Tag Archives: God

Women in the church

This is an old talk I did back in 2013. i found it when I was sorting computer files. I would not narrow my identity to “woman” these days this was a sort of last gasp of that while calling myself “queer/lesbian” was still new and unfamiliar.

I’ve only been given a very few minutes to talk about gender which upsets me because I have an awful lot to say about it and I would like to do it in a fair and balanced way. But given the shortness of the time I won’t try to look at all points of view, or be polite or nice or sugar-coat what I need to say. I will narrow gender to speak almost exclusively of women, and I will construct a very biased woman’s point of view which can’t possibly speak for all women, however is a beginning and part of a lot of things that may need to be said by a lot of different women. I give myself permission in it to be as angry and abused and broken as I in fact am and I am going to name and blame the patriarchy of the church for my anger and experience of abuse and brokenness, for my estrangement from God and for my lack of a sacramental home. I would like to say an awful lot about that because the church does it to a lot of women and unlike me not all of them still even have one foot in the church or play along, lie back and think of England or stay for the children. Some are lost completely. Others stay and smile and lack my ambivalence. Are they happy and whole? Well they will have to speak for themselves sometime.

But in so little time that is all I can say of myself and my identity as a woman broken by the patriarchy of the church. So I will move on to show specifically one example of unhelpful theology and how I have moved to more liberative possibilities that if we dare to treat seriously would destabilise quite a lot of our church and how we view wider society. Would God ever want to destabilise society? Whose interests does society serve? Where are God’s interests?

The first problem for me has always been the problem of Mary and her Virgin birth. She is always presented as the woman who has it all, when in fact we treat her more as the woman who is allowed to have neither. I am coming from a Roman Catholic background here bear with me if the cap doesn’t fit a modern Anglican “rational” point of view perfectly because I will move on as soon as I can. Mary, while not allowed to have had sex, presented as a passionless and obedient sort of an automaton is also not allowed to be free from men either. She is raped by a sleazily constructed and male appearing holy spirit, told to deal with it by a male (arguably, even if he is a pretty male) angel and then married off to Joseph (who she may or may not have sex with but we all like to argue about that as though it makes a lot of difference) and ultimately bossed around by her son. What a role model that was to grow up with! Well I have done some of those things, all bar the virginity bit or the bit where God claims ownership for the abuse and possession of what is after all a human being.

What a God that is. A God who gets a young woman pregnant in a patriarchal society. Yeah well done mate! So we feel a bit uncomfortable with that idea so we ditch it, we go all rationalist. She wasn’t a virgin, of course not. She didn’t see an actual angel. She was raped by a roman centurion and made up the rest as a sort of narrative of survival. Well actually in some ways I like that explanation better because the idea of an awful rape and Mary having to pull her wits together and survive tells us a lot more about how the real world is for women. Then Joseph does her a favour by marrying her and they all live happily ever after and raise a critically thinking son who goes and gets himself crucified. So I could be tempted to subscribe to that theory, however the problem with that is it doesn’t really have any spiritual implications. To have spirituality there needs to be mystery. Also then I become really ambivalent about celebration the whole idea of Christ when it took a rape for that baby to be conceived and born. So while I would be saying “well done” to the cute little family we are saying survived it I don’t want to be part of a religion which rests on two such awful violent acts – a rape that causes a conception and then of course the crucifixion which I do believe we over-focus on in all sorts of unhealthy ways (but I won’t go there today).

More recently a few different changes in my life converged in a way where I have begun to see things very differently, to begin to break out of the self-loathing that has always dogged me, that I thought was a not-negotiable part of who I was as a Christian woman. Like Paul I was riding off madly to persecute a Christian (in my case the one I was persecuting was myself and my ugliness and shame and stupidity as a woman) although I called myself a feminist I was always doing this and there was in fact a bright light a very frightening event that struck me off my horse and told me I was blind and needed to heal that before I would be good for anything else.

So I put a stop to a few things I had been doing, and I let myself move blindly, gravitating to what I thought was healing and away from what was not. And I wouldn’t say I became a great apostle, I was a petty persecutor and I guess I will be a petty apostle too but I have rediscovered a sense of calling, but this time I see some obstacles whereas in the past I simply wondered what was tripping me up.

And out of that new headspace of not hating myself for being a woman, and not hiding behind a man or an attempt to be joined to and validated by a man or men or by any authority at all I now turn again with post-enlightenment naivety to examine the idea of the virgin birth.

