It all happened within 24 hours.
Firstly, I watched the film Suffragette and went to sleep with gratitude and honour for the women who had so much courage to win the vote in Britain and elsewhere.
Then, the very next day I saw what was to pass for a speech about the latest Times person of the year which was essentially inciting a riot to bring back “man” of the year instead of “person”, which was too politically correct.
My heart sank, particularly feeling the work of women in history who paved the way for me to have even a relatively different experience. I have traveled the world, produced records, used contraception, voted and am married to someone who tag-teams and sacrifices with me so we can keep our little ones at home and I can keep making music.
I could feel myself being drawn in by that bully nature that thrives on provoking, on getting a rise out of people, feeds on others taking offence and finds a sort of sick glee in other’s frustration. If you’ve ever been bullied or abused, or even “mansplained” to, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
I stopped myself. I took a step back. Found my feet again. Stopped worrying whether or not this abusive “person of the year” would ever understand what it’s like to be a woman with less than 100 years of the vote behind her, knowing full well it could be taken again.
Looking at this whole thing from a wider, wiser vantage point, I began to think about a book by Cynthia Bourgeault called The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, which stemmed from an essay written years previously called “Why Feminizing the Trinity Won’t Work”. The essay spoke to well-meaning attempts to feminize the “third person” of the trinity, namely the Holy Spirit, and called it “a well-intentioned but ill-reasoned attempt to strengthen the “feminine” nature of Christianity”. The idea being that this attempt was more of an “add on” than a corrective and Bourgeault's intention for warning about this, was not that she sees the Trinity as masculine, but “as an ordering and revealing principle, of which Christ is its culminating expression.”
I know the focus in the article was more on shifting our perspective of Trinity and not on this feminizing “add on”, but as I found my feet, after feeling the pain of someone shooting his mouth off with such foolishness, I began to ask myself: if this blowhard form of patriarchy is surfacing in such a cartoon-like caricature, what is it that has to correct itself for women, half of the people on the planet, to finally be respected, honoured and heard? I thought of the concept of “add on” again.
Here in Canada, we’ve recently changed the lyrics to our national anthem to: “in all of us command” instead of “in all our sons command”. I love to sing “in all of us”, so don’t get me wrong as I hash my way through this. I’m trying to get at a deeper issue.
It seems, with Times Magazine making the change to “Person of the Year”, our anthem changing to “in all of us”, and with feminist Christianity trying to feminize the Holy Spirit, there is something in common with all of it. It is sort of like grafting a little leaf onto the top of a big tree, instead of digging down at the base and grafting a deep tap root for an entirely different tree to begin emerging.
Time, remember, is not linear.
Maybe the bullies of this world can easily attack the “political correctness” of these add ons, because something deeper is at work and in their own foolish, unknowing way, they are sniffing it out. Maybe they are unknowingly mirroring something at the heart of this that has to change. That we’ve got deep work to do and the time for “add ons” , however good and well-intentioned, has come to an end.
It doesn’t mean that feminism is over or has died, but it might mean that we are entering a new era that will demand much of us, or at least more than the “lipstick” fix of a magazine’s front page slogan or anthem being changed, no matter how good these fixes are. If our hearts don’t change, externals don’t much matter.
What does Jesus have to do with any of this? Well, in terms of the Christian Tradition, we might start with seeing that the radical nature of Jesus as he related to women, was almost completely bi-passed by the Christian forefathers. As though his work in really seeing women and hearing women was lost very quickly to a culture that was not ready for this radical seeing and hearing. The question for those of us wanting to walk forward in the lineage of the Christian tradition is: how do we hold in one hand some wonderful theological and metaphysical work by these forefathers and in the other hand hold the drastic need evolve the perspectives of women on a tap root level, rather than a patch up job?
Most of us are familiar with the horrific things the forefathers of the church said about women.
They are “the gateway to the devil” or “a temple built over a sewer”. (Turtullian)
“Woman does not possess the image of God in herself but only when taken together with the male who is her head.” (Augustine)
“Woman is defective and misbegotten.” - Thomas Aquinas
“The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes.” - Martin Luther
“Do not any longer contend for mastery, for power, money, or praise. Be content to be a private, insignificant person, known and loved by God and me.” - John Wesley (in a letter to his wife).
Today, as a refresher, while many conservative Christian men and women would find these words repulsive, they still believe the message at the heart of these statements and their beliefs are a direct result of these deep rooted feelings toward women that shaped the post-Jesus state religion of Christianity.
