Come On, ELCA. This Is Not a Good Start to Implementing “Faith, Sexism and Justice: A Call to Action.”

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Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation! O my soul, praise him, for he is your health and salvation! Let all who hear now to his temple draw near, joining in glad adoration! (ELW, 858)

Why am I not happy with this post on yesterday’s Facebook page of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America? 

I’m glad you asked!

A little background:
Just 8 days ago, the ELCA put out a Summary of Actions taken at the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly on August 5-10. This was posted on the Facebook page of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on August 15.

If you’re a member of the ELCA,
you really need to read it because A LOT happened at the assembly. 

You’ve probably heard about the decision to declare the ELCA a sanctuary church body. There’s been a lot of press and controversy about this. That was an historic action, to be sure. But wait, there’s more!

A New Social Statement
The third item on the Summary is:

  • Approved the social statement “Faith, Sexism and Justice: A Call to Action” and its 190716_womenandjusticeimplementing resolutions. The statement, in part, names patriarchy and sexism as sins and calls the church to action on a range of issues, including gender-based violence, workplace discrimination and economic inequality.

With this addition, the ELCA now has 13 social statements. You can read about them here. I have a particular interest in this latest one. I’m part of a group of women who met together regularly to carefully read and discuss both drafts of the document. We were committed to ensuring that this statement would not become just another dust-collector on a shelf, that congregations would actually read it, discuss it, and put these guidelines into practice. We identified areas where we believed the statement needed to include specific actions to back up its intentions. We finally crafted 3 memorials that were passed at our Sierra Pacific Assembly and forwarded on to Churchwide. 

Memorial #1
We asked for a public statement of repentance for the sins of patriarchy and sexism, as well as establishment of a national day of confession and repentance for the sins of sexism and patriarchy.
Action:
Implementing Resolution #17 directs the ELCA Church Council to establish a process for public repentance regarding the sins of patriarchy and sexism and establish a churchwide day of confession and repentance no later than the 2022 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

Memorial #2
We asked for the development of training and resources for implementing the social statement. This memorial covered a range of topics, but a large part of our concern was the subject of language. Taking seriously the statement in the document “Words are powerful,” we requested e
ndorsement of an inclusive language Bible; non-gender-biased and inclusive materials for worship including hymnody, adult education, confirmation, and Sunday school; and the use of expansive language for God in worship resources.
Action:
Implementing Resolution #8 calls upon the Conference of Bishops, synods, and the churchwide organization to use gender-inclusive and expansive language for God, and to direct the ELCA worship team a) to use such language whenever it commissions, curates, or develops new liturgical and related educational resources, and (b) to supplement existing resources toward that end, and, (c) to explore the development of an inclusive language lectionary similar to the Psalter in Evangelical Lutheran Worship.” 

Memorial #3
We asked for a New Social Statement on Gender Identity, Gender Expression, and Human Sexuality.
Action:
To request the Office of the Presiding Bishop provide materials to facilitate education among ELCA members so as to build awareness of the broad varieties of gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation among God’s people, as well as to provide pastoral care insights regarding concerns and issues of the transgender experience and gender nonconformity; and
To request that the Church Council consider authorizing development of a social message on gender identity and gender expression. 

Going forward
All of this was adopted by the Assembly with 97% of the vote. There was very little discussion. I hope I’m wrong, but my concern is that with so much material to read and the number of resolutions and memorials, many voting members didn’t actually read the document. And if they did, I hope they’ll be willing to back it up if and when these issues come before their congregations. We will be closely monitoring implementation of actions by the Church Council and the Office of the Presiding Bishop. We are determined not to allow this important work to be ignored.

Why I said “Not a good start, ELCA.”
In my Facebook post yesterday in response to “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,” I said,
“So much for inclusive/expansive language per Faith, Sexism, and Justice: A Call to Action. Not a good start ELCA.”

Comments have been interesting. Only one in support. Others are more like these:
Perhaps God’s preferred pronouns are, He and Him!
It’s a classic hymn. You’re a bit over sensitive!!! Most classic hymns are from at least 200 years ago & translated to English.
Are you serious?? If so, why??!!!!

Here’s why:
The post on yesterday’s ELCA Facebook page includes two masculine names and three  male pronouns for God. Let me be very clear: I’m not calling for the elimination of Lord and King. Expansive language means just that; you don’t have to take away meaningful names, but you can add the many other ways that we can address the Holy One.

When it comes to the male pronouns, however, I am indeed calling for an end to their use. For far too long, protestations to the contrary, God has been identified as male. This is not an innocuous reality. Words matter. As the document says:

this church holds that exclusive use of a male-oriented formula to refer to God is problematic. The use of expansive language for God reflects faithfulness to God’s self-revelation in the Scriptures and in human experience. 

So, ELCA, I ask again: how was this post a good start to this new call to action? There must be another hymn that could have expressed a similar sentiment. Or – how about checking out a different version? Same tune as “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.”

