Monthly Archives: March 2014
This past weekend, I started Sarah Bessey’s book Jesus Feminist. I’m only three chapters in, and I’m already convinced that if I were to meet the author, I’d give her the biggest hug I could muster. Why? Because what she has to say about women, the Bible, and Jesus is so liberating. It feels so good to be given permission to be who I am instead of feeling like I have to tone down parts of me in order to be more “feminine”.
Growing up, this was always one of my biggest fears about marriage (yes, I’m a strange girl, and thought about marriage a lot even as a teenager). I would see my parents’ marriage and how it functioned: my mom is a naturally compliant person who is happiest when she can make everyone else happy. She has wonderful diplomacy skills, and she either desires or embodies so many traits that are stereotypically feminine: being a stay-at-home mom, cooking, being gentle and docile, etc. And my dad always performed the stereotypically masculine duties such as making decisions about finances, keeping the budget, mowing the lawn, that sort of thing. Their marriage functions well that way, because my dad has a very assertive, empowering presence that complements my mom’s compliant personality very nicely.
There’s just one problem: while I believe I inherited a lot of traits from my mom, I most definitely inherited a lot of traits from my dad too. I would never feel comfortable letting my future husband have the final say in important financial decisions, like my mom is. I would never feel satisfied and fulfilled as a stay-at-home mom. None of that is my personality, it isn’t who I am. I think there are many aspects of who I am that are considered feminine (one that jumps out is having a very empathetic heart), but I really don’t believe that I’m the sort of person who could fit seamlessly into a complementarian marriage like my mother does.
So because of all that, the prospect of marriage terrified me as much as it excited me, because I thought that I would need to fight against this part of myself that doesn’t fit the bill of how a wife should behave. The idea of submitting to a husband’s authority, of always having to be the one who takes the high ground to quell potential disagreements, bothered me immensely. The idea that it would be my duty to defer to my husband’s decisions because I am a woman is, simply put, suffocating to me.
So when I read what Sarah Bessey had to say about how Jesus empowered women, and taught women, and afforded women the same regard that he gave for men, it was so freeing to me. I have an assertive personality, and that isn’t something that I need to suppress in order to be the sort of wife who would please God and her husband. Instead I must use that personality trait, that beautiful part of who I am, to strengthen the marriage I will have one day.
This blog post is my response to some thoughts my dad shared:
“Okay so here is a jump into the law/no law debate….there seems to me to be two threads running in the Old Covenant scriptures…one thread is the redemption thread….ie animal sacrifice etc…and the civil thread….ie common law for Israel which includes the ten commandments. It would seem to me that the first thread is tied off on Calvary while the second thread is ongoing, especially if you are Jewish. The Jerusalem Council statement in Acts that frees Gentiles from the second thread, allows a volitional obedience to the civil law by Gentiles…thus Jesus’ words about not one jot or tittle of the law passing away until all is fulfilled come into play…lots to discuss here…have fun”
There are a thousand different angles I could take in my response to these ideas, but I’ll do my best to keep it simple. Of course, I think that when Paul says we are free from the law of sin and death, he means what he says. Paul does not draw a distinction between ceremonial law or civil law, so why should we?
Over and over again throughout Paul’s letters—especially in Romans—Paul makes it abundantly clear that by his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ freed us from the law, and we are no longer bound by its statutes, whether they be civil or ceremonial. I compiled a list of some of these key passages here, so I won’t delve any further into Paul’s treatment of this debate.
Another point raised is that in the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15, the early Christians established that Gentiles were obligated to follow only certain parts of the law that they deemed essential: abstaining from sexual immorality, food offered to idols, eating the meat of strangled animals, and drinking blood.
This does not correspond with Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 whatsoever—four laws out of hundreds hardly qualifies as “every jot and tittle”! So why these laws? I am no expert on the Torah or first century Judaism, but I would wager a guess that these laws were especially important to James and the other members of the Jerusalem Council, and that violating them would have been deemed particularly offensive to the Jews.
So I don’t think this was about obedience to the Law at all, but rather a matter of James mirroring what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 about becoming “all things to all people” for the sake of the Gospel. I think James is asking the Gentiles to become as Jews, and honor the Law not for the sake of the Law, but because honoring it is a sign of respect for the Jews and their way of life.
This would explain why Paul seems to completely reject the decision that the Jerusalem Council established about the law of circumcision being binding on Gentiles—a decision that he even supplemented with eye witness testimony of Gentile converts! Just one chapter later, Paul circumcises Timothy:
“Paul went first to Derbe and then to Lystra, where there was a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek. Timothy was well thought of by the believers[a] in Lystra and Iconium, so Paul wanted him to join them on their journey. In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek.” (Acts 16:1-3)
Therefore, the Jerusalem Council was not about rejecting the law of circumcision. If that were so, Paul would not have circumcised Timothy. The text says that he did so “in deference to the Jews of the area” in order to preserve the peace and unity of the body of Christ. Sometimes, people aren’t ready for the radical, life-giving freedom that Jesus gifted us with, and honoring the Law even when it has no intrinsic value is the best way we can emulate the life Jesus has called us to live.
