Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Love and Freedom

I saw a woman sleeping. In her
sleep she dreamt Life stood
before her, and held in each
hand a gift—in the one Love,
in the other Freedom. And she 
said to the woman, ‘Choose!’
And the woman waited long:
and she said, ‘Freedom!’
And life said, ‘Thou hast
well chosen. If thou hadst said,
“Love,” I would have given
thee that thou didst ask for;
and I would have gone from thee no
more. Now, the day will come
when I shall return. In that 
day I shall bear both gifts in
one hand.’
I heard the woman laugh in
her sleep.
~ Olive Schreiner

I don't think I could ever live with a love that did not include my individual freedom. I tried, once, and it did not build my love; it nearly destroyed it. I have both now, and each one makes the other sweeter. I am not with my husband because I must be, or because I am told to be; I am with him because I choose to be, and both our lives are better for it. We walk hand in hand, side by side, not in any particular order but what is natural and convenient at the time, and that is fluid and ever changing. (and a life constricted into roles and symbologies or dictated by convention or the wishes of another is not merely restrictive or indicative of one gender; the issue is truly genderless.)

As in the poem, it is possible for some people to choose love without personal freedom, whether from a mistaken idea of moral or religious imperatives, a sense of honor which considers mistakes irretrievable, or from a predilection to constrictingly safe structure. Once that sort of love is chosen, it is static; to add freedom to a love not built on it may destroy the love or the life that it is predicated on. (In my case it did not; a long push for freedom within existing love ended with freedom for both lovers and a love intact. I am very blessed, and I realize the improbability of such a beneficial outcome) However, if freedom is maintained as a priority, love can enter and coexist peaceably with it.

I do not know how the total openness and vulnerability that I consider a hallmark of a great love can coexist within a hierarchy or authority structure, even a hierarchy of a generally theoretical and meta-practiced sort. I am far more comfortable sharing my innermost self with someone who does not consider themselves responsible for my orthodoxy or orthopraxy. My beloved husband is supportive of me, validating of my work and my dreams, (indeed he dreams them with me) and this, I hope, is mutual.
We are simply the best of friends, sharing and growing and moving on together.

My heart hurts, sometimes, when I see a dear friend or two in a love that binds and pulls down and squelches good things. I wish that they were free to choose their love, but they do not choose to have that choice. I may disagree with their determination to shoulder on, however I cannot but respect and admire the strength required to know that they are not free but choose to remain in their love nonetheless. They are doing something that I could not, and are thus stronger than I. I can only pray that they will make their choices with both eyes open, and not from fear of other losses or a much-mistaken idea of their sacred duty.

Every love is different, and I would not clone mine for the use of the general public, but I do wish that everyone I know and love could know the deep and fulfilling joy of a happy choice, whether that were single freedom or the freedom of a great love. Such love is a wonderful thing, and I am ever grateful for it. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Christian Egalitarianism

I assumed until recently that most of my acquaintance were familiar with egalitarianism/complementarianism, (which descriptors I don't care for, since they are not defined in common usage as their linguistic parts suggest they should be, but I digress) but recent conversations have led me to believe otherwise. I think it would be helpful for me to elaborate on what Egalitarianism means to me and why I embrace it; an understanding of my views on this issue is really foundational to interpreting my statements on many things.

Another way to phrase egalitarianism is biblical or moral equality. The christian egalitarian position maintains that all humans were made in the image of our Creator God, and are equal in intrinsic worth, dignity, and personhood. God did not make "seconds" or "mistakes," but fearfully and wonderfully made each of us as unique and creative expressions of the Imago Dei. Egalitarians believe that God does not dole out gifts in different "levels" based on characteristics such as race or gender.

