Tag Archives: inclusion

Small signs toward peace

I am tired and busy and have too much on my plate at the moment. But each time I log on I see that every day I seem to have had at least one reader, usually more. I am filled with love and gratefulness that someone is looking at my words and thus motivated to try to write at least something short even this busy week. It is more prayer than reflection this week…

Peace giving, peace leaving Wisdom,

But I confess my heart is troubled and at times I am afraid.

What is peace in a world where some children are starving, “must starve” they tell us? What is a quiet heart in a night where others are being rained on and driven away by homeless spikes?

If you give us “peace” why do your followers start wars, and abuse children, oppose human rights for people made queerly in your image? If you “leave” us peace as a legacy does it mean you have already left the building?

We say “look not on our sins” as if you can overlook the ageless call of Abel when we are jealous and kill our brother (our sister, our own mother Earth). “Look not on our sins but on the faith of your church” as if the church itself were not riddled with doubts and cynicism and legalism and the petty politics of the determinedly patriarchal.

And when we pray for peace, do we want it for our enemies too? Do we want peace for those who hammer at our gates demanding that we stop averting our eyes from the unpalatable truth that we have failed to love? Will peace replace or answer the tough questions about how to make room at the table and how to live with difference- of culture, belief, outlook and idea? Will the “unity” of your kindom be genuinely open to complex understandings or simply a sullen silence and obedience?

When this prayer comes up every week, ever time I can’t help smirking, that if liberation from my own (individual) sin depends upon the “faith of the church”…what peace is there? A church that self-righteously keeps out women from leadership, gays from marriage and gives sanctuary, even encouragement to child abusers…

“Yes but…” you say dear ever-challenging Wisdom and you turn my face to look around the circle, at people who give their lives for others. You show me people who work tirelessly for refugees, for the imprisoned, for human rights, for the hope-filled education of youth and care of the old. You show me people who have fed and welcomed me and gifted me hope and feminism.

“Is this not your church?” you gently ask, without pointing out my obvious hypocrisy in having considered only that large, patriarchal monolith “church” and ignoring the community of faith.

We are all overtired and fearful and troubled. We are lonely and needy and carrying baggage of our years. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of Godde.

Let us spend this day, this week, this lifetime offering peace and welcome. Let us tear down ill-conceived walls and build longer tables. Let us offer each other and beautiful Wisdom, signs of an orientation toward peace.

Amen.

It is good for us to be here

I wrote this reflection and gave it at my church. I used the lectionary readings, which slightly differed from the ones used in the service, but it worked OK. I feel very supported and inspired by my faith community, thank God for them!

Without taking more time than usual I want to do two readings of today’s gospel. The first way of reading it, is not one that I like but it is one that seems to be invited by the context of these first and second readings, and by the way we know our church is structured. I will as usual read through a feminist lens, although it may seem like safety goggles in this case.

Women do not appear in the gospel reading. Jesus, takes three men with him only and they go up a high mountain to have a secret “inner circle” experience that others are not yet allowed to know about. This earmarks them as leaders of the future community after his death. While there he gets the seal of approval from two dead men from the patriarchal tradition. Even the voice of God stresses masculinity, uniqueness and power “this is my beloved son”.

Peter behaves quite logically. Upon seeing Jesus with Moses and Elijah, he humbly puts himself at the service of the more powerful alpha-male and offers to build some sort of semi-permanent structure to preserve the power and glory of this moment. Why should there be struggle and weakness and dissent when we can have certainty? Why not establish a religion based on rules and answers and infallibility? “It is good for us to be here”, it is good to be the powerful and the privileged and the inner circle, rather than being rebels against the system- rather than risking social ostracism and hardship and crucifixion. Given that their ministry has already meant blistered feet and hungry stomachs as well as being dogged by crowds and not allowed to rest, I don’t completely blame Peter for wanting to consolidate the shining, certain moment.

A voice from the cloud interrupts Peter, the vision fades and Jesus tells them to tell no one just yet.

