Saturday, September 20, 2008

What My Mom Showed Me- Women in Jesus's Geneology

My dear mother (and father) came to visit me (unexpectedly) for my 29th birthday last week. I got to show them our new plot of land that we will be moving to soon. Here's a picture I took of us on the hike through the woods.

One of the things I LOVE about my mom is that she is always learning. She's a life-long student and she's always sharing new ideas she's found or asking me good, hard questions that get me thinking.

I wanted to share something she recently shared with me.

Did you know that the women in Jesus' genealogy all indicate something pretty significant about who Jesus would be on earth?

Let me go through them (you can find these women in Matthew 1, but first, keep in mind . . .

  • Women are not usually included in genealogies
  • Something positive can be said for each of these women
  • Something scandalous was a part of each of these woman's lives and yet,
  • Something amazing came out of each woman's scandal so much so that
  • Something about Jesus is revealed by each woman's presence in Matthew's gospel

The Amazing, Scandalous Women in Jesus' Bloodline
  1. Tamar- a woman who dressed up as a prostitute to get her father-in-law (Judah) to mis-identify her and sleep with her. She did it to conceive a child (actually she gave birth to twins, Perez and Zerah, Matt. 1:3) to continue her deceased husband's family line. Her courage saved her life when she revealed who the father was. Jesus came to restore women like this, widowed women who had experienced marginalization (Tamar was overlooked and shamed for years before she conceived). Jesus would restore personal equality and the dignity of women with men.
  2. Rahab- a reputation for morally indiscreet behavior. But she was also a woman who knew how and when to help the spies in Canaan. She is exactly the type of person who knows they are sick and need salvation. Jesus came to save women like this.
  3. Ruth- a Gentile, a Moabitess no less, who risked her reputation to propose to Boaz, a man substantially wealthier and older than her. Their great-grandson was King David. Jesus came through another young, bold woman who also risked her reputation to bear a "fatherless" child in Bethlehem. Ruth's presence also indicates something Matthew will be emphasizing, Jesus came to save every ethnic group. The presence of non-Jewish women in Jesus' genealogy was God's way of showing that while the law required Jesus' male ancestors be Jewish, the Gentile women did not taint Jesus. Matthew makes a point here about God's inclusive plan by using Gentile women. Jesus was for all people.
  4. Bathsheba- who even in this narrative is not called by named but called "the wife of Uriah" which tells us how significant marriage is held by Jesus. His teaching would end the easy divorce practiced even by religious leaders and yet, Bathsheba's presence in Jesus' genealogy, as the mother of Solomon, proves that God wove Bathsheba and David's adulterous union to bring blessing on earth.
  5. Mary- the mother of Jesus. Who experienced misunderstanding for her entire life, but who was the first human participant in the incarnation.
  6. Each of these women represent a crucial period in Jewish history, each reminds us of the faith of someone in the face of the many Jews who lacked faith
  • Tamar's faith to fulfill the law, even when her father-in-law denied her another husband.
  • Rahab's faith in contrast to Israel's desert skeptics.
  • Uriah's faith, a Hittite, to go to battle and refuse to sleep with his wife, Bathsheba, even through the King David commanded him to do so (to cover up his sexual liaison with her and the new pregnancy)
  • Ruth's faith to return with Naomi to learn a new God and a new people. Ruth, the foreigner, worked for food and found provision during the time of the Judges when most of Israel was faithless.
  • Mary's faith that God would give her a son who would be Messiah, even while most religious teachers and leaders never acknowledged him or stamped him with their approval.

I'm glad my mom shared this with me.

There is a thankfulness that blossomed from us, mother and daughter, when we witness our God using so many unusual women. Here in 2008 we are very glad for women whose lives contributed to the lineage of Jesus. I'm glad Matthew included them. I'm glad God used them. It makes me believe he will use me and my mom, too.

