Tag Archives: Galatians

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.

 

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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.

Be glad because of her

Trigger warning- this is in a public place and anyone can read it so I have no way of knowing the background of all possible readers. I have very positive (though at times also ambivalent) ideas around “motherhood” and I have drawn on them in this reflection. But I realise that some people have major trauma and disappointment around the lack or inadequacy of mothering in their own life. Sometimes we inadvertantly invalidate them or make them invisible by using motherhood as a metaphor. I don’t want to lose the richness of what I get out of this experience and what some readers might get, however if you are someone who finds positive discussions of motherhood triggering in any way please accept my apologies and don’t read this week’s reflection.

Rejoicing and an extended, lusciously female-bodied mothering metaphor are up first this week, probably making some people move uncomfortably in the pews (if they are listening) because yes, even breasts are mentioned! Abundant ones! Coming up to an election, I wonder if we will be feeling this ideal of being mothered and comforted and spead over by a prosperity that belongs to the mother and therefore is shared with us? “The wealth of the nations” oh we do have to have that discordant colonialising note don’t we…to remind us that these are actually the words of religion, not literally the Word of God. Even in this beautiful, loving, familial image there is the human preoccupation with “the economy” in the narrow sense of wanting to have more than people in “other” countries.

But I am all for being carried and fondled and having every need met by a secure and prosperous mother. I particularly love that toward the end of the metaphor the “she” pretence slips and God takes responsibility “as a mother comforts her child so I will comfort you” (my bolding). Whose “abundant breasts” were we really talking about? Then there is the switch back to “Jerusalem” but the shift has done its work and destabilised patriarchy, because God has been seen for a split second (which is the only way we ever see God) as a doting mother filled with unquenchable love and the instinct to nurture. My heart sings with Miriam Therese Winter this song.

Yes, exactly as the reading says:
“When you see this, your heart shall rejoice
and your bodies flourish like the grass;” of course elsewhere in the bible (Psalm 90: 5-6) the idea of grass is used to signify impermanence and quick mortality. So this “flourishing” may be short-lived. But I do flourish when even the old texts of tradition give me permission to see God in this way, even for the moment. And I could leave it there, but I suppose I better remember there are more readings.

The psalm continues the theme of rejoicing that is exactly where my heart is with the first reading, except that if we read this psalm from the perspective of the earth (and it is hard not to) then the earth is forced to “bow down” and the sea is “turned to dry land” so that “the Lord” is somewhat of an ecological disaster. But it is just a metaphor! I want to cry, but there is that in Christianity unfortunately, the tendency to see the earth as unimportant, something that we are master-stewards over to exploit, not as part of God’s beloved creation to be lovingly in relationship with. The parts of the psalm that are left out as usual give some context too. God is once more on the side of those whose heads are being ridden over (e.g. the refugees and the poor). Mind you the idea that God allows it to happen for some time or for some purpose may be problematic.

In the second reading Paul reminds us that the purpose of being Christian is to be transformed, to be constantly the “new creation”. It is not about denominations, creeds, traditions, circumcision, uncircumcision or stopping marriage equality and abortion. We honour the suffering (survived hopefully), the flawed humanity and God’s grace in ourselves and others. We show peace and mercy and we don’t engage in silly attacks against each other. This is a timely reminder for a Sunday when we will all be dealing with the results of an election (and the end of a very mean-minded and desperate campaign).

In the gospel Jesus is sending his apostles out two by two (with a giggle I think this is a little like the door-knocking canvassers pre-election). But what do these door-knockers bring to the house? Stern warnings about sexual immorality and fear-mongering about Islam or other religions? No. One-off acts of patronising charity that pay no attention to the real source of the inequality? Again no. Cliches about “letting go and letting God” or “everything happens for a reason” or mindless and extended “Praise, praise, praise the Lord!!!!” choruses? Not that either! Sorry modern Christians we are going to have to look again at what the mission is.

The apostles are to offer the household peace. They are to accept hospitality if it is offered. They are to cure the sick and proclaim the “kingdom of God”. How do we do this? How do we bring peace and acceptance, healing and good news to the “real world” that we live in? This is something I believe each of us needs to meditate on and nut out, I don’t have the obvious answers and clearly the exact manifestation would change depending on time and place. But significantly this is not just up to the individual either. Jesus commissions the followers all from one place, and sends them out in pairs. Community is the source of our ministry and collaboration is the order of the day. Despite what we are sometimes told “the priest” is not some sort of Christ super-figure. Christ sends out priests in teams (not just as individuals) from the community. Christ is the whole part of that process and reality, not just the one individual within it that claims to be “called”. I need to remember this both as one called and as one who accepts (or critiques) the ministry available in the church.

