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!