Many years ago, I ran into inclusive language and wanted to have it become a part of my daily habitual discourse. Now that may sound easy but as I grew to accept new ways of being my language had to constantly change. But my first public endeavor began in a nursing home.
I was interning in a church’s nursing home program. They had over twenty seminary students interning with them at nursing homes across Louisville. I had been doing it for over a year when they asked me to mentor one of the newbies. He was a lot more conservative than I was. He was much more strait laced and handle himself as a very serious and intense minister. Despite our obvious differences we got along well.
Part of the job was to hold a worship service once a week. I would choose music and a liturgical form for the service. We would sing the ole time gospel songs and I would deliver a ten to fifteen minutes sermon. I loved the music time. Even residents who were not of sound mind, could sing the words of the hymns they had sang throughout their lives. Of course, they could not understand the sermon. I had two women who would often raise their hands and say Praise Jesus or Amen. There were a few others who were from less call and reply traditions who sat quietly but did understand. Out of the twenty plus residents who came seven or eight were aware.
I had recently had a discussion with some fellow wanna-be theologians about the use of inclusive language. The women theologians insisted on the need for justice in language. They were in the habit of counting others non-inclusive language. The discussion was heated and they were convincing me of the necessity of inclusive language. Suddenly one of the older seminarians said in the most prophetic voice, “That he always used the feminine pronoun for God. He would do this because he knew that it would take years of the use of the feminine pronoun for God to balance the scales of justice against the misogynist language that was used in the church for centuries.” Upon hearing this I watched the women theologians and maybe a male theologian swoon and thought one seminarian was getting laid tonight. I was convinced I was using inclusive language from that day forward.
I had a problem. I did not know how to incorporate inclusive language in the nursing home. Finally, Mother’s Day rolled around and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to introduce inclusive language to the nursing home. I thought to myself that half of them never knew what I was saying, my two ladies amen anything I said, and the others would probably not notice. The day rolled around to preach the sermon. I had alerted my mentee of what I was doing. He did not look like he was very supportive of the idea. But he had not seen the women theologians swoon.
The day of the sermon finally arrived. I had carefully chosen the hymns and scripture readings to be as inclusive as possible. At long last it was sermon time. I started off slowly talking about mothers and how special they were. And slowly made the transition to God as mother to all of us. I quickly realized that old habits died hard. God was a nurturer also. His breast gave us the milk of love. And several other times I said he only to quickly repeat myself using the pronoun she. God he/she or whatever I felt myself wanting to say in my frustration. It was by no ways a sermon to break ground on how to use inclusive language
I knew things were bad when my silent but there congregants would give me for the first time quizzical looks. You could tell they could not follow me. Hell, I could not follow me. My Praise Jesus women kept hoping I would say something they could praise but only looked on not sure how to praise such a disaster. I could tell my mentee was quietly laughing inside.
I finally came to a stop and thanked the Mother God for his many blessings he continues to give us. I was glad to be finished. Afterwards I went around the room and shook hands and hugged the people. Usually I would receive good words such as a ‘you preach as good as Billy Graham’. Today that praise did not come. I was only given ‘we still love you looks’ and hugs.
Finally, I left with my mentee. On the way to the car we usually talked about the service and how the people seemed to be getting along. But today he appeared to be following that great maxim ‘If you do not have anything good to say than say nothing. As we shook hands goodbye, I peered deeply into my mentee’s eyes said with a wry grin on my face but in the most sincere voice I could muster,” I need to warn you only professionals should attempt this and do not try this at home”