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.