Tag Archives: power

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!