Monday, October 26, 2015

That lesbian hymn

Well, girls, it's that time again, the time when we all stand in church and sing how it's totally no biggie if this world takes our wife. Maybe it just felt silly once, but these days it's almost kind of weird, no?

We good Lutheran females are used to it, though! We've been reciting for years how we shouldn't covet our neighbor's wife. I guess neighbors' husbands are fair game for coveting, huh? ;)

But, OK, what does this mean, this language we find in our Bible and catechism and hymnal? Our time tells us it is exclusionary, a relic of a past the present can only see as cruel. But this is silliness. The children of Israel and the children of Wittenberg knew as well as we do that husbands are as off-limits as wives, and that a woman can't have a wife to lose. What does this mean for the Tenth Commandment, "A Mighty Fortress," and all the other formulations we've been trained to hear as discriminatory?

A few things.

1. The truth stands outside of subjective human experience, so the commandments and our hymns do too. They are not about us, they are about the truth. If we can expect someone without a donkey to confess the Tenth Commandment, or someone with no children to sing hymn 656* stanza four, we can confess and sing right along with him even if the particulars do not match our situation either.

2. Wives are valuable. Why covet something that isn't? Why care if something worthless gets taken away from you? This confession is a wall of NO to the idea that women were an ancient/medieval/Modern/everytime until the 19th Amendment version of paper plates, either in terms of their importance to the household economy (where they rank first in #10) or their esoteric worth (as comparable to life or reputation in st. 4). It is wives, not husbands, who were so valued as to receive explicit attention in Scripture and the derivative catechesis and hymnody.

Lutheran ladies sing about their wives.
3. Humanity is oriented in a certain direction. Christ is our head, and the body sees through his eyes. What does he see? The Church coming down out of heaven as a bride beautifully dressed for himself. This vision is encouragement to each member of the Body to remember that she is fit for such pure glory by the blood of the Lamb. Here on earth, the husband is the head, and the family sees through his eyes. What does he see? His bride. She figures so prominently in his personal piety as to appear in his commandments and hymns. Her gain in that prominence (for they are her commandments and hymns, too) is encouragement toward worthiness of the honor. The view is no accident. We cannot switch out wives for husbands in commandment ten or stanza four, because our eyes are in our Head. That is just the truth. It has nothing to do with any one person's sex, or his past, current, or desired marital status. So we all sing it.

Sing out, ladies. We've all got a place in the whole life of the Church. It is given to each of us to sing every truth of God, wherever life has landed us in relation to it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Using the Treasury of Daily Prayer for a group Bible study

In an earlier post, I talked a little bit about using the Treasury of Daily Prayer for the women's Bible study group at our church. Jennifer asked on FB what it looked like, so here's the basic idea.

Before the class, I look at the three Scripture readings and write down a couple of questions for each one. Basic question ideas are comprehension, where we hear the same thing in Scripture/the liturgy/the church year, something about the people or situation covered in the reading, a paraphrase or summary, etc. (We don't do What does this mean to you? or What's the giant in your life?) For example, here's what I'm going to use for September 14:

Psalm 38:6-16

Whose prayer is this?

What parts of the passion story are heard in this Psalm?

2 Chronicles 33:1-25

How bad was Manasseh (vs. 9)?

What did Manasseh's repentance look like?

Colossians 1:24-2:7

What does it mean that Paul is “filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions” (vs. 24)?

What is “the mystery hidden for ages and generations” (vs. 26)?

(And then a shout out to Holy Cross Day)

I print this out for everyone because my crew likes writing down answers. :)

Then I have to clean 1 1/2 rooms of my house, which is terrible. I make coffee but, like I told Jennifer, no cookies. They just wouldn't eat them, so I gave up.

Ladies start showing up, and we all sit around and talk for 5-25 minutes. Sometimes three people come, and sometimes nine do. Nine is big here. :D

Then we all joke about how Pastor is going to give us an F if we don't get serious. I pray the prayer included in the lesson out loud. If any specific petitions are indicated from talk time, I slot them in as Lord, have mercy on . . . s just before the end of the written prayer.

Someone from the group reads the Psalm out loud, and then we talk about and answer the questions. I ask if anyone has any other questions from the reading or anything we've talked about, and I write down everybody's questions.

Then we read the OT lesson individually because they're long and have weird names no one wants to say. Usually around this time the kids upstairs have started jumping out of the middle level of the triple bunk and making the dining room light rattle and blink. Everybody likes that a lot and we talk about what a great job Pastor is doing with the kids. We go through the questions, and I write down anything anyone else asks about.

If we still have time (depending on how long the local report ran), I read through the NT reading out loud for everyone, and we talk about those questions.

We might talk a little about the Writing selection, but a lot of these are more highfalutin than my ladies are really into so we don't sweat it.

Pastor Husband gives us about 45 minutes from start time and then he comes in. I ask him all the questions I've written down from everyone and he does the heavy lifting in terms of teaching. Various ladies feed my kids treats out of their purses and report to Dad about any church business items they're working on. Everyone wanders home at leisure.

