Tag Archives: Hebrews

Treasure, but well buried

Finished and posted late because I had a lot of work last week

We start off this week confident in “our fathers” so in the middle of a patriarchal society, following God in secret and waiting for the “salvation of the just and destruction of their foes”. So one of those religious nut groups that feels superior to society around them and smugly think they will be vindicated. The way this comes across is a good reminder to me in the midst of all the things I don’t like about my world and my society that I am part of it too, that I do not have special knowledge and special purity. I am in this world to struggle and to love not to feel superior and resent and not to blindly follow “fathers” either. Though in my case my blind faith in “mothers” is more likely to be my stumbling block…nevertheless I will start from a determination to think for myself, and be reflexive about my privileged place in the society I criticise.

The psalm buys into discourses of chosenness and being saved. God will favour us and preserve us we need to have greater faith. This can function as a seductive sort of an escapism away from taking personal or social responsibility for the state of our lives and our world. I am good at seeing when others do it (eg tell me to cure my depression with better faith and trust) but I also need to be on the lookout for my tendency to hope God will solve my problems of directionlessness and ignorance and being paralysed by fear.

It’s not wrong to look to God for comfort and to ask for guidance. However in the meantime we do need to get our hands dirty. Chosenness is problematic, why would God love me more than a refugee or a victim of crime or homeless person? I don’t think it is fair or wise even to treat our (human) species as “chosen” let alone groups within it. So “you just”, maybe it is better to be cautiously happy and keep on supporting each other and working toward liberation trusting that God works with us, rather than “saves” us. People wiser than me have written and spoken to criticise the concept of being “saved” but the one I remember best was never published.

I don’t relate to the sort of blind faith of Abraham outlined in the second reading. I particularly don’t see anything to celebrate in a man who puts his religion before his child/ren nor in a God who commands or rewards this way of being in the world. That sort of God is not anything for women or children, I would hope not even all that accessible to men (but I do wonder sometimes at the endless selfishness and lack of commitment to relating that men seem capable of- I hope I mean “some men”. I hope). I think the reading is trying to tell us to see faith as a bigger picture thing than just my little life and just my little specificity and work for the reign of God in and of itself, not in a self-interested way. Which is all well and good but Abraham gets to accept realities on behalf of himself and his silent and backgrounded wife and then runs out to sacrifice his son.

For me that sort of “kingdom” is too dystopian to even consider commitment to (s0rry God).

I wonder if there is any grain to be gleaned from the gospel?

One lovely little saying I can immediately pull out of the gospel is that “where your treasure is there your heart will be also”. That somehow what we value defines who we are. That leads me to reflect- what is my treasure? My children? My writing? The hopes for a more just and sustainable world? The kindness of my friends and community? At church yesterday we celebrated St Dominic’s day, and it was clear that for many in the community their Dominican heritage was their treasure. I did not feel it in the same way (with ties to a past I did not experience) that many of the people there seemed to, but that one community of courageous and kind women (and some men) is surely “treasure” in my life. Then I went with an artist friend to a SALA exhibition, and visited two lonely and isolated people. Art, sunshine, cider, conversation, a newborn baby, Nepalese food. Treasure is in sharing and inviting and connecting.

But I had to think also of the practical things of life. Why am I not more excited by my work?

The values of the reign of God are something that need to begin now, at a time long before we consider our death or the end of our species (so then really even before now). It won’t be enough to “look busy” when Christ comes. But the references to beating and overworking servants are alienating. I can’t consider myself to be a particularly “faithful and prudent servant” and even the people I admire have their off days. Then again a “bad” servant in the reading uses their power abusively against other servants. That definition of what God asks of us I can relate to. The whole thing is very violent and classist.

I think I will return to considering the treasure of my weekend, the treasure of the people who care for me. I will try to find ways to balance my heart between different treasures, to find more meaningful work, continue developing as a writer and try to be a better support of friends and family. My faith too, instead of being a blind obedience to tradition and patriarchy can seek treasure…a sunny day, the scent of clean work-clothes, a sudden hug from the small children I work with, an essay to write.

Back to all the other stuff now, treasure is still there even when we fill in forms and write job applications.

