Tag Archives: bell hooks

Scylla, Charybdis, Trans-Jesus and identity by foreskin

We’ve circled back around, now week by week I am repeating writing on readings I have already written on. This is a good discipline for me, because I am forced to revisit and rethink what I thought I knew. My reflection for this week three years ago was here.

This time…

Let me try to find words for the unspeakable.

I did say “try”, be patient with me.

I’ve just finished reading Kimmel and Messner’s “Mens Lives (1989) and I am struck by something that’s kind of disheartening (bear with me this is relevant to the lectionary readings). Even pro-feminist make writers, thinkers, people I meet make presumptions about women. They want to keep women “safe” and allow them to “succeed” and all the rest of it, but generally implicit in their rhetoric about women is woman as necessarily heterosexual- responsive or defensive vis-à-vis men. There is a huge failure of the imagination when it comes to the idea of woman as having motivations, desires or concerns that do not centre on men, either positively or negatively. I don’t think this ought to be excused on the grounds that these male writers might be writing about men, what women think or feel about men might well be relevant to their writings, but the absences are still telling. Women are not conceived of as able to have any headspace which is not invaded in some way by patriarchy.

As women we all too often take this on board, and our reactions to things become responses to patriarchy. Thus a woman who does not love or nurture men is a “man-hater” etc. Even feminists are tricked into talking and thinking about men too often, and what is worse thinking of ourselves via the male gaze.

I want to try to reach a consciousness that is lesbian/asexual or at any rate one that is not defined by men or their absence. The lectionary is not an ally in this. Are you laughing at me at this point because I access my lectionary via bishops (ie an all-male group)? Should I perhaps not be responding to the lectionary at all? Is my faith heritage so patriarchal that as a woman I can only have an implicitly heterosexual or trans-impostor role within it (please note I do not think trans=impostor, but within patriarchy this is a common discourse. That is to say I can view myself as woman-victim or I can view myself as woman-object or I can take on a male lens and victimise and objectify other women but it is very difficult to find a genuinely female-affirming gynocentric or better a non-binary point of view. Pretending the gender binary does not exist or does not have power is naïve to the point of foolishness, deconstructive work is needed even to assume a non-binary perspective)?

Have my confusing thoughts lost you yet?

The first reading at first glance seems very female-friendly with rejoicing coming from the desire-object Jerusalem who is depicted as female. After last week’s incredibly patriarchal readings (everyone at church was grumbling at them) it is easy to take this as an oasis and not to question it. Feminist spirituality within the patriarchal edifice is so often this, determinedly not looking a gift-horse in the mouth. But when we stoop to be dogs and feed solely off the crumbs that fall from the Eucharistic table we are limiting ourselves and denying our true Godde-given dignity.

As a lesbian, it is very easy to draw me into relating to the desire for the breasts and lap of the wonderfully nurturing and voluptuous Jerusalem. The reading says “mother” but it says it with a knowing wink. The implied reader is not really thinking like a baby, apart from the temptation to surrender critical capacity and agency and simply be carried (by tradition, by habit). The last line (which we do not notice because we are excited to be flourishing like grass and wonderfully held) reminds us that there is still a “Lord” and we have not lost our “servant” status. “Power” can be part of motherhood too but we’d love to gloss over how oppressively that can be experienced by the pre-schooler. We want to idealise this comforting femininity and we forget that God in reference to this Jerusalem is still the patriarchal structure intact.

We have gained nothing but the command to close our brains off and rejoice.

Is this the Word of Godde? Praise, praise, praise. Tremendous deeds. The psalm comes in to keep us distracted (again like babies). Oh look a pretty bauble…oh look a consumer product… When the going gets tough the tough go shopping…glossy brochures advertising the “experience” of various educational institutions (if you want to know why this is a problem please see Thornton and Shannon)….God didn’t refuse my prayer or his kindness…

My prayer

His kindness

There’s asymmetry here and as a good (“good” lol…”good feminist” is surely an oxymoron) revisionist feminist I want to change the pronoun to female and close my eyes to the things that I don’t like. After all God is objectively greater than me- more powerful, wise and enduring than I can be. Isn’t s/he? Aren’t they?

And what sort of a relationship can I base upon a knowledge like that? That all I can really know of God (praise Him, praise Him) is the idea of my own inferiority and God’s superiority. God’s unknowability stresses my limitedness. God’s power my weakness, God’s omnipresence my weariness, God’s wisdom my lack of knowing anything. Is this God? Or is this a great projection of my own existential terror?

