Tag Archives: community

Too much information from this social leper.

Content warning- suicide attempts and all the sort of thinking that goes with them. Additionally apologies for length.

My way into the readings this week is via my own experience as a closeted lesbian. I was so closeted I didn’t even know myself. I married and had children, tried to marry again, tried all sorts of ways of performing heterosexuality believing from every movie or book I ever experienced that I was “meant to” be heterosexual. And after all I had the need to be loved and accepted and admired that leads us into romantic entanglements, the more-so because of childhood disappointments and traumas. I “needed to be loved”.

So in my childhood it was as though there was a “Lord” that warned us all about casting out the lezzos (rather than literally lepers), because lesbianism was (in my upbringing) not only dirty but potentially contagious (the latter I would argue has some truth to it). There was a sore upon my heart and soul, I always felt unclean and unworthy- hollow and dishonest in some way without being able to point out why. I was unhappy – I had a chronic discontent that infiltrated even into my happy moments (or things I was supposed to enjoy like sex and relationships). There was an unknown, unnameable pain behind every moment and I thought I was just “born that way” (unhappy that is).

At times I looked for escapist ecstasies to try to help me blank out the pain and emptiness. It was still empty but it was distracting.

I prayed a lot and I tried to be a good person. I grew very disillusioned when this did not seem to help my emptiness and pain.

I cycled between these “good girl” and “bad girl” extremes- sometimes keeping one up for months or years, other times rapidly cycling through both- usually blending a little of each. I wanted to be super-brat and super-saint in one. There is still a grandiose streak in me, I am more aware of it but it is not a temptation I am completely free from. It helps to name it to myself with compassion and self-forgiveness. I knew I could never really be good or happy and I prayed angrily to God for death. A lot. Sometimes I tried to kill myself but thankfully with such timidity and inefficiency that it didn’t really take.

I meant it though, I wanted not to exist. It would be easy to dismiss my attempts as “not serious” because I did not make one work. They were not well executed but they were serious. I am better at achieving my goals these days so it is a good thing that I am not suicidal.

But as the psalm tells us “blessed is the one whose (imaginary) fault is taken away, whose real sin (self-hate) is uncovered and to whom God imputes no guilt”. Ok I changed a word here and there but this is how I need to pray it right now. I am blessed. I am grateful. I am here. I am queer.

Queer

Lesbian

Gay

All those bad words that I was so afraid of. I am them. I embody them. I love them.

I love women and women’s bodies and women’s ways of thinking (yes I know that is socialised) and women’s laughter and women’s dancing and art and writing and….oh I love women. And I am a woman so in loving women I feel a sense of being good too.

This is not just a sex thing (though sex is a good within this way of being), it is an orientation thing. I was so afraid not just of potential female lovers but of mothers and sisters and aunties and grandmothers and friends. I was afraid of women doctors, of teachers, of hugging, kissing, even smiling and especially eye contact. At some point I must have grasped the danger- that I needed to repress myself very strongly to avoid the self-knowledge that I was gay. I must have grasped that subconsciously because I never remember making the decision. I learned to feel as little as possible and notice less in the company of women (any woman, however “safe”). I took great care to gaze in the mirror with hatred, to avoid seeing womanliness with any sort of dangerous approval. I hated my own masculinity (because in a woman masculinity is queer) and my own femininity (because femininity made me aware of my attraction to women). No wonder I couldn’t function- could not achieve, could not sleep, could not love.

I loved in a way though. I felt tenderness and compassion toward others. I feel it should count in my defence that I was someone who had a degree of empathy and a strong instinct to heal and nurture even when I was sunk so deep in (self) hate. I wish I had been a better mother for my children but they know I have always loved them at least.

The second reading talks about doing everything to the glory of God, in a way that will bring people INTO grace not lock them out of it. Why does the church not love and accept queer people better to the glory of God? Why do we not celebrate God’s act of creation by celebrating the created ones (straight, gay, trans and every rainbow hue)?

In the gospel Jesus recognises that healing is not just an “inside yourself” thing, it is not a matter of thinking positive or just staring down the negative self-talk. He heals the leper AND ALSO he helps him re-access the approval and belonging of his church community. I feel that lovely Sophia-Jesus did this for me too (better late than never), when AFTER the good seed of queer theory and feminism had been repeatedly sown in my brain by theological college and a couple of positive church communities, AFTER I had had to confront my own homophobia in reference to other, AFTER I had wrestled with the question of whether I would love a gay child of mine I finally and spectacularly fell in love with a woman.

