Tag Archives: refugees

Listen up: deep down you know it’s the Truth

Ok so three years ago I used a different lectionary. I think this was before I settled into my routine. But if you are curious (the gospel was the same) my post is here.

But I have found this week’s readings for 2019 here.

“If only you would heed the voice of God” says Moses. But there are so many voices clamouring, all claiming to speak for the Truth. I can’t always trust people who are more worried about “freedom of religion” meaning their right to exclude and slander than they are genuinely seeking the liberation (always more than market freedom) of the kindom of Godde). But they would claim to speak for God and to be defending Christian values.

They would say my attempts at preaching and at prophecy are ungodly.

So how do we choose? How do we know the voice of Godde?

We know that hearts and souls are at play here, we are returning with our heart and soul, body and intellect all of us, completely returning to the one truth. It is not some distant pie-in-the-sky to be worshipped. It is not coming from across the sea to colonise us. It is written into the integrity of who we are- it is our heritage, our makeup, our birthright whatever country or nation we came from, whatever sexual orientation we were created to be…yes whatever faith we have (or have not).

The irony of me preaching such a thing is if you don’t share my broadly Christian spirituality then you are probably not here, but the consolation for me is that preaching does not need to convert people, it simply needs to raise consciousness. I cannot put Godde into people, but I can try to get a spark from Godde already there. In the way we touch the lives of each other, the Godde in us can shine to the Godde (the same Godde, don’t worry) also in them. Even if they prefer to spell this phenomenon “God”.

The psalm has a “wanting to be rescued” fixation which I can really relate to. I spent most of my young years praying pretty much exactly that. I don’t know how Godde feels hearing that from us day after day after day after day. Should we maybe have more courage to make some positive changes ourselves? I don’t know. I guess the take-home message here is Godde will not abandon us even when we are completely pathetic (the plight of the refugees terrifies me though. How can I believe that Godde doesn’t abandon people when tiny Tharunicaa and her big sister and parents are STILL IN DETENTION and not even allowed to have the cake their Aussie neighbours baked for the little girl’s birthday) To be clear I want to feel that Godde will always be with me and watch over me. But for goodness sake’s Godde look at those little girls!!!! I know that it is humans not Godde who are torturing them, but it scares me to think that Godde can’t or won’t act against that. I suppose it was always thus, but my consciousness has increased.

The second reading tells us about Christ being really special. This pericope is part of a larger reading and frankly I think is pretty irrelevant without it’s context (within its context it makes sense). This is where I sometimes quarrel with the lectionary. What are we supposed to take home from that reading? Jesus is very mighty. Praise-praise. I mean I know some churches pretty much preach nothing else, but let’s be grownups. It’s worth reading the whole chapter if you want to actually get anything out of this reading and then you will see that chapter is just preamble setting up that Paul (or whoever wrote this) has authority and knows all the right things. And then you might need to read all of Colossians which is great, but for now I am off to the gospel!

Coming back to our theme of identifying the voice of Godde in our life, Jesus is very quick to connect the love of Godde to the love of neighbour! That’s pretty close. Bear in mind someone here is asking Jesus what the most important take-home message might be and Jesus COULD HAVE SAID- don’t be gay because that’s horrendous or he COULD HAVE SAID – don’t be an atheist, don’t have an abortion, don’t wear a short dress, blah, blah, blah a million rules like some churches try to tell us. He could have said “obey the bishop” pr “go to church every sunday” or “adam and eve not adam and steve” or “remember to put ashes on your head once a year”.

But what he DID say was….

well…

actually…

that’s the interesting thing. Because Jesus doesn’t answer, he turns back the question on the questioner. I imagine him winking, “you got this”.

Jesus is not going to get into controversies as if he made something up! So the guy talks about loving Godde and loving neighbour and Jesus says “yep that’s it”.

And that is it.

No addendum about “unless it’s a gay or Muslim neighbour”

That might be news to some Christians I think…

So then Jesus actually tells a story to make it more clear. Like “imagine the neighbour is someone you completely disrespect and want to avoid. Imagine the worst person in the world” I am talking a Crows supporter if you are Port supporter. I am talking someone who puts pineapple on pizza. I guess (if I am honest) I am talking a fan of Andrew Bolt.