And now, in a different headspace the virgin birth becomes a liberative idea (for all that it is not one that sits comfortably in rationalism). Depending how we view God, the virgin birth could become a conception without a man. I am not trying to man bash. But as a woman I deeply need a way to be things and do things and become things without the control always being from a man, or a group of men.

As a church we are really bad at ever having a space or a story or a moment like that.

I am not proposing a historically accurate “true facts” of the story. I don’t know what “actually” happened in any part of scripture and I think that asking those questions too much sometimes takes us away from the spiritual and sociological implications of what IS happening in the church and in the believer’s heart when a story is told. We have to live in the now and relate to God and let Mary’s story inform our own faith journey and for me I have been able to refocus on her as a woman who is radically undefined by men (except in so far as the church colonised her after the event). She hadn’t “known” a man, I listen from my place in a patriarchal culture, in a women de-affirming church and my heart leaps.

 I have been taught that I am meant to have this heterosexual gravitational pull toward a man, to need to have him in the picture, for him to define my femininity, my motherhood, my self-concept and God help me I have tried to play that game by the rules even when it sat uneasily with the feminism that comes more naturally (and that has ever more impact if I allow myself to think or to read anything).

That need for a man, when I reference my actual emotional and spiritual needs is a false need, like the need we have in our consumer society for pretty things and fashionable things and cool things. It’s a need that can take over from all other concerns but when I examine who I am in God it is in fact almost the opposite of my true needs.

But if the particularly feminine call to Mary, is not constrained within a narrow hetero-patriarchal idea of her place in the world then what implications does that have for God’s call to and acceptance of women in the centre of the church? I am no longer just talking about ordination as I used to, and we are all pretty aware that these days women priests exist. But who is a woman in church? What is there in the language of church that affirms, recognises or allows women to participate? Very little if any really.

We get to consider male traditions and male stories in male parameters and then go home and cook Sunday lunch. The mainly male bishops have put collars on some of the more troublesome women to try to clergify them in the hope that they will behave (and be an example to the rest of us). I am saying that, but I don’t wish to trivialise women priests. They have achieved some changes, and if not silenced might keep changing what the church is, but this alone has not changed the church enough and will not serve to make the church women-friendly. It’s sort of a liberal feminism approach to the real problem of deep, deep misogyny all through our tradition and culture. It would be like saying all women in australia are liberated because our prime minister is female. Sorry I am not so easily appeased.

Then I return to the idea of the virgin birth and the way it undermines men’s power and the heterosexuality used as a weapon of women’s subjugation. This is not to say women shouldn’t desire men sexually (some women anyway), it is pointing out what heterosexuality IS used for, not implying that it has to be that way.

It is easy to dismiss the idea of “virgin birth” because the idea of virginity was used to try to erase women’s sexuality and make us all feel dirty. However we now live in a very different society. Women are objectified, sexualised, trivialised in the media and all around us every day. We seek and need sexual agency and instead we get pornography and are told that it will liberate our sexuality. Well it doesn’t. Existing just to be penetrated, how depressing. And how untrue for so many women and in so many ways!

Then it stops being oppressive to think of Mary’s virginity as the idea that of course she must have been penetrated by someone is just the same old story of powerlessness. Perhaps there was a completely open, hopefully blissful and affirming moment in time where she encountered the Holy Spirit and the generative possiblity of God within that. Let’s not assume then that God in that moment is a powerful male inscribing something upon Mary’s weaker femaleness. Let’s assume that that moment was transformative and respectful. Let’s not assume maleness into one part of the gospel that is blessedly free of it. Could it be that the Holy Spirit called forth something from Mary, something that was already there rather than planted an alien seed in an obedient and passive soil?

Vocation is like that, deeply respectful, frighteningly intimate and immensely patient. We say it is a call, perhaps it is a wooing. God does not force, threaten or impregnate us: God works with who we are, in our place and our time and in our bodies. And some of those bodies are female and God is in that female place and that female consciousness with us. As much as God is male, God is also female. As much as God is not female, God is also not male.

I am seeing things differently not to be difficult but because I deeply need to. A religion which rests on a woman being magically impregnated by a colonising male god is no sort of a place for me to live or breathe or bring up children in.

