Sex Sells, Sex Provides

[From the archives.]

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The mother stood in my courtroom, arguing for custody; the father hadn’t bothered to show up. She had no lawyer but was well dressed, well groomed and well spoken. I’d read through her paperwork and didn’t see her occupation, so I asked her.

“I’m an exotic dancer.”

Exotic dancer? I asked in my head. You mean like a stripper?

Out loud I coughed slightly and said, “And what’s your monthly income?”

She told me, and by the end of the hearing I awarded her custody of her son.

Later back in chambers I had a question for my clerk. “That mom, the exotic dancer. Do you think that means she’s a stripper?”

“Oh come on, Judge,” she said from her desk. “What other kind of exotic dancer is there?”

That led me to other questions.

What kind of society is it that makes young mothers feel that becoming a stripper is the best way to be able to provide for their children, to put a roof over their heads and food on the table?

What kind of society is it that makes young fathers feel that they can leave their children behind, forcing the mother to raise the child all on her own even if it means she has to take a job in a strip club?

A Community Subsisting on the Sex Trade

Here’s an article that broke my heart and brought me hope at the same time.

A village in Gujarat hosted a mass wedding and engagement ceremony of 21 girls on Sunday aimed at breaking a tradition of prostitution which has for centuries exploited women of a poor, marginalised and once nomadic community in the region.

The article explains that this village’s inhabitants once served warring factions by selling their daughters to warlords as entertainers, dancers, sex slaves. The government has tried to help the village build an economy, but farming isn’t as profitable as prostitution so they continued to sell their daughters. One government official said, “Prostitution is a tradition which this community adopted for ages and it has been very normal for them. They did not think they were doing anything wrong.”

Where did I find hope in this? Working as a prostitute lasts only until the woman is engaged to be married so the government and a group of social activists organized a mass wedding of young women before they entered the sex trade. Eight got married and thirteen more got engaged, ending the possibility of life as a prostitute for those twenty-one young women. In a village of 50,000 people it’s not much, but it’s a start.

Ransoming Slaves

It didn’t come cheap. The activists spent $18,000 to make this happen. In a country where the average annual salary is about $1,300 this is a fortune.

We who belong to Jesus Christ should be able to relate. We’ve been ransomed too. The ransom was high: it cost Jesus his life. But that’s who he is, it’s what he does. He sets captives, slaves, the oppressed free!

Our Neighbors: oppressed, captive, enslaved

It’s easy to look at that village and shake our heads at how a society could go so far down that road, so far that prostitution is not only condoned but depended upon for daily sustenance.

Remember the young mother I spoke of at the beginning of this article? That’s not in some far off village of former nomads. That’s here and now.

She takes her son to school, she goes to PTA meetings and parent/teacher conferences, she drives him to soccer practice, and she goes to court to make sure there is a legal order that says she gets to make the decisions about what’s best for her son.

She works as an exotic dancer to make this all possible.

So I ask:

What kind of society do we live in?

What is the Body of Christ doing about it?

What are you doing? (And what am I doing?)

You may not be able to do much but remember that whatever you do, it’s a start.

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Sex, Women and Jesus

[Today’s guest post is from Sheila Gregoire, a noted expert on sex in Christ.]

If you look at the best-selling marriage books on Amazon, it’s amazing how many are Christian.

Christians buy marriage books. Christians study marriage. Christians seem to prioritize marriage, and value marriage, more than the general population.

So Christians must have awesome marriages, right?

Well, I guess there’s some good news. Studies have repeatedly shown that committed Christians do, indeed, have the best marriages (though secular progressives come pretty darn close), and that Christians have lower divorce rates (although we also put up with abuse much longer than non-Christians do).

When I did my surveys for The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, I also found that Christian women enjoyed sex more than those who didn’t call themselves Christian.

There’s only one thing. While we do better, we don’t do substantially better.

