Dating Part II

I am beyond thankful for the responses I received to my recent blog on (Christian) Dating (link to read). I wanted to do a follow-up to address some of the items that came up in discussions, calls and texts. I also wanted to thank the men who reached out about introducing me to some good Christian guys. I love it, I’m thankful for it, and I hope this kind of networking continues not just for myself but for the many wonderful single ladies I know. Let your matchmaker self free, friends.

First, I get that it might have sounded personal when I listed “How awesome I was,” and perhaps even that, “I was upset with my own singleness.” I’m actually the happiest I’ve ever been. That doesn’t mean I’m not open to a relationship, but I don’t feel this great emptiness or anything. I was merely using myself to illustrate a point: I’m pretty cool in some ways, and not a single Christian guy has ever asked me out. And this is the same story of friends much more beautiful and amazing than me. I didn’t have approval to share their stories, so I shared mine. Part of that is sharing that sometimes, even when we’re in a good place, we can feel discouraged and ask ourselves if the criteria we are using in dating is right (for example, Christian).

That being said, I have been on a long journey to understand what kind of guy I should keep my eye out for, and I have taken many other women on similar journeys. I got a whole lot of “Amens,” and “I’m glad someone finally said something,” from so many ladies regarding the lack of boldness from men, but I want the gentlemen to know that I recognize that this is a two-way street.

To be blunt, there’s a whole lot of ladies that discount a man long before they ever make it to a date. There’s something to be said about being equally yoked, but there are some I know that seem to think the man should BE Jesus (but taller, and obviously financially sound, with a good career but, you know, has work/life balance, takes care of himself, loves kids and God…).

Here’s the list of things I OFTEN hear from women (before we spend weeks or months on the list):

Their MUSTS

Financially stable

Taller than me in heels

Takes care of himself

Likes to Travel

Plays ___________

Loves God

Loves kids

Good career

Owns a car/house

Good teeth

Nice Eyes

Full Head of Hair

Healthy

Intelligent

Charismatic

Thoughtful

Handy-able to fix things

Funny

Affectionate

Pursues me

Close to his family

No kids

Not divorced

Dresses well

Likes to dance

Plays an instrument

Active in the church?

My list of MUSTS (currently)

Has a growing relationship with God

Has male friendships (some Christian)

Kind/Compassionate

Sense of humor

Active (nothing major; can hike/camp)

A Little Adventurous

Ready to be in a serious relationship

Depth of Conversation

Enjoys community

Has some kind of vision he’s working towards

Substantially shorter, but no physical attributes. Why? Time to be a little bit uncomfortable but say something I think is necessary. I’ve dated a lot of very different types of guys, and (before I became Christian) I was intimate with some of them. One thing I learned is this: if you’re both motivated to have good sex, you have good sex. And it keeps getting better. This might SOUND crass, but my point is that sex with almost anyone can be good, and if you’re having good sex, you become more and more attracted to the person. So I’m not as concerned about the physical embodiment of the guy… hair color (or lack of hair), height, size, etc. Also, I become more attracted to a person based on their brains and personality (or if they are fixing a car or doing plumbing… weirdly attractive). This is a startling idea to some people but it’s true. So, let’s consider my list again:

My list of MUSTS (currently)

Has a growing relationship with God The trajectory of a man, where he’s been and where he’s going, are far more important to me than mistakes from his past or where he is presently.

Has male friendships (some Christian) I’ve dated guys who have no guy friends, or no friends at all. It’s very telling of their ability to maintain relationships. And guys need guys; I can’t be your everything. You need a community of brothers to do life with too.

Kind/Compassionate I’ve dated cruel and/or apathetic men. Although I’ve healed from it, it’s a vulnerability for me. I need to see that he will consider me in his decision making and behavior. This is a fruit of the Spirit I need to see manifested in his character.

Sense of humor Sex is great and a gift from God, and I hope to have a lot of it in my marriage, but there’s a lot of time we will need to spend together NOT having sex. And I want it to be filled with laughter. It’s so important to me and it’s such a great place of closeness and joy.

Active (nothing major; can hike/camp) I want us to be active together, and model an active lifestyle for whatever family we have.

A Little Adventurous I don’t need a rock climber or skydiver, but I also don’t want to have to pull teeth to try new things, and I want someone who will continue to push me to try new things too.

Ready to be in a serious relationship Because I’m not 22 anymore.

Depth of Conversation Its actually just super sexy to me. A guy who can hold a convo about something meaningful? 😍 Work on a motorcycle at the same time and you’ll have my heart forever.

Enjoys Community Likes people and understands I need more people than just him to be happy. Is cool with building community in our home.

Has some kind of vision he’s working towards I’ve dated men without vision and it sucks. Because it’s so important to me, it becomes a point of contention. They don’t need to know what they want to do for the next 40 years or be career obsessed; they just need to be moving towards something (also, it’s kind of sexy).

My list has changed a lot the last couple years and I’m confident it’s not perfect. It’s what feels right for me. Mine didn’t used to have the things I listed for what I heard from a lot of Christian ladies, but there were some misguided items. Really dumb things like “at least 2 years older,” “a bit of a bad boy,” “eyes that make me melt,” or “plays guitar or drums.” But spent some time in prayer and reflection looking at what I NEED vs. what I WANT. And let’s not discount the importance of sex. After looking at the Bible, as well as seeing how wrong I was getting it doing things my way, I decided to stop having sex and save all that fun for my future husband. But if the guy has the attributes on my list? I think I can be pretty confident we’re going to have something pretty stellar. Because we’ll make sure we do.

