Tag Archives: Mark

Stop enabling

I tried to write a blog about this week’s readings and I felt angry at all the different ways that exploitation of humans (women in each case) was reified as part of God’s plan and then I tried to pull back and find some good news in there to try to say that God was actually on side with the oppressed and we should…we should… and here I drew blanks. How do you respond to what is essentially a text of terror? And especially when the church uses it as a model for the Christian life that a good Christian is like Ruth or the starving widow or the almost penniless widow and is prepared to be used up and spat out in the service of God’s kingdom (or only to be nurtured by God as part of a greater plan of faithfulness to more important figures).

I want to radically follow God out of love, but not to be exploited and especially not to be part of a long tradition of the clergy and other all-male groups trivialising, exploiting and casually using women. NO FUCKING WAY.

So I wrote it and didn’t post it, I thought I would sleep on it. And then I checked my email and a friend of mine who is a sort of feral priest (ie too female to get any compensation or even acknowledgement from the exploitative Catholic church) had a rant in there about being “preached” to by people who have just got no idea. I won’t steal her story or her ideas as such, but that seemed a very productive track to go down to consider how dare I “preach” at all and who would I “preach” to and what presumptions and privilege might be contained within my preaching.

I don’t tend to like being “preached at” actually. I often feel like the person standing out the front going “blah, blah, blah, blah” wrongly assumes that I am many steps behind them on my spiritual journey and disrespects the ways I might be their equal or even ahead of them. I don’t believe we should preach that way as if to inferiors. I am not Jesus if I elevate myself (the first part of this week’s gospel makes that clear before moving into the text of terror which gets zoomed in upon in the opposite way to how the context sets it up).

The (mostly male) superior preachers who want to teach little old inferior me how to live (all without ever walking so much as half a step in my shoes or even bothering to make the smallest effort to find out anything about my life or experience) lack what we in qualitative research call REFLEXIVITY. They don’t stop to analyse who it is who is doing the preaching, that they are not just a wise conduit for God’s infallible wisdom (with a small “w” because it is not really Wisdom when it is bound by patriarchy) but that they are human beings caught up in webs of power relations in a society riddled with inequalities and that not only are they the relatively privileged, but that they also within the reign of God are pilgrims and sinners as are the “congregation”.

I am not saying that priests never examine their own conscience and never engage in their own spiritual journey, it would be wrong of me to speculate on that and God I am sure sees whatever good work or gaps exist in that work. I am simply saying that by setting up a one-way power relationship where “the people” are not meant to see “the priests” humanity there is a sort of dangerous hubris that leads to the greater and more dangerous abuses of power. It is also both discouraging and unhelpful to have to humour these people by listening to their self-satisfied and often superficial drivel week after week with little or no opportunity to speak back.

Having said that I hope that anyone who wants to take issue with what I am “preaching” is free to leave a message disagreeing with me, which provided it is not abusive I would allow on my wall. And you also are not a captive “congregation” but can tune in or out of what I choose to write as you wish.

I have tried to make it clear in this blog who I am- a disenchanted “Christian”, a graduate of theology, a single mother, a lesbian, a white middle-class person with a job and all the rest of it. In all those claims about my identity I am identifying what my bias might be and realising for me to try to speak from some ivory tower of “knowing” to you whoever reads this is arrogant, unless I realise that your different “knowing” might be equally enlightening to me, and unless I show that my struggles with these difficult texts are part of my Christian journey of NOT having all the answers and NOT always being “right”.

So Ruth makes herself available to Boaz so that she won’t starve and conceives a son for Naomi. The widow and her son are saved by God ONLY because of God’s interest in the survival of Elijah. Despite Jesus’ words about the exploitative hubris of priests, all the church sees in the widow’s donation of more than she can afford is a great role model for the poor and down-trodden in the pews to be guilted into following. Jesus is the ultimate high priest, advocating for us before God not constantly haranguing us that we are “not good enough” but other priests do NOT advocate for the oppressed within church and society and just preach spiritual opium and escapism to the masses.

