Archive for the ‘goddesses’ Category

And You Call Yourself A Christian - Part 3

Monday, April 6th, 2009

We talk a lot on this blog about getting beyond boundaries.  Folks do a lot of snarking here at denominationalism, parochalism, religious legalism, old definitions, and the kind of rigid cultural thinking that keep conflict brewing and  prevent us from being our best selves.

That said, meet Anne Holmes Redding. Writer. Bible scholar. Former seminary professor. Episcopal priest. Christian. And Muslim.

For nearly 30 years, Ann Holmes Redding has been an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church. Her priesthood ended last Wednesday when Bishop Geralyn Wolf, who presides over Rhode Island where Redding was ordained, terminated Rev. Reddings’ right and authority to function as a priest in the Episcopal church.  In today’s parlance what happened to Ann Holmes Redding is called deposition. In times past it was called defrocking (frock being the term for the official garment clergy wore while performing the priestly functions of the church).

The reason for Holmes’ defrocking? For the past three years Ann Holmes Redding has been both a practicing Christian and a Muslim.

Redding, once director of faith formation at a Seattle Episcopal church, found herself drawn to the Muslim faith after attending an interfatih service three years ago. During the meeting, an imam demonstrated Muslim chants and meditation to the group. Redding said the beauty of the moment and the imam’s humbleness before God stuck her profoundly.

The Episcopal church interprets Redding’s decision to become a Muslim as abandoning the church and goes on to say that a priest of the Church cannot be both a Christian and a Muslim. But that’s not how Redding sees it. She doesn’t see why the need to discount one faith in order to embrace the other. “I’m actually a better priest now than I have ever been. Because being a Muslim makes me a better Christian” says the now former Rev. Redding.

How does Redding reconcile the contradictions in the two faiths? She doesn’t even try. She feels no need to reconcile all the differences between the two faiths, believing that at the most basic level they are compatible. Both religions believe in one God. They simply come at the matter from different perspectives. Sure, Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet while Christianity worships him as the son of God — but at the heart of both is belief in the one God. The perspectives and practices of Islam, says Redding, strengthen her witness to the good news of God in Jesus.

You can bet that there are plenty on both sides of this issue. There are Christians who question how in the world Redding can call herself a Christian, and there are Muslims who wonder how in the name of Muhammad she dare call herself a Muslim. But that’s their problem, not hers.

These are not Redding’s words, but I think what she’s saying is that at the heart of both religions is what theu testify about God — which is essentially the same thing. God’s goodness. God’s oneness. God’s love for creation. God’s power. God’s insistence that we love God and each other. Everything else is convention, tradition, noise, distraction, and keeps people locked in conflict with each other about whose religion is superior to the other.

What say you about the former Rev. Ann Holmes Redding’s insistence that it’s possible to be both Muslim and Christian?  I must say that while I respect and admire Ann Holmes Redding greatly, I’m still scratching my head about this one. I’m still gathering my thoughts and feelings about it.  It feels right, but I’m not sure. Perhaps we’re moving toward a post-religion era too.  How bad can that be? Afterall, Redding shows us that you don’t have to renounce religion belief.  Embrace the good in all religion, and refuse to choose one over the other.  Both/and. Not either/or.

What Does God Look Like?

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

I was planning on blogging about God this morning. I’d even come up with a title that was sure to scare a few of you away, “When God Was A Woman” (taken from Merlin Stone’s 1976 book). But then the morning got away from me.

Even those of us who are enlightened women, we who don’t have a problem speaking of ourselves as feminists and womanists to identify our fierce gender justice commitments, we say that god is neither male nor female, but then we proceed to speak of God as male. What we mean when we say that God is neither male nor female is that God is definitely not female.  I’ve talked before on the blog about the way in which God is gendered, but I wanted to explore some new angles on the topic. I’ll need another day to let things marinate in my mind.

In the meantime, I came across this delightful video by artist Rae Johnson who posed to some Hartford, CT kids the very deep question: “What does God look like?” Pay attention.

With all the women taking on leadership roles in churches, what difference have we made on the way children see God?

Dear Mother Nature

Friday, September 12th, 2008

hurricane

Don’t let names like Gustaf, Andrew, or today’s storm, Ike, fool you. For years tropical storms were named for women.

It was in 1953, in fact, when the U.S. National Weather Service, which tracks hurricanes and issues warnings and watches, began using female names for storms. The practice of using women’s names for storms dates back to the end of 19th century when an Australian meteorologist, Clemente Wragge, started giving women’s names to tropical storms. Why were storms named after women? Hmmmm, let’s see: how about the notion of women as unpredictable, temperamental, fascinating, dangerous, whimsical, vexing, unforgiving?

