I'm taking a class at Fordham right now called History of Christian Spirituality, from the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries. Four hundred years is a lot of time to cover in a semester. Still, I love this class. Until we arrived, this week, at Feminism. I was pretty fired-up from the last unit, on liberation theology. I can totally get myself behind those guys in South American who put their lives on the line to fight for the rights of the impoverished. But an argument over whether God was or is male or female puts me to sleep every time.
God people, come on.
I can put an end to this discussion here and now, for all time.
If God is in you and you are a man and God is in me and I am a woman, then God is both.
Or wait, hold on. Maybe God is neither ... ?
If I am a woman who has both "masculine" and "feminine" traits, then God probably has characteristics of both, too.
Of course, once we start down this rabbit hole, we're in big trouble ... if God is in the grasshopper, is God a grasshopper?
The problem, of course, is that we only have us as our reference point. All we know is male and female. We don't have deeper language or a wider range of experience when it comes to gender, so we use what we have and we fall woefully short.
The beauty and the enormousness and the everything-ness of God, to my small and barely-trained mind, is kind of impossible to contain in the limited-language and one-sided experience we humans have. Arguments over whether God is a man or a woman seem absurd and wasteful. I get that women are angry about all the Him and He in prayers and Scripture, and I get that women are angry about the Catholic Church; I spent 18 years of my life going to Catholic Church, but I'm not angry.
The Bible is filled with stories of badass women: Deborah, Esther, Ruth, Mary, Hannah, Tabitha, Yael, Joanna. And there were plenty of others who were unnamed. If I need a female heroine, I can easily find one in there. If I need a story of a strong woman kicking some warrior ass, stopping a plague of locusts and getting home in time to put the kids to bed, it's in there. I'm not worried about a lack of powerful female role models in Christian history.
When I preach and when I choose prayers for Sunday morning, I change the Hes and the Hims to God. God is the word I use. A single proper noun, no pronouns necessary.
It's kind of funny because there was a time in my life when I was angry. I was mad about something having to do with women, but I can't really remember what it was anymore. I got sidetracked, away from being mad about women stuff and spent my life absolutely loving being a woman, having babies and breastfeeding them and watching them get bigger. Trying on different job hats and stretching the limits of what I thought was possible for me. I have always been curious about the male world, and, looking back now, I can easily see that I have sought to find inroads to the places where they gather, entirely out of curiosity.
When I was a kid I was fascinated by what my brother and his friends were doing. When I was in college, a school heavily dominated by Greek culture, I knew that sorority life wasn't for me. I became a "little sister" at a fraternity instead, and still adore many of those ATO boys to this day. Later came firefighting and now ministry. Totally male-dominated worlds.
I don't think that anger and righteousness are good propellers of change in this life. "Intimacy with difference fosters its accommodation," says Andrew Solomon in his fantastic book, Far From the Tree. Read it.
We know this already. The only way to come to understand someone who is different is to spend time in their company, to hear their story, to try to make sense of how they experience this world. We don't know any other way than man, woman; the argument over whether God is male or female is a moot point. And it's also the wrong question and a waste of time and energy.
Here are some of the right questions:
I don't understand your point of view, can you explain it to me?
Can you help me understand how it is that this makes sense to you?
How does God manifest in your life?
And, of course, my all-time favorite, beyond gender, beyond pronouns and straight to the heart of this life: I see that you are suffering; how can I help?
This way of being applies to far more than religion; it goes far beyond whether or not God has boobies. It cuts into all of the things that divide us as humans and asks that we learn how to stop tossing rocks long enough to build bridges.
Please, in your day today, build a bridge. And then invite someone over. Male, female, black white, republican, democrat, religious, agnostic, it doesn't matter. Knock it off with the words and focus on the humanity, focus on what is working, focus on the love of God that pervades everything, and I mean everything. God is so far above and beyond male and female that it's impossible for us little humans to get it. Just take care of each other, OK? Amen.