The Mysticism of Motherhood

Mother
She births and sends out a solid and substantial piece of self
Nurturing and watching it grow
She must release it in ever increasing increments until one day she sends out her beloved one
Vested full of her very life force
Energy
Spirit
She does so
Sometimes haltingly
Sometimes with fears
Or tears
Or inexplicable joy and peace
Often a mix of all of these flow ever outward
But carrying the hope that this being
Infused with her essence
Will circle back to her in love.


About this poem: 

This poem was composed in a few moments of reverie… thought-play, if you will, as I waited in the lobby of a psychiatric hospital. I so wanted to use the word prana here, because it is so central to the idea that birthed the poem, but most of my readers are unfamiliar with that term. Prana is the life-force, the essence of life, what Christians would call the spirit.

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Praying for the child(ren)

Good morning! It has been a long time since I have written. I have recently found my energies primarily directed into other creative endeavors. But I feel compelled at this time to share this in a do-able way.

Some time ago, I developed this prayer for praying over my child. I find it helpful when I am not sure what to pray. I share it with a caveat that I do not remember if I adapted this from some other source(s) (other than the Bible) and I am unsure at this point whom to credit… so here’s my compiled prayer for all those who pray for children specifically:

Prayer for _____________________
Scripture: Pray:
Acts 19:20 Father God, we ask and pray that your word would prevail over ____________
Isaiah 54:13 May he/she be raised with knowledge of you,
Proverbs 13:1 and grow to be the fruit of your knowledge and guidance.
Isaiah 54:13 May he/she experience great peace and composure.
Proverbs 2:6 Father, give me and grace, good counsel, and wisdom as we raise ____________.
1Peter 1:14-15 May he/she grow to submit to You, and not his sinful desires, being holy in his/her thoughts and actions.
1Peter 2:2 May he/she desire the good that You and we can offer, growing by it.
James 1:19 May he/she be anxious to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
Hebrews 13:5 May he/she be content with what he/she has, not longing for the things of this world.
Micah 6:8 May he/she act with justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with You, God.
Hebrews 13:5 May he/she share in love, and not forget or fail to do what is right.
2 Peter 3:18 May he/she grow in the grace and knowledge of you.
1 Thessalonians 4:1 May Your pleasure wash over him/her daily.
1 Peter 5:5 I ask that ____________ would learn to walk humbly with You and others, submitting him- or herself to You, Lord, and to his/her brothers and sisters in You.
1Peter 5:7 May he/she cast his/her cares upon you, Lord, for you care for him/her. May I be wise in my responses and able to respond to his/her fears, worries and concerns as you would, God.
James 1:22 May he/she be a doer of Your Word, and not a hearer only.
Philemon 1:6 May he/she demonstrate and share his/her faith and love for You in his/her every action.
2 Timothy 1:7, 9 Lord, let him/her not have a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a strong mind. May you sustain his/her boby, mind, and spirit, for you have made him/her, loved him/her, and called him/her holy, not according to his/her works, but according to your boundless, ceaseless love.
2 Timothy 4:18 Deliver him/her from evil, and preserve him.
1 John 2:5 May I keep Your Word, and as your love is being perfected in me, may ____________ also learn to walk in and keep your Word, like-wise being shaped by your love.
2 Timothy 2:22 May he/she follow after love, righteousness, faith, and peace.

Why Christians (except for Calvinists) Should be Pro-Choice

I recognize that this post will be concerning for some of my readers — perhaps even heretical. Many of you will not agree with what I write here. I challenge you to read and consider anyway. Feel free to comment – in a respectful way – for this could be a dialogue. I rather prefer that it is.

My husband recently found himself in dialogue with an associate, who observed, with some confusion that he believed that my husband was a Christian, but was unsure. The question arose, because he had knowledge that my husband holds some “un-Christian views.” Upon further dialogue, my husband learned that his salvation was in doubt, based on his pro-choice, feminist views. I could not be prouder of my husband.

How funny is it that this conversation came the day after…. no kidding, the day after we watched the movie God’s Not Dead together. Nancy, Stephanie, per your earlier requests, I would now be happy to engage with you in dialogue about this film.

I was hesitant to engage this film, as I am much of Christian sub-culture, because my historical view of Christian sub-culture I have believed that its existence promoted a separate culture, encouraging disengagement with the culture in which we find ourselves. Also – I find aspects of it decidedly predictable, and often of lesser quality than that which exists in the culture at large. It is safe. I am not convinced we are to play it safe. And I am certain that God has not called us to disengage with the world and culture around us in a way that would lead us to create a parallel universe.

This movie may have changed my mind; not because it was fantastically done, or because the caricatures – ahem – characters were particularly well-developed; not even because the caricatures – err – characters include varying depictions of strength in both men and women. No, the reason this movie changed my mind was this: the crux of the pro-God argument was the importance of choice — that theological, spiritual, and moral choice must be allowed, and is congruent with God’s design for free will.

Embed from Getty Images

This is why I am pro-choice. This is an issue of moral choice, and as such, the decision needs to reside with the decision maker, as the subsequent benefits and/or consequences thereof will fall upon the decision maker. Precious few lawmakers (who are predominantly male) in Washington will ever feel the weight of one woman’s decision to have a child, abort it, or give it up for adoption, except perhaps as it impacts their voting record, popularity, and campaign funds. We cannot and should not mandate morality.

