How I know I’m saved.

Today, I learned a friend of ours passed way during the week. We also learned he divorced since last we saw him, although we knew he and his wife were having problems, it was a surprise to hear it. What we didn’t know was he died from the results of heavy, long-term alcohol addiction and abuse. He was just a few years older than us.

He died while on the waiting list for the rehab where Ben was able to get well.

Tonight, I lie here in the dark with my husband snoring beside me, and I am grateful. For all of it. All of this. Life is hard and it is beautiful. But it is life. And we have it. I can never take this for granted, what I have. What we are is a miracle.

I did not die of cancer. He did not die of drinking.

People, especially the Christian people we are wont to hang out with, talk a lot about salvation. Some wonder, in their insecurity and their fears, if they are really saved.

I don’t wonder. I know I am.

Love, Jo xxx

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…..

*****

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 🙂

*****

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.
 
***

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.

*****

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.

Do We Annoy God by Using the Bible to Solve All Our Problems? Guest Post by Larry Shallenberger

Todays guest post is by my fellow Burnside contributor, writer and pastor Larry Shallenberger. For me as an ex-legalist/fundamentalist, I appreciate Larry’s thoughts on how some Christians are wont to use the Bible as a diet guide, science book and even marriage manual. Larry rightfully questions whether this was ever God’s intention for the Holiest of books. Leave Larry a comment after the post. Enjoy, Jo 🙂

 

Is it okay for a pastor to wonder if the way we handle the Bible doesn’t make God grind his teeth a bit?

I’ve mentioned in other posts that I’m sorting out my spirituality and trying to work some (much) legalistic thinking out of it. Last week I read A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life by Don Veinot, Joy Veinot, and Ron Henzel. In my late teen and early college years I worked in at  Christian Camp that prided itself in using Gothard’s Teachings as the guiding principles of their ministry and life. Going back and reading this book reminded me of the relationship they had with the Bible. They read the Bible as if its primary purpose was to serve a highly detailed moral handbook.

Four steps to root out bitterness.

Three steps to anchoring your self worth in Jesus. 

Goals that any one can get behind. Never mind that while the Bible warns about the dangers of unforgiveness and tells us to place our identity in Christ, the book conspicuously lack a by the numbers methodology.

Somewhere along the line, Gothard… and the Ranch…, got lost in their list and began to read the Bible as medical and dietary guide. Gothard started publishing pamphlets about the dangers of the medical establishment. Bill decided that the Bible should be read as a medical handbook. He started finding homeopathic cures in the Bible, mandates about male circumcision, and restrictive guidelines for how often and when married couples could sheet dance.

I had a friend who decided to live at the Ranch as an apprentice. Years later she told me that pepper was a banned cooking ingredient as it wasn’t mentioned in the Bible. One of the wives who set herself up as an authority/prophetess taught fashion color analysis seminars, with a “Biblical twist.” She discerned which colors were spiritual and which weren’t.

I know. It’s so bizarre that I’m more than a little embarrassed to admit that I ever got sucked up in the that cult-ish world. It’s easy for me to point to those wacky fundies and shake my head. And then I look at the ways we handle scripture.

The Book of Ruth becomes a guide for dating instead of the female counterpart to the Book of Job, a profound portrait of the tension between suffering and God’s goodness.

We write books about “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” instead of reading Genesis and accepting that both genders are given to us gifts.

We treat the Bible like a parenting and marriage handbook and look for DIY advice.  We create an ideal family and miss the stories of the wildly dysfunctional families that God mercifully allowed play major roles in salvation history.

We “Daniel Fast.”

We frustrated each other in our attempts to find the one perfect way a church should be governed.

The Ezzo’s, God bless ’em, discovered the Levitical  basis of scheduled breastfeeding as a way to prevent children from becoming secular humanists.

We fund a man who is neither a trained scientist nor a trained theologian to build a Creation Science Museum so we relieve the mental tension between the Creation account in the Bible and evolution. We don’t consider that God didn’t write Genesis 1 and 2 as a preemptive strike against Darwin. Instead we the Bible as a science text book and generate suspect science of our own. Take that Galileo.

Meanwhile, God counts from ten to one, taking long drawn out breaths between each number. He gave us his scripture to point us to Jesus. He told the story of why things are not the way they should be and everything he’s accomplished to destroy that problem. He asserts his divine authority over us by telling his story and demanding that we find our place in it.

