What would it take to have a perfect love for you?

Perfect love casts out fear.12801271_1036674239711999_1550217587317067156_n

And it does, you know.

Do you know how something gets to be perfect? Of course you do. Practice.

Just as our fear was perfected in us through our practice of it, so will be our love.

Practice fear? Did I ever? Who, me?

Yes, love, you.

When you learned to worry about going new places, adopting the cautious apprehension of your caregivers who tried to stay close to home as possible and did not like to vacation or venture anywhere new or uncomfortable or different. When you began to hate change and avoid it at all costs, equating it with the beginning of the end of the world, it was then. That’s when you perfected your fear through practice.

When you convinced yourself familiarity was safer and better and worth more than peace and health and independence, if it meant being alone. When you compromised, settled. When you held on even when all indications were letting go would end your pain, end the lessening and oppression or your spirit, mind and soul. When you did it again, then again. You perfected your fear through practice.

When you learned to recognise all those who need be referred to as “others”, and those who ought to be considered one of “us”, adopting the exclusion and inclusion habits of your peers and the tribe. When you learned the names and the jeers and the labels, and you applied them to yourself as often as to others. When it became a habit to see the differences between people, rather than recognise all are connected. You did it. You perfected your fear through practice.

When you hoarded and collected and protected and defended and fortified and piled up and locked away and accumulated and called your own that which was not you, not part of you, and would not help, heal, save or redeem you. When you felt deeply you were defined by what you owned. You perfected your fear through practice.

When you believed God was going to get you in the end for the things only He knew you did in the dark, in secret. When you warned others of their similar fate and felt it was your duty to so do. You perfected your fear through practice.

When you heard the voice in your head demand to know “Just who do you think you are?” whenever you began some deeply spiritual or creative work, or even some frivolous fun thing that didn’t even matter, or perhaps whenever you suspected you held the key to your own healing, or felt you had a thing of significance to share with another. And you believed that cynical voice of resistance that interrupted every brave attempt at growth and change was you, and was from you, and could be trusted and believed. You perfected your fear through practice.

When you dropped the brush, put down the pen, took the key from the ignition, unpacked the bag, threw away the application, resigned from the course, told yourself “it’s too much money to spend on me”. When you mistook the inner critic for the voice of reason. You perfected your fear through practice.

Yes, my love, your fear is almost completely perfected. You’ve been at it for years.

But all is not lost.

Perfect love casts out all fear. Casts it out. Like old rubbish. Like too many sweaters from a crowded closet. Like too many cans from a cramped pantry. Like lies are thrown from the presence of truth. Like hecklers are thrown from a theatre. Out you go – you don’t belong here. Take your impolite, boring nonsense from the room. Fear bluffs it’s way in with weighty talk and scary threats which sound like authority and feel like truth. But fear did not pay its dues. Love bought a ticket. Love paid the price.

If only you would practice love until it was as perfect as your fear has become. What would it take, for you to practice love for your own behalf as relentlessly and faithfully as you’ve dedicated yourself to fear? What would it take, my darling? Would you try? Will you?

Perfect love casts out all fear. You can’t scare yourself out of being afraid, out of resistance. You have to love yourself out of it. Love yourself through it. This means rather than hating on your fear, hating yourself because you have it, gathering it up in your arms, laughing and tossing it in the air. It means knowing the voice of resistance is not your voice – rather, you are the one who witnesses resistance, who observes your fear. And if you are the witness, the observer of your fear and resistance, then it cannot be you who is afraid. You have fear, but it does not have you. And you can love the part of you that feels the fear, and reassure it, and have compassion on it. And you can support that part of you to keep on moving, towards healing and growing and changing, even with the fear, if you must. And as you perfect this love, the fear will be cast out, not like a demon, but like the annex, the accoutrement it is; a part of you who is afraid of change, who mocks to make itself feel bigger, who bluffs to convince you it has authority and weight. But who is a wisp of a thing in reality.

You will cast out fear like a an artist casts out a brush without suppleness. As a writer casts aside a pen that no longer writes. With thanks, for the service it provided thus far. Thank you fear, for the safety and security you gave me. Thank you for helping me in your own way. But you no longer serve me as I need you to. I am not attached to fear, any more than I’m attached to the plate I ate my last meal from, or the flowers than grew in my garden last year. That time has passed. It’s time to go forward now. Love your fear, be grateful for it. Love it, and love it perfectly. Perfect love does not hold on to its object. Perfect love lets go.

Love your fear, with compassion, as a witness, and not as its owner, master, servant or slave. Love your fear, and don’t despise it as a combatant, or opponent would. Love your fear, laugh at it, with it, like that heckler in the theatre, and let it go, show it the door. Perhaps it served you once, but it can no longer. It did, you know, for a time, keep you company like a friend. But it’s time for it to go.

Practice love as devotedly as you did your fear, my dear. Practice love like a beloved nocturne, like a favourite verse of a special song, like one foot in front of the other at the same time every day, until the walk becomes a mile, becomes a day and another day, and before you know it, love is just what you do, the way fear used to be. But you don’t do that anymore. You do this now. Perfect love. Practice makes perfect.

Perfect love casts out all fear.

What would it take for you to have a perfect love, for you? Practice, my love. It’s time to begin.

Love, Jo xxxx

Why the answer to your prayers is letting go.

We’re all praying for something, right? We’re all holding on to something, hoping it will come right, work out, be fixed, healed, restored, returned, changed or… God, just something, anything would be better than this.

