Sunday, May 31, 2015

Two blokes and a bird!

Today is Trinity Sunday. It is a day when traditionally the triune nature of God is considered and celebrated. In the Christian tradition the Trinity is a mystery. There is no adequate explanation although many attempts to understand it have been made. They may be helpful, but Trinity still remains a mystery. I am content to let it be so.

All language about God is metaphor. Human language is inadequate to explain fully the mystery of God. By using metaphor we are saying, “God is a bit like this”. God will always remain more than we can ever think or say.

Traditional language has expressed the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Years ago, we realised that the patriarchal nature of this was unsatisfactory. Even when one considers the Spirit as feminine, it still leaves an unbalanced Godhead with a male majority. In the catholic tradition the high profile given to Mary, although not as part of the Trinity, does at least bring more feminine balance when considering the mystery of God.

Augustine suggested Lover, Beloved and the Love that is between them as a picture of the Trinity. Although another good attempt at a metaphor to help bring understanding to the Trinity it too has patriarchal overtones. One being a giver (a provider) while the other is the recipient. 

St Patrick used the three-leafed clover or shamrock as a metaphor to try and explain the Trinity. There is a great clip as the “Irish Twins” together with St. Patrick attempt to explain the mystery of the Trinity. Well worth a watch.

In the prayer book of our community, Way of Living, the language used is Father/Mother, Child and Holy Spirit. This too is inadequate. It was a best attempt to try and reflect a more egalitarian view of the trinity. We considered using parent, but decided that Father/Mother was more intimate, more reflecting of relationship.

In these times, family structures and roles are changing. Traditionally Fathers were seen as more distant, providing for the family and protecting the family while mothers were seen as the heart of family, nurturing and caring for the family. That no longer holds true. I know many women who provide for their family and many men who are nurturing and caring. If using a double epitaph, maybe for some families it would be mother/mother or father/father. Worth pondering how the changing nature of family informs our view of Trinity

Sometimes we are so ingrained with the Father/Son/Spirit language that we forget it is metaphor. We forget that the writers of the New Testament were trying to find culturally relevant ways of expressing relationship with God. Many years ago I read a challenge which I want to issue today. I can’t give credit to the author as I can’t remember the source. (I suspect it was somewhere in FIorenza’s writings). It was to call exclusively God “Mother” for at least a three month period. The rationale being that only when one is as comfortable with calling God, Mother as one is with using Father can the fullness of God start to be perceived.

Today’s gospel passage is John, chapter 3. It is a passage that is associated with the Trinity. (Perhaps worth mentioning here that the word Trinity is never used in the New Testament, it is a later theological term which originated mainly in defense of heresies).  John 3 talks about new birth. Giving birth is feminine imagery. So right here, in this text, which mentions all parts of the Godhead is a predominantly Feminine image.

In the story, Nicodemus came to visit Jesus in the night. Nicodemus said that he recognised that Jesus was from God. Jesus told him that he knew this glimpse of the realm of God was only possible because he was “born from above”. There follows a discourse on the dynamics of new birth.

Reading this passage anew I wondered if we have got it all wrong about being “born again”. It has often been talked about as an experience not to be repeated, a one-time event, a start of a religious journey, an entrance into a life which may exclude others who haven’t been “born again”.

As I read the passage I realized that Nicodemus was born again as he recognised something was from God. It wasn’t something he actively sought. He came to Jesus because of what he had seen not because he wanted to receive something. He was drawn through inner revelation.  Maybe, as we journey through life, every time we see something of God reflected we experience this divine feminine process of being born anew. What a wonderful thought. A spark of the divine in every human being which reacts to people, sights and experiences resulting in us being born anew.

This morning, our garden is clothed in mist. The trees are in bloom. The birds are chirping. Everything looks bright and clean. God is reflected there. Perhaps as I marvel at it something in me is born again.

Being born anew is part the mystery of the trinity . . . I am content to let it remain so.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Moments of Joy

This week, in the set of the lectionary readings, one phrase stood out to me.

 “So that they may have my joy made complete in themselves” (John 17:13)

I spent a few hours mulling it over, particularly the word “joy”. I got four definitions from various dictionaries.

1.  Joy – a feeling of great pleasure
2.  Joy – a feeling of great happiness
3. Joy – an emotion in response to a pleasant observation or remembrance thereof.
4. Joy – the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying: Keen pleasure: Elation.

I even checked up the Greek to see if there was any alternate translation for the word Charan. There isn’t really. Charan is a feminine noun which is consistently translated “Joy.” Strong’s concordance reliably tells me that there are 59 occurrences in the New Testament.

So how do we deal with the concept of “joy”.  The prayer of Jesus was that we would have joy complete in us. Joy is a feeling and an emotion. We clearly do not have it all the time. This is even recognized in other parts of the scriptures.  Romans 12:15 instructs the readers to rejoice with those who rejoice and to mourn with those who mourn.

This week has not been joy filled. Our school community has been devastated by some awful events. It has been a week of mourning with those who mourn. Perhaps, comforting to know that on occasion even Jesus wept.