And then as the end, if we have been called to preach to the household that is the church out deep God-given knowledge that feminism and its insights are also crucial to bringing about an inclusive, meaningful and slightly more achievable “Kingdom of God” and they want nothing of it what then? I did leave. I did wipe the dust off my sandals but I do not accept that God wants to punish the ignorant (even the privileged and therefore wilfully ignorant) and the slow to listen. I’m a teacher after all, I don’t give up on the apparently unteachable, I try to work toward miracles every time.

And so I am back in the church, back in the teams of preachers that like me want to call the church and society to account (in terms of social justice not in terms of narrow conceptions of “morality”). And there is something motherly and nurturing about those patches of church that genuinely wish to transform (as opposed to control) the world. And I rejoice for and with that “mother place” that “Jerusalem” that I can find within church, due to those people who focus on our shared humanity and the need to be “new creation” instead of hairsplitting matters of tradition.

And I know God rejoices in the church that behaves that way. God who also wishes to comfort “like a mother”. God knows, life has taught me a lot about the patience and trust of mothers.

 

Against the grain this week

 

Oh yay! I can choose between two readings from the book of kings to begin with this week. Serves me right for having a sort of week off (posting nothing but a poem) last week, when it was my all time favourite psalm (63) which I had been waiting for. Oh well, I will see what shreds of faith are left me after I deal honestly with the readings of the week.

These lovely readings from Kings exemplify for me what the whole book is about. The book is sort of a kyriarchal self-justification for an organised “church” (I realise this is an anachronistic word but I am being political in choosing it). The great Elijah and the great Elisha work on their succession plan. Elijah also anoints kings (that idea of church mandating state that caused so much trouble in later times- see e.g. Eco’s The Name of the Rose).

The whole book of Kings seems to me to be about “great” men (great meaning full of self-importance) and murderous men, some get the dubious honour of being both. If I ever start to feel warm and fuzzy about the church (and I was starting to) these two books are a great wake up call. We are grounded in patriarchy, militarism and colonial thinking. We still seem to extoll and admire what is legitimated by earthly power and politics and we still seem to silence nearly everyone, and most of all women.

The triumphalism of both psalm choices echoes the first readings. God is almighty, powerful, in control and we rejoice because we are chosen for privilege and ease. Give me a break! Against such a “god” I would side with the children and adults incarcerated on Manus for the “security” of this society and its supposedly Christian values. I would side with Penny Wong speaking out against homophobia and not with Scott Morrison who says he has been “persecuted” for his “Christian” beliefs (recently in Orlando there was a shooting of homosexual night-club goers. This is the “persecution” lgbt people want to counter, not just the “persecution” or people daring to sometimes disagree with them and their tepid religion). I would side with the single mums doing it even tougher by increments because apparently austerity is good for the economy, and with old people who have earned the right to be supported by society but may be forced to work later and later into what should be their years of doing what they like (and possibly doing good too). I side with exploited workers having even their measly penalty rates threatened, and principals facing funding cut that mean students are increasingly frustrated and some turn violent. I side with farmers wanting a decent price for the fruit of their labour, and wanting to keep the irreversible damage of fracking far from their livelihood. I side with the reef and the bight and the old growth forests.

Yes even against “god” because the god of patriarchy and unquestioned power and capitalism is no god at all, no matter how many candles we light and how many times we chant “Lord. Lord” (and didn’t Jesus have something to say about this?). So uneasy and defensive I move on to the second reading.

The first part of the second reading seems to be in the same head-space as me. It says to throw off all this slavery and be brave enough to demand that the consequence of faith is always liberation. Then the focus is on turning this agenda onto the good of others, not just selfishly seeking self-interest. My only uneasiness, is seeing the law of love “love your neighbour” made excessively personal, it is easy for elite and powerful people (and all of us in first-world countries) to have a sort of interpersonal ethic of kindness and “decency” to the people we mix with, the people like us. That’s not a bad thing of course, but it is not the full deal with “love your neighbour”. Because Jesus is always in the last and the least, not just in our good friends and loveable family. So where it says become “slaves to each other” I think that is a dangerous rhetoric open to at least two damaging sorts of interpretations.

