Loving God in All Our Queerness

This reflection was given at SCM London’s prayer service to mark LGBTQ+ History Month 2021.

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ 29 Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31 The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ 32 Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; 33 and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbour as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Mark 12:28-34

One of the nerdier things I like to do in my spare time is finding books on queer theology and adding them to an ever-growing reading list. There are now well over two hundred books and articles on this list and while I know I probably won’t read through all of them, it certainly is satisfying to visualise this huge collection of queer literature acknowledging and validating my existence as a queer Christian, affirming that I am loved by God just as I am.

Being a queer Christian has its many joys, but it can often feel like I constantly have to be on the defensive, always needing advanced scriptural exegesis and queer theoretical frameworks on the tip of my tongue, ready to respond to any combative questions about being queer and a person of faith. However, I am grateful to the vast array of resources available to which I can direct people to learn about and grapple with queer theology, where they can find a much more clearly articulated answer than I could give on the spot.

In the Gospels, Jesus is also often faced with difficult and argumentative questions designed to catch him out and find faults in his radical teaching. In the passage from Mark, he too looks back to earlier works to give an answer to a very tricky question: what is the most important commandment? Quoting Deuteronomy, he says it is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

As queer people who have historically, and sadly far too often currently, been excluded from or abused by the Church, shut out, told we’re sinners or unclean or un-Christian, such a commandment can be daunting. Many of us are tired, worn out from constantly having to justify ourselves and fight to make a space for us to be. Many of our souls carry pain and trauma. Many of our hearts have been broken, perhaps by the Church, by those we love, or by the societal injustice around us.

But God does not require us to have all the answers to hand or to be fully at peace with how our faith and queer identity interact. God simply wants our love and to be in a relationship with us, just as we are. Loving God with our whole selves means loving God in our brokenness, in our pain, and in our sorrows. For queer people, loving God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength means loving God in all our queerness, in all our non-conformity, and in all that we are as children queerly and wonderfully made in God’s image.

And when we begin to love God, we can begin to love ourselves, knowing we are made in Her image, that we are loved more than we can ever know, and that our queerness is knitted into our very being. And once we begin to love ourselves, we can begin to love each other, recognising the divine in everyone and honouring them with respect and dignity. In this way, if we believe God is everywhere present and in all things, loving God with our whole being has knock-on effects for how we love ourselves, each other, and the world in which we live.

May we be gentle with ourselves so that we may begin to love God with our whole being, always knowing we are loved by God in all our queerness.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Beatitudes for a Tough Year

CW: This post mentions death, mental health, and violence. Readers’ discrection is advised.

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:3-12

Blessed are the poor in spirit; those isolated and alone; those crippled by anxiety and depression; those who can’t face getting out of bed for another day; those contemplating ending things; those who have reached the end of their rope and can’t see another way to hang on. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn; those who have lost loved ones and are going to lose loved ones; those who mourn deaths that could have been prevented; those who mourn those who died due to incompetence or negligence; those who mourn loss of jobs, income, homes, security, peace of mind, joy. For they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek; those who empathise with others; those willing to listen and learn from the experiences of others; those who make room for others; those who care for others regardless of who they are or what they believe; those who are patient in hope; those who forgive others knowing this is a tough time. For they will inherit the earth.

Weyden, Rogier van der, 1399 or 1400-1464. Mary’s Tears, detail from Descent from the Cross, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55988  Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Weyden,_Rogier_van_der_-_Descent_from_the_Cross_-_Detail_women_(left).jpg

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; who continue to call out our government’s failures; those fighting for free and fair elections; those who persevere in the face of facism and voter suppression, those who abhor inequality and stigmatisation of the poor; those who literally hunger and thirst due to cruel government policy; those who want action rather than more conversation. For they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful; those who understand this is a difficult time for all; those who put up with us not being at our best; those who accommodate us to make things easier; those who extend our deadlines and cancel our debts; those who offer us a way out of our problems; those who show us love regardless of what we do. For they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart; those who aren’t swayed by divisive narratives and tribalism; those who in the face of everything still love their neighbour; those who use their anger as a catalyst; those who forget themselves and share God’s abundant love; those who look for God in everyone and all things; those who say “thy will be done”. For they will see God.


