Tag Archives: struggle

Chloe’s people, John’s people, Jesus’ people and the call to me

I am not in the mood to pretend that I feel “enlightened” or full of hope. I think it is a big mistake when people use Christianity as an opium for themselves as an individual or for the masses. If what is wrong with the world ceases to hurt in the euphoric escapism of being “saved” then God is a great big ecstasy tablet and the believer is some sort of socio-path. Because real life and the earth and human bodies matter a lot. We live in that pre-salvation darkness when we let families be locked up on Manus, when we make selfish and life-denying decisions, when we let greed and fear rule our world.

“For the yoke that burdened them,
the pole on their shoulder,
and the rod of their taskmaster
you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.”

We can hope in this vision of the reign of God, but we are deluded if we see it as already fully realised. But it does give us a hint about which prophets to believe, and where to look for the authentic Wisdom in a world of competing truths and wisdoms. God does not deny the yoke that oppresses us but SMASHES it, radically works to undo and make impossible the oppression of her people. “Saving” is not some sort of magical act, but is liberation, removing the unjust power of whatever enslaves us (and our unjust power to enslave others). Wherever there is true liberation, there is the action of God. Wherever we (or anyone) are still being oppressed the light is yet to shine.

In the psalm I “believe” in the goodness of God. If this goodness in my life was already fully realised I would not have to believe any more than I have to “believe” in the roof over my head or the food in my bowl. I “believe” because there is something of God’s effect over my life that still exists as potential energy, poised to unfold in some way I may not grasp. Courage and stoutheartedness is needed as we wait (and these are in me, in short supply I confess).

I can’t say I completely resound with what Paul is on about in the second reading. Granted it is disheartening and counter-productive how often churches and other communities of hope become splintered as people polarise over some issue and refuse to work together. What is equally hurtful however is the false unity that makes invisible any minority or less privileged group. I am currently reading New Feminist Christianity and finding it full of diverse and oftentimes critical voices of various groups of WOC, queer folk (once again varied and diverse), workers in DV prevention and healing, people from various church traditions. They don’t all say the same thing, but they make up a wonderful patchwork of views that turn into a polyphonic dialogue that never intends to be completed or closed.

Instead churches and other organisations often opt for a “unity” that is hegemonic, restrictive, exclusive or downright abusive. Rivalries and petty politics ARE every bit as bad as Paul says, but I want to remind him of Jeremiah 6:14, and warn him that sweeping differences under a carpet is NOT a way forward. Simply putting Christ in the centre in a kyriearchal way is more problematic than I think we often like to admit. He is “the Lord” and simply trumps everyone else is an easy answer but not a real solution. Once again I am indebted to the book I mentioned above, quite a few of the theologians have challenged me to look beyond kyriearchal, individualist interpretations of the “Jesus story” to the “everyone else stories” that Wisdom has always woven through (being the sort of girl who goes exactly where she wants and won’t stay put). Wisdom (although I have a borderline problematic tendency to anthropomorphise her) is in fact neither male, female not in any way human and her story is not the story of an individual. If she is revealed “in” the historical man, Jesus (I would agree that she is) then she is also more than this historical individual.

But having asked for caution when demanding too much from Jesus and his story I nevertheless read the gospel with interest. John has been arrested and instead of falling to pieces in some way Jesus rolls up his sleeves and gets on with John’s work. Remember “repent” was John’s slogan wasn’t it? Jesus affirms John’s ministry by grounding the beginnings of his own in continuing it. He may or may not make some departures from John’s teaching or develop his thinking further but he shows the respect to his forerunner to accept the work that has already been done. Also as with a literature review in a piece of research this places Jesus’ work within the already established work of John as a continuation. Jesus is both respectful and strategic in positioning his ministry in this way, however it also undermines our tendency to want to see Jesus as a peerless exceptional superhero. Jesus himself seems to be implying he is part of a tradition of critique and struggle, a continuation of good work that can happen before (and by implication after) his time on earth.

Jesus also aligns himself with a criminal, a trouble-maker- not charismatic John that Herod liked but arrested John that threatens the state. I am liking this Jesus. In this context “come after me” to the fishermen makes it clear once again that Jesus is not seeking for personal followers and fame, but to expand the work that is being done to continue the struggle and to have it continue beyond him. Right at the start he is already asking for help…needing “others” to ensure his vision will eventuate. We cannot do these things (like ministry) alone.

