Tag Archives: Luke

Blessings and woes

Dedicated to the women (and some men) who have co-created my future and my hope with me. Who have mentored and encouraged me. With thanks, with every blessing.

“The will of God is always an offer of co-creation.” (Joan Chittister, 1990, 49). I have no desire to replace any part of the gospels, and especially not that activist manifesto that we usually call “the Beatitudes”. What I do feel the need to do, is bring the gospel into my life and world and bring my life and world into the gospel. So I will have a go at co-creating some Beatitudes that are secular, but grounded in gospel values. I will endeavour to be faithful to the original but express my specificity.

I invite you to either pray mine with me, or use them as a departure point for your own. Let’s affirm the way the people who inspire us are following God. Let’s recognise their work (love) as deeply transformative…

Blessed are the angry feminists, because they shall make daughters and sisters of all women,

Blessed are those who are underpaid and undervalued, for they call into question our striving after money and shiny things,

Blessed are those who put aside or demolish their own privilege, because they shall have right relationship.

Blessed are the queer ones and the misfits, those who are judged, excluded, misunderstood or lied about, they will become lights to the world.

Throughout history prophets (and especially prophetesses) have always been mistreated and rejected by the reluctance of the collective consciousness to grow.

Woe to you if you live by the exploitation of others, you will always fear losing what you unfairly have,

Woe to you if you gaze with joy on inequality and label it “meritocracy”, you will be found wanting and discarded

Woe to you if you hate those who are different from you, you will imprison yourself in certainty and fail to connect with others

Woe to you if you are defined by what you own, what you can buy or your success, the triviality of your life will overwhelm you and you will always be exhausted.

But we are all partly in the “woe” category” by virtue of the society in which we live. I pray for grace to heal our woe. I pray for God’s loving voice to nag us out of our discontented compliance with capitalist half-lives. I pray that the blessing will flow from the blessed ones, the saints of our time also to us. I pray that we will bring healing and hope to each other.

God’s kindom come.

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Lips, life and liberation

“…this has touched your lips” said the angel.

As a sociologist I find the first reading tantalising. It’s not possible to be purged of the “unclean” discourses of your context in time or space. I think the cultural errors of any age boil down to what “original sin” is, the way that some grace-filled possibilities are shut off, rendered unsayable or drowned in a mire of the “inevitable”, we cannot even see our error because out language sets up binaries and misleading questions with closed off answers.

But the desire to rise above our context and to liberate others from it, this is utterly relatable and I like to think of God as the one who burns through the crap that bogs us down and sends us out to make sense of things after all. “My eyes have seen” something, some beautiful reflection of God’s presence, some possibility for liberation for us all…this is what it means to have “faith” perhaps. The eyes of our spirit yearn not to be enslaved to sin and the overbearing meaningless of the consumerist “life”. We want life to mean something, but meanings elude us.

The drive to speak is familiar, I first felt the need to be a voice, first heard the call I suppose when I was a little girl. “Here I am, send me” or when I try to be humble and not say that, then things fall apart into greyness and fear. Perhaps at times my motives have been mixed with the less than ideal, I have craved status, wanted to be “special” but over the years I learn what hard work it is to be a truth speaker, how easy it is to get it all wrong and how alone you can feel. I learn (with joy) that God has never called only me, not even mainly me. And then I can reclaim pride not as an individualising sin “I am better than the others” but as a virtue “I am made in God’s image like you, and you, and you, and our sister”.

The apparent pride that put me off in the first reading, has served instead to interrogate and redeem me as still called (among others).

I am feeling that psalm today, partly as I reflect on my call and my co-travellers with their calls too. God has answered my prayer and whenever I think of God listening to me and bringing me out of despair it brings me back to the huge transformation of my life when I realised the obvious (that I was a lesbian) and the way this identity has increasingly been a blessing in my life. I haven’t had lovers but I don’t want to make a virtue of that or pretend that “celibacy” is the only or best option for queer folk. I will be honest there is nothing celibate about my mindset I just have not found someone I can share and celebrate this with in that way.

Ironically the “uncleanness” that I needed a coal set to, to burn away, was not my lesbian identity at all but my inability to see God’s grace and act of co-creation in who I was. My being PRAISES God in a way that my self-hate never did. As the psalm rejoices at God “you built up strength within me” oh yes she did and she has not finished. Through the grace of God and the grace of everyone I travel with I am getting STRONGER. I can depend on Wisdom within and outside of myself (in both places for balance). God has placed gentle hands on me, like a sort of spiritual chiropractor or masseur, repairing and working with what is there to bring out the best in me. As the psalm tells me I will not be abandoned, I am not yet my perfect being but God is still working on that with me.