I know what you mean. I’ve prayed for and about a heck of of a lot of things. And I’ve had my miracles.

I’ve also had my complete catastrophes.

And sometimes they are the exact same thing.

I don’t know about those magic prayers which are said to get you just what you want from God, and never anything bad, unpleasant or unwanted. I only know those times I received an answer to my prayer was when I let go of what I knew in my heart I needed to let go of.

In every instance, while I prayed for a miracle, I was holding on to something I thought I absolutely needed to survive with sheer desperation, thinking if I could keep it all together, I could keep it all, and everything would be all right, and I would get what I wanted, and nothing bad would happen to me or anyone else, and everything would be okay.

God, I held on. To my fear of risk, of change, of the disapproval of others. I held on to my bad behavior, my habits, my addictions, and I held onto the people in my life I blamed for causing those things.

I held onto stuff, places, ideals, ambitions and tribes. I held onto the limelight. I held onto my hiding places. I held onto what others told me I should hold on to, even though it didn’t fit me, and I became someone I wasn’t and never could be.

I held onto my shame, my pain, and the stories which defined me. I held onto my past success, and the identities I adopted for myself and others put onto me. I held onto being good, being a rebel, being dumb or smart, being up front, being invisible. I held on with all my might to things I thought were the cure, but which turned out to be the disease, all the time praying to be healed.

I prayed to be saved, forgiven and redeemed, whilst doggedly clinging to my victim stories and the deep, seemingly immovable belief I was worthless, bad and totally useless.

I prayed for God to heal my cancer, while holding onto the life I’d made for myself which led me away from self-care, truth and authenticity. I prayed I would survive, but I did not want to give up living to please others and proving I could be clever, independent and good and not too much trouble.

I prayed God would heal my marriage, but I would not give up my husband, not to the journey he needed to go on to heal and become whole, and not to the alcohol he was killing himself with.

And then, after almost dying from holding on, and almost witnessing the person I loved most in the world self-destruct, also from holding on, I realised that holding on was not facilitating the miracles we needed not just to heal, but to actually survive it all. Holding on was not all it was cracked up to be.

We needed to let go.

I lost the life I built for myself out of holding on. And so did my husband. And we even lost each other.

For a while.

There is a miracle awaiting you in the letting go. Learn it, teach yourself to do it. And practice it often. The world tells us we must own, accumulate, conquer, build, possess and at all costs be right, but this isn’t how miracles are made. Empires, addictions, exiles, vices, wars and debt are made this way. But ownership, wealth and power won’t cure your cancer, restore you to your children, heal your relationships or bring back the years you wasted rehearsing your deepest fears.

For His strength is made perfect in our weakness.

Your miracle is born in the crucible of your surrender. It will be terrible, and it will be painful. But you know in your heart there is no other way.

Trust. Everything is going to be all right.

Let go.

Love, Jo xxx

Embracing The Shitty and The Shiny – Why You Don’t Need To Be Ashamed Because Your Life Isn’t Perfect

Warning: This post contains mild profanity, as if you didn’t already notice – I don’t think it’ll get any worse than the word used in the title though. I hope. However, I haven’t actually written the post yet, so here’s hoping I don’t forget to come back and change this caveat if I accidentally say fuck.

Ben (my husband) and I have this little saying about people, which bodes us very well. Our little saying generally stops us getting too down the track of being judgey at people, and ourselves for that matter, and also prevents us giving in to the temptation to pretend we are way more fixed-up and together than we actually are. This little phrase has been gleaned from years of getting off our own particularly churchy high-horse (which ended up with a broken leg and had to be shot) and also learning the very, very, very hard way God isn’t actually in control of as much as we sometimes like to think. As it turns out, the humans are in charge of most things we sometimes like to blame God for, and we mess those things up quite a lot. Surprisingly, we also discovered humans are always far more worried about the mess-ups than God is.

“Everyone’s got the shit.”

Whenever we meet someone new who tries to impress us by boasting about all their expensive playthings and how clever they are or otherwise gloat about the apparent perfection and excruciating wonderfulnessof their life,  and how AHH-SUM God is – but only to them – we say to each other “Well, everyone’s got the shit”. We also remember it when we meet someone who is having a particularly hard time of things through no fault of their own, or otherwise. “Everyone’s got the shit” is not a putdown, and we never say it to people’s faces. It’s simply a way to remind ourselves that in all our 50 collective years as adults in society, we’ve never met one person who doesn’t have fears, insecurities, anxieties, emotional baggage, painful memories, shame or consequences of poor choices to deal with. Not one. Ever.

There was a time in our lives when we thought we were the only ones with problems, the only ones who ever fought, failed or fucked up. That was when we were deeply embedded in a collective society who upheld all-fixed-upedness to be the ideal, and also promoted it as attainable. The dummies. We all lauded and celebrated our master-race of leaders, who helped us ignore our actual problems by giving us a new, exciting self-improvment project every Sunday morning to distract us from doing any real inner work. In this way, for years and years and years, we and many others were able to fool ourselves into believing perfection was not only possible, but desirable and sustainable.

It couldn’t last, for us anyway. We were just way too flawed and wounded to make it stick. We were doomed to one day  just DUI on all that repressed shame and insecurity about our problems and our past, get behind the wheel, drive way too fast and careen headlong into the Real World at an intersection.

You see, I got cancer. Then my husband became an alcoholic.

