Good Excuses (T or F?)

So it appears that it’s been nearly two months since I’ve updated this blog. Since there haven’t been any crises of health or happiness in my life lately, what excuse could I possibly have?

Fortunately, I’ve got lots. I just hope you’re not picky about all of them being, you know, “true.”

Just in case, though, I’ve made a helpful True-False notation after each one.

Reasons For My Absence from The Blog:

  1. Everybody has finally realized the dangers of a rule-based, authoritarian system with no built-in accountability. I have nothing more to write about. (F)
  2. I realized I need to “get under authority” and am shutting down this blog in repentance. All further posts will be submitted (haha) by my husband. (F)
  3. I’m working on a new project, this one a collection of short stories that range in topic from a redneck wife harassed by her ex-husband, to six different versions of a pizza recipe. (T)
  4. I spent three weeks on a cross-country drive through sixteen states with my husband and four kids for no reason other than “we always said we would.” (T)
  5. We spent the first four days of our trip taking turns throwing up into a plastic bucket in the van. (T)
  6. Oh, in connection with #2, I’m dropping my maiden name because of how feminist it looks. Even though I got both names from men. (F, except where I got the names, which is T)
  7. I discovered my new life ambition in Wal-Mart yesterday, when I found an adult coloring book based on novels by Debbie Macomber. One page would feature a quote from one of her dozens of novels, and the facing page was an illustration to color. I’ve never read any Macomber, but I’m inspired. (Haha, obviously F. Totally joking. I mean, unless somebody really wanted to illustrate my quotes. I’ve got some good ones.)
  8. And the Lord might not delight in the legs of a man, according to Psalm Twenty-Seven, but Bekah certainly did. That’s one of my favorite quotes from my novel. (T)
  9. Also, The life-sized cardboard Queen Esther leaned against a nearby tree. Somebody had taped a paper cup to her hand. I’d enjoy coloring that. (T)
  10. I’ve been living a busy life as a woman free of anxiety about authority, God’s wrath, or how clean my home is. I’m also working hard to have a new book to offer by the end of the year. So that’s why the blog took a little pause. Thanks for dropping in to say hello again. (T)

Marriage Mind Games

ball-1418250-1279x850A godly wife is submissive. A godly husband is a leader. This is the ideal model of marriage, as laid down by a God who likes making his children play mind games.

It’s not news that I’m no fan of the patriarchal/complementarian view of marriage. I sat through hours of the instruction as a teen. I even tried it when I first got married, with pretty terrible results. It causes more harm than good most of the time. But don’t take my word for it—here’s an article from one of the bastions of submissive womanhood, Above Rubies, with a rundown of how the game goes.

I found the article when someone shared it on my newsfeed, after Above Rubies posted it on their Facebook page. Considering that the working title of my novel was Somewhere Below Rubies, I’m obviously not the target audience. But it’s exactly the kind of stuff I was taught, and obviously still going strong.

You can read the whole thing here. Here on the blog, I’ll provide excerpts. With commentary, naturally.*

The author leaps into motion with the starting gun:

… God spoke to me and said, “Val, you cannot teach this message… Because you don’t understand submission!” Now I don’t mind admitting that I was shocked.

“Lord, do you realize that I’m Val Stares from Above Rubies? I’ve always encouraged submission.” “Yes,” was the reply, “but you still don’t know how to submit.” By now I was on the defensive. “But. Lord, you know that every time I want something, or desire to go somewhere, I always ask my husband first.”

“And what is his reply?”

“He says for me to please myself. Oh yes, he always adds, ‘You usually do.’ I don’t know why he says that because he’s already given me permission to do what I think best.”

Her husband’s reply is an interesting detail. Does he mean it casually, as a lighthearted way to say, “Yes!” or as an unstated resentful way to remind her that she doesn’t really care about his opinion? I’d think that God, who surely has as much basic education as a first-year marriage counselor, would suggest that she ask her husband what he’s really thinking.

But no. The patriarchal God rarely goes in for direct, heart-to-heart talks. That spoils the game.

“If you are serious about learning submission, Val, I want you to go to your husband and tell him that from now on he needs to answer you, “Yes” or “No.” If he says that you can please yourself, then you will take that as his disapproval and will stay home or go without. There is to be no pouting, no banging doors, no attitude of annoyance or hurt when this happens.”

So “God” has laid down the ground rules. Val runs out to the shed where her husband spends a lot of his time, and tells him her new revelation. He laughed—“You’ll never be able to do it!”

About three weeks later, a visiting speaker came to town.
Note the passage of time. Three weeks later.

Finally it was time to ask my husband if I could go. Out to the shed I went, told him what was happening and asked if I could go. As usual, I left everything until the last minute!
That little drop of self-blame is essential to the truly submissive woman’s worldview.

“Please yourself, you usually do.”
That’s how he answered. He didn’t say the magic words. Remember what he was supposed to say? “Yes” or “No.” Anything else meant he didn’t actually approve and she had to stay home. Because God said so.

