Tag Archives: peace

Tropes, activists, the whole self and permission to rest

14th Sunday Ordinary time year a

5 July 2020 Stef Rozitis

As a writer of fiction, I love to take a trope – some character or situation that the reader thinks they recognise and twist it. Subvert it. It may not surprise you that I normally either queer it or add a feminist twist, or sometimes both. To me the first reading is doing the same thing, beginning with a trope, something we think we understand the pattern of and giving it a twist.

We have our trope, the victorious king returning to his admiring beloved. The plot twist is he is humble, he is riding on a donkey with an agenda of demilitarisation. I only wish our own government would take that idea up too. Instead we have huge public spending on missiles and semi-automatic weapons while there are cuts to education, health, welfare and the abc. Remember that oppression by Romans was Jesus’ lived reality and that the Jewish Scriptures are largely about a small nation struggling with one oppressive power after another and having to be reminded time and again to keep their sense of justice and compassion- kindness to the widow and orphan. This was not charity, the widow and orphan were entitled to be kept it was more like welfare.

  If the bible reveals Wisdom, I feel it reveals a humorous Wisdom who is great company and subverts rather than nagging us. She is always doing or saying something unexpected to make us have to reconsider business as usual. This occurs in both the Jewish scriptures and the New Testament, the words of Jesus are particularly prone to have a sting in the tail, a reversal, a push beyond what is comfortable. Here the trope of the powerful king-saviour becomes a disarming force.

This is not comforting for those of us who have privilege, unless we choose to wilfully misunderstand it. Anyone invested in inequity will lose out in the new regime, and let’s be honest that could be us. But as Christians we are called to justice, to right relation and through the sacraments we develop a taste for what is fair a hunger for God’s reign. In our intersecting networks of the social, material and economic world we have to navigate, this humble, pacifist, powerful Godde is both comfort and threat.

Yesterday I went to the Bla(c)k Lives Matter rally. From the moment I sanitised my hands I had a feeling that I was walking into a church, that there was something holy going on. Notice how COVID has brought back the rituals of washing our hands before entering church and before Communion with a new importance?

The MC kept telling us to “open our ears” when she introduced each speaker and she reminded me of Mark’s Jesus in the way she said that and in the way she could show compassion for people without messing around or interrupting the flow of the event. She said uncomfortable things, but that’s not really a point of difference from Jesus either. One of the speakers told us we needed to develop a “hunger and thirst” for justice and then came the Black Virus.

The Black Virus is the nickname of an Aboriginal Elder who was old enough that he needed a folding chair to address us. He started with humour and mischief but as he went on he couldn’t help himself  and began to share an obviously beloved vision of a demilitarised, respectful, loving future. He expressed love especially for the young ones of his people, that was something that the rally was full of- inter-generational affirmations from old to young and from young to old. AS he spoke a cloud parted and a ray of light suddenly bathed him and he said “there you see? This is what the ancestors want. My ancestors and yours” and he went on to say that his vision would benefit everyone whether they were Aboriginal or not and it was what we owed to future generations.

To the Black Virus (who I am sure also has a real name), as an Aboriginal man there is a sacred law that is based on caring for land and for other people. This was his ethic, tied in with his spirituality that there is a law and that we will all be happier if we follow it. He saw his way as not only more compassionate than the rule of the market but also more sustainable. “But first put down your weapons so we can talk” he said.

We need a response to global events that does not create an arms race. We need solutions in society that open doors for people and provide for their needs not that view people as merely a means to create profits thought production and consumption. We need a leader on a donkey not a warhorse, one who breaks the bow.

I feel wary of the second reading, because I have learned not to trust the spirit/flesh dichotomy, I prefer to consider myself as body-mind-soul all one. God has charged me to take care of my body, my soul, my mind as a unified entity not a war against itself. Our selves are the smallest kindom we inhabit and we ought to befriend our own imperfect, sometimes wobbly and always ageing bodies. However looking past the dichotomy which surely shows the influence of some patriarchal philosopher, might we find a useful take home message here too?

 There is a world of the obvious, of what Gramsci has called “common sense” (not necessarily “good sense”) the taken for granted needs that are actually socially constructed. So if I say I need a “job” that is a socially constructed need, whereas if I say I need to do meaningful work that benefits my family and my community that is closer to what the actual need behind it is. Something that is socially constructed can of course be real and is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be opened up for questioning and allowed to evolve whereas the deeper truth behind it though harder to define is set. Another example if I say “I need a burger” it’s a fairly crude socially constructed version of my actual need to feed myself.

