Tag Archives: miracle

Some of us have run out of wine

I have run out of wine! I started this blog because my heart was heavy with the burden of a ministry I had failed to realise. I was full of negative feelings such as guilt, anger, blame toward both myself and the church(es) that had not nurtured me better. For a while I felt that me blogging was a pointless exercise, and yet it was an outlet for feelings and thoughts which needed to be expressed and served also as a spiritual discipline focusing me on lectionary readings each week whether I liked them or not and forcing me to engage with them either adversarially or in an attempt to glean something of value.

I was grateful for the very, very small number of friends who made it obvious they had read my blog entries and encouraged me to persist. And as I put my words out there, I came to see that it was not all just about “preaching” in the narrow sense, where I think I have something of value and others need it but it was about my own struggle with my faith journey and engaging in that struggled moved me back toward church: surprisingly enough to the church of my childhood (though a transformed and transformative community). Once I was “back” in the church there was no fanfare or immediate reifying of my ministry and I am ashamed to have felt so anticlimactic about the whole thing but there were crumbs of encouragement in liturgies, in things that were said and in the readings themselves.

I was asked to preach one day and I felt euphoria and joy as if that one event was some sort of realisation, and end of a struggle (but of course it was not). From that event, and from my now more frequent attendance at church as I am relearning that maturity means sometimes honouring the community not just acting like a selfish individual has grown an opportunity to participate in writing, collating and delivering liturgies and the desire to make them meaningful and affirming is still strong in me. I have learned that there may be more readers of my blog than is obvious to me week to week and have laughed at myself for still being weak and childish enough to need people’s approval and “praise”.

This journey is mirrored by the progress I have made in my professional and in the beginning steps of my academic life too. I have learned much, changed and grown and begun to experience a hard-won success.

I have identified a purpose and a direction to my life and all should be as a wedding feast. I ought to feel full of confidence and energy to extend hospitality to people and to bring the best of my inner gifts to the table for sharing with people who bring so much to me! “Ought to” I say, as though I hadn’t learned by now that the world is not governed by “ought tos” and “shoulds” and that whatever deeper reality we feel is possible and right is always one we need to struggle for (and forgive ourselves for frequently failing).

If we can reclaim Mary, not as a hyperfeminine vessel for the patriarchy of the church but as first apostle and nurturer of all that is Christ-like and wise then perhaps she at this time in my life, in all these times in all our lives turns a motherly glance at me/us. “Poor darling” she might say, “you have run out of wine”; and then the good advice has to follow (I did say motherly) “Do whatever he tells you”. “He” in this situation meaning Christ, meaning the God who has embraced and lived humanity but somehow at times transforms and transcends the exhausted and uncertain humanity that is all we know.

How then does Jesus respond to us running out of the “wine” of our ministry, the “wine” of our wisdom and the “wine” of our energy for goodness and beauty? Does he say “that’s ok then you rest and I will do everything?” It is tempted to read a God of miracles in this way. To see us as able to do nothing more than ask for grace and wait patiently for Jesus/God to accomplish all. But Jesus demands a more exhausting collaborative approach. You have run out of wine, out of the good stuff? Alright then bring water. Bring the mundane stuff of your labour and good intentions to me. That is so unbelievably unglamorous to do isn’t it? To spend long stretches of time bringing nothing but our ordinary labour and out common place accomplishments to God. These times lack the euphoria, the deep feeling of connection with God or the universe, the lightning-bright glint of revelation and the winged-feet feeling of success. We simple plod and plod and plod and bring boring old water to God to be blessed.

That is the “coal face” of faith, the place where the euphoria ends and we are still our own boring and fallible selves with our own boring and somewhat (at times) unfulfilling lives struggling to make meaning and struggling to grasp the moral politics of the reign of God from a place of exhaustion and uncertainty and surrounded by less than ideal understanding and nurture.