I raced into the bedroom and pleaded with God, “He’s forgotten he has to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Can’t I just remind him?” “No” came the answer to my heart…
Because if you did that, it would totally ruin God’s fun.

Around the time I should have left for the meeting, my husband walked in to find me cleaning. “I thought you were going out to a meeting,” he said.
This is a major play right here. She explained how he had really forbidden her from going because he didn’t use the right words. And her husband got mad. He yelled at her that if she wanted to be so stupid and stay home, then fine, stay home!

It was then that the full revelation of what God was teaching me became clear.
I don’t know about you, but I’m revelating all over the place here.

I’m getting the impression that Val is an energetic, take-charge kind of person. Women who run ministries usually are. And she married a low-key, easygoing man. This is a perfectly normal and acceptable personality pairing—except in patriarchal/complementarian circles. In those circles, a take-charge woman has to force herself to be indecisive and subservient, but in order to do so, she’s got to compel her easygoing husband to order her around. However, according to God’s fun little game, she can’t say that.

So Val decided for some reason that her husband’s dismissive “Please yourself, you usually do” wasn’t up to par. She made up a code that he had to follow to show he was really leading her. Meanwhile, her husband thought he’d given her permission to do something she wanted to do, only to discover that she’d denied herself and blamed him. No wonder he was mad.

Oh, hang on. That’s not at all what Val concludes. Instead, she chalks up a major score in the mind game.

I had overridden my husband’s decision so many times that he was now robbed of any desire to lead. He must have felt so cheated. Now, by God’s hand, he was responsible for me staying home, but what hurt me most was the realization that it was me, the Christian wife, who had robbed him!
It’s a homerun, folks!

 My husband is a cautious man and rather slow at making decisions. My impatience at waiting for an answer caused me to make more and more decisions myself and he would go along with me for the sake of peace.
Or maybe he figured out a long time ago that you manipulate the situation to get what you really want, so his actual opinion didn’t really matter.

 I stayed home for several weeks after that, while we both learned our respective roles.
While he learned your official change in the rules, you mean.

So that’s the story part. Now she’s got to get into the doctrine part to justify why they dodge and block instead of talking things out like responsible adults. She quotes some usual verses on submission (Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18) and adds all the usual explanations:

God is not telling husbands to make us obey or make us come under their authority. We do it because we love God and our husbands, and because He has asked us to. It is our choice.
Even though in her own story, she had no choice once “God” told her to do it.

In my mind I saw my broom raised to a horizontal position above my head. The handle was labeled, “My husband’s Authority.” I could see that if he were in his rightful position, I would be able to walk beneath it in an upright position. This upright position was one of honor, security, love–and a surprise I didn’t expect or notice until much later–power!

This is one of their favorite plays. They insist that a woman who doesn’t make any decisions on her own, but lets her husband dictate everything, is in fact very powerful. They point to Esther, who had enormous influence over the king. That’s the kind of influence a truly submissive wife has! All she has to do is go into every situation thinking, as Esther did, “I’ll ask him about this. If I die, I die.” What’s so hard about that?

Just because the things I wanted to do were good things, didn’t necessarily mean they were what my husband wanted to do. He could have other plans.
Not that she asked if he had other plans. Not that he told her he had other plans. They are very careful not to mess up God’s favorite sport.

But God wanted me to measure myself by the attitude of Jesus.

We read about Jesus’ example in 1 Peter 2:18-23, “For what glory is it, if when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps…Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously….Likewise, (with the same spirit of Jesus) ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the Word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation (the manner of life) of the wives.”

This is actually what 1 Peter 2:18-23 says. It’s written to servants (slaves, as translated in the New International Version).

“18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

19 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.

20 For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.

21 For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:

23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:”

It looks a whole lot like she tacked on 1 Peter 3:1, the verse about wives, without saying so. Not only is she quoting Scripture out of context, she just created her very own Frankensteinian context! Slam dunk!

What happened to that feared and dreaded “door mat,” the so-called intimidated mousy wife who gets no say? It was a lie. It had no substance or power. I can now stand up straight, and walk upright, secure and loved under his protection. On this side of submission, I have more say because my opinion is of greater value than before.
In a spectacular leap of logic, she concludes that by not expressing her opinion on anything, it has greater value. Touchdown, baby! GOOOAAALLL!

One word of warning– submission is a daily practice, not a one-time act. I have to daily check my attitude and the humility of my heart.
But it’s even harder to work every day at communicating with each other, balancing each other’s desires with your own needs, taking care of misunderstandings as they happen. No guarantees, no formula to fall back on—just love, effort, and God’s grace.

But in the long run, your marriage grows stronger when you don’t depend on formulas, but take the risk to meet as equals and face issues together.

We serve a God of grace.

Not a God of mind games.

Game, set, match.

 

*Should I apologize for the unholy mixing of sports references? That would suggest that I’m sorry for it.

