There’s this tower in Italy. It leans. Maybe you've heard of it. When construction began in 1173, it looked fine, but over the centuries, as floors were added, the lean became more pronounced. This resulted in countless attempts to stabilize it—everything from adding counterweights to shoring up the foundation—and yet today, even though the tower still stands, it continues to lean.
Recently, there's been a growing conversation about something called “New Wave Complementarianism.” Some
have suggested that this conversation isn’t “new” at all but simply a return to original complementarian positions. Still others
have suggested that this new wave is entirely
necessary because the “old wave” reached too far. And others
have said that it is simply a reaction to what’s happened in some churches in the name of complementarianism, but isn’t really a discussion of its core essence.
But no one denies that the tower is leaning.
Still, don’t take my word for it. Remember that time Bob Yarbrough said these exact things
at the 2012 EFCA Theology Conference. (Remember that time D.A. Carson spoke at the same conference.) The truth is that there is a “lean” in complementarianism, and it is evidenced by what is being taught and modeled in our churches. Our practices reveal our core assumptions better than any talking points ever could and because of this, they end up being the best indicator of whether or not we need to check our foundation.
So for me, the pertinent question is: “What’s been missing from the conversation that has allowed the tower to lean?”
My approach is predicated on the belief that the Church is the pillar and ground of truth and that Christian truth is discovered through paradoxes. Specific to this discussion, 1) Men and women are the same and 2) Men and women are different. But the paradoxes of the Christian faith are more than simply a set of checks and balances; the tensions actually force us to think more deeply and articulate more fully what we believe. The tension forces us to better understanding (and sometimes humbly admit that we don't understand at all.)
Because of this, if something starts leaning (oh, like say our understanding of gender), we must go back and figure out what has not been held in tension that should have kept it straight. Like Tim Keller, I consider myself a “complexifier”
and believe that we must bring ALL of Scripture to bear on these issues, not simply the passages that speak specifically to gender. So for my part, the conversation surrounding New Complementarianism (a.k.a., New Wave Complementarianism, New Wave OF Complementarianism, a group of friends talking among themselves who stumbled across the concerns that others already felt)—for my part, the conversation must not be about simply recovering original complementarianism but about asking ourselves what has been missing, or at least underemphasized, that has allowed the tower to lean in the first place.
Today I’m laying my cards on the table. I’m doing this because we must have this conversation together. It’s bigger than any specific set of bloggers—bigger than any “movement.” I’m also doing this because while I am a writer, I am also a wife and mom, and at this point, my children need a mother and my husband needs an ezer
more than complementarianism needs another blogger.
So in no particular order, here’s what I believe this conversation must entail; we must:
- Develop a robust definition of imago dei.
- Define the differences between men and women in relationship to God’s nature, not simply in opposition to each other.
- Consider the limitations of gender-based discipleship. If gender becomes the paradigm for sanctification, we have unintentionally made gender more significant than Christ. The goal is not masculinity or femininity—the question is immaturity vs. maturity.
- Admit that if we’re going to use the categories of male and female, we cannot begin with them—we must base them on the foundational category of humanness. As a female person, I have more in common with a male person than I do with a female cat.
- Understand that Christianity does not have a masculine-feel or a feminine-feel. Christianity should feel Christlike—it should feel fully-human.
- Recognize that equality must be the basis for headship--not simply the ying to its yang. Headship, whether in the church or home, exists precisely because we are equal.
- Clarify that the goal of headship is union—that Christ's headship results in the uniting of all things in heaven and earth and reconciling all things to Himself.
- Differentiate between headship and manhood as well as submission and womanhood.
- Reinforce responsibility/authority paradigm of headship. Any authority is given in order to fulfill a responsibility; it does not simply exist.
- And while we’re at it, clarify a Christian view of authority—especially if this is the going to be the key difference between men and women.
- Understand that headship exists only in specific circumstances—headship is not unilateral and some men will never exercise headship because they will never hold a position that calls them to.
- Differentiate between headship and leadership as gifting.
- Realize that passages that speak to men and women’s differing roles flow out of deeper doctrinal paradigms. We understand roles best when we start with the doctrine and work toward application, not vice versa.
- Remember that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Roles are given to enable relationships; relationships are not meant to serve roles.
- Discus how denominational and sociological contexts affect our applications and differentiate between application and doctrine.
- Reclaim an understanding of eldership that invests authority in the office, not the person. When we define authority by cultural cues or personality instead of the process of ordination, we can cordon off areas of ministry that the Scripture does not.
