Loving and Understanding Your Unmarried Friends Better

When more teaching and energy are aimed at godly marriage and parenting than any other stage of life, when people continue to use the language of choice to describe the single state (despite the fact that most of us are not single by choice), when single people are viewed as inherently less-mature than married people or in need of sympathy because of their marital state, when chastity is primarily taught as saying no to intimacy, I think it’s safe to say the church needs to grow in painting a better, more biblical vision for the lives of unmarried people in the church, especially in the 21st century where romantic love is seen as the pinnacle, even the purpose of human existence, and yet where we are more isolated from community than perhaps at any other time in history.
A person who got married at 18 or 20 or 24 doesn’t know what it’s like to be 32 and single any more than I know what it’s like to be 40 and married with four kids. Just because every human has at some point in the past been unmarried doesn’t mean they have some kind of window into the struggles of people who have been unmarried while desiring marriage for ten, fifteen, twenty years — THAT is my reality, and I need to know what it looks like to live out the gospel in my life. Married folks and parents get that message all the time — thank God! But we need it too, and we need a bigger, more beautiful picture than “don’t have sex until you’re married.” The scriptures present that picture, and if we are committed to teaching the whole counsel of God, we need to lift those life-giving truths up to EVERYONE who is suffering because of where they are in life, including unmarried people.
Just as an example: my best friend hasn’t been “single” in a meaningful way since she started dating her now-husband when they were both in high school. Now, our struggles, though they don’t seem externally the same, often reveal similar besetting sins and heart issues: we’re both learning about trusting God’s total control over and loving care for our lives, I through dealing with loneliness and depression, she in other ways, but the lesson is the same. In the broader church, how many resources are available to her, to help her see how God is at work in her marriage, to remind her of the sacredness of her calling right now, to give her resources to be a godly wife and mother? Countless! One problem she faces in her stage of life is that there are too many voices competing for her attention, from the pulpit and elsewhere, and it can be overwhelming. A big problem in my case? Silence. Or nothing more than a “no.” Or a reminder to be patient, together with a tentative encouragement to join eHarmony. To paraphrase Chesterton, we cannot be expected to build our lives around a negation, an absence — especially when the messages to our married friends and friends with kids seems to be by contrast a life built around love and intimacy. Is it any wonder so many of my unmarried friends have contemplated becoming single parents, or even marrying unbelievers?
What I need help with from the church, from my pastors and from my brothers and sisters, is in seeing how the vision God has for me right now in my life. Maybe God has called me to lifelong singleness, or maybe not — that question’s pretty irrelevant, honestly, since I can’t know the future — but God has a purpose for me right now regardless, and I have an obligation to live a godly life right now regardless. I need God’s people to be faithful to show me and other single people how to do that, how to see God’s purposes in my life, how to live a godly life now.
When I call for the church — especially my married friends and particularly married pastors — to be more faithful in how they present the truly good news of the gospel to unmarried people, how they portray the single life, how they view the sacred calling of chastity, I’m not asking for special treatment. I’m pleading with my brothers and sisters to see me as a valuable member of God’s church now, worth the time to work out what it looks like for me to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel now, cherished enough to come alongside with a fiery, countercultural vision of Christian virtue in a season of celibacy, in just the same way that we are already committed to seeing stay-at-home moms as valuable members of God’s church, that we work out what it looks like for fathers and husbands to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel, that we come alongside couples with a fiery, countercultural vision of Christian virtue in marriage.
And please trust that I’m not just sitting on the sidelines telling YOU what YOU have to do. I want to be used by God to change the way at least my little corner of modern evangelicalism loves unmarried people of every age. But as members of one body, we have the joyful obligation to join with one another — even those whose lives look so different from ours — in our triumphs and sorrows. I join with you, married brothers and sisters. I join with you, faithful parents. Will you join with me?

Prayer for the Persecuted Church

For Endurance in Particular Sufferings

God our Father, who made heaven and Earth,
the fountain of all love and goodness,
fill your suffering servants with strength as they face persecutions of many kinds,
especially those in ________________________.

O Lord Jesus Christ
who suffered separation from your Father
that we might never know such separation,
pour out your mercy to Christian men and women,
made lonely and isolated by acts of persecution
and children orphaned by these same acts.

O Lamb of God
by whose stripes we are healed,
have mercy upon those of your people
who are sickened, maimed, or wounded,
who are forced into deprivation or starvation,
who are kept from your Table by persecution,
who have the Holy Spirit for comfort and fellowship.

O Messiah,
who became a servant, identifying with the lowly,
have mercy upon your servants in slavery, captivity, and exile.
You who left your heavenly throne
and did not consider your equality with God as something to be grasped,
have mercy upon your servants who have lost homes and property,
possessions and earthly goods,
and whose true inheritance is kept safe for them in heaven.

O Suffering Servant,
who did not open your mouth before your accusers
have mercy upon those who,
witnessing vile acts of violence against their loved ones,
are tempted to anger and retribution.

