Tag Archives: Colossians

Where is God when our labour is invisible?

In case you need something less “over it” I will drop a link to what I wrote last time it was this gospel story…

Let’s talk about invisible labour. Let’s talk about pink collar jobs. Let’s talk about gaslighting, because it kind of feels like Martha gets gaslighted by Jesus in the gospel of the week and the lectionary does not help by it’s treatment of Sarah. We’ll start with Sarah, since that reading is the first.

So…three men visit Abraham. Because, you know our tradition is incapable of showing even the multiplicity and trinitarian nature of Godde without the masculine gender (rolls eyes). This is how we know that important things are happening in the public sphere

  1. It gets written down (logocentrism)
  2. The participants are men
  3. Women have to support this in ways that are trivialised or outright made invisible (eg preparing food, childcare)

“Let some water be brought” orders Abraham, claiming credit for the work of an ungendered, invisible servant. Class and gender privilege…there really is nothing like it! Abraham is happy to exploit the people of his household to gain blessings for himself (which will trickle-down to them supposedly too).

“Let me bring you a little food” says Abraham. “Me”, first person singular. The three men agree and he runs to Sarah and orders her to start baking.

We tend not to spot that in the reading, partly because we have grown up with a reluctance to really interrogate “holy” things, but also because this is such a common-place story that we forget to be angry or sad about it. Men achieve their self-interested networking by ordering women and lower-status men to do the shit-work for them. Whoever bakes the bread, only the male hands of the ordained priest is allowed to performatively break it.

Guess I am losing my faith again (don’t worry it’s behind the sofa or something, gathering lint).

So Abraham brings out the labour of Sarah’s hands, and finally this three-fold God (or is it just a bunch of men?) speaks.

“Where is your wife?” a liberative moment? A challenge to be reflexive? A call to examine the patriarchal/kyriarchal conscience?

Nah. Tucking my awkward feminist hopes back in where they won’t embarrass me…

The men are there to talk about Sarah not to her. They comment on her reproductive capacity and leave. The lectionary cuts it there so we won’t hear her give a little feminist snigger at their mansplaining (I am sure she knows about her own ovaries better than they do). Sarah laughs, but the patriarchal church is not keen to even give her that much voice. We will move on to see who else can be exploited, trivialised or dismissed…

The psalm extols the virtues of “he who does no wrong to his fellow man”. Bad translation? Maybe…we feminist certainly put in a lot of unpaid and underappreciated time trying to translate it better, dust it off, reclaim it and still love it unconditionally but today I am going to move right along…

The second reading is one of those sections that would make more sense with some context. I could probably labour to try to bring something liberative out of it but it’s not exactly jumping out is it? I probably get more useful theology from a feminist poem or a sunset. This by itself, is not going to keep me in the church.

So now the gospel. It has women in it, few gospel pericopes have that so I sort of feel excited…until I look closer. Do you know what? I will tell you how the gospel would look if it was not so gaslighty about women’s work.

Jesus and his disciples went and stayed at the house of Martha and Mary. Martha and Mary already had a very busy life, but were always happy to see their good friend Jesus and had asked him to take that liberty, nevertheless he was always conscious of the need to be a good guest, especially when bringing in 12 more mouths to feed.

Jesus was lounging around with his mates talking to Mary who was one of the smartest people he knew and always asked the right questions without making him feel dumb. Martha called from the kitchen, “Jesus can you get Mary to give me a hand?”

Jesus realised that Martha was not really even complaining about how hard she was working, she took pride in making the best food and in her wonderfully clean home but she felt like she was being taken for granted and was missing out on time with guests. He walked into the kitchen “what can I give you a hand with?” he asked.

Mary came in too as did a couple of the disciples. This way the meal still got made, but Martha was able to be part of the conversation as well!

This would actually be gospel, this would actually be good news. Instead of what we have here and the way the church has chosen to present it.

This is more than just whinging because I don’t like housework (although I REALLY don’t). This is about the fact that while women are unacknowledgedly and underpaidly (I don’t care autocorrect I will invent new adverbs if I want) doing all the caring and healing and feeding work and not getting fairly represented in the “public sphere” men are making an Icarus out of the human race. You think I am exaggerating? For the sake of macho things like GDP and military might we are all flying too close to the sun and conveniently forgetting that our wings are held together by wax. Already the wax is softened, even dripping and the buggers are refusing to turn back.

