Tag Archives: 2 Samuel

Kings, victims, revolutionaries

The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”  (Luke 23: 35-38)

This rings true for anyone who has been in a situation where they themselves are less than perfect but are trying to advocate for others. This sort of attitude goes hand in hand with “deficit models” of the suffering person and various versions of victim blaming.

Victim blaming has never been completely absent in the way we as a society view the suffering, but it seems that at the moment it is once again on the increase. These days it goes together with the idea of choice…”choice” supposedly leads inevitably to “consequence” and therefore all suffering gets traced back to being the product of an individual’s choice. Never mind the fact that the logic here is faulty, I want to look at the way that this is partially true, and yet not a good reason for us to turn away and deny even compassion to the suffering.

You could say that Jesus’ cross was the consequence of his choices too! Had he quietly accepted the oppressive regime of his society and looked away from the injustices and the suffering of others he would have lived out his life in something like peace (the social science critics can argue over whether he would have been comparatively wealthy or impoverished). Then our call to be like Christ, our call to care more for justice and integrity than for the quiet, peaceful life becomes a dangerous choice to make. And we can expect only mockery and condemnation from others when the choices we make entangle us in things that look like “failure” to the contemporary gaze. It is hard to steer a balance then between the idealism of always transgressing and challenging an unfair society and yet not falling into pointless escapism, self-pity and the sort of individualism that achieves nothing. We do also have to live in the world in which we find ourselves. I won’t discuss that but I feel I need to be mindful of it when I am arguing for anything radical.

Because the “reign” of Christ IS radical. I can’t bring myself to call it kingship, I don’t respect kings and I wouldn’t serve one. Christ comes to us as a mentor and model of radical justice and love and the inability to be silenced. As a feminist I recognise the unsilenced Christ, the ever-nagging (against injustice) Word of God as also Sophia, Wisdom in Old Testament terms. I recognise an ethnic minority (a Jew under Roman occupation). A person of dubious parentage, of suspect sexuality and habits. I can read possible signs of depression in some gospel stories, of fear of rejection and abandonment. I can see someone who is an activist, not just an obedient “worker”. I can see someone who breaks social taboos to touch lepers, prostitutes, men and women of all walks of life.

This then, is our inheritance, not some sort of cleaned up and shiny “Christus Rex” using the cross as a pulpit for easy theologies of “Father knows best” but the struggle and filth and sweating-blood as the end to the hard work and misunderstanding of ministry. So what is the good news here? I need to retrace the whole story. Is it the connections with people who loved and nurtured his identity? Is it the ability to touch and be everything that is true, to call forth the beauty from a story, a place, a story? What about the mocked and degraded criminal hanging on the cross has made us decide we believe in impossible hope? Where’s the resurrection in this last week of the liturgical year?

The jacarandas are turning purple, we are going to move into advent and prepare to celebrate the birth of a displaced baby to a young woman with a question mark over her pregnancy and her dreamer/idealist of a husband. We will watch them forced to travel, to flee, to pick up their fragile lives in various places because of hostile political powers. We place our hope and our identity in this family and it is time to call for a kinder, more just world for all the Mary’s, Joseph’s, Jesuses.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done” because your will is a kinder wiser world. Help us unsilence you again, disreputable God. Give us the courage and compassion to bring your transformative peace to our interactions. We seek your reign in our lives.

This bread you are trying to feed me is stale

Another lovely slice of misogyny where men are people and women are just property to be used (by God) to make a point about the man’s sin. I am going to stop right there and rant about this issue I have with

A: the canon we still give such a privileged place to

B: the church and the power and privilege within the church and the blindness, stupidity, insensitivity or just plain cruelty of whoever establishes the lectionary

C: Patriarchy as the framework, justification and culture surrounding these agendas and ALSO the thing that erases resistance to these points of view or more commonly simply fails to register that resistance even exists

I have read Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror and I do try to see the horrible readings in this way. I do think there is a place for rape and abuse stories (however gut-churning, triggering and painful) to be told to avoid making victims invisible. BUT when you constantly tell the rape story just as an inconsequential footnote on the “real” story of the rapists I can’t see that that is ok. It’s not just that this story told and received uncritically is problematic, but this story is a form of abuse in and of itself and telling the story as if it is a valid and important story is an act of emotional/spiritual abuse! The multiple victims, the wives that get passed around from conqueror to conqueror depending on God’s whim and favour barely register in this story that is all about David, Uriah and God. Bathsheba sort of figures in the story, but not in any way that you could possibly hang any feminist hope on or even find solidarity for a critical approach (and believe me I have tried).