One misconception I have encountered is the idea that egalitarians believe, not just in moral equality, but in the sameness of all people. This, of course, is ridiculous; God gave us different and unique gifts, and yes, some people have far greater capacity in various areas than do others. We are not all Michael Jordans, or Bachs, or Einsteins. Since egalitarians emphasize the uniqueness of the individual, rather than the individual as a representation of a group such as men, women, hetersexuals, caucasians, et c. we actually have more respect, not less, for the differing ways in which God has gifted and called us. I believe that God gives gifts of talents, capacity, et c. without regard to unchangeables such as race or gender, and so I believe that "roles" or "positions" in the church, home, and secular community should be based on ability and inclination, not arbitrary and unchangeable characteristics.

No, we are not all gifted alike. But to bind people to little boxes that we deem appropriately representative of their demographic does not enable them to exercise their God-given gifts; quite the reverse. It squelches the natural strengths of those who don't fit the "box", and instills false confidence in those who do naturally fall within the "box" and may hinder their future growth.

As to gender roles: instead of seeing men and women as typifications of a gender, into whose stereotypes they may or may not fit, I prefer to see them as unique people. The world is not Battlestar Gallactica, with synthetic humans of only a few types and which are all alike within their types. The world is full of unique individuals, and they are as unique from those within their gender as they are from those outside it. Egalitarianism does not suppose any functional, non-physical inequalities between the sexes, nor does it assume that any giftings or roles are based on gender. If a woman and a man have the same abilities and inclinations, they will be fitted for the same "role." In reality, I dislike the term "role" as it brings to my mind a picture of an actor playing a part, not an authentic follower of Christ who follows the Holy Spirit and the gifts God has placed within them to serve and do and be whatever and whenever they are needed and called. We should not be actors in a play; we should be real, living people, not bound to live out a certain symbology but rather following Christ as ourselves in an exhilarating, never-ending quest for Truth and deeper Dive Relationship. Every believer, of any tribe, nation or language or gender or orientation, is a child of God whose first priority should be knowing Christ, doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly, and sharing the glorious gospel of a risen Savior in whatever way we are fitted, be that in preaching, art, business, or whatever.

Best Internet Game EVER.


This is a game in which you are basically taken to something like the "google street view", anywhere in the world, and asked to guess where you are. It is very addicting, and tons of fun. I'm not normally into internet games, but this one is awesome. You can move your virtual self around in most locations to orient yourself via road signs, topography, et c.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Libertarian Conversation on Same Sex Marriage, part 4: Giving Prejudice to Precedent

One argument against Same Sex Marriage that I've heard a lot is the idea that we should give prejudice to precedent, and that precedent favors heterosexual marriage; in other words, the idea that the burden of proof is on the innovator, and the assumption that marriage as one man and one woman in a loving, faithful, mutually beneficial contract has been the historical norm. To believe that, you have to forget polygamous society, biblical societies, and every society where marriage was primarily for the legitimizing of heirs and which considered women as property and required no faithful monogamy from their husbands. Yes, marriage, throughout most of history, was strictly opposite-gender. But in most other respects, it looked very different from the sort of modern western monogamous marriages we think of today. Marriage provided heirs to property, economic stability, and social and political alliances. Men were, with a few exceptions, not required to be monogamous; women were. Marriages could certainly contain the companionship, mutually delightful sex, respect, and cooperative parenting that we associate with marriage today, but those things were more pleasant bi-products than the primary purpose of the institution and were not required for marriage. In many cultures, female consent has not even been a requirement for a legally binding marriage. The elevation of romantic love and personal feeling and companionship in marriage has waxed and waned; even in societies where "romance" and "courtly love" were revered these things were not universal, and varied greatly by economic class. Victorian romanticism and medieval chivalry have both been incredibly whitewashed in modern, conservative christian circles; chivalry was not as purely noble, or as universally applied, as some would have us believe. In Victorian society, child labor and prostitution were rampant and wives were both on a moral pedestal and considered mentally inferior to their husbands; there were also double standards of behavior for husbands and wives when it came to sex and marriage, and yes, that's an understatement. :) I really can't think of many civilised societies where men and women held equal power and responsibility for monogamy in their marriages. The technologically advanced society we have today allows for the valuation of non-manual labor, dna testing, and allows solitary females to support themselves with ease in a variety of professions. This, among other things, makes egalitarian, monogamous marriages more socially favored.

