still_emerging

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The practice of conversation:
~ we acknowledge one another as equals
~ we try to stay curious about one another
~ we recognize that we need each other’s help to become better listeners
~ we slow down so that we have time to think and reflect
~ we remember that conversation is the natural way humans think together
~ we expect it to be messy at times
(Meg Wheatley, “turning to one another,” p. 29)


Be brave enough to start conversation that matters.
Talk to people you know.
Talk to people you don’t know.
Talk to people you never talk to.
(Meg Wheatley, “turning to one another,” p. 145)


“Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen. If we can do that, we can create moments in which real healing (learning understanding, growth, change, self-knowledge, etc.) is available.”
(Meg Wheatley)

Center Yourself

Be still . . .
Quiet your body, your mind, your heart, your spirit.

Be still . . .
Breathe.
Be.
Listen:

“Be still and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”

God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth should change,
though the mountains should shake
in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

“Be still and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”

There is a river whose streams make glad
the city of God,
The holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city;
It shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
God utters a word, the earth melts.
The Lord of Hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.

Be still and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”

The God of Hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge. (Psalm 46:1-7, 10-11)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Longing for ONE Emergent WOMAN leader . . .

just one! So that I don't have to engage in anymore conversations like the one I was part of yesterday. . .

I was part of a group of (male) planting 'gurus' - they haven't planted in a while (what does that say about how unhealthy planting is?!?) but help others plant (is it really ethical/moral to invite others into a space you yourself know is disfunctional?)

While describing myself and my ministry, I identified myself as an emergent leader. After the proverbial (or so it seems) "Oh, do you believe in that stuff?" I had to sit and listen to names of all these (really just four) emergent leaders this one person had connected with at one time or another. (Was I supposed to be impressed? Was he demonstrating how 'inclusive' and "generous" he is?)

Among the 'usual list of suspects' (some who are my friends, some who are not) NOT ONE SINGLE WOMAN was named. Not a single one.

It is not that 'we' are not thinking great theological thoughts and doing even greater incarnational activities. It's not that 'we' don't have books, seminars, workshops, and really awesome conferences. It's not that 'our' churches are not successful. It's not that 'our' blogs are not widely known or read. It's not that 'we' are not hip dressers and really attractive people with great hair.

So what is it? Why are there no definitive female voices whose names are dropped in casual conversation with the same reverence and awe that one brags about 'knowing' (read: saw from a distance at NPC; answered your question during a Q&A; rode with you on the elevator at the convention center. ) Brian McLaren?

AND IF THERE WERE JUST ONE WOMAN, WOULD SHE REALLY SPEAK FOR ME?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

They Used to Call Me "Betty" - The Power of Naming Our Own Realities

To name is to define and shape reality. For eons women have accepted male naming as a given, especially in the spiritual realm. The fact is, for along time now, men have been naming the world, God, sacred reality, and even women from
their own masculine perspective and experience and calling it universal experience . . . This naming tend[s] to benefit men’s needs and concerns and in lots of cases to oppress women. [Is] it such a wild thought that women might start naming God, sacred reality, and their own lives themselves?

(Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine San Francisco: Harper, 1996, p. 38)

They used to call me “Betty.”

Both of my grandmas bore the name Elizabeth, and family politics being what they are, Elizabeth was the obvious choice for the second child, a daughter, born to my parents in 1960. And so, I was christened Elizabeth Eileen Nagy, but, like my grandmothers before me, everyone called me “Betty.” Betty! There is not a woman’s name I can think of with more nicknames than Elizabeth: Liz, Lizzy, Liza, Libby, Beth, Bets, Betsy, Babs, Lil Bit, and more, yet, somehow our clan had settled on “Betty” as the preferred diminutive. Now, lest I offend the Bettys of the world, my grandmothers among them, it is a fine name, an upstanding and even wholesome name, but somehow it just never felt like mine. It didn’t seem to fit – like shoes two sizes too small, or jeans I’d outgrown, the name, simply put, ‘pinched.’