Sing praise to God, who has shaped and sustains all creation.
Sing praise, my soul, in profound and complete adoration.
Gladsome rejoice – organ and trumpet and voice –
joining God’s great congregation.

Praise God, our guardian, who lovingly offers correction,
Who, as on eagle’s wings, saves us from sinful dejection.
Have you observed, how we are always preserved
by God’s parental affection?

Sing praise to God, with sincere thanks for all your successes.
Merciful God ever loves to encourage and bless us.
Only conceive, what godly strength can achieve:
strength that would touch and caress us.

Sing praise, my soul, the great name of your high God commending.
All that have life and breath join you, there notes sweetly blending.
God is your light! Soul, ever keep this in sight:
amen, amen, never-ending.

I encourage every member of every congregation to read the social statement. Discuss it, even argue about it, as long as you do so with an open mind.
And implement it. It really does matter. 

 

St. Martha: Dragon Tamer

64547315_10162014537730634_2345616991944966144_nI saw this picture on Facebook this week. As you look at it, do you see that the plates are all upside down? All but one. Do you see it? Supposedly, as soon as you do then all the plates will look like they’re right side up. It worked for me. Now whenever I look at it, they’re all right side up. Perception is weird, isn’t it?

Oddly enough, this silly optical illusion reminded me of the story of Mary and Martha. To be honest, I’ve been struggling with the story all week. Here’s another story from the life of Jesus that’s supposed to teach us how to be good disciples. It seems pretty straightforward, rght? But as in the case of so many of these “simple” stories, they get more complex the more we look at them.

I found myself flipping back and forth between Martha and Mary as the focus of the story. If I focused on Mary, the picture looked one way. But if I flipped it around and thought about Martha, the picture changed completely. Back in the day, when women were still fighting for their place in in seminaries and in pulpits, I was all about Mary. She was the role model for all of us who had chosen “a better thing” than the traditional roles society had assigned to us. Jesus himself said so!

Nowadays I find myself a lot more sympathetic to Martha. And I have to say I’m also more critical of Jesus, who seemed to be perfectly OK with coming into Martha’s house and enjoying her hospitality with no regard for the work involved. He could have grabbed Lazarus and said, “C’mon, bro; let’s do the dishes and give Martha a rest.” But with his words releasing Mary from domestic duties, he kinda threw Martha under the bus. So like my feelings for the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, I want to say to Jesus, “Wait a minute, that’s just not fair!”

What’s in Your Spiritual Gifts Inventory?
I do still like that image of Mary siting at the feet of Jesus. The truth is I’ll never be a Martha. On the spiritual gifts inventory, my score for ‘hospitality’ is way down on the list. But I have learned that hospitality is a spiritual gift. And there was a time I know that I had that wrong.

Beatrice was a member of one of my former congregations. She always made the coffee and set out all the accoutrements for coffee hour on Sunday. I noticed she always did this during worship time. One day I asked her about it and she said she really enjoyed doing this work by herself down in the kitchen. I wince when I hear myself telling her that it was more important for her to be upstairs in worship. I had just thrown another Martha under the bus. Although I still hear Jesus whispering in my ear, “Yea, but there’s still need of only one thing.” You see how I flip back and forth: upside down; right-side up?

Finally, it dawned on me. Why does it have to be either/or? We don’t have to portray shutterstock_516056926Martha, as is done so often, as a pinch-faced shrew glaring at her sister from the kitchen and whining to Jesus about all the work she has to do. Nor do we have to think of Mary as a silent figure in this story, one who, as the saying goes, is “so heavenly minded that she’s no earthly good.” In fact, we can recognize that we’ve each got a Martha and a Mary in us. This goes for the guys, too; maybe you could call them Matt and Marty.

We might lean one way more than another. But both are important. Marthas (or Matts) get things done. They’re the people who answered “very true” to statements on the spiritual gifts inventory like:

  • When presented with a goal, I immediately think of steps that need to be taken in order to achieve the desired results.
  • I am a take charge person. When others follow my direction, the goal or task will be completed.

We need people like that in our homes, communities, and churches. But we also need the contemplative Mary (or Matt) to teach us to nurture our spirituality, to be still and listen for God’s “still, small voice,” and to imbue our daily lives with a sense of the sacred. Together these two ways represent a holistic way of discipleship.

god_bless_those_who_serve_those_who_wait_cushion-ra8611baef83b4dfaa30b93dfb9834745_i5fqz_8byvr_307But What About Jesus?
But I’m still troubled by this story. We still have the 
problem of Jesus chastising Martha. His words are completely at odds with what he says 12 chapters later. When the disciples get into an argument about which of them should be considered the greatest, Jesus says: “The greatest among you should become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. Who is greater, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? Isn’t it the one who sits at the table? But I’m among you as one who serves.”

I have to wonder why Luke didn’t say that Jesus then got up to help Martha serve. I mean, what’s going on here?

