Site News: More Intimate, Inclusive Language in the Psalter

PCP Cover

Beloved,

Today I am announcing a change which, if I didn’t make a point of it, you probably wouldn’t notice.

It’s a development many of your clergy and parishes have already gone through without much fanfare. I’m excited about it.

I have consulted with our Subdeacons and Advisers, and starting Easter Day we will begin to use the inclusive language of the Psalter for the Christian People (Gordon Lathrop and Gail Ramshaw, Order of St. Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota, 1993), a direct, slight and reverent revision of the Psalms of our 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

The PCP differs in only one way: it sets aside unnecessary, exclusive male pronouns in how we refer to God – and the surprising result is a much greater intimacy.

Instead of reading psalms to God as “he,” we’ll address God as “you,” the same way we talk to God in spontaneous private prayer.

Adopting this practice increases our sense of closeness with God – and is therefore a tremendous improvement. God is not distant, “up there.” God is here, and welcomes our prayer!

This intimacy is so valuable that I’m sure men will benefit from the change just as much as women, who often feel alienated by constant references to a male God. (Those references make a lot of men uncomfortable too.)

Nothing else on our sites will change – same calendar, lectionary, collects and saints approved by the General Convention. We will still be as Anglican the day after we change as we were the day before.

As I compare the Prayer Book and the PCP side by side, I mostly see pure Prayer Book – which itself eliminated several unnecessary male constructions that we’ve never noticed and never missed.

This volume simply takes that 1979 effort further, with substitutions that are both ingenious and common-sense.

The original Hebrew psalms often shift from second-person “you” to third-person “he” and back again, which confuses people in English. But ever since Cranmer, the Anglican way is to translate the Scriptures into language we readily understand.

The PCP does not eliminate “LORD” for that Holy Name of God (YHWH) we traditionally do not pronounce in church, nor “Lord” as a translation of “Adonai.”

Some will argue, therefore, that it does not go far enough. They may be right, but it is an active argument among scholars, and one I do not feel a need to resolve today. Let us take a significant step forward, not a flying leap.

This is important: the PCP keeps the same forms, rhythm and language we are familiar with. I have studied it carefully. It is singable with today’s chant tones. It avoids those awkward constructions (“God says to God’s people”) that grate on your ears. It does no violence whatever to our understanding of these ancient Hebrew hymns. It is conservative in the best sense of the word. It preserves our ecumenical Anglican heritage (the Episcopal Church translation is printed in the Lutheran Book of Worship and the Anglican Church of Canada’s Book of Alternative Services) while laying aside unnecessary masculine wording in our approach to the Holy One. It doesn’t exclude men, it includes everyone.

A Closer Look

Here is an example, Ps. 2:4. The Prayer Book says:

He whose throne is in heaven is laughing; *
the Lord has them in derision.

Isn’t that lovely? The Psalter for Christian People says:

The One enthroned in heaven is laughing; *
the Lord has them in derision.

Same number of syllables, no change in meaning. Several psalms (17, 26, 51, 54, 56, 65, 73, 88, 90, 92, 101, 126, 131, 134, 139, 140) aren’t changed by even a syllable.

Here is one of the less poetic changes, Ps. 19:1. The Prayer Book says:

The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.

The PCP says:

The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows forth the work of God’s hands.

It doesn’t change the meaning, but it sacrifices “handiwork,” which I’d rather keep. So I don’t claim the PCP is perfect. It’s just very, very similar, faithful and good.

In several cases it’s more accurate; God didn’t just plant our “forefathers” in Israel, but our “ancestors.” If there hadn’t been any women around, the men wouldn’t have survived.

Our book should reflect Reality – another of God’s holy names.

In a few PCP passages, archaic female forms are neutered and clarified, as in Ps. 46:6. Speaking of Jerusalem, the Prayer Book says:

God is in the midst of her;
she shall not be overthrown; *
God shall help her at the break of day.

The PCP says:

God is in the midst of the city;
it shall not be overthrown; *
God shall help it at the break of day.

Thus, with inclusive language the PCP is careful not to exclude men. Modern English no longer feminizes cities, ships or nations.

Why Change?

