I'll be honest with you: when it comes to parenting tips and trends, I'm usually 12-steps behind. Don't get me wrong; I've got TONS of parenting philosophy.
But the practical implementation of that philosophy often eludes me. While I'm arguing for the benefits of shaping children to love nature, my husband plans the hike. While I'm crafting a perfect apologetic for why we must teach our children to value beauty, my husband takes them to the art museum and guides them through their own first self-portraits. I'm great with cuddles and snuggles and food; he's the go-to guy for books and puzzles and games.
This introduction explains why I'm finally, only now, discovering the gift-giving paradigm of "Want. Need. Wear. Read."
Apparently, many of you more proficient parents are at least aware of it, if not using it yourself. The basic concept is to help simplify Christmas for children. Instead of making a Christmas list of everything they could possibly want, they pick one or a few things for each category.
Something you want,
Something you need,
Something to wear,
Something to read.
The genius of this paradigm is not that it limits the number of gifts or imposes a financial cap; the genius is that it helps children sort through the chaos that is their own desires. It gives them a mechanism for cutting through consumerism by teaching them them to prioritize and limit their choices. It frees them from the tyranny of lust.
If you've ever seen a child poring over a Wish Book, you'll know precisely what I mean.
In our house, it begins the day the Target toy catalog shows up in the mail. Initially there's the fighting over who gets to look at it first and then for the next week, it's all "Oh, Mommy, I want this" and "Daddy, I NEED this" and "I HAVE to have this $75 plastic bracelet-making loom that I didn't even know existed before today!!!!!" And the worst of it all is that my children actually believe that they need these things because they feel like they do.
(There's a reason my husband calls these Wish Books by the less than polite appellation of "porn for children.") By the time it's been in our house a week, I'm ready to call off Christmas gift-giving altogether.
How about an orange, a peppermint stick, and a penny in your stocking, kids?
Really, though my children are no worse than any other. It's simply that they are children. They are immature. And part of that immaturity means not knowing how to navigate their own desires. Our job as parents to help them learn to sort through the chaos, to learn how to resist making decisions on impulse. My husband and I do this in different ways including not making impulse purchases ourselves and guiding them through the marketplace. The Federal Trade Commission
's got nothing on the Parental Trade Commission. In the sub-economy of Andersonia, all trades, purchases, and requests for subsidies undergo thorough review and sometimes even include a waiting period to help the child in question determine whether or not this is truly a "neeeeeeeeeeed."
So when I first heard about "Want. Need. Wear. Read," I was intrigued. Here was a practical way to apply the philosophy that I was pursuing. The one weakness is that it doesn't emphasize the giving that is essential to any good economy.
So after a bit of tweaking, I give you: "Want. Need. Wear. Read.... and Give."
I couldn't find a template that I liked so over Thanksgiving, I worked this one up on a free site. You're welcome to use it yourself if you'd like and can download the template here.
Like any application, "Want, Need, Wear, Read" is not intended as a hard and fast rule but as a guideline. But in the midst of the excess and materialism that has become Christmas, I think it's one that even my children will welcome.
Any woman who has been part of organized women’s ministry knows that sooner or later you’re going to encounter Proverbs 31.
This passage is a mainstay for discussions about Christian womanhood; and in our consumer-driven culture, it graces everything from Bible covers
to refrigerator magnets.
But recently, several women have been challenging a typical approach to this text. At the recent Q
event, Women and Calling,
progressive blogger and author Rachel Held Evans reiterated her long-standing concern that we tend to misuse this passage, making it more of a “Pintrest page come to life” than the poem it is. Sarah Bessey makes the same point in the recently released Jesus Feminist.
She writes: Some evangelicals have turned Proverbs 31 into a woman’s job description instead of what it actually is: the blessing and affirmation of valor for the lives of women… It is meant as a celebration for the everyday moments of valor for everyday women, not as an impossible exhausting standard.
These women have a legitimate concern. How many Mother’s Day sermons or Bible studies have turned Proverbs 31 into a checklist? How many times have teachers used it to reinforce their private applications of gender? How many times have you felt defeated from just listening to such sermons? So let me go on record as saying that I agree with Evans and Bessey. With one caveat.
Proverbs 31 is intended as a blessing and affirmation, not of all women, but of a certain kind of woman: a wise one.
Because while Proverbs 31 isn’t prescriptive, it is
descriptive. It is designed to tell us the kind of woman who deserves honor and praise. In this sense, the poem is the culmination of an entire book whose main goal is to teach the difference between wisdom and foolishness. But as the beginning
of Proverbs point out, you don’t become wise via a checklist; you become wise by fearing the Lord.
