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.

A Theology of Life’s Suckiness

Matt Clinton National Hill-Climb Champion 2008
Matt Clinton National Hill-Climb Champion 2008 (Photo credit: Phil and Pam)

When we need Jesus the most, in some ways, that’s when he is so hard to find.

I have been rocked by all these challenges.   In these I cling to this truth that Jesus is closest to us when we are hurting.  I know that he is a savior he weeps with us.

But I cling to the truth because if I didn’t cling on to it, that truth will float away from me.   And I know that about Jesus in my head, only. 

It’s so hard to feel it right now.

In the middle of this terrible, terrible time, I am being tested in so many ways.  Intellectually, I get it, that we are not promised a life of roses and rainbows.  But I struggle with not being angry at Him.  It’s like, Lord, you have spent this time in such intimate contact with me.  And I have with you.  How could you do this to me?

I know it’s foolishness and wrong-headed.  The sun shines on the good and evil.  The rain falls on all of our heads.

It’s easy to lean on Jesus when it’s easy to believe that he loves me.  Right now, it’s like I am having to trust the beliefs that I had.  Because now, in the moment, it’s hard to believe that He has a plan, and he loves me.

One of the thing that carries me through is the practice and discipline I built up before, in easier times.  Practice and discipline in praying and reading the bible and believing in a powerful God who loves me. 

Another thing that carries me is the love and support of friends and families.  Their hugs and acts of kindness and reminders that they are there for us.  And also their example: they serve as reminders, through their actions, of the things I should be doing, the person I should be, even when I don’t want to.

These two things: discipline and friends, a pairing like law and love, like grace and obligation, these two things are what will carry me through.  I am assuming I will get through.  It is as though when times were easy, when things were good, I was building up speed, building up intertia.  Perhaps, I am on a bike, accelerating down a hill.

But now the slope has turned against me, and it up, and above, and I don’t know how high up it goes.  I just know that whatever I accumulated before I am spending now, desperately hoping it is enough to carry me through.

Starting with the Lunch

UK - Somerset - Bath: Roman Baths Museum - The...
UK – Somerset – Bath: Roman Baths Museum – The Altar (Photo credit: wallyg)

I understood something today.  I understood it suddenly and in a new way.

It was around how the Ancient Isrealites were expected to do these sacrifices.  Thier were pretty strict expectations about what animals would be sacrificed when.  And even more strict expectations about the conditions of these animals.  They were supposed to sacrifice the best.

We are freed of this expectation. 

But today, in church, I got it.

Church was awesome.  I don’t mean awesome in the 80’s surfer-sense of the word.  It wasn’t entirely pleasant.  It was, at times, so hard that I had to leave the sanctuary.   When I say that church was awesome, I mean that it quite literally inspired a sense of awe.  I suppose that this is one of the things church was supposed to do.

The gifted folks involved with the service are partly responsible for this experience.   They did a great– even exceptional– job.   But there have been other days when they were all doing an equally excellent job.  And yet, many of those times, it did not effect me.

There is some truth in talking about how the spirit moves where it wills.  Sometimes God makes himself known.

Yet…

This is also a cop-out and a ducking of responsibility.  They say that  we don’t have any control over where and when God shows up.   The problem is that this implies that God isn’t omnipresent.  It implies that there are some places where God is not.

What I am trying to say is that God is fully present in every service.  The thing that comes and goes is our own perception of him. 

Today, what I realized, is that one of the sacrifices’ values is that they smashed home, they made concrete a reality that it’s easy to lose track of.

That reality is that whatever we bring to a worship service is what we are going to get out of it.

Today I brought… a lot to the service.  It wouldn’t be wrong to call it baggage.  It wasn’t all kinds of warm fluffiness.  It was a whole dizzying array of conflicting emotions.  Pain, and anger, and hurt… Not just at life in general, but pain and anger and hurt directed right at God.  Those were all there.

God was happy to take it. 

It wasn’t a sacrifice worthy of him.  Even though there are all these descriptions about the sacrifice-victim be perfect and unblemished, I realized today, that being worthy was never the point at all.

The point is that whatever we bring to God is the material that God will work with.  He does his divine alchemy on what we bring.  He turns it into something else, something better.  Maybe he even enhances it, like Jesus beginning with the boy’s lunch and feeding thousands.  Despite the enhancements, there, though, the thing is that Jesus, did after all begin with boy’s lunch.

I could have shown up with nothing today.  God quite literally knows I have before.  Today I didn’t show up at the service empty handed.  And so… I didn’t leave empty handed, either.

Its Fleece Was Snow.

Lamb
Lamb (Photo credit: freefotouk)

Jesus did not speak in similes. 

You might remember your nerdy English teacher rambling on about similes, how they are a comparison between two unlike things, using the word “like” or “as.”  In the same breath, said nerdy English teacher, probably spoke about metaphor: a comparison between two unlike things not using the word “like” or “as.”

Even though English was a favorite of mine, and even though I’ve always been a poetic guy, it was lost on me: why was it so important that we have a different term for comparisons when they don’t have the word “like” or “as.”  I was unclear on how those little words might make much of a difference.

Maybe I’m slow.  It’s only as an adult I’ve come to see the huge difference between “Mary had a little lamb, and it’s fleece was white as snow.”  (A simile) and “Mary had a little lamb.  It’s fleece was snow.”  (A metaphor.)

