Tag Archives: environment

If God were a superhero

So I went to see Wonder Woman on the weekend. I won’t review the movie here- I loved some things and really didn’t like others about it. But she had this love interest called Steve (many of you probably knew that) and in the movie there is this scene where Wonder Woman (Diana) is battling Ares, the God of war and Steve and his friends are busy sabotaging a nazi plane (long story, see the movie) and someone says “what’s that?” terrified by all the flashes of lightning and things breaking and basically the outward signs of an epic superhero battle (the sort of cheesy thing you can’t not have in a superhero movie).

Steve looks up briefly and says “I can’t do anything about that, so I am going to stop this plane flying.” (or something). That stayed with me. That in the moment of existential terror, where powers bigger than anything he can handle are doing things to the universe and he might just die regardless of what he does, he keeps doing the ordinary heroics of human existence. Maybe he trusts that Wonder Woman will manage the larger battle, maybe he thinks that even if it is all futile he will go out with meaning. He doesn’t spend time worrying about what might be, he plays his own part.

He is also a fictional character.

I am thinking then of something I read in Rethinking Schools’ environmental education edition. That it is not the people who recycle tins and plant gardens that will save the world but that we must stop what the military and capitalism are doing to the planet on a larger scale and I sort of agree- but then it all looks too much and too hard. When I shared my despairing thoughts with a friend of mine, they said “maybe but it makes me feel better to shop ethically and to avoid using plastic” and another friend added “we save the environment at home AND we get political”.

Those friends are real people and perhaps doing more for the earth than I am (though I try too).

This brings me to the part of the liturgy called “Intercessions” or sometimes “Prayers of the Faithful”. I can’t find my trusty old missal at this moment but usually the priest or someone trusted has written a bunch of prayers about the world, the church, the community, specific people who have been sick or died and each prayer ends with: “Lord hear us” upon which we are all supposed to chorus “Lord hear our prayer” to add our agreement, and it’s all about unity or something.

And explanations for why we pray this way range from “because God will do whatever two or three ask of him” (I think that was a misquote from the bible) or other versions of the belief that an interventionist God has some sort of triage system for sorting and answering our prayers and if we perform them well we might win the blessing jackpot, to “give it all to God” that we can pray about the things we don’t like in the world instead of doing anything about them.

Having said that I notice the people in the church I go to (where we all share the prayers in our hearts, sometimes about current affairs or the environment, other times more personal ones) pray about refugees AND THEN take up money and sponsor a refugee, they pray about unemployed people AND THEN they give practical support to the unemployed families present. Someone prays about her cancer AND THEN people hug her and give her a friendly phone call during the week. We pray for tolerance for LGBTIQ+ people AND THEN when I rock my rainbow jumper people make sure to make me feel just as welcome as any other week (I think they make more effort because they want to position themselves as pro-diversity and anti-homophobia.

Seems to me as though at that church “prayers” are a little bit like working with a super-hero (I love using Wonder Woman as a metaphor for God, I really am enjoying that). On the one hand a lot of what is happening in the world is too big for us and we can’t do anything about it. We may not like the leaders of our country, we may not like the corrupt business-people they pander to. We may be appalled by the suffering experienced by families in refugee camps and bombed cities and on the streets of our own city. But prayer lets us stop for a moment, recognise that God is doing something (somehow and we can’t really see how or what) and there is also something we can do. So we just do the thing we can do, we at least do that (Steve’s contribution in the movie was literally a matter of life and death – more than once).

If you think I have made a theology that is a lot different from my usual view of God as vulnerable and among us instead of as a super-hero then yes I guess I have. I have entertained an idea I usually try to steer clear of that God is somehow going to be powerful and “fix” things. I have entertained it carefully however- God is doing whatever it is that God does and we must do whatever we must do influenced by God.

Coming back to Wonder Woman, it was enchanting in the movie how her view of things was both bigger “It’s Ares behind it, the Germans are good people inside” and smaller “oh look a baby” or crying over each individual hurt soldier than the views of the humans who’d been living in the “real world” all along. She influenced her friends to see the aim of the game as peace rather than victory. Her way of working was not what they expected and really challenged them but they found that their yearning – like hers – was for peace.

There are some problematic aspects of the movie that I have deliberately ignored but at the end of the day I want to acknowledge that Wonder Woman is not Godde.

We bring our prayers to Godde because we want to come together as a team with the others at church, with Godde herself- to be close to her and be influenced by her. We bring them because in articulating what troubles us we might find inspiration about what to do next, or let it go for now for our sanity (not as escapism but as rest and trust as part of the dance/struggle toward justice)

Wonderous Godde hear us,

Wonderous Godde hear our prayer.

Preparing for transformation

I have been feeling a bit uninspired and even (here’s a confession) judgemental as Christmas approaches and all I hear is a whole lot of consumerist drama about presents and food and decorations and which unpleasant relative people are going to half kill themselves in order to please (all while matching the napkins to the baubles and making glittery centrepieces). I wonder that people who usually come across as sensitive and thoughtful suddenly seem to bury themselves in consumerism and stress and as a result some of them (the active ones who have to do all the work) wind up snapping “I hate Christmas”, while the ones who have a high emotional investment in “receiving” a perfect Christmas- gifts, invitations also end up disappointed as the reality can never match the expectation brought to us by that ”John the Baptist” equivalent of the consumerist religion, Santa.

Someone is going to argue with me that “Santa” is actually a Christian figure being based on St Nicholas but when I look at the North pole dwelling, red, no longer unfashionably plump, ruling class business owner and exploiter of elves and reindeer and his hiding in the shadows (making cookies of course), “Mrs Claus” I say “bollocks”. This myth may indeed have come out of an appropriation of  a Christian story but it has morphed so far I think it is even too late for reclaiming. Is noone apart from me uncomfortable with the Christmas pageants where this older (and often depicted as married) man has a sleazy relationship with teenaged beauty queens and Christmas fairies? This is not a version of Christianity I want to subscribe to, nor is the meritocratic lie that the children who get lavish presents are the “good” ones, and the ones with unemployed parents have done something wrong and deserve less. There is a popular movement for parents to “cut down” the number of presents they buy each of their children to FOUR. FOUR?? I only ever bought each child one (and maybe snuck in a book as well because I am naughty that way).