So when at Jesus’ word we give a taste of the water to the “chief steward” to those who are able to receive, judge and distribute our ministry and when the chief stewards of our ministry tell us that our ministry is the “good wine”, they may tell us we are good at preaching or good at counselling or good at leading- the temptation after all our hard work and despair is to feel pride, not just a healthy sense of accomplishment but an identifying of the self with the accomplishment. Then it is easy to get fancier and fancier, to fall in love with our own cleverness and success and perhaps popularity too and to lose sight of the need to be bread broken, not just a fancy and overly rich gravy.

And this happens to me.

Because of the depth of despair and cowardice and emotional pain and failure that I have experienced, when I begin to succeed then I want to see myself as forever transformed into a “wine maker” that can do no wrong. My pride in this situation holds many dangers, the obvious one is the narcicissm of forgetting to self-question and assuming your own infallibility. In the past I have been very critical of this lack of reflexivity in successful and charismatic others, so I need to keep that in my own mind as I at times experience success.

Other dangers are the loss of empathy and kindness as I become impatient with those who do not understand what I am saying, or who think differently. There is also the very great danger of despair when I fail to live up to unreasonable standards within myself- there is the all-or-nothing approach where a bad day or a bad week or a misstep damns me right back into perpetual failure and self-hate. All of these are the blights of pride, if I see any part of my ministry as bigger than it is, or as all my own work.

In preaching for example, it is entirely possible that my words could be wrong and therefore others who hear them need to always be free not to agree with me. But it is also possible when others gain something of value from my preaching, that the water was only water but that God turned it into wine not at its source, but somewhere between me and the person who heard the words. The wine might only become wine in the chief-steward’s mouth for all we know.

So in this grey time, when I cannot seem to put a foot right; when I have become addicted to a spiritual feeling of connection and euphoria which I ought to have been experienced enough to know was unsustainable; when there are simply not enough hours in the hot and sometimes lonely days and old anxieties resurface to drive a wedge between me and my support networks. When the temptation once again is to “drop out” of studies and church and even of my friendships and simply go to work and read novels. In this grey time all I see before me are water jars to do very ordinary tasks. I have run out of wine for others, for myself.

I have nothing to give.

I will continue to bring water then, since I don’t have wine remembering in the words of the second reading that my gifts were “for the common good” not for my own ego or individual success. I will follow the apostles like Mary, who point me toward Christ to take my cues from the one who makes meaning from my mundane, who changes my water into wine.

Sometimes the best wine comes much, much later than we would expect.

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Sharing the small loaves: trusting that this is bigger than me.

Responding to lectionary readings. Where there are alternatives I tend to go with the first one I have a gut reaction to. Because this is not a scientific text and you are free to disagree with me.

Oh, here we go, the Bathsheba story! 😦

I have always hated that story even as a child. David is the villain, Uriah is the victim and what is Bathsheba? Nothing. Sometimes people blame her for what happened, sometimes not but she never gets to be a full person in the story- does not have a voice or a point of view, whether she is seen as actively “tempting” or as passively a victim, she is two-dimensional, a stereotype. She is just a woman when real character are men.

I hate the story. I don’t engage with it except in a resistant, sulky, want-to-vomit, gut churning, hating it too much to be coherent sort of a way which earned me one of my lowest marks in my theology degree. So I won’t waste any more of your time with my non-engagement but I will make the sort of faces children make when they think adults are full of offensive nonsense and will drag my feet and

Psalm 14. Hard to believe it was not written about the 2015 political scene, except of course all of our politicians say they are Christians (as opposed to our implied enemies the Muslims…and please note I don’t share this view) they don’t openly go about saying there is no God. They merely act as if “the economy” is their only God. I echo the sentiment here, none of them is good, no not even one. Judgemental of me I know and to be honest there may be a “good” person somewhere in that nest of vipers who is merely cowardly or ignorant rather than out-and-out evil. Only God knows. And God will show me my own cowardice and ignorance and selfishness for calling it in others, but I accept that and pray for grace to be better as I learn how.

