Tag Archives: privilege

“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.

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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.

The greater gifts- liberation, transformation, repentance, challenge

19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

Hey look, I know how we are supposed to take this week’s readings. Going to church on Sundays is important, organised religion is wonderful and the elevated status of the clergy is a valid and healthy “difference” ordained (pun intended) by God. Well you can believe that if you want right after you pour a glass of wine for the tooth fairy and feed my winged swine.

Ok I am being a bit extreme, to be fair I AM probably going to church on Sunday and I DO appreciate having a sense of community (not a hierarchical prison) in my faith and there are differences in the way we all minister to the world and thank God for that. But the way these readings are traditionally preached about “yay yay yay Gooooooooooooo church” doesn’t cut it for me in my marginal non-ordainable dirty female space where I can’t keep as silent as I am supposed to. Cause the church is not perfect and most aspects of it do need to be problematised, especially the inequities when it comes to power. And the closed-mindedness on these issues by the clergy, even often decent men who are in some ways great human beings but love their collared privilege too much to ask the deeper questions…that is pure toxin to the life of the body of Christ. Because parts of bodies all need to be treated with care and respect for the whole to thrive. You can figure your toes are less important than your face, but then you might get gangrene in them.

So I felt a bit sick about the celebratory tone of this week’s readings like I always do after the Lord’s prayer when the priest (or someone) says “Look not on our sins but on the faith of your church” all smug like as if the church’s faith is so shining bright it makes up for all our sins. We say “don’t look at how I treat refugees, look at how shiny white bleached the priest’s chasuble is. Don’t look at the way we abuse children, look at how well we polish candle sticks. Don’t look at the fate of the widow and orphan in our land, close your eyes and enjoy us chanting “Lord, Lord, Lord” in a euphoric incense high.”

But what does today’s gospel add to all the self-congratulation of the celebrating church with its “different” gifts that not everyone can have?

Ok it starts of as Jesus the super-preacher doing the right thing by his church and going back to the “official church” instead of breaking free (the part you usually hear about when people preach on this Sunday). But what does he actually say his mission is? To make an easy life for a small elite number of dude-bros? To make the most beautiful liturgy full of spiritual valium to quiet the conscience of the middle classes? To build higher and higher monuments to tell God that we PRAISE him?

Jesus’ reads a traditional text to explain his mission:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Jesus is here to upset the status quo, to change the world to bring material change to those who are not having a great time. For him to do that imagine what that would actually mean for the privileged? For us?

But it’s ok isn’t it, because Jesus means some sort of eschatological future fulfilment of all things in the heavenly kingdom.  His not mixing religion and politics is he? He’s not actually criticising our church or our society?

“Today” Jesus says “This is being fulfilled today”. The presence of Christ means changing the world. The presence of Christ means an end to captivity, blindness and oppression. Can the church take it? Do we still want to celebrate this charismatic young preacher?

Pray God I will summon up the courage to reflect on what Jesus wants me (yes me) to do to further his mission. Which oppressed people am I keeping from God’s transforming grace?

When the lowly will be lifted up

It’s quite interesting how it’s always human nature to read this week’s readings as offering radical hope and restitution for “us”. We are keen to look at every wrong ever done to us and to barrack for God’s action of redressing injustices and imbalances. But how do we read it if we get honest about our own privilege, which we work so hard at being blind to? How does the white, middle-class, first world over-consumer read this radical idea of the hungry being filled with good things at the expense of the rich? This isn’t an “Everybody wins” situation remember. Those who have taken more than their fair share of power, pride and wealth should feel threatened by this kingdom of God. God’s radical and unsettling justice comes, why do we face it so calmly, and not see the huge reproach implicit in a rebalancing action of God?

We complain about the stress and expense of Christmas, but we still buy toys and decorations made by underpaid children in sweatshops in other countries. We think we are very generous to give a little bit of money or a couple of tins of food to the poor people who are willing to play the charity game, but we calmly let our own society go on creating poverty and increasing poverty here and overseas. We naively leave the union and we talk about how people should get back in touch with the “real meaning” of Christmas and not expect handouts from us. We expect what we pay for education to only benefit our own children, or to at least put them ahead of the “others”.

We say there is no room in our country for families and workers and intellectuals who are fleeing war and horrendous happenings. Last week John the Baptist called us a “brood of vipers” because we want our salvation and our holy joy without any effort, without any transformation, without giving up the unfair advantages we have over “others”.