We will all die as a species if men are allowed to keep leading unchallenged and if only women who emulate them are allowed into the conversational spaces!

Please note, I am not claiming that all men are bad or that all women are innocent. This is far from being truth. But patriarchal ways of being and how casually we accept them are definitely part of the problem! If faith is at the centre of our lives, then how we perform faith will affect how we live. Many of my feminist friends are atheist (not all) but for me that is not the answer because I know a lot of CEOs and world-leaders are either atheists or have a “lip-service” faith that does not touch their eyes or their deeds.

We need more from church than the routine dismissing of women and everything women’s lives are burdened with, than the abuse and silencing of children, than ignoring the most underprivileged or lukewarm “thoughts and prayers” at best. We need to confront the climate catastrophe. Sarah, Martha and all the other silenced women are capable of so much. When will we actually take their concerns and their work more seriously. The “better part” is not sitting at the feet of a man, when there are children (or disciples) to be fed.

We know from experience that being kind and patient and just laughing quietly behind the lectionary won’t transform the church or politics. It might be time to be louder, less conventient, less compliant and call out patriarchy...even when inconveniently God seems complicit in it (but who got to present Godde to us?).

 

 

 

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Listen up: deep down you know it’s the Truth

Ok so three years ago I used a different lectionary. I think this was before I settled into my routine. But if you are curious (the gospel was the same) my post is here.

But I have found this week’s readings for 2019 here.

“If only you would heed the voice of God” says Moses. But there are so many voices clamouring, all claiming to speak for the Truth. I can’t always trust people who are more worried about “freedom of religion” meaning their right to exclude and slander than they are genuinely seeking the liberation (always more than market freedom) of the kindom of Godde). But they would claim to speak for God and to be defending Christian values.

They would say my attempts at preaching and at prophecy are ungodly.

So how do we choose? How do we know the voice of Godde?

We know that hearts and souls are at play here, we are returning with our heart and soul, body and intellect all of us, completely returning to the one truth. It is not some distant pie-in-the-sky to be worshipped. It is not coming from across the sea to colonise us. It is written into the integrity of who we are- it is our heritage, our makeup, our birthright whatever country or nation we came from, whatever sexual orientation we were created to be…yes whatever faith we have (or have not).

The irony of me preaching such a thing is if you don’t share my broadly Christian spirituality then you are probably not here, but the consolation for me is that preaching does not need to convert people, it simply needs to raise consciousness. I cannot put Godde into people, but I can try to get a spark from Godde already there. In the way we touch the lives of each other, the Godde in us can shine to the Godde (the same Godde, don’t worry) also in them. Even if they prefer to spell this phenomenon “God”.

The psalm has a “wanting to be rescued” fixation which I can really relate to. I spent most of my young years praying pretty much exactly that. I don’t know how Godde feels hearing that from us day after day after day after day. Should we maybe have more courage to make some positive changes ourselves? I don’t know. I guess the take-home message here is Godde will not abandon us even when we are completely pathetic (the plight of the refugees terrifies me though. How can I believe that Godde doesn’t abandon people when tiny Tharunicaa and her big sister and parents are STILL IN DETENTION and not even allowed to have the cake their Aussie neighbours baked for the little girl’s birthday) To be clear I want to feel that Godde will always be with me and watch over me. But for goodness sake’s Godde look at those little girls!!!! I know that it is humans not Godde who are torturing them, but it scares me to think that Godde can’t or won’t act against that. I suppose it was always thus, but my consciousness has increased.

The second reading tells us about Christ being really special. This pericope is part of a larger reading and frankly I think is pretty irrelevant without it’s context (within its context it makes sense). This is where I sometimes quarrel with the lectionary. What are we supposed to take home from that reading? Jesus is very mighty. Praise-praise. I mean I know some churches pretty much preach nothing else, but let’s be grownups. It’s worth reading the whole chapter if you want to actually get anything out of this reading and then you will see that chapter is just preamble setting up that Paul (or whoever wrote this) has authority and knows all the right things. And then you might need to read all of Colossians which is great, but for now I am off to the gospel!

Coming back to our theme of identifying the voice of Godde in our life, Jesus is very quick to connect the love of Godde to the love of neighbour! That’s pretty close. Bear in mind someone here is asking Jesus what the most important take-home message might be and Jesus COULD HAVE SAID- don’t be gay because that’s horrendous or he COULD HAVE SAID – don’t be an atheist, don’t have an abortion, don’t wear a short dress, blah, blah, blah a million rules like some churches try to tell us. He could have said “obey the bishop” pr “go to church every sunday” or “adam and eve not adam and steve” or “remember to put ashes on your head once a year”.