Some of this may sound arrogant but it is as true for an ant or a blade of grass as it is for me. We are extremely significant and “special” but not more so than each other. We have the responsibility to respond authentically and to grow with God into the gentle movements of God’s healing hands on us. Someone smiled at me this week and God was absolutely in her smile and I saw my own goodness and beauty in this wonderful person’s face. Everything reminds me of that moment. I saw God in a person, who is objectively probably as flawed as me. But who wants to be objective when they see God?

I won’t spend long on the second reading (read it) but I feel it is paraphrasing the same thing I am trying to say. Paul (or someone) is finding his place in the community of transformation, he is trying to articulate the pride and joy of that without coming across as arrogant. He is working to show that God is behind all these feelings of belonging and hope, God’s beautiful face shines out at us in the communities that accept us (and sometimes one person).

In the gospel Jesus uses the identities of Simon and the sons of Zebedee as the places where they can encounter God. He makes following God about being a fisherman (just as Wisdom makes following God for me about motherhood, writing, being queer or caring). In a way there is a “leaving behind” that happens, after the encounter with Jesus the fishermen are transformed but they are “fishing for people” their vocation is still a continuation and celebration of the way they know themselves.

I have always found this reading terrifying and mysterious because there is no flesh-and-blood Jesus I can unambiguously follow down the coast and away…I have to always find my way and strain to hear an ambiguous call. Perhaps I underestimate the leap of faith (and questioning and at times depression) of the apostles, who are portrayed as just “knowing” Jesus, recognising him in a flash. Perhaps it was not so easy (it is not so easy for any of us except the sociopaths who end up doing untold harm). What is the “everything” that I have to leave? I cannot speak to people if I make myself too alien to them. I cannot set myself apart from the world I must live in for practical reasons (I need to feed and home myself or die) and for spiritual reasons (separateness leads to vanity and irrelevance). The question of faith is the same as the question of politics. How do we authentically be with others (a splintered individualist approach achieves nothing) but do not become “sell outs”? When do lines need to be drawn? Where is the most honest place to draw them? How do we leave everything and yet bring everything with us?

The fact that all my spiritual “insights” lead to unanswered questions is frustrating but simply means I am not dead yet. This week I am a person who was smiled at. I want to curl up in a little ball and do nothing ever again and simply save that moment to myself…that is not how it works. Within the full net is not solace forever but a call further. God provides for us so that we can grow to be the ones who bring it. The moment of grace is always that, always the moment of having to stretch ourselves and follow more deeply.

I can only try.

I can only try.

From the womb out to the universe: love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liberation is also for me

This post in particular (and all of them somewhat) is dedicated to Pauline Small who is a constant spiritual Grandmother to my blog and has been reminding me not to neglect it. 

Spooky Wisdom!

Lately I have been pondering my vocation. I have particularly thought about it in reference to seeing https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FABCReligionandEthics%2Fvideos%2F2015604118527439%2F&show_text=0&width=476“>this video about Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy. Seeing that video made me wonder again what it means to have a vocation? I hear God calling to me in the people I meet and work with, in the beauty of the sunset, the tenacity of the weed, the confidence of my cat. I hear the call in my period blood that I soak out of the pads and pour on the garden. I hear God calling me like words from my childhood.

…”to give good news to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind and bind up hearts that are broken” (have I told you lately God, that your Words are Spirit and life?) That was how I remembered the quote from childhood, from songs, from progressive church services, these words have always hit home into my heart. I have always known the truth from them, they tell me how to be human, they tell me how to be in an intimate relationship with God. They tell me how to be me. God would never hate or punish me when I fail to live up to them, but I become less, become a shadow of myself.

Yet to me the mystery remains. Where is the path? How do I remain faithful? Do I not glow with a passion for justice and liberation in my academic work, in my political work? I shared at church that I was once again questioning (being questioned by?) my vocation and my friend Pauline said (as part of a longer discussion) that she missed my blog. It seemed time to me to try to restart that for all that I feel too burdened and not eloquent or wise enough to keep speaking, speaking, speaking into the time. The blog feels so self-indulgent because I just write what I feel. Other writings get read and critiqued and redrafted and still I get told to tighten them up.

But here I am being self-indulgent again and trusting the reader to skim the parts they don’t like. This is the week it has all begun again.  Unlike the patriarchal priests, unlike Ezra, I don’t stand above the people, I do not have the backing of a church structure, perhaps I am not “reputable”. Any truth I claim to speak needs to be tested and discerned by anyone who reads/hears it. Should we not do this with all truths?

But for me also this is a holy day, this is a day when weeping ends and I rejoice in God’s continued call to me. Where will it lead?