When I asked women to rate their sex life on a scale of 1-10, for instance, Christians rated it, on average, 7.36. Non-religious women rated it 6.38. So, sure, we’re doing better. But it’s not buy-a-float-in-the-Macy’s-parade-to-celebrate level better. And a lot of those women who rated their sex life high also didn’t reach climax. (I think they didn’t understand how great sex is really supposed to be.)

Now Christians have the Holy Spirit living in us. We’re supposed to be transformed. We’re supposed to be passionate (and I do believe that hot and holy go together!). Shouldn’t we be doing awesome?

I’ve spent the last seven years blogging primarily about sex, and I’ve seen, over and over again, Christian couples facing major sexual problems. Women with no libido. Men with no libido. Porn use (in both men and women). Trouble reaching orgasm. Difficulty setting boundaries. It goes on and on, to the point that I get scared to check comments every morning because it can get so depressing. If Christians have the Holy Spirit, and Christians value marriage, why are we having so many problems?

I think I know–but I want to test several hypotheses and see.

I want to get to the root of what makes sex & marriage great for women–but also what makes it terrible. Together with two researchers, I’m embarking on what I hope will be the largest survey of women’s sexual and marital satisfaction (and dissatisfaction). I want to figure out what the key things are that make marriage click, and what things set couples up for a world of hurt.

Christians should be thriving–but we’re not. Instead of just offering Christian pat answers about submission or having more sex so he won’t stray, let’s do some evidence gathering, so we can create some evidence-based solutions.

Can you help? I need as many Christian women as possible to take this survey. If you’ve ever been married (even if you’re not right now), I’d love for you to participate! Most Christian marriage surveys have ignored divorced or remarried women, but we’re being sure to include them, because they have a lot to teach us about what went wrong in the first place.

And, no, men aren’t eligible for this one (sorry, Tim!), but hopefully we’ll do one of men in the future.

Take the survey right here!

Want some incentives, even though Tim’s awesome readers don’t need any? You can win 1 of 98 prizes (valued at over $2000 in total) once you take the survey. Plus everyone who takes it gets a free intimacy igniter–a 4-date night exercise that can ramp up your intimacy in your relationship.

Thanks, everybody! I appreciate your time.

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If you’ve returned here to comment after taking the survey, please refrain from speaking specifically about any questions, so as not to “prime” those who haven’t taken the survey yet. Thank you!

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Image result for sheila gregoireSheila Wray Gregoire blogs everyday at To Love, Honor and Vacuum, where she tries to get beyond Christian pat answers and help people stop seeing marriage as a to-do list, but instead as a passionate adventure. She’s the author of 8 books, including The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex and 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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I Read Reference Books For Fun

[Updated from the archives.]

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I like to read. A show of hands for those who are like-minded.

I like to read reference books. Another show of hands please … waiting for those hands to go up … still waiting … ok, how about with every head bowed and every eye closed … now let’s see those hands go up … hmm, still waiting … .

Reverence for Reference Books

The reference books I’ve read have mostly been on language and writing. My first was Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. It has its shortcomings, but in college it had a permanent place on my bedside table as I read and re-read it in hope of improving my writing.

Others I’ve made my way through include The Oxford Companion to the English Language (cover-to-cover 1184 pages), The Quotable Lewis – an encyclopedic selection of quotes from the complete published works of C.S. Lewis (encyclopedic is right), and Bryan Garner’s A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage (which I won at a seminar he gave in the late 80s).

This predilection for reading reference books applies to my Scripture reading as well. Some people would even say the Bible itself is a type of reference book, like the fundamentalist preacher who, hearing I wanted to study history in college, bellowed The Bible is the best history book there is!” (Yes, and no. It’s a book with passages of history. And poetry. And genealogy. And travelogue. And much more.  As a whole, it is God’s revelation of who he is, not a history book.)

I’m not talking about the Bible as reference book, though. I’m talking about study Bibles. They combine Scripture with a running commentary of the text, and have been my usual mode of personal Bible study for years now.

