we pulled up to paradise, trying not to peek at the rubble next door.
apprehension seduced me, and we pretended not to watch
the scavengers sorting through the shambles of a life, strewn on the sidewalk
like crumbs fallen in the corner behind an overfull trash can.

i held my breath but nothing happened.
you told me there was no sock yarn in the mess outside.
it was claimed. sock yarn absorbed into the blank windows and closed faces of neighbors,
and no one would cover the nakedness of another.

a woman squatted against the fence posts, hips wide, hands on her knees.
her turban wilted and her eyes narrow, looking deeply into nothing.
the ground turned its face away and covered itself with things
broken and scattered beneath her feet.
the sky was flat, shutting closed like all the doors on our street.

we shuffle past and pretend we don’t notice
your broken piles. it isn’t something we will touch
my hands might get dirty.

the woman leans into a standing position, straddling the wreckage of a world
and walks away.



Shoutout to Sam Perry and his new project, “Paper News: I Am the Printing Press.”  This poem will be published in the monthly magazine. 

I’ve been stewing on this for a while.

As an English major, I’ve studied some Feminist theory and think it’s a fascinating mental exercise (I also think it’s lazy academics, most of the time, but that’s another issue). As the daughter of conservative Christians attempting to revive/reinvent orthodoxy (“reinvent” in the sense that they didn’t grow up in the Church and were trying to create a coherent theological praxis for life) in an age marked by the Church’s decline, I grew up reading books like Let Me Be A Woman by Elisabeth Elliot, What’s The Difference by John Piper, and reading magazines and blogs which highlighted the beauties of femininity and the home.

Some of that reading was handed to me by my parents, some was required study for church groups, some was just motivated by my own earnest hunger to learn more about God and what it means to be a Christian. I’m almost always hungry to think things through and study issues that pique my curiosity, and “Biblical gender roles” has always been high on that list.

From an email I wrote to a friend last month:

My husband and I had a silly fight last night. [edit: It was my fault. This is not uncommon. I am a girl, I have a temper, I tend to over-think everything, and I tend to over-think everything out loud. Poor guy. Good thing for me, he’s patient. Anyway, we had this fight.] And I was being irrational and ranting at him, and he made reference to Proverbs 21:9 (the contentious wife/better to live on the corner of the housetop, etc.). It was fitting, I admit.

However, my retort then was, “If the Bible had been written in any part by women, there would have been verses about hard-hearted husbands in it, too!” …which was silly and rude, but the thought had never occurred to me before. And I sheepishly admit that I still think it’s true–the Bible is a male-dominant text, and if women had been educated enough to be in a position where they could have contributed to the Canon, there might just have been proverbs about husbands, and there might have been a lot more poetic books.

I was musing about how my husband and I have a relationship that’s really not based on “headship” and “submission”  or even “initiation and response” (key phrases for those subscribing to “Biblical Complementarianism”). As I wrote to this same friend:

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the word “helpmeet.” Apparently the original words  [in Hebrew] mean something more like someone who is a highly skilled and practiced partner in battle–like in a partnership where both understand and respond to each other fluidly and adroitly, and they are working strongly together for the same end.

“Mutual submission” is a phrase that the proponents of “egalitarian marriage” like to use–the husband and the wife are equals, each submitting to each other to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Maybe the wife does some typical “manly” jobs around the house (or vice versa), because she’s just better at them than her husband–maybe she’s an accountant and he’s an artist, so she manages the finances and he decorates. Or maybe he cooks breakfast for her every morning, and she keeps the schedule moving.

Complementarians like to be specific. They tend to like stereotypical gender roles as patterns to emulate. Vision Forum’s catalog is a pretty standard example of this played out to its logical extremes. Blogger Libby Anne does a nice job of picking this apart. This gender role specificity in conservative America/conservative Christianity can result in weirdly stiff ideals or models for marriages, parenting, and relationships in general. Girls who are tomboys feel out of place and stifled, boys who are more bookish or indoorsy feel insecure and unmanly.

The same sort of thinking about “gender roles” results in experimental gender neutral schools. An ideal of a certain sort of gender role (here it’s none and all) is held up, and kids are raised in ways that encourage them to be just like that ideal.

I suppose what I’m trying to get at is this: gender roles in the Bible were partially social constructs (that is, defined by cultural norms and assumptions) and partially God’s design–women couldn’t own property, women weren’t well-educated, women weren’t respected (the Pharisees regularly thanked God that they weren’t “born a woman or a slave.” Oh, yeah, and slavery isn’t directly condemned by the Bible…).

Gender roles in the 1950s or 1980s (yes, opposite ends of the spectrum) were partially social constructs and partially God’s design. Even those gender-neutral schools are exhibiting something that’s attempting to be largely a social construct  (homosexuality/any sexuality is cool) and a little bit of God’s design (everyone is unique).

God did design men and women to be different. God did design all humans to be equal. God did design all humans to be individually unique. God didn’t design women to be subservient doormats, and God didn’t design men to be tyrants. Conversely: women are not to be power-hungry bitches, and men are not to be whiny couch potatoes.