To read more see the article my mom was reading "Women, Gentiles and the Messianic Mission in Matthew’s Genealogy" by John Hutchison

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Redeeming Women

A little interview about one of the more controversial passages at the end of Ruby Slippers is available online at Gifted for Leadership.

A fan and editor, Caryn Rivanendiera, pushed me to answer some harder questions.
(syndicated from GFL)

Earlier this year, I underlined this passage out of Jonalyn Grace Fincher’s book, Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home:

"We say we want Christ to come in and make us new all the way to the center of our souls, but we really don't let him change this weight on women. We just settle for the feeling that this is our lot in life, hoping for better, but expecting the never-ending struggle with our identity and place as women" (page 180).

After rereading it, I added “really?” in the margin. It might have ended there, if Jonalyn wasn't one of our Gifted For Leadership contributors. But since I kept wondering what this meant for women in leadership, I emailed her. Her answers to my questions follow:

Caryn: You make an interesting point, and in many ways I agree. But as I kept thinking about this, I wondered what you were really saying here. Do you really think we WANT this struggle, this fight?

Jonalyn: That’s a great question mainly because of the tension between the two hyped-up responses, “let go and let God” and “take up your cross and follow Jesus.” Can I point out that the first one isn’t in Scripture? Sure God says to “be still and know I am God” but this means we recognize his power, not abdicate our wills or desires for the sake of letting him operate without us.

God loves strong-willed women. He wants us strong enough to take up our cross and follow. He also wants us to work out our salvation with him alongside. He wants to be present in the new life in us, but this doesn’t mean we surrender our capacities to be fully human. In fact, I’m not certain the idea of surrender is even biblical or taught by Jesus. He wants our submission, not our surrender. These are such different concepts.

Caryn: Go on….

to read the rest see "Redeeming Women" at Gifted for Leadership.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sarah Palin- Integrating Work and Home

When I got the news that McCain had picked a running mate, I was surprised, amazed that a conservative would be running with a female on his ticket.

And so this young wife and mother named Sarah Palin came into the spotlight. In the days following I've heard some sharpening of knives.

Palin is a mother of five children, her oldest son is headed to Iraq soon, her youngest is a baby with Down's Syndrome. This young child indicates that her commitment to life at all stages is something more than a political sound byte. Nevertheless, Palin continues her career. Check out the way she does politics in this photo. It reminds me of Pakistan's Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto's, way of doing politics. In May 1994, journalist Claudia Preifus described Bhutto's plane for The New York Times Magazine.

"In all the world there cannot be another plane quite like the official jet of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto. The front section is a kind of office-cum-nursery, jammed with toys, briefcases, newspapers, nannies and Bhutto's children, Bilawal, 5, Bakhtawar, 4, and Asifa, 1. In the main cabin, political advisers, security commandos and generals are keeping an eye on the Prime Minister they cautiously support,

"Hello gentlemen . . . Hello, babies," Bhutto calls as she enters the plane. It is both jarring and interesting to see soldiers saluting a woman with children on her lap."

One conservative Emmy award winning journalist and author, Liz Trotta, claims Palin might not be able to balance work and home responsibilities, that conservatives have a right to ask how Palin will care for her children (even though we do not ask that of Obama as a father, we assume his wife will cover those responsibilities). Conservatives believe bringing up children is a full-time job (they also believe women are built to take the lion's share of this job- I've discussed my belief about women being built or designed to be full-time mothers here "When Religion Hurts Women"). Conservatives care deeply about family values. Which brings me to an interesting philosophical question. Does family values have to mean that a mother stay home with her children? Trotta believes conservatives will disapprove of Palin running for Vice-President, because a mother belongs at home. Watch the feisty short exchange between Megyn Kelly and Trotta here.

