Tag Archives: kindom of God

Homes for all and the kindom of Godde.

OK so it is homeless week. It’s a week to think about people who don’t have it easy. Let’s not make it a week of congratulating ourselves for a small or moderate amount of tokenistic charity but let’s make it a week for reflecting on the systemic reasons for homelessness. Let’s acknowledge the sin of inequitable ways of being in the world and let’s heed a call to repentance (transformation, revolution). This is the agenda I shamelessly bring to my frienemy the lectionary. Let’s see how that pans out!

Abraham prays to Godde in a way that I really admire in the first reading. You can call it bargaining if you like, I call it advocating. “Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty? “is a valid question to my mind. Godde is responsive to Abraham in this reading, there is a failure to break out of the kyriearchal model of punishing and using power over. Much as it is tempting to want Godde to act this way toward the unjust (remembering that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was inhospitability rather than imposing anachronistic interpretations to do with sexual orientations), much as we sometimes want Godde to be our powerful super-hero that sorts out the bad guys this flies in the face of our experience of our socio-political world.

So, beyond the superficial blind allies, what do we have here? We have Abraham role-modelling for us a gritty and honest relationship with Godde, an ethic of care toward his relatives. Since that time we have had Jesus pushing the boundaries of our kinship, asking us to open up our familial care to “others” (which makes it tragic when Christians feel the need to judge or exclude their own). I seem to hear sarcasm in Abraham’s humility in arguing with “the Lord”. I feel that Godde would appreciate the sassiness of this encounter. Refocusing on the homeless we need to be both this persistent and this audacious in pursuing better outcomes.

One of my fears for my own old age is homelessness. I have not accrued much super and the world is becoming less forgiving of elderly people who are not rich. So being that homeless person in my imagination (the one I hope I never get to experience for real) I read the psalm.

“Though I walk amid distress, you preserve me;
against the anger of my enemies you raise your hand.
Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.
Your right hand saves me.
The LORD will complete what he has done for me;
your kindness, O LORD, endures forever;
forsake not the work of your hands.”

Do homeless people get to feel this? Can they feel a radical presence? I try to do small acts of solidarity as I walk through town, I try to smile or say “hello” to street people as they are possibly future me (you’d be surprised how many are very well educated). I do succumb to beggars when I am able, it’s a problematic question of what the right thing to do is, but I don’t work hard enough on changing the political scene to feel completely guiltless about other people’s poverty. I try to be the “kindness” in the psalm not the “enemy”.

It frightens me that people can “walk amid distress” and walk and walk mile after mile, year after year with no relief. This applies also to the refugees on Manus. If we are going to discuss homelessness then the way our society ignores, trivialises and victimises Indigenous people and disabled people in particular needs to be mentioned. The number of older women finding themselves homeless is a set of questions we should be demanding answers to. “Distress” in our society is unevenly distributed according to race, class, gender and non-heterosexuality. All these people are the work of Godde’s hands. Godde lovingly created the beloved Indigenous, disabled, queer, poor woman that we discard (or any other). When we forsake the work of Godde’s hands we are deeply insulting Godde.

Christe eleison.

In the second reading we have all been baptised into the life of Christ. This is not about drawing boundaries around an exclusive community or imposing membership processes (such as human celebrations of particular models of baptism), it is about Godde’s sacramental claiming of us all into a radical dignity and equality, nailing to the cross anything that obstructs us from perfect love. Love flows to us and calls to us, it loves us into being better if we only become aware of it. The first step (if we take a sacramental approach) is not striving to do good deeds or to weed out sin, not to fill in some sort of spiritual KPI.

The first step is becoming aware of the love that Godde has for us…for our world…for people…for non-human creation…for the yearning in us to be love. I am Christian because I believe that even this awareness is transformative, that we will learn to desire lovingness as a basis of our life if we let ourselves be aware, barefoot on the ground of our being (Godde). When we are motivated by desire not duty, we work a lot harder. Trust me this is almost always true 😉 Awareness of Godde builds in us a desire to be infused by Godde’s presence and to do good not as “work” but as a creative and free expression of who we really are. The tragedy of violence and abuse is not only that the victim suffers, it is also that the perpetrator is not being their authentic and free self. Nevertheless, anger is often the appropriate response to abuse. Within myself though, I can try to hear the voice of Godde more strongly than the voices of my detractors. I can try to speak out of the freedom of being absolutely beloved and affirmed to be love.

I am not claiming that I have achieved this, but it’s a direction.

