Tag Archives: truth

Bootleg preacher attempts to be reflexive

Apologies for length. I will never know if you skim read, read just a paragraph or skip it entirely 😉

The missal has this to say explaining the role of the “homily”: “Through the readings, God has spoken to his people of redemption and salvation, and nourished their spirit with his word. Christ is present among the faithful in his word. The homily helps those present understand and reflect upon what they have heard.” (32). We are given no advice on how to discern the validity and “truth” of the homily, presumably we are left to trust blindly to the authority of the (ordained, male) priest. Nor is there any mention of the priest’s responsibility to preach ethically nor any ideas on how to ensure that this happens.

As a listener, I can remember slowly realising that the sermons I had taken as unquestionably truth were performed by biased, limited humans who might have thought they were acting responsibly in what they told us to believe, but did this without any respect for the critical abilities or experiences of the listener and with some fairly glaring gaps in their point of view. I realised this as an adult and as a slow process of disillusionment. By this time I had already heard many things passionately decried from the pulpit- contraception, homosexuality (on the bright side that was where I found out what homosexuality even was) and even feminism.

As a preacher myself, a bootleg-preacher who has no license (or possibility of being licensed) from the church magisterium I wonder then why should people trust what I say? Related to this is a question to myself- how dare I express and opinion and how do I keep myself honest? Part of my answer is that I truly believe that I am preaching not for personal gain, or to big-note myself (to the tiny handful of people who receive my words) but because the female, feminist, lesbian, single-mother, vegan point of view is part of the much wider and more diverse kindom of God and is a piece that has been hidden from sight and silenced from being heard. Therefore I speak not only myself but a silenced fragment of the Word of God.

So “God told me to” I say, and yet this as a claim must always be suspect. Much as I am suspicious of the authority of the clergy, so anyone ought to be extremely suspicious of my authority too- perhaps the more so if you only have my word for it. Within the messiness of that awareness I always preach carefully, self-consciously trying to remember that no one OWES me their trust and belief and that they will listen politely and then decide and possibly disagree with me. This is one safety catch to my preaching.

But then recently I had an experience where an academic article I wrote (nothing to do with theology) was rejected by the peer reviewers and one of their criticisms was that I had not established the VALIDITY of my research enough. This criticism has led me into a lot of reading and thinking about validity- what is it and how do we establish it? To problematize this further, there is no established blueprint for validity and even things that get taken for granted as the “gold standard” (scientific method) contain flaws and impossibilities. For an interesting view of some research that has claimed to “prove” things while in fact being full of flaws, read Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences by Rebecca M. Jordan-Young. This book rang true with me- many things that are accepted as “fact” seem built on a foundation of sand- but then where is the rock on which I can pitch my building (clever people will tell me the rock is God or Christ but that is a glib non-answer really).

How do I “keep myself honest” to do what I way I am doing, say what I claim I will say and show my working out enough so people can follow me (or spot where they diverge). How might I do it in research brings me back to the question of how do I do it as a preacher (blogger, speaker). I have some thoughts on this- mainly sourced from reading things written by Patti Lather, also Jill Green, as well as a lecture I recently attended by Yarrow Andrew.  I have not given links to their work but all are possible to “google scholar”. Even though all three are academic writers/speakers my thoughts here will remain more about my faith life rather than becoming academic in nature.

One of the first things that springs up whenever people consider qualitative research methods and especially the place of feminist thinking is the idea of reflexivity. Reflexivity means having some idea of who I am, what experiences have formed me to be this way and what gaps there may be in my knowledge and experience. In other words it involves identifying my bias and my point of view. For feminists reflexivity means both explaining how our experiences (of exclusion and discrimination) have led us to challenge what we are “supposed to” think and how we are “supposed to” account for it- so that our experiences become an impetus for questioning and breaking the rules (both the clearly stated and the taken-for-granted ones). We might find that the rules don’t “work” for us, or function only to keep reproducing the status quo and leave power imbalances intact. Then I as a preacher use my knowledge of who I am and what sort of people I might (partially) speak for to argue for my right and need to speak.

