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Today I got called out of the bullpen for a woman's group at my old church. They had a special speaker lined up for a Mother's Day breakfast, but she apparently became ill late in the week and had to cancel on them. The thought was I had sudied Christian philosophy so surely would have something interesting to say. I didn't have time to prepare anything big and didn't feel right about doing something formal/professional with people I knew so well anyway, but I did agree to come over and talk to them if they just wanted me to talk about something feminine/motherly based off my research in grad school.

So I read a poem by Anselm where he calls both Christ and St. Paul his mothers in the faith and talks about the waythey're mothers. It's pretty gender-essentialist stuff - Christ is his father because of his authority but his mother in his love and mercy, his fathr in how he leads him but his motherhow he was borne out of death through Her efforts, that kind of thing. And I talked about what it meant that Christians had always used this language - how it was good and what we lost when we insisted that God had to only be a Father, but also what we lost when we said the way to be a feminine aspect of God meant to be a nurturer as if there weren't also strong women in the Bible and Christianity through the ages who weren't kicking ass and taking names (if you'll pardon the language). And how being a mother was Godly work, but that it required both modes. And I talked a bit about the Monologion where Anselm says it's proper to call God the Father only because the science of his day said the father was the primary soure of life (the mother was a vessel only, not a contributor of genetic material), and what it woulod mean for the way we talk about parenthood if our philosophy reflected the way we understand biology and concepion these days. You know, if women weren't just full parners in the begetting but if the way we thought of mothering reflected that creative and guiding fact, and not just the nurturing roles the ancients ascribed to women.

But really, in addition to ten minutes yesterday tracking down the quotes, I hadn't planned it - it was just some thoughts that were rolling around the back of my head for a blog post maybe, and my latent ability to talk about this stuff coming out of being in the classroom for so long. I miss that stuff so much, some days. It seems unfair that I'm not able to do that somehow, when I get so much pleasure out of it and am actually quite good at it.

I got roped into helping in the church office afterwards during the service, and when I finally got home I ran into my flatmate and his mum who asked how church was. I wisely left off the fact that I'd been teaching on theology at church about the importance of feminine descriptions of God - I'm fairly sure "teaching on theology" would have been enough to get me in trouble," but I did say I'd actually worked in the office during the service, thinking for some reason that this would be a kosher activity. She went a bit tight-lipped and said s long as I was immersing myself in the Word regularly she supposed that was okay. And that struck me as a really very backward way of looking at it. I'm not trying to be puffed up here, but I actually know church theology and certainly the histor of that theology better than most of the pastors I've worshipped under - and certainly the sermon isn't written with my level of exposure and education in mind. Which is fine, it's not just for me and I do believe the fellowship and discipline of corporate worship is important. Never mind the servic opportunities, which is the real reason I try to go to church.

But it struck me that there's a world of difference between the ways some people practice Christianity. I sometimes hear my flatmate walking around humming praise songs. It seems to matter to him at some level that he get dressed up and go to church and have this ritual and carry aong these other totems with him throughout his week. Certian language, certai symbols. He's actually not fundamentalist in his beliefs, much less his actions, though I think his mum may be. But for me, I really couldn't care less about carrying Christian symbols or doing things that are recognizablI Christian. I see a lot in Christianity as I've experienced it that I think is good and worth holding onto. But I'm not blind to the other stuff, nd I have no qualms bout throwing those things out. Usually it's bits I think have been misinterpreted and need to be reontextualized, so I don't see myself as picking an choosing and being not authentically Christian. But if it came down to it, I'm much more concerned with worshipping a God worthy of worship than I am about being recognizably Christian. That latter project strikes me as basically idolatry. (It's not just golden calves that people have a tendency to bow down to.)

So from where I'm standing, running off pamphlets for the afternoon service or tidying up the community chest is better worship than listening to a sermon not geared to me and singing songs I'm not really sure I agree with. But that's true because I actually read my Bible throughout the week and read books and fllow blogs that discuss the same things the sermon would, but in a way that actually challenges me.

I don't know. That sounds a bit prideful, like I think I'm a better hristian than her. Which isn't the point at all really. It's more that I'm tired of getting this impression that I'm no really a Christian because I don't use the right shibboleths - and this is me working out how my faith is playing out through a different framework so of course it's going to look different and not hit the same metrics she's looking for but that doesn't mean it's bad or anything.    


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 10th, 2015 08:59 pm (UTC)
I have noticed that to many of the most ardent Christians (and really, Muslims, for that matter), it's the outward appearance of faithfulness that matters most.

You are much more patient with your roommate and his mother than I could manage to be.
May. 11th, 2015 12:34 am (UTC)
So from where I'm standing, running off pamphlets for the afternoon service or tidying up the community chest is better worship than listening to a sermon not geared to me and singing songs I'm not really sure I agree with. But that's true because I actually read my Bible throughout the week and read books and fllow blogs that discuss the same things the sermon would, but in a way that actually challenges me.

Sounds good to me. I'd rather interact with a thoughtful Christian with a mind of her own, who's made rational decisions, than someone who does what they're taught, and what they're told, and has closed off to all the many forms of worship and living.
May. 11th, 2015 12:53 am (UTC)
This reminds me of a funny story: when I was a kid, I asked my mom what would happen if I threw the bible around, would I angry God? And my mom jokingly said, "Honey, God is big."
May. 11th, 2015 01:50 am (UTC)
Your talk sounds very interesting.

It is how you live that matters. Your flatmate and his mother sound a bit like the Pharisees.
May. 11th, 2015 02:12 pm (UTC)
It's interesting. I know that occasionally the only reason for my being in church is the liturgy and the chance to sing hymns. It's like comfort food; I don't always get out of the sermon what the preacher may want me too, but the opportunity to say words that other believers are saying and sing songs with other believers means a lot to me--even if I know they may not be interpreting them the way I do. I just know I feel better afterward.

And yet many of the things you mention, saying certain things, wearing/displaying symbols, and so forth--well, forty years ago when I was a shiny new believer, I did all those things. Now I feel I've outgrown the need to make an outward display of my belief. In fact, in many ways I find those things distasteful, like there are people who have turned the faith we are supposed to be sharing into a fandom. To me, things like bumper stickers and T-shirts trivialize Christianity. The few things still on display in my home are there because I've had them for forty years and are as much sentimental items as items of faith.

And my stance on giving has changed. My husband's strong feeling that giving should just be between us and the Lord means that we don't pledge and we don't claim our giving on our taxes. We give cash, anonymously, and it's not always a tithe. I'm sure there are those in our church who think we don't give at all--and after all these years I'm fine with that.

Giving service seems to me to be a good way to contribute to being a part of a church--even if it means you are not part of the actual service. HOW you worship God is between you and God, and what you choose to share with others should be your own choice.

I agree with Linda; there does seem to be something that feels a little Pharisaic about those who insist on making such a public display. It's common here. Many people come into the store wearing T-shirts with Bible verses and so forth. Customers here will often tell me "Have a blessed day!" instead of "Have a nice day", and even though I agree with the sentiment, I am uncomfortable with that expression of it. I once even had a customer insist that she was "moved to pray" grab my hand and that of a customer behind us to come out with a impromptu out-loud prayer! It's one thing to know someone will pray for me silently and privately, it's another altogether to what she did to people who are at best acquaintances, really relative strangers!

But such people are convinced they are doing the Lord's will, so I tend to just let it pass. You can never truly communicate to them that there are better ways to show your faith.

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )



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