i’ve had the title of this post sitting in my drafts for a long time — more than a half year. time to get around to writing it. it’s not much of a stake in the ground if i don’t actually put the stake in the ground!
phase one of marko’s thinking about male pronouns for god (1963 through, roughly, the late 80s):
it’s a stupid waste of time to even consider our use or lack of use of male pronouns for god. only liberals who might not even be actual christians care about such a silly argument. and they’re not actually interested in god; they’re only interested in social issues and feminism. besides, the bible uses male pronouns for god all the time! and, come on, it’s god the father, not god the mother.
phase two of marko’s thinking about male pronouns for god (roughly, the late 80s through the mid-90s):
ok, i’ll admit this much, god — as spirit — doesn’t have a “gender” per se. i mean, i can agree that god doesn’t have male genitalia. so i can understand, a little bit, trying to be sensitive to our projections of a male personification onto god. but bother with the whole pronoun thing still seems to be aligning oneself with a liberal church issue that’s not really important. remember, the bible does use male pronouns.
phase three of marko’s thinking about male pronouns for god (roughly, the mid-90s through the end of the 90s):
(sigh). ok, now i can agree to the notion that using exclusively male pronouns for god is, in many ways, actually damaging to our understanding of god. it’s limiting. how come no one, in all my wonderful church upbringing and christian college classes ever showed me the feminine metaphors for god (the mother hen, the mother eagle, others), or that wisdom is a feminine word. but it’s way too much of a hassle to try to use more neutral words. we don’t have a neutral pronoun, so we’re stuck with what we’ve got.
phase four of marko’s thinking about male pronouns for god (roughly, end of the 90s through about a year ago):
i’m going to try to be a bit more sensitive to this issue, and use “God” in my speaking and writing a bit more. but there are still awkward sentence constructions — like saying “Godself” — that are too much of a pain and way too weird. i’ll still use “him” and “he” some, but try to cut down a bit.
phase five of marko’s thinking about male pronouns for god (roughly, a year ago until now):
i did some reading, and talked to a bunch of women about how — for some of them — male pronoun use for god, no matter how much we might try to admit that god doesn’t have a human gender like we do, is a struggle for them. i understand that, no matter now much we try, it’s impossible for us to fully separate our understanding of god from our experience in life, and that metaphors and history both speak loudly into our psyches, worship, theology and practice. and while it is much more work to avoid male pronouns — at least for me, as i’ve used them for more than 40 years, and hear them in most of the contexts i live in — i’ve also seen (in writing) and heard (in speaking) people who artfully craft sentences to avoid the awkwardness of structure i previously thought was occasionally necessary (when this is done well, i don’t notice it at all). i’ve put a stake in the ground: i’m trying to excise the use of male pronouns for god when speaking and writing.
the result, so far:
it’s a pain. awareness of this has led to a few subsequent awarenesses…
first, i tend to notice every single use of a male pronoun for god. it’s distracting. i wish there were a way to separate my attempt from my listening to others — i wish i could turn it on and off. but the awareness has brought a relentless noticing. i really notice it when i use a male pronoun for god while i’m speaking, and it’s extremely distracting to me! i’m even distracted by my intention to not use them. sometimes i wish i weren’t in this place, that i didn’t have this awareness.
second, i still think the “father” metaphor in scripture is helpful and good. of course, i understand it’s a metaphor (i think there are lots of christians who don’t see it as a metaphor): certainly god the father didn’t give birth to jesus. the father metaphor still works for me. but, while i can cognitively assent to the mother metaphors being just as valid, they don’t quite work for me in my thinking and worship. i don’t find it easy to meditate — for example — on god as caring, nurturing mother, like i do on the image of god as loving father. i have searched for images that work for me, but haven’t really found one yet. part of this is that i’ve lived a life with a humanized father image. and while the images of god in scripture — male and female — include lots of non-human images (rocks, hens, eagles, wind, water, light, bread, lamb), the only scriptural metaphors i have to work with that are decidedly feminine are non-human. there are also a ton of human metaphors for god in scripture (best friend, guide, potter, servant, judge) — which don’t have to be male, i’ve spent a lifetime thinking of them as male. even the feminine “sophia” — the scriptural word for wisdom, often associated with the holy spirit — has all kinds of hurdles for me at an experience level.
finally, i’m choosing to live in this tension. i’m not peppering my prayer, sermons or writing with female metaphors for god. while i can understand the democratic impulse to do this, i think it only complicates the problem. for me, that would be adding to the problem, not solving it. instead, i’ve been working to learn how to change sentences to use the name of god without a gender-specific pronoun. and i’m praying for deeper understanding and revelation from god.
i’m sure some will see this as some kind of horrible, liberal proof of my slip from orthodoxy. nothing could be further from the truth, actually. i deeply desire to know my creator, the one who breathes life into me, the revealed and revealing one (see, that was one of those phrases i had to work on — it would have been my first instinct to say, “the one who reveals himself), the one who is active in scripture, in the church, in the world, in my life.
clarifications and further thoughts
interesting comments so far. i’ve mostly really enjoyed reading them. mostly.
i couldn’t get my laptop to work with the wireless at this resort in mexico, but i had to jump on and respond a bit; so i finally paid for an hour at the internet cafe. a few things…
first, please understand that my whole point was about MALE PRONOUNS for god, NOT the metaphor of father. i tried to be clear about this, but the quantity of comments that said or implied that i was dumping or dumping on the scriptural father metaphor leads me to believe i wasn’t clear enough. i’m talking about the constant use of him and he and his when referring to god.
second, i love the father metaphor, and think it is totally scriptural – obviously so. i have no intention of moving away from or discarding that wonderful metaphor. and i will still talk about the trinity in terms of father, son and holy spirit. that said, i think we have a tendancy – i know i have – to worship the metaphor, rather than worshipping through the metaphor. this is a major portion of my shift — i want to know god better and deeper, and don’t want to be limited by charicatures of my own making or my culture’s making.
third, many of said to major on the majors, and that this is a minor issue. first of all, i find that highly dismissive. wow. i was — i have to admit — a bit aghast at how many times that was suggested. limiting our understanding of god is a minor thing? worshipping a metaphor rather than god is a minor thing? i think not. and, the quick assumption that this is a minor thing may reveal an arrogance or some other issue that allows this to be dismissed in such a manner. i’ll tell you this — this is a major thing for me for two reasons: a. i want to know god more; and b. i know so many women who have really struggled to understand themselves as created in god’s image because they only had a male concept of god.
fourth, and finally, i appreciate that lars commented that this is my journey, not a ys mandate. this is true. i’ve had this discussion with tic and jeanne stevens (my two convention co-emcees), as i would love to see us be more cautious on stage. but tic thinks i’m making a big deal out of nothing, and i’m not about to send a memo or make a policy enforcing my journey. i’ve not suggested to our publishing team that we take this direction, or talked about it anywhere else. really, this is experimental for me, and it’s as much about honoring my wife in her journey as it is anything else.
so, there you have it — for now. hope that clarifies some stuff. and i hope more people will comment.