Studying Study Bibles

The first Bible I read through from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 was a regular NIV I’d bought back in 1984 in a little Christian book shop in Brighton, near the University of Sussex where I was going to school.*  It had no study notes or commentary to guide me.

It was captivating.

The Bible I bought in Brighton. I wore the first cover to bits, so had this second cover put on.

The Bible I bought in Brighton. I wore the first cover to bits, so had this second cover put on.

After a few years I decided to give a study Bible a try so I read through the NIV Study Bible. I bought one of the earliest editions and read it through, along with all the study notes along the way. I thought it was the greatest thing since Guttenberg used movable type. Imagine reading a passage and having the commentary right there on the same page. This was wild stuff for me 25 years ago.

Then I read the NLT Life Application Study Bible. That was an interesting tool. All the study notes, as you might have guessed, went to how the passage applied in one’s life. I can’t say I followed a lot of their specific application advice, but I can say that the notes opened up new understanding for me on a lot of passages.

I then went back and re-read the NIV Study Bible, mostly because I hadn’t found another one to pick up yet.

I took a short break from study Bibles and read the one-year HCSB. I’d never before done one of those one-year plans where you read a bit from several books of the Bible each day. There’s something about reading passages in a different order for being able to see things you’ve missed before.

I’ve used the Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, too. If you want solid Reformation doctrine from a solid theologian, then this will fit the bill. Did I already lean toward Reformed doctrine before reading this? Yes. But even those who are not can learn much from the solid teaching in this study Bible.

Reading the Bible I Stole

I recently read through the Archaeological Study Bible. My daughter had been to Israel a couple of times and wanted this for herself so we picked up a copy for her. She hadn’t taken it to school with her yet and I got to where I needed to start a new study Bible and there it was. I’ve been enjoying the notes and articles and maps and charts. Again, new ways of understanding Scripture opened up all the time with this one. And I didn’t even blink when I got to the passage about “Thou shalt not steal”.

The version I just finished is a chronological and narrative Bible. It’s chronological in that it sets the passages out in order of the events recorded, or in order of when it was written. It’s narrative in that the editor has insightful mini essays periodically inserted between Scripture passages to introduce, link, or summarize what you’re reading. It’s designed to read through in a single year, and reading the passages in this order opened up new understanding of God’s word.

Back to the Beginning

Now I’m reading the Bible through the way I did the first time, not with a study Bible but just the Scripture text itself, reading from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. And I’m using that same Bible I bought in the little book shop in Brighton.

God’s word is amazing. Does the Holy Spirit need commentaries to guide us in understanding that word? Of course not. But he is able to use them to open up our understanding of God’s wonderful story, and that’s something worth studying.

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*I became a Christian while studying in England: My Salvation Story.

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Don’t Leave Your Mat by the Sin Pool

Jesus healed a man who’d been crippled for decades, a man who had apparently run out of options for getting himself well.

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. (John 5:2-9.)

The man found the cure he’d been hoping for. Now he could walk as well as anyone else. He must have been amazed to be able to do as Jesus bid him: “Get up!”

Jesus also told him to take his mat in hand and walk, and he did. Wouldn’t you? The person who healed you tells you to do something, you might be in a frame of mind to do whatever they say.

Why did Jesus point out the mat, though? The man knew it was there. He’d been resting on it for years. Perhaps Jesus thought the man was so preoccupied in his excitement that he might forget it. Perhaps Jesus wanted the man to see he was now able not only to walk but to carry loads.

Regardless of the reason Jesus told him to pick up the mat, there’s a lesson here for everyone healed by Jesus.

Staying away from the sin pool

I practically swam in the sin pool and, until Jesus came along and told me to get up and showed me he had made it possible for me to live otherwise, I liked it. I was just like this, and then Jesus came along:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world … . All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. … But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus … . (Ephesians 2:1-6.)

I had my mat–or beach towel, or pool chair, or whatever you want to envision–right there at the sin pool. If this metaphor were literally true, Jesus might have told me to pick it up and take a walk away from the sin pool, too. As it is, the Bible lays out for me what the next steps are.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. (Romans 6:12-14.)

