Sunday, March 7, 2021

Unpalatable Passages



Sometimes I read a passage in the lectionary and it causes me some unease — simply put, it jars. I don’t really like what I am reading. At these times I have to remind myself that this is a book of faith not a book of history.

 

I find it happening a lot when Andy and I read the Psalms as part of morning prayer. I am reading aloud beautiful, inspiring verses when all of a sudden there is a verse that jars. I don’t want to read, “Happy is the one who seizes infants and dashes them against the rocks” (137:9). I call these unpalatable passages. They remind me again of how carefully and non-literally scripture needs to be handled.

 

It happened with the lectionary today — not once but twice! 

 

The first time was in the Old Testament (Exodus 20:1-17). It was the story of the giving of the ten commandments. Of course, the concepts contained within the ten commandments are largely good. It was the beginning of trying to move society towards a better way of being. Today, most of the rule of law and popular notions of right and wrong affirm that it is not okay to steal, murder or perjure oneself plus adultery and idolatry are frowned upon. 

 

So, what jarred? It was that, once again, females were invisible. It stood out like the proverbial sore thumb. These verses were addressed to men — and not even all men, just privileged men. They were told not to covet their neighbour’s wife, no mention of a women not coveting a neighbour’s husband. They were told not to covet male or female slaves. This verse (17) is a perfect example of what Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza terms kyriarchy. which is a joining of two Greek words kryrios (lords or masters) and archo (to lead, govern or rule). The Exodus passage offers justification for slavery and patriarchy.

 

I know it was a different time and culture, but coupled with the rule of law, was the idea of male supremacy, or at least, supremacy for certain privileged males. This idea has prevailed unto present day. One only has to look at history or take a glance at the pictures depicting all the presidents and all the vice-presidents of the USA to see that this was not just something that happened in the Old Testament. Male supremacy continues — if I’m honest, I’m not sure why females have continued to be so demeaned and invisible. 

 

At this point, I have to say that I am so grateful to see Kamala Harris changing history as she stands on the shoulders of many brave women who worked so hard to change a nation’s mindset. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see photographs of 46 women following the pictures of 46 men thus moving the nation towards equality? 

 

As I continued through the lectionary passages, I came to the gospel reading which also jarred. It is the story of Jesus overturning tables in the temple (John 2:13-22). 

 

Why did this jar?

 

I think it was because most of what I read about Jesus was that he came to show a different way. One that involved enemy love, turning the other cheek, healing and feeding those in need. Here an angry Jesus is depicted. And if I am quite honest one who did not handle that anger well. Anger turned to violence is rarely good.

 

I have worked with traumatized children, who easily get angry. As I read this text, I could not help but get a picture in my head about the classroom and an angry child. The tables and desks are always the first to go! The child gets angry, jumps up and the desk and contents scatter around the classroom. Later, when calmness is restored, the anger, and reason for it, are acknowledged and validated, the ensuing conversation focuses around finding a better way to handle that anger. 

 

Jesus faced a situation where it seems great injustice was being done. He walked into the temple and saw the people selling animals for sacrifice. This was a necessary service to enable those who had come a distance to purchase an animal. (I’m not even going to touch the cruelty to the animals!) Apparently, the practice had become corrupt. In the synoptic gospels Jesus is documented as calling the place a “den of thieves”. People were being swindled in the changing of their money.  The “money changers” were getting rich. In modern terms, they had no competition and they were charging what the market would bear. We see this all the time. Recently, I purchased some flowers to send to my mother for her 94thbirthday — her birthday is just after Valentine’s Day, so the prices were hugely inflated. Big business!

 

Jesus was angry and probably rightly so. Religion was being used to exploit people. Yet, I still have an unease at the violent means used to express this anger. There must be many better ways to bring about change than violence. It really jars that Jesus was portrayed out of character here.

 

So, what do I do with these unpalatable passages. Do I ignore them? It would be fairly easy to do so, I could just choose a different text to blog on. Yet I have made a commitment, to myself, to treat all the readings honestly, or as honestly as I can. I don’t want to avoid the hard readings. I don’t want to sweep the things that are unpalatable under the carpet! 

 

I try to follow Trible’s advice — I know I have talked about this, many times — to shake a passage until it yields a blessing.

 

Sometimes, that can be really hard. Sometimes, however hard I shake a text, it is difficult to find a blessing other than to be thankful that times are changing. 

