Tag Archives: women’s work

Where is God when our labour is invisible?

In case you need something less “over it” I will drop a link to what I wrote last time it was this gospel story…

Let’s talk about invisible labour. Let’s talk about pink collar jobs. Let’s talk about gaslighting, because it kind of feels like Martha gets gaslighted by Jesus in the gospel of the week and the lectionary does not help by it’s treatment of Sarah. We’ll start with Sarah, since that reading is the first.

So…three men visit Abraham. Because, you know our tradition is incapable of showing even the multiplicity and trinitarian nature of Godde without the masculine gender (rolls eyes). This is how we know that important things are happening in the public sphere

  1. It gets written down (logocentrism)
  2. The participants are men
  3. Women have to support this in ways that are trivialised or outright made invisible (eg preparing food, childcare)

“Let some water be brought” orders Abraham, claiming credit for the work of an ungendered, invisible servant. Class and gender privilege…there really is nothing like it! Abraham is happy to exploit the people of his household to gain blessings for himself (which will trickle-down to them supposedly too).

“Let me bring you a little food” says Abraham. “Me”, first person singular. The three men agree and he runs to Sarah and orders her to start baking.

We tend not to spot that in the reading, partly because we have grown up with a reluctance to really interrogate “holy” things, but also because this is such a common-place story that we forget to be angry or sad about it. Men achieve their self-interested networking by ordering women and lower-status men to do the shit-work for them. Whoever bakes the bread, only the male hands of the ordained priest is allowed to performatively break it.

Guess I am losing my faith again (don’t worry it’s behind the sofa or something, gathering lint).

So Abraham brings out the labour of Sarah’s hands, and finally this three-fold God (or is it just a bunch of men?) speaks.

“Where is your wife?” a liberative moment? A challenge to be reflexive? A call to examine the patriarchal/kyriarchal conscience?

Nah. Tucking my awkward feminist hopes back in where they won’t embarrass me…

The men are there to talk about Sarah not to her. They comment on her reproductive capacity and leave. The lectionary cuts it there so we won’t hear her give a little feminist snigger at their mansplaining (I am sure she knows about her own ovaries better than they do). Sarah laughs, but the patriarchal church is not keen to even give her that much voice. We will move on to see who else can be exploited, trivialised or dismissed…

The psalm extols the virtues of “he who does no wrong to his fellow man”. Bad translation? Maybe…we feminist certainly put in a lot of unpaid and underappreciated time trying to translate it better, dust it off, reclaim it and still love it unconditionally but today I am going to move right along…

The second reading is one of those sections that would make more sense with some context. I could probably labour to try to bring something liberative out of it but it’s not exactly jumping out is it? I probably get more useful theology from a feminist poem or a sunset. This by itself, is not going to keep me in the church.

So now the gospel. It has women in it, few gospel pericopes have that so I sort of feel excited…until I look closer. Do you know what? I will tell you how the gospel would look if it was not so gaslighty about women’s work.

Jesus and his disciples went and stayed at the house of Martha and Mary. Martha and Mary already had a very busy life, but were always happy to see their good friend Jesus and had asked him to take that liberty, nevertheless he was always conscious of the need to be a good guest, especially when bringing in 12 more mouths to feed.

Jesus was lounging around with his mates talking to Mary who was one of the smartest people he knew and always asked the right questions without making him feel dumb. Martha called from the kitchen, “Jesus can you get Mary to give me a hand?”

Jesus realised that Martha was not really even complaining about how hard she was working, she took pride in making the best food and in her wonderfully clean home but she felt like she was being taken for granted and was missing out on time with guests. He walked into the kitchen “what can I give you a hand with?” he asked.

Mary came in too as did a couple of the disciples. This way the meal still got made, but Martha was able to be part of the conversation as well!

This would actually be gospel, this would actually be good news. Instead of what we have here and the way the church has chosen to present it.

This is more than just whinging because I don’t like housework (although I REALLY don’t). This is about the fact that while women are unacknowledgedly and underpaidly (I don’t care autocorrect I will invent new adverbs if I want) doing all the caring and healing and feeding work and not getting fairly represented in the “public sphere” men are making an Icarus out of the human race. You think I am exaggerating? For the sake of macho things like GDP and military might we are all flying too close to the sun and conveniently forgetting that our wings are held together by wax. Already the wax is softened, even dripping and the buggers are refusing to turn back.

We will all die as a species if men are allowed to keep leading unchallenged and if only women who emulate them are allowed into the conversational spaces!

Please note, I am not claiming that all men are bad or that all women are innocent. This is far from being truth. But patriarchal ways of being and how casually we accept them are definitely part of the problem! If faith is at the centre of our lives, then how we perform faith will affect how we live. Many of my feminist friends are atheist (not all) but for me that is not the answer because I know a lot of CEOs and world-leaders are either atheists or have a “lip-service” faith that does not touch their eyes or their deeds.

