How wonderful your name creator God through all the earth!
When I look at the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you have arranged. I ask what are humans, do you even remember we exist? “Mortal man”, “son of man” our language so androcentric, our presumption that we are the heart and the crown of creation.
We think we are “little less than angels”, “little less than gods” but we behave with all the awareness of an amoeba. The first rule of survival is don’t soil where you will eat. We ignore it. Intent on “biggering and biggering and biggering and biggering” (Dr Seuss) making things that nobody needs, turning our backs on the things that everyone needs.
Remember you have told us what we “need”. Not bread along of course but every Word who is Life. We need you, we need the relationship that is the basis of you, we need to return to our source and be made one with all creation as you are one in your three-ness ever-creator source and partner even of Wisdom and Spirit. All we need is love, not in a wishy-washy way but all we need is you.
And we need to do justice, love each other with kindness, we need to walk humbly WITH not against you. We need to nurture and treasure other humans and the earth’s finite resources. Perhaps you made them all, perhaps you could remake them (oh I hope so) but that is no reason to squander the beauty and intrinsic goodness of earth, air, water nor to misuse fire in killing and destroying.
I don’t agree with the psalm, I think there is residue of our sinfulness in the way it has been transcribed from your Word. All of them under our feet? Hardly your will is it!
All of them beloved by God- All sheep and oxen,
yes, and the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, the fishes of the sea,
and whatever swims the paths of the seas.
And then “justified by faith” but what is faith? Elsewhere you told us that saying “Lord, Lord” was insufficient, you constantly repeated that we must love, nurture and not judge each other. What is faith that obeys the letter and ignores the substance of the message? What is faith that twists Word into a sedative away from the wholesome Bread that it was for us. If we will not eat your Word and hold it deep inside us, let it circulate it’s nutrients in our blood and in our soul…if we will not love the neighbour which is Wisdom dancing toward us…then we will eat our own words and love only emptiness, then money will be our god and the market will have it’s way with us.
Creator have mercy. How do I dare to ask you to save us from ourselves?
We can boast of our afflictions can we? Then I boast of sadness, of rage, of frustration and fear. I boast of feeling disempowered and finding hope too small and elusive to grasp. I boast of needing help. I need your help God.
Affliction produces endurance,
and endurance, proven character,
and proven character, hope,
and hope does not disappoint.
But does this work? I am afflicted, but am I enduring? I endure with gritted teeth, but what is my paper-thin and wavering character? How will I be firm enough to hold the seed of hope and grow it deep within myself.
Pour out your love then God of pouring. We have made ourselves a wasteland, we have created a drought.
Pour, pour, pour,
flood the earth with your goodness and with your inspiration. Be the love we need, shine in and out of each of us.
“Love believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”
Well I will try…
We are made in the image of Godde.
Admittedly that is easier to see in some people than others but every human, all creation in fact somehow reflects the sacredness and beauty of God. The human has intrinsic worth and dignity and life is therefore a good. I think that is how I have to read David’s grandiose refusal to slay “the Lord’s anointed” because in fact I am frustrated by this King, by this rich and powerful man choosing to prolong war (ie ultimately killing so many people who I suppose he deems as less worthy) instead of quickly putting an end to it by killing Saul. Instead David is reconciled with Saul, predictably has to flee for his life again and carries out raids (on invisible others) to sustain himself.
I can’t bring myself to believe that this militaristic, elitist attitude is the word of God (no, not even if we talk about historical context), but I can see how we ended up with clergy who think that being “anointed” they are above the law and can get away with atrocities.
Sorry lectionary, I tried to let what you said have some good in it, but I am too angry. I have to speak truth for the people who have left “the faith” because of our refusal to confront what is unhealthy in our tradition. Some parts of the bible just tell me about toxic masculinity and militarism and I see something so sinful being aligned with Godde and I must be honest that THIS IS NOT THE GODDE I KNOW.
I met Godde again this week through some human beings and birds splashing around in bird-baths and in the taste of a single perfect fig and the bitterness of wonderfully brewed coffee as well as in meaningful work (too much of it). Through the voices of my wise children and one beloved and generous voice. Godde looked at me and said “you know me, I am here” and I can’t unknow that to believe patriarchal words written down centuries ago.
But the psalm reassures me that God is kind and merciful and will pardon all my “iniquities” even perhaps if I accidentally or through stubbornness write heresy (I can only be honest about what come through in my prayer life). As a mother wants to see the best in her children and gently teach them to think more deeply, so God will have gentle teaching-instinct toward me.
