Archive for the ‘Voices of Justice’ Category

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Lacrymosa

June 16, 2014
Grief stricken american soldier; Haktong-ni area of Korea, 28 August 1950

Grief stricken american soldier; Haktong-ni area of Korea, 28 August 1950

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

will I ever be well again?

will I ever be whole?
If I grit my teeth
and stretch and strain
will I attain such a goal?

will I ever be strong again?
will I ever be brave?
If I set my face
and I raise my chin
will I dare to come out of the cave?

will I ever be useful again?
will I ever serve the cause I believe?
If I penitent crawl
and recant it all
will the powers yet grant a reprieve?

will I ever be normal again?
will I ever come close?
if I paint my face blank
and sing the same tune
will I strike a convincing pose?

will I ever belong again?
did I ever belong before?
we are born in the like
of the God spurned and killed
and our souls with each other still war

will I ever be real again?
no – not any more real than this
for I breathe in the atoms
of rocks and of waves
and the wind that stirred the abyss

oh, Christ of the whole
the ravaged, yet real
your used flesh and cast aside bones
your sick’ning death warns
of our terrible selves
and yet, reconciles all it owns

all you assumed
is somehow redeemed
in this murderous plot of deceit?
Can our streams of bitterly
acidly tears
no longer sting but pour sweet?

Yes – when shed for another’s pain
singing laments lacrymose –
of those locked out and locked up and locked in
those crushed and crunched in cathedrals of spin
those non-conforming non-compus non-grata
enigmatically ensconced in statistics and data
those not on the black and white-pink or blue end
those on the spectrum where the colours and categories blend
those invisible, vulnerable, valuable freaks
ignored or condemned when culture speaks –

If such sweet tears upon your cheeks stain
they be shed like Christ’s blood, for those.

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Hear many voices; Be many times sorry

May 26, 2014

indigenous map

Multivocality, apart from being the name of my blog, really is one of my favourite things about reality
– Bach chorales
– good conversations
– my husband’s readings of A.A. Milne
– pentecostal worship before it went mainstream and marketable
– Robin Williams’ Genie in Aladin
– the way I think

and of course, the deepest truth-telling I know – the multivocality of the Bible.

Today, on National Sorry Day, this map reminds me:
hear many voices…be many times sorry.

http://www.abc.net.au/indigenous/map/

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Who are the faithful?

March 22, 2014

Image

Here at Multivocality, I am interested in exploring different voices, not all of them necessarily my own. It stretches me, in terms of intellect, compassion, imagination and vision as I seek the kingdom of God, to try and explore things from perspectives that are not the ‘party line’. In short, I’d rather write some things that might be arguable ‘wrong’ but thereby grow in understanding of  ways to express truth.

I have been thinking recently about how people who think of themselves as the faithful might actually seem like they lack faith to those who are typically identified as ‘unbelievers’, because of the christian culture reflex of trying to assert a positivist position of certitude. This little piece is an adventure in looking through a different lens, of ‘faith-flipping’ and asking ‘what would actual “Faith” look like?’

There they go – the every-day desperate ones.

Desperate to win, desperate to assert. Clamouring for a voice, Struggling against the sense that they are going under, and flailing about in an effort to keep head above the water. To keep a profile, and to keep safe borders. All that’s been built, all that has been worked for is under threat and and must be protected, maintained, buttressed with greater force. More space, more territory, more attention, more of the market share must be acquired. Launching new initiatives with the right hand and anchoring their right to success and entitlement to win in traditions of a privileged history.

There they go. Everyday, the faithless existence of desperation. They preach, they blog, they publish, they petition, they promote. They talk much of God, they are scandalised at efforts to righteousness, yet hammer hard the need to earn faith, have faith, invest in the kingdom, sounding like desperate economists of industry. They have nailed the market, and they have just about crucified teh gospel.

But look there.

There they go, in the midst, the everyday faithful.