God saw it fit to offer free will, so that each person could choose to love, hate, obey, or not to his or her own degree. This was important for God. Why is it not more important for God’s people? It is the Holy Spirit’s design and work to convict, and I find that as I press more into my relationship with God I am more inclined to obey him in various struggles and choices of my daily life. But I am no legalist. I move when the Spirit leads me, and trust the Spirit’s timing. If we make moralist laws, we demonstrate distrust for the Spirit’s work in the world. How much more restful and faithful is it to allow the decision maker to bear the consequences of his or her decision?

As a counselor, I am often asked to help people make decisions or to tell people what they should do. I am loathe to take on this task, as I am not the Spirit in these lives. I know not the entirety of what someone is up against or what they will face down the road as a result of any given choice.  But I believe the Spirit does, and that people have the ability to hear from the Spirit to the extent that they know the Spirit. For that reason, I will continue to stand on the side of those who would honor God’s design for free will, and willingness to use even this choice for his good in the world. For that reason, I would call Christians to stop harming others by imposing their widely varied standards of morality on those who do not choose to believe or participate in their religious acts.

For that reason, I beg you to stop shaming women, or advocating for the restriction of their exercise of free will in the context of the abortion debate.

It’s on Us… Or The Church is Responsible for This

Imagine my response when I consider the challenges faced by straight women who are gifted with a bend towards teaching or leadership in light of the challenges of belonging and acceptance faced by the vast majority of Christian and / or spiritually curious homosexual in our churches?

Church — in my experience, belonging precedes believing. Acceptance is a beautiful, and Christ-demonstrated, ministry tool!

Please read Candice’s story.

The Church is Responsible for This.

Church – This is on us. We are responsible.

 

On Ferguson, and Law Enforcement Militarization

While I have reservations about weighing in on the issues highlighted by the death of Michael Brown and the ensuing violence and protests, I feel like I have a distinct perspective to offer. As a distinctly pacifist wife of a US Marine, and former law enforcement employee, I consider the issue bearing a strange mix of experience and ideology. This blog is admittedly late in coming, but I wanted to finish reading a book… and living life slowed my writing process.

I have wanted to engage the subject of Ferguson, Missouri since I was asked by an acquaintance several days after the protests began for my take on the issue.  I had to admit to him that I didn’t have a readily formed opinion on the matter at the time, and didn’t feel informed enough about it to posit a response. This not-knowing, I am aware, is a direct result of my white privilege. I can choose (and did!) to not attend to the news media tidal wave. I can, without much effort, avoid exposure to conversations about it. This is not so for people of color. They seem to feel the impact of this much more deeply than I do.  I have been hesitant to engage it, though, because of my awareness of my own white privilege, and all of the questions I have about the specific details of the case. So, that said, I tread lightly here, with a desire to offer dignity and respect to all involved parties.

Race and racial injustice is an issue. It may be the most pressing issue of the Ferguson situation. Our dealing with race has pervasive and pernicious consequences, and for decades, we have fouled it up over and over again. I am aware that many of my associates and friends are more engaged and aware of white privilege and in some ways more conscientious than much of the white populous in the Deep South, where I find myself. I feel my appropriate position at this time, however, is to listen – listen to the voices of those for whom this is a major issue – to those who are affected deeply and daily by the injustice of how our culture deals with race and the other.

I would like, however, to name an aspect of the whole situation that I feel has been under-acknowledged and under-addressed. I have heard some complaints and questions raised about the militarization of law enforcement in the United States. I find the outcries against this to be puzzling. You see, law enforcement needs, needs, to be equipped to handle any situation. ANY situation. I am deeply disturbed by the now notorious images from Ferguson, of law enforcement officers and their up-armored vehicles and assault-type weapons. Overkill? Perhaps. Inflammatory? Certainly. The images  appear to show law enforcement officers overstepping the National Institute of Justice’s sample description of lowest level use of force techniques:

  • Officer Presence — No force is used. Considered the best way to resolve a situation.
    • The mere presence of a law enforcement officer works to deter crime or diffuse a situation.
    • Officers’ attitudes are professional and nonthreatening.

But other images, like this one, show that some law enforcement personnel were doing just that. Providing a non-threatening (professional?) presence. 

The officers’ job at the time was to establish a presence that allowed the protesters gathered, and the public (otherwise uninvolved bystanders/reporters/property owners) to know that the situation was under control – that things would not escalate to violence or property damage without law enforcement being readily available to diffuse it.  An officer’s primary task is to establish and maintain control of the situation until it is resolved. This may involve a domestic dispute, random petty theft, helping a pregnant lady in the 100+ degree heat with a flat tire, a lost child in a crowded place, a battle in a gang war, a minor offense committed by a hostile or psychotic individual, or worse yet, a major bombing/shooting/mass killing. All of these fall into the category of “routine possibilities,” for our law enforcement officials. Specifically in Ferguson, there were hostile participants in the protests, and when those hostile participants gather in groups, the potential for violence and violent resistance in exponentially increased. 

