Thoughts: Becoming Myself, chapter 8

“The Company of Women.” The chapter title itself provides a challenge for me.

Ironically, it was while I was reading this chapter that a friend texted me and invited me to lunch. Not my husband and me, not a group of friends and me, just me. Cheryl doesn’t know this, but that was the very first time I have “done lunch” with a person, one on one, who is not family. I was able to bounce some internal struggles off her, and she provided much needed encouragement.

I had to shake my head in wonderment at the timing. God was speaking, and I replied, “Thank you for what you’ve done.”

As I mentioned in a previous “Thoughts” post , making friends and holding onto them has been difficult for me, because in my earliest years “friends” were temporary. They were the kids I could get along with easiest in class for the couple of years that we lived in that particular town. But it wasn’t worth the effort—and the pain—to really open my heart and care about someone.

This carried over into my adulthood. Case in point, even though I had just graduated college, I had only a sister and two cousins for bridesmaids at my wedding. Family sticks. “Friends” don’t. In four years at the same college, I made not one single friend. During the first seven or eight years of our marriage, my husband befriended a couple of co-workers who he hung out with. They brought their wives around, and then they got divorced, proving that “friends” are one of those temporary things one endures, like head colds.

women talking

When we started going to LifeChurch, I had no idea the blessings God was waiting to pour over us. We decided we would get the most out of the experience if we joined a small group. I was so skeptical, so hesitant. “They’ll be shallow,” I said. “They’ll be straight and boring and shallow, and all we’ll talk about is petty junk.” Wow, was I wrong. They were weird! They were quirky! They let all their issues hang out in the most honest ways, and during only our second meeting, I was confessing the darkness in my soul. There was something so genuine and loving about this group of people that we felt invited to be real, knowing we would find acceptance anyway. I say “we” because I wasn’t the only one. Others drifted into the group later, and I watched the same closed-off self-protection mode dissipate. Bonds grew. Activities outside our small group were held so we could get together and share life.

One of these couples moved away. I tried, in my time-honored way, to let them go, let the relationship end. But they refused to let this happen, and I’m so glad they were persistent. “Distance” doesn’t necessarily translate to “over.”

But the blessings don’t stop there. In addition to the small group, we started volunteering to serve at our church campus by making coffee, counting offerings, and typing up prayer cards on Sundays. Three years later, I looked around and said, “Whoa! I have friends! Lots of them. How did this happen?” We serve with the same bunch of women (and a few men) every weekend. We started sharing life and prayer needs, and before I knew it I came to love these women. They are so sweet in their uniqueness, their brokenness, their faith, their growth. And I’m speechlessly grateful that they actually like me. Me? Quirky, introvertive, awkward me? But that’s just it, isn’t it? It’s their quirkiness that make them special to me in return.

Sorta proves that God loves quirky people. And a lot of quirky people in the same room loving each other? It’s a riot, let me tell you, and God is right in the middle of it, adoring us and the friendship we are willing to risk sharing.

Favorite Quotes

“Women are awesome. Yet sometimes getting near them is like approaching a cactus, hugging a porcupine, or taming a skunk. …

“A true friend loves you when you are being kind and when you are PMS-ing all over the place. They may not love what you are doing, or the dragon you are manifesting, but they love you. …

“A friend sees who you are meant to be and beckons you to rise to the higher version of yourself.”

(Becoming Myself, 125)

“[Jesus] is the source of our true identity. He is the one we must look to first to fill us with truth, acceptance, and love. Then we can bring our hearts … to our friends without demanding that they fill us. We can offer ourselves, open to receive good gifts from them but vigilant to stay close to our God and screening every experience, every word, through him. He has promised to never leave you or forsake you. ”

(Becoming Myself, 127)

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

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Thoughts: Becoming Myself, Chapter 3, part 2

The first half of Chapter 3, “The Landscape of Our Lives,” discussed HERE, talks about women’s hormones and the effect they have on our internal lives. The second half discusses misogyny and the effect it has on our external lives.

