Looking beyond culturally-defined gender norms to a humanity like Christ’s

Gender. It keeps coming up and I don’t have a place to process so forgive me as I blog about it.

As a kid I had in my gut certain beliefs that I didn’t doubt, like the fact that women were as valuable to God and the rest of humanity as men were. I’ve followed through on those instincts with book-learning, which I believe I take to as well as the next man. *grin*

Speaking of non-inclusive language, as a young female reader I was never really bothered by masculine pronouns throughout English literature, because I understood that “what they really meant” was humankind.  Women relate across gender lines from our earliest storybooks, the most popular of which typically featuring boys. Gender with girls is always much more “fluid” because we are taught we can do whatever boys do. Boys  face stricter definitions, perhaps because they’re not told otherwise.

In my most recent class at Wycliffe, a professor went out of his way to use inclusive pronouns where there initially were none in the text. I found it made me think about my gender, about how the professors “inclusivity” was actually a gloss on the text suggesting I was initially not the target audience all the while, as I mentioned above, if the male pronouns had just been read and not amended I would have made the translation in my head intuitively.

In the course before that, a student described a group of diverse people to have “diverse genders” and when I objected to generalities and argued for more powerful prose (it was a homiletics course) by the naming of “women and men” I was informed my binary gender terms were insufficient. I agree they are insufficient but disagree that it should mean they are not included. More on this later.

There were complaints after Mother’s day at church that we were celebrating it at all. I didn’t hear why but imagine the questions were around why we celebrate motherhood.  Why give a flower to every woman as though we are all mothers, reducing our gender to our usefulness in procreating society? Why propagate a Hallmark holiday?

And then there’s Bruce Jenner, a man who was quintessentially American male – an Olympic athlete – who like many other trans people before him felt to be true to his inner person he needed surgery.

***

One of the first heresies in the early church was the belief that Jesus did not raise physically from the dead, but rather it was a spiritual resurrection. But it is wrong to ever suggest that the body is less valuable than the soul. Our God is the incarnate Christ – God begotten (physically born) – as the now-incredibly-awkward-Christmas-carol-lyric says: he did not abhor the virgin’s womb. He was flesh and blood. Our God revealed himself to us as a human male, and introduced us to a new name for God: Father. Yet God related across gender lines, entrusting women for some of his biggest moments (birth)(resurrection), talked to prostitutes, and worked with women who supported him financially during his ministry. Not to mention all the women throughout the Old Testament who end up in the genealogy of Christ.

We get our ultimate definition of what it means to be human from Jesus Christ. Any worldview without Christ is ultimately self-referential, looking inward, creating a culture that has competing and ever-shifting values; in other words, without Christ we are judging good and evil for ourselves and sometimes we get it wrong (see: the Garden of Eden).

Gender norms in North America keep getting pinker and bluer. As we strive to define ourselves and create narratives of meaning in an increasingly post-Christendom culture, our definitions of gender have become more rigid and – as the professor noted in my homiletics course – too narrow. It has meant we’ve needed to include terms “she” and “woman” or the remove gendered language altogether, using more biologically accurate, “Humankind.” But what if we had a perspective of our humanity that went beyond our culturally contingent gender norms where womanliness means looking good on Vanity Fair, and manliness is sports. What if our humanity could be freely male, female, and yet something more? Physical and spiritual, now and not yet.

The kingdom of Heaven – pretty much Jesus’ main teaching point – was “near,” NOW but NOT YET. What that means is that of course our churches aren’t perfect, of course our bodies still die, of course there is still the problem of evil and pain, but we have glimpses of the VERY GOOD because Jesus has come.  The promise and the hope of that better world and life everlasting IS in Jesus Christ, who held together the greatest tension, who was fully man and fully God. He rose from the dead, the firstborn  of the new creation, the first guy to beat death, to talk to women, to usher in a new upside down kingdom where the pinnacle of our lives is not inward-focused self-service but self-giving love.

So what do we do, then, as these imperfect yet spiritually reborn followers awaiting new bodies while in this fallen world? The Jesus who saves you while you were still a sinner asks you to…

a) be the best man or woman or child you can be! Do good, do yoga, eat kale! Work on your house! Work-out! Do you! Buy organic. Have fun! (that’s my definition of a 2015 urban Canadian – feel free to define your own circle of friends/peers).

b) Ascribe to culturally constructed definitions of manhood and womanhood, as seen in (insert era/home country/culture).

c) follow Him.

***

So we first and foremost follow Jesus.

We celebrate (but do not idolize) motherhood and fatherhood because God made them. Same goes with kids.

We will call God Father because Jesus taught us to, understanding it means more than any earthly Father – yet upholding what the created order of earthly fathers can teach us.

We must be compassionate on those that feel their bodies are insufficiently defining them, and get surgeries, be it face lifts or gender reassignment.

We uphold the whole person as created and called by God as very good. Categories and labels will always be insufficient. God has the final word on us – not the English language.

And remember that the ultimate human being to look to for the definition of personhood, who spoke the world into existence, who created all things, is Jesus.

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