Tag Archives: law

The law? Integrity, liberation and who we really are.

I shred this reflection at church today based on these readings. It may have been too long but it represents about to weeks of agonisingly trying to reduce my complicated thoughts on this to a manageable size (and then trust others to fill in the blanks as well or better than I could).

 

What does it mean that the Spirit scrutinises even the depths of God?

 

I came to these readings with a feeling of suspicion toward their legalistic tone: long gone are the days when I could view any text as innocent. Everything that is written serves someone’s interests. I’ll leave aside the question of whose interests scripture might serve as that is a big question and one we probably wouldn’t all agree on, but the lectionary also is a text- the juxtaposition of particular readings is not inevitable and has helped to build the histories of interpretation that we are born and brought up in.

 

Ideas of law seem to me to be linked with power and I have not always experienced these positively from the church. People can find themselves outside the church for such trivial reasons. My great aunt could never receive communion again because she married for a second time while her first husband (taken away by an invading army years before) was never proven dead. As a child I learned that all the divorcees and gay and lesbian people in perfectly stable and functional relationships were considered to be in sin (and the outrage of some gossiping Christians that people “like that” come to church). We continue to hear with shame, hard-line rules against simple necessities like contraception, and we know there is a link between this and other archaic laws like barring women from being clergy.

But then it seems like the law that is so stringent on some, is more easy on others. George Pell seems very resistant to returning to face the secular law, which is interesting because his public voice has always been so legalistic in tone. When I consider the tendency for powerful men to escape consequences for whatever they do, then I realise I am not quite so anti-law in my own thinking and I can dive back into the first reading.

Think of all the calls for “de-regulation” these days, of the ideal that is preached of “freedom”. What a harsh sort of a freedom that is, the freedom of the market.  Basically in this world-view governments and societies will stop interfering with the flow of capital so that those who are rich and unscrupulous can be even more free to exploit, lie and cheat as they want. Protecting vulnerable humans or the environment would be a thing of the past in this terrible freedom.

The first reading compares law with fire and water. Fire can mean warmth, safety, togetherness, the ability to cook our food, light. Water can mean refreshment, cleanliness, peace, life. Law also can bring us together and build society fostering right relationship.

Fire can get out of control and mean burning, danger, death. Water can become storms, tidal waves, ruthlessness and also death. Law that is out of control we experience as oppressive power- it rips apart individuals and relationships. But despite the dangers of law it remains as significant as water and fire. Noone is to be given license to be unjust or harm each other.

I might have hoped that the second reading would tell me what the good law is- how to recognise it and maybe seven easy steps to follow to always be right. Not so. The law in this reading is according to a mysterious and hidden Wisdom of God. My heart leaps there she is again, we know Wisdom from other readings her values seem to be liberation and generosity although she is hard to follow and impossible to pin down.

It was unawareness of Wisdom which resulted in the death of Jesus. The need to put to death opposition, to silence critical voices and to maintain the status quo against all threats is a need counter to the agenda of renewing refreshing Wisdom. This is good news when I am the critical voice but the challenge is to remember it when I have worked hard to make something that seems to me good and someone else has an unpalatable opinion to share. It is significant that the reading talks about “this age” in the present tense. It is always “this age” when the voices that try to bring Wisdom’s compassion and liberation to a hurting world are silenced, trivialised or in extreme cases persecuted (content warning on the last link).

So there is no blueprint for knowing Wisdom, no infallibility given in any power that sets itself up over us. But the Spirit works for us to scrutinise all things, even the depths of God. Within Godself we find a deep integrity and an ability to be reflexive and process questioning from “the other”. We find that “otherness” even within the very identity of who God is. To anyone who has experienced being the “outsider” in some way this is unbelievably good news.

 

This gospel sometimes gets read as a sort of divine nit-picking by Jesus, a raising of standards for who can qualify as “good”. I don’t think this is an entirely fair reading. Jesus may be inviting us to reflect on the purpose behind a law, to enter into the spirit not just the letter of a law that coming from Wisdom must be aimed at transforming who we are to the depths of our being. The key here seems to be right relationships- responding to people in all situations with respect and love, speaking with honesty and not letting negative feelings fester and eat us up from the inside.