So that's the format. My husband likes this setup because the girls talk better and get over being pastor-shy if they've had some girl time. Things that keep coming up: angels, Jews, and the scandal of particularity.

TDP is a big investment upfront compared to smaller Bible studies, but the only person who really needs to have it is the facilitator. Participants can just bring a Bible and look up the selections for the day. But at this point, all of the regulars and occasionals in my group have bought TDP. I also like how using TDP allows people to come as they're able rather than thinking that if they missed a week or two, they're totally out of the loop and might as well just skip the whole thing until we start a new study.

The only trick is that since we always meet on the same day of the week, we'd be repeating selections every year during Lent when TDP switches from the calendar year to the liturgical year. So the first year we met we did the lessons for Mondays in Lent, the next year we did the Tuesday lessons on Monday, etc. I think we'll be up for Fridays this year, although another gut-busting joke we have is that we could do the same lesson every week and it would be totally new since none of us can remember a blessed thing.

Our new season starts Sept. 14, 9:30 at my house. Come on by. :)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Dear LadyLike: I'm a girl who likes theology. How does that work?

Dear LadyLike,
In a world where men and women interact much more freely and frequently than they have in the past, what should we bear in mind as we discuss theological matters in mixed company? For those of us ladies who are deeply interested in theology and often find ourselves in groups (online or in person) almost exclusively consisting of men, many of whom are pastors, what should be our level of participation, and what rules of thumb should we follow if and when we do participate in discussion? Should we only ask questions, or may we also make assertions and arguments, even against other pastors? Should we simply listen? Or should women not even be involved in these conversations at all and, in keeping with 1 Corinthians 14:35, "If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home." (Or is this passage applicable in these scenarios, since Paul's next sentence is, "For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church," and these conversations take place outside of the Divine Service?)
A Recovering Conversation Hog

Dear RCH,

The length of this post is ridonks. There is a section at the bottom called "The Useful Part" if you have responsibilities or something.

Yeah, the old "I'm a girl who's interested in theology" thing is a headache. There is certainly nothing wrong with women being interested in theology as a scholarly discipline, but it demands that several scenarios be spoken to. I'm going to deal with them from easiest to hardest. First is pastoral casuistry and camaraderie. Second is formal study, which at the higher end is mostly pursued by potential pastors, who are all men. Third is informal study, which is the hardest to feel out.

When pastors get together for discussion of pastor stuff, it should only be pastors. The main place this happens is circuit meetings or winkels. Pastors in the LCMS are technically required to go to these, and the reason is that it helps our Synod stay synodical by keeping pastors in contact with their real life pastor-neighbors, not just the guys who agree with them about everything. These meetings are not "let's talk theology" clubs. They are a practical necessity for a specific group of professionals: pastors.

Sometimes pastor's conferences or other events are explicitly or effectively open to family members, other members of the church's staff, or laymen who might want to hear a speaker or presentation. Laymen who attend such things are courteous to be sensitive to times or places pastors would benefit from time with each other (eg if there are breakout sessions for circuits, designated groups, or whatever).

Planners of events for pastors can do everyone a service by making very clear for whom the event is intended, and/or specifying which events within the event are for whom.

Lest we have our feelings hurt, let us consider if wouldn't it kind of put everyone on the spot if your pastor showed up at your next work meeting, friends' weekend, or professional conference. A lot of pastor-type-things fall into one or more of these frequently overlapping categories. It's really weird that anyone would begrudge them that.

Formal study has gotten overhauled in recent history. Not that long ago, all seminary students were single men who lived on campus. Now the seminaries are crawling with married guys, fathers, females, and folks who are just interested in theology. Lay theologians are wonderful for the church for all kinds of reasons. At the same time, these changes have caused the pastoral training experience to become less focused upon theology.

I got my MA at Concordia Seminary while my husband was also a student there (we got married straight out of college). There were a lot more men than women in classes, and a few times I was the only female type. But there was an understanding all over campus that if there were females in your class, the class changed. Every quarter, there were fingers crossed that a few professors' classes in particular would be Frauenfrei. I didn't get that, except that probably professors wouldn't talk about 6th commandment stuff as much. Well, shouldn't we all know that anyway at this point in our lives? Like, yuck and grow up.

What I didn't get then is what this article says:

Men feel they have a duty to protect others, but not to expect protection for themselves. Only when men are in groups together do they have the expectation of protection. The brotherhood between soldiers, firefighters, other groups of men who protect one another creates a way out of the bind that by needing protection, men forfeit their right to protection, because real men are protectors, not the protected. All humans exist in a dominance hierarchy. . . . Activities in all men groups offer men the opportunity to establish their talents and determine their rank, and from that position, assistance is rendered.

This makes sense to me. When men are in a group of men, they are free of a certain level of "on"ness. They do not have to wear their social Spanx. They can figure out where each of them stands in the group; they can ask questions, challenge each other aggressively, take intellectual risks, and be absolutely open with their thoughts. They do not have to think about trigger warnings. They can say, "Sir, thou knowest thou speakest buncombe" when someone absurdly mischaracterizes something they've said. If someone is genuinely insulting, they can insult him back or sock him. They don't have to be on the lookout for anyone but themselves, and that frees them to choose to look out for each other. They also have a possibility of receiving protection they do not have when in the presence of those whose need for protection is greater. They all have an equal claim on and duty toward each other. This enables exactly the kind of mind-sharpening that should occur at the seminary among our future pastors.