To return to the homeless person, we must be motivated by genuine love and solidarity to make social world’s where people have their material needs met. We must work harder for the good of each other instead of letting suspicion and envy turn us into hoarders of wealth. If we are working hard for love not duty, we will feel less angry if someone else benefits from our work. Sacrament then is a key to social change.

Into the gospel. I hope the focus on sacramentality has adequately prepared us to really pray with Jesus our prayer-coach. There is a lot here and I don’t feel able to cover it all sufficiently. I will drop a link to last time I covered this in case you need more.

Jesus is telling us to shamelessly bring our authentic needs and agendas to Godde. How sad that this example of how to pray has become just a set of words we recite in a hurry a lot of the time instead of an exemplar of how to construct our own. Sorry Jesus, for all the plagiarism. Jesus’ prayer is balanced, there is an acknowledgement and awareness of Godde and Godde’s agendas and a flowing over of Godde’s agendas into our interests as earthlings. “Your kindom come” because we are your kin and everything you do will make us more free, and more real. But Jesus also reminds us to be persistent if we feel we are not getting an authentic answer.

This seems to me to be a two-edged sword in that on the one hand it validates our nagging of Godde as part of right relationship, but what is also implicit here is the idea that when we have the power to grant someone’s need of course as decent human beings we would do so. When we, as decent human beings encounter the homeless, we will open the door and give food and recognition. When we, as decent human beings witness systemic abuses we will speak out and act for what is good. When our government refuses to even attempt to save the only planet we can live upon, we will pester and pester not only Godde but humans. We will demand decency and humanity from those in power, we will never become cynical enough to stop demanding what we need (our bread for tomorrow). We will never become cynical enough to give up on a vision of Godde’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven”. We will never have our head too much in the clouds to hear the gritty voices of reason on this material earth beloved by a gritty dirty-sandalled Jesus.

In todays world, hope is a necessity we must search and work hard for. We focus on the needs of those who do not have what they need. We take back our power as members (through baptism) of Godde’s kindom. We seek a fairer, more hopeful world, transformed by love.

 

 

 

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From the womb out to the universe: love

The lectionary this week is my friend, these readings are perfect for encouraging an activist and someone who would do good in the world, without allowing for smugness or self-righteousness. Given the church’s capacity for “I am right and you are damned” thinking, I will start with what these readings do NOT tell me. They do not tell me that I am right and everyone else is wrong or inferior. They do not tell me to go about judging individual “sin” and nitpicking others. They do not answer all questions, give us a blueprint for living or make it easier. They do reassure us, call to us, tell us our work is meaningful and needed and remind us to focus on WHAT MATTERS. I will get to what matters but spoiler alert, the second reading pretty much spells it out.

There is a popular quote that is often incorrectly attributed to Nelson Mandela, but I will start with that:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (Marianne Williamson)

Williamson is brilliant, because she has made so many people sit up and take notice of this truth, but in a sense she is (intentionally or not) paraphrasing today’s first reading. The reading says the same thing, but puts it in a context of faith as relationship with God. God knows us full well. God knew us before we were born and is intimately familiar with both our capacity and our limitations. God loves and calls out of us the light that we are. God loves, soothes and forgives our brokenness and too tiredness.

God is asking us to have the courage to speak out against oppression- the oppressions of ourselves or others. God is asking us to take an ideological stand for the kindom of Heaven not for the economy of only money while children suffer and human beings work too hard for too little. Kin-dom, sometimes people tell me I spell that wrong, but I am making a choice to critique putting a human oppressive structure like “kingship” on our God of subversive love who preferences the poor. Charity then is reframed not as generosity given to the lesser “other” but as justice, giving people back what is rightfully theirs. We are KIN, we are family to God and therefore to each other. Everything we have was first of all God’s and as God has shared it with human-kind it is equally for all, not for one of us more than another.

Interesting also that as well as Kings and Princes (secular oppressive powers) we are also told we will have to stand against priests and people. I don’t see this reading asking us to unquestioningly follow or be inappropriately loyal to the clergy. We must demand from them what we demand from anyone in power- integrity, wisdom, humility and the dignity of those they claim to lead. Those below us are our kin and those above us are also our kin. Noone deserves less than me. Noone “deserves” more than me. We must give and demand full respect. There is no excuse for clergy abusing people or lording it over them.

The psalm is a call to God, because if we take out vocation to stand against injustice and oppression seriously then we have a daunting task before us. There will be a time when we feel unequal to the task. The psalm begs for God’s support and strength and hints that these are available to us. What if as well as calling on God we call on each other for solidarity and look for and support those in whom God’s call shines strongly? The womb is mentioned again, I notice this week’s readings really stressing our origin in a mother’s womb and God’s midwifely care for us to be born. Our material lives, our bodily realities (with messy female bodies involved in the creation of life) is known and blessed and companioned by God. I am menstruating as I write which makes my relationship with my own body difficult. But I came messily from my mother and my children came messily from me. The Word of God is in each of us and the power to declare God’s justice and salvation. These days I am not birthing children but words. It is also a difficult and messy process. God knows me before I speak and before my words are articulate. God is in the mentors that try to help me fix my words (whether or not they are “believers”).

