Saturday, April 7, 2007

mother God

So this book. (Is it Okay to Call God Mother, for those of you slackers who haven't been avidly reading)
As I've told a few people, I turned the book over and noticed that one of the blurbs was from the former head pastor at our church, Roberta Hestenes. So obviously, the book isn't quite as radical as I might have thought. And reading it, I'm heartened: I don't think I need to start calling God "Mom" all the time--but I think I needed serious correction from my unspoken feeling that God was, in fact, male. Not true! As it's written, "In his image he created them, male and female he created them." His image=male+female. It's so easy to get tripped up with gender-specific language that obscures truth. But to call God "it" doesn't exactly solve the problem either. And there is beauty and poetry in older translations that occurred before gender inclusion was a concern. Sooo, I'm not sure I want to throw the baby (the rhythm and poetry and tradition) out with the bathwater.
But I haven't gotten very far into the book; we'll see what I think once I get all the way through. With all the reading I'm doing (this book, Feminine Mystique, and this week's New Yorker, along with my daily dose of blogs and Dear Abby), it could take a while.

I've been thinking about some of the roots of my discomfort over this issue, and I think they stem from my time in Texas.
I know, so many of our country's problems stem from Texas, no? (Sorry, those of you who I just offended. I'm kidding! Texas is great! And things/people that come from there! Not that I was thinking of anyone in particular!)

Anyway, I went to school in Houston, at Rice University. And got very involved in two organizations--an on-campus ministry group, Campus Crusade, and a church a few miles away, Bethel Independent Presbyterian.
Mostly, I went to those groups because friends of mine did. And stayed because I liked the people. And both groups had a lot going for them: interesting speakers, good programs, etc. Plus there were some cute guys in the church's small group for people my age (let's be completely honest).
It wasn't until I had kind of thrown my lot in with these two places that I noticed the radical differences from my church back home.

In Crusade, in the spring, we had a "Freshmen Night" where our year ran the meeting. We met to plan, and one guy showed up, and about ten girls. So we put two women in charge of MCing the meeting.
A few days later, one of the seniors told us we had to have the guy lead the meeting, because women weren't allowed to.
I was so surprised--all of us were--it hadn't occurred to us to nominate the (rather quiet) guy for being MC. And he hadn't volunteered.
Other women there quit Crusade completely. I'm not quite sure why I stayed. I think it goes back to me being a good girl, and also being desperate for fellowship.
(To be fair to Crusade, by my senior year, this policy had changed--one of my friends helped MC the meeting every week (they had two: one guy, one girl). I have no idea if this was a national policy or just common in the Bible belt.

But Bethel was the same way--except I didn't notice for a long time, because the women in the small group were so smart and active and opinionated it didn't really stand out. But the speaker was always a man. When I asked why one of the group sponsors, a feisty mom, didn't lead, someone told me why.
That's when I noticed that all the ushers were men. All the elders. All the pastors. All the deacons. The only women in leadership ran the Sunday school for kids.
And I realized why the church was "Independent Presbyterian" (which, by the way, is an oxymoron). They left the Presbyterian Church USA when the denomination started ordaining women.

By then, I felt like I had put down roots in the church. My best friend went there, my best guy friend. My roommate. Several other close friends. I enjoyed the fellowship. I told myself that it didn't matter if women didn't lead, that I came from California, and my church was great back home--and that it was plenty orthodox, with ordained women pastors and plenty of women in leadership. I told myself that this church was as good as I was going to do in Texas. And I might have been right--the Bible Belt is super conservative.
Except I think I didn't leave because a seed of doubt was planted in my brain. That maybe my old church wasn't up to snuff. Maybe it was ungodly to have women in leadership. Maybe all those liberal Californians were unbiblical, somehow. I told people Texas was the biggest culture clash I'd ever experienced (including my year abroad). But that I could understand why the church and fellowship didn't have women in leadership (the verses in the Bible certainly seem clear, if you don't desire to probe deeper).

Part of me wishes, now I had made more of a fuss. Looked for a new church. Joined a different campus fellowship (there were two other options). I know my friends wouldn't have disowned me--they weren't and aren't that conservative--but not going to the same church/fellowship would have prevented us from becoming as close, that early in our friendships. And these are still some of my closest friends.

But maybe it wasn't so bad to have my faith shaken up. To have a seed of doubt for a few years. Because the longer it set, the more I felt uncomfortable. And I'm glad I've had to think hard about my real feelings about this issue. That I've not been able to be comfortable, in the easy atmosphere of the church I grew up in. Because I didn't think it mattered that much, back in college, and I don't think there was any other way to learn I was wrong.

1 comment:

amy said...

Let's talk Texas sometime soon! I'm laughing because I had a very similar experience during my 3 years there.