Deborah: When Men are Weak

king-and-queen-1179013-639x462Apparently in some of the back streets of the internet, there’s a fight about whether movies should star “strong female characters.” The whole question makes me nearly sprain something rolling my eyes, so I don’t actually know much about it.

I did read a post on the subject, though. The author, a woman, wrote it in response to a man who objected to “strong females” in stories. He claimed that they usurped a man’s rightful, God-given place as the protector of the weak.

Among other points in her post, the author of the rebuttal mentioned the Biblical example of Deborah. And I thought, “You think you won a point. But you really lost it.”

The thing about Christian patriarchalists is that they know their Bible. They know it like Westley and Inigo knew their fencing forms. It’s kind of like a game, sparring with them. First they lay down the rules—you must argue from the Bible. Nothing else is authoritative. Then they show up with all their Bible knowledge and interpretation and demolish you. They know what you’ll say, and they’ve developed a reflexive response for it. Maybe, if you’re really good at holding your own, they might acknowledge—as Westley did to Inigo—that you’re an artist of stained glass window caliber.

But how is bringing up Deborah in a debate about female leadership an automatic loss?

Yes, we’re talking about the same Deborah, the Old Testament judge, whose story is found in Judges 4-5. She lived during the time before Israel had kings. The people listened to her for God’s words and judgements, especially during this time when a nearby king oppressed them.

Deborah sent for Barak, obviously a warrior of renown. She informed him that God wanted him to gather troops and go against the enemy general, Sisera, in battle. Barak kind of blanched at the thought and said, “I’ll go if you go with me.”

“Fine, I’ll go,” Deborah said. “But just so you know—you’re not going to get any glory from this. Sisera will die by a woman.”

So they went up together and Barak mustered his troops. They met Sisera in battle; it didn’t go well for Sisera. God routed his army, and he himself escaped on foot. He found the tent of an ally, whose wife—Jael—invited him in to rest.

(Jael is the stuff of nightmares to patriarchal men. She pretended to be friendly, waited till Sisera collapsed from exhaustion, and then drove a tent peg through his head.)

Israel won a definitive victory, and the entire next chapter is “the Song of Deborah and Barak.”

If you read the account straight through, you might not see where Deborah went wrong. That’s because you’re probably forgetting the most important principle for interpreting a Bible story about a woman: authority.

Who was in authority? It’s hard to get around the fact that it’s Deborah. She was even married but still looked to as the judge. But women aren’t ever supposed to be in authority over men, therefore Deborah’s judgeship was somehow not God’s best. Even though God doesn’t seem to have realized that.

The teachers I sat under pointed to the fact that Barak was so reluctant. If this warrior was too uncertain to go into battle without Deborah, what did that say about the men of the time? Exactly. They were all weak. That’s why there was a woman in charge—because there weren’t any good men to step up and do it.

So the story isn’t about Deborah’s strength, but Barak’s weakness. It’s not Deborah’s honor, but Barak’s shame. It’s not about a woman, it’s about a man.

And there’s obviously an element of that, since it’s such a point that the victory went to “a woman.” But without the Authority filter over it, the story in general kind of shrugs at the fact that Deborah’s in charge. The point is not woman or man, but God.

But if you find yourself locked in combat with a patriachalist over female empowerment, and the twisty logic, leaps to conclusions, and sheer vigor of his arguments have forced you to the wall—don’t bring up Deborah. He’s already got her properly boxed up and out of the way. All you will do is reinforce his point (to himself) that a strong woman is merely compensating for a weak man. A woman who is trying to be “strong” is therefore trying to “weaken” a man.

It’s right there in the Bible. Remember Deborah?

 

The Good Patriarchy

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Patriarchists aren’t all bad.

Statements like that sound charitable, but they’re usually not. For one thing, as soon as I start thinking of people as a generic group– “Fundamentalists” “Liberals” “Right-Wingers” “The Gays” “Rednecks” — I stop seeing them as real people. They (plural) become a faceless figure (singular) imbued with everything I dislike about their particular set of ideas.

So to say that Patriarchists aren’t all bad, I’m basically conceding that they might have some actual human qualities.

My point here is much more generous, I hope.

People embrace a Christian patriarchal worldview for real reasons. The world has problems, and everyone is looking for solutions. As I once heard it said, “I like the questions they ask. I just don’t like all their answers.”

Here are some good reasons why people are “Patriarchists”:

Men need respect. (Yes, and also love.)  This is especially true for that almost invisible population of men who aren’t particularly handsome or flashy, nor are they violent and oppressive. They’re devoted to those they love. They work hard, worry a lot, do the best they can to provide and protect. You will find these men all through the ranks of the patriarchy camp. They’re sincere and faithful. They deserve respect. In a patriarchal system, they get it.

