A Bumbling, Stumbling Attempt at a Theology of Gender.

Lots of smart people have said lots of smart things about the ways in which our views of ourselves mirror our views on God.  I am thinking, today, about gender.

My own developing views about God’s gender are not that different from my view of gender in people.  I think I am not alone in this.  And also, I am still figuring it all out.  As I try to explain where I am at, and where I am headed, I am sure I am going to say things in a way that might be offensive or incorrect.  I hope that you, reader, can chalk this up to ignorance on my part, and not malice.  I would very much appreciate corrections, suggestions, and counterpoints in the comments below.

The most literalistic readings of scripture within Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, are that God is male.  So is the first person he makes.  Femaleness comes next.  It is the single alternative to maleness, a revision on that basic theme.

This parallels the world view I grew up in about gender in general.  Maleness is better.  Femaleness is the alternative.  I am trying to stay away from using the words ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ because it seems like part of the whole idea was that our physical bodies always mirrored how we identified within.

And this was one of the first ironies I noticed in this whole affair, as I tried to work it out for myself.  The Christian world normally wanted to proclaim the existence of a soul, and the idea that there is more than just materialistic existence.  The non-Christian/secular world was generally more reductionistic-materialistic.  Yet suddenly, the Christians were saying, “No, the physical aspects of the body is all that there is.  If you have a penis you are fully and totally male.  If you have a vagina you are female.  All the way through.”  Meanwhile, the secular world was proclaiming that their is this non-material part of us, that might identify in a way that is not consistent with our biology.

This irony was only the first thing for me.  I think what happened next was the recognition that I and so many others had, as we began to recognize that literalistic understandings fall apart pretty quickly.  God, is of course, not physically male.  God is not embodied.

People can try and suggest that it is not about the physical.  They can try and suggest that there are differences in personality between men and women.  But here we return to the irony listed above.  Because now, the question to be answered becomes, “Well, what happens when that personality doesn’t match up with the biology of a person?”

Just as the first thoughts might seem pretty simple, “God is male.”  The first pages of the bible seem pretty straight forward to.  Because at first, as suggested above, God seems to make Adam first, in his image, and then Eve from Adam’s rib.  But a couple pages in, there is a director’s cut on the creation account.  And it seems that both Adam and Eve are made in God’s image.   God, it seems, has a feminine side.

Countless images in the bible build this case, comparing the creator to all manner of feminine images.  And this only stands to reason.  He is able to be everything good, all at once.   It seems like most people, most of the time, want to find themselves somewhere along the spectrum between 100% masculine and 100% feminine.  Some people move to different places over time.   But maybe this is the fundamental difference between God and humans.  God is everywhere on that spectrum at once.  Us little people, we, at any given time, are only occupying one little spot.


What’s the Going Exchange Rate for a Dying God?

There is this idea that Jesus’ death bought something: that he was a unique currency, only ever redeemable once.

There is a part of me that recently wanted to throw this idea away far away from me.  And in some ways, I had good reasons.  There are some questionable ethical things happening, if this is how it worked.  It seemed rather suspicious than American, Evangelical Christianity would become rather obsessed with a financial-economic view of what Jesus was doing.

Today, I am holding this idea outward, with an open hand.   Perhaps it will stay.  Perhaps not.  I see some language in the bible that suggests it.  I see some value at it.  I can be a bit fickle.  Perhaps I will be ready to throw it away, again, tomorrow.

But the thing that got me thinking about all this was a podcast I was listening to this morning.  Michael Gungor, one of my heroes, started talking about transactional relationships with God.  I assumed what he said next was going to relate to Jesus’ death.

But he went a whole different direction.  He was talking about the deals we make with God.   ‘God please do this for me.’  ‘God, if you do x, I will do y’, ‘God I need…’  Gungor goes on to suggest that the alternative foundation for connecting with God is embodied in Mother Theresa’s often-quoted description of her prayer life: she states that she listens to God listening to her.  (Forgive the vast oversimplification of Mother Theresa’s words; it is worth looking up.)

I am thinking that maybe there is a connection between seeing Jesus’ death as transactional and seeing our relationship with him as transactional.  On a broader level, I know that some of my own relationships with other people have been ones where we abided in a love for each other, like Mother Theresa.  Others have been built around mutual exchanges and need.

Most, of course, are somewhere between these two extremes.  But the older I get, the more sure I am: I would rather engage in loving than exchanging stuff.




God the Mother

God reached into the dirt, and kissed it.  And suddenly, it was alive!

That first human was made in the image of God.  It seems that it came with the breath itself.