All-Seeing Father,
when one part suffers, we all suffer.
Remind us of our share in each particular suffering
that besets your people around the world.

In the name of Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever,

AMEN

On “Virginity,” Women, and Worth

Let me tell you a story, and a couple of brief anecdotes.

A girl I went to summer camp with as a teenager was from a pretty observant Christian family — mostly Catholic but not exclusively so. She’d been raised to value virginity, and was very proud of the fact that she was a virgin despite the pressure she felt from her circle of rich, popular, athletic friends. And she used to regale us with stories of how she would lie to her parents and tell them she was going to a friend’s to study, and instead go to her boyfriend’s house and spend all day skinny dipping with him… etc. She also had strong views about the circumstances around re-pledging one’s virginity — apparently you could have intercourse exactly once and then repent, and God would accept you as a virgin again, but after that, if you had intercourse again, it “counted;” you were officially defiled at that point, and probably shouldn’t wear white at your wedding.

I have friends who are virgins by some variation of the technical definition, but who’ve fooled around with dozens of people, who’ve struggled with pornography addictions, or whose sexual fantasies dominated their thoughts. I also have friends who aren’t virgins by any of the most common understandings of the term, because they were raped or molested or sexually abused.

And speaking of how we define virginity, I read a news story a few weeks ago about Quebec barring doctors from performing “virginity checks” on girls as part of their annual physicals. It struck me, once again, how much our culture’s language of sexuality aims its force at women — a “prude” is usually a woman, but so is a “slut.” Physiologically, too, we too often attach the concept of virginity to intact hymens — body parts men don’t even possess!

Christians have an obligation to be more biblical than that, to refuse to put an unfair burden on women (who are substantially more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than men) or on men (who are much more likely to feel cultural pressure to be sexually active and to use pornography than women are) in the way we talk about God’s purposes for human sexuality.

I think it’s long past time we quit talking about the ideal for Christians’ sexuality in terms of “virginity.” What, honestly, does the word “virgin” mean if it can be applied to a person like my summer-camp friend above and a person who’s never been so much as kissed, but not to a person who has been sexually victimized? What purpose does it serve to hold up virginity as the standard, if not to confuse the “experienced,” alienate the abused, and stir up pride in the hearts of the “inexperienced”?

To those who might object that “virginity” is just shorthand for “sexual purity,” is there any real sense in which a pornography addict is sexually pure simply because he or she hasn’t had intercourse? Is there any sense in which a sexually victimized person is not sexually pure simply because sex acts have been forced on him or her? It’s ludicrous to think that God’s design for human sexuality can be summed up with a word that frankly isn’t used all that frequently in Scripture.

So once again I’m going to propose that we speak of chastity rather than virginity or even sexual purity. Virginity is a state of being, but chastity is a choice, an ongoing, daily decision to live one’s life in a way that embraces God’s design for sex and sexuality. Virginity, for most people — those who marry as well as many who don’t — is temporary. Chastity is a permanent lifestyle that continues into marriage, because it encompasses all godly expressions of sexuality. It’s just as accurate to speak of a chaste single person, a chaste husband or wife, a chaste person separated from his spouse, a chaste divorced woman, a chaste widow or widower.

Chastity is about a life, a choice, a path of dedication. Right now, as a woman who is not married, chastity is a way for me to witness to the ultimacy of Christ, over and above romantic or sexual love. My life, by God’s grace, can become a picture of the future God has for all his people. If the Lord purposes marriage for me, that path of chastity simply continues as my life becomes a picture of the church’s love for Christ.

Our bodies matter to God, it’s true. He made them, down to the minutest detail. But for those of us who have been made new in Christ, what we do with all of our lives in these bodies matters, not just a few parts. Let’s stop categorizing one another based on what we have done, or what has been done to us, with just a few of those parts, and begin to encourage each other to walk now in a way that honors God.

Prayer for the Persecuted Church

For Endurance with Rejoicing

O God who rules the nations,
Whose Word calls us to deny ourselves,
take up our crosses,
and follow Christ,

Hear the prayers of your servants on behalf of your persecuted children,
especially those in the country/countries of _________________.

With the Apostle Paul,
we are sorrowful yet always rejoicing:
sorrowful to know of the persecutions our brothers and sisters suffer,
rejoicing because you have promised never to leave them or forsake them.

Strengthen them in this truth by your powerful hand.
Give them, too, the grace to rejoice in their sufferings,
because in them they share the sufferings of your own dear Son, Jesus.

Cause them, Father, to rejoice in their “better possessions” (Heb. 10:34),
which are heaven itself
and Christ himself.

Strengthen them to take comfort that,
as they are persecuted,
“so the prophets were persecuted before” (Mt. 5:12).

Preserve them by your Holy Spirit
to praise you in their sufferings to the end,
and to look forward to “the revelation of His glory,
[when they] may rejoice with exultation” (1 Pt. 4:13).

