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No Questions will be answered

April 18, 2018

Slide1 If you know me at all, you’ll know that I am fuelled by high octane curiosity.
I suffer perpetual inquisitiveness.
I sprinkle interrogatives on my cereal for breakfast.

The life of questioning is as natural as breathing in and out.
I don’t think I’m alone. I think most of us like some investigative action.
The popularity of stories like Sherlock Holmes testify to what a treat so many of us find it to sport with questions.

Delightful fun as questioning is, it is also a serious business. We have professional question askers – researchers, investigative journalists, psychologists, detectives…and I’d consider most teachers professional questioners.
Questioning is an ancient and complex art; so many kinds of questions, angles from which to approach interrogation, research methods and layers of inquiry to peel back in playing with questions.
The craft of learning by questioning is known as the Socratic Method, giving eponymous dignity.

Whether we vocalize all our questions or not, we survive by questions.

On the other hand one of the most frustrating experiences for me – and again I suspect I’m not alone – is to have questions shut down.

It is disempowering. The French philosopher Foucault explored a claim ‘knowledge is power’ – and indeed where questions are forbidden, knowledge is controlled and becomes controlling.

In the image above my little self, standing before the sign saying ‘WARNING: NO QUESTIONS WILL BE ANSWERED’ has lost all her green growing, and in boiling rubricated frustration her forbidden, or unacknowledged questions tangle above her, leaving her immobile.

This experience of limiting questions can work against the flourishing of justice in systems of power: accountability, the routine of responding to questions is essential to keeping structures open and healthy, especially where there are asymmetries of resources.

This is true in personal relationships as well. The person who is unresponsive to questions remains guarded and closed, shutting others out of their world. Conversely, there is a great hospitality we offer to one another in both the asking of questions showing our care, and in responding genuinely to questions and sharing ourselves.

We do well to cultivate ourselves as warm, hospitable, open question askers and answerers.

But if there is an economy of power in asking questions, responding to questions is equally significant. The extension of this hospitality of questions depends on us responding to the questions of others with a kind of answer that seeds and nourishes and grows more questions.

Often in the process of parenting, people wonder how to answer the questions their children ask. We find that children can ask us what feel like tough questions. Questions that challenge the structural integrity of our own philosophical, intellectual and ethical architecture. My partner and I sat at the family table last tax season, sorting through our tax process for the year, and our son began to ask questions about how we have made financial decisions – innocent questions, but which were genuinely confronting. This is really good for us.

The power of questions, though, resides not only in the answers themselves, but in how we answer. Giving a succinct and well stitched answer can be a moment of relief for us as a parent, or teacher or fellow traveller, but can shut down further questions.

Then there are ‘answers’ that dodge the actually question.

I am particularly sensitive to these; when my question is dodged I know I’ve wandered into a part of the paddock I shouldn’t have.
What to do? I often circle around and come back and ask the question again later.

Sometimes we are just unprepared for questions, and so the dodge buys some time: later we are comfortable to answer. So although I am troubled by the dodge, I try to hold open the window for the considered answer that is worth the wait.

Other times the dodge is a boundary line that fences off a zone in the relationship.

Don’t go there again. Unwelcome.

By far the best kind of question answering is the kind that invites more questions – that creates an open door for sharing further wonderings.
To do this, we often ought not answer with great certainty.

Answers like

“That’s a question worth thinking about in a few different ways – One way of thinking about that is…”

“Yeah, I’d like to talk about that – what made you ask?”

“I’ve heard lots of different opinions on this one: I think what I’m most drawn to is….but I think this other way has an important bit in it too”

“I’ve changed over time on this one…and might change again, but here’s where I’ve landed lately…”

Questioners can give hints, if we are listening carefully, for the kind of answer the questioner is seeking – is it a specific piece of information? or is it some communication of emotion? Or some feedback? Or explanation of worldview, background story? Or do they ask a question in order to introduce a topic they want to test our an answer for themselves?

When people ask theological questions like

  • ‘Why does God allow suffering in the world?”
  • “Can Donald Trump, Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher and Gough Whitlam all really be powers authorized by God?”
  • “How can someone be gay and call themselves a Christian?”

there are lots of ways of answering these questions. A well stitched up informational argument in defense of a position is not always, or even usually, what is being called for.

Because behind one question is usually another, and another.

 

There is not just one line of questioning or thinking emerging from my little self. There are lots.

They branch out in various directions.

And here is the great paradox, while shutting down questions and disallowing their expression through dodging, dismissing, brushing aside, r answering flippanty is a destructive and angering power play, to answer questions categorically is just as disempowering.