But what he DID say was….

well…

actually…

that’s the interesting thing. Because Jesus doesn’t answer, he turns back the question on the questioner. I imagine him winking, “you got this”.

Jesus is not going to get into controversies as if he made something up! So the guy talks about loving Godde and loving neighbour and Jesus says “yep that’s it”.

And that is it.

No addendum about “unless it’s a gay or Muslim neighbour”

That might be news to some Christians I think…

So then Jesus actually tells a story to make it more clear. Like “imagine the neighbour is someone you completely disrespect and want to avoid. Imagine the worst person in the world” I am talking a Crows supporter if you are Port supporter. I am talking someone who puts pineapple on pizza. I guess (if I am honest) I am talking a fan of Andrew Bolt.

Godde asks us to love that person.

Which is actually pretty hard isn’t it? I mean it would be easier if Jesus just said “don’t eat meat on Fridays” or “remember to genuflect when you go into a church” or “give a tithe to the rich minister” or something EASY like that. Something with rules. Something where we can identify people we want to keep out (single mothers and drug addicts, prostitutes…except Jesus had an unfortunate tendency to hang out with them and share food). This is looking pretty unavoidable. He really means it.

We are called to overcome our dislike for people and just bloody well help them!

We can help the refugee from war or from climate crisis. We can accept the person fleeing from domestic violence. We can care about the person suffering from mental illness. There is no end to these damn neighbours. Always with the neighbours. Next thing you are going to tell us even non-human things might be our neightbours!

Might they?

Jesus, the good teacher does not give the answers, he asks provocative questions. He asks the scholar and you and me what we saw in the story who was the neighbour. Well it’s obvious “the one showing him mercy”

“Go” says Jesus “Do the same thing”

That would seem to me to be the truth Moses claimed was already in our hearts. That would be the voice of Godde.

If only we would heed that voice

 

 

Holiness, families, connection, otherness

The first reading today, is a couple of disjointed passages from a longer section where surprise, surprise the father (patriarch) of a household is setting up his own wellbeing and interests as “God’s law” over his children. There is a section defining the parent’s power over children as natural and right, God’s will, then he sensibly looks ahead to a future time when he may be feeble or have dementia and sets up taking care of him them as a virtue for his children.

While I agree that looking after the old with compassion and respect is virtuous, as a whole this piece of writing leaves me cynical and disconnected from my tradition. I want to look for holiness instead at real holy families I know… two women who defy their church and some of their relatives to give loyalty and nurture to each other “for better for worse, for richer for poorer…” and let their mutual love outflow to their communities… a single mother on the barest pittance who struggles to put food on the table but always finds some change or a cigarette for any homeless person who asks her, and refuses to give up her World Vision sponsored child…the couple who take turns running for election or supporting each other’s efforts, who work together to manage their household finances, chores, child rearing, extensive political involvement, gardening and still find time to each have personal interests and entertain friends (how do they do it all?)…the single person who knows s/he (I know more than one of these)is on a good income and looks for opportunities to be generous and transformative with their money, even while enjoying a good standard of life themselves…the elderly people whose love for their own (now grown up) children spills over into grandchildren and others who they can mentor, support, encourage…the teachers who are like family in the way they see and respond to an emotional need…the nurses who heal more than a physical wound by lingering or listening for a (precious and scarce) moment longer than they have to…the chef who finds an excuse to feed people even beyond the call of duty…the boss who genuinely cares about how unique her employees are and their individual needs and issues…the now separated or divorced couple who remain friends for the sake of their child, or add encouragement and support to the ex, rather than bitterness and judgement…”

And there are broken families too of course, people betrayed, abandoned, insecure, criticised, misunderstood, neglected…all families are Christ’s family whether we approve of them or not, whether we can see the life-giving potential in them ore not.