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Stop enabling

I tried to write a blog about this week’s readings and I felt angry at all the different ways that exploitation of humans (women in each case) was reified as part of God’s plan and then I tried to pull back and find some good news in there to try to say that God was actually on side with the oppressed and we should…we should… and here I drew blanks. How do you respond to what is essentially a text of terror? And especially when the church uses it as a model for the Christian life that a good Christian is like Ruth or the starving widow or the almost penniless widow and is prepared to be used up and spat out in the service of God’s kingdom (or only to be nurtured by God as part of a greater plan of faithfulness to more important figures).

I want to radically follow God out of love, but not to be exploited and especially not to be part of a long tradition of the clergy and other all-male groups trivialising, exploiting and casually using women. NO FUCKING WAY.

So I wrote it and didn’t post it, I thought I would sleep on it. And then I checked my email and a friend of mine who is a sort of feral priest (ie too female to get any compensation or even acknowledgement from the exploitative Catholic church) had a rant in there about being “preached” to by people who have just got no idea. I won’t steal her story or her ideas as such, but that seemed a very productive track to go down to consider how dare I “preach” at all and who would I “preach” to and what presumptions and privilege might be contained within my preaching.

I don’t tend to like being “preached at” actually. I often feel like the person standing out the front going “blah, blah, blah, blah” wrongly assumes that I am many steps behind them on my spiritual journey and disrespects the ways I might be their equal or even ahead of them. I don’t believe we should preach that way as if to inferiors. I am not Jesus if I elevate myself (the first part of this week’s gospel makes that clear before moving into the text of terror which gets zoomed in upon in the opposite way to how the context sets it up).

The (mostly male) superior preachers who want to teach little old inferior me how to live (all without ever walking so much as half a step in my shoes or even bothering to make the smallest effort to find out anything about my life or experience) lack what we in qualitative research call REFLEXIVITY. They don’t stop to analyse who it is who is doing the preaching, that they are not just a wise conduit for God’s infallible wisdom (with a small “w” because it is not really Wisdom when it is bound by patriarchy) but that they are human beings caught up in webs of power relations in a society riddled with inequalities and that not only are they the relatively privileged, but that they also within the reign of God are pilgrims and sinners as are the “congregation”.

I am not saying that priests never examine their own conscience and never engage in their own spiritual journey, it would be wrong of me to speculate on that and God I am sure sees whatever good work or gaps exist in that work. I am simply saying that by setting up a one-way power relationship where “the people” are not meant to see “the priests” humanity there is a sort of dangerous hubris that leads to the greater and more dangerous abuses of power. It is also both discouraging and unhelpful to have to humour these people by listening to their self-satisfied and often superficial drivel week after week with little or no opportunity to speak back.

Having said that I hope that anyone who wants to take issue with what I am “preaching” is free to leave a message disagreeing with me, which provided it is not abusive I would allow on my wall. And you also are not a captive “congregation” but can tune in or out of what I choose to write as you wish.

I have tried to make it clear in this blog who I am- a disenchanted “Christian”, a graduate of theology, a single mother, a lesbian, a white middle-class person with a job and all the rest of it. In all those claims about my identity I am identifying what my bias might be and realising for me to try to speak from some ivory tower of “knowing” to you whoever reads this is arrogant, unless I realise that your different “knowing” might be equally enlightening to me, and unless I show that my struggles with these difficult texts are part of my Christian journey of NOT having all the answers and NOT always being “right”.

So Ruth makes herself available to Boaz so that she won’t starve and conceives a son for Naomi. The widow and her son are saved by God ONLY because of God’s interest in the survival of Elijah. Despite Jesus’ words about the exploitative hubris of priests, all the church sees in the widow’s donation of more than she can afford is a great role model for the poor and down-trodden in the pews to be guilted into following. Jesus is the ultimate high priest, advocating for us before God not constantly haranguing us that we are “not good enough” but other priests do NOT advocate for the oppressed within church and society and just preach spiritual opium and escapism to the masses.

The church is riddled with cancerous growths called patriarchy and privilege. It is bound into service of the ruling class and regularly commits adultery by serving the interests of capitalism rather than its spouse, Christ/Wisdom. It is addicted to its own cleverness and relatively easy place in a troubled world. We, the people must stop enabling. We must stop making excuses for the black eyes and hurt feelings, stop separating ourselves from the things that can give us life and stop being unconditionally faithful to the abuser, the patriarchal church. We must stop hurting Wisdom herself by blindly following and excusing, stop collaborating in the myriad oppressions of the world and the church.

