With A Scholarly Ribbon In My Hair…

…or, why we’re hearing so much about “masculine” Christianity.

Billy Sunday, grandpappy of 'muscular' Christianity...

I have a post up at Christianity Today’s blog for women, her.meneutics, responding to John Piper’s comments of last week (or so) that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.”

Here is some of what I said:

“…masculinity and femininity are not fixed and eternal sets of attributes, but are by and large culturally defined, and always changing. For example, blue was once more closely associated with “feminine” while pink was associated with “masculine.” In parts of Europe, it’s still not unusual for men to greet one another with kisses; in India, you might see two male friends walking arm in arm. And we have many examples of renaissance poetry—essentially love poetry—written by and for non-homosexual males who were close friends. By looking to other times and other places, we can see that masculinity is a way of behaving culturally that looks different in different times and places.”

And here are some things that other people have been saying:

  • “you seem uninformed”
  • “There’s a reason that throughout human history and in any cultural context patriarchy was THE norm–feminist thinking will go the way of the dodo. It’s only a matter of time.”
  • “CT tries to tie a scholarly ribbon in [her] hair” (that one’s from Douglas Wilson. BTW, Mr. Wilson, I don’t claim to be a scholar. I just claim the covenant covering of my husband’s Ph.D. We’re one flesh and he is my Head, after all.)
  • “Rachel is promoting is a damnable heresy that will bring many women (and men), including herself to everlasting perdition in hell! “
  • “put down your donuts and pick up a Bible.”

(I happened to mention that bit at the dinner table, and my 6 year old son said, “Anybody who says ‘put down your donuts and pick up a Bible’ is a bully.” Out of the mouths of babes.)

A commenter named Scott Allen also said:

  • “Women use church as a hammer to make men […] fit their norms. They substitute Precious Moments thoughts for actual Biblical teaching.”

Scott Allen, this one is for you–

But there are other comments, too, like this one, which has given me the very best kind of encouragement a writer could hope for (thanks, Natalie!)–

“It’s articles like this that shed light on something I’ve begun to notice on my own: there is an emphasis on masculinity in the Reformed tradition that alienates women (and disabled men like my husband who has progressive MS). For the first time in months, I was encouraged by what you wrote in your post on this matter. Thank you so much for giving me a beacon of light in the foggy world of my strange circumstances.”

Bet you can’t wait to read it! The whole thing is here.

knowledge/power: conspiracies & coverups in the time of cholera (& famine)

{Part Two}

So yesterday I asked whether it is better not to know about the suffering that is in this world that we might not know about or encounter in our day-to-day lives. After all, most of us have obligations and cares that rightfully consume most of our time and energy. Why read news stories, blogs, or books that tell us about terrible suffering?

For me, history is often instructive and comforting. And I think that history proves the proverb I shared yesterday–

“The righteous know the rights of the poor;
   the wicked have no such understanding.”
 (Proverbs 29:7, NRSV)

–or, at the very least, shows that knowing is often an important first step–that knowing the needs of the poor is good.

Not so long ago, I watched this documentary about the Russian famine of 1921. When crops failed, and millions were facing death by starvation, Lenin (for various political reasons) refused to request/accept aid from other nations, the writer Maxim Gorky issued an appeal to the outside world in the form of newspaper advertisements, some of which caught the notice of world leaders–including one Herbert Hoover–who organized a massive relief effort that saved many, many lives.

Someone read that newspaper ad and did something about it.

HELP

And in this series of lectures I’ve been listening to, the delightful professor tells a story of conspiracy and coverup–that was perfectly true: that Naples, Italy, had an outbreak of cholera that they did not want to openly acknowledge because of the colonial and economic associations of the disease: it is a disease from the global South, and it is a disease that disproportionately affects poor people. As a result of the coverup, more people died than would have had the authorities addressed the epidemic and handled it with the knowledge and resources that were available at that time.

Had people been equipped with knowledge, lives would have been saved.

The famine I referred to yesterday–the one that took place in Malawi, the one that William Kamkwambe lived through–was yet another event in which government officials either didn’t know about or refused to acknowledge the reality of the famine until most Malawians were already on the brink of starvation. (Source here.)

Again: knowledge + timely action could have saved lives.

And so it is with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Myths and misinformation proliferates, and with it the virus that has created more than 10 million African orphans.

So knowledge is power, and power is knowledge–thus, knowing the troubles of “the least of these” has inherent value.

But of course, we are not talking merely about knowing. We’re talking about knowing that involves some kind of doing.

If we know that it would cost no more than $30 billion to give everyone in the world access to clean water, but half the people in the developing world still don’t have it, that knowing doesn’t help much.

If we know that most of us throw away more food per year than some people eat in that same year, but don’t do anything, those people still go hungry.

But if we don’t know, how can we even hope to do?

We need to know.

{Tomorrow we’ll talk about some things we can do: how we can ‘eat with joy’ in light of our global neighbors.}

EXTRAPOLATE AT YOUR OWN RISK

This week I really enjoyed Brittany Tuttle’s piece at the Christianity Today blog for women, about how blogs, Facebook, et. al, DO NOT equal the whole picture.

Does this sound familiar:

“Countless times I’ve logged onto Facebook, Twitter, or my favorite blogs only to see vintage-filtered vignettes of other people’s seemingly perfect lives. There are my friends, on tropical vacation (again). There are my favorite bloggers, wearing artsy duds, sitting in their homes that look like exact replications of the Anthropologie catalog. And there are their children, perpetually glossy-haired and rosy-cheeked and smiling.

