Tag Archives: hope

Starring Wisdom and justice

33rd Sunday Ordinary time, year b      November 18, 2018      Stef Rozitis

Am off to use this reflection at church. I hope it will be OK
“A time unsurpassed in distress!” Sadly one of the themes of human history is this great distress. Persecution. Oppression. Dispossession. Disorienting change and now climate change confronts us. These times stare us in the eye and remind us how fragile we are and can make us feel horribly insignificant, even as though everything we do is futile. Daniel’s view of the end-times is horrifying, of course he was of a prophetic tradition where substances were used to aid the seeing of visions.

 
The point of consolation in all this is the wise who will shine brightly, those who lead many to justice being like the stars. I think of the turbulent world events, my hopes and often fears for a future for myself or my children. I think of times of great despair and desolation in my own life and of the bright stars, the people who come with consoling wisdom- not to trivialise or dismiss my fears, not to try to silence or repress the negative things we see and experience and our heart’s need to cry out against them- but just to show us God’s face amid the strife. To shine.

 
I could cry when I consider some of those stars, because the world does not always treat people like that kindly. I consider all my heroes- the people who speak out so courageously about human rights, the abuse that gets hurled at them. It’s well documented how in particular women who advocate for others get rape threats, or threats against the safety of their children “Those who lead many to justice” walk a risky path- they may lose their job, their security, their peace of mind.

 
After the psalm reminds us that we have everything we need in God, the second reading talks about how human religions are in some measure obsolete. This does not mean that we should not gather, that we should not break bread and word in memory of the real sacramental action of Christ’s being born into us; of facing our unsurpassed distress to its logical conclusion- the cross. I need to be here. It does however call into question the structures we build around our sacraments- the way we try to imprison some people in various identity cages(1) within overly rigid church structures, while simultaneously keeping people out- out of participation in this way or that, out of democratic leadership, out of allowing their embodied human experiences to inform theology, rather than iron-clad theologies limiting and labelling human experience in narrowing ways.

 
Whatever it is that we celebrate here together- the one we call Jesus has already acted. Wisdom has already set the table and prepared the banquet. We have no right to try to control the flow of grace in this direction but not in that. Sacrament is for all, and the sanctuary is our place to be- women, men and children and perhaps a broader sweep of creation too. The earth’s resources also are prepared by wisdom for all creation and for itself. The amassing of wealth in pockets while so many starve goes against Jesus’ sacrificial action of trying (in history and in the now as well) to open up heaven to the human heart, and open up the human heart to heaven. If all our sins are forgiven dare we enter a new and engraced way of being?

 
The gospel also speaks of dark and turbulent times, but of the coming near of God within these times. We see signs of what is coming. We are asked not to be naïve in our spirituality, or our politics, or our daily living but read the patterns and face reality with courage. Nothing is inevitable, nothing is sure, all things can pass away except God’s Word. The Word has already spoken to us today through the first two readings (and speaks through our hearts and bodies also). Wisdom and justice are the signs of the Word’s bright indwelling in a person, all sins are forgiven and we are free to be part of a new reign of God.

 
Some of the imagery in these ancient texts seems militaristic and kyriearchal to me and it took me a long time this week to look beyond that to the invitation in them. I look from the readings to my world, to the people who give wisdom, the people who lead me to follow justice in everything I choose. They are indeed like stars. The joy and love in my life is always from the goodness of others, from the beauty of someone who is radically oriented toward a redeemed way of being human. When I see those people at times devalued by the world, small voices in a growing clamour of consumerism, greed and corresponding hunger and desperation then I see also what my call is.

 
It is my call to be one of the stars for the people who are stars to me. The darkest night has beauty when we look up and see the pureness and twinkle of stars. We connect them together into pictures, we see them as constellations as relationships. The wise and justice oriented people in our lives, the true stars hold out their hands and call us to join them. Star to star we bring light to a world following the first and last star, the Morning Star, the Christ.