When a working mother values her home and family, what should she do? As a recent friend of mine said, "My wife stays at home with our two children." I told him I thought that was great, and then asked, "Does she want to stay home?" He replied, "She realizes the value of watching our children grow up. Being with them for these moments is priceless. She doesn't have to ask the caretaker what happened each day because she was there. And my daughters are growing up so fast. There's no way of getting that time back." I have to admit that I cringed when I heard that because it sounded like an apologetic justifying why they've decided she should stay home not what his wife had actually wrestled with and decided upon for herself and her family's best interest. The answer was scripted (to be fair, I should say it "sounded" scripted to me). It reminded me of the many responses of mothers, responses that are not examined by us, responses we expect from mothers. I'd like to examine this response for the sake of Palin and for the sake of mothers everywhere.

I value childhood as a significant time. I value family immensely. I honor and admire women who've chosen to stay home with their children. I'm so grateful for the hours upon hours that my mother gave me during childhood. But there are some problems with the belief that only stay-at-home mothers really care about family values.

Problem #1- it assumes that being physically present is the only way to show care and concern for family values. But physically present mothers can sometimes be emotionally absent, intellectually stunted, psychologically unhealthy. But few conservatives decry these damaging affects on children, though these are as real and significant. Conservatives often make the mistake of assuming being "there for your kids" is enough, when it is not.

Problem #2- it assumes that women are the only capable, proper caretakers, sidelining capable fathers. For instance, no one has asked Obama who will be caring for his children while he runs for office. This double standard is common among conservatives, but it is inconsistent and unhelpful given how many conservatives are also Bible-believing Christians (like myself). Because as we ought to know, in Scripture God himself is clear to point out that parenting is a two-person task, and never commands mothers to stay-at-home as their God-ordained duty.

Problem #3- Many women have included others women and men in the task of caring for their family without sacrificing their children or their careers. If you begin asking children of working mothers, you will find incredibly creative, valuable and clever new ways of mothering. You will also find children who are as grateful as I am for my mother. It is the children of constantly absent mothers (and this can be emotionally or physically) who are embittered or feel neglected. I know from watching and listening that you can be an excellent mother and still work full-time outside of the home. It is difficult and demanding, more so because we have so few visible examples to watch and emulate. I hope Palin's instant visibility will begin to change that and offer women more viable, God-honoring options.

Problem #4- This view idolizes childhood as the most important time a mother can be present, when in reality, childhood is no more important than the tween years, the teen years, the adult years. I want my both my parents to "get" me and what I'm doing now, perhaps even more than when I was a baby. Why? because I'm grown-up, I know when they're resisting me, on board with me, distant from me. I can pick up all these clues and remember them vividly. Children will remember, too. We all know about "childhood scars", but let's not forget that adults need love and support just as much as children.

Problem #5- What about the significant thesis that "Mothers Lead Best" argued by the new CEO of Zondervan, Moe Grzelakowski in her book Mothers Lead Best: Fifty Women Who Are Changing The Way Organizations Define Leadership. Grzelakowski found that in mothering women develop: superior negotiating skills, warmer interpersonal skills, the ability to differentiate between protecting people and taking smart risks, patience, crisis management skills, alliances and better communication skills. She found that mothers learn to work better with men, than childless or single women. I caught up with Moe and asked her a few questions about her thesis and this book project.

J: What books or individuals inspired and strengthened you in your work (both in and out of the home)?

M: My parents were the most influential. They had six kids and both worked when the youngest started first grade. Despite this my mom was the head of the women's group at church and my dad led the men's. We had the closest family in the neighborhood (and the most organized!) So in essence - working and raising a family was second nature for me.

J: What can mothers who choose to stay home do to support mothers in

working environments outside the home?

M: Focus on being good at what they do and appreciate the incredible contribution they, themselves are making. If they are aware of their own self worth - they will be naturally supportive of others.

This last point is interesting. I wonder if more stay-at-home mothers would be supportive of working mothers if they were convinced their sacrifices were right for them, and not a dogma to enforce on mothers everywhere.