 So if we live with needs that are socially constructed we also socially construct ways of being bodies, ways of enacting our earthliness. God might call us to question our way of being or doing body, might call us to a deeper, more engaged life of contemplation, compassion and connection. While individually trying to get in touch with our deeper selves and live closer to God is a good thing, there is a dimension of this which needs to be collective and social. How do we build a world grounded in the Spirit of the risen Christ?

We have so internalised ideas like “productivity” and we measure so many things about ourselves so that we might always fall short and have to try harder. But in the Spirit of the resurrected Christ we owe no debts to some idea of being productive, or allowing our own oppression, or the oppression of others and the tangles of responsibility which require that oppression to remain unquestioned. Our call is to be radically free, and this is only confirmed in the gospel.

I have to admit that when I initially read the gospel for this week I yelled out “are you kidding me?” because here Jesus is saying “my yoke is light” but elsewhere he is saying” take up your cross and follow me” and “whatever you do to others you do to me” and neither of those concepts is a light yoke. God is used to my not very pious outbursts and let me think on that as I cooked myself dinner.

My current thinking, which people here or life or God might push me to develop further is that the cross is not of Jesus’ making. Jesus was not made for suffering and violent death he was made for providing wine at a wedding, and stories and bread to the multitudes, and healing to the sick but then the commitment that he had to us meant he couldn’t back out. The cross is our yoke on Jesus and on each other not Jesus’ yoke on us. We would not have to work ourselves into weariness trying to advocate for and heal and help the underprivileged if we just all worked together to make loving-kindness the rule and if all were treated as if they matter. Black lives matter- oh yes they do just like a Galilean fisherman of dubious parentage mattered when he was being tortured and killed for who he was.

But Jesus is not calling us into a yoke of oppression or exploitation. I could paraphrase his words as: “learn from me because I am not invested in the rat race and if you work with me I will liberate you”. One thing I need to take note of is that rest is definitely permitted. Rest is mandated. Jesus wants us to rest.

So take a moment to ponder or even just to rest. Be in this beautiful space and know that God wants to liberate you from all that burdens you, the tangles and inequities and frustrations of a world that has yet to put down its weapons, break out of its habits of greed and fear and just rest in Wisdom.

We need each other too so after a few moments please feel free to share your thoughts with those a safe distance away but closest to you.

