Tag Archives: social justice

If God were a superhero

So I went to see Wonder Woman on the weekend. I won’t review the movie here- I loved some things and really didn’t like others about it. But she had this love interest called Steve (many of you probably knew that) and in the movie there is this scene where Wonder Woman (Diana) is battling Ares, the God of war and Steve and his friends are busy sabotaging a nazi plane (long story, see the movie) and someone says “what’s that?” terrified by all the flashes of lightning and things breaking and basically the outward signs of an epic superhero battle (the sort of cheesy thing you can’t not have in a superhero movie).

Steve looks up briefly and says “I can’t do anything about that, so I am going to stop this plane flying.” (or something). That stayed with me. That in the moment of existential terror, where powers bigger than anything he can handle are doing things to the universe and he might just die regardless of what he does, he keeps doing the ordinary heroics of human existence. Maybe he trusts that Wonder Woman will manage the larger battle, maybe he thinks that even if it is all futile he will go out with meaning. He doesn’t spend time worrying about what might be, he plays his own part.

He is also a fictional character.

I am thinking then of something I read in Rethinking Schools’ environmental education edition. That it is not the people who recycle tins and plant gardens that will save the world but that we must stop what the military and capitalism are doing to the planet on a larger scale and I sort of agree- but then it all looks too much and too hard. When I shared my despairing thoughts with a friend of mine, they said “maybe but it makes me feel better to shop ethically and to avoid using plastic” and another friend added “we save the environment at home AND we get political”.

Those friends are real people and perhaps doing more for the earth than I am (though I try too).

This brings me to the part of the liturgy called “Intercessions” or sometimes “Prayers of the Faithful”. I can’t find my trusty old missal at this moment but usually the priest or someone trusted has written a bunch of prayers about the world, the church, the community, specific people who have been sick or died and each prayer ends with: “Lord hear us” upon which we are all supposed to chorus “Lord hear our prayer” to add our agreement, and it’s all about unity or something.

And explanations for why we pray this way range from “because God will do whatever two or three ask of him” (I think that was a misquote from the bible) or other versions of the belief that an interventionist God has some sort of triage system for sorting and answering our prayers and if we perform them well we might win the blessing jackpot, to “give it all to God” that we can pray about the things we don’t like in the world instead of doing anything about them.

Having said that I notice the people in the church I go to (where we all share the prayers in our hearts, sometimes about current affairs or the environment, other times more personal ones) pray about refugees AND THEN take up money and sponsor a refugee, they pray about unemployed people AND THEN they give practical support to the unemployed families present. Someone prays about her cancer AND THEN people hug her and give her a friendly phone call during the week. We pray for tolerance for LGBTIQ+ people AND THEN when I rock my rainbow jumper people make sure to make me feel just as welcome as any other week (I think they make more effort because they want to position themselves as pro-diversity and anti-homophobia.

Seems to me as though at that church “prayers” are a little bit like working with a super-hero (I love using Wonder Woman as a metaphor for God, I really am enjoying that). On the one hand a lot of what is happening in the world is too big for us and we can’t do anything about it. We may not like the leaders of our country, we may not like the corrupt business-people they pander to. We may be appalled by the suffering experienced by families in refugee camps and bombed cities and on the streets of our own city. But prayer lets us stop for a moment, recognise that God is doing something (somehow and we can’t really see how or what) and there is also something we can do. So we just do the thing we can do, we at least do that (Steve’s contribution in the movie was literally a matter of life and death – more than once).

If you think I have made a theology that is a lot different from my usual view of God as vulnerable and among us instead of as a super-hero then yes I guess I have. I have entertained an idea I usually try to steer clear of that God is somehow going to be powerful and “fix” things. I have entertained it carefully however- God is doing whatever it is that God does and we must do whatever we must do influenced by God.

Coming back to Wonder Woman, it was enchanting in the movie how her view of things was both bigger “It’s Ares behind it, the Germans are good people inside” and smaller “oh look a baby” or crying over each individual hurt soldier than the views of the humans who’d been living in the “real world” all along. She influenced her friends to see the aim of the game as peace rather than victory. Her way of working was not what they expected and really challenged them but they found that their yearning – like hers – was for peace.

There are some problematic aspects of the movie that I have deliberately ignored but at the end of the day I want to acknowledge that Wonder Woman is not Godde.

We bring our prayers to Godde because we want to come together as a team with the others at church, with Godde herself- to be close to her and be influenced by her. We bring them because in articulating what troubles us we might find inspiration about what to do next, or let it go for now for our sanity (not as escapism but as rest and trust as part of the dance/struggle toward justice)

Wonderous Godde hear us,

Wonderous Godde hear our prayer.

Cuddles and baby-talk

Ok so my brain is fried from the heat and I have been busy this week with my son who I didn’t see for a couple of weeks before that, but I will try to have a go. Because if i wrote about Joseph just before Christmas, and Matthew’s construction of an enlightened, spiritually attune and emotionally honest masculinity then I guess the epiphany (which occurs every year) continues this.