Merciful God, who abounds in love
whose favor lasts to a thousand generations,
show mercy to those whose crosses are heavy;
give endurance to those who suffer,
that they might see not only their salvation,
but that of children’s children, who will rise up and praise you.

May this generation of persecuted believers
praise your works to the next, and declare your mighty deeds.

God of all comfort,
give peace to your suffering children.

In the name of Christ, who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows,

AMEN.

November is Pray for the Persecuted Church Month

Hello Dear Friends,

November has been set aside as a month to remember and pray for the persecuted church. Please join me as I pray each weekday for a different group of persecuted Christians – dinnertime or bedtime are great times to pray as a family for those around the world who risk their lives daily to worship God. The schedule I’m using is below. I’ll post a new prayer every week.

You can visit idop.org for more information on how to pray. Use these prayers as a guide to help you intercede for these brothers and sisters whose suffering God has not forgotten. 

 

Week of November 4: Prayer #1
Monday: Christians in the Middle East, especially Syria
Tuesday: Christians in North Korea
Wednesday: Christians in Africa, especially North Africa
Thursday: Christians in Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia
Friday: Christians in South and Southwest Asia, especially India

Week of November 11: Prayer #2
Monday: Christians in the Middle East, especially Iran
Tuesday: Christians in China
Wednesday: Christians in Africa, especially West Africa
Thursday: Christians in Southeast Asia, especially Laos and Vietnam
Friday: Christians in South and Southwest Asia, especially Pakistan

Week of November 18: Prayer #3
Monday: Christians in the Middle East, especially Afghanistan
Tuesday: Christians in Taiwan
Wednesday: Christians in Africa, especially East Africa
Thursday: Christians in Southeast Asia, especially Burma
Friday: Christians in South and Southwest Asia, especially the former Soviet Republics

Week of November 25: Prayer #4
Monday: Christians in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia
Tuesday: Christians in Tibet and Mongolia
Wednesday: Christians in Africa, especially Central Africa
Thursday: Christians in Southeast Asia, especially Malaysia
Friday: Christians in South and Southwest Asia, especially Bangladesh and Sri Lanka

That’s Not Why (Or: The Problems With A Consequentialist View of Sin)

I hate-read (well, not “hate-read” exactly, more like “irritate-read”) a couple of Christian blogs, and in the comments section of a post to do with protecting children from being exposed to things they weren’t ready for, a commenter insisted on the importance of exalting the beauty of marriage and urging children to “save themselves for their future spouse.” It got me thinking. Weird, I know.

I have a problem with people focusing “purity” talk on weird stuff like giving your virginity to your husband just like I have a problem with people saying that lying and slander and gossip are wrong because they’re hurtful. Generally speaking, I have a problem with the implication that not trusting God is wrong because it makes our lives harder when we don’t, because I have a problem with consequentialism.

Consequentialism is the notion that the consequences of an action are the best way to know if the action itself is right or wrong. In other words, if something is harmful, to ourselves or others, it must be bad, and if something is helpful, it must be good.

Consequentialism pervades our culture — “they’re consenting adults” and “I’m not hurting anybody” and “my body, my choice” all point to a conviction that acts are as morally right or wrong as their impact on others. And don’t get me wrong, it’s is useful and indeed vital for a society because it shapes our laws and determines how we punish crime, but it’s a rotten foundation for understanding sin and holiness because it puts the purpose for doing right and avoiding wrong in the wrong spot.

The why of obedience isn’t “because it’s bad for you” or “because it’s bad for other people.” Not ultimately. Don’t get me wrong, here. God’s commands are good (duh), and obedience is for our good (duh). But our ultimate good is not the same as our short-term happiness or blessing. In God’s providence, even our sin is for our good; even our suffering is for our good. Sometimes God graciously defers consequences for sin, for his own good purposes. And you know what? Some people have sex (even lots of it!) outside of marriage and don’t get an STI or a baby in the bargain, and feel no guilt or shame or remorse for their actions. Some people get drunk regularly with no long-term health effects. Some people live genuinely happy lives while making choices Christians would all recognize as sinful. And guess what else? Many Christians are “virgins,” but consumed with lustful fantasies, or addicted to erotic novels or pornography, or simply eaten up with pride over their superior purity. Many Christians have never taken so much as a sip of alcohol, but have a disordered relationship with food, or are addicted to smoking, or look down their noses with disdain at those who enjoy a glass of wine now and again. In this fallen world, actions and consequences are simply not that mechanistic.

If we spend all of our time telling those we teach to obey because they’ll be blessed if they do and avoid sin because they’ll be sorry if they don’t, what happens when the uncomfortable realities of life in a fallen world strike? What happens when the girl you dragged up on stage at your youth event to do the duct tape analogy has sex for the first time and doesn’t feel like de-stickied duct tape at all? What happens when the kid who grew up being warned about inevitable spiritual depression if he stopped going to church stops going to church and is perfectly content with his decision to have brunch instead? I’m convinced that this kind of teaching is a big reason that so many kids leave youth group and the church about the same time. Consequentialist theology leaves them vulnerable to every message about following their hearts. It has the ability to make sin seem not all that bad, actually, as long as it’s not hurting anyone!