The Real World – where denial about problems, flaws and imperfection cannot exist – and us collided, and all our very carefully held-together pieces and all the messed-up shit which constitutes reality and The Way Things Really Are For Human Beings lay scattered across the road. It were ugly. Our blood and bone all the bits of us got mixed together with the gravel and the tar, and there was no way we could collect it all up again. All those problems we’d been holding onto and hiding were out there in the open for all to see, and all the things we’d worked so hard to achieve, our self-improvements and the things we’d been so proud of were now – to our horror – blended with all the horrible, yucky bits. In public.

Real World, people.

One thing we learned while we were making cancer go away and helping Ben acknowledge his alcoholism was these kinds of problems are not rare or peculiar in the Real World. Crashing into the Real World and dealing with our own shit helped us see just how common Real Problems are. Most people never let others see their shit, until they go DUI on shame and insecurity and lose control as well. We found we couldn’t justify the time and energy it would take for us to separate all those messy bits into perfection/problem piles, so we just decided to keep going, armless, legless if necessary, but definitely less-than-perfect, and honest about it for the very first time.

Everyone, when it comes to problems and imperfection, has the shit. We all do. Even that person you believe is self-actualised beyond your comprehension, unattainably all-fixed-up and just totally-together has nasty, hurtful stuff they’re dealing with – painful, shameful stuff. They may be dealing with it well, they may be dealing with it poorly, but they have it, of that you can be sure. Many people are well-aware of their pain and their vulnerabilities, and they ask for help, and know how to get that help into the parts where it will help the most. But others are so afraid of their own shame, they stuff it into a brown paper bag and take it down into dark, secret places, where they cry and drink up shame, and cry and drink up shame, alone there in the dark for as long as it takes.

It takes forever, just so’s you know. And let’s face it – we just don’t have that kind of time.

Acknowledging your shit, and the reality others have it too, is incredibly liberating, for yourself and for them. Ben and I are learning to embrace our own shit. It was the only way we could get bits of ourselves back together again after our incident with the Real World. We picked up the salvageable pieces – the stuff both we and others felt represented our failures and the worst of us – and we held them closer and closer to the best of us that remained, until they all began to graft to one another again. Its not pretty, but by God, it feels right. The yin and and yang. The shiny and the shitty. And I promise you, in embracing both the shitty and the shiny, you’ll help so many. There’s a whole lot of people out there about to go DUI, honey, and the best paramedics are the ones not afraid to get their hands a bit dirty. 🙂

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I love comments! Leave yours below, tell us your own story of the shame, the “shit”, and about your healing journey.

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In Which God Answers My Big, Fat Prayer.

There’s this thing that happens every once in a while – this feeling I get. No, that’s not quite right. It’s a feeling I don’t get, when I’m actually supposed to get one. I know I’m supposed to get one, because everyone who experiences these particular events is supposed to feel a particular way.

Sad. Kind of melancholy. That’s how I should feel today. Because when your eighteen year old daughter leaves home, as a mother, you should feel sad and melancholy, right?

I guess. But I don’t. I feel proud, and not just because she’s worked for and earned her independence, and our trust. I also feel pleasantly surprised it’s all worked out for her relatively easily – she was approved for the first rental property she applied for, in a market which dictates you can apply for twenty properties before being approved. I shouldn’t really be surprised. She’s not just lucky, she’s fortunate. Our family generally believes you make your own luck, and that girl sure knows how to make her own luck.

I feel relief. Another one pretty much raised – three down, one to go. This one’s been a toughie. She’s a strong woman, and she was a strong girl too. She always knew what she wanted, and sometimes, it wasn’t her mother. But we worked it through, and she was always willing. We’ve made mistakes, but I’ve made most of them. For all I did wrong, she’s become an amazing person, and there’s something very right about that.

I feel incredible admiration. I would never have had the strength or the sense to live the life she’s living. I was too insecure, unfettered to anything, unfocussed, needy and scattered. My girl is a lot of things, but scattered isn’t one of them. She had to grow up quickly. Sometimes I forget of all the things Ben and I have been through – my having cancer, and Bens’ alcoholism and recovery – our kids have been through those things too. We are survivors, all of us. No wonder she’s so wise and strong. She’s had a lifetime of experiences she never asked for, wasn’t to blame for, couldn’t have prepared for. But she did those things like she does everything else. Capably. Wisely. Insightfully. Nothing like me.

So, I do feel something today. Proud, relieved, grateful and admiring. But not sad. I am elated. I’m grateful. Whenever things like this happen in my life, when my kids take another step away from me and become able to lead their own lives without me carrying them in another small way, I always feel kind of ecstatic. Why? Because nine years ago, I sat in a hostel dormitory four hundred kilometres away from my baby girl and her three brothers, all because I had to go away to have radiotherapy to cure me from cancer. Night after night, I lay in that bed missing them so hard it physically hurt, and prayed one day I’d see them all grow into adults, and leave home.

I didn’t want to leave them before they were grown up. I wanted them to leave me because they were grown up. Because that’s how it should be.

I begged God, please, please……

And I didn’t die.

How could I be sad on days like this? Big fat prayer answered today, people.

Three down, one to go.

Thank God He very rarely holds us to these kinds of bargains.

*****

 

Why Families Are Like Sandwiches

Discussions continue regarding what actually constitutes a family in our society, in light of proposed and imminent changes to marriage legislation. Conservative Christian groups in particular claim that children are better off when situated in a certain arrangement of opposing genders and “appropriate” sexual preferences, i.e.: parenting is to be carried out by one heterosexual man and one heterosexual woman cohabiting, and joined in a church-approved, legal, marriage. Many Christians – and some non-Christians – continue to strongly defend their view that same-gender co-parents commit a kind of child abuse just by carrying on their relationship in the proximity of any children, regardless of whether those couples have superior parenting skills to heterosexual individuals or couples with children. It should be obvious that as long as the sexual preference of the adult – heterosexual or otherwise – is not towards the child in their care, every family can be judged on its own individual merits where child abuse is concerned.

