Feb 26

So much of the reality we live in is culturally constructed. Simply, things are the way they are because we have decided to make them so. In Communication as Culture, James Carey says it this way.

Reality is not given, not humanly existent, independent of language and toward which language stands as a pale refraction. Rather, reality is brought into existence, is produced, by communication–by, in short, the construction, apprehension, and utilization of symbolic forms.

Under the sway of realism we ordinarily assume there is an order to existence that the human mind through some faculty may discover and describe. I am suggesting that reality is not there to discover in any significant detail…To put it colloquially, there are no lines of latitude and longitude in nature, but by overlaying the globe with this particular, though not exclusively correct, symbolic organization, order is imposed on spatial organization and certain, limited human purposes served.

This particular miracle we perform daily and hourly–the miracle of producing reality and then living within and under the fact of our own productions–rests upon a particular quality of symbols: their ability to be both representations “of” and “for” reality.

– James Carey

God created us to build reality. In Genesis 2 we read,

Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

God not only gave Adam a task, he actually waited “to see what (Adam) would name them.” And whatever decision Adam made was how the world was built: that was it’s name. The task for humankind in the garden is still our task today – to make order in the world, to co-create with God. I believe God is still looking on with anticipation, to see what they will make of the world.

We may disagree on the best way forward. In fact, we will most certainly disagree. Yet I believe we are one step ahead if can realize that what we decide is largely of our own making, that the world we inhabit is one we’re building. We decide, over time, what will be considered normal, what is required, who is in and who is out, what is liked and what is shunned. Our decisions, our actions, and even our silence contribute to constructing the reality we share. As much as we might like to think we’re just taking all our cues from scripture, even a simply analysis reveals we are so often just making it up as we go.

And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Scripture isn’t a textbook with an index of answers and procedures – though some try to force it to be. Whether we admit it or not, much of our world (the rules, the norms, the ways of life, the traditions, the expectations) is of our own making. This is true in church as much as outside it. Once we acknowledge that, we can move beyond Jimothy’s ignorant insistence that everything we’re doing is taken right from scripture.

Perhaps God has made us to choose and to build and construct our worlds. And that is an incredible responsibility with huge implications. We’re farther ahead if we can recognize that we are indeed choosing and building and then evaluate what we’ve made.

Is it scary to think that much of reality is built by human choices?

How does claiming a scriptural basis for human-made rules give power to those in charge?

What ways might we have decided to make reality other than what we’re living in?

Feb 25

“The best marketing scheme in history is men successfully getting away with calling women the “more emotional gender” … because they’ve successfully rebranded anger as not an emotion”

Claire Willett

Jimothy here reiterates the old argument some folks like to level – women are too emotional to be trusted with leadership. I, like dear Tim, often don’t even know what to say when this claim is made. It’s ridiculous, unfair, and lazy. Not only is it scientifically unsound, it’s also not been my experience. I’ve had female professors, worked under a female manager in a corporate setting, and watched my own wife lead a team of people. The “too emotional” argument is absurd at the familial, church, corporate, and national level. But it’s a powerful argument and has been used to keep men in charge for a very long time.

If we include anger as an emotion, are women still “more emotional”?

Do I speak with lazy generalizations about how women are made or behave?

How are both men and women damaged by lazy speech like Jimothy’s?

Feb 24

While single men are empowered and encouraged to build a career or get an education or start a business or get a job and move up the chain, single women are stuck in limbo. The ultimate (even if unspoken) goal is marriage, but while they wait for a man to approach them, they have to do something. If they take a job, they have to make sure not to move up the chain and gain authority over a man. If they expect marriage in their future, they know that as soon as they are married, they’ll need to give up their career.

What an impossible situation this puts so many young ladies in. Here is an entry point into the discussion about ideals. Some may argue that marriage isn’t necessarily required or even expected. Yet when we consider the norms, the unspoken expectation, the way social power is gained, it seems clear marriage is of high priority. So Beth’s question in a pertinent one – what’s the holy call for single women?

What does my community expect of single ladies?

Is it realistic to be a full member of the community while remaining single?

How can single women thrive if Jimothy’s goals for them are in place?

Feb 23

Jimothy’s answer suggests a sharp divide between the culture and way of living inside the church and out there in the world. I think we do well to seriously consider the implications of such an understanding of the kingdom of God. If the kingdom and its ways are only applicable inside the walls of the church, how exactly can we continue to build it on earth? Build more churches?

The second thing Jimothy’s answer suggests is that women may have useful insight (and the ability to wield it) in the world, just not in sacred (church) spaces. But isn’t it also interesting that women are also often discouraged from building careers in this outside world, the space where they may be allowed to become experts.

If we take Jimothy’s position, I think we miss out on two incredible things. (1.) We lose the ability to experience the presence of God in culture*1. When “spiritual matters” like singing in church are separated from “worldly matters” like working in a pharmacy, what does this say about where we believe God is operating? (2.) We lose the gift of beautiful service the women in our communities can offer. We miss out on their insight and full expression of God’s grace when they aren’t permitted to lean into their gifts inside the church.

*1. For more on this I highly recommend Tish Harrison Warren’s book (and maybe my paper which uses her book heavily)

Do I believe the ordinary places in life are sacred?