The assumption that the sort of marriage we American christians recognize has been the historical norm assumes that, at a basic level, mutual, monogamous marriage between two members of the opposite sex is more like polygamous and/or unilaterally powered marriages between members of the opposite sex than it is like mutual, monogamous marriage between two members of the same sex. It puts paramount importance on the gender of those involved in the marriage, and less importance on the nature of the marriage- monogamous/polygamous, mutual/wife as property, et c. It is for that reason that I find this view of marriage and its precedents deeply troubling. What is more significant about the creation of Adam, Eve and Marriage- that they were different genders or that they were made to populate and rule the earth together in a beautiful partnership of equals? I realize many christians disagree with my convictions on mutuality in marriage, but assuming an egalitarian framework, the behavior of the individual marriage partner and the structure of the marriage and its benefits for couples and families is more important than the unchangeable characteristics, such as gender, of the people involved.

A majority opinion does not, in my opinion, equal a correct one. Precedent is a good starting point, but precedent should also be subject to scrutiny and not held above principle, scripture, or reason.  There is nothing wrong with starting from precedent, but to give precedent credence when it contradicts other considerations like ethics, reason, and scripture is tantamount to judging an argument not by its merits, but by its origin.

Historically I think that marriage was as much an economic institution as a religious one, and even in its religious nature it was not necessarily congruent with scripture. In our Christian faith, marriage is considered a sacred, religious covenant, and I would not try to change that, but I would not force a religious view of marriage on those who do not share my faith.  (I would prosecute abuse, but that's a little different; illegal or abusive behavior should not be tolerated, but I have no right to dictate the beliefs of those who perpetrate it) I know some very, very healthy, loving, atheist marriages, and marriage as a means to companionship and co-parenting is by no means limited to the religious among us. I fundamentally view marriage as a partnership toward a common goal and a means to stability, physical, emotional, and spiritual support and companionship, safe sex, and co-parenting, not a mandate to live out a certain symbology or the fulfillment of a responsibility to procreate as much as possible or the arbitrary requirement of a deity or religion. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Gender Differences

I think it would be helpful, in light of topics I've written about recently, to define my perceptions of the differences between the genders. I've had people assume that, because I am a feminist and an egalitarian, I don't believe in any gender differences. That is not correct. According to my perception, gender differences fall into several categories, with varying degrees of sexual dimorphism present in each one.

1. Basic Plumbing
Men's and women's reproductive equipment are different. Women can nurse and gestate children; men cannot gestate children and generally, with rare exception, do not lactate. Plumbing differences are universal apart from genetic deformities and are constant within the genders but exclusive to one or the other.

2. Other physical differences
In general, men have more upper body strength, more endurance, and are taller than women. They also have different hormone levels and their brains look a bit different. However..... this is a generalization and isn't true in every case. While men are on average consistently and substantially stronger and taller than women, some women are stronger and taller than some men. There is also the issue of degrees- unlike basic plumbing, not all women are consistent nor are all men. Then, too, physical training and hormone therapy can greatly affect results. If men and women had the same training, nutrition, et c usually the men would be able to do things the women could not, (though not always, and the modern availability of hormone therapy is another possible equalizer) but a well-trained woman can often best an untrained man. As to brains, we can make generalizations, but they will not be universally accurate as every brain is different and brains vary widely within the subsets of women and men. In summary, the non-reproductive physical differences between the genders hold true as a generality, but are not exactly as universal and consistent as the reproductive differences.