So you shouldn’t dress modestly to keep men from lusting after you or assaulting you. You shouldn’t avoid pornography because it’s addictive. You shouldn’t shun drunkenness because cirrhosis is deadly. And on the positive side, don’t read your Bible because it makes you happy, don’t go to church because you get blessed when you’re there, and don’t confess sin because your conscience feels better when you do.

So why do Christians obey God? Why do they seek to kill their sin and live a godly life? Because our sins are paid for, every last one of them. Because we are learning to see our sin more clearly as the years pass, and cling to Jesus in the midst of our failures. Because our King lived perfectly on our behalf. Because we have no fear that our sin will separate us from God ever again. Because we know that our very good deeds themselves come from the Holy Spirit in us, not our own efforts. Because, in short, we are free from condemnation and guilt, from slavery to the law, from the pressure to perform. We can live in that freedom, obeying sometimes, sinning often, failing regularly, confident that no one can snatch us from the hand of our Savior.

That is good news.

Believe that, friends. Don’t settle for the message of consequentialism, and don’t put your hope in the fear of consequences to keep you from sinning. Trust in a God who perfectly holds you and keeps you faithful by his power.

Deep Wounds and Hello Kitty Bandaids

Hello Kitty bandaids work better than normal ones; this is scientific fact, indisputable. Ask my nieces. Given the choice between a plain beige bandaid and a Hello Kitty one, they will choose the Hello Kitty one 100 times out of 100. They’re medical miracles. They dry up tears, stop pain, and return a three-year-old to normal play mode as quick as a wink.

They also don’t work on a deep wound.

Everyone knows this when it comes to physical injuries. Your child slices her arm open, and you’re rushing for the car keys, not the bandaids, Hello Kitty or otherwise. Worse, your child is diagnosed with some chronic disease or illness, and you know that no amount of licenced products are going to help.

But reveal a struggle with depression, or anxiety, or panic attacks, or dark, spiraling despair, and suddenly the same people who would advise a 911 call and some prompt medical attention, or long-term medical treatment, are handing out bandaid answers like you just skinned your knee.

Today I read of a husband’s agony as he watched his wife struggle with post-partum depression. The comments section was character bandaids galore: make sure she’s getting enough B vitamins! one commenter insisted. Don’t forget to make confession of sin part of your daily life, said another. No, no, don’t use the Hulk bandaids, no one likes those. Have these bandaids instead!

All I can say to that is… don’t.

Just… don’t do that.

Friends, sin is not always, or predictably, the cause of suffering. Jesus rebuked the pharisees for thinking that a man’s blindness resulted from his sin or that of his parents. Suffering does not always seem to have a purpose; sometimes it doesn’t seem to have a cause, or a reason, or an origin. It’s not always taken away when we pray (2 Cor 12), or even when we treat it medically (Luke 8).

But for the Christian, suffering is always part of the hard providence of God, never escaping his notice or care, never catching him off guard. Satan himself must seek God’s permission to trouble us, and his power is always limited — how much more must the suffering we experience be controlled and limited by a loving and watchful Father!

True suffering defies and confounds tidy, pat answers. If the tools with which we approach it don’t go beyond a range of bandaids with superheros and cartoon characters splashed across them, we will have no comfort to offer those who desperately need it.

“You’re What the French Call ‘Les Incompetents.’”

You disagree with the Affordable Care Act? Terrific. It is the constitutional right of every American, and therefore every Congressman, to oppose and work to overturn laws they find unjust or immoral or unwise. But trying to overturn or defund an existing law by tacking a rider onto a spending bill without which the entire government will shut down is like a toddler holding his breath so mommy will let him watch another hour of TV.

Government shutdown isn’t just some abstract thing. It means servicemen and women might not get their paychecks. It means regions that depend on tourism to their national parks are losing that revenue. It means federally-funded research hospitals have to stop doing their research. It means “essential workers” still have to go to work even though they aren’t getting paid. Oh, except for congressmen — their paychecks are written into permanent law and not dependent on the stopgap spending bills they’ve been passing for the last two years because they can’t seem to pass an actual budget. No WIC during the shutdown — sorry moms and kids! No federal civil trials — sorry, citizens’ right to a speedy trial! No DHS immigration checks — sorry, business owners who want to verify citizenship of prospective employees! Oh, and sorry, taxpayers; it’s going to cost you way more money to fix this than if the government hadn’t shut down, because once this debacle is over, we not only have to pay all the back paychecks that would have been paid anyway (ahem, that is, if Congress feels like doing that), we also have to find a way to fund the fines for contract delays and other administrative fees that are inevitable after a circumstance like this.

This should not be happening. So what do we do about it?