 
Let us sit now and think of the stars who have shone wisdom and justice into our dark nights. Let us think of the ways we are called by God to do the same; to lead others to the justice they thirst for and “shine like stars forever”. Let us know that no darkness is ever complete. Let us resolve to connect and support the networks of light, the communities of hope, the constellations of stars in the image of our loving and healing wise God.

 

1. Morley, L. (2013). The rules of the game: Women and the leaderist turn in higher education. Gender and education, 25(1), 116-131.

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Being Privileged

I actually had no quarrel with the lectionary today. The first reading in it, if you are interested is worth looking up later. What it says was pretty similar to the first part of the gospel anyway.
I chose the reading from Alexis Wright as part of a personal project that I thought you would allow me to share with you. My project is to bring into my prayer life some voices of women of colour, and especially Indigenous women. I read, then I spend some time trying to become aware to broaden my mind and to be called out of my privileged view of the world.
I haven’t read all of Carpentaria yet, but Wright’s work makes me feel deeply uncomfortable and sad with a sadness I don’t know how to express. It’s not really my intention to share my discomfort (hence I chose a relatively mild passage) but as feminists we do need to remember that we have been asking for decades that men and especially ones in leadership positions would sit with the discomfort that WE bring and let it undermine an unjust system, rather than being emotionally lazy and dismissing us unheard.
So when it comes to an Indigenous woman, one who is not only speaking unfamiliar truths, but speaking them in epistemologically strange (to me) ways I need to take extra time to get to know what I am hearing and allow for its potential to change me.
Will this change us?
I’ve circled back to the original first reading which is echoed in the gospel. In the Kindom of God we are called to set the table not to build a wall around “church” and then become gate keepers. We are called to throw open the doors and give refreshment (even a cup of water) in the name of Life.
Imagine a church that had always recognised this?
Imagine centuries- not of converting and condemning others but (and here I borrow from Micah) of walking humbly with our God in the world. What collaborations of respect and mutual learning might have been possible? Instead of a movement for liberation, people like Constantine used the network of Christians as a vehicle for conquest to further ruling class interests. God of course has been subversively present even so.
We are hearing some of that sort of ideology in the promotions of a so called “Christianity” in politics. A Christianity that does not have compassion for refugees or the unemployed or the working poor? A Christianity that does not look after the aged sufficiently and spits on the integrity of the earth herself. Where I must ask is the “Christ” in all this?
The second reading seems to concur, warning the wealthy and privileged that what they have tells a story of injustice and abuse. Exploiting the worker or the earth is disrespectful of the integrity of creation as God’s image, it defies God’s Wisdom which calls us to live in love and hope. Consumerism in the short term can seem like a refuge from increasingly difficult thoughts- we can turn consumerism into apparently kind values – looking good for others, decorating and cooking for others (some others of course, those few we value at the cost of the many). Ultimately the economic and ecological problems worsen while we ignore them. This gospel is written not only for the 1%, the super-rich but also for us. What would it take for us to turn away from the unhappiness of addiction to wealth and take these messages seriously?
We could start by demanding that any leader who invoked “Christianity” also practice it- not just in turning up to a church once in a while but in policy and practice. Our “Way of life” is threatened more by people who claim to promote it, than by those who admit they are different. We must move forward into life.
As an unauthorised preacher, it is very tempting for me to take only words of comfort from the gospel, which reminds us that as church we do not have to control, endorse or forbid the ministry of others, God is well able to call whoever she wants. I need to read on, from the reassurance to the stern warning. While God calls me to speak, I must take care because if my words are the thing that derail or distract people from God then I will be held accountable.
God’s view of us is not just as atomised and empowered individuals (the neoliberal “can-do” vision), but members of a community- giving and receiving ideas, support and challenge to each other. It’s easy for me to focus on the ways the institutional church has sinned- denying the possibility of female ministry for example, encouraging queer kids to despair and fall away even kill themselves, leaving exploitative capitalism to run rampant, allowing clergy to abuse children. There is much to be angry about.
But the gospel comes not only to fuel anger, but self-reflection. How must I be part of building healthier communities? How must I walk a wise line between listening to wiser others and challenging them? This little church community gives me hope in this like in all things. People here work tirelessly for refugees and give generously to poor families. We don’t all agree on things, but we leave some room for each other’s creativity to unsettle and teach us. We truly seek to love better.
God knows she has called us and knows who we are working for. Let us find ways to amplify our prophetic voices and call a sad and lost world to account and thus back to life. Let us glean hope from the justice and compassion that is possible in each of our lives as leaders and participants in communities. Let us be the one who gives, accepts or celebrates the cup of water given in the name of unconstrainable Life.
Where there is good in our worlds, let us build and nurture it.
Let us sit with the possibilities for hope on this beautiful spring day. Let us dwell on the people and places that our hope is for. After a short time of silence, you may wish to share and connect with those around you.