Those who throw themselves defenceless upon life as it is, without a claim of authority or certainty. They say ‘I don’t know..’ and wonder a little. They say ‘Could it be…perhaps’ and keep listening. Or they switch off the distant argument and choose instead to love what is before them. They have no system, not mechanism, no proof, beyond the breath they have drawn in and expelled with a sigh for grief of a lived one gone, or a huff of exertion to the task, or a kiss of blessing over the forehead of their child, or a exhalation centring the body  in the deep peace of sustained breathing, or a fittingly silent prayer of solidarity for the voiceless.

They may barely know. They may barely know anything. They may barely know the name of God, and yet live entirely dependent upon faith that the world will keep turning, that each new sunrise will come without their effort, and face it in humble gratitude. They may barely know of the unseen kingdom and yet yearn for its justice and peace.

They do not know, but they question. They do not know, but they live what they can on the terms of faith, in hope, on a line cast into the depths beyond sight, with patience and time yet to speak its vindication.

They have no doctrine of inerrancy, infallibility; they know too well that such a reef, though pure it may be in itself, once looked upon by human eyes is subject to all manner of clouded cataract, unnerved glaucoma, misshapen astigmatism. All they hold to is held without ambit claim or assertive normativity. Just by faith.

Who are the faith-full? Who, really, walks by faith?

How might I walk in faith in the things that I faith are good and beautiful and true?

I have thrown all my wagers upon the God of Jesus.

How will living be a faith in God?

Are not the faithful those who have given up the no risk, nailed down, watertight, contracts of safety and certainty?

Are not the faithful those who have built arks and escaped to wander in deserts, hungry and thirsty like Noah and Moses? Are  not the faithful those who fall pregnant in old age or in virginal youth and live as if such a thing is of the living God – a blessing, not a curse, like Sarah and Mary?

Are not the faithful those who, secure in the traditions of their ancestors, accept blindness and disorientation on the roadside and recover to sleep with the enemy, like Paul?

This is not to eschew intellect – but to stir a faith-ing intellect that searches beyond the too-easy logic.

And not to eschew commitment – but to embrace a faith-ing commitment that signs up to love, not just to like-mindedness.

Who, then are the faithful?

“When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

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The Student’s Speech, the King’s Speech and Smoothing Speaking Spaces

November 9, 2013

There’s an Upworthy clip going around this week, that shows a young highschool student who addresses his year at school. He has been bullied in younger years, and speaks with a significantly disruptive stammer.

watch a teenager bring his class to tears by just saying a few words

The clip shows a teacher trying the ‘King’s Speech’ manouvre on him. He puts on headphones and listens to music while he speaks, and his speech becomes significantly smoother. This is not hard to understand. Our brains are so easily deceived. We know this.

It is, of course,  wonderful to see a young man at this pinnacle moment in his highschool journey being given a voice and listened to by his peers.

But I found myself in the strange position of watching this clip while another young man was finding his voice, not far from me. And the juxtaposition of these two students and speakers made for some interesting questions.

In the next room, my son was preparing a presentation for American History, assembling a slide show of powerful images from the Vietnam War, and recording a commentary of reflections on the impact these images had on the American population, and the civic and political discourse surrounding the war.

Every so often, as he was recording, his speech stumbled. It was late at night, and he was under time pressure. I could feel him rushing.  Everyone makes errors of speech in these situations.

But I also know that this young man not so many years ago, assessed by the speech pathologist, rated an average 7 stammers of speech per 10 words. That was a lot of bumpy talking.

I remember the long, painful (and expensive) process of going to our appointments every week for a year and a half, and the every day routines and exercises we did. It was emotionally expensive, trying to motivate him to go, and when I failed in motivating, having to just be that big bad momma and make him go. I remember the attentiveness it required of me as his primary support person in the therapeutic endeavor, to give him feedback on every phrase he uttered from morning to night. ‘That was really smooth…Good job…Great smooth sentence there…really smooth talking, mate…that was a bump…”.

I had to try to keep a ratio of 5 praises of smooth speech for every time I identified a ‘bump’. But I also had to try to call every bump I heard. We played therapy game after game, we made recordings of his speech, we kept a log book.

