Tag Archives: power

Hey, I know a lot of these rules/commandments are very sensible and I am not going to argue against people following them, but once again I am finding the authoritarian tone of the “God” in the text pretty difficult to deal with. Top down controlling structures of church have been less than helpful over the centuries.

Why do they do this to us in Lent? It almost makes me feel I should give up religion for lent. It’s all just “boss. boss, boss I am your bossy and narcissistic God and you should just do what you are told because you are unworthy”. And yet I am sure scripture has all sorts of wonderful transformative moments for a lent of really reflecting on how we should do better and doing it. I don’t think just telling us to obey cuts it though, look at the churches that are most strongly modelled on this way of relating to God.

With The Black-eyed Peas all I can say is “Where is the love, the love, the love?”

No, to do better at following God (following in the sense of a dancing partner or apprentice or small child with a heroic friend-adult) we need to be able to take responsibility for ourselves and our attitudes not just tick boxes and obey rules. We need to let a larger proportion of our life be taken over by God (by love, by compassion, by justice, by hope, by kindness, by wisdom). We need to teach ourselves to stop craving things that don’t really satisfy (hence we give up something for lent) and find the joy that is there in the things that DO satisfy (ie in God).

The other problematic thing about a set of commandments (and I believe Jesus alluded to this at at least one point), is that it can minimise the commitment that people are willing to give. So I can say “I am decent, I honor my parents and don’t commit adultery and whatever” and keep living off the plight of the third world, or the exploited worker in my own country without examining in more depth what the integrity of the kindom of God might look like.

In this context the psalm seems like more of the same- flattering this authoritarian and narcissistic God. “The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever”. Oh great! We’re now going to live fearfully again (which I know well from experience leads to parsimony).

I am going to try to read the second reading liberatively, for all that I have some reservations about always putting the cross in the centre of Christian life (I know we have tended to do this, I just wonder if it might be reductionist and problematic). In a world that wants unambiguous signs/proofs and flashy wisdom/instructions all we have is the experience of Jesus the human, the solidarity of Jesus God. Christ, the “power” and “wisdom” of God has been put to death in our human political structures that oppress others.

Jesus on the cross would seem to typify the victim, the failure but God can reverse the apparent. God’s foolishness can deconstruct what we know and God’s weakness can undermine the inevitable. There’s a hope in that when we are beginning to “know” that there are no answers and we are beginning to face that we have been powerful enough to destroy our own planet. It would be foolish to hope perhaps, weak to turn the other cheek…or would it? There is something about relationships that is more than you might think at first glance.

Then the gospel. I am not in the mood for bossy Jesus acting violently, it’s hard for me to read this right now. And yet I can;t help noticing what Jesus’ problem is- the church has been turned into a marketplace. The practice of religion has become reduced to “this is how you have to do it” so that people can make money by forcing believers to have to buy from them everything they need for the ritual.

In the modern day you might see how much this sort of thing has happened with education or other things that ought to have been relationships but have become “transactions” or “products”. Church in Jesus’ opinion should not be marketised, it should be about the wellbeing of the person and the community, a place of welcome and healing, learning perhaps. Jesus becomes really angry at the cynicism of a society that tends to see everything as “market”. This is a pre-capitalist society the story is set in, and so the parallels to capitalist concerns may be inexact but the general point is the same. God’s love is not for buying or selling or exploiting. Following the letter of the law in constricting ways that take the soul out of prayer is not the point either. There is no formula for grace and salvation and the individual should be knitted into her community not sold a part in a farce.

Loving Wisdom,

I am so tired. What words of consolation, inspiration, everlasting life do you have for me?

I am angry and jaded. What connections can I foster to be whole again?

I find it easier to follow instructions than to pursue a creative course through life. Sweep me up in a dance that you lead, teach me how to orient myself toward you in a trust that becomes confidence.

For all the myriad ways that I could, should or would be better- give me your love and your peace to find within myself the spark of my desire to be whole. Give me a moment of joy so that I may be filled with grace to keep trying. Give me vision to see and know the good in others that I may be inspired to emulate them.

I accept your love and your acceptance of me today.

Amen.

 

 

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Inadequacy?

Dearest Wisdom,
Dutifully, I sat with this week’s readings every day. I thought about prophets- good and bad and my assumption (presumption) that I speak for you. I thought about being humble and reminding people to be suspicious of my words. I thought about how even if well meant, that was a sickly performance of humility that would come across as ironic.
I thought about talking about “fake news” in our world and also critiquing the church but I realised I was performing contortionism to make that what the readings were about. I have come to Saturday afternoon on a hot and busy weekend and I have nothing but my admission.
I don’t get along with these readings and the way they are juxtaposed and I didn’t really find you in them, no not at all!
Power, authority….seems typical of the church to go on and on about those things in a top-down way while meanwhile real ordinary people are suffering disillusionment and lack of representation and lack of material things (eg food, safety) and a rapidly dying environment.
If I have encountered you (true Word) in words this week, then perhaps it was in the words of Naomi Klein and Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Or was it that I encountered you in doors being openedin the sweet juiciness of mango- slightly tart about the seed, in sister’s returning from far away, in a meal shared with a former lover and his new partner, in the affirmations of people at work, in children taking my hand begging for a story, in dispossessed peoples telling us again that enough is enough and we should not be celebrating their dispossession.
Was it you I felt in the touch of an over-hot sun and in the cool breeze that blew through it, in the trickle of the creek and the fragrance of lemon myrtle in my refrigerated water? Were you in the purr of the naughtiest of kittens or in the voice of a son telling me he had no need of my mothering (shades of Cana as I asked others to listen to him and stepped back). But if it’s bread you were in then it was in fried potatoes because I ran out of bread this week and was too busy and hot to go to the shop after work. If it’s wine then it is white wine spritzers with ice in them- something I never thought I would try.
You were in the small self-denial of refusing to turn on the air-conditioner, and in the caring colleague who came out to swap because I had been outside too long. You were in the famous writer who offered me her support and affirmation and in the refugee I was pow.erless to offer real help to You were in the 5am rising and the midnight going to rest, in the memories of having been in love and in the stabbing pain whenever I move my knee.
As usual I have used many words to try to reach you, only Word. But you have been in life more than in structures. You have brought life and meaning into each day. My readers may fail to find you in my words, but will have their own bodies and moments and meanings to seek you out in and in the end a prophet (true or false) is not so significant after all. You made us to know you not to follow each other. You made us to touch truth for ourselves not to obey authority (or not blindly).
You made us to dance and sing.
You made us to love better than this.
You made us to be loved more fully than we have known yet.

You made us for love.

For love.

Love.

Teach me to love them- the ones who bring me joyous gifts and the ones who bring me challenge. Teach me to seek out the ones who are hurting. Open my eyes and ears and heart to know I am beginning from the place of love.

From being loved.

Loved by you.

Dearest Wisdom, I leave this week’s readings to someone more wise or more obedient.

In love (however flawed).

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.

 

 

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.