Godde asks us to love that person.

Which is actually pretty hard isn’t it? I mean it would be easier if Jesus just said “don’t eat meat on Fridays” or “remember to genuflect when you go into a church” or “give a tithe to the rich minister” or something EASY like that. Something with rules. Something where we can identify people we want to keep out (single mothers and drug addicts, prostitutes…except Jesus had an unfortunate tendency to hang out with them and share food). This is looking pretty unavoidable. He really means it.

We are called to overcome our dislike for people and just bloody well help them!

We can help the refugee from war or from climate crisis. We can accept the person fleeing from domestic violence. We can care about the person suffering from mental illness. There is no end to these damn neighbours. Always with the neighbours. Next thing you are going to tell us even non-human things might be our neightbours!

Might they?

Jesus, the good teacher does not give the answers, he asks provocative questions. He asks the scholar and you and me what we saw in the story who was the neighbour. Well it’s obvious “the one showing him mercy”

“Go” says Jesus “Do the same thing”

That would seem to me to be the truth Moses claimed was already in our hearts. That would be the voice of Godde.

If only we would heed that voice

 

 

Advertisements

What has this to do with the body of Christ? What has this to do with me?

This was a reflection that I was privileged to be asked to give at my church. I will be doing that tomorrow (ie Sunday). The relevant readings are here.

 

Have you ever dumpster dived? I am not referring to finding some discarded and vintage bits and pieces to trendily upcyle. I mean for food.

You probably all know that Centrelink has not been increased in real terms since 1996, that’s more than two decades. Think of all the changes in those two decades. I didn’t have a mobile phone, or even want one in 1996, these days it is mandatory to have one in terms of staying in touch with Centrelink so they don’t cut you off. Many other expectations and needs have also changed. As a result of all this low income earners and welfare recipients in 2019 are a lot poorer than they were in the late 90s, when I struggled to look after my babies on welfare payments.

So dumpster diving these days is quote common, getting in amongst the rotting fruit, veg and dairy products and finding unopened packets that are barely past their useby date, bakery items that are a bit stale or broken and all the rest of it. Supermarkets throw out so much! I was shocked to be told that sometimes you can find a whole pallet of bottled water. Why does water need a use-by date?

Supermarkets often respond to dumpster divers by increasing security, padlocking dumpsters, watering the bread, slicing open packaging and at times pouring toxic chemicals or even human waste in to make the food not reclaimable. Even though this is food they can’t sell  or use in any way, they stop people from reclaiming it if they can. Thankfully this is not something that happens across the board, and dumpster divers reclaim what they can, combine it with food they grow (if they are able) and then the interesting thing is how freely they share it. In my experience people who find a lot of food, or something particularly good, or something they can cook up will immediately look for opportunities to feed each other. The contrast between those who can afford to share but do not, and those who are suffering themselves but want to share what they have always staggers me.

Eucharist reminds me that the bread of life is necessarily the bread that is shared, before God there are not those who deserve it more or less, but each of us comes to be fed and then to participate in the work of feeding.

Sharing.

This is the body of Christ.

It was refugee week this week, and many people participated in the refugee ration challenge. I’ve been marking which makes me want to eat all the time so I did not, I merely donated some money. I saw the rations that people were given- here there is no generosity or abundance- only the basics. People were given what was barely adequate and would not be very interesting over time. Keeping the body functioning is one thing, but God’s abundance is more than rations, more than the efficient fostering of physical life. Think what a meal can mean- it is not just nutrition, it is a time to stop and share and care for ourselves. Think of the house being filled with the scent of spices and good things warming. Think of bread rising. Think of the freedom to step away from work and to come together in each other’s beautiful homes and in our lovely church. Meals are not just rations, they are humanising celebrations of life.

We need to do better for the refugees, many of whom have an ethic of sharing, this is part of the Christian heritage but also a Muslim value. Sharing, giving, abundance, equality. Nourishment for the soul and for the human family rather than merely the stomach of the individual.

The body of Christ.

