Tag Archives: Mark

Being Privileged

I actually had no quarrel with the lectionary today. The first reading in it, if you are interested is worth looking up later. What it says was pretty similar to the first part of the gospel anyway.
I chose the reading from Alexis Wright as part of a personal project that I thought you would allow me to share with you. My project is to bring into my prayer life some voices of women of colour, and especially Indigenous women. I read, then I spend some time trying to become aware to broaden my mind and to be called out of my privileged view of the world.
I haven’t read all of Carpentaria yet, but Wright’s work makes me feel deeply uncomfortable and sad with a sadness I don’t know how to express. It’s not really my intention to share my discomfort (hence I chose a relatively mild passage) but as feminists we do need to remember that we have been asking for decades that men and especially ones in leadership positions would sit with the discomfort that WE bring and let it undermine an unjust system, rather than being emotionally lazy and dismissing us unheard.
So when it comes to an Indigenous woman, one who is not only speaking unfamiliar truths, but speaking them in epistemologically strange (to me) ways I need to take extra time to get to know what I am hearing and allow for its potential to change me.
Will this change us?
I’ve circled back to the original first reading which is echoed in the gospel. In the Kindom of God we are called to set the table not to build a wall around “church” and then become gate keepers. We are called to throw open the doors and give refreshment (even a cup of water) in the name of Life.
Imagine a church that had always recognised this?
Imagine centuries- not of converting and condemning others but (and here I borrow from Micah) of walking humbly with our God in the world. What collaborations of respect and mutual learning might have been possible? Instead of a movement for liberation, people like Constantine used the network of Christians as a vehicle for conquest to further ruling class interests. God of course has been subversively present even so.
We are hearing some of that sort of ideology in the promotions of a so called “Christianity” in politics. A Christianity that does not have compassion for refugees or the unemployed or the working poor? A Christianity that does not look after the aged sufficiently and spits on the integrity of the earth herself. Where I must ask is the “Christ” in all this?
The second reading seems to concur, warning the wealthy and privileged that what they have tells a story of injustice and abuse. Exploiting the worker or the earth is disrespectful of the integrity of creation as God’s image, it defies God’s Wisdom which calls us to live in love and hope. Consumerism in the short term can seem like a refuge from increasingly difficult thoughts- we can turn consumerism into apparently kind values – looking good for others, decorating and cooking for others (some others of course, those few we value at the cost of the many). Ultimately the economic and ecological problems worsen while we ignore them. This gospel is written not only for the 1%, the super-rich but also for us. What would it take for us to turn away from the unhappiness of addiction to wealth and take these messages seriously?
We could start by demanding that any leader who invoked “Christianity” also practice it- not just in turning up to a church once in a while but in policy and practice. Our “Way of life” is threatened more by people who claim to promote it, than by those who admit they are different. We must move forward into life.
As an unauthorised preacher, it is very tempting for me to take only words of comfort from the gospel, which reminds us that as church we do not have to control, endorse or forbid the ministry of others, God is well able to call whoever she wants. I need to read on, from the reassurance to the stern warning. While God calls me to speak, I must take care because if my words are the thing that derail or distract people from God then I will be held accountable.
God’s view of us is not just as atomised and empowered individuals (the neoliberal “can-do” vision), but members of a community- giving and receiving ideas, support and challenge to each other. It’s easy for me to focus on the ways the institutional church has sinned- denying the possibility of female ministry for example, encouraging queer kids to despair and fall away even kill themselves, leaving exploitative capitalism to run rampant, allowing clergy to abuse children. There is much to be angry about.
But the gospel comes not only to fuel anger, but self-reflection. How must I be part of building healthier communities? How must I walk a wise line between listening to wiser others and challenging them? This little church community gives me hope in this like in all things. People here work tirelessly for refugees and give generously to poor families. We don’t all agree on things, but we leave some room for each other’s creativity to unsettle and teach us. We truly seek to love better.
God knows she has called us and knows who we are working for. Let us find ways to amplify our prophetic voices and call a sad and lost world to account and thus back to life. Let us glean hope from the justice and compassion that is possible in each of our lives as leaders and participants in communities. Let us be the one who gives, accepts or celebrates the cup of water given in the name of unconstrainable Life.
Where there is good in our worlds, let us build and nurture it.
Let us sit with the possibilities for hope on this beautiful spring day. Let us dwell on the people and places that our hope is for. After a short time of silence, you may wish to share and connect with those around you.