Now throw in a woman. Some of the men will actively want her attention; most will be concerned about her feelings, dignity, and natural demand on their deference; some will be at least passively concerned about her perception of them; and somebody will have to punch the jerk who says something rude about her when he walks past them all. A woman in the group means they are all on duty. They are no longer free with each other because they all have a prior duty toward her. (The same basic thing happens when there's a dude in a group of ladies, but the particulars are different and the scenario occurs far less frequently.)

But the seminaries have their reasons for wanting to enroll female students, so I don't think there's any going back to the old way. Here is my solution: I think divinity students would be well served by having a significant number of classes in all areas of theological study AND devotional retreats that are for divinity students only. I think courtesy would have non-divinity students respect what is to be gained under such an arrangement, and encourage and support its establishment and practice.

Informal study is what you were really getting at, though, dear Hog, so I thank you for bearing with my groundwork-laying. Doubtless you have noticed that I think there is a debt of respect on the side of the odd lady or ladies, since contemporary men have shown themselves more than generous in sharing their space (whether voluntarily or under the social compulsion of our time). 

The first thing to consider is what expectation the other participants have. If a forum is declared open, all participants agree to that openness. Those who would prefer a more exclusive forum are welcome to host one. Whatever qualifications for participation are specified should be honored. Ambiguity makes everyone uncomfortable, so any group is showing good manners by making its expectations clear upfront, which allows participants to reciprocate good etiquette. (Guys: if other guys in attendance have a reasonable expectation that the gathering will be a strictly guy group, find an alternate fun activity for your fiancee, wife, deaconess, theologically precocious daughter, or sister who really needs to start dating Lutherans like your awesome friends.)

If no statement is made about who may participate, we might ask what expectation other participants are likely to have. We may ask outright, "Is it OK if I'm there/if I ask questions/if I share opinions?" but we should bear in mind that many people do not feel free to answer that question honestly. 

After that, I am not going to have a brightline for you. I can only say that I think a lady should be very circumspect in her participation in heavily dude-populated discussions. Again, it's not that there's anything wrong with her intellectual interest. It simply comes down to politeness. I do not mean this in some weird Am I being submissive enough? way but in a Am I being a courteous human being? way. Every disciple loves to sit among other worthy disciples at the feet of great teachers, but higher theology naturally segregates itself due both to its technical nature (where most disciplines begin skewing masculine for the totally reasonable reason that a lot of ladies judge their other duties to be more pressing at that point) and its practical occurrence in life (ie, people who like theology become pastors). Well, so it goes. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we listen in, sometimes we take one for both teams and go to bed early (or you could always curl up with the newest volume of Gerhard).

There is no benefit in recalcitrant denial of human social realities. Sticking out like a sore rib endears a lady to no one. Dudes like and need each other's company, and willing accommodation of that fact shows maturity and respect. I fully acknowledge that this can be frustrating when expectations are unclear, or when it feels that one person's bad manners require everyone else's to be exceptional (am I sure which person I am in that scenario?). But whereas all decent human beings sometimes tire of erring on the side of discretion, it stands to reason that the same favor is being shown us more often than we know.

The useful part.

--I once heard a pastor describe a conversation in which a lady was forward with her thoughts on a theological topic. He thought she was rather dreadfully wrong in both fact and opinion, but did not say anything. Why not? I asked him. He said, "I'm not going to argue with someone else's wife." This is kind of what I was trying to get at in the "guy group" discussion above. The number of guys hypothetically willing to say, "Madame, thou knowest thou speakest buncombe" is already low on the basis of conventional propriety. In real life, the chances are even lower. The risk that he will be decried as a sexist is not worth the trouble. The accusation as lodged is tautological (you're rejecting my ideas because you're sexist, and I can tell you're sexist because you're rejecting my ideas), therefore irrefutable, therefore a killer of discourse. There's also an emotion factor here I won't pretend isn't real; neither will I invite wrath by elaborating upon it although it would prove the point. Bottom line: women have an unfair advantage in conversations with men. Men are far less free to disagree with women than women are to disagree with men.

--1 Cor. 14:35. In his treatise On Baptism, Tertullian characterizes this verse by saying "[Paul] has not permitted a woman even to learn with over-boldness." When we think about this passage, we usually imagine the prohibition to be against formal speaking or teaching in church. Tertullian understands the problem as unbecoming learning. There is such a thing: we have all seen conversations and lectures derailed by one student's inconsiderate singlemindedness, showboating disguised as question-asking, or antipathy to fellow learners. Obviously the Divine Service would be a particularly bad setting for this kind of behavior; then again, where is it ever good?

--You asked for a rule of thumb. How about, listen twice at the very least, speak once? It can be interesting to see where a conversation goes without my meddling. :D I usually learn something I would never have thought of. Why drag the whole group down the scrubby cowpaths in my own brain? I've trampled all the life out of them on my own.