It’s significant to me that we add wine. There was a time in my childhood, where wine was almost never used at mass because we were told bread could symbolise both the body AND the blood. In terms of anatomy this is quite sensible and logical, no living flesh body ever existed that wasn’t also composed of blood. But there is a symbolic richness to wine that adds something to bread, that gives us a fuller more whole picture of what it is that Jesus has given to us.

Wine, especially in is a luxury not a staple as is bread. We are so surrounded by luxuries that we easily lose sight of this fact, but wine is not just stuffing something hurriedly in our mouth so we don’t collapse (not that I am advocating for bread to be so reduced). Bread can be part of charity, we might give crumbs to the less fortunate from a safe distance, we might speak of “human rights” and sustain them in life. Bread can be reduced to rations, it shouldn’t be but it can be.

Wine is only for friends. We do not give wine to people we look down on. We do not give wine grudgingly, if we give it at all then we share it with joy. One of the ways I realised when some of my university teachers had transitioned to be colleagues and comrades and (I am honoured to say this) FRIENDS is when we began to share wine together. Wine symbolises the part of meals which is not merely necessary- the joy and companionship. We bring out our best wine for our most honoured guests, we give wine as a gift to people we appreciate and admire.

The blood of Christ, cup not just of compassion but solidarity.

Significantly, when swamped by the demands of hungry crowds (5000 clamouring) Jesus did not let his apostles off the hook. He didn’t put the responsibility for self-care back on each individual.

It’s significant how we read this miracle, what we see here will affect how we live. If we think that Jesus (being god) produced magical, miraculous bread from the sky and gave it out to everyone, then we might be tempted to think that it is God and only God who can solve all our problems. Perhaps then we will think that all we need to do is pray for climate change to be solved, for the refugees to be set free, for governments to become more responsive and compassionate. But where do I draw the line? Should I even try to do the morally right thing, or do I wait for God to change me? Should I go to work or should I just pray? These extremes are silly of course, but it’s very easy to believe that if I personally am a reasonably good and kind person, the world’s problems are not my problem. I can give toxic politics, growing inequity and the climate crisis all to God and keep planning a wonderful holiday for my own family.

In this way of thinking, the bread of heaven never grew in the earth, the wine we share was never worked by human hands. But…think of the liturgy (work of the people) that we all grew up with. We assert that the bread and wine which are transformed into Christ’s real and living presence are exactly that- earth and human work. There is no getting away from this. Jesus’ insistence that all were responsible of all might have called out of people whatever they had brought for themselves alone. Those with a surplus shared with those who had nothing without getting to judge them for being “lazy” or “less organised”. There is a redistributive power to Eucharist, this is not co-incidental it is at the heart of it. It comes from a God who became embodied and entangled in humanity. It comes from a Christ who says “I want everyone to be fed, I want all at the table” not with threats or rules or overpowering us but with a deep enough commitment to become bread for us.

The generosity of Christ is here. Eat. Drink. Be the sacrament.

So let us reflect on the table we are coming to. Let us reflect that around the table we are a circle, all equal, all welcomed. Let us take the sacrament when Christ offers it, let us treasure it, hold it within ourselves, and let us open our hands to give out the things we are called to bring to the world.

Bread to feed and strengthen life and community.

Wine for joy, affirmation and solidarity

The body, the life-blood of our own dear, Wise Christ.

Your abundance should supply their needs

I have had some internet and email problems this year and as a result, lost my roster for church (among other important things). I did not realise I was meant to be on the roster to lead at church this week until 9:30 last night when someone from the community called me to check up on what was needed this morning. She told me what the gospel for today was meant to be and I started thinking about what I might say.

 
When I got to church this morning, I was able to look up the rest of the lectionary readings and I had to do an “off the cuff” reflection. The fact I was able to do so at all, probably has more to do with this blog than with anything else, and of course God may well have helped me (I certainly asked her to).

 
I will try to remember what it was I said. These were the readings, and I said something like this:
I remember going through a time in my life, when the patriarchy of the church and the male-centredness of the stories and beliefs we were taught made it very difficult for me to continue in the faith. It got to the stage where the maleness of Jesus himself was a problem for me- I felt a strong disjunction about who I was created and called to be with God and the church’s seeming insistence on the MALENESS of priesthood grounded in the maleness of the one we follow. I nearly fell away from the church over this, I could only bring to God my female body, my female-centred way of loving, my female experiences of life and work. If these were not holy then how could I approach God?

