Saturday, November 13, 2010

A House Divided Against Itself, Part III

(Please read Part I and Part II first.)

So, I wonder how many who have read the first two posts wondered, "What injustices against men?" Yet as long as we remain divided against ourselves, that is the reality, even though it may be easier in today's society to turn a blind eye to it. And that, I believe, is not the mindset a Christian ought to take. The groundwork I established in my last post applies here as well: we are equal in our fall, equal in our salvation.

This time I will focus on the practical issues facing men, since unlike those facing women, they are not as obvious sometimes or as well known. And worse--our society often treats the victims with ridicule and contempt, and our culture makes that "acceptable." That too is a crown of illegitimate power.

Perhaps the most well-publicized of these ills is slavery, be it in the form of forced labor or the conscription of boy soldiers. In the United States we like to think of slavery as something that is no longer a part of our cultural landscape. And thank God, Christians did wise up to the fact, in this country, that just because an inherently unjust institution was a reality in Biblical days doesn't mean we are justified in perpetuating it. Slavery scars both men and women, and Christians must resist and defeat it wherever it is found.

But some injustices can indeed be directed towards men in particular. Dads can't win, if you look at the way they're portrayed in the media: either they're absent, abusive, or incompetent with the children. Rarely does one see anything positive, especially where a single father is portrayed. It's a rarity that we see a Benjamin Sisko (the commanding officer on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) who raises his son very well, even after the death of his wife and with one tough military base to command at the same time. Those writers didn't forget that men form deep bonds with their children too, and that children need those relationships to be healthy, just as they need their mothers.

And let's not forget the so-called "right" to abortion that women are given and in which men have no say. True, some men don't care, just as some women are irresponsible. But some men do want to raise their children even under less than ideal circumstances in their lives, and for a woman to be able to go out and murder his baby, without his being given the chance to stop it, is unconscionable. A child is not a tumor nor is he or she the exclusive property of the female. That's his genetic material too, and a whole other life that he had a part in creating, and whether or not one is carrying the child is not relevant when it comes to the right to care for that life. Women are not entitled to unchallenged, unshared say over the lives of their children. Obviously abortion is a travesty on principle, but giving men their voice would be a step in the right direction.

The other area where men lose out terribly is in custody cases, where the awarding of custody isn't always based on facts, but on gender. Courts are sometimes much more concerned with a dangerous form of redistributive justice whereby the child is given more time with the mother, or the father is cut out of custody or visitation altogether without a solid basis against him--and sometimes even when there is one against the mother. Some fathers ARE abusive, and children must be protected from them. But that cannot and must not be generalized. And of course it would be best if couples had no need to divorce. But when it does happen, it should never be based on gender, but on facts.

The last form of injustice I will specifically address, though we must stay alert for others, is sexual violence towards men. It happens far more than society wants to acknowledge--and when it is acknowledged, it is generally in the form of ridicule and contempt. How, they might say, can a boy or a man be forced to partake in any act he does not wish to participate in, especially of that nature? It is real, as is domestic violence, which does not just go in one direction.

One of the things that always galls me is when well-meaning organizations come to church and ask for money to shelter victims of domestic and sexual violence, and "perpetrator" always means "man" and "victim" always means "woman." It is that way often--but not always. And that often means men are discouraged from seeking resources, and when they do, they are ridiculed or outright denied. We ought not stand for this. The problem has to be made known, victims must be treated with respect and not shamed, and competent services must be made available for their healing.

There is much, much more that could be said on gender and injustice in the world and the church, and how we as Christians must respond to it. One thing is certain: we cannot persecute, demean, or oppress anyone based on gender, either inside our hierarchy or outside it. Nor can we take sides in battles of revenge and domination--but address all injustice, regardless of who commits it against whom.

We are called to no less.

"So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." --Galatians 3:26-29

A House Divided Against Itself, Part II

Sorry for the delay, but I've finally found the time to transcribe Part II of "A House Divided Against Itself," a 3-part series focusing on gender and our roles as a Christian.

(Please be sure, if you haven't already, to read Part I first. The third post will deal with injustices committed against men.)

The injustices that have been committed in the name of the church against women are already quite well known and documented; however, I still believe they must be reiterated because while some denominations are long past the problem, there are still many countries and many places here in this one where that is not yet the case. Though I have been on the receiving end of some unfortunate comments on occasion, I am very thankful to have grown up in a home and church where all that I'm about to discuss was a total non-issue. I had every chance in the world, and I am grateful.

In the past, and in some places still, women have been treated like children--something that should be seen and not heard, incapable of an independent relationship with God and thus less capable of moral discernment and thus inept at life compared to men, and needing to be ruled over. However, it is important to note that for each sin Eve committed, Adam committed the exact same one in there is really no grounds to lift one above the other. What order you sin in is irrelevant--the magnitude of the sin does not change in the eyes of God, against whom all sins are high treason.