The potential for an officer to be injured or killed in the line of duty is only exacerbated by our cultural affair with individual firearm envy. The existence of the NRA, and its efforts to expand individual gun ownership in the USA has increased the need for law enforcement to have at their disposal increasingly lethal weapons. This is a natural result of the expansion of Americans’ Second Amendment rights. As more of our populous carries lethal weapons, our law enforcement regards increasing proportions of the public as potential threats. (I expect to write more about this in another forthcoming post regarding the expansion of individual gun ownership rights in the future, as so will not address this rabbit-trail here, except to share this:)

2nd ammendment

In several other first-world nations, this is not the case. It is generally known that British first-line police do not carry firearms. This is largely a result of tradition, and the deliberately civil culture of British society, but other nations such as Ireland, Norway, and New Zealand, Whales, and Scotland also have unarmed first-line law enforcement personnel.** A report by the BBC explores why,

For one thing, the sheer cost of equipping all personnel with weapons as well as providing regular training would be prohibitive at a time of public spending cuts, [former Met deputy assistant commissioner Brian Paddick] says.

In addition, Paddick adds, front-line officers would not be keen to face the agonising, split-second decisions faced by their counterparts in specialist firearms units.

“In terms of the police being approachable, in terms of the public being the eyes and ears of the police, officers don’t want to lose that,” he says.** (**Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-19641398)

 

So what about the militarization and use of force for American law enforcement?

Aside from the aforementioned 2nd Amendment expansion, In the USA, Law enforcement agencies are, by their nature para-military organizations. They are structured in a way that reflects the military chain-of command. Many law enforcement officers are veterans. And many for one reason or another would have liked to be in the military, but were unable to do so. That being said, so much training is invested into our military personnel that cannot be readily or easily un-learned. That is the point of the training – that learned or desired responses become automatic, allowing rapid and appropriate responses in the heat of combat. We must be mindful of this. Some of these officers will forget, or default to that trained response, having horrendous or sometimes heroic results when used in civil affairs rather than combat affairs. Who is to blame for that? 

In many (if not all) law enforcement agencies, the standard for use of force is: perceived imminent threat allows the officer to use any necessary force up to one step above the aggressor’s force in order to establish and maintain control. According to the National Institute of Justice, “officers are instructed to respond with a level of force appropriate to the situation at hand, acknowledging that the officer may move from one part of the continuum to another in a matter of seconds.” The graphic below is from the Chicago Police Department

Use of Force Model - 2012-Portrait_v4 

I find this chart to be helpful, because it clearly demonstrates that it is considered appropriate to use force that is essentially one level above the force or resistance level a subject uses when engaged with an officer to maintain control of the situation. The expansion of this policy then would indicate that if civilian Y threatens Officer Z with a colt pistol, it would be desirable and beneficial for Officer Z to have a rifle. And if Civilian Y is armed with a rifle, then Officer Z could/should respond with an automatic rifle. Ugh. This is how law enforcement agencies justify the further militarization of their forces… not to mention the gifts provided to them by the US Department of Defense, as a way to retire or decommission excess equipment. 

The protest in Ferguson could have easily turned into a riot, and there were some individuals who apparently demonstrated riotous behavior (see above image on man with rocks/bricks readily prepared for throwing). That is likely the reason the police there brought in the heavy equipment. However, in the face of cooperative and law-abiding protesters, this would be (and likely was) overkill. The problem is that in a situation like the one that developed in Ferguson, things can change so rapidly and unpredictably, that the police needed to be prepared for almost anything. I posit that it may have been better for Law enforcement agencies to have the heavy equipment readied and available in case of need, nearby, but not at  the site of the protest. Maybe stage them a few miles away in a forgotten parking lot? Would that have been possible? I don’t know. Would it have been less inflammatory? Perhaps. 

Cultural observations that support/encourage the militarization of law enforcement.

Last, I want to note the impact of group-think and our cultural attitudes about violence. We must wrestle with the reality that we are desensitizing huge swaths of our population, so that we do not recognize the possible, threatened, and imminent tragedies that result from human-on-human violence. As Lt. Col. Dave Grossman points out in On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War,

Groups can provide a diffusion of responsibility that will enable individuals in mobs, and soldiers in military units to commit acts that they would never dream of doing as individuals; acts such as lynching someone for the color of their skin, or shooting someone because of the color of his uniform.

The entry of a firearm into any conflict only elevates the risk, and often eliminates or reduces the time spent or allowed to think through one’s options. Consider how bringing a firearm into a stressful situation changes the dynamics of each possible response in conflict: fight, flight, posture, or submit. 

Well… I have said a lot, and have just learned that there is a growing conversation about many the issues I raised here. I am delighted that I am not too late for the discussion. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

 

 

Women in the Church

Recently my church did something remarkable. In a quite conservative (politically) suburban church in the super-conservative Deep South of the USA, my church community elected a woman to the position of Chair of the Board. This election was the first to my knowledge of its time in this church body. Let it be known, my church is not known for being liberal. I sometimes feel as if I am too far to the left to fit here well, but I stay. I love the people and feel called and welcome into this community. Our church lost a few families as a result of this election, which hurt. We are not a large community and the absence of even one family is felt… and missed. I recently had a fantastic conversation with our remarkably available pastor about the impact of this move among the larger community of churches our area and within our community. As we spoke of this, he surprised me by his response and approach to the whole debate. He stated that he was at peace with women in leadership to whatever extent it did not facilitate passivity in the men of the church. Wow. What beautiful middle ground. And what a way to create space for those on both sides of the debate. Thank you, Simon!