- Consider how we assign value. We cannot simply declare that men and women are equal; we must function in a way that displays this.
- Recognize that this will be difficult in a subculture that elevates pastors and teachers to celebrity status--how do you assign value to women when they will never hold those positions?
- Dismantle the false paradigm of gender vs. gifting. Gender is biological gifting and it flourishes alongside other gifting.
- Embrace a view of the whole person that elevates the providence of God to combine gender, talents, and personality into a unique package with unique strengths and unique limitations.
- Actively pursue women’s unique gifting.
- Consider whether focusing the conversation on “roles” has reduced people to functions instead of agents—do we simply become “workers” in a weird Marxist reality?
- Stop overextending Ephesians 5. A wife is not perpetually in a position to be rescued by her husband. Sometimes a wife will be Christ to a husband in need. (I Peter 3)
- Explore the role of husband as “husbandry”– including the responsibility to ensure that those under your care become all that God has made them to be. Explore the same for "wifery."
- Wrestle with whether or not “complementarianism” should be equated with a conservative reading of gender. Is it possible to have a conservative reading of gender and not be “complementarian?” (If nothing else, we need a new word because complementarian doesn’t spell-check.)
There. I’ve laid out my cards. Feel free to pick them up and play them. None of these ideas are “new”—but they are things that I believe have been missing and have led to the lean in our tower. It’s time for us to figure out why, to revisit established paradigms, and courageously press deeper into the mystery and wonder of God’s good design. Semper Reformanda
Today I'm posting at Fulfilling Your Vows,
a new website designed to encourage and support couples in their marriages. This month's topic is faithfulness, and just like me, I decided to take a less than conventional approach. My advice about how to pursue faithfulness in marriage? "Be true to yourself." Here's a selection:One of the saddest parts of the drama is watching as a spouse walks away, truly believing that the only way they will ever be happy is if they free themselves from the duties and responsibilities of this marriage. They believe that in freeing themselves, they will finally find themselves.
So here’s a piece of unconventional advice: in order to remain faithful to your spouse, in order to remain faithful to your marriage vows, you must be true to yourself.
You must not be faithful out of duty or obligation or martyrdom. You must not work on your marriage just for the sake of working on your marriage. You must not follow a three-point plan or adopt a “just do it” attitude. In order to be faithful, in order to be happy, you must be authentic to yourself.
But–-pay attention-–not your superficial self.
You must be true to your deeper self–-the real you–-the you that is made in the image of God and has been restored and redeemed in Christ. You must be authentic to your core identity and the core values that flow out of this identity–-values of truth and sacrifice and thankfulness and love.
You can read the rest here:
I have a confession to make. This week, I watched Mad Men
for the first time.
For some this may sound like a confession of moral laxity; for others it’s a confession of being horribly out of touch and having lived the last five years in a cave. Still, apart from the rampant licentiousness, unchecked greed, and ubiquitous alcoholism, I have to admit that it’s a pretty engaging show, especially as it captures the glamour of mid-20th century Manhattan--the perfect pencil skirts, the tailored three-piece suits, the sleek cars, and the poolside lunches at the Astoria. In its attempt to be historically accurate, Mad Men
is also quick to make (and overstate) the point that this was a world dominated men, a world where housewives were vacuous ninnies, and the only women with any sense of power were the “hens” at the office who knew how to get a man to do what they wanted.
Of course Mad Men
is interesting in itself, but it’s been particularly interesting as my exposure to it coincides with the ramped up conversation surrounding traditional gender roles. With this week’s release of Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womahood,
everybody and her cousin seems to be parsing conservative interpretations of gender via the late 1950s and early 60s. Evans explains how she understands conservative mores here
"The term 'Biblical womanhood' is basically a reaction to feminism. It means a woman who stays home and submits to her husband. It's a remembrance of June Cleaver—not what we see when we actually read scripture."
