Sunday, April 7, 2013

Jesus and Gender and Men and Women Behaving In A Good Way

Not exactly the image usually associated with Divine Mercy Sunday It's just my favorite icon of feminine service and protection.

For a very long time now I have believed that the so called 'pelvic' issues are not primarily about biology or abuse of procreative sexuality.  They are about maintaining rigid definitions of gender behavior and identity, and this is so because maintaining these gender definitions maintain patriarchy and the status quo of the social structure derived from patriarchy.  At a fundamental level this gendering is core to much of Catholic theology.

I had one spiritual teacher who ruminated on both his Native and Catholic upbringing and he came to the conclusion that core to Jesus' teachings were to bring men to an understanding of their full potential as humans, to get them to transcend their ideas of what it meant to be male.  Concurrently, the same was true of women, which is why Jesus treated his male and female disciples pretty much the same.  Each was capable of learning what He taught, and each needed different parables to bring home that point because each gender definition had their unique deficiencies.  He said in his own Native tradition ceremonies had been developed to do pretty much the same thing.  That was why the Sundance was at first strictly a male ceremony about offering blood to Mother Earth to facillitate creative generation.  Women did not have to do such a thing because they did it through child birth and menses as part of their inherent nature.  Women were also more directly connected to the spiritual which is why male medicine men rarely took on female apprentices.  Male training was more physically taxing because it took more to breakdown male barriers to communication with the unseen spirit world.  Why, sometimes men had to be taken to the threshold of death before they let go of their barriers.  He laughed and said it was a real case of having to almost 'die to live' type of situation.  Women weren't that pigheaded and if they paid attention to their intuition they would discover they didn't need rigid training or apprenticing because the spirit world would provide it.  For him being a woman would have been a much easier path to spiritual things because he himself was one of those men who had to almost die before he found that life.

I offer that last as a context for how I understand some of what Francis said in his Angelus talk on women and their witness to the Resurrection.  I offer an extract of that talk from NCR coverage:

...."The women are driven by love and know how to accept this proclamation with faith: they believe, and immediately transmit it, they do not keep it for themselves… In the professions of faith of the New Testament, only men are remembered as witnesses of the Resurrection, the Apostles, but not the women. This is because, according to the Jewish Law of the time, women and children were not considered reliable, credible witnesses.

In the Gospels, however, - Bergoglio continued - women have a primary, fundamental role. Here we can see an argument in favour of the historicity of the Resurrection: if it were a invented, in the context of that time it would not have been linked to the testimony of women. Instead, the evangelists simply narrate what happened: the women were the first witnesses. This tells us that God does not choose according to human criteria: the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus are the shepherds, simple and humble people, the first witnesses of the Resurrection are women. This is beautiful.” (Francis would have been more accurate if he had said "God does not choose according to 'male' criteria."
This is the mission of women, of mothers and women, to give witness to their children and grandchildren that Christ is Risen! Mothers go forward with this witness! What matters to God is our heart, if we are open to Him, if we are like trusting children. But this also leads us to reflect on how in the Church and in the journey of faith, women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord, in following him and communicating his face, because the eyes of faith always need the simple and profound look of love. The Apostles and disciples find it harder to believe in the Risen Christ, not the women however,” Bergoglio said.

Women certainly do have a special role in opening doors to the Lord and to the messengers of the Lord.  That role is first and foremost about love and how love is at the core of creation. It is about how service to creation is the proper way in which to relate to the unseen forces of love which guide and under-gird our reality.  This kind of service is not the submissive service we normally think of when we hear stories about women's 'work'.  It is very active, but in a different way.  It's centered in 'being' a fully competent human. That's why I've always found the statues of Mary standing on a globe with her foot on the serpent to be a very powerful statement.  When it comes to serving and protecting creation, the feminine principle rules, not because it's passive, but because it's patient and measured.  When action is necessary it is targeted, relentless, and final.

Over on the blog A Seat at the Table, there is a current post is about Sr Sandra Schneider's lastest biblical work entitled Women and the Word.  This post dovetails nicely with Francis' talk.  Sr Schneider also makes an observation very similar to my Native teacher, that Jesus' teachings went directly to the limits of gender definitions:

.....The [other] conclusion which flows from our reflections on the gender of God and the sex of Jesus is that both men and women are called to conversion. Men are challenged by Jesus to reject the cultural definition of masculinity as well as the patriarchal structures and behaviors which flow from it. In Jesus they have the assurance that there is another, and truly redemptive, way to be a man. Women are challenged to develop a renewed sense of themselves as adult children of God made in the divine image, as sisters and friends of Jesus who have put on Christ and who are called and empowered to represent Christ in Church and society....

Pope Francis may not agree completely with Sr Schneider's or my Native teacher, but he is modeling a masculine way of handling great power which is not usual for most men.  It is however, the way Jesus taught men would need to handle power in order to stay congruent with the Father's will.  I sincerely hope Francis keeps stressing this understanding of male servant leadership and puts the 'pelvic and gender' issues on the very back burner. It would give culture warriors pause and allow others to find a better path for gender expression.  One less enslaved to ideas that may be great for maintaining the status quo, but are in fact, very limiting to one's spiritual path.


  1. "I sincerely hope Francis keeps stressing this understanding of male servant leadership and puts the 'pelvic and gender' issues on the very back burner. It would give culture warriors pause and allow others to find a better path for gender expression."

    From your mouth to God's ears, Colleen. Thank you for such an insightful post.

  2. Meanwhile, back in the US, another call to use communion as a cudgel against those who disagree with the RCC's teachings on human sexuality, and another sharp response to that call...

    "If I were to suppose who should or should not be held in good graces with the Holy Church, I would have to believe that those that have so corrupted its message as to focus the Church's most public efforts only on matters of sex, an obsession unsupported by any non-insane close reading of the gospels you might care to partake in, would be among the worst of all possible sinners. If you could either feed the poor or prevent a gay man from having sex and you choose the latter as worthy of your attention and drive, your holy creed is rotten. If you could either hold fierce public and political battles against the execution of prisoners or against insurance coverage for contraceptives but it is the insurance coverage bit that truly stirs your soul, your soul is not worth half as much as you reckon it to be."

  3. Jesus was possibly the most balanced human who ever lived. No doubt about his caring, gentleness, and other"feminine" qualities. But he also never backed off from confrontation when called for.