And now, on a lighter note…..

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Families are kind of like sandwiches.

Sometimes with a sandwich/family, it’s the same old thing every single day. And some people really like it that way. Sometimes you get to change it up, and then every day brings something totally different. Provided everyone gets something that’s good and wholesome most of the time, both ways are perfectly okay.

Sometimes with your sandwich/family, things can get a little messy, both in the creation and the enjoyment. Sometimes everyone wants everything all at once, and it can get a little stressful. And sometimes someone decides they don’t want sandwiches any more, and that can be sad and confusing. The thing to remember is that sandwiches are not nailed to the ground. They were made to go where people go. They were also made to be divided and multiplied and shared, and even to be consolidated. It can all be done. Sometimes the best part of having a sandwich is being able to share it, and have one shared with you. If you have a sandwich worth sharing, there are plenty of folks out there eating lunch alone, you know.

Now, some people like to make themselves the boss of sandwiches/families. These ones like to go around saying there’s only one way to make a sandwich, and only certain things you can use to make one. Don’t listen to that garbage. You may feel at times like you’re expected to come up with honey-baked ham, swiss cheese and vine-ripened tomatoes on organic sourdough, and you can really only do a good old peel-back-packet ham, week old tomatoes from the bottom of the crisper and plastic-wrapped pretend cheese on thin sliced white. You may only have one piece of bread to work with, or maybe you’re coeliac, or vegetarian. How do you make a HCT without any ham in it? Can you even have a sandwich with just one piece of bread to work with? Who knew lunch could be so stressful? You know what? Screw ‘em. They’ll just have to deal with it, especially if they will never actually have to eat your damn sandwich. You just go ahead and make the best of what you’ve got, honey. If you like it and are prepared to live with it, and you serve it up with a big smile and a lot of love, you’re doing great, I don’t care what anyone says.

Besides, if its white bread, wholegrain or no bread at all, if it’s Swiss, cheddar, sliced or shaved, if it’s salad, salami or smoked salmon with watercress and cream cheese, it’s still a sandwich, anyway you look at it. There are guidelines, sure, but in the end, you never make a sandwich for the sake of making a sandwich – it’s lunch. It exists to fill a hunger – just like a family does. And if your sandwich/family fulfils that purpose be it a PB&J, HC&T or BL&T, then it’s a perfectly awesome sandwich/family dammit, and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise 🙂

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If you like this, you may also like

Seven Pieces Of Advice On Marriage

Why Christians Are *Not* The Boss Of Marriage

*After the recent affirmation by US president Barack Obama of same-sex marriage, I’m reposting my piece Why Christians Are Not The Boss Of Marriage which appears in my book God, You Can Take My Mental Illness, Just Not The Part Where You Speak To Me – available on Amazon for Kindle, and soon as a print version on CreateSpace.
 
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I’ve been doing some thinking about marriage lately, in light of the recent decision by New York State in the U.S. to legalise homosexual marriage, as reported by the New York Times.

I myself am married. I committed this act when I was all of nineteen years old. The person I married was just eighteen, and we had managed to make a little baby together the year before. Of all the things we did in those early years, marrying was certainly technically the easiest. It was one terrific day. But getting ourselves a Christian marriage had definitely been much harder, despite the fact we both wanted it, were old enough, heterosexual and Christian.

We knew we wanted to get married pretty much right after we found out I was pregnant with the little baby. It never occurred to us we should have an abortion, or adopt. We wanted to be together, and we wanted to put things right. We felt that our relationship had broken lots of rules, and violated people’s expectations of us at that time. Whose rules? Whose expectations? Well, our families of origin, the church, and our peers at the youth group we belonged to. We wanted to let them all know we were prepared to do the right thing after being pretty much finished with doing the wrong thing. We figured we could be together, and have people think well of us again, by getting married all Christian-like.

But it proved not to be quite that simple. Just in case we’d made the grave mistake of thinking doing the right thing was as easy as doing the wrong thing, the leaders of our church youth group asked us to stand up in front of all our peers at the Friday night youth service and apologize to everyone for what we’d done. Right after vomiting from the sheer horror of it, we agreed to do it. We said sorry for letting everyone down, and explained to everyone how we fully intended to marry and make a family together. We thought the speech was going quite well when the assistant youth pastor stood up and remarked “Well, we’ll just see how it goes, won’t we?” I.e.: It’s all right to say these things, but time will tell. Wow, we so want you to be our associate senior pastor in five years time. Not.

Getting everyone’s approval was clearly going to be more difficult than we’d thought. Ever hopeful for the blessing of the church on our relationship, right after our lovely little baby was born we brought him to our church to ask our senior pastor if we could have a public dedication for him on a Sunday morning in church, just like everyone else. We were told to come back after we were married. Not long after that, our first piece of pre-marriage counseling included this little gem. “So, seeing as you two had sex before marriage, one of your big concerns will obviously be what other contraventions of God’s laws you are capable of breaking. Are you at all concerned that the other may have affairs because both your ability to do the right thing is demonstrated to be so poor?” We didn’t get any more counseling after that.

All of this hassle, just so we wouldn’t be living in sin. So, just what do you call it when people take money for putting a young couple through that?