It may be that the serpent's choice of the gender less capable of physical self-defense was no accident. That said, had the reverse occurred and men had sinned first, I have no doubt Eve would have "fallen to the occasion" quite adeptly and come up with some reason why men should not be allowed to make decisions, either, and some way to enforce it. And indeed, feminists have done exactly that, in a way.

But for now, let us remember that both fell in tandem--both were cursed. How people have reacted to the curses upon each, however, is telling and one of the best outcomes the devil could have hoped for. Adam, of course, was warned that he would toil and receive little reward for his sweat and blood. Eve would suffer pain in childbirth, blame, and subjugation. And the line we hear from people--even from Paul, according to the culture of his time--is that for a woman, before and even after Jesus' salvific act on the Cross, this is how it ought to be, and a woman ought not resist her inferior lot in life.

Yet every invention--every technological advance we make--every labor-saving device we create is one less drop of sweat shed from Adam's brow, one more step towards a physically easy life.

So tell me, why is it good and right for Adam to work against his curse, and Eve not to?

Tell me, furthermore, how it is that men and women are not equally saved. Obviously Jesus came to us as a man. No other option would do, to accomplish what He set out to do in that physical and social environment, of course, given that He was to be fully human as well as fully God. But to suggest that He freed one gender more than the other, because He came as a man, is to limit His deity and His love. Nor would I suggest that Jesus would be in any way less capable of relating to women, or that they would need any other intermediary but Him. God created both, after all, and He contained all of that within Him!

Unfortunately, we are still left with a situation where in certain quarters women are the inferiors in their societies. The world extends to men in these places a power that is theirs for the taking. No one will object--indeed, they will celebrate it. But just because our earthly expectations of power are one thing does not mean that true power is what we would believe it to be. We were so sure of what a Messiah was before He came: a war leader. We did not see that before true power there must come surrender of worldly power. That crown was offered to Jesus in the desert and the city both, and however much it might have been hailed by the people in their misunderstanding, He refused it in favor of a crown of thorns and the Cross.

We too must surrender the power of domination--be we male or female--whenever it is offered to us. If we rise that others may bow at our feet and hail us as their better, then we must surrender and ourselves be the ones to give up our egos. Our highest position, as humans, is servant. It's the same in marriage, the church, and the workplace. If you feel entitled to have another human being at your beck and call, looking up at you instead of at the level, then you are in the wrong. If you would confine and constrain your fellows and restrict them from following their calling, then you are an obstruction that needs to step out of the way--or assist your brother and sister instead of being a stumbling block in his or her path.

And that is the point so many miss in Paul's letters. Women at the birth of the church were uneducated, and deliberately so. A woman was not to learn the Law or study in the synagogue. Jesus did not accept that: women learned from Him as well as men. We should acknowledge greater learning and listen. To just blurt when we don't have a clue...that is disgraceful, and Paul was right to say so. But people miss the next step women were to take. Ask questions in an appropriate venue, of one you love and trust! Learn! Then you will have the standing to say something that will not unwittingly lead others astray. And men were called upon to answer these questions if asked, not to hide the answers to perpetuate ignorance that could then be used to justify claims of moral inferiority and lesser judgment ability.

A Christian has no call to belittle or diminish women, to put them in a lesser place than men. But this post cannot come alone. One tyrant must not be replaced with another--and make no mistake, that's exactly what feminism (as opposed to egalitarianism, which seeks the uplift of all, and which I believe to be the Christian's call) advocates. Revenge and bitterness, and deafness to injustices committed against men, is unacceptable. Neither patriarchy nor matriarchy is justified: the gifts God has placed in each other must be expressed, even if perhaps a man or woman has received a gift seen less frequently for their gender.

In Part III, many of these same principles will return, and I will address how they apply to a Christian response to injustices against men.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

"Call me Unto Heaven" is in print!

My first short story, "Call Me Unto Heaven" is now in print in the Infradead anthology by Sam's Dot Publishing, edited by Tyree Campbell. It is the final story in the anthology.

The Infradead anthology, as I mentioned before, centers around one single theme: the extinction of the human race. Beyond that, there were no restrictions on content and it was up to the individual authors to write a piece that suited their vision. As such, stories with very different ideas, beliefs, and content were included in the anthology, and "ratings" on the stories and poems run the gamut. As to my own vision--it cannot be divorced from my faith in Christ and His works through the Holy Spirit. I hope that you will find "Call Me Unto Heaven" an edifying conclusion to the pain, despair, and the shock that comes of contemplating the various ways in which we could misuse the gifts bestowed upon us.

