Tag Archives: language

Gender and the Attributes of God

(This is part of my December Experiment series)

After a week and a half, one of the realities that has set in is that I simply don’t refer to God often enough to even warrant frequent use of pronouns. One area that most church going folks do reference God is in our singing. So, on our drive home after Thanksgiving, Mindy and I sang a few songs, racking our brains for ones that use pronouns. It’s amazing how much difference a single letter can make. Read, or sing, the words to this rather popular praise song:

Our God
Is an awesome God
She reigns
From Heaven above
With wisdom,
Power and love
Our God
Is an awesome God

We sang a bunch of other songs, but this one sticks out and is a good case study in the impact of this experiment. I’ll just run through some of my thoughts as we sang and thought about God.

The Attributes of God
It’s quite obvious from a song like this, the impact a “gendered” God has both on our perception of God and our perception of genders. We commonly attribute these attributes “awesome” (as in powerful, but probably also in our 90’s slang use as well), “reigns”, “wisdom”, “Power” as being masculine characteristics. In turn, we further see God as being more “masculine” (for clarification, I’m not suggesting this is a proper definition of “masculine”), and a terrible cycle of gender roles and gendered god is built.
Sing that “She reigns” completely transformed the song for me. I did not have some clear female vision of God, but thinking of God in Her wisdom, Her power, Her love, Her awesomeness brought to life those attributes in a way I hadn’t thought of God before.

Neither Male Nor Female, yet Both
Here’s the odd thing about God not being Male nor Female: I think She’s thus best described as both. The vary nature of God is that She is Super-natural, beyond nature and thus unexplainable in natural, human terms. God is Spirit, and thus gendered terms limit our understanding of God. However, I’m not sure the answer is to remove gender when referring to God (I’m open to other opinions). You see, singing of and acknowledging God’s “feminine” attributes helps provide us with an even more full picture of who God is. For example, take God’s power. We often think of these, often subconsciously, in terms of male power, as to be expected since we refer to God as “He” so often. Regardless of how liberal or conservative your gender stereotypes are, your view or perception of God’s power is limited. When I sing “She reigns, with wisdom, power and love,” my eyes are opened to another perspective on the power of God that I hadn’t seen before. (I hope that’s making sense)

A Thought Experiment
Write down the ten most powerful people that you know of. It’s no secret that our perceptions are based on our experiences. The list of people you wrote, undoubtedly influences your perception of God’s Power. Now, on looking at your list, how many are male and how many are female? If your list is unbalanced (more male then female, or vis versa), then balance it out, so that you have an equal number of men and women on your list.
My feeling is that when you draw your perception of “Power” from this new list, your perception of God’s Power will be made more full and complete. (don’t forget to post your list below!)

One Final Thought
I plan on devoting a full post to this later, but I wanted to note that I think our ideas and perceptions of gender roles have had a terrible impact on us as a society (particularly in the church) and our relationship and connection to God. I fear our societal pressures have had a most oppressive impact on women, and also children. For a great post on the topic, read Erin’s recent blog post or for a more concise thought, read this poster we have hanging in our living room.

[photo credit] and [ht. to Aunt B for posting thoughts on her blog]

Female Pronouned God Experiment: Week 1 Review

For the past week, I’ve been referring to God as “She” or “Her” when the need to use a pronoun arises. I mentioned this experiment on the blog last week and it brought with it a string of conversation I found very interesting. It’s also shaped some of my thoughts through out the week. You really should go read the comment section on the post, there are a lot of great thoughts. I felt a clarification or two might be in order.

This Is An Experiment

I think experimenting is important (don’t take that the wrong way). Christians especially are notorious for our sort of black and white stances on so many things. Sometimes I think it’s justified, but many times I think it’s not. When I decided to spend the month referring to God as “She” I did not make a fundemental switch in my doctrine or theology. I’m not making a definitive statement of the gender of God or even of my social or political leanings. If I decide to go back to referring to God as “He” come January, I don’t think any irreversable damage will be done. I think we need to be open to trying new things, hearing other opinions, walking a mile in another persons shoes. This is just an attempt to do that in a small way.

Men and Women have experienced life Differently

Regardless of what you think about gender, gender roles, sexual orientation, societies stereotypes, and more, there is the undeniable reality that we have been shaped by our experience; and men and women’s life experience is fundamentally different. I’m not attempting to make any statement about biology or innate traits of men and women, I’m simply acknowledging that the way we are treated as “boys” and “girls” affect the types of adults that we become. One way I believe we’ve been shaped differently is in our understanding and connection with “God”. The reality that we have almost all grown up with God being a “He” has an impact on us, particularly differently if we ourselves are “he” or “she”.  That being the case, this experiment is also an opportunity to see this small aspect of my life differently then I have for the past 26 years.

