Tag Archives: abuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the bleak midwinter

I wrote things on the weekend but they were really, really sub-par. Maybe because my keyboard was not working properly or maybe because I am ill. Maybe because of how desolate I feel about the state of the world (families being divided, young women being murdered, friends in abject poverty and my own financial situation so insecure). Maybe God is sick of me always talking, talking, talking achieving nothing.

I don’t know why but my well of things to write is dry. I look at the lectionary readings and feel numb. I feel resentful of the church and its deceitful bishops and emotionally stunted and dishonest male priests. I can’t seem to get out the words of hope or even coherent criticism.

All I can do is read Micah again and again and again and draw comfort (of sorts) from a sad and wrathful God. I don’t always go to the bible for cheer, I go there to validate the deepest negative feelings and attempt to survive them. Here is a lovely chunk of Micah if anyone wants to join me (but don’t be stingy with yourself, feel free to read the whole thing. As well as Micah I am reading the gospel according to bell hooks. I find anything written by her is full of wisdom (relatively humble wisdom) and a determined hope and love which cuts through even her own incisive criticism. Read some bell hooks if you can.

And for the rest I will drink my herbal teas and gargle my salt and try to cure this stupid cold because I can’t afford not to “work”. I will thank God even for this desert time. Because even this is not as bad as the worst depression that I suffered for over a decade. I don’t feel that God is very far from me, and I feel that God is trying not to get frustrated by how stupid and slow to learn I am. Or maybe it is just me that is frustrated. God’s patience may still wait for me to work out the next step and the next.

Thank God for bell hooks and all the transformative feminists. Thank God for my social networks. Thank God for the person who just read these words and is being patient with me also.

Thank God. And let’s change the world.

Nothing is going to get better…without your work.

I find the way sinfulness and repentance is portrayed in the readings today problematic. Here I go again arguing with centuries of tradition, but it seems offensive to have to appease and angry and tantruming Lord, to consider ourselves condemned unless we humiliate ourselves- that seems to go against the idea of a loving God that wants us to thrive and grow.

But if I assume that a loving God wants us to thrive and grow, what am I left with of these readings?

  1. It’s not too late to repent. In terms of the extreme sins of society that we are entangled in. In terms of our personal investment in those sins (lifestyles reliant of environmental degradations, disgusting inequalities, consumerism, cowardice, addictions). In terms of the lack of hope in humanity’s future if we don’t repent quickly the readings have a few things to say.

“Even now…return to me with your whole heart…” Don’t just despair that it ought to have been done a decade ago, get busy saving the earth now. “Let your hearts be broken…” repentance is an emotionally honest process, not a performative one. The second reading tells us that “now is an acceptable time…a day of salvation”. The time we need to be doing any work of repentance is NOW. Not despair over a past when we “should have”, not wishy-washy trust in a nebulous future but the hard yards need to happen “now” (there is a promise that we will feel joy).

  1. This is urgent. The business of fixing the values that we live by as individuals and demanding better from our society is urgent- more urgent than getting married, or other cosy lifecycle practices of human beings. At the same time I realise that this reading was written many centuries ago for quite a different time, so the universal call to leave family and celebration and make a serious and urgent event of repentance comes around again and again and again. Hence we have lent. It’s exhausting to live in a serious-minded lent frame of mind for long, so we can’t blame ourselves for needing other parts of the liturgical year, however lent has a sense of urgency- we need to change how we relate to ourselves, each other and the world, therefore improving our relationship with God.

 

  1. This needs to be real. Performative holiness, looking like the person who prays more and fasts more and does more for the church or good cause does not fool God. God wants a deep commitment, that other people don’t even always need to be aware of. Having said that, recently a young man confided in me that because he has not got any children he uses a truly staggering part of his salary each week (which he works hard for) to support a cause he believes in. I did not feel he was telling me this to make me approve of him or admire him (though it did have a positive effect on my opinion of him), he was telling me as part of his need to share his journey and his fierce hopes and looming despair. I felt inspired and connected by him trusting me enough to tell me- so I don’t think giving ALWAYS needs to be a secret. It can be a model, and inspiration for others we may have all sorts of good reasons to let people see our light. It is just that the gospel is picking up the theme of the first reading.

 

The point of generosity and goodness is not to appear holy or admirable, it is to make an actual difference within ourselves and the world. Reading smug parenting blogs with a passive-aggressive judgemental tone has taught me to look for my motivation in sharing something I am good or successful at. Am I really trying to be “good news” when I talk about something I think I have got right? Sometimes the answer is “yes”, and I truly appreciate the young man’s confession of how generous he is. Other times all I am doing is trying to look better than others or shame them. God is not impressed.

Ove the years I have seen some unhealthy tendencies in my own relationship with God. One is dependence, this is the one that is often encouraged in some churches- where God’s role in the relationship is to know everything and order everything and fix everything for me from my economic woes to my mental health. This is a seductive idea because it takes the responsibility to act and grow away from me, I am simply a victim of the divine and need to trust more or surrender more to be fixed.

In my experience, no matter how hard people pray and believe they don’t always magically get what they need. Then people will try to tell you it must be “God’s will” that you suffer. I reject that idea also. What is the good of life if God plays creepy, psychotic mind-games with us to “test” us or something? Theologies like that give rise to unhealthy power-structures and all sorts of abuses.

So my final point about repentance, and it springs out from these readings is that it is an active verb. We repent, change our ways, “turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel”. We take radical responsibility for ourselves, including the responsibility to separate what is “sin” and what is “me” and not confuse the two. I can turn away from sin but I cannot turn away from myself (and in fact self-hate of various sorts has been a consistent and toxic sin that I have had to battle for many years). A measure of self-compassion needs to blend with our repentance, like that drop of water that brings out the flavours of a good whisky.

