Tag Archives: John

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.

Collecting our thoughts: opening prayer

 

The part they never seem to remember to do in the “opening prayer” (also called the collect in some churches) is the part where everyone prays silently for a while. What I didn’t realise as a child, is silent prayer is the part where noone can tell you what to pray, you do not have to conform to anyone else’s idea of God or priorities so there is a possibility to be very genuine and liberated in the silence (which is often not observed). I am irritated that the missal says “celebrant and people pray silently for a while” so that the celebrant is not “people” and there is a line drawn even when everyone is doing the same thing and could theoretically be on the same level.

Although the collect is not placed within the liturgy of the word in the missal, it always seemed part of it because it referenced the readings and because that was the point where I had to turn to the blue ribbon (readings of the week) instead of the red ribbon (order of service). When you turn to the mass of the day the collect is set out like this.

The celebrant says, “Let us pray” and then in the silence there is a bit in square brackets that tells you what to pray for. The irony here is of course that not everyone is a pious little eight year old who got a missal for their first holy communion so most people have no idea what is in the square brackets, so it controls the thoughts only of the priest and little girls like me…except little girls like me and perhaps some priests used to sometimes rebel against what they were told to pray…but then again I was too pious to do it on purpose usually (I am a bit disgusted at my former self).

So the prayer itself would be sort of a spoiler for the readings which I think is Ok in so far it tells us what readings are coming up (we all watch TV where ads serve roughly the same purpose and we are used to our attention being grabbed with teasers) but it is a bit of a pity actually that an official interpretation of what we are supposed to take out of our readings is put upon us before we even get the readings.

I like having the readings so close to the beginning of the service and even though I do choose a theme, hymns etc when I write a liturgy (I guess all that is also colonising how people hear the readings) I try to avoid giving them a commentary (as used to be done when I was a kid) either at the beginning of the service or just before the readings (as I suspect my community wouldn’t allow me to do in any case). But I say that about being told how to interpret and then I read the collects for this week (the second week of Easter) and they are actually worded to be reasonably broad. Apart from the kyriearchal way of addressing God we are pretty free to read whatever we want into the prayer that tells us this is all about our own “eternal life” journey within through the Jesus story. Then the gospel is all about Thomas and his suspicion that the resurrection was “fake news” (can you tell I was tempted to neglect the project I started and just do the readings this week?).

So anyway, I decided not to “do” the readings but perhaps I can try to write a collect. Not because there is all that much wrong with the official collects in the book, but because I just feel liturgy really should be “work of the people” and we should all always be struggling for meanings and articulations instead of just accepting what is handed down (the eternal line drawn between celebrant and people and the celebrant even only obeying the way he is told to celebrate).

So then, let us pray

[each seeking to see past the possible fake news to real hope in our world…but also each free to pray without anyone else’s command]

God of truth,

Was it because a woman brought the news that it was so hard for some to believe? Is it harder to believe what disreputable people tell us? What greenies, or lefties, or bleeding hearts say? What refugees, or Muslims, or queers wish is to remember about our shared humanity? Are we too frightened to listen to the scientists who tell us in their secular way to “repent” because we believe we have killed you and that God is forever dead in our history now?

Would it be easy to simply believe in everything and allow all truths to comfort us that God will make a kingdom of rescuing and all we need to do is sing “alleluia, alleluia” and remain blind? Is it also too easy to listen to the people who claim to have seen things with their own eyes and claim to “know” that people on welfare are rorting the system, and people on low wages are greedy and people with darker skin are a threat to our way of life? Is it easier to punish than to try to understand and to look for “strong values”?

How do we weave our honest fabric of human love between Thomas’ skepticism verging on despair and every truth that jumps out to reassure us that everything is ok and we can stay in our cocoon? Be alive to us. Touch us with the truth that still bears wounds, but also wants to eat with us and honour the human way of being. Show us how to resurrect the hope that commissions us to preach and heal and love the world.

Amen

Ok, I gave it my best shot. My collect is far too long and complicated and biased (just when I finished saying keeping it vague so people encounter the readings themselves is better). Also I think a collect is meant to be a statement of focus rather than a bunch of questions. I will leave it as part of my “learning journey” here but this is a rare occasion when I acknowledge that it might be best to go “back to the book” (with adustments to make language more inclusive of course).

Encountered at the well

After what I wrote about water in the service, this week, today’s gospel reading happened to be Jesus debating the feisty Samaritan woman at the well. I love this gospel because I wrote one of my earliest HD papers on it and because it was the second gospel I ever preached at. Shallow of me. I ought to love it for the message and the contents and instead I love it for the road it has travelled with me. As I listened to it today I had words in my head from one of my friends who had told me Jesus was just ordinary “like you” and I thought about and ordinary Jesus offering “living water” and being told he has nothing to draw it with and the well is deep. And isn’t that just how ordinary old us feel most days? That people need things from us but we have nothing to draw it with and the well is deep. And I burst into tears (everyone was either too deep in thought to notice or tactful and looked away). But this poem is my musing on the “ordinary” burdened Jesus meeting this woman who refreshed him with her honesty and her reluctance to let him get away with things. May we all meet such women!

