Sunday, July 22, 2012

Just Checking In

For the vast majority of us who love God and His Word, the great gulf between what God declares good and the reality of our lives and the lives of our loved ones can be overwhelmingly discouraging. And we want to fix it. To change it. Christian society as well often projects onto us the need to CHANGE things. What we do less often and not as well is pressure each other to endure in grace long term with someone who is struggling. I wrote about this at Desiring God last year.
I want control of my circumstances and gravitate to suggestions of things to try to fix situations. But at some point, as things continue without change, I tire of suggestions to try. In one such situation, I sat with a wise older friend and listened as she spoke words that poured over my parched soul. Her advice? Rest. Endure. Love. After time in her presence, I felt free—free from the guilt that I wasn't doing enough to change my loved one, free from pressure to come up with the thing that will most help them, free to love them unconditionally the way God has loved me, free to bare my soul to God in confidence that He would hear me, and free to leave my fears at His feet when I was done. 
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all thing. Love never ends (1 Cor. 13:7-8). 
. . . walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, (Eph. 4:1-2)
Bearing long with hurting friends is a means through which God powerfully ministers His grace. But what does bearing long look like? Maybe it looks like Job's friends, who sat with him for days on end without saying a word. But over the long haul with someone who is in the midst of long-term adversity, it can be as simple as just checking in. It has ministered to me at dark times to have someone call, text, or email with the simple question, “How are you?!” A friend might say something along the lines, “I remember you were concerned about [some issue]. How has it gone since we last talked?” It means much to me that they remembered my burdens. Sometimes, a friend will ask, “How can I be praying for you right now?” When they follow up the next week on the same topic with me, I feel remembered and loved.

This has been my MO with friends of late. But I don't say that to pat myself on the back. I do this now because I dropped the ball with a friend a few years ago. She shared with me a big issue in her life and then fell off my radar. And I didn't followed up for months and months. Finally, when I checked in with her, it was clear she had been struggling deeply and had felt abandoned by her friends through it all. I learned my lesson. When a friend falls off the radar, check in with them. Don't assume they'll call me if they need to talk. Some people who are hurting already feel abandoned by friends or family and likely struggle with feeling abandoned by God. Don't wait on those friends to pick up the phone and call you. When you check in, it doesn't need to be wordy or stressful. I have a friend who every few weeks just drops me an email – “I was thinking of you today and prayed for [that thing we last talked about]. How is that going?” You don't have to take a long time. You don't have to give advice. You don't have to do something big. Just check in and listen. There is something about simply being remembered that ministers to our souls.
Proverbs 27:10 NAS Do not forsake your own friend or your father's friend, And do not go to your brother's house in the day of your calamity ; Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother far away.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

50 Shades of Complementarians

Serious controversy has broken out after an article on The Gospel Coalition website quoted Doug Wilson on sex and submission. I like the Gospel Coalition. I've heard great things about the sessions at their latest women's conference. They link to my blog on their blog feed, for which I am grateful. I have had personal conversations with several staff members at TGC and respect each one I know. Most of all, I respect the men and women associated with TGC as people who can humbly hear criticism. I give all those disclaimers because I also need to say that the post disturbed me, and I'm secondarily disturbed that it's been so hard for the authors to understand why it's disturbing.

First, if I may give a humble word of encouragement to conservative, complementarian men—there are some things you should not address in public recorded media. Ever.

Second, the real controversy seems to be in the wording that links rape to God's judgement on ... I'm not exactly sure what ... but it sounds like it's God's judgement on feminism and egalitarian thinking?  A society that does not protect and treasure women?  What does that mean?  It reminds me that it is a bad idea for a religious leader to declare God's judgement.  It's fine with me when God declares it Himself in His Word and when teachers quote Him specifically.  But God doesn't say this thing in His word.

