Tag Archives: Isaiah

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).

 

 

Grace, love, sisterhood: the greeting

In some ways my lovingly-critical feminist reflection on the familiar old mass seems too obvious to even go through with*. But this week I spoke to some people who know more than me about these things, who talked about just how inflexible the church hierarchy (who suppose themselves to speak for “the church”) are about both the words of the mass (this is still in a Roman Catholic framework) and the limiting of the names we are “allowed” to use for God. As if Godde herself were not an active agent within the prayer life of anyone who has life in their prayer!

So the words of greeting- The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all

-And also with you (I believe now they say “and with your spirit”)

The importance of removing the exclusiveness of the masculinity has been discussed by many finer minds than mine. One that immediately springs to mind is She Who Is by Elizabeth Johnson. Critics have fairly pointed out that where she names each of the persons of the Trinity “Sophia”, this name is probably more accurately given to the second person of the Trinity (also known as “Jesus” or “Christ”). Nevertheless she makes great points about the mothering and midwifing role of the Creator God (eg mother bear (Hosea 13:8), mother hen (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34 though significantly this is Jesus speaking which argues against the separation of the parenting role of God and the Human One or Word) human mothers (Isaiah 66:13; possibly Psalm 131:1-2) midwife (Psalm 71:6). Such a strong biblical tradition, then we need to ask the hard questions why “the church” (as they style themselves) try to keep it from us or limit our access to it.

Others have also spoken about the connection with Trinitarian thought and the threat of paganism, specifically the triple goddess (virgin, mother, crone) which is symbolised in the lifecycles of ordinary women everywhere (arguably ones who are not biologically “mothers” still go through this goddess stage in middle-age and the need to nurture and be opinionated and strong). This goes again patriarchal church reliances on Mary, the impossible model of virginity and motherhood in one, making all women deficit in terms of one or the other- although in modern times I like to reflect (with a snigger) that lesbians who manage to get pregnant without allowing penetration from a man technically fit this supposed to be impossible category, which may be partly why “the church” is so outraged by lesbians in general).

But why are different persons of the trinity responsible for “grace” “love” and “fellowship”? Firstly considering a “fellow” is a man or boy I am going to be unapologetically femme-centric (I decided not to use the term “gynocentric because I am not trying to leave out trans women who may also find these criticisms necessary, nor am I defining these qualities as one not available to men) and use the term “sisterhood” instead in my own reflection. “Sister” to me is the most positive sort of a person, they may or may not be blood related but they support, encourage, compliment, are generous toward, keep accountable and argue against each other they love even when they have a falling out and they do maintenance work on their relationships. By this definition anyone who loves with respect and equality may be a “sister”. Big sisters nurture little sisters and birth order has little to do with it in adulthood.

I still don’t think we need to give such separate jobs to different “persons” of God.

But let’s try it with a woman focus and also dump the kyriearchal word, “Lord”.

The grace of lovely Sophia and the love of God and the sisterhood of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Maybe. Maybe it is a start. It’s pretty neutral, you think it would not be seen as too threatening and that they would use this sometimes, or even say “Jesus-Sophia” to keep both in there. But for some people “God” conjures up a judgemental bloke in a white bears (it doesn’t for me) so I am going to skate out onto the thinner ice of not even worrying about keeping it conservative.

Grace, love and sisterhood to us all from Sophia, collaborator from the beginning with the Mother and the dancing all-infusing Spirit

Grace, love, sisterhood

our precious and sacred bodies

out of the earth our mother

nurtured by the elements

wrapped in bodily, material existence

beautiful in our tendency to know by touching

to feel passion and tenderness

to taste the fruits of the earth and to break and make and share them.

Wisdom coming into us from our being

not “handed down” by stern and unyielding “lords”

but danced into every moment of true love

in sticky hand-prints of our children

in the doors we open for others

in the gifts that fall into our laps unasked

in the unpaid labours of family life.

Godde making, calling, smiling, remembering us

she knows and reknows all the goodness we are capable of

past loves, present generosities, future beauties yet unachieved

she is and she knows

as the spirit pours through our veins

fire of knowing that we are significant

that our actions and choices will heal and save or condemn the world

that we are hear to grow and love not to buy and sell

ourselves or the body of our mother the earth.

