Tag Archives: Matthew

Easter Vigil

Such a good rebel I am (sarcasm warning), that when I “run away” from church this is what I do. First I thought about the “new fire” of the Easter Vigil. The words of Christ be out Light by Bernadette Farrell ran through my head as I unwrapped one of the candles my son and I had bought for Earth Hour, placed it in a vase and said a quick prayer to God who as both the “alpha” and the “omega” is best placed to subvert binaries and undo inequities. Then I rewrote the Easter proclamation, leaving out things that seemed either kyriearchal, patriarchal, meaningless or bad theology (yes a subjective judgement but please read the verse in brackets about your right to write a different one if this one doesn’t do it for you). Then it was too short so I reread all nine lessons of the Easter vigil (surprising how many I remembered considering it has been a few years since I went to an Easter vigil) and I wrote a verse or half a verse based on my interpretation and response to each reading (once again you are free to read the readings more carefully and write your own). I tried to stay true to what I think the Easter proclamation and lessons do for us, grounding us in tradition and helping us access the mystery of the resurrection in historically grounded ways (but as usual I had a focus on my place at the margins as a woman and I tried to be mindful that there may be other people at the margins of story too).

So I will post my long poem/proclamation and then I will go shower off all my long journey (I camped at Mt Gambier last night and we climbed a small hill or two on the way home) and I will remember my baptism and birth and the way I passed through waters to be made a part of God’s family that has unlimited access to hope and a constant call to love. And then I will have some dark chocolate and scotch which also follows the pattern of a traditional easter vigil although I wouldn;t really claim it is “Eucharist” since I am doing this alone and more contemplating than celebrating (but I will go to church tomorrow). I can’t be sure that anyone is both estranged enough from church to need an alternative version and has been engaged enough in catholic church life to need or want a revised version. But for anyone else I guess it is a curiosity. Nevertheless to me fire, water and food are powerful symbols of LIFE.

Rejoice heavenly powers, sing out planets, stars and all that is,

take heart creation and join the heavenly dance,

for God’s promise is unbroken, no power can reign over us;

Christ shatters even death to bring all to newness and liberation.

 

Spin slowly earth through light and darkness,

through mornings filled with joy and light and meaningful work,

evenings bringing peace to us and joy to all nocturnal creatures

as light and dark both join hands and embrace the globe together.

 

Open you ears, oh church, to hear the cries of all the oppressed;

open your doors and open wide your hearts to hear,

how Wisdom breaks down binaries and lifts up any we’ve cast down.

Rejoice to learn anew the radical and liberative gospel.

 

(My dearest friends, if you consider me unworthy

to bring these words of praise and hope and happiness

then seek the Easter message in your own hearts and the love you bear

and in creation radiant with the brightness of the colours of God’s depths.)

 

May the resurrected life be with us.

We lift our hearts in hope.

We celebrate the risen life of one who was greater than all oppression

and calls us into liberation.

 

It is truly right,

That with full hearts and minds and voices

We revisit as much of salvation history as we can

To trace the origins of the one who became Jesus of Nazareth and showed radical commitment

bleeding like a woman giving birth, and dying helpless, human to the end.

 

And so we remember our origins, in your breath creator God

who made the heaven and the earth, the waters also the land,

plants, animals, humans in all their variation and diversity. (Gen 1:1-2:2)

 

We had free will, yet we did not always listen to your voice of reason.

We did not live in love with one another and the earth.

We set up systems of oppression, and ways to rule over each other

and would even have sacrificed our own children for power. (Gen 22: 1-18)

 

Your beloved people were enslaved and called to you to rescue them;

You called forth leaders and activists, parted the sea, fed them with bread          (Ex 14:15-15:1 also some reference to subsequent events)

and gave us moral codes so that we would consider how we live.

You came to us as a lover, claimed us as your family

and renewed us in every age again and again.    (Isaiah 54: 5-14)

 

Hope is the eternal pattern of our journey with you

And the reign of evil is never inevitable, and cannot drive you out of us.

