Tag Archives: feminist

Where is God when our labour is invisible?

In case you need something less “over it” I will drop a link to what I wrote last time it was this gospel story…

Let’s talk about invisible labour. Let’s talk about pink collar jobs. Let’s talk about gaslighting, because it kind of feels like Martha gets gaslighted by Jesus in the gospel of the week and the lectionary does not help by it’s treatment of Sarah. We’ll start with Sarah, since that reading is the first.

So…three men visit Abraham. Because, you know our tradition is incapable of showing even the multiplicity and trinitarian nature of Godde without the masculine gender (rolls eyes). This is how we know that important things are happening in the public sphere

  1. It gets written down (logocentrism)
  2. The participants are men
  3. Women have to support this in ways that are trivialised or outright made invisible (eg preparing food, childcare)

“Let some water be brought” orders Abraham, claiming credit for the work of an ungendered, invisible servant. Class and gender privilege…there really is nothing like it! Abraham is happy to exploit the people of his household to gain blessings for himself (which will trickle-down to them supposedly too).

“Let me bring you a little food” says Abraham. “Me”, first person singular. The three men agree and he runs to Sarah and orders her to start baking.

We tend not to spot that in the reading, partly because we have grown up with a reluctance to really interrogate “holy” things, but also because this is such a common-place story that we forget to be angry or sad about it. Men achieve their self-interested networking by ordering women and lower-status men to do the shit-work for them. Whoever bakes the bread, only the male hands of the ordained priest is allowed to performatively break it.

Guess I am losing my faith again (don’t worry it’s behind the sofa or something, gathering lint).

So Abraham brings out the labour of Sarah’s hands, and finally this three-fold God (or is it just a bunch of men?) speaks.

“Where is your wife?” a liberative moment? A challenge to be reflexive? A call to examine the patriarchal/kyriarchal conscience?

Nah. Tucking my awkward feminist hopes back in where they won’t embarrass me…

The men are there to talk about Sarah not to her. They comment on her reproductive capacity and leave. The lectionary cuts it there so we won’t hear her give a little feminist snigger at their mansplaining (I am sure she knows about her own ovaries better than they do). Sarah laughs, but the patriarchal church is not keen to even give her that much voice. We will move on to see who else can be exploited, trivialised or dismissed…

The psalm extols the virtues of “he who does no wrong to his fellow man”. Bad translation? Maybe…we feminist certainly put in a lot of unpaid and underappreciated time trying to translate it better, dust it off, reclaim it and still love it unconditionally but today I am going to move right along…

The second reading is one of those sections that would make more sense with some context. I could probably labour to try to bring something liberative out of it but it’s not exactly jumping out is it? I probably get more useful theology from a feminist poem or a sunset. This by itself, is not going to keep me in the church.

So now the gospel. It has women in it, few gospel pericopes have that so I sort of feel excited…until I look closer. Do you know what? I will tell you how the gospel would look if it was not so gaslighty about women’s work.

Jesus and his disciples went and stayed at the house of Martha and Mary. Martha and Mary already had a very busy life, but were always happy to see their good friend Jesus and had asked him to take that liberty, nevertheless he was always conscious of the need to be a good guest, especially when bringing in 12 more mouths to feed.

Jesus was lounging around with his mates talking to Mary who was one of the smartest people he knew and always asked the right questions without making him feel dumb. Martha called from the kitchen, “Jesus can you get Mary to give me a hand?”

Jesus realised that Martha was not really even complaining about how hard she was working, she took pride in making the best food and in her wonderfully clean home but she felt like she was being taken for granted and was missing out on time with guests. He walked into the kitchen “what can I give you a hand with?” he asked.

Mary came in too as did a couple of the disciples. This way the meal still got made, but Martha was able to be part of the conversation as well!

This would actually be gospel, this would actually be good news. Instead of what we have here and the way the church has chosen to present it.

