In Memory of René Girard: The Truth about Life and Death

Many scholars have claimed that René Girard’s mimetic theory is one of the most important insights of the 20th century. But those of us who have been highly influenced by René know better. For us, it is not an overstatement to state that René’s explanation of mimetic theory is the most important discovery of human nature in the last 2,000 years. That is, since the Gospels.

This morning brought the news that René has passed away at age 91. “Girardians,” as we are called, have been on social media sharing our sorrow at his passing, but also our profound sense of gratitude for this giant among human beings. We stand on his shoulders. And our vision is all the clearer for it.

As I reflected upon the news, I was struck by the fact that René taught us so much about death. Specifically, about the scapegoat mechanism. René confronted us with the truth about being human. We all have a propensity to manage our conflicts by blaming someone else for them. We find unity against a common enemy. In good sacrificial formula, all of our conflicts and sins against one another are washed away as we unite in expelling or sacrificing our scapegoat. Temporary reconciliation and peace descends upon the community, but it is only temporary. For the expulsion or murder of our scapegoat never actually solves our problems. Our conflicts re-emerge and the scapegoating mechanism continues.

But if René taught us about death, he also taught us about life. The solution to our natural inclination toward scapegoating is found in the Judeo-Christian tradition, specifically in the Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus’ death. “Christ agrees to die,” wrote René in his book Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, “so that mankind will live.”

Many progressive Christians who do not know René’s work will bristle at that statement. Indeed, without reading René’s books, it could sound like a form of penal subsitutionary atonement theory that claims Jesus allows humanity to live by saving us from the violent wrath of God.

But nothing could be further from the truth. The truth that René revealed throughout his career is that wrath doesn’t belong to God. It belongs solely to humans. In anthropological terms, what was revealed by the death of Jesus was the human scapegoat mechanism. Once you read René’s works, you realize how obvious it is that the violence at the cross had nothing to do with God, but everything to do with the human propensity to scapegoat.

Still, at this point, we should warn ourselves not to scapegoat penal substitutionary atonement theory. After all, if René taught us anything it’s that human have been projecting our own violence onto God since the foundation of the world. We justify our violence and hatred against our scapegoats in the name of God or peace or justice or whatever we deem to be a important to our well-being.

René taught us that to truly live is to stop scapegoating our enemies, and to stop justifying it in the name of God. Once at a conference, René was asked what would happen if mimetic theory became wildly successful. He answered, “There would be no more scapegoating.”

To end scapegoating and to truly live we need to follow Jesus by turning away from violence and turning toward our neighbors, including those we call our enemies, in the spirit of love and nonviolence.

René not only taught us that truth, he lived into it. I met him once at a conference for young Girardian scholars. I was struck by the fact that René wasn’t interested in teaching us, or making sure we had his theory “right.” What he wanted more than anything was to talk with us. He wanted to learn about our lives and what interested us. He had a special humility about him – instead of taking glory for himself, he gave glory to others. For example, I remember sitting across the table from him. He smiled as he looked me in the eyes and said, “I’ve watched your Mimetic Theory 101 videos. They’re good.” That’s the way he was. He affirmed all of us and encouraged us to follow the truth, no matter where it led.

René always gave the last word to the Gospels. It’s where he found the truth about life and death. It’s only fitting that I end with this quote that sums up René’s theory about God, violence, and love,

The following is the basic text, in my opinion, that shows us a God who is alien to all violence and who wishes in consequence to see humanity abandon violence:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:43-45, Things Hidden, 183)

May our brother René Girard rest in peace and rise in the glorious love of God.

Image: Screenshot from YouTube.


Does God Have A Massive Ego Problem?

The 10 Commandments are central to the Judeo-Christian tradition. And yet for many of us they seem antiquated. But for their time, and for ours, they provide a huge step forward in the human understanding of God.

Take the First Commandment, for example – “You shall have no other gods before me.” If you are like me, you have often wondered if this commandment shows that God has a massive ego problem. I mean, what’s the big deal with those “other gods”? Is God the cosmic narcissist? It’s as if God is whining, “ME! ME! ME! YOU MUST BELIEVE IN ME BECAUSE I’M SPECIAL!!!”

But I’ve noticed that once we put this commandment in its context, we discover a fresh way of interpreting it. We also re-discover how it has led to the transformation of the human understanding of God.

The 10 Commandments were given to the Israelites just after they left Egypt. The Exodus claims that the Egyptian Empire oppressed the Israelites for generations, enslaving them to make bricks so that Egypt could create bigger buildings and expand its empire.

In ancient Egypt, religion and empire were embedded. Egyptian theology claimed that the gods were on the side of Egypt. The gods of Egypt were the gods of the oppressors. The brutal conditions of slavery were justified in the name of the gods. The pharaohs were believed to be the manifestation of the high Egyptian god known as Ra. In fact, they were called the “sons of Ra.” If you wanted to know what Ra was like, simply look to the power and dominance of the Egyptian pharaohs.

The historical and theological context of the Egyptian Empire helps us better understand the First Commandment. We generally know the commandment as, “You shall have no other gods before me,” but that’s just the second part of the phrase. The whole commandment in Deuteronomy is, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”

Now we can understand that the commandment “You shall have no other gods before me” doesn’t mean that God has an ego problem. Rather, that commandment refers directly to the gods of Egypt. The true God of Israel is not like the gods of Egypt who justified oppression. Rather, the liberation theologians have it right – God is in the liberation business. God brings us “out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

The Exodus tells us that God is on the side of the oppressed. This is a massive shift in the human understanding of God. Just like in the days of ancient Egypt, we tend to think that if you want to see where God is, look to those in power – the presidents, prime ministers, kings and other political rulers of the world. But the Exodus tells a different story. If you want to know where God is, look to those who are oppressed because there you will find the true God who works for liberation.

But the Bible is very honest about how the people of God quickly fell into the trap of believing in other gods – the gods that lead to oppression and violence against the poor, weak, and marginalized. And so the biblical prophets repeatedly warn Israel’s political leaders not to become oppressors, not to become like Egypt. Part of the Bible’s genius is that it contains the politically subversive voice of the prophets that not only critiques oppressive political policies, but also reveals how God continues to work for liberation.

