Handle Men With Care

On Facebook, I came across a question from a wife (I’ll call her Melissa) whose husband (Blake) makes demeaning jokes. You know, hilarious “clean” humor like this:

On the original post, a woman did point out how demeaning it was to women. A man responded, “Take a hike.”

Melissa explained that she’s asked Blake not to make these remarks. His reply is, “It’s just a joke. It’s not a big deal.” It embarrasses and frustrates her, and she wanted to know what she could do about it.

Lots of women had lots to say. Many pointed out that if it “wasn’t a big deal,” then he could stop since it obviously bothers his wife. But he won’t stop, meaning that there’s more behind it than lame attempts at humor.

One woman said that she and her husband set aside regular times to discuss their biases and figure out problems in their communication. They work on a puzzle together while doing this, keeping their hands busy and making it easier to talk.

Another woman said she asks the jokester to explain why, for example, #13 on that list is funny. (“It’s funny because the woman is lazy because it’s her job to wipe the dust off the T.V.” Ha ha.)

But one woman weighed in with some advice straight from the “godly marriage” teachings I got as a teenager and young wife. The details can change, but one basic principle remains: the worst thing a woman can do is make a man feel bad about himself.

I mean, sure, he’s the head of the family, has the final say in major decisions, and is — no exaggeration — responsible before God for his wife’s spiritual health. But at the same time, he’s as fragile as a glass ornament. A wife can destroy her husband by contradicting him, disagreeing with him, or communicating anything less than devotion to him.

Therefore, in this conflict, Melissa must approach it carefully. As follows:

Let’s discuss.

  1. When your husband continues to do something that you’ve told him you don’t like, the first step is to figure out where you are wrong. Your attitude probably isn’t 100% pure, which means you’re partly to blame. It’s always very important to establish the wife’s blame in the situation.
  2. Approach your husband and ask him to discuss your reflections when he is ready. This is about you and your issues now.
  3. Don’t expect a massive change immediately. Obviously you’re aiming for a complete overhaul of his attitudes and behavior… even though your stated goal is merely for him to understand why jokes that cut down women aren’t funny and it embarrasses you when he tells them.
  4. Continue to ponder and understand your own beliefs, even though your husband isn’t required to think through why he won’t stop telling demeaning jokes.
  5. You must gently and respectfully state your disapproval if he makes these jokes around you. If you’re snappish or sarcastic, go back to #4, do not pass Go, and do not collect $200.
  6. You can respect your own convictions, even though he doesn’t have to. Also, note that it’s “doing what what you believe is right.” Avoid implying that your husband’s behavior has larger social consequences and this isn’t about your hurt feelings.
  7. You don’t have to speak up every time. Don’t overdo it.
  8. Keep praying! God will keep growing you! Because the problem here is… you?

It’s not that this whole thing is bad advice, taken in parts. It’s good to think through your own reaction before approaching your spouse. It’s also impossible to change someone who doesn’t want to change, so all you really can do is draw your own boundaries and know your own mind. But that’s not really what this is saying. Instead, it shoves all of the emotional work onto Melissa and requires nothing of Blake. There’s not even the expectation that he should change his behavior out of regard for her.

In patriarchal thinking, a man is the strongest protection a woman can have; but she has to handle him with the utmost care or she’ll damage him. A woman who stands too firmly on her own personhood is a woman who can destroy her marriage, her man — and by extension, herself.

Better for her to focus on her own fault, turn the conflict into her own “issues,” and keep praying that he listens to God better than he listens to her.

Sure, it short-circuits communication and lets unresolved conflicts fester. But if it gets too bad, just make a few jokes. That always lightens the mood.

Book Review: Jesus and John Wayne

“Hey, guess what,” DJ said to me last week. “Jesus and John Wayne came in!”

What he meant to say was this: “Remember you asked me to look for the book Jesus and John Wayne for you? The library called to say it came in today.” But my first mental image was of Jesus and John Wayne popping in to DJ’s office, as if they were in the area and decided to come by and say hello.

But I was glad to hear it, even if the reality turned out to be less exciting. I was looking forward to reading it, in my ongoing to attempt to understand exactly how the white evangelical church got to where it is now.

Jesus and John Wayne by Kristen Kobes Du Mez wasn’t really a revelatory book for me. I grew up Southern Baptist and spent my teenage years in Bill Gothard’s ATI program. Our house was full of material from Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, Rush Limbaugh, and Eagle Forum. During my introduction to HSLDA in the late nineties, I brushed shoulders with pre-Vision Forum Doug Phillips. I wasn’t just familiar with the white evangelicalism that this book talks about, I was one of those white evangelicals.

What this book does, however, is lay out my own religious history in a way that I never understood before. It showed me patterns of ideas and behaviors that still hold true today. And it also showed me just how far I drifted from my roots in the early 2000s, which was why I was shattered by the white evangelical church’s overwhelming support of Donald Trump, instead of expecting it as an inevitable outcome.

In fact, if I’d read this book before the January 6 breach of the Capitol, I wouldn’t have found that event nearly as shocking.

The book isn’t a dense read, especially for someone already familiar with most of the major players. Yet every time I try to discuss it, I get tangled up in so many thoughts that it’s hard to have a conversation. So what I’ll do here is highlight the patterns that struck me as significant.