 

You bid us listen to you and enjoy food and water without having to pay;

You filled up your barns and set your tables and invited us to feast;

You bid us feed each other, abandoning corruption and competition

and then sent your Word that cannot return without fulfilling itself. (Isaiah 55: 1-11)

 

You bade us seek Wisdom and cling to her, (Baruch 3: 9-15; 32-4:4)

To see her move among us on the earth which she co-authored with you.

You gathered us together from where we were scattered and quarrelling

And you bade us know that we are yours and you are ours. (Ezekiel 36: 16-28)

 

Like a deer that longs for running streams, my soul thirsts for you

The music wells up within me when you draw near and touch me             (Ps: 41)

With Easter joy.

 

In our human life we are baptised, born through water

and touch your life as you touched ours

You showed solidarity and love in walking with, touching us

and dying with us.

We will follow you through our lives and deaths and beyond. (Rom 6: 3-11)

 

This is the night, when we remember Mary of Magdala’s grief; (Matthew 28: 1-10)

Her deep love and loyalty to come to tend to you

when all hope seemed gone.

 

We remember the guards, tools of the Empire, shaken and scattered,

the stumbling-block, every inequality rolled away,

the faces of angels who took her hand and affirmed her ministry

so that she went and called her sisters and together they saw…

 

The Risen One,

The rebirth of all their hopes,

The triumph of the creative powers of God,

and the sacred continuation of their love and power to touch the mystery.

 

Jesus sent the women to tell all the apostles,

ahe apostles to tell all the world

and us to continue to preach the gospel of tombs opened, oppression undone

and a great feeding regardless of ability to pay.

 

Therefore God our creator, receive with Jesus our thanks

as we move from contemplating what has hurt us

to remembering that you come to heal and renew us in yourself.

 

Accept this Easter candle, symbol of the fire in our hearts

undimmable spirit you have placed in us,

unquenchable inevitability that we will always break our chains,

also our willingness to break the chains of others

 

Let it mingle with the lights of the stars you created

mirroring the love of Jesus who broke all boundaries

even opening up the boundary between death and life

to call us back into right relationship with God.

 

Jesus, Sophia, the morning star that never sets,

will shine in our hearts this night and always,

will guide us and all creation into your peace

and call us more deeply than ever into life and love.

 

Amen.

 

Sorrynotsorry; taking back misguided penitence

Let me be careful in introducing this content. I DO think it is useful and healthy for us human beings to be reflexive, responsible and have an intention toward better ways of being. There are times I am abusive, neglectful or “off task” with my vocation into transformed humanity and relationships. There is privilege which cushions me from consequences and blinds me to my failures to enter into Godness. There is my inability to distangle myself (and my choices) from oppressive economic and political systems and my investment in them. Nothing that follows should be read as implying that I am perfect or have nothing to repent from.

But as a woman, a lay person, a flaming queer, a dole bludger, a single mother, a nutcase, a feminist, a tree-hugger, a feral radical (etc, etc, etc) I have often been conned into having a deficit view of myself, positioned as a “sinner” within my identity (in terms of faith or just in terms of society). I am ashamed to say I have often cringed and hated myself and felt genuine remorse about things that either were NOT SINS or that I had little or no control and choice over. So let me begin a non-penitential rite and I hope any of you that have shouldered guilt that does not belong to you will be able to do the same.

This confession then is not a “sorry” statement, far from it. It is a bursting out of the closet statement (or in biblical terms bursting out from under a bushel-Matt 5:15). I am sure I will have ample time on some other occasion to dwell on my genuine sinfulness.

I confess

that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” (psalm 139:14),

that and any “fear” in it does not belong to God.

Love, the Creator and Love the Master Workman collaborated to plan and bring me forth (Proverbs 8:30),

and Love the Midwife caught and checked me over (see eg Isaiah 66:9 but God is about this profession several times)

I am made in the image of all three- Love and Love and Love

and so I am called to grow into my nature (Love),

and to find my destiny (Love) and to embody the reality of my being (Love).

I can claim this in so far as I live with respect for my sisters and brothers, human and non-human -earth, sun. stars, ocean, flame, music, animals, plants, ozone layer, galaxies and all there is, was or may be.

Coming together as God’s family, let us recognise the Divine plan that we should be diversely beautiful, powerful and social agents. Let us not insult the creativity of Godde by hating what we are.

