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.

Watch Your Mouth, There Are Men Present!

Once, during the years I was part of my own real-life “Fellowship,” I and several others were being trained to teach a children’s class.

The leader asked if anyone knew a particular story from the Old Testament. I volunteered to tell it, and it was a great moment in my life. I made everyone laugh, then sigh, then grow quiet at the heartbreaking ending. The leader was really impressed, and said so.

The next day, he asked for another story. I volunteered again. The leader gave me a brief smile, then asked, “Any guys want to try?”

Not “anyone else,” but “any guys.”

It was a subtle rebuke to all those guys who didn’t volunteer.

Hang on. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that the leader just wanted participation from the guys as well as the girls?

Not in the world of Christian patriarchy.

Everyone there had been schooled in the same teachings. We all knew that the guys were supposed to be taking the lead — in spiritual matters, in teaching, in marriage, and in life. Girls were supposed to submit to their fathers’ or husbands’ authority. In practice, they were taught to defer to men in general as well.

I was once told, “Where women move in, men move out.” The speaker was talking about the real estate business, which in the late 90s was heavily populated by women. That was why you didn’t want to let women move into professions like piloting, politics, and military. Because men would move away to something else, leaving women in charge. And you know what a disaster that would be.

Wait, you don’t know?

We were assured it was the worst thing that could happen to our churches and our nation. God didn’t want women in charge. All kinds of (unspecified) calamities would result as soon as “feminists” got control.

(Nobody addressed the fact that the world was already in pretty rotten shape with men in charge.)

Every female character in the Bible was forced through the grid of “submissive to authority” or not. One day I’ll devote a post to explaining how Abigail was bad, Esther a compromiser, and Deborah a reluctant leader. Ruth generally came out okay if you glossed over the story enough. But for here, I’ll just say that all of us young people understood the same “truth”: that a woman was always second place to a man.

So when a young woman stood up and did a top-notch job telling a Bible story, the young men in the audience couldn’t just say, “Good job!” and let it go. No, she’d laid down a challenge: someone had to get up there and do it too. Preferably better.

And not just “someone,” either. Some guy.

And please, woman, from now on — keep your gifts and your voice in check when men are present.

Mock-A-Meme 20

Beautiful like me.jpg

Which is entirely inspiring to the rest of us who are not beautiful like her.

Million men.jpg

Seeing as I’m only beautiful like me, I’m willing to give this a shot. I don’t even need a million men to tell me. I’ll settle for, I don’t know, fifty? Okay go!

Oh, hang on, do I have to be in her particular state of undress for the occasion?

Taylor.jpgAnd you know who that princess is? Taylor Swift, who made her fortune singing lovelorn songs about men.

Also, in meme-world, there’s no such thing as a confident yet gracious woman. Either you’re a limp noodle or you’re a bitch. And either way, you’d best have a decent figure.

Worrying

So no need to worry about the fact that you’re sitting on an uneven pier, wearing only a towel. You probably won’t fall in till tomorrow.

Man Dream

Friend who sent meme: …And not do stupid stuff. Or at least not lose our balance while doing stupid stuff.

Me: I was trying to think of a comment to follow up yours, but yours just captures the moment so well.

Friend: Moment is right. That fleeting moment where you convinced yourself you are, in fact, the ultimate powerful great dreamer. And then your foot slips.

And in the hustle and bustle of the undreaming city below, nobody even hears your final, gravity-induced scream.

Me: I don’t think you’re going to be hired to write memes.

**

That finishes up my current supply of memes. Send me more, and I’ll mock ’em.

 

Mock-A-Meme 19: Undercuts

One of the most endearing qualities of the meme, especially ones about women’s empowerment, is that their pictures distract from, or sometimes completely undercut, their own message.

They almost always involve women in various states of undress.

I am, therefore, compelled to mock them.

Devil Says

But… she’s not up. It’s an epic takedown by origami paper cranes. “The birds of the air shall peck out your eyes… but, you know, budget cuts. We can afford only paper cranes to chew on your toenails.”

Bitterness

You could even find yourself mostly naked and caught in what looks like a tarp made of spider webs. Count your blessings!

Like Me

Because now I’m looking for my pants. Honey, where’s my pants?

Mama Glue

Heck, if I had been able to lie in a comfy bed with a happy baby and no other kids demanding my attention, I’d have totally rocked that “glue” thing too.

No pants

Nobody said you were weak. We just suggested you might want to sleep on one bed at the time. And nobody said you were giving up! We’re sure you’ll find your pants if you just keep looking.

**

>> Mock-A-Meme #20

For previous Mock-A-Memes, go here.