The other function of “reflexivity” is to call to account the speakers and preachers who have defined “truth” for us and told us what to believe. So for example when the preacher told me that women feeling erotic love for other women was “sinful”, I could have asked him how he would know this (I was about eight and he was beyond question). He was a man with a public commitment to be “celibate” therefore not to be in intimate relations with a woman himself. He had lived for many years with other celibate men (although it is probable that some of the domestics who looked after him and certainly some if not all of his secretaries were female). Nothing about his standpoint means he is necessarily “wrong” it just means he would have had very little empathy for what it was like growing up as a female who was female-centred in her unspeakable desires, who was sent to an all girls’ school etc. He was speaking to me from a very, very distant point from my experience across a whole host of assumptions that came out of his own limited perspective and which I was expected to take-on wholesale.

At the time I did take them on, because I didn’t have the years under my belt to know that anything I could feel, imagine or experience had any sort of meaning. Life was confusing and I experienced myself as a misfit and a hated mistake. This of course was not the preacher’s intent and I would not have seen any part of how depressed and self-hating I was to have stemmed from what I heard at church. If I was older and more opinionated/feminist I would have had questions about how he knew what he “knew” and where such thinking came from. He would have had answers for all my questions of course but I could question the answers and keep questioning or at least work out of a hermeneutic of suspicion- which we know to switch on as soon as someone is claiming to speak “absolute truth” and not showing reflexivity about their own possible failures to “know” or “understand”.

In addition to reflexivity, Green talks about “catalytic validity”, that is, being aware what it is we want to change through our research. For the preacher there can be no clear “catalytic validity” because it would be unethical to tell people how to live or specifically what to do (in the past some preachers have told people how to vote but tempting though that is- that is an abuse of the power to preach). So as a preacher instead my “catalytic validity” is the desire to be moving in my own life toward the kindom of God- so I am preaching to myself, I am trying to shift my own self into better praxis and healthier relationships. In that sense preaching must be a giant (but honest) thinking aloud exercise where I am showing my own faith journey and allowing anyone who listens/reads me to walk it with me. They get to choose their own role on my journey, they could be observers, participants, co-walkers, respectful disagree-ers or disbelievers or attempt to change my direction. People sometimes shift between different roles in engaging with my faith journey but just as I do not get to define their journey, so they may speak back by sharing their own but they don’t get to take my journey from me and forcibly change my direction or derail me.

I wanted to say a lot more about triangulation (not letting one person being your only source for what to believe) and how also some of ideas around how concepts of “validity” are problematic, fragmented and don’t always perfectly come out but I am aware that this is already an overly long piece of writing.

If you wish to- share in the comments what sort of things a preacher may say, do or be that make you more likely to trust their preaching (or mistrust it) and also how you bring your own hermeneutic of suspicion into how you engage with someone’s preaching.

In addition for anyone who preaches, I would like to know (if you can simply reduce it for us) how you make sure you are saying things that are right, valid and helpful for others; also do you undermine your own authoritative voice in any way to assist people to remember to listen critically and with discernment?

But perhaps you will feel this conversation would go better over a bottle of scotch and several hours…

Being found within and outside texts

The first reading is often though not always from what we smug Christians tend to refer to as the “Old Testament”. It also gets called the “Hebrew Scriptures” which is less dismissive in a way but can ignore the significance of these scriptures to “us” and the fact that they are not just about our past but are an ongoing part of our journey.

At times instead of the Hebrew Scriptures, we have a first reading from Acts of the Apostles or occasionally I think one of the epistles which is not classified as Paul (or Paul’s copycats). With Acts we tend to do almost the opposite of what we do to the OT, we take it overly seriously and uncritically accept its Utopian claims. In the time of Facebook we ought to view Acts pretty much like we might view someone’s Honeymoon pictures on social media. Not as “untrue” but as an idealised performance of “happily ever after” before the real and ongoing shit of life has stepped back in.

