Tag Archives: Jonah

I’m not a puppet

Read with suspicion, I am struggling this week.

The first reading is all about Jonah doing what God wants. It misses all the interesting things about what happens when Jonah misbehaves, and if we only had this part of the story we would see his relationship with God as very respectable and conflict free. Jonah’s message here is one of doom and destruction. God is displeased and the city will be destroyed. There are many parallels with today that we could misuse this text to fit (and people do). It’s bleak and authoritarian, it’s call is to follow God out of fear not joy.

I used to get seduced by the Jonah story, to the point where as a teenager I tried to change my name to Jonah. I guess I was attracted to the security of being Jonah. Jonah can make any mistake, go off in any wrong direction and God will bring him back like a straying toddler, making use of a huge fish or a plant to teach a lesson. Jonah may suffer some unpleasant experiences, but has an element of invulnerability within that. I didn’t at the time stop to unpack how toxic such a relationship with a codependant and controlling God in fact would be. I couldn’t follow what I saw as my vocation (to the priesthood) and so I trusted God that somehow I, or the people blocking me would be swallowed by a huge fish and it would all come out right in some nebulous future.

I did not then accept the implications of free will, that in fact we are called but not forced to follow God and we all hear the call differently and argue over what it means and there is conflict and struggle, loss and failure. The story of Jonah does not allow for these, suffering in the story is temporary and can be corrected by turning back to God.

The second reading is also a dangerous snippet of the sort of “doom and gloom” content that churches overuse and misuse. It can feel true for any generation and any time, and that is perhaps the first lesson to learn, that when the end seems nigh, people were feeling just the same centuries ago! However that way of thinking can also lead us to too blithely dismiss the possibility of real “end times” inherent in the fact of climate change. God is not going to mysteriously put us or our leaders back on the right path if we stubbornly persist in destroying ourselves. Death and suffering are real, and become more probable when we abuse nature or each other.

What I take from the second reading, is the need to stand back to some degree from social “truths” (like marriage, celebration, grief, property, use of nature). These everyday “realities” are human constructions and therefore able to be questioned. I find it interesting that use of wives (no mention of husbands), property and nature are all lumped together…there seems to me (perhaps only seen through a 2018 lens) an admission there that what needs liberation from us and our social structures (or “truths”) is women and the earth as well as the distribution of resources. Also that there is something unpredictable in what we feel, we may not always experience the emotion we are “supposed to”.

In this context I find the gospel interesting. John has been killed. Is Jesus sad and lonely? Is his calling of the fishermen as much about needing friendship and connection as anything else? How was it for Zebedee to be left this way? This story seems to follow on from the second reading, in that they are leaving their structured lives of labour and family hierarchies (but also possibly affection) and seeing a better or more imperative future possibility. If Zebedee and fishing represent “the way we have always done things”, it is pretty daring of them to follow Jesus instead, but faced with climate change we as a society need to have that daring, to turn our backs on capitalist “tried and true” ways of being and seek liberation.

I say that so blithely but it is not an easy thing to see each step or to follow it. We may not all agree on exactly how to proceed to have the best security for the most human beings, but the fact that so many are already suffering (and threaten to become a flood of the dispossessed and hungry…I refer both to refugees and the increasing numbers of poorer and poorer people within our own relatively wealthy society) is a clear sign that we need to seek liberation for humanity. Liberation is not just this modern, atomistic idea of “empowerment”, where you think positive and like Boxer from Animal Farm work harder. Liberation is for me and “thou” for each person who is in any way entangled in my life (and the whole globe’s population is increasingly tangled together by lines of relationship or exploitation).

Perhaps I am feeling bleak because I have to work on my political campaign at what is usually my favourite time of the year, and I am missing out on sunsets at the beach. Perhaps it is just hard to feel positive because all of us are so overworked and people seem to think heaping hatred and blame on those who stand up for the environment and human rights is somehow justified. But the readings seem every bit as crosspatch as I am feeling. So I will still squeeze out a grumpy little prayer…

Loving God,

You know by now that I am not Jonah, that I don’t do what I am told.

That I may need mentoring and advice but can’t stand being used

as a puppet for someone else.

Not even you, bold and impassioned Word.

 

You have seen by now

that those social structures-

patriarchal marriage, capitalism, consumerism,

neoliberal cancerous growth

leave me cold,

that I don’t know how to smile when I am told

or weep when I am prompted.

