Tag Archives: privilege

Yea though i have retreated to a valley to reflect.

I am feeling ill. I am fearing ill. There is a pillar of cloud overhead that (it is rumoured) used to be flame and it is not friendly. Easy childhood fairytales of chosenness have fallen away. The valley is no longer green like in the January of 1992. It is dry and brown with the grey-brown sky. At 1pm it is as dark as a winter evening.

“That’s not cloud cover” says the man in the general store, the one who has been to fight the fires.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;[a]
    he restores my soul.[b]
He leads me in right paths[c]
for his name’s sake.

It seems relevant to reflect on all this. I thought I came here to restore my soul but as a critical leftist feminist I have no time for “Lords” and as a vegan I see “shepherds” much the same way. I reflect on coffee with an atheist that I had recently. There was no room at all for my tenuous faith/doubt in conversation with her (and others but less recently). Are they right after all? Lords exploit the peasant. Shepherds make the ultimate exploitation and eat their flock (or sell it to consumers). I have little reason to follow such a one and less reason to love. My teenager was until recently uncommitted to believing or not believing but seems to have turned towards believing.

If there is a Lord who is my shepherd then I will rebel. I will practice civil disobedience. I will transgress, I will flee.

When was the last time I lay in green pastures without feeling guilty about my privilege and apprehensive that my days are numbered? I don’t mean death, I mean extinction which is different again. I have stopped feeling there is eternity for me and I gaze into a widening void. I can’t sleep except in fits and I wake with a clenched jaw. My gums bleed. I have been grinding my teeth.

But she is beautiful.

I don’t want to unpack the materialist here-and-now things I could mean by that. I see Wisdom like a silly little girl, like a monkey, like a possum, like a cheeky rainbow parrot hanging from every tree laughing at me and daring me to join her. I see the earth split open by the ocean, the once small blowhole at second valley now a roaring channel of white water. I reflect that it has been almost 30 years since I sat here in wonder and awe.

The awe of the child was somewhat naive, all things were my friend and none wished me ill except for humans. Now I know myself as a human not as earthling. Now I see the sheep and alpacas flee from me, the kangaroos hide and jump away. Predator. Vandal. Saboteur. Consumer. Human. My thin sandals are ripped by the rocks, my bad knee gives me trouble. Am I burning?

“UVs have never been higher” says my son and Googles the fire danger for all the places we want to visit.

“I am glad we did not go to Kangaroo Island” he says.

What is the right path, and whose name should I be invoking? Lead kindly light but then on the other hand we know these days “the hostile light, that does not warm but burn“. We Australians at the start of 2020 know it so much better than poor Emily ever did. But there is wisdom in taking only the one step. Pastures and quiet waters (or rapid white waters for that matter). The sheep will be eaten but perhaps a day under a shady tree is worth being born for.

But not if you can see the well-worn path to the abattoir.

I do not ask to be made blind, I tried that and it wasn’t for me. I was not born for opioids. I was born to have a loud voice and a fighting attitude. When I try to be other things everything falls apart. I have played the prodigal too. If I say I was “born for this” then I am acknowledging some purpose, some call. Still she plays in the trees just out of sight and refuses my interrogation.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[d]
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

“if this is Second Valley then where is the first valley?” My son’s question is identical to the question I asked at his age. I begin to speculate as does he. But fear is the darkest valley and we walk it now the whole human race. It seems naive and criminal to trust in “rods” and “staves”, in authority and phallocentrism at a time like this. Our “Christian” prime minister wants the freedom for “Christians” to bully people like me. In any case he would sell us all for a lump of coal and a week in Hawaii.

Come on then Godde? I am here in the valley of the shadow of death. My brother is in a capital city where the air for weeks has been orange-brown with dust and the people wear masks if they go outside. A woman died after her lungs went into shock when she flew to the city. The air quality is not fit for humans and my lovely little nephews and nieces are living in it. “Yeah though I walk” we all walk. Am I my brother’s keeper? I am the eldest and I feel I should do something. I feel so powerless. I honestly don’t know what to do. Better to face death fighting and with the children behind me if I knew which direction it was coming from more precisely.

Oh I fear evil.