Women should plan their futures with motherhood in mind. Obviously I’ve got strong opinions about women’s education and future. But if a woman has any desire at all to have children, she needs to factor that into her plans. She has no idea beforehand how pregnancy will affect her. She could be on bedrest for six months, throwing up for nine, or simply too sleepy to function after 5pm. And it’s simple fact that mothers usually take on most of the work during the baby and toddler years.It’s smart to learn time management, childcare, and cooking. It’s also smart to look for a man who will be able to provide for the family if motherhood knocks her off her feet for a while. Patriarchy has this foresight built into its system.

Structure provides security. Life is scary and unpredictable. If you’ve already got a framework for handling decisions and expectations, it gives you something to fall back on. My dad died when I was three, leaving my mother with five children. But in that small Southern society thirty years ago, it was understood that the men of the family would do all they could to take care of the women. My grandfather and uncle stepped in and filled up a huge, gaping hole in our lives until my mom got back on her feet. In patriarchy, the men are accustomed to stepping up.

Men and Women (in general) are different and need one another for balance. I know, I know, not all women are highly emotional, and some men stop and ask for directions. Male/female stereotypes cease to be helpful very quickly. Still, there are obvious biological differences, and as a group, women and men approach life differently. A world with both masculine and feminine influence is a rich one. Patriarchy recognizes these differences in a positive light.

God pervades everything. In Christian patriarchy, there is no real distinction between secular and sacred. Everything you do is in service to God. You eventually go through everyday life in a constant awareness and communion with God.

I sincerely believe these things are good. So why don’t we want to return to the world of patriarchy?

Because it is not a self-correcting system.

As long as you get good people who are willing to compromise, be flexible, and understand other points of view — patriarchy can function very well for the people involved.

But if things go bad, the people under authority have no way to check or challenge the people in control. And it’s not really an “if”– when humans are involved, things will go wrong.

So Patriarchists aren’t all bad. I fight against the error of villainizing those who don’t see things my way. But I can look at a system that allows bad people to stay in control, and I can say: That is not good.

 

Abigail, A Dangerous Woman

The Bible doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to exposing dangerous women. The first one who comes to your mind, just like mine, is Abigail.

Lest you think we’re talking about two different Old Testament characters, I’ll give a rundown of her story. It’s found in 1 Samuel 25.

In the years before David became king of Israel, he was on the run from Saul–the current king–and building up his own following. They happened upon the fields of Nabal during shearing time. David sent ten men to Nabal saying, “Hey, we didn’t mess with your shepherds or steal any of your sheep or goats. So could you give me food for my men?”

It was a big request. But Nabal was a rich man. More to the point, he was still rich thanks to David’s honorable treatment of his property. Also, David’s men had weapons. Like any reasonable man, Nabal saw that it was to his advantage to pay up his part of the bargain.

Oh, wait. Nabal’s name means “fool.” He did not pay up. He insulted David and told him to get lost.

David got mad and began mobilizing his men for wholesale slaughter of every male in Nabal’s household.

(See, class? We sure do need for men to be in charge all the time because it always goes so much better that way.)

Abigail was Nabal’s wife. When a servant came to her in a panic, telling her what was going on, she swung into action. She gathered up food, freshened up, saddled a donkey, and went out to meet David herself. She apologized for her husband’s foolishness and begged him to spare the household.

David, hotheaded though he was, was actually a reasonable man, especially by ancient warlord standards. He agreed to call off the attack. In fact, he was relieved that Abigail had kept him from unnecessary bloodshed.

Abigail went back and told Nabal what she’d done. Nabal was furious. So absolutely, intensely furious that he had a stroke and then died.

So the household was saved, Nabal disposed of, and David took Abigail to be his wife. Which really was the best a woman could hope for in that time.

Okay, so I admit that at first glance, it actually looks like Abigail is the hero of this story. But one of the tricks of a patriarchal worldview is that it can use one or two details to twist the whole perspective into the proper shape.

To start with, you’ve got to keep the most important principle in mind at all time. That principle is: Authority. Every situation, even a story told for centuries around campfires, must be filtered through the grid of Authority.

Who was in authority in this story? Well, David, because he’d been anointed the next king of Israel. Who else had authority here? Nabal, the husband and owner of the property.

Who did not have the authority to make any decisions or take any action? Abigail. Because she was married, she was bound to obey her husband no matter what.

There are two telling details in the passage of Scripture. One, the servant came to Abigail behind Nabal’s back, and even said he was wicked and foolish. Abigail did not rebuke the servant for speaking against their authority. Two, Abigail made her plans and headed out to see David, but as the story notes, She did not tell her husband.

But… but… she spared every  male in the household! Including Nabal’s worthless hindquarters!

Yet you see what her rebellion–yes, she was rebellious–led to. Her husband died. David might feel like God had vindicated him, but Abigail had to live with the knowledge that her actions killed her own husband.

But… but… Abigail became David’s wife…

Pfft. She became one of his wives. Who wants that? (What woman had a choice back then? Hush, you’re cluttering up the narrative.) And she did have at least one son who should have become king after David, but we never hear anything about him. That’s the third devastating detail in this story: God punished Abigail by not letting her son become the next king.

