From the Basement

November 30, 2010

some freewriting on submission

Filed under: Faith,Relationships — jeannablue @ 3:58 am
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Some imperfect thoughts on submission, headship, etc. – unorganized and rough.

To assert that submission is something natural in women – or that there is something in women’s character that makes submission a natural impulse – is to negate the struggling of spirit and rational inquiry of scripture so important to women’s full understanding of “biblical submission.” Submission, we find, is to husbands as head of the household, but headship is described in a specifically spiritual manner. Men are the spiritual leaders of the house, which is explicitly articulated as loving their wives and assuming responsibility for the spiritual state of the household. (I will not go to the extent that some do, e.g. that the husband must lead devotions and prayers, etc. – is it unbiblical for a wife and mother to pray for her family?)

Scripture also asserts the physical superiority of men, and this is certainly not a claim exclusive to the Bible – Mary Wollstonecraft claimed it in her Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and I have heard the most liberal and anti-religious of professors in academe assert it, as well. Notably, scripture – and Wollstonecraft and my professors – do not equate physical superiority with spiritual superiority (in the sense that men are inherently closer to God) or intellectual superiority, that because their bodies are stronger, so too are their minds.

Husbands taking the spiritual lead in the household is biblical. However, many theologians seem eager to take this to the next level and assert that certain lifestyle choices must also invariably reflect this hierarchy. I think it is wise – and notable – that our Lord does not spell out exactly how this looks in every house. Scripture does not say, and so the husband must have higher education, or the better job, or the better paying job, or he must be the sole breadwinner and the wife must stay at home, or even that the couple must have children – this is not to deny that these decisions are inconsistent with scripture (if a couple is seeking the Lord and comes to one of these decisions for their marriage, bless them for it), but nowhere are these behaviors prescribed for believers. Husbands and wives are to first seek the kingdom of God, and to love each other; it is critical to note that in Ephesians 5, headship and submission fall under the banner of mutual submission. However – and I will offer this question – if a woman’s priorities are in order – God, husband, and then children, if she has them – if she fears the Lord, honors her husband, and manages her household —  are we really going to claim that Titus 2 overrides Proverbs 31, or that scriptures that exhort women to manage their households inherently exclude them from working outside the home?

All this to say: submission. I hate when it is assumed that women submit because we are somehow made for it, or are naturally inclined to it. To claim that women – or men – are “made” a certain way, is to negate the beauty that is the Holy Spirit working in a person who is striving to follow the calling to love him with all our heart, soul, and minds, who is working through the scriptures, actively yielding their will to His, and allowing Him to conform them to the image of Jesus Christ. It is to simplify the transformative power of the Holy Spirit to mere biology, that God made women for childbearing and submission just as he made horses for riding (too graphic?). To say I “should” react well to the idea of submission because I was made that way is to ignore the beauty that is the Holy Spirit working in my life, the glory Christ receives when His children come to Him seeking a reconciliation that is not natural, but eternal. As headship is a spiritual calling not for man’s glory but for Christ’s, so too is submission.

(I would argue that from the beginning, headship and submission have been spiritual attitudes cultivated by seeking intimacy with God. Does no one notice that Eve was not naturally submissive? Saying women are born submissive seems an active disavowal of female agency in order to prevent another garden-esque catastrophe — but I digress).

Women are not born submitting anymore than man is born leading – and I say this because, lest we forget, these attitudes are specific to marriage; scripture does not say “women submit to men” (though I have certainly been in churches where this interpretation was not far off the mark). They are attitudes to be learned and cultivated in the Holy Spirit, choosing to yield our wills to Christ’s in order to bring Him glory, to reflect a marriage that points to our Savior.

And a Christ-like marriage, I would argue, does not look like an episode of Leave it to Beaver. But that’s another post.

October 21, 2010

“Love One Another”: On Jealousy in Friendships

Today, I want to talk about jealousy. This is an issue that I’ve felt called to write about because it’s an issue I have struggled with for many, many years. Thing is, it’s the sort of sin that usually keeps itself quiet, only occasionally rearing its ugly head in all its grotesque splendor… it was a thought here and there, a desire, a strong emotion, usually distilled by the passing of time and distance from those involved.

I have never had a female “best friend” – the quintessential best friend, the dynamic duo, the person you go to for everything. However, God has always given me an eclectic, dynamic group of close female friends. From the time I was in middle school, I have been surrounded by wonderful women, by one or two handfuls of close friends to go to for various issues, whether spiritual, emotional, familial, romantic, academic… you get the idea. I was never a “loner,” but because I didn’t have that BFF, I thought I was somehow less. Insecurity is a bee-yatch, you guys.

Because of this – the always having several close friends but never one BFF – jealousy has been a struggle, especially – exclusively? – with close friends who themselves are a “pair” of best friends – always together, roommates, you get the idea. Many times, though, it wasn’t a “struggle” because I gave into it immediately, letting it fester and poison several friendships, for which I am sincerely sorry.

It’s one of those deep, dark corners of the heart that you keep locked away, an issue that’s never talked about. But the problem with those sins is that though they seem dormant (or so it seems), they are really taking root, twining themselves around your heart, and the longer the sin goes unconfessed, the longer it’s not dealt with, the worse it gets.

Today was a big step: I confessed this jealousy to one of my closest friends – the friend I’ve asked to be my Maid of Honor. She has a BFF who is also a friend of mine, and telling her about this feeling of jealousy was a huge step for me. She immediately forgave me, and in turn asked forgiveness for any slights on her part, and oh, does it feel like a weight to have it in the open, freely confessed and forgiven.