I fear the apathy and ignorance that will open it’s ears and its heart to evil and blame the Greens or the climate strikers for the sins of the powerful rich, white men. I am no sheep but a scapegoat, still hardly a silent one. Why have I not blogged lately? I meant to reflect on Christmas and on the Eucharist. The body of Christ…we are all marching toward crucifixions some of us don’t yet want to talk about. Will it be easier on the ignorant? Even so I do not ask for that.

How does she live, the atheist? What motivates her to do good? Am I inherently corrupt because I need a “Godde” to exist to give my moral code meaning. I need a relationship I don’t see anything objective about who I am as a human being. I don’t see a natural “right” and “wrong” but it becomes right through love and wrong through selfishness. She lives what she mockingly asserts she does not believe…I know very little about her really, but if she were not good then I would not sense her goodness.

I say I question everything but there are things I “know”.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

Surely[e] goodness and mercy[f] shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.[g]

But privileged folk have always been so smug about their “chosenness” and to me this goes against the radically unsettling Godde preached by the authoress of the Magnificat. “My table…my cup”

“She sends the rich away empty”

“You anoint my head with oil” but John the Baptist lost his head following beautiful Wisdom even into the barren and uncomfortable places. I am an overthinker, there is no chance I will come out of this unscathed. Goodness and Mercy follow me? I am looking who/what to follow but perhaps that is the wrong way around. When I lie on the rock in the sun a monarch butterfly lands on me. Stillness is worth something (still the gritted teeth and the wheezing). The animals in the fields still don’t want a bar of me although I have dutifully eaten chickpeas and mushrooms instead of “slice of their brother”.

I shall dwell in the house of (call her what you will I will not say “Lord”) my whole life but how long is life? Somebody told me she really didn’t want eternity. A few voices joined in mocking the preservation of aging bodies and meaningless stretches of time forever. What is life for? Why would we want eternity? Why would we not? I miss my family who have died. I am in a blind panic at the thought of certain other people dying. I suppose if I died I would not notice it after the event unless there is something more,

 

I don’t know the answers but I know it matters how we treat not just Life (my life or a moral principle) but lives. Your life and autonomy must not be sacrificed to my grand narratives. Your life human, woman, disabled person, animal, maybe even plant (I am not advocating that we stop eating plants). We could leave the coal in the ground if we saw it as earth’s organs. Or would we? Reading Foucault makes me doubt that the powerful are ever humane. Would I be so corrupted?

 

Would I think it was my “duty” to defend the structures that gave me power and privilege. What have I done this week against my own race and class privilege in any case. Fine words “Lord, Lord, Lord”. What right to I have to live? What right to I have to question living? What do the old people experience seeing what we have wrought? Why is everyone not on the streets protesting? Why am I not “holding my hose” toward the fires?

 

Starfish hill wind-farm and my son’s opinions on renewable energy and ethical crops (we share a joke about hemp even though there is truth in the jest). A government that wants to take us closer to armageddon/rapure/extinction. Meaning death as Eliot said but also there is grace dissolved in (this?) place. My baby is a teenager. I have never been so lonely in my whole life. This time, unlike the loneliness of the past I don’t feel needy for others I just feel that connection would ground me to life having meaning. I yearn to connect and feel and BE. I am self-sufficient AF but also useless and empty.

 

What good am I? What good am I? I will look for work to throw myself into and stop questioning.

 

Sheep used to think they could safely fucking graze!

I haven’t Blogged much lately. I’ve been thinking about writing things but work just keeps me too busy. But I was on the roster at church this week and managed to throw together a reflection on the readings. I used these first reading, psalm and gospel and added in Marina by T.S. Eliot (an old favourite of mine as regular readers know) as the 2nd reading.

I spoke without having written down my thoughts, because now that I teach and lecture that seems easier than reading…but later I reconstructed more-or-less what I had said. I also used a “Eucharistic prayer” that I wrote back in March but hadn’t had an opportunity to use today. It’s been sitting in a cupboard at church with noone aware it exists. It focusses on the earth.

