Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Ten Year Cancer-versary

A number of weeks ago, a friend of mine at church asked me to write a reflection for one of the Advent Sundays on "the gift of grace." I eagerly agreed, perhaps owing to the fact that she opened the conversation with "I heard that you are a writer and..." The "secret dream" button in my brain activated, it was only near the end of the conversation that I realized that I was also agreeing to speak in front of the church. Dreaded Fear and Secret Dream faced off, and Secret Dream emerged the winner. A reluctant winner, but still. 

Yesterday, I summoned every positive memory of public speaking that I could conjure up to boost my confidence as I faced my fear. It didn't take long. There was one oral presentation in ninth grade science about why blue roses are difficult to engineer, and an impromptu speech in Toastmasters club in eighth grade amongst others who shared a fear of public speaking. We were an interesting group, all with our nervous mannerisms and common fantasies of avoiding public speaking by any means necessary. Illness, broken limb, perhaps a snowstorm, these were all reasonably attractive alternatives. My other experiences with public speaking might best be summarized by noting that I once received a spoof award for public speaking in high school. As a side note, holding spoof awards at a school assembly for self conscious pre-teens or teenagers is such a very bad idea. 

D Sharon Pruitt
I suppose it's true that public speaking gets a little bit easier each time you do it, although perhaps I shouldn't admit that or I may be asked again in the future. I've learned that forging ahead through the fear of public speaking is more rewarding for me when I can share from the heart, rather than presenting the life cycle of flatworms, or fumbling through a dramatic reimagining of a 15th century morality play. It probably helped that the whole family came on stage together, and holding my three-year old on one hip helped to disguise my shaking hands. My six year old, who thankfully hasn't inherited a shred of my propensity for stage fright, rocked his reading of scripture, and then it was my turn.

Comfort, comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
    that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.
Isaiah 40:1-2

Little did we know at the time, ten years ago this week, that we were living the last “normal” days of our lives. Or, at least, the last “normal” days we would be able to envision for a very long time. The season of advent was upon us, our dining table covered in the glitter of christmas card crafting, and the calendar starting to fill up with Christmas parties and concerts. Our second wedding anniversary was just weeks away.

We heard Dave’s diagnosis of cancer on December 9th, 2004, and everything changed in that moment.

The timing of our ordeal was made more difficult by its contrast to the merriness of the Christmas season. Our world had stopped, while everyone else went on Christmas shopping and singing carols. We spent much of Christmas that year alone, avoiding the inevitable colds and flus that circulate at Christmas gatherings. We wondered if it would be our last Christmas together. 

Every year since then, as the Christmas carols start playing and the neighbours start scurrying to outdo each others’ Christmas light displays, we are reminded of that year that everything changed. We recount the those dark days, and count our blessings: the slow return of Dave’s health, the strengthening of our relationship, and our journey in learning to trust and hope again. Our hearts are renewed with thankfulness for jobs that have provided meaningful work, for accommodations that have become home, for family and friends who have become like family, and for the children we were told we would never be able to have. 

As I reflect on the overwhelming list of things to be thankful for, I feel small and undeserving. With each passing year, the wounds of 2004 heal a little more, and our awareness of God’s gift of grace grows. 

In retrospect, the timing of our suffering through the Christmas season that was so bitter at the time, now seems to reflect our experience with the gift of God’s grace. During the advent season, we anticipate anew the birth of Christ. We recognize the brokenness of our lives, and long for the light to chase away the darkness. On that first Christmas, the King of Kings came where some might have least expected him. He came not in a flash of political or economic power, but as a baby, a minority in occupied territory, born to a simple carpenter and his beloved. The unmerited and undeserved gift of salvation, of strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow arrived in a smelly stable. Instead of abandoning us in our suffering, God became Emmanuel, God with us. He came in humility, offering the greatest gift of all. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

In Case You Missed It...

In case you missed it last month, an edited version of one of my previous blog posts was featured on The Junia Project. This website has been an incredible resource for me over the past year in learning more about women in leadership, and I was so humbled and excited to share some of my writing there. If you haven't yet checked out The Junia Project, please do! One of my favourite recent posts is about Mary Magdalene and I guarantee you will learn something new.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ephesus, Chaucer, and Kirk Cameron. Women and Leadership, Part 3

When I watch a slide show of pictures chronicling somebody else’s travels, the photos and stories bleed into each other. Having not visited these places myself, it can be challenging to remember which famous landmark was less impressive in person, and which café made the best panini in all of Europe. Some people’s stories and impressions, however, have managed to stake a claim in my mental filing cabinet, an admirable feat considering the decreasing supply and increasing value of that real estate.

As a teenager in the late 1960s, my mother and her family moved to a Canadian Air Forces base in Germany, where my grandfather held a job teaching high school. During their school breaks, the family took every opportunity to travel throughout Europe. A few years ago, my parents took the opportunity to go on a cruise in the Mediterranean, and they visited several ports that my mom had visited as a teenager. Among many interesting cities, Ephesus and Pompeii were particularly fascinating. My parents were able to walk among the excavated ruins of the cities, and, through the interpretation of tour guides, learn what the city likely would have been like in ancient times. While my Dad is more the history buff of the two of them, the visit was particularly interesting to my mother because she remembered details of visiting these cities as a teenager. How remarkable it was for my Mom to see all that had been excavated between her teenage years and her retirement years. Whole sections of the city had been uncovered. Just imagine all the knowledge that has been gained about the ancient world in that time through excavation and study. Imagine what may still lay below the surface of the Earth and the oceans that may someday be uncovered by anthropologists. Some estimate that there are over three million shipwrecks laying below the surface of the world's oceans, over five thousand in the Great Lakes alone.