So I have been feeling anger and despair about Christmas, and I don’t like to admit this but I better- I have been looking down on people who think these things are so important- all the presents and hideous decorations and having the right fashionable foods (and too much of them). I have been reading Vandana Shiva (another “john the Baptist” figure but more to my taste) and agreeing that we privileged first-worlders use up the planet for empty crap, we don’t even get enough satisfaction to be worth the plunder and we are unhealthy as anything because of our over-consumption.

But I have survived this year, in a job that has some joyful moments on even the bad days, with one entire day nearly every week that I can devote to my favourite activity in the world of writing and I live with the most thoughtful young person in the universe who alternates getting me a coffee or a hug with his witty humour and undemanding habits. And if I find meaning in quiet times with him (no work for two weeks) and sunsetty evenings at the beach in the wet sand and the chatter of rainbow lorikeets and the company of the same friends who have supported and challenged me all year, and family members who do their best to tolerate me…then it is time to stop and examine my own privilege.

Because not so many years ago there was an impoverished, struggling single mother who felt cut off from relatives and other people alike- who saw judgement and rejection everywhere (even where it wasn’t) and who suffered through grey day after grey day under a burden of anxiety and self-hate and her own inadequacy. I have to remember her, who I was for so many years. And that grey-day woman wanted a bit of colour in her life and used tinsel and fairylights and wrapping paper and cards to try to make some fleeting connection to the rest of the human race and bought too many gadgets and gizmos to try to brighten up the lives of the children who were unfortunate enough to be stuck in her life. And that wasn’t “right” and it didn’t completely “work” but it provided some sort of fleeting relief and that is what it does for all the people who get caught up in commodified Christmases as well as the dating-at-any-price mentality which I think it related: the idea that you can’t be happy unless you have a partner.

And sitting in the relative wealth of Australian society we DO need to look at our consumption and we all need to cut down on it- every household, every individual but especially industry and the military! And I don’t want to return to an uncritical “bread and circuses” attitude to Christmas, granting that the consumerism alleviates a little bit of an existential angst for many people and leaving it at that. The first reading expects more than that from us…we are to point ourselves toward the joy and beauty that God calls us to (which can’t be giftwrapped or sent out for). But in my judgemental attitude I have thought about how to “break their hearts of stone” and I haven’t considered that that is not what I need when I get trapped in escapism and patterns of despair.

How instead do we embrace their hearts and offer them a home? The baby John the Baptist in the canticle is not praised for his incisive criticisms and his rousing hellfire sermons (alas because I think I would make a fantastic old-school preacher). He is told he will prepare Jesus’ way through preaching the “forgiveness of sins” through the loving-kindness (is this hesed?) of God to break upon us like a new dawning. Like finding out that I was a rainbow, not a brokenness. So somehow if we are to accept the impossible mission of John the Baptist (and even here I am mindful of how he ended up once he irritated the ruling class enough), we are to bring peace and loving-kindness and light to the world, not simply threats and criticisms. Do I detect God laughing at me, because she knows how I love a good criticism!

In the second reading, “Paul” (I am never sure when it is the real Paul and when it isn’t but this guy thinks it is) is thanking God for some supportive person/s who have shared the gospel with him. And I think of the people who fill my heart with gratefulness and light whenever I even think of them, and some of them are believers in God, and some are not. But what they all have in common is that they came into my life in a “before” time, when I was more depressed and they have to some degree walked into my darkness to greet me and accept me and show me the light of love. The people who saw something in me before I was ready to see it myself have (cumulatively) changed my life! So if we want to convert the next Paul, or even if we just want a better society then the call is to be prophets of love and light to the world.

And now I am beginning to sound more Christmassy I think which is good because next week is the “joy” week and the drought of advent-waiting will need to be ready to be transformed to a more expectant state then.

So back to the gospel, to our old friend John the Baptist. As an environmentalist I feel horrified shivers at his metaphor, but as a teacher who is interest above all else in social justice I resound with the idea of equalising. Despite the capitalist wisdom of the day “a rising tide floats everyone’s boat” the fact is we live in a world of finite resources, and for one to increase, someone else must pay the price. So to prepare for God’s kingdom, we must raise the status of the poor and the refugee AT THE COST OF THE WEALTHY who need to be made lower. While I feel quite poor still, on a world wide scale I am one of the (smaller) hills that will need to be smoothed down to exalt the real valleys.Isn’t it tempting to water down the redistributive demand of God’s revolution here and to say that all God really wants us to do is be “nice” and “moral” and “caring” in a bland way that doesn’t offend anybody.

But no! God’s demanding Word asks for nothing less than a complete overhaul of our social landscape to smooth out mountains and valleys into equality. Yes that is hard, hard work! But that is what it will take to have God’s reign in our lives. We can’t achieve this purely as individuals, we can’t just make ourselves “good” and “holy” people inside there is a social project and a struggle implicit in bringing God. “All flesh” are to see this salvation together, not singly while leaving brothers and sisters to suffer outside the gate.

So that is the Christmas to prepare for, the radical challenge that God’s word always brings to the powers that be. Prepare to be offensive to the Herods and the Pilates of the world when Jesus comes- prepare to be no friend to the wealthy Pharisees and to be seen on a par with tax-collectors and prostitutes. The restitutive, redistributive world of God’s Holy Wisdom is going to make a few changes around here. And we get to be part of that!

Oh come thou, long-expected

An unexpectedly beautiful start to my advent was my son’s end of year school Christmas concert- our last one as a family at this tiny catholic school. I braced myself for the usual nod to the traditional story of Jesus, Mary, Joseph etc (gospels blended together as though they didn’t each have their own particular flavour) and then a whole lot of painfully consumerist crap centered on santa, presents and whatever other Christmas kitsch that truth be told is not meaningful for my family. What I got was song after song of the “real” (to me as a Christian I mean) Christmas story, generally separating the shepherds from the kings (each class seemed to have a particular theme of one of the Christmas stories and follow that in 1-2 songs).