If God companions us then God is also the companioning and mentorship that we bring to each other. Praise God in the messiness of human love and wisdom. Praise for the sacrament of community!

The second reading seems to agree with me. No amount of eloquence, dedication to a cause or force of charisma is worth anything if I lose the focus that God has set for all my meaningful labours. The focus is LOVE. Justice is for LOVE. Hope is for LOVE. Human relationships are for LOVE. Education of children is for LOVE. Politics ought to be for LOVE. Protecting the environment is work of LOVE. Love to the stranger and the refugee. Love to the queer kid and the dysmorphic teen. Love to the socially awkward, the disabled, the unemployed or the grieving. Love to the articulate, the successful, the polished too. Love to the prickly, love even to the hollow and love always back to myself. I am here to know my belovedness not guilt at what I have not (yet) achieved. I am beautiful for being created so, not as an attainment in a dazzling career of some sort. But I also don’t have to devalue my achievements, just refocus through them on love. All worthwhile aims are love and all that makes us fully actualised is love.

When it is hard to find a path then we must love more. When we are doing well then we must consciously refocus on love.

Love is that perfect and resilient thing that is expounded in this reading but please note that love is NOT a quiet doormat. Patient and kind yes but also ready to advocate for the beloved (and all are God’s beloved). All other things will ultimately fail us and leave us feeling empty but love will always triumph. Love will always call us back to the centre of being. Love is the safest place to invest our efforts and our identity and reap joy. When grief is real and joy is difficult, nevertheless the meaning of the universe lies within love. Love is unavoidable if our lives are to be meaningful and our personhood complete.

In the gospel, I “only a single mum”, “only a student”, only a this or only a that smile at Jesus being “only the son of a carpenter”. This past week I heard someone who I experience as a hero, a courageous and intelligent leader and thinker describe herself as “a girl from….” (a country town). Behind all the great prophets and teachers there is a very ordinary reality (like wombs again) of growing up somewhere with some ordinary folk and gaining extraordinariness through the call of God/love, through the fact that within every single one of us is the seed of liberation for ourselves and each other (Williamson again). I find Jesus’ words about some people being chosen and some not puzzling. I cannot believe that God plays favourites and this has not been my experience either.

It is the “widow” or the “leper” or the “carpenter’s son” that we must look to, to be fed and taught and called. It is the ordinary in us that gives rise to our vocation to work not only FOR God but WITH God in our world and beyond. And beyond, I say, not giving ourselves permission to neglect the realities of climate change and inequality here on earth, but hoping always radically hoping for greater meanings than we can yet know.

“So faith, hope and love remain, these three. But the greatest is love”. Our faith and our being hold such a truth at the heart because elsewhere we are reminded that “God is love”. Let us answer that call, let us be defined by always greater commitment to love.

