At the foot of the cross

I wrote this more than a week ago, but I have had internet problems (forgive me). I am hoping to get a guest blogger to belatedly post an Advent 1 reflection for last week, and then later today possibly I can post my advent 2 reflection. Sorry to do nothing so long then swamp you with three at once. Living in Australia, I must have learned something from the weather. Anyway the drought is broken 😉

This morning a mother came in (I work at childcare), and I was busy assisting with the French lesson- we have a group of children of varying needs and temperaments so it was not something I could take my eyes off, but I smiled a greeting at her.

“It was you” she said… “Sorry, I mean did you go to a protest last weekend?”

“About Manus Island” I said slowly. There you go St Peter; that is how it is done! Then again for all the momentary panic I felt (or was it panic at looking away from the children for a couple of sentences?) she was smiling at me, making a safe space for me to be “out” about how I am in the world. I suddenly understood that Peter’s denial of Jesus was about closetedness- and I do know something about that, even as an “out” person I sometimes retreat into various closets about my gender identity and sexual orientation and political views and of course religion. Sometimes perhaps I have two closets facing in on each other and run from one to the other depending who I am talking with.

My excuse is always that this is a time of stress and hatred and blaming all the wrong people. So apologies Peter, I owe you a beer. I don’t really do any better at being “out” than you did.

The mother started saying how sad she was…how hopeless…how she stubbornly hoped…how we ought to treat people bloody well better than what is happening at Manus Island at the moment and I thought back to the protest. My mind is my own while I work- which is to say there os plenty for it to do, but I can sneak in a few little thoughts of my own during the day at the quiet times when I am patting someone to sleep or comforting someone with a grazed knee (the no-brainer activities) or even wiping over tables and floors. So I thought a lot about Manus, and about being recognised in a photo that apparently is circulating on Facebook (I haven’t seen it).

Then I remembered the protest gathering itself and how I fit it in sneakily before the Feast picnic, how I was running late, how I saw my sister on the way there. The first person that I saw when I got there was another friend of mine…she had her family with her. Standing there with a sister and a female friend…at the foot of somebody’s cross, while the speaker told us she understood how powerless we all felt and we all wept. She told us there was no shame in weeping. She said (for us) that it was impossible not to. Powerless to stop someone else’s suffering.

But then the speaker and another speaker both mentioned communications they had had with the modern-day Jesuses on Manus island, the people caught up in someone else’s politics and paranoia and tortured and perhaps killed (if the government think they can get away with it). And unlike the original Jesus of Nazareth, these dark-skinned, suffering men at least have mobile phones (or their supporting angels do).

Compared to the marriage equality rallies, these rallies for human life are so small (but note that many queer looking people were at the Manus island rally, and some signs in the Feast Pride March carried signs about “no Pride in detention” and other words of solidarity, so there is no call to pit one against the other).

But according to the speakers there is some point to these rallies, even if our government appears to have no ears to hear us and no hearts at all! Because the men who are suffering hunger and thirst and heat exhaustion and sickness and the occasional beating and deprivation feel encouraged when they see us gathering in solidarity to know them and to love them and to wish to help them. There was a long message about humanity, that we are human and they are human and we are sharing humanity in this experience of suffering- our tears and nightmares and their reality. So we sat on the ground and crossed our arms above our heads (as the men do in protest) and we sat for what was probably about four minutes but to my aching arms felt like an hour. We sat in silence and we continued to sit as a message from a refugee was read out. Of the people passing by, some looked like tourists and took pictures of us and nodded gravely, their body language appearing to convey approval. Some joined us, most averted their eyes, a few car-loads of people hurled verbal abuse. Tears streamed down my face.

Why should we be abused for believing in the humanity of others. Why were these people so out of touch with their own humanity? What hope was there without ordinary Australians (more of us, most of us, all of us)?

Let us pray,

God who has suffered, I see your face in the refugee and likewise in the activist and the healer who seek to take you down from your cross. Teach me to weep publically, so that my tears may move the mountain of apathy and fear, of ignorance and greed, of hate and despair. Teach me to weep with others, embracing so that our sobs turn into songs of protest.

Where is the resurrection here, at this Golgotha at Manus Island? Where is the hope?