The other story in the anthology I would like to specifically spotlight is "End Game," by H. David Blalock. I want to point this one out because I know him in "real life" from the WordCatchers writing group in Germantown, and his story touches on some similar, thought-provoking themes of sin and redemption and I would very much recommend reading it as well. I found the comparisons and contrasts between our pieces extremely interesting to ponder and I hope you will as well.

(Oh, and fellow Memphians in particular are in for a treat with David's story. It's not often we get to see a story focusing on our little corner of the world with such familiarity!)

If you should be interested in ordering Infradead, it is available here.

Please feel free to direct any questions or comments on this post or about the Infradead anthology and its stories to my e-mail at mcevers96 (at); I would be happy to hear from you.

(P.S.: Those other two blog posts I promised should be up in the next few weeks. I apologize for yet another delay, but my 9-to-5 has been...well, longer than 9 to 5 lately! ;-) )

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Quick update

Parts II and III of "A House Divided Against Itself" have been written, but are waiting for transcription. I should be getting to those posts over the weekend. Part II will deal mainly with the misuses of Scripture that have been used to deny rights to women. This same theological underpinning will play a part in Part III, which deals mainly with the practical nature of injustices that are committed towards men: for to see the injustice in one and to confront it must mean seeing the injustice in the other case and confronting it just as directly.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Complacent in the miraculous

Don't worry--I'll be getting back to the series I started soon...I just wanted to offer this remark given the timeliness of the subject matter.

While I think the actual premise of Stephen Hawking's recent statement that the universe was in essence "fated" to create itself because of its own physical laws--laws whose presence is completely unexplained since if there is nothing, then there is also nothing for any laws to be grounded in--I will go into no further detail on the actual argument, as other sites are doing very well at addressing these more direct issues and exposing the fundamental flaws in Hawking's argument. (Though I might make the comment that if laws somehow pre-existed all somethings in this universe, then you open the possibility of a multiverse, and if there's a multiverse, then how did IT get there? You're right back to the question of a first cause and hence a Creator...)

Rather, I wanted to offer a meditation on the nature of...well, nature itself, and the miraculous.

I should state that I have great respect for Professor Hawking's intellect, and perseverance in his profession in the face of serious adversity. However, that doesn't stop me from disagreeing completely with his conclusion, and suspecting that perhaps he's not exactly a disinterested party in this argument. I don't mean that to suggest anything malicious, of course--rather, I think it's quite notable that Hawking doesn't acknowledge the miraculous when many people, from an outside perspective, would suggest that he himself is quite possibly the beneficiary of a major one. His survival with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) is quite simply unprecedented. Especially to those who have known people who have this disease and have not shown Hawking's longevity, the miraculousness of this is quite obvious.

I wondered how it was that one who is constantly experiencing such an unusual and miraculous happening as this would not acknowledge that indeed it is a miracle, would find no reason to suspect that there is something beyond the deterministic forces of physics. Even to conclude that the human will was capable of making a difference, without even acknowledging deity, would seem more sensible from an outside perspective.

Yet as I thought about it, I realized that there's something about the kinds of miracles that get our attention in life, and which ones don't. When you read the Bible, there are many examples of sudden, "bolt-out-of-the-blue" miracles: voices speaking from the sky, vivid visions, and even life and death themselves dealt out at the spoken word of God. These jolt us out of our routines--we are very ready to acknowledge that these are far from everyday experiences.

But not all Biblical figures that we are familiar with seem to recognize the miraculousness of the circumstances in which they are involved. It's interesting to consider that Abraham and Sarah had fixated upon having children, only recognizing that sudden event as a miracle. Yet it is made quite clear that their lifespan is not one commonly lived by people in their time. That in and of itself was a miracle right there, yet they were so fixed upon the one they wanted that they never saw this other miracle that they lived every day. There's another reason they didn't see it as well, I think: the fact that it was every day. It wasn't a dramatic bang...rather, a set of circumstances that crept up quietly, slowly, and in a drawn-out manner.

That's what I think may have happened in Hawking's case--being in the thick of it, so to speak, and understandably being concerned with the hope of a better future outcome, may have made what seems obvious from the outside very difficult to see indeed. It's a matter of perspective, and I think that we should all take the time, as Christians, to step back and look at some of the "quiet" and "slow" circumstances in our lives that are also miracles from God, not just the quick, bold bolts out of the blue.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A House Divided Against Itself, Part I

Today I begin the first of a series of posts about gender roles for us as Christians--to examine the distortions of these roles that have been perpetrated both by those who do and do not claim Christianity.

In modern Christianity, the debate has mostly centered around the rights and the dignity of women: the role of women in marriage, in service of God, as participants in the affairs of society, and the Christian response to violence and injustice done to women. There have been many and severe problems in this regard, of course--and I will address these, but what we as a society and as a faith have ignored of late is that there have also been very real and painful assaults against the rights and dignity of men, and we as Christians are called to take it seriously, to respond with support wherever there is injustice.