When I was a baby-feminist, which was my phase immediately after my wide-eyed pious believer stage I began to realise how much violence, misogyny and generally yucky events and opinions can be found in the scriptures (this is not unusual) and like many Christians I attempted to locate all the violence and misogyny in the “Old Testament” in a pre-Christ reality which of course Christ challenged and overturned. It has taken me years to unpick that overly simplistic way of “sewing up” the problems in the text/s. The fact is there is plenty of problematic ideology in the “New Testament” also as well as gaps and silencings of all but the most privileged voices (and some subversive remnants of “other” voices too). Equally Christs (incomplete) challenging and overturning of oppressive structures is rooted in his Jewish tradition: in the work of Sophia/Wisdom who transgresses human order to call everyone to deeper knowing and more joyful being, in the more radical mutterings of some of the anti-establishment prophets (Micah immediately springs to mind since he is my favourite) and in some of the historical figures who stepped outside their social class (David) or their gender (Miriam) or their age (Hannah), culture (Ruth), xenophobic society (Pharaoh’s daughter) etc, etc, etc.

I don’t want all this richness to be “cancelled out” by a shiny Christus Rex that shows us Emperor Constantine more than a fisherman of dubious parentage from Nazareth who embodied subversive Wisdom. Nor in the apparent idealism of the Acts of the Apostles do I want to lose the invisible Apostles who cooked and cleaned and cuddled babies and were told to cover their heads and shut up (despite the fact that Wisdom who moved them is a disobedient and immodestly opinionated woman who goes about the town as she pleases). There are crumbs there anyway. Who was Dorcas really? Or Lydia? And anyway how do we know about the first appearances of Jesus if the women were commanded to never speak?

But rather than dismiss the patriarchal text wholesale (or go back to the idolatry of seeing in it “Truth” rather than a series of partial and biased truths) I think of it as a photo album. We like to think that a photograph cannot lie, but we forget that nor does it show us everything. Someone stood there and chose and angle and a framing for the photo- they might have chosen it for technical reasons, ideological reasons or sometimes perhaps by accident but someone chose what to show us and from what standing-point. Outside the frame of the camera there is a lot we will never see. We see the pretty girls dressed up to go to their school formal, but we may not see which one had to borrow a dress because she has no money, and which one is secretly a lesbian, and which one will get drunk and disgrace herself at an unpictured part of the evening (or maybe family stories do tell us some of these details). We see a mother with her three sons but we may not see that this is the first time she has seen one of them in two years or that one of them thinks he has cancer or what any of them look like when they take away their “best clothes” and stop celebrating and just get on with life. We also don;t see that while they were having their picture taken the cat managed to steal half their lunch or the phone was ringing but they didn’t hear it or the person taking the photo was in love with one of them.

Which is not to say that family photo albums are misleading or “false” just that it is impossible to record every detail of even one of the people in it, and we tend to get an edited view- especially over generations as people forget more and more details. Something may be written down, but it is not possible that everything would be and so people make decisions about what is important or about what is evidence for what I am trying to show. This is true of the bible as well. Over the centuries the literate and the relatively powerful were able to make decisions about what to write down, which writings to preserve, which of the saved writings to edit or privilege. Those with the leisure and literacy to do this, and the influence to have their choices accepted by society were generally men- free and relatively wealthy men.

When you think of it this way then the traces of critical perspectives and the social justice agendas that come through cannot be taken for granted. In human and historical terms the fact that kings and battles and patriarchs are the “stars” of so many bible stories are not surprising at all- what is surprising is the reoccurring of so many calls to treat the poor with justice (rather than mere charity) and so many instances of women characters who call into question the gender order. If I was going to believe in divine inspiration, this would be the evidence for it- not the expected material but the unexpected liberative flashes (for all that at times we have to search hard for them). But that’s Wisdom too- she is elusive and difficult to track down but she crops up where you don’t expect her and undermines the foolishness of human structures.

For me this blog has been an opportunity to try to come to terms with some of the “photos” from the album of our shared faith journey as Christians grounded in a Jewish history. Like any deconstructive reader, my interpretations are to some degree personal and shifting- no more “right” than the official or “common-sense” interpretation. My hope for any reader is not that I will convince them to my way of seeing but that they will enter into the dance of interpretation with me, celebrating some of my observations perhaps and rejecting others.

