Sunday, April 28, 2013

Arbitrary Divinity

This probably isn't exactly surprising, but I don't believe God is arbitrary, and I don't believe God makes arbitrary or unreasonable designations, assignations, or demands. My view of God includes an omnipotent, omniscient, triune Creator who created the universe, math, physics, science, music, logic, reason, and the perfection of every study and discipline. I also believe that, creating these things, (and many others) God delights to work within them. This is not to say that I'm denying the miraculous, or limiting God to my own limited understanding. I simply believe that if God created reason as well as faith, a generally consistent universe, and gave mankind an unquenchable thirst for knowledge of ourselves and of our world, it would make no sense for God to decry our using these gifts to understand God, the Bible, our faith, or ourselves. It would also make no sense for God to create a system in which understanding and knowing why was impossible. As Galileo said: "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them." I believe that God sometimes has reasons which we cannot always grasp, but that God always has reasons and plans behind what God does or commands.

The way we view God spills over into our exegesis of scripture as well. If I believed that God was arbitrary, I could reduce my biblical study to "God made it that way. I don't know why; He just did. Enough said." This would be tragic; not only would I miss much of the nature and character of God through neglecting the study of history and context, but this would lead me to inaccurate scripture interpretations as well. For example: take the issue of women and their roles in the church and home. If you take a strictly literal (ignoring quotations, context, audience, et c) view of certain passages, you'd be led to believe that God intended women for a submissive role in life to men. There could be only two reasons for this: 1. This is the best fit for the created nature and natural capabilities of women, (I think we've debunked that enough- it's BS, plain and simple) or 2. God, knowing women to be capable of and inclined to equality and sharing of leadership in the home, church, and professional world, chose arbitrarily to limit their sphere. If I believed that God dealt in the purely arbitrary, it would make sense that God made me, gave me brains and administrative skills, and then decided that I could serve God best by ignoring my created nature and following arbitrary role designations to prove my devotion. Needless to say, that sounds ridiculous to me. I fully believe that God from the beginning of creation intended me as a woman to have all of the imago dei that my husband has, and that God intends for me to use the gifts and skills God has given me without regard to gender. I believe that God has a reason for everything that made it into our canon, and for every divine action. One of my favorite bible verses is Proverbs 25:2, which says:  It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter. God created me with a thirst to know creation and to know God, and being content with the arbitrary would destroy that for me. I believe in the unknown, in the imperfection of my human reason compared to the divine, and the necessity of holding in faith things I do not yet know. I do not believe in resigning things, important things, to the sphere of the unknowable and incomprehensible. The God I know and love is in favor of quests to find out, to know, and to understand. This God deals in master plans, grand schemes, and magnificent symphonies of perfectly working things, not arbitrary rules, puppet strings, impossible requirements, or pettily keeping wisdom from my grasp.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Marriage Lessons from Crunchy Pasta

Being married to my husband for nearly nine years, I have discovered that we have a few differences, one of them being the way we like our pasta cooked. He didn't mention it at first, but several years in when he was confident that doing so wouldn't provoke a negative reaction, he very gently told me that I over-cooked the pasta. Every time. (He likes it quite al dente.) Well.....I wasn't offended, naturally; we do have different tastes in some culinary minutiae and it isn't an oddity for us to disagree on what constitutes perfectly prepared food. (Lesson 1a- Don't sweat the small stuff. Does it harm anyone, upset anyone, or cause sin, angst, or discomfort? If not, who cares if we disagree? In this case, particularly- it's freakin' pasta. It doesn't mean one of our tastes is "right", necessarily- we just have different preferences. And that's fine. Lesson 1b- Even if it had been a case of doing something wrong vs doing something a little differently, I still would not have been nonplussed. Why? Because I don't find my identity in cooking perfect pasta. I find my identity in very few things, and they're either not performance related, or they're something I do very, very well. Choose the entities to which you tie your identity and self-worth very, very carefully. Lesson 1c- personal growth/ improvement/ achieving a better understanding of something should come before needing to be Right. Always.)

I first asked him to show me how he liked it cooked, and finding it personally palatable, asked him what methods he used to achieve this pasta perfection. (Lesson 2, and a chapter from Egalitarian Marriage 101- if one person cares very much about a thing, and the other person really doesn't, the preferences of the person who really cares should win out. My husband cares about the done-ness of his pasta far more than I do, so in light of my ambivalence I try to honor his wishes.) Basically, he likes to time the pasta exactly, rinse it immediately, put butter in it, (ewww- this I don't do for him. Because I care much more about keeping butter out of my pasta than I do about how done it is) and serve it as soon as it's ready.

One thing I've discovered- when my husband cooks, that's usually all he's doing. When I cook, I am often doing other things as well. (spooning up pureed squash for Mr. 9 mo-old, doing dishes, teaching math, et c) If I'm not actively engaged in multitasking, I'm off in my own head listening to music, or arranging a song, or imagining a hypothetical scenario, or whatever. So..... perfectly done pasta is easier said than done for me. Because I'm off in la-la land, I'm usually thinking about More Important Things than perfect pasta, and because I really don't care exactly how done it is as long as it's neither mushy nor overly crunchy, I've always been ok with this. Now, if I'm to cook the pasta the way he likes it, I must consciously amend my procedure. It's taken some getting used to, but I now uniformly pay more attention to the pasta, and have even been known to Use a Timer. (Lesson 3- knowing your individual personalities and tendencies is very helpful. I know I tend to be in my head and not paying close attention to the mundane tasks I'm doing, and I've learned how to fix my attention on a particular (boring and mundane) thing if need be. I simply turn it into a problem to be solved, a thing to be conquered, and all is well. It's actually fun sometimes.)

When it's just the kids and I, I still make the pasta a wee bit softer. So now, when we're having pasta, the kids sometimes request "mommy pasta" (soft) or "daddy pasta." (crunchy) It's a running joke in our family- cooking pasta, under- or over-. (Lesson 4- humor is a wonderful thing. If you have the choice to get pissy about a disagreement or make a running joke out of it, always choose the latter. It's much more fun.)  I want to teach my kids to resolve conflict well, not back away from it, but I also want to teach them that not everything has to be right-or-wrong, and disagreements and differences of opinion can be amicable and even fun. It's ok to have their own preferences, and they should know how to express them graciously and without fear of offense. That's really what good family is- a place where you can be yourself, agree or disagree, and still have a good laugh over some crunchy pasta.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Marie Curie

This is funny, but spurs some thought- there are many, many female "greats" that went unnoticed because of the time or culture into which they were born. I'm constantly finding "new" female inventors, scientists, etc of whom I was previously unaware. I am very grateful that, while sexism still exists in our culture, we have made enormous progress; a girl can get herself a patent now. :)

Also- we should teach our children, as this states, that the best way to greatness is not to make greatness their goal; rather, they should find what they love and what they are good at and do it with all their heart and soul. And also- watch out for the radioactive stuff. It's a bummer.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Coffee Cantata (BMV 211)

Ei! wie schmeckt der Coffee süße,
Ah! how sweet coffee tastes!

Lieblicher als tausend Küsse,

Lovelier than a thousand kisses,

Milder als Muskatenwein.

smoother than muscatel wine.

Coffee, Coffee muss ich haben,

Coffee, I must have coffee,

Und wenn jemand mich will laben,

and if anyone wants to give me a treat,

Ach, so schenkt mir Coffee ein!

ah!, just give me some coffee!