Now, being a bit of a Mary and liking to read and learn and contemplate, I came across some intriguing things in my travels through various commentaries about Martha and Mary.  For one thing, I was reminded that we need to really read what the text says and not what we might assume is in it. For example, there is no mention of the preparation of food. It’s assumed because for many, that is – and was – women’s work. Of course, this took place in the kitchen, we assume. But it’s not there in the text.

There are those who believe that the house of Martha and Mary was actually a house church and that both women were church leaders. This idea is supported by the fact that in other places, the word in verse 40 (the NRSV says Martha was distracted by her many ‘tasks‘), is διακονίαν, which has been translated as ‘ministry’ for men and as ‘service’ for women. But even Google Translate calls διακονίαν ‘ministry!’ So, it would not be out of the realm of possibility that Martha‘s role was that of an early form of a deacon.

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It’s also not out of then question to see – as we do in other places in the New Testament, written long after Jesus’ death – attempts to restrict women’s activities to traditional ways of serving. In this interpretation, some see Mary described as taking the better part because she passively sits and listens.

Others see both Mary and Martha as church leaders. And Martha’s annoyance with her sister is her anxiety about all her ministerial duties (something anyone involved in the church can relate to) and feeling like she was not getting enough help (also something anyone involved in the church can relate to). What’s the true story? It’s hard to know for sure. There are many differences in the earliest manuscripts of Luke.

So this simple little story stirs up a lot of questions. What this says to me is that we should not take these accounts at face value, that we should dive more deeply into the story behind the story. And when a simple account like this one engenders so much angst among interpreters, preachers, and general readers – we should pay attention. There’s probably something else going on here.

And when we do dive in, we should then crawl around in the story and explore, not only what this translation says, but what other translators have said. How does a word or phrase shift the meaning?  Where else does a character appear? Two friends shared that they had spent some time doing just this by comparing Martha’s appearance here in Luke with her role in John 11 (the raising of Lazarus), where she is hardly a caricature of the over-worked housewife. They also advise checking out information about the town of Bethany, known as a place for healing and hospitality on the way to Jerusalem, which gives even more nuance to the story.

“Yes! I believe that you are the Messiah, the One who is coming into the world.”
worship2014-08-03rev-40-638In the John passage, Martha gives one of the most complete confessions of faith by anyone in the gospels, right in the midst of her grief at losing her brother. She also shows a bit of anger at Jesus’ not getting there in time to save Lazarus, her thoughts about resurrection, and a very practical caution against opening a tomb because of the stench. We see that Martha is a strong character, complex and layered and rich. So is Mary. So is Jesus.

I can envision Jesus listening to Martha as she complains about her lack of help. So when Jesus says, “Martha, Martha,” I don’t hear chastisement.  I hear a connection between two people who know each other well. Jesus knows her anxiety, her distracted emotional state and says, in effect, “I’m listening.” In saying her name, Jesus communicates to Martha, “I hear you, I see you, I’m with you.” Then his words confirm her state of mind: “You’re troubled, distracted, anxious.” He proceeds to remind her about what is most important for that moment, just as we all sometimes need a reminder of when to be a human doing and when to be a human being. But first, he listens.

Maybe we need to sit with this scene just a little longer instead of cutting right to the part about Mary. I mean, who doesn’t appreciate being heard, even if there will also be a word of counsel about what is needful for this moment?

By fleshing out biblical characters like Martha, we do ourselves a favor. For in crawling around in her story, we find connections to our own. We don’t settle for cliched advice like, “Don’t be such a Martha!” Because it’s perfectly OK to be a Martha. Just as it’s OK to be a Mary or a combination of both.71DHHMKDZTL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_.gif

Now, July 29th is St. Martha’s Day, so our celebration is a little early for this disciple who is the patron saint of cooks, homemakers, servants, waiters and waitresses, single laywomen, butlers, dietitians, innkeepers, and travelers. That’s a lot of us! And here’s a tidbit I just learned. The cover of the original 1931 Joy of Cooking was illustrated with an image of St. Martha taming a dragon.

What’s This About a Dragon?!
There’s a legend that Martha eventually moved to a village in France, where it just so happened that a monstrous beast was a constant threat. It is described as a great dragon, half beast and half fish, greater than an ox, longer than a horse, having teeth sharp as a sword, and horned on either side, head like a lion, tail like a serpent. The story goes that Martha, holding a cross in her hand, sprinkled the beast with holy water, which subdued it. While it was rendered harmless, she placed her belt around its neck, and led the tamed dragon through the village.

Obviously, it is a fanciful legend. But it endears Martha to me even more as a strong, faithful, courageous woman, providing a ministry of hospitality and church leadership. July 29th is her day. I just might go out looking for some dragons of my own to tame. Or maybe I’ll make a casserole to share. Either way, it will be in loving memory of Martha.

