Sunday, November 13, 2011
Do you remember the “Promise Keepers”? It was a hyper-masculine evangelical movement in the 1990’s. For a few glorious years the PK’s attracted lots of media attention. That’s because they often brought in well over 50,000 people at a time to their events, which were held all over the country. These revivals were usually in big cities, in football stadiums and it was men only! Their message was for men, delivered by the “ultimate- man” heroes from the sports world. Males who had lost their place in society, in the family, in the neighborhood came to these events to find out how to be real men again. They were given a muscular Jesus who liked getting together with other men, who wanted loud rock music playing, who liked hanging out in the ultimate man cave…the football stadium. Their model was JC, a sober, serious, and loyal fighter for the team.
They could be that kind of man, too, if they just kept their promise, realized their potential, to be real men on the right team. They could be warriors just like Jesus who fought the good and manly fight.
By the late ‘90’s the Promise Keeper movement would fade away.
Maybe these mega events stopped being so popular because as some have suggested, our American culture has Attention Deficit Disorder! Nothing lasts for very long, ‘cause we keep moving on to the next thing! Maybe, the Promise Keeper movement faded because the hyper masculine Jesus was just too much of a reactive projection. It was, after all, in the 90’s when women really started to enjoy a measure of equality, like never before in human history.
The hyper masculine Jesus was perhaps an over the top reaction. Maybe it didn’t capture for long the personality that most Americans perceive that Jesus the Super Star who lives in our national pantheon really has.
This is the third installment in my “who is Jesus” sermon series for this church year. I explored with you what Americans have imagined he looked like. I helped you hear what Americans really want Jesus to have said.
This morning I am going to share with you another piece of the story of the Jesus who is a fixture in the American pantheon.
Everybody knows what he’s like; what his personality is.
He’s always on the side of your favorite sports team; or when at war your preferred nation. And he roots for the underdog every time. You know he loves to hang with the guys and he’s every stay-at-home mother’s best friend. He’s maternal, gentle with young children, loyal, meek; even sweet. And, he’s the big, beefy fellow you had better watch for when he gets angry. He’s been known to kick over tables at the NY stock exchange or at the First National Bank of Too Much Greed. He’s the head of the church, the head of the party. He’s loyal to your favorite brands. But everybody knows you don’t have to go to church or follow any of his endorsements to call him your best friend. He wears a dress, and although his hair is styled by “Lady Clairol”, and we don’t talk about his sexuality, he is thoroughly a man, unless you need him to be something else… and then he bends.
Are we confused, or what?
As I shared with you before, in the early centuries of what some call the American experiment, there was little to no confusion about who Jesus was. He was the Son of God. His father was in charge; mighty, powerful and sovereign. His father was just like all real fathers, [well those who were white with land and the ability to make things happen!] Fathers were on the top of command chain as far as home and farm life, enterprise, government, church, the military, education…well, everything.
Jesus was just the Son who did the Father’s bidding.
Until, he was the brother, who made all men free
When he became the one on our team, he was on his way to becoming an American super hero. But before he became a super hero, with a personality every body knows another transformation would take place.
Part of the story of how the Jesus we all know came to be, has to do with WOMEN, with what women want. Maybe women wanted a hyper-masculine JC. But we got over it!
For centuries, women have not been in control! Yet, in America during the Victorian age they came to dominate home life, and church life. They came to be seen not only as domestic goddesses, but took on, or were projected to have taken on …all moral virtue.
They wanted a Jesus that was a different kind of brother, one who didn’t go marching away with other brothers.
Their efforts to transform Jesus led to what some call the feminization of Christianity.
What women wanted in Victorian America deeply influenced what we think of as Jesus’ personality to this day.
Before that, the 2nd Great Awakening, the revival movement that swept across this nation from roughly the 1820’s – 1860’s, had already largely redefined Christianity as a religion led not by the remote, mighty and distant God, but by the Son of Man.
Predestination, and with it FEAR of God, would go out of favor. Instead the theologies of free will and free choice made for dramatic/emotional conversions that turned hearts over to Jesus, the Sweet Savior. Religion became not so much a matter of enlightened reason, but of emotional fervor.
And emotions were women’s territory!
