Tag Archives: james

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.

Gentleness born from Wisdom

Written in a tearing hurry by one who has a lot to do…

 

A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” Really I feel I am being mocked in this reading and I can’t help cross referencing it to Virginia Woolf’s Angel in the House. Like Woolf, if there was ever such a phantom, an “angel in the house” or a “capable wife” in my psyche (and of course there was) reproving, blaming, scolding me for my many deficits then I killed her off in self-defence.

So why not ignore this reading and look at one of the possibly less offensive others? Because as long as “the church” uphold this sort of a reading as sacred, and Godly and proclaims it from churches or endorses it being proclaimed, then it is naïve to pretend that this is not part of our tradition. To shut our eyes from the ugliness and misogyny of the church is to remain in that place of privilege, related to those who are colour-blind and refusing to believe that racism still exists, “tolerant” and refusing to allow queer people to be seen or heard, we are the church but we take no responsibility for the parts of tradition we don’t like.

Instead we need to criticise these at all times, to wrestle with any text of terror or trivialisation that could be mobilised against us even if we are too wrapped in cotton wool to feel the abuse. But there are more interesting readings to focus on so I just remind you that a “capable wife…husband…partner” is not a commodity and that rejoicing in your comfortable house or comfortable car or comfortable and efficient wife is a bit sick. This is not a milk cow we are discussing!

Pfft….I move on.

The psalm tells me I will be “happy” if I refuse the path of the wicked. So I will try to remember not to commodify people in the dehumanising way of the first reading as I look at James’ advice for good living. The symptom of a Wisdom filled life here seems to be “gentleness”. I like the idea of having a “gentleness born of Wisdom” after the way I have been pursuing Wisdom and trying to respond to her week after week through reading after reading I like the thought of birthing with her a child, gentleness.

It seems to me (reading between the) that the key to a good life is not over-focusing on things you can’t have (like perhaps the paragon wife of the first reading) but settling down in your own lowly little life with wisdom and bringing gentleness to birth for the purpose of transforming all your works (and relationships?) to peace and justice.

“Peace” does not mean continuing to allow people to oppress us; and certainly doesn’t mean silence where others are being oppressed. It means weeding out motivations such as greed, envy, boastfulness, falseness and turning again and again to beloved Wisdom only allowing deep love for her to motivate us (and I don’t pretend to be at that ideal state at this point in my life; assuming a human is even capable of loving so perfectly).

How would we ask “rightly” for what our heart desires?

I won’t agree to the idea of “submitting” I don’t see Wisdom as asking for that; maybe for a playful yielding where we have been stubborn and neglectful of Her. But we needs must draw near to her, to cultivate that gentleness that will spring from within us and wear Her face.

The gospel frightens me again foreshadowing the extreme consequences of true commitment to God. The kingdom of this world does not love those who overthrow it…the rich want to keep their privilege and radical justice is always seen as fomenting rebellion. But here Jesus is not necessarily asking us to step into his shoes and be the one who suffers and dies, only to let go of ambitions for “greatness” and to turn back to gentleness. To behold the child (Jesus has a theme of focussing on the littlest and the least) and to “welcome” the child. I have heard persuasive preachers argue that the child in this story would have been a street thief, not a nice well-brought up, polite child at all. It is whatever is vulnerable and not nurtured- the refugee child, the single-mother’s child, the silenced child.

Jesus, behaving maternally, asking us to treasure and be gentle with his little beloveds. Jesus, Wisdom, begetting gentleness within us.

Who needs that impossible poster-wife of the first reading when we have Wisdom? She invited us in and gave us wine some weeks ago. Then she called us back and called us to account for our unfaithful ways. Now she offers closeness, and wants to beget gentleness- gentleness the great healer, gentleness the transformer of worlds, gentleness the tenderness of humanity turned toward wisdom. When this world makes us despair, then we are in danger of miscarrying that gentleness, or of suffocating her by giving her too limited a sphere.

Surrounded by the love and strength of Wisdom who is a co-parent and a midwife and a refuge, humanity can learn to nurture deep within itself gentleness, to grow it, to set it free. Thus through the relentless love of Wisdom, gentleness acquires both human and divine features, blended in staggering beauty. Now there is a higher purpose for drawing near to Wisdom, for following our yearning hearts and our deepest desire.

Wisdom is at the end of her tether

If my tongue is like a rudder and far from flawless in its steering (and I accept that) then the voice of the bible too pulls us this way and that, not always moving in a God oriented direction partly because it was designed to compensate for social currents that have changed but also because created by people as flawed as ourselves in a flawed time and a flawed society it is in itself the flawed instrument. The miracle is that God’s magnetic pull is somehow strong enough so that even with our flawed instruments and flawed selves we somehow can orient and correct and recorrect and attempt to return to the place where the buried treasure is.