Your abundance should supply their needs

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?

Fallenness…sin…human nature?

Are we “fallen”? Is there something really flawed and ruined about humanity? Do we need “saving”? Some theological perspectives would answer “yes” to these questions, or ones like them. In that sort of a theology, usually Jesus’ death is seen as the salvific act, the death is a necessary sacrifice, a good thing. I approach a perspective like that with extreme caution, even suspicion. What does it do to our collective psyche if some human deaths and suffering are necessary or “good”? I don’t like the implications of accepting the pain and sacrifice of another too blithely.

But we do need to grapple with understandings about our own nature and about who God is. These questions seem to me to go back to today’s first reading.

In the first reading Adam has sinned by listening to the “woman” who listened to the animal. He has embarked on a human pattern of othering any part of himself that causes him shame. He is hiding away from God, afraid and conscious of his own nakedness. Nakedness has ceased to be an innocent state, he needs a barrier between himself and the environment. Incidentally this is the first “nudey-rudey” self-shaming episode that many children internalise as parents battle them out of embarrassing habits.

God in this reading accepts Adam’s assertion that it was “the woman’s” fault and her assertion in turn blaming the serpent. God appears to be sanctifying the hierarchy we know so well. What is going on here? Why would an all-knowing and all-loving God create humans with not only the capacity but the yearning to “fall” in this way? Why give “Adam” such a flawed companion? Why allow the serpent to speak? The idealised “perfection” of Eden thus becomes reconstituted as a death-trap. Some theologies hold that God planned it all that way to make Jesus’ saving act all the more spectacular.

This also is problematic.

Let’s assume that God set up the fall and the resultant disconnection in order to make necessary and meaningful horrific violence and abuse many centuries later. At this point I can see some sense in the mocking atheists, the “spaghetti monster” people etc. If I understand my faith this way it does seem violent and compassionless. If I understand myself as so “fallen” I can see a need to repress my own emotions, my own impulses, my own over-loud heart.

I grew up with a faith related to that, and it didn’t do me much good.

But outside of this pericope, Genesis also tells us that we are made in God’s image. There must be some inherent beauty and goodness (ie grace) in our identity, whatever about “original sin”. How can we be made in God’s image and yet made only to fall and be fragmented and driven asunder? How can we be made in God’s image, yet in our very nature demand and need the violent death of another? What is “God” then?

Last week I mentioned George Monbiot’s assertion that human beings are intrinsically altruistic. While the bible does not specifically say so, this idea fits with many biblical stories and thoughts. It fits with the idea that we are made in God’s image. It fits with the idea that God loves us (why would God love the irretrievably fallen?). It fits with Jesus’ tendency to spread food and wine and joy together with his wisdom; to spread healing together with forgiveness; to spread love and hope in the world. To take blame and judgement as the main products of our faith is to miss the point.

“Out of my depths” of yearning to be more than some narrative of “fall”, I pass through the psalm where all things are redeemable into the second reading. Like the author of the second reading “I believe therefore I speak”. I may be wrong in what I say, but my theologising comes from a position of faith- my faith in God is important enough for me to have made this commitment. I am called to put in the hard work every week and write something, sometimes also to preach it. I often fail at this and other vocations in my life, but I also often break it into small enough steps to succeed at some of it.

There is more than fallenness and passivity and waiting in my relationship to God. I sweat real sweat of hard work over the computer each week. I shake with real anxiety when I stand up before people to preach. My collaboration with God is imperfect because I am a still growing-toward God little unfinished image, not because I am completely without hope and “fallen”. I sin less (I believe) when I think about what I am doing, when I focus my motivations on others (particularly on God) and when I make an effort. It is very easy to slide into all sorts of unhealthy relationships with myself, others, food, money, work and leisure. While I can’t make myself perfect through an act of will, or a decision or even through hard work I can make myself better or worse by trying or not. I need God sure, but God also requires of me a commitment of will and effort.

Seems like I am in a more complicated relationship with God than merely “fallen” or “saved”, each day I make choices (some without noticing) about who to be and how to be. I am like the babies I work with, I sometimes over-reach and other times I am tired or lazy or angry and do not try enough. I am human. I am flawed. I am imperfect. But I am intrinsically good.

I am made in God’s image.