“If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” seems to be a good caution against hypercapitalism and neoliberalism. It seems like the exact rebuttal of Thatcher’s claim that there is “no such thing as society, there is only the individual”. In the reign of God of course, the interests of the poorest and the weakest are the interests of God, and God’s interests become our interests through relationship. So there is “society” in the sense of relevant “other”, and relevant other is always broadened. Because God hates nothing she created.

But then the author of Galatians (I can’t remember which ones Paul actually wrote) goes down the predictable and silly path of individual behaviours. I am sure it is better to be sober and chaste and all the rest of it, but the church DOES waste a lot of time telling individuals how not to have a good time, instead of reminding us constantly that we are responsible for whoever is paying the price of our ease. So the point for me is less to avoid drunkenness and excess, and more justice. In a more just world, or in working for a more just world I will in fact have to curb the excesses of my appetite, in order to ensure a just distribution of work, leisure, resources and a light touch upon Mother Earth.

But Paul (if it is him) here is focusing on the symptom and ignoring the cause. Drunkenness and carousing are symptoms of spiritual emptiness, caused by selfishness, despair, desperation or blind privilege. Becoming austere patrician saints without changing the imbalances in the world is both very difficult and I think ultimately unhelpful. Instead I think Robert Herrick has it right when he talks about starving “sin not bin”. It’s not about curbing appetites per se, it is about refocusing on the source of the real hunger, the real deep desire. We are starved for justice and we lust for meaning. It is a sort of escapism, like playing computer games (which is one of my chief vices when very depressed). Drinking, eating too much and having an unhealthy attitude toward sex similarly are ways of trying to quiet the uneasy or roaring voices in hearts that do not want to face the true extent of their brokenness. In a world where we have too many whims catered to, we are profoundly disjointed from one another.

On some level I think even the people who think justice for refugees is “too hard”, “too expensive” [please note it is actually less expensive than the current practice of incarcerating them], or “too dangerous”, I think even those people’s hearts secretly yearn to think differently. We must dare it! As a society, as individuals we must begin to build values into how we live. And maybe that will mean less drunkenness and carousing. I stopped having time for drunkenness and carousing only when I found myself and was able to step into meaning and hope.
The gospel is puzzling, and wiser heads than mine have written a lot about it. There seems to be a level of otherworldliness about Jesus in this reading. He rises above the need for revenge, to me the clearest part of the reading, and then he speaks of the heavy price he has paid for his strong commitment to his vocation. He does not have a “home”. This is where I am puzzled. Does this really mean that we have to be unanchored in this life in some way? Do we always have to wonder through as a sort of an alien? And then when he does not even allow a would-be follower to look after his family responsibilities I frankly feel angry (look at how the Catholic church views both legitimate and illegitimate children of clergy for example!).

But I remember at uni learning about the symbolism of the plough. A plough represents power and mastery over the (feminine) earth, it can be equated with a rapacious relationship. So putting your hand to the plough could represent and overinvestment in the powers of this world. The minute you start to take what is not rightfully yours, to try to control and force your way into wealth and ease you have turned your back on the kingdom of God. But of course if no one plants a garden then we will all starve. Metaphors are limited that way.

The readings are little pericopes, dividing up the long and complicated series of texts that is our “Scripture” into bite-sized chunks. They are a gift to be used carefully and in context. Just as “the Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath” so the scripture was made to help, challenge, enlighten or comfort us but not to rule us. Although I felt hostile and suspicious to these readings, they help me clarify what I think is wrong in the world and the church and to ally myself to the values I think God calls me to.

I don’t think it is arrogant to do that. I think it is irresponsible not to.

Forward in prayer and love.

Vineyards, sacred spaces and being touched

I am a week late with this. Wrote most of it and then my friend was at the door tooting her horn and I had to be whisked away to the Cabaret (I am not complaining mind). But there is also job seeking and a poetry reading and political work for the Greens and a conference to prepare for and my own children too. So I will apologise for the lateness of this and apologise in advance that this week’s will be late or non-existant. You would think an unemployed person could find some time eh? Maybe this is what they call “having a life”

Here we go, I have been avoiding the writing this week because I really don’t like these readings. But perhaps it is time to wrestle.

