Where are all the women? What my bookshelf says about the continuing effects of patriarchy

books

The other day, I did one of those “10 books that stayed with me” status updates on Facebook. It’s a thing that’s been going around for a while now. (After more than 130,000 such lists were tallied, Harry Potter came out on top, in case you were wondering.)

For my list, I chose to highlight 10 books that had a lasting theological impact. Later that day, one of my friends gently pointed out what, in hindsight, seems like a glaring omission:

There were no women on my list.

I have to be honest. I was a little embarrassed when I realized this. And alarmed. What bothered me even more than the fact that there were no women was the fact that I hadn’t even noticed my failure to include any.

I’m committed to gender equality. I’ve written about my theological journey from complementarianism to egalitarianism, and how it’s impacted my marriage on a practical level. I’ve shared how we’re trying to raise our daughter without all the baggage of patriarchy—writing about it here, here, here, and here, for example.

But a theoretical commitment to something can blind you to the ways in which your behavior is still shaped by its antithesis.

I can pen a rebuttal to Dave Ramsey’s caricature of the poor, for example. Yet I haven’t always honored my responsibility to be openhanded toward those in need.

I can write passionately about racial reconciliation in Ferguson. But I am not unscathed by generations of prejudice.

I can flaunt my egalitarian credentials on the interwebs—without even realizing how bad I’ve been at listening to the voices of women.

A theoretical opposition to patriarchy doesn’t necessarily mean I’ve stopped perpetuating it.

—//—

After reading my friend’s comment on Facebook, I scanned my collection of theology books. Then I started counting.

Only one was written by a woman.

Hoping for a better result, I expanded my search to include popular religious titles as well as academic ones. True, I’ve got books by Sarah Cunningham (Dear Church) and Carolyn Custis James (The Gospel of Ruth) on my shelf—and books by Rachel Held Evans (A Year of Biblical Womanhood) and Sarah Bessey (Jesus Feminist) on my Kindle. Rachel and Sarah in particular have shaped my thinking in meaningful and profound ways.

But the balance was still overwhelmingly tilted in one direction: 89% of the religious books on my shelf (or phone) were written by men.

Now, there are likely a number of reasons for the imbalance. My friend who first pointed it out suggested it had something to do with the church background I grew up in. True enough. When I decided to go to seminary, I was encouraged to avoid schools that accepted women into ordination-track degree programs—the assumption being that this was an indicator of “dangerous” liberal tendencies. But I have long since shifted my horizons.

Some of it surely has to do with this unsettling stat: only a quarter of all PhDs in theology go to women (HT Richard Beck, Kieran Healy). Which means at least 75% of those who are in a position to write academic theological books are male. I find it hard to believe this is because women just aren’t into theology, when there is a far more likely explanation: women have been told in various ways—some implicit, some more direct—that theology is a man’s pursuit.

Even in churches that are committed to gender equality, the vast majority of lay and ordained leaders are male—including two thirds of the employed priests in my own denomination. All of which is why, while writing for Elizabeth Esther’s blog last year, Stephanie Drury concluded:

Straight [white] men in Christian culture simply don’t… examine the ways in which they are sexist, and this is the most difficult factor in the move towards wholeness.

Besides, none of this changes the fact that the ratio of women to men on my bookshelf is worse than the ratio at academic institutions. I have no excuse.

As Maggi Dawn, a professor of theology at Yale Divinity School, writes:

There are so many women with interesting things to say, some writing about feminism but many more simply writing about areas of theology that used to be thought of as a male preserve—or, the earlier you go, writing theology against the culture that denied them access to what was assumed to be a male preserve.

She even came up with a reading list—without having to put too much thought into it—of female voices in theology. Voices that many of us just aren’t listening to.

This has to change. My bookshelf has to change.

Over the coming weeks and months, I’m going to be working from Maggi Dawn’s list to expand my horizons. Reading books by female theologians will not automatically make me a better specimen of gender equality. But it might help me to listen better to female voices. And doing so will enrich my theological perspective.

Maggi Dawn’s list of female theological voices can be found here (HT Laura Everett). What books or authors would you add to the list?

UPDATE  
I received dozens of suggestions in response to this post, which I’ve compiled here, along with a list of the next 10 books I’m going to read:

MY NEW READING LIST

We need feminism because my daughter thinks most TV shows are for boys

TV_highquality

Most weekday mornings, I get my daughter up. It’s a frenzied ritual of brushing teeth, combing hair, trying to persuade her that wool sweaters aren’t the greatest choice for the middle of summer (even in Michigan), and finally—after a series of delicate and sometimes tense negotiations—helping her get dressed in her chosen outfit. Then I make my way to my basement office and start my day.

Weekends are a different story. The two of us head downstairs together—usually before her mom and baby brother get up. We eat cereal and she picks something for us to watch on TV. Some mornings it’s Pingu. Sometimes she asks for “something on Hulu.” (I think she mostly just likes saying the word Hulu.) Sometimes it’s Phineas and Ferb. (Which, I’ll be honest… I have mixed feelings about, mostly because of how the older sister is portrayed, reinforcing the popular caricature of sisters as bossy, controlling, and otherwise inept. Not the picture of sisterhood that I want to paint for Elizabeth, who, as a new big sister, already has the makings of being a wonderful teacher and mentor to her younger brother.)

A few weekends ago, we were well into our Saturday ritual. She was about to choose something to watch when a look of apprehension came over her not-quite-four-year-old face.

“Daddy,” she asked, “is this show for boys?”