Terrace House in Ephesus
Photo credit
The Department of Sociology and Anthropology is one of the few disciplines that doesn’t appear on the transcript of my meandering journey through Simon Fraser University, though I always intended to squeeze it in. Dabbling was my specialty in university, probably owing to the fact that I attended a small high school with a limited course selection. I earned a Certificate in Liberal Arts during my degree program completely by accident owing to the fact that I took such a wide array of courses. It was probably the one benefit of not having a clue what I wanted to be when I “grew up”.  Sidenote: I still haven’t totally figured that out yet, and I have this sneaking suspicion that I am supposed to be grown up now. After watching a few seasons of the television series Bones, I realize that it is probably a good thing that I didn’t take anthropology. It turns out that I have a weak gag reflex, and I’m not particularly suited to heavy work. I imagine that uncovering the ruins in Ephesus and Pompeii is hard work. Hard, sweaty, painful work. They probably spend whole days bent over double, carefully uncovering pieces of pottery or mosaic portraits. But, imagine the thrill of discovering something that has been waiting there for hundreds, even thousands of years.

I suppose, however, that there is an archaeologist in all of us. Collectively and individually, we excavate truth. We try to dig truth out from our cultural blinders, uncover the dust from our personal histories and hurts,  and strain to lift it out from our preconceived notions. The truths in Scriptures have been gifted to us from our never-changing God, but it takes time for us to discover them and flesh out the implications of those truths in our lives, in our specific times, and our various cultures. Discovering truth is life-giving, but it is, nevertheless, hard work. And sometimes, we have gotten it wrong. Scripture has been used and misused to justify matters of small and great magnitude: from eschewing moviegoing and dancing, to defending the institution of slavery, and justifying child abuse. Loren Cunningham, founder of Youth With A Mission (YWAM) writes:

“The more we come to know God and what He is like, the more we’ll understand the Bible and how to apply its principles to everyday life. This is why we need to read our Bibles with humility, asking God for revelation. He is waiting to open his Word to us. There are no new truths, but we can gain new understanding of truths that have always been there in Scripture.”

As we consider the scriptural basis for the full inclusion of women in church and family leadership, let us have the willingness to see things we haven’t seen before. Let us have the humility, myself included, to recognize that we are all discovering, expanding, and standing for our interpretations of scriptures. Like many contentious theological issues, the discussion of women in leadership often devolves into a hurtful, and fruitless debate as to who is defending scripture itself, and who is defending a (supposedly wrong) interpretation of scripture, a battle of who holds a higher view of scripture. Of those who argue in this manner, John Stackhouse writes:

"…they fail to realize they are defending their own interpretations, not the Bible itself. Indeed, so great is their confidence that they can simply read the Bible - a compilation of dozens of ancient books, composed originally in now-dead languages that no one can even confidently pronounce, from a variety of countries, authors, and contexts - that they are surprised and even offended when someone indicates that they merely possess their own interpretation of this complicated literature, not its full and final meaning." (Finally Feminist)

Some of the truths in scripture are more easily grasped than others upon first reading the text, and, sometimes, we need the right tools to uncover those truths. In discussing the issue of women in leadership with others, I’ve talked to people who say, usually with some measure of exasperation, “I just want to know what the Bible says, not what commentaries or scholars think it says.” I wish it was always that easy too. 

When I studied Chaucer and Shakespeare in university, I expected my professors to be learned in that subject matter. I can read Shakespeare myself, and I can read different, reliable translations of Chaucer myself, too. But, if I am paying to take a class, I want the professor to not only have read Shakespeare, but to be immersed in knowledge of Elizabethan and Jacobean England. I want my Chaucer professor to not only have read his works, but to understand his culture and to know the Middle English language. We have so much more at stake in our faith than paying for a university course that most of us won’t remember in five years. I have trouble remembering more than half of which courses I took in four years of university, never mind the actual subject matter. In studying the Bible, why wouldn’t I want to at least sift through and consider the insights of those who have spent exponentially more time than I studying the scriptures, some making it their life's work to study the Bible, the languages in which it was written, and the cultures of the various authors?

Geoffrey Chaucer.
I still remember sitting in the final exam for my
Chaucer class and regretting that I hadn't completed all the course reading.
Thankfully, this negligence hasn't altered my life too drastically.
In examining the egalitarian vs. complementarian debate, let us use every tool in and out of the box to understand scripture. I understand people's desire to arrive at an understanding of every truth simply by reading one's preferred version of the Bible, because I wish that was possible too. The more I learn about the Bible, the more I realize I need to know more.

Have you ever tried reading the Biblical book of Revelation without any kind of frame of reference? Up until the last few years, Revelation was a source of confusion and anxiety for me. What a shame to waste years being afraid of something that was actually intended to encourage and uplift its original audience. Even before studying the actual symbolism within the book, just knowing that it was written to fellow believers by the Apostle John when he was imprisoned changes the way we understand the book. It is likely that his letters had to be smuggled out of prison, or pass the scrutiny of jailers representing an empire that was trying to quash Christianity. It makes sense that it would be wise to write in such a way that the intended audience could understand the message, while using enough symbolism that the guy screening the prison mail would pass it off as the confused writings of an old eccentric. A literal interpretation of Revelation might not be the intention of its author. It sure makes for entertaining literature and films though...