For years I had this morbid fear that perhaps the pastor who married my husband and I had forgotten to submit the paperwork to the authorities and we’d get a letter one day to say we weren’t really married at all. I would lie in bed and worry about it, then one day I realized that if this were true, God already knew. Maybe that’s why, I reasoned, everything is always going wrong for us? Maybe we never have any money and fight all the time because we are still sinful in the eyes of God?

Shame is a hard stain to shift.

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I believe in marriage, but I don’t insist that others do. However, when people have said to me in the past that marriage is “just a piece of paper,” I have been known to reply “so is a drivers license.” I know we Christians have tried to tell people there are consequences for not getting the piece of paper and acting as if you are married, and we have given it a dirty name to make people feel bad for doing it. It’s called “living in sin”. But you don’t stop living in sin once you get married, I can assure you. The piece of paper will not guarantee the level of maturity and wisdom required for a peaceful, non-combative partnership, but the way the church carries on you’d think a marriage license was some kind of diploma for emotional intelligence. It certainly ain’t that.

I am actually still deciding if marriage is the exclusively “Christian” institution we have made it out to be. I’ve been doing some research trying to find out exactly when marriage as such began to be mentioned in the Bible. Old Testament marriages would certainly have been Judaic ceremonies: at least from the time Judaism began to be practiced. However, I find no evidence that Adam and Eve were Jewish, nor their direct descendants, so no such ceremony could have occurred in their instance, yet Adam is referred to as Eve’s husband, and Eve as Adams wife as early as Genesis 3. Also, I cannot find a text for a marriage ceremony as such in the Bible. Marriage, wives and husbands just seem to start to be mentioned at some point, right back early in Genesis, way before the Mosaic Law, or Jewishness are.

Despite this Biblical ambiguity, Christians talk about marriage as if we invented it in the first place and only ever meant to loan it to the world, with the condition we always reserve the right to decide who gets to do it. However, practically every religion, people and culture in the world has its own marriage rites. Regardless, Christianity continue to claim their self-professed right to dictate the conditions of everyone’s marriage in the whole world, even though marriage existed way before Christianity, before Judaism, even before people were separated by language, into tribes, cultural groups or nations and even before government. According to the Bible. I’m not making this up.

Whilst I can’t understand Christian’s meanness on marriage, I can understand why people who aren’t allowed to get married would like to. There are various social and financial advantages for married couples, and I think everyone ought to be allowed to access these advantages if they are citizens of the society providing them. I do not believe that variances you were born with are sufficient qualification to exclude a person from marriage. The debate about inherent variances versus conscious choices will have to wait for another time, but suffice to say that even if being homosexual is a “lifestyle choice”, it still doesn’t mean human rights must relinquished in exchange for it, any more than choosing to become a Christian should, which, it could also be argued, is perhaps just as much a “life-style choice”.

I’ve observed that Christians have a droll tendency to hoard up all the fun and special things in life like marriage and Christmas and being a family and call them Christian even though they’re really not. The fact is you don’t have to be a Christian to love someone, to be able to make a vow and keep it, to sign a contract or to even have a child. Marriage and family are not Christian institutions; they are human ones. It ought to be okay for all human beings to be able to get married if they want to, anyway they want to, for whatever reason they choose. Christians just don’t get to make up the rules for all the human beings, any more than Buddhists or Muslims do. Boy, do we kick up a stink when they try it.

I believe that Christians, in their moral exuberance, must not require that the basic human rights and freedoms of non-Christians be diminished in any way unless they are prepared to give up their own rights and freedoms equally. Lord knows, we’re not. A few months ago, a church in the town we were living protested publicly about a festival organised by the homosexual community that the council was considering approving. At the same time as they were protesting, this particular church enjoyed the blessing of the very same council for their own public Christmas celebration in December. However, the church did not recognise that in effect their protest against the homosexual event was absurd. They wanted the basic right of gay people to gather and celebrate and run a legal, family-oriented event in their town to be denied, whilst their own right to do the same be upheld. Ironically, later in the year and unrelated to the protest, the local business that had sponsored the church event withdrew their support, and Carols by Candlelight had to be cancelled. However, the gay event went ahead, and was a great success.

You know, in another time and place, not very long ago, people with dark skin were not allowed to marry one another, or anyone else. Instead, they were obliged to continue to live and work in an elite, aloof, and very Christian society that made them into pariahs and slaves. However, these people, the ones whom they said were not even qualified to be called human, married each other in secret and lived as married people just the same. The stupid, white, religious people who said they couldn’t just had to suck it up and get the hell over it.

I believe history may be about to repeat itself.

My marriage is one of the things that has made me the happiest – and also the most miserable – in my life, but if I have taken it for granted in the past, I do so no longer. This isn’t just because of the trials we have been through to stay together, but also because I cannot imagine what it might have been like if we had been forbidden to marry in the first place.  For me now to think that some people in my community are denied the right to marry for what I consider fairly redundant reasons almost makes me want to divorce on principle. It’s not that I hold contempt for marriage, on the contrary, but I do hold contempt for the conditions others place upon it in the name of the Christ I follow, a Christ who has shown to me nothing but love, compassion, acceptance, leadership, support, forgiveness and mercy.

