Tag Archives: faith

Flipping is a trick not a way to travel: a biassed critique.

After I wrote my post it occurred to me all the ways it could come across as hypocritical or “clever” which was not the intention. As I was reflecting on that the birds outside started YELLING so I went out to see them. There was a huge and active flock of honey-eaters (who even knew they hang out in such large flocks) and I took a photo but alas all you can see in my photo is leaves and the tree they were centring their activity on. When you look at my photo please try to imagine the loud and shrill birdsong from about 30+ beaks and the flutter of wings just out of sight. When you read my similarly inadequate words (even Foucault fell into using “truth” to deconstruct the possibility of “truth”- Butler, 2005) please imagine that I am trying to get at something “real” that is similarly elusive and hard to pin down.

Recently I actually had an academic article published (my first). I asked my three sons to come with me to the “launch” of our special issue and one of them initially said “no” and then over a couple of gin and tonics asked me about the other people there (mostly academics) before telling me he doesn’t mix with academics. I’ve been a try-hard rather than a “real academic” for a long time so certainly he’s not had the opportunity to mix with academics much, but he might be surprised that some people that he quite liked as a child were actually academics. I tried to give him some sense of this.

“I have a recurring nightmare” he finally told me, “of being stuck at a party with very clever people and they are asking me what I think about Tolstoy. I can’t stand Tolstoy, I have a phobia of him”. After more discussion over what he meant by “Tolstoy” which I think to him was symbolic of intellectual pretentiousness and superiority, we made a bit of a joke about it. My son ended up coming to the party (greater love hath no man) and noone expected him to know about anything other than the fancy beer he was drinking. But when a friend asked me to read and comment on this article by Samuel Wells, I immediately saw the “Tolstoy” and immediately (even though I myself read things only pretentious people read) my hackles rose, detecting someone being “clever”. This was also borne out by the “flipping” of a popular idea.

I liked what one of the intents of the article might have been, to remove the idea of a top-down hierarchical God that we must cower before. I think in the context of people like Pell Pot and the myriad abuses of power in the wealthy and patriarchal church(es) over the centuries this feudalistic model of deity is certainly more than spent. I felt though that this intent (if it was there) was overlaid by a desire to recuperate the church as the centre of people’s spirituality, or to recuperate the church’s power to define reality at any rate and I have become deeply suspicious of such an aim considering who can rise to become “clergy” and who cannot. I also felt that above and beyond any other agenda was the desire to look clever, an agenda which I have deep sympathy for (I also have a narcissistic streak) but also I have to admit that when I am being most “clever” and especially when I am feted for it I am frequently saying the least of actual substance. When I say something meaningful (or at least with the integrity of me trying to make meaning) it is often unpopular and hard to follow.

So no judgement on a flashy preacher trying to look clever. I go to the fringe to watch acrobats performing feats of balance and flips and such and I don’t get sour that walking on your hands is an inefficient and impractical form of transport. I think we go to preachers at least as much for entertainment as for any grains of “truth”, any less diluted “truth” comes to us in the darkness as we tremble with fear and tears, or maybe is as uneventful as the song of lorikeets as we walk down the street ignoring the obvious. I realise that when I critique preachers…well yes I realise that.

But flipping while a neat trick and one that is fun to perform is not actually as wise as it often claims to be. “Flipped classrooms” for example seem to me to be a dishonest way to intensify learning, making a “more but not better” scenario and trying to make the learner responsible for self-cramming while also devaluing teachers (a longer game). Similarly just because Godde does not ask us to cower before her/him/them does not imply that Godde cowers before us. The reverse of the spent non-truth is not the truth either, just as Foucault (my Tolstoy I guess) insists that to call reason into question does not have to mean embracing irrationality. I would have preferred if the preacher/writer here had acknowledged that a flip at most can shake us up and make us question our groundedness, but that the mirror image is as illusory as the original. Also I would have liked the preacher to acknowledge the myriad feminist theologians that have made the same point but less dogmatically, I did not like the tone of “this is a brand new wisdom” for something we have known at least since the 90s (that Godde suffers and is powerless). And I don’t accept that I have to forgive Godde, because the one abusing the earth and allowing the abuse of children is emphatically NOT Godde. I reserve the right NOT to forgive genocide or rape as Jesus said “those whose sins you retain, they are retained”. Godde does not have to take the blame for cardinals who endorse child-abuse but I do demand that Godde distance herself from them to prevent the spread of germs (Ok that was me trying to be clever). I refuse to demand a crucifixion. I refuse to see an execution as “good”. I don’t want consequences for my sins, but I’ll take my consequences in preference to putting them on another. I stand with my sister Mary and see Jesus as someone’s promising and beloved son. WHAT A FUCKING WASTE!!!

Peter also flipped the crucifixion (or so we are told) but I think Peter over his career learned some humility. The way I look at it, violence standing on its head is still violence and if Godde has nothing for us but the gaslighting of “I suffered even more than you” then I have no answer to my atheist friends who critique my faith. And there I must sit. My faith now is as precarious as a long-held friendship. Do we even have anything to say to each other?

“Stop being clever” says the Holy Spirit “and dance”. I don’t know what to believe but it seems relationships are stronger than ideas. Whether I dance or refuse to, there is a bond there…with something. Sorry that’s probably not much use to you.

The temple that grew legs and danced away.

I have a life full of writing and my blog is suffering for it, but I want to try to be loyal to something that was so life giving when I had so little.