The second reading also puzzles me coming across as a “typical man” (apologies to my male adult children who are not like this), compartmentalising things that should flow together, making a false binary only in order to hold it in tension. Earthliness and spirit should not be two different things and I though that was precisely the point of the Jesus story. Of course Eve (usually blamed for Adam’s sin) does not even appear in this argument, Jesus is the “second man” a representative only of Adam and not of Eve. I will stick to my rainbow lorikeets and my sarcastic feminist friend as images of God and remember to add to them the gleaming sun slipping into the ocean, people opening their door and offering me a glass of water on a hot summer’s day when I am being a politician, and the adjective “amazing” used to reassure a new worker. God is in earthly spiritual things and in spiritually earthed things too. God is in the generosity of Eve as much as in the curiosity of Adam and if there is sin, the sin is throwing each other under the bus and forgetting that God is love.
I work with naughty toddlers, delightful toddlers, toddlers we have to reprove one minute and comfort and affirm the next (or quicker) so I think I know these things. In a beautiful church garden this week they ran straight to the “forbidden” tree of unripe apples and when we pulled them back they still found a way to sneak back there and each grab one. Earthly toddlers like Eve, like Adam. Their teachers and parents still love them AND SO DOES GOD. Jesus was born a baby as a toddler he must surely have stretched his plump and tiny hand out to forbidden things and cried when he was told “no” and done it anyway. It’s not a sin to yearn to know the world and to discover your own agency. It is a sin though when curiosity and desire for self-actualisation becomes greed and cruelty and that can happen too. Jesus chose not to go down the path of “power at the cost of others” and that is where we too must draw the line. Adam was new to all this let’s remember (and Adam’s first admission was how dysfunctional he was without an “other” so it makes no sense to write Eve out of the story). Let’s move on to the gospel.
Jesus in the gospel is not (I hope) advocating for a doormat disposition but for a courageous attitude that is radically peaceful and loving. Jesus himself showed anger at times (in context) and spoke out against wrongdoing and injustice in the strongest possible terms. But Jesus here is saying that to love those who massage our egos is easy and no sort of a virtue at all. The challenge is to love the difficult ones, the impossible ones, the hurting and hurtful ones, the so broken they can damage us ones. I am reminded that really I do not love Scott Morrison. I could try to paint an insincere smile on my face and talk about his “intrinsic worth” as a human being but I am not feeling it. I think I was better at that when I was younger, I sincerely loved everyone, even people who I didn’t think were very good. I don’t know what to do now except challenge myself that I am supposed to love, that I can express needed critical perspectives but need to leave room for people to be called by God to do the right thing after all. I challenge myself to keep my criticism measured and relevant to the issue and not to let hate be my motivating factor. I need to see the humanity in Nicole Flint’s eyes when we have to meet for various forums. I have been asked not to “go easy on Nadia Clancy” and I won’t, but at the end of the day she is a human being and possibly trying to do her best as I am trying to do mine.
Part of loving others is holding on to the knowledge that I too might be wrong and flawed and full of sin and nevertheless loveable and beloved. I have been my own enemy, when I was younger and loved others so easily then my one enemy that I couldn’t love was myself. My call to challenge myself to love more was my call into not neglecting the needs of the child of God that was myself. Somebody I once read long ago wrote that the bible was written for men, but women sometimes commit the equal and opposite sin, instead of emphasising the self over other they may idolatrise the other (especially the man) and neglect the self. Of course being an intersectional feminist I can understand this as being about privilege and see that I can simultaneously oppress some others and idolatrise others. My love needs to flow to whoever is neglected in my understanding of Goddeness.
Thus loving self and loving other are twin challenges and as we perfect our love for one of these we may also discover a better means to the other.
I wrote these words this morning before church, but at church I discovered that the person preaching had also wrestled with the first and second readings and had discovered she found a much better grounding for the gospel in an except from John O’Donohue’s Divine Beauty. I have run with a picture of that book in which O’Donohue finds (much as I did above) that any act of caring that we engage with or that we are blessed by shows us the presence of God.
As we challenge ourselves (earthly ones, spirit-filled ones)
to be more loving, to care in real and practical and sacramental way; as we see
that all of creation is God’s
anointed” and able to break our bread and bring us to life; as we find the gorgeously glowing beauty that is God within our capacity to love and within the capacity of the world to surprise us with beauty we forgive the flawedness of our history at church. We do not forgive as doormats who will allow it to happen. We do not stand idly by while others are oppressed. There is space here for anger.
