Category Archives: A Feminine Masculinity?

A Feminine Masculinity Part 3 of 3: Mother Earth and Father…God?

This is is the last post in the mini-series of “A Feminine Masculine,” which has been reflections on gender and theology.  This last post is the final reflection about how I live out my thesis: “In light of my personal experience, I want to break down the strongholds gender has placed on theology and open the floodgates to the experience of God in light of and regardless of gender.”

Last week I talked about the example of the beloved disciple challenging the identity of the über-masculine male.  This week, we will talk about…gardening.

As many of you know, I am a green thumb.  What’s funny about it is that I’ve always known I had a green thumb, but I never had an opportunity to exercise it.  My parent’s backyard was very shady, and so only hostas and other shade loving plants could grow there…no vegetables or stuff like that.

However, after moving into Minneapolis and into a community house, I finally had the opportunity to garden, and Lord have mercy did I ever! Once the harvest was all over, I had 150+ tomatoes and several eggplants and peppers, along with chives, sage, and tarragon.  Here’s a picture!

This year, I am planning on tripling the size of the garden!  But you may be wondering: why all this talk about gardening, then?  Well, glad you asked, because it has to do with the spiritual experiences and reflections I had while gardening, and I believe they are very applicable to our current discussion.

Over the summer of gardening I was wrestling a lot with my thoughts about gender discussions and identity in Christianity, especially with other men (for the record, if you think you are one of these people, you most likely are not.  The kind of men I’m talking about probably wouldn’t read my blog!)

I had realized a strange cult of machismo around some men, where their identity of being a man was rooted in their strength, their prowess, and their ability to fight. However, in all of this, I saw another disturbing trend: men would proclaim this machismo, but in their spiritual life and practices, they lived out a defeatist lifestyle (I am a worm, I am nothing, I am a sinner, etc).  Curiouser and curiouser….

So while gardening I had excellent times of reflection, meditation, and talking with God.  I would come to God with my questions while I tended my vegetables and flowers, and in the garden I discovered a “mantra” or a transformative statement: “boys destroy, men create.”

I realized that this cult of machismo created a cult of destruction.  In their idealized manliness, men would see themselves as unstoppable, or at least untouchable, and so had no care to how their actions affected others or the world.  They were ivory towers, they were Don Drapers.  However, at the same time they had developed a defeatist cult in their theology.  Their God was as angry and machismo as they were, and they knew that they could not please God.  Yet, this God was worthy of their worship and praise.  Curiouser and curiouser…

But what does gardening bring to this story?  Looking back to the Genesis narrative, what was Adam’s first responsibility?  To take care of the Garden.  Adam was to tend God’s creation, but also partake in it.  In gardening, we join in God and God’s creation to become co-creators.  In gardening, we get to see how God has and continues to work in the world and in us, and we feel the creative and creational power of God move through us.  We live in the life of the vegetation, and we grow with their growth. We create, we do not destroy.  We mend, we do not mutilate. We give life, we do not take it away.

Maybe this whole “giving life” thing or growth theme is the reason why gardening has been seen as a feminine exercise.  Sure, it does reflect the feminine motif of birth, but that does not mean it’s solely feminine.  As we see in the Genesis narrative, the man Adam was also called to create, to birth, to nurture, and to sustain.

We all participate in the current creation of God and in the new creation to come.  There is no exclusion based on gender, race, ethnicity, or whatever separates us from one another.  Let us all join in with God in God’s creation as we wait in expectancy for the new creation.

Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, Center panel

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A Feminine Masculinity Part 2 of 3: The Beloved Disciple and Über-Masculinity

Dearly beloved,

Last week I posted my reply to Rachel Held Evan’s challenge to men to write blogs in response to John Piper’s comment that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”  I said a lot in that post, and to a great reception by the internet community!  In short, this was my punch-thesis:

“We should recognize our worship of God in light of who God made us to be.  We worship God regardless of our gender, and we cannot allow our gender to become the norm of how we interpret the Bible, theology, and spiritual experience.  Rather, we must be open to the fullness of how and who God created us to be in the unity of our masculine and feminine identities.”

I ended the post with describing how I have been called to action in light of this:

“In light of my personal experience, I want to break down the strongholds gender has placed on theology and open the floodgates to the experience of God in light of and regardless of gender.”

In this sequel, I want to actually discuss how I practice this.  The last post was lofty; how, then, does what I preach look practically for me?

Fr. John Guiliani’s “Jesus & the Beloved Disciple”

One way is in the example of the beloved disciple resting on Jesus’ chest at the Passover meal. In this scene, and especially in iconography, we have a moment of tenderness and vulnerability. The disciple’s love for and devotion to Jesus is so intense that he cannot help but display it in an intimate and physical. But this love is not entirely selfless; the disciple is looking for reciprocity. In loving Jesus, he too wants to be loved. In leaning on Jesus’ chest, he not only displays love, but asks for it in return.  He wants to be held, to be known, to be felt, and to be loved.

What was the response to this act?  Did the disciples point and laugh at him, calling him names like “sissy” or “homo?” What if Jesus took offense to this, shrugged the disciple off his chest, wailing “Get off me, bro!”? But Jesus does not, and the others do not (though Peter is curious about him in John 21:20-23.  Jealous, perhaps?!).  Jesus accepts the gesture of love, and in allowing the gesture he reciprocates the love here and on the cross.