Being Privileged

I actually had no quarrel with the lectionary today. The first reading in it, if you are interested is worth looking up later. What it says was pretty similar to the first part of the gospel anyway.
I chose the reading from Alexis Wright as part of a personal project that I thought you would allow me to share with you. My project is to bring into my prayer life some voices of women of colour, and especially Indigenous women. I read, then I spend some time trying to become aware to broaden my mind and to be called out of my privileged view of the world.
I haven’t read all of Carpentaria yet, but Wright’s work makes me feel deeply uncomfortable and sad with a sadness I don’t know how to express. It’s not really my intention to share my discomfort (hence I chose a relatively mild passage) but as feminists we do need to remember that we have been asking for decades that men and especially ones in leadership positions would sit with the discomfort that WE bring and let it undermine an unjust system, rather than being emotionally lazy and dismissing us unheard.
So when it comes to an Indigenous woman, one who is not only speaking unfamiliar truths, but speaking them in epistemologically strange (to me) ways I need to take extra time to get to know what I am hearing and allow for its potential to change me.
Will this change us?
I’ve circled back to the original first reading which is echoed in the gospel. In the Kindom of God we are called to set the table not to build a wall around “church” and then become gate keepers. We are called to throw open the doors and give refreshment (even a cup of water) in the name of Life.
Imagine a church that had always recognised this?
Imagine centuries- not of converting and condemning others but (and here I borrow from Micah) of walking humbly with our God in the world. What collaborations of respect and mutual learning might have been possible? Instead of a movement for liberation, people like Constantine used the network of Christians as a vehicle for conquest to further ruling class interests. God of course has been subversively present even so.
We are hearing some of that sort of ideology in the promotions of a so called “Christianity” in politics. A Christianity that does not have compassion for refugees or the unemployed or the working poor? A Christianity that does not look after the aged sufficiently and spits on the integrity of the earth herself. Where I must ask is the “Christ” in all this?
The second reading seems to concur, warning the wealthy and privileged that what they have tells a story of injustice and abuse. Exploiting the worker or the earth is disrespectful of the integrity of creation as God’s image, it defies God’s Wisdom which calls us to live in love and hope. Consumerism in the short term can seem like a refuge from increasingly difficult thoughts- we can turn consumerism into apparently kind values – looking good for others, decorating and cooking for others (some others of course, those few we value at the cost of the many). Ultimately the economic and ecological problems worsen while we ignore them. This gospel is written not only for the 1%, the super-rich but also for us. What would it take for us to turn away from the unhappiness of addiction to wealth and take these messages seriously?
We could start by demanding that any leader who invoked “Christianity” also practice it- not just in turning up to a church once in a while but in policy and practice. Our “Way of life” is threatened more by people who claim to promote it, than by those who admit they are different. We must move forward into life.
As an unauthorised preacher, it is very tempting for me to take only words of comfort from the gospel, which reminds us that as church we do not have to control, endorse or forbid the ministry of others, God is well able to call whoever she wants. I need to read on, from the reassurance to the stern warning. While God calls me to speak, I must take care because if my words are the thing that derail or distract people from God then I will be held accountable.
God’s view of us is not just as atomised and empowered individuals (the neoliberal “can-do” vision), but members of a community- giving and receiving ideas, support and challenge to each other. It’s easy for me to focus on the ways the institutional church has sinned- denying the possibility of female ministry for example, encouraging queer kids to despair and fall away even kill themselves, leaving exploitative capitalism to run rampant, allowing clergy to abuse children. There is much to be angry about.
But the gospel comes not only to fuel anger, but self-reflection. How must I be part of building healthier communities? How must I walk a wise line between listening to wiser others and challenging them? This little church community gives me hope in this like in all things. People here work tirelessly for refugees and give generously to poor families. We don’t all agree on things, but we leave some room for each other’s creativity to unsettle and teach us. We truly seek to love better.
God knows she has called us and knows who we are working for. Let us find ways to amplify our prophetic voices and call a sad and lost world to account and thus back to life. Let us glean hope from the justice and compassion that is possible in each of our lives as leaders and participants in communities. Let us be the one who gives, accepts or celebrates the cup of water given in the name of unconstrainable Life.
Where there is good in our worlds, let us build and nurture it.
Let us sit with the possibilities for hope on this beautiful spring day. Let us dwell on the people and places that our hope is for. After a short time of silence, you may wish to share and connect with those around you.

It’s only words

 

Continuing my travel through the order of the mass, after the Eucharistic prayer comes another rich moment, “the Lord’s prayer”. I love this gorgeous and honest version from New Zealand. But I want to grapple myself with my own meditation with “the prayer Jesus taught us”. Travel my thoughts with me if you like.

I remember as a child, a reoccurring theme was how dangerous “the Lord’s prayer” was. Dangerous because it was so familiar, we could say it without really meditating on what it meant, simply as empty words and that would be sinful, negate the power of praying at all or even be blasphemous. Nevertheless that was a “given” prayer that was supposed to be superior to other prayers so we had to always say it- at church, at home, in the rosary, in our own prayers as a family or as individuals.

I remember much more recently at work, debating with some colleagues the merits or otherwise of insisting that children apologise when they have done something to someone. “Sorry is an empty word” one of my colleagues said, positively AGAINST children being taught to say it when harm has been done. In a way she was right of course, the “sorry” of our nation toward Indigenous people has not completely achieved the change of heart we need, and many scoff that it has done anything at all. Nevertheless when Prime Minister John Howard refused to give “them” even the satisfaction of an apology that was seen as hurtful, as an obstacle to the way forward.

Words may be empty but giving or with-holding them has some power after all.

Perhaps it is that words are always as empty as containers, and we infuse them with contexts- with our identities and actions and intentions. Perhaps also while at times familiarity of words can obscure meaning, at times words can make meaning, call a reality into being. “I have called you by your name you are mine” with words we make each other part of our family, a person recognised and nurtured.