We need more from church than the routine dismissing of women and everything women’s lives are burdened with, than the abuse and silencing of children, than ignoring the most underprivileged or lukewarm “thoughts and prayers” at best. We need to confront the climate catastrophe. Sarah, Martha and all the other silenced women are capable of so much. When will we actually take their concerns and their work more seriously. The “better part” is not sitting at the feet of a man, when there are children (or disciples) to be fed.

We know from experience that being kind and patient and just laughing quietly behind the lectionary won’t transform the church or politics. It might be time to be louder, less conventient, less compliant and call out patriarchy...even when inconveniently God seems complicit in it (but who got to present Godde to us?).

 

 

 

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Embodying “temple”

The readings this week are about being called. Samuel greatly admires his teacher, but outgrows his teacher and finds his own vocation. Eli here is wise enough to know his own limitation and to point Samuel to a direct communion with God, putting himself out of the loop when it is time. So it is with all mentors or teachers and students, the time comes when the learner needs to stand on their own feet and decide for themselves. But there is an inner voice of integrity, a call to be greater than just self-interest and ego. Another way of saying this is that our potential is grounded in the will and wor[l]d of God.

The second reading contains that old saying that many of us grew up with, that the body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. This teaching was often misused to make girls in particular feel fearful of their own sexuality and guilty of any sort of sensuousness. That interpretation however is not really borne out by the text itself. A temple is not a delicate and fragile thing, so prone to desecration- it is something that has integrity. If my body is a temple to the one true and beautiful God, then my body has integrity. If my body, in its bodiliness was sanctified then my body’s abilities and desires also can point to Christ/Wisdom. This is not to say that selfishness and overfocusing on the body itself, or giving into every impulse is desirable. People can work into a beautiful church and feel no sense of the sacred. They can admire the fine architecture and art. They can enjoy the singing of the perfect choir or find serenity in the colourful, scented flowers and incense and warm amber light through stained glass and yet never think that there is more here than pleasure and momentary peace.

In the same way we can live in our bodies in a way that focusses us on narcissism, lust, gluttony and all the rest of it and never touch Godde in ourselves or others.

But how unhappy to try to correct this possibility by smashing stained glass, banning choirs, throwing out art or defacing architecture, banishing incense and flowers and denuding the altar an sanctuary of anything that is beautiful or that adds pleasure to the experience of the sacred. Granted we strip the church (partially) for Good Friday, but this is an expression of our loss and grief and solidarity with Godde’s loss and grief in this time- it is not the ordinary way we approach Godde through a rejection of all the good things of the earth.

Why does communion flatbread have to taste of cardboard? I like that Anglican churches tend to have a good quality port as communion wine. God is in pleasure of the senses as much as in the strength of being able to face deprivation.

My body in its beauty and capability is a place where I or others can encounter Godde. I was deeply aware of this, this week as I returned to work at the childcare centre and had children clamouring for a cuddle and a story and I told them that my arms were long enough to cuddle more than one friend at a time (this was necessary). Then they measured their arms too by how many friends they could reach and we laughed together at the joy of being human with long arms that long to embrace. We told stories, the older children who are on the threshold of leaving for school have listened to my stories and asked me to stop and listen to theirs for a change. In church we do story-telling, and it is called the liturgy of the Word. In church we touch with affection and claim ourselves as part of the “otherness” of God no less than the other (each other in the sign of peace and penitential rite and Godde herself in the Eucharist). I am sure other professions too can find parallels with worship (nursing comes to mind, but even politics has something).

In the gospel Jesus is being cosy and friendly and giving nicknames. To be friends with Jesus is to go out of our way and to get to know him, this includes going to visit him in the elsewhere mentioned “least of my siblings”. To be part of Jesus’ group is to be changed, to gain a new and more difficult identity to learn to be a “rock”- strong and dependable in the tides of life. I think I have mentioned before how much I relate to the flawedness and well-meaning bumblings of Peter- his impulsivity and excess of emotion. Jesus in the readings calls Samuel and Peter but he calls each of us- the female body is a temple no less than the male and the Holy Spirit dwells in the specificity and even the limits of beautiful human architecture.

I am a temple

I am a rock

I am a reassuring touchstone for those

who need to come to God’s presence.

