Tag Archives: church

I haven’t Blogged much lately. I’ve been thinking about writing things but work just keeps me too busy. But I was on the roster at church this week and managed to throw together a reflection on the readings. I used these first reading, psalm and gospel and added in Marina by T.S. Eliot (an old favourite of mine as regular readers know) as the 2nd reading.

I spoke without having written down my thoughts, because now that I teach and lecture that seems easier than reading…but later I reconstructed more-or-less what I had said. I also used a “Eucharistic prayer” that I wrote back in March but hadn’t had an opportunity to use today. It’s been sitting in a cupboard at church with noone aware it exists. It focusses on the earth.

Here  is my “reflection” on the readings:

I grew up with a “face value” reading of today’s gospel which I didn’t (in retrospect) find very helpful. In this way of thinking the Pharisee was wrong for thinking so highly of himself, whereas the tax collector was to be emulated as being humble and not thinking well of himself. I cultivated my low self esteem carefully, thinking it was virtuous to do so. It became self-hate and was quite a toxic thing to live with. I want to be careful today not to repeat the same mistake, to look with a more nuanced eye at today’s parable.

Parables are not simple surface-level morality tales anyway. They are meant to deeply challenge us, to niggle away at the things we think we know and invite us to come deeper, experiencing otherness rather than analysing it from the sidelines. Our experience of a parable should be a long journey of learning not a point of revelation or answers. Today’s section of the journey will be looking through the lens of the first reading. When the lectionary gives us groups of readings it is an invitation to consider them together and in light of each other.

So I will look back on Sirach. This reading is about God being responsive and empathetic to the plight of any who suffer from not being heard or having their needs disregarded.  God desires justice and will advocate for the widow and the socially, materially or emotionally vulnerable. The reading also has teeth- although I don’t like the violence sometimes present in the Hebrew scriptures I feel there is a risk when we sanitise our tradition too much. God break’s scepters, acts with anger and destruction toward those who hold unjust power. From our vantage point in a wealthy, overconsuming, exploitative country we would do well not to sanitise this part of our faith out.

But the focus is certainly comfort for the oppressed. God is not neutral is clearly taking sides here. This is consistent with a 20th century Catholic teaching that used to be spoken about more- that God has a “preferential option for the poor”. God is present in the relationships and angry at the inequities of our social world.

So if we take this social justice focus back to the gospel, how to we view the two men in Jesus’ parable? The pharisee is not wrong to think well of himself and his achievements, but he is displaying a faith that is performative rather than relational. His focus is on impressing other people, comparing himself and feeling superior to others who he can pre-judge at a glance. He has filled in all his spiritual KPIs but become separated from other human beings.

The tax-collector has no such shield against the world. He has come to God with his vulnerability, his knowledge of his own failings. I am probably projecting a modern-day understanding onto him if I talk about his awareness of privilege, but I will try to explore that idea in view of what tax-collectors were and did in Jesus’ day. The Roman Empire used to impose taxes on the people- these could be crippling, and the men who collected them added their own fee to the tax they collected. They were hated in part because people hated paying the taxes, but also because many of them may have added on an exorbitant fee and so enriched themselves.

A tax-collector then might be caught between the competing demands of his family (who will struggle or starve without his income) and the injustice and imbalance of the empire’s taxes and perhaps his own added fees. He is caught up in a system of injustice and oppression, not just caught up in a web of dependency but maybe even benefiting from it. We know this too, that although there is much that is wrong with the world these days we are often the ones who benefit from the inequitable distribution of wealth and the exploitation and demonisation of others. The tax collector brings his awareness and his worry to God, not able to find answers but showing a willingness to let God inform and infuse his life for a better future. Jesus says that he rather than the escapist priest is the one “justified”.

What does this mean? How does it help to be “justified”?

What is it that we come to church for?

Dare we be honest and less than shiny before God…and what does this look like?

If God listens to the poor and oppressed, what is our role in all of this?

There are no answers in the back of the book, but we can reflect on these challenges and share our thoughts with each other.

The time has come…to talk of many things

“The time has come, the walrus said to talk of many things,

of shoes and ships and sealing-wax, of cabbages and kings

and why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings”

A few things happened this week to call me back to my blogging, but similarly I had a look at the lectionary readings and found them a particularly uninspiring bunch. See, the first reading seems so colonial and militaristic. It’s hard to read it any other way the week I had to teach a whole lot of undergrads about the colonialism in our (Australian) history and the subsequent racism and how as privileged (white) people we may be unaware of things…like we take for granted that “skin coloured” bandaids will be a good approximation for the skin we have. Bigger things too!