If we have one coin between ourselves and death, we must use that coin to buy bread for our children not let it be sucked up by a not-even-grateful church. If we have a vocation we must dance it away from those who steal our labour and our dignity…somehow this must be possible. We must glean some sort of future for ourselves the widows and orphans of the institutional church!

The kingdom of God cannot be outsourced

I’ve had it with Job, maybe it’s time I gave some attention to the alternative readings. This one by Jeremiah can be read as a simplistic and idealised call to greater faith. I prefer to read it as one of those Utopian visions that confounds the fatalism and inevitability of “this is the real world” thinking. This reading does not call us to apathetically “trust God” to deliver us, rather to believe and commit to a faith that social change IS possible and that God desires it at least as much as we do. So when we take our activist selves up and throw ourselves into the neverending quest for justice we are on God’s team, we are bringing about a vision bigger than ourselves, before ourselves, after ourselves we are building the reign of God.

Therefore even with the defeats and moments of despair we suffer it is worth still pursuing the unique chivalry (with critical possiblities) of God’s table. God will take the weeping and the broken and those in need of consolation and bring them back from their exile in the “real world” of performativity and disconnection and exploitation. God will comfort, lead and adopt. We can read this vision and be moved by it and beg God to give us a place in the plan to help bring it about. I am sure it is meant to be a motivating reading, not an invitation to sit back because God will wait on us hand and foot while we just mumble kyriearchal compliments and grovel.

When God delivers, it is like a dream…there are shouts of joy. But in this psalm, it is significant that the people who God is delivering have worked very hard (and with tears) to sow the seeds tor the impossible harvest which God restores. Again our place is in the struggle, sowing the seeds for God’s deliverance of sheaves of golden justice and joy.

Hebrews seems to be saying the opposite, that we have no further need of “priests” because we have the one “high priest” which is Christ. But in another place we are told we are the body of Christ, so the priesthood is enacted through that body, therefore through all of us. Maybe it is the organised hierarchical view of priesthood that is called into question (and wouldn’t that be a bitter pill for the church) but there is no possibility of reading this as “sit back, relax and Christ will do it all”. If Christ has made the offering for our sins, then we are free- not to sin again defiling the temple that is creation but to move out of sin and behave as the priestly body of Christ in the eternal atonement and redemption act.

Which I realise is no easy task.

But the priestly body that we through Eucharist, through sacrament, through grateful love and radical Christ-orientation become is the perfect body, the sinless body that “always lives to make intercession” for those who seek to approach God through this priesthood. We need to be an advocate, a conduit for the people of God deeper into God, into justice, into the joy of the miraculous harvest.

The blind beggar in the gospel is confronting a world that limits him and leaves him out. He is refusing the polite silence that accepts marginalisation and he is demanding “mercy”. You can read “mercy” as a one off act of compassion but I was educated in a tradition where “mercy” came with ideal of social action for justice and the demand of mercy was to be “loyal in everything”. We were specifically asked to consider how much good would one occasion of charity achieve compared to the louder, more difficult task of demanding a change to systems of oppression. Even though the teachers often addressed us as “ladies” (which was a bit vomitous) the model of discipleship we discussed was not ladylike and didn’t shrink from raising its voice.

The blind man in the gospel is advocating for himself, there is no harm in doing just that. How often do Christians side with the “many” who tell people such as him to be silent, to be invisible or call his thirst for justice, dignity and equality a life-style choice and thus dismiss it as non-urgent. Interesting when he comes to Jesus, Jesus does not do as our society and most well meaning people do. He does not tell the man how he will solve his problems, colonise the man with Jesus’ idea of salvation, dignity or usefulness. Jesus asks the man what help he wants.

When we help do we ask people what help they want? Or do we know better than them?

The man asks to be made well, regains his sight and follows Jesus on the way. Jesus is the way. So the demanding and raucous call for acknowledgement, healing and justice leads to apostleship. Along the way the man will meet others calling for healing, the man will be free to call out and advocate for them also or to offer whatever healing he learns from Jesus.