God of passion, break hearts of stone; turn our society around; show us the way, the truth and the life.

As we approach advent, Mary’s God bring in the Magnificat vision of restitutive justice! As we celebrate your coming, show us how to nurture you ever present in those we deem “least”

Maranatha

Amen.

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It’s all over. It’s not over

Sometimes at church they used to say “The mass is ended go in peace” to which the correct answer was “Thanks be to God”. I remember as a child fervently meaning “thank God that boring part of my week is over and looking over to my brother and catching him just as fervently also thanking God and there was a moment of eye contact where we both gleefully knew each other was thinking the same thing.

Why, I wondered, are they so honest that we are all grateful it is over, and if they all know this is a common experience why don’t they make it shorter?

I will try to make this blog post short so my readers don’t relate to that too closely.

Now of course the marriage survey (also variously known as “the plebby-shite” or “the huge waste of tax-payer money”) is over. 61.6 % people out of the 79.5% who even participated, ticked “yes”, 38.4% ticked “no” that gay and lesbian people, couples, families should not have the same legal recognition and rights as they enjoy. 20.5% of people were either apathetic, disorganised or in some way incapable of answering (this is a very low percentage actually considering it was a voluntary survey).

What does it all mean? Well hopefully it means all the campaigning is over “thanks be to God” and people like me won’t need to keep feeling like we are advocating for our right to exist. Hopefully the outright lies equating us to pedophiles and malfunctioning seat-belts will be forced to stop.

I feel there is a connection here between the last part of the mass, that I have not deconstructed as yes and the marriage survey results which are both positive (a clear-cut “yes”) and negative “almost 40% of respondents hate or fear us more than they love equality and justice). I can’t pretend my “group” is the most hated in society. Noone has locked me on Manus island or starved, beat or stoned me. Noone has spat on me and the words that have hurt me have rarely been said to my face. There are other groups that need support even more than I do at this time, at any time. At all times of history someone is hurting from exclusion, injustice or hatred.

So the work of the “Mass”, the work of bringing together in reconciliation, reflexivity, shared stories, preparing and sharing food, company and gratefulness is always unfinished business. Sacramental moments finish and there is something we are grateful to take with us into daily life. Surveys come back in an anticlimactic set of numbers and we make sacrament by holding in our thoughts and words and sometimes arms (I need a hug) all the people who are feeling something, or horridly nothing.

Cause I feel sort of a cross between numb and crying.

But sacrament is not a survey, we look beyond numbers to souls that need comforting, including, loving and even calling to repentance (yes the “no” voters have spiritual needs too, just not necessarily the ones they claim).

The survey is ended, relief and thanks for small mercies.

The struggle continues.

The Eucharist must imbue our days somehow. This is unfinished business, we will gather together and talk together and pray together again (and again)

Thanks be to God.

Nursing mothers and children of God

Dear readers, thank you very much for putting up with me through this time of sporadic posting. It makes my heart sing to see that people have looked in on my blog nearly every day. This is what I will “preach” at church in a few hours. I hope you enjoy it. I used the lectionary for the second reading (1 Thess 2:7b-9,13) and the gospel (Mt 23: 1-12) but for the first reading I used Marina by TS Eliot because I wanted to undercut some of the kyriearchy in the readings taken together (although I would not presume to CENSOR the bible, I do call into question the way the church juxtaposes various readings). For the psalm I used a bit of Disney (Hunchback of Notra Dame) although Disney is not something I would ever recommend uncritical consumption of.

In the second reading today, apostleship is compared to being a nursing mother. Let’s just sit with that a moment. Gentleness, affection, tireless work, radical self-sharing. And then the joy and thanks-giving to have the living word received. Because that sort of preaching really works, we are always inspired when people live and work their love not just speak about it!

I had an opportunity this week to go to uni, and speak about my “Activist journey” about what over the years has politicised and motivated me. I kept God out of it, because it was a mainly atheist audience, but to my surprise they started mentioning “love, courage, justice, right relationship, being authentically human”. People everywhere in every context are looking for meaning even if they would say they don’t “believe” in God.