The second reading talks to us about diversity. Without women’s ministry I believe the church has lost a limb that God intended it to have. It’s a misuse of this reading to assign essentialist roles, a hand can’t tell a foot what to do, nor can an ear tell an eye how to behave, but all can be true to themselves for the body to work. Men need to stop limiting women and thus crippling the body that is the church. There need to be fewer lies, less control, more trust that God can speak to and through us all! We discern truths on the basis of faith, hope and love not on the basis of some people having a privileged position over the rest of us.

In the gospel, Jesus is realising his vocation; coming of age to do his work. He explains his mission- liberation, healing, good news (not, it might surprise some “Christians” to hear, purity, hatred and division). Wherever the liberation is, Christ is working. Wherever we are healed, we feel her touch. Whatever words or actions bring good news into us, is the place where we might encounter God.

Grand words like “vocation” always make it feel like we should be doing more (and perhaps that may be true) but here in my little blog. I can work to make this a place of liberation, healing and good news. It’s a lovely burden to take up again, I feel a bit daunted it is true but mainly RELIEVED to begin again.

 

 

Instead of a reflection, a poem

I felt like today’s readings were more or less a repeat of what we have already been doing. I know there must be new insights in them but I wasn’t feeling it this week- it just felt like “this again”. Any newness of life at the moment seems hard-won, though my garden more than likely appreciates the rain. Just about the only thing that made me pray this week, happened at karaoke while I was singing “Better man” by Robbie Williams so this is one of those weeks when I focus on an extra-canonical reading.

“…I fear the cold, feel I’m getting old before my time.

As my soul feels [it may have been “heals” but in my case definitely “feels”] the shame, I will grow through this pain, cause I’m doing all I can to be a better man”

Readers who know me well, will question the “man” but I leave it in as a provocation. And reflecting on positive shame and the dryness of my spiritual well this week, prompted a short piece from me:

Des(s)ert(ed)

 

All praise to the risk takers.

 

Capitalism gives us all the world

if only we kneel down

and worship

bread made from stone.

(See e.g. Luke 4:1-13) But God I’m doing all I can, to be a better “man”. Amen.

 

 

Holiness, families, connection, otherness

The first reading today, is a couple of disjointed passages from a longer section where surprise, surprise the father (patriarch) of a household is setting up his own wellbeing and interests as “God’s law” over his children. There is a section defining the parent’s power over children as natural and right, God’s will, then he sensibly looks ahead to a future time when he may be feeble or have dementia and sets up taking care of him them as a virtue for his children.

While I agree that looking after the old with compassion and respect is virtuous, as a whole this piece of writing leaves me cynical and disconnected from my tradition. I want to look for holiness instead at real holy families I know… two women who defy their church and some of their relatives to give loyalty and nurture to each other “for better for worse, for richer for poorer…” and let their mutual love outflow to their communities… a single mother on the barest pittance who struggles to put food on the table but always finds some change or a cigarette for any homeless person who asks her, and refuses to give up her World Vision sponsored child…the couple who take turns running for election or supporting each other’s efforts, who work together to manage their household finances, chores, child rearing, extensive political involvement, gardening and still find time to each have personal interests and entertain friends (how do they do it all?)…the single person who knows s/he (I know more than one of these)is on a good income and looks for opportunities to be generous and transformative with their money, even while enjoying a good standard of life themselves…the elderly people whose love for their own (now grown up) children spills over into grandchildren and others who they can mentor, support, encourage…the teachers who are like family in the way they see and respond to an emotional need…the nurses who heal more than a physical wound by lingering or listening for a (precious and scarce) moment longer than they have to…the chef who finds an excuse to feed people even beyond the call of duty…the boss who genuinely cares about how unique her employees are and their individual needs and issues…the now separated or divorced couple who remain friends for the sake of their child, or add encouragement and support to the ex, rather than bitterness and judgement…”

And there are broken families too of course, people betrayed, abandoned, insecure, criticised, misunderstood, neglected…all families are Christ’s family whether we approve of them or not, whether we can see the life-giving potential in them ore not.

To extend this logically, the family called “the church” which is also extremely flawed and at times abusive is Christ’s family too…

The second reading starts off well, with all the advice about loving and forgiving each other, but also ends up devolving into patriarchal family hierarchies. Husbands over wives, parents over children. I don’t want to rehash all the apologetics here about “this is actually liberative for its time and culture because it is two-sided.” Maybe, maybe not but I am reading it on the threshold of 2018 and this way of putting it does NOT liberate someone who has experienced being a child and then a wife. As a lay-person in a church where there is so much power and authority accorded to clergy I am wary of this asymmetrical two-sided responsibility where my responsibility to obey is supposed to mesh with someone else’s responsibility to nurture me. That has often not been the way it has panned out. I also added back in here the verse the lectionary has swept under the carpet, because I think it illustrates our need for caution with texts.

