Gender 2: Explaining My Rhetoric

My friend Paul -- a programmer that I worked with for 5 years -- read my post on gender and wrote me this:

" . . . Can you give examples of what you mean, when you say.

"All our relationships have been sacrificed on the altar of a 20th-century polarization of "masculine" and "feminine" that has been made into the central value of American Evangelicalism. We think we are supporting a biblical view of marriage and sexuality, but instead we have slaughtered the heart of the Gospel in order to protect our "family values", and we are paying the price."


Which of our values are held at the expense of really "losing our lives" to follow what matters to Jesus, here and now? But we are so entrenched in our commitment to our "conservative Christian" culture that we perceive any attack on it as evil."

Okay -- I guess my post was pure rhetoric, wasn't it? But that is because I was summing up something that not only does have a whole library attached to the subject, but should have even more study done. So where do I start?

Let me start by explaining that this is all new to me, and I don't have it "all figured out." I am exploring, and there are big holes still in my exploration. But enough is clear that I got past my reluctance to discuss it, and am looking for interaction and discussion now.


Beyond that, I guess I'll start with the values we should live by. Jesus calls us to make following Him the central fact of our lives, and to make all other cultural values secondary. That call is just as much for us today as it was for those who followed Him pre-resurrection and ascension. The central two pieces to His call to follow were "abiding" and "agape". There are many great books written on exactly those two topics, but I'll sum up what I think they look like as we walk them out:

1) I practice spiritual disciplines like prayer and study and meditation and solitude and simplicity and service and worship and obedience to what He tells me to do or not to do and daily repentance of the ways I fail at all that . . . and I "keep showing up" in an active way for my relationship with Jesus, who then actually builds an intimate relationship with me and actually begins to change me from someone who has her own drives and agendas to someone who is committed to God's drives and agendas and is beginning to glimpse what those drives and agendas might be. So I participate one-on-one with the Triune God, and am impassioned and empowered by the intimate relationship for which I was created.

2) My relationships are surrendered to Jesus as ordained by Him for His purposes -- to change me the ways "iron sharpens iron", to support and challenge me and those with whom I relate, and to reveal in new ways the image of the Triune God. I am taught by those who can teach me, I walk with those with whom I am called to walk, and I teach those whom I can teach. My life is made rich by new intimacy and the growth and power that that intimacy pours into me.

3) The community of the Church around the world -- particularly for me as seen in my own local fellowship -- is empowered by the Holy Spirit and directed by the Holy Spirit to minister the Triune God's grace and purposes to the world around us, and to those within the community. All of our lives, and the lives of everyone else in our generation and the generations to come, are made rich by not only the personal and relational intimacy each person experiences, but by the amazing works and presence of the BODY of Christ: the giftedness of each individual used and stewarded toward efficient and effective accomplishment of all God's purposes for the world, the community, and the families and individuals.

4) The Holy Spirit and the AGAPE love and power He brings is the unifying factor through these strands -- individual communion with God, relationships based on agape love, and a community united in a practice of both as the Holy Spirit reveals His agenda and leads us all in being His tools to accomplish it.

That is His kingdom. That is the pre-resurrection-of-me side of salvation. I will never know His salvation and His kingdom in full until I have my resurrected or transformed body -- but I can know His transforming power here and now.

In that vision of His Kingdom alive and growing among us, we are given a vision of right relationships. Sexuality is to be guarded, because it is powerful and has a God-ordained purpose. People are to be treated with love and respect. There is to be justice in the ethics and structure we create and to which we give our loyalty. There is to be an openness about the ways we don't measure up to the ideals we hold up, and a repentance that shows itself by seeking to believe what is TRUE and by seeking to live what I say I believe.

