Tag Archives: power

Unsilenced: like the rocks and the stones

Palm Sunday. I want to interrupt my current project to focus on Holy week because it is so central to the tradition. And because I have so little time I will do very short reflections (possibly to the relief of my readers).

At church the readings what stayed with me was the idea that the rocks would call out and praise God. That the natural world will take part in the conversation about what is right and important? Maybe but what other rock is there in the gospels? Peter. A close friend of Jesus, one with a vocation, one who often gets it wrong, one with a destiny to radical apostleship.

We are called to be like rocks- unsilenceable. I sat there thinking of Jesus’ prophecy/call to be unsilencable in the face of the priests (his priests of the church he was member of not some exotic “other”) and I thought of the recent Pope’s command to be silent on the question of women’s ministry. Seems like priests are always telling people to be silenced!!

But we refused to be silenced and we couldn’t. And when we do not speak as loudly as we could within the church the secular world of sociology and science and even the natural world speak things. The natural world is telling us that something is terribly wrong. That capitalism and militarism and patriarchy have not been what God’s creation needs. We know this in our female bodies our forbidden sensuousness, our secret places of beginning and nurture, our quiet loves – this is not to claim that no man can have known this, I think there are so many men also who are silenced who know crucial things.

And even the rocks shout to us of the origins of the universe and a long slow history without rapid change and then suddenly human arrogance and greed.

But we are supposed to be silent and say that Jesus’ wounds have healed us echoing Isaiah 53: 5. And the earth’s broken body gives us precious metals. And the broken body of the rape victim or refugee gives us some sort of moral high-ground. And the broken body of the mother denied the right to contraception or abortion gives us population. And the broken body of the refugee gives us economic security and cultural purity. We used that as a response in our prayer before communion “by his wounds we are healed” and I couldn’t say those awful, awful abusive words. Because I don’t require a scapegoat. If God hates me then I will be broken (God doesn’t hate me), I will not accept the abuse of someone else, I will not feel joy in the torture, humiliation and death of one who loves me.

Who would?

How do we theologise so blithely about such a horrifying thing?

Is this the same sort of denial that allows us to think that human rights has become “too expensive” that inequity can be labelled “choice” and that abuse victims are “asking for it”? If God can send “his” son to suffer and die for us then the upright Christian can throw his gay son out on the street to avoid “contaminating” and “shaming” the rest of the household. If God required the piercing and mocking of an innocent then a woman who is beaten and penetrated by force has only herself to blame and must be forced to carry any resultant pregnancy to term. If God was so keen to protect the sanctity and purity of some sort of state of being that was undone by Adam, then we can force people to convert to our religion or die.

But what if we are the mothers of the sons who die, what if we are the bodies broken for others and taken from the feeding and mocked and pierced? What if we are the stones that cry out and the possibility of liberation (while the other parade entering the same city that day was one of military might, conquest and repression). And the church is cowardly to try to silence the welcoming in of the subversive reign of God. Where were the clergy from my church at the march for refugees today (kudos to Uniting church and Quakers for having such a strong presence as well as at least 3 different groups of marxists, St Vinnies, various women’s peace groups and mainly very old and very young people (my generation was represented but barely).

But if we could have hoped that the celebratory feel of Palm Sunday was some sort of short-cut to the triumph of justice and God’s reign then think again. Jesus came in to clash with cowardly church leaders and threaten powerful world leaders and to ultimately be attacked for daring to challenge the powers that be. The misinformed masses mulled around between supporting his charisma and popularity but ultimately turning away to protect what security they had within the repressive political system and their respectability among their neighbours. Jesus’ closest friends were scattered in fear. The movement will soon collapse into the worst case scenario that is “Good” Friday.

Will we ever radicalise or will we leave it to the rocks and stones to protest against the constantly tightening injustice? How do we stand for Jesus in a world that is still chaotic and misinformed and a church that allies itself with worldly power and cowardice? Wouldn’t it be nice if this time there did not have to be a crucifixion…if the “gentle, angry people” quietly stopped cooperating with things that are not right and besides not in our best interests either.

