By Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Chatfield United Methodist and
Commissioned EarthKeeper of the UMC
Do you remember when the movie “The Shack” came out? What is it that you remember most? Are you like many people who can’t remember exactly what the movie was about but do remember Octavia Butler as Papa God? What did you think? Were you of the delighted or the shocked camp?
Humans need to put some kind of symbol to our notions of anything to make them more real to us. And for a divine being, we often use those things that are familiar and dear to us. Jesus called God Abba, which can often be translated as ‘‘daddy’’ or ‘‘papa,’’ indicating an intimate and loving relationship. In the translation of the scriptures that we use for our readings at Chatfield UMC, we use the term Abba for God often.
One term we try to avoid is the male pronoun ‘‘he/him’’. As a matter of fact, we try to keep our language about God as gender neutral as possible. Why? Why is that important?
I believe when we can remove the limited way gender defines God, we can experience God in ways that truly reveal all God is to us. In the scripture there are over 200 words that describe a name for God. Many of them, such as YAHWEH-SHALOM, have to do with a being that transcends time and place. Attributes that are truly beyond gender.
So, I would like to encourage, you, my readers to an experiment this summer. Try to remove gendered names and pronouns when you speak to God or about God. Instead of Father or Lord, use Creator or Abba. Instead of ‘‘he,’’ simply say or think “God”. If you really want to get deep into this; find some of the wonderful names for God that are used in scripture. Find out what the name El Shaddai really means, for example.
Then, see how it feels. Does this help you encounter a broader understanding of who God is to you? When you think about God’s relationship to who you are, does a God who transcends the human borders of gender become a closer Friend? And at the same time, does this reveal to you God who is unlimited in the capacity to be divine?
I need both sorts of God. I need God who is truly a friend, not is a cheap commercial way of being friend, but in a deeply meaningful never leave me forsaken kind of way. And I need God who has it all together for more than just my own needs. I need a God who is truly so much bigger than any gender or human definition we can create for God. And for me, using gendered names for God limits my capacity to envision the sort of God that I and the world needs.
I encourage you to try this for the summer and see what happens to you and your relationship with your Creator, your Redeemer and your Abundant Life Giver. Maybe by autumn God will be bigger and more intimate than you ever thought possible.