Far from an antiquated relic of the past, the First Commandment is as important today as it was in ancient Israel. Unfortunately, a brief history of the United States shows how quickly we were to believe in the gods of oppression. For example, last week we celebrated Columbus Day, what many now call Indigenous People’s Day. When I was growing up, I learned history in such a way that Columbus “discovered America,” as if the Indigenous People hadn’t already been here for many thousands of years. But in the name of God, the United States enacted Manifest Destiny, which justified killing Native Americans and stealing their land.

Of course, whenever any government oppresses a marginalized group, it doesn’t act in the name of the liberating God of Israel. That government, in this case, the United States, acts in the name of the gods of oppression.

Shameful as that history is, I wish I could tell you that the United States’ government no longer has other gods before the liberating God of Israel. But the United States continues to believe in the gods of oppression. We continue to steal land that belongs to Native Americans.

Just this year, in 2015, Congress passed legislation that steals Native American holy land that happens to be rich in copper and transfers it to an Australian mining company. That land is in Arizona. It’s called Oak Flat, and according to MSNBC, it is the “Mount Sinai of the San Carlos Apache, a place where the equivalent of the Holy Spirit came to earth. It functions like an outdoor church, mosque or synagogue … The Society of American Archaeology says the Apache have been there ‘since well before recorded history.’”

No matter. The United States Government continues to act toward Native Americans like the Egyptian Empire acted toward the Israelites. Our Government continues to oppress Native Americans by continuing to break the eight commandment and stealing their land. The Apache have cried out in protest. And we need to hear their cry, because the fact is that God is listening. Like the God of liberation heard the cry of the Israelites under Egyptian oppression, God hears their cry and is working for justice and liberation on their behalf.

For more, read Eric Buys’ article “Jesus Christ, Narcissist?” And then read everything else Eric Buys writes. He’s brilliant.

Image: ra2studio / 123RF Stock Photo


What We Say About God

Christians say a lot of things about God. If asked to describe the Creator, many answer: “God is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. He is loving, merciful, and forgiving, but also holy, just, and wrathful.” Without really even consulting the Bible, answers such as this are often rattled off. Sure, many of these attributes are used in various passages throughout Scripture, but what is missing is one of the only two axiomatic statements about God in Scripture, namely, that “God is light.” (1 John 1:5) The other is that “God is love (1 John 4:8),” which often gets twisted—as in the stock answer above—reinterpreted incorrectly to “God is loving.” You see the difference? When God is merely “loving,” he must be compared to a love that is greater, namely the very essence of love itself. So, right off the bat, you can see that a God who is described in only two truth statements leads you in a different direction than a god based off a litany of attributes—which is the god I would like to talk about in this article.

When you take the approach of the Westminster Confession of Faith, where God is reduced to a laundry list of properties, you fall into the trap of presupposing who you think God is. Let me explain. If you say that “God’s justice is perfect,” what are you really saying? How are you defining “justice” and what makes you think your definition is appropriate? Certainly, the only direct revelation we have is that of Christ Jesus. Yet, ironically—as they predate that revelation—many use the writings of the Old Testament as evidence for an understanding of divine justice. This hardly seems proper handling of something as important as the justice of God. Are we called to be followers of Christ or followers of the Bible?

Since we are on the topic of justice, and since the Apostle Paul spent considerable time as a follower of both Christ and of a collection of human writings, I think it is appropriate to consult him for some insight into the matter of divine justice. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes the following: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33) So, we should gather that the Father’s judgments are not paralleled by how humanity judges things, which can often be summed up with such phrases as “an eye for an eye,” and “the punishment must fit the crime.” In other words, humanity’s justice is often retributive.

How, then, did Paul view God’s judgments?

Well, just one sentence earlier Paul states that God is “merciful to all.” Even though all are disobedient? Yes, even though all are disobedient. Even those whom Paul refers to as “objects of wrath” in Romans 9:22? Yes, even them!

Is it any wonder Paul then concludes with: “How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”? God’s justice is not humanity’s justice, at least not in Paul’s opinion.

Now, to make sure Paul is not saying something about the Father’s justice that would contradict that of Jesus, let me ask the following questions: Was Jesus ever not merciful during his life? How did he treat the woman caught in adultery?[1] How did he behave in the Garden of Gethsemane?[2] How did Jesus react to Peter when Peter was about to go all Rambo on Christ’s captors?[3] What did Jesus do when he was tortured and humiliated?[4] What did he utter over and over on the cross?[5] What words did Jesus say to his disciples after the resurrection?[6]

He brought peace.

He brought mercy.

Her offered forgiveness.

I know this interpretation of things will strike many Christians as lacking a certain justice. I get that! In fact, I agree with them. It does lack a certain (retributive) justice. But that is a good thing or we’d all be in trouble. Remember, prior to making the claim that God will be merciful to all, Paul also said that all are held over in disobedience[7] and that “all fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)” Given that fact, are we sure we really want God to possess the justice most are arguing for?

Now, before anyone suggests that I believe God is letting unrepentant rapists, murderers, child-abusers, and wicked dictators “off the hook,” let me say that I believe some will experience a form of punishment. That punishment is mentioned in the conclusion of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. The Greek verb used is kólasis and denotes a corrective form of punishment. This contrasts with another Greek verb, timōría, which translates to “vengeance.” So, yes, there very well may be correction for some—perhaps me, as Paul states that fire will test everyone’s works[8]—but that doesn’t mean that (corrective) punishment should continue on ad infinitum. Not only would that not be God’s justice, but it is hardly even retribution. Nay, it must be a lower form as retribution requires that the punishment fits the crime. Infinite punishment cannot possibly fit with finite sins.

I understand devoting only a few sentences on word meanings is not a sufficient study. For a deeper understanding of some of the punishment texts contained in the New Testament, I recommend pp. 75 – 101 in The Inescapable Love of God by philosopher Thomas Talbott. For now, a brief mention will have to do.

My point, then, in this article, is to simply suggest that presupposing attributes of God and their definitions is often erroneous. As I hopefully modeled, this seems true with how the justice of God is understood by many. With justice presupposed as retributive, much of what Jesus taught us about God seems to fall on deaf ears and blind eyes. This could be said with other presupposed attributes like wrath, vengeance, and even omnipotence. In my opinion, a theologia crucis, or theology of the cross, changes how we should talk about both the “wrath of God,” as well as the “power of God.” When one begins their theology at the cross, they will inevitably draw different conclusions then if they start their theology at Genesis 1:1. Western Christianity needs to start at Calvary and work backward, rather than forward from page 1 of the Old Testament.