Marriage is an institution I have come to respect and revere, and which has afforded me social privileges which prior to now, I hadn’t even considered would have been withheld if the person I loved and had children with were a woman. My conscience and my Christianity prevents me from continuing to passively accept these privileges I enjoy without ensuring they are also available to others if I can see no reason, political, moral or otherwise, why they ought to be withheld. Christians may continue to deny the rights of others in the community to marry, claiming marriage is a Christian institution, but Biblically, marriage was a human institution way before it was ever a Christian one. I believe Christians need to be careful they do not stray back into the stupid, white, religious practices that have alienated many people from the church in the past. I conclude with a favorite quote of mine from Anne Lamott, in turn quoting Father Tom Weston: you can be sure your God is a god of your own invention when it turns out he hates all the same people you do.

Because We’re All Equal, Doesn’t Mean We’re All The Same – Why Egalitarianism Is Not A Dirty Word

When it comes to Christian marriage, apparently you can only belong to one of two camps these days – egalitarian, or complementarian. An egalitarian marriage is loosely defined as one one where both parties share equal rights and responsibilities, have equal say on decision making and perhaps even equally divide time and energy given to paid or domestic work. A complementarian marriage is the more traditional model, where a man is considered the “leader” by virtue of his gender and the woman is subject to his overarching authority by virtue of hers, which could mean all kinds of things domestically and politically.

Debate amongst Christians about which model more accurately reflects Biblical principles for married men and women is active again thanks to books such as Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll’s recently released handbook on how to wrangle yourself a good, charismatic, churchy-type marriage. Ideas such as Driscoll’s seem to spring from the hope that if women in church would just sit down, shut up and stop trying to be the boss of everything, the planets would align, Christian couples would stop divorcing and giving God a bad reputation, and everyone in Christendom would prosper and be happy. Misogynist Bible teachers throughout the ages would certainly be ratified in their particular Bible interpretations. If only we would do it – we meaning the rascally, rebellious women, and it meaning submit to the gender-assigned, irrevocable authority over us of all the ones with the penises.

Why won’t we do it?

Now, I think it’s safe to say we all want the same thing, but the we I’m talking about now is all the married men and women in church. We all want to stay married. We all want the church to prosper and remain relevant in our communities, and in our present society and culture. We all also want to have enough money to pay our bills and all be great parents to our kids. We do all want this, and we all are going to do whatever we have to do to make it all work out.

So we’ve established that we’re on the same page where what we want is concerned, however the scope and variance of the individuals included in this sociological vision are as many as the stars in the sky. It’s not just generic men and generic women. It’s strong men. Strong women. Deep thinking men. Passive women. Contentious, bossy men. Abused, cowering women. Nurturing, pastoral men. Nurturing, pastoral women. Single, ambitious men. Single, ambitious women. Fatherly, steadfast men. Motherly, faithful women. And the list goes on.

So given this diversity, why is there such a cookie-cutter approach to marriage and family in the contemporary church?

I think one reason we are seeing such a polarisation between egalitarianism and complementarianism is that, in search of the marriage that will please God the most, people have stopped listening to the people they are married to and started listening to their church leaders. And strangely despite this diversity amongst people generally, it seems that when it comes to the most vocal, complementarianistic church leaders, we often end up with just one particular type of person in charge, just one kind of person telling is how it all ought be be in a perfect, Christian world.

The strong, charismatic, opinionated, white, middle-aged, heterosexual male.

The strong, charismatic, opinionated male who needs to be that way because he is leading a congregation of several/several hundred/several thousand people. The white, middle-aged, heterosexual male who, in order to do his job well, needs to be supported and complemented by a certain kind of supporter. So he marries one. Or else the person he happens to be married to cleverly works out what is required for this particular marriage to succeed, for the mortgage to keep being paid, the children to be nurtured, the needs to be met and the ordination to be fulfilled, so she gets busy and makes it happen. Sometimes the it she makes happen is falling in behind his personality, ministry and leadership. And good for them both, I say.

Because these particularly leadery church men are called to lead, and become successful doing so, they somehow come to believe that all men are called to lead. They then teach all the men they come across that all men must lead, and they also teach that all men need little micro-congregations, so it follows that reasonably, it must be everyone else other than the men who will do the following.

Girls, that only leaves us.

These pastors will spend a lot of time and energy berating men, some of whom who are not natural leaders, and those who are but who are not yet leaders, to become leaders, and berating all women who are not following all men merely by default of their gender to start doing so. They say we will get everything that they have managed to achieve by such methods if we do so. Success, influence, lots of sex, maybe a book deal, certainly marital harmony.

Problem is as I see it, you don’t get to raise a big old field of corn when you’ve actually got pumpkin seeds to work with in the first place.

The 1% of men in the church who have big, fat personalities like Driscoll, and the 1% of very adaptable, well-resourced and downright clever women they’re possibly married to will probably manage to achieve the stunning results the methods promise. Complimentarianism at its best works when a man who is driven to succeed is supported by a woman who is likewise driven to succeed, and they agree on what it is they both want and are prepared to do. Man goes up – woman comes down. However, put simply, not all people are built – or indeed capable – of traditional, complementary marriages.

I really wish church leaders would stop idealising marriage generally. There is no such thing as a perfect Christian marriage. All human relations are complex, messy, organic and negotiable, or at least I think they should be. Marriages seem to break up largely because of unfulfilled expectations, and while complementarianism works for a good many married people, for others it is merely one more set of hoops they must install and then insist the other jump through. Complementarianism teachers and pastors need to understand that their perfectly round hoops are not shaped like people. It’s not the people that are the problem. It’s your hoops. Some of us have actually tried in the past to jump through the hoops of complementarianism and gotten ourselves in all kinds of trouble.

It’s just not working for all of us, folks.

