Wey Aye, Mam!

by Elaine Lindridge, mam and minister

Why use the sexist term ‘mam’ to describe what you think you’re doing?

This was asked of me recently when I was explaining some of my hopes for our District Pioneer Hub. Never shy of conflict I quickly responded with,

‘Why not? We’ve been using masculine terms for years,
maybe it’s time to redress the balance.’

Plus I’m not a man – although I was once called ‘Father’ by someone who was obviously confused to see a woman in a dog collar and didn’t have a clue how to address me!

When I had children there was no debate about what I would be called, I was always ‘mam’. As a proud Geordie it’s a term I don’t want to lose, but more than that, it always reminds me of the many mams who’ve gone before me. Not all of them had physically birthed new lives, but they most certainly had taught me what it means to be mam and to fill that much needed role of nurturing others. The term often carries with it not just an understanding of the role but an acceptance of parts of my region’s culture that has often favoured matriarchal traditions.

Generally speaking today, the role of mam differs little to that of most mothers. So what is it about mothering that can influence good practice, and in particular, what might a theology and practice based on mothering look like with regards to the oversight of pioneers? Perhaps a spiritual mam could employ some of the same skills that a biological mam uses in rearing children.

So what does mam do? The list is huge, but for the purposes of thinking about a spiritual mam looking after pioneers, the following are worth considering;

– she builds a home

– she offers safe space to grow

– she cleans up

– she teaches

– she cares

– she feeds

– she educates

– she plays

– she nurtures

– she ensures rest is taken

– she builds confidence

These speak to me of meeting some of the basic needs of a child and they are not too distant from the needs of pioneers. Pioneers too need somewhere to call home – a place where they feel safe enough to ‘be’ without having to constantly justify their existence. In that safe place they have the opportunity to question, learn and express doubt – all essential requisites for spiritual growth and development. Any mam will tell you that they need to make sure bedtime is adhered to in order for the child to have the much needed sleep they need to function without getting too grumpy and unreasonable! In a similar way, many in ministry need constant reminders to take time off, to rest and recuperate on a weekly basis. Food is obviously essential, and eating together is a deep way of expressing both our connectivity with God and one another. When a child makes mistakes, care is needed to ensure they know what went wrong and they learn from it. How often is that true for pioneers? As church, we’ve not been great at allowing room for failure and yet surely it is the place where we learn most. There is something very maternal about crafting an environment that allows (no, encourages!) risk taking and then gives the safe arms in which to learn from mistakes and failure. This safe place is also needed when hurt is experienced and the pioneer needs help. Like a child who falls and scuffs their knees, great love can be shown in helping them to stand again, get dusted down, dry the tears and say, ‘off you go again, you’ll be fine.’ Doing so instils confidence and nurtures growth. Mams sometimes need to give their children a little push to try something new – whether that be tasting a funny green vegetable or moving from the toddler park to the big kids park. That same encouragement is needed by pioneers – the gentle yet firm push to keep trying and to develop new skills as God leads them into new places. Followed by positive reinforcement after each new, brave and wobbly step is taken.

All of this happens best in community. Some pioneers may feel unsure of themselves – many are not even keen to use the term pioneer to describe who they are and what they do. Meeting with others who have comparable experiences and are committed to one another can be one of the most wonderful places to be. Security comes from knowing you are accepted to such a degree that it is indeed safe, and expected, that you will grow, learn, fail, laugh and cry.

I cannot help but think of Susannah Wesley who is often referred to as the ‘Mother of Methodism’ (I don’t think John & Charles called her mam but who knows?). Susannah understood how important it was to provide a stable home for her children. Not only that, but she made sure each received a good education in the home. She devoted specific time to each of her children at a designated point each week – that essential one-to-one time was something Susannah scheduled long before the modern parenting manuals thought to suggest it.

In writing all of this I have discovered something new about being mam. To put it bluntly, God is my mam. It is God who does all of these things for me;

– God builds a home

– God offers me a safe space to grow

– God cleans me up

– God teaches me

– God cares

– God feeds me

– God educates

– God plays (oh yes!)

– God nurtures

– God reminds me to rest

– God builds confidence

Thanks mam 😊

                                                         

14 thoughts on “Wey Aye, Mam!”

  1. Brilliant! God as always been a “mother” to me. How about this, my version of the Lady’s Prayer.

    Our Mother

    Our Mother, ever here amongst us
    Hallowed be all your creation
    May we always respect ourselves, our neighbours and our world.
    Give us this day our daily bread
    Forgive us when we abuse or neglect the web of life
    As we forgive others
    Lead us to wholeness, communion with our neighbours and unity in our world
    Deliver us from anxiety, fear, ignorance and arrogance.
    For your presence is the love that surrounds us
    For all the days of our lives.

    Amen

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  2. I am reminded of the depiction of God the Father as an African American woman in “The Shack”, a novel by Canadian author William P. Young, that was published in 2007.

