the necessity of inclusive religious language and new metaphors

Seminaries, unless on the conservative end of the theological spectrum, require students to use gender neutral language concerning God in papers and sermons. Although, not having a pronoun for God makes for extremely awkward sentences in English. For example, “God in God’s self,” or “For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only begotten child,” etc. Most churches, of course, do not follow inclusive language guidelines. Doxologies are riddled with masculine language and you cross yourself “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Working at a church this summer, I am slowing de-gendering the language in the service. You see, for me, inclusive language is a must. I believe the use of inclusive language for divinity challenges religious institutions, theology, and our concept of justice.

Using masculine language binds God in a theological box.
When the pronoun “He” or “His” is used to describe God we are bound to certain metaphors and analogies. God can only be the “Father” and we are “His” children. The “Father” takes care of us, knows what’s good for us, and unconditionally loves “His” children. Yet, these metaphors start to dissolve with one’s experience of fathers or other male parental figures.* People usually shoot back that God’s a different kind of father, but this still holds up patriarchal values. If “Father” always knows what is good for us, this makes for bad theology and allows for continuing cycles of sexual and physical abuse. There must be other imaginative ways to think of God!

Before the Christian Testament was canonized (4th century) or even finished (early 2nd century) other writers were forming theological ideas.
The apocryphal* texts and other early Christian writings, including 1st Clement, the Acts of Thecla and Paul, and the Secret Apocalypse of John, demonstrate that there were many theological ideas present in the first four centuries. Some of these texts inspired the theologies of Augustine and Origen. For example, Justin Martyr believed that the followers of Christ were fulfilling prophecy by resisting to join the Roman military. Theology was open to the imagination and it still can be.

God was experienced before anything was ever written and will be after.
Through the evolution of Scripture, we understand that the divine has been experienced through various venues. In the early texts of the Hebrew Bible, God was experienced through nature, victory in (non)violent battles, and communal myths. Today, the divine is experienced through different technologies including yoga mats, music, reading Scripture(s) or nature. Experiencing the divine ever changes, so should the way we preach, the way we conduct our services, and the metaphors we use! 

God does not write theology.
Dr. James Cone taught us that God is not a theologian; rather, it is humans, who are the meaning-makers and theology-creators. It is lazy to proof-text and decide that there is only one theology! God is not only creator because we read it in Scripture. God creates continually. 

Scripture is inspired, interpretation is not. 
Clearly Scripture believes itself to be God-breathed, inspired (2 Timothy 3:16). This does not grant authority to interpretations though! Until the Enlightenment and afterward, the concept of a plain-reading of Scripture has been the norm. Up until the Enlightenment, there was a range of interpretations and one was not always over another. Until churches, ministers, and laypersons read the history of Christian theology, they will be caught in a modernist trap of plain-reading!

“Mankind,” “kingdom,” and “Lord” neglects entire social groups
Linguistically and historically, many social groups have been left out of the conversation in regards to theology. With the use of draconian language, we continue to disregard others. Language shapes who we are. It shapes how we think about the world. A great resource for how this works is Lera Boroditsky’s “How Language Shapes Thought.” Using gender-neutral language will not be easy at first, but it will be better in the long run for our churches and society. It will set up avenues for other voices and constantly remind us of others.

I am not interested in inclusive language because the liberal agenda has caught hold of me. It should be used because white men are not the only ones in the world (1/4 of the world’s population is made up of Asian women!). White men may have most of the power in the world, but they are not the end all be all. God is certainly not a white man or, I believe, even wants white men to have the power! Instead, God is the disrupter. Inclusive language is necessary for the global church and for all religions in that matter. Thankfully, many theologians have taken up the call for more inclusive theologies.

The list includes Jea Sophia Oh, Marcella Althaus-ReidWonhee Ann JohEmilie Townes, Laurel Schneider, Namsoon Kang, Andrea C. White, J Kameron Carter and Catherine Keller.

To a more inclusive language and theology!

 

PAIC

 

*I am not ridiculing fathers as much as showing that it is not necessary for God to be a parent.