Complementarian teachers seem to have an abject fear of egalitarianism. I think it’s because they believe that equality in marriage means no hoops at all, and no hoops means the Bible is being disobeyed or God is being mocked. But egalitarianism is not no hoops – it’s simply another set of hoops altogether.

What are those hoops? Mutual submission, and mutual authority. Mutual work and domestic responsibilities. Equal opportunities for ministry and career pursuit. Mutual support in financial and practical issues. Shared responsibility where children are concerned. Mutual deference to strengths and weaknesses, capacity and incapacity. It’s less I do for you and more we do for us. I love it because there is far less opportunity for either of us to martyr ourselves in self-sacrifice for the other, which means less unrequited expectations, and less taking advantage of the other, less pride, and far less self-pity. It doesn’t mean what many complementarianists think it means. It doesn’t mean my husband is emasculated, or I am a feminist. It means we share the responsibility for the way this thing goes, and accountability for it’s success and failure.

Egalitarianism in marriage has become a dirty word of late. Well, you go ahead and swear all you like, but egalitarianism is working out great for us. I would like to speak for the 99% of Christians who are not – or are not married to – a contemporary charismatic mega-church pastor and just say buddy, you go ahead and do whatever works for you, and we’ll just keep doing what we know for sure works for us.

*****

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Something Magnificent

Feb. 18th, 1989 – our wedding day.

I was 20, Ben was 19. Our baby son Beau-Daniel was 8 months old.

It’s been twenty-three years since that day.

Three more children came to stay. And then one more, who didn’t.

There was a cancer diagnosis, and six months of treatment.

There has been mental illness, depression, alcoholism. And there has been redemption and recovery.

There has been financial ruin. Financial restoration.

There were twelve months where we were split up. Divorce papers filled out and ready. Then there was forgiveness and reconciliation.

For better, and for worse. For richer, for poorer. In sickness and in health.

If this marriage is all I have to show for myself at the end of my life, I can be satisfied I was part of something very, very magnificent.

Happy anniversary Ben. xxx

 

There’s Something About Esther – Why You’ll Want To Be Very Careful Demanding The Respect Of A Good, Christian Woman

Lotta stuff going around lately about the importance of Christian wives respectin’ their husbands. Pastor Mark Driscoll thinks it’s just so important, he and his wife have even made a few helpful instructional videos for us sassy, contentious-type women-folk, just in case we had thought our apparently overwhelming and innate dispensation toward dismissing our husbands as complete idiots and telling them so all the time was in any way okay.

Women have an amazing opportunity,” says Mrs. Driscoll, to be strong and godly by respecting their husbands. It’s not a lesser thing, but it is a responsibility, and that’s why it’s hard.”

Speak for yourself. I guess respecting one’s husband is probably harder for some than it is for others.

Here’s one of the Driscolls videos, for yer contentious, frypan throwin’, viewin’ pleasure.

I note that many pastors and Bible teachers like Mr. and Mrs. Driscoll consistently hold up Esther as an example of a woman who respected her husband all proper-like. Esther’s so awesome at good, Christian wifey-hood, she even got a whole Old Testament book to herself. Lucky her.

We all know about Esther. Physically beautiful, plucked from obscurity and elevated to concubine, later becoming a rescuer of her people. Oh, and long-suffering wife of a misunderstood, misogynist leader. No wonder so many pastors just love her.

Myself, I can’t find any woman in the Bible who had a tougher time respecting her husband than Abigail, as retold in 1 Samuel 25. If Esther’s King Xerxes was a bully, Abigail’s husband was not only that, but was also an embarrassing fool.

Abigail was married to a rich, pompous buffoon named Nabal who liked to throw his weight around.  He was also given to holding a lot of feasts, so the Bible says, and thus was probably intemperate in appetite as well as in personality. Scripture also says he was mean and surly. Let me hear all the sisters say *groan*. Nabal was a vain disrespecter of persons, even the widely revered and loved King David, whom Nabal greviously insulted by refusing to reciprocate a generous gesture the King had previously extended towards members of his household.

I think we all know a Nabal.

I just know that if Abigail been attending a contemporary charismatic church these days,  their advice to her on how to manage the situation would most likely have been to advise her to stay at home and bake and clean, and wear a french maids outfit, and go to women’s Bible study and learn how to check her bad attitude and pray for her husband properly. She’d be told to quietly obey his requests and never speak ill of him in public, because she must at all costs protect and defend him. If she complained that he was acting in a manner likely to bring him disrepute from his peers, she’s be told she must counteract that by being sweet and subservient as an act of service unto the Lord – she will receive an *eternal* reward, starting sometime very soon after she dies in her old age after having lived several lifetimes over of shame and indignity. She’d be told that no matter how vile his speech toward her or how abject his disregard for her, she must only ever talk about the abuse with others of his ilk within their church, and if it’s just a bit of yelling, or the occasional smack, she ought to just take the good with the bad, like a good, submissive wife.

However, when Abigail found herself confronted with the consequences of her husbands idiotic behaviour, she actually didn’t do any of these things.

First, when she found out how badly her husband had offended the king, she rode out in person and met said King on the road, and made an effusive apology. But she didn’t flower up her speech with flattering defences of her husbands poor manners.

“Lord, let me accept responsibility. Please hear what I have to say. Please pay no mind to that stupid, wicked man I’m unlucky enough to be married to. I assure you, he’s just like his name suggests – a fool. I had no idea what he did and said to you, and I’m here to sort the thing out.”

You check it out. This is pretty much exactly what she said. Respectin’ be damned, she says, I am *so* not with him.