God created all humans with intelligence, will, agency; it in no way makes sense for some to give up their own ability to reason, choose and decide and to hand that power over to others.

I am digging in my heels at these reading with a big fat NOPE.

In the context of these two readings, the gospel seems a little bit oppressive too. Here is Jesus’ family following tradition, celebrating his maleness and first-borness by killing some pigeons. I understand that this is not my culture and I try to bite my tongue as I read it (but there were those other readings to set the tone for me to resist this too). So here they are doing everything that is “prescribed” and Jesus’ specialness is affirmed by people outside the family, people important within their religious community.

As someone who never got to be “special”, as “only a girl” I can watch it from the outside but this story has never really captured my imagination much, nor has it given me any sort of useful concept of “holiness” so that as a child this feast-day was more of a puzzle to me than anything else. I was a pious little goody-goody so I took it for granted that they were holy, I was not and my role in the faith always was to obey and follow- never any more.

But when I was pregnant myself (no longer a child by then) I thought a lot about Mary and her struggles, about Joseph and his ability in other parts of the gospel to put his family radically first (which is pretty transgressive in a patriarchal context). I thought of Jesus’ contradictory attitudes toward his own family- now clear affection, now a seeming desire to escape and deny…of his need to be more than his origins or pedigree, of his resistance to being subsumed in domesticity or family expectations. Leaving the security of the family leads to the cross; the cross might have broken Jesus’ body, but imagine the wreckage it wrought to Mary’s heart?

I prayed that none of my children would ever in any way or in any movement be a “Messiah” and yet I also knew that whatever they were or were not, despite the first and second readings of today I would neither choose nor control. The holiness of “family” then, must lie somewhere in that contradiction between individual agency and call, and collective support, love, acceptance of one another. We yearn as human beings both to connect and to be free. We can achieve so little alone, as a pure individual and yet perhaps the most frustrating and perennial challenge is the attempt to be understood by each other (and the pain of stopping our own knowledge and emotions in their tracks long enough to know another).

So on this feast of the holy family, I look at my own flawed self as a mother of sons, as a sister and daughter, aunt and cousin and friend. I look at my single-state, my difficulty with managing intimacy in my life, but miraculously the relative stability of my friendships. I offer a prayer of thanks for the people who have with-held judgement (or even advice) and have offered encouragement and practical help, fostering my slow growth.

I anticipate my need for more- necessary but slow and painful growth to better relationships and the best inspiration I can find in tradition can only be the prayer of St Francis,

Divine Wisdom make me an instrument of your peace,

where there is injury let me sow pardon,

where there is hatred, let me sow love,

where there is confusion, let me bring Wisdom,

(God I know the original said something different but I mean to bring creative doubt to over-certain faith as much as reassuring faith to toxic doubt)

where there is sadness, let me bring joy

where there is darkness let me bring your light

(and as a three-year old once pointed out where there is too much light let me bring the rest and peace of your darkness)

and to despair let me always show the chance of hope.

Oh beautiful and loving One teach me always to seek

more to console others than to need consolation,

more to listen and understand than just to be heard and understood

especially when I have privilege in worldly terms.

Teach me not to be needy in matters of love but to be generous and ready to pour out and be poured out in love.

 

Let me know with you that it is in giving that we receive

it is in pardoning and making allowances for others that we lose our own guilt and complicity in sin,

and somehow, in some hard to comprehend,

miraculous way

even death is not final as our eternal vocation is into You.

 

Make me an instrument, a way for you to play the music

that is peace and healing

to all.

Amen.

Not being silent

So many readings to choose from for Christmas services…and many of them so well known they’ve almost become a cliché. But I will start with the vigil, which may sound like an odd choice (and in fact any Christmas vigil mass I ever went to used Luke’s nativity story which is more child friendly). The gospel is a bunch of this person “begat” that person. I didn’t bother using a more modern translation this time, because I remember when I was a kid referring to this passage as the “begatteries” (I think I got that from my Dad and thinking it was the most boring passage (and to me pointless) in the hole bible. I wondered who cared about hs patrilineal line that way as if he was a breeding animal or something. Jesus’ remarkable person was nothing to do with who “begat” who.