Looking all the way back to our brief glimpse of humanity before we betrayed God, we see Adam created and taught how to use his power of speech to name the creatures he encounters. As he does so, he is also learning how to think about the world around him; he recognizes the natural order of male and female, and he comes to realize that there is no being with a physical form, a mind, and a soul compatible to his. He feels the need in himself for this--he feels loneliness, but it's a very different experience than what we know in a world where our relationships with God and those around us are so badly disrupted: this feeling teaches him, and shows him that he has been made to be compatible with another, to be part of the exchange of love. He knew this feeling and understood with a depth we rarely do these days that he would be answered. And he was. God created Eve, and together they began to experience what humanity was meant to be.

As to the love they experienced during that time--love is a dynamic thing, not a static one: it must flow from heart to heart in order to truly live. This dynamic is inherent in the trinitarian nature of our God; one need only observe the relationship between Jesus and His Father during His time on Earth to see just how dynamic and alive such a relationship is, in the truest sense. We were made for a relationship with God far greater than that which we have in this world, and Jesus died for our sins to mend what we could not mend on our own.

We were created as reflections in miniature of God's own nature, and our natural relationship--male and female united to each other--was intended to point the way towards that far greater nature. We were never intended to be set at each other's throats and to be caught up in a cycle of mutual blame and shame, any more than we were meant to suffer physical pain and die. And if we are Christians--if we accept Jesus' help to set our relationship right with God, then surely the love and comprehension that flows from that should compel us to set our relationships right with each other.

Of course, being finite beings, we are obviously not identical to each other as men and women. We should not be surprised that certain traits and gifts are more frequently distributed to one gender or another: this is not a popular thing to say these days, but it is readily evident in the way we were designed. Yet we do a disservice to each other--and we disarm ourselves in our battle against the evil around us--if we do not treat each man and woman as an individual creation of God and we interfere with how that person is meant to serve Him simply because it is less common.

I will leave you this time with a point to ponder: to be a Christian is not to be a misogynist or a misandrist (one who hates men). It is not to advocate the rights of one to the exclusion of or above those of the other, or to take prior victimization as an excuse to hate or dominate others. It is to be one who loves and honors all of God's creations and addresses injustice in any form where it is found. And even when the world would like to give us power that we could use to oppress others--just as Jesus refused to take up the call of the Zealots to lead an armed rebellion when His work was to pour Himself out for our sake (kenosis), we are not to take the false crowns of the world upon ourselves...we are to surrender worldly glory, to pour it out, and to serve one another rather than ourselves.

In my next two posts I will speak of the types of power we must refuse to take for ourselves as Christians. Post II will address the inequities we have done towards women out of this distorted order--Post II will address those done towards men.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

"I'll pray for you."

We know we've got a real problem when a phrase like that has become--at least in pop culture portrayals--a sign of condescension.

The majority of the time, it isn' is a sincerely-spoken phrase, out of genuine compassion for a person and whatever difficult or painful situation they may be going through. We know as well that prayer is also at times something like a weapon, a powerful force God allows us to take part in, against the forces of darkness. But sometimes, we choose to wield the wrong kind of power.

"Prayer" as an offensive weapon has been with us for thousands of years...a perversion of what should be a healing act. The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) is one of the clearest examples of this: the Pharisee gives a prayer of "thanks" that he is not like the sinful man sharing the room with him. In other words, in the act of prayer he is attempting to prop himself up at someone else's expense!

What right do we have to prop ourselves up at anyone else's expense, when we too are guilty--as C.S. Lewis put it (I paraphrase)--of high treason against the Almighty?

We might not express our inner hearts in public as blatantly as the Pharisee of the parable did, but when a Christian ends an argument with someone whose behavior or belief they disagree with with the words, "I'll pray for you," the tone is sometimes quite unkind. I know I've had it directed to me after expressing an opinion that someone disagreed with...and it very much struck me as an assertion of superiority rather than a blessing.

I don't think we should shy away from offering prayer. But I think we might do better to think of ourselves as prayer servants: when we undertake to pray for someone. It is no accident that we often kneel to is a humbling act. It is not a tool for stoking feelings of superiority, and conveying such an attitude towards others. When we do volunteer prayer, we need to make sure to do it lovingly, and with a servant's heart. Other times--and we should rely on the Holy Spirit for discernment here--it may be best to pray quietly.

But whatever we do, prayer should be an act of servitude. That does not stop it from being a powerful weapon against evil...indeed, it is by serving in accordance with God's ways that it really means something.

And with that as a guide, I believe we can pray in a manner that truly will heal hearts.