Who's the conversation hog now, asked the lady who typed 1879 words?


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Women's Bible studies, women, Bibles, and studies

One of the smartest ladies I know holds a doctorate in a technical scientific field and works in a research laboratory. She also takes great care in decorating her house, in her personal appearance, and in her children's birthday cakes solely for the love of having things in her life look nice. She is not a social weirdo, she does not sneer at Pinterest, and I have NEVER EVER seen her act the least bit snooty about her freakishly high intelligence and accomplishments. Her dad is a pastor and she is active at her (LCMS) church. She has no interest in learning Greek or Hebrew, contrasting the multifarious reformation movements of the 16th century, or reading any book that starts with "Loci."

I mention it because you can't talk about women's Bible studies without complaints about how stupid publishers must think women are. How stupid complainers must think publishers are! Publishers need to publish at least some things that SELL. There's a reason women's Bible studies aren't usually pointy-headed. There's very little market, and it doesn't mean women are stupid.

Homo theologus
I am interested in theology as an academic discipline and intellectual pursuit. When I was going to school, I was drawn to it as inexplicably as I am drawn to rice pudding and humongous brown sweaters and the pinniped tank at the zoo. I just plain like it. But theology as an interest is dangerous, because it is so easily conflated with piety, and theological abstrusity is so easily conflated with profundity or orthodoxy. It is easy to spend hours translating, writing, researching, reading, or debating in some badly lit theological alley without even thinking of praying or attending devotionally to God's holy Word. So when the pointy part of my head wants to grump about women's Bible studies, I have to glare her down because I know she's faking. She doesn't want a Bible study that "challenges" her. She wants a chance to show off, to make herself look smart, to grab up another fact or two she'll be able to pull out in some other context to impress someone. She doesn't want to listen to God's Word. She wants to denature it, file it, and turn it into a parlor trick for her own aggrandizement. Most of all, she does not want to pray. She wants to think herself even farther into her own implosive head, which is a faith-corroding parody of prayer.

For several years, I've hosted a women's Bible study at my house. We use the Treasury of Daily Prayer. I rummage up a few content-related discussion questions for the day's Scripture readings. The theological education I was ridiculously privileged to acquire (with virtually no thought to the many implications of this acquisition) allows me to fill in some blanks about historical setting or maybe a vocab item, which is helpful. But it's a rare week that I don't have several questions written down for my husband to talk us through at the end of our time together. He has a lot more experience and talent teaching theology to people who aren't theology geeks, which requires much more than a brain crammed with facts and long booklists full of checkmarks. It requires grace, wisdom, patience, kindness, and love; attributes the pointy head often particularly struggles to get itself around. (Want to see someone's eyes glaze over? Say, "Well, it's necessary, but not absolutely necessary," and wait for your gold star.)

The ladies in my Bible study are un-pointy headed. They would not be interested in a "doctrinally rigorous" or "theologically challenging" Bible study. They find life more than rigorous and challenging enough, and so do I. Somehow, TDP, that book with so few female contributors and no handbag references (and which even elides the hilarious part about Jezebel putting on her face), manages to get us talking and thinking every time we get together. Neither they nor I nor my very very very smart friend ever long for a good long bull session over the non-reciprocity of the second genus.

Theology as an academic discipline has nothing more to do with personal devotion and piety than molecular biology does. We are free in the Gospel to find theology fascinating or unfascinating. Theology is no more erudite than any other subject of human inquiry (languages are theology's only considerable demand upon technical skill rather than acquired knowledge). Our interests, which we rich Americans are often privileged to make into our fields of study and work, color our lives and are a gift we can make to those around us. But intellectual or devotional taste is a strange criterion by which to assess the intelligence of others. Whether the road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops remains to be seen, but if it is, I bet a whole bunch of those skulls are pointy. You should have seen my friend's killer outfit the day she defended her dissertation, not a paragraph of which could I understand.

Girls just wanna have fun!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Dear LadyLike: How do I quit wearing the pants when everybody told me I looked great in them?

Dear LadyLike,

What advice would you give to a woman who was raised to "wear the pants" in relationships, be nothing but independent, and was taught that any sense of femininity or acceptance of traditional women roles is equal to weakness and a lack of intelligence? What I saw modeled in childhood rears its ugly head in adulthood, despite my desperate longing to break as far away from those ideals as possible.
Thank you!

Dear Pants Lady,

I know the feeling. Even if you haven't been aggressively raised this way, it is hard to shake the world's way of thinking. It's just the air we breathe. If you realize that the answer you've been given doesn't add up, you don't know how to show your work when the teacher who gave you the answer was actually supposed to be teaching you how to add.

Here are some ideas for when you know you need to mentally remodel, but aren't sure how to start.

1. Expand your friend and mentor pool. Find people who have their heads on straight and don't be shy about learning from them. There are ladies of all ages who just GET the chick thing. Listening to these people talk and watching how they live is really helpful. It lets you see that the horror story we've been told about the oppressiveness of traditional female roles just isn't true if we're willing to give a different story a fair hearing. 

