Tag Archives: refugees

Unsilenced: like the rocks and the stones

Palm Sunday. I want to interrupt my current project to focus on Holy week because it is so central to the tradition. And because I have so little time I will do very short reflections (possibly to the relief of my readers).

At church the readings what stayed with me was the idea that the rocks would call out and praise God. That the natural world will take part in the conversation about what is right and important? Maybe but what other rock is there in the gospels? Peter. A close friend of Jesus, one with a vocation, one who often gets it wrong, one with a destiny to radical apostleship.

We are called to be like rocks- unsilenceable. I sat there thinking of Jesus’ prophecy/call to be unsilencable in the face of the priests (his priests of the church he was member of not some exotic “other”) and I thought of the recent Pope’s command to be silent on the question of women’s ministry. Seems like priests are always telling people to be silenced!!

But we refused to be silenced and we couldn’t. And when we do not speak as loudly as we could within the church the secular world of sociology and science and even the natural world speak things. The natural world is telling us that something is terribly wrong. That capitalism and militarism and patriarchy have not been what God’s creation needs. We know this in our female bodies our forbidden sensuousness, our secret places of beginning and nurture, our quiet loves – this is not to claim that no man can have known this, I think there are so many men also who are silenced who know crucial things.

And even the rocks shout to us of the origins of the universe and a long slow history without rapid change and then suddenly human arrogance and greed.

But we are supposed to be silent and say that Jesus’ wounds have healed us echoing Isaiah 53: 5. And the earth’s broken body gives us precious metals. And the broken body of the rape victim or refugee gives us some sort of moral high-ground. And the broken body of the mother denied the right to contraception or abortion gives us population. And the broken body of the refugee gives us economic security and cultural purity. We used that as a response in our prayer before communion “by his wounds we are healed” and I couldn’t say those awful, awful abusive words. Because I don’t require a scapegoat. If God hates me then I will be broken (God doesn’t hate me), I will not accept the abuse of someone else, I will not feel joy in the torture, humiliation and death of one who loves me.

Who would?

How do we theologise so blithely about such a horrifying thing?

Is this the same sort of denial that allows us to think that human rights has become “too expensive” that inequity can be labelled “choice” and that abuse victims are “asking for it”? If God can send “his” son to suffer and die for us then the upright Christian can throw his gay son out on the street to avoid “contaminating” and “shaming” the rest of the household. If God required the piercing and mocking of an innocent then a woman who is beaten and penetrated by force has only herself to blame and must be forced to carry any resultant pregnancy to term. If God was so keen to protect the sanctity and purity of some sort of state of being that was undone by Adam, then we can force people to convert to our religion or die.

But what if we are the mothers of the sons who die, what if we are the bodies broken for others and taken from the feeding and mocked and pierced? What if we are the stones that cry out and the possibility of liberation (while the other parade entering the same city that day was one of military might, conquest and repression). And the church is cowardly to try to silence the welcoming in of the subversive reign of God. Where were the clergy from my church at the march for refugees today (kudos to Uniting church and Quakers for having such a strong presence as well as at least 3 different groups of marxists, St Vinnies, various women’s peace groups and mainly very old and very young people (my generation was represented but barely).

But if we could have hoped that the celebratory feel of Palm Sunday was some sort of short-cut to the triumph of justice and God’s reign then think again. Jesus came in to clash with cowardly church leaders and threaten powerful world leaders and to ultimately be attacked for daring to challenge the powers that be. The misinformed masses mulled around between supporting his charisma and popularity but ultimately turning away to protect what security they had within the repressive political system and their respectability among their neighbours. Jesus’ closest friends were scattered in fear. The movement will soon collapse into the worst case scenario that is “Good” Friday.

Will we ever radicalise or will we leave it to the rocks and stones to protest against the constantly tightening injustice? How do we stand for Jesus in a world that is still chaotic and misinformed and a church that allies itself with worldly power and cowardice? Wouldn’t it be nice if this time there did not have to be a crucifixion…if the “gentle, angry people” quietly stopped cooperating with things that are not right and besides not in our best interests either.

But through the grace and love of God and our solidarity to our neighbour, every neighbour even in Manus, Bob Marley will be right that “Every little thing going to be alright” (that song too was in the pro-refugee Palm Sunday march). It won’t happen in a hurry though, and we’ve all got some work to do…

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.

Oh come thou, long-expected

An unexpectedly beautiful start to my advent was my son’s end of year school Christmas concert- our last one as a family at this tiny catholic school. I braced myself for the usual nod to the traditional story of Jesus, Mary, Joseph etc (gospels blended together as though they didn’t each have their own particular flavour) and then a whole lot of painfully consumerist crap centered on santa, presents and whatever other Christmas kitsch that truth be told is not meaningful for my family. What I got was song after song of the “real” (to me as a Christian I mean) Christmas story, generally separating the shepherds from the kings (each class seemed to have a particular theme of one of the Christmas stories and follow that in 1-2 songs).