To be fair, it’s easy to confuse prescriptive and descriptive passages. Obviously it happens in Proverbs 31, but it happens just as often in less controversial texts. The Beatitudes
or the Fruit of the Spirit
can quickly become metaphysical checklists if we divorce them from their Source and view them as goals to meet in our own strength.
Just be peaceful. Check.
Just be kind. Check.
Just be humble. Check.
Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…
But while these passages are not intended as “To Do” lists, they are a kind of “field guide” given to describe what we will look like if our hearts are being changed by God. They describe the fruit and bark and leaves of the tree so you can know what kind of tree you’re looking at
. In the case of Proverbs 31, the poem shows how wisdom embodies itself in feminine form; so that in a beauty only God Himself could conceive, a book written primarily to young men doesn't climax with a description of a mature man but with a description of a mature woman.
Evans rightly pointed this out during the Q event. She noted that the original audience of Proverbs 31 was men, and joked, “Can you imagine a men's conference where that was the central text?“ (It was a pretty funny thought.) But even this isn’t the whole picture. The main audience of Proverbs 31 is men—true—but it’s given to men in order to teach them the kind of women they should celebrate. One of the assumed purposes is to distinguish wise women from foolish ones in order to help men “find”
a good wife.
Talk about sexist.
Or maybe not. Maybe this actually affirms a woman’s imago dei
. To understand what I mean, consider Proverbs as a whole. Throughout it, you’ll find this recurring theme: weak men can be ruined by strong men but strong men can be ruined by foolish… women. Yes, women.
And here’s why: Women are men’s spiritual equal.
Think about it. If a woman were not equal to a man, then her spiritual life would be of little consequence to him. She simply wouldn't be able to influence him for either good or bad. But if, as we are, equal image bearers, reigning as queens alongside earthly kings, then the kind of women we become is of supreme significance. We have intrinsic power that we can use for either great benefit or great destruction.
Because of this, Proverbs is intent on teaching young men to flee from foolish women in order to embrace and affirm wise women. This is why they are to avoid the adulteress
but to delight in the wife of their youth.
They are to avoid women who are quarrelsome
but to celebrate those who speak with kindness
. They are to avoid women who tear down their homes and to run to those who build them up. In other words, a wise woman can make a man; and a foolish one can break him
This assumption of a woman’s power is implicit in the description of the Proverbs 31 woman who wields influence over both her home and society. Because of her wisdom, her husband sits in the gates. Because of her wisdom, her household doesn’t fear the coming winter. Because of her wisdom, her children rise up and call her blessed.
In this sense, Proverbs 31 is both a song of affirmation AND a standard of what maturity looks like. We must not shy away from the descriptive principles simply because they have been misused. Apart from them—apart from knowing that a wise women “stretches out her hand to the needy”—we wouldn’t be able to distinguish her from a foolish one and we’d end up assuming that ALL women deserve praise when in reality, not all of us do.
To quote The Incredibles:
“When everyone’s super, no one is.”
Not all women are sacrificial.
Not all women work hard.
Not all women are kind.
Not all women are generous
Not all women are joyful.
Some women are selfish.
Some women are lazy.
Some women are mean.
Some women are stingy.
Some women are bitter.
But a woman who is wise, a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. She is such a rare find, so exceptionally valuable that Proverbs 31 describes her as more precious than a jewel. A beautiful, expensive, glittering jewel. So that just like light reflects and radiates through a diamond, the light of God’s nature reflects and radiates through her, bursting forth in resplendent glory. And for this kind of wise woman, wise men get up on their feet and cheer.
So, yes, please don’t reduce Proverbs 31 to a checklist or a Pintrest page come to life. But let’s also remember a harder truth. Wisdom doesn’t come naturally to any of us. Our only hope of being this kind of noble woman comes by looking into the face of the One who is Wisdom Himself and allowing Him to conform us to His own likeness. And when we do, He will make us the fully formed image bearers we are destined to be. He will make us women of kindness and grace and sacrifice and love and joy. He will make us like Himself.
One morning, about two weeks ago, I woke to the sound of my four-year-old son screaming at the top of his lungs. In a response that has become more instinct than will, I jumped out of bed and ran to find him. He was in the bathroom, standing in front of the toilet, wailing with all the angst and fury a preschooler can muster against the injustice of life. His stuffed rabbit—the one that has been with him since birth, the one that we search for every night before bed, the one that has accompanied us on every road trip, vacation, and doctor’s visit—was floating in the bowl. And in that moment, I remembered what day it was.
It was Monday.
In our culture, Monday holds a certain psychological mystique. It’s the bully of the week. The day that knocks you down and laughs. The day that steals your lunch money. The day that many of us just hope to survive. In the words of Alexander
, Monday is a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”
A lot of this is because Monday is the first day back to normal after the weekend. It’s the first day back to business—the first day back to school lunches and briefcases and time cards. The coming week looms large before us, and instead of being invigorated, we feel helpless. Instead of charging forward, carpe diem
, we drag and slide and haul ourselves forward, bleary-eyed and overwhelmed.