Sutter, James D.. War and Peace, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56959  Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fine_Art,_War_and_peace_(Honorable_Mention)_141202-F-PO994-001.jpg

Blessed are the peacemakers; those who see our world becoming more divided; those seeking to bind communities together; those who seek justice as a prerequisite for peace; those who offer safe havens for those fleeing violence; those who make peace with a year they can’t control; those who are making peace with themselves and practising self-care. For they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; those who are shunned for speaking truth to power; those who aren’t afraid of losing status for doing what’s right; those who live unapologetically authenticity; those who are persecuted simply for existing. For theirs’ is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you, who tries your best, who carries in on the face of all this year has brought. God’s love for you is boundless and unending. May you know that God delights in you and knows your pain. You are loved, child of God.

Mjassojedow, Grigorij Grigorjewitsch. The Bread Line, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=46560  Original source: http://www.yorckproject.de.

Unconditional Generosity: Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

CAFOD Icon: “Feeding of the Five Thousand” by Sr Esther of the Benedictine Community in Turvey, Bedfordshire.

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’ 16 Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’ 17 They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’ 18 And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’ 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Matthew 14:13-21 NRSVA

The story of how Jesus manages to feed over five thousand people with only five loaves of bread and two fish is one of the Gospels’ most well-known miracles. It’s found in all four gospels, each told with a different theological and didactic emphasis; each Gospel writer wants us to take away something different from the narrative. So what does Matthew want his readers to know after reading this story?

A major theme in the Gospel of Matthew is that Jesus is the model for Christian disciples and that by reading the stories and teachings within, we can discern our own good discipleship and continue Jesus’ work. So perhaps we should explore how the disciples react to the situation around them. When evening comes, they notice that the large crowds around them are still there and they’re keen to not take responsibility for them, telling Jesus to send them away to get food for themselves. It seems understandable – it’s been a long day and the disciples want to spend their evening together. But Jesus feels differently, telling them it’s up to them to feed the crowds.

Once again, the disciples look for an excuse to send the crowds away, saying that they don’t have enough to feed everyone – and once again, Jesus challenges their reluctance by asking them to bring the little food they have to him. He blesses it and there is more than enough to feed everyone.

In the story, the disciples are indicative of what many societies teach us: to keep our resources to ourselves, to look after our own first, and that every person is responsible for themself. This worldview is expressed as “we don’t have enough for you too.” But Jesus’ miracle clearly demonstrates the message of Matthew’s story: what holds us back in helping others is not a lack of resources, but a lack of generosity.

Perhaps the story would have been different if the crowd weren’t a group of strangers. As individuals we find it easy to be generous to those we love; we don’t mind sharing our possessions and resources with our friends and loved ones, we always find time to talk to those who mean something to us, and we’re more likely to do things that may not be repaid for those we care about. But often we walk past homeless people saying “sorry, I haven’t got any money” when our wealth is vast compared to theirs. We say “I haven’t got time” when we don’t want to help with things we deem unworthy of our investment. Our generosity is so often conditional. By being generous we make ourselves vulnerable to losing something, and we’re only willing to do this for those we love. Matthew is clear that discipleship requires an unconditional generosity based upon love and compassion for our neighbours. We are called to share what we have with all, regardless of how we think of others.

We must also look at the bigger picture and ask why there are people who have more than others in the first place. The concept that there is an uneven distribution of economic resources and a disparity in the quality of life between the rich and the poor is known as social inequality. In a society where there are hierarchies of ethnicity, gender, age, wealth, power, and prestige, it’s no wonder that certain groups have better access to resources, rewards, and opportunities, and that society is more willing to help those groups in power.

We live in an unequal world. The richest 1% have more than twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion people combined. By increasing the taxes of the 1% by a mere 0.5%, enough revenue could be generated over 10 years to create 117 million jobs. The 22 richest men in the world have more wealth than all the women in Africa, while globally women and girls contribute 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each day, valued at $10.8 trillion – three times the size of the global tech industry. Although the world produces enough food to feed everyone, 690 million people go to bed hungry each night – that’s 1 in 9, while 1 in 3 people suffer from malnutrition.