I don’t want to waste a lot of time again pointing out the obvious misogyny, slut shaming and lack of female agency in the readings (such a low point after my joy at the Visitation last week and besides I am sure I said all of that last year! I could spend a moment smiling that at the end of the gospel when the “twelve” are mentioned, two comparatively wordy verses are then spent underlining for us very firmly that some women were equally significant to Jesus’ ministry (“providing for” of course is a loaded term).

I thought instead of doing what I have done before I might try something I am not good at, and that I recently challenged myself to do and see how these readings reveal or silence the earth itself, to seek an earth-perspective on what is here. My first impression for the senses is of how loooooong the readings are. The listener in a cold and draughty church (as they tend to be this time of the year) will be left passively sitting and shivering all that time. And where is the grace in that?

But Naboth in the first reading has a vineyard. He has some sort of relationship to the place and the traditions and significance around the place so that he cannot sell or swap the vineyard. The capitalist idea of “value” and what is “good” (meaning profitable or productive) is not all there is in Naboth’s life, ideas of place and relationship matter more. Where in Australia have we heard ideals like this? Can we think of people who insist that their connections to place are more than about “lifestyle choices”, jobs or  affordability but have some sort of deeper and more ancient meaning? Can we contrast the white idea of “closing the gap” with a profoundly different way of seeing self and other which does not depend on capitalist-economic productivity and efficiency? I thinki Naboth could weigh in on some of those social debates for sure! The vineyard also is sometimes used as a symbol of female bodiliness, fertility and sexuality. I don’t think that is its main function in this story but it is perhaps worth remembering; in keeping with Elizabeth Johnson pointing out to us us how women’s bodies and the earth have both been exploited, undervalued and silenced.

Then ideas of earth continue to be present in that it is over a meal that Naboth is tricked (and the patriarchal idea of honouring one person over others is part of the trickery). I don’t feel inclined to discuss in detail the misogyny in the characterization of Jezebel and Ahab but God’s wrath to Ahab is symbolised in the image of dogs licking up the blood. Dogs are non-human parts of creation, to me they call to mind the “dogs” that surround the sufferer in Psalm 22 (who is often equated with Christ) and the idea of eating blood calls to mind Eucharist and ideas of unworthiness. I don’t think this story in any way deliberately speaks into later ideas of eucharist, I think it is more that we need to remain aware that the eucharist symbols and ideas and stories came about in a tradition where dogs circling a victim and licking up his blood was a sign of a humiliating and horrible end, a punishment for grave misdeeds (and here also there is a connection the the vineyard). So then when I read like that I don’t get any great amount of sense out of the reading per se, but I can see this awful, violent tradition of colonisation and patriarchy and punitive ways of being, of people being wrenched away from right relationship with the land and each other for the sake of wealth and comfort and of the way family relationships can become unhealthy alliances against “other” all this corruption and evil. I see this polluting and capitalist workd view even so far back, so far before Jesus that then Jesus in fact is some sort of an answer to the same sort of evils and hopelessness that plague our time.

Naboth, the lover of the vineyard is dead. Jezebel has used her position as social climbing “wife” for a bad purpose and Ahab has displeased God.  I don’t find the self-righteous pericope of psalm we are given very enlightening to this context however. We are left in this darkness and move on to the next reading.

Galatians tries to nut out the Christian’s complex relationship to “Law”. Here it probably means church law, maybe also secular law. What does it mean to say we are justified by “faith”? I need to find a poem I wrote a long time ago about faith being a garment that becomes patched and stretched and finally too small and then we can try to use it as a security blanket for a while but ultimately maybe not. But if we are “saved” by thins thing called “faith” what does that thing look like? Seems in the context of the reading that maybe it means a sort of family-likeness with Christ, where we identify with Christ and pursue his interests. But then awareness of our sinfulness is part of realising that not everything we can think, feel, choose and do is necessarily of Christ.

