Harem Building – the revealing patriarchy at Paige Patterson’s seminary

There are men who preach that women are made by God to be subordinate to men in all matters – home or church, work or play. Some of these men run seminaries where they teach other men the same, and any women who might be allowed to attend the  seminary are taught likewise. This is how Paige Patterson runs the Southern Baptist Convention’s seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

A Seminary President’s Subjugation of Woman and Elevation of Men

According to a Washington Post article by Sarah Pulliam Bailey (a widely respected Christian journalist on religion and society), Mr. Patterson repeatedly looks upon women as mere supports for men and at times appears to elevate their looks over their abilities.

In 2014, Patterson used a story in one of his sermons about an interaction he witnessed. In the story, a 16-year-old girl walked by and, Patterson said, “she was nice.” One young man commented, “Man, is she built.” A woman nearby slapped her hand over the young man’s mouth and scolded him. Patterson said he responded to the woman, “Ma’am, leave him alone. He’s just being biblical.” The audience laughed. (Southern Baptist leader who advised abused women not to divorce doubles down, says he has nothing to apologize for, Washington Post, May 4, 2018.)

In looking at that scenario it’s clear the one upholding God’s ways was the woman, not Mr. Patterson or the young man. The underage girl objectified for her looks is a victim of misogyny. So is the older woman.

That Mr. Patterson considers himself the arbiter of what is biblical and yet gets it completely backwards reveals much about his warped priorities. This next scenario is even more telling.

And in 2010, Patterson called out female seminary students for not doing enough to make themselves pretty, saying, “It shouldn’t be any wonder why some of you don’t get a second look.” (Id.)

Is Mr. Patterson a matchmaker, charged with making sure the women who attend his seminary can find a man and who is therefore free to criticize women for not being attractive by his standards? Apparently this is an avowed purpose of the seminary as it tells women they are welcome to achieve a degree in homemaking, also known as “Family and Consumer Sciences.” (SWBTS Women’s Programs.)

When Mr. Patterson shows so much concern for a woman’s looks and chastises an older woman for not allowing a young man to express out loud his appreciation for an underage teenager’s body, he is setting himself up as the arbiter of how women are valued in view of their relation to men.

He reminds me of a harem master.

Seminarian Harem Building

In ancient Persia, Queen Vashti came under King Xerxes’ ire when she refused to give in to his drunken desires. He banished her and started looking for a younger and more compliant version to act as his consort, holding auditions by ordering all the attractive virgins to be brought to his palace to have sex with him until he found the one who met his approval.

A young Israelite named Esther was among the young women subjected to the king’s scrutiny.

Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. She pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven female attendants selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her attendants into the best place in the harem. (Esther 2:8-9.)

Esther evetually had her turn with King Xerxes, was chosen to be his next wife, and eventually acted to save her people from annihilation. This last part is a good thing. But Hegai’s role should not be taken as God’s approval for what he did, nor the king’s establishment of a harem in the first place as a model for God’s people to follow.

God used them. He didn’t approve them.

Yet here is a modern seminary president encouraging his students to adopt the oppressive patriarchal values of Hegai and Xerxes.

  • Women are viewed as adjuncts to men.
  • Women should make the most of their looks in order to please men.
  • Women should welcome a man’s appraisal of their looks: if the man appreciates that a teenager is “built” the older woman should encourage him in his assessment; if the man finds a woman’s appearance does not meet his standards, that woman should welcome the appraisal and strive to please him.

In setting women up to be appraised in regards to how they relate to men (offering a homemaking degree, chastising them for not taking steps to be more appealing in their physical appearance) Mr. Patterson is the modern embodiment of Hegai and Xerxes rolled into one. And in embodying their values – a woman’s worth is judged by her ability to attract a man – he rejects God’s ways.

The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7.)

Mr. Patterson turns this around completely. Women are told to look good for a man, and if a man thinks they look good they should applaud the man for “being biblical.” Yet the only way this is biblical is if what you mean is that Hegai and Xerxes are two men found in the Bible and this is the way they acted. But merely being in the Bible’s narrative is not an indication that God’s people should emulate them. (Sodom and Gomorrah are in the biblical narrative too but no one thinks people should follow their example.)