Repentance is not about holding myself to a higher and higher impossible standard, forbidding myself human weakness and moments of being trivial. But it is about trying to move away from “victim narratives” where the world is too awful to be born, or escapist and addictive behaviours and overfocus on the wrong things. God is calling us “now” to a fuller, deeper, richer, more meaningful life. We must care for ourselves AND others. This is not a chore but a fulfilment of our true nature in God. Look deep inside and allow yourself to care. Feel compassion for the child you were, the adult you have been, the adult you are currently and all the great and flawed things you will be tomorrow. You have been hurt. You have been harmed,

Then compassion needs to flow outwards as well. Who is suffering more than you? This is not to belittle the validity of your pain and scream of anguish, but simply to find solidarity and compassion for them, your God-given vocation. What do we all need for the best possible future? How do we look beyond our own private good to a “kindom of God” approach to life?

Rest up and heal if you need to but also stand up for things and give generously to others. Demand a world that does not crush your light (my light, your light are connected to every other light that God has put into creation). I won’t give words for a prayer today, it is too easy to hide behind words. I will look for my awareness of where my potential is to turn more fully to be facing God in the dance of life. I will look at where my understanding and compassion are needed. I will forgive myself for not being better, but I will do it with a joyful spark of knowledge that the “not better” is only a “not yet”.

I will work for the things that matter, giving up escapism (in my case dumb computer games) for the duration of lent and stop avoiding the deep reflective time that is needed for my growth. I will light a candle and contemplate without words (or try to).

 

 

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not” (Dr Seuss, The Lorax)

Treasure, but well buried

Finished and posted late because I had a lot of work last week

We start off this week confident in “our fathers” so in the middle of a patriarchal society, following God in secret and waiting for the “salvation of the just and destruction of their foes”. So one of those religious nut groups that feels superior to society around them and smugly think they will be vindicated. The way this comes across is a good reminder to me in the midst of all the things I don’t like about my world and my society that I am part of it too, that I do not have special knowledge and special purity. I am in this world to struggle and to love not to feel superior and resent and not to blindly follow “fathers” either. Though in my case my blind faith in “mothers” is more likely to be my stumbling block…nevertheless I will start from a determination to think for myself, and be reflexive about my privileged place in the society I criticise.

The psalm buys into discourses of chosenness and being saved. God will favour us and preserve us we need to have greater faith. This can function as a seductive sort of an escapism away from taking personal or social responsibility for the state of our lives and our world. I am good at seeing when others do it (eg tell me to cure my depression with better faith and trust) but I also need to be on the lookout for my tendency to hope God will solve my problems of directionlessness and ignorance and being paralysed by fear.

It’s not wrong to look to God for comfort and to ask for guidance. However in the meantime we do need to get our hands dirty. Chosenness is problematic, why would God love me more than a refugee or a victim of crime or homeless person? I don’t think it is fair or wise even to treat our (human) species as “chosen” let alone groups within it. So “you just”, maybe it is better to be cautiously happy and keep on supporting each other and working toward liberation trusting that God works with us, rather than “saves” us. People wiser than me have written and spoken to criticise the concept of being “saved” but the one I remember best was never published.

I don’t relate to the sort of blind faith of Abraham outlined in the second reading. I particularly don’t see anything to celebrate in a man who puts his religion before his child/ren nor in a God who commands or rewards this way of being in the world. That sort of God is not anything for women or children, I would hope not even all that accessible to men (but I do wonder sometimes at the endless selfishness and lack of commitment to relating that men seem capable of- I hope I mean “some men”. I hope). I think the reading is trying to tell us to see faith as a bigger picture thing than just my little life and just my little specificity and work for the reign of God in and of itself, not in a self-interested way. Which is all well and good but Abraham gets to accept realities on behalf of himself and his silent and backgrounded wife and then runs out to sacrifice his son.

For me that sort of “kingdom” is too dystopian to even consider commitment to (s0rry God).

I wonder if there is any grain to be gleaned from the gospel?

One lovely little saying I can immediately pull out of the gospel is that “where your treasure is there your heart will be also”. That somehow what we value defines who we are. That leads me to reflect- what is my treasure? My children? My writing? The hopes for a more just and sustainable world? The kindness of my friends and community? At church yesterday we celebrated St Dominic’s day, and it was clear that for many in the community their Dominican heritage was their treasure. I did not feel it in the same way (with ties to a past I did not experience) that many of the people there seemed to, but that one community of courageous and kind women (and some men) is surely “treasure” in my life. Then I went with an artist friend to a SALA exhibition, and visited two lonely and isolated people. Art, sunshine, cider, conversation, a newborn baby, Nepalese food. Treasure is in sharing and inviting and connecting.

But I had to think also of the practical things of life. Why am I not more excited by my work?

The values of the reign of God are something that need to begin now, at a time long before we consider our death or the end of our species (so then really even before now). It won’t be enough to “look busy” when Christ comes. But the references to beating and overworking servants are alienating. I can’t consider myself to be a particularly “faithful and prudent servant” and even the people I admire have their off days. Then again a “bad” servant in the reading uses their power abusively against other servants. That definition of what God asks of us I can relate to. The whole thing is very violent and classist.

I think I will return to considering the treasure of my weekend, the treasure of the people who care for me. I will try to find ways to balance my heart between different treasures, to find more meaningful work, continue developing as a writer and try to be a better support of friends and family. My faith too, instead of being a blind obedience to tradition and patriarchy can seek treasure…a sunny day, the scent of clean work-clothes, a sudden hug from the small children I work with, an essay to write.

Back to all the other stuff now, treasure is still there even when we fill in forms and write job applications.