But there is a space here also to redeem what is good in our tradition- while the Buddhists may talk of karma and the Wiccans have their rule of three we can know that they are right. We too are told the same thing by our own Wisdom (Christ), that the measure which we measure will be measured out to us generously. Abundantly. What we give is what will overflow in being given back to us. May we give 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.
Someone asked me (well not just me, a group of us) to articulate how/why we believe in God. I am tired and it is a hard thing to articulate, but I will set down here what I said and try to start to polish it to understand it better. I think it was Elizabeth Adams St Pierre that said she only knew what she was going to say AFTER she wrote it. It’s a bit like that for me and this is my process for trying to understand my inner truth.
I think I will classify this as one of my “creeds”
I think my belief in Jesus is just me needing a framework for my belief in God
that is the framework I grew up with,
sort of the God-language that I am fluent(ish) in.
There is not rational reason to believe in God
I feel a presence
that is what a relationship is, a presence I can feel and trust
I need values and meaning to be fully alive
and sometimes struggle to know what they are
or define them.
People define them wrong, rules break down,
systems oppress someone
I need more
a presence I can trust
that will travel the beyond-ways with me
and love and trust me into
my better self.
God is “other” to me
so that I might not be God to myself
which would be narcissism
I find myself
in bouncing off an “other”
sometimes people are the “other” but also God
to remind me that the “other” is as great and greater than me
and reaching for me in love
to wrap me
my “self” is not all, is not the reason
but even my “Self” is also wrapped in the great love.
I know God.
I mean I know love.
I am loved.
I know the sight of the tawny eyes that make me feel tender
and I say “I am in love”
and I can ask all the texts in the world to explain this thing to me
can deconstruct and disbelieve
but I see the face, the smile
and I am in (human) love.
And that is what knowing boils down to.
I know the taste of mango.
I know the sweet and the sometimes too sour
and the inconvenience of skin and seed
and the pleasure/irritation of dripping
and the juice in a thirsty mouth
and the wrong season so I have apple instead.
There is reason, there is science
but that is not really how I know the curve and the scent
that is mango.
I see a man and I know he is the baby
that I used to watch breathing in joy and fear
that I used to hold close and allow to move away
that began words and thought I was everything,
then a person, an “other”.
I know the baby still in the man
but the baby is long gone
and I love the man the same and not the same.
The breath that meant love.
My cat purrs and I know her and she knows me.
My hand on her velvety fur brings the purr
and she is old
and she knows I am far from perfect
but also trusts that I will feed her,
she rarely reminds me.
I know she purrs not for any reason
but because we are together.
I know the velvety rose petal.
I know its caress and I know its fragrance.
Roses have thousands of petals and they curl and dry up and disappear
and I have to try to remember
to dead-head them.
If I pick a rose
and put in in a vase in my warm house
it will last a day perhaps
But the petal is fresh if I rub it, unless I crush it,
the rose smells like something I can’t prove.
And why does the scent of a rose
call to mind those eyes again?
Something like faith, making connections
that reason cannot sustain.
I would hope everyone feels some such thing.
The bible for me is not fact,
or rules for living,
or instructions or warnings.
It is a photo-album of
communities of God within my faith-family.
They got some stuff right and some stuff wrong.
And some of it I just plain wasn’t there and I don’t understand.
And then God comes along like a burst of music
through my head and echoing in my memory,
reverbating in my body, in my bones
making me dance and haunting me forever after.
Sometimes I get the moves or the rhythm wrong
or I strain to hear and miss my cue.
I hope the music is still moving me even then.
I hope but I can’t prove it.
Somewhere in my hope, my good intention
I must have been touched by God
I must be right
(not about the facts or the mechanics or to tear others down)
but right to live and move and have my being
coming to know GODDE.
I have had some internet and email problems this year and as a result, lost my roster for church (among other important things). I did not realise I was meant to be on the roster to lead at church this week until 9:30 last night when someone from the community called me to check up on what was needed this morning. She told me what the gospel for today was meant to be and I started thinking about what I might say.
When I got to church this morning, I was able to look up the rest of the lectionary readings and I had to do an “off the cuff” reflection. The fact I was able to do so at all, probably has more to do with this blog than with anything else, and of course God may well have helped me (I certainly asked her to).
I will try to remember what it was I said. These were the readings, and I said something like this:
I remember going through a time in my life, when the patriarchy of the church and the male-centredness of the stories and beliefs we were taught made it very difficult for me to continue in the faith. It got to the stage where the maleness of Jesus himself was a problem for me- I felt a strong disjunction about who I was created and called to be with God and the church’s seeming insistence on the MALENESS of priesthood grounded in the maleness of the one we follow. I nearly fell away from the church over this, I could only bring to God my female body, my female-centred way of loving, my female experiences of life and work. If these were not holy then how could I approach God?