Here  is my “reflection” on the readings:

I grew up with a “face value” reading of today’s gospel which I didn’t (in retrospect) find very helpful. In this way of thinking the Pharisee was wrong for thinking so highly of himself, whereas the tax collector was to be emulated as being humble and not thinking well of himself. I cultivated my low self esteem carefully, thinking it was virtuous to do so. It became self-hate and was quite a toxic thing to live with. I want to be careful today not to repeat the same mistake, to look with a more nuanced eye at today’s parable.

Parables are not simple surface-level morality tales anyway. They are meant to deeply challenge us, to niggle away at the things we think we know and invite us to come deeper, experiencing otherness rather than analysing it from the sidelines. Our experience of a parable should be a long journey of learning not a point of revelation or answers. Today’s section of the journey will be looking through the lens of the first reading. When the lectionary gives us groups of readings it is an invitation to consider them together and in light of each other.

So I will look back on Sirach. This reading is about God being responsive and empathetic to the plight of any who suffer from not being heard or having their needs disregarded.  God desires justice and will advocate for the widow and the socially, materially or emotionally vulnerable. The reading also has teeth- although I don’t like the violence sometimes present in the Hebrew scriptures I feel there is a risk when we sanitise our tradition too much. God break’s scepters, acts with anger and destruction toward those who hold unjust power. From our vantage point in a wealthy, overconsuming, exploitative country we would do well not to sanitise this part of our faith out.

But the focus is certainly comfort for the oppressed. God is not neutral is clearly taking sides here. This is consistent with a 20th century Catholic teaching that used to be spoken about more- that God has a “preferential option for the poor”. God is present in the relationships and angry at the inequities of our social world.

So if we take this social justice focus back to the gospel, how to we view the two men in Jesus’ parable? The pharisee is not wrong to think well of himself and his achievements, but he is displaying a faith that is performative rather than relational. His focus is on impressing other people, comparing himself and feeling superior to others who he can pre-judge at a glance. He has filled in all his spiritual KPIs but become separated from other human beings.

The tax-collector has no such shield against the world. He has come to God with his vulnerability, his knowledge of his own failings. I am probably projecting a modern-day understanding onto him if I talk about his awareness of privilege, but I will try to explore that idea in view of what tax-collectors were and did in Jesus’ day. The Roman Empire used to impose taxes on the people- these could be crippling, and the men who collected them added their own fee to the tax they collected. They were hated in part because people hated paying the taxes, but also because many of them may have added on an exorbitant fee and so enriched themselves.

A tax-collector then might be caught between the competing demands of his family (who will struggle or starve without his income) and the injustice and imbalance of the empire’s taxes and perhaps his own added fees. He is caught up in a system of injustice and oppression, not just caught up in a web of dependency but maybe even benefiting from it. We know this too, that although there is much that is wrong with the world these days we are often the ones who benefit from the inequitable distribution of wealth and the exploitation and demonisation of others. The tax collector brings his awareness and his worry to God, not able to find answers but showing a willingness to let God inform and infuse his life for a better future. Jesus says that he rather than the escapist priest is the one “justified”.

What does this mean? How does it help to be “justified”?

What is it that we come to church for?

Dare we be honest and less than shiny before God…and what does this look like?

If God listens to the poor and oppressed, what is our role in all of this?

There are no answers in the back of the book, but we can reflect on these challenges and share our thoughts with each other.

Stations of the Cross IV

This is my fourth year of doing stations of the cross. Two per year. If you want to look back you can find 1 and 7 here, 2 and 8 here, 3 and 10 here.

Station 4- Jesus meets his mother

Imagine being the mother of Jesus. Imagine being any mother. Imagine spending years holding your baby close, talking with your growing child, doing everything you can to give them opportunities and instil some wisdom. But still they do things we would not have chosen and have courage we would not have for them.

Any child has some sort of devil/cross to carry on their back as they get older.  Any child is condemned and rejected by others at some point. Any child falls and wonders whether they will go on.

