Thursday, February 16, 2012

In Which I Interview My Inner Feminist and My Inner Proverbs 31 Woman

Me: Good evening, and welcome to Alter-Ego Interviews. Tonight we have with us my Inner Feminist and My Inner Proverbs 31 Woman, or should I say lady, hehehe.

Fem: Ya know, C.S. Lewis had it right when he complained about how words become problematic with shifting cultural meanings. He used the word gentleman as an example - it used to be that a gentleman was someone who owned land, so, as Clive said, "one could be both a gentleman and a scoundrel". You can say that the word lady has had the same experience - if a lady is someone who, according to a few definitions, is "a woman who is refined, polite, and well-spoken" or "a well-mannered and considerate woman with high standards of proper behavior", it might not fit me very well. I am definitely not refined, and I don't mean to be inconsiderate...

Prov:...but you do tend to be tactless unless you are careful. I agree with you, though. Since this show is about our femaleness in relation to our Christian faith, I would have to say that theologically woman is probably the proper term, since it is about creation rather than behavior.

Me: Okay, "gals" (wink at audience) let me introduce you before we get into it. Wow, you have a lot in fact, you seem almost identical on paper. You both came from a Jewish background, got married at 20, have 5 kids who have never been to school, are a "homemaker" without an outside job, are members of an OPC church...

Fem: We also live in the same house and even the same body. That can be challenging (friendly smirk at Prov). But really, I think we work okay together. The problems stem more from the expectations and misunderstandings of "the outside world".

Prov: That's right...we don't seem to fit in anywhere. People who are unbelievers and usually liberals, mostly have knee-jerk, angry reactions when I talk about issues like how sexual freedom has not been all the feminists assumed, especially for women. Or about how actually bearing and nursing multiple children helps prevent breast cancer - that was not received very well in a recent discussion about the Komen foundation defunding Planned Parenthood.

Fem: And I get flak from more conservative Titus 2 folks when I get into discussions about "submission"...just saying that women are not obligated to vote for the same political candidates as their husbands has raised eyebrows, and things I say have definitely sparked comments about how I am trying to "get out" of the idea of the husband's leadership.

Me: Fem, you mention you two agree or disagree on political issues?

Prov: We definitely agree in that we are apolitical - we don't vote and trust that God will raise up and bring down princes without our help. When we discuss politics, I am probably more likely to seem "conservative" because I will say that certain hot-button issues (like abortion or homosexual practice) are sins...

Fem:..and I agree with Prov about that, but I am likely to seem more truly libertarian or even liberal, on some issues (depending on who is listening to me). I really don't have a problem with, say, the secular State allowing gay marriage. I am really concerned that many, if not most, Christians totally confuse the gospel with conservative morality. And I completely disagree with more theonomic thinkers who believe that the external sins, especially the sexual sins, should be crimes. I do think that abortion should be illegal, but I struggle because I think it is hypocritical to just blame (and prosecute) abortionists when there would be no abortionists if women did not seek abortions, and honestly, I can't see prosecuting women for murder when they have abortions, because the psychological pain is already so great in many women, even women who consistently uphold "choice".

Me: So far, it sounds like you agree about most things...where do you struggle with each other?

Prov: We struggle in determining what is important to do at any given time...a well-known guiding statement in more conservative circles is Elizabeth Eliott's "Do the next thing". I am more likely to think the "next thing" should be some household chore or "experience" with the kids. I worry more about the moral and spiritual and intellectual development of the kids, of the whole family, really. I think that I need to be serving others almost all the time, and I actually feel guilty if I cannot do multiple things for others at the same time...I will feel guilty if I am cooking and the baby is crying, and my husband is doing something like listening to an audiobook - I will think I should hold the baby and cook, because it is my job to make sure my husband has rest. I definitely have more guilt than Fem. Some of this is from my Jewish background, I think (we have that martyr complex going), but most of it came from spending too many years reading books and blogs about being a "godly wife and mother".

Fem: When I think of "Do the next thing", I think I should take some time to do something OTHER than womanly tasks - not just because "I wanna", but because I see that my doing things like that rubs off on my kids, and I think writing and art and reading novels is important. I am so thrilled that my kids make things - just for fun, and also for others. I have heard Prov say that some say that when people (usually your family) see you serve, that will teach them to serve - but she thinks that what it more often does is teach them to be served. But I think that things like doing art and reading really do affect people by osmosis...they see you doing it, and they want to do it too. Maybe not the exact same things, but the process of creative work and thought - both of which are manifestations of God's image in us...and YES, we women are created in God's image in the same way men are.