Okay -- so that is "the values we should be living by" summed up. Next, the values we really do live by, as I see it after my 43 years in the Evangelical subculture, are these:

1) Men should be good protectors of their families, and good providers of the "American Dream" lifestyle. They should be faithful to their wives, and do their best to contribute to their wives' happiness. Their "best friends" should be their wives, and if they build other friendships they should be with other men. They should be good dads. They should build well-rounded lives where they succeed at a profession, cultivate their spirituality, cultivate outside intellectual interests, stay healthy and strong physically, and contribute time and money to the church. They should lead their families and serve in leadership roles in the church. A man is driven to create and to accomplish things, and it honors God to fulfill that drive.

2) Women should support their husbands in everything listed above, and should care for their children and home. If they have time beyond that, they may invest themselves in academic or occupational pursuits or in church work, but their primary focus should be on effectively supporting their husbands and children in the things God wants to do through them. A woman's primary role is to nurture her children and husband and meet all their needs, and then to nurture friends and the world around her. A woman should not be ambitious or competitive or outspoken, particularly if that gets in the way of the success or respect of any one's husband, let alone in the way of the success or respect of her own husband. A woman is driven to build and maintain relationships, and won't be fulfilled in any other way.

3) Women and men should have fairly separate worlds, intersecting at the family level primarily. Boys and girls may play together, but as they grow they will find that they are interested in different kinds of things and so they will play separately until they are drawn back together by their respective sex drives in adolescence and early adulthood. At that time they will go through the somewhat messy process of choosing a life-time partner, and once married can retreat back to the world they are happier in, and have their contact with the opposite-gender world consist mainly of opposite-sex family members like parents, siblings, and children. This is fine, because each individual's needs for intimacy and interaction with the world are most effectively met by that person's spouse and family, and by that person's same-gender friends.

4) The Christian family -- husband, wife, and children -- should live a temperate version of the American dream, fulfilling basic educational, financial, social, and spiritual goals. Once these basic goals have been met, excess time and energy should be used to foster the needs of others being met.

5) The Church exists primarily to nurture the Christian family, and only secondarily to accomplish anything beyond that. This is because, to us evangelicals, the family is the real primary unit of worship and service, and the local congregation and the larger church-in-the-world is the secondary collection of the units that really matter in God's eyes.

That is my summary of our values. I do not think they are bad, but rather fairly good. They just are a distortion of authentic Christianity. They also make some assumptions that I think we need to consider:

There is the assumption that our idea of "masculine" and "feminine" is an accurate reflection of the way God created men and women.

There is the assumption that men and women can't be "brother" and "sister" in any real way unless they are actually related, because there is the assumption that the only purpose in friendship between a man and a woman is to nurture illicit sexual or romantic interest. Interestingly, even between real brothers and sisters or parents and children there seems to be a guardedness in cross-gender relationships because it is seen as a greater sin to have inappropriate intimacy than to have a distant relationship emotionally. It is definitely seen as a greater sin to risk inappropriate intimacy -- whether emotional or sexual -- than to sacrifice an understanding of God, TRUTH, and our callings, or than to sacrifice the Church's full ability to respond to the leading of the Holy Spirit.


So, what are my examples of the way we sacrifice a greater value for a lessor value, or of the way we pay the price for that?

1) In raising boys and girls with such an extreme view of "male" and "female", we cut them off not only from others, but also from half of their own selves, and from the God who created them. I think many of our marriage problems and many of our psychological and spiritual problems are rooted right here. My favorite books about this are written by Terrence Real. See I Don't Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression and How Can I Get Through To You: Closing the Intimacy Gap Between Men and Women.

2) In valuing "family" and a man and woman's commitment to each other and to their children so highly, we devalue each individual's commitment to God and the family's ability to have God create it and shape it according to the circumstances around it and the individuals within it. Our value of family, marriage, and sexual purity is healthy and appropriate, but it needs to affirm the primacy of the values of the kingdom. We justify our neglect of those who are single, poor, dying, divorced, addicted, or in other circumstances of need by appealing to our primary value of marriage and family. (In my own church this is so extreme that we do not have singles ministry and that those who are not part of a "normal family" not only suffer social consequences from members who are not schooled in the values of the kingdom but are actively excluded and disrespected by many of those who are actual leaders. One of our pastors once justified this to me by telling me that the ones who were really neglected were the young healthy families and that it was right that we should pour all our resources there to prevent more divorce and suffering. He also has pointed out during sermons that those who are unwed mothers or divorced really did bring it on themselves.)

