Today’s reading is Jesus healing the blind man in John chapter 9.
There is this interesting moment at the end where Jesus declares that he has come to make the blind see and those that see blind (to the astonishment of the Pharisees, who ask if he is is suggesting that they are blind).
The Pharisees believe that they see, that they know the truth and that this makes them pure. As Emily put it during The Order of the Black Sheep’s service today “know the truth and the truth will make you smug”.
Jesus said “know the truth and the truth will set you free” but, especially in this post-truth #altfacts world that we now find ourselves in, we need to ask which truth it is that will set us free.
It is usually taken to mean the one universal truth that, once you know it, will set you free.
Not only can we not agree on what the one universal truth is but all too often this doesn’t set people free, it can be a burden instead.
However, psychoanalytically there is a different, internal, truth that will set you free. Rather than being like the pharisees in this story who think they know and understand the one universal truth we can look inwardly and find the truth about ourselves.
It’s all too easy to think that knowing (our) universal truth makes us clean and holy – better than the others who are on the outside. But the internal truth makes us reflect on who we really are. To examine and be honest about our flaws; to accept ourselves and, therefore, also others. To realise that we are all human and incapable of being perfect. This truth will set you free. Free from the burden of perfection, free from shame, free from hiding from ourselves. It’s only once we have been honest about and accepted these imperfections within ourselves that we can start the process of healing from them.
By thinking that we have cracked the one universal truth and know it fully we become blinded to the deeper, internal truth that can truly set us free.
May the blind to the internal truth come to see it, and those that believe they see the one universal truth become blind to it that we may all heal in community together.
Creed, Pádraig Ó Tuama
Here’s the talk from this year’s Order of the Black Sheep Chesterfield Pride service held at The Crooked Spire (St Mary and all saints) on the 24th July. The reading was Luke 11:1-3.
In today’s reading, which we have just heard, Jesus is teaching the disciples how to pray. I’d like to explore a little what I think prayer is and what that means for those of us who are lgbt/queer or allies. At the Godly Mayhem conference a couple of years ago George Elerick said that prayer is “revolutionary discourse that leads to material change”. In other words, prayer is that which has a positive impact on the world around us. We can take this to mean that we pray and what we ask for will be done – after all Jesus says in this reading that everyone who asks will receive – for everyone who knocks the door will open.
Now I don’t know about you but not everything I have prayed for has happened, despite this promise from Jesus. So I think we need to take a look at this again and I’d like to look at two of the outworkings of this that I see in the world.
Firstly Jesus’ instructs the disciples to pray “Your kingdom come on earth as in heaven” in the Lord’s Prayer. Elsewhere Jesus says that the “Kingdom of God is within you”. I don’t think that the prayer for the kingdom to come to earth is so much a prayer for God to force the kingdom to come but is a prayer that causes the kingdom to come through us. You may have heard it said that “prayer doesn’t change God, it changes me” or another example – the Pope recently saying “First you pray for the hungry, then you feed them – that’s the way prayer works”. I believe that one of the main purposes of prayer is for it to work in us, to make us more holy – for it to be “revolutionary discourse that that leads to material change” in ourselves and then, therefor, the world by our actions. If we ask with the right heart, the door will open for us to be the change that we wish to see.
I also believe that there are corporate acts of prayer – those that we do together. I believe that Pride is a corporate act of prayer. It is a revolutionary discourse that has lead to material change. The Stonewall Riots, which Pride commemorates, lead to the gay rights movement and has materially changed the world for LGBT people. However when at first we knocked we were ignored. Rights are not won easily – even today, as we saw in the video; there is still a fight to be won. Jesus knew that simply asking a first time wouldn’t always be enough for change to come about and tells us in today’s reading that we will meet those who do not want to change the world for the better for us but that persistence will win. The door may not open the first time that you knock it, but if you keep knocking – keep asking, keep praying, are persistent with your revolutionary discourse then change will come. Our personal and corporate prayer must continue to bring material change to the world, we must continue knocking whether for LGBT rights, women’s rights, BEM (Black and Ethnic Minority) rights, disability rights and every other fight for rights that still needs to exist in our world today – To stand together in solidarity and create material change. Our prayers may look different, for some it may be words said alone, for some it may be art, for others it may be a corporate act – a protest or march, signing a petition etc but together, whatever they look like, if we keep knocking our prayers will lead to material change and a better world for us all to live in.