Later that Monday, after a search and rescue operation to recovery bunny, I was thinking about how we approach this day. How we tend to dread it and make jokes and commiserate on Facebook about needing two cups of coffee to make it through the morning. And suddenly, it struck me: Jesus arose from the grave on a “Monday.”
Our sense of time is a funny thing, as flexible as the cultures we are part of. Over the course of human history, calendars have been based on the moon and the sun; they’ve shifted by decrees of caesars and papal mandate. In modern history, most societies operate on a seven-day week devoting at least one day to rest. But we arrange those days differently. Some of us rest on Friday; some on Saturday, and some on Sunday.
For example, a couple of years ago, my husband and I visited our friends, O. and N., in their native Israel. At that time, they lived in a Jewish suburb of Tel Aviv but as we traveled around the country, they pointed out that many towns around them were not Jewish. Instead they were identified by whatever culture group lived there. One town was Jewish; the one next door was Islamic; and one further down the road was predominantly Christian. It’s convenient they assured us. If the shops are closed in your town because of sabbath, you simply have to visit a shop in another town to get what you need.
For those of us with Christian roots, our day of rest happens on Sunday in memory of the Jesus’ Resurrection. This makes Monday is our first day back to work. But here’s the catch: in first century Judaism, Sunday
was actually the first day back to work. Modeling God at Creation,
the Jews began their workweek on the first day (Sunday) and ran through Friday, with a day of rest on Saturday. So that the day that Jesus Christ rose from the grave was actually the first day back to work.
That morning almost 2000 years ago, when a handful of women made their way to the tomb, it was a “Monday.” It was their first day back to caring for children, their first day back to the marketplace, their first day back to facing the realities that had happened over the weekend. All that we associate with “Monday” they felt that morning in the garden.
And in an irony that only God Himself can offer, Jesus Christ rose from the dead on that day. After three days, He stretched out His limbs, shook off the sleep of death, got up, and got to work. He rose in power and triumph over the darkness and is right now redeeming and restoring His creation. He is right now bringing all things under His feet. And it started on the first day of the week. Just like He shined light into the darkness on the first day of creation, He shined light into our darkness through that first-day-of-the-week-Resurrection. And just like He once fashioned creatures in His own image, He is right now making us into new creatures like Himself. It’s as if He laughed and said, “Let’s redeem this world. Let’s get down to business.”
So Monday, you don't intimidate us anymore with all your doom and gloom and promises of failure. You don't intimidate us anymore because Jesus Christ rose on the first day of the work week. And by that same power, we enter our own work week, confident that the One who works on our behalf has already gone before us and conquered all things. Even--especially--Monday.
Last month, this picture made it’s way around the internet and caused no small stir in the process. With over 16 million views, odds are you saw it yourself at one point. Perhaps it showed up in your FB feed or your read any of the numerous articles written in support or reaction to it. Maria Kang,
the woman in the photo, herself spoke in response to the public outcry,
insisting “I wanted to inspire people... I wanted to say, ‘I know you think you don’t have time if you have kids. But if I can do it, you can do it, too.’” (If you can’t make out the subtext it reads, “What’s your excuse?” and then lists the ages of her three young children.)
Now there are a lot of things that we could say about this. We could discuss the danger of equating “health” with a particular physique and body image. We could condemn portraying children as problems to overcome. We could analyze the shortsightedness of positioning our bodies as objects in themselves, of engaging in navel-gazing in the most literal sense. Or perhaps we could consider why Kim Clijsters' return to a No. 1 seed in professional tennis post-motherhood is far more inspiring than Maria Kang’s return to a size 2. We could ponder why this picture is so much more motivating than that one.
Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Yes, we could do all these things and more. But even if we did, there'd still be one angle missing from the discussion--one that is brought to us by Mma Ramotswe, the proprietor of Botswana’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
. After all, if anyone understands the tension of body image, public judgment, and the struggle to be comfortable in one’s own skin, it is a traditionally built woman. So, just for fun, here’s this bit from Alexander McCall Smith's Morality for Beautiful Girls:
[Mme Ramotswe] had a taste for sugar, however, and this meant that a doughnut or a cake might follow the sandwich. She was a traditionally built lady, after all, and she did not have to worry about dress size, unlike those poor, neurotic people who were always looking in mirrors and thinking that they were too big. What was too big, anyway? Who was to tell another person what size they should be? It was a form of dictatorship, by the thin, and she was not having any of it. If these thin people became any more insistent, then the more generously sized people would just have to sit on them. Yes, that would teach them! Hah!”
