Got to love technology. l am at the conference at Collaroy blogging on my wireless PDA. (interesting question – is it a sin to steal bandwidth?). l met an artist who has painted some interesting images of Jesus. Here's one of Jesus sporting a nose ring straddling a Harley. You can check it out here – http://www.angelfire.com/journal2/mrschristos …
I will be neglecting this site for the next week or so as I will be up at the National Vineyard Conference in Collaroy, Sydney. I will look out for an internet cafe but down town Collaroy is not particularly flush with such things. I know I have crossed over into geek mode when I find myself mourning the loss of broadband. Key note speakers at the conference include Deb and Alan Hirsh – they should add a bit of spice to the conference!
I caught the Religion Report this morning. It was an interview with an Aboriginal man named Rocky Davis. Davis became a Muslim while in gaol serving for armed robbery. It was interesting to hear about his conversion experience, a process that sounded mostly intellectual. He had a few comments on Christianity. Davis said that unlike the Christians, Muslims don't seek to convert others and change their culture. Davis said that he acknowledged Jesus, but did not think that Jesus preached Christianity. For Davis, Christianity was a tool of colonialisation, and nothing more. I have to say that I agree. I don't think Jesus preached about colonialism or western domination. Jesus himself was resoundingly eastern, no matter how many times artists try to paint him as some blue eyed blonde haired Aryean. However, Christianity has historically been perverted by the incorrigible desire of the west to dominate the east – it became a tool of cultural subjugation. While it has lost its central place and political power (although the recent courting of the megachurch vote might rekindle the latter), Christianity is still viewed through a colonial lense by many non Christians. It is time for Christianity to establish a new legacy. Christianity should be known by its stand for justice; a message of hope and reconciliation; by the love believers show for each other and people around them. Maybe it is not too late for Davis and others like him to experience Christianity as Jesus intended.
Yesterday I read an article in The Age on elder abuse. It referred to an elderly woman who was repeatedly raped in a nursing home. The article discussed the merits of mandatory reporting (once apon a time a contested issue in preventing child abuse). I am amazed that there are people fighting the imposition of reporting this kind of abuse. Mandatory reporting would have saved this vulnerable elderly woman – someone's mother, grandmother, great-grandmother -from further violation, a horrendous abuse of position. Instead a witness wrestled with deciding whether or not to do anything about it. Who would hesitate to report such abuses of those whom we love? Surely those whom we care for – either personally or through the care system – deserve the same. I can imagine other non-western cultures being horrified that we would systemically allow our elderly to be treated in this way. Who is going to speak for our elders? The bible has a lot to say about caring for the powerless in our society. So what are we doing about it? Where is the voice of the church on this matter? We champion the plight of the poor, of the young. Our elders deserve the same.
I have been thinking further about the "gender" of God, and in particular the title of "Creator". Over at Signposts there is an interesting discussion on this topic. One writer commented that she preferred the title of "Creator" because it was bigger than the more human construct of "father", encompassing all of creation. I think that by exploring the concept of God as "Creator" we can learn something about the interplay between our understanding of God and our construct of gender. Assuming a literal reading of the Bible, there are two starting points of interest concerning God as creator.
The first is obvious – the creation of Adam and Eve. Their creation does not fit our understanding of sexuality, or gender. There is no impregnation, penetration, conception. Creator God creates man and women in his own image, but transcends biological methods of creation, or procreation. Rather, God uses fertile (but asexual) soil to form Adam. God breathes into Adam to give life, an impartation of the essence of God. Man is the receptor for life – a kind of biological reversal. Man involuntarily loses part of himself to make woman – something is extracted, taken; creation of woman is not something the man actively imparts. Again this is very different to how the rest of us got here. Our sexuality is created by God. It reflects God. But it does not define God, nor is God confined to the bounds of our gender. The act of human creation is neither feminine or masculine in this context; these constructs are transcended.
The second point I want to consider is the birth of Jesus. We know that God is quite capable of creating humans without the need for human intervention, or human existance. He could easily have landed somewhere in Israel fully grown and ready to do what he came to do. However, God decided to enter our world through Jesus in the usual way – almost. Jesus was born of a woman through the regular rigours of childbirth. But embryonic Jesus was not a result of a sexual encounter. God defied natural laws for procreation by doing away with the male contribution. Why? It was certainly a sign, and marked Jesus as entirely unique in all of human history even as an embryo. I can imagine Mary imagining what her unborn child would look like, whose resemblence he would bear. Half the genetic material was hers, but what about the rest? God wanted Mary and Joseph to take note that this was no ordinary baby. It also shows that again, God is above and beyond all of creation. The creator of the principles of nature and cycles of life is not bound by them. God is so much more than "he" or "she" could ever hope to capture. We simply do not have words. We can conceptualise male, female, genderless, but we do not have language for greater than the sum of "male" and "female". In a way I am glad of this. To narrow God into our framework, into a few fanciful words, detracts from the rightful posture of wonder of the created towards the Creator.
l have been following an interesting debate on another blog concerning the use of gender-inclusive language in reference to God. Interestingly, some in the Vineyard in Australia seem to be asking questions about this too, but from the less radical perspective of wondering about gender-inclusive biblical translations. I am a big fan of gender-inclusive language. I am not a brother! And I am certain that not being a brother does not let me off the hook. I have not really thought much about gender neutral references to God. My personal view is that God both reflects and transcends maleness and femaleness. Neither image (especially from our limited perspectives) captures all that God is. The bible is rich with names for God that reveal character, from names of power to tenderness, provider to judge, Almighty to 'abba', or 'daddy'. What does emerge is that no one word or expression captures the essence of God. Hidden in the book of Job is the occasional use of female pronouns in the original Hebrew to refer to God – not reflected in any translation I have read. Whoever penned the book (unknown) used language in a couple of instances to reflect God in a way that is probably troublesome for many people now.
I refer to God as 'he' in my writing and speech. In my prayer life 'father' is one one of my terms of address. This is more about reflection of intimacy than application of earthly images of fathering that can only fall short. We just do not have adequate language. We cannot reduce God to any human concept, image, or set of words. My closest times with God render words (gendered or otherwise) uneccessary – the 'wow' of waves in an endless ocean, the magnificent palette of a sunset, sunshine streaking through the forest, the tenderness of God's heart revealed through the ministry of others…
I have just finished watching Hotel Rwanda on DVD. I am overwhelmed by the horror of it. The senselessness of slaughter resulting from colonially orchestrated racial tension. The exodus of many Westerners, including the ministers of religion. The apparent impotence of the rest of the world, bystanders.. One comment hit hard. Paul, the main hero of the story was convinced that seeing the horrendous footage would move the West to act. The white reporter told him that the world would watch the evening news, and get on with their dinner. lt was not until the film was over that the cold truth struck me. ln 1994 l was an adult. l would have seen the news and got on with my dinner. God forgive my apathy.