I’m not exaggerating this interpretation. This is what I was taught as a student of Bill Gothard. He embroidered a lot of the details*, but there’s a long tradition among hardcore patriarchalists to demonize Abigail. She usurped her husband’s place and was the cause of his death.

Girls, do not grow up to be like Abigail!

You should instead hope to be like… well… how about you just don’t read ahead in your Bibles until we have time to explain how Ruth, Esther, Deborah, Jael, etc. are also cautionary tales. Here, instead we’ve rewritten history and also these stories with passive obedient heroines. We’ll get back to God’s Word when you’re ready to understand the truths hidden within it.

Good thing you’ve got men to illuminate it for you.

*Gothard claimed that if Abigail hadn’t intervened, then David would have had the guilt of unnecessary bloodshed on his conscience; years later, when he got Bathsheba pregnant, he wouldn’t have sent Uriah into battle to be killed because he’d already know how wrong that was. I didn’t make that up.

** I hope it’s clear that I’m not claiming all Christian men believe this way. But there’s a slice of Christianity that does. If you’ve never encountered teachings like this, you might not realize the enormous effort it takes to re-read the Bible in its own words, not the twisted interpretation we were given.

Orderly Umbrellas

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“So pastors are under God’s authority,” Bekah explained. “Families are under the pastors.” She held her hand in the air and moved it down levels as she spoke. “Husbands are in authority over wives. Wives are in authority over children.”

When Ty didn’t respond, Bekah added, “It’s all very orderly, anyway.” But of course Ty didn’t give “orderly” as much weight as she did. In the Fellowship, orderliness was nearly one of the Ten Commandments.

The FellowshipChapter 5.

The “umbrella of authority” is a concept that’s been around for many years. I was taught this very “order” as a teenager, although the charts I saw weren’t illustrated with patio umbrellas. It gives it kind of  an easy-living vibe.

It’s a clean, logical graphic that makes its point with a single glance: The Umbrella of Authority concept effectively protects Jesus from getting cooties from women!

Haha, not really. We all know that in Christ, men and women can approach God as equals. So this chart isn’t saying that a woman can’t get to Jesus except through her husband.

Of course, if you look at the husband’s share of life responsibilities, you’ll see that he’s supposed to be the spiritual leader. And underneath the woman’s cute little umbrella, you see “Submit to husband’s authority.” So a woman could approach God on her own, but to be honest, that really does mess up the Natural Order of the Family, doesn’t it? And God is a God of order, so he actually prefers you to go through the proper channels.

So… just go through your husband, okay?

There’s certainly nothing here that a man could object to. Shouldn’t a man lead his family spiritually? Shouldn’t he provide for his family? Shouldn’t he love his wife?  Well, then, what’s the problem?

What do you mean, these responsibilities don’t have to be limited only to husbands?

Oh. Hold on. We need to get something clear here.

You can’t shift these categories around. The umbrellas are impermeable when it comes to proper roles and responsibilities. You let a woman provide for the family or exert spiritual leadership, and the next thing you know, the husband will submit to her authority on some issues, and that’s it. The umbrellas disintegrate in a fiery, bloody, toxic meltdown.

This catastrophe completely incapacitates men. They won’t read their Bibles, won’t hold a job, won’t take out the garbage, nothing.* But they probably will look at porn and run away with another woman (probably some woman who usurped her husband’s authority, destroyed her home, and is now going to destroy yours). Why would you even want to mess with that?

No, this is the Natural Order of the Family. It looks great and worked really well in Victorian times, assuming you happened to be white and middle- to upper-class.

Just go with it.

Just hush.

Just obey.

It’s the Natural Order of the Family.

*Very recently, I read an admonition written by a man to younger women, advising them on how to find good answers to their questions. He explained that they were, first of all, to read their Bibles. Then they were to ask their husbands any questions they had. Don’t worry if you, the wife, knew more about the Bible than your husband did; your questions would motivate him to study! But the flipside is that he won’t read his Bible at all if you bypass his authority and seek out answers on your own.

I heard this same idea very often growing up. Men in patriarchal circles are badly prone to wind down to complete nothingness if their wives aren’t there to motivate, bolster, and reassure them that they are big strong leaders.

**By the way, why doesn’t Jesus have to do anything in this umbrella system?

***Seriously, it’s like its all dependent on our own works or something.

 

The Patriarchy Shop

The smiling man, dressed in a tailored dark suit, leaned over the polished oak and marble counter. “Welcome to the Christian Patriarchy Market! How can I help you?”

His new customer, a young woman, smiled tentatively back. “Hi. I’m looking for a new one of these, and I was told I had to get it here.”

She laid a large purse on the counter top. It was dark leather with “life” stamped on it in faded yellow letters. “I just turned twenty-two. I feel like I’m ready for a bigger one.”

His smile broadened. “I’ve got exactly what you need!” He opened a cabinet and withdrew another bag. It was much larger, and engraved into its smooth leather surface in flowing silver letters was Life.

