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!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Why I Don't Care About Mother's Day

Yesterday was Mother's Day, and in honor of the day I took a 3 hour nap. And all my mommy friends know that that was probably the best gift my husband could've given me. But I also did some thinking about this "holiday."
The thing about Mother's Day is that it is insulting, and it also misses the point of motherhood.

I didn't get into this gig for appreciation.

My husband and I had the immense luxury of choice in the question of having children. We were able to plan IF we wanted children, and then plan TO have children. Most people in the world do not have this choice. But because we put off having children for years, and then were blessed with a child three months after deciding in favor of pregnancy, we have a different viewpoint than a lot of people regarding kids.

We agreed that we weren’t having kids to satisfy our needs. This wasn’t about us. We were a complete family from the moment we got married.

This is how Mother's Day misses the point. To suggest that a Mother needs appreciating is to suggest that this is about us. Every mom knows this isn’t about us. It’s about the kids. We don’t do ANY of what we do for us. We do it all for the kids. Even when I take care of myself, it’s at least partially for my daughter’s sake. She does better when I am emotionally healthy. I own my own business for my daughter – I’m not a natural born entrepreneur. I maintain my physical health for both her and my husband, as much as for myself. So to suggest that I want appreciation for what I do is to suggest that I need it or deserve it. I don’t. Most mothers toil away with no support and no appreciation, and regardless of that lack, we keep on mothering.

I don't expect my daughter to appreciate me potty training her, or teaching her how to be a decent human, or providing food and shelter and entertainment and education.

On the other hand, it’s insulting to suggest that my wholesale efforts for her can be honored with a card and breakfast in bed. Pregnancy made my teeth so loose that I ended up spending almost five figures on fixing them. I sank into serious post partum depression and had to increase my medication and spend a year in therapy to recover. I have a permanent scar on my belly from the c-section. My breasts are permanently altered from breast feeding. And I am a very healthy woman! And what about all the sacrifices? The lost sleep. The lost financial opportunities. The lost time. The constant guilt. The constant worries.

I don't know a single mother who doesn't, at times, worry that she's screwing her kids up. 

Moms, let yourself off the hook. If you're worried about screwing your kid up, you almost definitely are doing a fantastic job!

I'm not one to turn aside a gift. And I do appreciate that my daughter makes me cards and gifts for this one day a year. And yes, if some Hallmark holiday gives me an afternoon off to take a nap, I'm all over it! I'm just not emotionally tied into Mother's Day. When I wasn't a mom, I didn't feel "left out" by all the celebration.
Mother's Day is a nice enough holiday, but certainly not one I would miss. What about you?