The psalm tells me to tell the “good news” to all the world, which would seem to me to be liberation. Something like “you can keep your language and your identity, you can keep your sexual orientation and your food security. You can keep your meaningful work and your butterflies. There will be no more billionaires and we will all be kin to each other”

That’s my idea of a “good news”. The good news to me more personally is the work I do, I have a job which is teaching, it is about sharing good news – that we can make a difference, that what we do matters, that the content of learning can be engaging, that young people are worth our hope and our labour. I love my job. And I am not finding the gospel in the lectionary I am finding it in my work. How can this be?

The second reading continues with the same old power differentials that have got the world into this mess. Fathers “scourging” their children. How is this to be heard by a church with a whole bunch of old, insensitive men who have crowned themselves “Fathers” and perpetuated a whole lot of abuses on others? As someone who used to work with children and raised my own without hitting them this is unrelatable. As someone who reaches students through showing my love for teaching and my care for the world they will influence this is almost unthinkable. Where has scourging got society? I am reading Foucault’s Discipline and Punish as well as Ecofeminism by Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva. I just can’t reconcile the toxicity in these two readings with what the world actually needs.

I am having trouble having faith (and yet here I am writing).

The gospel talks about a “straight and narrow way” an exclusive banquet and many to be rejected by God. We are not told here which values are the accepted ones and which rejected. I would read the whole of the text as preaching love and neighbourliness and justice to all but this text is also used by others for narrow obedience. I don’t feel that with the readings it has been selected it is of much help to my Spiritual journey at this time. Hence the walrus and the carpenter.

Why shouldn’t I talk about things other than the lectionary? If Godde is present to me at all she is present in the every day world of a burning Amazon forest, of a tonne of assignments I will need to mark next week (without ceasing to teach all my classes…I am not sure how I am supposed to do that). She may be present in a huge disappointment I suffered this week and in me having to try to explain my queer-trans identity and faith to a researcher. She is present in the joy I feel in the classroom, that grows whenever any of my students catch it off me (and they do!!!).

Shoes and ships and sealing-wax: the ethics of consumption, the difference between needs and distractions, the responsibility each of us has. Who makes our shiny goods? Where are they from? What sufferings and transport emissions do they conceal? We could talk of those things, there are no easy answers but there is joy in the small things I can do, like buy my coffee in a real ceramic mug (not a disposable paper thing) or bring my produce bags to the shop. Planting trees and eating less meat are things anyone/everyone can do. One thing won’t change the world but we must talk of the “many things” and do what we can.

Of cabbages, of gardening (which I do not do well), of vegan recipes, of food-miles and community gardens. Of kings- outmoded systems of power that bear examining and gently (but not over-generously) pensioning off. We do not need the billionaires, but we do need the butterflies and bees. And why the sea is boiling hot? And the icecaps melting? And the forest burning? And our government approving more coal mines? And we have “island-hopping” advertised to us but those islands will be underwater soon. “And whether pigs have wings” and whether our species has a chance of survival. I love my children.

I wanted to write on Wednesday night but instead I went out with my middle son to talk about vegan food and politics and his work and my work and why he makes ethical choices, and what his former tutor said to me.

I wanted to write on Thursday night but instead my youngest son wanted to tell me how angry he is about injustice and about the government selling off the trains and trams. He wanted to discuss economics and ecology while eating three serves of the vegan food I left on the stove. I lied to him and told him I didn’t need it for a work-lunch the next day and I thought of all the vitamins in his growing young body. He washed the dishes anyway.

I wanted to write on Friday night but it was noisy at work so I came home expecting and empty house. My eldest who never comes out of his room came and sat down and asked me about my work and looked over my draft (very unusual) and started telling me about the public health system and how important it is and how we should not erode it. He mentioned the environment “everyone has their thing” he said “and mine is the Great Barrier Reef. I just don’t know how to go on without it”. Of course I told him I love him and need him to keep on even if things are very rough for the earth. He talked about animals going extinct and he didn’t weep, but there was unvoiced weeping between us.

My children. The loves of my life. The only thing I consistently put some positivity into even in the bad years. I can’t let go of this planet and I can’t let go of hope. I don’t care about people believing things or paying tribute to some “Lord” in fact I think that way of conceiving God’s sovereignty is counter-productive. If Godde must have sovereignty let it be the sovereignty I witness from Aboriginal people. “We know how to wait” says Vincent Lingiarri in Kev Carmody’s song. These are a people who have unfairly suffered much but survive and hope and nurture. This is sovereignty and I can see gospel in it the good news of Godde even though I want to cry at the colonialism and put it in the bin. I can’t see Godde’s “love” in punishment, the less I punished my children the more they developed into ethical beings. I don’t know where the narrow gate is but if it is not wheelchair accessible then we need to pick a different venue (my campaign manager last election taught me that).

