Tag Archives: commitment

Plowshares

I wrote this to share at church, then in the rush I left my notes at home and had to “wing it” at church. Thanks to the supportiveness of everyone it went OK. The photo is a flower arrangement I made for church before being reminded we don’t do flowers in Advent. I rehomed it with my sister, who absolutely deserves flowers!

Today’s first reading always makes me smile and think of the activist movement “Plowshares” who advocate active resistance to war…I felt they deserved a mention.

The whole reading is replete with an active response to God- it is a movement of people, streaming towards God’s mountain to learn and be led to actively change our ways. The symbolism of changing weapons of war to implements of growing food has much to offer and I have made it the focus today for our liturgy which as always centres a communal meal as a symbol of shared abundance in every way.

Turning to the book of Isaiah however, and reading on from this idealistic vision, it all turns very bleak very quickly and that also can be our experience. The transformed reality we celebrate in coming together for communion, is not the lived reality of the world around us- the power-infused relationships, the cynical politics and parsimonious economics of our time. So glib escapist religious fantasies that “it all happens for a reason” will not serve us in our lead-up to Christmas, and if we listen to our tradition we will need this feast to be something more than a “feel-good” fest.

If we stream to the mountain, the sometimes steep mountain that is scripture, we might be looking for instruction, leadership, community, active response, transformation but we do not escape our reality by doing so. Nor do we escape our complex interwoven identities where we are both benefiting in some measure from unjust systems and also perhaps ourselves oppressed (or at least limited) by rigid systems of control.

And then the letter to the Romans bids us to “wake up” from sleep. This is a time for consciousness, not a time to let the familiar and the dear rituals of Christmas lull our consciences to sleep, not to leave it all up to God. Advent is a new year, it’s a time to get serious about the “reign of God” we celebrated last week, to begin again a cycle of movement toward that point toward a not-yet reality of God’s vision realised. Can we see God as a baby that needs our protection? An unborn possibility inside us? A desire for beauty and truth to take over our lives?

In the gospel, two people who seem identical are somehow not. One is “taken” and one is “left”. There is no radical difference we can see between one and the other but perhaps by implication as we go about our ordinary lives in our limited world God can see the details, the good intentions and the small acts of love which may never be perfect but do somehow matter after all. I don’t like the hyper-individualism that seems to come through here, as if I want to distance myself from my sister or brother and be smugly pious. But let’s deconstruct this picture by a return to the image of weapons, transformed into tools for growing food. Then let’s take care to remember that food is for feeding and sharing not just for grasping and selling which devolves food production back into war. Can we transform this image of two women grinding meal, or two men working in a field by refusing to buy into the oppositional, competitive factor? Then, both may come to share in the radical hope of God’s coming after all. Is grace contagious? We can only hope.

So this Christmas, I will eat and drink and participate in the celebrations and I don’t feel guilty about that. But I will give thought to the changing climate, to the impoverished and imprisoned families and try to temper my excess and share my abundance. And this advent I will choose who I wish to be this liturgical year. Come, let us go to the mountain of this tradition/faith we hold together, back again into the heart of our communal longing for all to be right. Let us light in our hearts the candle of hope and allow that interruptive and transformative power in. Jesus, Sophia, eternal Wisdom and Word.

 

Dark Days

“May you live in interesting times” the ancient curse goes and this week more than ever before I can feel it. On a personal note I have issues of the many headed (and always growing new heads) beast of poverty with my fridge broken, my drains blocked, my car damaged by hailstones that make cherries looks small by comparison, debt, fines, and loss of license (so maybe the car doesn’t matter). I work hard enough and long enough to not be getting my academic writing done (nor anything creative) but not enough to survive on. Last night I realised just how much the ongoing and recurring stresses of this year have harmed me but also that I have beautiful friends in my life. I am not just whinging, this is a common theme at the moment among low income earners whose belts are being cinched tighter than is reasonable – and the loss of good health and educational outcomes (for example) that go with it should also concern us when we consider how many like me might have small children. Anyway even middle-aged disgruntled ranters like me matter as human beings.

On a less personal note I can turn to the world of politics where it seems that evil and inhumane madness is running rampant throughout the world- that many people hate the disadvantaged “other” even more than they love their own interests and we constantly vote in madmen (gender intentional and largely justified) who we then use as role models for truly anti-social behaviour and beliefs.

