So...I got myself elected/appointed "Parish Education Chair" at church. I'll skip the story of how THAT happened and just say that technically, I'm kinda helping to oversee ALL education this year -- from preschool to adult. This also means I'm now on church council.
Joy. (They are very nice people, but the timing of the monthly meeting -- third Wednesdays at 5:30 -- is less than ideal, in fact WAY inconvenient. What would be wrong with, say, 7:30?)
It's one of those things I cannot change -- there are other things that go on on Wednesday nights and really, other things that go on EVERY night and this is, well, the established time and theoretically the most convenient for the most people. But not for me.
Back to topic -- at the first meeting I mentioned that there were a few things on MY agenda that I think are relevant to parish education. First? Gender inclusive language to refer to God. Get rid of "Lord," "He," "Father," "Kindgom," "King". Replace with such phrases as "Our Loving Creator," "the Almighty" "Our Parent," "Realm," "Ruler". In the last two churches I belonged two (the previous SEVENTEEN years prior to coming to this church), this was already done. Prayers had been rewritten to get rid of patriarchal language; hymns and creeds as well. A statement as to WHY this was done was in EVERY bulletin, EVERY week, as well as in the church information available in every pew. The reasoning? God is NOT human, does NOT have any genitalia that we know of and continuing to refer to God as male continues a tradition of lifting men above women -- something *most* people these days think is wrong. Whether or not this is explicitly stated is irrelevant -- when that which is MOST HIGH is referred to as male, people get the image that males are higher or better than females. It's inherent in the structure of the concepts, which is precisely why the language should change.
So in the first meeting, I mentioned that at the very least, we should get the teachers to refrain from exclusively referring to God as "He" or "Father" in Sunday School classes. Get the kids to talk about various ways of imaging the divine and get the older kids to talk about the patriarchal culture that has dominated religion(s) and how that limits how we think of God.
Lead. Balloon. One guy said that his daughter is not so insecure as to think that one must refer to God in gender neutral terms in order to feel good about herself. He also said to me that "if you need a more liberal church, you should go to a more liberal church".
I'll get back to THAT in a minute.
Referring to God in gender neutral or gender inclusive terms is as "normal" to me as eating breakfast in the morning. I don't think of God as human; I do recognize that Jesus was an historical figure and a male one so I do not mind referring to *him* as *he*. But not God.
So being in a church that does NOT use inclusive language (one pastor told me, when I discussed this with him briefly last year, "Well, THAT will never happen") is increasingly intolerable. It's not enough that *I* generally change the terms when I recite the creeds or prayers or read in front of the congregation. It really bugs me that so few in the church think as I do. (If they do, they are mighty silent about it.)
A few weeks ago, I was the reader in church. I changed words such as "kingdom" to "realm" and "He" to "God" and I also changed the traditional ending, "The word of the Lord" to "Here ends our lesson". (To which the traditional response is "Thanks be to God," something that does not need changing.) The one pastor for whom this is blasphemy pointed to me my "mistake". Uh, no. Not a mistake. (The changes had been cleared, by the way, by the director of children's and family ministry and by the senior pastor, though it is entirely possible that the younger pastor did not know this.)
The point? I don't know how much longer I can take this, yet here I am, appointed Parish Education Chair.
As if the whole rigmarole about inclusive language isn't enough (the senior pastor thinks of it as "optional," meaning that readers may change the words if they want to), I then had another "brilliant" idea.
Every year, our church has a Blessing of the Animals Sunday (Oct 3 this year). Lovely tradition. Everybody brings their pets (or pictures of their pets -- no horses have yet to show up at church) and each one receives a blessing and a treat. The kids, in particular, LOVE this Sunday. Pets (at least those unlikely to have an accident) are even allowed in the sanctuary.
So, it occurred to me that the previous Sunday (Sept. 26) would be good to have an animal theme for adult education hour. I mentioned that one of the challenging issues of our time is animal rights and that it would be a thought-provoking discussion (NOT SERMON) to have and we could tie it back to two church traditions -- the Blessing of the Animals Sunday and the church task force, Caring for Creation (which has presented on such topics of supporting local farmers and reducing food-to-grocery-store-miles). We could even briefly explore how the Genesis command of "have dominion over all" has perhaps led to some things we should re-think.
Logical? I think so. Could I do it without proclaiming that everybody go vegan? Yes, I could. Am I willing to? Again, yes, even though I think going vegan is the logical conclusion to the facts about animal suffering, HUMAN health, and environmental degradation.
So, what was the initial response? A few people said yes (and by the way, I *do* have the blessing of the council to do the talk). But two people were less than responsive -- one guy (who used to run the adult education hour) said that I have to "present the opposing side". What is that? As my (omnivore) husband joked, "the NRA". Even the senior pastor (in a separate meeting) joked, "the opposite side is 'let's kill the animals!'". (His daughter is vegan; I suspect that little fact makes him immediately see the ridiculousness of requiring the "opposing view".)
What REALLY gets me, though, is that I've NEVER seen any other speaker during adult education hour have to present anything other than what he or she is there to present (end of life decisions, archeology in Israel, missionary trips, history of Handel's Messiah, etc.). WHY should *I* be required to do differently?
It's a tough topic -- thinking that animals HAVE rights is revolutionary and I'm the first to admit that it still makes me a bit twitchy. But it's a great topic BECAUSE it isn't easy. It's also a great way to let people know what's involved in those eggs or meat or milk that they routinely purchase.
There is always a tension between fighting the good fight in a place that arguably isn't ready for it or joining those who have already fought it. Once, back in Divinity School, I asked Professor Krister Stendahl (former Bishop of Sweden), whether or not one should bring up controversial topics in church or whether one should be more quiet about them. He looked at me and said, 'Well, sister, some people fart on the inside and some fart on the outside.' I *think* that means there's no clear answer and some people are destined to push the envelope and others are destined to walk away to a place that is more comfortable for them.
Holy Moly. I am SO wishing I hadn't volunteered to do this talk. And that guy who suggested maybe I should find another church? Maybe he should know that idea isn't too far from my mind.
- My interests include veganism and vegetarianism, health, ethics, politics and culture, media, and the environment. I have three kids; I teach college part-time, study piano and attempt to garden. I knit. I blog on just about anything, but many posts are related to my somewhat pathetic quest to eat better, be more mindful of the environment, and be a more responsible news consumer. Sometimes I write about parenting, but, like so many Mommy bloggers, my kids have recently told me not to. :) Thanks for reading.