Tag Archives: patriarchy

Treasure, but well buried

Finished and posted late because I had a lot of work last week

We start off this week confident in “our fathers” so in the middle of a patriarchal society, following God in secret and waiting for the “salvation of the just and destruction of their foes”. So one of those religious nut groups that feels superior to society around them and smugly think they will be vindicated. The way this comes across is a good reminder to me in the midst of all the things I don’t like about my world and my society that I am part of it too, that I do not have special knowledge and special purity. I am in this world to struggle and to love not to feel superior and resent and not to blindly follow “fathers” either. Though in my case my blind faith in “mothers” is more likely to be my stumbling block…nevertheless I will start from a determination to think for myself, and be reflexive about my privileged place in the society I criticise.

The psalm buys into discourses of chosenness and being saved. God will favour us and preserve us we need to have greater faith. This can function as a seductive sort of an escapism away from taking personal or social responsibility for the state of our lives and our world. I am good at seeing when others do it (eg tell me to cure my depression with better faith and trust) but I also need to be on the lookout for my tendency to hope God will solve my problems of directionlessness and ignorance and being paralysed by fear.

It’s not wrong to look to God for comfort and to ask for guidance. However in the meantime we do need to get our hands dirty. Chosenness is problematic, why would God love me more than a refugee or a victim of crime or homeless person? I don’t think it is fair or wise even to treat our (human) species as “chosen” let alone groups within it. So “you just”, maybe it is better to be cautiously happy and keep on supporting each other and working toward liberation trusting that God works with us, rather than “saves” us. People wiser than me have written and spoken to criticise the concept of being “saved” but the one I remember best was never published.

I don’t relate to the sort of blind faith of Abraham outlined in the second reading. I particularly don’t see anything to celebrate in a man who puts his religion before his child/ren nor in a God who commands or rewards this way of being in the world. That sort of God is not anything for women or children, I would hope not even all that accessible to men (but I do wonder sometimes at the endless selfishness and lack of commitment to relating that men seem capable of- I hope I mean “some men”. I hope). I think the reading is trying to tell us to see faith as a bigger picture thing than just my little life and just my little specificity and work for the reign of God in and of itself, not in a self-interested way. Which is all well and good but Abraham gets to accept realities on behalf of himself and his silent and backgrounded wife and then runs out to sacrifice his son.

For me that sort of “kingdom” is too dystopian to even consider commitment to (s0rry God).

I wonder if there is any grain to be gleaned from the gospel?

One lovely little saying I can immediately pull out of the gospel is that “where your treasure is there your heart will be also”. That somehow what we value defines who we are. That leads me to reflect- what is my treasure? My children? My writing? The hopes for a more just and sustainable world? The kindness of my friends and community? At church yesterday we celebrated St Dominic’s day, and it was clear that for many in the community their Dominican heritage was their treasure. I did not feel it in the same way (with ties to a past I did not experience) that many of the people there seemed to, but that one community of courageous and kind women (and some men) is surely “treasure” in my life. Then I went with an artist friend to a SALA exhibition, and visited two lonely and isolated people. Art, sunshine, cider, conversation, a newborn baby, Nepalese food. Treasure is in sharing and inviting and connecting.

But I had to think also of the practical things of life. Why am I not more excited by my work?

The values of the reign of God are something that need to begin now, at a time long before we consider our death or the end of our species (so then really even before now). It won’t be enough to “look busy” when Christ comes. But the references to beating and overworking servants are alienating. I can’t consider myself to be a particularly “faithful and prudent servant” and even the people I admire have their off days. Then again a “bad” servant in the reading uses their power abusively against other servants. That definition of what God asks of us I can relate to. The whole thing is very violent and classist.

I think I will return to considering the treasure of my weekend, the treasure of the people who care for me. I will try to find ways to balance my heart between different treasures, to find more meaningful work, continue developing as a writer and try to be a better support of friends and family. My faith too, instead of being a blind obedience to tradition and patriarchy can seek treasure…a sunny day, the scent of clean work-clothes, a sudden hug from the small children I work with, an essay to write.

Back to all the other stuff now, treasure is still there even when we fill in forms and write job applications.

Against the grain this week

 

Oh yay! I can choose between two readings from the book of kings to begin with this week. Serves me right for having a sort of week off (posting nothing but a poem) last week, when it was my all time favourite psalm (63) which I had been waiting for. Oh well, I will see what shreds of faith are left me after I deal honestly with the readings of the week.