Perhaps it is not even always sin when familiar words simply wash over us, when we are at peace and connected in with our faith family rather than overthinking. I worked so hard as a child to overthink prayer, to avoid the blasphemy of praying without deep intention but I think I have missed one of the points of prayer/love/intimacy. In prayer we do not strive to be correct, we simply orient toward the other that is God (and that is God’s beloved) and we simply BE in love. We “waste time” with God.

Jesus as the “Word of God” did not always seek to be understood. Who has ever understood the loaves and the fishes, but thousands went away satisfied. What exactly happened at Cana? There was no wine and then there was. Not all words can be grasped in a logical way, some slip through like poetry, like the quiet breathing of a loved one, like a sunset.

Then there is this bit of wisdom. That took my fancy when I was in my mid-twenties (yeah back last century), although even then I had some quarrels with parts of it, and ever since then now and then I have made up my own meditations that attempt to make my praying of this prayer meaningful and intentional, to try to identify and avoid potential hypocrisy in it.

So here is a feminist version, not by any means finding all the potential pitfalls of meaning but one possible meditation on the prayer:

Don’t say “Our Father” as if God was only ever a father or were literally male. Don’t say “Our” unless you are ready to broaden the group of “we” to embrace whoever has been left out. Do not say “who are” if you will behave as if your own wealth and privilege is more important than the kindom of God. Do not say “in heaven” if by it you mean absent and not also here in my life, in me.

Don’t say “hallowed be your name” if you think other faiths cannot hallow God’s name. Do not say “hallowed” if you think religion is a set of rules and judgements rather than a living, holy place of encounter. Do not say “your” if your God has been recast in your own image…white? male? straight? cis? middle-class? educated? human? Do not say “name” if you are afraid to be named and known in return.

Or then again say it all, say it and learn to mean it. If God will parent you into this “heaven” way of being, if God is a sacred, named and known encounter then dare to say it all and be transformed!

Don’t say “thy kingdom come” as if God is an archaic form of oppressive government. Dare to demand and commit to “your kindom come”. Don’t say “your will be done” if you don’t have the courage to accept that God’s will is for a deeper, broader love for all…for the refugee, the single mother, the queer, the homeless, the welfare recipient and yes even for the right-wing bigot. Don’t say “your will be done” without accepting that God’s will, will radically transform you, and then transform you again! Don’t say “your will be done” without remembering that God’s will for you is joy and fulfilment. Say it! Trust it! Dance it!

Don’t say “on earth” without valuing food and water, music and cuddles and sex and conversation and your own bleeding, aging, beautiful body. Don’t say “on earth” without committing that all God’s children have access to the gifts of God on earth. Don’t say “on earth” without kissing the earth and calling her “mother” and loving her for she too is a child of God. God’s will on earth is love.

Don’t say ”as it is in heaven” without radical hope. Don’t say “as it is in heaven” if you are going to argue that it is impossible to strive for fairness, sustainability and equity. Do not say “as it is in heaven” if you think it does not matter that other people suffer. Do not mention heaven unless you are willing to hammer on its gates and demand its graces spill out through you. Yes I said “demand”, did you think prayers were for cowering and grovelling?

Say it, learn to mean it. Shout it, sing it, celebrate it, touch it, be it. The prayer our lovely Jesus-Wisdom man told us. A prayer we learn, a prayer we grow into.

Don’t say “give us” without knowing that God can and does become involved in human life and history. Don’t say “give” without being prepared to share. Don’t say “give” without opening your hands and hearts to welcome and receive. Don’t say “us” if your circle is too small for the stranger and the orphan. Don’t say “us” if you cannot be kind to “them”. Don’t say “this day our daily bread” if you think this life does not matter and people can “wait until heaven”. Don’t say “this day” if you think it doesn’t really matter what you choose moment to moment. Don’t say “this day” if you will not work for a world that is still here tomorrow.

Don’t say “bread” if you mean a particular culture’s version of bread is the only one. Don’t say “bread” if your loaf is perfectly risen and soft and fluffy while your neighbour subsists on stale crumbs. Don’t say “bread” without being broken and shared. Don’t say “bread” without meaning rice, pasta, quinoa, mealie, chapatti, tortilla and every type of Jesus. Don’t say bread and skimp of the wine. Don’t turn away those who are ill or old or female, those who are Indigenous or foreign or have a different faith, those who are broken or on welfare or ill, those who are depressed or imprisoned or seem just plain lazy. Bread is for everyone. Break it!