Ironically enough, it was selecting my bridal party that brought this issue to a head. I had only ever planned on having my sister, which saved me from the inevitable drama of picking other people (and being reminded of how many of my close friends have a “bestie”). However, I’m getting married significantly earlier than I ever thought, which means my sister is too young to be my Maid of Honor. Also, my affianced is having four groomsmen, and as cool as I am with having uneven numbers of attendants, 1-4 is a rather awkward ratio.

So, I was tasked with selecting other attendants, and suffice to say, I ended up with 6 attendants total. 3 are the sisters – my sister and his sisters, who I love dearly. The other 3 are close friends – there’s my MoH, who was one of my closest friends all through college, and then two of my oldest friends.

It was here where the sin in my heart really became noticeable. Of the three friends in my bridal party, all have a “bestie,” and most have been bridesmaids in other friends’ weddings. The issue of jealousy was ugly, ugly, ugly. I was afraid that they didn’t reciprocate the friendship, didn’t treasure our friendship as I did. There was the knowledge that I may not be included in their bridal party, and thus there was the fear of rejection, of having a bridal party full of friends who I care about but who are “meh” about me. Fears of rejection – fear of what others think – insecurity – desperation for acceptance… all ugly emotions existing in me.

I’m only starting to deal with this sin, and turning to scripture is a must. But it’s not enough to go to scripture that condemns envy and chronicles its ill effects, nor is it enough to turn to famous verses on friendship. First, we must start with love – with God’s love. Bathing ourselves in the light that is the love of God is a direct attack on the sin in our lives – in the face of His awesome love, nothing can stand.

John 3:16: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Matthew 22:36-40: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

John 13:35: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 15:12-15: “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (italics mine)

1 Corinthians 13: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.Love never fails…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 John 4:8: Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Galatians 5:22-26: But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

The greatest gift anyone on this earth will ever know is the all-powerful, all-consuming, incredible, passionate, unceasing love of God. And when we come to know this love, embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, by which we are enabled to love our neighbor as ourselves. Christ tells us that the world will know we are his disciples by this: that we love one another.

Envy is the enemy of love. It is, by definition, self-serving and self-seeking: “A feeling of discontent and resentment aroused by and in conjunction with desire for the possessions or qualities of another.” It is insecure. It is not satisfied, and it is easily spun into idolatry as we seek full satisfaction in something that is not God. It does not rejoice in the good gifts of the Father but whines and pines for more. There is a reason that “Thou shalt not covet” is one of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:17).

Envy of relationships is a particularly insidious sort, because not only does it give way to idolatry (hence poisoning your love for God by seeking satisfaction in something other than him), but it also poisons love for your neighbor. When you are jealous of someone else’s friendship, or relationship, or marriage, or children, how can you love them? How does Christ’s love thrive and edify? Answer: it doesn’t.

Scripture chronicles the consequences of envy:

Proverbs 14:30: A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.

Ecclesiastes 4:4: And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

James 3:14-16: If you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. (italics mine)

Lord, I confess the sin of envy in my life and I beg your forgiveness and your mercy on the friendships it has affected. I want this sin uprooted, and that is only possible through the infusion of your perfect love into my life, the perfect love that casts out fear of rejection and unworthiness. You notice me. You love me. And that is enough; may that ever be enough. You have been so gracious in the relationships you have given me – family, friends, my fiancé – and I pray your blessing on them, that they may be fruitful and give glory to you.

I pray for a passionate, Christ-like love for my friends – all of my friends. Praise God that we are given a diversity of relationships! I am confident that he has brought these varied and wonderful friendships into my life for a reason. When I envy their friendships with other people, when I am concerned about whether my love for them is reciprocated, when I am worried about being accepted or valued, when I am insecure in my own value – these feelings have no place in friendships allowed by his love, and they are attitudes that have no place in the heart of a daughter of the King. He is my God, my Abba Father, and I will praise him:

“Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign Lord? What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Sovereign Lord. For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant. How great you are, O Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears.” 2 Samuel 7:18-22

October 15, 2010

In praise of the Great Restorer, the Giver of Rest

God works in mysterious ways. He’s used a job offer – the thing I wanted, prayed for, desired for months on end – to lead me back to Him.

I’m not taking the job, and that is incredibly freeing. I’m declining for aforementioned reasons – budget and timeline issues – but, more importantly, because there are things happening here, where I am, that lead me to believe this is what He has for me. Worldly wisdom says take a job, any job. Worldly wisdom says it’s necessary to live independently.

But living with my parents, healing my relationships with them, releasing the baggage from the divorce – this is one of the healthiest steps I can take for my marriage.

Living at home, saving money, putting it aside for the early days of marriage, for our first month’s rent, for an emergency savings fund – this is an investment in my marriage.

I want to volunteer. I want to be donating money and tithing. My prayer tonight is Lord, bring me to you. Please let me serve you – for the first time in months… years?… this is the prayer. Where can you best use me? I don’t think it’s at the place where I was offered the job, where an “ideal” employee was described as someone who burns the candle at both ends, a single person working tirelessly into the night.

I had a wonderful conversation tonight with my friend Kayla, a great blessing who is willing to act as a sounding board for my many questions and curvaceous conversations (in that thoughts tend to twist and turn in unusual directions to get to their point).

There are changes that need to happen in my life re: discipline with body, mind, and soul… but God has me… this is where He’s put me, for some reason… for His reason, for His glory, ever for His glory.

