Tag Archives: families

Holiness, families, connection, otherness

The first reading today, is a couple of disjointed passages from a longer section where surprise, surprise the father (patriarch) of a household is setting up his own wellbeing and interests as “God’s law” over his children. There is a section defining the parent’s power over children as natural and right, God’s will, then he sensibly looks ahead to a future time when he may be feeble or have dementia and sets up taking care of him them as a virtue for his children.

While I agree that looking after the old with compassion and respect is virtuous, as a whole this piece of writing leaves me cynical and disconnected from my tradition. I want to look for holiness instead at real holy families I know… two women who defy their church and some of their relatives to give loyalty and nurture to each other “for better for worse, for richer for poorer…” and let their mutual love outflow to their communities… a single mother on the barest pittance who struggles to put food on the table but always finds some change or a cigarette for any homeless person who asks her, and refuses to give up her World Vision sponsored child…the couple who take turns running for election or supporting each other’s efforts, who work together to manage their household finances, chores, child rearing, extensive political involvement, gardening and still find time to each have personal interests and entertain friends (how do they do it all?)…the single person who knows s/he (I know more than one of these)is on a good income and looks for opportunities to be generous and transformative with their money, even while enjoying a good standard of life themselves…the elderly people whose love for their own (now grown up) children spills over into grandchildren and others who they can mentor, support, encourage…the teachers who are like family in the way they see and respond to an emotional need…the nurses who heal more than a physical wound by lingering or listening for a (precious and scarce) moment longer than they have to…the chef who finds an excuse to feed people even beyond the call of duty…the boss who genuinely cares about how unique her employees are and their individual needs and issues…the now separated or divorced couple who remain friends for the sake of their child, or add encouragement and support to the ex, rather than bitterness and judgement…”

And there are broken families too of course, people betrayed, abandoned, insecure, criticised, misunderstood, neglected…all families are Christ’s family whether we approve of them or not, whether we can see the life-giving potential in them ore not.

To extend this logically, the family called “the church” which is also extremely flawed and at times abusive is Christ’s family too…

The second reading starts off well, with all the advice about loving and forgiving each other, but also ends up devolving into patriarchal family hierarchies. Husbands over wives, parents over children. I don’t want to rehash all the apologetics here about “this is actually liberative for its time and culture because it is two-sided.” Maybe, maybe not but I am reading it on the threshold of 2018 and this way of putting it does NOT liberate someone who has experienced being a child and then a wife. As a lay-person in a church where there is so much power and authority accorded to clergy I am wary of this asymmetrical two-sided responsibility where my responsibility to obey is supposed to mesh with someone else’s responsibility to nurture me. That has often not been the way it has panned out. I also added back in here the verse the lectionary has swept under the carpet, because I think it illustrates our need for caution with texts.

God created all humans with intelligence, will, agency; it in no way makes sense for some to give up their own ability to reason, choose and decide and to hand that power over to others.

I am digging in my heels at these reading with a big fat NOPE.

In the context of these two readings, the gospel seems a little bit oppressive too. Here is Jesus’ family following tradition, celebrating his maleness and first-borness by killing some pigeons. I understand that this is not my culture and I try to bite my tongue as I read it (but there were those other readings to set the tone for me to resist this too). So here they are doing everything that is “prescribed” and Jesus’ specialness is affirmed by people outside the family, people important within their religious community.

As someone who never got to be “special”, as “only a girl” I can watch it from the outside but this story has never really captured my imagination much, nor has it given me any sort of useful concept of “holiness” so that as a child this feast-day was more of a puzzle to me than anything else. I was a pious little goody-goody so I took it for granted that they were holy, I was not and my role in the faith always was to obey and follow- never any more.