What?! How did I not know there is a new Left Behind movie in the works until now?
And where the heck is Kirk Cameron?

Even if one's guide for understanding truth is Sola Scriptura, or "by scripture alone," let us not abandon that which would help us understand scripture. As Pastor Greg Boyd notes in this sermon, if one is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind," let us not abandon exercising our minds to study contentious issues before coming to an understanding. Indeed, I think we can see it as an act of worship to spend time studying and learning about the Bible in addition to studying the Bible itself.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

My Backlash Against the Backlash

The only thing threatening to become more prevalent than the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge on my Facebook newsfeed these days is the backlash against it. Perhaps I wouldn't be experiencing this personal backlash agains the backlash if I hadn't already been aghast at the hurtful responses to Robin William's suicide in recent weeks. It makes me want to get off Facebook for good. One person called people's "uproar" in response to William's death "alarming" in the scope of all the other mass tragedies happening around the world. Another said "we need to focus on what really matters here...not someone who didn't care to live." Is there not enough room for compassion in response to all tragedies?

Videos and links to articles abound in critique to the Ice Bucket Challenge, explaining why it is not simply annoying, it's detrimental to us. The reasons vary from the waste of clean drinking water, to skepticism about where the money raised actually goes, to promoting a culture of narcissism. As for narcissism, I don't think I'm alone in cringing at seeing myself on video looking like a drowned rodent. Thank you, mass media for instilling unrealistic body image ideals. But I'll endure the self humiliation for a good cause.

As for where the money raised goes, do some research instead of simply dismissing the cause when the question is raised. By all means, if you cannot donate in good conscience, then don't. Many large charitable organizations have some very well-paid executives at top levels. We live in a capitalistic society, governed by supply and demand, and people expect to be compensated in relation to the scope and responsibility of their positions. In regards to the methods of research, ALS Canada states on their website "We don’t support or have not supported any research with human embryos or human embryonic stem cells."

What constitutes wasting water? Is the use of water for this challenge less justifiable than watering our front lawns in the summer to keep them from looking ugly? Should we also wring our hands with guilt when we let our kids play at the spray park? Is showering every day really necessary? Given the phenomenal success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, of course there have been millions of litres of water used. But would any of that water have been diverted to people who really need it around the world? Probably not, and perhaps the Ice Bucket Challenge has actually provided the perfect opportunity to bring awareness to the need for clean drinking water. Why not add some information to your icy video about the need for clean drinking water around the world, and also donate to an organization that works to that end?

Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0. 

This popular article from MacLeans complains that ALS is neither the greatest need, nor the most urgent problem facing the world today. Further, the article argues, money given to ALS research will not have the greatest influence. I recognize that ALS does not affect as many people as diseases like cancer or heart disease, but our tendency to think about charity solely in terms of the rules of capitalism lacks, well, charity.

The rarity of a disease should move us to greater compassion for its sufferer, not cause us to dismiss it as undeserving of our efforts to eliminate it. In addition to the struggles associated with the disease itself, sufferers of rare medical conditions must deal with the frustration of not having answers. They face the loneliness of knowing that very few people understand what they are going through. ALS is a terribly unfair disease, and I doubt anyone who has experienced a loved one's suffering at the hands of this disease would classify the need for a cure as "not urgent."

The wild success of the Ice Bucket Challenge should excite and encourage us about the possibilities for people to open their hearts and their wallets for this and other causes, not divide us and move us to deride each other's attempts to do something good. Our hearts are moved by different things, which is part of the beauty of living in community. I'm not an animal lover, so the SPCA commercials featuring Sarah McLachlan's haunting voice don't stir me to hand over my credit card. But I'm glad that there are people whose hearts are soft toward little creatures. We all have finite resources, and of course we can't say yes to every request. But let's not be quick to judge those whose hearts are moved toward alleviating suffering in different directions than our own. Our world is home to all sorts of evil, which has seemed all the more evident in the events of this year: conflicts in the Ukraine and Russia, Israel and Palestine, and the terrorism of ISIS; the tragedy in Ferguson; Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped and still in captivity; a tragic suicide. Let's make room for all sorts of good in the world too, even if it involves a good laugh and dumping a bucket of ice water on your head.

Side Note: If you are going to do the Ice Bucket Challenge, please be careful! Google Ice Bucket Challenge fail for what not to do!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Cookies All Over...Again

When The Wonder Years was a new television show, I wasn’t allowed to watch it. I felt the sting of indignity, because every other kid in my class was watching it. The series ran from 1988 to 1993, which means I was 8 years old when it started. As usual, my parents were probably right after all, and Kevin and Winnie’s romance could wait a few years before I became a spectator. As a parent myself now, I get it. We want to slow down the time warp that begins in earnest when scrawny newborns turn into plump babes, who turn into never-stop-moving toddlers, who turn into independent kindergarteners. In twenty years, my kids will probably be laughing about how they weren’t allowed to watch Pokéman. Or those shows that were pretty innocuous in my day, but are kind of sexualized and full of attitude,  in their new incarnation, like My Little Pony. Actually, my boys might thank me one day for not letting them watch ponies. 

