God & Her Glory: A Table of Contents


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As part of Lent in 2015, I built on my on-going series on Women and the Church, and did a little mini-series on using feminine language and images when speaking to and about God. This caused lots of discussion and disagreement, especially on Facebook. To help organize things, I wanted to put up this post to guide anyone who just now might be taking a look into this. I hope you find it helpful, and don’t forget to add your thoughts below.

{1}: “Our Mother, Who Art in Heaven”

In this opening post, I give some background to my experience with this topic, as well as talk briefly about theological language itself and how it poses problems for us as we move forward in exploring this issue. I also introduce the main sources I used for this series and try to mark a path forward.

{1b}: A Good Facebook Debate (for a change)

After that first post, I started seeing the passion many people had about this topic. The Facebook discussion especially had me thinking about angles and dynamics I hadn’t thought of before. So, because it was helpful to me, I thought it might be helpful to the blog readership.

{2}: How our Words & History Affect Women

Here, I showed the connection between gender and language, trying to bring out how the way we talk about God can subtly, unconsciously even, affect not only women, but how we all think about God. I then tried to go through some history of how this has played out in the Church and the world.

{3}: The Biblical & Historical Evidence

In this post, I simply lay out the best possible comprehensive case I can for the Scriptural and historical references to God in feminine imagery and terms. After going through Scripture and some historical context, we then look at important figures and references throughout the early church through the Middle Ages.

{epilogue}: MORE Faithful, Not Less

In this conclusion to the series, I acknowledge some of the prevailing critiques, and try and cast a vision for how brothers and sisters in the Church can move forward on this, both practically and in disagreement. I make the case that fighting for broader language when talking about the Divine is an attempt to be all the more faithful to Scripture and the Church, not to change things because of the wider cultural discussion.

BONUS: Does it Matter that Jesus was a Male?

This is a relevant post I had done another time. In it, we look at some art that depicts Jesus as a female and explore what theological significance (if any) there is that our Savior was a male. Again, the debate was feisty.

[image credit: “Vessel”, by Meinrad Graighead]

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God & Her Glory {epilogue}: MORE Faithful, Not Less


ArtLinguistic Passion

Throughout this series on feminine language for God, I’ve been shocked at how incredibly passionate people have been about all of this. I promise I don’t try to write for controversy’s sake; I genuinely want to serve and help the people of God, not divide them.

But perhaps I was naive not to anticipate it. A friend of mine put it well on Facebook (edited for clarity):

In Postmodern thought, language always encodes how we see reality. One can only perceive reality with words because people always think in words. This…is probably a big reason why the fight over gendered pronouns is so fierce. Mess with the language and you mess with people’s narrative-making apparatus.

It’s true: language is reality. I don’t want to imply that language doesn’t matter, that people are making too big of a deal about it and should just lighten up, or that there should be a free-for-all in our language about God. Rather, my desire to broaden our words for God is precisely because I see the power of our language to shape how we see reality.
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God & Her Glory {2}: How our Words & History Affect Women


Bartlett-The-Brooklyn-Crucifiction_BoBartlettI have been surprised about how strongly people have responded to this little series on using feminine language to talk about God. I want to make clear the audience I have in mind. I am talking to people that either haven’t really thought about this before, or feel a little weird about it but don’t have a strong opposition to it. If you believe that this is actually wrong, sinful, and deeply unfaithful to the nature of God, then these posts probably aren’t for you. We’d have to go much deeper into a theology of Scripture, Sexuality, Humanity, and Gender. I may do that another time, but not right now. Today, I want to talk about the way our language about God speaks to gender and some history of how we use gendered language.

Theology of Gender Language

For the longest time, the way I would have defended masculine language for God would be with an appeal to the idea of “headship”. This is the idea that different systems and ways of human relating have people that “head” them–like a “head” of State, for example. And as the “head”, this leader stands as the representative for everyone they lead and care for.

Conservatives on this issue (as I used to be) believe that husbands act as the “head” of their family unit, including their wives. Most of these conservatives would be the first to tell you that this does not mean that women in general should see men as their “heads” in general. And yet, there is still this idea that “maleness” serves as the “head” of “femaleness”. In other words, “maleness” serves as the representation of all humanity, whereas “femaleness” does.