3) On our altar to marriage and family we sacrifice not only those who are widowed or divorced or unwed or wed to unbelievers, we also sacrifice the very marriages and families we are trying to nurture and preserve. That is because healthy marriages and healthy families cannot sustain something they were not created to sustain: a full, satisfying life. It is only when we put Jesus back at the top of the value structure and marriage and family at an appropriate place beneath Him that marriage and family play the role they are intended to play in creating and sustaining healthy individuals and healthy community. If I expect a life serving my husband and kids to satisfy me, I will be disappointed and either continue in depression or quit in some way. If I expect a relationship with Jesus and obedience to Him to satisfy me, I will find satisfaction in all the things He calls me to do -- whether in serving my family or in teaching or praying or leading or in whatever else He chooses to use me in. A full, happy life will not be mine unless I lose it in following Jesus.

4) The mission of the church is most effectively accomplished by individuals and communities that are so full of the Holy Spirit that there truly is no slave or free, no male or female, no rich or poor, no young or old, and no racial lines. This allows the Holy Spirit to effectively steward the resources among us -- in giftedness, time, passion, money, etc -- to most fully accomplish His purposes. When we try to do this ourselves, and unconsciously are led by cultural preconceptions about gender or anything else, we sacrifice God's best for our second best. For instance, how many small churches settle for ineffective preachers or teachers because they rule out gifted women and utilize less gifted men? In the same way, how many men find themselves trapped in roles that they are not really very good at, because they never even consider the roles they might better fill, or because they feel that the roles they would best fill are not manly enough or are not affirming enough to their egos?


The bottom line is this, though: Everything that God has accomplished throughout history He has accomplished through broken, sinful people -- with the exceptions of creation and His Own Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection. We are a Christian culture that is unjust and marred by our views of gender -- but we are a Church full of His Grace nevertheless. The Kingdom is among us now.

Let us examine everything we do and change together as we see that that is our call, and let us hold firm to those values that bear the test of examination and life. Our call to justice and freedom and good stewardship is, above all, a call to TRUTH, AGAPE, and obedience.



I have been doing lots of reading about gender -- the biological and spiritual basis for masculine and feminine according to the old Evangelical world-view, the modern and post-modern sociological and psychological understandings of gender formation, historical looks at gender and sex roles in different times and places, and also studies of what Scripture really teaches and studies of how the Church has functioned and should function in terms of gender and sex roles. The amount "out there" to read is amazing.

The two things that were most profound to me were these: 1) women have been even more invested than men in supporting something twisted and demeaning -- whether in the Church or in the wider culture; and 2) I can't change culture, and I can't change any other individual, but I can learn what I can about what is true, and then speak truth as I see it, despite the consequences -- and in so doing, I will be a drop in the bucket of real change over time and distance.

I was one of those women invested in supporting the culture in which I was born, which became the culture that I choose to remain in. This was due to many reasons: 1) ignorance of any other workable alternative; 2) belief that our culture's take on gender was embedded in the TRUTH of many closely held values and cherished relationships; 3) my choice to identify with those in power rather than to challenge them fruitlessly; 4) my need to function and find meaning in the choices I had made and kept making; 5) all the other myriad of reasons that must be entwined in this life and that I cannot yet identify individually.

Now the full picture of truth is morphing and changing for me . . . as I put all the pieces back together, in light of Scripture, relationships, books, intuition, experience . . .

And the heart of my humanity is exposed in the grief the new truths is stirring:

All our relationships have been sacrificed on the altar of a 20th-century polarization of "masculine" and "feminine" that has been made into the central value of American Evangelicalism. We think we are supporting a biblical view of marriage and sexuality, but instead we have slaughtered the heart of the Gospel in order to protect our "family values", and we are paying the price. Jesus opens the door to a new culture, which holds values in proper proportion in the new covenant community.