If you’re not under the law, how will you know how to live your life? Won’t you need rules? The simple answer is no you won’t. It’s not laws and rules that lead you to staying away from the sin pool. It’s God’s grace in you by the power of the Holy Spirit.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age … . (Titus 2:11-12.)

But you’re thinking it might be nice to have a couple of pointers for staying away from the sin pool. You’re right, and here they are:

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7.)

… let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2.)

Satan flees from you at the sign of your resistance. How can you find the strength to resist? In God’s grace. Don’t leave your mat by the sin pool where you’ll return to lie on it. Sin entangles, but Jesus frees us not only to get up and walk, but to run in a race free from any and all entanglements.

Submit to God and keep your eyes on Jesus. Take up your mat, leave the sin pool behind, and get ready to run.

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The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel Denies the Gospel and God’s Justice

The “Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel” came out a year ago and is worth looking at once again. Scrutiny reveals that the statement perverts both the gospel and one of the gospel’s components, social justice.

The first paragraph of the statement’s introduction asserts there is “an onslaught of dangerous and false teachings that threaten the gospel.” This is error. The reality is that the gospel is not threatened by lies, and falsehoods pose no danger to it.

The statement’s introduction then identifies the culprit as social justice but places the phrase in quotes, allowing the reader to assume that social justice is not a real concern for those seeking to live out the gospel of Jesus. Once the concept of social justice is dismissed, the statement is free to list a number of other aspects of life that are supposedly not gospel. The statement slowly builds to sex and race divisions, reaching them in articles XI (Complementarianism) and XII (Race/Ethnicity). The statement’s point is that feeling oppressed is no reason to consider someone to actually be oppressed: “we deny that a person’s feelings of offense or oppression necessarily prove that someone else is guilty of sinful behaviors, oppression, or prejudice.” (Art. XII.)

This is a straw man argument. No one says feelings are necessarily prove anything. The real point–and the one deflected by the statement–is that if a woman or person of color says they feel oppressed or offended they are referring to something that happened to them, not some emotional state of mind. The proper response is to listen and investigate.

If oppression or offense exist, the Bible says to do something about it.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9.)

Rather than dismiss social justice we are embrace it as part of the gospel of Jesus. (Luke 4.) Did the authors of the statement have good intentions? It doesn’t matter, since they deny the gospel in dismissing the pursuit of justice the Bible calls for.

“Justice, justice shalt thou pursue.” (Deuteronomy 16:20.)

Not a bad pursuit indeed.

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Encouragement for Parents with Kids Moving Away to College – the Spacious Nest Syndrome

[From the archives.]

Our son Kyle recently came home from college for a long weekend and brought three friends with him. For spacious-nesters like us it was quite a crowd. (My wife Liz and I figure we’re not empty-nesters since we’re still here for crying out loud!)

Each night after dinner we all sat together at the table and talked. We didn’t necessarily talk about anything in particular; we just talked. There was a lot of laughing as we told stories about Kyle when he was younger. He’s a good sport and came up with a few stories about us too. His friends were very entertained and kept looking at Kyle and saying things like, “Well that explains a lot!”

They also asked us questions, mostly about God and faith and the Bible. Apparently Kyle told them ahead of time they should feel free to ask us whatever they had on their minds when it came to God. He knows us well, because Liz and I are not likely to back away from a discussion about God things.

Eventually the conversations turned to their plans for the future. Kyle is the only one graduating this year, so the others were talking about what to do this summer, whether to apply to study abroad next year, what their major might finally end up being. In all of this there was a subtext of faith. At times it became explicit such as when talking about opportunities to serve on a summer mission, but even when not so explicit it was always there under the surface. These kids know that their lives are wrapped up in God.

They left after dinner on Monday, and the next day I was reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I know it’s enough to have lost count by now. Yet every time I get to the part where Aragorn and his friends Gimli the Dwarf and Legolas the Elf meet Eomer, I am struck again by the timelessness of the tale.

