If my last entry caught your interest, read this conference paper written by N. T. Wright for a symposium on Men, Women and the Church.
Archive for November, 2006
By now, everyone who turns on a television or radio or looks at a newspaper knows about evangelical, Ted Haggard, and his double life. While many have weighed in with their comments about Haggard’s fall, Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill in Seattle, made comments on November 7th exhorting his fellow pastors with advice so that they would not also fall into sexual sin. Unfortunately, much of his advice implicates women as the real perpetrators of a male pastor’s descent into darkness. (Read his comments at http://theresurgence.com/md_blog_2006-11-03_evangelical_leader_quits.)
It’s the standard stuff: wives who are not giving their husbands enough sexual satisfaction or are no longer sexually desirable, women church members who are too flirtatious, female pastors’ assistants who become too emotionally involved with the pastor. While he does not let men off the hook entirely, his advice echoes some excuses that blame (or at least partially blame) the victims of rape for the perpetrators’ crimes. Driscoll’s comments are a reflection of the deeper problems the CEC (conservative evangelical church) has with women and with sex. I am also impressed anew by the aura of fear surrounding male/female relationships within the CEC. (In case you’re wondering, most of my life has been spent within the borders of the CEC, so I speak not just from theory but from personal experience.)
While some may choose to spend their time arguing the issue of biblical headship (check out the book I Suffer Not a Woman by husband and wife team, Kroger and Kroger, as an alternative biblical view on this subject), one thing is indisputable: The common conservative view of this subject tends to create such disparate categories among the sexes that men and women become afraid of each other and the sexual power that each might hold over the other. Before anyone reacts too strongly, I must emphasize that, yes, I believe it is possible (and even likely) in some situations for people to fall into sexual sin. But let me give an example of what I mean about this kind of fear.
I began to notice several years ago that whenever a woman would approach a man in our couples’ fellowship group for any reason, he would never look at the woman directly and often looked as though he were looking for an escape. The level of discomfort was often almost palpable.
It became apparent to me that in the male mind the woman was an object to be feared, not a person to be in relationship with (think Martin Buber “I-It” and “I-Thou”). Male/female friendships were discouraged among married people – maybe not directly in words but definitely in other less tangible ways – presumably because of the temptation they might bring.
Women are not allowed to be pastors in most CEC’s, so technically the men hold all of the power. But their fear of women is tremendous. Thus, we as women are held apart as objects of fear as well as objects of subservience. With this as my adult experience in the CEC, is it any wonder, then, that Driscoll would make such comments about women?
The unfortunate result of this fear is incompleteness within the church. We are not simply family members to be loved and cherished regardless of our sex. Instead, we are reduced to categories of people who might wield sexual power over one another or people who might be led astray. Relationship cannot flourish when fear is the overarching presence.
I think it is particularly interesting that Paul chose to place male/female relationships within the picture of Galatians freedom (see 3:28 – no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female in Christ). He declares an end to the distinctions that hold one category more competent or responsible than any other within the body of Christ, but do we really believe this enough to act on it? If we take this scripture seriously we will extend an open hand of fellowship to each other regardless of sex rather than a closed fist held at the ready to deliver an uppercut at the first sign of “threat.”
If Jesus came to reconcile people not only with God but with each other, I cannot help but think that genuine relationships that believe the best for each other and are on an equal footing might provide a partial answer for keeping sexual sin in check. For where the mutual respect of equality is present, there is seldom abuse of personal trust or corporate power. In this place, people are not valued for their X or Y chromosomes but are treasured as Image-Bearers of the Living Christ whom we declare to be our King. I know this because this is the kind of church community I now live within.
To the praise of our Glorious Lord and the building up of his cherished body, the Church.
Christian and Ian came home from school a couple of days agoÂ complaining about a substitute teacher they had in band that morning.Â To their horror and the ultimate insult of their early adolescent selves, the sub said, “Put your instruments away,” and then she made them clap the rhythms of their music.Â (Ian pointed outÂ how stupid this wasÂ forÂ him and his fellowÂ percussionists since the rhythm is almost all they play anyway.)