These lovely readings from Kings exemplify for me what the whole book is about. The book is sort of a kyriarchal self-justification for an organised “church” (I realise this is an anachronistic word but I am being political in choosing it). The great Elijah and the great Elisha work on their succession plan. Elijah also anoints kings (that idea of church mandating state that caused so much trouble in later times- see e.g. Eco’s The Name of the Rose).

The whole book of Kings seems to me to be about “great” men (great meaning full of self-importance) and murderous men, some get the dubious honour of being both. If I ever start to feel warm and fuzzy about the church (and I was starting to) these two books are a great wake up call. We are grounded in patriarchy, militarism and colonial thinking. We still seem to extoll and admire what is legitimated by earthly power and politics and we still seem to silence nearly everyone, and most of all women.

The triumphalism of both psalm choices echoes the first readings. God is almighty, powerful, in control and we rejoice because we are chosen for privilege and ease. Give me a break! Against such a “god” I would side with the children and adults incarcerated on Manus for the “security” of this society and its supposedly Christian values. I would side with Penny Wong speaking out against homophobia and not with Scott Morrison who says he has been “persecuted” for his “Christian” beliefs (recently in Orlando there was a shooting of homosexual night-club goers. This is the “persecution” lgbt people want to counter, not just the “persecution” or people daring to sometimes disagree with them and their tepid religion). I would side with the single mums doing it even tougher by increments because apparently austerity is good for the economy, and with old people who have earned the right to be supported by society but may be forced to work later and later into what should be their years of doing what they like (and possibly doing good too). I side with exploited workers having even their measly penalty rates threatened, and principals facing funding cut that mean students are increasingly frustrated and some turn violent. I side with farmers wanting a decent price for the fruit of their labour, and wanting to keep the irreversible damage of fracking far from their livelihood. I side with the reef and the bight and the old growth forests.

Yes even against “god” because the god of patriarchy and unquestioned power and capitalism is no god at all, no matter how many candles we light and how many times we chant “Lord. Lord” (and didn’t Jesus have something to say about this?). So uneasy and defensive I move on to the second reading.

The first part of the second reading seems to be in the same head-space as me. It says to throw off all this slavery and be brave enough to demand that the consequence of faith is always liberation. Then the focus is on turning this agenda onto the good of others, not just selfishly seeking self-interest. My only uneasiness, is seeing the law of love “love your neighbour” made excessively personal, it is easy for elite and powerful people (and all of us in first-world countries) to have a sort of interpersonal ethic of kindness and “decency” to the people we mix with, the people like us. That’s not a bad thing of course, but it is not the full deal with “love your neighbour”. Because Jesus is always in the last and the least, not just in our good friends and loveable family. So where it says become “slaves to each other” I think that is a dangerous rhetoric open to at least two damaging sorts of interpretations.

“If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.” seems to be a good caution against hypercapitalism and neoliberalism. It seems like the exact rebuttal of Thatcher’s claim that there is “no such thing as society, there is only the individual”. In the reign of God of course, the interests of the poorest and the weakest are the interests of God, and God’s interests become our interests through relationship. So there is “society” in the sense of relevant “other”, and relevant other is always broadened. Because God hates nothing she created.

But then the author of Galatians (I can’t remember which ones Paul actually wrote) goes down the predictable and silly path of individual behaviours. I am sure it is better to be sober and chaste and all the rest of it, but the church DOES waste a lot of time telling individuals how not to have a good time, instead of reminding us constantly that we are responsible for whoever is paying the price of our ease. So the point for me is less to avoid drunkenness and excess, and more justice. In a more just world, or in working for a more just world I will in fact have to curb the excesses of my appetite, in order to ensure a just distribution of work, leisure, resources and a light touch upon Mother Earth.

But Paul (if it is him) here is focusing on the symptom and ignoring the cause. Drunkenness and carousing are symptoms of spiritual emptiness, caused by selfishness, despair, desperation or blind privilege. Becoming austere patrician saints without changing the imbalances in the world is both very difficult and I think ultimately unhelpful. Instead I think Robert Herrick has it right when he talks about starving “sin not bin”. It’s not about curbing appetites per se, it is about refocusing on the source of the real hunger, the real deep desire. We are starved for justice and we lust for meaning. It is a sort of escapism, like playing computer games (which is one of my chief vices when very depressed). Drinking, eating too much and having an unhealthy attitude toward sex similarly are ways of trying to quiet the uneasy or roaring voices in hearts that do not want to face the true extent of their brokenness. In a world where we have too many whims catered to, we are profoundly disjointed from one another.