These words are from the first aria of Bach's Coffee Cantata. I love his sense of humor, and I could sing these words with some serious conviction.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Birth Control and the Blessing of Children

Children are a blessing. From their downy heads to their precious toes, they are miracles and gifts. I have three, and they are some of my greatest joys. But..... this doesn't mean that I want to have 11 of them. You can have too much of a good thing! It would be wrong of me to sacrifice my health, my ability to parent those I have, or my ability to feed and clothe those I have in order to have more, would it not? Would it not also be wrong of me to knowingly sacrifice a calling of vocation or service so that I could have 12 or 15 children when that is not my desire or what I believe is the right path for my life? I've often wondered- why is it that so many conservative Christians believe that birth control is wrong?

The bible doesn't specifically say so; the only argument I've heard there is the story of Onan and Tamar, found in Genesis 38:6-10. In this story, Onan was obligated to impregnate his brother's widow to fulfill the levirate marriage customs and give her a son to support her in her old age. Onan is intimate with Tamar, his sister-in-law, but he ejaculates on the ground instead of doing his familial duty, and God strikes him dead. In my study of this story, he was clearly punished for neglecting his duty, not for having sex without procreation. The idea seems a bit ludicrous, to be honest. Look at the family sizes in scripture. There are some notable exceptions, but 2-6 children is common. More than 12 is almost unheard of. Yes, some of that may be due to infant mortality rates, but not all I think. Moses' parents only had three. We have historic evidence that birth control has been practiced throughout recorded human history; a plant became extinct in the 2nd century because it was so valuable as a contraceptive.

In the creation story, God tells Adam and Eve to "be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it." My questions are these: 1. Does that mean that they must have as many children as possible, without any birth control being allowed to space things out, and 2. Is "fill the earth" still a primary command to us? In answer to number one, no. There is no mention of just how much multiplication is necessary. While the bible likens children to arrows in the hand of an archer, and blesses the man with a full quiver, there is no prescriptive designation for exactly what constitutes a full quiver. In answer to my second question: while the earth is by no means "full," we have a sizable enough population that our extinction is not exactly imminent. When God spoke to Adam and Eve, they were the only humans, and were commanded to basically start a civilization. Mission accomplished, I think. :) It is logical to assume that the injunction for humans to rule our planet as wise stewards is still very much in effect; it is not logical to assume that the same requirements for procreation and multiplication of humans are needed now that we have a population in excess of 1 Billion as were needed when a single sterile couple could doom the human race. Nowhere in scripture is birth control prohibited. In fact, in the prophecy of the end times in Matthew 24, we are told that it those times of great upheaval and distress it is a bad thing to be pregnant or nursing. There are times when even the blessing of children is a curse.

Part of the issue, I think, is something I've heard referred to as the "idolatry of the family." Basically that is a disproportionate emphasis on family relationships and responsibilities as Christian duty- think "women's chief goal is to be a godly wife and mother." I'm not saying that having a family is a bad thing, (it's not) or that once you have a family you should neglect them. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 that while being married is not wrong, serving God in undistracted singleness is a very good thing. Our primary purpose, men and women, is not to procreate but to live as followers of Christ. In my mind, the great commission is as important as birthing and raising children. Having a family is a good thing, but it would be a mistake to link that life purpose, one of several possible life paths, to holiness and Christlikeness. If being married is not the end-all for believers, neither is having children. And if being single can be a positive thing  for the Kingdom of God, so too can childlessness. The same arguments that make a case for celibacy as a lack of distraction in Christian service could be made for childlessness. Of course, sometimes being married or having children is the best option and the best way we can serve God and fulfill the longings and callings God's given us. But that is a personal choice, between us and our Lord, and not a moral decision.


I've heard some people say, people dear to my heart and who I respect to a degree that makes me sad to hear them say it, that what we need in the US is a good old-fashioned Theocracy. I've seen this idea run the gamut from those who want to implement the Judaic law found in the Torah to those who want American law to reflect "conservative, traditional biblical family values." To the first I'll not even give the credence of a rebuttal; the very idea that implementing a law, designed for an ancient nomadic people, to which we are not morally bound as Christians, and which Christ himself declared moot is beyond ridiculous. I'd like to address, instead, the more mainstream and slightly-less-offensive idea that American law should reflect and legislate those"conservative, traditional biblical family values."

First of all- who, exactly, gets to define what those values are? Not even conservative evangelical Christians have a uniform moral ethic, a uniform theology, or even a uniform or consistent biblical hermeneutic. If any one facet of Christianity were to make the rules, other, equally "conservative" facets would be bound to a framework with which they would not agree. Take, for example, the abortion issue: I personally know conservative, evangelical Christians who believe that no abortion is ever right, not even to save the mother when the alternative is the death of both mother and child. (I find this position personally abhorrent and dehumanizing, by the way) Others are passionately in favor of allowing for it only to save a mother's life from being sacrificed unnecessarily; still others think that in the case of rape or incest a woman should have the right to abort. In a theocracy, the "right" view is generally inseparable from the "legal" view, and once a "right" position is codified by those in power, the dissenters are expected to acquiesce. Thus, one of the problems with theocracy from the beginning would be its limiting of religious freedom, even among the "conservative, traditional American Christian" subset.

Secondly- what is the benefit to legislating extra-biblical morality? Make no mistake; the "conservative traditional values" mores often encompass far more than is required of New Testament believers. Some examples include rigid gender roles, male leadership, "purity" that goes beyond abstaining from sex with those to whom you're not married into the realms of "emotional purity" and that ilk, arbitrary standards of appropriateness in language, demonizing divorce, maintaining a "Sunday" list of do's and don'ts in an attempt to return to a concept of sabath keeping, and many more. From from being beneficial, I seem to recall Jesus having some rather harsh things to say to those Jews who imposed restrictions on others far in excess of that which the Torah mandated. What if you're gay? Divorced? What if you're a woman with leadership, apologetic, or pastoral skills? In this sort of society, if you don't meet the traditional nuclear familial ideal and fit well into your gender role you are on the fringes at best.

Most troubling, though, is the fundamentally flawed theology/philosophy which allows for Theocracy/Ecclesiocracy as a valid and morally superior option. In more libertarian forms of government, the focus is on either protecting the rights and freedoms of all citizens and by default punishing those who harm their neighbors, protecting the good of the society at large, etc. In an Ecclesiocracy or Theocracy, however, church law and civil law are inextricably linked and religious prohibitions are made law whether or not they make sense in the secular world, are generally beneficial, or meet the same standards of good and harm that laws in a non-religious, libertarian legal framework would need to meet. Proponents of a theocracy generally believe that there is good to be attained by legislating religious morality beyond the protection of basic freedoms and those who cannot protect themselves. In other words, this view hinges on religious observance, which is executed because the law says it must be so, being of personal and social benefit. This view I disagree with wholeheartedly. Social benefit comes from laws which protect the innocent, basic rights, etc to be sure; I see no social benefit to be derived from dictating observances that do not harm others but rather encroach on my personal and religious freedom. Here's the worst part- this view implies that doing right things, or following right laws, makes you right with God. That is false. All the right things, done because the law says we have to, mean nothing to Jesus. Depending upon the item in question, doing it may make us a "better person", and may make our society more pleasant; but I am convinced that obeying God means nothing if it is not voluntary.  We are commanded to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly. We are never told to look to the government to tell us what that means.

Also, I think that the very protection of innocence and freedom is better served by a more unbiased, libertarian form of government than by a theocratic one, because it operates with less prejudice and far more objectively. Another flaw in theocratic government is that, if religious leaders are also civil leaders, then to question civil leaders is to question religious leaders and sometimes questioning religious leaders is equated with questioning God. Absolute power corrupts, and any leader who is above questioning and accountability can be tempted to abuse their power.
Really, any system that conflates questioning civil things with questioning Christianity and God's will is a very dangerous thing.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

And He's Back.

