Arike van de Water
Mountain View Lodge #244
I joined the Mountain View Lodge #244 this summer, part of an influx of new, younger members. The Odd Fellows aims to include people of all genders, religions and other backgrounds, I was assured. While I have found this to be true of the community, the language used in the meetings does not yet bear this out. I wish to discuss the questions I have had about the language used in an Odd Fellow Meeting when the Lodge is open in the Initiatory Degree, and how we have, so far, handled these questions in the Mountain View Lodge. The purpose of this article is to shed light on the role language can play in welcoming and retaining members once they have joined a Lodge.
1) Can we use gender-neutral language?
Growing up, I have seen Dutch and English Bible translations go from using masculine language (“brothers”) as a default, to including the feminine (“brothers and sisters”) to using gender-neutral language, as the convictions of the translators and the conventions of the language community changed over the past few decades. In the text the Order uses I see phrases from each step in this evolution.
For example, the Valediction is a bi-weekly reminder that Odd Fellows were once all men, and uncomfortable for even a cisgender* woman to say, nevermind other members. Different wordings of it echo through our Lodge, these days.
Similarly, I would prefer to use gender-neutral alternatives be used or included, e.g. “sibling” or “kindred” or “family” when we address each other collectively. As well, using the pronouns and titles requested – and requesting them beforehand. It has become the norm in affirming religious communities and progressive volunteer organisations, rather than guessing based on one’s appearance.
2) Must we pray to the Christian god? Must we pray the Our Father in English?
As a Christian, I appreciate opening a meeting in prayer. However, I wonder whether members of other religions could pray an equivalent prayer to their own god(s)? And, if members have no equivalent prayer, if a moment of meditation would suit? Perhaps a ritual gesture could be found, e.g. lighting a candle, to which all members of all religious, spiritual and atheist backgrounds in a Lodge consented? Could an invitation that includes those alternatives be part of the text, rather than defaulting to a prayer from the country’s majority religion? We have not yet discussed this in our lodge, despite the diversity present among members.
While I am a Christian, I am a non-native English speaker. I have the Our Father memorised in my native language, Dutch, and prayed it thus all my life. Since I preferred to speak to my deity in my heart language**, but worried it would be disruptive, I requested permission to pray in Dutch during meetings and received it. If you lodge is fully Christian, inviting members to pray in their native language may allow them a deeper spiritual connection during that prayer and more ease during the meeting itself.
3) Should all recite the Pledge of Allegiance?
During my first meeting I rose in respect while the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, but I remained silent. I have continued this practice. In part because I am simply not be able to recite it. In part because I am a resident, not a citizen of the United States. My allegiance is to my own king and country, the Netherlands, even as I obey the laws of the country in which I reside. To pretend otherwise, even for ceremonial purposes, would go against the Order’s stated values. During my second meeting I raised this point and we decided that it was optional. This could be a salient topic for other members who are Odd Fellows residing in a country where they aren’t citizens, or for those who have a double allegiance, e.g. if they have a dual citizenship or are from Native American nations.
I raise these three questions mainly with the intention that they are considered carefully, so that the language in the meetings does not remain the same simply because it was never discussed. It has been my experience that the Odd Fellows wishes to be inclusive, and the language used should reflect that as much as possible. I hope the questions and how we have dealt with them in our Mountain View Lodge proves informative. I am also curious about questions other members may have that may cause us to review the language we use in meetings.
*a woman is cisgender if she has been considered a woman and been comfortable as a woman from birth, otherwise she is transgender. If one cannot classify oneself fully or easily as woman or man, the two (i.e. binary) majority genders, one is a nonbinary gender. The colloquial terms for these are cis, trans and enby (as in N-B).
**heart language is a concept from Christian mission and outreach ministry. It is considered crucial that any person practice their religion in their own language and cultural and social context, or they will never be able to make it their own, which negatively affects their spirituality.
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