Deep down, we aren’t comfortable with the freedom that comes with improvising our place in God’s story. Moral fences provide so much more security.   Reading the Bible as a science book keeps us from struggling with complex ethical decisions. Ironically, in our efforts to escape the intolerable freedom that comes with living in God’s story, we enslave ourselves with the very text whose authority we run from.

What if part of the price that comes with believing that the Bible is the authoritative word of God is to accept the freedom and responsibility that comes with it?

Larry Shallenberger is pastor and author from The States. He’s never been to Australia, but enjoys the Outback Steak House. Mistakenly, he thinks this makes him an honorary citizen. For more information on him and his books, visit www.larryshallenberger.com

In Which I Am Accused Of Being Unladylike, And I Heartily Agree

A few months ago I wrote a couple of blogs about men, women, sex, marriage, masturbation, infidelity and Christianity. They were widely read, my blog stats were happy to report. I received some great feedback, too. And a half-joking guarantee I’d never be invited to speak in church in any of the southernmost states of the U.S.A. And that’s quite okay.

And then, there was this – emailed direct to me, not left as a comment on the blog.

“Dear Jo,

Fantastic article! One problem: why must you use such crude, even vulgar language to express your position? It is especially wrong for Christians to speak and write that way. Moreover, ladies don’t talk that way. Sincerely, ___”

Ladies don’t talk that way. A slightly backhanded compliment, to say the least. My male reader apparently thought the article was great and took the time to tell me so, but also felt it would be okay to speak to me as if I were his eight-year-old daughter who just said “crap” at the dinner table. I read the comment to my husband. His eyebrow went up. “That man,” he said, “is not your father, and he is not your pastor. And he most certainly is not your husband. Who is he to tell you how you may or may not write on your own blog? ” God, I love that man. So, I wrote back to the man who was not my daddy, pastor or husband –

 

“Dear ___,

Thanks for visiting my blog, I really appreciate it. With regards to your enquiry, I have checked back over the last few posts I wrote, and I am actually at a loss to know what bad language you are referring to. My subject matter is confrontational, for certain, and I’d agree my manner of speaking about it is frank. Please let  me know which post you mean. Jo”

“Dear Jo,

Please forgive me for not identifying the article. It dealt with a husband’s excuse for adultery. Fabulous. ___”

My interest piqued, I clicked the link at the bottom of his email and checked out his website. Author. Pastor. Conservative Republican. Advocate for freedom of speech…but only if that speech is something he wrote himself, that is.

I wrote back and addressed his freedom of speech manifesto.

“Dear ___,

Thanks for clearing that up. I checked out your website. I particularly liked this part.

The author has gone on record as never permitting anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances to tell him what he can preach or teach.

And by the way, I will give you $20 if you can find evidence I ever wanted to be considered “ladylike”. Cheers, Jo.”

“Dear Jo,

I was simply pointing out to you that we Christians have a responsibility to honor Christ in our actions and conversation. It is my opinion that coarseness and crudeness are unnecessary, unseemly, and unchristian. It is my further opinion, note opinion, that words such as heck, damn, etc. are unnecessary and should not be in a Christian’s vocabulary since they are “minced” oaths. We are to let our yea be yea and our nay be nay meaning that we should be clear in our conversations.

(Jo here – I had no idea what minced oaths even were. I had to Wiki it.)

“I have been dismayed by this generation of preachers who apparently want to be identified with youth by resorting to sprinkling damn, hell, crap, (even more crude, vulgar words) into their conversation. Of course, each tub must sit on its own bottom and we must all give an account for what we do and say. The Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 3:8 “But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.”

“As to “ladylike,” I assume all Christian women value that description but to each his own. In Christ’s Service, ___”

After I stopped rolling on the ground laughing, I replied –

“Dear ___,

Whilst I share your belief that we as Christians have a responsibility to honour Christ with our actions and conversations, I have come to the conclusion that I also bear a responsibility to behave with authenticity, consistency and transparency. It has not ever been my intention to deliberately try and “grab” an audience by trying to be “hip” and “up with it”. It’s not a marketing ploy. What you see is what you get. I use the very same language on my blog as I do in my everyday life. I write like I talk. If people don’t like it, they are free to read someone else’s blog.

I personally am very tired by the behaviour modification approach to presenting Jesus Christ. “This is the way we do things here.” I find that loving people sincerely and not pretending I am any better than the worst of them generally speaks volumes about the God I serve and love. I have seen Christians who use curse words yet are able to both communicate and facilitate the transforming power of Jesus Christ in the lives of others. I have also seen all-fixed-up Christians have no idea what to do when it comes to loving people and sharing the gospel. I have come to the conclusion that what is important is not micro-managing the behaviour of the messenger, but getting the message across.

