Tag Archives: marriage

The “best interests of children” is not best determined by bishops.

Did anyone notice I didn’t post a blog last week? Now I have a sermon (ok a “reflection” because only boys can write “sermons” in my church) to write and I feel on the one hand full of the hope and happiness of what I want to say about the readings this week coming, and on the other point blocked up…theologically constipated as though last week I didn’t manage to get out what I needed to say and I am now sick with it. It will probably lack coherency but I will cry and I will write it.

What I wanted to say, I started writing a few times in a few different ways. I couldn’t come into the part of the liturgy I was “due” to write about because I feel profoundly angry and sad and resentful at the church and sort of not in synch with them. But it’s complicated because I am absolutely in synch with my lovely community who affirm me and challenge me and act like sisters and mothers and such to me.

I am still finding it hard to write about my anger and pain but the whole thing was compounded today by what I view to be a HUGE piece of hypocrisy. This (trigger warning, this has made people depressed and even suicidal so be careful if you want to read it closely).

In a nutshell, this document from the Catholic bishops of Australia paints gay marriage as a threat to family life and to children. Yep! Apparently they don’t see anything tragically ironic about talking about “the wellbeing of children”p6 and “the best interests of children” p8 and the rest of the time wax eloquent about the wonderful and important place of mothers and fathers (which with qualifications I agree with) and generally how much we should all celebrate the huge “difference” between men and women and the lovely celebration of gender binary that marriage is meant to be and sorry gay people you miss out with your “friendships” that are not as awesome as all the “differences” that people can only “enjoy” in their “masculinity” and “femininity”.

Speaking for myself I never have enjoyed the “femininity” which has been imposed on me nor the “masculinity” of men and that view of heterosexuality makes it seem toxic to me even before they use it as an excuse to exclude homosexual people from having their families recognised as “real”. In the view of marriage where men and women are opposites and are forced to take opposite roles I think few women and not all men can be said to “enjoy” their difference which can easily become a divide of misunderstanding and exploitation. I am not saying all marriages between a man and a woman are necessarily unhealthy, but not all are based on an essential and universal “difference” either!

But also if mothers and fathers are so important for a child’s well-being, why does the church have such a poor history of listening to them. Why can’t mothers and fathers in the church get together and produce a document on what is best for children, rather than a bunch of supposedly celibate men who have neither wives nor children themselves. Why in the past when mothers complained about their children being terrorised and abused in various ways by the clergy did the church not recognise their now supposedly God-given role in the centre of their child’s life and dismissed them as “hysterical”.

To me this document is very offensive coming from the same church that STILL refuses to confront the extent of the organised networks of child-abusers, to have any humility or reflexivity about what needs to be changed or even to reach out to LISTEN or give healing to victims of horrendous abuse.

I have prayed a lot about “Cardinal” George Pell this week. I feel very worried for him, he seems intending on appearing a soulless, heartless husk of a man. Can anyone really be so? I pray he will break down and feel pain to his core at what he has done. I don’t feel any sort of love for him whatsoever, only for his victims but I feel that he must be a human being somewhere in there…there must once have been a vulnerable little boy and hopefully even a well-meaning man in there though it is hard to see traces of that now (and I just can’t).

But he is a bishop of the Catholic church. He has long been too cowardly or arrogant to face the charges of child abuse and has made excuses to stay away all while hair-splitting about what Catholics are and aren’t allowed to believe.

The very idea of bishops lacks integrity while the church still tries to pretend the horrendous abuse never happened and then they try to tell us “gay marriage” is a threat to the safety and emotional and sexual health of children and families? They can say all this without shame? They can continue to persecute? I know a lot of lesbian couples who are bringing up children, have met at least one gay man who fosters with a lot of love and know others- lesbians and gays who childlessly live what seems to me to be a very Christlike and beautiful example of “two become one” in a love that flows between the couple and so out to the world in generosity and hope. Yes there are some heterosexual couples too who inspire in this way. My point is that this sort of love has NOTHING to do with the gender binary and everything to do with being radically committed in love and ready to make a long-term project of collaboration that affects every aspect of life (career, friendships, creativity, politics, faith).

