May 10, 2015

Happy "Not Just a Man" Day

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Our concept of how society works has always revolved around who has the most freedom from the children. Due to the biological imperatives of the childbearing and infancy stages, that has universally been men. Feminism, too, is easily sidetracked, as revolutions go: It has devolved in major ways into getting free of relational responsibilities.

Does that make Mother's Day super snowflake special? Not really. But bear with me.

In most of the world's population, women are second-class citizens. Here in North America, we achieved legal personhood only about a hundred years ago. And even now, we do battle over shared life responsibilities, how relationships are formed and conducted, and whether they're even necessary.

Most cultures in the world are dominated and run by whoever has the least familial loyalty and/or responsibility. In some countries, it's done with the coercion of guns and guerrilla armies. In America, human systems push ahead by requiring employees to adopt the same money-first values.

Men are more likely to be ahead of women on the worldly curve not because they're stronger, or more suited to being outside the home, but because a lot of them are more willing than the women in their lives to take a distant, minimized role in the nurture of children and young people. Either they think they should, or it's more comfortable that way. "The children need her more." Or, "I'm not as good at it as she is." Their relationships, and their chance to be better at them than they think they can be, are the acceptable sacrifice.

Most of the men my husband works with are okay with that. They're fine with being less involved in nurturing and disciplining their children, with being the weekend buddy who has fun with the kids and then goes back to the "real" job. They're extremely adapted to living to their peer group rather than their most intimate relationships.

And eventually, to some degree or another, the relationships slide. Their kids stop talking to them. Their divorce rate is well above the national average. The women in their lives decide what's good for the gander is good for the goose as well. Peer group and career trump the most intimate commitments.

But society is running. Big business is making money, government is corrupting idealist political reformers with maximum efficiency, and the world domination apparatus is promulgating hegemony if not invasions. Most of all, the wife (first, second or third) gets the house she wants, and the guy gets the recreational toys he wants. The Big Boss is being kept happy, except no one's really clear on who that bigger boss is, who's running our lives. It's just how things turn when we follow our own interests and live by our own meager ideals.

Enter Christianity. As screwed up as it is in America by all these same worldly interests, nonetheless there's a historic set of values which balances individual, personal priorities. If you're involved in making a baby, it doesn't matter whether you're the one who carries the pregnancy or not. If you're no good at relationships, there's grace for you. There's a God whose entire framework of justice is designed around relationship or the lack of it.

Does Jesus make men magically start cleaning toilets? Not particularly. But the Christian community gives men permission and encouragement to parent their babies as much as their wives do, and to be just as fulfilled (and yes, exhausted and exasperated) by it, because they're made free to do so. Their core community is different. The same constructive peer pressure which makes Americans professionally successful gets shifted off of how to do work foremost, and in favor of how to do family foremost.

Although fatherhood is daunting and baffling, most men flourish when encouraged and supported in taking as much of a family role as women. They become stronger. They become fuller people. (Just like women do.) And as author Shaunti Feldhan showed through 8 years of research, things go right more often than modern folk wisdom leads us to believe.

Society will probably never change. Building an infrastructure and achieving economic, cultural and/or military dominance is a really big time suck, so it'll likely always be at the expense of someone's family.

But I believe that men want a richer life than merely working for the system and then dying.

I can believe in that because I've seen it in my various churches over the years, where the most heartfelt hopes of manhood have not been compromised or given up, unlike most of the secular workplace. But most of all, I believe in it because I'm married to the best of men. His life goal has been to be a husband and a parent, and he's been a tremendous success at it. So say the children, and his wife.

I'm not just a mother, but a co-parent, because a man was willing to believe he's designed to be more than "just a man." For all his human doubts and troubles, he believes he inherently has it in him, given by God.

I'm not sure I have it in me, to be honest. But his faith in me and the strength he lends me have made it possible for me.

The world turns by the force of those who appropriate the most freedom from the responsibility of child nurture. The spoils go to the most aggressively selfish. The system turns on the power of sin.

But it's made safe and livable by another kind of person: The kind who understands the difference between exploiting opportunities and redeeming them. The kind who understands that God's definition of acceptable sacrifice is the sacrificing for relationship, not the sacrificing of relationship.