Speaking of Jesus, the last point my dad brought up was to pull a quote from Matthew 5 as justification for the “civil law” being binding on believers today. Jesus says:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-19, NRSV)
I have a couple thoughts on this passage. The first is that there must be more to this passage than the surface level reading. After all, our righteousness is not measured by our diligence to the letter of the Law. If that were the case, Jesus would have praised the Pharisees instead of chastising them. Over and over again, in his parables and teachings, Jesus rejects strict adherence to the letter of the Law in favor of a more compassionate approach to obeying God that requires a faithful heart and not just faithful actions.
So I did a little poking around online, and I came across an informative article that breaks down the passage in question and addresses the meaning of each verse. With regard to verses 19-20, this article states that most Christians interpret these verses one way:
“Many understand Jesus was contrasting the “old” and “new”, i.e., comparing the “Law of Moses” with the “Law of Christ”, which would govern His kingdom. This in essence has Jesus teaching that the “Old Law” only condemned the outward actions but that the “New Law” introduced by Jesus condemned the inner conditions which lead to the outer actions.”
That makes sense to me. But then, this writer continued to offer another alternative that I found to be even more compelling:
“However, I understand the contrast to be different. It was a contrast between the “traditional interpretation and application” of the Law [and] the “righteousness of the kingdom” Jesus would require of His disciples. In fact, Jesus demonstrated that the righteousness of the kingdom was not only contrary to the manner many had interpreted and applied the Law but was in harmony with the original spirit of the Law as given to Moses and the Israelites.”
This makes so much more sense, and dovetails perfectly with Paul’s radical statements about how New Covenant believers are free from the Law. Particularly, in Philippians 3:8-9, Paul’s words reflect the above interpretation of Matthew 5:19-20 perfectly. Jesus came to complete and fulfill the old covenant, in which the veil is intact and obedience to the letter of the Law is equated with righteousness, with the new covenant, in which the spirit of the Law dictates how we apply it to our lives—i.e., the Golden Rule is our standard.
This is why Jesus would say he desires mercy, not sacrifice (Matthew 9:13), and why men were stoned for carrying sticks on the Sabbath under the Old Covenant (Numbers 15:32-36), yet Jesus defended his disciples for picking grain under the New Covenant (Mark 2:23-28). Jesus brought a new way of living in relation to God. It is not a relationship which allows believers to ignore the Law entirely, but rather to view it with a spirit that is covered in a blanket of grace, in which the Father’s love for us drives us to righteousness. We are not concerned with legalism, or even the jots and the tittles, but as we more deeply understand the nature of the Creator of the Law, and as we walk daily in the love of the Father, something tells me the jots and the tittles fall into place anyway.
This Christian life is such a freaking roller coaster ride. Sometimes, it’s downright exhausting.
Until a few weeks ago, I was sailing along pretty easily. I was thinking gracious thoughts towards those around me, and meditating on what God wants of me. I was reading my Bible hungrily and with a submissive spirit that feels pretty rare these days. Basically, things were going pretty well for me, spiritually speaking. I was at the top of a hill, convinced that the valleys were far behind me.
Then, in the space of a week, my circumstances took a huge turn for the worse. My roommate moved out unexpectedly, leaving me having to suddenly pay extra on rent and depleting my savings account, which is always something that stresses me out tremendously. Then just two days later, I got bad news about my family. I’ll spare you the details of it, but basically my dad has bi-polar disorder and had to be hospitalized. I know this doesn’t sound like too much of a crisis, but trust me, it was.
So in the space of those few days, I went from feeling positive and optimistic and loving towards my heavenly Father…to not caring a bit about anything related to God, and just wanting to be home with my family. So I made the drive, and spent a weekend with them. I visited my dad twice, which was extremely difficult for me emotionally. And then I drove back to an ordinary week at work, when inside I was falling apart at the seams.
Right now, my heart is still heavy, but I am on the mend and am able to process everything I’m going through. I still haven’t found a roommate, so I’m still feeling incredibly anxious. But my dad’s situation is improving a lot, and he may be released from the hospital early next week. So all in all, things are looking up for me. But during that week while I was still an emotional wreck about everything that was going on, I just didn’t give a fig for God. He wasn’t the one I turned to for comfort; it was to friends and family. I regarded my Bible with bitterness and angst, instead of drawing comfort from its holy words, as many of my friends tried to help me to do.
