Can I “forget” that I’m a Woman while at Church? Forgetting and Forgiving

NOT MY IMAGE

NOT MY IMAGE

For a long time, I’ve been angry; allowing myself to root about, sullied by my feelings–ashamed. And oh, so hurt.  Hurt by my church not taking a brave, outward stand on women in leadership.

Then, over the last few months God has taken me on a journey, though it began many years ago.  The Holy One has helped me to “forget” that I’m a woman at church.  Turning off my “feminist radar” so that I can fully receive from scriptures and teaching.  And not be caught up all the time in the women’s issue.  This has been good.  I am being healed in many respects. For me personally, I have to let it go.  Forget about it. Forgive.

I read with a feminist lens and this especially true when reading the Bible.  Because of my precarious journey of self-understanding, as I have grown in my knowledge of being a feminist Christian woman, I needed to know and learn the stories of the women in the Bible.  When reading the OT with Eat This Book, I found myself overly conscious – hyper aware of every time a woman is mentioned or our story ignored.  As you can imagine, this was causing me no end of frustration and anger (being a bad tourist in a culture foreign to me, I suppose) when the Old Testament is so definitely a patriarchal, androcentric collection.

I ask how women pull out the truth for ourselves, when we are reading the OT, when many verses in scripture have an interpretation and very likely the translators came to it with bias and agendas.   I had to let go of that. Let it go free for now.

I am learning to read the  Bible  for the big story, the meta-narrative at least for now. Fly high over these books, look for major themes.  Not sweat the details, for now.

Our church is strongly recommending the ESV study Bible.  I have resisted purchasing the ESV.  I learned  recently that there were no women on the team of contributors, the oversight committee and the review scholars.  This strikes me as a significant backward choice.   I must admit to feeling dismayed. Both the English Standard Version (ESV) and the New Living Translation (NLT) which I love reading, down-play the ministries and roles of New Testament women in their translations and show a bias about women and leadership.  This doesn’t discount all the rich, important amazing scholarship.  But it sullied it, for me, that no women biblical scholars were included.

I bring the NRSV to church when I want to know quickly, which verses apply to me as a human being. (Of course I know they all do, but it’s still irksome to have to think about it, when a verse says Man and Men and it means human or people.  It so limits the joy of opening scripture to have to think about it and I find that extra step of thinking takes away from my ability to hear the sermon for all its full meaning.  I do wish that teachers if they are aware of when a version is particularly biased in the translation of particular verses, could/would point it out.  But that’s a pipe dream for now, perhaps, at least for this church.  Forget about it. Forgive.

I was gently reminded by a new friend on Facebook that our dialogue about women can become ghettoized (which I’ll confess I don’t totally understand what she means) but I do understand that we need to be laden with grace in all we say. And in particular where there is pain involved,  it seems all the more significant, even profoundly so to to find within ourselves the strength to be gracious and even pray for those that we disagree with.

As I grow, I am often convicted by the truth that my tone and heart are so often not like that. And I am reminded to “Learn to write your hurts in the sand and to carve your benefits in stone.”

It is a unique dance too, when you (may) feel called to be a bridge person, (may) be called to challenge injustice of all kinds.  This doesn’t mean that we can do it with a tone of bitterness and condemnation, rather we should be at peace and speak with genuine grace and love.

Let it fly free.  Yes, oddly and quite gratefully, I am learning to “forget” that I’m a woman while at Church. For now.  

MH

I highly recommend the blog of Margaret Mowczko, a NT scholar.  Her writings have greatly influenced me, even for this blog post.  Her blog New Life has a rich set of articles, but I particularly point to her articles on Gender Equality Issues.  This is the one on Bible Translations, that I referenced above.

I have not read it, but a friend recently recommended Mark Strauss’ book, “Distorting Scripture? The Challenge of Bible Translation and Gender Accuracy” (InterVarsity, 1998).  His book argues for gender neutral translations.

I know that this idea of “forgetting” I’m a woman will really bother strict feminists.  Sorry about that.  It’s just something that is working for me, for right now.  I will never truly forget.  It’s more like a word picture of an idea that I’m embracing for right now.

Gender is Everything

My curiosity peaked, I read a blog post titled: Fatherhood, Faith and Gender Stereotypes.  As often is the case when you talk about gender, the comments went off topic a bit.

What I wrote:

I believe as a female and a feminist, I am not served by God being perceived as (solely) male, but that doesn’t invalidate the role of Father God or human fathers.  I need God to be beyond gender which is why it is so unfortunate that he is male in scripture.  Jesus was male and there’s nothing we can do about it.

One person in particular didn’t like my statement Jesus was male and there is nothing we can do about it.  He was surprised that being male or female could be a bad thing saying, “Without touching issues of headship or roles or responsibility and so on, is gender that much of an issue?”

I was startled by the thought that some people don’t think about how gender affects everything!

How can one live in the current set of realities in and outside the Church and not think about gender and how it might impact one’s relationship with God, with other believers and with the Church?

Perhaps I have been steeped for too long in the belief that gender is everything.

My daughter certainly accuses me of it, often calling me paranoid about women in the church.

But she needs to know that gender is everything when it is your gender that keeps you from being able to do things, to express things, to know things, and carry out certain roles, especially in the Church.  Gender is everything when your perception of love, and mercy, and justice, and your perception of God is colored by him being a Father.  Gender is everything when your human father was an angry, oft times cruel person, who crushed your spirit and controlled your life to the point that you, the YOU that is unique and created in God’s image, died. [At least I thought for a very long time that I had died.  I felt dead.]  Yes, for me gender is everything as I learn to love, or at least like being female in the Church.  And as I learn not to hate a male image of God.

Slowly my perceptions of God have changed as I listened to different voices than the ones I grew up with.  As I hear in the voices of many women (and sometimes in men) the tenderness and gentle grace of Jesus Christ, who is the son of God.  This is not anything like what I have known from my earthly father.

Yes, I bring my experiences to any discussion of God.

On one level it is simple. My perception of God is not enhanced or even helped by God being male. Although I know from scripture that God is not female and I am not trying to make scripture say anything that it doesn’t say I wish God was something “other” than male.

I want to know more fully a God who is not male or female, but greater than anything I might perceive or have experienced here on earth. 

I think that our perceptions of male and female are tarnished by the fall; really everything post-Genesis 1 and 2.  Our conceptualization is broken and damaged (at least in my experience) and so thinking of God as male is (almost) hurtful to me.

A child must know that she is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like her.” (Emphasis and gender change mine)

We are each miracles.  Beautiful individuals who have been given each a mind and heart that is different from the next person.  May we each grow up knowing this!

I would love to hear suggestions of further reading and study on the trinity.  In particular, God the “Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” to figure out what was intended by those names.

The bottom line is that with the fall, with oppression, with the mistreatment of women and girls throughout the ages, there is no easy way to redeem the word Father. At least that is true for me.

— MHH