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Gender-Inclusive Language; Gender-Inclusive God (Part 2)

From the archives: originally posted January 18th and 19th, 2012

Read Part 1.

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.

 

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Forward Friday – A Series

Body theology is the study of God in relation to our bodies. But no study is complete if it is not paired with practice.  It’s time to add a little action and weave in a little work with Forward Friday.

Every Friday, I’ll suggest one activity we can try to help keep us moving toward a healthy, holistic understanding of who we are as God’s uniquely designed bodyselves.  Try it out and leave a comment to share your experience.

Since we’ve been talking this week about gender-inclusive language, let’s put some of those ideas into practice this weekend.

Read a passage of scripture aloud, and swap out male pronouns for female ones (and vice versa).  Be sure to choose a passage that mentions people and God.  Read the passage several times, out loud, and allow yourself to be affected by the change in language. Ask God to help make you more mindful of how your language affects others and how others’ language affects you.  Allow the Holy Spirit to work through your intentional reading of scripture to move you forward toward a healthy, holistic body theology.

For women, notice the difference when reading yourself into the story of God so explicitly and allow God to speak to you and bring any healing you might experience as a result.

For men, notice the difference when having to do the extra mental work of reading yourself into the story of God implicitly and allow God to reveal any truth about the experience of the marginalized and perhaps challenge you to work for more freedom and equality among men and women in the world.

Here are two examples to help you get started.  Try any other passage as well and leave a comment to let me know what you tried.

Psalm 1

Blessed is the woman who does not walk in step with the wicked women or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on her law day and night.  She is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever she does prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked women will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous woman, but the way of the wicked woman leads to destruction.

The Parable of the Lost Daughter (Luke 15:11-32)

Jesus continued: “There was a woman who had two daughters. 12The younger one said to her mother, ‘Mother, give me my share of the estate.’ So she divided her property between them. Not long after that, the younger daughter got together all she had, set off for a distant country and there squandered her wealth in wild living. After she had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and she began to be in need. So she went and hired herself out to a citizen of that country, who sent her to her fields to feed pigs. She longed to fill her stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave her anything. When she came to her senses, she said, ‘How many of my mother’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my mother and say to her: Mother, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your daughter; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So she got up and went to her mother. But while she was still a long way off, her mother saw her and was filled with compassion for her; she ran to her daughter, threw her arms around her and kissed her. The daughter said to her, ‘Mother, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your daughter.’ “But the mother said to her servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on her. Put a ring on her finger and sandals on her feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this daughter of mine was dead and is alive again; she was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

“Meanwhile, the older daughter was in the field. When she came near the house, she heard music and dancing. So she called one of the servants and asked her what was going on. ‘Your sister has come,’ she replied, ‘and your mother has killed the fattened calf because she has her back safe and sound.’ The older daughter became angry and refused to go in. So her mother went out and pleaded with her. But she answered her mother, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this daughter of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for her!’ ‘My daughter,’ the mother said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this sister of yours was dead and is alive again; she was lost and is found.’”

Gender-Inclusive Language; Gender-Inclusive God–Part 4

Read part 1 here. Read part 2 here. Read part 3 here.

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 3

Read part 1 hereRead part 2 here.

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?

To be continued in the next post.

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