In summary: guys, I hear you saying you’re trying to be Christian brothers, etc. but coffee is coffee. Just get to know someone and be clear about your intentions. That’s really all there is to it. Girls will appreciate it and it’ll save everyone a ton of time. And both guys and girls should examine every item that’s on their list and ask themselves if their really using the right things to recognize “the one.” Because we could all be missing out on something AMAZING for a really unimportant reason.

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Father Edwin Leahy (Catalyst Notes)

Father Edwin Leahy is impressive, although he doesn’t think so. There’s some videos below that explain a lot of what he has done and what his work is. Some of his insights as he spoke:

  1. Racism is America’s original sin.
    1. White people in power knew what they were doing, starting in the 1800’s, to neutralize black males who were now free, and that neutralization continues today.
    2. Most of the students he is responsible for at his all boy school are missing fathers. They need help discovering and amplifying their voice.
  2. Be quiet and listen. Folks in the community will eventually tell you what they need.
  3. Tell people, ‘God loves me to the cross. But also, love others.’
  4. Recognize attitudes versus the vastness and vagueness of “culture.”
    1. Whatever helps or hurt my brothers and sisters helps or hurts me.
    2. Tend to their hearts.
    3. Create community.
    4. Create leadership opportunities.
    5. Accepting the Other and where they are.
  5. Be okay with arguing; sometimes provoke fights. It’s not okay to stay comfortable.
  6. Remember: the orchestra tunes to the first violinist.
  7. Develop listening skills.
    1. People will teach you how you can best be of service to them.

He said, “I wasn’t called to be successful, I was called to be faithful.” A great joy is seeing boys who graduated return as fathers with their kids.  They are designed to be a community that bears one another’s burdens. He told a story of an expelled student who was a Junior and he never left. He sat outside his office for two days and the Father told the other boys, “No, he’s out.” The next morning, the kids hid him. During attendance, they’d call his name as absent when he was there and then stopped. They spent the year avoiding each other and his Senior year the Father welcomed him back.

Why is there a fence around this school in downtown Newark? It marks off holy ground in the middle of a city in struggle. Like Moses, in the middle of the ordinary we encounter the extraordinary. Remember: Not all fires destroy; some fires ignite us.

Just a little bit about Father Edwin Leahy and what he does.

Remember…

Discovering the Feminine in the Triune God

Martin Luther once asked, “Of what help is it to you that God is God, if he is not God to you?” (Migliore 232) At the heart of this and most other theological questions sits these two: ‘Who am I to God?’ and ‘Who is God to me?’ Many of us are compelled by these thoughts to seek within and outside of ourselves for answers that provide clarity and vision for our life and future. In Genesis 1:27 (NAB) it says, “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.” (Bible 19) Both sexes were created by God in God’s image and yet the female is rarely represented in the triune God when we look within the walls of the church. Mary Daly once said, “if God is male, then the male is God,” (Johnson 99) and while our behavior as an overall faith community reflects this, we need to ask ourselves if this is truth. Women of faith are asked to find themselves in the Bible through the women in it’s narrative, yet men are not only dominantly represented within the stories recorded in the Bible, they see themselves reflected in the very persons of our Triune God. This pneumalogical paper will explore how history shaped our understanding of who the holy Spirit is, identify several key characteristics for who the Bible says the holy Spirit is and reveal how women who were systemically excluded from representation within the Godhead can come to recognize themselves within the holy Spirit.

The importance of the Holy Spirit cannot be overstated. Jesus himself emphasized the tremendous value that such a Helper would have to humanity in John 14:26 (NAB): “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name-he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” (Bible 1610) Although Jesus asserted the value of the Holy Spirit, it’s uncontrollable nature made it a challenge to the hierarchy the church eventually formed itself into: often the Spirit was treated more as a problem to solve or a question to answer than an opportunity for deeper relationship with God. In fact, the holy Spirit wasn’t always understood as a person. “It was the Cappadocian Fathers in the fifth century who fortified the notion of the Holy Spirit as a person. Basil the Great became known as the ‘theologian of the Holy Spirit,’ thanks mostly to a desire to establish the tri-unity of God against attempts at tritheism…” (Clouzet 15) There ought to be a point of clarification around the term person, particularly as we consider the individualistic lens through which Western civilization operates. The personhood of the Spirit does not negate the truth of God as one. “…both mimetic theory and modern psychology teach us is that the “person” is not autonomous — we are in fact interdividuals rather than individuals… non-consciously interconnected far more than we consciously realize. And so, if we are going to even attempt to label the Trinity as three “persons,” we need to acknowledge that the person is a person only because s/he is in relationship with an ‘other.’” (Distefano) Thus, as the Church sought to understand the Godhead, or the triune God, it necessitates that it is not as individual persons but as persons in relation to one another.