We see her face in the myriad stars

we hear her voice in the ocean

she dazzles us with her rainbows

and in our diversity we are respelendent

in her image- sacred and intended.

Grace love sisterhood now and forever.

-And in your body, and written by your life’s choices, and dancing through your spirit

Amen!

*This post sort of ran away from me. I am going to blame Alice Walker as I am currently really enjoying the freedom and colouring-outside-the-lines way of speaking of her  We are the ones we have been waiting for.

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!

 

Chloe’s people, John’s people, Jesus’ people and the call to me

I am not in the mood to pretend that I feel “enlightened” or full of hope. I think it is a big mistake when people use Christianity as an opium for themselves as an individual or for the masses. If what is wrong with the world ceases to hurt in the euphoric escapism of being “saved” then God is a great big ecstasy tablet and the believer is some sort of socio-path. Because real life and the earth and human bodies matter a lot. We live in that pre-salvation darkness when we let families be locked up on Manus, when we make selfish and life-denying decisions, when we let greed and fear rule our world.

“For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.”

We can hope in this vision of the reign of God, but we are deluded if we see it as already fully realised. But it does give us a hint about which prophets to believe, and where to look for the authentic Wisdom in a world of competing truths and wisdoms. God does not deny the yoke that oppresses us but SMASHES it, radically works to undo and make impossible the oppression of her people. “Saving” is not some sort of magical act, but is liberation, removing the unjust power of whatever enslaves us (and our unjust power to enslave others). Wherever there is true liberation, there is the action of God. Wherever we (or anyone) are still being oppressed the light is yet to shine.

In the psalm I “believe” in the goodness of God. If this goodness in my life was already fully realised I would not have to believe any more than I have to “believe” in the roof over my head or the food in my bowl. I “believe” because there is something of God’s effect over my life that still exists as potential energy, poised to unfold in some way I may not grasp. Courage and stoutheartedness is needed as we wait (and these are in me, in short supply I confess).

I can’t say I completely resound with what Paul is on about in the second reading. Granted it is disheartening and counter-productive how often churches and other communities of hope become splintered as people polarise over some issue and refuse to work together. What is equally hurtful however is the false unity that makes invisible any minority or less privileged group. I am currently reading New Feminist Christianity and finding it full of diverse and oftentimes critical voices of various groups of WOC, queer folk (once again varied and diverse), workers in DV prevention and healing, people from various church traditions. They don’t all say the same thing, but they make up a wonderful patchwork of views that turn into a polyphonic dialogue that never intends to be completed or closed.

Instead churches and other organisations often opt for a “unity” that is hegemonic, restrictive, exclusive or downright abusive. Rivalries and petty politics ARE every bit as bad as Paul says, but I want to remind him of Jeremiah 6:14, and warn him that sweeping differences under a carpet is NOT a way forward. Simply putting Christ in the centre in a kyriearchal way is more problematic than I think we often like to admit. He is “the Lord” and simply trumps everyone else is an easy answer but not a real solution. Once again I am indebted to the book I mentioned above, quite a few of the theologians have challenged me to look beyond kyriearchal, individualist interpretations of the “Jesus story” to the “everyone else stories” that Wisdom has always woven through (being the sort of girl who goes exactly where she wants and won’t stay put). Wisdom (although I have a borderline problematic tendency to anthropomorphise her) is in fact neither male, female not in any way human and her story is not the story of an individual. If she is revealed “in” the historical man, Jesus (I would agree that she is) then she is also more than this historical individual.

But having asked for caution when demanding too much from Jesus and his story I nevertheless read the gospel with interest. John has been arrested and instead of falling to pieces in some way Jesus rolls up his sleeves and gets on with John’s work. Remember “repent” was John’s slogan wasn’t it? Jesus affirms John’s ministry by grounding the beginnings of his own in continuing it. He may or may not make some departures from John’s teaching or develop his thinking further but he shows the respect to his forerunner to accept the work that has already been done. Also as with a literature review in a piece of research this places Jesus’ work within the already established work of John as a continuation. Jesus is both respectful and strategic in positioning his ministry in this way, however it also undermines our tendency to want to see Jesus as a peerless exceptional superhero. Jesus himself seems to be implying he is part of a tradition of critique and struggle, a continuation of good work that can happen before (and by implication after) his time on earth.