Moe's book helped me realize that if we really believe mother's are so important to a family, for their abilities to nurture, read people, intuit, multi-task, offer compassion, resolve paradoxes, ambiguity and navigate unpredictable situations, then perhaps we need a mother very, very near the president, with enough power to change things beyond influencing him as his wife.

Problem #6- In Ruby Slippers I write about how God thinks men and women are a good team. He started his Earth creation with the ratio of men to women being 1:1. I believe the best team effort for running anything, whether it be the family, the business, or the country is a man and a woman. If we keep women out of such a significant job as Vice-President based on our personal conviction that we would like to be home with our children, then we are effectively baring women from freely and individually choosing how our gifts best fit into our families and our world. I don't think we can decide this for Palin, we can decide this for ourselves. We do not know her resources to hire help, we don't know how much she has delegated child-care responsibilities to her husband, her daughters and we do not know how her individual gifts (though I hope we will get a chance to see these in action soon).

Palin's mothering skills are taking a hard hit as her 17 year old daughter, Bristol, has recently announced her pregnancy and intention to marry her child's father. I've been surprised at how liberals are now questioning if Palin can adequately care for her growing family and run the country in such a demanding job as the vice-presidency. The Wall Street Journal quotes one social worker, Barbara Licthman, a liberal woman living in Florida, who accuses conservatives of being hypocritical, "When you're campaigning for vice president, you're on 24/7. Who's watching the baby? And what kind o f nurturing is going on in that 17-year-old's life is she's pregnant." I believe this expresses what many people think, but haven't brought themselves to say.

If so, then let me point out something. Have you noticed, no matter what the child's age, if a child has a deficiency, it is the MOTHER who is responsible for it. If the daughter is pregnant, the mother failed to nurture. If the baby has needs, the mother must meet them. This heaping of more responsibilities on mothers is inappropriate and at core, un-Biblical. It is voicing our judgment of condemnation and blame, when only God can be a just judge.

I have yet to meet a mother who does not struggle under the guilt, the weight of societal pressure to be the ideal mother, to prove that she really loves her children BY giving up her personal time and career goals to prove her undying family values. I thought liberals believed in freedom of choice! I guess that's just for women who want to terminate their pregnancies, it's not for women who believe in God-sanctioned, time-tested, viable options in raising their children.

Isn't it possible that Palin's daugher, Bristol, a 17 year old women, chose to have sex, that her mother is not responsible for her daughter's choices? When you are 17, no amount of nurturing will keep you from doing what you like. This is the age when children are nearly adults. It's time we stopped blaming parents, particularly mothers, for their adult children's mistakes.

Palin worships at Juneau Worship Center, which is affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of God. I'm glad she belongs to a church that recognizes and validates women leaders (For an exmample see my blog covering Aimee Semple McPherson "Is America Ready for a Female President?"). In many ways, Sarah Palin reminds me of the woman in Proverbs 31 who also has children, but like Palin, works with eager hands, provides food for her family (Palin answers her Blackberry while she pumps breast milk for her infant), considers a field and buys it, out her earnings she can plant a vineyard (Palin has invested in the state of Alaska, working hard to cut out corruption and now her earnings have given her a chance to invest in larger things). The Proverbs 31 woman is beautifully clothed both with fine linen and strength and dignity. In the face of the media frenzy upon her personal life, Palin and her husband, Todd Palin have conducted themselves with both dignity and strength. I know many will be watching both of them as they draw nearer to the white house. Finally, and perhaps most important for those who believe a woman's place is in the home, let us us not forget that the ideal woman in Proverbs 31 was one who "watches over the affairs of her household" but also one who had traded in the marketplace. If the Hebrew patriarchal culture could honor such a woman in their city gates, shouldn't we modern Americans be able to do the same?

A few months back, I heard a lot of people say that though America was ready for a woman president, they weren't excited about Hilary Clinton. Well, they now have a chance to put their vote where their mouth was. We'll see in November.

