Once again, Kate has written an important post reflecting on the experience of Liturgy — most specifically: what it feels like to be pushed to the edge by overwhelmingly male & patriarchal language for God. I can picture the scene all too easily, and it frustrates me.
But I know that if Kate came here, she would find things little better. I know, because I flinch as I lead worship — saying phrases I would quietly omit if I were sitting in the pew, phrases that I believe are unhelpful and misleading.
So, Kate’s post also makes me uncomfortable because it puts me face to face with my own hypocrisy. I hate some of what the tradition offers as normative. It was not part of my formative experience as a Christian, it was not part of my formative experience as a theology student or ordinand, but I have had to learn to deal with it as a priest.
I deal with it as a priest because it is what the tradition demands of me. I deal with it as a priest because one has to pick one’s battles, and my own needs and those of the congregations do not always match. I deal with it as a priest because I naively and somewhat stubbornly resist being too free with the words of the liturgy, because I have known too many priest who cut (or add) all sorts of things without any sense of the theological implications of what they are doing.
I pray daily for a revised liturgy that will take away these pains (and give thanks for those who are working on it).
But in the mean time, what can we do other than flinch?
Well, while I have chosen not to push the language agenda too far in these particular congregations, I do try to keep as many images of God on the go as possible. ‘Father’ has it’s place, and it’s place is scattered amidst a thousand other images for God.
I try — though only with partial success — to get the other preachers in the congregation to respect my wish that we not use ‘men’, ‘man’ or ‘mankind’ to refer to humanity. But then, neither can I force people to agree with me, nor prevent them from preaching on the importance of ‘Son of God’ rather than ‘Child of God’ while I quietly fume in my pew (there is a theological argument to be had there, but it is rather more complex than sermons allow, and the effect of stressing Sonship, to me, is to overemphasise maleness). And the thing is: there is almost no way to convince someone that inclusive language matters if they think it doesn’t. To engage in the feminist critique of language for the first time is to be confronted with your own complicity in abusive power structures, and most people just aren’t willing to do that while chatting over coffee.
But there are days when I want to throw caution to the wind, days when I want to send Kate on tour to each and every congregation that lives quietly with outdated language and image and say, ‘look: is this not precisely who we need in the church? We are lucky she seems strong enough to withstand the damage, but how many others are we losing along the way?’
I do not know how to reconcile the fact that in one church, there are people who hurt if they lose language they have loved all their lives, and others who hurt if they are constantly confronted by images of God which exclude them.
I believe that the greater burden needs to be on those who have lived longest with God, and have grown deepest in faith. But of course, age never guarantees experience.
In the mean time, I thank God for the blogs, for the community that has developed, for a place where we can speak honesty of what we find hard in church and know that there are others there working for the same revolutions, those who understand that the anger and frustration at some of what happens in God’s name comes out of our love for the wonderful terrible beast that is the Episcopal Church.