Monday, January 25, 2010

why it matters: part 2; not everybody loves raymond

ok. i admit it. i don't love raymond. i have a bit of trouble appreciating a show that tells us that women are unreasonable nags and men are horny doofuses.

but you see, it's not just raymond. it's everywhere. every show, movie and advertisement telling us "the way things are" and who we all are as people according to our gender, race and economic standing.

little girls watch movies like cinderella and we dream of a handsome man coming to rescue us and we instantly fall in love (because how COULDN'T we? he's a prince!) and then we get married and live happily ever after. and then little girls grow up and we watch romantic comedies and we dream of a handsome (rich!) man coming to rescue us from our ho-hum life and he's probably totally wrong for us, but daggumit, he's cute and we want him and he makes things exciting and we want him and we want to spend the rest of our life with him! oh, and you deserve that perfect, expensive wedding! you deserve the plaza, the roses, the fondant cake and you have the right to say, "if anyone gets in my way, i will cut you! cus it's MY DAY!"

and little boys are told that if they want to be a man they have to eat big hamburgers and hunt things and play violent video games and contact sports and go sow those wild oats, boys! and some day when some crazy women with visions of wedding gowns dancing in her head finally wears you down, well, then it's best to succumb to that ball and chain and just settle down and make some kids.

well, gosh... why isn't that working out?

women see marriage as an object, a thing to be obtained because it will equal fulfillment, purpose and happiness. men see it as an obligation and burden that they must some day face. and then women have kids and get older and wonder where the wide-eyed dreamer went. and men give it all they got, because being a husband is about providing things and so they work those long hours and in the process rob their families of the things they really need.

i'm sure this all sounds like stereotype to you. and it is. but it is stereotype vehemently reinforced by the media around us. and yes, i do believe life imitates art. we watch the sitcoms on TV and we are made to think these unbalanced, unfair family dynamics are funny. and we laugh and say, "oh gosh! that's so true! women are so crazy like that! men are so stupid like that!" and we never stop to question the gravity---the danger of that situation, played out in our actual lives. we merely accept it as fate, both biological and social, and move on.

Now, I go back to marriage as a symbol, and again I ask you, is this how you want Our Christ portrayed? is this how you want your children raised? is this the life you want for yourself?

Can't we start portraying men as people of integrity? Men who protect their family, love and devote themselves to them? to spending TIME with them not just money ON them? Can't we think of and portray women as the respected, industrious, level-headed and virtuous people that scriptures like Proverbs 31 tell us they should be?

How much of our society would change if we started portraying everyone fairly? What if every child were able to grow up and watch a person on television that looks like them and talks like them but isn't simply some sort of caricature? Wouldn't we start seeing ourselves differently? I have read of and seen documentaries about the studies that show communities that didn't have television being introduced to American television suddenly have huge jumps in instances of eating disorders. This isn't just some theory, this is empirical data. What we watch effects us. It shows us a work of fiction and causes us to believe it is the standard and the norm. It isn't... and it is destroying us.

Now, I'm not saying throw out your TVs and stop watching movies. Just watch with your eyes truly open. Be aware of the subtle messages that are being sent to you. Identify them, reject them and embrace truth.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

why it matters: part 1

God is my Father. Christ is my Brother. Christ is the Groom. The Church is the Bride.

How often do we say or hear these things in our churches? We all know it to be true, but what does this really mean to us? The longer I live, the more strongly I believe that God uses the relationships we have on this earth to reveal truths about Himself. Particularly our families.

The Evangelical Church is quick to champion the cause of the family, of marriage. It's on a quest (typically through the vehicle of the Republican party--but that's a whole other blog) to preserve what is held dear and is viewed as godly. I so often hear people harping on the family, family is so important, marriage is sacred, etc. But I never hear any reasons why other than, "God wants it that way/established it that way."

Now, don't get me wrong. I think family is extremely important. I think the sanctity of marriage is extremely important. But I think we've all forgotten why. How can Christians have an impact on the world if even we don't know the reasons behind what we do and what we believe?

In the Old Testament, God established the sacrificial system and gave the Israelites very specific instructions as to which sacrifices were acceptable and how these sacrifices were to be carried out. Now, as someone who lives post Christ's birth, death and resurrection, I understand that this system was set into place to point towards the coming of Christ and the sacrifice that He would make to make a way for me to have my sins forgiven. I think most Christians would be on board with this. However, I can't help but think that those who lived before Christ must have questioned some of the instructions God gave regarding sacrifices, but I can see how God didn't make these instructions just for the heck of it---it all pointed to Christ. A male lamb, without blemish-Christ without sin. Even John points out for us that much like the lamb was not to have his bones broken, Christ's legs were not broken during His crucifixion (a common practice to bring about death sooner):

32 So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; 33 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. (John 19:32-33)

36 For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, "NOT A BONE OF HIM SHALL BE BROKEN." (John 19:36)

So, all along these seemingly strange instructions would all prove to be prophecies of their own, telling us, proving to us that Jesus was who He said.

