Monthly Archives: January 2012
So “we” have now established that effort toward a mindfulness of gender-inclusive language is preferable when talking about ourselves and each other. But what about when we talk about God?
Remember when Madeleine L’Engle was writing about her perspective on gendered language? She referred to Genesis 1:27 as the basis for “man” being inclusive of both male and female. Here’s how the TNIV translates the verse:
So God created human beings in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
If it takes both a man and a woman together to represent the image of God, then why is it that we often only use male language when referring to God? One common argument is that God is described in male language in the Bible; therefore, Bible-believing Christians must follow God’s example and continue to use male language to describe God.
Let me be clear. I do not think there is anything wrong with using male language or masculine imagery for God. In fact, God as the Father is one of my most precious expressions for God in my personal spiritual journey.
What I think is unhelpful is referring to God using male language at the exclusion of female language and feminine imagery. Christian mothers like Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, and Catherine of Siena helped bridge the gap by describing God using male language and at the same time feminine imagery. For example, Julian of Norwich wrote of Jesus nursing us at his breasts and described Jesus as “our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”
In today’s Christian culture, many people are too quick to settle on God as Him and dismiss the movement of the Mother-Father-God-ers as radical and perhaps even heretical. For me, I strive for a more moderate stance. That’s why I avoid gender-specific pronouns when I talk about God. That’s why I still refer to Jesus as male (because he was a man, even if he isn’t still). That’s why I like to refer to the Holy Spirit as female, because so much of my experience of the divine feminine has come through encounters with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit-inspired.
Even when I must use gender-specific pronouns so as not to write myself into ridiculously awkward sentence structures, I try to use “he” and “him” or “she” and “her.” That way I know I am not saying God is “He” as in God-the-All-Masculine or “She” as in God-the-All-Feminine. Instead, I say God is “he” as in God-as-God-embodies-the-masculine or God is “she” as in God-as-God-embodies-the-feminine. In this way, I am able to balance the masculine and the feminine aspects of the Trinity, which is very biblical. At least for right now, this is what works for me.
(Does the idea of God as “she” rock your world? Ask yourself what it would be like if the situation were reversed and God as “he” was revolutionary. Watch out for double standards and try to be mindful of the way language may affect others, even if it doesn’t affect you that way.)
We all know that when the pendulum swings away from one extreme, it inevitably swings right past the middle and reaches the other extreme before it can gradually settle more and more toward the balance the middle brings. My journey with gender-inclusive language has swung from one side where “man” includes both men and women to the other side where God as “He” and “Him” makes me feel like I, as “she” and “her,” am not part of the image of God after all.
Maybe my reaction is too extreme. Maybe as the pendulum of my journey continues to swing back and forth, I will come closer and closer to the perfect balance of the middle ground.
But I’m not there yet.
So for now, oh ye readers, you will see me still swinging. Let’s approach both ourselves and each other with grace, and give each other room to swing out as far as we need to, safe in the knowledge that we will also have room to swing back.
Now to come to the point. After all this journey toward freedom from gender-specific language about people and about God, I still don’t have all the answers. I still don’t have it all worked out. I’m not sure anyone does. We live in a time where change happens so quickly. We try to define the era we live in while we’re living in it, an impossible task. So instead of being prescriptive and laying out a neat outline of what must be done as an advocate of gender-inclusive language, I choose to be descriptive and share what works for me and why I’ve made the choices I’ve made.
I think any effort to be gender-inclusive, even if it’s done imperfectly, should be commended for the effort itself.
So if you like to “he/she” and “himself/herself” your way through the world, that’s wonderful.
If you prefer to “he” your way through one paragraph and “she” your way through the next, that’s excellent, too.
If you’re a “oneself” kind of person, which some people consider a little stilted and impersonal, I will still appreciate you.
And if you’re like me, you might prefer simply “we”-ing through the whole thing and when “we”-ing doesn’t fit well, bringing back the singular “they” which had fallen out of use for a century or two and is steadily gaining new life again.
Then of course, let’s not forget to transform those “mans” and “mankinds” into “humans,” “peoples,” “humanitys,” “human races” and even “humankinds.”
So “we” have now established that effort toward a mindfulness of gender-inclusive language is preferable when talking about ourselves and each other. But what about when we talk about God?
To be continued in the next post.
