Tag Archives: abundance

Plowshares

I wrote this to share at church, then in the rush I left my notes at home and had to “wing it” at church. Thanks to the supportiveness of everyone it went OK. The photo is a flower arrangement I made for church before being reminded we don’t do flowers in Advent. I rehomed it with my sister, who absolutely deserves flowers!

Today’s first reading always makes me smile and think of the activist movement “Plowshares” who advocate active resistance to war…I felt they deserved a mention.

The whole reading is replete with an active response to God- it is a movement of people, streaming towards God’s mountain to learn and be led to actively change our ways. The symbolism of changing weapons of war to implements of growing food has much to offer and I have made it the focus today for our liturgy which as always centres a communal meal as a symbol of shared abundance in every way.

Turning to the book of Isaiah however, and reading on from this idealistic vision, it all turns very bleak very quickly and that also can be our experience. The transformed reality we celebrate in coming together for communion, is not the lived reality of the world around us- the power-infused relationships, the cynical politics and parsimonious economics of our time. So glib escapist religious fantasies that “it all happens for a reason” will not serve us in our lead-up to Christmas, and if we listen to our tradition we will need this feast to be something more than a “feel-good” fest.

If we stream to the mountain, the sometimes steep mountain that is scripture, we might be looking for instruction, leadership, community, active response, transformation but we do not escape our reality by doing so. Nor do we escape our complex interwoven identities where we are both benefiting in some measure from unjust systems and also perhaps ourselves oppressed (or at least limited) by rigid systems of control.

And then the letter to the Romans bids us to “wake up” from sleep. This is a time for consciousness, not a time to let the familiar and the dear rituals of Christmas lull our consciences to sleep, not to leave it all up to God. Advent is a new year, it’s a time to get serious about the “reign of God” we celebrated last week, to begin again a cycle of movement toward that point toward a not-yet reality of God’s vision realised. Can we see God as a baby that needs our protection? An unborn possibility inside us? A desire for beauty and truth to take over our lives?

In the gospel, two people who seem identical are somehow not. One is “taken” and one is “left”. There is no radical difference we can see between one and the other but perhaps by implication as we go about our ordinary lives in our limited world God can see the details, the good intentions and the small acts of love which may never be perfect but do somehow matter after all. I don’t like the hyper-individualism that seems to come through here, as if I want to distance myself from my sister or brother and be smugly pious. But let’s deconstruct this picture by a return to the image of weapons, transformed into tools for growing food. Then let’s take care to remember that food is for feeding and sharing not just for grasping and selling which devolves food production back into war. Can we transform this image of two women grinding meal, or two men working in a field by refusing to buy into the oppositional, competitive factor? Then, both may come to share in the radical hope of God’s coming after all. Is grace contagious? We can only hope.

So this Christmas, I will eat and drink and participate in the celebrations and I don’t feel guilty about that. But I will give thought to the changing climate, to the impoverished and imprisoned families and try to temper my excess and share my abundance. And this advent I will choose who I wish to be this liturgical year. Come, let us go to the mountain of this tradition/faith we hold together, back again into the heart of our communal longing for all to be right. Let us light in our hearts the candle of hope and allow that interruptive and transformative power in. Jesus, Sophia, eternal Wisdom and Word.

 

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“You give them something to eat” – Priesthood that makes a difference

This week we celebrate the body and blood of Christ (corpus Christi). Traditionally this has been a time to talk about Eucharist and priesthood. I had almost finished writing this blog when I was fortunate to experience the ministry of a community of women theologians who also shared food that each had prepared. My head and heart are too full of good things to rewrite the blog but I feel there is something relevant to ideas of body, blood, sacrament in what happened today. Nevertheless for want of more time I will stick with what I wrote earlier in the week…

The readings were:

Genesis 14:18-20

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Luke 9:11b-17

 

I was always taught that the most special thing you could ever do was to be a “priest”. This was a somewhat unfair thing to teach to a girl. I grew up wanting to be the one who broke and shared the life-giving bread and spoke the word of hope. I felt depressed, even suicidal about not being the one who could do these things. This week we celebrate the body and blood of Christ, and with all the things I have been told about real human bodies and blood as opposed to the supposedly better risen body and blood of Christ, things that sometimes contradict each other I feel like there is a maze that I have to carefully find my way through, avoiding turns into despair or superstition.

The first reading and psalm draw to our attention ancient patriarchal traditions of priesthood. Liturgy here is something Melchizedek performs for his patron (in the sense of paying him a tithe) Abram. The psalm reinforces this as a continuous tradition. So far all that is there are all the old feelings of exclusion, the idea that all of this would mean something if I was a man and could become a priest. As a mere woman in the aisles however I get a little bit sick of being expected to look up to and praise male figures and male symbolic actions for no very good reason, just because I am told to. There is no mention anywhere in these readings of any sort of meaning or even trickle-down effect to women. It all begs the question why would you bother even being there, let alone supporting it with your labour, approval and money (as women do).

The second reading then places this ancient tradition of priesthood in a context of Jesus’ last supper action as retold by Paul. We are told, as we are constantly that this is the tradition, that Jesus took the bread and cup and broke them and….hang on a second! Here Jesus is quoted as saying “Do this in memory of me!” He’s not saying “Watch a guy in a dress who thinks he is special doing it” he is saying “Do it”. No wonder that little girl that I was, was not content to sit and watch the action week after week after week, year in and year out. So there is some sort of call to priesthood here. Not a call to have priests but a call to be priests. Returning to the first reading and psalm but as a middle-aged woman who has been denied ordination I still am thinking “nope I don’t get it”. Something in the tradition is not gelling for me.

Onward to the gospel!

The gospel is one of feeding the crowds. The Twelve propose a system of individual responsibility where each person needs to go and sort out their own meal. Reading in a neoliberal time I cheer to see Jesus rejecting this approach. No, says Jesus. Our way is not to send people away. Or way is welcoming and feeding. In the face of overwhelming need we take what we can and distribute it. In the face of the “bottom line” and the “Real world” we refer the problem to God but then we take in our physical hands, the small amount that we have and we distribute it.

After five weeks unemployed and income-less I believe in miracles. Most of the miracles I have seen in that time have walked around on two legs. Most of them are people who are faced with too much to do and think and too little to distribute. Some of those miracles are my own capacity to do with less and to survive.

The lectionary puts this feeding of the five thousand as a Eucharistic act. It is a sacrament when we take the meagre supplies we can scratch together and confront the endlessness of need in the world with it. In another place Jesus points out that noone lives on bread alone…on the other hand we access the Word of God by refusing conventional wisdoms of turning people away and breaking our privilege and plenty down into crumbs that go further and do more good. When I see the miraculous feeding, and society building engaged in by Jesus, then I see a model of priesthood that is quite different to the ritualistic and patriarchal priesthood. Priesthood as nurture, priesthood as service. Priesthood as selfless giving for the sake of a better world. Priesthood of mothers and nurses, teachers and food growers, counsellors and artists and fire fighters and anyone who follows a vocation to serve others. Priesthood of doctors that refuse to be silenced as they speak the indignant Word of God concerning Manus Island. Priesthood of feminist theologians who support each other and gently heal themselves and then come back to tend the ungrateful church with their underappreciated gifts.

I used to think of women in the church as staying within an abusive relationship (which would be sinful) but I have come back to the church thinking it may be possible to be less co-dependent. It may be possible to see myself as limited by my status within the church, but I am called not to be “with” or “in” church but to be church. And then the limits I experience are part of myself, just as my body is limited in flexibility, energy and capability. This is not to take on the church’s abuse as somehow my fault, but to render irrelevant what the voice of men’s power says in attempting to boom through the church that is really my church. Some bodies live well with depression or asthma or diabetes or even cancer.