The emphasis on a woman’s looks and their worth as they relate to men – taught repeatedly and used as sermon illustrations by a seminary president – is nothing short of harem building. It might be done in one on one relationships but it follows the same practices found in Esther’s life.

It’s up to those who worship God to reject Mr. Patterson’s worldly teaching and instead follow the Lord’s ways.

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Beth Moore’s Letter Draws Fire From a Man Writing Without Substance

Jesus said that those who abide in him will bear good fruit. (John 15.) I sometimes consider that when I see how two people address the same point. It came up the other day with Beth Moore and Seth Dunn.

Beth Moore wrote an open letter to men in her circles about how some of them have treated women in ministry. She probably expected to get flack for it, but had the courage to write it anyway. Some men took it well and expressed their appreciation, even asking forgiveness for how they have mistreated women in ministry. The number who have not responded at all is unsurprising, as well, since this type of information can take a while to digest for those who need to rethink their thoughts and actions.

But the response from one “ministry” is astounding for its unbridled vitriol and hubris. Seth Dunn from Pulpit & Pen took Beth to task in a vitriolic polemic riddled with ad hominem attacks set against a glaring absence of evidence. There is a constant criticism of Beth’s teaching with no citation to specific teachings. It’s all accusation and no substance, with self-congratulatory references scattered here and there as filler.

A comparison of spiritual fruit indicates who bears the fruit of the Spirit and who doesn’t. As Paul wrote to the Galatian Christians, the sinful

“… acts of the flesh are obvious: … hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy … .” (Galatians 5:19-21.)

But when it comes to the Spirit of Christ, the fruit is

“… love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23.)

In reading Beth’s letter and Seth’s response, one person consistently exhibits the Holy Spirit’s fruit in her writing while the other person’s writing exhibits the other type of fruit. One is consistent with the New Covenant model for God’s people and the other isn’t.

I hope my writing is consistently more like Beth’s than Seth’s.

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When Burdens Finally Yield

Detectives in mystery novels carry quite a burden. They not only have to solve a mystery but must also overcome sometimes violent resistance and hope no one, including them, gets killed before the mystery is solved. It takes resolve, courage, and a willingness to stick it out to the end. As Jacqueline Winspear’s detective Maisie Dobbs learned from her mentor Dr. Maurice Blanche:

“Everything yields to pressure, Maisie,” Maurice had taught her. “The slow drip of water on stone will, in time, wear away a ridge. Even the strongest metal, if enough weight is applied, will start to bend. Some cases will begin to give quickly. But do not despair of the assignment when it seems to defy every effort. Just give it time. Continue with your work, with your questions and observations. Wait for the yielding.” (Jacqueline Winspear, To Die But Once.)

This is a hard lesson, and not just for mystery novel detectives. Life brings hardships you won’t be able to understand, somewhat like a mystery in a novel. These hardships can take time to overcome, to resolve, to understand, or perhaps only to learn to cope with. Taking the time can itself be a hardship.

How are you to persevere, to be “The slow drip of water on stone [which] will, in time, wear away a ridge”? It is with Jesus.

The Rock and the Water

When it comes to spiritual rocks and water, one passage that comes to mind is when God brought water from a rock for the Israelites in the desert. The people faced true hardship – nothing to drink in a vast desert wilderness – and Moses faced a mystery he could not solve. How was he to save God’s people from dying of thirst?

But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. (Exodus 17:3-6.)

The mystery of how to bring water to the people is solved. God knows stone and water. He created them both, and they both are clues to who God truly is. After all, Jesus provides the water of life:

“… whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well, by Giacomo Franceschini
(Wikipedia)

And Jesus is himself the rock, the foundation all God’s people stand upon:

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 3:11.)

As Paul explained, all of this was foreshadowed in bringing water to the thirsty Israelites in the desert:

… they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:4.)

