Tag Archives: patriarchy

It is good for us to be here

I wrote this reflection and gave it at my church. I used the lectionary readings, which slightly differed from the ones used in the service, but it worked OK. I feel very supported and inspired by my faith community, thank God for them!

Without taking more time than usual I want to do two readings of today’s gospel. The first way of reading it, is not one that I like but it is one that seems to be invited by the context of these first and second readings, and by the way we know our church is structured. I will as usual read through a feminist lens, although it may seem like safety goggles in this case.

Women do not appear in the gospel reading. Jesus, takes three men with him only and they go up a high mountain to have a secret “inner circle” experience that others are not yet allowed to know about. This earmarks them as leaders of the future community after his death. While there he gets the seal of approval from two dead men from the patriarchal tradition. Even the voice of God stresses masculinity, uniqueness and power “this is my beloved son”.

Peter behaves quite logically. Upon seeing Jesus with Moses and Elijah, he humbly puts himself at the service of the more powerful alpha-male and offers to build some sort of semi-permanent structure to preserve the power and glory of this moment. Why should there be struggle and weakness and dissent when we can have certainty? Why not establish a religion based on rules and answers and infallibility? “It is good for us to be here”, it is good to be the powerful and the privileged and the inner circle, rather than being rebels against the system- rather than risking social ostracism and hardship and crucifixion. Given that their ministry has already meant blistered feet and hungry stomachs as well as being dogged by crowds and not allowed to rest, I don’t completely blame Peter for wanting to consolidate the shining, certain moment.

A voice from the cloud interrupts Peter, the vision fades and Jesus tells them to tell no one just yet.

Rereading, I want to insert my own “what ifs” into the story. What if this story is somehow relevant to me, who am not male and am not a leader within the church? I need to put aside my childhood baggage of Peter the stern first Pope and forbidding gatekeeper of Heaven, and shake the hand of the Peter I actually encounter in the gospel stories, to see if he lets me into the story a little more readily. Peter in gospel stories is actually a lot like me. He frequently gets things wrong. He is well-meaning, passionate, impulsive, at times his courage fails him and his vision is always at least one step behind Jesus. But he is persistent, reflexive, ready to be wrong and to bounce back and throw his enthusiasm in again. He follows Jesus with all the eagerness of a teenage girl with a crush (I hope that doesn’t offend anyone). He wants to impress Jesus with his commitment, his readiness to bounce into action, his willingness to see and know new things. Like anyone who really wants to impress their hero this makes him at times quite inept.

I feel this Peter can bring me up the mountain, part of a larger group of believers- men? women? As Judith outlined last week in her reflection the point is not to pick a gender but we are all children of God.

Peter’s motivation for offering to make tents may still be suspect- he may crave an easy road without the cross at the end of it, but don’t we all? He may want to have certainty and to feel that connection to tradition and to God that we all only feel in fleeting moments. A softer reading of Peter may allow him to be worrying not for himself only but for Jesus. He has spent time on the road, watching a beloved person who is utterly committed to his vision of better ways of being. He has watched people demand miracle after miracle from Jesus, and Jesus wear himself out and make enemies of the religious and secular powers of the day.

If he can make tents for his heroes- Jesus, Moses, Elijah- he can keep them near to nurture them and keep them safe. Peter can probably see the cross beginning to loom over Jesus’ fiery words. I imagine he could feel about Jesus, the way I feel letting my adult children out into the world (not that I can stop them). They bite off more than I think they can chew and face hurts and disappointments I wish I could cocoon them from.

Sadly for Peter, whether he wants the power of being an insider of an exclusive club or whether he wants to keep himself or his friend safe the moment fades. As the second reading reminds us, this isn’t some cleverly devised myth of “happily ever after”.

We also have this experience of life. There are bright, shining moments when we feel uniquely connected in with deeper realities and with the meaning of life itself. These moments may come in church, or through prayer, they may come in relationships or through experiencing the beauty of nature or art. Sometimes they come through our talents, when we feel really good about something we are doing or expressing or through having our work recognised by someone, especially someone we admire.