There is an art to living with our ongoing questions.

To work this better in myself, in the image above, I have tried to paint myself a way past the roadblock of unanswered questions.

The little red self who discovers that none of her questions will be answered is a seething volcano. As she discovers that her questions are refused and returned to her unopened her distress rises and rises. How can she find a path forwards?

We note how red and raw and vulnerable and volatile she is. Not knowing can leave us feeling very vulnerable, and keeping people in the dark is a well known instrument of oppression.

The other little green self, has emerged on the other side of the impenetrable glass sign, and  her flourishing twisty tangles growing thoughts stream around her as usual. But  she has donned her black clothes:

  • Black of humility, before the vast mass of things she cannot know,
  • Black of grieving for the doors of relationship that close with unanswered questions,
  • Black of dignity as she pursues fresh questions on the onward path.

Some questions will remain unanswered.

More questions are always welcome before us.

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to unsettle the petal and his metal

March 26, 2018
pillowy gun art Natalie Baxter Jungle Boogie (2015)

Natalie Baxter, ‘Jungle boogie’ (2015)

Who would you like us to shoot at today
With our weapons all loaded and legal?
You know that we can - its our right to bear arms
And take life like we're royal and regal. 

Are there children in playgrounds we cannot abide?
Or students for whom we don't care?
Or the girls in caf who declined all our dates?
Or worshippers gathered for prayer?

What better way 
to make our point clear 
And show ourself 
true, patriotic,
If we are white 
they'll just wring worried hands
And declare us 
a little psychotic 

we'll grieve and we'll pray for the children you've killed
pile up flowers and light many candles
but we will not dare look at OUR culture and laws
our religion and values all scandals

Although there'll be cheers for the feisty young speakers 
whose passion and eloquence glisten
our pride and our praise for our system of schools 
sabotages our will just to listen. 

So we yet define men 
by possessing a gun 
reducing his worth to black metal -
diminishing character, 
courage and care 
as if he's a poor fragile petal

Where are the men who will lay down their guns
and roll up their sleeves to the task 
of addressing injustice and working it out
or is that just too much strength to ask? 

Where are the men who will look in the eye
The Manus and Nauru imprisonned
Face up to our guilt, our violence and greed 
And take up the tough, right decision.

Look! there are the men who lift up their heads
and see strength shown in many an arm -
in holding and healing and reaching and giving -
but not in the fake flex of harm. 
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Post-Salvation Bittersweet Blues

March 12, 2018

Slide2

On the other side of salvation

when the sea has closed over the heads

of your enemies

and their war machines

when their  grasp

on your slave soul

is undone

and their last gasp

of oppression

is gone –

there you are

in wilderness

wild and free

hungry and thirsty

in unknown territory

lost and looking for home.

salvation isn’t enough:

you’ll need a sustaining spring.

On the other side

of salvation,

the waters can be bitter

hidden and hard.

On the other side

of salvation

you will still need your staff

a solid stick, something to remind you

of the signs and wonders

that convinced you

and gave you courage

to confront the captors

And you’ll need its powers for prodding change,

like it did

serpents from wood

blood from water

stone from pharoah’s heart

these you’ve seen.

Now can the stick

that lies at you feet

poke bitter water

and pour forth sweet?

 

Exodus 15 

Slide1

22 Then Moses ordered Israel to set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness 

of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter. That is why it was called Marah. 24 And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 

25 He cried out to the Lord; and the Lord showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.

There the Lord made for them a statute and an ordinance and there he put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.”

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How does this work again?

February 24, 2018

they often take the time to tell

me that I should be bound for hell

but that you suffered in my place

and I am free  and all is grace

but if you were pierced instead of me

then what can all this pained life be?

 

they preach profoundly all again

that peace is made from your dark pain

they proud declare your death atones

so we put down our judgement stones

but if you were violenced for our strife

then what means all this warring life?

 

they have oft this promise made

that all my devil’s debt is paid

your body bruised an offering stands

and we can come with empty hands

but if you were slaughtered in our stead

why are children trafficked and dead?

 

O God of wounds the story goes

that you took all our griefs and woes

they make each dogma point in fact

the substitution was exact

but though you have our horrors borne

our pained heart’s path is freshly worn

 

they sing such hymns – Amazing Grace!

yet tell me that you took my place

all sin is vanquished; all is done!

but if you have death’s victory won

why are we so often stunned

by schools so bloodied; children gunned?

 

My God

4325405489_41a9f35bf1_z

Slave trader ledger 1844-54

my God

 

 

why have you

forsaken?

or was our

 

accounting ledger

mistaken?