 
Today’s gospel perhaps speaks to those yearnings and questions I had as a young woman. I experience Jesus in this gospel within my own life where I have been a mother, and early childhood worker and in some degree and activist and I can relate to the way Jesus is being pushed and pulled and pressured every which way. So many different people demand things from him and each person’s need is urgent and real. Jesus sets off to help one person, is interrupted by another and as a result of stopping to help the second one, the first- a little girl dies.

 
Being Jesus he can make something of this, he can turn death into life which is certainly more than I can do. I don’t have the capability or the patient grace of Jesus in my own life as I juggle competing demands (all important) and try to discern where to turn my attention, where to channel my love. I often drop the ball, neglect something I should have done or arrive too late to something else.

 
I take heart then from the second reading that reminds me that God is not asking us to deprive ourselves for the sake of others, or to give more than we have. God is challenging us as relatively wealthy and comfortable people to give of our surplus. All it takes is allowing God to turn our greed and our fear into generosity and openness. Is that not an important lesson for our time?

 
How can we not pay heed to this call to share from our abundance? How can we bear to be part of incarcerating people and families on Manus or at Nauru? We are not just starving their bodies, we are not just taking away their lives we are starving them of hope. Of hope itself. I almost began to cry at this point as I often do when I consider the mother who lost her son or the man dying of cancer or the hundreds of others.

 
This cruel way of treating people, it really needs to be said is a sinful direction for our society to be going.

 
It is against God. The same goes for what is happening in the US where little children are being pulled away from their mothers and fathers (I didn’t mention our own stolen generations but I should have). I read this week about small children, some as young as three being forced to go to court to be sentenced and deported- all alone these children face this without even a loving adult by their side.

 
This is an evil beyond words, an extreme evil. I feel that word is not an exaggeration.

 
I have been reading bell hooks this week, “all about love”. In it she talks about our yearning for love and the way so many of us grow up not getting what we need from our families- not experiencing the emotional security of being loved. She talks about romantic relationships also frustrating this need and not delivering the love that is needed. I could relate to what she was saying the desperation and the lovelessness that she said is characteristic of people in the world today.

 
She said that people yearn to be loved but have never experienced it. That they do not know what it would feel like to be really loved and as a consequence they do not know how to love.

 
While I could see that there was some truth in what I was saying I could not agree with her that I had never experienced being loved. I feel that this is a community that has taught me a lot about love. I have been loved here and encouraged to grow into a more loving human being. I have had my gifts honoured, and my lack of giftedness forgiven. This is a place where we come to be loving and to heal each other’s capacity to love and to hope. How can we pour out our love to the world? How can we be the loving people that the world needs?

 
Let us think about that. Let us remember that God does not ask from us more than we are capable of giving. How can we be the love the world needs? How can we ask for and teach love to others? When we are pulled this way and that by the needs of others; and are poured out and fragile, how can we trust God to fill us up? How do we bring love, healing, and new life also to each other?

In the bleak midwinter

I wrote things on the weekend but they were really, really sub-par. Maybe because my keyboard was not working properly or maybe because I am ill. Maybe because of how desolate I feel about the state of the world (families being divided, young women being murdered, friends in abject poverty and my own financial situation so insecure). Maybe God is sick of me always talking, talking, talking achieving nothing.

I don’t know why but my well of things to write is dry. I look at the lectionary readings and feel numb. I feel resentful of the church and its deceitful bishops and emotionally stunted and dishonest male priests. I can’t seem to get out the words of hope or even coherent criticism.

All I can do is read Micah again and again and again and draw comfort (of sorts) from a sad and wrathful God. I don’t always go to the bible for cheer, I go there to validate the deepest negative feelings and attempt to survive them. Here is a lovely chunk of Micah if anyone wants to join me (but don’t be stingy with yourself, feel free to read the whole thing. As well as Micah I am reading the gospel according to bell hooks. I find anything written by her is full of wisdom (relatively humble wisdom) and a determined hope and love which cuts through even her own incisive criticism. Read some bell hooks if you can.

