I broke my left arm shortly before I started 3rd grade. I was at daycare and someone challenged me and a friend to a piggy back race, so I loaded her up on to my back and we took off. I should have known better, right? I mean, I was not known for my athletic prowess as a child (or now or ever in my life). I was more known for hanging with the teacher at recess and my impressive array of stirrup pants.
Anyway, I tripped on a tree root and fell, with the full force of my substantial weight as well as my passenger’s girth. I put my arms out and my left arm made a terrible crunching noise. While the bone didn’t go through the skin, there was a large protuberance where my elbow had come unhinged and the bones were overlapping one another.
I remember laying in the director’s office on a cot with a magazine tied up around my arm as a make-shift sling. My mom came and picked me up. My arm was numb and tingly. It was awful. We went directly to the ER and the doctors sent my parents out of the room when they had to set my arm, which basically means they were going to grab my wrist and yank it to pop my elbow back into place. I remember being TERRIFIED before they did it but as soon as it snapped back into place, I started laugh-crying because I felt so relieved.
My arm was back where it was supposed to be.
I’ve slowed down my yoga membership so that we can save money (and because with The Baby’s health, I wasn’t going enough to make a monthly membership worth it) so we got a membership to our city’s rec center. They have machines with TV capabilities, but you know what? There’s very rarely anything that I want to watch on TV. I’ve been spoiled by Netflix where you get to watch whatever you want whenever you want.
So, instead, I’ve started listening to podcasts again. My go-to, hands down favorite is The Liturgists. I haven’t kept up with them so I had a backlog of podcasts to listen to.
I wasn’t super excited about one called “God, Our Mother”, but it was next on the list so I started it.
If you’re a podcast person, please give it a listen.
At 15:00, when David Gungor starts singing old hymns using feminine (or gender neutral), it took my breath away. Seriously, I was on the elliptical, sweating profusely, and I must have looked like a fool because I just started crying.
It felt like something snapped into place.
I could try to draw a metaphor between the relief that I felt when an ER doctor snapped my arm bones back into place and when I realized that God doesn’t have to be a man but there’s a big difference.
With my arm, I knew for sure that something was wrong and was begging for relief. With my vision of God, I didn’t realize I had internalized (and been bound by) the assertion that God must be a man.
So, listening to people talk about the feminine in God and how traditionally we make God’s gender (and race, ahem) an idol didn’t feel like relief.
It felt like freedom.
Here is the strange thing. I read a blog a few years ago that referred to God with the feminine pronoun and it made me so uncomfortable that I couldn’t handle the content. I didn’t want to hear what they had to say because “God, our Mother” so clashed with the picture of the God I had been presented with that I couldn’t resolve the dissonance.
With my current faith deconstruction, I’m more open to listening to different points-of-view and there is something deeply comforting to me about the possibility that God might be a woman. Perhaps it’s because I so rarely see myself represented in my faith. Almost all of the famous Bible stories are about men. God is a man. The Bible was written by men. Literally all of the “giants of contemporary faith” are white men (Wesley, Bonhoeffer, Luther, Dobson, Graham, Keller, Piper, etc x 1000).
Where am I represented in my faith? Let me tell you:
- Women should be modest.
- Women shouldn’t talk in church.
- Women should be like the Proverbs 31 woman.
So, yes. It feels revolutionary to consider that the God that comforts me and is always with me is a mother. That changes alot for me when I read the Bible and consider how God interacts with me.
Deeper than that representation, I delighted in the discussion about how traditionally Christian faith is practiced as a transcendental exercise (i.e. you start low and work towards something (righteousness, the Truth, the world bowing at Jesus’s name)). You can see this systemically in how the main goals of the Church historically and presently are to amass political power, money, and prestige. We see it in the culture wars where the church’s mission has been more about telling gay people that they’re sinners (I’m gonna eat at Chick-fil-a! TAKE THAT, GAY PEOPLE!) than telling gay people that they’re loved.
For the last several years, we’ve attended very small churches that have stayed small. It’s been difficult to hear our pastors talk about the pressure that they feel in interacting with other pastors because much of the discussion centers around membership numbers. If your church isn’t growing, what are the strategies you can use to make it grow? It’s more like a business meeting than supporting each other in guiding a group of people.