Christ lives in me and so there must be something inherently sacred about me otherwise Christ died for nothing and lives nowhere. Something like that. I think as women in the church we need to retain that precious and almost-forbidden reverence of the “in me” where Christ dwells, not in the way our mothers always told us -where we are old-school temples that polluting things like sex need to be kept out of for as long as possible, but more in a “sacred site” sort of a way that has every right to demand that people come with respect or not at all. I am a sacred site for the mystery of Christ’s continued presence in the world. I am both the site and the steward of the site, I cannot be colonised or owned by any other. A lot of food for further reflection and testing against other places in scripture but we better have a glance at the gospel too.

The power (and powerlessness/abjection) in this reading actually appalls me. But I left it to one side to attend a cabaret performance (belly-dance, burlesque, magic show a LOT of dancing and assorted types of role-play performance both off and on stage). I helped a girl fix a zip on her costume and she threw her arms around me and theatrically said I was “wonderful” and poured me champagne and even though she was playing the character of a flirtations, loose woman she was actually a real person and more complex and we went back to being strangers in the blink of an eye. And that is the thing with touch, sometimes it just is what it is. Jesus can talk all he likes about the forgiveness of sin and all that but frankly what we have here is a simple case of Jesus enjoying being touched. He is not allowed to simply enjoy it, he needs to debate it and this idea that she is “more sinful” that Simon the repressed non-toucher rears its ugly head and affects how the church treats affectionate (women’s) touch for centuries to come!

But another thing here is that Simon has a responsibility toward Jesus to welcome him in a way that is responsive and affectionate and fulfills the rituals of politeness. Simon is the man, the householder and it is his duty and privilege to ensure these things happen. Just as it is both the duty and privilege of the clergy to ensure that the sacraments are gifted to all of us in a way that is responsive, welcoming, touches our real lives and fulfills the reality behind them. And sometimes they do it, but there are times when there are not enough priests, or they are not diverse enough in outlook to minister to everyone, when the few exhausted priests can’t be everywhere or when the celibate and aging men can’t understand everyone. And at that point the “unlcleanness” of us as women is not the point. We weep, we kiss, we anoint, we share. We come to what we value to touch it.

I don’t like her self-abasement in the story or the tacit approval of her label as unclean and sinful. But going back to the second reading if her “faith” has saved her then what does it mean for her identity not just “With” Christ but as “Christ” which we become through sacraments. How significant then are touch and tears and kisses?

I better get back to the myriad things I need to do today. But I see this woman as saving sacrament from people like Simon. Encounter with Christ touches us, washes us, makes us feel things. Like John the baptist, she is bringing sacrament TO Christ. Washed for ministry by John, washed for the political activism that leads to death by this unnamed woman. Just as when Jesus adds sacrament to a life, it comes with a vocation to ministry. So when this women washes and anoints him, the encounter sends him out in 8:1-3 exercising his ministry, somehow refreshed for what his work in the world is and now we begin to see the women who consistently support him.

She sends HIM out. Think about it!

 

 

 

Free to collaborate in love

“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” Can this suggestion by Jesus undercut the overall tenor of the way these readings have been combined seemingly to try to argue for an authoritarian and patriarchal (based on the 12 patriarchs of the 12 tribes) view of church authority? What then if we refused to let our hearts be troubled or afraid but stoutly look for a transgressive reading that will liberate us from the more oppressively traditional interpretations?

In the first reading, some unnamed people have decided that they can speak with authority of the church and preach a rules-based slavish adherence to one part of the cultural heritage of the church. They say that you can’t follow Christ unless you are circumscised. Rather than reading this in an anti-semitic way, let us consider other church teachings over the years that have been needlessly prescriptive, oppressive or misguidedly heaped on the shoulders of the laity?

Unless you eat fish on Fridays you cannot be saved

Unless you go to church every single week you cannot be saved

Unless you are heterosexual you cannot be saved

If you use contraception you cannot be saved

If you disobey the clergy you cannot be saved

If you read and interpret the bible for yourself instead of trusting the church hierarchy you cannot be saved.

Some of these seem ludicrous to us today, but would have been the church’s common sense not so long ago. Some sadly there are still many people within the church who would subscribe. This is the prescriptive and narrow-minded side of church teaching, all of that which is dogmatic but not liberative and ignores the autonomy of the person to respond to God in free relationship rather than only through trembling obedience to the church. This compares to the circumcision argument in the first reading.