And if the latter then what does it mean for faith? If I don’t believe in God’s “tremendousness” then can I believe anything? Could I survive as an atheist? Experience tells me not. I seem to be caught between a Scylla and a Charybdis of my own spirituality here. Patriarchy has told us that Scylla and Charybdis are both female. Alright then, as a truly transgressive lesbian feminist my mission is to make sisters of them. I have not yet found a way to steer safely through, but I know from having flesh-and-blood sisters that discomfort and reluctance to engage does not mean we are not kin. Come with me Scylla, take my hand Charybdis, we need to confront the second reading!

In the second reading difference is being undone- that is the difference between the circumcised and the uncircumcised. I have often taken this on glibly to think about how progressive this unification of opposites is. No matter what sort of a penis we have we are now all equal. Yes the foreskin is no longer a bone (pun intended) of contention.

See what sleight of hand the smiling lectionary has pulled on us now? We are all equal as males. What does this mean to non-males, non-penis-bearers? What have we been “pricked out” (Shakespeare) for? Nothing. We are absent. We have to read this from our own absence, to construct our own being with no building blocks. I am not circumcised, but neither can I properly refer to myself as “uncircumcised” therefore as usual the lectionary has not spoken to me or about me. What are we going to do about this girls (Scylla and Charybdis)? I can see why you wish to devour them all now!

So is that what a woman becomes? The wish to devour? A vagina dentata? A big mouth? How easily this view of womanhood (hole, chalice, receptacle, womb, urinal, kiss) is colonised back into patriarchal smugness where they think everything that exists comes from their seed (this is as true in intellectual work as traditional discourses of baby-making). And how do we answer that? Patriarchy has so colonised the whole globe and the whole language(s) that I know if no place outside of it. Besides bell hooks (in Kimmel and Messner) shows that any attempt as separatism works against feminism and reinforces/reifies inequality.

I am left not knowing where to even stand, how to begin to speak (and yet all these words).

So here we are in the gospel- Scylla, Charybdis and I. We’re being sent out now like lambs among wolves (no kidding, Jesus). We are here to bring peace, we’re are we meant to get this peace from? Is it more unpaid, unacknowledged women’s labour to fashion this peace out of crumbs and discarded foreskins or something? We are meant to accept whatever is offered. Oh this again! Against this preaching I am the bad woman who left the (heterosexuality that was) offered and asked for something different. And failed to find/obtain it. What am I but the queer art of failure (Halberstam)?

I cannot explain why, but I see trans-Jesus wink at me. We are both caught up in this charade but they are not bound completely by the role and invite me also to see the joke. Respectable, tame, church-going Jesus suddenly spreads his/her/their wings and reveals themselves in drag (or is the respectable “passing” the drag?). Jesus is also caught up in the necessity of making sisters of Scylla and Charybdis. Jesus here is a human queer -vulnerable, rejected, made invisible, the sign that is opposed (Luke 2: 34; cf Acts 28:22). Am I wrong to catch a glimpse of a Jesus I can identify with? Who may claim this?

Then this happens:

“Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you,
go out into the streets and say,
‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet,
even that we shake off against you.’
Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand.
I tell you,
it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town. “ (luke 10:10-12)

What does this mean to us queers, feminists and critical voices? What does it mean for the church’s reluctance to receive us? We are treading on snakes and scorpions when we attempt to even begin to articulate our experience. A far cry this is from the breasts and comforting lap of “Mother” Jerusalem. We are both and neither, something the writers of scripture and compilers of the lectionary never considered. The question remains whether God considered us?

Everything hinges on that.

 

 

Halberstam, J., & Halberstam, J. (2011). The queer art of failure. Duke University Press.

Kimmel, M. S., & Messner, M. A. (1998). Men’s lives. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Thornton, M., & Shannon, L. (2013). Selling the dream: Law school branding and the illusion of choice. Legal Educ. Rev.23, 249.

 

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Your abundance should supply their needs

I have had some internet and email problems this year and as a result, lost my roster for church (among other important things). I did not realise I was meant to be on the roster to lead at church this week until 9:30 last night when someone from the community called me to check up on what was needed this morning. She told me what the gospel for today was meant to be and I started thinking about what I might say.

 
When I got to church this morning, I was able to look up the rest of the lectionary readings and I had to do an “off the cuff” reflection. The fact I was able to do so at all, probably has more to do with this blog than with anything else, and of course God may well have helped me (I certainly asked her to).

 
I will try to remember what it was I said. These were the readings, and I said something like this:
I remember going through a time in my life, when the patriarchy of the church and the male-centredness of the stories and beliefs we were taught made it very difficult for me to continue in the faith. It got to the stage where the maleness of Jesus himself was a problem for me- I felt a strong disjunction about who I was created and called to be with God and the church’s seeming insistence on the MALENESS of priesthood grounded in the maleness of the one we follow. I nearly fell away from the church over this, I could only bring to God my female body, my female-centred way of loving, my female experiences of life and work. If these were not holy then how could I approach God?

