I am reading a book I borrowed from my friend Kit. The book is To Walk and Not Faint: A Month of Meditations on Isaiah 40, by Marva J. Dawn. I haven't read anything by this author before, though from what I gather she and Eugene Peterson have collaborated together in the past. This fact recommends her to me, because I've liked Peterson's writings (introduced and lent to me by my pastor).
There was a footnote in the introduction of To Walk and Not Faint that troubled me, though I was so glad to have continued in my reading, because the rest of her book so far has been excellent in content. The footnote was an apology for using the male pronouns in reference to God, assuming that some of her readers would object. I have three objections to this, the first being most important: God's nature, traits, character, purpose, and action need no apology. He makes none in His Word, and we would do well to follow suit, because all that He is is perfect and holy. The second objection is that to apologize for the use of the male pronoun in reference to God the Father validates for that questioning reader the right to insinuate that God's actual nature is less than adequate, less than right and good. It minimizes Him into some lesser being that a human might scrutinize and want to make into his or her image, rather than hope to reflect His image instead. It also casts doubt on God's very Fatherhood. If He is not God the Father, as He calls Himself, what is He? It casts doubt on the truth of His Word and therefore the truth of Himself as God. The third objection is that if a reader has trouble with God being male, that reader is at too elementary a level of understanding of God to have the rest of the book be of interest. If His being called by male pronouns, and being called the Father, is a hindrance, then all the rest of who He is and what His Word says about humanity is likely a stumbling block as well, and the rest of the book is likely to fall fruitlessly on that reader's ears. This very apology that she makes would cause this book to be slammed shut by most church leadership I have ever known.
That being said, I am still so glad that I continued on in the book. I have dropped other readings because of similar objections in the past, but I wonder whether I should have more often tried to get past the problems I found. When I think on it, it's almost like seeing a teenager with lots of metal post jewelry stuck in his face. He does it in part to see how many people will look past the metal to be willing to consider his validity as a person. It is a wall that is put up intentionally or otherwise, and sometimes there is great reward in leaping over those walls--whether for the teen's benefit, or for my own.
I come from a background in Christianity that is dogmatic, quick to label, place judgment and condemn, and I am learning slowly (ever so slowly, alas) how much it has hindered my love of humanity, my ability to consider the needs of others, and my ability to learn other points of view. If I were to put down my book, I might never learn some of the great insights Marva Dawn has on Isaiah 40. If I cringe at the sight of a teen in metal and tattoos and brightly-colored hair, rather than treat him like any other person, I will probably never be able to get to know him and hear him well enough to reach him with the love of Christ. If I determine that a Christian that believes more liberally, more conservatively, more legalistically, more charismatically is not valid in his faith, then I have closed the door on learning about his point of view--or sharing mine. I also have closed the opportunity for the unity for which Jesus prayed in His priestly prayer of John 17. And I may be questioning his very salvation, which, thankfully, it is not my place to fully determine.
I am loving the tone of the books that Pastor Ken and Kit have been lending me. They are less strident, less formulaic, less absolute in their tone than those with which I have been acquainted in the past. I'm not sure that this is all the difference, but I know there is something gentle that draws me near to learn what they have to say. I would expect that people from my past might label these writers as more liberal. If liberal means contemplative, prayerful, gentle, and teachable, then liberalism has some traits I want to adopt. I want to leap over the walls that have hemmed me in in my understanding of what Christ would have me learn and imitate. If I have to accept the labeling of even liberalism to do so (and perhaps you don't have any idea what a shocking statement this would be in my life), and the goal of knowing and imitating Christ is better reached by doing so, then I will accept it.
I am being reminded that Christian faith has less to do with reflexively labeling or rejecting others, and more to do with recognizing one's own shortcomings; less to do with categorizing others, and more to do with focusing on one's own walk; less to do with keeping oneself pure from contamination from others, and more to do with keeping oneself pure from contamination from one's own miserable attitudes and thoughts. I stumble along still, and have a long way to go. But this book has reminded me of something that it didn't even set out to, and for that, I'm thankful.