Even within Unitarianism there was a shift from the heady, intellectual, reasonable faith of the Boston fathers to the subjective, experience based religious “freedom” like that found in the good news/joyful expression of Universalism, or the nature loving, poetry speaking, equality between the sexes, radical proponents of Transcendentalism.
It was no longer the American Christian desire to move in lock step with God’s will. American religion became overwhelmed with the flow of emotions. The faithful wanted to commune with Jesus their brother and friend. Male children grew up taught the faith by mothers who valued an emotional, gentle, companion… These boys grew up to be the liberal clergy who helped fashion the Jesus women wanted.
For the revivalists, the whole point of conversion was to gain close personal relationship with Jesus. The sons of the women who loved the sweet savior, the companion, the friend, the gentle one who would make all of society more like home…peaceful, clean, everybody fed, chores over, lessons learned…preached what their mothers wanted to hear.
In the late 1800’s men who had once been the guardians of virtue, increasingly came to be associated with aggression, competitiveness and guile—virtues in the business world but vices in the home. The home became the center of Christian life and mother became the high priestess of domestic piety. Her influence would spread to society…all through the Christian efforts to clean up and make things right, more like Jesus wanted… far beyond home life. The temperance movement, the settlement houses, the abolitionists, the Sunday School societies, the proliferation of tracts, all came from the so-called “feminization” of Christianity.
Women were seen as morally and spiritually superior to men. Jesus was their model, gentle, humble, patient more of a “feeler” than a “thinker”.
In many ways, Jesus became the perfect woman in a man’s body, or at least the perfect advocate for women, in a body appealing to women.
In a time when there were rigidly distinct roles for women and for men, the personality of Jesus bridged the divide. Liberal Christians had already soft pedaled the sharp dualism “between the sacred and the secular, divinity and humanity, the supernatural and the natural, the world and the church….” Jesus, the brother became a woman’s best friend…
Prothero says “antebellum Protestants made him over in the light of Victorian ideals of the feminine. …they described Jesus as pious and pure, loving and merciful, meek and humble.”
Here is what one author of a popular series of books for boys said:
“Jesus Christ was, in some respects, the most bold, energetic, decided and courageous man that ever lived; but in others he was the most flexible, submissive and yielding; and in the conceptions which many persons form of his character there is a degree of indistinctness and confusion, from want of clear ideas of the mode in which these seemingly opposite qualities come together.”
This was a book for boys…with an adult saying we don’t quite get it, how you can be both male and female in one body, but model yourself after this man Jesus anyway!
Prothero calls this a “delicious quotation”…for its articulation of the confusion…especially during the heyday of separate-spheres ideology…"it simply did not make sense to find the masculine and the feminine cohabiting in one body."
It did not make sense to Victorians, but we’ve been working on it, so that it does make sense, ever since their time!
When the 20th world wars came, it was important to lift up the bloody Jesus who made the ultimate sacrifice. There have been all sorts of movements like the Promise Keepers to try to make the feminized Jesus more masculine, more appealing to men.
But everybody knows the churches were and are full of women. They always have been and they still are.
Maybe they weren’t in the pulpit, but they were and are in control in one way or another. They were at home teaching their children about Jesus, and they were in the church doing the same.
Perhaps the Promise Keepers movement was the last attempt to balance out the century old feminized Jesus, with a more masculine one.
Or maybe now we are ok with the gender blending….or with an all purpose God that everybody knows is on their side no matter what…
It is not so much about being a “real” man or a “real” woman anymore. It’s about being the in one body the best blend of male and female.
Maybe the reason the promise keepers really declined was because there were no women!
No women to organize, to clean up, to make good decisions, help men be more in touch with their female characteristics without going over board one way or the other!
It is no surprise to me that in UUism today when there are more women, in power, in control, in the pulpit; that there are also more UU-Christians. It is no surprise. We women make Jesus over into what we want our husbands, our sons, our colleagues to be.
Here’s a quote about Jesus from a (now deceased) well known female, African-American woman UU minister:
“I am profoundly move by the message of Jesus as I understand it; liberation and freedom from oppression, love and compassion, service to others, and radical inclusiveness. His life and ministry continue to inspire me. Here was a man who challenged the laws, customs, and social expectation of his time. He affirmed the inherent worth and dignity of every person, even of the most marginalized in his day: women, prostitutes, the sick, and those who were scorned because they were not part of the dominant religious community. And he affirmed peace—not passive peace but a peace in which we work proactively to bring about justice.”
[Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley, “To Keep One’s Soul”, from Christian Voices in Unitarian Universalism.]
That’s her idea of this man Jesus.
It is no surprise. Age after age, we make him over into who we need him to be. So that we can keep him in the American pantheon, as our hero…
Posted by Rev. Ann Marie Alderman
Labels: 2011, A sermon delivered to the UU Congregation of Greenville, November 13, Who is Jesus? series
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Have you been following the “occupy” movement? After a few weeks without any media attention, it’s hard not to hear about it now.
I just can’t seem to get enough of it. It is more interesting to me than who’s going to accuse Herman Cain of what next. (That’s interesting, too, but not in a good way!)
I see a lot of good in the Occupy movement.
You know I grew up during the push for civil rights and the peace movement. So, I just can’t help it; fascination with revolution is in my bones. Even as an adult, I called in sick to watch the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests unfold. It’s hard to believe that was 22 years ago.
It seems to me that what is going on now is very much in sync with the Unitarian Universalist principles, especially the desire for “justice, equity and compassion” and “the use of the democratic process” parts!
I remember, just four years ago, when so many people were so hoping a new day was dawning. Many wanted to believe that because we were voting for a different kind of President, he would lead us to the “promised land”. A majority went to the polls believing, “Yes, We Can.” I was one of those voters, with really high hopes.
As so many of you are aware, too much of what so many expected hasn’t happened. The debt crisis got worse. And, if we are to believe what some are now saying, the American middle class “dream” is all but disappearing. Maybe, that’s not necessarily a bad thing!
But, it is scary. Too many families losing their savings, their jobs, their homes… Too many young people incurring huge student debt, with little prospect for gainful employment... The future does not look very good, for my people…the American middle class…
Many people are struggling, frustrated, and if not worn down by depression, they are angry! Especially in big cities, where the contrast between the super rich and everybody else is really striking… People who have recently experienced economic suffering are looking around and seeing that the wealthier are getting more so, while the poor are getting poorer…
Something is wrong with this picture!
Voting didn’t help us move towards the future we imagined…
Rather than put up with the distance between the dream of what was supposed to be and the reality of what is, some have taken it to the streets! If you can’t make a difference with your vote, or you are disenfranchised; use your voice, use whatever power you have…to press harder for change…
Stand in the way of normal until normal changes…
Social protest is always dramatic, because it is “street theatre”. It’s a fight between good and evil! It is a battle with winners and losers. At least, that’s how we think of it from a distance, and how the media often portrays it, making it even more dramatic and compelling, making some of us that love drama want to watch all the more…
Even though I am one of those who thinks good drama makes for a great story, I also think that most of the time significant social change comes about through evolution more than through revolution.
When enough people begin to act differently… little by little, incrementally… then things change. Change is often so slow it takes decades, centuries, to even realize something monumental has taken place.
There are those of us, of a certain age, who thankfully have lived long enough to see the immense changes that have come about because of the women’s movement, the push for civil rights, the greening of our collective conscience. It took generations, many generations evolving…to make huge changes…that now seem “normal”.
(Obviously we are still evolving when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace! But, that is a different sermon!)
Slow evolutionary change is not very sexy or dramatic. It doesn’t give us much of a story about “good” over coming “evil”. The drama of revolution is appealing partly because there is always an enemy over there, who is not us, that we can blame for what’s wrong.
We hear the Occupy movement suggesting that “the enemy” is the 1%. An identified enemy provides a convenient rallying point. It’s just human nature. It is just easier to think that if we can just force change on the 1%, everything will be better.
In the long run, it’s not going to be about what is forced upon the 1%. It is going to be how the 99% evolve over time!
That’s because the real enemy is our own ignorance, our own not paying attention, our own going along blindly with the “way things are”. The problem is our own short sightedness…even selfishness…
We, regular folk, enlightened about the collective power we hold, will eventually over time change the way we spend and invest what money/what resources we have in ways that make for the differences we want to see….
Don’t like what Bank of Big Money is doing? Move your money to a local credit union.
