Wives, Submit to your Husbands

Ephesians 5:22– 24  Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

These verses make a lot of women uncomfortable, and even more women angry.  (And, don’t worry, girls- I’ll be poking the husbands later in “husbands, love your wives.”)

I think that a lot of the frustration with Ephesians 5- not just with these verses, but with the entire chapter- is that we misunderstand what the end goal is.  It’s not in defining lines of who is above whom and who matters most.  It’s about helping us to lead happy, healthy lives.  We are told as believers to submit to ONE ANOTHER in Christ.  Children are to honor their parents, slaves their masters, masters to treat their slaves well, and thusly.

People usually cherry pick the verses about marriage.  Why?  Well, because the other ones can get sticky.  Why?  Because no one likes thinking too much about submitting and honoring.  Why?  Because of that inevitable question: “What about when the other person is WRONG?”

So let’s talk about that, briefly.  What if I, as a wife, am unsettled about a choice my husband has made?  Or if I, as a parent, make a choice for my child’s life that they feel is wrong?  Or if my husband’s employer makes a demand of him that he feels is unfair or harmful?  What does a good Christian do?

We should do the uncomfortable thing- we honor each other as before God, and trust God to be a good mediator and the lifter of our heads.  Yeah, I know, it’s painful.  No one likes reading those words because it means that we will inevitably have to endure hardship in our relationships.  It means we’re going to have to go places we don’t want to go.  It means we don’t get to have our way. Let me ask you all a question that may not be taken well:

What, exactly, makes us feel like we have the right to have our way?

I’m not being tongue in cheek or sarcastic.  I am sincerely asking that question.  Where, in the Bible, does it ever uphold someone’s right to be selfish?  Where does it say that the wife has a right to demand that her financial security come first?  That she ought to undermine the way her husband wants to discipline the children?  That if she wants him at home and there’s a boys night out she actually should call him selfish and throw a public snit that embarrasses him?  Women can be selfish.  (I know, I know, I’ll get to the men tomorrow, I promise!)

God commands us to submit for a reason.  Because we, as Christians, need to learn to set ourselves aside.  We need to learn to treasure our spouses as we treasure ourselves.  And God knows that if the shoe were on the other foot, if we were the ones making a bad financial decision, if we were the ones laying the lines of discipline, if it was a GIRL’S night out that would be missed, we’d want our husbands to put us first.  We’d want to feel him honoring us.

And why would he, if we didn’t honor him first?

Submission isn’t subordination.  It isn’t saying that we are beneath him by default.  It’s not saying that we are less valuable or important.  It is our gift to our spouses, our way of affirming our love for them and displaying our trust in them and in God.  We submit to show that we trust that they are taking care of us, that they will continue to do it.  We submit to honor.  We honor to show that we ourselves are worthy of being honored.

Think of each act of putting yourself aside (be it with your husband, your family, or your boss) as a speech.  What you are saying isn’t “I am less valuable than you”, but instead:

I love you more than I love myself.  And I am strong enough to not always need to get my way.

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Women, the Bible, and My little thoughts.

I was recently asked an interesting question.  To paraphrase, I was asked how, as an empowered female, could I adhere myself to a religion whose religious texts by their nature subjugated women.  I’ve taken about a week to consider my response and research it adequately, and it’s now time to write my response.  I’m not done, by any measure of the word, but I’m done enough to feel confident that I won’t stick my foot so far in my mouth that it will come out the other side, so to speak.

Let’s start with Genesis.

God creates land, he creates plants, he creates animals.  All of these things he describes as “good.”  Then he creates man, and what does he say?  “Is it not good for man to be alone.”  This is when things get interesting- because woman is not an individual creation.  Instead he takes the man’s rib and makes for him a woman.  And when Adam sees Eve, he calls her “flesh of my flesh.”  This can be a difficult passage for some women, because women don’t like to be seen as no more than an extension of man.  The other way to look at this, though, is in terms of what God was doing.  He wasn’t creating all of womankind- he wasn’t creating all of mankind, either.  He was creating one man and one woman from whom the rest would be made.  And he created that one woman to be of equal value as the man to whom she was given, he made her not out of dust, but to be “bone of [his] bone, flesh of [his] flesh”.  She was of equal value to him as his own body was.

