Saturday, February 28, 2015

Three-fifths of a Person

It's the last day of Black History Month, and I've had a post swirling in my mind that I never had a chance to get on paper. I'll offer some short thoughts instead.

The most important thing for any non-black to remember during black history month seems to me to be that it is caucasian history as well. Black and white history in America are really one shared history. My place in America as a white woman is built upon this mutually shared history, and it has benefitted me to study black history. I recommend Henry Louis Gates' documentary, Many Rivers to Cross, as a starting point for understanding black history in America.

In the opening episode of Gates' documentary, he discusses the transformation of slavery from a globally practiced arrangement affecting most nations and races into a movement that systematically dehumanized large groups of a single race of people, culminating in that dark moment of our national history in which slaves by law were labeled only 3/5 of a person. While the rest of the United States was celebrating the amazing Bill of Rights, slaves were denied their true humanity and the inherent rights our nation said such humanity deserved.

Others with better first hand experience are the best ones to write about the effects the history of dehumanization by our government has had on our modern milieu. My take away this year is around this root issue – the dehumanization of people who are fully human – in light of the story of Scripture. What was it like for a people group to be treated as less than fully human for generation after generation, and what is it like to reclaim the truth of their inherent dignity as image bearers of God for the future? Our history is shared, so I also must ask MYSELF, what privileges do I have because for generations my family, despite their poverty, was treated as fully human? And what can I do daily to use my privilege to support the dignity of image bearers of God who have had to fight their own government to be recognized that way?

One of the most important things I've learned at this point is to stop and listen, truly listen asking only clarifying questions, to the stories of my African American friends. Our histories are shared. Their stories reflect on mine, as mine reflects on theirs. The value of such listening won't stop on March 1.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Fifty Shades of Genesis 3:16

Well, Fifty Shades of Grey is coming out on Valentine's Day.  Oh, what a warped view of love we have. I doubt Christian women need a lecture against reading the book or going to the movie. I can't imagine anyone is going because they think it is a morally good thing to do. It will be a blockbuster hit because there is a deeper issue in our hearts, and it is that deeper issue that I prefer to address.

The Twilight Series was a lighter version of Fifty Shades of Grey. Call it what you want – erotic fiction, BDSM, or in the Twilight Series, paranormal young adult fiction. But the bottom line of both series is the same -- Good Girls fall in love with Bad Boys. These particular series made the news because the individual books and movies reached a mass market audience, but “romance” novels involving the "hero" treating the girl badly and the girl wanting him anyway (with the hope of reforming him) have been hugely successful among women for hundreds of years.

The popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey doesn't surprise me, because God predicted it in Genesis 3. The woman's desire or strong craving (addiction if you will) will be for the man, and he will rule over her. THAT is why Fifty Shades of Grey, the Twilight Series, and countless other lesser known masochistic “romance” novels have flourished over the years. When Christ is removed from our relationships, that is what is left – men oppressing women and women lapping it up, even if it's just in fiction. I imagine men will not appreciate that characterization any more than women will. Yet, apart from Christ and God's common grace among unbelievers, this is where both sexes default in my humble opinion, and I think history affirms my view.

This is not to say that, apart from Christ, we don't have countless societal coping mechanisms for dealing with this phenomenon. I see feminism as the major coping mechanism. I'm thankful for aspects of feminism, particularly the first wave of feminism. I see it as a great manifestation of God's common grace. Feminism didn't change anyone's heart, but the movement did help to restrain sinful oppression of women in many countries and in many different walks of life. But for every educated, take charge feminist woman you know, there remain hundreds in the shadows of life contributing to their own sexploitation. After 3 waves of feminism, countless laws, and much education, millions of women would still run after the sulky vampire in their fantasies, choosing to suck blood for the rest of their lives rather than living in the light.

As for Fifty Shades of Grey, while it is in many ways like Playboy for men, there are motivating factors for women that are very different than a man's for pornography. I think that understanding the reason that so many women are flocking to this book/movie can be a powerful tool to pointing them back to the gospel's answer for the dark longings in their heart. To that end, I hope this analysis is helpful.

For many women reading this (and men too), a lot of this may sound completely foreign. If you're saying to yourself, “That's not MY husband or MY history,” then praise God! Perhaps as a child you were raised to know Christ and His Word. You recognized early on your creation in His image and your worth as His honored son or daughter. For the most part, that's our family, though occasionally I get glimpses into my tendencies apart from redemption. I would have lapped up the Twilight Series hook, line, and sinker during my teenage years. I thank God regularly that He kept me from the kind of guys I would have been willing to date when I was too na├»ve and immature to recognize this in myself.

There is something much better than secular coping mechanisms that are helpful in some ways and detrimental in others though. Christ has broken the curse and is slowly but surely redeeming His children from its effects. In Christ, women have the rescuer we need. We have a need to submit, and we need one who dominates our life.  But only One, Christ Himself, can fill those needs in a way that invites light, not shadow. I'm reminded in all this that we will offer our best solutions spiritually when we best understand the root issue.