We are not giving our young people hope, that is the trouble not only today but going back at least to my generation and maybe further. My parents loved me but they gave me cynicism and sarcasm and a refusal to listen to my concerns that the planet was dying. We still ridicule the young. We tell them nothing is more important than having a job, and then we show them that there are no jobs. We tell them that this is the country of the “fair go” and show them refugees (mothers and their children, hollow eyed men whose mothers loved and nurtured them like Christ) we show them these people locked up, with the key all but thrown away. We tell them (our beloved young) that the world is so bad because of their addictions (which we have fostered) to iphones and smashed avocados. We are very quiet about our own addictions (to coal-powered economies, to sanctimonious inequality).

The face of Mary looks at her son. She does not ask “where did he go wrong?”. She does not blame herself for letting him grow up brave and wise and question the system. He would be half the man he is if he were otherwise. Wise Mary knows that Jesus is suffering because the system is unjust. Like the women on welfare who cannot feed their children or get home to them in time she weeps.

Jesus,

Your mother sees you and I see you too. Your mother is a face in the crowd, but one that does not mock or judge you, one that knows this does not “serve you right”. It can be hard to look on her, on the face of the one who understands terrible suffering and wants to relieve it. It can be hard  not to cling and beg and depend but you grew up.

Jesus, I am afraid for my sons. I am afraid for the children of the world, I am afraid for me. I am afraid to show my truth, to show that I am oppressed, to be one with those who carry stigma- the mentally ill, the unemployed, the ones who get blamed. Give me the courage of Mary who never ran even from this. Give me the love which kept walking with a broken heart.

Some situations are completely without hope, and yet we must be the face of love. Always and everywhere unflinching. Love stares suffering and death in the face and remains love.

Make my love courageous.

Amen

Station 11- Jesus is nailed to the cross.

Just when the indignity and exhaustion has been so relentless that you cannot bear it they make it worse. Nails splitting skin and sinew. Blood, pain, jeering, hung high above the crowd which understands the opposite of your message. I’ve had a small taste of being hated so much and for the wrong reasons, but I’ve only had my picture defaced in a way that my indignant son said was symbolic of domestic violence, but was powerless to really frighten me. But real people are beaten, made to bleed and bruise, gas-lighted, told they are worthless, spat upon.

“Why didn’t she leave?”  we ask of the woman who puts up with it year by year, akin to the thief asking why Jesus didn’t waltz down from his cross and prove he was more than a man, prove he was God. We don’t understand suffering, we do not wish to identify with victim-hood we see no strength in broken endurance, but Jesus sees. Jesus calls his sisters out of domestic violence, yes but he sees also the invisible nails that keep them there.

Jesus calls the child in the school-yard to speak out and end their victimhood at the hands of a bully, but Jesus sees the social stigma that stops the child telling. Jesus stands with the ousted whistle-blower (even when he is an imperfect human being). Jesus stands with the impossible child. Jesus stands with the undiagnosed and the misunderstood and the wrongly medicated. Jesus stands with the victims of the church’s myriad abuses and turns an eye of anger and shame against the perpetrators, however powerful.

Jesus stands with all victims everywhere, not to sanctify and reify victimhood but in solidarity. Jesus would end the pain and the shame if he could (let us be clear about that and not too cosy about his “heroic” victimhood). Jesus suffers terribly and is retraumatised when we suffer or when we cause suffering.

What do I say to you O Jesus,

As you are nailed to the cross. Is it the cross of my prejudice? Is it the cross of my impotence to create change? Is it the cross of my inability to hope? Is it a cross not of my own making, but one I would rather not confront?

So easy to look away and walk past, because what after all is the polite way to speak to someone who is suffering and dying to keep me in my first world (minority world) lifestyle? Are you languishing in a factory in China owned by someone in my country? Are you a calf brought up in the dark and filth only to be slaughtered? Are you a fish in the Murray river? How do I confront you when to see you crucified is to confront my own privilege, which I prefer to keep invisible?

How dare you hang there on the cross! How dare you spoil our public holiday with your suffering! How politically correct of you to demand some recognition.

But dearest Jesus, you know I am not really like that. I see in your face my own humanity. I will do better. I will not walk past injustice. I will become conscious even though it is like thorns digging into me. I will speak out though I am afraid. I will practice holy solidarity with anyone who is oppressed.

One of my students said to me that we need to find the place of no more crosses, the place where no one is crucified. She thought she was being rude to my religion but my heart leapt at the idea and I agreed with her. Show us that your followers ought never be the ones who drive the nails in or even stand idly by.