Old ponies...
New ponies
When I was a bit older, my parents and sisters and I would often watch The Wonder Years reruns together on our long tweed sofa. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may have picked up that nostalgia is one of my favourite emotions. It's an emotion that leads to gratitude; what a gift to be able to look back on periods of life with fondness. It’s the positive side of being a packrat. The bursting storage areas of my house would be the negative. I loved watching The Wonder Years with my parents because it gave me a peek into their reminiscing about their childhood and teenage years. It might pique memories of where they were, or whom they were with when important world events happened, even if they were mostly American on that show, like the moon landing, or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a Dream Speech.” I suppose American culture has been influencing and impacting our own Canadian culture since the beginning. Watching my Dad’s reactions to all the music that he loved as a kid was always a treat, and we discovered one of his best kept secrets, his good singing voice. We grew to love that music too, and even bought the 5-disc soundtrack to The Wonder Years.

A few months ago, Dave and I discovered The Wonder Years on Netflix, and we watched a few all the episodes. While we were lounging, watching one episode, Dave suddenly grabbed the remote and paused the show. “That’s our cookie jar!” he shouted. The scene was paused with Norma Arnold standing by her kitchen sink, above which sat a white cookie jar with cookies all over it. After reigning in his laughter, he proceeded to tell me about the exact same cookie jar that his family had when he was a kid. Once, when a teenaged Dave and one of his brothers were arguing with each other, their dad came in the kitchen to diffuse the situation. After grabbing a digestive cookie from the jar, he placed the lid back on the jar more emphatically than usual out of frustration with the boys' antics, cracking the whole cookie jar in half, which then fell into pieces. Instead of feeling repentant for their part in precipitating the destruction of the cookie jar, Dave and his brother howled with laughter. I’m not sure if I would have raged or cried if that was me, but thankfully my father-in-law is an exceedingly gracious man. It took me a long time to even believe this story because I couldn’t imagine him being frustrated enough to break anything. 

Not even a month after noticing Norma Arnold’s doppelgänger cookie jar, we happened upon the exact cookie jar while checking out a thrift store in White Rock during Spring Break. Dave had convinced me to do a thrift store crawl to all his favourite thrift stores along the main thrift area, and I was silently itching to get back home to watch the Whitecaps game. Truth be told, the situation was reversed. I was feeling a bit dejected that I hadn’t found any treasures on our jaunt, when Dave found me in the book aisle with the kids, holding the cookie jar. Given that my father-in-law’s birthday was just a couple of weeks away, and that it would pretty much be the best gag gift ever, we had to get it for him. The bonus: it was only $3.00. Dave purchased it and went to wait in the car with the kids while I finished perusing the store. While I was gone, he had managed to find the cookie jar online, and we were stunned to find out that this cookie jar, the "Cookies All Over" jar, is actually quite collectible, as in between $50 and $200 collectible. Pretty good turnaround on a $3.00 investment. Being the awesome, selfless daughter-in-law that I am, I asked “So…are we still going to give it to your Dad?” My better half came up with the idea to give it with him with the caveat that if they didn’t want to keep it for nostalgia’s sake, then we would gladly take it back. My guilty conscious had already risen to the surface at that point; good thing that man loves me, selfish foibles and all.

I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit that I went on three thrifting sprees during our Spring Break getaway to Crescent Beach. Okay, I'm not actually embarrassed at all. Some people treat themselves with pedicures, I treat myself with the thrill of a bargain treasure, and every thrifter knows that a bargain is even better when you spill the beans on how much you spent. Quite undeservedly, my selfish little heart, three sizes too small, was somehow repaid with cosmic thrift generosity. Incredibly, Dave spotted the exact same cookie jar at the neighbouring thrift store the next day. Without seeing the cookie jar since his childhood, suddenly here it was three times in a month. At $4.50, the second find wasn’t quite the steal as the first, but pretty close! I bought it with visions of flipping it for a higher price, spending the money on a nice dinner out, or some practical new running shoes, or maybe next month’s hydro bill. But, I saw that irresistible spark of nostalgia in my best friend’s eyes, and that was enough for me. The homely little cookie jar has burrowed its way into my memories now, and on our highest shelf it will sit safely, away from little (and big) hands. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Woman, You are Set Free. Women and Leadership, Part Two

In the beginning of my grade seven school year, that same year of the debate about women in leadership, our homeroom teacher warned us to be on our best behaviour whenever he wore red to school. A red tie, red socks, a red shirt, or any other article of red clothing; it was a harbinger of things to come that day. It was his signal to us that he was feeling short-tempered, and that we had better tread lightly on the fragile web of teacher nerves. Of course, being precocious preteens, we saw red as an invitation for a plethora of shenanigans. Fortunately, Mr. G.’s penchant for choosing his attire based on his moods was outmatched by his good humour. In retrospect, perhaps wearing red was actually his method for ensuring an interesting day. 

Emotion may be a fine basis for wardrobe choice, but I knew enough even at that age that it isn’t sufficient for more weighty decisions. In my last post, I wrote that “I don’t regret my hesitance to hold firmly to one position [regarding the roles of women in Christianity] for as long as I did, because intuition and emotion alone are not enough.” So, how do we go about discerning the truth about such a contentious issue? There are seemingly convincing arguments on both sides, and respectable, smart people who hold to both ideologies. Where do we start?

In Finally Feminist, John G. Stackhouse Jr. writes:

"….Christians make decisions not only on the basis of Bible study, but also as we consult tradition, reason, and experience - the four elements of the so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral…And we properly consult these resources not on our own but in the company of the church - the church of the past and the church of the present - seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit through these resources." 

