Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Identity and Subversion

I've been reflecting on and writing about identity quite a bit since changing roles in the church. Too often, who we are becomes confused or subsumed by what we do.
It has been an affirming challenge to recover and live into my identity as a beloved child of God and to resist the, sometimes but not always, well meaning intentions of those who try to define or label others, stipulating how identity should be lived out. Well meaning phrases, like "You just need too..." or "You could always..." or "you should..." abound as well as paternalistic directives that one comes to expect in the church.
A huge part of my identity is subversion. Working in a male dominated and very patriarchal institution, one has to be fairly creative about how to get things done. I've always been one to demonstrate how something might work rather than argue  the toss. And so subversion has become a healthy, sanity saving part of my identity. 
The new role I fulfil in the church, encouraging others to think outside of the box, to reimagine church, the Mission of God and the call to discipleship has been a thrilling journey that involves accompanying others in transition as we each discover and/or recover our identity in Christ and respond to God's call for today.
Recently, however, in the hierarchical institution, some colleagues sought to shut down such creativity and, in particular, my ability to process and reflect on transition and transformation - something I often do through writing.
The thing is, that attempt to shut down was partially successful:
Whilst their opposition, based on their insecurity and inappropriately garnered authority, gave me a determination to "get on with the job", to let the results speak, it also had the effect of silencing me in large measure.
And now I am struggling to recover that voice, particularly in writing, even writing about the difference my role makes.
It was only as I reviewed my spiritual practices recently that I realised how much the discipline of writing had become absent.
That's how insidious paternalism and patriarchy is, particularly in the church- its damage creeps in, restricting and destroying in myriad ways. The fight never ends, though one may tire of it.
And those who perpetuate patriarchy remain oblivious or, worse, convinced of their good intentions.
Subversion may go some way to dismantling the patriarchy but so too will the practice of continually calling it out.
I guess it's time to find my voice again!

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Ready or not

Advent this year has been filled with boxes - not those that contain advent gifts but those that are produced by moving house. The packing and unpacking has lent a very different backdrop to the season of preparation and readiness for the Christ child. The spiritual practices of Advent have taken place amidst the chaos of packaging materials, paint tins and step ladders and not in the usual, for me, daily meditation and  reflections on the scriptures and season of waiting. And yet, the same God who deemed human beings as worthwhile companions, who determined that we were worth God's coming to earth, has continued to show up in myriad ways this Advent. We may not have tracked down the Christmas tree or the outdoor lights and cards were not even bought never mind sent but God has been more present than ever in the simplicity of creating a home in which there is room for hope, peace, joy and love and room for the baby whose birth heralds those gifts for all creation. And so, on this Christmas Eve, a thanksgiving and a prayer:

Thank you baby God
that gathered around the manger
in which you were laid
were ordinary people
whom you surprised with love,
sharing the good news
with unlikely suspects
whom you deemed worthy.
Thank you baby God
that you did not wait
until we were ready to receive you
for that may never have happened.
Instead, you showed up
without fanfare - 
(although a choir of angels must have been quite spectacular.)
You showed up among people displaced 
and disorientated
pushed from pillar to post
by the whims of government.
You showed up and made your home among us
asking only that we make room for possibility
- the possibility of hope, peace, love and joy.
And today, God with us, still you ask us to believe
that those possibilities might become reality.
God, we believe.
As we make everything ready to herald your birth once more
may our belief become action.
Empowered by you in our midst
may it be so - for the love of God.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Moving worship

I recently wrote a Liturgy for celebrating Communion, and realised how long it had been since I'd had occasion to do that.
Crafting worship, once simply part of my identity, is now a welcome and refreshing pastime as I contribute to Spill the Beans and other worship publications.
Leading worship, however, is something rare in this new role, something to be cherished and for which to be grateful.
It's another transition that has come about in moving from one call to another as I navigate what it means to be "minister without charge".
Two years ago, as I left one ministry for another, thankfully I did not anticipate the loss I would feel when I no longer had to put together, often twice weekly, services. And now I am grateful for the sense of having journeyed through the grief to a place of acceptance - and more - to rediscovering the joy and privilege that it is to occasionally lead God's people in worship.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Calling it out