Today’s gospel perhaps speaks to those yearnings and questions I had as a young woman. I experience Jesus in this gospel within my own life where I have been a mother, and early childhood worker and in some degree and activist and I can relate to the way Jesus is being pushed and pulled and pressured every which way. So many different people demand things from him and each person’s need is urgent and real. Jesus sets off to help one person, is interrupted by another and as a result of stopping to help the second one, the first- a little girl dies.
Being Jesus he can make something of this, he can turn death into life which is certainly more than I can do. I don’t have the capability or the patient grace of Jesus in my own life as I juggle competing demands (all important) and try to discern where to turn my attention, where to channel my love. I often drop the ball, neglect something I should have done or arrive too late to something else.
I take heart then from the second reading that reminds me that God is not asking us to deprive ourselves for the sake of others, or to give more than we have. God is challenging us as relatively wealthy and comfortable people to give of our surplus. All it takes is allowing God to turn our greed and our fear into generosity and openness. Is that not an important lesson for our time?
How can we not pay heed to this call to share from our abundance? How can we bear to be part of incarcerating people and families on Manus or at Nauru? We are not just starving their bodies, we are not just taking away their lives we are starving them of hope. Of hope itself. I almost began to cry at this point as I often do when I consider the mother who lost her son or the man dying of cancer or the hundreds of others.
This cruel way of treating people, it really needs to be said is a sinful direction for our society to be going.
It is against God. The same goes for what is happening in the US where little children are being pulled away from their mothers and fathers (I didn’t mention our own stolen generations but I should have). I read this week about small children, some as young as three being forced to go to court to be sentenced and deported- all alone these children face this without even a loving adult by their side.
This is an evil beyond words, an extreme evil. I feel that word is not an exaggeration.
I have been reading bell hooks this week, “all about love”. In it she talks about our yearning for love and the way so many of us grow up not getting what we need from our families- not experiencing the emotional security of being loved. She talks about romantic relationships also frustrating this need and not delivering the love that is needed. I could relate to what she was saying the desperation and the lovelessness that she said is characteristic of people in the world today.
She said that people yearn to be loved but have never experienced it. That they do not know what it would feel like to be really loved and as a consequence they do not know how to love.
While I could see that there was some truth in what I was saying I could not agree with her that I had never experienced being loved. I feel that this is a community that has taught me a lot about love. I have been loved here and encouraged to grow into a more loving human being. I have had my gifts honoured, and my lack of giftedness forgiven. This is a place where we come to be loving and to heal each other’s capacity to love and to hope. How can we pour out our love to the world? How can we be the loving people that the world needs?
Let us think about that. Let us remember that God does not ask from us more than we are capable of giving. How can we be the love the world needs? How can we ask for and teach love to others? When we are pulled this way and that by the needs of others; and are poured out and fragile, how can we trust God to fill us up? How do we bring love, healing, and new life also to each other?
Sometimes I find other people challenging. I am tempted to avoid conflict, challenge, discomfort, potential criticism, giving offence and just trying to be radically self-sufficient (which if you know me at all is a laughable concept). I try not to emotionally “need” anyone (also laughable). I am an introvert, I could disappear forever into a rabbit-warren of books and writing and be perfectly happy…except it doesn’t really work that way.
Too little time being “bothered” by other people’s expectations and needs and opinions and ideas and blah blah blah blah can be even worse than too much. I become less and less productive. I can’t see the point of doing this or doing that. Why get out of bed? Why get dressed? why move? Why write things no one really wants to read? Why bother? Why breathe? Why be?
This is not a recent thing for me, but I have been at the extreme of the keeping-people-out cycle and sure I did it for my own protection but it hurt me more than it healed me. My longest-term friends are people who have been patient with my various inabilities to engage at various times and I am grateful for them. I will never be someone who can cope without the possibility of retreat and some alone time but I have learned that too much is as bad (or worse) than not enough.
Just when you thought none of this has anything to do with Pentecost, let me circle back to the first reading. Because for an introvert like me, a severe critic of the church, someone who often disagrees with what we are told to believe…there is a surprising truth in the first reading. The Holy Spirit did not come to atomised individuals, each locked in the safely self-perpetuating labyrinths of their own minds. She waited until they were all together, each having to deal with their own impostor syndrome, their own insecurities and awkwardness, each other’s loudness and stupidity and potential to be irritating and the way they all rubbed up against each other and had to constantly watch and redefine boundaries and feel left out or bored or angry or overwhelmed.