This post is from May 2012, but I'm reposting it today in honor of those who have endured hardship and loss in order to protect the rest of us. To all our veterans, thank you.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________"A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for." --William Shedd
Yesterday my youngest son turned 3.
Our Peter has lived these last three years the same way he came into the world--bold, loud, and larger than life. He’s the family clown willing to do anything for a laugh, and he refuses to let his age or size leave him out of what the rest of us are doing. So while these last three years have often been tumultuous for us as a family, our Peter has always been a source of joy and comfort. Even in those moments of colic and RSV, he has forced us to take our attention away from external pressures and focus on what really mattered.
And in these last three years, he’s stolen my heart just like his older brother did.
There’s a bond between mothers and sons that’s hard to codify. The closest I can get is the memory of breaking down and crying the day after my first son was born nearly six years ago. Blame it on hormones if you like, but I felt a distinct desolation at looking down into those blue, blue eyes and realizing that one day he would love another woman more than he loved me.
Then there’s what happened just a couple days before Peter’s birthday. A close friend got news that her son’s platoon serving in Afghanistan had just lost two guys--her son was okay, but he lost two strong, brave friends. And two mothers lost their strong, brave sons.
When I initially heard, my heart was heavy but it completely broke in two when Peter came rushing into the kitchen a few moments later to retrieve a toy car that he and his brother wanted to play with. And suddenly, all I could do was stand my kitchen bawling and thinking how only twenty-odd years earlier those strong, brave sons had probably been doing the same thing.
People often say that if women ruled the world there would be fewer wars. That somehow our love for our families and our ability to talk through a problem would supersede the testosterone-laden response of military involvement. Apparently those people didn’t go through junior high. But I think this sentiment misses something else as well.
Women already rule the world.
We rule the world every time we love and correct our children. We rule the world every day as we guide them to who they will one day become. We rule the world when we teach them to love others and fight to protect the weak. We rule the world right from inside our own walls. And that’s why despite the politics and the questions surrounding this current war—trust me, I have plenty—I’m grateful for these kinds of moms. I’m grateful for mothers who have raised their boys, not to go looking for a fight, but to have the courage and fortitude to stand their ground when the fight comes. Mothers who have raised their boys to serve and not simply to be served. Mothers who have raised their boys to sacrifice for the good of others.
Even if that means losing themselves in the process.
I don’t know what God has planned for my boys— at a three-year-old birthday party, I like to imagine a bright, pain-free future full of joy and dreams fulfilled. But realistically, it’s probably not going to be that way. Probably throughout their lives there will be many times that a sword will pierce my heart
too. Especially if I’ve done my job well.
Because if by God’s grace, these boys become strong, good men, they will
chose to sacrifice themselves--both in little and great ways--for the benefit of those around them. They will stand up for the weak and suffer because of it. And they will serve others, not because they are forced to, but because they understand that this is what real men do.
And then, if our boys grow up to be men like that, we will have changed the world.
It’s not often that I get hit on in the grocery store.
It might be because I’m typically wielding a three-ring binder full of coupons; it might be because my cart is piled high with the damaged boxes of pasta that I snagged for $.25 in the Manager’s Special corner. Or it could be that I’ve been known to stop complete strangers in order to guide them to better deals. But last week, something was different.
I needed baby shampoo so after dropping my 4-year-old off at preschool, I headed to the nearest Kroger. Easing my buggy around the corner of aisle 15 into aisle 16, I could see a young African-American woman stocking the baby formula and further down two guys in their early-to-mid twenties (from here on known as Big One and Little One) stocking Pepsi on the shelves facing the diaper section. The baby shampoo was right next to the diapers.
The two were obviously enjoying their work, telling stories and joking with each other. Big One’s ipod was blaring a song with all kinds of offensive lyrics, but as I approached, he flashed me an uber-confident smile and said,
“Here let me just turn off this music, now that there’s a lady in the aisle. I wouldn’t want you to have to hear that.”
In situations like this, I find it best to casually deflect while making it clear that I’m not interested.
“Oh, honey,” I replied (we are in the South after all), “I’m a mom--I’ve seen more and heard more than you ever have. I just need to get some baby shampoo and I’ll be out of your way.” (I was tempted to add that while I couldn’t be certain, I was pretty convinced that the person stocking formula just ten feet away from us was, in fact, both 1) a woman and 2) in the aisle, but something told me least said the better.)
Little One found my comment funny. Big One kept talking.
“Yeah, I turned off that awful music because I know how to treat ladies right.”
In response, I plastered a smile to my face and tried to more obviously focus on choosing a bottle of shampoo. In the background, Big One kept talking, regaling Little One with his achievements in playing Grand Theft Auto and trying to draw me into the conversation.