Pattern #1: Evangelicals have always courted political power. I was taught that a real Christian doesn’t “put confidence in princes,” that we trust that God will work His own will no matter what. In practice, however, the leaders in my life were all about currying favor at the White House. It’s why Ronald Reagan is practically a saint in evangelical circles — he was very cozy with the powerhouse of influence, James Dobson, and other church luminaries. Billy Graham was instrumental in getting Richard Nixon elected. Both Bushes knew to appeal to the evangelical vote. Had I known all this, I’d have known that when Dobson, Franklin Graham, and other leaders fell over themselves to line up at Trump’s feet, they weren’t selling out principle for power. Their principle is power.

Pattern #2: Evangelicals create and then believe myths. From the first, John Wayne has been an evangelical icon of “real manhood.” The strong, rugged cowboy lives by his own code of honor, is indomitable in battle, doesn’t take guff from wimpy men or any woman, and earns the respect of everyone he encounters. He’s a real man. Of course, it’s a completely fictional construct. Wayne himself wasn’t a cowboy, never served in the military… heck, even the name “John Wayne” was fiction, replacing the much less craggy “Marion Morrison.” Yet the fact that the ideal has no roots in reality does nothing to diminish it. This myth is so strong that the evangelical concept of Jesus himself has been shaped to fit into this mold.

Similarly, ideal womanhood is built on the same myth-making process. The two examples of great evangelical women in my younger years were Phyllis Schafley and Elisabeth Elliot. Both were outspoken women, household names, and inspiring to young evangelical women. Both pushed hard the idea that a woman’s highest calling is as a mother, wife, and homemaker. Yet neither of these women lived up to that ideal at all. Schafley poured her energies into politics, not “staying home and baking cookies,” as Hillary Clinton was famously reviled for saying. After her missionary husband was killed, Elliot spent her life writing books, hosting a radio show, and traveling around the country to speaking engagements. She married twice more, but never took those men’s names for her professional life. In both cases, these women were able to fulfill their obvious gifts for leadership by reinforcing the idea that they supported “traditional” women’s roles. And just like in the case of John Wayne, evangelicals agreed to believe the myth instead of the reality.

Although it’s still astonishing how quickly the John Wayne myth sprang up around Trump, now I can see why so many evangelicals eagerly believed and invested themselves in it. It’s part of a long pattern.

Pattern #3: Evangelicals feed on fear. There’s always got to be a bad guy for these John Waynes to fight. In fact, I remember the moment when I was 18 and listening to David Barton (a problematic “historian”) at a Bill Gothard conference in Knoxville. We’d spent all week being reminded that America was on a path toward destruction because we, the small remnant of faithful, couldn’t keep her true to her Christian roots. Barton was telling how the Library of Congress was transitioning to digital files, and “destroying hundreds of books.” He implied that it was an Orwellian book-burning designed to erase the Christian foundation of the US, allowing evil people to snatch the country away from us. And all of a sudden my exhausted mind shut down and I thought, “I am so tired of being scared all the time.”

But like any subculture, evangelical leaders need something to keep their followers focused. For many years, the Communist threat was enough to keep the troops galvanized. Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed, it left the army at a loss. So evangelical leaders focused on domestic threats, such as feminism, homosexuality, and religious liberty. Not saying that there are no reasons to be concerned on any of these issues (have you read 1960s feminism? It has venom-dipped fangs), but evangelicals aren’t famous for their nuanced take on issues they oppose.

Then came the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Evangelicals quickly coalesced around this new external enemy. Anti-Islamic panic was high. Reading this section of the book, I realized that these were the years when I was drifting away from my roots. I was vaguely aware of what was being said and passed around as facts about Muslim beliefs and behavior (much of which was highly exaggerated or sensationalized), but I rejected it as unChristian prejudice and racism. I suppose I assumed that most other people did the same. I was wrong, which I found out painfully enough about fifteen years later.

Du Mez keeps a narrow focus in this book. In describing the evangelical response to various events, she doesn’t give much room to presenting a well-rounded view. For instance, she discusses the evangelical distaste for Hillary Clinton, both as a First Lady and as a presidential candidate. Briefly she touches on concerns about Clinton’s policies and possibly corruption — which are valid, non-sexist, non-partisan considerations for any candidate — but she mostly focuses on the overblown rhetoric and rumors that evangelicals passed around among themselves. If you want more than just the evangelical reaction to any given person or incident, you’ll have to go back and fill in the gaps yourself.

I found this a helpful book on a very personal level. Intellectually, I left evangelicalism years ago. I gave up on political activism because I don’t like rallies and canvassing for votes and writing emails to Congress. DJ and I revamped our entire understanding of the “essential” doctrine of creationism. Once we saw the damage that “traditional” gender roles (man = leads, woman = submits) inflicted on our marriage, we cultivated a relationship based on mutual submission. Early in our marriage, we considered joining the Catholic church, but ran into too many theological roadblocks; instead we made our way into the Anglican church, with its focus on liturgy and social awareness. I’ve become sharply aware of the national sin of racism, and the need to for the white church especially to repent. I haven’t voted Republican in a national election since I opted out of the 2008 election (and now I wish I’d participated in the historic event of electing a black president). I’ve revisited and refined many opinions which, in my evangelical days, came pre-packaged with inflexible answers.

Yet I still love the people I came from, and I didn’t realize how far away I’d traveled until the rift became impossible to ignore. That’s why I have so many knots and tangles when it comes to discussing my thoughts on this book.

