Guest Post: God as Mother

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“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.  You must be compassionate (wombish), just as your Father is compassionate (wombish).     – Luke 6:35,36 NLT

Words often fail me.  This is quite the problem, as my vocation demands my use of them. I am a pastor and a religion professor and thus I am tasked daily with communicating God to my church family and to my students in ways that are both relevant and truthful.   I fail all too often.  I console myself with the fact that to speak of God is an utterly impossible task.  To borrow the words of Augustine, “If you can grasp it, it isn’t God. Let us rather make a devout confession of ignorance, instead of a brash profession of knowledge. Certainly it is great bliss to have a little touch or taste of God with the mind; but completely to grasp God, to comprehend God, is utterly impossible.”

This confession of inadequacy did little to comfort me, however, when my friend Hannah walked into my office a year ago and confronted me with the following statement, “Nothing said from the pulpit applies to me.  Everything is couched in masculine language. What are you going to do about it?” Although initially taken aback by her bluntness, I had to admit that her claim was all too true and that I would do my best to ensure that we would be more intentional and inclusive with our language in the future.

In the weeks and months that followed, I would find myself reflecting on my discussion with Hannah and imagining how our faith community might actively explore the feminine aspects of God. This reflection prompted my sharing of the following in a talk entitled, “Jesus the Compassionate,” on this past Mother’s Day:

  • The church tends to think of God in masculine terms because the scriptures were penned in a patriarchal context and because of Jesus’ oft-employed image of God as Father.  (To name only two factors).
  • God is, however, neither male nor female but is instead beyond gender.  (See Alister McGrath’s discussion of this in his text, Theology the Basics).
  • Jesus emphasized that compassion was the central quality of God and the central moral quality of a life lived unto God.  We see this in Luke 6:36.  It is also important to note that the word translated as compassion, “rachmin,” stems from the word “rechmen” which means “womb.” Therefore, Jesus is stating that if we want to be like our Father then we must be wombish like our Father is wombish.  (Thanks to Marcus Borg for introducing me to this concept in his book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time).
  • To be wombish is to be life giving, nourishing, protective and embracing. Again, this is how Jesus sees God.  God is not only Father, but also Mother! (See Jeremiah 31:20 and Exodus 34:6).
  • I believe Luke 6:36 is superior to its corresponding passage in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” as it is more in keeping with the overall tenor of Jesus’ teachings and ministry.  (Again, see above for Borg’s discussion on these two motifs as it relates to Jesus’ attack on the purity system of his day).

I understand that this language might be hard for some to accept, but I believe that it is necessary for the church to begin to employ metaphors and models that highlight the feminine aspects of God as well as the masculine. In doing so, we might better avoid the incomplete and often chauvinistic image of God that is portrayed in so many of our congregations.

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Faith and Feminism: The “F” Word

 

 

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Feminism.

Speak this word in a crowd of conservatives and you will instantly feel the tension rise.  You will see faces suddenly distort, and grown men shift uncomfortably in their chairs. I’ve never understood how a word I found to be so liberating and inspiring could cause such anger and discomfort among others.

If you read my recent post, “My Husband, My Companion,” you noticed that I identify myself as a Christian feminist.  For years I was told these two labels are a contradiction, and that if I tried to identify with these two labels, I would find my faith and my activism at odds with one another.

In my first couple of years as a Christian, I encountered some individuals who claimed women were subordinate to their male counterparts; implying that the differences in our sexual organs sets forth a hierarchal framework that I am to adhere to.

Then, as I began to explore the realm of feminism, I found some who felt religion had no place within the movement.  Because of the patriarch history, many feminists feel that this masculine side of faith disqualified the interconnection of the two.

After learning these cases against faith and feminism, I did find my faith and my activism at odds with one another.  The extremists for both sides were communicating for the entirety of each movement, claiming that there was no such label as a Christian feminist.

So then, who am I?

I was left asking myself this very question.  Instead of accepting the extremist perceptions of each movement and divorcing these two labels, I chose to search for further understanding.  I have found that many individuals who claim that Christianity and feminism are at complete odds with one another seem to have an incredible misunderstanding of themselves and each other.  I believe Dr. Helen Hunt stated it perfectly when she wrote:

“The more I thought about it, the more it became clear to me that religion and feminism are different expressions of the same impulse toward making life more just and whole.  When we cut the connection between spiritual values and values of social justice, we weaken both our vision and our power,” (Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance, xxiii).

I believe that we are doing ourselves a disservice if we try to sever our activism from our faith.  For me, faith and feminism are so interconnected that one simply cannot exist without the other.  Each movement propels me towards a further understanding of humanity.

If you have found yourself identifying with either of the extremes that I touched on, I invite you to join me as we further cover this interconnection of faith and feminism.  Many voices will be present, both male and female, covering topics such as historical Christian feminists, relevance of feminism in faith, Jesus the feminist, as well as personal testimonies of this interconnection.

My desire is that you, dear reader, will find further understanding of the two labels, Christian and feminist.  If, at the end of this series, you still believe in the separation of the two, my hope is that you will at least bestow grace upon those who believe in this “holy alliance.”

Writing Process Blog Tour

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Top bloggers always say that one of the keys to successful blogging is having blogging friends who serve as accountability partners.  These accountability partners are not there to keep you on the straight and narrow, but rather to encourage you in your craft.  I was lucky enough to find a blogging friend in Sam Land.  She helps push me when I just can’t seem to “land the plane,” and will always be the first to like my posts.  It’s nice to have someone like that in your corner!  If you haven’t heard of her, please go check her out here.  Sam asked me to participate in a writing process blog tour to tell others about how and why I write.  So here is my writing process!