And for the rest I will drink my herbal teas and gargle my salt and try to cure this stupid cold because I can’t afford not to “work”. I will thank God even for this desert time. Because even this is not as bad as the worst depression that I suffered for over a decade. I don’t feel that God is very far from me, and I feel that God is trying not to get frustrated by how stupid and slow to learn I am. Or maybe it is just me that is frustrated. God’s patience may still wait for me to work out the next step and the next.

Thank God for bell hooks and all the transformative feminists. Thank God for my social networks. Thank God for the person who just read these words and is being patient with me also.

Thank God. And let’s change the world.

When Jesus comes, the status quo is “greatly troubled”

Happy epiphany! Lectionary readings for the day can be found here. 

We live in a world, where it is supposed to be “common sense” to blame the refugee, the foreigner and the welfare recipient for hard times.  Firstly, these times are actually not all that hard if we are not a refugee or welfare recipient ourselves; secondly such as they are, they are caused by choices the government makes to support and shore up the rich rather than the poor.

It is not the person from a war-torn or flooded country that is taking funding away from public hospitals while allowing multi-national companies to use up the natural resources of the country without contributing any tax! It is not the injured breadwinner, the single mother, even the shiftless artist who is stripping funding from public schools to fund pointless and dehumanising plebiscites, give free money to the now foreign-owned propaganda machine and the mining companies; or who is tying our economics to outdated and inefficient coal and scoffing at new technologies that are proven in other parts of the world to work. And as far as “family values” go…it is not the loving and accepting parents of the trans child, it is not the two women bringing children up together that are telling us that compassion is a luxury we cannot afford and that everything needs to be ruled by the dispassionate, uncaring market…the values of the market are the values we now follow as a society. It seems we have a new God.

I reject that God and all the victim blaming and mathematically unsound “economics” such thinking brings with it.

I look for a star in the east, the new hope and I try to be like the magi. The magi got pulled out of their comfort zone, to go to a culture they knew nothing about and to find a poor (perhaps) and seemingly insignificant family that had had a baby. Sure in terms of the gospel, we are meant to nod and smile, this is “proof” that Jesus was someone special but the fact is that God is full of these sort of proofs, that in fact every foreign and poor and displaced baby is “special”. Each one is the hope that this world has.

Gold, frankincense, myrrh- these are material resources, worldly wealth for the “kingdom of God” after all. That is to say, our “spirituality” is not just about being “spiritual” and praying and feeling good and some sort of inner “niceness”. There is a practical dimension to our travelling with God and to the foreign baby, God. God demands an easier life for the poor- real gifts, real help, real earth-rooted and material signs of love and dignity.

Individual acts of “charity” may not change the world, but they change a life or three and they show a commitment– yes God we will go out of our way, yes God we will allow you to help yourself to the goods of this life, yes God even our “worldliness” is centred on you. It starts with the generosity I can show toward others in my life or in my networks and it flows from that to an attitude of acceptance and love, a desire to advocate for Jesus wherever s/he lies, whatever manger, whatever sheets- and let’s face it at times he is not the poorest of the poor either, his life is not the meanest of the mean but he needs something from us other than judgement and a turning away. When Jesus the refugee manages to get a decent job, to get into a decent school, wear fashionable clothes or buy a mobile phone you get people saying “see how easy it is for ‘them’- too easy” but Jesus is still asking us for acceptance, for love, for equality.

When Jesus the single mother can afford a haircut or a glass of wine or is given a nice handbag for Christmas, then she does not fit our idea of abject poverty and we may think that welfare payments are “too generous” that she “has it easy” that she is not suffering enough to deserve support or dignity. But the idea that Jesus lived in a stable in Bethlehem and froze in rags, though picturesque, is probably wrong (houses had mangers in them). Jesus was crowded, displaced, his parents had an uncomfortable journey and much stress (especially once Herod wanted to kill their child) but they may not have been so “respectably” poor.