The gospel cautions us against sin against the Holy Spirit. This is a debated text, but for an every-day reading I like to reflect on who the Holy Spirit is and where we encounter her? In the context of the reading, the Holy Spirit is to be encountered in Jesus who therefore should not be mocked or dismissed. We know from Jesus that we find him (therefore also the Holy Spirit) in our neighbour.

We are called to look for traces of good in each other and to recognise and honour the Holy Spirit in all. Are we willing to see these traces in our Muslim neighbour? In our lesbian neighbour? In our politician neighbour? In our militant vegan neighbour? In our private-school educated neighbour? What about the noisy child? The strangely dressed or pierced teenager? The overly talkative old neighbour? We are all made in the image of God and the good things we do (however fleeting or however consistent) all come from God’s Spirit. God’s creation cannot fail to have goodness at its core.

It is a denial of God’s spirit to dehumanise others, even others we disapprove of or disagree with. It is a denial of God’s spirit to be so cynical about humanity that we advocate violence or nihilism. It is a denial of God’s spirit to only value animals, plants or rocks only by how much money we can extract from what we do with them. Are these ways of thinking unforgiveable? I hope not. I hope God’s Spirit dwells so tangled and burrowed deep into our DNA that it is impossible to completely de-Spirit us.

That is what I hope, but Jesus DOES caution us not to be too small-minded to recognise and honour the Holy Spirit. If we mock Jesus, or if we mock those who have hope and idealism then we are doing a dangerous thing to our souls. Perhaps it’s not about getting our theology or our creed right in the end, it is about getting our relationship right.

Because if we manage to live according to the Holy Spirit- for a moment or a lifetime then we ARE Jesus’ family. That is what we are made for and always called back to as human beings, as earthlings. Let us pray that we know and do the will of God. Let us trust in God, our souls trusting in God’s Word. Let us love generously, recognising the family resemblance in all creation.

You’re risen but what am I?

The second reading finishes with the instruction: “let us celebrate the feast,
not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

Challenge accepted. How do I clear out and renew my life? What malice and wickedness lurks in corners of my (mostly) good intention? How can I be sincere and true to my calling, ready for the unknown hope after all the deaths and disappointments of life?

The suggested gospel of the day stops short without the abrupt ending to Mark’s gospel. I feel the abrupt ending speaks for me. I am caught up in a sort of Holy Saturday stupor- for me, for me the resurrection has not really sunk in, life is not really changed. You can see this, because it took until Wednesday to write last Sunday’s blog (for no good reason, I was just dry and empty). Good news needs time to be processed and finding safe people to debrief with is sometimes difficult.

Prayer life is a bit like any other relationship, if we merely chase what “feels good” we miss most of it. But I am left supposedly rejoicing and transformed and in fact feeling a profound sense of anti-climax. How do I change myself or gain some sort of understanding?

I feel a great deal of anger towards the church, and for a while I was expressing it in my blog, but I became to feel uncomfortable with the excess of my negative emotion, and especially the way it might contain traces of selfishness within it (or seem to). So I have tried to go further inward and transform myself. I have tried to focus on the positive and call myself to account rather than ranting at external forces. This was the next cycle and I feel that cycle too is exhausted.

By too much navel-gazing and piety I have become perfunctory about faith, I am not “feeling it” but then at odd moments I feel resentment or passive aggression toward the idea of even being at church (and my specific church community are so lovely and have done so much for me that this is completely irrational). I think rather than rising above my anger, like I thought I was going, I have merely repressed it (again). What is the answer? I don’t know. What is the next step?

Christ is risen.

“He” is risen indeed. Or so I am supposed to respond.

Is rising like getting up in the morning, because it seems significant that lately I have been uncharacteristically slow and reluctant to get out of my bed (or is that just the approach of winter?). I ache inside, some deep emotional hurt that isn’t so easily healed by a few Hallelujahs!

Did Jesus still hurt from the crucifixion? Physically? Mentally? Emotionally? Spiritually? Are we really supposed to see him post-resurrection as so renewed that pain is absent (and yet witness the wounds). What did he do with the pain? Isn’t death meant to be the only solution for that absoluteness? If he triumphed over death itself then at what cost? No cost?

Is this a “happily ever after” moment?

I live in the real world, what on earth am I supposed to do with that?

 

Jesus,

How do I hold a post-resurrection reality? How do I soothe a pain denied, a death reversed?

