Tag Archives: identity

When Jesus comes, the status quo is “greatly troubled”

Happy epiphany! Lectionary readings for the day can be found here. 

We live in a world, where it is supposed to be “common sense” to blame the refugee, the foreigner and the welfare recipient for hard times.  Firstly, these times are actually not all that hard if we are not a refugee or welfare recipient ourselves; secondly such as they are, they are caused by choices the government makes to support and shore up the rich rather than the poor.

It is not the person from a war-torn or flooded country that is taking funding away from public hospitals while allowing multi-national companies to use up the natural resources of the country without contributing any tax! It is not the injured breadwinner, the single mother, even the shiftless artist who is stripping funding from public schools to fund pointless and dehumanising plebiscites, give free money to the now foreign-owned propaganda machine and the mining companies; or who is tying our economics to outdated and inefficient coal and scoffing at new technologies that are proven in other parts of the world to work. And as far as “family values” go…it is not the loving and accepting parents of the trans child, it is not the two women bringing children up together that are telling us that compassion is a luxury we cannot afford and that everything needs to be ruled by the dispassionate, uncaring market…the values of the market are the values we now follow as a society. It seems we have a new God.

I reject that God and all the victim blaming and mathematically unsound “economics” such thinking brings with it.

I look for a star in the east, the new hope and I try to be like the magi. The magi got pulled out of their comfort zone, to go to a culture they knew nothing about and to find a poor (perhaps) and seemingly insignificant family that had had a baby. Sure in terms of the gospel, we are meant to nod and smile, this is “proof” that Jesus was someone special but the fact is that God is full of these sort of proofs, that in fact every foreign and poor and displaced baby is “special”. Each one is the hope that this world has.

Gold, frankincense, myrrh- these are material resources, worldly wealth for the “kingdom of God” after all. That is to say, our “spirituality” is not just about being “spiritual” and praying and feeling good and some sort of inner “niceness”. There is a practical dimension to our travelling with God and to the foreign baby, God. God demands an easier life for the poor- real gifts, real help, real earth-rooted and material signs of love and dignity.

Individual acts of “charity” may not change the world, but they change a life or three and they show a commitment– yes God we will go out of our way, yes God we will allow you to help yourself to the goods of this life, yes God even our “worldliness” is centred on you. It starts with the generosity I can show toward others in my life or in my networks and it flows from that to an attitude of acceptance and love, a desire to advocate for Jesus wherever s/he lies, whatever manger, whatever sheets- and let’s face it at times he is not the poorest of the poor either, his life is not the meanest of the mean but he needs something from us other than judgement and a turning away. When Jesus the refugee manages to get a decent job, to get into a decent school, wear fashionable clothes or buy a mobile phone you get people saying “see how easy it is for ‘them’- too easy” but Jesus is still asking us for acceptance, for love, for equality.

When Jesus the single mother can afford a haircut or a glass of wine or is given a nice handbag for Christmas, then she does not fit our idea of abject poverty and we may think that welfare payments are “too generous” that she “has it easy” that she is not suffering enough to deserve support or dignity. But the idea that Jesus lived in a stable in Bethlehem and froze in rags, though picturesque, is probably wrong (houses had mangers in them). Jesus was crowded, displaced, his parents had an uncomfortable journey and much stress (especially once Herod wanted to kill their child) but they may not have been so “respectably” poor.

The poorest, the homeless and the literally starving need our generosity and our support but so do the merely depressed or merely struggling or merely locked out of promotions…the lonely, the under-confident, the disorganised, the depressed, the apathetic and the uneducated. Jesus has needs and is not here to gratify our vanity by showing credentials, being the deserving poor- safely, tamely in a corner that we can define and get out of. Jesus is one of us and will irritate us with poor life choices and a less than warm manner at times!

I struggle to feel emotionally charitable to some of the people that I see on Facebook- I want to judge, condemn, block or destroy with reason many of the people who tell me they are fearful of Muslims for example, or of allowing children to be trans. Then there are the people who don’t understand that their inadequate dole payment and unsatisfying and underpaid work is because of the way we have structured society- not because of these “others” who also want something, who also have needs and families. Jesus is sometimes distant and foreign and hard to spot. Jesus challenges me, frightens me.

Like Herod when I hear of Jesus it will probably be in a context where some power or privilege I have is at risk. Like Herod the temptation is to pretend to help, but really to undermine.