The gospel doesn’t tell us the gender of the Magi (and that lack of certainty can sometimes be fun to play with) but tradition has decided there were three of them and they were all male: Balthazaar, Melchior and Caspar. This is not entirely satisfactory and the exoticisation of them as various shades of black (set next to the improbable sight of a white Jesus) is certainly problematic. But let’s just for a moment visualise them as traditionally they have been painted and repainted. 3 wealthy blokes.

Suddenly they follow a dream, or an inner conviction or their intuition or something (a star no less) and trek half way around the world to see a baby. I was at a pool party today and there was a small baby there. One of my friends who usually comes across more or less as a big tough man came in and immediately scooped up the baby and started baby-talking to him and cuddling him. He brought the child over to his very pregnant wife and let the baby “make friends” with the other baby in utero. My scepticism about the way Matthew portrays men dissolved somewhat in seeing that and I suddenly pictured Balthazaar, Melchior and Caspar jumping off their camels and squatting down and baby-talking and all wanting to cuddle little Jesus. Meanwhile maybe the exhausted Mary had a backrub from Joseph or a nanna-nap or I would like to visualise her popping out for a cup of something with no baby…but maybe that couldn’t (and didn’t) happen in biblical Bethlehem.

Of course I don’t want to make too much of a big deal of men who want to be fathers and uncles and basically decent human beings around children because as has often been pointed out it’s a bit silly that men are “heroes” for doing the things women are supposed to just “naturally” gravitate to. A redeemed masculinity when portrayed the way I have portrayed it is no greater than an ordinary femininity. But maybe we can line the baby-cuddling, emotionally intelligent “wise men” up with Mary who walked miles and miles WHILE PREGNANT to emotionally support her cousin without even the emotional reward of seeing a baby. Matthew’s wise men line up with Luke’s wise woman. Maybe it’s not just about gender, but it is about being a decent and open individual.

Herod’s need to control and dominate is threatened by these strange people with their strange lifestyle, with these powerful men coming past to celebrate a baby’s birthday. The mundane is political. Everyday acts of love and walking humbly with are transgressive against the power regimes of the world. Oh yes Herod is VERY threatened by this queer behaviour and would like to kill them or kill Jesus. We can sanitise the ending as happy- both the magi and the child’s family get protected by the providence of God (and once again their willingness to pay attention to dreams). But there is a human cost.

When we celebrate the epiphany we forget that very male child under 2 was murdered by order of a paranoid king. Where was God in that event? How do we celebrate the transformation and liberation of the privileged individual WITHOUT making invisible the many who are unfairly made to suffer? If we are to embrace a good news, we can’t do it just by framing the action to sweep the abuse of children under a carpet.

The church has tried that course but we need to move beyond it! The child who escaped to Egypt was the child of God and so was the murdered infant and the assaulted mother. So is the child of God the baby born on Manus island and the baby whose mother has her centrelink cut off. As a society/church we need to put our Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh where our God is. We need to love our neighbour.

I apologise if my coherence is affected by the heat

The greater gifts- liberation, transformation, repentance, challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus’ reads a traditional text to explain his mission:

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing for transformation

I have been feeling a bit uninspired and even (here’s a confession) judgemental as Christmas approaches and all I hear is a whole lot of consumerist drama about presents and food and decorations and which unpleasant relative people are going to half kill themselves in order to please (all while matching the napkins to the baubles and making glittery centrepieces). I wonder that people who usually come across as sensitive and thoughtful suddenly seem to bury themselves in consumerism and stress and as a result some of them (the active ones who have to do all the work) wind up snapping “I hate Christmas”, while the ones who have a high emotional investment in “receiving” a perfect Christmas- gifts, invitations also end up disappointed as the reality can never match the expectation brought to us by that ”John the Baptist” equivalent of the consumerist religion, Santa.

Someone is going to argue with me that “Santa” is actually a Christian figure being based on St Nicholas but when I look at the North pole dwelling, red, no longer unfashionably plump, ruling class business owner and exploiter of elves and reindeer and his hiding in the shadows (making cookies of course), “Mrs Claus” I say “bollocks”. This myth may indeed have come out of an appropriation of  a Christian story but it has morphed so far I think it is even too late for reclaiming. Is noone apart from me uncomfortable with the Christmas pageants where this older (and often depicted as married) man has a sleazy relationship with teenaged beauty queens and Christmas fairies? This is not a version of Christianity I want to subscribe to, nor is the meritocratic lie that the children who get lavish presents are the “good” ones, and the ones with unemployed parents have done something wrong and deserve less. There is a popular movement for parents to “cut down” the number of presents they buy each of their children to FOUR. FOUR?? I only ever bought each child one (and maybe snuck in a book as well because I am naughty that way).

So I have been feeling anger and despair about Christmas, and I don’t like to admit this but I better- I have been looking down on people who think these things are so important- all the presents and hideous decorations and having the right fashionable foods (and too much of them). I have been reading Vandana Shiva (another “john the Baptist” figure but more to my taste) and agreeing that we privileged first-worlders use up the planet for empty crap, we don’t even get enough satisfaction to be worth the plunder and we are unhealthy as anything because of our over-consumption.

