A Case of Mistaken Identity

Sixty years ago I learned to speak inclusively of God. God is not a He any more than He’s a She. God is beyond gender. Or, as Paul Tillich, described it, the Ground-of-Being, or Being-Itself, includes male and female and is beyond male and female. Since being awakened to the danger of gender-specific religious language, I’ve done my best to shed the male pronouns  and images on which I was raised. 

But there has been a sense of loss that has been harder to define — a less immediate, less intimate, more distant relationship in prayer and meditation. As I have come to reflect on it over the years, other things also have troubled me, not the least of which is my haughtiness, my sense of superiority to those who still use the old pronouns. More than that, however, has been a re-examination of the nature of religious language. Is some religious language good and others bad; some enlightened and others unenlightened; one right and another wrong?

And what to do with the old biblical chestnuts: “The Lord is my shepherd…He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters; He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.” (Psalm 23)? 

Then, several months ago, along came a publisher’s invitation to endorse William G. Britton’s Wisdom from the Margin: Daily Readings, that includes voices from a wider spectrum of religious language than the circle in which I live. Britton’s collection includes writers who speak of He and Him. Names like Dallas Willard, Paul Pearsall, and Peter Scazzero are new to me. Others, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Soren Kierkegaard, Kathleen Norris, and Thomas Merton are part of my daily bread, but even excerpts from their writings remind me that they were not as cautious as I in their language for God. They understood that the genre of prayer is psalmic poetry, the language of the heart. “He leadeth me… beyond the closed circles of righteousness.”

In what turned out to be the book’s only endorsement, I wrote:

Wisdom from the Margins is what it says it is. It’s that rare collection of readings from the wisest voices, like a menu of gourmet small bites in the quick-fix fast food world where wisdom is made homeless. Each small bite will stay with you throughout the day. If the current American religious landscape is giving you a stomach ache, Wisdom from the Margins is for you.

The publisher mistakenly attributed the endorsement to “Gordon Stewart, producer and co-host of ‘Lug Nutzz Radio’”. Click Gordon ‘Lug Nutzz’ Stewart for the mistaken identity.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, July 18, 2018

5 thoughts on “A Case of Mistaken Identity

  1. I think I would like this. As you know, I love the beauty of the old words. And I never had a problem equating “man” with “humankind.” And I always felt that it was silly to try to make Jesus asexual — transcending sex. While on earth He was very *Man* and very God. Even the most fervent advocates of removing masculine/feminine references from hymns were unable, thank heaven, to bring themselves to change “Faith of our fathers” to “Faith of our parents.”

    When I was singing with Choral Arts, one of my 2 or 3 highest moments of pure joy with depth, indescribable unless you’ve experienced something similarlar, was Samuel Barber’s Prayers of Kierkegaard. During rehearsals, it was weeks before I could sing the last part without breaking down in tears. “Hold not our sins up against us; but hold us up against our sins. So that the thought of Thee should not remind us of what we have committed but what Thou didn’t forgive; not how we went astray, but how Thou didst save us.” (Won’t guarantee every word, but very close.). In modern lingo, first sentence the same, but: ‘So that the thought of You shouldn’t remind us of what we committed, but what You forgave; not how we strayed, but how You saved us.’ To me, the old words have a beauty and dignity quite lacking in modern speech. I think younger folks are being deprived of this beauty; deprived of the depth and dignity of the old words.

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    • Carolyn, we’re showing our age, but just because we’re long in the tooth doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten the beauty of language.

      I love the Kierkegaard prayer you quote. It is the essence of humble faith, is it not? SK’s turns of phrase were equal to the substance of his thought. He refused to call himself a theologian because he didn’t want to claim more than a glimpse of the grandeur of God.

      Liked by 1 person

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