My tongue is capable of great evil, I may well be inept in speaking God’s good news, but lately she has let me feel that she can speak through me in a range of ways to a range of people. Imperfect, flawed but not useless. In the same way the bible always attempts to respond to the pull of God. As I travel toward God, the boat I am sitting in is my place in society a whole lot of social expectations and created needs and desires and subjectivities that can obscure the Way. My boat is patched together with bad habits, assumptions, unhelpful thoughts, self-loathing, apathy and escapism. God’s siren call comes to strike terror in my heart and capsize me and that is my only salvation from drifting past the true centre where the treasure eternally is.

I had drifted into the doldrums of an apathetic half-life but again I feel irresistibly attracted to an unsettling God. When I breathe in this reality I feel truly alive.

Meanwhile Wisdom has her nagging voice on. Last time we heard her she was seducing with wine- sending out her maid-servants to invite but I guess by now she has realised (as the refugees are also forced to realise) that we are slow and unresponsive, selfish and stubborn. Now she is threatening to laugh at us when it all comes unpicked and I can’t blame her. But I don’t want to be one of the fools who cannot find her- I don’t want to be left alone without her. How do I convert sufficiently to her Way not to lose her? How do I offer more than the reconciliation that is part of the cycle of abuse, but genuinely listen to what she asks and change my life?

I do not yet feel beyond the pale, at least I desire to respond to Wisdom. Will that be enough?

But I look to Jesus and he tells me about Wisdom’s way in an unjust world and the radical commitment to Jesus, to Wisdom is a commitment to be a threat to society. It comes not just with risk but for a true follower of Jesus there is, or will be a cross. Is my faith enough for this? I am reading Dancing with God by Karen Baker-Fletcher and she talks about God transforming the world back to good constantly and calling us forever to turn aside from evil. But she is quite realistic about evil, when she portrays lynchings of black people and similar hate-crimes. It’s naïve in a time like this (perhaps in any time) to practice a feel good Valium of a faith and ignore the hard path to Calvary that is built into the liberative preaching of Jesus.

The way of the cross.

If you don’t like what I am saying, I don’t blame you. I don’t much like it either. But imagine if the crowd at the crucifixion had been lovers of Wisdom, not cowardly Christians like ourselves? Imagine if they had spoken out, if they had all put aside fear of the oppressive regime for a minute and together DEMANDED that Jesus and his two friends not be crucified. For the lone activist Christian the end might be crucifixion, but what of the courageous community? Can we grow a Christ that is bigger than one of us? I am not trivialising resurrection, at least I don’t think I am but like Baker-Fletcher I think Jesus died to say “enough with the crosses, love one another with a radical and courageous love”.

I am scared of my call some days, because I know it is something bigger than me and will never lead to comfort and ease but will swallow me up. But not to follow it is another sort of death, it is to force myself little by little to exist a little less. We do that so easily in the first world, we sit in our “sty of contentment” and we forget the next part, “meaning death”.

And Wisdom may be out on the streets, haranguing me and threatening to leave me but at least she has not yet given up on me. What would it profit me to gain the whole world, and lose her who authentically is my life?

Healing wilful deafness

Is 35:4-7         James 2: 1-5             Mk 7: 31-37

I actually had the opportunity to “preach” this week in a real church in front of real people. So I haven’t doubled up, I’ve used that as my blog for the week. It’s a bit different than the more dialogic usual stuff. This is more of a presentation than a dialogue.

 

What does it mean to be deaf?

There is real, physical deafness, and I don’t want to be ableist, by conflating it with the sort of deafness that I want God to heal in me and in my world.The physically deaf person, may already be very relational, may be very engaged and sensitive to all sorts of others in the world. So I want to leave aside questions of physical deafness and “miracles” in the material sense because

…there is also a willing and wilful deafness called “privilege”.

The danger as soon as I think about what is wrong with the world, with the oppression and exploitation of the earth and all sorts of othered people is that I will see my own powerlessness, my own lack of energy to sustain any sort of meaningful resistance and I will get angry and depressed. Along with this goes the self-knowledge of the first world, comparatively well-off person. I am caught up in these meshes of oppression, I benefit from them I am at times wilfully deaf and complacently mute. The guilt can paralyse me, the toxic negativity can overcome unless I (of the fearful heart) look to the encouragement in the first reading.

Isaiah here gives us impossible hope- personal and ecological renewal in an overabundance of healing, but darkly also a “terrible recompense”. What power we have needs to have an orientation toward that reality undermining hope, the possibility when we connect with others in God of gaining a momentum that unstops wilfully deaf ears for real change.

Wilful deafness is also present in James where favouritism and inequality are built into the culture of a church or a society. In our own privilege we fail to even notice the otherness we have never experienced. How often might I hear nothing but the echoing powerful voice of those who have seized for themselves the right to define how we relate to God and our neighbour, who silence anyone who is not the same as them. How much more do my deafened ears refuse to hear the oppressed when I am not one of “them”, when my voice too echoes with self-satisfied privilege and hegemonic wisdoms.

In my privilege, I am deaf and there is an impediment in the way I speak. The love that I am called to speak, comes out as judgement of the weak; the call to repentance toward the powerful becomes appeasement. I like my status and my peaceful life. That is no way to preach the good news.