1) What are you working on?

I’m about to kick off my next series which will discuss faith and feminism.  I’m quite excited to get this series started, even though it has already been delayed.  For me, my faith is so interconnected to my belief in feminism that one cannot exist without the other.  About a month ago, a friend referred me to an article telling Christian women that they are not to find a friend in feminism which has inspired this upcoming series.    It’s going to be a collaborative effort with a variety of voices discussing the relevance of feminism in Christianity, early Christian feminists, female disciples, and so forth.  It will begin next week, so be sure to come back and check it out!

2) How does your work differ from others in your genre?

At first glance, I probably fit into the genre of mommy blogger.  Yes, I am a mom.  And yes, you will read posts that talk about my daughter and motherhood, but please don’t think of me as just that.  I went through college detesting the traditional roles of womanhood.  But press the fast forward button on my life remote and here I am: a stay-at-home-mom.  I am a wife, I am a mom, and I am a feminist.  What you will find on my blog are posts covering these three roles in my life.  I know to some these three roles may seem at odds with one another, but I whole-heartedly believe that they can and do coexist.

3) Why do you write what you do?

I first began writing as a therapeutic avenue for myself.  I had just transitioned to being a stay-at-home-mom, and found myself lost in the world of postpartum depression.  I was struggling to remember who I was pre-baby, and blogging was a way to find my voice again.  As time went on, I continued to view my writing as therapeutic, but also began viewing my blog as a way to help others process the crazy aspects of life. Even though I sometimes write about controversial issues– such as the obsession of gender specific toys and egalitarian marriages– my desire is always to leave my readers encouraged and/or inspired.  My beliefs and opinions may differ from some of yours, but I do not wish to present myself in a way that makes others feel less-than.

4) How does your writing process work?

Just to preface, I constantly fail at my writing process due to extreme procrastination.  But, in an ideal world, this is how my writing process looks.  I typically listen to some podcasts to get inspiration.  If you haven’t heard of “Stuff Mom Never Told You” or “Virtue In the Wasteland,” do yourselves a favor and check them out.  Then, I take to the World Wide Web for some current events (we do not have satellite or cable in our household, so the closest thing we get to a TV news segment is Last Week Tonight on HBO Go).  I also have a myriad of books that I am always attempting to read while chasing after a toddler.  They cover topics I am currently interested in. For example: Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Half the Sky, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, are just a few that I am reading right now.  After reading and listening to a variety of authors and voices, I then sit down at my computer and see what comes to mind.  I try to post on a weekly basis, but as I’ve said before, procrastination is my Achilles heel!

So, there you have it! That is my writing process in a nutshell.  Make sure to check back in next week for the kick off to the series Faith and Feminism!

My Husband, My Companion

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As a Christian feminist, I often feel conflicted regarding how to view my husband.  As a feminist, I’m told to view my husband as my equal.  I believe whole-heartedly in this and I do view my husband as my equal. But I have found that among feminists, it is sometimes unpopular to praise your husband simply because of his gender.  So, I find myself reserved in communicating my admiration of him. On the other hand, I’m told by conservative Christians that I am to view my husband as my authority, my “head,” the protector of my fragile/weaker frame, and the ruler of our home.  So, for me to communicate that my respect for my husband exists outside of this hierarchal and patriarchal framework, I am deemed “not a good Christian wife”.  Thus, I’m left perplexed in how I should view him.

When I look at my marriage, I try not to view it through the lens of gender.

It is hard for me to type that statement because I do not believe the answer to gender inequality is to eliminate gender identity.  I do understand that it is difficult to determine what is male and what is female simply by looking at the surface of a person.  Our society is slowly learning that gender is determined by more than a person’s anatomical make-up.  Even though this difficulty exists, I believe that we will do ourselves a disservice if we try to eliminate gender identity all-together.  Within our gender identity lies more opportunity for diversity.

For some, acknowledging the differences in one another is negative; because the belief is that we are predisposed to ranking that which is different, thus creating a hierarchal system.  The claim is that some differences are good, some are bad, and some are better than others.  But, I believe these differences should exist solely in-and-of themselves.  I should be able to acknowledge that my husband is male and that I am female, and just let that be.  The fact that my husband is male does not make him superior to me, just as I am not superior to him simply because I am female. The same can be said of all differences.

With that being said, in my marriage, I do not believe our gender to be pertinent.  While, yes, the fact that my husband is male makes up a part of who he is, the overall enjoyment I receive from his personhood goes so far beyond his gender identity.

I believe I should be able to verbally communicate my love and admiration for him with the understanding that this exists outside of his identity as a male.  For me to withhold my praise and admiration simply because of his gender would mean that I, myself, am partaking in gender injustice.  Not to mention that I would be missing out on celebrating the person my husband is.

In the same way, I should be able to communicate that my respect for my husband can and does exist outside of the fact that he is male.  This does not make me a less-than-ideal Christian wife.  I believe that this actually makes me a better Christian wife, because my respect for my husband is not out of obligation or solely founded upon his gender identity.  My respect for my husband stems from who he is on the inside, which I believe to be Christ-like.

When I look at my husband, I view him through the lens of companionship.  What I see in him is the friendship we have cultivated. I see the daughter we co-parent.  I see the son who will soon join our family.  I see what sets fire to his bones.  I see what causes a frown on his brow.  I see the memories he has shared with me from his childhood.  I see the family that has helped create the person he is today.  I see him, Jonathan; the entirety of his personhood.  Not simply Jonathan, who is male, but Jonathan who is my husband, and my companion.