Ok, so where am I going with this?

In the New Testament, over and over again, parallels and parables are made based around the likening of Christ's relationship to the Church to a husband's relationship to his wife. We are also given instruction as to what a marriage should be and what it should look like and the role each partner should play. I don't think this should be taken lightly. I think a godly marriage not only teaches us about our relationship to Christ, but also makes us look forward to Christ's return. Again, I say that I strongly believe that God uses the relationships we have on this earth to teach us things about His character. Furthermore, it comes as no surprise to me that the two ways God chooses to describe Himself (Father, Groom) are the two most broken down relationships in our society today (fatherhood, marriage). This is no mistake. This is a cleverly devised attack. It makes us unable to understand God the way we should, and keeps us from demonstrating to ourselves and other's what Christ's love really looks like.

So, what does this have to do with Christian Feminism? Good question. As a child, I grew up in a Conservative Southern Baptist environment and went on to a Conservative Southern Baptist University. In this upbringing and education, I was taught things like women must submit to men, men are the head of the church and the household, women can't be ministers or have any sort of spiritual authority over a man. In college I was even pressured again and again to get married as soon as possible and one of the speakers brought to our University even told us that good Christians should homeschool their children. The next day a friend of mine dropped out of the pre-med program she was in because a "good Christian mother" can't be a doctor AND homeschool her children. Give me a break.

The church has worked hard and has perhaps played the biggest part in establishing our society's rigid gender roles. Is this what scripture really intended? Is this how we want to portray Our Christ? A man who rules with an iron fist, has no consideration for the gifts His bride possesses or the desires she has in her heart? True, the scripture instructs women to "submit" to their husbands... but only after it gives the same instruction to all Christians to all submit to one another, putting other's needs ahead of their own, and before it calls men to love their wives so much that they would sacrifice anything (including their lives) for her. Now, I can recall hearing an awful lot about wives submitting to and obeying their husbands growing up... but I remember very little about husbands being instructed from the pulpit to serve their wives, even if it means their earthly demise. This is also not what I saw in many of the marriages around me. Rather, I saw a man who married a woman who bore him children and then dedicated her life to raising them, keeping his home and making it possible for him to pursue his dreams while totally abandoning her own, and often feeling like she had no way or no right to pursue them. And we wonder why more than 50% of Christian marriages end in divorce. We have added so many things onto the instruction for marriage that never actually exist in scripture. That's dangerous. Thank God among all of these examples, I had the example of my father, who left his job as a pastor and moved to a new state and worked as a waiter to allow my mother to pursue her dreams in publishing. My mom had put in her time as a stay-at-home mom and had worked years to support him and his dreams. She had an opportunity to pursue hers and my dad simply said, "you've sacrificed so much for me, now I will sacrifice for you." As an adult, looking back, I consider this to be the greatest thing my dad ever did. His pride took a major hit going from well-respected pastor to waiter. But he loved my mother. Of all the mistakes he made both as father and husband... he showed me that a man can put his wife first, even if it's hard for a little while. By the way, they've been married over 30 years and they have their problems, but their love is quite evident as well.

The challenge I would like to offer to the reader (whomever you are) would be to stop thinking of marriage in terms of who's in charge, who makes more money, who raises the kids, who washes the dishes, this is my job, that's your job and start thinking of it in terms of how each partner loves the other and what they are willing to do to remain true to that love and make life better for the other person.

A marriage must be a union of equals. If one partner is always striving to assert his (or her) power and authority over the other, someone is always going to be unhappy. Christ may be my leader, I am devoted to Him and I follow Him, but He would never ask me to be something other than what He created me to be, He would never want to see me live my life in a way that does not put the gifts HE GAVE ME into full use, nor would He ever call me to do something that would be harmful to my psyche or spirit. A man can lead his family while still respecting the wishes, dreams, giftings, opinions and well-being of his wife. And a wife can follow a Christ-following man only when he understands that being a leader does not make him greater or more important than those who follow him, but ultimately makes him a servant to them. The notion that one role is greater than the other, or is an excuse for one to become power hungry has led to the destruction of many a marriage, many a church and many other institutions both religious and secular.