There is a goodness and a beauty in people when they seek the truth that makes life better for others, when they work tirelessly for something bigger than themselves. I tried to get away from “motherhood” as the main theme and metaphor of my talk, but other people clung to it with determination and then here it is even in the bible. The idea of “mother” is so evocative for so many people.

Imagine leaders who come to us like that. Not as authoritarian judges, but as nursing mothers. Imagine the trust that could be fostered, the community we become when we encounter that sort of a leader…well perhaps here it is not so hard to imagine.

The gospel flips over this vision to show us what happens when it all goes wrong. Sometimes leaders do not put the people first- we have all seen what happens when leadership is about ego or power or greed or even cowardice. The gospel gives us permission not to be overly obedient, not to be trusting- to remain faithful to whatever is true in the message channelled through such leaders, but to view the leaders themselves with a critical lens.

Having told us this, Jesus then moves the lens back to us, knowing that we must also be leaders. We are not to seek a higher status as a “teacher”, a “father”, a “master” setting ourselves over and above the people we serve. There is liberation for both sides in equalising the relationship- the leaders can have the support of an active, capable community where everyone contributes just as much as members of the community gain a voice and dignity and agency.

All of this by the way strikes chords with me in terms of early childhood where the higher our respect for the capability and dignity of the child, the easier our work becomes as children work with us to build a positive culture in the centre.

But these readings seemed to me to mesh with TS Eliot’s Marina because life is about more than status and responsibility, even for those of us who are leaders or activists, teachers, or healers. The  poem goes through several movements, some of them dark in a journey over water and into memory. The driving force here is relationship, “my daughter” as well as the mysteriously intimate and distant presence that I think is God (or the atheists might call the same thing consciousness).

All the different empty things we could focus on are listed and dismissed as meaning “death”- the need for power and domination, the need to be noticed and glamorous, the need for escapist pleasures and an easy life, the need for meaningless encounters. So many things we are supposed to focus on to advance us in the eyes of the world or to make life easy in some way.

So many things we can waste all we have on, all meaning death.

And even working hard for a good cause in and of itself can be meaningless, can be about ego and about how others perceive us. But there is (as Eliot points out) also grace dissolved in this place, the face of God becomes less clear and clearer. We remember connection, we remember meaning, we remember hope. Hope is what we need as we wonder how to articulate our humanity in the face of some very cruel happenings in our world.

Esmeralda the gypsy experiences life as part of an outcast people– she herself is capable and resourceful but her heart hurts for her people. In her song she comes out of herself to radically desire God’s blessing and healing for others. She begins tentatively “I don’t know if you would listen” and ends claiming “We all were children of God”.

How do we be nursing mothers to a hurting world? How do we practice the gospel and not just use it to make identity claims? Where is the movement that means something more than death? And considering the people heartlessly abandoned on Manus Island and others whose suffering is very urgent, how do we uphold our common identity as “children of God”.

Please take whatever inspiration you can from the readings, and after a short time to reflect share with each other as is our habit.

Please if you did not already, go back and click the hyperlinks to find out about the awful things happening on Manus Island. I usually put the links there with no issue whether people choose to use them or not but I would really urge you to look at the three in the final paragraphs anyway. May God give us all an active wisdom!

Impostor’s prayer

I have impostor syndrome. Do you? Apparently it is common. People feel they are not proper parents and professionals and all sorts of other things too every day. At the moment I am trying to be a parent teacher, activist (small time), liturgist (small time) and academic (not yet really started). I feel I can get none of them right at the moment.

I will get back to writing longer more reflective posts but I was encouraged that quite a lot of people looked at my blog today and I decided to share my thinking even when there is not a lot there. So pray with me if you need to (otherwise pray for me)…

 

Dear God please grant me the awesomeness to get some shit done and done properly. The unconsciousness to not think about it in my sleep time. And some time to be freely neither awesome nor unconscious. Amen

Nothing but lame excuses, and a picture

Dear readers,

There may not be many of you but it seems some of you check back here often so I really regret that this is the second week I have nothing for you.

In my defence I wrote and presented two conference presentations this eek (short and relatively simple ones though), I wrote a creative piece for my Mum’s anniversary (of her death). I worked most days, I looked after (a little bit) a sick son and spent quality time with another son (and plotted with the third).

