For many people today, belief in an omnipotent male or father God no longer holds sway; we are more comfortable with Mother Earth than Father God. In the midst of changing ideas about the feminine and masculine, what does sacred masculinity mean? What could a renewed understanding mean for us and our world, whether we are theist or atheist, pagan or spiritual but not religious?
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I once asked if God has a penis.
My conversation partner was a Mennonite minister. He laughed. And our conversation moved on without directly answering my question. Perhaps it is as impolite to ask about God’s genitalia as it is other humans’. But I was really curious: when people refer consistently to God as ‘he,’ and us as created in his image, especially men, just how close is our image to God’s?
Many Unitarian Universalists reject the concept of God on the basis of the ‘whitebearded man in the sky’ image. I think all of the UU theists I’ve encountered reject that concept of God, too.
As do many practitioners of faiths in which a God, often male, figures prominently. In his book of midrash stories for children, Rabbi Gelman answers the altogether-muchmore-appropriate-than-my question “Does God have a big toe?” with a ‘no’ - he says “God is special and invisible and wonderful and is the creator of the universe. God has made each of us in God's image. But God is not a person. And that is why God does not have a big toe.”
Feminism has significantly changed the conversation about God over the last century. Mirabai Starr writes: “Why not? Why not pretend for now that the Absolute (the Great Mystery, the Ground of Being) sometimes expresses itself in the body of woman? Pretending God’s a dude hasn’t exactly worked out for the vast majority of the human family, let alone the animal and plant communities or the air or the waters.”
A prayer to God the Father or a prayer to and for Mother Earth; they sound different to our ears. As UUs, we tend to be more comfortable to be in relationship with our Earth Mother than a male God in the sky. The different tone and hype for Mother’s and Father’s days echoes this dichotomy.
Seventy-five percent of Canadians surveyed agreed that Mother’s Day outshines Father’s Day, and spending on Mother’s Day exceeds Father’s Day by an average of almost $50. (https://globalnews.ca/news/3437263/canadian-money-mothers-day-fathers-day/)
WorshipWeb, the Unitarian Universalist resource of readings and other resources, has significantly more Mother’s Day than Father’s Day resources, and they differ in tone: while both acknowledge the complexity of the holidays and parent-child relationships, including the realities of death, estrangement, abuse, and conflict, the Father’s Day readings focus more heavily on wounds, the Mother’s Day resources are more celebratory in tone. A dear ministry colleague who ran workshops on sermon-writing
warns against the sacrilege of ignoring Mother’s Day in worship; Father’s Day, conversely, received no such warning or status in her liturgical calendar.
The dichotomy of Earth Mother and Sky Father is not ubiquitous. Ancient Egyptian Gods included not only a Sky-Father (Ra) and an Earth Mother (Isis) but also a Sky Mother (Nut) and Earth Father (Geb). Robert Bly says: “The Greeks, and the Europeans after them, lost track of the full complement of four gods and preserved memory of only two. When we remember only two gods, the sexes
polarize and begin to seem opposite. Each gender becomes identified, men with sky, women with earth. …
He continues: “Many women today say, ‘The earth is female.’ A man told me that when he hears that, he feels he has lost the right to breathe. And when a man says, ‘God is male,’ women have said that they feel they have no right to pray. Mythology is important. The polarization coming from our fragmentary Greek mythology has already caused immense harm.” (Bly, Robert. Iron John. New York: Vintage Books, 1992,.p. 42-43)
Historically, we’ve reduced the 4 Gods to one, omitting all but a Sky Father. Those of us who reject the Sky Father in favour of the Earth Mother are doing the same: reducing God to one aspect. I wonder: What is the impact of our unilateral rejection of a Sky
Father? Does it cut us off from more than prayer?
The rejection of the Father Sky God and patriarchy in the world go hand in hand. The Father or Lord God, sometimes depicted as a loving father, is also associated with judgement, control, subordination and oppression of woman, and punishment.
Almost 30 years ago, Robert Bly wrote: “We know that many contemporary men have become ashamed of their [maleness]. Some feel shame over the historical past, over oppressive patriarchies, insane wars, rigidities long imposed. Other men who have seen their fathers fail to be true to the masculine and its values don’t want to be men.” (Bly, Robert. Iron John. New York: Vintage Books, 1992,.p. 234)
His words are perhaps even more true today. Charles Eisenstein says: “The old patriarchal conception of masculinity is disintegrating
before our eyes. This is a good thing, but what is the next step?”