“Well,” you ask, “if this new book is so similar, why switch?” Because sexism, derived from patriarchy, is a sin. Referring to God as having human gender diminishes God, which we must never do. We – men AND women  – are “made in the image of God.”

If a woman looks like God, does God look like a woman? Yes.

The point is this: We must not make God in the image of ourselves – especially only half of ourselves.

Consider the world in which the Episcopal Church finds itself today. Our current elected Presiding Bishop is a woman. Our leading legislative officer, the elected President of the House of Deputies, is a woman. Half the clergy are women, and a little more than half the laity. Our Bible translation, the New Revised Standard Version, enjoys near-universal use in this Church; the NRSV is a product of high scholarship – and it employs more inclusive language.

We can’t do evangelism if we can’t speak to audiences today.

Outside our walls, the sinful ideology of male superiority is crystal clear. In 2012 a teenage girl named Malala was shot in the head for promoting the education of girls in Pakistan. A young woman in India was gang-raped on a bus, and finally died of her injuries, prompting mass demonstrations in the streets and new legislation. In the United States, elections turned on whether male politicians control women’s bodies, or women do.

Proponents of male superiority invariably cite religion as their justification. God is blasphemed in every utterance of their mouths.

Jesus Christ was born of a woman, and so were all of us. That woman was acceptable to God, and we need to take our cues from that.

As a Church we’re doing so; but it’s a slow and painful process. Discrimination still exists here; my diocese has a woman bishop, but many parishes have never had a woman rector.

If we say our site welcomes everyone, why are we still using patriarchal language?

Ps. 118:20 offers the ultimate example of why we must change. The PCP says:

“This is the gate of the LORD; *
those who are righteous may enter.”

But the Prayer Book says:

“This is the gate of the LORD; *
he who is righteous may enter.”

That cannot be justified.

The Need for Ongoing Revision

My mentor Howard E. Galley, Jr., General Editor of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, always taught that Prayer Book revision must be an ongoing process, as scholarship continues to produce results and other Communions report their experiences with new versions of the old texts. As General Editor he oversaw the reworking of a Prayer Book that was 51 years old. We waited too long, he said; our Book doesn’t keep up with our scholarship or our faith.

I knew Howard better than anyone living today, and I firmly believe he would support this revision. I have also prayed about this for months, taking my responsibility (Ps. 69:6-7) solemnly into account:

O God, you know my foolishness, *
and my faults are not hidden from you.
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
Lord GOD of hosts; *
let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me,
O God of Israel.

As serious a matter as Prayer Book revision is, I believe the PCP’s alterations are guided by the Holy Spirit, as God’s work is always that of liberating us from sin and oppression. It is time, once and for all, for the Church of women and men to follow God through the Red Sea onto dry land.

If you have an opinion about this, please comment below, and continue to do so day by day as we proceed with implementation. The Subdeacons and I would love to hear from you.

Thanks for praying with us, and God bless you. We think this is going to be a great change. And if it isn’t, I still have all the Prayer Book psalms in my hard drive.

I am betting that once we experience more freedom, we won’t want to go back to slavery.++

Josh Thomas
Evangelist and Founder
March 4, 2013

About Josh

This site offers daily Morning and Evening Prayer in the Anglican tradition according to the Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church, based in the USA. Each service includes psalms, Bible lessons, and prayers. This site is timed for the Eastern Hemisphere. We also have a site (dailyoffice.org, or see the Blogroll) timed for the West. These two sites offer the same prayers, but a few features differ. We serve all the nations of the world. We're glad you came and we invite your comments. May God bless you richly in our Savior Jesus Christ.
This entry was posted in Anglican, Book of Common Prayer, Christianity, Episcopal Church, Lutheranism, Mission, prayer, Special Post. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Site News: More Intimate, Inclusive Language in the Psalter

  1. warnercwhite says:

    Josh-

    Instead of using “God’s” in place of “his” I have been in the habit of saying “her.” I will miss the opportunity of doing that.