Perhaps the phrase “Biblical gender roles” ought to be laid aside. After all, no two women will quite be alike in skills, interests, or character. And no two men will mirror each other closely enough for there to be detailed rules about how a Christian man ought to act. There are definitely Biblical guidelines for how to relate to other people, and there are Biblical guidelines for how men and women are to care well for each other in marriage–Christ is the model there.

But I’m just a little tired of tidy “Biblical gender roles” being the answer to all relationship problems. And maybe I’d like to remind patriarchal Christians that there was at least one female bishop/regional elder in the early church. Her name was Junia.  What do you make of that?

When should critics of bad pastoral methods, teaching, and theology stop using Matthew 18 as their guidelines for resolving an issue of possible abuse or heresy (this is not your average church quarrel) and start addressing the issue like a serious academic argument? When should the gloves of nice church behavior come off and the intellectual machine guns be pulled out?

I’m reading A Matter of Basic Principles by Don Veinot and I’m also half-heartedly following the dispute between Sovereign Grace Ministries and their critics and  former pastors. Everyone in these situations wastes so much breath explaining how they are justified in what they’re doing (publishing denunciations against other Christians) because of [insert years of relational details here] which obviously show how they followed Matthew 18 to the letter and are now moving on to the last step of “tell it to the Church”… by publishing their arguments.

It’s wearying to read, honestly. Isn’t there a way to biblically shortcut this system when issues are this huge?

After a couple months of steady discouragement fogging up my thoughts, I’m waking up to discover that it’s melting away. All I can see are new ideas, new options–life rearranged in a myriad of shapes, and they’re all pretty exciting.

This morning was a grumpy morning (Monday showed up and Thursday called in sick): the cat had shredded an entire (new) roll of toilet paper all over the bathroom, my dress pants were missing, my pearls were missing, I didn’t have any leftovers ready to go for lunch, I ran into horrible traffic when I took my husband to the subway so he could get to work, and then again on my own route to the office.

Yeah, it sucked. But it wasn’t really anything bad and none of it really affected anything important, and the day went well and I felt like I was a productive person, and I had Chipotle with my husband for dinner and we got drenched in a downpour. And that was funny, because we had to dry off under blow driers in the restrooms and wipe our faces with paper napkins. We’re just silly kids, and there’s grace to not take ourselves or our plans too seriously.

I think I like this. This uptight firstborn INFJ is learning to enjoy options. To change plans. To savor the freedom of waiting on the next thing and not know yet what’s around the corner. My job is good. It’s stable, and I’m enjoying it. My guy’s got some temp jobs and piano lessons, and we’re making ends meet. I lack nothing.

Being married to a second born is a serious lesson in adventure for me. We’re painting pictures of tomorrow and I’m learning how to laugh. I have to admit, it’s really fun.

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. 

– 1 John 4:15-19, ESV

I suppose, if I were the tattoo-getting type, I might get this inked on me in some artsy fashion: Perfect love casts out fear.

This passage above was the catalyst for one of those epiphanies which we have when we are at our most broken and some phrase sticks in the mind and beats on the heart until its origin is dredged out of memory and brought to light. This phrase came to me several times when I was discouraged and anxious about my relationship with my then-boyfriend/now-husband (let’s just call him “Jayber” okay fine I’ll use his real name: Kevin) and how the choices we were making were creating a strain in my relationship with my parents. Perfect love casts out fear. The grace I knew I had in Christ came through that perfect love and did not require me to be fearful or anxious about how I was measuring up to ideals, standards, or values I no longer quite identified with.

This phrase became my touchstone. With Kevin, I was not afraid. After living under a spirit of fear for nearly my entire adolescence, this was a new, bright, and relieving experience. I didn’t have to be anxious about measuring up, I didn’t have to apologize for everything, and I didn’t have to tiptoe around the expectations of others, fearful of raising a “I-fear-for-your-soul” lecture dripping with guilt-trips. I could just be and know that Kevin still loved me because Jesus loved me. I was safe. I could spill the thoughts brimming in my heart and ask the questions which were lined with doubt–and I would still be confident that I would be accepted and loved, even if I was confused or weary.

My husband’s example of tenderness and patience demonstrated to me, in the most tangible way I had ever known, that Jesus and His redemptive love were real. Because Christ loved, Kevin loved. And in that love was a miniature reflection of redemption and grace on a heavenly scale.

And it was the sweetest thing I had ever known.

Maybe it seems to some of my readers that this whole “Christian Patriarchy” is just one of those sub-culture issue about which Christians like to get their knickers in a twist, and maybe it seems like I need to “just get over it” and accept that there were problems with my family and move on with life. Everyone has their own issues, right?

I would posit that both these reactions are understandable, and that, in a way, I would agree. First: Christians too often care about things that shouldn’t matter, and neglect that which is vital to their identity as Christians (Jesus, grace, forgiveness, etc.). Second: yes, life is hard and everyone has their own story to tell and everyone has their own intensely personal pain to wrestle. Mine is not unusual and mine is not particularly remarkable. I’m not asking you to give me sympathy, I’m not out to get my parents (they’re super nice and I really admire them), and I’m not out to get a memoir deal with a big publisher.