I was totally caught off guard. Where did my daughter get the idea that certain shows are “for boys”—and that she can’t watch them? It certainly wasn’t from us. My wife and I are intentional about teaching her that girls and boys are equal, that nothing is off limits to her because of her gender.

We go to a church where women can serve equally alongside men. Our current priest happens to be a man, but women hold a number of visible leadership roles—on staff, on the vestry (think: elder board), and at almost every level of ministry.

When we watch sports (which isn’t that often), we try to watch a balance of men’s and women’s events. We’ve even talked about taking Elizabeth to Canada next year to see the Women’s World Cup, if we can swing it.

When it comes to TV shows, we look for ones with strong female characters. But we don’t push our daughter toward stereotypically “girly” shows. Nor do we discourage her from watching shows that are supposedly “for boys.”

So where did she get this notion? What gave my daughter the idea that she can’t watch some shows because they’re for boys only? Maybe she got it from TV itself.

Yesterday, Rachel Held Evans shared 35 compelling reasons why we all need feminism. Many of them are sobering, like the fact that 1 in 4 American women experience some form of domestic violence. Or the fact that 80% of 10 year-old girls say they’ve gone on a diet.

Ten year-old girls, already being told their bodies are the only thing of value they have—and even then, only if they’re the “right” size.

Rachel shared another reason which, at first glance, may seem a bit more trivial by comparison. That is, until you consider the impact it has on a young girl’s perspective. In 2011, only 11% of the protagonists in films were female. This figure is only slightly better for children’s TV shows. Yes, there’s Dora and Kai-Lan. But there’s also Bob the Builder, Daniel Tiger, Super Why, Elmo, Phineas and Ferb, and a host of other lead characters who are male.

One study found that only 30% of the characters in children’s shows are female. And female characters are far more likely to be sexualized and/or presented in a way that glamorizes a narrow and unhealthy notion of beauty—even in children’s shows. (Case in point: Sofia the First.) To quote the study, “Females, when they are on screen, are still there to provide eye candy to even the youngest viewers.”

Even in 2014, the overwhelming message of children’s entertainment is that girls like my daughter are little more than props in a man’s world.

(So much for feminism being a capitulation to the dominant culture.)

That Saturday, I told my daughter she didn’t have to worry about whether the show she wanted to watch was “for boys” or not. If she wanted to watch it (and as long as there wasn’t any legitimate reason not to—e.g. violence), then it was for her.

The thing is, I shouldn’t have to tell her this.

Patriarchy is not natural. Our daughters are not born into this world thinking they’re inferior or subordinate to men. They get that idea because that’s what the dominant culture tells them.

It’s what we tell them in our movies and TV shows.

It’s what we tell them when we objectify their bodies to sell everything from hamburgers to sex.

It’s what we tell them when we tolerate a 23% wage gap for a woman doing the same job as man.

It’s what we tell them when we trivialize and dismiss the reality of sexual assault—something a quarter of all female college students face.

Patriarchy isn’t natural. It’s learned. And it’s time we start telling our daughters a better story.

Photo credit: Aaron Escobar

God and the Gay Christian: 6 highlights from the @Patheos live chat

vines

Yesterday Patheos hosted a live chat for Matthew Vine’s new book God and the Gay Christian, featuring Matthew, Rachel Held Evans, Tony Jones, and, occasionally, Jay Bakker. (No live chat is complete without a few technical hiccups.) I haven’t read the book yet; it’s in my to-read pile. But I listened in on their lunchtime conversation, which is available on the Patheos website.

Here are 6 things that stood out…

1. Dispensing with less helpful arguments

Matthew has no interest in some of the more speculative arguments which are sometimes put forward — for example, the notion that David and Jonathan were gay lovers. Or Ruth and Naomi. Or Jesus and John.

These arguments seem to assume that any affection between two men (or two women) depicted in the Bible must be implicitly sexual, as if there were no such thing as nonsexual affection between two closely connected people of the same gender. If you’re pro-same-sex marriage and you’re making this argument, it’s not helping your case. I’m also worried that it plays into the idea that being gay is all about sex. If the church needs to stop reducing gay people to a particular sex act, then Matthew is right to shift the debate to other issues (regardless of whether you agree with him on those issues or not).

2. Matthew vs. Tony

Not one to disappoint, Tony Jones brought a slightly contrarian voice to the discussion. He and Matthew went back and forth over how to deal with Paul, though think it’s futile to read Paul’s comments on homosexual acts as a commentary on the kind of same-sex relationships that are possible today.

Matthew is writing as an evangelical. That’s the whole point of his book, to make a theologically conservative case for the affirming view. So it’s not surprising he wants to maintain a high view of Paul. “We don’t have to disagree with or demote Paul to affirm gay Christians in the church,” he argues.

Tony countered that Paul couldn’t know what we know today about sexual orientation; therefore, he wasn’t in a position to speak directly to the kind of issues we’re wrestling with today. For Tony, this is no more a problem than the fact that Paul didn’t know anything about cars, yet we’re OK with driving them.

Tony’s point is worth hearing. Part of reading and interpreting the Bible is understanding its original context (and limitations) before we try to bring it into our context. You can’t just dump the Bible into our setting and expect everything to translate. This, among other things, is why no one thinks the earth is stationary, despite clear evidence that’s what the biblical writers believed.

But there’s also a real danger of becoming arrogant, of thinking that we’re more enlightened than the biblical writers were. (Poor old chaps.) Matthew’s caution against this tendency is worth also hearing—especially in this debate.