Too much gap between the super rich and everybody else? Stop working for them, stop putting money in their banks, stop buying their products. One person, one small group can make a difference, when enough other people also change their behavior…and their values…over time…
Consumers demanded that corporations produce greener products. They have. The same evolution can and will happen eventually in regards to a more equitable and compassionate sharing of the world’s resources. It is a matter of the evolution of belief, of what we the 99% value.
What does the occupy movement want? More democracy, more equality, more treating each other as if we are all worthy…a more equitable, just and compassionate world.
Isn’t that what we say we want? What we already hold as part of our Principles?
Did you read the article in last Sunday’s local paper about the three new books that use statistics to prove that our world is more peaceful now that it has ever been?
It is hard to believe. Hard to believe, but statistically true.
Hard to believe, especially if you only focus your attention on the violence that happened yesterday in our world, or the violence that is happening today in your world…then it is impossible to see that there is less, much less overall armed, bloody conflict that ever before in human history
These books use statistics to prove that this is so, that this is true. Education is like that. It surprises us with the facts; takes our subjective reality and alters it just enough to make a difference in what we value, what we believe...
One of these three books is by Steven Pinker, a Harvard psychologist. He writes that “the decline of violence may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species.” In “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” he says the main reason for the decline of violence is the higher IQ’s that have come with each succeeding generation.
It is pretty simple. Smarter people try harder to find peaceful ways to negotiate conflict…
I see intelligence in the Occupy movement. Here are people deciding what to do in the “leaderless” consensual, participatory democracy style that is the hallmark of non-violent, share the power, “youthful” kinds of social protests…
Here are intelligent people doing their best to not use violence…trying to censure those within the protest who do… They are operating from a different set of values than the generations that came before them…a more intelligent sense how to deal with conflict…
Will there be more “justice, equity and compassion” because of the Occupy Movement?
I don’t know, but if ignorance is the real “enemy”, that which slows the movement towards a more peaceful way of solving our many problems…not capitalism, not greed, not “evil” people, but IGNORANCE, then teaching ought to be where we put our best efforts…
Intelligent people have already figured out how to avert ecological disaster and end economic disparity. It is their students, our students who will build the “promised land” …
That doesn’t mean there won’t be any blood or teargas. What it does mean is that there won’t be nearly as many dying to make change come as was the case in past centuries.
The good news that violence has declined over the long haul is reassuring, at least to me. It brings me hope, even “proof” that the arc of the universe maybe does bend toward justice, or at least peace…as long as we keep getting smarter…
We need education and we need courage.
The youth of today are educated, connected, used- to expressing themselves… And thankfully youth don’t know yet how risky it is to dream that the world be different than it is.
Young people and frustrated people, people with time and energy, with dreams of making things different from how they are, and angry people and people who have been there in the streets, in the theatre of change their whole lives are all part of the Occupy movement.
Then there is me and maybe you, at home watching the drama unfold from afar. Even though, I believe that we will get there someday, I am afraid of the violence. Even though I know that statistically, less will die. I am not ready to risk that, yet. I don't want to die or go to jail.
That’s been my excuse for years…
Maybe because I am older now and I know now how short live is…or because I am tired of it taking so long. Whatever the reason, something has changed.
I’m connected. I am powerful. I am part of the 99%.
Maybe, I am depressed enough to believe that no matter what progress we’ve made through the ages, is it too little and too late, so what’s the risk? …what’s left to lose? Or maybe I anticipating a tipping point, that if just a few more of us push, we’ll all be moved to a new place, the one we have hoped for, for so long.
I don’t know why...
But I know I will be there this coming Friday on the corner of Charles and Greenville Blvd’s, at 11 am. I hope you will join me.
There will be Occupy demonstrations all over the world on 11/11/11 at 11 am.
I don’t want to watch on TV or hear about it on social media.
When I was younger and in training for the ministry, it was a common teaching technique to ask ministerial students to present an experience or a situation, and then to ask them to say or to explore; “where is God in this picture?” I am not sure where God is, or who God is, anymore.
But, it is clear, clear as it can be, where the energy of “justice, equity and compassion” is…
and I plan to be there, will you?
Posted by Rev. Ann Marie Alderman