Governments are often reluctant to improve the lives of the poor, citing deficits, overspending, and an inability to make change. But these same governments are able to spend money on increasing military budgets and tax-cuts for the super wealthy. The world does not suffer from a lack of resources, but instead from a lack of unconditional generosity.

What Matthew wants us to realise is that we must never assume that our resources are not enough to help others. Generosity is a constant theme in the Gospels – the poor widow who gives all she has is praised (Mark 12:41-44), and Jesus tells a rich young man that he must give away all his possessions to the poor to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:16–3). Perhaps the most profound act of unconditional generosity in the Gospels is Jesus’ death and resurrection, giving his whole self for all humanity so that they may know God’s love and know that no power or structure can overcome God’s justice.

It would be naive to suggest that simply asking people to be more generous will create a fairer, more just world. We must proactively work towards dismantling oppressive structures that allow social inequality and resource hoarding to perpetuate. We must work towards dismantling white supremacy and institutional racism so that people of colour are no longer denied access to resources and justice based on racist systems. We must advocate for gender equality so that the gender pay gap is no longer a reality. We must petition governments to give trans* and non-binary people the same rights and protections as everyone else. We must expose the exploitation of big corporations and fight for a more just and compassionate economic system.

Jesus is clear: there is room at the table for all (John 14:2) and there is enough for everyone. May we be more unconditionally generous in how we share our resources and may we fight for justice in a world where social inequality is a sombre reality.

By your feeding of the five thousand in the desert, grant us a readiness to share the goods you give us.

By your strengthening the hungry and giving life to the weary, strengthen us to share your life with others.

By your raining down manna in the wilderness for your wandering people, rain down your manna of good will for a fair distribution of food among all peoples.

By your giving us life in the Eucharist strengthen us to take and give your life to others and those less fortunate than ourselves.

And we give glory, praise and thankfulness for your merciful compassion and care for all peoples of the earth.

Prayer by Sr Esther of the Benedictine Community in Turvey, Bedfordshire.

Sources

https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/social_inequality.htm

https://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-social-inequality-in-sociology-definition-effects-causes.html

https://indepth.oxfam.org.uk/time-to-care/

https://www.wfp.org/zero-hunger

Lamentations: A Book For Our Times

Recently, I was asked by Student Christian Movement to lead a Bible study on The Book of Lamentations. As a community, we have been meeting online to offer each other support and fellowship in what is a frightening and isolating time for so many. Given the present circumstances, it feels so right that we explore expressions of grief and pain in the Bible, and the Book of Lamentations is certainly a book for our times.

Written in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar II in 586 BCE , Lamentations expresses the grief of a community reeling from the most horrific catastrophe in its history so far. It acts as a memorial to the pain and confusion of the exiled Israelites as they try to come to terms with the new world order they find themselves in. The book is bleak and raw, its images vicerally describing the suffering of a displaced people.

We too are reeling from the sudden changes in society and our lives as a result of COVID-19. Entire nations have been placed in lockdown, forcing people to work from home or be furloughed from their jobs, closing public places once bustling with life, fundamentally changing the way we interact with one another, and requiring us to reconsider the ways we run our institutions. In a way, we are living in an exile of isolation, and we don’t have to work hard to picture the opening lines of Lamentations:

How lonely sits the city that was once full of people!

How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations!

She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal.

Lamentations 1:1 (NRSV)

The first poem explores the psychological trauma that the city’s destruction brought to its inhabitants through images of a funeral and the death of a loved one. It speaks of mourning and grieving, groaning and weeping, as well as desolation, isolation, and suffering. We too are collectively grappling with loss and pain. Thousands around the world are mourning the loss of loved ones, as well as the sudden loss of our freedoms and the upheaval to our way of living, with scientists and politicians saying that life after the pandemic cannot simply go back to normal. We are living through a period of seismic change that will be felt for years to come.

Collective experiences of loneliness and grief are expressed in the third poem, where the poet speaks as a representative of God’s people. There are some crushing images in this poem: the author speaks of being chained in darkness, walled in and torn to pieces. In spite of all this, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Better days are coming – this too shall pass. The author reminds us:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul,

‘therefore I will hope in him.’