Rereading, I want to insert my own “what ifs” into the story. What if this story is somehow relevant to me, who am not male and am not a leader within the church? I need to put aside my childhood baggage of Peter the stern first Pope and forbidding gatekeeper of Heaven, and shake the hand of the Peter I actually encounter in the gospel stories, to see if he lets me into the story a little more readily. Peter in gospel stories is actually a lot like me. He frequently gets things wrong. He is well-meaning, passionate, impulsive, at times his courage fails him and his vision is always at least one step behind Jesus. But he is persistent, reflexive, ready to be wrong and to bounce back and throw his enthusiasm in again. He follows Jesus with all the eagerness of a teenage girl with a crush (I hope that doesn’t offend anyone). He wants to impress Jesus with his commitment, his readiness to bounce into action, his willingness to see and know new things. Like anyone who really wants to impress their hero this makes him at times quite inept.

I feel this Peter can bring me up the mountain, part of a larger group of believers- men? women? As Judith outlined last week in her reflection the point is not to pick a gender but we are all children of God.

Peter’s motivation for offering to make tents may still be suspect- he may crave an easy road without the cross at the end of it, but don’t we all? He may want to have certainty and to feel that connection to tradition and to God that we all only feel in fleeting moments. A softer reading of Peter may allow him to be worrying not for himself only but for Jesus. He has spent time on the road, watching a beloved person who is utterly committed to his vision of better ways of being. He has watched people demand miracle after miracle from Jesus, and Jesus wear himself out and make enemies of the religious and secular powers of the day.

If he can make tents for his heroes- Jesus, Moses, Elijah- he can keep them near to nurture them and keep them safe. Peter can probably see the cross beginning to loom over Jesus’ fiery words. I imagine he could feel about Jesus, the way I feel letting my adult children out into the world (not that I can stop them). They bite off more than I think they can chew and face hurts and disappointments I wish I could cocoon them from.

Sadly for Peter, whether he wants the power of being an insider of an exclusive club or whether he wants to keep himself or his friend safe the moment fades. As the second reading reminds us, this isn’t some cleverly devised myth of “happily ever after”.

We also have this experience of life. There are bright, shining moments when we feel uniquely connected in with deeper realities and with the meaning of life itself. These moments may come in church, or through prayer, they may come in relationships or through experiencing the beauty of nature or art. Sometimes they come through our talents, when we feel really good about something we are doing or expressing or through having our work recognised by someone, especially someone we admire.

Those moments are fading and elusive, while every-day routines of paying bills and washing dishes take over. Nevertheless, the fading is not total. The memory of these moments infuses life to allow faith. We carry in our lives traces of meaning, the passion of knowing “it is good for us to be here”. We are reminded of that momentary joy in little things, in a beloved-one’s smile or words, in the flick of a dolphin’s tail, in the evocative soar of a piece of music, in the scent of the earth on our hands when weeding, in the taste of food shared, in the knowledge that today we have given something to God, achieved something for God, chosen the path of love and justice for God, noticed beauty that is God. Even in the greyest and most ordinary of moments there is always something of this, some echo of transfiguration.

I have spoken as if we are Peter, but through the sacraments we are invited also into being Jesus. Through our Eucharist, and through more mundane meals made from the miracle of earth and shared in love we take in mystery. The glory of Christ-Sophia cannot be preserved in a tent or a museum, as a reassurance to “us” or a sign to “them” that we are right. Instead it spills over in our opportunities to love our neighbour, and to walk gently and lovingly upon the earth itself.

We too are the beloved children of God. Let us know that God is well-pleased with our capacity to fulfil that identity. Let us sit with that a short while and then listen to each other.

 

Justice shall flourish … and fullness of peace for ever.