They were all “in one place together” an introverts nightmare and it gets worse, because the Spirit prompts them to reach out to OTHERS and include those who speak different languages. Significantly (and I have probably said this before) she did not work on the hearts of ears of the foreign listeners to change them so that they could understand, she changed the preachers to be heard and understood in people’s own languages. I believe this is something the church gets wrong very often. We say “here is my message now you change to understand it” instead of saying “how can I learn your language to preach love and good news in?”.
Obviously it is disingenuous to pretend that no change at all is demanded from hearers of the true gospel. I am not saying we should be preaching “Keep on competing and exploiting and buying and meaninglessly celebrating nothingness with you novelties and toys that you don’t even really like. Keep on overeating and trying to kill emotional pain by distracting yourself with addictions and fixations and replacements for real life. Keep on denying climate change and protecting borders and trying to return people to narrow and rigid “values” that never worked to begin with while you overwork and turn up your entertainment too loud and invest in brighter lights and flashier baubles and prettier words and hold up social media as a flattering mirror (beauty mode) to avoid facing your own damn loneliness”
I am not saying we shouldn’t call people (ie ourselves) to change.
But what if we stop sweating the small stuff, like what religion someone is or what sexual orientation. Many churches find such an idea controversial but I wonder if we could get further by finding the humanity and good intention in each other.
George Monbiot in his book Out of the Wreckage, asserts that altruism and a desire for connection is intrinsic to human nature to the point that humans are defined by these things. No other animal wants to do acts of kindness and generosity for no reason at all, but humans again and again over centuries (and in some truly horrendous situations) have been observed doing irrational things for the good of others, sometimes strangers, often completely peripheral to their own lives. That is a beautiful thing to be defined by and Monbiot is very persuasive about it.
If I read the bible about how Godde has walked with human-kind and how Christ became embodied with and in and for us then Monbiot’s idea makes perfect sense. He writes from a secular perspective but the eyes of faith see evidence also that he is right. Then I won’t listen to the people who tell us that kindness is about projecting the ego (or something) or that generosity is about passive-aggressive self interest or such nonsenses that try to deconstruct human relationships to transactions and affective bonds to something market-based. Those sorts of thoughts are strong now, they drive our politics. It never fails to amaze me that people can strongly advocate a “Christian” hegemony and a neoliberal one together as if Christianity did not specifically contradict the politics of self-interest and the reduction of the human person to a unit of the market.
But the Spirit has never been about units at all. She flows between and around us when we relate to others. She inspires us to LOVE to truly love each other and ourselves.
So the second reading continues with a celebration of difference, but also of connectedness (what good are severed body parts?). The gospel finishes the glory and triumph of the Easter season (alas over so quickly) with a reminder of the Risen One standing among us giving peace and breathing into us Spirit. It matters how we treat people. It matters what we label and call out as “sin” in ourselves or others. It matters what we let slide. Let’s think a little more about living an Easter reality, alive with the Spirit and attune to the needs and goodness of each other.
Let’s sing the traditional Pentecost sequence, or find our own:
Come, Holy Spirit, come!
Shed splendid radiant light
Come, Mother of the poor
show us how to better share the treasures
you have already brought us.
Shine in our hearts
let our intrinsic worth and desire to love
You love and cradle us,
comfort us and draw us out of despair,
be welcome in our souls
dancing within and setting us dancing.
Refresh us, for we are made for
more than toil or labour
show us how to refresh each other,
give us coolness in the heat
of our passions- anger, fear, desire, disgust.
Beautiful light that is Godde
shine within our hearts
let us be beacons of you to each other.
Let us forget our addictions
and know that only your light, your dance
can fill us.
Without you we have nothing
(but you are with us so we have all).
Heal our wounds, our strength renew
on our dryness pour thy dew
wash the stains of guilt away
(washerwoman God we know you in the waters)
bend the stubborn heart and will
melt the frozen, warm the chill,
(cast down the mighty from their thrones
and lift up the lowly)
guide us so we don’t jump off a cliff
and take so many species with us.
Give us the intrinsic reward of knowing you
let us remember that it is about love
not just saying “Lord. Lord” and bending a knee.
Pour out your gifts, your joys, your inspiration.
Make us embodiments of every radical hope,
make us reckless in generous love,
make us beautiful and light-filled
This picture is The Young Shepherdess by Julien Dupre
People talk about “sheeple” and all of that these days. I have heard ministers refer to people who come to their church as their “flock” in a fairly demeaning way. I try to be vegan. All in all I find the metaphor of Christ as a shepherd something I am ambivalent about.