Don’t say “forgive us” if you are afraid to forgive yourself. Don’t say “forgive us” unless you are truly sorry. Don’t be sorry without trying to understand. Don’t assume you understand without listening. Don’t say “forgive us” until you have committed to keep listening to the oppressed even when they begin to bore. Don’t understand without committing to change. But do be daring and start somewhere. Start somewhere and let it make you change. Bread and forgiveness go together in the prayer. Eat the daily bread of the work we have done, take it as gift. Commit to change as a response to the bread. Be broken in your privilege. Be broken in your brokenness. Be fed together- oppressor and oppressed.

Don’t say “trespasses” if you mean nitpicking about individual peccadilloes. Don’t say “trespasses” if you violate other people’s space or right to be themselves. Say “as we forgive” and learn to forgive. Say “as we forgive” and agree to being forgiven slowly and to have listening and recompense demanded of you. Say “as we forgive” and cry with relief when forgiveness is given freely. Say “as we forgive” and do not cast the first stone. Say “as we forgive” and learn to love and forgive yourself.

“Do not put us to the test” because life is a journey not a standardised test. “Do not put us to the test” because we want a holistic and respectful way of learning. “Do not put us to the test” because we want to love, not perform our way into your kindom. Do not say “deliver us from evil” if you want to be delivered primarily from other people- unbelievers and sinners. Do not say “deliver us from evil” if your own inability to love is above questioning. Do not say “deliver us…” if you still cling to easy answers and easy theologies. Do not say “evil” without striving to see the good in the world.

“Deliver us God from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your loveliness keep us free from sin (hatred?) and protect us from all anxiety (despair?) as we live in joyful hope the sacramental presence of your living Word (also known at one time as Jesus)”

What do we mean by saying “the kindom, power and glory are yours” how are they God’s? Where do they flow from to exist and belong to someone? What is it to us? Do we simply recognise this reality or help accomplish it? Should we be relieved or frightened at it? Are we perhaps the kindom, power and glory of God in our own lives? Not all of it, but the part we can access?

God transform my desires so that they actualise joy. Teach me to be radically in touch with myself in the familiar prayers, in the tradition, in the things I ask from you. Call me out of the escapism that harms me or my neighbour. I pray all these things as I make ready to eat with you and your creation, to be washed and fed, to be caught up in the spilling out of Eucharist in all things.

I come to your banquet as a typical middle-aged Latvian woman asking, ”what can I bring? how can I help?” and gossiping with you in the kitchen as we set the table. Let me be part of the trusted friends whose contribution is welcome.

Bootleg preacher attempts to be reflexive

Apologies for length. I will never know if you skim read, read just a paragraph or skip it entirely 😉

The missal has this to say explaining the role of the “homily”: “Through the readings, God has spoken to his people of redemption and salvation, and nourished their spirit with his word. Christ is present among the faithful in his word. The homily helps those present understand and reflect upon what they have heard.” (32). We are given no advice on how to discern the validity and “truth” of the homily, presumably we are left to trust blindly to the authority of the (ordained, male) priest. Nor is there any mention of the priest’s responsibility to preach ethically nor any ideas on how to ensure that this happens.

As a listener, I can remember slowly realising that the sermons I had taken as unquestionably truth were performed by biased, limited humans who might have thought they were acting responsibly in what they told us to believe, but did this without any respect for the critical abilities or experiences of the listener and with some fairly glaring gaps in their point of view. I realised this as an adult and as a slow process of disillusionment. By this time I had already heard many things passionately decried from the pulpit- contraception, homosexuality (on the bright side that was where I found out what homosexuality even was) and even feminism.

As a preacher myself, a bootleg-preacher who has no license (or possibility of being licensed) from the church magisterium I wonder then why should people trust what I say? Related to this is a question to myself- how dare I express and opinion and how do I keep myself honest? Part of my answer is that I truly believe that I am preaching not for personal gain, or to big-note myself (to the tiny handful of people who receive my words) but because the female, feminist, lesbian, single-mother, vegan point of view is part of the much wider and more diverse kindom of God and is a piece that has been hidden from sight and silenced from being heard. Therefore I speak not only myself but a silenced fragment of the Word of God.

So “God told me to” I say, and yet this as a claim must always be suspect. Much as I am suspicious of the authority of the clergy, so anyone ought to be extremely suspicious of my authority too- perhaps the more so if you only have my word for it. Within the messiness of that awareness I always preach carefully, self-consciously trying to remember that no one OWES me their trust and belief and that they will listen politely and then decide and possibly disagree with me. This is one safety catch to my preaching.