This is more than just whinging because I don’t like housework (although I REALLY don’t). This is about the fact that while women are unacknowledgedly and underpaidly (I don’t care autocorrect I will invent new adverbs if I want) doing all the caring and healing and feeding work and not getting fairly represented in the “public sphere” men are making an Icarus out of the human race. You think I am exaggerating? For the sake of macho things like GDP and military might we are all flying too close to the sun and conveniently forgetting that our wings are held together by wax. Already the wax is softened, even dripping and the buggers are refusing to turn back.

We will all die as a species if men are allowed to keep leading unchallenged and if only women who emulate them are allowed into the conversational spaces!

Please note, I am not claiming that all men are bad or that all women are innocent. This is far from being truth. But patriarchal ways of being and how casually we accept them are definitely part of the problem! If faith is at the centre of our lives, then how we perform faith will affect how we live. Many of my feminist friends are atheist (not all) but for me that is not the answer because I know a lot of CEOs and world-leaders are either atheists or have a “lip-service” faith that does not touch their eyes or their deeds.

We need more from church than the routine dismissing of women and everything women’s lives are burdened with, than the abuse and silencing of children, than ignoring the most underprivileged or lukewarm “thoughts and prayers” at best. We need to confront the climate catastrophe. Sarah, Martha and all the other silenced women are capable of so much. When will we actually take their concerns and their work more seriously. The “better part” is not sitting at the feet of a man, when there are children (or disciples) to be fed.

We know from experience that being kind and patient and just laughing quietly behind the lectionary won’t transform the church or politics. It might be time to be louder, less conventient, less compliant and call out patriarchy...even when inconveniently God seems complicit in it (but who got to present Godde to us?).

 

 

 

Scylla, Charybdis, Trans-Jesus and identity by foreskin

We’ve circled back around, now week by week I am repeating writing on readings I have already written on. This is a good discipline for me, because I am forced to revisit and rethink what I thought I knew. My reflection for this week three years ago was here.

This time…

Let me try to find words for the unspeakable.

I did say “try”, be patient with me.

I’ve just finished reading Kimmel and Messner’s “Mens Lives (1989) and I am struck by something that’s kind of disheartening (bear with me this is relevant to the lectionary readings). Even pro-feminist make writers, thinkers, people I meet make presumptions about women. They want to keep women “safe” and allow them to “succeed” and all the rest of it, but generally implicit in their rhetoric about women is woman as necessarily heterosexual- responsive or defensive vis-à-vis men. There is a huge failure of the imagination when it comes to the idea of woman as having motivations, desires or concerns that do not centre on men, either positively or negatively. I don’t think this ought to be excused on the grounds that these male writers might be writing about men, what women think or feel about men might well be relevant to their writings, but the absences are still telling. Women are not conceived of as able to have any headspace which is not invaded in some way by patriarchy.

As women we all too often take this on board, and our reactions to things become responses to patriarchy. Thus a woman who does not love or nurture men is a “man-hater” etc. Even feminists are tricked into talking and thinking about men too often, and what is worse thinking of ourselves via the male gaze.

I want to try to reach a consciousness that is lesbian/asexual or at any rate one that is not defined by men or their absence. The lectionary is not an ally in this. Are you laughing at me at this point because I access my lectionary via bishops (ie an all-male group)? Should I perhaps not be responding to the lectionary at all? Is my faith heritage so patriarchal that as a woman I can only have an implicitly heterosexual or trans-impostor role within it (please note I do not think trans=impostor, but within patriarchy this is a common discourse. That is to say I can view myself as woman-victim or I can view myself as woman-object or I can take on a male lens and victimise and objectify other women but it is very difficult to find a genuinely female-affirming gynocentric or better a non-binary point of view. Pretending the gender binary does not exist or does not have power is naïve to the point of foolishness, deconstructive work is needed even to assume a non-binary perspective)?

Have my confusing thoughts lost you yet?

The first reading at first glance seems very female-friendly with rejoicing coming from the desire-object Jerusalem who is depicted as female. After last week’s incredibly patriarchal readings (everyone at church was grumbling at them) it is easy to take this as an oasis and not to question it. Feminist spirituality within the patriarchal edifice is so often this, determinedly not looking a gift-horse in the mouth. But when we stoop to be dogs and feed solely off the crumbs that fall from the Eucharistic table we are limiting ourselves and denying our true Godde-given dignity.