Now I can’t speak to Evans’ experience, but this correlation is funny to me. It’s funny because, despite being a woman who identifies as a conservative, I’ve never once thought of myself as June Cleaver. And the main reason isn’t because there’s anything wrong with June or even with women who care for their families fulltime. (I’m a SAHM myself.) The main reason my conservative understanding of gender has never led me to recreate the 1950s is because of what was happening below the surface. In a word, June was June, not because of conservative gender roles or because she stayed at home; June was June because of what broader society was pursuing at the time—stability and comfort. June Cleaver vs. Kingdom Values
During the 1950s, the United States experienced relative peace and prosperity for the first time in over two decades. In this context, Ward and June became icons of stability, comfort, and ease; they represented a generation who had known deprivation their entire lives, who as children had endured the Great Depression, and who came of age through the atrocities of WWII. By the time the 1950s rolled along, they were also a generation desperate for “the good life.” In this context, a woman’s role was naturally reduced to being a comforter, a nurturer, a source of emotional stability the same way that a man’s role was reduced to being a source of financial stability. (Think how important it was for a man who had grown up in the leanness of the Depression and watched his mother and sisters work in the factories during WWII to be able to make enough money to enable
his wife to stay at home. And think too how important it would have been for women--who only a decade before had welcomed broken men home from war--to provide them with some sense of domestic normalcy and peace.) In this sense, gender roles weren’t simply about men oppressing women as so many Millennials think—although as Mad Men
is quick to point out it was very easy for selfish men to do so--no, gender roles of the 1950s were a way to work toward the societal values of rest and stability.
So here’s my question: Is June Cleaver really synonymous with a conservative Christian understanding of gender?
I grew up in a very traditional home. I was taught to respect my father as head of the family and my mother spent years at home caring for us. But despite being traditional in their understanding of gender, my parents were very non-traditional in their view of the world. Instead of teaching their children to pursue stability and comfort, they taught us to love God, to sacrifice for his kingdom, to seek heaven’s riches over those of this earth, and to never forget where we were heading. The effect was that these kingdom dynamics created a different paradigm in which I applied conservative gender norms. Instead of thinking that the greatest good for me was to marry, have children, and rear them in a comfortable suburban environment, I grew up believing that the greatest good for me was to follow Christ, to devote myself to His service. That might very well mean marriage and children, but it could have as easily meant working overseas, pursuing post-grad degrees, or relieving the sick and oppressed. June Cleaver never once entered the conversation.
So I don’t think the problem is as simple as conservative gender roles. The problem comes when we use conservative gender roles to further our own comfort, our own sense of stability, or our own sense of ease.
And my guess is that this
is what many of my peers are confusing when they associate a conservative reading of gender with the 1950s. Ironically, conservatives fall prey to the same mistake when they insist on shaping applications of gender after a Cleaver-esque domesticity. No Stepford Wives
Because let’s be clear on one thing: the kingdom dynamics of love and sacrifice call us to apply gender roles very differently than we would if we were pursuing lives of ease and stability.
When you believe that you’re pioneering a new country, when you believe that you’re pushing back the boundaries of brokenness, when you believe that you are fighting to see the kingdom of God reign in the hearts of men, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be content as June Cleaver.
Instead your role models for womanhood will be women like Katharina von Bora
, who singlehandedly managed her family estates thus enabling her husband (Martin Luther) to do nothing less than turn the known church on its ear. Your role model for womanhood will be Abigail Adams,
great-granddaughter of Puritans, whose minister father insisted on her education and who by her intelligence and grace helped her husband (and son) establish the very foundations of our fledgling government. You’re more likely to look to a woman like Caroline Ingalls
who sweated alongside her husband, built her home with her bare hands, plowed fields, and tamed the frontier all for the sake of a dream. And you’re more likely to model your understanding of Christian womanhood after someone like Elisabeth Elliot
who rejected the opportunity to be June Cleaver and went instead with her husband to live and die in the jungles of Ecuador--all to tell those who had never heard that Jesus lives.
These were no Stepford wives
And yet, neither were they feminists in a political sense. (As a former nun, Katharina von Bora’s most revolutionary act was marrying and having children.) No, they were simply strong women who embodied all that it means to be human—they embraced their femininity, their capacity to bear and nurture life, their minds, their husbands, and their individual callings all in pursuit of goals and glories greater than their own private issues. Deeper Issues
Today, the easiest way to undermine a conservative understanding of gender is to align it with 1950s domesticity—something that that both liberals and conservatives are prone to do. But we must acknowledge that applications of gender are simply an expression of deeper values; poor June Cleaver was really only ever a presenting issue. The deeper question is what is driving us: Are we being motivated by our own needs or our own fears? Are we looking for lives of ease and comfort? Are we willing to use others to achieve that for ourselves?