Aragorn explains to Eomer that they are traveling through his country on a quest to save their Hobbit friends from a large band of marauding Orcs, and he seeks Eomer’s leave to continue their pursuit. Eomer struggles with whether to help these strangers or not and says:

“It is hard to be sure of anything among so many marvels. Elf and Dwarf in company walk among our daily fields …! How shall a man judge what to do in such times?”

“As he has ever judged,” said Aragorn. “Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear, nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among men.”

DSC07467

That’s what got me thinking about Kyle and his friends. They are all judging what to do with their lives, even if that’s not quite how they’d put it. But his friends are in just their second year of college. Where are they supposed to get the ability to discern good from ill, right from wrong? Well, as timeless as Tolkien’s portrayal of good judgment may be there is an even more timeless resource for them (and us) to turn to for guidance.

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” (Proverbs 16:3.)

God himself is the one we can trust our plans to. Does it matter whether the plan is to go to summer school or serve on a mission to South Africa? What about making a final decision on choosing a major? Is a choice of roommate and housing for next year something to exercise good judgment over?

The answer to each of these questions is the same: Yes. How is this done, though? What does it mean to commit our plans to the God? The Bible tells us. “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31.) We’re also told that God’s will is that we “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.)

Those are our guides for committing our plans to God: seek his glory, and do it joyfully, prayerfully and with thanksgiving. On top of all this, the Bible also gives us a wonderful reason to trust God with those plans: his eternal and unchanging nature.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8.)

Even more than Tolkien’s assurance about the unchanging qualities of good and ill, we can rest assured that God himself has not changed since yesteryear. That’s why committing our plans to him is always the best plan we can make.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 19:21.)

I’m planning on it.

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[My thanks to Adriana of Classical Quest for creating the LOTR quote-graphic for this post.]

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All Sins Are Not Born Equal

A Christian with a huge Twitter following quoted his friend saying “Once we realize that we’re all equally awful and equally loved everything changes.”

That’s not what the Bible says.

The Bible does not say all people are equally awful. It says no one is righteous and everyone has sinned. (Romans 3:10 and 3:23.) This doesn’t mean all sins are equal. It does mean that any sin is a disqualification from righteousness.

As for love, the Bible says God is love. (1 John 4:8.) Since God is infinite, I’ll go along with limitless love. (Romans 8:38-39.) It also says God became human because “God so loved the world” and he gives eternal life to “whoever believes in him.” (John 3:16.)

So the concept of being equally loved is actually subsumed by the fact that God’s love is infinite. Great news.

But equally awful? That’s just not true. Equally undeserving, perhaps. That concept has biblical support. Equal awfulness does not. It’s unscriptural hogwash.

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Racists and the Rejection of God

[Updated from the archives.]

Some people are racist and embrace the label. They honestly think there’s a reason to feel that their own skin color makes them superior to people with a different skin color. Some of these racists even think they honor Jesus with their racism. But why do I care? After all, I’m a white male in America which makes me one of the most privileged people on the planet.

I care for two reasons.

First, mine is what some call a blended race family. When you talk about people of color, you’re talking about my wife, my son and my daughter. And if anyone accuses them of not being worth as much as other Americans, that person is not only wrong but stupid and ignorant.

My wife is sixth generation American. How many racist people can say the same? And on my side, my kids can trace their family on this continent to 1680. One of those racists want to beat that? And yes, my kids’ skin color is darker than those ignorant racists’ skin. So here’s my advice to the racists: get over it.

Second, the Bible is full of instances where racism is rejected by God and his prophets. We all know Paul’s statement that in Christ there is no male or female, Scythian or Jew or Gentile, no barbarian or slave or free. Jesus just doesn’t see our skin color the way that racists do. The problem with racism goes back to a time long before Paul, though, and God dealt with it severely.