My Beloved is with me again, and it has been a very peaceful, pleasant day. I have snuggled babies, read to wide-eyed youngsters, and enjoyed the society of those I love best. Once again, Team Nathan and Mary is executing the daily routine like a finely tuned clock. I am supremely grateful to the family who have helped me this week; they have been superlative. But- no one else can replace my other half in our daily existence, as no one else knows exactly How We Do Things. I will freely admit that I am spoiled, and very happy to have my Beloved back!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Mother's Prayer

This is beautiful, and it reminds me of my own Mama. It also echoes my own prayers for my three Little Men. I thought it worth sharing. :)

An Ethos of Tolerance

I've seen several cases in the news recently about providers of services (photographer, florist, et c) declining to provide their service for a same sex marriage, claiming freedom of conscience, while enduring either civil or criminal suits for violation of anti-discrimination policies. This is a travesty, y'all! A private business owner should have the right to refuse service to anyone, for any reason, unless they are in so doing actively causing harm to that person. For example, the sole proprietor of a medical practice who, seeing a person needing cpr, refuses to give life saving care on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc should absolutely be liable for that neglect, but here it is not so much about government interference in business as about wrongful death. Honestly, I believe that the less government interference we have in the legislation of discrimination in private business the better. (There are, of course, some areas where oversight of business is needed; Truth in advertising laws, basic health and safety codes, etc. ) To go even further: I do not believe that we should have any universal anti-discrimination laws or affirmative action. While this may seem counter-intuitive, I actually believe that the absence of most anti-discrimination legislation is, for this country, now, the most tolerant and logically consistent position.

Historically, we have had periods in our history where discrimination based on unchangeables was not only commonly accepted, but legislated. The racial segregation laws come to mind as an example of one of our nation's most prominent black marks. I think that, due to the previous climate of racist legal frameworks, there was a time when anti-discrimination laws and affirmative action worked well for us, if not ideologically perfect. However, we no longer live in a world where segregation is common and overt bigotry and cruelty are the norm, whether for homosexuals, minorities, or women. Yes, even as a feminist, I think it should be perfectly legal, if abhorrent, for a business owner to refuse me service because I am female. I reserve the right to protest, boycott, and expose that business owner for the bigoted, um... foul knavish varlet.... that they are, but I support their right to be thus foul and knavish. Here's the thing- if we start dictating where personal conscience ends and "approved" conscience begins, where does this lead? I truly believe that a  libertarian ethos is inherently less discriminatory than one in which people are told what to think, what to believe, and what their conscience can dictate.

As a Christian and a feminist, I believe that discrimination based on actual or perceived race, gender, or sexual orientation is morally wrong. However, I don't think lasting, peaceful social change can be forced by legal mandate. I really think that desegregation, integrating people of all sorts into society where they will meet and interact with those different from themselves, and refusing the urge to attempt to force orthodoxy will change a society faster than laws which mandate it, and we have the added benefit of maintaining our freedom in the process. Laws should not segregate or discriminate, of course. The government and it's offices and agencies (what would remain in a gloriously efficient libertarian system ) should be impartial, and any publicly funded or publicly traded entity should be held to a strict policy of non-discrimination. (Yes, this should apply to same sex couples too. I'd say civil-sphere anti-discrimination clauses for: race, gender, sexual orientation, and religion, provided the understanding that religious practices which violate other laws are not thus protected) Civic or public functions of any kind must be impartial, as must emergency services and anyone who provides life-or-death care as a part of their business. Individuals, and private business owners, should be free to make knavish varlets of themselves as  long as it does not harm others. I would contend that having to find an alternate florist or photographer or salon or whatever is not such a harm, and I really think that, as of now, businesses that practice discrimination will either cater to a slowly dying relic of a clientele, or go out of business altogether when young people like me refuse to patronize them. At this point, I think that the free market would do a better job of evening the path of opportunity than restrictive legislation.

A lot of this, for me, boils down to my thoughts on the nature and purpose of private businesses. A private business exists for the personal benefit of the owner, primarily, and to provide employment, goods and services as its secondary purpose. I think a privately owned business is inherently private, not public, and is not an entity apart from the owner (for the purposes of anti-discrimination legislation.)  So, the freedom of thought, speech, and actions accorded to individuals by our laws should also be accorded to private businesses and their owners.

I also think we sometimes take the concept of tolerance too far. Consider a dictionary's definition of tolerance: "The ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior with which one does not necessarily agree."    There is a vast difference between tolerating the existence of something and liking or agreeing with it. If someone dislikes my feminist, egalitarian theology and philosophy and decides they want no relationship with me because of it, I would not necessarily call them intolerant. Live, let live, and good riddance. If they want to refuse to serve me at their business, fine. They should be free to follow the dictates of their conscience as long as they allow me the same freedom. This extends to labels, as well- if I were ordained, I would not force someone who didn't believe in female clergy to call me "Reverend" any more than if I were gay I'd force someone to call my wife, well, my wife. However, if someone beats me up in an alley because they think that I'm "subverting the patriarchy" by being a female minister or "going against natural law" by being a lesbian, well, we have a problem. A legal and criminal problem.

In summation:

1. Equal opportunity for everyone in the public sphere.
2. Personal freedom for private citizens and their private businesses; free market economics.
3. Refusing to condone, accept, or celebrate things you feel are wrong is fine. Forcing those beliefs on others is not.
4. Results may vary. Equal outcomes not guaranteed.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Complementary Currency

Published on Aug 3, 2012
\opening statement for Rob Gray of testifying at Congressman Paul's subcommittee met on August 2nd, 2012 to examine sound money and parallel currencies.

I am fascinated by the concept of the widespread use of alternative currency. It is more theoretical than useful in my life right this very instant, but I am drawn to its possibilities. What is complementary currency? Here is a snippet from

An Introduction To Complementary Currencies

November 22 2011| Filed Under » 
In communities around the world, people have come up with alternatives to the usual way of paying for goods and services. Instead of yen, pounds or dollars, they are using privately developed substitutes called complementary currencies.  Tutorial: Introduction To The Federal Reserve

What Are Complementary Currencies?A complementary currency is a medium of exchange that functions alongside a national currency, to fulfill a need that the national currency seemingly does not. According to the "International Journal of Community Currency Research," community and complementary currency systems have four main purposes:

  • To promote local economic development
  • To build social capital
  • To nurture more sustainable lifestyles
  • To meet needs that mainstream money does not
Complementary currencies are not legal tender, only government-issued money has this status in many countries, including the United States, England and the eurozone countries. Legal tender is the only currency that must be accepted to satisfy a debt, in countries with legal tender laws. However, the parties to a transaction can mutually agree to do business with another payment form. 

Complementary currencies are thus legal, as long as they meet certain requirements. Businesses that earn them are generally required to count them as income for tax purposes. Also, complementary currencies are not allowed to look like the national currency. Bernard von NotHaus was convicted of counterfeiting in 2011, for his liberty dollars, which the U.S. government said looked too similar to government-issued money.


Overview of Widely Used Complementary CurrenciesThere are dozens, if not hundreds, of complementary currencies in use around the world. The United States, Germany and Australia appear to have the greatest number of complementary currencies. Here is an overview of a few of these systems and how they work. 
BerkSharesBerkShares are a local currency used in the Berkshire region of Massachusetts, backed by U.S. dollars. Consumers only need to exchange 95 cents of national currency to receive one BerkShare, therefore consumers effectively receive a 5% discount on local purchases made in BerkShares. 

Lewes PoundThe Lewes Pound is local currency used in Lewes, East Sussex, United Kingdom, backed by the pound sterling. Individuals receive 95% of the value of the British pounds they exchange for Lewes pounds; the other 5% goes to community grants.

