Tag Archives: Constantine

Being Privileged

I actually had no quarrel with the lectionary today. The first reading in it, if you are interested is worth looking up later. What it says was pretty similar to the first part of the gospel anyway.
I chose the reading from Alexis Wright as part of a personal project that I thought you would allow me to share with you. My project is to bring into my prayer life some voices of women of colour, and especially Indigenous women. I read, then I spend some time trying to become aware to broaden my mind and to be called out of my privileged view of the world.
I haven’t read all of Carpentaria yet, but Wright’s work makes me feel deeply uncomfortable and sad with a sadness I don’t know how to express. It’s not really my intention to share my discomfort (hence I chose a relatively mild passage) but as feminists we do need to remember that we have been asking for decades that men and especially ones in leadership positions would sit with the discomfort that WE bring and let it undermine an unjust system, rather than being emotionally lazy and dismissing us unheard.
So when it comes to an Indigenous woman, one who is not only speaking unfamiliar truths, but speaking them in epistemologically strange (to me) ways I need to take extra time to get to know what I am hearing and allow for its potential to change me.
Will this change us?
I’ve circled back to the original first reading which is echoed in the gospel. In the Kindom of God we are called to set the table not to build a wall around “church” and then become gate keepers. We are called to throw open the doors and give refreshment (even a cup of water) in the name of Life.
Imagine a church that had always recognised this?
Imagine centuries- not of converting and condemning others but (and here I borrow from Micah) of walking humbly with our God in the world. What collaborations of respect and mutual learning might have been possible? Instead of a movement for liberation, people like Constantine used the network of Christians as a vehicle for conquest to further ruling class interests. God of course has been subversively present even so.
We are hearing some of that sort of ideology in the promotions of a so called “Christianity” in politics. A Christianity that does not have compassion for refugees or the unemployed or the working poor? A Christianity that does not look after the aged sufficiently and spits on the integrity of the earth herself. Where I must ask is the “Christ” in all this?
The second reading seems to concur, warning the wealthy and privileged that what they have tells a story of injustice and abuse. Exploiting the worker or the earth is disrespectful of the integrity of creation as God’s image, it defies God’s Wisdom which calls us to live in love and hope. Consumerism in the short term can seem like a refuge from increasingly difficult thoughts- we can turn consumerism into apparently kind values – looking good for others, decorating and cooking for others (some others of course, those few we value at the cost of the many). Ultimately the economic and ecological problems worsen while we ignore them. This gospel is written not only for the 1%, the super-rich but also for us. What would it take for us to turn away from the unhappiness of addiction to wealth and take these messages seriously?
We could start by demanding that any leader who invoked “Christianity” also practice it- not just in turning up to a church once in a while but in policy and practice. Our “Way of life” is threatened more by people who claim to promote it, than by those who admit they are different. We must move forward into life.
As an unauthorised preacher, it is very tempting for me to take only words of comfort from the gospel, which reminds us that as church we do not have to control, endorse or forbid the ministry of others, God is well able to call whoever she wants. I need to read on, from the reassurance to the stern warning. While God calls me to speak, I must take care because if my words are the thing that derail or distract people from God then I will be held accountable.
God’s view of us is not just as atomised and empowered individuals (the neoliberal “can-do” vision), but members of a community- giving and receiving ideas, support and challenge to each other. It’s easy for me to focus on the ways the institutional church has sinned- denying the possibility of female ministry for example, encouraging queer kids to despair and fall away even kill themselves, leaving exploitative capitalism to run rampant, allowing clergy to abuse children. There is much to be angry about.
But the gospel comes not only to fuel anger, but self-reflection. How must I be part of building healthier communities? How must I walk a wise line between listening to wiser others and challenging them? This little church community gives me hope in this like in all things. People here work tirelessly for refugees and give generously to poor families. We don’t all agree on things, but we leave some room for each other’s creativity to unsettle and teach us. We truly seek to love better.
God knows she has called us and knows who we are working for. Let us find ways to amplify our prophetic voices and call a sad and lost world to account and thus back to life. Let us glean hope from the justice and compassion that is possible in each of our lives as leaders and participants in communities. Let us be the one who gives, accepts or celebrates the cup of water given in the name of unconstrainable Life.
Where there is good in our worlds, let us build and nurture it.
Let us sit with the possibilities for hope on this beautiful spring day. Let us dwell on the people and places that our hope is for. After a short time of silence, you may wish to share and connect with those around you.

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Being found within and outside texts

The first reading is often though not always from what we smug Christians tend to refer to as the “Old Testament”. It also gets called the “Hebrew Scriptures” which is less dismissive in a way but can ignore the significance of these scriptures to “us” and the fact that they are not just about our past but are an ongoing part of our journey.

At times instead of the Hebrew Scriptures, we have a first reading from Acts of the Apostles or occasionally I think one of the epistles which is not classified as Paul (or Paul’s copycats). With Acts we tend to do almost the opposite of what we do to the OT, we take it overly seriously and uncritically accept its Utopian claims. In the time of Facebook we ought to view Acts pretty much like we might view someone’s Honeymoon pictures on social media. Not as “untrue” but as an idealised performance of “happily ever after” before the real and ongoing shit of life has stepped back in.