To extend this logically, the family called “the church” which is also extremely flawed and at times abusive is Christ’s family too…

The second reading starts off well, with all the advice about loving and forgiving each other, but also ends up devolving into patriarchal family hierarchies. Husbands over wives, parents over children. I don’t want to rehash all the apologetics here about “this is actually liberative for its time and culture because it is two-sided.” Maybe, maybe not but I am reading it on the threshold of 2018 and this way of putting it does NOT liberate someone who has experienced being a child and then a wife. As a lay-person in a church where there is so much power and authority accorded to clergy I am wary of this asymmetrical two-sided responsibility where my responsibility to obey is supposed to mesh with someone else’s responsibility to nurture me. That has often not been the way it has panned out. I also added back in here the verse the lectionary has swept under the carpet, because I think it illustrates our need for caution with texts.

God created all humans with intelligence, will, agency; it in no way makes sense for some to give up their own ability to reason, choose and decide and to hand that power over to others.

I am digging in my heels at these reading with a big fat NOPE.

In the context of these two readings, the gospel seems a little bit oppressive too. Here is Jesus’ family following tradition, celebrating his maleness and first-borness by killing some pigeons. I understand that this is not my culture and I try to bite my tongue as I read it (but there were those other readings to set the tone for me to resist this too). So here they are doing everything that is “prescribed” and Jesus’ specialness is affirmed by people outside the family, people important within their religious community.

As someone who never got to be “special”, as “only a girl” I can watch it from the outside but this story has never really captured my imagination much, nor has it given me any sort of useful concept of “holiness” so that as a child this feast-day was more of a puzzle to me than anything else. I was a pious little goody-goody so I took it for granted that they were holy, I was not and my role in the faith always was to obey and follow- never any more.

But when I was pregnant myself (no longer a child by then) I thought a lot about Mary and her struggles, about Joseph and his ability in other parts of the gospel to put his family radically first (which is pretty transgressive in a patriarchal context). I thought of Jesus’ contradictory attitudes toward his own family- now clear affection, now a seeming desire to escape and deny…of his need to be more than his origins or pedigree, of his resistance to being subsumed in domesticity or family expectations. Leaving the security of the family leads to the cross; the cross might have broken Jesus’ body, but imagine the wreckage it wrought to Mary’s heart?

I prayed that none of my children would ever in any way or in any movement be a “Messiah” and yet I also knew that whatever they were or were not, despite the first and second readings of today I would neither choose nor control. The holiness of “family” then, must lie somewhere in that contradiction between individual agency and call, and collective support, love, acceptance of one another. We yearn as human beings both to connect and to be free. We can achieve so little alone, as a pure individual and yet perhaps the most frustrating and perennial challenge is the attempt to be understood by each other (and the pain of stopping our own knowledge and emotions in their tracks long enough to know another).

So on this feast of the holy family, I look at my own flawed self as a mother of sons, as a sister and daughter, aunt and cousin and friend. I look at my single-state, my difficulty with managing intimacy in my life, but miraculously the relative stability of my friendships. I offer a prayer of thanks for the people who have with-held judgement (or even advice) and have offered encouragement and practical help, fostering my slow growth.

I anticipate my need for more- necessary but slow and painful growth to better relationships and the best inspiration I can find in tradition can only be the prayer of St Francis,

Divine Wisdom make me an instrument of your peace,

where there is injury let me sow pardon,

where there is hatred, let me sow love,

where there is confusion, let me bring Wisdom,

(God I know the original said something different but I mean to bring creative doubt to over-certain faith as much as reassuring faith to toxic doubt)

where there is sadness, let me bring joy

where there is darkness let me bring your light

(and as a three-year old once pointed out where there is too much light let me bring the rest and peace of your darkness)

and to despair let me always show the chance of hope.

Oh beautiful and loving One teach me always to seek

more to console others than to need consolation,

more to listen and understand than just to be heard and understood

especially when I have privilege in worldly terms.

Teach me not to be needy in matters of love but to be generous and ready to pour out and be poured out in love.

 

Let me know with you that it is in giving that we receive

it is in pardoning and making allowances for others that we lose our own guilt and complicity in sin,

and somehow, in some hard to comprehend,

miraculous way

even death is not final as our eternal vocation is into You.

 

Make me an instrument, a way for you to play the music

that is peace and healing

to all.

Amen.

Kings, victims, revolutionaries

The rulers sneered at Jesus and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”  (Luke 23: 35-38)

This rings true for anyone who has been in a situation where they themselves are less than perfect but are trying to advocate for others. This sort of attitude goes hand in hand with “deficit models” of the suffering person and various versions of victim blaming.