Jesus also aligns himself with a criminal, a trouble-maker- not charismatic John that Herod liked but arrested John that threatens the state. I am liking this Jesus. In this context “come after me” to the fishermen makes it clear once again that Jesus is not seeking for personal followers and fame, but to expand the work that is being done to continue the struggle and to have it continue beyond him. Right at the start he is already asking for help…needing “others” to ensure his vision will eventuate. We cannot do these things (like ministry) alone.

So he calls some fishermen (a working class movement perhaps, not one for elites) but does he also call housewives baking and mending and sweeping? We can’t assume he did not just because the patriarchal text masks our view of the women at the back of the stage.Paul clearly has as working relationship with “Chloe’s people” whoever they were. Jesus’ inclusion or otherwise of women remains invisible- not interesting enough to the male historians of the time (but that’s a familiar scenario).

Perhaps in the end the “great light” that dawns on the people is that it is not up to the exceptional individual like John the Baptist, or even to Jesus to actualise salvation for us all. It is not something I can do on my own and also not something I ought to leave to stronger or better others to do for me. We are all invited to leave our mundane concerns and go kindom building with Jesus, with the interweaving of Wisdom with a relentlessness that survives all sorts of suffering and crosses every gap.

 

I did not know about your vocation, but I remained open to seeing the Spirit in you

In between the unrelatable metaphor of “servant” (exploited labour) and the nicer but possibly still dangerous concept of “light” to the nations the first reading is telling us that God’s knowing of us, relationship and call go back to when we were in the womb, pre-existing any decisions, social influences and learning we had acquired. This to me is what grace means, that we do not earn or compete for positions in the household of God but we are already called before we even take a breath. To be called into being is to be called into the household, the body of God.Our vocation is not a skill-set or an honour it is our deep and true IDENTITY. What God knows us as, is what we were always meant to be- beyond questions of recognition of the church.

We know this about Jesus. We read about the annunciation and the visitation and the baby in a manger and we are already seeing God in the swell of Mary’s belly, the kick of joy from the baptist (already following his vocation in the womb), the first staggering steps holding a parents hands begin the thousand steps of a ministry. It’s true for each of us. We are already physically star-dust and emotionally God-stuff before we choose how to inhabit that identity.

The psalm agrees. Our deepest longing is for God to come and recognise this in us, the deep longing to be fulfilled in the vocation to follow Christ (as toddlers follow the admired older sibling), to be bigger than our littleness- to strive into the fullness of God. Which is our essence. We are the image of God (we and all of creation) and we are ourselves truly when we honour the possibilities for deep love and hope in ourselves and others. “here I am God, a better thing than any sort of commodified “thing” of religion, more meaningful than sacrifices and offerings- here am I and my deep longing for and delight in your Word, in my potential to actualise you” I love the unsilenced jubilation of the final verse of this psalm, I have for many years on taken it on as a sort of motto:

“I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.”

I did not restrain my lips…but of course I did when I was young because I was told that women were supposed to. Luckily the sinful state of silent obedience was unnatural for me and God’s constant egging on broke through it. Of course once we unsilence ourselves we do become responsible for what we say. God’s justice (and some translations add loving-kindness) are worthy topics for ranting.

The second reading is very short, only just long enough to introduce ideas of being “called”, being “sanctified”  Part of our work is building a communion of the called and sanctified, that is recognising the Godness of each other and the vocations in others. It makes me a better person, renews my hope and sense of purpose to be recognised by other humans and it diminished and depressed me for years that the church could not and would not recognise me (but now for me “church” is whoever brings Christ to me and not associated with the hierarchy except sometimes by coincidence).