The events of the last few months defy worldly wisdom. The decision to turn down a full-time job defies worldly wisdom. Abba, I beg your peace and strength. I pray against weakness and fear and anxiety. You will provide. In all things, you provide. You are Jehovah Jireh but also Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals, and it is your mission to heal and restore your people to yourself that you may be glorified and we may be filled with the joy that comes in knowing you. Where is the joy? Follow the joy. While there are opportunities to pursue my calling, I will not relent. I do not want to settle for anything less than Your very best, and I know that Your very best does not necessarily come with a hefty paycheck and a worldly definition of success. It does not necessarily come with independence, a car, an apartment, etc. Your provision and hope come in unusual ways – but they come; that is the promise, that is the everlasting promise.

“But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God.” 2 Corinthians 1:9

“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6

“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Today, my reading in Angela Thomas’ Do You Know Who I Am? was in the “Do You Know I Am Worn Out? He Does Not Grow Weary” chapter. How fitting. After last night’s emotional exhaustion followed by today’s confusion, worry, and fear, I was feeling very worn out. Thomas opens the chapter by quoting Beatrix Potter’s The Tailor of Gloucester: “I am worn to a raveling.” How my body collapsed in exhausted understanding upon reading that line. I am worn to a raveling. Oh, I am. The chapter’s title fit today: do you know I am worn out, Lord? Do you know I feel too tired to make any decision?

But Thomas reminds us that God’s character is self-sustaining (69). He does not grow weary; indeed, he provides the rest we so desperately seek.

“But those who hope in the Lord

will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

they will run and not grow weary,

they will walk and not be faint.” – Isaiah 40:31

Oh, how I long to run and not grow weary! Today, the longing to serve the Lord, loving people, is at the forefront of my desire. Today, the desire for a “good” job is secondary. A job that will provide for my present needs and help store up for my fiance’s and my future – yes. But something that will serve a higher purpose. His purpose. Let today’s rest sustain into tomorrow.

Lord, let me rest in you. I pray against those spirits of anxiety and fear that so seek to take root in my heart. You have me right where you want me. And sometimes, as Kayla said tonight, we are challenged to have the courage to remain where we are – ever pushing towards the goal, our eyes unwavering in their focus on their Creator, ignoring the world’s distractions, trusting in the only One who both offers and renews our hope.

Thomas puts it beautifully: “A hope that is firmly centered on the Lord renews our strength” (70). How true. My body wearies, my mind grows faint, my emotions fluctuate, and the world itself is always spinning, but He remains constant, the same yesterday, today, and forever, an ever-replenished spring of healing, restorative water. He does not grow weary. He provides the comfort and love and rest we so desperately seek. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

September 3, 2010

And the Bride Wore… ?

Part of the reason I’ve not been blogging (on top of spiritual lethargy) is due to the fact that it’s a very, very busy time in my life: I just got engaged! My fiancé visited a few weeks ago, and he popped the question in a bookstore – very romantic. Suffice to say, we’ve been working on wedding planning.

My future father-in-law is a pastor, which means he’s doing the ceremony. He’s been wonderfully flexible, given that his son and I are not likely to pursue a traditional ceremony, but he raised the issue of the bride wearing white. This has sparked an inner debate for me, as I do not have strong feelings about wearing white and indeed am quote open to a variety of colors. Consider this my personal exploration of the issue.

To be sure, there are scriptural foundations for the bride wearing white. The basis for the claim is that the relationship between the husband and wife mirrors that of Christ and the church, and that as believers (the “bride of Christ”), we are washed “white as snow.” White symbolizes purity; the wife is, as it were, a pure gift for her husband. (Obviously, I start thinking, why doesn’t the groom wear white? Because shouldn’t the groom also be representing himself as pure for the bride?)

Of course, white dresses are supposed to be the mirror of an inward state: that is, a clean, pure heart before God. And I think we all know that plenty of brides who wear white do not have that inner heart attitude, just as many brides who wear color (in some form) surely do.

I think that if this has meaning for the bride and groom, it can be a beautiful thing. My main issue is that this is a suggestive tradition, not a prescriptive one. Just because sin leaves that crimson stain doesn’t mean that Christians refuse to don red, or indeed, that red isn’t found as a decorative color in many churches. And black is the powerful symbol of death, and yet we find black in churches and the clothing of churchgoers. And I know of many bridesmaids who have been dolled up in red and black by their friend, the Christian bride. So I can’t help but wonder if we take this color thing a little too far.

It seems like we pick and choose. Because the church is described as white, and because the bride represents the church, well then, we think, she should wear white! It seems we forget that the church is not literally white (whether we’re talking about the building and the people who fill it). Rather, it’s a beautiful metaphor, a visual clue for our limited human minds to help us fathom the greatness and wonder it is that God can look at us and, in Christ, find us clean and pure.

Incredible. Utterly incredible.

I think that the bride wearing white is a lovely symbol. (I think that a groom wearing white would be an even lovelier compliment, but, curiously, the church doesn’t seem too hung up on what the groom wears.)

But it’s dangerous to get so caught up in symbols that we forget what it is they’re representing. It can lead to thinking that if the symbol isn’t portrayed, then the purpose behind the symbol is also lacking. And nothing could be further from the truth.

The important thing for a Christian couple on their wedding day is not what they’re wearing. It’s the attitude of their hearts, towards each other and towards God. Christian weddings can – and do! – happen without the trappings of tradition: the dress, the flowers, the cake, the fancy readings. And those weddings are no less Real before Christ than are the ones that seek to include every tradition.

Here’s my question: if the bride’s heart is in a right condition towards Him and her future husband, is Christ displeased if she is not wearing white?

I cannot help but answer no. It is her heart and her faith that please him. Let us not be fooled into thinking that abiding by the traditions – however lovely they are – renders us obedient. Devotion to traditions can flirt with the line of legalism, of being bound by self-inflicted “rules.” (It is also worth noting that white wedding dresses are a largely Western custom.)