We are persons. As persons created in His image, we are gifted in many ways, and are led into increasing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Our genes and our hormones do result in patterns that show up as "masculine" or "feminine" -- it is not all just imposed by cultural conditioning, not by a long-shot! But those traits and drives are just part of what we balance for each individual and for the community as we practice stewardship of what God has given us and of what He calls us to do and be.

Our central value must be "abiding in Jesus" (obedience and connection), and out of that "agape", and part and parcel of both of those values is a loyalty to TRUTH and a seeking after it. My view of "who I should be as a woman" and of "who you should be as a man" and of "how families should function" are all important in light of my values of abiding, agape, and TRUTH -- but are subservient, both in priority and in source. I can only understand them effectively if they flow from my devotion to the TRUTH in all the ways He reveals Himself, and I can only value them properly if they are secondary and my "following after Jesus in Truth and Agape" are primary.

We must examine the ways we fail as a community in light of our cultural assumptions about family and gender and sex-roles. Many of our personal sins and dysfunctions can be traced to bad assumptions here, and the same is true of the failures and sins of our marriages, families, and Christian communities. God does work in His grace through us in the midst of our error and imperfection, but He also brings new insight and new healing to our distortions and dysfunctions.

Start with me, Lord!

Cultural Values

I love reading the gospels and seeing how Jesus really blasted the cultural idols of the day. They had a low view of marriage -- even the devout pharisees did -- and Jesus challenged that value. They had a very high view of family loyalty, and Jesus challenged that value. They had a high view of public piety, and Jesus challenged that value. And on and on it went, with Jesus pointing them away from their current value systems that were so ingrained in their minds and hearts, and toward a very different value system.

I wonder what Jesus would say to "evangelicals" or "conservative Christians" if He were talking to us the way He was able to talk to the pharisees of His day? Which of our values are held at the expense of really "losing our lives" to follow what matters to Jesus, here and now? But we are so entrenched in our commitment to our "conservative Christian" culture that we perceive any attack on it as evil. I am sure the Pharisees felt the same way!

May I have enough confidence in my relationship with Jesus that I stand firm through the shaking of our community that He may want to bring about. And may we all have divine discretion to be capable of hearing TRUTH as TRUTH and error as error -- even when the errors are embedded in the way we view life.


My Cup Runneth Over!

Psalm 23:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:

he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

I was thinking about David, and how much this psalm really outlines his life. He was a lone and insignificant shepherd to the world, but God saw him and knew him well. He cared for him as a shepherd-boy and kept him safe for the future He had prepared for David. Then Samuel visited his dad, and had to ask for him to be called in from the fields, but at God's decree his head was anointed with oil and he was made King of Israel. Then God cared for him through many valleys of the shadow of death, and had him served many banquets, and brought the united kingdom of Israel under his leadership, and made his cup truly run over -- figuratively and literally.

David knew that it was God Who brought men to power and God Who stripped power away, even though He might use people in the process. And he was gifted with a spirit that could recognize when his cup was so full that more poured on the top just flowed right to the table.

My cup is that full -- of Him, and of family and friends, and of opportunties to do things that bring me joy, and of this world that He created to be so amazingly beautiful, and of books and music, and lastly even of money and possessions (especially when compared with the lives of most people over history and in other parts of the world!)

May I also have the gift of simply being able to relax and enjoy all He has given me, as I enjoy His presence and His enjoyment of my enjoyment!



Reading in Luke, I read Jesus' story of poor Lazarus eating the dog scraps outside of the house of the rich man . . . and then of their subsequent deaths and fates, and of the rich man's concern for the eternal well-being of his brothers . . . and of Abraham's statement that they had Moses and the prophets, and that if they did not repent based on the words of Moses and the prophets, they would not repent based on the words of one raised from the dead to lead them to repentance. And directly out of that story, the narrative goes here:

He said to His disciples, "It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him."