3. Social/Behavioral differences
These are more subjective, and more an issue of degrees, than the distinctions in the previous categories. They are things like nurturing, relational, logical, emotional, competitive, passive, aggressive, et c. Here there are differences between the average man and the average woman, but those differences pale in comparison to differences between two people of different cultures, backgrounds, or personalities. Take logical vs. emotion-driven, for example. On a straight line, completely logical will be at one end and completely emotional at the other. The average (mean) woman and the average man will fall somewhere in the middle. (see this study) However, since this is the mean of a very diverse gender, the chances that any particular female or male will match the average designation for their gender are really miniscule. Then, too, the spread between "men" and "women" is not usually that large. There are both women and men who fall on every point of the spectrum. So, while there may be more women on one side and more men on the other, there can be, and often is, as much or more difference between two random women as there is between two random men. A woman with a certain personality will, in my experience, have more in common with a man of the same personality than with a woman of a different personality. For example- recently some friends and I took personality inventories for fun. The person whose personality was the most like mine was male, and the person whose personality was least like mine was female. We can say that "the average man is more aggressive(or less empathetic, or whatever) " than the average woman, but 1. This does not mean that all females are less aggressive or more enotional than all males, 2. This does not mean that the vast majority of females/males, or any particular female/male, are/is any more than slightly statistically likely to exhibit the traits associated with their gender more than the traits associated with the opposite gender. 3. This does not differentiate between innate and socially conditioned traits. Unlike reproductive/biological traits, social/personality traits have a great deal to do with environment and socialization. I really don't think it's possible to prove exactly what is nature and what is nurture, as they say. But ever assuming all present traits to be naturally innate, sexual dimorphism on a social, psychological, or non-physical level is a game of statistics, and really does not accurately predict the traits of individuals. In summary, yes, there are differences between the average man and the average woman. But they are not universal, not uniform, certainly not prescriptive, and gender can no more accurately predict innate traits than can culture, environment, and personality. 

So, we really can't say that "women are like x" or "men enjoy z" with any certainty. We can guess, but we may not want to lay a great deal of money on the results.

God made us unique and valuable, and that includes our personalities and social traits. A slight statistical probability, if that, does not mean that a trait is God's design for me, or for my husband.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Good Husband

From the Book of Good Husbands, chapter one, verse 10:

"He that foldeth laundry unasked, the same meriteth crowns and glories on earth and in heaven. Much praise shalt he be given, and many brownie points he shall accrue. He shall be honored in the city and in the highway and in the ships in the midst of the sea, and all the people shalt cry with a loud voice, saying: How sexy art thou, oh man that foldest thou thy laundry. All hail to thee, and to thy wife who hast ensnared thyself as hers forever. All hail."

Femininity, Part 2

A reader of the first post on this subject this evening, and trusted friend of mine, brought to my attention that my definition of femininity could use some expanding and clarifying. :) Hence, the following:

Femininity can be defined one of three ways. In the first, it is equated with femaleness, eg. the sacred feminine. In the second, for example in secular circles, it is defined as a set of qualities, behaviors, or external features that comprise the current cultural picture of ideal womanhood, and/or the stereotypical picture of culturally based female behavior, appearance, et c. The third definition, synonymous with the picture of the "godly christian woman" is defined as adherence to a set of predetermined criteria and the exhibition of traits which are necessary to the "godly woman" label, and which, though sometimes considered inherently and intrinsically female, are not.

The first, physical femaleness, cannot be an issue of degrees. The second is very much an issue of degrees, is neither universal nor prescriptive, and is more a picture of the culture and currently acceptable socialized behavior than a timeless ideal of what a Christian female should look like. I would contend that much of the third, while masquerading as absolute and intrinsic, is actually not, but is as relative as the second. I would contend that the only version which is absolute and intrinsic is the physical femaleness.

Women's personalities, looks, mannerisms, social traits, gifts, et c vary widely and overlap those of men far more than they differ from them; their chromosomes and physical makeup are generally consistent within the gender. So, any time we define femininity as something other than femaleness, we are, according to the the preliminary conclusions upon which my ideas here are based, defining it as NOT universal, NOT intrinsic, and NOT limited to females. If it is based on traits that can also be found in males, traits that are not naturally present in every female across times and cultures, and traits that can be developed or repressed and exist naturally in varying degrees, then it must not be exclusive and intrinsic to females. My primary assertion in the first post was that to tell women that a certain picture of "godly womanhood" is intrinsic to their gender when in fact it is relative and not at all universal is a negative thing. For instance- some believe that a love of children over a love of a competitive workplace is an intrinsic part of christian femaleness. Thus, if a woman does not adore every baby she sees, and express a desire to be a mom instead of have a busy career, she must be an either a defective or an incomplete woman. She must not be feminine. (I realize that's an incomplete example; a woman may of course like both, as do I, and have both, though not perhaps at the same time.) In reality, a desire for motherhood is not present in every woman, and thus cannot be intrinsic to femaleness. Of course a desire for parenthood is perfectly natural in both genders, but it is not universally represented in or exclusive to females.