But anyway whether gay marriage is “right” and “wrong” a bunch of bishops don’t get to make that decision citing the interests of children, when they can’t even face the widespread abuse of children perpetuated by some of them and ignored by others.

Let us pray. (Ineptly, inelegantly, but with great need)

Holy Spirit, by the fruits of our lives people may see whether or not our words are full of you. Teach us to listen carefully- to children and parents and lovers and friends who respect and nurture each other or who ask for our protection. Teach us to listen to the children and parents and lovers and friends who love and nurture each other and who are vulnerable or call to us for protection and justice. Teach us not to give too much heed to the voices of power that would silence your little ones or hide behind overly neat and structured hierarchies that allow abuse.

Sophia you danced with God “like a little child” from the beginning and were embodied in the baby-toddler-boy-youth Jesus who grew to adulthood in a less than respectable family. Give us grace to dance with all who truly love and to celebrate and protect the young and the hopeful, the old and the hurting.

Creator God you always queer our expectations and upset our ideas of “normal” in the breadth of diversity that is your creation. Help us to recover from our need to limit and control others for the sake of a “church” that we have built to consolidate human power not as a centre of your influence among us.

Make us wholly committed to your dream and your dance of love. Paint rainbows with us. Give healing to those who have been harmed. Give voice to those who cry out to you. Give us ears to hear the call to healing and peace.

Help us get through this time in history. Show me how to carry this stone in my heart and gut.

Loving God hear our tears.

 

 

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Where is the love, the love, the love?

The title for this post comes from a song by Black eyed peas, but it refers to my idea that where we locate and source our symbols of what “love” is and how it “moves”, who owns it and who can rightfully give or receive it matters very much in terms of how we end up treating each other.

“Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks.” Literally every single option for prefaces (and there are 26 pages of them and more than one to a page in my missal) starts with these words. This ideology then is not accidental to the mass, it is central to the way we have been told to celebrate it. Since 26 pages of many prefaces is a lot for one short blog post, I will be self-indulgent enough to zoom in on one and look more deeply. I was planning on looking at an “ordinary time” one since it is so often ordinary time, but the address of God as “father” makes me think of the human families we build in the image of the values we project onto God (ironically out of human society to begin with) with hetero-patriarchal roles and so I will look at the preface of marriage II more closely.

About half of the prefaces (including this one) complete the opening sentence with the words “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” If God’s embodiment as Jesus has meaning for us, this clearly states that his identity to us is “Lord” and we could also question who are the “our” who possess (or come under) his Lordship.

“Through him you entered into a new covenant with your people.

You restored man to grace in the saving mystery of redemption.”

Here we have a fallen humanity and a “new covenant” replacing the not mentioned “old”. The word “covenant” will be used as a symbolically significant term within the idea of “marriage” and I have read some very interesting feminist analyses what the concept that marriage is a “covenant” means for women’s rights to leave an abusive marriage (the abuse breaks the covenant so leaving is not only allowed but logical and right, the marriage no longer exists once it has become abusive).

“you gave him a share in the divine life

through his union with Christ.

You made him an heir of Christ’s eternal glory.”

although as feminists/women/little girls we have all been told 1,000 times we are meant to smile and allow the term “man” as inclusive of “all people” the male pronoun is clearly and repeatedly used here begging the question “how stupid do they actually think they are?” and also “can we really keep lying back and thinking of England no matter what?” But interestingly the “man” through union with Christ (this in the context of a marriage service) is made an heir. So there is a queer reading possible here (though not one that does much for women apart from the potential to snigger at why they REALLY want to leave us out).

“The outpouring of love at the new covenant of grace”

“the covenant of grace” lavished upon “man” in the preceding paragraph so I guess women as usual get their crumbs under the table of “man”- a great start to a marriage wouldn’t you (dis)agree?