If we avoid the idolatry of seeing the text itself as infallible”Truth” (that for women and many others has often been privileged in a way that erases the equal validity of our own experiences) but instead see the truths of the text and of our own bodies, relationships and each others perspectives all as entry points. Then we can weave and unpick and reweave all these different partial truths in ways that create beauty and understanding, all in order to dance with the joy of living. And the real Truth (Godde/Love) will not be pinned down, but will find us where we dance.

Let us find in this day and each other the Living Word of Godde

Thanks be to Godde.

Easter Vigil

Such a good rebel I am (sarcasm warning), that when I “run away” from church this is what I do. First I thought about the “new fire” of the Easter Vigil. The words of Christ be out Light by Bernadette Farrell ran through my head as I unwrapped one of the candles my son and I had bought for Earth Hour, placed it in a vase and said a quick prayer to God who as both the “alpha” and the “omega” is best placed to subvert binaries and undo inequities. Then I rewrote the Easter proclamation, leaving out things that seemed either kyriearchal, patriarchal, meaningless or bad theology (yes a subjective judgement but please read the verse in brackets about your right to write a different one if this one doesn’t do it for you). Then it was too short so I reread all nine lessons of the Easter vigil (surprising how many I remembered considering it has been a few years since I went to an Easter vigil) and I wrote a verse or half a verse based on my interpretation and response to each reading (once again you are free to read the readings more carefully and write your own). I tried to stay true to what I think the Easter proclamation and lessons do for us, grounding us in tradition and helping us access the mystery of the resurrection in historically grounded ways (but as usual I had a focus on my place at the margins as a woman and I tried to be mindful that there may be other people at the margins of story too).

So I will post my long poem/proclamation and then I will go shower off all my long journey (I camped at Mt Gambier last night and we climbed a small hill or two on the way home) and I will remember my baptism and birth and the way I passed through waters to be made a part of God’s family that has unlimited access to hope and a constant call to love. And then I will have some dark chocolate and scotch which also follows the pattern of a traditional easter vigil although I wouldn;t really claim it is “Eucharist” since I am doing this alone and more contemplating than celebrating (but I will go to church tomorrow). I can’t be sure that anyone is both estranged enough from church to need an alternative version and has been engaged enough in catholic church life to need or want a revised version. But for anyone else I guess it is a curiosity. Nevertheless to me fire, water and food are powerful symbols of LIFE.

Rejoice heavenly powers, sing out planets, stars and all that is,

take heart creation and join the heavenly dance,

for God’s promise is unbroken, no power can reign over us;

Christ shatters even death to bring all to newness and liberation.

 

Spin slowly earth through light and darkness,

through mornings filled with joy and light and meaningful work,

evenings bringing peace to us and joy to all nocturnal creatures

as light and dark both join hands and embrace the globe together.

 

Open you ears, oh church, to hear the cries of all the oppressed;

open your doors and open wide your hearts to hear,

how Wisdom breaks down binaries and lifts up any we’ve cast down.

Rejoice to learn anew the radical and liberative gospel.

 

(My dearest friends, if you consider me unworthy

to bring these words of praise and hope and happiness

then seek the Easter message in your own hearts and the love you bear

and in creation radiant with the brightness of the colours of God’s depths.)

 

May the resurrected life be with us.

We lift our hearts in hope.

We celebrate the risen life of one who was greater than all oppression

and calls us into liberation.

 

It is truly right,

That with full hearts and minds and voices

We revisit as much of salvation history as we can

To trace the origins of the one who became Jesus of Nazareth and showed radical commitment

bleeding like a woman giving birth, and dying helpless, human to the end.

 

And so we remember our origins, in your breath creator God

who made the heaven and the earth, the waters also the land,

plants, animals, humans in all their variation and diversity. (Gen 1:1-2:2)

 

We had free will, yet we did not always listen to your voice of reason.

We did not live in love with one another and the earth.

We set up systems of oppression, and ways to rule over each other

and would even have sacrificed our own children for power. (Gen 22: 1-18)

 

Your beloved people were enslaved and called to you to rescue them;

You called forth leaders and activists, parted the sea, fed them with bread          (Ex 14:15-15:1 also some reference to subsequent events)

and gave us moral codes so that we would consider how we live.