    With respect to “Lord,” I am puzzled by our beginning not to call Jesus “Lord.” It’s ok with me not to call any of the rest of us “Lord.” To be against hierarchy – except in claiming church property – is ok (mostly) with me, but to do so by withdrawing the title from the one who surely is Lord strikes me as a serious error. We should instead be insisting that there is but one Lord over all of us. “One Lord, one faith,” etc.

    In Christ,

    Warner

    Sent from my iPad

    http://www.warnerwhite.org

    Like

    • Josh says:

      Thanks, Warner. I also refer to God as “she” about half the time. (Let’s face it, pronouns are helpful things.) Please keep us apprised as we experience this new psalm translation.

      Your second paragraph puzzled me, and I think you must be referring to a trend you see elsewhere in the Church. Jesus was male, and we’ll always refer to him as such here. I can’t imagine not calling him “Lord.”

      There is a cosmic hierarchy in life; God is immortal and we are not. God knows everything and most of the time I don’t know much!

      If my interpretation of your comment is correct, that you see this trend somewhere else in the Church, you remind me that I’m not very radical, this site isn’t, and it won’t be while I’m in charge. I come from the Broad Church tradition, and we don’t do political correctness. (We’re also not Brits, with all their issues with lords and ladies.)

      I’m now going to edit your address and phone number out of your comment. I take it these are included by default in outgoing messages from your iPad.

      Thanks.

      Like

  2. Teresa Wakeen Sasinowski says:

    Josh,
    Thank you for your prayerful discernment, your thorough explanations, and care for our worship.
    peace,
    Teresa Wakeen
    St. John’s Episcopal, Plymouth, MI

    Like

  3. Bill Knutson says:

    Josh,

    Thank you for this thoughtful and inspiring statement, as well as for the ongoing care and sensitivity with which you do your ministry.

    Warm regards,

    Like

  4. Change from looking at God as a male is good. Just how do we start the model prayer? Don

    Like

    • Josh says:

      Don, we keep “Our Father.” It’s apparently what Jesus said, and if it’s good enough for him it’s good enough for me.

      Very smart question, very well said.

      Like

  5. Lynn Grinnell says:

    I’m sorry to disagree with the change. I am a woman, and am not offended by the previous language describing God. My Bishop does not allow us to revise the language of the BCP. If you don’t offer a BCP version, I will have to search elsewhere. Since you make a point of nurturing excluded groups, would it not be possible to have a tab with traditional BCP language? I have loved and used your site for the last year. I would hate to leave.

    Like

    • Josh says:

      I respect that, Lynn. Google Mission St. Clare.

      The tab you request isn’t possible here. We don’t offer Rite One, either – which doesn’t make those who prefer it “excluded,” it means this is what we offer to the people who choose to come. Blessings on you.

      Like

  6. Leilani Nelson says:

    Much of my life and my call to ministry have been shaped (crippled? warped?) by the exclusivly male language we use for God. But God never let go of me, and always led me on. The first time I heard Bobby McFerron’s 23rd Psalm I wept. (Yes, I know that it is anything but inclusive, but it included me, at a time when nothing else did, and I will always love it because of that.)
    I have been privately inclusifying scripture for decades now primaily substituting proper nouns for pronouns as they apply to God. I too, have continued to use “Lord” as I don’t respond to the word as a male form. It has always just meant “God” to me.
    Thank you, Josh!

    Like

  7. Jan Hamill says:

    Thank you very much for this step. Language is so very important in formation. For personal devotion and for small group work I have been happily using a similar Psalter from the Sisters of St. Helena for a number of years.

    Like

    • Josh says:

      Jan, the St. Helena Breviary was our first choice, but they wouldn’t let us use it. Now I find myself very happy with the PCP and I hope you like it too.

      Like

  8. Nedi says:

    Wonderful!!
    Thank you!!

    Like

  9. Ben says:

    I’m sorry to hear this. I discovered this website several months ago, and have since made it part of my daily devotions. But for me this is a step too far from catholic, orthodox Christianity. It elevates a good thing (inclusiveness and anti-sexism) over a more important thing, the accurate preservation of the Scriptures that are the inheritance of the whole Church.

    And I can only imagine what the evangelists, the apostles, and the fathers (!) of the Church, to say nothing of Our Savior, would think about statements like “Referring to God as having human gender diminishes God, which we must never do.”