Amen

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Luke 10:38-42

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks. So she came and asked, Jesus, “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me.”

But Jesus repliued, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girl, Abandoned: My Ongoing Story of Struggle & Healing

It’s a chestnut from the 90s, but it’s become a hymn for me. It never gets old. This Is to Mother You by Sinéad O’Connor is like the voice of God speaking to an emotionally abandoned child.

This is to mother you, 
To comfort you and get you through, 
Through when your nights are lonely, 
Through when your dreams are only blue.  This is to mother you.

Although I do change one word.  
This is to be with you, 
To hold you and to kiss you too. 
For when you need me I will do
What your own mother didn’t couldn’t do, 
Which is to mother you 

God as Mother?
My mother died over 10 years ago, but she still looms large in my psyche. Our relationship had always been pretty complicated, moving through love, anger, compassion, disrespect, hate, forgiveness, love, anger, forgiveness again. It’s still a mixed bag. Years of therapy and spiritual direction have brought me to a much healthier place. I change ‘didn’t’ to ‘couldn’t’ because I’ve come to understand my mother’s own emotional turmoil in my growing up years. In the midst of not getting her own needs met, she wasn’t able to take care of mine. Ironically, my mother’s mother lived with us. You’d think there would have been all kinds of mothering going on. But then, my grandmother had her own story – and so it goes. 

So, as much as I appreciate those who prefer to use feminine imagery for the Divine, I don’t like referring  to God as Mother any more than Father. I’m much more of an  apophatic mystic, resting in the unknowability of God: 
The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao;                  
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.      
The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth. 

But, paradoxically, I also rest in the intimacy of God, the One who speaks to my heart and sends love to me through a YouTube music video. Also paradoxically, the song is about mothering. Maybe mother-ing is ok, but not an actual mother (I am nothing if not inconsistent).

Forgiveness and Emotional Scars4870929-Magenta-Periwinkle-Quote-Could-a-scar-be-like-the-rings-of-a-tree
I forgave my mother long ago, but I’ve found that the emotional wound never goes away completely. Like the scar on my leg from a car accident almost 50 years ago that’s still surrounded by tender tissue painful to the touch, it flares up when something in my present life touches it.

I felt it begin to throb again last week when I read a blog post on the Feminism and Religion website entitled “Lessons Mothers Might Teach Their Daughters.” It wasn’t so much the content of the post (although it’s a very good article); it was the question raised in my mind of what lessons I wish my mother had taught me

There are so many. I’ve had to navigate these 68 years, not only without her guidance, but often with deliberate rejection of the example she set of what it means to be a girl and then a woman. Sadly, in order to teach those lessons, she would have had to have learned them herself. 

Girl, Abandoned
A major upheaval in our family occurred just as I stood on the cusp of puberty. My mother became pregnant. I absorbed a sense of shame about it from my mother and anger from my grandmother – not in any words that were spoken, but my 12-year-old self picked up on it. After my brother was born, my mother was depressed and my father was pretty much absent. When he wasn’t working or at the bar, he was sleeping or yelling at my mother. I was abandoned at just the time I needed my mother the most. 

The messages that all this turmoil imprinted in me had a profound effect on how I understood sexuality (dirty), pregnancy (shameful), the role of women (subservient), and myself (unworthy). I entered junior high school and began a downward spiral from an A-student to suddenly failing several subjects. No one questioned why I was failing or why I started staying home sick as often as I could (I’ve often wondered: what is a guidance counselor for anyway?). No one took the time to wonder why my personal hygiene was slipping or why I spent so much time crying, alone in my bedroom. 

When I entered senior high school, I remember clearly making a decision to turn my life around. I think that was the beginning of my self-sufficiency. The good part of that was that I started taking care of myself; the not-so-good part was that (as I see now) a 16-year-old doesn’t always make wise decisions. But I was all I had. 

In my later teens, my relationship with my mother had deteriorated to the point that I had absolutely no respect for her. She betrayed my trust more than once. She shamed me about even the possibility of having sexual feelings for a boyfriend. She tried to control me by forbidding him to come to our house, which only succeeded in driving me out of the house.

Descent into Shame . . .
I found myself in some dangerous situations. I was sexually abused by someone I had met at work. I actually did tell my mother about this, but only because my brother heard me crying in my room and she came in to find out what was wrong. I told her what had happened. Incredibly to me now, I was more concerned about my father finding out; I felt a searing sense of shame. My mother listened, then assured me that she would talk to my father. Then she left. No hugs, no assurances of love, no nothing. 

For years, I felt extreme shame and responsibility for what had happened to me. It took many years for me to come to the awareness that I had never learned crucial life lessons about relationships, healthy sexuality, and love. I was sent out unprotected into a world that was filled with danger for one so ignorant. 

All the pain that you have known, 
All the violence in your soul, 
All the ‘wrong’ things you have done, 
I will take from you when I come

I got married when I was 19. I can now see that I looked to my future husband as a protector, and was profoundly affected when betrayed by him as well. As a further blow, my mother took his side, without knowing all the facts. Her response, according to him was, “Well, Susan has never been a happy person.”

