The Civil Reader–8 May 2012

I took a little blogging break last week because I was extremely busy and because I wanted to spend some time thinking about why I blog.  It was a nice, somewhat clarifying week to me, and now I’m ready to jump back into the game.  I have several plans for new directions to take, and one of them is to try to orient my blog more tightly around the “Kingdom Civics” theme.  To that end, one simple change I made was renaming my “Top Three on Tuesday” column something more fitting to my theme.  “The Civil Reader” is pretty lame…but I kind of like it.  I’m a nerd when it comes to themes, and to me, this new name serves my purpose better.  The purpose of this weekly feature, after all, is to curate articles that will help us be more “civil minded,” in the Kingdom sense.  (That said, I’m definitely linking to an article on kids drinking “beer” at the bottom, simply because it cracked me up.)  Also, I’m tired of having to limit it to three articles.  Since it’s been two weeks, I have lots of articles to share, and I want more freedom in that regard. I’m also going to interact more with the articles.  Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments!

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The Disease of Building Theology in the Theoretical or “A Needed Corrective to Our Polarizing Discourse”, by Jon Huckins at Red Letter Christians

Recently, I read a blog (I have no idea where, or I would give credit) questioning the absence of female voices in the theological blogosphere.  The author, a woman herself, went on to suggest several possible reasons why women shy away from discussing theological issues, either on their own blogs or the comments sections of other, more well-known blogs.  One of her hypotheses was that even when women do write about theological matters, their blogs tend more toward “memoir-style” writing than strictly theological.  For some reason, I sensed a hint of dismissiveness in this description, and it gave me pause.  I started my own blog, after all, to discuss theological matters, and not because I was trying to make a name for myself or “get ahead” in the blogging world (whatever that means), but because…well, because I am interested in theological matters.  However, I do tend more toward memoir-style writing, and that is very much on purpose, although I don’t think it is because I am a woman.  You see, over the years, I seem to have developed a spiritual allergy when it comes to matters of faith separated from concrete action.  As much as I love talking about God, too much talking makes me antsy, and I feel the overwhelming need to actually do something real about it.  It’s like a nervous tic, and sometimes it can be a bad thing.  For example, this tic led me to blow a whole essay question on the final for one of my college Bible classes.  Instead of answering the question, I calculated (and accepted) the hit to my grade and then teed off on my disillusionment with the content of the class.  As much as I loved my professor, I was so disgruntled with the idea of all these erudite biblical scholars devoting their whole lives to sitting around and talking about the Bible.  My whole “essay” was somewhat misguided and more than a touch judgmental, but like I said, my obsession with corresponding action is a quirk I can’t seem to shake.  That same year, a group of us started our current church, and I may or may not have driven everyone crazy with my insistence on sticking to our “launch” date.  I was just so worried that if we pushed it back, we wouldn’t start it at all.  I hated the idea of us just sitting around talking about it. We did end up pushing back the date a few weeks (definitely a good call), but thankfully, it did start!

Nervous tics aside, my point is that, to me, there is something so sterile about discussing matters of faith in a strictly theoretical way, apart from the actual application of actual life.  This article does a good job of articulating those ideas, and it does so by contrasting the faith of Christians in the “first world” with Christians in the “third world.”  There is also the tacit suggestion that the reason we get caught up in theological disputes is because we have too much time on our hands.  I agree.

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It’s Not Complementarianism; it’s Patriarchy, by Rachel Held Evans

The thesis of this article is neatly contained in the title, but what intrigued me the most was the opening, where Evans quotes the dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Seminary.  This dean laments his theory that many marriages that would define themselves as “complementarian” (where the male is the head of the household) are actually “egalitarian” (where both partners are treated as equals) in practice.   Reading that, I realized that my own marriage could probably be described that way.  I was raised to take the Bible fairly literally– a habit which can be quite troublesome when one reads Jesus’ words–and so I’ve always embraced the Christ-church model of marriage in Ephesians 5.  And yet, in my marriage, my husband certainly does not act as “lord.”

These thoughts led to a very interesting conversation between Greg and me that evening as we contemplated what to do for dinner.  We had gift cards to Outback, but it was Friday night, and we didn’t want to have to wait for a table.  I suggested take-out, but Greg has this real bias against take-out from nice restaurants.  He says the food gets too cold, and he doesn’t want good food to get cold before he eats it.  I laughed at him, told him he was crazy, and said how we always got take-out growing up.  I even mentioned that my mom and I have gotten take-out from Carrabba’s a couple times here, and it is always fine.  He still was not for “blowing” our gift cards on take-out, so we didn’t do it.  It was as simple as that.  It got me thinking, though, and I told him about Evans’ article.

