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.

 

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It’s about to get awkward up in here.

This is going to get awkward.  But hopefully, along the way, it will be interesting, too.

(By the way, I think that sentence above is pretty much my lifetime motto.)

When I tell the kids that their mom and I are going out on a date, we get inevitable groans and complaints.  Because I have an inner seven year old who likes to provoke, sometimes I promise the kids that I will be sure to kiss their mother repeatedly, while we are out.  Sometimes I demonstrate in front of them.  Inevitably, louder groans of annoyance, disgust, and irritation.

The awkward irony here is that the kids we have created: they are living proof of our passion for each other.  If it were not for our sexuality they would not be here.  I am not unsympathetic to their position: to recognize that I am living proof of my own mom’s and dad sexuality is pretty gross stuff.  But nonetheles, their is something self-contradictory in complaining about your parent’s attraction to each other.

Certain thinkers, who can seem almost as awkward as me, right now, equate eros, and sexuality with a kind-of creation.  It sometimes even gets attributed to God “him”self, this eros.  God running around creating the world, and it’s not different than a couple making love and making a baby.

It’s not different.  Except for the fact that it is exactly the opposite.  Because, of course, we just start the life making process.  We are not actually doing the creating: the fusion of sperm and egg, the crazy mitosis that occurs as the single cell becomes a zygote, then a fetus, then a little tiny person… we are pretty much out of the loop on that.  Also, God does the whole thing with out even a partner.  Except for the trinity.  Except for the fact that one third of the trinity is his son.

This all gets very confusing.  Is the Holy Spirit and God the Father a bit like a man and a women?  Is Jesus a bit like the child made through this whole affair?  Yes.  It is exactly like that.  Except for the part where it is exactly the opposite.  For example, Jesus is also uncreated and was around since the beginning of time.

Sex, of course, does not always yield a baby.  But a powerful romantic relationship?  It is always an act of creation.  Something is being built in the space between two people, and then it is built up and around them.  Not only the material of a life, but also, a way of understanding the universe: a way of being.  When two people are in love, they create a new understanding, together, of how to be the individuals that they were meant to be.

Eros, then, is a creative energy.  One of those crazy places that God invites us to co-create.  This is primal, powerful stuff.  Of course there are so many ways it all goes so terribly wrong.  I don’t know about you, but I am a mess.  Broken in all sorts of ways.  The possibility of my mistakes writ large is daunting.  No wonder so many of us struggle with intimacy!

But there is something good within us.  A reflection of God himself.  The possibility of bringing that out…  That is pretty awesome.

Creationist? Atheist? What’s the Alternative?

The 70’s cheese fest, Happy Days, featured the Malaki brothers. I think they played football or something. (Revision: Further research leads to the conclusion it was a demolition derby, as the graphic below demonstrates) Because everybody feared the dreaded “Malaki Crunch.”
We are all moderates in some things and to some people. And so we all live in fear of a sort of Malaki crunch. The extremes can start to look like brothers. And they sometimes want to squish us between the intensity of their own views.
malachicrunch
An arena I frequently find myself trying to avoid a crunch between the extremes is on the question of just what the creation account in the book of Genesis means.
Lets call one of the brothers Larry Literalist Malaki. He wants to crunch me up because he is bothered that I am not taking the same portion of the bible literally as he is. Larry will claim he takes the whole bible literally. But he only does on certain hot-button issues, in certain stories.
And let’s call the other brother Sam the Secular Humanist Malaki. Sam might make a paternizing attempt at valuing the poetry of the bible. He doesn’t see anything like truth in it, though.