As a lesbian, it is very easy to draw me into relating to the desire for the breasts and lap of the wonderfully nurturing and voluptuous Jerusalem. The reading says “mother” but it says it with a knowing wink. The implied reader is not really thinking like a baby, apart from the temptation to surrender critical capacity and agency and simply be carried (by tradition, by habit). The last line (which we do not notice because we are excited to be flourishing like grass and wonderfully held) reminds us that there is still a “Lord” and we have not lost our “servant” status. “Power” can be part of motherhood too but we’d love to gloss over how oppressively that can be experienced by the pre-schooler. We want to idealise this comforting femininity and we forget that God in reference to this Jerusalem is still the patriarchal structure intact.

We have gained nothing but the command to close our brains off and rejoice.

Is this the Word of Godde? Praise, praise, praise. Tremendous deeds. The psalm comes in to keep us distracted (again like babies). Oh look a pretty bauble…oh look a consumer product… When the going gets tough the tough go shopping…glossy brochures advertising the “experience” of various educational institutions (if you want to know why this is a problem please see Thornton and Shannon)….God didn’t refuse my prayer or his kindness…

My prayer

His kindness

There’s asymmetry here and as a good (“good” lol…”good feminist” is surely an oxymoron) revisionist feminist I want to change the pronoun to female and close my eyes to the things that I don’t like. After all God is objectively greater than me- more powerful, wise and enduring than I can be. Isn’t s/he? Aren’t they?

And what sort of a relationship can I base upon a knowledge like that? That all I can really know of God (praise Him, praise Him) is the idea of my own inferiority and God’s superiority. God’s unknowability stresses my limitedness. God’s power my weakness, God’s omnipresence my weariness, God’s wisdom my lack of knowing anything. Is this God? Or is this a great projection of my own existential terror?

And if the latter then what does it mean for faith? If I don’t believe in God’s “tremendousness” then can I believe anything? Could I survive as an atheist? Experience tells me not. I seem to be caught between a Scylla and a Charybdis of my own spirituality here. Patriarchy has told us that Scylla and Charybdis are both female. Alright then, as a truly transgressive lesbian feminist my mission is to make sisters of them. I have not yet found a way to steer safely through, but I know from having flesh-and-blood sisters that discomfort and reluctance to engage does not mean we are not kin. Come with me Scylla, take my hand Charybdis, we need to confront the second reading!

In the second reading difference is being undone- that is the difference between the circumcised and the uncircumcised. I have often taken this on glibly to think about how progressive this unification of opposites is. No matter what sort of a penis we have we are now all equal. Yes the foreskin is no longer a bone (pun intended) of contention.

See what sleight of hand the smiling lectionary has pulled on us now? We are all equal as males. What does this mean to non-males, non-penis-bearers? What have we been “pricked out” (Shakespeare) for? Nothing. We are absent. We have to read this from our own absence, to construct our own being with no building blocks. I am not circumcised, but neither can I properly refer to myself as “uncircumcised” therefore as usual the lectionary has not spoken to me or about me. What are we going to do about this girls (Scylla and Charybdis)? I can see why you wish to devour them all now!

So is that what a woman becomes? The wish to devour? A vagina dentata? A big mouth? How easily this view of womanhood (hole, chalice, receptacle, womb, urinal, kiss) is colonised back into patriarchal smugness where they think everything that exists comes from their seed (this is as true in intellectual work as traditional discourses of baby-making). And how do we answer that? Patriarchy has so colonised the whole globe and the whole language(s) that I know if no place outside of it. Besides bell hooks (in Kimmel and Messner) shows that any attempt as separatism works against feminism and reinforces/reifies inequality.

I am left not knowing where to even stand, how to begin to speak (and yet all these words).

So here we are in the gospel- Scylla, Charybdis and I. We’re being sent out now like lambs among wolves (no kidding, Jesus). We are here to bring peace, we’re are we meant to get this peace from? Is it more unpaid, unacknowledged women’s labour to fashion this peace out of crumbs and discarded foreskins or something? We are meant to accept whatever is offered. Oh this again! Against this preaching I am the bad woman who left the (heterosexuality that was) offered and asked for something different. And failed to find/obtain it. What am I but the queer art of failure (Halberstam)?