[1] Answer found in John 8:1 – 11

[2] Answer found in Matthew 26:53

[3] Answer found in Matthew 16:23

[4] Answer found in Matthew 26:67

[5] Answer found in Luke 23:34

[6] Answer found in John 20: 19 – 23

[7] Romans 11:32

[8] 1 Corinthians 3: 12 – 13

Image: St. Paul Writing His Epistles, attributed to Valentin De Boulonge (1591 – 1632). Available via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

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The Bible’s Authority in Its Proper Place

Since my family recently moved to the Portland area, we’ve been looking for churches to attend. Besides visiting a church, the best way to gain a feel for a church is to visit their website. Specifically, their About Us page.

Since examining church websites, I’ve noticed some pretty strange beliefs out there. Many churches have a list of beliefs that are important to them. What is the first belief on many church websites? The Bible.

On one church begins its list of beliefs like this:

  1. The Authority of Scripture
  2. The Nature of God
  3. Jesus, God’s Son
  4. The Holy Spirit
  5. Salvation
  6. Nature of Man (Sorry, women. You apparently don’t have nature … but if you read the description, you might decide that’s a good thing.)
  7. The Role of the Church

Now, those are all important aspects of Christianity, and I don’t mean to pick on fellow Christians, but the order tells us what’s wrong with American Christianity.

We have elevated the Bible above God. It’s time we stop that form of idolatry. Bibliolatry has no place in Christianity. But, unfortunately, the Bible has become another god, above the Trinity, above Jesus, above the Holy Spirit.

I appreciate the passion that many “Bible believing” churches have. That passion is a good thing, but it’s misdirected. Christians shouldn’t “believe” in the Bible. We are not Biblians. We are Christians.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the Bible. It’s an important book and has authority in my life in that it points beyond itself to God. But the Bible is not a member of the Trinity. It deserves to be respected, but it shouldn’t be elevated above God.

“Bible believing churches” tend to think that “the Bible is the very Word of God – supernaturally inspired in every word and absolutely free from error in the original documents. God’s word is the final authority in all that it says. Therefore, it must be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.”

But the Bible doesn’t work that way. It contains within itself many disagreements about the nature of God and how events unfolded. For example, did Noah take two of every animal onboard his ship, as Genesis 6 claims, or did he take seven of every animal, as Genesis 7 claims? Does God require sacrifice, as Leviticus suggests, or does God require mercy and not sacrifice, as the prophet Hosea claims? Does God punish children for their parents’ mistakes, as Exodus claims, or is each generation responsible for itself, as the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah state? Did Jesus overturn the tables in the Temple at the end of his ministry, as the synoptic Gospels claim, or did he do it at the beginning of his ministry, as the Gospel of John claims?

Those who believe in the Bible’s inerrancy will do all kinds of interpretive gymnastics to put the round peg of the Bible into the square hole of inerrancy, but it just doesn’t fit. That’s because it’s not meant to fit.

The Bible is a document written by human beings who tried to recognize what God was doing in their lives. But it’s not inerrant. Interestingly, if the Bible were inerrant you would think it would tell us. It simply doesn’t use those terms. The Bible never says, “Hi! I’m the Bible. I’m the inerrant Word of God. Believe in me!”

There are disagreements that run throughout the Bible. Those disagreements are one of the things that I love about the Bible! The Bible models for us how to wrestle with God and ask questions about faith.

The Bible contains human testimony about how God works in the world, but it is not God’s inerrant Word. The Bible points beyond itself to God, and in the New Testament, to the God revealed in Jesus. The Bible even claims that Jesus is the Word of God, not the Bible itself.

Jesus warned people about elevating the Bible above himself. “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”

Jesus claimed that the scriptures are limited. You cannot have eternal life by believing in the Bible. In fact, when we elevate the Bible above God, it blocks us from our only access to eternal life.

The Bible is important, but we are not Biblians. We are Christians. We are not called to believe in the Bible. We are called to believe in Jesus.

Christians need to put the Bible’s authority back in its proper place. The Bible’s authority rests in the faith that it points beyond itself to the God revealed in Jesus.

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Photo: michaklootwijk / 123RF Stock Photo


The God We Follow: An Unplanned Part 2

Editor’s Note: This is a follow-up to Matthew Distefano’s original article published on Sojourners. That article can be found here. To summarize, that article suggested that God is revealed completely in Jesus as nonviolent and non-retributive. In order to understand those parts of the Bible that attribute vengeance to God, Matthew Distefano suggests we apply the hermeneutic — interpretive lens — of Jesus to scripture.

I did not plan on writing a second part, but one of my friends posed such a great question on Facebook that I had to offer a detailed response. Jim Rogers asked:

I really like this. How might you address it with those who reject the obvious extremes but still get muddled in the literal translations? I am working through this too. I try not to use extreme examples because many will reject such but can’t see their way out of the thorn patch.

To begin answering this question, I would have to take my examples from the global stage to the local one. Sure, we all recognize obvious religious extremes such as the Westboro Baptist Church, Pastor Steven Anderson, and entities like ISIS. However, what are not as obvious are the more restrained examples—the type of subtle violence that one might find in many churches across America.

It can come in the form of voting, campaign donations . . . you name it! Let us take a look.

Since I mentioned Leviticus 20:13 in Part 1, I will use the anti-homosexual “clobber” passage for the first portion of this piece as well.

For the Christian Right—especially here in the United States—this proof-texting favorite (as well as a few others) has dictated their politics vis-à-vis marriage laws. Because of this, the cultural move toward equality for the LGBT community has been painfully slow. Churches large and small continue to attempt to make the moral case for “biblical marriage.” In doing so, they seem to be violating a teaching from the Bible itself, namely Matthew 20. In a July 24, 2015 article, I commented on this:

Jesus also tells his disciples to not declare themselves above the other, but in order to be ‘great,’ they must be servants. (Matt. 20:25 – 28) Jesus himself did not come to be served, but to serve. How is using the political process to enact marriage law based on ‘biblical values’ not ‘lording over another’? In this passage, Jesus invites his disciples to imitate him in serving—putting others ahead of themselves. How can Christians be called to serve all, while at the same time using the political process to interfere with thousands of loving couples (even if they think it is ‘icky’)? How can a follower of Jesus place him or herself over and above anyone, for any reason?