The poorest, the homeless and the literally starving need our generosity and our support but so do the merely depressed or merely struggling or merely locked out of promotions…the lonely, the under-confident, the disorganised, the depressed, the apathetic and the uneducated. Jesus has needs and is not here to gratify our vanity by showing credentials, being the deserving poor- safely, tamely in a corner that we can define and get out of. Jesus is one of us and will irritate us with poor life choices and a less than warm manner at times!

I struggle to feel emotionally charitable to some of the people that I see on Facebook- I want to judge, condemn, block or destroy with reason many of the people who tell me they are fearful of Muslims for example, or of allowing children to be trans. Then there are the people who don’t understand that their inadequate dole payment and unsatisfying and underpaid work is because of the way we have structured society- not because of these “others” who also want something, who also have needs and families. Jesus is sometimes distant and foreign and hard to spot. Jesus challenges me, frightens me.

Like Herod when I hear of Jesus it will probably be in a context where some power or privilege I have is at risk. Like Herod the temptation is to pretend to help, but really to undermine.

But power and authority, do not always act as Herod. I can be pretty critical of bishops and church leaders, and with reason but occasionally they surprise me.

Today, according to the bishops is the beginning of Migration week in the US Catholic church. I’m in Australia but I like their idea and I will with them pray and reflect on how I can companion, support and advocate for migrants and refugees better. Even though the bishops are asking people to pray, there seems to be an underlying message here of a larger conversion toward better compassion  and acceptance. Prayer is suggested as a foundation for who we are as a people.

Baby Jesus,

I pray with Magi, with bishops, with the powerful, the foreign to me and those who search. I pray ready to travel, ready to receive people from other places.

I begin my year of travelling, searching, loving you in the world and within my own heart. Like la Befana from the children’s story I have been busy with trivial things that the world judges me on, but my heart yearns to be part of your miracle. Like her I know that seeking later is better than never. Like her I have the wisdom to see that every child can be gifted in your name and that every act of generosity is a step on the journey to you.

Like the magi I can be distracted by the Herods of the world- powerful people and their propaganda. I can look in the wrong places but I will eventually find. I can use the wisdom in my own life, in my own culture because every person and their culture are created in your image.

Baby Jesus, show me what to do to support those who are out of their own homes, those who search, those who are looking in the wrong places, those who only wish they could be in the safety of their own home. Help us build a world where you (or the “least of these”) will be welcome and safe in any corner of the earth and the earth itself is respected and healed.

We have seen your star, we come.

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not being silent

So many readings to choose from for Christmas services…and many of them so well known they’ve almost become a cliché. But I will start with the vigil, which may sound like an odd choice (and in fact any Christmas vigil mass I ever went to used Luke’s nativity story which is more child friendly). The gospel is a bunch of this person “begat” that person. I didn’t bother using a more modern translation this time, because I remember when I was a kid referring to this passage as the “begatteries” (I think I got that from my Dad and thinking it was the most boring passage (and to me pointless) in the hole bible. I wondered who cared about hs patrilineal line that way as if he was a breeding animal or something. Jesus’ remarkable person was nothing to do with who “begat” who.

Later on, I noticed – or perhaps it was pointed out to me- that in this account of fathers and sons four women manage to squeeze their way in and for a time I thought it was a feminist victory of sorts. I don’t like “liberal feminist” ideas though that some women (often at great personal cost) can break into patriarchal places in small number, because of their own individual “empowerment” or some such- but the norm is still exclusion and low status of women in general. I sometimes see this in churches that begin to ordain women, it takes a long time for real change to happen (and to me it doesn’t matter so much these days who does or does not get ordained- it is the effect on the wider community that matters).

Then again this is God’s history, not “man’s history” and if you look carefully at what sort of women have got a mention in the patrilineal line they are transgressive types- Tamar and Rahab and Ruth, who in various ways broke conventions or used their sexuality and agency to achieve moments in the story of liberation of their people or themselves. Mary also, she has been colonised by so many artists and theologians- depicted as passive and submissive but if we knew her only from the scriptures then she comes across very differently- as outspoken, courageous and somewhat of a visionary.