You came to us as a lover, claimed us as your family

and renewed us in every age again and again.    (Isaiah 54: 5-14)

 

Hope is the eternal pattern of our journey with you

And the reign of evil is never inevitable, and cannot drive you out of us.

 

You bid us listen to you and enjoy food and water without having to pay;

You filled up your barns and set your tables and invited us to feast;

You bid us feed each other, abandoning corruption and competition

and then sent your Word that cannot return without fulfilling itself. (Isaiah 55: 1-11)

 

You bade us seek Wisdom and cling to her, (Baruch 3: 9-15; 32-4:4)

To see her move among us on the earth which she co-authored with you.

You gathered us together from where we were scattered and quarrelling

And you bade us know that we are yours and you are ours. (Ezekiel 36: 16-28)

 

Like a deer that longs for running streams, my soul thirsts for you

The music wells up within me when you draw near and touch me             (Ps: 41)

With Easter joy.

 

In our human life we are baptised, born through water

and touch your life as you touched ours

You showed solidarity and love in walking with, touching us

and dying with us.

We will follow you through our lives and deaths and beyond. (Rom 6: 3-11)

 

This is the night, when we remember Mary of Magdala’s grief; (Matthew 28: 1-10)

Her deep love and loyalty to come to tend to you

when all hope seemed gone.

 

We remember the guards, tools of the Empire, shaken and scattered,

the stumbling-block, every inequality rolled away,

the faces of angels who took her hand and affirmed her ministry

so that she went and called her sisters and together they saw…

 

The Risen One,

The rebirth of all their hopes,

The triumph of the creative powers of God,

and the sacred continuation of their love and power to touch the mystery.

 

Jesus sent the women to tell all the apostles,

ahe apostles to tell all the world

and us to continue to preach the gospel of tombs opened, oppression undone

and a great feeding regardless of ability to pay.

 

Therefore God our creator, receive with Jesus our thanks

as we move from contemplating what has hurt us

to remembering that you come to heal and renew us in yourself.

 

Accept this Easter candle, symbol of the fire in our hearts

undimmable spirit you have placed in us,

unquenchable inevitability that we will always break our chains,

also our willingness to break the chains of others

 

Let it mingle with the lights of the stars you created

mirroring the love of Jesus who broke all boundaries

even opening up the boundary between death and life

to call us back into right relationship with God.

 

Jesus, Sophia, the morning star that never sets,

will shine in our hearts this night and always,

will guide us and all creation into your peace

and call us more deeply than ever into life and love.

 

Amen.

 

Prayer

I was trying to copy down some of the liturgy resources from church into a dropbox and as I always do when I work with liturgy resources I felt a need to make my own. I am thinking of doing my blog a bit differently for a time and this might be a good transition to it. It feels like a change I need and I will try it out and if it isn’t right will return to what I have been doing. My intention here was to use some humans apart from “mother” and “father” and also get away from the anthropomorphism to show it’s a metaphor not a literal “truth”. But still to honour the human experience of the world because we are humans and life and body are good things.

Author of the ongoing story:

history, herstory, earthstory, lovestory;

Midwife of our better selves

taking us forth from the earth out mother

and placing us in her arms;

Living water running through our veins,

Spirit: wild wind of change, exhaled breath,

kiss of life;

Fire the yearning in our spirits for liberation,

the passion for justice and to be in beauty;

Word and Wisdom,

Way, truth and life;

we reach for you

hold us.

Amen.

Stations of the cross

Rather than do all the stations of the cross (I would if this was my day job) I will look at two this year and God-willing will continue my blog another year and reflect on different ones.

1. Jesus is condemned to death

Often I look on this from the point of view of the one condemning. It is a worthwhile reflection to look at who and how we condemn, exclude and victimise others, but I want to see Jesus as walking in solidarity with us in our deep pains. I want to generate not just guilt (don’t we sit with more than enough of that?) but healing for the deepest pains. Because one way or another we are also condemned.