Toronto DollarsToronto dollars are a local currency used in TorontoCanada, primarily in the St. Lawrence Market and Gerard Square areas; they are backed by the Canadian dollar. Individuals receive one Toronto dollar for every Canadian dollar they exchange, but businesses only receive 90 cents for every Toronto dollar they redeem. The other 10% goes to community grants. 

Salt Spring DollarsSalt Spring dollars are used on Salt Spring IslandBritish Columbia, and are backed by the Canadian dollar. They are a rare example of a local currency with near universal acceptance, meaning that most businesses on the island accept it. These include hotels and inns, art galleries, grocery stores, restaurants, bakeries, retail stores and service businesses.

Ithaca HOURSUsed in Ithaca, N.Y., and founded in 1991, Ithaca HOURS are the "oldest and largest local currency system in the U.S.," according to the organization that runs the system. This complementary currency system is not as straightforward as many others, in that one Ithaca HOUR equals one hour of basic labor or $10.00. Hours are issued as paper currency. Individuals and businesses have to join the Ithaca HOURS system, to be able to use the currency. Members can receive zero-interest business loans on a one-year repayment schedule. (For more on time and money, read Understanding The Time Value Of Money.)

Dane County Time BankThe Dane County Time Bank operates a currency represented by TimeBank Hours, but it's a different type of hour than the Ithaca Hour. TimeBank hours represent hours of service and they are not taxable because they have no monetary equivalent.

When I think of complementary currency, I think of either a barter system or, as in the video above, the use of actual metal instead of the Federal Reserve notes which are now the standard for cash transactions of any significant amount. I think that the widespread use of actual coinage or metal-by-the-ounce has the theoretical potential to free us from the Fed as an economic system without having to rely on step-by-step legislation. I think it also has the potential to change the way we shop and where we shop. Hypothetically, introducing currency options as another variable besides value/quality/longevity/ethical production, etc when we are evaluating a potential purchase might significantly change the equations that make large chains the current kings of efficacious shopping. Discounts if you pay in silver, anyone? :)

However.... while the theoretical possibility is fascinating, the pragmatic reality seems improbable. First of all, there are a great deal of logistical concerns to consider. Coinage of larger denominations would need to be more readily available, and the transportation, storage, and security of silver, for example, would need to be addressed. Then, of course, as Mr. Gray said: "Merchants accept complementary currencies on the assumption that someone else will be willing to do the same thing, later." Therein lies the rub. That's quite an assumption. In a way it's like voting 3rd Party- if enough people did it, it would be a boon to society, but if very few people do it it's a waste, except as a means of social protest.
Next, we'd have to assume that most people procure goods and services with money they actually have, as opposed to credit, aid programs, et c. In fact, while I don't know the exact statistics, I'd guess that there is a very significant number who would be left out of such a system by virtue of dependence on credit, assistance programs, or (assuming the alternative currency wasn't universal) simply the economic pressure to find the best possible value and the impetus to make that their primary, if not sole, consideration. Until we reform our beloved welfare state, implement more free-market economic strategies, and encourage and implement a civil and private ethic of financial responsibility, I don't really see alternate currency as a universal practicality at this time. It certainly bears watching, though....

Trust and Independent Thought

What is trust? Trust, to me, is inseparable from knowledge. Part of trust is a confidence that a person will behave as they have behaved before. Trust can also be choosing to have faith that a person will behave as they have promised or as they ought.

When I speak of trust in a speaker or author, I mean a belief that they would not knowingly mislead me, and are honest with themselves and others. The closer our paradigms for evaluating information and making decisions are, the more likely that we will generally come to the same conclusions and the less imperative I feel it to fact-check and substantiate every word.

On the other hand, questioning, testing, independent thought and study, and gracious dissent are not negative. If truth cannot stand up to questions, it deserves to be questioned all the more. Much good has come from questioning taught dogmas, setting out to substantiate or disprove what we believe, and pushing back against long-held traditions that are contrary to reason and scripture.

No person, seminary professor, no teacher, pastor, counselor, or mentor should be above questioning or disagreement. Professors and teachers may have more technical knowledge than we do, particularly about a specialized subject, but this does not necessarily make them more capable of discerning truth, understanding theology, or knowing the heart of God than we are. Our spiritual selves are our own responsibility, and guarding against error is important, no matter what the influence in question is.

Being able to trust those we look up to and learn from is a good and beautiful thing; however, trusting to the point of blind acceptance or even extreme prejudice is not healthy. I sometimes see Christians who identify as progressive, emergent, post-evangelical, et c. doing a great job at questioning and digging into their more conservative influences but neglecting to do the same diligence with the work and message of liberal, progressive Christian influences. Admittedly, they may have more in common with these influences, and thus may be far more willing to take what they say at face value. This is a dangerous proposition, however, because error and fallibility are ever-present with all of us. No degree, credentials, or history should make a person or idea impossible to expose to questioning and dissent. Any person or system which opposes gracious questioning or dissent should be of particular concern- when I encounter such people and systems, red flags raise immediately in my mind. I may end up agreeing with the core idea presented (it generally doesn't happen, but it's possible- I've seen very good ideas defended very badly) or I may not, but I always wonder, when I see a reluctance to be questioned, what fear underlies such reluctance and why, if the ideas in question are accurate and healthy, such a fear would be present. Don't let anyone tell you that questioning a doctrine, teacher, or message is a sign of a weak faith. It isn't. In fact, you may have a weak faith if you treat it like a sugar sculpture which breaks apart at the slightest touch. Strong faith isn't afraid of new opinions, old opinions, or information of any sort, because it truly believes. Weak faith depends on a hothouse to survive, and is worth little. The Bible teaches us to be discerning; "wise as serpents but gentle as doves." Discernment, in my opinion, is predicated on the ability and volition to think for ourselves.

I also wonder, when teachers resolutely refuse to disseminate a concrete, evaluative judgement, whether they are really desiring to encourage independent study or simply giving themselves an out from possible debate of a weak position. To be fair, I've seen both, or at least a genuine intent (as far as I can tell) for the first and the overt implementation of the second. While I would not write off a teacher who thus eschewed objective positions, such tactics do make me want to substantiate the claims and assumptions surrounding the teaching.

Let's do our best to thoroughly vet and inspect any doctrine, dogma, or system of belief or practice that we allow into our lives, no matter where it comes from. A deliberate, robust, personally familiar foundation of thoroughly vetted ideas cannot fail to be a positive force. We are responsible before God for our own beliefs, thoughts, and actions, and trusting others to the point of abdicating that responsibility is both wrong and dangerous. Trust is good; absolute, unquestioning trust is absolutely bad. Independent thought is not evil, and knowing God, God's will, God's nature, and God's story for ourselves is a beautiful thing. So- let's take responsibility for our beliefs, and refuse to be so many sheep led around by anyone who is approved by the church, or sounds edgy and fresh, or is all the rage in our doctrinal tradition.  Popular theologies and teachers come and go, but our relationship with God and our spiritual health is here for the rest of our lives. No one can tend that garden but we ourselves. Let's not neglect it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I Miss Him

Two thoughts today, as my husband is out on business for the week:

1. I would rather have him here to help me than anyone.
2. Being a single mom would be incredibly difficult.

'Ain't no sunshine when he's gone, and he's always gone too long, every time he goes away.

 That is all.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Biblical Hermeneutics

How should we study and interpret scripture?

This is a question that has been on my mind recently. With all the talk of inerrancy, literality, metaphor, literary criticism, and the constant accusations of self-serving exegesis, confirmation bias, blind literalism, or feminist pseudo-theology from various quarters, I find it helpful to establish a few ground rules for the study and interpretation of scripture. I don't want to fit scripture to my desires, reading into it whatever I like, but I also don't want to be so bound by church tradition in interpretation that I miss real truth or insight or freedom from an unnecessary, oppressive ideology.