In my opinion, Stasi does a fairly good job of defining misogyny and summarizing how we are still bombarded with misogynistic messages throughout our culture, even in church. Too often especially in church. As Stasi writes it: “Some churches continue to teach that the fall of man came because of Eve’s wickedness and that she and all women after her are temptresses. … women can’t teach, women can speak in church, women can’t cut their hair. … cover their bodies, their faces, their heads. They should stay quiet, stay separate from men, and really should just stay home. Women can’t own property or vote or testify in court or travel alone. Women can’t go to school because they simply aren’t worth educating.” (p. 56)

I grew up in a conservative home. I thank God my mother had the opportunity to stay home to raise my sister and myself, and I’m grateful that my sister is staying home to raise and educate her children. They know that this is the frontline, the really hard job, and anyone who says otherwise is going to get “the look” and a stern talking to. But I remember during our college years when my sister spouted off something against feminists (I love my sister, and I have no wish to malign her, but it’s a great example of this deep-seated cultural battle). I looked at her and said, “If it weren’t for those feminists, you wouldn’t be studying for a Math degree. Math, according to men of the time, damaged a woman’s uterus.” Because, of course, the uterus is a woman’s only true worth. Ahem.

My husband and I were talking earlier this week about a particularly popular country music video in which the two young female singers make fun of the clothes that women in country music culture are expected to wear. I mentioned how ironic it was that the Women’s Lib Movement got women out of the house and got them naked. I think people slightly missed the point, there. To all those bare-breasted babes on the billboards I want to say, “You’re not free, you’re a sex object.” A tool to further the mindset that women are worth less than men, that their only worth is in how sexually alluring they are. It’s just oppression of a different color. Does this contribute to genuine respect for women? If not, throw it away.

Speaking of sex objects. Stasi discusses sexual assault in this chapter as the epitome of misogyny. Because of the experiences of a friend of mine, I was on the lookout for language indicating that Stasi might be caught in a web of victim blaming, her own sexual assault included. Those statements like “You shouldn’t have been wearing that,” or “You shouldn’t have been at that party,” or “You had too much to drink,” or “You knew better than to let him take you home” are all forms of victim-blaming. According to my friend, and I trust their judgment on this, Stasi writes in Captivating that she shouldn’t have been in a certain place, that she was an unwise young woman, and these things contributed to her being assaulted. But, thankfully, I didn’t detect any of that in the account of her experience as she writes it in Becoming Myself. On page 58, Stasi describes her assault in more detail than I expected. She ends the account with how the rapist blamed her for making him do this.

It’s my hope that Stasi has healed enough by now, become comfortable enough with her own worth, that these feelings of self-blame have disappeared from inside her.

The Temptation and Fall of Even, by William Blake, 1808

The Temptation and Fall of Eve, by William Blake, 1808

What I did take issue with in this half of the chapter is where she places all the blame for abuse and assault on Satan. Yes, our Enemy is a detrimental influence in the world who seeks to “steal, kill, and destroy” us (John 10:10). He “prowls like a lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) But in these paragraphs, Stasi echoes Adam and Eve too closely, shunting responsibility off on someone else: “The woman gave me fruit, and I ate.” … “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12-13) This argument takes away the burden of choice that each and every human being has been given. It even seems to take away the responsibility from rapists and abusers for the times they choose to commit these atrocious acts against another human being. Eve chose to eat. Adam chose to eat. An abuser chooses to abuse. So, while Stasi does hit on the root of the issue, that all evil ultimately comes from our Enemy, she leaps over the fact that choice still remains with the abuser.

FAVORITE QUOTES

Apparently Captivating emphasizes “beauty” a great deal. May I venture to propose that Stasi was referring more to the beauty of the soul, of a whole, healed person rather than outward beauty? While reading Becoming Myself, I have been on the alert for this red flag as well, and when discussing why womanhood is under assault, to her credit Stasi doesn’t mention “beauty” at all, in any form.