When I was a baby-feminist, which was my phase immediately after my wide-eyed pious believer stage I began to realise how much violence, misogyny and generally yucky events and opinions can be found in the scriptures (this is not unusual) and like many Christians I attempted to locate all the violence and misogyny in the “Old Testament” in a pre-Christ reality which of course Christ challenged and overturned. It has taken me years to unpick that overly simplistic way of “sewing up” the problems in the text/s. The fact is there is plenty of problematic ideology in the “New Testament” also as well as gaps and silencings of all but the most privileged voices (and some subversive remnants of “other” voices too). Equally Christs (incomplete) challenging and overturning of oppressive structures is rooted in his Jewish tradition: in the work of Sophia/Wisdom who transgresses human order to call everyone to deeper knowing and more joyful being, in the more radical mutterings of some of the anti-establishment prophets (Micah immediately springs to mind since he is my favourite) and in some of the historical figures who stepped outside their social class (David) or their gender (Miriam) or their age (Hannah), culture (Ruth), xenophobic society (Pharaoh’s daughter) etc, etc, etc.

I don’t want all this richness to be “cancelled out” by a shiny Christus Rex that shows us Emperor Constantine more than a fisherman of dubious parentage from Nazareth who embodied subversive Wisdom. Nor in the apparent idealism of the Acts of the Apostles do I want to lose the invisible Apostles who cooked and cleaned and cuddled babies and were told to cover their heads and shut up (despite the fact that Wisdom who moved them is a disobedient and immodestly opinionated woman who goes about the town as she pleases). There are crumbs there anyway. Who was Dorcas really? Or Lydia? And anyway how do we know about the first appearances of Jesus if the women were commanded to never speak?

But rather than dismiss the patriarchal text wholesale (or go back to the idolatry of seeing in it “Truth” rather than a series of partial and biased truths) I think of it as a photo album. We like to think that a photograph cannot lie, but we forget that nor does it show us everything. Someone stood there and chose and angle and a framing for the photo- they might have chosen it for technical reasons, ideological reasons or sometimes perhaps by accident but someone chose what to show us and from what standing-point. Outside the frame of the camera there is a lot we will never see. We see the pretty girls dressed up to go to their school formal, but we may not see which one had to borrow a dress because she has no money, and which one is secretly a lesbian, and which one will get drunk and disgrace herself at an unpictured part of the evening (or maybe family stories do tell us some of these details). We see a mother with her three sons but we may not see that this is the first time she has seen one of them in two years or that one of them thinks he has cancer or what any of them look like when they take away their “best clothes” and stop celebrating and just get on with life. We also don;t see that while they were having their picture taken the cat managed to steal half their lunch or the phone was ringing but they didn’t hear it or the person taking the photo was in love with one of them.

Which is not to say that family photo albums are misleading or “false” just that it is impossible to record every detail of even one of the people in it, and we tend to get an edited view- especially over generations as people forget more and more details. Something may be written down, but it is not possible that everything would be and so people make decisions about what is important or about what is evidence for what I am trying to show. This is true of the bible as well. Over the centuries the literate and the relatively powerful were able to make decisions about what to write down, which writings to preserve, which of the saved writings to edit or privilege. Those with the leisure and literacy to do this, and the influence to have their choices accepted by society were generally men- free and relatively wealthy men.

When you think of it this way then the traces of critical perspectives and the social justice agendas that come through cannot be taken for granted. In human and historical terms the fact that kings and battles and patriarchs are the “stars” of so many bible stories are not surprising at all- what is surprising is the reoccurring of so many calls to treat the poor with justice (rather than mere charity) and so many instances of women characters who call into question the gender order. If I was going to believe in divine inspiration, this would be the evidence for it- not the expected material but the unexpected liberative flashes (for all that at times we have to search hard for them). But that’s Wisdom too- she is elusive and difficult to track down but she crops up where you don’t expect her and undermines the foolishness of human structures.

For me this blog has been an opportunity to try to come to terms with some of the “photos” from the album of our shared faith journey as Christians grounded in a Jewish history. Like any deconstructive reader, my interpretations are to some degree personal and shifting- no more “right” than the official or “common-sense” interpretation. My hope for any reader is not that I will convince them to my way of seeing but that they will enter into the dance of interpretation with me, celebrating some of my observations perhaps and rejecting others.

If we avoid the idolatry of seeing the text itself as infallible”Truth” (that for women and many others has often been privileged in a way that erases the equal validity of our own experiences) but instead see the truths of the text and of our own bodies, relationships and each others perspectives all as entry points. Then we can weave and unpick and reweave all these different partial truths in ways that create beauty and understanding, all in order to dance with the joy of living. And the real Truth (Godde/Love) will not be pinned down, but will find us where we dance.

Let us find in this day and each other the Living Word of Godde

Thanks be to Godde.