The Utopian vision in Isaiah’s first reading, gives us some idea of what was wrong with the world in the time this text was developed. The writer is longing for the world to be ruled by “wisdom and understanding…counsel and strength, a spirit of knowledge an the fear of the lord”. This vision involves a radical sort of justice that looks beyond the shallow and the popular to the deep experiences of the oppressed. Nature itself will put off its need to compete and destroy each other with animals lying together peacefully and safely.
In 2016 a rationalist age of markets and worship of “the economy” and the image of each special individual this both soothes and attracts us but also fails to seem achievable. Of course lions eat lambs, that is natural and we ascribe to “nature” a whole host of negative human behaviours besides. But within the Jewish roots of our Christian tradition is an idealistic call to challenge the current view of “nature”, the essentialist and inevitable acceptance of injustice and inequity. As the people of God, our work is to achieve a more peaceful, wise and just world. The advent call is the call by a vulnerable baby that in Matthew’s gospel overstepped national boundaries to be recognised by foreigners (magi), and hated by the status quo (Herod), that is our Christmas movement to become uncomfortable for the unjust powers of the world and to break boundaries in radical inclusion and openness. If we are lions, we need to pull back from devouring; in so far as we are lambs we need to be courageous and visionary.
Even though the psalm talks about a “king” bringing God back in line with the ruling class, there is an idealistic view here of a king who is ruling for the poor and afflicted. Kingship in this ideal is not the exploitative relationship we often see in the privileged and the powerful of our world, but is a radical challenge to the greedy and the exploitative. “Justice shall flourish in his time, and fullness of peace forever”.
This is a useful ideal to aspire to in so far as we are “kings”, in our relationships of leadership and power in our worlds. How do we treat our own children? Our elderly? Our employees or student? How do we “rule” over a group of people, who do we advocate for in our decision making and what values underpin our pronouncements? This is also an ideal worth holding our own leaders to. No-one can rule or govern forever but people and the times they live in go down in history as more or less peaceful and abundant.
The second reading from Romans encourages us to go to the scriptures for instruction, seeing the scriptures as sources of hope and practice. It also advocates harmony between believers, which at times gets interpreted by the powerful in the church as a sort of obedient group-think, but I don’t believe the idea here is to stifle debate and questioning, just for everyone to be considerate and ready to accept compromise so that life and liturgy together may be possible.
The reference to the “circumcised” and the “patriarchs” is broken open by a sudden appeal to the Gentiles, to be welcomed and “at one-ed” with also. The writer here claims that the idea of broadening out the inclusive vision was already written into the heart of the tradition, so the sort of change that accepts the challenge of the other is in no way a departure from the tradition we hold dear but the most faithful following of it. Who are the “Gentiles” of our time? Who do we seek to keep out? Muslims? LGBTIQ+ people? Women who have a vocation to ministry? Single mothers? It is someone who challenges our sure knowledge about the right way to live and the hegemony of our own way of life.
Having focused ourselves on justice and inclusivity by these readings, the gospel sweeps in the voice of John the Baptist giving us our advent call to “repent”. People often seem to think repenting means feeling sorry or guilty but in fact it isn’t a feeling at all it is an action of achieving radical change within ourselves, of turning around and facing the opposite direction to the negative one. Last advent I reflected on the unacknowledged need in me for so many years to “repent” of my heterosexuality, which is not to imply that people who are heterosexual are wrong, but that it was wrong for me and not what God had created me for, I always knew this deeply but in the cowardly way of a child began a path of obedience to my cultural context instead of my calling. Repentance is finding those spots of wrongness inside us, not necessarily “sin” in the sense of doing wrong, but the blockages from God’s grace and hope and the inability to respond to God’s call to live what we were created.
John the Baptist is concerned with more than personal identity-work of course, he is a huge threat to the status quo which is why he is ultimately put to death. But he also reminds us that it is our repentance, the ways we choose to radically alter our way of life toward hope and justice that prepares the way for Jesus/Wisdom to enter the world. John’s radical asceticism is unattractive to the modern gaze. He wears itchy, dirty clothing and eats an inadequate diet. I don’t want to emulate quite the minimalism of his lifestyle but instead I want to let him refocus me on what really matters, not always having the finest materials next to the skin or the prettiest appearance or the most tantalising foods (no not even at Christmas when we hear the call of the “economy” to spoil ourselves and others in this way) but what deeply matters is the repentance that leads to radical justice and hope, the world-altering growth that welcomes into the world God’s Word.
John also reminds us to be wary of relying on our religious pedigree, our alliance with an institutional church and reminds us the survival of the institution is NOT THE POINT since God can raise up believers from the very stones (a theme that is alluded to at Palm Sunday and other places). Our call is to “produce good fruit as evidence of [our] repentance” to actualise God’s reign not to get right a series of rituals and self-aggrandisements. John gives us a terrifying view of a purifying, cleansing, judging God to come- speaking back into the first readings preoccupation of fear of God. The point I take from that is not that God is terrifying and punitive but that there is an implied threat/warning to those who continue to oppress others, especially in God’s name. We can read all the grace and forgiveness and rehabilitation of the sinner in the mission of Jesus (and I do take comfort from this) nevertheless a call to repentance remains and it is a strong demand from God not a half-hearted suggestion. We may repent imperfectly and be forgiven but we outright ignore God and God’s beloved poor (the earth may be included in this) at our peril!
In conclusion I circle back to that beautiful vision of the first reading, of buds and shoots and new growth where we thought we saw decay. The jacarandas were late to blossom this year but they got there. Life wants to spring up and live abundantly. Let us embrace life as we enact and expect the radical transformation of the world from the vulnerable baby who is also the Word.