“Women are image bearers of God. Women are coheirs with Christ. Women are valued, worthy, powerful, and needed. There is a reason the Enemy fears women and has poured his hatred onto our very existence. Let him be afraid, then.”

(Becoming Myself, 61)

This is far more in keeping with what I would expect Stasi to believe on the matter. What is physical beauty when compared to the effective weapon a woman’s prayer life can be for her family? Or her hands of selfless service? Or sharing her testimony with a hurting friend? Those are the aspects of womanhood—and humanity as a whole—that our Enemy fears because they echo Christ’s influence. Physical beauty is dust, in the end, and I’m glad Stasi didn’t make that argument.

“When Jesus came onto the scene he turned misogyny on its head. A rabbi at that time wouldn’t speak to a woman in public, not even his own wife…. Even today, an orthodox Jewish man is forbidden to touch or be touched by any woman who is not his wife or a close family relation. Jesus didn’t abide by those rules. During his ministry Jesus engaged with women many times. He spoke to them. He touched them. He taught them. He esteemed them. He had women minister to him physically, touching him, washing his feet, anointing him with oil and with their tears. He had women disciples traveling with him, supporting him, learning from him, and “sitting at his feet.” If we, the church, the body of Christ, had followed the example Jesus had set instead of the traditions of men held captive to sin and the fall, we would have a much higher history here.”

(Becoming Myself, 55)

“Turned misogyny on its head.” Of course he did. Ah, I love Jesus. Freedom from oppression, freedom from fear, freedom from self-loathing and feelings of worthlessness. He wants all these things for me, and he demonstrated this to the women he encountered. What evidence do I have that this is true? I guess you’d have to know who I was ten years ago, five years ago, to see for yourself.

“Restoration” of Jesus “Portrait” Goes Wrong

Anyone seen this article in the NY Times yet?

Botched Restoration of Ecce Homo Fresco

(Hope the link works. It was kinda iffy when I clicked over there)

Three versions of "ecce homo" fresco

Three versions of “ecce homo” fresco. Left to right, the original painting by Elías García Martínez, 19th Century; a deteriorated version; the restored version by Cecilia Giménez.

This article was actually brought up on my writing forum today, and I had to share. Reactions there, among Christians, atheists, agnostics, and people of many different religions, were anything from horror to hysterical laughter to eye rolling. I was one of the laughers, actually, and I mean slap-my-thigh-and-rock-back-and-forth laughter. I had to wonder, Did Jesus chuckle over it, too? Did he applaud the woman?

I could only see the humor in this after having read Beautiful Outlaw. Otherwise, I might have been just as scandalized as the people of Spain. I laughed as hard at the “restoration” as I did at the original. In fact, the original makes me cringe — far more than the restoration. Wait, I said, does he look happy, wistful, to have that crown of thorns pressed into his skin? Where’s the blood that poured out for us? Wait, there it is, one little drop on his forehead. This particular pose must have taken place before the floggings, or maybe the floggings just tickled a bit. And the mockery? Na-na-na-boo-boo, said the Romans. What kind of truth is the original supposed to be portraying anyway?

If you can’t tell, it’s the original painting that scandalizes me. And the world’s treatment of this poor lady who dared reach out a hand and attempt to recreate that silly, beloved portrait. What kind of hate mail is she receiving today? How are her neighbors treating her? Shatter the world’s perceptions of Jesus and we might as well move to Mars.

Holy, Holy, Holy

I was driving around town on some errands the other day, which to me is the best time for worship. It’s just him and me and great music. Besides, singing Jesus songs keeps my mouth in check when I want to berate, ahem, certain drivers who aren’t driving very wisely. But that’s a tangent.  So there I was driving and singing, and yet another song comes over the airwaves about Jesus’s holiness. I remembered a passage from Beautiful Outlaw some chapters back in which John Eldredge explores Jesus’s cunning. How Jesus knew what to say and do to win hearts, win change in people’s lives, and avoid capture before the right time came. But like so much else about Jesus’s faceted personality,  “cunning” is overlooked.

