Tag Archives: Liturgy of the Word

ReWording

I missed my self-imposed “deadline” although I have been thinking a lot about the second reading and it’s place in the liturgy and my own journey with those readings – often seeming like mini sermons but even more boring when I was a child and only really gaining any life when I studied Greek and also acquired a collection of feminist lenses (hermeneutic of suspicion but also the tendency to read between the lines and try to gather crumbs of liberative promise in the texts).

Over the years I think I have become less inclined to apologise for the text- to make excuses for it or try to redeem it from itself. Yes many readings are riddled with patriarchy. At the same time I find I no longer demand that the text show me “truth”. The text and I are sometimes like friendly ex-lovers or like best friends who have lived through their differences. I have learned when to refuse to listen and when to argue. Familiarity breeds contempt they say. There may be danger in this.

We do need more than one reading from tradition, but I do wonder why the lectionary is so set in stone, why we don’t sometimes use other letters, poems, stories, sermons or even paintings as our “second reading”? Or as our psalm- the use of the psalm is even more puzzling and unimaginative in the “set in stone” lectionary and liturgy. Psalms are about emotion, exaggeration- the artistic expression, the tantrum, the make-up sex of the bible. Why do we never draw or dance a psalm of our own instead of piously trying to follow a (usually uninspiring) tune placed on the anachronistic words?

I write and pray and make my own psalms all the time. Sometimes on a sunny day if I can get away with it I make a psalm by rolling down the hill or throwing autumn leaves at a friend (usually a child) or running with my son onto every sandbag at the beach or splashing water or photographing a rainbow or dancing at 3am (rarely now). Those are the songs of praise but I also construct a psalm in too much chilli in the soup when I have the sniffles, or in angrily burying the dead mouse my cat brought me or turning off the news because I am powerless to respond to it adequately or crying into my pillow or being awake in the middle of a work-night and fearing the death that already claimed my younger brother.

I’m not trying to “show off” with this sort of talk of psalm making. I am guessing everyone does this. How is it not a psalm unless it is written on scraps of papyrus by men from an ancient civilisation?

So the psalm would have endless possibility if we prayed with fewer boundaries keeping ourselves out of our prayers (and the melodramatic language of even the ancient psalms or sanitised fragments of psalms we pray at church have some potential).

And the second reading! Why not a reading from the wisdom of bell hooks? or Paolo Freire? Ok so that is a teacher’s bias in choosing those wisdoms. Why not Einstein? Why not Jane Goodall? All the readings that reveal Godde. A reading from the journal of a domestic violence survivor. A reading from the rap sheet of a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. A reading from the appeal by a refugee facing deportation. A reading from the weekly budget on someone whose Centrelink has been cut. This is our Jesus and we are crucifying him.

Or praise Godde and have a reading from a poem by a seven year old. A reading from a photo album of a childcare centre. A reading from a love letter kept for over 30 years. A reading from a bestselling novel. A reading from a wine critic describing a wonderful Shiraz (my bias thus shown). A reading from someone coming out as gay on a facebook status with all the attendant supportive messages from friends and family. For Godde so loved the world that she gave us sons and daughters to nurture and listen to. So that everyone who believes in them (the “least of Jesus’ brethren remember so I am not on heretical ground here) will have eternal hope and work to make the world better.

Last week’s second reading talked about the “stone rejected by the builders” and I thought of all the good solid stones and even the rubble filler that the church father’s rejected in initially building the church and how we have let our rejections become habit. The stuff about being “chosen” and “priestly” should have flattered and heartened me I suppose but all I was seeing was the multiple rejections we base our building on.

And yet Godde’s “cornerstone, chosen and precious” is one such (or every such?) rejected stone. We try to keep what is bad outside the church and we lose too much of what is precious. If we trusted Godde even a little we would be a people of hands and hearts not of walls and border-security.

The rejected people, outsiders,

borderland dwellers, liminals and criminals,

refugees, strangers, fallen women and women too bound to fall,

over here ones, queer ones, a rainbow of misfits,

labels peeled and worn, gaping holes and jagged edges,

rough diamonds or maybe just broken glass

extra-canonical, challenging or just plain wrong,

revised, rewritten, disputed,

“does not meet our current needs” or text of terror,

trivial or unpalatable.

Let us find in this text, this experience and this person, the Living Word.

Thanks be to Godde.

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Being found within and outside texts

The first reading is often though not always from what we smug Christians tend to refer to as the “Old Testament”. It also gets called the “Hebrew Scriptures” which is less dismissive in a way but can ignore the significance of these scriptures to “us” and the fact that they are not just about our past but are an ongoing part of our journey.

At times instead of the Hebrew Scriptures, we have a first reading from Acts of the Apostles or occasionally I think one of the epistles which is not classified as Paul (or Paul’s copycats). With Acts we tend to do almost the opposite of what we do to the OT, we take it overly seriously and uncritically accept its Utopian claims. In the time of Facebook we ought to view Acts pretty much like we might view someone’s Honeymoon pictures on social media. Not as “untrue” but as an idealised performance of “happily ever after” before the real and ongoing shit of life has stepped back in.