And now, as I process all of this, there is one thought that recurrently runs through my head: Geez. Faith is so fickle.
All it took was my circumstances being derailed out of my control for any sense of security I felt in Jesus to evaporate into thin air. All it took was a combination of these two crises—mostly what happened with my dad, but the roommate situation really wasn’t helping matters—for every faithful, positive thought I had about God to just drain completely out of me. I think the reasons for this are complicated, because I really believe it has a lot to do with the specifics circumstances of my dad’s story, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
Because seriously. What does that say about me? What does that say about the true strength of my walk with God? I get dealt a bad blow in life, and suddenly a faith that felt alive and vibrant and pushing forward suddenly felt dead and useless? In the space of a week I went from feeling secure to feeling hopeless, feeling optimistic to feeling apathetic, feeling joy to feeling downright miserable pain and abandonment.
How does that happen?
It’s so discouraging. And yet, if nothing else, what I’ve gone through over the last few weeks have taught me this: God’s grace, God’s love, are not dependent on my feelings. Whether I am soaring to the peak of a hill, or trapped in a valley so low I don’t even care if God exists at all, He is there, loving me still. That will never change, no matter how difficult and emotionally taxing my circumstances are.
Faith has never been about my emotions.
It’s just so hard to remind myself of that when the emotions are all negative ones.
I’m a naturally contentious person. I always have been. Whenever I listen to someone express their beliefs and ideas, I comb their words for flawed premises or close-mindedness or ways in which I disagree with them. I’m very critical, and I am rarely satisfied with an expression of belief, especially if it’s a controversial one. Bowing to the status quo rarely satisfies me, and I’m much more comfortable challenging it, and thinking outside its borders than maintaining it—especially when I’m in a church setting (which really is quite unfortunate).
I think this is both a blessing and a curse (and more often than not, it is very exhausting!), because I often turn this personality trait on myself. I constantly analyze my own beliefs and the ways in which I see the world, wondering if I’m seeing something wrong, if I need to be more vocal and publicly affirming about certain beliefs, and more skeptical and curious about others. I never want to be so convicted of something that my heart and mind are closed when God is probing them and trying to transform them, but I also want to be able to rest in that assurance and comfort of the Father that always seems to elude me. It’s a double-edged sword, it really is.
The way I see things, there are two alternatives: either subdue my critical spirit in an attempt to achieve solidarity with my Christian brothers and sisters, or let my critical spirit do what it wishes and step on a lot of toes in the process. I’m ashamed to admit it, but ever since I started growing beyond the conservative bubble I used to live in, I’ve found that the second alternative characterizes my interactions with other Christians much more often than the first. I think this is because I’ve found so much more to be critical of within conservative Christianity than I ever have before, and so there is more “fodder”, for lack of a better word, for my contentious spirit to indulge in, and so indulge I do, and quite rampantly at that.
But this Christian life doesn’t have to come down to these two alternatives, this choice between suppressing honesty so the status quo remains intact, and vocalizing my disagreement with every issue or doctrine or outlook that rubs me the wrong way. There is a third alternative, a wiser and more compassionate way of living in community with my fellow believers in the midst of widely varying perspectives. This third way requires me to speak honestly, yes, but also remember to put myself into the shoes of the person I’m speaking with, and think about why they believe what they do, why they hold opinions I might find abhorrent or flawed, why they believe it is in my best interests make sure I know how wrong I am.
When I do that, I find that I am able to tone down my contentious spirit. I am able to inflect grace and compassion into my words instead of getting so fired up and passionate that it becomes impossible to construct any sort of positive dialogue. And of course, I know full well how hard that is when you’re so sure they’re wrong, when it’s so clear to you what the right way of thinking is. But it’s still so important to develop that skill of seeing through the eyes of others. Until you can do that, you’ll never be able to convince them they’re wrong, no matter how obvious it may seem to you.
And, simultaneously, I think you acquire the wonderful gift of learning from that person too. Because sometimes, it is you who are wrong and in need of a change of perspective. And that won’t happen either, until you’re willing to open yourself up to the possibility.
I have a friend on Facebook who posts quotes about marriage. Like, a ton of quotes about marriage. Every time I see one in my news feed, my disposition dampens and I sigh in frustration. Why, you ask? Well, let me show you:
“The silent treatment is the Devil’s loudest invitation for interference in your marriage. When husband and wife stop communicating, it gives the devil sufficient time and uncontested opportunity to influence them separately.”
“Anyone who enters a marriage must do so with the clear understanding that they enter a work with no retirement, a school with no graduation, and a battle with no retreat or surrender.”