The practice of naming hurricanes solely after women came to an end in 1978. Why then? The Women’s Movement put an end such typecasting. After that men’s and women’s names were attached to storms.

Every time we get tornados, hurricaines, blizzards, floods, and other weather woes the news and weather media blame it all on “Mother Nature.” Similarly, when we have wonderful weather and a beautiful day there’s something like, “Mother Nature smiled on us today with this warm weather.”

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Mother Nature:

“Mother Nature is a common anthropomorphized representation of nature that focuses on the life-giving and nurturing features of nature by embodying it in the form of the mother. Images of women representing mother earth, and mother nature, are timeless. ”

hurricane

Dear Mother Nature

I know. It’s that time of year again.

You have your assignment. You have your reasons.

All I ask is that…

Despite our manifold sins against the planet.

Be kind to the coastlands.
Spare your children who live and love there.

Remember the poor who can not flee in your wake like the rich can.
Our hearts can not repeat another Katrina.
We got your message.

Thank you for water.
But spare us your wrath.

Once again, you have your assignment.
There is no standing in your way.

Do what you must do.

But be kind if possible.
Be merciful where it’s needed
Be forgiving.

Be a mother.

Love.
Renita

Mother-Father God

Monday, October 29th, 2007

After speaking in Washington, DC this weekend at a religious ceremony where folks talked a lot about “Spirit” and there was constant reference to “Mother-Father God,” on the plane back home a biblical passage came to mind as I sat processing the experience:

“We will not listen to what you say in the name of the LORD. Rather will we continue doing what we had proposed; we will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and pour out libations to her, as we and our fathers, our kings and princes have done in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem. Then we had enough food to eat and we were well off; we suffered no misfortune. But since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out libations to her, we are in need of everything and are being destroyed by the sword and by hunger” (Jeremiah 44:18-19).

Evidently the women of Jerusalem had minds of their own. They disagreed with Jeremiah and other prophets and had their own explanations for why Jerusalem, the city of David, the dwelling place of the Most High, had been invaded by the Babylonians and was now in ruins. Enough with belief in this one, male god, YHWH. The world was out of balance. The goddess will not be ignored. There are times when a female god, a goddess, is what’s needed.

I never gave much thought to goddesses until a few years ago. Correction: I gave lots of thought to goddesses when I was working on a doctorate and had to study and write about them in order to understand the history of ancient Near Eastern religions in general, and the history of biblical religion in particular. I studied the literature on goddesses, but I didn’t think about them, if that makes sense. Did the ancient Hebrews once include one or more goddesses in official or unofficial worship? Probably. Did the move toward a monotheistic religion by the Hebrews around the 8th century b.c.e, with its belief in one, supreme, male deity lead to a rejection of the feminine divine? Most likely.

And then one summer I picked up Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon and read it. The scales fell off. I understood what the fuss was all about. Mists is a retelling of the King Arthur legend(s) from the point of view of the women characters, most notably Morgaine who has to defend her indigenous matriarchal religious heritage against impossible odds. Bradley’s novel managed to do what volumes of scholarly tomes could not. I understood what was missing in my faith and what had been lost in centuries of attempts by Judeo-Christian tradition to stamp out all vestiges of any belief in the feminine divine. I understood why in lots of societies, then and now, goddesses are often connected with agricultural societies – where the earth, Mother Earth, is a very strong focus.

After Mists came Anita Diamant’s fictional retelling of Genesis 34, the story of Dinah the daughter of Jacob in her book The Red Tent. Diamant breathed life into the religious traditions of the women back in the biblical past, showing how and why a pantheon of goddesses like Gula, goddess of healing, Taweret, goddess of maternity and childbirth, and Innana, the Great Mother and the Queen of Heaven brought comfort and strength to everyday women. Who else but a goddess could understand and empathize with the prayer of a woman in hard labor when she prays to make it through alive and with a healthy baby?

Even those of us who consider ourselves enlightened and deep, and do not believe in a literally masculine God, who are quick to say that God is Spirit and is neither male nor female, there can still be lots of internal fears and struggles around celebrating the female side of the divine. Somehow even for those of us who are quick to speak up for the equality of men and women, there’s inner turmoil over fully accepting goddess images, because our culture is so steeped in the concept of the one male God.

We say that our god is neither male nor female, but then we proceed to speak of God as male. What we mean when we say that God is neither male nor female is that God is definitely not female.

Yeah, yeah, yeah…Jeremiah and the other prophets made a big fuss about goddess and polytheistic worship. But the women of Jeremiah’s day had a point. The pain of childbirth, the mystery of sexuality, the ambiguity of gender roles – there’s just some things you wanna talk over with your mother and trust her to understand.