So then with the customary “Alleluia” we turn to the Word made flesh who chose and chooses to live with and in us. To Jesus the purest version of who we are supposed to be.John the Baptist as the established church is busy practising his ministry, at times having trouble being heard but having a power of sorts. What does he do when his younger cousin Jesus comes up filled with vocation? He not only moves over and makes room for the ministry of Jesus but he proclaims and assists that ministry. This is a part of the servant-leadership of priesthood that can be hard- sharing the spotlight, easing the ministry of others and the paths of people to the good news as proclaimed by someone who is not ME.

John did not “know Jesus” but being an open sort of a person he “saw the Spirit” alight on him. This is our challenge to remain open to the Spirit in each other and in nature. We need to look beyond ourselves and beyond our pre-determined ideas of God. In Scripture and beyond scripture. In the church however flawed it might be and beyond the church into the apparently sinful world and apparently dangerous nature and apparent heathens and queers and transgressives of all types. And even the hierarchy (Elizabeth Johnson does this well and shames me for so quickly dismissing the “church Fathers”).

John teaches us to look for and recognise God in our cousins and other young upstarts- but Jesus trusts John to work with him and comes to him openly too. The church is not one individual- it isn’t about superstars and heroes. We listen, affirm, work together. We see the Spirit in each other, we baptise each other and confirm the pre-existing touch of God in each life.

Our ministry is not judgement and separation. It is connection. It is love.

Being patient- the “not yet” of Christmas.

“The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.”

As a metaphor this is a beautiful idea, that the wasteland and disappointed places inside myself have transformative potential at the coming of Sophia. But there is a chilling side to this metaphor in the year when we have had such a wet and abundant spring that everyone has harvested record breaking vegetables and roses (this in Australia) meanwhile the North Pole is fast disappearing (and how many species with it?)
But…
“Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.”

All the limits we feel in our bodies and in our places in society will be overcome by the one who comes to “vindicate” the weak and frightened. There is radical hope here. How to read the hope together with the despair of a burdened earth? The psalm reminds us (as scripture does again and again and again) of God’s agenda, nothing to do with what you believe or who you sleep with but justice, relief, healing, sanctuary. God offers these to the poor and oppressed and calls us to be part of the movement of actualising her offers. I’d like to take that psalm on as a creed. The God I worship and call to is the God who does all those things. The hair-splitting theological points become irrelevant as God in this psalm, elsewhere in scripture and in the world rolls up her sleeves (shades of Washerwoman God here) and sets to work cleaning the house, nesting, making ready for baby Wisdom at Christmas and demands that as members of the household, the economy/oikonomia of God we do the same.

The second reading calls for patience (like every Mum ever talking to her small children about Christmas coming). Apparently we can’t hurry grace. We are also asked to stop complaining about each other, I would not think this refers to people who cry out against the genuine oppressions that God abhors but rather the nitpickers who judge other people’s sexual morality, spending habits or lifestyles and completely miss the point that God is coming to spread radical hope and justice and above all LOVE. We can all be a little bit mean-minded and judgemental at times, we all know better than others how they ought to live their lives. God doesn’t seem to have time for all that though because there are real things to be put into order (strangers to be protected and widows and orphans to be sustained).

The gospel could be read simply as part of the story of John the Baptist, a great prophet one who called people to repent back toward God and tried to open them up for the radical possibilities in Christ. There is also the bigger picture of reading the signs of the times. We keep wanting more and more and more proof and certainty before we make any decision or act. Jesus here seems to be advocating a boldness in the gospel. Don’t follow every reeed swayed by the wind, don’t expect your prophets packaged more perfectly. There are already voices of prophecy telling us about our times (there are the plants telling us the climate is skewed, there are the refugees telling us capitalism has failed the world). Take on the news you don’s wish to hear (that we must all repent radically and immediately) in order to make way for the Word that we do want, the hope and salvation of the world.

So pressed for time energy and money this year, so bereft of hope I do not know what I can bring to the table of celebration, in what way to connect with God in this coming season of Christmas. Patient waiting with the pregnant Mary is all the action I can offer at this stage, but also accepting the refocussing and repentance of the advent readings, to prepare myself for hope, for tiny baby-voice Wisdom to wrap delicate but insistent fingers around my finger and bring me back down to her level. To first steps not yet taken; to angels singing in Luke’s remembrance of the beginning or mysterious gifts and sudden journeys that are Christmas in the gospel of Matthew. And John reminds us to open our hearts to the Word- full of grace and truth. If we already had all the answers I guess we wouldn’t need Christmas.