“is symbolised in the marriage covenant that seals husband and wife and reflects your divine plan of love”

Oh I see. So as God is to man (father all-powerful…lord…active…giving…union), husband is to wife. No use trying to tell me I am paranoid, because we constantly see just this sexual politics played out all over the church and societies that claim to be founded on “Christian values”. God’s “divine plan of love” is a powerful top-down movement, from a “lord” to someone who simply does well “everywhere to give you thanks”

“And so with all the angels and all the saints in heaven we proclaim your glory and join in their unending hymn of praise: Holy, holy, holy Lord God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest” This last little prayer/poem often called the Sanctus and at the church I grew up in generally sung in Latin by the choir, signalled that it was time to kneel “for a really, really long time” as I felt it, for the Eucharistic prayer.

I have no good memories of the preface and Sanctus (although the singing is often beautiful), nothing but discomfort about this part of the mass and so instead of trying to reclaim it, I will rewrite it queer (ignoring some questions I have in my head about whether “marriage” is a good idea to begin with…) and see whether I can at least get a different sexual politics by taking it out of the heterosexual matrix.

All dancing, all loving, ever living God, you call us to come and dance with you in your joyful hope for all creation, through Jesus-Sophia your living Word.

Through Jesus you became embodied in the messiness, heartbreak and celebration that is human existence- the desire to touch and nurture and be one with the “other” that we celebrate today. You shared life- human and divine with us and with every living atom of a universe created in your image and suffused with love. You draw near to us in love, you are glad when we draw near to you.

This outpouring of generous love and delighting is symbolised in the desire of these two who are “other” to each other to be united in a commitment to nurture, challenge and learn from each other and to nurture the world from the secure space of their loving. We, their community celebrate and support their love and commitment.

And so with every leaf, stone and molecule of star-dust in the whole of creation, with angels, dreams and human desires we join with you in your dance of love and renewal

Calling us, calling, us calling us always, beloved and loving God of all creation. Seeing your radiance in this beautiful world we are moved to sing, Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is our life when we encounter your reality in each other “Hosanna” also in the depths.

but of course like all attempts to pray, it is partial and someone else would do it differently…

 

 

 

Family values; what is “holy”?

Apologies for the length (and yes I do have things to do apart from writing blogs) 😉

This one gets called the feast of the holy family. So I have been thinking a lot about families and wondering what is “holy” about one family or another and I will keep this in mind as I turn to the readings. Sad to find the libraries I had to scroll through a couple of websites where celibate, white, old, men tell us that a family is always grounded on a “marriage” and that marriage always intends children but isn’t about being carnal (I won’t link but feel free to google things like “catholic family”. These armchair experts on both the complex praxis that becomes “family” and seemingly at times on human relationships themselves can make all the distant, arrogant pronouncements they like but to some of us family is centred on loving bonds and commitments that defy exact classification and may “intend” a better society or a more love-filled life rather than merely procreation.

In the first reading then we have Hannah who in common with many of my friends is full of desolation because she does not have a child. Rather than accept her keen need to have children as an indication of “natural” femininity (as it often gets interpreted both in her life and in the lives of modern day women who struggle to conceive for whatever reason), I see this story as indicating how at war with their own bodies women can be when they are surrounded by patriarchal expectations narrowing the value of a woman (and a wife which in patriarchy is a synonym) to motherhood only. It may seem heartless of me on the feast of the Holy Family to question the very icon of woman/mother at the centre of all we cosily seem to believe about families- but I think of the other sisters and friends who want something other than motherhood from their lives and even in 2015 get everything from blame, snide remarks and unasked for advice about “hurry up and breed”.