Or are we pioneers, pilgrims on a journey from this world to the next? Are we men and women working together in pursuit of the kingdom of God? Are we captured by a greater vision and a greater dream of what God is doing in the world? When our churches are motivated by finding comfort in this life, it’s very possible that we would end up recreating a 1950s context; but as we concern ourselves with service and love, as we valiantly pursue the kingdom, June Cleaver with all her niceties and comfortable stability will have little place in the conversation. Until then, let’s put a moratorium on associating her with a conservative understanding of gender; and as a first step to that end, maybe we should all watch a little less Mad Men
from now on.
(As promised, this is the first in a series about singleness and the Church by guest blogger Christa Bohannon.)
In my circle of friends and acquaintances, this was the year for weddings and engagements. I know four different couples who got married this spring and summer and then two more good friends got engaged just a few weeks ago. I’m honestly very happy for all of them, but at the same time, I would be lying if I didn’t admit to struggling with the temptation of a “when’s-it-my-turn” pity party. The plain truth is I am single at 33, and marriage, let alone a date, seems highly unlikely right now.
Still when Hannah and I reconnected this summer, I was initially very excited that she wanted to hear my thoughts and humbled when she offered me the opportunity to share about singleness on her blog. However, as my excitement dwindled, I found myself running for cover. Writing about singleness meant facing the reality of my circumstances yet again.
And since we are being really honest here, I’ll admit that sometimes it’s easier to hide. In fact, if it’s fight or flight, I often choose escape--usually running to the nearest story, whether it’s in a favorite TV show or novel. I think another other story is better than mine so I just hide out there for a while. And all the while I deceive myself into thinking that I’m waiting patiently in my singleness; but functionally, I’m living the opposite. I’m quietly rebelling against God’s sovereignty and providential leading in my life by thinking that anything other than Jesus will satisfy the longings of my heart.
Now, before you feel sorry for me (or perhaps even chide), let me say that God is graciously at work. The Spirit opens my eyes again and again to see that my greatest satisfaction will not be found in a husband but in knowing and pursuing Christ with my whole heart. And in spite of my running away, the Father still lavishes me with gifts, reminding me over and over that he doesn’t withhold anything good from those who walk uprightly
. His gift to me right now is singleness because in his mercy and wisdom, marriage for me would not be good. Remember, the Father gives good gifts.
So if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that singleness and marriage are both gifts. For the longest time I thought marriage was a given--deserved even. I expected that I would finish college and get married like everyone else. But of course, the longer you are single, the more you hear talk of a different gift, the “gift of singleness.”
Maybe like me, you’ve thought this gift of singleness was a super spiritual gift for people who chose
to remain single and celibate their entire life. And this gift gave those who possessed it supernatural ability to be constantly joyful and content in singleness and celibacy that seems entirely impossible to everyone else. The trouble is that this view of the “gift of singleness” is not only unrealistic; it is also far too individualistic. I would say the same for our view of marriage too. We like to think about what joys we may get from
marriage, but what would happen if we better understood both of these gifts in a broader corporate context? Marriage and singleness are gifts to the Church
to use in serving Christ and the Body, not simply gifts for our personal happiness. So when I say the Father gives good gifts, it is two-fold. His gift of singleness is given as much to me for my joy
as it is to the Church for the edification of the entire Body, just as the gift of marriage is given ultimately to display God’s glory and covenant-keeping love to the Church and the world.
With their gift, a married couple uniquely pictures God’s covenant love in a way that I can’t. In my singleness, I can display something about God’s sufficiency that those who have a spouse as a constant companion may be tempted to forget. In fact, singleness points us uniquely to the reality of the new creation in which one day no one will be given in marriage because the shadow that pictured The
Marriage will no longer be needed. We will all dwell in union with Christ our Bridegroom, finding our greatest delight and satisfaction in the presence of Jesus himself. When you look at it that way, the Church needs both
gifts--neither marriage nor singleness is a better gift than the other.
Recognizing the broader purposes of these gifts will determine how we use them to love and serve the Body. Over the next couple of posts, I hope to share some specific observations and recommendations on how married and single Christians can interact in ways that use these gifts—both singleness and marriage--to the fullest. Until then, let’s start by encouraging one another to keep fighting for contentment in Jesus in whatever trying circumstance we are facing. This Truth is what we must all cling to as we fight for true joy--whether we are single, married, waiting on children, a better job, or children to outgrow a certain stage. Fill in the blank; we are all in a fight for contentment to believe that Jesus is our greatest joy.
So if you see me running away from the fight, feel free to drag me back again.