I heard two suggestions today that I really like. The first is that, if congress allows a government shutdown, their pay is immediately suspended for the duration of the shutdown, and they face serious fines if the shutdown continues past a certain date. The second is that, after a certain date, states may call emergency elections for all seats in the House, Senate, or both, depending on who’s dragging their heels. How much do you want to bet they would try harder for a solution if they know THEIR paychecks were on the line, not just the paychecks of 800,000 hard-working Americans?

Dear Congressmen: The functioning of the agencies and arms United States of America is not a bargaining chip. When it comes to laws, you are free to disagree, negotiate, bargain, play “Let’s Make A Deal” into the wee hours of the morning. But I did not send you to Washington to let the government shut down. Thanks.

How Some Feminism Is Also Marxism (And How This Is Not That)

I said in my series prequel (which… I need to learn to quit telling people what I’m going to write about unless I have the articles written because if there’s one thing I know about myself it’s that I am fickle, dude) that I’m not a Marxist. But the reason I mention Marxism in this context at all, is that I think Marxism and the whole class struggle worldview are foundational to pretty much all modern feminism — and, indeed, to most counterculture movements. Furthermore, I think many of the problems Christians have with feminism stem from our gut-level objections to Marxism, and that, if we can disentangle one from the other, we’ll be surprised at how much common ground there is between our two worldviews when it comes to women.

For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to use “Marxism” as shorthand for something like this: the set of beliefs and ideas in which the pattern of history is one of class struggle wherein powerful classes, using the structures and institutions of society (government, the Church, marriage, education, etc.) to secure their power, are locked in a struggle with the powerless classes who will, inevitably, rise up to overthrow them and the institutions they control; all those who stand in solidarity with the oppressed class are considered friends while all those who attempt to remain neutral must be crushed as supporters of oppression.

One of the most frequently-recurring themes in the conversation around modern feminism is this idea of “the patriarchy,” which, in the view of many modern feminists, is responsible for many of the wrongs women have suffered throughout history. While it sounds a bit like a conspiracy theory, it’s not — it’s better compared to the cultural water we swim in than anything most folks are aware of. It comes down to something like this: societies have been structured to favor the rule of men for lots of reasons (men are physically stronger than women, most women pre-contraception spent a lot of time pregnant which tended to limit their ability to, like, conquer and swashbuckle and whatever kings do to amass power). This leads inevitably to men oppressing and exploiting women because, you know, power corrupts, and since people in power usually like to keep it, it also leads to men enshrining their power in law at the expense of women. This “patriarchy” concept encompasses all the historical privilege, dominance, power, and authority that men have in a society, plus the way men use those things now — almost always unconsciously – to their own advantage and the disadvantage of women.

I think it’s important for me to be clear here: I don’t necessarily have big problems with this assessment. Men have almost always had more political and social power than women. They have, because of their sinful nature, sometimes used this power to make laws predicated on untrue assumptions about women, laws that unfairly burden women or infringe on their human rights. And — in much the same way that racist politicians in the post-Civil War south leveraged the “poor white” vote to shore up their own agendas in the face of potential enfranchisement of black citizens — powerful classes throughout history have been invested in portraying men and women in ways that make conflict between the sexes seem normal, and that instill fear that the rights women gain will infringe on the rights of men, so that those powerful men could keep their power.

But I think it’s also important to be note that my agreement is far from comprehensive. To the modern feminist, men and women have been locked in a perpetual battle for power, men have always had the ascendancy, and women (together with sympathetic men, and in solidarity with other oppressed and marginalized groups) have the obligation to rise up and overthrow this oppressive patriarchy in order to usher in a future in which there are no gender-based hierarchies — or any hierarchies at all, because the problem, in this view, is that some people have power over other people. To modern feminists and many modern folks generally, authority structures are to blame, and dismantling those structures is the solution.

It’s at this level that I part ways with modern secular feminism. I just don’t buy the Marxist vision of class warfare or the end game of a world in which there are no hierarchies. I think hierarchies and authority structures are built into human society by God — they’re a feature, not a bug. Hierarchy isn’t the problem. The problem is that men and women alike are, at a fundamental level, messed up by sin, and if you take a look at the consequences for sin given to all of us, fallen in Adam, it’s pretty easy to understand why some people look at history as a clash between two sides. Identity. Desire. Power. Work. Biology. That’s not a list of lecture topics from a Gender Studies class, y’all, it’s a summary of the stuff that sin messes with and that the curse affects. And as we can clearly see in that same passage, the end game isn’t overthrowing all hierarchies, it’s placing all authority structures where they belong: under the reign of the true King who will crush the usurper Satan.

But what all that doesn’t mean is that I’m somehow compelled to disagree with every assessment or proposed solution that comes out of a modern feminist’s mouth. Far from it. Feminists are right to be vocal and angry about misogyny, about exploitation, about stuff ranging from sexist jokes to sex trafficking, from how cops ask rape victims what they were wearing to how our society sees illegal sex workers as criminals rather than victims. We should be just as vocal about, and just as emotionally invested in, those things.

And I’m going to prove it.

Brace yourself next week for a look at some of the many and sometimes surprising areas we might find ourselves agreeing with secular feminists.