The church is riddled with cancerous growths called patriarchy and privilege. It is bound into service of the ruling class and regularly commits adultery by serving the interests of capitalism rather than its spouse, Christ/Wisdom. It is addicted to its own cleverness and relatively easy place in a troubled world. We, the people must stop enabling. We must stop making excuses for the black eyes and hurt feelings, stop separating ourselves from the things that can give us life and stop being unconditionally faithful to the abuser, the patriarchal church. We must stop hurting Wisdom herself by blindly following and excusing, stop collaborating in the myriad oppressions of the world and the church.

If we have one coin between ourselves and death, we must use that coin to buy bread for our children not let it be sucked up by a not-even-grateful church. If we have a vocation we must dance it away from those who steal our labour and our dignity…somehow this must be possible. We must glean some sort of future for ourselves the widows and orphans of the institutional church!

The kingdom of God cannot be outsourced

I’ve had it with Job, maybe it’s time I gave some attention to the alternative readings. This one by Jeremiah can be read as a simplistic and idealised call to greater faith. I prefer to read it as one of those Utopian visions that confounds the fatalism and inevitability of “this is the real world” thinking. This reading does not call us to apathetically “trust God” to deliver us, rather to believe and commit to a faith that social change IS possible and that God desires it at least as much as we do. So when we take our activist selves up and throw ourselves into the neverending quest for justice we are on God’s team, we are bringing about a vision bigger than ourselves, before ourselves, after ourselves we are building the reign of God.

Therefore even with the defeats and moments of despair we suffer it is worth still pursuing the unique chivalry (with critical possiblities) of God’s table. God will take the weeping and the broken and those in need of consolation and bring them back from their exile in the “real world” of performativity and disconnection and exploitation. God will comfort, lead and adopt. We can read this vision and be moved by it and beg God to give us a place in the plan to help bring it about. I am sure it is meant to be a motivating reading, not an invitation to sit back because God will wait on us hand and foot while we just mumble kyriearchal compliments and grovel.

When God delivers, it is like a dream…there are shouts of joy. But in this psalm, it is significant that the people who God is delivering have worked very hard (and with tears) to sow the seeds tor the impossible harvest which God restores. Again our place is in the struggle, sowing the seeds for God’s deliverance of sheaves of golden justice and joy.

Hebrews seems to be saying the opposite, that we have no further need of “priests” because we have the one “high priest” which is Christ. But in another place we are told we are the body of Christ, so the priesthood is enacted through that body, therefore through all of us. Maybe it is the organised hierarchical view of priesthood that is called into question (and wouldn’t that be a bitter pill for the church) but there is no possibility of reading this as “sit back, relax and Christ will do it all”. If Christ has made the offering for our sins, then we are free- not to sin again defiling the temple that is creation but to move out of sin and behave as the priestly body of Christ in the eternal atonement and redemption act.

Which I realise is no easy task.

But the priestly body that we through Eucharist, through sacrament, through grateful love and radical Christ-orientation become is the perfect body, the sinless body that “always lives to make intercession” for those who seek to approach God through this priesthood. We need to be an advocate, a conduit for the people of God deeper into God, into justice, into the joy of the miraculous harvest.

The blind beggar in the gospel is confronting a world that limits him and leaves him out. He is refusing the polite silence that accepts marginalisation and he is demanding “mercy”. You can read “mercy” as a one off act of compassion but I was educated in a tradition where “mercy” came with ideal of social action for justice and the demand of mercy was to be “loyal in everything”. We were specifically asked to consider how much good would one occasion of charity achieve compared to the louder, more difficult task of demanding a change to systems of oppression. Even though the teachers often addressed us as “ladies” (which was a bit vomitous) the model of discipleship we discussed was not ladylike and didn’t shrink from raising its voice.

The blind man in the gospel is advocating for himself, there is no harm in doing just that. How often do Christians side with the “many” who tell people such as him to be silent, to be invisible or call his thirst for justice, dignity and equality a life-style choice and thus dismiss it as non-urgent. Interesting when he comes to Jesus, Jesus does not do as our society and most well meaning people do. He does not tell the man how he will solve his problems, colonise the man with Jesus’ idea of salvation, dignity or usefulness. Jesus asks the man what help he wants.

When we help do we ask people what help they want? Or do we know better than them?

