Tag Archives: exploitation

Blessings and woes

Dedicated to the women (and some men) who have co-created my future and my hope with me. Who have mentored and encouraged me. With thanks, with every blessing.

“The will of God is always an offer of co-creation.” (Joan Chittister, 1990, 49). I have no desire to replace any part of the gospels, and especially not that activist manifesto that we usually call “the Beatitudes”. What I do feel the need to do, is bring the gospel into my life and world and bring my life and world into the gospel. So I will have a go at co-creating some Beatitudes that are secular, but grounded in gospel values. I will endeavour to be faithful to the original but express my specificity.

I invite you to either pray mine with me, or use them as a departure point for your own. Let’s affirm the way the people who inspire us are following God. Let’s recognise their work (love) as deeply transformative…

Blessed are the angry feminists, because they shall make daughters and sisters of all women,

Blessed are those who are underpaid and undervalued, for they call into question our striving after money and shiny things,

Blessed are those who put aside or demolish their own privilege, because they shall have right relationship.

Blessed are the queer ones and the misfits, those who are judged, excluded, misunderstood or lied about, they will become lights to the world.

Throughout history prophets (and especially prophetesses) have always been mistreated and rejected by the reluctance of the collective consciousness to grow.

Woe to you if you live by the exploitation of others, you will always fear losing what you unfairly have,

Woe to you if you gaze with joy on inequality and label it “meritocracy”, you will be found wanting and discarded

Woe to you if you hate those who are different from you, you will imprison yourself in certainty and fail to connect with others

Woe to you if you are defined by what you own, what you can buy or your success, the triviality of your life will overwhelm you and you will always be exhausted.

But we are all partly in the “woe” category” by virtue of the society in which we live. I pray for grace to heal our woe. I pray for God’s loving voice to nag us out of our discontented compliance with capitalist half-lives. I pray that the blessing will flow from the blessed ones, the saints of our time also to us. I pray that we will bring healing and hope to each other.

God’s kindom come.

Being Privileged

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

The discomfort of camel-hair and the pleasure of washing.

I said this at church for advent 2. The readings were here. 

I bring uncomfortable words, but it is advent and John the Baptist urges me to be courageous and honest. Hopefully there are no Herods here, but in any case I attempt to find a truth greater than my own thoughts and experience. The truth (God) is also greater than the text, because the text is not God.

The first reading begins by promising us “comfort” and initially my heart sang at the thought, but then I read on.

I find no comfort in the gendered relation of power that is revealed, between a guilty (feminine) Jerusalem and her punishing Lord, however much in this reading he is staying his hand. This smacks of a cycle of abuse.

Reading on there is ecological disaster, the earth turned upside down for the sake of this “Lord”, mountains and valleys eroded. This version of “power” is all too familiar in the modern world and I find terror, not comfort if I attempt to identify God with it. The shepherd imagery at the end is tender, however we know that in reality shepherds exploit and eat their sheep who they tend to view as “stupid”. Similarly at times in political debate, people who naively accept what they are told are referred to as “Sheeple”.

I love my tradition and I want to find God in it but I am wary of how I will view myself, others or the world if I accept this reading too casually. I am sure wiser people than me might rehabilitate it somehow, I would rather sit with John the Baptist in camel hair, foraging for survival and not accept the precarious comforts of living in the shadow of abusive power- even when it claims kinship with God.

But we know God, we know her from the entire scriptures not just this one passage and we know her from the saving and companioning work of Jesus, from the heart-lifting vision of radical justice of Mary in the Magnificat, from the desperate call for repentance of John the Baptist, from the well-meaning, impulsive bumblings of the apostle Peter and from our own lives and meaningful connections.

In the second reading, Peter (if this is in fact he) is uncharacteristically humble, admitting that he does not have all the answers. We are urged to hope in God’s desire for universal salvation- whatever that will finally mean and however that will finally look. We can’t control the conditions around us, we can neither hurry nor delay the grace of God but what we can do is make ourselves ready, make our own conditions ideal for God’s presence.

There is a form of spiritual self-care that I think is being suggested here, which if we think of advent as a time of pregnancy, a time of bringing into being radical possibilities for the whole liturgical year starting with a birth at Christmas, then by nurturing ourselves and our inner life we are also nurturing the Christ-possibilities within. In that sense we can leave behind anything that defines “repentance” as responses to punishment or guilt, and see it instead as a call to a better, more hopeful, joy-filled life- what has sometimes been called “right relationship”. I frankly did not see a good example of right relationship in this first reading.