But when I was pregnant myself (no longer a child by then) I thought a lot about Mary and her struggles, about Joseph and his ability in other parts of the gospel to put his family radically first (which is pretty transgressive in a patriarchal context). I thought of Jesus’ contradictory attitudes toward his own family- now clear affection, now a seeming desire to escape and deny…of his need to be more than his origins or pedigree, of his resistance to being subsumed in domesticity or family expectations. Leaving the security of the family leads to the cross; the cross might have broken Jesus’ body, but imagine the wreckage it wrought to Mary’s heart?

I prayed that none of my children would ever in any way or in any movement be a “Messiah” and yet I also knew that whatever they were or were not, despite the first and second readings of today I would neither choose nor control. The holiness of “family” then, must lie somewhere in that contradiction between individual agency and call, and collective support, love, acceptance of one another. We yearn as human beings both to connect and to be free. We can achieve so little alone, as a pure individual and yet perhaps the most frustrating and perennial challenge is the attempt to be understood by each other (and the pain of stopping our own knowledge and emotions in their tracks long enough to know another).

So on this feast of the holy family, I look at my own flawed self as a mother of sons, as a sister and daughter, aunt and cousin and friend. I look at my single-state, my difficulty with managing intimacy in my life, but miraculously the relative stability of my friendships. I offer a prayer of thanks for the people who have with-held judgement (or even advice) and have offered encouragement and practical help, fostering my slow growth.

I anticipate my need for more- necessary but slow and painful growth to better relationships and the best inspiration I can find in tradition can only be the prayer of St Francis,

Divine Wisdom make me an instrument of your peace,

where there is injury let me sow pardon,

where there is hatred, let me sow love,

where there is confusion, let me bring Wisdom,

(God I know the original said something different but I mean to bring creative doubt to over-certain faith as much as reassuring faith to toxic doubt)

where there is sadness, let me bring joy

where there is darkness let me bring your light

(and as a three-year old once pointed out where there is too much light let me bring the rest and peace of your darkness)

and to despair let me always show the chance of hope.

Oh beautiful and loving One teach me always to seek

more to console others than to need consolation,

more to listen and understand than just to be heard and understood

especially when I have privilege in worldly terms.

Teach me not to be needy in matters of love but to be generous and ready to pour out and be poured out in love.

 

Let me know with you that it is in giving that we receive

it is in pardoning and making allowances for others that we lose our own guilt and complicity in sin,

and somehow, in some hard to comprehend,

miraculous way

even death is not final as our eternal vocation is into You.

 

Make me an instrument, a way for you to play the music

that is peace and healing

to all.

Amen.

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The “best interests of children” is not best determined by bishops.

Did anyone notice I didn’t post a blog last week? Now I have a sermon (ok a “reflection” because only boys can write “sermons” in my church) to write and I feel on the one hand full of the hope and happiness of what I want to say about the readings this week coming, and on the other point blocked up…theologically constipated as though last week I didn’t manage to get out what I needed to say and I am now sick with it. It will probably lack coherency but I will cry and I will write it.

What I wanted to say, I started writing a few times in a few different ways. I couldn’t come into the part of the liturgy I was “due” to write about because I feel profoundly angry and sad and resentful at the church and sort of not in synch with them. But it’s complicated because I am absolutely in synch with my lovely community who affirm me and challenge me and act like sisters and mothers and such to me.

I am still finding it hard to write about my anger and pain but the whole thing was compounded today by what I view to be a HUGE piece of hypocrisy. This (trigger warning, this has made people depressed and even suicidal so be careful if you want to read it closely).

In a nutshell, this document from the Catholic bishops of Australia paints gay marriage as a threat to family life and to children. Yep! Apparently they don’t see anything tragically ironic about talking about “the wellbeing of children”p6 and “the best interests of children” p8 and the rest of the time wax eloquent about the wonderful and important place of mothers and fathers (which with qualifications I agree with) and generally how much we should all celebrate the huge “difference” between men and women and the lovely celebration of gender binary that marriage is meant to be and sorry gay people you miss out with your “friendships” that are not as awesome as all the “differences” that people can only “enjoy” in their “masculinity” and “femininity”.

