May 03, 2017
By Lindsey Peterson.
Scripture: Psalm 23 (NRSV)
A Psalm of David.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
Spring is new life coming out of long sealed, wintered ground. Easter is life opening a closed tomb. We are in fierce season. A time when images, symbols, myths abound to encourage the impulse in us to be unbounded.
I read the lectionary text assigned for this day, May 7th. The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want, He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters.
I don’t want a He-God to lead me beside still waters. This is Spring, this is Easter. I have a body and a mind and story that wants to be unbound. Even though I know this text by heart, its familiarity provides little comfort. More, it feels constraining. Just because we know something by heart, does not mean it is what our heart needs.
“The Lord is my shepherd, He” is an historically obsolete vocabulary of the divine, without potency to break through wintered ground, or unbind many of us from the sealed tomb. With it, our access to ourselves and the Divine is incomplete. With it, the Divine is incomplete.
“The call for public conversations on race and racism is also a call to develop a vocabulary that permits us to have insightful conversations. If we attempt to use historically obsolete vocabularies, our consciousness of racism will remain shallow and we can be easily urged to assume that, for example, change in the law spontaneously produce effective changes in the social world.” - Angela Davis in Freedom is a Constant Struggle
Inclusive language. We’ve been there, done that, we say in the progressive UCC church. The NCH hymnal battle was fought; the NCH or some middle ground won. Or, the Pilgrim Hymnal remains.
And yet I read the 23rd Psalm, this much beloved hymn of our Judeo-Christian traditions and I feel my disappearance. And yet, this Easter we sang in my progressive church “conquering Son” and I feel the exhaustion of trying to claim a place in the story; of trying to shift the story.
I don’t want a He-Lord to shepherd me. I don’t want a He-God to make me lie down. I don’t want a He-God to put me in paths for His names’ sake. Our faith language oozes with the He-God. Try as we have to be progressive, to “include” women, and gender-neutral language, our vocabularies for the Divine, and therefore consciousness of the Divine as beyond gender remains insufficient.
I hear in my Easter-hungry voice the same push toward radical inclusion that Angela Davis invokes for race consciousness. It is not gender neutral, race-neutral language I hunger for; not mere inclusion in the story. But radical inclusion. Radical as in root. As in change the beginning. Change how the story starts; how the story of who human beings are starts.
It has to be more, “In the beginning, there were women whose skin was the color of earth and night. In the beginning there was love between these women that overflowed, filling their hearts with song. And from that love, God became flesh.”
Great living God, never full known, open our hearts and minds to knowing you more fully.
Rev. Lindsey Peterson is a former CT pastor and the creator and host of The None & Some Project (thenoneandsomeproject.org).
May 03, 2017