There are some subjects on which scripture is unfailingly clear (salvation, grace, “no one comes to the Father but through Me”). But on others, there is much silence, a point that has also been made by my future father-in-law. There is much said of marriage, but little of weddings.

Indeed, on the subject of weddings, the word of God leaves much room for interpretation. And just as there are Democrats and Republicans alike who are devout followers of Christ, so too are there “traditional” and “non-traditional” weddings which honor Christ as the center of that marriage.

The white wedding dress, then, is a choice – a beautiful choice, not a rule to be inflicted on every bride who follows Jesus. To those who defend its necessity, I feel compelled to ask a few questions:

  1. What shade of white? Are cream, off-white, ivory, and champagne acceptable choices?
  2. What color should the groom wear?
  3. There are some colors that have powerful symbols in scripture (red = sin, black = death) – are these wise choices, if we are considering the symbology of colors in a Christian wedding?
  4. Is it acceptable to have a color accent on the dress – for example, a blue sash or a gold lace overlay?
  5. There are explicit injunctions to modesty in both the Old and New Testaments. Where do we draw the line? There are many dresses on the market that are backless, have slits, or that are tea-length or shorter – not to mention the mermaid/trumpet styles, which hug the curves before flaring out below the hips or knees. And what necklines are acceptable? Are strapless, sweetheart, portrait, halter, or otherwise “low” necklines modest?
  6. There are also injunctions against extravagance. The following could be considered extravagant adornments: trains of any length, elaborate beading, antique lace, expensive fabrics, crinoline, lace overlays, fancy veils and headpieces, etc.
  7. The cost of the dress. We are called to be wise stewards of our money, which begs the question of whether a four or five thousand-dollar dress that will be worn once is a wise investment.

A few things to consider.

(Please note that I’m pushing those questions and issues as far as I can – I don’t think tea-length dresses are immodest anymore than I think a blue crinoline is extravagant.)

Last but not least is the question of beauty. It is readily assumed that most brides, regardless of creed, ethnicity, political belief, sexual orientation, or lifestyle, want to feel beautiful in a way that is authentic to themselves. Why do I bring up the question of beauty? Because, and this is so important, I don’t think you can read the Song of Solomon and say that Christ does not want the bride to feel beautiful, spiritually but also physically. The state of her heart is important – but so too is feeling content in her beauty before her future husband and Creator. Indeed, He extols His bride as beautiful time and time again.

Song of Solomon 4:1, 7, 9

How beautiful you are, my darling!

Oh, how beautiful!

Your eyes behind your veil are doves.

Your hair is like a flock of goats

descending from Mount Gilead….

All beautiful you are, my darling;

there is no flaw in you….

You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;

you have stolen my heart

with one glance of your eyes,

with one jewel of your necklace.

On my wedding day, I will promise lifelong commitment, fidelity, and love to my beloved. We will make vows to each other before witnesses and, most importantly, our savior, Jesus Christ, the third (and central) cord of our relationship. And we will become one, man and wife, united in this life until we are parted.

What I’m wearing is really not that important.

August 5, 2010

Thoughts from a Christian Feminist

I am a Christian. I am also a feminist. I triple majored in English, Politics, and Women’s Studies in college – suffice to say I sought answers in feminism that I could not find in the church. In the church, I saw leaders who told women they should stay at home, who said women’s primary purpose was to be wives and mothers. There were fellow congregants who stood aghast when I declared my ambitions, who were equally appalled at all the original oratories I took to speech competitions on gender pay equity, violence against women in advertisements, and women and the presidency.

For a long time, it seemed like I was on the outskirts of both groups. I was too liberal for the church, and I was too church-y for my women’s studies classes, what with my views on, well, the church (or rather, should I say, Jesus Christ).

For the last decade, any mention of Ephesians 5 has been enough to make my blood boil. Suffice to say that I grew up in a home where headship was abusive and un-Christlike, even after my father’s conversion. Male headship was something to be feared. A husband could do anything he wanted to the wife, and she had to obey for “the good of the family.” And let me tell you, much as I heard pastors rail against abuse and male domineering within marriage, I watched again and again as pastor after pastor ignored my parents’ situation. (It is my personal opinion that for every pastor out there willing to confront an abusive marriage in his congregation, there is one who cowers in his office, fearful of confronting it, hoping he can just pray it away – particularly if it’s not life threatening to the wife and children. Cynical? Maybe. But it’s just my two cents.)

So to say I have baggage regarding marriage is an understatement.

But over the last few months, the Lord has really brought me to a place where I’m reconsidering crucial questions within a biblical light – often for the first time. It’s grace. Total grace. I still have fears, and the desire to control is very strong within me, but I’m learning – slowly – what marriage is about, what it was intended to be. (To spell it out, I affirm Christ-like headship and submission.)

Part of my reluctance in discussing this is that feminism is viewed as an enemy by prominent Christian theologians; it is very much figured as a war on the church. I’m in a unique position in that I am intimately familiar with both sides of the war, as it were. I’ve read Grudem and Piper (the experts on complimentarianism), and I’ve read “evangelical feminists” like Craig S. Keener. It goes without saying, given the Women’s Studies major, that I have read at least the basic texts in each major feminist theory. (Which is – I think – more than Grudem and Piper can say, given some of their arguments.)

This post was inspired by something that struck me tonight; it’s a very small point but I do feel the need to introduce it within its larger context. A friend recently blogged about her frustration with extremism in the feminist blogosphere, and the discussion brought up issues of identifying as a feminist and as a proponent of gender equality.

The term equality has never sat very well with me. It posits a binary in which Man is Equal and Woman is Unequal; at its core is the assumption that women need to be “brought up” to men’s standard. And man is not the standard!