 

In the gospel passage, I can find a blessing in that it allows the reader to see Jesus’ anger at injustices especially those done in the name of religion. It gives me permission to be angry at the injustices I see —injustices to women, children, people of colour, animals, LBGTQ+ friends, the poor, etc., etc.  These, too, are often done in the name of religion, So, this text gives me a mandate to be angry and to try to bring about change. I am still not recommending “making a whip of cords” to drive these things out of our society. Nevertheless, it is a blessing to know I can be angry at injustices so I can work for a better society.

 

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Lenten Thoughts

 

Preparation is an important concept in the ever-changing story of our lives. People prepare for all sorts of occasions — some small and some big.

 

I, and others, have said many times “don’t be so focused on the destination that the journey is not appreciated and enjoyed.” Preparation is a large part of any journey. If I think back over my life journey, the time I have spent in preparation is quite a significant chunk. Preparation for going to college, preparation for getting married, preparation for each new child welcomed, preparation for changes in career, preparation for guests coming to stay, preparation for travelling, preparation for dinner each night — the list could go on and on. 

 

In today’s lectionary reading Jesus was on the brink of a change of career. Jesus is about to start ministry and feels compelled to take some time to prepare for it. In Mark’s version the story is minimal. The gospel merely states, “And the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him” (Mark 1:12-13).

 

 Jesus took a few weeks of time to be alone to prepare for the momentous time ahead. The story does not give much detail about the wilderness location. In the past, I have talked about the possibility that when the gospel tells us that John the Baptizer came from the wilderness, he had been sent to be educated and trained by the Essene community located there. Maybe, it was to an Essene community that Jesus was driven for this time of preparation. It always puts me in mind of the quotation which is one of meditations in the Way of Living, (p. 390). “In Scetis, a brother went to see Abba Moses and begged him for a word. And the old man said: Go and sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” (in Thomas Merton)

 

I like to think that Jesus time of preparation in the wilderness was a rich experience. It was the very foundation — the bedrock— of his ministry. Jesus took time alone to prepare but was tended by angels, and by non-human friends.

 

It is so often the negative aspects of this passage and this season of Lent that are focused on — self-denial and deprivation. I think it is a mistake to make that the focus. In “Christian-speak”, which I dislike, a wilderness experience is often used to denote something bad in one’s life. 

 

What do I mean by Christian-speak — a particular phrase or turn of speech that would only have meaning to those in the “club”. In certain circles it can become like a secret language, like a sign that one is an “insider”.  Such a horrible concept —insiders and outsiders. I constantly have to watch my language to ensure I don’t fall into the trap of Christian-speak.

 

Personally, I don’t think that being ill, or being financially challenged or being lonely or facing a crisis can be attributed to the passage today. They are indeed situations which many will have experienced. However, if such things are equated to this so-called “wilderness experience” then we would have to say that all the poor, all the chronically sick people, all the people who have been lonely for years are spending their whole lives in the wilderness if the gospel is interpreted that way.  People experiencing this sort of hardship may feel they are struggling constantly, but it cannot necessarily be claimed as a God-ordained spiritual experience.

 

I much prefer to think of the positive aspects of this passage, this Lent, which, in the cycle of the church’s calendar, is denoted as a time of preparation. 

 

Maybe the question people ask each other shouldn’t be “what are you giving up for Lent?”  but instead ask “what are you preparing for this Lent?”

 

It is an important question. The church’s cycle has given us these next few weeks to live it. Maybe preparation is towards a deepening spiritual journey. 

Maybe it is for a preparation for baptism or ordination. 

Maybe it is for a big change in life. 

Maybe it is for peace and strength in one’s life. 

Or maybe, it is simply to take time to reflect on the ever-present cycle of life and death and life and death and life

 

My hope is that Lent will be a positive experience this year for all who undertake the journey. My hope is that as each person takes time for preparation they will experience being comforted by non-human friends and tended to by angels — in whatever form that takes.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

A Wise Word

Sometimes I read the lectionary passages and feel that they are quite concerning. Often, they express ideas which are hard to stomach. Today, was a little different, all four readings were quite uplifting — they are talking about beginnings. 

 

I could spend this whole blog talking about beginnings. As I write I am looking out of my window at large amounts of untrodden snow waiting for someone to plant a footprint into it. I get the same feeling when camping at the ocean and go to the beach early in the morning — the newly washed sand is just waiting for the first footprints.

 

These images always speak to me of beginnings — a new start, a path as yet untrodden, anticipation and expectation. Life is full of new beginnings, challenges waiting to be undertaken. Every stage of life, every day is a new beginning. I hope I use all my new beginnings with wisdom and grace.