Let’s not kid ourselves that part of the reason why Time’s “person of the year” this year, was able to be so flippant about suggesting the slogan ought to be changed back to “man of the year” is because he’s ripping the “add-on” off, and uncovering the much deeper issue. That his miserable, objectifying, kill or be killed lifestyle is the Great Symptom of a still power hungry, patriarchal society. Even with all the great work that has been done. It is still, unknowingly, reflecting these feelings of the men who shaped Christendom.
I hear men who call themselves Christian saying things like “women who work emotionally stunt their children”. But when I look at the real picture, the waters these men are swimming in are more accurately dealing with a father wound. Franklin Graham’s father was off saving the world. Jerry Falwell Jr.’s dad was flying around in his private jet furthering his television network kingdom, competing with the Bakker family. To me, these guys are emotionally stunted because they didn’t see much of their dads. And I do wonder what it would look like to these guys, for millions of single mothers to stay home in order not to emotionally stunt their children? Would they call them lazy? Freeloaders? All the while the fathers are off nursing their wounds somewhere, making more babies, not once being vilified.
Much work has been done for Christian feminism, but often, and with good reason, when we read these awful texts from the men who shaped our faith, and certainly when we see men today warping the tradition, we just want to throw in the towel and walk away. The harder part though, might be to weed through the garbage, to find the nuggets that intimated some pretty phenomenal mysteries about Divine Reality. For instance, I love Pope Francis, but he too falls short when it comes to women.
The question becomes, how can we participate in the evolution of healing from patriarchy when it is still having its last kick at the can?
This is a long view question, of course, but we have someone who took that long view over 2000 years ago, whether it felt impossible and silly or not. In Jesus we have a pioneer of feminism because he could look at women without shaming them. He spoke to the woman at the well in the heat of the day. He had female disciples. And in Mary Magdalene, he had a friend who “got it” the way he did. She had the courage to stay put at every station of the cross, and he revealed himself to her first after his resurrection.
In Jesus and Mary Magdalene, we do have two pioneers of our tradition to look to, examples to hold onto, as this system patriarchy that has gathered much abusive power and strength, breathes out its long, last, destructive breath on this beautiful planet. We can’t expect it to leave with the gentleness of an elder. No. It is a “locker room” teenage boy, afraid of its own shadow, bolstering and barricading to protect a heart that has no place in the world in which it lives. But we too must remember the men’s work of Robert Bly, Robert Moore and others who asked the question “does being a non-patriarchal male mean we can’t be men?” They did the work of examining disintegrated archetypes, and doing great work in “recovering archetypes of the mature masculine”. This is work that hasn’t been embraced by mainstream men in power. All that is seen is that the feminist world wants them to be “new age sensitive guys” in order to be replaced by power-hungry, masculine women. Immature work always gets everybody’s back up.
We all have much mature work to do.
Still, I look to my predecessors with love, awe and respect. Hildegard of Bingen, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Maya Angelou, the suffragettes, women in the sexual revolution, my elder teachers… and my my sisters of all races, creeds and orientations who have to walk in this world not yet ready to fully welcome them. Let’s face it, in many patriarchal churches, women are still relegated to being either “hospitality” or “administrators” or both. So long as they are “helping” and not pursuing their own capacity.
I don’t have “the answer” but I do know that we must dig deep. We must, all of us, heal. From the symbol of the doormat mother who mistrusts other women, from the DNA we carry from world wars, with unchecked PTSD passed from fathers to their sons (and daughters) around the world. And we must never believe the lie that being power-hungry because men are power-hungry is the final word in feminism. That reminds me of Joseph Campbell’s “young men are climbing a ladder only to find it is up against the wrong wall.” Let’s deconstruct the ladder altogether. Let’s begin creating imagery that does not praise crushing others to get ahead. Build creative vs competitive models in business and the academy. For starters.
When the Chunnel was built, they built it from either side of the English Channel. When engineers planned for this, they had to be exacting in their calculations, because one milimetre off, would set the tunnel off for miles in the middle of the channel. This feels like that.
Just some thoughts as we sit possibly poised for yet another world war and the dissolution of a society that never did “get” Jesus, but hijacked him and appropriated him as a mascot for domination. Man, (pardon my pun), did we ever miss the mark.
I welcome constructive ideas for moving forward.