Monthly Archives: December 2022

How I met my wife

The nineties were a heady time. Flannel shirts, grunge, Janet Reno jokes. I remember it well.

It was in the flurries and scurries of the nineties that I met my wife. It is an interesting story.

It starts with a poker game. I was sitting around the table with my brother, a gamer, a pseudo-philosopher and a hacker. The shots were flowing. Uma was dancing with Travolta on the TV and Marlon Brando was sitting by the fire in the corner with Neil Young and Pocahontas.

The gamer was forming a tin-foil hat for his head to keep the alien rays out and so he was distracted. The philosopher folded (you gotta know when to fold-em) and my brother was raising the pot. We kept going higher and higher, with the hacker matching me each time. Finally, my brother was out, and I went all in.

The hacker couldn’t match, but he wanted to stay in. Marlon Brando stopped mumbling and looked over. The pot was huge and the hacker was out of funds.

“Well”, I said, “What do you have?”

He thought for a moment, and then said, “I can hack Santa’s computer.”

I said “No way.”

He said, “Way” – cause it was the 90s.

The gamer said, “Woah…” but he might have been talking about his new tin foil hat design.

Brando and Young muttered something about the exploitation of the elves, but the atmosphere was too thick.

I said, “What would that do?”

“I can get you his naughty list”

“No way.”

“Way”

“Whoa”

And that is how I got a hold of Santa’s naughty list in 1995.

You all know who you are.

But when I saw Susan’s achievements that landed her on the naughty list, I was smitten. I had to meet this woman. Such daring! Such audacity! Such creativity! I had to meet her.

I couldn’t even repeat the things she did that got her on the list, because I don’t want to give the children ideas. But I couldn’t get her out of my head.

I began scheming.

I knew that she was planning on attending church camp with her family, so I signed up. Maybe we could cause some chaos together. Maybe I too could get on Santa’s naughty list! Oh the places we could go together. But banned from Santa forever, but banned together! I have chills just thinking about it.

I dreamed in my bed at night. My sweat soaked the sheets. Oh the naughtiness! What decadence! What a woman. What a woman!

We could run with scissors. We could NOT finish our plates. We could order dessert and skip the veggies! We could stay up all night and watch QVC with a devil-may-care attitude! We could order Mexican food on Thanksgiving. Oh the wickedness we could get up to! So completely and totally improper! We would make the world blush!

When I got to the camp, I stopped for ice-cream in a small shop and in she walked. The silence descended and in my mind’s eye, a chorus began to sing Orff. Her eyes! Her hair! Her wickedness! I was smitten. The future was pregnant with possibility!

So I hugged her. And she hugged back.

Yada, yada, yada – we were married a few months later.

Almost none of this is true. Some of it is, but as far as I know, she has never been on Santa’s list. Marlon Brando might have been a dream. The nineties were weird. We did pick up Mexican food on Thanksgiving once and she still doesn’t finish her plate, and sometimes she eats pie for dinner, so all of that is true.

Oh the other things I could tell you, too!

But here is what is true.

Her eyes smile peace, and when they lock with mine, I am home.

Today, December 27, we have been married for 27 years – I think. Neither one of us can do math.

What is the secret to a long and happy marriage?

Neither one of us read marriage books, go to conferences, or follow the fads. We are just gloriously ourselves, respect each other, love each other and always defer to each other.

We have never asked “Who is in charge” because when the two become one flesh, that question is an unwelcome intruder, like a mother-in-law on the wedding night.

Just keep your marriage vows and ignore the experts. You’ll be fine.

Lots of love, my wicked awesome wife! You are spectacular.

And the future is still pregnant with possibility. Even more, I should say.

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Filed under Marriage

Masculinity, femininity, and minas

It is no secret that those outside of the Christian faith are sometimes confused about gender identity. The confusion has reached the point where some cities are mandating gender neutral restrooms for those who do not identify as either. This post really isn’t about that.

One passage that seems to be quoted frequently in the discussions of gender  is Matthew 19:4-6, where Jesus affirms that God created humankind male and female, and established marriage as an unbreakable union between a man and a woman. I affirm this.