The man asks to be made well, regains his sight and follows Jesus on the way. Jesus is the way. So the demanding and raucous call for acknowledgement, healing and justice leads to apostleship. Along the way the man will meet others calling for healing, the man will be free to call out and advocate for them also or to offer whatever healing he learns from Jesus.

I have been blind, I have raised my voice. When God heals me I will be commissioned also to walk along with Jesus and listen out for the voices calling for justice. I call out, I am honest about what I want from God. I sow seeds even if I weep with despair as I do it. God’s kingdom happens along the way, it transforms and impassions and conscripts. And then there is joy when we reap the grains of our hope against hope.

The number for heaven is busy, please check your privilege and dial again

My God,

Well here we go! Last week’s pious nonsense has already ended in tears!

Job’s complaining is bitter because God is continuing the abuse despite Job having tried withdraw constant. At the same time God is not taking Job’s calls, or leaving an address. Job thinks that if only he could decode where God is, then he could reason with God. But don’t all abused people think they can reason, love and communicate their way out of abuse? I don’t like this God either, I can understand Job wanting to vanish into darkness. I reject the “God” in this reading, I refuse to have anything to do with him.

My God, my God why have you abandoned me? I don’t have that connection with tradition to be so sure you are going to do anything to rescue me from the pit of fear, despair and grief that so much in my world buries me in.

My God, my God why do I keep abandoning you? Why do I turn to escapism and commodities even though I know they won’t satisfy me? Why don’t I see clearly how to get to you?

Fierce bulls surround me. Papal bulls to keep me in my place are between you and me. Fierce (turn)bulls to keep taking away democracy. Ravening lions eat up the whole earth, eat up the labour of my hands, eat up my time, my energy, my soul. My ancestors trusted in you, but they were naïve. They trusted in you but they judged others. They trusted in you, but they died.

Trust.

Why did you call me?

But you are the midwife that helps us through the various stages of the universe giving birth to us, to the birth of each new self from our old ways of being. You hold us and give us back a piecemeal integrity so that we can be mother to ourselves and bring each successive try at authenticity to birth- Oh yes, that is how far we go back. You bring worlds and universes, societies and each small person into the world through the trauma and tearing of birth- you breathe breath into us you give us into welcoming arms.

We are in thirst and dust and desperation, none more so than the refugees you seem to have abandoned. God when you abandon me in my privilege then I will die. My privilege stops me entering the reign of God- dance me gently through the eye of the needle, God. All things are possible for you? But not all are easy! Do I really have to give up everything?

Were you really “tested as we are”? Were the tests standardised? Did you cry to find yourself so reduced? Did you give into your privileged state and ignore those who were failing? Did you become normal? Were you tempted to ignore your vocation? Did you choose what was hard an unpopular? Did you bury your desires to fit in?

But were you really tempted/tested in every way that we are?

Were you tempted to have babies instead of making decisions? Were you tempted to find some clever thesis to write instead of seeking one that you feel has meaning? Were you tempted to check Facebook one more time instead of studying? Were you tempted to neglect elderly relatives who don’t give you a lot of joy? Were you tempted to influence your children to be straight and conform to their gender? Were you tempted to take handouts from people even though you knew there were strings attached? Were you tempted to stay in a toxic relationship? Were you tempted to drop out of things that gave you life and joy? Were you tempted by the escapism of falling in love with unavailable people? Were you tempted to go on dating sites and sleep with just anyone to gain credibility? Were you tempted to allow people to slut shame you? Were you tempted to go to a strip club so your friends wouldn’t label you a “prude”? Were you tempted to keep drinking long after you knew it was bad for you? Were you tempted to take an E? Were you tempted to pretend you were under the influence of the E in order to have an excuse to touch someone? Were you tempted to be ordinarily successful? Were you tempted to let someone push you around? Were you tempted to cry? Were you tempted to fail on purpose?

Were you really tempted in every way that I was?

Do you know about MY experience? Have you ever been me?

Perhaps through Eucharist you feel what it is to be me- but how then do you not sin? I seem hard-wired to weakness. How is it that you can say you have experienced the weakness of despair and self-hate if you have truly never sinned? I boldly come to ask for the grace to really be represented by you.