**This antiquated term has become as meaningless as gnostic and no longer helpful in common biblical discourse. How can something be hidden anymore, when we know that ancient communities were using these texts as Scripture? Or how can we label texts as gnostic when many of them are as different from one another just like the Christian Testament texts?

Jesus was a cyborg

As custom, posthuman films, including Her, Transcendence, and Lucy, prescribe qualities on the anthropological project. Questions for viewers arise: What does it mean to be human? Are humans unique because their conscience? Is it necessary to have a body to be human? These films convey simply that to be human means to demonstrate a will and have a conscience. There is a complete lack of body-presence. For instance, in Her the male-bodied human has an emotional and sexual attraction to the artificially intelligent Operating System, Samantha. They perform all the features of a romantic human relationship, although one is without a body.

creation of the cyborg

Cue cyborg-talk

With the rise of prominent electronic technologies, artificial intelligence, and cyborgs, we recognize our dependence on these technologies. As an example, I use my smartphone as an alarm, radio/music, television, clock, notebook, book, phone, and about a billion other things. Recently, new concerns about a smartphone user’s posture has an actual term: Text Neck. Yet, it has been argued that even before our use of electronic technologies that we were already cyborgs.

cy·borg (ˈsīˌbôrg) noun
a fictional or hypothetical person whose physical abilities are extended beyond normal human limitations by mechanical elements built into the body.

First, already we see that this definition is biased. It believes that cyborgs are “fictional or hypothetical.” Second, without that qualifier at the beginning, it presents a solid definition of how we have been cyborgs! Globally, humans use technologies attached to their bodies that help them function beyond human limitation. For me, at least, I need glasses to properly see my surroundings. As well, I use an umbrella in the rain, wear snow boots in winter storms, and have sunscreen for the hot sun.

Humans make use of non-electronic technologies daily and without it the world would look much more chaotic (and blurry!). This idea about cyborgs, I believe, ruptures a belief in human nature , i.e. natural law, original sin. That we have never been purely human. We are a mix technologies that help us to survive and thrive in the world. In this sense, we should be glad to have such wonderful technologies helping us, but our theology should reflect such realities.

If you would have asked me in second grade what I would look like in heaven, the first thing that would’ve come out of my mouth would be that I wouldn’t have to wear my glasses anymore. As a child, heaven was the perfection of all things and a barrier for me was my glasses. Over time that has changed and now I feel fashionable with glasses and couldn’t live without them. In a way, the theology of my youth reflected what I thought it meant to be purely human.

What does it mean to include cyborgs into our theological anthropology?

1. Humans have a conscience, but the body must not be forgotten.
With all this cyborg-talk, we must remember that we are bodies. We are breathing, head-bobbing, blood-pumping, heart-beating, entanglement of emotions, sound-collections, and memory-capturing bodies. We are always in transition. Our bodies change everyday, every hour, every second. They shed skin, lose blood, grow hair, and earwax multiplies. Thus, BODIES ARE NOT STATIC! They cannot be pinned down to essences.

2. The fluidity of our bodies should reflect our theological anthropology.
When asked what it means to be made in the image of God, most Christians rely on the Genesis 1:27, “So God created humankind in God’s image, in the image of God created them; male and female God created them” (NRSV). To dig deeper in what this means they answer that humans have God’s “moral, spiritual, and intellectual nature.” I propose that we should include bodies, especially if we take a process panentheistic approach. Everything is in God anyway! The body acts as God acts in the world, changing, growing, and transforming. Or a recent comment from an amazing professor, “God’s body is a woman’s body.”

3. We need be cautious with our christology.
To say that Jesus is deeply divine and human directs us in the way of ontology. Sadly, we rarely include anything about Jesus’ body in terms of theology. We are told to be human means to care for others, our neighbors, and those closest to us. The scholar activist Walter Wink even described Jesus as being the only Human Being and many others in the Christian tradition have agreed with him. Could this partially be untrue, since Jesus certainly used the technologies of his day? Must we search for a cyborg-christology?

Where does this leave us?

This leaves us between humanity and posthumanity, between human nature and fluidity, between divinity beyond and divinity always present. We must write theology that reflects our reality. Cheers to a new era of body-cyborg theology!

