Monday, November 5, 2012

herchurch Conference

This past weekend I had the immense pleasure to spend a few hours at herchurch in SF; this is a Lutheran church, believe it or not!
 The conference day started with a Grandmother Invocation that included a singing to the Grandmothers of the East, South, West, North, sky, ground, and heart.  I am beyond excited to share this song/dance because it felt like such a beautiful and thoughtful way to begin a worship or even in daily life.
Inclusive language has been a prominent thought in my mind these past months and I have begun to notice every masculine word that is a part of worship or theological writings: Lord, kingdom, son of Man, Father, He.  It is astonishing to me how normalized the masculine view of God is part of the structure of our religious context, let alone society.  I had known these concepts before seminary but studying the actual Greek as well as reading the female oppression ridden Hebrew Bible has sparked a new discovery of the depth of how detrimental the view of a male God is for all people and how intrenched these values are in Western society.
herchurch is a refreshing break from male exclusive language; albiet, the language is directly to the other extreme with Goddess imagery.  While I think that the best approach is to incorporate both views of God with each other or better yet, use nongender specific language, the embracing of female imagery is quite necessary to empower and give respite for females in the church.
I was able to hear the keynote of the ecofeminist liberation theologian Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung.  This woman is an intelligent, creative, and eloquent speaker with great humor.  My favorite quote of her speech was this: "A few people have questioned me about my religion by asking if I'm married to Jesus and sleeping with Buddha.  I tell them that it's not like that--it's more like a threesome!" :)
Keynote speaker Dr. Chung Hyun Kyung
 Dr. Kyung spoke about how she often found herself spending most of her time reacting against patriarchal theologians and needing to find the energy to fight against the hate.  She spoke about the accumulated anger that this creates and deemed it the cancer of the soul.  Dr. Kyung smiled as she told us that she looked for answers in nature and felt comforted to realize that Mother Nature continues to know how to survive through all the destruction.  Under the surface, there is the energy of compassion and the maternal nature of embracing of the earth.  Dr. Kyung explains that finding women's theology is like finding that deep lifeline of the earth; it is the grounding of the feminine divine.  "What do know what enlightenment is like? Study nature--she is our teacher."-Dr. Kyung.

Through this grasping of the perseverence of the female divine found in nature, Dr. Kyung recognized that there was no longer a need to fight the patriarchal constructs but instead celebrate the special gifts of being female.  This also parallels with the concept that we need to have an intimate relationship between us and the earth; within ecofeminism, women embrace the deep connection between sexuality and spirituality.  This is a connection that is long been divided in Western culture; the extremes of Puritans vs. Pornographers is a very relevant subject in the US today.

I feel refreshed and remember all of the wonderful women whose shoulders I stand on today.  There is so much hunger, tired feet, bruises, and tears that make it possible for me to smile while I bask in the appreciation of the feminine divine.

Anja, Pastor Tita, Dr. Kyung, me, and Chelsea
 Dr. Kyung spoke of the religious church as a whole as a Titantic, a gigantic concept that is in reality a sinking ship that keeps getting smaller each day in its own irrelevancy.  This is the metaphor that my mind has been waiting years to grasp onto.  I find myself in all parts of my current life as a seminarian questioning: Now how is this current conversation relevant to the modern context of church?  I find myself amidst seas of thoughts and details about concepts such as the presence of Christ in the eucharist or the role of covenants in Zion theology and I think to myself, what would the average 23 year old say to something like this?  These concepts that theologians find themselves arguing over for centuries are irrelevant to the average person living their daily life in the 21st century.  Worse than that, worship and finding community in a church seems irrelevant to the greater population in the US today.  How can a church be something that feeds the spiritual needs of people when it's busy debating about which Protestant sector is closest to Catholicism?