Those of you who know me personally know that I have a great capacity for intensity, which this required, but my appetite for record keeping and administrative detail is feeble, as are my skills. Nevertheless this is what we did, kept the log, did the routines, charted the stats, together. I think this process of re-learning, and transformation has shaped my understanding of human learning and change more deeply than any other pedagogy or educational philosophy. He barely remembers much of this process now, six years later, but his speech remains steady, confident, smooth.

When I saw ‘The Kings Speech’ I loved the scene with the phonograph. I loved the little colonial oasis of the Australian family in Harley Street, which stirred in me that slightly proud but mostly awkward awareness of how unmaskable my Australianism is when I am in the UK, and the complete betrayal my own speech is in that context.

But I also simply cried through the entire film, my heart most strongly connecting with Bertie’s wife (well, who doesn’t secretly wish she was Helena Bonham Carter?) and Lionel, the therapist.

It was the tensions of those who wished the King better, who tentatively, boldly and furtively acted to bring him resources for healing who were the chalk of my bone and salt of my tear. He resented, resisted and rejected them. I know how that feels in such a process.

The story of The King’s Speech’ and the story of my son who, after a year and half of intense work was charting 0 stammers for every 10 words consistently, and now records his own voice expecting a ‘journalist-perfect’ fluidity of speech, these are stories not of instant quick fixes but of committed, determined, painful, relationally demanding work, both for the individual and for their alongsiders.

Going back to the student in the Youtube clip. I wonder if he will one day have such a story. Not just this momentary window of being listened to, and wondered at, but which he cannot be fully present in, as he relies on the distraction and deception of the music in his headphones to enable it to happen.

What I wish him, is alongsiders. Not just those who will stop throwing rocks, but those who will toil with him to clear the rocks over which he stumbled. The role of the class in this student’s life, speech and capacity to find hisvoice is important. He certainly needed them not to bully him. But he also needed more than just to be left alone. He needed them, just as we all do, to be active participants in his healing and empowerment. To make a hospitable space for him.

And, to be fair and honest, others in this cohort, needed this too. The bullies needed active accountability for their speech-malfunction. The malfunction that caused hate and derision, mockery and put-downs to impede their communication of truth.

I wonder what roles we understand ourselves to have in each other’s lives? I am a very shy person. I naturally do not want to comment on anyone’s speech. I would like to sit at the piano all day and make sounds, preferably that no one will listen to. I love words, and I would like to write poetry, but preferably that no one will ever hear. I like the people-less quiet, where I can sort out the many voices in my mind.

But I live in a world of people who struggle to find a smooth path for their voice – for their real voice.

As a mother you do lots of things that are out of your comfort zone. For my son, it was an easy decision to commit to being with him in this. But I am not a mother to everyone. I need a role model for rock clearing and path smoothing for the voices of others.

Of all the Biblical characters who have been my closest friends since childhood, John the Baptist is my favourite. Wild, uncouth, weird, lonely, misunderstood, yet intriguing, passionate, truth-telling, bible-busting, counter-cultural, and he jumps at the presence of Jesus as a foetus! He’s a prophet I can take as a mentor. Sure he’s probably autistic, but that makes him all the more loveable in my book.

And he is the one who repeats the call of Isaiah as the kingdom of God is on the verge of who knows?

“Make the crooked straight and the rough smooth”. (Luke Chapter 3)

And then he goes on to outline the practical stone-shifts his society needed to clear the path for justice and salvation. Soldiers, businessmen, the poor, the rich, all called to clear for each other.

Refraining from being throwers of rocks is not enough.

Let’s be clearers of rocks.

The process of making space, a smooth way, a hospitable territory – whether it be in actual space, or in thought space, or in our speech, it’s a challenge we can respond to as we alongside one another. We can clear the road of bumps for one another as we travel, we can make space for each other as we speak. I wonder also, how we can do this in community, collectively. What would a church, for example, look like that made this rock clearing and road smoothing it’s primary task? After all, John reminds us of the claim that ‘All flesh will see the salvation of God.’ Does that alter our plans at all?

