Tag Archives: kindness

The fig tree, the burning bush and my lenten call.

I have been absent, and yet my graphs show that readers have checked in here (thanks for doing that). after a busy and somewhat stressful few weeks, my body and mind exhausted beyond belief I am seizing some time to rest and self-care. And so, with a sense of luxuriating in the thing I love, I turn back to the lectionary, trying to feel guilty neither about how long it has been since my last blog post, nor about the things I am leaving undone to write this. This after all is a better use of my time than any sort of procrastination would be (and I am so tired I would not be more productive).

The first reading is the story of Moses encountering the burning bush. Is that what it would take to make me fully human again? A great phenomena like a burning bush, a place to take off my shoes and know mystery? A reminder that activism is all very well but encounter is where God happens. I have an hour and a half to choose something and I choose this. Pondering the readings, taking off the shoes of my roles as teacher, co-ordinator, bread-winner and politician. Here I am just Stef the human, here I am small and confused and trying to listen to a voice. The voice is the God who liberates, telling Moses of specific moments in salvation history and reminding me that I am called to fullness of life not just busyness.

But God is also the God who will send Moses out into the struggle to liberate a people, a God who will put me back into the struggle with all the good activists and advocates and seers and comrades. This space is not a place of escape or retreat, it is a place of sustenance FOR THE STRUGGLE. God ultimately refuses naming, refuses to be owned or branded. God is loyal to her own values not to an institution. The bush burns but it is not consumed, rules may be broken. The Spirit blows wherever she will and I do not own, control or parcel her out. This is perhaps a warning to all would-be theologians and preachers (noted).

The psalm celebrates God’s kindness, commitment to justice and strengths-based approach to humanity (pardoning sins and restoring life and liberation). I weep with gratefulness at the thought of kindness and mercy- yes give me that as a relief from politics and the negative speeches of so many. But kindness and mercy are not just gift but also call. I am asked to be the kindness and mercy of God, as human beings we are meant to embody the divine, not just anger (even when we are sure it is righteous). The kindness is stressed again and again, as sure and surpassing as the sky itself. God is kind so I must be kinder. As my exhausted mind ponders this I feel that maybe this kindness could even extend to myself, not to pander myself in inactivity but at least to allow rest and joy back into the mix.

Always back to the good things, back into the struggle for justice and also back into the solace-point, the “home” that God is to our hearts.

The second reading seems to be reminding us that tradition and institutionalised religion are no guarantees against error. Admittedly the recent events around “Cardinal” Pell have led me to embrace this interpretation. We must remember the values of the family of God (mercy, kindness, justice, advocating for the little) instead of just following rules and rituals or relying on our history and tradition. Our tradition/s are not a place to stand secure and judge others (other religions, sexual orientations or lifestyles) they are places to take off our shoes and gain some humbleness about what we have…and what in justice we ought to share. I have no patience with people who abuse power and privilege to harm others, as shepherds called to tend the people of God we have a vital DUTY OF CARE. This is true for all of us, the unofficial and petty shepherds as well as the ones considered “great” by the institution. That mercy and kindness of the psalm needs to be shared to the last and the least and the one who we do not think has the strength to answer us back (you’d be surprised what is possible with God).

The verse before the gospel tells us to repent (be radically transformed for the better) and to see the kindom of God.

The gospel begins with Jesus threatening dire things to anyone who refuses to repent and be transformed. This could be as true for an institution/church as for an individual (maybe more so). Just when we are sure that the gospel is a terrible judgement, the parable at the end switches it. God is endlessly patient, tending and calling and giving the fig-tree more time (though beware because at some point even the extra time may run out). If we have not borne significant fruit YET then this lent comes to give us another chance and our lives may be cultivated and fertilized that we might finally bear fruit.