But then recently I had an experience where an academic article I wrote (nothing to do with theology) was rejected by the peer reviewers and one of their criticisms was that I had not established the VALIDITY of my research enough. This criticism has led me into a lot of reading and thinking about validity- what is it and how do we establish it? To problematize this further, there is no established blueprint for validity and even things that get taken for granted as the “gold standard” (scientific method) contain flaws and impossibilities. For an interesting view of some research that has claimed to “prove” things while in fact being full of flaws, read Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences by Rebecca M. Jordan-Young. This book rang true with me- many things that are accepted as “fact” seem built on a foundation of sand- but then where is the rock on which I can pitch my building (clever people will tell me the rock is God or Christ but that is a glib non-answer really).

How do I “keep myself honest” to do what I way I am doing, say what I claim I will say and show my working out enough so people can follow me (or spot where they diverge). How might I do it in research brings me back to the question of how do I do it as a preacher (blogger, speaker). I have some thoughts on this- mainly sourced from reading things written by Patti Lather, also Jill Green, as well as a lecture I recently attended by Yarrow Andrew.  I have not given links to their work but all are possible to “google scholar”. Even though all three are academic writers/speakers my thoughts here will remain more about my faith life rather than becoming academic in nature.

One of the first things that springs up whenever people consider qualitative research methods and especially the place of feminist thinking is the idea of reflexivity. Reflexivity means having some idea of who I am, what experiences have formed me to be this way and what gaps there may be in my knowledge and experience. In other words it involves identifying my bias and my point of view. For feminists reflexivity means both explaining how our experiences (of exclusion and discrimination) have led us to challenge what we are “supposed to” think and how we are “supposed to” account for it- so that our experiences become an impetus for questioning and breaking the rules (both the clearly stated and the taken-for-granted ones). We might find that the rules don’t “work” for us, or function only to keep reproducing the status quo and leave power imbalances intact. Then I as a preacher use my knowledge of who I am and what sort of people I might (partially) speak for to argue for my right and need to speak.

The other function of “reflexivity” is to call to account the speakers and preachers who have defined “truth” for us and told us what to believe. So for example when the preacher told me that women feeling erotic love for other women was “sinful”, I could have asked him how he would know this (I was about eight and he was beyond question). He was a man with a public commitment to be “celibate” therefore not to be in intimate relations with a woman himself. He had lived for many years with other celibate men (although it is probable that some of the domestics who looked after him and certainly some if not all of his secretaries were female). Nothing about his standpoint means he is necessarily “wrong” it just means he would have had very little empathy for what it was like growing up as a female who was female-centred in her unspeakable desires, who was sent to an all girls’ school etc. He was speaking to me from a very, very distant point from my experience across a whole host of assumptions that came out of his own limited perspective and which I was expected to take-on wholesale.

At the time I did take them on, because I didn’t have the years under my belt to know that anything I could feel, imagine or experience had any sort of meaning. Life was confusing and I experienced myself as a misfit and a hated mistake. This of course was not the preacher’s intent and I would not have seen any part of how depressed and self-hating I was to have stemmed from what I heard at church. If I was older and more opinionated/feminist I would have had questions about how he knew what he “knew” and where such thinking came from. He would have had answers for all my questions of course but I could question the answers and keep questioning or at least work out of a hermeneutic of suspicion- which we know to switch on as soon as someone is claiming to speak “absolute truth” and not showing reflexivity about their own possible failures to “know” or “understand”.

In addition to reflexivity, Green talks about “catalytic validity”, that is, being aware what it is we want to change through our research. For the preacher there can be no clear “catalytic validity” because it would be unethical to tell people how to live or specifically what to do (in the past some preachers have told people how to vote but tempting though that is- that is an abuse of the power to preach). So as a preacher instead my “catalytic validity” is the desire to be moving in my own life toward the kindom of God- so I am preaching to myself, I am trying to shift my own self into better praxis and healthier relationships. In that sense preaching must be a giant (but honest) thinking aloud exercise where I am showing my own faith journey and allowing anyone who listens/reads me to walk it with me. They get to choose their own role on my journey, they could be observers, participants, co-walkers, respectful disagree-ers or disbelievers or attempt to change my direction. People sometimes shift between different roles in engaging with my faith journey but just as I do not get to define their journey, so they may speak back by sharing their own but they don’t get to take my journey from me and forcibly change my direction or derail me.

I wanted to say a lot more about triangulation (not letting one person being your only source for what to believe) and how also some of ideas around how concepts of “validity” are problematic, fragmented and don’t always perfectly come out but I am aware that this is already an overly long piece of writing.

If you wish to- share in the comments what sort of things a preacher may say, do or be that make you more likely to trust their preaching (or mistrust it) and also how you bring your own hermeneutic of suspicion into how you engage with someone’s preaching.

