Here's the more general context, and then I'll get to my last two posts specifically. With my pair of posts, I'm trying to respond to the suggestions of two different bloggers that God doesn't need gender. Or, rather, that we, in our talk about deity and other such personal things, can go "beyond gender." These blogger dialogues get to more than just the question of whether the God, or even a god or goddess, is "he or she" or just "it." The conversations betray the fact that our frame for the conversations, our methods for knowing and for talking, are primarily male. (Even feminist scholars--such as Carol Poster and Gesa E. Kirsch and Joy S. Ritchie--can unwittingly find themselves in male-framed "beyond-the-personal" arguments and conversations, trying ironically to oppose the impersonal oppositional male.) I'm trying to respond to the following: (1) John Hobbins' post "Is the biblical God a persona beyond gender?" in which he is joined by Rabbi David E. S. Stein, discussing the latter's article “On Beyond Gender: Representation of God in the Torah and in Three Recent Renditions into English”; and (2) David Ker's post "Holy Spirit: it or he?" in which he concludes (in a concluding comment):
I favor "it" except for when "spirit" is a synecdoche for God or counselor, advocate, etc. then I would choose "he."
"She" is way too controversial for me and in fact I don't think it is really addressing the "genderlessness" of the spirit as a component of a person. Are my feet feminine and my arms masculine if I am a speaker of Spanish? Is my soul feminine but my spirit masculine?
They've kindly responded to comments I and others have made on their respective blogs. But I wanted to try to say something, differently.
So my last two posts take two different songs I heard on the iPod of one of my children. Listening, I didn't know the band singing was Relient K. I was listening in, not invited at all to listen. I was eavesdropping, overhearing, being a fly on the wall so to speak. My son didn't know I was checking out his music. And the boys who make up Relient K didn't write their songs for me. I'm not even sure who the audience is, or whether I'm "interpreting" their original lyrics by the original author's intentions.
What I hear when listening to the one song and then the other is something that reminds me of my own relationship with my fathers. I have a birth father, a man I love who was not an easy Dad when I was a boy. Because I went off to boarding school as a kid, I have other fathers, and sometimes I hear and read the language of God as Father. I have friends, cousins, brothers and sisters, and a spouse who have and who have had similar kinds of fathers. Many of us are children of the Christian clergy, of pastors, and preachers, and missionaries. We hear and read stories such as the Prodigal Son and the loving Father, which has not always been our experience, at least the "loving Father" part. Some of us have been prodigal children--children who have left forever by committing suicide or by running away or by dwindling away in acts of "acting out" in different ways, and children or adults who have returned in various ways.
Some of us have walked through Twelve Steps. This is a different sort of "recovery" work than academics, especially feminist academics, must do. And yet "recovery" in many contexts gets one to acknowledge the body, and its pain, and how it was silenced, gendered, marked and unmarked. (Some feminist scholars, like Beth Daniell, are in recovery work both in the academy and "in meetings." Other feminists, like the grad student doing research on AA at a conference I recently attended, say that Twelve Steps--especially because God, the male, is the higher power and male-ish hierarchy--are patently anti-female). The Steps are very difficult in that they require safety, and anonymity, and feelings not necessarily analysis, and most of all community. They are also almost invariably indirect methods to something else.
This is some the indirectness I'm after in those last two posts. C. S. Lewis talks of deep change being the difference of a direct coat of paint and furniture stain. Kenneth L. Pike would tell a poem at the end of his monolingual demonstration and the subsequent lecture because poetry is as indirect. Eve Ensler writes the Vagina Monologues, translated now in forty five different languages and performed in more than one hundred different nations, to change the world? Yes, and to change the rapist and the men who have grown up after committing incest, and of course then to help the victims, (y)our sisters, mothers, wives, aunts, grandmothers, granddaughters, and daughters.
So my last two posts are monologic dialogues for indirect change, if possible somehow for recovery. At the end of her Rhetoric Retold: Regendering the Tradition from Antiquity Through the Renaissance, Cheryl Glenn talks about having to "share an incredible sadness, for the recuperation of past women's voices is a work of morning." And, she continues,
We survivors-scholars-women-men often grieve, especially if we are exploring periods or individuals for whom records are scarce. But we must experience and then move beyond grief over irrevocable loss and move beyond a yearning for the actual person whose remains will never adequately represent her.Notice that in her moving "beyond" there can never be a moving beyond the personal, the pathos, the gendered. For it's the fuller gendered person who is being recovered.
I'm also playing, in my last two posts, with my own fictional/factual literal/figural contrasts: the father is prodigal, and abba is (m)othering. Sloppy ambiguous experiential in-progress human language helps.