We Need to Listen – But What Are We Hearing?

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter –
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? ~ Isaiah 58: 6 & 7

Sometimes I will read an article and my reaction will be purely instinctive – it will immediately make me cross, or happy, or mad. Or it might trigger me emotionally and psychologically. And I will get that off my chest by praying and thinking it through, and occasionally it will result in one of my sporadic blog posts.  If I blog first, (and think later) I will usually read it afterward and groan to myself about any number of issues I will inevitably find with the language, or the structure.. I’m not a serious writer, but I like words you see.

I like how they can paint a picture in your mind of a time and a place, of complexity of purpose and character.. I like that they can be used to invoke and incite passion, even revolution.. and as a white, cis, able-bodied person I need to read (and in so doing, listen) to those whose colour, gender identity, disability or beliefs mean that the world see’s them as ‘other’.

By ‘the world’ I mean those who hold the dominant narrative. Think of words for a moment as music – indeed words spoken out loud for the sake of performance are music. They have rhythm and pitch and volume, and these are the properties of music, which has the ability to find and move and lift us up.. (err, yes, I did borrow that from The West Wing, but the point is still valid).

Back to my point.. the narrative that dominates the world in which we live is dominated – as it has been for centuries – by a white, cis, usually wealthy, elite. They drive how we see the world, how we understand it, how it is shaped in our minds. It is the view of the world which we first internalize, and if you are white and cis and able bodied, it is internalized to a degree we rarely, if ever, fully acknowledge.

And yet despite this dominant narrative, there are the stories that can draw us back from this status-quo, the words of those whose lives do not conform to that dominant narrative which can call out to us – and call us out.

If we read them. If we hear them. If we listen.

Sometimes, those words are taken by those who have control of that narrative and co-opt them. Words like.. justice and injustice. When that happens, there is an impact. The lived reality of actual injustice is one of oppression wrought daily. The so-called injustice done to a white cis man of wealth and power is worlds apart from the injustice done by society to trans*gendered woman of colour. But it is not her story that the media give the headlines to.

Injustice is a powerful word – but it’s meaning, it’s lived reality and it’s use to convey the appalling wrongs done to those whose lives are subject to the dominant kyriarchy becomes weakened, the parameters by which we judge what is unjust become warped. What do you hear, when Marissa Alexander tries to tell you of the crushing injustice done to her? Do you hear and understand the wrong she has suffered, or just another woman of colour complaining about her lot?

Women of colour, people of colour, the LGBITQ community, the sick and disabled – they needus to hear them, and to hear them properly, truly. To recognise and respond and stand with them, so that the narrative which shapes the world in which we live is, little by little, given back to those from whom it was taken.

If it sounds a little like revolution.. well, I would argue that it sounds like liberation and transformation, a world transforming from one of systemic oppression to one of systemic liberation.

So I loathe the cheapening of words too important to treat in such a manner: it was this article by Allison Pearson a few days ago when (not for the first time) I was struck by how the word ‘injustice’ can be used so flippantly. In writing about the supposed revelation that Nigella Lawson may have used drugs, she said:

“…if the Grillo sisters turn out to be telling the truth – and I hope they aren’t – then Charles Saatchi is the victim of an injustice.”

If you do not know anything about the case, or Charles Saatchi, then I am glad for you. Don’t Google it – there will inevitably pictures which you will find distressing.

Saatchi is a powerful and very wealthy man, who was photographed choking his then wife, Nigella Lawson. He has since insisted – because his reputation is frankly in tatters – that there was ‘another side’ to that story.  As if anything could possibly excuse, or explain away, this materially and physically powerful man’s act of violence against his wife.

What injustice has he suffered then?

No, there is none. His life will continue, and the perception of the general public will go on being unfavourable to him – but so what? It will not affect his wealth, or status, or power. The police caution he received will not prevent him from maintaining these things, and he has not been incarcerated, kept away from his family and robbed of his livelihood.

We who are white, cis, able bodied – who have some or all of the privileges that being those things mean – need to be quite so that we hear and listen.

Let us not make the hearing harder by distorting the words that might have the greatest impact.

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When 140 Characters Just Wont Do…

There are some days, as a Christian, where I can only take a very *very* deep breath and pray for the patience of Job when it comes to some of my fellow Christians, and most usually it is on those well pressed, hot button issues of women bishops and equal marriage.

It is not, of course, that I don’t understand their argument (although when conversation with them is ventured I am frequently left with the impression that I should, in fact, consider myself completely dumb when it comes to scripture).