Lamentations 3:22-24

The poet examines the visible changes to society as a result of destruction and exile in the fourth poem. Those who once “feasted on delicacies perish in the streets” (4:5), people wear the visible signs of destruction on their faces (4:7-8), and people have become more selfish and greedy (4:2-4). In our own society, panic-stricken shoppers have emptied supermarket shelves of essential items, leaving those most in need with nothing. Foodbanks are worried that stocks will completely run out if they can’t get extra help to gather donations. And in financial markets, once lucrative investments are plummeting in value, with economists agreeing that a recession will follow. The pandemic does not discriminate between rich and poor; our whole society is affected by the destruction it’s causing.

The final poem is an explosion of grief. The structural form of previous poems is gone as the poet takes in the chaos around them. It’s a prayer for mercy, begging God not to ignore their suffering or abandon them. It’s a candid outpouring of deep pain and raw emotion, and it ends with the tenison unresolved. There’s no nice, neat conclusion, no easy answer to what is going on around them, just as we have no simple answers as to when we can be with our loved ones again, when our world will feel safer again, when things might feel remotely normal again. Life just doesn’t have simple resolutions.

Biblical poems of lament are important parts of scripture. They remind us that life is not always easy and that our anger and grief is valid and holy. They are forms of protest, drawing attention to awful things that shouldn’t be tolerated. They are a way of processig emotion, venting anger and putting a voice to confusion. Most importantly, they give sacred dignity to human suffering. They are words of grief addressed to God, and by being part of scripture they become God’s word to us.

Lamentations has so many lessons that we can apply to our lives.

  • In the midst of chaos, we should take control of what we can. The first four poems of Lamentations are written as acrostics, and ordered, linear structure that allows pain to be explored A-Z. It contrasts the disorder of the pain, grief, and suffering explored in the poems. In the same way, we can try to find structures in our lives to help us navigate the chaos. Building routines into our lives to give order to our days can help us avoid being swallowed up into the darkness around us.
  • Your painful emotions are valid and holy. I’ve said that a few times in this article, but I don’t think it can be said enough. Far too often, the narrative in Christian culture is that we should always be joyful and that if we pray hard enough we’ll feel better. This runs completely counter to what we find in the Bible. Expressing our anger, pain, and grief is not sinful; it is holy. Our wrestling with God is holy, healthy, and helpful. Bottling up our emotions and forcing ourselves to act happy is not.
  • Art can be cathartic. The whole book of Lamentations is poetry, an artistic expression of pain. We too can use art to explore and express our emotions, whatever medium we may choose to do that through. As Carrie Fisher once said, “take your broken heart and make it into art.”
  • It’s okay not to have all the answers. Awful things happen. Life is full of pain and grief. As humans we are constantly asking “why”, and get increasingly angry and crushed when we can’t answer that question. Lamentations teaches us that there aren’t easy answers, and that you don’t need to have them. To navigate the chaos we need to keep going, and trying to find answers to questions that can’t be answered will only hold us back.

May you know that your pain is valid, your anger is holy, and that your cries are heard by God. May you find sanctuary from the chaos storm around us, and may you know that God is always with you, even in the depths of darkness.

God of compassion,

be close to those who are ill, afraid or in isolation.

In their loneliness, be their consolation;

in their anxiety, be their hope;

in their darkness, be their light;

through him who suffered alone on the cross,

but reigns with you in glory,

Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

The Church of England

If you want to find out more about Lamentations, this video is really insightful, and I am indebted to it for many of the ideas I have explored in this post.

Storms

Jesus, Saviour, pilot me
Over life’s tempestuous sea;
Unknown waves before me roll,
Hiding rock and treach’rous shoal.
Chart and compass come from Thee.
Jesus, Saviour, pilot me.

Edward Hopper

Life makes me feel shit sometimes. Perhaps a bit more than sometimes. Allan Saunders was right when he said that “life is what happens to us while we are busy making other plans.” But just because we know this doesn’t mean it hurts any less when it happens.