I do not have the answers and these questions that I have certainly do not keep me from getting the necessary readings and papers done.  But it sure does add some questions about what to do with all of this new theological knowledge in my brain (which will keep amounting and getting more complex) and how that fits into my call to support people on their journeys in the modern world.  People have a spiritual need but sometimes this need is not even recognized within a person's self.  When it is possible to thrive financially, emotionally, and socially without thinking about God and the meaning of life/death, how does one realize that there is a void?  I feel the void; I hear the empty space being filled up when I sing a song in worship, or when I connect with someone in a hug.  The gift I have to give is love, and I know that it does not come from me but from God's compassion for all humankind.  Another gift I have is the modern lens I bring into the church; I'm just not sure about how my context of living in the modern world can work with the historical and theological background just yet.

Panel of a 64 foot tall mural that will be placed on the tower of herchurch


  1. Ah, it is important to find right questions to wrestle with and it looks like you are finding them!

  2. I understand what herchurch is trying to do, but you said it well when you said that they take it to the far opposite extremes. It's one thing to temper the predominantly male language of Christianity with much needed female language, or even to intentionally leave out all masculine language in favor of female language--done properly, I could see myself really enjoying that experience. But most everything I read coming out of herchurch sounds like, "Screw you God, you a GODDESS now, b---!"
    Buddha: What about me, I'm a guy...
    "NO Buddhy you ain't, you a GALdha!"
    Tao: I'm not anything, really...
    "GIRL, next!!"

    That, combined with the serious syncretist tendencies, makes me question not only is it Lutheran, but is it Christian?

  3. Thanks for the comment! I am sad that herchurch seems to be sending the message out of "Feminist or Bust" to you; I see it from a different aspect. The feminist imagery that herchurch upholds is very important in that it gives power and voice to a group of people that have not been heard. Women are portrayed on the extreme sides of a pure virgin or a loose prostitute within Biblical text; there is not much room for normalcy in the role of women within these confines. I appreciate goddess imagery because it shows a perspective that is yes, exclusive, because it gives power to women; this is a movement that is helpful to getting to inclusive language. Within trends of society, in order to get to the middle road, ie inclusive language, there is a tendency to move to the other extreme before meeting in the middle. I think the celebration of difference with both masculine and feminine imagery is helpful and can be used in all religious contexts, while I argue most for inclusive language.

    Thanks for the question about the Christianity of herchurch; I've been dwelling on this today along with all of the religious implications on the election last night, it has been related to conversations I've had throughout my day.

    I think that in this pluralistic world, especially in a place like America where quite a few people are born of parents that come from different religious traditions, syncretism is a part of life here. My first religious class at Capital had a required reading in which a man set out and talked to people all over America and found that people had multiple religious traditions that they pieced together in their faith life, ie cafeteria religion. It makes the most sense for me as a person of faith to embrace someone who wants to find deeper meaning in their lives, whether that means Christianity, Buddhism, or both. My recent experience in beginning seminary is noticing that we spend much too much time arguing over small aspects in which different religious traditions clash than getting to the heart of the matter, which is how religion plays a role in the greater world. I think the questions to focus on are finding out how multi-religious people benefit from their mingling of traditions and how we can learn from that. I personally have found great meaning in studying the religious practices within Eastern religions and using things like yoga and reiki within my faith life. That doesn't mean that I am Buddhist by any means but I think that learning, appreciating, or even incorporating other religious traditions is beneficial, not a hinderance.

  4. "This is a movement that is helpful to getting to inclusive language."
    I'm not sure I agree. By not affirming all images for God, exclusivism is only further encouraged. I understand the theory, that it should eventually balance out, but I don't think it works in this case. Which is why I agree with the last sentence of that paragraph, that both masculine and feminine language needs to be used alongside gender-neutral language.

    What I mean by syncretism is not the appropriation of other religious traditions' practices. Christianity has done this for thousands of years. What I mean by syncretism is praying both to, say, Jesus and Buddha as equally divine (yes, I know that in Buddhism, Buddha is not a god), or to God and the earth Goddess as a separate distinct being, an Asherah, if you will. I've always wanted to try yoga, and I've learned a great deal about prayer from my limited study of Eastern prayer practices. Pluralism is a part of our culture and world that is inevitable, where different traditions seek understanding from each other. Syncretism though, is something I wish to avoid.