The author of life is neither male nor female

I was seven months pregnant the day I was ordained. My white robe blossomed with my belly, and I waddled when I walked forward to receive the blessing of the community.

This is not radical. It should not shock anyone that I became a pastor while I was on the brink of becoming a mother. The two roles have intertwined wonderfully. The son I am raising and the church that I pastor brings me immense joy, and they make me tired, but a good tired.

What is more radical is that the God I serve in both intertwined vocations is not male. Many of my colleagues, male and female alike, do not bat an eye at referring to God, “He.” And every time it happens, in my mind, there is an unspoken buzzer sound. “Rrrr!!” Wrong. False. I rewind the moment and bleep the gendered pronoun.

The creator of the heavens and the earth, the author of life and its end, the love who knits us each differently and yet gathers us into one, that love, is neither male nor female.

Characters in the Bible, on the other hand, are male and female. Yahweh is certainly male. Christ is a man, born of woman. I think we can read enough to say the Spirit, breath and dove, is female if anything. Then there is Lady Wisdom, Sophia.

Parts of Christianity approach these characters as names for God. As names, they title God, bringing the gendered nature of our speech along. Lutherans take another approach. God is triune, Father, Son, Spirit. But in speaking those three persons, we are speaking metaphors. We might also say, Rock, Chicken, Wind. (O God our Rock and our Redeemer/Christ the mother hen gathering in her brood/the Wind which swept over the waters of Creation.) Some go with Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. I like metaphor and image, and I like my ecumenical relationships, which are sustained by a classic use of Father, Son and Spirit. So thusly I pray and baptize.

And, when I bless water or bread or wine, I strive to use language that expands our ideas of God. The Bible is a rich soil full of these images, as is the tradition. There is one riveting prayer, which lauds the fertile placenta of God. Piling on the imagery helps free us from the male-female binary.

I am also a feminist. This is also not radical. In its broadest definition, feminism is the idea that voices other than those belonging to white, land-owning males have meaningful contributions to make. Other voices matter. That’s feminism with all the baggage boiled off, like a tasty sauce reduction. When we begin practicing this idea, we learn to listen. Generally as humans we are lousy at listening. It is hard to practice feminism in the face of rampant patriarchy and our sin, which leads us to trumpet answers rather than hear our neighbor’s voice.

So, I should let go of the mental buzzer bleeping my neighbors who speak of God as male. Instead, I should invite them to tell me why a male image of God meaningful to them. Let our time on Saturday be such an invitation to mutual listening, the free sharing of ideas, and many, many images for the God who ever defies naming.

Join us for our next Coffee Talk at 10 a.m. on March 2 at Indaba Coffee, where we'll talk about how gender equality is handled in faith communities. 

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Pastor Deb Conklin

One of the main reasons I left Christianity when I left my parents’ home (and was no longer required to attend church) was my inability to relate to a male god. As I explored other faith traditions, I experienced most of them as patriarchal also (Taoism was, for me, an exception to this trend. I had not yet encountered paganism.) Then I encountered a group of Christians who were committed to exploring the fullness of God with the many Biblical images. For a period, I needed to avoid male images, because they caused me to work too hard to relate to such a god. I am now able, with only minor pangs of discomfort, to include male imagery for God.

One of the most interesting aspects of this journey is the sorts of arguments that are often used to justify images of God other than ones that include maleness and powerfulness. At one point on my journey it was popular to insist that using male images for God re-traumatize women who’ve been abused by men, particularly using God the Father with women who’ve been abused by father figures. Ironically I was abused by my female parent, not my male parent. And the first time I was offered nurturing female imagery for God I broke down and cried. For me, the female images of God offered a love and a comfort for which I had longed, but had not experienced from my own mother. One of my favorite hymns is “Mothering God, You Gave Me Birth”.

Now, I have come to the place where I believe we need to embrace a myriad of images for our God who is ultimately mystery, and One whom we cannot fully know in our present form. So I offer the wonderful images from “Bring Many Names”: Strong Mother God, Warm Father God, Old, Aching God, Young Growing God, Great Living God….

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