I look at the lectionary as one who does not know what to believe and yet prays to “something” and endeavours to live life as a prayer. What is life as prayer? To me it means looking for the joy and integrity in each day trying to detox from anything that causes despair. I don’t do it so well but I think maybe trying in and of itself is a type of prayer. I do not feel far from Godde. She curls up secure in herself like a purring cat. She eats my food like my colleagues at a party last night. She pours me a wine and waits for me to make the first move like someone who is afraid of ruining my learning by telling me what to think.

I need to stop and wait and let the students draw their own conclusions better I am too opininated. I need to trust.

I look at the second reading? What would it mean to be a temple? Which bodies get to be temples and which get destroyed? I think of the young mother and her three children burned this week by the children’s father. Burning destroying. My body is a temple but so are the temples that are other people’s bodies. I may be the priest within my temple but I am not Godde. I do not destroy animals or people to feed myself. I must consume less (Gaia eleison) I must consume with more thought and restraint (Lamb of Godde have mercy). We’re not supposed to deceive ourselves into destroying temples of Godde. Driving poor people closer to the edge (suicide) or failing to respond with compassion to refugees is destroying the temple. That Godde is life is not the point. It is not for us to fight the life and liberation message of the Word of God. The Spirit means our potential to be imbued with Godness. Can we open the temple to that?

My children are generous. I had a celebration for something I have written last night and all three of my children agreed to attend and listened to my mentors and colleagues. We are church not as individuals but as community (most of those people are atheists I think but that is not the point). We make wonderful things happen by paying attention to each other. My eldest son summed it up, we are here not just for ourselves but to make it better for everyone. Nevertheless I think the gospel is hostile to women or to anyone who is already underprivileged and taken advantage of (workers as well). If management asks me to go a mile I ask for a contract because they are trying to exploit us all. This is an ethical stance. A blind application of this gospel (that was written in a place and in a time) to all situations is wrong. In capitalist, white-supremacist patriarchy (hooks) we need to stop going the extra mile for our oppressors. Save your extra mile for the ones you mentor, for the ones who are poor, for the ones who need the relief, help and guidance.

I go the extra mile at work all the time but I don’t do it for management (and I try to hide from them how willing I am, how enthusiastic I am to do this work). My colleague went the extra mile and helped me get into a conference.

So I don’t know how to follow my faith anymore, my faith in the church is so dented by their misogyny and child abuse and inability to show empathy or to listen or have any humility. I hear a call still, isn’t that mysterious? I believe in people and I said so last night. I believe that in the most evil circumstances, trapped in oppressive systems we can exercise our agency for rightness and goodness (justice and caring). I’m reading ethics (academic not faith-based) and I am struck how ethical frameworks come back to justice, caring (hesed?) and a need to be open/learning/reflexive (walk humbly).

The words of Micah are not in the lectionary every week but I return to them again and again. I will endeavour to live them and I ask this of Godde in return:

Fill my steps with joy. Lead me to the places and people where love is. Make it all have been worth it.

Beloved Wisdom hear our prayer!

Doing not dreaming…beyond the “Self” trap

“Women’s theology from the Third World, like all feminist theology, puts great emphasis on doing theology. It is theology as an activity, as an ongoing process rooted in praxis, interdependent with and compassionately committed to life, justice, and freedom from oppression. It is not theology as a reified, academic subject with watertight categories, clear boundaries and sharp intellectual definitions totally separate from people’s experience” (Ursula King, 1993, 16-17)

I looked at the lectionary, but I think we both still need some time apart.

Instead how shall I DO theology this week? That’s a sensible question because I prefer to dream and intellecualise rather than do. What can I do that will make life have meaning? What will I do that brings Godde into my life, incarnates Godde?

Where are the places to care? Where are the places to resist? Where are the places to show-up? Where are the places to look after my own small family and even my own needs? How do I get past my insomnia and my waking nightmares, my heavy chest and tingling fingers and toes? Another anxiety attack and where is Godde?

Godde may be in the third world where people are less privileged than me. Godde may wish to hold the hand of the person who can’t leave the house for fear of racism (past and potential). Godde may be hiding in a wombat burrow while flames rage overhead. Godde might be in the small child I was that nearly killed herself for self-hate and loneliness. Godde may be on the page I wrote and sent to my supervisor or in my supervisor’s tendency to chat to me as equals not just boss me around. Godde might be in the overly picky colleague who was right after all, in the lentils I defrost for lunch, in a stack of notes to be signed for my son’s year 12. Godde might be hiding around the corner waiting for me to get off facebook and run to meet her. Godde might be travelling with the person I wish I was with. Godde might buy me a coffee and advocate for me to get work. Godde might demand I answer emails. I might be hiding from Godde because my anxiety is playing up. I might miss her…but surely she won’t allow that.

Reading on in the book edited by King, there’s a chapter by Asian feminist theologian Kwok Pui-lan and she seems to be speaking (writing?) into my recent passion for decolonisation. She talks about religious pluralism as an antidote to patriarchy and white supremacy and it seems to me to be an antidote also to the rationalist, liberal-democratic capitalist perspectives that make us all individuals…it calls to mind an opinion piece I read that speaks also into the research I am doing on early childhood educator and carer wellbeing. We are not sparkling intelligences each in an individual space where we create the world through our own autonomous and authoritative will. I reflect back on Grosz which I read last year. Humans are not just will and intellect, the body not just an inconvenient encumbrance to be pushed off onto women-kind, abandoned, neglected or overcome.