The podcast characterizes this transcendental approach to faith as masculine, which I would agree with. It’s competitive and power-based. That’s not to say that all men are this way (#notallmen) or that all women aren’t (#notallwomen) , but I think it’s a fair assertion, especially if you think about how patriarchy operates in the secular world. It creates rigid rules and power structures that say who is in (men) and who is out (women). Patriarchy is almost exclusively about maintaining power, being the best, dog-eat-dog, survival of the fittest.
In contrast, Christina Cleveland points out that a feminine approach to faith is more inclusive, less competitive. It’s not about winning. It’s about getting down in the dirt, in the yuck, and finding God there. It’s not about dictating what someone else can or can’t believe. It’s about trusting God to meet that person where they are.
Oh, I love that characterization.
What if our response to doubt was sitting with people and holding their hand instead of trying to control them by saying, “You don’t have enough faith! Just believe more!” and erasing their feelings?
What if our response to people who are socially stigmatized was listening and empathizing instead of furiously arguing over Bible verses to determine if they are right or wrong?
What if the Church gave up space to marginalized people by putting them in pulpits, uplifting their stories and lived experience, making them part of decision-making instead of hoarding power and crying heresy when a marginalized person says something that the powerful don’t like?
What if we befriended and loved people of other faiths instead of preaching from the pulpit about how dangerous or misguided they are because they are different and that is a threat to us?
I think the American Church could do with a little feminine energy and by a little, I really mean a ton. It’s time for people other than white men to be leading the conversation about theology and God and all of the interpretation that goes with that.
It’s time ya’ll!
I’m so jazzed by this revelation. Peter Rollins (in this podcast which is also extremely freeing for me) says that in feeling like you’re unraveling, you’re actually raveling and that’s EXACTLY how I feel. While deconstruction and doubt may have felt totally unnatural at first, after I leaned into it, I’m experiencing so much more freedom than I ever have in the past.
God is a woman and I don’t have to control everything or know everything and I’m raveling and I love it.
Beth, Loved this so much.
And especially this “What if the Church gave up space to marginalized people by putting them in pulpits, uplifting their stories and lived experience, making them part of decision-making instead of hoarding power and crying heresy when a marginalized person says something that the powerful don’t like?”
I especially like the “uplifting their stories”- that hits home.
By the end of the time I was in my last church I had come to the conclusion that my story was unappealing and better left forgotten.. It came at a time where I was being confronted with the need for me to be honest with myself about where I came from, etc. THAT was a part of my story, and I rejected it because I wanted to have a nice life like all the other Christians.
Christians want the over-comer, triumph story. While I felt immediate salvation when I was saved, and I believed everything was healed- it wasn’t.
I really needed to address that I wasn’t healed.
I really needed to claim my story,as broken. In some was abused, neglected, abandoned.
These things influenced my choices, my personality, etc. While I don’t give those things power over my current life (in fact acknowledging them helps me make better choices) they are a part of who I am.
I felt like I was trying to be this happy little Christian while I was deeply alone and hurting.
Anyway…my point is, I couldn’t be real and when I was it was obvious that it wasn’t welcomed…(after all this is a family environment, what will the kids think?)
It’s so hard for me to want to step into an organized congregation because what you describe here is what the Christian religion currently is. Its competition, striving, all aimed at trying to make Jesus look good. It’s a sham and a shame.
I love reading how your growing. Thank Hoi for writing this.
Lindsey- i am sprry to hear this was your experience in church but we all know it’s not uncommon. Even an 8 year old in my Sunday scholl class last month asked me if she should tell her parents that she sometimes doubts God’s existence. That so young, she had picked up on the taboo of not towing the party line was really disheartening, especially since my church has generally embraced where I am spiritually.
Your story matters, even if it doesnt tow the party line. I think it is important for everyone to hear not just tales of resounding success, but tales of failure, shame, and guilt. It is comforting to hear that other people, as your username suggests, are still in process. I am done with happy clappy spirituality that denies the reality that life is often difficult. The more i say it, the more people come out of the woodworks saying they are done too. There is more of us than we think!
Thanks for commenting.
Love Christina Cleveland’s book Disunity in Christ – I’m learning so much from it. Your post carries some similar themes.
Thanks for the recommendation!