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.


Too Many Guard rails.

Imagine a road.
Maybe it’s a curvy road. It’s a bit dangerous. So somebody sets up guard rails.
The guard rails help, some. They decrease the number of people who drive off the road, damage their car, injure themselves.
Yet sometimes, careless of sleepy drivers veer into the opposite lane. Occasionally, there are head-on collisions. Head on collisions are never good things. So they set up a guard rail running down the middle of the road. And it becomes even more safe.
But once in a while, cars are moving too fast or they are too heavy. They drive through the guard rail. And so they put a second set of rails inside the first.
But even two rails aren’t enough for the faster, heavier cars. So they put a third, a fourth, a fifth.
At the end of this process, the road is left so narrow that nearly every car is bouncing off of them. Some people (presumably those with out much interest in the appearance of their automobiles) even grow to depend on them; they are more careless on this heavily guarded rode than they otherwise would be, knowing that the rails will keep them from driving off.
A good chunk of the freedom people would have had, in the form of space, is just eaten up by the rails. Drivers are limited, now. Perhaps it used to be two lanes in each direction. Now, it is only one. Tempers flare because nobody can drive around slower people in front of them. The original goal is achieved: nobody drives off the road. But is it truly safer? Is it better?
We are handed rules all the time. Often they are good. With the best of intentions, we set up these guard rails. And sometimes, the first set, maybe even the second, these are good, too.
I see this in the church all the time.
The bible says that we shouldn’t get drunk. Good idea. People set up the first guard rails. Maybe don’t have 3 drinks. Also a good idea. (o.k. kind-of a good idea.) And then there is a second set of guard rails: don’t have 2 drinks. And then a third guard: Don’t drink at all.
It’s not a bad thing, not to drink. But when we treat the third guard rail, (don’t drink) as if it’s God’s idea, bad things can happen.
I realized, recently, that this is not new. In fact, it’s one of the first things that people ever did.

God told Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Eve reports to the snake, ” God says we must not eat it or even touch it, or we will die.”
We don’t know where the miscommunication comes in. Or why. But it seems to me that the most likely thing is that Adam built a guard rail. To keep Eve away from the fruit he added the idea that they couldn’t even touch it. Who knows? Perhaps he even convinced himself of this.
I can understand why he might want to do this. It would be a pretty dangerous thing, to stand there, fondling and ogling fruit that you are not supposed to eat.
But to claim that the order comes from God that we can’t even touch it… I imagine that Eve stood there, in the garden, and when she touched the fruit and nothing happened, it might have motivated her to take that next step. It would be easy to think, “Well, I wasn’t supposed to touch this, and yet nothing happened when I did. So presumably when I eat it, nothing will happen either.”
I wonder how many people thought that God said we shouldn’t drink at all. And then they had a drink, and the world did not come crashing down around them. And it called into question everything they had been told about God, everything they believed about God. And they decided God didn’t have much to offer them, words that they thought were his turned out to be wrong.
I don’t believe that we are meant to Genesis literally. But I do believe we are meant to take it seriously. I think the whole book is seeped in layer upon layer of wisdom. This seemingly insignificant detail about Eve is just one tiny little nugget of that wisdom.

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.
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 beginning

I reached into my chest and removed it from my ribcage.  It was warm in my hands.

The tabernacle itself was nothing but the most distant and primitive shadow compared to the golden box which my angels held, waiting.  I placed that which I had taken from the very deepest parts of me into the waiting confines of that rectangle.

I felt different with it gone.

Lucifer did not understand.

That is why I chose him to convey that gift to Eden.

“Please put it where it belongs.”  Since he his creation he had never begged.  And yet here he was: begging me.

“No.  It is you will put it where it belongs.”  I told Lucifer.  And I knew that he meant it belonged back in me, where it began.  And he knew that I meant it did not belong in me anymore.

“What will they do with this?”

“That is the thing about a gift.”  I told him “The giver never knows.”

“But what use could they make of this?”

“It will not mean to them the same thing it means to me” I conceded.  But then I looked at him again.  “But that is not your concern.”

He did not do what I told him to do.

Everything was changed.

It was my invulnerability that I had sent to the earth, itself.

It was the possibility of being wounded that I took on.  I was changeable now.

Lucifer got it wrong and all wrong.

His rebellion began in his fear, as all rebellions do.  He told himself it was because he did not trust them with my invulnerability.  He told himself it was because the gift was so precious that he knew that they would squander it.

He brought them my fruit instead.

But what he did not see is that I gave myself not only to Adam and not only to Eve.  I gave myself to Lucifer as well.

I could be wounded now and so I was wounded now.  What he did not see is that he, too, was wounding me now that I could be wounded.  And everything would be so different, now.

Heaven in a Body

“Surprised by Hope” by NT Wright is doing more than playing with my head.  It’s exploding my brains. 

He articulates some things that I’ve been trying to put words to.  I’ve bumbled around with ideas about how embodied and physical Christianity is.  I’ve babbled about how  our traditional disembodied ideas of heaven don’t seem biblical.

He pulls all this together.  I’ll share some quotes later.

Today, I was reading a passage where he repeated one of his main points.

The idea is that Jesus didn’t actually defeat death if the afterlife is this nonphysical place.  He accomodated, death, perhaps, but he didn’t defeat it, if we wander around, ghost-like, after death.

Rob Bell, Wright himself, and others emphasize the idea that Revelations describes the final end that we were promised in the Garden of Eden.  The whole of human history was just a back-pedal, a delay, in reaching our final destination. 