I, for one, am impressed and delighted to have a chance to vote for a working mother like Sarah Palin.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Ruby Slippers Paperback is OUT

Guess what? Those slippers are making another debut. After some editing, several additional reader's discussion questions and a note to the reader, the softcover for Ruby Slippers is out. Today it hits the market. Check out the new paperback look.

Molly Aley has hosted a little backstory on the writing of Ruby Slippers. For those of you who haven't read my book and those who have, here are some reasons I wrote...

Molly's question:
Will you tell us a little bit about your personal background and how it influenced your thoughts, positive and negative, on what being a woman meant?

My response:

I grew up thinking some rather zany thing about what makes a woman feminine. As a child I was always watching and soaking things in. I got pretty good at perfecting my Good Christian Girl resume.

I was raised very, very conservatively, sheltered from so many “evil” influences (like Cabbage Patch Dolls, television, rock music, movies, slumber parties, boyfriends). I didn’t get much exposure to the feminine ways of the world except through watching my grandmothers, my mom, listening to their friends during Bible studies at our house or church events. I watched my friends’ older sisters, how they talked, dressed, flirted. I picked up fairly quickly that femininity meant that a man pursued a woman, that you wore heels and make-up, that you bore children and took care of them. It meant that you cooked the bacon, you did not earn it.

From an early age I picked up that seemingly obvious message that happy women were married with children. I knew single women, but they weren’t really happy. They all wanted to be married, so they were sort of sad, pathetic sorts. I really can’t recall any examples of single, happy females in my narrow experience as a young girl. Well, that’s not exactly true, my grandmother was single. But she didn’t really count in my mind because she had already done the marriage thing and had her obligatory 4 children. When I’d ask her why she didn’t remarry, she would say she wasn’t interested in marriage again. So I guess besides my grandmother, it seemed virtually impossible to be happy and single or happy and childless. Single women often ended up on the mission field, but other than those somewhat sorry examples, you had to get married to be a productive, contented, successful, Christian woman.

So in a pursuit for happiness and godliness I gave men the power to inform my femininity. I developed that all too common prejudice for men over women. Since a good Christian guy would want a chaste, unblemished wife, I made purity and modesty my mottos. In high school I made the vow to never kiss a guy until I was engaged (a commitment I painstakingly kept for over five years and then broke with all the accompanying shame attached).

Leaving my sheltered home in Los Angeles to go to college at the University of Virginia opened my eyes. I got into a serious relationship that overshadowed my entire college career and in the end brought me into a heart-wrenching broken engagement. That story and how it changed my view of femininity is in Ruby Slippers.

The break-up shattered my identity and how to succeed in being a good Christian woman.

I realized that God did not need all my scheming, that all my plans weren’t all that useful to him, but that for some crazy, delicious reason God still wanted me near him. I remember feeling helpless, sick, depressed after losing my fiancĂ©, but knowing I wanted by God. I think I needed to lose a lot in order to realize God wanted me without all my contributions and hard work for him.

Not long after the break-up, I was re-introduced to the idea that femininity meant nothing more than your body. I remember a college roommate coming home from a date and telling me she discovered that her date wanted to be a gynecologist.

“Really?!” I didn’t know what to say, not sure if tact dictated pursuing or dropping the topic.

“Yea,” she went on with an awed whisper of delight, “He knows a lot about women.”

I’ve thought for a long while about this. Did all gynecologists really know a lot about women? I felt like even if a doctor could know everything about my body, he still wouldn’t know a lot about me. He couldn’t read my thoughts or dreams. He couldn’t relate to my emotions or desires. Wasn’t there more to a woman than her anatomy, her sex drive, her reproductive organs? I shelved the question for later.

Right after UVA, I headed to Biola University’s School of Theology to get my Masters in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics. That’s where I met my husband, who impressed me right off by being delighted (not intimidated) by my mind.