 

It is good news indeed to me

if oppressive structures could pass away.

 

So I guess I could leave things,

most things not all

because I sure as Heaven am never going to leave my children

even for you

and you taught me that I can’t leave my self.

 

I guess I’ll come with you, who have lost a loved one

to recognise each other’s broken heart,

to hold each other’s hand on the long road,

to somewhere uncompromising and brave.

 

But I am not really brave yet.

Amen.

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Actively being saved, the resurrection and putting in the hard yards

Wow what rich readings this week. It’s hard to put it all together and say anything new, I can tell this week is going to be a wrestling match. When looking at the first reading I got to the description of Jonathan as a “brother” whose love “surpassing the love of women” seems to call for my queer lens.

But I felt ambivalent about on the one hand an obvious possibility for a queer reading, on the other hand with Sedgwick’s Epistomology of the Closet still ringing in my (metaphorical ears) I wondered if I should respect David enough to leave him in his closet. I also felt ambivalent about whether this possible, closetted, open secret was in fact liberating from a female reader’s perspective in light of Sedgewick’s scholarship about the role of the (male) closet in keeping women out of the centre even of the heterosexual relationships that supposedly define them. David did have an awful lot of wives and concubines after all.

But if you are interested in the idea of David and Jonathan being lovers, here is a fairly clear laying out of the argument for, and here is a perfect example of a circular argument against the idea that David could possibly be a dirty queer in God’s sacred text (the bible does not contain dirty queers because dirty queers are not anywhere in the bible because they are dirty unlike God’s clean bible that doesn’t contain dirty queers). The bible of course is nothing more or less than the handbook of how to be a good fundamentalist.

What strikes me a lot more than the possible queerness, is the waste of human life. These kings generate war, war equals death and tears are the result (I have this conversation with my kindergarteners about unkind-play and stick-play almost every day: some of them – unlike some powerful adults- are starting to understand the cause and effect). David here mourns the deaths of such close friends, and yet the next time we see him I am sure he will be off “slaying” someone again or putting a loyal friend in the frontline so that he can get with his wife perhaps (I still don’t understand how the possible respectful gay relationship we could speculate about David having had is a greater moral problem than his dealing with Bathsheba and Uriah).

But staying with David’s genuine grief and emotional pain for the time being, the psalm says it all. Out of the depths we do cry. We do want God to come along and redeem our nation from all its iniquities. We want David in the story to find a better way forward. We yearn for that utopian dream that some of us may call the “kingdom of God”. I relate to the cold, bored and yet burdened with massive responsibility watchman longing to go off shift. Yes God hurry up…but this is where my agnosticism sets in. I don’t frankly believe that just waiting around for some sort of salvific act as reliable as the passing of time itself (unless we mean the extinction of our species– which frankly I am not waiting for so eagerly) is a morally defensible strategy in the depths of the despair of a plundered, besieged, unjust, neoliberal world. Stay with me though, I am about to do something uncharacteristic and agree with a Pope!

I wasn’t really seeing much to work with in the second reading until I read this (note the author saying that Paul echoes Pope Francis’ sentiments, while I loved the article in general this expression made me give a shout of laughter which almost got me kicked out of the library). I won’t paraphrase Anderson’s excellent argument, or Pope Francis’ clear thinking on the topic of the environment but if we do read the second reading as arguing for radical redistribution (including the Christ-like courage to become poor to enrich others and restore a “fair balance”) then this seems to show a much more real and urgent way “out of the depths” than passively waiting. There’s resurrection thinking here, a way modelled by Jesus but like all real resurrection thinking it demands we put in the hard yards (What did you think resurrection meant? A fairy godmother waving a wand? If only!)

Is this how God redeems us from all our iniquities? It’s inadequate when you consider that the more powerful have the choice not to be transformed by this word and this teaching. The little people are going to have to do more than count on the generosity of the ruling class. But we are also not the smallest of the little people. We do need to use our relative power and privilege to achieve this redistribution “for the relief of others”.