“The thing is,” I said, “I don’t think I acquiesced to your preferences because you are the ‘man,’ but because I love you, and I would not want to spend ‘our’ resources on something you would not enjoy.  There were no gender issues at work right there.  I respect you as a person, not simply as a man.”

Greg agreed, and added a great twist:  “Exactly.  It’s just like when you are crazy and don’t want to eat at Baja Burrito, we always eat somewhere else–even though Baja Burrito is awesome.  Because even though I think you are insane, why would I insist on eating somewhere that you didn’t want to eat?  That’s stupid.” It’s true.  Baja Burrito is awesome, but I haven’t been in the mood for it for months.

We paused.  “I know some husbands who would insist on the restaurant,” I said.  Greg laughed.  “I do, too, and they would think they were exercising their God-given rights as men.”

The bottom line is that Greg agreed that, whatever we said about our marriage, it is pretty egalitarian.  The thing is, though, I still think our marriage is based on Ephesians 5.  The section starts in verse 21, where Paul tells husbands and wives to “submit to one another, out of reverence for Christ.”  And the very idea of embodying Christ in a marriage (the husband’s role) would seem to suggest radical self-sacrifice and service to one’s family.  To me, my husband embodies that really well.

I don’t know…the whole thing just made me think about that idea of a “biblical marriage” and what that is supposed to look like.  I agree with the commenter on iMonk’s open forum yesterday, who said, “Personally I feel what other people do in their marriages is their business. But I do get tired of people holding up their marriages as the “Biblical” example.”  So just to be clear, I’m not holding up Greg’s and my restaurant dealings as “the biblical example”; it just made me think about how our marriage looks different from what I’ve sometimes been told is the biblical example.  And not just in terms of restaurant choices.

Okay, I’m going to stop rambling about every article.  (Clearly, my blogging break took its toll on me.  I have a lot of words to get out!)

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An Apology to the Democrats (and Jesus), by Marla Taviano

I’m not even a Democrat, and I’m tempted to accept this apology.

Or give it!

In light of my thoughts, actions, and experiences over the last ten years, I’m kind of in a position to do both.

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Wounded Healers and Healed Healers:  Physician Heal Thyself, by Jennifer Dawn Watts at Red Letter Christians.

From a ministry standpoint, this one is really good.  Over the years, I have become more and more aware of the inherent brokenness of ministers (due to their humanity), and I’ve also seen several people whose pasts and predilections pose particular problems in ministry (I was not even trying to get that alliteration!  Sweet!).  I’ve often wondered about this conundrum of “wounded healers,” especially when some of the wounds are so…obvious.  This article gives me a lot of hope, as well as a reminder that we don’t have to be perfect to serve in the Kingdom.

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Oppressors, Activists, and Spiritual Stinginess:  St. Paul’s Guide to Praying Better Prayers, by Jenny Rae Armstrong

This is a wonderful read on Philemon, full of that practical application I was talking about.  Plus, Armstrong highlights a dynamite prayer by Paul that I had never paid attention to before.  Seriously, it’s a great verse–I bet you’ve never noticed it!

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Missing, by Michelle DeRusha at Rachel Held Evans’ blog.

As one whose faith grows and shifts with each passing year, I could really relate to DeRusha’s predicament of passing on her “faith” to her children.  Like her, I have to say, “I don’t know” more than I would like to admit.

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When Sex Sells and Provides, by Tim Fall at Think Christian

Faithful blog commenter, Tim Fall, muses on the decline of our culture from his perspective as a judge.  As suggested by the title, much of his reflection centers around the way our society, as well as others, views sex.  Even though many of us don’t interact with strippers in our day job, I think we can see the truth of his words just by turning on the tv occasionally.

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Waiting, by Courtney Steed at Living Peacefully Less Stressed

My dear friend, Courtney, is currently in a season of “waiting” on God.  I know how hard, yet fruitful, these seasons can be, and I love her words here.

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The Time the Kids and I Drank Beer at Target, by Kristen Howerton at Rage Against the Minivan

Okay, this one is just funny.  As a mom who is “a little bit Amish when it comes to soda and the kids,” I found it all the more amusing.  Thank goodness my kids don’t have a great idea of what beer is, either, or I could completely see this happening in our own lives!

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Well, those are the interesting articles I found this week.  Do you have any interesting reads?

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10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tim on May 8, 2012 at 9:37 am

    What a list, Kim! I think your new plan for Tuesdays looks great. And thanks for including me in this week’s list, too.

