Male God-talk

Sexist prayer cleaned up, October 21, 2011
Those of us who are aware of sexism’s subtleties often cringe in church where we hear the SOURCE of All That Is reduced to a man-like being. But at Roman Catholic WomenPriest Masses, where we clean up the God-talk, we are relieved and renewed.

The following Eucharistic Prayer shows what a difference language makes. Ruth Lindstedt took the Prayer we had been using and revised it to create this one that we like even better and now use at our monthly womenpriest Masses.

Prayer Leader: God is with us! All: Amen!
PL: Let us open ourselves to the transforming power of the Creator.
All: We lift our hearts to God and one another.
PL: Let us give thanks to the source of all life and love.
All: It is right to give God thanks and praise.
PL: Blessed are you, Creator God of the universe,
through whom all life began, continues to grow and change.
In the beginning, God Sophia spoke the Word, “Let there be,”
and with a cosmic flash all creation was proclaimed,
giving birth to time, space, matter, energy, and life.

We are in awe of the universe surrounding our fertile yet fragile planet:
our sun and sister planets, the stars, galaxies, and depths of interstellar space.
We honor you, God, for the gift of Gaia Mother Earth:
her heights and depths, vast visible and hidden treasures,
her richness of diversity expressed in each square inch.

With all creation we join to thank and praise you, God,
for all these wonders, expressions of your profound love.
With the angels and saints of every generation we sing:
All sing: Holy, holy, holy
PL: O God in your wisdom and love you formed us in your image
to join with you to serve the circle of life.
When we turn away from your friendship you continue to love us,
calling us through your prophets to turn back toward your loving gaze and embrace.

Together with Jesus you breathe your Spirit on us
so that our relationship with you and all our brothers and sisters
—indeed with the whole universe—might be restored.

Pour that same Spirit upon these gifts from Mother Earth,
present here before us now,
that they and we might become Christ, who brings us to unity with you.

Out of the fullness of his love, Jesus our Brother gave his life
that we might live in love.
And so we remember: All: On the night before he died, Jesus took bread and gave you thanks and praise. . . .

In this space I will provide more examples of liturgical language cleansed of sexism.

Sexist God-talk, November 18, 2011
If you MUST use only male names—you have created and are worshipping an idol.
Maxine Moe Rasmussen

We know that when we die we will not meet an individual named “Father.” We no longer think of the Trinity as three humanlike individuals; we no longer think of heaven or hell as places. Today the shrinking globe makes it impossible to deny that perfectly good religions and good people do not imagine The Holy as we were trained to do.

Given today’s access to other religions and other spiritual frames, more and more Christians realize that our doctrines need to be understood symbolically, not literally. But the awakening process happens too slowly to suit me.
There's a term for literal belief—reification. It treats a symbol or abstraction like a substantial, physical thing—an object or living being with a body. We know that what we call God is not such an object or person in a body, but Christian theology regularly reifies God. I named my book God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky to bring home the realization that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are symbols, not material individuals.

As I get responses to my book and presentations, I’m struck by the difficulty many have with understanding this. I hadn’t realized how hard it is for humans to think abstractly; I hadn’t realized how hard it would be for me to pierce the Christian cloud of confusion.
The reason is typical Christian God-talk. It so consistently paints the picture of a male individual or set of three male individuals that religion teachers, pastors, and priests—I’m certain even many bishops—reduce God to a mere he-god in their imaginations.

Are ordinary humans simply incapable of rising above reification and thinking abstractly? NO! I don’t accept that. All that’s needed is interfering with the imagined he-god by cleaning up the language. Isaiah 25 provides an example:
On this mountain the Lord will provide for all peoples
. . . He will destroy
The veil that veils all peoples . . .
The Lord will wipe away
The tears from all faces;
The disgrace of His people He will remove . . .
This is the Lord for whom we looked;
Let us rejoice and be glad that He has saved us!
Now let’s disrupt that imagined he-god.
On this mountain the Holy One will provide for all peoples
. . . She will destroy
The veil that veils all peoples . . .
She will wipe away
The tears from all faces;
The disgrace of Her people She will remove . . .
This is the Holy One for whom we looked;
Let us rejoice and be glad that She has saved us!
This upsets your comfortable prayer life? Good. As spiritual leaders point out, effective prayer changes us. "She" jolts us into realizing that exclusively male God-talk diminishes God.
Maxine Moe Rasmussen says it well:
If you MUST use only male terms while speaking of God—not choose to, but MUST use only male names—you have created and are worshipping an idol.
While speaking to members of the church, there have been a number of times when I've pointed this out and I'm met with either surprise or disbelief! The idolatry of worshipping the male is so much a part of the church that I have no doubt most will never be able to overcome their conditioning.
I’m afraid so. But if Catholics want to remain relevant in the West, they will change their sexist God-talk, because the he-god has not much longer to live in the imagination of future generations. Christianity’s worship of a male idol is one reason we are entering the post-Christian era.