Tasting and living

Are any readers still with me? If so please forgive me for my long gaps between posts. This week’s readings were about Eucharist AND about mental health and I felt a connection to them. Initially the discipline was to write about readings whether I felt a connection or not, but life has got busier. I write when I can now.
In the first reading, Elijah is depressed and/or fatigued. I know it is anachronistic to call something BCE “clinical depression” but the parallel is close enough to be useful. Elijah is worn out, demoralised, has self-esteem issues and wants to just sleep and pretend he is dead. Relatable!
An angel calls him, not to remonstrate with him but to bid him to eat (the angel has provided the food). If we consider the heart of our tradition, the Eucharist then we know that eating symbolically means love, companionship, presence, sharing, healing, holistically the good of the soul as well as the body. The angel offers Elijah something that may be material (actual food) and may be a form of moral support, probably both. Food is caring, being told to eat is being told to self-care and being provided with food is being supported by a person or a community.
So we have God’s response to a depressed person. God gives care.
Elijah eats and says “that is nice” and lies back down still depressed and lack-lustre. The angel reminds him to self-care properly and acknowledges that the journey is long. The food offered is what is needed for the specific challenge facing Elijah. He gets up eats and drinks and manages a forty day marathon walk to the place of God.
Notice he is not forced into some sort of capitalist work-ethic but he is fed for a journey to God. He is fed to become part of the life-force that will awaken and feed others. Our business here on earth is becoming angels of hope and encouragement. I have been fed by many such angels this week.
The psalm bids us to “taste” God’s goodness. Taste is the sense of abundance and plenty. God in the psalm is so materially and closely to us “good” that we can taste the goodness. The afflicted one has called out and has been heard and rescued (please God remember the afflicted refugees). The human in the psalm calls out God’s goodness and also calls out to God. We are noisy beings seeking connection. God is food and protection and presence.
The second reading challenges us to seek peace and non-violence. It is hard not to feel so consumed with rage that we act out violently. But it makes the Holy Spirit sad when we do so. To connect in with the spirit is to connect in with radical and courageous peace. For me such a thing is definitely still work in progress. God was peaceful and loving first so we do have a model however (this does not always come through in some parts of the bible). Christ as an offering was “fragrant” again the sensory connection.
Perhaps all the Christian denial of the body at many times in history is flawed thinking. God might love us in our embodied, actual selves in a physical, material world made of scents and tastes and sounds. Let us see if this holds true travelling into the gospel.
In the gospel the official church does not like Jesus’ outrageous claims that he is bread come down from heaven. Jesus says that there is something that draws people to him for teaching. Jesus’ teaching then is rich once more in material ideas- bread, life, moving “down”, flesh. Jesus’s giving is radical and risky. Jesus trusts people to come nearer, enter his presence and learn his peace. How can Jesus trust this? A cynical part of me sees only the cross as an end to someone who believes that there can be any good in human nature.
Are we supposed to hope and trust in people after Jesus did so and was killed? This I suppose is the test of our faith, whether Eucharist means anything, whether resurrection is a fact or an escapist myth. But what if we turn away from the bread from heaven? We can only live if we eat this bread of calling upon people’s better self and offering wisdom.
God is relational and physically immediate in the readings and I pray for my relationships and my physical world (the reef, the Murray, the Bight). God feeds us and I pray I will receive the sustenance I need. God calls me and I seek a path to respond. We are here to feed each other. Jesus comes not to give us rules or punishments but to set the table and be the bread.
Let’s not build more walls, let’s make longer tables. Let’s set a place for every Jesus, the one we underestimate. Let’s allow each person to become the bread that feeds our understanding. Let us be the bread that brings life to others.
Arise, eat, you will need the strength.

Small signs toward peace

I am tired and busy and have too much on my plate at the moment. But each time I log on I see that every day I seem to have had at least one reader, usually more. I am filled with love and gratefulness that someone is looking at my words and thus motivated to try to write at least something short even this busy week. It is more prayer than reflection this week…

Peace giving, peace leaving Wisdom,

But I confess my heart is troubled and at times I am afraid.

What is peace in a world where some children are starving, “must starve” they tell us? What is a quiet heart in a night where others are being rained on and driven away by homeless spikes?

If you give us “peace” why do your followers start wars, and abuse children, oppose human rights for people made queerly in your image? If you “leave” us peace as a legacy does it mean you have already left the building?

We say “look not on our sins” as if you can overlook the ageless call of Abel when we are jealous and kill our brother (our sister, our own mother Earth). “Look not on our sins but on the faith of your church” as if the church itself were not riddled with doubts and cynicism and legalism and the petty politics of the determinedly patriarchal.

And when we pray for peace, do we want it for our enemies too? Do we want peace for those who hammer at our gates demanding that we stop averting our eyes from the unpalatable truth that we have failed to love? Will peace replace or answer the tough questions about how to make room at the table and how to live with difference- of culture, belief, outlook and idea? Will the “unity” of your kindom be genuinely open to complex understandings or simply a sullen silence and obedience?

When this prayer comes up every week, ever time I can’t help smirking, that if liberation from my own (individual) sin depends upon the “faith of the church”…what peace is there? A church that self-righteously keeps out women from leadership, gays from marriage and gives sanctuary, even encouragement to child abusers…

“Yes but…” you say dear ever-challenging Wisdom and you turn my face to look around the circle, at people who give their lives for others. You show me people who work tirelessly for refugees, for the imprisoned, for human rights, for the hope-filled education of youth and care of the old. You show me people who have fed and welcomed me and gifted me hope and feminism.

“Is this not your church?” you gently ask, without pointing out my obvious hypocrisy in having considered only that large, patriarchal monolith “church” and ignoring the community of faith.

We are all overtired and fearful and troubled. We are lonely and needy and carrying baggage of our years. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of Godde.

Let us spend this day, this week, this lifetime offering peace and welcome. Let us tear down ill-conceived walls and build longer tables. Let us offer each other and beautiful Wisdom, signs of an orientation toward peace.

Amen.