 

 

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Halloween for those haunted by the holy.

October 31, 2013

It’s the eve of anticipation dancing_skeletonsof a festival
in which we gratefully remember and celebrate those dead
whom we have loved and learned from.
And who, by the grace of God,

inhabit our imaginations and the rhythms of our living so powerfully

that it is as though they are with us still.
They haunt us, not with fear,
but with the witness and whispers of wisdom, love and courage.

They reassure us that our lives may end at any age
and yet be known as complete, fruitful and honourable,
for life is not counted by an accruement of days;
each life ‘counts’ as only – yet wholly – and as holy – as one.

‘…the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body’ (Apostles Creed)

Our family has a tradition of hearing the stories of our personal saints, friends and family who have died, and also our public saints: public figures who have influenced us and stand as an example of holy, if complicated, living. We remember the defiance of Rosa Parks, the creative madness of Rich Mullins, the prolificity of Hildegaard, the imprecise passion of Keith Green, the subversion of Tyndale.

These ‘saints’, neither the public nor the personal,  were not perfect or easy people. All the more encouragement to us in our lives, which are scaffolded in anxieties, insincerity, madness, depression,  suppression, uncertainty, beligerence, laziness, awkwardness, flatness, folly.

Even more precious are the saints we have known in our everyday lives. Who we have lived with, sat in church, around the dinner table, on the beach, in class and by the bedside. To be sure, it’s a bittersweet thing to remember. For some of these names, though there is real joy in having shared their lives,  the sadness and pain is still fresh, our cheeks barely dry from the tears of grief. And others, though years have passed, the pain of loss is deep and present still.

Remembering (among others)

Saint Christina of Nunawading
Saint Ed, Val and Bill of Silvan
Saint Janet of North Fitzroy
Saint Peter of Gippsland
Saint Geoffrey of Macleod
Saint Ron of Montrose
Saint Ross of Westgate
Saint Ellie of Moffat Beach

Who ‘helpfully’ haunts you, reminding you to live well from the past, in the moment, and mindful that there is yet much to come?

You, too are welcome name your saints here, in remembrance of them and with intention to heed their call to live truly and holy in grace.

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John Piper’s advice for busy mums and an alternative narrative.

October 11, 2013

A facebook friend posted this sound-bite from John Piper with the recommendation ‘Every Syllable of this is gold.’

Counsel for Busy Moms – John Piper

I don’t usually give much space in my life to the writing or speaking of John Piper. I know that I see the planet from a completely different view point from him. I heard him speak in Capetown in 2010 and to think about it still brings angry tears to my eyes. But every now and then I think I should put my prior experience to one side and give him a go.

The topic, ‘Counsel for a busy mom’ interested me. I am always fascinated by the way the role of ‘mother’ is played out in expectations, limitations, celebrations, demonisations and idealisations in public discourse, including within faith communities.

Piper gives the predictable socially conservative advice which lacks imagination for how a woman might combine the season of child rearing with her partner and a fruitful expression of her gifts in service and mission. He reinforces the professionalisation of ministry in orientating her as a joyful consumer of the teaching and worship provided by the church and creates a clear boundary between those who serve and those who receive.

Piper affirms the role the mum has with her children, makes some extremely patronising comments about the outcomes of a ASD child/young man, but by assigning her ‘success’ vicariously through the identity and achievements of her husband at this time, makes it clear that the domestic role of child rearing a) belongs primarily to the mother b) is a task of lesser status than male roles outside the home.

While Piper offers the advice that this is a season in which the mum can pray and give, and that these are good and valued roles, his primary frame, which is that this is a season of reduced activity and contribution, ‘lopsided’ which one must endure with patience,  overshadows his advice with a clear hierarchy which places men above women, and pastors above everyone, and indeed the activities and productivities of pastors well above those of mothers, who are ‘lifting the hearts of mothers out of the mundane….’. John Piper evaluates the significance of the mother, by what her child will become one day, when an adult (male in the example he gives). It is adult males who ‘make it’ (JP’s words) that are of significance and retrospectively bestowe dignity on the season of mothering by the woman.