Changing Horses Midstream

(Many thanks to Bryan and Kristen, friends and sometime intrepid editors, whose feedback prompted this re-arrangement.)

Hey all (or, uh, both of you), I’ve decided to rework some of the feminism stuff in a more coherent way that explains a bit more of the philosophical underpinnings of modern secular feminism. That first post should go up Wednesday. Thanks for reading and sharing and commenting! :)

“Women Aren’t as Visual as Men” and Other Dangerous Lies

I read yet another article today in which a mother of boys reminds young women to be cautious about the pictures they post of themselves on facebook. It was all fair enough, though made slightly ironic by the photographs of her sons doing muscle-man poses in their swim trunks that were scattered throughout the article. But post Twerk-Gate, I’m not surprised by the content: the message that girls need to be counter-culturally modest gets recirculated around the Christian blogosphere every time a celebrity strips off in public or there’s a new case of teenage boys being arrested for passing around naked pictures of their girlfriends. You could practically write a Post-Scandal Mad Lib template: something about degradation, something about self-respect, something about how far our society has fallen, and a whooooole bunch about modesty, but only, or at least primarily, in the context of preventing lust among men and boys.

It’s all well-intentioned and mostly not terrible, but when it comes to modesty… you already know how I feel about that. (If you’re too lazy to click on those links, here’s a tip: in the Bible, modesty isn’t exclusively or even mostly about not looking “sexy.” It’s not mostly about covering up. It’s not even mostly directed at women, or in reference to men.)

But you might not know how I feel about the underlying assumption of a lot of these appeals, namely that men are always and forever, world without end, stimulated visually, and women just… aren’t; that there is a direct line between scantily clad women and men’s sexual sin, so please please ladies, if you love your brothers, cover up — I know you don’t understand because you’re not wired that way, but we are, so please please please…

So are you ready for this? That stuff is just not true. Men and women are different; that’s awesome, hooray. And I think mothers and fathers need to encourage their daughters (and sons!) to dress and comport themselves with modesty and dignity… but y’all, come on: we can’t just look at men, extrapolate from their experiences and preferences, and then assume women are the opposite. It’s lazy. It’s ridiculous. Women are women, humans made in God’s image in their own right, not just un-men. People will often cite these mysterious “studies” in which it is “proven” that women are more into words and men are more into pictures. But let me tell you why I have a problem with that.

First, I’m not sure you can deduce biological causality about men’s wiring from actions and characteristics that could just as easily be attributed to cultural expectations about how men act and what they like. A boy who’s grown up in our porn-saturated, women-as-props-in-male-fantasies society is not exactly a good control subject for an experiment designed to reveal pure biology. Second, just anecdotally, I don’t know one (straight) woman who isn’t physically attracted to the hotness of “hot” guy, whatever her definition of “hot” is. No, not every woman finds shirtless Ryan Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love attractive, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t visually stimulated for goodness’ sake. I also don’t know any men who don’t care about personality or character when choosing a potential spouse. And regarding that last point, I think it’s terribly insulting to men to imply that they’re basically just big hairy bundles of id, derping along until they find themselves in proximity to a hot, immodestly-dressed woman, whereupon they can do nothing but fall immediately into sexual sin.

Third, I think this set of lies is particularly dangerous because of where it leads. A couple of anecdotes:

A popular marriage book (which I won’t name here lest I get some of its terrifying supporters in the comments) describes in graphic detail the supposedly-true story of a young man, filled with lust at the sight of the snug-skirted young woman standing in front of him in church; the book’s author blames the young woman’s immodesty for causing his problem, implying that the young man’s lust was a purely biological response for which he couldn’t possibly be held responsible. If you can’t see the danger of blaming women for the sexual sin of men, maybe you need to read about the judge who last week sentenced a 49-year-old man convicted of raping his 14-year-old student to just 30 days in prison, claiming the victim’s maturity and apparent sexual control over the relationship as mitigating factors in the perpetrator’s guilt, despite the fact that, in the state of Montana, a 14-year-old cannot legally give consent, and the fact that the girl went on to commit suicide.

In addition to that issue, there’s also the fact that pornography use among women has skyrocketed in the last few years; among older teens and women in their early 20s, rates are rapidly approaching those of men of the same age. When we constantly beat the drum of Men Being Visual And Women Being Emotional, we are driving women who struggle in this area into seclusion and shame; when we offer resources to conquer porn addictions primarily in the context of men’s accountability groups, or hasten to add, “We know this won’t apply to most of you ladies” when teaching about pornography, or in any other way make sexual sin a male or female thing, we are heaping condemnation on these sisters, who now have to deal with feeling like freaks because they’re struggling with something that “isn’t really a woman problem.”

When the sum of our exhortation to women regarding sexual sin is to tell them to avoid Fifty Shades of Grey and make sure they don’t show any cleavage, we’re doing a disservice to them. When we treat men like out-of-control sex maniacs, we’re doing a disservice to them. When we talk about any sin as though it’s the exclusive territory of one group or another in the church, or rely on stereotypes and hackneyed statistics, we do a disservice to everyone in the church. Let’s seek a better path.