So why is it in the canon? Well quite understandably a patriarchal culture in which men were social actors and women (though probably really social actors too) were considered property and less than human would give rise to this sort of a story. Male privilege in these situations does not mean to be abusive of or even objectifying of women, it just does not see them clearly enough to even make a decision about “rights”. To have “rights” you have to exist, have subjectivity, have a point of view and be active in some way. Misogyny, xenophobia and classism are pretty much what you’d expect from an ancient patriarchal text like the bible. We can’t change the bible people would argue, it’s been handed down to us and we have to use it.

I think that’s a pretty silly argument actually if God has still been alive and working and relating in the many centuries since these stories were written. To petrify God in the ancient world, to say God was able to speak then but not now means we are not working with a living God. Surely nothing is given. I know it is frightening to cut loose from tradition because then what is it that grounds us and binds us together. It would be easier if we could just blindly lean on a common core a non-contested fundamental.

But the core here is patriarchy and a fundamental is invisible, casual, inconsequential rape.

I cannot worship a God that requires me to accept that.

I cannot. I will not. I can stare such a God defiantly in the face, because even assuming there is a “heaven” and a “hell” there is no possible “heaven” for me within a framework like that. I would put my soul on the line against rape, and I say that not only as a rape survivor but as someone who has feared for a sister and a step-daughter and an effeminate son in a still women-hating culture. So if God can casually hand over some objectified wives for rape and conquest then I spit in that God’s face.

And this is where I slam my bible shut and walk out.

But then…assuming I was not foolish enough to do that, to take the fight to this theoretical and canonised God Himself (pronoun intentional). Assuming instead that I have an apologist view toward this reading which is after all a product of a time and a place and does not necessarily have to be read as giving us a universal truth. Why focus on this after all, when there are so many, many other stories from the bible that might be more liberative or at least more nuanced?

But then we have the modern church in 2015, and this reading is seen by the church as so significant and full of good Christian treasures that it has pride of place as a Sunday reading over now two weeks (I won’t look ahead to see how many more). So it’s not just in the canon, it’s put into the lectionary, this story is meant to talk about equality or something. We’re meant to not notice the women getting casually sold off in the background and compartmentalise like the good white masculine subjects we are meant to be. The spotlight is on David, who cares about the non-entities suffering behind him. Uriah’s suffering trumps them all! As a woman, as a rape survivor, sister, daughter, some-time wife, mother and everything else that I am I call bullshit on that.

I won’t screw my face up into that particular squint to put the patriarchal blindspot over my own experience and my own interests.

THIS READING SUX.

But the leaders of the church are blind privileged men who have never been raped and have never been threatened with rape and have never been casually handed over in transactions between others depending on agendas that have nothing to do with their own interests. And they deliberately stack the odds and make the rules to keep voices like mine out of being more than an occasional curiosity. Any woman who wants to serve as a minister needs to toe the party line, they need to ensure no real transformation happens to the patriarchal white elephant (and I do acknowledge that women and even some men do manage to act subversively at times, but when they are overt about it they may still be disciplined).

I did glance at the gospel, in case it somehow undermines the horror of the first reading. John has Jesus theorising about spiritual “bread” which is better than the material. And speaking as a sometime poor single-mother who came to Jesus and still was hungry and thirsty and knows for a fact that many, many people in the world believers or not are STARVING because of the same sort of blind privilege which reduced people in the first reading down to rewards for men/kings I don’t really want to hear that right now.

Damn straight Jesus I would follow you if you feed me or my children or my millions of starving brothers and sisters. I am not so interested in following, believing, working or seeing signs if my body and soul are left hungry by your church and by your world. Nor am I (like a woman in another reading) content with crumbs when there are some who are given an abundance.

I throw down my gauntlet. What “bread” is in any of this for those on the margins of the stories, of the churches or of our global prosperity?

Why the hell should I take any of this on board?

Sharing the small loaves: trusting that this is bigger than me.

Responding to lectionary readings. Where there are alternatives I tend to go with the first one I have a gut reaction to. Because this is not a scientific text and you are free to disagree with me.

Oh, here we go, the Bathsheba story! 😦

I have always hated that story even as a child. David is the villain, Uriah is the victim and what is Bathsheba? Nothing. Sometimes people blame her for what happened, sometimes not but she never gets to be a full person in the story- does not have a voice or a point of view, whether she is seen as actively “tempting” or as passively a victim, she is two-dimensional, a stereotype. She is just a woman when real character are men.