But I have survived this year, in a job that has some joyful moments on even the bad days, with one entire day nearly every week that I can devote to my favourite activity in the world of writing and I live with the most thoughtful young person in the universe who alternates getting me a coffee or a hug with his witty humour and undemanding habits. And if I find meaning in quiet times with him (no work for two weeks) and sunsetty evenings at the beach in the wet sand and the chatter of rainbow lorikeets and the company of the same friends who have supported and challenged me all year, and family members who do their best to tolerate me…then it is time to stop and examine my own privilege.

Because not so many years ago there was an impoverished, struggling single mother who felt cut off from relatives and other people alike- who saw judgement and rejection everywhere (even where it wasn’t) and who suffered through grey day after grey day under a burden of anxiety and self-hate and her own inadequacy. I have to remember her, who I was for so many years. And that grey-day woman wanted a bit of colour in her life and used tinsel and fairylights and wrapping paper and cards to try to make some fleeting connection to the rest of the human race and bought too many gadgets and gizmos to try to brighten up the lives of the children who were unfortunate enough to be stuck in her life. And that wasn’t “right” and it didn’t completely “work” but it provided some sort of fleeting relief and that is what it does for all the people who get caught up in commodified Christmases as well as the dating-at-any-price mentality which I think it related: the idea that you can’t be happy unless you have a partner.

And sitting in the relative wealth of Australian society we DO need to look at our consumption and we all need to cut down on it- every household, every individual but especially industry and the military! And I don’t want to return to an uncritical “bread and circuses” attitude to Christmas, granting that the consumerism alleviates a little bit of an existential angst for many people and leaving it at that. The first reading expects more than that from us…we are to point ourselves toward the joy and beauty that God calls us to (which can’t be giftwrapped or sent out for). But in my judgemental attitude I have thought about how to “break their hearts of stone” and I haven’t considered that that is not what I need when I get trapped in escapism and patterns of despair.

How instead do we embrace their hearts and offer them a home? The baby John the Baptist in the canticle is not praised for his incisive criticisms and his rousing hellfire sermons (alas because I think I would make a fantastic old-school preacher). He is told he will prepare Jesus’ way through preaching the “forgiveness of sins” through the loving-kindness (is this hesed?) of God to break upon us like a new dawning. Like finding out that I was a rainbow, not a brokenness. So somehow if we are to accept the impossible mission of John the Baptist (and even here I am mindful of how he ended up once he irritated the ruling class enough), we are to bring peace and loving-kindness and light to the world, not simply threats and criticisms. Do I detect God laughing at me, because she knows how I love a good criticism!

In the second reading, “Paul” (I am never sure when it is the real Paul and when it isn’t but this guy thinks it is) is thanking God for some supportive person/s who have shared the gospel with him. And I think of the people who fill my heart with gratefulness and light whenever I even think of them, and some of them are believers in God, and some are not. But what they all have in common is that they came into my life in a “before” time, when I was more depressed and they have to some degree walked into my darkness to greet me and accept me and show me the light of love. The people who saw something in me before I was ready to see it myself have (cumulatively) changed my life! So if we want to convert the next Paul, or even if we just want a better society then the call is to be prophets of love and light to the world.

And now I am beginning to sound more Christmassy I think which is good because next week is the “joy” week and the drought of advent-waiting will need to be ready to be transformed to a more expectant state then.

So back to the gospel, to our old friend John the Baptist. As an environmentalist I feel horrified shivers at his metaphor, but as a teacher who is interest above all else in social justice I resound with the idea of equalising. Despite the capitalist wisdom of the day “a rising tide floats everyone’s boat” the fact is we live in a world of finite resources, and for one to increase, someone else must pay the price. So to prepare for God’s kingdom, we must raise the status of the poor and the refugee AT THE COST OF THE WEALTHY who need to be made lower. While I feel quite poor still, on a world wide scale I am one of the (smaller) hills that will need to be smoothed down to exalt the real valleys.Isn’t it tempting to water down the redistributive demand of God’s revolution here and to say that all God really wants us to do is be “nice” and “moral” and “caring” in a bland way that doesn’t offend anybody.

But no! God’s demanding Word asks for nothing less than a complete overhaul of our social landscape to smooth out mountains and valleys into equality. Yes that is hard, hard work! But that is what it will take to have God’s reign in our lives. We can’t achieve this purely as individuals, we can’t just make ourselves “good” and “holy” people inside there is a social project and a struggle implicit in bringing God. “All flesh” are to see this salvation together, not singly while leaving brothers and sisters to suffer outside the gate.

So that is the Christmas to prepare for, the radical challenge that God’s word always brings to the powers that be. Prepare to be offensive to the Herods and the Pilates of the world when Jesus comes- prepare to be no friend to the wealthy Pharisees and to be seen on a par with tax-collectors and prostitutes. The restitutive, redistributive world of God’s Holy Wisdom is going to make a few changes around here. And we get to be part of that!

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

My God,

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

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

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

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

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

Trust.

Why did you call me?

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

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

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

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

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

Were you really tempted in every way that I was?

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

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

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

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

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

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