When I was a boy

May 11, 2008

Biblical language about God often reflects the patriarchal cultures
in which that language was crafted, but every once in a while we get a
glimpse of a God who transcends male identity. In Isaiah, God comforts
us like a nursing mother comforts her child. Jesus said that he wished
to gather up the people of Jerusalem like a mother hen gathers up her
chicks. In Proverbs, God gives birth to wisdom before manifesting
creation.

Genesis 1 says:
Humankind is created “in the image of God. . .male and female.” (For
Bible references about inclusive and expansive language in reference to
God, see this).
Classic complementarian interpretations of this text suggest that God’s
image is made complete when a male person and a female person join
together in marriage. But what if both the male and female elements of
God are already present in the image of God inside each of us?

In
my church we often use poetry, music and art to explore biblical
stories and themes. Recently we read aloud portions of a song by Dar
Williams called “When I Was a Boy.” Williams reflects on growing up
with the social freedoms granted to boys, and how that freedom slipped
away as she was pressed into female gender roles.

“When I was
a boy, I scared the pants off of my mom/ Climbed what I could climb
upon/ And I don't know how I survived,/ I guess I knew the tricks that
all boys knew. . . .I was a kid that you would like, just a small boy
on her bike.”

She tells the man that she is “with” that since
he’s “the boy” now and she has to be “the girl,” that he’s got all the
power. He surprises us by answering, “Oh no, no, can't you see/ When I
was a girl, my mom and I we always talked/ And I picked flowers
everywhere that I walked./ And I could always cry, now even when I'm
alone I seldom do/ And I have lost some kindness/ But I was a girl
too./ And you were just like me, and I was just like you.”

The
freedom to be a whole person is lost when we limit one another with
gender expectations. All of us exist along a continuum of girlish and
boyish traits and tendencies and preferences. But the pressure to
conform to a narrow range of behavior can be intense and sometimes
debilitating, ranging from teasing to severe violence to put you “in
your place.”

Wholeness consists, however, in our coming
together with other human beings regardless of gender, and in loving
one another as God first loved us. The seed of wholeness is inside us
in the form of the image of God. And that seed that will blossom
mightily if we water it with love and community and companionship.
“Bone of my bone” and “flesh of my flesh” suggests to me a shared
humanity. We are all made of earth (adamah) and the breath and spirit of God (ruach).