Peace and Anger in a Time of Christian Betrayal

I’ve probably been spending too much time on Twitter recently, it’s not the best for mental health. It’s hard to feel peace when you are constantly faced with misogyny and other kinds of prejudice users of the internet feel free to rationalise and verbalise as they troll threads on issues important to minorities. Two things in particular in this week’s news really affected me emotionally: 1. was a heartfelt tweet by American Christian Feminist author Rachel Held-Evans as she discovered yet another Christian male leader refusing to believe young women sharing their stories of harassment in the recent #metoo movement;  and 2. was the news report that the Sydney Anglican diocese spent $1 million of church money in support of the ‘No’ campaign for Marriage Equality in Australia — and only $5000 on investigating a widespread problem of domestic violence (including marriage rape) amongst clergy in that church.

Of course these kinds of news tweets bring out all the people who have something to say that has been said many times before — the Australian thread quickly and predictably turned into a ‘tax the churches’ thread; Rachel Held-Evans faced the usual ‘you lump all evangelicals together’ accusation as she wondered if anything she had been taught as a Christian child was true. I felt angry, and indeed, embarassed to see these Christians more concerned for a particular brand of conservative politics than women’s safety from sexual violence. It is sometimes too shameful to be a Christian in these times, when the so-called leaders in the church consistently and intentionally seem to miss the point, using their positions to hurt and discriminate and justify violence against women ?

Yet trolls were not the only ones present in the conversations that ensued on social media. What also came through was an immense solidarity — by the time I got to Held-Evans’ tweet some 346 people had already replied, and the tweets in solidarity continued to grow as I watched. What struck me in the in these two examples was this: the struggles of women for recognition and belief in circumstances of abuse of power are not separate from the struggles of the LGBTQI community. Why? Because LGBT people in particular are consistently painted as sexually deviant and immoral by these Christian leaders while at the same time the leaders support men in acts of sexual violence and even paedophilia against women and girls. This is what makes me angry, embarassed, sad, and actually — frightened.

I am a big believer in contemplative prayer and meditation. I think taking the time to connect with the Christ-presence dwelling within is essential in maintaining some semblance of peace in the stress of my work and life. Yet in this case, I think peace is not yet where I can go. I think there is also value in sitting with the anger, the embarassment, the sadness, the fear and contemplating those things.

When I sit with these for a while I think of Psalm 62:

How long will you assail a person, will you batter your victim, all of you, as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?

Their only plan is to bring down a person of prominence. They take pleasure in falsehood; they bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse.

Where, of course, in my mind the persons of prominence are women and LGBTQI people struggling to be seen and heard in their pain. The verses that follow can then be read in the light of my anger at this, especially…

Trust in God at all times, O people; pour out your heart before God; God is a refuge for us.

Despite the verses where the author ‘waits on God in silence’, this isn’t a quiet sending of thoughts and prayers. This a heart-wrenching pouring out of anger, fear, sadness, love, respect, desire for change. ‘Trust’ here isn’t a platitude for doing nothing, for waiting and hoping for some older white straight man to change his mind about his years of patriarchal privilege. For me the ‘trust’ here is related to the pouring out and the refuge.

Can I trust in God at all times even as I speak out against Christian betrayal and wrongdoing and misguidedness? Can I trust enough to put myself in the firing line, like Held-Evans and others? Can I take my refuge in God alone, knowing that I will be reviled and trolled and sermonised to by those who think they have the sole truth? Can I then return to a place of stillness and silence to recover, to wait for results, to gather myself for the next incident?

I think the answer is getting closer to “Yes, Lord”. What about you?

Kelly Dombroski is an academic and writer who also blogs at www.throwntogetherness.wordpress.com

Living Prayers

Our daily lives can be a form of lived-prayer, where prayer is not a pleading or shopping list of requests, but a kind of whole-hearted care and attention to the life-tasks God has put before us.

 We know this already — Augustine, Brother Laurence, Mme. Guyon, Richard Rohr, Thomas Moore, (even Levinas, I’m told) all remind us that our daily tasks can be a form of prayer if we undertake them with the  care and attention we might give to a session of focused meditation.  When I think of that, I think of being alone doing the gardening, or sewing something with perfect attention to detail. Or writing. It is probably quiet, and I am probably alone. Augustine, in his letter to Januarius for example, describes the kind of ‘effortless’ activity of praising God we might begin ‘in this life’ as we rest in Christ:

 

 This rest is not slothful inactvity, but a kind of indescribable tranquility coming from effortless action…. we don’t pass on to it through a period of quiet, which is then replaced by effort — that is, the beginning of the activity does not put an end to the quiet. No, there is no return to effort and anxiety; the qualities of quiet continue in the activity, so that there is no weariness in work and no restlessness in thought.

In reality however, there are many things demanding our attention, and it is rare that I have the space in my house to complete my work in quiet without effort or anxiety. I wrote about my weekend recently:

I went to bed late after finishing watching the Handmaid’s Tale with DH, was woken during the night by crying children, awoke too late for quiet time. Made lemon pancakes to order while balancing hot chocolate requests and assistance with toileting, dressing gowns, getting down plates etc. Talked to DH about the state of the university and the upcoming conference. Organised the family to clean and tidy as much of the house that was possible. (DH completely re-sorted all the stuff in the lounge, the kids made their room worse, I did the bathroom, washing, kitchen, master bedroom, vacuuming and generally just bossed people around and crossed things off a list).

