Paul and I heard about this book on NPR one night, and Paul knew he had to read it. It's called Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, written by Barbara Brown Taylor. The author is a former Episcopal priest and wrote of her decision to become a priest and of her decision to leave the priesthood. Paul read it and now I am more than half way through it, thanks to a homeschool Amtrak trip to Seattle. While Hibi and Zac played games with other kids on the train, I had the chance to read, without interruption (or sleepiness, which happens when I read after they go to bed) for maybe 1 1/2 hours. I am enjoying it immensely and I recommend it to anyone who would like to understand some of the issues of ministering to a flock. One thing that really struck me was that the reason she decided to leave the priesthood was not that things were going badly, but just the opposite. Things were going so well, in fact, that she went from having one service on Sunday morning to having four in a pretty short amount of time. There was real ministry going on. And because of that, she was sucked into the life of the church in a way that didn't leave much room for her own self. She talked about having to remind herself of what month it was, what *season* it was, because she'd go so long without being aware of her surroundings, being so caught up in the work of really being *with* other people.
This book reminds me of the reasons why the very best of the ministers in our churches (I'd imagine in other religions as well) are the ones who leave, for one reason or another. Because they are genuine people, the very thing that makes them such good ministers is the very thing that drains them so of being their own person.
One line in this book actually brought tears to my eyes, and it was because of something mentioned in passing. "The Holy Spirit had spread her wings, and all the babies had settled down underneath them." The author was describing a day when she had decided to baptize a whole bunch of babies all together, and it started out chaotic, with all the babies crying, and ended up with mystical silence. Barbara Brown Taylor did not address inclusive language at all in this book, but when she referenced the Holy Spirit as "she" something broke in my spirit.
A few years ago when we lived at St. Nicholas Ranch, I attended a women's group that met once a month, on a Saturday morning at the Newman Center in Fresno. (Though Fresno is certainly not known for it's progressive thought, it did have some pockets--this was one.) It was an Ecumenical progressive group, and we discussed faith in a way that I never heard in Sunday school or sitting in the pew listening to a sermon. The female essence of God was discussed here, and I began to realize that I already had identified with the belief that God is not male or female, but rather created both, but I had not internalized this belief. Had not made it my own. Had not let God out of God's male box.
One of the presentations I heard there was on gender-inclusive language in church. We heard from one woman who had been deeply hurt by the male-based language of the church, and had been told outright that males were the highest priority on God's list, with females being a distant second. The other woman who spoke said she always knew that she was included in the male-based language but wanted it to change so that all women knew this.
I thought it was an interesting presentation, but after all, I figured I'd always known that it all applied to the women and girls as well as the men and boys. But I could see that using this kind of language has obviously given some people some ammunition for shooting women down.
So I decided to do something radical. Since we were at St. Nicholas Ranch, and our church services were quite small unless there was a retreat, I often got the chance to read the Epistle. In fact, I was the default Epistle reader, along with Hibi and The Other Elizabeth (our neighbor). When I got up to read that Sunday, I just changed the male-based language to gender neutral language. And something quite remarkable happened.
Brothers and Sisters, have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of a human.
The last word, "human", I changed from the word "man" (as well as Brethren to Brothers and Sisters.) Suddenly I was struck with the fact that God had become *human*, not just a man. God had decided to be like me, not only like men. Perhaps it was the contrast between what the text said and what I changed it to, but it felt....different. I almost teared up right there while reading to the people there to worship. It felt so....personal. Like, as a woman, I was worth Jesus becoming one of us, including me as "one of us."
Skip now to the present. This past Sunday our church adopted the Official Greek Orthodox Archdiocese translation of the Nicene Creed. (For those unfamiliar with the Creed, it is the statement we recite in church every liturgy, that explains our beliefs in a nutshell.) At first I thought, oh, it's about time we had a standardized version! The Episcopal church has it standardized, the Antiochian Orthodox church does, the Metropolis of Boston has since before we lived there. But when I read it for the first time, my heart sank. It states:
And in one Lord Jesus Christ....
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became man.
(For the full text click here.)
We had been using a version that said "Who for us and for our salvation..." and I can't see what's wrong with that. I have scribbled out the word "men" in my choir book and will continue to say it the other way. Hello! We're not all men!
Some might protest and say that of course, by "men" we mean "men and women." Aside from the fact that if that's what we mean, why don't we just say that? I have some problems with this. First, Paul says that in Greek, you really can say anthropos and mean men and women. But, as he says, do you call your wife, your daughter, your mother, "man"? Madaleine L'Engle says that "mankind" may have originally meant the same as "humankind" but that it is probably irreparable as a good word for all of us, since it has *not* been used to mean that for centuries.
Back to the ecumenical women's group I attended: one thing that was stated there is that there is already enough misogyny inherant in the scriptures because of the times in which it was written. We don't need to borrow from the English language's misogyny to make even more.
I am considering writing to the Archdiocese to request that they take a look at this issue. Perhaps the all-male hierarchy has blinded them to this issue, but I believe it to be one that needs attention. We don't really believe that women are second-class citizens. Do we?