To vote away the right of another in the name of “biblical truth” does not seem compatible with being a leader who serves, as Luke 22:26 states. It is also a form of structural violence, one that does not allow the LGBT person the same civil rights as the heterosexual person.

It is more subtle but still oppressive.

It is as “simple” as a common vote, but its harm is far-reaching.

Just as far-reaching—or even greater—is when one’s hermeneutic directly impacts the foreign policy of a country with a military budget that trumps all others. The Christian Right—at one time spearheaded by President George W. Bush—was all too eager to go to war with Iraq after September 11, 2001. Bush was their guy—a conservative Evangelical who communed directly with God. The President even went so far as to say that God told him to “go and end the tyranny in Iraq.”

While I am confident that the Father of Jesus did not tell the President to go to war with Iraq, I am not so confident that most American Christians would agree with me.

I mean, the Bible clearly says…

  • “Now go and attack the Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.”—1 Samuel 15:3
  • “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him.”—Numbers 31:17
  • “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘the man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him outside the camp.’”—Numbers 15:35

Jesus’ Abba said it, you believe it, and that settles it!?

Again, not so fast!

As I discussed in Part 1, the hermeneutics of Jesus are through the lens of mercy and grace. To exegete passages like the ones above—which is not the goal of this piece, so I will not be doing so—we would have to keep that in mind.

What my last goal is, however, is to display how Jesus’ hermeneutics then match his actions. Let us take a look at Matthew 26:53, where Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, rhetorically asks:

“Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”

The implied answer is “yes,” and yet, they stay at bay.

Then, there is what Jesus says in the midst of his own murder on a Roman cross. “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Jesus, in doing only what he sees the Father doing (John 5:19, 8:28, 12:49), offers mercy and grace.

And finally, even upon his return, Jesus comes with the word of peace—shalom. John 20:19 – 21 reads:

So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when he had said this, he showed them both his hands and his side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

So, all that being said—what could following Jesus in hermeneutics and in action do to change things on both a local scale as well as a global scale? What would foreign policy look like if supposed “Christian” nations like the United States followed the model displayed by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane just prior to his death? What if those trying to get in the way of non-violence were rebuked a la Peter in Matthew 16:23? What if retribution was removed from the Divine both exegetically and anthropologically by Jesus? What if the church modeled that?

I believe that a literalist reading of Scripture—as well as a nuanced treatment of Jesus’ ethical teachings—without a doubt, leads to extremists. However, it also has led to a version of Christianity that justifies the use of national violence to get a certain result in the Middle East. It has led to structural violence that oppresses entire groups of people. It has led to many more unforeseen consequences, such as the improper treatment of women as well as the justification of slavery. What we believe about God and Scripture will dictate how we view ethics.

So, Jim (and others), I hope this begins to answer the excellent question you posed above. I hope I began to offer some examples of how a literalist reading of Scripture affects the very world around us. This hermeneutic should be traded in for the Jesus-centered one—biblical ethics interpreted through Jesus’ ethics.

Grace and peace be with you all.

Image: Free Vector From Pixabay

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#IwasKimDavis, Or “Fearful Hermeneutic Syndrome”

Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Mark Sandlin, author of “The God Article,” for starting the #IwasKimDavis hashtag, which helps to curb our tendency toward scapegoating and instead embrace empathy. This is my #IwasKimDavis story.

“If I have to meet more homophobic people, I hope they’re all like you.”

Sixteen years later, these words still sting.

I was a freshman in college. I had converted to Islam two years previous, which is another story, and I was struggling to maintain my fledgling Muslim identity at a college with very few Muslim students. My conversion to Islam and later reaffirmation of Christianity is not particularly relevant to this story, except to say that I struggled to find a way to relate to and worship God that offended neither my heart nor my mind. Bewilderment about the Trinity and horror at the crucifixion as I misunderstood it at the time were some of the reasons why I embraced a faith with the same roots as the Christianity I had been raised with, without the same paradoxes. What’s important to understand, for the purposes of this story, is that I was struggling to be faithful to the God I was trying to understand. I believed this God to be Most Gracious, Most Merciful. But I also believed that this God had designed men and women to complement each other, and that this God had decreed homosexual behavior sinful.

It was, honestly, something that bothered me about Islam. But it wasn’t my central theological struggle, and Islam’s doctrine of Tawheed, the oneness of God, was so much clearer to me than the Trinity that I embraced it, and struggled to be faithful to the One God of all. I was striving to work through my doubts, trusting that God would eventually make things more clear to me. I struggled to live with the disconnect between my heart, which wanted to be an open ally of the LGBTQ community, and my religion, which (as far as I knew, before recognizing Islam’s more complex and multi-vocal history with homosexuality), told me that homosexuality was at best a pathology and at worst willful disobedience. I was new to Islam. I had much to learn. I wasn’t willing to disconnect from it or from the sense of relief it had given to my theological doubts over an issue that wasn’t even central to my life.

But the issue was about to become a lot more significant to me.

I had been somewhat taken aback when I learned that my new friend was a lesbian, because we had been alone together. I’m embarrassed now by how I might have jumped or flinched at the news, but it wasn’t because I felt any animosity toward her. It had more to do with Islamic purity codes, as I understood them, and how I would have to readjust my interactions with her to fit them. She had watched me pray with my covered posterior in the air, after all, and women stand behind or separate from men in the masjid to avoid that very situation! I recalled the hadith “When an unmarried man and woman are alone together, Satan is always a third companion.” We would have to keep the doors open when we visited each others’ dorms, I told her. I tried to tell her about how I was trying to keep up with my faith and how that meant I would try to interact with her as I would with a man, keeping my modesty.

I was almost embarrassed, and somewhat apologetic, as bumbled through an explanation of why I felt a need to change the way we interacted together. I have no idea what I said. But I remember my friend’s kindness as she listened, and her eye contact when I shyly looked back up at her, and she said the words to me that I have never forgotten:

“If I have to meet more homophobic people, I hope they’re all like you.”