“This is ideal for a woman in your situation,” he explained. “See how much bigger it is. You’ve got a lot more space to serve others. There’s a special pocket here to store your heart — I assume you’ve got it locked away in a box and you’ve given the key to your father?”

“Well…” she said hesitantly.

“Because you’re ready for a lot more responsibility, you’ll see that this one has lots of different sections. Here’s where you put your church ministry, here’s where you add your advanced homemaking skills, and don’t forget to fill up this baby pocket with lots and lots of longing! You’d be surprised at how many women in your stage of life don’t give any thought to wanting babies, but you can’t start too soon.”

She examined the bag with interest. “It’s really lovely, but I’m not sure it’s everything I need. I really, really love working in the yard…”

“You can put that with homemaking skills!”

“… and I’m really good at organizing events…”

“Church ministry! But you’ll need to tuck it way down so it doesn’t spill over into all the rest of the bag.”

“And… to be honest, I really want to learn to fly a plane. I’ve kind of looked into being a private pilot.”

The man paused. Then he cleared his throat. “I don’t think there’s really room for something like that. You could get your father to authorize an add-on for missions, but I’ll be honest with you, it’s bulky and doesn’t really fit.”

“But my brother’s accommodates all of that!”

“The men’s line is designed a little differently, of course.”

She fingered the soft leather. “I’d noticed that. Well, anyway, this won’t really work for me, because I’m getting married this summer.”

The clerk’s face lit up with excitement. “Really? Oh, you should have told me that to start with! You don’t need this old thing.” He swept the bag off the counter. Opening another cabinet door, he withdrew a leather bag so large that it took two arms to lift it onto the counter top.

It was made of leather, dyed deep red and purple, and fastened with brass. Surrounded by intricate scrollwork were real gold letters spelling out LIFE.

“This is everything you need!” the clerk exclaimed. “Look at this capacity–you’ll never run out of space for your desires! Lots of room for serving, huge section here for children, just look at your household work space! And right here–almost the entire middle section–is dedicated to your husband. You’ll have a lifetime job just filling this up!”

He looked at her expectantly, but she didn’t seem to share his enthusiasm. “There’s no room here for piloting a plane. Or organizing events. What about knowing God? I was hoping that my new bag would have a lot of space for that.”

“That’s the great thing about the patriarchy design,” the salesman said. “Watch this.”

He walked around to the front of the counter and opened two large double doors on the front. Using both hands, he extracted a rolling leather bag, reinforced with steel and decorated with images of swords. “This is the married man’s bag. It’s extra-double capacity because once a man is married, he’s basically responsible for everything relating to his wife and family. Pretty hefty weight to carry. Aren’t you glad you don’t have to worry about all this?”

“Well, I could help carry it.”

“Oh, no! This isn’t designed for a woman! But let me show you the best feature here.” He opened the man’s bag. Then he picked up the woman’s bag and tucked it inside. “See? It fits right there in the section for ‘spiritual maturity.’ As long as you keep all your things there, you’ll know everything you need to about God.”

She pointed to a small zip pocket on the side of the woman’s leather bag. “What’s that for?”

The salesman’s smile was bright. “You just stuff all your bad feelings in there and zip it up. That’s the feature that makes our design workable.”

The woman stood silently, taking it all in. Then she burst out, “But I don’t want to put all my stuff in there! And that’s way too heavy for my fiance! What happens if I have too much to fit? Or if his bag tears open?”

The clerk was no longer smiling. “I thought you were a serious customer.”

“I am! There’s just some serious flaws in your design.”

“Excuse me. It’s not my design. It’s God’s design. This is the way it works. You can go shopping at some other bag shop, but I warn you, those are badly-made and will rip open at a moment when you’re least expecting it. You’ll lose everything.”

She cleared her throat. “Just curious… have you ever used the woman’s bag to see how it really works?”

The salesman gave a short, derisive laugh. “Well, no. I don’t think God even uses it. He’s male too, you know. So, can I ring you up?”

“I… think I need to think about it.”

“I warn you, if you walk out of here, you walk away from this exclusively-designed line and away from the God who designed it!”

The woman shouldered her small bag again. “I think I saw God in some other places. He really seems too big to fit in here, actually. And so am I.” She turned and walked out of the shop.

Show Respect, Not Love (A Rant in Two Chapters)

Chapter One: You Need Both (and Also Manners)

“Men need respect, women need love.”

This is a current marriage-advice fad. It’s very popular in circles where marriage is a strict hierarchy, but oozes over into more mainstream Christian circles as well. It sounds like a cool insight, but it’s really like saying, “In order to survive, men need two hydrogens with their oxygen, women need oxygen with their two hydrogens.”

Can you really separate love and respect in a marriage?

Articles like this say you can. But read through it and ask yourself, How are these points any different from how a man would show “love” to his wife?