Another thing I was ambivalent about this week was having to lead a service and preach. Usually I love this (as regular readers would know) but I am kind of tired and depressed and have low levels of faith and it was my weekend for going away with some friends to relax and I wanted someone else to take it off my hands and run with it. I wanted to be organised enough ahead to write the whole thing and put it in their hands and be free.
But I had car trouble and computer trouble and money trouble and a cat with cancer and it did not happen and I was left having to cut my holiday short and come back. And I had to move on and WRITE SOMETHING so I could go on the holiday in the first place instead of using Saturday to try to finish it.
And I had no idea what to do with these readings.
Well I DID end up going camping with a whole bunch of lesbians and their children in a wine region and God was there with us in so many ways (even though half the time she was quarreling with me) so no regrets. And I had not written a reflection as such but I had written some questions and I played some Latvian music that speaks to me of Godde (even though the song itself is pagan I guess). I can’t find that track on internet so I will link one called (my terrible translation) “with god you have long tables“. I played the song that celebrated the diving in ordinary things (weaving, eating, being) but of course it was not in a language anyone there speaks so I gave them a sheet of questions focussing on the readings.
Initially I had many more questions but I cut it down to one page of largish font and tried to make them sort of fit together in a theme. I was also reflective as I wrote a slightly grumpy collect. People prayed about all the things in the world that hurt and upset us. It was a very sad prayer time which fit where I am in my faith life but it was my job to lead so at the end I said “we have shared or pain, fear and sadness but we bring to you also love and laughter, good friends and beautiful meals shared” I really, really hoped noone thought I was trying to silence or invalidate their horror and honesty but I wanted them to be in a safe space too!
This is all I have this week, sharing a difficult job leading…made easier OF COURSE by the wonderful, supportive, participative people who taught me everything about liturgy so of course did it all with me and appreciated my work. I had apologised for the way I always “talk. talk. talk” at them and set up my lack of real preaching as a blessed reprieve from me when I wasn’t giving into the temptation to be always talking.
One of the leaders who is a fantastic thinker and one of the best preachers there said to me at the end she hopes (and that everyone hopes) I WILL keep on giving into the temptation to preach. Which was a beautiful affirmation. It was honestly the kindest thing to say.
So having over-explained the piecemeal blog this week I will post the shortened sheet of questions :
“all of you … should know
that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean
whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead;
in his name this man stands before you healed.
He is the stone rejected by you, the builders,
which has become the cornerstone.”
What might we have rejected, that in fact contains God’s grace and God’s word to us? How do we overcome our prejudices and our need to draw lines to find Jesus in the “stone rejected”?
“There is no salvation through anyone else,
nor is there any other name under heaven
given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”
Given this sort of statement, how do we work with other faiths in the world? If Jesus is the “only name” then what is his relationship to other faiths? How do we avoid having a colonising attitude to others?
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice,
and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
How to work toward this with respect not chauvinism? How to achieve unity without erasing culture and diversity? Science and creation tell us that diversity is a good thing- let us reflect on the difference between “unity” as control and true unity based on trust and connection.
“what we shall be has not yet been revealed.
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.”
Sit with the mystery and the potential and resist the temptation to formulate answers. We shall be more…
Those were the shortened set of questions. If anyone is curious as to the other questions comment and I will post them as a reply.
I would also like to share my penetential rite and collect.
God of all kindness, when at times we are heartsore, apathetic, rudderless, downcast, empty, defensive, lonely or hungry.
Teach us to take refuge only in you.
If when we look at our neighbour and we see difference, folly, laziness, lack of worth, overwhelming need or shallowness,
show us that what we reject has worth to your better way of seeing.
Risen one we can see ourselves as weak and irrelevant.
When at time we live as if what we do has little importance
teach us your power of knowing and caring.
God of all love, you have created, companioned
and continue to call us.
Teach us to know you in one another.
But we are more than sheep oh Risen One
(or perhaps it is that we have underestimated ourselves
along with sheep)
we know your voice because you called us-
out of the abyss of rejection and gave us purpose;
out of the dimness of unbeing and gave us breath.
we know your voice and we know your presence.
When we face down wolves
you stand with us and for us.
Anyway this was my attempt this week. It’s a community where I am and I am a participant not the leader or the star so all was well. I think anyone would do well in a community like that. I pray that for everyone, that they find God with/in people who teach, support, commission and then again support their ministry.
And I will try to write a “proper” reflection next week.
“I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you.”