Across all three readings, there is a clear call to admit our sin and then a suggestion that baptism will wash away some sort of spots or dirt marks. Even then if sin is what makes us or our ways of being dusty and dirty then it originates from outside of ourselves from abusive patterns in the world. Thus to turn away from sin, to wash ourselves is self-care and associated with rest and even the pleasure of hot water and fragrant soap– repentance does not have to be about self-blame we can deeply understand and forgive our own imperfections (as a way of helping us be more tolerant and forgiving toward others). Instead we can turn toward God for the love of the divine “otherness” of God and for the joy of our potential to sink into and become one with that otherness as a deep affirmation of our own truest being.

John reminds us that when we act as “church” we enact sacraments that are shadows of the real sacrament of the real Christ. The priest, the prophet, the enacter of the mystery is no more worthy than the one who repents and accepts sacrament.

Let us sit and ponder a moment

What is the camel-hair, the uncomfortable reality we need to grapple with this advent?

How do we wash ourselves, be our best and most cared for selves? What do we repent from? What do we turn ourselves toward or into?

As we do this, let us stay with the idea of being gift and having gifts that is also part of our advent reality. Let us be brave and critical in our faith as we share our thoughts with each other. Let us trust our own experience of God in love and joy.

Some parenting tips for God

(yes I am making fun of myself in the title)

This is one of those weeks when the readings are alienating and my tradition seems inaccessible at best and oppressive at worst. I wasn’t sure whether to refocus on something more liberating, ignoring the texts (or just referring to them in passing) or whether even to take a week off as I should focus on job-seeking.

But there is a commitment here. I will grapple. I will read in painful detail as it seems to be that, hoping to glean something…or outright dismissal.

The first reading, Abram’s story begins unpromisingly with references to rewards and shields. These quasi-militaristic symbols are scattered not just through the bible but through all aspects of our culture so that they provoke usually a mild cringe or less, often we just gloss over them, don’t even notice them. I have been glossing over such details for weeks and heading into the main point (as I see it) of a reading. But the main point of this one does not become immediately apparent (not if we assume that it is definitely going to be good news).

Abram is whinging about his childlessness- not from the point of view of wanting to nurture (although even this has aspects of selfishness) but purely from resentment that all his property and acquired wealth and privilege will be inherited by a slave. Where do I even start with that? Slaves? The non-entity of the women of the household? The patriarchal preoccupation with fathering children you then don’t look after…and the way it plays out in modern anti-abortion movements?

So you’d expect Abram’s selfish and immature whinging to get short shrift from God who elsewhere claims to be an advocate for the downtrodden- slaves and women surely? I want God to say “Get your hand off it you privileged, wealthy male.” But God seems to see a need to soothe and pamper the already spoilt brat Abram. I really want to give God some parenting tips here for Abram’s own good!

God makes outrageous promises based on a sort of arrogance “I am the one…” a bit like “Who’s the man?” Even then Abram asks for surety and the (imperfect) vegan in me really wants to skim over the wasteful killing that happens next (yes that was a different time but nevertheless). God then gives the land (currently inhabited by other people but you know…Terra Nullius) to Abram’s descendants. This is such a significant part of our cultural thinking, and sadly we have to blame our Judeo-Christian heritage for it. God gives land to specific people- this thinking leads to nationalism, xenophobia and lack of compassion for others.

We fear relinquishing land to another nation, another faith, another God. We feel that we have some rightful claim to the land God has “allowed” us to take away from the others. Look at the sorts of things American’s were saying about God’s favour in the wake of 9/11? Look at how reluctant we are in Australia to “let them stay”.

But this is supposedly God’s word. The privileged and powerful shall be pampered and inherit the earth. Onward to the psalm!
The Lord is my light and salvation. I can be a fat-cat basking in the kyriarchy and see myself as above reproach. God is a stronghold for me to protect my wealth and privilege. I need not think of others

When those I oppress say “eat the rich” I can laugh because they will fail.

When war breaks out (incited by me?) I can rejoice in my protected status while other people suffer and die.
But then as the psalm continues, what if the less privileged…Abram’s wife or concubine or slave seek to live in the house of God and enjoy God’s beauty and God’s favour? What happens then? What if little refugee babies seek to be hidden in the shelter of God’s grace in their day of trouble?