Moses, the great leader of Israel, married a woman from Cush, a region in Africa to the south of Egypt. That meant she wasn’t an Israelite and had darker skin than the Israelites. This bothered Moses’ brother Aaron and sister Miriam. In fact, his decision to marry the woman caused them to question his ability to lead the people and they pointed this out to their fellow Israelites when speaking of their own qualifications to lead the people in his place. That was a big mistake and led to one of the most chilling verses in the whole Bible:

“The anger of the Lord burned against them, and he left them.” (Numbers 12:9.)

Their racism incited them to speak against God’s chosen prophet, and it angered God so much that he left them! Moses married a woman whose skin color did not mean a thing to God when it come to who is allowed in his kingdom, and when someone questioned this God got mad.

I’d like the racists who claim to be Christians to think that over. Then I’d like them to repent and follow Jesus.

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Girls, Boys, Men and Women – Whose World Is It?

[Today’s guest post is from Cristy Tice, who writes of her childhood debates and grown-up lessons on the equality of women and men serving Jesus in a world that doesn’t yet get it.]

The Great Debate

I remember my first involvement in a debate. When I was eleven, we neighborhood kids had taken a break from whatever activity we were up to, riding bikes, jumping ramps, Frisbee, backyard baseball, football, hide-n-go seek, who knows. In my Nashville neighborhood right on the outskirts of downtown, kids close in age lived in every home around mine, what bliss. Seven of us (three girls, four boys) were a really tight group. We shared everything like bikes, baseball gloves, snacks, you name it.

Sipping water that hot afternoon, we piled on a front porch and out of nowhere someone posed a question, “Is it a man’s world or a woman’s world?” Each gender took their own side, explaining why one was more important than the other, who deserves to be boss, who makes the world go ‘round. It went on forever, was sloppy and interesting, and had a tone of nana nana boo boo.

Until that point I hadn’t been challenged to verbalize how boys and girls, men and women are culturally sorted into stereotypical categories. (Not to mention the insensitivity this pink and blue debate could be to people of a beautiful array of orientations.) Thinking back, with the experiences and observations I have now, I believe we are interconnected as human beings, we all need each other, and it is worthwhile to uncover biases that prevent healthy interaction, compassionate understanding, tender intimacy and life-affirming love.

Standing Up to Man Culture

This debate from childhood stuck with me, and life filled in the gaps to wrestle with the answers, and find even more questions along the way. As a woman, I’ve experienced mutually respectful, kind, loving friendships with some great men. These great men take risks of being shamed, shunned, laughed at and misunderstood for the love they give.

I’m grateful my husband didn’t buy into rigid gender roles or want to dim my light. In his fierce resistance to cave under the pressure of Bible Belt man up culture—holiness with a capital A, I’ve come to understand he was fighting for us. Where some might say he was taking the back seat, weak and not fulfilling his role as a spiritual leader, he was actually fighting for kindness, respect, dignity, equality, intimacy, and love. It’s life-giving to be a valid equal, a trusted collaborator, a partner, a team.

As a woman, I’ve also experienced the power of men used over me to exploit me or dampen my spirit.

  • A boss threatened to take away my vacation time if I didn’t do something unethical for the organization.
  • A boyfriend used his hugging arms as a measurement tool to judge my waistline, and say “you’re not quite there yet” and “If you could just believe in x, then you’d be marriage material.”
  • A leader invited me to write teaching content for ministries as an anonymous team writer, but the audience assumed my material was written by a man since it was used to teach men. Some slaughtered the writings with reinterpretation and I kept the secret of female authorship instead of defending the message, as the author.
  • Even though I don’t doubt their love, a few family members also joke that I “break all the rules” when I exhibit strength or joy in areas that are typically considered masculine. These are only a few examples.

I’m not rebellious or sorry for my love to cook on the grill, use power tools and equipment, work hard, break a sweat, have an opinion, ask a hard question, take up space, lead something, speak up, or exist. Men can do these things and be respected as great leaders. Women can do the same things and get called “bossy”, “sassy” or “angry.”