The body-soul mobius is deeply connected to earth and connected to otherness. We need to rediscover our own othered dimensions to help us de-other others including animals, plants and perhaps ultimately minerals too. Eating mindfully (which I do not do enough) might be part of this. I eat to feed my will but also to make it wait while I touch something present. Food has scent and texture and flavour it is not just fuel. I need to slow down when I eat this may reduce my incessant appetite that comes out as consumption- the drive to buy and own and even the drive to give.

(What did she mean by she needs to keep working so she won’t think?)

The tragedy of humanity (or one of them) is how often compassion is powerless. What can I do for Kopika and her family? What can I do for my casualised friends who suffer with me but perhaps worse? What can I do for a battery hen or a dairy cow? What can I do for a burnt koala? What can I do to keep my own children safe into a future I (the dazzling will and intellect) do not own. I am mortal, I am limited. Sometimes we seek to hide from this by exploiting and consuming everything around us. Sometimes we are too beaten down to want to truly live.

In that moment the Wisdom in which I still believe (a faith statement I did not expect to find in myself) says “come, slow-down, smell the rain, open your windows to coolness, breathe, taste me, be”. The church has grown a rigid shell (wills and intellects and patriarchal fear of not controlling) and is sick but will not admit it or ask for help. I can refuse to believe as an act of faith. I can believe as an act of uncertainty. I can love what I don’t agree with and reject what I used to think was all. I collapse with laughter seeing in my words still the desire to be a knowing, willing, sparkling SELF.

I will go and smell the basil if the possums have left me any and see what the teenager wants to do today. I will try to come off my intellectual high horse but even these games we play…all of it…is prayer.

Thanks be to beautiful Wisdom.

I’ll believe when Christians stop oppressing others.

I thought I would at least look at the lectionary before I went off in my own direction again. The first reading once again is one of those- helps you see why so many Christians treat others so badly, why so many more sensible people lose their faith. I want an excuse to believe in Godde but it’s certainly not here, nor in the words of people who bible-bashed me recently who were preaching an individualised opiate grace that is blind to the oppression in the world. I don’t want to make my peace with the oppression. I don’t want to “believe” that my privilege will continue no matter what. I don’t want to follow some narrow and personalised “morality” that condemns others (morally and materially). This is how according to Beauvoir people were in France just before the German occupation of world-war II. They too (and the Nazis themselves) thought of themselves a “Christians”. I cannot follow a Godde that would want that in their name.

In the first reading God has “degraded” the land but is portrayed as deserving a cookie for having stopped. Very toxic masculinity. Very kyriarchy. Very much NO. God stopping degrading the land has made everyone as happy as people who are dividing the spoils after invading someone else’s land. Cue for rape humour and roasting animals (invisible referrents abound). This is progress, one people’s liberation bought by the genocide of another. Once again I am disinclined to save this pericope from itself. Not so many people read me anyway (thank you if you do).

The psalm is nice. At times I have felt that way about “beautiful Wisdom”. My feeling in the moment is “Where is she?” even if I ignore the word “Lord”. When I went away fro a few days I had actually stopped clenching my jaw and my gums had stopped bleeding for the first time in over a year. While I was away I had a full nights’ sleep and a whole 24 hours without a headache. My writing got easier as well but alas I had to come back. Life is not about those moments of escape anyway though my son did put the bins out and wash dishes in my absence. The cat cuddled me and purred, my escape had been her anxiety. We are all each other’s light and salvation except when we get too worn out, anxious and depressed to do it well. I need a longer lasting shot of something. Something. Not wine. Not caffeine. Not even salad. Light and salvation. Don’t we need some? There is one thing I ask…some sort of hope. Some sort of reason to keep going.

The second reading talks about that scene in Life of Brian where the People’s front of Judea is definitely NOT the Judean people’s front or any of the other cliques. I see this is real causes that I am involved with. People’s egos get in the way of real progress, partly to be fair because issues really ARE that complex. It’s always hard to decide where to draw the line. What can I work with for the sake of harmony and progress and at what point to I have to conclude the real point of the movement, it’s essence has been lost? It doesn’t help that the right is good at steamrolling us all under it and sowing seeds of doubt in us. It’s a reminder to me to try to work with other people, to trust them and to focus on their needs and thoughts not only my thought. It’s a reminder to me to practice holy silence which I am outwardly maybe getting a little bit better at but inwardly…well coming back from Goolwa has not helped.

I read the gospel and today it would take too much work to see past the male hero calling men to make a church that people like Scott Morrison and Trump and all their ilk can feel comfortable with. Where’s the liberation in that? I feel it should not be up to me to call Jesus to transgress (through the ages and the pages). Has it been arrogant of me in the past to try to stitch together some sort of meaning, some sort of inclusion (illusion/illness/ill-used). Has it been naive like expecting Indigenous Australians to “celebrate” January 26th. Why is it that on the one hand people are told to “get over” oppression and move on but on the other hand the oppression does not stop?

So unhappy oppression day. Unhappy invasion day. May the roasted animals (on our plates and in our bushfire zones) stick in our throats, may the coal dust make us cough our way to repentance for letting this happen, may the hailstones and big as golf-balls that feel on Canberra this week not fall on deaf ears. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh nine times. WHY??? WHY???? Were there no women in Egypt to call for change? I am not prepared to leave it until we lose our first-born (or any-born) sons. Jesus said “Repent for the kindom of heaven could be at hand”. Could it? Why do we sometimes seem to repent in the wrong direction? I don’t care who is wearing makeup or sleeping with whom (though religion is no excuse to bully them) I want to repent from the suicidal impulse of white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. I want to repent from the exploitation of land and the bodies of beings (human or not). I want to repent from a work-ethic and a precarity that is honestly starting to feel like it is killing me, to repent from that without having to do only joyless routine work that harms my body and heart.