A native of southeastern VA, Christa Bohannon studied Christian Missions as an undergraduate and ultimately received her MA in English in 2004. After a stint as a Jr High English teacher, she now works as an Instructional Systems Developer and is active at Redemption Church. She's always eager for a good story, especially if it is accompanied by coffee and good friends. She also loves to travel and sometimes pretends to be a runner.
This summer, I had one of those experiences where the universe seemed to align itself, where the threads of different lives intertwined so perfectly that you knew something significant, something more than normal, was happening. You knew God is at work. And yet the circumstances themselves--as is often the case--were not unusual or dramatic.
I was at the wedding of a college friend, a friend I hadn't seen in years but thanks to the wonder of Facebook, a friend that I feel like I know better now than I did then. Being eleven years out from our baccalaureate degrees, the wedding was also an impromptu reunion, a chance to catch up with the other friends from the past. The bride was smart enough to seat me next to my long-lost classmate, Christa Bohannon, and after that initially awkward conversation that happens between two people who haven’t seen each other in the flesh for over a decade, we easily remembered why we had been such good friends in the first place.
The wedding and reception ended too quickly for our purposes, so Christa and I adjourned to a local coffee shop to continue catching up. And so we did. For the next six hours. (Don’t tell anyone, but I didn’t crawl in bed that night until 3:00 in the morning.) In those hours, we covered everything we had missed in the last eleven years—life, love, dreams, fears—you name it. And in a divine sense of irony, one of the more significant things that we discussed was the very thing that had brought us back together—marriage and singleness. Because here we were, our friend newly wed, Christa single, and I--well, I was the old married lady with three kids. Yet, we were all women. Women passionate about our faith and passionate about the work God was doing in the world.
So in those hours, Christa and I discussed gender, marriage and singleness, how the church community relates to each and how we as individuals navigated our separate callings. Married at 22, I had spent my entire adult life as a wife and (quickly after that) as a mother. And if I were honest with myself, I had to confess that I knew very little of Christa’s paradigm as a single woman. So this was my opportunity to ask—to find out what it was really like for her. And boy, did I ask.
As I listened, I realized very quickly how little I understood about singleness in the church. Because while there are a lot of resources written to singles about how to find their place in the larger community, there are not an equal number written to the larger community about how to engage and support our single brothers and sisters. And quite frankly, it made me feel very ignorant. Very silly. And at times, very self-absorbed.
When we were finally wrapping things up, I asked Christa if she would be willing to write about what it was like to live as a single woman in the church, to be alone in the midst of community. I wanted to capture the things that we had shared at that coffee house in the wee hours of the morning. More importantly I want to move them past theory and conversation to a place of usefulness. So with that introduction, look for several guest posts by Christa over the next couple of weeks and by all means, please join in. Because if I learned anything in those moments we shared together, it’s how much we need each other—married or single--and how much that is precisely how God always intended it to be.
(This last weekend, we traveled to Pennsylvania for my baby sister's wedding. This is part of a letter I wrote to be read at her bridal shower last month.)
It’s funny to think of you getting married—not because I didn’t think that you would, but simply because baby sisters, by definition, are never old enough to get married.
I remember life before you ever existed. I was the only girl wedged between two brothers and while this was beneficial when it came to things like playing baseball and learning to wrestle, it left a lot to be desired in the realms of dress-up and fairy princesses. My solution was to pray for a sister, and so I began my personal crusade to convince God that an addition to the family was in order.
He agreed and you came along.
But I soon learned that the compliant, accommodating sister that I had planned to lead in playing house and dressing up had her own plans. Eventually, you and I found a way to bridge the personality and age differences and one night, before I left for college, I found you crying because you didn’t want me to leave. I tried to comfort you, to convince you that nothing really significant was changing, but with a perception beyond your ten years, you knew that family life would never be the same for us. There would be fewer and fewer dinners together, fewer and fewer television shows to fight over, fewer and fewer vacations, and ultimately the rhythms that had marked your young life would be gone entirely.
Life has a way of never staying what you want it to be. Just as you are savoring the moment, just as you get comfortable, it flies away and you find yourself entering a new normal. Soon you will enter one of those transitions. You will be married. I’m only eleven years into that journey myself, and while there are many things that I have yet to learn, let me take this opportunity to give you some advice. (I am your older sister after all--so just sit there and take it or I’ll tell Mom.)