My heart aches for women longing for their Christian Grey. That is not his real form, and he morphs into something dark and disturbing when you least expect it.  In Christ, we can recognize this dark fantasy for what it is and then move away from the dark towards the light to live in the real relationships God has given us.

It helps a lot if you understand Genesis 3:16.

This is a reworked version of a post I first wrote in 2012.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Husbands, Pray with Your Wives

In a rare change from the norm at Practical Theology for Women, I'd like to give a small word of practical advice to husbands.

Pray with and for your wife.

In evangelical Christian marriages, the issue of roles and leadership tend to plague both husbands and wives. When hormonal euphoria begins to wane in a relationship, the friction of two distinct but overlapping genders becoming one heats up. Sexual heat may fade as relational heat rises. Women get emotional. Men hide from those emotions. The man doesn't feel welcoming to the woman. The woman doesn't feel safe to the man. Her cry for emotional and spiritual intimacy feels like fingernails on a chalkboard to him.

These are stereotypes and generalizations. Yet, I use them because they also fit the majority of conversations I have with friends and family on this topic. This may not describe YOUR marriage, but it does describe many.

If any of that resonates with you, dear Christian husband who loves his wife but doesn't know how to enter into her emotional needs, I offer you this one miraculous tool that won't cost you much at all. 

Pray with her. 

You don't have to pray with answers. I can't stand prayers that actually sound like lectures. When I say pray with her, I mean real prayers to God.  I mean supplication asking for His help – His help with her, for her, and for yourself. Here are the miraculous things accomplished in this small and easy act.

1. She feels heard. You may not know how to help whatever struggle is causing her concerns, but you haven't ignored the struggle. You have no idea what it means to a woman just to be heard. Men love to fix things, and sometimes, men, when you don't know how to fix something, you don't engage it at all. But this small act gives you the freedom to engage what you do not know how to solve. It allows you to engage it with the only One who does know how to solve it. This ministers much grace to your wife.

2. She doesn't feel alone. When a wife expresses a burden or concern and you turn away, the feeling of loneliness in dealing with it can be overwhelming for her. Yet, what if you don't understand her concern? What if it feels irrational? You don't have to understand or agree with her in order to walk with her through it. Praying with her about something you disagree about is STILL walking with her through it.

3. You take it to the only One able to make two become one. True spiritual intimacy in marriage is only accomplished through the Holy Spirit. Only the Spirit can break down the barriers she has to you and you have to her. Only the Spirit can truly minister to the deep places in her heart. You can't be her god, and when you bring her with you to the One True God, you put both of you back on the only path to peace.

Husband, if you feel discouraged in your relationship with your wife and/or know she is discouraged with you, I strongly recommend this one simple act of faith – prayer with your wife. I hope you find this helpful, and may God bless all of our families.
James 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Approaching Morality from a Position of Grace

I was raised in fundamentalist Christian churches with long lists of rights, wrongs, dos, and don'ts. Often, the list of wrongs extended well past what the Bible actually said was sin, in an effort to build a big gray area to keep kids from getting into the black. I remember one church youth group activity at our local skating rink. A fundamentalist missionary taught that some schools were good and some schools were bad in our area. He of course did this to a group of kids who had pretty much no say in what schools they went to. In his mind, the local Christian school was the only righteous choice, and he listed on posterboard my private, secular school (which actually was very good in retrospect) as a sinful choice. I was an ernest, sincere Christian youth who wanted to do what was right. The weight that jerk placed on me for something that 1) clearly was not sin and 2) was something I had no control over still makes me sad for my younger self and for the others he impacted negatively in ways I do not know.

I discovered a reformed understanding of grace by way of my freshman roommate in college, who remains one of my closest friends to this day. As God started tying Scripture together in my head through a reformed hermeneutic, the individual moral lessons of Scripture started pointing to Christ rather than to my inadequacies. Learning of God's irresistible grace and sovereignty over salvation were balms to my soul that was battered by legalistic teaching that vexed me again and again. God loved me, and I loved Him. For a while, that was enough. Irresistible grace. Unearned mercy. Unconditional love. I bathed in those truths for a decade or so, like a warm epsom salt bath for my weary spiritual body. My muscles relaxed. I could breath again.

I have turned a corner of late. Oh, I still love my verses on the righteousness Christ has earned for me, the robe of His righteousness I wear ever since He took my sin and guilt upon Himself on the cross. But I've arisen from the warm soaking tub that eased the aches in my spiritual body. I feel equipped again to note the many other verses in Scripture defining the acts making up the fabric of Jesus' robe of righteousness versus the ones that make up the essence of my guilt. God's fidelity versus my faithlessness. His truth versus my lies. His wisdom versus my foolishness. His peace versus my anger. His love for others versus my love for myself. I see too the verses calling me now, in Christ, to be like Him. Apparently, wearing His robe of righteousness, I am now equipped to move toward being in reality what God has declared me to be in heaven, completely righteous. This is sanctification, which is also by God's grace. 