Let us build a world of hope, a world without crucifixion.

Solidarity brother Jesus

Amen.

Blessings and woes

Dedicated to the women (and some men) who have co-created my future and my hope with me. Who have mentored and encouraged me. With thanks, with every blessing.

“The will of God is always an offer of co-creation.” (Joan Chittister, 1990, 49). I have no desire to replace any part of the gospels, and especially not that activist manifesto that we usually call “the Beatitudes”. What I do feel the need to do, is bring the gospel into my life and world and bring my life and world into the gospel. So I will have a go at co-creating some Beatitudes that are secular, but grounded in gospel values. I will endeavour to be faithful to the original but express my specificity.

I invite you to either pray mine with me, or use them as a departure point for your own. Let’s affirm the way the people who inspire us are following God. Let’s recognise their work (love) as deeply transformative…

Blessed are the angry feminists, because they shall make daughters and sisters of all women,

Blessed are those who are underpaid and undervalued, for they call into question our striving after money and shiny things,

Blessed are those who put aside or demolish their own privilege, because they shall have right relationship.

Blessed are the queer ones and the misfits, those who are judged, excluded, misunderstood or lied about, they will become lights to the world.

Throughout history prophets (and especially prophetesses) have always been mistreated and rejected by the reluctance of the collective consciousness to grow.

Woe to you if you live by the exploitation of others, you will always fear losing what you unfairly have,

Woe to you if you gaze with joy on inequality and label it “meritocracy”, you will be found wanting and discarded

Woe to you if you hate those who are different from you, you will imprison yourself in certainty and fail to connect with others

Woe to you if you are defined by what you own, what you can buy or your success, the triviality of your life will overwhelm you and you will always be exhausted.

But we are all partly in the “woe” category” by virtue of the society in which we live. I pray for grace to heal our woe. I pray for God’s loving voice to nag us out of our discontented compliance with capitalist half-lives. I pray that the blessing will flow from the blessed ones, the saints of our time also to us. I pray that we will bring healing and hope to each other.

God’s kindom come.