Those moments are fading and elusive, while every-day routines of paying bills and washing dishes take over. Nevertheless, the fading is not total. The memory of these moments infuses life to allow faith. We carry in our lives traces of meaning, the passion of knowing “it is good for us to be here”. We are reminded of that momentary joy in little things, in a beloved-one’s smile or words, in the flick of a dolphin’s tail, in the evocative soar of a piece of music, in the scent of the earth on our hands when weeding, in the taste of food shared, in the knowledge that today we have given something to God, achieved something for God, chosen the path of love and justice for God, noticed beauty that is God. Even in the greyest and most ordinary of moments there is always something of this, some echo of transfiguration.

I have spoken as if we are Peter, but through the sacraments we are invited also into being Jesus. Through our Eucharist, and through more mundane meals made from the miracle of earth and shared in love we take in mystery. The glory of Christ-Sophia cannot be preserved in a tent or a museum, as a reassurance to “us” or a sign to “them” that we are right. Instead it spills over in our opportunities to love our neighbour, and to walk gently and lovingly upon the earth itself.

We too are the beloved children of God. Let us know that God is well-pleased with our capacity to fulfil that identity. Let us sit with that a short while and then listen to each other.

 

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Bread for everyone

“Ask and the church will deny it of you, because it is not how we have always done things, seek and you will be told off for being out of your seat and off-task, knock and the door will be slammed in your face.” This is not how Matthew 7:7 originally went, but it feels like how it is trying to remain in relationship with”the church” hierarchy as a queer, ministry-bound catholic woman, and now even more so as a borderline coeliac.

I had decided, just today that given how many people I have been openly telling about my blog, it might be time to tone down the criticism and to try to focus on whatever positivity I can find within my faith…but I guess God let me know a long time ago that I was never going to be allowed to get comfortable and complacent within “the church” that the voice God called out of me was a fish-wife voice (read the prophets though, feminists are not God’s first fish wives nor even the most ranty). So I apologise for the negativity I really do…but I was thinking calm and half-baked thoughts about how to write about the next part of the mass (the Eucharistic prayer) all week when a woman at church drew all our attention to the latest silly rule made up by Rome.

It appears that when Jesus asked “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?…” (Luke 11: 11-12; see also Matt 7:9-10 where the question is about giving a stone instead of bread) he wasn;t reckoning with the callousness and lack of empathy of certain self-styled “fathers”.

In effect forcing a celiac to eat gluten (or you know, be excommunicated) is just that! I guess I am not a true celiac because I just try to take the smallest amount possible at communion time and live with the gut pain. Yes I get gut pain from gluten, like a stone in your tummy, or a scorpion stinging your insides. There are people more intolerant than me who can faint from gluten, from having it once. Most people I suppose wouldn’t die from one wafer, but it does add a disincentive to the habit of daily mass (which used to be a big thing for me when I was young). So that is the first problem with this teaching, the excusion (or torture) of people with Celiac disease.

This is compounded by a compassionless society that we currently live in, where people delight in trying to point out that differences in people are due to all sorts of psychologically motivated weakness, “lifestyle choices” and generally being a “special snowflake” and trying to debunk everyone else’s special needs while acting entitled around their own needs, wants and choices. Celiac sufferers can find it hard to be taken seriously by friends, family and people who sell food. The church has not caused this giant empathy vacuum (or at least not single-handedly) but surely if we read the words of Jesus we are supposed to be the antidote to it, the counter-cultural voice insistantly reminding that “actually I care”. For the church to side with the sneerers and shamers (in this case I think by omission rather than intent) defeats the purpose of even having a church. Sacrament is hollow when it is only for the privileged (see eg 1 Cor 11:22 and the background around that). God made disabled people, allergic people, yes church-Fathers even the queer people. Difference is part of the divine design, “In God’s own image” diverse and challenging (but if you think humans are too varied, try to get your head around parrots some time),

