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.

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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/

June 4, 2010

It’s Wedding Season! (break out the Xanax)

I have four – count them, four – friends getting married in the next 15 days. I can only attend one of the weddings, which breaks my heart, but as a result of this nuptial frenzy, weddings are on the mind. I was discussing them today with a good friend and once again was faced with the fact that I am quite possibly the only woman in the world who does not like weddings.

Don’t get me wrong – I am thrilled for my friends who are getting married. All four of them are with good men, and I don’t say that flippantly. And marriage itself, the institution at its heart, is something to be celebrated. But for reasons unknown to me, I find wedding ceremonies to be voyeuristic and rather awkward. I don’t know why. I feel like I’m – snooping? – into someone else’s intimate moment. I know that guests are meant to be witnesses to one of the most beautiful moments in someone else’s life, but still …

Strange though this predilection is, I’ve come a long way, baby, over the last two years. I used to be anti-marriage as well as anti-wedding, but a good man (and a savior with a great sense of humor) helped (is helping?) cure me of that … phase. I’d still rather elope than face a crowd of 200 loved ones in an embarrassingly tight white dress, but my boyfriend is stubborn. I figure that if I have to go through relationship Purgatory, it may as well be walking down an aisle.

This propensity may be why I enjoy movies such as Wedding Crashers. Don’t click that back button – stay with me. Notwithstanding Bride Friend #1’s amazing commentary for this movie, I truly enjoy the way the film pokes fun at weddings. The premise of the film is that two guys go to weddings to get laid by women who are supposedly floating on a sexual high (clearly, they never met me). Sleazy though that premise may be, the film does an excellent job of showing how predictable, commercialized, and non-personal weddings can be. They integrate themselves into the wedding experience, making toasts and dancing with flower girls.

In short, they show how overdone and predictable weddings can be in our culture. How focused on the tradition, on the ceremony, rather than on the couple. And this may be my issue at its core: is it necessary to have a bridal party? To have 200 guests? To have a champagne toast, a DJ, an ungodly enormous cake, ridiculous floral arrangements – is all of that necessary? Weddings, and the marriages that lie beneath them, have been turned into commercial affairs when, really, all they need to be are simple vows between a man and a woman, with the witness of an officiate and perhaps a few friends.

This is not meant to insult anyone, and it’s certainly not meant to upset my friends who are getting married over the next few weeks. I’m simply questioning the necessity of the ceremony, of the pomp and circumstance. Not of marriage, not of love, and certainly not of a couple’s genuine desire to share their day with their loved ones (however many hundreds there may be). After all, why should any two weddings be identical? Shouldn’t they be as unique as the people who are getting married?

I’ll end my thoughts here, because this is starting to venture off into rambling, but I just want to say: I think that weddings are awkward and at times over-commercialized, but love is supercalifragalisticexpialidocious (or however Mary Poppins said it) and marriage is something our culture has forgotten how to value. And beneath everything, buried under all that pomp that I can’t seem to ignore, marriage is what weddings are about. And I need to remember that. I think we all do.

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