So Jesus could be a male saviour in a male story of a male church- except God keeps calling women at various points in time (probably always) to transgress patriarchy (like Wisdom herself who is free from constraint) and to change history for the better. This text is not very feminist, the very few women mentioned are all mothers and wives, their other deeds unmentioned but they are THERE and if we look at the story in full then we know them. And we know who is missing- Jepthah’s daughter for example and other victim’s of men’s violence.

I’ll go back to the first reading with all this in mind, and proclaim together with it that I will “not be quiet”. The first reading is all about “Zion” depicted as female and needing advocacy (and waiting for God’s intervention). Unsilencing is a theme of Christmas, especially if we consider Jesus the “Word” of God- speaking and spoken (through Mary’s embodied production of “Word” and through Joseph making room for Mary’s work in this). God unsilences the voices that call for repentance, change, better ways of being and knowing and relating.

They sing that “the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes” which I suppose is meant to be a moralistic guilt trip on the tendency of children to talk and complain so much, but instead I think little Jesus screams his lungs out like the healthy, fully embodied human he is, like the voice of unquenchable Wisdom, like the son of the composer of the Magnificat (and of God and of the quiet and assenting carpenter), like the future preacher and threat to the status quo. He screams that unjust hierarchies and powers will fall and Herod hears enough to be frightened (that comes later of course).

When I went to Latvija, I was in a relatively atheist state of mind. I was “over” church and I didn’t know what I believed apart from the fact that church is too often boring, depressingly patriarchal and generally unhelpful (this is not true in the community  I attend but while travelling further from home I often find services that shut me out in various ways). After walking out of a service which seemed to be about the little, guilty me having to grovel to the patriarchy (which is a form of idolatry anyway) I went to visit my great aunt, Stefanija, for whom I was named and who has since died. I have posted her picture on this post so you can see her.

She told me stories of what it was like living under the Russian regime. Atheism was part of the ideology of the state. People who strongly advocate for universal atheism, often claim that atheists have never visited religious oppression on anyone. That is simply not true. In Latvija during the occupation you could be deported to labor camps even for saying “Merry Christmas” on December 25th, the state proclaimed that the correct festival was the secular “new year’s eve” and any religious celebration was forbidden. Church was not available, nor were decorations and the like.

Enforced atheism has shown itself to be every bit as horrifying as any other enforced religion, for all that atheists tend to claim a moral high-ground…educating ourselves about the (un)beliefs of others in a spirit of tolerance might be a better thing to try.

Anyway Stefanija told me that she and her husband had some Christian neighbours, that they knew it was safe to say “Merry Christmas” to (very quietly so no one would hear and report them) with a little smile of significance because Christmas is still a big deal to a Christian even when you are not allowed to celebrate it. And I realised that my faith does mean something to me after all- when it can mean quiet defiance of an unfair regime, it can mean a joy and hope we are not “supposed” to feel.

So like the shepherds in the reading I didn’t get to discussing, we stop work for the evening to focus on someone else’s baby in wonder and awe. Like the magi in a few weeks we follow even a star, even a rumour of a hope to connect across cultures with generosity and respect. Like Herod we might be threatened by the politics of the kindom of God, and need to resist the temptation to defend the status quo by making othered families suffer. Don’t you think you are Herod? What is your attitude to refugees? To trans-kids? To teenage mothers? To the unemployed or homeless? The wonder and transformative power of the Jesus story has been very resilient over centuries and it is part of our identity as individuals and as communities.

Jesus was grounded within his own Jewish tradition with its problems (eg patriarchy) and its possibilities (eg the radical call to social justice). I am Latvian, my relatives were courageous about having a “Merry Christmas” under an oppressive regime.

Merry Christmas to all my readers and your families. Don’t be silent- be advocates for the oppressed, be hopeful, be joyful. Let us be in the Jesus movement together!

At the foot of the cross

I wrote this more than a week ago, but I have had internet problems (forgive me). I am hoping to get a guest blogger to belatedly post an Advent 1 reflection for last week, and then later today possibly I can post my advent 2 reflection. Sorry to do nothing so long then swamp you with three at once. Living in Australia, I must have learned something from the weather. Anyway the drought is broken 😉

This morning a mother came in (I work at childcare), and I was busy assisting with the French lesson- we have a group of children of varying needs and temperaments so it was not something I could take my eyes off, but I smiled a greeting at her.