How funny when you seem to ask me for the same grace. I make no claim to being without sin, how would I represent you?

If it is our wealth and privilege which keeps us from your reign, how is everything possible with you? Can you really save EVERYONE? Why don’t you? If you can save white, male, millionaires (and such) why do you still let them have a choice, even when their choice affects less powerful “others”? Why is their free will more important than my sister’s justice?

If heaven is means tested what are you going to ask from me? Is it the emotional security that I seek, the economic ease that I will have to give up? At what point do I decide I am not strong enough for your reign?

My God, My God, it is true I keep forsaking you. In cowardice I avoid the bulls and the lions- I become one of them or I hide and let you face them on your own. You have eased me into being; out of my mother, out of my society. We go back a long, long way. Don’t let’s be strangers!

Fulfilling my weekly commitment (uphill)

Doing this more as a discipline than out of wanting to this week, cannot even be bothered doing links (will later perhaps otherwise google “lectionary” if you want to know,,.

That first reading: Job 1:1, 2:1-10. So God uses Job in order to win a bet with the Satan, lets him be tortured for some sort of gentleman’s dick-points competition. Not cool God, not at all cool! And when Job’s wife quite sensibly points out that this is not behavior that deserves Job’s continued loyalty HE says: “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”

Well THIS foolish woman here, writing the blog thinks yes, if God loves us this sort of abuse is NOT ok. And I would a lot rather be a foolish woman who thinks religion is not worth all this pain and indignity; than to lose my compassion and be foolish like a man who accepts an idea of God who punishes the good merely to impress his enemy. Hypermasculinity like that puts me off. I don’t think God goes out and handpicks misfortune for people but if I thought God was like that I wouldn’t so quickly praise God for it.

Psalm 26 is the sort of smugly complacent stuff a lot of “good Christians” come out with. The sort of people who turn gay people away from their church, and frown upon divorcees, and kick out their own daughters for being pregnant. Oh I am so pure and innocent, also exclusive and don’t let the wrong sort of riff-raff come near me. 26:8 O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.

But I put it to you, psalmist that if you loved the house where God dwells, then you would have been into it enough to see that God dwells with the rejected and the unclean; with the poor and the downtrodden, with the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters. If you avoid all of God’s housemates then how can you say you love God’s house? Your foot may stand on level ground while you soapbox away how much you thank god for your unearned privilege, meanwhile God isn’t listening because her arms are full of the refugee babies you couldn’t make room for and her feet are running to tend to the suicidal lesbian you pushed out of your congregation, her face is turned toward the victims of your injustice and she is listening and comforting and your “integrity” is cheap and tawdry if you sweep away sinners so easily.

The second reading seems piecemeal, perhaps because someone has taken bits of bible and tried to splice them together, with something missing in the middle and the continuity is ruined. It becomes a lot of pious but not very meaningful phrases, though I like the tracing of Jesus’ exact resemblance to God, that is a cute and loveable little part of a reading I can otherwise (after an exhausting week) not make head nor tail of).

In The gospel, Jesus I think is getting a bit annoyed with those self-important patriarchs who think there are more important things (eg the “law”) than their own families. Women, children…neither are to be dismissed, silenced, cast aside. This reading gets used as being against modern 21st century divorce which is absolute rubbish as a way of understanding it, because in these days to divorce a woman (as if only the male could be the active partner to begin with) does not condemn her to a life of abject poverty. Jesus is saying don’t be hard-hearted, but also you can’t discount, trivialise, silence half of humanity. Humanity complete, with both halves (and yes I realise I am using binary thinking here…God is actually shown in the full spectrum of human gender and sexuality even more fully), complete humanity is the image of God. Maleness only gives us a skewed and unhelpful, unbalanced idea of who God is, because the image of God is far more than that.

from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’”…“Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”” This is not an argument for compulsory heterosexuality NOR against divorce, this is an affirmation that humanity reflects God with all those parts that God made. God does not make mistakes, woman is no less than man and both, all genders are vital to our understanding of the fullness and depth and wise love of God. I take that from this reading and all the stuff about lust and adultery and all the rest of it…we could try to do a detailed criticism and zoom in some time but …not now.