Like Mulder I “want to believe”. But the ones who claim to speak for Godde make that very hard! Instead I ask with the Black-Eyed Peas where is the love, the love, the love?

No easy answers

Content warning: frank discussion of suicidal thoughts

I’m not getting anything from the lectionary today. It seems like just grand narratives of salvation and I am acutely aware that there is so much suffering and threat in the world and people don’t get saved, justice does not get done and in the words of the psalmist “the wicked prosper”. I have worked so hard for so many years to reclaim the patriarchal grand narratives to try to coax them into some semblance of grace, to wash them and pat and flatter them and try to see them in a feminist light. And it occurred to me only this week that this is like a toxic (heterosexual) marriage.

Don’t get me wrong I have been a critical, nagging witch/fish-wife at the lectionary as you may have seen. I have ranted, I have demanded reformation, I have made ultimatums but ultimately I have sunk back into doing ALL THE WORK and trying to find a place for myself in a church that from where I stand this moment seems irredeemably patriarchal. Nevertheless I don’t want to give up on my church family, I feel they are a good influence on me and keep me safe and sane and I reserve the right to be as irrational as a woman and keep going for the substance even if the form is all nonsense.

Perhaps that means that somehow I still have faith in Wisdom when she speaks in peoples lives of loyalty and kindness and passion for justice and altruistic care. I will read the lectionary of the (mainly women) people who inspire me. I will read the lectionary of my own power in the world. For my Sunday worship I will go down to Basham’s beach and gaze in awe at the white-tipped teal and cerulean waves. I will listen to the holy choir of seagulls, the wind-ruffled willy wagtails and the flight of wedgetailed eagles. I will write poems of whales, penguins and mermaids. For my pentitential rite I will gaze in sorrow at the now brown and stinking waters of the Coorong. For communion I will have chips with too much fat and salt but no regret. If I am able I will give the sign of peace, a greeting to an old person or a smile to a baby or a pat to a dog. I thought this was going to be a very negative reflection but I am finding something green in the ashes after all (but much has been lost and I don’t make light of it).

My readings will be listening to Lady Blue by Emily Wurramara. Next finishing the memoir of Simone de Beauvoir that I have been reading so slowly. My gospel will be trying to turn my notes on my literature review, agonisingly in words we (my co-authors and I) can use. I can’t really be an atheist though I am a crying, shaking mess of faith-loss and grief at the moment. The church is so inadequate in responding to increased knowledge of abuse and inequality and environmental vandalism. The church prays too quietly and lets the rich “prey” and call themselves Christian. From de Beauvoir’s book I am getting a sense that the rise of Hitler and conquest of France was enabled, and brought with it similarly aggressive Christianity to the sort we are seeing today in our leaders and in many church lobby groups. Never mind that most church-goers are well meaning and gentle folk (some clergy may be too). There is nothing of creative and everloving Wisdom in an aggressive Christianity. It is a golden calf only, there is no substance in attacking drag queens or welfare survivors. There is no Eucharist in enabling mining and leaving people to burn. There is no baptism in buying warjets and not protective equipment for firefighters.

Eleison, eleison, eleison, enough of these generations of nonsense, these excuses to divide and despoil and exploit. My jaws hurt from clenching and my right hand is numb on the steering wheel and my body is full of pain and out of touch with its needs. I need things I cannot put into words.

I have considered suicide again, it seems such an easy option now that I am older and more capable than I once was.

Driving along twisty country roads with playlists from my past. Robbie Williams “I know life won’t break me” what nonsense life breaks everyone in the end, it’s why we have cemeteries. The point is not to avoid “breaking” it is to find and make meaning in the time in between (but how do people do it without faith?). “She offers me protection” he is singing about a female-gendered being who sounds divine, I have thought of Godde when I have listened before but now I bite at the inside of my mouth in anger. Noone is offering me protection, we are all going to suffer, we have no tangible hopes left for our beautiful children. I need to be with Aboriginal people, I need to learn their gritty resilience and humour. I’ve heard this before from people- people who drink too much and people who manage not to. People who are always poor and needy and people who manage to get the good jobs. So much survival without tangible hope. I need the grit, I need to be what I have seen.

Oh I have been naive in my privilege. I start telling myself off for giving myself a hard time and wondering if I am adding another layer to my insanity by trying to police even that about myself. Trying and failing because to hear me talk you would think I am some sort of overachiever (far from it). And I think of Kierkegaard who is reputed to have said that for the genuinely ethical person there is never peace of mind.

“I am ethical as fuck then” I yell internally, staying firmly on the left so a truck can overtake me.

Am I ethical? Or is this another escapist mindgame. I need to stop thinking about myself. I spend the next few kilometres calling to mind everyone I know who has been patient or generous with me, who has inspired me and especially people who say they like to read me (that is the best antidote to suicidal thoughts). I dwell on their brilliance and virtue and then I smile to acknowledge flaws in them too. They have flaws. I have flaws. Are we human? Wheatus is singing “Teenage dirtbag” and I tell myself off for needing to turn other people into dirtbags like me instead of myself being better.

“You are sanctimonious today” I tell myself, almost at the market where (I don’t know this yet) this week I will find the salsa verde I particularly like. Dido comes on, “I will go down with this ship. I won’t put my flag up and surrender, there will be no white flag above my door”. That’s the spirit. No suicide today. No surrender. Besides, my children need me. More capable yes but then also more indispensable. Imagine how I would have felt if I lost my…oh never mind.