For myself, and I would venture to guess that for most Jesus followers, Bible study is the most influential corner of the quadrilateral, though the four are inextricably entwined, perhaps mores than we realize. Tradition influences our study of the Bible, though we are often chagrined to admit it. Our understanding of God and of our faith builds from one generation to the next, one scholar picking up where a mystic left off, one reformer questioning what the last generation practiced. How can the traditional view of women's roles in the church and in marriage inform our current discussion of the issue?

Complementarians point to the historical, mainstream belief of the Christian church that women should not be in positions of leadership to bolster their position. Mary Kassian, a prominent complementarian associated with The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, writes:

Since New Testament times, Christians believed that the Bible taught that God created male and female with complementary differences and roles. There was no word to describe this position, since no one had ever questioned it. But about 50 years ago, feminism changed all that. And by the mid-eighties, when Egalitarians and Evangelical Feminists eagerly jumped on the feminist ideological bandwagon, it was necessary to come up with a label to identify this traditional, orthodox, historic belief. That’s when we came up with the term “complementarian.” It simply means someone who believes that the Bible teaches that God created men and women with equal, yet distinct roles.  A complementarian is a person who believes that God created male and female to reflect complementary truths about Jesus. 

In considering whether the historical understanding of women in leadership can illuminate the complementarian / egalitarian debate, perhaps we need to first take a step back and evaluate the church’s historical overall view of women. What do the church fathers, the saints, the theologians, and reformers who have shaped the mainstream interpretation of scripture say about women? Brace yourself. Sadly, this is just a small sampling. 

“[Women's] very consciousness of their own nature must evoke feelings of shame.” 
~ Saint Clement of Alexandria, Christian theologian (c150-215) Pedagogues II

“What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman… I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.” 
~ Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regius (354 – 430)

"The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes." 
~ Martin Luther, Reformer (1483-1546)

Martin Luther, by Lucas Cranach the Elder
“Do not any longer contend for mastery, for power, money, or praise. Be content to be a private, insignificant person, known and loved by God and me. . . .  of what importance is your character to mankind, if you was buried just now Or if you had never lived, what loss would it be to the cause of God.” 
~ John Wesley, founder of Methodist movement (1703-1791), letter to his wife, July 15, 1774

"On this account, all women are born that they may acknowledge themselves as inferior in consequence to the superiority of the male sex." 
~ John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Corinthians

“[Women are] weake, fraile, impatient, feeble and foolish.” [Women are] “unconstant, variable, cruel and lacking the spirit of counsel and regiment” and “woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man.”  
~ John Knox, The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women

Shocking, isn't it? Inexcusable as their disdain for women may be, I have to remind myself not to discredit these men entirely rather than solely refuting their stance on women, and to remember the positive contributions they made to the world. John Wesley may have been a horrendous writer of love letters to his wife, but he did contribute greatly to the abolition movement, and was exceedingly charitable. I hope that he had a good sense of humour about irony, given that we are using his methodology of theological reflection, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, to make a case for the affirmation of women in leadership!

Though Jesus himself and the writings of the Bible, especially the New Testament, challenge and subvert the patriarchal system, the Christian church seems to have been largely complicit in maintaining gender hierarchy throughout history.  Thankfully, no complementarians with whom I have interacted espouse the same hateful attitudes as evidenced in the quotes above. Complementarianism does, however, unabashedly share a limited view of the roles of women. While we cannot simply dismiss the complementarian viewpoint based on the continuity of limitations in roles with the misogynist attitudes of prominent Christian thinkers over the past two thousand years, we must be prudent in recognizing the possibility and evaluating the likelihood that the church’s mainstream historical understanding of women in leadership is coloured by its historical misogyny, and not by interpretation of scripture itself. Also, there is a dizzying circularity in relying on the records of interpretation in this matter left to us from the historical church, many prominent leaders of which who were openly disdainful of women, to inform us if male-only leadership is good and right. How could they interpret it any other way and still hold to their low view of women?

Hope is stubborn. Peppered throughout the Bible, we find glimmers of hope as women find their voices, find their names, and take their place as equals in the kingdom of God. We see women serving alongside men, like Priscilla, Phoebe, and Junia. And while the church, sadly, aligned itself for the most part with patriarchalism throughout history rather than championing and continuing the freedom work of Jesus, that stubborn ember of hope has never been extinguished. Contrary to what Kassian writes when she asserts that There was no word to describe this position [complementarianism], since no one had ever questioned it, the voices of courageous men and women have been speaking and continue to speak to us from the margins of our faith narrative long before the 1980s, urging us to set women free. I wonder how many records have been lost or omitted from our church history narrative, in addition to the existing records, because of their celebration of women in a patriarchal world. One existing example I came across recently was that of Margaret Fell Fox, the “mother of Quakerism.” About three hundred and fifty years ago, long before Ms. magazine and “feminism,” Margaret Fell Fox wrote “Women’s Speaking Justified,” a stirring, scripture-based call for women’s equality in ministry.

Hope has been rising since “the Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood.” The time has come and is coming when Jesus raises us up to our fully equal dignity as brothers and sisters.

"On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God."
Luke 13:10-17

Saturday, April 26, 2014

First at the Cradle, Last at the Cross. Women and Leadership, Part One

 This is the first in an as-of-yet undetermined number of posts about the subject of women in leadership in churches and families. It is my hope that these posts can enter into a grace-filled and respectful dialogue (comments are invited).

