When God is a Guy

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” So God created humankind … in the image of God. (Genesis 1:26-27, NRSV)

I grew up on the formal liturgies and hymns of the Evangelical and Reformed tradition, with phrases like Thee and Thou and Hearken and O Most Merciful Father and The King Is Drawing Nigh. God was a guy: a father, a king, a male shepherd, a strong (read: masculine) defender, the husband of the Church. The Church’s use of masculine language for God was knit into my faith as a child.

But the Church’s use of masculine imagery and language for the Divine hasn’t done the world any favors. It’s not done our faith any favors, either.

Masculine God imagery is ambivalent at best – and intentional at worst – as an accomplice of sexism and gender-based violence. God the King and God the Father do more to reinforce patriarchy’s injustices than to disrupt them. God as a guy doesn’t help the Church envision leadership in the flesh of a woman (cis and trans) or in the being of a non-binary leader. Boy-God curtails God’s own diversity – the clucking hen God, the giving birth God, the fluttering bird God, the non-gendered “their” God who said, “Let us make humankind in our likeness.”

It’s all a metaphor, of course. I don’t know anyone who believes that the Eternal Mystery we call “God” has the genitals of a cis human male. Nevertheless, when God is a guy even metaphorically, the impact is tangible.

When God is a guy, a denomination such as the UCC with more women than men among its active ordained ministers (51.7% female to 48.1% male in 2019) nevertheless exhibits bias in its hiring of executive ministerial leaders (41.3% female to 58.1% male solo/senior pastors in 2019). Source: 2019 UCC Statistical Profile.

When God is a guy, the Church demonstrates a preference for men at the helm of theological education, with the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) noting that women hold only 13% of the CEO positions in ATS-affiliated schools. Source: 2018 ATS Women in Leadership Survey.

When God is a guy, women are perceived as less knowledgeable, less capable, less deserving of self-determination than men. Perhaps you’ve noticed the loss of viable female candidates in the U.S. presidential nomination process. Worldwide, 9 out of 10 persons are biased against women in areas of politics, education, economics, and physical well-being. Source: 2020 UNDP Gender Social Norms Index.

When God is a guy, the divine likeness in women and non-gendered persons is made secondary – in our Bibles, in our liturgies, in our leadership. Our masculine God-language isn’t solely responsible for gender inequality, however it is not exempt from our critical examination of the ways it shapes our faith, our thought, and our action.

Maybe you don’t believe God is a guy. Nevertheless, the Church continues to struggle with a glass ceiling (and a glass cliff).

Maybe you love your mama, your sister, your daughter, and you celebrate their strength. Nevertheless, approximately 50,000 women were killed in 2017 by intimate partners or family members (per unwomen.org).

Maybe you celebrate your female or non-binary pastor, and you respect their authority. Nevertheless, in this U.S. presidential season, we will not elect a woman to the highest office of government.

When God is a guy, the image of God is harmed. When God is a guy, our communities are harmed. So long as God is a guy, gender justice will evade us.

written for Witness for Justice

Trial and Error

Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the LORD, and you enduring foundations of the earth; for the LORD has a controversy with the people, and God will contend with Israel. “O my people, what have I done to you? In what have I wearied you? Answer me!” – Micah 6:2-3 (NRSV)

A trial is underway. God is both plaintiff and judge. The people together are the defendant. And all creation – from the highest mountains to earth’s deepest foundations – is the jury.

It strikes me as appropriate that creation should assess humanity’s culpability for injustice and injury. When we judge one another, our own sinfulness distorts our assessment of others’ sins. In another’s abuses, we notice our own greeds or traumas. In another’s errors, we find reflections of our own fears or schemes. We assess too harshly or too leniently. We acquit our own guilt. We obstruct one another’s well-being.

The jury of creation is much more impartial, having known the faithfulness of God across decades and centuries, having experienced the upheaval and patience of change across millennia. By comparison, humans are fickle and impulsive, reckless and weak.

What has God’s faithfulness done to us, that we reject humility?

How has God’s love wearied us, that we neglect mercy?

How do we defend our case to the jury of mountains?

How do we answer for our persistent injustice?

The tabloids of heaven broadcast the controversy of a holy covenant broken by the people. Broken by us. Corrupted by us.

Do we not already know creation’s verdict?

God, have mercy: we are guilty of the charges against us. Christ, have mercy: we are guilty of excusing injustice. God, have mercy: we are accountable to the mountains, to one another, and to you.

written for the Daily Devotional

Face to Face

Although I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink; instead I hope to come to you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
– 2 John 1:12 (NRSV)

I love the written word. Love the written word.

Some of my favorite images for Christ expand upon the Gospel of John’s Word Made Flesh: the Word Made Verb, the Word Made Ink, the Word Made Verse. Wordplay is my happy place.

The Word that becomes verb is active and adventurous.

The Word that becomes ink is purposeful, pointed.

The Word that is stylized in verse is beautiful and elusive.

The Word when written can swell or break hearts, uplift or devastate lives, comfort or isolate the soul.

The Word is a wonder.

My love for the written word not only extends to my relationship with the Holy but also to my relationship with you. I’m content—delighted, even—to relate to you through the written word. A text rather than a phone call. An email rather than a meeting. A well-crafted, edited, typed-out thought rather than whatever jumble of words might fall off my tongue during an in-person conversation. I will lose sleep over those face-to-face words if they are inadequate in the moment.

Nevertheless, all the written words in the world cannot substitute for the poignancy of personal interaction. The humility of breath in shared space. The interpretation of body language. The fragility of disagreement; the relief of affirmation. The hopes, the fears, the possibilities that cannot be realized unless we are in the same space.

The written word can only describe it. Coming together completes it.

“Here, o my Lord, I see thee face to face.” (H. Bonar) May words never come between us.

written for the Daily Devotional

Wilderness

We long for your voice
like a deer longs for water,
but no, Lord — do not put your voice
in our ears and our hearts, for it might
split us open and rend us from
the comforts and assumptions
with which we have clothed faith.

We long for your presence
like a ship longs for the shore,
but no, Spirit — do not be an anchor
to our wandering spirits, for you might
disrupt our restless living with the call
to faithfulness; we would
rather battle the storms.

We long for your help
like an eagle longs for the wind,
but no, Mercy — do not lift us up
with story and song, for we prefer reason
to imagination and your provocation
might shatter the certainty
by which we cling to you.

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