Tuesday, September 15, 2009

new quaker women's theology group

Last week marked the very first meeting of a new discussion group for Quaker women who are interested in talking theology! It was great fun, and I'm excited to see how it goes. We plan to meet every other Thursday night, so if you are in the Portland, OR area (and female--I know, that's not inclusive at all!) and want to join, let me know and I can give you the details. It's a combo of women from NWYM and from George Fox Evangelical Seminary. The goals are mainly: to create a space where Quaker women are able to build community and support one another in ministry (whether that is "released" or not), and where we can talk about theology from our unique perspectives as women in this neck of the Quaker world. We plan to do short readings so we can discuss them together. We hope to maybe do a monthly movie night of some sort.

I'm excited because, having just graduated from seminary a few months ago, I feel a definite lack of people around here with whom to talk theology. Most of my friends with whom I usually have such discussions are off doing their own graduate or ministry work around the globe. So I'm excited about this intentional and regular connection with a group of women. I'm also excited because this grew partially out of a concern (not just by women) about the kind and amount of support female ministers receive in NWYM, and a desire to be more connected to one another as well as to think about how ministry might be more accessible and feel more supported for female released ministers in the YM.

I suggested we read She Who Is by Elizabeth A. Johnson, but since several of the people in the group are students, they thought that might be a little heavy...so once my current project is finished, I'll assign that to myself. It's a really important feminist theology that I've seen cited in tons of texts but haven't had a chance to read yet.

Speaking of my current project...I'm a little behind, so I'd better stop writing blog posts and go do my "homework"!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

on the importance of inclusive language: an open letter to all worship leaders

This post has been rolling around in my head for about a month and a half--since our Yearly Meeting sessions. Inclusive language is something that's been important to me for a long time, but it's hard to know how to address it in a community in a way that will be truly heard. So, rather than address it in a community, I guess I'm choosing to just throw it out into cyberspace and hope that someone, somewhere benefits by it! Maybe this is a first step in addressing this issue in your community, and in mine.

Inclusive language is important to me when we talk about people and when we talk about God. I'm willing to wait a while until we can change our God-language in ways that are helpful and stimulate conversation and imagination, rather than closing people off. But that means kids right now need to be taught differently, and adults right now need to start being educated, so that at some point in the future we can speak of God in ways that are more helpful.

But language about people should ALWAYS, ALWAYS be inclusive! There is no excuse in American society for keeping all-masculine language in songs, biblical translations and preaching. There is NO excuse. Songs are easy to change, and although people already know them a certain way, it's easy to just change the words on the PowerPoint or in the bulletin and people will sing along. (Granted, it's a little harder with hymnals, but you can probably figure something out.)

Translations of the Bible into English have traditionally translated the Greek and Hebrew words for "people" as "man," even though there are separate words in both languages that mean "male people," and those words are used when referring solely to males. So changing our translations is not changing the Bible or the meaning therein, it is updating the translation to fit with modern English. A couple hundred years ago, even though it was still sexist to use the word "man" to mean "humanity," it was commonly accepted and used. Today, it is really only in the church that we've held on to this antiquated usage.

Why does it matter, you might ask? Well, imagine we put in "women" and "she" everywhere we meant "all people." Doesn't that sound like it excludes all males? Even if you know that it means you as a male, doesn't it take an extra step to get your brain to wrap around the concept that you are included in that statement? Doesn't that remove you one step from being fully present and feeling wholly acceptable in that space? This is what women must deal with daily when this kind of language is used. We may have gotten used to it; our brains may traverse this extra step quickly.

But to do this all our lives, to have to translate in our heads that we are meant to be part of the "men" who are spoken to in the Bible and in the church, means that we are subliminally taught that we aren't as fully part of humanity as are men.

Especially as Friends we should change this behavior. We believe all people are created in the image of God, male and female, Greek and Jew, slave and free. We are all beloved children of God. We can all hear God and respond in faithfulness. Some of us seem to hear God "better" than others, or have a special sense of God that others don't, but this is not based on gender--it's based on the way the Spirit works in us as unique individuals. And so to speak to only the "men," to treat all women as a sort of second tier, tears down this supposed belief among Friends.