Is it us that are the “lowly” to be lifted up?

As women in a patriarchal church…perhaps.

As exploited workers, overworked to the detriment of our families…surely

As a queer person in a heterosexist, heteronormative society…undoubtably

As a person who is in any way cast down, rejected, silenced, taken advantage of or abused we can expect God’s restitutive justice to come to our help to point us toward justice and solace. But what will God’s justice do with me when I am the oppressor, the exploiter, the blindly privileged?

We think of Bethlehem as a sweet little town where cute baby Jesus was born. We have a noble idea of it, it goes back to the Old Testament and has been prophesied about. We don’t recognise it for what it was in Jesus’ day a sort of Bogan Hicksville. Our nice middle-class sensibilities like to judge the sort of people that in reality Jesus came from and was born amongst. Shepherds: perhaps business owners of the cashed-up-bogan variety or perhaps just the labourers. Mary whose pregnancy wasn’t adequately explained and Joseph who accepted this! Even if we read Matthe’s gospel where Mary and Joseph are well off or well-connected enough to be in a house, and are visited by what we refer to as “kings” or “wise men”, God is actually tried to unsettle us with heathen foreigners using their own non-Christian religion to discover the Christ child. Not to convert to Christianity, let’s remember they went back to their own country by another way.

So the God that we wait for with all that assurance seeks in, in a stressful time ruled over by unjust governments, to the poor, the not so nice, the foreigners and the underclass. To single mothers and their families to two women meeting together to support each other in pregnancy- finding a non-patriarchal space to share some prophecy and some presence with each other.

So with Mary now, we are pregnant with possibility and it has been a long and hard journey waiting for the impossible- for God to infuse our experiences and make Wisdom out of what has happened to us. That is what it means to be close to Christmas- tired of waiting for transformation and too weary for the work ahead but full to bursting with a defiant sort of a hope. It’s significant then what Mary does with this hope. She has every excuse to throw in the towel- she has more than enough to deal with but she takes herself out on the road and makes a demanding and dangerous journey to her cousin to share her hope and joy and to be a support to Elizabeth.

That strong bond of love, so that she can only experience her hopes and fears adequately by sharing them with her cousin and so that her heart is moved by compassion even beyond the weariness of a long and unlooked for pregnancy. Elizabeth’s statement “Blessed are you among women” is often taken as a statement of her superiority among all women. She is taken by the church to be the first woman, peerless. But when I read it I hear “you are blessed among women, you are blessed to be in a safe environment of women supporting and listening.”

There is a space in this reading that the patriarchy of the church has tried to limit and trivialise because it cannot be colonised. The babies might be males (and how often is that the main focus in Sunday preachings) but they are males who are accepting and enjoying this all-female space where two powerful theologians meet to create meaning together. John, the great prophet as a foetus hears the voice of Mary (hears her unsilencing) and leaps for joy. He correctly interprets this women’s speaking as enriching for the church and related to the message he will come to preach.

This close to Christmas then, there are two things we need to do to prepare for Christmas (more important than shopping and cooking and decorating and all the rest of it). Firstly we need to reconnect with the justice and equality agenda of the reign of God, before we can claim to be “waiting” or “hoping”. We need to seek God’s interests, beyond narrow self-interest (wanting to allow refugees in a a very concrete example of that, but there is so much to be done to undo the wrong and inequality that we hide in). That is the first thing we need to do to be “prepared” for the real Christmas which is more than a festival of consumerism.

The second thing we need to do is find those solace points that feed us, those wise people who need our presence. We need to reach out with support and ask for support not just from the great leaders of society and of the church but from the grass-roots community. There is a space in God for a women’s space, a queer space, an ethnic space, a space to be ourselves with the people who with us may be trivialised by the rulers of this world. Mary and Elizabeth on one level are “switching off” from the patriarchal church perhaps, but they are not doing it in an empty way. There is a moment of communion, of feeding each other God’s word. A moment of praise and prophecy. A moment of love, an embrace.

They bring their heavy, pregnant bellies into this communion, their baggage as the nurturers and care-givers of families. Only when we are in that safe space- accepted for who we really are can we really mean the words ”my  soul glorifies God”.

Justice….relationship….then peace on earth begins to look more possible.

The number for heaven is busy, please check your privilege and dial again

My God,

Well here we go! Last week’s pious nonsense has already ended in tears!

Job’s complaining is bitter because God is continuing the abuse despite Job having tried withdraw constant. At the same time God is not taking Job’s calls, or leaving an address. Job thinks that if only he could decode where God is, then he could reason with God. But don’t all abused people think they can reason, love and communicate their way out of abuse? I don’t like this God either, I can understand Job wanting to vanish into darkness. I reject the “God” in this reading, I refuse to have anything to do with him.

My God, my God why have you abandoned me? I don’t have that connection with tradition to be so sure you are going to do anything to rescue me from the pit of fear, despair and grief that so much in my world buries me in.

My God, my God why do I keep abandoning you? Why do I turn to escapism and commodities even though I know they won’t satisfy me? Why don’t I see clearly how to get to you?

Fierce bulls surround me. Papal bulls to keep me in my place are between you and me. Fierce (turn)bulls to keep taking away democracy. Ravening lions eat up the whole earth, eat up the labour of my hands, eat up my time, my energy, my soul. My ancestors trusted in you, but they were naïve. They trusted in you but they judged others. They trusted in you, but they died.

Trust.

Why did you call me?

But you are the midwife that helps us through the various stages of the universe giving birth to us, to the birth of each new self from our old ways of being. You hold us and give us back a piecemeal integrity so that we can be mother to ourselves and bring each successive try at authenticity to birth- Oh yes, that is how far we go back. You bring worlds and universes, societies and each small person into the world through the trauma and tearing of birth- you breathe breath into us you give us into welcoming arms.

We are in thirst and dust and desperation, none more so than the refugees you seem to have abandoned. God when you abandon me in my privilege then I will die. My privilege stops me entering the reign of God- dance me gently through the eye of the needle, God. All things are possible for you? But not all are easy! Do I really have to give up everything?

Were you really “tested as we are”? Were the tests standardised? Did you cry to find yourself so reduced? Did you give into your privileged state and ignore those who were failing? Did you become normal? Were you tempted to ignore your vocation? Did you choose what was hard an unpopular? Did you bury your desires to fit in?

But were you really tempted/tested in every way that we are?

Were you tempted to have babies instead of making decisions? Were you tempted to find some clever thesis to write instead of seeking one that you feel has meaning? Were you tempted to check Facebook one more time instead of studying? Were you tempted to neglect elderly relatives who don’t give you a lot of joy? Were you tempted to influence your children to be straight and conform to their gender? Were you tempted to take handouts from people even though you knew there were strings attached? Were you tempted to stay in a toxic relationship? Were you tempted to drop out of things that gave you life and joy? Were you tempted by the escapism of falling in love with unavailable people? Were you tempted to go on dating sites and sleep with just anyone to gain credibility? Were you tempted to allow people to slut shame you? Were you tempted to go to a strip club so your friends wouldn’t label you a “prude”? Were you tempted to keep drinking long after you knew it was bad for you? Were you tempted to take an E? Were you tempted to pretend you were under the influence of the E in order to have an excuse to touch someone? Were you tempted to be ordinarily successful? Were you tempted to let someone push you around? Were you tempted to cry? Were you tempted to fail on purpose?

Were you really tempted in every way that I was?

Do you know about MY experience? Have you ever been me?

Perhaps through Eucharist you feel what it is to be me- but how then do you not sin? I seem hard-wired to weakness. How is it that you can say you have experienced the weakness of despair and self-hate if you have truly never sinned? I boldly come to ask for the grace to really be represented by you.

How funny when you seem to ask me for the same grace. I make no claim to being without sin, how would I represent you?

If it is our wealth and privilege which keeps us from your reign, how is everything possible with you? Can you really save EVERYONE? Why don’t you? If you can save white, male, millionaires (and such) why do you still let them have a choice, even when their choice affects less powerful “others”? Why is their free will more important than my sister’s justice?

If heaven is means tested what are you going to ask from me? Is it the emotional security that I seek, the economic ease that I will have to give up? At what point do I decide I am not strong enough for your reign?

My God, My God, it is true I keep forsaking you. In cowardice I avoid the bulls and the lions- I become one of them or I hide and let you face them on your own. You have eased me into being; out of my mother, out of my society. We go back a long, long way. Don’t let’s be strangers!

Healing wilful deafness

Is 35:4-7         James 2: 1-5             Mk 7: 31-37

I actually had the opportunity to “preach” this week in a real church in front of real people. So I haven’t doubled up, I’ve used that as my blog for the week. It’s a bit different than the more dialogic usual stuff. This is more of a presentation than a dialogue.