I’ve been a slow-bloomer in anything I have ever tried in my life. I have both a slowness to understand, a reluctance to really back myself and am endlessly ready to quit and concede failure. God bids me garden myself more carefully, give myself time to grow (amidst the great role-models and mentors who always told me this was possible). Noone says that it doesn’t matter that the fig-tree is barren, noone suggests that it should keep failing to thrive, failing to produce. But Jesus suggests that if all that is needed is more time and caring then that can be provided by a patient and relentlessly loving God.

This lent we are given the time and kindness to grow, and the warning that we must encounter God ourselves, not rely on ritual and tradition. I will seek the quietness of lent, the gathering dark of autumn, the parrots in the fig-tree, the super-worm moon and the promise that something will come again out of all the deaths of the world. I will give myself time.

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Kindness is subversive

This week has been overly busy with some progress on the job front, my son’s 21st and a couple of celebrations of International Women’s Day. My one “study day” was spent mainly networking rather than writing which o an introvert like me would have seemed like a nightmare if I had planned for just how busy and social I would be this week. But it was fine (partly because the only people I had to mix with were ones I genuinely like). So I haven’t written a reflection on the next part of the mass, though I have thought a lot about the next one of those I will write (hopefully in the coming week).

I have also thought a lot about pink-collared work and about glass ceilings, especially the self-righteous kind of glass ceiling the patriarchal churches all have one way or another. I have thought about how I have a huge university debt but am paid like I just need to buy the odd pretty frock, not as though I am the one and only “bread winner” (so there has been less to go with the overpriced gluten-free bread this week). I’ve thought about the hard physical, mental and emotional labour that gets dismissed as the ultimately feminine “caring” for the youngest, oldest and most vulnerable members of society. For me caring almost becomes a dirty word, when it becomes a label trivialising hard work as just part of my nature. In this way it is steeped in the reek of exploitation.

I want to not care, I want to be tough and shiny and competitive- the minute I walk through the door into a room full of toddlers whose faces light up to see me and who ask “where are your special books to read to me” or demand a cuddle I know that as hard as I work my emotions are tangled with these exceptional people and that we do all “care” for each other after all. This knowledge is highlighted the minute one of my colleagues notices I have not had my ten-minute break or asks to swap places with me as I have been out in the sun too long, or takes over a boring cleaning task so I can do an activity with the children. Their treatment of me reminds me to watch out for who needs back-up or breathing space or just a kind word. A storm is coming so the boss sends home anyone who can be spared in the order of who has to travel on public transport longest. She says it “doesn’t count” as leaving early because she is genuinely concerned for their safety. Those who have to stay longer as parents are having trouble getting there on time. Noone complains, noone is charged for the time.

Because this is the fact of being human, like it or not we do care. There is something there that can’t be quantified and given a price tag and I feel sick with worry about that in a world where increasingly people are treated as disposable rubbish. Noone “cares” about the carers. You are supposed to be a “lifter” or an “entrepreneur”. Leaners and those leaned on have less and less value to the ones who like to stack the odds in their own favour.

But at uni this week, at a collective supervision meeting one of the students outlined her plans for her thesis. I swallowed my envy at how articulate and with-it she is and how many steps ahead of me after a shorter time and listened because I could tell she was going to be interesting. And she started with a provocative statement: “Care is subversive, kindness is activism”. She went on to talk about the neoliberal vision for the university (for the world), about the fearfulness of people to speak out and though she did not quote Freire the “banking model” of education was behind what she was criticising.

It’s a bleak view when you look at the patterns of power in the world but she has chosen to focus on activists and what makes a person one, and she seems to believe from the beginning that caring and kindness have a lot to do with it and are the loose cannon on the deck of the organised and self-interested capitalist world. It’s a romantic sort of a thought, a “love conquers all” sort of a gauntlet to throw down but I guess if I am to have any faith in God whatsoever then that is the right sort of grounding for it, and for hope.