So, good for Hallmark and the florists and chocolatiers for selling cards and flowers and candy again. But my thoughts today weren't really about me and the kids at all.

They say behind every good man, there's an even greater woman. In my world, it's the other way around.

March 14, 2015

The Intervention of God

Image credit: feifel.maus | License: CC-BYNCSA

A woman was screaming on my street this afternoon.

We live in an expensive neighborhood at the edge of the city, where the lots are 2 to 5 acres, the houses are large, and our barely-affordable undersized house on its shallow, un-landscaped yard is considered a bit of a local eyesore and oddity. We are five minutes from everything we could ever want. The people on these streets either bought in before it was developed, or are working high-paying double incomes.

The screaming seemed to be coming from the house across the road, which is owned by a judge and a K-9 officer (suffice to say, you do not run in there casually, as there are several attack-trained dogs). Either that, or it was uphill on the property behind them. Things echo like a bell in a tower through the minor woods that has, ironically, been planted throughout these properties for privacy.

We couldn't hear it all, but we could hear enough. "You NEVER ... it's not okay! It is NOT okay!!"

It went on for a good two or three minutes. Then all fell to silence again. The sun is warm, the grass is out, and the snow-melt is running in the ditches after a cold western winter. The quiet was unsettling.

March 07, 2015

Winter is Coming. But It's Not the Apocalypse After All

Seasons by Dawn Ellner | License: CCBY

I haven't traditionally read theology blogs (don't we have books for that?), but lately I find myself encountering a few I enjoy.

Most recently, Andrew Wilson, a British fellow I hadn't read before. Anything called "ThinkTheology" is something I'm likely to glance at.

I found his post on the seasons of Christianity and culture eminently sensible. Much more sensible, for instance, than this...

"Judgment Day 21 May 2011 (English)" by O'Dea at WikiCommons.
License: CC BY-SA 3.0

...A phenomenon that has been popular in the United States since well before I first became a Christian. As a non-American by birth, I can't help finding it a fascinating culture of guns, sex, booze on every corner and churches and apocalyptic sandwich-boards liberally sprinkled amidst as if to assuage the guilt of the rest.

February 28, 2015

Surrender as Power, Pt. 2: On Surrendering Niceness

Click here for Part 1: On Intellectual Surrender


If you're like me, you've done some time in Christian circles feeling the pressure to be nice. Or, as I prefer to call it, nicey-pie.

Nice is a horrible word in the first place. It's like the tapioca pudding of personal characteristics. Nobody really even knows what it is, except it's smooth, bland and a little bit weird. And also nearly universally mandated for church women in particular, and Christians at large.

If we're going to go on about being blessedly subversive, there's no better place to start subverting than niceness. 

Growing Up True is Hard to Do

I spent my twenties knocking the rough edges off. Learning to be nicer. Developing kindness. All these things have their payoff, but I have to warn you: At the midlife point, you suddenly don't care anymore.

Suddenly, you have grown up. Things are half over. You're that woman who's been around for awhile, being nice. 

February 21, 2015

Friendship, Pt. 1: Heart Matters

The difficulty of friendship is a recurring topic among women. (We do that. We talk about relationships like it's engineering design.) Two recurrent "design challenges" have come up consistently over my entire adulthood.

1. Guy friends: How do we keep good sexual and emotional boundaries? How do we manage the tendency to want to nurture them? Or their tendency to use us to bolster their sexual or emotional egos in the wrong ways?

2. Girl friends: How do we get past the worldly female competition-conformity factor? How do we keep close friends' opinions from overly affecting our own opinions of our calling, marriage, children, career, life choices? How do we handle friends who think their opinions should carry that much impact?

Leaving those two categories of dilemma aside for future consideration, let's look at the root issue.

Desire and Individual Rights

It seems to me that all of these things are related to one particular issue. It comes neatly packaged in that old-fashioned word: Coveting.

I looked up both the current sense of the word and a tidy summary of its history. To covet is "to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without regard for the rights of others." The word's background comes from Latin and French expressions of desire and lust.

It's related to the term cupidity, which means "eager or excessive desire, especially to possess something; greed; avarice." And in a bit of linguistic history, "Despite the primarily erotic sense of the Latin word, in English cupidity originally, and still especially, means 'desire for wealth.'"