I have been blind, I have raised my voice. When God heals me I will be commissioned also to walk along with Jesus and listen out for the voices calling for justice. I call out, I am honest about what I want from God. I sow seeds even if I weep with despair as I do it. God’s kingdom happens along the way, it transforms and impassions and conscripts. And then there is joy when we reap the grains of our hope against hope.

The number for heaven is busy, please check your privilege and dial again

My God,

Well here we go! Last week’s pious nonsense has already ended in tears!

Job’s complaining is bitter because God is continuing the abuse despite Job having tried withdraw constant. At the same time God is not taking Job’s calls, or leaving an address. Job thinks that if only he could decode where God is, then he could reason with God. But don’t all abused people think they can reason, love and communicate their way out of abuse? I don’t like this God either, I can understand Job wanting to vanish into darkness. I reject the “God” in this reading, I refuse to have anything to do with him.

My God, my God why have you abandoned me? I don’t have that connection with tradition to be so sure you are going to do anything to rescue me from the pit of fear, despair and grief that so much in my world buries me in.

My God, my God why do I keep abandoning you? Why do I turn to escapism and commodities even though I know they won’t satisfy me? Why don’t I see clearly how to get to you?

Fierce bulls surround me. Papal bulls to keep me in my place are between you and me. Fierce (turn)bulls to keep taking away democracy. Ravening lions eat up the whole earth, eat up the labour of my hands, eat up my time, my energy, my soul. My ancestors trusted in you, but they were naïve. They trusted in you but they judged others. They trusted in you, but they died.

Trust.

Why did you call me?

But you are the midwife that helps us through the various stages of the universe giving birth to us, to the birth of each new self from our old ways of being. You hold us and give us back a piecemeal integrity so that we can be mother to ourselves and bring each successive try at authenticity to birth- Oh yes, that is how far we go back. You bring worlds and universes, societies and each small person into the world through the trauma and tearing of birth- you breathe breath into us you give us into welcoming arms.

We are in thirst and dust and desperation, none more so than the refugees you seem to have abandoned. God when you abandon me in my privilege then I will die. My privilege stops me entering the reign of God- dance me gently through the eye of the needle, God. All things are possible for you? But not all are easy! Do I really have to give up everything?

Were you really “tested as we are”? Were the tests standardised? Did you cry to find yourself so reduced? Did you give into your privileged state and ignore those who were failing? Did you become normal? Were you tempted to ignore your vocation? Did you choose what was hard an unpopular? Did you bury your desires to fit in?

But were you really tempted/tested in every way that we are?

Were you tempted to have babies instead of making decisions? Were you tempted to find some clever thesis to write instead of seeking one that you feel has meaning? Were you tempted to check Facebook one more time instead of studying? Were you tempted to neglect elderly relatives who don’t give you a lot of joy? Were you tempted to influence your children to be straight and conform to their gender? Were you tempted to take handouts from people even though you knew there were strings attached? Were you tempted to stay in a toxic relationship? Were you tempted to drop out of things that gave you life and joy? Were you tempted by the escapism of falling in love with unavailable people? Were you tempted to go on dating sites and sleep with just anyone to gain credibility? Were you tempted to allow people to slut shame you? Were you tempted to go to a strip club so your friends wouldn’t label you a “prude”? Were you tempted to keep drinking long after you knew it was bad for you? Were you tempted to take an E? Were you tempted to pretend you were under the influence of the E in order to have an excuse to touch someone? Were you tempted to be ordinarily successful? Were you tempted to let someone push you around? Were you tempted to cry? Were you tempted to fail on purpose?

Were you really tempted in every way that I was?

Do you know about MY experience? Have you ever been me?

Perhaps through Eucharist you feel what it is to be me- but how then do you not sin? I seem hard-wired to weakness. How is it that you can say you have experienced the weakness of despair and self-hate if you have truly never sinned? I boldly come to ask for the grace to really be represented by you.

How funny when you seem to ask me for the same grace. I make no claim to being without sin, how would I represent you?

If it is our wealth and privilege which keeps us from your reign, how is everything possible with you? Can you really save EVERYONE? Why don’t you? If you can save white, male, millionaires (and such) why do you still let them have a choice, even when their choice affects less powerful “others”? Why is their free will more important than my sister’s justice?

If heaven is means tested what are you going to ask from me? Is it the emotional security that I seek, the economic ease that I will have to give up? At what point do I decide I am not strong enough for your reign?