I cannot explain why, but I see trans-Jesus wink at me. We are both caught up in this charade but they are not bound completely by the role and invite me also to see the joke. Respectable, tame, church-going Jesus suddenly spreads his/her/their wings and reveals themselves in drag (or is the respectable “passing” the drag?). Jesus is also caught up in the necessity of making sisters of Scylla and Charybdis. Jesus here is a human queer -vulnerable, rejected, made invisible, the sign that is opposed (Luke 2: 34; cf Acts 28:22). Am I wrong to catch a glimpse of a Jesus I can identify with? Who may claim this?

Then this happens:

“Whatever town you enter and they do not receive you,
go out into the streets and say,
‘The dust of your town that clings to our feet,
even that we shake off against you.’
Yet know this: the kingdom of God is at hand.
I tell you,
it will be more tolerable for Sodom on that day than for that town. “ (luke 10:10-12)

What does this mean to us queers, feminists and critical voices? What does it mean for the church’s reluctance to receive us? We are treading on snakes and scorpions when we attempt to even begin to articulate our experience. A far cry this is from the breasts and comforting lap of “Mother” Jerusalem. We are both and neither, something the writers of scripture and compilers of the lectionary never considered. The question remains whether God considered us?

Everything hinges on that.

 

 

Halberstam, J., & Halberstam, J. (2011). The queer art of failure. Duke University Press.

Kimmel, M. S., & Messner, M. A. (1998). Men’s lives. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Thornton, M., & Shannon, L. (2013). Selling the dream: Law school branding and the illusion of choice. Legal Educ. Rev.23, 249.

 

Within/outside and overthinking it.

I was talking to a minister today after a somewhat uncomfortable session on the (lack of) inclusion of LGBTIQA+ people into the church(es). She was telling me that in Luke-Acts, Jesus is always stepping out of the centre, out to those who are marginalised. I had looked at this week’s readings earlier in the week and kind of made my housework-face, I didn’t feel very inspired to tackle them. The first thing I see is a patriarch handing on the cloak to another patriarch which we inherit as an all male clergy who neither listen nor speak for most of us. I can use agility to see in this me taking on the role of my former mentor or…no. I don’t feel so agile. I am sick of playing contortionist games to fit scripture.

Then the psalm so smug and secure…everything is fine in this psalmists life. There is a place for that of course but I am supremely NOT FEELING IT.

The second reading is a mix of many different ideas but for me that flesh-spirit dichotomy dominates. As a “female” in a patriarchy, imprisoned not just within my flesh but in all the symbolic and material things that has come to mean in the sort of society we have (vulnerable, over-responsible, rejected if aging) I don’t want my “flesh” to take the blame for what my spirit does not feel up to. My spirit seems the only thing in the universe that can potentially be friend to my single middle-aged, flabby and sometimes strong flesh, and I refuse to force an enmity on them when I have worked so hard to overcome my own internalisation of the patriarchal gaze.

So when I look in the mirror the automatic deal was to see a failure on two fronts. Failing to be a man (failing to be superior) and failing to be a “proper woman”. I saw a dykey, sarcastic, uncompromising lump of a something that I thought I could never love. I have worked to see something different. I see an echo of my beloved but deceased mother and her father too. I see the foreshadowing of my strong and principled sons. I see a sarcastic glint that will melt into compassion when needed. I see a slightly mad light of wanting to know things and pursue thing. I see wrinkles and hair that is kind of maybe…let’s not see that yet. I see shadows under tired eyes. I see reddened skin from running the shower too hot in this cold house. I see I should probably exercise more or forgo the glass of red. I see a good house for my spirit which is also connected to people and context, which is also tired, which is also frail, which is also interesting.

So much for the second reading. So folded carefully I hold in my hand the hope that Luke’s gospel will tell me the story of a Jesus who steps outside to talk to people who can’t quite get in through the door (to the lectionary, to the church). Will Jesus make conversation with me or mansplain me today? Let’s walk together into the gospel.