All mistakes made in distress
All your unhappiness
I will take away with my kiss, yes
I will give you tenderness.

Then Hatred . . .
I came to hate my mother. I think the tipping point was a phone conversation we had when I was in my late 20s. My brother, now in his teens, was experiencing depression and refusing to go to school. After she told me about this, she said, “I know what it’s like. I went through it, you went through it, Gary (my other brother) went through it.” I was stunned. She had known all about what I had been suffering – and had done nothing. I’m sure her mother had done nothing for her either, but still . . . even an acknowledgment of my situation, my feelings would have been helpful. I truly hated her. 

Then Healing Begins
I was ordained in 1989 at age 38. At a continuing education event with Rabbi Edwin Friedman (1932-1996), I was immersed in family systems theory geared to clergy. A question asked by Rabbi Friedman knocked my proverbial socks off: which of your ancestors really ordained you? In other words, who in my family of origin had taught me how to be a pastoral leader? I was devastated to admit that, for me, that person was my mother. And those ways were extremely unhealthy. 

Soon after, I entered an intense group program of psychological and spiritual healing. In a silent prayer time one day, as I sat cross-legged on the floor with my head bowed, I very clearly heard a voice say to me, “You don’t have to hang your head in shame anymore.” The voice came from inside of me, but it was not my voice. That hasn’t been my only mystical experience, but it was certainly the most profound and life-changing. One of the effects on my own spiritual practice has been a rejection of an unworthy, groveling kind of prayer posture to one of open heart and open hands. I owe my physical, emotional, and spiritual life to the therapists, spiritual directors, and the other misfit clergy in our little community of suffering. Certainly that program was not the end of the healing process, but it gave me a huge kick start on the way. 

Forgiveness
In my 40s, I forgave my mother. We would never be close, but at least I was able to face buying a Mother’s Day card without having an emotional crisis.

I have come to realize that my courage, self-determination, and fierce independence come from my childhood experience. I am grateful for those gifts. On the downside, though, I’ve had difficulty letting others too far into my life; being vulnerable was just not safe. I also became a perfectionist, always seeking control over my environment. I’m doing much better with all that (thanks to those years of therapy and spiritual direction!), but the temptation to backslide is always there.

I’ve been able to convert the rage of my inner child into passion for social justice. 26805255_10213773990757284_71493849038125527_nI’m especially drawn to feminist issues; I want every girl to have the lessons, the opportunities, the care and protection I never had. There’s a pissed off 12-year-old inside of me – and she’s wearing a pussy hat!

The on-going struggle for me here, though, is to find ways to channel that anger appropriately in personal relationships. 

So the life lessons I learned are a mixed bag. Somehow, acknowledging myself as “girl, abandoned” has given me permission to grieve and rage with my younger self, as well as to be compassionate towards her. They’ve allowed me to honor the woman I’ve become because of and in spite of the wounds of the past, even when they flare up in the present.

I am grateful to know that I am not only a “girl, abandoned,” but I am also a “girl, found.” 

For child I am so glad I’ve found you
Although my arms have always been around you
Sweet bird although you did not see me
I saw you
 
And I’m here to mother you
To comfort you and get you through
Through when your nights are lonely
Through when your dreams are only blue
This is to mother you
 

 

 

 

 

 

Women & Justice in the Mainline Church

unknownMy denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is in the process of creating a social statement on Women & Justice. A final draft is due to come out next month and will hopefully be passed at our Churchwide Assembly in August. 

What Are Social Statements?
In the ELCA, although social statements are not binding on church members, they  
. . . are teaching and policy documents that provide broad frameworks to assist us in thinking about and discussing social issues in the context of faith and life.

. . . are meant to help communities and individuals with moral formation, discernment and thoughtful engagement with current social issues as we participate in God’s work in the world.

. . . set policy for the ELCA and guide its advocacy and work as a publicly engaged church. https://www.elca.org

Controversies?
My guess is that one of the more controversial statements of the document will be:
We are bold to declare that patriarchy and sexism are both sinful and found within our own faith tradition and our society.

But we would like to see the ELCA go even further and issue a statement of repentance for the sins of patriarchy and sexism. It’s not an unreasonable request. We’ve made such statements in the past, for example the Declaration of ELCA to Jewish Community and Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery.

Another point of controversy will likely be:
We confess that there are problems within the Scriptures themselves and that our theological tradition has led to a theological understanding of humankind that is overly male-identified.

The more conservative wing of the church has already come out swinging, mainly offended by the perceived assault on scriptural authority. However, some of us think that Women and Justice doesn’t go far enough. In fact, a group of us has been meeting to formulate resolutions and memorials to strengthen the good foundation already laid down in the document.