“It was you” she said… “Sorry, I mean did you go to a protest last weekend?”

“About Manus Island” I said slowly. There you go St Peter; that is how it is done! Then again for all the momentary panic I felt (or was it panic at looking away from the children for a couple of sentences?) she was smiling at me, making a safe space for me to be “out” about how I am in the world. I suddenly understood that Peter’s denial of Jesus was about closetedness- and I do know something about that, even as an “out” person I sometimes retreat into various closets about my gender identity and sexual orientation and political views and of course religion. Sometimes perhaps I have two closets facing in on each other and run from one to the other depending who I am talking with.

My excuse is always that this is a time of stress and hatred and blaming all the wrong people. So apologies Peter, I owe you a beer. I don’t really do any better at being “out” than you did.

The mother started saying how sad she was…how hopeless…how she stubbornly hoped…how we ought to treat people bloody well better than what is happening at Manus Island at the moment and I thought back to the protest. My mind is my own while I work- which is to say there os plenty for it to do, but I can sneak in a few little thoughts of my own during the day at the quiet times when I am patting someone to sleep or comforting someone with a grazed knee (the no-brainer activities) or even wiping over tables and floors. So I thought a lot about Manus, and about being recognised in a photo that apparently is circulating on Facebook (I haven’t seen it).

Then I remembered the protest gathering itself and how I fit it in sneakily before the Feast picnic, how I was running late, how I saw my sister on the way there. The first person that I saw when I got there was another friend of mine…she had her family with her. Standing there with a sister and a female friend…at the foot of somebody’s cross, while the speaker told us she understood how powerless we all felt and we all wept. She told us there was no shame in weeping. She said (for us) that it was impossible not to. Powerless to stop someone else’s suffering.

But then the speaker and another speaker both mentioned communications they had had with the modern-day Jesuses on Manus island, the people caught up in someone else’s politics and paranoia and tortured and perhaps killed (if the government think they can get away with it). And unlike the original Jesus of Nazareth, these dark-skinned, suffering men at least have mobile phones (or their supporting angels do).

Compared to the marriage equality rallies, these rallies for human life are so small (but note that many queer looking people were at the Manus island rally, and some signs in the Feast Pride March carried signs about “no Pride in detention” and other words of solidarity, so there is no call to pit one against the other).

But according to the speakers there is some point to these rallies, even if our government appears to have no ears to hear us and no hearts at all! Because the men who are suffering hunger and thirst and heat exhaustion and sickness and the occasional beating and deprivation feel encouraged when they see us gathering in solidarity to know them and to love them and to wish to help them. There was a long message about humanity, that we are human and they are human and we are sharing humanity in this experience of suffering- our tears and nightmares and their reality. So we sat on the ground and crossed our arms above our heads (as the men do in protest) and we sat for what was probably about four minutes but to my aching arms felt like an hour. We sat in silence and we continued to sit as a message from a refugee was read out. Of the people passing by, some looked like tourists and took pictures of us and nodded gravely, their body language appearing to convey approval. Some joined us, most averted their eyes, a few car-loads of people hurled verbal abuse. Tears streamed down my face.

Why should we be abused for believing in the humanity of others. Why were these people so out of touch with their own humanity? What hope was there without ordinary Australians (more of us, most of us, all of us)?

Let us pray,

God who has suffered, I see your face in the refugee and likewise in the activist and the healer who seek to take you down from your cross. Teach me to weep publically, so that my tears may move the mountain of apathy and fear, of ignorance and greed, of hate and despair. Teach me to weep with others, embracing so that our sobs turn into songs of protest.

Where is the resurrection here, at this Golgotha at Manus Island? Where is the hope?

God of passion, break hearts of stone; turn our society around; show us the way, the truth and the life.

As we approach advent, Mary’s God bring in the Magnificat vision of restitutive justice! As we celebrate your coming, show us how to nurture you ever present in those we deem “least”

Maranatha

Amen.