One of the major concerns I have about this whole debate is that it seems to miss the impact the debate itself has on the church community of men and women, and the impact it has on our mission and those who watch us from outside of our ranks.

Let us consider the impact on the men of the church: (Caveat – I write as a woman, having only minimally staffed my thoughts on this with other men. I am open to feedback from my brothers, whom I invite to contribute to my thoughts on this subject.) My pastor, and other influential men in my life have raised a yellow flag, indicating the need to proceed with caution here. For (some) men in the church, the curse of Genesis 3 means an ongoing, perhaps lifelong struggle with the weight and cost of his labor. This is a daily, and for some a moment-by-moment struggle against a nagging sense of futility. When a woman steps up and embraces a role of leadership, this may be perceived as a threat, or a neon sign pointing right to the heart of his failures. Some men seem to perceive women in leadership as a sort of scarlet letter—clearly marking and even drawing attention to their failure to adequately fulfill or maintain their God-given call to rule the earth and all women, children, and living things therein.
I have concern that the insistence that women serve in inferior positions and are prevented from leadership or influence of men unnecessarily burdens men with more than their share of the work. This only feeds into any fear of failure and any sense of futility that men struggle with. When we force them to carry the weight of the whole church or their whole family authoritatively, and without strong partners, we doom them to failure. My husband is strong, and together we can overcome obstacles that he could not on his own. Why? Because I am strong in places he is not, and he trusts me enough to work with me effectively and to allow me to work out of my strengths to the benefit of our whole family.
Another impact that I see the debate about women in leadership has upon the men of the church is that awareness of the debate can feel cornering to men (and women). A new or growing awareness of the debate often begs—demands—that a man choose a side. If he chooses to advocate for women in leadership, he has to acknowledge that this privilege, calling, ability, authority have been withheld from women for too long. Allowing or encouraging women into leadership roles and/or teaching positions means sharing the power and influence that he has known, possibly taken for granted, and perhaps abused. I struggle to imagine a man who would acknowledge these things and not feel compelled to turn the tide. Truthfully, I want no partnership with that man.
Considering the debate and choosing to advocate for the historical status quo, means a man must hold tight to his power and control and acknowledge that it is threatened by all those “others” who are advocating otherwise. It requires him to take a stand against equality of the sexes.
This debate divides families within the church and divides the church family itself. More on that in a bit.

Let us consider the impact on the women of the church: For women, the impact of the debate between complimentarians and egalitarians may feel like a threat to their faith and understanding of their place in God’s created order. I do not know how long the church has viewed women as secondary characters, with authority just inferior to that of their male peers and counterparts. For me, it is too long.
As an American (white) woman, I am privileged to know and experience relative equity in my daily life and business. I am free to start a business, or work outside of the home, or manage my money, or speak, or teach in the world around me. But the moment I walk into many churches, I am expected to shed those freedoms, and assume a quieter, meeker, subservient role. I am to submit, and be quiet, per the recommendations of I Timothy 2 and Ephesians 5. But it doesn’t stop there. In many Christian homes, this idea is perpetuated within the home, and so a woman who is free to go about being the authority of her body and affairs is expected to shed that authority as soon as she enters the two places that should be the safest spaces for her: her home and her church community.
The debate around this, which sometimes goes unrecognized and unnamed and at other times is endowed with unnecessary importance, also begs women to choose a side, and divides the body of sisters in Christ, causing division and strife that is not congruent with the call for unity in Psalms 133:1, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, etc… We are divided against each other, and at times against our brothers in ways that prevent us from fully demonstrating the love for which we are to be known. We short-circuit our message of Love to the world around us, because of our disagreements and factions. Jesus had a different plan, and I believe to this day, still intercedes for us as follows:

20“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. 22“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. (John 17:20-23)
For some women of the church, this dichotomy actually drives us out and away from the faithful practice of communion and community with other Believers. We, the Church, atrophy and shed potentially fruitful members, because we are too busy fighting about whether to allow her voice or influence in our midst.
Long has it been the women who draw men and families into deeper (or any!) church communion. If we willingly shed women because we cannot allow their voices, or because we are too busy fighting about what extent to which her influence should be tolerated, we will likely lose their families too. How’s that for contributing to male passivity?

What about the impact on the mission of the church? When those outside of our ranks, non-Believers, or not-yet-Believers, or Believers-in-recovery observe our infighting, how often do they dismiss the goodness of our God or our faith, or miss the hope we have to offer? How often are we dismissed, debilitated by our arguing over details of the praxis of our faith that even the most well-trained theologians cannot agree on? This is NOT a salvation issue. The complimentarian/egalitarian debate is all about practice and authority!
When I say that, it really feels like I am crying out, “This doesn’t really matter!” In some ways, it doesn’t. In some ways it does. But if the impact of this debate on our influence, or our audience’s willingness to hear our message of hope is a net negative, why bother?