 Mary and Jesus, Veljusa Monastery, Macedonia

“Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man - there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as "The women, God help us!" or "The ladies, God bless them!"; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything "funny" about woman's nature.” 
~ Dorothy L. Sayers

Mary & Martha with Jesus

As a preschooler, my younger sister went through a stage in which she wanted to be a Daddy, a cowboy, and a fireman when she grew up. The stage was probably short-lived, but memorable in its cuteness. My two sisters and I were raised to know that we were able to do anything we set our minds to. Well, almost anything. A cowgirl, and a firewoman (we hadn’t thought of firefighters yet) were in the realm of possibilities, but we had to break the news to little sister that fatherhood was not in the future for her.  

It wasn’t until I started attending a private Christian school as a twelve year old that I became aware of the spectrum of views regarding the roles of men and women in the church and in the home. I was surprised to learn that some Christians believe that the roles of teaching authority in the church and the sole leadership role in the home are reserved for men only. A number of my classmates and I were more interested in carrying on the lively discussion than others, so our teacher agreed to mediate a debate on the issue outside of class time. During lunch break, while most classmates were outside playing foursquare or whatever else kids played before Rainbow Looms took over the world, we tried to make sense of the verses that we had encountered in Bible class. These weren’t among the verses that we memorized to earn stickers and prizes in Sunday School, and I certainly hadn’t seen them printed on any greeting cards or other giftware at the Christian book store. 

1 Timothy 2:9-15

1 Corinthians 11:1-16

1 Corinthians 14:34-35

I puzzled over these verses, ached over them, and resented them, and soon enough my friends and I squared off against each other in a debate with plenty of emotion, and not nearly enough knowledge, nor understanding and grace for the opposing viewpoints. Accusations of chauvinism, and disrespect for scriptural accuracy and authority flew like emotional spitballs across the table. 

It was deeply unsettling. I knew that historical context must be tangled up in these uncomfortable verses, because nobody was arguing about head coverings, or about wearing gold and pearls. I felt something was amiss in interpreting women to be subordinate, but I did not have the knowledge to justify my intuition. It was the first time that I heard the phrase that women are “equal, but different,” to mean that men and women are equal in value, but not in function. It was a difficult concept to understand. To say that men and women are equal but different, to say that women are just as valuable as men but not permitted to teach or have authority, did not compute in my mind. It was akin to “All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others,” a point which struck me as I read Animal Farm a couple of years later.  

Sometime in the last decade, I became familiar with the terms “complementarian” and “egalitarian” to describe the different views on women in leadership. I must admit that it was challenging for me to remember which term pertained to which ideology because they both sound really…nice. I believe that men and women work together in complementary ways; we are not the same. I also believe that men and women are equal. So how do the two perspectives differ? According to the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, an organization formed in 1987 that strongly advocates for complementarianism, this ideology holds that:

“The Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, manifests the equally high value and dignity which God attached to the roles of both men and women (Gen 1:26-27, 2:18; Gal 3:28). Both Old and New Testaments also affirm the principle of male headship in the family and in the covenant community (Gen 2:18; Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; 1 Tim 2:11-15).”

“Redemption in Christ aims at removing the distortions introduced by the curse.
1. In the family, husbands should forsake harsh or selfish leadership and grow in love and care for their wives; wives should forsake resistance to their husbands’ authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands’ leadership (Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; Tit 2:3-5; 1 Pet 3:1-7).
2. In the church, redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men (Gal 3:28; 1 Cor 11:2-16; 1 Tim 2:11-15).”

Egalitarians, conversely, believe that men and women are equally gifted and can fulfill any roles, regardless of gender. Christians for Biblical Equality, a group that promotes egalitarianism, believes “that the Bible, properly interpreted, teaches the fundamental equality of men and women of all ethnic groups, all economic classes, and all age groups, based on the teachings of Scriptures.” They hold that:
1. Believers are called to mutual submission, love and service.
2. God distributes spiritual gifts without regard to gender, ethnicity or class.
3. Believers must develop and exercise their God-given gifts in church, home and world.
4. Believers have equal authority and equal responsibility to exercise their gifts without regard to gender, ethnicity or class and without the limits of culturally-defined roles.
5. Restricting believers from exercising their gifts—on the basis of their gender, ethnicity or class—resists the work of the Spirit of God and is unjust.
6. Believers must promote righteousness and oppose injustice in all its forms.

In seventh grade, however, I only knew that my perception of my place in the world had been upended. I am the second of three daughters, and my occasional childhood worries about whether my parents would have preferred boys were never justified. My parents did not love me less for being a girl, or have low expectations of me in leadership because of my gender, but suddenly I wondered if God did. I felt like Anne of Green Gables, asking “You don’t want me because I’m not a boy?” 

I feel like I sat at that seventh-grade lunchroom table for years, decidedly on one side, but with more questions than answers, wondering if my reluctance to embrace unreciprocated submission was justified or, as some complementarians suggest, sinful. Resources that supported equality for women, and mutual submission between a husband and a wife were scarce, or perhaps I was just not aware of any at the time. The messages I received, implicitly and explicitly from church and mainstream Christian media through my teens and early twenties all supported a complementarian version of Christianity. In the early years of our relationship, my husband and I would often talk about the opposing views of women in leadership in the church and the home. 
It seemed that the only way to uphold Biblical authority was to accept the complementarian interpretation. But I couldn’t escape the dissonance that rang within me when I thought of all the women I knew who were truly gifted in leadership. My mother. My grandmothers. Sunday school teachers, including one who became a Member of Parliament. School teachers. Misssionaries. Business Owners. Adhering to the complementarian interpretation was, as my husband says, like wearing a shoe that just didn’t fit. You can only walk in ill-fitting shoes for so long.