With respect, your assumption all Christian women value “ladylikeness” is indeed incorrect. I don’t define myself  by the stereotyped gender attributes assigned to me by my particular culture. I value those qualities which enable me to bring the light into dark places, to those who need it the most. I am an advocate. I value the following: Courage. Strength. Wisdom. Articulation. Resourcefulness. Intelligence. Christian womanhood and “ladylikeness” are not inextricably linked. Ladylikeness in my view consists largely of activities centred around maintaining a set of long, pretty fingernails, keeping ones legs crossed in public and never leaving the house without makeup on. I haven’t the time for those kinds of female niceties. Nice girls rarely change the world. Even Mother Theresa had her critics and her enemies – now that’s what I call a lady. With regards, Jo”

“Dear Jo,

“I never thought your use of vulgar language was a ploy, I simply wondered why you think it is necessary. Moreover, I wonder if your mom talked that way and if she permitted you to do so as a child. And do/did you permit your children to do the same?

(Jo here – my mum talks plainly, and I was brought up to do the same. I was raised to speak my mind, and speak it clearly. And I am much more interested in hearing what my kids have to say than I am in policing how they say it.)

“You wrote that with you “what you see is what you get” but is “what you see” what should be seen? After all, just because we are genuine, sincere, plain, etc. is not the criteria but is that the thing a Christian should do? Remember, the Bible teaches that we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit so we are always representivest of Christ. All a Christian’s life should be one of improvement, not degeneration.

Jo here – of all the Christian-ese words I despise the most, should is number one.)

“You wrote of “the transforming power of Jesus” and that is my point: if we are changed when trusting Christ in the forgiveness of sins, we will be changed in every way. We become “new creatures” in Christ. The old person spoke, lived, and thought one way while the “new” person speaks, thinks and lives another way–honoring Christ.

“It is my opinion, after reading some of what you wrote, that you have been influenced by extremist feminists; however, I could be wrong since that has happened a few times in my life. Being ladylike has nothing to do with long, painted fingernails and other silly things, but using the virtuous woman in Prov. 31 as  a pattern should be the aspiration for every woman. I am delighted that my wife, daughters, granddaughters, and daughter-in-law are similar to that woman. It does not mean that they don’t think for themselves or are fearful of speaking their minds, but they are gracious, kind, intelligent, women who honor Christ and their husband in their daily lives. Anyway, good to “talk” with you, ___.”

“Dear ___,

I can quite honestly say I have never met anyone I would consider to be an extreme feminist, or even finished a book written by one, so I think it’s quite unlikely I’m influenced by any. I’ve seen a few on TV I think, but I can’t be sure. I bought a book by Greer at a second hand shop once, but I found it unreadable.

“Because you do not know our story, I can appreciate why you’ve been able to draw the conclusions you have about me. However, you know nothing of the path I have walked as a woman, as a wife and mother, and as a Christian, over the last 40 years. Suffice to say, I have worked very hard in the past to maintain all the “shoulds” you refer to, including being very careful about not giving Jesus a bad reputation, and being very well-behaved indeed. However, when I was at the lowest of the low, none of those things mattered one little bit, helped one little bit, or served any useful purpose whatsoever. All of my good behaviour had been completely ineffective in bringing the grace of God to bear in my life. In fact, all the fervent behaviour modification I had practiced as a Christian was the first thing that was challenged and discarded, and I am very loathe to take it all up again.

“My own grown children are walking their own journey, and I would hate to think they would feel any pressure to be anything other than who and what they are when they are with me. If my two little grand daughters ever come to believe their grandma cares only about jumping on every silly thing they say rather than on pouring out all the grandmotherly love I can muster upon them, I  will feel I have failed them.

“I realise fully that my children and my grandchildren will draw much of their image of God from who and what I am when I am with them – and I fear that the way we have behaved as Christians in the past – focussed on behaviour modifications, and shoulds, and worrying about Gods reputation being spoiled because of things we said or did – has likely damaged our children’s perception of God. God knows it damaged mine. I find it amazing how so many can claim to have been Christian their whole lives and yet never understand that they are truly loved by God, don’t you think?