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  3. For too long we have defined ‘good leadership’ in terms of colonialism and the inherent patriarchy (power-taking, control, ‘success’, mastery, ‘decisiveness’). Whilst I hope that people of any gender identity can display the characteristics you identify, I think we sell God short when we only think of God in ways 9f patriarchal relating and leading.
    I sense it’s finally starting to change, and as you identify, there is so much more to God than a reflection of patriarchy – God is also ‘mam’ and there is so much in the old testament God and in Jesus, which is echoed in what we identify as traditionally feminine characteristics. I dream that one day every person will be free to nurture and care and lead in the ways you identify, across every gender identity, and that we will be more able to recognise the wonderful breadth of God’s being and beauty.

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  4. I wrote my faith statement about the female nature of God in my version of the Lord’s (Lady’s) prayer, but what about the theological implications? I take it that there is something of fundamental importance going on here. The theological implication of patriarchy is that God prioritises men over women. Mary Daly, for example, wrote in 1973: “If God is male, then the male is God”. This describes something that is manifestly unethical in that the love of God is unconditional and therefore inclusive and non-judgmental, so how can it in any way exclude women. Jesus showed that love, rationally this makes sense, and I know in my heart this is so. So, why are we still lumbered with “Our Father” and the maleness of God we are given in the Trinity and the Creed, not to mention most of the words of the hymns? I have noticed that many preachers, especially staff, are careful to be inclusive and non-judgmental, but isn’t there something inauthentic about having to disregard the wording of the Trinity, the Creeds and the hymns? The sooner someone with more expertise, and power, than I have gets round to rewriting them the better!

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    1. “I place my trust in, and commit myself to the creative force and the source of all life in the universe, whom I experience as a loving parent.” You could open the creed in this more inclusive way, if it felt right to you. The sentence also recognizes that faith is so much more than accepting an idea; it involves a response, a commitment, a giving of oneself.

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  5. ‘We’ve been using masculine terms for years.’
    Perhaps that’s because Jesus called God ‘Father’?
    ‘Our Father, who art in Heaven …..’
    If you need a Lady’s prayer, how about ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee ….’?

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  6. Excellent Pavel! That’s a version of the Trinity that I can believe in! God as Love, Jesus, the human manifestation of that love. and the Holy Spirit as the unconditional love manifest in the world. I toyed with the idea of God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer which sort of works. What I cannot get my head round is the pantheon of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as if there are three God’s in a sort of hierarchy – and even worse adding the Virgin Mary to make that four! I am not persuaded by the idea that God is somehow three persons in one or one person in three. Neither is this a lack of faith on my part. The loving life force that I sense is a unity, one God, that is neither male nor female and therefore inclusive in every way.

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    1. Here is a question for you, Robert.
      In an earlier comment on this post, you said God has always been ‘Mother’ to you. And now you say that the loving life force that you sense is a unity, neither male nor female. That makes perfect sense to me. You perceive the Spirit of God as genderless, but you experience God’s love as a mother’s love.
      So why take objection to those who might also perceive God as a loving Spirit, neither masculine nor feminine, but experience God’s love as a father’s love?
      Why take objection to those who, though experiencing God as a father’s love, also revere the mother’s love portrayed by Mary? Christian teaching portrays God’s love in various ways; fatherly, motherly, brotherly (the disciples) sisterly (Martha and Mary) friendly (Lazarus).
      Can you not accept that every kind of familial relationship is included in God’s love?
      You often mention the word ‘inclusive’ but you can never be inclusive while you object to those who experience God in a different way to you. In a recent homily at my church, the priest read a beautiful poem about how God can be father, mother, sister, brother or friend to us, depending on how we experience him/her/it. Richard Rohr even speaks of how he experienced God’s loving gaze through his beloved black labrador. I don’t think many Christians would take exception to this, but you always seem to be looking for a battle with your own tribe!

      PS …. there is a difference between unity and uniformity. Unity does not mean we can’t belong to a tribe, it means we can learn to live in peace with people of other tribes, and with those in our own tribe who might disagree with us.

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  7. Perhaps I have not expressed myself very well. In my inner life God is Love and I try to obey the Second Commandment and love all I meet. This demand that I aspire to responsive love of my fellow human beings is to behave ethically. I accept that others may need to think of God in personal terms as male or female. In my experience to focus on God as a person, particularly a male person, can lead to an hierarchical, power based, social structure that is unethical, exclusive and judgmental. This leaves things wide open for systematic abuse – harmful Christianity.

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    1. Abusive, exclusive, judgemental and unethical behaviour is not a male prerogative, Robert.
      Mothers have also been known to abuse, neglect and abandon those to whom they had a duty of care.
      We have to allow everyone to experience God in a way which feels right for them, and the patriarchal image of God, which you so strongly object to, has brought comfort, hope, joy and peace to billions of Christians the world over for more than two thousand years, and still does. You can’t wipe all that out, just because it doesn’t work for you! Everyone is free to accept it or walk away. Nobody is forced to go to church.

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