And so when I am church, I am invited into the Eucharistic act of feeding the world. The people come asking for a word of hope and healing, but they also have bodies that tire and need food. It is foolish to ignore the body and to pretend we can live wholly as spirits. In the gospel everyone sits and shares and is satisfied. In the gospel everyone looks to the sustainability and picks up the crumbs.

Noone tells us what happens to the crumbs that are gathered at the end of the miraculous healing.But then again it wasn’t women who wrote these extraordinary happenings down in the first instance. Those leftover crumbs too were the body of Christ. Five thousand is just a beginning, our mission is to feed all the world.

What do I get out of it?

Ah this difficult parable that I have grappled and struggled with for so many years. This parable that wounds me because one of my greatest failings is an ever present tendency to envy. It comes back regularly to test me and I have been through all sorts of emotions- guilt that I don’t find the idea of grace in it all that beautiful, an unconvincing attempt to focus it on my prodigality and see it as unconditional good news for the “prodigal” in me (but why then the older brother at the end?). A feeling of sadness and guilt toward the older brother type people in my life, the people who have not as obviously received undeserved blessings as I have. A conviction that I do after all side with the older brother that the exploitative and cynical parasites of this world take advantage of the good nature of God and the labour of the rest of us.

Which lengthy battle shall I recreate in my blog this week? Which angst to plunge into.

Prayer has yielded a simple and clear truth. Envy is a defining sin in my life, it is a daily struggle not to be so consumed by it that I fail and make excuses because other people seem better off. But then I don’t think I am alone in the temptation to let envy rule my relationships and decision making. Look at how grudging we as a society have become, how keen to sniff out welfare “cheats” and refugees who may be trying to take advantage of us. Look at how bitterly we fight against a generosity which we might see as too much, try to protect our borders against prodigal brothers who might destroy our way of life which we deserve.

That word deserve, deserve, deserve….like the older brother who has risen before dawn daily and suffered the lines of weather and time on his face and his tired hands. All should be his, he is the only one who has been faithful and worked. And in faith, by our vocation we may feel like that too…why does God deal so kindly with those who squander what we work for and do not appreciate our labours and throw our faithfulness in our faces. Such as the patriarchal church. What a bitter pill to swallow at times that God still deals with them and forgives them.

I hated this reading for years for that, for showing me my own parsimonious meanness. I do not want to be taken advantage of. I want to reward I DESERVE and do not want some parasite taking part of it (ironic when you look at just how much I myself have been a recipient of other people’s free generosity). But it is lent a time for turning again to the apparently familiar and seeing it differently (repentance). A time of creativity and change a time of rekindling truth and love and growing toward God’s harvest.

So God turns me around to this reading and says “read it again envious one” and I read ti through to the bitter end to see the punishment to be meted out for my sin, the sin of envy. And that is precisely where I have not ever paid attention before! There’s no sort of punishment or cruelty here from God…no sort of bitter justice against my sin of envy. The “father” (not my favourite metaphor) says “you are always with me and all that is mine is yours”. That is the unerodible reward that I have if I have (infrequently) got up before dawn and laboured according to my vocation, if I have tried to avoid sin and temptation and done what I think is better for God’s reign on earth or eternally.

God has already given, eternally conferred to “always” and the “everything” on our faithfulness just as much as God has already welcomed with open arms our unfaithfulness (and that is the other point of the story, that each of us is both brothers). So when the jealous stirrings see someone else’s need for grace as a threat to what we have, God gently consoles us reminding us of “always” and “everything”.

That is my challenge this lent, to avoid all the despairs of the world and of my life and to focus and refocus every moment on the “always” and the “everything” that is mine when I turn to God. Anything God asks of me is asked out of an infinite abundance, replenishing anything lost. My vocation to be kinder, more human, more just may seem like duty but inbuilt into it is the joy of God’s “always” and the wealth of God’s “everything”.

No place to be grudging, we have lost brothers and sisters to reclaim and feed!

 

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.