Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sex: Where Feminists and Complementarians Agree?

[Trigger warning: rape, sexual abuse; General Warning: graphic sexual language]

So there was this little hullabaloo last week about whether or not sex is inherently hierarchical. Rachel Held Evans wrote about it here. Her.meneutics covered the issue here. Jared Wilson responded here. All in all, it was a big deal in the Christian blogging world (which, admittedly, is its own subculture within a subculture).

To summarize, the debate revolved around this quote from Douglas Wilson (who has been so ungracious in his response that I'm not even going to link to him):
However we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.
My husband and I observed the debate over these words from a distance. Honestly, it was a lot less stressful that way. :-)

But as time passed, the words in question began to sound vaguely familiar to me. And then I remembered...

Nearly 10 years ago, during my freshman year at NYU, I sat on my bed in my shoebox-shaped dorm room, and I read something very similar for my Intro to Gender and Sexuality Studies class.

Now, for those who aren't familiar, the NYU Gender and Sexuality Studies department is about as likely to agree with hierarchical Christian men as, well, I don't know... Mark Driscoll is to agree with Rob Bell? John Piper is to agree with Joel Osteen? No, no, seriously, um... I can't even think of a comparison. Let's just say that we're talking about two groups of people who do NOT see eye to eye.

So today I finally decided to find the original words that I remembered. And find them I did!

From The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir (383-385):
However deferential and polite the man may be, the first penetration is always a violation.... In coition man uses only an external organ, while woman is struck deep within her vitals.... She is overpowered, forced to compliance, conquered.
Now, I'm not going to pretend to be a De Beauvoir expert, but the shared perspective of intercourse as conquest is too haunting for me to ignore. Honestly, it leaves me with more questions than it does answers. But here are some initial thoughts:

1) I am ready for people to start seeing sex as more than intercourse alone. I don't want to get too nitty gritty, but I believe that sex happens more often than intercourse. Sure, intercourse is one type of sex, but it's not every type. And until we start seeing those other acts of sex as sex as well, I'm going to have a hard time being on the same page as you. Goodness, when you go to donate blood and they ask if you've had unprotected sex, they're asking about all of it, not just intercourse. Let's all get on board with a broader definition. If we start to see sex as the full experience it is, I think it's hard to say that it's inherently hierarchical. 

Here's a small test to give yourself to start thinking about the term differently: If the man orgasms, do you think sex has occurred? What if the man does not orgasm but the woman does? What if no one orgasms?

2) I think both De Beauvoir and Wilson are right about intercourse in some key ways, but they are reflecting only the Fallen nature of intercourse. (One aspect of this Fallenness is the restrictive view that sex equals intercourse.) As a Christian, I would expect Wilson to teach a redeemed view of sex and sexuality, but instead, he seems to embrace Fallen sex as if that's how God intended it to be. Honestly, this just makes me sad. Christian men and women, let's not be the ones perpetuating the muck of the world, okay?

Now, like I said, I don't have much else to offer. Those are my two main thoughts after making the connection between Wilson and De Beauvoir, and I still have a lot of processing to do. This processing probably won't happen quickly, but I do welcome your feedback on the matter. I'd especially love to hear your thoughts if you have studied De Beauvoir in depth. I certainly have not.

So, your thoughts on this intersection of these two usually-disparate worlds?

Friday, July 20, 2012

To the Eager Christian College Freshman

'Lecture Hall I, UMBC, Wednesday night, fall semester, 2010' photo (c) 2010, Seth Sawyers - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
In the Summer of 2008, I learned that a great Christian guy was transferring from the college in my home town to Cornell. He was eager, passionate to impact people for Christ, highly intelligent, and from a small town. I wrote him the below message at his request, and I think most of this advice holds water for Christian men and women who are about to begin the nonChristian college experience. 

As my new job has me thinking about today's college students a lot, I reread this today. May we pray for those preparing to leave home for college, being well aware that what they face is life-changing and world-impacting. If you have any additional advice to offer the incoming, eager college freshmen, please add it!

Okay, I've been thinking for awhile about what to write, and here are my recurring thoughts on what I wish I'd known going into NYU:

I knew no one when I got to NYU. Neither did Josh [my husband]. So, when your family leaves and the only person you know is your roommate, don't worry. Relationships develop. You are not alone.
Don't hang out exclusively with your roommate. Too many people do this and then when they inevitably get sick of each other, their main social outlet is gone. Do things together, but not everything. 