On some level I think even the people who think justice for refugees is “too hard”, “too expensive” [please note it is actually less expensive than the current practice of incarcerating them], or “too dangerous”, I think even those people’s hearts secretly yearn to think differently. We must dare it! As a society, as individuals we must begin to build values into how we live. And maybe that will mean less drunkenness and carousing. I stopped having time for drunkenness and carousing only when I found myself and was able to step into meaning and hope.
The gospel is puzzling, and wiser heads than mine have written a lot about it. There seems to be a level of otherworldliness about Jesus in this reading. He rises above the need for revenge, to me the clearest part of the reading, and then he speaks of the heavy price he has paid for his strong commitment to his vocation. He does not have a “home”. This is where I am puzzled. Does this really mean that we have to be unanchored in this life in some way? Do we always have to wonder through as a sort of an alien? And then when he does not even allow a would-be follower to look after his family responsibilities I frankly feel angry (look at how the Catholic church views both legitimate and illegitimate children of clergy for example!).

But I remember at uni learning about the symbolism of the plough. A plough represents power and mastery over the (feminine) earth, it can be equated with a rapacious relationship. So putting your hand to the plough could represent and overinvestment in the powers of this world. The minute you start to take what is not rightfully yours, to try to control and force your way into wealth and ease you have turned your back on the kingdom of God. But of course if no one plants a garden then we will all starve. Metaphors are limited that way.

The readings are little pericopes, dividing up the long and complicated series of texts that is our “Scripture” into bite-sized chunks. They are a gift to be used carefully and in context. Just as “the Sabbath was made for us, not us for the Sabbath” so the scripture was made to help, challenge, enlighten or comfort us but not to rule us. Although I felt hostile and suspicious to these readings, they help me clarify what I think is wrong in the world and the church and to ally myself to the values I think God calls me to.

I don’t think it is arrogant to do that. I think it is irresponsible not to.

Forward in prayer and love.

Free to collaborate in love

“Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” Can this suggestion by Jesus undercut the overall tenor of the way these readings have been combined seemingly to try to argue for an authoritarian and patriarchal (based on the 12 patriarchs of the 12 tribes) view of church authority? What then if we refused to let our hearts be troubled or afraid but stoutly look for a transgressive reading that will liberate us from the more oppressively traditional interpretations?

In the first reading, some unnamed people have decided that they can speak with authority of the church and preach a rules-based slavish adherence to one part of the cultural heritage of the church. They say that you can’t follow Christ unless you are circumscised. Rather than reading this in an anti-semitic way, let us consider other church teachings over the years that have been needlessly prescriptive, oppressive or misguidedly heaped on the shoulders of the laity?

Unless you eat fish on Fridays you cannot be saved

Unless you go to church every single week you cannot be saved

Unless you are heterosexual you cannot be saved

If you use contraception you cannot be saved

If you disobey the clergy you cannot be saved

If you read and interpret the bible for yourself instead of trusting the church hierarchy you cannot be saved.

Some of these seem ludicrous to us today, but would have been the church’s common sense not so long ago. Some sadly there are still many people within the church who would subscribe. This is the prescriptive and narrow-minded side of church teaching, all of that which is dogmatic but not liberative and ignores the autonomy of the person to respond to God in free relationship rather than only through trembling obedience to the church. This compares to the circumcision argument in the first reading.

Along come Paul and Barnabbas from the apostles and elders and tell them they have no mandate to be so bossy. The wording is unfortunate “you have no mandate from us” as if Paul and Barnabbas et al run the church. The real point is “you have no mandate from God to be needlessly prescriptive and bind people into rigid, lifeless traditions”. The traditional reading here of course is that the “apostles and elders” are the proper authorities and the way we are church needs to always be guided by their authority. They are shown to be a liberative and wise authority that prevents abuses of power. OH IF ONLY!!!!

The fact is as women we know that the “apostles and elders”, or at least the officially sanctioned ones are all too often the ones doing the opressing, repressing and abusing. There are voices of abuse victims reverbating from several generations of having the courage to speak out and I think we risk a very serious sin indeed if we ignore these voices (like the blood of Abel calling for vengeance at the dawn-times of our tradition). There is also the present, ongoing prevention of women from having full participation and fair representation in how the church makes decisions about things that frankly men have amply demonstrated they neither understand nor are capable of understanding.