Victim blaming has never been completely absent in the way we as a society view the suffering, but it seems that at the moment it is once again on the increase. These days it goes together with the idea of choice…”choice” supposedly leads inevitably to “consequence” and therefore all suffering gets traced back to being the product of an individual’s choice. Never mind the fact that the logic here is faulty, I want to look at the way that this is partially true, and yet not a good reason for us to turn away and deny even compassion to the suffering.

You could say that Jesus’ cross was the consequence of his choices too! Had he quietly accepted the oppressive regime of his society and looked away from the injustices and the suffering of others he would have lived out his life in something like peace (the social science critics can argue over whether he would have been comparatively wealthy or impoverished). Then our call to be like Christ, our call to care more for justice and integrity than for the quiet, peaceful life becomes a dangerous choice to make. And we can expect only mockery and condemnation from others when the choices we make entangle us in things that look like “failure” to the contemporary gaze. It is hard to steer a balance then between the idealism of always transgressing and challenging an unfair society and yet not falling into pointless escapism, self-pity and the sort of individualism that achieves nothing. We do also have to live in the world in which we find ourselves. I won’t discuss that but I feel I need to be mindful of it when I am arguing for anything radical.

Because the “reign” of Christ IS radical. I can’t bring myself to call it kingship, I don’t respect kings and I wouldn’t serve one. Christ comes to us as a mentor and model of radical justice and love and the inability to be silenced. As a feminist I recognise the unsilenced Christ, the ever-nagging (against injustice) Word of God as also Sophia, Wisdom in Old Testament terms. I recognise an ethnic minority (a Jew under Roman occupation). A person of dubious parentage, of suspect sexuality and habits. I can read possible signs of depression in some gospel stories, of fear of rejection and abandonment. I can see someone who is an activist, not just an obedient “worker”. I can see someone who breaks social taboos to touch lepers, prostitutes, men and women of all walks of life.

This then, is our inheritance, not some sort of cleaned up and shiny “Christus Rex” using the cross as a pulpit for easy theologies of “Father knows best” but the struggle and filth and sweating-blood as the end to the hard work and misunderstanding of ministry. So what is the good news here? I need to retrace the whole story. Is it the connections with people who loved and nurtured his identity? Is it the ability to touch and be everything that is true, to call forth the beauty from a story, a place, a story? What about the mocked and degraded criminal hanging on the cross has made us decide we believe in impossible hope? Where’s the resurrection in this last week of the liturgical year?

The jacarandas are turning purple, we are going to move into advent and prepare to celebrate the birth of a displaced baby to a young woman with a question mark over her pregnancy and her dreamer/idealist of a husband. We will watch them forced to travel, to flee, to pick up their fragile lives in various places because of hostile political powers. We place our hope and our identity in this family and it is time to call for a kinder, more just world for all the Mary’s, Joseph’s, Jesuses.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done” because your will is a kinder wiser world. Help us unsilence you again, disreputable God. Give us the courage and compassion to bring your transformative peace to our interactions. We seek your reign in our lives.

If today you hear God’s voice…

If today you hear her voice, harden not your hearts!

The voice of God is everywhere calling us to a life based on compassion (e.g. here), equality (e.g. here) and depth (e.g. here). She calls to our sense of humanity (e.g. here) and for us to seek wisdom (e.g. here).

All the readings this week decry the life lived according to the lowest common denominator- worldly wealth and worldly success. I don’t want to get stuck into a Spirit vs Body binary, because I think if we focus too much on ideals of “spirit” and the “next life” we can miss the politics of the reign of God, calling us to a meaningful life HERE and NOW.

We feed our spirits, not by neglecting our own bodies but by looking out for the bodies of the others who are Christ in our lives (refugees, homeless people, children from low-income households, disabled people). We invest in God’s eternity not by hiding in warm houses praying and chanting praise while our brothers and sisters freeze, but by remembering that we connect with God through how we treat other members of creation (true images of God).

But in 2016, the logic of tearing down the existing barn to build a larger one to store wealth more than needed for one lifetime does not really even shock us anymore. The greed of hoarding and wasteful living while others suffer is exactly what our society and our economic system are based upon. We are the fools in the parable and Jesus calls us to pursue a different form of enrichment.

Harden not your heart.