So happy International women’s day to the carers and the sharers, the kind ones and the unselfish ones. To the ones who wipe the face of sorrow and the ones who bind wounds or teach little hearts to sing. To the unsung heroines, the weary and under-appreciated subversives, to the older women who encourage the younger women and the sisters who are stronger together.Our caring will conquer economic rationalism, our kindness is laced with a growl of righteous anger for our children. Every meal we cook, every word we write, every selfie we are laughed at for taking. We will care for ourselves, each other and the world. Our values belong to ourselves and we will not let fear and self-interest find a permanent home in our hearts.

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!”

Kingdom, power, glory and other distractions

“You say that I am a king.” Jesus throws that particular metaphor back on Pilate- back on the pseudo-objective, rationalist, judgemental part of ourselves, the part too cowardly to be moved by compassion and deeper visceral wisdom. Yes we do say that don’t we…we reify kingship and power and greed: patriarchy and kyriearchy in placing Jesus on side with the rulers of this world, with the fathers. Even when he criticises or replaces them he does it (in our storytelling) as a rival and a winner, as the hyper-masculine suffering body that triumphs. We have read this “truth” in this way for so many years and we have settled in this exile of Lords and Fathers. How can we sing Wisdom’s song in this desolate land? How do we differently make sense of the radical transformative action of Jesus.

I look at a greed-torn world, a “kingdom” of cowardly and wilfully blind citizens and I don’t see a “reign of Christ” in action. Not if Christ is God, is that still small voice of challenge, the call to justice, the instinct to kindness, the presence of love. Where is that in the ruling of this universe? How does the torn and poisoned earth experience Christ’s “reign”. I do not think that after two millenia of this we need to keep trotting out the same old pious Pollyanna-statements where when all else fails we are stubbornly “glad” because “Christ is king”. Religion becomes the equivalent of an ecstasy tablet, we take it to ignore reality and we feel damn good– meanwhile the oikonomia of God’s household is still in disarray. We are not taking care of our earth and our little human selves at all well.

Our so-called “king” is in exile. We are too damn racist to accept a king who sits on the earth with Indigenous people or travels in leaky boats with refugees. We are too misogynist to allow a queen within the eternal Christ/Wisdom person who walks with us and suffers with us and calls us to something simpler and truer and less glamorous than a “kingdom”. Where is the justice and kindness and simple barefoot humility that is “all” we are called to? We force this exiled, suffering Christ down onto a throne and nail a crown to his head and hail him as a human construction of oppression, as a “king”.

“Holy” we bleat, “God you are so cool”. We say “Lord. Lord, Lord, Lord” day and night and ignore the work to be done. Wisdom walks through the streets, mixes wine and talks to the “just anyones” that our church pushes out. Christ labours in the great harvest while we pour the chemicals of patriarchy and racism over everything and try to sell Christ short on infertile patented seeds of a pre-determined kingdom of euphoric nothingness. “Those who suffer the ecstasy of the animals”, snuffling up to the ankle or the hand of a master, behaving obsequiously and expecting a pat for it. “Those who glitter with the glory of the hummingbird” self made members of a royal court, dressed in the fine threads of someone else’s labour and feeling a nauseating delusion of superiority. This is our religion at times, a lip service to the truth of the labour of God’s struggle and an profound orientation to everlasting “death”.

We have one life to love God- not to worship in a way that distances God and makes a Christmas pageant of “Him”, but in a close, intimate way that is committed to the pain of always giving birth to justice, kindness and right-relationship. We don’t work, or suffer, or achieve things “for” God, for some distant and glittering king that demands things from us. We engage in the work that God is already doing, we orient ourselves toward life and love. We follow a beloved not extol a figurehead.

I realise I am quarrelling with tradition today and even with scripture and I have not had time to do a careful analysis of those readings so I am writing from the gut. But I am no courtesan playing political games and competing for the favour of a spoilt king. At my best I am a (junior) co-worker with the tireless justice-maker Christ, at my worst I might be distracted into the sort of pretty feel-good religion of the spectator at a royal progress. If we want to say that Christ “reigns”, then we have a lot of work to do to make love the new common-sense.

My heart is mutinous at the thought of a ruling class God!