My God, My God, it is true I keep forsaking you. In cowardice I avoid the bulls and the lions- I become one of them or I hide and let you face them on your own. You have eased me into being; out of my mother, out of my society. We go back a long, long way. Don’t let’s be strangers!

Fulfilling my weekly commitment (uphill)

Doing this more as a discipline than out of wanting to this week, cannot even be bothered doing links (will later perhaps otherwise google “lectionary” if you want to know,,.

That first reading: Job 1:1, 2:1-10. So God uses Job in order to win a bet with the Satan, lets him be tortured for some sort of gentleman’s dick-points competition. Not cool God, not at all cool! And when Job’s wife quite sensibly points out that this is not behavior that deserves Job’s continued loyalty HE says: “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”

Well THIS foolish woman here, writing the blog thinks yes, if God loves us this sort of abuse is NOT ok. And I would a lot rather be a foolish woman who thinks religion is not worth all this pain and indignity; than to lose my compassion and be foolish like a man who accepts an idea of God who punishes the good merely to impress his enemy. Hypermasculinity like that puts me off. I don’t think God goes out and handpicks misfortune for people but if I thought God was like that I wouldn’t so quickly praise God for it.

Psalm 26 is the sort of smugly complacent stuff a lot of “good Christians” come out with. The sort of people who turn gay people away from their church, and frown upon divorcees, and kick out their own daughters for being pregnant. Oh I am so pure and innocent, also exclusive and don’t let the wrong sort of riff-raff come near me. 26:8 O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.

But I put it to you, psalmist that if you loved the house where God dwells, then you would have been into it enough to see that God dwells with the rejected and the unclean; with the poor and the downtrodden, with the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters. If you avoid all of God’s housemates then how can you say you love God’s house? Your foot may stand on level ground while you soapbox away how much you thank god for your unearned privilege, meanwhile God isn’t listening because her arms are full of the refugee babies you couldn’t make room for and her feet are running to tend to the suicidal lesbian you pushed out of your congregation, her face is turned toward the victims of your injustice and she is listening and comforting and your “integrity” is cheap and tawdry if you sweep away sinners so easily.

The second reading seems piecemeal, perhaps because someone has taken bits of bible and tried to splice them together, with something missing in the middle and the continuity is ruined. It becomes a lot of pious but not very meaningful phrases, though I like the tracing of Jesus’ exact resemblance to God, that is a cute and loveable little part of a reading I can otherwise (after an exhausting week) not make head nor tail of).

In The gospel, Jesus I think is getting a bit annoyed with those self-important patriarchs who think there are more important things (eg the “law”) than their own families. Women, children…neither are to be dismissed, silenced, cast aside. This reading gets used as being against modern 21st century divorce which is absolute rubbish as a way of understanding it, because in these days to divorce a woman (as if only the male could be the active partner to begin with) does not condemn her to a life of abject poverty. Jesus is saying don’t be hard-hearted, but also you can’t discount, trivialise, silence half of humanity. Humanity complete, with both halves (and yes I realise I am using binary thinking here…God is actually shown in the full spectrum of human gender and sexuality even more fully), complete humanity is the image of God. Maleness only gives us a skewed and unhelpful, unbalanced idea of who God is, because the image of God is far more than that.

from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’”…“Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”” This is not an argument for compulsory heterosexuality NOR against divorce, this is an affirmation that humanity reflects God with all those parts that God made. God does not make mistakes, woman is no less than man and both, all genders are vital to our understanding of the fullness and depth and wise love of God. I take that from this reading and all the stuff about lust and adultery and all the rest of it…we could try to do a detailed criticism and zoom in some time but …not now.

Then the little children get brought in, and we can’t have that especially if they are not nice middle-class children or if they don’t know how to behave. Perhaps before the children could approach Jesus they ought to have had a note from their priest and a certificate showing that they have completed all their sacraments and served in their church community as altar servers (if boys) or dish-washing tea ladies (if girls). In fact stuff the girls, we don’t want Jesus to get girl germs! And yes, there is this sort of attitude toward various “little ones” within the church (see last week’s readings that I ought to have written about since they resounded for me).
In the end whoever it is that we reject or place obstacles in the path of, Jesus will turn around and push past our self-importance to embrace them.
“ for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”