Bragging and Complaining

I said the other day to a friend that it seems like we often don’t know how to rejoice, we only know how to brag, and we don’t know how to mourn, we only know how to complain. And we don’t know how to respond to rejoicing or mourning — we respond to them like they’re bragging or complaining.

Just stuff I’ve been thinking about.

International Women’s Day and Casual Misogyny

Happy International Women’s Day!

Today in class we were talking about NASCAR driver Danica Patrick and how she (or rather, the popular portrayal of her) is an embarrassment to women everywhere because, although she’s ostensibly famous for her sport, she’s a) not as great at it as her fame would suggest, and b) far more famous for taking her clothes off and being a spokesmodel in skanky ads. We talked about how offensive it is to both men and women to depict women as empty-headed, easily-controllable imaginary objects just sitting there for male consumption, and I said something about how it turns them into these infantilized child-women, whereupon a student piped up with, “That sounds like a really bad superhero. Infantilized Child-Woman to the rescue!”

So we came up with a whole scenario for Infantilized Child-Woman, who goes around “rescuing” women from intelligent, deep conversations that aren’t about men, and turning them into flirtatious bobble-heads with one flick of her ruffled costume, and who foils male criminals by strutting around seductively until the cops arrive. Her arch-nemesis is Intensely Nerdy Boy, on whom her powers are useless because he prefers the smart girls he meets at ComicCon, and his secret weapon is a Fandom Gun, which makes everyone he shoots it at so involved in a fan community that they stop paying attention to Infantilized Child-Woman. Muahahaha!

I’ve been thinking about this today, a paraphrase of something I saw browsing just now on my lunch break: we need to stop thinking of sexism as part of an identity — i.e., so-and-so is a sexist therefore a wife-beater, a rapist, a woman-hater, etc. — and start thinking of it in terms of actions. Anyone can casually devalue women, and we, both men and women, do it all the time. So many things, from using pornography (i.e. consuming women’s degradation) to implying that women shouldn’t complain about discrimination (because we can, like, vote now and stuff), are sexist, and no amount of, “But I love women/am a woman!” negates that.

We might rightly roll our eyes at the antediluvian attitude that a woman’s place is always in the home and preferably in the kitchen. We might, I hope, get involved with charities that help free women from sex work. But it’s easier to let slide that sort of casual, condescending misogyny that applauds Danica Patrick equally for taking her clothes off and finishing 40th in some race, because it’s so subtle and so ubiquitous. It’s the kind of sexism that we need to be most careful of because it’s the easiest to slip into, the easiest to absorb from women’s magazines and sitcoms, and, I think, the toughest to eliminate.

But we have an obligation to value women, to treat them with the dignity they intrinsically have as image-bearers of God, creations whose absence prompted God to call something “not good” for the first time ever. Christians must strive never to be open to the charge of denigrating or diminishing that value, however casually or incidentally.

Two Terms You Probably Never Thought You’d See Together: “Papal Conclaves” and “Bookies”

This week my students and I started tracking the odds for various potential papal candidates now that the conclave has convened and the College of Cardinals are busy praying and, I’m sure, negotiating and discussing to determine who will be the next Pope. Evidently, bookies have given odds and taken bets on papal elections for more than five hundred years and this month’s election is no exception — just a quick google turns up loads of articles on the odds and loads more bookie websites where a person could lay money on this or that candidate.

My favorite candidate right now is Cardinal Peter Turkson, who has a lot going for him: he’s non-European, he’s conservative, he’s highly involved in social justice, and he’s not as old as Father Time, which helps. A close second is 68-year-old French-Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, whose academic background and advanced degrees in philosophy and dogmatics give him some intellectual appeal; he seems to have a good grasp of repentance for the wrongs of the Roman Catholic Church without groveling or compromise. The youngest candidate, Philipino Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, in addition to being an advocate for the poor and an outspoken defender of sexual abuse victims, also happens to be non-European, which I think is a much, much-needed move for this era.

Of course, it’s not like these men run for office! They’re just prominent men who seem likely, for whatever reason, to be elected by the College of Cardinals. It’s fun to watch it  unfold, and more than a little comical to watch bookies make odds on various candidates. Have a look at this list and read down almost to the bottom. There’s a little surprise there for the observant and well-informed reader.

Sorry!

This is what you get for subscribing to the blog of a person with seasonal depression: long periods of boring silence! Hooray! I am working on the feminism series, cross my heart, it’s just been a tired, achy, low, scatter-brained week and I haven’t had much motivation to do anything beyond sitting on my couch and watching all of Netflix. So.

The first actual installment of Big Scary Feminism is about objectification and shame, and it’s slowly taking shape — hoping to get it posted over the weekend sometime.

Pray for me if you think about it/are a pray-ey sort of person. Not long now until the time change, which usually rights my mood pretty quickly!