Along come Paul and Barnabbas from the apostles and elders and tell them they have no mandate to be so bossy. The wording is unfortunate “you have no mandate from us” as if Paul and Barnabbas et al run the church. The real point is “you have no mandate from God to be needlessly prescriptive and bind people into rigid, lifeless traditions”. The traditional reading here of course is that the “apostles and elders” are the proper authorities and the way we are church needs to always be guided by their authority. They are shown to be a liberative and wise authority that prevents abuses of power. OH IF ONLY!!!!

The fact is as women we know that the “apostles and elders”, or at least the officially sanctioned ones are all too often the ones doing the opressing, repressing and abusing. There are voices of abuse victims reverbating from several generations of having the courage to speak out and I think we risk a very serious sin indeed if we ignore these voices (like the blood of Abel calling for vengeance at the dawn-times of our tradition). There is also the present, ongoing prevention of women from having full participation and fair representation in how the church makes decisions about things that frankly men have amply demonstrated they neither understand nor are capable of understanding.

So the call to obey the “right authority” of the church is one that makes the hairs on my neck stand up. There is danger here, engage hermeneutic of suspicion! But the overarching agenda to reduce unnecessary burden on the believer, yes this is an important point. To do this well, I think we understand in the 21st century, needs a degree of democratic engagement (time for the catholic church to come out of its medieval cave and realise this) and a respect for boundaries and for the autonomy of the individual. That is I can have a rational discussion with you about whether contraception is good, bad or indifferent but if my life experiences are very different than yours, and I in no way (or in minimal ways) am able to support the consequences of what you decide, then I don’t really get to make that decision for you. This is called respect, it’s a side-effect of character traits like peace, gentleness and self-control which are supposed to be  fruits of the Holy Spirit. But the spirit of slavery that Paul warns about is rife in the church, in the way authority cracks down on people but also in us, in the way we accept unwise authority and do not take responsibility to think for ourselves.

Even though there is this picture in the second reading of a dazzling construction that is the “city of God” and perhaps a metaphor of the church, and it has inscibed on it the names of the Twelve, again appearing to lend credibility to patriarchal authority. There are significantly no temples or lights in the city. The lamb is enough. We do not need other rituals or lights shedding light for us, each one who comes to the city can directly look upon “the lamb” for light and for inspiration, each of us can personally worship not through the mediating influence of a temple. The Twelve are mere gates or foundations of tradition, but who says there may not be other ways to come to the lamb, to the only light.

Once again there has been enough in the reading to engage my hermeneutic of suspicion but I can respect that tradition has at times a richness without being bogged down in the tradition, I can pass on through to Godself. It would be easier and safer if tradition was reliable and if church authorities were infallible but there is light more than sun or moon for us. There is the lamb.

And so we pass onto the gospel and see what this “lamb” has to say.

Jesus here once again like last week shows that his words and deeds are identical to the words and deeds of God (here called the father). The Spirit is also brought into the discussion and we see the identical interests and work of the Spirit as one with the “father” and with Jesus. So in a sense there is grounding for trinitarian understanding here, but it is also about an alignment of interests and trusting collaboration as discussed last week. Love of Jesus is shown by keeping Jesus’ word. It sounds as if Jesus has made promises about the reign of God and if we love him we will try to keep those promises. But it is a mistake to see the vocation here as merely words, preaching in the narrow sense. The word of God is elsewhere called “alive and active” it actualises what it preaches. And that is what we do to keep the word of Jesus. So then we are brought into trinitarian action through love. I don’t say we become God, as I am not attempting idolatry here but we ARE CALLED to move toward becoming one with God in interests, intention and action. So that if our response to our vocation was perfect we WOULD be drawn into God’s identity but at least through our love for Jesus we achieve this partially (and more when the Spirit teaches us).

Lastly as a look forward to next week’s attention, if we loved Jesus we would rejoice that he was going to the “Father”. So if we selfishly hand onto the feet of Jesus and try to keep him here as a rigid idol or a fossilised token of assurance then we are not loving Jesus. Jesus asks for the same freedom and autonomy he is offering us. We become unified through the Holy Spirit’s movement and out love-response not through obedient or co-dependent toxic relationships.

And if that is Jesus’ desire then it really needs to become the church’s desire too. We the church will resemble our beloved Christ when we stop trying to control people, when we trust people’s free love-responses and movement toward the beloved. In a flawed and hurtful world that is very hard to believe of course. But this is what it measn to love God. Challenge accepted.