Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Oh God

I knew when I began sponsoring children through Compassion International that there would be eye-rolling moments being involved with a group of very primarily strongly Christian sponsors. I spoke with my friend Amy about this. She also sponsors through Compassion and had the same fears, but she says that she just doesn't let it get to her and she just doesn't mention religions in her letters.

A year or so ago, Compassion started a social networking site, Our Compassion, for sponsors who wanted to connect with other sponsors. I've learned so much there about other cultures and about how "my" children live. I've looked at photos and videos from sponsors who have made trips to visit their sponsored children, especially those trips that were to countries and/or areas where I have a sponsored child.

I've compared notes on good things to send to your children, on letter writing ideas, on how when and how to send things for the holidays, on where you can get good deals on things to send.

I was able to learn about conditions in Haiti within a day after the earthquake (and be relieved that my little Briana was not in the earthquake-affected zone).

I even joined a group on Bible studies just to see what sorts of quotes other sponsors are sending to their children, since, as a Catholic, I had never studied the Bible and I sorta figured at least some of my sponsored children were expecting me to share Bible verses.

Recently I started checking the section of Our Compassion called "journals." When I first saw this section long ago, I assumed it was like what I would consider a journal -- people writing their thoughts on whatever subjects interest them. However, I've discovered that the "journal" section functions more like a discussion forum. Someone posts a brief message and other people will respond to it. Mostly it's about people being happy about getting letters from their kids, or asking for prayers for special intentions, or showing off great bargains from the Dollar Store or Michael's Craft store that they have sent to their sponsored children.

I stuck my toe in the water and began to participate in the discussions. These are loving people, mostly women, but an occasional man as well, and I was enjoying getting to know some of them.

The other day I came across what I thought was a quote people would enjoy and I posted it verbatim. Maybe there was an evil glint in my eye when I did it, as I did wonder how people would take it. The quote is by Anne Lamott and this is what she wrote:

"When God is going to do something wonderful, He or She always starts with a hardship; when God is going to do something amazing, He or She starts with an impossibility. "

The initial responses were positive, starting with "I love this quote. It couldn't come to me at a better time in my life. Thanks!"

This was the response I had hoped for, but the next comment asked who "He or She" referred to and when I said that it referred to God, there were several comments about how they liked the quote but were turned off by the "political correctness" of using "He or She."

I've never heard of her, but if she's that politically correct in her books, too, I would find it difficult to read them, even if the sentiment is good.

Oh, c'mon! This woman had written wonderful books about her own development of faith and people would be turned off by using a non-gender specific term to refer to the Almighty?

It got me thinking about what are our expectations of God. Is God male? Does He have male genitalia? Does he shave? Does he like to watch football? Is there any reason why God has to have a gender at all? And if you are wedded to the idea of a male deity, what color is His skin? Is it all pink and Caucasian-y? Is it dark? Does he have oval blue eyes or slanted brown ones? Why is it offensive to admit that you don't know for certain that there is a gender involved and be politcally correct? "He or She" sounds a lot more personal than "It."

I joked yesterday about Oprah Winfrey being the Second Coming and people just not recognizing her. But seriously, what do you suppose people would say if God did come to earth as a middle-aged African-American woman? Would anybody believe her? How about if God came back to earth as a Mexican trying to cross the border into the United States, or a Chinese business woman. Or are we so locked into our mental image of an old white man with a long beard that we can't see any other possibility?

I did not, of course, say that in the discussion, but wisely backed out, realizing that I was NOT preaching to the choir there! It did make me realize that discussing what is most on my mind about my sponsored children would be a Very. Bad. Idea. I sponsor an 18 year old girl in Uganda, a country where you can be murdered for being gay, and where you can be imprisoned for not letting the police know of someone that you suspect of being gay. The atrocities committed against the gay community are terrible, yet there is no way to mention this sort of thing to my sponsored child and I suspect I would be harshly chastised if I were to bring it up.

Of course when it takes 4 months for an exchange of letters (2 months each way), it's not likely that such a discussion could be productive anyway, but just based on the reaction to "He or She" I know better than to even hint at such a thing.


jon said...

Yeah, What does God look like?
All you people who have talked to God and God has talked to you.....was it a male voice? Did he have a spanish accent?
In Movies like the "Miracle of Fatima", why does God send a female to do the talking? Maybe that was God?

I believe in God but I have a few questions.

Harriet said...

All intelligent people have questions, not always the same ones. Many years ago, I heard a rabbi lecture that God has both a male side and a female side. It depends on what you need at that time, because God is all things to all people.

You may have noticed that I might say S/He when I'm generalizing. If you are familiar with the term brit milah (usually called a bris in this country), you can understand why I am sure God is a woman with a sense of humor.