    I think the blog you are talking about in the first link is Leslie Keeney’s The Ruthless Monk: http://www.theruthlessmonk.com/where-is-the-voice-of-the-evangelical-academic-woman/ . I commented there and told her to check out your blog as an example of a woman’ theological blogging.

    Now I need to read through the links you’ve provided so I can comment on those as well.

    Tim

    Reply

    • Posted by Tim on May 8, 2012 at 11:00 am

      OK, I’ve read through them now.

      The theology article by John Huckins is an interesting description of the way different cultures deal with theology, but it doesn’t speak to the basic question of whether a pursuit of right theology is important or not. It sounds like he’s applying to theology what one of my professors said about environmentalism: it’s a full stomach phenomenon, so that those who are struggling to eke out an existence are not interested and we shouldn’t expect them to be. He also hints that theology is primarily a developed nation, western world concern; yet early church leaders thought it vitally important, even when they themselves faced poverty and persecution.

      Evans’s Complementarian/Patriarchy piece resonated well, probably because her marriage dynamics sound a lot like mine. And when it comes to this idea of “biblical masculinity and femininity”, I’ve never yet read a position in support of the subject that really holds up well when compared to Scripture itself. Instead, as Evans notes, these articles seem more to rely on cultural norms adorned with Bible verses.

      The apology to democrats either reflects someone who really was quite narrow minded and has come to a new way of thinking, or sets up a number of easily batted down straw men. It’s like C.S. Lewis’s story of the conversation he once had about patriotism:

      I once ventured to say to an old clergyman …, “But, sir, aren’t we told that every people thinks its own men the bravest and its own women the fairest in the world?” He replied with total gravity – he could not have been graver if he had been saying the Creed at the altar – “Yes, but in England it’s true.”

      Jen Armstrong’s Philemon reflection was wonderful! You might have seen the comment I left there. I love how she put that our judgmentalism often stems from a sense of spiritual inadequacy.

      Michelle DeRusha sounds like she is discovering what most parents realize sooner or later. “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer to your kids’ questions, as long as it is not done dismissively or evasively. I admit not knowing stuff all the time. Why should I know everything, anyway?

      That Tim Fall, I read everything the guy’s ever written!

      Courtney Steed’s article on waiting is a wonderful reflection on faith and trust in God, especially when the future is so unknown and she has a husband and children to be concerned about.

      Why not drink beer with the kids at Target? It sounds like fun!

      Thanks for all these great links, Kim, and welcome back to the interwebz!

      Tim

      Reply

      • Tim,

        You are right that the first article sidesteps the issue of the importance of right theology, and you make a good point about the early church’s concern about such matters. At the same time, my anti-intellectual side (yes, I do have one!) wonders if we really need advanced degrees to figure out what God wants from us here on earth. As someone who went to a Christian college and took several upper-level Bible classes (including Greek), I did reach a level where I thought, “Is all this really necessary?” Again, I know that is a bit anti-intellectual, but I do get disillusioned with too much talk. It seems Pharisaical, somehow.

        With Evans’ article, I am on the fence. I am always hesitant to chalk stuff in the Bible up to “culture,” thus making it change-able. That’s part of why I have such a hard time with the OT. A lot of people dismiss the genocide and treatment of women by attributing it to a bygone, barbaric culture. I have a hard time with that, though, since it seems from the OT that God directly sanctioned a lot of that stuff. It kind of messes with me.

        As for the political one, I wish I could say it presents straw man arguments, but here in the South, those aren’t straw men. I am not a Democrat by any stretch, and in CA (isn’t that where you are?) I would probably be considered quite conservative, but here…well, I’m several people’s “liberal friend,” even though I have a track record of mostly voting conservative. In fact, I once had to explain to a dear and respected friend why I thought people who voted Democrat could still be Christian. She was blown away by the possibility. Then, she went home to explain it to her husband but forgot what I had said, and had to have me explain it again. I am not kidding. And this is a wonderful person, let me hasten to add. That incident was incredibly entertaining, but there have been others that were less amusing…

        And yes, I tend to keep up with that Tim Fall guy, too. And Courtney–she is great!

        Reply

        • Posted by Tim on May 8, 2012 at 12:02 pm

          Re: theology – I know what you mean. I think the problem comes when people use theological studies as an escape from God-given responsibilities. Too much navel-gazing is not healthy.

          I once had to explain to a dear and respected friend why I thought people who voted Democrat could still be Christian. She was blown away by the possibility. Yeah, we have those peeple here in California too. They think I’m too tolerant.