This, to me, is significant.  More so because it is only after the creation of woman that God looks at all he has done and calls it “very good.”

Now, about Eve as the deceiver…

Genesis 3:6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

Did you catch it?  A lot of people miss it.  It’s the part where it says, “her husband who was with her.”  He wasn’t elsewhere.  She didn’t hunt him down and give him the fruit while he was unaware of what it was.  He was with her.  He didn’t try to stop her.  He didn’t try to reason with her.  He was with her, he watched her take the fruit, and when she handed some to him, he ate it.

Then comes the interesting part.  God comes, and they hide, like little kids, naive of the fact that they are already found out.  God questions them, and Adam says, “look, it was the woman’s fault.”  The woman, not to take the blame, says, “nope, I only did it cause the serpent told me to.

That’s when God starts in with the cursing.  First he tells the snake that it will crawl on it’s belly, in the dirt, and the woman’s children will crush it’s head.  Then he tells the woman that she will find pain in childbearing, and that her desire will be for her husband, and he will rule over her.  That’s two curses for the serpent and two for the woman.

Then comes the man, and this is what God tells him:

  1. cursed is the ground because of him
  2. through painful toil he will eat
  3. God will give him thorns and thistles
  4. He will eat only by the sweat of his brow
  5. UNTIL HE DIES

Numbers two and four are pretty similar- I just find it striking that while the serpent receives two paragraphs of cursing, Eve only gets one and Adam gets three.  It’s fairly clear who God is actually having take the responsibility for the fall- and it’s not Eve.  It’s also interesting to note (although not particularly salient to the topic at hand) that this is when the first sacrifice to atone for sin takes place, as God himself kills animals and gives Adam and Eve garments of skin to wear.

Now- on to the fun stuff.  How many people here have read the entire Old Testament?  If I ask who the old Testament women of note are, most people would probably respond “Esther and Ruth”- two obvious choices, as they have books named after them.  But those aren’t the only women worth mentioning.

Tamar:  The wife of a son of Judah, who after having her husband and her husband’s brother struck dead by God before giving her a child, eventually tricked her father-in-law into impregnating her.  It’s an interesting story not just because there’s so much sex involved, but because Judah says, “she is more righteous than I.” (Genesis 38)

Rahab: The prostitute who took in Israelite spies and hid them from the guards- she was rewarded by herself and her whole family being saved and accepted into the Israelite camp- something which directly contradicted God’s command.  If I remembered correctly, she is in Christ’s lineage (I could be remembering incorrectly, and that’s one of my facts I haven’t double checked).  (Joshua 2)

Deborah: A prophetess.  Because Barak, a commander, wouldn’t ride into war without her, Deborah said that the battle would be given into a woman’s hands.  Jael, a woman, killed Sisera (The Canaanite commander) with a tent peg through his head.  Then Deborah burst into song.  This would make an interesting movie, no? (Judges 4)

Hannah: Hannah was a favorite wife, but barren.  Her rival for her husband’s affections had born many children and mocked Hannah to the point that Hannah was reduced to tears and refused food.  So Hannah prayed that God would give her a son, and pledged that son to be raised by the priesthood.  God honored Hannah’s prayers, and Hannah honored her promise.  That son was Samuel, who has two books of the Old Testament named after him.  (1st Samuel 1)

Abigail:  A woman whose wisdom was so appreciated by King David that he married her when her “surly” husband died. (1st Samuel 25)

This is a woefully incomplete list, but as I said, I haven’t been able to take the adequate time to research things.  Are there as many women playing prominent roles as men?  No, of course not.  But the point is that contrary to what many people believe, the Bible as a whole doesn’t paint all women as wicked Jezebels with the exception of two Old Testament books.  Women are shown in roles both as wicked and good- but the same is true of men.