Pride must keep knocking.
Introducing themes from radical theology in the advent service.
As people came into the building the entrance to the chapel was blocked with a sign asking people to wait. We usually go through into the chapel to start the service but there was preparation to do first. I asked everyone to write their name on a sandwich bag in preparation for the service. I disrupted the normal order of doing things to get people thinking about the traditional themes of Advent – waiting and preparation before starting the main service. Once everyone had settled down the following was read from Isaiah 40:3
“In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
“Unlike Mary we have already been impregnated by all manner of things and there is little room for God”
This was taken from a transformance art event described by Katharine Moody in her book Radical Theology and Emerging Christianity (I assume it’s from an Ikon event but I’m not sure).
We watched this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_-9cGDiON0) of Peter Rollins speaking about the sacred object.
I then spoke:
“As we heard at the beginning unlike Mary we are already impregnated, leaving little room for God. Our lives are full of sacred objects – idols – gods; those things that have promised satisfaction and completeness but oppress us in their inability to fulfil their promise. Let us, as in the verse from Isaiah, prepare a way for the Lord.”
At this point I asked people to consider the sacred items that they had with them – the items that they believed would bring happiness and fulfillment and to put them in the sandwich bag they had written their name on. Once people had chosen which item(s) they wanted to put in I bought out a bin and asked them to empty themselves of their idols by placing them in the bin (with an assurance that nothing was going to happen to them). Once I had collected them all I asked how it felt to have given up the sacred objects and let people speak.
“As Peter outlined in the video it isn’t just material items that become idols in our lives it can be relationships, career, fame, starting a family or perhaps even belief in an interventionist God. Whether or not these sacred objects are in themselves good they cannot provide completeness and satisfaction any more than the apple from the forbidden tree. Like Lent, a season in which we can experience the death of our gods, Advent is a season within which to empty ourselves of our gods in preparation as we wait to see what is birthed in their place at Christmas.
In the laying down of our idols may we find that love and community in the embracing of the complexity, depth, difficulties, and beauty of life be birthed in their place.”
I asked people to consider the idols in their lives that they can lay down during advent whilst returning the items to their owners – playing Flaws by Bastille as this touches on themes from the service.
I wrote this hung over at The Order of the Black Sheep camping weekend Blackbelt for a speaking spot that didn’t happen. I’ve been meaning to share it since then as radical theology is something I’m keen to have more discussion about. Just remember I wasn’t at my best when I wrote it (and I’m just too lazy to rewite it).
For most of my Christian life I’ve either felt that I need to believe more and that I lack faith, or not wanting to believe but finding that I couldn’t quite leave it behind. Both of these modes had the power occupy my mind, keep me up at night, and were spiritually and mentally unhealthy.
I have an interest in radical theology which is rooted in the continental philosophical tradition, psychoanalysis and the Nietzschean proclamation that God is dead. This year Pete Rollin’s festival in Belfast had a much stronger focus on the latter element of his work; Barry Taylor gave a sermon based on the transfiguration which ended with “there is no God and we are his disciples.”
When I go to an event like this I surprise myself by being more radical than I expect coming away and accepting that I am a Christian non-theist, an a/theist as Pete may put it. Still finding faith, ritual and community rooted in the Christian tradition to be important and meaningful in my life but not necessarily because I’m still desperately trying to hold onto what little belief I may have had.
Then I come back and live with this, think about it, what it means and where I go from here.
A few weeks later I went to take part in the Church of England’s regional discussion on scripture, mission and sexuality where I discover that I’m much more Orthodox than I expect (ok so not *that* Orthodox I’m still queer and there to argue for the inclusion of myself and others within the church). Finding a different, more orthodox understanding from within the discussion and ritual that we took part in (the event concluded with communion).