Let’s take those readings as baggage and stow them aboard ready to cross over again to the other side with Jesus (cf last week) into this week’s gospel. This week’s gospel suggests to me both an obvious feminist reading (about the interruption of the invisible, unacceptable woman in the middle and Jesus’ deliberate action in making her visible) and troubles me with its portrayal of Jesus as the male savior of helpless, inferior women. I can read the hemorrhaging woman as active in her own healing, and I like the way this calls into question Jesus’ performance of his gender. But the consent-nazi in me is still troubled when we reconceive Jesus (almost as a trans man) as the next installment in the character of the once female Wisdom, who is kind of like a sexy exotic dancer “asking for it” (Yes Jesus affirms the women grasping at him and Wisdom constantly invited everyone to visit, seek and pursue her but…troubling). Also if we begin to reconceive Jesus’ healing in a different way, saving as an erotic game-play (I am indebted for this idea to a speech I heard ages ago by a lesbian theology scholar who claimed she doesn’t want to be “saved” by anyone at all…then she added in a more playful voice that maybe a woman in a white horse could save her. I always felt a bit uncomfortable with the gender dynamics and implication of power in the idea of being “saved” so this idea stayed with me) even then there is a problem because Jairus’ daughter is both underage and too unconscious to agree to be in the game.

So I am uncomfortable with the gender and power discourses I can take out of here. I am uncomfortable with queerying the gender and turning the “saving” into erotic play. I know the function of the bible isn’t to make me feel cosy, but this is too uncomfortable. What if I latch onto the word “daughter”? If I see Jesus’ relationship to the two women as parental, then I am still a bit troubled by “his” gender (in terms of theirs), but I can see him in a feminised role, similar to my role as a mother and a preschool teacher constantly getting interrupted and called for and jostled and grabbed at. And now immediately (to borrow Mark’s hyper-activity) I am drawn into the text as Jesus (very appropriate in terms of what Paul says about Jesus’ action becoming the model for our action).

And if I am called to be Jesus, not called to be saved by Jesus then I don’t need to unpack the gender roles so much but just follow Mark’s immediacy (see how many times Mark uses “immediately or actions rapidly following and interrupting each other) and get on with the job. Jesus has too much to do, he is called from every side and his never shrinking to-do list is complicated by immediacies where even his cloak is pulled at. The temptation must be to ignore the interruption and continue, or to growl at the woman who drained something from the already stretched Jesus. He stops, publically notes and affirms her action and then calmly continues onto the next healing. The next healing is occurring in the home of already privileged people and he asks for secrecy. I feel I am once more detecting Magnificat movement where the private and marginalised are publically affirmed, and the popular and central are refocused on the domestic (feeding their daughter) instead of given more celebrity status. Jesus here again is concerned with fair balance.

Here finally I run into a real brick wall, because I am neither as energetic as the Markan Jesus, nor as serene in the face of so many people wanting or needing a piece of me. Here the “good news” is more daunting than empowering. Am I really supposed to be constantly poured out for the good of others? Am I really called to act powerfully to address imbalances with a kind and healing word for everyone and anyone? No wonder the guy died in his mid 30s.

This gospel makes me want to be Jonah and throw myself into the belly of a big fish to escape my impossible vocation (but isn’t that pretty much what I have already wasted my life doing?) This gospel makes me cry with grief, guilt and frustration and look for a loophole. Because by myself I AM NOT JESUS. I am not all this. I am not a whole body of Christ within myself. The body of Christ is always and eternally supposed to be community. There is supposed to be a church around me, empowering, supporting and informing my potential for ministry. And there bloody well isn’t!

But before I let anger, guilt and grief turn into self-pity and self-pity hurl me back into the endless abyss of depression let me try to refocus myself on the cracks in the cement of the patriarchal women-hating (no that is not too strong an expression) church. I am not the only “other”, there are other “others” with their vocations twisted or wasted (I moved a church that technically ordains women but like many others found the language and practice still oppressively patriarchal). Some have learned to survive/thrive and nurture others, to channel away the toxins of their own feelings of betrayal and bitterness- referring to the truth of their pain only in ways that heal the “others” like me, who have failed to overcome their sense of alienation and find a place.

The church has failed me, but God knew that would happen and called me anyway. I do realize that I have failed God. Like David I am caught up in the system that causes my deep grief and I am not an innocent, but like the watchman perhaps there is a shift change coming. There are others who have even less privilege than me, and they must be my focus for fair balance- not myself and my self-pity.  There is still a Jesus who crosses to my side, who tells me to come out of the crowd and touch and be acknowledged and healed, who calls me to sit up and eat, who is the one I must become, not just the one I can be passively saved by.

I have often felt that my vocation and even my faith was dead “why trouble the teacher further”? But Jesus keeps insisting stubbornly that it is only sleeping. How then do I awake?