Ironically, we agree in part with our conservative siblings: we want to see more biblical stories about women. For example, we’d like to see the apostle Junia recognized by her correct name and gender. In Romans 16: 7, Paul writes:
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
According to The Junia Project, Junia was widely accepted as a woman apostle throughout early Church history. However, in later translations an “s” was added to the end of her name, making it into a masculine form, Junias. Tsk!

And then there’s Phoebe. I remember so clearly hearing about Phoebe in my first year of seminary, way back in 61brlhmwxkl._sy450_1982. In New Testament Greek, Dr. Richard Jeske directed us to Romans 16.1, where Paul commends “our sister Phoebe, a deaconess of the church at Cenchreae . . .”.

There he informed us that the word for “deaconess” (now usually translated “deacon”) is, in fact, the same word rendered elsewhere (when the subject is male) as “minister.” Some places use “servant,” but sadly, even The Inclusive Bible uses “deacon.” So, yeah, we accept the authority of scripture. We just want the translators to get it right. And we’d like to see more of the stories of these women included.

Inclusive / Expansive Language
Where we will surely part company with some within the ELCA is over the use of inclusive language for humanity and expansive language for the Divine. I’ve already seen complaints on some Facebook pages about pastors who (gasp!) called God “She.” The social statement does call for such usage, however we would like to see the ELCA make a commitment to model inclusive/expansive language at all its gatherings and to direct all publications to do so as well. Will they have the courage to do so? We can only hope. 

I’ve been insisting for decades that “words matter” and have been using inclusive and expansive language. I get it that it takes some effort to change language and/or find resources that are acceptable. Many pastors and worship planners either don’t have the time or won’t take the time to do the work. So our group is also insistent that resources be made available. I’ve actually been compiling lists of the resources I’ve used over the years: lectionaries, liturgies, hymns, prayers, etc. There has been a lot of good work done in recent years – and more being developed all the time. There really is no good excuse for not at least beginning to explore shifting into being a more inclusive church. 

There are some other issues about which our group has responded. One is the inclusion of lesbian and trans women, which is absolutely great. However, we’ve discovered that some of the issues brought to us by those who identify as LGBTQIA+ are not sufficiently addressed in the document. So we’ve been working on a new resolution. But that’s a discussion for another post. 

As Rachel Maddow would say, “Watch this space!”

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Another Action Item for Dismantling Patriarchy in the Church

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I am indebted to my colleague Pastor Dawn Hutchings from Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Newmarket, Ontario for an additional item for my presentation, “Dismantling the Religious Roots of Patriarchy in Christianity.” 

In her sermon for Advent 1, “Shady Ladies, Forgotten Stories, and Images of God: Casualties of Our Advent Lectionary,” she gives us permission to “tinker with the lectionary” in order to allow the women of our Bible stories speak. So, for instance, you could forego the focus on John the Baptist this Sunday in favor of Elizabeth and Mary. Her challenge to “Tinker Away! Tell the Stories!” has given me a new addition to my list of action items. 

Here’s the list I put together for the workshop at the Parliament of the World’s Religions: 

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And here’s the new one: 

  • Lift up the stories of our foremothers in our sacred texts – even when it means tinkering with the lectionary to do so. Consider taking a season like Advent to intentionally seek out and tell these stories. As Pastor Dawn challenges, “Let this Advent be different. Invite the women of the gospels onto the stage.”

Amen!

P.S. I’m happy to add more action items. Send me your ideas.

 

 

 

 

The Problems with Christ the King

317144649_87257a186f_zIt was 1925. Pope Pius XI was troubled by the political climate he saw around him. Dictators, such as Mussolini, Hitler, and Stalin were exerting alarming authoritarian power in Europe. Concerned about rising nationalism, as well as the decreasing authority of the Church, Pius introduced a new day onto the Church calendar, the Feast of Christ the King. By doing this, he was hoping, in part, that the nations would see that the Church has freedom and immunity from the state and that leaders of the nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ.

Now I’d venture a guess that Christ the King Sunday hasn’t been a particularly meaningful day on your own personal calendar. It’s probably mostly recognized as being the last Sunday on the church calendar. And I’ll confess that this is a difficult Sunday on which to preach. Christ the King seems to be an archaic remnant of a bygone time. As I look back, most sermons I can remember began with the caveat: “Now I know we live in a democracy, so it might be hard to get the idea of being subject to a king.” In fact, one Sunday I showed a clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail to illustrate this difficulty. When Arthur reveals himself to a peasant as his king, the peasant replies, “Oh, King, eh, very nice. And how d’you get that, eh? By exploiting the workers! By ‘anging on to outdated imperialist dogma which perpetuates the economic and social differences in our society?”

You see the problem? And there are other problems with the day (I know, this is more than you ever wanted to know about the history of Christ the King, but bear with me, I am going to get to the good news).