If you truly want to impact people at Cornell for Christ, you will have to love them well before they listen to anything you say. Loving people is hard, especially when you don't agree with their behaviors or beliefs. But, as the Navigators say, "More is caught than taught." So, be compassionate, caring, and a good listener. Don't judge people too quickly. Some of my best friends wouldn't be if I hadn't given them a chance. Before you try to have an impact, let others impact you. Be fair about it, or they won't listen to anything you say.

In college, as I'm sure you've observed, people tend to mark themselves according to political ideology, religious belief, or other things. This marking of belief too early in your new chapter at Cornell will alienate you from people who would otherwise be your friend. You can state your case without being harsh toward the other positions. Preface things with: "I may be wrong" or "I may misunderstand" as often as possible. It diffuses many situations when opinions prevent loving people well. Try to play devil's advocate in your mind to try to see everyone else's point of view. You might very easily have the same POV if you had been raised in their shoes. 

Remember, Jesus did not usually deepen the boundaries between groups of people; He mostly broke them down. 

So, all that to say, make non-Christian friends and love them in practical ways. Don't impose your beliefs on them unless they ask you to. And if you become their true friend, eventually they will. And by that time, they will probably listen to what you say. 

The last point (I think) is to go into class with a learning attitude. Your professors ARE smarter than you. Don't be that guy in lecture who always argues with the professor. Or don't be that guy who makes the same objection every week just in different language for different cases. If you sincerely want to challenge a professor, do it in his/her office hours first. If they then welcome you to make objections in class, then feel free to bring objections into lecture. But, otherwise, you will make yourself an enemy instead of a friend. Professors needs Jesus, too. Show them you're not just out to prove your points, but that you are there to learn. (Do the same out of class in social groups, too.)

So, basically, I guess what I'm saying is be a learner and be loving. 

One last thing. I'm not sure if this will make sense now, but I'm throwing it in for good measure. At some point at Cornell, you will probably experience some brokenness. You will hit a low point. We don't know anyone who hasn't experienced a breaking point in college. Don't fight your brokenness. Embrace it and use it for God's glory. Don't hide it from your friends, Christian or non-Christian. 

Usually this brokenness will happen in the academic area of life, the social area (relationships), or the sexual area. God allows us to go through these very rough patches for many reasons. Just cling to Him and be honest with yourself and your friends about the pain you'll probably be in. 

God does want to use you to impact Cornell, but God also wants to use Cornell to impact you. You should be changing and growing in many ways. I'm not sure how this will look, but if you're not changing, something is wrong. 

And, that daily quiet time: do it. Your non-Christian friends might think it's weird, but they'll probably respect you for it deep down. 

Let me know if you have any questions/comments/etc. Josh is also here as a resource. 

Praying for you.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Redemptive Pursuit: Seated On A Throne

'jesus_11' photo (c) 2010, James Shepard - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Seated On A Throne
By Laura Ziesel
July 9, 2012

"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple." Isaiah 6:1

At eight months pregnant, the baby boy inside me continues to change positions quite frequently. Every time he moves, I try to figure out where his head, butt, and feet are. My husband asked the other day why I care so much about figuring out his position, and when I thought about it, my answer surprised even myself: Being able to picture him helps me love him and bond with him. It might sound odd, but it's true. It's hard for me to have a mental image of him, but when I am able to conjure one up, he is no longer a shapeless blob causing me discomfort, he is my son with little toes and eyebrows. 

I think something similar happens in our relationship with God. None of us have seen God face to face, nor have we even seen a photo of him. When we pray, worship, or talk about him, many of us struggle because we don't have a great mental image of him. Even the depictions we have of Jesus, the embodiment of God, are mere guesses that usually look more like the culture out of which the image emerged than a Jewish man from the first century. 

I've even heard some people say that it's heretical to have mental images of God. But when I look at Scripture, I don't see support for this claim. God reveals himself through images from time to time in Scripture, either showing us or telling us what he is like. Usually these images are more metaphorical than scientific, but they are there nonetheless. While we know that God is not simply a burning bush, he did choose to give Moses and us that image of himself. Likewise, he has revealed himself other times throughout Scripture. 

