Anne Dunlap is a thoughtful, deep-thinking, social justice type pastor. I’ve enjoyed connecting with Anne at La Communidad, a church plant of the United Church of Christ. But, to use social signifiers and situate Anne more concretely, she says herself the following:
I am a 39-year old woman, although sometimes I feel like I’m 27. Or 6. What does 39 feel like? Heck if I know. I still like to splash in mud puddles, play catch, and eat popsicles.
I am a graduate from Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO and ordained minister in the United Church of Christ (UCC), which welcomed me with open arms after thirty years in the Presbyterian Church (USA). As a progressive, feminist, peace-and-justice-loving, I’ll-speak-my-mind-if-it-pleases-me, lesbian woman, it’s good to have a place I can call home with my whole self. I pastor a base community made up of Latino immigrants and gringos that is trying to change the world.
I Give My Heart to God
“God the source of goodness cannot be conceptualized in images and terms that serve to maintain either sexism or racism or any dominance of an elite class of beings at the expense of the other.”1
The voices of the martyrs, the voices of the suffering, the voice of the earth herself, cry out, “There must be another way. There must be another way than violence and domination and terror and starvation and killing, profits and dogma before people and earth and animals. There must be another way.” My search for another way, and a theology that reflects that way, begins with this claim, echoed in the quote above: The God who loves us refuses domination.
I give my heart to this God, to the Divine who is at the center of the creation of the universe, who set natural processes into motion and yet took the time to imagine the whirling geometry of the packed seeds of the sunflower, the never-the-same spots on the giraffe, the mystery of the color blue, and the intoxicating smell of the back of my beloved’s neck. I believe that Alice Walker’s claim that “the universe responds and takes care of us, no matter which god we believe in,”2 is reflected in the tender, intimate detail of the second creation story in Gen 2, when God molds the earthling out of the very earth6 and has to kneel down so close as to breathe the Divine Breath into the earthling’s nostrils, and that this same God yearns for our well-being and the well-being of all creation. The “rules and regulations” (as arcane and odd as some of them may be) of the Torah and the rantings of the prophets portray a God who is deeply concerned about our life together as a healthy community, a God who desires no one to be poor or outcast, who desires everyone to have a voice and a vision for peace and love and wholeness. Regardless whether we believe Scripture is divinely written or mere historical artifact or something in between, our sacred text records the longings and struggles of a people who somehow know that there is a different way than violence and subjugation: there is God’s way, a claim cried and sung out by generations of oppressed peoples ever since, no matter how they name the Divine (or don’t).
Our tradition’s sacred text records the human perception of Divine interest and involvement in creation, an interest and involvement which rarely spill over into domination.7 One might describe the story of the flood in Gen 6-8 to be God’s regret for using domination over creation and promising never to do so again; incredibly, several stories find humans talking God out of dominating behavior (Gen 18, Num 14). The narrative arc of the Torah finds God less and less utilizing power-over and opting instead to work together with humans,8 such as in the liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt, where we find God hearing the cry of the oppressed and deciding to do something about it – and yet, rather than simply speaking the slaves into freedom (a la Gen 1), the Divine works through humans (Shiphrah, Puah, Moses, Aaron, Miriam) for freedom. God works with humans through the voices of the prophets, the life and ministry of Jesus, and the communities that Paul urges to embody the subversive ethic of love in the midst of empire. “God’s own being, then, is seen as one characterized by relationships of self-giving, reciprocal compassion, respect, and sharing.”9
If God is the creator of all, so powerful as to concoct an unimaginably vast and mysterious universe, why cannot God simply intervene to stop the empire, stop the earthquake, stop the man putting his fist upside the woman’s head yet again? This is the eternal problem of theodicy: if God loves us so much, why do we suffer? I am not sure there can ever be a satisfactory answer,10 but for me the answer is tied up somehow in God’s refusal of domination and our human free will. In our faith tradition, we are offered a choice, as individuals and as communities: to follow God’s way or not – God sets before us the choice between life and death (Gen 3, Deut 30:19) – but God will not force our choice. God refuses to dominate us, and I can only attribute this to God’s love for us, even though we choose death over and over and over again. God refuses domination, coercion, violence. God chooses non-violence as God’s way of being, and invites us into that way of being as well.
Serene Jones and Paul Lakeland, eds., Constructive Theology: A Contemporary Approach to Classical Themes (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 69.
2Paraphrase by Kwok Pui-Lan, Post-Colonial Imagination and Feminist Theology (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 229.
6Gen 2:7. “Earthling” as a translation of hmda comes from Phyllis Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978), Chapter 4.
7The Bible, of course, is often captive to its own domination-, imperialist-, and colonialist-oriented context, and those layers must be sifted through. I find that certain narrative arcs (for example, the conquest of Canaan is in many respects a failure) and the outbreaks of prophetic imagination to be correctives to those elements of the text.
8Or even animals, as in the story of Balaam’s ass in Num 22!
9Jones and Lakeland, 55.
10In fact, I have said on occasion that eternity is so long because we have so many questions to demand of God…God has a lot to answer for.