But through the grace and love of God and our solidarity to our neighbour, every neighbour even in Manus, Bob Marley will be right that “Every little thing going to be alright” (that song too was in the pro-refugee Palm Sunday march). It won’t happen in a hurry though, and we’ve all got some work to do…

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.

Love one another

I had the opportunity to preach (or offer a reflection if you prefer) this week at my church. As always I felt privileged to do so. This week’s gospel and my reflections on it have been poignant for me because I am very aware that it is the love and generosity of others that puts me back together when I am broken, weak or lost. The liturgy I was privileged to lead today would also have fallen apart without the loving support of a whole lot of people who know more than me and particularly of my youngest son who came back from his “holiday” at his dad’s house just to help me do the liturgy 🙂

For the sake of brevity I am going to pass over two of the readings and dive right into this radical and stirring gospel. Jesus here is teaching us something about relationships, is calling us to a courageous way of relating that involves our trust and the autonomy of the other. If we accept what Jesus is showing and telling us here, it could revolutionise both the structure and working of the church and our personal lives.

Jesus, quite beautifully begins by giving us a glimpse into his own life with God. There is a relationship here that is not about control and obedience but such implicit trust that whatever Jesus does glorifies God and God responds immediately by glorifying Jesus in Godself. We recognise this complete alignment of interests when we refer to Jesus as the “Word” of God. Jesus’ doings and very being constantly express God’s inner thoughts and agenda. Neither seeks to control the other, neither is required to obey, simply the good of one is identical with the good of the other.

We don’t quite achieve this in our relationships with others. We do not have perfect understanding and are reluctant to trust. Sometimes the closer we are to a person, an institution an idea or a way of life the more we are tempted to take ownership over it, to exercise control, to see deem others as inferior in understanding, morals or ability as a way of justifying our own control. At the same time, and particularly for women who get a lot of pressure to consider themselves inferior, there is the opposite temptation to shirk responsibility by clinging to the wisdom, ability or authority of another.

It could be tempting here to see the perfection of union between God and Jesus and decide that this is Ok for them because they are perfect and are always right. But we are not always right and neither are our fellow humans. And yet Jesus moves from this ideal and perfect relationship to turn to us, to flawed and clinging humanity and offer us too that trust and that freedom to breathe and grow.

“Little children” Jesus acknowledges our feelings of vulnerability and ignorance. We face big mysteries like our own mortality, like infinity, like the complex, rich, diverse life of our planet. We try to sort out the important from the trivial but our perspective changes even as individuals. How do we reconcile what we think we know with what others seem to believe? Jesus admits we will feel alone with this, but then Jesus himself will be heard to cry out that God has “abandoned” him.

This is the price of being trusted and treated as an equal. Is it good news? That we cannot stand back and cling to an idea of Jesus doing all the work of salvation and struggle that we are called to. We are invited into an independence of thought an action, to seek to glorify God through our choices in love not in mere obedience. We are called to be so committed to the reign of God, that all of God’s agendas of justice are what glorify us too.

How reckless of Jesus to first pour everything out for us and then trust us with the precious seeds of a better world. Human history is full of our failures as church and society to do this work, to relate in this way. My own personal history mirrors this constant failure in a microcosm. I would expect Jesus to know better than to keep trusting me, but Jesus says “Just as I have loved you, I want you to love one another” not recalling the reckless and trusting love but showing it as a model for how I ought to be.

Those times that we get this right, that we love each other with the reckless and undemanding love of God then we are a powerful sign of God’s reality. The world sees that our discipleship has meaning when we do not turn our backs on abuse victims, or asylum seekers, or the elderly or struggling families. The world sees that we believe in something greater, when we stop trying to control or narrow others and instead work to understand, affirm and liberate all into the good news and justice of God.