So he calls some fishermen (a working class movement perhaps, not one for elites) but does he also call housewives baking and mending and sweeping? We can’t assume he did not just because the patriarchal text masks our view of the women at the back of the stage.Paul clearly has as working relationship with “Chloe’s people” whoever they were. Jesus’ inclusion or otherwise of women remains invisible- not interesting enough to the male historians of the time (but that’s a familiar scenario).

Perhaps in the end the “great light” that dawns on the people is that it is not up to the exceptional individual like John the Baptist, or even to Jesus to actualise salvation for us all. It is not something I can do on my own and also not something I ought to leave to stronger or better others to do for me. We are all invited to leave our mundane concerns and go kindom building with Jesus, with the interweaving of Wisdom with a relentlessness that survives all sorts of suffering and crosses every gap.

 

Gazing heavenward is missing the point

I was allowed to preach again. It gave me great joy and some measure of struggle. These were the readings (I used an inclusive language version prepared by the liturgists for the week and the Ephesians option for second reading) and here is the reflection I ended up coming up with…

Men of Galilee! Why do you stand there looking up toward heaven? A valid question for them but also I would suggest for the women and men of the church in Adelaide in 2016. For us.

Why do we stand looking up toward heaven? Is it that we want to catch Jesus by the ankles and pull him back down to earth, to make him a king by force as was tried at one point in the gospels?

Let’s remember that the human person we call Jesus, was an embodiment of a person of the Trinity that existed in the beginning creating all things with God. In the Old Testament this same character is often called Sophia. In the person of Jesus we see the courage and the strength of will, the utter commitment to liberation that characterises Sophia, Wisdom.  In Jesus, also called “the Word” or Logos in John’s gospel we see a good news that cannot be stopped, cannot be suppressed, can be killed but springs up again and continues to love and liberate beyond what for a human would be possible.

This essence of who Jesus always was, and continues to be; becomes accessible to us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus has finished the embodied ministry, which was confined to one place and one time. He can no longer walk on the earth, can no longer sit and eat with one small group of friends. Now the meaning and power of Jesus needs to be diffused to all creation. We can no longer look inward solely to those we belong with, to feel the cosiness of a Jesus clique or a church, we can no longer gaze to an escapist heaven as though the ministry of Sophia were finished and Jesus left us nothing to do but act religiously happy.

Even in the Old Testament Sophia always avoided being caught, controlled or domesticated. She goes out everywhere at all hours. In the same way, if we want Jesus we stop gazing upward, wishing the ascending Jesus would pluck us out of the dilemmas and headaches of everyday life and human politics and drag us into the clouds.

We still find Jesus where the disciples always found him, on the road, in their homes, sending them out, breaking their bread, receiving their hospitality and modelling foot washing. We still find Sophia speaking loudly on street corners and opening up her home to all sorts of people for hospitality; always causing an upset of the ordinary and a broadening out of the exclusive ways of being church. We look forward to Pentecost, to being infused within our own bodies and lives with the same Spirit that emanates from God, from Jesus/Sophia.

Church often gets re-imagined as a sort of posse of Jesus’ home-boys who are the clergy and can tell the rest of us what to do. Or even if we have a broader idea of grace and vocation, we still in some way might think of insiders and outsiders and who has “met Christ” and who hasn’t and we might feel superior to others who do not understand or follow Christian values. But that is not our true vocation- to feel superior or comfy within our faith, nor to draw a line between earth and heaven and allow faith to be nothing more than a once a week or few minutes a day gazing upward.

The “glorious inheritance” that we are promised in the second reading will include work and pain and struggle if we look at the realities of Holy Week that we celebrated so recently, or the lives of the saints that (within that inheritance) we aspire to. The hopes that we have are hopes for a world infused with the Spirit of God, guided by Wisdom and honouring its creation and recreation in the image of God. The good news is not a news of escapism upward, it is that Jesus, having ascended, is also still the eternal God that is constantly with us giving meaning to our lives, to the joys and loves as well as the struggles and feelings of inadequacy. This life here is what has meaning and importance. The Spirit is always coming to us to reignite our vocation. The kingdom of God is where we are, wherever we choose to bring it about together with others.