What is the impact on the women outside of the church? Much of this issue relates back to the impact on the women of the Church. Our arguments about why women should be submissive and in non-authoritative positions makes us appear undesirable to women outside of the Church, who do not understand the joys and appealing parts of surrender and submission. Yes. I said that. I believe this could be an issue where, as 2 Cor 2:16 notes, when we would be a pleasing aroma to God, we become the stench of death to those who do not know him. For some Believers, that may be your calling, and I bless you. I will seek to let my spiritual walk be honey on the lips, and an alluring aroma for those who would seek and find Him.

The impact on the men outside of the church? This is the one group that I believe is LEAST impacted by the whole debate. Many of them are blissfully unaware of the whole issue, all the questions and passions that seethe within it. They have the privilege of non-involvement. For men outside of the church who are aware, the insistence that women be not involved in positions of leadership just makes the Church look antiquated, quaint. For these men, their power and authority are not at stake, so why do they care? They are not involved. And for feminists, even feminists within the church, sometimes these men are the safe-havens and advocates they struggle to find within their own homes and communities.

On Changing One’s Mind…

I was recently engaged me in a personal and face-to-face conversation about a previous blog post (see Misogyny, Masculinity and Violence). I used to experience mild perturbation when people would choose to disregard my requests for this blog to be a space of dialogue rather than a bulletin board that people would discuss with me as they had a chance. However, I recognize this as inconsistent with my desire for dialogue. For dialogue can be much more real and lively in a face-to-face setting. What came out of that dialogue was a lively discussion about mental illness (which the reader in question seemed to think was the primary subject of the original post), feminism, equal pay (which he unsuccessfully described as an “opportunity” for his female employees to demonstrate their competence in order to rise to the level of pay initially offered his male employees. In his defense, I believe this illegal practice is no longer being perpetuated in his business), and my use of the word “pussy,” which (was actually used as a quoted statement that was said at/to me, not by me). My primary partner in dialogue (although we were in a group of 5) believed that post to be about mental illness, completely missing the messages about masculinity and violence and misogyny at the core (and the title) of the post. Within the post, I even wrote:

“This is not about mental illness. This is about misogyny, masculinity, and violence.”

Sigh.

This seems to happen a lot. A reader will attend to one specific word or phrase and miss the meaning of the whole text. My readers do this with my blog. News/media agencies do it with sound-bytes they get out of news conferences and press releases. And Christians do it with the Bible. In some ways, we can’t help it. We grow up in a context and with teachers that teach us to attend to certain things and to disregard others. We look at texts (books, blogs, reports, data, non-verbal cues, people, events) with certain goggles or contact lenses that tremendously impact our perceptions of those texts… often not even aware of the hermeneutic (lens) in use.

I have been wrestling for at least a couple of years, with my own engagement of the Church, the South, the culture in which I live, and the way it views women. Within the (big C) Church there has been tremendous debate over the appropriate view of masculinity and femininity, with wide-ranging and diverse opinions/mandates defining what is viewed as appropriate and applicable to either gender. While I am a feminist, I am also a Texan. and I am deeply influenced, whether I like it or not, by my culture. I wrote in an earlier post that husbands do not and should not have to earn their wives’ respect. I took some heat (again, in private conversations) for the stance I took in that post. While I stand by my experience and the narrative of what happened for me, I admit that stance feels binding and too narrow for my expanding view of what it means to live into the Kingdom of God. I have decided I can no longer argue that this is the “right” approach to male/female relationships. It is a valid approach, and many don’t find it as binding as I do, but I choose to live out of a wider Gospel than that approach allows.

First, it assumes complementarian views of men and women, which I do not ascribe to. (See this description of differences in the complimentarian/egalitarian arguments as presented by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, but please read it with awareness that it is written and presented from a complimentarian perspective.) Second, it provides too restrictive of a view of what it means to be masculine or feminine. Some women experience and receive love when it is communicated through respectful engagement. Others want romance. Others still, want a dependable partner for a reading date or a nightly chess game… and everything in between. I imagine mens’ desires and needs are equally as varied. Complimentarians tend to plot gender roles and behavior in a dichotomous way, using “either/or” masculine/feminine language, and manliness or appropriate femininity becomes a issue of heirarchy. Consider locker room shenanigans designed to determine pecking order in the emerging-man world, or gossip-wars designed to shame young women for being “less lady-like” than so-and-so. I got called a terrible name for a lesbian throughout my senior year of high school, simply due to the fact that I cut my hair very short, notwithstanding my long term (in high-school terms) boyfriend. Complimentarians may to allow some room for gray-space and flexibility about roles, so long as you maintain some position on your birth-gender assigned side of the masculine/feminine dichotomy. By viewing masculine/feminine in a dichotomous way, we cannot help but impose a hierarchy, comparing one to another to determine who is performing more or less according to their prescribed masculine/feminine ideals. I cannot operate in this way. I feel bound by any systematic comparison. I think comparison is the root of much unhappiness, and inherently unfair. (More on that in another post.. maybe.)

Acceptance of an egalitarian, and I believe a feminist perspective allows one to hold space for those who align with the popularly accepted (whatever that means) behaviors, activities, occupations, and attitudes commonly associated with either masculinity or feminity, but also allows for the existence of appropriate and acceptable space in which the lines are blurred, and men may take on tasks/attitudes/views more commonly identified as feminine and vice versa. There is not the inherent need to judge/compare, and room for acceptance in a new and inviting way. There is no need to compete for acceptance or love. There is no need to prove your place in the heirarchy, because it doesn’t exist.