 

The suffering God makes no cheap deal

 

there’s no exchange – our woes are real

brutality still has its tools

 

taken up by hands of fools

And Grace sings no escapist myth

God’s life pours love in suffering with

and will not let there be quick wins

 

and easy wiping over sins

no cover ups, no never tell

false rightness can go straight to hell

Can  all in  all be reconciled –

evil despot, slaughtered child?

 

when all confess all out all told

all kneeled all equaled all one pure gold

all things in God to fullness come

all known, all loved, all whole – shalom.

 

 

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Uncertain

February 13, 2018

my legs dangle over the edge

here I sit

right out on the precipice

the edge of uncertainty

my mind dangles over the edge

the edge of uncertainty

I must have walked out here

but i don’t remember

doing it

how did I do that?

I guess I was so distracted by the terror

so now sitting here

on the edge

staring into thin clear air

that goes on and on and on

right out to a distant horizon

where the world does not so much end

but melts or fades

or – so I’ve heard – merely turns a gentle curve

right out on the distant horizon

and right up through stratospheres beyond

and down

but best not look down

this is the edge

the edge of uncertainty

don’t look down

because down is certain

down there

– you could go there

but it’s certain.

death.

death is certain.

don’t look down

down there is death

and death is certain

but

what you want

is uncertain

what you want, woman –

is

life

all of life is uncertain

life.

uncertain.

the uncertain life of faith

the uncertain life of humility

death is certain

but it is hubris

you want life

you want this uncertain view

this long distant open whatever

the whatever of hope

the uncertain of hope

the uncertain of life

so don’t look down

you know what’s down there anyhow

look out

look straight out

straight in front of you

into the clear

straight into you know not what

into uncertain

straight into the face of faith

or is it a gentle curve away?

I’m not certain.

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is love still within our reach?

September 18, 2017
guy-hanging-off-a-cliff-on-a-rope

love

stretching me

beyond me

beyond my limits

over the edge

beyond my control

because that is where

love happens.

not in the safe comfortable space

of the heart’s

ensconce

the heart’s

embrace

but out

upon the cliff face

hanging by a rope

reaching out a hand

swinging past and missing

doubling back and trying again

grasping the hand

when the other won’t let go

pulling you face in

to rock

and face and fear

here

we are suspension

rope and fear

and love

in tension

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Yes

September 14, 2017

[a dedication of one small vote in the postal survey on the legalisation of same-sex marriage]

yes.

dedicated to all the conservative christians of the past and present (and I hope no more in the future)
– who were told to pray away the gay;

.
– to get (straight) married on the “promise” that God would honour this with the “godly [read:hetero] desires;


– who God has failed to ‘heal’ or ‘make right’ as a God so interested and invested in heterosexuality, complementarity and salvation ought to.


– who gave their straight partners intimacy whilst their own most intimate longings remained unmet – and often even unnamed; 


– who were subjected to endless prayer ministry, healing prayers and exorcisms to be rid of their errant same sex attraction but to no avail; 


– those who lived quiet lives of lonely longing in enforced celibacy;


– those partners who lived with the secret of a gay spouse enduring their own share of suffering under the church’s twisted and unfulfilled promises;


– those who courageously have found strength for living forwards, for calling the pseudo-theological bullshit and have forfeited security, reputation and friendship


– those whose partners have broken free but have left ruptures of family and identity and resources and hearts in doing so.

dedicated to all of the children whose most loved and significant adults have been held up as ‘disgusting’ in cowardly anonymous and vitriolic youtube rants;
– whose trust and security and wellbeing lies in the bonds of two people whose very being is held open to public derision and judgement.

 
– whose world is shaped by an heteronormative internet and saturated with messages that call them to evaluate their worth by superficial conventions of body and fashion that is accessible and relevant to only a very small number of people anywhere on the planet.

 
– whose family system has been vilified and whose educational context has become a political point-scoring field, while they – actual real children – remain marginalised and voiceless.

 

dedicated to all of those people for whom the Bible is somehow so important,
– but who don’t know how to read the gifts of paragraphs around more than one verse from Leviticus 19 or three verses from Romans 1 or how to read the whole of Luke 7,

 
– and who will, despite the deep wisdom the larger conversations of scripture might hold for them, will continue to shake their heads in fear, and point their fingers in judgement and harden their hearts in ignorance, in a world in which marriage between same sex couples is already internationally a very real thing.

 

and to those whose lives are even more unspeakably complicated, hidden, unacceptable, unliveable whose pain now and onwards is beyond imagining…

 

one small ‘yes’ is all I have tonight. but it is yours dear ones.