I didn’t think too much more about the issue until I moved to California after college to enter seminary. I was surprised at some of the reactions I got from my friends back home. Some asked me what degree I was pursuing and were visibly relieved when I told them I wasn’t planning to be a pastor. Others actually told me I was going to hell and stopped speaking to me. While some of my family members were supportive and even encouraging of my seminary training, others became hurtful and even combative, telling me I should come home, that I shouldn’t be in seminary because I’m a woman.
Then there were the people I met in seminary, both students and professors. Not just women, but men were advocating for women in ministry, arguing for equality, and providing opportunities for women to step up into leadership positions. My seminary has a seminary-wide gender-inclusive language policy, and I was surprised as I began sitting in lectures and writing papers how thoroughly ingrained I was in gender-specific language, especially when it came to language about God.
The more I thought about the language I used, the more I realized that I had been wrong when I thought the issue was silly and petty. I was wrong to agree with Madeleine L’Engle that everyone was intrinsically included in gender-specific language. The more I learned about the history behind the language and the way it had been used to marginalize and oppress over the centuries, the more convinced I became that it was my responsibility as a woman, as a Christian woman, as a Christian woman who–dare I say it?–has been given certain qualities and skills of a leader, to hold myself to a higher standard of language and to advocate for gender-inclusion, not just in language but in life–church life, home life, and public life.
That’s a tall order. And as an introvert, as a conflict-avoidant person, and as woman who grew up believing barefoot-and-pregnant was all was I meant to be, living into my calling as a female Christian leader seems impossible. Yet, God does not call us to impossible tasks, for the Bible tells me so: the Spirit of God does not make me timid but gives me power, love, and self-discipline (2 Tim 1:7).
Indeed, the Spirit I received does not make me a slave to culture or to other people’s expectations of who I am supposed to be so that I return to live in fear again of coloring outside other people’s lines; rather, the Spirit I received brought about my adoption as a daughter of God–by which I receive all the honor, standing, and inheritance of the Most High God. And because of this Spirit and this adoption, I cry out to God with all the confidence and innocence of a toddler calling for “ma-ma” or “da-da” (or “a-ba”)…and I know God answers me with all the immediacy, care, and tenderness of a proud and loving parent (Romans 8:15).
To be continued in the next post.
I grew up in a politically and spiritually conservative Southern hometown. When I was younger, I thought conversations about gender-inclusion were silly, that people who made such a big deal out of small things were petty and that they should stop trying so hard to fight against what’s normal and accepted and expected. The first time I read dear Madeleine L’Engle‘s Walking on Water, I agreed with her when she wrote,
I am a female of the species man. Genesis is very explicit that it takes both male and female to make the image of God, and that the generic word man includes both….That is Scripture, therefore I refuse to be timid about being part of mankind. We of the female sex are half of mankind, and it is pusillanimous to resort to he/she, him/her, or even worse, android words….When mankind was referred to it never occurred to me that I was not part of it or that I was in some way being excluded.
I agreed with her because I thought that was my experience, too. I thought I understood myself as intrinsically included equally in the world alongside my brothers, my father, my male classmates, and all the men I knew. All through grade school, high school, and most of college, I maintained this understanding. Then in my search for a church community near my college, I stumbled upon a respectable little PCA church nearby.
Being ignorant of the difference between PCA and PCUSA denominations, I began attending. For a while, I enjoyed the verse-by-verse explication of Galatians in the Sunday School class, and I dutifully followed the class into the sanctuary each week for the main church service.
But then I noticed something disturbing.
The senior pastor, a man, would lead us in a weekly congregational prayer for all the men in seminary and all the men on the mission field, asking God to empower the future leaders of the Church. I found myself wondering, what about the women in seminary and the women on the mission field? At the time, I already had close female friends in both categories, not to mention I have a number of female missionaries in my family tree, including my grandmother.
Then I noticed something else. There were only men up front. Men preached. Men led and performed the music. Men prayed. Men served communion. Men took up the offering. Once I saw a woman stand up to share an update about the Children’s Ministry, and I was shocked when she stood on the ground in front of the pulpit while the man in the pulpit unhooked the microphone from its stand and handed it down to her. Why didn’t he just move over so she could speak on the raised stage where everyone could see her? I wondered. Her speech seemed disembodied because I could only see the slight movement of the top of her head as she spoke. I was disturbed to see a woman in ministry so publicly and literally positioned below a man in ministry.