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.

Plowshares

I wrote this to share at church, then in the rush I left my notes at home and had to “wing it” at church. Thanks to the supportiveness of everyone it went OK. The photo is a flower arrangement I made for church before being reminded we don’t do flowers in Advent. I rehomed it with my sister, who absolutely deserves flowers!

Today’s first reading always makes me smile and think of the activist movement “Plowshares” who advocate active resistance to war…I felt they deserved a mention.

The whole reading is replete with an active response to God- it is a movement of people, streaming towards God’s mountain to learn and be led to actively change our ways. The symbolism of changing weapons of war to implements of growing food has much to offer and I have made it the focus today for our liturgy which as always centres a communal meal as a symbol of shared abundance in every way.

Turning to the book of Isaiah however, and reading on from this idealistic vision, it all turns very bleak very quickly and that also can be our experience. The transformed reality we celebrate in coming together for communion, is not the lived reality of the world around us- the power-infused relationships, the cynical politics and parsimonious economics of our time. So glib escapist religious fantasies that “it all happens for a reason” will not serve us in our lead-up to Christmas, and if we listen to our tradition we will need this feast to be something more than a “feel-good” fest.

If we stream to the mountain, the sometimes steep mountain that is scripture, we might be looking for instruction, leadership, community, active response, transformation but we do not escape our reality by doing so. Nor do we escape our complex interwoven identities where we are both benefiting in some measure from unjust systems and also perhaps ourselves oppressed (or at least limited) by rigid systems of control.

And then the letter to the Romans bids us to “wake up” from sleep. This is a time for consciousness, not a time to let the familiar and the dear rituals of Christmas lull our consciences to sleep, not to leave it all up to God. Advent is a new year, it’s a time to get serious about the “reign of God” we celebrated last week, to begin again a cycle of movement toward that point toward a not-yet reality of God’s vision realised. Can we see God as a baby that needs our protection? An unborn possibility inside us? A desire for beauty and truth to take over our lives?

In the gospel, two people who seem identical are somehow not. One is “taken” and one is “left”. There is no radical difference we can see between one and the other but perhaps by implication as we go about our ordinary lives in our limited world God can see the details, the good intentions and the small acts of love which may never be perfect but do somehow matter after all. I don’t like the hyper-individualism that seems to come through here, as if I want to distance myself from my sister or brother and be smugly pious. But let’s deconstruct this picture by a return to the image of weapons, transformed into tools for growing food. Then let’s take care to remember that food is for feeding and sharing not just for grasping and selling which devolves food production back into war. Can we transform this image of two women grinding meal, or two men working in a field by refusing to buy into the oppositional, competitive factor? Then, both may come to share in the radical hope of God’s coming after all. Is grace contagious? We can only hope.

So this Christmas, I will eat and drink and participate in the celebrations and I don’t feel guilty about that. But I will give thought to the changing climate, to the impoverished and imprisoned families and try to temper my excess and share my abundance. And this advent I will choose who I wish to be this liturgical year. Come, let us go to the mountain of this tradition/faith we hold together, back again into the heart of our communal longing for all to be right. Let us light in our hearts the candle of hope and allow that interruptive and transformative power in. Jesus, Sophia, eternal Wisdom and Word.

 

Be glad because of her

Trigger warning- this is in a public place and anyone can read it so I have no way of knowing the background of all possible readers. I have very positive (though at times also ambivalent) ideas around “motherhood” and I have drawn on them in this reflection. But I realise that some people have major trauma and disappointment around the lack or inadequacy of mothering in their own life. Sometimes we inadvertantly invalidate them or make them invisible by using motherhood as a metaphor. I don’t want to lose the richness of what I get out of this experience and what some readers might get, however if you are someone who finds positive discussions of motherhood triggering in any way please accept my apologies and don’t read this week’s reflection.