In the past, I have had a very passive way of reading the gospel. I have read it as though I were a princess, chained to a rock waiting for a heroic Christ to ride into battle to rescue me from my own weakness (whether I use the word “sin” or try out some more compassionate term). What a negligent way to half-respond to God’s call! We have no gospel stories where Jesus says “I am here to carry your cross while you be my cheerleader and then faint into my arms.” Instead we have “Take up your cross. Follow me. Become me. Be me.” Yes we eat the body of Christ, like babies taking in nutrition and learning from their mother who they cling to and watch closely. But why do babies do this? To grow and learn and move on their own two feet, to take up the business of living and being in themselves, on their own behalf.

As we eat Christ, we watch Christ. Then we are set free to be Christ. In every Jesus story we must jump in and be Jesus.

So much for passively waiting and hoping for God to undeafen us and iron out our lack of eloquence and wisdom. We are called to jump into the deaf and mute world ready to be the ones who unstop ears that have failed to hear the poor, willing to untangle and liberate tongues whose unique God-given gospel may not yet have been heard….not even by the church. Not even by us!

Jesus himself was a powerful speaker. His words here are minimal. He is intimate, private, touches, encourages, listens. He asks the disciples to tell no one, the deaf man is not being exploited by God for glory or kingdom building- his story of liberation is his own, it happens apart from the gaze of the crowd (ironically someone has watched or imagined and reported and even more ironically if the disciples had been more obedient we would have had fewer of these life-giving stories).

Back in the second reading it was the poor who were rich in faith. We can share in this wealth of faith when we set free the silenced voices, just as we must be poking and prodding and unblocking the powerful in our church and in our world when they fail to hear Jesus calling us all to a more just and sustainable way of life.

Who do we need to allow to speak to us?

How do we make the world listen?

What does this story mean for the Christ each of us is called to become?

Let’s take a short moment to use our tongues and ears in sharing meaning-making.

My beloved said it was spring

Lectionary link here

What a beautiful first reading, and well placed in time now, when we are all sick to death of winter as well as of the wintry political climate. How seductive of “my beloved” to come bounding up proclaiming spring and escapism and endless possibilities rekindled. Yes, if vocation is like this how impossible to resist (no wonder I can’t focus on the things I am supposed to be doing, my beloved must be distracting me with spring and flowers and song). The psalm follows that being more of an admiring love-song for a possibly unreachable (there is already a queen by his side) but infinitely desirable other. Where’s the usual militaristic and pious language? Scent of spring indeed in these words!

The second reading brings me a criticism of my habitual angry state of mind, one that has far more persuasive power with me than usually when people tell me to lighten up and be less angry. In this epistle I am reminded to be slow to anger because my anger does NOT give rise to God’s justice. That is true. In and of itself negativity does not bear fruit. I am actually mellowed by those words in the context of the beloved prancing around in an ecstasy of spring. Sometimes we wait and wake to a natural hope which we have not ourselves been able to accomplish. The next verse asks me to be meek however, which is going too far. Not even for you God!

The remainder of the reading shows us that we need to have a commitment to social justice and a transformed and transformative way of life, not just pious “yes man” attitude to God. Just being “spiritual” is a sort of narcissm, the real living word of God needs to be actualised in transformative action. For me, writing words every week on a blog that not so many people read I guess I need to reassess. What is my grappling with the word of God achieving? How can I live as a “beloved” and an ardent lover of God? In what way have I not yet responded to my calling?

I don’t have the answers, but the desire is kindled within me to become open. Hopefully God will move me. I turn toward the gospel.

The gospel seems to be reminding me to look beyond superficial signifiers of “belonging” and “complying” to the real substance of the behaviours that are or are not worthy of God. And I become aware of sin within myself. What is it that comes out of me that defiles? Am I quick to judge people because I feel that my own struggles make me more deserving than others? Is there some malice at times when I criticise, does it degenerate to gossip and sarcasm and mockery? Not only is this cruel and destructive but it is also a distraction from real change while I bury myself in negativity.

So perhaps the call by my beloved is to discover an idealism not of purity, but of sweetness and forgiveness. I can never forgive what our society is doing to helpless refugees, nor the church’s misogyny but I can forgive the ignorance and powerlessness and human weakness in real human beings- in my friends, in my enemies, in myself. When our “society” or “church” is broken up into the actual individuals who make up these corporate entities, how do I bring my compassion and wisdom to stir people?

I observe myself as a teacher of 3-4 year olds. I have found there that using kindness, encouragement, dwelling on the positives, encouragement and affection bring the best out of them- with criticism only useful when it is used sparingly in a loving context. Why cannot I do this more with adults? Is it because I see “them” as more powerful than me, as more capable, by implication “they” ought to be better than they are, ought to be better than I am. Even the way I talk to myself is full of “oughts” and “shoulds” and “why didn’t yous” when as one of my friends once told me I ought to kiss myself and say “it’s ok darling” instead, like I would throw my arms around a crying child and keep them safe.

“This is who you might be” my beloved says to me, “This is who I see in you. Come away from the despair and the cold and the isolation. Embrace my people and be embraced.” Desire burns away my fearful and small minded excuses. Spring is here!