Mock-A-Meme 18

Turns out there are a lot of memes needing to be mocked, and I guess it’s up to me to do it.

But what is Mock-A-Meme, why is it on this page, and what happened to #’s 1-17?

Here’s the deal. About a year ago, I ran a regular series on another blog in which I would collect memes and make fun of them. It was like a big party every Monday. Or, you know, like a mildly amusing text from a friend.

Then The Fellowship took up most of my online energy, and I wrapped up the series.

Still, friends have continued to send me mockable memes. I went through my files today and found a significant backlog. It’s the holidays, I thought.  A time for frivolity, joy, and mocking stuff. (I made up that last part.)

I started a new post, only to discover that I’d uploaded all the pictures onto this blog instead of my other one. Faced with the prospect of moving all those files again via my slow netbook, I made a decision: Mock-A-Meme would work just fine on my author blog.

So here you go. Some good old-school Mock-A-Memes until I use up my current supply. Enjoy!

Falling Off Shirt

And honey, that even includes the person who stole your shirt and your bra and left you with only a resuable grocery bag to wear to the beach.

Dragon Scale Ring

You can tell she’s strong-minded because she’s wearing a dragon-scale ring, which is the universal symbol for “strong-minded woman.” Either that or “I have no need to bend my third finger.”

WomanWalkingAway

But walking away is hard to do, people. First you’ve got to get a dynamite figure, then you’ve got to buy a filmy white dress, and then you have to go to a beach and practice mincing. (And… is that an elf ear she’s got?)

Also, in meme-world, social conventions dictate that you have to bare one shoulder at the beach. It’s really embarrassing to show up fully dressed.

Brunette Friends

God will, of course, provide you with friends who are all your same age, height, and hair color.

Terrible decisions

She’s got enough terrible decisions going here to make an alphabetized set of books. But okay, I admit it. This one made me laugh.

**

Click here for Mock-A-Meme #19.

To read the previous 17 posts, I’ve collected them here.

Ruthless Courtship

Ruth-and-Boaz
Properly dressed and keeping a chaste distance between them, Ruth suggests that Boaz might want to marry her.
Romeo_and_juliet_01
They’re kissing. And they’re not even courting, much less engaged.

During my teenage years in a Fellowship-like system, I was given an assignment on “courtship.” No, I didn’t get to court anybody, although I was desperately interested in the idea. My assignment was to research a romantic couple in literature and explain how they did or didn’t follow the Biblical principles of courtship. Then, as a contrast, I was to highlight a Biblical couple who did follow the principles of authority-led courtship.

As a quick recap, the brand of courtship that my camp espoused went something like this, (not necessarily in these exact words):

  1. Approach — A single man (and his parents) chose a woman worthy to pursue, and the suitor asked her father for permission to court her.
  2. Evaluation — The father decided if this young man was right for his daughter.
  3. Approval — After an unspecified process and duration of evaluation, the father ideally would approve the young man as a suitor.
  4. Acceptance or Veto — The father then went to his daughter and told her who wanted to court her. This was the woman’s one moment of self-agency. She could accept or decline.
  5. Courtship  — If she accepted, she and the young man were unofficially bound in courtship. It wasn’t an engagement, but to break off a courtship was a very serious matter.
  6. Purity — To protect both parties, parents (usually, but not always, hers) set strict rules about conversations, physical interactions, how much time they could spend together, and whether they could ever be alone.
  7. Engagement — He asked her to marry him after his authorities agreed it was time. She could theoretically decline the engagement, but that would be highly scandalous.
  8. Marriage — Whew, finally get them safely married. Now they could have sex and God wouldn’t get mad.

With this courtship formula in mind, I chose Romeo and Juliet as my cautionary couple, and Ruth and Boaz as my shining example.

Whatever I thought I learned at the time, some lessons now stand out very clearly all these years later:

      1. If Romeo and Juliet had followed the principles of authority-guided romance, there would be no story. In fact, anytime characters always behave according to the rules — good or bad — the story is lifeless. Most morality tales are zombies, dead stories forced into terrible half-lives.
      2. Since courtship was “Biblical,” and since Ruth and Boaz are clearly a “good” couple in the Bible, it follows that their relationship is Biblical. I experienced a major disconnect when I tried to fit them into the formula. I mean, Ruth followed her mother-in-law Naomi’s advice to speak to Boaz about marriage; and her mother-in-law was her authority, so I guess Ruth was under authority. But Ruth basically threw herself at Boaz. At night. Where he was sleeping. It’s unclear exactly what went on between them on that threshing floor, but it’s pretty hot stuff compared to the painfully chaste courtship stories we were given to emulate.
      3. There was no male leadership. Boaz didn’t make the first move. The only “permission” he asked was when he had to let a nearer relative get the first chance to marry Ruth.
      4. If Ruth and Boaz had followed the “right” method of courtship, they wouldn’t have gotten married either.

