Tag Archive | christianity

Pride 2017 – The Canaanite Woman: Challenging Jesus, the Church and Society.

Today was Chesterfield Pride and as with the last couple of years The Order of the Black Sheep had a service to celebrate pride before going to join in. The service was based on the following reading from Matthew 15.

The Faith of a Canaanite Woman 

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David,have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.”And her daughter was healed at that moment.

This is a difficult reading and one that I would usually shy away from. It’s really difficult for us to hear of Jesus turning someone away – never mind calling her a dog. However maybe there is a reading that offers some redemption to this passage.

I really love that it is a woman that has the audacity to challenge Jesus in this way. A woman who dares to say this isn’t right, I have value.

There are two things that I dislike about this interaction the first is that it is said to have happened at all, but maybe there is a reason that this is recorded for us. The second is that when she challenges Jesus she asks for the crumbs from the floor – rather than to be included in the feast. Maybe the remark was more cutting than we are inclined to read it, maybe the whole interaction isn’t recorded and this is all that got captured, or maybe she was just so desperate that all she could find herself doing was to beg – even for the crumbs. In challenging Jesus she changes him and is given her right to be included, he tells her that she has great faith.

And what great faith LGBT+ people who are still part of a church that so often has denied us even the crumbs from the floor must have. A church that we have to challenge in order to change it and be included in the feast. These changes are slowly happening but we cannot stop challenging the Church in this way until we have full inclusion.

Likewise society does not just give LGBT+ people our rights but we have to challenge it so that it will change – starting at Stonewall. And Pride should continue in this tradition of challenging society, demanding not just for the scraps from the floor but for our place at the feast, where all belong.

This week will mark the 50th anniversary since the first step of decriminalising homosexuality in the UK, but we still have further to go both here and throughout the world. Pride should be a celebration of everything that we have achieved but it should also be a protests that continues to challenge society until all have been given thier rightful place at the table.

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Which truth will set you free?

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

 

 

 

Pride Service 2016

The Order of the Black Sheep logo, rainbow pride

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.

Advent service – Laying down our idols.

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.”

Followed by

“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.

 

 

Cognitive dissonance: The church of England, Wonga and Chocolate Bars.

As reported in the news this week Justin Welby (the Archbishop of Canterbury) has said that he wants to compete Wonga out of existence through the use of credit unions. This, in itself, is great: the interest rates charged by the likes of Wonga and other “pay day lenders” is extortionate and shouldn’t be allowed. However, it was later revealed that the Church of England had, inadvertently and indirectly, invested in Wonga even though this is against the ethical investment policy of the church. It seems that they used a “pooled investment vehicle” to invest and this had funded Wonga. Of course this is unfortunate and the church would not have deliberately or directly invested in Wonga. However these investment companies allow people not to really know (unless they were to ask) where the money is being invested and, therefore, allows them to claim innocence once it emerges that the money had been used in a way deemed unethical. Of course, though, it is likely that people know that investment companies often don’t stick to ethical codes but pretend no to know this so that they don’t have to deal with their actions in sending the funds that way and this may have been what happened. But this is something that we all do, for instance when we buy a chocolate bar that hasn’t come from an ethical source (most chocolate available on the shelves in the supermarket etc). In order to buy that chocolate bar we pretend that we don’t know of the shit, underpaid conditions that the chocolate has been produced through although we all, of course, do understand that this is what happens thanks to documentaries, news pieces etc. By pretending not to know, what we really know, we can convince ourselves on a superficial level that the chocolate “probably” hasn’t been produced unethically and therefore can cope with the decision that we have made to buy it and still believe ourselves to be moral beings. We all suffer from cognitive dissonance, a difference in what we believe (that people shouldn’t have to work in such crappy conditions to produce our chocolate) and our actions (buying chocolate bars that have been produced in crappy conditions), in some way and the pretence helps us to avoid dealing with this dissonance.

Our cognitive dissonance causes us to seek out the immorality and inconsistency within others. By pointing this out, even if only to ourselves, we are able to distract ourselves from our own dissonance by concentrating on someone else’s. Many people this week were keen to jump on the church’s “inconsistency” for this purpose. It is the perfect institution for this as it holds itself to be concerned with ethical issues and so we are able to point and go “look at what those supposedly ethical people have done, they are really bad”. Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t point out where things have been gotten wrong, or gloss over it (and it certainly needs to be sorted out so that it doesn’t happen again) but perhaps we need to start by recognising our own cognitive dissonance before making lots of noise about someone else’s – we may just find it humbling.

Finding God where he shouldn’t be.