She calls me (I have been lousy at answering lately): Pentecost

Sometimes I find other people challenging. I am tempted to avoid conflict, challenge, discomfort, potential criticism, giving offence and just trying to be radically self-sufficient (which if you know me at all is a laughable concept). I try not to emotionally “need” anyone (also laughable). I am an introvert, I could disappear forever into a rabbit-warren of books and writing and be perfectly happy…except it doesn’t really work that way.

Too little time being “bothered” by other people’s expectations and needs and opinions and ideas and blah blah blah blah can be even worse than too much. I become less and less productive. I can’t see the point of doing this or doing that. Why get out of bed? Why get dressed? why move? Why write things no one really wants to read? Why bother? Why breathe? Why be?

This is not a recent thing for me, but I have been at the extreme of the keeping-people-out cycle and sure I did it for my own protection but it hurt me more than it healed me. My longest-term friends are people who have been patient with my various inabilities to engage at various times and I am grateful for them. I will never be someone who can cope without the possibility of retreat and some alone time but I have learned that too much is as bad (or worse) than not enough.

Just when you thought none of this has anything to do with Pentecost, let me circle back to the first reading. Because for an introvert like me, a severe critic of the church, someone who often disagrees with what we are told to believe…there is a surprising truth in the first reading. The Holy Spirit did not come to atomised individuals, each locked in the safely self-perpetuating labyrinths of their own minds. She waited until they were all together, each having to deal with their own impostor syndrome, their own insecurities and awkwardness, each other’s loudness and stupidity and potential to be irritating and the way they all rubbed up against each other and had to constantly watch and redefine boundaries and feel left out or bored or angry or overwhelmed.

They were all “in one place together” an introverts nightmare and it gets worse, because the Spirit prompts them to reach out to OTHERS and include those who speak different languages. Significantly (and I have probably said this before) she did not work on the hearts of ears of the foreign listeners to change them so that they could understand, she changed the preachers to be heard and understood in people’s own languages. I believe this is something the church gets wrong very often. We say “here is my message now you change to understand it” instead of saying “how can I learn your language to preach love and good news in?”.

Obviously it is disingenuous to pretend that no change at all is demanded from hearers of the true gospel. I am not saying we should be preaching “Keep on competing and exploiting and buying and meaninglessly celebrating nothingness with you novelties and toys that you don’t even really like. Keep on overeating and trying to kill emotional pain by distracting yourself with addictions and fixations and replacements for real life. Keep on denying climate change and protecting borders and trying to return people to narrow and rigid “values” that never worked to begin with while you overwork and turn up your entertainment too loud and invest in brighter lights and flashier baubles and prettier words and hold up social media as a flattering mirror (beauty mode) to avoid facing your own damn loneliness”

I am not saying we shouldn’t call people (ie ourselves) to change.

But what if we stop sweating the small stuff, like what religion someone is or what sexual orientation. Many churches find such an idea controversial but I wonder if we could get further by finding the humanity and good intention in each other.

George Monbiot in his book Out of the Wreckage, asserts that altruism and a desire for connection is intrinsic to human nature to the point that humans are defined by these things. No other animal wants to do acts of kindness and generosity for no reason at all, but humans again and again over centuries (and in some truly horrendous situations) have been observed doing irrational things for the good of others, sometimes strangers, often completely peripheral to their own lives. That is a beautiful thing to be defined by and Monbiot is very persuasive about it.