I networked and campaigned because I am trying to be a good political candidate. I got around without a car and agonised how to visit elderly relatives (I didn’t get to do that). I grieved my brother who died to years ago and a friend who suicided the year before that. I tried to support friends who were hurting for a host of reasons.

I was supported, loved and even gifted by the friends I have.

I hurt a lot over the marriage equality debate, the lies and hatred turned toward the queer community. I should not let it hurt me this much. I revisited old hurts.

I didn’t sleep- but my wakefulness was largely unproductive.

I began on my next liturgy and my next talk I have been invited to do, both labours of love. I did not manage (once again) to work on my article.

I wish I had something to say in my blog this week, I feel so much I need to say on forgiveness, so much has happened in my prayer life but I am tired and weak and for and introvert I need to switch off I think or I feel I ill never sleep again

“I have left undone what I ought to have done and there is no health […no untrue there is a little spark of health and beauty after all thanks to the friends who love me. There is health and there may be more] in me.”

God bless you for your patience with me. I will try again ASAP

Thanksgiving: more than an insipid “inspiration”

 

It’s so fashionable now to practice “gratefulness” as a means of self-care, a sort of niceness and middle-classness inner-beauty routine and a cynical part of me can’t help wondering if a purpose of it is also to dull down our radical edge, to quiet down our critical possibilities and manufacture apathy and consent to the oppression of others. At the very least the saccharine sweet “gratefulness” that I am fortunate and relatively wealthy and superficially beautiful seems like an exercise in shallowness. I have a handful of friends who sneer at it, pointing to the parsimonious attitude toward others present in some of the most smarmy advocates of “gratefulness” as a five-minutes-a-day lip service.

Gratefulness that is grounded in inequality, the celebratory attitudes of the class war winners is like fundamentalist Christianity. It is something ugly made out of what originated as a call to deep beauty. It is a hypocrisy, a whited sepulchre.

The danger, when looking for a deeper, truer gratefulness (real thanks grounded in a two-way relationship with a God we touch) is that it is all too easy to fall into other forms of superiority like the Pharisee in this parable. But sourness and ingratitude is also not the answer; after communion there is a dedicated time to sink into thanksgiving.

I am going to struggle to articulate a thanks that is not complacent, not superior and has the grittiness and tears of solidarity. If I am better than “the least of these” then I am better than the God I claim to thank. If I am thanking God for elevating me above others, then I have lost sight of who God is in salvation history and my life.

I thank you God for being present in glimpses and grace-filled moments. For being present in the challenge and affirmation of community.

I thank you for responsive and accepting people. I thank you for the anger of those I ought to stand with and help. I thank you for my identity as one oppressed, one who stands with you. I thank you for the awareness you call me to of my own privilege, for the insistent asking that I remove my foot from your neck (you are present in my sisters and brothers and the earth herself).

I thank you for the call to do good. I thank you for other labourers in the vineyard who insist I rest and self-care at times. I thank you for my ability to nurture and support others. I ask you not to ask me to lead. I thank you for giving me the resources to do what needs to be done (the bare minimum perhaps) and your call for me to stretch and be more than I have been. I thank you that greater and wiser people surround me so that I can fail and fall without catastrophe (I hope).

I thank you for feeding me and for demanding that I feed others. I ask you to teach me to feed others better by sharing what I have and my gifts and even my anger. I ask you to show me the grace to be a friend, a mentor and an affirmer of others. I ask you to place Wisdom in my heart so that no words get past without her influence.

I ask you how I might love myself without being complacent and a parasite? I ask you how I may critique myself without losing necessary self-acceptance.

 I thank you for loving me regardless of the questions around who I am and what I do. I thank you because I largely know I am beloved. I thank you for the people who show this to me. I thank you for the beauty which is in the world. I ask you to scatter beauty to every corner, to the eyes of any that might be moved or supported by it. I ask to be part of the beauty in your way.

I thank you that the bread is broken and has crumbs. I ask to be the hands that break and distribute it. I ask not to be broken, I lack the courage.

I thank you for wine, and the way it has no purpose except sensuous beauty and pleasure. I thank you for being the wine in the world. I thank you that wine is better shared wider. I thank you for plump purpleness and bursting sweetness of grapes. I thank you for the miracle of fermentation.