I hate the story. I don’t engage with it except in a resistant, sulky, want-to-vomit, gut churning, hating it too much to be coherent sort of a way which earned me one of my lowest marks in my theology degree. So I won’t waste any more of your time with my non-engagement but I will make the sort of faces children make when they think adults are full of offensive nonsense and will drag my feet and

Psalm 14. Hard to believe it was not written about the 2015 political scene, except of course all of our politicians say they are Christians (as opposed to our implied enemies the Muslims…and please note I don’t share this view) they don’t openly go about saying there is no God. They merely act as if “the economy” is their only God. I echo the sentiment here, none of them is good, no not even one. Judgemental of me I know and to be honest there may be a “good” person somewhere in that nest of vipers who is merely cowardly or ignorant rather than out-and-out evil. Only God knows. And God will show me my own cowardice and ignorance and selfishness for calling it in others, but I accept that and pray for grace to be better as I learn how.

But for those who would confound the plan of the poor- when the poor have a plan to flee from terror and death to a new country… when the poor have a plan to look after their children and their health…when the poor have a plan to be workers and earn enough to support themselves and also be things other than “worker”, and to have some leisure time…when the poor have a plan to subsist off the land or to live in the land without being flooded in poison…when the poor have a plan to continue culturally appropriate ways of life on their own original land…when the poor have a plan to better themselves through education…when the poor have a plan to marry the person they love…whatever plan about ordinary day to day life, about safety and food and water and family that the poor have…those who confound these plans risk offending God who is their refuge.

Oh that deliverance would come! Oh that justice would seem less impossible and distant. I also would be glad and rejoice. This psalm seems to build toward that Utopian vision and then trail off as if the psalmist doesn’t quite believe it either…

For this reason I think archaic ideas such as “bowing the knee” are no help whatsoever. Because that is what the ruling class want, a lot of blind obedience and bowing and humility by the oppressed. But every family in heaven and on earth does indeed take God’s name; we all come out of God as out of a labouring mother, struggling for breath and life and learning and desiring loving (re)union with that source.

And if through the Spirit and indwelled by Christ we are strengthened in our “inner being” (by implication there is some sort of pure goodness at the inner-part of each of us) which will cause us to be rooted and grounded in love- then maybe hope will come. Because maybe we will begin to comprehend the mystery of the infinity and eternity and surpassing fullness of God’s love. But I don’t say that for us to have an apathy toward injustice as if it doesn’t matter that hideous things happen to people because God’s love is greater than anything that happens.

It matters a lot when any of our creation-family is hurt or injured or oppressed. God’s infinite love wraps that person so completely, that when that person suffers and injustice God in love also suffers. And if we love God then this suffering is painful (luckily in a smaller way) even to us. So to learn to accept the injustice would be to learn to love God less and to take God’s love for us for granted a little more. That sort of neglect is a type of abuse. We need to nurture God as a beloved, as a child, as our dearest treasure and to desire justice is responding to God’s boundless love with passion. God’s power within us will somehow accomplish something mysterious and transformative. The writer of Ephesians says : “ to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

I paraphrase it: “BRING IT ON!!!!!!”

Much could be said about the gospel, but in the context of desiring justice within a parsimonious society, I think there is a very simple lesson here. Jesus simply does not accept excuses about not having enough for everybody. Jesus is not interested in your “efficiency dividend” or your preventing of a budget deficit or your cost cutting measures. Jesus sees hungry people and wants to feed them. He gives them “As much as they wanted”. Materially of course that is not possible from 5 loaves and 2 fish. Something is going on here.

Jesus blesses and distributes, and we could simply see this as a miracle in the naïve sense: a magic trick. Which is no help at all in the real world because having tried as a child praying and praying for magical miracles like that, and getting nowhere I need to find something here more transformative than the passivity of waiting for Super Jesus to rescue us with magic. I prefer to look to the verse before Jesus distributes where he is “testing” Philip by asking “Where do we find food for these people?” “We” is a collaborative word, not the individual Jesus but the “we” of faith must grapple with feeding the people. Philip responds with an understandable despair “What is that among so many?”

Jesus takes it and blesses it and distributes it. This is Jesus who will walk on the water, and defy the forces of despair and chaos. Whatever tiny amount we have to distribute we begin the job. How does Jesus continue it? There is mystery there, perhaps he also asks someone else- not just Philip. Perhaps some other disciple knows some other person with a fragment of food. Sometimes all it takes is beginning a movement- or following one, sometimes you can’t do everything as an individual. Philip does not feed the people, but he does respond to Jesus’ demand that he begin the impossible task and somehow the task is accomplished.