(Pause)

And so I confess that I am not sorry

for having conceived children out of wedlock (and having unlocked wedlock and got away)

for “impure” thoughts that are respectful of boundaries and the safety of all parties,

for being a lesbian (and for finding this out the hard way- which was neither my choice nor my fault)

for being angry at times

for responding to authority at times with questioning, disobedience, anger, ridicule and activism

for being too tired to be a better activist,

for being a shy and underachieving person

for using too many words and failing to remain silent,

for loving my children more than I love anyone or anything else (beyond all reason),

for loving myself enough to sometimes say “no” to others, even my own children,

for being slow to learn and understand- because for some things teachers were scarce,

for anything I did as a child, when I was too small, scared, inexperienced and vulnerable to do better

for having depression,

for being broken and needing help again and again,

for taking charity when it was available,

for not always being able to pay for things,

for not being able to afford every advantage for my children,

for attempting suicide, and for sadly understanding the logical reasons why others have done this and weeping more for the fact they needed to try than for the fact they succeeded,

for not being “better” than I am, and not always being interested in taking advice on how to be.

All the peculiarities and weaknesses of who I am, will grow into compassion and wisdom through the grace of God. I am called to heal, support, affirm and challenge others around me. Like a newborn baby I will crave and demand sustenance for God for my growth (1 Peter 2:2-3) and She will always feed me for fullness of life. Amen

Feel free to tell me in the comments things that you are not sorry for (that perhaps you were taught to see as sin but have realised are not in the real sense of the word).

 

 

Grace, love, sisterhood: the greeting

In some ways my lovingly-critical feminist reflection on the familiar old mass seems too obvious to even go through with*. But this week I spoke to some people who know more than me about these things, who talked about just how inflexible the church hierarchy (who suppose themselves to speak for “the church”) are about both the words of the mass (this is still in a Roman Catholic framework) and the limiting of the names we are “allowed” to use for God. As if Godde herself were not an active agent within the prayer life of anyone who has life in their prayer!

So the words of greeting- The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all

-And also with you (I believe now they say “and with your spirit”)

The importance of removing the exclusiveness of the masculinity has been discussed by many finer minds than mine. One that immediately springs to mind is She Who Is by Elizabeth Johnson. Critics have fairly pointed out that where she names each of the persons of the Trinity “Sophia”, this name is probably more accurately given to the second person of the Trinity (also known as “Jesus” or “Christ”). Nevertheless she makes great points about the mothering and midwifing role of the Creator God (eg mother bear (Hosea 13:8), mother hen (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34 though significantly this is Jesus speaking which argues against the separation of the parenting role of God and the Human One or Word) human mothers (Isaiah 66:13; possibly Psalm 131:1-2) midwife (Psalm 71:6). Such a strong biblical tradition, then we need to ask the hard questions why “the church” (as they style themselves) try to keep it from us or limit our access to it.

Others have also spoken about the connection with Trinitarian thought and the threat of paganism, specifically the triple goddess (virgin, mother, crone) which is symbolised in the lifecycles of ordinary women everywhere (arguably ones who are not biologically “mothers” still go through this goddess stage in middle-age and the need to nurture and be opinionated and strong). This goes again patriarchal church reliances on Mary, the impossible model of virginity and motherhood in one, making all women deficit in terms of one or the other- although in modern times I like to reflect (with a snigger) that lesbians who manage to get pregnant without allowing penetration from a man technically fit this supposed to be impossible category, which may be partly why “the church” is so outraged by lesbians in general).

But why are different persons of the trinity responsible for “grace” “love” and “fellowship”? Firstly considering a “fellow” is a man or boy I am going to be unapologetically femme-centric (I decided not to use the term “gynocentric because I am not trying to leave out trans women who may also find these criticisms necessary, nor am I defining these qualities as one not available to men) and use the term “sisterhood” instead in my own reflection. “Sister” to me is the most positive sort of a person, they may or may not be blood related but they support, encourage, compliment, are generous toward, keep accountable and argue against each other they love even when they have a falling out and they do maintenance work on their relationships. By this definition anyone who loves with respect and equality may be a “sister”. Big sisters nurture little sisters and birth order has little to do with it in adulthood.

I still don’t think we need to give such separate jobs to different “persons” of God.

