Posts Tagged language

Spending a Year in the Women’s Lectionary: Rev. Clint Schnekloth*

June 8, 2022

A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church by Wilda C. Gafney

At the beginning of Advent our congregation committed to reading Wil Gafney’s “Women’s Lectionary Year W” for 2022. For those unfamiliar with the resource, “A Women’s Lectionary For the Whole Church” is a project of Professor Wilda C. Gafney, an Episcopal priest and widely published Hebrew biblical scholar who teaches at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University. It is a lectionary for the church year (either a one-year set of readings, Year W, or a three-year series modeled after the Revised Common Lectionary) of originally translated biblical texts selected in a way to respond to these basic questions:

What does it look like to tell the good news through the stories of women who are often on the margins of scripture and often set up to represent bad news? How would a lectionary centering women’s stories, chosen with womanist and feminist commitments in mind, frame the presentation of the scriptures for proclamation and teaching?

An early reviewer of the Women’s Lectionary wrote here in The Christian Citizen, “A lectionary resource is best evaluated through practice.” As a congregation, we have now sat with these readings and translations in worship for about six months.

When we first committed to this lectionary, I had thought it would be the biblical stories themselves, the stories about women, that would center our attention for the year.

However, what I keep noticing, and honestly what is shifting my entire conception of God and prayer, is Gafney’s decision in the translation of the Psalms to refer to God with descriptive names for God (instead of the rather tired and artificially constructed “LORD”) and to use she/her pronouns.

Here’s an example, the Psalm for the Fifth Sunday of Easter:

Psalm 147:12-20

Praise the EVER-LIVING GOD, O Jerusalem!

Praise your God, O Zion!

For she strengthens the bars of your gates;

she blesses your children within you.

She sets peace at your border;

she satisfies you with the finest of wheat.

She sends forth her word to the earth;

her word runs swiftly.

She lays down snow like wool;

she scatters frost like ashes.

She hurls down hail like crumbs–

who can stand before her cold? 

She sends forth her word, and melts them;

she makes her wind blow, and the waters flow.

She declares her word to Rebekah’s line,

her statutes and ordinances to Sarah’s seed.

She has not dealt thus with any other nation;

they do not know her ordinances.


Using she/her pronouns in the Psalms is not an entirely new exercise. I remember way back when Bobby McFerrin was on tour with his Voicestra in the late ’80s, I heard them perform his version of the 23rd Psalm. When the vocalists sing, “She makes me lie down in green pastures,” it hit immediately, deeply. Hearing that heart Psalm sung with that slight pronoun shift changed something in me permanently.

In this month of Pentecost, and Pride, and Juneteenth, we are offered the time to reconsider our use of language, and especially our use of language over time. It’s one thing to theoretically say God is all genders. It is another thing altogether to express the many genders of God in corporate worship.

Growing up in a relatively moderate mainline tradition (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), I had heard heated debates at synod assemblies concerning pronouns for God. But it was an entirely different event altogether to actually use the pronouns in prayer, and specifically in a heart prayer as profound as the 23rd Psalm.

I’ve spent a lot of time with Bobby McFerrin’s version (not to mention the entire album “Medicine Music” on which I first heard it), but that song was still isolated from more regular worship practices. It was a singular performance by a singular composer, and remained contained within the experiment that is Bobby McFerrin’s music.

This year, 2022, is the first year I (and probably most of our congregation) pray every single week the ancient psalms of Scripture and call the WISDOM OF AGES “she.

Why does this matter so very much, you might wonder? Well, there is of course that ancient insight, lex orendi lex credendi, the way we pray leads the way we believe. Praying week after week to the God of Hebrew Scripture using she/her pronouns becomes more than just theory, it becomes practice, and in becoming practice, it shifts belief.

And it takes time, liturgical time, to really make that shift. As one of my parishioners remarked, “I’m not sure a year is going to be long enough. I’ve internalized the narrow and male-gendered language over decades, and it is still shocking to hear the divine consistently referred to in the feminine. This lectionary is the best kind of jolt. As my Dad would say while pressing down the gas pedal, this lectionary ‘blows the cobs out’ of my reading and worship routine.”

So what do I believe differently now than six months ago? For one, I’ve changed how I hear he/him pronouns for God in hymns and prayers. I used to chafe at those because it continually asserted a paternal sense of God I found oppressive.

However, now that the primary prayers of the church on Sunday morning offer she/her pronouns for God, I am far more free to speak of God as he/him. I mean, God is expansive, right? “She” can also be “he.”