Keep your eye on the road and remember to get some cherry tomatoes at the market. Writing will happen. There is no rush. I did the right thing to get away by myself and not be crazy in other people’s space. All the casual academics are crazy in January and most of them are dirt poor too. Oh I am the lucky one. Finish the shopping because in the words of Emily Wurramara, “Lady Blue she is calling me”.

Yea though i have retreated to a valley to reflect.

I am feeling ill. I am fearing ill. There is a pillar of cloud overhead that (it is rumoured) used to be flame and it is not friendly. Easy childhood fairytales of chosenness have fallen away. The valley is no longer green like in the January of 1992. It is dry and brown with the grey-brown sky. At 1pm it is as dark as a winter evening.

“That’s not cloud cover” says the man in the general store, the one who has been to fight the fires.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;[a]
    he restores my soul.[b]
He leads me in right paths[c]
for his name’s sake.

It seems relevant to reflect on all this. I thought I came here to restore my soul but as a critical leftist feminist I have no time for “Lords” and as a vegan I see “shepherds” much the same way. I reflect on coffee with an atheist that I had recently. There was no room at all for my tenuous faith/doubt in conversation with her (and others but less recently). Are they right after all? Lords exploit the peasant. Shepherds make the ultimate exploitation and eat their flock (or sell it to consumers). I have little reason to follow such a one and less reason to love. My teenager was until recently uncommitted to believing or not believing but seems to have turned towards believing.

If there is a Lord who is my shepherd then I will rebel. I will practice civil disobedience. I will transgress, I will flee.

When was the last time I lay in green pastures without feeling guilty about my privilege and apprehensive that my days are numbered? I don’t mean death, I mean extinction which is different again. I have stopped feeling there is eternity for me and I gaze into a widening void. I can’t sleep except in fits and I wake with a clenched jaw. My gums bleed. I have been grinding my teeth.

But she is beautiful.

I don’t want to unpack the materialist here-and-now things I could mean by that. I see Wisdom like a silly little girl, like a monkey, like a possum, like a cheeky rainbow parrot hanging from every tree laughing at me and daring me to join her. I see the earth split open by the ocean, the once small blowhole at second valley now a roaring channel of white water. I reflect that it has been almost 30 years since I sat here in wonder and awe.

The awe of the child was somewhat naive, all things were my friend and none wished me ill except for humans. Now I know myself as a human not as earthling. Now I see the sheep and alpacas flee from me, the kangaroos hide and jump away. Predator. Vandal. Saboteur. Consumer. Human. My thin sandals are ripped by the rocks, my bad knee gives me trouble. Am I burning?

“UVs have never been higher” says my son and Googles the fire danger for all the places we want to visit.

“I am glad we did not go to Kangaroo Island” he says.

What is the right path, and whose name should I be invoking? Lead kindly light but then on the other hand we know these days “the hostile light, that does not warm but burn“. We Australians at the start of 2020 know it so much better than poor Emily ever did. But there is wisdom in taking only the one step. Pastures and quiet waters (or rapid white waters for that matter). The sheep will be eaten but perhaps a day under a shady tree is worth being born for.

But not if you can see the well-worn path to the abattoir.

I do not ask to be made blind, I tried that and it wasn’t for me. I was not born for opioids. I was born to have a loud voice and a fighting attitude. When I try to be other things everything falls apart. I have played the prodigal too. If I say I was “born for this” then I am acknowledging some purpose, some call. Still she plays in the trees just out of sight and refuses my interrogation.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[d]
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

“if this is Second Valley then where is the first valley?” My son’s question is identical to the question I asked at his age. I begin to speculate as does he. But fear is the darkest valley and we walk it now the whole human race. It seems naive and criminal to trust in “rods” and “staves”, in authority and phallocentrism at a time like this. Our “Christian” prime minister wants the freedom for “Christians” to bully people like me. In any case he would sell us all for a lump of coal and a week in Hawaii.

Come on then Godde? I am here in the valley of the shadow of death. My brother is in a capital city where the air for weeks has been orange-brown with dust and the people wear masks if they go outside. A woman died after her lungs went into shock when she flew to the city. The air quality is not fit for humans and my lovely little nephews and nieces are living in it. “Yeah though I walk” we all walk. Am I my brother’s keeper? I am the eldest and I feel I should do something. I feel so powerless. I honestly don’t know what to do. Better to face death fighting and with the children behind me if I knew which direction it was coming from more precisely.

Oh I fear evil.

I fear the apathy and ignorance that will open it’s ears and its heart to evil and blame the Greens or the climate strikers for the sins of the powerful rich, white men. I am no sheep but a scapegoat, still hardly a silent one. Why have I not blogged lately? I meant to reflect on Christmas and on the Eucharist. The body of Christ…we are all marching toward crucifixions some of us don’t yet want to talk about. Will it be easier on the ignorant? Even so I do not ask for that.

How does she live, the atheist? What motivates her to do good? Am I inherently corrupt because I need a “Godde” to exist to give my moral code meaning. I need a relationship I don’t see anything objective about who I am as a human being. I don’t see a natural “right” and “wrong” but it becomes right through love and wrong through selfishness. She lives what she mockingly asserts she does not believe…I know very little about her really, but if she were not good then I would not sense her goodness.