The Samaritans are a bit like me (a bit like a queer, a bit like a feminist). I feel suspicious of this Christ on his way to the centre of the patriarchal faith. I am not sure I want to welcome him in, not unconditionally. Should I burn for that? Some of his followers might think so. “Jesus rebuked them”. There seems to be compassion here, or at least a healthy observation of boundaries and consent. We travel on.

Jesus speaks of his vulnerability- homelessness, is he a rough-sleeper? Is he a refugee? He has nowhere. He has nowhere. Am I asked to disinherit myself from the world and follow that? What does it mean? How does this break my heart? What will I have to give up? There are difficult places in my life where my loyalties are conflicted and contradictions abound. How do I navigate this?

Is it perhaps that the theological certainties on which I used to lay my head will not ever be replaced with a new set of answers. I will never be guided in that step-by-step certain way that I have craved. I may be wrong. I may waste my life. I may suffer. I may be terribly and ultimately alone! But there is Jesus here, can I not trust community? The act of trusting is not a matter of guarantees and groundedness it is a matter of vocation and love.

Somehow we leave the past behind us. We do not have time to bury (or obey) the fathers of our faith. I can’t quite come at the anti-family idea here. I need Christ to stop and see what “women’s work” means both to the person doing it and if left undone to the rest of the world. Someone who leaves off feeding and cleaning to preach is not really a hero (says the woman who avoids housework when she can). No Christ, not even for you will I leave aside my beautiful children and the emotional labour of being “village” to others.

I cannot believe you ask that of me.

So I am left once more ambivalent. Am I called and wanted or not? Am I loved or surplus to requirements? Jesus looks me directly in the eye with the eyes of all the friends and activists and co-workers my week was filled with, with the students and children and even my cat. What a stupid question, has it not been answered a hundred times this week? My communities have embraced me with the arms of Christ. Body and Spirit, my place is here.

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.

Too much information from this social leper.

Content warning- suicide attempts and all the sort of thinking that goes with them. Additionally apologies for length.

My way into the readings this week is via my own experience as a closeted lesbian. I was so closeted I didn’t even know myself. I married and had children, tried to marry again, tried all sorts of ways of performing heterosexuality believing from every movie or book I ever experienced that I was “meant to” be heterosexual. And after all I had the need to be loved and accepted and admired that leads us into romantic entanglements, the more-so because of childhood disappointments and traumas. I “needed to be loved”.

So in my childhood it was as though there was a “Lord” that warned us all about casting out the lezzos (rather than literally lepers), because lesbianism was (in my upbringing) not only dirty but potentially contagious (the latter I would argue has some truth to it). There was a sore upon my heart and soul, I always felt unclean and unworthy- hollow and dishonest in some way without being able to point out why. I was unhappy – I had a chronic discontent that infiltrated even into my happy moments (or things I was supposed to enjoy like sex and relationships). There was an unknown, unnameable pain behind every moment and I thought I was just “born that way” (unhappy that is).

At times I looked for escapist ecstasies to try to help me blank out the pain and emptiness. It was still empty but it was distracting.

I prayed a lot and I tried to be a good person. I grew very disillusioned when this did not seem to help my emptiness and pain.

I cycled between these “good girl” and “bad girl” extremes- sometimes keeping one up for months or years, other times rapidly cycling through both- usually blending a little of each. I wanted to be super-brat and super-saint in one. There is still a grandiose streak in me, I am more aware of it but it is not a temptation I am completely free from. It helps to name it to myself with compassion and self-forgiveness. I knew I could never really be good or happy and I prayed angrily to God for death. A lot. Sometimes I tried to kill myself but thankfully with such timidity and inefficiency that it didn’t really take.

I meant it though, I wanted not to exist. It would be easy to dismiss my attempts as “not serious” because I did not make one work. They were not well executed but they were serious. I am better at achieving my goals these days so it is a good thing that I am not suicidal.

But as the psalm tells us “blessed is the one whose (imaginary) fault is taken away, whose real sin (self-hate) is uncovered and to whom God imputes no guilt”. Ok I changed a word here and there but this is how I need to pray it right now. I am blessed. I am grateful. I am here. I am queer.

