(yes I am making fun of myself in the title)
This is one of those weeks when the readings are alienating and my tradition seems inaccessible at best and oppressive at worst. I wasn’t sure whether to refocus on something more liberating, ignoring the texts (or just referring to them in passing) or whether even to take a week off as I should focus on job-seeking.
But there is a commitment here. I will grapple. I will read in painful detail as it seems to be that, hoping to glean something…or outright dismissal.
The first reading, Abram’s story begins unpromisingly with references to rewards and shields. These quasi-militaristic symbols are scattered not just through the bible but through all aspects of our culture so that they provoke usually a mild cringe or less, often we just gloss over them, don’t even notice them. I have been glossing over such details for weeks and heading into the main point (as I see it) of a reading. But the main point of this one does not become immediately apparent (not if we assume that it is definitely going to be good news).
Abram is whinging about his childlessness- not from the point of view of wanting to nurture (although even this has aspects of selfishness) but purely from resentment that all his property and acquired wealth and privilege will be inherited by a slave. Where do I even start with that? Slaves? The non-entity of the women of the household? The patriarchal preoccupation with fathering children you then don’t look after…and the way it plays out in modern anti-abortion movements?
So you’d expect Abram’s selfish and immature whinging to get short shrift from God who elsewhere claims to be an advocate for the downtrodden- slaves and women surely? I want God to say “Get your hand off it you privileged, wealthy male.” But God seems to see a need to soothe and pamper the already spoilt brat Abram. I really want to give God some parenting tips here for Abram’s own good!
God makes outrageous promises based on a sort of arrogance “I am the one…” a bit like “Who’s the man?” Even then Abram asks for surety and the (imperfect) vegan in me really wants to skim over the wasteful killing that happens next (yes that was a different time but nevertheless). God then gives the land (currently inhabited by other people but you know…Terra Nullius) to Abram’s descendants. This is such a significant part of our cultural thinking, and sadly we have to blame our Judeo-Christian heritage for it. God gives land to specific people- this thinking leads to nationalism, xenophobia and lack of compassion for others.
We fear relinquishing land to another nation, another faith, another God. We feel that we have some rightful claim to the land God has “allowed” us to take away from the others. Look at the sorts of things American’s were saying about God’s favour in the wake of 9/11? Look at how reluctant we are in Australia to “let them stay”.
But this is supposedly God’s word. The privileged and powerful shall be pampered and inherit the earth. Onward to the psalm!
The Lord is my light and salvation. I can be a fat-cat basking in the kyriarchy and see myself as above reproach. God is a stronghold for me to protect my wealth and privilege. I need not think of others
When those I oppress say “eat the rich” I can laugh because they will fail.
When war breaks out (incited by me?) I can rejoice in my protected status while other people suffer and die.
But then as the psalm continues, what if the less privileged…Abram’s wife or concubine or slave seek to live in the house of God and enjoy God’s beauty and God’s favour? What happens then? What if little refugee babies seek to be hidden in the shelter of God’s grace in their day of trouble?
If our head is lifted up above our “enemies” then it suggests that there is not equal treatment, not equal favour…that curse of “chosenness” is back and in lent too when we ought to be examining our way of life not creating smugness over it!
And my heart really and truly does seek her face. Desperately! But it seems these readings are determined to hide it from me. Within tradition I feel God has forsaken me (a mere woman) and has even more forsaken those that need her even more). This is a grave charge to bring against tradition, so I better keep sifting the evidence hoping to be proven wrong…
“27:10 If my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me up.” But for many the issue is not their loving, impoverished mothers and fathers forsaking them, the issue is that the world is an unjust, racist and hurting place for whole nations of people!
“27:11 Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.” Because of my enemies? Not a Lenten idea at all. There is no repentance here, no attempt to seek justice, kindness and right relationship. All that is here is a sort of spiritual pride, a vain excellence like the horrible teacher’s pet who hides behind their goody-goody status to oppress and bully others. Like the worst excesses of abuse we have witnessed (as a community) from the clergy.
27:13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.
I wish I could still believe
27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
I am mindful of last time I went to church and one of the thinkers and key people of the community reminded us to try to avoid the metaphor of “Lord” for our loving and equalising God. Who shall I wait for? Can I rephrase a better message to myself?
“Wait for liberation; be strong and let your heart take courage, hope in liberation”
“Wait for Wisdom; be strong and let your heart take courage, hope in Wisdom”
“Wait for transformation; be strong and let your heart take courage, hope in transformation”
There is something of God that we be strong and hope in…even now…even when the tradition is so oppressive and excluding!
The second reading, which at first seemed to self-righteous to me, now that I have put into words my distaste for many aspects of the tradition, seems to seek into that. Because once again (like the Philippians did) we are living in a decadent age.
Enemies of the cross of Christ might worship the belly, seeking to pursue “bucket lists” of pleasure and novelty and sumptuous food while we arrest people offshore for the sin of wanting basic food and education. Glorying in “shame” a society might build bigger and better buildings, technologies, arts and consumables all for the benefit of those who can afford them…might pursue excellence in education (for the elite few) and immortality through cures from everything (for the elite few) and beauty of environment and the individual human body (once again with a price-tag that not everyone can pay) and say “too bad” to the many who labour and are exploited or are cast off as useless by a profit and novelty-seeking world. Out glory is the shame of “consumer choice” in all things even education.
Earthly things that the Christian churches glory in (to their shame) such as opposing Safe Schools Coalition and defending Cardinal Pell. Save us God who has any more wisdom than this, the flower of our civilisation! Transform the body of our humiliation into something that does not dazzle with glitter and sequins, but glows with genuine goodness to overcome all obstacles to love.
But here again words of the great Lord coming to save and conform and subject us to “himself”. The language itself makes difficult faith in liberative intepretations. How to stand form in a faith that is so riddled with kyriarchal, exploitative and power-abusing metaphors? Is not the tradition itself partly responsible for many of the things we want to be saved from?
How to stand firm?
In the gospel Jesus wants to gather us together like a hen gathering the baby chickens under her wing. I used to play this game with my children when they were little, in winter when they were all shivering I would put my coat over them and say “under my wing”. Recently when I was feeling cross and sad my youngest put the corner of his hoodie over my shoulder and said “under my wing” to remind me of the love and comfort we can give each other.
If Jesus yearns to have that sort of maternal, nurturing relationship with the hurting world, how do we enter into that relationship? How do we put under our wing all the poor and vulnerable and anyone who needs us? How do we find the safe wing to hide under when we are lost little chickens and there are predators about? “Under the wing” is the place of nurture, mentoring and closeness to warmth and a beating heart.
Perhaps the only vaguely hopeful direction for this week is looking to see who is in my life for friendship, who has emotional needs that I could help with and who is offering the hope I crave. There is that, and there is widening that circle to make a safer world that is more like under mother-hen’s roomy wing and less like a competition.
Mother-hen hear our prayer.