I say I question everything but there are things I “know”.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely[e] goodness and mercy[f] shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.[g]

But privileged folk have always been so smug about their “chosenness” and to me this goes against the radically unsettling Godde preached by the authoress of the Magnificat. “My table…my cup”

“She sends the rich away empty”

“You anoint my head with oil” but John the Baptist lost his head following beautiful Wisdom even into the barren and uncomfortable places. I am an overthinker, there is no chance I will come out of this unscathed. Goodness and Mercy follow me? I am looking who/what to follow but perhaps that is the wrong way around. When I lie on the rock in the sun a monarch butterfly lands on me. Stillness is worth something (still the gritted teeth and the wheezing). The animals in the fields still don’t want a bar of me although I have dutifully eaten chickpeas and mushrooms instead of “slice of their brother”.

I shall dwell in the house of (call her what you will I will not say “Lord”) my whole life but how long is life? Somebody told me she really didn’t want eternity. A few voices joined in mocking the preservation of aging bodies and meaningless stretches of time forever. What is life for? Why would we want eternity? Why would we not? I miss my family who have died. I am in a blind panic at the thought of certain other people dying. I suppose if I died I would not notice it after the event unless there is something more,

 

I don’t know the answers but I know it matters how we treat not just Life (my life or a moral principle) but lives. Your life and autonomy must not be sacrificed to my grand narratives. Your life human, woman, disabled person, animal, maybe even plant (I am not advocating that we stop eating plants). We could leave the coal in the ground if we saw it as earth’s organs. Or would we? Reading Foucault makes me doubt that the powerful are ever humane. Would I be so corrupted?

 

Would I think it was my “duty” to defend the structures that gave me power and privilege. What have I done this week against my own race and class privilege in any case. Fine words “Lord, Lord, Lord”. What right to I have to live? What right to I have to question living? What do the old people experience seeing what we have wrought? Why is everyone not on the streets protesting? Why am I not “holding my hose” toward the fires?

 

Starfish hill wind-farm and my son’s opinions on renewable energy and ethical crops (we share a joke about hemp even though there is truth in the jest). A government that wants to take us closer to armageddon/rapure/extinction. Meaning death as Eliot said but also there is grace dissolved in (this?) place. My baby is a teenager. I have never been so lonely in my whole life. This time, unlike the loneliness of the past I don’t feel needy for others I just feel that connection would ground me to life having meaning. I yearn to connect and feel and BE. I am self-sufficient AF but also useless and empty.

 

What good am I? What good am I? I will look for work to throw myself into and stop questioning.

 

Sheep used to think they could safely fucking graze!

In which our heroine/vilainess changes tack…

This week quite a lot of things happened. On the micro-scale… I managed to offend someone whose good opinion I really care about. My most trustworthy and hardworking colleague suddenly chucked a sickie and I got to teach a class I don’t usually get. I realised more about my own privilege. We finally got what felt like some winter weather (and I didn’t like it).

On the slightly broader scale- levels of discontent are rising. One of my friends got a job she really deserves. One of my children applied for an exciting job. Vegan diets and composting are on the increase and people are turning away from plastic bags. But only some people, and this is sad. Extinction rebellion staged a “die in” in work hours and it was well attended (but not by me).

On the larger scale. We have a “Christian” prime minister and a small and beloved Tamil family is being squeezed out of their loving neighbourhood and out of the country. The children are being traumatised even more than they have been. Another “Christian” man is trying to get out of serving his prison sentence for child sex offences. It is hard to believe him innocent given the weight of the evidence and his own lack of insight about sex-crimes within the church hierarchy. I am not reassured by our “Christian” leaders as the sea levels rise. I am stunned that we would “protect our borders” against bright little girls and their parents but open the gate and put the welcome mat out for Adani and Equinor.

I don’t know where to turn for faith this week though, because the lectionary mumbles anachronisms and dogma- dangerous to an aware woman. If I even am a “woman” which is a whole other question. I feel I should make an effort to go “back” to church this week, to recapture something I used to love. I have marking and editing and writing and even a lecture to plan. I have laundry and shopping and cleaning and admin work to do.

I am sitting here drinking coffee and feeling adrift because it is not like I didn’t try the lectionary but it is abjectly failing to speak to me. It’s not reassuring. It’s not challenging. It’s just off-key and sort of smug at me. So where do I take this doubt and this still desire for goodness and love? Where do I take this floating, unmoored feeling? So many psychs over the years have told me to “trust myself” more, but that is hard enough with earthly things. How unsafe, even narcissistic it seems to have the “self” as an authority in spiritual things.

So if not myself, then what can I become aware of? The scrabbling of tiny rodents in the walls when I am trying to sleep? The orange and glorious sunset I can just glimpse from my “hot desk” as I leave work later and later each night? The reed that encircle the shining lake? The student who mentions Paolo Freire before I even do? The paragraph in a paper that I am marking that sounds like it was written by an expert? The bitterness of the too dilute coffee because I am neglecting household tasks like shopping? That elusive reference just outside the reach of my growing but still slow brain? The…(but no some things I should not dwell on even if they seem divine).

Is the net of ripples and circles that I call my “experience” of the world also a sort of lectionary? Can I read the life of God in it? How do I orient myself, in which direction is this “God/Godde”? Is it behind my back in the brave personal battles of one of the other casuals? Is it behind a closed door in an office of one of the “real academics”? Did it leave when we had the restructure? No. It is here. It is always where I am and I am happy to be here even when the hard work almost kills me. I bring it with me, like the roses from my garden that I put in the lunch room, but others bring it with them too. Others I think I know but that have hidden depths. It is in the “care” of teacher for student, senior staff for newer. It is in the enthusiasm of the first-year whose family never went to uni. It is in the ability to quickly understand of the Masters student. It is in the way I thought I was something remarkable, odd or special but everywhere here there are people like me.