We don’t control Sophia, we cannot chain Jesus to our small section of earth.  In the Spirit of wisdom and perception we come to know her, we come to sense the good news in the possibilities of our own life and relationships. To paraphrase the conclusion of the gospel reading:

And they loved her and returned into ordinary life with great joy and hope, and they were constantly in amongst God’s beloved- healing, working, bringing love to all they met.

Please take a few minutes of silence, knowing Jesus/Sophia in these readings and in your own life and then you may like to talk them over with the people sitting near you.

 

Risen (by some accounts)

I really honestly don’t have time to write a proper blog post like I want to (I hope to come back and fix that)

But bottom line is: if you can believe in women’s preaching then Jesus is risen (Luke 24:1-12). If only ordained men (the twelve) can preach then they are going to talk about it and mansplain each other for a week and you may save your chocolates and your lovely easter lunch until then! Because so far Jesus is only preaching joy through women!

Wisdom still walks wherever she wants, not necessarily through official channels.

Jesus is always an ally in any struggle for justice.

Happy, happy Easter!! 🙂

The kingdom of God cannot be outsourced

I’ve had it with Job, maybe it’s time I gave some attention to the alternative readings. This one by Jeremiah can be read as a simplistic and idealised call to greater faith. I prefer to read it as one of those Utopian visions that confounds the fatalism and inevitability of “this is the real world” thinking. This reading does not call us to apathetically “trust God” to deliver us, rather to believe and commit to a faith that social change IS possible and that God desires it at least as much as we do. So when we take our activist selves up and throw ourselves into the neverending quest for justice we are on God’s team, we are bringing about a vision bigger than ourselves, before ourselves, after ourselves we are building the reign of God.

Therefore even with the defeats and moments of despair we suffer it is worth still pursuing the unique chivalry (with critical possiblities) of God’s table. God will take the weeping and the broken and those in need of consolation and bring them back from their exile in the “real world” of performativity and disconnection and exploitation. God will comfort, lead and adopt. We can read this vision and be moved by it and beg God to give us a place in the plan to help bring it about. I am sure it is meant to be a motivating reading, not an invitation to sit back because God will wait on us hand and foot while we just mumble kyriearchal compliments and grovel.

When God delivers, it is like a dream…there are shouts of joy. But in this psalm, it is significant that the people who God is delivering have worked very hard (and with tears) to sow the seeds tor the impossible harvest which God restores. Again our place is in the struggle, sowing the seeds for God’s deliverance of sheaves of golden justice and joy.

Hebrews seems to be saying the opposite, that we have no further need of “priests” because we have the one “high priest” which is Christ. But in another place we are told we are the body of Christ, so the priesthood is enacted through that body, therefore through all of us. Maybe it is the organised hierarchical view of priesthood that is called into question (and wouldn’t that be a bitter pill for the church) but there is no possibility of reading this as “sit back, relax and Christ will do it all”. If Christ has made the offering for our sins, then we are free- not to sin again defiling the temple that is creation but to move out of sin and behave as the priestly body of Christ in the eternal atonement and redemption act.

Which I realise is no easy task.

But the priestly body that we through Eucharist, through sacrament, through grateful love and radical Christ-orientation become is the perfect body, the sinless body that “always lives to make intercession” for those who seek to approach God through this priesthood. We need to be an advocate, a conduit for the people of God deeper into God, into justice, into the joy of the miraculous harvest.

The blind beggar in the gospel is confronting a world that limits him and leaves him out. He is refusing the polite silence that accepts marginalisation and he is demanding “mercy”. You can read “mercy” as a one off act of compassion but I was educated in a tradition where “mercy” came with ideal of social action for justice and the demand of mercy was to be “loyal in everything”. We were specifically asked to consider how much good would one occasion of charity achieve compared to the louder, more difficult task of demanding a change to systems of oppression. Even though the teachers often addressed us as “ladies” (which was a bit vomitous) the model of discipleship we discussed was not ladylike and didn’t shrink from raising its voice.

