Tag Archives: neoliberalism

Kindness is subversive

This week has been overly busy with some progress on the job front, my son’s 21st and a couple of celebrations of International Women’s Day. My one “study day” was spent mainly networking rather than writing which o an introvert like me would have seemed like a nightmare if I had planned for just how busy and social I would be this week. But it was fine (partly because the only people I had to mix with were ones I genuinely like). So I haven’t written a reflection on the next part of the mass, though I have thought a lot about the next one of those I will write (hopefully in the coming week).

I have also thought a lot about pink-collared work and about glass ceilings, especially the self-righteous kind of glass ceiling the patriarchal churches all have one way or another. I have thought about how I have a huge university debt but am paid like I just need to buy the odd pretty frock, not as though I am the one and only “bread winner” (so there has been less to go with the overpriced gluten-free bread this week). I’ve thought about the hard physical, mental and emotional labour that gets dismissed as the ultimately feminine “caring” for the youngest, oldest and most vulnerable members of society. For me caring almost becomes a dirty word, when it becomes a label trivialising hard work as just part of my nature. In this way it is steeped in the reek of exploitation.

I want to not care, I want to be tough and shiny and competitive- the minute I walk through the door into a room full of toddlers whose faces light up to see me and who ask “where are your special books to read to me” or demand a cuddle I know that as hard as I work my emotions are tangled with these exceptional people and that we do all “care” for each other after all. This knowledge is highlighted the minute one of my colleagues notices I have not had my ten-minute break or asks to swap places with me as I have been out in the sun too long, or takes over a boring cleaning task so I can do an activity with the children. Their treatment of me reminds me to watch out for who needs back-up or breathing space or just a kind word. A storm is coming so the boss sends home anyone who can be spared in the order of who has to travel on public transport longest. She says it “doesn’t count” as leaving early because she is genuinely concerned for their safety. Those who have to stay longer as parents are having trouble getting there on time. Noone complains, noone is charged for the time.

Because this is the fact of being human, like it or not we do care. There is something there that can’t be quantified and given a price tag and I feel sick with worry about that in a world where increasingly people are treated as disposable rubbish. Noone “cares” about the carers. You are supposed to be a “lifter” or an “entrepreneur”. Leaners and those leaned on have less and less value to the ones who like to stack the odds in their own favour.

But at uni this week, at a collective supervision meeting one of the students outlined her plans for her thesis. I swallowed my envy at how articulate and with-it she is and how many steps ahead of me after a shorter time and listened because I could tell she was going to be interesting. And she started with a provocative statement: “Care is subversive, kindness is activism”. She went on to talk about the neoliberal vision for the university (for the world), about the fearfulness of people to speak out and though she did not quote Freire the “banking model” of education was behind what she was criticising.

It’s a bleak view when you look at the patterns of power in the world but she has chosen to focus on activists and what makes a person one, and she seems to believe from the beginning that caring and kindness have a lot to do with it and are the loose cannon on the deck of the organised and self-interested capitalist world. It’s a romantic sort of a thought, a “love conquers all” sort of a gauntlet to throw down but I guess if I am to have any faith in God whatsoever then that is the right sort of grounding for it, and for hope.

So happy International women’s day to the carers and the sharers, the kind ones and the unselfish ones. To the ones who wipe the face of sorrow and the ones who bind wounds or teach little hearts to sing. To the unsung heroines, the weary and under-appreciated subversives, to the older women who encourage the younger women and the sisters who are stronger together.Our caring will conquer economic rationalism, our kindness is laced with a growl of righteous anger for our children. Every meal we cook, every word we write, every selfie we are laughed at for taking. We will care for ourselves, each other and the world. Our values belong to ourselves and we will not let fear and self-interest find a permanent home in our hearts.

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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.

 

 

The “better part” in a world that doesn’t get it

It seems like over the centuries nothing much has changed. As Amos had God saying back in the time of the first reading, so we could easily believe God would start an angry rant today:

” Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land,”

These are “good business-men” according to the values of 2016, they are very concerned with efficiency. They want the holidays (holy days) to be over so they can get back to making money, they alter the measures to give themselves a better profit margin. Any multi-national of today would gladly welcome such canny entrepreneurs into its fold! But these days the disease has spread. Schools and hospitals, care centres, churches and even charities feel the pressure to behave the same way. Everything we have is commodified and then watered down to make it cheap to produce and sell.

The needy are trampled upon, the land is ruined like never before. So if God was angry then, what might God be feeling now (no point in saying Jesus’ death cancelled out all of that, since Jesus never said that social justice was obsolete, or that his death came to replace our responsibility for how we live).

But we do slowly compromise our beliefs to get along in this very difficult and cynical society: “buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”

God notices and God does not overlook this. The rest of the reading is full of dire threats against the escapist sties of excess of the rich.:”The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.”

And is that not what we experience when we bury ourselves in lavish but empty lifestyles and pursuits? Having been quite well off, and recently having experienced a lack of many things that would make life easier, I have been brought face to face with the best and worst in people. Many people have dealt very generously with me, and that puts me to shame because I know that when I am well off, I forget a little about the suffering of others.