That was the last time I attended that church.
To be continued in the next post.
The Christian world is full of controversy over what is right and wrong, what is healthy and not healthy, and even what is biblical and not biblical when it comes to sex, relationships, and how we both behave with and view our bodies.
Last week we looked at a sample of what’s being said about sexuality and relationships. Here are a few more to keep the conversation going.
How do you define healthy sexuality, inside or outside of healthy Christian marriage? Share your thoughts in the comment section. Discuss. Discern. Discover.
1) CNN-Is God Going to Hook Me Up Online? So does that mean the cliché is true, that some matches really are “made in heaven?” Does God, if you believe there is one, pre-select us to pair up as life partners, as “soul mates?”
2) CNN-It’s time to talk about sex at church–and marriage for clergy Are we not all sexual beings with the same capacity to love and be loved? Why can’t a man of God, be also a family man?…Even the bible says that the bishop should be “the husband of one wife” – see 1 Timothy 3:2.
3) Esther and Vashti: The Real Story Technically speaking, it is biblical for a woman to be sold by her father to pay off debt (Exodus 21:7), biblical for her to be forced to marry her rapist (Exodus 22:16-17), biblical for her to remain silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35), biblical for her to cover her head (1 Corinthians 11:6), and biblical for her to be one of many wives (Deuteronomy 21:15-17). With this in mind, I don’t know anyone who is actually advocating a return to biblical womanhood.
4) Lingering in That Aisle Like it or not, our sexuality connects us to other people and to God. Even if that other person is our pharmacist, local Target employee, or gynecologist who asks if we need to be screened for STD’s. No matter what time period, there’s gonna be blood and semen and breath.
5) Getting to the Root of Female Masturbation Whether or not masturbation is a categorical sin, it is certainly something that produces shame in Angela and Jasmine—shame from which they seek deliverance. And if masturbation is often about more than pleasure—if it’s at root about intimacy and healthy attachment—I believe the Christian community can help women like Angela and Jasmine break free.
6) Truth, Authority and Roles I suspect that many people, including many Christians, prefer hierarchy to truth because hierarchy makes things more orderly, controlled and predictable. Authority-as-truth can be messy. But anything else is a form of idolatry (or at least an opening to idolatry) because God and truth are inseparable. To prefer power to truth is always wrong.
7) But He (or She) Isn’t a Virgin As Christians, one area that our narrow perspective has negatively affected has been the topic of sexual purity. Inarguably, sexual purity is a very important thing. God would not have mentioned it time and time again throughout Scriptures if that were not so. He knows the pain and devastation that “sex done wrong” can cause in both short-term and long-term relationships. Yet we as Christians must remember that though it is an important piece to the puzzle of a flourishing marriage, it is by no means the most important factor.
8) The Trouble with Ed Young’s Rooftop Sexperiment In short, if there were more talk about sex elsewhere in the church, perhaps in the privacy of our communities and classrooms, we might get away with a good deal less of it from our pulpits and our publishing houses. Until then, the message will continue to get drowned out amidst the bombardment of infotainment that our evangelical world suffers from. In other words, if the message is not getting through, we might think about changing the messenger and method. Otherwise, the sensationalistic path of least resistance inevitably comes to the fore.
The Christian world is full of controversy over what is right and wrong, what is healthy and not healthy, and even what is biblical and not biblical when it comes to sex, relationships, and how we both behave with and view our bodies. Here are some current commentaries on sexuality and marriage for today’s culture. How do you define healthy sexuality, inside or outside of healthy Christian marriage? Share your thoughts in the comment section.
1) Real Marriage, Mark Driscoll‘s new book on marriage and sex
Top of My “Don’t Read” List: What we need are real people in our lives. Real family members. Real friends. Real brothers and sisters. Real pastors. Real churches. Real neighbors. Who will tell us and show us what real life is like. And actually walk beside us in it. Not hand us a juicy book. Furthermore, we need people who are courageous enough to refuse to pander to our personal preoccupations and our culture’s obsession with sex, even within marriage. We need people to help us discern what is and what is not an appropriate topic for public conversation among followers of Christ.