The first thing that I want to tell you is that, despite what you think, you are not marrying Prince Charming. None of us do. Instead, I’ve discovered that you often marry someone better. And you learn this, not through candlelit dinners or romantic cruises, but through moments when
>He doesn’t want to you to make a big dinner when he comes home because he’d rather just spend time with you...
>He buys you your favorite candy, just because…
>He helps you fold the laundry while he’s watching the Steelers’ game...
>He walks through the ups and downs of pregnancy with you and still thinks you are beautiful...
>He packs school lunches at 9:30 at night because that’s when kitchen is finally clean enough to have the space to do it...
>He gives you room to continue to grow and change as the years pass even as he grows and changes himself...
>And through it all--despite the changes--he stays by your side for a lifetime.
No, you’re not marrying some storybook character. You are marrying a man, a good man. But even in this, you must remember that he is a man--a man with feet of clay, made from the same pitiful, earthy dust that you are. Because know this: whatever weaknesses you have, he will have them too.
And really, that’s one reason why we get married. It’s not because we’re perfect people, but precisely because we are not and God knows that we need all the help and support we can get to make it through this life. And ultimately He uses marriage to make us better people. Through every fight, through every disagreement, through every time that you humble yourself to ask forgiveness and every time that you extend forgiveness.
Some people think that the gospel is best displayed when we are doing a good job at being a wife or a husband. But I’ve come to learn that often, the gospel is best on display when we’re not. When you’re weak and selfish and he loves you anyway--just like Jesus does. Or when he’s stubborn and frustrating and you forgive him anyway--just like Jesus does. And when you spend a lifetime sacrificing for the good of each other, dying daily to your own desires, your own preferences, your own wishes—just like Jesus did. Because when you love like this, you can’t help but be changed and then the gospel will truly be on display through both of you.
But this is not an easy thing. So when you stand before us and make vows to love and care for each other for the rest of your earthly lives, understand this: you are not capable of keeping those vows. You need Someone bigger and stronger and more faithful to keep them for you. And He will.
Because even before you ever thought to make promises to each other, He had already made some of His own. He has promised that He will never leave you or forsake you. He has promised to uphold strengthen you and to give you joy and laughter along the way. And He has promised that even when things look darkest—when despite your best efforts, you still end up hurting each other—He will be there to pick up the pieces, offering grace and resurrection.
Perhaps in another eleven years, I can give you more insight—maybe you can give me some as well. But whatever road God leads you on, whatever path you take together, remember that I love you and I’ll be rooting for you all the way. And then maybe sometime, after the dishes are done and the children are grown, you and I will have time together once again. Time to catch up on all the years we’ve missed and time to play fairy princesses like I’ve always wanted.
All my love,
This is not our family.
Last week, I wrote a post
that praised the new domesticity as a way for women to embrace the image of God in their lives, a way by which they could express and engage in being creative like He is creative. My basic premise was that this renewed interest in the domestic arts offers many women who are already choosing to stay at home an avenue to realize their own humanity. But I forgot something. I forgot that terms like “domesticity” and “home” and “motherhood” are value-laden words within our Christian subtext and unless clearly defined, they sit heavily on the lines, causing them to sag and leave great gaps.
Gaps the size you can read between.
So I want to write a follow-up post to tighten up those lines and explain some of my assumptions when I talk about motherhood and domesticity. And I figured one way to do that is to talk about being a SAHM myself. Let’s start off simply,
1. I stay at home with my kids because I can and I choose to.
It really is that basic. Sure there are values and opinions that undergird this choice, but in the end, it is a personal choice
that we have made as a family.
2. And the primary reason that I choose to this is because of the freedom it gives me.
Freedom to devote myself to my family’s well-being without the obligation of a boss or an office. Freedom to pursue without distraction the values that my husband and I want for our lives together. These values include not only supporting each other in our God-given callings, but also nurturing the gifts of every member of the family. For me, that means being at home; here, I am actually more capable of pursuing the things that I’ve been gifted to do--not only to love and care for those closest to me but also to write and study and dream.
3. At the same time, I understand that this freedom, that this liberty to be in control of my working hours, comes because I have been blessed.
In staying at home, I am giving up the extra income that some families need to accomplish these very same life goals. (Believe me, if your children are not warm and fed, it doesn’t matter how gifted they are—no amount of love and time will fill their bellies and help them become what they were created to be.) At times, this process has included sorting through our priorities, tightening our belts, even getting help when work wasn’t available; but always, in the end, it has been the result of abundance—an abundance that in this age is really only accessible to a certain class of people living in a certain western paradigm.
