Monday, June 12, 2006

Question-Of-The-Week . . . Hello Mutha, Hello Fatha

“The language of worship and theology can be a powerful force in shaping our conceptions and experiences of God and of ourselves. Reflection on the power of language is important as we strive to affirm the richly diverse character of God’s people and the mystery of the divine presence and self-presentation.” Keeping these thoughts in our hearts, this week’s question-of-the-week is:
Can We Call God Mother?

Resources: Report and Recommendations in Response to Referral on Inclusive Language & A Report to the Church on Issues of Language and Gender.

12 comments:

Gannet Girl said...

Of course.

Stushie said...

Only if we re-introduce the word Father back into all the hymns that we replaced with the word Creator. Otherwise, we cannot call God Mother or Father.

jim said...

I think we get so wrapped up in issues of language that we forget what Jesus was emphasizing most in calling God "Father" (and likewise encouraging us to do the same) was the intimacy of relationship that is possible with God through the work of the Holy Spirit.

When we talk about God, we need to work backwards from what the Bible has to say about the character of this God Jesus referred to as "Father" rather than projecting our negative, abusive, patriarchial visions and experiences of earthly fathers back onto God.

I see absolutely no problem in using feminine, mothering images for God that are biblical in nature to talk about, to refine, and to enhance our typically far too masculine understandings of God's character and nature. But I draw the line at calling God "Mother" because I think we get into very slippery theological ground when we go there.

Stuart Hill said...

i, too, say "of course." we are so silly to think that language could ever come close to "being right" about who God is.

Amy said...

If incorporate in our scriptures verse like "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!" (Isaiah 49:15), and Christ can state "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing," then not only is it alright to call God Mother in some instances, but necessary if we respect the fullness of biblical imagery.

Despite arguments that dismiss it, inclusive language is not about getting rid of the phrase "Father." It's about recognizing that when we use one term, or one set of images, exclusively for God, we forget that none of our terms capture the fullness of the divine. It's about understanding that by always referring to God with male pronouns, we linguistically make God male when we know that that isnt the case. It's about respecting the vast diversity of images throughout our Bible, including the woman standing in the city in Proverbs, the lion of Judah, and the grand variety of terms we adopt when we read the scriptures themselves.

Amy said...

Jim,
I guess I don't understand your "slippery ground" argument. How does referring to God as "Mother" diminish our theology, when it is grounded in scripture?

jim said...

Amy,

What I was trying to get at is that it's our understanding of God as Trinity that becomes very difficult to distinguish once we start changing language around.

I don't really see any problem naming God as a whole as "Mother" but when it comes to speaking of the three persons (and I mean persons here, not job functions i.e creator, redeemer, sustainer) of the trinity "Mother, Son, Holy Spirit" at least to me sounds a bit ridiculous, but maybe it's not that big of a deal and I just need to get over it?

The problem is certainly as you say that our language is wholly inadequate to express the mystery of God. I think we all need to recognize that and insist on helping people see that no matter what names we use to refer to God they will never be quite the right fit.

jim said...

Amy,

What I was trying to get at is that it's our understanding of God as Trinity that becomes very difficult to distinguish once we start changing language around.

I don't really see any problem naming God as a whole as "Mother" but when it comes to speaking of the three persons (and I mean persons here, not job functions i.e creator, redeemer, sustainer) of the trinity "Mother, Son, Holy Spirit" at least to me sounds a bit ridiculous, but maybe it's not that big of a deal and I just need to get over it?

The problem is certainly as you say that our language is wholly inadequate to express the mystery of God. I think we all need to recognize that and insist on helping people see that no matter what names we use to refer to God they will never be quite the right fit.

jim said...

Amy,

What I was trying to get at is that it's our understanding of God as Trinity that becomes very difficult to distinguish once we start changing language around.

I don't really see any problem naming God as a whole as "Mother" but when it comes to speaking of the three persons (and I mean persons here, not job functions i.e creator, redeemer, sustainer) of the trinity "Mother, Son, Holy Spirit" at least to me sounds a bit ridiculous, but maybe it's not that big of a deal and I just need to get over it?

The problem is certainly as you say that our language is wholly inadequate to express the mystery of God. I think we all need to recognize that and insist on helping people see that no matter what names we use to refer to God they will never be quite the right fit.

jim said...

Geesh, sorry about the triple posts...I kept getting an error message in my browser this morning which lead me to believe the posts didn't go through...it's not that I think what I have to say is so important that it needs to be said in triplicate....

Gannet Girl said...

Jim, I think it's pretty funny that your post about the Trinity appears in triplicate. :)

In a more serious vein, it does make me sad that someone would think "Mother, Son and Holy Spirit" sounds ridiculous. I will acknowledge that it sounds odd to our ears -- sometimes I wonder if I will ever recover from that drawing of God as an old man with a long white beard that I saw in a book of children's Bible stories lo those many decades ago -- but I don't think it's ridiculous at all to envision the Creator as Father, Mother, both and neither.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you can call God mother but, as you said, language is powerful. Calling God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit women, or calling any of them women, will weaken the faith of those who firmly believe they are masculine. They are going to be uncomfortable. They are going to either argue or leave depending on their personality. How important is it to a person to have their own way if it drives a large number of people away?

It seems to me that people who insist on using the feminine for God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit are just looking for a fight. It's an in-your-face, I'm right and you're wrong, thing. And yes, that is very offensive to those who find comfort in a masculine diety.

Lots of women are uncomfortable with a masculine diety because the men in their lives were very flawed. It never occurs to them that there are women in the world who are equally evil. There are just as many abusive moms as abusive dads out there. (Maybe that's a factor in why so many men avoid church. The one who was supposed to be the nurturer was really a terror)

Personally, it ruins my worship experience when some leader gets stubborn about calling God a mother or goes overboard with the gender neutral stuff. (I don't go to church for girly talk) Logically, I understand where many are coming from and it's their right to do so. It's not where I am coming from, so it's my right to go somewhere that I am comfortable.

I am embarrassed when I am singing a familiar hymn and I sing the wrong words because they changed them to inclusive or girly words. I quit singing after several such mess ups because it is embarrassing and uncomfortable. People turn around and look at you when you make mistakes.

Some who want to use gender neutral or feminine words to describe the diety are bullies about it. They like to say there is something wrong with someone who doesn't feel the way they do. I find those people offensive. What right do they have to ruin my day by disrespecting my experience because they want everybody to be just like them?

With a few exceptions, most of the people and preachers who use gender neutral or feminine for God have very bad manners. They are rude and inconsiderate of the feelings of those who believe differently. I don't know about you, but I don't like being trounced. It's a shame their mom's didn't teach them to be nice to others.

If you are reading this and you happen to like gender neutral or feminine words, please show good manners and respect those of another opinion. Please don't stare at me when I mess up on your new words. Please be nice. I will be nice to you no matter what, and I respect your right to call God any gender you want.