The Undoing of Patriarchy in the Life of Tom Jorde (1922-2011)

Last week I attended the funeral of the one man, who in my feminist musings, was able to image the maleness of God as father, friend and pastor.  If I had thought about it, I would have given him the T-shirt that reads, “This is What a Feminist Looks Like,” but it never occurred to me until now.

A successful sales manager, Tom decided at the age of 36, and with 6 young children, to enter full-time ministry by enrolling in Pacific Lutheran Seminary at the GTU (in Berkeley).  Imagine undertaking an MDIV degree with that kind of responsibility?  As the adage states, “It takes a village,” and it did.  Marie, Tom’s wife, took charge of the kids while his four brothers help support him until his graduation in 1965. If you want to understand the kind of family Tom and Marie raised, think of TV families like The Waltons, or Charles and Caroline Ingles in Little House on the Prairie and you come close to envisioning the emotional healthiness of their family.  Not to say they did not have their share of setbacks and problems, but each time I have been included in family gatherings, I am keenly aware that the integrity and moral fiber of my friend Linda and each of her siblings is due in no small part to the partnership and love between Tom and Marie.

I first met Tom when journeying through my divorce at the same time his daughter and my close friend Linda was also in the early throws of her divorce. As our friendship evolved, Linda included me in family gatherings, usually around the holidays or on one of our many road trips.  Norwegian Tom and his Irish wife Marie could not be more different from the other, which is probably why their marriage of 65 years was so successful.  While both put Martha Steward to shame as host and hostess, Marie prefers the company of a good book (now her Kindle) while Tom absorbed the room in conversation.  You wanted to be noticed by him, to be brought in to whatever meaningful or not conversation was taking place because, when you found yourself in his presence, you felt more than sufficient, you felt elevated and charmed by his attention.  And when I did speak with him in a full room of activity, it was as if we and we alone were engaged in the most important conversation. He zeroed in on everything I’d say, right down to every “F” bomb with genuine delight and interest.  Never an ounce of judgment by what I had just bellowed out, just joy and wonder at the human condition. 

Tom loved people, in all capacities and in all stages of life, in sorrow, doubt or contentment, he could read you like a Geiger counter and respond accordingly. If you were feeling rather uppity and self-congratulatory about yourself or your inflated ego had momentarily lost sight of dry land, his wit and humor would reel you back in with a rhetorical sharpness that made you wonder how he figured you out before you did.  If he caught you while you were experiencing life’s spin-cycle of failure or doubt, he knew how to instill hope without probing the impasse of your pain by his presence alone.

The synergistic timing of our initial meeting was twofold, I was in the belly-of-the-whale over the demise of my twenty-year marriage and I was in the beginnings of self-discovery and possibility for my life.  I had just read Sexism and God-Talk by Rosemary Radford Ruether, which gave voice and clarity to the cacophony of patriarchy I had experienced in the Catholic Church.  Reading Ruether launched me into my undergrad and graduate major of Theological Studies with a feminist hermeneutics.  The image of God as male with its litany of idolatry and exclusion came easily for me, but not for Linda. While entirely sympathetic to imaging God as mother or the Divine Feminine, Linda can just as easily image God as loving father, which I have to say irritated me to no end. As a newly christened, self-identifying feminist-theologian-in-training, I was sensitive, even Mary Daly-ish in my regard for the imposing maleness of God to the determent of women.  But how could my (healthy) friend not be just as capable of rendering the divine in both maleness and femaleness given the reality of her parents?

Somewhere along the timeframe of our friendship I acknowledged to Tom that if I wanted to image God in the masculine, I need only think of the Divine or Jesus as him, and then the fists of defiance could soften.  You see Tom really did incarnate the Divine with resolute humor and acceptance of everyone he encountered.  The gender of God dissipated as the manifestation of potentiality exponentially grew in Tom’s presence.   In our last time together, 3 weeks before his death, Tom, Marie and I sat together one last time.  While weak in physical body, his wit and humor was soundly in tack.  For moments at a time I could forget the meaning of my visit—which was to say good-bye and thank him for healing my own father-wounds while expanding my image of the divine to include both genders.  Tired and ready to nap, we hugged each other one last time, only it took longer to let go, both physically and metaphorically. I was losing the tangible reminder of God’s love for me—just as I am and not how I hope to be.

As I listened to each of Tom and Marie’s six children take part in his memorial service, I surrendered my tears of grief for the loss of such a beautiful, fully human figure. “The glory of God,” reminds  church father Irenaeus, “is the human being fully alive.”  No one I ever met embodied this sentiment with more gusto and truth than Tom Jorde. And no one desired more for those he met  to also participate in life fully alive, fully engaged.

His death was not unexpected and more importantly, he was ready.  In their last encounter together Tom expressed a unique sentiment to each of his six children.  To Linda he pronounced, “It’s been a privilege,” which carried beyond his father-daughter relationship to mean life, in all its complexity, had in fact been a privilege. Never in the shadow’s, Tom lived his life on blast for God and all he knew. Life was a daring privilege or nothing at all. 

Goodbye my friend, the privilege, thank  God/ess–was all mine.

Oh Blessed be, oh Blessed be.

Cynthie Garrity-Bond: Feminist theologian and social ethicist, is completing her doctorate at Claremont Graduate University in women studies in religion, with a secondary focus in theology, ethics and culture. For the past two years Cynthie has been teaching in the department of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University where she completed both her BA and MA in Theology. Her research interests includes feminist sexual theology, historical theology with particular emphasis on religious movements of women, agency and resistance to ecclesial authority, embodiment, Mariology and transnational feminisms. Having recently returned from Southern Africa, Cynthie is researching the decriminalization of prostitution from a theological perspective.

Categories: Catholic Church, Catholicism, Children, Feminist Awakenings, Feminist Theology, God-talk, Loss, Rosemary Radford Ruether

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4 replies

  1. Hi Cynthie,
    What a beautiful tribute to an amazing man! What a wonderful gift to have known a man who embodied a very real and healthy masculine – the true antidote, along with the healthy feminine, to patriarchy!

    I love reading your reflections, and hope we will have a chance to connect again in person one day soon..


  2. Thank you Cynthie – this was so beautiful to read. I’m happy with you that you got to have him in your life. Blessed be.


  3. Cynthie,
    Thank you so much for writing this incredible piece. I wanted to express my gratitude to you for inciting me to reminisce about my grandfather. While he is impossible to emulate, he made quite the role model.


  4. Dear Jason,
    Thank you for your generous words! Given what I know about your family I suspect you come closer than you think in reflecting your grandfather’s divinity!


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