This is what I love about Christianity: it eradicates having “man” or “woman” as the standard – Christ is the standard. Look at how Christ treated women – he was an absolute feminist, for at its core, feminism is about acknowledging the value of men and women, and how much more can you affirm the value of both sexes if not by offering both eternal life? (Notwithstanding the fact that both were created in God’s image to begin with.)

Like I said, small point.

I’ll be blogging about feminism and Christianity in the future, but can I leave you with some thoughts? Both “sides” – the church and “feminism,” so called – make terribly general assumptions about each other. Of particular concern to me is how the church discusses feminism. The Great Commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds, and Faith is not an excuse for:

a)    Rash generalizations (e.g. feminism is responsible for the downfall of the family)

b)    Not doing your homework (e.g. not reading feminist texts and theory)

c)    Poor arguments – the result of being uninformed and general

And it seems that most discussions of feminism in the church today are, frankly, all of the above.

This is not to say that writers like Grudem and Piper have not produced outstanding scriptural exegesis on passages like Ephesians 5 – quite the contrary. Piper in particular gives the best explanation of Ephesians 5 I’ve ever heard. While they sometimes push too far for my liking (e.g. stating that mothers should not work), I think they’ve done outstanding work.

It’s when the church starts blaming feminism for everything that it displays a remarkable lack of self-reflection…

But that’s the beginning of another post.

P.S. Here’s a link to one of Piper’s sermons on marriage, entitled “The Beautiful Faith of Fearless Submission.” http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Sermons/ByDate/2007/2088_The_Beautiful_Faith_of_Fearless_Submission/

July 18, 2010

Desiring God/Desiring Publication

There’s a set of questions that have been tangled up in my mind lately, and they go something like this:

Is publication a godly goal? Is publication the eventual end game of all this writing? What happens if I don’t get published? Is it even okay to desire publication?

I’ve been reading Desiring God by John Piper, and I highly recommend it. He argues that the pursuit of pleasure is absolutely essential to the Christian life; that anything done without that joy is not edifying to others or glorifying to God, that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him (I am oversimplifying his thesis here, so bear with me). Over the last few days, the readings on love, joy, and giving have been blowing my mind, and today, I was struck by how applicable some of his discussions were to this issue of Calling.

One issue Piper deals with is the contention that pleasure and virtue are mutually exclusive – that as believers, we cannot (should not) seek pleasure or reward in our actions (he, of course, argues that we can and we should). To me, publication is one of many writing “rewards.” You see the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon connection game that my brain played in about five seconds?

Let’s take a few steps back and start small. Let’s forget publication for a few minutes and talk about the relationship between action and reward, and the supposed binary between virtuous acts/pleasurable acts. Can a virtuous act be pleasurable?

To expound on that question, should an act be virtuous in and of itself, without reward? I’ve never understood the phrase “writing for the sake of writing.” At its heart is a worldly wisdom which says that for an act to be virtuous, we shouldn’t seek a reward. If it comes, okay, but we should not expect one. To that assertion, everything in me says, what a load of bollocks! I don’t write simply to put words on a page anymore than a painter paints so that he can brush some red stuff against a canvas. I write so that people will read, and what’s more, I find writing to be an intrinsically enjoyable pursuit. Is it still virtuous?

In 1941, C.S. Lewis basically A-bombed the idea that pleasure and virtue are irreconcilable in Christianity. He preached, “I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires [our pleasures] not too strong, but too weak.”

John Piper further expurgates this notion of virtue/pleasure as a binary with his thesis that the pursuit of pleasure is an essential motive for every good deed. Piper writes: “If love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of other people, and if God loves such joyful givers, then this joy in giving is a Christian duty, and the effort not to pursue it is sin” (104, italics mine).

I write because I am pursuing joy, because it is the most powerful way in which I experience God. I hold no illusions about giving back to God; there’s nothing I can give that He hasn’t first given me. Thus, writing has to be a primarily hedonistic pursuit, even though others are reading my work. It would be wrong for me to write out of duty – to say I am writing for your edification and not my own, to abandon any pleasure in the act. Joy comes from above, and so if I am joyless, then my work is empty, and it is not going to edify you at all. Piper uses the analogy of marriage: how awful would it be for him to bring his wife roses on their anniversary if he were motivated by duty and not by love. And so it is with God: we are to worship because of an overflow of love rather than because it is our “duty.” Piper reminds us that yes, God loves a cheerful giver!

It is right – it is pure – to seek joy and pleasure in the act and to invite others to come and experience the joy as well. Thus, my joy is your joy, and your joy is my joy. There is a natural culmination, a natural reward of such overflowing abundance.

There are those who may say that it is wrong to desire public joy in the fruits of your labor, as it were. That it is unvirtuous or ungodly to expect reward in an act of love or calling. To them, Piper offers the words of C.S. Lewis, who writes:

We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward makes the Christian life a mercenary affair. There are different kinds of reward. There is the reward which has no natural connection with the things you do to earn it, and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring it. A general who fights well in order to get a peerage is mercenary; a general who fights for victory is not…. The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.

The proper consummation, or reward, of writing is readership. It is not wrong to desire to reach people, to hope that others are edified by your work, for their enjoyment and edification may be seen as the consummation of the act. In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul exhorts believers to use their gifts for the edification of the church, of the body. Indeed, he places the public expression of gifts over private in terms of edification – that it is better to edify the body rather than yourself alone (for in edifying the body, you are edifying yourself).

Enter my desire for publication – and this is where things get tricky. The desire for publication, for readers, may well be satisfied by sending essays to friends in email form or by blogging – and I’ve done both. Given our discussion of joy and public edification, readership in any form may be interpreted as Lewis’ ‘consummation.’