Looking around, I see people here who live this reality, and I acknowledge that I have been drawn to Christ and back to Christ repeatedly not by constricting traditions and heavy-handed language about “Lord, Lord” but by the way individuals and families reach out to each other or reach out to me. We are all called to follow the radical call to trust, to liberate and to love. We are fortunate to have each other as examples of how powerfully a kind word or deed can preach hope and life. Let us take up the challenge to glorify God by how we love each other. Let us always seek to broaden our circles of influence, not with control but with trust and support of each other’s discipleship and a determination to bring love to others.

I now invite you to reflect on any aspect of the readings that speaks powerfully to you, and when you turn to speak to the people sitting near you to sense in their loving discipleship the presence of GOD.

Penumbra

This is the second part of Original which is a separate page on the site and I wish I knew how to stack its sequels under it. I recommend you read the first part first as it is not designed to stand alone. It’s fiction. You could see it as fan-fic for the bible if you like. My limited understanding of Midrash (I do admit I lie outside the Jewish tradition), is that this sort of meaning-making is a valid form of biblical interpretation.

Penumbra

I wish the damn snake hadn’t said that about Adam. Oh how I wish she had kept him out of it, or that I had had more wisdom! I should have stuck to the original plan and eaten the fruit and been kicked out without him. The problem was my panic at the very thought of being alone, even Adam was better than noone in some God-knows-where strange place for eternity and ever.

I am ashamed to say that I thought about the power I could gain over Adam if I took him something so dangerous and powerful, something he would never have had the bottle to get for himself. I thought I could force him to leave with me and turn the tables on him. That was my downfall, that moment of temptation, the thirst for revenge when a better whatever-I-am would have walked away. Because can you imagine what it would have been like without Adam?

But I gave in to the pettiness.

I went to the tree.

“Daughter” said an anxious voice. Was I so crazy now that I was hearing trees talk? I pulled off one of the apples from a low branch. There was a loud cry and the sound of something ripping in the sky, the fabric of reality – I had made a permanent change. I plucked another apple- such beautiful, shiny, silver apples. Innocent apples. Flat disks with a face printed on them. On the tree it had looked like a happy and gentle face but now in my hand it was clearly the face of sorrow.

I felt unable to stop now. I needed more, needed them all, so that Adam would not be able to pick his own and claim it had been his idea all along. A storm raged over and about me as I took them all, climbing, stretching, breaking branches to leave not one apple of another’s hand. 30 silver apples in my hand. Glancing down I noticed my body in disgust. Horrid, disfigured body shaped so differently from Adam’s strong, powerful one. I hated its curves and its softness.

I bit into an apple and tasted its sharp, metallic taste- the taste of fear. My hated body was wracked with pain beyond imagining and blood dripped out from between my legs. I felt strange angers and hungers and a desire to strike out and retreat all at once. Terror overcame me.

“I hate you!” I raged at the tree and at my own mutant, built to serve self. I stopped the blood with a fig leaf. I used another to wrap the silvery fruit in. The snake laughed, “God won’t like that.” she said. Was she talking about my bleeding body or the apples? I wondered whether to get more fig leaves to cover the entirety of my ugly body, but then I heard my Lord and Master’s voice.

“Eve, Eve. Where are you? I’m hungry. I’m bored. I’m cold. You’re a bitch for leaving me alone. Go away, you irritate me. You must be cheating on me. You’re laughing at me. You need to get me some food. I deserve. I need. I want. I will have.” The voice echoed through millenia that seemed like they had already been. My temple began to throb at the noise, the clamour of voices, the grasping pinch and pull of little and big hands on my flesh, on my space.

“I can’t take this shit any more!” I hissed. I sounded more like the snake than like myself.

“Adam my love” I said in my honeyed, insinuating slave-voice.

“Look at these lovely silver apples.” His eyes glittered avariciously, but before I could strike a deal he struck, now snake-like himself. He pulled my hair, slapped at my breasts and wrested the figleaf with the apples away from me.