3. Celibacy as a gift, not a command

All the panelists felt that Matthew’s chapter on celibacy is one of the most compelling parts of his book. Again, I haven’t read it (yet), but Matthew’s argument, summarized by Tony at one point, seems to be that celibacy was never mandated in the biblical text. According to Jesus and Paul, some people had the gift of celibacy. But no one was ever ordered to be celibate. Most of us certainly aren’t wired to for celibacy, in any case.

So the question Matthew raises is what do you do if someone who isn’t wired for celibacy IS wired to be attracted to people of the same gender? The conservative view has traditionally said that gay people have one of two options: conversion therapy or celibacy. Now that even many conservatives have disavowed conversion therapy, celibacy is all that’s left. But if celibacy is a gift, not a command, then doesn’t that mean we have to assume God has given the gift of celibacy to every LGBT person? I don’t think many of us, regardless of what side we take, would be comfortable pressing that assumption too far, in light of reality.

If neither celibacy nor a change of orientation are realistic for the vast majority of gay people, then we’re left to wrestle with the question posed by Rachel Held Evans: is it right to deny gay Christians the opportunity to sanctify their sexual desires through a covenant?

4. What does Al Mohler really think about orientation?

God and the Gay Christian hadn’t been on bookshelves for a day when Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler issued an ebook rebuttal, coauthored with James Hamilton, Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, and Heath Lambert. (Note: They were given prepublication copies of Matthew’s book, so they were able to interact with his content.)

During the live chat, Matthew shared what disappointed him about their response: namely, Mohler’s claim that if you accept sexual orientation as an innate part of someone’s identity, then you’ve undermined the whole Bible.

It seems like the “if you believe X, then you’ve undermined the Bible/gospel/Christianity” card gets played a lot these days. But this one made me skeptical. Could Mohler really have written that? After all, just three years ago he made ripples in his own denomination when he acknowledged that sexual orientation is “not something that people can just turn on and turn off.” At the time he confessed:

We’ve lied about the nature of homosexuality and have practiced what can only be described as a form of homophobia. We’ve used the ‘choice’ language when it is clear that sexual orientation is a deep inner struggle and not merely a matter of choice.

I haven’t read Al Mohler’s ebook yet (I plan to after reading Matthew’s book), so I was curious to see if Matthew depicted his argument correctly.

He did. Here’s what Mohler wrote:

If the modern concept of sexual orientation is to be taken as a brute fact, then the Bible simply cannot be trusted.

That seems like a far cry from his previous affirmation that sexual orientation is not “a matter of choice.” So which is it for Al Mohler?

5. A conservative sexual ethic

One of the key points to remember is that Matthew is not arguing for a more liberal or permissive sexuality. He wants to call gay Christians to the same standard of conduct to which the church has traditionally held heterosexual couples: no sex outside marriage, monogamy within marriage, no adultery, etc.

From a Christian perspective, sex is sacred. Commitment is a nonnegotiable part of sexual ethics.
—Matthew Vines

True, this won’t satisfy those for whom ceding any ground on same-sex marriage is unacceptable — or those on the other side who’ve gone further in questioning the sexual ethic taken for granted by most evangelicals as biblical. But it does seem like it could bolster Matthew’s argument against the “slippery slope” accusation.

6. A broader conversation

Near the end of the live chat, Matthew and the other panelists acknowledged that change won’t come easy.

Rachel Held Evans believes that many people, especially pastors, are afraid of losing everything if they are open with their desire to be more affirming. She called on people to be brave and start some uncomfortable conversations anyway, trusting that there are more people than we think who are ready for a new conversation.

Tony Jones voiced pessimism about the church’s ability to find a third way, accommodating both the traditional and affirming camps. But he felt that more and more individuals will continue to “make the shift” as they come into contact with people like Matthew and books like God and the Gay Christian.

Matthew similarly acknowledged the incremental nature of change and said that the first step is bringing LGBT Christians into the room and making sure they’re part of the conversation. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen, as demonstrated by the Southern Baptists’ recent ERLC conference devoted to the topic of human sexuality. “Having a whole conference about this and not including any gay Christian voices is not OK,” Matthew said.

I suppose someone could make the same point about the live chat. There was no voice there to represent the traditional view. While I don’t think a 60-minute online chat should be held to the same standard as a three-day conference, I hope future conversations will bring more voices to the table. If we are going to find a third way (despite Tony’s probably well-placed pessimism), it won’t happen unless we start listening to each other.

That being said, it takes two to tango. The question is whether Al Mohler is in the mood to dance.

Nurturing your kids’ faith when you’ve haven’t figured out your own

Photo by ☻☺ on Flickr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/c0t0s0d0/2334183401/

Recently I’ve been making my way through Rachel Held Evans’ book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Yeah, it’s been out for a while, but you know… life.

I love this book for a number of reasons, not least of which is the sometimes startling honesty that permeates Rachel’s writing. Startling, because this kind of honesty… well, it’s not the norm for Christian authors.

cover-image1One example: when Rachel shares several reasons for being terrified of having children — something which, as she notes, can earn scorn from Christians who seem to think the whole point of being a woman is to churn out babies.

My wife and I waited eight years before we became parents, partly because I had many of the same fears that Rachel describes, especially this one:

I’m afraid that I have to figure out my own faith before I can pass it along to a new generation.

Today, I have a three-and-a-half year-old daughter who has captured my heart. A few weeks from now, I’ll hold my son in my arms for the first time.

And I don’t have my own faith figured out.

It’s not for lack of trying. I keep searching, wondering, fumbling in the dark. I used to be more certain in what I believed (and in the importance of being certain in what you believe), but then, you know… life.

