In the past week, I read – among other books – two in particular that stuck with me. I generally tend to have several books going at one time.
The first book was Aimee Byrd’s remarkable book, Recovering from Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
The second was Us Against You by my favorite novelist, Fredrik Backman. It is a novel about two rival towns within a few miles of one another; two hockey teams; two rivalries – us and you. It is a story of hate and enemies and how quickly hate burns into murder and destruction. It is an account of a politician who thrives on that hate, and keeping it stirred up. Hate is easy, inborn, natural. It is easily confused for righteousness and zeal. Beartown hockey against their archrivals: Hed hockey. Us against you.
The story begins with the star of Beartown Hockey raping the daughter of the General Manager of Beartown Hockey. And the hate begins.
A boy, the star of the hockey team, rapes a girl. And we lost our way. A community is the sum of its choices, and when two of our children said different things, we believed him. Because that was easier, because if the girl is lying our lives could carry on as usual. When we found out the truth, we fell apart, taking the town with us. It’s easy to say that we should have done everything differently, but perhaps you wouldn’t have acted differently, either. If you’d been afraid, if you’d been forced to pick a side, if you’d known what you had to sacrifice. Perhaps you wouldn’t be as brave as you think. Perhaps you’re not as different from us as you hope. (page 2)
It is a hard read. Brilliant writing.
In one scene, Backman describes a hockey game between the two towns. The towns have hated each other as long as anyone can remember. The ice rink has a standing area and it is filled with the loudest fans of the rival team. As the game begins, the fans of the opposing team in the standing area search for the names that will bring the most pain, the most rage, the most degradation and start shouting those names. It makes one cringe to read it.
But then, something happens. One girl in the standing area gets up and goes to the seating area. Another one follows. Then another and another. Until, pretty soon, there are only a handful of haters left in the standing area. It turns out that those ugly, shouting, hateful people were not nearly as numerous as everyone thought. There were only a handful of them. But they knew what to shout to cause the most pain. And they were loud.
This calms everything down for the evening, and the two teams play hockey.
Aimee Byrd is not outside the Reformed Tradition. She is under the authority of the church. She subscribes to the Reformed creeds and confessions, and has never written anything contrary to her confession of faith. She is more orthodox that those who founded the Counsel of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. She is not a ‘feminist’. She is a sister in Christ, loved by the Lord Jesus and a member of his body, the church.
But she asks some very valid questions in her book. Do women have more to offer the church than what is generally assumed by the modern conservative church? Do women have the right and the duty to study theology? Do women have the right to sit at the feet of Jesus as disciples and learn from him?
And she writes and gently critiques from within the boundaries of Reformed Theology and the ecumenical creeds. She is direct, but gentle. Insightful and kind.
And the men lost their minds. Without even reading the book, shouts of “heresy”! “Disturber of the peace of the church!” “Feminist!” “Egalitarian!”
Shouting from the stands is easy. It is the cowards way. It avoids actually confronting our hate and our fear and having a rational discussion. Perhaps the men are afraid that the women will get uppity. Perhaps they are afraid that their wives will refuse to make them a sandwich and the might have to get off the couch and do it themselves. Perhaps they are afraid of love.
Because if you learn to love, you have to listen. To listen, means you have to quit shouting and admit that there might be something you are wrong about. To love one another means that you have to put the other ahead of yourself. To love, you have to respect and honor even those who might be different than you.
And that is very, very difficult to do.
It is far, far easier to tell a woman to make you a sandwich than it is to love her. But when we do that, how much have we lost of our own humanity?
I think what it comes down to is fear. In Beartown Hockey, Backman describes that fear behind the hate so perfectly. We fear losing who we are. What will we lose if we admit the truth?
Having been born and raised in conservative Reformed churches, I think I know something of that fear. If you let your guard down for one second, liberals get into the church. Next thing you know, you lose everything. The church goes apostate all because someone let their guard down. I think we are afraid of divorce, afraid of having to wash dishes and learn how to cook, afraid we might have to re-evaluate what we have been taught about men and women. If we let our guard down even for a second, the women take over. We can’t have that. Beartown has to win, otherwise, who are we? Constant vigilance takes the place of love and that means that shouting from the stands takes the place of honest engagement. We can’t be seen consorting with FEMINISTS!
But rather than thinking through the questions that Byrd raises, we are afraid of the answer. Most of those who reviewed the book didn’t even read it. They just shouted what their neighbors shouted. Hate is easy. Listening is harder.
I wasn’t a young man in seminary, at least not in years. But I was obnoxious. I thought I knew everything. It is easy to criticize everything outside of what we think is right, it is easy to pick apart and find fault. But we never grow that way. We never learn. We never put off the old man and put on the new. I wish I had listened more than I did.
Our traditions are deeply engrained. We have a very clear understanding of who the right thinking people are. Us against you.
And our debating too often turns into shouting from the stands.
I for one, am leaving those stands. I’m not a part of that. You won’t hear my voice shouting names and insults. I am going to sit in the stands and think some things through. I would invite you to join me.
Maybe we can all recover from the voices of the loud ones and learn a thing or two from our sisters.