I have many, many friends and family who support complementarian theology. I love and respect them, and they are brothers and sisters in faith. Complementarians are not the enemy, and we have more things in common than differences in our walk with Jesus. I appreciate the honour that they give to motherhood. I admire and share their desire to uphold the authority of scripture, though we disagree on the interpretation of this matter. 

I don’t  regret my hesitance to hold firmly to one position for as long as I did, because intuition and emotion alone are not enough. I only wish that I had seriously investigated the issue earlier in my life. I’ve been reading voraciously on the subject for the past couple of months, stealing my husband’s books from his last master’s course, and my head has finally caught up to heart. I wish I could slide back through time for a few minutes and visit my kilt-clad twelve year old self. I would tell her to persevere in seeking out answers. I would tell her that God wouldn’t trade her for a dozen boys, and that God’s vision for her and for every girl is so much more than being second string, more than muted thoughts, and prescribed roles. I would share with her that those troubling verses, hurtful and confusing to women in my time upon first glance, are actually radically subversive of that culture’s patriarchy, and provided support and hope to the women in their time. I would tell her that mutual submission in marriage is a thing of beauty. I would also tell her to spend more time talking to her grandparents, remember to take those calcium supplements, and that her parents really do want what is best for her. I would tell her that even though the 33 year old version of us still can’t answer every question, I know that mutual submission in marriage, and freeing women to serve in any capacity in the church are not mutually exclusive to respecting scriptural authority and accuracy.

I’ve realized anew the love of the One who created me female, and the taste of freedom is sweet. 

Join the discussion in the days to come as I post some more thoughts on how I’ve found myself in this place, and why this issue matters, or should matter, to everyone in the church.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

DIY Dishwasher Soap

Some money-saving, environment-saving attempts have met better success in our home than others. Our foray into re-useable dinner napkins was successful for a period of time until that awkward night we accidentally divulged to dinner guests that our napkins were made out of a set of bedsheets that had snagged and ripped a hole. Those friends have returned to our house for dinner since then, but I think I perceived some restrained expressions of relief on their face when they saw paper napkins.

One successful change we've made is to start making our own dishwasher detergent. I must give all the credit to my husband for this venture. He has become an accomplished home-chemist, making all-natural hand-crafted bar soap and deodorant too. I researched making our own soap years ago, and shelved the project when I realized it involved danger and safety goggles. I had flashbacks of safety videos in high school chemistry class, and the horror of imagining that you might have to strip and use the emergency shower if you caught fire or had chemical burns, the threat of injury being far less dire than the prospect of public nudity in high school.  Perhaps it still is?

We have been using the homemade dishwasher detergent for at least six months now, and are happy with the results. It uses only four ingredients, is cost-effective, and is eco-friendly. Phosphates have been banned in Canada in dishwasher soap since 2010, but commercial dishwasher soaps may still contain fragrances, chlorine, and other nastiness that create fumes when they mix with steamy water. The key with this recipe is to use the vinegar in the rinse to remove any film from the dishes. I had never used a rinsing agent before switching to this homemade version from the commercially available soaps, probably because of the slew of chemical ingredients in store-bought versions, but it is definitely necessary in this case.

I usually use 2 cups each of washing soda and borax and 1 cup of coarse salt, but as long as you keep the proportions in balance, you can make as much or as little as you wish. Mix the first three ingredients together, using a sieve and wooden spoon to sift if any of them are clumpy. We keep ours in a decorative tin (but actually not really decorative - it's an old laundry soap container) on our counter. The vinegar just goes in the rinse compartment in your dishwasher. Top it up periodically to make sure your dishes come out sparkly! Keep in mind that while these ingredients are natural, they can be toxic in high doses, even salt, so keep this out of reach of children just as you would with other dishwasher soap.

Happy cleaning! (Or is that an oxymoron?)

Electric Dishwashing Machine, 1917. Wikipedia

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Protecting Kids' Privacy Online

The oldest known photograph featuring a living person, taken in Paris, 1838.
There are two people on the sidewalk, one shining the other's shoes. Source
According to this source, we now take as many photos every two minutes as were taken in all of the 1800’s. Ten percent of all photographs in existence were taken in the last twelve months. In the first week of his life, my firstborn son was likely more photographed than I was in the first five years of my life, thanks to digital photography. The pictures of our long-awaited baby were seen by more people in that week than the number of people who have ever seen a baby picture of me. I was enraptured with that tiny bundle of newborn fuzz and wanted to share pictures of him with everybody I had ever met.

O's newborn hand
That delicate newborn is now a sweet, talkative five and a half year old who loves soccer and reading The Magic Treehouse books. I've tried to refrain from posting photographs of my kids faces on this blog, and from revealing their first names on this site, but lately I find myself wondering if I should even be posting photos of them on Facebook for friends and family to see, or blogging anecdotes about them. When he tuns 32 and I finally let him access the internet, will he be embarrassed to find his photographic history online? 