“Marriage is not 50-50; Divorce is 50-50. Marriage has to be 100-100. It isn’t dividing everything in half, but giving everything you’ve got!”
“Imagine a man so focused on God that the only reason he looks up to see you is because he heard God say, ‘that’s her.'”
Maybe you’re reading these, and you’re think they’re great – practical, motivational pieces of advice for how to keep your marriage strong. But that’s not how I’m reading them. I’m reading them as a young adult who has been single most of her life, currently has no significant other, yet who dreams of marriage one day. And as such, I read these and I think, “Oh my gosh, getting married sounds like the worst idea ever!” It sounds like all work and no play, it sounds like a daily struggle and an uphill battle, it sounds like the hardest relationship a person could possibly enter into willingly—and worse yet, if you’re a Christian, there’s no getting out of it!
Well, call me idealist, call me naive, call me whatever you wish. But I reject my Facebook friend’s quotes about marriage. I do think it’s important to remember that there will be challenges with whatever man with whom we become each other’s one and only. There will be trials and difficulties and times when giving 50% is all you can do, let alone giving 100%. There will be times when I say, “screw the high road, I need to go be human and fume at him for awhile!” There will be moments when our marriage feels like a tedious chore instead of a beautiful gift.
All hypothetically assuming I get married one day, of course.
I will choose instead to think about the blessing it will be to spend my life with a man who syncs with me so well that I feel secure in committing to lifelong monogamy with him. I will choose to believe that there will be times when marriage is easy as well as times when it is hard. I will choose to believe that I will marry a man whose character is strong enough that we can overcome our struggles together, and offer each other grace when one of us gives our marriage less than our best.
My marriage will not be a battlefield. It will be a life, full of mess and full of beauty. It will not be a relationship in which both of us always succeed in communicating effectively, but I hope it will be one in which we recognize when we need to get over our pity party and talk already, even if it means expressing frustration. I won’t always give 100%, and neither will he. But I hope we will be patient with each other when life gets us down, and we are able to give each other the space we might need to recharge when we’re incapable of being our best.
And I don’t want to be with a guy who lives with his head in the clouds, who doesn’t see me until a voice from God shouts in his head to look up. I want to be with a guy who is in tune with God, yes, but who is also immersed in this world, with eyes and heart open to the people around him. I don’t want to see marriage the way those quotes tell me I should. I’m a silver linings kind of person, I always have been. And I want that optimism to be saturated all through whatever lifelong bond I end up forming with a man. I don’t want to lose it, because then I’ll lose the heart to experience my marriage as something beautiful.
I ask myself that question sometimes. Why me? Why did God choose that I be born into the family that I was born into? Why did he afford me place of such extreme privilege? I hear about the stories…the things that are happening in the other parts of the world and even in my own country, and it makes me realize how incredibly, unfairly blessed I am. I take these things for granted every day: running water, heat, an apartment of my own, a car, a stable job that I enjoy. Siblings with whom I have a strong bond, parents who have showered love on me from the moment I was born, the opportunity to attend a fantastic college. No one has ever persecuted me because of my religious beliefs, no one has ever threatened my safety in any way, and no one has ever bullied me.
The list is nearly infinite. And I think…why? Why have I been given so very much in this life? It is so very easy to take it all for granted and not connect with the reality that my life is abundantly privileged in every way.
Sometimes I feel this deeply abiding sense of guilt for the wonderful life I have led. I think about inspirational stories of people who have pulled themselves up from the ashes, who have been born into the most destitute of circumstances, found God, and went on achieve so much in the name of the Savior.
And I wonder: why don’t I feel as though I am on the path to achieve these things? I, who have had all the support in the world?
The more I reflect on this, the more I wonder…maybe I have it all backwards. After all, many of the men and women of God throughout the Bible who began their lives from a place of privilege were the worst examples of what it means to live a life bent to the will of the Father. Saul, Solomon, pretty much all the OT Israelite kings, the Pharisees—these people were all blessed with abundance and stature, and they were completely corrupted. And of course there are exceptions, such as David and Josiah in the OT, and Matthew the tax collector in the NT.
But most of the people Jesus chose as disciples were the ones who were barely scraping by, who knew little of what it means to live in comfort. And I have to wonder if this is because they were more malleable. They knew what it meant to be compelled to rely on another for their daily bread, and so perhaps their hearts were more teachable (though I can’t be certain—after all, Peter strikes me as pretty obstinate fellow!).
So I think there is room to feel grateful for my privilege, but also to realize that sometimes privilege can lead you to believe your life is a blessing from God instead of a hurdle that prevents you from learning utter dependence on Jesus. God gave me the life that he did for a reason, but I need to be aware of what this comfortable life that I have means in light of my relationship with the Lord.