However, as Jesus goes on, even though God’s standards of purity and wholeness are exactly as they were when he created us, there is the reality of the fall that has taken place since the first man and woman. Now we live in a world where sexual brokenness, abuse, shame, gender dysphoria and the other effects of the fall have twisted and corrupted the original beauty.

Can we, as Christians, uphold the perfect standard of the wholeness of Eden and at the same time acknowledge the reality of the fall and confess our need for redemption? I think we have to, to be consistent with the scripture. We might long for the days of Eden, where marriage was without spot and blemish, for example, and still acknowledge that divorce is sometimes necessary “because of the hardness of your hearts”, as Jesus says.

With that being said, I would like to speak of masculinity and femininity. I am not so concerned with the viewpoint of those outside of the Christian religion, except to affirm the image of God in all, even in those we find distasteful. But I am very concerned about gender confusion in the church.

It seems to me that as those outside move farther and farther away from our cultural norms, and even begin to embrace sinful lifestyles with more abandon, the church seems to respond in fear, beyond the bounds of propriety.

We must remember that our guide for faith, for right and wrong, and for our life is the scripture alone. Jesus forbids us to elevate the opinions of men or even cultural observations to the level of canonical status, but the voices of the loud and authoritarian men often seem to shout down all propriety. I, for example, was once ridiculed as “effeminate” for an online picture in which I was wearing a pink shirt.

So I have taken upon myself of talking a bit about masculine and feminine and will attempt to stay as close as possible to the teachings of our Lord found in the scripture.

The first thing to note is that the scripture seems frustratingly silent on “masculinity” or “femininity” as ethical constructs. In fact, our guide for ethics (the Ten Commandments) doesn’t address it at all, except to acknowledge the reality of male and female in the 5th commandment, “Honor your father and your mother.”

Other than that, you simply won’t find instructions on godly femininity or godly masculinity at all. When you find instructions geared towards women (meek, still, submissive, obedient), you will also find the exact same instructions in other places geared towards men.

When men are commended for courage, strength, fortitude, you will find women commended for the same things. I can think of no example of a command in scripture that is exclusively gendered. To clarify, there are case laws and applications that are different for men and for women, but God’s standard is the same for both. The sacrificial system acknowledges men and women, boy children and girl children, but the duty of sacrifice as an act of faith is universal in the Old Covenant, and not gendered.

Again, to keep things sober, our ethical standard is summarized in the Ten Commandments. The distinctions between men and women are certainly acknowledged in the scripture, but the ethical requirements are the same.

I realize at this point that there may be many who will comment “What about…” and bring up something. That’s OK. I will try to answer the best I can as time permits.

However, although ethical standards are never gendered, scripture throughout assumes the distinctions in the sexes. It acknowledges that there are men and women, young men and maidens.

Since God created humankind male and female, there are generally observable traits that are associated with each sex. Sometimes those traits are culturally conditioned. Sometimes they seem to be inborn. Traditionally, men are associated with hunting, sports, competitiveness, aggression, warfare, and power. Women are associated with gentleness, home, nurture, receptiveness, nourishing, softness. Testosterone and estrogen seem to play a role, but there is also mystery. The problem is when we take these generally observable characteristics and make them ethical requirements.

The reality is that even those these traits are more or less observable in the sexes, there are enough exceptions listed in the scripture to throw a wrench into assigning ethical categories to “masculinity” and “femininity”. In other words, there is no such thing as “biblical femininity” or “biblical masculinity” as ethical categories.

Esau was a hairy outdoorsman, his father’s favorite because Isaac loved the hunting stories. Jacob was a homebody, his mother’s favorite. But God loved Jacob and rejected Esau, not because of gender categories, but because of God’s promise and election (Romans 9). There are condemnations of Jacob’s deception, but not of his personality. Esau’s murderous rage was condemned, as was his unbelief, but not his “masculine” traits”

One of the things you see when you read the scripture without the lens of sexism and misogyny, is that believing men and women have many different personality traits. All of these gifts are given to them by God. Whatever gifts these men and women are given, they are commended if they use those gifts faithfully, and condemned if they use those gifts treacherously. Gender roles don’t come into it.