That was a hard lesson for me. I honestly believed that women who didn't actively object to traditional roles and Bad Mister Sexism were dough-brained morons. Seeing incredibly smart women living quiet lives of service to their families and churches, and LIKING it, and seeing that those who were married had husbands who were kind and attentive and sympathetic to home stuff, went a long way toward helping me realize that I hadn't been told the whole story.

2. Read different stuff. Bad company corrupts good character, and that includes what you read. In my case, I needed a lot less Jane Smiley and Toni Morrison, and a lot more George Eliot, Sigrid Undset, Henry James, and HonorĂ© de Balzac. Nonfictionally, less Slate and more Salvo; less Jill Lepore and more Anthony Esolen.

This can get tricky too. There is a lot of "Proper Christian Lady" stuff, past and present, that just does not resonate with me. I lack the scintilla of decency needed to be above rubies (although my husband has suggested that, given the exchange rate, perhaps I could be above rupees). For me, trying to do what's right will never grow from, "The way of wisdom and goodness is what my womanly heart really wants!" My heart is a jerk heart. But I am very clear on, "That other way is a load of unworkable BS." So obviously my general outlook needs work, but even the jerk heart has something to work with. If you find a book, a corner of the internet, or a playgroup that just isn't clicking for you, even though it's got the right ideas, don't sweat it. Find one that does. Everyone finds different things persuasive, encouraging, and insightful, and there's more than one way to land in the right place.

3. Pray, read Scripture, confess your sins, go to church. The practices of private and corporate worship are acts of utter humility. Believing that someone hears your prayers means whoever it is has to be a lot bigger and better than you, since you don't know of anyone praying to you. If you can admit to needing forgiveness, you are also confessing that someone has an authority to give it that you don't. 

Humility is what all this is about. All that business you mention about independence, weakness, and intelligence is nothing other than a human's angry defense of her own pride. Public recognition and piles of money are how the world rewards merit, so anyone who has those things as her goal is playing the world's game (worth noting that it's easier to quiet the perpetually disrespected with acclaim, which can be faked, than money, which can't). Humility and dying to self are the way of the cross. Prayer, devotion, and worship are disciplined acts of both. Giving our time to the Word, prayer, and the Lord's house is the best way to make a habit of the characteristics our Lord would have us live out among our neighbors.

4. Fight the symptoms. Defense of one's pride always amounts to score-keeping, hypersensitivity to perceived slights and injustices, and nurturing resentment. That's a great way to stay unhappy. But this fictional person said it better:

"'I don't see," she went on, ". . . that it matters who loves as long as somebody does. I was a stingy beast at home, and used to measure and count. I had a queer obsession about justice. As though justice mattered. As though justice can really be distinguished from vengeance. It's only love that's any good. At home I wouldn't love [my husband] unless he loved me back, exactly as much, absolute fairness. Did you ever. And as he didn't, neither did I, and the aridity of that house! The aridity . . .'" (The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim)

If we want to be happy living with other sinners, we have to return the favor of forgiveness they do us. The only reason we forgive someone is because we love them; feeding grudges feels too yucky-good to give up otherwise. If someone is willing to live and be happy with me, it can only be because he is forgiving me constantly. Or, to come at it from the other direction, love

Doth not behave itself unseemly,

seeketh not her own,

is not easily provoked,

thinketh no evil.

Yikes, that hits a little close to home. Love sounds like a much more excellent way.

Let the record show that I am literally wearing pants today,


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

All things to all people

I had a college professor who had been a high school teacher. For some amount of that time, he abstained from alcohol for the specific purpose of being able to tell students that he didn't drink. This headed off their childish accusations of hypocrisy when he exhorted them to the same practice, and also demonstrated to them that teetotalling was a perfectly cromulent option that did not preclude a satisfied life.

In other words, he was not a drunk to the drunks. He was not all things to all people. 

Or maybe it was that he was law-abiding to the law-abiding, or temperate to the temperate, or disciplined to the disciplined. Hard to say. But still: not all things to all people. No one can be all things to all people in this simplistic way, because all people do a bunch of mutually exclusive things.

Anyway, my friend Cheryl said some good things here about what's worth watching and worth not watching if you're a Christian. I am a hardliner on explicit sexual content, written or visual. I just plain stay away from that stuff. You know all the talking points: it's trashy, it's wrong, it sends bad messages about the sixth commandment, it's damaging to society, we have a word for people who are paid to take off their clothes (and also a word for the people who pay them), all that preachy stuff.

But there's a much simpler reason than that. Explicit sexual content, written or visual, messes with my head. I can't claim to have a lot of experience with it, but a huge reason for that is that I don't like what goes on in my head when I run into it. It sticks, smolders, festers, and colonizes. RUN, brain, RUN!

Obviously this limits my viewing options quite a bit, and also my reading options. Alas, those diversions are not a risk this sinner is able to take, not even on behalf of my fellow sinner.There's a line of thinking in which we "have to be able to answer questions" or "need to understand where people are coming from." It's some kind of reverse virtue ethic with the unassailable excuse of Christian freedom and the failsafe of forgiveness thrown in, should we get unexpectedly muddled along the way.