This is, in part, the very thing which challenged the inclusion of the person of the Holy Spirit into the Godhead. One major contention was the origin of the Spirit. In fact, the controversy over its origin lead to a division in the Church that is considered by many to be the greatest disagreement in the Church’s history: “…the Eastern Church discovered the now famous filioque clause in 1014. To the Nicene Creed had been added the word filioque-Latin for ‘and the Son’-now stating that the Holy Spirit proceeded ‘from the Father and the Son.’…leading to the permanent rift between the Eastern and Western Church: the Great Schism of 1054.” (Clouzet 16)

While the holy Spirit was eventually understood by many, through doctrine, as both a person and component of the triune God, the very nature of the Spirit ran against the grain of the rising influence of rationalism. Industrialization further hindered our ability to embrace the unknown that is the Spirit. The world was usually understood to be more like a machine than a wonder, ruled entirely by laws and able to be understood through cause and effect. This left little room for the Spirit to operate in through the 18th and 19th century. “Protestant scholasticism with its ‘rechte Lehre’ (correct doctrine), produced ‘a more mechanical view of the role of Scriptures,’ and ‘as a result the witness of the Spirit tended to be bypassed.’ The Word alone, without the Spirit, was regarded as the basis for authority.” (Clouzet 16-17) Those who did focus on the doctrine of the Spirit tended to focus on the work rather than the nature of the holy Spirit’s person.

Regardless, there has been what some might term a revival. “Nowadays, it will not do to speak about the Holy Spirit as the theos agraptos- the God about whom no one writes-as did Gregory of Nazianzus in the fourth century.” (Clouzet 11) As this revival has occurred though, many tend to focus on what the holy Spirit can do for us rather than who the holy Spirit is to us. The danger of this approach is perceiving the Spirit less as a person who is the triune God and a bearer of wisdom and truth and more as a genie who grants wishes if we ask the right way. Furthermore, “…the doctrine of the Spirit became the concern of individual and corporate praxis, or experience, rather than dogma, or theology.” (Clouzet 17)

Although the nature of the Spirit may seem elusive in the Bible due to the biblical focus on its works, that does not mean we are incapable of discerning its nature through what is given to us. It is as Paul writes in Romans 14:4 (NAB) “For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” (Bible 1709) We can be assured of three things regarding the Spirit: first, that it is understood to be part of the Godhead. A few examples of how we know this include 2 Corinthians 13:13 (NAB) which frames them together: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the holy Spirit be with all of you.” (Bible 1765) I Peter 1:2 (NAB) also blesses through the triune God, “…in the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctification by the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling with the blood of Jesus Christ: may grace and peace be yours in abundance.” (Bible 1903)

Second, that the holy Spirit is equal to the Father and the Son, not a lesser component. Jesus makes this known at the Last Supper, recorded in John 14:15-17 (NAB): “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept…But you will know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.” (Bible 1610) Jesus referred to parakletos, (often translated as the Advocate or the Helper) as another parakletos. This means that Jesus, already acting as an advocate for us, would ask the Father to send another like him to us in his absence. He promises not to leave them as orphans. “Just a few minutes earlier Christ had referred to Himself and His Father as equals (vv. 9,10). If the Comforter is equal-or parallel-to the Son, and the Son is equal-or one-with the Father, the Comforter, or Holy Spirit, is equal with the Father.” (Clouzet 20)

Lastly, we know that the holy Spirit is in possession of attributes unique to God. I Corinthians 2:10-11 (NAB) speaks to the intimate relationship and knowledge shared between the Father and the Spirit: “…this God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit scrutinizes everything, even the depths of God. Among human beings, who knows what pertains to a person except the spirit of the person that is within? Similarly, no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God.” (Bible 1721) The Spirit is not merely a messenger sent by God but one that scrutinizes the depths of God and all God’s creation.

What, though, do we know about God when it comes to gender? It is a popular framing, particularly within modern churches built on the foundations of an androcentric patriarchy spanning back millennia, to understand the relationship of the Godhead as primarily that of the Father, the Son and the Spirit (the Spirit being an it or a he). God as a Father serves as the primary means of understanding Elohim or Adonai (or any of the other various other names for God) in churches, most notably because Jesus referred to Elohim as a Father so often (hardly a surprise if one is trying to establish one’s divine origin). The ascribing of exclusive gender to Elohim based upon the words used by Christ rather than the entirety of the Bible is outside the scope of this paper but worth noting, as it indicates a bias towards the masculine. Additionally, I recognize that Jesus was certainly born a man. However, the assertion of the Spirit as a neutral person (it) or a male (he) is highly questionable.

This masculine assumption does not accurately depict the historical language of the books in the Bible and therefore creates the opportunity for a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s nature: it associates power with an entirely masculine God rather than a Godhead whose power manifests in both the feminine and the masculine. This is a problem not only because it is inaccurate, but it leads to a flawed living-out of the gospel. Rosemary Radford Ruether once wrote, “Whatever denies, diminishes or distorts the full humanity of women is appraised as non-redemptive;…what does promote the full humanity of women is of the Holy, it does reflect true relation to the divine, the authentic message of redemption and the mission of redemptive community.” (Johnson 94) Feminist theology isn’t about displacing or minimizing the value of men or the role they play; men are also created in the image of God and the masculine images used to depict the Godhead are accurate and invaluable for providing insight into the character of God. However, equally important is restoring women to the role that that Elohim, Jesus and the holy Spirit called women into. It works to reveal the places where we lack alignment as a Christ-center community with the will of God. “Sallie McFague summarizes the feminist critique of patriarchy and its legitimating theology by contending that the heart of our most pressing issues today is the misuse of power…exploitation of the natural environment, or of political, economic, racial, cultural, and gender oppressions…the fundamental problem is ‘the question of power; who wields it and what sort it is… Is power always domination?’” (Migliore 68)

