Monday, April 23, 2007

Is This Really Worth Getting Worked-up About?


I took a little visit to a certain "orthodox" so-called site today and noticed this article. It appears that some mainline churches in Tucson, Arizona, including an Episcopal church, are not using the term "Lord" in some of their liturgies. From the article: "Lord" has become a loaded word conveying hierarchical power over things, "which in what we have recorded in our sacred texts, is not who Jesus understood himself to be," St. Philip's associate rector Susan Anderson-Smith said.. As you can imagine, this really has the majority of the folks at a couple of the "orthodox" so-called sites quite worked-up.

According to the article, the folks at St. Phillip's-in-the-Hills have an alternative worship service in which they don't use gender-specific pronouns when talking about God. This is one service, not every service, yet the folks at Those Places are in danger of their heads exploding.

In my personal worship, I don't use gender-specific pronouns for God either. I am the father of two daughters, and one day I thought about how they must feel hearing all references to God as masculine. Since I don't believe God is male or female, I really had no problem no longer calling God "he". I refer to Jesus as he because when Jesus was in a human body, he was a man, no getting around that. But God the creator, no, not a male or female. There are times when it becomes a bit linguistically awkward not to use "he" or "him" when referring to God, so I use it. Plus, it's not such an issue here in Central America.

As far as the use of the term "Lord," well, I really don't have any problem with that. Yes, the term is hierarchical, but, honestly, when you hear God or Jesus referred to as Lord do you think of 16th century monarchs? Believe me, I don't! I was raised in the Assemblies of God church and was educated by Protestant Evangelicals, so for me "Lord" might as well be Jesus' nick name! I grew up around some "Lord, I just wanna..." type prayers (no one did the "Father God" thang, thank the Lord!) and I certainly avoid that, but I'm not going to get worked up about using the terms Lord or Señor when referring to God. If I thought my use of those terms were a stumbling block to some I might reconsider my stand, but right now, here in Panamá, it's a non-issue. The Communion is breaking apart, Calvinists and Neo-Donatists are trying to destroy Anglicanism, yet people are getting worked-up about this issue.

What are your experiences with these terms? What do you think of the article? Is this an issue in your parish?

11 comments:

Mary Sue said...

I've never heard it talked about at my parish, even though we mostly use it the way it's printed in the BCP. And honestly, it doesn't bother me one way or another what pronouns a person uses for God, I'm pretty sure God can figure out who God is without our help.

What gets my knickers in a twist is when someone else says I have to pray a certain way 'because'. Because I'm a woman, because it's tradition, whatever, just back off, a-holes, and let me worship. (Said in Christian Love, por supesto).

Caminante said...

In my preaching, I do not use gender-specific pronouns for God the Creator, nor do I use the term 'Lord,' simply because 1) it comes out of my mouth all wrong (a matter of pronunciation), and 2) I don't like it. I tend to refer to Christ as our Saviour, rather than Lord, for the same reasons. I refer to the Holy Spirit as 'it' because that is what the gender (another construct) is in Greek. I do not refer to the Holy Spirit as 'he.'

As for public prayer, what's in the BCP is pretty much what I say, though I draw the line at 'men' in Rite I. Where it talks about 'for us men' I drop the 'men.' It seems ridiculous to me, a woman, to exclude myself. No one at the 8.00 HE has ever complained, especially since the congregation consists of 10 women and 2 men.

Jane R said...

Hoo boy, I have a lot to say about this, but will wait till tomorrow or Wednesday because I have to read two kids's senior theses before tomorrow p.m. But I am really glad to hear of your practice, Mickey. It is beyond me why a full generation after we (I mean we in the ecumenical sense, not in just one church) started addressing issues of gender-incusive language (when I was an M.Div. student in the 1970s) and reflecting on how powerful the symbols of our language are, this whole thing has become either a non-issue for some or for others, like the folks who are getting all upset, a surprise. I understand why it is such an emotional issue and why people get upset (even if I disagree with them), but it's been with us for a while. It's discouraging to have to start from zero all the time. I also think the BCP is not always a help in this whole question, or rather, the way we use the BCP. But before I get accused of heresy let me stop and I'll be baaaaaack.