So, I have changed my mind about the “respect your husbands,” thing? Not exactly. Women need to offer respect to the men around them, all men. All women, too, for they (we) are the bearers of God’s image in the world, and we should not tarnish it. Men, you are to offer love and dignity to all women in your life. All men, too, for we are the bearer’s of God’s heart for the world, and we should not crush it.

For those who would criticize my willingness to change my mind publicly with Ephesians 4:14, please note, the context of this verse is a call to unity in the Body of Christ, and a description of the ideal treatment plan for humanity. It refers to an ideal state of being mature in the knowledge of God… whom I believe to be too big a mystery to claim full and mature knowledge of on this side of life.

For those who would criticize my willingness to be swayed or convinced of a different perspective using James 1:6, well… I’m not even going to engage that one beyond to note that verse has no direct bearing on or connection to one changing her mind. It is specifically referring to one’s prayers, and faith in God.

For those who would criticize, using the curse, specifically claiming that God cursed women to desire to control their husbands, and for him to rule over her (Genesis 3:16), or for those who would argue that Ephesians 5:21-33 indicates heirarchy is God’s will for the relationships between men and women, I must say, I used to fleetingly agree. But I cannot rest into this. Not because I am a man-hater, or a power-hungry or controlling woman. I can be controlling, ask my husband! But when I am controlling, I am living into the curse and the flesh, rather than living into the fullness of Christ, who wrecks these binding and false prescriptions for differentiation in identity. For living into the fullness of life as a witness of Christ’s work in the world means that:

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. (Galatians 3:26-28)

And…

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory…. you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:1-4, 9b-17). 

I believe this is a call to live into the Kingdom of God, something that Jesus spoke of often (see “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of heaven“). Note that living into the fullness above calls all believers to embrace and clothe ourselves with with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience — all characteristics that are often places into the complimentarians’ “feminine” list? I believe that as Christians, we should be living into the fullness of the body of Christ, not handicapping half of it. I believe the Church will be a more desirable community, and less confusing for both men and women, if we stopped calling women to shut up, subdue, ignore, or neglect their gifts and callings when they walk into the church. As it is, western culture is egalitarian-leaning in practice, although women still do not have the same protections and opportunities many men take for granted. Yet, in the church, we often ask/expect that women will shed or silence or shut-down their strengths, and step into line behind their male counterparts and leaders. Church! This makes us a foul-smelling, and ill-fitting, and unattractive as a Bride! This is one of the things that kept me from the church initially, and then caused me to leave the church for a time in my life! If you don’t allow full functionality to a body part, It will get weak, and become useless. It may die. This is what I believe the Church’s historical approach to women has done. Let us welcome our women into the fullness of the Kingdom of God here on earth. And let us demonstrate to those outside of the Church what unity and full functionality can look like in the body of Christ!

 

Parable (Part 2)

This is an unexpected follow-up to a previous post. (See Parable for context)

Earlier, I shared a parable I had written as a creative way to process a recent challenging interaction. Since posting, I feel drawn to continue the narrative.

In a letter of response she sent to State University, Ms. Blogger writes:

Dear Ms. Editor,

What a surprising letter! I found myself feeling battered by mixed emotions of excitement, disappointment, shame, embarrassment, pride, alarm, betrayal, and absurdity as I read through your previous letter. I cannot help but wonder if the ethics department, the communications department, and the legal department at State University know that you have contacted me in this way.
It was kind of you to offer to provide me with an editor, as that will save me a bundle. I have been unable or unwilling to hire one for myself. What a surprising perk for being an alum who has only thus far accomplished marginal internet notice! I can’t imagine how your department could offer such a valuable service at no cost to every creative that walks across the State University stage. I am however, hesitant to engage on the terms you laid out. While I recognize this as a gift and a blessing, there are too many strings attached.
Please don’t get me wrong, you present some good and valuable suggestions. Your training thus far, has done me well. Your uninvited efforts to mold and shape my creative process and product, however are perturbing. I may or may not heed the advice you offered. If I don’t, need I fear being ostracized or abandoned by you, who has had tremendous influence in my life? I have made a good life and established quality relationships by inviting others to challenge me, influence me, and change my mind at times. I believe that happens in relationship. But your presumption of invitation into that space under the guise of  helping me “to become a writer whose works [you] would be proud to be associated with” suddenly makes this relationship one-sided. You seem more concerned about how this obscure alumna may make you look than you are about the relationship you have with me. I would rather stand firm writing with my authentic voice, and releasing my work to become what it will.

Part of the creative process, and part of what I began to learn in the halls of your campus, is that creating is both a birth and a loss at once. I draw on my own creative thoughts and abilities, connect them to some ephemeral and unpredictable muse, and then I release them to take on a life of their own in the world. I am allowed to shape them in the beginning, and to have immense influence on their form and appearance, but at some point I must release my works out into the world to do what they will. Many of them will fail, fall flat, and have no impact whatsoever. But some, some of these little works, will spin webs in the heads of my readers, lodging themselves and perhaps growing into something wholly different, but much larger than I could accomplish without releasing them. I am satisfied with that arrangement. And State University should be, too. This is perhaps how you should look upon your graduates.
Instead, it seems that you are trying to manage the impact of your works on the world. This, however, will only diminish said impact.

