I have always loved the story of the woman at the well, which has so many layers of interpretation. We have diverted from the lectionary today, so that we can look at it in association with Corinne Ware’s work on the Spirituality Wheel – a tool that helps us better understand our preferred forms of spirituality, and how these can aid or hinder our encounter with the divine. We will come back to this slide in our faith education session later this morning. For now, just notice that we have four main ways of approaching our spiritual life, through our head, our heart, our soul and our community. We will each tend to favour one of these over the others. Some lend themselves to a theology of transcendence, some to one of immanence. Some lean towards outward expression, some more to internal. Each produces different kinds of liturgical approach and different preferences for personal prayer. All of them will be present in a good liturgy or a good story. Today’s story, like all good stories, offers entry points for all of us, as we play with it in different ways and allow different aspects to reveal themselves...
a reflection for Midsumma (Melbourne LGBTI+) Festival, on the feast of Brigid & Darlughdach
First of all, may I thank you for the invitation to speak today, and, as an incomer, may I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land: the Wurundjeri peoples of the Kulin Nation and pay respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging. Our struggles and joys are bound together.
A ‘queer’ saint?
Is Brigid a queer saint, do you think? I don’t just mean as a likely LGBTI+ sacred forebear, but in the sense of being a figure who challenges and transforms our conceptions and ideas of holiness. Of course the word ‘queer’ is highly contested, and also disliked, for good reasons, among some sexually and gender diverse people. Yet among the broad range of its meaning, ‘queer’ does, I think, have its value. As we meet on the feast of Saint Brigid, it is certainly one way into reflecting on what she has to say to us as we celebrate Midsumma Festival, and the lives and contributions of sexually and gender diverse people. For, on the most obvious level, it is certainly apposite to remark on Brigid and her relationship with her intimate companion Darlughdach, with whom she shares this saint’s day, as she shared so much of her life, including her bed. Whilst so much about Brigid is cast about with legend, it seems reasonable to me therefore to place her, and Darlughdach, high in the pantheon of LGBTI+ Christian saints. Even if some might contest that however, Brigid undoubtedly offers us distinctive, transgressive, and mysterious paths into life and God: vital and vibrant queer ways, into holiness and transformation…
Amidst the storm and heat, is there anything else to say about marriage from a Christian point of view? Well, yes, as larger dimensions are often ignored in marriage debates, not least among we Christians who claim to ‘know’ what the scriptures ‘teach’. So much has been couched in terms of modern individualistic bourgeois values that one wonders how many people have actually read, and pondered, either the history of marriage, or the scriptures that make some people, on different sides of the arguments, so jumpy. Actually, the official Australian Marriage Equality body did not really help during that awful postal survey. Whilst its aims were (for me at least) manifestly just, the mainstream campaign was not only reluctant to engage with controversy directed against gender diverse persons, but it was frustratingly often built on limited ideas of marriage as the choice merely of two individual persons, reflecting conventional contemporary norms of ‘couple-dom’. Now, admittedly, this was in the context of civil marriage alone. Yet, in this, in its assumptions about marriage, it was not so different from narrow ideas certain Christians seem to have. Instead, when we look at the Bible and Christian Tradition as a whole, we find something much, much, bigger. Today’s reading from Isaiah chapter 62 is a powerful expression of this. For, in Isaiah, as elsewhere in the Bible, marriage is not so much about an individual’s bourgeois expression of identity and legal and moral relationship to another individual. Nor is it ultimately really much about sex or gender, though those human aspects are caught up in biblical conceptions in a series of different ways. Rather, marriage is a profound symbol of divine relationship, involving the transformation of everything. For, as Isaiah 62 verses 1-5 makes startlingly clear, biblical marriage is about the marrying of all things, bringing healing and the restoration of justice and peace. Indeed, marriage as a vehicle of transformation is not only about whole communities rather than individual persons alone, but it is also not simply about human beings alone. It is also about the marrying of land, and creation as a whole: the fullness of the ‘new creation’ prophesied in Isaiah and fulfilled in Christ. Our little human relationships, if hugely precious, are ultimately just elements in this. For it it is thus so much more radical than any conventional conception of marriage…
What experiences have we had of the fabled Australian ‘Tall Poppy Sydrome’? ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ is of course known in other countries by other names, yet it is true to say that it has had a particular strong place in our own national culture, and that of Aotearoa New Zealand. For it has been used, pejoratively, to describe the way in which people of sometimes outstanding merit can be resented, attacked, criticised, or cut down, because their talents or achievements distinguish them from their peers. Or, as a saying in Chinese and Japanese culture has it: ‘the nail that stands out gets hammered down’. Some have thus wondered recently whether ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ is a factor in our remarkable turnover of Prime Ministers, something which has made us the puzzlement, and to some extent the laughing stock, of the rest of the world What do you think? I feel that there are other concerning factors too, including certain limitations and power structures of our political parties, the undoubted personality weaknesses of some politicians who have risen to power, and, not least, the unusually short gap between elections compared to other developed nations. Yet ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ is surely a reality in our politics, as it is in many aspects of our national life. So, as we hear today the great Gospel story of Jesus and his community’s ‘Tall Poppy’ reaction, what are we to make of our gifts and talents?...
This week a powerful warning was given to our world. For the people who operate what is called ‘The Doomsday Clock’ moved the hands two minutes nearer to midnight, to three minutes to midnight: that is, in their view, three minutes before the end of human time. The Doomsday Clock is one aspect of the work of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: a group which looks into the global security and public policy issues related to the dangers posed by nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, climate change, merging technologies and diseases. They began the Clock in 1947, deeply concerned about the nuclear arms race and tensions between the then Soviet Union and the Western bloc of nations. At that time the hands of the Clock were set at seven minutes before midnight and they have been moved up and down, every January, ever since. The best time it ever registered was 17 minutes before midnight, in January 1991, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when the superpowers reached agreement on nuclear arms reductions. Since then the hands have steadily moved nearer to midnight. Three minutes to midnight has only been reached twice before, and only in 1953, at two minutes to midnight, was there a worse assessment of our world’s situation.
Is the Doomsday Clock right do you think? Are these Atomic Scientists correct in saying that: ‘World leaders have failed to act with the speed or on the scale required to protect citizens from potential catastrophe. These failures of political leadership endanger every person on Earth.’ ‘In 2015,’ the group says, ‘unchecked climate change, global nuclear weapons modernizations, and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals pose extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity.’ Recent concerns might include the growing dislocation of Russia; the heightened tensions between India and Pakistan, both nuclear powers; struggles in the Middle East and the unprecedented levels of terrorism alert across the world. Not a very happy situation is it? So is the end of the world near?
Our lectionary readings today all reflect a similar urgency and challenge to human beings to respond to the signs of their times. They remind us that we are called to recognise God and to participate actively in the work of God’s Kingdom, God’s shalom, God’s longing for peace and love, and justice. So how will we respond to the signs and challenge of our times?...