So where do I go from here?
I’m no longer interested in belief but faith. Pete Rollins defines faith as “Living as if.” Living as if life has meaning, as if Christ rose from the dead, as if the Kingdom of heaven is coming here to earth and as if this all matters. Faith means that the Christian tradition and ritual has meaning and has importance as it draws us together in community, as we are called to love and serve one another.
One of Pete’s greatest influences Jack Caputo says that it isn’t fair for him (Jack) to be referred to as a death of god theologian – he’s a birth of God theologian. He sees that God is birthed in the moment that we answer the call to live in love for one another (wherever 2 or more are gathered, there I will be).
Sometimes I believe (and I really do on those days) in Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection. And on other days I don’t. I now live in acceptance of this, no longer allowing it to cause me further existential angst for faith – even faith the size of a mustard seed is enough and god – whatever we mean by that term, is there in the midst of it.
I no longer want to believe (or not) help my un/belief.
As seen with the horrific attacks in Paris last week tragic events often attract their own pray for hashtag, used by a wide range of people whether it is their habit to pray or not. This leads to questions by both those for who it is normal to pray but also for those who have no faith and cannot imagine why anyone would ever prayer, about why the secular world turns to prayer, or at least the public declaration of prayer if not the act, during such events. As a Christian exploring radical theology, ir/religion and a/theistic faith and the interaction of the secular and religion I have had to explore what prayer may mean if I accept that prayer does not directly affect the material world.
The first answer is that when such huge events unfold that we have no control over prayer gives us agency, there is something that we can do when there is nothing else that we can do. We like to be in control and we like taking action. It’s unnatural for us to sit by and just watch these events take place without doing something. Whenever a friend or relative goes through something difficult the first thing that most of us ask is whether there is anything that we can do to help. Even if it is not within our normal habit to pray, even if we ultimately don’t believe there is a being listening for our prayers at least it is something that we can do.
The first reason is the more likely reason that we do turn to prayer but I’d like to explore a reason why we should turn to prayer even if we accept that it doesn’t have a direct affect on the material world (though the agency of an interventionist being). Prayer doesn’t change God but does change us is a reason that people may offer when exploring the reason that prayers don’t [always] seem to get answered. If we remove this from the world of belief in an interventionist god then we are left with prayer changes us.
True prayer (whether secular or religious) should bring us to introspection – to consider ourselves, our motives and our response. At the Godly Mayhem event last year George Elerick Said “Prayer is dynamic, without physical posture. It is revolutionary discourse – ending with some form of material transformation,” If we enter prayer earnestly, truly and honestly it should lead us to a revolutionary discourse within ourselves as we examine ourselves as well as the outside world. True prayer should challenge us, call us to change and call us to act leading to material transformation – a change in the world that starts with us (what Jack Caputo may refer to as responding to the unheard call). For instance if we are praying for peace then prayer should call us to examine the violence within our own lives and how we may change going forwards, it may call us to action, to donate, to volunteer, to write or speak out etc. Prayer should call us to help make the world a better place. We may not find change easy, we will probably resist it to begin with. It may take many prayers before we soften and listen to the call asking us to respond but if we approach it with the right attitude and an open mind and we are prepared to feel uncomfortable for a while we will find ourselves listening and we will find ourselves responding.
Prayer doesn’t matter because it petitions an all powerful being to make changes in the world – it matters because it works within mere mortals until we are ready to listen and do our part to help make the world a better place.
Radical prayer is inconvenient because it does not allow us to rely on another to do the work for us but calls us to do it ourselves.
We’d watched a video about the Stonewall riot and our reading was Matthew 21:12-17.
The Stonewall Inn existed in a time where homosexuality was still criminalised. It had no running water, no toilets and no alcohol licence. It was run by the mafia who paid the police to keep their raids tame. It was the one place where the LGBTQ+ community could meet one another. And whilst it was a place that allowed a certain freedom for people to be themselves it was also a symbol of the oppression of LGBTQ+ people at the time.