First, I like to have some resources on hand. A bible and concordance are necessary, at the very least, and I prefer to have lexicons, thesauruses, dictionaries, and multiple versions/translations to compare. Because all this can be quite cumbersome, I generally use the E-sword software. I heartily recommend it.

 The first rule of bible interpretation is consistency. If this is not consistent with the rest of scripture, I'm probably getting it wrong. Scripture can, itself, interpret scripture.

 Secondly, the difference between prescriptive and descriptive is key. Just because it happened in the bible doesn't mean it should happen, though if a thing is praised and specifically commended but not commanded that line blurs a bit.

 The closer to the original languages/text we can get, the greater our chance of accuracy. If an interpretation works with the English KJV or other version, but not with the Greek or Hebrew text, there's probably a kink somewhere. This is why a concordance, (I like Strongs) is important.

 Application and interpretation are not the same thing. Interpretation is what the passage means; application is a subjective applying of personal revelation to our lives based on scripture the meaning of which may or may not actually be relevant to our situation. Interpretation trumps application, and application should be vetted through the rest of scripture for rightness. There's nothing wrong with a personal application that has little to do with the meaning of the text- we are, after all, to listen for the Holy Spirit's voice guiding us in truth and this sometimes comes through personal application of scripture. But- the application should only be disseminated as application, and if the application contradicts other scripture, we can bet that our wires got crossed somewhere.

 Asking good questions is also important.

 What type of literature is it? Is it a letter? Narrative? Prophesy? Proverb? Poetry?

 Who wrote it? Where? When? What was the audience? Is there any history that bears on this situation significantly? Context is everything. When in doubt, the history and setting can yield a great deal of wisdom if we have them. This is difficult for some parts of the Old Testament.

 Is it written as a prescription to all believers? If so, how can I apply it to my life? If not, what lessons can I draw from it? What is the overarching theme of scripture? Of this book? Of this passage? If my interpretation is discordant with this theme, some reexamination is in order.

 If I have no evidence to the contrary, sometimes the traditional interpretation is the best place to start. There is nothing wrong with giving prejudice to precedent as long as that does not trump other considerations.

 Is the interpretation consistent within the passage? Am I switching directions in the middle of a passage where it's not indicated?

 When in doubt, three things:




(Also, Occam's Razor is very helpful with hermeneutics of this, and any, sort.)

 The less mental gymnastics required, the better. Does this interpretation require logic jumps that I wouldn't normally make? What would happen if I interpreted all scripture this way? I try never to make a doctrine out of one verse. In fact, I think it's best to reserve the universal/prescriptive label for those things which are both actively taught (precept) and specifically demonstrated. (precedent)

 A search for Truth will always have stumbles and errors along the way, but I try to the best of my ability to be impartial and eager in my study of scripture. I end up tweaking things, changing things, and refining things quite often. I am blessed to have some very dear friends who I bounce my thoughts off of, and who sharpen my proverbial iron- which is another practice I'd recommend. No man is on a mountaintop alone, and it was a wise man who once said that he'd not teach a new revelation from the pulpit until he'd heard it confirmed elsewhere. Being open to the input of those we trust is important, though of course the final decisions in our walk with our Lord are our own.

The Timothy Verses

One of the most commonly misinterpreted passages about women in the church is 1 Timothy 2: 9-15

So many, many times I have seen this verse read as ” woman should not have authority over men. Period. Except when the men let them because it's really more convenient.” In contrast, here is the gist of an article that I think does a fabulous job with these passages- (click the link to read the whole thing)

"If anybody ever tells you that women should never teach men, or that women should never be in leadership over men, or that women should be silent around men, then you should mutter under your breath, "Stupid, stupid, stupid." These people, well intentioned as they may be, are committing spiritual suicide by acting on words of Scripture without looking at their meaning. The system they seek to impose is opposite to the overall tenor and teachings of Scripture on the subject of women (see above). Here are the words some commit spiritual suicide over:
"In like manner also, see that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety."( I Timothy 2:9-15)

I recently had a Christian man paraphrase for me I Timothy 2:9-15 and then tell me, "I will never have a woman lead me, teach me, or allow myself to be in a position where women usurp my authority over them because I believe the Bible!" My friend has the problem of reading words of Scripture and acting on them without taking time to understand their meaning.
Until you understand the problem Timothy faced (the man to whom the words in I Timothy 2:9-15 are written), and until you are familiar with Ephesus (the place where Timothy lived), and until you have a working knowledge of the Amazons (the warrior women that the ancient Greeks believed founded Ephesus), and until you comprehend the influence of the cult of Artemis and the Temple of Artemis which was in Ephesus, the meaning of the Apostle Paul's words will never be rightly understood. F. F. Bruce once wrote, "Subjugation of a woman is a system of man's fallen nature. If the work of Christ involves... breaking the fall, then the implication of His work for the liberation of women is plain." Jesus Christ came to liberate subjugated women. The cultism in evangelicalism regarding women's behaviors will only be broken when people lay aside stupid, false obedience to I Timothy 2:9-14 and realize the meaning of Paul's words to Timothy.

Ephesus and The Temple of Artemis

Rachelle and I will be with a group of friends in ancient Ephesus (located in southwest Turkey) next month. One of the reasons I am excited to be there is because Ephesus is the location of the most magnificent of the Seven Wonders of the World--The Temple of Artemis.
This is the first temple in the world made completely of marble. The richest man in the world in his day, King Croesus (595-547 B.C.) of Lydia (modern Turkey), ordered the Temple of Artemis be constructed in honor of the Greek goddess Artemis. Work on the Temple of Artemis began in 550 B.C. and took over a century to complete. King Croesus lived long enough to stuff the foundation of the Temple of Artemis with tens of thousands of gold coins to serve as talismans, ensuring the Temple's protection from destruction. Generations of people, even in America, have used the phrase "Rich as Croesus" to describe wealthy people in their day. King Croesus is given credit by many historians as the inventor of cold and silver coinage. His wealth is legendary, and he gave his riches to fund the building of the Temple in Artemis. Croesus was a contemporary of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire. Cyrus was the king who defeated the Babylonians, freeing the Jews from their Babylonian captivity, enabling them to return to Jerusalem to rebuild Solomon's Temple. Therefore, the Temple of Artemis and the Second Temple in Jerusalem were built during the same time period (the 6th century B.C.).
However, it was only the Temple of Artemis that became one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World because of its stunning beauty. The Temple of Artemis was a temple dedicated to the power, beauty and strength of women. Marble artesians from all over the world carved Amazon women into the base of the 120 columns. Amazons were "warrior women" from an area north of Ephesus and the Black Sea (modern Ukraine). These Amazon women were known for their fierce fighting ability and had been made famous by the Greek poet Homer in his portrayal of them in The Iliad.

Homer (c. 750 B.C.) also gave tribute in The Iliad to Artemis, the Greek goddess of women and of war. Artemis is called by Homer "Artemis the Hunter, Queen of the Wild Beasts" (Iliad 21.470). Artemis is also presented as the goddess Phosphorous or Light (Strabo, Geo. 1.9.). If worshipped properly and prayed to during childbirth, Artemis promised to deliver women from death while giving birth. For this reason, women in the ancient world revered and worshipped Artemis. Likewise, men worshipped Artemis during times of battle and war. Since the ancient world was always at war, Artemis was often on the lips of men during times of battle. The Greek men (and later the Romans) prayed to Artemis (the Romans called her Diana), not Apollo in time of battle. In Greek mythology, Zeus fathered the twins Artemis and Apollo through the Titaness Leto. The Artemus cult taught that Artemis was superior to Apollo because she came (was born) born first.
When men and women entered the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, the women would wear fancy hair braids, bedeck themselves with jewelry and ornate clothes as they prayed to Artemis. Heliodorus said, "Their locks of hairs carry their prayers." There were no sacrifices in this Temple. The women worshipped Artemis with their clothing, jewelry, and their words. Artemis, in turn, gave them their sexual prowess over men and their deliverance during childbirth. Likewise, men came to Artemis, acknowledging their need of her strength during time of war. The men would hold up hands, palms up, just above their waist as they prayed for victory in battle. Not surprisingly Ephesus, above all other places in the ancient world, celebrated the power, strength and beauty of women and their ability to use their sexual prowess to manipulate and dominate men. The Temple operations, which included prostitution and craftsmen who sold gold and silver idols of Artemis, drove the economy of Ephesus. Hundreds of thousands of people visited the city annually.