It is in the laugh at myself for having been less (and more) than I thought. It is in the student who catches my eye and knows that I know that there is more to life than the four walls of the classroom. It is in temptation (dumplings, mexican food, chocolate brownies and the tavern). The life of Godde is our life.

It is in the fluffy ducklings who do not know the world they have hatched into. It is in the koalas who will be desperate for water by high summer. It is in the brown snakes who wreak such havoc just by appearing. It is in the dying trees and the grapefruit trees, giving their bounty to all and sundry (who can reach). It is in the view of the ocean and the too-blue for winter skies. It is in the library, in the hidden corners and rustling pages and even the annoying blip of someone’s mobile phone. The life of Godde may be beyond humans, but when we touch it then it is here in our lives. If it can be in a cultural text (bible or lectionary) then it can be in other texts too (email asking me to take a class, me trying to fairly word my response to someone asking for an extension).

I thought all this focus on “reality” would go somewhere that I would talk myself out of this spiritual dryness into some sort of “relationship” or some sort of ability to “believe” but the world appears to be dying and my children are in it. I am lost. I do not know how to find Godde or faith in any of this after all. I do not know what meaning any of this has apart from the twisted and difficult pleasure I get from my work. Am I becoming a workaholic? Maybe. I am pursuing this academic dream partly because it gives me joy but also because I cannot see Godde. Can Wisdom be here somewhere? I miss feeling like I knew where she was.

I will wash my clothes as early as possible and take the bus into work to do marking and other things. I love this. I want this. But I feel I ought to understand or touch something bigger in it all. Right now this is all I have.

From the womb out to the universe: love

The lectionary this week is my friend, these readings are perfect for encouraging an activist and someone who would do good in the world, without allowing for smugness or self-righteousness. Given the church’s capacity for “I am right and you are damned” thinking, I will start with what these readings do NOT tell me. They do not tell me that I am right and everyone else is wrong or inferior. They do not tell me to go about judging individual “sin” and nitpicking others. They do not answer all questions, give us a blueprint for living or make it easier. They do reassure us, call to us, tell us our work is meaningful and needed and remind us to focus on WHAT MATTERS. I will get to what matters but spoiler alert, the second reading pretty much spells it out.

There is a popular quote that is often incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela, but I will start with that:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (Marianne Williamson)

Williamson is brilliant, because she has made so many people sit up and take notice of this truth, but in a sense she is (intentionally or not) paraphrasing today’s first reading. The reading says the same thing, but puts it in a context of faith as relationship with God. God knows us full well. God knew us before we were born and is intimately familiar with both our capacity and our limitations. God loves and calls out of us the light that we are. God loves, soothes and forgives our brokenness and too tiredness.

God is asking us to have the courage to speak out against oppression- the oppressions of ourselves or others. God is asking us to take an ideological stand for the kindom of Heaven not for the economy of only money while children suffer and human beings work too hard for too little. Kin-dom, sometimes people tell me I spell that wrong, but I am making a choice to critique putting a human oppressive structure like “kingship” on our God of subversive love who preferences the poor. Charity then is reframed not as generosity given to the lesser “other” but as justice, giving people back what is rightfully theirs. We are KIN, we are family to God and therefore to each other. Everything we have was first of all God’s and as God has shared it with human-kind it is equally for all, not for one of us more than another.

Interesting also that as well as Kings and Princes (secular oppressive powers) we are also told we will have to stand against priests and people. I don’t see this reading asking us to unquestioningly follow or be inappropriately loyal to the clergy. We must demand from them what we demand from anyone in power- integrity, wisdom, humility and the dignity of those they claim to lead. Those below us are our kin and those above us are also our kin. Noone deserves less than me. Noone “deserves” more than me. We must give and demand full respect. There is no excuse for clergy abusing people or lording it over them.

The psalm is a call to God, because if we take out vocation to stand against injustice and oppression seriously then we have a daunting task before us. There will be a time when we feel unequal to the task. The psalm begs for God’s support and strength and hints that these are available to us. What if as well as calling on God we call on each other for solidarity and look for and support those in whom God’s call shines strongly? The womb is mentioned again, I notice this week’s readings really stressing our origin in a mother’s womb and God’s midwifely care for us to be born. Our material lives, our bodily realities (with messy female bodies involved in the creation of life) is known and blessed and companioned by God. I am menstruating as I write which makes my relationship with my own body difficult. But I came messily from my mother and my children came messily from me. The Word of God is in each of us and the power to declare God’s justice and salvation. These days I am not birthing children but words. It is also a difficult and messy process. God knows me before I speak and before my words are articulate. God is in the mentors that try to help me fix my words (whether or not they are “believers”).

If God companions us then God is also the companioning and mentorship that we bring to each other. Praise God in the messiness of human love and wisdom. Praise for the sacrament of community!

The second reading seems to agree with me. No amount of eloquence, dedication to a cause or force of charisma is worth anything if I lose the focus that God has set for all my meaningful labours. The focus is LOVE. Justice is for LOVE. Hope is for LOVE. Human relationships are for LOVE. Education of children is for LOVE. Politics ought to be for LOVE. Protecting the environment is work of LOVE. Love to the stranger and the refugee. Love to the queer kid and the dysmorphic teen. Love to the socially awkward, the disabled, the unemployed or the grieving. Love to the articulate, the successful, the polished too. Love to the prickly, love even to the hollow and love always back to myself. I am here to know my belovedness not guilt at what I have not (yet) achieved. I am beautiful for being created so, not as an attainment in a dazzling career of some sort. But I also don’t have to devalue my achievements, just refocus through them on love. All worthwhile aims are love and all that makes us fully actualised is love.

