I tried to write a blog about this week’s readings and I felt angry at all the different ways that exploitation of humans (women in each case) was reified as part of God’s plan and then I tried to pull back and find some good news in there to try to say that God was actually on side with the oppressed and we should…we should… and here I drew blanks. How do you respond to what is essentially a text of terror? And especially when the church uses it as a model for the Christian life that a good Christian is like Ruth or the starving widow or the almost penniless widow and is prepared to be used up and spat out in the service of God’s kingdom (or only to be nurtured by God as part of a greater plan of faithfulness to more important figures).
I want to radically follow God out of love, but not to be exploited and especially not to be part of a long tradition of the clergy and other all-male groups trivialising, exploiting and casually using women. NO FUCKING WAY.
So I wrote it and didn’t post it, I thought I would sleep on it. And then I checked my email and a friend of mine who is a sort of feral priest (ie too female to get any compensation or even acknowledgement from the exploitative Catholic church) had a rant in there about being “preached” to by people who have just got no idea. I won’t steal her story or her ideas as such, but that seemed a very productive track to go down to consider how dare I “preach” at all and who would I “preach” to and what presumptions and privilege might be contained within my preaching.
I don’t tend to like being “preached at” actually. I often feel like the person standing out the front going “blah, blah, blah, blah” wrongly assumes that I am many steps behind them on my spiritual journey and disrespects the ways I might be their equal or even ahead of them. I don’t believe we should preach that way as if to inferiors. I am not Jesus if I elevate myself (the first part of this week’s gospel makes that clear before moving into the text of terror which gets zoomed in upon in the opposite way to how the context sets it up).
The (mostly male) superior preachers who want to teach little old inferior me how to live (all without ever walking so much as half a step in my shoes or even bothering to make the smallest effort to find out anything about my life or experience) lack what we in qualitative research call REFLEXIVITY. They don’t stop to analyse who it is who is doing the preaching, that they are not just a wise conduit for God’s infallible wisdom (with a small “w” because it is not really Wisdom when it is bound by patriarchy) but that they are human beings caught up in webs of power relations in a society riddled with inequalities and that not only are they the relatively privileged, but that they also within the reign of God are pilgrims and sinners as are the “congregation”.
I am not saying that priests never examine their own conscience and never engage in their own spiritual journey, it would be wrong of me to speculate on that and God I am sure sees whatever good work or gaps exist in that work. I am simply saying that by setting up a one-way power relationship where “the people” are not meant to see “the priests” humanity there is a sort of dangerous hubris that leads to the greater and more dangerous abuses of power. It is also both discouraging and unhelpful to have to humour these people by listening to their self-satisfied and often superficial drivel week after week with little or no opportunity to speak back.
Having said that I hope that anyone who wants to take issue with what I am “preaching” is free to leave a message disagreeing with me, which provided it is not abusive I would allow on my wall. And you also are not a captive “congregation” but can tune in or out of what I choose to write as you wish.
I have tried to make it clear in this blog who I am- a disenchanted “Christian”, a graduate of theology, a single mother, a lesbian, a white middle-class person with a job and all the rest of it. In all those claims about my identity I am identifying what my bias might be and realising for me to try to speak from some ivory tower of “knowing” to you whoever reads this is arrogant, unless I realise that your different “knowing” might be equally enlightening to me, and unless I show that my struggles with these difficult texts are part of my Christian journey of NOT having all the answers and NOT always being “right”.
So Ruth makes herself available to Boaz so that she won’t starve and conceives a son for Naomi. The widow and her son are saved by God ONLY because of God’s interest in the survival of Elijah. Despite Jesus’ words about the exploitative hubris of priests, all the church sees in the widow’s donation of more than she can afford is a great role model for the poor and down-trodden in the pews to be guilted into following. Jesus is the ultimate high priest, advocating for us before God not constantly haranguing us that we are “not good enough” but other priests do NOT advocate for the oppressed within church and society and just preach spiritual opium and escapism to the masses.
The church is riddled with cancerous growths called patriarchy and privilege. It is bound into service of the ruling class and regularly commits adultery by serving the interests of capitalism rather than its spouse, Christ/Wisdom. It is addicted to its own cleverness and relatively easy place in a troubled world. We, the people must stop enabling. We must stop making excuses for the black eyes and hurt feelings, stop separating ourselves from the things that can give us life and stop being unconditionally faithful to the abuser, the patriarchal church. We must stop hurting Wisdom herself by blindly following and excusing, stop collaborating in the myriad oppressions of the world and the church.
If we have one coin between ourselves and death, we must use that coin to buy bread for our children not let it be sucked up by a not-even-grateful church. If we have a vocation we must dance it away from those who steal our labour and our dignity…somehow this must be possible. We must glean some sort of future for ourselves the widows and orphans of the institutional church!