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God & Her Glory {1}: “Our Mother, Who Art in Heaven…”


T78 INT 70

Well, they warned me.

It was my first year at my first seminary. I had the honor of being chosen for an “Inter-Seminary Seminar” course in which people from five very different seminaries got together, were given a topic they all disagreed about, and then spent a semester writings papers to and debating with one another.

One of those seminaries was a liberal Lutheran one. I was told ahead of time that the students (usually women) from this school, every year, always made a big, emotional deal about masculine language being used in the papers. And indeed, at the beginning of every single paper discussion, the first comment was always a tear-filled lament over the use of masculine pronouns throughout the paper.

And so, when it was my turn to write a paper, I tried to be sensitive to this. I changed “mankind” to “humanity”, “brothers” to “brothers and sisters”, etc. And yet, when my paper came up for discussion, they opened up once more with an impassioned complaint against the male-centered language. I told them that I had tried to be sensitive to that. They said, “no, the problem was in your use of the masculine pronouns for God!
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Lent & Male Feminism: Reflections & Repentance


ash-wednesday-faces-of-the-faithful-photos

Today is Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of the Lent season of the Christian Church Calendar. It is the time of year in which we turn up the volume on those darker whispers in our hearts to hear what they say. We turn our ears to the cries of the world bear the wounds of a weeping earth in our hearts and hands. And oh, the wounds are deep.

We come to this Lent with the weight of so much on our collective shoulders: so much brokenness, so much injustice, so much pain, heartache, death, and violence in the world. I honestly thought that 2015 would bring relief from 2014. So far, it has not.

But in the midst of the chaos that reigns both within and without, I am determined to turn my thoughts and this blog towards one area in which the Church as a whole needs to repent; an area in which I feel we can make some real progress in this day and age: Women in the Church.

I do have an on-going series on this topic that I’ve been adding to for the past couple of years, but I think it’s important and helpful to turn towards it particularly now. Lent has always had a deep connection to this topic for me.
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Sex & the City: Christianity edition.


Delaunay-City-ParisI’m taking a class on “The Urban Christian”, and this past week we focused on what happens when the Christian sexual ethic collides with the urban, secular one. We had three excellent readings to which we were to respond. I’d encourage you to read them:

* * * * * * *

Good lord, growing up in the Bible Belt, I can honestly say, I heard more breathless, obsessive talk of sex, boundaries, and frustration in singleness in Bible Belt suburbia than I ever have in my current urban setting. This is for a few reasons, I think:

1. Most everyone I encounter is no longer a virgin, and so the mysteriousness and over-idealization of the unknown, for most people, is not…uh….unknown. The magic is gone for many and they don’t spend all their energies trying to get what they can’t have. But, the same contradictory human mind will say that sex isn’t a big enough deal to focus any energy on not doing, but it is a big enough deal that nobody better try to put any limits on that sexuality.
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Abstinence is Not Chaste (Exercise Your Celibacy!)


Sandorfi-AngeYeah, I’ll admit it. I belong to that ever-decreasing group that thinks that our human sexuality is a big enough deal that how we exercise it has profound implications for human, societal, and spiritual flourishing. Further, I believe God has woven in the design of the world particular rhythms and ways in which sexuality lends itself to that flourishing. I see it as something so integral to our souls and bodies that there is a type of care and stewardship that we are lovingly called to exercise with it. And sometimes “stewardship” means placing limits on oneself.

I’ve talked about what this stewardship looks like in various other contexts, but for the purpose of this post, I’m focusing on one in particular. My focus today–to put it plainly–is on the idea that people who aren’t married aren’t “supposed” to have sex.

This isn’t a systematic defense of that idea. I know there are lots of differences of opinions and nuances (even among Christians) on this. I know that we talk about this in the abstract in one way, and when we get to particular people and situations, these “clear” ideas break-down quickly. I get that. But just walk with me for a little bit.
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Advent & Sex-lessness: here’s to singleness & celibacy!