To work out what loving each other means, we have to look to the readings. Love like the woman from Mark’s gospel last Sunday who used costly perfume to anoint Jesus for his ordeal? Love like the fickle crowds who acclaimed him into Jerusalem and then chose Barabbas? Love like the disciples who could be sleepy and slow to understand and even cowardly and denying Jesus but had the emotional honestly to weep when they could do nothing else?
But Jesus didn’t say love as much as humanly possible, he said love like I have done.
I, God, I am. The radical and faithful love of a God who passes over the houses of his people to protect them, who calls them out from slavery into wandering in the desert even before they are fully ready for liberation. God who feeds (see also the gospel) and washes (see also the gospel) and enjoy the company of “us”, the church, the human race, creation.
I don’t think “you” is only the church in the narrow sense. It could be argued from the texts that God only loves the insiders, apart from when you look at the abundance of God with Wisdom as accomplice making everything and delighting in everything, when you look at Wisdom’s great feasts.
We are called to be loved. We are called to love. Loving is about eating and washing (women’s work we are told every time except when it becomes church ritual).
Does Jesus love Judas after betrayal? Does Jesus love Peter after cowardly betrayal? What of the woman with the jar of ointment, what became of her? What of Mary Magdalene, Mary his mother, Mary and Martha, Peter’s mother-in-law, the woman at the well. This part of the gospel gives us only hints of presence but lots of tears coming- the tears of Peter, the tears of the women, the bitterness which is likely repressed tears of the thieves on the crosses to either side of him.
But how do we love, feed, wash, serve, warn, forgive as Jesus did. How do we call to consciousness a sleeping and cowardly world (and ourselves)? Who do we feed at the suppers “in memory” of the ultimate lover of all? Can we feed the poor better? Feed the children of single-parents? Feed refugees? Feed the elderly? Feed the disabled? Feed the disengaged? The anarchists? The artists? The sick? The lonely? The queer?
What hope and joy do we feed “millennials” a whole generation that feels unloved and unwelcome in society? How to we kneel to assist those who cannot help themselves, who need the balm and acceptance of being washed –touched and refreshed?
All Jesus says is “as I have loved you” therefore persistently, therefore patiently, therefore save some for the sinners and tax-collectors and prostitute as well. This is love not judgement. This is food not a stone. This is washing not sorting.
I need love. Help me to see that my world is infused with your love and service of me.
Thank you for the church communities that offer practical and emotional support to me, or show me how to do it to others.
Thank you for the seeming atheists that secretly work hand-in-hand with you, even if they don’t say your name.
Show me how to bless and distribute what people need to be fed- bread and wine, word, and acceptance. Show me how to serve by doing the unglamorous tasks- washing feet (or dishes). Show me how to revere the people who do the most menial jobs for the good of us all.
Jesus I am afraid of being broken and shared out so that I have none of me, left for myself. Your courage in this act is a mystery to me. Show me how to have the deepest integrity and judgement and to keep nurturing even when conflict, violence or death hang over my head.
Jesus, truly you are my mother.
I enter your presence through food and washing and friendship, through service today and always.
Content warning- suicide attempts and all the sort of thinking that goes with them. Additionally apologies for length.
My way into the readings this week is via my own experience as a closeted lesbian. I was so closeted I didn’t even know myself. I married and had children, tried to marry again, tried all sorts of ways of performing heterosexuality believing from every movie or book I ever experienced that I was “meant to” be heterosexual. And after all I had the need to be loved and accepted and admired that leads us into romantic entanglements, the more-so because of childhood disappointments and traumas. I “needed to be loved”.
So in my childhood it was as though there was a “Lord” that warned us all about casting out the lezzos (rather than literally lepers), because lesbianism was (in my upbringing) not only dirty but potentially contagious (the latter I would argue has some truth to it). There was a sore upon my heart and soul, I always felt unclean and unworthy- hollow and dishonest in some way without being able to point out why. I was unhappy – I had a chronic discontent that infiltrated even into my happy moments (or things I was supposed to enjoy like sex and relationships). There was an unknown, unnameable pain behind every moment and I thought I was just “born that way” (unhappy that is).
At times I looked for escapist ecstasies to try to help me blank out the pain and emptiness. It was still empty but it was distracting.
I prayed a lot and I tried to be a good person. I grew very disillusioned when this did not seem to help my emptiness and pain.
I cycled between these “good girl” and “bad girl” extremes- sometimes keeping one up for months or years, other times rapidly cycling through both- usually blending a little of each. I wanted to be super-brat and super-saint in one. There is still a grandiose streak in me, I am more aware of it but it is not a temptation I am completely free from. It helps to name it to myself with compassion and self-forgiveness. I knew I could never really be good or happy and I prayed angrily to God for death. A lot. Sometimes I tried to kill myself but thankfully with such timidity and inefficiency that it didn’t really take.