But being all things to all people doesn't mean that we need to reconnoiter in sins in order to reach "the real sinners". We are all the real sinners. Each of us has enough experience to speak quite knowledgeably to others specializing in our own line of sin. No one benefits from exploratory missions into other sins, and no one is doing his fellow man a disservice by saying, "I'm not getting near that show [article/Pinterest board/party/store]. I know it would be bad for me."

Fortunately for all of us, not everyone's brain works like mine. Perhaps there are people to whom the sight or description of others violating the sixth commandment is like meh. In fact, I can only assume this is the case, since I know my personal practice is not in wide use among Christians. That's swell for them. At the same time, familiarity with such things is not being all things to all people. It is just being something to all people. Whether it's something worth being is what we have to decide.

Moreover, I think there is a good case to be made for the kind of counsel my professor's conscientious route enabled. It helps those struggling with temptation (whether of appetite or curiosity) to hear that acquiring regrets is not the only way to learn the value of goodness and divine wisdom. The Christian life is characterized, certainly, by no end of running after Jesus and reaching desperately, shamefacedly, for the hem of His garment. But for the baptized, there is also quite a bit of walking with Him who is the Way. Most of us have at least some idea of the colossal danger that is programmed into every sin, and are able to speak reliably on that basis. Neighbors who look to us for guidance are well served by our saying, Beloved, don't get near that. It is sin. I'll be here not doing it with you. 

And for those who have gotten near and burned,

Jesus paid for that too,


You don't ever have to go back,


Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Love and Honor Each Other

Q: Is Ladylike providing tacit approval for sexual abuse in a marriage when it includes this in a list of 6th Commandment sins:
“You are too tired or too headachy or unwilling-for-some-other-dodgy-reason to satisfy your husband’s marital appetite” (p 174). 
A: That line from the 6th commandment essay drives at the sin described in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 which says, 
The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
For a man or a woman to deprive a spouse of conjugal rights chronically and outside of agreed-upon terms should not happen according to Scripture. Another important feature of this passage is its description of the giving of one’s own body to another. This is applied to both husbands and wives. This passage explains how prolonged, willful deprivation of one of the gifts of marriage is contrary to God’s good design of it. 
LadyLike encourages wives in particular to honor their husbands. LadyLike supports the Lutheran explanation of the 6th Commandment. “Husband and wife, love and honor each other” (from Luther’s Small Catechism, quoted in LadyLike on p. 171). Abuse is contrary to the loving and honoring to which we are called in marriage. 
LadyLike does not approve (tacitly or otherwise) of abuse of any kind. LadyLike plainly names abuse a sin and firmly calls for repentance.  The following excerpt is taken directly from the book in the essay “Submission Impossible” (p. 49):
"What about men who abuse their wives -- emotionally or even physically -- and use 'submission' as their justification?'
It's sin. Remember, Christ is the example. Does He emotionally or physically abuse His Bride, the Church?


Of course not. Now obviously we are not perfect as He is. The world is full of sinners. Human spouses sin. Very sadly, some sin in ways like emotional and physical abuse, and some twist the Word of God to justify their sinful actions. These are terrible things that should not happen. They should be repented of and stopped.
How does LadyLike view abuse? It’s sin. It’s terrible. It should be stopped.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Dear LadyLike: Name That Sin!

This question came in after the topic of resentment squared by spite came up in an Issues, Etc. segment. I think it was the second episode in the series.

Dear LadyLike,

Could you, would you please elaborate on that "unname-able" sin which we women often find ourselves committing? Is this a variation of envy chilled with cruelty? What examples from the Scriptures, if any, can you think of to support what you mean concerning this unname-able sin? . . . . I think you're right that this is a form of coveting. And while I agree that it's not unique to women (Dudes be like, "I wish that I had Jesse's girl. ") I really liked how you two honed in on how (can I say with a little tongue in cheek) "uniquely feminine" this sin is displayed. . .Also I'm just curious what examples (perhaps even apart from Scripture but predating feminism ) that can illustrate this woman to woman sin.

Another not- wanting-to-admit- being a chilly, sinful chick (Comfortable in my sin...) smile emoticon

Dear Chilly Chick,

I'm good at a lot of sins, but I am really good at this one! :P

What we're talking about here is that thing where something good happens to someone else, and since I can't have it, I medicate my injured pride by marinating in rank thoughts about her having it. I think your envy+cruelty formulation is good. You got something I want, and I feel really wronged by that, and I wish our situation were reversed and I was the one feeling awesome and you were the one feeling like barf on the asphalt in August. It's worse than sour grapes, because sour grapes is characterized by saying the grapes look pretty gnarly anyway. In our sin the grapes look awesome and we hate that harpy chowing them down, plus she looks super fat when she eats grapes and actually always. Or like some really smart lady said, "If we're sitting around in yoga pants and a T-shirt and last night's wilted ponytail, everyone should!" We could call it resentment with benefits, or envy for mean girls, or the contrapositive-schadenfreude ideal, if we wanted a term that neither captures the idea well nor sticks in one's head.