Living in sin

Today I went to uni to try to work on my so far unpublished article. I have a habit when my brain gets clouded and my body feels cramped of getting up and walking around the lake as quickly as I can to revitalise my body which hopefully makes my brain work again (at least it used to). This time people kept interrupting. Interesting people like the lovely Marxist that wanted me to go to a feminist meeting and some kindhearted young Muslim men who wanted me to attend their “exhibition” the little I saw of it seemed similar to a church service in some ways but with cultural differences. But I resisted all that because time is ticking on my article.

But I couldn’t resist my friend. This was a young man who I know from political circles. He is a lot more involved than I am and works extremely hard in that and he called me by name and asked me how I was and suggested that I needed to sit with him a moment. I was torn because this was my one precious day to study (work had already called me in for tomorrow) but I sat and we chatted.

He eventually shared with me that he had broken up with his boyfriend.I shouldn’t share too many details about someone else’s story (although it was interesting) but one of the causes of the break-up was that the ex-boyfriend (who I think my friend still has feelings of care and perhaps even desire for) “kept thinking he was going to hell for being gay”. Neither of the young men would say they were religious, neither is a member of the church but the one thing they have picked up is this idea of God rejecting them for who and what they are and sending them to hell.

 

Then this young man told me about another friend who travelled to another country to make a life with his boyfriend and his boyfriend’s family. It would have been an act of trust and courage to make this journey, but in my friend’s words “he got dumped”. The bitter thing about this situation was that once again it was because of the family’s religious convictions, because the partner had to hide his true nature and because of talk of “sin” and “hell” that this young man got thrown out by the man he loved.

I realise that we all suffer disappointments in love (whether our partners or our children, our parents or our friends at some time we are all going to feel rejected by someone). We all feel devastated by the loss and the abandonment when someone ends a relationship or moves away or dies and we all keep living and return to loving. And I seriously hope that all these young men will have better experiences next time. But will we let them? Will society allow them to just be? Will the church honour the God who created and loved them rather than some traditional bogeyman in the sky who rejects and condemns?

So then my friend asked me, “Do you believe in it all?”

“In God?” I asked, “I’m a Christian, even though I am a lesbian.”

“No I know” he said “Do you believe in sin”

I didn’t expect the question so I didn’t answer it well. Because yes I do believe in sin but I don’t believe that those boys trying to make meaningful long-term relationships with someone they love is “sin” by any reasonable definition.

I ought to have said that “sin” is in placing needless obstacles in front of people, whether we are preventing a refugee family from settling in our country, preventing a single mum from having enough money to feed her children or preventing a young woman from accessing birth control. Sin is in taking something as beautiful as the love between two friends/lovers and turning it into the fear of hell and the choice to be estranged from your partner or your family and community.Sin is whatever dismantles and blocks the reign of God, it can happen within us when we love ourselves exclusively and disregard others; or when we hate ourselves and get overly critical or neglectful of the first person God trusted into our care (the self).

It is sin to forget to “love my neighbour” who may be different than myself but in God is another “self” to me.

Sin is a lot of things but it is not two lovely boys enjoying a physical dimension to the love they bear each other (nor two women, nor one of each). Sin doesn’t hide in specific sexual acts while we have license to unravel social supports for others and pursue hyper-individualism. I reject that version of religion and God. My God told me she was love. And those boys deserve to be accepted in love.