I have been thinking about how Eve was made from Adam’s rib.  And wondering how God’s image works through all of this.

It could be that God’s image was just copied into both of them.

But given all the stuff that is said about sex and marriage, and it seems like maybe a separate part of his image ends up in both of them.  God’s image isn’t copied, it is broken in two, and Adam and Eve each get a part.

(This seems to connect with the second creation account, that occurs later in Genesis.)

Here’s the pretty amazing thing about this possibility:

It puts to bed all the talk about God as a ‘he.’  It locates the divine in the feminine and the masculine.

God the father and mother!  So much more robust and liberating then just choosing one or the other.  A pretty cool thing.



This torrent comes crashing down,

A wild thing from up so high.

Niagra would look with awe at this fall.


Here, below.

Mostly we gather on the shore.

And the holy men in their hip waders bring the little cups.

They grimace as they fill them and bring them back to us.

The spray and the run off have soaked them.

They walk slowly.  Slowly to us.  

Apostles and apprentices towel them off solemnly.

There are so many of us here now.

We wait.  And the water is so much of everything.

But the cup is emptied so soon.


I do not listen to them as I step into the water.

I discard my clothes and I do not care that they are watching.
I stand beneath the waterfall with my arms stretched out wide.

They make a wide space for me,

As they continue their conveyance to their followers,

Back and forth, back and forth.

My Advent

Everybody tells me that I am supposed to get excited for Christmas.

And really, there are so many possible entry points.   I could be all consumeristic and get excited about the sales.  I could take the nostalgic route and listen to the songs.  There is a brotherhood of rather dramatic folks who bond over cynicism around the holiday.  There are stories about the manger, connections to unwed mothers.   Apparently I could get upset about some sort-of war on Christmas, or I could join the larger group of people getting upset about the fact that people are claiming that their is a war on Christmas.  I could take the theological route, or the charitable one…

And none of it is speaking to me, this year.  I am not even passionate about being grinchy this year.   Charlie Brown’s wailings about the real meaning of Christmas…  These are no more interesting to me, right now, than a man-child-elf guy running around with a bag of spaghetti.


I was pondering, and reading, and looking, though, and then I began to think about some things that I already new:

Once, the world had been silent for centuries.

There were these people who felt like they had been chosen by God.  They told these stories, where he entered into their lives.   They practiced these traditions.  They did the things that they had been told to do.

They were conquered and beaten, occupied.  The collection of holy stories that they revered must have begun to seem stale.  Generation followed generation into the grave.

The promises of deliverance must have seemed so hollow.

Then he came and turned everything upside down, entering the world in this new way that changed everything.

It is not this story, by itself, that speaks to me, this year.  It has before.  Maybe it does for you.  If so?  That’s great.

So often when I think about the ancient Isrealites, I realize that their story is my story.  This is no exception.

There are ways that I feel like my world has been silent for centuries.

Though I have felt chosen by God, sometimes it feels like all I have is these stories.  I feel myself growing more distant from God’s entrance into my life.  I feel myself growing more desperate for him to come into my world in some new way.

And so this is where Advent is for me, now.  This hope that God that invades the places we think he has forgotten about.  This knowledge that he comes in these new, backwards ways that cause us to completely see him anew.

I know that there is this hope that Jesus will re-enter the cosmic world outside of us; I know that people link his truimphant return to his initial entry into the world.

But right now?  Right now, the thing I feel ready for is this quiet entry into my own inner world.  That is where advent is for me, this year.

What about you?

My Internal Landscape

Sometimes, you can stare at things for a long time, and suddenly realize that some hidden image has been sitting patiently and waiting for you to notice it.  Some of Salvadore Dali’s art is this way.  And also lots of optical illusions.  And they say that those annoying 3-d images, if you squint long enough, that a picture pops out of them eventually, too.  (For the record, I am not sure I believe in that last one.  It has never ever worked for me.)


My internal landscape is like this.  Things sit and wait for me to discover them.  Sometimes, it is a connection I never saw before.  Other times it is a feeling I was busy pretending I didn’t have…  Joy at something sad, sadness at something happy, guilt at something I earned.

I recently had this kind-of realization about my pain.  I was quite shocked to discover that I was upset at others when they did not take responsibility for fixing my hurt.  I told myself what I wanted was empathy from the people who love me.  Because asking for empathy from the people who love me is a pretty reasonable request.  In fact, if somebody didn’t have empathy for me, it would be fair to ask if they loved me at all.

In fact, what I have wanted is something much more.  I wanted others to make it thier own mission to fix me.  As I realized this, I realized something else, kind of interesting:  apparently, to some part of me, a pain-free Jeff is a good Jeff…  even a fixed Jeff.