In tandem with the women who don’t want to be mothers, I cannot forget those of us who ARE mothers but want to be measured by our words and deeds not just by the quality of the people who might have come out of our womb and learned much from us but like to keep within themselves a sense that they belong to themselves and not only to us. The double bind of motherhood, (if that is all we have) is that the healthy child grows up and becomes independent, wants to leave our influence and not be limited by our prejudices. So I look to the “holy virgin” the “mother of God” the blue clad female figure at the heart of the holy family and want to ask her “Who are you when you are not ‘mother’?”. The gospels give us crumbs of this in the Visitation (powerful prophet and counsellor) and at the Wedding at Cana (radically insightful disciple and theologian). But even these crumbs get reduced to “just a mother, just a woman, just the womb-source of something more important”. I don’t believe men have to face any such essential reduction of their complexity and their very existence as “person” that is so perpetually held before their eyes as a lynch pin of everything we say we value as “family”.

And what of fathers in this world view? Is their career and even their vocation more important than the children they have caused (or perhaps contributed to) a woman to bring into the world? But when we focus on Joseph I think he undermines much of what patriarchy tells us about fatherhood. For now we have Hannah’s desire to conceive.

And so the barren Hannah is nothing, not a mother, a failure and she pleads with God to give her the honour of a child which she will then radically gift back to God (or to the church). How is this less disturbing to us than Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac? How do we celebrate this story in the cosy little feast of the Holy Family? I can’t see this otherwise than as a text of terror. But unlike in Abraham’s story, no angel of the Lord intervenes. The death of the child may not ensue but Hannah leaves him there. The little boy left in the temple now that the parents’ pride has been satisfied. But even today, how many much wanted babies become nothing more than a background figure with its own computer and its expensive education and not always the time for anyone in the family to relate to each other in ways other than buying things? This is my sin too, I have to pay bills and I struggle to find meaningful time with my children and forget how to relate to them.

The psalm doesn’t solve this for me. It only talks to men who get enriched by God giving them a “wife like a fruitful vine” and “children like olive plants” (excessively multiplying and tenaciously tough? or just making mess all over the driveway?). Noone asks the wife or children what they think of this set up, since in this psalm they are prizes not people. I have vivid memories of this psalm in the daily psalter and my dad loved it and the rest of us made faces whenever it came up (which he couldn’t work out why). I guess the word “husband” suggests “husbandry”- cultivating land, plants and stock rather than relating to equal human beings. But the “blessed” who “fear the Lord” are husbands, are the owners and operators of the household. I still haven’t found a “holy” family in these readings….next…

The second reading begins well. Compassion, kindness, humility, love, wisdom, gratefulness. Maybe we have found that ideal here…the holy family. But it couldn’t stop there could it? Patriarchy once again comes into the church’s teaching on family. Uncritically, unreflectively, unwisely and as usual blinded by only having one type of person in the highest levels of authority (always male and overwhelmingly middleclass and white) the church on the day that focuses on families and the values that make them up lets in a reading that advises wives to be “subordinate” and children to “obey”. I’ve heard a lot of nonsense about how in fact it is equal and is not oppressive because husbands are also commanded to love their wives and fathers not to provoke their children! But the reality is that husbands and fathers are an imperfect and human as the rest of us and will at times (even the best of them) fail to love and will inadvertently provoke. And the only safety for the everyone else of the family is an equal status to the all too human father.

I cannot be subservient and obedient to a father or a husband. I do not see God’s word in this sort of bondage! If this is family as the church construes it then I am done with families! I don’t feel furious that readings about donating children to the church and being blessed by being given the ultimate prize of wife ‘n kids or the supremacy of the male/father in the household are in the canon of my faith. We know what sort of societies gave rise to the canon and we know that God calls us to read it carefully and critically, to see it as a photo album of our ancestors not an authoritative recipe book for life today. But I feel furious and frustrated at the stupidity of a church hierarchy that still thinks to celebrate the ideal of “family” by choosing those readings! It explains a lot about the abuses and wilful deafnesses that the church has long been implicated in, that are increasingly coming to light.