Later on, I noticed – or perhaps it was pointed out to me- that in this account of fathers and sons four women manage to squeeze their way in and for a time I thought it was a feminist victory of sorts. I don’t like “liberal feminist” ideas though that some women (often at great personal cost) can break into patriarchal places in small number, because of their own individual “empowerment” or some such- but the norm is still exclusion and low status of women in general. I sometimes see this in churches that begin to ordain women, it takes a long time for real change to happen (and to me it doesn’t matter so much these days who does or does not get ordained- it is the effect on the wider community that matters).

Then again this is God’s history, not “man’s history” and if you look carefully at what sort of women have got a mention in the patrilineal line they are transgressive types- Tamar and Rahab and Ruth, who in various ways broke conventions or used their sexuality and agency to achieve moments in the story of liberation of their people or themselves. Mary also, she has been colonised by so many artists and theologians- depicted as passive and submissive but if we knew her only from the scriptures then she comes across very differently- as outspoken, courageous and somewhat of a visionary.

So Jesus could be a male saviour in a male story of a male church- except God keeps calling women at various points in time (probably always) to transgress patriarchy (like Wisdom herself who is free from constraint) and to change history for the better. This text is not very feminist, the very few women mentioned are all mothers and wives, their other deeds unmentioned but they are THERE and if we look at the story in full then we know them. And we know who is missing- Jepthah’s daughter for example and other victim’s of men’s violence.

I’ll go back to the first reading with all this in mind, and proclaim together with it that I will “not be quiet”. The first reading is all about “Zion” depicted as female and needing advocacy (and waiting for God’s intervention). Unsilencing is a theme of Christmas, especially if we consider Jesus the “Word” of God- speaking and spoken (through Mary’s embodied production of “Word” and through Joseph making room for Mary’s work in this). God unsilences the voices that call for repentance, change, better ways of being and knowing and relating.

They sing that “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes” which I suppose is meant to be a moralistic guilt trip on the tendency of children to talk and complain so much, but instead I think little Jesus screams his lungs out like the healthy, fully embodied human he is, like the voice of unquenchable Wisdom, like the son of the composer of the Magnificat (and of God and of the quiet and assenting carpenter), like the future preacher and threat to the status quo. He screams that unjust hierarchies and powers will fall and Herod hears enough to be frightened (that comes later of course).

When I went to Latvija, I was in a relatively atheist state of mind. I was “over” church and I didn’t know what I believed apart from the fact that church is too often boring, depressingly patriarchal and generally unhelpful (this is not true in the community  I attend but while travelling further from home I often find services that shut me out in various ways). After walking out of a service which seemed to be about the little, guilty me having to grovel to the patriarchy (which is a form of idolatry anyway) I went to visit my great aunt, Stefanija, for whom I was named and who has since died. I have posted her picture on this post so you can see her.

She told me stories of what it was like living under the Russian regime. Atheism was part of the ideology of the state. People who strongly advocate for universal atheism, often claim that atheists have never visited religious oppression on anyone. That is simply not true. In Latvija during the occupation you could be deported to labor camps even for saying “Merry Christmas” on December 25th, the state proclaimed that the correct festival was the secular “new year’s eve” and any religious celebration was forbidden. Church was not available, nor were decorations and the like.

Enforced atheism has shown itself to be every bit as horrifying as any other enforced religion, for all that atheists tend to claim a moral high-ground…educating ourselves about the (un)beliefs of others in a spirit of tolerance might be a better thing to try.

Anyway Stefanija told me that she and her husband had some Christian neighbours, that they knew it was safe to say “Merry Christmas” to (very quietly so no one would hear and report them) with a little smile of significance because Christmas is still a big deal to a Christian even when you are not allowed to celebrate it. And I realised that my faith does mean something to me after all- when it can mean quiet defiance of an unfair regime, it can mean a joy and hope we are not “supposed” to feel.

So like the shepherds in the reading I didn’t get to discussing, we stop work for the evening to focus on someone else’s baby in wonder and awe. Like the magi in a few weeks we follow even a star, even a rumour of a hope to connect across cultures with generosity and respect. Like Herod we might be threatened by the politics of the kindom of God, and need to resist the temptation to defend the status quo by making othered families suffer. Don’t you think you are Herod? What is your attitude to refugees? To trans-kids? To teenage mothers? To the unemployed or homeless? The wonder and transformative power of the Jesus story has been very resilient over centuries and it is part of our identity as individuals and as communities.

Jesus was grounded within his own Jewish tradition with its problems (eg patriarchy) and its possibilities (eg the radical call to social justice). I am Latvian, my relatives were courageous about having a “Merry Christmas” under an oppressive regime.

Merry Christmas to all my readers and your families. Don’t be silent- be advocates for the oppressed, be hopeful, be joyful. Let us be in the Jesus movement together!