4. Because the truth is that not all women who want to be SAHMs can afford to be.
I’m thinking of the single mother whose has been abandoned by a man who, after bringing children into the world, has left her with no way of raising them. I’m thinking of my friend whose husband has suffered long-term illness and when work became available, they didn’t think twice about who did it—they were just thrilled that God sent it. I’m thinking of the immigrant family struggling along on (below) minimum-wage jobs, happy to have the opportunity to put food on the table and clothes on their backs in peace. I’m thinking of my sisters across the millennia that have been caught in slavery and have never imagined the possibility of being able to devote themselves exclusively to the interests of their families. And I’m thinking of the whole host of other individual circumstances to which I’ll never be privy.
5. And since staying at home is a privilege, it is also a gift that I am responsible to steward for the benefit of others
. I must be diligent to use my freedom to bless my husband and my children and my neighbors and my friends and even my enemies. And here’s a twist: I must use my ability to stay at home to serve others mothers who do not--whether that means helping them with their own children, making an extra meal so they don’t have to, or simply praying that God would give them the strength they need. You see, the danger for those of us who do stay at home is that we can very quickly use our independence for self-absorption instead of service. And like jewelry on a pig, selfishness looks worst on women who assume that they couldn’t possibly be, simply because of who they are or what they do.
Because ultimately, even as I stay at home, I’m not “at home”—not on this earth anyway. My mind and heart and emotions and gifts are all directed toward building that greater home, toward nurturing that larger family—a family that includes not only my own husband and children, but one that spans gender and age and race and time. A family where we are all brothers and sisters caring for each other simply because our Father has so generously cared for us. In this sense, I guess we’re all homemakers, we are all nurtures—it’s just that some us do it by picking up wooden train sets and making peanut butter sandwiches and spending our days quietly within our own four walls. And some of us do not.
Okay, so it’s my turn.
Now that the dust is settling a bit, I’ve been reflecting about what’s happened over the last few weeks surrounding Dan Cathy’s statements about biblical marriage and what ultimately culminated in Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day
this past Wednesday. And while I’m not the first or last to make these observations, please take them for what they are: simply observations
about what has become perhaps the most polarizing social/religious issue of the year. They are not meant to critique anyone who chose to participate or anyone who chose not to. There have been thoughtful opinions on both sides (here
for example) and I think it’s safe to say that choosing to eat or not eat a chicken sandwich is truly (in a divine twist of humor) something that we can file under Romans 14.
(For the record, we did not eat at Chick-Fil-A on Wednesday primarily because we ate there last week and as much as we believe in freedom of speech, we also believe strongly in supporting a balanced family budget and lower cholesterol.)
So first things first…
- Chick-Fil-A makes a really good chicken sandwich. And waffle fries. And coleslaw. And lemonade. I wish we could settle this whole thing right there on the merits of what a company produces, but in this day and age…
- Companies are no longer just companies. Matthew Lee Anderson has an interesting explanation on why this is the case. Because we have become primarily a consumption-based society, the things we choose to consume are intrinsically linked to our identities. And because we are a society driven by the marketplace, we will naturally articulate our values in the marketplace. Unfortunately, this makes us easy prey for companies that choose to leverage social issues in the marketing of their products, and so for my part….
- I respect Chick-Fil-A for choosing to distance itself from social policy as much as I respect their decision to remain closed on Sundays. Unlike some companies (JC Penney, for example), Chick-Fil-A has decided to let their business rise and fall on the merits of their product. JC Penney, on the other hand, currently in the midst of a last-ditch effort to re-invent themselves (unofficial slogan: “This is not your Grandma’s JC Penney.”), has actively embraced controversial social issues in an effort to drum up business. Part of their make-over included featuring same-sex couples for BOTH their Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day ad campaigns; so that instead of re-inventing their products to appeal to a younger generation, it seems like they simply looked at statistics, saw that the Millenials and Xers tend to support same-sex marriage, and made an advertising decision based on a targeted demographic. To me—a member of that very demographic--it came off as patronizing and cheap. Still…
- Homosexuality is THE defining issue of this generation. As such, Christians are going to have to learn to navigate it with charity and boldness, grace and truth. We are going to have to be both wise and harmless, and that means coming to accept that…
- Public statements are likely to be misunderstood. What we mean to say (“I’m standing up for civil liberty.”) and what others hear (“I hate gay people.”) will rarely be the same thing; and while we can’t control someone’s interpretation of our actions, we better make certain that we’re not erecting extra barriers that might lead him to think that his conclusion is justified. And to do that, we must be willing to take the beam out of our own eye first, and…
- We must be honest about our own lack of God-honoring marriages and families. Every time we accept divorce as normal; every time we deny a man and woman the sacrament of marriage based simply on skin color; every time we entertain ourselves with movies that highlight heterosexual couples living together but shudder when the same movies portray gay couples; or let’s get even more personal--every time we complain about how inconvenient our children are, we are overlooking our own sin in favor of judging another’s. Because in the end, if we don’t hold biblical family values privately, we have very little ground to be promoting them publicly. And speaking of being honest with ourselves….