In regards to the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31, I think you should probably take all that up with my husband. Like I said, because you have never met me and don’t know anything other than what you have read in a few of my blogs, you have drawn some fairly broad and largely disparaging conclusions about my femininity and how I live my life. And that is your prerogative. However, it is mine to continue to challenge the kind of paternalism and overall misogyny amongst many Christians which promotes the regulation of women’s femininity as something that is not the God-created best of a woman, but a device designed purely to complement what I venture is the very worst in men.

With regards, Jo

PS – You say All a Christian’s life should be one of improvement, not degeneration.

I beg to differ. I believe all a Christians life should be about redemption.”

*****

I do not believe in the idea of ladylikeness. God did not create ladies, He created women. A lady is a construct, a product, a thing made in the image of the thing some men think they ought not to be.  A lady exists only in reference to masculinity – she cannot exist without a man. Being a lady is unnatural. Its hard work. Where a woman is, a lady does. She can never be enough, and is never, ever good enough.

A woman, on the other hand, is Gods good work. She is finished, she is complete, and while she is made of the same stuff as a man, she does not need a man to survive. She is strong. She has her own voice. She is enough. And she is awesome.

*****

If you liked this, you may also like

She Won’t Let Me Wear The Pants Or Stick My Thingy In Her, And Other Pressing Problems Facing The Church Today

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.

*****

 If you liked this, you may also like

Why Christians Are Not The Boss Of Marriage 

 

 

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.

 

If you like this, you might also like

How To Live A Better Love Reality – For The Girls

 

Why I Don’t Submit To The Pastors Wife’s Husband, And Why He Won’t Ever Submit To Me

Regular readers of my blog will have already guessed that as far as traditional Christian marriage roles are concerned, I’m not a ladylike, submissive Christian wife. Many of you will presume I’ve never tried to be. But you’d be wrong about that.

I wasn’t raised a Christian – I grew up in a middle-class, largely egalitarian family, where it was never suggested I could not become anything in life I imagined I could be. I have two brothers, and we kids were all raised exactly the same in terms of our educational and vocational aspirations. The only time I ever felt the slightest bit of gender prejudice from my parents was when my mother refused to buy me a skateboard when I was thirteen. I was disgusted. I suspected that she’d have happily bought my brothers one if they’d asked, and that her resistance was based on some puerile idea that girls don’t ride skateboards.  I was furious for about a day, until I realised if I saved up my pocket money for two weeks, I could actually buy one for myself. So I did. I practiced hard and eventually taught myself to stay on the sucker, but better still, I learned that getting mad because something seemed unfair was ok for a while, but sooner or later I would just have to find a way to solve the problem for myself. It didn’t matter what people thought, or even if they actively opposed you, because if you thought you could do it you probably could, and would find a way. That was the way we did it at my house. It didn’t ever occur to me growing up that I was intrinsically inferior in some way because I was female – I felt that if I failed at or couldn’t do something it would be because I didn’t study, didn’t work hard enough at it or didn’t care enough to get involved in the first place.

Growing up in a house full of males, I learned very early that weakness, stupidity and foolishness are in reality in no way gender specific. Men can be as self-interested and tedious as the silliest female specimen. However, neither my father or my brothers ever told me I should act a certain way because I was a girl, or said it was my destiny to have babies, cook and wear dresses and never swear or argue. Arguing was actually an art form in my family. I had to learn to defend myself, not from physical blows, but from intellectual and verbal ones. We jousted enthusiastically with words at my house, and I learned very quickly I would never be allowed to simply run from the room whimpering, or use any excuse related to my gender to get out of a good argument. I was expected to step up and state my case on an issue, and be willing to defend it, sometimes for years at a time. This is why atheists don’t scare me. I was sparring regularly with four of the best of them way before I even bought my first bra.

Nor surprisingly, I made it to national level on the high school debating team.

I thank feminism for creating a society for me to grow up in where sexism and misogyny were largely absent – but then I went and became a Christian and started going to church. It was not my upbringing, my education or my socialisation that first presented me with the idea that women are weak, silly and not to be trusted. It wasn’t until I started going to church when I was thirteen I was presented with the startling concept that women should not speak. I had encountered many females in my time who didn’t speak, but I’d always believed it was only ever because it wasn’t convenient, they didn’t feel like it, or else they lived under a political regime where speaking generally was not tolerated. I did feel like it, often, and didn’t live under a regime, so speaking was actually one of the few things I became very good at.