 


But even as these pleasant and uplifting thoughts were swirling around my head, I couldn’t get away from two words, Wisdom (Chokmah/Sophia) and Word (Logos).

 

In the Old Testament reading about the beginning (Proverbs 8: 1, 22-31) Wisdom is in the beginning with God. Wisdom exists pre-creation, “before the beginning of the earth”. In Gospel (John 1:1-14) it is the Word who was “in the beginning with God”.

 

Did the feminine Wisdom of the Old Testament become the masculine Word of the Gospel? 

 

I think the author of the Gospel was linking Divine Wisdom with the Word. Always worth remembering that the gospels were written many years after Jesus’ death and, in some sense, were offering proof of who Jesus was. Therefore, the connection and language of the Johannine account of the beginning would have been very powerful to the readers of the day. 

 

Here I will pause and recommend a book on the subject Jesus, Miriam’s Child, Sophia’s Prophet by Elisabeth Schusser Fiorenza for any who want to delve deeper into this subject. 

 

Fiorenza writes, “It is debated whether according to the Fourth Gospel Jesus is Wisdom Incarnate or whether he replaces her. The narrative characterization of Jesus speaks for the first” (152).

 

I find the subject intriguing. It raises a lot of questions for me about the interplay between Wisdom and Word. I find it an expansive view. In an attempt to uphold a patriarchal understanding of Scripture. Sophia, Wisdom has not been given the prominent place she deserves. 

 

I am glad that the lectionary this morning acknowledges the place of Sophia in creation — it goes a little way towards redressing the gender balance.  

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Cracks are Appearing

Wow, what a week this has been! 

 How could I write a blog without giving mention to the momentous event many around the world witnessed — I speak of the inauguration of America’s new vice president. 

 

The last blog I wrote was tinged with sadness and shock. The insurrection of the Capitol building was fresh in my mind. Amongst, other things I spoke of two underlying causes — white supremacy and patriarchy, 

 

Today, I write tinged with joy. Those twin towers that have blighted American history are starting to crack. The new vice president is a woman, and not only that, one of African and Asian descent. Kamala Harris radiated joy and happiness — even behind a mask one could see she never stopped smiling. I’m sure she knew that she was causing a crack in the tower of patriarchy. 

 

A year or so ago I wrote a blog which I entitled “Patriarchy is alive and well”. At least, that is what I thought. Then, I decided to check up on the actual date and realized I wrote it in April 2015. Nearly six years ago —has time really gone that fast? I still think patriarchy is alive and well — the last four years made that blatantly obvious as what must have been simmering under the surface was given voice. Yet, the outlook is not bleak. I am confident that one day patriarchy will tumble down. Sadly, probably not in my lifetime but I will see more and more cracks appearing. Last Wednesday was a big one!

 

Of course, Kamala Harris stands on the shoulders of many generations of women who have fought for equality and the right to be seen and heard. This Christmas one of the presents my son and daughter-in-law sent me was a jig saw. A circular jigsaw entitled “Votes for Women” and depicted about forty women who had been active in that struggle. To my shame, I confess some of the names were unfamiliar to me — happily the jigsaw came with an information leaflet giving their histories so I could learn.

 

My interpretation of the gospel reading today depicts one of the very first cracks in the tower of patriarchy. It is the story of a wedding (John 2: 1-11). I have blogged about this particular wedding before. I make no apologies for doing so again. 

 

At the heart of the story is a woman who was seen and heard. Well, maybe I should amend that a little as in this story the mother of Jesus remains unnamed. Even today, this is a common experience for many women. They are designated only by their role in relationship to men rather than as a person with a name.

 

But back to the wedding . . . the story doesn’t reveal who the wedding was between. There is no way to know who was getting married, but the text hints that it was a close relative of Jesus — maybe it was a sister, brother or cousin. The wedding was clearly an affluent affair with wine flowing freely and servants and stewards attending the guests. The passage suggests that the mother of Jesus was the host. She was the person to whom the servants turned when there was a problem with the wine.

 

In short, the wine at the wedding ran out. The servants approached host, the mother of Jesus, who in turn appealed to Jesus. Water was converted into wine and the steward commented that the best wine was saved until the last. 

 

As always when reading this text, what fascinates me is the conversation between Jesus and his mother. It is a significant part of the account and as such would seem to be important. When the wine ran out it was Jesus to whom his mother turned. She told him there was no wine. Jesus is recorded as saying it was no concern of his as “My hour has not yet come.” 