If I read the bible about how Godde has walked with human-kind and how Christ became embodied with and in and for us then Monbiot’s idea makes perfect sense. He writes from a secular perspective but the eyes of faith see evidence also that he is right. Then I won’t listen to the people who tell us that kindness is about projecting the ego (or something) or that generosity is about passive-aggressive self interest or such nonsenses that try to deconstruct human relationships to transactions and affective bonds to something market-based. Those sorts of thoughts are strong now, they drive our politics. It never fails to amaze me that people can strongly advocate a “Christian” hegemony and a neoliberal one together as if Christianity did not specifically contradict the politics of self-interest and the reduction of the human person to a unit of the market.

But the Spirit has never been about units at all. She flows between and around us when we relate to others. She inspires us to LOVE to truly love each other and ourselves.

So the second reading continues with a celebration of difference, but also of connectedness (what good are severed body parts?). The gospel finishes the glory and triumph of the Easter season (alas over so quickly) with a reminder of the Risen One standing among us giving peace and breathing into us Spirit. It matters how we treat people. It matters what we label and call out as “sin” in ourselves or others. It matters what we let slide. Let’s think a little more about living an Easter reality, alive with the Spirit and attune to the needs and goodness of each other.

Let’s sing the traditional Pentecost sequence, or find our own:

 

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
Shed splendid radiant light
Come, Mother of the poor

show us how to better share the treasures

you have already brought us.

Shine in our hearts

let our intrinsic worth and desire to love

burst forth.

 

You love and cradle us,

comfort us and draw us out of despair,

inactivity, disengagement

be welcome in our souls

dancing within and setting us dancing.

Refresh us, for we are made for

more than toil or labour

show us how to refresh each other,

give us coolness in the heat

of our passions- anger, fear, desire, disgust.

 

Beautiful light that is Godde

shine within our hearts

let us be beacons of you to each other.

Let us forget our addictions

and know that only your light, your dance

can fill us.

 

Without you we have nothing

(but you are with us so we have all).

Heal our wounds, our strength renew

on our dryness pour thy dew

wash the stains of guilt away

(washerwoman God we know you in the waters)

bend the stubborn heart and will

melt the frozen, warm the chill,

(cast down the mighty from their thrones

and lift up the lowly)

guide us so we don’t jump off a cliff

and take so many species with us.

 

Give us the intrinsic reward of knowing you

let us remember that it is about love

not just saying “Lord. Lord” and bending a knee.

Pour out your gifts, your joys, your inspiration.

Make us embodiments of every radical hope,

make us reckless in generous love,

make us beautiful and light-filled

like YOU.

Amen. Alleluia.

Stations of the cross III

This is my third year of doing only two stations of the cross and spending a bit of time on each one. You can check out stations 1, 2, 7 and 8 in previous years (one and eight), (two and seven)

  1. Jesus Falls the first time

When people are already beaten, already suffering, already beyond what is endurable and they are seeing in front of them still the long long road, uphill to more suffering and not even a friendly face in the crowd. Why do we sometimes feel disgust instead of pity for suffering people? We wih they would get out of our face. We wish we didn’t have to witness their indignity, as if we could catch it off them or something.

Or is it repressed guilt?

Or what about when it is me who falls? The problem with falling the first time is you realise how easily you can fall and how hard it is to get up again…and you see ahead of you many, many more falls and the aloneness of the struggle.

Is this why people sometimes give up? Jesus of course does not get the opportunity to give up, he is forced- whipped and threatened and kicked to get up and keep shuffling to doom and torment and death. This looks nothing at all like what we think of as “courage” or as “success”. Jesus in this scene is as much of a loser as we have ever been, and in the episodes of our lives where we can do nothing except shuffle along as someone forces us, or crumble under the weight are after all like Jesus.

Small comfort though because it hurts to be like Jesus.

Over the centuries we have put this burden on Jesus that he is carrying the whole weight of the world, that he is carrying our sins (there is that link to Julian of Norwich’s idea that Jesus is like a mother again). Perhaps Jesus does not want or need to carry everything for us. Perhaps it is not very helpful theology to put that on him so that we can avoid examining the sins of our society in too much detail.