And yet in me there is both a contentment and a discontentment. There is pleasure in what I have, but there is the intense desire to pursue more of that pleasure.

This is the relationship we are to have with God, yes? Piper talks about it; Lewis does, too. There is in the believer a beautiful tension – holy contentment and holy discontentment working in tandem to till the heart, to work the soil for the Maker’s glory. My utmost for His highest, as it were.

On a good day, this is where I am with God: basking in his love, yet desperate to learn more. This is also where I like to be in my relationship – content with my beloved, yet yearning for greater depth and intimacy with him. And so it is with my writing. I am content with what I do, but I desire greater skill, greater knowledge, and – frankly – greater impact.

So where is the line? Does “impact” mean more readers? I’ll be honest – I often think it does. Does “impact” mean getting paid for my writing? – again, I often think it does. And there’s the rub.

It strikes me that the idea of getting paid to do what you love is a worldly goal. This is not to say that it is never a spiritual outcome; there are plenty of doctors, craftsmen, and writers whose callings have become intertwined with financial security. Piper and Lewis, for example.

But there is a danger when we start seeing money/worldly success as the end game, when we perceive that if there is not that success, then we have not fulfilled or obeyed our calling, or – worse – that the calling is not important. Too often, I fall into the trap of thinking something like this: I’m not published, so my writing isn’t touching anyone.

Which is, of course, total crap. I’ve only to look at my own life for examples of the contrary. One friend is a marvelously gifted actress, and the fact that she isn’t on Broadway (yet) does not mean that her talent and joy are not being shared with her audiences. It does not mean that she’s not walking in her calling. It does not mean that God is not bringing fruit – quite the contrary.

When the endgame becomes worldly success – getting paid to do what you love, as it were – it dilutes the joy in the act. It dilutes my present contentment, and it confuses my definition of “more impact.” When concern for money or security creeps in, holy discontent becomes sin.

John Piper says, “The ‘eagerness’ of ministry should not come from the extrinsic reward of money, but from the intrinsic reward of seeing God’s grace flow through you to others’” (109).

Is that reward enough for you today? Is it enough for me? We must be careful, lest our desire for the gift eclipse our yearning for the Giver.

Paul said that we act for the joy set before us. Are we acting for that joy? Are we hoping for that joy? Are we expecting that joy? One of my girlfriends likes to say, “Expect good things.” And indeed, that is the promise that is made – not easy things, not secure things, but pure things, good gifts from our perfect Father. Joy. Love. Encouragement. Relationship. Mercy. Forgiveness. Hope. Purpose.

Those are reasons to praise.

Those are reasons to write.

June 28, 2010

On Love & Experience

Tonight, I want to talk about love and experience within the context of romantic, Christ-centered relationships. This isn’t an overly comprehensive essay – just some of my thoughts on the matter.

I’ve been in a relationship for over a year and a half now, and it’s serious. We’re also in a period of long distance, and I know that I’m more prone to doubts and fears when I’m away from him. Something I’ve struggled with over the last few months is owning the fact that in times like these, I am barraged with lies. Self-doubts fester in me, infectious, and they creep into old wounds and plop themselves down and act like they are exclusively My Issues and not lies that I can rebuke.

One such lie is the lie that I don’t have enough life experience, that maybe I’m being over zealous. It is, after all, the first rock-solid, healthy, long-term relationship I’ve had (note the emphasis on healthy). So – why not wait a little while? Break up for a little while? See where life takes both of us? Who knows, maybe we’ll find other people.

Notwithstanding the fact that this thinking makes me sick to my stomach (the first sign that it’s not an expression of me), there are other reasons that it’s a lie and clearly not of God.

I’m going to step out on a limb here. My hypothesis is that experience is (or can be) the antithesis of trust. For the purposes of this post, I’ll venture to say that experience in relationships does not necessarily teach us how to love or, indeed, the very nature of love.

When we speak of being experienced, it seems – most often – to refer to sexual experience. That’s not the focus of this post, but I do want to briefly address it. I think that the following excerpt says it best. Josh Harris, author of the controversial I Kissed Dating Goodbye (I still don’t know how I feel about that book), was interviewed a few years ago on secular radio, where he was grilled on his virginity and lack of experience. But his response to this particular question left his interviewer speechless.

Taylor: So what’s going to happen when, let’s say you get married and you get to the honeymoon suite and she’s lousy in bed?

Josh: Well, I won’t have anything to compare it to.

A Christian man or woman’s sexual experience or lack thereof is a different post – but I did want to throw that in there to emphasize the point that experience does not necessarily correlate with: better sex, better relationship, better intimacy.

If anything, experience erodes our ability and/or willingness to let God into the picture. Personally, this happens with writing all the time. I’m only recently learning to pray about my writing; I’ve been doing it for so long that it feels like second nature. I’ve read dozens of writing books, written hundreds of thousands of words in my lifetime… and am only beginning to learn to include God in my process. “But I know what I’m doing,” I say. “But I know what I want to write about,” I say. “But I know my process! I know what I need,” I say. He pretty much just laughs and shows me how to do it better. Everything I thought I knew about writing is being tossed out the window. Okay, maybe not everything. I still abide by the As Few Adverbs As Possible rule.

Experience (oftentimes) begets pride. In parenting. Loving. Careers. Even ministry. “The way we worship has been working for years. Why fix what ain’t broke?” And that’s only one example.

When we have experience in relationships, we can convince ourselves that we know how to love when in fact it is Christ in us who teaches us how to love. It’s about remaining tender to his heart and to his leading. It’s about learning how to live out 1st Corinthians 13. It’s about choice.

This is such a radical concept in my life right now. God has been teaching me so much about choice over the last year – choice in worship. Choice in quiet time. Choice in writing. Choice in loving.