Basically, this whole assignment shot itself in the foot. While Romeo and Juliet failed to follow the proper steps of courtship and DIED, I learned that the Bible didn’t, in fact, lay out a correct method of romance. This lesson opened the way for me to interpret courtship so liberally that when the time came that I actually did court a man, I exercised all kinds of self-agency in my decision-making. I entered marriage fairly well-prepared for life as an equal partner to my husband.

So while I wasn’t as bad as Juliet, I still completely failed at courtship. I’m pretty sure Ruth was proud of me.

Why, yes, I’m really pleased with my post title, thanks.

The Courtship Package

hold-my-hand-1492424-1279x1801

In Chapter 5 of The Fellowship, Bekah’s good friend Ty gives her a ride home to her parents’ for the weekend. He’s begun to suspect that the “weird church” Bekah grew up in affects her thinking more than he realized. Bekah fields his questions about authority, college, a woman’s role in life, and they eventually get around to “courtship.”

“Courting…?” Ty said.

Bekah groaned.

He went on, “That basically means getting engaged, right?”

“No. We’ve had this conversation before too.” 

“I know. I just can’t keep straight… oh, hang on. It means you can’t hold hands till you get married.”

“Exactly. Glad you listened when I explained it.”

“No, no, wait, I remember more now. It means you can’t hold hands until you marry the guy your dad says you can marry.”

“You’re definitely not going to be speaking at any Youth Meetings.”

“How would you explain courtship then?”

“It means not starting a romantic relationship until you’re ready for marriage. And you have to have the blessing of both fathers. And the guy initiates the relationship, not the girl.” Bekah didn’t add the dozens of other rules and expectations that were included in the courtship package.

*

My husband and I courted. We waited until we were ready for marriage before we started a romance (we were already friends). He contacted my mother first (both my dad and stepdad were dead, a situation that the patriarchy movement tends to gloss over). We involved our parents and families in our activities. We set boundaries in our relationship, including saving our first kiss for the wedding. (Full disclosure: we didn’t save everything for the wedding; we felt very free to make out within our boundaries.) For years I was a big fan of courtship… until I figured out why ours went so well. We did it wrong.

DJ and I made all the decisions ourselves. Our parents were available for consultation — I talked for hours with my mom before agreeing to court him — but they didn’t have any final say. It never occurred to them to try to make our decisions for us. We took charge of our relationship, and it’s served us well all these years later.

But we have many friends whose parents very much considered themselves the active authority in the relationship. Those courtships rarely went well. Either the couple was too compliant and didn’t learn how to function as a united force, or one or both parties aggressively asserted independence and everybody suffered from the emotional fallout. As one friend said later, “My courtship was the most miserable time of my life.”

All too often, “courtship” ends up looking a lot like these rather poetic essays from two friends:

Davad:

When I was 14, the homeschool fathers said, “Read your Bible, abstain from sex, and in a few years you’ll be ready for one of our daughters.” And I did.

When I was 18, the fathers said, “Work hard, be creative, and make something of your life, and in a few years you’ll be ready for marriage.” And I did.

When I was 22, the fathers said, “Embrace our theology for yourself, get a career that pays as much as we make now, and you’ll be ready to court.” And I did.

When I was 26, they said, “Why are you so independent from your parents, go to a different church in a different state, and don’t respect their authority? The answer is no.”

Rachel:
When I was 14 I was told, “Promise God you will never date, try with all your energy to turn your crushes into something else, learn how to be content with only your parents and your brother as friends, and one day you’ll catch the attention of a godly man.”

I did.

At 18 I was told, “Focus on ministry, minimize your own dreams and desires, give selflessly at home, learn to submit to your parents at home, and soon a godly man will notice you.”

I did.

At 22 I was told, “The godly man you think is the one isn’t the one, trust us. So submit to your parents’ better judgement and discipline your heart to be quiet while they make it impossible for this man to know you well enough to consider you. Focus on serving. Focus on giving. And soon the right godly man will notice you.”

I did.

At 29 I was told, “The godly man who has seen you, noticed you, and admired you while you’ve been giving and serving and ministering, isn’t committed to courtship, and you promised us when you were 14 that you wouldn’t date. So this is not the right godly man. Just…”

I stopped listening.

I’m married to him.

But the years I wasted are never far from my consciousness.