Then the little children get brought in, and we can’t have that especially if they are not nice middle-class children or if they don’t know how to behave. Perhaps before the children could approach Jesus they ought to have had a note from their priest and a certificate showing that they have completed all their sacraments and served in their church community as altar servers (if boys) or dish-washing tea ladies (if girls). In fact stuff the girls, we don’t want Jesus to get girl germs! And yes, there is this sort of attitude toward various “little ones” within the church (see last week’s readings that I ought to have written about since they resounded for me).
In the end whoever it is that we reject or place obstacles in the path of, Jesus will turn around and push past our self-importance to embrace them.
“ for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

Gentleness born from Wisdom

Written in a tearing hurry by one who has a lot to do…

 

A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” Really I feel I am being mocked in this reading and I can’t help cross referencing it to Virginia Woolf’s Angel in the House. Like Woolf, if there was ever such a phantom, an “angel in the house” or a “capable wife” in my psyche (and of course there was) reproving, blaming, scolding me for my many deficits then I killed her off in self-defence.

So why not ignore this reading and look at one of the possibly less offensive others? Because as long as “the church” uphold this sort of a reading as sacred, and Godly and proclaims it from churches or endorses it being proclaimed, then it is naïve to pretend that this is not part of our tradition. To shut our eyes from the ugliness and misogyny of the church is to remain in that place of privilege, related to those who are colour-blind and refusing to believe that racism still exists, “tolerant” and refusing to allow queer people to be seen or heard, we are the church but we take no responsibility for the parts of tradition we don’t like.

Instead we need to criticise these at all times, to wrestle with any text of terror or trivialisation that could be mobilised against us even if we are too wrapped in cotton wool to feel the abuse. But there are more interesting readings to focus on so I just remind you that a “capable wife…husband…partner” is not a commodity and that rejoicing in your comfortable house or comfortable car or comfortable and efficient wife is a bit sick. This is not a milk cow we are discussing!

Pfft….I move on.

The psalm tells me I will be “happy” if I refuse the path of the wicked. So I will try to remember not to commodify people in the dehumanising way of the first reading as I look at James’ advice for good living. The symptom of a Wisdom filled life here seems to be “gentleness”. I like the idea of having a “gentleness born of Wisdom” after the way I have been pursuing Wisdom and trying to respond to her week after week through reading after reading I like the thought of birthing with her a child, gentleness.

It seems to me (reading between the) that the key to a good life is not over-focusing on things you can’t have (like perhaps the paragon wife of the first reading) but settling down in your own lowly little life with wisdom and bringing gentleness to birth for the purpose of transforming all your works (and relationships?) to peace and justice.

“Peace” does not mean continuing to allow people to oppress us; and certainly doesn’t mean silence where others are being oppressed. It means weeding out motivations such as greed, envy, boastfulness, falseness and turning again and again to beloved Wisdom only allowing deep love for her to motivate us (and I don’t pretend to be at that ideal state at this point in my life; assuming a human is even capable of loving so perfectly).

How would we ask “rightly” for what our heart desires?

I won’t agree to the idea of “submitting” I don’t see Wisdom as asking for that; maybe for a playful yielding where we have been stubborn and neglectful of Her. But we needs must draw near to her, to cultivate that gentleness that will spring from within us and wear Her face.

The gospel frightens me again foreshadowing the extreme consequences of true commitment to God. The kingdom of this world does not love those who overthrow it…the rich want to keep their privilege and radical justice is always seen as fomenting rebellion. But here Jesus is not necessarily asking us to step into his shoes and be the one who suffers and dies, only to let go of ambitions for “greatness” and to turn back to gentleness. To behold the child (Jesus has a theme of focussing on the littlest and the least) and to “welcome” the child. I have heard persuasive preachers argue that the child in this story would have been a street thief, not a nice well-brought up, polite child at all. It is whatever is vulnerable and not nurtured- the refugee child, the single-mother’s child, the silenced child.

Jesus, behaving maternally, asking us to treasure and be gentle with his little beloveds. Jesus, Wisdom, begetting gentleness within us.