Queer

Lesbian

Gay

All those bad words that I was so afraid of. I am them. I embody them. I love them.

I love women and women’s bodies and women’s ways of thinking (yes I know that is socialised) and women’s laughter and women’s dancing and art and writing and….oh I love women. And I am a woman so in loving women I feel a sense of being good too.

This is not just a sex thing (though sex is a good within this way of being), it is an orientation thing. I was so afraid not just of potential female lovers but of mothers and sisters and aunties and grandmothers and friends. I was afraid of women doctors, of teachers, of hugging, kissing, even smiling and especially eye contact. At some point I must have grasped the danger- that I needed to repress myself very strongly to avoid the self-knowledge that I was gay. I must have grasped that subconsciously because I never remember making the decision. I learned to feel as little as possible and notice less in the company of women (any woman, however “safe”). I took great care to gaze in the mirror with hatred, to avoid seeing womanliness with any sort of dangerous approval. I hated my own masculinity (because in a woman masculinity is queer) and my own femininity (because femininity made me aware of my attraction to women). No wonder I couldn’t function- could not achieve, could not sleep, could not love.

I loved in a way though. I felt tenderness and compassion toward others. I feel it should count in my defence that I was someone who had a degree of empathy and a strong instinct to heal and nurture even when I was sunk so deep in (self) hate. I wish I had been a better mother for my children but they know I have always loved them at least.

The second reading talks about doing everything to the glory of God, in a way that will bring people INTO grace not lock them out of it. Why does the church not love and accept queer people better to the glory of God? Why do we not celebrate God’s act of creation by celebrating the created ones (straight, gay, trans and every rainbow hue)?

In the gospel Jesus recognises that healing is not just an “inside yourself” thing, it is not a matter of thinking positive or just staring down the negative self-talk. He heals the leper AND ALSO he helps him re-access the approval and belonging of his church community. I feel that lovely Sophia-Jesus did this for me too (better late than never), when AFTER the good seed of queer theory and feminism had been repeatedly sown in my brain by theological college and a couple of positive church communities, AFTER I had had to confront my own homophobia in reference to other, AFTER I had wrestled with the question of whether I would love a gay child of mine I finally and spectacularly fell in love with a woman.

“Spectacularly” only to myself as in the external sense nothing ever happened- and couldn’t happen. But what I felt shook up everything I thought I knew about myself and I came out of it wondering how people would respond to me if I was just plain old “lesbian” instead of a weird and terrified sense of never fitting anywhere and always being unhappy and empty.

God bless then the people I “showed myself to”. One of the first was a church group that met regularly to talk about faith, scripture and to share chocolate. From that I learned to be more confident, less apologetic about who I was and discovered JOY. I went back to a church community I had always loved for its very female energy. I showed myself to them also gradually- first just “I am back and I want to be involved” but then “by the way I am gay”. I was accepted. I was loved.

This is not what I was brought up to accept.

Jesus’ work of healing me from my estrangement from myself was completed by the receptive community who complimented my rainbow jumper and listened to my reflections. We all have that power- we who believe in God. We can be secure enough in our faith to advocate for the rights and inclusion of all others, not for a mean-minded and judgemental spirituality.

God may ask a lot from us, but all she asks for is geared toward JOY. I strongly believe that now that I know what joy tastes like.

So I pray

Loving God,

Thank you for challenging me.

Thank you for healing me.

Thank you that I am wrong every time I think I am broken beyond repair.

Thank you that I am wrong when I think I cannot be loved and accepted.

 

Thank you for smiles and words of encouragement.

Thank you for hugs and eye contact.

Thanks for small talk, affirmations, compliments

for the beauty of other people,

for the acceptance of other people,

for the way I have to learn to be larger

and wiser and more whole

to embrace other people.

 

God of love and loving and lovers,

I thank you every day

for that soul that touched my life

and jolted me out of my misery.

I thank you that I fell in love with her,

with the world,

with you

even I suppose with myself.

 

I thank you that I want to live.

I want to live.