Wake up you fools! God comes to liberate us from the sins of our ancestors not to reify them as “The Christian way of life”. As a baptised Christian each of us is called out of the original sin of the societies and imperfect families we are born into to live transformative, grace-filled faith in radical and dynamic (and ready to challenge) love with them. In this spirit my son who has not spoken to me for a few months came to my house on Christmas day, to speak to me adult to adult about his hopes, dreams, inability (and lack of desire) to obey either parent, and dynamic life within the heritage we have given him. If a seventeen year old can see beyond the narrowness of the authority of his parents (and yet be wise enough to retain what he sees as good in the values he was taught) to me that was “holy family” as were my grey months of waiting and hoping he would talk to me one day. We were not enough for him (as a husband’s or a father’s authority would not be enough for me) but as an equal he brings love and courtesy back into the circle of our “family”.

Jesus in the gospel, like my son in the world, finds he has a mission  bigger than the little family he is born into. He does not ask permission from his parents, perhaps even it is selfish of him not to communicate to them what he is doing. But he rebukes them that they ought to have trusted him and his vocation more, they ought to have let go knowing that he has his own business in the world and that this does not mean he does not love them. The story finishes with Jesus submitting back to their authority, which to me seems like an editor who did not want this story to have too much radical power to unsettle the status quo of a society largely based on obedience and varying status. To me the attempt to close Pandora’s box AFTER Jesus has escaped from parental authority and been wise on his own account is too late. The idea of the family hierarchy has already been irreparably damaged. Children have been shown to be more than the puppets of their parents.

And I reflect on radical examples of “holy” family I have seen this year. Of the father who argued powerfully for his son’s right to choose a traditionally “female” sport such as netball. Of the woman who is still a parent to her ex-girlfriend’s children while also nurturing another single friend’s children when possible. Of the foolish women who keep going back to abusive exploitative boyfriends. Of people with elderly parents who need nurture in various ways and get in the way of people’s plans for the year. Of babies yearned for or whoopsies. Of the liturgical “family” that I belong to that radically shares headship (there are leaders but they lead by enabling other people’s co-leadership) and the way they threw open their doors on Christmas Eve and welcomed in a diversity of families. Of the love my son has for his separated mother and father and four scattered siblings, and father’s girlfriend, and all friends and relatives of the family all of whom he accepts with a quiet security that family just means good people. Of the wild mothers who nurture us in our feminist journeys and the wise ancestors who wrote words we are enlightened by and the imperfect fathers who build churches and their miraculous moments of transformative humility.

The holy family is not one legalistic pattern of heteropatriarchy. It is not the dominance of man over women; adult over child nor the reification of breeding as the purpose of life. The holy family, every holy family is a complex network of love, challenge, individuality and collectivity. A holy family will always be recognised by serving the interests of God’s reign (justice, kindness, walk humbly with each other and the world). In every holy family, Wisdom is always born and reborn to every member, to the collective whole.

May your holy family be blessed with love and joy, as you recuperate over this hot and holy season of Christmas.

 

 

 

 

Not doing justice to Wisdom Herself

Please note I seem to have departed from the Revised Common Lectionary by speaking to the readings that I heard at church instead of working ahead. I am not sure where the readings this church used came from but the preacher spoke as if they were from the lectionary. I liked the readings and used them for reflection. The first reading was excerpts of Proverbs 8. The second (gospel) was either Matthew or Luke (which is puzzling because we are in Year B).

Last Sunday’s reading was about Lady Wisdom calling through the streets, nagging like a fishwife. Tenaciously reminding us to pay her attention, to not be seduced away from her. I actually went to church and listened to a sermon, where the preacher consoled us that even though this reading can seem insignificant and reads as “gibberish” (I disagree on both counts) it has a context. In the context Wisdom is the contrast to the evil seductress who has tried to entrap the naïve young man. At this point, caught between two female stereotypes and asked to inhabit the consciousness of a young man having to choose between them waves of depression rolled over me again. Because I have never read Lady Wisdom as the goody-goody slut shamer. I have not read her as an enemy or rival to the “other” woman in her desirability. I’ve read her as powerful, determined, active, voiced (oh so loudly and persistently) and desirable within her power and the beauty of her unflagging persistence.