The second problem is that while it might seem reasonable to have a reductionist view of “bread” where it is always wheat and water (I question if the little circles they hand out at church are such a faithful or recognisable version of anything “bread”like in any case, and as a child was frankly delighted with the surrealism of it all) this binds us into a culturally chauvinist reading of the Last Supper where Jesus is excluding the vast millions of people on the planet for whom the staple is rice (or corn, or quinoa or anything non wheat-based).The bible in fact does not give us a recipe for the bread used at the last supper, it may well be reasonable to suppose it was made from wheat, but “bread” has not always and everywhere meant “wheat” my own mother used to make it out of rye and barley; my sister, a professional baker adds things like chia seeds or sunflower, or whatever in all the varieties of “bread” that people want for their meals- their suppers and picnics and date-nights and lunch-boxes. We buy loaves, rolls, flatbreads, buns made of oats, spelt, chickpeas, rice, tapioca, etc, etc etc. Mexican dinners get wrapped in bread made from corn. People in Asia see bread as strange and exotic as they team rice with ever meal (yes breakfast too).

Why do we need to limit what “bread” means other than out of a desire to limit people or exclude them. Did Jesus limit? Did he give strict prescriptions? He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes but we can’t even eat with Celiacs or Asians? Surely this is nonsense!

And that was the final point made by the (very articulate) woman at my church (please note the way I have teased out each point and the possible errors in my thinking are my own). That all this sternness over what can or can;t validly be called “bread” and this lack of understanding around how it is for some people (with real food intolerances, or from diverse cultural backgrounds) makes a laughingstock of the church. It gets harder for us to explain why we would want to be associated with it…which is fine if I am only worried about my vanity, my friends get to see me as a weirdo…I can live with it. But if there is actually something life-giving and possibly transformative within our tradition then surely we need to keep it as open and accessible as possible and avoid turning people off over trivialities!

I once again think of the huge and horrible scandal of abused children and how much harm has been done by the church’s REFUSAL to intervene in a serious matter- and then they get all upset over what recipe of wafer is being used. Clearly I am not a bishop or a cardinal but I fail to see the confusion here. Surely the life and well-being of children is a serious issue and the proper recipe for bread is a side-issue? Not the other way around. They make such a fuss over the right gender for priests and the right grain for bread and probably the right grapes for wine and yet the right treatment of human beings is something they are far too slow to speak or act upon. Why is that? And how does it look to the world? And how hurtful to be marginalised in so many ways- as a woman, as a queer person and now even as someone with a food intolerance (and in solidarity with Asian friends for whom “bread” is not what it is for a European/Australian like me).

Googling around the issue to try to double check that there really was such an edict from “Rome” I came across several stories of people working hard for many, many years to try to get around this rule by removing gluten from wheat (yes that is seen as more natural than making bread from something other than wheat). These recipes, which have taken over a decade in some cases to make successfully in a form that the Vatican allows, seem to have been developed by nuns.

So men make these unreasonable rules and women work harder than ever to ensure that the children are fed nevertheless. And who do we see as “ministers” of the sacraments and of God? There is a whole other feminist rant in that (as usual) division of labour but I am sure any reader who has got this far can see it for themselves.

I enjoy my habit of finishing with a prayer.

Loving God who created bodies- black, white, any colour, skin colour rainbow of browns and pinky-browns and tans. You created food- an abundance of food- grains of all kinds for bodies of all kinds, for stomachs of all kinds. You call us to break our “bread”, our everyday food and share it in memory of your body broken- you feed us body and soul to remind us to do the same. To take the grain, to make the bread, to labour and to love. To shape the meal to feed the needs of the body, to carry our celiac neighbour to safety. To bless wine and enjoy the complexity- the richness, the celebration, the friendship,

God you could have stamped us all out the same, as white round wafers are all the same but you chose to give us rainbow spirits in rainbow bodies- each one different, unique, needed to make the image whole. Harlequin God of shifting colours and differences bless us. Be our breads. Be our wines. Be the way we address our differences in love. Be the hand that offers health and acceptance with the bread.

We ask, we seek, we knock. We hunger and so do our brothers and sisters.

For more than crumbs, abundant God. For more than tokens on the margins. For more than a self-righteous ache in an irritated gut.

Embrace and feed us forever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loving God hear our tears.

 

 

Where is the love, the love, the love?