 

Amen

Playing in the closet of Scripture

I have been thinking lately about my habit of writing what I sometimes refer to as “fanfic” for the bible – imaginative retellings of bible events or parables where I add feminist or queer concerns into the mix. Of course they are not “right” (as in objective, factual or historically likely) but I feel it is a valid way to “speak back” to our friend, Scripture, who frankly sometimes seems to drunk-text us odd things at inopportune moments and therefore is not the sort of friend we ought to blindly follow.

I think about how as a little teen-aged undergrad back in the 90s, when I started the Heretics Society (I was one of the founding members and possibly the most loud and irritating one…at times more than likely the only member) it seemed so funny to make jokes about, for example “the disciple Jesus loved” as if to put homosexuality in the same sentence as “Jesus” was hilarious and daring. And then later…a lot later came queer theory and suddenly you couldn’t just blindly accept the “common sense” that Jesus was heterosexual and celibate because anything else is BAD. But that idea of the queerness within God and within salvation history is in the closet- anything that would unsettle church-goers exists in a vast closet of all the unspoken things in scripture, or the hints (such as Wisdom being so clearly female in the old testament and then embodied as male in the new…God’s own trans experience).

I learned happily that there is a really old tradition of people elaborating on what the text actually says with imaginative pieces of what might have happened and homiletic stories. I began to do my own creative writing and re-interpreting of the dark places around scripture (the unspoken things, the possibilities lurking in the shadows) and initially I worried a lot about getting it “right” and trying to find some sort of “truth” (this was before I read Foucault and all those post-structuralists and I only had my gut feeling beginning to tell me that any “truth” is always partial, partisan and constructed.

Because if we are going to re-imagine a liberative possibility sometimes I am torn between rejecting the (unbiblical) idea of Mary’s virginity to give her and the lovely-seeming Joseph a healthy, happy relationship of equals with sensuous joyfulness together; or on the other hand upholding her “virginity” as an anti-patriarchal possibility (endorsed by God) where a woman can be a mother without being penetrated by a male and without her primary relationship being with a male- also where people can co-parent without being sexually connected. The first celebrates the rightness and beauty of human love expressed in a bodily way and the second reifies all the families that don’t fit the heterosexual matrix in some ways and also honors non-biological parents.

Another example goes back to how we interpret “the disciple Jesus loved”. I have seen the disciple assumed to be the “beloved” disciple in an erotic sense or in a non-erotic sense. They are carefully not named which to me implies that Scripture itself wants us to try out various possibilities and finally put ourselves in the story. But sometimes people like to assume the “beloved disciple” was Mary Magdalene- the advantage of which is it puts a woman back in the centre of the story, always in the action and words and thinking of the gospel…the disadvantage of which is that in most interpretations she is then seen as just the “love interest” for the real hero Jesus. Then other people do run with the idea of the “beloved” disciple being John (as we were told as kids) or theorise it is Lazarus (for example)…this can then be read in a homoerotic way which breaks down the presumed homophobia of the text (and needs to be done) but then again all the characters are male (let’s face it, the bible barely passes the Bechdel test). But then the traditionally non-erotic interpretations of “the one Jesus loved” also to me are interesting. So many asexual and demisexual people find themselves marginalised in a world were sex and love are read as synonyms. So many faithful and committed relationships (between friends, between mentors and students, between the people we parent or look up to for no biological reason and ourselves) are not made visible or celebrated in any way because they fit outside that old heterosexual matrix more so than simple homo-normative dyads. When I say I “love” my best friend (who I have celebrated, nurtured, been nurtured by and quarrelled with for 30 years now) people assume I want to sleep with her unless I add “like a sister”, so I like Jesus having all these love relationships (lots of them if you read the text carefully) that may or may not have to do with sex but quite likely not in all cases.

I am talking about sex more than I intended to, probably because the idea of “closet” gives us ways of being that redefine and challenge simple rules about sexuality. But “closet” to me is also synonymous with “wardrobe” a word that calls to mind two images that I find very helpful in my attempt to relate to scripture.