But let’s try it with a woman focus and also dump the kyriearchal word, “Lord”.

The grace of lovely Sophia and the love of God and the sisterhood of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Maybe. Maybe it is a start. It’s pretty neutral, you think it would not be seen as too threatening and that they would use this sometimes, or even say “Jesus-Sophia” to keep both in there. But for some people “God” conjures up a judgemental bloke in a white bears (it doesn’t for me) so I am going to skate out onto the thinner ice of not even worrying about keeping it conservative.

Grace, love and sisterhood to us all from Sophia, collaborator from the beginning with the Mother and the dancing all-infusing Spirit

Grace, love, sisterhood

our precious and sacred bodies

out of the earth our mother

nurtured by the elements

wrapped in bodily, material existence

beautiful in our tendency to know by touching

to feel passion and tenderness

to taste the fruits of the earth and to break and make and share them.

Wisdom coming into us from our being

not “handed down” by stern and unyielding “lords”

but danced into every moment of true love

in sticky hand-prints of our children

in the doors we open for others

in the gifts that fall into our laps unasked

in the unpaid labours of family life.

Godde making, calling, smiling, remembering us

she knows and reknows all the goodness we are capable of

past loves, present generosities, future beauties yet unachieved

she is and she knows

as the spirit pours through our veins

fire of knowing that we are significant

that our actions and choices will heal and save or condemn the world

that we are hear to grow and love not to buy and sell

ourselves or the body of our mother the earth.

We see her face in the myriad stars

we hear her voice in the ocean

she dazzles us with her rainbows

and in our diversity we are respelendent

in her image- sacred and intended.

Grace love sisterhood now and forever.

-And in your body, and written by your life’s choices, and dancing through your spirit

Amen!

*This post sort of ran away from me. I am going to blame Alice Walker as I am currently really enjoying the freedom and colouring-outside-the-lines way of speaking of her  We are the ones we have been waiting for.

The law? Integrity, liberation and who we really are.

I shred this reflection at church today based on these readings. It may have been too long but it represents about to weeks of agonisingly trying to reduce my complicated thoughts on this to a manageable size (and then trust others to fill in the blanks as well or better than I could).

 

What does it mean that the Spirit scrutinises even the depths of God?

 

I came to these readings with a feeling of suspicion toward their legalistic tone: long gone are the days when I could view any text as innocent. Everything that is written serves someone’s interests. I’ll leave aside the question of whose interests scripture might serve as that is a big question and one we probably wouldn’t all agree on, but the lectionary also is a text- the juxtaposition of particular readings is not inevitable and has helped to build the histories of interpretation that we are born and brought up in.

 

Ideas of law seem to me to be linked with power and I have not always experienced these positively from the church. People can find themselves outside the church for such trivial reasons. My great aunt could never receive communion again because she married for a second time while her first husband (taken away by an invading army years before) was never proven dead. As a child I learned that all the divorcees and gay and lesbian people in perfectly stable and functional relationships were considered to be in sin (and the outrage of some gossiping Christians that people “like that” come to church). We continue to hear with shame, hard-line rules against simple necessities like contraception, and we know there is a link between this and other archaic laws like barring women from being clergy.

But then it seems like the law that is so stringent on some, is more easy on others. George Pell seems very resistant to returning to face the secular law, which is interesting because his public voice has always been so legalistic in tone. When I consider the tendency for powerful men to escape consequences for whatever they do, then I realise I am not quite so anti-law in my own thinking and I can dive back into the first reading.

Think of all the calls for “de-regulation” these days, of the ideal that is preached of “freedom”. What a harsh sort of a freedom that is, the freedom of the market.  Basically in this world-view governments and societies will stop interfering with the flow of capital so that those who are rich and unscrupulous can be even more free to exploit, lie and cheat as they want. Protecting vulnerable humans or the environment would be a thing of the past in this terrible freedom.

The first reading compares law with fire and water. Fire can mean warmth, safety, togetherness, the ability to cook our food, light. Water can mean refreshment, cleanliness, peace, life. Law also can bring us together and build society fostering right relationship.