This idea, the idea that a female already has every intrinsic quality which makes her truly female and is not in need of any external standards conformation to which is indicative of Godly Femininity, is based on the idea that God did not make females who are not real, true, genuine, authentic females, and that the created nature of every female is as God intended; there are no "seconds" or "mistakes." (Of course we are flawed by sin, but I'm speaking of our unique personalities, gifts, et c) While there are women who are abused and brutalized to the point of being a mere shadow of themselves, women who have deep psychological issues, or women who have various mental disorders, a simple deviation from accepted norms of expected behavior (not talking about sin here- that would be an unacceptable deviation and is not gender-related) does not constitute an abnormal or defective female. It should be the reality of the natures and qualities of real females who define what is feminine. (which ends up not appreciably different from the expression of maleness, except in a physical sense, because of the great diversity within the group Actual Females) not an external standard of what is feminine into which females must fit themselves to be considered properly feminine females. This also assumes (as a preliminary conclusion upon which other ideas are based) that there are not separate qualities (different from those for males) that a christian female must exhibit in order to be a proper christian female. A christian female is simply a female who is her authentic self, under the lordship of and in divine relationship with Christ; the same would be true for males. A female need not be overly emotional, nurturing, empathetic, soft, responsive, want a family, want leadership from her husband, et c. to be a proper christian female, though she may be/want any or all of those things.
Instead of focusing on telling women to be feminine in a subjective sense, i.e. exhibit certain traits, we should be telling them to be Christlike. If a any person is following Christ, and doing what they are uniquely gifted and called to do, I fail to see how trying to squeeze them into a gender role would ever be a good thing. If they are following Christ, and doing what they are uniquely gifted and called to do, they will be doing exactly what they should be doing and they will be impacting the lives of those around them in glorious, Christ-honoring ways.

Sunday, May 5, 2013


One thing I've asked myself, being now in an ecclesial tradition fairly well removed from some of the more "fundamentalist" aspects of Christianity with which I am familiar, is this: Should I continue to study and talk about things like gender equality, patriarchy, the appropriateness of women in ministry, authority structure, et c? They aren't something I run into much in my current church; one of our pastors is female, our music leader is female, and this is considered the norm. My answer, though, would have to be yes- because I still have many, many people about whom I care deeply who are deeply rooted in patriarchy, in "complementarianism", and in harmful ideas about women and their roles and places in home, life, and ministry. So- I apologize if it seems redundant sometimes; like, as Husband would say, "beating a dead horse." But- I think it's still necessary, and will remain so as long as insidious theology and gender ideology continues to permeate the people, churches, and evangelical Church I love.


I am female. This should, by virtue of my profile pic, bio, et c. be self-evident. I cannot become "more female". Unless I were in the process of gender reassignment or was afflicted with a rare chromosomal abnormality, my gender is not a graded scale; it is a black and white, only-two-options phenomena, determined by my chromosomes. So- if I am as "female" as I am ever going to be, why would I waste time trying to be more female, or more "feminine?" It would seem rather silly, unless of course I equated "truly feminine" with an external checklist of subjective or objective qualities and attributes my adherence to which determined my femininity. I do not make such an equation, because I do not believe that there is a list which defines "true femininity", or "godly femininity", or "attractive femininity", et c.   Of course, there are external things which identify me as female in my culture. (My hairstyle, the cut of my clothes, wearing makeup, and so on) These things, however, are completely culturally relative (much like wearing one's hair up or down or wearing head coverings in the culture of Paul's letters to the Corinthians) and thus a matter of personal choice, never morally prescriptive, and not indicative of any internal gender identity. For example, I would not cease to be a woman, nor would I begin to feel male, if I buzzed my hair into a high-and-tight. (think short, stereotypically male military haircut) It would not necessarily be the traditional hairstyle for females in my culture, but that alone will probably not make anyone think I am male. I don't believe that the Bible endorses purposeful gender androgyny, or attempts to impersonate or become the opposite gender, but it's rather difficult to do that without a great deal of conscious effort. I really doubt there's anything I could do, wear, et c. on any given day that would make people wonder about my gender.