"Mission will only happen when clergymen get back to preaching from their pulpits and go out knocking on doors." Those were the words of an elderly colleague in a meeting I was recently part of.
His words were applauded and no one called him out.
I was stunned into silence.
It triggered in me a return to an incident I'd had with two other male colleagues over the summer who decided to take me to task on my use of social media. On that occasion, too, I was silenced by their complete lack of awareness of their inappropriate and bullying approach.
In many ways, 25 years into ministry, I shouldn't be surprised by the shocking gender injustice that is all too common in the church but I feel no better equipped to deal with it than I did when I started out.
It seems to me that, if I am always the one who calls it out, that will diminish the other important work that I do. If, however, I remain silent, the stupidity and discrimination continues.
I have in fact lost a number of friendships with male colleagues since following God's call out of the parish and into a new role in the church. It would seem that I've climbed out of the box in which they deemed I belong.
What's more - I find it hard to tell if the gender discrimination is getting worse or if it's my tolerance that has decreased. But what I do know is that life is too short to be considered as anything other than a beloved child of God, called and commissioned by one who created and celebrates my gender, one who honours all created in the image of God as unique, gifted, loved.
Think of all those stories in the gospels of Jesus and the women around him : the woman at the well; the woman with the alabaster jar; the Syrophonecian woman, the haemorrhaging woman; the woman caught in adultery; the women at the cross; the women at the tomb. In the gospels, Jesus' encounters with women are transformative for him, for the women and for those around. Those, often nameless women are the saints I celebrate and whose stories encourage me when others seek to diminish. Those are the saints whose stories encourage me to persist when others would prefer I remain silent.
Thanks be to God for all the faithful women on whose shoulders I stand and may I make the path a little easier for those who follow behind.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Subversive persistence

May you be strengthened in your inner being with power through God's Spirit, so that Christ may dwell in your heart through faith as you are being rooted and grounded in love. (Ephesians 3:16,17)

All summer long, I've walked with these words. As I've traipsed various beaches I've let them percolate  from my head to my heart, let them become a part of me.
That's been a fairly easy task over the summer, when there's space, space to walk on beaches, space to contemplate the power of the Spirit, space to soak up healing and sustenance. I always knew the test would come when work kicked up a gear again, when I was forced, once more, to engage with the structures of an institution that, contrary to everything it represents and flying in the face of the love on which it is founded, succumbs to the abuse of power and fails to honour the divine spark that resides in all.
What I've discovered, however, back in the fray, is not that the structures with which I have to engage have changed - the glass ceiling has not suddenly been lowered, those who are quick to judge and condemn and those who are so quick to put others down rather than build up the body of Christ, have not miraculously disappeared. But what has changed is my rootedness in love, my security in the power of the Spirit of Christ strengthening me. It's quite a small thing and probably pretty fragile, but it makes a difference. 
Two of my biblical heroes are the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who countered abuse of power - they went against the order of Pharaoh to kill Hebrew children. Out of their subversion, Moses was born and a whole nation was led to freedom.
With the power of the Spirit of God dwelling within us, rooted and grounded in love, we are called to be subversive - for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, 18 May 2017


Resilience has become a bit of a buzz word just now. Educators want to see our young people develop resilience. Politicians must acquire  resilience in the face of a rapidly changing world. Even the church is concerned with ensuring (or at least measuring) the resilience of its ministers.
Psychologists assure us that resilience can be learned: the ability to adapt and overcome challenge or to perceive trauma as an opportunity to learn and grow rather than be defeated by it help us develop resilience.
While there is comfort in the knowledge that stressors don't have to define us, that we can rise above the things that might drag us down, that we can learn to change our perception and react with less negative emotion, it concerns me that it then becomes possible to accept things that are plainly wrong simply because we know that we can rise above their impact. This is of particular concern in the church. Recently, grappling with an issue of bullying, I was advised by colleagues to "let it go", "to forgive", "to be the bigger person", all well-meant advice but advice that nonetheless exacerbates the problem and perpetuates the injustice. It is conceivable that developing resilience merely papers over the cracks of a system that is rotting at its core. In my finer moments, I can take on a different, more positive perspective but that doesn't alter the fact that there are those in power, who should know better, who will carry on abusing that power unchallenged while those around them will merely become more resilient. That kind of resilience we don't need!

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Blessed and Broken

And here is what happened: He sat down at the table with them. Taking the bread, he blessed and broke and gave it to them. Luke 24:30

How blessed it is
to break bread with friends
around the table 
or at the altar rail 
in the local coffee shop
or the pub
Indoors,in the warmth
or outdoors, on the street,
sharing bread just as blessed
with the homeless
and the hungry
or with late night revellers.
How blessed it is to break bread
- so much more than sharing food:
Breaking bread
signals careful regard
one for the other,
Breaking bread
involves generosity, 
How blessed it is 
to break bread
when strangers become friends
And food becomes
a sacrament shared.

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