me…except little girls like me and perhaps some priests used to sometimes rebel against what they were told to pray…but then again I was too pious to do it on purpose usually (I am a bit disgusted at my former self).

So the prayer itself would be sort of a spoiler for the readings which I think is Ok in so far it tells us what readings are coming up (we all watch TV where ads serve roughly the same purpose and we are used to our attention being grabbed with teasers) but it is a bit of a pity actually that an official interpretation of what we are supposed to take out of our readings is put upon us before we even get the readings.

I like having the readings so close to the beginning of the service and even though I do choose a theme, hymns etc when I write a liturgy (I guess all that is also colonising how people hear the readings) I try to avoid giving them a commentary (as used to be done when I was a kid) either at the beginning of the service or just before the readings (as I suspect my community wouldn’t allow me to do in any case). But I say that about being told how to interpret and then I read the collects for this week (the second week of Easter) and they are actually worded to be reasonably broad. Apart from the kyriearchal way of addressing God we are pretty free to read whatever we want into the prayer that tells us this is all about our own “eternal life” journey within through the Jesus story. Then the gospel is all about Thomas and his suspicion that the resurrection was “fake news” (can you tell I was tempted to neglect the project I started and just do the readings this week?).

So anyway, I decided not to “do” the readings but perhaps I can try to write a collect. Not because there is all that much wrong with the official collects in the book, but because I just feel liturgy really should be “work of the people” and we should all always be struggling for meanings and articulations instead of just accepting what is handed down (the eternal line drawn between celebrant and people and the celebrant even only obeying the way he is told to celebrate).

So then, let us pray

[each seeking to see past the possible fake news to real hope in our world…but also each free to pray without anyone else’s command]

God of truth,

Was it because a woman brought the news that it was so hard for some to believe? Is it harder to believe what disreputable people tell us? What greenies, or lefties, or bleeding hearts say? What refugees, or Muslims, or queers wish is to remember about our shared humanity? Are we too frightened to listen to the scientists who tell us in their secular way to “repent” because we believe we have killed you and that God is forever dead in our history now?

Would it be easy to simply believe in everything and allow all truths to comfort us that God will make a kingdom of rescuing and all we need to do is sing “alleluia, alleluia” and remain blind? Is it also too easy to listen to the people who claim to have seen things with their own eyes and claim to “know” that people on welfare are rorting the system, and people on low wages are greedy and people with darker skin are a threat to our way of life? Is it easier to punish than to try to understand and to look for “strong values”?

How do we weave our honest fabric of human love between Thomas’ skepticism verging on despair and every truth that jumps out to reassure us that everything is ok and we can stay in our cocoon? Be alive to us. Touch us with the truth that still bears wounds, but also wants to eat with us and honour the human way of being. Show us how to resurrect the hope that commissions us to preach and heal and love the world.

Amen

Ok, I gave it my best shot. My collect is far too long and complicated and biased (just when I finished saying keeping it vague so people encounter the readings themselves is better). Also I think a collect is meant to be a statement of focus rather than a bunch of questions. I will leave it as part of my “learning journey” here but this is a rare occasion when I acknowledge that it might be best to go “back to the book” (with adustments to make language more inclusive of course).

Eleison

So I skipped over the “Kyrie” and did not even notice until I was trying to contextualize the “Gloria“. Part of the reason for that I suppose is the way I grew up seeing it as part of the penitential rite, because it is tacked onto the end of it and at times you don’t “have to” have the Kyrie if it is embedded in the way the rite is worded (with the “Lord have mercy..,.Christ have mercy” used as a refrain within the list of things we are sorry for. So then when viewed that way the “have mercy” sounds like a plea to not punish us…or not too much…like a plea for forgiveness or clemency out of a knowledge of sinfulness. Or at any rate that was how I read it as a child.

And then of course the Kyrie is inherently problematic to me as I try to avoid “kyriearchal” thought and language and a cringing relationship with God. But when I have worked with liturgy I have been able to change the words to “Sophia eleison, Christe eleison” (Wisdom have mercy, Christ have mercy) to dispense with the Kyriearchy.