“What is this shit you bitch?” he asked, looking at them suspiciously for a moment.

“Something you’re too piss-weak to have got for yourself,” I taunted, “fruit from the forbidden tree.”

“Why keep a dog and bark yourself?” he asked, thinking no doubt that he was very witty. I get a flash of a future where he says this about me to children in his image and bids them laugh at me, while paying lip-service to a “respect” that has never been there. I feel dizzy with fear and despair but I have tasted the fruit of objective knowledge and the inevitable is clear and set in stone.

But now in this raging storm-swept moment it is the serpent who turns to me. “I am sorry” she says, and seems surprised at herself for meaning it, or perhaps she is only surprised at me for listening intently to her, as though she is my only link to something saner. Adam crams three of the apples in his mouth all at once and swallows them and the same terror overcomes him.

“We must hide” he says curtly,

“I won’t” I say but he pinches and slaps and pulls at me and forces me to flee into a thicket of thorns where my skin is scratched. For all I know his skin might be also, but I have ceased to care for him.

“Why are you wearing leaves?” he asks as though jealous, as if I have some sort of power over him by covering. Adam covers himself also, his small serpent-like member hidden. We stay there several days until he is driven mad by hunger and fear. At times he rips my leaves off and forces himself roughly into the bleeding mess between my legs and other times he leans on me sobbing like a baby, whinging out litanies of self-pity, blaming me, blaming the serpent, blaming the tree and even from time to time blaming God. It seems poor Adam is the victim of all of us.

+++

We have eaten all the apples now, there is nothing else and I wish the intense hunger would kill me. I want death more than I have ever wanted anything else. My greatest fear is eternity when all around me is thorns and Adam and his self-pity, with the growing hunger and the discomfort and humiliation of him inserted into my flesh, between my legs in the no-longer-bleeding dry desert of my self-disgust.

The snake brings me a dead mouse or bird from time to time. Even less frequently it seems to understand my different diet and brings a mushroom or a lettuce leaf. All these offerings are brought as if in apology and I accept them with what grace I can. Better the snake’s company than Adam’s. I repress my vegetarian squeamishness and eat- not with a vain hope of actually assuaging the hunger but as a small and symbolic act of treachery against the totalitarian rule of the whining, pathetic Adam. He has had nothing to eat all this time.

After 28 settings of the sun I bleed again and we stay and stay there. I have time to wonder what causes the bleed, since my first idea that it was sin was clearly wrong. My body and its inexplicable bleeding seems grotesque to me. I am hazily aware of the snake saying “blood is life”. But surely I imagined that. Animals don’t talk.

I have gone crazy with despair and loneliness and I hear voices. I tune into them, to anything and everything that can relive me from  Adam’s self-righteous lectures about how he has sacrificed everything to protect me from God’s wrath. One time I am foolish enough to admit that I would welcome God’s wrath, especially as an alternative to what we have. Adam backhands me across the mouth.

More blood, but I am used to the stench by now. The stench of blood is the stench of the silver apples, it is the stench of objective, immutable knowledge of stable, ironclad categories of right and wrong, of the God-given order- man over woman over animals over plants. Knowledge and rightness and despair.

After 40 days of this knowledge, I hear a voice calling me.

“Eve”

“What on earth do you want now?” I snap, although if I stopped to think it is not Adam. He has ceased to even use my name.

“Why are you hiding?” I am still trying to identify the voice when Adam answers for me:

“Because we are naked and ashamed.” This is not the answer I want to give, but by now I have learned that when I am silent I get hit a little less.

“We are so ashamed of our nakedness oh great Lord.” Adam says in a syrupy voice, grovelling at God’s feet. I feel and itch to kick him but I am still as the lesser being. I do turn my shoulder- refusing not only to take part in the grovelling but even to witness it.