I read myself as desiring her (of course) but also as being asked to watch and learn, to emulate her to allow her into my life and body, to allow her to move me to become part of her household; but not as a protection against other scary and impure women but because she herself is everything, demands attention- calls, commands and seduces.

So my response to the nagging call of that old Wisdom that I have successfully shut out of my life and heart for so many years? Learned deafness and a bunch of lame excuses apparently, because I did not even write my blog post on this beloved reading. As usual I regretfully turn my back on Wisdom. She is not for me. I do not measure up. I had a burst water pipe, a blocked toilet, extra hours at work, a transition, an opportunity to see my sons, visitors from overseas, and huge exhaustion and maybe a little bit of despair that my voice may be insignificant, unheard or plain wrong. I rationalised it thus “If wisdom is already calling, how presumptuous, how arrogant of me to chime in with my foolishness and twisted thinking. Wisdom herself will call to the people, I am not her.” Which is true enough, but riddled with the sort of defeatism Jesus (surprisingly) said God takes a dim view of  which fits more ancient portrayals of God as well. I am not saying I am hellbound for my laziness and lack of confidence, just acknowledging that it is not respectful of my call.

Like a choir mistress, Wisdom is not interested in the fact that my voice is not as good as someone else’s and in no way approaches the purity and beauty of hers. She may sing the solo, but she needs many voices to harmonise and counter-melody and build up a roaring sound of a great festival of wisdom to roll through a more than ever foolish world and bring some hope, some hints of green in the cracks of the neoliberal façade, a beginning of a way forward, a dance beyond despair.

“You need to lift your voice, sing louder. Listen hard and then sing” she might tell me. I can rehearse what my voice will let out but at some point comes the time to voice it, to quit fear and dare to speak with her, sing with her and even to try to speak for her (trusting her not to ever be limited by the limits of my thinking). Beautiful, forgiving Wisdom who returns again and again and begs us to try harder; to take some responsibility for the relationship for a change.

And attempting to at least begin to acknowledge Wisdom’s claim on me, or at the very least my desire for her- I turn to the gospel. The gospel reminds me that the foolish man builds his house on the sand. Disposable, transient, novelty house- planned obsolescence, a huge waste of the labour and materials that go into building something that will not stand up to time and weather. The economy (oikonomia) is also like a house/household (I don’t remember all my biblical Greek, but oikos was house). I can see the foolishness of building the economy upon the sands of capitalism, upon the ticking time-bomb of exploiting the earth who will eventually kick back at us way mightier than we give this ball of minerals, gases and mystery credit for.

We build relationships on the sands of conspicuous consumption, of performative encounters online or of fear of ourselves and the desire to possess, manipulate, exploit another and then when marriage (for example) becomes a joke, more about dresses and flowers; cars and honeymoons than about people then we blame the queer community because of course it was “them” that undermined the sanctity of marriage (isn’t it nice that when I was searching for a link to this all I could find at first were arguments against the fundamentalists and sarcastic spoofs). Because we could never, ever, not-ever blame capitalism for doing that (apparently you need ironclad evidence to indict capitalism as opposed to the vague rumours needed to accuse gays). We can’t blame capitalism for anything (unemployment, austerity, despair, refugee crises, climate change) because it is such a foundation of our day to day life. It is the sand we have built our multi-storey home on for many generations and denial bids us to insist that it IS rock – steady, immovable, inevitable.

And then even where we see rock we blast it open in strip mining and fracking to take even more from earth, to build another gable on our capitalist mausoleum of denial build on shifting sands. It’s crumbling and we spray in some sort of polymer in the cracks and insist we can’t feel the wind and rain through them. We use anyone poorer and weaker than us as human shields to protect us from the cracks in our capitalist way of life.