Being Privileged

I actually had no quarrel with the lectionary today. The first reading in it, if you are interested is worth looking up later. What it says was pretty similar to the first part of the gospel anyway.
I chose the reading from Alexis Wright as part of a personal project that I thought you would allow me to share with you. My project is to bring into my prayer life some voices of women of colour, and especially Indigenous women. I read, then I spend some time trying to become aware to broaden my mind and to be called out of my privileged view of the world.
I haven’t read all of Carpentaria yet, but Wright’s work makes me feel deeply uncomfortable and sad with a sadness I don’t know how to express. It’s not really my intention to share my discomfort (hence I chose a relatively mild passage) but as feminists we do need to remember that we have been asking for decades that men and especially ones in leadership positions would sit with the discomfort that WE bring and let it undermine an unjust system, rather than being emotionally lazy and dismissing us unheard.
So when it comes to an Indigenous woman, one who is not only speaking unfamiliar truths, but speaking them in epistemologically strange (to me) ways I need to take extra time to get to know what I am hearing and allow for its potential to change me.
Will this change us?
I’ve circled back to the original first reading which is echoed in the gospel. In the Kindom of God we are called to set the table not to build a wall around “church” and then become gate keepers. We are called to throw open the doors and give refreshment (even a cup of water) in the name of Life.
Imagine a church that had always recognised this?
Imagine centuries- not of converting and condemning others but (and here I borrow from Micah) of walking humbly with our God in the world. What collaborations of respect and mutual learning might have been possible? Instead of a movement for liberation, people like Constantine used the network of Christians as a vehicle for conquest to further ruling class interests. God of course has been subversively present even so.
We are hearing some of that sort of ideology in the promotions of a so called “Christianity” in politics. A Christianity that does not have compassion for refugees or the unemployed or the working poor? A Christianity that does not look after the aged sufficiently and spits on the integrity of the earth herself. Where I must ask is the “Christ” in all this?
The second reading seems to concur, warning the wealthy and privileged that what they have tells a story of injustice and abuse. Exploiting the worker or the earth is disrespectful of the integrity of creation as God’s image, it defies God’s Wisdom which calls us to live in love and hope. Consumerism in the short term can seem like a refuge from increasingly difficult thoughts- we can turn consumerism into apparently kind values – looking good for others, decorating and cooking for others (some others of course, those few we value at the cost of the many). Ultimately the economic and ecological problems worsen while we ignore them. This gospel is written not only for the 1%, the super-rich but also for us. What would it take for us to turn away from the unhappiness of addiction to wealth and take these messages seriously?
We could start by demanding that any leader who invoked “Christianity” also practice it- not just in turning up to a church once in a while but in policy and practice. Our “Way of life” is threatened more by people who claim to promote it, than by those who admit they are different. We must move forward into life.
As an unauthorised preacher, it is very tempting for me to take only words of comfort from the gospel, which reminds us that as church we do not have to control, endorse or forbid the ministry of others, God is well able to call whoever she wants. I need to read on, from the reassurance to the stern warning. While God calls me to speak, I must take care because if my words are the thing that derail or distract people from God then I will be held accountable.
God’s view of us is not just as atomised and empowered individuals (the neoliberal “can-do” vision), but members of a community- giving and receiving ideas, support and challenge to each other. It’s easy for me to focus on the ways the institutional church has sinned- denying the possibility of female ministry for example, encouraging queer kids to despair and fall away even kill themselves, leaving exploitative capitalism to run rampant, allowing clergy to abuse children. There is much to be angry about.
But the gospel comes not only to fuel anger, but self-reflection. How must I be part of building healthier communities? How must I walk a wise line between listening to wiser others and challenging them? This little church community gives me hope in this like in all things. People here work tirelessly for refugees and give generously to poor families. We don’t all agree on things, but we leave some room for each other’s creativity to unsettle and teach us. We truly seek to love better.
God knows she has called us and knows who we are working for. Let us find ways to amplify our prophetic voices and call a sad and lost world to account and thus back to life. Let us glean hope from the justice and compassion that is possible in each of our lives as leaders and participants in communities. Let us be the one who gives, accepts or celebrates the cup of water given in the name of unconstrainable Life.
Where there is good in our worlds, let us build and nurture it.
Let us sit with the possibilities for hope on this beautiful spring day. Let us dwell on the people and places that our hope is for. After a short time of silence, you may wish to share and connect with those around you.

“Gifting”, power and the celebration of privilege

I have already written enough about creeds for the time being (and will probably return to this topic), and so I skipped ahead to intercessions. So now I turn to the Preparation of the Gifts -partly to open up the privileged-centre of this liturgical moment to a multiplicity of possible symbols that can authentically be “bread of life” and “spiritual drink”. The particularity we are told we are not allowed to move away from (bread and wine, and then even particular set-apart versions of “bread” and “wine” that are divorced from the every-day materialities they symbolise are Eurocentric as well as having become “owned” and controlled by the male-stream clergy.

There is firstly the “material” reality of “gifts” the bread and wine and the ecological significance of “earth” being named as a donor of those gifts but voiceless earth’s generosity is presumed upon as we often violently wrest wheat and grapes from inappropriate or at least over-farmed soil. Eating of course is not likely to be something we can ever evolve beyond- but our habits of demanding specific foods at will without dialogue with the environment are problematic toward with our (first world) excesses. We are a people who eat too much, drink too much and even when we try to curb our over-consumption we tend to starve ourselves in ways that harm our bodies and fragile psyches without material benefit to the planet.

Then of course there is the invisible labour that goes into producing the real, material food that in an overly religious interpretation of Eucharist becomes mere “symbol” or a privleged “spiritual reality” while the “gifts” of the workers underpaid time, the sometimes starving third-world producers that are behind so much of our consumption do not figure in our celebration of “gifted” blessedness that we thank God for.

If God specifically guided this slice of bread (or bowl of rice or quinoa) into my hand and into my open mouth, then that same God must have consigned the underpaid laborers behind my bowl of food to starve and watch their own children fail to thrive. Thus we construct God as white and relatively wealthy and actually sort of middle-class. We can “choose” ethical things and make our peace with our consciences, but the fact is we don’t really think about the global implications of out gluttony when we say that through “God’s goodness” we have this bread to offer.