But none of us should forget the homeless in this hideous winter weather (a bus station is better than the street but still woefully inadequate when the wind howls and the rain floods). None of us should forget the children in large classes, with inadequate learning materials and exhausted teachers. It may not be my child, but it ought not to be anyone’s child. None of us should neglect the ill or the old or the mentally ill, or those who were kicked off their centrelink payments just in time for the school holidays, so that their children will go back to school with nothing to talk about the holidays apart from how cold and hungry and scared they were.

My challenge is to help people more than I do, but our collective challenge also is to change these systems, because increasingly there is too much hardship for one person’s charity to reach (and world-wide the situation is even more bleak). As God (via Amos) reminds us that the land itself has been oppressed we need to look at atrocities like fracking, nuclear weapons, excessive consumption, genetic manipulation of seeds to maximise control and profit, cynical versions of medical research, fossil fuels….the reality that we have already changed the global climate in extremely dangerous ways.

The apocalyptic message of night and day becoming skewed and wide-spread lamenting seems quite close to hand and God in the reading seems to vow that the wilfully blindly privileged will not remain untouched by this curse they are calling down. The psalm jeers at those who are foolish enough to take refuge in their excessive wealth instead of God. But the “righteous”, presumably the one who seeks God’s values for living is like an olive (judging by the olive trees I never planted, that are taking over my yard this means tenacious and resilient). Somehow withing all the apocalyptic possibilities before us we trust in the steadfast LOVE of God.

That love has never meant easy answers, or that we are off the hook. But in some way we may not yet be able to grasp it translates into hope for those who DO speak up for the poor and for the earth. The second reading adds evidence for this. We have Christ’s headship and ongoing presence making the best out of us, turning us back from evil ways to redeemed possibilities (I cannot see how, but the hope is there). But our hope is part of or faith, both things we need to steadfastly hold onto. Some aspects of this are mystery, we do not know everything. Wisdom in the second reading consists of trusting God and turning toward God’s way of life, listening to the warnings and teachings to achieve a “mature” faith.

Finally the gospel.

This is one of the ones that at times I have grappled with. Because what makes Mary so special? It seems really rough on Martha that she is excluded from the ease of Jesus and the apostles. Granted I can’t see that it would be better if Mary also had to do the “shit work”. But I can’t blame Martha for being angry that she has been left with all the work. I enjoyed a book called “Through a Woman’s eyes: encounters with Jesus” by Chris Burke that I read several years ago that put a different possibility on this story, with some of the male apostles being less entitled and helping Martha out so that Mary could have her connection and teaching from Jesus. To me those sort of imaginative possibilities are helpful but in the context of today’s readings I can see another twist to it too.

Ignoring questions of gender (and I realise we can’t always do this) and relegating Jesus and the apostles to background in the power-play between Mary and Martha, I put myself into the place of Martha (easy for someone like me to do). I am resentful, jealous, tired. I resort to judging because I am not getting what I need. If I then read Mary as a special little flower who has more important things to do than help me then I remain angry! But the fact is I don’t know about Mary. I have not walked in her shoes. I do not know her inner battles, her exhaustion, her background or why she needs to simply sit at the feet of Jesus, drawing in healing, life, teaching.

So my challenge (still as Martha) is to get my needs met in a way that does not judge Mary. I don’t think that this is a perfect way of reading this episode of the gospels, but it becomes relevant to the other readings of the week if we consider our society’s suspicious and grudging attitudes towards artists, thinkers, “dole bludgers”, the disabled or single parents. We feel envy and resentment at how hard we need to work and the fact that others are given what they need whether they appear (to us) to have earned it or not. We are beginning to teach ourselves to see taxes NOT as a public good, but as our hard-earned cash that ought to deliver a measurable good to ME the individual consumer. Instead of thinking about what is missing in our own lives (more family time, leisure, creative expression, meaningful connection, spirituality) we can get caught up in feeling self-righteous about how unpleasant it feels to “have to” be an economic participant in such a flawed society and losing our compassion in the fear that added pressures will be put on us, or that something will be taken away.

I have felt like this. It is related to the panic that people from overseas will come and drive down our minimum wage and take away our (seemingly) inadequate share of the cake.

Martha’s thinking is twisted because she says “make Mary work” instead of “I need to find a way to spend less effort so that I too can come and connect in with the Word and have Life”. We ought to have compassion for Martha because I feel that we all make that mistake one way or the other when we look at “others”. But as Jesus explains, Martha does not fully understand what is going on with Mary (or the possibility that she could and should have it too).

Jesus reminds us to look at ourselves, and get our own priorities right instead of trying to take away the joys, interests and vocation of others. I don’t think he is endorsing the exploitation of Martha (and if he is I would quarrel with him). In Amos we see the devastation that comes when people’s wrong priorities are allowed to fester into selfishness, and their skills go into getting ahead instead of getting along. The psalm echoes this and reminds us that our safety is in God not in wealth. Colossians reminded us that hope comes from coming to Jesus with a steadfastness.

All of us have things in our lives we could cut back on or slow down on to focus on relating and to redirect ourselves toward hope. All of us have people like Martha, who judge us when we don’t “look busy” or compete at mundane things. Perhaps we also have the tendency to show off unimportant things instead of just relating, and to try to control the contribution of others.

What is the “better part” and how do we choose it? How do we also free up our sisters (Marthas) and others to have some “better part” in their own lives too?