My son also compered (“beyond compare” as he put it) the whole show with some very silly jokes but I must admit that kept my interest. I don’t do crowds, I don’t do Christmas functions with tinsel and all that crap and I don’t do mixing with other parents as well as I ought to and I expected to hand awkwardly at the back wishing I dared read my book about transformative practice in early childhood (which is ever-present like a security blanket in my handbag). I was only there because these are things we are supposed to do for our children.

Once the children began their excellently rehearsed and surprisingly meaningful show though, the cynicism fell away and I began (a few days early) an advent journey that I didn’t expect. Thoughts flashed into my head of the Greens‘ small triumph (please note that even though the major parties as a whole are awful on the issue of refugees there are some greater-minded individuals even in those parties)  for getting SOME children out of detention this Christmas as I watched children dressed in vague semblances of ancient Middle-eastern garb. On of the classes had a particularly interesting theme. Their two songs were “Knock, knock, knock at the door” and “No room at the inn”. I suspect both of these had been used by the school in previous years but having both of those songs together struck me as a stance of mild but insistent resistance to the common-place values of the day. When the one knocking on the door of the overburdened, overfull inn is a little cute baby that is also God- then who wants to be the one who can’t even find them a stable to sleep in (I do realise that almost all of this story is a kind of popular midrash and the bible doesn’t speak of harassed innkeepers and stables).

“Send me the link to your blog” one of my friends (you know who you are) reminded me at the conclusion of the concert and I realised that as the purple jacarandas waved their liturgical colour at me, it was time to take my pain and despair at the plight of refugees and struggling impoverished families, and dispossessed Aboriginal communities, and cast-out queer or pregnant children and take all those pains on a journey into the world of the advent of baby Wisdom.

Please note I accidentally did Year A readings which means I am running one year ahead. Sorry.

I look to the first reading with its beautiful and complex imagery of “beating swords into ploughshares” and though I can problematize the plough, in the context of the poor overburdened earth; with Vandana Shiva I want to look for small, sustainable farming answers to feed people not rip earth and human cultures apart for profit. I think that the very active idea of taking the sword into your own hands and beating it into a ploughshare by hand- the sweat and effort and struggle to make something visionary and better out of the reality you are presented with- is an activist idea, not an idea of waiting for God to do all the work of salvation. As Christ comes am I working toward a world of (active) feeding not fighting? There is an advent challenge here…

I turn to the psalm and with a rueful grin consider how my honest writing about my anger and criticism toward the church and world and my impious grappling and debating with scripture (which will continue) has led me back into the household of the church after all (partly thanks to the crazy trust of people who asked me to preach this year as well as other disgruntled Christians who walk with me). My heart is somehow “glad” and feeling at home when my feet were standing back “within the gates” of  the church although I have learned enough to never be able to be the child at the table again (like when you visit your parents after having your own house). For the sake of people I love and am inspired by I will try to modify my criticisms with a peace born of kindness. God has made me strong with the gifts of anger and criticism, the challenge is to keep myself honest with generous serves of kindness and peace in how I express my valid criticisms. But I won’t water them down, as I feel God’s pull more strongly when I am honest.

The second reading gives a timely and stern talk to my activist self at a time of year when catching up with friends for drinks has become a high priority and plans need to be made for “the holidays”. It could also speak into the not-yet-published part of my lack of discipline. It’s time for me to wake from sleep and take the fullness of my life and call more seriously. Oh my call, how I try to run from it and neglect it! If I want Wisdom to come and transform my life and my overcrowded inn I need to be ready to make like a Christmas shepherd and leave the sheep to themselves long enough to visit her and give little world-changing baby Jesus a cuddle. I need to be like an angel and point out the extraordinary to interrupt the “business as usual” of the world. I need to be like a magus and follow the enigmatic call even though it drags me through the palace of Herod which seems counter-productive. I need to be like Joseph and not question the way God’s business becomes my whole life and my business. I need to be like Mary, so connected into the Wisdom of God that it wells up in me and grows and is born and changes the world. I can still have that glass of gluten-free beer with my good mates, I can still get involved with making things at work as good as possible, I can still enjoy the last weekend of Feast and the concert with Archie Roach that I am going to but this is not where my real life is. My real life is nurturing justice and resisting injustice and I need to wake up, have serious amounts of spiritual caffeine and get to it!

I’ve always had a problem with this gospel, but today I feel I can read it as a warning that “business as usual” is not going to cut it. In terms of the environment and the spreading hand of exploitation and oppression there is a lot of merit in an apocalyptic view toward politics. What is Christmas? Is it a holiday of excess and “God rest us all merry” while there are starving children and suffering strangers in the world we have built up for our ease and security? Comfort and joy for whom?