And yet as one of my friends in the Greens reminded on Facebook there are little wellsprings of hope…small triumphs for love (such as “Wicked campers” told they can’t put misogynist and violent slogans on their vans anymore and some US states bringing in preferential voting). Another friend reposted Todd Beaupre’s assertion that: “Tomorrow, I will not define myself by the future President. I will use whatever freedom and privilege I have to keep making this world what I want it to be. Donald Trump is one person in a powerful position, but he will not control my life. And my friends and allies who may not be as privileged as I am, know that I am still here for you. My America means love, positivity, truth, rewarding hard work while supporting those who struggle to keep up, freedom, and peace. I will not be silenced. Hillary may have lost, but there are still many millions of Americans who will show tomorrow and every day after, that LOVE STILL WINS. Who is with me?” (I have no idea who Todd Beaupre is but I thought the quote worth circulating.)

So these friends have reminded me firstly, not to neglect my blog even though I feel full of despair and snowed under, and secondly to take this opportunity to make a commitment that I feel echoes my baptismal and confirmation commitment to walk with God. So I will take a few small moments to try to put that into words

In a world where the hatred of others teaches me anger, I will nevertheless strive to speak with love and kindness.

I will be courageous is speaking out against abusive ways of viewing other people and the world, but I will not seek to humiliate or stereotype those I debate with.

I will look to notice those who are made invisible by discourses of might and privilege. I will give them words of recognition and friendship and silences of deep listening.

I will be kind to myself and pursue enjoyment with my friends up to a point, but will not allow escapist activities or ways of thinking to sway me from the things that need to be done.

I will listen to the people who love me and open my heart to believe them that I am loved and loveable.

I will nurture and strengthen the wisdom, hope and loving-kindness of others knowing that their goodness may build a better world.

I will learn to be better at accessing the help I need from people and grow toward advocating also for others.

Yeah though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death I will reorient myself toward the loving God of all good possibilities, of life renewed.

I will do something today that is enjoyable. I will speak to someone today who I love.

I ask the strength of God to achieve this, the compassion of God when I fail in any of these and the joy of God in the living of my commitment to her eternal love. Amen.

And then right now I will do some work on my article 😉

 

 

 

It’s your birthday: let’s not forget!

I’ve been relatively good at doing what the lectionary tells me for a while, but today I am cherry picking the first reading from  proper I and the gospel from proper III (only because I love them so much, not for any profound reason) and adding in my favourite Micah segment because for me it is a symbol for my commitment to God and my need to recommit and reorient toward God constantly. 

Happy birthday darling, little Wisdom. Always new and beautiful as a tiny baby. Always vulnerable to our neglect or mistreatment. Always for us to bring into our lives, and introduce. Happy, happy birthday.

Once long ago, somebody asked what you would like for your birthday. They suggested rams and rivers of oil or maybe human sacrifice (please note: not even for you would I sacrifice my sons). These seemed fitting tributes if you were a great warmongering deity, an accepter of tribute. But you came to us as a persecuted baby, as a voice that the powers of the day wanted to silence, as Wisdom dancing and treating us. And you said there were really only three things that you liked, to take all other presents back to the shop and exchange them for the only thing that could ever make you smile.

You wanted us to act justly, love with kindness, walk humbly with you. Why is it that so much injustice and cruelty and arrogance are brought in your name? Why is it so hard for us to get the present right? I love you, I want to give you your heart’s desire.

And yet you come, not demanding but giving. Our world walks in darkness and you offer us “a great light” and incredible joy. So easy to read this light as a lightening of the depressive load we bear, a kind of escapism from the realities of the day. Easier still to see the “joy” as dividing the plunder of first world privilege, of 24 hour shopping and maxed out credit cards, of tables groaning under a burden of too much food, too much of which will be thrown away while most of the world starves. If this is the only joy we have, then we do not have your joy!

But you come for the burdened people, the oppressed and enslaved and exploited. Will you break the yoke of capitalism, the bar of vacuous consumerism and the rod of inevitability and despair? Will you break open our hardened hearts and let flow the tears we have repressed so that you can wipe them and hold us close once more in compassion? Will you show us how to be miracles upon the earth and let the refugee free while supporting the single parent and the young?

The suspicious and unloving within our hearts, the militaristic hatred and tendency to move to protect our excess and privilege you will burn. Within your love we have no need of such things..wondrous child.

Yes as a mere child you come, again and again.