Does the falling Jesus feel he has let everybody down?

Do we let “the least of his sisters” feel the humiliation and pain that we believe we would not have heaped on Jesus, himself?

They ought to stop blaming him, hitting him, forcing him. Someone ought to help him. Someone ought to rescue him. Someone ought to protest against this huge injustice.

But we are all too cowardly and aware of our own limitations.

So Jesus still falls.

Dear One, Jesus,

A few days ago I saw a three year old fall from a pile of blocks she had climbed on. She showed me her scraped knee, her grazed hand and she asked me to hold her and make it right.

“Falling is part of life” I told her and she looked at me and kept crying.

“It hurts doesn’t it” I said and she burrowed into my arms for comfort.

But no one comforted you, and your falling was not a natural part of life, it was something that the injustice of others caused to happen. It was something we should have prevented. It was something that still happens.

What would it have taken the first time you fell for it to be the last time you fell? What could people have done better?

How do I confront suffering and falling in others? What can I do? How can I respond?

Jesus, I am inadequate. I do nothing but weep.

Amen.

 

  1. Jesus is stripped

Like the soldiers who gambled for Jesus’ clothing, we profit from the misfortunes of others. We in a competitive, capitalist economy. We in the “developed” world. We the privileged.

We protect our borders by locking out the hopes and security of refugees. We choose the cheapest items, the best schools, the flashiest cars and stuff the fact that the environment or other people have to go without. It’s not our fault, we are not the powerful ones.

The soldiers, the foot soldiers. People doing an honest day’s work. They may well have had mouths to feed at home. They did the job that was available, they were soldiers, possibly underpaid. Part of the deal was getting the clothing of the “criminals” they helped execute.

Jesus however was left stripped, naked, humiliated and uncomfortable (well he was dying anyway so you can rationalise it can’t you?). He becomes a non-person in the system- just a set of procedures, just part of the job the soldiers have to do.

They didn’t make the rules.

Can you imagine what chaos the Roman Empire would have been in if no one enforced the rules? It wasn’t the soldiers’ job to find Jesus innocent or guilty.

And by this stage he is not even really a human any more. He has been “processed” he hangs between life and death, there is no remedy. There is no redemption possible.

So they may as well cast dice don’t you think?

And we may as well continue shopping and complaining about the cricket while the environment hangs on the cross of our over-consumption and while the refugees suffer dehumanisation and lack of hope.

There is no alternative. There is nothing we can do against a system so much bigger than us.

Even God has abandoned him.

Jesus,

I see you. I want to rehumanise you.

I cannot see the hope in his situation but I would cover you if I could. Even that!

Jesus, the small things I can do for people- the donation of money to a beggar, the meal cooked for a depressed friend, the non-judgemental smile for someone who feels cast out. Small acts of wishing I could take you down from the cross and let you choose from all my clothes.

I feel so powerless. I am complicit in evil systems. I benefit from unjust economics. I can’t find the answers to how we should live or what we should do to end this suffering.

Jesus remind me to seek integrity in all my life…not to give consent to systems that take away more and more and more from those already suffering.

Jesus, they never stripped away your goodness and your truth. Who we are goes deeper than trappings. Teach me to be filled with your truth to my core, to be more than my place in society.

Let us restore hope.

Amen.

Conclusion

I really struggled to get into the spirit of Good Friday today, and I really struggled to write something. I was too exhausted to make it to church, I could possibly have worked harder to get my body there but I felt I would not contribute anything (perhaps I ought to have tried).

Loving God, forgive me for being off-task. I long for hope and it seems impossible, and yet my immediate situation is alright. Perhaps I feel guilty not to be suffering more. Perhaps I have worn myself out with all the wrong things.

Today I am not like the faithful women at the foot of the cross, I am like the denying and cowardly disciples. I have run away. But even those ones, you continued to love and call.

I will do better when I can.

Amen.