The outer (gentile) court of the temple had been taken over by the temple market. It was the only court in the temple that non-Jewish converts to Judaism were able to worship and so this blocked them from worshiping in the temple. In addition to this the money changers charged a premium for converting the secular coinage of the roman empire into “pure” jewish coins that could be offered in the temple and sold animals permitted for sacrifice, again at a premium. If you were to turn up with your own animal the temple authorities were likely to find a reason for it to not to be pure enough to be offered in sacrifice. This excluded or at the very least was highly unfair to the poor jews who came to worship in the temple.
Then we have the Stonewall Riot which broke out after a brutal raid by the police and Jesus turning over the market tables in the temple. I believe that of these can both be seen as prophetic acts against systems of oppression.
I mainly consider myself to be a pacifist and both of these acts could be seen as violent. John’s gospel says that Jesus “made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.” However I also have to point out that all oppression is an act of violence. Excluding people from the temple is violence, stopping people from being themselves and raiding the one place that they can be is violence, the high rate of mental heath issues in LGBTQ+ people is violence, teenagers committing suicide because they don’t feel that they can tell their Christian parents that they are gay is violence, physical attacks on people for being different – for holding their partner’s hand in the streets is violence, the murder rate of trans* people – highest for trans* women from ethnic minorities is violence.
Words alone aren’t enough to overcome oppression. Jesus knew this, the stonewall rioters knew this many others involved in prophetic acts against oppression know this. Pride started as a prophetic act at Stonewall, we have won many victories but we would be wrong to think that now we have equal marriage we are done. We need many more prophetic acts. Actions speak louder than words. This doesn’t just apply to the LGBTQ+ community, especially in our current economic and political situation. We need to march, we need to disrupt and we need to make sure that our voices are heard.
As we go out today to celebrate pride – the commemoration of the riots that started to bring so many new freedoms and to celebrate the fights that have already been won I encourage you to consider what prophetic actions you can take against the oppression that still exists.
Im going to end with a quote from Laverne Cox. A great tragedy, to my mind, of the story of the stonewall riots is the way that many LGB people ignore and neglect the fight for trans* rights and at worst act oppressively towards trans* people when the fight for our rights at Stonewall was lead by Sylvia Rivera – a trans* woman.
“Each and every one of us has the capacity to be an oppressor. I want to encourage each and every one of us to interrogate how we might be an oppressor, and how we might be able to become liberators for ourselves and each other.” Laverne Cox
I’d like to give us a few moments to consider how we may be oppressors in our own lives and how we can make sure that we are liberators for ourselves and for others.
A couple of weekends ago I went to the Progressive Christian Network’s conference Godly Mayhem with Pete Rollins, Ketherine Moody and George Elerick. During the Q&A after one of Pete’s talks someone asked where’s the ressurection?
I think the answer is that the ressurection is everywhere. We are surrounded by the hope and promise of fufilment from the sermons preached in church to the adverts that we see on TV. We want and expect constant ressurection without having to experience death. I see this in Good Friday – a day set aside for the observance of Christ’s death. A day in which to sit with this loss and experience it. However so many Christians can’t help but add to their sermons or announce on Facebook that “Sunday’s coming”. We can’t allow ourselves to experience death we just want to hear about the promise of ressurection. So I think that the important thing is that, what Pete calls, deserts in the oasis exist and I think that was part of the point in the conference. The conference wasn’t about ressurection it was about us being in touch with doubt, suffering and death. In order to bring about a balance within the engulfing fixation on ressurection spaces without talk or promise of resurrection need to exist. If they were trying to hold the balance of death and ressurection within themselves they wouldn’t be being effective in trying to bring about an overall balance.
The other answer to the question, I think, is that ressurection is an experience and it isn’t dependent on talk about or promise of itself. In bringing up to the surface our doubts, pain and experiencing our ghosts we are able to be freed from them. Perhaps, at least sometimes, in order to give the experience of ressurection the very least thing that you should do is talk about it.