Your experience reading this will vary. The book might enlightening, uncomfortable, or disturbing depending on your relationship with white evangelicalism. I think it’s valuable regardless. If you’re at all interested in understanding the white Christian Republican devotion to Trump, then you should read Jesus and John Wayne.

Just be aware that you have to say the title very carefully. Not only does this dynamic duo make the rounds at DJ’s office, but I found myself asking, “Did anybody see Jesus and John Wayne in the living room?”

Mock-A-Meme 21

You know how you have those friends who come to mind in times of need? Someone to talk to, someone to help you out, someone to appreciate a really horrible meme… guess which one I qualify for.

In related news, I’ve got a buildup of memes that I need to snark at, so here we go.

Click here if you have no idea what Mock-A-Meme is and why in the world it’s on this blog.

Meme Cliff

This one-session Bible study was entitled, “How gravity can bring us into the presence of God.” It was not very popular.

Meme Plant Woman

She lists all these painful things, but it seems like she’s forgetting a couple of possibilities. I do appreciate that she’s streamlined her wardrobe to only one sock, which is obviously all she needs at this stage of growth.

Losing Beer Pong

Whose yelling at the beer pong table because she’s losing… is what? Don’t leave me hanging!

And this bit of advice specifically states that she’s losing. Not the ideal breeding partner, obviously. You know why? Well, memes tell us why!

Women

In other words, women are created solely to give birth and breastfeed babies. Don’t know what’s wrong with this generation, so busy encouraging women to do anything else! This is what keeps them unique among the standard type of humans, otherwise known as men.

Also, womanly uniqueness is best preserved if you’re young with flawless makeup and awesome hair.

So there you have it. Once again, memes show us the ideal woman. She’s that unique creature who:

  • Grows trees from her body
  • Yells at beer pong
  • Leaps off cliffs
  • Has babies and breastfeeds them

Not necessarily in that order. Guess you need to get busy, girl.

 

And I still have more memes for a future post! That should give you something to look forward to while you’re sprouting saplings.

 

The Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention

“Your an example of why women should stay silent.”

The putdown was posted by some brilliant wit on Twitter. I said it better, and more grammatically, in The Fellowship:

“I don’t think God wants me to stay silent if I see something out of line.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. God hasn’t appointed you to a position of authority. He doesn’t expect you to do anything except obey.”

In both scenarios — one real, one fictional — a young woman was questioning a pastor about his teachings. And in both settings — one real, one fictional — the challenger was shut down.

The Fellowship takes place in a small Southern cult, where the women must wear long dresses and can’t work outside the home. Not very many people have lived in that specific setting.

But I guarantee you’re familiar with the story as it unfolds.

My newsfeed has been full of the scandal of Paige Patterson, misogynist ex-president of Southwestern Theological Seminary. If you aren’t caught up, here’s the statement by the Board of Trustees of Southwestern as to why they fired Patterson. And well they should have. But what about all the years leading up to this? Surely someone thought he was going too far when he counseled wives to return to abusive husbands? Or any number of other questionable teachings?

On a related note, I’m not Catholic, so didn’t follow the fallout of their abuse coverup very closely. I never was part of Sovereign Grace Ministries, so that didn’t register on my radar much either. But I almost could have lifted my novel material from those scandals.

Meanwhile, the #metoo movement, highlighting the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and sexism, proved the downfall of several prominent men in the entertainment and political realm.

It’s all the same story as my little Southern Bible cult. No one could challenge these men. They silenced their accusers and protected their power.

Your details might not be the same as my fictional Bekah and her struggle to be a woman under an oppressive patriarchal system. But the structure is the same. Authority without accountability, used to protect the powerful.

This structure enables abuse, encourages misogyny or misandry, and its ultimate goal is to protect the institution over the victim. Every time.

The insult I quoted at the beginning was part of a long Twitter battle in which women tried to engage a pastor (again, affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, which is in serious need of repentance and reevaluation — and maybe a good disinfectant). You can read the synopsis here.

That particular aspersion was cast by a supporter of the pastor, but don’t worry, the good Brother gets in quite a few jabs himself. The sexism aside, it’s obvious that the pastor’s goal isn’t to empathize, or even engage opponents in a debate — but to silence the challenges to his power.

When I wrote The Fellowship, I was drawing from my own experience with Bill Gothard (Institute in Basic Life Principles/Advanced Training Institute) and Doug Phillips (Vision Forum), and my husband’s experience with an older New England cult. I kept saying, “My little novel is for a niche audience. Not many people will ‘get’ it.”

Three years later, as the voice of the oppressed grows louder and people are less willing to tolerate injustice from those in “authority,” I now realize that my book joins many others in telling and retelling a familiar story. It’s the story of our time.

 

Fractured for Clarity: “Biblical” Marriage

God’s word clearly lays out, with clear clarity, how he designed marriage to look. Here’s one verse in Proverbs that clearly with clarity illustrates this design:

“My son, keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother.”

What, you don’t see it clearly? Well, it’s a good thing there are teachers like Bill Gothard and others of his ilk. They know how to “unpack” verses like this.

