What’s in a Name?
Tim: When I’m asked or expected to pray, a photoflash goes off in my head. In that half-a-second I mentally scan the room to gauge how I should address God, and how I should refer to God as I pray.
Shea: I experience the same thing and recognize why it’s important to do that. But I’d like to hear your thoughts.
Tim: If I’m asking folks to join together in prayer and call God a name that alienates some of them, I’ve defeated the purpose before the prayer gets started.
Shea: Parental God-names are tough. Thinking of God as a father or mother alienates some folks, even though scripture and tradition overflow with metaphors that picture God in those roles.
Tim: And we have to ask whether the metaphors are broke or if the problem is one we’ve created through family dysfunction, patriarchal stubbornness, and casual acceptance of sexism in modern culture. I actually think the ancients were much more sophisticated where gender and family were concerned.
Shea: Gender was much more fluid in biblical times. Sure, gender roles were sharply defined. Yet like so much in ancient thought, these structures were also malleable because people acknowledged no rules or roles could encompass every situation.
Tim: That’s why there’s so much gender-bending in scripture: mothers who step forward and take charge, fathers who forego authority to show mercy. In fact, it’s very hard to find fathers and mothers, sisters or brothers who conform to gender norms in scripture. From Miriam to Mary, from Jacob to Jesus, we see parents and children push gender envelopes in interesting ways that a lot of us miss because we’ve become so concrete in what gender means and how it works. We’re not nearly as enlightened or fluid as we’d like to think.
Shea: Our hardbound categories create problems, don’t they? Like the Lord’s Prayer, for instance. The instant you begin with “Our Father,” the modern mind kicks in and there’s a problem.
Tim: And the problem is real, because we’re at a pivotal time when abuses of masculine power must be reckoned with. We know God is not male, because a male God would be inadequate, the same as a female God would be. God is beyond gender. But some of us have fashioned a male image of God—in part because of the “our Father”—that has fueled patriarchy and misogyny for centuries. As we do the necessary work of correcting gender inequities we have to address this problem of thinking of God as exclusively male or supposing that referring to God as female is the quick fix.
Shea: How do we do that?
Tim: We start be retrieving what Jesus and his students actually meant when they prayed “Abba, Father.” That was their standard address for God, a bilingual name that ascribed gender-transcendent qualities to the Divine. It wasn’t that God was just any “father” prone to masculine weaknesses that habitually trouble human life. God was everything to first-century Christians. Their best metaphor was that of the ultimate parent, a SuperDad whose power was equaled by the love and care showered on the kids, a God whose behavior surpassed gender norms.
Shea: We need that God today.
Tim: Yes, we do! And we’ll talk about how our eagerness to rectify perceived gender inequities in God may cause us to lose what Jesus wanted us to claim when we pray, “Our Father…”
Join us each Thursday in January as we deconstruct the prayer Jesus taught us pray in a new series, “66 Words: How the Lord’s Prayer Works and Why It Works.” We meet at 7:30pm CST at Pilgrim Congregational Church, 460 Lake Street, Oak Park Avenue with live-streaming via Facebook Live.
We need your help!
As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!
Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea
As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.