A passage reads:

…do we love Jesus for his cunning? I don’t recall a worship song with the word cunning in it. “Thou Art Cunning,” or “Cunning, Cunning, Cunning.” Do we interpret his actions in our lives as perhaps part of some cunning plan? That delayed answer to prayer–is there something brilliant  about the timing? Would it help us rest if we thought so? When he answers our prayers with “No,” do we see him sparing us some unseen danger? And when it comes to our own “imitation of Christ,” do we approach our days wondering, How would Jesus have me be snakelike today?

p. 104

Now, the point of quoting this thought-provoking passage is my meditation on our worship of him. The list of songs goes on and on: “He is Holy” by David Crowder or “You Are Holy” by Hillsong, etc, etc, etc. I had to laugh, plugging in “cunning” and “playful” and “generous” and “scandalous” where the songwriter wrote “holy.” And it got me to wondering “Why do we focus on Christ’s holiness to the point that the rest of who he is, the rest of his personality, is whitewashed and forgotten?”

tiggerThe thought stayed with me till I was out of the chaos of mid-day traffic and safely back home, and the answer was so obvious that I felt rather silly. The answer came out of a Tigger song: “Because he’s the only one.” There are plenty of human beings who are cunning, in both good and bad ways. There are plenty of playful people and generous people and scandalous people. But there are no other holy people. Not truly “holy” in the terms of “never having sinned, not once, ever, so that God the Father deemed you worthy of saving all the rest of us kind of holy.” So I  guess it’s no surprise that it is this quality that we have clung to above all the rest.

While it makes Jesus more approachable to realize that he is, in fact, playful and generous and had suffered the same weariness after a long journey, the same grief when family members die, and had to learn to tie his sandals and shape wood with splintered hands, it is this singular holiness that makes him worthy of our regard at all. Otherwise, what would set him apart from the rest of us? He had a mission, he used his cunning to get it done, but it was the holiness, the sinlessness, that made the end result possible.

What if … what if, after forty days of eating nothing, he had given in to that extreme and very human hunger and heeded Satan’s suggestion: Turn these stones to bread. Just a little thing. Who will know?

I don’t like to contemplate where we would all be then. So next time I drive around town on my errands, I will happily praise Jesus’s holiness with the rest.

A Rock of Offense

Our small group has progressed only as far as Chapter 7 in Beautiful Outlaw, but it is finally new material for me. I had only gotten halfway through this chapter when we decided to read it as a group and I started over, so here we go…

The chapter is called “Disruptive Honesty,” and it deals with Jesus’s very pointed words where people need them most and when, and the internal turmoil it causes us as individuals. Near the end of the chapter, Eldredge dives into the matter of Christ being the one and only salvation of the soul. He discusses it at length, no glossing here, amen. Really now, how offensive is it to read, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through me” (emphasis mine)? What an enormous point of contention. That cuts out every other beloved, enlightening philosophy humankind has ever cleaved to. As Eldredge states, “Offensive as the claim may be, we still have to deal with it. Either it is arrogant, or it is true.” (p. 76)

This chapter brought to mind something I heard in a sermon many years ago. The preacher said, “Everywhere Jesus went, he caused people to choose. Jesus always presents us a choice. Either we believe, or we don’t. Either we do what he says, or we don’t.” There’s no middle ground there. Middle ground with Jesus is not possible. This is very out of fashion in our modern, Western way of thinking. Eldredge goes on to elaborate this point:

 “The spirit of our day is a soft acceptance of everything—except deep conviction in anything. …The cry used to be for ‘tolerance,’ by which we meant, ‘We have very strong differences, but we will not let those be the cause of hatred and violence between us.’ Now it is something else. … Conviction might be a matter of personal opinion, but truth is like a great mountain, solid and immovable whether we like it or even acknowledge it. Christianity is not a set of convictions—it is a truth. The most offensive thing imaginable.” (p. 79)

In his letter to the Romans, Paul quoted Isaiah 8:14: “I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense” (Rom. 9:33). We cannot encounter Jesus without choosing. Yes. No. Having to choose makes us uncomfortable, so we ignore the issue (or try to snuff it out) as much as humanly possible. Even those who already believe are being asked to act on something, somewhere, with someone. Yes. No. Ignoring him is the same as saying, “No.” Saying, “Maybe,” is the same as saying, “No.”

