Monday, June 12, 2017

Are You Willing to be Wrong?

Are you willing to be wrong? 

Not wrong like bad, or failed, or screwed up, or wicked. Just wrong as in a mistake. I bet you aren't. I know I'm not. One of the things we cling to the tightest is being right. We believe that when a person is right, they are good, and when a person is wrong, they are evil.We may know this isn't always true, but that gut response is part of what keeps us desperately clinging to being right, all the time.

We’ve all felt the sting of injustice. We’ve all experienced consequences or punishment that was unjust, and that’s another reason why it’s so difficult to let go of being right. Because if you let go of being right, then maybe whatever happened to you wasn’t unjust after all!

When I was a kid, I was in the school’s gifted and talented program. This meant that I had to leave my home class room and go to the gifted room periodically. The schedule wasn’t in sync with the rest of the school, for whatever reason, which meant that I was responsible for watching the clock and leaving my room on my own initiative. No one came and got me, no one reminded me, and our gifted time came out of our regular class time. Looking back, it was a pretty screwed up system!

So one of these days, I lost track of the time. I was in third grade, working on an assignment, when I suddenly realized that I was late to the gifted time! I hurriedly put my things away and rushed to the classroom. The gifted teacher called me to her desk.

“Why are you late?” she asked.

“I, um, I didn’t know what time it was.”

“Don’t give me an excuse. Tell me why you are late.”

“I wasn’t watching the clock…”

“No excuses. Tell me the reason.”

“Umm, I don’t know. I, uh, I forgot?”

I was utterly baffled. I didn’t know what she wanted. I tried to explain what had happened, but she brushed my explanation aside. In the end, apparently she wanted me to say that I had forgotten the class, which I had. She didn’t want to hear justifications or excuses.

You may not like her method (and I still feel the sting of anger about this story), but she had a point. I had made a mistake and was in the wrong.

I’m not really sure what she was trying to do. What she did was make the gifted class a place I hated to be.

But I was just doing what I had learned how to do: hide the fact that I was in the wrong.

Because it doesn’t matter what kind of parenting methods you use, or what religion you grew up with, or how your parents modeled conflict resolution. Raising a child means telling that child s/he is wrong about something, and enforcing the consequences of mistakes. Everyone learns that mistakes and wrongness equal unpleasant experiences. So we shy away from admitting our mistakes. We justify our actions.

Admitting we’re wrong, at its most basic level, opens us up to potential suffering. On top of that, there are layers of morality: is our wrongness a sin? There are social concerns: is our wrongness going to embarrass us? There are remembered injustices: if I’m wrong about this, did I deserve all the bad things that happened to me? We grow up thinking that if we are right in what we do and say, we can avoid pain.

But clinging to being right all the time does nothing to keep us safe from pain. 

In our struggle to be right, or at least appear right, we destroy relationships. We fail to find compromises. We lose the ability to understand different points of view. We demonize those who are different from us (Facebook politics, anyone?).

Being right all the time also destroys us personally. We must constantly assess our actions and justify them. When we make a mistake, we worry about how to hide it, fix it, or justify it. When we are publicly wrong, we suffer from humiliation and often our self esteem falls because it is so conditional. We seek out affirmation from others of our rightness instead of finding our identity in ourselves.

Release of being right is one step on the path to wisdom and wholeness. And I could be wrong about that, and that's OK.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Holy Spirit is More Than a She

No one who knows me or reads this blog would be surprised to hear that I am a feminist. But they might be surprised that I object to referring to the Holy Spirit as feminine.
The question of gendered pronouns is difficult for writers and for people of faith. I did an examination of the subject in a term paper for a theology class and came to the conclusion that there is nothing heretical or theologically inaccurate in using feminine pronouns for God. I would not refer to Jesus as a “she,” but that is because Jesus was fully human and fully male, so to use “she” would be simply silly. But I have no problem referring to the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, as “she,” because God transcends gender.

I first encountered the idea that we could bring the divine feminine back into Christianity by referring to the Holy Spirit as “she” when I was in divinity school. To be clear, this isn't about occasionally using feminine pronouns. It's about consistently assigned feminine pronouns to just the Holy Spirit. At first it seemed like a good first step in addressing patriarchal thought. I no longer agree with that idea, for two main reasons.

1. A feminine Holy Spirit reinforces gender stereotypes. 

Most people who argue for the feminine Holy Spirit point out that the Spirit embodies traditional feminine values: intuition, grace, mysticism, embracing, comforting. They aren't trying to be sexist, but they are playing right into gender stereotypes. I have two problems with this.
a. Stereotypes are used to enforce hierarchical systems of oppression which are harmful to both women AND men. (Think of how often husbands in the media are portrayed as helpless fools).
b. Continuing to assign specific traits to one gender or the other blocks people from embracing the truth that there is no male or female in Christ. It can also directly block people from following their God given call. A man who wants to be a stay at home father. A woman who wants to lead a corporation. To be personal: I was raised in a complementarian church which definitely delayed my understanding of my pastoral calling.