The water and rock in the wilderness are both real and are both revelations – clues, if you will – of Jesus. The rock does not hold the water back but allows it to spring forth for God’s people. This is an eternal reality:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb [Jesus] down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2.)

The mystery of where to find water to satisfy your thirst is solved.

Pushing Forward with Jesus

Yet does Jesus solve all mysteries while we merely sit down and watch it unfold, like readers waiting for the detective to find the clues, endure the dangers, and reveal the mystery at the end of the book?

As Maurice told Maisie, “Everything yields to pressure.” He mentored her, teaching her how to press on despite not seeing where the solution might be found. She worked alongside him as she learned his methods, to exercise his patience, to allow clues to reveal themselves while continuing to press on. This is how people learn from others.

Jesus calls you to learn from him, too.

Bullock Yoke (Wikipedia)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30.)

Jesus’ invitation recognizes that life can be wearing and burdensome. Yet in finding rest in him you will not be a passive observer like the reader of a novel. His yoke moves you forward. You learn how to make progress, one step in front of the other, with Jesus right there alongside you every step of the way. Your part – among other things – is to “Just give it time. Continue with your work,” as Winspear put it.

Or, as the Bible teaches:

Whoever is patient has great understanding,
    but one who is quick-tempered displays folly.
(Proverbs 14:29.)

Quick-temper is more than merely lashing out angrily. Its folly shows itself in jumping to conclusions, assigning blame, even in giving up too easily. Patience leads to great understanding when it is a matter of continuing the work, waiting for clues to reveal themselves, allowing the water to proceed from the rock.

Jesus’ yoke moves us forward while giving us rest and peace. It’s a conundrum, but truth as well. You find that all mysteries yield their secrets under its weight.

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Embracing Disillusionment – because I guarantee I’ll disappoint you

This question appeared on Twitter last week:

Who’s the one man you would bet your life on not having a horrible secret that will make you wish you’d never admired him? (Dan Kois.)

All I can tell you is I wouldn’t make it onto my own list.

Disillusionment comes easy. It’s understandable considering all the crimes and scandals that are coming out about religious leaders, entertainers and educators. And it’s not just men. Women who have risen to prominence can disappoint when secrets come out.

Eschewing Disillusionment

Think of what an illusionist does. They make you think one thing is happening and then surprise you by showing you what’s really going on. A good illusionist makes the audience think the person is being sawed in half and then put back together again. You know it’s not true, but you allow yourself to suspend reality because that’s the way it looks and you don’t know how the trick is accomplished.

If you’d like to see how the trick is accomplished, there are plenty of videos online that explain the workings of the illusions. If you don’t mind being disillusioned, here’s a card trick and how to pull it off. I tend to like suspending belief for these illusions, though, so I don’t go looking for the methods behind the trick.

Giving away the trick gives away the fun.

Embracing Disillusionment

When it comes to people’s lives, I tend the other way. Take me, for example. I’d rather not have any illusions about myself, and I don’t want people to build me up to someone I’m not and then get disappointed when they find out the illusion isn’t reality.

Like everyone else, I’ve got feet of clay (a scriptural word picture taken from Daniel 2:41-43). I know it, and I hope everyone else at least assumes it. I don’t want there to be any surprises when someone finds out I’m not all that and a bag of chips (a not so scriptural word picture, but still handy as defined by wiktionary).

Mmm, chips! (Wikipedia)

This means living authentically, something I’m not all that good at. I try to start with how I view myself, though, and see where that goes. This is what the Bible is getting at when it says:

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. (Romans 12:3.)

There are two components in that verse. One is how I understand myself, and the other is how I am equipped by God. Sober judgment means that I am actually examining myself and doing it without puffing myself up or putting myself down. Faith from God means that he has decided already that I am worth his time.

That’s good news; this verse tells me that it’s time for me to recognize that my standing in life is based on what he has done for me, as opposed to anything I’ve tried to accomplish for myself.

Am I all that and a bag of chips? No, and no one on earth knows that better than I do.

Do I have feet of clay? Count on it. So do you.

