Tag Archives: bible

Knowing

Someone asked me (well not just me, a group of us) to articulate how/why we believe in God. I am tired and it is a hard thing to articulate, but I will set down here what I said and try to start to polish it to understand it better. I think it was Elizabeth Adams St Pierre that said she only knew what she was going to say AFTER she wrote it. It’s a bit like that for me and this is my process for trying to understand my inner truth.

I think I will classify this as one of my “creeds”

I think my belief in Jesus is just me needing a framework for my belief in God

that is the framework I grew up with,

sort of the God-language that I am fluent(ish) in.

 

There is not rational reason to believe in God

I feel a presence

that is what a relationship is, a presence I can feel and trust

I need values and meaning to be fully alive

and sometimes struggle to know what they are

or define them.

 

People define them wrong, rules break down,

systems oppress someone

I need more

a presence I can trust

that will travel the beyond-ways with me

but wiser

and love and trust me into

my better self.

 

God is “other” to me

so that I might not be God to myself

which would be narcissism

I find myself

in bouncing off an “other”

sometimes people are the “other” but also God

to remind me that the “other” is as great and greater than me

and reaching for me in love

to wrap me

my “self” is not all, is not the reason

but even my “Self” is also wrapped in the great love.

 

I know God.

I mean I know love.

I am loved.

I know the sight of the tawny eyes that make me feel tender

and I say “I am in love”

and I can ask all the texts in the world to explain this thing to me

can deconstruct and disbelieve

but I see the face, the smile

and I am in (human) love.

 

And that is what knowing boils down to.

 

I know the taste of mango.

I know the sweet and the sometimes too sour

and the inconvenience of skin and seed

and the pleasure/irritation of dripping

and the juice in a thirsty mouth

and the wrong season so I have apple instead.

There is reason, there is science

but that is not really how I know the curve and the scent

that is mango.

 

I see a man and I know he is the baby

that I used to watch breathing in joy and fear

that I used to hold close and allow to move away

that began words and thought I was everything,

then nothing,

then a person, an “other”.

I know the baby still in the man

but the baby is long gone

and I love the man the same and not the same.

The breath that meant love.

 

My cat purrs and I know her and she knows me.

My hand on her velvety fur brings the purr

and she is old

and she knows I am far from perfect

but also trusts that I will feed her,

she rarely reminds me.

I know she purrs not for any reason

but because we are together.

 

I know the velvety rose petal.

I know its caress and I know its fragrance.

Roses have thousands of petals and they curl and dry up and disappear

and I have to try to remember

to dead-head them.

If I pick a rose

and put in in a vase in my warm house

it will last a day perhaps

not long.

But the petal is fresh if I rub it, unless I crush it,

the rose smells like something I can’t prove.

And why does the scent of a rose

call to mind those eyes again?

Something like faith, making connections

that reason cannot sustain.

 

I would hope everyone feels some such thing.

 

The bible for me is not fact,

or rules for living,

or instructions or warnings.

It is a photo-album of

communities of God within my faith-family.

They got some stuff right and some stuff wrong.

And some of it I just plain wasn’t there and I don’t understand.

 

And then God comes along like a burst of music

through my head and echoing in my memory,

reverbating in my body, in my bones

live music

making me dance and haunting me forever after.

 

Sometimes I get the moves or the rhythm wrong

or I strain to hear and miss my cue.

I hope the music is still moving me even then.

I hope but I can’t prove it.

 

Somewhere in my hope, my good intention

I must have been touched by God

I must be right

(not about the facts or the mechanics or to tear others down)

but right to live and move and have my being

coming to know GODDE.

 

 

 

Playing in the closet of Scripture

I have been thinking lately about my habit of writing what I sometimes refer to as “fanfic” for the bible – imaginative retellings of bible events or parables where I add feminist or queer concerns into the mix. Of course they are not “right” (as in objective, factual or historically likely) but I feel it is a valid way to “speak back” to our friend, Scripture, who frankly sometimes seems to drunk-text us odd things at inopportune moments and therefore is not the sort of friend we ought to blindly follow.