So here I am. In the middle. Hoping to out maneveur them both. There are some things I know. One is that sometimes we trivialize the truth by making it literally true only once. If we started hunting around for the original, individual worm eaten by the actual and literal early bird, we will have done more than missed the point. We will have cheapened the value of the statement, “The Early Bird Catches the Worm.”
Here in the middle, I believe that God unraveled the universe according to scientific laws. I believe the account that scientists give us about the order and reason these things happen is roughly correct. I believe they are not far from what the bible tells us.
There are a large number of reasons to think that the universe was custom designed to give rise to life. This is one understanding of what scientists call the anthropic principle.
I believe God knew that life would arise. I believe God watched the evolutionary principles he put in place. I think it’s a fool’s errand to wonder if he intervened in this process. God’s intervention is like our intervention. It might not even make any sense to apply this question, “Did God intervene?” After all, He is the ground and center of existence.
I believe that in some goofy apes, slowly losing their hair, he saw the lovely children he had been waiting for. His image resided in these creatures in some profound and special way. The big bang itself had erupted so that this would happen.
These protohumans might have lived in a way that is nearly incomprehensible to us. Niether civilized nor animalistic. For a time, they did live in this edenic way.
Was there only two? A man and a women? Maybe. Maybe not. I am not sure that it matters.
What is certain is that these almost humans, they weren’t living between civilized and wild. They were living in something else, entirely. Where we are defined by head knowledge and doubt, they were ruled by heart knowledge and faith.
This living had to be by choice, or it would be meaningless. There needed to be some sort of escape hatch, some veto power over God’s dominion. Without this, Adam and Eve would have been hardly different than the animals they had sprung up from.
And they took it. They rejected God. They walked into the world as it is now, they left the world that was meant to be.
And I have done this and you have done this too.

The meaning of our lives is to return to the culmination of what God was leading them to. We are meant to return to the Garden of Eden. This is not a step backwards, a starting over. Adam and Eve were headed in some direction before this diversion. And we are guided ahead, to that same destination that they were headed for.

In the beginnning…

The recto of Rylands Library Papyrus P52 from ...
Image via Wikipedia

In my last post, I began to look at the original Greek at the beginning of the gospel of John.  What I found was that we translate a certain term as “word” but the original term, “logos”, is far more complex that that.  Further, John has a much easier term right at his fingertips.  If he had wanted to express the idea that Jesus was an ordinary word, a mere utterance, he would not have used the word “logos” at all.

A second portion of the more robust definition of “logos” is that it implies a principle.   This makes some sense, the idea that God was creating through Jesus at the very beginning of time if part of Jesus’ very nature is as a redemptive principle.

I initially wrote, in that paragraph above, that Jesus is a creative, not redemptive principle.  But the word “redemptive” actually fits the “orginal” creation, way back in Genesis, too.  Check it out:

People way smarter than me say that the opening lines of the bible have been oversimplified.   Most of the time, it gets rendered as “In the beginning, God…”   Hebrew-fluent people tell me that the NRSV is more accurate in this regard.  It says “When God began creating, The Earth was with out form and void.”

The implication is that the Earth was more-or-less sitting around, a lifeless husk, until God came around and started making the Garden and Adam.  I don’t believe that this necessarily entails that God had no part in the creation of the original lifeless husk.  The bible doesn’t give us a play-by-play of the creation of the angels, either.  I believe that God created (or set into motion the forces that would eventually create) tghe lifeless husk, and then, essentially, set it aside.   A bit like how a TV cookie might make a glaze first, then put the bowl aside until all the other ingredients are cruising along.

One thing compelling about this vision of things is the idea that it squares nicely with the accounts scientists give us about the history of the Earth.  I don’t believe that we ought to shape our theology in order to make it consistent with scientific ideas.  But I do think it’s a nice bonus when science and faith paint us similiar pictures.

Anyway, if it was Jesus who was active in bringing life to that previously lifeless hunk, there’s a sense– consistent with the meaning of “logos” that he is bringer order and life to a previously chaotic place.

Perhaps even more compelling, this ties nicely together Jesus’ missions with regards to the Earth.  Both before Adam, and 2000 years ago, Jesus brought order and life into darkness and chaos.  A further interesting connection is the idea that God speaks numerous times in Genesis.  Usually it’s a commentary on the state of things:  This is good, this is very good, it is not good for man to be alone,

In addition to the fact that Jesus is what prevented man (kind) from being alone, I find it evocative, the brute fact that God was speaking at all.  Since no humans were yet created to hear him, this certainly suggest there was someone else around (i.e. Jesus) to hear him.  But moreover, the idea that both Genesis’ writer (Moses?) and John tell us that words were around at the very beginning of time, that’s a pretty interesting thing.

In the name of intellectual integrity I should probably express up fron that this post is highly speculative in nature.  I am out of my element, and basing some of my assumptions on others’ area of expertise.

After a busy day

Adam named them all.

that done, he lounged.

Naked and unashamed.

In the Garden.

He contemplated his help-mate.

Considered locating her.

He realized that she was nowhere to be seen.

He realized there were these rules.

He’d never told her of.

By the time

he worked up the enthusiasm

to go find her.

She

was already mid-conversation

with a thing

he’d recently named serpent.

