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.