This leaves many wondering if the feminine can be found within the Godhead. In most modern translations, the holy Spirit is predominantly referenced in either masculine or neutral terms. But why? When we look back into the grammar of the early languages used, we can see an implied relationship between the rise of the church patriarchy and the disappearance of the feminine holy Spirit. “Although the New Testament was written in Greek, Christianity was born in a Semitic milieu and Jesus himself will have spoken Aramaic (of which Syriac is a dialect).” (Brock) This means that the New Testament was not written in the spoken language of Christ but translated from Aramaic (also the language common to many of the early communities) to Greek. “…when these communities spoke of the Holy Spirit they naturally used the standard Aramaic word for ‘spirit’, ruha (also ‘wind’ as pneuma), which, like Hebrew ruah, is grammatically feminine.” (Brock)

A pronoun in the Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac languages are necessarily either feminine or masculine, and thus, up until around 400 AD, it was always treated as feminine grammatically. However, in Greek translations a word like pneuma becomes, through its translation, neuter (still not masculine). “From the early fifth century onwards…in defiance of the grammatical rules of the language, they treated the word ruha as masculine whenever it referred to the Holy Spirit.” (Brock) This mattered, because early on it was understood that something truly revolutionary was being taught by God: “an ancient, unassailable truth with new clarity: God loves women and passionately desires their flourishing. When violence is done to women, to their bodies or their spirits, it is an insult to the divine glory.” (Johnson 96) Yet this idea was subversive to all dominant cultures at the time. Some hypothesize that shift from feminine to masculine is the influence of the Greek language but others, particularly considering the Greek translation is still not masculine, hypothesize that it is the disapproval of the Spirit as feminine that causes the shift.  By the 6th century, that practice becomes normalized although occasional outliers can be found in poems or liturgical texts.

A major indicator that these changes were made based on the issues around gender roles is found in the Peshitta, a revision of the Syriac New Testament made in the early fifth century. “Rather surprisingly there are only two places in the Gospels where the revisers who produced the Peshitta chose to alter the feminine of the Old Syriac to the masculine; it so happens that both are passages where the Holy Spirit ‘teaches’ (Luke 12.12 and John 14.26).” (Brock) The fact that the feminine was maintained in other parts of the text speaks to their belief that the gender of the holy Spirit was originally only an issue in spaces when the holy Spirit served in a role that was culturally only acceptable for men; She could no longer be a she.

This same shift is visible in the treatment of Logos and mellta and compels us to push beyond the assumption that the gender change was only due to the role the holy Spirit was serving. If the femininity of the holy Spirit were not an issue for the Church what reason would it have had to alter the texts that serve as the foundation and support for their faith? The collective community would be unlikely to systemically shift the holy Spirit from feminine to masculine unless the femininity was considered a problem and/or the shift to masculinity was an opportunity.

“In Syriac Logos, ‘Word’, is translated by another feminine noun, mellta. Accordingly in the Prologue of the Gospel of John the Old Syriac treats Mellta, the Logos, as feminine, and this usage is reflected, not only in the fourth-century writer Ephrem (which is to be expected); but also very occasionally in texts of the fifth, or even later centuries, even though in the Peshitta revision the gender had already been altered to masculine.” (Brock)

When we contrast this change to words we find in verses like Galatians 3:28 (NAB), where an equal, mutual love is held up as the goal, we can see an incongruity begin to reveal itself. The early Church was a body of people who were all one in Christ Jesus, who saw themselves equal in their relationship to the Godhead.   “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Bible 1776) Yet this aspired-to state has a relatively short-lived existence over the lifetime of the Church. “…despite the irreplaceable participation of women in the founding and spreading of the church, women were marginalized once the community became somewhat established…Banned from the pulpit and altar, their wisdom has not been permitted to interpret the word of the gospel nor their spirituality to lead the church assembled in prayer.” (Johnson 91-92)

Rather than maintaining the roles originally given to them, a shift began in the male body of the church on their view of woman. Thinkers of the time began to focus on the female body as a gateway to the enemy rather than a person made in the image of God. Instead of operating as ‘one in Christ,’ women were reframed as temptresses of men and came to represent the reason that men fell from favor with God. “In the third century Tertullian viewed women as a second Eve…and because of their sin the Son of God had to die. Augustine, while affirming that woman is equal to men in her spiritual capacity, taught that in view of her body and social role, ‘she is not the image of God,’ but can be considered so only when taken together with man who is her head.” (Johnson 92) While Augustine could see the image of God in man alone, the feminine was only redeemable through her relationship with the masculine. Thus, man was independent while woman became interdependent: her access to the divine could only be found through the opposite sex, thereby becoming the secondary, less desirable gender not only in church but in society; ironically, this suppression of women was propelled by the very faith that once lifted women beyond the stature of chattel to equal standing with men in relationship with Christ.

To understand the true obstacles faced by Jesus in transforming the world, consider the account in Luke 13:12-16 (NAB) of Jesus healing a woman on the Sabbath: note the response that religious men in power have for a woman crippled for 18 years and the way that Christ responds not only to her, but to that man:

When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said, “Woman, you are set free of your infirmity.” He laid his hands on her, and she at once stood up straight and glorified God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant that Jesus had cured on the sabbath, said to the crowd in reply, “There are six days when work should be done. Come on those days to be cured, not on the sabbath day.” The Lord said to him in reply, “Hypocrites! Does not each one of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger and lead it out for watering? This daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years now, ought she not to have been set free on the sabbath day from this bondage?”

