Predatory foxes and powerless hens

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Please be aware that this reflection includes a description of family violence.

“Where was God?” a friend once wrote to me. “Where was God when my father was on the rampage, trying to break down my bedroom door? Where was God when I was hiding under the dining room table, shaking and terrified? Why didn’t God keep me safe?” There’s an old children’s song that goes like this: “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do …” And when I think of my dear friend, who sang songs like this in religious education classes at school, and who begged God to keep her safe from her father at home, my heart breaks. Continue reading “Predatory foxes and powerless hens”

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Let’s Make a Splash!

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Baptism. It’s something John offered, and something Jesus underwent, and something his disciples are told to do. It’s got something to do with water and washing and sin: but what is it, actually? What are we doing, what are we declaring, who are we becoming when we are baptised? What does it all mean? Tonight’s story offers a few clues, but to explore the depths, we’ll first need to zoom out a little. Continue reading “Let’s Make a Splash!”

Winnowing out only violence, or the move from John to Jesus

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Some years back, I saw a woman in a carpark smacking her child. And as she smacked, she yelled, “WE DO NOT HIT IN THIS FAMILY! WE LOVE!” It reminded me of those ostensibly Biblical parenting models, in which cool and collected parents maintain discipline by spanking their naughty children—and then lovingly use the moment as a teaching opportunity. Because the people being hit are children, and because our society doesn’t rate children’s experiences very highly, we adults can miss the contradiction here. Yet if we substitute ‘women’ for ‘children’, perhaps things become clearer: even if it’s ‘just a smack’, there is a mixed message going on, to say the least. Continue reading “Winnowing out only violence, or the move from John to Jesus”

Revelation at Armageddon

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To get to Armageddon, known in Hebrew as ‘Megiddo’, we drive past an airfield. Our Israeli guide tells us about the Syrian pilot who defected there in 1989. He was flying a Soviet-made MIG-23 fighter jet, which provided Israel with valuable military intelligence—and it feels like nothing ever changes. For in the Hebrew Bible, Megiddo is the site of many clashes where victory is attributed to God; in the book of Revelation, it’s the site where the kings of the world are assembled for a final battle. And so for many people Megiddo, or Armageddon, has long been associated with the destructive violence we expect from kings, whether human or divine: and thousands of years after these stories were first told, the military continues to be active here. Continue reading “Revelation at Armageddon”

Esther

Esther is often portrayed as a love story. So let’s begin by making some observations. King Xerxes eliminated Queen Vashti when she refused to parade herself in front of an extended men-only drinking bout. Having got rid of her, Xerxes needed a new queen. His advisors suggested he seize all the beautiful young virgins, give each one a night to prove herself, and choose from among them. So Esther did not line up at the palace flapping an application form for a beauty pageant; nor did the king pick her for her personality. Instead, she was a vulnerable young woman who was noticed for her beauty and abducted by the king’s brute squad, and whose only hope for survival lay in pleasing the king’s eunuch – for then he “provided her with her cosmetic treatments and her portion of food (2:9). A year of beauty treatment and education prepared her for the next step in her survival: sexually captivating the king. In other words, Esther has less agency than a bunny in the Playboy Mansion and yet, even in such terrifying, humiliating and unpromising circumstances, her courage, obedience and wisdom saves the Jewish people from annihilation. Continue reading “Esther”

Vultures, Victims and Vengeance

DANIELLE STOTT WRITES: “The vulture sitting on the cross represents clergy who abuse their flock. The vulture is in fact sitting on the cross, holding it down on Christ. Meanwhile the sheep, Christ’s people, who he shepherds, walk away from the cross (or the vulture?) in confusion and hurt. So Christ carries his cross alone, in agony and deep sadness; almost being crushed by its weight. The sheep head towards the light, but of course it is false hope because Jesus said “come follow me” as he was on the way to Golgotha, to darkness.”  Continue reading “Vultures, Victims and Vengeance”

You Are Not Defiled

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In tonight’s reading, religious leaders criticise Jesus’ disciples for failing to wash their hands in the correct ritual way before they eat. Jesus pushes back, hard, and goes on to say that we are not defiled by what we eat and drink. Instead, it’s the things we say and do which can defile us. But what if his disciples were criticised, not for failing to keep kosher, but for failing to maintain “Biblical family values”? For a region hard-hit by clergy abuse, here’s a new take on an old story. Continue reading “You Are Not Defiled”

Senator Anning vs Christo-Cannibalism and the New Community of Love

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For many years, our family shared Christmas lunch with friends and strangers. We’d put the word out, and eat with whoever wanted. One year, it was huge. Friends, and friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends, all turned up at our door. Some of them I knew and loved; others, I hadn’t met before. But gradually I came to realise: almost everyone there was gay. And almost everyone came from a religious family, which had rejected them because of their sexuality.  Continue reading “Senator Anning vs Christo-Cannibalism and the New Community of Love”

Into the Storm: A Script

Tonight we re-tell a story from the gospel according to Mark in which Jesus sleeps in a boat, a storm blows in, and the disciples panic. By way of background, Mark uses the image of a boat as a symbol for the gathered community of faith; crossing to the other shore suggests moving between Jewish and Gentile territories.  As you participate in the story, then, you might want to reflect on times when you have seen a faith community attacked: What provoked the attack? And what enabled the community to continue in its course of action (if it did)? Or you might want to reflect on your own relationship with Jesus: Are you a student, content to value his teaching? Or are you a disciple, who seeks to internalise his teaching?  Continue reading “Into the Storm: A Script”

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