But for those who would confound the plan of the poor- when the poor have a plan to flee from terror and death to a new country… when the poor have a plan to look after their children and their health…when the poor have a plan to be workers and earn enough to support themselves and also be things other than “worker”, and to have some leisure time…when the poor have a plan to subsist off the land or to live in the land without being flooded in poison…when the poor have a plan to continue culturally appropriate ways of life on their own original land…when the poor have a plan to better themselves through education…when the poor have a plan to marry the person they love…whatever plan about ordinary day to day life, about safety and food and water and family that the poor have…those who confound these plans risk offending God who is their refuge.

Oh that deliverance would come! Oh that justice would seem less impossible and distant. I also would be glad and rejoice. This psalm seems to build toward that Utopian vision and then trail off as if the psalmist doesn’t quite believe it either…

For this reason I think archaic ideas such as “bowing the knee” are no help whatsoever. Because that is what the ruling class want, a lot of blind obedience and bowing and humility by the oppressed. But every family in heaven and on earth does indeed take God’s name; we all come out of God as out of a labouring mother, struggling for breath and life and learning and desiring loving (re)union with that source.

And if through the Spirit and indwelled by Christ we are strengthened in our “inner being” (by implication there is some sort of pure goodness at the inner-part of each of us) which will cause us to be rooted and grounded in love- then maybe hope will come. Because maybe we will begin to comprehend the mystery of the infinity and eternity and surpassing fullness of God’s love. But I don’t say that for us to have an apathy toward injustice as if it doesn’t matter that hideous things happen to people because God’s love is greater than anything that happens.

It matters a lot when any of our creation-family is hurt or injured or oppressed. God’s infinite love wraps that person so completely, that when that person suffers and injustice God in love also suffers. And if we love God then this suffering is painful (luckily in a smaller way) even to us. So to learn to accept the injustice would be to learn to love God less and to take God’s love for us for granted a little more. That sort of neglect is a type of abuse. We need to nurture God as a beloved, as a child, as our dearest treasure and to desire justice is responding to God’s boundless love with passion. God’s power within us will somehow accomplish something mysterious and transformative. The writer of Ephesians says : “ to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

I paraphrase it: “BRING IT ON!!!!!!”

Much could be said about the gospel, but in the context of desiring justice within a parsimonious society, I think there is a very simple lesson here. Jesus simply does not accept excuses about not having enough for everybody. Jesus is not interested in your “efficiency dividend” or your preventing of a budget deficit or your cost cutting measures. Jesus sees hungry people and wants to feed them. He gives them “As much as they wanted”. Materially of course that is not possible from 5 loaves and 2 fish. Something is going on here.

Jesus blesses and distributes, and we could simply see this as a miracle in the naïve sense: a magic trick. Which is no help at all in the real world because having tried as a child praying and praying for magical miracles like that, and getting nowhere I need to find something here more transformative than the passivity of waiting for Super Jesus to rescue us with magic. I prefer to look to the verse before Jesus distributes where he is “testing” Philip by asking “Where do we find food for these people?” “We” is a collaborative word, not the individual Jesus but the “we” of faith must grapple with feeding the people. Philip responds with an understandable despair “What is that among so many?”

Jesus takes it and blesses it and distributes it. This is Jesus who will walk on the water, and defy the forces of despair and chaos. Whatever tiny amount we have to distribute we begin the job. How does Jesus continue it? There is mystery there, perhaps he also asks someone else- not just Philip. Perhaps some other disciple knows some other person with a fragment of food. Sometimes all it takes is beginning a movement- or following one, sometimes you can’t do everything as an individual. Philip does not feed the people, but he does respond to Jesus’ demand that he begin the impossible task and somehow the task is accomplished.

My challenge this week then is to find where in my life there are five loaves and two fishes I can begin to distribute. Where are the crumbs of justice for a hungry people? Jesus intends them to be satisfied with “as much as they wanted”; my little cannot do all that, but it can be a beginning….somewhere….blessed and increased in the fullness of love that calls this from me.