Fire can get out of control and mean burning, danger, death. Water can become storms, tidal waves, ruthlessness and also death. Law that is out of control we experience as oppressive power- it rips apart individuals and relationships. But despite the dangers of law it remains as significant as water and fire. Noone is to be given license to be unjust or harm each other.

I might have hoped that the second reading would tell me what the good law is- how to recognise it and maybe seven easy steps to follow to always be right. Not so. The law in this reading is according to a mysterious and hidden Wisdom of God. My heart leaps there she is again, we know Wisdom from other readings her values seem to be liberation and generosity although she is hard to follow and impossible to pin down.

It was unawareness of Wisdom which resulted in the death of Jesus. The need to put to death opposition, to silence critical voices and to maintain the status quo against all threats is a need counter to the agenda of renewing refreshing Wisdom. This is good news when I am the critical voice but the challenge is to remember it when I have worked hard to make something that seems to me good and someone else has an unpalatable opinion to share. It is significant that the reading talks about “this age” in the present tense. It is always “this age” when the voices that try to bring Wisdom’s compassion and liberation to a hurting world are silenced, trivialised or in extreme cases persecuted (content warning on the last link).

So there is no blueprint for knowing Wisdom, no infallibility given in any power that sets itself up over us. But the Spirit works for us to scrutinise all things, even the depths of God. Within Godself we find a deep integrity and an ability to be reflexive and process questioning from “the other”. We find that “otherness” even within the very identity of who God is. To anyone who has experienced being the “outsider” in some way this is unbelievably good news.

 

This gospel sometimes gets read as a sort of divine nit-picking by Jesus, a raising of standards for who can qualify as “good”. I don’t think this is an entirely fair reading. Jesus may be inviting us to reflect on the purpose behind a law, to enter into the spirit not just the letter of a law that coming from Wisdom must be aimed at transforming who we are to the depths of our being. The key here seems to be right relationships- responding to people in all situations with respect and love, speaking with honesty and not letting negative feelings fester and eat us up from the inside.

There may be hyperbola in the specifics, (as an enneagram 4, I see a sort of grandiose over-the top desperation to be heard here) but aside from that, the connection between what we do and who we authentically are may apply.

 

If you are on facebook and linked in with the left-side of politics you might have seen how the growing fear and dissatisfaction with many leaders has fostered a gleeful slogan: “punch a nazi”. This expresses the despairing frustration of many, as xenophobic and regressive ideas gain a foothold in society but it glorifies violence and reifies a “good guys vs bad guys” view of the world which probably does more harm than good.

The gospel acknowledges that the temptation within us can be to let anger and despair change who we are and how we treat people. Most of the people saying this awful slogan, would probably not really punch another person but Jesus in today’s gospel seems to be saying something that Foucault would agree with that we construct ourselves within discourses (both in our own heads and outwardly) and we become the ideas we circulate.

I hope you will enjoy entering into a moment of silence with these readings, or in whatever way is best for you.

We have an opportunity now to think over our own reactions and relationship to the law and Wisdom of God! We have a chance to think about our identity within ourselves and our dealings with others. Relationship moves from within each of us to others, so after some time in silence please if you wish share your thoughts with each other.

 

 

Chloe’s people, John’s people, Jesus’ people and the call to me

I am not in the mood to pretend that I feel “enlightened” or full of hope. I think it is a big mistake when people use Christianity as an opium for themselves as an individual or for the masses. If what is wrong with the world ceases to hurt in the euphoric escapism of being “saved” then God is a great big ecstasy tablet and the believer is some sort of socio-path. Because real life and the earth and human bodies matter a lot. We live in that pre-salvation darkness when we let families be locked up on Manus, when we make selfish and life-denying decisions, when we let greed and fear rule our world.

“For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.”

We can hope in this vision of the reign of God, but we are deluded if we see it as already fully realised. But it does give us a hint about which prophets to believe, and where to look for the authentic Wisdom in a world of competing truths and wisdoms. God does not deny the yoke that oppresses us but SMASHES it, radically works to undo and make impossible the oppression of her people. “Saving” is not some sort of magical act, but is liberation, removing the unjust power of whatever enslaves us (and our unjust power to enslave others). Wherever there is true liberation, there is the action of God. Wherever we (or anyone) are still being oppressed the light is yet to shine.