 

What does it mean to be deaf?

There is real, physical deafness, and I don’t want to be ableist, by conflating it with the sort of deafness that I want God to heal in me and in my world.The physically deaf person, may already be very relational, may be very engaged and sensitive to all sorts of others in the world. So I want to leave aside questions of physical deafness and “miracles” in the material sense because

…there is also a willing and wilful deafness called “privilege”.

The danger as soon as I think about what is wrong with the world, with the oppression and exploitation of the earth and all sorts of othered people is that I will see my own powerlessness, my own lack of energy to sustain any sort of meaningful resistance and I will get angry and depressed. Along with this goes the self-knowledge of the first world, comparatively well-off person. I am caught up in these meshes of oppression, I benefit from them I am at times wilfully deaf and complacently mute. The guilt can paralyse me, the toxic negativity can overcome unless I (of the fearful heart) look to the encouragement in the first reading.

Isaiah here gives us impossible hope- personal and ecological renewal in an overabundance of healing, but darkly also a “terrible recompense”. What power we have needs to have an orientation toward that reality undermining hope, the possibility when we connect with others in God of gaining a momentum that unstops wilfully deaf ears for real change.

Wilful deafness is also present in James where favouritism and inequality are built into the culture of a church or a society. In our own privilege we fail to even notice the otherness we have never experienced. How often might I hear nothing but the echoing powerful voice of those who have seized for themselves the right to define how we relate to God and our neighbour, who silence anyone who is not the same as them. How much more do my deafened ears refuse to hear the oppressed when I am not one of “them”, when my voice too echoes with self-satisfied privilege and hegemonic wisdoms.

In my privilege, I am deaf and there is an impediment in the way I speak. The love that I am called to speak, comes out as judgement of the weak; the call to repentance toward the powerful becomes appeasement. I like my status and my peaceful life. That is no way to preach the good news.

In the past, I have had a very passive way of reading the gospel. I have read it as though I were a princess, chained to a rock waiting for a heroic Christ to ride into battle to rescue me from my own weakness (whether I use the word “sin” or try out some more compassionate term). What a negligent way to half-respond to God’s call! We have no gospel stories where Jesus says “I am here to carry your cross while you be my cheerleader and then faint into my arms.” Instead we have “Take up your cross. Follow me. Become me. Be me.” Yes we eat the body of Christ, like babies taking in nutrition and learning from their mother who they cling to and watch closely. But why do babies do this? To grow and learn and move on their own two feet, to take up the business of living and being in themselves, on their own behalf.

As we eat Christ, we watch Christ. Then we are set free to be Christ. In every Jesus story we must jump in and be Jesus.

So much for passively waiting and hoping for God to undeafen us and iron out our lack of eloquence and wisdom. We are called to jump into the deaf and mute world ready to be the ones who unstop ears that have failed to hear the poor, willing to untangle and liberate tongues whose unique God-given gospel may not yet have been heard….not even by the church. Not even by us!

Jesus himself was a powerful speaker. His words here are minimal. He is intimate, private, touches, encourages, listens. He asks the disciples to tell no one, the deaf man is not being exploited by God for glory or kingdom building- his story of liberation is his own, it happens apart from the gaze of the crowd (ironically someone has watched or imagined and reported and even more ironically if the disciples had been more obedient we would have had fewer of these life-giving stories).

Back in the second reading it was the poor who were rich in faith. We can share in this wealth of faith when we set free the silenced voices, just as we must be poking and prodding and unblocking the powerful in our church and in our world when they fail to hear Jesus calling us all to a more just and sustainable way of life.

Who do we need to allow to speak to us?

How do we make the world listen?

What does this story mean for the Christ each of us is called to become?

Let’s take a short moment to use our tongues and ears in sharing meaning-making.

This bread you are trying to feed me is stale

Another lovely slice of misogyny where men are people and women are just property to be used (by God) to make a point about the man’s sin. I am going to stop right there and rant about this issue I have with

A: the canon we still give such a privileged place to

B: the church and the power and privilege within the church and the blindness, stupidity, insensitivity or just plain cruelty of whoever establishes the lectionary

C: Patriarchy as the framework, justification and culture surrounding these agendas and ALSO the thing that erases resistance to these points of view or more commonly simply fails to register that resistance even exists

I have read Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror and I do try to see the horrible readings in this way. I do think there is a place for rape and abuse stories (however gut-churning, triggering and painful) to be told to avoid making victims invisible. BUT when you constantly tell the rape story just as an inconsequential footnote on the “real” story of the rapists I can’t see that that is ok. It’s not just that this story told and received uncritically is problematic, but this story is a form of abuse in and of itself and telling the story as if it is a valid and important story is an act of emotional/spiritual abuse! The multiple victims, the wives that get passed around from conqueror to conqueror depending on God’s whim and favour barely register in this story that is all about David, Uriah and God. Bathsheba sort of figures in the story, but not in any way that you could possibly hang any feminist hope on or even find solidarity for a critical approach (and believe me I have tried).