(He was especially proud of that one, serpent.

It starts soft and ends hard.)

One wedge had been chewed out of the fruit in her hand.

Its juices ran down her chin.

Adam took it from her with a shrug.

But also a feeling of wonder and horror.

He contemplated that he’d mastered all the nouns on that warm afternoon.

He reckoned that he was ready

for the knowledge of good

and the knowledge of evil.

Returning to the Garden

A disclaimer: I am dealing with quite mature, explicit, and sexual themes in what follows. 

In the beginning…

Nothing.

And even when the stars were assembled,

Even when the fundamental forces were gathered,

even when the light burst out from the darkness…

Only the angels were present to watch.

 

Up came man from the dust.

Complete and lonely in the garden.

 

And then!

Where there was One,

and then where there was two…

Came a third of that same flesh.

 

The two were naked and unashamed in the garden.

The two were together in the garden.

 

God walked with them in the cool of the evening.

 

Did they recreate that oneness in the garden?

Did Adam’s hand fall to the place where his rib had been?

Was there an emptiness inside that was only quelled…

when the two became one flesh, again, in the garden?

 

Did they chase after this after the Fall?

We all chase after this after the Fall.

 

We glimpse what we had in the filth.

We glimpse what we had in this path to destruction.

We chase after the oneness.

We forget the flaming sword.

 

There is a path we can walk down.

There is a way to retrace that oneness.

It is a gift.

It can look

so much like

the ways that lead us astray.

The Estates, Part I

When The Owner began, the land was wild. 

All manner of trees and plants grew every which way.  Wild animals wandered about the place.  Thorny flowers and poison ivy over ran it. 

The man first built a shelter.  The shelter became a house.  The house became a home that was almost a mansion.

The land near the home was cultivated.  Long, long rows of trees grew.  Fields of fruit were there.  And farm animals.  It became something of an estate.  It ran efficiently.  It was nearly perfect.  And so it was for some time.

But the man saw that it was missing something.  There was no one to enjoy the harvest with him.  There was no one to learn His ways… Really, what was the point of it all?  Just simply to perpetuate itself? 

And so The First Helpers came.  They lived in the man’s mansion. 

Some of The First Helpers did not understand.  They were spoiled perhaps, because they had never known how things were before.  They thought that the man was unnecesary.  They did not see that his rules were what gave the place its beauty.  With a heavy heart, he cast out those among The First Helpers who would not submit.  They took up residence in the wastelands beyond the estate, in the wilderness beyond the farm.

The First Helpers who remained grew in harmony with the place.  It was almost as if they were a part of the place itself, so smoothly did they integrate themselves to the day-to-day running.  But there was a wall, an upper limit.  They loved each other, the old man and The First Helpers… but there was this limit on the communion they could enjoy together.  It was something about the fact that they had been brought into the mansion.  Somehow, they had become disconnected from the very ground that was underneath it.  Somehow, they failed to grasp that there was something larger than the four walls they lived in.  They listened carefully.  They learned from the man.  They took his word for it.  But they couldn’t actually experience the truth themselves.  As wise, benevolent, and loyal as they were, in some way they were simply stunted.

And so the man hired a servant.  And the servant lived in the garden.  The man would come down from his mansion each day.  They would spend time together, the man and the servant. 

“This is your home.”  The man said “Perhaps some day you will join me up on the hill.  But that is another day.  For now, I would like you to live here.  Lie in the cool shade of my trees.  Discover who you are, in this place.”

What the man and the servant discovered is that the servant was lonely.  He was a social creature, the servant.  He would discover who we was only with the help of another servant to help define him, to help him understand himself.

And so the old man welcomed another servant.  He spoke to them both.

“Pluck my vegetables from the ground.  Pick my fruits from these trees.  Slaughter my animals when you are hungry.  Make this place your home.  Discover who you are: together.  But know this, too: This place was made by my two hands.  No one knows a thing like the one who built it.  And I did build this place.

You may feel that you could build a place like this.  I will tell you that you could not, but I fear that you will not take my word for it.  I love you.  But I also love this place that I have made.  If you will not work in harmony with this place I have made, then it could all be ruined.  So I will tell you this: there are rules here.   If we can not agree that my ways are the ways which make this place operate, then we endanger the very fabric of this estate.  And so I will set this rule before you: There is a tree which is mine, and mine alone.  There is only one tree, in the whole of this place, which you must leave alone.”