But we shame men for not conforming to our self-declared masculine stereotypes, and we shame women for not conforming to “biblical femininity”. The question is this, “On what basis are we shaming and condemning those who don’t conform to our norms?”

On what basis to we condemn a woman for being competitive, a strong leader, single, headstrong or having strong leadership qualities? Which commandment is she breaking?

On what basis do we condemn a man for writing poetry, playing music, despising sports, no stomach for hunting and no love for stag parties?

And this brings me to minas. Jesus told a parable about a nobleman going away to receive a kingdom and giving his servants minas. He commends the ones who invested his gifts, and condemned the one who buried his gifts.

Christ came to set us free to serve him without fear. It seems to me that it is contrary to the Christian faith to require someone to act a role or pretend to be something that they are not. Either directly or by shame and exclusion, the culture of the church is requiring believers to bury their minas. Men must act in the approved manner, and women must act in the approved manner. The books are multiplied and inflicted on fearful believers. “Here is how to be Masculine men and Feminine women and if you don’t do it right, you deserve to be shamed, beaten, outcast and miserable”. This is how you must be to attract a mate, to be accepted, to fit in, to be approved.

In the extreme, those who step outside of the prescribed roles are mocked and even cast out. Women who wear pants and like to compete in extreme sports. Men who shave and don’t follow sports and really just want to be home, or whatever nonsense is currently being spouted.

Here’s my point. Instead of burying your mina in the ground, use that gift for the glory of God. Instead of teaching our boys and girls that there are “things that boys do” and “things that girls do”, we should instead teach them to use whatever gifts God has given them to encourage, edify and strengthen their neighbor and glorify God.

When men and women are free to be who they are, to invest their gifts without fear, the glorious diversity of the people of God will truly shine.

The Psalmist said, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made”. Perhaps instead of teaching our gifted and beautiful children that God somehow made them wrong if they don’t conform to our extra-biblical gendered stereotypes, we should teach them to use whatever gifts and personalities they have faithfully and without fear, serving God and one another. If your girl wants to fix cars, let her. Teach her. Praise her for her strength and teach her to be industrious and honest. If your boy loves fabrics and colors, teach him to design, to develop, to create and to be industrious and honest. And above all, teach them both that the fruits of the Spirit are so, so much greater than the fear of man and enforced conformity.

Let’s create safe spaces for our children to thrive. There is already enough risk and fear in the investing of our gifts without heaping the risk of exclusion from the community of God’s people for doing it wrong.

And one more thing:

The scripture generally uses the masculine pronoun to refer to God, while at the same time acknowledging that male and female do not apply to him, as he is spirit. Attributes generally associated with the feminine are ascribed to him, such as nurturing, sheltering, mothering, birthing, and nursing, to describe the indescribable and incomprehensible God. And attributes generally associated with masculine are ascribed to him, such as kingship, fatherhood, husband, bridegroom, and so on.

These descriptions are anthropomorphic. They are words given to us by God designed to reveal something about himself by way of analogy. God frequently uses human terms to condescend to our level so that we can understand him. He speaks of his arm to describe his strength, even though we know he does not have a physical arm. He speaks of his eye to denote his omniscience, even though we know that he does not have any organs, since he is spirit. And he also uses both masculine and feminine characteristics to describe himself, even though he is neither male nor female, but a spirit, a wholly other, incomprehensible, transcendent being that has revealed himself in his word.

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Filed under feminine, Masculine, Men and women

Why didn’t she speak up?

What a remarkable, wonderful gift the gift of speech is! We were created wo commune with God and with each other with words. Think of it!!

God created us to bear his image, and that image is first seen when the first human named the animals. He used words and connected them to ideas and filled them with content. And thus he was able to receive the revelation of God.

Adam named the lamb, and when God became flesh and entered the world, he told mankind that he was the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

Words. With words we pray. With words we speak the truth. With words we encourage. With words we say, “I love you” and “your hair is beautiful” and “I love the shape of you and how you fit with me and the way that your neck smells like I belong.”