Words Matter
As you’ve gotten to know me, you may have learned that inclusive language is very important to me and whenever I’m here I ask if we can we use The Inclusive Bible for our scripture readings. I’m a firm believer that words matter, and that includes the words we use in church.

In fact, I was part of a panel at the Parliament of the World’s Religions earlier this month on “Dismantling the Religious Roots of Patriarchy.” And #1 on my list of action items was: Use inclusive language for humanity and expansive language for the Divine in church publications and worship materials.

The Trouble with Reign of Christ
So from that perspective, Christ the King is a problem. Many churches have switched over to the gender-neutral title: Reign of Christ. But that doesn‘t solve it either. Patri-archy isn’t simply a gender issue. It’s about hierarchies of power, of one group over another: white over black, straight over gay, privileged over poor, etc.  And in light of our growing awareness of these issues, we’ve also begun to question our old under-standing of a God who is ‘up there’ somewhere reigning ‘over us’ – embracing instead the realization of the presence of God all around us and within us.   

Words convey meaning about all kinds of things, not the least of which is what we believe about God and about ourselves. So it’s not just the matter of cleaning up language pertaining to humanity. It’s also about evaluating our language about God – paying attention to imagery that is exclusively male, as well as hierarchical and triumphalistic. Christ the King Sunday is a perfect storm of these concerns – and some have chosen to ditch it altogether.

A Work in Progress
But I’m not big on throwing out words and images just because they’re not working for us anymore, at least not throwing them out without an attempt at transforming them. I have to admit, results have been mixed. Some years ago at First United, in an attempt to highlight the creative power of Christ throughout the universe, we called it the ‘Culmination of All Things in Christ.’ But one clever wag thought it made Christ sound like the Terminator (imagine ‘Christ the Culminator’ with an Arnold Schwarz-enegger accent), so that was the end of that. Then we tried the ‘Cosmic Christ,’ ‘Christ the Alpha and Omega,’ and finally settled on ‘Christ the Anointed’.

So it’s a work in progress. But an important one as we continue to navigate the language of the church of the 21stcentury in the midst of the issues of our day. For as Pope Pius worried about the political climate of his day, so we worry about ours. The assaults on human rights, constitutional law, and Mother Earth herself are seemingly endless and threaten to overwhelm us.

The Empire of God?!
Which brings us back again to this dilemma over Christ the King and its companion, the Kingdom of God – because language really does matter in the face of oppressive regimes.  “Basileia tou Theou”(Greek for Kingdom of God) was the main preaching point of Jesus’ teaching: the kingdom of God is like this; the kingdom of God has come near; the kingdom of God is within you. But “basileia”is being interpreted in some interesting ways these days: reign, realm, even regime of God. Many New Testament scholars are calling it the “empire of God” – the rationale being that Jesus’ main agenda addresses his major antagonist, the “empire of Rome.”

Others aren’t so enamored. Theologian John Cobb, who describes the “basiliea tou theou” as a counter-culture that is based on the values that were rejected by the political, economic, and religious establishments of Jesus’ day. He prefers to call it the “divine commonwealth.” The Inclusive Biblecalls it the kin-dom of God.

As much as I can appreciate the rationale behind “empire of God,” I have a hard time translating that to Christ the Emperor. I’m much more attracted to “kin-dom” or “divine commonwealth” because they get us away from feudal or empire language and broaden out into a more cosmic, interconnected vision – like that of the “divine milieu” of early 20thcentury scientist-priest Pierre Teillhard de Chardin.

In the Divine Milieu
In this “divine milieu” Christ is described at various times as the Total Christ, the Cosmic Christ, the Whole Christ, the Universal Christ or the Mystical Body of Christ. For Teillhard, Christ is not just Jesus of Nazareth risen from the dead, but rather a huge, continually evolving Being as big as the universe. In this colossal, almost unimaginable Being each of us lives and develops, like living cells in a huge organism.

With the help of all the human sciences as well as the scriptures, Teillhard shows how we – the cells and members of the Body of Christ – can participate in and nurture the life of the Total Christ. He shows how, thanks to the continuing discoveries of science, we can begin to glimpse where that great Being is headed and how we can help promote its fulfillment. In a spirituality like this, the power of God is not a coercive power like that of a king, but a persuasive power that beckons us forward into the way of Christ, whose task it is to transform this fragmented world, through love.

If that sounds too far out, remember that even in a spirituality of the divine milieu, the cosmos includes all the mundane, down-to-earth stuff we wrestle with each day, including the work of peace and justice. We never sit back and expect God to come and fix things for us. A while back, I got a call from a local high school student who needed to interview a Christian for her paper on world religions. One of the questions she asked was how do you live out your faith in your daily life. That might seem like a no-brainer for a pastor; after all I get paid for being a professional Christian. But after giving that smart-alecky answer, I gave my real response. I said that I’m called – as every Christian is – to follow the wisdom of Christ in everything I do: what I eat, where I shop, who I love, how I respond to those I find hard to even like, how I vote.