 Jesus prayed this prayer just before his final journey to the cross. Later Jesus reportedly said, “let this cup pass from me.” (Luke 22; Matthew 26)

That doesn’t sound very joyful at all. If we wanted to, we could talk maybe about obedience or even about submission. But we would be hard pressed to say it was a joyful experience.

Before I go to sleep I often read a novel, – a little lightness at the end of very busy days – it takes a while as I usually read one page and zonk out! Last night I read the following passage.  It made me think as I was still pondering joy.  The character in the book was enjoying the scenery at the seaside after her swim. The author describes her mind as “empty of everything save the physical perfection of now.”

The character went on to say, that she had decided  “one of the good things about being 58 was the fact that one took time to appreciate the really marvellous moments that still came one’s way. They weren’t happiness exactly. Years ago happiness had ceased to pounce unawares with the reasonless ecstasy of youth. This was something better” (Rosamunde Pilcher, Voices in Summer)

I pondered, perhaps that is complete joy. An ability to appreciate and take delight in what is around us. Not big exciting events but everyday small scenes and happenings. Maybe it can be found in bird song, a pretty scene, a fragrant flower, a kind word, a generous act or a smile.

So I don’t think “joy completed in us” is that we are always to have joyful, elated or happy feelings as the various definitions explain it to us. To experience the emotion of joy continually, would make us far from human. Maybe it would be impossible to recognize and name joy without the conflicting emotions of sadness and fear. Perhaps when Jesus prayed this it was as a blessing. It was a prayer wanting the very best for his friends.

Maybe, for us, joy is complete in us when we have the ability to recognize the moments of joy in small everyday things in the midst of the busyness, sadness and fears that make us human

Monday, May 4, 2015

"The First Baptized Gay Christian"

One of the stories in the lectionary readings today is the tale of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. As I read the passage it gripped me. Not so much the story and the detail but the opening sentence, actually in the reading not even a full sentence but a phrase. I just kept mulling it over and over.

“the road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza (this is a wilderness road).”

It was on this road, a road linking Jerusalem and Gaza that Philip, a Jew, met a eunuch from Africa. Wow, myriads of thoughts went through my mind. I went to sleep thinking about this phrase and woke up thinking of this phrase.

There is so much contained therein. My thoughts were of unrest, fighting, killing, race, religion and sexuality.  The events in Middle East and Baltimore with the accounts and photos coming from those areas also figured. I will leave you to pause and consider all these different strands as there are too many events and they are too overwhelming to be considered in this one short blog.

In the last blog I wrote I talked of how patriarchy is alive and well. Today, I want to expand that thought. I actually prefer the term coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza in 1992 (But She Said: Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation), Kyriarchy.  Patriarchy is just a small part of Kyriarchy.  This word is derived from the Greek , kyrios (Lord) and archo (rule). Fiorenza used it to describe any system of domination and submission. It encompasses racism, sexism, homophobia, economic injustice and any other oppressive system.

It was to kyriarchy my mind went as I read the phrase in today’s reading. There are underlying references to race, sexuality, religion and economic systems. Today, I just want to consider one strand.

The story of the eunuch is an interesting one.  He was from the court of Queen Candace in Ethiopia. We are told he was returning home from Jerusalem where he had been to worship, but we are not told which of the many religions he was part of. Obviously, he had some interest in Judaism, as he was reading but not understanding the Jewish scriptures. The story continues that the “Holy Spirit sent Philip to join him”. I think that is also important to remember. This was a God-ordained meeting.

 Eunuchs were considered outcasts in the law (Deut. 23:1).  Although, it should be noted that attempts at integration, with conditions, were mentioned in the book of Isaiah (56).  The eunuch was reading the book of Isaiah. Sadly, like many other marginalized characters in the bible the eunuch remains unnamed. But, I think, here, in this story, is the seed of something happening which will take centuries to come to fruition. Jack Rogers says,

“Over the years, “ Black theology” has brought profound new insights about race to our understanding of the biblical texts. “Feminist theology” opened our eyes to the prominent role of women in the Bible. “Liberation theology” focused our attention and on the Bible’s liberating gospel for the poor and oppressed. Today, “Queer theology” is illuminating our understanding of the role of sexual minorities in the biblical text. In each case the theological insights of formally marginalize groups have enriched the whole church’s understanding of Scripture … Once we remove heterosexist assumptions from our reading of the biblical text a whole new world of depth and meaning emerges.” (Jesus, The Bible, and Homosexuality, 136)

The story of the eunuch continues with Philip explaining the scriptures, and the eunuch ultimately asking if anything “prevents” him being baptized. Philip saw nothing to prevent him, neither his race, nor his sexuality were a barrier.

John J. McNeill comments, “I like to think of this eunuch as the first baptized gay Christian” (Freedom, Glorious Freedom, 186)

Of course, this Bible story is not just about a person being converted to Christianity. It is about so much more. It is about God-ordained radical inclusiveness, where nothing prevents a person entering into God’s realm.

A final word from Jack Rogers,

The fact that the first Gentile convert to Christianity is from a sexual minority and a different race, ethnicity and nationality together form a clarion call for inclusiveness radical grace and Christian welcome to all. (Jesus, The Bible, and Homosexuality, 135.)