As what is small and powerless and easy enough to ignore, to bury in cast off wrapping paper and the expectations of our nearest and dearest. Even if we problematise Christmas how tempting to growl “bah humbug” and leave it at that. Easy either to enter into the spirit of silliness and excess or to condemn and retreat. How much harder to enter into your transformation and allow a child of truth to be born in our lives? How will you transform me? Do I have courage to step upon your path in the coming year and let you lead me into the unknown? But not entirely unknown because your path is always truth- the unchanging truth of right relations with humans and the earth itself (justice, kindness, walk humbly: once again my refrain).

If your zeal will do this God, then I look to you to enflame my heart with your zeal so that I may follow and serve your interests (there you told me I might find real joy).

As for the gospel, you know me: what a nerd I am and how I am a person of words of reading and writing and lively discussions. How kind of you to be “Word” when you touch my humanity. How slow I am to discover that all life that is worth living is within you, to ground my own life, my own words, my own meaning in you…always you. But you are not only for me- as some sort of feel good inspirational text would be- you are deeply and transformatively political “for all people”.

“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.” we wrote those words upon my mother’s grave. Wisdom and love are far reaching, more than I usually dare to believe. You embody yourself within us, within our human heritage of love passed down and imperfect wisdom too. Through you we come to believe, to know at last what is important (justice, kindness, walk humbly). Like John we are commanded to make a way for you into the hearts and lives of others. How to do this for you birthday-Wisdom to whom I owe so much?

We are not the light, but the light needs our work so that it may shine.

We receive you because we were born from something greater than the “will of a man”, you called us into being and again into fulfilment of that being. “The man” may block our progress, but God does not accept the inevitability of failure and death. No. Even dying on the cross the eternal hope of God screams out in defiance of all oppression, of all that dehumanises, of all that seperates. We could mourn the state of the world but God gives us life after death.

The Word knows us well having become flesh and soiled nappies and been utterly reliant on the love and goodness of imperfect others. The Word gives us grace and truth to go on and bring light and change the world.

Happy birthday beloved, beautiful Word of God- invite me to be a better friend to you this coming year. Make my heart and hands big enough to respond generously to the need of those you love. Give me the little words that reflect your own Wordness. Let me like Mary labour to bring you forth in faith, hope and always LOVE.

 

Wisdom is at the end of her tether

If my tongue is like a rudder and far from flawless in its steering (and I accept that) then the voice of the bible too pulls us this way and that, not always moving in a God oriented direction partly because it was designed to compensate for social currents that have changed but also because created by people as flawed as ourselves in a flawed time and a flawed society it is in itself the flawed instrument. The miracle is that God’s magnetic pull is somehow strong enough so that even with our flawed instruments and flawed selves we somehow can orient and correct and recorrect and attempt to return to the place where the buried treasure is.

My tongue is capable of great evil, I may well be inept in speaking God’s good news, but lately she has let me feel that she can speak through me in a range of ways to a range of people. Imperfect, flawed but not useless. In the same way the bible always attempts to respond to the pull of God. As I travel toward God, the boat I am sitting in is my place in society a whole lot of social expectations and created needs and desires and subjectivities that can obscure the Way. My boat is patched together with bad habits, assumptions, unhelpful thoughts, self-loathing, apathy and escapism. God’s siren call comes to strike terror in my heart and capsize me and that is my only salvation from drifting past the true centre where the treasure eternally is.

I had drifted into the doldrums of an apathetic half-life but again I feel irresistibly attracted to an unsettling God. When I breathe in this reality I feel truly alive.

Meanwhile Wisdom has her nagging voice on. Last time we heard her she was seducing with wine- sending out her maid-servants to invite but I guess by now she has realised (as the refugees are also forced to realise) that we are slow and unresponsive, selfish and stubborn. Now she is threatening to laugh at us when it all comes unpicked and I can’t blame her. But I don’t want to be one of the fools who cannot find her- I don’t want to be left alone without her. How do I convert sufficiently to her Way not to lose her? How do I offer more than the reconciliation that is part of the cycle of abuse, but genuinely listen to what she asks and change my life?

I do not yet feel beyond the pale, at least I desire to respond to Wisdom. Will that be enough?

But I look to Jesus and he tells me about Wisdom’s way in an unjust world and the radical commitment to Jesus, to Wisdom is a commitment to be a threat to society. It comes not just with risk but for a true follower of Jesus there is, or will be a cross. Is my faith enough for this? I am reading Dancing with God by Karen Baker-Fletcher and she talks about God transforming the world back to good constantly and calling us forever to turn aside from evil. But she is quite realistic about evil, when she portrays lynchings of black people and similar hate-crimes. It’s naïve in a time like this (perhaps in any time) to practice a feel good Valium of a faith and ignore the hard path to Calvary that is built into the liberative preaching of Jesus.