Rejoicing and an extended, lusciously female-bodied mothering metaphor are up first this week, probably making some people move uncomfortably in the pews (if they are listening) because yes, even breasts are mentioned! Abundant ones! Coming up to an election, I wonder if we will be feeling this ideal of being mothered and comforted and spead over by a prosperity that belongs to the mother and therefore is shared with us? “The wealth of the nations” oh we do have to have that discordant colonialising note don’t we…to remind us that these are actually the words of religion, not literally the Word of God. Even in this beautiful, loving, familial image there is the human preoccupation with “the economy” in the narrow sense of wanting to have more than people in “other” countries.

But I am all for being carried and fondled and having every need met by a secure and prosperous mother. I particularly love that toward the end of the metaphor the “she” pretence slips and God takes responsibility “as a mother comforts her child so I will comfort you” (my bolding). Whose “abundant breasts” were we really talking about? Then there is the switch back to “Jerusalem” but the shift has done its work and destabilised patriarchy, because God has been seen for a split second (which is the only way we ever see God) as a doting mother filled with unquenchable love and the instinct to nurture. My heart sings with Miriam Therese Winter this song.

Yes, exactly as the reading says:
“When you see this, your heart shall rejoice
and your bodies flourish like the grass;” of course elsewhere in the bible (Psalm 90: 5-6) the idea of grass is used to signify impermanence and quick mortality. So this “flourishing” may be short-lived. But I do flourish when even the old texts of tradition give me permission to see God in this way, even for the moment. And I could leave it there, but I suppose I better remember there are more readings.

The psalm continues the theme of rejoicing that is exactly where my heart is with the first reading, except that if we read this psalm from the perspective of the earth (and it is hard not to) then the earth is forced to “bow down” and the sea is “turned to dry land” so that “the Lord” is somewhat of an ecological disaster. But it is just a metaphor! I want to cry, but there is that in Christianity unfortunately, the tendency to see the earth as unimportant, something that we are master-stewards over to exploit, not as part of God’s beloved creation to be lovingly in relationship with. The parts of the psalm that are left out as usual give some context too. God is once more on the side of those whose heads are being ridden over (e.g. the refugees and the poor). Mind you the idea that God allows it to happen for some time or for some purpose may be problematic.

In the second reading Paul reminds us that the purpose of being Christian is to be transformed, to be constantly the “new creation”. It is not about denominations, creeds, traditions, circumcision, uncircumcision or stopping marriage equality and abortion. We honour the suffering (survived hopefully), the flawed humanity and God’s grace in ourselves and others. We show peace and mercy and we don’t engage in silly attacks against each other. This is a timely reminder for a Sunday when we will all be dealing with the results of an election (and the end of a very mean-minded and desperate campaign).

In the gospel Jesus is sending his apostles out two by two (with a giggle I think this is a little like the door-knocking canvassers pre-election). But what do these door-knockers bring to the house? Stern warnings about sexual immorality and fear-mongering about Islam or other religions? No. One-off acts of patronising charity that pay no attention to the real source of the inequality? Again no. Cliches about “letting go and letting God” or “everything happens for a reason” or mindless and extended “Praise, praise, praise the Lord!!!!” choruses? Not that either! Sorry modern Christians we are going to have to look again at what the mission is.

The apostles are to offer the household peace. They are to accept hospitality if it is offered. They are to cure the sick and proclaim the “kingdom of God”. How do we do this? How do we bring peace and acceptance, healing and good news to the “real world” that we live in? This is something I believe each of us needs to meditate on and nut out, I don’t have the obvious answers and clearly the exact manifestation would change depending on time and place. But significantly this is not just up to the individual either. Jesus commissions the followers all from one place, and sends them out in pairs. Community is the source of our ministry and collaboration is the order of the day. Despite what we are sometimes told “the priest” is not some sort of Christ super-figure. Christ sends out priests in teams (not just as individuals) from the community. Christ is the whole part of that process and reality, not just the one individual within it that claims to be “called”. I need to remember this both as one called and as one who accepts (or critiques) the ministry available in the church.