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you. Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come immediately and sit down to eat'? But will he not say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink'? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'" (Luke 17:1-10)

It is amazing to me how central forgiveness is to His kingdom. It is central in His prayer with which He taught the disciples to pray. It is central in his view here of a repentance that will avoid the fate of the rich man. And even His teaching about the power of faith here was in response to the disciples dismay at the command to forgive so freely.

My life is little boys, big boys, baseball moms and dads, family, church, and my wonderful wonderful friends. Diane and I have been learning together what forgiveness is -- how drastic it is! And a big part of that is not just forgiving those we need to forgive. A big part of that is practicing appropriate repentance and humility in seeing where we lack the Kingdom and how we hurt others or fail others, and in verbally asking for forgiveness and then in backing that up by taking real steps to act differently as we walk forward.

My mom asked me for forgiveness almost daily as I grew up. She was a great mom, and probably actually needed a lot less forgiveness than most moms do. But she knew that her actions and attitudes would "train me up" more than her "training" would, and she knew that every relationship is fragile, and requires the nourishment of the words and actions tied to repentance and forgiveness in order to continue on in openness and intimacy and love. And she knew -- and knows -- that relationships are life, and it is there that the kingdom takes root and grows.

Now it is me asking my kids for forgiveness each day, because there is much in how I treat them and in how I manage my life that is not what I want for them when they are adults -- and is not what I want for me. And I hope they become men who can tell their wives, and their friends, and their children, and their bosses, and their employees, and their whole circle of influence: "I blew it there. I was wrong to do this. I should have done this instead. I will try to do it differently next time. Please forgive me, and hold me accountable to change." I hope they become men who use words to do this, and don't assume that words don't fix anything anyway, and so shouldn't be bothered with. I hope they use words, and then back them up with lives that change and grow visibly in response to this kind of daily obedience to Jesus walked out in the humility of actual repentance from actual sins.

If my boys become men like that, I will rejoice at the fruit God has brought through my life! Because men like that -- and women like that -- will bring the Kingdom. God's kingdom comes with power through the lives of those who know they are sinners enough to admit it in everything, big and little, and allow His grace to bring changed behavior, changed relationships, changed character, and a changed world.


TRUTH analyzed and TRUTH lived

I have been doing a lot of reading on moral philosophy and ethics and our faith, and there is so much I could read on the subject that I would appreciate guidance from anyone who reads this and has textbooks or classic literature to recommend to anyone trying to solve the puzzle of what is right, individually and in community. Today I ordered the book After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory by the Catholic philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, after I saw this quote from it in another book:

I can only answer the question "What am I to do?" if I can answer the prior question "Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?"

At the same time, I have come to some conclusions about the study of TRUTH and the attempt to systematize it. As Einstein said, it is rather like trying to copy to paper all the elements of a symphony one hears a wonderful orchestra and conductor perform. One cannot just get the notes for each part down and have actually captured the whole. One cannot even get all the musical notations right and have captured the TRUTH about what was heard. No matter how perfectly one can put music on paper, music on paper is not really music, is it? The nature of music is that it must be heard to be understood.

That is not only true of the music of life in the "Big Story", but even of the music of life in all our little stories. We may get the facts right, or even the perspective of one or several participants, but no story told later ever captures the reality of what really happened. Life just doesn't work that way. We do not understand the full set of dynamics at work in the social fabric or in the individual psyches, nor the spiritual dimension, nor even the physical dimension. We know very little about life, really!

But we don't need to understand it to live it and feel it, do we? And our Rabbi did not teach us to spend more time studying it all so that we could make better ethical choices or have a fuller life. He said to show we are his followers by doing what He commands us to do, and then immediately taught us to ABIDE IN HIM and to LOVE ONE ANOTHER. I think He has given me my love of analysis and is okay with me trying to figure out how everything works . . . but not at the expense of "hearing the symphony." I need to live and feel and act to "listen", and the "figuring it all out" can be my role, but it cannot be my goal.

