Marg Herder is one of the first people I meet when I arrive at the annual Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus-Christian Feminism Today (EEWC-CFT) Gathering in Indianapolis this summer. Marg is scurrying around the meeting room, setting up the sound system, keyboard, powerpoint, and other equipment. In cyberland, I have come to appreciate Marg as the co-designer of the awesome new EEWC-CFT website (http://www.eewc.com). In person, she is gracious, kind, witty, and calming. During the conference, Marg’s talents continue to unfold as she balances creative gifts and technical/analytical skills.
Marg Herder creates music, lyrics, visual art, and spiritual essays. Here is one of Marg’s songs: A Name
(words and music by Marg Herder, performed and recorded by Marg Herder, featuring Dr. Alena Ruggerio)A name… What you like me to be? Sum it up so we all can see. Let’s just call it a name. Let’s just make it a righteous game. So you can know me better. So you can know me well. “Patriarchy has had control over discursive expression. So it has been a misogynist culture that has determined what words get entered in the dictionaries.”* Hey! “… as she who controls the language controls the politics.”* A name… Now that you’ve got me down you can start trying to turn me ’round. Now you’ve figured me out you can help me to learn what it’s all about. So I can fit in better. So I can fit in well.
*From Dr. Ruggerio’s talk, “Theapalooza,” presented at the 2008 EEWC-CFT conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. Hear the complete presentation at http://www.eewc.com, and check out her webpage: http://www.sou.edu/communication/faculty/ruggerio.html.
Lyrics (c) 2011 by Marg Herder, quotations (c) 2008 by Dr. Alena Ruggerio, used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.
In her commentary on “A Name,” Marg further elucidates the power of language:
It’s all in the language, and the language was created by patriarchy.
Want to be fascinated? Read about language. How it works. How words came to be in common usage. What words have been created and what words haven’t. How different languages emphasize different aspects of life, different ways of being. We use language constantly, but never really think about it.
Think it doesn’t matter that God is referred to almost exclusively as He? Sure, you’re enlightened enough to think of God as a force, or a presence, or as Spirit. But when you need a pronoun, what pronoun do you reach for? It matters. It is huge. Try calling God by female pronouns in almost any Christian church sometime. See how that goes over. Try referring to God as She in your own speech. Feel weird? Feel kinda like you are breaking a rule, being bad?
If you were raised in mainstream culture here in the US or any other western country, you were socialized to think of God as He. Where does that leave all us female people? With the prevailing consensus that God is other. Men are “made in the image of God.” Women, well, we’re just the afterthought. A helper for the people who were created by God to be just like Him. Think this through for a while, let it extend out into everything, and you’ll understand a little more about patriarchy and feminism.
New words are constantly being created. Have been all along. But until about 100 years ago only men were deciding what words made it into common usage, and what words made it into the dictionary.
This is a rich field of study, and well worth looking into.
So to a lot of people I’m a lesbian, a feminist, a liberal. And because they label me that way it means they don’t have to listen to anything I say, they don’t have to empathize with me, they don’t have to think of me as equal to them. Because of those labels I become other and less-than. They don’t have to investigate my existence, learn about me as an individual. Because they have named me. And once I am named as other, all that remains is for society to induce me to change so I become more acceptable, standardized. If I refuse to change, I am punished by exclusion from mainstream society. And that’s better than it used to be, just a few hundred years ago those who were other were burned at the stake or otherwise victimized and violated.
Growing up in Indianapolis, Marg Herder was very active in her Presbyterian church. Her grandmother, who played piano for the Sunday school, and her mother, who worked with the children’s choirs, groomed Marg to be a church musician. Marg sang in the choirs and worked with younger children. She says, “When I was young, the church was the only place I felt I belonged.”
Then in her teens, Marg became aware of her lesbianism and told a minister in her church. He told her that he would no longer allow her to work with the children.
Slowly Marg realized that her life with the church was over. “No loss has ever been so painful,” she says. “I found myself torn open, like a tortoise whose shell had been ripped off. I was a part of the church, I thought my life would always be in the church, and once I admitted I was homosexual I was told I was no longer worthy of participating in the church. This rejection was so consuming, and so confusing, that it is impossible to describe. In the end, it was easier for me to walk away from the church, from all I thought I would be, than it was to walk away from the truth of my gender identity and sexual orientation.”
In her 20s, Marg played in an all-female rock and roll band, “Software,” and majored in Religious Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. She says that she is still very grateful that her family never shut her out, as the families of most of her lesbian friends did. Also, Marg is gratified that her parents recently helped start the first support groups for friends and parents of gays and lesbians at their church.
For many years Marg worked hard and did what she could to keep herself from feeling. “The societal view of lesbianism led me to internalize a lot of self-loathing and despair,” she says. “I put a lot of effort into trying to escape these feelings, using drugs and alcohol, working a lot, generally doing my best, but really just skimming the surface of life.”
Marg says that she finally realized that her painful experience with the church had caused her to ignore her spirituality. “I quit drinking and started taking better care of myself, physically and emotionally, and began to find my way back to Spirit. I feel that I move toward Spirit when I am in my studio creating music, walking around with my camera, participating in ritual with trusted friends, or off in the woods backpacking and being alone in nature.”
Marg says that she now creates music and art to illuminate a spirituality all people can share as equals. “I’m trying to wrap my head around the perfect way to understand and communicate how we can begin to be kind and generous and peaceful. I am still holding onto a belief that we don’t have to be killers, we don’t have to judge and condemn others, we can be merciful, we can be beautiful, we can be loving. All of us.”
“I’m always trying to deepen my understanding of Spirit. How She moves in this world, why She gave birth to All That Is, why She put us right here, right now. I’m always trying to communicate to the person sitting across from me, or listening to my recordings, or looking at my pictures, or reading my words, ‘Please let this experience be meaningful. Please feel Her in this moment.’”
“I like to think that She in Her Grace is actually All of Creation in the Act of Creating Herself, so when I fully open myself to the motion of Her Creation, I can create truthfully.”
Through her work with EEWC-CFT, Marg contributes this expansive, truthfully creative spirituality to the church. She is indeed bringing change inside and outside church.
I highly recommend Marg Herder’s website: http://www.margherder.com/ for more of her inspiring story and prophetic, creative work.
Also, read more of Marg Herder’s story in She Lives! Sophia Wisdom Works in the World.