I tried to explain that I wasn’t homophobic, or that I really didn’t mean to be. I wanted to acknowledge that I understood and deeply regretted if what I had told her was hurtful, and that Islam’s position on homosexuality was not something I loved about my new faith, but it was something I was trying to understand. I told her I knew it wasn’t my place to judge what was homophobic since I wasn’t the one hurt by it. I said that I wanted her to know that in my heart and mind, I thought she was a wonderful person, and that, if anything, I was a little troubled that her sexuality didn’t bother me, and troubled that I was troubled by that! She understood. And then we probably changed the subject to our mutual love of Disney, or a class we shared, or whatever. She quickly became my best friend. And as an agnostic, she appreciated the beauty that she found in my faith and my faith journey, and she herself became a part of it, as important relationships always become a part of one’s faith.

I eventually let the modesty codes of Islam, insofar as they separated me from my friend, fall away. I believed in modest dress and humility, and that hasn’t changed, but I didn’t want to keep my friend at an emotional or spiritual distance, so I didn’t.

At the time, I sometimes felt as if I was putting my friendship above God, but I was also able to explore my understanding and relationship with God through that friendship. My friend’s thoughts and questions sparked my own and expanded my heart and mind. Still, I had occasional pangs of doubt that I was doing wrong by God. What I didn’t realize then was that my doubts and struggles, and eventually my putting my friendship not above my faith, but above certain interpretations of religious tradition, was a path to a deeper understanding and a deeper love for the God who is Love and wants humans to relate to one-another in love.

Even after reaffirming Christianity because of a deeper understanding of the revelation of God’s love in the incarnation and crucifixion (while remaining ever grateful to Islam and still desiring to keep my love and respect for it), it took a while for me to come to the understanding of homosexuality that I have today. My understanding of scripture, my hermeneutical lens, is still coming into focus, but it is much more clear now than when I was struggling in the midst of fears.

My fear wasn’t really homophobia. And I didn’t want to admit that it was a fear of God, because I was trying, and sometimes succeeding, in believing that God is Love, though I did fear disappointing God. What I really suffered from is what I coin “Fearful Hermeneutic Syndrome,” or FHS, and I empathize with anyone who struggles with it or holds it as yet undiagnosed.

I was frightened of disappointing a God whom I believed would be disappointed by a violation of purity codes. I believed that this God was merciful and loving, and that this God would even forgive homosexuality, but not approve of it. But the more I came to know my friend, the more I could not understand God being disappointed in her for something that — not only could not be changed, but had no need to be changed. If anything, I realized that if I considered her potential to fall in love and build a family was at all sinful, that would hinder my compassion toward her, and that was a sin. Loving was not a sin. I came to understand that, and it opened my heart to a deeper understanding of God.

I now see sexual orientation and gender identity through the lens of mercy, not sacrifice. The words of Hosea, repeated twice by Jesus, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” does not just contradict certain elements of the Bible in which God clearly does demand sacrifice. It contradicts an entire understanding of scripture, an understanding that distinguishes in from out, clean from unclean. Coming to the understanding that scripture is multi-vocal, that it speaks of human projection of violence onto God as well as God’s revelation to humanity in the form of Jesus, has made all the difference in the world to me. Every word of scripture is important, but some of it reveals the depths of human sin, including the violence that we were deluded into thinking was from God. Jesus definitively shows that God’s love encompasses everyone. There is no way to hold mercy and sacrifice “in tension” within God. Perfect mercy casts out sacrificial systems that exclude and marginalize, just as perfect love casts out fear.

Among the marginalized in today’s world are those who belong to the LGBTQ community. Some use scripture to justify this marginalization. I really believe they are trying to obey God as they understand God. Yet Jesus embraced those whom the scriptures of his own time marginalized, in order to heal us of our delusion that God excludes people the way we do.

I believe that Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk recently jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses after the national legalization of gay marriage, is trying to follow her religious convictions. She does not have the legal right to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and I feel compassion for those whose lives she has made more difficult through her noncompliance with the law. I lament the pain she has caused them, pain that may be compounded by other voices that marginalize them. But I also feel compassion for Kim Davis, because I have been her. I believe she is suffering from Fearful Hermeneutic Syndrome, and it is not an ailment to be taken lightly.

Kim Davis may or may not feel assured of God’s love for her. I sincerely hope she does. But I also know that we will never know the extent of this love until we come to grasp the fact that God’s love embraces everyone, and that God desires abundant life for everyone, including members of the LGBTQ community. This abundant life often includes a relationship with an intimate partner, which is a human reflection of the depths of God’s love, and God’s love can be equally revealed in a partner of the same sex as in a partner of the opposite sex. I believe this, partly because theologians such as James Alison have successfully debunked the “clobber texts” for me. But more importantly, I believe this because I know that God is Love, that love is relationship (hence the Trinity that so baffled me in my younger days), and that being made in the image of God is to be made for love. Nothing reflects God’s image more beautifully than mutually self-giving love between two people. Knowing this, I understand Kim Davis’s struggle for the sanctity of marriage. Marriage is worth struggling for. But the LGBTQ community has known this all along, which is why they now celebrate their legal right to marry.

I pray that Kim Davis eventually recognizes that right, not just according to the law, but according to the God who is Love, who demands mercy, not sacrifice. Because I truly believe that if she stops trying to prevent others from embracing one another in love, she will find herself embraced in a divine love that is so much greater than she now imagines it to be.

For more on God’s all-embracing love as it relates to this issue, see Adam Ericksen’s article, “‘God’s Authority’: Same Sex Marriage and a Kentucky County Clerk.”




And If I Die Before I Wake: On Death And Praying With Children

When I was a boy, every night my Dad would tuck me into bed and lead me in prayer. We would close our eyes and fold our hand as my Dad would pray for individual members of my family, my friends and teachers, and for world peace.

At age 36, I can tell you that this bed time prayer ritual is one of the most important gifts that anyone has ever given to me. While my Dad no longer tucks me into bed and leads me in prayer (I am 36, after all!), the ritual has stuck with me. In fact, my night time prayer routine helped me get through middle school, high school, college, and graduate school. It was there when my Mom died of cancer when I was 20. I took it with me when my wife and I joined the Peace Corps. I brought it back with me 10 days later when we became Peace Corps drop outs. It was there for me on those two nights that my sons were born. And it was there on the night that we adopted our daughter.