I studied acting, because I didn’t have any trouble speaking in front of people, but when they actually expected me to pretend to be someone else doing it, I gave it up. I wanted to say what I thought. I wanted to tell people stories, and teach them things I had learned. I wanted to express all the poetry and the art inside me, and it never occurred to me that there would be people who wouldn’t let me. After all, I had always been told – at home, at work and in school – that I could be and do anything I dreamed of, and had been treated as if I had something worthwhile to contribute. Being a female was simply not an excuse I could use anywhere. Except church.

The church told me I could be anything I dreamed of too, and said this was God’s plan for me. From the time I first starting going to church, I wanted to become a pastor – to know many things about God and the Bible, and use my ability to speak in front of people and tell them about Him and help. God had never made me believe He was not willing to allow me to develop this gift, so I started seeking out opportunities in the church to do what I knew I was good at. I wanted to work in God’s house. Growing up the only theist in a house full of unbelievers is incredibly spiritually demoralising. I trusted my spiritual family would encourage me and support me in my gifts, perhaps even more than my biological one had.

The people at church found out I could sing, and as I fit the profile in other ways (female, blonde, safely married, attractive, a Christian for more than ten minutes), I became a worship leader. I started singing in church on Sundays and progressed to recording and writing songs for the church, then to singing at conferences and major events. My worship songs were sung and recorded internationally. I hoped one day I would be able to stop with the singing and start saying something. You’re the worship leader – not the preacher they would chide me, snatching the mic before I had a chance to blab any more of what was on my mind. It was hard not to be disheartened. I’d been a Christian a long time. I’d been though stuff in my life. I studied and received my Bible College qualification. I jumped through all their hoops. I believed God was calling me to speak. I felt called, but was told I was merely ambitious. I needed to check my attitude.

I watched as other worship leaders were shunted out to church plants – as pastors. In my less livid moments, I reflected on the differences between the ones who were supported to pursue their ministries and me. A demeanour not given to emotional displays was one. A supportive, complimentary wife, two. Oh – and a penis.

Submit, they said. You must submit. When you submit, all of God’s great plan for your life will unfold before you.

Maybe God wasn’t calling me to lead the church at all. Maybe it really was a submission problem. Maybe what I needed to do was get the order of things right in my own home. Maybe He was just calling me to lead the little flock I already had – my children. I could see ways I could improve on submission in my marriage. I approached my husband. I have this submission problem, I told Ben, and I want you to be the leader from now on, so I can submit to you. Er, ok then, he said. So, you just start leading anytime now, and I’ll just follow you and submit to you like a good Christian wife, all right? I said. Er, ok, Ben said. Anytime now. Off you go. Lead, lead, lead!

Ben just kind of blinked at me. Before this, we’d always kind of just worked things out as we went along, and decisions got made based on who had the most time available or who had the best idea of how to fix it. And it worked. When it came to our marriage, Ben had never wanted or needed to lead me, and I had never wanted or needed to follow him. When either of us had a spaz or did something dumb, we got someone in to help us with it or else just worked it through. But as far as I was concerned, my frustrations with my place in the church clearly indicated that we had an imbalance of power in our marriage, i.e.: I had too much power (and was therefore getting all these high-folutting ideas about leading in the church) and Ben had too little power (and was letting me get way out of hand). Things were clearly careening out of control at our house. Strangely, Ben hadn’t seemed to notice it.

I decided the best way to get me to spend more time in the house with my family – thus getting my mind off my lofty spiritual ambitions and back where they ought to be, concentrating on how to be submissive – was to get all the kids back home to keep my mind and hands occupied. I signed them out of school and ordered a homeschooling curriculum. I decided I needed to stop pretending I was a man, and threw out all my man clothes, replacing my jeans with long, flowy skirts. I grew my hair out long. I stopped worship leading and started a homeschoolers newsletter instead. I showed Ben all our financial accounts and said he could do them all from now on, because he was the boss now, and that’s what bosses do. I started a home-business to supplement our income, so I wouldn’t be out in society tempting other women’s husbands with my feminine wiles, or stealing a jobs from a man who needed to support his family. I set about being the very best wifey and mumma Jesus ever set breath into.

Despite my occassional fears that the wheels would fall off our family if I stopped making any of the decisions and gave all my brains away, nothing very bad happened to us. Well, nothing very bad anyone could see. I found being a submissive wife really, really difficult. Not because I didn’t want to submit to Ben, but because Ben wasn’t really that interested in doing to me whatever the opposite of submitting was. He found the drastic changes – the clothing and hair, the constantly deferring to his authority in everything, the insistence I had sometimes of wearing a headscarf to indicate my submission even when he insisted “take that do-rag off or you’re not going anywhere in public.” – were at best amusing, and at worst, baffling. I’m sure he wondered more than once if I was about to join, or perhaps start, a Christian female submission cult. He didn’t know what I did – there were already plenty of them around.