Condemned like the blind young man I saw this morning who was talking too much, because he is condemned to go through life without the grounding and reassurance of eye contact and facial expression so that to connect he must make conversation.

Condemned like a friend of mine who has to parent with a man who emotionally abuses her every time there is contact, who she used to love and perhaps still loves but is hurt and harmed, unfairly accused and burdened by. The way of her cross is to bear his insults and my temptation is to disengage from the whole thing and forbid her to show me all his text messages. But if I see her pain as related to the pain of the suffering (and also abandoned) Christ then I can walk with her the unpleasant and repetitive road of her ex-partner’s harmful words.

And can I not also speak of how I am condemned to despair and envy whenever I consider my vocation? That my vocation is a burden that can never go away, it is my life’s reason and greatest love but it is blocked by the necessity of doing other things and I am not strong enough or intelligent enough to fit it well around the mundane burdens of “women’s work”. I feel envy, yes, because I see “priests” living and working in comparative ease and while I am flawed, I am no more flawed than those who are found worthy. My life, my experiences, my flawedness is so different from theirs that there is little understanding that they can offer me (to be fair some occasionally try a little). It is my difference that makes my call urgent though, because there are so many other disciples trapped in “women’s work” and mundane matters who can relate to the temptations that I face, who I would be a more appropriate minister to (just as those who we have ordained may be better at ministering to some that I would not reach so well). So my pain is doubled because I see a church in need of a diversity of ministry that I am largely powerless to offer my contribution to.

I have lived with this pain since I was a small child. The pain of being called to an impossible vocation (not impossible, only difficult and I am a flawed and exhausted person). The job I do is women’s work which means miserly pay and humiliating, exhausting work-life.

Condemned to gender. Condemned to race. Condemned to be not taken seriously as youth or dismissed as old. Condemned to poverty and struggle and lack of choice. No end-point in sight, this is all you shall know until you die. If there is a meaning to life then it shall be beyond your grasp, it will exist in the dreams you are too tired to dream in colour and in the oasis which every time you see it is a mirage only. You are not valued, you are undesirable. You are too little, too late. You are unpopular. Away with her! Crucify her!

How does Jesus face this way of the cross? How does Jesus enter into every condemnation, every sentencing of every victim of systems of power and abuse and commit to walk with each of us the whole long, wearying road of heartbreak and failure?

Jesus give me grace not to be defined by those who reject and condemn me.

Holy Wisdom walk with me through insults and failures and pain and the fear of meaningless death.

Beloved truth, show me how to enter into the condemnation of others to disrupt the victimisation, to transform and to liberate.

 

8. The women of Jerusalem weep for Jesus

Jesus said to the women “weep for yourselves”, did he know how easily we get derailed into offering more compassion to a man’s suffering than in serving our own interests. Jesus’ words seem profoundly pro-feminist to me that even in the midst of real fear, real pain, real death he refuses to take the spot-light off women’s experiences, or to take women’s focus off themselves. How different from the many men who claim to be pro-feminist but constantly shift the focus to their own experiences and sometimes imagined slights.

Jesus, the Wisdom of God knows that a system that can torture and put to death an innocent man, deals less than fairly also with women. Women are silenced, alienated from their own children, raped, made dependent, trivialised, dismissed, beaten, exhausted by the demands of others and then gaslighted by male faux feminist “allies”.

Jesus makes no claim to “understanding” the experience of women, merely demonstrates the most important point, that women need to focus back on their own experiences, their own dispossessions, their own griefs and pains. Here, within the deep suffering of Jesus, far on the path to crucifixion we are given permission (more than permission vocation) as women to look at ourselves, to give voice to ourselves, not to feel like we are being “arrogant” or “narcissistic” (accusations often made by church people toward women who seek recogntion or equality) when we bring our own interests into the conversation.

Jesus has said “here in my moment of suffering I am calling you as women to reflect on your own suffering with compassion, with grief, with the authentic feelings you offered to me”.

Jesus I am weeping for my largely wasted life and learned cowardice.