The qualities of love – which are, at their core, the qualities of God, who is love – are not based on “a fancy or a feeling,” to quote Jane Austen. They are not organized like “If you’ve loved one person, go to step A. If you’ve been in several relationships, skip to step C!” Rather, we are called to love others simply as Christ loved us. These are the qualities we are called to cultivate in our relationships:

  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Does not envy
  • Does not boast
  • Is not proud
  • Is not rude
  • Is not self-seeking
  • Is not easily angered
  • Keeps no record of wrongs
  • Does not delight in evil
  • Rejoices in the truth
  • Always protects
  • Always trusts
  • Always hopes
  • Always perseveres
  • Never fails

There is not a qualifier on these qualities, e.g. “be patient IF you feel like loving them.” No – I am called to practice these characteristics on the days when my mother is driving me up the wall. When my sister ignores me and stays in her room. When I don’t feel like loving my boyfriend. When the excitement isn’t bouncing off the walls.

These are characteristics that grow as we grow in our relationship with Christ and, yes, as we practice them over time. I’m not denying the value of experience – just suggesting that we not take it as the ultimate litmus test.

Ultimately, your ability to love is not based on the amount of relationship experience you have; it is a direct correlation of your relationship with Christ – how you understand and receive his love, and how you apply it to your relationships. Similarly, the depth of your commitment is not measured by the number of partners you have (that is to say, the number of people you’ve ruled out) but rather by your mutual commitment to Christ and to the qualities of love that you are cultivating in your relationship.

Relationships are like gardens; they need to be tended, watered, weeded, and sometimes just enjoyed, basked in. We garden because we love to look upon beautiful things, or because we love to reap the fruits of our labor and enjoy fresh produce on the table. I don’t want to take the food metaphor too far, but it is similar with relationships: we are designed to desire love, to want to bask in it. To quote the film Moulin Rouge, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.”

And, I would note, your experience with gardening is most often grown when you tend the same garden year in, year out, learning the nature of the soil, how much water to use, the way the light and shade fall at different types of day, the animals to ward against, the flowers that look best together. It is not much use if you begin a garden only to abandon it half-way through; you learn how to begin a garden, but you don’t learn how to tend it, nurture it, preserve it, keep it.

We’ve all had different experiences in life and in love. I have friends who have fluttered around like butterflies from flower to flower, enjoying the process and maintaining their integrity. I’ve had girlfriends who married the only man they seriously dated, and their marriages are things of beauty. And I have friends who have been in serious, long-term relationships only to have the relationship end after several years; I have marveled at how they still found joy and truth in the process.

A friend recently came to me seeking advice for maintaining a long distance relationship. The only advice I could give was, keep seeking after the Lord. If you are seeking after the Lord and your partner is seeking after Him, truly and honestly, with all your being, in prayer or reading or however you connect – if you both are seeking, then you both are finding, and you both are growing. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.

Quick memo: not all Christian relationships end in marriage (thank goodness), and I’m a firm believer in not putting that pressure on people … so that’s another post that’s currently brewing.

In the end, our God is too great to be boxed into patterns. One size does not fit all. This morning in church, Pastor Mike joked that there’s a reason we’re not given a formula for salvation, or else the church would find all sorts of ways to constrict people. The same applies to love. There’s not a formula for relationships given in the Bible – we’re simply told that love is the highest commandment, to first love God and then to love each other. We are given the qualities of love. But we are not told how to apply them, or an ideal number of relationships pre-marriage. Thank you Lord for that freedom! For the mercy! For the fluidity, the flexibility, the awesome adaptability and creativity that Jesus uses to bring people together, friends and spouses, parents and children, co-workers, colleagues, peers.

We truly serve an awesome God who loves us and who seeks to give us good gifts. My prayer is that I can trust him enough to accept this awesome gift of relationship that he’s given me. To trust him, to trust my boyfriend, to trust myself.

1st Corinthians 13:13: And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

May 20, 2010

“Go to the mattresses”

My mom recently bought new mattresses for my sister and I. Apparently, mattresses have a 10-15 year life span, and it’s advisable to get new ones at some point in that time frame. So we got new mattresses.

Two things come to mind when I hear the word mattress:

a)    a support system

b)    that quote from The Godfather – “Go to the mattreses” – that I only know because of the movie You’ve Got Mail

These two things seem inextricably interlinked at the present moment. In You’ve Got Mail, the quote is used to exhort the female protagonist to fight for her small business. So if you go to the mattresses, you’re fighting (and fighting hard) to get something. And then the second one is basic enough: a support system. A network of friends, of relationships.

Bear with me here, but let’s say that each of us has a mattress that we carry around with us. It’s our support system. Our relationships, our work maybe, our families, our privacy – whatever it is that you can collapse on at a moment’s notice. Whatever gives you rest. It’s something we fight for. It’s something we rely on, and we don’t realize how important it is until it starts breaking down.

Because the truth is, there are times when we need to get a new mattress. What used to give us support doesn’t anymore. Relationships change, wear out, and thin over time; to adapt a common adage, you go from the family you’re born with to the family you choose. Friends change, and even if friends don’t change, the nature of the friendship changes. And other things, too – the identity of being a student is a support that is two weeks away from being extinct (at least for now).

My “mattress,” as it were, is in a state of revision. And it’s a good thing. And I’m “going to the mattresses” to fight for my vision of what that could be. I can’t see it clearly yet, but I can feel it forming beneath me – and I’m choosing to trust that.

May 8, 2010

On Identity in Christ

I’m writing this morning in a spirit of joy, gratitude, and contentment, though the contentment is slow settling in.