The blind man in the gospel is advocating for himself, there is no harm in doing just that. How often do Christians side with the “many” who tell people such as him to be silent, to be invisible or call his thirst for justice, dignity and equality a life-style choice and thus dismiss it as non-urgent. Interesting when he comes to Jesus, Jesus does not do as our society and most well meaning people do. He does not tell the man how he will solve his problems, colonise the man with Jesus’ idea of salvation, dignity or usefulness. Jesus asks the man what help he wants.

When we help do we ask people what help they want? Or do we know better than them?

The man asks to be made well, regains his sight and follows Jesus on the way. Jesus is the way. So the demanding and raucous call for acknowledgement, healing and justice leads to apostleship. Along the way the man will meet others calling for healing, the man will be free to call out and advocate for them also or to offer whatever healing he learns from Jesus.

I have been blind, I have raised my voice. When God heals me I will be commissioned also to walk along with Jesus and listen out for the voices calling for justice. I call out, I am honest about what I want from God. I sow seeds even if I weep with despair as I do it. God’s kingdom happens along the way, it transforms and impassions and conscripts. And then there is joy when we reap the grains of our hope against hope.

Holy, holy, holey

What a claim, that God calls me to speak out. I feel embarrassed to have made such a claim in light of how impossible it is for me to adopt a pious demeanour and look like a good and holy messenger of God. The things I say are not good for the church’s PR, nor are they in line with the view of God portrayed in this week’s readings. And so the temptation is either to abandon the readings altogether (since I already posted another blog post today), or to abandon the readings and look for the liberative strands within trinitarian thinking that I used to (critically) find.

But these readings are the bitter pill the church wants us to take as our rightful medicine this week. What sort of a faith is it after all if you just look away from the bits you don’t like and don’t grapple with them? So here I go in my dialogic perpetual struggle with the bits of texts the men in dresses want us to read.

I can’t actually say I relate to the first reading. I used to be able to practice spiritual contortionism enough to stay quiet in church and believe I fit in there and in those days I used to somehow contort my brain to believe that this first reading talks about ministry; that an angel will come and cleanse my lips with coal to make me pure to speak God’s word. I no longer see God’s word that way- coming out of pure lips in a pure way. I think of the Word as also being Wisdom, that wanton woman who frequents places she ought not go and I feel relief at that. She comes to me not because I am humble, or worthy or “clean” but because she loves what is human, she loves what is messy and true (please note any reference to “truth” I make may contain traces of its own demise).

She sits with sinners.

I don’t believe for a moment that my guilt is gone or my sin is blotted out or whatever and I don’t even ask it to be. How dare God just “blot out” the sins of first world, privileged, comfortable, white people while the earth is still dying and myriads are still suffering? The way I want to get rid of my sin is by God making the world better not just filling me up with the spiritual equivalent of Valium while other people suffer. And if God throws it back on me and says “your sin, you clean it up!” what then? That is certainly what I would say in God’s position.

The thing is as privileged people we are accountable and nothing can take our complicity away. The thing is as vulnerable and broken people we are not solely accountable and we may be affected by our circumstances. And only God can really hold that in balance (or at any rate I hope she can) and lead us to a better future (which entails us deconstructing and diminishing our own privilege in the cause of radical justice.

There is grave danger in those who speak for the church claiming to have their sins magically blotted out.

So here I am God, send me! Not the pure of heart (or lips). Not even particularly keen (it would actually be more convenient to only think of my career and the next holiday I could take my son on). But you call me and I love you and I will respond if you show me how. But if I have to say “Lord” and look upon thrones with militaristic mythical creatures attending some sort of even more privileged icon of the ruling class then forget it. God there is a class war on, there is a line I can’t cross even for you- now there’s heresy if you like.

So then the psalm is full of this mighty splendiferous God breaking cedars (why? is he three years old?) and making places skip about. Actually, God in this psalm sounds like the sort of scary climate disaster I have been reading about and suffering nightmares about and which looks increasingly likely in our near future. Shaking the wilderness while flashing flames of fire do you God? Are you testing a new type of bomb or something? So all of that fire and earthquake and flood but all is well because the “Lord” sits “enthroned”. It makes me wonder, in the context of that psalm whether I want the “strength” and the “peace” offered in this kind of faith.