My son also compered (“beyond compare” as he put it) the whole show with some very silly jokes but I must admit that kept my interest. I don’t do crowds, I don’t do Christmas functions with tinsel and all that crap and I don’t do mixing with other parents as well as I ought to and I expected to hand awkwardly at the back wishing I dared read my book about transformative practice in early childhood (which is ever-present like a security blanket in my handbag). I was only there because these are things we are supposed to do for our children.

Once the children began their excellently rehearsed and surprisingly meaningful show though, the cynicism fell away and I began (a few days early) an advent journey that I didn’t expect. Thoughts flashed into my head of the Greens‘ small triumph (please note that even though the major parties as a whole are awful on the issue of refugees there are some greater-minded individuals even in those parties)  for getting SOME children out of detention this Christmas as I watched children dressed in vague semblances of ancient Middle-eastern garb. On of the classes had a particularly interesting theme. Their two songs were “Knock, knock, knock at the door” and “No room at the inn”. I suspect both of these had been used by the school in previous years but having both of those songs together struck me as a stance of mild but insistent resistance to the common-place values of the day. When the one knocking on the door of the overburdened, overfull inn is a little cute baby that is also God- then who wants to be the one who can’t even find them a stable to sleep in (I do realise that almost all of this story is a kind of popular midrash and the bible doesn’t speak of harassed innkeepers and stables).

“Send me the link to your blog” one of my friends (you know who you are) reminded me at the conclusion of the concert and I realised that as the purple jacarandas waved their liturgical colour at me, it was time to take my pain and despair at the plight of refugees and struggling impoverished families, and dispossessed Aboriginal communities, and cast-out queer or pregnant children and take all those pains on a journey into the world of the advent of baby Wisdom.

Please note I accidentally did Year A readings which means I am running one year ahead. Sorry.

I look to the first reading with its beautiful and complex imagery of “beating swords into ploughshares” and though I can problematize the plough, in the context of the poor overburdened earth; with Vandana Shiva I want to look for small, sustainable farming answers to feed people not rip earth and human cultures apart for profit. I think that the very active idea of taking the sword into your own hands and beating it into a ploughshare by hand- the sweat and effort and struggle to make something visionary and better out of the reality you are presented with- is an activist idea, not an idea of waiting for God to do all the work of salvation. As Christ comes am I working toward a world of (active) feeding not fighting? There is an advent challenge here…

I turn to the psalm and with a rueful grin consider how my honest writing about my anger and criticism toward the church and world and my impious grappling and debating with scripture (which will continue) has led me back into the household of the church after all (partly thanks to the crazy trust of people who asked me to preach this year as well as other disgruntled Christians who walk with me). My heart is somehow “glad” and feeling at home when my feet were standing back “within the gates” of  the church although I have learned enough to never be able to be the child at the table again (like when you visit your parents after having your own house). For the sake of people I love and am inspired by I will try to modify my criticisms with a peace born of kindness. God has made me strong with the gifts of anger and criticism, the challenge is to keep myself honest with generous serves of kindness and peace in how I express my valid criticisms. But I won’t water them down, as I feel God’s pull more strongly when I am honest.

The second reading gives a timely and stern talk to my activist self at a time of year when catching up with friends for drinks has become a high priority and plans need to be made for “the holidays”. It could also speak into the not-yet-published part of my lack of discipline. It’s time for me to wake from sleep and take the fullness of my life and call more seriously. Oh my call, how I try to run from it and neglect it! If I want Wisdom to come and transform my life and my overcrowded inn I need to be ready to make like a Christmas shepherd and leave the sheep to themselves long enough to visit her and give little world-changing baby Jesus a cuddle. I need to be like an angel and point out the extraordinary to interrupt the “business as usual” of the world. I need to be like a magus and follow the enigmatic call even though it drags me through the palace of Herod which seems counter-productive. I need to be like Joseph and not question the way God’s business becomes my whole life and my business. I need to be like Mary, so connected into the Wisdom of God that it wells up in me and grows and is born and changes the world. I can still have that glass of gluten-free beer with my good mates, I can still get involved with making things at work as good as possible, I can still enjoy the last weekend of Feast and the concert with Archie Roach that I am going to but this is not where my real life is. My real life is nurturing justice and resisting injustice and I need to wake up, have serious amounts of spiritual caffeine and get to it!

I’ve always had a problem with this gospel, but today I feel I can read it as a warning that “business as usual” is not going to cut it. In terms of the environment and the spreading hand of exploitation and oppression there is a lot of merit in an apocalyptic view toward politics. What is Christmas? Is it a holiday of excess and “God rest us all merry” while there are starving children and suffering strangers in the world we have built up for our ease and security? Comfort and joy for whom?

Sometime the “Son of Man” the “human one” is coming whether we look to that possibility or not. Scientifically our days as a species are numbered (and it’s a smaller number than people like to admit). What is the meaning of being? Do we hide from the interloper, Christ until he breaks into our lives like an unsettling thief? Do we acknowledge our need and look for the coming of one who will call us to radical transformation? Knock, knock, knock at the door. It’s advent!

Penumbra

This is the second part of Original which is a separate page on the site and I wish I knew how to stack its sequels under it. I recommend you read the first part first as it is not designed to stand alone. It’s fiction. You could see it as fan-fic for the bible if you like. My limited understanding of Midrash (I do admit I lie outside the Jewish tradition), is that this sort of meaning-making is a valid form of biblical interpretation.

Penumbra

I wish the damn snake hadn’t said that about Adam. Oh how I wish she had kept him out of it, or that I had had more wisdom! I should have stuck to the original plan and eaten the fruit and been kicked out without him. The problem was my panic at the very thought of being alone, even Adam was better than noone in some God-knows-where strange place for eternity and ever.