To offer?

We offer it as a symbol and then we take it back again and distribute it to people who look and sound like us and make us feel comfortable. Which is a good in some sense of course but what if we were to really offer the bread of our lives to deeper love of the voiceless earth and the invisible human struggling labourer and her family?

“Which earth has given and human hands have made.” What do we then give to the earth and place into the emptied human hands as a true “offering” to a God we say is love.

Even in less extreme ways, I have a feeling there is a classism within most versions of formalised spirituality. We tend to invite into our midst only those who are beautiful in performative middle-class ways, who have as little first-hand experience as possible of being “othered”, even in feminist circles we make light of the difficulties others experience because we blithely trust that the “system” does what it says it does and distributes basics like food, medicine, health-care, counselling, education, etc to anyone who needs it. It is not a perfect system but it is reasonably functional. That idea circulates even in groups that are dedicated to social justice. Real poverty, real suffering happens “over there, far away” and we live in a largely enlightened society. If someone who has less comes to our church then this is an isolated case and we can help them, without opening our eyes to the need in our own society.

Privilege is ignorance of course, always, always ignorance and when we dismiss the claims of people who have been wronged by the system without having time to waste on getting into the whole story that is perfectly understandable.

But like the earth that “gives” and the “human hands” unconnected to voices or faces (or gender for that matter) what is invisible to us seeps into the bread of our lives and the oppressions we casually consent to by our inability or refusal to see and hear them seep into our spiritual drink. After all the “body of Christ” is a crucified, bleeding, beaten body and the “blood of Christ” is flogged out of him in violence and with mockery. Easy to think that he suffered and died “for us” like the endlessly “giving” earth, because our good and ease is more important than any other concern.

When the priest washes “his” hands, this is symbolic of washing away sin. The idea of washing used to seem to me to be a liberating idea. We travel through life, we get soiled, it is all washed away through sacraments of one sort or another and we continue. If “Sin” is a personal failing and a slight hiccough in our generally well-meaning and caring movement through life then this still makes sense.

But what if with the traces of sin, our awareness that something has been soiled, we are washing away only the evidence, and not the fact. Just as overly harsh soaps and chemicals can wash away “good bacteria”, “necessary oils” our own skin along with the dirt we are trying to escape, so our spiritual “washing” needs not to be a brainwashing into an ecstatic “new reality” where whatever we did yesterday or five minutes ago no longer happens.

I want to find something positive in all this, so I will return to the idea that gifting goes with feeding and allow us  a measure of “becoming-ness” like the babies whose meal-times I also help to preside over. The babies begin in the simplest way, by crying when they are hungry or wish to be held, within a few months they are sitting up and looking at each other’s faces at the table, they are tapping their spoons together and giggling and generally reacting to the “humanness” of each other, then they begin to invite teachers to sit and eat with them and gradually they learn that there exists a kitchen from which the food comes and to say “thank you” to the kitchen staff and teachers who make it possible. Over the next few childcare years they learn to participate in cooking, cleaning and even in the kitchen garden, their sphere if understanding slowly widens from just demanding the gifts of the meal to learning how to participate- to receive with gratefulness and to give to each other and to the adults.

In the same way, our smug words of feeling “blessed” and “gifted” as the haves of the planet, do need transformation, however there is the beginning of understanding in the fact that the earth and humans are at least mentioned as part of how “God” gives to us. We cannot be more than we are and we must love ourselves and each other as we develop more aware ways of taking what we need and truly “offering” to others (all others) in a more meaningful way.

I return then to an old favourite Proverbs 9:1-6 

Blessed are you Wisdom, caller to the table of all creation. Through your goodness we will learn to build your house and set your table with you. We will leave our toxic ways of being behind along with our ignorance. We will eat your bread (rice) and wine (soup) and we will learn to walk softly upon the giving earth and touch with love and abundance every human hand. Your bread and word are our life.

May God accept our desire to share in the abundance of creation, in ever widening circles of welcoming and gratefulness, may we seek our good entwined with the good of our neighbour.

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.