We all stumble in many ways. (James 3:2.)

Yet I still hope to honor God and encourage people, as it says on the top of this blog page, and by the grace of God I will.

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13.)

That’s no illusion.

***

Slim Gaillard really gets how much I love potato chips:

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The Husband Who Never Lets His Wife Do Anything – a parable in dialogue

“My wife’s away at one of those women’s conferences this weekend.”

“Do they have good speakers lined up?”

“You got me. I just figured it’s nice for the ladies to have some time away together. That way they can talk about female things. So I let her go.”

“Let her go?”

“Well sure. Why not?”

“I never let my wife go to conferences.”

“Never?”

“Never. Not once.”

“That’s harsh. You should let her get out once in a while.”

“Our marriage doesn’t work that way ”

“Ours does. I let her do things like that all the time.”

“And there’s the problem.”

“What do you mean? It makes her happy to get out like that without me once in a while.”

“I’m sure it does. My wife likes getting out without me, too.”

“I thought you just said you don’t let her.

“I don’t. She does it anyway.”

“You mean without your permission?”

“Of course. Why …”

“But …”

“… would she ever need my permission? She’s an adult and …”

“But …”

“… and I trust her judgment at least as much as she trusts mine.”

“But you just said you’d never let her go.”

“And I meant it. I don’t ‘let’ her because she doesn’t need my permission to do anything. If she thinks something’s important or interesting or fun or worthwhile and wants to do it, that’s her call. Me letting her never enters the equation.”

“And that works for you? I don’t think my marriage could work that way.”

“When’s your wife coming home from the conference?”

“Later this afternoon.”

“Tell you what. Why don’t you talk about it with her over dinner and see if she’s open to the idea.”

“You think I should?

What could it hurt?”

“I mean, I would kind of like not being the one who has to decide what’s right for both of us all the time.”

“Ask her what she thinks. She might even let you give it a try.”

***

[For a look at biblically based decision making in a marriage where the couple mutually submits to one another, see Marriage Is Not a Democracy.]

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Avoiding My Own Toxicity

Sometimes I write in response to what someone else wrote. It could be a book, blog post, tweet, etc. My response might be supportive, reflective, or critical of the ideas expressed. Occasionally – particularly when criticizing an idea – a comment comes along telling me I shouldn’t attack other people.

I try not to. My aim is to address ideas. I don’t ignore the person who wrote those ideas, and will refer to an author by name, but I strive to stay focused on the ideas the person espouses and (if appropriate) call for a change of mind and heart. I am talking about the wrongness of the ideas held by the author, but some who support the author will see my critique as a personal attack.

This is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, there’s miscommunication. That’s a bad thing for any writer and I have to scrutinize my posts to make sure I haven’t contributed to any misunderstanding.

Second, if a writer/speaker/pastor/leader (or those who agree with her or him) feels personally attacked, it shuts off communication entirely. If what I’ve said is “These beliefs are wrong” and what they’ve heard me say is “You’re toxic” then there’s no incentive on their part to engage.

The corollary is that when I speak even more strongly and actually say certain beliefs/teaching/practices are toxic – and some are – then a person who holds such beliefs close to their heart will find it almost impossible to respond favorably if I then extend an offer to join together in common cause, even something as basic as time together in prayer. I would not blame the person for perceiving my offer as “You are toxic. Now come join me in prayer so God can change you.”

I don’t know the right way to avoid all misunderstanding on everyone’s part, but I do know that I can at least do my part. And I admit that doing my part takes a humility that does not come easy to me.

So I will remind myself of the guidance given by God in Scripture:

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18.)

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Avoiding the Subordination of Men in the Creation Account of Women

God said something that sounds odd, at least at first glance. There he is creating all creation and announcing that everything is good, and then he looks at the human he has made and says there’s something about the situation that is not good.

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”(Genesis 2:18.)

