Tag Archives: Cross

The looming darkness

I don’t know what to think about these readings and about the recent election which made me cry tears of grief and despair (and sheer exhaustion it must be admitted).

On the one hand the first reading is promising a change in relationship- to God dealing more directly with an individual rather than through teachers and leaders. Nevertheless the words of the reading are authoritarian and the tone kyriearchal. I don’t want to be like the voters who fell for a slogan like “strong change” without asking what that will look like.

The God-voice in the reading seems grumpy and bitter about some sort of disobedience in the past and so the offer of a changed relationship seems like God having more direct oversight rather than a more respectful closeness.

Reading it leaves me in a spiritually empty space- resentful and without joy or hope. Is such barren terrain perhaps necessary to traverse in lent? But for what purpose?

It really is like being stuck in the wilderness with no idea of the destination.

In the psalm we have the refrain “create a clean heart in me O God”. Once again what strikes me is both an individualism (in “me” not “us” or “society”) and a being found to be flawed and failed. God is asked to “fix” me, the implication is that I am uncreated, dirty.

The implication is also that it does not matter what social world or time I live in God is interrogating “me” not inspiring or taking part in human society. These readings and the disappointing election led me to pray at church that we are earthlings after all. We are made from carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and minerals as much so as dreams and traces of Wisdom and free-will and tears. We are not just made to “rise above” everything and be so heavenly that nothing bodily matters.

I have a life on earth and I am concerned with politics and food and how messy my house is (though I don’t do enough about it) and how arms feel around me, and what my hands can (or can’t) touch. I dream of writing fiction or academic work as much as prayers. I desperately want to feel that my children and their children will find joy and pleasure (as well as work and responsibility) in bodiliness and earthliness.

Isn’t this what God made for us? Is this not God’s will? If so how do we follow God’s will to keep these goods?

The second reading equates prayer with tears (relateable) but talks about obedience and necessary suffering. I am not completely on board with that but I suspect it has more to do with trying to make meaning in incredibly hard times than any sort of universal truth. Anyway the word “obedience” rankles most feminists because of the way it has been used against us. No I will not obey institutions that do not understand me, represent my best interests or even let me know my own inner truth.

If I am stuck in the wilderness forever because of my lack of desire to submit and obey then I will never enter the holy city but will look for what flowers and fruits may grow in the wilderness, what streams there might be. I am reminded of the time Miriam (the singer, historian, psalmist of the people) was thrown out of the camp and people were in an uproar.

I feel beloved enough to risk disobedience, as obedience is a kind of death (which I used to know when I lived it).

In the gospel the way to Jesus is through two male gatekeepers. Same old, same old. Obeying…serving…following.

The reader in church this morning made me listen by using both the words “father” and then “mother” in the reading. But will Jesus’ suffering and death really glorify God? What sort of a God is that? What sort of a father (mother)? Growth is only possible through the death of the grain which sounds wonderful in theory unless you are the grain. Who are we in the story?

The gospel stays dark to the very end, and I am puzzled how it is “good news”. I wish Jesus had not been persecuted and tortured actually -secretly I have always wished it and I have become stubborn and outspoken enough to say it (as if God didn’t know how I felt). We have suffering and death in our lives, but I don’t feel we should celebrate that fact, though naming it may be useful.

I was asked to be Jesus in the reading of the passion next week and despite my fear of the violence and horror of any sort of passion story (or any sort of corresponding reality) I was sort of star-struck and honoured to play the hero, Jesus. Since then I have worried over all the ways my voice and expression are not up to the task (but of course noone expects me to actually “be” Jesus). But much as I would never want to be Jesus in a reality version of suffering, shame and death, much as I would lack courage and strength for such a thing I think the worst role in the story is that of Mary.

That is the part of the passion that is the worst suffering, the most awful thing possible.

That makes the story even darker, when I consider that Mary was there.

And we are called like Mary to open our hearts to the whole world and have a maternal and patient love for all humanity, all creation. Well to work toward it anyway. We are told that God/Jesus has that maternal love for all creation and for each of us, that it is in the nature of God to care, nurture and protect. How does God bear the harm we do to humans and nature? How do we claim to be following God if our hearts do not break from the pain of our neighbour?

Lost in these hurts and our own helplessness how do we live? Where is the healing?