My boyfriend and I were planning on spending the summer together – as a newly fledged couple we wanted to get to know each other better. Then he had to go back to Lebanon one week in; I won’t get to see him until October. We recently decided to take a break – it’s impossible to be in a relationship spanning 3000km without getting angry and depressed. Of course this was one of those moments where life butts in and fucks up all your plans, but the notion of accepting life as it comes is like most ‘nice’ ideas: good in theory, impossible in practice.

At times like this my mind can only be described as stormy. I feel like I’m swimming in a tempest of anxieties and sadnesses and it can be a real struggle to keep my head above the water, to want to do more than just curl up into a ball and nap all day. Crappy television seems like the only option to pass the time and try to keep my mind off everything I’m worrying about.

Contemporary evangelical Christianity perpetuates an idea that through faith we will be happy, carefree, strong in the face of life’s shit storms, immune to the sadness and mental turmoil that comes with so many of life’s motions. “Christ is enough for me; everything I need is in you” declares one worship song. According to these principles all will be okay as long as I pray harder, become purer, devote myself more, and only focus on Jesus. But Jesus can’t make my boyfriend come home; singing about how Jesus has everything I need does not fill the emptiness I feel, the crippling loneliness, the general dissatisfaction; focusing just on Jesus does not seem like a very helpful option when I can’t even focus on simple tasks, as if I’ve been left me to drown.

These thoughts are not unbiblical – in fact Jesus’ friends felt exactly the same way. There’s a story in Mark there’s a story about a boat trip Jesus takes with his friends. Tired after a long day of preaching to crowds, he takes a nap at the back of the boat. During their journey they are hit by a massive storm. You think that these seasoned fishermen would be able to cope with a storm, but instead they lose it and panic. Angry and afraid, they awaken Jesus and ask him “Do you not care that we are drowning?” (Mk 4:38 CEB)

I completely understand how the disciples felt, and find myself asking the same question. In my anger and fear at the uncomfortable emotions that get thrown at me I stamp my feet and question whether God cares that I’m drowning and can’t take this anymore. Is Jesus just sleeping while I have to face all this crap alone?

Jesus wakes up and calms the storm. He then turns to his friends and asks them “Why are you frightened? Don’t you have faith yet?” (Mk 4:40 NRSVA)

Jesus asks us to look deeper at our situation and ask why we are fearing it. Probably because we don’t have control over external events, though we’d very much like to. Probably because we think life should go our way, the way we want it to, the way we planned it out, rather than taking its own course. Probably because we are scared of being abandoned, left to fend for ourselves. Probably because we just don’t like feeling shit and want it to go away.

Here, Jesus makes us consider our longing for control over our lives, our circumstances, and our emotions. By calming the storm, Jesus demonstrates that he is the one in control and that he is with us through the storms. He does care deeply about our pain and our struggles. By questioning whether we have faith yet, Jesus is asking how much we have given up the notion that we can control everything about our lives.

You see, having faith is not about being pious, more devoted, happy, perfect to the point that nothing can go wrong. Faith is about the freedom that comes with giving up trying to order the world around us and orchestrating every moment of our lives. True freedom comes with the acceptance that we are not able to fend off every storm that comes our way.

I may feel powerless looking at my storms and admitting that I have no control over them. But neither do the storms have ultimate power over me: Jesus can rebuke them, calm them, still them. Instead of fighting against them, we must bear them patiently, knowing that God is on our side, guiding us through the tempestuous waters around us. And when we give up trying to control the external events around us, we can take control of what we do have power over: how we deal with the situation. We can control how we treat ourselves – we can choose to give ourselves a hard time, or we can acknowledge that these are periods that require more self-care. We have the power to choose to seek help, whether that be therapy, medication, or even just talking to someone who will listen. This is how we gain true power over our storms: not by fighting them, but by focusing on ourselves and changing what we can change.

It’s not if the storms will come, but a matter of when. And if we build our lives on a false sense of being able to control everything around us, we will be washed away when the storms come, powerless when our perceived control fails us. But if we build our lives on faith – a faith that says I am not in control but a God who loves me is, we can face down our storms, knowing they will pass and that life will move on.