I want to talk about Mary while pregnant travelling to see Elizabeth, her pregnant cousin and the way the women share secrets, support each other and even the child in the womb of one leaps at the voice of the other. I want to talk about the deep needs that Mary and Elizabeth can only fill in each other although both have a partner.

I haven’t even really begun to unpick the complexity of what women are and want and need in the church and who we may not be reaching, or worse who we may be blocking from God. The church needs to stop patting itself on the back for having ordained a few women and look at how the culture of the church may shape and support or undermine their ministry. This isn’t just sour grapes because I didn’t have what it takes to make it through the ministry process. With all my heart I celebrate the contributions of the women who did get through and the way their presence in the church has been part of the liberation I can glean even in my more than half-outside place in the church.

But every woman is walking with God – dancing, or running, tiptoeing in fear or resistantly fleeing. High heels or fluffy slippers or bare feet with nail polish. We don’t need protection, we don’t need a tokenistic acknowledgement that we exist. We demand a voice and a language and a constant presence representing ourselves. We are not fallen women or love interests, missus somebody or hidden under umbrella terms like “mankind”. We are complex and agentic and we too are Christ!

Questions

How comfortable are you in the church as a woman/man?

How does God relate to you within your gendered life and identity?

Who is not in our church? Where are they and why not here?

Who is Mary to you as a christian? What was she like? How do you know?

Why was Jesus male? How does his maleness contribute to or inhibit his ministry?

Name a woman (real or fictional) you look up to (not just admire but look up to). If that is difficult see if it is any easier to think of a man you look up to.

Excuses for not being better at weeding

I gave myself a holiday today. Isn’t it sad that I feel a need to confess and explain this? I woke up feeling like I’d been run over by a truck (it’s been a big week even if not a bad one on a personal level). I had a coffee but I still felt wilted so I went back to bed at about 6:30 or 7. I said “Godde I may miss church if I fall asleep so I promise I will write my blog this week” – since I saw that people had been reading last weeks.

I slept like the dead. I woke up at 11:30 to see people uploading the sermon from church on Facebook. So I read it. And I thought “that’s better than what I was going to write” and I tried to saunter casually away with that comment. Because what faith do I have? I am full of an inner sort of desperation and confusion and now Deleuze and Guattari too (as if I was not bad enough before).

But “like a little child” she pesters us sometimes “you promised, you said we were going to do this together”. And I said “I’ve got nothing to give” so Godde reminded me that I am not here to get things right or lead people but only to play. So I tried to ignore that annoying voice, I said “mate, you’ve got me confused with Jonah” and Godde said “now you are on the right track” and laughed.

And here I am. But it is just play. Like it. Hate it. Ignore it. Or write your own better one. Or play with the ideas in my words or in the readings themselves.

The first reading tells us Godde gave us “good ground for hope”.

What shall we plant in our good ground?

I am still thinking about tubers and rhizomes, covering and uncovering,

having to touch the sweet rain-dark soil

but my hands are cold

everything is cold in July.

“Godde is good and forgiving”

says the psalm but we are fearful

about all the wrong things

and take all the wrong liberties.

We should be bolder, we should be more true.

I feel heavy and it is hard to hope.

“we do not know how to pray as we ought”,

write as we ought,

sing as we ought,

go to sleep as we ought,

stay asleep as we ought,

get up in time for church as we ought,

garden as we ought,

weed and plant as we ought,

we do not know how to work as we ought,

love as we ought,

live as we ought.

Holy Spirit,

you might put in a good word for us, as you do

but teach us,

draw us in

there is no joy unless we pray

as we were called.

But even the Spirit

searching our hearts

summons up only groans.

Is this what we have planted? Cold bones and deepest groans?

I do not know.

The good news tells us

that “an enemy” is responsible

for all the parts we do not like.

As a weed of a person all my life

bringing the not-wanted, the unproductive, the uncomfortable

into the nicely plown fields of life

yes I am a weed but it wasn’t an enemy

Godde, you yourself planted me

spiky as I am.

Tying them into bundles

faggots

for burning like a witch

like a woman who does not fit in

who speaks her terrible mind

out loud

(all women are secretly witches

but some have forgotten).

Jesus spoke in parables

but that is witch-talk also,

weed-talk,

unproductive,

takes root like a mustard seed

and you’ll never be free of it.

“birds of the sky” ha ha

Google what a mustard plant looks like

it’s a weed,

it’s a tenacious, incredibly persistent weed.

