2017 Greatest Hits #5: God, Gender and Shortcuts
(During December we will be reprising some of “2017’s greatest hits” from the Act Locally Waco blog. I couldn’t possibly pick my favorites – so I used the simple (cop out?) approach of pulling up the 10 blog posts that got the most “opens” according to our Google Analytics. It is an intriguing collection that gives at least a little insight into the interests and concerns of Act Locally Waco readers. I hope this “Top 10” idea inspires you to go back and re-read your personal favorites. There have been so many terrific ones… If you would like to see the Top 10 according to Google Analytics, here’s the link: 2017 Greatest Hits. Merry Christmas! — ABT)
By Leslie King
On December 13, I was struck by a letter to the editor from David Trayler that appeared in the Waco Trib. In it he referred to Rev. Kyndall Rothaus of Lake Shore Baptist Church as a “lady pastor.”
In the letter, “Lady” as adjective implies something less acceptable than a real pastor. The implication, intended or not, is that a real representative for God is not a lady or a woman but a man. Such a notion is a theological shortcut that is damaging to our shared life, as well as God’s integrity and freedom.
Shortcuts, whether geographic or mental, benefit us by getting us quickly from point A to point B. That’s the benefit. Shortcuts also mean there is a lot of the proverbial landscape that we will not experience. When we understand God only as man or father, there is a lot about God that we do not see and we do not understand.
God as masculine is set early for many of us in the Christian tradition. Images of Jesus and disciples are pillars in the God-as-male argument.
My own theological shortcut on masculinity and God has been firmly in place since early childhood. My dad, himself a pastor, played his part in this shortcut. He was and is an encourager and my mentor, calling me to challenges and celebrating successes. So you can see, even as I was on track for ministry, my primary understanding of God was male.
The mental and spiritual shortcut was a well-worn path. It was not until the day of my ordination, when my father helped me slip into my robe in front of a dressing mirror that I saw it most clearly. Looking into the mirror, I saw Dad and I saw myself. I saw a pastor and a lady pastor. That was 21 years ago and I am still reconsidering the shortcut entrenched in my brain.
For me, this has been something like taking the long way to reflect on my experiences and to try to understand the experiences of others. The long way still reminds me of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Less Traveled”. Unlike the poem, going the long way has not been lonely but rather a more densely populated route than the shortcut. I have found others who are navigating around their mental and spiritual shortcuts.
The long way is full of questions. “Does God intend to sort people into winners and losers?” “Are we encouraging right understanding of God when religion issues “loving ultimatums” on what is acceptable and what is not acceptable?” These questioning people are not interested in relativism or an “anything goes” culture. Rather, they seem to be examining their shortcuts. They seem genuinely curious to re-examine the constricting truths told to them about God versus their experience of God.
We are, many of us, navigating around insufferable shortcuts. We go the long way through scripture, tradition and experience realizing that gender has never been the only way we understood ourselves. It is not the only way we understand God.
For my part, I remember the stories of scripture wherein Jesus went the long way around the organized religion of his day. These texts remember his wandering through wilderness, township, home and hearth. “Your faith has made you well,” he spoke to some of the most unlikely candidates on a cultural scale of promise. There is something of them in all of us.
Such encouraging words are needed today. There is a longing to navigate with integrity around the shortcut and live into deeper and broader truths. Some say that the Spirit of Christ still takes the long way round the roughly hewn exclusions within his own church.
This week’s Act Locally Waco blog post is by Rev. Dr. Leslie Ann King of First Presbyterian Church, Waco.
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