So the call to obey the “right authority” of the church is one that makes the hairs on my neck stand up. There is danger here, engage hermeneutic of suspicion! But the overarching agenda to reduce unnecessary burden on the believer, yes this is an important point. To do this well, I think we understand in the 21st century, needs a degree of democratic engagement (time for the catholic church to come out of its medieval cave and realise this) and a respect for boundaries and for the autonomy of the individual. That is I can have a rational discussion with you about whether contraception is good, bad or indifferent but if my life experiences are very different than yours, and I in no way (or in minimal ways) am able to support the consequences of what you decide, then I don’t really get to make that decision for you. This is called respect, it’s a side-effect of character traits like peace, gentleness and self-control which are supposed to be  fruits of the Holy Spirit. But the spirit of slavery that Paul warns about is rife in the church, in the way authority cracks down on people but also in us, in the way we accept unwise authority and do not take responsibility to think for ourselves.

Even though there is this picture in the second reading of a dazzling construction that is the “city of God” and perhaps a metaphor of the church, and it has inscibed on it the names of the Twelve, again appearing to lend credibility to patriarchal authority. There are significantly no temples or lights in the city. The lamb is enough. We do not need other rituals or lights shedding light for us, each one who comes to the city can directly look upon “the lamb” for light and for inspiration, each of us can personally worship not through the mediating influence of a temple. The Twelve are mere gates or foundations of tradition, but who says there may not be other ways to come to the lamb, to the only light.

Once again there has been enough in the reading to engage my hermeneutic of suspicion but I can respect that tradition has at times a richness without being bogged down in the tradition, I can pass on through to Godself. It would be easier and safer if tradition was reliable and if church authorities were infallible but there is light more than sun or moon for us. There is the lamb.

And so we pass onto the gospel and see what this “lamb” has to say.

Jesus here once again like last week shows that his words and deeds are identical to the words and deeds of God (here called the father). The Spirit is also brought into the discussion and we see the identical interests and work of the Spirit as one with the “father” and with Jesus. So in a sense there is grounding for trinitarian understanding here, but it is also about an alignment of interests and trusting collaboration as discussed last week. Love of Jesus is shown by keeping Jesus’ word. It sounds as if Jesus has made promises about the reign of God and if we love him we will try to keep those promises. But it is a mistake to see the vocation here as merely words, preaching in the narrow sense. The word of God is elsewhere called “alive and active” it actualises what it preaches. And that is what we do to keep the word of Jesus. So then we are brought into trinitarian action through love. I don’t say we become God, as I am not attempting idolatry here but we ARE CALLED to move toward becoming one with God in interests, intention and action. So that if our response to our vocation was perfect we WOULD be drawn into God’s identity but at least through our love for Jesus we achieve this partially (and more when the Spirit teaches us).

Lastly as a look forward to next week’s attention, if we loved Jesus we would rejoice that he was going to the “Father”. So if we selfishly hand onto the feet of Jesus and try to keep him here as a rigid idol or a fossilised token of assurance then we are not loving Jesus. Jesus asks for the same freedom and autonomy he is offering us. We become unified through the Holy Spirit’s movement and out love-response not through obedient or co-dependent toxic relationships.

And if that is Jesus’ desire then it really needs to become the church’s desire too. We the church will resemble our beloved Christ when we stop trying to control people, when we trust people’s free love-responses and movement toward the beloved. In a flawed and hurtful world that is very hard to believe of course. But this is what it measn to love God. Challenge accepted.

Dust and remembering

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” I don’t think they say that on Ash Wednesday anymore and in many ways I guess the change is progressive. I do remember the first time I came across that particular statement. I was new to English speaking and there was a very tall priest in a red chasuble (I am sure it was red though usually they seem to wear purple)…he looked like a scary wizard to me standing there so aloof and severe looking with his little grey bowl and I had to go up to him, it felt like all by myself though considering I was 5 or so years old I am sure my parents would have accompanied me.