But the kindom of Godde will surely not burn

however little we look after

this dear, blue globe of ours.

The kindom of heaven is like yeast

because people don’t go for long

without their minds coming back to food

(and I wish all bellies on the planet

were filled).

My sister, like Godde

takes flour and yeast and throws it all

into a machine

in the dead of night

loving to work

alone.

Baking happens in the darkness

like sowing weeds in the wheat

“an enemy indeed!” it was the wind,

it was the dark

it was the same birds from the mustard bush

yeast in the whole batch of dough

you can’t unmix it once it’s in there.

What do you think of that explanation though

very convenient for a controlling church

very simple, very narrow

no longer parabolic.

I mean no longer a parable

not a parabola (I think).

What shape is a parable?

Not ever the shape

of the status quo

the kindom of Godde is “great and mighty” like a mustard plant,

it is pure as yeast,

it is grains and weeds and we cannot unpick it

the kindom of Godde may be ecosystem, family, dance, festival,

rather than an ordered thing in lines

with hierarchies and progressions

rhizomes not roots

an organism can only grow

(say my old friends D and G)

if it deterritorializes itself

otherwise

a fixed crystal

it cannot reproduce.

But what can reproduce?

weeds and yeast and mustard

the kindom of Godde

and the forbidden wisdom of witches

I poured menstrual blood on the pine needles

and a mushroom grew

and I ate it with spinach leaves

and a glass of wine.

Matthew redacted on that explanation

of the parable

but really

the kindom of heaven is messy,

unsolvable,

living, growing, admixture

“masters” and “barns” came later.

No grain here perhaps

but we are back to our

good, Godde-given ground

for hope.

In which our heroine/vilainess changes tack…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Triptych of heart 3:

Dearest Spirit,

I was going to say something also to you, but instead I find myself needing to listen. What do I hear? Is it silence? Is it absence? I feel my distance from you, my unlikeness.

Why must I feel this now?

But I am impatient, in my listening I want to rush into a reassurance, I want you to let me know I am loved and secure that you will carry me. I want to hear the soundtrack of the Creator and Wisdom dancingly creating the world, the cry of relief at incarnation, skip all the events of persecution and suffering and death (who needs things like that) and listen to the triumphant cry of life restored.

I want a cop-out, for me to be a Disney princess and be saved but you wait and say nothing because you know I am not really able to take that role anyway. It’s not in me, it is not the name the Creator called me when she whispered to you the secrets, the integrity behind all things that as humans we are too hurried and sometimes miss.

Too many words. I need to make a space to listen. To listen slowly and without jumping to conclusions.

Tryptich of heart 2: Back to the Source

How wonderful your name creator God through all the earth!

When I look at the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you have arranged. I ask what are humans, do you even remember we exist? “Mortal man”, “son of man” our language so androcentric, our presumption that we are the heart and the crown of creation.

We think we are “little less than angels”, “little less than gods” but we behave with all the awareness of an amoeba. The first rule of survival is don’t soil where you will eat. We ignore it. Intent on “biggering and biggering and biggering and biggering” (Dr Seuss) making things that nobody needs, turning our backs on the things that everyone needs.

Remember you have told us what we “need”. Not bread along of course but every Word who is Life. We need you, we need the relationship that is the basis of you, we need to return to our source and be made one with all creation as you are one in your three-ness ever-creator source and partner even of Wisdom and Spirit. All we need is love, not in a wishy-washy way but all we need is you.

And we need to do justice, love each other with kindness, we need to walk humbly WITH not against you. We need to nurture and treasure other humans and the earth’s finite resources. Perhaps you made them all, perhaps you could remake them (oh I hope so) but that is no reason to squander the beauty and intrinsic goodness of earth, air, water nor to misuse fire in killing and destroying.

I don’t agree with the psalm, I think there is residue of our sinfulness in the way it has been transcribed from your Word. All of them under our feet? Hardly your will is it!

All of them beloved by God- All sheep and oxen,
yes, and the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, the fishes of the sea,
and whatever swims the paths of the seas.

And then “justified by faith” but what is faith? Elsewhere you told us that saying “Lord, Lord” was insufficient, you constantly repeated that we must love, nurture and not judge each other. What is faith that obeys the letter and ignores the substance of the message? What is faith that twists Word into a sedative away from the wholesome Bread that it was for us. If we will not eat your Word and hold it deep inside us, let it circulate it’s nutrients in our blood and in our soul…if we will not love the neighbour which is Wisdom dancing toward us…then we will eat our own words and love only emptiness, then money will be our god and the market will have it’s way with us.