Lip service or life? Called to courageous loving

Preached today to my wonderful community that give me all the support and love and really are a family in faith to me…

As I prayed and reflected on today’s readings, it was very hard for me to separate out the escalating feelings of fear, grief and hurt I have felt over the last week from some of the homophobic comments and lies that are circulating at the moment. As a queer woman, some people would say that I am “going to hell” or am locked out of God’s community, yet I experience God as knowing me better than I know myself and loving me deeply- allowing for my slowness to learn how best to live and encouraging my good intention. I have tried to resist the temptation to make my journey with this week’s readings nothing more than an expression of the pain I feel in this time. Yet I will name the pain because it is there. And then I will try to move on…

The first reading is the last part of a longer discussion about the way that each person owns their own conscience. Within it, a person is not judged by their family, culture or community nor by how others around them choose to live but insofar as they themselves respond to God and do what is right their path will be always into life. This is both a liberating and a troubling concept in our historical context, where we are increasingly facing the reality of climate change that will take more than the actions of a handful of well-meaning individuals to reverse.

And yet this is the reality we live in, things are happening around us that we have limited control to halt or change and we must somehow keep finding hope and meaning. Perhaps what we can find here is an antidote to the sorts of thinking that see decreasing compassion and rising inequality as inevitable. God does not desire our death, the call is always into life. We must embrace hope so that seeing the fallenness, imperfection or powerlessness of ourselves or those around us we must look for the potential for liberation and healing.

In the psalm we cry out to God to be compassionate and to teach us, this echoes both the awareness that things may be wrong and the determination to hope of the first reading. In the verses, God’s nature is revealed to be goodness and kindness, love and compassion. We can and must depend upon that whatever else we are emboldened to do.

The second reading is a sort of counterpoint to the first. Just as in the first reading, each of us was asked to think for ourselves, and to do good even if we are surrounded by wrong-doing, the second reading calls us to be community, to seek harmony and connection with others and to work for the good of others, not just selfishness. Hope then, is no longer a lonely place and we do not stand and judge from a moral high-ground but seek to know and serve whatever is vulnerable in each other.

Thus we come to the gospel, and the difference between giving lip-service to faith and living it. The first son is foolish and rebellious, he does not like to be told. I relate to him a lot and I see my own children in him too. And yet, once he has given his tokenistic resistance to the authority of his “father” he realises that the vineyard is something he is involved in and responsible for and he quietly gets in and works for the harvest. The second son is all performative obedience and moral superiority but when it comes down to it does not contribute to getting the harvest in.

This is a theology that Jesus points out even the religiously impure ones, even the tax collectors and prostitutes, instinctively understand. So what of us? Are we brave and honest enough to argue with the “father” when we do not feel as committed or engaged as we are told we ought to be? Would we dare to refuse to do what we are told…and then give ourselves the chance to rethink what we are really being asked to do, and what our role may be in the vineyard of God.

Or would we opt to look “respectable”, to follow from as great a distance as possible, paying lip-service but avoiding getting our hands dirty? Do we only go along with the call to love and accept the vulnerable so far as they don’t challenge or disgust us? Is there a limit to our ability to transmit God’s grace, or is it simply that we are busy and there are higher priorities than loving? But the first son’s apparently sullen attitude masks a deep love. Sometimes things may be better than they seem at first sight.

All three of the readings seem very sure in telling us that we need to risk being authentic before God. God’s desire is to always keep the option open for us to return and return and return into the heart of the community, into the work of the harvest, into life.

If we are called today, then what is our direction? Let us become aware of God’s love and allow ourselves to be authentic before it. Let us reflect on the readings for a short time and then as is our custom you might share your thoughts with the people sitting near you.

Only you God can fill me

I remember a long time ago having a lunch with a friend who was a priest. Before eating he said “only you oh God can fill me” or something similarly worded. He said the idea was to not overeat. I can be a bit of a comfort eater myself. If I feel anxious or lonely or bored or guilty or any negative feeling I can imagine that I need something that tastes nice to distract me and then I eat it fast and want more. I thought the words were a good meditation, encouraging me to stop, consider my need for food- for the physical sustenance of it as well as the sensuous pleasure and to remember that food is a good but it is not the ultimate.