Recently I met a woman from interstate who for some years now has been working with refugees: supporting, advocating, seeking, justice. When she heard I was an unemployed single mother she bought a bowl of chips “to share” and placed it in front of my son (who was happy to work hard at emptying the bowl). We had a few views in common so I added her on Facebook. To meet her in the flesh, you would not think of her as a rich woman: she has a hard-working job that pays and average amount. She is well enough to live but not dazzlingly rich.

When I added her on Facebook I got a completely different impression. The friends this woman has! The many culturally diverse and rich in wisdom contacts that share love and insights with her all over her page. I began to see, how my new friend’s life choices HAVE in fact made her dazzlingly rich, but with something better than just money and the paranoia that goes with an overemphasis on money. The same story could be told of many of the people I go to church with. When I look at friends who have chosen to pursue compassion, creativity, tolerance, courageous living, sustainability and love I see rich people.

Greed really is idolatry, as we are told in Colossians. How often do you hear religious-sounding language used about “the economy” and are we treated as heretics if we believe that we ought to preserve values of sharing and supporting each other instead of competition and malignant “growth”. And yet in Christ we are not Indigenous Australians, colonial Australians and asylum seekers; we are not Christians, atheists or Muslims; we are not men, women or trans; we are not hipsters or bogans; private or public school; leafy suburbs or Elizabeth. In Christ we are called to the meaning that is only found through un-othering, through seeing that wealth is what we do toward the reign of God, how we open ourselves to meaning and transformation and above all love.

In an Islamophobic, paranoid, climate-threatened Australia of 2016 so many of us have anxiety disorder and burnout. We spend the whole day working hard, the whole week swelling our bank account to save for the school fees or the holiday or the investment property and then we fear existential angst and can’t sleep at night. Vanity of vanities. Or we have inadequate income and we schedule our dehumanising Centrelink appointments and toss and turn and can’t sleep at night. Vanity again.

We spend thousands of dollars on weddings and funerals, but don’t have time to talk to the elderly relatives or play with the children. We shop to try to dull the pain. We go to the hairdresser every six weeks and the gym or pool twice a week and look so damn beautiful that someone should put us in a movie- but the wrinkles we know will keep upon us and the regrowth shows the grey as well. We are not born to live and glitter forever. Vanity of vanities.

My addictions are reading and writing. Not bad things per se, but at times I retreat into them to try to shut out the world of other people’s needs. I stare at the screen, trying to make my words beautiful so others will like and approve of me. I am intentionally clever, or disingenuously humble or funny, or wise or virtuous as I spill words out hour after hour and lap up the joy of sharing them with others. Vanity.

Nothing that we do is bad, but if our ONLY focus in life is eating, drinking, adorning ourselves or our homes, performing our talents, gratifying our vanity and escaping into fantasy worlds while our brothers and sisters starve and the overburdened earth weeps then all the good things that we have become dust. It’s a question of where in our lives (and our nation) do we make room for the reign of God?

No “if” about it you will hear his voice today. Will you harden your heart?

Ask, seek, knock…but why?

I was asked to give the “reflection” this week and this was it

What is the point of prayer?

 

As a child I got taught the “right” prayers to say, the “right” words to use. I was told to use my own words to ask God for things (but this was set up as a somewhat pointless exercise in which I needed to add “if it is your will” and God would do whatever God had already decided either way). I was told to constantly apologise for all my sins and the ways I didn’t measure up, to be ever aware of my unworthiness before God and the likelihood that even in using words I probably wasn’t “paying attention” or “listening” to God properly. I was told to thank and praise God unconditionally, no matter how I was feeling or what was going on in my life or the world around me.

 

Sometimes people would say that prayer was “not just words” but they would make it sound like a harder and harder discipline where we were meant to empty ourselves completely of our contexts, desires, agendas and even identity and just be empty before God. I think I was born feminist (without knowing the words for what that was) and the idea of making myself nothing but a container for someone else’s ego and importance did not sit quite right with me no matter how many times I was told that God was important and I was not. So for me the first reading is very liberating, Abraham does not have the sort of obedient “blind trust” in God but worries about his nephew Lot and manages to nag and reason at God in prayer, trying to bargain God down from the extreme idea of destroying cities. I like this Abraham a lot better than the far-right Abraham a few chapters later who agrees to sacrifice his child blindly to the same God, but even here I feel he wimps out of saying what is really on his mind.

 

How often do we bite our tongue and retreat into the “right words” and liturgies instead of daring to have necessary conflict with God?

 

Yes conflict.