A woman who reveals desires, thoughts, and ambitions does not need her “leash tightened.” She is not an animal who needs to be tamed and caged, or subservient in word and action to the man telling her to “get back where she belongs”, and telling other men to “get her under control” or to “chop off her legs” so she can’t get to the voting booth with her unapproved political angle. I know these are jokes. But the heart of some jokes aren’t funny. A vintage ad announces “new men’s underwear, for women” describing how they are easier to launder, for women, because women do the laundry. Humor is often used to ease and cover discomfort and pain, which can be a gift, but some jokes reveal what’s in the heart when you follow the logic all the way to the light.

Breaking the Frame

What if the stereotypical framework we’ve been handed is what is limiting us? What if what we’ve assumed and considered a godly position of how to view men and women is dividing us, carving wedge-shaped stumbling blocks, and truncating the flow of life between the sexes? What if some of our concrete beliefs we champion as God’s way, are actually sin? What if our inherited definition of “godly leadership” is misogyny, both blatant and disguised? What if scripture’s occurrences of men ruling over women is a description of how the curse plays out, and not a prescription for a man’s obligatory leadership role? What if we didn’t know what we were doing, can we be forgiven? What if we did know what we were doing, is forgiveness and change possible? What has Christ redeemed between men and women, and what freedom and progress can we lean into?

Over the past five years or so, I’ve begun to ask myself hard questions that shake me at the core, that move me to change my mind, to uproot my comforts, shift my perspectives and invite what the Spirit would do to keep my heart tender, curious and earnest. So many questions.

It is difficult to see what has been ingrained in us, the perspectives, experiences, and common attitudes that we accept as the way it is, and the way it has always been. We tighten our stubborn grips, seal the deal on beliefs with theological proof texts, and excommunicate our doubts (or anyone who challenges us) in order to maintain some semblance of peace, even if it is killing us. Taking pride in an immovable, unchangeable, unshakeable mindset or belief system may become an obstacle from being able to see and be in awe of what God who is alive in the universe, moving in history (past, present, future,) active, and involved, is doing in our lives. What if the Spirit is calling us to be moved, transformed and off-kilter to make room for something vital and new?

Misogyny is defined as “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.” I would also add, that it includes dislike, contempt and prejudice against anything that is perceived as feminine. Misogyny is a form of sexism that views patriarchy as normal, moral, and best for everyone. “The man is supposed to be the spiritual leader” is a myth passed down by an oral tradition of unquestioned religious catch phrases. Misogyny is an abusive ideology that dehumanizes and objectifies both women and men. It dehumanizes men who have gifts that misogynistic men consider feminine or weak. It seeks to diminish the value of women who have traits and gifted abilities that abusive men consider tough and masculine.

We remain divided, at odds, in the dark, and hiding from true intimacy when we continue to uphold stereotypes and prejudices. When we ban full expression of gifts, in honor of a societal totem pole, we categorically keep each other in bondage and we suffocate the freedom of love, joy and delight.

Often men who benefit from a patriarchal system will have dominance, authoritarian and conquering language in their mission statement, and slap an “ism” label on anything perceived as feminine in order to dismiss their complicity in oppression. They awkwardly struggle to engage beyond the borders of “manly” comforts. In a misogynistic culture, if a man is scared, upset, or crying, they are made fun of for being too emotional—“emotionalism” is the tag. If a leader is confronted about the need to approach a situation with sensitivity, tenderness and Christ-likeness, the label of “legalism” or “That’s performancism and Christ isn’t my example” becomes the excuse to bow out of facing and working through problems.

A society that forces men to lead, idolizes male headship, and offers it as the only godly option passes along a hierarchy that puts women in second place, (or last place, less than human such as animal, robot, or alien) and limits both genders from expressing their God-given gifts. The triune God doesn’t operate from hierarchy. When we do, we distort his/her/their reflection. Jesus didn’t play by human rules and expectations of him, but he went against the grain for love, to display good news. We are forgiven, God is good with us, we have freedom, and stand equal in the sight of God…now go out and live from that in how you love one another. Jesus crossed borders to commune with ostracized people groups, he faced problems, touched wounds, met needs, fed the hungry, and gave indiscriminate inclusive love. Maybe these types of love in action sound like a “social justice” label, and will be disregarded, but I hope not. Maybe we too can cross the borders of gender barriers, like Jesus, for love.