I am ashamed to say that I thought about the power I could gain over Adam if I took him something so dangerous and powerful, something he would never have had the bottle to get for himself. I thought I could force him to leave with me and turn the tables on him. That was my downfall, that moment of temptation, the thirst for revenge when a better whatever-I-am would have walked away. Because can you imagine what it would have been like without Adam?

But I gave in to the pettiness.

I went to the tree.

“Daughter” said an anxious voice. Was I so crazy now that I was hearing trees talk? I pulled off one of the apples from a low branch. There was a loud cry and the sound of something ripping in the sky, the fabric of reality – I had made a permanent change. I plucked another apple- such beautiful, shiny, silver apples. Innocent apples. Flat disks with a face printed on them. On the tree it had looked like a happy and gentle face but now in my hand it was clearly the face of sorrow.

I felt unable to stop now. I needed more, needed them all, so that Adam would not be able to pick his own and claim it had been his idea all along. A storm raged over and about me as I took them all, climbing, stretching, breaking branches to leave not one apple of another’s hand. 30 silver apples in my hand. Glancing down I noticed my body in disgust. Horrid, disfigured body shaped so differently from Adam’s strong, powerful one. I hated its curves and its softness.

I bit into an apple and tasted its sharp, metallic taste- the taste of fear. My hated body was wracked with pain beyond imagining and blood dripped out from between my legs. I felt strange angers and hungers and a desire to strike out and retreat all at once. Terror overcame me.

“I hate you!” I raged at the tree and at my own mutant, built to serve self. I stopped the blood with a fig leaf. I used another to wrap the silvery fruit in. The snake laughed, “God won’t like that.” she said. Was she talking about my bleeding body or the apples? I wondered whether to get more fig leaves to cover the entirety of my ugly body, but then I heard my Lord and Master’s voice.

“Eve, Eve. Where are you? I’m hungry. I’m bored. I’m cold. You’re a bitch for leaving me alone. Go away, you irritate me. You must be cheating on me. You’re laughing at me. You need to get me some food. I deserve. I need. I want. I will have.” The voice echoed through millenia that seemed like they had already been. My temple began to throb at the noise, the clamour of voices, the grasping pinch and pull of little and big hands on my flesh, on my space.

“I can’t take this shit any more!” I hissed. I sounded more like the snake than like myself.

“Adam my love” I said in my honeyed, insinuating slave-voice.

“Look at these lovely silver apples.” His eyes glittered avariciously, but before I could strike a deal he struck, now snake-like himself. He pulled my hair, slapped at my breasts and wrested the figleaf with the apples away from me.

“What is this shit you bitch?” he asked, looking at them suspiciously for a moment.

“Something you’re too piss-weak to have got for yourself,” I taunted, “fruit from the forbidden tree.”

“Why keep a dog and bark yourself?” he asked, thinking no doubt that he was very witty. I get a flash of a future where he says this about me to children in his image and bids them laugh at me, while paying lip-service to a “respect” that has never been there. I feel dizzy with fear and despair but I have tasted the fruit of objective knowledge and the inevitable is clear and set in stone.

But now in this raging storm-swept moment it is the serpent who turns to me. “I am sorry” she says, and seems surprised at herself for meaning it, or perhaps she is only surprised at me for listening intently to her, as though she is my only link to something saner. Adam crams three of the apples in his mouth all at once and swallows them and the same terror overcomes him.

“We must hide” he says curtly,

“I won’t” I say but he pinches and slaps and pulls at me and forces me to flee into a thicket of thorns where my skin is scratched. For all I know his skin might be also, but I have ceased to care for him.

“Why are you wearing leaves?” he asks as though jealous, as if I have some sort of power over him by covering. Adam covers himself also, his small serpent-like member hidden. We stay there several days until he is driven mad by hunger and fear. At times he rips my leaves off and forces himself roughly into the bleeding mess between my legs and other times he leans on me sobbing like a baby, whinging out litanies of self-pity, blaming me, blaming the serpent, blaming the tree and even from time to time blaming God. It seems poor Adam is the victim of all of us.

+++

We have eaten all the apples now, there is nothing else and I wish the intense hunger would kill me. I want death more than I have ever wanted anything else. My greatest fear is eternity when all around me is thorns and Adam and his self-pity, with the growing hunger and the discomfort and humiliation of him inserted into my flesh, between my legs in the no-longer-bleeding dry desert of my self-disgust.

The snake brings me a dead mouse or bird from time to time. Even less frequently it seems to understand my different diet and brings a mushroom or a lettuce leaf. All these offerings are brought as if in apology and I accept them with what grace I can. Better the snake’s company than Adam’s. I repress my vegetarian squeamishness and eat- not with a vain hope of actually assuaging the hunger but as a small and symbolic act of treachery against the totalitarian rule of the whining, pathetic Adam. He has had nothing to eat all this time.

After 28 settings of the sun I bleed again and we stay and stay there. I have time to wonder what causes the bleed, since my first idea that it was sin was clearly wrong. My body and its inexplicable bleeding seems grotesque to me. I am hazily aware of the snake saying “blood is life”. But surely I imagined that. Animals don’t talk.

I have gone crazy with despair and loneliness and I hear voices. I tune into them, to anything and everything that can relive me from  Adam’s self-righteous lectures about how he has sacrificed everything to protect me from God’s wrath. One time I am foolish enough to admit that I would welcome God’s wrath, especially as an alternative to what we have. Adam backhands me across the mouth.

More blood, but I am used to the stench by now. The stench of blood is the stench of the silver apples, it is the stench of objective, immutable knowledge of stable, ironclad categories of right and wrong, of the God-given order- man over woman over animals over plants. Knowledge and rightness and despair.

After 40 days of this knowledge, I hear a voice calling me.

“Eve”

“What on earth do you want now?” I snap, although if I stopped to think it is not Adam. He has ceased to even use my name.

