Tag Archives: silencing

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!

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Bit parts in the story?

Palm Sunday, the big things begin.

At first I thought I was going to write about the idea that Jesus is more than a popular movement or a celebrity. There is this huge movement into Jerusalem to popular acclaim, they are all screaming their welcome like all the ticker tape parades and whatever we do these days to make a big deal out of a popular or important someone. It irritates the leaders of the temple and Jesus says:  “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

I have focused on this in the past, the idea that God’s saving good news is essentially unsilenceable. For me that is proved in the way (for example) the church has at various times tried to silence women and especially feminists, and yet somehow there bursts within us always through many, many generations a wellspring of hope and the need to call out and critique. At times it may have slowed to a trickle (or just been hidden from posterity) but at times it gathers momentum into a flood of reforms. That is one example, but there are many. God’s people seek the gospel of liberation and human dignity. God’s people who believe in Christianity and also God’s people who are in indigenous cultures or who find God somewhere other than the scripture (however much you love the scriptures they are only books of human writing after all and God is in them and beyond them).

But then I found out about this page. The idea that “stones will shout” can also be mobilised for reactionary purposes. The “stones” here does not mean the natural environment, mother earth screaming out her pain at the foolishness and abuses of humanity. The “stones” are now reconfigured as a wall, creating law and order and keeping out the non-compliant. The bible readings in and of themselves are double edged weapons and anyone it seems can wield them in any way…or can they?

Where is the evidence in the text?

Yes there IS the links with tradition in how the story unfolds and the kyriearchal language. I must say, this is sort of a manifesto statement but if the kyriearchy really is as intrinsic and necessary to faith as more conservative voices in the church claim then with tears I have to depart. There is nothing for me in a dazzling kingdom of privilege and dominion. Who are the Pharisees then telling the disciples to stop shouting, stop praising Jesus. I know the website I linked to above would have it that the “liberals” within the church, especially more progressive clergy are attempting to silence the eternal “truths” of tradition.

If we stop at Psalm Sunday we are then at a stand-off. “We” are authentically praising God and “They” are trying to silence us, claims each side. Perhaps I have finally realised why the passion reading also takes place on a day when I would have though the palm story was enough! We look to the Passion for clues to who Jesus is. To find out some deep “truths” about a person look to what they are accused of by their enemies, and where they stand when they are less than glamorous.

Jesus in the Passion is accused of crimes against the state (the colonists, the ruling class) and of crimes against the established church. He is accused of upsetting the comfortable lifestyles of the wealthy and the privileged. He is not known for judging and constraining the poor, the gospels echo with his raucous criticisms of those who are powerful, hypocritical and judgemental. Those who are powerful and rich need to use hypocrisy and judgements to retain their privileged place in their society and this is how Jesus becomes a threat. And so he is put to death shamefully.

To me this answers the question on whose side he is on. The answer is he is on the side of love and justice; equality, compassion and whatever makes us uncomfortable within our consolidated “Sties of contentment”. So when we turn to judge our opposition, we do not have Christ with us, except if we are being a genuine voice for the liberation of the poor and oppressed. As an ego-trip no one gets to win the argument, no one gets to claim the Christ. Christ never follows us, but always leads. My sometimes anger and focus on what the patriarchal church does wrong needs to be reconfigured into the love that walks the way of the cross NOT AS A DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIM…not anymore silenced, unaware or self-harming. Not compliant or subservient. However I am equally not there to assume some sort of moral high ground and feed my ego. I am there to orient myself in love toward Christ (Wisdom), always to make my interests align with Wisdom’s interests of justice, kindness and right relation. I can trust that the love of God is better than worldly success and more long lasting even than life itself.

This does not mean I abuse or neglect myself or my worldly life- I think that can be misguided too. But my focus is radically the Word of God, the living love-driven manifestation of God that became a person in Jesus’ human story of friendship, words, political activism, acclaim, betrayal, suffering, death and faithfulness (we’ll get to that). In research there is a growing emphasis (started by the feminists- who else?) on reflexivity, in knowing who I am as I state my point of view and interrogating my motivations and interests and the power networks that allow me to say some things and not others. I think faith needs a measure of reflexivity too, even when we are opposing oppression we need to bear in mind who we are, what our emotional baggage is and reorient ourselves toward the justice of God rather than point-scoring and anger.

So I began my reading of the Palm Sunday even, thinking that this was a case of a popular celebrity being picked up one moment and spat out by popular support the next because where are they when he is arrested and tried and killed for goodness sakes? But Luke tells us that “All” his acquaintances” and particularly underlines the presence of a core of supporting women, all of these were at the cross, standing some way away and perhaps awkwardly wondering whether they dare say anything, what all this means and whether they are next.

And in a society that is steadfastly refusing to radicalise despite HUGE and unfair reforms that take away our little and redistribute it upward to the already rich, that pick on the refugee, the elderly, the low-paid worker, the unemployed, the mentally ill and the single mother; in a society like that can we not relate? We love justice but we don’t want to “start trouble”. We don’t want to be accused of being “selfish” or “naïve” by demanding a better, kinder, happier society. We will add ourselves to great parades and popular shows of believing in causes, but who among us actually moves toward the foot of the cross to wipe the face of Christ, or dare lift him from the cross. Who speaks a word to try to halt the crucifixion? Who takes him into our arms preventing his capture? We all look for leaders to do that for us, we are all “only the crowd” or “only the women” and our role is feeding, supporting, following. Noone dares to begin what could be a large movement of resistance to the ongoing crucifixion of Indigenous communities, public education, disability supports, the earth itself.