RELEVANT Magazine’s Review: One thing the Driscolls do well is drag the issue of sex out into the harsh light of discussion. The topics they address are being asked in our culture and in the Church (albeit behind closed doors). Like it or not, Real Marriage removes the option to pretend sex isn’t an issue….Real Marriage lacks a model of human sexuality that incorporates both the first Adam and the second. Instead of a clear picture of healthy human sexuality, Real Marriage mostly offers us unfair assumptions, over-generalizations and unhelpful stereotypes.
2) Is Premarital Sex Okay for Millennials?: I don’t think the human body is meant to abstain from sex this long (physiologically or spiritually). The question, I believe, is how do we as a church help young adults? Do we begin forming a localized institution of e-harmony and help people get married younger (and help deal with the problems of young married couples)? Or do we disavow our stance on premarital sex? What can the church do to help people find ideal living in non-ideal times? Read my response here.
3) Is Premarital Sex Okay?: God has answered this question in his Word. And the answer does not change just because our culture does. Sex outside of and before marriage is sin. It is a stench in the nostrils of a holy God.
4) Adventures of a Bra-wearing Woman: But this blog wouldn’t be complete without some comments about God. What does He think about my newfound lingerie that cost a small fortune?…I think about Song of Songs 7:3 : “Your breasts are like fawns; twins of a gazelle.” Bras are a way to care for my fawns.
5) In which [love looks like] a real marriage: So this is what we do, we make each other better at being ourselves, better at being like Jesus, we slow-dance, my head on your heart, your breath in my hair, your hands on my wider-than-they-used-to-be hips, our feet slower perhaps because we’re moving together.
6) Divorce fears widespread among young couples: Roughly 67 percent of the interviewees expressed concern about divorce. Most frequently mentioned was a desire to “do it right” and marry only once, to the ideal partner, leading some to view cohabitation as a “test-drive” before making “the ultimate commitment.” The belief that marriage was difficult to exit was mentioned nearly as frequently, with examples of how divorce caused emotional pain, social embarrassment, child custody concerns, and legal and financial problems.
The world is full of opinions. Share yours in the comment box below.
Blogger Mike Friesen wrote a recent post entitled “Is Premarital Sex Okay For Millenials?”
I was taught growing up that premarital sex is bad. In fact, the environment that I was in would shame me if I was involved in any form of sexual idolatry. However, because of my love for the Bible and the beauty that God created in sexual oneness, I agree that it is absolutely best to wait for marriage. Read the rest here.
As a proponent of healthy body theology (and by extension healthy sexuality), I wrestle with issues like this all the time. I think one issue that clouds the discussion is the tendency for Christians to approach issues with very black-and-white theology, which I just don’t think is helpful anymore.
Rather than asking the question “Is premarital sex okay,” might not a better question be “How do single Christians express their sexuality in a healthy way?” Secondly, how does the Church guide and advise on such issues? I think it’s much more helpful overall to teach people to make responsible, adult decisions about how to experience life, whether it’s going to a bar or club to unwind with friends and meet new ones, participating in Christian communities, engaging in social justice issues, pursuing higher schooling, taking parenting classes, having sex as a single person, discerning a vocation, making wise money investments, etc.
Life is full of choices, not just about sex but about everything. There are so many things we 18- to 35-year-olds need guidance about, and without the church helping to shape youth into wise and discerning young adults, we are going to keep circling around, asking the wrong questions, and drawing unhelpful boundaries that do not allow for the “new thing springing up” and the very active movement of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives.
I’m curious, for all the “waiters” out there, how do you/did you experience “waiting” for sex? Do you see more sexual repression or healthy waiting? For those of you who waited/are waiting, how did you/do you express your sexuality in a healthy way in the meantime? For those of you who didn’t wait, do you regret your choices now? Why or why not? Leave your thoughts in the comment box below, or join Mike Friesen’s discussion.
Is body theology foundational? Is this concept–the way I define and understand it–part of the rock bed of the Christian faith? If Christ is the cornerstone, then is Christ set in body theology?
As I began developing my concept of body theology a few years ago, I was presented with this question and began to ask myself just how much of the Christian faith is wrapped up in my definition of body theology. I came up with four categories: sexuality/physicality, community, media literacy, and service. The more I studied and explored the concept of body theology and the messages of our culture, the more convinced I became that we must first understand ourselves as physical/sexual/worthy beings before we can engage in healthy community, media literacy, and service because everything flows from the core issue of where our identity lies.