Let’s talk about the new Testament.  There are a lot of things to say here.  The first is that Jesus showed honor to women, not least of all in that he saved a woman caught in adultery from being stoned (John 8).  There is the oddity of the female disciple, Junia (Romans 16), whose name is often translated as Junias- but why would one translate a name? Also note the amount of times that the apostles, in their letters, mention the women of the church, the women that host people in their homes, the good work of the widows and elderly women…  It’s amazing.  The women truly mattered to the early church- it couldn’t have survived without them.

And then there is the simple fact that after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared first not to a man, but to a woman.  This fact is often touted as proof of a genuine story, for if the disciples had wanted to fabricate a resurrection myth, they never would have involved females.

The question then becomes, does Christianity by it’s nature and mythology actually devalue women?  I don’t think it does.  I think that misogyny and the subjugation of the masses in early Catholicism did a lot to harm our perception of what the Bible truly says.  I think that stories were retaught in new ways and certain passages were intentionally mistranslated in order to color things a certain way. The power to think independently was stripped from the masses.  Women were taught to be devalued because they were not allowed to have power- not even over their own sexuality, a thing that they were taught was evil.  The curse that was spoken over Eve and thus over all women- that we would find pain in bearing children, that we would desire for our husbands and they would lord it over us- became a very real one.

But let’s not forget that Christ broke the curse of sin and death- the one that was spoken over Adam.  And he broke the curse spoken over Eve, as well.  We are no longer cursed to desire for men who are our kings in body and mind.  We are free.  We must remember that Jesus honored women- he taught them as equals to men, a thing unheard of in those times.  Women were not even allowed into the inner courts of the temple, they could recieve no teaching except from their husbands.

“Ah-” a clever female reader may respond, “but Paul wrote that women should not speak, but receive teachings from their husbands.”

Yes, my response to that is, but that was a specific letter to a specific church, one in which the women were famous for speaking out about the problems their husbands were facing and generally disrupting the teachings.  It certainly would be better, in those circumstances, for the women to be silent and confront their husbands alone.  There are a lot of ways to view how the Bible portrays women and their worth, but this is my favorite:

Ephesians 5 states that women are to honor their husbands.  This verse has been often used to tell a woman to shut up when her and her spouse disagree.  But what does it say to the husbands?  That they are to see their wives as radiant and without blemish, and to give up their lives for their women as Christ did for the church.  Who, in that situation, is given the most burdensome task?  What’s harder- to honor someone, or to see them as Christ sees them?  To give your life for them?

As my honored mother says, “the reason women are subjugated by the church is because men have traditionally done the teaching, and they’ve had their own reasons.  Let a woman read the Bible for herself, with no preconception as to what it says.  That is when you’ll learn the truth.”

Amen, and amen.

I don’t like Porn

and for some reason, I feel that fact is worth mentioning.  In my last post I mentioned pornography more or less in passing, as something that some couples indulge in and others don’t.  And I know that in saying that I don’t like it I’ll pique the curiosity of at least one regular reader who does (don’t worry, no judging here!) so…  I thought it warranted a post.

There are several reasons I don’t like porn.  I will list them, because I like lists.

  1. I’m not a visual person.  I feel this is worth noting, because I’m not visually stimulated to start out with.  I am very sensual, and things like sensual art and erotic portraiture work for me, but not the kind of pure animal lust that pornography represents.  The times I have seen porn (don’t ask, looong story, will NEVER tell it on this blog) I was left thinking that it was empty, emotionless, spiritless, and really void.  Me sitting there feeling empty and confused wouldn’t lead to anything good, much less good sex.  So my not liking porn can be attributed in part to the fact that I simply have no taste for it.
  2. It objectifies women– yes, I’ve heard all the arguments against this.  “The women choose this life”, “the women in porn are empowered by being able to use their bodies however they like”, “it’s an industry that is moderated”, and on and on.  But, still, at the end of the day you are not looking at a whole person engaging in an intimate and spiritual act- you are looking at a woman who is being made nothing more than a place to stick a penis, or dildo, or broomhandle, or whatever.  It is objectification which cheapens the quality of the human spirit, and I don’t like it.
  3. It cheapens what sex was meant to be–  Sex in pornography is a physical act meant to gratify sexual hunger, nothing more.  Sex is at it’s best a deeply intimate, spiritual act.  It is two people giving of their very essence to each other.  It is intensely personal and individual.  The sex in pornography cheapens that spirit, and I know from counseling others that addiction to pornography can actually inhibit a person from engaging in wholesome sex later on in life.
  4. It can be used as an out when it shouldn’t be- which isn’t necessarily a problem with pornography, but the person watching it.  Even so, too many people turn to pornography for release when they should be turning to their spouses.  Men and women with specific fantasies will seek out pornography that satisfies that desire instead of honesty with their partner, they will turn to porn when there is a “sexual dry spell” instead of working on their relationship, etc.
  5. It can train young boys to be aroused by an ideal that isn’t real–  Yes, saying this makes me sound matronly…  but what is, is.  And most women are not porn stars.  I’ve heard one too many girls crying because their boyfriends didn’t find them as attractive as the porn they preferred, they felt like they had to act and look a certain way to be sexually pleasing… and it’s bad.  It’s bad for the girls who then cheapen themselves in order to gratify their guys, and it’s bad for the guys who are missing out on what sex can be like without all that baggage attached.