What am I when I am not dying?

How do I reach out to pain, numbness and confusion in others? How do I keep moving forward? I want some sort of meaning!

What do you want from me?

Is there something we can work on together?

I feel horrifyingly alone and insignificant within all this alienating “glory”. Connect me in somehow with resurrection.

Amen

Feeding, washing, serving, LOVING

“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.

Jesus,
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.

Amen.

Becoming and Begoing

Priscilla Alderson in Childhoods Real and Imagined, looks at what critical realism can offer researchers in the field/s of childhood. One of the very significant points she makes is in reference to the way childhood is often seen as a time of becoming, a future oriented “not yet” time that assumes that some adult point (perhaps middle-age) is the destination. She reminds us that every becoming has a related series of begoings, that to become one thing (an adult) you have to cease to be something else (a child). So when a baby learns to walk they are “begoing” from their identity as someone who is carried. When a child learns to tie their own shoelace they are begoing the person who has those brief one-on-one interactions with a caring, shoe-tying adult…although this reminds me of a time when I was thurifering in church and the priest who was also a very well-regarded lecturer knelt to tie up my undone shoelace instead of merely pointing it out to me, this was a moment of surprising ministry that stayed with me in my wish NOT to always have the humble service role forced on me but also to think I am able to minister.

But every becoming according to Alderson has inbuilt loss and change and absence (ask why mothers cry on the first day of school, ask why mothers feel loss as well as pride and relief when their child reaches 18, or marries, or moves out).

Begoing is a theme very relevant to Holy Week, and very much already present in the glorious becoming of Palm Sunday. This is possibly why we read the passion through on that day…in the becoming of Jesus into Messiah, the sacrifice or else the one who stands out openly as a challenge to the powers of the day, there is a relinquishing of any comparatively safe identity, of the ability to melt back into the non-event of Nazareth and be just a carpenter’s son. When we act, there will be consequences, when we follow God’s call we will offend the powers of injustice and they will punish us if they can.

I am rereading Bernadette Kiley’s, Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, as we are in the year of Mark and I wish to focus on the whole gospel not just the separated out torture and death scenes in Holy Week (ok so I started early), to try to grapple with a wholistic concept of the life and death (and Life) of Jesus. Bernadette (since I know her in the real world it makes sense to use her first name) writes: “”If then, Jesus will be misunderstood and hated, the disciple must expect the same response. Mark’s community knew this only too well. Persecution and dissension were realities they had to deal with in their commitment to proclaiming the reign of God. For us, too, there will be a similar Jerusalem winter, when we, like the disciples of Mark’s Gospel and the Christians of Mark’s community, know something of the suffering that was part of Jesus’ life.” (p31)

My mother had some of this theology, but to her the fact that so many people hate and criticise the Catholic church was proof that the church was “right”. I want to be cautious in seeing those sorts of truths in my own experience, however much after a rough election where I only got 7.8% of votes and the worse of the two “major parties” got in statewide, it is tempting to see my own work in that light. Rejection by the world is no more proof of being “right” than its acceptance would be. However the rejections, struggles and disappointments we experience find meaning both in our integrity in doing our very best regardless of the risk and weariness and humiliation and also in the struggles and fleeting triumphs of Jesus.

I will not speak of any potential Easter event, even though having read the gospels it is tempting to place that “spoiler” in the picture to find meaning in the sufferings of Holy Week. But n our life we are not privy to any miraculous “happy ending” when we are caught up in struggle and suffering (our own or that of someone we love). Jesus at Palm Sunday, can feel the gathering storm, on Holy Thursday he knows it may be his last chance to influence his friends with some worthwhile Wisdom, on Good Friday nothing is real except suffering and loss. Any hope that we have makes no sense yet when we are caught up in the despair of true death (climate change, austerity, growing conflicts in the world, personal aging, difficult job markets, bad health). All we have is our soul’s confidence that we are from God and to God and cannot fall away from that destiny, even now.

Somehow.

Without seeing a clear pathway.

Jesus in becoming the feted star of Palm Sunday, becomes the abandoned victim of Good Friday. His Easter becoming will come after some extreme begoing. You and I are called to leave behind our comfort zone and to take on Jesus’ mission to call the world back from the brink of destruction, to bring compassion and criticism wherever they are needed. To be greater than we are and to be a challenge to the mighty.