In the psalm I “believe” in the goodness of God. If this goodness in my life was already fully realised I would not have to believe any more than I have to “believe” in the roof over my head or the food in my bowl. I “believe” because there is something of God’s effect over my life that still exists as potential energy, poised to unfold in some way I may not grasp. Courage and stoutheartedness is needed as we wait (and these are in me, in short supply I confess).

I can’t say I completely resound with what Paul is on about in the second reading. Granted it is disheartening and counter-productive how often churches and other communities of hope become splintered as people polarise over some issue and refuse to work together. What is equally hurtful however is the false unity that makes invisible any minority or less privileged group. I am currently reading New Feminist Christianity and finding it full of diverse and oftentimes critical voices of various groups of WOC, queer folk (once again varied and diverse), workers in DV prevention and healing, people from various church traditions. They don’t all say the same thing, but they make up a wonderful patchwork of views that turn into a polyphonic dialogue that never intends to be completed or closed.

Instead churches and other organisations often opt for a “unity” that is hegemonic, restrictive, exclusive or downright abusive. Rivalries and petty politics ARE every bit as bad as Paul says, but I want to remind him of Jeremiah 6:14, and warn him that sweeping differences under a carpet is NOT a way forward. Simply putting Christ in the centre in a kyriearchal way is more problematic than I think we often like to admit. He is “the Lord” and simply trumps everyone else is an easy answer but not a real solution. Once again I am indebted to the book I mentioned above, quite a few of the theologians have challenged me to look beyond kyriearchal, individualist interpretations of the “Jesus story” to the “everyone else stories” that Wisdom has always woven through (being the sort of girl who goes exactly where she wants and won’t stay put). Wisdom (although I have a borderline problematic tendency to anthropomorphise her) is in fact neither male, female not in any way human and her story is not the story of an individual. If she is revealed “in” the historical man, Jesus (I would agree that she is) then she is also more than this historical individual.

But having asked for caution when demanding too much from Jesus and his story I nevertheless read the gospel with interest. John has been arrested and instead of falling to pieces in some way Jesus rolls up his sleeves and gets on with John’s work. Remember “repent” was John’s slogan wasn’t it? Jesus affirms John’s ministry by grounding the beginnings of his own in continuing it. He may or may not make some departures from John’s teaching or develop his thinking further but he shows the respect to his forerunner to accept the work that has already been done. Also as with a literature review in a piece of research this places Jesus’ work within the already established work of John as a continuation. Jesus is both respectful and strategic in positioning his ministry in this way, however it also undermines our tendency to want to see Jesus as a peerless exceptional superhero. Jesus himself seems to be implying he is part of a tradition of critique and struggle, a continuation of good work that can happen before (and by implication after) his time on earth.

Jesus also aligns himself with a criminal, a trouble-maker- not charismatic John that Herod liked but arrested John that threatens the state. I am liking this Jesus. In this context “come after me” to the fishermen makes it clear once again that Jesus is not seeking for personal followers and fame, but to expand the work that is being done to continue the struggle and to have it continue beyond him. Right at the start he is already asking for help…needing “others” to ensure his vision will eventuate. We cannot do these things (like ministry) alone.

So he calls some fishermen (a working class movement perhaps, not one for elites) but does he also call housewives baking and mending and sweeping? We can’t assume he did not just because the patriarchal text masks our view of the women at the back of the stage.Paul clearly has as working relationship with “Chloe’s people” whoever they were. Jesus’ inclusion or otherwise of women remains invisible- not interesting enough to the male historians of the time (but that’s a familiar scenario).

Perhaps in the end the “great light” that dawns on the people is that it is not up to the exceptional individual like John the Baptist, or even to Jesus to actualise salvation for us all. It is not something I can do on my own and also not something I ought to leave to stronger or better others to do for me. We are all invited to leave our mundane concerns and go kindom building with Jesus, with the interweaving of Wisdom with a relentlessness that survives all sorts of suffering and crosses every gap.

 

Cuddles and baby-talk

Ok so my brain is fried from the heat and I have been busy this week with my son who I didn’t see for a couple of weeks before that, but I will try to have a go. Because if i wrote about Joseph just before Christmas, and Matthew’s construction of an enlightened, spiritually attune and emotionally honest masculinity then I guess the epiphany (which occurs every year) continues this.