A surprising side consequence of this shift in our communal prayers has also been a deepening of our prayerful consideration of how to speak of God as non-binary. As much as I love Wil Gafney’s needed correction toward the women of Scripture, the corrective is definitely still confined to traditional gender binaries.

Meanwhile, I’m also serving in a congregation where many of our members are trans or non-binary. We are the founding location for The Transition Closet, a resource providing gender-affirming apparel and undergarments. The emphasis on the stories of women in Scripture and the use of feminine pronouns has us also experimenting with the use of they/them for God alongside all the other wonderful names of God (including, when appropriate, the royal “We”).

Returning to the Women’s Lectionary, notice in the Psalm translation I quoted above how powerful it is to first name God she, and then sing:

She declares her word to Rebekah’s line,

her statutes and ordinances to Sarah’s seed.

This translation illustrates how pronoun use expresses a kind of solidarity. This God, the God of Rebekah, the God of Sarah, she declares a word, she sets down statutes and ordinances. She relates to these women, and through them to us.

In this month of Pentecost, and Pride, and Juneteenth, we are offered the time to reconsider our use of language, and especially our use of language over time. It’s one thing to theoretically say God is all genders. It is another thing altogether to express the many genders of God in corporate worship. God has the early Christian community speak in tongues for a reason, I imagine. The overflowing of the Spirit of God manifests in words. She’s loquacious. We can thank Wil Gafney for her tremendously creative reframing of the lectionary itself offering us a resource to truly practice liturgically what we preach.

*Rev. Clint Schnekloth is pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a progressive church in the South. He is the founder of Canopy NWA (a refugee resettlement agency) and Queer Camp, and is the author of Mediating Faith: Faith Formation in a Trans-Media Era. He blogs at Substack.



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Women as Pastoral Leaders Render a Different Vision of God

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Toward Non-gender Language for God – Dr. Molly Marshall

September 24, 2018 – The Christian Citizen

Most of us have now made the shift toward inclusive language for humanity, and we are learning about how pronouns matter in personal identity. We have realized that exclusive language erases half of humanity. Using only man or mankind ignores the presence of women in biblical narratives—and in life. It makes men normative humanity and sustains androcentric privilege. Just when we think the linguistic work is done, I pick up another book (often a theological text) that addresses or describes only men.

We do violence to women or persons who are non-binary (or other sexual minorities) when we subsume them into the conventions of exclusive language. We know the power of naming, and Scripture reminds us of all the ways identity is carried in a name. It is remarkable that as many women are named as there are—yet there are so many more whose names we will never know.

The contexts in which Scripture was shaped—the Ancient Near Eastern world and the Greco-Roman world of the early centuries of the Common Era—were patriarchal to the core. The social structure was hierarchical, and men held most of the rights for inheritance, divorce and religious standing. The language of the Bible reflects this structure, and it is not surprising that masculine imagery predominates. Many persons today read these ancient texts as prescriptive for the roles of women and men today, and they construct a complementarian vision of male and female relationships—to the detriment of both.

What progress are we making in our language for God? Using inclusive language for God has powerful impact on how we view God, how we order human relations and how we perform our roles as disciples of Jesus. Many translations, such as the New Revised Standard Version, have moved the practice of inclusive language forward by including women and sisters in the texts but have left He as the primary pronoun for speaking of God. The challenge is that grammatical gender elides biological gender in the minds of many. Far too many believe that God is literally male and that “Father language” rightly denotes God as ultimate progenitor.

In addition, the language Jesus used for God is warrant for many to speak of God only as Father.  Jesus’ language is much more about filial intimacy than ascribing literal gender. It is easy to see the growth of a tradition from Mark to John. In Mark, Jesus names God Abba 11 times; by the time John is written, this naming for God occurs 120 times. In the midst of great strides to include women begun by Jesus, the writers and editors of the Gospels wanted to ensure that a masculine vision of God safeguarded men’s prerogative and that women would remain secondary. We can see this effect by comparing the treatment of Peter and Mary Magdalene. Recent scholarship suggests that there was a concerted effort to subordinate her leadership to her male counterpart.


Many have dismissed inclusive language as “politically correct.” However, it runs much deeper. It is an attempt to speak justly about humans, and it strives to offer a vision of God beyond gender.