That prayer has always given me a sense of peace and calm during good times and bad. The repetition of my Dad’s night time ritual provided me with a deep sense that I was loved. Not just by my Dad, but also by God.

As a father of three children, my Dad is my model for how to be a good father. So, I’ve decided to pass the night time prayer ritual along to the next generation. I pray with my children in the same way that my Dad prayed with me. We start with the same opening:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
And if I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I’ve since discovered that the prayer continues, “If I should live for other days, I pray the Lord to guide my ways.” My Dad never prayed that happier ending. Maybe he didn’t know it. Or maybe he wanted to torment his son with the thought of death!

I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the reason. But I also know that it prepared me for the death of my mother.

Our culture doesn’t prepare us for death very well. We like to keep it at arms-length. But the truth is that death is unavoidable – grandparents, parents, children, and even pets. As much as we’d like to avoid it, we know about death from an early age. Paradoxically, the more we try to suppress the truth about death, the more power we give it over our lives. The gift that my Dad gave me in the opening of our prayer was the knowledge that death is natural. We don’t have to fear it. Instead, we can know that in life and in death, God is there with us.

The other night I was praying with my eight year old son. He’s a very curious boy. So, when I finished, he sat up, opened his eyes, and said, “Dad, there was something really weird about that prayer. I mean, what’s the deal with that part that says, ‘If I should die before I wake?’”

I remember asking the same question to my Dad when I was about eight years old. I can’t remember how he responded. But the years of praying those words prepared me for this answer: “You’re not going to die tonight. But at some point, everyone dies. And that’s okay. You don’t have to be afraid of it. Because I love you. And so does God.”

“Okay Dad,” my son replied. Then he laid back down and fell asleep.

Image: Photo: Flickr: Nancy Big Crow, Praying Child, Creative Commons License, some changes made


Religion As A Drug And The Authenticity Of Jesus


About a month and a half ago, Raven friend Michael Hardin, author of The Jesus Driven Life and director of Preaching Peace, asked me, among others, to contribute to a volume he is editing about religion and addiction. As an icebreaker, he shared with us essays in which he critiques destructive elements that he finds within particular Christian denominations, particularly Charismatic Christianity. Although I agreed, I was a little hesitant. While it is exciting to be invited to contribute, I am not especially familiar with the Charismatic Christianity that Michael critiques, nor have I been trained to help people cope with addiction from either a medical or a pastoral point of view. However, I have dealt with addictive tendencies of my own. What I write, therefore, is observation and analysis from my own experience, filtered through an understanding of human behavior guided by mimetic theory.

There may be certain denominations or practices of Christianity that encourage and nurture addictive behavior more than others. However, I wish to focus on another angle and discuss the ways in which anyone can be vulnerable to using a religious belief, practice, or community in an unhealthy or addictive manner. I look back on my life and recognize ways in which I have done this. When I am honest with myself, I also recognize a continuing vulnerability to the temptation to “use” faith in a way that falls short of God’s intention for this amazing gift. The gift of faith should help us to magnify the love of God and recognize that love in others, to form relationships in the image of God whose Triune essence is the ultimate relationship of Love. However, all good gifts can be abused, and sometimes faith can be twisted in our minds to assert ourselves above others, providing us with temporary gratification that ultimately leaves us hollow. “Corruptio optimi pessima;” the corruption of the best is the worst, and when faith becomes an instrument of self-gratification and ultimately scapegoating, one of God’s greatest gifts operates against its intended purpose. I think if we are all honest with ourselves, our faith is at best on a continuing journey toward the ideal, with the pitfalls of temptation to use it as a drug or a weapon continually before us. This is my story of stumbling into those pitfalls, climbing (or being lifted) out, and keeping my eyes open, that I may avoid stumbling again.

My Story

Addiction could be seen as a misplaced search for wholeness. I can look back on my adolescence and see times when I have used certain religious groups to fill what I perceived as voids in my life, to feel a sense of belonging and boost a shaky self-esteem.

I cannot attribute these voids to any tragedy or trauma; my childhood was pleasant and I am close to my family. Yet from my childhood I had a complicated relationship with “the Church,” both in the sense of the Body of Christ as a whole, and in the more immediate sense of my place of worship. My home church was a place where I felt safe and loved, among true friends. It was also, however, a place of anxiety, where I would wrestle with doubts and fears I didn’t dare fully articulate. I attribute my experience of the church as a source of comfort and confusion to being the daughter of a faithful Christian and a stark atheist.

I mimetically desired the conviction of faith I perceived in the people I knew from church, including my mother and grandmother and their friends. But my desire was mixed with more than a little fear. It wasn’t my church, much less my family, that taught me to fear a “wrathful God.” The myths I came to believe about a God who dispensed punishment on his own Son and a hell of eternal torment were not my church’s teachings, but they are so embedded in our culture that unless they are directly refuted, they may become internalized anyway. For me, living with a doubting daddy “outside” the boundaries of the Christian faith, absorbing his intellectual disconnects with stories of floating zoos and parting seas, men walking on water and divine mathematical equations that didn’t add up (1+1+1 = 1), I couldn’t help but be doubtful. And my doubt terrified me, and kept my heart as well as my mind from embracing the God who, on the one hand was Love, but on the other hand, was ready to cast my father, me, and countless others into a pit of eternal fire if we didn’t believe.

I think the commingling of deep-seeded fear with the palpable aching for genuine faith kept me from walking away from God. Yes, part of me was afraid to make a real break from religion, because of what I perceived God might do to me if God existed! But another part of me deeply yearned to fully embrace and be embraced by the love that I knew was there, because I saw it in my mother and my church. This is the context of my faith journey, and it is in this context that I can say that there were times when religion could, at times, be like a drug to me.