Paul and Timothy's Presence in Ephesus in the Midst of the Artemis Cult

Acts 18:24 through Acts 20:1 records for us that Paul and Timothy spent three years in Ephesus (c. A.D. 55-58), by far the longest time Paul spent in any one city during his three missionary journeys. Paul almost lost his life during a riot in the city because silversmiths who made little statues of the goddess Artemis were upset that Paul and Timothy were cutting into their business by winning converts to Christianity. Paul would later write in I Corinthians 15:32 that he "fought wild beasts at Ephesus." Did he fight lions, tigers and bears? No, the wild beasts were the people of Ephesus who were devoted to Artemis, "The Queen of the Wild Beasts." When Paul left Ephesus in A.D. 58, he traveled south for about 30 miles to the island of Miletus and then called for wise leaders of the church in Ephesus to join him at Miletus where he said to them, "After I leave, savage wolves will come among you and will not spare the flock. Even some among you will arise and distort the truth to draw away disciples after them" (cf. Acts 20:29-30).
Sure enough, less than five years later (A.D. 63) the Christians in Ephesus were in trouble. There were some women or maybe even a single woman, most likely a new convert out of the Artemis cult, who had begun to teach false truth in the assembly at Ephesus. Timothy is sent to Ephesus to help the church and give some correction. Timothy sends to Paul a letter from Ephesus, giving Paul an update on what is happening and asking some specific questions about how he should proceed (a letter that is not extant). The Apostle Paul sends a response to Timothy, a letter we now call I Timothy. It's important to remember (as we have seen) that nowhere in Scripture does Jesus, Paul or any other apostle restrict women in the assembly. In fact, when a false teacher nicknamed Jezebel begins to have influence among believers in the city of Thyatira, Jesus does not reprimand the church for having a female teacher, but rather He upraids the church for not doing anything about her false teaching (cf. Revelation 2:24).

The Meaning of I Timothy 2:9-15

Now, let's put up I Timothy 2:9-15 again in order to discover the meaning of the words in light of what we know about the Artemis cult in Ephesus:
"In like manner also, see that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety."( I Timothy 2:9-15)

(1). "Let the woman adorn themselves in modest apparel" (v. 9).

Obviously, there were women coming to the assembly of Christ in Ephesus similar to the way they used to go to the Temple of Artemis, dressed to kill, with braided hair, gold, pearls and fine clothing. Paul is letting Timothy know that this mode of dress, particularly in the city of Ephesus, was not conducive to the worship of Christ. What Christ desires is the beauty of goodness toward others, not the drawing attention to oneself in public.

(2). "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection" (v. 11).

The reason I believe the problem in Ephesus is a particular woman who is in a teaching position within the assembly of Christ is because the noun "woman" is in the singular, not the plural. In verses 9 and 10, women is in the plural, but in verse 11, Paul switches to "the woman" or possibly that woman about whom Timothy has written Paul. It can't be a universal prohibition for all time against all women ever teaching men in the assembly because (a). That would violate the tenor and teaching of the rest of Scripture where women frequently taught men, and (b). Paul has elsewhere encouraged men and women to teach, to pray and to fully participate in the assembly as they are gifted (cf. I Corinthians 11:4-5 and I Corinthians 14:23-24).
Further, the word translated silence is hesuchia (quietness). It is used in I Timothy 2:2 to describe what the character of every believer should be, both males and females. It never means "don't speak," but addresses the character of humility. This woman in Ephesus, coming out of a society saturated with the power, strength, abilities and even domination of women through the Artemis cult, needed to realize that she had a great deal to learn about Christ and His kingdom.

(3). "I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence" (v. 12).

This is the key phrase. First, the phrase translated "I suffer not a woman to teach" is literally in the tense of "I am not now permitting a woman to teach." Again, the woman not now permitted to teach is in the singular. It is the same woman of verse 11. This woman needs to learn in quiet humility before she ever presumes to teach, because she is still too influenced by Artemis cultic beliefs. This verse can NEVER be used as a proof text for women never teaching men or having "authority" over men.

(a). Deborah gave counsel and taught men and women about the Law of God (cf. Judges 2:16-19; 4:1-5:31). Huldah prophesied to Israel the word of the Lord and led the men of Israel (2 Kings 22:14-20). Priscilla and Aquila explained more perfectly to Apollos the way of God in Ephesus (cf. Acts 18:19-26). Most importantly, when Jezebel was teaching error to the church in Thyatira, Jesus never once told the church they were wrong for having a woman teach or lead them; He simply said they were wrong for not rejecting her false teaching (Revelation 2:18-29).
(b). "I suffer not a woman .... to usurp authority over the man" (v. 13).
This phrase "usurp authority" translates one Greek word authentein. This word is used only one time in all of Scripture--let me repeat that again--this word authentein is used only once in the entire Bible, right here in I Timothy 2:12. This word was used, however, in classical Greek literature and it meant "to murder someone." Paul could have chosen nearly fifty Greek words to speak of the ordinary exercise of authority, but he chose a word that more represents someone "dominating, controlling, or subjecting one to harm." Of course, this is precisely what the Artemis cult taught women to do. Artemis was the female goddess of fertility and war. Women in Ephesus were taught to use their voices, their charm, their sexuality and their beauty to dominate, control and subjugate men. It seems that this woman in Ephesus was causing trouble in the church by behavior in the assembly of Christ that was way too similar to the ways of the Artemis cult from whence she came.

(4). "For Adam was formed first, then Eve."

Timothy, tell the woman causing problems that her notion she should always have the floor and directing the assembly because she believes women are superior to men--since Artemis came first and Apollo came second--is a misguided belief. The truth is God created man first then He formed Eve from Adam, so it is very appropriate for her, a woman who considers herself a descendent of the Amazons, to sit quietly and learn from those who are older and wiser, even if they are males! Artemis taught the power of women to dominate men through sexual prowess, but Christ teaches that men are equal to women and there's nothing wrong with a woman learning from others (even men) before she begins to teach men.

(5). "And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression" (v. 14).

And Timothy, remind her that the Scriptures teach that Eve was deceived. Contrary to what she learned in the Temple of Artemis, males are not always her problem. To be deceived and in need of correction is just as much a possibility for her as it was for Eve. She must move away from her belief in female superiority, a belief reinforced by the Artemis cult.

(6). "Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety" (v. 15).

Timothy, tell this woman that she will be okay during childbirth, even if she totally and fully renounces her trust in Artemis. Yes, she lives in a culture that teaches Artemis alone saves a woman from death during childbirth, but the truth is Christ holds the keys of life and death. When women continue in faith, hope and love--avoiding the sexual immodesty and looseness on display in the Temple of Artemis and the worship of the goddess of fertility and war--it will be the one true God who delivers them from death during childbirth, not Artemis."