The man in power showed no compassion for the woman, nor did he celebrate the miracle that was her healing. Instead, he focused on the violation of the Law. Jesus points out the man’s hypocrisy and elevates the status of the woman. Unlike the religious man who saw her as a broken Law, Jesus described her as a daughter of Abraham: Jesus’ treatment of her wasn’t because of her actions as an individual but rather because of her general identity as a woman of God’s chosen people. Indeed, the men Jesus addressed had greater compassion for a thirsty ox or ass than they did for a woman crippled for nearly two decades. Jesus asks, “…ought she not to have been set free on the Sabbath day from this bondage?” Jesus takes issue with her bondage and desires freedom, something that honors God more than honoring the Sabbath. There is a tremendous lack of alignment in values between the men and Jesus, particularly regarding the value of women.

Diving into biblical accounts like these and recognizing what they reveal about the society in which Jesus walked, demonstrates how necessary discernment is in recognizing what is of man and what is of God. This discernment given to us by the holy Spirit, who not only scrutinizes everything but also reveals truth to us, can lead us down a path of deep relationship and greater reconciliation between each other and God. This is critical; in fact, the Kingdom of God is not even available to us if the Spirit isn’t with us. It says in John 2:5-8 (NAB)

Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of flesh is flesh and what is born of spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I told you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Bible 1588)

This kind of relationship with the holy Spirit can sound weird, but the ramifications are profound. Cath Livesey is a leader within what she calls a prophetic church, which means (in its simplest terms) that they listen to God for each other. Prophecy in this context is understood as something given by the Holy Spirit that points towards Christ. While most churches like hers understand the holy Spirit as a he or an it, the notable difference of a church operating in relationship with the Spirit is a shift of power. The Church is not threatened by their inability to control the Spirit but celebrate operating in its fullness; the gender of the follower being moved by the Spirit is of no consequence. “…prophecy is about hearing God for other people. When we look at the Bible we see that prophecy involves the process by which the thoughts and intentions of God are communicated to his people via a human vessel. It origins are… divine revelation.” (Livesey 35) They see the power given by the Spirit as the primary means by which they can bring freedom and transformation to the church and the community, not as means for domination. This is certainly progress, but it still does not take us to a place where the feminine is inherently recognized in the Godhead. Do communities like this demonstrate that the gender of God doesn’t matter if you operate in the Spirit?

“While language reflects our world, it also shapes the way we construct our experience of the world. As hallowed by tradition and currently used, all-male images of God are hierarchal images rooted in the unequal relation between women and men, and they function to maintain this arrangement…Instead of evoking the reality of God, they block it.” (Johnson 96) We still aren’t knowing God as fully as we could because we limit how God can be understood. And while language and power are neither good nor evil the way those two things are applied and used by humans can be alter our trajectory greatly. When we look at how power is used by what is a vastly androcentric world, we discover a systemic marginalization of women:

While women make up one-half of the world’s population, they work three-fourths of the world’s work hours, receive one tenth of the world’s salary, own one one-hundredth of the planet’s land, and constitute two-thirds of the worlds illiterate adults. Together with their dependent children, they comprise 75 percent of the worlds starving people and 80 percent of homeless refugees… they are also raped, prostituted, trafficked, and murdered by men to a degree that is not mutual. (Johnson 91)

This same imbalance of power exists within many religious organizations. Within the Catholic Church, only men can serve as priests, and only men have authority over many of the rites Catholics understand as being critical to their entry into the kingdom of God.  “Exercising public authority in the church, men assume the right to speak of God; their own privileged position then served as the chief model for the divine. As a result, verbal depictions of God in liturgy, preaching, and catechesis, along with visual representations in art, have forged a strong link in the popular mind between divinity and maleness.” (Johnson 98) Human history teaches us that when one group holds all the power, it effectively subjugates or oppresses those that are not of that group (examples include apartheid, ethnic minorities in Europe during WWII, the current crisis in Syria, etc.). While some might consider such comparisons to be dramatic, the point is to emphasize the disparity of power and the inevitable lack of freedom it creates. In effect, the patriarchy becomes a barrier to people better knowing God.

In summary, what the current Church perspective creates is a decision point for women. The first option is to receive relationship with God only through male bodies; that they are her intercessor, her priest, her path to Elohim, Jesus and the holy Spirit. The second is that, “As Carol Christ astutely observed, a woman may see herself as created in the image of God only by abstracting herself from her concrete bodiliness. But she can never experience that which is freely available to every man and boy in her culture of having her full sexual identity affirmed as being in the image and likeness of God.” (Johnson 99) The risk of these two options is that our community continues moving forward with God as a male icon, resulting in a failure to reconcile relationships between women and God, women and men, and God and men. The Church also continues to limit the triune God: “…it reduces the living God to an idol. Exclusively male language leads us to forget the incomprehensibility of holy mystery and instead reduces the living God to the fantasy of an infinitely ruling man.” (Johnson 98) By embracing the holy Spirit in her feminine identity as she was spoken of by Jesus, by remembering that she is equal to the persons who form the Godhead and by walking in the truth that not only does she possesses the attributes of God but that women are made in her image, we gain a richer and deeper answer for the questions we seek as individuals as well as a fulfillment to our calling as the Church. For the Church, “…to call for justice in the world the church must itself first be just. If church structure is in service of mission, then without just internal structures the church’s mission in the world will not be credible.” (Hines 167) Ultimately the femininity of the Spirit expands who God is to us, who we are to God and who we are to one another, thereby transforming the Church.

Works Cited

Bible. Saint Mary’s Press College Study Bible. Winona, MN: Christian Brothers Publications, 2006. Book.

Brock, Sebastian. “The Holy Spirit as Feminine in Early Syriac Literature.” Ed. Soskice, Janet Martin. After Eve. Collins Marshall Pickering, 1990. http://www.womenpriests.org/theology/brock.asp. Electronic.