The pressure to have it all figured out affects parents, would-be parents, and not-sure-if-they-want-to-be-parents alike. It’s real. I’ve felt it.

I know the pressure to be the perfect Christian parent who raises perfect Christian kids who have all the answers, pray the sinner’s prayer as soon as they can talk, and never question anything.

We’ve been told good Christian parents instill rock-solid faith in their kids, the implication being that if we project even the smallest doubt or the slightest hesitation when they ask difficult questions, their faith will melt away faster than you can say “evolution.”

We’re afraid they’ll see uncertainty as weakness, as a sign of something deficient in the faith we (aspire to) profess and live.

But what if our fear is misplaced? What if they see something else in us when we admit to not having all the answers? What if they see authenticity? Honesty?

What if we don’t have to figure out our own faith before we can pass it on to a new generation?

What would happen if we modeled a different kind of faith, one that leaves room for uncertainty? What if we gave our kids permission to be inquisitive, to wonder, to even doubt?

Would it really be the end of Christianity as we know it? Or is it possible our kids will find an inherently inquisitive faith to be more attractive than the kind that insists on having all the answers?

To be honest, I don’t know. If you’re looking for a foolproof model for passing your faith to the next generation, I don’t have one. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist.

Faith is a risky venture. There are no guarantees. There are no foolproof models. (Isn’t that one reason why we call it faith?)

One thing I’m sure of, though: a faith that leaves no room for doubt, one that insists on having it all together (or pretending to) — that kind of faith doesn’t have a future.  That kind of faith leads to disillusionment and even loss of faith when kids suddenly face questions they can’t answer.  

So I won’t pretend for the sake of my kids to have it all figured out. Then again, maybe you don’t have to have everything figured out in order to belong. Maybe belonging is what really matters — being part of a community of people, none of whom have their faith completely figured out either. Maybe belonging can help us overcome our unbelief.

I want my kids to know they belong, no matter how much or little they think they’ve got “figured out.” I want them to know it’s OK not to know everything. Uncertainty is not the enemy.

In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul urged his friends to work out their faith with fear and trembling. That doesn’t sound to me like the posture of someone who has it all figured out.

For Paul, faith wasn’t something you possessed. It wasn’t something you mastered or acquired. It wasn’t the end of the journey but the beginning of one. It’s something we have to keep working at, something we get to discover and rediscover anew every day.

That’s the kind of faith I want to pass along to my children: an inquisitive faith — one that never stops wondering, never stops asking. A faith that’s OK with not having every detail figured out.

In the end, it’s up to each couple whether or not to have kids. And choosing not to have kids doesn’t make you any less of a family than those who do. But if you have kids, or are thinking about having kids, the fact that you don’t have your own faith figured out is not a liability. It’s a gift.

 

20 things the poor really do every day

ramsey

[Note: This post has been updated to more clearly identify the sources for each claim made below. The original post included links to each source but did not call them out as clearly.]

Dave Ramsey probably wasn’t expecting this much pushback when he shared a piece by Tim Corley contrasting the habits of the rich with those of the poor. In her response on CNN, Rachel Held Evans noted that Ramsey and Corley mistake correlation for causality when they suggest (without actually proving) that these habits are the cause of a person’s financial situation. (Did it never occur to them that it might be the other way around?)

Ramsey fired back, calling the pushback “immature and ignorant.” This from a guy who just made 20 sweeping assertions about 47 million poor people in the US — all based on a survey of 361 individuals.

That’s right. To come up with his 20 habits, Corley talked to just 233 wealthy people and 128 poor people. Ramsey can talk all he wants about Corley’s research passing the “common-sense smell test,” but it doesn’t pass the “research methodology 101” test.

To balance the picture a bit, I wanted to take a fact-based look at 20 things the poor do on a daily basis…

1. Search for affordable housing.
Especially in urban areas, the waiting list for affordable housing can be a year or more. During that time, poor families either have to make do with substandard or dangerous housing, depend on the hospitality of relatives, or go homeless.
(Source: New York Times)

2. Try to make $133 worth of food last a whole month.
That’s how much the average food stamp recipient gets each month. Imagine trying to eat well on $4.38 per day. It’s not easy, which is why many impoverished families resort to #3…
(Source: Kaiser Family Foundation)

3. Subsist on poor quality food.
Not because they want to, but because they can’t afford high-quality, nutritious food. They’re trapped in a food system that subsidizes processed foods, making them artificially cheaper than natural food sources. So the poor are forced to eat bad food — if they’re lucky, that is…
(Sources: Washington Post; Journal of Nutrition, March 2008)

4. Skip a meal.
One in six Americans are food insecure. Which means (among other things) that they’re sometimes forced to go without eating.
(Sources: World Vision, US Department of Agriculture)

5. Work longer and harder than most of us.
While it’s popular to think people are poor because they’re lazy (which seems to be the whole point of Ramsey’s post), the poor actually work longer and harder than the rest of us. More than 80 percent of impoverished children have at least one parent who works; 60 percent have at least one parent who works full-time. Overall, the poor work longer hours than the so-called “job creators.”
(Source: Poverty and Learning, April 2008)

6. Go to bed 3 hours before their first job starts.
Number 15 on Ramsey and Corley’s list was, “44% of [the] wealthy wake up three hours before work starts vs. 3% of [the] poor.” It may be true that most poor people don’t wake up three hours before work starts. But that could be because they’re more likely to work multiple jobs, in which case job #1 means they’re probably just getting to bed three hours before job #2 starts.
(Source: Poverty and Learning, April 2008)