Is it just me, or does this interpretation fit a bit better with the tenor of the rest of scripture, Christ's dealings with women, and the precedent of the women in the early church than does an interpretation that wishes women, all women, to keep silent, keep "in their place," and put themselves under men?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Respecting my Husband

As a girl, growing up in a conservative Christian home, I was always told that my future husband would want, and need, my respect. Books on marriage and wifehood that I've read by conservative evangelical authors echo that sentiment- "wives, respect your husbands." "Husbands need respect like wives need love." Even the Bible commands me, a woman, wife, and feminist, to respect my husband. (It commands mutual love and respect, from both of us to the other. I reject the gendering of love and respect and the assertion that men and women have different levels of these needs as patently false. I am focusing on wifely respect here, but respect of husbands for wives is just as important.) What does this mean? Or first, what doesn't this mean?

It does not mean treating my husband as a sex-crazed beast, who needs women to "dress modestly" so that he can control his lust.

It does not mean treating my husband like a child with a fragile ego who cannot abide criticism, censure, or disagreement.

It does not mean treating my husband like a potential abuser who will grow irate if his wishes are not acceded to in every particular.

 It does not mean treating my husband as if he were mentally inferior, regarding ineptitude in housekeeping and fatherhood with a knowing smile and an "Ah, well, men!"

It does not mean assuming that because he is male he is less complicated, less emotionally developed, less capable, or less sensitive than I am.

It does mean treating him like an adult and a partner.

It does mean refusing to belittle, manipulate, or indulge in other unhealthy forms of communication.

It does mean expecting him to be capable of the same self-control, self-sacrifice, openness, frankness, reason, and logic which I myself display.

It means supporting him when he needs it, confronting him when he's wrong, putting my foot down when he's about to make a big mistake, and loving him without condition or apology.

It means not allowing him to dominate, control or manipulate me. This disrespects both of us and destroys a marriage.

It means treating his opinion as valuable, but not infallible. It means being gracious, but not a pushover. It means seeing him as a worthwhile, valuable child of God and brother in Christ who deserves my serious consideration, my vulnerable communication, and my tender affection, but not my worship or my flippant disregard.

My husband tells me that he feels much more respected, not less, in an egalitarian framework. He feels more truly valued when my treatment of him stems from love and merit and not a command I'm obeying. I find it easier to respect him when he is not trying to mold us both into boxes which don't fit us.

It is my opinion that a headship/submission model for marital relationships actually destroys respect in favor of manipulation, hierarchy, and stunting personal and collective potential. Hierarchy also destroys oneness and openness, two things which have been instrumental in making my marriage as sweet and uplifting as it is. A true partnership with someone you respect and trust is a glorious thing.

The Bible and the Mind

Should Christians use logic, reasoning,
 and history to help us interpret the bible?

 For me, the yes is resounding and self-evident. The most obvious point, of course, is that it would be impossible not to. We use our minds every time we read the bible, listen to a sermon, or have a conversation. Without out the use of our intellect we would have no basis to process or interpret anything we hear. When I hear people say "we can't know that with our natural mind" I sometimes hear it as "don't question, test, or try to figure that out." I don't think that response is ever recommended in history, scripture, or by any truly great thinkers of whom I am aware.

What possible benefits could be served by turning off our probing, questioning, skeptical, imperfect minds?

Is God the author of all Truth? I believe God is. Does that fundamental, cosmic, universal capital-T-Truth ever contradict truth in science, math, etc? Assuming the mathematical/scientific truth in question is true, and not human error (as in a flat earth, the four humours, et c) I believe the answer to be no. If we believe that the truer something is, the closer to God's perspective it is, then searching for truth and Truth is a very, very good thing to do. If we really believe that God is all-powerful, and behind every real truth, why would we hesitate to question, learn, and test? Is a fear of questions an indication of great faith, or little, fragile faith? Sometimes, to be sure, our human minds misinterpret, our technology fails, and we end up with misconceptions of epic proportions. But continuing to learn and grow in knowledge and wisdom of all sorts will mitigate such failures far faster than shutting down growth because we fear to fail again. We are created in the image of God. This includes our mind. While we are flawed because of sin, we still reflect Divine glory and creativity. Our logic and reason, though they may be flawed at times, are still a reflection of God's design. Logical equations that we observe to be true are not in conflict with God's design- quite the reverse!

Look at history- how have the great advances in human learning and achievement, both sacred and secular, come about? Did Newton experiment and quantify basic physics from scriptural revelation? No, though to the degree that his observations and conclusions were correct they never contradicted scripture. Not to say that spiritual revelation was never involved (Luther, anyone?) but it certainly wasn't limited to that.

The Bible was written to show us the heart of God and lead us to Christ and to holiness, love, justice, mercy, and humility. The Bible wasn't written as a science, math, or history textbook. This does not mean that the Bible has errors in those areas, but that it is not the conclusive, exhaustive repository of all knowledge. Does it contain everything necessary for salvation and holiness? Yes. Does it contain everything humanity needs to continue to develop and thrive? No. Even for the holiness, justice, et c the Bible very often offers general principles instead of specifics. Specifics change with time, location and culture; general principles like "love your neighbor" and "act justly" do not.

Sometimes, human thought and wisdom is misguided and erroneous. In that case, it is antithetical to truth or Truth. Many times, though, human thought is separated from God's wisdom not as an antithetical, opposite altogether-different concept, but by degrees. Humans know that gravity exists, though we cannot explain it fully. God knows the ends and outs of it as a potter knows his vases. Does this mean that human wisdom in this area is wrong? So far as we know, no. It is incomplete. There is a difference. When human wisdom is wrong, and thus antithetical to God's truth, the truth will out. The more we learn, and the clearer our "glass, darkly" becomes, the more we change our conclusions to fit with our increasing data and understanding, the less antithetical to Divine wisdom our wisdom becomes. When our wisdom is true as far as it goes, but incomplete (arguably, there will always be areas of incompleteness until Christ comes and we know all) the solution is the same- we learn, we experiment, we probe, we test. In so doing, we grow by degrees ever closer to truth and Truth.

Sometimes we see, hear, and experience things that we do not understand. There are still so many mysteries to ourselves, our world, and our God that we have yet to uncover. This is where Faith comes in- Faith, the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. Sometimes we do not have evidence or conclusive-enough data for an idea or decision. So, we believe what we decide to believe, what the Holy Spirit whispers in our hearts, or what is most congruent with other, better substantiated beliefs. However- is it wrong to continue to study and learn, through natural means, things that we have long taken on faith? Of course not. Seeing the natural realities behind what we hold in faith can only make it stronger. And, if our discoveries contradict that faith, to reexamine is not to hold in contempt. Again- if we really believe that God is the author of Truth, then we must believe that the closer to truth we are, the closer to the heart of God we are. Being willing to change, adapt, and let discovered truth overrule tradition is not evil, and it is not weak.

On Bible interpretation, specifically- which is better: to hold tradition with prejudice above all, or to examine with every light we have the truth of the matter? I'd say the latter, most definitely. While I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, I do not believe that any one translation or interpretation is. With no evidence to the contrary, I do not malign the giving of prejudice to precedent. However, we would be foolish to spurn anything that aids us in discovering the original message and Word contained in the Bible.

Imagine being handed a letter. The letter was not written for you specifically, but the bearer tells you that there is great love, great truth, and great knowledge contained in the letter. How would you read it? Suppose the writer admonished some person in the letter to do something. Would you automatically assume that that admonition meant that you should do that, without any inquiry or context? I would hope not. You would try to find out who wrote the letter, to whom it was written, and what their situations were. The same phrase can be written by two different people in different contexts, and, while equally true, mean very different things.

Is it disrespectful to the Bible to study its context, history, and authors? Certainly not. In fact, I think that to neglect anything but a cursory reading of the plain text can miss out on much truth, and can in some cases distort it. If the Bible is to be our rule of faith and practice, and I believe it is, then it deserves every effort at truthful interpretation and discovery we can give it.