 
Today’s gospel perhaps speaks to those yearnings and questions I had as a young woman. I experience Jesus in this gospel within my own life where I have been a mother, and early childhood worker and in some degree and activist and I can relate to the way Jesus is being pushed and pulled and pressured every which way. So many different people demand things from him and each person’s need is urgent and real. Jesus sets off to help one person, is interrupted by another and as a result of stopping to help the second one, the first- a little girl dies.

 
Being Jesus he can make something of this, he can turn death into life which is certainly more than I can do. I don’t have the capability or the patient grace of Jesus in my own life as I juggle competing demands (all important) and try to discern where to turn my attention, where to channel my love. I often drop the ball, neglect something I should have done or arrive too late to something else.

 
I take heart then from the second reading that reminds me that God is not asking us to deprive ourselves for the sake of others, or to give more than we have. God is challenging us as relatively wealthy and comfortable people to give of our surplus. All it takes is allowing God to turn our greed and our fear into generosity and openness. Is that not an important lesson for our time?

 
How can we not pay heed to this call to share from our abundance? How can we bear to be part of incarcerating people and families on Manus or at Nauru? We are not just starving their bodies, we are not just taking away their lives we are starving them of hope. Of hope itself. I almost began to cry at this point as I often do when I consider the mother who lost her son or the man dying of cancer or the hundreds of others.

 
This cruel way of treating people, it really needs to be said is a sinful direction for our society to be going.

 
It is against God. The same goes for what is happening in the US where little children are being pulled away from their mothers and fathers (I didn’t mention our own stolen generations but I should have). I read this week about small children, some as young as three being forced to go to court to be sentenced and deported- all alone these children face this without even a loving adult by their side.

 
This is an evil beyond words, an extreme evil. I feel that word is not an exaggeration.

 
I have been reading bell hooks this week, “all about love”. In it she talks about our yearning for love and the way so many of us grow up not getting what we need from our families- not experiencing the emotional security of being loved. She talks about romantic relationships also frustrating this need and not delivering the love that is needed. I could relate to what she was saying the desperation and the lovelessness that she said is characteristic of people in the world today.

 
She said that people yearn to be loved but have never experienced it. That they do not know what it would feel like to be really loved and as a consequence they do not know how to love.

 
While I could see that there was some truth in what I was saying I could not agree with her that I had never experienced being loved. I feel that this is a community that has taught me a lot about love. I have been loved here and encouraged to grow into a more loving human being. I have had my gifts honoured, and my lack of giftedness forgiven. This is a place where we come to be loving and to heal each other’s capacity to love and to hope. How can we pour out our love to the world? How can we be the loving people that the world needs?

 
Let us think about that. Let us remember that God does not ask from us more than we are capable of giving. How can we be the love the world needs? How can we ask for and teach love to others? When we are pulled this way and that by the needs of others; and are poured out and fragile, how can we trust God to fill us up? How do we bring love, healing, and new life also to each other?

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.

ReWording

I missed my self-imposed “deadline” although I have been thinking a lot about the second reading and it’s place in the liturgy and my own journey with those readings – often seeming like mini sermons but even more boring when I was a child and only really gaining any life when I studied Greek and also acquired a collection of feminist lenses (hermeneutic of suspicion but also the tendency to read between the lines and try to gather crumbs of liberative promise in the texts).

Over the years I think I have become less inclined to apologise for the text- to make excuses for it or try to redeem it from itself. Yes many readings are riddled with patriarchy. At the same time I find I no longer demand that the text show me “truth”. The text and I are sometimes like friendly ex-lovers or like best friends who have lived through their differences. I have learned when to refuse to listen and when to argue. Familiarity breeds contempt they say. There may be danger in this.

We do need more than one reading from tradition, but I do wonder why the lectionary is so set in stone, why we don’t sometimes use other letters, poems, stories, sermons or even paintings as our “second reading”? Or as our psalm- the use of the psalm is even more puzzling and unimaginative in the “set in stone” lectionary and liturgy. Psalms are about emotion, exaggeration- the artistic expression, the tantrum, the make-up sex of the bible. Why do we never draw or dance a psalm of our own instead of piously trying to follow a (usually uninspiring) tune placed on the anachronistic words?

I write and pray and make my own psalms all the time. Sometimes on a sunny day if I can get away with it I make a psalm by rolling down the hill or throwing autumn leaves at a friend (usually a child) or running with my son onto every sandbag at the beach or splashing water or photographing a rainbow or dancing at 3am (rarely now). Those are the songs of praise but I also construct a psalm in too much chilli in the soup when I have the sniffles, or in angrily burying the dead mouse my cat brought me or turning off the news because I am powerless to respond to it adequately or crying into my pillow or being awake in the middle of a work-night and fearing the death that already claimed my younger brother.