7. Try to avoid getting beat up by someone they love.
According to some estimates, half of all homeless women in America ran away to escape domestic violence.
(Source: National Coalition for the Homeless, 2009)

8. Put themselves in harm’s way, only to be kicked to the streets afterward.
How else do you explain 67,000 63,000 homeless veterans?
(Source: US Department of Veterans Affairs, updated to reflect the most recent data)

9. Pay more than their fair share of taxes.
Some conservative pundits and politicians like to think the poor don’t pay their fair share, that they are merely “takers.” While it’s true the poor don’t pay as much in federal income tax — usually because they don’t earn enough to qualify — they do pay sales tax, payroll tax, etc. In fact, the bottom 20% of earners pay TWICE as much in taxes (as a share of their income) as do the top 1%.
(Source: Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy, January 2013)

10. Fall further behind.
Even when poverty is the result of poor decision-making, often it’s someone else’s choices that make the difference. If you experience poverty as a child, you are 3-4 times less likely to graduate high school. If you spend your entire childhood in poverty, you are 5 times less likely to graduate. Which means your future has been all but decided for you.
(Sources: World Vision, Children’s Defense Fund, Annie E. Casey Foundation)

11. Raise kids who will be poor.
A child’s future earnings are closely correlated to their parents’ earnings. In other words, economic mobility — the idea that you can claw your way out of poverty if you just try hard enough is, more often than not, a myth.
(Sources: OECD, Economic Policy Institute)

12. Vote less.
And who can blame them? I would be less inclined to vote if I didn’t have easy access to the polls and if I were subjected to draconian voter ID laws that are sold to the public as necessary to suppress nonexistent voter fraud.
(Source: The Center for Voting and Democracy)

13. When they do vote… vote pretty much the same as the rest of us.
Following their defeat in 2012, conservatives took solace by reasoning that they’d lost to a bunch of “takers,” including the poor, who voted for Democrats because they want free handouts from big government. The reality is a bit more complex. Only a third of low-income voters identify as Democrats, about the same for all Americans, including wealthy voters.
(Sources: NPR, Pew Research Center)

14. Live with chronic pain.
Those earning less than $12,000 a year are twice as likely to report feeling physical pain on any given day.
(Source: Kaiser Health News)

15. Live shorter lives.
There is a 10-14 year gap in life expectancy between the rich and the poor. In recent years, poor people’s life expectancy has actually declined — in America, the wealthiest nation on the planet.
(Source: Health Affairs, 2012)

16. Use drugs and alcohol pretty much the same as (or less than) everyone else.
Despite the common picture of inner city crack houses, drug use is pretty evenly spread across income groups. And rich people actually abuse alcohol more than the poor.
(Source: Poverty and Learning, April 2008)

17. Receive less in subsidized benefits than corporations.
The US government spends around $60 billion on public housing and rental subsidies for low-income families, compared to more than $90 billion on corporate subsidies. Oil companies alone get around $70 billion. And that’s not counting the nearly $60 billion a year in tax breaks corporations enjoy by sheltering profits offshore. Or the $700 billion bailout banks got in 2008.
(Source: Think By Numbers)

18. Get themselves off welfare as soon as possible.
Despite the odds, the vast majority of beneficiaries leave the welfare rolls within five years. Even in the absence of official welfare-to-work programming, most welfare recipients enroll in some form of vocational training. Why? Because they’re desperate to get off welfare.
(Source: US Department of Health and Human Services)

19. Have about the same number of children as everyone else.
No, poor people do not have loads of children just so they can stay on welfare.
(Source: US Department of Health and Human Services)

20. Accomplish one single goal: stay alive. 
Poverty in America may not be as dire as poverty in other parts of the world, but many working poor families are nonetheless preoccupied with day-to-day survival. For them, life is not something to be enjoyed so much as endured.

These are the real habits of the poor, those with whom Jesus identifies most closely.

[Note: For a followup to this post, see "Poverty is more than a matter of poor decision-making."]

Highlights of the week

First, a helpful guide to persecution this holiday shopping season, from Rachel Held Evans:
Are you being persecuted?

I thought this was a really good perspective on the whole “fighting for a place at the table” issue, by Trischa Goodwin:

I’m not going to spend my days trying to get the attention of someone who ignores me when I extend my hand.  I will let people exclude me, because I know I cannot make someone see me if they refuse to look or hear me if they refuse to listen.

I also hate to be in a place where I am welcome, but others are not.  Even at a table where everyone is allowed a seat, if some of those seats are offered grudgingly, with averted eyes or conditions or shying away, I don’t want to sit at that table.

Most deserving of a “been there” solidarity fist bump, from Samantha:

It’s a frustrating feeling, knowing that you’re not actually being listened to, but that the person you’re talking to is sitting on the edge of their seat just waiting for you to stop talking so they can stab your argument with a brilliant sound bite about what the Bible clearly says.

Favorite N.T. Wright quote of the week (he spoke in Grand Rapids on Wednesday):

The biblical narrative calls us to be for the world what Jesus was for Israel.

(Wright was commenting on Jesus’ statement to the disciples, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you,” in John 21. It’s the practical flip side to Wright’s big-picture view of the Bible as the story of Israel, brought to fulfillment in the story of Jesus.)

Second favorite N.T. Wright quote of the week:

Your theory of the atonement is always a function of your view of evil.

(During the Q&A, someone asked Wright what his view of atonement was. Wright’s point was that if you start by assuming the world is totally depraved and that evil is primarily a legal/transactional issue, then of course you’re going to gravitate toward penal substitution as your primary way of looking at atonement. If, on the other hand, you see the world as captive to sin and evil and in need of rescue, as Wright does, then you might take another approach to the atonement, without necessarily denying other facets.)