A transitional aside: We know very little about the disciple whom Jesus loved, and only church tradition identifies him as John the Apostle/Evangelist/Etcetera. However, I’m not even going to begin to explore the identity of the disciple, let alone 1st century CE cultural displays of affection. What matters is what this means to our discussion, and that is that loving Christ transcends gender, and that this love, the kind the beloved disciple shows, directly challenges an over-emphasized masculine identity, or an über-masculinity.

Don Draper of Mad Men: The archetype of uber-masculinity.

To love Christ (yikes, this is another whole discussion to be had!) means to love freely, fully, without abandon, and in total humility.  The sacrificial love Christ lived out, demonstrated, enacted, and realized is a call to love God and one another.  But for the über-masculine male this is difficult, or even impossible.  The über-masculine male is an independent and solitary figure.  He knows what he wants, knows how to get it, and often times does at whatever cost. He is strong, dominating, ruthless, and triumphant.  He is a rock, he is an island, and a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries.

How can the über-masculine male love one another, let alone love another man, and that man being Jesus?  For the über-masculine male, he cannot!  He does not love, but expects others to love him.  He lusts and controls, doing whatever to protect his impenetrable masculine identity. He has made himself to be a god, worthy of worship from “lesser forms” of men and women around him. This identity, my beloved, does not belong, and it is an identity that the love of Christ subverts.

A man who cannot lay his head upon the chest of Christ, who cannot show love in intimate and personal ways, is a shadow of a true man.  However, when one has responded to the love of Christ, a love so powerful, the über-masculine male cannot stand, for his feet of iron and clay are too weak to uphold his identity. Through the selfless and subversive love of Christ, the Son of God, the Son of Man, we find idolatrous identities collapse, and with nothing left of our own to grasp on to, we fall into Christ’s arms, and lay our heads upon his chest.

In a few days, I will provide another example, but in the interim I have a challenge to my readers:

Respond to this post with an example (or examples) of how your worship of God transcends or subverts cultural assumptions of gender identity.

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Feminine Masculinity?: A Personal Reply to Rachel Held Evens and John Piper

Hey’all,

We are temporarily departing from our series on the “Joy of Theology” to take up a special issue.  Rachel Held Evans put forth a challenge to men to write a “blog post that highlights the feminine images of God found in Scripture or that celebrates the importance of women in the Church. (Be positive and be creative!).” This is in response to John Piper declaring that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”  As a man, I could not help but rise to the challenge!

“As a man…” Well, that just stopped me in my tracks. “Who am I?” A personal note: I have never felt like a very masculine man.  I never played sports, never was buff or even fit, or ever lived up to the masculine identity that television and Hollywood projected. So, I’ve always felt disconnected from masculinity, knowing that biologically I am a man, but not feeling manly.

The man Derek Zoolander joins with the human race in asking the eternal question: “Who am I?

And so, I was always pegged as the sensitive, emotional type, types that traditionally are not ascribed to masculinity.  I am sensitive. Men are tough. I am emotional. Men don’t cry. I am in touch with my feelings. Men don’t feel.

But in my life’s journey in becoming comfortable and confident in my identity as a man, I have been encouraged by the Biblical witness to the fullness of manhood and womanhood. A full manhood lives in the reality of masculine and feminine identity, and a full womanhood lives in the reality of feminine and masculine identities. I see Biblical people as living out their identity in the reality of the fullness of genders, in the fullness of the image of God, and not as isolated towers of masculinity or femininity.

Was Rahab any less feminine and more masculine to aid the Israelites in the capture of Jericho? Was Deborah any less feminine and more masculine to lead Israel to victory? Was Esther any less feminine and more masculine for saving the Jewish people from genocide?

Was David any less masculine and more feminine to dance before the Ark of the Covenant?  Again with David, was he any less masculine and more feminine in his friendship with Jonathan? Was the Beloved Disciple any less masculine and more feminine to lay his head upon Jesus’ chest?

Some will argue: yes. But I disagree.  I see these examples of people living in the fullness of their identities, perhaps even in counter-cultural ways and coming before God in celebration.

It’s actually the last illustration that means the most to me, and in this I see the best example of relinquishing our strongholds of identity and collapsing into the love of Christ.  The love of Christ invites us to lay our heads upon his chest in adoration and security. It invites us under his wings like a mother hen gathers her chicks (sound familiar?). All in all, God invites us to be the bride of Christ, and enter into holy union with our Creator.

So, in one sense I am saying that our relationship with God is bigger than our gender, but in another sense I am saying that we love God within an engendered culture and regardless of our gender.  But we can be free from the cultural constraints on our gender identity.

So am I suggesting an abandonment of the masculine and feminine?  No, that would be a fatal mistake.  What I am arguing for is for recognition to the openness of our genders in expression of love and worship of God. What I am arguing against is “gendermandering” the Bible, theology, and spiritual experience. That means that the Christian experience cannot be masculinized or feminized; it depends on the unity of the masculine and feminine in the reality of the unity of the image of God.

We should recognize our worship of God in light of who God made us to be.  We worship God regardless of our gender, and we cannot allow our gender to become the norm of how we interpret the Bible, theology, and spiritual experience.  Rather, we must be open to the fullness of how and who God created us to be in the unity of our masculine and feminine identities.

In sum, this reply to Rachel Held Evans may not have directly addressed her challenge.  However, I wanted this to be a demonstration of whence I come to the discussion of gender, the Bible, theology, and spiritual experience.  In light of my personal experience, I want to break down the strongholds gender has placed on theology and open the floodgates to the experience of God in light of and regardless of gender.

The original article: http://rachelheldevans.com/john-piper-masculine-christianity

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