Me: So, how do you feel in general about male the home, in the church, in the public square?

Prov: We agree, believe it or not. We also think it is annoying how many people think that the idea of husbands being the leader of the home translates into women in general being subject to men in general. We have no problem with the offices of pastor and elder being held by men only...all the MEN in the church are also under their authority. I'm pretty sure it was CS Lewis who said (and I paraphrase) that we are all female before God - meaning we are the pursued, the acted-upon. And this doesn't stop God from using female images sometimes to get across something about His nature and our relationship with him - but interestingly, those images are almost exclusively images of motherhood, and even nursing babies!

Fem: My big concern is for women who really are in ugly relationships with their husbands, and who have no recourse because their elders hold to extreme ideas about patriarchy. I also hate the idea that a woman should somehow not deal with her husband's sin against her as she would with anyone - per Matthew 18. Too many people make the authority relationship paramount, when the relationship as Christian to Christian, before God, is foremost.

Me: What about women working, or holding public office, or serving in the military?

Prov: While I would not say that women, particularly wives, working outside the home is a sin, I definitely think that women are better suited to the kind of multitasking, relationally based role of homemaking and childcare. I think God made us that way - that doesn't mean homemaking and motherhood is always a big thrill...

Fem:...gotta interrupt, and say one of my BIG problems is how the books and blogs and catalogs of the "Godly Family" variety are just like every other photoshopped lie we see in modern media. We see perfectly groomed children, husbands who always seem to have enough money to take the family on road trips to homeschool conferences...don't they have to work? Not to mention that while on one hand we hear how a nagging wife is like a drippy faucet or whatever, on the other hand these perfect pictures have a real tendency to make wives discontented with their husbands - most of whom are your garden variety sinners who work all day, come home tired, are hit and miss with family devotions, and whose type of leadership doesn't quite live up to That Godly Patriarch There, the one sitting in his paneled library surrounded by his first editions of the great Puritan writings.

Prov: Back to my point...see, you are kinda inconsiderate with all this interrupting! So, while working outside the home is not a sin, the more women working outside the home translates into fewer full-time homes, which is a tragic thing. Home is definitely one of God's gifts to us, and although making one is as challenging as any other career, the benefits to people just can't be tallied. And I am not talking only homes which are always neat, from which the smell of freshly ground, freshly baked whole-wheat bread is always wafting. My home is certainly not like that! But I do believe that while the Bible absolutely does not forbid wives from working, it definitely promotes the idea that home is important, and that women are the natural makers of homes. One sad thing that has happened as women have gone to work in droves, is that they have basically taken on two full-time jobs - because lotsa women who work still come home and take care of all the stuff they would take care of if they weren't working. So much for equality and egalitarianism.

Fem: I think the whole Godly Family thing has so much allure to people who come from broken homes, especially since it is so often portrayed visually and in print as this glowing, fulfilling lifestyle - PLUS it pleases God. So. Much. I know I looked back on my life with a single mother and multiple step-parents and just wanted something stable, something that had rules and roles which encouraged stability. That subculture also promotes itself as being about purity, which was a big draw for me, since I practically learned to read from looking at the comics in Playboy...and I am only exaggerating slightly. When I was first exposed to, say, Mary Pride, I recoiled because it seemed so oppressive to women, but eventually I was really drawn to it. I was like a junk-food junkie who sees a commercial for a Big Mac and gets right into the car and drives to McDonald's like a zombie seeking brains.

Prov: Hehehehehe, Fem, that reminds me how popular the book Nourishing Traditions is in the Titus 2 subculture, with all it's organ meat recipes! Not saying it is a bad book, but thankfully serving organ meat is not a requirement for being a successful wife and mother!

Me: Before we go on, please give a quick answer to the women in political office and military question...

Prov: Well, both Fem and I are pretty much anti-war, so we are even opposed to men in the military, for the most part. But we would say that while women can be tough and even violent, war is a man's business.

Fem: As far as women in political office, since we are apolitical we really aren't concerned about the gender of senators or even presidents. We just wish more of them, male and female, would simply go home and get real jobs.

Prov: Women in political office is just an extension of the woman as homemaker question. Since I don't think the Bible implies that women in general are under the authority of men in general, and since the Bible actually commands that we be subject to those in authority in the State, if a woman is in that position, God has her there - I know one of the beliefs of the Patriarchy-type folks is that woman in leadership is a way God judges the people, based on a passage in Isaiah...