The chart below — oh my gosh, did teachers of an earlier era love charts — explains how a Godly household operates. This whole idea comes from a long history of male power and female subservience, but especially the Victorian ideal  straight from God via the book of Proverbs. See how the chart uses words straight from the verse? And how it illuminates the hierarchy laid out in the verse? I mean, it’s obviously a hierarchy. Definitely not a parallel. Even though Hebrew poetry was all about parallels. Look, if you’d just read the verse, look at the chart, and compare both to the way men like Gothard wanted the world to operate, then you’ll see that it’s all right there in God’s word.

Command Law Chart

Remember how everything must conform to the principle of authority. Obviously, as the authority of a family, the father is to come up with the “big picture” and the results he wants for his family. (This brand of Christianity is all about getting good results.) The mother, who is more “detail oriented,” accomplishes the will of her husband God well, actually, they’re kind of interchangeable.

Do I have to point out the problems with this model of marriage? Here are a few.

1.In our own marriage (which looks nothing like this chart), DJ once told me that he didn’t know when I was struggling because I got everything done so well. We saw that as a problem. This chart, though, practically prescribes that mindset.

2.Everything in the “Mother’s Law” column is death to my soul. I do a lot of it because I’m the stay-at-home parent, and it has to be done. But organization, scheduling, and management are not my giftings. (You have to make phone calls for some of this stuff!) I’d never apply for a job as an administrative assistant, and I didn’t get married to be one, either.

3.That second column is my husband’s utopia in chart form. He’s done all of these things with our children, including buying a pack of note cards and sitting them down to write thank-you notes. Does that make me a bad wife? Does it — horrors — make him “feminine” because he’s good at details?

4.This chart lays out in easy-reference form an idea that’s very prevalent in homeschooling circles even now. My husband has bucked the system and is as involved in the homeschooling as I am. It’s very hard for him to find other homeschool dads who have more than a passing knowledge or, indeed, interest in their children’s education. Teachings like the one above feed that disconnect.

4.This chart omits a concept that has done wonders for our marriage: If it’s important to you, you are the one who does it. Obviously if it’s important to DJ, then I help out — I’m the one who addressed, stamped, and mailed those thank-you cards. But if something is important enough to you that you want it done, then you take charge of getting it done.

This model is, of course, too artificial to work in real life. No real couple can conform to these columns, because marriage is all about compromise, communication, and shifting responsibilities. But since it’s based on God’s word, then at least a real couple can feel guilty for not living up to the standard.

And by “based on God’s word,” I mean, how teachers like Gothard violently fracture verses so there’s room fit in their own particular philosophy, and then patch it up in a decomposing zombie version of what it originally was.

That sounds a little strong, but I’m not going to apologize. Charts like this (this one being only one of many iterations of God’s Ideal Marriage) made me dread marriage, and did no favors for my early relationship with my husband. Even worse, though, this consistent abuse of Scripture left me with a distaste for the Bible, and especially Proverbs.

And God speaks to misusing his name for your own ends.

Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. Exodus 20:7

Clearly, with clarity, no fracturing required.

Men Sin Better than Women Do

The recent “Nashville Statement” by the Coalition for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (catchy name!) has a lot of people in my online neighborhood talking. I discuss a little of it below.

What I’m writing about here, though, isn’t the Nashville Statement, but the 1987 Danvers Statement by the same people. It’s just as much fun.

This statement by the then newly-formed CBMW outlines their views of male and female roles according to “God.” By this time in my life, I can shrug off the Danvers Statement. I don’t ascribe to their inflexible view that women are specifically created to be subordinate to men. Nor do I credit their assertion that God built in “masculine” and “feminine” traits as part of the created order. (Male and female refers to biology; masculine and feminine refers to behaviors. One is mostly concrete; the other changes from culture to culture — or, indeed, from person to person.)

But, one part made me laugh. They’re explaining how men and woman are different (but equal! Except when women want to do things that only men should do). They explain that, as far as the church is concerned:

  • Sin “inclines men to abdicate spiritual responsibility and grasp for power.
  • Sin “inclines women to resist limitations on their roles or to neglect the use of their gifts in appropriate ministries.”

In other words:

Sinful man: I SHALL BE AS GOD AND RULE ALL! Bwahahaha!

Sinful woman: THE OFFICE OF ASSISTANT PASTOR WILL BE MINE! Hahaha!

Seriously, of all the horrible things a sinful woman can do in a church body, this is the worst you can come up with? What about spiritually abusing other women? What about spreading dissension and gossip to get rid of a leader she doesn’t like? What about ruling her family and/or her Bible study group with anger and twisted Scripture? What about, I don’t know, abdicating spiritual responsibility and grasping for power?

Nope. Just resisting limitations and not using her gifts in “appropriate ministries.”

This is why I don’t credit much of what the CBMW has to say about my identity as a woman. Their vision for me is so very small. I can’t even sin as good as a man does.

 


A thought or two on the Nashville Statement.

If you managed to get me into a conversation about this issue, you’d find me a lot more flexible about it than my evangelical pedigree and faithful-to-the-historical-faith husband would indicate. The conflict between overarching theology and the impact it has on individual human lives is a tension I continually wrestle with.

I understand the theological underpinnings of this statement. But I found a few phrases that I disagree with, and knowing the culture in which these words are drafted and disseminated, I find the small differences alarming.

For instance, I can see the justification for Article 10 if it said:

Article 10

We affirm that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes a departure from historically-accepted Christian faithfulness and witness.

We deny that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is an issue about which otherwise faithful Christians may agree to disagree.