“…and then I knocked over this convenience store and ended up shooting a cop… I mean I had to because he was shooting at me…”
Little One: “Did you hear that? He shot a cop! Man, I should turn you in. (*snicker, snicker*) Now, ladies, (knowing look at me) they don’t like that. That’s not good, that’s not good at all.” My
internal monologue went something like this: “Baby shampoo, baby shampoo, baby shampoo, la-la-la-la-la, I can’t hear you, baby shampoo. Now which should I get… the baby shampoo or… the baby shampoo. Hmmm… I think I’ll go with the baby shampoo.”
Smile still plastered to my face.
The banter continued as I struggled to find a bottle that wasn’t sticky, and soon enough my two Don Juans finished stocking the shelves, wished me a warm goodbye, assured me of how much they enjoyed our meeting and here’s hoping it will happen again soon. They weren’t out of the aisle fifteen seconds, when the woman stocking formula piped up with the soul and snap that only an African-American sister can offer,
“Mmmmm…” she said shaking her head, “That’s right. ‘Cause we ladies all know there’s ain’t nothing sexier than a grown man who plays video games.”
There’s been plenty of chatter lately about what makes a “real” man. There have been conferences
and reactions to said conferences. We’ve deconstructed stereotypes
and erected new ones in their place. “A real man does/doesn’t _________.” (Fill in the blank with your particular paradigm.)
Perhaps like me, you’ve grown weary of these conversations and simply want to leave it altogether. And I suppose we could if not for the stats. If not for the fact that over 40% of all children
in the US are born into this world with only a mother to care for them. If these same children didn't (statistically speaking) face "elevated risk of experiencing cognitive, social, and emotional problems."
If we didn't actually have a problem as a society. But even as we parse these realities, let’s be clear about one thing. This is not a crisis of a particular brand of manhood so much as a crisis of maturity. This is a crisis of love.
In I Corinthians 13, the Apostle Paul talks about what marks a mature individual—what makes a “real” man. Because most of us think of I Corinthians 13 as the “love chapter,” we can easily miss another point that Paul is making. In verse 11, Paul writes, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”
Simply put, Paul’s assumes that there is a difference between men and boys. Men put away “childish things.” So when we talk about what makes a “real” man, we’re not talking about what separates men from women but what separates men from boys.
And given the context of I Corinthians 13, it’s safe for us to assume that the primary thing that separates men from boys is sacrificial love.
As any parent can tell you, childhood comes with a certain amount irony. Despite the fact that children can smother us with affection and melt our hearts with their sweetness, childhood is more often defined by self-absorption. A child’s world is small and his or her most immediate needs consume his or her thoughts. And he inflicts these demands on those around him simply because he has not yet learned to put himself in another person’s place.So the fundamental goal of parenting is not simply to help our children reach physical and academic maturity but to reach spiritual maturity. To teach them, to love God and to love their neighbors.
To show them how to turn their attention from their own needs and desires to seek the good of those around them
Growing up, my father taught us that we would become “adults” when we took responsibility for someone else. He didn’t put much stock in the typical rites of passage. Adulthood did not come with high school or college graduation; it did not come with your 21st birthday or at 26 when you’re bumped off your parents’ insurance. You become an adult when you submit your desires in order to serve another person. You become an adult when you learn to love well.
So in all this talk of “real” men, let’s remember that a “real” man is not defined by his physical prowess or a set of cultural expectations. A “real” man is a man who sacrifices to serve those around him. Whether that means as a husband or father or uncle or brother. Whether that happens in the kitchen, the classroom, or on the factory floor. Real men are not defined by their contexts but by their character.
And given this--and despite the danger of erecting yet another stereotype--I think I can safely say that “real” men do not flirt with married women in Aisle 16.
One of the things that always amuses me about being a pastor’s wife is that people think they have to be careful around me. As if I have a delicate condition that can’t handle the realities of the world. In order to protect me, they shuffle, they fumble, they apologize and then use euphemisms to describe situations that I could paint in living color. What they don’t understand is that, behind this genteel exterior, I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen the brokenness, heard the sobs, and felt the ache of a creation waiting for redemption. In this kind of work, you lose your innocence pretty quickly.
Those who haven’t probably aren’t doing their jobs.
The other amusing thing is how quickly my conversations with my pastor-husband turn from the prosaic to the profound. One moment we’re discussing the rotation of children’s workers, and the next we’re talking about how to apply the realities of theosis
Just last week over our dessert and coffee, we found ourselves discussing the nature of addiction. Whether it manifests itself in substance abuse, eating disorders, gambling, or pornography, the roots and overall structure of addiction is fairly consistent. And one of the most dangerous characteristics of addiction is that it always leaves you wanting more. You tell yourself this one thing, this one game, this one look will be enough. But it never is. You are left craving the next hit, the bigger fix, to achieve the high that you felt the first time.