However, I still feel compelled to write about Christian Patriarchy and the detrimental effects that this philosophy of God, life, and family has on churches, women, children, and good heavens, yes! the men involved in and affected by CP.

The reason this issue is so important is that CP–being primarily derived from interpretations of Scripture and reinforced by assertions about God’s character–is at its heart an issue of essential beliefs about God, his nature, and the nature of his relationship with man.

Christian Patriarchy assumes a particularly pernicious  interpretation of the gospel, and does not reflect, at all, the God that I know or the grace that He has chosen to define His relationship with mankind. Because a right view of God and grace is vital to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, I feel that I have a sort of moral obligation to “give a damn” about what this school of thought teaches, and if I can intelligently engage with it to the furtherance of a right understanding of grace, I will do so.

I don’t think I can “fix” this issue or even that I have to “win” an argument about whether or not CP is based in heresy. But as someone who has encountered radical grace in my recovery from the legalistic oppression of CP, I have a sort of “mama bear” reaction when I see friends or acquaintances burdened by the mental guilt of CP’s “gospel” and live in a horizon-less, black-and-white world, when there are colors and shadows and sunrises to be found in living without striving to patch oneself together to achieve man-made approval. (Other elements of CP wake in me grief and compassion–more on that in another post.)

Let me unpack this in a bit more detail.

Christian Patriarchy assumes that God demands His people to be separate from the world, citing the Old Testament to back this up, as well as choice selections from Romans.

The idea is, that if His people are to be like Him, they can’t be like the world (e.g. sinful) and so they must live in a radically different manner from the world and separate themselves from sinful people. This thinking makes sense, on some levels, but it goes awry when they handily overlook the fact that there are two different sorts of separation going on between the OT and the NT, reflective of two different covenants with God and two different types of relationship between God and man.

The first (OT) covenant is one of law and ritual purification and a higher physical standard of living for religious purity reasons. God demands His people to be holy, they are sinful, they must obey the Law to appease Him, etc. This covenant, St. Paul later explains, was given to demonstrate man’s utter inability to meet God’s standard through holy living and separation from the world. Sin is a heart issue, and law cannot uproot it from human nature.

Hence, in the NT, God gives His people Christ as a substitute, the incarnate God bearing His people’s sins upon Himself to propitiate for their sinful nature. The focus from this point on is the unmerited grace that God gives through Jesus to those who trust in Him for redemption from themselves. Grace supersedes the need for the law, and grace becomes the motivator for a believer to live a holy life. The relationship between God and man is no longer based upon fear and obligation, and is transformed to be centered upon unmerited, unceasing love and a transformed heart that will naturally desire to live in a way that pleases God.

The Christian Patriarchy movement misses the whole point of the second covenant, the new relationship forged in blood by Christ. CP teachings are classically monocovenantal, which basically means that these people believe that God didn’t make two separate covenants (OT, NT), but rather that the life of Jesus was an addition to the first covenant and that the obligations of the OT law still hold some sway over those who profess faith in Christ.

The details of how the patriarchal Christian is supposed to work to please God by obeying various laws or rules varies from group to group–Bill Gothard is famously detailed in his law-based teachings, Vision Forum is slightly less standardized, and Sovereign Grace Ministries functions almost entirely upon unspoken social mores that function as spiritual laws. However, the focus on outward behavior, undue confession of sin (to parties uninvolved, male authority figures, etc., rather than God or privately to an offended brother), a perverse obsession with personal guilt and striving to improve the self, and a constant feeling among CP individuals that they can’t quite measure up or that they are unworthy of ____ (fill in the blank!)–all these things bear the marks of CP beliefs about God.

In the minds of CP adherents, God becomes a taskmaster, an angry judge, and an indifferent and offended authority figure; all these reflect the sort of men and fathers involved in CP,  which suggests to me that they have created this system of theology to mirror God after themselves. And such an action is classic of any heretical teaching: man forming God in his own image is as old as Adam and still just as damning.

This shift in how God is viewed is poisonous to the faith of believers in CP, and stunts the faith of those raised in it, and frightens those to whom CP tries to “witness” or “share their faith”–but it’s not the gospel of grace in Christ that they’re selling. It’s a man-made system of appeasing authority in hopes of purifying oneself and the culture enough to make a lasting difference (in what? it differs, depending on the group. VF would say: America!, Gothard would say: The Church!, others would vary by turns).

A right understanding of God is vital to the Christian walk and vital to the redemption of human hearts desperate for grace. And that’s why I give a damn about this.

Here is a little link round up for you.

I don’t really have a rhyme or reason for this, but that’s okay. You can make one up for me:

Because I feel like it. Because it’s Winds-day. Because Christian Patriarchy is worth reading up on. Because I had coffee this morning. Because getting up early makes me feel productive. Because I have an attractive husband.  

Well, maybe I just wanted to say that last one. But it’s still true.


Happy Winds-day! Husband and I are heading up to our alma mater this weekend for homecoming, the event-anniversary of our engagement, seeing old friends, and generally having more fun than should be legal.

Oh, and can I brag on my guy? He got into the National Philharmonic Chorale. The end.