The latter sentence invites us into a field to play with the meaning of words.  It flirts with us a little bit.  Perhaps it’s not a metaphor at all, but some sort of snow-lamb-creature.  Even if we decide not to take the words literally, we are left with some mystery, some room for interpretation.  In preceisely what ways was the fleece snow-like?

Jesus spoke in metaphor.

He does not use the words “like” or “as” when he compared himself to light, truth, bread, water, ways (as in a path; see last post for more on this) or ladders (see next post)

Though he sometimes enhances his meanings– usually at the request at his bumbling (like me!) disciples, Jesus’ words begin in mystery, they begin with this space for us to move around in and explore what it is he means.

When Jesus said he is the way, I take him to mean that he is the path toward God the father.   Further, I take him to mean that their is something holy not only in Him as our destination, but also in the process of seeking Him.    We, like Israel, wrestle with God himself and are blessed for this wrestling, even when it leaves us hurt…

Jesus’ metaphors (not similes!) themselves are an invitation to be with him, the path, as we figure out just what they all mean. 

It makes my brain hurt, a little.

 

The Road Occasionally Traveled

Path
Path (Photo credit: Guerito)

People eager to emphasize the idea that Jesus is unique, people with good hearts, people who ultimately might be right, often point to these words from the bible:  

Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you have known me, you will know my Father too. And from now on you do know him and have seen him.”

People recite those words all the time.  And usually, they only get one word wrong.

That word is “replied.”   Usually, people recite “Jesus said, “I am the…”

The difference is actually incredibly important.   Because we can say something in a vacuum.  But we don’t reply in a vacuum.  By definition, a reply is in response to something.  And the words that Jesus was responding to are utterly disconnected with the meaning people so often put these words to. 

Jesus had told his followers that he had to leave and that his followers new where he was going.

5 Thomas said, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you have known me, you will know my Father too. And from now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Through out the scriptures, Jesus creates many metaphors: he tells us that he is something else.  Metaphors are mysterious things.  They leave us to work out just what they mean because they do not spell out just exactly where the comparison is.

Jesus tells us that he is the way.  That is tricky word.  Because “way” can mean path, as in “Show me the way to get to your house.”  or it can mean “method.”  As in, “show me the way to make chocolate chip cookies.”  Clearly these two meanings are closely related, but there are some important differences.  

Jesus’ followers had just said, “We won’t know where to go.”  It seems clear that Jesus is talking about that second definition.  Jesus is the route.    When Jesus, a moment later, says “No one comes to the father except through me.” he is reinforcing this image.  It’s not like Jesus is standing there, ghost like, and we have to pass through his immaterial body.  Jesus is stating that he is the path itself, and the way to get to God the father is by taking the Jesus-path.

Assuming you’ve made it this far in to my meanderings, and further assuming that you’re enough of a massochist to regularly read Jeff’s Deep Thoughts, you may at this point, be asking, “Didn’t you write pretty much this same blog a couple months ago?”

The answer to this question is, “Yes I did.”  But there is some stuff I wanted to add, some new thoughts I wanted to share.  So I hope you’ll forgive me for posting this recap.

We Choose the Method of Payment

Where Does It Hurt?
Where Does It Hurt? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And so I was hurt by this person.

Probably, my hurt was not different than the hurt I have caused others.

I was hurt, and mostly, I seemed like I was o.k.  We interacted, it would have appeared that we moved on.

It is only in the quietest times that I suspected that I wasn’t over it.  I hadn’t forgiven.  In fact, I was looking and waiting for payback.  I wanted to see this person hurt, just as they had hurt me.  In some way, if Iwas looking for revenge done with my own two hands, it would have been more honest.  I was really looking for an unfortunate turn of events to occur for them.  I was looking for God to be the enforcer of my own agenda.  I wanted something proportionally bad to befall the person who had hurt me.

Suddenly I got it tonight.   I got the whole thing, I think, about however we judge others, thats how we ourselves will be judged.

It’s not that God is running around and saying, “Ha!  This will be a poetic turn of events.  You judged them, now I get to judge you.”

If I go even deeper than the place I am still hurting, if I go deeper than the place that is looking for this person to be hurt in response, I realize that this is fundamentally about me.

It’s not only about me in the sense that I can only control what I do, how I react.  It’s about me because all the anger, deep down, isn’t at somebody else.

My desire to see this other person hurt… In some profound way, it’s an act of massochism.  It’s not about the other persons greed and hurtfulness at all.  Not at the deepest level.

The reason I react to the hurt in a vindictive way is about the greed and hurtfullness that live in me.  In some profound way, when I want the other person to be punished… really, I am wanting my own self to be punished.

Because I fear that I deserve it.  Because I struggle to accept God’s pardon for my sins.  Because it would be easier, sometimes, to keep paying the price than it would be to stop doing the hurtful things.

However I judge somebody else– at it’s most basic level, that is how I am judging myself.  That is what I am saying to the shadow parts of me, the aspects of who I am that I would much rather hide away. 

In the very act of saying “They deserve to have _____ done to them for their crimes” I am also saying at the same time “I deserve ______ … I will accept nothing other than ______ happening to me.”

We choose the payment method for mistakes.  It looks like we are going after for this form of payment, whatever it is.  But really, we are going after our own selves for it.

God is up to all kinds of things in this to.  There’s lots of interesting things to be explored about just how he feels and acts when we are unloving…  But we make a decision for Him, when we go looking for vengence.  The deed is already done once we delude ourself into thinking it’s the other person who we want to pay.

Man, it’s hard to let go of hurts.