This seems so dead on to me: Adam and Eve would have participated in the city described in Revelations.  They would have gotten to it much sooner than the serpent.

And so it struck me, as I was reading the book today:

We have no problem imagining an embodied, physical existence for Adam and Eve.   Many people agree that through Jesus we’re heading to the final destiny intended for Adam and Eve.  But people struggle with the idea that we’ll be physical beings in this eternity…

This all leads to the question: If Adam and Eve hadn’t fallen, at what point would they have lost their physicality?  If Adam and Eve are physical… if the final desination is non-physical… if Adam and Eve were supposed to end up there.  They’d have had to suddenly (or gradually, I suppose) become ghost-like and nonphysical.


When they first began listening,

They heard this buzz.

Or perhaps detected this warmth.

Or registered this radiation.


(I do not understand the difference.

Those astrophysisists…

They have too much the poet in them.

Or not enough.)


Whatever it was.

It was not what they expected to be.

They hypothesized all sorts of things.

Even pigeon droppings on the radar.


(Addmitedly, it’s not a particularly poetic explanation,

the idea of pigeon droppings on the radar.)


They came

To understand

That this is the remnant-echo

Of the big bang itself.


This left over hang over

Distorted across the eons of eons.

The light years of light years.

But still, here.


There is something in me.


A buzz.

A burning.

A spike of radiation.


There is this background hue

To the color of my life.


There is this sadness.


It is an ancestral thing.

It is an omnipresent thing.

It is inescapable.


There was this garden once.

There was this fruit once.


They ground the flesh of the thing

They had been told not to eat

Between their virgin teeth.


What that fruit once was


And it entered into them.

It lives between

The X and the Y Chromosome.


And it is waiting.


And waiting.


It is an egg.  Though.

And it will hatch someday.

And the bird inside will fly away.

When He returns. 

Adam named Eve

Adam gave Eve her name.  According to the NIV, the word “Eve” might have meant living things.  This seems pretty likely, since the text says that Adam gave her this name because she’d be the mother of all living things.

I’m not convinved that everything in Genesis has a niave, surface kind-of meaning.  But I am convinced that everything in it has meaning.  And so I’m struck by several things about the fact that Adam named Eve.

The most interest thing about Adam’s naming of Eve is that it happens after the fall.  According to Genesis, it was Adam’s job to name all the creatures in the garden.  Presumably, he eventually would have gotten around to it.

But it’s interesting that he hadn’t already named Eve.

A common understanding of the fall is that both Adam and Eve were decieved by the serpant.  The problem with this understanding is that it flies in the face of what Paul tells us in the New Testament.  Paul speaks of Eden andsays “Adam, since he was not decieved…”

My friend Garret (who can be found at “outnumbered by 5” on the blog roll) has suggested that Adam’s sin was in allowing this all to happen.  Others have suggested similar arguments: Adam was supposed to be protecting Eve, Adam was the one who had directly from God about the expectations in the Garde)

Did Adam basically ignore Eve in the Garden?  He should have not just stood idly around, when the serpent was seducing Eve.  But on the other hand, Genesis makes it clear that he was physically present; Eve gave him some right after having some herself.

On the other hand, what if Adam was not yet up to the task of naming her.  Naming a thing gives us power over a thing.  It implies we are understand the fullness of what a thing is.

Eve (along with Adam) was created in God’s image.  Perhaps the idea is something like “You know, that thing over there, I can see calling it a tiger.  This tiger-thing, it’s pretty cool and interesting… But my help mate– wow.  I don’t even have a word to describe her.”

(Yes, I know that  he didn’t speak English and wouldn’t have used the word ‘tiger’.  Whatever word she used, the point still stands.)

Most of us accept the idea that Adam and Eve were changed after the fall.  Perhaps the fullness of who Eve was, perhaps this was much more clear to people before the fall.  I wonder if the image of God within us would be much more plain to us, if we could see each other the way Adam and Eve saw each other before the fall.

Perhaps if we could see each other through those nearly perfect, pre-fall eyes, we would say “Wow, there is no way that I can put a word to stand for the glorious image of God that is in you.”

After the fall, Adam names Eve.

Is this because it’s easier now?  Because he’s no longer seeing her the same way?  There are all kinds of reasons that Adam would no longer see Eve the same way.  He can no longer see her as clearly; his eyes have been “broken” by the fall.  The image of God within her has been muddied, distorted, hidden, because she has fallen, too.   And just a short time before, Adam had already used Eve as an object.  He had thrown her under the bus.  When God asked why it happened, Adam tried to blame it on Eve.

And so perhaps a deeper truth in all this is that man’s objectification of woman was one of the tragedies that resulted from the fall.  Adam treated like Eve as an object when he tried to use her to take the blame for the whole thing.  He demonstrated his ability to think of her like an object when he named her.

And at the same time, perhaps mixed up in all this, is a pathetic and woefully inadequate attempt at making up for the sin.  Perhaps it’s the first time in all of scripture that people demonstrate legalism in an attempt to make up to God when they should demonstrate a change of heart.  Naming Eve is like Adam saying “See, God, I can do what you told me to do.  This woman is the only thing still with me that was in Eden… but I’m still doing my job, following my mission, I’m still naming things.”

Many people believe that Adam and Eve were meant to populate the world from the Garden of Eden.  Perhaps in the specific choice of the name “Eve”, Adam is holding on to his last little bit of hope.   Making new life is still possible.  There is still hope in carrying on.  At least one aspect of what they were supposed to do, they can still do.