What it actually says is:

Article 10

We affirm that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

We deny that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christrians should agree to disagree.

What this article says is that if I even approve of a homosexual or transgender relationship, it’s the same as denying essential doctrines such as the deity of Christ or his resurrection. It invalidates my “true Christian” qualifications.

(Also, for the record, I don’t consider it “a matter of moral indifference” so stop assigning motives, okey-dokey?)

This statement was signed by some “big names” in Christian circles. They evidently agree that the church must make its people choose between “gays” and “God,” but last year many of them scrambled down from their moral high ground and endorsed Donald Trump as president. They were willing to approve of a man who doesn’t even pretend to adhere to traditional Christian sexual mores, just to preserve their political power. I find that blatantly immoral.

Back to the point — isn’t it seriously overstating the case to place one’s view of sexuality as an “essential” element of Christian faithfulness and witness?

Not to the CBMW. These people do consider a view of sexuality as central to Christianity. They have a driving need to know who is male and who is female, because their entire theological hierarchy depends upon knowing who is in authority and who cannot, according to God, be in authority.

Otherwise, everything gets all muddled up. You don’t know who is grasping for power and abdicating spiritual responsibility, and who is just sinfully discontent with the imposed limitations of their role. And the world just can’t take chaos like that.

Picking Over the Bones

Tasty meat bone

Discussing a First 5 devotional by Wendy Pope.

I wouldn’t be so bad at Bible studies if they weren’t so irritating.

Granted, I am irritating too. That’s why I’ve steadfastly declined any invitations to Bible studies for the last several years.

But someone shared this “devotional” in a group I’m part of, and in a moment of weakness, I clicked through.

And what do you know — it’s from Irritating Bible Studies for Women, vol. 3!

It’s actually one of a series of devotions called “First 5,” which feature the writings of Lysa Terkeurst and (according to this one) Wendy Pope. I really know nothing about them except reading short posts like this one.

You can click on the link above to see the entire post. I’ll discuss excerpts. Irritably.

Today’s Bible Reading: Job 15
“The “friendly” dialogue between Job and his companions enters round two. Eliphaz is quick to continue his criticism and his retort is quite intense. … Job is suffering; therefore, he must be wicked.

If this is the warm and fuzzy encouragement that comes from a friend, I would hate to meet an enemy of Job’s. But, there is some wisdom sprinkled in.  If we read closely, we can find some ways to help us stay right with God. [emphasis mine]

Okay! Let’s come to a screeching halt right here!

This method of “Bible study” teaches us that we must pull out some kind of personal application from every passage. It ignores the narrative arc of the story, ignores the themes, and even the soaring poetry. It’s a mechanical process that separates ideas from their context, leaving a spiritual nutritional value about equivalent to a pile of picked-over chicken wings.

“Eat the meat and spit out the bones” is glib advice given to those of us who call out bad teachings. It means to reject the bad but keep the good. And you know what? That’s a good way to starve.

Quick recap: The book of Job tells the story of a very righteous man who was devoted to God. “Oh, sure,” says Satan, “that’s because he’s rich, he has children, he’s in good health. Take all that away and see how devoted he is!” So, the story goes, God allows Satan to rip away everything from Job except his life — and even that was miserable because of the boils that broke out all over his body.

As he lay suffering, three of his friends come to sit with him. They all indulge in long-winded monologues that always come to the conclusion that Job must have done something wicked to deserve these calamities, because God rewards good people. Job maintains his innocence, although he does rail against God for the unfairness of everything. In the end, God rebukes the three “comforters” for their faulty understanding of the God of the Universe, and commends Job. Doing “righteous things” doesn’t always mean you actually know who God is.

What this devotional author, Wendy Pope, does is take a bone-filled speech from one of the “comforters” and pick out the little bits of meat. Now, I’m not really arguing with a lot of her points here. Yes it’s good to be wise, to seek God, to listen to the older generations. But to take this story and turn it into a lesson on how to do the right things so we don’t lose God… 

Seeking wisdom from God builds our relationship with Him.

Fearing God keeps our relationship with Him spiritually healthy.

Prayer and a daily commitment to the study of God’s Word are key components to maintaining a right relationship with God.

In the end, our desire is to become more like God, and wisdom from those older than us can be of great benefit.

Hang on, choking on some bones right now.

Starting from a faulty foundation lends itself to bad advice. After all, this “wisdom” comes from someone who doesn’t, in fact, understand Job or God. So Pope has to conclude,

Lord, I want to be a friend who speaks truth in love but I also want to be a friend who receives truth whether it is spoken brashly, rudely or with refinement. My desire is to become more like You no matter what the cost. I long to be completely devoted and always revere You. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

No.

I reserve the right to reject “wisdom” from someone who lacks compassion, or whose intent is to hurt or control. “He’s says good things, even if his way of saying it is abrasive.” That’s not to say that I dismiss everything a person says; but when it comes to seeking out wisdom for my own life, I will find it from people who are safe and who care about lifting burdens, not adding to the ones already on my heart.

My recommendation is to skip the devotional and read Job. Find a pastor or seminarian… or heck, even a poet… who understands structure and story. If all you get is mechanically-processed Bible verses with no sense of their context, you’re left with the idea that you have to do a lot of things — including allowing people to hurt you — because you want to keep God on your side.

Job’s comforters would be thrilled with this a pile of mostly-meatless bones.

And I find that irritating.