Looking back, I can see that I was always looking for belonging, for validation, and ultimately for a sense of unconditional love. I found that love from my family, but I questioned it in God, and my doubt was reflected in all kinds of anxieties. I struggled with my self-esteem, sometimes wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn’t believe, and sometimes wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn’t just embrace unbelief. I don’t know how many of my social or emotional insecurities could be traced back to this self-doubt, but certainly some of them could. The various faith communities I tried to embrace in turn embraced as much of me as they could – as much as I would let them. But rather than express my full self, I tried to suffocate my doubts under obsessive behavior, behavior that might have been harmless, had I not been using it to try to hide my doubt from myself. I threw myself into Christian music, decorated my walls with Bible verses and hymn lyrics, and made a grand and futile effort to redefine myself to myself as well as hide my weakness (as I perceived my doubt to be) from the world. I must stress that it was not the faith communities that fueled my addictive behavior. Rather, my addictive behavior was fueled by fears that I absorbed and pieced together, in spite of the love that I now realize ultimately saved me.

I repressed my doubts and fears in order to feel a sense of belonging. I wondered, if I tried hard enough, would I find God? Would God find me worthy enough to bless me with faith? I developed my identity around being faithful, hoping to live into it someday. “Faking” would be the wrong word. The longing for God was very real, and everything I learned and thought and said came from a place of truth. But repressing my doubts and fears, from myself at times and also from my friends, stunted my relationships. Even so, in spite of doubts that hindered me, I made genuine connections. Looking back, I now understand that the God I was so desperately seeking was in those connections – with Christians, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, everyone – the whole time.

When I finally found the courage to express my doubts and fears honestly, I was able to open myself to the love that had been waiting for me the whole time. I was blessed in my college years to find friends with whom I finally dared to be fully honest about joys and qualms I had within my meandering faith journey. The acceptance I received as I gradually let down my guard was a grace I slowly came to perceive. I found my anxiety fading as I relaxed into the love of my friends, and the theological questions that swam through my mind lost the baggage of fear that had long clung to them like a parasite. It was in finding myself loved that I began to understand the meaning of “God is Love,” and gradually trust that Love was holding onto me and surrounding me. My trust continues to grow and mature, and my love for Jesus is ever deepening, a reflection of his own love, magnified to me in the people who make me who I am.

The Authenticity of Jesus

 “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free,” Jesus tells us. The truth is that we are all deeply, truly, unconditionally loved, and understanding that truth is essential to being healthy and whole. Because love is a relational quality, we cannot be “whole” as isolated individuals. We are made in the image of the divine relationship of Love, the Trinity, designed to live in authentic relationship with one another. Addictions and addictive behaviors, I believe, are false paths to fulfillment that collapse us into ourselves and preclude authentic relationships in all of their messy, vulnerable complexity.

A faith community at its best can be a wonderful place to nurture authentic relationship, magnifying the love of God. But to repress fears and doubts to fit into such a community is to be disingenuous to one’s self and others, and stifle true relationship. If we truly seek to serve God and one-another in our faith communities, we must make sure we are contributing to an environment in which we are encouraging genuineness, accepting faults, listening to doubts, providing safe space for fears, and welcoming honesty. There is room for even the best churches to grow in this respect, helping those who go to church in search of belonging to recognize that such a search is joyfully unnecessary, because we already belong with God.

Of course, there are many faith communities that fall short of this vocation. There are churches that, whether unconsciously or deliberately, prey on the human desire for validation rather than preach that God’s unconditional grace is sufficient and universal. Churches that teach that God’s love is limited, erect boundaries between who is in and who is out, and effectively preach sacrifice over mercy, will inevitably mold some parishioners who either cling to a veneer of faith out of fear, or use faith as a source of pride over and against others. Both of these extremes are mirror-images of one-another, because both fear and self-righteousness inhibit intimate connection with God and neighbor. As in any other addiction, any sense of fulfillment in such an environment would be false.

When Paul instructs us to imitate the humility of Christ in his great hymn to the Philippians (ch 2, vs. 5 – 11), he is not giving us a formula for earning God’s approval. He is inviting us to consider Jesus Christ as a model not only of humility, but of confidence in the unconditional love of God that makes such humility possible. It was assurance of the love of God and a mission to share that love with the whole world that drove Jesus to “empty himself” and “become obedient unto death.” What drove Jesus to death was pushing the boundaries of what was considered to be God’s favor. Authorities and powers that thought God’s grace was bound to certain rules, certain people, and ultimately a certain sacrificial system, condemned Jesus for going beyond such boundaries. He embraced lepers and sinners and taught a love of enemies, drawing those on the margins into the circle of grace that some had thought to reserve for themselves. That is how Jesus emptied himself, forsaking the temptation to cling to human measurements of piety or prestige to embrace the marginalized. That is how he obeyed unto death the voice of Love. The consequence of such obedience was incurring the wrath of a humanity that had operated on exclusion and sacrifice. To defy a world order based on sacrifice, Jesus took a risk on the love of God. The resurrection was not only Jesus’ vindication, but the revelation of God’s love embracing the whole world, including those whom we would exclude.

Jesus’s assurance of God’s love allowed him to live authentically, free from searching for the validation of others. Rather than seeking identity in people or objects of obsession, Jesus knew himself in the love of his Father, in the love of the heavenly Father of all. To know ourselves to be in that love and to live it out in giving to others is to fulfill our vocations as image-bearers of God.

Jesus, indeed, is not a drug. Jesus is the true human and the perfect model of authenticity. Following Jesus is not “using” him; it is not seeking a euphoric experience to wash away loneliness. Following Jesus is about embracing the vulnerability necessary to be fully honest and fully open to others, embracing those who think themselves beyond the bounds of love, and receiving such an embrace when you feel beyond love yourself. Jesus is not a quick fix for our ailments but the Way of abundant life, because he models for us the freedom to embrace the love in which we are created. To follow him is not to “become high” but to undergo metanoia, to gradually relinquish the mythology of a world that compels us to seek our identities in objects and the approval of others, and compete for a limited share of prosperity. As we serve others and allow ourselves to be served, letting fear and pride fall away, the grip of such lies loosens its hold on us. The truth of Jesus, made known to us in our imitation of him, shows us that in relinquishing our fruitless searches – our addictions and obsessions – to the love of God, we find ourselves already found.

Image: Photo by Billy Hathorn. Available via Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.


Unbridled Mercy

My heart breaks for a world scourged by violence.