Many have dismissed inclusive language as “politically correct.” However, it runs much deeper. It is an attempt to speak justly about humans, and it strives to offer a vision of God beyond gender. Of course, our language for God is always a human projection, and we live in a world where biological identity is a key marker. Scripture uses masculine and feminine metaphors for God, and this enriches our image of God. It does matter that we keep some personal language for God, and Scripture provides more pathways for this idea than we have pursued.

One of the reasons I have given attention to the Spirit of God in recent years is that it allows one to bypass gendered language for God. Scripture and tradition use feminine imagery for the Spirit, yet using that imagery exclusively opens the door to exclusive use of masculine language for the other persons of the trinity. Spirit language, however, allows us to imagine that God is beyond our anthropocentric projections, or ascribing human characteristics to God. If anything, God is supra-personal and grounds our understanding of what it means to be personal and communal. The God who dwells eternally in the richness of trinitarian community invites us to new ways of imagining God with us, moving us beyond our exclusively masculine vision.

Dr. Molly T. Marshall is president of Central Baptist Seminary, Shawnee, Kan.

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Combatting Hostile Rhetoric with Civil Speech –


Combatting Hostile Rhetoric with Civil Speech | Mitch Carnell, Speech, Civility, Community, Say Something Nice Day, Say Something Nice Sunday

Say Something Nice Day on June 1 and Say Something Nice Sunday on June 4 offer great opportunities for us to join in the task of creating a more civil dialogue in the public square, Carnell writes.

Peter Gomes, the former minister of Memorial Church, said in a 2004 convocation address to the Harvard Divinity School, “Silence is death, and we with our skills and talents have never been more needed than now.”

His words were never more appropriate than now for those of us who strive for a more civil national and personal dialogue.

Some may question why pursue such lofty goals. Others proclaim that we must strengthen our resolve and our efforts to reclaim the high ground.

During Lenten Services at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Mayor John Tecklenburg of Charleston, South Carolina, said, “We should have a day of repentance for all of our racial sins of the past and then we should move on to right those wrongs.”

In a conversation with him later, I suggested that one of the ways to move on to righting those wrongs was to guard the language we use in speaking to and about each other. Our words have consequences because they represent what is in our heart.

The annual celebrations of Say Something Nice Day on June 1 and Say Something Nice Sunday on June 4 offer great opportunities for us to join in the task of creating a more civil dialogue in the public square.

The mayor, a devout Catholic, is a major supporter of these efforts.

As Gomes said, we have the skills necessary to change the tone.

For those of us who claim to be Christians, our obligation is much stronger. We are to represent Christ with our language. This is not an easy task.

Recently, I found myself apologizing for un-Christlike verbal behavior. I was not apologizing for my opinion; I was apologizing for how I expressed that opinion. There was a more Christlike way available to me.

“In the New Testament book of James, the rhetorical question is asked, “Who can control the tongue?’ The implication of the question is that mastering one’s own speech is nearly impossible,” Marshall Blalock said in his sermon titled “Watch Your Words: The Power of Speech.”

“Today we recover the idea that we need to choose our words carefully and turn them into a powerful force for good. Today we will discover how to routinely choose wise words that build others up rather than tear them down.”

Gomes makes it clear that silence is not an option when we are confronted with verbal outpourings that are outside the bounds of respect for the other. It is possible to refuse to repay an insult with an insult.

Scripture tells us, “Let no one repay evil with evil.”

Michael Curry, bishop of the National Episcopal Church, says, “The truth is we are not the Republican Party at prayer and we are not the Democratic Party at prayer. We are the Jesus Movement and that makes a difference.”

Each Monday, I meet for lunch with a group that is out of step with the political persuasion of our area; however, we have made friends with a delightful couple who sit at the table next to ours.

Although their political opinions are worlds apart from ours, we have become friends. We look forward to their arrival. They could sit at a table away from us, but they choose to sit next to us and sometimes even join us.

This is how it should be. We have even learned to laugh at our differences. What a blessing.

A statue was recently erected in Charleston of 95-year-old former governor and senator Ernest Fritz Hollings and features him with an outstretched hand.

According to the sculptor, Richard Weaver, “This is to capture his defining asset – his ability to make friends.”

What an ability to have and what a tribute.

There is no one who does not need a word of encouragement. The late Arthur Caliandro, pastor of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, said, “Be kinder than you think it necessary to be. The other person needs it more than you know.”

In these troubled times when hostile rhetoric fills the airwaves, let us strive to make friends out of potential enemies.

We can turn down the rhetoric and discover or rediscover more productive ways to communicate with each other. We can change the national dialogue.


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