I mastered writing my name at an early age, afterall, I only had to learn four letters. And I loved answering the question designed to show off how much I’d learned, “How do you spell your name?” “B-E-T-T-Y,” I reply confidently. However, while much easier to spell than some of my friends’ names, “Betty,” conjured up for me visions of my dearly-loved but ancient grandmothers, or worse yet, old maids, spinsters – unmarried and unloved - an image often reinforced by my older brother when, in his unkind moments, he called me an “old biddy.” And it didn’t help that no girls my age went by the name either- Liz, Libby, Beth, yes, but no Betty. Only fictional cartoon characters, and ditzy ones at that, were called by my name – Betty Boop, Betty Rubble, Betty from the Archie comic books. So, I grew up despising my name (and myself, were I totally honest) because it didn’t fit who I was, who I wanted to be.

The lack of fit intensified as I grew older such that when I relocated to a new city a number of years ago, I decided to ‘change’ my name. Rather than introducing myself to new people I met as “Betty,” I asked them to call me “Elizabeth.” It has taken years for my family to adjust to this ‘new’ moniker, but finally I have a name that fits. It is strong, and regal, and seems ‘just the right size.’ They used to call me “Betty,” but I have chosen to rename myself. Hello, my name is “Elizabeth.”


They used to call me “bossy.”

From the time I was quite young, I have had a clear sense of how things “should” be. I have eyes to see order in the midst of chaos, and organization where none exists. I can be decisive in the face of indecision, and boldly confident when others feel insecure. Such behaviors in a young woman, I early discovered are undesirable and are, so I was repeatedly reminded, counter to my gender. Persistently acting out such behaviors, succumbing to these ‘manly’ traits earned me the name, “bossy.” But it was a label that didn’t seem to fit. I was not intending to be anyone’s boss, nor was I trying to take control. Clearly, it was meant as an insult, meant to put me in my place, or rather to remind me of my “place.” And it communicated that what came naturally to me, what was part of my bent or personality was somehow inappropriate, unnatural and wrong. So, I grew up despising my “bossy-ness” (and myself, were I totally honest) because it wasn’t acceptable. It was a deficiency in me that made me unacceptable.

And so I tried, really I did, to suppress the ideas, to silence that in me which compelled me to suggest change, to take initiative, or lead the way. I didn’t want to be ‘in charge,’ or to take away from any male’s position or authority. I just couldn’t halt the flow of ideas and insights. The “better” way to do something always seemed so obvious to me. I just couldn’t help myself. I had to speak up. Again and again, I would find myself labeled “bossy”, or in one particular Christian context, accused of having a “Jezebel Spirit.” Repeated exorcisms (literally) failed to deliver me of this most dreaded of demons. And so I would be called “bossy” whether it fit me or not, and would repentantly bear the imposed discipline for this un-lady-like and, worse yet, un-godly behavior. And time after time, I would compact my very self smaller and smaller wanting desperately to earn a different label, be called by a different name, a name that fit.


“What has been valued in the West [and the western Church] in women has too often been defined only in relation to the masculine: the good, nurturant mother and wife; the sweet, docile agreeable daughter; the gently supportive or bright achieving partner. This collective model [this superimposed name] is inadequate for life; we mutilate, depotentiate, silence, and enrage ourselves trying to compress our souls into it just as surely as our grandmothers deformed their fully breathing bodies with corsets for the sake of an ideal.”

(Sylvia Perera, quoted by Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine, San Francisco: Harper, 1996, p. 45; brackets mine)

Such squeezing, such compression to make myself fit another’s name and expectation for me felt wholly unnatural. Gradually, I became painfully aware of how uncomfortable it was for me to wear a name that didn’t belong to me, that didn’t fit. I also noticed that while Scripture was being used to expose my defects, my un-lady-like and ‘ungodly’ behavior, I did not sense any such censure from God. This awakening, this realization began slowly and then burst forth, “Wait a minute! If God does not accuse me, why should I accuse myself? If God is not displeased with my behavior, with me, then why should I be? If God does not name me “bossy,” why should I call myself that?” Yes, I am strong, outspoken, an organizer, a visionary. But maybe, just maybe, I deserve a new name, a name that fits. They used to call me “bossy,” but I have chosen to rename myself. Hello, my name is “leader.”