I’m not trying to “show off” with this sort of talk of psalm making. I am guessing everyone does this. How is it not a psalm unless it is written on scraps of papyrus by men from an ancient civilisation?

So the psalm would have endless possibility if we prayed with fewer boundaries keeping ourselves out of our prayers (and the melodramatic language of even the ancient psalms or sanitised fragments of psalms we pray at church have some potential).

And the second reading! Why not a reading from the wisdom of bell hooks? or Paolo Freire? Ok so that is a teacher’s bias in choosing those wisdoms. Why not Einstein? Why not Jane Goodall? All the readings that reveal Godde. A reading from the journal of a domestic violence survivor. A reading from the rap sheet of a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. A reading from the appeal by a refugee facing deportation. A reading from the weekly budget on someone whose Centrelink has been cut. This is our Jesus and we are crucifying him.

Or praise Godde and have a reading from a poem by a seven year old. A reading from a photo album of a childcare centre. A reading from a love letter kept for over 30 years. A reading from a bestselling novel. A reading from a wine critic describing a wonderful Shiraz (my bias thus shown). A reading from someone coming out as gay on a facebook status with all the attendant supportive messages from friends and family. For Godde so loved the world that she gave us sons and daughters to nurture and listen to. So that everyone who believes in them (the “least of Jesus’ brethren remember so I am not on heretical ground here) will have eternal hope and work to make the world better.

Last week’s second reading talked about the “stone rejected by the builders” and I thought of all the good solid stones and even the rubble filler that the church father’s rejected in initially building the church and how we have let our rejections become habit. The stuff about being “chosen” and “priestly” should have flattered and heartened me I suppose but all I was seeing was the multiple rejections we base our building on.

And yet Godde’s “cornerstone, chosen and precious” is one such (or every such?) rejected stone. We try to keep what is bad outside the church and we lose too much of what is precious. If we trusted Godde even a little we would be a people of hands and hearts not of walls and border-security.

The rejected people, outsiders,

borderland dwellers, liminals and criminals,

refugees, strangers, fallen women and women too bound to fall,

over here ones, queer ones, a rainbow of misfits,

labels peeled and worn, gaping holes and jagged edges,

rough diamonds or maybe just broken glass

extra-canonical, challenging or just plain wrong,

revised, rewritten, disputed,

“does not meet our current needs” or text of terror,

trivial or unpalatable.

Let us find in this text, this experience and this person, the Living Word.

Thanks be to Godde.

Gloria

The Gloria comes after the penitential rite. It is joyful, especially as I recall at Christmas when the church bells were rung when it was sung. Liturgically it lifts everyone out of the depressive aspect of reflecting on “sin” into a focus on God’s redemptive greatness. God, within the prayer is constructed in a trinitarian framework. There is a paragraph each for the “Father” and “Son”. Words that are used to express their glory are masculine and kyriearchal “Lord…heavenly King, almighty…Lord…only Son…Holy One…Most High”

The Holy Spirit not being masculine enough I guess receives a mention in passing, as Jesus’ plus one while throughout the prayer Father and Son reflect masculine glory at each other in a smug exclusive fraternity. As a child I just went with the bell ringing and the soaring music and the relief from the “have mercy, have mercy” that perceded it (and possibly I should have written a post on the Kyrie as distinct from the penitential rite, perhaps I will consider that for the coming week).

Considering “Gloria” is also the real first name of the writer calling herself bell hooks, an considering the happy feel of the Gloria, let’s rework it. Before I start I return to Pied Beauty but Gerard Manley Hopkins which also starts “Glory be to God” but is written by a queer man.

What does a queer woman on the fringes of the church write. How do I relate to God’s “glory” and access that joy. I will go through the original prayer line by line and allow myself to subvert the things I can’t relate to, but attempt to be faithful to my tradition.

“Glory to Godde in the mundane routines of living,

and her joy infuse our every day.

 

Creating God- eternally working and caring,

infuser of hope into human history

we become still to be mindful of you, we learn gratefulness

praise bursts from us as song, dance, creative expression.

 

Jesus Christ, embodiment of God’s Word and Wisdom in history,

friend of humanity, Lamb of God

you transgress against every oppressive structure,

liberate us;

you live forever in the deep love of God

inspire us.

 

Holy Spirit, movement and fire of love

burn away our reluctance to generosity and compassion,

dance us into right relationship.

 

For you are the Godde who made, call and companion us

in a neverending dance together

in love. Amen

(as the rubrics in the original book instruct that the Gloria may be said or sung, so also it may be danced, drawn, silently known, loved, hugged, yelled, heard, modelled in clay or in any other way prayed. I believe as a teenager I used to dance it on the beach sometimes at night or once on the end of a jetty. Perhaps it is also there in ecstatic moment of conception of a future baby or an idea for writing)