Whatever we call it, when it happens among women, I think it is augmented by a sense of entitlement. If she got that, I should be able to because if she can any woman could, and I'm WAY better than she is. The fact that we're both girls is the proof that I had as valid a claim on it as she did. The classic Scriptural example is the prostitutes in Solomon's court, one of whom would prefer the baby to die over seeing the other woman get what she lost. 

I think this is different when it occurs between women than when it happens between a woman and a man, because I think mixed-pair envy occurs far more frequently in women than men. You almost never hear men saying how much better women have it, or expressing envy toward the overall female experience, while the whole point of feminism is trying obliterate every obstacle separating women from the male experience. It isn't because men actually have life better, but because there's a whole curse about it. Men, on balance, have a fundamental satisfaction with being men that women don't have with being women. Even men who want to wear corsets on the cover of Vanity Fair never ask for a uterus, the absolute somatic difference between the sexes, which clues us in to what the trans thing is often (usually?) about: the party, not the business. Pretty much the only other place you'll run into men envying women is the manosphere, the uglier galleries of which resemble contemporary feminism (and it's actually about the same thing as the trans thing; the envy is ultimately tied up in a fantasy about sexual gratification).

A clear historical example of women showing envy compounded by the desire to deprive one's rival is from early feminism (I know, I know . . . it's a really good example, though). Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton opposed the 15th amendment (granting black men the right to vote) because they thought the amendment should also include women's suffrage. It caused a huge rift in the women's suffrage movement because a bunch of other suffragettes thought it was at least better for black women to gain access to the franchise through their husbands (like white women had, and which people could get their minds around at that point in history) than to keep ANY black citizens from voting just because women weren't being granted the vote. Yeesh. (Incidentally, this is why identity coalitions never end up working. Eventually there is some reckoning in which participants have to choose one side, eg Oprah backs Obama over Hillary and breaks the hearts of a bunch of white ladies in their 50s and 60s.)

When it's a woman envying men, there is often a sense of "you can't fight city hall" about it, either due to reality or some caricatured explanation for it like systemic sexism. The effect is more like ressentiment (although some are mad enough to fight city hall anyway). When a woman is envying a women, she feels more wronged in a way, because her preferred outcome was totally possible, and it didn't happen! That's why the girl/girl version is more perversely arabesque. The offense feels more personal.

So there's some more jawing about it, although I don't know if I've shed much more light on the question. Basically, this is a really ugly sin. It is a way-too-perfect example of Luther's incurvatus in se (via Augustine): being curved in one oneself, like an ingrown toenail. Its trajectory is a spiral that pushes everything else out, neighbors and God. The sinner becomes a smaller person, more bound up with hateful envy, with every tortuous thought. She becomes too twisted in on the wrong she feels has been done her to see anything straight.

Be warm and well fed!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Speaking the truth in love

Speaking the truth in love does not mean saying something so nicely that someone will be willing to receive it well. That's not how it works. The truth hurts because all men are liars. Few of us react with measured grace when we're on the receiving end of a truth that causes us pain. Speaking the truth in love means loving someone enough to want them to know the truth, even though it means taking on the pain of the anger they will probably act out.

I've had my mind changed about two very big things in my life, and it really hurt both times.

When confronted with truths I hated, I flared up with caricatures and insults.

When I realized that caricatures and insults were all I had, I wanted to run from the truth and never hear it again. 

When the demands of life would not allow me to avoid the truth, I faked a superior detachment as if it were of too little importance to merit my attention. 

When my conscience pointed out how ashamed I was of my total inability to defend my cherished misbeliefs, I just stayed quiet. When the truth would bump into me, the pain was raw and screaming. 

When someone spoke the truth gently, I considered him a soft-minded ninny whose facile thinking was irrelevant to one so intelligent as myself. When someone spoke the truth pointedly, it was proof that everyone who thought that way was an intolerable jerk whose ideas were invalid on the basis of being held by a holistically bad person.

When I had to live the truth, I hated knowing that I would someday be glad I had. I hated that I was actively betraying myself. I hated that I was going to become what I had not only never wanted to be myself, but had wanted no one to be.

When there was no chance that I would turn back to what truth demanded that I leave, I was still contemptuous of my former enemies for being so much righter than I was, and resentful over what I was working so hard to believe was not really a loss.

Even when I became comfortable and cautiously happy, I was bewildered by the new language I had learned to speak. I understood neither its idioms nor its deep structures. I was confounded when I would discover there was something I was chronically mispronouncing, that my syntax was still garbled, that my lexicon was peppered with errors.

I remember many specific events along the way of both conversions: lightning bolts, epiphanies, puzzles, and throwdowns. There are people I wish I could thank for having helped me, even if it is because they enraged me. There are people to whom I would apologize if I ran into them again (and I do run into them sometimes, and I do apologize).

The jerks, the simple, the cerebral, the zealous, the wise, the patient, the dismissive, the gentle: they all spoke the truth in love, because He who is the Truth is the God who is Love.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

So, like, what do you do?

Here's part 2 of the question we had on Issues, Etc., from an entity called the Joyful Lutheran Housewife. The question is what to say when people ask you what you do in your house all day, every day.