But power and authority, do not always act as Herod. I can be pretty critical of bishops and church leaders, and with reason but occasionally they surprise me.

Today, according to the bishops is the beginning of Migration week in the US Catholic church. I’m in Australia but I like their idea and I will with them pray and reflect on how I can companion, support and advocate for migrants and refugees better. Even though the bishops are asking people to pray, there seems to be an underlying message here of a larger conversion toward better compassion  and acceptance. Prayer is suggested as a foundation for who we are as a people.

Baby Jesus,

I pray with Magi, with bishops, with the powerful, the foreign to me and those who search. I pray ready to travel, ready to receive people from other places.

I begin my year of travelling, searching, loving you in the world and within my own heart. Like la Befana from the children’s story I have been busy with trivial things that the world judges me on, but my heart yearns to be part of your miracle. Like her I know that seeking later is better than never. Like her I have the wisdom to see that every child can be gifted in your name and that every act of generosity is a step on the journey to you.

Like the magi I can be distracted by the Herods of the world- powerful people and their propaganda. I can look in the wrong places but I will eventually find. I can use the wisdom in my own life, in my own culture because every person and their culture are created in your image.

Baby Jesus, show me what to do to support those who are out of their own homes, those who search, those who are looking in the wrong places, those who only wish they could be in the safety of their own home. Help us build a world where you (or the “least of these”) will be welcome and safe in any corner of the earth and the earth itself is respected and healed.

We have seen your star, we come.

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving: more than an insipid “inspiration”

 

It’s so fashionable now to practice “gratefulness” as a means of self-care, a sort of niceness and middle-classness inner-beauty routine and a cynical part of me can’t help wondering if a purpose of it is also to dull down our radical edge, to quiet down our critical possibilities and manufacture apathy and consent to the oppression of others. At the very least the saccharine sweet “gratefulness” that I am fortunate and relatively wealthy and superficially beautiful seems like an exercise in shallowness. I have a handful of friends who sneer at it, pointing to the parsimonious attitude toward others present in some of the most smarmy advocates of “gratefulness” as a five-minutes-a-day lip service.

Gratefulness that is grounded in inequality, the celebratory attitudes of the class war winners is like fundamentalist Christianity. It is something ugly made out of what originated as a call to deep beauty. It is a hypocrisy, a whited sepulchre.

The danger, when looking for a deeper, truer gratefulness (real thanks grounded in a two-way relationship with a God we touch) is that it is all too easy to fall into other forms of superiority like the Pharisee in this parable. But sourness and ingratitude is also not the answer; after communion there is a dedicated time to sink into thanksgiving.

I am going to struggle to articulate a thanks that is not complacent, not superior and has the grittiness and tears of solidarity. If I am better than “the least of these” then I am better than the God I claim to thank. If I am thanking God for elevating me above others, then I have lost sight of who God is in salvation history and my life.

I thank you God for being present in glimpses and grace-filled moments. For being present in the challenge and affirmation of community.

I thank you for responsive and accepting people. I thank you for the anger of those I ought to stand with and help. I thank you for my identity as one oppressed, one who stands with you. I thank you for the awareness you call me to of my own privilege, for the insistent asking that I remove my foot from your neck (you are present in my sisters and brothers and the earth herself).

I thank you for the call to do good. I thank you for other labourers in the vineyard who insist I rest and self-care at times. I thank you for my ability to nurture and support others. I ask you not to ask me to lead. I thank you for giving me the resources to do what needs to be done (the bare minimum perhaps) and your call for me to stretch and be more than I have been. I thank you that greater and wiser people surround me so that I can fail and fall without catastrophe (I hope).

I thank you for feeding me and for demanding that I feed others. I ask you to teach me to feed others better by sharing what I have and my gifts and even my anger. I ask you to show me the grace to be a friend, a mentor and an affirmer of others. I ask you to place Wisdom in my heart so that no words get past without her influence.

I ask you how I might love myself without being complacent and a parasite? I ask you how I may critique myself without losing necessary self-acceptance.

 I thank you for loving me regardless of the questions around who I am and what I do. I thank you because I largely know I am beloved. I thank you for the people who show this to me. I thank you for the beauty which is in the world. I ask you to scatter beauty to every corner, to the eyes of any that might be moved or supported by it. I ask to be part of the beauty in your way.

I thank you that the bread is broken and has crumbs. I ask to be the hands that break and distribute it. I ask not to be broken, I lack the courage.