“Why are you hiding?” I am still trying to identify the voice when Adam answers for me:

“Because we are naked and ashamed.” This is not the answer I want to give, but by now I have learned that when I am silent I get hit a little less.

“We are so ashamed of our nakedness oh great Lord.” Adam says in a syrupy voice, grovelling at God’s feet. I feel and itch to kick him but I am still as the lesser being. I do turn my shoulder- refusing not only to take part in the grovelling but even to witness it.

“Did you eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?” God asks

“You said “of” five times” I miscount, irritated by God’s tone.”

“Lord, the woman you gave to me. She gave me the fruit and made me eat it.” Adam complains. There is a silence but I won’t lift my eyes. I know that God is looking at me.

“She is stubborn.” Adam offers after a while, the spotlight off him.

“I want to leave,” I croak out, “The serpent tempted me but…”

“It was all the serpent!” Adam seizes on what I am trying to say and twists it.”

“You can no longer live in my garden.” I look up, struck by the sadness in God’s voice. God’s eyes are the deep brown of earth; of the diamonds on the serpents back.

“Do you know what it is you have done to me?” I ask the sad brown eyes of God.

“Free will is a double edged sword.” God says. I bite back an angry retort, wanting to understand.

“My will. Is it really my own ?”

“Please…” God whispers, smaller than I would have expected

“I want someone like me!” I scream

“Me too” says the small voice of God and the serpent hisses.

“I will put enmity between your child and the woman’s child.” Who said that to the serpent?

“You will not!” I said coldly, “My will is my own, and my child’s will is her own.”

“The serpent tempted you.” Adam reminds me.

“Tempted not forced.” I look at him with scorn, “and she was sorry after. She offered…” I paused, reluctant to admit I had eaten dead mouse, “brokenness and healing” I temporised. Someone – the serpent? – God? kisses me on the forehead and the gates clang shut behind us. There is an angel there with a flaming sword. He looks Adam up and down appraisingly but I am already walking away…

Photo by Mattpix 2015- spotted by Sebastian and Chloe

Actively being saved, the resurrection and putting in the hard yards

Wow what rich readings this week. It’s hard to put it all together and say anything new, I can tell this week is going to be a wrestling match. When looking at the first reading I got to the description of Jonathan as a “brother” whose love “surpassing the love of women” seems to call for my queer lens.

But I felt ambivalent about on the one hand an obvious possibility for a queer reading, on the other hand with Sedgwick’s Epistomology of the Closet still ringing in my (metaphorical ears) I wondered if I should respect David enough to leave him in his closet. I also felt ambivalent about whether this possible, closetted, open secret was in fact liberating from a female reader’s perspective in light of Sedgewick’s scholarship about the role of the (male) closet in keeping women out of the centre even of the heterosexual relationships that supposedly define them. David did have an awful lot of wives and concubines after all.

But if you are interested in the idea of David and Jonathan being lovers, here is a fairly clear laying out of the argument for, and here is a perfect example of a circular argument against the idea that David could possibly be a dirty queer in God’s sacred text (the bible does not contain dirty queers because dirty queers are not anywhere in the bible because they are dirty unlike God’s clean bible that doesn’t contain dirty queers). The bible of course is nothing more or less than the handbook of how to be a good fundamentalist.

What strikes me a lot more than the possible queerness, is the waste of human life. These kings generate war, war equals death and tears are the result (I have this conversation with my kindergarteners about unkind-play and stick-play almost every day: some of them – unlike some powerful adults- are starting to understand the cause and effect). David here mourns the deaths of such close friends, and yet the next time we see him I am sure he will be off “slaying” someone again or putting a loyal friend in the frontline so that he can get with his wife perhaps (I still don’t understand how the possible respectful gay relationship we could speculate about David having had is a greater moral problem than his dealing with Bathsheba and Uriah).

But staying with David’s genuine grief and emotional pain for the time being, the psalm says it all. Out of the depths we do cry. We do want God to come along and redeem our nation from all its iniquities. We want David in the story to find a better way forward. We yearn for that utopian dream that some of us may call the “kingdom of God”. I relate to the cold, bored and yet burdened with massive responsibility watchman longing to go off shift. Yes God hurry up…but this is where my agnosticism sets in. I don’t frankly believe that just waiting around for some sort of salvific act as reliable as the passing of time itself (unless we mean the extinction of our species– which frankly I am not waiting for so eagerly) is a morally defensible strategy in the depths of the despair of a plundered, besieged, unjust, neoliberal world. Stay with me though, I am about to do something uncharacteristic and agree with a Pope!

I wasn’t really seeing much to work with in the second reading until I read this (note the author saying that Paul echoes Pope Francis’ sentiments, while I loved the article in general this expression made me give a shout of laughter which almost got me kicked out of the library). I won’t paraphrase Anderson’s excellent argument, or Pope Francis’ clear thinking on the topic of the environment but if we do read the second reading as arguing for radical redistribution (including the Christ-like courage to become poor to enrich others and restore a “fair balance”) then this seems to show a much more real and urgent way “out of the depths” than passively waiting. There’s resurrection thinking here, a way modelled by Jesus but like all real resurrection thinking it demands we put in the hard yards (What did you think resurrection meant? A fairy godmother waving a wand? If only!)

Is this how God redeems us from all our iniquities? It’s inadequate when you consider that the more powerful have the choice not to be transformed by this word and this teaching. The little people are going to have to do more than count on the generosity of the ruling class. But we are also not the smallest of the little people. We do need to use our relative power and privilege to achieve this redistribution “for the relief of others”.