I then spent some time with my youngest, then put on my exercise gear and walked to uni with my backpack to get my computer because I realised I can’t actually go to work on Monday since DH will have to work (and I have to care for my youngest) so I can go to Auckland on Tuesday for the conference starting Wednesday (which is my normal day for childcare responsibilities). Oh, at some point I talked to my dad while I was doing dishes about gender discrimination in the workplace and the conference he went to last week.

 While I walked I tried to auto-dictate my thoughts on work/worship and care/attention but it was too hard because it started to rain.  On the way home, I bought lunch for all from the supermarket and a few things we needed like dishwashing liquid. I got back home, organised lunch, hung out another load of washing, had a cup of tea then went to bed for a nap. At 4pm I was finally able to sit in bed doing some writing while the kids played on the computer.

Throughout all of it, I thought of my friends going through relationship troubles, the enneagram types of people I care about, Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, the handbook I am editing. The things I didn’t get to: ironing, cleaning out the laundry which stinks, the cat food spilled everywhere, the gardening… work. I fought off panic that these things will never get done, and that my life will descend further and further into chaos.

So how do we make those prayers of quiet activity in this kind of rush and chaos? I don’t feel  centred, quietly attentive, balanced. I feel unbalanced and constantly wobbling on the edge of falling off. If I miss one weekend of this carework, the whole things caves in and it takes me months to get back to a state of normalcy. I feel guilty that I don’t give friends (let alone strangers in need) outside my family enough time and attention, but also feel panicked that if I don’t get my jobs done on Saturday then the following work week would be chaos with no uniforms, dirty work clothes, lost homework and toys all over the house, tears from the children as we rummaged through our stuff to find whatever was needed. So much of life is just managing the arrangement of material stuff. I don’t give the people in my life enough of my joy or playfulness because I am always worrying about not doing enough, not being organised enough, and falling into chaos.

Part of all this is the worry about not being enough as a carer and as a mother. As women, we are told in different ways our whole lives that these things are our responsibilities, that the children will grow up neglected and damaged if we don’t do our jobs properly and their faces aren’t clean and their school socks matching. That however much we give our children and families, it is never enough. That it is not OK to find enjoyment in work and success because we are probably failing our families. The men in our lives have often been brought up with different pressures: to perform in the workplace, to be a star, a success, to always be confident and Mr Fabulous, to produce and produce and to be a strong protector of the women and children in their lives and not to rely on them for friendship or care too much but also certainly not to rely on other men for care either. To not have so many feelings.  To not be hurt so often. Most of us know that both those identities are impossible, and that no one can really fulfil them. They are lies.

The truth, as Augustine identifies, is to find our identity in the refuge and rest of God, since ‘through him we can do all things’. Not all the things. Just all things that are given us in this moment. For me this is where the attention comes back in. We can do our work with care and attention, offering it up to God as a form of worship –  as Paul says in Romans 12 we can offer our very bodies (and their activities I presume) as our spiritual worship. So can I apply this to my busy Saturday, where quiet was not very often present?

I did actually try this. All day, as I tried to do all the tasks before me, my attention kept slipping to obsess about all the relationships and tasks in my life, and the panic and stress would arise that it will be never be enough. Like one does in  meditation,  I tried to acknowledge my feelings or the interruptions from others without judgement, then bring my attention back to the task at hand, and accept I can only do what I can do for the amount of time I have to do it.  I have to trust that that will be enough.  At work, I tried to do this too: panic arises regularly when the tasks and relationship demands overwhelm, and I have begun to deliberately take an audible deep breath then as I exhale, deliberately acknowledge, then put aside, all the things and focus on the one thing that has to be done right now.  With relationships, I tend to obsess over everyone else’s problems. But I can then offer those up to God (after laughing at myself) and turn my attention back to what I can do in the time and space I have, then let it go. Usually, listen with care and attention, try not to offer to help or fix everything, but to just be there in the moment. It doesn’t feel enough, but it has to be.

So, all of that is to say I guess I can apply Augustine’s idea that a form of prayerful activity can proceed from the space of quiet rest. It isn’t really effortless, yet, for me.  But I think the key idea is this: Do what you can when you can with care and attention. Then hand over the rest to God and continue to pay attention when something comes your way that is again yours to do in the moment. What else can we do? There is never enough time, and maybe that is how we grow to depend on the One who is beyond time, who invented time.

Kelly Dombroski also blogs at www.throwntogetherness.wordpress.com.

Oasis

I am clinging to a fleeting moment of calm

Oasis

I am scared that my heartache will return

Tentative

“In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry
May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm.”

Psalm 20:1 (NLT)

I feel – 

like I have managed to grasp a precious moment of peace, away from the verge of tears.

let me find rest in this tranquility.

“I, yes I, am the one who comforts you.
So why are you afraid of mere humans,
who wither like the grass and disappear?”

Isaiah 51:12 (NLT)

I desire

Peace and comfort during this time.

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”

John 14:27 (NLT)

My breath becomes prayer – both are vital.

Inhale – you are here, Lord

Exhale – nothing else matters.

Emily is a student, writer, and creative thinker from Auckland, New Zealand. Read more of her writing at emilyontheinternetblog.wordpress.com 

Feature Image: “Calm” by David Robertson. Accessed via Flickr.