Just in case I wasn’t busy enough making my own preserves, homeschooling three children and running a home-business, we thought we’d liven things up a bit by moving into a caravan and doing a spot of travelling around the country. We’d been on the road only a couple of months when I fell pregnant with our fourth baby. I was delighted – we were well on our way to our quiverfull. But I knew my technical limitations were reaching their limit. We rented a house.

The birth of our fourth child when I was 33 was harder than I thought, and I didn’t bounce back as quickly as I expected. Several months later, I was diagnosed with post-natal depression. Whilst she wrote me a script for anti-depressants, my GP said, “Have you ever considered the possibility you may have a mood disorder?” No kidding. A visit to a psychologist got me officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder. However, reading through the list of symptoms was like reading the mail of an awful lot of submissive, very well-behaved Christian women I knew.

I started telling other women I was on medication. As it turned out, many of them had also been told they had mood disorders and depression, or were bipolar as well. How is it that a born-again, spirit-filled, Bible believing Christian woman, living as submissively and under the authority of the church and of her husband as she knows how and is physically and spiritually capable, actually presents as mentally ill?

I suspected I was not going to be able to maintain the status quo for much longer. I would spent hours lying in bed, imagining how messed up I might get if I jumped off our balcony, and if it was likely I’d die straight away or just be really, really hurt. Being really, really hurt seemed like a viable alternative to me to the way things were in my life. Something had to change, and seeing as it was me that did all the changing from when things were perfectly okay, I thought it was probably going to have to be me. I talked to Ben about putting the kids back in school, and about wearing jeans again. I had long ago taken back our finances – he just didn’t have a head for it. I told Ben I was thinking about going back to worship leading at church, and I might even do Bible College. “Thank God for that.” Ben said with relief. I got my hair cut that very day.

*****

Look, everyone, I gave that church-manufactured model of submissive “Biblical” Christian womanhood a red hot go, I really did. Now, I know what many will say. They’ll say it didn’t work in making our marriage more successful and quenching my vile ambitions to lead because I was too extreme. But if you ask Ben why it didn’t work, he will tell you it was because there was nothing wrong with the way things were before.  The changes I introduced were not our idea. They were someone else’s idea. Not my husbands idea – someone else’s husbands idea. Some other pastors wife’s husbands idea.

Ben and I are actually perfectly suited in nature to each other when we just be ourselves. I am a natural communicator. Ben is a natural thinker. I am passionate, impulsive and ambitious. Ben is deeply loyal, consistent and reliable. I am an initiator. He is a perfectionist. And strangely, since we stopped trying to fit to those other pastors wife’s husbands’ idea of how our marriage should work and the way we should behave – since I stopped trying to be something I am not, and make my husband lead me when he has no interest in doing it – I am no longer on depression medication, and my bipolar disorder has miraculously disappeared. And our marriage is great. Amazing.

*****

I don’t want to pastor a church any more. Very much. Many women in this country do get to do it, although in other countries I believe it’s still quite difficult in some denominations for a woman to get an ordination and a congregation. When a woman doesn’t get to pastor, teach or preach, it’s often much more than merely a gender issue, and I appreciate many people have wrong motives for wanting to get into ministry or simply aren’t suited. But being a woman is not an intrinsic character flaw that ought disqualify her from leading or pastoring, any more than being a man is an intrinsic character strength that qualifies him to do it.

The way many Christian men talk about it, you’d think the submission of women was something awfully special the men were doing. Submission is a verb, describing the action of the one doing it – not the attributes of the one demanding it. The fact remains that we don’t have to follow any leader simply because they wish to lead us. And the leader who brags on the submission of others as if it were his right, or as if it was his strength and their weakness that necessitated it, that leader had better be careful he didn’t mean oppression instead. I believe that those who demand submission of others, requiring they diminish or extinguish some wonderful or fantastic thing they are or love or know in order to do it, effectively disqualify themselves from being worthy of benefiting by it.  It actually takes incredible strength, wisdom and grace to submit. Maybe that’s why some men decide never to try it.

If you like this, you might also like

If Everyone’s Meant To Be A Leader, Who’s Doing The Following?