So thanks lectionary, but no thanks. I am going to get an expensive haircut to restore my queer aesthetic and I am going to finish my article and submit it. I am going to handwash clothes. I am going to buy food for the week. I am going to make an anti-plastic video. I may go to church for the beautiful people not for the readings. Godde is in the ways we mean well. Godde is in the way we orient to each others needs and wellbeing. Godde is in the earth herself. Words can be good, but must be used with care.

If you don’t like my words, you are free to find your own. If words don’t cut it, you might dance a prayer instead. Happy surviving 🙂

“Prayer” of the once faithful

I wrote this almost a decade ago. I didn’t post it anywhere. It’s not properly speaking a “prayer” since it addresses and idol once held up as God and not Godde, Godself. Perhaps the idol is the church or perhaps it is the version of God/de I was given by the church. Anyway the thing I am addressing here is no Godde of mine.

When I was a child, I thought like a child

and you were always right,

while my role was to follow,

to punish myself with secret insults, self-harm, microaggressions.

I punished myself

for seeing your flaws.

 

Like a child I was powerless

and accepted that the fault was always mine

ever since the sin of Eve

the first (bar Lilith) to get above herself.

 

When I was a child I would have

jumped off even more cliffs than were on offer

to prove my faithfulness,

to deserve your protection,

and love.

 

When I was a child

so before I knew your history

or how you have always treated

little ones.

Triptych of heart 1: Beloved Wisdom

Dear Wisdom,

And what of the aftermath? After the earth or at least the life of humans upon it?

What will our last days be like? Will you stay? How can you stay? It seems that you are not welcome in our houses of parliament, in what were formerly our places of healing and learning. It seems as if we would banish you. And yet…a person of hope may open a chink for you to squeeze in after all. Radiant though too often silenced, Wisdom.

After the depths are gone, after my kind has managed to erase itself from the book of life will you remember us? Will it have been worth it?  What will you do, will you recreate? Or will creation be better with humans gone? Were we a bad experiment after all? We thought we were so important. We thought we were everything. Dangerous vanity!

And yet I somehow hope in your love. What can you do though? We are a stubborn creation.

Out of the depths Wisdom, I pray for the hope, the courage, I pray for your whisper or the pull of your hand. My feet are sore and cold but there is still a journey, Lead kindly light, lead thou me on.

You were beside God when she fixed the limits for the sea so that the sea would not transgress, and yet the humans in their transgressing have even pulled the sea out. She transgresses now, released from the law of creation, she will destroy us because we abused her too long, the never-tamed sea.

You were always God’s delight little child, master craftswoman. You played upon the surface of the earth but what we do now is not “play” but violence and despair. How could you delight in us Wisdom of God? How did you ever delight in the human race? Can you still? Unblock my ears to hear your voice, my soul to feel your pull.

Do not abandon us, though we have abandoned you. Wisdom we need you more than ever!

Starring Wisdom and justice

33rd Sunday Ordinary time, year b      November 18, 2018      Stef Rozitis

Am off to use this reflection at church. I hope it will be OK
“A time unsurpassed in distress!” Sadly one of the themes of human history is this great distress. Persecution. Oppression. Dispossession. Disorienting change and now climate change confronts us. These times stare us in the eye and remind us how fragile we are and can make us feel horribly insignificant, even as though everything we do is futile. Daniel’s view of the end-times is horrifying, of course he was of a prophetic tradition where substances were used to aid the seeing of visions.

 
The point of consolation in all this is the wise who will shine brightly, those who lead many to justice being like the stars. I think of the turbulent world events, my hopes and often fears for a future for myself or my children. I think of times of great despair and desolation in my own life and of the bright stars, the people who come with consoling wisdom- not to trivialise or dismiss my fears, not to try to silence or repress the negative things we see and experience and our heart’s need to cry out against them- but just to show us God’s face amid the strife. To shine.

 
I could cry when I consider some of those stars, because the world does not always treat people like that kindly. I consider all my heroes- the people who speak out so courageously about human rights, the abuse that gets hurled at them. It’s well documented how in particular women who advocate for others get rape threats, or threats against the safety of their children “Those who lead many to justice” walk a risky path- they may lose their job, their security, their peace of mind.