My goal needs to remain AGAPE, which flows from "abiding in Him". I'll never be wise enough to disengage from Him and others and "make good ethical decisions" or "live a full life". At the core of what He taught about ethics and values was relationship -- and so it is in relationship to Him and to all those He brings into my life that I will find the path to that full life He promised.

That does not mean I need to sit back and follow the lead of all those in my community, though. It does not mean I need to "just serve" and not try to "figure it all out" or not speak out when I feel compelled to share my perceptions. It means I need to be me, living life as my perceptions and character and gifts lead me to live life, and that I need to stay in relationship with others, and that I need to allow them and God and the normal processes of life to refine my perceptions and character and gifts.

I still love Martin Luther's call to "Sin Boldly!" May we not be so concerned with "getting it right" or with "pleasing those around us" or even with "not injuring those around us unnecessarily" that we are bound up by those concerns and fail to live! Obviously I do not want to hurt myself or others or fail God. But perhaps I am more likely to fail Him and hurt myself and others when I spend too much time "following the rules" or even "figuring out the rules" and not enough time speaking my truth and living my own story as I am inclined to live it, even if it makes others dislike me.

My husband has a poster in his office detailing the number of times Michael Jordan missed shots and didn't get rebounds and actually lost games when the winning shot was in his hands. Then it details the successes, and makes the correlation between the two.

Why do we in the Christian community so often act like the "good life" is a life where we write the rules to disallow failure and pain? That's not what I see reflected in scripture.

What is more like "taking the shot and missing" than opening ourselves up again and again to other injured people by forgiving them when they deliberately hurt us again and again? Isn't that ludicrous? Shouldn't we save our energy for people that are worth our time and love? But that wasn't His instruction to us, was it?

When I re-read "His Rules" as reflected both in the Old Testament Law and as translated by Him into His Values and then as translated by the Holy-Spirit-Led Church in the rest of the New Testament, I see a very different kind of orientation. We are not to be a "rules-led" community. We are not to be "rules-led" individuals. We are to walk in AGAPE, and take the risks that AGAPE leads us into. Our focus isn't on avoiding pain to ourselves and each other by following godly rules. Our focus is on saving our energy from things that don't give us any lasting "pay off" so that we can spend our energy on the things that pay off richly for all of us and for Him.

Let our fears for our community and for each other and for ourselves be more about the LIFE we might miss living than about the PAIN we want to avoid. Just think -- God valued something so much that He created a world that allowed all this pain and sin and suffering! Do we want to run the other direction from whatever that is? Or do we want to seek Him with all our hearts, and perhaps run smack into more suffering, but at the same time, run into the fullness of what He was after for us and for Him?


Making My Crown

My boys are up late tonight. We got home from church about half an hour ago, and Noah is making me a crown. My birthday was this last week, and tomorrow will be our family birthday party.

So he cut out the jagged pieces from construction paper, and came up behind me to "measure me" with the paper before he taped it into the right size circle for my head. And now he is decorating it.

Children know what is important, don't they? It is the people in their lives! And they take joy in creating something special for those they love, without self-consciousness as to whether it will be "beautiful" or not, and without doubt as to whether it will be received with joy and full appreciation.

May I live like that for the triune God! I will give Him the best I can give Him, and not doubt that He will see it as beautiful and worth His gratitude.

Can you imagine the God of the Universe being grateful for something that I can give Him? What can I possibly give Him that He couldn't do for Himself, or get in much better quality from someone else?

But He is delighted by my love lived out as a daily gift. That "THEREFORE, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, which is your only logical response to what He has given you" is my gift back to Him, not unlike Noah's crown for me.

Just as I adore my son Noah's gifts to me, which are symbols of his love for me, and just as I adore Noah, because there is no one else like him, and he is mine . . . so God adores me and appreciates my little gifts and my love.

Imagine that.