My husband, DJ, assures me that it’s incredibly important that he knows I respect him. Granted. And it’s incredibly important for me to know that he loves me. But I’ll go out on a limb here and say that he would be less satisfied if I gave him all due respect, but preferred sex with somebody else. And I’m very confident that even if he lavishes affection on me, but shot down all my statements as “childish,” then we would have problems. Why separate love and respect, as if a spouse can live on one but not the other?

(For the record: DJ never shows disrespect to my opinions, and I never jump into bed with anybody else.)

Another thing about this list is that it isn’t actually showing how a wife relates to her husband. It’s how a decent, civil person relates to people in general. If you have to be told to thank him for what he does for you, or don’t interrupt when he’s talking, your problem isn’t your marriage. It’s your basic social instincts.

So yes. Show respect to your husband. And love. And also use good manners.

*

Chapter Two: The Missing Element

There’s a major aspect of this list, and all other lists like it, that bothers me. They all leave out a small but crucial bit of advice. Without that advice, the list becomes generic and sterile.

Allow me to rewrite the article and include the missing element.

25 Ways to Show Respect (and Love) to Your Husband

1 – 25: Spend time talking to each other. Find out who he is, what he likes, what his passions are, what his fears are, what makes him happy. He’ll do the same for you. Then both of you act on this knowledge.

Talk to each other.

I don’t know the person you married. I can’t write a list that will tell you how to respect (and love) your spouse the way he or she best understands it. That’s your job.

Glancing over this article, I find precious few suggestions that call for a woman to actually interact, on an adult and equal basis, with the man she married.

Instead of “choosing joy” or “not complaining” when you’re upset, communicate about it. If he’s hurt you, tell him in a mature and gentle way. If your bad mood has nothing to do with him, let him know — and release both of you from the responsibility of being happy for the time being. Talk about it.

Instead of “keeping the house tidy” or “prepare his favorite foods,” find out what’s important to your husband. My husband doesn’t much care about a cluttered house, but he loves coming home to a hot supper. Your man might not care a thing about fresh-baked biscuits, but would appreciate having time to work in the yard on weekends. Guess how you find that out? Talk to him.

Instead of “being content,” sit down and talk to each other about what your priorities and goals are. Some couples want lots of children, lots of land, and lots of space. Others want a small family and a quirky apartment in the city. I don’t know what you or your husband wants, and neither will you if you don’t talk about it.

Instead of “respond physically” (that’s the squeamish Christian way of referring to anything sexual), let each other know how you feel. Are you in the mood, too worn out, not feeling well, wanting something different? Do you like hugs or not? What does he like in bed? What do you like in bed? I sure as heck don’t know, and I’m not asking. You should talk to each other about it! It’s important. And also can be really fun.

Go through the article I linked to, and insert the sentence Talk about it for each one. That’s how you build a good marriage.

*

Note #1: If you can’t address important issues with each other, or if you can’t talk without getting into a fight, it has nothing to do with how well you’re following a list, or God, or whatever. It means both of you need to see a good counselor. One who can show you how to talk to each other.

Note #2: For the record, I object to #25 in principle, which reads:
“Follow His Lead
If you want your husband to lead, you must be willing to follow. Neither a body nor a family can function well with two heads. Learn to defer to your husband’s wishes and let final decisions rest with him.”

Alternatively, talk about your decisions together and come to a decision together. Sometimes you defer to him. Sometimes he defers to you. If you consistently hit a gridlock where only one person can ever make the final decision, it’s not a sign of a godly marriage. It’s a sign that you need a good counselor.

Delilah

Poor Delilah. Ever since her tragic romance with Samson, her name has been synonymous with a scheming, treacherous woman.

I think she deserves better.

Full disclosure:  I’m reacting to more than just Delilah’s age-old reputation here. As a teenager, I sat under people who taught us that we women are dangerous to men. Not because we’re smart or competitive or even manipulative, but because we have female-shaped bodies. Men are weak to female-shaped bodies; trying to talk to, reason with, or relate to a man while existing in our female bodies made us dangerous.

And they backed it up with The Bible, as follows:

  • Adam, created perfect in God’s image, fell because of a woman.
  • Samson, the strongest man in history, fell because of a woman.
  • David, the man after God’s own heart, fell because of a woman.
  • Solomon, the wisest man in the world, fell because of lots of women.

Adam ate the fruit that Eve, deceived by Satan, offered him. Samson told Delilah the secret of his strength. David saw Bathsheba and had her brought to his bed. Solomon had thousands of wives for political advantage, and eventually worshiped their gods. These men made conscious decisions against their own moral compass or common sense, often influenced by women.

See? Women! You see who’s at fault here.

You see why I am reacting here.

Still, if you know the story of Samson and Delilah, you’re going to point out that Delilah wasn’t exactly a shrinking little mouse in the drama. Here’s a quick recap:

Samson was a big strong manly Israelite. He had unusual strength; as a child, he was dedicated to God. In acknowledgement of his bond to God, he kept himself ritually clean, didn’t drink alcohol, and never cut his hair.