One of my favorite images to rely on during prayer or worship originates in Isaiah 6:1. When I am having a hard time feeling as if God is actually there and listening to me, I imagine myself in a large temple, and the rest of the temple is filled with just the train of God's robe. When I picture this, I feel small before God's bigness, and that does wonders for my ability to worship him and ask him for big things in prayer.

I would encourage us all to cultivate a storehouse of images of God that we can turn to when we are having a hard time connecting with him. Some of my other favorites include: God as the pillar of fire, God wrestling with Jacob, the person of Jesus sharing food with me at a table, Jesus on the cross, and God as the good shepherd. There are many more in the pages of Scripture. While we shouldn't overly rely on a single image (God is transcendent enough to be both a lion and a lamb), they are useful as we seek to deepen our understanding and love of him. So during your next prayer or worship time, let your mind wander, exploring the images you have of God. 

Heavenly Father, we are unable to fully comprehend your glory, and we want so desperately to know what you are like. While I know that you are bigger than I can now comprehend, thank you for revealing yourself to us throughout history. I ask that you would help my understanding of you to grow as I use the images you have given us in Scripture, and I ask that a deeper understanding of you would lead to deeper repentance, love, commitment, and service. Amen.

I will be posting my devotionals from The Redemptive Pursuit once a month as they are published. Sign up to receive these weekly devotionals via email hereFollow The Redemptive Pursuit on Twitter or like us on Facebook.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Losing that Lovin' Feeling

'second trimester' photo (c) 2010, george ruiz - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/Unfortunately, the world sees a lot of deadbeat dads--men who abuse, abandon, or neglect their children. While this is usually viewed as a character flaw on the part of the man, the judgment we cast toward deadbeat dads is nothing compared to the judgment we cast toward deadbeat moms. I've heard people say, "There is something deeply wrong about a woman who could abandon or abuse her children." And it's not just the content of judgmental words toward deadbeat moms that is harsh, but the vitriolic tones I have heard give me goosebumps. It's as if we reserve a special place in hell for these women.*

The unequal expectations leveled at fathers and mothers has often perturbed me. I think a lot of why we so harshly criticize deadbeat moms is that we believe that women are all created to be inherently nurturing, to protect their young, to do anything to make a better life for their kids. Some of us believe this based on faith, some based on science. Either way, we seem fairly united in it. 

And while I believe that all people should live self-sacrificially on behalf of others, especially their children, I'm also able to acknowledge that we are all fallen, even mothers. We're sinners. We're selfish. We are, without the grace of God at work in the world, slow to put others before ourselves. So I've never understood this harsh judgment of deadbeat moms from Christians, theologically speaking. If Christians can't admit that people are broken and accept it as a starting point, something is awry. 

The past six months of pregnancy have made me think about this issue in a new way.** I have not had an easy pregnancy. It certainly has not been the worst, but I've seen plenty of bed, couch, and bathroom floor. Even today, while I've felt fairly good, this babe in my womb has made me quite uncomfortable. And while I have tried to be grateful for these pregnancy symptoms, especially in light of the frailty of life, I completely understand how a woman in different circumstances could grow not in love toward her baby, but in resentment, even before it is born. 

I see how easy it would be to blame my son for all of these discomforts, and how easy it would be to grow bitter toward him. Once he emerges from the womb, I can imagine how easy it would be to blame him for the pain and vulnerability I had suffered during birth. And then he begins crying, and sucking viciously on a tender part of my body, and then demanding attention and time and money. Yep, I can see how loving him could be hard.

Don't get me wrong. I love my son dearly. Lately it's his little feet pushing the edges of my belly that have been making my heart go aflutter. Oh, I can't wait to kiss those feet! But I now understand that instead of love, resentment could be growing in my heart if I let it. Maybe admitting this makes me sound callous; I can see how you might be appalled right now. But my aim in sharing these thoughts is simply to encourage us all to have a bit more compassion toward deadbeat moms. Growing a person isn't easy, and I imagine it only gets harder from here.

*I realize that women who have given up their children for adoption could think they are in this category. But as far as I'm concerned, they are far from it. I can't speak for everyone on the planet, obviously, but I don't think the deadbeat mom label ever applies to birth mothers. They are heroes in my book, and I will always advocate for their honor among society, never for their judgment. 

**And to point out the crazy pregnancy-related calendar math, I found out I was pregnant 6 months and 10 days ago. Tomorrow I'll be 8 months pregnant. And I did not find out late by any means. Yeah, things are whack in the pregnancy calendar world.
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