I think about how as a little teen-aged undergrad back in the 90s, when I started the Heretics Society (I was one of the founding members and possibly the most loud and irritating one…at times more than likely the only member) it seemed so funny to make jokes about, for example “the disciple Jesus loved” as if to put homosexuality in the same sentence as “Jesus” was hilarious and daring. And then later…a lot later came queer theory and suddenly you couldn’t just blindly accept the “common sense” that Jesus was heterosexual and celibate because anything else is BAD. But that idea of the queerness within God and within salvation history is in the closet- anything that would unsettle church-goers exists in a vast closet of all the unspoken things in scripture, or the hints (such as Wisdom being so clearly female in the old testament and then embodied as male in the new…God’s own trans experience).

I learned happily that there is a really old tradition of people elaborating on what the text actually says with imaginative pieces of what might have happened and homiletic stories. I began to do my own creative writing and re-interpreting of the dark places around scripture (the unspoken things, the possibilities lurking in the shadows) and initially I worried a lot about getting it “right” and trying to find some sort of “truth” (this was before I read Foucault and all those post-structuralists and I only had my gut feeling beginning to tell me that any “truth” is always partial, partisan and constructed.

Because if we are going to re-imagine a liberative possibility sometimes I am torn between rejecting the (unbiblical) idea of Mary’s virginity to give her and the lovely-seeming Joseph a healthy, happy relationship of equals with sensuous joyfulness together; or on the other hand upholding her “virginity” as an anti-patriarchal possibility (endorsed by God) where a woman can be a mother without being penetrated by a male and without her primary relationship being with a male- also where people can co-parent without being sexually connected. The first celebrates the rightness and beauty of human love expressed in a bodily way and the second reifies all the families that don’t fit the heterosexual matrix in some ways and also honors non-biological parents.

Another example goes back to how we interpret “the disciple Jesus loved”. I have seen the disciple assumed to be the “beloved” disciple in an erotic sense or in a non-erotic sense. They are carefully not named which to me implies that Scripture itself wants us to try out various possibilities and finally put ourselves in the story. But sometimes people like to assume the “beloved disciple” was Mary Magdalene- the advantage of which is it puts a woman back in the centre of the story, always in the action and words and thinking of the gospel…the disadvantage of which is that in most interpretations she is then seen as just the “love interest” for the real hero Jesus. Then other people do run with the idea of the “beloved” disciple being John (as we were told as kids) or theorise it is Lazarus (for example)…this can then be read in a homoerotic way which breaks down the presumed homophobia of the text (and needs to be done) but then again all the characters are male (let’s face it, the bible barely passes the Bechdel test). But then the traditionally non-erotic interpretations of “the one Jesus loved” also to me are interesting. So many asexual and demisexual people find themselves marginalised in a world were sex and love are read as synonyms. So many faithful and committed relationships (between friends, between mentors and students, between the people we parent or look up to for no biological reason and ourselves) are not made visible or celebrated in any way because they fit outside that old heterosexual matrix more so than simple homo-normative dyads. When I say I “love” my best friend (who I have celebrated, nurtured, been nurtured by and quarrelled with for 30 years now) people assume I want to sleep with her unless I add “like a sister”, so I like Jesus having all these love relationships (lots of them if you read the text carefully) that may or may not have to do with sex but quite likely not in all cases.

I am talking about sex more than I intended to, probably because the idea of “closet” gives us ways of being that redefine and challenge simple rules about sexuality. But “closet” to me is also synonymous with “wardrobe” a word that calls to mind two images that I find very helpful in my attempt to relate to scripture.