I am not going to pick through the well-worn scriptural argument here – at least not in this post. I will say briefly that I know the passages concerned but I do not believe that, when taken with the whole context of God’s Grace and Christ’s life, death and re-birth, that it is either accurate or even ‘scriptural’ to suggest that the staunch ‘gay is sin’ is anywhere close to the representations of God’s love and view on the matter.  And it is not as though all conservative Christians remain opposed to things like equal marriage for the LGBT community.  Steve Chalke has –  (and rather bravely). Earlier this year he came out in favour of gay marriage. You can read the article on the Oasis UK website here: http://www.oasisuk.org/inclusionresources/Articles/MOIabridged – it’s the abridged version, but the longer version is also available there.

I try to patient when some conservative Christians proclaim their position so loudly that all anyone else can hear is hate, because we are all struggling after God – because nobody is perfect and because we all screw up.  *But* none of that can allow me to look the other way when people are being hurt, because we are not called by Christ to hurt people but to love them; and it saddens me deeply when people are condemned by other Christians, using the God I believe loves us all.

I struggle with that. I want to shout and scream in righteous indignation to get them to understand the hurt being done… but ideologues are entrenched for a reason. And I wonder if my time is not better spent giving my energy and my love to the people who welcome it, rather than those who patronise me and put me down.

So to all those lovely twitter folk I follow who do not share my beliefs, but have gone out of their way to include me and love me anyway – I want to thank you. I am sorry that not all those who share my faith cannot see the hurt and anger they sow. Forgive us – for sometimes we know not what we do.

*I have updated this post to include a link to Steve Chalke’s article, which may not yet have much popular support amongst conservative Evangelicals, but which I pray paves the way for a more prayerful, thoughtful and loving approach. 09.03.2013

The Richer Thread

My Love and Faith are intertwined
not as a knot
but one combined;

For He is Love and love protects
my cloak, my comforter
my strength;

His strong threads drawn through weave and weft
a richly patterned life
to tread;

Through life, the one strong threaded cord
the silver breath
that holds and stores;

His perfect light that staves the dark
the many coloured threads
of past;

And present! On now – see beyond
the endless cloth we’re
formed along;

His Grace, by spirit, constant grows
and guides each soul
’till safely home;

See how the cloth is grown, and grows:
my Lord, Dear Lord –
I am near to home!

A little something I wrote about 8 years ago, and originally published in www.faithwritersmagazine.com November 2005.

A Life Less Ordinary – Christmas Reflections

She is just a young woman from a little town you might never have heard of, a place of no importance at all – except this young woman is called Mary (or Miryam). It is the 1st century BC, and the pattern of her life is set by the rules and rituals of her Jewish heritage and the Roman rule under which her country lives. She works alongside, and lives with, her family and is engaged to be married to Joseph; perhaps, her head is full of thoughts about Joseph, about how she will arrange her new home with her soon-to-be-husband, what they will do together, the life that they will live and the family they will have. Maybe, as these thoughts occupy her as she works, she keeps that secret smile worn by lovers everywhere lightly on her lips.

She is just a ordinary young woman, on the cusp of an ordinary life – that is, until she claims that she has been visited by an angel of God called Gabriel who tells her that she will bear God’s own child.  Mary knows the times in which she lives – she will not be married, she will be pregnant. Yet she agrees.

We have a glimpse of what being pregnant and unmarried meant for both Mary – and Joseph – in the Gospel of Matthew:

Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced. (Matthew 1:19 – The Message)

Mary was facing disgrace: she would be an outcast – unwed, a fallen woman, her child unwanted by all except it’s mother: Joseph was feeling betrayed, hurt, let down by the woman he was pledged to marry. This was messy, painful, frightening stuff:  the weight of societies judgements hang over both Mary and Joseph, and their families. You can almost hear the whispers of the gossips, the wagging of the pointed fingers and feel the appalled disapproval of those around them.  And these are the circumstances into which God incarnate is to be born?

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 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel. (Luke 2: 6 -7 The Message)

Life for Mary, Joseph and the child she carries  does not get less messy, for though Joseph marries Mary he must take his pregnant wife to Bethlehem for the census – an arduous one over the mountains through Cana and though the barren terrain of Judea. On arrival in his home town Joseph cannot find anywhere for his family to stay, save for the place that the cattle are kept. There is no cradle, only a manger – the trough from which the animals feed.

No place for this young family, for this child, to rest their heads. No safe home, scant physical comfort – only the warmth of the cattle with whom they share their lodgings. And these are the circumstances into which God incarnate is born?

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What I love about the Christmas story – and there is much to love -is how God chooses to  be born into the chaotic messy fringes of society: out on the edge, outside of the expected and the acceptable. In fact, he chooses the unexpected and the unacceptable.

And that speaks to me: we still live in a world where governments and media so easily condem, judge, criticise and blame the poor, the single parent, the weak and the vulnerable. These circumstances are messy, and God chose messy. These lives are without status or power – and this was what God chose to be born into.

Tonight, once more, a child is born: a king without power, whose bed is an animals feeding trough and whose earthly parents have little – except for their love and faith which they have in abundance. This is where God is.