Male God-talk, June 25, 2010
I’ve had occasion lately to reflect on my purpose in writing and speaking about religions and spirituality. Responses I get—mostly oral or email—tell me that my biggest contribution is invigorating those who vaguely question dying or deadening religion but don't have time to spend on the questions. Jobs, family duties, positions in religious institutions, or insufficient background in theology get in the way.

So here is my effort to fill a need. I honor and obey my inner voice by offering some information and ways to reconcile the confusing messages. Things become a lot clearer once we realize that all religious language is figurative, not literal. Spiritual reality is not a set of male individuals or exactly three other humanlike figures. Heaven does not have gates or thrones or harp music.

Charles Curran, a highly-respected moral theologian, was banned by the Vatican from teaching Catholic theology because he “dissents from the Magisterium” on contraception, homosexuality, the status of women, and other issues. In Newsweek he wrote,
Today, a third of people who were raised Catholic have left the church; no other major religion in the United States has experienced a larger net loss in followers in the last 30 years.
It has been a while since I’ve seen that quaint term “Magisterium.” It has lost some of its power to intimidate because too many people know too much. We no longer depend on “the Magisterium” for spiritual direction or to tell us what to believe. Opportunities for spiritual guidance and growth abound in our media-plenty world. Not to mention, facts about other religions and spiritual attitudes.

So I go on exploring the questions and offering some answers. This came in by email. I publish with permission:
Jeanette, I have a hard time getting off your blog and going back to work on my unfinished list of things to do. I get emotional when reading what you have written (and the responses from others); It lets me know that it is okay to not believe what the Catholic Church (and other Christian Religions) say I should believe; that just because I can't swallow what they teach doesn't mean I am stupid-ignorant-ungodly.
I need to work on getting rid of the anger I feel for much of what I was taught as infallible; for my being so gullible. It's been and still is refreshing to know that it is okay to not go along with the status-quo; that Religous leaders don't have a private line to God (Creator is what I prefer). I have become very open to letting others know what I believe (that is SO NOT Catholic) with no fear.
Theologians never say Jesus is God but they also avoid saying he’s not God because they have the Vatican peering over their shoulder. I have no status in the Church, so I provoke thought by saying, “I don’t believe Jesus is God.”

Catholic theologian Paul Knitter (NCR June 25, 2010) explains that “Jesus is Son of God” and “Jesus is Savior” are beliefs or attempts to express the mystery of God and (this is important), “All of our language is symbolic.” He repeats the Buddhist image, “Our words are like fingers pointing to the moon—not the moon itself.”
I like his description of what we call God:
Ultimate reality is not an entity, a being, but rather it is what they call the interconnectedness of everything. Or as the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh uses the term for ultimate reality “interbeing.”
He also uses the expressions, “God is love” and “interconnecting energy.” I add, “God is relationship.”

At this stage in the evolution of human consciousness, we might like a more cosmic perspective of the reality called God—the transcendent God. For that I like this description from Tom Shepherd’s column in Unity magazine:
God is the principles of chemistry by which the ocean is constituted, the laws of physics by which water remains liquid, and the process of evolution by which the fish came forth from the water, minerals and organic compounds in the sea.
I haven’t heard a better description than the simple statement, God is in all and all is in God. This includes all processes of Nature (the external universe), all personhood, and all consciousness, conceivable and inconceivable.

I would like to see us reform our liturgies from worshipping a certain external God-image to recognizing the mysterious Unknowable at the center of our personhood.

In a desire to belong or to impress, many of us squelch our authentic thoughts and beliefs. In A Hidden Wholeness: That Journey toward an Undivided Life, Quaker writer Parker Palmer counsels us to avoid “the divided life”—abandoning our true selves to please others, playing an outer role separate from our inner soul. Dr. Andrew Jilani found a similar message at a shrine in Turkey to Jalaladdin Rumi, Persian poet and spiritual seer. Inscribed on the building was this counsel:
Appear as you are.
Be as you seem.
So who am I really? What do I really think and believe? The answers are not easy if I have been conforming to demands out there and forgetting the self in here.

Among the signs of a “divided life” are these:
• We conceal our true identities for fear of being criticized, shunned, or attacked.
• We hide our beliefs from those who disagree with us to avoid conflict, challenge, and change.