“Spectacularly” only to myself as in the external sense nothing ever happened- and couldn’t happen. But what I felt shook up everything I thought I knew about myself and I came out of it wondering how people would respond to me if I was just plain old “lesbian” instead of a weird and terrified sense of never fitting anywhere and always being unhappy and empty.

God bless then the people I “showed myself to”. One of the first was a church group that met regularly to talk about faith, scripture and to share chocolate. From that I learned to be more confident, less apologetic about who I was and discovered JOY. I went back to a church community I had always loved for its very female energy. I showed myself to them also gradually- first just “I am back and I want to be involved” but then “by the way I am gay”. I was accepted. I was loved.

This is not what I was brought up to accept.

Jesus’ work of healing me from my estrangement from myself was completed by the receptive community who complimented my rainbow jumper and listened to my reflections. We all have that power- we who believe in God. We can be secure enough in our faith to advocate for the rights and inclusion of all others, not for a mean-minded and judgemental spirituality.

God may ask a lot from us, but all she asks for is geared toward JOY. I strongly believe that now that I know what joy tastes like.

So I pray

Loving God,

Thank you for challenging me.

Thank you for healing me.

Thank you that I am wrong every time I think I am broken beyond repair.

Thank you that I am wrong when I think I cannot be loved and accepted.

 

Thank you for smiles and words of encouragement.

Thank you for hugs and eye contact.

Thanks for small talk, affirmations, compliments

for the beauty of other people,

for the acceptance of other people,

for the way I have to learn to be larger

and wiser and more whole

to embrace other people.

 

God of love and loving and lovers,

I thank you every day

for that soul that touched my life

and jolted me out of my misery.

I thank you that I fell in love with her,

with the world,

with you

even I suppose with myself.

 

I thank you that I want to live.

I want to live.

 

Amen

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Lip service or life? Called to courageous loving

Preached today to my wonderful community that give me all the support and love and really are a family in faith to me…

As I prayed and reflected on today’s readings, it was very hard for me to separate out the escalating feelings of fear, grief and hurt I have felt over the last week from some of the homophobic comments and lies that are circulating at the moment. As a queer woman, some people would say that I am “going to hell” or am locked out of God’s community, yet I experience God as knowing me better than I know myself and loving me deeply- allowing for my slowness to learn how best to live and encouraging my good intention. I have tried to resist the temptation to make my journey with this week’s readings nothing more than an expression of the pain I feel in this time. Yet I will name the pain because it is there. And then I will try to move on…

The first reading is the last part of a longer discussion about the way that each person owns their own conscience. Within it, a person is not judged by their family, culture or community nor by how others around them choose to live but insofar as they themselves respond to God and do what is right their path will be always into life. This is both a liberating and a troubling concept in our historical context, where we are increasingly facing the reality of climate change that will take more than the actions of a handful of well-meaning individuals to reverse.

And yet this is the reality we live in, things are happening around us that we have limited control to halt or change and we must somehow keep finding hope and meaning. Perhaps what we can find here is an antidote to the sorts of thinking that see decreasing compassion and rising inequality as inevitable. God does not desire our death, the call is always into life. We must embrace hope so that seeing the fallenness, imperfection or powerlessness of ourselves or those around us we must look for the potential for liberation and healing.

In the psalm we cry out to God to be compassionate and to teach us, this echoes both the awareness that things may be wrong and the determination to hope of the first reading. In the verses, God’s nature is revealed to be goodness and kindness, love and compassion. We can and must depend upon that whatever else we are emboldened to do.

The second reading is a sort of counterpoint to the first. Just as in the first reading, each of us was asked to think for ourselves, and to do good even if we are surrounded by wrong-doing, the second reading calls us to be community, to seek harmony and connection with others and to work for the good of others, not just selfishness. Hope then, is no longer a lonely place and we do not stand and judge from a moral high-ground but seek to know and serve whatever is vulnerable in each other.

Thus we come to the gospel, and the difference between giving lip-service to faith and living it. The first son is foolish and rebellious, he does not like to be told. I relate to him a lot and I see my own children in him too. And yet, once he has given his tokenistic resistance to the authority of his “father” he realises that the vineyard is something he is involved in and responsible for and he quietly gets in and works for the harvest. The second son is all performative obedience and moral superiority but when it comes down to it does not contribute to getting the harvest in.

This is a theology that Jesus points out even the religiously impure ones, even the tax collectors and prostitutes, instinctively understand. So what of us? Are we brave and honest enough to argue with the “father” when we do not feel as committed or engaged as we are told we ought to be? Would we dare to refuse to do what we are told…and then give ourselves the chance to rethink what we are really being asked to do, and what our role may be in the vineyard of God.