I thank you for wine, and the way it has no purpose except sensuous beauty and pleasure. I thank you for being the wine in the world. I thank you that wine is better shared wider. I thank you for plump purpleness and bursting sweetness of grapes. I thank you for the miracle of fermentation.

I pray that your bread and wine will enter the experiences of all, and that your call will reach every heart. I pray with a heart open to being called into the movement. I pray tiredly with an apology for not being more. I pray with gratefulness for being loved and for feeling love.

This is not my five-second “gratefulness” exercise, a trick I play on myself between bouts of consumption and tears. Show me God how to make my life an act of gratefulness that you loved me enough to touch and call me. Breathe on me breath of God, and make us one. Thank you for knowing the “me” you love and loving the “me” you know.

In love, in deepening gratefulness.

Amen.

Sorrynotsorry; taking back misguided penitence

Let me be careful in introducing this content. I DO think it is useful and healthy for us human beings to be reflexive, responsible and have an intention toward better ways of being. There are times I am abusive, neglectful or “off task” with my vocation into transformed humanity and relationships. There is privilege which cushions me from consequences and blinds me to my failures to enter into Godness. There is my inability to distangle myself (and my choices) from oppressive economic and political systems and my investment in them. Nothing that follows should be read as implying that I am perfect or have nothing to repent from.

But as a woman, a lay person, a flaming queer, a dole bludger, a single mother, a nutcase, a feminist, a tree-hugger, a feral radical (etc, etc, etc) I have often been conned into having a deficit view of myself, positioned as a “sinner” within my identity (in terms of faith or just in terms of society). I am ashamed to say I have often cringed and hated myself and felt genuine remorse about things that either were NOT SINS or that I had little or no control and choice over. So let me begin a non-penitential rite and I hope any of you that have shouldered guilt that does not belong to you will be able to do the same.

This confession then is not a “sorry” statement, far from it. It is a bursting out of the closet statement (or in biblical terms bursting out from under a bushel-Matt 5:15). I am sure I will have ample time on some other occasion to dwell on my genuine sinfulness.

I confess

that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” (psalm 139:14),

that and any “fear” in it does not belong to God.

Love, the Creator and Love the Master Workman collaborated to plan and bring me forth (Proverbs 8:30),

and Love the Midwife caught and checked me over (see eg Isaiah 66:9 but God is about this profession several times)

I am made in the image of all three- Love and Love and Love

and so I am called to grow into my nature (Love),

and to find my destiny (Love) and to embody the reality of my being (Love).

I can claim this in so far as I live with respect for my sisters and brothers, human and non-human -earth, sun. stars, ocean, flame, music, animals, plants, ozone layer, galaxies and all there is, was or may be.

Coming together as God’s family, let us recognise the Divine plan that we should be diversely beautiful, powerful and social agents. Let us not insult the creativity of Godde by hating what we are.

(Pause)

And so I confess that I am not sorry

for having conceived children out of wedlock (and having unlocked wedlock and got away)

for “impure” thoughts that are respectful of boundaries and the safety of all parties,

for being a lesbian (and for finding this out the hard way- which was neither my choice nor my fault)

for being angry at times

for responding to authority at times with questioning, disobedience, anger, ridicule and activism

for being too tired to be a better activist,

for being a shy and underachieving person

for using too many words and failing to remain silent,

for loving my children more than I love anyone or anything else (beyond all reason),

for loving myself enough to sometimes say “no” to others, even my own children,

for being slow to learn and understand- because for some things teachers were scarce,

for anything I did as a child, when I was too small, scared, inexperienced and vulnerable to do better

for having depression,

for being broken and needing help again and again,

for taking charity when it was available,

for not always being able to pay for things,

for not being able to afford every advantage for my children,

for attempting suicide, and for sadly understanding the logical reasons why others have done this and weeping more for the fact they needed to try than for the fact they succeeded,

for not being “better” than I am, and not always being interested in taking advice on how to be.

All the peculiarities and weaknesses of who I am, will grow into compassion and wisdom through the grace of God. I am called to heal, support, affirm and challenge others around me. Like a newborn baby I will crave and demand sustenance for God for my growth (1 Peter 2:2-3) and She will always feed me for fullness of life. Amen

Feel free to tell me in the comments things that you are not sorry for (that perhaps you were taught to see as sin but have realised are not in the real sense of the word).