The way of the cross.

If you don’t like what I am saying, I don’t blame you. I don’t much like it either. But imagine if the crowd at the crucifixion had been lovers of Wisdom, not cowardly Christians like ourselves? Imagine if they had spoken out, if they had all put aside fear of the oppressive regime for a minute and together DEMANDED that Jesus and his two friends not be crucified. For the lone activist Christian the end might be crucifixion, but what of the courageous community? Can we grow a Christ that is bigger than one of us? I am not trivialising resurrection, at least I don’t think I am but like Baker-Fletcher I think Jesus died to say “enough with the crosses, love one another with a radical and courageous love”.

I am scared of my call some days, because I know it is something bigger than me and will never lead to comfort and ease but will swallow me up. But not to follow it is another sort of death, it is to force myself little by little to exist a little less. We do that so easily in the first world, we sit in our “sty of contentment” and we forget the next part, “meaning death”.

And Wisdom may be out on the streets, haranguing me and threatening to leave me but at least she has not yet given up on me. What would it profit me to gain the whole world, and lose her who authentically is my life?

My beloved said it was spring

Lectionary link here

What a beautiful first reading, and well placed in time now, when we are all sick to death of winter as well as of the wintry political climate. How seductive of “my beloved” to come bounding up proclaiming spring and escapism and endless possibilities rekindled. Yes, if vocation is like this how impossible to resist (no wonder I can’t focus on the things I am supposed to be doing, my beloved must be distracting me with spring and flowers and song). The psalm follows that being more of an admiring love-song for a possibly unreachable (there is already a queen by his side) but infinitely desirable other. Where’s the usual militaristic and pious language? Scent of spring indeed in these words!

The second reading brings me a criticism of my habitual angry state of mind, one that has far more persuasive power with me than usually when people tell me to lighten up and be less angry. In this epistle I am reminded to be slow to anger because my anger does NOT give rise to God’s justice. That is true. In and of itself negativity does not bear fruit. I am actually mellowed by those words in the context of the beloved prancing around in an ecstasy of spring. Sometimes we wait and wake to a natural hope which we have not ourselves been able to accomplish. The next verse asks me to be meek however, which is going too far. Not even for you God!

The remainder of the reading shows us that we need to have a commitment to social justice and a transformed and transformative way of life, not just pious “yes man” attitude to God. Just being “spiritual” is a sort of narcissm, the real living word of God needs to be actualised in transformative action. For me, writing words every week on a blog that not so many people read I guess I need to reassess. What is my grappling with the word of God achieving? How can I live as a “beloved” and an ardent lover of God? In what way have I not yet responded to my calling?

I don’t have the answers, but the desire is kindled within me to become open. Hopefully God will move me. I turn toward the gospel.

The gospel seems to be reminding me to look beyond superficial signifiers of “belonging” and “complying” to the real substance of the behaviours that are or are not worthy of God. And I become aware of sin within myself. What is it that comes out of me that defiles? Am I quick to judge people because I feel that my own struggles make me more deserving than others? Is there some malice at times when I criticise, does it degenerate to gossip and sarcasm and mockery? Not only is this cruel and destructive but it is also a distraction from real change while I bury myself in negativity.

So perhaps the call by my beloved is to discover an idealism not of purity, but of sweetness and forgiveness. I can never forgive what our society is doing to helpless refugees, nor the church’s misogyny but I can forgive the ignorance and powerlessness and human weakness in real human beings- in my friends, in my enemies, in myself. When our “society” or “church” is broken up into the actual individuals who make up these corporate entities, how do I bring my compassion and wisdom to stir people?

I observe myself as a teacher of 3-4 year olds. I have found there that using kindness, encouragement, dwelling on the positives, encouragement and affection bring the best out of them- with criticism only useful when it is used sparingly in a loving context. Why cannot I do this more with adults? Is it because I see “them” as more powerful than me, as more capable, by implication “they” ought to be better than they are, ought to be better than I am. Even the way I talk to myself is full of “oughts” and “shoulds” and “why didn’t yous” when as one of my friends once told me I ought to kiss myself and say “it’s ok darling” instead, like I would throw my arms around a crying child and keep them safe.

“This is who you might be” my beloved says to me, “This is who I see in you. Come away from the despair and the cold and the isolation. Embrace my people and be embraced.” Desire burns away my fearful and small minded excuses. Spring is here!