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

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

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

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

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

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

“you gave him a share in the divine life

through his union with Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

ReWording

I missed my self-imposed “deadline” although I have been thinking a lot about the second reading and it’s place in the liturgy and my own journey with those readings – often seeming like mini sermons but even more boring when I was a child and only really gaining any life when I studied Greek and also acquired a collection of feminist lenses (hermeneutic of suspicion but also the tendency to read between the lines and try to gather crumbs of liberative promise in the texts).

Over the years I think I have become less inclined to apologise for the text- to make excuses for it or try to redeem it from itself. Yes many readings are riddled with patriarchy. At the same time I find I no longer demand that the text show me “truth”. The text and I are sometimes like friendly ex-lovers or like best friends who have lived through their differences. I have learned when to refuse to listen and when to argue. Familiarity breeds contempt they say. There may be danger in this.

We do need more than one reading from tradition, but I do wonder why the lectionary is so set in stone, why we don’t sometimes use other letters, poems, stories, sermons or even paintings as our “second reading”? Or as our psalm- the use of the psalm is even more puzzling and unimaginative in the “set in stone” lectionary and liturgy. Psalms are about emotion, exaggeration- the artistic expression, the tantrum, the make-up sex of the bible. Why do we never draw or dance a psalm of our own instead of piously trying to follow a (usually uninspiring) tune placed on the anachronistic words?

I write and pray and make my own psalms all the time. Sometimes on a sunny day if I can get away with it I make a psalm by rolling down the hill or throwing autumn leaves at a friend (usually a child) or running with my son onto every sandbag at the beach or splashing water or photographing a rainbow or dancing at 3am (rarely now). Those are the songs of praise but I also construct a psalm in too much chilli in the soup when I have the sniffles, or in angrily burying the dead mouse my cat brought me or turning off the news because I am powerless to respond to it adequately or crying into my pillow or being awake in the middle of a work-night and fearing the death that already claimed my younger brother.

I’m not trying to “show off” with this sort of talk of psalm making. I am guessing everyone does this. How is it not a psalm unless it is written on scraps of papyrus by men from an ancient civilisation?

So the psalm would have endless possibility if we prayed with fewer boundaries keeping ourselves out of our prayers (and the melodramatic language of even the ancient psalms or sanitised fragments of psalms we pray at church have some potential).

And the second reading! Why not a reading from the wisdom of bell hooks? or Paolo Freire? Ok so that is a teacher’s bias in choosing those wisdoms. Why not Einstein? Why not Jane Goodall? All the readings that reveal Godde. A reading from the journal of a domestic violence survivor. A reading from the rap sheet of a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. A reading from the appeal by a refugee facing deportation. A reading from the weekly budget on someone whose Centrelink has been cut. This is our Jesus and we are crucifying him.

Or praise Godde and have a reading from a poem by a seven year old. A reading from a photo album of a childcare centre. A reading from a love letter kept for over 30 years. A reading from a bestselling novel. A reading from a wine critic describing a wonderful Shiraz (my bias thus shown). A reading from someone coming out as gay on a facebook status with all the attendant supportive messages from friends and family. For Godde so loved the world that she gave us sons and daughters to nurture and listen to. So that everyone who believes in them (the “least of Jesus’ brethren remember so I am not on heretical ground here) will have eternal hope and work to make the world better.

Last week’s second reading talked about the “stone rejected by the builders” and I thought of all the good solid stones and even the rubble filler that the church father’s rejected in initially building the church and how we have let our rejections become habit. The stuff about being “chosen” and “priestly” should have flattered and heartened me I suppose but all I was seeing was the multiple rejections we base our building on.

And yet Godde’s “cornerstone, chosen and precious” is one such (or every such?) rejected stone. We try to keep what is bad outside the church and we lose too much of what is precious. If we trusted Godde even a little we would be a people of hands and hearts not of walls and border-security.

The rejected people, outsiders,

borderland dwellers, liminals and criminals,

refugees, strangers, fallen women and women too bound to fall,

over here ones, queer ones, a rainbow of misfits,

labels peeled and worn, gaping holes and jagged edges,

rough diamonds or maybe just broken glass

extra-canonical, challenging or just plain wrong,

revised, rewritten, disputed,

“does not meet our current needs” or text of terror,

trivial or unpalatable.

Let us find in this text, this experience and this person, the Living Word.

Thanks be to Godde.

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.