Saturday, August 13, 2005

Made In God's Image

Several recent blog posts have got me thinking about masculinity/femininity and fatherhood/motherhood in the church: Ben on the male/female imbalance in emerging church; Hamo on how you deal with conflict; Steve on gender and leadership, and how the female approach to situations complements (is better than?) the male; and the rev's recent comment on my blog - how we always talk about churches as "mother," but what should we do with the fact that fathers feel differently about their children than mothers do?

Seeing as God made male and female in his image (and commissioned them to reproduce together), and that God's self-revelation is both in male and female expressions - including, but not confined to, father and mother terms - we clearly need to bear both the masculine and the feminine in mind when thinking about how we develop church family. But what ought those characteristics look like? The church is described in feminine terms as the Bride of Christ - but should that be problematic (as opposed to challenging) to fighters like The Rev?

Here's where my thoughts have got to: feminine and masculine snapshots to reflect on...

  • the hen: Jesus compares himself to a mother hen, that seeks to gather her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37). This is a defence mechanism, a response to danger, where the hen will lay her life on the line to protect her offspring. It is a female image, and it speaks to us of gathering, protection, and self-sacrifice.
  • the eagle: God is decribed as a mother eagle, forcing her chicks to fly. The eagle does this by literally dismantling the nest and pushing the chicks, one by one, off the ledge to free-fall; swoops down to catch them on her wings; and repeats the process until the chick has figured out what to do with its own wings! again, it is a female image, but it is very different from that of the hen. It speaks to us of scattering, exposure to danger (within limits), and freedom.
  • the shepherd: the shepherd (Psalm 23) leads the sheep from the winter pasture to the summer pasture. He carries two sticks. One is used to prevent the shhep from falling over the side of the precipice: it is placed gently but firmly on the sheep's outer flank, and the sheep is steered back away from the edge. The other is used to beat the crap out of predators - lions and bears and wolves, that eye the sheep from the cover of vegetation on the other side of the path up the steep valley. Used in combination, the sticks give the sheep a sense of security, in the very prescence of danger. This is a masculine image, and it speaks to us of movement that is lead (in contrast to both gathering and scattering), of giving clear direction, and of being confrontational when required.
  • the one who blesses: blessing is about permission-giving, about having a dream of what someone else can do that takes them beyond what you have experienced yourself, and releasing them into that future to make of it what they will. Repeatedly God blesses, individuals, communities, and communities through individuals. I'm going to call this masculine, because in the part of the story of humanity's relationship with God that is recorded in the Bible, it was part of the role of a father to bless his children and grandchildren before he died. So, this is a masculine image, and it speaks to us of permission-giving, releasing others, and the 'passing of the baton' from one generation to the next (as, perhaps, does the image of the mother eagle).

One of the things I like about all of these images is that they are dynamic, involving some sort of movement or another - gathering, scattering, leading, and releasing. And I'd suggest that the church needs to be moving in all of these ways, at different times and in different contexts. Questions worth asking of our own context might be, in which of these ways ought we to be leading at the moment? And, how equipped are we to do so? And, if not very, how might we be better equipped?

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