So…  will I give a final verdict on whether or not good people can like porn?  No, because that’s not really my style.

I just thought I’d explain why I, personally, won’t be watching it any time ever.

Islam, Muslims, and Assumptions.

“Never assume,” my mother used to say, “Because all you’ll do is make an ass of ‘u’ and ‘me’.”

Good old American girls and boys make a lot of assumptions about Islam, Arabic and Persian culture, and what it means to be a Muslim. People who travel extensively would tell you that our assumptions trap us in a box that leaves little room for reality. We’ve been bathed in Media images of beggar women in full burka, of grim faced Afghani activist women and arrogant gun-toting men. It’s easy to assume that those images portray the whole of the Muslim experience- easy, but to be honest, also ignorant. Islam is one of the Big Three religions, and we know better than to picture every Christian like Pat Robertson and every Buddhist as wrapped in an orange robe.

Don’t we?

These are the images that first come to mind when I think of Muslims:

Afghani BeggarMeena

And it’s no wonder with these images in my head that there is some small part of me that believes Islam is an oppressive faith. But, then I pause, and realize that there is (as always) more to life than what my emotions and the Media tell me. There is the fact that when I think of Muslims I also think of American Islamic faith, something that is highly different than the Afghani experience. After all, in America Muslims are not governed by the Taliban. They are not subjugated and abused. In fact, there is only a single Muslim man in government. (No, not Barack, he’s NOT Muslim! I’m talking about Keith Ellison.

Congressman Ellison

But there is so much more to think about. My church is closely affiliated with an organization that is ministering to the Wolof people of Senegal. The Wolof people are largely a Muslim population, but they also carry African tribal traditions. So instead of the Arabic Muslim culture (which many Americans falsely assume to be ALL Muslim culture) there is a new breed of Muslim, the vibrant African faith that is not dour and oppressive, but generous and community based. Instead of somber gray and blue tones, the women dress in vibrant colors, they laugh largely and smile loudly. This is the picture of Islam that I want to retrain myself to see, not one of quiet desperation but one of life and love, one of big expressions.

Wolof DancerSenegalese Market Ladies

I am realizing more every day that I simply need to be more educated about the other religions around the world. Not just I, but all people. So many people use the words “Arabic”, “Muslim” and “Middle-Eastern” interchangeably, as if all people in the Middle East are Arabic Muslims, as if all Muslim people are in the Middle East and as if the Muslim faith is a purely Arabic phenomenon. This language assumes things that it has no right to, as not all Muslims are Arabic, and the Middle East is home not only to Muslims but to Jews and even ancient colonies of Christians.

It is most disturbing to Christians to discover that the American war in Iraq is unseating one of the oldest Apostolic colonies in existence, one that dates back two thousand years. Not to mention the fact that what was once a secular society, one in which women could attend universities and pursue careers, is now in danger of becoming a country under Islamic law.

We must leave our assumptions.

Links:

The Wolof People: wolof.org

Afghani Women’s Liberation: rawa.org

The Subjugation of Women in Religion (part two)

I realized this morning that there was more I could have said yesterday, but didn’t think to.