Currently reading (review coming soon):

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My most read post:
John Piper’s mythical research debunking orientation

Favorite tweet (in response to my post on Piper):

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Finally… some long overdue (but no less welcome) news:
The Church of England votes overwhelmingly for women bishops (The Telegraph)

Highlights of the week

Just some of things I loved reading this week…

From Rachel Held Evans on being labeled “divisive”:

Like most Christians, when I read the prayer of Jesus from John 17, my heart aches for the day when the Church will be unified, when our love for one another and for the world will be our greatest witness to the truth of the gospel message. And any time another Christian suggests I’m not doing my part to help make this happen, I feel a sharp stab of guilt.

Maybe I shouldn’t say anything.

Maybe I should just let it go.

Maybe I was wrong to bring it up.

At times, these are good instincts to follow and it’s best just to let something go. But far too often, the “stop-being-so-divisive” line is used by those in power to diffuse, or even silence, difficult conversations about why things might need to change. 

Best analysis of the male-dominated Christian conference scene:

While I don’t think we can conclude that the Christian conference industry is downright sexist, we can say that most conferences have some serious work to do if they want their stage to look anything like the 21st century church.

Micah J. Murray’s piece, which went all kinds of viral, on how feminism hurts men (satire alert):

Because of feminism, men can no longer walk down the street without fear of being catcalled, harassed, or even sexually assaulted by women. When he is assaulted, the man is blamed – the way he dressed he was “asking for it”.

Because of feminism, there are no major Christian conferences about how to act like men, where thousands of men can celebrate their manliness and Jesus (and perhaps poke fun at female stereotypes).

Favorite Sarah Bessey quote of the week:

We serve a God who builds tables in the wilderness, who makes streams flow in deserts, who causes the barren places to spring forth with new growth. We see in the Gospels the heart of God to heal us, to save us, to set us free. We see what life looks like in the Kingdom of God, over and over again, the creative and extravagant grace that cuts through the brambles and the boundaries to the heart. Some part of me thinks it’s a delight to Him: a delight to make a way where there is no way, to do a new thing among the ruins, to surprise us.

Second favorite Sarah Bessey quote of the week:

The truth is that patriarchal systems hurt men as much as they hurt women. Just as women were not created to be oppressed and so it damages us, I believe that men were not created to be the oppressors and that it will damage them.

Tamara Rice on steamrolling nuance when it comes to the atonement. She’s writing specifically about the nouthetic or “biblical” counseling movement, but I believe her insight is relevant to other forms of fundamentalism as well:

This thing I experienced… was a heels-dug-in-deep stubborn refusal to allow for a both/and with Jesus or any nuance of complexity, even though the reality is we serve an infinite and complex God. We were speaking of the most important act in human history. Were we really saying that there could only ever be one single reason that Jesus came and died? That despite the most beloved verse in the New Testament, we were going to trivialize and minimize God’s indescribable love… lest we become obsessed with self? Were we really changing God’s story just to shore up what we perceived as a slippery slope to self-centeredness?

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove on what real hospitality looks like (this certainly sums up my experience in the Middle East several years ago):

But if you travel to the Middle East, you learn that this isn’t the only way people survive in the world. A friend in Iraq told me that hospitality is a pact in his culture. When I eat at his table, he is not only welcoming me into his home. He is promising to defend my life with his own until the food that I have eaten is digested. I’m not sure whether it’s possible to run a fast-food restaurant if you really believe that.

Jamie the Very Worst Missionary/Best Blogger speaks for all of us reluctant huggers:

As soon as I saw my son’s friend’s dad, my arms began to rise like a hungry zombie, “We are going to hug you, Semi-familiar-Dude-in-the-grocery-store!”, and my brain was like, “WHAT IS HAPPENING?!”. So my arms were indicating they wanted a hug but my face was implying that a hug was a really bad idea. That poor guy.

Favorite tweet of the week:

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And my own most read post:
How I won’t be getting a shotgun when my daughter starts dating, after all

Finally, THIS…

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My daughter deserves better than 19%

Photo by Accretion Disc on Flickr (http://www.flickr.com/photos/befuddledsenses/3473942291)

Five to one.

That’s the ratio of male to female speakers at major Christian conferences in the US, according to an eye-opening analysis by Jonathan Merritt. Only 19% of speakers at these events are women.

As Jonathan writes, “Just when it appears we’ve crossed the rubicon on gender equality, we realize we haven’t.”

Indeed.

It all started with a Twitter exchange between Rachel Held Evans and organizers of The Nines conference. The male-to-female gap is even wider at The Nines: 25 to 1.

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A similar problem exists across the pond: fewer than 25% of main speakers at Christian conferences in the UK are women, according to one blogger’s tally.

Setting aside misgivings about the whole Christian conference culture in the first place — the idolization of celebrity pastors, the endless chasing after “the next big thing,” etc. — this is a problem.

And it’s not just conferences. Only 10% of senior pastors of Protestant churches are women — and most of them are in mainline denominations like mine. At my former seminary, an interdenominational school with Baptist roots, only a third of students are women (that in itself is likely an improvement from when I was there), and 89% of the faculty are male.

All of which makes it easy for conference organizers to throw up their hands and say, “Hey, it’s not our fault there aren’t more female leaders to invite.”

Well, yeah… if you buy into the mindset that says the only pastors worth listening to are those with the biggest churches and the biggest platforms. (Even at just 10% of the senior pastor population, there are still several thousand female pastors out there.)