He was a hero among his people because they lived under the oppression of the Philistines at the time. Samson was invincible, and he wreaked havoc on the Philistine people. Israel loved him.

Which was good of them. Because Samson was dumb. Good heavens, was this man dumb. He had one default approach to any situation:”Can I get sex out of this? No? KILL!”

After various sex-and-violence vacations into Philistine territory, including an ill-fated marriage, he settled in with Delilah.

Who was Delilah, anyway?

The Bible doesn’t really say, but it’s pretty safe to assume she was a prostitute. What she wasn’t was dumb. She knew how to survive in a world where she was good for one thing only. Apparently Samson provided protection and money. Maybe she was lonely and enjoyed him. She knew a good thing when she got it.

But the Philistine leaders persuaded her to find out the secret of Samson’s great strength. She tried several different times, wheedling and manipulating him, while he gave her all the wrong answers. Finally she wore him down and he revealed his secret: if he cut his hair, he would lose his superstrength.

While he slept, Delilah shaved his head.  She called on the Philistine leaders, and watched them drag him away and throw him in prison. That devious, wicked, manipulating jade proved to be a strong man’s fatal weakness.

And how did the Philistine leaders persuade her? Well, they offered her a whole lot of money. 1100 pieces of silver each, in fact.

But hang on. Two chapters back, we find out that Samson married a Philistine woman. At the wedding party, he presented a riddle; if nobody could answer it, they had to pay through the nose. So the men went to his new wife and said, “Find out the answer to the riddle or we’ll burn your father’s house with you in it.” She hounded him and Samson eventually caved, but got mad and went back to Israel — without her. One thing led to another, ending with Samson’s wife and her family burned to death in their house.

So now it’s Delilah’s turn. She wasn’t being threatened by young punks at a wedding party; she was standing before the leaders of the city. I suppose the conversation could have gone like this:

“No. I can’t betray him.”

“Well, okay, we see your point. We’ll find some other way to get him. Oh, and Delilah… say hi to your family for us. We know where they live.”

As my husband says, they held a big carrot and a big stick. Seems to me that her options were: betray Samson, get filthy rich; or refuse to cooperate, and seal her and her family’s doom.

She could have confessed to Samson and asked him to protect her. But he was no Boaz, who watched out for Ruth, made sure she was okay, and finally married her. Samson would have hung around long enough to slaughter a few Philistines because that’s what he did for fun. But this was the man who abandoned his wife just because she made him lose his stupid riddle.

She could have tried to run away. That would have worked! Because just like today, it’s so easy for a woman to escape dangerous men, especially with her children and family in tow. Back then, no problem — she’d just leave the city and die in the wilderness, assuming the Philistine leaders didn’t track her down first.

But who says Delilah was such a great person herself? Maybe she was a poison-tongued, complaining, selfish shrew. Maybe so. I certainly don’t point to her relationship with a violent, selfish man, and her accomplished manipulation, as a good model for the young women in my life.

But that’s not why she’s got such a bad reputation. She’s got a bad reputation because she used her considerable feminine wiles to get around a man’s defenses. Never mind that he knew very well what she was up to. Never mind that she was trying to survive.

She, as a woman, was dangerous to a man.

That’s a generalization that most of us reject nowadays. Possibly it’s time to rethink Delilah as well.

Good Things, God Things

My novel opens with:

A virtuous heart keeps an orderly home. 

I made up that quote. But the idea that a good Christian woman will keep a good Christian house is pretty common even out of Fellowship-like circles. Witness this quote from a couple of Elizabeths:

“I love what author Elisabeth Elliot said, ‘A sloppy life speaks of a sloppy faith.’ We’re careful in our faith…careful to tend to our spiritual growth, careful to obey God’s Word, and careful to maintain the spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship, and giving. So why shouldn’t we also be careful of how we manage our homes? That’s not a put-down. Far from it! Creating a safe and comfortable place for your family and yourself is a privilege and significant accomplishment.” –Elizabeth George

Do I enjoy a clean house? Yes. Do I want my home to be safe and comfortable for my family? Yes. Do I consider it a reflection of my spiritual state if I let clutter build up on the table, don’t vacuum the floor, and don’t clean the pencil marks off the wall?

NO.

I’m sorry, Elisabeth Elliot and Elizabeth George, but you’re wrong. You’re taking a societal standard and making it a spiritual requirement.

The standards of society change, but every generation has its own set of “virtue indicators.” These days, it’s more along the lines of eating “clean,” avoiding classist/racist sentiments, and accepting everyone’s choices as a universal good. Nobody actually does this perfectly, but the better show you put on, the more virtue you seem to have.

But just like having a clean house doesn’t get you anywhere closer to God, neither does avoiding processed foods or using the term “First Peoples.”

Good things are good. Do them. God things are God’s. Do those. Sometimes there will be an overlap. But I’m all done letting anyone — revered Christian writer or not — tell me that I have to live up to the standards of modern America in order to please the God of all Eternity.