In the King James version from 1611, the verse is rendered:

And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

Either way, the meaning is clear. Something was wrong in paradise. But what is that word “meet” doing in place of “suitable”? It’s an archaic way of saying the same thing:

Meet – adjective: 1. suitable; fitting; proper.
origin: before 1000; Middle English mete …; representing Old English gemǣte suitable … . (Dictionary.com)

The way to understand the English language phrase “helper suitable” or “help meet” is by looking at the original Hebrew words ezer (help or helper) and kenegdo (suitable, fit, corresponding). (Marg Mowczko, Kenegdo: Is the woman subordinate, suitable, or similar to the man?)

Ezer was used many times in the Old Testament and usually in reference to God rescuing his people or helping them when they were helpless to do anything for themselves. (Id.) This means that when reading the word in Hebrew the context would dictate what type of help or helper is meant, and it would not be surprising if the helper was viewed as much more powerful than the person being helped. The reader would need to examine the context to see if something other than a helper more powerful were meant.

In this passage from Genesis, the adjective kenegdo provides that context. The woman God created to rectify a “not good” situation (the man being alone) was to be ezer to the man, but not one he would then bow down to or be subordinate to. The modifier kenegdo was necessary in light of how often God is said to be our ezer, a powerful help and rescuer when we are powerless to help or rescue ourselves. If Genesis 2 didn’t have kenegdo modifying ezer it would suggest that women are more powerful – perhaps even loftier – than men. But kenegdo shows that women are in the same status as men rather than above them.

Neither would she be subordinate to him. The choice of the word kenegdo shows they would be equal to one another: suitable, meet and corresponding. Kenegdo doesn’t subordinate* women, but rather keeps men from being the ones subordinated so they are considered equal to women.

***

*Occasionally you’ll read someone who insists that God made Eve as a helpmate because the person doesn’t know the meaning of the word meet and so substitutes in a word they do know. This leads them to then talk about Eve’s role as being Adam’s little helper, created to follow his direction and leadership. That’s not what the Hebrew means, of course, but they don’t know that.

Misreading God’s word out of ignorance is one thing but then teaching something that is unarguably not scriptural is dangerous, elevating men to a position God did not put them in while subordinating women to a position of oppression God never intended them to occupy. What a horrible thing to do to the women and men God created to be alongside each other in his creation.

***

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Serving and Eating and Rhythm of Life – a lesson from Jesus’ last night

Jesus spent a lot of time answering the question “What is the kingdom of God like?”

  • It’s like a farmer who sows seeds. knowing some will die off for many reasons but some will grow strong. (Mark 4:1-20.)
  • It is like a crop that grows day and night, becoming a harvest reader for the gathering. (Mark 4:26-29.)
  • It looks tiny when first glimpsed, but is actually so large it provides a place for everyone to enter in. (Mark 4:30-32.)
  • The kingdom is a place for the poor. (Luke 6:20.)
  • Serving is a kingdom privilege. (Luke 9:62.)
  • It’s like yeast in dough, permeating to every part until the dough is defined by its yeast. (Luke 13:20-21.)
  • It’s a feast. (Luke 14:15.)
  • It’s made for children and those who know what it means to be a child. (Luke 18:17.)
  • Entering the kingdom requires a complete change, a new birth. (John 3:3.)

Yes, Jesus spoke much on the kingdom of God. But then on his last night with his companions, he showed it to them.

Serving and Eating, Eating and Serving

In an upper room the night of his betrayal, Jesus took on the lowly form of a servant as well as the role of generous host.

Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:3-5.)

Jesus stripped down, knelt down, and got down to the dirty business of cleaning his disciples’ feet. They were the disciples, he was their teacher. Yet he is the one who saw to their needs, who washed their feet clean, likely getting between the toes and under the nails if necessary.

Ford Madox Brown, Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet (1852-56) Wikipedia

When confronted by this role reversal, an upside down relationship dynamic:

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” …

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. (John 13:8, 12-17.)

He didn’t stop there. As the evening continued, Jesus sat and ate with his friends.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-29.)

Jesus knew he would be arrested later that night, yet took the time to speak more of God’s kingdom. He showed them that not only do they need Jesus as their servant to wash them clean so they can be part of him, they need him as their host who is about to usher in life under the New Covenant by the sacrifice of his own body and the shedding of his own blood.

