|Pen and Ink Reflections
In essence, Christmas is quite a queer thing - don’t you think? I don’t really mean its added oddities, like the 19th century, mainly English, extras, like the carols we sing, and the 20th century, mainly American, extras, like the exaltation of Santa. Those are aspects of Christmas down under which are part of our eclectic multiculturalism, even if they partly reflect our settler colonial culture and tend to work better in the northern hemisphere. For we have more than a little work still to do in listening to the Spirit in these lands now called Australia, including turning many of Christmas traditional symbols upside down and inside out. But that is less of a challenge when we truly celebrate the queerness of Christmas, especially in its original, biblically recorded, forms. For the stories of Christ’s birth - God made flesh - are, like queerness, full of extraordinary features, and very difficult to pin down. Indeed, the very idea that God is made flesh was, and is, a horror to many people. That means that matter matters, and, not least, our bodies matter – and every little bit of them – and caring for one another and our planet matters, because ‘matter matters’ and everything shares in this divine matter. Meanwhile, the idea that God is born in, and with, marginal and outcast bodies still seems so absurd and objectionable to many. For the biblical stories and symbols present God’s queer love: the ultimately irresistible power of Love which overturns all the neat boxes and boundaries of our oppressive world, and its typical ways of thinking. So, rather than trying to straighten out Christmas, as many people try to do every year, I believe that we are far better simply to enjoy its very queer ride: which involves keep adding to the oddities of this time of year, with fresh joy and creativity; and letting its divine queerness shine in us…
One of things I’m thankful for in my years of ministry is the memorial cross I helped install in the Warriors Chapel in St Luke’s Church Toowoomba. It remembers the battle of Meewah, otherwise known as One Tree Hill, or Table Top Mountain. This was part of the devastating Frontier Wars in this country. It was led, on the Aboriginal side, by the great warrior Multuggerah and part of deep, and extraordinary skilled, schemes of resistance. It is intimately connected to the continuing debilitating impact of colonial dispossession. Without remembering and reconciling, such deep wounds endure. Yet so little of this story is named or reflected upon. In contrast, on this day (25 April), the awful pain of the Gallipoli landings is recalled: often, in recent years, with exceptional noise and attention. Why is it that some stories become enduring, and even ever enlarged, myths, whilst others, no less historically significant, are hidden or left to fester? How do we best make peace with our past? And how do myths and memories of faith distract or assist?
What does the word care mean to you? And what does it mean to us as a community?
In the area where I was born, this particular Sunday in the year is traditionally known as Carlin(g), or Care, Sunday. It includes a centuries old custom of eating meals made of Carlin peas – otherwise known as black, maple, or pigeon peas – warm and nourishing fare for poor communities. Today, though the traditions are slowly dying out, such peas can still be bought in places like the markets in Durham. Where exactly the custom came from depends on whom you ask in the north east of England. Most trace Carling back to at least the British Civil Wars, when the great city of Newcastle upon Tyne was besieged, only to be saved from hunger by ships from overseas carrying black peas – again, depending on whom you ask, from France, or Norway, or somewhere else. The point is that this was about being saved from distressing cares, and also sharing care. To share the poor people’s meal of peas, is thus to share a kind of communion, of salvation, and care. Where then, I wonder, do we find the sources of our care, and share our communion with the poor?...
Storms about sex and gender increasingly rage around, and, importantly, within us. In the face of this, what stories are we telling ourselves, and living into? How are we negotiating the tempests of faith, fact and false news? Where are we headed and what hope do we have? Let us take time to consider. For the sea of faith of which we are a part is in much turmoil because of sex and gender waves. It is likely to remain so, and even grow more turbulent. What options are among us then, and, most vitally of all, where is God in all of this?