The gospel doesn’t tell us the gender of the Magi (and that lack of certainty can sometimes be fun to play with) but tradition has decided there were three of them and they were all male: Balthazaar, Melchior and Caspar. This is not entirely satisfactory and the exoticisation of them as various shades of black (set next to the improbable sight of a white Jesus) is certainly problematic. But let’s just for a moment visualise them as traditionally they have been painted and repainted. 3 wealthy blokes.

Suddenly they follow a dream, or an inner conviction or their intuition or something (a star no less) and trek half way around the world to see a baby. I was at a pool party today and there was a small baby there. One of my friends who usually comes across more or less as a big tough man came in and immediately scooped up the baby and started baby-talking to him and cuddling him. He brought the child over to his very pregnant wife and let the baby “make friends” with the other baby in utero. My scepticism about the way Matthew portrays men dissolved somewhat in seeing that and I suddenly pictured Balthazaar, Melchior and Caspar jumping off their camels and squatting down and baby-talking and all wanting to cuddle little Jesus. Meanwhile maybe the exhausted Mary had a backrub from Joseph or a nanna-nap or I would like to visualise her popping out for a cup of something with no baby…but maybe that couldn’t (and didn’t) happen in biblical Bethlehem.

Of course I don’t want to make too much of a big deal of men who want to be fathers and uncles and basically decent human beings around children because as has often been pointed out it’s a bit silly that men are “heroes” for doing the things women are supposed to just “naturally” gravitate to. A redeemed masculinity when portrayed the way I have portrayed it is no greater than an ordinary femininity. But maybe we can line the baby-cuddling, emotionally intelligent “wise men” up with Mary who walked miles and miles WHILE PREGNANT to emotionally support her cousin without even the emotional reward of seeing a baby. Matthew’s wise men line up with Luke’s wise woman. Maybe it’s not just about gender, but it is about being a decent and open individual.

Herod’s need to control and dominate is threatened by these strange people with their strange lifestyle, with these powerful men coming past to celebrate a baby’s birthday. The mundane is political. Everyday acts of love and walking humbly with are transgressive against the power regimes of the world. Oh yes Herod is VERY threatened by this queer behaviour and would like to kill them or kill Jesus. We can sanitise the ending as happy- both the magi and the child’s family get protected by the providence of God (and once again their willingness to pay attention to dreams). But there is a human cost.

When we celebrate the epiphany we forget that very male child under 2 was murdered by order of a paranoid king. Where was God in that event? How do we celebrate the transformation and liberation of the privileged individual WITHOUT making invisible the many who are unfairly made to suffer? If we are to embrace a good news, we can’t do it just by framing the action to sweep the abuse of children under a carpet.

The church has tried that course but we need to move beyond it! The child who escaped to Egypt was the child of God and so was the murdered infant and the assaulted mother. So is the child of God the baby born on Manus island and the baby whose mother has her centrelink cut off. As a society/church we need to put our Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh where our God is. We need to love our neighbour.

I apologise if my coherence is affected by the heat

A transgressive, transformative masculinity

This week’s readings are hereI only consciously used the gospel (Matthew) but I read all of them.

Joseph was a man, a tradesman- perhaps a small business owner. He was working class, though probably not poor, his son Jesus seems to have received a decent sort of an education and had the freedom to wander as a street-preacher/magician rather than being desperately needed to support the family. I guess what I am trying to portray is a man with a vested interest in the status quo, a man with some privilege but also precariously enough placed that “honour” was a concern.

It was a patriarchal world. Men’s honour especially around “their” women’s sexuality was a significant thing. For Joseph to act as a man of his time, do the “right” thing, the “rational” thing, the “common-sense” thing would be to break off his engagement to Mary. In his time and place, it may not have been seen as unusual or unduly harsh if he made a big fuss (which might have led to her being cast out of the community or stoned I suppose) but he is “righteous” and unwilling to expose her to shame. Nevertheless there is no real question within his place and time (and his role as a man, a potential head of a household) of continuing a relationship with a young woman who is pregnant with someone else’s child.