Firstly (here is my amateur theatre experience coming through) there is the idea of “wardrobe” as the place where all the costumes are. I think it can mean just boring old fashion, but to me I prefer costumes so I like to think that my imagination invites me into the closet/wardrobe of scripture to play among glittering ballgowns and shining chain-mail and unicorn onesies and fairy-wings and wicked witch long noses and goodness knows what other fantastical creations that might not always be practical in the real world, and the glitter of which may well be paint, the iron of which may well be plastic. We find meaning in theatre not by some sort of narrow claim to “truth” and “accuracy” in what happens on the stage (and anyone who has ever spent much time in theatre knows that the dramas in the dressing rooms and wings are usually even more compelling than someone’s latest interpretation of a well-known story). We find meaning in theatre through the way we rub up against people (Why am I in the audience? For whom or with whom did I come to see the show? What is my role on the stage…or behind the scenes? Who makes this worthwhile for me and who challenges me and the way I fulfil my role? Who is the performance ultimately for? Whose role in it is most important? What do we do when we disagree with the director? How do I write up my critical piece gently?). The meaning of theatre is not in assuming that the armor or makeup is REAL it is in recognising that the people and humanness is the real and energising part of it.

So when I rummage through the wardrobe department (closet) of scripture and find some outlandish possibilities in there, I am performing to find my humanness and to evoke the humanness in anyone who chooses to collaborate, or receive (passively or critically) my performance. Scripture like an aging drag-queen at times may be pathetic or grotesque but then rallies and is magnificent one more time after all…ever in the limelight and never silenced or still.

The other image I play with when I think “wardrobe” (I bet everyone has leapt to it already) is the idea of Narnia. Scripture’s closet/wardrobe is more than a row of coats and the wooden back; it is row, after row, after row of costumes which slowly become trees, and a whole world of possibility, threat, and temptation.

I lay awake thinking of the temptations in Narnia. I first thought I suffer from the temptation of Lucy- to lose myself in Narnia/scripture and make it my escapist haven from the real world so that fauns/metaphors and suchlike are more real to me than ordinary old things like doing the dishes or paying my bills. But then people who criticise a feminist, queer, or ecological reading of scripture suffer from the temptation of Edmund, especially when they go along with the idea of exploring the text to some degree and turn around and stab people in the back. This all seemed clearer at 3am, and I hope the thought comes back because it was detailed and meant something then. I will come back to this some time (I hope).

Susan is a complicated character, certainly with temptations but she is portrayed by CS Lewis in such a misogynist way that I would want to spend more than a couple of sentences on her (I don’t think all things femme are automatically to be dismissed and trivialised). But the temptation of Peter (portrayed very sympathetically by Lewis) is the temptation to rule and lead and always “know better” than the others, for all that he magnificently apologises to Lucy when proven wrong (which the actual church ought to learn from) he then blames and ostracises Edmund thus contributing to the betrayal. The temptation of Peter is to ignore how toxic and dangerous hierarchies are (even when the person at the top is well-meaning and caring). Instead imagine if the Peters of the world and church listened to the Lucys and acknowledged the flow of power that led Edmund to want to ingratiate himself with Peter at the cost of Lucy. To come back to my point about entering into scripture’s wardrobe (and the worlds behind what we know in there) we need to stop controlling how other people experience the wardrobe/phantasy that is faith, although we can debate respectfully to try to reach understanding.

I enjoy a good theatre experience. I love to enter into a fantasy world and suspend disbelief in order to reach deeper meanings. I don’t think any of that is disloyal to the idea of faith (for me faith means not a place I can stay or a set of rigid beliefs constraining or reassuring me but the wild-chase in pursuit of Wisdom and a lot of scraped knees and bumped elbows as I trip and clamber along the way).

Why are we subjective beings after all? Why did God give us capacity (and overwhelming desire) to weave and reweave stories?

Someone has said it better than I can

I want to share this powerful preaching, this painting. It is so good I felt I had to share it here (and in several other places)

 

http://mysteriousearth.net/2017/05/31/this-artist-painted-god-as-a-black-woman-and-got-a-lot-of-people-mad/

 

I find in this painting the Word and good news of Godde

😉