So far…

 

the readings are like cement slabs

gaoling me in an outdated building

a church of powerful men.

 

Where is there a breath of life?

 

A shoot of green rising

between a hairbreadth crack?

 

That with the advent of life-again

might begin to crumble

my prison?

 

There’s a crack in the cement in Romans. I am not a great fan of the flesh/spirit dichotomy since a major battle of my life has been to learn not to hate and despise my flesh (that gift from God that keeps me whole and grounds me to the earth). But I didn’t receive a spirit of slavery apparently- so by implication I am allowed to disagree with tradition. I have been reading Carla Rinaldi about the child’s right to express themselves and think differently from the teacher because they are not slaves. Then if I see God as teaching, leading, guiding or parenting me I have to assume God is more enlightened than me and able to see how counter-productive it would be to silence who I am.

So that one little line is like a license to critique everything else. So if I was to cry “Abba! Father!” (which doesn’t actually come that naturally to me to begin with) it seems the reading is leading me to do that in some confidence, in a spirit almost of entitlement before God. I don’t mean to fall back into that first-world entitlement where God will do good things for me just because we have this great relationship; if God is my Dad, then I am certainly NOT Daddy’s little princess. It is more that I am entitled to have this dialogical relationship of questioning and growth with God because it is somehow in God’s interests to nurture me (the heir) and to teach me how to continue God’s work. An important note here is that any entitlement “I” or “we” have as a result of being God’s heirs is also shared by the “others” by “them” by whoever our social structures and ways of life oppress. So we will inherit God’s grace WITHIN the perpetual struggle for justice. We will inherit an accountability which it would be wise to become more ready for. Roman’s talks about suffering with the suffering Christ as the way to be glorified with the glorified Christ.

So we struggle, we suffer with the refugee Christ and with the single-mother Christ and with the rejected GLBTIQ Christ and with any place where Christ is and any work that Christ is doing or calling upon us to do. And that is where we tend to become like Nicodemus and want to ask stupid questions and deconstruct all the wrong things (don’t you see me doing that often enough) and to show our bad-tempered side when things don’t go our way.

And I really hate what Jesus says to Nicodemus in this gospel and I could become distracted by that and the awful way I was brought up to interpret it as a rejection of the supposedly obsolete bodily existence (that comes out of a female body of course) in favour of a patriarchal higher spiritual reality. It all sounds very gnostic to me and full of male privilege and I wonder if they would still all be too superior in their “spirit over flesh” ivory towers if someone (probably a woman) wasn’t being exploited to take care of their bodily needs which they scorn.

And I say this right back to you Jesus (if you ever, in fact said any of this nonsense)! What is born of flesh is flesh and damn well better have some gratefulness. What drinks its mother’s milk better not be saying it is better than its mother and you of all people should understand the sacrifice of sharing your flesh and blood to give life to another! If you were just a spirit then how did you eat and walk and talk and touch people? If you were not flesh how did they kill you?

What is spirit we know lives in flesh and its yearnings are written on the flesh and its strange and hard to understand sayings are also formed of flesh; of tongue dancing around teeth, of wind moving through vocal chord, vibrating through the living, breathing, heart-beating immediacy of FLESH. You made us of flesh and spirit when your name was Wisdom.

I am baptised but I don’t want to say I was “born again”. I came out of my beautiful, fleshy, fragile mother and I see her face now only in the mirror. I in turn pushed out three fleshly, spiritual beings and they were baptised but they did not need a rebirthing to negate my hard work. The beings of flesh and spirit that call us to accountability (especially this Reconciliation Week) that desperately call for justice in our world today don’t need us to think we are “better than” earthly demands for adequate food, housing and meaningful work.

Once again I have chosen not to allow the angel to hold the coal of blotting out to my unclean lips. I do not blot out my flesh, my material reality. I ask you God to take the person I am in reality, not some idealised image of perfection and I ask you to let me honestly and brokenly strive to follow you. And you are not my God because you sit upon a throne and are waited on by magical creatures who have little imagination when it comes to lyrics; you are my God because your place is in the struggle. As is mine.