“Did you eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil?” God asks

“You said “of” five times” I miscount, irritated by God’s tone.”

“Lord, the woman you gave to me. She gave me the fruit and made me eat it.” Adam complains. There is a silence but I won’t lift my eyes. I know that God is looking at me.

“She is stubborn.” Adam offers after a while, the spotlight off him.

“I want to leave,” I croak out, “The serpent tempted me but…”

“It was all the serpent!” Adam seizes on what I am trying to say and twists it.”

“You can no longer live in my garden.” I look up, struck by the sadness in God’s voice. God’s eyes are the deep brown of earth; of the diamonds on the serpents back.

“Do you know what it is you have done to me?” I ask the sad brown eyes of God.

“Free will is a double edged sword.” God says. I bite back an angry retort, wanting to understand.

“My will. Is it really my own ?”

“Please…” God whispers, smaller than I would have expected

“I want someone like me!” I scream

“Me too” says the small voice of God and the serpent hisses.

“I will put enmity between your child and the woman’s child.” Who said that to the serpent?

“You will not!” I said coldly, “My will is my own, and my child’s will is her own.”

“The serpent tempted you.” Adam reminds me.

“Tempted not forced.” I look at him with scorn, “and she was sorry after. She offered…” I paused, reluctant to admit I had eaten dead mouse, “brokenness and healing” I temporised. Someone – the serpent? – God? kisses me on the forehead and the gates clang shut behind us. There is an angel there with a flaming sword. He looks Adam up and down appraisingly but I am already walking away…

Photo by Mattpix 2015- spotted by Sebastian and Chloe

Defending the sacraMENts vs the weaker sex and others- warning: contains boasting

For anyone who wants this week’s readings in their entirety, please look here. I zoomed in on a tiny verse this week inspired by another (smarter) person’s facebook rant.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

Boasting of my weakness. That is actually exactly what I do every week when I dare to post a blog on the readings. I am trumpeting before anyone who cares to read my failures to live, speak and perform in a way that would have resulted in me being ordained, that would have rubber stamped me to lead the people of God. But my “weakness” and “failure” of which I boast go deeper still. Being born female in the church is still a very big failing. Sometimes I feel baptism should acknowledge this reality, there should be some words about “only a girl, what a disappointment” somewhere in this liturgy welcoming the child and endorsing membership of the people of God, to reflect the lived reality of the community we call the church.

Of course people would be up in arms over such sexist and offensive language, but the insidious idea behind it IS embedded in every so-called liturgy (or nearly every). That level of misogyny is commonplace and I think keeping it invisible only makes it harder to fight against. So let’s be honest. As a church we really don’t like girls (except as wives and mothers).

The most popular imagery of baptism (that of rebirth) in itself contains a deeply deficit view of femaleness. Right when we are celebrating something that is uniquely female (giving birth) we have to reject this giving birth process as dirty- connected to earth, the body and therefore chaos and sin and we need to “rebirth” in a more masculine place presided by a still usually male priest, with a very masculine set of words and practices to correct the sinfulness of the birthing performed by the mother and give the child a chance to be allied to heaven, the spirit, order and grace. Women of course are necessary to produce the raw ingredients for these perfected spiritual post-sacramental beings.

When I gave birth to my youngest child, I squatted there screaming and growling like everyone else does and I thought to myself (there is water here, God is with me this is baptism. His real birth is also his baptism) while I also sweated and bled and gritted my teeth in the pain and the glory of it. We were a team- the midwife, the child’s father, the child (beautiful little God-bound soul) himself and I and we were engaged in a great and powerful struggle for life, for triumph so why not also against sin and despair? As the child left my body, slid out to make his own way in the world and into individual relationship with God now unmediated by me I cried out in triumph and I thought of Jesus’ words “It is complete”. Even though noone was crucified, noone died in this joyful moment.