The next event seems a bit odd, though, since another thing Jesus told his followers that night was that he was going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies and all of them would abandon him when he needed them most.

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matthew 26:30.)

They sang a song and went on a hike.

Christ on the Mount of Olives, Josef August Untersberger (1864-1933) Wikipedia

The Perturbing Kingdom

None of this could have been expected by his disciples. After all, there are indications in the gospel accounts that some things didn’t become clear until after Jesus’ resurrection. To be told that the kingdom is a place where you’re expected to wash between peoples’ toes, and to enjoy a banquet, and to sing songs, and go out for night walks? What kind of perturbing idea of a kingdom is this?

Perhaps Jesus knew that if he kept telling them about the kingdom of God, as he did in the parables listed above, they would not grasp the true meaning. But if he made them live it out with him on the night before he died, it would stay with them. And it did.

So what is the kingdom of God like? Among other things, the kingdom of God is a matter of serving and feasting, feasting and serving, with a song and a walk thrown in.

What a kingdom.

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Why Women Should Be Preaching the Easter Sermon

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her. (John 20:16-18.)

Preach the resurrected Christ, women, preach.

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The Couple That Chores Together Snores Together

I was joking with Bronwyn and Ellen over coffee about me having a week off and planning to do a lot of running around to get things done with my wife.

“The couple that chores together snores together,” I told them. As they laughed I blurted, “I’ve got to write a blog post about that!”

Because it’s true.

Working together, resting together

My wife is better at chores than I am. It’s not that she’s more skilled at the tasks. Some she is and some I’m more apt to handle.

She’s better at getting chores done. I see things that need doing and embrace the law of entropy. She sees things that need doing and gets in there to do them. Entropy has met its match in her. And so have I.

For me, though, it’s not a matter of facing defeat but in being truly well-matched. We work well alongside each other, whether for chores at home (I’m very good with a vacuum cleaner and can skim the leaves off a pool with the deftest of hands) or running errands around town. And that’s where we truly work side by side.

Literally.

When we drive around town running errands we sit next to each other in the car. Working out the best route to take, which place is open first and which is less crowded later, how to make sure anything perishable is picked up last – these are all part of our chores as well.

Putting in the time together not only gets things done, but it brings us into close contact with one another, and we get to talk through what’s been going on in our lives through the week. When a married couple willingly – even eagerly – puts in that kind of time together in common cause it can’t help but lead to snoring together.

And by snoring together I mean they sleep with each other. Not with other people. Each other.

Putting in the work together is the manifestation of a commitment to one another and to the reality that what they are together is not just a couple but a single unit. As Jesus said:

“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Mark 10:6-8.)

A lot of people enter marriage not knowing what this “one flesh” thing means. I was among them. A lot of people then go through their marriages never learning what it means. I’m glad I’m not among them.

It’s not that I have marriage completely figured out and dialed in. It’s that I have learned over the last 30 plus years that marriage is not a matter of two individuals operating as co-workers but rather a matter of operating in union. It’s two people acting as one in a sense unknown in any other human relationship. (See, for example, Marriage Is Not A Democracy.)

When two become one, there is no room for another to enter the equation. The snoring together illustration is a reality in that when people put in the work of marriage together they will also put in their rest together, and it happens literally in the case of sleeping together. Sleeping with someone else is out of the question because it’s out of the union.

It’s that union that makes all the difference, and the union is strongest when it is sealed by the Holy Spirit. It’s our shared relationship with God that led us initially to look into a relationship with one another, and it’s that same sharing that leads us to do chores and errands together.

We like each other’s company and want to be together. This doesn’t mean we are joined at the hip 24 hours a day. Our joining is a spiritual matter. Rather, the physical time together is a companion of that spiritual reality, and it leads us into deeper joining as the years together progress. Time apart makes us appreciate more the time together, but it’s time together – whether at work or at rest – where love is planted and watered and grows.

Love is in the chores and love is in the snores.

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