In addition for anyone who preaches, I would like to know (if you can simply reduce it for us) how you make sure you are saying things that are right, valid and helpful for others; also do you undermine your own authoritative voice in any way to assist people to remember to listen critically and with discernment?

But perhaps you will feel this conversation would go better over a bottle of scotch and several hours…

Where’s the good news?

A lot of other people have written good stuff on “the gospels” so I am not going to discuss which parts I think are true/factual and which are made up (my opinion varies anyway) or point out that the significant differences in them, or even nitpick the patriarchal view of any or all of the gospel writers (or gospel writing communities which seems more likely). I do think it is problematic how we often privilege the gospel over the rest of scripture and how that fits with the anti-semitism of the OT/NT world-view. I also think it is problematic how little we dare to criticise the words or deeds of Jesus (as recorded) and tend to assume if it is in the book then it is automatically both good news and true.

And I guess that is where I want to come into the liturgical moment of the “gospel reading” and ask a few hard questions to make sure we are not being sold “fake news” in the guise of “good news”. Even though I like history as much as anybody and more than some, I don’t think the point of history is to look back and find some sort of objective “truth” about exactly what happened and I don’t think the bible is only history in any case- it has mythical status as much as anything else and I neither want to reify nor debunk all that.

But I partly want to debunk the idea that Christ is more present in the official gospel, than in the good news of some of the “Old Testament” readings for example, or the good news of “Acts” or the “epistles” or my life or yours or the rainbow I saw one week on my way to church. All of that is God’s good news, therefore gospel. So I want to wonder aloud about good news- what is it and how do we find it and how do we know we can accept it?

When I studied homiletics, we were warned to ensure we were finding the “good news” even in negative texts. At the time I had a fairly hippy “everything is awesome” view of church and God’s kindom (not that’s not a typo) and a fairly negative view of anything that spoke about “sin” or anything other than God’s unconditional and always redeeming love. I still believe in the kindom of God and that it is built on a foolishly generous and eternally hopeful outpouring of unconditional love by God to all creation, but also that this love may contain strong anger toward injustice, especially the stubborn sort of injustice that refuses persistently to be called to account. That is, I do not think God will punish us (or perhaps anybody) for getting things wrong, but I think the sin that leads to the suffering of humans or of the earth is a real problem for God and one we need to try to address to live faithfully and lovingly with our ultimate friend/lover, God.

So I find the balance trickier now, because I don’t enjoy or find helpful overly positive readings of the world or the text, that try to explain away or erase conflicts and the terrible injustices in our lives (our lives in the broad sense where we are connected to each other). And yet the heart yearns always for hope, hope is the breath of the soul and we asphyxiate when our environment is too polluted by fears, suffering and despair. So the “good news” is still the heart of what we seek in God’s word. We come to God not just to be challenged or debated with but to be loved and affirmed. But then we come not as overtired babies to be simply soothed but as partners who seek also to soothe God and make her comfortable and accepted with us equally to the comfort and acceptance we seek.

So we make ourselves into gospel, into Good News also for God, because in some way maybe God also can be nourished by nothing else. I have been wondering about that as I continue to read Carter Heyward’s “Saving Jesus from those who are right”. How do I make myself and my life “good news” for God? Any grandiose plans where I give everything in some radical way are fleeting because I have children and friends and a job where it matters whether I am fully present, so I begin by being fully present to my near ones and those dependent on me, and also to my gifts. Even that is difficult, even that is a large thing to attempt (and I am not claiming to have achieved it) but then there are the political things we can do- we can band together with others- listen and support and do what we can to choose and change the world we live in. The balance between looking after my small world and my big one is one I never seem to manage. At times I have poured myself out (though not as much as some others I admire) to do things for “good causes” and I have begun to neglect my family and friends or my own health. More recently I have generally erred on the side of allowing myself some personal time and valuing my social contacts and “coffee dates” (and the never-ending conversation of my son) but then who will be an activist or an organiser for anything?

And how/when do I write? And is it just a self-indulgence?

For me it is no simple task to become “gospel” to the cheering of God’s heart but I must remember both that God loves me already and sees all the traces of gospel that I am, even if I am not a great masterpiece. And I must also remember that just as in the text, the bible we are given four “gospels” and just as we can find God’s good news in many places and people and texts so God has all creation to draw her own gospel and her own incentive to kindom from not just “me” the individual.

I will continue to think about that in a world where sometimes “good news” is hard to find and at church when sometimes “good news” is not as apparent in the words we are supposed to assent to as we would like. I will wonder not “where is the good news” but “how can I become part of the good news in this story”.

We are the good news to the world and to each other.

Our love and passion always for you, beautiful Wisdom!

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.