“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” he said, he sounded utterly forbidding, even angry. I felt “told”. I knew lent was all about thinking about how sinful we all were and how much we deserved God’s punishment and I was already feeling unworthy. But he could dismiss a little five year old girl as “dust” without even eye-contact. It shocked and frightened me. Now of course I know he was telling the truth because that is exactly what this world does to little girls. They are dust, stripped of a name and identity and incarcerated in Manus. They are dust, targets for marketing practises that clearly see them as less than boys and potentially always less than men (but pretty), or as nonentities. The patriarchal church was quite honest in reminding me that I am always and necessarily dust and to dust I shall return.

So what is dust?

I was interested some years ago when my children got into this series by Philip Pullman. He had one interpretation of the possibilities in “dust”. Going back further I remember bus-rides to Broken Hill and the willy-willies, the little spinning pillars of dust. Dust there was something that could dance. Dust is dry earth, being material, being here, belonging to this planet. We live our material lives and our bodies decay and return into the earth- rich dust, plant food, the stuff of life. The star-dust that our earth was originally made of, transformed into living, breathing, hoping, loving but transient beings.

Remember then that you are stardust and to stardust you will return.

So there is star-dust also gold-dust. We dust our cakes with sugar or cocoa for sweetness and to make them look prettier. Are we dust in any of those ways? Can I choose what I am “fine, dry, particles” of? What if I can be God-dust, little particles of a greater reality? What is the dust that is my true essence and to which I shall return?

What sort of dust I am will affect how I begin and keep my lent. If I am a meaningless entity, “dust” in the sense of useless or waste matter (like I used to think) then I should probably ignore lent and just be as hedonistic as possible, for the short time I am. A willy-willy is no good for growing things in, so it doesn’t weigh itself down with water, it simply dances and dances without care for the others it is useless to.

This I think is the path many despairing people have gone down in our first-world “sty of contentment”. There is no longer any sort of certainty or meaning to be found anywhere so we may as well eat, drink, be merry and keep our “different” people. You make yourself pretty unpopular if you ever say anything that is biased or political. Being “apolitical” means living in unexamined privilege, it is a luxury we have convinced ourselves we can finally afford. There the authentic Christian becomes dust in a different way, we may have a conscience that clings to the surface of things and makes it impossible for the luxurious escapism to be pure and gleaming. Our dust is the awkward questions we bring to our society, not “can we afford the refugees?” but “what gives us the right to even consider not taking them in?”

As Isaiah has pointed out, there are a lot of very religious people caught up in this wilful ignorance. We can all spend one more Ash Wednesday “humbling ourselves” but not noticing.

Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

So it’s not just a case of giving up chocolate for a slimmer waist-line (worst luck). God is actually holding me responsible for the state of the world. This is where it would be easy to give up because it is all too big and too hard and anything grandiose I attempt is doomed to failure.

So in all honesty, I will break it down and make a lenten commitment that I hope I can actually stick to.

  1. In my leadership positions at work and elsewhere to consider “my” workers and be a consultative, considerate and nurturing leader who shows a lot of patience toward the children and adults I work with. This includes being more careful not to let my frustration against them turn into nasty talk about them.
  2. I will actually give up buying books and takeaway coffees for lent AND USE THAT MONEY for an organisation that tries to redress imbalances, particularly imbalances of race, class or gender. I will also attend at least 2 protests or send at least 2 emails (it is all too easy to make excuses)
  3. I won’t give into the temptation to think badly of myself and adopt a sackcloth and ashes attitude toward my failures, incapabilities and weaknesses. I will seek more constructive ways to redirect myself into a purposeful life (I have been so depressed lately but wallowing in self-hate is NOT what God asks of me)
  4. I will share as generously as I can with people who are in my life who can benefit from my generosity especially if I discreetly help them without them having to feel grateful or indebted. I know how that is done because I have had people do it to me. At least once a week I will contact either my great aunt or my grandmother both of whom I neglect.

I won’t do any of these things because I feel guilty, or because I am a “bad” person or because I link the way I am “dust” to worthlessness. I will do it because it is a way of empowering myself to repent from my unhappiness and be filled with life again. I will be happy at the opportunity to give these gifts to God knowing they are really appreciated. This is my light breaking. This is my ruins being rebuilt.

So publically “bragging” about my Lenten discipline, not such a good thing to do in light of the gospel? But I hope it is obvious that I am not attempting to be particularly holy or try anything too immense. I hope that by being open about the weaknesses I struggle with and my attempts to move back toward God, I will be kept honest, I will feel I have to follow through and actually do these small things.