I pray that your bread and wine will enter the experiences of all, and that your call will reach every heart. I pray with a heart open to being called into the movement. I pray tiredly with an apology for not being more. I pray with gratefulness for being loved and for feeling love.

This is not my five-second “gratefulness” exercise, a trick I play on myself between bouts of consumption and tears. Show me God how to make my life an act of gratefulness that you loved me enough to touch and call me. Breathe on me breath of God, and make us one. Thank you for knowing the “me” you love and loving the “me” you know.

In love, in deepening gratefulness.

Amen.

Lip service or life? Called to courageous loving

Preached today to my wonderful community that give me all the support and love and really are a family in faith to me…

As I prayed and reflected on today’s readings, it was very hard for me to separate out the escalating feelings of fear, grief and hurt I have felt over the last week from some of the homophobic comments and lies that are circulating at the moment. As a queer woman, some people would say that I am “going to hell” or am locked out of God’s community, yet I experience God as knowing me better than I know myself and loving me deeply- allowing for my slowness to learn how best to live and encouraging my good intention. I have tried to resist the temptation to make my journey with this week’s readings nothing more than an expression of the pain I feel in this time. Yet I will name the pain because it is there. And then I will try to move on…

The first reading is the last part of a longer discussion about the way that each person owns their own conscience. Within it, a person is not judged by their family, culture or community nor by how others around them choose to live but insofar as they themselves respond to God and do what is right their path will be always into life. This is both a liberating and a troubling concept in our historical context, where we are increasingly facing the reality of climate change that will take more than the actions of a handful of well-meaning individuals to reverse.

And yet this is the reality we live in, things are happening around us that we have limited control to halt or change and we must somehow keep finding hope and meaning. Perhaps what we can find here is an antidote to the sorts of thinking that see decreasing compassion and rising inequality as inevitable. God does not desire our death, the call is always into life. We must embrace hope so that seeing the fallenness, imperfection or powerlessness of ourselves or those around us we must look for the potential for liberation and healing.

In the psalm we cry out to God to be compassionate and to teach us, this echoes both the awareness that things may be wrong and the determination to hope of the first reading. In the verses, God’s nature is revealed to be goodness and kindness, love and compassion. We can and must depend upon that whatever else we are emboldened to do.

The second reading is a sort of counterpoint to the first. Just as in the first reading, each of us was asked to think for ourselves, and to do good even if we are surrounded by wrong-doing, the second reading calls us to be community, to seek harmony and connection with others and to work for the good of others, not just selfishness. Hope then, is no longer a lonely place and we do not stand and judge from a moral high-ground but seek to know and serve whatever is vulnerable in each other.

Thus we come to the gospel, and the difference between giving lip-service to faith and living it. The first son is foolish and rebellious, he does not like to be told. I relate to him a lot and I see my own children in him too. And yet, once he has given his tokenistic resistance to the authority of his “father” he realises that the vineyard is something he is involved in and responsible for and he quietly gets in and works for the harvest. The second son is all performative obedience and moral superiority but when it comes down to it does not contribute to getting the harvest in.

This is a theology that Jesus points out even the religiously impure ones, even the tax collectors and prostitutes, instinctively understand. So what of us? Are we brave and honest enough to argue with the “father” when we do not feel as committed or engaged as we are told we ought to be? Would we dare to refuse to do what we are told…and then give ourselves the chance to rethink what we are really being asked to do, and what our role may be in the vineyard of God.

Or would we opt to look “respectable”, to follow from as great a distance as possible, paying lip-service but avoiding getting our hands dirty? Do we only go along with the call to love and accept the vulnerable so far as they don’t challenge or disgust us? Is there a limit to our ability to transmit God’s grace, or is it simply that we are busy and there are higher priorities than loving? But the first son’s apparently sullen attitude masks a deep love. Sometimes things may be better than they seem at first sight.

All three of the readings seem very sure in telling us that we need to risk being authentic before God. God’s desire is to always keep the option open for us to return and return and return into the heart of the community, into the work of the harvest, into life.

If we are called today, then what is our direction? Let us become aware of God’s love and allow ourselves to be authentic before it. Let us reflect on the readings for a short time and then as is our custom you might share your thoughts with the people sitting near you.