When it is hard to find a path then we must love more. When we are doing well then we must consciously refocus on love.

Love is that perfect and resilient thing that is expounded in this reading but please note that love is NOT a quiet doormat. Patient and kind yes but also ready to advocate for the beloved (and all are God’s beloved). All other things will ultimately fail us and leave us feeling empty but love will always triumph. Love will always call us back to the centre of being. Love is the safest place to invest our efforts and our identity and reap joy. When grief is real and joy is difficult, nevertheless the meaning of the universe lies within love. Love is unavoidable if our lives are to be meaningful and our personhood complete.

In the gospel, I “only a single mum”, “only a student”, only a this or only a that smile at Jesus being “only the son of a carpenter”. This past week I heard someone who I experience as a hero, a courageous and intelligent leader and thinker describe herself as “a girl from….” (a country town). Behind all the great prophets and teachers there is a very ordinary reality (like wombs again) of growing up somewhere with some ordinary folk and gaining extraordinariness through the call of God/love, through the fact that within every single one of us is the seed of liberation for ourselves and each other (Williamson again). I find Jesus’ words about some people being chosen and some not puzzling. I cannot believe that God plays favourites and this has not been my experience either.

It is the “widow” or the “leper” or the “carpenter’s son” that we must look to, to be fed and taught and called. It is the ordinary in us that gives rise to our vocation to work not only FOR God but WITH God in our world and beyond. And beyond, I say, not giving ourselves permission to neglect the realities of climate change and inequality here on earth, but hoping always radically hoping for greater meanings than we can yet know.

“So faith, hope and love remain, these three. But the greatest is love”. Our faith and our being hold such a truth at the heart because elsewhere we are reminded that “God is love”. Let us answer that call, let us be defined by always greater commitment to love.

Knowing

Someone asked me (well not just me, a group of us) to articulate how/why we believe in God. I am tired and it is a hard thing to articulate, but I will set down here what I said and try to start to polish it to understand it better. I think it was Elizabeth Adams St Pierre that said she only knew what she was going to say AFTER she wrote it. It’s a bit like that for me and this is my process for trying to understand my inner truth.

I think I will classify this as one of my “creeds”

I think my belief in Jesus is just me needing a framework for my belief in God

that is the framework I grew up with,

sort of the God-language that I am fluent(ish) in.

 

There is not rational reason to believe in God

I feel a presence

that is what a relationship is, a presence I can feel and trust

I need values and meaning to be fully alive

and sometimes struggle to know what they are

or define them.

 

People define them wrong, rules break down,

systems oppress someone

I need more

a presence I can trust

that will travel the beyond-ways with me

but wiser

and love and trust me into

my better self.

 

God is “other” to me

so that I might not be God to myself

which would be narcissism

I find myself

in bouncing off an “other”

sometimes people are the “other” but also God

to remind me that the “other” is as great and greater than me

and reaching for me in love

to wrap me

my “self” is not all, is not the reason

but even my “Self” is also wrapped in the great love.

 

I know God.

I mean I know love.

I am loved.

I know the sight of the tawny eyes that make me feel tender

and I say “I am in love”

and I can ask all the texts in the world to explain this thing to me

can deconstruct and disbelieve

but I see the face, the smile

and I am in (human) love.

 

And that is what knowing boils down to.

 

I know the taste of mango.

I know the sweet and the sometimes too sour

and the inconvenience of skin and seed

and the pleasure/irritation of dripping

and the juice in a thirsty mouth

and the wrong season so I have apple instead.

There is reason, there is science

but that is not really how I know the curve and the scent

that is mango.

 

I see a man and I know he is the baby

that I used to watch breathing in joy and fear

that I used to hold close and allow to move away

that began words and thought I was everything,

then nothing,

then a person, an “other”.

I know the baby still in the man

but the baby is long gone

and I love the man the same and not the same.

The breath that meant love.

 

My cat purrs and I know her and she knows me.

My hand on her velvety fur brings the purr

and she is old

and she knows I am far from perfect

but also trusts that I will feed her,

she rarely reminds me.

I know she purrs not for any reason

but because we are together.

 

I know the velvety rose petal.

I know its caress and I know its fragrance.

Roses have thousands of petals and they curl and dry up and disappear

and I have to try to remember

to dead-head them.

If I pick a rose

and put in in a vase in my warm house

it will last a day perhaps

not long.

But the petal is fresh if I rub it, unless I crush it,

the rose smells like something I can’t prove.

And why does the scent of a rose

call to mind those eyes again?

Something like faith, making connections

that reason cannot sustain.

 

I would hope everyone feels some such thing.

 

The bible for me is not fact,

or rules for living,

or instructions or warnings.

It is a photo-album of

communities of God within my faith-family.

They got some stuff right and some stuff wrong.

And some of it I just plain wasn’t there and I don’t understand.

 

And then God comes along like a burst of music

through my head and echoing in my memory,

reverbating in my body, in my bones

live music

making me dance and haunting me forever after.

 

Sometimes I get the moves or the rhythm wrong

or I strain to hear and miss my cue.

I hope the music is still moving me even then.

I hope but I can’t prove it.

 

Somewhere in my hope, my good intention

I must have been touched by God

I must be right

(not about the facts or the mechanics or to tear others down)

but right to live and move and have my being

coming to know GODDE.