“Gender inclusive language”. I know what you’re thinking. “HEY, WE’VE GOT A WOMAN BISHOP. WE’RE GOOD TO GO! The ELCA is all about being gender-inclusive, not only in language, but in the life of the church.” Good point. We do have a woman bishop. However, not everything in the world is gender-inclusive. There are some pretty powerful messages out there about gender that still have to be exposed, acknowledged, and talked about. So to illustrate all this, here’s a little story from the top 10 most awkward moments from, “The Life and Times of Carina Schiltz”.
This past summer I was hanging out with two of my CPE colleagues at a department store. They happened to be men, Catholic, and soon to be priests. We’re all about the same age, and we were on a very important mission: find some Packers stuff. We found what we wanted and then just wandered around. But then, it happened: the moment of awkwardness to end all moments of awkwardness.
As we came around a corner of the department store, we saw the men’s’ sport coats, and suddenly our retinas were scorched by the most neon bras and underwear I had ever seen in my life. I mean, it BURNED. These unmentionables were placed conveniently across the aisle from the suit coats. Can you imagine that image? Suit coats. And scanty, lacy, neon lingerie facing each other across the aisle. And there we were IN THE MIDDLE. ME AND TWO CELIBATE YOUNG MEN. ARGH!
Instantly I went into defense mode. What should I do? Should I distract the guys? “Hey, uh, look over here. These suit and tie combos sure are spiffy, huh?” Or should I pretend like I don’t see the undergarments? Or should I make a joke out of it? Or should I just run away screaming? Or should I just stand here and let my face get red?
Then the ontological questions started coming. What is this telling me about who I’m supposed to be as a woman, and who they’re supposed to be as men, and how they’re supposed to view me and how I’m supposed to view them? What does this tell us about our identity?
Then my theological brain kicked in: thank you, Wartburg Seminary. What is this, what’s the angle here, what is this playing to? What does this say about the human condition? Ok, I see neon bright colors…where have I seen these colors before? I’ve seen traffic cones that color orange, and that green/yellow color I’ve seen road construction workers wearing so they don’t get hit by motorized vehicles….Oh, I get it! LOOK AT ME! SEE ME! THAT’S what this is saying. SEE ME. Please tell me that I’m worth something! SEE ME! INCLUDE ME! Look, I bought these clothes, please tell me I’m worth at least that! Include me! Look how hard I’m trying to live up to society’s expectations of what it means to be a man or a woman. See me!
We’ve all said this. We’ve all looked for inclusion.
We’ve resorted to so many things to make people see us. Here, it was the promise of salvation through clothing that appeal to people who feel passed over by the world. At least they’ll be seen. And so the stereotypes of what women and men are supposed to wear and notice about each other continue…and they were right in front of our faces.
How do we see people? Do we expect them to be “clothed” as society would have them? NO. We’re taught something a different here. When people say SEE ME, INCLUDE ME, we say “yes, we DO SEE YOU. And you are clothed IN CHRIST. You don’t need to wear neon, or suits….WE SEE YOU. You’re worth it because Christ makes you worth it.” That’s the language we use when we’re being inclusive.
We know our identities aren’t found in any of this stuff, it doesn’t make us a woman or a man. We know we don’t have to live up to society’s expectations of beauty, power, etc to show that we’re “worth it”. We are worth it because Christ makes us worth it.
But the world still catches us in that image of awkwardness, standing between those racks of clothing. In our society, the message of the gospel is often drowned out by the message of consumerism, success, and accumulation of wealth/beauty/power. We speak inclusively to combat those misleading messages.
Inclusive language isn’t just about speaking. It’s about seeing. Do we dare to see beyond the stereotypes and expectations of the world of what it means to be a man or woman? And then, to we dare to speak it to the world, through our words and actions? Do we speak of others’ dignity and worth? I pray that the Holy Spirit gives all of us the gift of sight, and also the gift of courage and speech, that God’s will may be done, and the church is a place where every woman and man are SEEN, and welcomed, and included. NO NEON NECESSARY.