Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Inclusive Worship

I've just returned from 8:00 Mass at Holy Rosary Catholic Church in my neighborhood, yet another of the distinct blessings of living in Columbus Park.

I arrived shortly before the service began and took one of the few remaining seats. I'm still learning a few of the responses to the various petitions in the Mass. I'm Lutheran, so the whole thing is very familiar. There are a few responses, however, that are particular to a Catholic service. So I'm listening to the couple on one side of me, and the lady on the other side, trying to pick them up, and eventually I realize that I'm not going to get anywhere doing that. Because the couple is responding in Spanish. And the lady is responding in Vietnamese. I speak a little Spanish and no Vietnamese, and tend to use English for worship.

It was great!

I'll pick up the remaining couple of phrases eventually. But I will never be able to trade the experience of sitting in worship with people praying in (at least) three languages. Isn't that what the house of God is supposed to sound like?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Inclusive Language

My seminary is in Berkeley, California. I love Berkeley. It is a world unto itself, a place where one can be just about anything and it is allowed. Maybe not Republican. But then again, maybe so. In Berkeley, we were all about inclusivity. At the seminary, and in fact throughout the Graduate Theological Union (the consortium of nine seminaries of various traditions), there was an Inclusive Language Policy. The Policy stated that students should make every effort to use gender-neutral language for God and for humanity. In fact, they could be penalized for failure to attend to language inclusivity.

Inclusive language is a good thing. It's a bit difficult to understand yourself as created in the image of God if that image is male and you are female.

Inclusive language can open us to new possiblities. But it can also be a barrier. I've spent some time lately rethinking the word "queer." (With a little help.) I like the word. I've used it. I used it a lot when I lived in Berkeley. I recently came across a grade sheet about a paper I wrote subtitled "Why Queer Christians Stay in Mainline Churches."

I used the word because it kept me from subtitling my paper "Why Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning People Stay in Mainline Churches." "Queer" is a nice shortcut. It includes a lot of people. Or it is meant to, anyway.

The thing is, the word "queer" is harsh and abrasive to a lot of people as well. So it can exclude a lot of people who would never identify as "queer," even though they locate themselves in the alphabet soup of LGBTQ.

Our Synod--the Lutheran church body which oversees congregations in Missouri and Kansas--isn't all that worried about inclusive language when it comes to LGBTQ, or God, for that matter. But the Synod is attentive to being inclusive of all the people who are in a room at a particular time. This is a good, welcoming practice.

One of the linguistic impulses the Synod follows is the use of the phrase "rostered persons" to denote clergy and persons in other called ministries. We have Associates in Ministry, for instance, who are not clergy, but are in called positions, serving the church in a variety of capacities.

So we're at worship yesterday--a Lutheran service with a very evangelical sensibility (go ahead, try to make sense of that). And the Creed was a responsive reading (don't even try to make sense of that), with the responses broken into three categories: men, women, and rostered.

I laughed, at first, because the idea that those are three distinct categories is sort of amusing. But the categories are shorthand, of course. "Men" and "women" are actually the categories for male and female laypersons, and "rostered" is the category for persons in called ministries--clergy, AIMs, other professionals like pastoral counselors.

Which means that the three categories were inclusive of everyone in the room, I think. Except me. I am not a layperson. I'm clergy, but I'm not "rostered" clergy. So I didn't really know when to speak, which kind of sucks when you're being asked to profess your faith, and I rather like doing that.

This is not a huge deal, but whenever it happens--which is more often than I'd like--it is a good reminder that our efforts to be inclusive may, in fact, exclude folks. If you've ever made the mistake of trying to name all of the affinity groups in a room and left someone out, you already know this. People don't like to be left out. All people. I think. Or maybe just some.