If our head is lifted up above our “enemies” then it suggests that there is not equal treatment, not equal favour…that curse of “chosenness” is back and in lent too when we ought to be examining our way of life not creating smugness over it!

And my heart really and truly does seek her face. Desperately! But it seems these readings are determined to hide it from me. Within tradition I feel God has forsaken me (a mere woman) and has even more forsaken those that need her even more). This is a grave charge to bring against tradition, so I better keep sifting the evidence hoping to be proven wrong…

“27:10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.” But for many the issue is not their loving, impoverished mothers and fathers forsaking them, the issue is that the world is an unjust, racist and hurting place for whole nations of people!

“27:11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.” Because of my enemies? Not a Lenten idea at all. There is no repentance here, no attempt to seek justice, kindness and right relationship. All that is here is a sort of spiritual pride, a vain excellence like the horrible teacher’s pet who hides behind their goody-goody status to oppress and bully others. Like the worst excesses of abuse we have witnessed (as a community) from the clergy.

27:13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

I wish I could still believe

27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!

I am mindful of last time I went to church and one of the thinkers and key people of the community reminded us to try to avoid the metaphor of “Lord” for our loving and equalising God. Who shall I wait for? Can I rephrase a better message to myself?

“Wait for liberation; be strong and let your heart take courage, hope in liberation”
“Wait for Wisdom; be strong and let your heart take courage, hope in Wisdom”

“Wait for transformation; be strong and let your heart take courage, hope in transformation”

There is something of God that we be strong and hope in…even now…even when the tradition is so oppressive and excluding!

The second reading, which at first seemed to self-righteous to me, now that I have put into words my distaste for many aspects of the tradition, seems to seek into that. Because once again (like the Philippians did) we are living in a decadent age.

Enemies of the cross of Christ might worship the belly, seeking to pursue “bucket lists” of pleasure and novelty and sumptuous food while we arrest people offshore for the sin of wanting basic food and education. Glorying in “shame” a society might build bigger and better buildings, technologies, arts and consumables all for the benefit of those who can afford them…might pursue excellence in education (for the elite few) and immortality through cures from everything (for the elite few) and beauty of environment and the individual human body (once again with a price-tag that not everyone can pay) and say “too bad” to the many who labour and are exploited or are cast off as useless by a profit and novelty-seeking world. Out glory is the shame of “consumer choice” in all things even education.

Earthly things that the Christian churches glory in (to their shame) such as opposing Safe Schools Coalition and defending Cardinal Pell. Save us God who has any more wisdom than this, the flower of our civilisation! Transform the body of our humiliation into something that does not dazzle with glitter and sequins, but glows with genuine goodness to overcome all obstacles to love.

But here again words of the great Lord coming to save and conform and subject us to “himself”. The language itself makes difficult faith in liberative intepretations. How to stand form in a faith that is so riddled with kyriarchal, exploitative and power-abusing metaphors? Is not the tradition itself partly responsible for many of the things we want to be saved from?

How to stand firm?

In the gospel Jesus wants to gather us together like a hen gathering the baby chickens under her wing. I used to play this game with my children when they were little, in winter when they were all shivering I would put my coat over them and say “under my wing”. Recently when I was feeling cross and sad my youngest put the corner of his hoodie over my shoulder and said “under my wing” to remind me of the love and comfort we can give each other.

If Jesus yearns to have that sort of maternal, nurturing relationship with the hurting world, how do we enter into that relationship? How do we put under our wing all the poor and vulnerable and anyone who needs us? How do we find the safe wing to hide under when we are lost little chickens and there are predators about? “Under the wing” is the place of nurture, mentoring and closeness to warmth and a beating heart.

Perhaps the only vaguely hopeful direction for this week is looking to see who is in my life for friendship, who has emotional needs that I could help with and who is offering the hope I crave. There is that, and there is widening that circle to make a safer world that is more like under mother-hen’s roomy wing and less like a competition.

Mother-hen hear our prayer.

Stop enabling

I tried to write a blog about this week’s readings and I felt angry at all the different ways that exploitation of humans (women in each case) was reified as part of God’s plan and then I tried to pull back and find some good news in there to try to say that God was actually on side with the oppressed and we should…we should… and here I drew blanks. How do you respond to what is essentially a text of terror? And especially when the church uses it as a model for the Christian life that a good Christian is like Ruth or the starving widow or the almost penniless widow and is prepared to be used up and spat out in the service of God’s kingdom (or only to be nurtured by God as part of a greater plan of faithfulness to more important figures).