Having said all that, it troubles me that christian culture in general makes such a big deal about women being "feminine." We have "feminine" hairstyles, "feminine" souls, "feminine" colors, "feminine" ways of speaking and relating to men, "feminine" ways of sitting, standing, walking.... it seems there's a "feminine" way to do pretty much everything. I'm not trying to say that doing or wearing or exhibiting much of the typical cultural trappings of femaleness is a negative; there's nothing wrong with proclaiming oneself culturally female. Some of these cultural trappings I enjoy myself; I watch Downton Abbey, I love chocolate, I like scented bath products, and I get my hair cut at a nice spa, complete with relaxing music and complimentary wine. The problem comes when we take things that are amoral, culturally-dependent expressions of gender and make them a prescriptive requirement to embody that gender,  when we define "biblical" or "appropriate" femininity by external qualities that must be studied and adhered to, and when we hold women's female identity hostage to a standard of gender roles and expected codes of behavior; when we tell women that they aren't real women, or they aren't womanly, unless they subscribe to our idea of what they should be. Being feminine isn't something I must endeavor to do; it is something that I inherently am. I do not need to live up to anyone's definition of feminine; by virtue of being a female, I define feminine. I. Define. Feminine. Not the other way around. Yes, there are ways to be more culturally, stereotypically feminine. But those things are external, relative, and generally optional.

What happens when we make cultural externals the measure of "godly femininity?" We tell some women that their natural, God-given expression of the female personhood isn't right, isn't good enough, needs a tweak or a tweeze or a wax here and there. We teach women that don't like makeup, don't go crazy for every baby in sight, don't like to spend hours on their hair, don't like to giggle or paint their nails or shop or do brunch, don't like romantic books or movies, don't cross their ankles, don't act reserved and understated enough around men, like hunting or guns or fishing or serious physical challenges, or have serious professional and intellectual goals that may supercede their desires for immediate motherhood or wifehood, that their expression of femininity is somehow inferior to the women who adore babies, shopping, shoes, and taking a backstage role in conversation. The truth is, neither one is better or worse. Some women are bent to nurturing and emotional empathy; some are not. Some women delight in intellectual analysis of any sort; some do not. Some care whether their hair is done and their nails manicured; some do not. When we teach women that there is only one way to be a godly woman, we rob the women who do not fit that stereotype of living their calling to their fullest potential and being the best and most effective version of themselves. 

Being culturally female, and the ways that the female gender is culturally expressed, have changed drastically through the ages. Being a woman, and more importantly a person, has not. I think it's very, very important to separate the cultural externals that we sometimes use to define femininity from those things that actually make a Godly Christian Woman. Mercifully, that list is short: Be a follower of Christ. Preach the gospel, in whatever way you are best equipped to do that. Love God. Obey God, and follow the gifts and callings that God has put within you. Love your neighbor. If you are married, love your spouse. If you are a parent, love your children. Be chaste, be rational, be faithful, be humble, be merciful, be just. And yes, that list can be applied to either gender. Funny thing- being a Godly Christian Man requires pretty much the same stuff as being a Godly Christian Woman. (Yes, there are some social differences between the genders. But they are not uniform, universal, or prescriptive, and they pale in comparison to differences in background, culture, and personality type.) The most important feature of Godly Christian Womanhood isn't having a family, or being a wife, or anything else. It's being an authentic follower of Christ.