Fem: ...but I truly believe that the Bible IS to be interpreted culturally sometimes, and especially, to be understood in light of the fact that no nation is Israel, and so trying to impose that kind of structure on modern nations is theologically incorrect. Ooops, more interrupting (sheepish grin at Prov).

Me: One more hot-button question - how do you both feel about birth control? I know it is one of the main tenets of the Titus 2 mindset that God opens and closes the womb, and that trying to mess with what is "God's area" is wrong.

Prov: I totally agree that God opens and closes the womb, and I haven't used birth control since I got married, well, until a few months ago. I have tracked my cycles for years in order to conceive, not to prevent getting pregnant. Even without using birth control it took me 4 years to get pregnant with my first, and then almost 6 years to get pregnant with my second. I have taken various herbs and things to regulate my cycles, have had at least three miscarriages, and now have 5 children from 18-8 months. I know that I personally am uncomfortable with birth control, but just like the wives and jobs issue, we can see that while children are definitely a blessing in the Bible, there is no command that married couples mustn't put any thought into planning their families. But I do think that the family planning mindset has led to a lot of negative thinking about children - assuming wrongly that they are too expensive, too annoying, etc. But my husband is 50 now and has pretty much made clear that he doesn't want any more children. That makes me sad, but at the same time I am 43 and am getting very tired and taking care of this current baby has really worn me out physically. I would always be glad if I found out I was pregnant - and since I believe God DOES open and close the womb, if He has any more planned for us they will indeed make their appearance at the proper time - all I have asked my husband is that neither of us do anything permanent with our fertility...that will happen soon enough with menopause.

Fem: I'm sad at the thought of not having more babies, too...but sometimes I think I hang onto childbearing because as long as I am having babies, I am still "young" and hopefully far from the grave. I also know that babies and young children are a good excuse to not do things, things that are equally good and pleasing to God, things that each of us have unique callings to do. I definitely do not think that bearing and raising children is the only "proper" focus for women. But I do think that it (the whole process of gestating, bearing and raising children) takes a lot of time and energy so it is difficult to do other things at the same time, and really, that is how it should be. I am generally okay with the whole "seasons of life" thing, and as I get older I am seeing the natural end of this season looming ahead, so my thoughts necessarily turn to what comes after.

Me: We are running out of time here. I'm sure we have not covered everything, but to wrap it up I'd like to ask each of you to tell our audience what you see as your strengths and weaknesses in terms of your "roles" and goals. Prov, you go first.

Prov: Okay, I would say that one of my strengths is hospitality. Although it is a struggle for me to be around people all the time (the hardest part of family life by far), I think I am good at inviting people into my home, feeding them, and making them feel comfortable. I am also good at taking care of small babies. Even when I get tired, I find it really satisfying to make a baby feel safe and contented. I really enjoy that the demands of babies are so pure and stem from their real, legitimate needs, so I can meet those needs without resentment - and resentment is one of my weaknesses in terms of my role. I think it is a strength that I can really see the relationship between us and God when I am taking care of a baby...they are so demanding, so exhausting, and can literally give us nothing back intentionally...but we take care of them and love them despite this neediness. I have a lot of logistical weaknesses in my homemaker role - I struggle with time management and am often downright lazy. I struggle with all the demands of cleaning and cooking; I am not great at either one and I get easily stressed out about my performance. I definitely have more weaknesses than strengths, but one strength is that I am committed to the importance of what I do in the home and so I persevere and sometimes see glimmers of "success" in various areas.

Fem: I think one of my biggest strengths is my honesty about life. I believe that struggles, big struggles, are perfectly compatible with the Christian life and I know that I help people breathe a sigh of relief - they know they don't have it all together, and when I write honestly about how hard life is for me they appreciate knowing they are not alone. I also manage to see God working even in most of my big struggles and disappointments, and am good at honestly giving God the glory for any good thing others might see in me. I think for the most part I have learned to be a pretty good communicator with people who disagree with me, although it has taken many years to keep a naturally confrontational and offensive personality in check in those situations. I have bad tendencies towards pride and thinking people are generally idiots, and I can be short tempered for days at a time, and also inappropriately sarcastic. I know the list could go on.

Me: Well, I thank you both for joining me here on Alter-Ego Interviews. I hope we can get together again for more stimulating discussion.