|Pen and Ink Reflections||
Last year SBS Insight told some of the diverse personal stories of faith, loss of faith, and changing faith, in contemporary Australia. One was of a young Croatian Australian woman who has committed her life to God through a faithful adherence to Islam, including covering her head and body in conservative traditional dress. In this she has found a profound sense of peace and flourishing. Some significant resistance has however come her way. She experiences some of the continuing Islamophobia within our society, and, in addition, strong extra kickback from some white Australians, not least fellow Croatians. For what, some would say, is a nice, white, western, and well educated, young woman doing taking up such a religious path? Is this not also, some would say, a betrayal of her family, and culture, too? After all, religiously speaking Croatians are almost exclusively Christian, and in particular Catholic. What on earth is this young woman doing? What is happening here? We might say something similar of the stories in our lectionary this morning, each of which involves a breaking with powerful expectations, and a profound response to needs of salvation which are simply not met by conventional culture or practice. Abraham, Sarah, Matthew, the synagogue official, and, not least, the hemorrhaging woman: each challenge us. They invite us to reflect upon what is bleeding in our own lives, hearts and souls, and invite us to reach our in faith ourselves. For what are our needs that require transformation? What salvation do we seek? What of God is calling to us?...
One of my favourite stories of transgender resistance to oppression comes from India. A group of hijra people were being harassed and humiliated. Of course, this was/is nothing new. Whilst hijra have their gender officially recognised on the Indian subcontinent, they are outcasts among outcasts, typically living on the margins, in the very poorest quarters, and they stir a range of reactions in others. Like all marginalised people, behind their own remarkable brave lives lies terrible and very real fear, and many sad stories: of the sex trade and exploitation, of cruel and/or dangerous castrations, of being cast out and shamed. In one community this shaming grew intolerable. Exclusion, humiliation and actual physical and sexual violence grew exponentially. What could the hijra do? The law, politicians, even religious leaders, did not care. They were actually deeply complicit. Then, after one particularly awful day, the hijra hatched a plan. In the early hours of the morning, after stripping off their undergarments, they would walk, en masse, to the houses of the worst abusers, rattling pots and pans, bells and whistles, and anything they could put their hands on, seeking to wake up the whole neighbourhood, and make the maximum impact. This they did, raising a mighty commotion. Then, they waited whilst the worst offenders, particularly the leading fathers of the community, opened their doors and windows, and came out to see what the terrible din was all about. Standing in line, shoulder to shoulder, the hijra together then took hold of the hems of their dresses, and, with an extraordinary shriek and song of pride, lifted them up, and displayed their genitalia, in all their glory. All those who watched on were taken aback, not only with shock, but with shame. For the hijra had turned the tables on them. The shame now rested on those who were rightly shameful. The powerless had, if only temporarily, transformed the powers that oppressed them, into tools of life and liberation...
It is very helpful to think about the beginning of Jesus’s ministry from the perspective of Peter’s mother-in-law. For her story, like those of so many women in the Bible and Christian tradition, tends to get passed over and forgotten. Yet today's text involving her includes, in three verses, three of the most foundational words in the history of the early church. They are very obvious in Greek, rather easier to miss in English. So what are these words?...