I can’t remember if I have yet linked to The Mother God Experiment. Sadly due to the way Facebook hides our non-friends from us, placing their messages into the outer darkness, I only discovered Susan Harrison’s work recently.
Her blog is a fascinating exploration of what it means (and how we can) begin to explore thinking of (and speaking to) God as mother as well as father.
So, when she invited me to do a guest post for (American) Fathers’ Day I said “maybe”. Being a decisive sort of chap! And knowing how difficult mothers’ day is in churches, and how much more contentious fathers’ day is, or would be if we actually celebrated it, then started to say, “no”. Being a cautious sort of chap!
But I couldn’t, it wouldn’t be fair to all those trying and (being only human) failing to be good fathers. So here is my guest post:
I have not yet pointed to the series of posts on The Tri-une God and Motherhood by kbonikowsky at The Happy Surprise, I should. They are very good, offering a careful, gentle presentation of the topic. .One of the things I like is that she approaches the theology simply, yet insists on a Trinitarian understanding. So many people thinking about emotive topics, like gender or like God, let alone when we mix echoes of our relationships with parents into the mix, seem swiftly to lose their sense of proportion and theological “niceities” get thrown to the winds. I saw this years ago when I briefly explored Catholic theologians treatment of Mary when preparing my thesis. Catholic dogma concerning Mary is careful (to a lifelong Protestant it is odd, but it is careful), yet once these otherwise sensible theologians started to write about Mary the mother they seemed to lose all the restrictions their tradition had put in place to ensure that Mary did not seem to enter the Godhead. kbonikowsky avoids such emotion-driven excess in her talk of the Tri-une God and Motherhood, so far it is good stuff!
Since Mothers’ Day is fast approaching, I’ve been delighted to hear of two pastors who are planning to make sure some of the motherly or other female imagery used in Scripture gets a mention.
Mothers’ day is always a sensitive occasion, so many women are not mothers who wish they were, or are mothers and wish they weren’t, or more often because of circumstances find it very hard and fear they are “not doing a good job”. And yet, we never think twice about using Fatherly language and pictures to talk about God…
All of us had fathers and mothers, our experiences and knowledge of either or both may be good, bad or even non-existent, they remain for almost all of us a deeply emotional part of our experience. Just as, used carefully, father is a powerful way to relate to God, so is mother. The writers of the Bible and the theologians of the church (at least for nearly 1500 years) used this resource.
If you want some ideas try a guest post (last of a series) I wrote for Thalia a couple of years back or try the screencast version below. If you want a bit more academic grunt see my AJPS articles from Volume 17, Number 2 (August 2014) or here.
Being invited to give the 22nd Annual William Menzies Lectureship (five lectures) and Asia Pacific Theological Seminary’s agreement that I could tackle the title “God as Mother?” was an honour and also a privilege (that they agreed despite some hesitations over the topic. Spending time in Baguio, in the Philippines, was great fun. It is a beautiful place, but even more conversations with staff and students over meals and during breaks, as well as listening to the other papers, was stimulating and encouraging.
I have just finished a five-lecture series at Asia Pacific Theological Seminary in Baguio in the Philippines, with the title “God as Mother?”. The experience has been great fun, with friendly interested and interesting staff, and students who engaged well with the ideas and were not afraid to question.
Even if I had had no clue before I would have realised that the topic was challenging when before the first lecture every single person I spoke to said that the “topic is interesting”. As we all know “interesting” very often means “weird, off the wall, strange…”
In my first lecture I set out to underline that God is beyond gender. This is one of those truths that every theologically literate person affirms, but which many fail to actually state in their teaching, so that in churches and classrooms people do not understand/believe it. Some Conservative teaching about gender roles in church and home also seems to deny it.1 I am glad I did because APTS students who come from many different countries in the Asia – Pacific region have a wide range of prior education, and some needed time to process even this claim.
The extent of this reticence to accept a core Christian idea, which matches my informal surveys in NZ churches and among Carey students suggests that we have a BIG education job to undertake. Because I do not think APTS students are any “worse” in this respect than Christians in other parts of the world. Indeed by their openness and willingness to think they demonstrate why they have been selected for higher level study.
