Intriguing, insightful answers to your thorny theological queries
Theological Gender Bender
DEAR DR. TOM: How do I find God again? When I
was young, I believed in God, I talked to Him, and I felt
like He was really listening. Now I’ve been told not to
think of God as the Father, because that’s sexist, since
God is neither male nor female. I get the intellectual and
political argument. But I miss talking to my Father in
heaven. Is that so bad?
—L. T., Montreal, Canada
DEAR L.T.: Let me don my professor of theology
hat. Some religions—notably Judaism, traditional
Christianity, and Islam—are starkly monotheistic and
masculine. But our Hindu friends have a choice among
gods and goddesses like Shiva, Parvati, Krishna, Vishnu,
Lakshmi, Ganesh, Kali, and others. Pray to one; pray
to them all. Nobody “up there” gets jealous. And if that
list isn’t extensive enough—hold your hat—there are
millions of other Hindu deities from which to choose.
Many Hindu scholars say all these various gods and
goddesses are really just aspects of Brahman, the One
Presence/One Power that created and sustains the
universe. (Sound familiar?)
So now I’ll put on my Unity minister’s hat and say:
You want to pray to God the Father? It was good enough
for Jesus, so why shouldn’t it be good enough for you?
If somebody else wants to pray to God the Mother, that
works, too, since Spirit encompasses all the positive
values of masculinity and femininity—and more! You
are not necessarily excluding when you specify. Ask our
Hindu friends how it’s done.
DEAR DR. TOM: I’m going through a difficult time. I
can’t see what lies ahead and it scares me. Any thoughts?
—C.B., Spokane, Washington
DEAR C.B.: Your story is common enough that I’m
certain many heads out there are nodding as they read
your words. The name of the game right now is to turn
away from despair and instead to trust God. Let me
tell you another story. When I was serving as an Army
chaplain in Alaska back in the late ’70s, I wanted to visit
an infantry battalion in the field but their location was
so remote I had to be flown to the site by helicopter.
I remember the cold air whooshing off the rotors as I
hopped to the snowy ground. The drop-off point was at
the edge of a vast white valley with clumps of trees.
The aircraft commander opened his window and
shouted, “Bravo Company is down among those
trees!” He closed the window, and I quickly backed
away, dragging my pack. The chopper created a small
blizzard as it lifted to a hover, nosed over, and left me
alone, somewhere 120 miles south of the Arctic Circle.
Snow was falling lightly. It was so quiet I could hear the
snowflakes tinkling on my parka.
I looked toward the trees. No evidence of any human
activity. Although it was afternoon, the sun was about to
set and temperatures would drop below zero that night.
So what to do? I picked up my pack and headed toward
the nearest clump of trees while repeating, “The Lord is
my shepherd …”
Fortunately, I found Bravo Company quickly, and we
had a great night in warm, well-insulated tents, playing
cards and talking about the soldiers’ families.
Nobody knows what awaits us. The Unity way is to
step out in faith and believe that God, however you
understand that concept, will be with your every step.
DEAR DR. TOM: What’s your favorite hymn and why?
—P.L., Norfolk, Virginia
DEAR P.L.: “The Lord of the Dance,” sung to the
much older Shaker tune “Simple Gifts.” The theology is
mythological, like many hymns old and modern, but the
energy and beautiful music carry me to a spiritual high
whenever I hear it.
How about you? I invite readers to submit their
nominees for favorite hymn, with the reason each is
special to you.
NOBODY KNOWS WHAT
AWAITS US. THE UNITY WAY
IS TO STEP OUT IN FAITH …
REV. THOMAS SHEPHERD, D.MIN.,
FORMER PROFESSOR OF THEOLOGY AND
CHURCH HISTORY AT UNITY INSTITUTE®
AND SEMINARY, IS THE AUTHOR OF MANY
UNITY BOOKS. SEND QUESTIONS TO