 

It is a strange retort. Obviously, Jesus knew that his mother was expecting a miraculous intervention but seems reluctant to reveal who he was. It seems, Jesus would be happy to remain in anonymity. 

 

Yet, it seems that his mother knew best! She knew it was time for the ministry to begin and her words and actions revealed it to Jesus. She did it quietly and calmly. She simply ignored his protestation that it was not his hour and told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 

 

It is essential that the key role of Jesus’ mother is not under-estimated. I think it is important to note that this is one of the first cracks in the tower of patriarchy. This woman was given the task of knowing when it was time for Jesus to start his ministry — she spoke and was heard.

 

So today, I am thankful for all the women who have undermined patriarchy — the ones who have spoken and been heard.

 

 

 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

My Mind is Whirling!

What a momentous week this has been! 


Wednesday 6 January and the ensuing days will go down in the annuls of history. Wednesday 6 January was an overwhelming day. It was a shameful day. And perhaps, most of all it was a sad day. 

 

I could not write this week’s blog without mentioning it. The Lindisfarne community embraces secular monasticism — clinging to the rhythm of spiritual practices while living and engaging in contemporary society. The events of this week cannot be ignored,

 

The gospel lectionary reading today ends with the simile of the spirit descending like a dove (Mark: 1:10). The physical image of a dove has, in tradition, long since been associated with peace. A strange coincidence or, perhaps, a sobering reminder as this falls at the end of a week where an unprecedented violent attack on government was perpetrated. 

 

I do not want to reiterate the actual happenings of the day which +Andy and I, along with millions of others, watched unfolding.  I’m sure everyone has seen multiple images as they continue to dominate the news cycle — as do conversations about the consequences of the actions of those involved. 

 

One comment I will make though, is, as I have watched and listened to the careers and lifestyles of those who have been identified as involved, I was quite shocked. It has caused me much pondering on how an ideology can be followed so that it becomes all-consuming,  even to the extent where criminal actions can be committed without any thought of the harm caused to others. 

 

As I continue to muse on the events of the week, my mind has been whirling! 

 

Words do not really do justice to my thoughts — desecrating a seat of government, causing harm, injury and death to others, insurrection, sedition, domestic terrorism. These are hurts that cling to the soul deeper than can be given voice.

 

And alongside all those hurts white supremacy and sexism have once again been highlighted. I have pondered much about this. Four years ago, I realised that permission had been granted for a voice to be given to sexism and racism. To give it voice, it must have already been there, hidden under the surface. Okay, maybe not so hidden in many cases but certainly not voiced in the public arena. 

 

I wondered about this. It feels like it is in the social DNA passed from generation to generation. I do not say that lightly. I have seen it, felt it. Often, if challenged the response would be” I’m not racist” or “I’m not sexist” even accompanied by horror that I may have thought that about someone. Yet, it is there, underlying, in the social DNA being passed to the next generation. Much consideration needs to be given to how that cycle is broken.

 

Every time it feels like a step is taken towards ridding the country of this scourge something happens that reveals the depth of it. I am saddened but not discouraged. It is only as things are revealed and consciousness is raised that change can start to happen. I want to be part of that change — to look constantly in a mirror to check my own actions and speech and to challenge myself and others when it is needed — to be a voice for those who have no voice.

 

On this day. when traditionally the symbol of peace is remembered, I hope that threatened increased violence will not ensue. That the transition to a new government will be peaceful and those dealing with the aftermath of this week will have much wisdom.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Good-Bye 2020.

Good-bye 2020 — this will be my last musing on the lectionary passage for 2020. Time is relentlessly marching on. These days can never be recaptured or re-lived they will remain only in my memories.  

 

2020 will probably go down in history as the year of the pandemic — sadly, an unprecedented number of people lost their lives and more certainly will. Today, the figure stands at 1.76 million with 10,131 of those happening just yesterday on Boxing Day. The number is almost too big to comprehend —1.76 million grieving families this Christmas. 

 

Others have faced differences in the workplace or unemployment, like many, Andy has worked from home most of this year while I have not been able to work at all. 

 

With many others social distancing restrictions have meant isolation from family and friends. A lot of hard times for many.

 

But — and as this is the third day of Christmas, I want to make it a big but — even in a hard year, good things happen. I encourage anyone reading this to think of some of blessings 2020 brought them. 