 

For Further Reading:

The Cyborg Handbook edited by Donna Haraway

Cyborg Selves: A Theological Anthropology of the Posthuman by Jeanine Thweatt-Bates (she blogs here: rude truth)

From Human to Posthuman: Christian Theology and Technology in a Postmodern World by Brent Waters

 

 

Queering the Stations of the Cross(es): Jesus dies on the cross

(Guest post by asescalante)

“Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him—you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. – Friedrich Nietzsche 

Queering the Stations of the Cross(es): The body of Jesus is placed in the arms of his mother

The body of Jesus is placed in the arms of his mother

 Stabat Mater

Christ above in torment hangs,
She beneath beholds the pangs
Of her dying, glorious Son.

Is there one who would not weep
Whelmed in miseries so deep,
Christ’s dear mother to behold?

Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that mother’s pain untold?

Bruised, derided, cursed, defiled,
She beheld her tender Child
All with bloody scourges rent.

Queering the Stations of the Cross(es): Jesus is nailed to the cross

 

In February, the news surfaced that the CEO of American Title Services committed suicide using a nail gun.

A coroner’s spokeswoman Thursday said Talley was found in his garage by a family member who called authorities. They said Talley died from seven or eight self-inflicted wounds from a nail gun fired into his torso and head.

So horrific and disturbing. Jesus agonized on the cross for hours while today it takes seconds.

These nails pierce our world with violence, hatred, and pain.

These nails perpetuate white supremacy.

These nails must be melted down, it’s already too late.

Queering the Stations of the Cross(es): Jesus is stripped of his garments

Jesus is stripped of his garments

Now the boys and the maidens brought wood and hay to burn Thecla: and when she was brought in naked, the governor wept and marvelled at the power that was in her. And they laid the wood, and the executioner bade her mount upon the pyre: and she, making the sign of the cross, went up upon the wood. And they lit it, and though a great fire blazed forth, the fire took no hold on her; for God had compassion on her, and caused a sound under the earth, and a cloud overshadowed her above, full of rain and hail, and all the vessel of it was poured out so that many were in peril of death, and the fire was quenched, and Thecla was preserved. – Acts of Thecla and Paul 2:22

 

Queering the Stations of the Cross(es): Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

Jesus tells the women not to weep for him, but for themselves and their children.Weeping is a way of resistance. Empires cannot handle chaos, emotion, or uncontrollability. The powers-that-be need the world to be dry-eyed, controllable, and at an Imperial peace. These women’s tears started the revolution. Their tears were sown into the hearts of the early followers and created a movement.

“Woman, Why Are You Weeping” by Jane Kenyon

They have taken away my Lord, a person
whose life I held inside me. I saw him
heal, and teach, and eat among sinners.
I saw him break the sabbath to make a higher
sabbath. I saw him lose his temper.

Queering the Stations of the Cross(es): A woman wipes the face of Jesus

A woman wipes the face of Jesus

Wiping Jesus’s face on his way to death is seen as an act of charity, hinting at justice, a justice-to-come. In the Catholic tradition, the woman’s named Veronica, which in Greek means “true image.” A true image of God touches a true image of God.

A Prayer:

Wounded God, Helpless Savior,
Our readied hands seek to help. Our palms are wide open.Help us to discern how to bring about the kin-dom of misfits and no-bodies. Guide us in empathy toward the battered, bruised, hurt, broken, and hated. Push us in the direction of justice beyond charity. Amen.

Queering the Stations of the Cross(es): The cross is laid on Simon of Cyrene

The cross is laid on Simon of Cyrene

in the gospels, we already met a simon, simon peter.

he was foolish, but brave.

the one who made the confession that jesus was the messiah (matthew 16:16).

now that jesus bears the cross, he is found nowhere near: a run away.

a new simon was found, one who was trustworthy and strong, simon of cyrene.

where’s the in-between simon?

the simon, like me, who you can tell silly secrets to without shame.

where’s the in-between simon who needs some friends to help carry the cross with her/him.

where am i in the story?