What is your experience? Do theology students and people in churches generally really understand that God is beyond gender, or do most/many actually assume God is in some sense male or at least masculine?2
Of course, writers like Wayne Grudem do not deny this basic truth of Christian doctrine, but many who read them draw their own conclusions. It must be difficult to hold “Complementarian” views, especially those that forbid women from teaching and preaching, and at the same time admit that God is NOT male. [↩]
NB here I do not mean “masculine” as a gramattical gender but as something nearer biology, like this dictionary definition: “having qualities … traditionally associated with men”. [↩]
I am, as those who know me face to face will be aware, somewhat more than somewhat introverted. I have posted here before about how my (Western) culture is extroverted and favours extroversion. Introverted behaviour is seldom given equal oportuntity or space.
The other week I could not avoid thinking about that as we sang in church (yes, we go to an old fashioned church were the music from the worship leaders is quiet enough that usually the congregation actually participate by more than shuffling along) that today’s worship songs present God as a male extrovert. In our songs God is forever “marching into the land” at the head of his troops, always “answering” and solving our problems.
Then I came across a “humorous” post on Facebook of “male rules”, here are a selection:
Men ARE NOT mind readers.
Ask for what you want. Let us be clear on this one: Subtle hints do not work! Strong hints do not work! Obvious hints do not work! Just say it!
Come to us with a problem only If you want help solving it. That’s what we do. Sympathy is what your girlfriends are for.
Christopher Columbus did NOT need directions and neither do we. –don’t worry we will find it eventually.
It struck me that these sound a lot like the LORD described in the songs in church today. In prayer we have to tell him what we want, the last thing we say is “your will be done”. We don’t expect this LORD to merely be with us, or sympathise when we hurt, we expect a solution!
By contrast even a quick look at the old, tatty at the corners Baptist Hymn Book we used to use (a lifetime ago), and its collection of worship songs across the ages (basically 2nd to 20th centuries). Seem often content to spend time “waiting on God”, who presumably was not being pictured as an extrovert with an instant answer. In fact solutions were not always expected, but comfort was!
Perhaps, the God of the old hymns, the one the modern world has squeezed out and grown impatient with, seems more of an introvert, and more feminine than the LORD of the “contemporary” songs.
I think the less extrovert, less aggressively masculine, God of the hymns is both closer to the one whose story I read in Scripture, and more real, than the instant fix, loud, God I meet so exclusively1 in today’s songs and prayers…
What do you think?
NB I am not here, or anywhere intentionally, arguing for replacing the male extrovert God with a female or introverted one, just for God to be allowed to be, and to be recognised as being a more balanced character! [↩]
For years it was hard to draw listeners (except a faithful few) to podcasts, while blogs attracted visitors lie nectar draws in bees. However, at last this seems to be changing. 5 minute Bible is now (according to Alexa) more popular than Sansblogue among biblical studies sites. And it regularly attracts also a number of people on Facebook.
I wonder if it is because recently I’ve been posting there more often than here, or does it mark a tidal shift in Internet usage as phones and pads become more common?
Either way I hope it leads people to my series based on Not Only a Father. The first four posts are available as Guest Posts on Sarcaparental:
“Unfortunately I was not able to gain access to the actual site.”
Deane Galbraith was kind enough to link to my podcast Was God married? Part two: the death of the goddess, as you might expect we do not see eye to eye. Deane prefers Stavrakopoulou’s version of things, pointing to a more recent TV show in the BBC series, Bible’s Buried Secrets, in particular in episode 2.
In the programme Francesca rehearses much the same arguments more fully and in doing so the BBC provide stunning imagery and Stavrakopoulou presents the evidence well. The trouble is, she here also confounds history and theology, what happened in the past with what was written about it in the (more recent) past.
Her agenda is clear, and well-signposted. Near the beginning of the video she says:1
But there’s something about this ancient world that the Bible is not telling us… Hidden in its pages is a secret.
And according to her this “secret”:
Rocks the foundation of monotheism to its core.
Somewhat confusingly as the programme continues She changes her mind and says:
I think there’s evidence that the ancient Israelites also worshiped any gods… yet if you examine the biblical texts you find references to more than one god here in Jerusalem itself.
So, this is a “secret” when that suits her rhetorical needs “to undermine monotheism” but is clearly acknowledged in Scripture when admitting that suits her needs. This sort of fudging the evidence is not worthy of a scholar of her standing, though it does make “good television”.