Duped and deceived by the satan inside us.[1]

Accuse![2] Convict! Point fingers at “them.”

It’s us who are just! and they are condemned.


Our violence is good—it’s righteous and true.

God’s on our side and “they’ll” know that soon too.[3]

With power and might we lord over others,[4]

Accusing the prophets of being false brothers.[5]


Woe to those who confuse Christ for religion,

Who speak devilish things about those already forgiven.

Woe to those who demand blood in Christ’s name,

Who spit venom and poison[6], curse others, and blame.


The grace you demand is abundant and infinite

Yet the grace you give seems rather impotent.[7]

The grace of God is unfathomable[8] and yet,

You contend Love offers an eternal threat.[9]


A gospel with violence is unfounded and false.

It’s the opposite of Christ—a religious farce.

The way of the Christ is the way of the cross,

But in knowing the Christ, all else is loss.[10]


The way of Christ is preemptive grace.

Grace in the midst of a spit to the face.[11]

This model of forgiveness is what sets us free,

Free to love all with unbridled mercy.


[1] For a detailed expose on what/who is “the satan,” see Michael Hardin’s eBook aptly entitled, “The Satan.” It can be found at
[2] The satan, or “ha satan” in Hebrew, translates to “the accuser.”
[3] I am referring to the three major Abrahamic religions, which have many within the respective faiths who claim they are the chosen people and thus, that they have God on their side.
[4] See Matthew 20:25 – 27, where Jesus tells his followers they are not to lord over others, as the Gentiles do, but they are to become great by becoming as a servant.
[5] See Luke 11:50 – 51.
[6] See Matthew 23.
[7] Matthew 7:1 – 2.
[8] See Romans 11:32 – 33.
[9] I contend that since God is love (1 John 4:8), eternal conscious torment as a final fate for some humans is incompatible.
[10] See Philippians 3:8.
[11] See Matthew 26:67

Image: Created by Venrun. Available via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License


Why God is Your Mother


People like me are out to get you with our radical feminist agenda! What’s that agenda? I call God Mother.

As Father Dwight Longnecker warns, people like me “will continue with this radical feminist agenda until they are actually holding hands with witchcraft and worshipping devils.”

What?!? I guess calling God Mother is a slippery slope, right? First it’s “Hi Mom! You sure are swell.” Then it’s off to the House of Satan for a little devil worship!

Father Longnecker is critiquing an Anglican movement that wants to call God Mother. He claims the “feminists” in the movement are mean because “their tactics are clearly not of the Holy Spirit…They started pressure groups, ran publicity campaigns, bullied their way into political positions, used tactics of playing the victim combined with emotional blackmail to get their way.” According to Father Longnecker, “This is the way progressives work everywhere, and [you should] never appease these people.”

But apparently the Holy Spirit is totally okay with creating fear among your audience by claiming that those who disagree with you practice witchcraft and worship devils because they call God Mother.


Here’s the thing. God is your Father and your Mother and God transcends those categories because God is neither literally male nor female. But Father Longnecker thinks calling God Father and Mother is just too confusing for people. Apparently, the fact that God is One, yet Three, but really One…that isn’t confusing at all. But to call God Father and Mother…we can’t wrap our minds around that.

Father Longnecker is right that when his disciples asked Jesus how they should pray, he responded that they should pray to the Father. Father Longnecker claims this is his slam dunk against calling God Mother. Jesus didn’t teach us to pray to our Mother, but to our Father.

But it’s not a slam dunk against praying to God our Mother. After all, Jesus never said, “You can’t call God Mother. That would make you devil worshippers!”

In fact, Jesus referred to God as a Mother-like figure, just as he referred to God as a Father-like figure. He refers to himself, who Christians believe to be the second person of the Trinity, as a mother hen. He also claims God is like a woman in search of her lost coin.

Of course, we could take Jesus literally when he calls God Father. But he was speaking metaphorically. When Jesus spoke of God as Father, He didn’t mean that God is a male. He meant that God is Father-like in His love for His children.

But Jesus also claimed that God is Mother-like in Her desire to find and care for Her children.

And then there’s the Old Testament. Take Job, for example. God asked him a series of rhetorical questions, “Where were you…when the sea burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment, the dense clouds its wrap?…From whose belly does ice come; who gave birth to heaven’s frost?”

Whose womb is God talking about? Not Job’s. Every biblical scholar will tell you that God was referring to Himself, err, in this case, Herself.

And then there’s Isaiah where God refers to Herself as being “like a woman in labor.” And, in one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture, Isaiah continues to declare God’s Motherhood. While in Exile, Isaiah’s people thought God had forgotten them. But God responded that She hadn’t forgotten them. In fact, God comforted them by telling them about Her motherly compassion, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”

If you need the words attributed to Moses, then a little Motherly reprimanding from Deuteronomy will suffice, “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”

Did you know that the Old Testament uses the word “spirit” 84 times in ways that Christian tradition assumes to refer to the Holy Spirit? From those 84 times, the context refers to the spirit in masculine form nine times. The other 75 times the context refers to the Holy Spirit as “explicitly feminine or indeterminable (due to lack of a verb or adjective.)” In Judges, for example, the spirit is always feminine. In Genesis 1:2 where the term “Spirit of God” first appears, it is in feminine form. And in Proverbs, the Wisdom of God, which Christian tradition understands to be the Holy Spirit, is personified as a woman.

To refer to God as Mother isn’t part of some modern feminist agenda. It’s the Bible’s agenda. And Christian tradition isn’t afraid to continue this biblical agenda.

Julian of Norwhich, whom the Catholic Church calls a Doctor of the Church, claimed in her book, Revelations of Divine Love, that God is our Mother. She even claimed that Jesus is our true Mother!

It is a characteristic of God to overcome evil with good.

Jesus Christ, therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him and this is where His Maternity starts. And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never cease to surround us.

Just as God is our Father, so God is also our Mother.

If calling God your Mother confuses you like it confuses Father Longnecker, then please feel free to continue just calling God Father. It is a great way to approach our Heavenly Father.

But, if you can hold together the metaphorical paradox that God is our Father and Mother, then go ahead and call God your Mother.

It doesn’t mean that you’re a devil worshipper. In fact, She who gave birth to you will appreciate it.

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