Third, I'm going to go blue in the face soon on this topic, but they fell into this pile of manure because conservative complementarians espoused a new interpretation of Genesis 3:16 when they were first inventing the term complementarian and first forming the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. If conservatives don't correct themselves (and quickly) on the issue of Genesis 3:16, they will continue to step in similar piles of manure until the movement is so undermined they have totally lost any audience.   If you believe that the woman wants to control her husband, the interpretation of Gen. 3:16 that Susan Foh first promoted in 1975 as a reaction against feminism, then turning her over in bed and gaining back control seems to be beating back the curse. In reality, man's ability to do that very thing (and women's desire for it as evidenced in 50 Shades of Grey) IS the curse. And there's nothing redemptive in it.  Every woman who yells “rape” and flees sexual bondage, even in marriage, is defying the curse.

Gen. 3:16 of course transcends sex. The curse in Gen 3:16 is that women have a strong longing that they mistakenly aim at their husbands (which should be aimed at God). The result in our sin-riddled world is that man rules over the woman. That's the problem that sin brought into the world, NOT God's good plan at the beginning. Men oppress women (and women in their misguided desire allow it).  The complementarian terms of lead and head can't just be nicer, more Christ-like terms for the problematic rule of Genesis 3:16. They must be distinctly different. But too many comps still think feminism is the big problem, not the men ruling over their wives that feminism rose up to address. When you think women speaking up is a bigger problem than men pushing them back down (and you manipulate Scripture to address it), you are going to lose your ability to address anything on this spectrum.

Conservatives have interpreted Gen. 3:16 to mean the woman wants to dominate the man (instead of desiring him) since around 1975. In response, complementarians have been encouraging women into the very dependence the curse says comes naturally (with instructions to men to rule nicely please). In other words, our gender gospel at times has encouraged the curse, not offered a gospel centered alternative. Conservatives made feminism the enemy instead of recognizing it as a coping mechanism for the real enemy, men oppressing women and women enabling it. The result is that some of the biggest oppression of women is in the very circles of conservative Christianity that claim to do the opposite. Just read Debi Pearl's Created to be His Help Meet for evidence. Or if you don't believe me, you could also ask your wife (if you're a man reading this). Ask her and assure her of her freedom to speak honestly without you projecting on her anything negatively spiritually—does she ever feel oppressed in complementarian circles? In your home?

I enjoyed D. A. Carson's session at a recent conference, especially his explanation of I Peter 3:7 that paints a distinctly different picture than anything I've read from either Doug or Nancy Wilson. I also appreciated a recent correction of what the term complementarian was supposed to mean from someone who was at the original meeting. I LOVE the term complementarian when it indicates that male and female were created in the image of God to reflect the whole of His character in a way that a single gender could not. I am glad to be a strong helper to my husband with God as my example of what a strong helper does. I receive God's instruction for wives to submit to their husband as a helpful tool when my husband and I hold differing opinions we can't work out with reasonable discussion (which is rare). I also value God's instruction for wives to respect their husbands, something I believe ministers great grace to our husbands when they are struggling with their own weight of responsibility. I am personally convicted of male-only eldership in the local church, though I understand the Biblical argument among Christian egalitarians (by conviction, I won't attend a church with male elders that doesn't also allow women deacons). I am among a growing number of similarly convicted complementarian Christians. We see the mistake of making feminism the enemy the way this wrong interpretation of Gen. 3:16 has encouraged us to do. And we understand there is nothing about BDSM that is remotely connected to what God intended in perfection for us sexually.

When a group believes the bottom line of what's wrong with women as a result of the fall is that women want to be in charge, well, that's a serious problem because it is the polar opposite of the real problem! Conservatives, please hear clearly the real problem that Genesis 3:16 sets up. The man RULES his wife oppressively, and she morbidly follows him anyway. That's what's WRONG according to Genesis 3, not what's right. I lucked up (in a sovereign God kind of way) when I met and married my husband. He doesn't want help in the sense of a butler or a maid. He needs help in the strongest sense of the term. He doesn't foster an unhealthy dependence on him emotionally, and he's loved and led me sacrificially as Christ has modeled with His church. My gifts have flourished married to him, and my submission is willingly offered without manipulation or guilt. Anything less isn't submission. It's oppression. John Stott made this clear to me in his exposition of Ephesians 5 in his short commentary on the book.
... her self-humbling is not coerced but free. It must have been very obvious in the ancient world. The wife had no status and few rights .... Yet the apostle addresses her as a free moral agent and calls upon her not to acquiesce in a fate she cannot escape, but to make a responsible decision before God. ... Voluntary Christian self-submission is still very significant today. (Message of Ephesians, p. 233)
Submission that is manipulated or coerced isn't submission at all. It's oppression.

