Thursday, March 31, 2011

God is a boy...

As we were getting ready to leave for preschool this morning, Naomi said to me, “I don’t like God because he’s a boy.” Yikes!

I did not show my dismay, however. I just replied, “God isn’t a boy or a girl. And God is both a boy and a girl. God is everything at once.”

To this Naomi replied, “What’s God’s name?” As if, knowing God’s name would be proof.

“God,” I said. “But God has many names. People know God as Comforter, Yahweh, even ‘Rock’” Saying the first things that came to mind.

“And Cloud?”

“Yeah, and God is sometimes a cloud.” Then, as we were putting on her shoes I asked her if, after school, she’d like to look with me for some of the names for God in the Bible, to which she nodded and that was that.

But, that is not that. How has the daughter of a feminist pastor already learned that God is gendered. And that she can’t like God because God is not her gender? Naomi is at this stage in her development, figuring out what it means to be a girl, and what it means to be a boy. She sometimes also says that she does like daddy because he’s a boy. Or she only likes me because we’re girls. So I don’t really think that the God’s purported gender would ultimately inhibit her loving God, but that’s not the point, of course, is it?

I have not been doing my job. Even with those books about God having different names and God being everywhere and my un-gendered talk about God, Naomi still knew that God was a ‘boy’ because that’s the language that everyone else uses. But, as anyone who’s given any though the question of a gendered God knows, language makes the naming of God tricky because our personal pronouns just don’t cut it.

To me this question challenges me at a particularly relevant time. I’m beginning to prepare a study on the Lord’s Prayer for our small English congregation. The Lord’s Prayer, which begins “Our Father in heaven.” We say it every Sunday, so I decided we should be thinking about it’s contents. And now, thanks to Naomi I’m thinking about how, with my Korean friends, I will address that very first line. It’s how Jesus instructed us to pray, so what does it say about who God is, gendered and otherwise?

I suspect that it might be a little radical for me to suggest that God might be anything other than benign abeoji. In Korean, as in English the word used is the more formal ‘father’. Yet Jesus invites his disciples to begin addressing God as appa, in Hebrew abba, something more akin to ‘daddy’. For Jesus’ disciples this meant an invitation into the arms of an intimate God. A God whose new community is like a family. But now for many using calling God ‘father’ or even ‘Daddy’ is not comforting but a stumbling block.

When I was a camp counselor at camp Valaqua, north of Calgary in Alberta, I butted heads several times over the differing theology I had from another (male) counselor, his being much more conservative than mine. But I was surprised to find that when it came to naming God, he readily accepted mothering imagery. As we talked about it, I discovered that because his relationship with an abusive and neglectful father, he had great difficulty thinking about or praying to a Father in Heaven.

The United Church of Canada congregations that I am familiar with in Winnipeg pray, “Our Father and Mother in heaven.” This is a little messy and confusing but at least acknowledges the complication of gendering God. I think when I address this prayer on Sunday I will talk about the multiple ways that we are invited into an intimate relationship with the Creator of heaven and earth. I believe that is what Jesus wanted for his disciples then and now.

Once again I am grateful to Naomi for helping me to think about who God is. In this case, she has also reminded me to help others think about who God is…Creator, Adonai, Yahweh, Sustainer, Spirit, Cloud, Light Rock…The list, of course, goes on. Thanks be to She.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

God looks like a cloud

Most of the time, engaging Naomi in conversation about God or Jesus seems pointless; engaging her in anything that is not directly about her seems pointless. But Naomi and I had a conversation the last week about God, begun at her initiation. Although it may have been prompted by the fact that often before bed I encourage her to think back over the day and think of things that she is thankful for or that made her happy, and things that made her upset or angry. And then we (I) offer those to God. Most of the time, it is hard to pin her down even to this task.

On this bed-time occasion as we were settling in for story time, she said, with no prompting, “We can’t love God because we can’t see him.” (I did not teach her male pronouns!) Nor could God love us, because God can’t see us. I told her that God is everywhere, whether we see God or not. I reminded her of a little board book we used to read about God being everywhere we look. I also wondered to her, “What do you think God would look like if you could see God?” Her answer was immediate: “Like a big cloud.”

I was a little taken aback by her answer because we’ve never in my memory talked about this imagery for God before, and I’m not sure where she came up with it. I was also a little startled because I had just been reading the week’s lectionary text (Matt 17:1-9), the transfiguration, in which God does indeed appear in a cloud and speak words of affirmation and love about Jesus. Reading this text what struck me most was the tenderness with which God spoke of Jesus, “my son, the Beloved.” And then, how tenderly Jesus speaks with his disciples, touching them and saying, ‘it’s okay, don’t be afraid.’ Because of course they were scared out of their wits. They had no idea that God looked like a cloud, or spoke from a cloud.

Naomi asked me in our conversation if God could call on the phone or on the computer like we do with grandma and grandpa (I had said it would be nice if we could see and hear God – it would make life a whole lot clearer). The disciples had no similar expectation of direct communication from the Divine. Yet here they were overwhelmed by a vision of the revered prophets and surround by a cloud of the Almighty.

So Jesus' response to them was somewhat like mine might be to my daughter, who needs a lot of forewarning when something new happens and doesn’t take easily to change or surprises – even good ones, even when it’s part of routine. The sudden appearance of prophets from the past and God speaking from a cloud was quite a surprise and not exactly a routine occurrence in the life of the disciples. It’s a wonder that the disciples didn’t break down in screams and sobs or just plain run away the way Naomi might.

Jesus offers tenderness and instruction and boundaries. He encourages. He is not frustrated by their confusion or lack of understanding. If only my parenting were so. And thanks be to my Heavenly Parent, for being present, comforting and understanding even in my fear and confusion and misplaced intentions.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The back of the quilt

I now have my quilt 'sandwiched' and am working on quilting. I finally landed on a pattern that I'm happy compliments the design and have no problem spending hours with the hoop and needle. But when I put the top and batting and back together it was with a little twinge of regret.

Of course I'd been eager to get to quilting but I had also relished putting all those pieces together. Hand piecing, instead of machine piecing was at times tedious - especially when I made a mistake or changed my mind about and wanted to change something. But it was also contemplative - I would get into a zone when doing those long side seams that, if I had been sewing with a machine would have zipped right by. I am proud of this quilt in a way that I never have been after machine piecing, especially when looking at it from the back. And when the quilt is all put together like it is, I will never see the back side again.

The back of the quilt top is where you see all the work. When I looked at all those thousands (maybe millions?) of stitches, I saw where I ran out of black and had to use red, and then green. I saw the places where the stitches didn't quite follow the lines I has carefully drawn to guide my needle. I am not fastidious about snipping threads or trimming ever seam perfectly. I do not make ever corner perfect (although I think I did pretty well in this project - another product of working by hand, I think). But I found myself in awe not of the front, which (I hope) I'll get to see for a long time to come, but of the back.

I loved looking at all those stitches. They represent hours. And the beauty of hand quilting is that they don't represent hours sitting at a table in a small room, as they would have if my machine had been working. They represent hours in coffee shops, on airplanes, and cars and trains, in church. Hours with people and by myself. Hours with my family and with friends. Hours waiting. Hours in conversation and in silence. Hours praying.

In this quilt, like no other I am aware of and thankful for every stitch and every minute. By the stained-glass shapes of those pieces and stitches I give thanks to the Creator for shaping a creative people who, like her can say, "it is good."