Instead of a prayer, I will leave this on a quote by Marianne Williamson, that is often misattributed to Nelson Mandela

“…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.”

We accept this challenge and this call.

Amen.

Hey, I know a lot of these rules/commandments are very sensible and I am not going to argue against people following them, but once again I am finding the authoritarian tone of the “God” in the text pretty difficult to deal with. Top down controlling structures of church have been less than helpful over the centuries.

Why do they do this to us in Lent? It almost makes me feel I should give up religion for lent. It’s all just “boss. boss, boss I am your bossy and narcissistic God and you should just do what you are told because you are unworthy”. And yet I am sure scripture has all sorts of wonderful transformative moments for a lent of really reflecting on how we should do better and doing it. I don’t think just telling us to obey cuts it though, look at the churches that are most strongly modelled on this way of relating to God.

With The Black-eyed Peas all I can say is “Where is the love, the love, the love?”

No, to do better at following God (following in the sense of a dancing partner or apprentice or small child with a heroic friend-adult) we need to be able to take responsibility for ourselves and our attitudes not just tick boxes and obey rules. We need to let a larger proportion of our life be taken over by God (by love, by compassion, by justice, by hope, by kindness, by wisdom). We need to teach ourselves to stop craving things that don’t really satisfy (hence we give up something for lent) and find the joy that is there in the things that DO satisfy (ie in God).

The other problematic thing about a set of commandments (and I believe Jesus alluded to this at at least one point), is that it can minimise the commitment that people are willing to give. So I can say “I am decent, I honor my parents and don’t commit adultery and whatever” and keep living off the plight of the third world, or the exploited worker in my own country without examining in more depth what the integrity of the kindom of God might look like.

In this context the psalm seems like more of the same- flattering this authoritarian and narcissistic God. “The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever”. Oh great! We’re now going to live fearfully again (which I know well from experience leads to parsimony).

I am going to try to read the second reading liberatively, for all that I have some reservations about always putting the cross in the centre of Christian life (I know we have tended to do this, I just wonder if it might be reductionist and problematic). In a world that wants unambiguous signs/proofs and flashy wisdom/instructions all we have is the experience of Jesus the human, the solidarity of Jesus God. Christ, the “power” and “wisdom” of God has been put to death in our human political structures that oppress others.

Jesus on the cross would seem to typify the victim, the failure but God can reverse the apparent. God’s foolishness can deconstruct what we know and God’s weakness can undermine the inevitable. There’s a hope in that when we are beginning to “know” that there are no answers and we are beginning to face that we have been powerful enough to destroy our own planet. It would be foolish to hope perhaps, weak to turn the other cheek…or would it? There is something about relationships that is more than you might think at first glance.

Then the gospel. I am not in the mood for bossy Jesus acting violently, it’s hard for me to read this right now. And yet I can;t help noticing what Jesus’ problem is- the church has been turned into a marketplace. The practice of religion has become reduced to “this is how you have to do it” so that people can make money by forcing believers to have to buy from them everything they need for the ritual.

In the modern day you might see how much this sort of thing has happened with education or other things that ought to have been relationships but have become “transactions” or “products”. Church in Jesus’ opinion should not be marketised, it should be about the wellbeing of the person and the community, a place of welcome and healing, learning perhaps. Jesus becomes really angry at the cynicism of a society that tends to see everything as “market”. This is a pre-capitalist society the story is set in, and so the parallels to capitalist concerns may be inexact but the general point is the same. God’s love is not for buying or selling or exploiting. Following the letter of the law in constricting ways that take the soul out of prayer is not the point either. There is no formula for grace and salvation and the individual should be knitted into her community not sold a part in a farce.

Loving Wisdom,

I am so tired. What words of consolation, inspiration, everlasting life do you have for me?

I am angry and jaded. What connections can I foster to be whole again?

I find it easier to follow instructions than to pursue a creative course through life. Sweep me up in a dance that you lead, teach me how to orient myself toward you in a trust that becomes confidence.

For all the myriad ways that I could, should or would be better- give me your love and your peace to find within myself the spark of my desire to be whole. Give me a moment of joy so that I may be filled with grace to keep trying. Give me vision to see and know the good in others that I may be inspired to emulate them.

I accept your love and your acceptance of me today.

Amen.

 

 

Too much information from this social leper.

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.