End of rant. God grant us all the ability to recognize when public pressure against religious beliefs isn't persecution but needed correction.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Fifty Shades of the Curse

This is not a lecture against 50 Shades of Grey per se. I haven't read it personally, but I have regretfully stumbled across other books in the genre over the years. Honestly, I doubt Christian women need a lecture against reading it. No one's reading it because they think it is a morally good thing to do. Those types of books sell 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 50 Shades of Grey. Call it what you want – erotic fiction, BDSM, or in the Twilight Series, paranormal young adult fiction. There is a bottom line element of both series. Good Girls in love with Bad Boys. These particular series have been in the news recently because the individual books 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 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. And there you have it! 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. I may get some negative comments. 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. Though some people will not like that I say this, I'm frankly 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 50 in the shadows of life contributing to their own sexploitation. After 3 waves of feminism, countless laws, and much education, there remain millions of women who'd run after the sulky vampire in their fantasies, choosing to suck blood for the rest of their lives rather than living in the light. 

Here's a trailer for the documentary Missrepresentation, which discusses how media portrays women and how women contribute. (Warning: the trailer contains some disturbing sexual images and one use of profanity.) The makers of the film document the problem well. One only has to take a cursory look at Hollywood to have every affirmation you need of the fact that men exploit women and women participate. The coping mechanism that Missrepresentation supports is better portrayals of women in media. And that's a good idea, but it won't change anyone's heart either.

There is something much better than a coping mechanism that is helpful in some ways and detrimental in others. Christ has broken the curse and is slowly but surely redeeming His children from its effects. For many women reading this (and men too), a lot of this sounds 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. He gave me a husband who has loved me sacrificially, and He helped me to see myself created in His image, though I still desire of my husband at times things only God can fulfill in me.

The only thing I want to say about Fifty Shades of Grey is that while it is in many ways just like Playboy for men, there are motivating factors for women that are very different than the male counterpart toward pornography. I think that understanding the reason that so many women are flocking to this book 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.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Complementa-what?

I have given my fair share of pushback on complementarian thinking. See this post in particular. Here's a helpful definition of the term from someone who was there when the term was first coined. I still think there is value in the ideas the term complementarian was originally intended to convey. I also think somebody made a big mistake when they came up with a new view of the curse around the same time they coined the term complementarian that made feminism the big enemy. Hopefully, correction among complementarians is taking place in a way that will strengthen future generations of women, men, families, and singles in the Church.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Don't Waste Your Divorce

During this week where many families are traditionally on vacation celebrating the 4th, I suspect this post won't be widely read. For others, though, a holiday week like this just highlights anew a very painful season of loss. If you find yourself there, I hope this post will encourage you during a hard time.

Over the last few years, I have walked with two friends in particular through the bitter betrayal of a divorce they didn't want. I wrote a few years ago on Pariahs and our subtle way of avoiding divorcees in conservative churches because they threaten our prosperity gospel that we don't even realize we believe. I had dinner this week with one of those friends, and she shared such wisdom with me that she had me writing notes on napkins so I wouldn't forget.

Her burden for herself is to not waste her divorce. Does that sound odd or controversial? Our strong churches often preach on solid marriages and healthy relationships. Divorce care seems more the function of liberal churches we perceive as having a low view of the sanctity of marriage. Yet I know many godly women with a high view of the sanctity of marriage and strong convictions from Scripture on the covenant relationship between a husband and wife who find themselves there. Their high view of marriage and Scriptural convictions magnify the shame they feel! They need divorce care more than ever.

My friend's wise advice as she journeys through the depths herself is DON'T SETTLE FOR COPING MECHANISMS. Getting a pet, turning on the news, or reading a novel can ease the loneliness and distract you from the pain. For a time. But don't let yourself rely on such things totally. Face the truth and the seemingly overwhelming pain, friend, and walk through the middle of it. Because God can and will do much in you through this very pain! Even when we are sinned against in divorce (and we know that we too sinned in it!), God will still use this for our good.