So, maybe JP’s words would be comforting to some women. But not to me.

An alternative story goes like this….when one of my kids was 2 and the other was about 4 months old, my brilliant faith-filled pastor said – ‘come and use your gifts and work for the church. Integrate life and faith and service and calling and letting us love you as a family too.’
And my husband cut his hours back to half a week – I worked half a week – we tag teamed with the kids. He brought them up to the church office to see me at lunch time while I was still breast-feeding the youngest. The office admin set up a roster so that once a week someone dropped off a casserole to the house.

I am so grateful for a church that valued the gifts God had given them in me, and used simple logistics to make sure ‘stage of life’ wasn’t a barrier to exercising them. ‘Stage of Life’ could paralyse someone at just about any age.

Then my husband and I  were called together to job share in pastoral ministry together in another church. We certainly pumped out the hours in those days. We worked in an a couple of established congregations and planted a third congregation, along with a plethora of community engagement projects that connected with families.  Between us we shared a  9 days a week role; we took in a friend who needed a home and some community; I studied for my M. Div and my husband did a Grad Dip.

My kids were challenged by the demands of community life that we experienced, but were also deeply loved and cared for by wonderful people.  And they have grown up seeing that God can use anyone (male/female lay/ordained teacher/businessman) in whatever ways he chooses, when the body of Christ releases people to use and serve with their gifts. And our family lived this alternative narrative, that it’s not an individual (mother’s) burden to raise children, but the joy and responsibility of a whole community.

All of this happened because, though we bore the role of ‘pastoral leadership’ we were working with other people in the church, not for them. We had their backs in a particular way pastors can, and they had ours. In fact, long after we have left the roles, they still do. They feed us, pray with us, cheer on our kids. We love them. We were nothing special – but were simply and graciously given the opportunity to serve with others knowing there was room for everyone’s strengths, everyone’s weaknesses, everyone’s needs. No shame in that.

It breaks my heart to hear JP talk down to this woman, to assign her identity through her husband, to step back from affirming that she has a unique gifting that the church is the weaker in its mission for not facilitating.
Although he says ministry is not just what happens in church, his answer communicates the ethos that she is in a ‘waiting’ or ‘fallow’ season. You can pray. You can give. What your husband does counts as your agency. I wonder if  Piper realises he is saying to this woman in these words ‘You are  derivative at best, but really you are nothing’.

While he speaks of receiving the child as receiving Christ – the descriptions of what a mum should do and the assumptions of what a dad, and a pastor and a worship leader etc. will do gives the clear message that the child is not like the child Jesus placed in the midst of grown up disciples to show them the kingdom, but the child is to Piper a thing that needs to be taken care of so that men can be released to do ‘kingdom’ work.

I know plenty of mums who find going to church, which is oriented around the delivery of the product pre-formed and performed by professional and semi professional pastoral staff, really hard work with their young families. The problem isn’t so much that this is a ‘diffiuclt’ time of life, so much that we make church so passive, so controlled, so inhuman, that it is hard for people who are seriously engaged in the active business of living and loving to actually function in that space. If church is a difficult place to love and live in for families, it should cause us to stake stock of what it is we think we are supposed to be doing. Families together living and loving each other in joyful and tearful expressive active noisy messy community seems a great reflection of the kingdom of God – and which it would be surprising if the man famous for coining the phase ‘christian hedonism’ wasn’t overjoyed with.

I wonder what JP would say  to a 30 year old pastoral candidate with gifts in teaching and leadership who was a dad with a couple of young children? If ‘Erica the mum’ was ‘Eric the dad’, who wrote in and said ‘Though when I was single and married-before-kids, I served in a number of ministries leading students and adults, now I feel a bit guilty about my place in church life. But I feel like this is a season of lopsidedness which I need to sit out and simply consume the teaching and worship of the church and have patience, praying and giving while I raise my children.’

