Tag Archives: Acts of the apostles

Believers, doubters, questioners: one heart and mind?

I have been writer’s blocked off late but thank God I went to church and could soak in some wisdom from people around me and experience the readings without being distracted as much I have been.

 

The first reading is so Utopian, I am almost 100% sure it is fiction (sorry to tell you that). It shows us an idealized view of the early church when all of us know that despite our best intentions organisations become filled with disagreement and mistrust, resentments flare and people feel taken for granted. Even without anyone meaning to do the wrong thing, this can happen (and some people are less than ideally motivated as well).

 

Having said that, I like to sink into that first reading, early church beautiful idyll and let it reassure me about the VALUES that our faith is built upon.

 

If you get all your information about Christianity from Facebook or other popular media sources, you could be forgiven for thinking Christianity is a very right wing and harsh religion. People styling themselves “Christians” are always attacking left-wing, pinko, tree-hugging, hippies like me. A couple of times in my political campaigning people said they liked my policies but wanted to vote for something “Christian” as if redistributing wealth and having a sense of the common good was something invented by Marx.

 

No offence to Marx, but take a careful look at this reading, so many years earlier, where they are holding property in common and redistributing any surplus to the “have-nots”. It doesn’t say they are forcing people to work or in some way humiliate themselves to receive the help either, they work for the good of all and they share generously with all.

 

If only this is what it meant to be a Christian. That would definitely be a redeemed post-resurrection reality wouldn’t it? That would inspire hope. Let’s move through the happy psalm full of the sorts of reversals (the stone which the builders rejected) that seem to be a hallmark of Jesus’ transformative ministry (and speak to me of social justice) and take a look at the second reading then.

 

In the second reading, love of God and love of other humans is linked. Obeying God’s commandments inevitably leads to love. Obedience here is not a burden or a discipline, it is a life-hack that leads to victory and right relations. When John tells us so insistently that Jesus came through water and blood I think of every birth ever where slippery little babies squeeze out of their mothers in a watery, bloody mess. Jesus’ passage through death then is a birth, some artists and poets speak of the tomb as a womb, the earth springing open to birth him.

 

Fuel for ecofeminist thought I guess.

 

Forward to Jesus, coming back to see his “disciples” and the story of doubting Thomas who I have always had a sneaking sympathy for but now the more so because I am trying to reconcile critical realism and feminist standpoint theory and think about epistemology and do we really “know” what we think we “know”? And besides given all the fake news and innuendo that abounds it would be well for people to be a little more cautious and doubting and critical.

 

Notably, Jesus is not angry at Thomas. Maybe amused, maybe having to force himself to be patient but he works with Thomas’ doubt.

 

Thomas needs experience as proof, Jesus allows him to experience through his senses the truth. Look. Touch. But also by implication (since he speaks to him) Listen.

 

It is frustrating when we know that something is true and we need people to believe us and to jump on board with it and they simply refuse. They may have a stereotypical news that what we are saying is an “old wives tale” unreliable because it is by or for women. They might think we are kidding ourselves or exaggerating or imagining what we say we know. People are reluctant to believe.

 

It is good to be sceptical like Thomas, to not try to erase truth with pretty fairytales. It is good to be cautious and demand evidence and stand back from the bandwagon. But it can hold back progress too to be over-cautious or to be overstuck in what we have always known rather than new possibilities, the “good news” in life. So there is some middle-ground that we all constantly need to negotiate and renegotiate (see my problem with the disciples in the first reading believing and knowing all things in agreement?). We need to be open but not naïve. We need to welcome, to show, to prove, to humour the unbelievers (when we believe we have some truth). We need workable middle-grounds but we also need human interactions.

 

Imagine if Thomas had switched off so much he did not speak to the other disciples any more or if they had cast him out for his unbelief? Then he either would never have encountered the risen Jesus or they would not have witnessed his encounter. If our truth is life-giving we need to constantly invite people into it. If our critical questions are valid we need to try to have some loyalty and link (as far as possible) with our communities that need the challenge. It’s easy to say, much harder to show exactly where and how and who has to give way to preserve peace.

 

It helps to believe that Jesus will come and/or send the Holy Spirit to inspire our connectedness and our constructive critiques.

 

It helps to hold out some measure of the flickering hope that resurrection is possible. Even now.

 

Maranatha.

 

Advertisements

Being found within and outside texts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks be to Godde.