- We must not confuse the privilege of freely practicing our faith with the power to practice our faith. Many have rightly understood the current debacle as a threat to the basic freedoms of speech and religion. (Public officials simply have no right denying permits based on their own personal values.) But if we’re completely honest with ourselves, I wonder how many of us are standing up for civil liberties, not because we understand that they are essential to a just society, but because we have so long intertwined them with our faith that we can’t imagine how we could be Christians without them. We have confused the freedom that comes from Jesus Christ with the freedom that comes from the United States' Constitution. The first empowers us to follow Him, while the second simply makes it socially acceptable. Please don’t misunderstand. We must certainly fight to protect constitutional rights (for Christians and Jews and Hindis and Muslims), but we must not fight for them simply because we can’t envision our faith surviving without them. Because in the end…
- We need to remember what we’re really about. As of August 1, the conservative church proved that we can marshal a movement. We proved that when given a call to be part of something bigger, we will show up. So now, I’m issuing a call. Let’s have the same show of support for the Gospel. Let’s muster the same enthusiasm for the grace and power of Jesus Christ to change lives. And let’s put our energies and time and money into proclaiming that the love of Christ is by far the best solution for what ails us as a society.
________________________________________________________________________________________________________ *When my husband and I lived in NZ a couple years ago, we quickly learned that what we Americans refer to as restaurant “take out” is termed “takeaway” by our English speaking cousins. I simply couldn’t resist the pun.
Well, the wedding season has begun. Already I’ve gotten three invitations, attended one, and listened via webcast to another. (Who knew, right?
I have to admit to having a funny relationship with weddings. Growing up, they were a significant part of my extended family--my grandfather was a minister, my aunt made wedding cakes and even perfected the art of the cheesecake
wedding cake; my brother's been a wedding photographer; and not to be outdone, my grandmother ran a business selling engraved wedding invitations. To this day, she looks askance at those invitations (so-called) that are the product of desktop publishing and laser printers. (If I remember correctly, she had ours chiseled out of marble.) So weddings--and the proper execution of--have been a part of my life for a long time. Still as much as I love the satin and seasonal flowers and string quartets, I have a hard time sitting quietly through the ceremony.
It takes everything in me to not jump up and scream at the top of my lungs, “You have no idea what you’re doing!”
I’m a great advocate of marriage (see here
) but married life holds a lot of surprises. It’s much harder than it looks, some days it’s more struggle than gift, and just like war, no amount of boot camp can properly prepare you for what happens in the field. And that’s a good thing, because if we really knew what we were getting in to, few of us would. At the same time, I also find myself quietly smiling when a bride or groom says things like “Today I marry my best friend.” And again, all I can think--this time with a gentle confidence—is, “You have no idea.”
On my wedding day, I thought I was marrying my best friend. And in one sense, I did. There was no one I liked spending time with more, there was no one I had invested so much emotion in, and there was no one who knew me as well as he did. But when I look back on that friendship--as it was the day that we gave our vows to each other--it seems paltry and immature compared to the friendship that we have now. True, nearly eleven years ago, I married my best friend.
But today we are better best friends
And it’s the kind of friendship that can only be gained through laundry and bills and moving boxes. It’s the kind of friendship that is strengthened by arguments and flourishes in reconciliation. A friendship says I still love you when you mess up—and better yet, I still like you. And ultimately it’s the kind of friendship that only comes from committing to live life together.
Fifty years from now, I’ll probably look back on my thirty-something self and laugh at even my current naïveté. Because by the time we reach that milestone, by the time we have grown old together, maybe I will have finally learned that even the best is yet to be.
So to myself and all my newly and soon-to-be married friends, I have just this word of advice: you have no idea what you’re getting into.
Hallelujah, you have no idea.