The planets aligned perfectly the other day, and I made a joke that was actually funny. Of course, I have no proof because my chronically sleep-deprived brain cannot recall what said joke actually was, but my husband remarked that I am funny. There was a time in my life, probably around grade five or six, when I really wanted to be the funny girl, that quirky girl whom you couldn’t help but like. I rounded out the persona by wearing the funkiest earrings that Claire’s carried in the early 90’s, and made some other questionable fashion statements in pursuit of my new identity. I may have confessed this before, but I actually owned and wore a tee-shirt with a 3D, moulded out of rubber or plastic of some sort, hot dog, complete with bun, ketchup and mustard. I kid you not, it said “What a Wiener!” I'm pretty sure I didn't even get the innuendo; I just thought it was funny. I bought it at Liquidation World, which should have been my first clue that it was, perhaps, not intended to be part of a regular, everyday wardrobe. There was another in shirt our costume dresser, which was a more suitable place for such trappings, that had a rubbery anatomical heart with flames coming out of it, and said “Heart Burn.” That one would actually be quite useful now if I still had it. I could wear it most evenings and just point to the shirt when anyone asks how I am feeling. 

The rubber tee-shirt saga was one of many stages in which I tried on a new facet of my identity, sometimes without even being aware of it until the stage had passed. Luckily, everybody else was too busy figuring out their own identity to remember my awkward stages. Or, possibly, I just had friends who were nice enough to pretend to forget about the whole wiener teeshirt thing. In retrospect, it was probably a good thing that I switched schools the following year and had to wear a uniform for the rest of my school career until university. 

The internet does not forget. I cringe to think of what it would have been like to be a teenager in the age of digital photos and instant uploads and Facebooks. Honestly, I’m glad to have some space from the old incarnations of myself. Are my kids going to inherit a public record of their morphing identity, awkward stages and all? Will they resent me posting about the cute things they say as toddlers, photographs of them with spaghetti all over their faces, and whatever awkward pre-teen antics they explore? Will they resent me posting pictures of them when I see them as handsome, but they are painfully self-conscious?

O experiencing the "high tech" of my childhood
On the other hand, those beautiful boys permeate every aspect of my life right now. Could I even carve out an online presence without including something about them? Will they be glad to have some record of their early days beyond what their memories hold? Will my candor about the struggles of parenthood bring them some relief when they experience the joy and fulfilment, interspersed with tedium and exhaustion of raising their own children? In any case, don’t they at least kind of owe me some writing material fodder in exchange for all the sleepless nights and Superstore meltdowns?

T on the beach
I’m sure that it will be more difficult for my children to disentangle themselves from the record of their various stages and identities in this, the internet age. What do you think? Beyond the obvious need to maintain at least some basic level of anonymity to safeguard your children from online predators, how far does our duty to safeguard their privacy need to encroach on our desire to authentically share about our lives online? 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Gratitude: Music

My high school English Lit teacher was a lanky fellow, who walked slightly stooped, and with strides that seemed just a little too long, like he was constantly rushing without wanting to do the work of running. He was in his mid-twenties, and it was the first time that I realized that some of my teachers really weren’t much older than I. His classes had an air of sophistication in my mind, like what I imagined university classes might be like. Most of my university classes, in fact, were quite pedestrian in comparison. We began most English Lit classes with the fluorescent lights off, our heads on our desks, listening to classical music. The melodies of Bach, Mozart, and Liszt smoothed away the discord of high school for ten whole minutes. The arrangements of notes were true, the way mathematic equations are true, and if I closed my eyes, I was carried away from everything. My mind stopped analyzing the minutiae of every interaction of the day, and everything was still. 

He was an outstanding teacher, caring about his students and passionate about literature, but he tended to reveal too much of his private life to us, a gaggle of teenagers, mostly girls, who would giggle incredulously over lunch at his latest revelations. Looking back, I have to chuckle about the things we found scandalous. After one operatic number, he sighed deeply and wistfully declared that he hoped his future wife would sing arias as they snuggled in bed. Clearly, my attempts to scrub away that scene from my mind were unsuccessful. He did, however, say at least one other thing that implanted itself into the walls of my subconscious. “What if this music was divinely inspired?” he asked. 

If we believe that the scriptures were written by human hands but inspired by the Creator, could it not also be possible that some musical pieces are divinely inspired? Surely all of our talents find their source in the One who made us, but is it possible that some pieces of music or other forms of art transcend the regular miracle of creation and are actually sacred? I don’t know, but Handel’s Messiah leaves me wrecked every time I listen to it, especially this version performed by a flash mob at the mall. Perhaps it is the unexpected injection of the sacred into the mundane, a masterpiece in the food court, that makes me believe. I've watched this video so many times and it still makes me weep and laugh at the same time, which is really attractive. My poor husband. 

My parents valued music enough to spend part of their single income on piano lessons for my sisters and I when we were young, something for which I am now much more appreciative than when I was rising at dawn every morning to practice scales and arpeggios. I fear that I just may have been obnoxiously ungrateful. 

Aside from the early rising component, I actually enjoyed the piano and regret giving it up. I discovered that I had a good ear for music quite early; I could hear and name any note played. This proved to be a blessing and a curse. I remember shifting away from one of my Pioneer Girls (like Brownies for church kids) leaders during singing time every week as she always sang gloriously off key, and, while I had the ability to hear perfect pitch, I certainly didn’t have the ability to produce perfect pitch myself. Unfortunately, you can’t shift away from your own voice. I used to cringe at our extended family birthday celebrations when we sung “Happy Birthday” in about 7 different keys simultaneously. At this point in my life though, I’m just thankful to see my extended family when it happens once in a blue moon, and what was once dissonance in my ears is now warmth in my heart.

I am word junkie, but there are times when words fail me, and music intercedes. It infuses consolation into our souls in times of grief, and gives form to jubilation in joy. It can arrest anger, and move us to compassion. Music can move a harried mind into a place of quiet contemplation. It can move us in ways that we can't seem to understand or resist.


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