I'll write when I have a clearer head and a little more time so that I can be thoughtful, and can tell you more about parish experiences too. Also, I need to read the article to which you are referring -- and, now that I think of it, to dig up one I wrote for America magazine about hmmm, 15 years ago on a very related topic. It was called "Pronouns, Poets, and the Desire for God." Now that I think of it, I put a chunk of it in my book on prayer (When in Doubt, Sing) a few years later, too, though I was still a [Roman] Catholic and not dealing directly with BCP-based worship. Thanks very much for bringing this up. I'll be curious to hear more from folks.

Luiz Coelho said...

I think the solution is the usage of it, which is neutral.

You have this. In Portuguese we don't.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Honestly, the masculine nouns and pronouns don't bother me when others use them. Early in my Roman Catholic schooling, I was taught that "he", "him," and "man" could be used in the generic sense to mean humans, and it was always easy for me to make the leap in my mind.

However, I now find myself tripping over calling God "he" - although I still do it - but sometimes use "he/she", which does seem awkward. It doesn't feel quite right to me to call a person of the Trinity "it".

"Lord" is fine with me. After all, there is a hierarchy. We are not God; we are the creatures whom he loves and declares good.

PseudoPiskie said...

Heretic that I am, I refer to God as "God" but I don't care much what is said in worship. Like Mimi I consider the male pronouns as universal - a generational thing - but I find them awkward as does she.

This is a battle I've fought internally for many years - since long before it became an issue. In prayer I address God as "Dad". I've thought about it long and hard and finally realized God doesn't care. Since I was always close to my father, Dad seems logical. Yes, it has occurred to me that my earthly dad may, in fact, be trying to take care of me. That's comforting. He was a wonderful human.

I rarely address Jesus tho I will when I'm praying for someone who I know feels close to Jesus.

I have one friend who always prays to Mother God. When I pray specifically for her, I talk to Mother God.

I also occasionally talk to St Michael, the guardian angel given to me by an RC friend when I was 9.

For a reason I may understand on the other side but not here, I have addressed God directly as long as I can remember. I could never understand why anyone had to be between God and me. But then Spong is the only other person I've read who described God as I do - the energy force that inhabits, courses thru and connects everything living thing. Or words to that effect.

Anonymous said...

The real issue is faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. When Paul writes about his own ministry, at one point he wrote: "You foolish Galatians! ... I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?" These are born again spirit filled people who received the spirit because of Paul preaching faith. What ever engenders the kind of faith in the word of God which honors God, and which God honors, is a good thing.

Padre Mickey said...

Great comments!
Caminante, I do the same thing; I drop "men" when using Rite I.

I agree with Pseudopiskie, people who have/had good relationships with their fathers aren't going to have much trouble thinking of God as "father."

As usual, can't argue with you, Mary Sue; I hates it when people tell me how I have to pray, too.

Luiz, good to have you back. That cassock and surplice makes you look gay.

Grandmére Mimi, thank you for your swamp wisdom.

Jane, I can't wait to hear the rest of what you have to say!

Anonymous, thanks for commenting. Next time, please sign a name; there's no reason to be shy at the Dance PArty!

KJ said...

What Mimi said. I have no problem with Lord, since it keeps things in perspective.

Even as an evangelical boy, I knew that God had to be more than male or female. Luiz, I'm not wild about "it" since it would seem to deemphasize relationship, and since I think that's what God is all about, I need something more personal. I don't think we have the proper pronoun. That is one reason why I use the fussy capital "H" or "S" (He/She).

Dennis said...

I saw the article over at Viagraville. Much ado about nothing.

Ed said...

Well, in my bilingual Presbyterian parish, it's one of those things that periodically generates a lot of fire and little heat. There are 5 or 6 English speakers for whom inclusive language is a matter almost of life and death. They managed to mobilize our mostly very unorganized church actually to produce a policy on the subject. "Lord" lingers in our Enlish usage, but "Señor" is verboten (so to speak) in the Spanish services. This makes 5 or 6 Spanish speakers very unhappy. It's not something I can get very worked up about either way, but being the wonderful team player I am, I have been far bolder than any of the clergy in actually implementing the policy. Unfortunately, the whole thing has nearly ruined worship for me, at home or elsewhere, since whenever I hear the words "he" or "him" I automically think, "Oh no, we missed one."

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