I am sorry if you find it an embarrassing prospect to be identified with me or my creative works. Should you deem it desirable, I will remove any credit to State University publicly visible in my online profile. I will also discontinue my involvement in your alumni association, as I do not desire to be an embarrassment to you.

Respectfully awaiting your reply,

Ms. Blogger

Parable

There was once a popular, admittedly imperfect blogger. She was well-educated, with a graduate degree from a select private university and a bachelor’s degree from a well-known State University. She often engaged difficult topics, and provided thoughtful, detailed descriptions about why she would engage specific subjects and topics. She was trying to make it as a freelance writer, and had several online curricula vitae publicly available at a few different social networking and career search websites. Her CV listed her educational profile, including the school names. She is actively involved in the State School’s alumni association, but in no way employed by the State School.

Someone in the PR department of her undergraduate school found her blog, and took issue with some of her posts, either the way they were written, or the material the blogger engaged. Little research would be needed to connect these blog posts and this blogger to the school in name. Several days later, the blogger received a letter stating:


 

“Dear Ms. Blogger, It has come to our attention that you are trying to make a living as an imperfect, but courageous writer. We wish our alumni could pursue any career they want in whatever manner they wish without risk of The State University being embarrassed by their efforts. Regrettably, we are somewhat alarmed by the prospect of being identified as the school at which you were educated. We prefer to be identified and associated only with alumni who have successful established careers, and no grammatical errors or potentially embarrassing issues addressed in their published works. We want you to become a writer whose works we would be proud to be associated with, and would like to offer some instruction towards that mutual goal. We advise you to remedy the following concerns.
First, you need to be in control of who and what sort of advertisements are visible on your blog. There must be no alcohol-related ads, and no allergy-related ads, and nothing related to guns, mental illness, or violence as these are particularly sensitive topics for our campus. We would advise you to make use of the PR editor we will provide to proofread every future article or post. If our staff is uncomfortable with the nature of the post, we will make suggestions about how you can remedy the issues of concern, and you can either adopt these suggestions, or will post an addendum at the bottom of the article stating: “I, Ms. Blogger, published this post without the express approval of my alma mater, The State University. All comments and opinions and subjects expressed in this post should be read with the knowledge that they are the express opinions of Ms. Blogger and not the opinions of The State University.”
You are, of course, welcome to pursue your writing career in whatever manner you wish, if you write under a pseudonym, rather than your name, which could be associated with The State University.
We ask that if you choose not to comply with the above recommendations you will remove The State University from your publicly visible curricula vitae, and may result in the withdrawal or suspension of the degree bestowed upon you by The State University.

Respectfully,
Jane Editor,
Director of Public Relations, The State University.”


 

How should Ms. Blogger respond?

Who is right? In what way?

What is the cost of doing relationship this way?

What issues arise in the context of this narrative?

What is your reaction to reading this narrative?

Please post comments below, as I hope for this to be a lively dialogue.

It’s not about the number. Or is it? #NumbersThatMatter

I needed a dress. I needed a dress that is appropriate for family member’s wedding (as a guest, not a bridesmaid). So I went to a Kohl’s store to see what I might find. I should say… I do not shop for clothing often, and usually when I shop, I am seeking something specific with laser-like focus. I walked in, and not being much of a shopper, and not seeing any area that had an obvious cluster of wedding-appropriate dresses, I took a brief stroll through the nearest clearance racks to see if there was anything I felt I needed.

I have struggled with ill-fitting jeans since I stopped nursing and started gaining weight – back to my body’s homeostatic size. I looked through the clearance jeans (apparently people are only buying shorts and capris at this time), and came across a pair that I liked. Not too flared, not too straight. As I pulled them off the rack, I looked at the size tag. 17. SEVENTEEN?!? Wha? I held them up to my body, and they appeared to be a little too big, not worth trying on… But certainly not double-plus-one the size I know myself to wear! I was confused. Perhaps they were marked down because they were sized wrong. That’s probably it. And then someone asked if I had any questions.

“Yes, do you have dresses that are formal enough for my brother’s wedding, but not prom-wear?”

“Yes, they are over in the center of the store, around that corner. In the women’s section.”

(I missed her hint.) “Also – I’m really confused. These jeans say they are a size 17. There’s no way! They’re a little bigger than I need, but certainly not a size 17!”

“Yes, well, these are juniors’ sizes. And they usually run a little more… (moves open hands to her hips and squeezes them, as if holding an invisible ball – one that is half her width, mind you).”

“Ahh… okay. Thanks.”  (Letting that sink in. Okay I’m too old now to shop in juniors’. Umm. I’m pretty sure that happened a while ago, but if I find something I like… who cares?) “Wait! So adolescent’s clothing runs smaller, but is called by a larger size?”

She shrugged her shoulders and walks away.

Let me say this: I am not overweight. I am solidly (whatever that means!) a size 8. And apparently I am now firmly in that phase-of-life that makes it appear awkward if I shop in the juniors’ department. Again, I am not a shopper. So much so, that I had completely forgotten than juniors’ sizes ran in odd numbers and ladies’ sizes ran in evens.  These things don’t matter to me. It’s not about the number for me. It’s about the look and feel of the item. So I got curious. I picked up a SZ 15 jean that looked like it might fit me but a little big, a size 11 that looked just right, a size 9, and 7. Then I went to the ladies’ department. I picked up a size 8, and a 10, in either shorts or jeans.