Queer

Lesbian

Gay

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

Loving God,

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,

with you

even I suppose with myself.

 

I thank you that I want to live.

I want to live.

 

Amen

I’m not a puppet

Read with suspicion, I am struggling this week.

The first reading is all about Jonah doing what God wants. It misses all the interesting things about what happens when Jonah misbehaves, and if we only had this part of the story we would see his relationship with God as very respectable and conflict free. Jonah’s message here is one of doom and destruction. God is displeased and the city will be destroyed. There are many parallels with today that we could misuse this text to fit (and people do). It’s bleak and authoritarian, it’s call is to follow God out of fear not joy.

I used to get seduced by the Jonah story, to the point where as a teenager I tried to change my name to Jonah. I guess I was attracted to the security of being Jonah. Jonah can make any mistake, go off in any wrong direction and God will bring him back like a straying toddler, making use of a huge fish or a plant to teach a lesson. Jonah may suffer some unpleasant experiences, but has an element of invulnerability within that. I didn’t at the time stop to unpack how toxic such a relationship with a codependant and controlling God in fact would be. I couldn’t follow what I saw as my vocation (to the priesthood) and so I trusted God that somehow I, or the people blocking me would be swallowed by a huge fish and it would all come out right in some nebulous future.

I did not then accept the implications of free will, that in fact we are called but not forced to follow God and we all hear the call differently and argue over what it means and there is conflict and struggle, loss and failure. The story of Jonah does not allow for these, suffering in the story is temporary and can be corrected by turning back to God.

The second reading is also a dangerous snippet of the sort of “doom and gloom” content that churches overuse and misuse. It can feel true for any generation and any time, and that is perhaps the first lesson to learn, that when the end seems nigh, people were feeling just the same centuries ago! However that way of thinking can also lead us to too blithely dismiss the possibility of real “end times” inherent in the fact of climate change. God is not going to mysteriously put us or our leaders back on the right path if we stubbornly persist in destroying ourselves. Death and suffering are real, and become more probable when we abuse nature or each other.

What I take from the second reading, is the need to stand back to some degree from social “truths” (like marriage, celebration, grief, property, use of nature). These everyday “realities” are human constructions and therefore able to be questioned. I find it interesting that use of wives (no mention of husbands), property and nature are all lumped together…there seems to me (perhaps only seen through a 2018 lens) an admission there that what needs liberation from us and our social structures (or “truths”) is women and the earth as well as the distribution of resources. Also that there is something unpredictable in what we feel, we may not always experience the emotion we are “supposed to”.

In this context I find the gospel interesting. John has been killed. Is Jesus sad and lonely? Is his calling of the fishermen as much about needing friendship and connection as anything else? How was it for Zebedee to be left this way? This story seems to follow on from the second reading, in that they are leaving their structured lives of labour and family hierarchies (but also possibly affection) and seeing a better or more imperative future possibility. If Zebedee and fishing represent “the way we have always done things”, it is pretty daring of them to follow Jesus instead, but faced with climate change we as a society need to have that daring, to turn our backs on capitalist “tried and true” ways of being and seek liberation.

I say that so blithely but it is not an easy thing to see each step or to follow it. We may not all agree on exactly how to proceed to have the best security for the most human beings, but the fact that so many are already suffering (and threaten to become a flood of the dispossessed and hungry…I refer both to refugees and the increasing numbers of poorer and poorer people within our own relatively wealthy society) is a clear sign that we need to seek liberation for humanity. Liberation is not just this modern, atomistic idea of “empowerment”, where you think positive and like Boxer from Animal Farm work harder. Liberation is for me and “thou” for each person who is in any way entangled in my life (and the whole globe’s population is increasingly tangled together by lines of relationship or exploitation).

Perhaps I am feeling bleak because I have to work on my political campaign at what is usually my favourite time of the year, and I am missing out on sunsets at the beach. Perhaps it is just hard to feel positive because all of us are so overworked and people seem to think heaping hatred and blame on those who stand up for the environment and human rights is somehow justified. But the readings seem every bit as crosspatch as I am feeling. So I will still squeeze out a grumpy little prayer…

Loving God,

You know by now that I am not Jonah, that I don’t do what I am told.

That I may need mentoring and advice but can’t stand being used

as a puppet for someone else.

Not even you, bold and impassioned Word.