 

I can embody liturgy

I can embody prayer and praise

I can bring a moment of sanctity

of challenge and reassurance to the days

of God’s beloved

 

You are temple,

You are rock

You are there to show me something

bigger than myself

 

You embody Godde

You channel Wisdom

You are a lovely work of art

depicting her beauty

 

They are temple

They are rock

They are something firm and sacred

that we much treasure and preserve

 

They embody our call

They embody our sacrament

They call us to the altar

of the one we yearn for

 

…they are part of “we”…

 

We are temple

We are rock

We are stones together building

something bigger than just “I”

 

When you’re Samuel

I am Eli

getting ready to allow you

to hear more than I can tell you

to be yourself and speak with God.

Whose body? Whose blood? Whose feet? Whose meal?

Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday is the feast day when we celebrate Jesus doing women’s work. Most celebrations of this within the Roman Catholic tradition leave out women or relegate them to bit-parts. The feeling of injury and offence I feel at this goes deep, however this is only a tip of the true iceberg. Symbolic “sacrament” can all too easily go hand in hand with deep failure to nurture the world. Jesus asked us to enact and embody sacrament not to empty it out into words and wafers with which to keep out the world. See also my last year’s post

I am going camping this weekend, so I will keep this short. But thinking about our church’s celebration of the Last Supper, or the First Eucharist or however we wish to label it I need to think about the idea of God’s table of grace.

I live in a world where women prepare food and clean tables and set cloths on them and serve food and make guests welcome and clean up afterwards. Not only women of course, but still overwhelmingly the real material work of feeding, cooking, serving, welcoming and entertaining is gendered work, women’s work. I spent the day preparing eggs with patterns of grass, flowers and leaves that we boiled in onion skins at work. The two women in the kitchen were busy hand-making dumplings for lunch for 50 children but they had time to discuss my eggs with me, ensure I had everything and do the background work of boiling them too.

In the midst of all this I was transferred to the baby room to serve lunch, encourage them to eat, work out which baby was the right age for which milk and ensure everyone got what they needed. There was coaxing, there was insisting, there was modelling “look sweet potato…yum” and there was a lot of laughing and affirmation o give our babies a welcoming experience of sitting around the table together. There was also a lot of sweeping and wiping and changing of clothes and the team of adults (all women) had to support each other through doing that while also entertaining and comforting babies.

Then it was back to the “big kids” room where I was welcomed with “when are we going to have the eggs”. They had, had lunch but were already looking forward to afternoon tea as children do. We broke coloured eggs together and served them up with a plate of antipasto prepared by the kitchen women and whichever teacher gave up their break to do some slicing. Once again there was a lot of cleaning up to do, then I went back to babies and helped with more afternoon teas in there and then back to the “big kids” for late snack.

It was as if my whole day, this Maundy Thursday revolved around the preparation and cleaning up (and joyful celebration of) food for others. Coming home my son was in the midst of making his dinner. We will eat and go to “mass” the one meal that I am supposedly not worthy to prepare. How offensive then that women cannot preside at the eucharist (and how untrue that we “can’t”, I presided at many really significant Eucharists today- celebrations of the bounty of the earth, out grateful and inclusive selves coming together and feeding our bodies and minds for growth- what is that if not eucharist?) I witnessed also a baby smile in relief at the end of his childcare day and latch onto his mother’s breast as well as two tiny boys lay down together in the cushions with their bottles of milk, their heads touching companionably while a third friend came and lay his head down too though he didn’t have (or need) a bottle. My day was full of Eucharist coming out of the tireless and often trivialised work of women (though it must be admitted our children and families are grateful). How am I “not Christ enough” to break bread at church?

But then who else do we exclude? Who in our world is not fed because of my privilege? Whose feet are never washed? Whose foot-washing is not given due respect and dignity, or is taken for granted? Who labours to stock a table they may not sit down at? Who is mocked and earmarked for crucifixion? Whose body is broken and thrown to the wolves? Whose blood is spilled? Whose voice preaching unheard?

If we are really going to get serious about communion, Eucharist, the body and blood of Jesus, the idea that sacrament gives life then we must be transformed for radical sharing and service by it. It is not enough for a privileged man in a dress to stand in front of relatively privileged people one evening a year and them all to produce symbols of feeding and serving and including. LET’S GET REAL about sharing sacrament (bread, security, welcome, washing, love). Let’s touch and see and hear each other. Let’s break the bread of justice and fill every heart and belly with it.

And let’s not kid ourselves. The people who are feeding and wiping noses and sweeping up for the “least of these” are the ones who are following the call to “do this in memory of me.” Like Judas we say we will never betray Jesus. But we exclude him from leadership or even lock him away on Manus. We allow mining magnates to take away the earth that was growing his body to feed and nurture the world. 30 silver pieces and an insincere kiss is an every-day occurance in the neoliberal mind set.

Bread of life call us back to eat you, to become you, to love each other,

Forgive us for we are tired and liable to fall asleep

Feed us, wake us, wash us, draw us in and in and into your radical commitment

Transform the world!