It’s easy then to view what happens simplistically, God speaks and Joseph obeys. If we go further and view God as “male” then it becomes a meeting between two males to discuss the fate of a woman and child. If we read it this way, then nothing very radical happens, though we breathe a sigh of relief that Mary and that important baby are safe.

But what does our experience tell us about God speaking? An “angel” appeared to him in a “dream”. Without wanting to keep God out of the equation, I want to bring in a more modern understanding of what dreams are. Our “subconscious” communicates our deeply held and sometimes hidden from desires and truths to us in dreams. Science around natural processes like evolution, tells us that God’s influence over the world works with the nature of what the world is, with the cause and effect (and free will) of processes, organisms, lifecycles, webs of relationality. God can only communicate to the person whose heart is open to God (otherwise we have no free will). God calls us into right ways of being with each other- yes- but never against our deepest self. Joseph’s call from God and unhesitating response to it reveals something deeply true about Joseph’s nature and inner being.

Joseph resolves on the “common sense” course of action but his sleep is troubled by his inner need for relationship, to be a nurturer of something he neither owns nor controls. God speaks into his potential for unselfish love and asks for the impossible. Lay aside your patriarchal ownership of your family and follow Mary’s vocation, nurture a child of God. Significantly the angel says “Do not be afraid” indicating that the only thing stopping Joseph from this radical course of love, was fear. God takes away the need to fear, the need to know, the need to control.

Oftentimes men who claim to be “feminist” or “pro-feminist” or “anti-sexist” expect women to be very emotionally nurturing of them, to explain everything and open up everything to them and to keep on every step coaxing, seducing and rewarding them for the slightest pro-feminist leaning. Let’s not get side-tracked into “not all men” because that sort of a debate is actually part of the pattern I am speaking about. Men then, within patriarchy often expect women to be the keepers and sorters of their emotions one way or another, to constantly reassure and encourage them and to take emotional responsibility for a relationship.

Within that context, this is a good week for me to remember that even though I often use the female pronoun for God, God is in fact NOT FEMALE just as much as I have previously asserted that God is NOT MALE. I need to underline that in preface to looking at who does the “emotional labour” of this encounter.  Initially I was suspicious of the way Mary gets talked about and does not get to speak in this story, and in fact far too much of the bible is phallocentric and features women only in semi-objectified roles. But when I remember the way Mary comes across in Luke and John’s gospel as very much having her own mind and motivations, her own feisty relationship with God and deep trust in her child. When I remember how little Joseph is featured in the gospels except as a background to Mary and the baby or in a “Mary and Joseph” sort of a scene where they both fail to fully understand Jesus then I am keen to see the value of this episode.

Then I begin to see that what we have here is a man taking emotional responsibility for himself and his own difficult feelings, sitting with the situation instead of rushing to take it out on “his” woman and letting God speak and advise him instead of expecting to be emotionally babied. Then I get to see that the angel’s “explanation” to Joseph is no sort of an explanation really, that ultimately he is still in the dark about a significant event in Mary’s life. His choice to love and trust her unconditionally remains a choice, it is not at all made easy or logical by the angel quoting scripture at him!

So Joseph takes the pregnant Mary into his home and becomes one of those heroic people who loves a child for some reason other than a desire for your own genes to continue. Jesus is born into a home that transgresses the hetero-sexual matrix (in the way his parents fail to stick to the strictest versions of their gender roles, in the loss of patriarchal “honour” by Joseph accepting him, in the unorthodox way he has been conceived- although we actually know very little about that we know it wasn’t something that happened within marriage). God as Jesus’ co-parent relates to Mary and brings Joseph into the equation too. I like to think that after all this courage, Mary and Joseph had a loving and warm relationship and I certainly am not trying to undermine the idea of a man loving a woman or a woman loving a man. It is significant though, in a time when we are as a society asking questions about whether there is one shape of family only that God has mandated to recall that Jesus’ own situation was somewhat transgressive and not entirely respectable for his place and time. His parents had to show great courage to bring up this child of God.

So add this one last miracle to the lead-up to Christ’s birth. A man follows his heart (stirred by God) to courageously love and follow what he cannot control. A family is made outside the narrowly patriarchal tradition of what counts. God is with us!