2. A feminine Holy Spirit creates imbalance in the Trinity. 

A fully masculine trinity is balanced. A fully feminine trinity is also balanced. A fully gender neutral trinity is balanced. But when you assign binary labels to a trinity, you create imbalance. It will always be two to one. Two masculine persons to one feminine person. Even if we counter by addressing God the Creator as God the Mother, it is out of balance: two feminine persons to one masculine. We cannot force a trinity into a binary system.

3. A feminine Holy Spirit does not do the radical work of addressing patriarchal theology.

If the issue is the loss of the divine feminine, simply naming part of the Godhead female is far too simplistic. It’s obviously a semantic solution to the problem. It tells me, a feminist, that rather than address the patriarchal problems in Christian theology, I should be content with a simple change of language. As if randomly assigning a gender to one person of the Trinity is enough to resolve centuries of patriarchy. Um, thanks but no thanks.

4. A feminine Holy Spirit does not enhance our understanding of the Trinity.

The Bible and the saints have used powerful words to describe God and the Trinity. Rocks, rivers, birds, mother, father, child, husband, quiet whispers, wheels within wheels: our language is evocative and requires us to meditate and pray to understand. So when we propose to change a significant aspect of our God talk, we must look to see if those new words help us with understanding. This is similar to a translation issue: using "pounds" instead of "omers" can help with understanding without altering the true meaning of the text. But changing the commandment from "do not kill" to "do not murder" changes the deeper meaning.
Does a feminine Holy Spirit contradict our theology, enhance our understanding, or confuse it? I would say it confuses our theology and understanding. Therefore it is not effective or beneficial.

So what are we to do?

First, I suggest that we get comfortable with using both feminine and masculine pronouns for God. Mother is a Biblical image for the First Person of the Trinity, so there is no rational basis for refusing to pray to Our Heavenly Mother. Freedom to use feminine pronouns without censure or rebuke is a sign that we are actually moving past our patriarchal roots.

Second, I suggest that we begin to really explore gender neutral imagery for the Trinity. In a prayer book created by Robert Benson, one of the prayers ends with an invocation of God the Creator, Redeemer, and Giver of Life. I LOVE that Trinitarian description. It avoids gender stereotypes, it clearly describes the Three Persons, and it evokes thoughtful consideration of Who God Is. Yes, it also addresses feminist critique of masculine language, but it does it in a thoughtful way, a way that indicates critical thinking rather than just slapping a band aid on the problem. (And yes, calling the feminine Holy Spirit a “band aid” is glib, I know).

Third, we need to dig into our own theology in order to see what is true and what is not, learning how to recognize human mistakes like patriarchy, colonialism, and dualism.
I started reading Cynthia Bourgeault’s book The Trinity and the Law of Three yesterday and I love it. Her starting chapter, which was published as a standalone article in 2000, inspired this post. There are lots of good books out there that teach us about theology without putting us to sleep. (Thomas Aquinas put me to sleep more times than I care to admit).

God transcends gender. But can we?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Sleepovers: BAD or GOOD?

I recently read an article about whether or not to allow children to attend sleepovers. It got me thinking.

My daughter is not quite 6, so the issue of sleepovers is moot right now. Whenever she brings it up, I tell her that we can’t even talk about sleepovers until she and all her friends are guaranteed overnight potty trained. Problem solved. But I’m living on borrowed time, and she will start kindergarten this fall. So here is a look inside this momma’s head on the issue of sleepovers.

10. Sleepovers are BAD. The worst things I ever did in middle school and high school were done during sleepovers. I didn’t drink or smoke, but if I had, it would’ve happened at sleepovers. In addition, during the lousy middle school and early high school years, I myself was bullied during sleepovers.

9. Sleepovers are GOOD. This is a way for my daughter to learn how to stand on her own two feet, sleep away from home, and get insight into how other families work.

8. Sleepovers are BAD. I myself never slept during a sleepover – I simply could not relax enough to sleep in a strange place.

7. Sleepovers are GOOD. It’s a fun rite of passage that all kids experience. And if she isn’t allowed to do sleepovers, she’ll be seen as weird. I remember one of my good friends who wasn’t allowed to attend sleepovers. We all felt sorry for her.

6. Sleepovers are BAD. What if an older family member abuses or molests the kids?

5. Sleepovers are GOOD. As a mom, I need to learn how to let go of my control tendencies and let my daughter live life.

4. Sleepovers are BAD. People are idiots. They leave guns and other dangerous things around where kids can get them.

3. Sleepovers are BAD. Teens just need a little sleep deprivation in order to turn into bad decision making machines. Nothing good ever happened to a group of teens at 3 AM.

2. Sleepovers are GOOD. But only if they happen at my house, under my supervision.

1. Sleepovers are BAD. Even if I were supervising, I have no intention or ability to stay awake all night.

Weigh in with your thoughts and experiences and give this momma a few more conflicting ideas to ponder!