It helped that I had read other people’s ideas comparing Jesus’ work of suffering and struggle with the idea of giving birth- giving life and blood to another-take in nutrition from my umbilical cord, take and eat from my body and blood when you take in breastmilk. Take and eat. In theory my child was as yet un-baptised and as yet too young to receive holy communion. I deliberately put him on the breast every week as soon as I had received communion. Any sacrament that applied to me applied also to my children. This argument will probably not seem strange to most parents. To love is always to be sacrament. It would be good if church recognised this already sacramentality of the family and celebrated it rather than trying to correct it with the “better birth” and the “only real” food.

So weakness equated with femaleness, bodiliness, earthliness is something to brag about. God does not transform our weakness into some sort of patriarchal hardness, despite all the imperial imagery around many of the readings, songs and prayers at church that call to mind the Christian life as crusade rather than as breastfeeding, as holding close, as claiming kinship.

Weakness is always part of any “othering” discourse; it is the sort of language used around people who “lose the struggle” against themselves and return to gay lifestyles, relationships or ways of being. Gay and lesbian churchgoers are supposed to closet themselves firmly in Christian respectability. I did this. I married. I bred. I wasn’t very good at the sort of “good behavior” that was required. Something in me kept yearning and questioning and had to be constantly put down and repressed (repressed so soundly that I would not even become aware of it). I had to find less dangerous ‘sins” and adventures to distract myself with to avoid confronting the truth of what I was.

I did not listen to this week’s reading, I spoke a lot about grace but I did not really trust it. God’s grace was not sufficient for me to leave the safety of what I had been taught and to boast about my weakness. I am weak. I am unacceptable. I am queer. Instead I was dishonest and blocked my “weakness” from being part of God’s power in me and I missed some crucial turning-points in my life, in the career that wasn’t. But God doesn’t call us to give us a comfortable life and a successful career. God gives us nothing except grace. Is grace the persistent and sometimes irritating voice that still pokes and prods at me to remain in God somehow?

Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

But since I was little this reading has been a stumbling-block to me. I don’t want weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. Perhaps I ought to want to bear all that to prove my deep and radical love for Christ. As the offspring told us “the more you suffer, the more it shows you really care, right, yeah”. But I don’t care in that way, if I am being persecuted, abused or belittled in a relationship or because of a relationship I seek to leave it. I don’t find my strength in being trivialised, silenced or judged.

As a gay person therefore, as a woman, I have lacked the courage to bear all the insults (usually disguised as the “proper” language of the liturgy) the feeling of having to choose between believing in all “that” or believing in myself (in a very basic way), the self-persecutions I have been tricked into, the calamities of self-hatred. This weakness never made me strong and I fell and fell and fell away from being ordained, away from church, away from everyone I knew, almost into death (by suicide).

ALMOST. That word. Why didn’t I kill myself? There is no safe way to answer that. If God somehow saved or helped me then it begs the question why not all the others? Why not my very dear friend who did die of rejection and suicide? But no. I was never “content” with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions or calamities.

And now we have the whole question of marriage equality, and once again the church is coming out to “defend the sacraments”. And once again the sanctity that is being defended is a sanctity that reeks of power and privilege, not a sanctity that reeks of manger straw, and fishing boats, and the cross. And all the wise things that could be said on the topic have already been said. All the hypocrisies have already been pointed out. All I can do is add my voice to the more articulate in some way. And I do it with a sigh of exasperation that once again – like birthing and ordination/vocation, once again the church has taken something that is sacramental (in this case human sexuality) and turned it into a bunch of rules and exclusions.

And I say at the end of the day I don’t even need to keep looking for the (obvious) holes in their logic. The fact that the church wants to keep a stranglehold over a sacrament so that most people won’t be special enough to qualify for it already has my suspicious feminist spidey-senses tingling.

Like the boys who build a cubby house for the express purpose of putting a sign on it saying “no girls” and “no pansies” they have built themselves a church. But for those left outside- perhaps God’s grace will be sufficient after all!