I want to radically follow God out of love, but not to be exploited and especially not to be part of a long tradition of the clergy and other all-male groups trivialising, exploiting and casually using women. NO FUCKING WAY.

So I wrote it and didn’t post it, I thought I would sleep on it. And then I checked my email and a friend of mine who is a sort of feral priest (ie too female to get any compensation or even acknowledgement from the exploitative Catholic church) had a rant in there about being “preached” to by people who have just got no idea. I won’t steal her story or her ideas as such, but that seemed a very productive track to go down to consider how dare I “preach” at all and who would I “preach” to and what presumptions and privilege might be contained within my preaching.

I don’t tend to like being “preached at” actually. I often feel like the person standing out the front going “blah, blah, blah, blah” wrongly assumes that I am many steps behind them on my spiritual journey and disrespects the ways I might be their equal or even ahead of them. I don’t believe we should preach that way as if to inferiors. I am not Jesus if I elevate myself (the first part of this week’s gospel makes that clear before moving into the text of terror which gets zoomed in upon in the opposite way to how the context sets it up).

The (mostly male) superior preachers who want to teach little old inferior me how to live (all without ever walking so much as half a step in my shoes or even bothering to make the smallest effort to find out anything about my life or experience) lack what we in qualitative research call REFLEXIVITY. They don’t stop to analyse who it is who is doing the preaching, that they are not just a wise conduit for God’s infallible wisdom (with a small “w” because it is not really Wisdom when it is bound by patriarchy) but that they are human beings caught up in webs of power relations in a society riddled with inequalities and that not only are they the relatively privileged, but that they also within the reign of God are pilgrims and sinners as are the “congregation”.

I am not saying that priests never examine their own conscience and never engage in their own spiritual journey, it would be wrong of me to speculate on that and God I am sure sees whatever good work or gaps exist in that work. I am simply saying that by setting up a one-way power relationship where “the people” are not meant to see “the priests” humanity there is a sort of dangerous hubris that leads to the greater and more dangerous abuses of power. It is also both discouraging and unhelpful to have to humour these people by listening to their self-satisfied and often superficial drivel week after week with little or no opportunity to speak back.

Having said that I hope that anyone who wants to take issue with what I am “preaching” is free to leave a message disagreeing with me, which provided it is not abusive I would allow on my wall. And you also are not a captive “congregation” but can tune in or out of what I choose to write as you wish.

I have tried to make it clear in this blog who I am- a disenchanted “Christian”, a graduate of theology, a single mother, a lesbian, a white middle-class person with a job and all the rest of it. In all those claims about my identity I am identifying what my bias might be and realising for me to try to speak from some ivory tower of “knowing” to you whoever reads this is arrogant, unless I realise that your different “knowing” might be equally enlightening to me, and unless I show that my struggles with these difficult texts are part of my Christian journey of NOT having all the answers and NOT always being “right”.

So Ruth makes herself available to Boaz so that she won’t starve and conceives a son for Naomi. The widow and her son are saved by God ONLY because of God’s interest in the survival of Elijah. Despite Jesus’ words about the exploitative hubris of priests, all the church sees in the widow’s donation of more than she can afford is a great role model for the poor and down-trodden in the pews to be guilted into following. Jesus is the ultimate high priest, advocating for us before God not constantly haranguing us that we are “not good enough” but other priests do NOT advocate for the oppressed within church and society and just preach spiritual opium and escapism to the masses.

The church is riddled with cancerous growths called patriarchy and privilege. It is bound into service of the ruling class and regularly commits adultery by serving the interests of capitalism rather than its spouse, Christ/Wisdom. It is addicted to its own cleverness and relatively easy place in a troubled world. We, the people must stop enabling. We must stop making excuses for the black eyes and hurt feelings, stop separating ourselves from the things that can give us life and stop being unconditionally faithful to the abuser, the patriarchal church. We must stop hurting Wisdom herself by blindly following and excusing, stop collaborating in the myriad oppressions of the world and the church.

If we have one coin between ourselves and death, we must use that coin to buy bread for our children not let it be sucked up by a not-even-grateful church. If we have a vocation we must dance it away from those who steal our labour and our dignity…somehow this must be possible. We must glean some sort of future for ourselves the widows and orphans of the institutional church!