But sin is now in the world, and that which was meant for beauty and truth was twisted into ugliness and lies and silence. Satan was a liar from the beginning.

Satan does not want the image of God reflected in words. He twists the words to make them ugly and hateful, and he silences the cries of the oppressed. For the darkness reigns when the dark places remain dark. It is for the advantage of the evil one that secrets remain secret and crimes remain hidden behind non-disclosure agreements.

When you read through the Psalms, you see godly men and women crying out, lifting up their voices to the Almighty One, whose Voice called them into existence.

They speak of praise and joy, pain and sorrow, laughter and anger, oppression and helplessness, despair and elation. And all of it is expressed in words.

He hurt me. He plowed my back. He is telling lies. He oppressed and afflicted me.

Because when the light is on, salvation is near. When the light is hidden under a bushel, bondage still reigns.

God would have us turn the lights on, and he calls us to use words.

But the church, which is to be the place where the light is on, is using her voice to silence the oppressed, the plowed-under, those who are crushed under unspeakable sorrow. Instead of using the voice to bring light into darkness, the voice is silenced by guilt and shame.

When one is buried by decades of silence and the heart has grown numb and buried by walls, the soul sinks into despair. But then, where the gloom has buried hope, a light finally arises and the curtains are pulled back.

And the helpless one finally finds her voice. She is finally able to speak of the atrocities done to her and bring them out into the light and look for healing.

And then those who are appointed as overseers of the soul speak.

“Did you follow Matthew 18?”

“Did you have two or three witnesses?”

“What were you wearing?”

“Where were you when this happened”

“Why didn’t you tell people earlier?”

“Why did you call the police?”

“Why didn’t you call the police?”

“What did you do to cause this?”

And here is the mistake that the oppressed make. They think that if they do everything right, say it just right, dot all of the eyes and cross all of the ts, then the shepherds will HAVE to listen. After all, they are the guardians of truth.

But here is why it is a mistake. If they believe you, their whole world must collapse. The reality of the brutality that you have experienced doesn’t fit their worldview, and therefore it cannot be real. In their worldview, those kinds of crimes happen to other people, outsiders, gentiles, not in our own camp.

If they believe you, then they have choices to make, investigations, confrontation, and cutting out a cancer. And it is far easier to ignore the cancer, pretend that it isn’t there, and go on with life than it is to do what has to be done with cancer. It is easier in the short term to silence the one who warns of cancer than to deal with the cancer.

So they don’t want to hear, and it won’t matter how it is said, they will find some reason not to believe you. They will twist words, they will pull out their verses, they will hire a PR firm, they will issue statements, they will do everything they can think of…

Except believe you.

And this is actually encouraging for the psalmist of every age, crying out for justice.

Listen closely: It isn’t you. It isn’t because you did something wrong, or said it wrong, or didn’t say it at the right time, or didn’t follow the right procedure or whatever other excuse the gatekeepers throw at you.

That isn’t it.

It is because they are of their father the devil and the works of their father they will do. He was a liar and a murderer from the beginning and the truth was not in him.

Speak anyway. Because when you speak, you shine a little light into the darkness.

But even more than that – you show yourself to be a child of the light.

Arise, shine, and Christ will give you light.

And the darkness hates the light. It always has because it loves the darkness. It is easier to hide in the darkness that to be exposed by the light.

Speak anyway. You will find that there are those who walk in the light who hear you. Who understand. Who see you.

Jesus sees you. He knows. He wants you to speak to him. He calls you to come down from the tree. Come out of hiding.

“Who touched me?” he says.

If that was you, tell him everything. He knows already, but he created you with a voice. Don’t let the Evil One silence that voice, because that voice is beautiful in your Father’s ears.

He hears you. He keeps your tears in his bottle, and every one of them will be avenged.

So speak. Write your own psalm. Speak your truth.

You won’t ever do it correct enough or have enough witnesses for the children of the devil to listen. They aren’t going to listen, not even if you sent an angel from heaven to thunder in their ears.

Speak anyway, because you are a child of light.

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Filed under Abuse, Hope, Image of God, Words