Besides, to quote a thoughtful post from UK blogger Jenny Baker:

People who say ‘forget about gender, just pick the best person for the task’ show a stunning lack of awareness of firstly, male privilege, and secondly, how Christian conferences are put together. People tend to invite who they know, who they’ve heard recently, who has published a book, who their friends recommend/blog about/are reading, who has spoken at a similar event. If you want to change the status quo, you need to be aware of the imbalance and you need to be intentional about changing it.

In other words, everyone needs to own the problem. Everyone needs to be involved in changing it, rather than just pointing fingers or waging a “chicken-versus-egg” defense.

And when I say “everyone,” that means those of us who’ve already embraced gender equality, too. It’s easy to think we’ve “arrived” because of our support for women pastors, priests and bishops. But in my experience, this attitude can blind us to subtler, more entrenched forms of sexism in our midst and in ourselves. The “boys’ club” mentality that still exists in many of our churches and Christian organizations, even the “progressive” ones. The tokenism of appointing one or two female leaders while the overwhelming majority of leadership remains male. It’s one thing to articulate a vision of gender equality; it’s quite another to actually practice it.

This is not a problem “out there” somewhere. Gender inequality is something I have to own, too.

So when you hear someone raising a concern about gender inequality in our midst, listen. Don’t dismiss them as “shrill” or “divisive.” Don’t tell them to stop whining and definitely don’t tell them to “man up.” (You probably don’t need to compare them to Mark Driscoll either, as The Nines organizer Todd Rhoades did in his Twitter exchange with Rachel Held Evans. Which is just, um… really?)

The bottom line is, my daughter deserves better than 19%. She deserves better than a 10% chance at becoming a senior pastor or a 4% chance at becoming a Fortune 500 CEO someday, purely on the basis of her gender.

When Rachel Held Evans calls out gender inequality at Christian conferences (or anywhere else, for that matter), what may sound “shrill” or “divisive” to some — to me it sounds like someone demanding a better world for my daughter. And I like the sound of that.

Re-rearranging the chairs: a response to Richard Dahlstrom responding to Rachel Held Evans (a.k.a. in defense of liturgy)

Our church in England

On his blog yesterday, Richard Dahlstrom challenged something Rachel Held Evans wrote in her recent op-ed on CNN.com about millennials leaving the church.

Richard Dahlstrom is one of my favorite pastors. Rachel Held Evans is one of my favorite bloggers. If you want to see a successful pastor building community instead of building his own empire, watch Richard Dahlstrom. If you want a window into the spirituality of millennial Christians, read Rachel’s blog.

As she noted in her CNN piece, Rachel often talks to pastors about why millennials are leaving the church — how they feel forced to “choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.” How evangelical Christianity has become “too political, too exclusive,” etc.

Thus far, Richard and Rachel are on the same page. These, Richard agrees, are matters of substance, not just style. The disagreement comes over what Rachel says next:

Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. – precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic.

Richard responded:

Why, after telling us that the issue is substance, not style, does she immediately lead us into a discussion of style: about how high church and ancient forms of liturgy are better than low church, implying that chant is better than Hillsong, or that wine is better than grape juice, or that pews are better than chairs?

Well, I’m not sure Rachel ever said that liturgy is “better” than low church, that chant is better than Hillsong, or that pews are better than chairs. (Though wine IS better than grape juice.)

I may not be a millennial. (Rachel just qualifies; I missed the cutoff by a good few years.) Nevertheless, I’m one of those Christians she talks about who made the jump from converted-shopping-mall evangelicalism to liturgical, high church Christianity.

And I can assure Richard that it was all about substance. (Which is not to say one is “better” than the other.)

While living in England, my wife and I found ourselves sitting in the pews of a 700-year-old Anglican church. We came for the un-trendiest of reasons: someone invited us. We kept coming back for the un-trendiest of reasons, too: we made friends. We became part of the community.

But we were also captivated by the liturgy, by the high-churchiness of it all — for reasons that were not merely about style.

A high view of the Eucharist
A few years earlier, while on a short visit to the UK, a friend showed us one of the historic churches in his hometown of Shrewsbury. As we stood in the round sanctuary, looking toward the front, he asked:

“Do you know why the altar’s in the center and the pulpit’s off to the side?”

Um, no.

“Because for Anglicans, the Eucharist is the center of corporate worship, not the sermon.”

Not that long ago, his words would’ve made my evangelical ears bleed. The sermon’s the main event, not the Eucha — ahem, communion.

After the Reformation, after the Enlightenment, churches increasingly became places to receive information. Very good information, in some cases. Eventually, communion became something evangelical churches did once a year or once a quarter when they wanted to drag out the service a bit longer. (At least that’s what I assumed when I was a kid.)

But communion is the one thing Jesus actually told his followers to do whenever they gathered together. Regardless of how you understand the Eucharist — transubstantiation, consubstantiation, real presence, symbol only, some/any/none/all of the above — this ancient ritual connects us to the death of our Messiah. It’s participatory, not passive. Christians have been taking, eating, and remembering for close to two thousand years now. The Eucharist is the beating heart of Christian worship. It brings transformation in a way that even the best sermon can’t. It speaks to the whole person, not just the mind.

Rediscovering a high view of the Eucharist — and restoring it to its rightful place in Christian worship — is one substantial reason we were captivated by the liturgy.

