Tag Archives: culture

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.

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Bread for everyone

“Ask and the church will deny it of you, because it is not how we have always done things, seek and you will be told off for being out of your seat and off-task, knock and the door will be slammed in your face.” This is not how Matthew 7:7 originally went, but it feels like how it is trying to remain in relationship with”the church” hierarchy as a queer, ministry-bound catholic woman, and now even more so as a borderline coeliac.

I had decided, just today that given how many people I have been openly telling about my blog, it might be time to tone down the criticism and to try to focus on whatever positivity I can find within my faith…but I guess God let me know a long time ago that I was never going to be allowed to get comfortable and complacent within “the church” that the voice God called out of me was a fish-wife voice (read the prophets though, feminists are not God’s first fish wives nor even the most ranty). So I apologise for the negativity I really do…but I was thinking calm and half-baked thoughts about how to write about the next part of the mass (the Eucharistic prayer) all week when a woman at church drew all our attention to the latest silly rule made up by Rome.

It appears that when Jesus asked “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?…” (Luke 11: 11-12; see also Matt 7:9-10 where the question is about giving a stone instead of bread) he wasn;t reckoning with the callousness and lack of empathy of certain self-styled “fathers”.

In effect forcing a celiac to eat gluten (or you know, be excommunicated) is just that! I guess I am not a true celiac because I just try to take the smallest amount possible at communion time and live with the gut pain. Yes I get gut pain from gluten, like a stone in your tummy, or a scorpion stinging your insides. There are people more intolerant than me who can faint from gluten, from having it once. Most people I suppose wouldn’t die from one wafer, but it does add a disincentive to the habit of daily mass (which used to be a big thing for me when I was young). So that is the first problem with this teaching, the excusion (or torture) of people with Celiac disease.

This is compounded by a compassionless society that we currently live in, where people delight in trying to point out that differences in people are due to all sorts of psychologically motivated weakness, “lifestyle choices” and generally being a “special snowflake” and trying to debunk everyone else’s special needs while acting entitled around their own needs, wants and choices. Celiac sufferers can find it hard to be taken seriously by friends, family and people who sell food. The church has not caused this giant empathy vacuum (or at least not single-handedly) but surely if we read the words of Jesus we are supposed to be the antidote to it, the counter-cultural voice insistantly reminding that “actually I care”. For the church to side with the sneerers and shamers (in this case I think by omission rather than intent) defeats the purpose of even having a church. Sacrament is hollow when it is only for the privileged (see eg 1 Cor 11:22 and the background around that). God made disabled people, allergic people, yes church-Fathers even the queer people. Difference is part of the divine design, “In God’s own image” diverse and challenging (but if you think humans are too varied, try to get your head around parrots some time),

The second problem is that while it might seem reasonable to have a reductionist view of “bread” where it is always wheat and water (I question if the little circles they hand out at church are such a faithful or recognisable version of anything “bread”like in any case, and as a child was frankly delighted with the surrealism of it all) this binds us into a culturally chauvinist reading of the Last Supper where Jesus is excluding the vast millions of people on the planet for whom the staple is rice (or corn, or quinoa or anything non wheat-based).The bible in fact does not give us a recipe for the bread used at the last supper, it may well be reasonable to suppose it was made from wheat, but “bread” has not always and everywhere meant “wheat” my own mother used to make it out of rye and barley; my sister, a professional baker adds things like chia seeds or sunflower, or whatever in all the varieties of “bread” that people want for their meals- their suppers and picnics and date-nights and lunch-boxes. We buy loaves, rolls, flatbreads, buns made of oats, spelt, chickpeas, rice, tapioca, etc, etc etc. Mexican dinners get wrapped in bread made from corn. People in Asia see bread as strange and exotic as they team rice with ever meal (yes breakfast too).

Why do we need to limit what “bread” means other than out of a desire to limit people or exclude them. Did Jesus limit? Did he give strict prescriptions? He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes but we can’t even eat with Celiacs or Asians? Surely this is nonsense!

And that was the final point made by the (very articulate) woman at my church (please note the way I have teased out each point and the possible errors in my thinking are my own). That all this sternness over what can or can;t validly be called “bread” and this lack of understanding around how it is for some people (with real food intolerances, or from diverse cultural backgrounds) makes a laughingstock of the church. It gets harder for us to explain why we would want to be associated with it…which is fine if I am only worried about my vanity, my friends get to see me as a weirdo…I can live with it. But if there is actually something life-giving and possibly transformative within our tradition then surely we need to keep it as open and accessible as possible and avoid turning people off over trivialities!

I once again think of the huge and horrible scandal of abused children and how much harm has been done by the church’s REFUSAL to intervene in a serious matter- and then they get all upset over what recipe of wafer is being used. Clearly I am not a bishop or a cardinal but I fail to see the confusion here. Surely the life and well-being of children is a serious issue and the proper recipe for bread is a side-issue? Not the other way around. They make such a fuss over the right gender for priests and the right grain for bread and probably the right grapes for wine and yet the right treatment of human beings is something they are far too slow to speak or act upon. Why is that? And how does it look to the world? And how hurtful to be marginalised in so many ways- as a woman, as a queer person and now even as someone with a food intolerance (and in solidarity with Asian friends for whom “bread” is not what it is for a European/Australian like me).

Googling around the issue to try to double check that there really was such an edict from “Rome” I came across several stories of people working hard for many, many years to try to get around this rule by removing gluten from wheat (yes that is seen as more natural than making bread from something other than wheat). These recipes, which have taken over a decade in some cases to make successfully in a form that the Vatican allows, seem to have been developed by nuns.

So men make these unreasonable rules and women work harder than ever to ensure that the children are fed nevertheless. And who do we see as “ministers” of the sacraments and of God? There is a whole other feminist rant in that (as usual) division of labour but I am sure any reader who has got this far can see it for themselves.

I enjoy my habit of finishing with a prayer.

Loving God who created bodies- black, white, any colour, skin colour rainbow of browns and pinky-browns and tans. You created food- an abundance of food- grains of all kinds for bodies of all kinds, for stomachs of all kinds. You call us to break our “bread”, our everyday food and share it in memory of your body broken- you feed us body and soul to remind us to do the same. To take the grain, to make the bread, to labour and to love. To shape the meal to feed the needs of the body, to carry our celiac neighbour to safety. To bless wine and enjoy the complexity- the richness, the celebration, the friendship,

God you could have stamped us all out the same, as white round wafers are all the same but you chose to give us rainbow spirits in rainbow bodies- each one different, unique, needed to make the image whole. Harlequin God of shifting colours and differences bless us. Be our breads. Be our wines. Be the way we address our differences in love. Be the hand that offers health and acceptance with the bread.

We ask, we seek, we knock. We hunger and so do our brothers and sisters.

For more than crumbs, abundant God. For more than tokens on the margins. For more than a self-righteous ache in an irritated gut.

Embrace and feed us forever.