But first, here are the letters from yesterday’s Star Tribune:
They kept the faith
My heartfelt support – emotional and spiritual – goes to the people of St. Stephen’s parish who have chosen to relocate their worship service (“The push for conformity shoves away parishioners,” March 2).
I know a number of people, myself included, who choose not to support the worship dictates of the men who call themselves our leaders. We have kept our faith, but we have lost our church.
Diocese spokesman Dennis McGrath states that “they had plenty of warnings to get their act together.” What a heavy-handed, thuggish way of putting it!
Apparently they did get their act together and found a place where they could celebrate their faith in a way that harmonizes with their values.
Whose gospel is it?
Let’s see if I got this right – among other things, the parishioners of St. Stephen’s Catholic Church thought they, mere mortals, could improve upon the teachings of our creator, our Lord Jesus Christ, and change the words to the prayer that Jesus himself taught us to pray (“Our Father and Mother, Who Art in Heaven”?)
Yikes! Who died and made them God?
Joe and Becky Eibenseiner
Sauk Center, MN
What would Jesus do? I doubt very much he would alienate devoted followers using tough-guy talk like Dennis McGrath did when he said, “They’ve had plenty of warning to get their act together.” This is the type of intolerant leadership that drives people away from the church.
For many people, congregations such as St. Stephen’s and St. Joan of Arc’s are their last stop before leaving the church for good. The basic tenets of the Catholic Church are faith, hope and charity, yet for these faithful, it gives no hope or charity.
Would Jesus put more emphasis on carrying out the message of his gospels or following the rubrics?
I think he’d be leading the disenfranchised parishioners out the front door of the church down the road to where faith, hope and charity have real meaning.
Joe and Becky Eibenseiner clearly oppose using feminine images when thinking and speaking about God. Furthermore, they base this opposition on what we read in the New Testament about Jesus’ choice of words and images for God . Yet it seems obvious to me that since Jesus lived in a patriarchal society he would have used predominately patriarchal language when talking about God. Does this prohibit us today from employing other images and language when speaking about God? I don’t believe so. After all, as the late Vincent Rush used to say: “All revelation is culturally conditioned.” This for me is another way of saying that God is ultimately bigger than any one image that can be ascribed to God.
Also, if the Eibenseiner’s are that picky about adhering to the exact words of the historical Jesus, then I assume they say the “Lord’s Prayer” in Aramaic!
According to the Chancery, one of the “problems” with St. Stephen’s was that inclusive language was being used in the English-speaking liturgies. (Such language is still being used in the 9:00 a.m. liturgy now being held off church property.) Hence we begin the “Lord’s Prayer” with: “Our Father/Mother who art in heaven . . .”
Why do folks like the Eibenseiner’s and those in Chancery feel so threatened by inclusive language and thus by feminine images of God?
Theologian Elizabeth Johnson addressed this and other related questions in a recent interview with the editors of U.S. Catholic magazine.
Following are excerpts from this interview.
U.S. Catholic: Let’s talk about “God acting womanish,” as you call it. Where does this theology stand today?
Elizabeth Johnson: There are major images of God in a female form in scripture and in our mystical tradition especially. Maternity is the main one, but the wisdom texts about Sophia are another. Some theologians make the case, too, that the Spirit has a female name in Hebrew and acts in feminine ways.
Then come the questions of why aren’t we using those images of God in our liturgies, why aren’t we teaching young people that this is an approach to God that can be used as well? The three major words for God are still Father, King, and Lord in Christian hymns, prayer, and liturgy. What that sets up unconsciously, whether you want it to or not, is the assumption that men have more in common with divinity than women do. Those three particular images also are very patriarchal because they refer not just to a male but to a ruling male, somebody who is dominating or being father in a patriarchal sense. Now that isn’t, of course, what scripture means or what Jesus meant when he called God Abba.
If you combine Father, Lord, and King with the God of theism, then you’ve got a problem. That’s one of those static ideas that does not feed the souls of a lot of people, men as well as women.
U.S. Catholic: Why?
Elizabeth Johnson: It’s very simple. Women are no longer relating to men in their lives as lord and king, and father no longer has that sense of control and domination that it had in a previous era. Women are no longer relating to their own fathers that way, let alone marrying men who act as fathers that way. Look at the partnership concept in marriage. Fathering is much more nurturing than it used to be.
There’s little that women then can bring into a relationship with God who is going to be their lord and king or their father. It goes blank, and not only that, but women are very uncomfortable with it. It’s not just neutral, it’s negative. Women think, “I don’t want a dominating man: Go away until you grow up and learn how to treat me like a human being.” When that comes into the religious life of women, it becomes the heart of this crisis. You can have all the dictums in the world, but the old images just don’t work anymore.
U.S. Catholic: What does it mean that we call God by male terms?
Elizabeth Johnson: I have this sentence that I quote over and over again: The symbol of God functions. The male symbol of God functions to privilege a certain way of male rule in the world and to undercut women’s spiritual power, women’s own sense of themselves as made in the image of God.
We women have to abstract ourselves from our bodies to see ourselves in the image of God if God is always depicted as male. It has serious ramifications for spirituality and for the identity of believers and for the community.
U.S. Catholic: Why is there so much resistance to using feminine images of God?
Elizabeth Johnson: I think the rejection of the inclusive language lectionary, which the U.S. bishops applied for in 1992 and which was rejected by the Vatican, was a clear recognition that once you start making room for even nonsexist language about humanity, let alone feminine images of God, there’s a fear that women will want to move in socially and politically, and then you’ve got a challenge to church structure as we know it. I think there’s a great deal of fear of women’s power.
U.S. Catholic: Can you imagine a church that took female images of God to heart?
Elizabeth Johnson: Let me say, I think women and men are equal in sin and grace. I don’t think women are going to be the salvation of the church or of this country. I think we can all get on power trips. I’m convinced of it, maybe because I’ve been in a women’s religious community, and I have six sisters. I am disabused of this romantic notion of women’s greatness as compared to men.
At this moment in history, women have figured out what’s wrong with the current pattern and how their experiences have led to different ways of relating, organizing, and running things. Given the chance, they would bring that pattern into the church and let it play off and see what develops.
To read U.S. Catholic’s interview with Elizabeth Johnson in its entirety, click here.