Meanwhile, here I sit in my untidy home in the cold of January, wearing an old college t-shirt. My kids are fighting in the background. Reading these blogs, seeing these profiles, often feels like browsing a fashion magazine. It’s fun to look at, but afterward I feel inferior and inadequate and ugly and fat.”

That? Right there? That captures it so well. I went through a period of real distress before I realized that no, I do not have to have five kids and live on a farm in Maine and grow and preserve all my own food and either knit or sew new slipcovers/cushions/quilts/cozies for everything and raise pigs just because SouleMama does and looks darn cute doing it and it seems like her kids are always peaceful and empathetic and never screaming or creating mayhem (like mine are.)

I think all blogs, maybe even this one, should have bold disclaimers:

THIS IS NEITHER THE WHOLE PICTURE NOR THE WHOLE STORY. EXTRAPOLATE AT YOUR PERIL!

I won’t give away Brittany’s grace-filled conclusion. It’s worth going over to read the whole post for yourself.

Enjoy the weekend! I will see you on Monday!

Discovering Hugo (and you.)

Usually I really don’t care what movies are nominated for/win Oscars unless its so that I can scoff that the Academy is full of nonsense and that their choices just stink.

At the same time, though, a nomination usually means that the film will be seen by more people. And I certainly hope that will be the case for Hugo.

I was first introduced to the story by my son, who loves Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret–a unique novel “in words and pictures,” upon which the film is based. More than illustrations, the pictures that make up more than half the bulk of the book wordlessly advance the plot–an homage, of sorts, to the silent films that play an important role of their own in the story. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Hugo was a better-than-usual book-to-film adaptation–there was something of film within the book already.

The film was not disappointing at all–and I’m delighted that was able to see it on the big screen, where it comes alive under Scorcese’s able direction, Robert Richardson’s stunning cinematography, and Howard Shore’s (of Lord of the Rings fame) haunting and beautiful score. (All three were nominated for Oscars for their respective contributions, and the film was nominated for Best Picture.)

Hugo is also surprisingly, richly theological in some surprisingly Christian ways. I hate reviews that give away substantive facts, but suffice it to say, it is about creativity, it is about vocation, about redemption and grace in the unlikeliest of circumstances. It is about communicating, reconciling, remembering, community-forming love.

All without being the least bit ‘preachy.’

So I’ll be preachy, just for a second: go see Hugo!

And if you’ve seen it/read it, please do share your thoughts below!

Using God as Backup for White Middle Class Standards of Beauty

Usually for your weekend reading I post something of interest from around the web. This week I enjoyed reading the HuffPo listing of the 10 most polarizing foods–foods that people either love or hate–but some of your responses to this weeks’ earlier posts made me think you might enjoy this one, originally posted in August, on using God as backup for enforcing white middle-class standards of beauty and grooming.

Recently I read back through just a bit of Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman by Anne Ortlund–because I vaguely remembered that there was something in there that had once had a grip on my mind–and I only had to suffer through 43 pages until I found it:

“..my advice to all is: when you first become conscious in the morning, get decent. I know some people say [pray] first, but don’t you sort of feel sorry for God when daily he has to face all those millions of hair curlers and old robes? What if you were the Almighty, and got prayed to with words spoken through all those unbrushed teeth? It seems to me like the ultimate test of grace.”

(Hm, so I should have compassion on God and look good before I pray?)

She goes on to pose a number of questions like these:

“How are your hips, thighs, tummy?”

“Do you need to get into that jogging suit and run?”

“How is your hair?”

“What kind of program are you on to stretch, bend, and stay supple, to stand tall; to be a good advertisement of God’s wonderful care of his children?”

(So I have to look good not only for God but for everyone else, too?)

From about age 15 or so, I used to get up early to use the NordicTrack or to do some idiotic aerobics routine before school, for 2 reasons:

1. I didn’t think I deserved to eat breakfast until I’d exercised

and

2. I didn’t think God wanted to hear from me unless I was ‘disciplined’ enough to exercise regularly.

Being a typical American teenager, it didn’t even occur to me that God might have bigger things to worry about than whether I reached my target heart rate or ate too many grams of saturated fat. I’m pretty sure 1996 had enough injustice, war, natural disaster, famine, and other stuff going on that God wouldn’t have minded hearing the prayers through unbrushed teeth or from girls who chose to do something with their spare time besides fitness and beauty maintenance.

surely I’m not the only one who had a caboodle?


I’m pretty sure that somewhere, deep down, I knew that God didn’t care what I looked like. Nonetheless, pleasing God by looking good was bound up in my mind and body with actually doing good in the world.

In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf argues that the pressure on women to attain to an unrealistic standard of beauty has  increased along with women’s freedoms in other areas of society. A study of archived letters from students at Smith College suggests that women before suffrage (1920) were more likely to worry about needing to GAIN weight, while women after, almost universally, worried about needing to LOSE weight.

{Why? To take up less space? To look better in the ‘flapper’ style? To eschew feminine curves for a more androgynous appearance?}

This problem, it’s not unlike my Audrey Hepburn problem. But it’s worse in some ways, too, because claims like Anne Ortlund’s use God as backup for enforcing white middle-class standards of beauty and grooming.

And her book isn’t the only one to do that. Lots of the ‘Christian’ diet books out there do the same thing. And that’s what had me so upset about the article in Relevant last week.

Because what’s good? And what does God want from us?

{100 sit-ups and 100 push-ups every morning? Detoxification ‘cleanses’?}

NO–

To do justice.

To love mercy.

To walk humbly with God.

{I’m no longer posting on Sundays. See you all on Monday!}