 

You have seen by now

that those social structures-

patriarchal marriage, capitalism, consumerism,

neoliberal cancerous growth

leave me cold,

that I don’t know how to smile when I am told

or weep when I am prompted.

 

It is good news indeed to me

if oppressive structures could pass away.

 

So I guess I could leave things,

most things not all

because I sure as Heaven am never going to leave my children

even for you

and you taught me that I can’t leave my self.

 

I guess I’ll come with you, who have lost a loved one

to recognise each other’s broken heart,

to hold each other’s hand on the long road,

to somewhere uncompromising and brave.

 

But I am not really brave yet.

Amen.

The discomfort of camel-hair and the pleasure of washing.

I said this at church for advent 2. The readings were here. 

I bring uncomfortable words, but it is advent and John the Baptist urges me to be courageous and honest. Hopefully there are no Herods here, but in any case I attempt to find a truth greater than my own thoughts and experience. The truth (God) is also greater than the text, because the text is not God.

The first reading begins by promising us “comfort” and initially my heart sang at the thought, but then I read on.

I find no comfort in the gendered relation of power that is revealed, between a guilty (feminine) Jerusalem and her punishing Lord, however much in this reading he is staying his hand. This smacks of a cycle of abuse.

Reading on there is ecological disaster, the earth turned upside down for the sake of this “Lord”, mountains and valleys eroded. This version of “power” is all too familiar in the modern world and I find terror, not comfort if I attempt to identify God with it. The shepherd imagery at the end is tender, however we know that in reality shepherds exploit and eat their sheep who they tend to view as “stupid”. Similarly at times in political debate, people who naively accept what they are told are referred to as “Sheeple”.

I love my tradition and I want to find God in it but I am wary of how I will view myself, others or the world if I accept this reading too casually. I am sure wiser people than me might rehabilitate it somehow, I would rather sit with John the Baptist in camel hair, foraging for survival and not accept the precarious comforts of living in the shadow of abusive power- even when it claims kinship with God.

But we know God, we know her from the entire scriptures not just this one passage and we know her from the saving and companioning work of Jesus, from the heart-lifting vision of radical justice of Mary in the Magnificat, from the desperate call for repentance of John the Baptist, from the well-meaning, impulsive bumblings of the apostle Peter and from our own lives and meaningful connections.

In the second reading, Peter (if this is in fact he) is uncharacteristically humble, admitting that he does not have all the answers. We are urged to hope in God’s desire for universal salvation- whatever that will finally mean and however that will finally look. We can’t control the conditions around us, we can neither hurry nor delay the grace of God but what we can do is make ourselves ready, make our own conditions ideal for God’s presence.

There is a form of spiritual self-care that I think is being suggested here, which if we think of advent as a time of pregnancy, a time of bringing into being radical possibilities for the whole liturgical year starting with a birth at Christmas, then by nurturing ourselves and our inner life we are also nurturing the Christ-possibilities within. In that sense we can leave behind anything that defines “repentance” as responses to punishment or guilt, and see it instead as a call to a better, more hopeful, joy-filled life- what has sometimes been called “right relationship”. I frankly did not see a good example of right relationship in this first reading.

Across all three readings, there is a clear call to admit our sin and then a suggestion that baptism will wash away some sort of spots or dirt marks. Even then if sin is what makes us or our ways of being dusty and dirty then it originates from outside of ourselves from abusive patterns in the world. Thus to turn away from sin, to wash ourselves is self-care and associated with rest and even the pleasure of hot water and fragrant soap– repentance does not have to be about self-blame we can deeply understand and forgive our own imperfections (as a way of helping us be more tolerant and forgiving toward others). Instead we can turn toward God for the love of the divine “otherness” of God and for the joy of our potential to sink into and become one with that otherness as a deep affirmation of our own truest being.

John reminds us that when we act as “church” we enact sacraments that are shadows of the real sacrament of the real Christ. The priest, the prophet, the enacter of the mystery is no more worthy than the one who repents and accepts sacrament.

Let us sit and ponder a moment

What is the camel-hair, the uncomfortable reality we need to grapple with this advent?

How do we wash ourselves, be our best and most cared for selves? What do we repent from? What do we turn ourselves toward or into?

As we do this, let us stay with the idea of being gift and having gifts that is also part of our advent reality. Let us be brave and critical in our faith as we share our thoughts with each other. Let us trust our own experience of God in love and joy.