Yet More from Anna Karenina

“Peaceful with six children Darya Alexandrovna could not be. One would fall ill, another might easily become so, a third would be without something necessary, a fourth would show symptoms of a bad disposition, and so on. Rare indeed were the brief periods of peace. But these cares and anxieties were for Darya Alexandrovna the sole happiness possible. Had it not been for them, she would have been left alone to brood over her husband who did not love her.

“And besides, hard though it was for the mother to bear the dread of illness, the illnesses themselves, and the grief of seeing signs of evil propensities in her children — the children themselves were even now repaying her in small joys for her sufferings. Those joys were so small that they passed unnoticed, like gold in sand, and at bad moments she could see nothing but the pain, nothing but sand; but there were good moments too when she saw nothing but the joy, nothing but gold.”

I just… wow, you guys. Wow.

I’ve thought about doing a review of Anna Karenina as I go along, but it’s so beautiful and awful, so gutting, that most of my responses to it are purely emotional — and it’s tough to write groans and sighs and staring agape at the page and shifting restlessly in one’s seat and feeling the hairs stand up on the back of one’s neck, to say nothing of how it might be to read such a thing! So I think I’ll spare you my “reviews” and just let Tolstoy speak for himself, hey?

Ah February.

February is the actual worst: horrible freezing rain and snow one day, sunny but gale-force winds the next, drizzly and mucky for days at a time. I don’t want to go outside (too cold or wet or blustery) but I’m sick of being stuck in the house, so I don’t want to do the normal things that get me through December and January, like reading and cooking and reading and watching entire seasons of shows on Netflix, so I end up trawling travel websites for bargains on tropical vacations that I don’t have time for and can’t afford, and scatter-brain-edly watching half an episode of something while scrolling through Instagram on my phone.

COME ON SPRING. YOU CANNOT GET HERE QUICKLY ENOUGH.

Texts from Anna Karenina

(Because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and because Melis is never going to do it on the Hairpin.)

Hey Kitty ; )

OMG VRONSKY hiiiiii

How are you this frosty winter’s evening
You looked fetching in your ice skating costume today
Your cheeks were so rosy from the cold
You were like a blossoming flower ; )

Thank you!!!!!!!!!! That is sooooo sweet =D
you looked really good too
I like your mustache
it reminds me of the furs
we have in our carriages to keep us from freezing to death
in this endless endless winter

I was wondering
if I could talk to you later
After the dance
Maybe ask you a question
?
; )

TOTALLY. OMG.
Whenever you want.
Ask me anything, anything at all.

Vronsky?

Hey.

Hey.

Hey Vronsky
Was there something you wanted to ask me
Because I think I will agree
with whatever you ask
Not that I’m being forward
I just like saying yes to things ; )
NBD

Vronsky

Vronsky? Haha text me back ; )

Hey

Hey

**********************************************

Kitty
Kitty
Kitty

Oh hey Levin.

Kitty let me tell you all about my life
It’s a great life
I live on a farm, did I ever tell you that?
I have fields and horses and a lake
You wouldn’t believe how many peasants I have
All I need is a wife

I said all I need is a wife
A wife
For my farm

K

Kitty
Kitty
Kitty it’s me Levin
Remember before how I said I needed a wife for my farm?
Well I still totally do
Maybe you know someone who is
like
looking for a job as a farm wife

Um
Levin are you proposing to me
Because I think you’re great and all but
farms are out of fashion this year

Kitty
Kitty
It’s me Levin
Never mind I don’t need a wife for my farm
So tell whoever might want to be a farm wife
that you know
That I don’t need one anymore

Gotta go, so much hay to cut down
with this scythe

k

**************************************************

Mrs. Karenin
Anna
May I call you Anna?

Why Count Vronsky!
It’s very soon in our acquaintance to be on a first-name basis
But you are extremely dashing
and a very good waltzer

I just met you
And this is crazy
But here’s the address where you can reach me
by telegram
So telegraph me maybe?

It would all be very untoward
I am a married woman after all

Well wait hear me out
my second idea was:
We spend the night together
And after that
we can hold each other
and sob about all the lives we’re ruining

But I’m with my little boy Ser–
oh all right

**************************************

Anna
Anna it’s me, your husband
Alexei Alexandrovitch

Seriously, Alexei, wha–

Alexei Alexandrovitch.
It is my name.

OMG fine, Alexei Alexandrovitch, sheez.

Do not become excited
Expressiveness of all kinds repulses me
Your emotions repulse me
Are you having “emotions” with that guy
That Count guy with the horse

Do not ask me such questions
they grieve me to the heart

I mean, I’m really kind of whatever about it
I just think I probably should throw you out of our house
Because
Isn’t that what like cuckolded husbands do
Is throw their wives out?
I am reasonable though
You can call it a vacation
Just don’t get pregnant or people will be suspicious

Is that all you care about,
people’s suspicions and imaginings

Yes.
Obviously

Oh hey I’m pregnant