Shit happens. Life is unfair. It can be hard to want to get out of bed in the morning and face the day. I know that right now I need to focus on myself – my self-care, my self-esteem, and some of the things that are holding me back. Doing this won’t make the storms go away, but it will let me choose how much control I want them to have over my life.

Be still, my soul: your God will undertake
to guide the future as he has the past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
his voice who ruled them while he dwelt below.

Kathrina von Schegel, translated by Jane Borthwick

Resources that might help:

Rob Bell’s Nooma 001: Rain – This really helped me to think about where God is in the midst of suffering. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loFBGdeXGtg

Samaritans – Whatever you’re going through, you can call them any time, from any phone for FREE on 116 123. https://www.samaritans.org/

Childline – Childline is a counselling service for children and young people up to their 19th birthday in the United Kingdom provided by the NSPCC. 0800 1111 https://www.childline.org.uk/

Papyrus – PAPYRUS is the UK Charity for the prevention of young suicide. For PAPYRUS HOPELINEUK call 0800 068 4141. https://papyrus-uk.org/

Mind – A mental health charity offering advice and support. https://www.mind.org.uk/

Shout! – Shout is an affiliate of Crisis Text Line® in the UK that provides free, confidential support, 24/7 via text. Text SHOUT to 85258 in the UK to text with a trained Crisis Volunteer. https://www.crisistextline.uk/

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapists – A database for finding an accredited counsellor or psychotherapist in your area. https://www.bacp.co.uk/

Matthew 1-3: “This is my Son, The Beloved, with whom I am well pleased”

Reading the opening of Matthew, I struggle to see how Jesus can be the true idol of so many white conservatives. His fundamental origins and life circumstances are enough to make many hot under the collar.

Jesus is the son of an unmarried mother (Matthew 1:18), whose image-conscious partner contemplates dismissing her to save their reputation (Matthew 1:19). Unmarried and single mothers have a history of being targeted and ostracised by the Church. In the 1950s and 60s in Briain, more than 500,000 children born to unmarried women were given up for adoption, usually to agencies run by the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Salvation Army.[1] Indeed, the Catholic Church in Ireland referred to these mothers as “fallen women” and placed in Magdalene Laundries, where women and girls had their names taken from them and were treated like slaves by the nuns running the institutions.[2]

To add to his stigmatic beginnings, the Holy Family became refugees, fleeing persecution and the systematic killing of boys under the age of two (Matthew 2:13-16). It is safe to say that this family would not be welcome at the US border. After horrific journeys to the US, immigrants and refugees are kept in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions, where the wailing of hungry children is heard all day and night.[3] Jesus would most likely be separated from his parents so that they could be prosecuted by a state that should help them.[4] And although attitudes towards refugees here in the UK are softening, only 52% of people feel that refugees deserve more support from the government.[5]

An icon by Kelly Latimore depicting the Holy Family at the Southern US Border

A Palestinian refugee child born to an unmarried mother – this is the Christ that we worship. Yet this is also the Christ that is seldom, if ever, depicted in conservative Christian spaces. But this is the reality of our saviour.

And when this illegitimate refugee child is baptised, what is the reaction?

And a voice from Heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17 NRSVA)

God delights in God’s son. And God delights in each and every one of us, who God chooses to call God’s Beloved – regardless of our background, circumstances, or fundamental being.

To all those who feel unwelcome in society and the Church: single parents, immigrants, refugees, queer people, the broken, the lost, the addicts, the whatevers:

You are God’s Child, with whom God is well pleased.

Hold on tight to that; there are many who would do anything to deny you of that feeling.

God chose to manifest in a Palestinian refugee child born to poor unmarried parents – a child who would no doubt be rehected in so many spaces. But instead this is the Beloved Son, with whom God is well pleased.

May you, whoever you may be, whatever your circumstances or experiences, know the love that you are given as God’s beloved child.

Image Credit: David Hayward

References

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jun/10/mps-demand-apology-for-unmarried-mothers-forced-to-give-up-children

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/feb/05/ireland-magdalene-laundry-system-apology

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/sep/12/us-immigration-detention-facilities

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-44538110

[5] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-44538110