I wonder if this is something of what Jesus was talking about in the Sermon on the Mount when He taught that if you lust after a woman you’ve already committed adultery and if you hate it’s as if you had murdered your brother
. Clearly, Jesus was internalizing the Law, moving it past externals to show us that God is just as (more?) concerned with our hearts than whether or not we act appropriately. But Jesus was never one to teach one-dimensionally so I can’t help but wonder if He was alluding to something else about the nature of sin.
Could it be that Jesus was also teaching about the nature of addiction? Could He have been echoing the truth that once lust conceives, once the cycle starts, there’s little that can stop it
: that lust is the gateway to adultery; hatred the gateway to murder. Like a seed, the natural course of any addiction is to sprout and eventually grow into a full-blown plant that bears fruit. Fruit that itself will contain seeds that have the potential to replicate themselves in another generation if the course of nature is left unchecked. But then I thought, what if the problem isn’t addiction itself but the object of the addiction?
What if we are made to be addicted to something—Someone? To love Him with our whole hearts and souls and minds
and bodies. To be driven, panting, thirsting after Him
. To be consumed, not with wine, but with His Spirit. What if we are made to be addicted to God?
And what if His eternal, boundless nature is the only thing that can promise a world of unending highs so that even as we need our next “fix,” He will never fail to provide it. Even as we press further and further into the mysteries of His nature, He will always be enough. He will always take us to the next level. And just like any other, this God-addiction will grow from a seed—even the size of a grain of mustard—into a full-blown plant that produces its own fruit. Fruit that itself has the potential to reproduce into another generation of faith and good works.
C. S. Lewis once famously described Christianity is a “good infection.” Taking a word that normally has a negative connotation, he taught that Jesus “came into this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has.” In keeping with this, I can’t help but think that the Christian life could also be described as an addiction. Unbounded, full-flung, unfettered addiction to life with God. An addiction from which we will never recover.
If you're a regular reader here at sometimesalight
, you'll know that there's not much "regular" about my writing. I post randomly with little regard to schedules or consistency. (Hence, the word "sometimes" in the title.) My writing style is just as unpredictable; I write reflective essays; I tackle theological issues; and sometimes I find myself responding to controversies in society and the Church. And all I can say about it is, "Welcome to my head."
This blog has been a wonderful place for me to explore the things that interest me and I believe, to a certain extent, interest you. But occasionally, when I'm lucky enough, I get to explore these same issues in places more clearly suited to the topic at hand. This past week, I had the chance to write a piece for Her.meneutics
, a site of Christianity Today, to explain why I don't call myself a feminist
Those of us in the Church have a complicated relationship with the word "feminist." For some, it epitomizes all that is wrong with modern culture; for others, it represents fighting the abuse and neglect that women have endured for millenia. For my part, I find the term limiting, only as useful as your core assumptions about what it means to be a person and what it means to be woman. From the piece,It's these deeper questions that ultimately keep me from embracing the title. By definition, feminism doesn't have the language or categories to answer them; after all, as my sisters assure me, feminism simply means believing women are human—nothing more, nothing less.
I prefer a more robust label, one that answers both what it means to be a person and what it means to be a woman:Christian.
Ultimately, what you believe about a woman's value is directly tied to what you believe about the God who made her. Cultures and philosophies without this foundation have little way of pursuing lasting equality because they do not base it on personhood as revealed in Jesus Christ, the perfect Image made perfect Image Bearer. The essence of Christianity, on the other hand, is about restoring us—male and female alike—to full humanity. For a woman, this doesn't mean defining herself in relationship to men or the roles she fills but in relationship to God's own nature. It means freeing her to live as the image bearer she is, to embrace both the responsibility and privilege that this entails.
You can read the rest here.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Last week, TOMS shoes announced that they were revamping
their approach to helping the needy. For those unfamiliar with TOMS
, the company has made the "buy one, give one" model a cornerstone of its corporate identity; for every pair of shoes bought, they donate a pair to an impoverished child. But as altruistic as this policy sounds, TOMS has also been heavily critiqued for it with several folks
questioning how much good it does to manufacture shoes in one developing nation, ship them across the ocean to sell to wealthy Westerners, and then ship a second pair back across the ocean to a different developing nation.
To be fair, TOMS’ impulse to save the world is not a new one. Doing it clumsily is not new either.
Harper Lee captures this exact predicament in her book To Kill a Mockingbird.