And then as the end, if we have been called to preach to the household that is the church out deep God-given knowledge that feminism and its insights are also crucial to bringing about an inclusive, meaningful and slightly more achievable “Kingdom of God” and they want nothing of it what then? I did leave. I did wipe the dust off my sandals but I do not accept that God wants to punish the ignorant (even the privileged and therefore wilfully ignorant) and the slow to listen. I’m a teacher after all, I don’t give up on the apparently unteachable, I try to work toward miracles every time.

And so I am back in the church, back in the teams of preachers that like me want to call the church and society to account (in terms of social justice not in terms of narrow conceptions of “morality”). And there is something motherly and nurturing about those patches of church that genuinely wish to transform (as opposed to control) the world. And I rejoice for and with that “mother place” that “Jerusalem” that I can find within church, due to those people who focus on our shared humanity and the need to be “new creation” instead of hairsplitting matters of tradition.

And I know God rejoices in the church that behaves that way. God who also wishes to comfort “like a mother”. God knows, life has taught me a lot about the patience and trust of mothers.

 

Leaners? Lifters? Forget labels everyone is welcome

So here I am late for my last week’s blog– thirsty, penniless and exhaustedly but stubbornly critical of market thinking (also known as neoliberalism, libertarianism, economic rationalism). And yet didn’t I reflect with gratitude all last week on the first reading? Here am I the mighty blog-writer who feels she has a vocation and has committed to writing one each week and I lack time and energy and simply sanity to even deliver on all my commitments, including ones I deeply love, including this one.

If God was like the market, then I might get one warning…however ultimately she would take her “business” elsewhere. And lent would actually then not do me a whole lot of good because the repentance I see I need is always partial in its delivery…I always get distracted or exhausted or just disenchanted by my life’s possibilities and blockages and fail and fall and forget.

But God is not the market and the relationship I have with God is neither exclusive nor conditional. If I am thirsty or hungry I can turn to God, coin to pay is irrelevant there is not price put upon grace it simply abounds for us like a laden table in a grandparents house when you are small. Why do we waste so much of our precious time, resources and labour on things that do not satisfy? I hear God’s exasperation and teary compassion as she asks me this. My answer is not coherent because I do not know. I do not know why I am not wiser to know what satisfies me by now or more committed and courageous about narrowing my focus to it and leaving behind addictions (addictions of thought as well as deed or consumption).

God reminds me to do what I am not good at listen carefully so I will know what is good and fill myself always with that. To debunk the “fear of missing out” (FOMO) that causes all sorts of unhelpful detours in the path of life. To challenge also the fear of others that keeps me so often trembling in my shell or causes the inertia of self-hate and over-questioning. Come, listen, live.

David of course is no sort of a hero in my book, but perhaps from that I can take how truly unconditional and enduring the grace of God is. Even to the ridiculously flawed David. Even to me. The impossible and great can happen through us, our part of the bargain is simply always reorienting toward God. Seeking God. Calling upon God like the child constantly repeating “Mum, mum, mum” until heard. My heart has been heavy with fear and loneliness. But God is there, waiting for me to listen and look as well as call; to forsake the wickedness and even unjust thoughts.

Unjust thoughts, like when I feel judgemental or superior or think being kind is too much effort. Unjust thoughts like resenting small people taking up quite so much of my time and energy. Unjust thoughts like self-hate: which is hatred for one beloved by God and therefore unjust. Unjust thoughts like wishing I was thinner, prettier, more charismatic, cleverer and richer instead of turning my life and my soul toward God. In God I am enough as I am…I may be called to be more than I am but in a way that preserves and respects the integrity of who I am already. Already beloved. Already called. Becoming grace-filled.

Justice toward others is kindness. Justice toward myself: also kindness.

The concluding two verses could seem like bragging and superiority from God if we think in kyriearchal terms, but let’s not!

“My ways are not your ways” says God. “I have super-powers you have not even dipped into. You don’t even need to understand what I am capable of just live to your fullest, reallest and most loving. Just live and trust me. As far as heaven is beyond your grasp, so far is my reach. And I’ve got your back!”