So why is it in the canon? Well quite understandably a patriarchal culture in which men were social actors and women (though probably really social actors too) were considered property and less than human would give rise to this sort of a story. Male privilege in these situations does not mean to be abusive of or even objectifying of women, it just does not see them clearly enough to even make a decision about “rights”. To have “rights” you have to exist, have subjectivity, have a point of view and be active in some way. Misogyny, xenophobia and classism are pretty much what you’d expect from an ancient patriarchal text like the bible. We can’t change the bible people would argue, it’s been handed down to us and we have to use it.

I think that’s a pretty silly argument actually if God has still been alive and working and relating in the many centuries since these stories were written. To petrify God in the ancient world, to say God was able to speak then but not now means we are not working with a living God. Surely nothing is given. I know it is frightening to cut loose from tradition because then what is it that grounds us and binds us together. It would be easier if we could just blindly lean on a common core a non-contested fundamental.

But the core here is patriarchy and a fundamental is invisible, casual, inconsequential rape.

I cannot worship a God that requires me to accept that.

I cannot. I will not. I can stare such a God defiantly in the face, because even assuming there is a “heaven” and a “hell” there is no possible “heaven” for me within a framework like that. I would put my soul on the line against rape, and I say that not only as a rape survivor but as someone who has feared for a sister and a step-daughter and an effeminate son in a still women-hating culture. So if God can casually hand over some objectified wives for rape and conquest then I spit in that God’s face.

And this is where I slam my bible shut and walk out.

But then…assuming I was not foolish enough to do that, to take the fight to this theoretical and canonised God Himself (pronoun intentional). Assuming instead that I have an apologist view toward this reading which is after all a product of a time and a place and does not necessarily have to be read as giving us a universal truth. Why focus on this after all, when there are so many, many other stories from the bible that might be more liberative or at least more nuanced?

But then we have the modern church in 2015, and this reading is seen by the church as so significant and full of good Christian treasures that it has pride of place as a Sunday reading over now two weeks (I won’t look ahead to see how many more). So it’s not just in the canon, it’s put into the lectionary, this story is meant to talk about equality or something. We’re meant to not notice the women getting casually sold off in the background and compartmentalise like the good white masculine subjects we are meant to be. The spotlight is on David, who cares about the non-entities suffering behind him. Uriah’s suffering trumps them all! As a woman, as a rape survivor, sister, daughter, some-time wife, mother and everything else that I am I call bullshit on that.

I won’t screw my face up into that particular squint to put the patriarchal blindspot over my own experience and my own interests.

THIS READING SUX.

But the leaders of the church are blind privileged men who have never been raped and have never been threatened with rape and have never been casually handed over in transactions between others depending on agendas that have nothing to do with their own interests. And they deliberately stack the odds and make the rules to keep voices like mine out of being more than an occasional curiosity. Any woman who wants to serve as a minister needs to toe the party line, they need to ensure no real transformation happens to the patriarchal white elephant (and I do acknowledge that women and even some men do manage to act subversively at times, but when they are overt about it they may still be disciplined).

I did glance at the gospel, in case it somehow undermines the horror of the first reading. John has Jesus theorising about spiritual “bread” which is better than the material. And speaking as a sometime poor single-mother who came to Jesus and still was hungry and thirsty and knows for a fact that many, many people in the world believers or not are STARVING because of the same sort of blind privilege which reduced people in the first reading down to rewards for men/kings I don’t really want to hear that right now.

Damn straight Jesus I would follow you if you feed me or my children or my millions of starving brothers and sisters. I am not so interested in following, believing, working or seeing signs if my body and soul are left hungry by your church and by your world. Nor am I (like a woman in another reading) content with crumbs when there are some who are given an abundance.

I throw down my gauntlet. What “bread” is in any of this for those on the margins of the stories, of the churches or of our global prosperity?

Why the hell should I take any of this on board?