Let’s take those readings as baggage and stow them aboard ready to cross over again to the other side with Jesus (cf last week) into this week’s gospel. This week’s gospel suggests to me both an obvious feminist reading (about the interruption of the invisible, unacceptable woman in the middle and Jesus’ deliberate action in making her visible) and troubles me with its portrayal of Jesus as the male savior of helpless, inferior women. I can read the hemorrhaging woman as active in her own healing, and I like the way this calls into question Jesus’ performance of his gender. But the consent-nazi in me is still troubled when we reconceive Jesus (almost as a trans man) as the next installment in the character of the once female Wisdom, who is kind of like a sexy exotic dancer “asking for it” (Yes Jesus affirms the women grasping at him and Wisdom constantly invited everyone to visit, seek and pursue her but…troubling). Also if we begin to reconceive Jesus’ healing in a different way, saving as an erotic game-play (I am indebted for this idea to a speech I heard ages ago by a lesbian theology scholar who claimed she doesn’t want to be “saved” by anyone at all…then she added in a more playful voice that maybe a woman in a white horse could save her. I always felt a bit uncomfortable with the gender dynamics and implication of power in the idea of being “saved” so this idea stayed with me) even then there is a problem because Jairus’ daughter is both underage and too unconscious to agree to be in the game.

So I am uncomfortable with the gender and power discourses I can take out of here. I am uncomfortable with queerying the gender and turning the “saving” into erotic play. I know the function of the bible isn’t to make me feel cosy, but this is too uncomfortable. What if I latch onto the word “daughter”? If I see Jesus’ relationship to the two women as parental, then I am still a bit troubled by “his” gender (in terms of theirs), but I can see him in a feminised role, similar to my role as a mother and a preschool teacher constantly getting interrupted and called for and jostled and grabbed at. And now immediately (to borrow Mark’s hyper-activity) I am drawn into the text as Jesus (very appropriate in terms of what Paul says about Jesus’ action becoming the model for our action).

And if I am called to be Jesus, not called to be saved by Jesus then I don’t need to unpack the gender roles so much but just follow Mark’s immediacy (see how many times Mark uses “immediately or actions rapidly following and interrupting each other) and get on with the job. Jesus has too much to do, he is called from every side and his never shrinking to-do list is complicated by immediacies where even his cloak is pulled at. The temptation must be to ignore the interruption and continue, or to growl at the woman who drained something from the already stretched Jesus. He stops, publically notes and affirms her action and then calmly continues onto the next healing. The next healing is occurring in the home of already privileged people and he asks for secrecy. I feel I am once more detecting Magnificat movement where the private and marginalised are publically affirmed, and the popular and central are refocused on the domestic (feeding their daughter) instead of given more celebrity status. Jesus here again is concerned with fair balance.

Here finally I run into a real brick wall, because I am neither as energetic as the Markan Jesus, nor as serene in the face of so many people wanting or needing a piece of me. Here the “good news” is more daunting than empowering. Am I really supposed to be constantly poured out for the good of others? Am I really called to act powerfully to address imbalances with a kind and healing word for everyone and anyone? No wonder the guy died in his mid 30s.

This gospel makes me want to be Jonah and throw myself into the belly of a big fish to escape my impossible vocation (but isn’t that pretty much what I have already wasted my life doing?) This gospel makes me cry with grief, guilt and frustration and look for a loophole. Because by myself I AM NOT JESUS. I am not all this. I am not a whole body of Christ within myself. The body of Christ is always and eternally supposed to be community. There is supposed to be a church around me, empowering, supporting and informing my potential for ministry. And there bloody well isn’t!

But before I let anger, guilt and grief turn into self-pity and self-pity hurl me back into the endless abyss of depression let me try to refocus myself on the cracks in the cement of the patriarchal women-hating (no that is not too strong an expression) church. I am not the only “other”, there are other “others” with their vocations twisted or wasted (I moved a church that technically ordains women but like many others found the language and practice still oppressively patriarchal). Some have learned to survive/thrive and nurture others, to channel away the toxins of their own feelings of betrayal and bitterness- referring to the truth of their pain only in ways that heal the “others” like me, who have failed to overcome their sense of alienation and find a place.

The church has failed me, but God knew that would happen and called me anyway. I do realize that I have failed God. Like David I am caught up in the system that causes my deep grief and I am not an innocent, but like the watchman perhaps there is a shift change coming. There are others who have even less privilege than me, and they must be my focus for fair balance- not myself and my self-pity.  There is still a Jesus who crosses to my side, who tells me to come out of the crowd and touch and be acknowledged and healed, who calls me to sit up and eat, who is the one I must become, not just the one I can be passively saved by.

I have often felt that my vocation and even my faith was dead “why trouble the teacher further”? But Jesus keeps insisting stubbornly that it is only sleeping. How then do I awake?

Holy, holy, holey

What a claim, that God calls me to speak out. I feel embarrassed to have made such a claim in light of how impossible it is for me to adopt a pious demeanour and look like a good and holy messenger of God. The things I say are not good for the church’s PR, nor are they in line with the view of God portrayed in this week’s readings. And so the temptation is either to abandon the readings altogether (since I already posted another blog post today), or to abandon the readings and look for the liberative strands within trinitarian thinking that I used to (critically) find.

But these readings are the bitter pill the church wants us to take as our rightful medicine this week. What sort of a faith is it after all if you just look away from the bits you don’t like and don’t grapple with them? So here I go in my dialogic perpetual struggle with the bits of texts the men in dresses want us to read.

I can’t actually say I relate to the first reading. I used to be able to practice spiritual contortionism enough to stay quiet in church and believe I fit in there and in those days I used to somehow contort my brain to believe that this first reading talks about ministry; that an angel will come and cleanse my lips with coal to make me pure to speak God’s word. I no longer see God’s word that way- coming out of pure lips in a pure way. I think of the Word as also being Wisdom, that wanton woman who frequents places she ought not go and I feel relief at that. She comes to me not because I am humble, or worthy or “clean” but because she loves what is human, she loves what is messy and true (please note any reference to “truth” I make may contain traces of its own demise).

She sits with sinners.

I don’t believe for a moment that my guilt is gone or my sin is blotted out or whatever and I don’t even ask it to be. How dare God just “blot out” the sins of first world, privileged, comfortable, white people while the earth is still dying and myriads are still suffering? The way I want to get rid of my sin is by God making the world better not just filling me up with the spiritual equivalent of Valium while other people suffer. And if God throws it back on me and says “your sin, you clean it up!” what then? That is certainly what I would say in God’s position.