And it is from within this sense of dissatisfaction with wearing labels that no longer fit, this intolerance for ways of being and doing that no longer work that I now live into my call to lead. It is from this hard won right, this privilege-without-price to rename myself and my world that I now venture forth into ministry. For, I have come to a place in my life where it no longer feels acceptable or healthy to reshape myself to fit another’s label. It is no longer tolerable to wear names that do not fit. And I have only grown in my conviction that God neither expects nor require me to.


Currently, I am in the process of renaming:
God
Salvation
Evangelism
Scripture
Leadership
Worship
Church
Ministry
Church Planting
Accountability
Success . . . and on and on

While I claim the right to rename myself, my faith, my God, I know that I can only rightly and appropriately do so together, in conversation with those who also have found the old names, old labels, old ways of being to be confining and constricting. And now, as always, I remain submitted to the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help find the names that don’t compress or constrict. In community with God and others I am choosing to discover for myself names that fit. Hello, my name is . . .

Infinite names for an Infinite God: Toward a multi-dimensional God

Communal Prayer

God who is . . .
Higher, wider, deeper, longer, than mere words can give expression;

God who is . . .
More beautiful, more holy, more just, more loving than humanity can envision;

God who is . . .
Beyond thought, wonder, reason, idea, knowledge, definition, imagination;

God who is . . .
Without border, without boundary, without limitation;

God who is . . .
God who was . . .
God who is to come . . .

We give you our praise, our lives, our love.


Infinite Names for an Infinite God

Like Uninvited Guests

One of the ways which women have felt excluded from the Table has stemmed from the Institutional Church’s claim to name God in exclusively male terms. Religion has given men a God like themselves – a God exclusively male in imagery, which legitimizes and seals their power. Through the use of androcentric language and patriarchal practices, women have been deprived of an image of God which affirms our being and dignity. Instead, we have been subjected to images of God which oppress and damage us and leave us feeling like uninvited guests, or more poignantly, like the dogs beneath the table catching crumbs the children drop.
Praxis – Briefly, share a story of a time when you felt like an uninvited guest at The Table of the Lord.

Limiting the Limitless

We are invited to reclaim images which give life and enable us to connect with the Divine. For, though humankind, male and female, were created in the image of God, The Divine is neither human nor a gendered being. Indeed God prohibits us from creating any sort of image of God saying - . . . take care and watch yourselves closely, so that you do not act corruptly by making an idol for yourselves, in the form of any figure – the likeness of male or female, the likeness of birds, or snakes or fish . . . (Deut. 4:15b-17)

No word, symbol, image, or picture adequately names or describes God. God’s own self-naming reflects a state of absolute being “I am that I am”. To use only one or a few images/metaphors limits who God is. Metaphors are complex, implied comparisons, not direct comparisons. When scripture uses metaphors to describe God, it makes not claim that God IS those things. While saying God is LIKE something – a father, a hen, a rock – Scripture also sustains those ways that God is NOT like a father, a hen, a rock.

Praxis –

~What is your “default” name for God?
~What meaning does it have for you and why?
~In what ways might this default name limit your view of God?
~Give some examples of when using that default name might not “fit” or be “appropriate.”


Seeing Half the Picture, Hearing Half the Story

God loses that multi-dimensional self, and becomes a single-gendered image, graven with words in the shape of Father, He, Male, etc. But the balancing answer is not to use only the corresponding feminine images because again we become guilty of the same sin of limiting God. Adding the suffix ‘ess’ to every God-name is not a sufficient solution because the feminine aspects are perceived as somehow inferior to the masculine counterpart in a religious and social system that is patriarchal. Nor is it satisfactory to agree to some sort of ‘divine compromise’ where Father and Son are male and the Holy Spirit is expressed in distinctly feminine terms.

HOWEVER, many of us can identify with Sue Monk Kidd’s claim:
I needed a sacred space free of the stain of sexism with core imagery that embraced the feminine, a space that welcomed women to places of power, engaged them fully as equals, and helped to heal their wound and empower their lives.

That is, we may need time to detox, to fully immerse ourselves in the Divine Feminine, so as to move forward and embrace God’s more infinite and unlimited being.