I am 25 years old. I am not married, nor have I ever been. Recently, while talking to a married friend of mine about relationships she asked me the question, "Of all the male friends that you have, are their any of them that see you as an equal, as a true peer?" I had never thought about this question before and I stopped to think and realized that of all of the men I know... there were few, maybe even only one or two that I could say really saw me this way, without question or doubt. To be honest, as a woman who works with all men and who is friends dominantly with males... even among colleagues and friends I often feel that my opinion about something is worth less or less reliable because of my gender. I often feel that sort of "pat-on-the-head-isn't-that-cute-she-has-an-opinion" attitude. It's quite subtle, but it's there and I feel it. I have a great desire to be married, but I have no desire to join my life with a man who sees me this way. It's unfortunate that in a group of people who believe we are all made in God's image and we are all fearfully and wonderfully made to further a purpose God has chosen for us that there would still be this sentiment floating in the air like a poison. No wonder marriages are falling apart all over the place.

This matters. Equality matters. If we want to love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and as husbands and wives in such a way that demonstrates to the world the crazy, amazing, life-changing love that Christ has for us we have to stop thinking of ourselves in terms of labels, stereotypes, assumptions and rigid roles and start thinking of ourselves as equals, selfless partners and mutual servants.

to be continued...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

the F word:please don't call it "crap"

I am a Christian. I am a feminist.

I realize this is a bit too shocking or confusing for some of you out there to wrap your head around. People often wonder, "how can that be? you can't be both. How can you be a feminist? How is that possbile?" In fact, I have even been told by a certain female in my life that I should quit talking about "all that feminist crap" because it scares off boys. It's amazing how wrapped up in that statement is precisely the reason why I am a feminist. "oh dear, don't be who God made you to be... be who men WANT you to be."

no, thanks.

so, what is feminism exactly? so glad you asked.

fem⋅i⋅nism-the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.

Interesting. i don't see any of the following words: man-hating, lesbianism,

abortion, bitter old maid and no, not even the word crap.

So, either the dictionary has been misinformed about what feminism actually is or

we have come to have a gross misunderstanding of what the movement is and

why the movement was started. And we certainly have no understanding of why the

movement is still entirely relevant and necessary today.

A feminist, no matter who she is or what she may believe, starts with the concept of equality.

You know, that crazy notion that men and women are actually equal beings who deserve

equal treatment, equal pay, equal rights, equal opportunities and that one is not actually

dominant or subordinate to the other. Where the feminist chooses to go with that and what

assumptions she chooses to make or causes she chooses to champion based on that are

entirely her own prerogative and should not be seen, necessarily, as crucial to the feminist

doctrine. There are many kinds of feminists out there and we all believe many different

things. That doesn't make any of us more or less of a feminist.

In that way, it's kind of similar to Christianity. I am a Christian. I follow Christ. I believe in

baptism by full water submersion. Another Christian may believe in sprinkling. Here we are,

both Christians, believing different things. Both believing it is our Christianity that brings us

our own understanding of baptism and yet we do not agree. Is one of us less Christian than

the other? No. (Although, I'm sure there are plenty who would argue yes... which I suppose,

in a way, further proves the point I am making).

Many people have told me that I should stop referring to myself as a feminist because of

what that makes people assume about me. To these people I say, "ok, then, stop calling

yourself a Christian, because people will assume you are a right-wing Republican, hell-bent

on the destruction of anyone who does not assimilate to your culture and beliefs. you really

should call yourself something else." In other words, I am not interested in inventing a term

to call myself that people have absolutely no reference for, for the sake of people feeling a

little more comfortable around me. Instead, I would like for people (mostly those in the

Christian church) to come to have a better understanding of feminism and how it relates

to our culture, our world and our church today.

Some of my friends say, "what are you talking about? women can i have jobs and stuff.

we're totally equals in our society. hello?" well, to you I say, "women still make less money

for the same job. politics, economics and religion are still entirely male-dominated. the media

still force-feeds us rigid gender-roles and stereotypes every day. thousands of women around

the world are forced into prostitution. women are forced to undergo painful female

circumcision and are threatened with death if they refuse. women are stoned for going out

without a male escort, etc, etc, etc. Hello? HELLO? what world do YOU live in?"

As a Christian, Christ has called me to defend those who cannot defend themselves, to seek

justice for those who have done wrong or have had wrong done to them. This is pretty clear

in the gospel. It also seems pretty clear to me that women in America and around the world

fit the description of those needing justice and needing someone to speak for them, to say

that women were also made in God's image and have a role in His perfect plan. So to you

feminist-hating Christians out there I say to you, "how can you

NOT be a feminist? How is THAT possible?"

Saturday, January 2, 2010

here we go...

so, i have finally decided to start a blog. there are so many things that i think about all the time and i don't see the point in keeping them to myself. i saw a quote today by Audre Lorde that says simply, "Your silence will not protect you," and this definitely struck me. Apparently, Lorde believed very firmly that keeping silent about issues she believed in was not helping anyone... and i have to say, I agree. i'm definitely not expecting to change the world with a blog, but mostly hoping to somehow connect with like-minded individuals and find other ways to use my voice. we will see how this goes... full entry coming.