God is the ultimate.

I am still a person full of nervous habits- overeating, chewing pens or my own lip, tensing my jaw, tapping things. I still struggle to get a hold of myself and defeat panic and procrastination and the tendency to isolate myself or binge on social networking. I often focus on my flaws and unworthiness. I often obsessively need to be approved of by others, to be seen to be performing well, to be seen as someone gifted or good. I still have willpower issues and sometimes stay at a party too late or drink too much.

So I am not sharing this sentence as a magical “cure” for human frailty but it is a useful sentence nevertheless.

As I have meditated on it, in the context of letting go of a past relationship that was not working, in the context of choosing to accept that I am gay, in the promise to myself that I will say “no” or “maybe” to as many people as I need to rather than rushing desperately into any relationship available I think I have started to grow- not necessarily in virtue but in joy and quality of life. Because only God can fill me, so I can let go of my need for someone else to say “sorry” or to hold me. I can let go of my envy that someone has an easier life than I do. I can let go (slowly) even of my anger at the opportunities I feel I was robbed of, by being raised so fearful. I can let go of anything that demands that I hurt of humiliate others. I can really and truly love without the desperate need for someone to make it “worth it”. I can love as an act of freedom, rather than as a transaction, and I can accept love with gratefulness rather than skepticism or the burden of obligation.

Because only God can fill me.

God is always listening, always breathing with me. Always watching and holding and knowing. God fills up my days with the million things I used to dare not believe in- the phone-call may be from someone who cares about me. The coffee may clear my head. The birds singing may be a sign of a beautiful day to come. There are no guarantees of exactly how the day will unroll, except that God will be there.

Filling me with love. Filling me with joy. Filling me with sacrament.

I woke in horrible flu and asthma pain the other night and thought long and hard about this idea that only God can fill me. And I was filled with tears and snot and desperation for a still space in the night for me to breathe and not be in pain and that space was simply not available. And I saw what a coward I am about pain and I felt that I really couldn’t bear it and I started weeping tears for people on hard inadequate beds on manus island or on the streets. I started weeping for people dying or terminal diseases. I was angry with God, because I wanted to feel joy and love and all the good things and I simply wasn’t feeling anything precious or peaceful or even bearable. All the world felt like it was camped on my chest squishing the life out of me, and since I had run out of ventolin I couldn’t even alleviate my asthma enough to breathe properly.

“I said you were what could fill me God” I said and I was angry because I never asked for snot and horrible feelings. And I thought of Jesus, full of Godness and love being crucified and how horrible it must be to wait for nothing better than death.

I stretched out my arms and there was the box of tissues and water bottle and lozenges that my son had brought to me as part of his “caring about mum” dance of the evening before. I was in pain and angry but I was loved. I am always loved.

It’s hard to put into words what that means because the pain was still pain and I am no damn good with pain. The pain was there but it was not everything, it can never be everything even when it takes over. Even if (God forbid) it had kept going forever or killed me it would not have been everything.

Because only God can fill me.

As I think of the way the environment is dying (which is already causing huge human suffering) and the hate-talk by so many people in society and the way we treat refugees and basically anyone different from us, my heart is more than sore. It is hard to see any hope for a future and I love my children and want them to be able to have children in turn- I want this world to work better so we can continue as a species. It looks pretty bleak I must say.

I see no realistic way anything good will happen.

I see no future for our species at the moment.

People say I am an “idealist” full of crazy hopes because I get political and try to help make a better world but I know the odds are stacked against us. I don’t hope because I am some sort of a naive optimist, or because I am unaware of how powerful the human forces are that keep all the various oppressions in place.

I hope because only God can fill me. Despair is there but it does not fill me.

Only God can fill me.

 

Where’s the good news?

A lot of other people have written good stuff on “the gospels” so I am not going to discuss which parts I think are true/factual and which are made up (my opinion varies anyway) or point out that the significant differences in them, or even nitpick the patriarchal view of any or all of the gospel writers (or gospel writing communities which seems more likely). I do think it is problematic how we often privilege the gospel over the rest of scripture and how that fits with the anti-semitism of the OT/NT world-view. I also think it is problematic how little we dare to criticise the words or deeds of Jesus (as recorded) and tend to assume if it is in the book then it is automatically both good news and true.