We are foolish, but we have nice wine and beautiful clothing and 1000 friends on facebook who all felt jealous at the dessert we ate last night. Because friends of course are people to instil envy in, and life is about flitting around the globe as fast as possible sampling everything- food, wine, people, experiences, places and fuelling our narcissm  with the well-roundedness we feel we have bought. And after all you know we are nice and charitable people and we sip “fair trade” coffee which means the workers may have been paid a tenth of a fair wage instead of nothing at all. And how would they survive if we stopped buying from their masters?

But now that I have constructed this dystopian vision of the society founded on sand where is wisdom? What is the rock we ought to build our society/home on instead? There are voices of wisdom advocating for compassion, justice, love, peace, sustainability, resistance. On the large scale, immense change is needed but on the small scale I hear wise voices each week at work when I think I am leading “group time” but the children demand that I change the written story I am reading them and remake the story more compassionately, more justly or with an idealism that only a child would have the courage to admit to!

When will we become idealists like children? When will we demand that that which is inevitable, which is written and already settled be rewritten to bring in what we know of compassion and of justice?

Does not Wisdom keep demanding that we follow her lead? Can we not let her begin a movement for change, for more solid values at the foundation of our society? “ Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her..” (Proverbs 8:10-11). Might be worth taking her instruction on board then.

Because I am adding the links, it’s taking me a couple of hours just to post the articles (additional time to actual writing) so with uni starting back I am thinking of reducing or eliminating links. Even though it can help me clarify my thinking to do them.

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Defending the sacraMENts vs the weaker sex and others- warning: contains boasting

For anyone who wants this week’s readings in their entirety, please look here. I zoomed in on a tiny verse this week inspired by another (smarter) person’s facebook rant.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

Boasting of my weakness. That is actually exactly what I do every week when I dare to post a blog on the readings. I am trumpeting before anyone who cares to read my failures to live, speak and perform in a way that would have resulted in me being ordained, that would have rubber stamped me to lead the people of God. But my “weakness” and “failure” of which I boast go deeper still. Being born female in the church is still a very big failing. Sometimes I feel baptism should acknowledge this reality, there should be some words about “only a girl, what a disappointment” somewhere in this liturgy welcoming the child and endorsing membership of the people of God, to reflect the lived reality of the community we call the church.

Of course people would be up in arms over such sexist and offensive language, but the insidious idea behind it IS embedded in every so-called liturgy (or nearly every). That level of misogyny is commonplace and I think keeping it invisible only makes it harder to fight against. So let’s be honest. As a church we really don’t like girls (except as wives and mothers).

The most popular imagery of baptism (that of rebirth) in itself contains a deeply deficit view of femaleness. Right when we are celebrating something that is uniquely female (giving birth) we have to reject this giving birth process as dirty- connected to earth, the body and therefore chaos and sin and we need to “rebirth” in a more masculine place presided by a still usually male priest, with a very masculine set of words and practices to correct the sinfulness of the birthing performed by the mother and give the child a chance to be allied to heaven, the spirit, order and grace. Women of course are necessary to produce the raw ingredients for these perfected spiritual post-sacramental beings.

When I gave birth to my youngest child, I squatted there screaming and growling like everyone else does and I thought to myself (there is water here, God is with me this is baptism. His real birth is also his baptism) while I also sweated and bled and gritted my teeth in the pain and the glory of it. We were a team- the midwife, the child’s father, the child (beautiful little God-bound soul) himself and I and we were engaged in a great and powerful struggle for life, for triumph so why not also against sin and despair? As the child left my body, slid out to make his own way in the world and into individual relationship with God now unmediated by me I cried out in triumph and I thought of Jesus’ words “It is complete”. Even though noone was crucified, noone died in this joyful moment.