The thing is as privileged people we are accountable and nothing can take our complicity away. The thing is as vulnerable and broken people we are not solely accountable and we may be affected by our circumstances. And only God can really hold that in balance (or at any rate I hope she can) and lead us to a better future (which entails us deconstructing and diminishing our own privilege in the cause of radical justice.

There is grave danger in those who speak for the church claiming to have their sins magically blotted out.

So here I am God, send me! Not the pure of heart (or lips). Not even particularly keen (it would actually be more convenient to only think of my career and the next holiday I could take my son on). But you call me and I love you and I will respond if you show me how. But if I have to say “Lord” and look upon thrones with militaristic mythical creatures attending some sort of even more privileged icon of the ruling class then forget it. God there is a class war on, there is a line I can’t cross even for you- now there’s heresy if you like.

So then the psalm is full of this mighty splendiferous God breaking cedars (why? is he three years old?) and making places skip about. Actually, God in this psalm sounds like the sort of scary climate disaster I have been reading about and suffering nightmares about and which looks increasingly likely in our near future. Shaking the wilderness while flashing flames of fire do you God? Are you testing a new type of bomb or something? So all of that fire and earthquake and flood but all is well because the “Lord” sits “enthroned”. It makes me wonder, in the context of that psalm whether I want the “strength” and the “peace” offered in this kind of faith.

So far…

 

the readings are like cement slabs

gaoling me in an outdated building

a church of powerful men.

 

Where is there a breath of life?

 

A shoot of green rising

between a hairbreadth crack?

 

That with the advent of life-again

might begin to crumble

my prison?

 

There’s a crack in the cement in Romans. I am not a great fan of the flesh/spirit dichotomy since a major battle of my life has been to learn not to hate and despise my flesh (that gift from God that keeps me whole and grounds me to the earth). But I didn’t receive a spirit of slavery apparently- so by implication I am allowed to disagree with tradition. I have been reading Carla Rinaldi about the child’s right to express themselves and think differently from the teacher because they are not slaves. Then if I see God as teaching, leading, guiding or parenting me I have to assume God is more enlightened than me and able to see how counter-productive it would be to silence who I am.

So that one little line is like a license to critique everything else. So if I was to cry “Abba! Father!” (which doesn’t actually come that naturally to me to begin with) it seems the reading is leading me to do that in some confidence, in a spirit almost of entitlement before God. I don’t mean to fall back into that first-world entitlement where God will do good things for me just because we have this great relationship; if God is my Dad, then I am certainly NOT Daddy’s little princess. It is more that I am entitled to have this dialogical relationship of questioning and growth with God because it is somehow in God’s interests to nurture me (the heir) and to teach me how to continue God’s work. An important note here is that any entitlement “I” or “we” have as a result of being God’s heirs is also shared by the “others” by “them” by whoever our social structures and ways of life oppress. So we will inherit God’s grace WITHIN the perpetual struggle for justice. We will inherit an accountability which it would be wise to become more ready for. Roman’s talks about suffering with the suffering Christ as the way to be glorified with the glorified Christ.

So we struggle, we suffer with the refugee Christ and with the single-mother Christ and with the rejected GLBTIQ Christ and with any place where Christ is and any work that Christ is doing or calling upon us to do. And that is where we tend to become like Nicodemus and want to ask stupid questions and deconstruct all the wrong things (don’t you see me doing that often enough) and to show our bad-tempered side when things don’t go our way.

And I really hate what Jesus says to Nicodemus in this gospel and I could become distracted by that and the awful way I was brought up to interpret it as a rejection of the supposedly obsolete bodily existence (that comes out of a female body of course) in favour of a patriarchal higher spiritual reality. It all sounds very gnostic to me and full of male privilege and I wonder if they would still all be too superior in their “spirit over flesh” ivory towers if someone (probably a woman) wasn’t being exploited to take care of their bodily needs which they scorn.

And I say this right back to you Jesus (if you ever, in fact said any of this nonsense)! What is born of flesh is flesh and damn well better have some gratefulness. What drinks its mother’s milk better not be saying it is better than its mother and you of all people should understand the sacrifice of sharing your flesh and blood to give life to another! If you were just a spirit then how did you eat and walk and talk and touch people? If you were not flesh how did they kill you?

What is spirit we know lives in flesh and its yearnings are written on the flesh and its strange and hard to understand sayings are also formed of flesh; of tongue dancing around teeth, of wind moving through vocal chord, vibrating through the living, breathing, heart-beating immediacy of FLESH. You made us of flesh and spirit when your name was Wisdom.

I am baptised but I don’t want to say I was “born again”. I came out of my beautiful, fleshy, fragile mother and I see her face now only in the mirror. I in turn pushed out three fleshly, spiritual beings and they were baptised but they did not need a rebirthing to negate my hard work. The beings of flesh and spirit that call us to accountability (especially this Reconciliation Week) that desperately call for justice in our world today don’t need us to think we are “better than” earthly demands for adequate food, housing and meaningful work.

Once again I have chosen not to allow the angel to hold the coal of blotting out to my unclean lips. I do not blot out my flesh, my material reality. I ask you God to take the person I am in reality, not some idealised image of perfection and I ask you to let me honestly and brokenly strive to follow you. And you are not my God because you sit upon a throne and are waited on by magical creatures who have little imagination when it comes to lyrics; you are my God because your place is in the struggle. As is mine.

Reclaiming Darkness

 

Forgive me readers for posting this extra post just before I add my struggles with this week’s readings. It was in my head and I thought I would get it out.

I remember being that pious child that just took on board everything that was said at church no matter how much it outraged my experience of reality. If what the man in the dress said conflicted with what I could see and feel and know then I was wrong and I had to shift my thinking, it was as simple as that. Unsurprisingly this led to me losing my faith and my sisters and I (much to my parent’s disgust) developed a habit of giggling, making sarcastic comments under our breaths and rolling our eyes at the patriarchal words that rolled from the pulpit and altar at us.