When I say “nobody” I of course mean people like me, because in fact some few individuals DO give their time and effort to oppose injustice and the chaos of killing Wisdom. But why do they stand so alone? Why do we as a whole lack the energy and courage to stand against unfair shows of power by the ruling class? What does it take? Must our God always be sacrificed to the status quo? Have we nothing more than tears to give? I don’t know what it is that stops me living more faithfully, not precisely. But the deep emotional response I feel to follow Jesus on Palm Sunday and then the deep tears of Good Friday, the many current parallels to the way of the cross tell me that SOMEHOW I must break out of that background place that the followers of Jesus have in Luke’s account of the passion. If we love, why do we stand back bracketing our religious life so far outside our REAL life, bracketing ourselves into mere passive spectators in the story of Jesus?

In Luke’s gospel there is the teasing hint of an untapped potential and there are significantly constant women who might start something. Might they? Might we? In between chanting “Hosanna this, hosanna that” might we listen for the call inside us of Sophia. Wisdom who has suffered more than enough through our inaction. How will she stir us this time?

Fulfilling my weekly commitment (uphill)

Doing this more as a discipline than out of wanting to this week, cannot even be bothered doing links (will later perhaps otherwise google “lectionary” if you want to know,,.

That first reading: Job 1:1, 2:1-10. So God uses Job in order to win a bet with the Satan, lets him be tortured for some sort of gentleman’s dick-points competition. Not cool God, not at all cool! And when Job’s wife quite sensibly points out that this is not behavior that deserves Job’s continued loyalty HE says: “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”

Well THIS foolish woman here, writing the blog thinks yes, if God loves us this sort of abuse is NOT ok. And I would a lot rather be a foolish woman who thinks religion is not worth all this pain and indignity; than to lose my compassion and be foolish like a man who accepts an idea of God who punishes the good merely to impress his enemy. Hypermasculinity like that puts me off. I don’t think God goes out and handpicks misfortune for people but if I thought God was like that I wouldn’t so quickly praise God for it.

Psalm 26 is the sort of smugly complacent stuff a lot of “good Christians” come out with. The sort of people who turn gay people away from their church, and frown upon divorcees, and kick out their own daughters for being pregnant. Oh I am so pure and innocent, also exclusive and don’t let the wrong sort of riff-raff come near me. 26:8 O LORD, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.

But I put it to you, psalmist that if you loved the house where God dwells, then you would have been into it enough to see that God dwells with the rejected and the unclean; with the poor and the downtrodden, with the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters. If you avoid all of God’s housemates then how can you say you love God’s house? Your foot may stand on level ground while you soapbox away how much you thank god for your unearned privilege, meanwhile God isn’t listening because her arms are full of the refugee babies you couldn’t make room for and her feet are running to tend to the suicidal lesbian you pushed out of your congregation, her face is turned toward the victims of your injustice and she is listening and comforting and your “integrity” is cheap and tawdry if you sweep away sinners so easily.

The second reading seems piecemeal, perhaps because someone has taken bits of bible and tried to splice them together, with something missing in the middle and the continuity is ruined. It becomes a lot of pious but not very meaningful phrases, though I like the tracing of Jesus’ exact resemblance to God, that is a cute and loveable little part of a reading I can otherwise (after an exhausting week) not make head nor tail of).

In The gospel, Jesus I think is getting a bit annoyed with those self-important patriarchs who think there are more important things (eg the “law”) than their own families. Women, children…neither are to be dismissed, silenced, cast aside. This reading gets used as being against modern 21st century divorce which is absolute rubbish as a way of understanding it, because in these days to divorce a woman (as if only the male could be the active partner to begin with) does not condemn her to a life of abject poverty. Jesus is saying don’t be hard-hearted, but also you can’t discount, trivialise, silence half of humanity. Humanity complete, with both halves (and yes I realise I am using binary thinking here…God is actually shown in the full spectrum of human gender and sexuality even more fully), complete humanity is the image of God. Maleness only gives us a skewed and unhelpful, unbalanced idea of who God is, because the image of God is far more than that.

from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’”…“Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”” This is not an argument for compulsory heterosexuality NOR against divorce, this is an affirmation that humanity reflects God with all those parts that God made. God does not make mistakes, woman is no less than man and both, all genders are vital to our understanding of the fullness and depth and wise love of God. I take that from this reading and all the stuff about lust and adultery and all the rest of it…we could try to do a detailed criticism and zoom in some time but …not now.

Then the little children get brought in, and we can’t have that especially if they are not nice middle-class children or if they don’t know how to behave. Perhaps before the children could approach Jesus they ought to have had a note from their priest and a certificate showing that they have completed all their sacraments and served in their church community as altar servers (if boys) or dish-washing tea ladies (if girls). In fact stuff the girls, we don’t want Jesus to get girl germs! And yes, there is this sort of attitude toward various “little ones” within the church (see last week’s readings that I ought to have written about since they resounded for me).
In the end whoever it is that we reject or place obstacles in the path of, Jesus will turn around and push past our self-importance to embrace them.
“ for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

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.