Holy Wisdom if my pain as a woman held back by patriarchy, is by your comment akin to your carrying of the cross, then make me with you a sign of the emptiness on the cross. Give me courage when I am poured out to be reborn in resurrection.

Beloved humility, show me who I am gaslighting or overshadowing and teach me to be as courageous, honest and inclusive as you.

In conclusion

Year by year we face the honesty and confrontation of Jesus’ way of the cross. Day by day we suffer small reminders that the cross is also in our lives. We must not give in to the temptation to celebrate suffering, our own or that of others. It is a terrible thing that Jesus was abused in this way and felt all this and experienced so much degradation and pain. Next time we see Jesus condemned and suffering will we recognise him? How will we respond? What transformative power might we have at the foot of the cross?

But it is not yet Easter. We may be empty and frightened and grieving. This time let us not skip ahead to the “spoiler” of knowing that the resurrection will happen in a cloud of chocolate and celebrations. Let us face and feel the emptiness without escapisms. What deeper consolation might God give to us?

Jesus remember me when you find a way through this seemingly endless darkness and come into your own.

 

 

Walking humbly with…?

I didn’t look at the readings for the week. Instead I wrote about an issue which has been cropping up in my prayer life and the reading I am doing to try to make better sense of my own vocation. It is so time consuming to wrestle with readings while also doing other spiritual work, real-life work, parenting, study, etc. I will continue to try to “preach” properly but I felt that God wants me to really grapple with the problematic idea of humility. Here is an imperfect beginning…

I have long been enamoured with Micah 6:8, where we are told that the only thing we have that can please God is justice, loving-kindness (hesed) and walking humbly with our God. For me I focus on them in the order they are given- I am passionate and full of rants when it comes to justice, I seek to be full of a sincere and tender kindness particularly in the face of anyone who is less powerful than me or vulnerable (which considering most days I feel like a fire-breathing dragon could be anybody) and then….well usually I try to mumble over the third one and let it take care of itself.

Because humility and me have a long and problematic history.

I was raised to be “humble” to self-abase and to self-mortify. Every time I recognised anything good about myself I was (for the sake of my own soul I am sure) warned about the “sin of pride” and the necessity of humility, modesty, obedience, subservience. The problem was the way these things were conflated with femininity and embodied femaleness (my father was certainly not very humble, neither were the priests who preached this). The problem was that this view of great female role-models (such as Mary and all the virgin martyrs) was quite objectifying of females and also trivialised the value of words, actions, leadership when clearly God has called me to preaching, teaching and leadership. My real and God-given (I believe) vocation was constantly at war with this sort of “holy” modest model of proper femininity.

The problem was that no one noticed the symptoms of self-hate, depression, anxiety, toxic underconfidence, anorexia, dysphoria until these habits of thought and action were deeply ingrained and even then did not make the connection between the continuing call to be “humble” to “weep with loathing” over my own shortcomings.

So I broke away from that sort of humility. It was killing me. It was preventing me from God, from even my own self, from relationship with anything or anybody. So I came to hate the very concept of “humility” when I noticed the men who talk about it so very much and maybe practice it in male contexts have a very different unhumble way of relating to women and children (and othered men). When I noticed that women allow and welcome all sorts of abuse from men on the basis of proper submission, humility, modesty.

I had some choice swear words about the huge con that has been pulled by the privileged (white people, males, heterosexuals, the wealthy) over the humble doormats they craft out of anyone and everyone else. I stopped constantly apologising to God for existing and I spent a couple of decades yelling at God furiously about how unfair it all was. “I know” said God tiredly, “I know”. “Humbly fiddlesticks” I snapped, “I’ll walk with you as I am, a hyena in a petticoat, a fire-breathing dragon. I am what you made me I will not shrink down into this fragile petal of submissive humility” God chuckled, “I knew it” she crowed as if this was just what she had been watching for. So that was that. Me and humility were done, we had nothing further to do with each other.