Writer, speaker, husband and father Boysen Hodgson offers a starting place in answering that very question with his manifesto, “The New Macho:”
“He cleans up after himself. He cleans up our planet. He is a role model for young men.
He is rigorously honest and fiercely optimistic.
He knows what he feels. He knows how to cry and he lets it go. He knows how to rage without hurting others.
He knows how to fear and keep moving. He knows joy, and shares gratitude.
He seeks self-mastery.
He has let go of childish shame. He feels guilty when he’s done something wrong.
He is kind to men, kind to women, kind to children.
He teaches others how to be kind.
He says he’s sorry.
He stopped blaming women or his parents or men for his pain.
He stopped letting his defenses ruin his relationships. He stopped letting his libido run his life.
He has enough self-respect to tell the truth.
He creates intimacy and trust with his actions.
He has men who he trusts and turns to for support.
He knows how to make it happen.
He knows how to roll with it.
He is disciplined when he needs to be.
He is flexible when he needs to be.
He knows how to listen from the core of his being.
He confronts his limitations.
He’s not afraid to get dirty.
He has high expectations for himself and those he connects with.
When he makes mistakes, as all men do, he holds himself accountable.
When he falls, he gets back up.
He practices compassion, for himself and others.
He knows he is an individual.
He knows we are all one.
He knows he is an animal and part of nature.
He knows his spirit and a connection to something greater.
He looks for ways to serve others.
He knows future generations are watching his actions.
He builds communities where all people are respected and valued.
He takes responsibility for himself and is willing to be his brother’s keeper.
He knows his higher purpose.
He loves with fierceness.
He laughs with abandon, because he gets the joke.”
This depiction of the “new macho” begs the question: “Is there a difference between mature, conscious, sacred masculinity and being a good human?” And I know there are many people of fine character and quality in this room, of all genders. Bly’s Iron John, though it predates Hodgson’s “The New Macho” by 30 years, has one answer: “Some say, “well, let’s just be human, and not talk about masculine or feminine at all.” People who say that imagine they are occupying the moral high ground. I say that we have to be a little gentle here, and allow the word masculine and the word feminine to be spoken, and not be afraid that some moral carpenter will make boxes of those words and imprison us in them. We are all afraid of boxes, and rightly so.” (Bly, Robert. Iron John. New York: Vintage Books, 1992., p. 234)
I was caught off guard when I found myself moved to tears the first time I watched the Canadian Women’s Soccer team live; I didn’t realize until I was there, just how foreign it would feel to be in a full stadium of people — not just women and girls but men and boys
— cheering for women, women known first and foremost as athletes. The soccer pitch is probably the place I’ve experienced the most sexism in my life.
We are all afraid of boxes, and rightly so. I see that men are increasingly seeing women outside of traditional boxes, as leaders, athletes, colleagues, and more. And the work of feminism is alive in busting boxes of many shapes and sizes. I hope that men and boys are also finding space with one another and from women and girls to live lives without boxes; to be respected not just for their traditional roles, but for their new ones as stay-at-home dads and nurses and nursery school teachers and play tea-party goers. And more, to bust boxes that equate and limit men’s strength to domination, limit men’s protection to control, limit men’s leadership to oppression, and limit men’s warrior-hood to violence.
In the midst of the discovery and re-discovery of the sacred feminine, with powers of fertility, strength, nurture, nature, creation, and life-force, comes an opportunity of discovery and re-discovery of a sacred masculine that supports men, as well as people of all genders, to lead lives of intentionality, compassion, and service to one another and the earth, lives that allow them to discover and share the full depths of who they are and what their gifts are in the world.
I hope that one day Mairi, Charlotte, Sophie, and Isla sit in a stadium of people cheering for women and it feels normal; and that Hamish, Fraser, Simon, Alper, Kagan, Winston, Aaron, Rhett, Cameron, and Stephen, and Darragh feel they can be both sensitive and strong, and share their unique gifts in the world without shame. That all our children will find their calling in the world, and live it with gusto and passion and joy as they make the world a better place.
We who are part of the unravelling of the patriarchal harms of the past need to be part of the weaving of a new story, one that allows men and women to pray (or not) and all of us to breathe. A new story that makes space for the masculine and the feminine and the human. A story where we remember that whatever our conception of god, we are part — and only a part — of the interdependent web of all existence.
Boysen Hodgson says of the “New Macho,” This list not complete. Evolution needs you. Come join the dance.”
May we all — theists and atheists, men and women, trans and cis and non-binary, adults and children, pagans and Christians, city and nature lovers — may we all be part of the dance as we create a new story of peace, love, justice, and mutual respect together.
So may it be.
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