Firstly (here is my amateur theatre experience coming through) there is the idea of “wardrobe” as the place where all the costumes are. I think it can mean just boring old fashion, but to me I prefer costumes so I like to think that my imagination invites me into the closet/wardrobe of scripture to play among glittering ballgowns and shining chain-mail and unicorn onesies and fairy-wings and wicked witch long noses and goodness knows what other fantastical creations that might not always be practical in the real world, and the glitter of which may well be paint, the iron of which may well be plastic. We find meaning in theatre not by some sort of narrow claim to “truth” and “accuracy” in what happens on the stage (and anyone who has ever spent much time in theatre knows that the dramas in the dressing rooms and wings are usually even more compelling than someone’s latest interpretation of a well-known story). We find meaning in theatre through the way we rub up against people (Why am I in the audience? For whom or with whom did I come to see the show? What is my role on the stage…or behind the scenes? Who makes this worthwhile for me and who challenges me and the way I fulfil my role? Who is the performance ultimately for? Whose role in it is most important? What do we do when we disagree with the director? How do I write up my critical piece gently?). The meaning of theatre is not in assuming that the armor or makeup is REAL it is in recognising that the people and humanness is the real and energising part of it.

So when I rummage through the wardrobe department (closet) of scripture and find some outlandish possibilities in there, I am performing to find my humanness and to evoke the humanness in anyone who chooses to collaborate, or receive (passively or critically) my performance. Scripture like an aging drag-queen at times may be pathetic or grotesque but then rallies and is magnificent one more time after all…ever in the limelight and never silenced or still.

The other image I play with when I think “wardrobe” (I bet everyone has leapt to it already) is the idea of Narnia. Scripture’s closet/wardrobe is more than a row of coats and the wooden back; it is row, after row, after row of costumes which slowly become trees, and a whole world of possibility, threat, and temptation.

I lay awake thinking of the temptations in Narnia. I first thought I suffer from the temptation of Lucy- to lose myself in Narnia/scripture and make it my escapist haven from the real world so that fauns/metaphors and suchlike are more real to me than ordinary old things like doing the dishes or paying my bills. But then people who criticise a feminist, queer, or ecological reading of scripture suffer from the temptation of Edmund, especially when they go along with the idea of exploring the text to some degree and turn around and stab people in the back. This all seemed clearer at 3am, and I hope the thought comes back because it was detailed and meant something then. I will come back to this some time (I hope).

Susan is a complicated character, certainly with temptations but she is portrayed by CS Lewis in such a misogynist way that I would want to spend more than a couple of sentences on her (I don’t think all things femme are automatically to be dismissed and trivialised). But the temptation of Peter (portrayed very sympathetically by Lewis) is the temptation to rule and lead and always “know better” than the others, for all that he magnificently apologises to Lucy when proven wrong (which the actual church ought to learn from) he then blames and ostracises Edmund thus contributing to the betrayal. The temptation of Peter is to ignore how toxic and dangerous hierarchies are (even when the person at the top is well-meaning and caring). Instead imagine if the Peters of the world and church listened to the Lucys and acknowledged the flow of power that led Edmund to want to ingratiate himself with Peter at the cost of Lucy. To come back to my point about entering into scripture’s wardrobe (and the worlds behind what we know in there) we need to stop controlling how other people experience the wardrobe/phantasy that is faith, although we can debate respectfully to try to reach understanding.

I enjoy a good theatre experience. I love to enter into a fantasy world and suspend disbelief in order to reach deeper meanings. I don’t think any of that is disloyal to the idea of faith (for me faith means not a place I can stay or a set of rigid beliefs constraining or reassuring me but the wild-chase in pursuit of Wisdom and a lot of scraped knees and bumped elbows as I trip and clamber along the way).

Why are we subjective beings after all? Why did God give us capacity (and overwhelming desire) to weave and reweave stories?

Say it isn’t so!!!!

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Last week I dutifully did the lectionary readings noting with joy and excitement that the visitation was coming up. You know, the visitation? Possibly the only story in the bible that passes the Bechdel test?

I once did a queer reading and I was going to dig it up for this…

Now I look again at the lectionary and see that alst week the visitation was alternate readings. Last week when i didn;t particularily enjoy the readings I was set!

I am going to go home tonight and sleep on whether it is time to ignore the lectionary and just have fun with a queer reading!