Our identity is the source from which we conceptualize everything we believe, from which we make choices to act or react, and through which we relate to God, ourselves, each other, and the world around us.
The issue of sexuality/physicality must be dealt with first because it is the biggest and deepest lie; it is the lens that must change first or it will color the way we understand all the other issues. While it is true that identity can only be discovered in community, in many cases unhealthy messages about our identity have already been internalized and are, thus, already being perpetuated in our communities. Before we can change the community identity, we have to exchange God’s truth for these lies about our bodies. Only then can we engage in community, culture, and service in a healthy way.
So, is body theology foundational? Christ of necessity must be set in body theology precisely because God entered the world in human form–as a body! Christ cannot be set solely in any theoretical or spiritual foundation because that negates the very meaning and purpose of the incarnation: God incarnate; God dwelling among us in the flesh!
This is the foundation of body theology: our bodies matter because God used BODY to create us, to relate to us, and to redeem us.
In this context we find our true identity in Christ. It is our human response to the incarnation of Christ to accept ourselves as the holistic bodyselves we were created to be. Only then, through this identity in Christ, can we begin to develop a healthy theology of bodily sexuality, bodily community, bodily cultural discernment, and bodily service.
One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is the tendency for people to return to a focus on the Incarnation, the act of God becoming flesh. Throughout the rest of the year, it is easy to forget the very tangible physicality of Jesus and put too much emphasis on the spiritual side. Now, I think the intangible side of our lives is incredibly important (see my spirituality blog here), but we are left floating in space without the solidity of body theology to help ground us. So, here are some great thoughts on the Incarnation I’ve run across during the last few weeks. Let’s try to keep these insights close by as we journey into 2012 together. Enjoy!
#1 Jan Johnson – December 2011 Wisbits
The incarnation of God in humanity (advent) reveals the beauty and humility of our God who likes to just plain be with us.
#2 Steve Knight – Incarnational or Missional?
The idea of incarnation is central to the missional shift in the Church and in Christianity. “The risk of incarnation,” as Palmer puts it, is one very beautiful (and biblical) way of describing the invitation we have been given — to join God in the renewal of all things, to participate in the dream of God, to be a part of what God is doing in the world.
#3 Bruce Epperly – Parenting the Divine: A Christmas Mediation
As an early Christian leader proclaimed, the glory of God is a person fully alive. In the incarnation, God was fully alive in the call and response which enlivened Mary, Joseph, and their wee child. They responded to God’s unexpected movements in their lives – bringing forth wonders that pushed them beyond their comfort zones to become partners in God’s holy adventure. They became fully alive, contributing to the unique divine presence in Jesus, by their responses to their angelic visitors.
#4 Ron Cole – Christmas…a revolution birthed in pain
But in the midst, if you really listen humanity groans…for something to be birthed beyond anything we can imagine. Revolutions are birthed in the midst of pain. Jesus’ birth is about the birth of a revolution. It is about a revolution to re-write the narative that would finally recaputure the imagination of humanity.
#5 Chaplain Mike – David Lose on “The Absurdity of Christmas”
He then chronicles several reasons why people find it hard to believe the Christmas story. First, the four Gospels themselves don’t set forth a unified, consistent account of Jesus’ birth. But beyond that sort of Enlightenment style criticism of the text, earlier skeptics found the concept of Incarnation fantastic, even unseemly. As far back as the second century, gnostics like Marcion found Jesus’ full humanity a difficult concept to square with their idea of God. Apologists like Tertullian responded by saying things like, “You repudiate such veneration of nature, do you, but how were you born?” In other words, if God is put off by such things as the messy birth of a baby, what makes us think he cares about real people at all?
#6 Bruce Epperly – Mary, Joseph and Mysticism
God is not aloof, but present in cells, souls, and communities. A one-dimensional faith – defining everything according the tenets of the modern world view – robs life of beauty, wonder, and amazement. The incarnation raises all life to revelation; each moment – even tragic moments – as a potential theophany. Sleepers awake! God is with us!
#7 Chaplain Mike – Frederick Beuchner: “Christmas Itself Is by Grace”
The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space, time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God…who for us and for our salvation,” as the Nicene Creed puts it, “came down from heaven.”