Old Picket Fence

“Old Picket Fence” by Sarah M Wolfe Photography, 2008

People tend to live quite comfortably on fences. I live there often myself. Concerning politics, to make certain investments with my time and energy, to speak tough love to someone, to listen to tough love that someone is speaking into me. But about the state of my soul? My eternity? That’s just too important. “Maybe” is easy, but it doesn’t go the distance. “Maybe” spares us discomfort, but it doesn’t resolve anything. “Maybe” Jesus is who he says he is. “Maybe” I have a soul. “Maybe” it will live on for eternity when my body dies. “Maybe” once I’m dead, I’m just dead and it won’t matter anymore. Maybe.

Sort it out. Yes. Or no. We cannot afford to waver on this one.

Exploring Jesus…

I am so excited! Our small group decided to read John Eldredge’s Beautiful Outlaw for our next study. Reading it on my own, I managed to make it to Chapter 6. I can’t wait to read those first six chapters again. Eldredge’s pages and insights have already caused my Savior to become a real person to me and have allowed me to love Jesus like I never thought possible.

beautiful outlaw coverWe just finished our study on Francis Chan’s Forgotten God, which is all about the Holy Spirit, a perfect follow-up to the study on Acts that we did last autumn. How wonderful then to dive into exploring Jesus next.

Okay, so this gives a hint about how really real Jesus has become lately. While gearing up to write that tough second or third part of my testimony, I shot up a quick prayer, and these were my words: “Okay, I need a little help here, hun.” I paused and had one of those ‘ahem’ moments. Did I just called Jesus “hun”? Why, yes. Yes, I did. Was that irreverent? If so, it wasn’t intentional. Did he get a kick out of it? Probably so. So that got me to thinking about the terms of endearment Mary might’ve used during their intimate, domestic moments, at a dinner table, as they walked from one town to the next. What did Jewish mothers of the first century call their sons? That’s between them, I suppose.

Point is, exploring who Jesus really is during the coming weeks is going to provide one intimate moment after another. Nothing else will compare.

Before the world began, Proverbs 8

My husband was so excited about this particular passage that he had to read it to me. Now, the footnote in my Bible says that Proverbs 8:22-31 concerns the origin of wisdom. All well and good. But when I imagined Jesus saying these things about himself, the passage took on a whole new layer of awesomeness:

“The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works,

before his deeds of old;

I was appointed from eternity,

from the beginning, before the world began.

When there were no oceans, I was given birth,

when there were no springs abounding with water;

before the mountains were settled into place,

before the hills, I was given birth,

before he made the earth or its fields

or any of the dust of the world.

I was there when he set the heavens in place,

when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,

when he established the clouds above

and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,

when he gave the sea its boundary

so the waters would not overstep his command,

and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.

Then I was the craftsman at his side.

I was filled with delight day after day,

rejoicing always in his presence,

rejoicing in his whole world

and delighting in mankind.”

sea-stacks-by-ivan-sohrakoff

Sea Stacks by Ivan Sohrakoff, 2011

Now, I had no idea how controversial this particular passage was until I tried to find it online. “Hotly debated” was a term I came across, in reference to the potential comparison between Jesus and wisdom as described here. So, take it or leave it. Me? If the wisdom belongs to Jesus, the LORD, YHWH, the Creator of you and me in the first place, then I say the passage describes him regardless. Our Creator longs for us to know him, and this passage might just give us a glimpse of how great he is. So let folks debate and miss a beautiful parallel, if that is their preference. I’ll just bask, thanks.