If breaking off my engagement destroyed my preconceived notions of femininity, marrying Dale revealed the freedom I had as a woman. Despite the free advice I received at one bridal shower, “Men want a Martha in the kitchen, a Mary in the living room and a Delilah in the bedroom” Dale wanted me, not me play-acting a role. He wanted my body and soul, not just a flimsy bit of chiffon in bed. He didn’t expect I cook every meal; he enjoyed eating out so he could have my undivided attention in conversation. He wanted my interests to guide my career path; and when he saw I could preach, he made space in his life for me to partner alongside him in traveling, speaking and writing for our non-profit. I had come into marriage prepared to maintain an arsenal of slinky unmentionables, Martha Stewart meals and a brood of children. But Dale pushed me to discover more.

During my graduate years I took a class on the soul from J.P. Moreland that would fan the flames of Ruby Slippers into reality. Lots of work had been done arguing for the existence and content of the soul, mostly by men. My male professors had no interest or intention to learn about the gendered nature of souls, neither did many of my classmates (I was one of only a handful of women in a program that boasted over a hundred men). The question of a woman’s soul drew me into wanting to study and write more than I had ever done at UVA or Biola.

I started to read anything I could find about women’s differences. Were women different all the way into their souls? I titled my project, which was fast becoming a book, Loving God with a Woman’s Soul. I had no agent or publisher and no writing training or experience, just one big idea and a husband cheering me along.

A few months later, I road my husband’s coat-tails and co-signed with his agent. One year of hard work on my proposal and we had a publisher. My editor was this incredible woman at Zondervan who believed in me. She was about my age, but wisely realized I needed time to work out what exactly I was trying to say,

“Just write as much as you need,” she told me. My contract asked for 80,000 words. I turned in 120,000. She couldn’t believe how much I could churn out. It had to be pared down, but I had unearthed my thesis in the process.

In the 3 years of writing, I found that the more research I did the more I became convinced that women were very, very different from each other. There was so much variety that I could not make a neat and tidy list. Women I was meeting in traveling and speaking kept breaking down my feminine schema and so I was constantly revising my main thesis.

In those writing years, the book Captivating came out and stole the spot-light. I realized I did not want to write another book that fit the zeitgeist of Christian femininity: beautiful, romantic, captivating, etc. I wanted to give women a taste of God’s freedom for them.

I remember explaining my dilemma to Dale. How do I define femininity without making it a rigid list of requirements? I want flexibility, but there is no model for it. He recommended I play around with a philosophical concept, Wittgenstein’s family resemblance tool, and see if I could make it work.

Family resemblances became my linchpin. Family resemblances let me define femininity with a flexible list of women’s uniqueness without forcing women to have all the items on the list. The family resemblance concept applied to gender theory is really the major contribution of Ruby Slippers and it was cooked up in a conversation with Dale.

I’ve grown to see that God wanted women on planet earth, not as an ornament, or a crown of creation, or a dependent on Adam, but as the partner in work and pleasure with man. We created for the same planet with men; we were not from Venus and transplanted here. Femininity, like masculinity, is most full-blooded when it is linked to the essential two-ness of humanity. We need one another; women working with men is a good plan whether you’re running a family, a business or a country.

When Dale and I are on the road and we share this flexible model of gender, teens, adults, pastors, mothers love it. It gives us a way to be fully human and fully feminine (or masculine) without feeling we must all look the same. It also begins to help us appreciate the women around us, to notice their unique blend of femininity and valuing their differences.

I still believe femininity is something essential to women, but it is not something we do or a role we play. Femininity is something we are. Femininity is as multi-faceted as our souls. Our femininity is fitted for us, gifted to us as a powerful asset, like Dorothy’s ruby slippers.

Along the road of writing Ruby Slippers, I found many women like me, women who didn’t realize how femininity could be both powerful and freeing. Embracing the freedom Jesus himself offers women has given me a way to come home to my womanhood. I finally belong in my own skin.