Like, for example, that the American’s people anger over the “subjugation” of women in Islam really all hinges on the idea that the women themselves feel that they are being abused. While things like a girl being charged for her own rape are obviously wrong, other things that we so often harp on- like the veil, the fact that women do not go out alone, etc, are not obviously evil. In fact, I was talking with a Muslim woman on a bus one day and I asked her if she didn’t feel restricted by her beliefs. It was an older woman, probably in her sixties, and she laughed and said, “don’t you feel thrown out into the world? Unprotected?”

I replied, “what do you mean?”

To which she said, “My beliefs are for my own good. American women dress in a way that harms their spirit. You have to go out and work, and leave your family behind. You are alone on the streets where people could want to hurt you. My beliefs cover me, they keep me with my family, they keep me safe.”

This was not a woman who had lived her long life in quiet desperation, it was a woman whose beliefs had enhanced the life that she’d wanted to live. I feel I ought to reiterate that it was the life that she wanted to live.

The same is true of most Amish women. They do not question that they are living the right life, and the truth is that most of those who do question their faith end up transitioning to the Conservative Mennonite tradition or another tradition that allows them the comforts that they wish for. In fact, while there’s only a few that come to mind I do know of “English” (non-Amish) women who chose to marry into the Amish faith and learn their ways, because they wanted to live peaceably.

I’m a stay at home mom. Because I am a stay at home mom who plans on homeschooling her kids and also a Christian, there are a lot of people who assume that I must be one and two because I am three. They assume that my faith must be one that dictates a woman needs to be at home and that schools are “unsafe.” The truth is that those assumptions block them from truly learning who I am, because while my Christianity informs my life choices it does not force them.

I find it easy to believe that beyond the things that all people will agree are truly cruel, like honor killings and women being held responsible for their own rapes, we can’t believe that Muslim women feel the same about their lives- that their faith did not force them, that this is the life they would want to have. Let’s not assume that these women are mindless, that they are automatons, that they don’t realize there is another way to live. That woman on the bus certainly did- and she rejected it.

Thoughts on Women and Power.

Women are simply better suited to homemaking.

That is a line I’ve heard often.  I don’t necessarily disagree.  Most of the women I know are champion multi-taskers.  They have a tremendous capacity for empathy, and are able to project possible outcomes and predict scenarios with dizzying accuracy.  This makes the women in my acquaintance particularly suited to caring for babies and young children, because they are capable of washing the laundry and cleaning the kitchen and carrying on a phone conversation WHILE carrying their child.  They treat their children with sympathy despite their own needs often going unmet, and they can plan their days well.  They project all of the various outcomes that could come from any number of their children’s behaviors, and they modify discipline accordingly.

Yes, they are well suited to homemaking.

Yet, that is not the only use for these talents.  It also means that these women could also be tremendous doctors, financial planners, personal assistants, board presidents, or even the President of this country.

That’s right, I said it.  A woman’s capacity for imaginative thinking means that a woman would make a tremendous president.  I’ve heard the last seven years described as a “failure of imagination”, simply because the consequences of actions were never adequately projected.   I’m not saying that men don’t also have this capacity, simply that women are giving endless opportunities to groom their skills.  Women learn to plan out a weeks menus and shop accordingly.  Women tend to think of things like, “I could buy these pants or three shirts” or, “if I spend this money and my brakes go out…”

Again, not that many men don’t- it’s just I’ve observed this skill in almost every woman I know, and not in every man.  Not to mention that women’s propensity towards emotion isn’t necessarily a hindrance in a corporate or political position.  While men might ignore the importance of the egos and comforts of their fellows, women often wouldn’t.  A President who carefully tends the egos and comforts of her peers would be a boon.

Then there is this concern that women’s tendencies make them naturally more manipulative, or that women who seek careers tend to be bitchy.

To which I respond, “and this is a bad thing?”

I could go on, and on, and on, but my own homemaking calls.  I don’t mind the fact that I’m suited for it.

Maybe one day I’ll make a great therapist.

Or politician.