One of the things that amused us was the use of the word “men” to symbolise humanity (but this word only sometimes means that). “Since by man came death” sang the choir, “even so in Christ shall all be made alive”

“Christ isn’t a man then” we might sneer.

Another was a hymn we had to sing:

Holy, holy, holy- though the darkness hide thee

Though the eye of sinful men thy glory may not see

Only thou art holy, there is none beside thee

Perfect in power in love and unity

See how a couple of those themes fit with this week’s readings? But we latched onto the inability of the “sinful man” to see. Maybe we could see then we speculated since we may well be sinful (and defiantly so) but we weren’t men. The sexist term seemed almost like a loophole at times. Just as we were not included in full participation, ministry and full salvation by being only an auxillary to the great default “man” so we also felt we should then escape having responsibility and escape judgement.

Later at theological college I read something about women “reading between the lines”. I immediately recognised how I had done that at times, both in my current adult wish to move back into the church and in my childishly laughing resistance of what didn’t even attempt to speak to the “me” that goes unrecognised in church. Still you know churches fail to recognise women and especially queer women. We are all subsumed under an “everyone”, but this inclusivity assumes a heterosexual, middleclass, white, male subjectivity and for us to be included we more or less need to be willing to wear this type of drag- I am told this is even more so true for priests and ministers. “Differences” are either exoticised, or more commonly white-washed (and male-washed) because they make us feel uncomfortable, something is demanded from us by the unashamedly “different”.

Somehow this experience of recognition that I constantly had to read between the lines- both as a serious pilgrim and as an interrupting-of-patriarchal-flow larrikin –  made me wish for a liturgy where I could just rest in the church’s welcoming arms and goodness and I began to rewrite huge chunks of liturgy- every prayer, every response as well as many hymns to make them less alienating. I allowed them to be radically feminist, exclusively female and probably injected my as yet unacknowledged lesbian identity into my passionate striving for a feminine face of God.

And the song I mentioned above was easy to take over, I cannot remember all the verses but that one verse echoes in my head as an anthem to ultimate female triumph over being subjugated and God’s interest in our liberation.

Holy, holy, holy- though the darkness hide thee

Though the light of patriarchy cannot pierce your veil

Your love makes us holy, called to work beside thee

Wisdom never resting ‘til justice will prevail

 

Here the traditional binary of light and dark are reversed. Darkness hides God, God chooses to be undiscoverable to have some boundaries and not to allow the intimacy that is really domination. Patriarchy, reason, science, the enlightenment cannot rationalise away God or invent rules to understand or control God. Love and call; wisdom and justice are my experiences of God and they are what I celebrated in a hymn rather than perfection, power (kingship), onlyness (peerlessness I guess is the real word) and being above the unworthiness of “man” just as man is above the unworthiness of the rest of creation.

But over the years meditating on this idea of Holy Darkness, and the feminine I have found other connections to grace. Firstly through viewing God this way I can relate to our Muslim sisters better. I can never approve of men hiding them and insisting that they go about veiled, but when white-culture comes in and tells them the wearing of veils is “offensive” I can be moved with compassion and empathy that they should wish to have some privacy and some boundaries in their own way. I have said “them” but “they” are always also “we” if we walk in God. Perhaps instead of giving people impossible dilemmas we need to together find more liberative ways of seeing the choice to cover the self, to withdraw, to refuse enslavement by a brand of “liberation” which does not suit who I am as a person.

And then the idea of darkness can also be redemptive in an ecological sense. Darkness used to interrupt the now endless workday of business, mining, selling, desperately striving. Darkness used to enforce rest and quiet. Darkness (and quiet) is needed by many species of nocturnal creatures to survive, be safe and forage or hunt. The lights of our hypercapitalist world burn so brightly and so endlessly that it becomes hard to see the milky way in the cities and even now the stars themselves. You have to go further and further out of town to experience darkness and quiet. I don’t wish to romanticise darkness, I know that under cover of dark many terrible things used to happen. But increasingly we live in a world of invasive and all-pervading light. Everything we do is seen and commented on, everywhere we turn data is collected about us. Everything must be seen and known and analysed and rest now comes under the heading of “wasting time”.

Holy Darkness redeem us from this, take us into your refreshing bosom where the hens may stop laying for a few hours and the possums escape detection and the owls do not have their eyes damaged by flash photography.

I want to end by sharing how I first came to consider “darkness” to begin with, although since I began I have gleaned much in traditional scriptures, hymns and writings that fits with the idea.

It began when my small son was learning about God and we taught him deliberately that binary opposition was a dangerous fallacy. “God is not a He and God is not a She” we said

“What is God then? An it?”

“No”

“What then?”

“You can say God is a He, but only if you said God is a She. You can say God is white, but only if you say God is black, you can say God is far away but only if you say God is close to us” We playfully went through all sorts of binaries with my son and he picked up on it and added his own that often surprised and educated me “God is red and God is green. God is a cat and God is not a cat. God is a snail because snails are both boys and girls at the same time. God is up and God is down. God is my mother and God is my child, God is hello and God is goodbye”

In church one Sunday, the reader got up and began in an impressively church voice (complete with the Anglican accent)

“God of light…”

“And God of darkness too” crowed my three-year-old little theologian bouncing out of his seat in excitement. He knew this game.

“No it’s only light” the priest told us

“It’s darkness too” my son insisted and I stopped and thought.

And the idea was there in our tradition you know. God is not just the light that gives understanding and meaning. God is the darkness that obscures meaning and gives rest too. Womb darkness, bed darkness, secret whisperings of love darkness, cat purring darkness, don’t touch me darkness, warm and restful darkness, unknown and unknowable darkness, tomb darkness, seed darkness, we know he is risen but we’re still a bit confused darkness, turning off your phone darkness, finally see the stars darkness.

Bittersweet chocolate darkness which is my cue to stop writing  and find some. chocolate