 

Encountered at the well

 

You are right,

I have nothing to draw with and the well is deep,

nothing to draw with and the well…

yes well I hadn’t planned on being

any sort of a Messiah, had I?

I could have done without the early mornings,

the lonely roads

the misunderstandings

 

frankly

 

and it is not like I am trying

to force something down your throat

rightly cynical fellow-traveller

but I am thirsty and you should be also

for the transformation that makes meaningless

your previous life.

 

Yes, call them all

come…come…come to the freakshow.

Are you another one that will call me

“King” and “Lord” and “Master” even while

missing the point?

 

I like you when you argue,

as if we were simply determining

whether you will address me as “Comrade” or “Adversary”.

To tell you the truth

I struggle with the same question.

Preparing for mass

 

So I found my battered old missal and I hope I will find some surprisingly good and lifegiving things in there. The bent spine and falling off cover are the evidence of how far this book has travelled with me, since I celebrated my much anticipated “first holy communion” when I was seven, nearly eight.I will be critical of the old words and the old format, because I have a lot of baggage with the church and the patriarchal and kyriearchal words and my own exclusion from ministry against I am certain, God’s will and for no good reason.

Things might get a little bit catholic and weird as I move between my early memories of “church” the words of the liturgy as I was taught them and my current understanding/s of theology. If anyone is reading from a different tradition I guess you can have a sort of ethnographer’s view (or skip bits). I know there have been some minor changes to wording since I was a regular at mass. I don;t know them in details but as far as I know the few inclusive changes our progressive bishop brought in, in the 80s or 90s were removed and the changes that were made in no way made the mass less exclusive, or remediated the problems I had growing up…so I will speak of the old words and if I am wrong on some of the details someone can tell me if they really want to but it won’t make much difference I am sure.

I was going to start at the very beginning, with the greeting but when I opened the missal the first thing I saw was the “preparation for mass” prayers and I remembered that we got to church about half an hour or more early because my brothers were altar servers and this was really important (after spending all saturday following them to their sport and being on the sidelines there, I got to come to church and sit on the sidelines). But this was meant to be a wonderful opportunity for me to engage in contemplative prayer (at the age of about 7 or so) and I was encouraged to read over the readings of the mass that was coming- I never got out of this habit actually as this blog attests) and think about what they mean, and what they mean for ME and also read over the 3 pages (4 if you count the illustration that was also dense with words) of my missal that were prayers for preparing for mass. There were bible verses (John 6:51; 1 Cor 11:23-26,28; 1 Cor 10:1; Rom 12:1) and there were prayers by some of the “church Fathers”- St Thomas Aquinas, St Ambrose, and The Apostolic Constitutions from the 4th century.

It was heavy and hard going for a little girl but I struggled on because it seemed the right thing to do and I really did think I “loved God” and I was terrified I would have to be a martyr when I grew up like all the ones in the stories so I was willing to just read heavy stuff instead of that!

And really, if they want boys to grow up wanting to be priests, they should let the girls go out the back and miss half the mass “serving” and having a great time with their mates like my brothers did and make the boys read the heavy stuff and sit there with nothing to do but think about it. It’s all written by important leader types who think they are the last word in priesthood (that is how the prayers come across) so I was being encouraged to pray in a way as if I was actually making the whole mass happen by invoking the Holy Spirit to come in and “declare this bread that we shall eat to be the body of Christ”.

There was also a lot of very unhealthy bragging about how unworthy “I” was and unclean and fully dependant on God to make “me” worthy and clean. Rereading it in middle-age I still struggle with the heaviness of the language and ideas. I feel burdened again by the self-hate I felt as  child. And yet then there is a lovely black and white print of some wheat growing and some vines and sun and birds and the words on the print are “The love of Christ has drawn us here together” and goes on to ask that we “exult” and find “joy” and gather ourselves together and become one from all the corners of the earth.

I may have changed what I (with my post-structuralist little mind and liking of diversity) mean as “one”; but then I can return at the beginning of “mass” “church” “eucharist” “the service” “prayers” to refocus myself on the joy and relief that I had finished the long and patriarchal prayers and had reached the wheat, vines, sun and birds. Nature. Food. Life. Joy and exultation. Difference and coming together.

I want to do some more serious and careful prayer writing or liturgy writing this year. Maybe I can start there. Maybe back to where the reflection started with John’s Jesus proudly proclaiming that he has come to be “bread” for “life”., through all the unworthiness into the fresh air and the fields where we grow bread and share it with wildlife.

Today I shared felafel with some excellent friends who support me when I am hurting and poor and who today needed a felafel and someone to laugh with. I shared a dance in front of an audience with a group of people I had felt estranged from. I walked down a crowded street where African people generously shared their culture with us. I made plans for the birthday of one son and an outing for another son. I also washed dishes, emptied kitty litter, hung out clothes. Joy was everywhere. Bread/felafel was broken. It was a day of life for my blessedly work-tired body at the end of the week.

Your kindom come.

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!

 

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.

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.