As I came to this understanding, I realized something about my feelings.  And also, I think, I realized something about your feelings.  (Perhaps you’re a bit wiser than me and have already worked this out.)

It’s not pleasant to experience pain: sadness, mourning, depression.  There is a reason that these are all connected with a condition they call the dark night of the soul.

Yet…  they have a place.

They are guides.   Emotions, perhaps especially the unpleasant ones, are direct lines to our inner landscape.  There is no other way, I think, to get a status report from the very deepest part of us.

If others had some magic word that would take my pain away, they would be robbing me of something so important.  As I spent all this time wishing the pain away, I could have been exploring it, and I think I would have been made better, and wiser because of it.

Today is Thanksgiving.  And so I guess the thing I am saying is that I am going to work on thanfullness for the pain.


There is so much more that ought to be said here, and I think I will be posting some of that in the near future.  But I feel like I ought to follow up with a caveat.

Sometimes depression, sadness, and mourning want to become the captain of the ship.  These things don’t harm us directly; they are like an immune deficiency, that paves the way for other things which very much do hurt us. Prayer, Support from friends and professionals, and medication are incredibly important methods to recover this balance, at the times that feelings want to stage a mutiny and become the captain of our ship.


Just a Cow, Chewing on Peace

Sometimes, I ponder on a thing and I start to make some headway, at least in my own mind.  Other times, though, I start to think on a thing, and what I realize first is how utterly clueless I am about the topic.

I have been thinking on peace, lately.  I filled with awe at what a bewildering topic this is.

This act of writing is an attempt to bring some order to my chaotically arrayed thoughts on the topic.  I could be wrong, in what I am writing here.  God knows I have lots to learn.  I hope you’ll drop a comment and throw some ideas around, and help me to make a little more sense about this stuff.

I think the place I want to begin is with a distinction between two different modes of peace.  Those modes are Shalom, or Godly peace, and Chill, or human peace.

Before I go very far in defining those two, I am going to suggest another distinction.  This is based on where peace lives.  Call them  internal peace and external peace.

I would like to suggest that man’s peace inevitably favors one habitat for peace or the other.   Protestors spend a lot of time and energy working for an external peace.  Mindfulness types seek after an internal peace.

Often times, there is not an explicit and obvious conflict that is going on at the surface level.  Between the protestors and the mindfulness types.  There are no rumbles between the occupy-ers and the meditate-ors.  One of the reasons for this, maybe, is that there is a fine line between avoiding conflict and avoiding violence.  I suspect we spend too much time and energy running away from all manner of conflict out of a fear that we engage in violence.  I think we ought to follow the example of Ghandi, Jesus, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela (at least in the second half of his life.)  and be willing to risk conflict.

I do think that for so may people, though, where you are going to focus your energy in working for peace is incredibly important.  A person who fights for peace in the outside world would be tempted to act dismissive, I think, toward some one who is working only on the internal.  Similarly, imagine a monk.  Feel free to choose his religion.   It seems that often, he might be dismissive toward somebody working at changing laws, fighting for human rights.

When I began writing this, the thing I was thinking about was that the difference between Shalom and Chill is that Shalom recognizes that peace is contagious.  Internal peace will spread to the external.  And external peace will spread to the internal.  Because, ultimately the world above is the world below; the world within us is the world outside of us.

But as I began writing that paragraph above, the one that began “often times” I had this realization.  I didn’t try to set this up.  I didn’t, in fact, even see this coming.   I found myself looking for examples of people who were unafraid of conflict though they resisted the urge to practice violence.  As you read, I came up with Ghandi, Jesus, Dr. King, Nelson Mandela.  The thing I am struck by, now, that I did not see coming is this: each of them had a profoundly spiritual bent to their practice of peace.

It seems to me then, that to practice Shalom is not only about a conviction that internal peace and external peace are opposite sides of the same coin.  Maybe more importantly, to practice Shalom is to be willing to navigate the difficult path separating conflict from violence.  It is to realize that peace with out conflict is impotence, and peace done with violence is self-defeating.

Lurking somewhere in the midst of all these thoughts is this picture I have in my heart about the Kingdom of Heaven.  I think the Kingdom of Heaven bursts out in these places where we engage in conflict with out violence, somewhere between the boundary of the internal and external.  I think I am going to be better able to articulate this if I spend some time with all these thoughts, chew them up, maybe even swallow them and regurgitate them back up.  So, I, a cow chewing his (err, her) cud, am going to end here, and leave you with that image.