Do I believe God is using women to express his word in the world and in church?

Do I draw sharp lines between church and culture which may be hindering what God wants to do?

Feb 22

We can chuckle, but we must admire Jimothy for his honesty in the third frame. If he is so much as alone for a few minutes with a woman, he has no confidence his purity will survive the encounter. This is familiar talk given to young men in many churches.

Consider the view of women displayed here. When a man cannot be alone with a woman for fear of becoming tarnished, defiled, made impure – women are seen as agents of impurity, they are dirty and dangerous.

I remember hearing a man teach this rule. He said he had to call or message his wife anytime a woman entered the room where he was working as an act of accountability. This kind of behavior communicated two things: (1) Men are completely out of control when it comes to temptation and desire. Their sexual impulses are so strong and raging that the mere one-on-one encounter is to be avoided. (2) Women are tempters. They are out to seduce men. They cannot be trusted. In reality, the danger of a man raping a women is much more real when alone in a room (more likely than a woman seducing a man). Yet what is often taught to young men is to never be alone with a woman…or else. The message to women is to dress as modestly as possible lest they awaken these insatiable, uncontrollable desires and cause their brothers to stumble. That women are dirty and dangerous and that men need to remain pure and safe.

We may not be saying it out loud like Jimothy, but we’re saying it.

Do I communicate harmful views in the name of purity?

Have I unintentionally accepted or taught views of sexuality which cast woman as temptresses?

Feb 21

In order to keep women from any positions of authority of leadership it’s necessary to say that anytime a woman senses a call to these positions, she has heard wrong or that she didn’t hear from God. Conversely, when men demonstrate an ability to lead or if they sense they are gifted in leadership, they are often told this is a calling from God. In the end, men are told to trust their instincts: women are told to trust men.

Jimothy’s answer may sound ludicrous, but what other answer can there be? If we are totally sure woman aren’t supposed to be leading, what options are there when a woman starts to sense that calling? We have to say that either: we are wrong about what women are allowed to do or the woman is hearing wrong: God didn’t say that. Since the first option would kind of undermine the entire operation in many churches, we rely heavily on that second option.

Even more preferable is the silence and submission of women. If they seem to be gifted leaders, they can just keep that quiet and keep the community from having to make a visible choice (and saying out loud what Jimothy says).

Is every woman who senses a call to lead hearing wrong?

Do I encourage open dialogue about men and women stepping into their giftings?

How is Jimothy’s answer worded to women in other, less direct ways?

Feb 20

The logic of being completely different and kept apart (while still being “equal”) was employed during the Jim Crow era to keep black children out of all white schools. Eventually, even white people realized how ridiculous this logic was and were forced to integrate. This same kind of logic is employed in churches where men’s and women’s roles are seen as totally separate/different but “equal.”

Have I shut down conversations about gender roles with answers of men and women being “separate”?

Can we truly see ourselves as working together if we are divided up tasks according to gender?

If separate but equal doesn’t hold for race, why does it for gender?

Feb 19

It is an absurd notion that women should be kept from leading men in any area. Yet this is commonplace in many church communities and done under the guise of being God’s will. When faced with the reality that many other cultures see the family order playing out much differently, we are either forced to say that there are other ways of living faithfully, or that everyone else is wrong and we’ve understood it and got it right. Jimothy takes the latter option.

Do Americans possess a special ability to understand scripture? Do we act like we do?

What might we learn from other cultures where men and women’s roles look different?

Does God love and approve of people who don’t live in American and don’t fit American gender stereotypes?

Feb 18

In many churches, women are discouraged from getting career jobs or investing in opportunities which would distract from what is seen as their true calling (motherhood in the home). And there is often an anti-education attitude which develops, perhaps unconsciously. When men are encouraged to follow the call God has placed on their lives by following the passions and giftings, a college education is sometimes encouraged. But if in the case of women that gifting, passion, and calling are predetermined for them, then higher education is deemed completely unnecessary.

What is ratio of men to women who choose higher education in my community?

Does my community encourage women to pursue higher education or frown on the idea?

Would a woman who went to college be perceived as forward, aggressive, or intimidating and therefore less desirable for a spouse?

Feb 17

When we examine a church or a business or other institution where people are involved, we can take a look at it’s ideal (what is the aim, the vision for the people there?) and the structure implemented (how are things arranged, who is in charge, etc.?) We can examine forwards and backwards with these things in mind. These two things aren’t isolated or separable. How we’ve set things up and what we think we’re going for are tightly connected.

If we aren’t sure what the ideal of our community is, we can look at what the system is set up to produce. What is in place to ensure this outcome? Structure >>> Ideal.

If we aren’t sure how things are structured, we can work backward from the ideal/vision. What is it we all have in mind to accomplish that we’re arranging things to produce. Ideal<<<Structure

If the ideal is to have only men’s perspectives in church decision making, the structure will reflect that and exclude women from the processes. If women are excluded from processes, we can see the ideal is one where men have the lion share of responsibility and freedom.

What are the ideals in my church community?

Who determines the structure/arrangement in my community?

Is my contribution to the ideals and structure of my community intentional?