          OT religious wars, etc.? I think resigning them to cultural indices is a cop-out too. God gave explicit direction to the Israelites, and expected them to follow those directions to the letter. it’s when people talk about masculine and feminine roles under the New Covenant, and try to bootstrap in OT examples as well, that I see a lot of modern cultural norms being touted as being Scripturally based.

          Tim

          Reply

  2. Posted by bekster081305 on May 8, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    Wow, there’s a lot here. I haven’t read everything yet, but already I have a thought. I plan to come back in a few days when I have time to do it justice…

    Reply

  3. Posted by Molly on May 10, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Loved this one this week. You may have turned me on to Jen Hatmaker juuuuuuuust a little bit. http://jenhatmaker.com/blog/2012/04/04/the-easter-conundrum-confession-part-2

    Reply

  4. Love the shout out and of course I will be checking out the links …some of these sound quite interesting! Can’t wait!

    Reply

  5. Posted by bekster081305 on May 12, 2012 at 12:15 am

    Okay, I’m back. Wow, that was a lot to read, but it was all worth it. Let’s see…

    Kim, I sent a long response to the Jon Huckins post to you via Facebook (along with some other thoughts), but for everyone else here is the Reader’s Digest version. I personally feel that talking about spiritual things, even in hypothetical terms, is a very good thing for those of us who enjoy it because (for me personally) I find that it leads to action (though, certainly, if there isn’t action eventually, it is probably a sign that we have missed the point somewhere). Also, I can personally attest that even in the third word (at least where I am) theology is important, but there is more of an emphasis on believing “right” doctrine than on discussing how to make the gospel real in everyday life. (This is something I am wanting to help with.) A lack of material things does not automatically make someone more spiritual, and having extra time to think and discuss does not automatically make someone ineffective in action. Those of us who have material things, time, and intellect are blessed and should use those blessings to help others.

    I found the ideas about gender roles in marriage to be very interesting. I really love what you said, Kim, about how you and Greg deal with each other the way you do because of your love for each other, not because you are trying to fill some expected gender roles. I think Tommy and I are pretty much the same way, though we differ from what Evans describes because I think of Tommy as being the final decision-maker and I think of myself as someone to help him. Still, I definitely have more “say” in our relationship than women in stereotypical 1950’s marriages. I do struggle to understand exactly what the Bible (well, specially Paul) means when it talks about different gender issues. While I try to figure it out, I guess the best thing is just to cling to the whole mutual love idea. 🙂

    I LOVED the apology to Democrats! There are so many things I could say about this, but mostly just that I really agree.

    I didn’t relate as much to the “wounded healers” thing, except that I have gotten kinda “mother hen”-ish with my friends at times. I don’t have the problem with dependency, though, because, in those relationships, the people didn’t listen to my advice anyway (as much as, for their sakes, given the way things turned out, I really wish they would have; because of this, I am more inclined to be a little pushier with my advice in the future, which is contrary to what would seem to make sense–I’m still trying to figure this one out).

    The prayer in Philemon was really great. It is so true that we can be generous because God gives us good things. There is a lot of deep stuff there that I will have to think on some more.

    As an observer of parents and children, I am always very interested to notice how parents answer their children. Yes, “I don’t know” should be a perfectly acceptable answer.

    Tim, I responded to you after your comment on my own blog: http://www.tommyandbeckybrown.blogspot.com. Very interesting–and sad–thoughts.

    Courtney, I so relate to the waiting thing. The situation with our house here is very trying, but having my hope in God makes a HUGE difference. It’s very frustrating, though, when we don’t just have to wait but we actually have to make decisions based on what we’re waiting for. We want to trust in God, but how do we know what things God has sanctioned and what things He wants us to let go of? For me personally, I tend to get “feelings” about things and latch onto certain events as “signs” from God, but I know all of that is so subjective. I want to trust in God, but I don’t want to speak for Him either. (Yes, I know even all of this God will make clear in time, but, you’re right, it is so exhausting when you’re in the middle of it!)

    “They took pictures of us with beer and then they let us drink it.” Wow. 🙂

    Reply

    • Becky, thanks for taking the time to mull these over with me and add your opinion. It’s funny–I can’t seem to find time to blog my own thoughts this week, but I already have articles for next week’s docket. I guess it makes sense: some of my favorite conversations center around things that both sides have read. I’ve had some great ones about the book 7, for example. It’s nice to be able to talk about blogs, too…here and on FB message:). Okay, speaking of blogs, I need to go over to yours before bed…

      Reply

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