To attempt to use the mind without the spirit, or the spirit without the mind, robs us of truth and knowledge. The two should be inseparable. I'm reminded of Paul, speaking of prayer and praying in tongues- 1Co 14:13-17  For this reason, let the man who has the power of using tongues make request that he may, at the same time, be able to give the sense.  For if I make use of tongues in my prayers, my spirit makes the prayer, but not my mind.  What then? let my prayer be from the spirit, and equally from the mind; let my song be from the spirit, and equally from mind.  For if you give a blessing with the spirit, how will the man who has no knowledge say, So be it, after your prayer, seeing that he has not taken in what you are saying? For your giving of the blessing is certainly well done, but of no profit to the man without knowledge. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Christian Egalitarian Marriage

I recently saw an article that I believe gives a good run-down of what an egalitarian marriage looks like. The article lists five principles aspects of a practically egalitarian marriage. While I disagree with the author as to gender essentialism, in most other respects it's a very good representation. Here's the gist:

1 – Flexible Roles – The husband and the wife value their respective roles.  These roles for the husband and wife follow from their gifts and abilities, not from their gender. How do we determine roles? These are derived from assessing the gifts we bring to our partnership and finding mutual agreement for the good of each other.  Sometimes our gender will reveals our gifts: for a woman this may mean childbearing and for a man it may mean upper body strength.  But our gender alone will not curtail or privilege our calling to any one role if we lack the ability for that role.  A woman’s ability to bear children is unlike a man’s, and so she may play that role in the marriage. But the role of a parent is open to both father and mother.  In a CEM marriage, both partners could agree for the wife to stay home full-time and for the husband to work full time.  Or they could both agree to work part-time so they can co-parent their children.   Or they could both agree for the wife to work full time and the husband to stay at home full-time.  Each marriage is different, with different personalities and different goals.  The CEM allows flexibility, because neither spouse will be gifted to lead in every area of marriage.  Each leads where they are strong and able and, like instruments in a duet, they each defer to the leadership of the stronger in their gifted area.

2 – Complementary –  In a CEM, both sexes, the husband and wife, complement one another, from sex to making final decisions. Since each man differs from other men and since each woman differs from other women, the CEM will complement each other in a unique unassigned way.  Because we believe in differences, each partner wants input from the other sex to inform and round-out decisions.  The husband doesn’t consult with the wife as an advisor, but as an equal partner, a human more similar to him than different (Hebrew “ezer kenegdo” a helper corresponding to him).  The wife can and often will make final decisions for the good of the family just as the husband will. All CEM live out a complementary partnership.
3 – Two Spiritual Leaders – In a CEM, each spouse is responsible of taking care of their own growth and well-being, both before marriage and during marriage.  As each is gifted, leadership is a responsibility for both genders.  The husband and wife are both leaders in the home, including spiritual leaders.  This is distinct from even soft complementarians, as Tim Keller reveals when he preaches from Ephesians 5, “Paul says, first of all, if two Spirit-filled people get married, the wife should grant the husband leadership in the marriage.” Keller qualifies this by saying the husband MUST have submitted his ego to God if he is to be the leader in the marriage and that the way this leadership is played out is up to each couple (read full transcript of his “Hope for the Family” sermon).  However, this leadership, if it means anything, puts some final responsibility on the husband to ensure everyone is as spiritually mature as he thinks they should be. Egalitarians say that this kind of husbandly leadership
  1. debilitates the wife from being an equal in her spiritual responsibility and leadership
  2. and shoulders the husband with Adam’s burden of being “alone” in his responsibility (a situation Eve was made to change).
For a CEM marriage, Jesus is the spiritual leader, not the husband or wife.  A CEM that walks daily with Jesus will find each partner leading, liberating each other with new insight. CEM believes that only by being responsible of taking care of ourselves are we better able to reach out and love our spouse.  The husband and wife are to challenge one another in spiritual growth equally and both lead their children equally. The CEM is concerned not only that each spouse have equal worth but that each spouse be treated as equally human. CEM believe permanent leadership or subordination of one spouse over the other is dehumanizing and spiritually insulting.
4 – No Tie-Breakers - Disagreements in an CEM do not require a tie-breaking vote from the man because both spouses hold 50% of the vote.  If an impasse is reached, and a final decision is necessary, what does a CEM do?  When a decision affects one spouse more than another, then the spouse most affected makes the decision.  The same is true of the spouse who knows more about a situation.  A CEM agrees to these protocols well in advance of the decision because they have practiced it in the day-to-day.  But when both spouses are equally affected and have equal knowledge, then counsel is required.  For a CEM, it is irresponsible to surrender a genuine concern about a final decision because we care about each other’s growth. Proverbs says that in a multitude of counselors there is safety.  A marriage that cannot come to agreement regularly is a weak marriage.  A marriage that refuses outside counsel is a failing one.  None of this means that each spouse must seek approval from the other for every decision, for in most areas we have already decided the freedoms each has to make decisions on their own, from budgeting for charity to planned vacation days to the best way to mow the lawn.
I may be moved to help a homeless man. I have the freedom to donate my time, money and a meal to him if I so choose.  I do not need Dale’s permission or blessing to give out of my or our funds.  If we want to purchase something beyond $500 we talk about the idea with each other, not to get permission, but to see if the other spouse has some helpful input. We decide together to purchase or move forward.  However, if the  item (a snow blower) will affect Dale more than me, I cede the final decision to him.
Recently I received an invitation to speak for a three day event. I wanted to go, but not if I would need to get a sitter for our son. Dale volunteered to watch our son so I could attend the three day event.  All things being equal, full-time child-care is not my or my husband’s ideal way to spend a weekend. We prefer co-parenting so we each get time to ourselves and together with our son.  However, since this event was more important to me, I chose the best way to make it happen. Dale agreed. If we had disagreed, we would have engaged in more discussion, prayer and if still no clarity, eventually seeking counsel (we recommend a professional, licensed marriage therapist for impasse situations).  Decision-making where
  1. both parties have equal say 
  2. and can choose to submit if the issue means more to other person 
takes a lot more time at the beginning, but it prevents one spouse muscling out the other’s perspective in an effort to “take charge” or “man-up” or “be the leader.” It also prevents my resentment, passive aggression or manipulation. I am never the victim of my husband’s final decision-making.
5 – Love, Respect and Headship -  The husband is the head of the wife.  This is a position of honor, not of authority.  Adam had this honorable place with Eve, since Eve was created out of man (the same reason, symbolically, children are to honor their parents).  If the wife cannot respect her husband, this position alone of modeling the First Man is to evoke the respect.  In the same way, all men after Eve come from women (1 Cor 11:12 “For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God).   If the husband cannot respect his wife, this position alone of modeling The Mother of All Living (the meaning of “Eve”) is to evoke his respect.  In the same way, even lousy parents are to be honored by children simply because all children come from parents (that is not to say that all children must obey bad parents).  The other metaphor Paul uses is Messiah and his church, for it is upon the Messiah that the church is built, just as Adam became the first life upon which Eve was made and marriage was built.  Much has been made about the wife submitting and the husband loving in marriage.  CEM believes this and vice versa, too. Both the husband and wife are called to submit to one another (Eph 5:21) and Jesus tells all Christians to “love one another” (John 13:34) and to “lay down your life for your friends” (John 15:13). Both love (Titus 2:4) and submission (CEM believe submitting means cooperation not obedience: see Strong’s note on Greek non-military uses of “submit”) apply to both spouses in marriage.

I would add, for my own marriage, that the key to functioning without rigid gender roles, especially if you were raised with them, is honesty, openness, vulnerability, and a thick skin. :)