I wonder.

 

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questions of hope, humans and the lunchtime philosopher

August 7, 2013

The building in which I study holds up a decent cultural life.

ImageThere is always a current exhibition of art in the foyer,  the main hall is a popular venue with chamber ensembles as a rehearsal and performance space and there’s a healthy series of lunchtime seminars by faculty and visiting scholars. 

As I am interested in (ok, obsessed with) the ways in which theology is ‘taught’ or ‘presented’ or ‘communicated’ in every sphere of human community, but especially in the academy, I take every opportunity I can to observe a theologian or biblical scholar in a live setting, strutting their stuff.

Don’t get too excited: with a few notable exceptions, there is very little, if any actual strutting. We’re lucky if the average, or even exceptional, scholar is adventurous enough to try both standing and talking.

Sitting in the chair reading is the conventional posture, in case you were unaware and wondering.

This afternoon the Centre for Ministry and Theology, hosted a seminar by a guest Jesuit scholar – and Christian Philosopher from the US. He presented a beautiful exploration of the dimensions of Hope. I loved it.

For a number of decades now, I have pursued the practice of asking academic theologians this one same question: I will ask if, and how, the ideas they have explored speak to the whole of human life – in particular to those who are under 12 years of age. I generally hold back and let others ask questions first. If there’s no time for my question I let it go.

Because, I have discovered over years and years of asking this question, that the quality of answer is usually extremely disappointing, as it was today.

The common shape of the answer, as today, is

‘I haven’t thought about it, I leave that up to people who have more contact with children than I do.’

Today, as many times before, the speaker found themselves in unfamiliar territory – and he began to bumble around. The quality of his thought weakened. The room became a little bored. I’m used to this, but I don’t think it’s because others in the room necessarily had disdain for a question about children as such – simply, that he wasn’t saying anything clear or helpful in response. Even I got bored – and I’m quite invested int he topic!

And so today, I witnessed again the cycle that leaves our theologies anthropologically weak and flawed.

It is perfectly acceptable for a scholar to have a multi-decade career and never think of humans as other than adults.

When asked to address the wider (and fundamental) dimensions of human life scholars have little to offer.

Listeners experience the questions of younger-years anthropological implication as basically unfruitful, and so these questions are not pursued in the academy, the marginalisation of the first decades of life continues in our theological and philosophical constructs.

In theology and christian philosophy, childhood remains Socrates’ unworthy ‘unexamined life.’

I grounded my question in some of his own material on the ‘greater (eschatological) hope and  ‘lesser’ hopes – science and progress and freedom. In my mind there is lots of interesting content in the interconnection between human life as child and these ‘lessser’ hopes – particularly in dialogue with the Zeitgeist philosophers of the past 2 centuries who have not posited science, progress and freedom as ‘lesser’ but great hopes. And in so doing have impoverished our sense of humanity, especially among the least and the little.

The object of my inquisition today, after a few minutes of ramble – including ‘I don’t have any children, so I defer to those who do’ and some strange comments about the observation that children collect dinosaurs,  concluded that he had only given very woolly answers because he didn’t have anything much to say.

At least he was honest.

It is rare in other conditions for a scholar to invoke the pretext that lack of concrete experience of something disbars one from considering it’s philosophical content. Besides which every single scholar whom I have ever met or proposed this question to had for a good many years actually been a child. Not one of them could claim an exemption.

There is plenty of great writing and thinking being done specifically about children as children. “Bring it on!” I cheer. But this is not the same as those who think  they are thinking about the basic, normative humanness, and seeking to make philosophical or theological claims about humans, not thinking intentionally about children as the primary normative human. Statistically at least, we must admit that many more humans start and finish life as children than as adults.

Today’s seminar was on Hope.

I hope that one day, when I raise my hand and ask this question of a speaker, they will look me confidently in the eye and say –

“I have thought about this as a matter of anthropological priority – and I can assure, I stand by everything I have proposed today to be equally helpful – or challengeable in reference to children as to adults. Next question.”

Here’s hoping…