All of this happened before I had a chance to look at this week’s readings, but I think it fits with them. The hubris of the Pharisee who goes to church all the time and feels superior to the “other” blocks us from God’s grace. Because I AM like the rest of humanity and am implicated in their suffering while I stand idly by or even profit.

God in the first reading hears the cry of the oppressed whatever walk of life they may be in and responds to them. In the second reading the one who was rejected and abandoned by the church community but served God well is vindicated.

The church is heard as a threat and a condemnation on LGB/PT people. It has a loud voice in doing this. I know of a good church family who fail to acknowledge that one of their beloved daughters is in a stable and life-giving relationship with another woman. They have to choose between looking as self-righteous as the Pharisee in the gospel, or losing face to minister to their daughter and welcome a potential daughter-in-law. If they chose on behalf of their daughter and daughter’s partner, they would in all probability lose their community (as the girls did). How can the church do this to people?

We used to take pride that we would be known as Christ’s disciples by the way we show love to others (John 13:35). What happened to that?

I cannot doubt that there is grave “sin” here.

 

 

 

 

Lazarus “comes out”: a rainbow connection

When my mum died I couldn’t bear the Lazarus story and I ran out of church when they read it a few Sundays after and I didn’t come back for a few weeks. I growled at God through angry tears about the injustice and stupidity of holding this story up to taunt those of us who mourn just as much as Mary and Martha (and perhaps Jesus) but don’t get the magical happy ending of our loved one coming back to life. I can’t say I have made much progress in understanding this story since that day a decade ago. I have heard so many pious readings about Jesus’ power and the need for faith and all that jazz. To me it is a painful story to consider when my mother (and now my brother) are never coming out of their respective caves.

Why does Jesus cry in the story? If Jesus’ connection to God and unswerving faith hold so much power, why does he need to grieve? I’ve heard pious (and unconvincing) arguments about that too! I will attempt to look beyond the magical to the metaphor of “coming out” and being “unbound” to go free…which then makes it a story about the living that we love not the dead.

For example, could we read Jesus’ tears here as being for a beloved but judged gay son who gets entombed in family and social expectations? A lesbian daughter who ought not get married but dies to her true God-given identity (or is intentionally thwarted by some families). A person who is entombed within a gender they cannot own, bound into an unhealthy reification of a body they did not choose to express themselves by.

How will this metaphor help me to gain something from the story? What happens when I think of Lazarus as gay or trans (or in some way socially unacceptable) and “his” good and caring sisters cry because they have lost their beloved brother to this lifestyle (many Christian families feel that way, equating the queer identity with hellfire). Jesus is invited into the intimacy of their grief and fear and when he sees the repression of his friend he is moved to tears. All this unnecessary suffering!

Jesus gets judged for not having tried harder to befriend Lazarus and help “him” have a strong male role model and turn out straight, Lazarus is seen as feminized because he has been left to be with just sisters. These sorts of clichés are demeaning and insulting to everybody involved. When communities (often churches) portion out blame for an individual’s queer identity, families rip themselves apart with unacknowledgable guilt and are blocked from loving and celebrating what is.

Jesus tells them to remove the stone, to get rid of the blockage from the truth of the situation. Martha quite rightly is alarmed about publically allowing the taint of this family shame to fuel the rumour and gossip mill. She equates the family secret to a festering smell that is in her community rightly bottled up. Jesus tells her off, tells off all the families that do not have enough faith in God to accept their own child, their own brother, their own kin. If we had faith we would be inclusive and brave and supportive and allow God to act in people.

He invites Lazarus to “come out” (yes those were the words that prompted this reflection). Lazarus tentatively takes the first steps to be “out” among his own family and friends. Jesus demands that they “unbind him”. Jesus is not calling the families of queer folk to acceptance/tolerance only but to full and enthusiastic inclusion. Lazarus must be unbound to follow his heart and bring his boyfriend to meet the folks. He must be unbound for a fullness of life and love in God and his family must see this happen instead of burying his true identity and mourning him as if he were dead.

Feast begins soon and I thank God for my late in life call to “come out” and to become “unbound”. I acknowledge my family who came to quickly see and understand the reality and non-negotiable quality of this part of my identity. With Jesus I cry with my whole heart for those whose families bury them, attempt to repress, change or deny them and their partners. Unbind your rainbow loved ones and let them go free!