I am dust, I am fine particles of earth I am embodied and dependent on my physical substance. I return to dust, constantly, to the small interactions and physical moments of every second of my transient embodiment here. Perhaps there is something in me, a “soul” dust also of God. My body will return to the dust of the earth, my soul yearns always toward reunification with the star-dust of eternity, of meaning, of right relationship. Omnipresent dust which calls me to return.

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.

 

 

 

 

Kingdom, power, glory and other distractions

“You say that I am a king.” Jesus throws that particular metaphor back on Pilate- back on the pseudo-objective, rationalist, judgemental part of ourselves, the part too cowardly to be moved by compassion and deeper visceral wisdom. Yes we do say that don’t we…we reify kingship and power and greed: patriarchy and kyriearchy in placing Jesus on side with the rulers of this world, with the fathers. Even when he criticises or replaces them he does it (in our storytelling) as a rival and a winner, as the hyper-masculine suffering body that triumphs. We have read this “truth” in this way for so many years and we have settled in this exile of Lords and Fathers. How can we sing Wisdom’s song in this desolate land? How do we differently make sense of the radical transformative action of Jesus.

I look at a greed-torn world, a “kingdom” of cowardly and wilfully blind citizens and I don’t see a “reign of Christ” in action. Not if Christ is God, is that still small voice of challenge, the call to justice, the instinct to kindness, the presence of love. Where is that in the ruling of this universe? How does the torn and poisoned earth experience Christ’s “reign”. I do not think that after two millenia of this we need to keep trotting out the same old pious Pollyanna-statements where when all else fails we are stubbornly “glad” because “Christ is king”. Religion becomes the equivalent of an ecstasy tablet, we take it to ignore reality and we feel damn good– meanwhile the oikonomia of God’s household is still in disarray. We are not taking care of our earth and our little human selves at all well.

Our so-called “king” is in exile. We are too damn racist to accept a king who sits on the earth with Indigenous people or travels in leaky boats with refugees. We are too misogynist to allow a queen within the eternal Christ/Wisdom person who walks with us and suffers with us and calls us to something simpler and truer and less glamorous than a “kingdom”. Where is the justice and kindness and simple barefoot humility that is “all” we are called to? We force this exiled, suffering Christ down onto a throne and nail a crown to his head and hail him as a human construction of oppression, as a “king”.

“Holy” we bleat, “God you are so cool”. We say “Lord. Lord, Lord, Lord” day and night and ignore the work to be done. Wisdom walks through the streets, mixes wine and talks to the “just anyones” that our church pushes out. Christ labours in the great harvest while we pour the chemicals of patriarchy and racism over everything and try to sell Christ short on infertile patented seeds of a pre-determined kingdom of euphoric nothingness. “Those who suffer the ecstasy of the animals”, snuffling up to the ankle or the hand of a master, behaving obsequiously and expecting a pat for it. “Those who glitter with the glory of the hummingbird” self made members of a royal court, dressed in the fine threads of someone else’s labour and feeling a nauseating delusion of superiority. This is our religion at times, a lip service to the truth of the labour of God’s struggle and an profound orientation to everlasting “death”.

We have one life to love God- not to worship in a way that distances God and makes a Christmas pageant of “Him”, but in a close, intimate way that is committed to the pain of always giving birth to justice, kindness and right-relationship. We don’t work, or suffer, or achieve things “for” God, for some distant and glittering king that demands things from us. We engage in the work that God is already doing, we orient ourselves toward life and love. We follow a beloved not extol a figurehead.

I realise I am quarrelling with tradition today and even with scripture and I have not had time to do a careful analysis of those readings so I am writing from the gut. But I am no courtesan playing political games and competing for the favour of a spoilt king. At my best I am a (junior) co-worker with the tireless justice-maker Christ, at my worst I might be distracted into the sort of pretty feel-good religion of the spectator at a royal progress. If we want to say that Christ “reigns”, then we have a lot of work to do to make love the new common-sense.

My heart is mutinous at the thought of a ruling class God!

 

Stop enabling

I tried to write a blog about this week’s readings and I felt angry at all the different ways that exploitation of humans (women in each case) was reified as part of God’s plan and then I tried to pull back and find some good news in there to try to say that God was actually on side with the oppressed and we should…we should… and here I drew blanks. How do you respond to what is essentially a text of terror? And especially when the church uses it as a model for the Christian life that a good Christian is like Ruth or the starving widow or the almost penniless widow and is prepared to be used up and spat out in the service of God’s kingdom (or only to be nurtured by God as part of a greater plan of faithfulness to more important figures).