When I was younger (and more appropriately shopping in the juniors’ section), generally juniors’ size 7 was equivalent to ladies’ size 8. Juniors’ 9 was roughly equivalent to ladies’ size 10, etc. When did this change? I still see pants labelled as 7/8, and 9/10, and 11/12… so apparently in some parallel universe that is still the case. But not at Kohl’s.

So I did a photo journal of the experience. These pictures are unedited. As it turns out, it is hard to take in-focus selfies in a mirror.
Please forgive the pale skin (I work indoors), and the insulin pump-parts you may see in the pics (I have diabetes).

These are the “sweet and straight” jeans. They are relaxed, but sometimes make me feel frumpy. These are definitely my “comfortable” jeans.

These are the “sweet and straight” jeans. They are relaxed, but sometimes make me feel frumpy. These are definitely my “comfortable” jeans.

Here are juniors'  Hydraulic size 15 jeans. They are too big for me, and would look funny if cinched with a belt, but not 6 sizes too big! They are made with some lycra, so they stretch some.

Here are juniors’ Hydraulic size 15 jeans.
They are too big for me, and would look funny if cinched with a belt, but not 6 sizes too big! They are made with some lycra, so they stretch some.

These are Angel jeans size 11. These fit just right. Comfortable, with no bulge over the top.

These are Angel jeans size 11.
These fit just right.
Comfortable, with no bulge over the top.

These are a size 8 at Maurice’s. Note the gapping in the back.

These are a size 8 at Maurice’s. Note the gapping in the back.

Now for Maurice's size 9: Close, but too tight in the waist.

Now for Maurice’s size 9: Close, but too tight in the waist.

I did, in fact try on some dresses. For some reason in dresses I needed either a 6 or a small.

I did, in fact try on some dresses. For some reason, in dresses I needed either a 6 or a small.

The fact is that there is NO consistency in sizing for junior’s or womens’ clothing! No wonder it takes women so much longer to shop than a man! I can go into a store and KNOW that any pair of pants I pick up that are sized 34×30 will fit my husband. I know he needs a size large shirt. That’s it. It is not the same for girls/women.

Now, I am a counselor. I have seen clients who have what I consider to be significant body dysmorphia (meaning, they don’t have a realistic image of their body shape/size). I have worked with people with have eating disorders. Too many young people have unrealistic standards that they are trying to live up to. The inconsistency in sizing for our clothing cannot be helping this situation! A teenager who is my size may consider herself “plus sized” because the number on her pants is 1.5 x the number on mine!

According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), “By age 6, girls especially start to express concerns about their own weight or shape. 40-60% of elementary school girls (ages 6-12) are concerned about their weight or about becoming too fat. This concern endures through life (Smolak, 2011).” Age 6!!!

According to The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD):
• 91% of women surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting. 22% dieted “often” or “always.”
• 86% report onset of eating disorder by age 20; 43% report onset between ages of 16 and 20.6
• Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents.
• 95% of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25.
• 25% of college-aged women engage in bingeing and purging as a weight-management technique.3
• The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old.
• Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.
• In a survey of 185 female students on a college campus, 58% felt pressure to be a certain weight, and of the 83% that dieted for weight loss, 44% were of normal weight. • 47% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported wanting to lose weight because of magazine pictures.
• 69% of girls in 5th-12th grade reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body shape.
• 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.
• 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat.

These numbers matter! These are lives we are talking about!

Somehow, I grew up to be at home in my skin. In part, it was related to my parenting, and genetic make-up, sure. And I am fortunate in that. But do not read that to say that I have not shared in these struggles. I tried, at one point, to be anorexic. It turns out I do not have the necessary gag reflex. I binged, I compulsively exercised. I gained and lost weight and gained again. I eat my feelings. These are real battles for too many women! But basing your perception and value of yourself on something as arbitrary (see above documented examples) as the size noted on your clothing is not helpful or fair to you, or any other woman you meet.

Ladies, that number on your clothing tag does not matter. You do.

I hope to raise my daughter with the light of knowledge that this variability exists and is real. I hope to raise awareness that the clothing makers seek to manipulate behavior by sizing things inconsistently. The way juniors’ clothing is sized effectively reinforces the lies that our girls hear day in and day out: You’re fat. You don’t measure up. You need to lose weight to be loved or acceptable.

Ladies, can we demand that clothing makers develop a consistent sizing regimen, so that the Sevens and Lucky’s and MissMe’s can’t make wealthier buyers feel better about themselves by being able to squeeze into a size___? Can we simply start labelling our clothes with actual, meaningful sizes? (Lucky already does this – their ladies’ jeans are labeled by both traditional American sizes and actual inches. My label says “8 / 29.”) Can we stop deceiving ourselves about our own body shape/size, because it’s my totally unfounded suspicion that’s how we got to this arbitrary sizing scale anyway.

Tweet this, share it, and tell your stories, using the #NumbersThatMatter hashtag.

As always, feel free to join the conversation by commenting below.