 

 

The law? Integrity, liberation and who we really are.

I shred this reflection at church today based on these readings. It may have been too long but it represents about to weeks of agonisingly trying to reduce my complicated thoughts on this to a manageable size (and then trust others to fill in the blanks as well or better than I could).

 

What does it mean that the Spirit scrutinises even the depths of God?

 

I came to these readings with a feeling of suspicion toward their legalistic tone: long gone are the days when I could view any text as innocent. Everything that is written serves someone’s interests. I’ll leave aside the question of whose interests scripture might serve as that is a big question and one we probably wouldn’t all agree on, but the lectionary also is a text- the juxtaposition of particular readings is not inevitable and has helped to build the histories of interpretation that we are born and brought up in.

 

Ideas of law seem to me to be linked with power and I have not always experienced these positively from the church. People can find themselves outside the church for such trivial reasons. My great aunt could never receive communion again because she married for a second time while her first husband (taken away by an invading army years before) was never proven dead. As a child I learned that all the divorcees and gay and lesbian people in perfectly stable and functional relationships were considered to be in sin (and the outrage of some gossiping Christians that people “like that” come to church). We continue to hear with shame, hard-line rules against simple necessities like contraception, and we know there is a link between this and other archaic laws like barring women from being clergy.

But then it seems like the law that is so stringent on some, is more easy on others. George Pell seems very resistant to returning to face the secular law, which is interesting because his public voice has always been so legalistic in tone. When I consider the tendency for powerful men to escape consequences for whatever they do, then I realise I am not quite so anti-law in my own thinking and I can dive back into the first reading.

Think of all the calls for “de-regulation” these days, of the ideal that is preached of “freedom”. What a harsh sort of a freedom that is, the freedom of the market.  Basically in this world-view governments and societies will stop interfering with the flow of capital so that those who are rich and unscrupulous can be even more free to exploit, lie and cheat as they want. Protecting vulnerable humans or the environment would be a thing of the past in this terrible freedom.

The first reading compares law with fire and water. Fire can mean warmth, safety, togetherness, the ability to cook our food, light. Water can mean refreshment, cleanliness, peace, life. Law also can bring us together and build society fostering right relationship.

Fire can get out of control and mean burning, danger, death. Water can become storms, tidal waves, ruthlessness and also death. Law that is out of control we experience as oppressive power- it rips apart individuals and relationships. But despite the dangers of law it remains as significant as water and fire. Noone is to be given license to be unjust or harm each other.

I might have hoped that the second reading would tell me what the good law is- how to recognise it and maybe seven easy steps to follow to always be right. Not so. The law in this reading is according to a mysterious and hidden Wisdom of God. My heart leaps there she is again, we know Wisdom from other readings her values seem to be liberation and generosity although she is hard to follow and impossible to pin down.

It was unawareness of Wisdom which resulted in the death of Jesus. The need to put to death opposition, to silence critical voices and to maintain the status quo against all threats is a need counter to the agenda of renewing refreshing Wisdom. This is good news when I am the critical voice but the challenge is to remember it when I have worked hard to make something that seems to me good and someone else has an unpalatable opinion to share. It is significant that the reading talks about “this age” in the present tense. It is always “this age” when the voices that try to bring Wisdom’s compassion and liberation to a hurting world are silenced, trivialised or in extreme cases persecuted (content warning on the last link).

So there is no blueprint for knowing Wisdom, no infallibility given in any power that sets itself up over us. But the Spirit works for us to scrutinise all things, even the depths of God. Within Godself we find a deep integrity and an ability to be reflexive and process questioning from “the other”. We find that “otherness” even within the very identity of who God is. To anyone who has experienced being the “outsider” in some way this is unbelievably good news.

 

This gospel sometimes gets read as a sort of divine nit-picking by Jesus, a raising of standards for who can qualify as “good”. I don’t think this is an entirely fair reading. Jesus may be inviting us to reflect on the purpose behind a law, to enter into the spirit not just the letter of a law that coming from Wisdom must be aimed at transforming who we are to the depths of our being. The key here seems to be right relationships- responding to people in all situations with respect and love, speaking with honesty and not letting negative feelings fester and eat us up from the inside.

There may be hyperbola in the specifics, (as an enneagram 4, I see a sort of grandiose over-the top desperation to be heard here) but aside from that, the connection between what we do and who we authentically are may apply.