    Best wishes in the future, but I’m afraid I’ll be going elsewhere.

    Like

    • Josh says:

      Oh, come off it. Instead of saying “he,” we’ll be saying “God,” “the LORD” and “you.” This isn’t some violation of Scripture, but merely what you’ve come to expect.

      As for your assertion that God does have a human gender, I am amazed. Why would I, a mortal, want a god with human characteristics? What would such a being have to offer?

      So we do disagree, Ben, and let us part as friends.

      Josh

      Like

  10. I tend to agree with Ben. Throughout the scriptures God refers to Himself in the masculine form. He is son came to the earth in the form of a man, not a woman. And that does not minimize the role or necessity of the female. The father child relationship is different of the mother child relationship. Again, there is nothing wrong with that. It just IS. It is not our role to rewrite or interpret what Christ said. Josh, as you yourself point out it IS what Jesus, (God in masculine human form) said and since it is what HE said, it is how I will remain.

    I too have loved these postings and have used them daily. But this is something that I feel is incorrect.

    I am also flabbergasted by the tone of your response to Ben and in other places to those who in some way disagree with you. I would hope you would respond in Love as our Christ did rather than the anger that I read in what you have to say.

    I must, at this point, bid you adieu and God speed. May He bless you.

    Like

    • Josh says:

      It’s true, I have a personality, and when I said, “Oh, come off it,” that’s what I meant. Changing psalms from “he” to “you” does not rewrite the Bible. Let’s try not to catastrophize here.

      I just finished redoing Ps. 119 according to the PCP, which I wasn’t looking forward to because it is so long. But the only change I had to make was in the second verse – out of 176. (“Kings” also gets neutered to “rulers” twice.)

      Adopting a new, BCP-based Psalter will still give us “Father” references 365 days a year – and no “Mother” references other than three approved canticles by St. Anselm and St. Julian, which yes, we will use during certain seasons. Julian is instructive; she uses both male and female imagery for God the Father and the Son. It is good for us to use both!

      The NRSV, which we’ll continue to use as our standard Bible translation, leaves every Father reference untouched. It limits “inclusiveness” to a few expansions of St. Paul’s exclusive addresses to “brothers.”

      After 2000 years, no one will ever eliminate male imagery for God – and I don’t seek to either. However, I would like us to recognize two things: Western people are becoming increasingly hostile to the Christian story because they perceive it as profoundly unjust. But our God is not unjust, quite the opposite. Our God is the cosmic Lover!

      If this means we need to change how we talk about God, I think we should.

      We will always have our Scriptures and always love them – but lectionaries (and preachers) must respect the cultures in which we proclaim our truths, or there is no hope left for evangelism.

      I am not responsible for saving Christianity, only for proclaiming the truth God gives me to see, in my own imperfect way. That’s all I can do, but it’s also what I promised I would do those many years ago when I stood on the chancel steps before Bishop Craine and made my vows.

      You can see by others’ comments above that I am not alone in my perceptions. God strike me dead if I lead anyone astray.

      God strike us all dead if “we” do.

      Josh

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  11. chuck says:

    Dear Josh, thank you. I look forward to the new inclusive psalms.I am a bit of a radical. I have trouble with the idea of the fear of GOD. My relationship with GOD is not based on fear. Iam off the subject of the new version of the psalms… I think this change in the psalms will be a wonderful help. thank you for your loving care of this precious site.May GOD bless you and your staff!! chuck

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    • Josh says:

      Chuck, try not to get hung up on those words “fear of God.” I think it’s one of those phrases that is jarring in our youth but makes a little more sense as we get older. God doesn’t operate out of fear, but we do. Angels are forever telling mortals, “Fear not,” but we panic anyway.

      When you run across the “fear of God,” just keep going; maybe your perception will change in time, or maybe not, it doesn’t matter that much. But I do think God is so awesome that if we ever have a face-to-face encounter, we’ll run away screaming before our brains explode. That’s the big difference between God and us, really; our brains are too small. That and immortality, which is a really big difference.

      We are going to see God face to face, you realize; maybe mortal death is really a favor. Thanks for your support.

      Josh

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