It’s a celebration of those who have mothered us, but often a day of painful memory. And – let’s be honest – sometimes it’s a bit twee. Thank God, then, that the day has its origin as Mothering Sunday – a day of return to and thanks for Mother Church.
Yet maybe for some of you even Mothering Sunday smacks of the feminised Church, which some men seemingly find alienating. All those daffodils. I’m guessing combat trousers, AK-47s and high explosives weren’t the images your pastor immediately reached for. Becuase that’s men’s stuff, right?
So let’s re-examine what it means to be mother, with the help of Sarah Connor.
As a sucker for 1990s sci-fi, I sat down last month to watch Terminator 2 yet again. This time round I was struck, not by the naffness of the CGI, but by Sarah Connor as mother. She doesn’t quite exemplify the stereotypical mother-figure lauded in our wider culture and churches. But maybe when we think about the feminine, mothering and Mother church, our thinking is too narrow.
You might think it odd to praise Sarah Connor as a model of motherhood. After all, she’s gun-toting, occasionally violent and very angry. However, as the film unfolds we see there’s far more to her than a love of blowing stuff up. She isn’t hell-bent on destruction for the sake of it. She’s passionate in her quest to preserve life in the face of dehumanising technology.
She’s angry in part because she’s been failed by men who’ve not lived up to the demands of fatherhood. She is a fierce, physically strong and mentally tough mother who takes a bullet for her son and will sacrifice herself to preserve the lives of millions against the rise of the machines. I’m guessing that kind of mother wasn’t lauded in many of our church services.
Yet she brought to my mind Hosea’s description of God as a fierce mother bear raging at the loss of her cubs in Hosea 13:8.
Sarah Connor blows apart our narrow stereotypes: masculine/father as tough, physical and ballsy; feminine/mother as nurturing and sensitive.
As she pulls back from the violence that threatens to consume her, Sarah speaks of nurturing life within her womb, in contrast to what she sees as a male death urge, a drive to control and dominate. This is what drives her: a passionate love of life.
Sarah Connor and many mothers I know have taught me this: to be a mother is to be strong, selfless, courageous, tenacious and occasionally angry.
Many men criticise a feminised church. I’ve done it myself. But they do so while having a very narrow definition of what it means to be a woman, and a view of motherhood which, at best, can be patronising and at worst, demeaning. I’ve often overheard: “Do you work or are you a stay-at-home mum?” As if caring for children full-time isn’t work. Or the dreaded invocation of maternal instinct that takes ‘maternal’ to mean ‘going goo-ey over babies’, rather than a passion to defend and nurture life at all costs. I’ve seen two children painfully brought from the womb into the world; if that is feminine and motherly, I say thank God for a feminised Church!
What do we men in particular need to hear today about mothering and our responsibilities?
Maybe fathers need to ask: do we place the well-being of our children at the top of our priority list, or do they play second fiddle to our ambitions and egos?
For those of us who are single or who aren’t fathers, what can we do to affirm the women in our churches in their full diversity and resist narrow stereotyping? This may involve carefully checking our language and assumptions. Can we as men be courageous enough to explore and embrace a fuller range of what it means to be humans made in God’s image – strong yet vulnerable, gentle and nurturing of all life yet passionate and tenacious?
What about our loyalty to the women who laboured to give these children life: do we honour them as we should and value the work all mothers do?
I wonder what your response will be next time you hear complaints about a feminised church. If the Church is our mother, I really don’t think she needs to ‘grow a pair’ or ‘man up’. After all, wombs are far more resilient than a pair of testicles.