But is “have mercy” problematical too? What are we really asking? Is it a cringing in our sinfulness and awareness of a basic dirty worthlessness? It has been used that way. Or is it a request to be “saved” or rescued, a sort of damsel-in-distress positioning toward God the shiny saviour? How do we ask for liberation but not for rescue? It seems to me to be a fine line.

Then I wonder if I need to be more actively involved in this idea of “mercy” and I think back to my time in schools, two schools in the “mercy” tradition and their motto “Loyal en tout”. Loyal in everything. But loyal how and to what or whom?

And we deconstructed ideas of “mercy” at school and talked about how individual acts of “mercy” were only a start but social action was also needed to get rid of injustice instead of always just seeking a bigger bandaid to put over the hurts of this world. So “Sophia inspire justice, Christ teach liberation” becomes the intent of my cry in my heart. How do we deconstruct the injustices inherent in the system and how do we come to shared understandings that are more just and inclusive (and then again more just and more inclusive and again…as humans always having to renegotiate, never having found the silver bullet against all social ills).

But then can we sit back and ask God the holy ATM to dispense us parcels of this mercy or inspiration? Or is the cry more complex?

“Sophia show me how to be more merciful to myself

Christ teach me to extend a respectful merciful hand to others

Sophia integrate me with the earth’s mercy in more reciprocal ways.”

I met an atheist today, who seems to do my instinct what I need God and faith to inspire and teach in me. I see a lot of ethical atheists who honestly I can see have little or no need of religion, they seem to have an instinct for goodness and justice and I wonder why I do not have that. Why do I need God to call and motivate me out of my basic meaninglessness and lack of “good” action. If I did not believe I would not follow, I would just eat, drink and try to enjoy my time on earth and not worry about injustices too big for me to handle on my own.

But other people have a more evolved humanity than me and seem to do so much good without “believing”. So then my cry from the heart is,

“God give me meaning

Wisdom teach me to instinctively live love

Love go more deep in me than my overthinking”

because my ethical framework is still so deeply rooted in an understanding of being loved and accepted and called by God who is “other” to me, I have not fully integrated my ethics in myself. I am not fully independent and I admiringly wonder at people who can spontaneously find that within.

But let’s say at the end of the day that I can let go of “believing” in an other consciousness that is bigger and better and more loving than me and just do what is right and just for no real reason, just as an expression of my true being. Would I do that? Would I make my “goodness” my own if it meant losing the sense of being loved externally? I think of the loneliness I felt as a child and a young woman, my inability to access the imperfect love of other people or to respond or initiate love (and still I really struggle to express affection and affirmation towards others). Maybe I would not chose to isolate myself from the one ongoing relationship that has allowed me to dance back to other people I had alienated at various times.

There is something of the romantic in me after all, I crave intimacy and the acceptance of an “other”. My gratefulness when anyone likes me, wants my company or sees my worth is grounded in my growing reliance that God always likes, wants and sees me. There are bigger reserves of “goodness” accessible to me than my own. Perhaps the “good” atheists are also wrapped in this GOD that they don’t have to see or articulate (I would not try to tell them so).

God’s love is more than “mercy” it is grace and gift and growth.

P.S. I woke up in the middle of the night, knowing I hadn’t completely got it right. Trying to reduce faith to a dyad (God and me) is an indication of my own attempt to deal with being single for so long but it’s inappropriate to put that on God and anthropomorphise God in the process. That is, maybe it is Ok to get through day to day in this way but as an insight it isn’t really the whole picture. I lay there and remembered that I was linked in with refugees, and people trying to survive on centrelink; with old flames and elderly relatives; with fundamentalists who fear for my soul and rainbow youth who crave acceptance. With a little kitten who needs his litterbox changed and with the spiders, slaters and millipedes my preschoolers are obsessed with finding. With hurricanes and stars and sudden changes in weather.

To ask God to respond with “mercy” authentically, to attempt to be caught up in the act of “mercy” is to want to transform it for all of us- not just for me. I felt the very real fear of the way society seems to be descending into more and more injustice as we begin to face the consequences of not looking after the environment.

And then “have mercy” , also “may we have mercy” was a more fear-filled cry at three in the morning. And still asking for grace and gift and growth, but quickly and for all of us and in the knowledge that I would have to try harder to get caught up actively in bringing these things to myself and others.