Then the next day I was part of another conversation about how to counter the fear- mongering that too often passes for political discourse these days and the fear that people understandably feel in the midst of a violent world. What could be our message, our talking point that we could spread in a unified way and make a difference in the world? In other words, how could our understanding of Christ have an impact on issues of political, environmental, and cultural import?

Now, make no mistake, I am not talking about “bringing the world to Christ.” The story of the young missionary killed by tribespeople on a remote island hundreds of miles off the coast of India should be a cautionary tale about what Christian mission should not be.

I’m talking about how we translate our understanding of the Cosmic Christ, Christ the Alpha and the Omega into action in the world. And I’ve come to one conclusion. One word: compassion. Maybe you think that’s too simplistic and unrealistic.  But I’ve recently returned from a gathering of 10,000 people from all over the world and from 220 distinct religious groups – whose abiding practice is compassion, as defined by The Charter for Compassion, which was adopted in 2008 and endorsed by more than two million people around the world. It says:

“The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and put another there, and to honor the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.”

This is the ethic of the divine milieu, the kin-dom of God. This vast universe that is the body of Christ is alive and we are part of it, growing and evolving in awareness and faith. And while such an immense reality may seem to big to include our concerns, our own individual concerns or the struggles of immigrants or the conflicts within nations, the truth is that in this commonwealth, each cell matters, each person matters, each hope, fear, dream, joy matters. This is the message we take with us on this final Sunday of the church year. So do not be discouraged. As you go out as prophetic witnesses to the peace and justice of the kin-dom, know that you are loved by a Love unbounded by space and time or by titles and political systems. Bigger than any king or queen or president, power or principality. This is the reality to which we cling and from which we take action.  

Amen

 

 

 

#Me Too Goes to the Parliament of the World’s Religions

MeToo3 copyI’m finally getting around to putting down some of my many thoughts from being at The Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto. It makes sense for this blog to begin with the recognition that there was a lot of opportunity to engage the subject of patriarchy. 

The Frustration of Abundance
As fantabulous as the Parliament is, one of the frustrations of the week (as well as one of the blessings) is the plethora of workshops and presentations that occur all within each time slot. For example, 
I would so loved to have heard Carol Christ speak on “Why We Still Need the Goddess: Religions and the Abuse of Women and Girls.” (Thankfully, I did find this excerpt from her talk in a blog post called “Religions and the Abuse of Women and Girls: God Is the Problem.”)

But as I was planning out my schedule for that day, I realized that she would be speaking at the same time as “Climate Change and Women: A Conversation with Margaret Atwood.” Now that is just not fair! How to choose?!

Women Rising Against Patriarchy in Religion
But it turned out that I didn’t make it to either one. I participated in my own workshop before theirs and then ended up continuing the conversation with a group of women out in the hallway afterwards. I was on a panel called “#MeToo, #Time’s Up, and Women Rising Against Patriarchy in Religion” and my portion of the presentation was on the religious roots of patriarchy in Christianity.

You can watch Part 1 and Part 2 here.

You can see why I would surely have appreciated what Carol Christ had to say.  Obviously, she has gone into greater depth on this subject than I have. And though I agree with her premise that “the Bible as a whole supports male dominance through the pervasive and almost exclusive use of language that portrays God as a male, most often as a dominant male, as Lord, King, Warrior, and Father,” I still unabashedly come at it from the perspective of a Christian pastor trying to reform the tradition.

Taking Action
Hence my list of action items at the end of my presentation:

1.  Use inclusive language for humanity and expansive language for the Divine in Church publications and worship materials     Here’s a good resource

2.  Encourage the reading of sacred texts with a “hermeneutic of suspicion” which questions traditional interpretations

3.  Recognize the misogyny of many of the early Church leaders and their ongoing legacy

4.  Recognize the “texts of terror” in our sacred texts and the violence that continues to be justified because of them

5.  Recognize the spiritual, emotional, and physical violence perpetrated by an entrenched patriarchal system, both within the Church and society in general

6.  Commit to the revision of theologies, teachings, liturgies, and practices to reflect the goodness of all people especially those who have been most impacted by patriarchy

7.  Develop systems of real, shared power, with representation by all groups

Leave Them Wanting More45681241_10156282713679102_8686646488022908928_n
Another frustration of the Parliament is that there is so little time for lengthier and
deeper engagement with what is presented in a workshop. We had very little time for Q&A, but the questions that were asked ranged from wondering why even bother trying to reform the church to advice on how to do it. Although the conversation did continue in the hallway, none of the original questioners was there (probably rushing off to the next workshop!) 

I sure would have loved to be part of a discussion that included the members of my panel, the leaders of the Gender Reconciliation workshop I attended, and of course, Carol Christ. Plus all the women and men who attended all of these and other workshops on dismantling patriarchy. 

However, I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be there and to be part of the movement. As another member of my panel said, “always leave them wanting more.” There will indeed be more.