 

If you are on facebook and linked in with the left-side of politics you might have seen how the growing fear and dissatisfaction with many leaders has fostered a gleeful slogan: “punch a nazi”. This expresses the despairing frustration of many, as xenophobic and regressive ideas gain a foothold in society but it glorifies violence and reifies a “good guys vs bad guys” view of the world which probably does more harm than good.

The gospel acknowledges that the temptation within us can be to let anger and despair change who we are and how we treat people. Most of the people saying this awful slogan, would probably not really punch another person but Jesus in today’s gospel seems to be saying something that Foucault would agree with that we construct ourselves within discourses (both in our own heads and outwardly) and we become the ideas we circulate.

I hope you will enjoy entering into a moment of silence with these readings, or in whatever way is best for you.

We have an opportunity now to think over our own reactions and relationship to the law and Wisdom of God! We have a chance to think about our identity within ourselves and our dealings with others. Relationship moves from within each of us to others, so after some time in silence please if you wish share your thoughts with each other.

 

 

Noone can light their queer light while trapped under a bushel

So this week I wasn’t planning on engaging with the readings because I am moving on to working through some liturgy thoughts (and I can still see my path there). But these readings made me think of all the ways that women and queer people (yes I am both) get forced to hide our light under a bushel basket and I wanted to sit with the good sense of the first reading and then break into joy with the gospel that God’s will for me is to be a light for others not just a private, secret and ashamed light.

And next week I will preach of course so it might take me longer to begin my deconstruction of the mass. But this week I was lucky enough to get caught at a beach party that became very small because of the rain and then to have fragrant pine trees dip silvery drops onto me in the warm air as I walked the path back to my car leaving others (who didn’t have church the next morning) to see out the sunset without me. And I reflected on warm aqua and silvery wash of waters on my summer-browned skin and of the many bare feet dancing in the sand, the earlier rays of sun and watching small people greet grandparents with sticky cuddles (and grandma surreptitiously put down the book she’d been deep in). I thought of the blessing of people enjoying the spring rolls I had made, and running through the rain sharing a tarpaulin with my friend who I have known since high-school days. I thought of trumpet music and fourteen year olds who think for themselves and free peaches from a lady who just didn’t want to see them wasted and a forgiving bottle-shop employee (it wasn’t my story but it involved broken glass).

I felt love and joy in that day and I went apart to reflect on all the ways I get to hang out with God during the week and walk with God and bring God into my social life and work and how much better I do that as a feminist and an “out” lesbian than I ever did as a repressed, earnest and fearful “believer”. And I tore out some pages from my work journal, because I had nothing else and wrote the following which felt like part love-letter part something else:

It is not idolatry to have struggled with who and what I am. It is not narcissism to finally joyfully say “thank you” for the miracle of my being “like this”. It is not sin to have loved a woman, and to still know myself through that love, and to love my God through the memory of that love.

Queer things (Hopkins’ “fickled, freckled, who knows how” Pied Beauty) are just the things that human arrogance has not yet plumbed the depths of after all (so that some “straight people are queer in that sense too). She mothers-forth whose beauty is past change. Praise her. (Apologies Mr Hopkins but I had to try it on for size).

Humans have found lots of very good things “queer”: 

Platypuses

Rainbows

Evolution

Other planets

The curved earth holding us close vs the flatness of patriarchy.

What is never queer is certainty, monochrome knowing, unchanging alwayses and objective truths that can never change even if they wanted to. Slave truths (poor things) forced into the matrix of our fears.

God are you queer? They say you can’t change, shift or grow. Can;t learn things. Couldn’t you if the time was right?

But if you are as unmoving as a thrice-crowned boulder in the midst of all the confusion and teeming of life, the one fixed spot. If you know all and achieve all in the blink of a rational eye….if….don’t you just cry and die from boredom? What is relationship in that frightening place where change and the unpredictable cannot be? I am female, I fluctuate and bleed- I bring forth life and the milk to feed it too. I want to throw my arms around all creation and kiss the depths of the sea. I want to lie peacefully caressed by the starlight, by the music or by a human lover.

What is it that you want God, if you do not long or need or discover?

Before I knew me I didn’t dance; before I loved me I could not breathe. You made me to love for reasons other than breeding. And maybe you do move after all because when I came to you and defiantly told you that I would dare to love what I was…

you laughed…

because you’d loved me first of course!