Who needs that impossible poster-wife of the first reading when we have Wisdom? She invited us in and gave us wine some weeks ago. Then she called us back and called us to account for our unfaithful ways. Now she offers closeness, and wants to beget gentleness- gentleness the great healer, gentleness the transformer of worlds, gentleness the tenderness of humanity turned toward wisdom. When this world makes us despair, then we are in danger of miscarrying that gentleness, or of suffocating her by giving her too limited a sphere.

Surrounded by the love and strength of Wisdom who is a co-parent and a midwife and a refuge, humanity can learn to nurture deep within itself gentleness, to grow it, to set it free. Thus through the relentless love of Wisdom, gentleness acquires both human and divine features, blended in staggering beauty. Now there is a higher purpose for drawing near to Wisdom, for following our yearning hearts and our deepest desire.

Wisdom is at the end of her tether

If my tongue is like a rudder and far from flawless in its steering (and I accept that) then the voice of the bible too pulls us this way and that, not always moving in a God oriented direction partly because it was designed to compensate for social currents that have changed but also because created by people as flawed as ourselves in a flawed time and a flawed society it is in itself the flawed instrument. The miracle is that God’s magnetic pull is somehow strong enough so that even with our flawed instruments and flawed selves we somehow can orient and correct and recorrect and attempt to return to the place where the buried treasure is.

My tongue is capable of great evil, I may well be inept in speaking God’s good news, but lately she has let me feel that she can speak through me in a range of ways to a range of people. Imperfect, flawed but not useless. In the same way the bible always attempts to respond to the pull of God. As I travel toward God, the boat I am sitting in is my place in society a whole lot of social expectations and created needs and desires and subjectivities that can obscure the Way. My boat is patched together with bad habits, assumptions, unhelpful thoughts, self-loathing, apathy and escapism. God’s siren call comes to strike terror in my heart and capsize me and that is my only salvation from drifting past the true centre where the treasure eternally is.

I had drifted into the doldrums of an apathetic half-life but again I feel irresistibly attracted to an unsettling God. When I breathe in this reality I feel truly alive.

Meanwhile Wisdom has her nagging voice on. Last time we heard her she was seducing with wine- sending out her maid-servants to invite but I guess by now she has realised (as the refugees are also forced to realise) that we are slow and unresponsive, selfish and stubborn. Now she is threatening to laugh at us when it all comes unpicked and I can’t blame her. But I don’t want to be one of the fools who cannot find her- I don’t want to be left alone without her. How do I convert sufficiently to her Way not to lose her? How do I offer more than the reconciliation that is part of the cycle of abuse, but genuinely listen to what she asks and change my life?

I do not yet feel beyond the pale, at least I desire to respond to Wisdom. Will that be enough?

But I look to Jesus and he tells me about Wisdom’s way in an unjust world and the radical commitment to Jesus, to Wisdom is a commitment to be a threat to society. It comes not just with risk but for a true follower of Jesus there is, or will be a cross. Is my faith enough for this? I am reading Dancing with God by Karen Baker-Fletcher and she talks about God transforming the world back to good constantly and calling us forever to turn aside from evil. But she is quite realistic about evil, when she portrays lynchings of black people and similar hate-crimes. It’s naïve in a time like this (perhaps in any time) to practice a feel good Valium of a faith and ignore the hard path to Calvary that is built into the liberative preaching of Jesus.

The way of the cross.

If you don’t like what I am saying, I don’t blame you. I don’t much like it either. But imagine if the crowd at the crucifixion had been lovers of Wisdom, not cowardly Christians like ourselves? Imagine if they had spoken out, if they had all put aside fear of the oppressive regime for a minute and together DEMANDED that Jesus and his two friends not be crucified. For the lone activist Christian the end might be crucifixion, but what of the courageous community? Can we grow a Christ that is bigger than one of us? I am not trivialising resurrection, at least I don’t think I am but like Baker-Fletcher I think Jesus died to say “enough with the crosses, love one another with a radical and courageous love”.

I am scared of my call some days, because I know it is something bigger than me and will never lead to comfort and ease but will swallow me up. But not to follow it is another sort of death, it is to force myself little by little to exist a little less. We do that so easily in the first world, we sit in our “sty of contentment” and we forget the next part, “meaning death”.