My challenge this week then is to find where in my life there are five loaves and two fishes I can begin to distribute. Where are the crumbs of justice for a hungry people? Jesus intends them to be satisfied with “as much as they wanted”; my little cannot do all that, but it can be a beginning….somewhere….blessed and increased in the fullness of love that calls this from me.

Actively being saved, the resurrection and putting in the hard yards

Wow what rich readings this week. It’s hard to put it all together and say anything new, I can tell this week is going to be a wrestling match. When looking at the first reading I got to the description of Jonathan as a “brother” whose love “surpassing the love of women” seems to call for my queer lens.

But I felt ambivalent about on the one hand an obvious possibility for a queer reading, on the other hand with Sedgwick’s Epistomology of the Closet still ringing in my (metaphorical ears) I wondered if I should respect David enough to leave him in his closet. I also felt ambivalent about whether this possible, closetted, open secret was in fact liberating from a female reader’s perspective in light of Sedgewick’s scholarship about the role of the (male) closet in keeping women out of the centre even of the heterosexual relationships that supposedly define them. David did have an awful lot of wives and concubines after all.

But if you are interested in the idea of David and Jonathan being lovers, here is a fairly clear laying out of the argument for, and here is a perfect example of a circular argument against the idea that David could possibly be a dirty queer in God’s sacred text (the bible does not contain dirty queers because dirty queers are not anywhere in the bible because they are dirty unlike God’s clean bible that doesn’t contain dirty queers). The bible of course is nothing more or less than the handbook of how to be a good fundamentalist.

What strikes me a lot more than the possible queerness, is the waste of human life. These kings generate war, war equals death and tears are the result (I have this conversation with my kindergarteners about unkind-play and stick-play almost every day: some of them – unlike some powerful adults- are starting to understand the cause and effect). David here mourns the deaths of such close friends, and yet the next time we see him I am sure he will be off “slaying” someone again or putting a loyal friend in the frontline so that he can get with his wife perhaps (I still don’t understand how the possible respectful gay relationship we could speculate about David having had is a greater moral problem than his dealing with Bathsheba and Uriah).

But staying with David’s genuine grief and emotional pain for the time being, the psalm says it all. Out of the depths we do cry. We do want God to come along and redeem our nation from all its iniquities. We want David in the story to find a better way forward. We yearn for that utopian dream that some of us may call the “kingdom of God”. I relate to the cold, bored and yet burdened with massive responsibility watchman longing to go off shift. Yes God hurry up…but this is where my agnosticism sets in. I don’t frankly believe that just waiting around for some sort of salvific act as reliable as the passing of time itself (unless we mean the extinction of our species– which frankly I am not waiting for so eagerly) is a morally defensible strategy in the depths of the despair of a plundered, besieged, unjust, neoliberal world. Stay with me though, I am about to do something uncharacteristic and agree with a Pope!

I wasn’t really seeing much to work with in the second reading until I read this (note the author saying that Paul echoes Pope Francis’ sentiments, while I loved the article in general this expression made me give a shout of laughter which almost got me kicked out of the library). I won’t paraphrase Anderson’s excellent argument, or Pope Francis’ clear thinking on the topic of the environment but if we do read the second reading as arguing for radical redistribution (including the Christ-like courage to become poor to enrich others and restore a “fair balance”) then this seems to show a much more real and urgent way “out of the depths” than passively waiting. There’s resurrection thinking here, a way modelled by Jesus but like all real resurrection thinking it demands we put in the hard yards (What did you think resurrection meant? A fairy godmother waving a wand? If only!)

Is this how God redeems us from all our iniquities? It’s inadequate when you consider that the more powerful have the choice not to be transformed by this word and this teaching. The little people are going to have to do more than count on the generosity of the ruling class. But we are also not the smallest of the little people. We do need to use our relative power and privilege to achieve this redistribution “for the relief of others”.