Clouzet, Ron E. M. “The Personhood of the Holy Spirit and Why It Matters.” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society (2006): 11-32. Electronic.

Distefano, Matthew. “The Holy Spirit is not a Male, Conservative Evangelical.” 25 April 2016. Patheos. Blog. 25 April 2017.

Hines, Mary E. “Community for Liberation.” LaCugna, Catherine Mowry. Freeing Theology: The Essentials of Theology in Feminist Perspective. United States of America: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1993. 161-184. Book.

Johnson, Elizabeth A. Quest for a Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God. United States of America: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2014. Book.

Livesey, Cath. My Sheep Have Ears: Exploring Prophecy with Discipleship and Mission. United Kingdom: 3DM Publishing, 2015. Book.

Migliore, Daniel L. Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014. Print.

 

A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Six)

I’d strongly suggest starting at Part 1, it’s probably worth it. We’re diving into “The Talk,” in chapter 8. It’s maybe the talk we should have gotten, but most of us didn’t, and even if we did, most of us didn’t listen.

Sex isn’t just physical. Sex in more than just physical. Way more.” (132) Many of us might feel the truth in this statement, but often don’t act that way. Society doesn’t tell us this either: hook-up culture is rampant. If you’re being safe and it’s consensual, enjoy. Satisfy those physical urges, right? But sex is more because you are more. You are way more than a body. Think this isn’t true? “If sex is just physical, then once any physical damage was healed, that would be the end of it. Granted, there may be some residual trust issues to work through. But every pastor, counselor, and victim knows the flood of emotions associated with sexual abuse goes way beyond trust issues.” (133) Andy Stanley walks through several more examples, including rape, to help highlight the fact that sex goes way beyond the physical.

He then looks at the connection between sexual addiction and alienation from fathers. Having talked to dozens of men with these issues, something else was revealed: “The men I’ve talked to would be quick to tell you their sexuality and their sexual struggles are not just physical. Something other than their male appetite for sex was driving their self-destructive behavior. Many of these men had given up on actual sex.” (136) Consider this, if sex is “just sex,” why the sense of betrayal when someone in a marriage has sex with someone outside a marriage? Why is that one of the deepest cuts you can make to the trust in your relationship? Or why do people care about the sexual history of the person you date? It comes down to our desire for intimacy. “You may find this difficult to believe, but you have an appetite for intimacy… knowing fully and being fully known… There’s a significant and mysterious connection between one’s sexual experience and one’s capacity to experience relational intimacy.” (138)

What does this mean? It means the sexual choices you make now will influence your marriage later. It means that what we do now has an impact on what we can experience later. Pretending something isn’t true (like intimacy being important doesn’t help you, it sets you up for disappointment. “The heartbreaking consequence of our sexually liberated culture is that single men and women are undermining their own potential for sexual fulfillment later in life.” (141) The more partners you have, the more your experience of sexual intimacy decreases. This is the outcome of separating sex from the significance it has to us beyond the physical.

“What is touted as safe for the body is dangerous for the soul. While your body is designed with the capacity to successfully accommodate multiple sex partners with no apparent consequences, you are not.” (143) And this isn’t just your history; it’s the history that will impact and influence your future partner for life. While we can certainly alter our path now, it is worth noting the difference between forgiveness and consequences. The past doesn’t necessarily remain the past: you bring into your bedroom memories, guilt, comparison (or the fear of it), etc. This isn’t saying that you shouldn’t be with anyone who has a sexual past. It IS saying that you should understand what that was and what repercussions it may have.

“Over 30 percent of the couples that come to us for premarital counseling are already living together. Of the remaining 70 percent, most are already involved sexually. You might assume couples who are living and sleeping together have worked through the sexual challenges created by their sexual histories. Not so.” (144) Why? This goes back to the earlier chapters that mention that adding sex to a relationship stunts the ability to build healthy relationships. Andy Stanley requires those going through premarital counseling to cease sexual activity before marriage, and they have those living together make separate living arrangements as well. Why? Taking sex out of the equation makes talking about issues easier. “Those who comply thank us later. And only 7 percent call off the wedding.” (145) He gives other examples for why this no sex before marriage is a good idea, but I think that the gist of it is pretty clear. Working to preserve your purity now makes a path for deeper intimacy in the future.

You might think abstaining from sex outside of marriage is only for teens. It’s not meant for newly single adults, right? Or maybe you think that if the damage is done, is it really worth stopping at this point? Ask yourself this: “Has sex as a single… made your life better or more complicated? If God is a heavenly Father who loves you and wants the best for you… and he knows sex apart from marriage will complicate your life… what would you expect him to say about it?” (148) The thing is, each time we sexually engage with a person and then it ends, we end up hardening our heart a little more. Insulating ourselves a little more (the opposite of intimacy). We lie to ourselves, we say it was meaningless, that we’re over it. This is true of all of us, if we really look at ourselves. If we look at our choices and the effects it has. If we look at how we relate to people.

“All regret is difficult to live with. Sexual regret may be the most difficult. So we lie to ourselves. We tell ourselves we haven’t done anything wrong. It was his fault. Her fault. You were young. You were drunk. All of which may be true. But you’re still guilty. Nobody wants to feel guilty. So we create narratives we can live with and move on. Or attempt to.” (150) When we acknowledge this (some might call it sin), things shift. When we change our path from sexual encounters to preservation for marriage (let’s call this an act of repentance), things break free. You move towards a healthy understanding of sex and intimacy in relationships. It’s how you engage in that process we’ve been calling becoming.