*

The problem isn’t that parents are involved, or express disapproval, or set high standards. The problem is, as expressed a little later in the novel:

“I don’t resist the idea of authority,” Ty objected. “What I resist is somebody telling me that he speaks for God in my life, and if I don’t listen to him I’m screwed.” 

Looking back, here’s what I see:

  • Some people did everything right and have a beautiful marriage now.
  • Some people did everything right and are picking up the pieces of shattered dreams.
  • Some did everything as stupidly as possible, and suffered from years of misery.
  • Others did the same thing and ended up wiser, a bit storm-tossed, and happily married.

The Courtship Package was sold to us as a way to prevent bad things from happening. But the promise was empty. Formulas don’t guarantee success. Even God doesn’t guarantee that everything will go well. Trusting in a formula leaves us shattered and helpless when things go wrong. Trusting in God gives someone to grab onto when everything is falling apart.

So I’m not really a fan of “courtship” anymore. I’m a fan of two people knowing their own minds and getting to know one another, and standing together before God and the world.

*

Click here to order (print) or pre-order (Kindle) The Fellowship.

The Ministry of Shania Twain

shania_twain_up

Up until I was 14, I listened to secular pop music. But I spent my teen years under a Venerated Teacher who assured me that ungodly music would give Satan ground in my soul. He even used a diagram that showed my soul as a grid. Every time I listened to a “rock song,” I surrendered a square of that grid to Satan. (Apparently Satan advanced his kingdom by square inches, who knew?)

We all learned to draw this diagram, including little black fortresses on the “ground” we’d surrendered. The only way to reclaim it was to pray, specifically, that God would take back that ground. Oh, and to stop listening to rock music.

So for almost ten years, I carefully avoided anything with a certain beat, a certain sound, or from certain eras. I wasn’t sure how much square footage my soul contained, after all.

I got married at 23, and that was about the time I started realizing that my Venerated Teacher taught more nonsense than wisdom. Within a couple of years, I dared to venture back into the world of ungodly music.

Throwing concern for my soul to the wind, I bought three CDs: Sara Evans’ Born to Fly, Jo Dee Messina’s Greatest Hits, and Shania Twain’s Up.

The interesting thing about these choices is that they all have a major kick of girl power. And of all of them, Shania kicked the hardest.

Recently, I pulled out that music again. It took me back to those early years when I still lived on the fringes of a culture of womanly submission and sexual repression.

I remember now that it gave me a zing to listen to a song that said, “You’re a fine piece of real estate, and I’m gonna get me some land.” And coming from a world where a broken courtship was deeply embarrassing and morally questionable, it was therapeutic to hear a woman say, “It was never gonna work/You were too much of a jerk… I miss you now and then but would I do it all again? Nah.”

I needed that sass and confidence. I needed permission to disagree with accepted opinions… or just say, “Nah.”

All these years later, I’ll still listen to the Messina album. Evans’ “Born to Fly” is still one of my favorite songs. (Obviously I was channeling Bekah Richards years before I put her into words.) As for Up, I wouldn’t say that the music has aged extremely well. In fact, most of the songs are downright cheesy. But they’re also fun, flippant, and assertive. For better or for worse, they played a big part in my recovery.

I still had a long walk ahead of me as I remembered who I was, not who I was supposed to be. But I have to confess… Shania gave me a running start.

*****

Order your copy of The Fellowship!

Revealing (the) Outfit

My title made me laugh.

The pictures I posted in my previous post are — as many of you knew or guessed — a “modest” swimsuit. I suppose it would also work for an acrobat, Krisa. Tara, I would be delighted to get one for you for a hot anniversary celebration, if you want.

It’s very lightweight, and there are leg-loops and a bottom snap to keep the skirt from flying up. In more subdued colors, it might not even be such an assault on the eye. True, that is a knee-length skirt going on there, which just isn’t safe; but the swimsuit is pretty well-designed for its purpose.

It’s the purpose that I object to. I’m just fine with the fact that women have certain features that particularly appeal to men’s sexual appetites, and it’s a mark of respect to herself to cover them up for the general public. What I don’t like is the idea that a woman must obliterate the shape of her own body, or else she tempts men to lust and therefore sins.

But that’s everyday life for Bekah and her friends in the Fellowship. Their swimwear covers their bodies from neck to knees… but they still swim in a separate area from where the boys swim. You can’t be too careful.

Inspiring lust isn’t something that Bekah herself worries about much; she doesn’t see herself as especially beautiful. But her friend Meghan has all the right curves no matter how modestly she dresses. And as the story unfolds… that proves to be a real problem.

All of you who commented are entered into a drawing for the novel once it’s launched — congratulations!