Sometime the “Son of Man” the “human one” is coming whether we look to that possibility or not. Scientifically our days as a species are numbered (and it’s a smaller number than people like to admit). What is the meaning of being? Do we hide from the interloper, Christ until he breaks into our lives like an unsettling thief? Do we acknowledge our need and look for the coming of one who will call us to radical transformation? Knock, knock, knock at the door. It’s advent!

Dry bones and yearning for wisdom

Readings here

How on earth do I (the mortal) prophesy in such a way that dry bones live? Is there really such a power in God’s words, even filtered through me, to change reality? We do know that discourses do actually change reality – it’s how people like Rupert Murdoch gain so much influence. But how to circulate a counter discourse in these (neoliberal) times?

The living, and life-inbreathing Word of God- the discourse that is justice. How to access its power and heed its mission? A vast multitude of the people of God is (once again) cut off from grace and hope. Completely cut off, it would seem. Ironically I am among them, I the prophet, the mortal also nothing more than a dry and despairing pile of bones. God’s call is also to me, against the odds to live and to “know” that God will speak and act. God calls me to be the prophet also, to give the call to others for life and hope and knowing also.

God what are you asking? This is worse than an alarm going off at 4am. This is JUST NOT POSSIBLE. This is #justnotpossible. !!! Unlike the prophet in the first reading, who quietly and simply obeys God (quiet, simple obedience does not seem to be in my nature) I rant and rave. Why? How? What exactly are you expecting me to say and do God? Why me? Oh this is just too hard! I conclude that I am mistaken, God doesn’t mean me, I am overhearing someone else’s call and because of my “crush” on god am thinking it pertains to little old me.

In my life, in my person it is not possible for these dry bones to live.

Sorry God.

Sorry.

Onto the psalm. Oh here we are praising an all-powerful God who can offer food and renewal to all her beloved creatures. Well go on God, feed your creatures. Starting with the refugees, the Rohingga, who no country is prepared to take in. Bugger watching Leviathan, these are your people!

I cannot hear a reply from my God. My dry bones remain still.

What hope is there? What knowing toward a powerful and life-giving divine? I have no such knowledge, I fail to even brush at the hem of the robe of eternally desirable Wisdom. I gather with “them”, in one place. I like that “they” are anonymous, not necessarily the patriarchal leaders, or not only. I am there too.

I wait for the rushing wind, for the sound of something happening, something changing, being transformed.  I wait for the Holy Spirit to inspire us to be understandable and understood to the “other”. We are only Galileans (well actually I am a Taperoo bogan which is even worse). And I sit here, this pile of dry bones and wait and reread the story to see what will happen next.

And as I read, I stop identifying with “them” because “they” are really not the othered “them” but are at the cultural centre of the story as the authoritative “us”. They are after all the “Apostles” they speak, export their truth from the centre and the marginalised “all nations” simply receive it passively and with the naïve wonder any colonised nations get depicted as possessing. We export our white, privileged, wealthy capitalist truths and standardised tests too as well as our bullshit about “border protection”. But we do not let “them” speak back to “us”!

“Us” of the hardened hearts, the stopped ears…the dried bones. Was it stubbornness and privilege that dried the bones then?

“They” call on the name of the Lord, because don’t kid yourselves Muslims (in boats or otherwise) follow (as imperfectly as we do) the same God as “we” Christians do! And how can God save them when “we” deny them salvation? The dryness of our bones is the raw material our society is based upon, we cannot afford to hear God’s word and live. We cannot afford to change the discourse.

I turn finally to that “gospel” reading. Gospel means “good news” and by now I am desperate for hope.

The ruler of this world has been condemned. The ruling class and our own investment in privilege cannot stand in the face of the Advocate for God’s righteousness (justice) and remembering that other gospel where Christ clearly identifies with the hungry we refused to feed and the thirsty we refused to give water to the stranger we refused to embrace. And the other one about the Samaritan. Our Spiritual heritage abounds in precedents for the Advocate to cite against us when advocating for the hungry, dispossessed Christ.

Can we really not bear to hear these things yet? Can we really not yet bear the command to live and to give life? The Spirit speaks to us. May she also speak through us, to create life where there is none, to be radically creation affirming, truth finding and accessible (and open) to every othered soul in creation.

Spirit I acknowledge I am lost, I tried to follow you into Good Friday but it was so dark there I missed the glint of Easter I was looking for. Spirit find me and hold my hand because what can one lone voice do against the hordes of life-denying, rational, border-protecting hell? I want them to be fed. I want to believe in you again; if I knew how, I would follow you anywhere.

Can these dry bones live?

Please God, can they?