As I grew in this new sense of self, there kept being surprises. I was actually sometimes good at stuff. Sometimes I was naturally good and more often I could gain skills through hard work and confidence. Slowly, tentatively I began to sometimes feel confident and make surprising discoveries about myself. “I knew it!” God always smiled and laughed whenever I achieved, whenever I was celebrated, whenever I didn’t sink back into the mud of self-hate. “Well why didn’t you tell me?” I asked. God just looked me in the eye with that sarcastic look that she gets when I am being unreasonable. How on earth would I know what God was telling me? I hadn’t really learned to listen. My “humble” self-talk took over any sort of listening to anything, to creation, to the heartbeat of the universe, to my own heart. Where would God speak to me if not in those things? I had dreams…vivid God-filled dreams but I used my patriarchal “objective”  self-effacing knowledge to erase and trivialise what the dreams told me.

When the dreams told me that God loved me then I added “even though I am so unworthy and unimportant” to my interpretation, even when the dreams told me God was calling me I added “but I am a sinner so I will fail to reply” and cried self-loathing about being too weak and pathetic to reply, but didn’t consider that God would not set me up for failure in that way. I hated my femaleness, my weakness, my lack of certainty, my desires, my exhaustion, me emotional neediness. God gave me a dream to radical love and faithfulness an offer of partnership with others and with God and I forced an interpretation overlaying what was there.

In the dream God claimed me and called me and carried me, I awoke and sternly rebuked myself not to begin to expect this sort of treatment from God, not to think I was “special” for having dreams, to realise that while God loved me and didn’t want me to kill myself it was not given to me to have God always whenever my desires dictate it. And that of course was partly true, because in fact I do not own or control God and God doesn’t come to comfort me on demand (or by my manipulation). But it was also untrue. When God gave herself to me in scripture, in sacraments, in creation and in human relationships she actually meant it. THERE ARE NO ONE-NIGHT STANDS WITH GOD.

So then I retreated from God to give her space, and to not be this clingy human needy person that I still secretly hated myself for being and that actually in a way was the opposite of humility. It’s not humble to hate yourself for being “only human”. We are human and God is fully aware and accepting of this. God loves me, the human. God unconditionally, committedly, faithfully and possibly sometimes exasperatedly loves and desires me. Humility is not the denial of the beauty and specialness that I have in God’s eyes. Humility is accepting that as precious, being grateful and responsive to it and also recognising that God has an equally deep and true love for other humans and in fact for all creation.

I am reading Mysticism and Prophecy by Richard Woods at the moment and it is humbling to find myself agreeing with Aquinas (who as a feminist I have been pretty dismissive of all these years). And I see that God is calling me to the humility of coming back toward the tradition that hurt me so much and rejected me so deeply and coming with an attitude of strength and courage to listen. There is wisdom in Aquinas when he talks about how ultimately unknowable God is and yet how fervently we must seek her (please not Aquinas never to my knowledge uses this pronoun for God, but I do)…that is such an exact echo of the dream I had as a confused young woman where God told me that I would never gain certainty, nothing but traces of “truth” but that it was my calling to always seek this “truth” and then after I despaired of what sounded to me like futility God held me and carried me and brought me to her heart.

And to see that these patriarchal writers (as I saw them) were actually in between being wrong about so many things also lovers of the same beautiful Wisdom that calls me, is to be called to a sense of humility about all the ways I could still be wrong and oppressive but also a new appreciation of the everlastingness of God’s love in the walk with humanity. If I walk humbly with my beautiful God I will never hate myself, I will glow in the radiance of her love and I will accept that love. But I will learn that all people and all things are called by her to participate in that love, I will learn to look beyond imperfections to the Truth of Her love for us all.

Seeking justice means continuing to angrily call the powers that be to account. Loving-kindness equally demands that I am uncompromising in demanding that the vulnerable receive what is their due and when necessary stand up for them. Walking humbly, means remembering to hope, remembering to love; daring to forgive and to listen and not allowing those She loves to become my enemies. Walking humbly means forgetting my fear that I am “unworthy” of her and accepting that only beautiful, persistent Wisdom can understand the fullness and apparent foolishness of her love. I am humble when I forgive myself for being “only human”, and bring even the seeming triviality of my human experience and my human fickle love to her heart to be blessed and broken and shared as her sacrament to her beloved world.