I’d like to imagine together what could be, if we could welcome bringing everything into the light? Maybe it would open hearts for a kind of love we never knew possible. To make room for words like “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I hurt you. I couldn’t see it before, but I do now. How can I help? How can I ease the pain? Let me show you with my actions that I never want to hurt you again. I carry the weight of my responsibility, I own my wrongs against you…and feel a sense of how heavy you have been.” Maybe interactions like this would present the need and appreciation for Jesus and his words “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” To lighten our burdens, we need to acknowledge that the burdens are real. To not acknowledge them doesn’t make them go away.

Misogyny is a burden for women and men living in a “man’s world.” Exposure to light, finding good news that overcomes fear and shame, and discovering Love’s power, can reset the unbalanced axis of a world tilted in favor and credit to man, and can become “our world.” We can share a space where we can be loved and love from the heart and not worry about a binary impulse of fitting characteristics into inflexible boxes of male or female, masculine or feminine.

In our world, there is room for all humans, who are equal image-bearers of the source of love and beauty that is God. All of our human qualities are direct gifts, not inferior leftovers. If God was standing in front of a mirror, I don’t think the image-bearing reflection would be a man standing in front, and the woman behind. We were formed rib to rib, to be arm in arm, by each other’s sides, with equal footing before things went awry. Jesus worked to secure a curse-reversal between us and God and now we get the opportunity to imitate and participate in putting enmity to rest, in preference to and consideration for each other as precious, beloved, humankind.

So to this generation, and the next, and every one after that of sweaty kids, playing hard, sharing everything, navigating through life one wheelie pop at a time, holding onto wonder, enjoying being neighbors, making room for and celebrating each other, it is my hope that what will remain is Love.

***

Cristy is a Nashville native who enjoys time with loved ones, especially her husband and three kids. She’s outgoing and friendly, but digging in the garden or into a good book, thrifting, cooking, bike-riding and creative projects are welcome activities of solitude and reflection. Cristy’s a fan of earnest questions, wonder, and wandering in pursuit of the Spirit of Jesus, truth and love. She cares about seeing both the humanity and divinity in the eyes of every soul, especially the marginalized, forgotten and misunderstood. Cristy has been volunteering at the Nashville Rescue Mission Women’s campus and Hope Center life recovery program for 14 years, as well as a regular volunteer for a local elementary school of the Metro Nashville Public School System. You can connect with Cristy on Twitter.

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Patriotism Is Not Even Close To Being The Highest Virtue

Soon after I became a Christian I had a conversation with a youth pastor. July Fourth was coming up and he said that he thought patriotism was very Godly. I asked, “What about citizens in Nazi Germany?”

“Ummm … so maybe not always,” he said.

I said, “Maybe not always even here in the United States.”

Dual Citizenship

Don’t get me wrong. I know I am so blessed to live here, and that there are a lot of worse places to live in this world. I’m glad to be here. On top of that, it’s biblical to be under the authority of earthly rulers and act accordingly. (See, for example, Mark 12:13-17, Romans 13:1-7 and Titus 3:1.)

But we should not think that this is the ultimate good. As Jesus told Pilate when facing earthly judgment:

My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place. (John 18:36.)

Paul explained that for those who belong to Jesus, our citizenship too is in heaven with our Savior Jesus. (Philippians 3:20.) That is good news for us all, and it gets even better – if that is possible.

Because did you notice that word “now” in Jesus’ statement to Pilate? “But now,” he said, “my kingdom is from another place.” Jesus qualified his statement because in the future he’s going to bring heaven and earth together into a single kingdom:

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 11:15.)

So it turns out we can love our earthly home eternally and above all others. And it’s all because of Jesus.

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