Praxis -

~Explain how it feels to you when God is spoken in gender-exclusive terms.
~Describe what has been most helpful to you in renaming and re-imaging The Divine.
~How might we better raise awareness of the need to broaden our ways of naming an infinite God?
~Name some ways we might extend grace to those who way of naming God is sexist or exclusionary?

Unengraving the Image – The many names of God

Female imagery of God DOES exist, as our list below reveals. Unfortunately, there are not enough feminine metaphors to satisfy either those who think God is male, or those who are convinced God is not. And invariably, the accompanying male pronouns used in biblical writings still attach a specific gender to these distinctly non-male images. As is said regarding biblical examples of female leaders – given the cultural context it is truly amazing that they are in there at all.

While gender exclusive language for God leaves women feeling un-affirmed and even ignored, the goal of infinitely expanding our ways of naming God, is not simply that we women feel good about ourselves in religious contexts, but that God is accurately imagined and rightly honored. (Though in accurately naming The Divine, we will of necessity feel good – whole, accepted, like invited guests.) Such accurate representation of the Infinite One requires utilizing an infinite number of names.

The way to accurately name God is by employing authentic, full-spectrum images of God – human/non-human, material/non-material, attributes/actions and more. “Diverse people speaking of an Infinite God cannot settle on a single way to name who God is.” In fact Jewish feminist, Marcia Falk believes that:

One name does not equal one Divinity. The monotheistic vision can only be realized through a multiplicity of names and images, a diversity broad enough to include, and thus, unite all of creation.



Praxis -
Using the attached list of ways to name The Divine, write a sample prayer around specific images of God that are most appropriate to a specific situation or setting drawing from the vast array of ways to name God. That is, how might you address God when praying for a cancer patient, a couple whose baby just died, a group of middle school students, an all-male consistory, a senior in a nursing home, a victim of abuse, etc.

A Common Reading

Bring many names, beautiful and good;
Celebrate, in parable and story,
Holiness in glory.
Living, loving God.
Hail and hosanna! Bring many names!

Strong mother God, working day and night.
Planning all wonders of creation,
Settling each equation,
Genius at play
Hail and hosanna! Bring many names!

Warm father God, hugging every child,
Feeling all the strains of human living,
Caring and forgiving
‘Til we’re reconciled.
Hail and hosanna! Bring many names!

Old aching God, grey with endless care.
Calmly piercing evil’s new disguises;
Glad of good surprises,
Wiser than despair.
Hail and hosanna! Bring many names!

Young, growing God, eager, on the move,
Saying “no” to falsehood and unkindness,
Crying out for justice,
Giving all you have.
Hail and hosanna! Bring many names!

Great living God, never fully known.
Joyful darkness beyond our seeing,
Closer yet than breathing,
Everlasting home.
Hail and hosanna! Bring many names!

(Brian Wren, copyrighted by Hope Publishing Co. Carol Stream, IL)

A Bibliography of Many Voices

Dille, Sarah J.
Mixing Metaphors: God as Mother and Father in Deutero-
Isaiah
(London: T & T Clark, 2004).

Flinders, Carol Lee Enduring Grace: Living Portraits of Seven Women Mystics (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1993).

______________.
Rebalancing the World: Why Women Belong and Men
Compete and How to Restore the Ancient Equilibrium

(San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2003).

Grenz, Stanley J. and Denise Muir Kjesbo
Women in the Church: A Biblical
Theology of Women in Ministry
(Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1995).

Jewett, Paul K. Man as Male and Female (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975).

Johnson, Elizabeth A.
She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist
Theological Discourse
, (New York: Crossroads Publishing, 1992).

Kidd, Sue Monk
The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey
from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine
(San Francisco:
Harper Collins, 2002).

Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey The Divine Feminine
(New York: Crossroad, 1983).

Piper, John and Wayne Grudem Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991).

Rae, Eleanor and Bernice Marie Daly
Created In Her Image: Models of the
Feminine Divine
(New York: Crossroads Publishing, 1990).

Sumner, Sara Men and Women in the Church (Downers Grove: InterVarsity
Press, 2003).

Wren, Brian
What Language Shall I Borrow? God-talk in Worship: A Male
Response to Feminist Theology
(New York: Crossroads Publishing,
1990).