A Bride By the Book

You are married now.

You have just taken the name of the most wonderful man in the world and are happier than you have ever thought possible.

You are sure of many things about your marriage. It isn’t going to turn sour and commonplace. The years will be vibrant and alive, exciting adventures of love. Christ is going to have first place in your home. The spiritual roots will be deep and strong. you are going to keep your home what it ought to be by being a sweet, agreeable, efficient wife and homemaker.

So begins The Bride’s Book of Ideas: A Guide to Christian Homemaking by Marjorie Palmer and Ethel Bowman.

The whole reason I have the book is because of a Facebook photo that makes the rounds occasionally. It purports to be advice to a 1950s housewife, and is incredibly blatant about the fact that the wife’s entire purpose is to make her husband’s life comfortable and stress-free. That was the job of a good wife, definitely; but I wonder if it was ever really stated so baldly. Someone said that the advice was from a Better Homes and Gardens bride’s book, so I went looking for it. Couldn’t find that book, but I did find The Bride’s Book of Ideas and ordered that one instead.

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Then I found out that I’d gotten the 1985 version. I developed a burning need to read the 1970 version — so I got that one, too.

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I was looking forward to comparing the two volumes and soundly mocking all of the advice therein. The updated version has a much-improved layout and design, with a few wording changes here and there; but the substance is the same as the earlier one. The first part contains advice to new brides on such practical matters as choosing insurance, finding a family doctor, first aid, kitchen essentials, how to set a table to entertain guests. The rest of it consists of easy recipes to get a new wife started in the kitchen.

So it’s with some disappointment that I report that, by and large, The Bride’s Book of Ideas is fairly tame and actually kind of useful.

But it is of its time, and I can poke a little fun at that.

(Note: I’ll refer to both volumes as one book unless I’m quoting from a specific edition.)

Marriage Advice
Naturally, the book has some space devoted to motherly wisdom, The Precepts of a Happy Home. Most of the points under this heading are unobjectionable:

Be content with what you have (1970 warns against buying too much on “the installment plan.” 1985 cautions against credit card debt.)

Treat your husband with courtesy and respect and expect the same from him. Despite this even-handed heading, the actual advice is aimed only at the wife, reminding her not to take advantage of her husband’s love by giving way to anger and frustration, and to practice the Golden Rule. Obviously it’s a bride’s book, so it’s talking to her; and I don’t disagree with the advice at all. But this is an example of the kind of wifely advice that persists even today in Christian circles, directed only at the wife with no discussion of her husband’s behavior toward her.

Don’t let disagreements and differences go unresolved. This is probably the area where my husband and I have had to do the most work. We don’t fight, therefore we don’t face conflict, therefore we don’t resolve problems.

(The book concerns itself quite a lot with keeping home like “sweet and harmonious,” which sounds great. But sometimes “harmonious” really means “not facing conflict.” Trust me on this.)

The two points that irked me were ones that I heard as a bride myself, but haven’t found to hold entirely true.

Give the Lord his rightful place in your marriage. “If you want God’s help in making your marriage successful, you must give your lives completely to him.” The authors warn against a new couple being so caught up with each other that they let church attendance become sporadic, and daily Bible reading and prayer turn meaningless and indifferent.

No argument that this can happen to a new couple — but because they’re too in love with each other to let God in? Seriously? What a way to instill insecurity in a new wife, by telling her not to love her husband too much or God won’t bless her marriage.

And, of course — Remember that your husband is the head of the home. The two editions have an interesting little wording change:

1970: Some brides resent a subordinate role and are determined not to allow this antiquated precept to have any place in their lives.

1985: Some brides resent what they view as a subordinate role and are determined not to allow this “antiquated” precept to have any place in their lives.

Note the 1985 version implies that it’s really just the woman’s perception of subordinate role. By the time I was hearing marriage advice as a teen in the 90s, teachers fell all over themselves to explain how it’s not really a subordinate role at all! It’s a blessing! It’s an honor! I kind of prefer the straightforward 1970s version.

Both versions put these upstart brides in their place by adding, “But God charges the husband with the responsibility for making major decisions and being the spiritual leader of the home.” I can see some basis for the “spiritual leader” argument, but where exactly does God state, “And husbands are to make all the major decisions, because I won’t bless a marriage where the wife has an equal say.” Hint: he doesn’t.

So, anyway, if you “practice these precepts,” your marriage “will be happy and will bring honor and glory to God.”

Housecleaning
They cheerfully advise the new wife to do some special cleaning in addition to her regular cleaning — and remind her not to neglect the out-of-the-way areas because she’s building good habits for the rest of her life.

“If you have a job, as so many of today’s brides do…”

Then your husband should pitch in and help? Ha ha! Nope..

“…the [housework] must be condensed into after-work hours.”

My friend Karen pointed out that it’s actually very nice when a couple can split the earning duties and life duties between them. But I thought it was interesting how these authors never stopped to re-evaluate a woman’s responsibilities in the case of an outside job. The house is the woman’s responsibility, the end and amen.

Cooking for Husband
This is a different heading than just “cooking” because the book makes it very clear that a “sweet, agreeable, efficient wife and homemaker” will feed her husband well.

And let me say that in nearly 17 years of marriage, the fact that I feed my husband well has contributed strongly to our happiness.