When we dissent from the dictates of religion, we can be severely tested in our ability to live the undivided life, the life of integrity. During the years I have been thinking more deeply about religion, I’ve seen a huge increase in the number of Christians who question familiar religious beliefs, who withstand threats of hell and damnation. As they grow in spiritual maturity, they stop slavishly obeying outside voices and hearken to the voice at the center of their personhood, the immanent God.

Palmer calls the inner voice that steadily calls us back to our authentic selves the soul. Zen Buddhists talk about the observer, Twelve Step refers to the Higher Power, and Christians to the Holy Spirit. Carl Jung, referring to Hindu thought, called it the Self and said its symbol is the Christ. To paraphrase Jung, the prophet Jesus became a symbol of this divine center or inner conscience. Not the Nazarene who lived in history, but this inner voice is speaking when people say, “Jesus tells us . . .”

If we participate in Christian liturgies we can’t avoid language that encourages us to worship an external God-image instead of listening to messages from within. The steady drip of “father/lord/he/himhis” inserted into discourse about spiritual reality inhibits spiritual maturity by limiting God to a single image. We need to break out of that rut.

S. Lucy Edlebeck, OP, does it with her greeting cards:
May God smile/ May SHE bless you.
WOMAN said, This is my body. This is my blood.
How refreshing these words! They jolt us into realizing the inadequacy of religious language that is not inclusive.

Intercessions for Ascension, May 14, 2013
I write the Intercessions for our Catholic womanpriest liturgies. After the Ascension and Mother's Day celebration on May 12, our musical director said they should be read in all churches, and he asked me to email him a copy.  After I sent them he urged me to publish them, at least in my blog, if not elsewhere.
They are an example of how the symbolic interpretation of doctrine can bring meaning and assistance to human lives, rather than promoting the worship of an external god. For me "Christ" is not a human individual; it is the divinity within all. 
For officials in secular and religious governing bodies to manifest the Ascension of Christ by promoting the welfare of all humanity without prejudice toward any group, we pray.

For people of the world ravaged by weak economies, natural disasters, and calamities caused by humans, either willfully or accidentally, to manifest the Ascension of Christ by rising from their Passion to new levels of health and prosperity, we pray.

For people of the world dulled by habit, ignorance, and comfortable consumption to manifest the Ascension of Christ by rising to new levels of awareness and concern for fellow creatures, we pray.

For mothers and mothering caregivers who are ill, impaired, or alienated to be lifted in an Ascension to inner healing, we pray.

For us gathered here to manifest the Ascension of Christ by allowing our deepest aspirations, yearnings, and revelations to guide us toward creating more satisfying structures in our communities and our nation, we pray.


Florian said…
In that NCR article, the question was finally asked of Knitter:

Buddha was enlightened; Jesus was divine. That’s a big difference, isn’t it?

Knitter's response:
"Yes. It’s a big difference. When one looks at, first of all, the language that we Christians use to talk about the mystery of Jesus the Christ, perhaps the two primary words that we use -- or doctrines that we attest to -- are Jesus is Son of God and Jesus is Savior. Now those two terms, Son of God, Savior, are beliefs. These expressions are our attempt to put into words what is the mystery of God.

"All of our words are our efforts to try to say in words what can never be fully said in words. In other words, we’re using symbols, we’re using metaphors, we’re using analogies. This goes straight back to St. Thomas Aquinas and to my teacher, Karl Rahner. All of our language is symbolic."

All of these NCR people are the same. They try to find clever ways to explain away the divinity of Jesus without directly denying it, and in that way they avoid being labeled heretics.

They misuse the simple fact that "language is symbolic" by using it as an excuse for ignoring the plain meaning of belief language whenever they feel like it.

Notice that Knitter conflates symbol, metaphor, and analogy, something Jeanette always does. Thomas Aquinas, on the other hand, carefully distinguished between them. (Liberal theologians don't bother with Aquinas' subtle distinctions because they don't want to be "excessively rational" like Aquinas was. But, actually, liberal theologians don't turn out to be very rational at all.)
Jeanette said…
Florian is correct in saying that theologians avoid the label "heretic," but not correct in saying they "explain away the divinity of Jesus."

Theologians do avoid saying Jesus is God. To explicate further, Jesus is divine but does not equal God. Jesus is one of many sons and daughters of God—persons who express divinity more conspicuously and magnificently than the rest of us.

Symbol, metaphor and analogy are examples of figurative language, different from each other but alike in stating that something is LIKE something else, not the same, but like it. The Bible has a wealth of figurative language describing God, none of it sufficing as a definition of God, the Unknowable.

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