 

For me, the whole year has reinforced how short our journey on this earth is and how unpredictable life can be. There is no way I can know what tomorrow holds therefore today must be cherished and made to count. 

 

I have heard many times the sentiment “I can’t wait for 2020 to be over”, perhaps it is because I am getting older, but whenever I hear it my thought is don’t rush time — it is too short to be wished away.

 

Even the lectionary passage today seems to be in a rush to another season. It is the story of Peter asking Jesus who will betray him. My first thought is let’s enjoy the birth before rushing to the death! 

 

Yet, the passage also contains an interesting thought for the end of the year. John is writing at the end of the gospel to put right a wrong — to challenge “the rumour spread in the community.” Perhaps, the last few days of 2020 is a perfect time to take stock and see if anything needs putting right before stepping into a new year.

 

So, what other blessings can I rejoice in 2020? I think one of the biggest ones has to be how I have learnt to be grateful for so many things often taken for granted.

 

I am grateful for the advances in technology. Zoom has opened all sorts of new possibilities. In our community it has allowed us to meet face-to-face two or three times a week. I have been able to talk to my mother, children, grandchildren and sisters on a regular basis. 

 

I am grateful for all those people who have gone beyond what is normally expected —nurses, doctors, dentist, educators, shopkeepers, postal workers, factory workers, delivery drivers, and too many others to be mentioned.

 

I am grateful for the people who have worked tirelessly to bring a vaccine. 

 

I am grateful to the myriad of people who worked to bring a fair and successful election this year.

 

I am grateful to be able to go out and walk in our lovely area with our pugs. 

 

So, 2020 has been a memorable year. This week I, with many others, think back over the days and months acknowledging and praying for all those who have suffered loss and are grieving while rejoicing in all the blessings the year has brought. 

 

Perhaps 2020 is summed up best in the immortal words of Charles Dickens:

 

It was the best of times, 

it was the worst of times, 

it was the age of wisdom, 

it was the age of foolishness, 

it was the epoch of belief, 

it was the epoch of incredulity, 

it was the season of Light, 

it was the season of Darkness, 

it was the spring of hope, 

it was the winter of despair.

 

(Tale of Two Cities, p1)

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Coming Second

 

Coming Second — as I read the lectionary gospel text for the day (John 1: 6-8, 19-28) that was the phrase that came to mind. I’m not quite sure why I had that particular thought, but it was there in my head and once established stayed firmly there — coming second, coming second, coming second. 

 

Coming second is an experience most people have probably shared. It happens all the time. Coming second in sports competitions, coming second in an interview for a job, coming second in another’s affections, coming second in a school exam, coming second in a card game — a common phrase from childhood was “you can’t be top in everything”. 

 

Andy and I have recently watched the latest series of The Crown depicting the British royal family. Watching it I keep in mind that this is not history, but entertainment and it is a mistake to accept it as factual. Nevertheless, it does show the harm caused to those in the family who by birth order were coming second. 

 

I wonder if somehow the whole of society has been encultured into thinking of life as a huge competition with winners or losers, success or failure, coming first or coming second. It would be a hard task to change thinking that is so deeply embedded. 

 

It was pondering about John the Baptizer that inspired me to muse on coming second. I wondered if all his life he had felt he was coming second. Mary and Elisabeth obviously shared a close relationship. John must have grown up knowing the story of his cousin Jesus’ birth —a younger cousin at that. I wondered, what must that have felt like? Did it feel like a shadow over him? Did John feel he was coming second? Did he feel as the elder he should have been the more prominent? 

 

Of course, these are questions that have no possible answer — they are merely my ponderings.

 

The text today starts by saying that John was not the light merely bearing witness to the light. John also clearly stated he was not the Messiah nor a prophet of old. John knew exactly who he was. Coming second had not spoilt his life or allowed bitterness or worthlessness to creep in. John seems to have found a freedom in coming second. John knew his role and the importance of it. John had a voice and used it to proclaim rightness. I think John is a great example of how to live. 

 

Today is Gaudet Sunday, the mid-point of Advent when the pink candle is lit as a reminder that there is joy even in the midst of a serious season of watching and waiting. This year, this Advent finding joy is especially important. Maybe, this year has felt a bit like coming second. This has become especially noticeable around this Christmas time when plans have been changed and expectations lowered. Perhaps, a little motto for Christmas 2020 should be — look for joy, find Joy, share Joy. 

 

I like to think of John standing in the midst of the crowds proclaiming “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness” with his face radiating joy as he heralds events to come.