Let’s take those readings as baggage and stow them aboard ready to cross over again to the other side with Jesus (cf last week) into this week’s gospel. This week’s gospel suggests to me both an obvious feminist reading (about the interruption of the invisible, unacceptable woman in the middle and Jesus’ deliberate action in making her visible) and troubles me with its portrayal of Jesus as the male savior of helpless, inferior women. I can read the hemorrhaging woman as active in her own healing, and I like the way this calls into question Jesus’ performance of his gender. But the consent-nazi in me is still troubled when we reconceive Jesus (almost as a trans man) as the next installment in the character of the once female Wisdom, who is kind of like a sexy exotic dancer “asking for it” (Yes Jesus affirms the women grasping at him and Wisdom constantly invited everyone to visit, seek and pursue her but…troubling). Also if we begin to reconceive Jesus’ healing in a different way, saving as an erotic game-play (I am indebted for this idea to a speech I heard ages ago by a lesbian theology scholar who claimed she doesn’t want to be “saved” by anyone at all…then she added in a more playful voice that maybe a woman in a white horse could save her. I always felt a bit uncomfortable with the gender dynamics and implication of power in the idea of being “saved” so this idea stayed with me) even then there is a problem because Jairus’ daughter is both underage and too unconscious to agree to be in the game.

So I am uncomfortable with the gender and power discourses I can take out of here. I am uncomfortable with queerying the gender and turning the “saving” into erotic play. I know the function of the bible isn’t to make me feel cosy, but this is too uncomfortable. What if I latch onto the word “daughter”? If I see Jesus’ relationship to the two women as parental, then I am still a bit troubled by “his” gender (in terms of theirs), but I can see him in a feminised role, similar to my role as a mother and a preschool teacher constantly getting interrupted and called for and jostled and grabbed at. And now immediately (to borrow Mark’s hyper-activity) I am drawn into the text as Jesus (very appropriate in terms of what Paul says about Jesus’ action becoming the model for our action).

And if I am called to be Jesus, not called to be saved by Jesus then I don’t need to unpack the gender roles so much but just follow Mark’s immediacy (see how many times Mark uses “immediately or actions rapidly following and interrupting each other) and get on with the job. Jesus has too much to do, he is called from every side and his never shrinking to-do list is complicated by immediacies where even his cloak is pulled at. The temptation must be to ignore the interruption and continue, or to growl at the woman who drained something from the already stretched Jesus. He stops, publically notes and affirms her action and then calmly continues onto the next healing. The next healing is occurring in the home of already privileged people and he asks for secrecy. I feel I am once more detecting Magnificat movement where the private and marginalised are publically affirmed, and the popular and central are refocused on the domestic (feeding their daughter) instead of given more celebrity status. Jesus here again is concerned with fair balance.

Here finally I run into a real brick wall, because I am neither as energetic as the Markan Jesus, nor as serene in the face of so many people wanting or needing a piece of me. Here the “good news” is more daunting than empowering. Am I really supposed to be constantly poured out for the good of others? Am I really called to act powerfully to address imbalances with a kind and healing word for everyone and anyone? No wonder the guy died in his mid 30s.

This gospel makes me want to be Jonah and throw myself into the belly of a big fish to escape my impossible vocation (but isn’t that pretty much what I have already wasted my life doing?) This gospel makes me cry with grief, guilt and frustration and look for a loophole. Because by myself I AM NOT JESUS. I am not all this. I am not a whole body of Christ within myself. The body of Christ is always and eternally supposed to be community. There is supposed to be a church around me, empowering, supporting and informing my potential for ministry. And there bloody well isn’t!

But before I let anger, guilt and grief turn into self-pity and self-pity hurl me back into the endless abyss of depression let me try to refocus myself on the cracks in the cement of the patriarchal women-hating (no that is not too strong an expression) church. I am not the only “other”, there are other “others” with their vocations twisted or wasted (I moved a church that technically ordains women but like many others found the language and practice still oppressively patriarchal). Some have learned to survive/thrive and nurture others, to channel away the toxins of their own feelings of betrayal and bitterness- referring to the truth of their pain only in ways that heal the “others” like me, who have failed to overcome their sense of alienation and find a place.

The church has failed me, but God knew that would happen and called me anyway. I do realize that I have failed God. Like David I am caught up in the system that causes my deep grief and I am not an innocent, but like the watchman perhaps there is a shift change coming. There are others who have even less privilege than me, and they must be my focus for fair balance- not myself and my self-pity.  There is still a Jesus who crosses to my side, who tells me to come out of the crowd and touch and be acknowledged and healed, who calls me to sit up and eat, who is the one I must become, not just the one I can be passively saved by.

I have often felt that my vocation and even my faith was dead “why trouble the teacher further”? But Jesus keeps insisting stubbornly that it is only sleeping. How then do I awake?