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Yesterday, I wrote a post about some implications of Advent on sex. And, of course, I stressed the goodness and beauty and transcendance of that act as God intended it.

And it was one of my least read posts in a long time (as an update, interestingly, this is to date one of my most-read posts of all time!). I’m wondering if people are tired of hearing Christians talk about sex ad nauseam.

It is my humble opinion that the American Church right now is currently obsessed with sex. Well, to be fair, it’s always been obsessed with it; but now, it seems, the obsession is with “taking it back” and yelling and screaming about how Christians are just as sex-crazed, sex-eager, and sexually exciting as the most ardent secular hedonist.

Of course, they all qualify it by saying (as I even said yesterday) that this (oh my god really amazing Christian sex that we value so much) has to be “within the confines of marriage”. And so, this sex-obsession often expresses itself in an equal obsession with marriage. Preparing people for it, encouraging people towards it, beating up guys that aren’t “pursuing” women (or at least “preparing to”), and giving women tips on how to attract a “good, godly husband.”

And yet, yesterday, when I was thinking about the Advent of God into the world in the person of Jesus Christ, and the idea of the Incarnation, I realized something:

What is the story of Advent but the story of a virgin girl who has a virgin birth of a man who will remain a virgin his whole life?

The story of the Incarnation is, relatively speaking, one of the most “sex-less” stories in the Bible.
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Advent & Sex: we are holy ground


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Update: I’ve also written some Advent thoughts on singleness and celibacy.

In Advent, we celebrate that God came as a human, in a mysterious act called the Incarnation. But in this act, God didn’t merely clothe himself in humanity. Flesh and blood were not the trappings of God. Instead, he became human. It was no mere illusion, nor was it a facade God took on.

God became flesh and blood.

God found it suitable (desirable, even!) to take on a body–a created, formed, physical, material body. The implications of this are huge. Take sex for example.

Advent show us that the created world can contain God, and it still does not violate God’s Holiness–his “Otherness” or “Separated-ness”. He can know his Creation in such union and intimacy and yet still remain transcendent above it. Our bodies do not challenge his Holiness. He can take it on and still remain Other. He became “one” with us in a similar way to how we become “one” with others in sex. With this in mind, let’s unpack some implications:
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Sex & Crazy People


I’m currently at the beach all this week for work. I’m having to help some clients learn the real-world skills of socialization, vacationing, and relaxation (yes, seriously–my job is awesome).

I’ve been working in the direct care and counseling of individuals with mild to severe mental illness for just over two years now. I’ve encountered many different presentations of many different mental illnesses and disabilities, but I’m beginning to notice some common themes.

One of the main (obvious) effects of mental illness and disability is that they prevent the person (or at least hinder them) from conforming to the normal standards of behavior and acculturation most of the rest of us go through more or less successfully. In other words, mental health issues are very good windows into the heart and nature of humanity apart from the “limitations” and “controls” our culture and our upbringing place on us.

So as I have looked into these bits and pieces of our truest, most unfiltered humanity, what have I seen? Sex. Lots and lots of sex. Continue reading

sexuality & the church’s obsessions (a quote)


Another sobering finding is that while high-octane rhetoric has been devoted to the issue of same-sex marriage, an issue relevant to only a small faction of the U.S. population (the CDC reports about 2-3%, some figures are as low as 1.7%), huge shifts have taken place on attitudes toward sex before marriage—what the Bible calls fornication: “The best evidence is that the fraction of all Americans believing that premarital sex was ‘not wrong’ doubled from 24% to 47% in the four years between 1969 and 1973 and then drifted upward through the 1970s to 62% in 1982.” Today attitudes toward sexuality are the best indicator of church attendance. It appears that many in the church have taken their eye off a far more pervasive problem among a far larger number of Americans.

from this Cardus book review on Robert Putnan and David Campbell’s book American Grace: How Religion Dvides and Unites Us

Open Mic: A Theology of Transgenderism? (pt.iii)


As I said in a previous post in this series (Part 1, Part 2), this problem of how the Church must address Trangenderism will be an increasing problem as time goes on. This is mainly because of how the whole idea of gender identity has changed in the past 100 years.