But this book gives menus not just for suppers… but for breakfast and lunch, too. Like, complete menus that include a beverage and dessert. I laughed out loud when I saw the breakfast menus. DJ and I agree that we don’t think I have ever cooked him breakfast. If he worked close enough to come home for lunch, I’d have something for him — but to be honest, I’m pretty glad I don’t have to worry about it.

The authors acknowledge that in this day and age, the wife might herself work outside the home as well. So they provided the menus so…

… So she and her husband could take turns doing the cooking?

Ha ha! Nope.

… so the good wife can get these meals cooked and on the table. After all, the book admonishes, “You may not be able to prepare a large meal every night, but it is wise to do so as often as possible.”

Wise to do so. They don’t say it, but everybody knows a hungry husband might go astray or something.

Entertaining
I found this section interesting mostly because of the obvious change in social rituals. There’s a discussion of the proper places to seat guests at the table. I’m not sure DJ and I ever worried about where we placed guests. In fact, we’ve always preferred to eat in the living room because it’s more comfortable.

There was also some helpful advice about what to keep on hand “in case of unexpected guests.” I discussed this with DJ, and we agreed that we have no idea why this is a big deal. Did people really just drop in unannounced, stay till suppertime, and expect to be fed? Plus think badly of the housewife who didn’t have enough food on hand to feed them? Judging from the book, this was a real source of anxiety to some women. The authors suggest keeping some staples on hand for quick meals, namely:

Instant mashed potatoes
Small box of dried milk
Tin or two of canned meat, ham, Vienna sausages, or tuna
Can of baked beans
Box or two of fancy crackers
Cake mix
Canned pie filling to top the cake
Can of fruit cocktail (You can leave this in the freezer for weeks; remove both ends of can, slide out fruit, slice thick or thin, put on salad plate, top with a dab of mayonnaise, and NO GUEST WILL EVER WANT TO SHOW UP AT YOUR HOUSE UNEXPECTEDLY AGAIN. Ahem. I added the last part.)

Cooking
Most of the book is devoted to recipes for everyday meals. And it’s very useful in that respect — assuming you crave mid-century Midwestern American food.

Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, grilled cheese, canned tomato soup, fried halibut, buttered frozen peas, orange-cream jello salad, macaroni-tuna salad, hamburgers, ham sandwiches, broiled franks wrapped in bacon, tossed salad, celery and lettuce wedges, baked green bean casserole…

This book is not one of culinary adventuring. The one section devoted to “Foreign Dishes” (1970) or “International Dishes (1985) lists five recipes, one of which is “Italian Spaghetti” and another of which is “Vera’s Chow Mein.”

I can laugh at the food, but this book was written by women who had grown up in the Depression and married sometime around World War II. Good, solid, easy-to-store food was what they prized. My grandmother cooked this way, my mother somewhat, and I still do a little.

Still… a snack of chocolate-covered Wheaties is kind of sad. And I’m not really tempted by “frank boats,” which appear to be hot dogs filled with American cheese and topped with a sauce of pickle relish, “catsup,” Worcestershire sauce, and dry mustard. Is there a more of-its-time recipe than Chicken a la King, a casserole consisting of chopped chicken and cream of mushroom soup?

On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that Marjorie and Ethel would get a real kick out of today’s recipes, like this Cauliflower Spanish Rice:

1 large head of cauliflower
1 tbsp olive oil or avocado oil
1/2 cup diced onion
3 cloves garlic minced
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt + more to taste
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 – 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
Fresh cilantro for garnish optional
1 lime, juiced optional

Yes, 10 ingredients to create a dish that isn’t even actually what the title says it is.

The Bride’s Book of Ideas is dated and, in these days of Googling whatever information we need, obsolete. Still, I’m glad I have both volumes. They take me back to the world of a bride whose priorities were a vibrant spiritual life, a happy husband, a clean house, and friends over for good food. And what do you know — that’s really very  much the same life I want.

“Using [this book] should help make you a gracious hostess and a better, more efficient wife.”

So there you go.

Women Deserve Better than Equality

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I have a friend who deliberately trolls his own Facebook page. He’s like Elizabeth Bennett, to whom Darcy remarked, “you find great enjoyment in occasionally professing opinions which in fact are not your own.”* 

The other day he posted “To nobody’s surprise, the new Doctor Who is a woman.”**

TWO HUNDRED COMMENTS LATER

My friend pointed out that the decision to feature a female Doctor in the upcoming season of the show is consistent with the established storyline, it was time for a change, it could be fun, etc. But one Random Internet Person came back with argument after argument. This person*** approached it from twenty different angles, all of which tended inexorably toward the conclusion that it was a bad idea to cast The Doctor as a woman.

The Random Internet Person’s last gasping attempt — or, at least, the last one I read before getting on with my life — was a classic patriarchy  move: Women Cheapen Manhood

“It is bad writing and alienates female fans who liked the male archetype the Doctor filled, young male fans looking for a role-model, and older male fans who are trying to relive their childhood.”

You see what’s at stake here. Women need men to admire. Young men need men to look up to. Old men need men to look back on. Only a man can satisfy these deep desires! Set up a woman for men to admire and emulate, and manhood will suffer.

But most people who make this argument are dimly aware that it’s kind of insulting to women, maybe suggesting that they are inferior or something. So the Random Internet Person jumped to another classic patriarchy trick: Women Deserve Better Than Equality

“Women deserve strong original female characters rather than rehashes of male characters.”