A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Five)

I really didn’t mean for this to be a 14 part series or whatever, but I’ve learned so much from this that it’s super hard to trim it all down. While I recommend starting at Part One and reading through each post (each post hyperlinks to the next), I think you’ll still glean nuggets from this if you don’t.

Chapter 6 is for the male readers, but how do I skip a chapter? So I moved forward with reading “Gentleman’s Club,” whose purpose is not to shame but rather inspire guys to become gentlemen. “And not gentlemen as in the flashing neon sign outside a strip club. Real gentlemen don’t spend their discretionary time and money in strip clubs. Don’t believe me? Ask strippers. They know.” (101) Looking back at previous chapters, this one asks guys to step out of their child-like ways and step into the ways a gentleman views and treats a woman. And guys, this is some premium stuff. Why? “If you get this right, you’ll be in high demand. Become a gentleman and you will be the man most women are looking for.” (102)

Let’s take a few steps back to a time not so long ago when women were seen as commodities (like pork, oil, gold, real estate, cattle, etc.): they were assigned a certain value and then used as a means to procure other things of value. This means they were used the same way money is: sold, bought, traded, used for reward, given away, etc. They didn’t have a say in the matter because they were commodities. Furthermore, “Prostitution was legal, encouraged, and in many places, part of religious tradition. In ancient Rome men used prostitutes as a form of birth control… Once a man had an heir, it was easier and more convenient to withhold sex from his wife and take pleasure elsewhere.” (103) Andy Stanley goes on to say (and stick with me until the end here) that men treated women this way not just because of the culture, but also because of what men are. He says that without social or legal guidance, this is their ‘default,’ if you will. Why? Because in places where social or legal protection isn’t present, this type of treatment continues in our world even today. “Women’s rights have evolved. Men have not. This is why the porn industry is recession proof. In the US it’s illegal for men to own, trade, abuse and discard women. So men can only fantasize about it. And we do. To the tune of about ten billion dollars a year.” (103) Then Andy dives into the sex trade as well as the thousands of women and children fundamentally enslaved for sexual use in our country today.

This unsavory aspect is not hidden in the dark corners of society. Rather, women as a commodity is portrayed in television, movies, music, etc. Why? “It’s the promise of sex that sells. But it’s not just the promise of sex. Let’s be grown-ups about this. It’s the promise that this product will increase a man’s potential for gratifying himself sexually with a sexually attractive woman, with the option of discarding her for another when he chooses.” (104) Where does this leave us? Men continue to act like they did millennia ago and women are often complicit in the view of themselves as a commodity. So what’s a guy to do?

Christianity came in with a whole new game that, when correctly applied, radically transformed the role and status of women in the world: Jesus revealed that God loved the ladies just as much as he loved the guys and this was revolutionary. “Just do a quick mental review of what you know about how other religions allow, and in some cases encourage, men to treat women. We are deceived into thinking that we are simply more sophisticated. Wrong…We’re not more sophisticated, we are more Christian.” (106)

So what’s the big deal? Jesus taught that God would understand our love for him through how we loved others, and others include women. While this might have been challenging for the Jews, this was upside down for the Greek and Roman cultures whose gods didn’t care for humans or their relationships with each other. It’s like when John wrote about Jesus talking to the woman at the well and his disciples were surprised. “The Greek term translated as surprised is translated in other sections of John as amazed. One translation says they marveled. Men didn’t talk to women in public.” (108) While the action Jesus took elicited this response, his interaction with the women drastically elevated her from her previous status. Merely by acknowledging women and engaging with them, he was elevating them in ways that nobody else was in that time.

Furthermore, Jesus was intentional about his inclusion of women. He wove them deeply into his story line in such a way that it would be impossible for them to be edited out. “For example, if it had been possible for the gospel writers to have navigated around the fact that women first discovered and announced the resurrection, I’m sure they would have. But there was no way past the truth that it was Jesus’ female followers who were up before dawn to visit the tomb.”  (109) Even then, and even in the bible, it captures the attitude towards women in that time when it says in Luke 24:11, “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed like nonsense.”

Jesus emphasized again and again our equality with one another before God. The fact that this was not generally believed to be the case is clarified through the reiteration of this in the bible, like in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” If people already knew this, lived it, it would be unnecessary to state. Furthermore, sexual expectations were applied in Christianity to both genders. Whereas in all other cultures, faithfulness and purity fell solely on the woman, in Christianity both genders were expected to remain chaste prior to marriage and faithful to one another until death divided them. Why did this need to be called out time and time again in the Bible? Because this was counter cultural. And if you didn’t, women were afforded greater rights than ever before in divorce. Where before, women had no rights but could be divorced without cause. When Jesus was asked if a man divorcing his wife was acceptable, he replied in Matthew 19:4-6 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Jesus called them all to a higher standard. What was the response of all the male disciples to this new standard? They told Jesus that if this were true, than it was best to not marry at all. 

So, alright, women are valued by God just as much as men are, and we’ve got Jesus saying that the only reason any person can dip out on a marriage is infidelity, but what about how we treat each other? Ephesians 5:28 says, “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” I Peter 3:7 states, “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner.” Again, consider why this even had to be stated: Jesus was elevating women above the station socially accepted by the culture at that time. And ladies ought not get fired up about that weaker partner stuff. There were violent, oppressive times, and often that violence was directed against that who had less strength physically, legally, socially, etc.