It is only since Sigmund Freud that we use our sexuality as an “identity”. And it’s only after the Enlightenment that living in light of one’s natural identity is seen as the highest ideal.

Now, Christianity agrees with the Enlightenment on this point, but with a caveat. A very, very important caveat that should shape this entire discussion, especially as it pertains to how we actually counsel and interact with transgendered individuals.

The caveat is this: humanity is the image-bearer of God. We are called to reflect and live in light of that Image. When we don’t do this, we are actually going against how humanity was truly designed to live. We are, in effect, acting less human, not more.

Therefore, as we become Christians and our hearts are (slowly) changed, we live more and more as our fully-human, Resurrection selves. Being joined to Jesus as our representative for true humanity, we find our truest, most truly human identity in him–not in our sexuality, not in our physical sex, not in our gender.

In Christ there is neither slave nor free, Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, gay nor straight. There is only Christ.

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Open Mic: A Prolegomena of Transgenderism (pt.ii)


UPDATE: This series is finished. Part 1 can be found here and Part 3 is here.

Yesterday, I started a little miniseries on Transgenderism in response to a question a friend sent me. They were wondering how Christians are supposed to look at this particular issue. I laid out the questions and definitions involved here and asked for feedback (be sure to read all of those comments). Today, I’m talking about a “Prolegomena of Transgenderism”.

Prolegomena” is just a big (but appropriate) word that basically refers to all the things we must keep in mind before trying to answer big questions. For example, in Systematic Theology, Prolegomena is when we lay out the very foundation of our knowledge about the given topics and the presuppositions that will guide us through the rest of the endeavor. That’s what this post is. I want to explore a couple of perspectives that have driven a lot of the answers I’ve seen about this before trying to come to firm conclusions in the next post. So, with all that being said, let’s get started.

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Open Mic: The Question of Transgenderism (pt.i)


UPDATE: This series is finished. Part 2 can be found here and Part 3 is here

A couple of days ago, a friend of mine shot me a facebook message asking me for a Christian perspective on, of all things, transgenderism. For many reasons that will be explained later, this will be a topic of increasing pertinence that the Church will have to give a theologically-informed account for at some point. We need to have answers for questions like: “Did God make them that way?”, “Are they just confused?”, “Should we support many people’s desire for surgical alterations?”,”What hope for ‘healing’ can we expect in this life?”,”Is it something that needs to be ‘healed’ in the first place?”, “Is it a sin?”, “What does a Christian with transgender issues look like?”, “Is that even possible?”, among others.

To be honest, I don’t feel like I have a rock solid answer to any of these questions. Every time I feel like I do, I talk to someone and they show me a new dimension I hadn’t seen before. So, I’m very open to ideas, which is why I’m writing this on the blog. I would love everyone’s feedback and opinion as to how one should answer these questions.

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Human Beauty{5} | (Anthropological Aesthetics)


Sandorfi - Ange-smallerOkay, I’ve realized that I’m only about half-way done with this series on Beauty, so after this week, I’m going to make this into a once-a-week series for the rest of its duration. After Wednesday, after we talk about art, the theoretical foundation will be laid and the rest of the series is merely application. So every Monday, I’ll post the next part. I want to do this so people don’t get tired of it, so I can talk about the many other things rolling around in my head, and lastly, I want to do this so that people will actually engage the material and have time to digest it.

With that being said, this is the next section in the series on the Beauty of humanity. You will not find the usual bold/regular font distinction I’ve had to make in the other parts of this series because pretty much all of this is new material I didn’t get to cover in the message. I know this is all very inadequate. If I ever turn this message into a book or something, I’ll be fleshing this out a whole lot more. A few nights after I gave the message this whole manuscript was based on, I ended up talking to my roommate for about an hour further unpacking these ideas about physical beauty to him. He pretty much received an hour long lecture full of material that was in neither the message nor the manuscript. All that to say: there’s far more application of our working definition of beauty that could be made concerning human beauty, and far more questions that can be answered. Maybe someday I’ll engage some of those, but for now, I’ll just put this up and answer any specific questions as they come. I hope this is helpful. You can find the whole series here. Once more, links to the full manuscript and audio of the message are below.