Speaking for myself I never have enjoyed the “femininity” which has been imposed on me nor the “masculinity” of men and that view of heterosexuality makes it seem toxic to me even before they use it as an excuse to exclude homosexual people from having their families recognised as “real”. In the view of marriage where men and women are opposites and are forced to take opposite roles I think few women and not all men can be said to “enjoy” their difference which can easily become a divide of misunderstanding and exploitation. I am not saying all marriages between a man and a woman are necessarily unhealthy, but not all are based on an essential and universal “difference” either!

But also if mothers and fathers are so important for a child’s well-being, why does the church have such a poor history of listening to them. Why can’t mothers and fathers in the church get together and produce a document on what is best for children, rather than a bunch of supposedly celibate men who have neither wives nor children themselves. Why in the past when mothers complained about their children being terrorised and abused in various ways by the clergy did the church not recognise their now supposedly God-given role in the centre of their child’s life and dismissed them as “hysterical”.

To me this document is very offensive coming from the same church that STILL refuses to confront the extent of the organised networks of child-abusers, to have any humility or reflexivity about what needs to be changed or even to reach out to LISTEN or give healing to victims of horrendous abuse.

I have prayed a lot about “Cardinal” George Pell this week. I feel very worried for him, he seems intending on appearing a soulless, heartless husk of a man. Can anyone really be so? I pray he will break down and feel pain to his core at what he has done. I don’t feel any sort of love for him whatsoever, only for his victims but I feel that he must be a human being somewhere in there…there must once have been a vulnerable little boy and hopefully even a well-meaning man in there though it is hard to see traces of that now (and I just can’t).

But he is a bishop of the Catholic church. He has long been too cowardly or arrogant to face the charges of child abuse and has made excuses to stay away all while hair-splitting about what Catholics are and aren’t allowed to believe.

The very idea of bishops lacks integrity while the church still tries to pretend the horrendous abuse never happened and then they try to tell us “gay marriage” is a threat to the safety and emotional and sexual health of children and families? They can say all this without shame? They can continue to persecute? I know a lot of lesbian couples who are bringing up children, have met at least one gay man who fosters with a lot of love and know others- lesbians and gays who childlessly live what seems to me to be a very Christlike and beautiful example of “two become one” in a love that flows between the couple and so out to the world in generosity and hope. Yes there are some heterosexual couples too who inspire in this way. My point is that this sort of love has NOTHING to do with the gender binary and everything to do with being radically committed in love and ready to make a long-term project of collaboration that affects every aspect of life (career, friendships, creativity, politics, faith).

But anyway whether gay marriage is “right” and “wrong” a bunch of bishops don’t get to make that decision citing the interests of children, when they can’t even face the widespread abuse of children perpetuated by some of them and ignored by others.

Let us pray. (Ineptly, inelegantly, but with great need)

Holy Spirit, by the fruits of our lives people may see whether or not our words are full of you. Teach us to listen carefully- to children and parents and lovers and friends who respect and nurture each other or who ask for our protection. Teach us to listen to the children and parents and lovers and friends who love and nurture each other and who are vulnerable or call to us for protection and justice. Teach us not to give too much heed to the voices of power that would silence your little ones or hide behind overly neat and structured hierarchies that allow abuse.

Sophia you danced with God “like a little child” from the beginning and were embodied in the baby-toddler-boy-youth Jesus who grew to adulthood in a less than respectable family. Give us grace to dance with all who truly love and to celebrate and protect the young and the hopeful, the old and the hurting.

Creator God you always queer our expectations and upset our ideas of “normal” in the breadth of diversity that is your creation. Help us to recover from our need to limit and control others for the sake of a “church” that we have built to consolidate human power not as a centre of your influence among us.

Make us wholly committed to your dream and your dance of love. Paint rainbows with us. Give healing to those who have been harmed. Give voice to those who cry out to you. Give us ears to hear the call to healing and peace.

Help us get through this time in history. Show me how to carry this stone in my heart and gut.

Loving God hear our tears.