Creator have mercy. How do I dare to ask you to save us from ourselves?

We can boast of our afflictions can we? Then I boast of sadness, of rage, of frustration and fear. I boast of feeling disempowered and finding hope too small and elusive to grasp. I boast of needing help. I need your help God.

Affliction produces endurance,
and endurance, proven character,
and proven character, hope,
and hope does not disappoint.

But does this work? I am afflicted, but am I enduring? I endure with gritted teeth, but what is my paper-thin and wavering character? How will I be firm enough to hold the seed of hope and grow it deep within myself.

Pour out your love then God of pouring. We have made ourselves a wasteland, we have created a drought.

Pour, pour, pour,

flood the earth with your goodness and with your inspiration. Be the love we need, shine in and out of each of us.

“Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”

Well I will try…

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.

Lips, life and liberation

“…this has touched your lips” said the angel.

As a sociologist I find the first reading tantalising. It’s not possible to be purged of the “unclean” discourses of your context in time or space. I think the cultural errors of any age boil down to what “original sin” is, the way that some grace-filled possibilities are shut off, rendered unsayable or drowned in a mire of the “inevitable”, we cannot even see our error because out language sets up binaries and misleading questions with closed off answers.

But the desire to rise above our context and to liberate others from it, this is utterly relatable and I like to think of God as the one who burns through the crap that bogs us down and sends us out to make sense of things after all. “My eyes have seen” something, some beautiful reflection of God’s presence, some possibility for liberation for us all…this is what it means to have “faith” perhaps. The eyes of our spirit yearn not to be enslaved to sin and the overbearing meaningless of the consumerist “life”. We want life to mean something, but meanings elude us.

The drive to speak is familiar, I first felt the need to be a voice, first heard the call I suppose when I was a little girl. “Here I am, send me” or when I try to be humble and not say that, then things fall apart into greyness and fear. Perhaps at times my motives have been mixed with the less than ideal, I have craved status, wanted to be “special” but over the years I learn what hard work it is to be a truth speaker, how easy it is to get it all wrong and how alone you can feel. I learn (with joy) that God has never called only me, not even mainly me. And then I can reclaim pride not as an individualising sin “I am better than the others” but as a virtue “I am made in God’s image like you, and you, and you, and our sister”.

The apparent pride that put me off in the first reading, has served instead to interrogate and redeem me as still called (among others).

I am feeling that psalm today, partly as I reflect on my call and my co-travellers with their calls too. God has answered my prayer and whenever I think of God listening to me and bringing me out of despair it brings me back to the huge transformation of my life when I realised the obvious (that I was a lesbian) and the way this identity has increasingly been a blessing in my life. I haven’t had lovers but I don’t want to make a virtue of that or pretend that “celibacy” is the only or best option for queer folk. I will be honest there is nothing celibate about my mindset I just have not found someone I can share and celebrate this with in that way.

Ironically the “uncleanness” that I needed a coal set to, to burn away, was not my lesbian identity at all but my inability to see God’s grace and act of co-creation in who I was. My being PRAISES God in a way that my self-hate never did. As the psalm rejoices at God “you built up strength within me” oh yes she did and she has not finished. Through the grace of God and the grace of everyone I travel with I am getting STRONGER. I can depend on Wisdom within and outside of myself (in both places for balance). God has placed gentle hands on me, like a sort of spiritual chiropractor or masseur, repairing and working with what is there to bring out the best in me. As the psalm tells me I will not be abandoned, I am not yet my perfect being but God is still working on that with me.

Some of this may sound arrogant but it is as true for an ant or a blade of grass as it is for me. We are extremely significant and “special” but not more so than each other. We have the responsibility to respond authentically and to grow with God into the gentle movements of God’s healing hands on us. Someone smiled at me this week and God was absolutely in her smile and I saw my own goodness and beauty in this wonderful person’s face. Everything reminds me of that moment. I saw God in a person, who is objectively probably as flawed as me. But who wants to be objective when they see God?

I won’t spend long on the second reading (read it) but I feel it is paraphrasing the same thing I am trying to say. Paul (or someone) is finding his place in the community of transformation, he is trying to articulate the pride and joy of that without coming across as arrogant. He is working to show that God is behind all these feelings of belonging and hope, God’s beautiful face shines out at us in the communities that accept us (and sometimes one person).