 

If we present a falsely compliant face that is not an honest relationship.

 

In the second reading we are reminded that God is not out to test us, or trap us into proving we are “unworthy” of love or anything like that. Even if there was ever a time when we were unworthy, ignorant, unaware, uncaring or distracted from the reign of God (and most times we have some of this “deadness” somewhere in our lives) even then God was already working to call us and raise us and make us one in redeemed life. So then we need to get courageous about our faith and about our prayer. We need to dare to seek joy and justice from God. We need to really speak our mind in prayer.

 

Then we can trust in God’s willingness to work with our limits, and transform our half-heartedness.

 

I want to read the gospel as simply as I did as a child. I want to believe that if I pray long enough and persistently enough and fervently enough God will fix all my problems and make life on earth a Utopian dream. I’ll mention that to avoid the pious clause “if it is God’s will” because when I pray I am NOT going to fake submission to things I don’t like. It is NOT alright with me that an increasingly irrelevant magisterium of the church puts limits on how the rest of us are supposed to live with God, while too often blinking at the very real problems of climate change, wide-spread inequality, abuses and disenfranchisement of the faithful. I am NOT going to be philosophical about the difficulties of finding work, or the fears for my children or the terror for the children on Manus Island. Not to God. Never again will I hide behind doormat-dispositions with the God who knows me better than that.

 

But we know that we don’t always get what we ask for. So why do we ask for it?

 

What do we get out of prayer?

 

How do we continue to believe that God loves creation enough to give us what we need, not a snake or a scorpion?

 

If I had an easy answer here I would share it with you. The gospel to me seems clear that we DO need to pray and we do need to bring our real agendas to God. The first reading reminded us that it is ok to get out of pious formulas of the “right words” and make it real.

 

The second reading reassures us that God wants us enough to do some of the work of relating, that it is not all down to us to get it right.

 

I invite you now to sit with these readings, and your own experiences of prayer in any way that seems best to you, and then take a moment to share your reflections with the people around you.

The “better part” in a world that doesn’t get it

It seems like over the centuries nothing much has changed. As Amos had God saying back in the time of the first reading, so we could easily believe God would start an angry rant today:

” Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land,”

These are “good business-men” according to the values of 2016, they are very concerned with efficiency. They want the holidays (holy days) to be over so they can get back to making money, they alter the measures to give themselves a better profit margin. Any multi-national of today would gladly welcome such canny entrepreneurs into its fold! But these days the disease has spread. Schools and hospitals, care centres, churches and even charities feel the pressure to behave the same way. Everything we have is commodified and then watered down to make it cheap to produce and sell.

The needy are trampled upon, the land is ruined like never before. So if God was angry then, what might God be feeling now (no point in saying Jesus’ death cancelled out all of that, since Jesus never said that social justice was obsolete, or that his death came to replace our responsibility for how we live).

But we do slowly compromise our beliefs to get along in this very difficult and cynical society: “buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

God notices and God does not overlook this. The rest of the reading is full of dire threats against the escapist sties of excess of the rich.:”The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.”

And is that not what we experience when we bury ourselves in lavish but empty lifestyles and pursuits? Having been quite well off, and recently having experienced a lack of many things that would make life easier, I have been brought face to face with the best and worst in people. Many people have dealt very generously with me, and that puts me to shame because I know that when I am well off, I forget a little about the suffering of others.

But none of us should forget the homeless in this hideous winter weather (a bus station is better than the street but still woefully inadequate when the wind howls and the rain floods). None of us should forget the children in large classes, with inadequate learning materials and exhausted teachers. It may not be my child, but it ought not to be anyone’s child. None of us should neglect the ill or the old or the mentally ill, or those who were kicked off their centrelink payments just in time for the school holidays, so that their children will go back to school with nothing to talk about the holidays apart from how cold and hungry and scared they were.

My challenge is to help people more than I do, but our collective challenge also is to change these systems, because increasingly there is too much hardship for one person’s charity to reach (and world-wide the situation is even more bleak). As God (via Amos) reminds us that the land itself has been oppressed we need to look at atrocities like fracking, nuclear weapons, excessive consumption, genetic manipulation of seeds to maximise control and profit, cynical versions of medical research, fossil fuels….the reality that we have already changed the global climate in extremely dangerous ways.