Joseph's story in Genesis 37-50 is beautiful. Not only did God use sin and betrayal for good in Joseph's life, he used it for good in his brothers' lives too. They sinned grievously against Joseph, and no one should twist what I'm saying to say it's OK that they sinned against Joseph. Yet, God used even their grievous betrayal and abandonment of their brother for good in ALL of their lives. You may see yourself as Joseph, his brothers, or some mix of the two. Regardless of who bears the brunt of responsibility for the demise of your marriage, sin dive bombed your life and left devastation in its wake. Yet God sovereignly guides the fallout and can bring unexpected and profound beauty from the ashes. Only He can do that, and it is a miracle indeed.

According to my friend who has researched this more than I, there isn't a whole lot written from a Christian perspective on divorce. A lot is written on avoiding divorce, reconciling marriages, and enduring in a painful marriage. But not so much for the woman who loves God and wanted her marriage to be different, yet finds herself right in the middle of a painful divorce. Elisabeth Elliot includes a chapter on divorce in The Path of Loneliness, a book I love and recommend. Divorce is different from widowhood. The general difference is that widows experience grief, but divorcees experience grief AND shame. And that second piece can be toxic without a robust understanding and application of the gospel to ourselves daily.

There is a supernatural gift in divorce, a unique experience of beauty and identification with God that can rise out of the ashes of devastation in your life. When you feel most abandoned, most shamed, and most betrayed in this life, that is when the gospel can seep into your psyche in a way it never has before. Isaiah calls God the father of the fatherless. Profound abandonment becomes the doorway through which we realize the depth of His profound provision of HIMSELF for us in the place of those who have left us.
Isaiah 54:4-5
Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
 be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
  and the reproach of your widowhood (or divorce) you will remember no more.  For your Maker is your husband,
 the Lord of hosts is his name;
 and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,
 the God of the whole earth he is called.
Not only is God here to meet you in your abandonment, but He identifies and understands that abandonment better than any other. Hosea is a good book of the Bible to read in this season. It teaches us that God Himself understands betrayal and abandonment at a very personal level. His identification with us in the midst of betrayal is the key to the battle against bitterness and cynicism. And, oh, how those two things can rob us of hope for the future. Whatever you do, don't give in to bitterness and cynicism. Fight them hand in hand with your Savior who understands your pain.

Others may feed the bitterness, shame, and anger in you. My friend recommends Shame Interrupted by Ed Welch. Churches can be shaming by the mere fact that you sit alone in a congregation dominated by couples and families with children. Do not waste how vulnerable you feel and how easy it now is for you identify with the poor and the hurting of the world. My friend has experienced a renewed burden for the homeless because she could actually envision herself becoming homeless. She resonated with the pain of the elderly and the disabled because she felt the same loneliness, isolation, and fear that they feel. God has used this to bless others (and bless herself as she gets involved with those in need). It distracts from the self pity that can debilitate her in such a season.

If you are in this season, you likely face the temptation to hurt others the way you have been hurt. If we can't hurt the one who has wounded us, we may hurt our children or our family/friends trying to help. Or we may just turn it on ourselves. Instead, we need a healthy, holy grief. Mourn the loss and acknowledge the devastation that has hit you. But do it hand in hand with your Savior, knowing He understands exactly what you feel and He willingly bears the pain with and for you.

I remember the moment that both of my friends moved from seeing their husband as the enemy to seeing him as a prisoner of the real enemy. That is a powerful moment! Each moved from anger and bitterness to pity and compassion for the one who had wronged them. Only the gospel can give us that perspective.

As you walk this road of betrayal and abandonment, know that, in Christ, you do not walk it utterly alone. Think of the Man of Sorrows stumbling under the weight of the cross. A man steps out of the crowd and bears the cross with or for Him. For you, the roles are reversed. It is the Man of Sorrows who is well acquainted with such grief who steps beside you to shoulder the weight of the burden with and for you. His shoulders are wide and strong, and He will never leave you.
Psalms 68:19-29  Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,     who daily bears our burdens.  Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death. 
Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.