I’ll try and share more of my thoughts thus far on the actual practice of calling God “She” later this week if I can. For now, I hope these two points open your mind a bit to what this is about.

[photo credit]

My December Experiment: Female Pronouned God

For 26 years I’ve grown up hearing “God” referred to with male pronouns. Occasionally it’s acknowledge that God is neither male nor female, but following the tradition of our male-centric, paternalistic society (and original bible writers) we refer to God as a male, frequently and often.
For reasons, whether doctrinal or societal, we are hesitant to move away from, in any way, referencing God (specifically the God God part of the trinity [Jesus, Holy Spirit, God]) in any feminine term or pronoun.  Any attempt to do so is often written off as “new agey” or “feminist” as if referring to God as a “he” is one of the central doctrinal issues of our faith. Yet, we do acknowledge that God is spirit, and though extremely rare there is scripture acknowledging female attributes of God.
The truth is that both males and females have been impacted by this “male” God and what that means for us as people, individuals and within our gender. My wife has spoken about the impact she’s felt it’s had on her, not just of seeing God as male, but the near silence or absence of woman’s value and voice in the scriptures she sees as the foundation of her faith.
One month is not nearly enough to reverse any long term psychological impact, but for the month of December (or longer), I’d like to refer to God as a female (with female pronouns). We currently do this to a small degree in our own home, but I haven’t moved beyond.
I’ll refer to God as “she” in my blog posts (I’d encourage others whom I read or read here to do this as well), around and amongst family and friends, and in any other “God” talk. I won’t go out of my way to say it and make a scene, but I won’t shy away from it either.
I’ll write about the impact the experiment has had on me and how I think about God.
I’d love to hear your feedback or thoughts on this topic, and if there are any others who want to experiment with me I’d love to have some fellow adventurers.

Jesus: “…even greater things than these…”

“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Usually when I hear folks mention this passage it’s with an attitude of “not sure what he meant, because that’s impossible.” I, on the other hand, seem to find Jesus’ words quite amazing and yet very believable. There are two reasons for this.

One, there are plenty of miracles occuring today. Most of us sitting in our wealth, independent society in the USA have not been privileged to experience the miraculous hand of God in people’s lives, quite the same as it was at work in Jesus’ time. The academics in our society have explained miracles away as a thing of the past, and for us with all our modern technology we don’t see much of a need for a miracle to occur here.
Take a short trip to a great many other places throughout the world and you’ll find out pretty quickly (whether you believe people or not is our choice), that miracles certainly seem to be happening today. I won’t go much into this, because I think we have some strong opinions on these things, but I would argue, there are a lot of folks out there that will testify to God being at work through physical miracles of healing and more.

Second, and this is one that applies to most of us, I think we have each been given plenty of resources to do “greater things” in our lifetimes. I’m not talking about dying on the cross, or literally raising someone out of a grave, but many of the other things are miracles we can help make happen through donation. You could easily feed 10,000 people a meal in your lifetime. You can provide healing treatment for lepers, donate blood or bone marrow so noblemen’s sons might live. We have a great many resources in our midst, let’s make Jesus’ words a reality.

Understanding Poverty: Language

Chapter 2, The Role of Language and Story, of A Framework for Understanding Poverty talks about the language that we use and the distinctions between classes as it relates to language. They talk about 5 types of language (Frozen, Formal, Consultative, Casual, Intimate) of which I’d like to discuss two.A Framework for Understanding Poverty
Formal is the language we commonly use in school and work settings. Specific word choice is important, as well as complete sentences. I remember being so annoyed in school when teacher’s asked us to write in complete sentences which really just meant rewording the question to include the answer. At the same time it was very helpful to me learning and practicing the formal register.
Casual register is used between friends and is based on a small vocabulary (400-800 words). Complete sentences are unimportant and non-verbals are very important. Most people use casual register on a daily basis. Whether it be in their home or amongst friends most people from any class can use and understand casual register. Unlike formal register, casual register often differs from group to group.
How does this relate to poverty? The ability to use formal register is a hidden rule of middle class. Those in poverty often do not understand the importance of using formal register. Think about the implications this has for job interviews. The difference between these types of speech and ones ability to switch between them has huge implications for your ability to move freely and successfully through different parts of society.