Or would we opt to look “respectable”, to follow from as great a distance as possible, paying lip-service but avoiding getting our hands dirty? Do we only go along with the call to love and accept the vulnerable so far as they don’t challenge or disgust us? Is there a limit to our ability to transmit God’s grace, or is it simply that we are busy and there are higher priorities than loving? But the first son’s apparently sullen attitude masks a deep love. Sometimes things may be better than they seem at first sight.

All three of the readings seem very sure in telling us that we need to risk being authentic before God. God’s desire is to always keep the option open for us to return and return and return into the heart of the community, into the work of the harvest, into life.

If we are called today, then what is our direction? Let us become aware of God’s love and allow ourselves to be authentic before it. Let us reflect on the readings for a short time and then as is our custom you might share your thoughts with the people sitting near you.

On Sebastian’s Confirmation

My youngest was confirmed and I was privileged to be allowed to speak (preach?) on the day. There were also two baptisms and so I wanted to tie the confirmation in with them. Here is what I said…

Sebastian was baptised a long, long time ago. We had all the same hopes for him that parents do at baptisms. We didn’t feel we needed God to “change” him or “fix” him in any way, but we wanted to show our commitment to bringing him into the Christian community.

His community of faith was a joyful, accepting one. I had been asked NOT to step down from serving at the altar when I was pregnant (although I was allowed to sit down and take breaks when I needed to)- we celebrated the baptism at the Adelaide College of Divinity, intentionally choosing ecumenical territory, Matthew and I bringing our families and our friends together and Sebastian was not for a moment short of arms that wanted to hold him and faces that wanted to smile at him.

It was like any baptism of a baby that way. There were the symbols- water- death and resurrection, oil, candle, white garment. There was the love and the welcome in everyone’s hearts. I felt sure that baptism for Sebastian would not be a one-off event but would be the beginning of a journey. Over the years we have been part of several church communities- but what Sebastian has found there has been people who offer to babysit him and bake him sausage rolls, people who sewed a tiny cassock so he could be boat boy and people who made sure there were some kids drinks at morning tea after the service. He has been taught about the bible and about the sacraments and about how precious is God’s creation- human and otherwise.

At Cabra chapel Sebastian has been accepted with enthusiasm but also respect for his boundaries as he gets older. He often gets asked to help out in various ways, but the asking is never forceful. When I have the temerity to walk into the church without Sebastian, I always know people are going to ask me where he is. He has been allowed to become an important part of this community, because that has been his baptismal right. Baptism makes a place like this, a church community “home”. The baptised Christian is always called back by God to be amidst the love, support, inspiration and nurture of their community and that has been the case with us.

But now Sebastian is ready to be confirmed and confirmation works together with baptism as a sort of divine circle of security. You probably all know about the circle of security where parents work with the child on separating and reconnecting easily with trust and for the needs of the child –reassurance and encouragement to be met as the child manages to do more and more for themselves, but returns to that safe base. The sacraments work similarly, and in confirmation we receive the Holy Spirit as our mentor and inspiration. The Holy Spirit already knows Sebastian well I am sure and will work with Sebastian’s deepest God-given nature to find Sebastian’s unique work in this world. We all have unique work for God’s kindom and a unique (though sometimes difficult to understand or respond to) call.

In baptism, Sebastian has been called into the nurturing heart of his Christian community, in confirmation he will be sent out, commissioned to walk with God in the world. There is no contradiction here, any more than there is in the circle of security. He is simultaneously sent out and called back in. So are we all. Sebastian is no longer the baby he was and we must trust him and God to decide exactly how he will follow his sending out and his call inward. But we are pleased that he is our family, we are pleased that he is our church.

His journey of faith reminds us to look to our own ongoing journey of faith and his young flame of Wisdom and Courage, Joy and all the fruits of the spirit is one we will still nurture with our prayers, acceptance and community life.

We are privileged to assist God in nurturing these young lives and welcoming them into our midst. Come Holy Spirit. Fill our hearts today and always.

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.

 

Apology

Sorry. I am just too burdened with an essay (and still having to work and stuff) to get a proper blog post written (it would take me 1-2 hours minimum and much mental energy)

Here is a song I find helpful for my spirituality: The Word of God according to Florence and the Machine

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCWnVznnWcs about hope and redemption, repentance, change, leaving negative ways of being behind all that stuff

and another: The Word of God according to Alice Deejay

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvalLXZ8Vuo about the need for presence. I use it as a need for presence of God need for spirituality, but it is also a need for people, for community. I always associate this song with a death-cry by the rejected Christ on the cross.

Both songs are possibly best experienced without their videos, but suit yourselves.

I realize this is not a great post and I will return to my usual transmission (maybe aim for two next week but I am not making promises) ASAP