The apocalyptic message of night and day becoming skewed and wide-spread lamenting seems quite close to hand and God in the reading seems to vow that the wilfully blindly privileged will not remain untouched by this curse they are calling down. The psalm jeers at those who are foolish enough to take refuge in their excessive wealth instead of God. But the “righteous”, presumably the one who seeks God’s values for living is like an olive (judging by the olive trees I never planted, that are taking over my yard this means tenacious and resilient). Somehow withing all the apocalyptic possibilities before us we trust in the steadfast LOVE of God.

That love has never meant easy answers, or that we are off the hook. But in some way we may not yet be able to grasp it translates into hope for those who DO speak up for the poor and for the earth. The second reading adds evidence for this. We have Christ’s headship and ongoing presence making the best out of us, turning us back from evil ways to redeemed possibilities (I cannot see how, but the hope is there). But our hope is part of or faith, both things we need to steadfastly hold onto. Some aspects of this are mystery, we do not know everything. Wisdom in the second reading consists of trusting God and turning toward God’s way of life, listening to the warnings and teachings to achieve a “mature” faith.

Finally the gospel.

This is one of the ones that at times I have grappled with. Because what makes Mary so special? It seems really rough on Martha that she is excluded from the ease of Jesus and the apostles. Granted I can’t see that it would be better if Mary also had to do the “shit work”. But I can’t blame Martha for being angry that she has been left with all the work. I enjoyed a book called “Through a Woman’s eyes: encounters with Jesus” by Chris Burke that I read several years ago that put a different possibility on this story, with some of the male apostles being less entitled and helping Martha out so that Mary could have her connection and teaching from Jesus. To me those sort of imaginative possibilities are helpful but in the context of today’s readings I can see another twist to it too.

Ignoring questions of gender (and I realise we can’t always do this) and relegating Jesus and the apostles to background in the power-play between Mary and Martha, I put myself into the place of Martha (easy for someone like me to do). I am resentful, jealous, tired. I resort to judging because I am not getting what I need. If I then read Mary as a special little flower who has more important things to do than help me then I remain angry! But the fact is I don’t know about Mary. I have not walked in her shoes. I do not know her inner battles, her exhaustion, her background or why she needs to simply sit at the feet of Jesus, drawing in healing, life, teaching.

So my challenge (still as Martha) is to get my needs met in a way that does not judge Mary. I don’t think that this is a perfect way of reading this episode of the gospels, but it becomes relevant to the other readings of the week if we consider our society’s suspicious and grudging attitudes towards artists, thinkers, “dole bludgers”, the disabled or single parents. We feel envy and resentment at how hard we need to work and the fact that others are given what they need whether they appear (to us) to have earned it or not. We are beginning to teach ourselves to see taxes NOT as a public good, but as our hard-earned cash that ought to deliver a measurable good to ME the individual consumer. Instead of thinking about what is missing in our own lives (more family time, leisure, creative expression, meaningful connection, spirituality) we can get caught up in feeling self-righteous about how unpleasant it feels to “have to” be an economic participant in such a flawed society and losing our compassion in the fear that added pressures will be put on us, or that something will be taken away.

I have felt like this. It is related to the panic that people from overseas will come and drive down our minimum wage and take away our (seemingly) inadequate share of the cake.

Martha’s thinking is twisted because she says “make Mary work” instead of “I need to find a way to spend less effort so that I too can come and connect in with the Word and have Life”. We ought to have compassion for Martha because I feel that we all make that mistake one way or the other when we look at “others”. But as Jesus explains, Martha does not fully understand what is going on with Mary (or the possibility that she could and should have it too).

Jesus reminds us to look at ourselves, and get our own priorities right instead of trying to take away the joys, interests and vocation of others. I don’t think he is endorsing the exploitation of Martha (and if he is I would quarrel with him). In Amos we see the devastation that comes when people’s wrong priorities are allowed to fester into selfishness, and their skills go into getting ahead instead of getting along. The psalm echoes this and reminds us that our safety is in God not in wealth. Colossians reminded us that hope comes from coming to Jesus with a steadfastness.

All of us have things in our lives we could cut back on or slow down on to focus on relating and to redirect ourselves toward hope. All of us have people like Martha, who judge us when we don’t “look busy” or compete at mundane things. Perhaps we also have the tendency to show off unimportant things instead of just relating, and to try to control the contribution of others.

What is the “better part” and how do we choose it? How do we also free up our sisters (Marthas) and others to have some “better part” in their own lives too?