Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rich, Young American Christian

I've been haunted for some time now by the story of the Rich Young Ruler. This morning the story showed up again in the podcast I listen to each morning (pray-as-you-go out of the UK). Basically, this very sincere, earnest, wealthy young man throws himself at the feet of Jesus. He desires eternal life and he has spent his entire life doing all the right things. Still, he senses he is missing something and he thinks Jesus may know what that is. Jesus does know, and tells the man that he lacks only one thing - he needs to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor, then come and follow Jesus. The young man is deeply grieved and he turns and walks away.

This command is such a hard one. Who wants to give up their possessions? Jesus follows it by explaining to his disciples how hard it is for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God. It almost seems cruel - this sincere, obedient, earnest and good man is told that he has to give up everything he owns in order to get what he says he really wants. This morning I was struck by a line right in the middle of the story.

Jesus looked on this man and loved him.

It wasn't because Jesus was cruel that he issued this instruction. It was out of his love. I wonder if the man realized that. He was torn between all his many possessions and the love of Jesus.

As I said, this passage haunts me. We're not wealthy by American standards, but we certainly are by world standards. And when I think about ministry with the poor that we are feeling pulled toward, I know it will require sacrifices, including possessions. We're really earnest and sincere and here we are asking Jesus, not without some trepidation, "what do you want us to do?" And we are holding our breath to hear what it is Jesus might say to us. Will we follow? Or will we go away grieving?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Thoughts on Feminism

Josh relayed a story last night that has me contemplating what in the world happened to the feminist movement. A woman in his office was talking about a book she recently read by a radio talk show host that was all about how wives are supposed to stay home and take care of their husbands. She shared how she got a friend of hers to read it who has now quit her job in order to make waiting on her husband her life's work. My feminist husband could barely keep from gagging.

I have a book that once belonged to my mother when she was a pastor's wife called Fascinating Womanhood. Sadly, this stuff is still alive and kicking. http://www.fascinatingwomanhood.net/ I think it should more aptly be named Manipulative Womanhood after reading it. Parts of it are so absurd as to be almost hilarious and parts of it are just sick (like when the author suggests wives should dress like little girls and model their own fashions after what they find in the little girls' section of the store - creepy!). The word "superior" is used repeatedly in reference to men . Wives are encouraged to pretend they are weak and stupid in order to make their husbands feel strong and smart and manly. :::insert puking noises here::: It seems to me like this book should be a relic of a sad past when women were oppressed and shoved into narrowly defined gender roles alongside their husband's narrowly defined gender roles. But conversations like the one my husband had with his coworker show just how prevalent these ideas still remain, in re-mixed form.

Something happened to feminism and it doesn't seem to be very popular anymore. Even in "progressive" circles, the sexual objectification of women is rampant and women's power is often linked with her ability to use her sexuality - something that is inherently degrading but openly embraced anyway. Rather than women being liberated from sexual objectification, it seems like men are increasingly becoming objectified in a similar manner to the dehumanization and degradation of all. It's not that there has been no progress in recent decades. But the trajectory toward true equality and liberation seems a bit stalled out at the moment.

I could speculate all day as to the why's and how's of all this. But I really hope that we see another shift in our culture - not just in the direction of equality, but also in the direction of human dignity. Feminism in its best form isn't so much about women as it is about the dignity and equality of everyone and the freedom to live beyond the confines of errantly imposed roles and expectations. It should liberate women and men to be the best version of themselves they can be, for the good of all.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Toe Shoes and Soccer Cleats

This week required a purchase of soccer cleats for my daughter. While preparing to transport her between activities today, I was reminded of another recent shoe purchase for her – ballet toe shoes. I was struck today with the contrast of these two pairs of shoes and what they symbolize for my daughter. Soccer cleats – black, hard, muddy. These shoes require Maria to run, be fast, aggressive and tough. She has to get dirty, wet, cold and she has to work with a team. She practices everyday, honing her skills and learning her position. When I pick her up she’s dirty and sweaty, her cheeks flushed from the cold and exertion.

Today she will go directly from soccer to ballet. Muddy cleats and heavy soccer socks will be replaced with tights and toe shoes. Satin ribbons will tie around her ankles where shin guards had just been. Balance, grace, and beauty will take over – a different kind of strength, a different kind of exertion. It makes me cry to watch my daughter dance. Her emerging womanhood is evident in the loveliness of her movements. Her self-discipline and strength shine in her eyes. She is all feminine grace and beauty, enhanced with strength and self-confidence that comes from years of disciplined practice.

Watching my daughter play soccer is wonderful too. She is so fast! She throws herself into the game and plays hard, whether it’s sunny or raining on the field. Her speed and agility amaze me. She’s not afraid to get dirty and be tough, and she negotiates the middle school politics of friendship with her teammates with wisdom beyond her years.

I can’t help but think of how Maria is truly becoming a 21st century woman. She is neither confined by her femininity, nor must she deny it in order to embrace the opportunities before her. She is beauty and strength. She is toughness and grace. She stands on her own and she works in a team. She is ballet pink and soccer black. The world is open to her in ways that it has not been for young women in all the history of the world.

In spite of all the progress that women have made in recent decades, I still find myself surrounded by strong anti-feminist messages. Little girls who are clad only in pink. Women who identify themselves as sexual objects and servants of men. Women who are still intimidated to fully express themselves as equals in the presence of men. Men and women who prefer to have women rule the kitchen and nursery, while men rule the boardroom and the pulpit – not based on gifts or skills or interests, but on gender alone. My prayer for my daughter is that she will always wear both cleats and toe shoes, that she will take gritty toughness and artful grace into every endeavor. I know she will make the world a better place.