I meant it though, I wanted not to exist. It would be easy to dismiss my attempts as “not serious” because I did not make one work. They were not well executed but they were serious. I am better at achieving my goals these days so it is a good thing that I am not suicidal.
But as the psalm tells us “blessed is the one whose (imaginary) fault is taken away, whose real sin (self-hate) is uncovered and to whom God imputes no guilt”. Ok I changed a word here and there but this is how I need to pray it right now. I am blessed. I am grateful. I am here. I am queer.
All those bad words that I was so afraid of. I am them. I embody them. I love them.
I love women and women’s bodies and women’s ways of thinking (yes I know that is socialised) and women’s laughter and women’s dancing and art and writing and….oh I love women. And I am a woman so in loving women I feel a sense of being good too.
This is not just a sex thing (though sex is a good within this way of being), it is an orientation thing. I was so afraid not just of potential female lovers but of mothers and sisters and aunties and grandmothers and friends. I was afraid of women doctors, of teachers, of hugging, kissing, even smiling and especially eye contact. At some point I must have grasped the danger- that I needed to repress myself very strongly to avoid the self-knowledge that I was gay. I must have grasped that subconsciously because I never remember making the decision. I learned to feel as little as possible and notice less in the company of women (any woman, however “safe”). I took great care to gaze in the mirror with hatred, to avoid seeing womanliness with any sort of dangerous approval. I hated my own masculinity (because in a woman masculinity is queer) and my own femininity (because femininity made me aware of my attraction to women). No wonder I couldn’t function- could not achieve, could not sleep, could not love.
I loved in a way though. I felt tenderness and compassion toward others. I feel it should count in my defence that I was someone who had a degree of empathy and a strong instinct to heal and nurture even when I was sunk so deep in (self) hate. I wish I had been a better mother for my children but they know I have always loved them at least.
The second reading talks about doing everything to the glory of God, in a way that will bring people INTO grace not lock them out of it. Why does the church not love and accept queer people better to the glory of God? Why do we not celebrate God’s act of creation by celebrating the created ones (straight, gay, trans and every rainbow hue)?
In the gospel Jesus recognises that healing is not just an “inside yourself” thing, it is not a matter of thinking positive or just staring down the negative self-talk. He heals the leper AND ALSO he helps him re-access the approval and belonging of his church community. I feel that lovely Sophia-Jesus did this for me too (better late than never), when AFTER the good seed of queer theory and feminism had been repeatedly sown in my brain by theological college and a couple of positive church communities, AFTER I had had to confront my own homophobia in reference to other, AFTER I had wrestled with the question of whether I would love a gay child of mine I finally and spectacularly fell in love with a woman.
“Spectacularly” only to myself as in the external sense nothing ever happened- and couldn’t happen. But what I felt shook up everything I thought I knew about myself and I came out of it wondering how people would respond to me if I was just plain old “lesbian” instead of a weird and terrified sense of never fitting anywhere and always being unhappy and empty.
God bless then the people I “showed myself to”. One of the first was a church group that met regularly to talk about faith, scripture and to share chocolate. From that I learned to be more confident, less apologetic about who I was and discovered JOY. I went back to a church community I had always loved for its very female energy. I showed myself to them also gradually- first just “I am back and I want to be involved” but then “by the way I am gay”. I was accepted. I was loved.
This is not what I was brought up to accept.
Jesus’ work of healing me from my estrangement from myself was completed by the receptive community who complimented my rainbow jumper and listened to my reflections. We all have that power- we who believe in God. We can be secure enough in our faith to advocate for the rights and inclusion of all others, not for a mean-minded and judgemental spirituality.
God may ask a lot from us, but all she asks for is geared toward JOY. I strongly believe that now that I know what joy tastes like.
So I pray
Thank you for challenging me.
Thank you for healing me.
Thank you that I am wrong every time I think I am broken beyond repair.
Thank you that I am wrong when I think I cannot be loved and accepted.
Thank you for smiles and words of encouragement.
Thank you for hugs and eye contact.
Thanks for small talk, affirmations, compliments
for the beauty of other people,
for the acceptance of other people,
for the way I have to learn to be larger
and wiser and more whole
to embrace other people.
God of love and loving and lovers,
I thank you every day
for that soul that touched my life
and jolted me out of my misery.
I thank you that I fell in love with her,
with the world,
even I suppose with myself.
I thank you that I want to live.
I want to live.