I am not looking forward to four years of my state moving away from renewables (before we were properly started) and to the “strong change” of the Empire’s soldiers.

My mood is dark, in the church year the cross is beginning to loom. All I can summon up before God is my honesty about how uncomfortable the darkness is. I don’t want anything to get worse.

 

 

 

 

Hey, I know a lot of these rules/commandments are very sensible and I am not going to argue against people following them, but once again I am finding the authoritarian tone of the “God” in the text pretty difficult to deal with. Top down controlling structures of church have been less than helpful over the centuries.

Why do they do this to us in Lent? It almost makes me feel I should give up religion for lent. It’s all just “boss. boss, boss I am your bossy and narcissistic God and you should just do what you are told because you are unworthy”. And yet I am sure scripture has all sorts of wonderful transformative moments for a lent of really reflecting on how we should do better and doing it. I don’t think just telling us to obey cuts it though, look at the churches that are most strongly modelled on this way of relating to God.

With The Black-eyed Peas all I can say is “Where is the love, the love, the love?”

No, to do better at following God (following in the sense of a dancing partner or apprentice or small child with a heroic friend-adult) we need to be able to take responsibility for ourselves and our attitudes not just tick boxes and obey rules. We need to let a larger proportion of our life be taken over by God (by love, by compassion, by justice, by hope, by kindness, by wisdom). We need to teach ourselves to stop craving things that don’t really satisfy (hence we give up something for lent) and find the joy that is there in the things that DO satisfy (ie in God).

The other problematic thing about a set of commandments (and I believe Jesus alluded to this at at least one point), is that it can minimise the commitment that people are willing to give. So I can say “I am decent, I honor my parents and don’t commit adultery and whatever” and keep living off the plight of the third world, or the exploited worker in my own country without examining in more depth what the integrity of the kindom of God might look like.

In this context the psalm seems like more of the same- flattering this authoritarian and narcissistic God. “The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever”. Oh great! We’re now going to live fearfully again (which I know well from experience leads to parsimony).

I am going to try to read the second reading liberatively, for all that I have some reservations about always putting the cross in the centre of Christian life (I know we have tended to do this, I just wonder if it might be reductionist and problematic). In a world that wants unambiguous signs/proofs and flashy wisdom/instructions all we have is the experience of Jesus the human, the solidarity of Jesus God. Christ, the “power” and “wisdom” of God has been put to death in our human political structures that oppress others.

Jesus on the cross would seem to typify the victim, the failure but God can reverse the apparent. God’s foolishness can deconstruct what we know and God’s weakness can undermine the inevitable. There’s a hope in that when we are beginning to “know” that there are no answers and we are beginning to face that we have been powerful enough to destroy our own planet. It would be foolish to hope perhaps, weak to turn the other cheek…or would it? There is something about relationships that is more than you might think at first glance.

Then the gospel. I am not in the mood for bossy Jesus acting violently, it’s hard for me to read this right now. And yet I can;t help noticing what Jesus’ problem is- the church has been turned into a marketplace. The practice of religion has become reduced to “this is how you have to do it” so that people can make money by forcing believers to have to buy from them everything they need for the ritual.

In the modern day you might see how much this sort of thing has happened with education or other things that ought to have been relationships but have become “transactions” or “products”. Church in Jesus’ opinion should not be marketised, it should be about the wellbeing of the person and the community, a place of welcome and healing, learning perhaps. Jesus becomes really angry at the cynicism of a society that tends to see everything as “market”. This is a pre-capitalist society the story is set in, and so the parallels to capitalist concerns may be inexact but the general point is the same. God’s love is not for buying or selling or exploiting. Following the letter of the law in constricting ways that take the soul out of prayer is not the point either. There is no formula for grace and salvation and the individual should be knitted into her community not sold a part in a farce.

Loving Wisdom,

I am so tired. What words of consolation, inspiration, everlasting life do you have for me?

I am angry and jaded. What connections can I foster to be whole again?

I find it easier to follow instructions than to pursue a creative course through life. Sweep me up in a dance that you lead, teach me how to orient myself toward you in a trust that becomes confidence.

For all the myriad ways that I could, should or would be better- give me your love and your peace to find within myself the spark of my desire to be whole. Give me a moment of joy so that I may be filled with grace to keep trying. Give me vision to see and know the good in others that I may be inspired to emulate them.

I accept your love and your acceptance of me today.

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.

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?