Humans are Beautiful.

Humans are the crown of God’s creation. In the opening chapters of Genesis you see that with each day of creation, what God creates grows increasingly complex and nearer to the heart of God, until you reach that final creative act, where God intimately makes humans in his very own image. We can’t lose this. All humans have dignity, worth, and beauty, no matter where they end up eternally. God loves all humanity, and so should we. Being image-bearers gives us all innate worth and innate objective beauty. But, as we are all very aware of, humans also have a very subjective sense of beauty as well. This is where we get to talk about physical beauty briefly. Though I can’t do full justice to this topic here, I’ll try to give you some tools to better think through these things on your own. I know there’s a lot of brokenness over this issue in this room. Lots of pain and baggage that I wish I could deal with more. People who’s beauty has been abused or insulted. People who have used their own beauty to fill that eternity in our hearts, but to know avail.

Though I can’t hit every issue involved in this, I do want to say two main things that I hope are helpful. First, remember our definition of Beauty? Beauty is complexity expressed simply. Everything about us is always expressing the almost infinite complexity that comes from being human. Physical unattractiveness, it seems to me then, is when this human complexity is not physically expressed very simply, orderly, or harmoniously. Does this make sense? Is it not true that the ideas of “ugliness”, “grotesqueness”, and similar descriptors carry with them a sense of “busyness”, “disarray”, and “too much going on”- the opposite of simplicity and order? I say this not only to give an understanding of physical unattractiveness, but to to remind us that our physicality expresses parts of our humanity. In the tapestry of being human, our physicality – how we carry, dress, make-up, and build-up ourselves – emphasizes and expresses different strands within that tapestry. What parts of the beautiful artwork you are are you trying to accentuate and emphasize with your physical beauty? Your own strength? Your ability to draw eyes to yourself? Or do you use your beauty to point others away from yourself to the one of whom your beauty is but a shadow of? There’s a difference between True Beauty and Seductive Beauty. True Beauty is whatever attracts us towards our ultimate fulfillment and happiness. It draws us towards higher, more complex joys, excellencies, and goods. Seductive Beauty on the other had is beauty that tries and draw us away from our highest good and draws us towards lower things- baser pleasures, compromises, and harms that will eventually be our ultimate unhappiness and destruction. If you are not trying to draw people to their greatest good, then you’re drawing them to destruction.

Secondly, remember earlier, where I said that some people, because of culture, experiences, and such value different “strands” of that tapestry of the world differently? This is a complex way of saying that different people find different things beautiful, and that’s okay. That’s good. Humans were made to make value judgments. This is so that we who have been changed by God can look at him and rightfully and freely declare him as all Beauty. We were made this way so that we could assign true value to true things. But this good purpose of assigning value to things has become distorted because of sin and we often give the wrong value to wrong things. We long for Beauty, so we often (especially when we are not joined with God who is Beauty Itself) try to fill things with more meaning, more complexity, more “strands” in order to make them seem more beautiful, but it’s a false beauty that will never really deliver. It’s imposed on things and not recognized from within things. So, I think physical beauty is an outward reminder of the original goodness, order, and “complexity-expressed-simply” that people were made for, just like deformities are outward reminders of the fallenness of this world. We are supposed to be drawn to physical beauty. That’s okay. But sin takes that one strand of the tapestry of what makes someone completely beautiful as simply a human, and makes it more valuable than all the other strands. The problem is not when we recognize and enjoy physical beauty, it’s when we prioritize it above other things. So, feel free to pursue romance with someone you are physically attracted to (amen) and feel free to acknowledge when you see physical beauty. But, the encouragement I’ll give you is this: as you do so, make sure you are spending plenty of time enjoying and rightfully calling “beautiful” the God Who’s Beauty overshadows all others. Practicing right value judgments with the One of highest value helps us see ourselves and the rest of the world more properly.

Humanity is beautiful.

Art by Istvan Sandorfi.

Here are the links to the audio of the message, and the full manuscript.

Click for Manuscript Pdf

Manucscript

Click here for sermon audio

Audio