Today, in the United States, women have improved substantially on the rights they possess, but guys are still being guys. “By now men should have adopted the Golden Rule as it relates to sexual expression: do unto women the way you want men to do unto your daughters and sisters.” (114) A man applies this attitude to his life not because laws command it, but because he chooses to act in a way that will empower him to have a healthy sexual relationship that lasts a lifetime. “So guys, do you want to become the person the person you are looking for is looking for? Or are you content to get by with whatever you can with whomever will allow you to treat her that way?” (115)

Chapter 7 (The Way Forward) starts by reminding you that this isn’t just for your mother, sister and the women you date. Being a gentleman means that every woman is given the same dignity that you would show someone who made in God’s image. He challenges guys to examine their entertainment: music, movies, television shows, venues. You can’t escape the suggestive but you are able to eliminate exploitative. How do you tell the difference? “Exploitive (sp) is when you feel compelled to tackle your mom before she sees what’s on the screen.” (120)

Music? If you have a song that calls women bitches, whores, etc. delete it. There’s plenty of arguments for why this is okay (it’s cultural, I already paid for it, I don’t agree with it, etc.) but it comes down to this: “Words matter. Words are not only an expression of culture; they shape culture. They have the power to direct culture.” (120) If you turn a person into an adjective, it becomes easier to treat that person as an adjective than a person. Andy Stanley uses the example of what he read and witnessed in Rwanda and how Jews were labeled in Germany leading up to WWII. I could present similar examples in America when we look at the history of black people in this country, the Japanese during WWII, the labeling of Native Americas prior to their systemic eradication, etc. “If I can convince myself that you are less than human, I can treat you as such. Words matter. Labels are powerful. Adjectives are empowering. So do yourself and your future a favor and drop the derogatory adjectives. Especially toward women… A culture that degrades women is a culture that should be abandoned…not defended.” (122) Andy Stanley says that eventually, you’ll give yourself permission to degrade them and suggests that if you disagree, you go back and re-examine your last pornographic experience.

Erotic images, from Netflix to Showtime and HBO to porn, teaches us three lessons:

  1. One body isn’t enough.
  2. A real body isn’t enough.
  3. Your future wife’s body won’t be enough. (122)

Some guys might think that their hunger for this will go away when they meet the right person, but it doesn’t. He’s stuck because would never marry the kind of woman he watches in porn and other sexual content, but he can only find sexual gratification with the “bitches” and “whores” he consumes through that media. Furthermore, his hunger for other women and for the bodies he sees on the screen subtly (or not so subtly) pushes his spouse to feel insecure and inadequate. “Now if you think I’m making this up….ask said counselor if the scenario I’m describing sounds familiar. What you’ll quickly discover is that this is not a scenario the counselor hears occasionally, but weekly. Porn is job security for marriage counselors and divorce attorneys.” (123)

It comes down to this: if you want a healthy, happy, sexually-satisfying relationship, you’ll leave other women out of it. Google the effects that porn has on your brain. No bueno, my friend. “Internet porn takes advantage of the brain’s neuroplasticity to create new pathways. This is what gives Internet porn its addictive quality… The more porn a man consumes, the more severe the changes to the brain.” (124) Which ends up meaning that a real-life body won’t be able to stimulate you the way porn does. Crazy, right? You’d think that there’s nothing like the real thing but every time, porn will win and you’ll end up disappointed. “This is why more and more men need porn as a stimulant for sex. One body doesn’t do it for them. Their wives’ bodies don’t do it for them…In their efforts to experience the same high they find through porn, men crush the romance right out of their marriages.” (124-125) You’re creating competition for your wife’s body, and she’ll lose every time. Not because she isn’t beautiful, or she isn’t amazing, but because your brain isn’t wired to deal with what porn is.

To finish this part up, his last parting words to men on this topic is to be honest. If pornography is something that you’re going to bring into the relationship and keep, then she deserves to know what she will be competing with. That as lovely as she is, that she will never be enough to satisfy you sexually so you’ll be pleasuring yourself to other women. This isn’t sarcasm but sincerity. This issue is as important to know as debt, diseases, etc. She’s not a commodity being consumed on the screen after all, but a real person seeking real connection with someone who loves her faithfully. “You may get a little credit for being transparent if you tell her up-front. But you ain’t gonna get nothing but couch time if she discovers the truth later. You have something to fear either way.” So do the right thing and don’t head into marriage with this kind of secret. The other option is to accept, right now, that erotic imagery is destructive and to walk away from it, because that’s part of the preparation we keep talking about. Prepare now so you are ready then. You need time for recovery. Using pornography is an addiction (if you didn’t google the effect of porn on your brain and don’t believe me go google it) and addictions take time to recover from. Start now to prepare the future you for success.

Andy Stanley ends this chapter with a really big ask for anyone whose been consuming porn consistently for even a couple years: take a year off from dating, hooking up, meeting up, staying over, etc. For 365 days. Why? “You may hate me for this. In your current state you are incapable of treating a woman with the respect she is due. Incapable. I’m not saying you don’t know how. I’m saying you can’t do it… Your behavioral patterns have worn deep ruts. Your mind just goes there, doesn’t it?” (128) So he’s saying take time to heal. To renew yourself and create new patterns. Unsubscribe. Filter. Find new friends. Do not believe the lie that this is a sacrifice; it is an investment. Staying in a pattern of consuming erotic imagery is the sacrifice: the sacrifice of a healthy sex life, a healthy relationship and a happy future. Just think about it.

Want more? A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Six)