Set during the Great Depression in the rural South, the book is narrated by young Jean Louise Finch (aka Scout), the daughter of a widowed lawyer. One summer, their sleepy town is shocked awake when a black man is put on trial for assaulting a poor white woman. Scout’s father deftly proves his innocence but to no avail. A jury of 12 white men finds Tom Robinson guilty. The following scene comes just days after the verdict: Today Aunt Alexandra and her missionary circle were fighting the good fight all over the house. From the kitchen, I heard Mrs. Grace Merriweather giving a report in the living room on the squalid lives of the Mrunas, it sounded like to me. They put the women out in the huts when their time came, whatever that was; they had no sense of family—I knew that’d distress Aunty—they subjected children to terrible ordeals when they were thirteen; they were crawling with yaws and earworms, they chewed up and spat out the bark of a tree into a communal pot and then got drunk on it.
Immediately thereafter, the ladies adjourned for refreshments…
It was customary for every circle hostess to invite her neighbors in for refreshments, be they Baptists or Presbyterians, which accounted for the presence of Miss Rachel (sober as a judge), Miss Maudie and Miss Stephanie Crawford… The ladies were cool in fragile pastel prints: most of them were heavily powdered but unrouged; the only lipstick in the room was Tangee Natural. Cutex Natural sparkled on their fingernails, but some of the younger ladies wore Rose. They smelled heavenly.
Mrs. Grace Merriweather sat on my left, and I felt it would be polite to talk to her…
“What did you all study this afternoon?” I asked.
“Oh child, those poor Mrunas,” she said, and was off.
Mrs. Merriweather’s large brown eyes always filled with tears when she considered the oppressed. “Living in the jungle with nobody but J. Grimes Everet,” she said. “Not a white person’ll go near ‘em but that saintly J. Grimes Everett… The poverty… the darkness… the immorality… [When he was] home on leave. J. Grimes Everett said to me, he said, ‘Mrs. Merriweather, you have no conception, no conception of what we are fighting over there.’ That’s what he said to me.”
“I said to him, ‘Mr. Everett,’ I said, ‘the ladies of the Maycomb Alabama Methodist Episcopal Church South are behind you one hundred per cent.’”
“Jean Louise,” she said, “you are a fortunate girl. You live in a Christian home with Christian folks in a Christian town. Out there in J. Grimes Evertt’s land there’s nothing but sin and squalor.”
This scene works for one reason: the ladies in the room are so intent on saving the heathen that they can’t see that their own society is just as depraved, just as ruthless, just as helpless. They cannot see that that they have just convicted a man of a crime he did not commit based simply on the color of his skin.This scene also reveals a great deal about our attempts to help the poor today.
The problem is not that westerners use their wealth to relieve the oppressed, to finance microloans, to help areas ravaged by natural disaster; the problem is not that we take the gospel to those who’ve never heard. The problem is not that we sponsor children in the slums of Kenya and Bangladesh. The problem is that we too often forget that we ourselves are sponsored children.
That we are just as needy, just as desperate, just helpless as the people we think we are saving.
I recently attended an event that spotlighted the work of Compassion International.
Since 1952, Compassion has been raising funds to support impoverished children, and by all accounts,
doing legitimate, quantifiable good. During the session, the Compassion spokesperson told the story of Eliud
, a boy living in Kenya’s second largest slum. Unable to attend school or even eat on a regular basis, Eliud had no hope for his future. But then an unexpected knock came to his door and with it, unbelievably good news.
News that didn’t make sense, that couldn’t be true. Someone in a far away country was going to care for him. Someone he had never seen or heard of. And yet, his representatives were standing there offering him a chance to live. And then the provision came, accompanied by letters and words of care and love. But still Eliud has never met his benefactor in the flesh. Never seen his face. Never audibly heard his voice. But grace came to him and so he believed. He accepted the good gifts and grew to love this distant stranger and one day, hopes to meet him face to face.
And as I listened, I couldn’t help but hear the gospel.
The only problem is that most of us don’t think of ourselves as Eliud in this story. Most of us identify with the giver. We think of ourselves as Messiahs. We say things like, “I’m giving because Jesus gave to me” when we really mean “I am Jesus.” The problem is that we human beings tend to give out of our self-sufficiency rather than out of our desperation. And when we do, despite our best intentions, we end up just as clueless, just as arrogant, just as ugly as the “civilized” women of the Maycomb Alabama Methodist Episcopal Church South.
Helping the poor is a tricky business—whether in the slums of Kenya, in the inner city, or in rural Appalachia. In the end, our generosity must be motivated by humility and grace. We must give to the poor, not because they need us to save them (or we need them to save us from our own wealth). We must give to the poor because He has already and is everyday saving us. We must give to “the poor,” not because we are so different from them but because we've finally realized that we are so very much the same.