But it usuallyÂ takes boredom or negative circumstances to propel the human spirit forward into the challenge of creating something interesting to combat a nearly unbearableÂ situation.Â Call itÂ the creationÂ of existential meaning… or perhaps just reliefÂ from the tedious.Â Christian and his friend rose to the occasion.Â They spent what time they safelyÂ could (without getting into trouble) playing, “This Sucks Hangman.”Â The rules are the same as regular Hangman, but in this game the word or phrase to be deciphered is a continuation of the words, “This sucks because…”
When Christian told us about the sub at the dinner table, he was angry and feeling that this poor woman’s behaviorÂ was a personal insult.Â As he told us about “This Sucks Hangman,” the indignation in his voice suddenly changed midway through, as though he were visited by an epiphany of how funny it was that he and a friend actually played a stupidÂ game with such a title.Â Then he couldn’t stop laughing.Â John, of course, put on his octave-lower-falsely-serious voice and said something like, “Son, you shouldn’t play games with names like that.”Â This was enough to make us all explode with laughter.
I might remind John ofÂ the limericksÂ he hasÂ written during interminable meetings.Â In fact, he and the boys could exchange ideasÂ for those overabundantÂ times of hardship and boredom.Â Â They mightÂ learn something fromÂ each other.Â But I hope they skip the idea that usesÂ nail clippers to commit suicide.Â I’ve heard it doesn’t work.
I have to restrain myself. I have to keep myself from running up and asking my friends, “Wanna see my thumb?” Then, I must refrain from shoving it into their faces, six inches from their eyes, too close for anyone with eyes our age to see but at just the place my own kids position things they want me to see. My history as a child is almost injury-free. This kind of thing doesnâ€™t happen to me.
There is a horrible gash across the inside of the thumb on my left hand. Okay, maybe not a horrible gash, but a cut at least a half inch long. It is fairly deep – deep enough that for the first thirty minutes the blood flows like a head wound. Although I wait until the following morning, I go to have it glued shut by a doctor to keep it from continually reopening every time I move my thumb. I voice my indignation through a series of whispered owws! that the gluing process hurts more than the actual moment of the accident. The tetanus shot after I am patched up is a breeze. Allergy shots have trained me well.
I leave the doctorâ€™s office proud that I did not have to put my head between my legs. I may sweat a little, but none of that sissy swooning this time. When it comes right down to it, I hardly got queasy at all when the blood soaked through the many layers of paper towel pressed tightly against my thumb the night before.
I joke with the office staff on my way out, as though I am an old hand at being wounded and repaired. We talk about how many benefits I can milk out of my thumb which is supposed to stay clean and dry for 24 hours. â€œNo laundry, and no dishes,â€ says Tina. â€œI donâ€™t think I can make dinner either,â€ I reply in an overly serious voice of concern. Although it is unspoken, we all laugh aloud about another excuse we can use to be treated to dinner out.
I arrive home before my husband leaves for work, and after seeing my thumb he says, â€œHow about Qdoba tonight?â€ It is music to my ears. But then I realize that I have to be at work shortly after he comes home, and I canâ€™t properly celebrate my injury or ensuing bravery with dinner out. I am disappointed in the extreme but resolve to make up for it by lying around and doing nothing until the kids get home from school.
After I spend the day reading, surfing the web, and avoiding putting pressure on my thumb, the kids burst through the door around 3:30 eager to be home. I am glad they are home, too. Now is the only chance I will get to celebrate today.
â€œHey kids! Wanna see my thumb?â€ And I am gratified.
When I voted today, I got a sticker that said, “I Voted Today.” In smaller letters on the sticker was the phrase, “Vote Your Conscience.” This struck me as odd.
Vote whose conscience? Mine or the one someone else thinks should be mine? And if it’s really mine and doesn’t agree with the person handing out the stickers should I really VOTE or just have my own thoughts and stay home? And is it really my CONSCIENCE I should vote? Or should it be, according to someone else’s values, something a bit more tangible, like my pocket? What is a conscience, after all? It’s not something one can grab hold of, is it? Is it based upon something other than the cultural standards with which one is raised? Is it something in which God actively participates? Is it Jiminy Cricket in disguise?
In spite of these questions, I did vote my conscience. Whatever that is…
(To be read only with one’s tongue at a ninety degree angle inside one’s mouth and firmly thrust against the inside of one’s cheek.)
O misery of Cave!
Cold Blanket of Winter
Wrapping ’round flesh and bones!
O despair of the Dark,
Day scarce diff’rent than night -
All flesh woefully moans.
O Truculent Season!
Living Death of All Life -
Banishes color green.
O Robber of Visions,
No interest emerging -
Thief of Beautiful Scene.
O Imposer of Gray,
Brown, and Infinite Beige -
O Inconstant Season
Of freezing and thawing -
To end you I’ve oft wished!
A cheer for the springtime,
A hiss for the winter,
The death before new life.
O emerge from the Cave
To thawing of senses,
The end of wintry strife.
*Inspired by the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder