As I’ve asked myself this question over the past few days, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Mary. As in Mary-and-Martha Mary. When Jesus went to Mary and Martha’s house and Martha was all frantic and nervous about dinner getting on the table and the candles being lit just right, or the oil lamp, or whatever, Mary was sitting at Jesus’s feet, literally. Like he was her teacher, and students were only male then, mind you. She was sitting by his feet, listening to him while chaos was occurring in the next room. Then Jesus said, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42). The best reward. And she was a woman. She was not praised for her work, for her social status or ability to rise above female oppression and be highlighted in the most important literary work of all time.
What was she praised for? Her ability to be oblivious to all but Jesus.
Seeing as how Mary has exemplified the Christian life ever since she appeared in the gospels, I think that’s what being a Christian in the midst of feminist society is supposed to look like: to be so obsessed with Jesus, we just don’t care about much else. And to be so steady at his feet that we find ourselves able to love as he did. Love ourselves, love our gender, and love men, even the ones we think should value us a little more.
One of the most destructive attitudes of feminists is anger. It weakens the argument. Who wants to listen to someone who’s mad at everybody? Their words don’t make sense. They’re self-righteous and annoying. But what if we as Christian women who believe in our ability to be educated and have careers (a simplified definition of feminism I mentioned last week) stopped letting anger or self-righteousness drive that belief and started being oblivious to our entitlements and, instead, focused on Christ, our teacher?
That’s harder to do than striving to prove ourselves—something I do often and perhaps you do too. It takes more strength to relax and get over myself and admit that in reality I am nothing. Not because I’m a woman, but because I am human.
Last week I told you I would be tackling the tough question of what the role of a Christian woman is. I’m starting to wonder if this is what this year’s series has been leading up. If maybe this is the question I’ve been trying to get at all along. I’ve asked it to myself so many times in so many different ways. Especially this one: Where should I stand on the issue of feminism in today’s society?
My first core English class in college began to make me unafraid of the “f” word. Until then, I equated feminism with words like “anger,” “no-bra,” “self-reliance,” an overall I-don’t-need-you/don’t-mess-with-me mentality. But, before he assigned us to read extremely complex explanations by thinkers like Adrienne Rich and Gayatri Spivak, my professor gave a very simple explanation of feminism: It is the belief the women are entitled to an education and a career. Hm. This definition did not seem scripturally astray. Nor did it sound scary. It sounded like me. And probably sounds like you. We don’t burn bras; we just believe women have gifts that translate outside the home.
So it surprised me when a girl in my class chimed into the discussion complaining about feminists. Hadn’t we decided the modern definition is harmless? Not to her. She didn’t want to be in college. She didn’t want to be in class. She was only here because of the societal pressure to gain an education. When what she desired was marriage and a family. Something attainable without a degree.
I was mad at her. How could she not appreciate where she was, what she had, all that she could be? In college, the possibilities are endless: so much to learn and try and succeed and fail at. Even being an “intern” sounds like a glamorous opportunity. And after hundreds of years with this door of possibilities closed to our gender, here she was wishing it hadn’t been opened. How embarrassingly regressive of her.
Or was it just me? As soon as I got mad at her, I saw my own aggression and recoiled at it. In undergard I placed this unreasonable pressure on myself to make perfect grades, be an active member on campus and use my summers to either further my education or get job experience. I was not chill by any means. Looking back, I realize I was striving desperately to prove myself and that my gender in no way hindered my intelligence or capabilities.
I didn’t know what the right reaction to this student’s complaint was, but I knew mine was wrong and for some reason grated against my Christian nature. What does Jesus really say about this issue? I had never asked him before because I didn’t see the Bible as a place to learn about feminism.
Now, I believe scripture explains feminism better than Rich or Spivak ever could. What exactly does it say? I’ll explore that next week.
A question I began asking myself long before I began this series in January. It’s loaded. That may be one answer to it agreed upon by all. That may be the one thing I know for sure about it. It’s one I wasn’t sure I would address this year. My thoughts are scattered. They change daily. Sometimes I have it all figured out and am at peace with my gender’s role in my faith and in my culture. Then I hear or read something that returns me to square one, wondering what my role is, how much of a role I have and if my opinions are even loosely based on biblical principles. Sometimes they are but I’m seeing more and more that they often aren’t.
I’m not going to answer this question in one post. That’s impossible. I have too many specific role questions: What is my role as a female in the church? What is my role as the female in a relationship? What is my role as a female in the family setting? In work? In writing? I won’t cover all of these, unless I feel extremely compelled, but I will address some.
It’s so important to understand someone’s lenses when understanding how she might address this type of question. For me, that’s a lens of a twenty-something, single, raised in the evangelical church and encouraged to pursue my wildest dreams by both my parents. My mom was a stay-at-home once she started having us. My dad has always worked. The women in my extended family are about split: some are stay-at-home moms, others work. I never felt pressured to be one thing or the other. There was always talk about “when I had a family” and there was always talk about “when I had a job in the real world.”
Basically, I was raised in a family that spans the spectrum of what the female role in society and church can look like. I’m grateful for that diverse environment. I realize that it created the freedom I have now to even explore this question. But no matter how free that environment may have been for some of us, it could never free us from cultural stigmas or expectations. The things that make us wonder about all of this. The things that make up definitions to words and phrases like “feminism,” “sex,” “separate but equal.”
I’m not sure if a more confusing message exists than that of what role women should play. What is right? What is wrong? What is sinful? What is honoring?
I’m afraid to say this, but I feel I have to: Let’s discuss.
When I have apologetics conversations with myself–tell me I’m not the only one who has these–the idea of having an innate conviction to do the right thing and knowing what the right thing is often comes up, in my conversation, with myself. This thought helps prove the existence of an absolute and ultimately the existence of God. Boom, my Christian side wins. But not exactly. More like, my monotheistic side wins.
My Christian side wins when I ask why I do the right thing. Most religions have systems of rules and rewards: follow the rules, you get the reward. Christianity represents the only world religion in which reward can not be earned: follow the rules, you get the reward. Don’t follow the rules, you get the reward. So why follow the rules? Why do the right thing?
For years my answer to this question was this: I do the right thing because it is clearly laid out in scripture how to do the right thing and that we are to do the right thing because the right thing brings us in a closer relationship with God and being in a closer relationship with God helps us make the right decisions and be just overall happier than if we were consistently doing the wrong thing.
It wasn’t that I didn’t know about grace. I knew about grace. I loved grace. It’s one of the bolded words in my memory as a preacher’s kid who spent just as much time at church as she did at home. The problem with my motive above was that I wasn’t obsessed yet. I didn’t get doing the right thing out of an overflow of my obsession with this God that could do such radical, against-human-nature type stuff.
Once that started to kick in (somewhere around the time of my first real heartbreak) and I began to let God, Jesus and the concept of the cross expand beyond my sunday-school walls, the right thing was the best way I could think of to say “I love you.” It was even better than saying, “I love you.” And I trust in that motivator much more than when I motivated myself.
Over time, we all create a painting in our heads. It’s a painting called “How Things Are.” We are very sure of these paintings and keep them front-and-center. They are beautiful and took time to create and most importantly, they are correct. Or so we think. But as we learn and grow and mature, we reluctantly throw out the old “How Things Are” and begin painting a new one. All that work for nothing.
This is what this blog series has begun to force me to do, a lot of repainting (or flat out burning) specifically in the area of my thoughts on God’s glory and sovereignty. I shared a bit of this in the post that started this whole series here. And surprise! This topic has themed its way into my 2011.
The question of only loving God because of what He does for me rather than who He is connects to the question I and others were asked by a speaker I listened to last week: Why does the idea of God wanting to glorify himself make us squirm in our seats? As we squirmed, he continued probing, “Does God desire God’s glory more than He desires us? Why does He seek His own praise above all else? Is this bothering you? Why is this bothering you?” And the pieces of my little self-made theories began to drop to the floor. And my beautiful “How Things Are” once again appeared ridiculous.
When you read the Bible, you read the word “glory” many times and it is always God’s glory. And when you keep reading the Bible, it turns out the whole point is His glory. Sounds rudimentary, I know, but to realize God’s chief aim is to be praised and not to be sure I am ok and am successful and joyful and on the right path, well, that has been difficult for me. I squirmed as I heard about–what John Piper calls–God’s God-centeredness and realized I was squirming out of my own self-centeredness.
His chief aim is not us; his chief aim is himself. And that sounds selfish and vain, but only because we are selfish and vain.
I have an incredibly difficult task before me now: to realize once and for all that this world is not about me. This life is not about me. My life is not about me. I am not about me.
I address this question using only the thoughts and opinions I’ve heard from others or that I remember from Bible classes in years past. I haven’t done any research or in-depth study into the creation of the canon, the New Testament. I am speaking from a place of absolute no scholarly authority. I am simply speaking from a place of conversations with friends.
In high school, I read Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, so I remember bits and pieces of that and in history class we briefly talked about how there were several books that were candidates to be a part of the protestant New Testament and some were discarded and others made the cut. It was a group of men that decided.
This is important. To know why certain scripture has been read for centuries while other texts were discarded. My professors usually began the semester detailing the origin of a book and its author but I don’t recall much discussion on how that book made it in—a basic often reserved for advanced theology classes taken by Biblical studies majors or seminary students.
And here’s what I know about those who do advanced theological study: same are affirmed in their faith and some walk away from it completely. Whatever happens in those classes must be challenging and for one of my friends it proved to be too much. He sat there and studied and read and read and read about how those 27 books were put together and compiled and the flaws that were highlighted through that study were enough for him to stop crediting the Bible.
In all of the conversations this friend and I had about God, I could not bring myself to ask him what knowledge he had acquired that made him walk away. What little fact made it absolutely impossible to believe anymore.
I was too afraid to ask. I didn’t want to know. And he, knowing how painful it was for him, had mercy on my ignorance and never told me.
A few months ago I promised I had more “Would I still be a Christian if…” questions coming down the pike. I think I’ve been subconsciously avoiding writing about these questions despite my promise to. You see, they’re difficult and make me question my dependency on religion and I can’t handle that type of questioning every week. But between the last post about still being a Christian if I were not born into a Christian family and now, I think I’ve mustered the gusto.
Would I still be a Christian if most of my friends were not? Sadly, there has only been a small time frame in my life when I could say the majority of my friends were not Christians: my first several months in Oxford. And even saying the majority may not be accurate, so let’s say the people I was getting to know best and felt closest to were not Christians. This perfectly coincided with the period I felt the deepest doubt in my faith. Until then, I had always considered myself a “doubter.” But in those months I realized I had never seriously doubted God. Even when I claimed to, I was still evaluating the life around me as if He existed. Spending so much time with my new friends who were either agnostic or atheist allowed me to feel, for the first time, what it would be like to not believe in God at all.
It was dark. It seemed empty. Yet these friends had a capacity for love that I did not expect. They were the type who would do anything for you, just like my Christian friends back home. And slowly I began to understand how I could love someone without the belief that “someone first loved me.” And that love was so fierce, because it was all they had, all they had to live for and they knew they didn’t have many years to do it.
Ultimately, I made close friends with people I went to church with in Oxford, spending the majority of my time with them. And that coincided with a type of reviving of my faith–an even deeper belief in it than before.
But what if those Christian friends had not come along? And my understanding of living without faith continued to make more sense as I spent most of my time with my agnostic/atheist friends? And what does that mean about Christianity if it can’t stand alone? Or what does it mean about me, if I can’t believe on my own?
And now it will be another several months before I ask a “Would I still be a Christian if…” question.
I’ve kept a journal for years now. I bet a lot of bloggers could say the same thing. We seem to be obsessed with the regular recording of everyday events. Anyways, from time to time I like to read old journals and compare myself to my younger self. A theme I’ve noticed in reading through some thoughts from the last few years is I worry that I annoy God. Seriously. I’ve always had this fear that I take way to too long to figure out His will or make excuses and claims that I don’t know what He wants when I actually do and just don’t want to do it, so He gets all huffy and puffy and taps His foot at me. I didn’t even realize I was personifying God in such a way until a good friend pointed it out to me and how lacking of grace that view of God was. I felt so relieved. He’s not annoyed with me; I’m annoyed with myself while the almighty God is capable of grace upon grace upon grace.
Then on Sunday, I was listening to my wonderful pastor speaking at my wonderful church about our unbelief and how that unbelief prevents us from the full power of God. As he concluded his sermon, he asked us if we thought our unbelief ever exasperated Jesus. In the passage of scripture we had been looking at (Luke 9:37-50) Jesus was clearly frustrated with his disciples, clearly exasperated. So it’s possible. And now my pastor was asking a rhetorical question to which the obvious answer was “yes.” Ugh.
And now I’m back at square one, wondering if I do indeed exasperate Jesus/God or if that is a trait we put on Him because we are so easily exasperated. Though we like to guess God’s feelings and play that game often, I find comfort in doubting our accuracy.
My favorite iPhone app is “Question of the Day.”As you’re well aware, I ask lots of questions and have been asking one difficult question a week since January. Though I may never ask another one again after 2011 because quite frankly it’s exhausting, I will continue to use the QotD app on road trips, during airport layovers, or even if things get really awkwardly silent at the dinner table. Why I haven’t ripped off questions from this app for every single post in this series is a good question in itself.
One of the more thought-provoking QotDs asks what you had to give yourself permission to do. I like this question because when asked on a road trip or sitting around the airport, friends’ answers make me feel less alone in the world of erasing or modifying things on my “Never Do” list. We all have that list in our heads. The list of things we haven’t allowed ourselves. That list is written one item at a time based on our individual experiences, faiths, morals, etc., and we somehow live our lives by it as if veering would cause our worlds to crumble. I think even “free spirits,” the ones who never live in one place for more than two years and work for city bike tour companies and crash on stranger’s couches (aka the types I secretly envy), have lists: “Do not get tied down. Do not take too many showers…” We write them religiously.
But every once in a while, we give ourselves permission to erase an item. Maybe a small one or maybe the number one most importantly huge one, but eventually we all realize it’s impossible to live to by our own standards all the time and we give ourselves permission to accept that, at least for a moment.
For me, I’ve had to give myself permission to quit. The first time I remember allowing myself to quit was when I was 15 and playing club volleyball. I hated it–I’m incredibly mediocre at all sports–and although the thought of quitting made me feel so guilty I got nauseous, the thought of playing volleyball tournaments every weekend for the next six months made me even more nauseous, so I quit. After a whole four weeks. Since then, I’ve given myself permission to quit other things, but “Don’t quit” remains on my list, just worded differently: “Don’t quit. Unless what you’re considering quitting goes against the grain of who you are.”
What have you given yourself permission to do? What should you give yourself permission to do? It can be freeing but enslaving all at the same time. We must not too quickly erase, just as we must not too quickly add more items to our lists.
The cliche question I was doomed to ask during this blog series. People often use this question to disprove a loving God. How could a God who loves us allow such terrible things to happen to such good people? It’s a toughy. Good people don’t deserve to lose a child or get cancer or have their identity stolen or be raped. And bad people–the ones who you know are just out for themselves, who are selfish, or rude to you or never do what they say they’re going to do or cause genocide–don’t deserve to make all the money they do or have perfect children or get the last diet coke from the machine.
So why do bad things happen to good people and good to bad? The answer I found sufficient was: It’s a part of God’s plan and good will somehow come of it. That was sufficient for about a second, until I didn’t see good come from something tragic that happened to someone. Instead, the bad thing that happened to the good person wrecked the family or destroyed the business or caused a domino effect of other terrible things. Meanwhile, bad people continued to thrive and make ‘A’s and buy fancy cars without being brought to their knees like the good people.
That answer no longer being sufficient, I’ve decided this: we have absolutely no clue what the definitions of “good” and “bad” are. Therefore, have no right to throw those words around like we own them or even partially understand them. When God created the earth He methodically declared the individual creations good. And here we are running around that earth declaring our own things and occurrences good or bad. We have taken God’s word and warped it to meet our points of view that are so incredibly limited we could not, even if we dedicated our lives to it, begin to expand them to the width necessary to know what’s actually going on here.
So the question dead ends. And the words used in the question are meaningless. We made up this question in attempt to convince ourselves we are capable of quantifying our lives and determining their meaning. We made it up in attempt to be our own gods, and I think it’s time to stop asking it.