|Pen and Ink Reflections||
This is a well known but in some ways seriously annoying story, and I blame Luke – to say nothing of centuries of largely male, monastic interpretation - which can basically be summarised as ‘Hurrah Mary’ and ‘Boo Martha’. Or more aggressively as ‘stop complaining and pray harder’! Anyone out there feel like they’d like to muster at least a small cheer for Martha? Hurrah! This is a story that has been used as a means of social control in church and state, and a means of silencing the voices of women. For the very way this story is constructed, tends to make us choose sides. So, whether we are sympathising with Martha and feeling she’s a bit hard done by, or cheering Mary for breaking the gender stereotype, it is hard to remain neutral. The story itself sets up the two supposed sisters in opposition to one another...
Today’s Gospel reading (John 12.1-8) brings the song Bread and Roses (and see below) to my mind. This, for me, highlights two key aspects of the anointing of Jesus, and, particularly, the challenges presented by two central figures, Mary and Judas. There are several other significant features. Yet the tension between Judas and Mary is pivotal. For, in the early Jesus movement, this story is revelatory of struggles of identity, of power and gender, of politics and economics, as well as faith and spirituality. All that can hardly be summed up simply in the phrase ‘Bread and Roses’. Nonetheless there are undoubtedly vital feminist aspects, and the themes of ‘bread and roses’ – or body and soul - are highly pertinent…
by Jon Inkpin, for Pentecost 7A, Sunday 27 July 2014 (St.Luke, Toowoomba)
There is a great little art exhibition at the moment: in the Crows Nest Art Gallery. If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to do so before it ends (on 3 August). The exhibition is by two talented local young artists, one of whom is our own Katherine Appleby. Katherine’s subject for this exhibition centres on fairytales and she has created some wonderful works, not least a powerful piece called ‘Fear’. In this, we see what appears to be a young girl walking into the midst of a dark forest, where wolves and wolf-like heads, eyes and mouths glisten in the darkness. Even the trees are dark and bare, devoid of foliage, symbolising the darkness and threat of fear itself. Isn’t that a powerful picture of how fear can feel to us? Look again though, and perhaps you may see other things. What, for instance, is the really fearful thing in the painting? Is it the dark woods? Is it the closure of the path and of the light? Is it the wolves? Or is it the girl herself? Is she, so central to the picture, actually the true source and figure of fear? Why, for instance, is she walking into the forest, into the darkness away from the light? She stands very self-possessed. So is she afraid of the woods and the wolves? Or are they afraid of her? The painting you see, like any fine work of art, reveals more as we look at it. It asks us not one but many questions, some of them surprising. It is an invitation to mystery, rather than a mere description or proclamation of the straightforward. Indeed, if you look very closely at Katherine’s painting of ‘Fear’ you will see that the girl’s face is also partly an old and partly a young face. As such, it expresses the awesome ambiguity of life, truth and our human condition. Which way of looking, being and living will we choose?
Religion at its best is in many ways akin to art at its best, especially in its capacity to invite us into the awesome ambiguities of life. It is an invitation to mystery, not a mere description or safeguard of the straightforward. It is a means, like great art, by which we can hold our fear and our suffering and not be overwhelmed. It is a path on which we can walk with courage, through the darkness around and within us, through the grace of God, into the light and love of God...
by the Revd Dr Jonathan Inkpin, Pentecost evensong at St John's Cathedral Brisbane, Sunday 8 June 2014
‘Come out from behind that thing!’ – the Aboriginal elder’s voice rang out powerfully as I was about to begin the Decade to Overcome Violence launch in Alice Springs. She was objecting because I was behind a lectern: another whitefella, as it were, standing over or apart from her. As it happened, in what followed, every blackfella who spoke also headed behind the lectern. I guess therefore it was probably that elder’s own personal issue. Yet I have never forgotten it. For, in a way, following feminist pioneers, it was a lived experience of what Indigenous scholars (such as Denis Foley, Martin Nakata and Aileen Moreton-Robinson) call ‘standpoint theory’.
Standpoint theory is a postmodern method for analysing inter-subjective and ethical discourse. For a standpoint is a place from which one sees the world. It thus helps direct both what we focus on as well as what is obscured. The specific circumstances of our standpoint then determine which concepts are intelligible, which claims are heard and understood by whom, and which reasons and conclusions are understood to be relevant and forceful.
Now, like any approach, standpoint theory is not without weaknesses. It risks, for example, generalising the experience of different peoples, and it risks suggesting an overly ‘essentialist’ character of particular genders, races, or other identities. Yet it is a powerful means in which marginalised groups can challenge the status quo. Indeed, as the feminist theorist Sandra Harding put it, it helps create ‘strong objectivity’, or strong inter-subjectivity. For when the perspectives of the marginalised and/or oppressed are included, we have more objective, or deeper inter-subjective, accounts of the world. This is vital to a richer, and more life-giving, ethics.
Spiritually speaking, standpoint reflections also lead to a richer ethical and doctrinal expression of Pentecost. For, in Pentecost, the Spirit of God is embodied, enlivened, and expressed through all created voices. As God’s voice puts it, through the prophet Joel, in our first reading tonight, ‘I will pour out my spirit on all flesh’: on old and young alike, male and female, not least slaves; and, the passage goes on to say, also through the more-than-human environment, by ‘portents in the heavens and the earth.’ True Pentecostal experience, it seems, is about true inter-subjectivity. All creation’s standpoints are voiced, held together, and contribute to the whole. Pentecost is thus a basis for a holistic, fully environmental, ethics. For Pentecost is so much more than we have often made it...