Lee, Harper. To kill a mockingbird
. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1960. pp 241-244.
Nursing Mother by Pieter de Hooch (1659)
Yesterday, Jared Wilson posted a somewhat unlikely piece on his blog, The Gospel-Driven Church. Enlisting Paul’s description of ministry in I Thessalonians 2:7, Wilson encouraged his fellow pastors to engage their work with gentleness, “like a nursing mother taking care of her own children."
Before I go any further, let me express how much I appreciate Wilson’s writing. Like any public figure, he’s faced his times of being misunderstood, but those of us who regularly read him know that he is a man committed to Jesus and shepherding his people well. Barring his irrational attachment to the Patriots (Go Steelers!), I have nothing but good to say about him.
So my response to his post has less to do with what he wrote than with his being a man who has never nursed an infant a day in his life. (As my husband used to mumble to me during 3 o’clock feedings, “I’d love to help you, honey, but I’m simply not equipped.”) This kind of situation is Exhibit A of why I’m such a proponent of a female voice in the Church. There are things that men simply cannot know instinctively. Just as there are things that women cannot know. This interdependence is a good thing. In fact, God’s making us male and female is one of those design features that seems so obvious that it’s easy to forget its genius. So don’t think of this post as a contradiction to Wilson’s original post but an addendum. An “expert testimony” of sorts on what it means to be gentle like a nursing mother.
Among my generation of women, breastfeeding has made something of a comeback. With the American Academy of Pediatric’s recommendation to nurse infants to at least twelve months, many young mothers are choosing to breastfeed despite the fact that their own mothers often did not. Because of this, they are also learning the hard way about how unbelievably demanding it can be.
Nursing an infant is manual labor, folks.
Despite its resurgence, breastfeeding still exists under a bit of stigma, relegated to back rooms and behind closed doors. In my opinion, this sequestering of nursing mothers is as much a loss to society as it is to the mother and child, leaving us all a tad ignorant of what breastfeeding actually entails. We have a popular notion of nursing that is often worlds away from the reality.
So when we encounter Paul’s metaphor to engage in pastoral ministry with the “gentleness of a nursing mother,” it’s easy to conjure up an idyllic picture of mother and child blissfully settled in a rocking chair, complete with a vintage Instagram filter and soft edges. The perfect embodiment of domestic contentedness. (*sigh*) But let me warn you; if you try to apply this notion of gentleness to pastoral ministry, you’re in for a rude awakening.
And in order to understand this, all you have to do is read the rest of the text. Immediately following the metaphor of a nursing mother, Paul writes:So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
When Paul describes the gentleness of a nursing mother, he’s not describing a passivity or assumed tenderness; he’s describing a gentleness that comes from a place of deep self-sacrifice, self-giving, and tireless commitment. Nursing an infant requires gutsy, down-in-the-trenches, hour-by-hour dedication. And it is motivated by the depth of love that a mother has for her child.
It is a gentleness that allows itself to be inconvenienced, to be awakened at odd hours of the night and interrupted at meal time.It is a gentleness that is vulnerable enough to freely offer the most private parts of oneself only to be bitten in return. It is a gentleness that is attentive, that calculates feedings and ounces gained, not as a way to keep score, but to be assured that her child is flourishing.It is a gentleness that has the faith to believe that the same God who daily provided manna in the wilderness will also provide the next round of nourishment for your little one.
I Thessalonians is not the only place that Scripture uses the metaphor of breastfeeding. In his first epistle, Peter writes that we are “like newborn infants, [who] long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good."
We’re not talking Similac or sippy cups here. We grow up into salvation as we partake of the very life-giving nature of Christ Himself. And this is where the application to pastoral ministry becomes even clearer. Pastors minister to their congregations, not through their personalities or their programs, but by offering them the life-giving milk of the Word as they themselves have received it.
As any nursing mother can tell you, your ability to nourish your child is directly tied to whether you yourself have been nourished. When a mother is under stress, when she has not consumed enough calories, when she has not rested properly, her milk supply drops. And suddenly what should be a rewarding experience for both mother and baby becomes a time of frustration and helplessness. When the milk won’t flow, everyone ends up in a big puddle of angry, messy tears.
Breastfeeding mothers are some of the most resilient people I know. Their gentleness is strong, powerful, and life-giving. They embody a gritty attentiveness that flows from a place of persistence and self-sacrifice. But is a gentleness that can only be sustained as she herself is sustained. So that ultimately, when Paul enlists the metaphor of ministering as a nursing mother, he is not simply speaking of gentleness in some abstract, idealized way. He is speaking of a gentleness that comes only by feeding on the One who is Gentleness Himself. By feeding on the One Who carries the lambs in His arms and gently leads those that are with young.