When I was a baby-feminist, which was my phase immediately after my wide-eyed pious believer stage I began to realise how much violence, misogyny and generally yucky events and opinions can be found in the scriptures (this is not unusual) and like many Christians I attempted to locate all the violence and misogyny in the “Old Testament” in a pre-Christ reality which of course Christ challenged and overturned. It has taken me years to unpick that overly simplistic way of “sewing up” the problems in the text/s. The fact is there is plenty of problematic ideology in the “New Testament” also as well as gaps and silencings of all but the most privileged voices (and some subversive remnants of “other” voices too). Equally Christs (incomplete) challenging and overturning of oppressive structures is rooted in his Jewish tradition: in the work of Sophia/Wisdom who transgresses human order to call everyone to deeper knowing and more joyful being, in the more radical mutterings of some of the anti-establishment prophets (Micah immediately springs to mind since he is my favourite) and in some of the historical figures who stepped outside their social class (David) or their gender (Miriam) or their age (Hannah), culture (Ruth), xenophobic society (Pharaoh’s daughter) etc, etc, etc.

I don’t want all this richness to be “cancelled out” by a shiny Christus Rex that shows us Emperor Constantine more than a fisherman of dubious parentage from Nazareth who embodied subversive Wisdom. Nor in the apparent idealism of the Acts of the Apostles do I want to lose the invisible Apostles who cooked and cleaned and cuddled babies and were told to cover their heads and shut up (despite the fact that Wisdom who moved them is a disobedient and immodestly opinionated woman who goes about the town as she pleases). There are crumbs there anyway. Who was Dorcas really? Or Lydia? And anyway how do we know about the first appearances of Jesus if the women were commanded to never speak?

But rather than dismiss the patriarchal text wholesale (or go back to the idolatry of seeing in it “Truth” rather than a series of partial and biased truths) I think of it as a photo album. We like to think that a photograph cannot lie, but we forget that nor does it show us everything. Someone stood there and chose and angle and a framing for the photo- they might have chosen it for technical reasons, ideological reasons or sometimes perhaps by accident but someone chose what to show us and from what standing-point. Outside the frame of the camera there is a lot we will never see. We see the pretty girls dressed up to go to their school formal, but we may not see which one had to borrow a dress because she has no money, and which one is secretly a lesbian, and which one will get drunk and disgrace herself at an unpictured part of the evening (or maybe family stories do tell us some of these details). We see a mother with her three sons but we may not see that this is the first time she has seen one of them in two years or that one of them thinks he has cancer or what any of them look like when they take away their “best clothes” and stop celebrating and just get on with life. We also don;t see that while they were having their picture taken the cat managed to steal half their lunch or the phone was ringing but they didn’t hear it or the person taking the photo was in love with one of them.

Which is not to say that family photo albums are misleading or “false” just that it is impossible to record every detail of even one of the people in it, and we tend to get an edited view- especially over generations as people forget more and more details. Something may be written down, but it is not possible that everything would be and so people make decisions about what is important or about what is evidence for what I am trying to show. This is true of the bible as well. Over the centuries the literate and the relatively powerful were able to make decisions about what to write down, which writings to preserve, which of the saved writings to edit or privilege. Those with the leisure and literacy to do this, and the influence to have their choices accepted by society were generally men- free and relatively wealthy men.

When you think of it this way then the traces of critical perspectives and the social justice agendas that come through cannot be taken for granted. In human and historical terms the fact that kings and battles and patriarchs are the “stars” of so many bible stories are not surprising at all- what is surprising is the reoccurring of so many calls to treat the poor with justice (rather than mere charity) and so many instances of women characters who call into question the gender order. If I was going to believe in divine inspiration, this would be the evidence for it- not the expected material but the unexpected liberative flashes (for all that at times we have to search hard for them). But that’s Wisdom too- she is elusive and difficult to track down but she crops up where you don’t expect her and undermines the foolishness of human structures.

For me this blog has been an opportunity to try to come to terms with some of the “photos” from the album of our shared faith journey as Christians grounded in a Jewish history. Like any deconstructive reader, my interpretations are to some degree personal and shifting- no more “right” than the official or “common-sense” interpretation. My hope for any reader is not that I will convince them to my way of seeing but that they will enter into the dance of interpretation with me, celebrating some of my observations perhaps and rejecting others.

If we avoid the idolatry of seeing the text itself as infallible”Truth” (that for women and many others has often been privileged in a way that erases the equal validity of our own experiences) but instead see the truths of the text and of our own bodies, relationships and each others perspectives all as entry points. Then we can weave and unpick and reweave all these different partial truths in ways that create beauty and understanding, all in order to dance with the joy of living. And the real Truth (Godde/Love) will not be pinned down, but will find us where we dance.

Let us find in this day and each other the Living Word of Godde

Thanks be to Godde.