In the gospel Jesus uses the identities of Simon and the sons of Zebedee as the places where they can encounter God. He makes following God about being a fisherman (just as Wisdom makes following God for me about motherhood, writing, being queer or caring). In a way there is a “leaving behind” that happens, after the encounter with Jesus the fishermen are transformed but they are “fishing for people” their vocation is still a continuation and celebration of the way they know themselves.

I have always found this reading terrifying and mysterious because there is no flesh-and-blood Jesus I can unambiguously follow down the coast and away…I have to always find my way and strain to hear an ambiguous call. Perhaps I underestimate the leap of faith (and questioning and at times depression) of the apostles, who are portrayed as just “knowing” Jesus, recognising him in a flash. Perhaps it was not so easy (it is not so easy for any of us except the sociopaths who end up doing untold harm). What is the “everything” that I have to leave? I cannot speak to people if I make myself too alien to them. I cannot set myself apart from the world I must live in for practical reasons (I need to feed and home myself or die) and for spiritual reasons (separateness leads to vanity and irrelevance). The question of faith is the same as the question of politics. How do we authentically be with others (a splintered individualist approach achieves nothing) but do not become “sell outs”? When do lines need to be drawn? Where is the most honest place to draw them? How do we leave everything and yet bring everything with us?

The fact that all my spiritual “insights” lead to unanswered questions is frustrating but simply means I am not dead yet. This week I am a person who was smiled at. I want to curl up in a little ball and do nothing ever again and simply save that moment to myself…that is not how it works. Within the full net is not solace forever but a call further. God provides for us so that we can grow to be the ones who bring it. The moment of grace is always that, always the moment of having to stretch ourselves and follow more deeply.

I can only try.

I can only try.

From the womb out to the universe: love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowing

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

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

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

that is the framework I grew up with,

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

 

There is not rational reason to believe in God

I feel a presence

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

I need values and meaning to be fully alive

and sometimes struggle to know what they are

or define them.

 

People define them wrong, rules break down,

systems oppress someone

I need more

a presence I can trust

that will travel the beyond-ways with me

but wiser

and love and trust me into

my better self.

 

God is “other” to me

so that I might not be God to myself

which would be narcissism

I find myself

in bouncing off an “other”

sometimes people are the “other” but also God

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

and reaching for me in love

to wrap me

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

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

 

I know God.

I mean I know love.

I am loved.

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

and I say “I am in love”

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

can deconstruct and disbelieve

but I see the face, the smile

and I am in (human) love.

 

And that is what knowing boils down to.

 

I know the taste of mango.

I know the sweet and the sometimes too sour

and the inconvenience of skin and seed

and the pleasure/irritation of dripping

and the juice in a thirsty mouth

and the wrong season so I have apple instead.

There is reason, there is science

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

that is mango.

 

I see a man and I know he is the baby

that I used to watch breathing in joy and fear

that I used to hold close and allow to move away

that began words and thought I was everything,

then nothing,

then a person, an “other”.

I know the baby still in the man

but the baby is long gone

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

The breath that meant love.

 

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

My hand on her velvety fur brings the purr

and she is old

and she knows I am far from perfect

but also trusts that I will feed her,

she rarely reminds me.

I know she purrs not for any reason

but because we are together.

 

I know the velvety rose petal.

I know its caress and I know its fragrance.

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

and I have to try to remember

to dead-head them.

If I pick a rose

and put in in a vase in my warm house

it will last a day perhaps

not long.

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

the rose smells like something I can’t prove.

And why does the scent of a rose

call to mind those eyes again?

Something like faith, making connections

that reason cannot sustain.

 

I would hope everyone feels some such thing.

 

The bible for me is not fact,

or rules for living,

or instructions or warnings.

It is a photo-album of

communities of God within my faith-family.

They got some stuff right and some stuff wrong.

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

 

And then God comes along like a burst of music

through my head and echoing in my memory,

reverbating in my body, in my bones

live music

making me dance and haunting me forever after.

 

Sometimes I get the moves or the rhythm wrong

or I strain to hear and miss my cue.

I hope the music is still moving me even then.

I hope but I can’t prove it.

 

Somewhere in my hope, my good intention

I must have been touched by God

I must be right

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

but right to live and move and have my being

coming to know GODDE.