Therefore, I ask you, as you lead worship music, as you preach, as you read from the Bible in community: please be intentional about using inclusive language.

Personally, when I lead worship music, I change the words. (Even when I'm singing in my pew I change the words, but no one can really tell.) It's not hard. You can change "man" to "humanity" or "people," or you can just change the wording of the phrase slightly so that you get rid of the problem. For example, in "Be Thou My Vision," change the verse to:

Be thou my wisdom and thou my true word
I ever with thee and thou with me Lord
Thou my great Father, I thy true child (instead of son)
Thou in me dwelling and I with thee one

Riches I heed not nor vain empty praise (instead of man's)
Thou mine inheritance now and always...

(This doesn't get rid of the problem of all masculine imagery for God, but at least it's a step in the right direction.)

Also, I write or print out the biblical text I'm going to read and change any of the masculine language so that it's gender-neutral or gender-inclusive. This is pretty easy, too. I can often do it on the fly if I didn't get a chance to prepare ahead of time. It just takes awareness and intentionality. There are gender-inclusive translations of the Bible you can use as well, such as the TNIV. (Here is an article posted yesterday by Sojourners that gives support for the TNIV, stating, "many of us believe the TNIV is biblically correct," although it has proved controversial among evangelicals and Zondervan is going to phase it out, to be replaced by a fully revised version of the NIV, which will include many of the TNIV changes.) The NRSV uses inclusive language for people, although not for God. (It is also a really excellent translation of the ancient texts available to us.) There is also "The Inclusive Bible," which you can find on Amazon or elsewhere, but I've never read it so I don't know how accurate it is or anything.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is that in order to respect all persons, we need to include them wholly in the ways we talk and the ways we act. When we use all masculine language, although we may not do it intentionally, we exclude half the population. We also ingrain ideas in ourselves accidentally about the relative worth of people, and this bleeds over into the ways we treat ourselves and others. Hopefully if we can be more intentional about using inclusive language in our music and sacred text, that will also influence our behavior and the ideologies that inform the way we treat one another. There is still a great deal of sexism in our culture today, for all the good work that has already been done. A major part of this sexism resides in the church and its refusal to admit when it's wrong and needs to repent: meaning "turn around," "go a different direction."

Please allow the Spirit to speak to you on this matter, and if you have any questions or need help changing the wording on a song or something, please contact me or leave a comment here.


Did you see the news today, that Netanyahu (prime minister of Israel) approved the building of 455 new houses in existing Jewish settlements in the Palestinian (occupied) Territory of the West Bank? Here's an article from the BBC News. As I understand it, Netanyahu is approving this building now and then he wants to talk about a freeze on further settlement expansion as Israel and Palestine continue to work out a peace agreement.

In my opinion, if you don't want people to send terrorists into your country, it doesn't help to build and protect illegal housing units in their country and try to control their country militarily. How does this contribute to peace in any way? I just don't understand how this can make sense to anyone.

OK, that's not true--I understand the Zionist argument, I just don't agree with it. I think if the land in question is to be the "Promised Land," God's "Chosen People" have to treat those there with love and respect, as God required of them in their own sacred text.

For example, Deuteronomy 10: 12-13, 17-20: "So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being....For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the LORD your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear." (NRSV)

For another example, Jeremiah 7: 5-7: "For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, IF you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, THEN I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors forever and ever."

Acting justly toward the widow, orphan, foreigner and alien in the land is part of the deal. Period.

And another thing--it would be one thing (maybe) if Israel was too crowded and so they needed space to grow. But a good portion of the houses ALREADY BUILT in the settlements are completely EMPTY!!! Here's a report on that by Israel's own media:

Remember, Israeli settlements were illegal under international law when built, and any new construction is now illegal under international law. And yet, it is Palestinians whose homes and other buildings are destroyed when they build on their own property. No one has an excuse to be a terrorist, not even a Jew. And not even us "Christians" who support and send our tax dollars to the state of Israel to build these settlements.