I’ve come to realise that I really love finding God where (some say) he shouldn’t be. I wonder, sometimes, if he is easier to spot there than where we expect him to be, easier to discern what is God and what is present due to out expectation of finding God in a certain place.

In John 4 Jesus meets a Samaritan woman. A Jew shouldn’t have been there, mixing with a Samaritan and, especially, not alone with a woman of such disrepute in her own community – having to collect water during the hottest part of the day to avoid meeting other people there. Yet here is God, in flesh, where many would say God shouldn’t be, ministering to a woman the majority of Jews would have rejected.

Mark 2 records “While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Again we find God where other’s say God shouldn’t be – questioned by the Pharisees as to why he eats with “tax collectors and sinners”.

At Jesus’ death on the cross the temple veil rips in two – no longer is God constrained to the Sanctum Sanctorum (most holy place of the temple, sectioned off with a veil) but exists among the people, sending the Spirit at pentecost. There is no longer a special sacred space, the spirit is present, spreading through the whole earth bringing the sacred with it – even where some would say it shouldn’t be.

When St Paul travels to Athens in Acts he finds many idols and alters to different gods but one, in particular, takes his interest – the Alter to the Unknown God. Paul speaks to the people and says you may not know whom it is that you worship at this altar but I do and I will tell you about that God. God was already there, where God shouldn’t be, working among the people of Athens, they didn’t know God and yet they built God an alter. Similarly at his meeting with the Samaritan woman Jesus tells her “You Samaritans worship what you do not know;we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” Again God was already there, the Samaritans just didn’t know it. This can be called prevenient grace, God at work in places and people who may not even acknowledge the existence of God.

I spent the other weekend at Bloodstock festival, helping to run the welfare tent through The Order of the Black Sheep. A Heavy Metal festival is quite an interesting place for a Christian to be  – surrounded by Christian symbology and ritual, but most of it inverted and used in an attempt to be sacrilegious. There is no pretending that (in general) the Heavy Metal community are pro christian, many outwardly reject it. And yet walking around I found a sense of God being present and even at work through unsuspecting people. For instance, the act I was most looking forward to seeing was Machine Head, a band clearly critical of Christianity and wider belief in God and yet I find their song Darkness Within to be really powerfully spiritual, it has helped me through a more difficult patch in my faith. There is a great honesty to the song. God,  preveniently, working through people. Who knows whether that grace will ever by convened, but God was there at a Heavy Metal festival and I was able to worship, in the middle of a crowd of metal fans, to a song that has helped me spiritually.

Likewise, in working with the LGBT community through “I’m Sorry a Different Kind of Christian Presence“, I have been able to find and see God in places and in people that many may say he shouldn’t be. If the above was one of my more powerful spiritual moments this summer the other was joining Life at the Centre  for a service on site at Nottingham Pride.

In meeting many non Christian LGBT people at Pride events, it is not possible to deny that the image of God is within them. Greg Boyd provided a great response for this on Twitter in July.

If you are unable to find God somewhere, in a place that some, or even you, may say he shouldn’t be – try looking just that little bit harder. Perhaps, sometimes, we are too busy spotting the things that are not of God to notice the things that are. Once we have we are able to join God in what God is already doing.

The first will be last: Narrative, power and the Gospel.

Having done some more reading ready for my dissertation I have some thoughts to build on my post Story Crime from a few weeks ago.

In Beyond Good and Evil Nietzsche writes “Psychologists should bethink themselves before putting down the instinct of self-preservation as the cardinal instinct of an organic being. A living thing seeks above all to DISCHARGE its strength—life itself is WILL TO POWER; self-preservation is only one of the indirect and most frequent RESULTS thereof.” Through this we have a window on why we may tell ourselves these narratives. It is not self preservation in itself that leads us to build our own protective narratives but “the will to power” – our ambition, the want to achieve and reach the highest possible position within life. Our narratives help us to continue to strive for this, convincing ourselves that we are good people, the right person for whatever it is that we are striving for and to smooth over our mistakes – anything that will contradict our will to power. Our hope is that our narratives will be externalised and that others will be on board with our take on what has happened, able to see that we are the right people to succeed in our will to power. So we build our narratives in order to continue to strive for first position.

In Matthew 19 Jesus says “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” And so, perhaps, to be considered great within God’s kingdom we have to lay down our will to power, to transcend our narratives and experience who we really are, as broken people.

In his recent work Peter Rollins asserts that true freedom is not the freedom to the pursuit of happiness but, rather, the freedom from the pursuit of happiness. In Philippians St Paul writes “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

And so once again we come to Jesus’ claim that the truth will set you free.