Ephesians 5:1 Therefore, be imitators of God … 

I am thirsting for Scripture that explains the character of God to me in ways I did not before. In particular, I am currently finding parts of the Old Testament law and wisdom from Proverbs intriguing and actually life-giving. I wrote on sexual faithfulness from Deuteronomy 22 two weeks ago. I am still thinking on what that chapter reveals about the character of God that we are called to imitate. We don't imitate Him in the penalty of the law, for that is something He alone is equipped to judge and was paid in full by Christ on the the cross. But we can imitate Him in the aspects of His character He shows us through His deep commitment to fidelity in relationships. His faithfulness to us is the essence of Christianity. That He calls us to such faithfulness with others feels exactly right in light of who He is and what He created us to be.

I wrote on listening to rebuke from Proverbs 12 last week. The wisdom of Proverbs also no longer feels like a weight. It was used like a club by various youth pastors during my years in fundamentalism, and I have shied away from it ever since. But God didn't write it to be a weight. It was written to be a HELP. It's wisdom—not to bind around your neck so you drown in guilt but to guide you along God's path so that you can flourish as an imitator of Him. It's amazing the difference an understanding of irrestistible grace, unearned mercy, and unconditional love can make as I re-approach the law and the proverbs.

If you, like me, have found Old Testament laws and proverbs weights that only discourage and demoralize you, I hope you can take some time in a book like Ephesians to understand the depth of God's grace, mercy, and love for you in Christ. Steep yourself in the depth of His unconditional love for you. Christ bore your sins, and now you wear His robe of righteousness. You are free from guilt. It is only from this stance we can re-engage with the law or proverbs without feeling weights binding us once again. Christ transforms the law from being a weight that crushes us to instruction that helps us. The law helps us by pointing us to our need for Christ as the only one who could perfectly keep the law, and then it shows us the character of our Creator in whose image we were made. In Christ, we can receive the law and the proverbs in that light and find the meaning in them that points us toward flourishing life in Him without being weighed down by our inability to keep it perfectly.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

On Stupid People

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. Pr. 12:1
Proverbs 12:1 makes me giggle everytime I read it. The Bible uses the word stupid? Really?! I looked it up to see the Hebrew word, and sure enough, it means stupid. It could also be translated brutish or senseless. Whichever translation you use, the word is sobering in connection with something the vast majority of us hate – reproof.

Reproof is a negative comment, reprimand, or rebuke. Nobody LIKES negativity. Nobody likes being reprimanded. But the wisdom from Proverbs 12:1 is you better not HATE it. Dislike of reprimand is normal. Hate of reprimand will destroy you.

I dislike reprimand because I don't want to be wrong. I dislike reprimand because it challenges my views of myself. I dislike reprimand because it embarassses me.

I don't hate reprimand because I realize others outside of myself can see aspects of myself to which I am blind. I don't hate reprimand because I know I can deceive myself about my own motivations to make me feel better about myself. I don't hate reprimand because I know others can sometimes more clearly see the long term results of my choices than I can.

I don't hate reprimand, because I've watched others who do hate it be destroyed by their stubborness. 

I have had the chance to watch people privately and publicly despise rebuke, and ultimately again and again their ministries were destroyed by their pride. They valued teachability in others, but only if they were the teachers. The teacher couldn't be taught, and everything unraveled in the aftermath. This was certainly the case at Mars Hill, and now there is no Mars Hill. I find that reality sobering. Having been a part of the church at its highest point, I soberly reflect on its downfall, God removing the lampstand if you will, and I note again and again the inability of leadership to hear and accept reprimand and rebuke at key moments in its past. 

Recently, Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments released a report on Bob Jones University's handling of sexual abuse over the last few decades. I was a student there and also taught high school there for a few years. Teachability was valued there, or so I thought. Students were taught to listen to correction. But I noticed as a student and low level worker that teachability was valued by leadership (at the highest levels) for everyone but themselves. Senior leadership was proudly stubborn, though they labeled it as a positive stand against compromise. The GRACE report revealed how that stubborness caused them to ignore or minimize society's growing awareness of educational institutions' need to report child abuse. Mandatory reporting laws were ignored while leadership positioned themselves as authorities on counseling the abused. The Bible says that was stupid, and I am sobered by its assessment.  Even now, after the report, there seems a sluggishness to hear the recommendations to remove leaders that ignored laws on mandatory reporting from their positions of influence.  Again, that is a senseless, ignorant response according to the wisdom of Proverbs 12:1.

In light of the personal and public downfalls of formerly respected people who wouldn't listen to reproof, I feel a new burden to teach it to my children and value it for myself. Part of me doesn't want anyone telling me anything, the natural results of having authorities over me telling me what to do who eventually show themselves stupid. Yet I recognize too that their downfall was centered around their inability to hear rebuke for themselves. I do not protect myself from others like them by becoming like them. I must remain teachable for my own long term health. Others must be able to rebuke and reprimand me. And though I will naturally not like it, I must not hate it.
Proverbs 9:9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.   
1 Peter 5:5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  
Proverbs 13:18 Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.  
2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  
Hebrews 12:6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”