What a housewife does in the absence of considerable wealth is operate on a different economic model. Her household's primary resource is time rather than money. She donates her work to her family, rather than selling it to someone outside the family and purchasing from someone else the work the family still needs. To make up for the monetary loss, she saves.

Saving doesn't look like it used to. Most of the things women produced when households were centers of production have gotten very expensive to produce. Buying a pattern, fabric, and notions for a dress costs more than buying a disposable dress from H&M, and that's without accounting for the time of making a dress, and assuming you've already got a sewing machine and everything else you need for sewing.

A job well done. Source
What the housewife might do is put in a lot of time at thrift stores. She might discover that mending is better than ending, and learn to fix things instead of buying whole new sweaters and chairs and kitchens. She makes do instead of starting new. She spends all day making a supper that doesn't look like an all-day project, but didn't come from boxes. When somebody leaves a contractor bag of green beans on her doorstep in July, she forgets her plans and puts in a hard day to give her future self a freezer full of free and easy veg. She forages, no joke. There's other stuff too, but maybe you get the idea.

The other thing is that the layout of a housewife's day is completely different from someone who goes to work and comes home. It is not very structured, especially if there are kids around. It is unpredictable because it is flexible. If someone in the house asks her to do something, or someone from outside the house calls or stops by, she stops what she's doing. She stays home to be available to a neighbor who might need her. Responding quickly to a person in need is her immediate priority.

One thing we say to people we love is, "I'm there for you." To a housewife, there is a place, not a friendly abstraction. She is physically there for real people who need real things. For families in which some financial tightness is accepted in exchange for the lady's availability, she contributes whatever resourcefulness at which she excels to their internal economy. There's a thing about that with pennies.

The Joyful Lutheran Housewife still needs an answer to her question. How about, "I operate on an economy of extreme resourcefulness so that I can be available to my neighbors." That's catchy!

Monday, June 15, 2015

From What Do You Do? to Why Do You Do It?

A kind Issues, Etc. listener asked how we respond to the question of what we do all day as stay-at-homers.

My sister and I are both going to respond to the question in our own ways, so stay tuned later in the week for Part 2!


My brief answer on the air was that I carry the conversation to a question that I would rather answer which is this: Why do you spend your time at home? I steer that way because then it ends up being a conversation that I really like to have!  :)

I spend my time at home for several reasons. First, though, I should mention that I have the luxury of the stay-at-home option. I thank my husband for this regularly. And he thanks me for what I do. That's cool, too!

Of course, just because I'm able to stay at home would not mean that I am required to do so. Even with my husband being employed, I could pursue work outside the home. I don't, though.

Being at home means I get to spend more time with my husband. This is good for our marriage, and by extension, it is good for the kiddies. When my husband comes home for the day, I'm here. I like that a lot. Being at home also means I get to spend more time with our four children. I like that a lot, too. So that would be Why 1 and Why 2, 3, 4, 5.

Beyond the benefits of the loads of time that I get to spend with my absolute favorite people on the planet (which I consider to be the most compelling motivation for my stay-at-home life), there are other perks, too.

Why 6 - I get to make our home a place that is nice for all of us to live in. I'm not a super-de-duper decorator or cleaner or cook, but I have plenty of time to do all of those things at the level that works for me/us. I really like to make desserts so I do a lot of that. It makes me happy to have our laundry managed efficiently, and I'm glad I have the time to make that happen. I'm not into mopping or pulling weeds, so I don't do those chores often and no one seems to care. :)  I get to determine how I invest my time and attention in the keeping of our house/making of our home.

Why 7 - This may sound backwards, but another thing I like about my stay-at-home status, is that it actually frees me to be away from home without feeling too thinly-spread. If one holds a certain number of "hours away from home" chips (and I do not know what that number would be for anyone else), then I can use them much more freely since I'm not already burning through bunches of them on the 9 to 5 track.

I have a part-time job that is accomplished almost always from my desk (or couch) at home when the kiddies are in bed. Sweet gig! But I travel for this job every now and then. That works! I am usually at our home base, so when I'm occasionally called away from it, I set sail knowing that all are well there and they will be just fine during the few days that I'm gone.  I also serve on a board that requires me to be away from home a few times a year. This, too, is easier to do because I'm not gone often during the other 355 days of the year.

I have more wing-spreading-space and I do not feel at all confined.

Why 8+ -Another neat thing about having a very flexible schedule and plenty of time at home means that I can volunteer for our church, community, etc. Volunteers have it good because they get to pick what they do and how they do it. I can use the Volunteer Spot Sign-Up's at whatever level I choose, and I don't feel over-taxed doing so. I help with our church's women's group when the usual leader is on vacay because she knows I'm happy to use a bit of my abundant time that way. I let folks on our street know that if they need help, please call. And they do! I make meals for people who could use them, and they thank me even though the dessert is probably the only slam-dunk on the tray I take over. I get to do these things quite often because I'm not being pulled too hard in another direction. Again, it is a privilege and I recognize this.

Why do I stay at home? It's good for me/us and it also seems to help the neighbors in the rings beyond our home nucleus. I am thankful for the blessings that come with this life!