I want to radically follow God out of love, but not to be exploited and especially not to be part of a long tradition of the clergy and other all-male groups trivialising, exploiting and casually using women. NO FUCKING WAY.

So I wrote it and didn’t post it, I thought I would sleep on it. And then I checked my email and a friend of mine who is a sort of feral priest (ie too female to get any compensation or even acknowledgement from the exploitative Catholic church) had a rant in there about being “preached” to by people who have just got no idea. I won’t steal her story or her ideas as such, but that seemed a very productive track to go down to consider how dare I “preach” at all and who would I “preach” to and what presumptions and privilege might be contained within my preaching.

I don’t tend to like being “preached at” actually. I often feel like the person standing out the front going “blah, blah, blah, blah” wrongly assumes that I am many steps behind them on my spiritual journey and disrespects the ways I might be their equal or even ahead of them. I don’t believe we should preach that way as if to inferiors. I am not Jesus if I elevate myself (the first part of this week’s gospel makes that clear before moving into the text of terror which gets zoomed in upon in the opposite way to how the context sets it up).

The (mostly male) superior preachers who want to teach little old inferior me how to live (all without ever walking so much as half a step in my shoes or even bothering to make the smallest effort to find out anything about my life or experience) lack what we in qualitative research call REFLEXIVITY. They don’t stop to analyse who it is who is doing the preaching, that they are not just a wise conduit for God’s infallible wisdom (with a small “w” because it is not really Wisdom when it is bound by patriarchy) but that they are human beings caught up in webs of power relations in a society riddled with inequalities and that not only are they the relatively privileged, but that they also within the reign of God are pilgrims and sinners as are the “congregation”.

I am not saying that priests never examine their own conscience and never engage in their own spiritual journey, it would be wrong of me to speculate on that and God I am sure sees whatever good work or gaps exist in that work. I am simply saying that by setting up a one-way power relationship where “the people” are not meant to see “the priests” humanity there is a sort of dangerous hubris that leads to the greater and more dangerous abuses of power. It is also both discouraging and unhelpful to have to humour these people by listening to their self-satisfied and often superficial drivel week after week with little or no opportunity to speak back.

Having said that I hope that anyone who wants to take issue with what I am “preaching” is free to leave a message disagreeing with me, which provided it is not abusive I would allow on my wall. And you also are not a captive “congregation” but can tune in or out of what I choose to write as you wish.

I have tried to make it clear in this blog who I am- a disenchanted “Christian”, a graduate of theology, a single mother, a lesbian, a white middle-class person with a job and all the rest of it. In all those claims about my identity I am identifying what my bias might be and realising for me to try to speak from some ivory tower of “knowing” to you whoever reads this is arrogant, unless I realise that your different “knowing” might be equally enlightening to me, and unless I show that my struggles with these difficult texts are part of my Christian journey of NOT having all the answers and NOT always being “right”.

So Ruth makes herself available to Boaz so that she won’t starve and conceives a son for Naomi. The widow and her son are saved by God ONLY because of God’s interest in the survival of Elijah. Despite Jesus’ words about the exploitative hubris of priests, all the church sees in the widow’s donation of more than she can afford is a great role model for the poor and down-trodden in the pews to be guilted into following. Jesus is the ultimate high priest, advocating for us before God not constantly haranguing us that we are “not good enough” but other priests do NOT advocate for the oppressed within church and society and just preach spiritual opium and escapism to the masses.

The church is riddled with cancerous growths called patriarchy and privilege. It is bound into service of the ruling class and regularly commits adultery by serving the interests of capitalism rather than its spouse, Christ/Wisdom. It is addicted to its own cleverness and relatively easy place in a troubled world. We, the people must stop enabling. We must stop making excuses for the black eyes and hurt feelings, stop separating ourselves from the things that can give us life and stop being unconditionally faithful to the abuser, the patriarchal church. We must stop hurting Wisdom herself by blindly following and excusing, stop collaborating in the myriad oppressions of the world and the church.

If we have one coin between ourselves and death, we must use that coin to buy bread for our children not let it be sucked up by a not-even-grateful church. If we have a vocation we must dance it away from those who steal our labour and our dignity…somehow this must be possible. We must glean some sort of future for ourselves the widows and orphans of the institutional church!