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

Restraint

The LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” – Genesis 2:16-17 (NRSV)

When the new year dawned two months ago, my social media feed was filled with people saying goodbye: “I’m letting go of my burdens and picking up my freedom.” “I’m forgiving last year’s disappointments and welcoming the new year’s expectations.” “I’m muting unhealthy friendships.”

There’s wisdom to these choices … and plenty of songs to accompany them, for those of us who lean on music to bolster our determination.

“Wave your little hand and whisper ‘So long dearie,’” is a personal favorite, à la Bette, Barbra, Pearl, and Carol, in Hello, Dolly!

“Let it go, let it go; turn away and slam the door,” via Idina Menzel in Frozen. (And I thank God that my children were too old to obsess over this movie when it was released.)

To say goodbye, in the healthiest sense, is to claim and proclaim a boundary. It’s to say, “I am here, you are there, and our paths are not identical.” It’s to identify our “yes” and our “no.” It’s to recognize that not everything is ours to have, not everyone is ours to hold, not every mystery is ours to know.

God tells the human that the garden is full of sustenance for the mind, body, and spirit … but not every provision in the garden is meant to be consumed. Not all knowledge is meant to be known—not all knowledge can be known—by the human. To resist the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is to accept this boundary.

Deliver my spirit from craving, “Mine! Mine!” and soothe my heart with the good news of boundaries.

written for the 2020 Lenten Devotional
(a Stillspeaking Writers’ Group product)

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

Are We There Yet?

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and said, “Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?” – 2 Samuel 7:18 (NRSV)

The #BlackLivesMatter movement is more than six years old. The #MeToo movement is more than thirteen years old. Civil rights and liberation movements around the world are generations old—as old as our love of power and control.

When will justice prevail?

In my pregnancies (many years ago) that resulted in the births of my two children, the final trimesters always seemed the slowest. I thought I couldn’t possibly get any bigger, that each day would surely be “the day,” that the new life inside me was long overdue.

When would the waiting end?

Last year, a new shopping development in my neighborhood dragged weeks, and then months, behind schedule. Piles of dirt and skeletons of I-beams languished while awaiting the vision of a bustling community.

Must delays in construction be inevitable?

King David believed that the work of building God’s house was overdue and that he was the one to undertake such a noble project. God’s reply? “Why do you assume that I’m discontent where I am? Who are you to say that my presence in the world is not yet enough?”

God was already where God intended to be. God’s promised presence was already fulfilled. What David believed needed to be started, pursued, labored over, and completed for God’s sake was already ongoing.

God was already there, bringing David along the way.

We still have so far to go, O God. The work of justice seems eternal, the wait for new life seems long, the aspirations we undertake in your name seem to be forever incomplete. We might never reach the end of it all—but God, please promise that our progress isn’t a measure of your arrival.

written for the Daily Devotional

Send Word

Tell the stars to send word, O Creator,
of your faithfulness to every generation,
of your trustworthiness through the long night of injustice.

Tell the children to send word, O Love,
of your accompaniment in places of exile,
of your blessed increase even in the presence of enemies.

Tell the prophets to send word, O Hope,
of your oasis in the desert named oppression,
of your refuge when our homes are not safe from violence.

Tell the Jordan River to send word, O Peace,
of your healing no matter how shallow the waters,
of your sweet relief when our tears overflow like a storm.

Tell the silver to send word, O Fire,
of your grace through fierce judgment,
of your pure beauty that gleams in the midst of trial.

Tell the foreigner to send word, O Mercy,
of your welcome that continuously disrupts exclusion,
of your fearsome freedom for the sake of life and redemption.

Send word, O God,
by wind or horse or messenger,
and we will give thanks for ever and ever.

on today’s Revised Common Lectionary texts,
cross-posted at RevGalBlogPals