It helped that I had read other people’s ideas comparing Jesus’ work of suffering and struggle with the idea of giving birth- giving life and blood to another-take in nutrition from my umbilical cord, take and eat from my body and blood when you take in breastmilk. Take and eat. In theory my child was as yet un-baptised and as yet too young to receive holy communion. I deliberately put him on the breast every week as soon as I had received communion. Any sacrament that applied to me applied also to my children. This argument will probably not seem strange to most parents. To love is always to be sacrament. It would be good if church recognised this already sacramentality of the family and celebrated it rather than trying to correct it with the “better birth” and the “only real” food.

So weakness equated with femaleness, bodiliness, earthliness is something to brag about. God does not transform our weakness into some sort of patriarchal hardness, despite all the imperial imagery around many of the readings, songs and prayers at church that call to mind the Christian life as crusade rather than as breastfeeding, as holding close, as claiming kinship.

Weakness is always part of any “othering” discourse; it is the sort of language used around people who “lose the struggle” against themselves and return to gay lifestyles, relationships or ways of being. Gay and lesbian churchgoers are supposed to closet themselves firmly in Christian respectability. I did this. I married. I bred. I wasn’t very good at the sort of “good behavior” that was required. Something in me kept yearning and questioning and had to be constantly put down and repressed (repressed so soundly that I would not even become aware of it). I had to find less dangerous ‘sins” and adventures to distract myself with to avoid confronting the truth of what I was.

I did not listen to this week’s reading, I spoke a lot about grace but I did not really trust it. God’s grace was not sufficient for me to leave the safety of what I had been taught and to boast about my weakness. I am weak. I am unacceptable. I am queer. Instead I was dishonest and blocked my “weakness” from being part of God’s power in me and I missed some crucial turning-points in my life, in the career that wasn’t. But God doesn’t call us to give us a comfortable life and a successful career. God gives us nothing except grace. Is grace the persistent and sometimes irritating voice that still pokes and prods at me to remain in God somehow?

Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

But since I was little this reading has been a stumbling-block to me. I don’t want weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. Perhaps I ought to want to bear all that to prove my deep and radical love for Christ. As the offspring told us “the more you suffer, the more it shows you really care, right, yeah”. But I don’t care in that way, if I am being persecuted, abused or belittled in a relationship or because of a relationship I seek to leave it. I don’t find my strength in being trivialised, silenced or judged.

As a gay person therefore, as a woman, I have lacked the courage to bear all the insults (usually disguised as the “proper” language of the liturgy) the feeling of having to choose between believing in all “that” or believing in myself (in a very basic way), the self-persecutions I have been tricked into, the calamities of self-hatred. This weakness never made me strong and I fell and fell and fell away from being ordained, away from church, away from everyone I knew, almost into death (by suicide).

ALMOST. That word. Why didn’t I kill myself? There is no safe way to answer that. If God somehow saved or helped me then it begs the question why not all the others? Why not my very dear friend who did die of rejection and suicide? But no. I was never “content” with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions or calamities.

And now we have the whole question of marriage equality, and once again the church is coming out to “defend the sacraments”. And once again the sanctity that is being defended is a sanctity that reeks of power and privilege, not a sanctity that reeks of manger straw, and fishing boats, and the cross. And all the wise things that could be said on the topic have already been said. All the hypocrisies have already been pointed out. All I can do is add my voice to the more articulate in some way. And I do it with a sigh of exasperation that once again – like birthing and ordination/vocation, once again the church has taken something that is sacramental (in this case human sexuality) and turned it into a bunch of rules and exclusions.

And I say at the end of the day I don’t even need to keep looking for the (obvious) holes in their logic. The fact that the church wants to keep a stranglehold over a sacrament so that most people won’t be special enough to qualify for it already has my suspicious feminist spidey-senses tingling.

Like the boys who build a cubby house for the express purpose of putting a sign on it saying “no girls” and “no pansies” they have built themselves a church. But for those left outside- perhaps God’s grace will be sufficient after all!