There may be hyperbola in the specifics, (as an enneagram 4, I see a sort of grandiose over-the top desperation to be heard here) but aside from that, the connection between what we do and who we authentically are may apply.

 

If you are on facebook and linked in with the left-side of politics you might have seen how the growing fear and dissatisfaction with many leaders has fostered a gleeful slogan: “punch a nazi”. This expresses the despairing frustration of many, as xenophobic and regressive ideas gain a foothold in society but it glorifies violence and reifies a “good guys vs bad guys” view of the world which probably does more harm than good.

The gospel acknowledges that the temptation within us can be to let anger and despair change who we are and how we treat people. Most of the people saying this awful slogan, would probably not really punch another person but Jesus in today’s gospel seems to be saying something that Foucault would agree with that we construct ourselves within discourses (both in our own heads and outwardly) and we become the ideas we circulate.

I hope you will enjoy entering into a moment of silence with these readings, or in whatever way is best for you.

We have an opportunity now to think over our own reactions and relationship to the law and Wisdom of God! We have a chance to think about our identity within ourselves and our dealings with others. Relationship moves from within each of us to others, so after some time in silence please if you wish share your thoughts with each other.

 

 

Vineyards, sacred spaces and being touched

I am a week late with this. Wrote most of it and then my friend was at the door tooting her horn and I had to be whisked away to the Cabaret (I am not complaining mind). But there is also job seeking and a poetry reading and political work for the Greens and a conference to prepare for and my own children too. So I will apologise for the lateness of this and apologise in advance that this week’s will be late or non-existant. You would think an unemployed person could find some time eh? Maybe this is what they call “having a life”

Here we go, I have been avoiding the writing this week because I really don’t like these readings. But perhaps it is time to wrestle.

I don’t want to waste a lot of time again pointing out the obvious misogyny, slut shaming and lack of female agency in the readings (such a low point after my joy at the Visitation last week and besides I am sure I said all of that last year! I could spend a moment smiling that at the end of the gospel when the “twelve” are mentioned, two comparatively wordy verses are then spent underlining for us very firmly that some women were equally significant to Jesus’ ministry (“providing for” of course is a loaded term).

I thought instead of doing what I have done before I might try something I am not good at, and that I recently challenged myself to do and see how these readings reveal or silence the earth itself, to seek an earth-perspective on what is here. My first impression for the senses is of how loooooong the readings are. The listener in a cold and draughty church (as they tend to be this time of the year) will be left passively sitting and shivering all that time. And where is the grace in that?

But Naboth in the first reading has a vineyard. He has some sort of relationship to the place and the traditions and significance around the place so that he cannot sell or swap the vineyard. The capitalist idea of “value” and what is “good” (meaning profitable or productive) is not all there is in Naboth’s life, ideas of place and relationship matter more. Where in Australia have we heard ideals like this? Can we think of people who insist that their connections to place are more than about “lifestyle choices”, jobs or  affordability but have some sort of deeper and more ancient meaning? Can we contrast the white idea of “closing the gap” with a profoundly different way of seeing self and other which does not depend on capitalist-economic productivity and efficiency? I thinki Naboth could weigh in on some of those social debates for sure! The vineyard also is sometimes used as a symbol of female bodiliness, fertility and sexuality. I don’t think that is its main function in this story but it is perhaps worth remembering; in keeping with Elizabeth Johnson pointing out to us us how women’s bodies and the earth have both been exploited, undervalued and silenced.

Then ideas of earth continue to be present in that it is over a meal that Naboth is tricked (and the patriarchal idea of honouring one person over others is part of the trickery). I don’t feel inclined to discuss in detail the misogyny in the characterization of Jezebel and Ahab but God’s wrath to Ahab is symbolised in the image of dogs licking up the blood. Dogs are non-human parts of creation, to me they call to mind the “dogs” that surround the sufferer in Psalm 22 (who is often equated with Christ) and the idea of eating blood calls to mind Eucharist and ideas of unworthiness. I don’t think this story in any way deliberately speaks into later ideas of eucharist, I think it is more that we need to remain aware that the eucharist symbols and ideas and stories came about in a tradition where dogs circling a victim and licking up his blood was a sign of a humiliating and horrible end, a punishment for grave misdeeds (and here also there is a connection the the vineyard). So then when I read like that I don’t get any great amount of sense out of the reading per se, but I can see this awful, violent tradition of colonisation and patriarchy and punitive ways of being, of people being wrenched away from right relationship with the land and each other for the sake of wealth and comfort and of the way family relationships can become unhealthy alliances against “other” all this corruption and evil. I see this polluting and capitalist workd view even so far back, so far before Jesus that then Jesus in fact is some sort of an answer to the same sort of evils and hopelessness that plague our time.