 
After the psalm reminds us that we have everything we need in God, the second reading talks about how human religions are in some measure obsolete. This does not mean that we should not gather, that we should not break bread and word in memory of the real sacramental action of Christ’s being born into us; of facing our unsurpassed distress to its logical conclusion- the cross. I need to be here. It does however call into question the structures we build around our sacraments- the way we try to imprison some people in various identity cages(1) within overly rigid church structures, while simultaneously keeping people out- out of participation in this way or that, out of democratic leadership, out of allowing their embodied human experiences to inform theology, rather than iron-clad theologies limiting and labelling human experience in narrowing ways.

 
Whatever it is that we celebrate here together- the one we call Jesus has already acted. Wisdom has already set the table and prepared the banquet. We have no right to try to control the flow of grace in this direction but not in that. Sacrament is for all, and the sanctuary is our place to be- women, men and children and perhaps a broader sweep of creation too. The earth’s resources also are prepared by wisdom for all creation and for itself. The amassing of wealth in pockets while so many starve goes against Jesus’ sacrificial action of trying (in history and in the now as well) to open up heaven to the human heart, and open up the human heart to heaven. If all our sins are forgiven dare we enter a new and engraced way of being?

 
The gospel also speaks of dark and turbulent times, but of the coming near of God within these times. We see signs of what is coming. We are asked not to be naïve in our spirituality, or our politics, or our daily living but read the patterns and face reality with courage. Nothing is inevitable, nothing is sure, all things can pass away except God’s Word. The Word has already spoken to us today through the first two readings (and speaks through our hearts and bodies also). Wisdom and justice are the signs of the Word’s bright indwelling in a person, all sins are forgiven and we are free to be part of a new reign of God.

 
Some of the imagery in these ancient texts seems militaristic and kyriearchal to me and it took me a long time this week to look beyond that to the invitation in them. I look from the readings to my world, to the people who give wisdom, the people who lead me to follow justice in everything I choose. They are indeed like stars. The joy and love in my life is always from the goodness of others, from the beauty of someone who is radically oriented toward a redeemed way of being human. When I see those people at times devalued by the world, small voices in a growing clamour of consumerism, greed and corresponding hunger and desperation then I see also what my call is.

 
It is my call to be one of the stars for the people who are stars to me. The darkest night has beauty when we look up and see the pureness and twinkle of stars. We connect them together into pictures, we see them as constellations as relationships. The wise and justice oriented people in our lives, the true stars hold out their hands and call us to join them. Star to star we bring light to a world following the first and last star, the Morning Star, the Christ.

 
Let us sit now and think of the stars who have shone wisdom and justice into our dark nights. Let us think of the ways we are called by God to do the same; to lead others to the justice they thirst for and “shine like stars forever”. Let us know that no darkness is ever complete. Let us resolve to connect and support the networks of light, the communities of hope, the constellations of stars in the image of our loving and healing wise God.

 

1. Morley, L. (2013). The rules of the game: Women and the leaderist turn in higher education. Gender and education, 25(1), 116-131.

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.

She calls me (I have been lousy at answering lately): Pentecost

Sometimes I find other people challenging. I am tempted to avoid conflict, challenge, discomfort, potential criticism, giving offence and just trying to be radically self-sufficient (which if you know me at all is a laughable concept). I try not to emotionally “need” anyone (also laughable). I am an introvert, I could disappear forever into a rabbit-warren of books and writing and be perfectly happy…except it doesn’t really work that way.

Too little time being “bothered” by other people’s expectations and needs and opinions and ideas and blah blah blah blah can be even worse than too much. I become less and less productive. I can’t see the point of doing this or doing that. Why get out of bed? Why get dressed? why move? Why write things no one really wants to read? Why bother? Why breathe? Why be?

This is not a recent thing for me, but I have been at the extreme of the keeping-people-out cycle and sure I did it for my own protection but it hurt me more than it healed me. My longest-term friends are people who have been patient with my various inabilities to engage at various times and I am grateful for them. I will never be someone who can cope without the possibility of retreat and some alone time but I have learned that too much is as bad (or worse) than not enough.

Just when you thought none of this has anything to do with Pentecost, let me circle back to the first reading. Because for an introvert like me, a severe critic of the church, someone who often disagrees with what we are told to believe…there is a surprising truth in the first reading. The Holy Spirit did not come to atomised individuals, each locked in the safely self-perpetuating labyrinths of their own minds. She waited until they were all together, each having to deal with their own impostor syndrome, their own insecurities and awkwardness, each other’s loudness and stupidity and potential to be irritating and the way they all rubbed up against each other and had to constantly watch and redefine boundaries and feel left out or bored or angry or overwhelmed.