And after Abigail finishes apologising, she proceeds to sort the thing out good and proper. With no further mention of her husband, she implores the King to spare her home and family his wrath, makes him a lavish gift of the spoils of her household, and asks to be *remembered* one day. Nudge, nudge. Then she goes home, and rather than hiding in a closet and repenting of her wicked, contentious behaviour, she waits until her husband is sober and tells him right to his fat face exactly what she did.

At which he promptly has a heart attack, and dies ten days later.

Oops.

King David remembered Abigail all right. As you would. He came back for her and married her, because he thought she was about eighty different kinds of awesome.

Now, back to Esther. Those who use Esther as an example of a woman who behaved like an ideal Christian wife ought to remember her relationship to Xerxes in no way acts as a facsimile for the institution we would consider to be Christian marriage today. Esther was in essence the favoured sexual partner amongst a virtual harem of virgins sequestered for the Kings private use based on their merit as the most beautiful his servants could scout out. Esther was given the Queens crown only because the former candidate wouldn’t parade herself in front of the Kings friends, and his advisors told him he ought to depose her and promptly pick one more likely to comply. Pardon my crudeness, but let’s face it, Esther more closely resembles the monarchs favourite prostitute than she does his married-in-a-church-before-God-and-all-our-friends-in-a-white-dress wife.

And let’s face this too. Politically, Esther more closely resembles a woman who not only understands her strengths – her inherent beauty, her fierce loyalty to her people, her privileged position in the court – but also fully appreciates the abject weaknesses of her King. And she plays on both. Xerxes was no respectful, generous husband. Esther’s King was a man accustomed to having his friends gawp at his wife’s sexy body, and to granting all his favourite concubines their petty, frivolous requests in their turn. Xerxes certainly didn’t bank on pretty little Esther’s determination to become both a strong politician, and a courageous advocate for the Jews – a dual mission she had every intention of accomplishing one way or another right from the start.

Your baby-soft submissive wife – my hard-nosed political advocate. It’s all about perspective, I guess.

While some may choose to see both Esther and Abigail as examples of wives who “respected” their husbands in a submissive or even passive sense, I see both of them as examples of strong, wise women who knew how to manage difficult and seemingly impassable situations to theirs and others advantages. Neither woman was the slightest bit interested in appeasing the tender emotions of their husbands, nor in pandering to his arbitrary power-mongering or self-centredness. Their “respect” was seemingly quite self-serving in fact, and given only to protect their loved ones and all they valued from the worst of the buffoons they were partnered with. It was not for the sake of obedience to God and the sanctity of their marriages they deferred to these men – it was for the sake of the things they held dearest – their households, and their people. Their respect was not about love, loyalty or devotion – it was about rebalancing an arbitrary inequality of power.

Esther, in the first instance, did everything she did – and let’s face it, what she did was manipulate the situation to her own advantage, using her feminine wiles and complimenting the King by pandering to his ego – only ever to advocate for her people, who were under threat of genocide from his very hand. She “respected” her husband not because she wanted her marriage to survive, but because she wanted to ensure the survival of the Jewish people.

Abigail, in the second instance, apparently didn’t respect her husband one little bit, however, she did behave honourably and gave great respect where it was due – directed toward her lord and king – precisely where it would do her household the most good. She was proactive, shrewd and wise, and certainly didn’t put up with any crap.

Any respect they did convey, advertant or otherwise, certainly would have diminished their pride, but they did not ever willingly relinquish their dignity. They were not submissive, churchy little wives. They were survivors.

All this is so easy for me to say. I have a wonderful, kind and generous husband who deserves nothing but my respect. When I was a young wife, I did not always give it to him even when he deserved it, and that always said more about me than it did about him. But he also has had times when he did not deserve my respect, and frankly, when that happened, I acted more like Abigail than Esther. I am not sorry I did. My strength in the face of my husbands alcoholism was not a flaw that needed correcting, and my unwillingness to cover for his flaws was not a weakness or indiscretion that needed addressing. I had to pull out the best of myself to help him face up to the worst in himself. I was willing to be the perpetrator, because I did not want to be a victim. And this is how I see Esther and Abigail, as women who were willing to stand up and risk being seen as manipulative and contentious, disrespectful, and as a perpetrator –  if it meant she saved the whole household in the attempt. And by any standards, their courage was rewarded.

As was mine. My husband came back, whole and healed. But when I threw him out, I was fully prepared to spend my life alone rather than be subject to the consequences of those actions, even if it meant the church condemned me as a wicked, contentious, disrespectful wife. And they did. But that was a price I was prepared to pay to see myself liberated from the consequences I could bear no longer, not could I see my family suffer any more.

When it comes to Christian women respecting their husbands, it’s my belief that the woman indeed has a mandate from God to be respectful both as a wife and as a woman. However, I also believe that same woman is obliged only to respect and defer to the aspects of her husbands character that are respectable and Godly, and is obliged also to do what she has to do to survive the aspects that are not. Many Christians still teach that a woman must defer to not just the best and most Godly parts of not just her husband, but also to men generally as well – to all their misogyny, abuse and mean-spiritedness – because it’s ladylike and Biblical to submit and defer, and God will think you’re a good girl if you do. However, the Biblical examples they often present of Abigail and Ether, rather than providing fodder for complimentarianism, actually support the actions of women who contrive to save their households and forward their political intentions through blatant manipulation and subversion. You go, girls.

I guess when it comes to the Bible and the respect of a Christian wife toward her husband, it’s all just a matter of how you look at it.

 

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