The last few days have been a rocky journey. I’ve been back on campus, seeing friends all around, something that should be a source of great joy. And it has been. But simultaneously, the poison that is bitterness has been seeping into my worldview. Over the last two days, I found myself interpreting others’ actions, wondering what they thought of me, feeling that disastrous need for recognition.

The need for recognition is a great spiritual struggle for me; it is hard to overcome. For the last two days, I’ve been wallowing in it, wallowing in bitterness, an emotion that feeds on itself, eating you from the inside out – I’ve been … well, not the most pleasant person to be around.

See, the harsh truth is that my “need” for recognition means that I want others’ approval, and the fact that I “need” their approval means that I’m not confident in my own accomplishments, abilities, etc., and if I’m not confident in those things, it’s because I’m not confident in who I am. So that need for recognition spirals into this need for others to tell me who I am – a good student/athlete/artist/girlfriend/friend/daughter/actress/poet … you get the idea.

Thing is, those are transient identities that will ebb and flow over the course of our lives. Athletes get injured. So do writers (just ask Stephen King). Marriages end. People die. Ultimately, the identities that flow from those other sources in our lives cannot define us, because the world can change in a nanosecond.

For example (and if you are the praying sort, your prayers are appreciated) – family friends of ours recently had their world rocked upside down. The husband is probably sitting in a hospital right now. His wife (who my mom used to babysit for) was driving her minivan with their three kids in the backseats. Someone ran a stop sign and blindsided them, killing their oldest boy and baby girl. The mom is in critical condition. The younger boy is injured but will be okay.

A nanosecond. That is all it takes for a life – a family – to be ripped apart. Our relationships, especially those bonded in love, are things of beauty; they give so much joy. But I use this tragic example to illustrate a crucial point: though the world may change, and though what we know may be ripped from us, the love that Jesus Christ has for us knows no bounds and is present in every situation, good and bad. Paul said that he had learned to be content in all things because of that awesome, never-ending, powerful, pervasive, stubborn, glorious love of his savior.

When life turns upside down, when tragedy strikes, when we perceive that our identity is in flux, when we ask “Who am I?” … Jesus answers.

You are my daughter. You are my son. You are saved. You are loved. You are blessed. You are the sheep and I am your shepherd. You are the branches and I am the vine. You are my beloved.

When life knocks us down, or when we listen to diabolic lies, or when we are faced with the uncertainty and mutability of our own flesh, there is Jesus’ voice … in prayer, in scripture, He tells us that we have nothing to fear and everything to gain. Jesus can tell me who I am. He can tell you who you are. The people around us cannot. Situations cannot. Accolades cannot. Recognition cannot. Achievement cannot. The world cannot.

But He can. And knowing who you are in Jesus Christ is an awesome knowledge that makes your shoulders slump in gratitude, and maybe your eyes fill up with tears, and maybe you breathe a sigh of relief because goodness, the weight of the world is too freaking heavy for a human being to carry.

The love of Christ does two things: it grounds us firmly in His presence, and it casts out all fear. When I totally rest in His arms, the worry, anxiety, fear, bitterness, anger … all of those things seep out of my body. When I claim His name and ask for a spirit of loving gentleness, of wisdom, of hope, He gives it freely. What joy is there in that! And what confidence. When we are confident in our identity, we are confident in our abilities. Confidence reaps freedom and love. When we are confident in who we are, we love people so much better. Our relationships are richer, brighter, fuller.

But that’s another post. For this morning, I will close with scripture. I’m sitting at a friend’s desk (this one’s for Bam Bam), and there are “scripture treasure” cards sitting here. The two I turned to are “Victory” and “Lordship” – how appropriate this morning.

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 1 John 4:4

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. John 15:15

May 4, 2010

Good Things Monday

I know plenty of bloggers who do a “Good Things Friday” post to commemorate the end of the week. But I have a Good Things Monday post. Feel free to comment with the good things in your life this week (so far!).

1. An awesome new sermon series at church entitled “She.” Our pastor is centering it around Mother’s Day and Proverbs 31, talking about freeing women to serve in their full God-given capacity as the crown of creation (his words, so cool). Cool word fact: ezer, the world often translated as “helper” or “helpmeet” in English (what Eve is described as in Genesis), is only used 20 times in the Old Testament. Every other time, it refers to God. And every other time, it means lifesaver. Given that I’m sort of in a recovery stage of having gone through a tone of Grudem’s theology (grrr he makes some good points but there are times when I just want to throttle the man, which is a very human impulse, I know) … suffice to say, the sermon series is a good thing.

2. My friend Jenelle is here! We had a wonderful dinner with my mom last night – chicken bow tie pasta with pesto and a Shiraz/Cabernet blend. Mmm.

3. Today, we got wonderful chocolates, coffee, and hot hoagies in my hometown before taking a bit of a road trip to take a tour of Leinenkugels Brewery in Chippewa Falls, WI. Great tour and free beer tasting afterword.

4. Also great: our tour guide told us that at the local grocer, the 1888 Bock was on sale for $3 a six-pack. Um, yes! You’ve never seen 22-year-old women more excited to buy beer. Seriously. We were giddy. Giddy, I tell you!

5. Listening to movie soundtracks in the car (Avitar, Chronicles of Narnia, 300), talking about being a choir geek (her) and band geek (me) and totally nerding out to the beautiful crescendos in the music.

6. Walking around Barnes & Noble talking about our favorite books. Going to the children’s section and reliving our childhoods … Nancy Drew, American Girl, Harry Potter, Redwall, Dear America …

7. Enjoying pizza and bottles of said 1888 Bock with my father, all of us singing Closer to Fine (Indigo Girls) karaoke style while having a great conversation.

Life doesn’t get much better.

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