And Wisdom may be out on the streets, haranguing me and threatening to leave me but at least she has not yet given up on me. What would it profit me to gain the whole world, and lose her who authentically is my life?

Healing wilful deafness

Is 35:4-7         James 2: 1-5             Mk 7: 31-37

I actually had the opportunity to “preach” this week in a real church in front of real people. So I haven’t doubled up, I’ve used that as my blog for the week. It’s a bit different than the more dialogic usual stuff. This is more of a presentation than a dialogue.

 

What does it mean to be deaf?

There is real, physical deafness, and I don’t want to be ableist, by conflating it with the sort of deafness that I want God to heal in me and in my world.The physically deaf person, may already be very relational, may be very engaged and sensitive to all sorts of others in the world. So I want to leave aside questions of physical deafness and “miracles” in the material sense because

…there is also a willing and wilful deafness called “privilege”.

The danger as soon as I think about what is wrong with the world, with the oppression and exploitation of the earth and all sorts of othered people is that I will see my own powerlessness, my own lack of energy to sustain any sort of meaningful resistance and I will get angry and depressed. Along with this goes the self-knowledge of the first world, comparatively well-off person. I am caught up in these meshes of oppression, I benefit from them I am at times wilfully deaf and complacently mute. The guilt can paralyse me, the toxic negativity can overcome unless I (of the fearful heart) look to the encouragement in the first reading.

Isaiah here gives us impossible hope- personal and ecological renewal in an overabundance of healing, but darkly also a “terrible recompense”. What power we have needs to have an orientation toward that reality undermining hope, the possibility when we connect with others in God of gaining a momentum that unstops wilfully deaf ears for real change.

Wilful deafness is also present in James where favouritism and inequality are built into the culture of a church or a society. In our own privilege we fail to even notice the otherness we have never experienced. How often might I hear nothing but the echoing powerful voice of those who have seized for themselves the right to define how we relate to God and our neighbour, who silence anyone who is not the same as them. How much more do my deafened ears refuse to hear the oppressed when I am not one of “them”, when my voice too echoes with self-satisfied privilege and hegemonic wisdoms.

In my privilege, I am deaf and there is an impediment in the way I speak. The love that I am called to speak, comes out as judgement of the weak; the call to repentance toward the powerful becomes appeasement. I like my status and my peaceful life. That is no way to preach the good news.

In the past, I have had a very passive way of reading the gospel. I have read it as though I were a princess, chained to a rock waiting for a heroic Christ to ride into battle to rescue me from my own weakness (whether I use the word “sin” or try out some more compassionate term). What a negligent way to half-respond to God’s call! We have no gospel stories where Jesus says “I am here to carry your cross while you be my cheerleader and then faint into my arms.” Instead we have “Take up your cross. Follow me. Become me. Be me.” Yes we eat the body of Christ, like babies taking in nutrition and learning from their mother who they cling to and watch closely. But why do babies do this? To grow and learn and move on their own two feet, to take up the business of living and being in themselves, on their own behalf.

As we eat Christ, we watch Christ. Then we are set free to be Christ. In every Jesus story we must jump in and be Jesus.

So much for passively waiting and hoping for God to undeafen us and iron out our lack of eloquence and wisdom. We are called to jump into the deaf and mute world ready to be the ones who unstop ears that have failed to hear the poor, willing to untangle and liberate tongues whose unique God-given gospel may not yet have been heard….not even by the church. Not even by us!

Jesus himself was a powerful speaker. His words here are minimal. He is intimate, private, touches, encourages, listens. He asks the disciples to tell no one, the deaf man is not being exploited by God for glory or kingdom building- his story of liberation is his own, it happens apart from the gaze of the crowd (ironically someone has watched or imagined and reported and even more ironically if the disciples had been more obedient we would have had fewer of these life-giving stories).

Back in the second reading it was the poor who were rich in faith. We can share in this wealth of faith when we set free the silenced voices, just as we must be poking and prodding and unblocking the powerful in our church and in our world when they fail to hear Jesus calling us all to a more just and sustainable way of life.

Who do we need to allow to speak to us?

How do we make the world listen?

What does this story mean for the Christ each of us is called to become?

Let’s take a short moment to use our tongues and ears in sharing meaning-making.