Naboth, the lover of the vineyard is dead. Jezebel has used her position as social climbing “wife” for a bad purpose and Ahab has displeased God.  I don’t find the self-righteous pericope of psalm we are given very enlightening to this context however. We are left in this darkness and move on to the next reading.

Galatians tries to nut out the Christian’s complex relationship to “Law”. Here it probably means church law, maybe also secular law. What does it mean to say we are justified by “faith”? I need to find a poem I wrote a long time ago about faith being a garment that becomes patched and stretched and finally too small and then we can try to use it as a security blanket for a while but ultimately maybe not. But if we are “saved” by thins thing called “faith” what does that thing look like? Seems in the context of the reading that maybe it means a sort of family-likeness with Christ, where we identify with Christ and pursue his interests. But then awareness of our sinfulness is part of realising that not everything we can think, feel, choose and do is necessarily of Christ.

Christ lives in me and so there must be something inherently sacred about me otherwise Christ died for nothing and lives nowhere. Something like that. I think as women in the church we need to retain that precious and almost-forbidden reverence of the “in me” where Christ dwells, not in the way our mothers always told us -where we are old-school temples that polluting things like sex need to be kept out of for as long as possible, but more in a “sacred site” sort of a way that has every right to demand that people come with respect or not at all. I am a sacred site for the mystery of Christ’s continued presence in the world. I am both the site and the steward of the site, I cannot be colonised or owned by any other. A lot of food for further reflection and testing against other places in scripture but we better have a glance at the gospel too.

The power (and powerlessness/abjection) in this reading actually appalls me. But I left it to one side to attend a cabaret performance (belly-dance, burlesque, magic show a LOT of dancing and assorted types of role-play performance both off and on stage). I helped a girl fix a zip on her costume and she threw her arms around me and theatrically said I was “wonderful” and poured me champagne and even though she was playing the character of a flirtations, loose woman she was actually a real person and more complex and we went back to being strangers in the blink of an eye. And that is the thing with touch, sometimes it just is what it is. Jesus can talk all he likes about the forgiveness of sin and all that but frankly what we have here is a simple case of Jesus enjoying being touched. He is not allowed to simply enjoy it, he needs to debate it and this idea that she is “more sinful” that Simon the repressed non-toucher rears its ugly head and affects how the church treats affectionate (women’s) touch for centuries to come!

But another thing here is that Simon has a responsibility toward Jesus to welcome him in a way that is responsive and affectionate and fulfills the rituals of politeness. Simon is the man, the householder and it is his duty and privilege to ensure these things happen. Just as it is both the duty and privilege of the clergy to ensure that the sacraments are gifted to all of us in a way that is responsive, welcoming, touches our real lives and fulfills the reality behind them. And sometimes they do it, but there are times when there are not enough priests, or they are not diverse enough in outlook to minister to everyone, when the few exhausted priests can’t be everywhere or when the celibate and aging men can’t understand everyone. And at that point the “unlcleanness” of us as women is not the point. We weep, we kiss, we anoint, we share. We come to what we value to touch it.

I don’t like her self-abasement in the story or the tacit approval of her label as unclean and sinful. But going back to the second reading if her “faith” has saved her then what does it mean for her identity not just “With” Christ but as “Christ” which we become through sacraments. How significant then are touch and tears and kisses?

I better get back to the myriad things I need to do today. But I see this woman as saving sacrament from people like Simon. Encounter with Christ touches us, washes us, makes us feel things. Like John the baptist, she is bringing sacrament TO Christ. Washed for ministry by John, washed for the political activism that leads to death by this unnamed woman. Just as when Jesus adds sacrament to a life, it comes with a vocation to ministry. So when this women washes and anoints him, the encounter sends him out in 8:1-3 exercising his ministry, somehow refreshed for what his work in the world is and now we begin to see the women who consistently support him.

She sends HIM out. Think about it!