See? Women are so special and so precious–so not inferior to men–that they should exist in their own specially-created sphere that doesn’t threaten the established male world.

If you spend any time around patriarchy, you’ll discover that it’s a widely-held belief that patriarchal men are extremely fragile. No one can shatter that brittle manhood faster than an incautious woman who thinks she walks on equal footing with him.

Watch any argument about women’s roles in life, and I guarantee you’ll find these two tricks played with infinite variations. So thank you, Random Internet Person, for so baldly stating what other, more polished patriarchy people manage to disguise more effectively.

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*This friend, although a man, actually wouldn’t mind being compared to a sharp, witty, and honest female character.

**I’m not a Doctor Who fan because I don’t watch shows. So I honestly don’t have much of an opinion on this new development. I am, however, friends with lots of Doctor Who fans, and am interested to find out how the new season goes.

***I’m not identifying whether Random Internet Person is a man or a woman because either gender can adhere to patriarchal teachings. In fact, in my experience, it’s the women who enforce it most stringently on a personal level.

 

Abigail and the Fool

Minolta DSCI think I’ve complained about some “Christian” marriage advice on this blog before (that’s four links). So the question is, do I ever come across a perspective of marriage that I like?

Funny you should ask that! Because I found a post recently that was an antidote both to the “stay silent and happy” brand of marital life, and redeems the twisted version of Abigail that I was subjected to as a teen and young adult.

Help, I’m Married to a Fool! really isn’t “advice” so much as a reflection on the author’s own married life. She is writing on her twenty-first wedding anniversary, so she and her husband have weathered a lot of years together. She writes that she became a Christian a few years after getting married, and found herself praying often for her marriage.

My husband and I seemed to be at odds on a regular basis, and although I would like to say it was his fault, in truth, we were young, selfish, and trying to adjust to life with many children in a short time frame.

But there was more than just kids and immaturity causing the divide. Something was wrong and she wasn’t sure what; she needed God to fix it! Pray, pray, pray.

Then she noticed the story of Abigail, and a light dawned.

I’ll pause here to remind you about the “complementarian” view of marriage, which is what most evangelicals claim. It’s different from patriarchy in that it considers men and women spiritually equal before God. The term comes from the idea that men and women are “equal but different” — their roles in life “complete” each other. But in marriage, the husband still has the final say in all decisions. The wife is expected to say her piece, then submit to whatever her husband decides. If it’s a bad decision — just like in patriarchy — the wife leaves the result up to God.

In both patriarchy and complementarianism, the story of Abigail is a problem. Her husband, Nabal, scorns and insults the warrior king-to-be, David, thereby inviting very real destruction on his entire household. A servant alerts Abigail, who goes behind Nabal’s back and approaches David with apologies, explaining that her husband is “a fool.” Her offers of peace saved the lives of everyone in the household — except Nabal, who died of a rage-induced stroke when he heard what she did.

The version of Abigail that I learned in patriarchy circles (see my link above) was that Abigail should have gone to her husband first, should have left everything up to God, and was responsible for Nabal’s death. Complementarianism doesn’t go that far, but it’s still uncomfortable with the way Abigail undermined her own husband’s wishes.

But the author of this blog post came to a different conclusion after really paying attention to the story.

In Scripture, fool is often used for a wicked or depraved person; one who acts contrary to sound wisdom in his moral deportment; one who follows his own inclinations, who prefers trifling and temporary pleasures to the service of God and eternal happiness.

That morning I realized that the deepening divide in our marriage was not something I could fix, but that it had to be wisely navigated. My relationship with my husband would not be better until he made the decision to acknowledge God above his own inclinations.

She goes on to explain how Abigail “navigated around” her foolish, dangerous husband. She didn’t passively pray and react and pretend everything was all right; she actively responded, was known as a safe and trustworthy person, and told the truth about her situation.

The post leaves some questions, like — What is a wife supposed to do if her husband is making a fool of himself? Not in a foot-in-mouth sort of way, but in an agonizing “Hey, let me launch into an insulting tirade without regard to my listeners, banking on the fact that they’re polite so I can say whatever I want to.” My first loyalty is to my husband, so I’d be loath to call him out right there in front of everybody. But if it’s a pattern, if he’s ignored my private conversations about it… well, then what? The post doesn’t really offer much guidance.

On the other hand, it gives a freedom that most marriage reflections don’t: it allows the wife to actually think about this situation and decide what her response will be. She can act, and be justified in doing so, without having to worry that she will “dishonor” her husband incur God’s wrath. If she’s reluctant to speak up because of how her husband will treat her at home, in private — well, I would think that’s definitely a signal that it’s time to take serious action, possibly behind his back, to save herself and her household.

But what if she uses this “freedom” to humiliate her husband? What if she cuts him down in public and undermines everything he tries to do for their family? Then guess what? She’s the fool, not him. He can look to the brave, trustworthy, truthful Abigail for guidance in navigating around her destructive habits until God changes her, or until he needs to act without her knowledge to “save the household.”

Marriage relationships are complicated. Sometimes it’s very hard for outsiders to know exactly who is the fool, and who is the Abigail. But trying to solve the problem by telling a wife that she must stay in her “God-given role” and honor her husband at all costs is ineffective at best, and dangerous at worst.

Instead, be smart, decisive, and ready to act on your own and others’ behalf. Don’t be a fool — be like Abigail.