Monthly Archives: June 2013
Gender-Inclusive Language; Gender-Inclusive God (Part 2)
From the archives: originally posted January 18th and 19th, 2012
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.”
(Confused? Here’s a helpful guide on gender-inclusive language.)
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.
Gender-Inclusive Language; Gender-Inclusive God (Part 1)
From the archives: originally posted January 16th and 17th, 2012
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.
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.
Guest Post Series: Five Questions on…Cultures (with Kristi)
with Kristi Rice
1) Describe your experience in other cultures and the attitude toward/relationship to body image you observed there.
2) How has that relationship/attitude affected the way you think about your body and/or your self-image?I find that in one sense I am more conscious of my body because of the frequent comments from friends or strangers about my body. If I have been away for more than a week, people who I greet on the street are likely to make an assessment like, “You’ve gained weight! Must have been a good trip.” Or “Did you get sick? You’ve lost weight.” Often, we will hear both paradoxical perspectives in the same day, so we’ve learned to laugh and not take it seriously. Yet, the Congolese perspective has made me less self-conscious about my body size also. I have learned to appreciate being healthy more than having certain image. As white people living in an African country, we are often stared at, scrutinized, and touched simply because of the novelty of seeing a foreigner up close. So – it really helps to be comfortable with who you are!
3) How has that relationship/attitude affected the way you relate to others?I feel a greater sense of freedom in relating to others. Joining the Congolese in their culture of being frank and open about our bodies seems to help me be more “real” in other aspects of the relationship. Last year I shared with Therese, a Congolese friend, about my embarrassment and annoyance when people on the road would make comments (sometimes shouting comments) about my body as I was jogging. Therese laughed, shared her own even more humiliating experience, and told me I should not let it bother me. Those shared experiences are so encouraging and helpful!
4) How has that relationship/attitude affected your spiritual life?Living in Congo, where we are daily confronted with people who are hungry, sick, or desperately poor, has prompted me to be grateful for the simple, basic things in life, like being able to choose the food I eat or walk up the stairs. I am grateful that God made me the way he did…in my case, it is much more valuable for life in Congo that I don’t have food allergies than that my body were thin or beautiful. The nudge to be grateful as well as the openness about body image in Congo has enriched my sense of who I am as a creation and daughter of God. In spite all of my faults, sin, and stumbling, I know that I have nothing to be ashamed of.
5) What word of wisdom or encouragement would you offer other people on a similar journey?Reiterating what I have learned to appreciate about Congolese culture, take a risk with being open and honest –with yourself, with others, and with God. And be grateful … for whatever your body looks like and the way God created you to interact with the world.
What about you?
Have your own answers to these questions? Why not share them? Email your responses and a recent picture to bodytheologyblog at gmail dot com. You can also post anonymously if you wish.
The Spiritual Practice of Cooking
I’m not a cook. I don’t make food; I just heat it up. Or order it. I’m really good at ordering. My husband, on the other hand, is a very talented cook. He enjoys creating something delicious and wonderful out of a whole bunch of unassuming ingredients.
So what can we learn from cooking about the spiritual life?
Cooks are patient. They don’t rush through the process but take their time to make sure everything comes out as it should.
Cooks are creative. They look at seemingly incompatible ingredients and see delicious possibilities.
Cooks are collaborative. Ever watch the Food Network, or do a web search for a certain recipe or cooking method, or walk down the cooking isle in a bookstore? Cooks love to share and learn and *ahem* brag.
Cooks practice self-care. My mother always used to say while cooking, “Don’t muzzle the ox!” That was her blanket permission to eat whatever you want while you’re cooking in the name of taste-testing.
Cooks are diligent. They do what they do over and over and over again. They do it day after day, meal after meal. They are dedicated to their craft.
Cooks are intuitive. They test out new recipes, experiment with new ingredients, and use measurement systems like “dash” and “pinch.”
Cooks are brave. They share what they create, usually quite proudly. They enter contests, go on competitive reality TV shows, apply to work in restaurants, produce blogs or books or movies that chronicle their craft.
Cooks are caring. They provide daily sustenance for those they love the most, for themselves, and for the hungry around them. They bring cookies and cupcakes to the school bake sale. They serve in soup kitchens. They share their casseroles and pot roasts and pies at pot lucks.
If you’ve ever wanted to be patient or creative or collaborative or practicing self care or diligent or intuitive or brave or caring — well then, you should take your cue from cooks and practice spiritual cooking.
The Spiritual Practice of Smoking*
* HBTB does not promote or condone smoking. It is general knowledge that breathing nicotine into your lungs is toxic to your body. This post is designed to focus on what smokers can teach us about the spiritual life.
The Spiritual Practice of Smoking (while not really smoking)
- Smokers listen to their bodies well.
- Smokers know the importance of taking regular breaks from the daily grind.
- Smokers appreciate the calming effect of deep breathing, in and out, in and out.
- Smokers understand the camaraderie of taking breaks with other smokers, sharing the experience of smoking together.
- Smokers enjoy getting away from it all, going outside, and having a moment apart just to tend to their body’s needs.
Next time you find yourself rushing through yet another busy day with your head spinning and time flying by, take your cue from smokers:
take a moment to step outside
experience the community of shared interest and activity
tend to your body, your mind, and your spirit every day