They were all “in one place together” an introverts nightmare and it gets worse, because the Spirit prompts them to reach out to OTHERS and include those who speak different languages. Significantly (and I have probably said this before) she did not work on the hearts of ears of the foreign listeners to change them so that they could understand, she changed the preachers to be heard and understood in people’s own languages. I believe this is something the church gets wrong very often. We say “here is my message now you change to understand it” instead of saying “how can I learn your language to preach love and good news in?”.

Obviously it is disingenuous to pretend that no change at all is demanded from hearers of the true gospel. I am not saying we should be preaching “Keep on competing and exploiting and buying and meaninglessly celebrating nothingness with you novelties and toys that you don’t even really like. Keep on overeating and trying to kill emotional pain by distracting yourself with addictions and fixations and replacements for real life. Keep on denying climate change and protecting borders and trying to return people to narrow and rigid “values” that never worked to begin with while you overwork and turn up your entertainment too loud and invest in brighter lights and flashier baubles and prettier words and hold up social media as a flattering mirror (beauty mode) to avoid facing your own damn loneliness”

I am not saying we shouldn’t call people (ie ourselves) to change.

But what if we stop sweating the small stuff, like what religion someone is or what sexual orientation. Many churches find such an idea controversial but I wonder if we could get further by finding the humanity and good intention in each other.

George Monbiot in his book Out of the Wreckage, asserts that altruism and a desire for connection is intrinsic to human nature to the point that humans are defined by these things. No other animal wants to do acts of kindness and generosity for no reason at all, but humans again and again over centuries (and in some truly horrendous situations) have been observed doing irrational things for the good of others, sometimes strangers, often completely peripheral to their own lives. That is a beautiful thing to be defined by and Monbiot is very persuasive about it.

If I read the bible about how Godde has walked with human-kind and how Christ became embodied with and in and for us then Monbiot’s idea makes perfect sense. He writes from a secular perspective but the eyes of faith see evidence also that he is right. Then I won’t listen to the people who tell us that kindness is about projecting the ego (or something) or that generosity is about passive-aggressive self interest or such nonsenses that try to deconstruct human relationships to transactions and affective bonds to something market-based. Those sorts of thoughts are strong now, they drive our politics. It never fails to amaze me that people can strongly advocate a “Christian” hegemony and a neoliberal one together as if Christianity did not specifically contradict the politics of self-interest and the reduction of the human person to a unit of the market.

But the Spirit has never been about units at all. She flows between and around us when we relate to others. She inspires us to LOVE to truly love each other and ourselves.

So the second reading continues with a celebration of difference, but also of connectedness (what good are severed body parts?). The gospel finishes the glory and triumph of the Easter season (alas over so quickly) with a reminder of the Risen One standing among us giving peace and breathing into us Spirit. It matters how we treat people. It matters what we label and call out as “sin” in ourselves or others. It matters what we let slide. Let’s think a little more about living an Easter reality, alive with the Spirit and attune to the needs and goodness of each other.

Let’s sing the traditional Pentecost sequence, or find our own:

 

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
Shed splendid radiant light
Come, Mother of the poor

show us how to better share the treasures

you have already brought us.

Shine in our hearts

let our intrinsic worth and desire to love

burst forth.

 

You love and cradle us,

comfort us and draw us out of despair,

inactivity, disengagement

be welcome in our souls

dancing within and setting us dancing.

Refresh us, for we are made for

more than toil or labour

show us how to refresh each other,

give us coolness in the heat

of our passions- anger, fear, desire, disgust.

 

Beautiful light that is Godde

shine within our hearts

let us be beacons of you to each other.

Let us forget our addictions

and know that only your light, your dance

can fill us.

 

Without you we have nothing

(but you are with us so we have all).

Heal our wounds, our strength renew

on our dryness pour thy dew

wash the stains of guilt away

(washerwoman God we know you in the waters)

bend the stubborn heart and will

melt the frozen, warm the chill,

(cast down the mighty from their thrones

and lift up the lowly)

guide us so we don’t jump off a cliff

and take so many species with us.

 

Give us the intrinsic reward of knowing you

let us remember that it is about love

not just saying “Lord. Lord” and bending a knee.

Pour out your gifts, your joys, your inspiration.

Make us embodiments of every radical hope,

make us reckless in generous love,

make us beautiful and light-filled

like YOU.

Amen. Alleluia.