It was 1989, and I was sitting in a Developmental Psychology class in the fall semester of my freshman year of college. I was nineteen years old. And our middle aged, bald, male professor told us he was a feminist.
I had no container in which to hold that one. I pushed back. I didn’t like the word feminist when I was nineteen, and I really didn’t like it that a man said he was one.
“I believe women should have equal rights, equal pay, equal opportunity as men on every level, and they currently don’t,” he said. “That makes me a feminist.”
“I believe those things, too,” I blurted, “But that doesn’t make me a feminist!”
He just smiled.
* * *
I have a female friend who happens to be a pastor. She was going through some personality testing while she was studying to be a pastor, and when the (male) facilitator sat down to debrief the results with her, he was visibly uncomfortable. Your results, he awkwardly mumbled, show traits I usually see only in men. Assertive, dominant, competitive, self assured.
“But I’m clearly a woman,” she smiled. She’s quite sure of herself, in a very positive, grounded, secure, awesome kind of way.
“Yes, well, yes. Clearly,” the facilitator said, not quite able to meet her gaze.
* * *
I have a male friend – also a pastor (I need to get out more) – who is nurturing and physically affectionate. When he meets older women at church, it’s very common for him to kiss them on the cheek – and it’s completely comfortable and natural when he does it (seriously). He cooks and shops for his family. He belts out lyrics to musicals as loudly and as often as he can – in his car, in public, anywhere. When you’re with him, you feel loved in remarkable and very intimate ways. He is one of the most loving people in my life.
He makes me smile, every time I’m with him.
* * *
One of the most revolutionary verses in the bible occurs in its first chapter. “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27 NRSV).
Everything that is good about masculinity comes from God. Everything that is good about femininity comes from God. Now here’s what’s revolutionary: God is both masculine and feminine, and we – all of us – are created in that image. God is not gendered. But God is also not genderless. God is genderfull. And we are created in God’s genderfull image. Men are created in God’s genderfull image, and women are created in God’s genderfull image.
Which means that some of us men have strongly feminine characteristics, and that’s a good thing. And some of you women are going to have strongly masculine characteristics, and that’s a good thing. We all have a mixture of both masculine and feminine characteristics, and that is a very good thing.
Are you smiling?
* * *
Can you be fully you, or are you being hindered by the familiar tropes of what men and women “should” be, especially in the church? (Men, your job is to lead and be assertive! Women, your job is to take care of things behind the scenes, serving meals but certainly never serving communion). I realize those might be outdated examples for some, but I’d argue that we have a ways to go in expressing and experiencing the full range of who we are – men and women – with each other.
Which is why my friend Erin Lane and I are co-hosting a one day retreat called Genderfull, where we’ll discuss and discover the God that is both masculine and feminine, and then some (the “then some” gives a nod to the mystery that exists within God which we do not dare claim to fully understand). Genderfull is “a different kind of conversation about masculinity and femininity, and how to find fullness – yours and God’s – beyond the binaries.”
Genderfull is happening on Saturday, November 12th, at Awaken Community (a church in St. Paul, MN), from 9am – 4pm.
We really hope you can join us. For more information, including all the details and a link to register, please click here.