And I guess that is where I want to come into the liturgical moment of the “gospel reading” and ask a few hard questions to make sure we are not being sold “fake news” in the guise of “good news”. Even though I like history as much as anybody and more than some, I don’t think the point of history is to look back and find some sort of objective “truth” about exactly what happened and I don’t think the bible is only history in any case- it has mythical status as much as anything else and I neither want to reify nor debunk all that.

But I partly want to debunk the idea that Christ is more present in the official gospel, than in the good news of some of the “Old Testament” readings for example, or the good news of “Acts” or the “epistles” or my life or yours or the rainbow I saw one week on my way to church. All of that is God’s good news, therefore gospel. So I want to wonder aloud about good news- what is it and how do we find it and how do we know we can accept it?

When I studied homiletics, we were warned to ensure we were finding the “good news” even in negative texts. At the time I had a fairly hippy “everything is awesome” view of church and God’s kindom (not that’s not a typo) and a fairly negative view of anything that spoke about “sin” or anything other than God’s unconditional and always redeeming love. I still believe in the kindom of God and that it is built on a foolishly generous and eternally hopeful outpouring of unconditional love by God to all creation, but also that this love may contain strong anger toward injustice, especially the stubborn sort of injustice that refuses persistently to be called to account. That is, I do not think God will punish us (or perhaps anybody) for getting things wrong, but I think the sin that leads to the suffering of humans or of the earth is a real problem for God and one we need to try to address to live faithfully and lovingly with our ultimate friend/lover, God.

So I find the balance trickier now, because I don’t enjoy or find helpful overly positive readings of the world or the text, that try to explain away or erase conflicts and the terrible injustices in our lives (our lives in the broad sense where we are connected to each other). And yet the heart yearns always for hope, hope is the breath of the soul and we asphyxiate when our environment is too polluted by fears, suffering and despair. So the “good news” is still the heart of what we seek in God’s word. We come to God not just to be challenged or debated with but to be loved and affirmed. But then we come not as overtired babies to be simply soothed but as partners who seek also to soothe God and make her comfortable and accepted with us equally to the comfort and acceptance we seek.

So we make ourselves into gospel, into Good News also for God, because in some way maybe God also can be nourished by nothing else. I have been wondering about that as I continue to read Carter Heyward’s “Saving Jesus from those who are right”. How do I make myself and my life “good news” for God? Any grandiose plans where I give everything in some radical way are fleeting because I have children and friends and a job where it matters whether I am fully present, so I begin by being fully present to my near ones and those dependent on me, and also to my gifts. Even that is difficult, even that is a large thing to attempt (and I am not claiming to have achieved it) but then there are the political things we can do- we can band together with others- listen and support and do what we can to choose and change the world we live in. The balance between looking after my small world and my big one is one I never seem to manage. At times I have poured myself out (though not as much as some others I admire) to do things for “good causes” and I have begun to neglect my family and friends or my own health. More recently I have generally erred on the side of allowing myself some personal time and valuing my social contacts and “coffee dates” (and the never-ending conversation of my son) but then who will be an activist or an organiser for anything?

And how/when do I write? And is it just a self-indulgence?

For me it is no simple task to become “gospel” to the cheering of God’s heart but I must remember both that God loves me already and sees all the traces of gospel that I am, even if I am not a great masterpiece. And I must also remember that just as in the text, the bible we are given four “gospels” and just as we can find God’s good news in many places and people and texts so God has all creation to draw her own gospel and her own incentive to kindom from not just “me” the individual.

I will continue to think about that in a world where sometimes “good news” is hard to find and at church when sometimes “good news” is not as apparent in the words we are supposed to assent to as we would like. I will wonder not “where is the good news” but “how can I become part of the good news in this story”.

We are the good news to the world and to each other.

Our love and passion always for you, beautiful Wisdom!