An unbroken chain
Two years ago, a bishop placed his hands on Amanda and me, confirming our membership in the Episcopal Church. Many years before that, someone placed their hands on the bishop, confirming his ministry to the church. Some time before that, someone else laid hands on that person, and so on… going all the way back to the apostles.

Anglicans have never been as clear or precise as Catholics on what we mean by apostolic succession. As with a great many things, there’s a diversity of thought within our tradition. But there’s also a shared belief that we belong to an unbroken chain connecting us — by design, not by accident — to the very first followers of Jesus.

This realization encourages a sense of rootedness, even as we innovate and discover new ways of living our faith in the world today. This Christianity thing didn’t start with us. Our congregations are not autonomous mini-empires (as some independent evangelical churches at times seem to be). We belong to a much bigger organism, transcending geography and time.

Seeing our place in an unbroken chain of Christ followers is another substantial reason we were captivated by the liturgy.

A reminder of my smallness
The path up to the main entrance of our church in England cut through a graveyard where past worshippers were laid to rest. John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace,” was buried there. Some of the gravestones were so old you couldn’t read them anymore.

Every Sunday walking to church, you were reminded of your mortality, of your smallness.

Inside that 700-year-old structure — which wasn’t even the original church building — we sang thousand-year-old songs (and some newer ones too). We recited prayers that had been uttered on that spot for hundreds of years. We recalibrated ourselves to a centuries-old rhythm.

In the evangelical subculture, it’s easy to become enamored by the Next Big Thing. Celebrity pastors. Multisite churches. Church online. Liturgy can offer a helpful corrective because of its inherent un-hipness. Because it wasn’t invented yesterday. Because it’s been developed over centuries by a community of people, not by an individual with a “platform.”

It reminds me I am not all that. I am not the alpha and omega. Church didn’t just start getting good when I showed up.

Being reminded every Sunday of my smallness is another substantial reason I am captivated by (and need) good liturgy.

—//—

None of this should be taken as a rejection of the church tradition represented by people like Richard Dahlstrom. I have friends who go to his church. It’s an incredible community, a welcome outpost of faith in a city that desperately needs better ambassadors for Christianity.

Nor is this a rejection of converted-shopping mall evangelicalism, at least not in its entirety. I kind of like the fact that communities of Christ are reclaiming these former temples to consumerism and giving them a new purpose. The last nondenominational church to which my wife and I belonged met in a converted shopping mall, and our time there probably saved my faith.

Neither is it to suggest that liturgical traditions like mine have it all figured out. Hardly. We can become too insular, too rigid at times. We may not always allow enough room for the Spirit to move and do something fresh in our midst.

But for those of us who have found value and meaning in the liturgical traditions of the so-called “high church,” it’s not about style. It’s very much about substance.

Mutuality in the real world

Mutuality 2012 is done and dusted, but here’s hoping it’s only the start of a renewed conversation about equality in the church.

Mutuality. It’s what’s for dinner.

Hence this post: How does mutuality work in the real world?

More specifically, how does it work in a real marriage? (Note: not to be confused with Mark Driscoll’s notion of a Real Marriage.)

Is mutuality even practical?

Complementarians say no. Even if mutuality works well enough most of the time, they argue, every marriage comes to a stalemate at some point.

So what do you do then?

This was the question put to Amanda and me by our former pastor during one of our premarital counseling sessions. He asked what I’d do if I was offered a job in another state, but my wife didn’t want to move. (The irony will become apparent shortly.)

According to complementarian theology, somebody has to make the final call. Giving the wife an equal say is fine when you can come to agreement without too much bother. But whenever you reach an impasse, the husband becomes the decider-in-chief.

Male headship, then, is to marriage what the vice president is to the U.S. Senate: a tie-breaker. So argues Tim Keller:

Headship sometimes involves tie-breaking authority. In a marriage, you only have two votes; so the occasions do arise when there’s an impasse. How do you break the stalemate? It can only be broken if one party has the authority to overrule.

I agree with Keller that most relationships need a tie-breaker at some point. I just don’t see why it should fall to the man to break every stalemate.

However you interpret the apostle Paul’s statement that the “husband is the head of the wife,” neither Paul nor any other New Testament writer ever said it’s the husband’s job to be the final decision-maker. That’s an assumption which complementarians read into the text, not something the text actually says.

Returning to the question of how this all works in real life…

I remember a time when Amanda and I were faced with a major decision. We were contemplating an overseas move (ah, the irony), and we just couldn’t agree. Amanda wanted to go for it — and I did too, at first. But then I started having second thoughts. Major second thoughts.

Honestly, it was one of the most difficult points in our marriage. No matter how many times we hashed it out, we just couldn’t get on the same page.

Eventually, I conceded. I deferred to my wife’s judgment. I’d like to tell you this was some magnanimous gesture on my part, but it wasn’t. It was more like a grudging concession.

Looking back, though, if I hadn’t listened to Amanda — if she hadn’t broken the tie in that case — we would’ve missed out on one of the most incredible experiences of our lives.

There have been other times when I’ve been the one to break the tie. Somehow, through 10 years of marriage, it’s always worked out, regardless of who got to be the tie-breaker.

Sometimes Amanda has the most wisdom or the clearest perspective. Sometimes she can see things that I can’t. Sometimes the smartest thing I can do is defer to her judgment.

For me, appointing myself the final arbiter purely on the basis of my gender would be an act of colossal arrogance (not to mention stupidity).

I hope that over the next 10 years of marriage, I get better at listening to my wife — becoming more attuned to her perspective, her wisdom, and her unique insight. Sometimes she has the better judgment, plain and simple.

Sometimes, I would make a lousy tie-breaker.