Where we talk about all of our wonderings and many of our wanderings

Panel 1

The Power and Problem of Strong Women

I grew up in a home where my father respected and loved my mother. In many of the homes of the people around us this was a little bit much. Love, sure, but to respect her? That wasn’t his job. His job was to love, her job was to respect. “That’s in the Bible.” Never mind the fact that the Bible does continue on to admonish both partners to love and respect each other, in this view, the two are somehow mutually exclusive.

When I was 23 I married the love of my life. Well kind of. She was a girl in the youth group of the church my family attended when we moved to that town in Wisconsin. She was 3 years younger than me. And to be honest, when we met she was pretty annoying. But I eventually grew up, and as Chance the Rapper says

“I found out all of the shawtys with cooties was cute, And realized what booties could do.” 

Over the years she had become one of the few friends I had that refused to judge me for making mistakes, and that, combined with the whole booty thing, made me realize I wanted to marry her. We did the whole marriage counseling thing, we talked about our roles as husband and wife, we talked about differences as men and women, and to be honest, a lot of it made sense to me at the time.

Then we actually got married.

Nothing was lining up, in arguments she would shut down and had no desire to talk while I would follow her around the house pestering her about her feelings and asking her what she was thinking. When I would get home from work I would want to have long conversations about everything that happened in my and her day and she would give one or two-word answers, ask no questions of me, and go back to whatever she was doing as early as she could.

Then we had kids!

I wanted to stay home as much as possible and do all the “mommy” things, while she wanted to work. I wanted to keep the house clean, she wanted to focus on work and school. I kissed boo-boos and hugged away tears, she… Ok she did all that too, but I didn’t want to not do it.

None of it fit.

This started all kinds of issues and problems for us. Problems I am intensely grateful for now. Problems I may talk at more length about later. We moved all over the country, and eventually moved to China. While in China my wife joined a group that is basically a union representative team for the 250 or so foreigners that live and work at our school. Within the first month on the group she had become the chair of the team, and within a month of that happening she was leading her first town-hall meeting.

My wife sat in this town hall meeting, with people angry, confused, tired, and sometimes belligerent, and she led. She led this meeting and this group of people in ways I envy. I am a leader by training, and a counselor by nature. She is a counselor by training and a leader by nature.

This meeting shifted so much for me. Things I had been struggling with for years already, but did not know what to do with. My wife is a born leader, why haven’t I let her lead in our family more? Have I already taken control in ways that have hurt her ability to lead me, lead our children? Why was I so sure that I needed to be the primary leader, dominating over her in our family?

As I turned to look for answers I was immediately met, not with the Bible, but with Christian Orthodoxy. Now I have already gone into more detail about my problems with Orthodoxy in another post so I wont belabor that point here. So for now I will simply say that the Orthodox view of Women in the Church, while improving in some circles, is woefully inadequate. At the beginning I mentioned the issues with a “Love and Respect” model of viewing men and women, and again I would assert that the problem here is not with scripture, but with how we interpret it. The Bible again and again calls for a movement towards equality. And yet when we read it we still want to find ways to use it to create power structures. Why? Jesus seemed to hate the power structures created by religion, calling their leaders; Children of Snakes, White Washed Tombs, and Sons of Hell. Always pointing to their oppressive power structures as his reason for saying these things. And yet somehow we have created a faith, using the name of Christ, that has become a fine tuned version of the things he hated, the power structures of oppression. A group called to free, spends it’s time entrapping, A movement largely held together by women in the beginning has turned the tables and demanded an exclusive subjectivity from them.

This is a huge problem for women. Especially I would argue, for strong women. What is a strong woman? Well, I am a man, so I want to tread lightly here, but I am married to a strong woman, so I will take her as my example, along with several other strong women I know and have known throughout my life.

A strong woman is willing to express her thoughts and opinions.

    But a strong woman may at times be afraid to do this, it is after all still a mans world.

A strong woman is willing to take the lead

    But a strong woman will often not do this, knowing a man will often come up against        less opposition while leading. She is often strong enough to take a back seat for the            good of the project/family/company/etc.

A strong woman is willing to stay home with the kids

       Even if she wants to work or dreams of things far from a kitchen, she is willing to                 sacrifice for her family.

A strong woman willing is willing to go to work

     Even if all she wants is to stay home with her children and help them with the                         extreme trials of growing up.

A strong woman is willing to voice her desires in either of these situations and assert that she has a right to choose her path just as much as her husband does. 

A strong woman is willing to raise the kids alone

       Even though she would rather have had a husband who stepped up, committed,                      matured and helped support the family with her.

A strong woman is willing to buck the thoughts and comments of her family and get the degree she dreamed of rather than the one “more fitting for a woman”.

A strong woman is willing to get a job as a maid, janitor, wait-staff, secretary,       construction worker, laborer, etc., and forego college so she can contribute to a family in need.

A strong woman doesn’t need a boyfriend, husband, father, or man to define her.

A strong woman wants to be loved.

A strong woman wants to be respected.

A strong woman is a strong person who for some reason, we have to add definers in order to understand them as more than a gender.

Now let me be clear. I am not saying all of these things are great, and that it is so great that women give up their hopes and dreams, or have to fight to this degree to attain them because of their circumstances, because of families, because of men, and because of societies. It is not. But that is precisely what makes these women strong is it not? Their willingness to take the most demeaning, thankless, overlooked positions of life, so that life might be better. If there is an example of the life of Christ available to us today, this is it.

No, I’m not saying these positions strong women have been forced into are good. I am simply pointing to the things I have seen (and been in awe of) strong women doing around me everyday. And I am sure I missed a great deal.

I want to say, This is a problem. That I have to define this is a problem. That women have to fight these obstacles is a problem. That we knowingly placed these obstacles there in the name of a man bent on removing such obstacles is a problem. And apparently powerful women are a problem. When we should be taking them as our example of a love filled life, we instead demand that they are the problem. This my friends is a big problem.

So, as a man I would like to say two things.

  1.  I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the times I have been and still could be the cause of these obstacles, and I am sorry in general that men tend to suck. I know that could come across disingenuous, I’m not sure how to convey my heart and tone here on screen. But I want you to know, I deeply mean those words.
  2. I want to know what I can do. I am new to much of this, while my thoughts and heart have been shifting for many years now, the time I spent in the male dominating mindset is still greater. So I need your help. Strong women of the world (or maybe just my mom and wife since you may be the only people who ever read my blog) What do I do? How do I support, affirm, uplift and empower you? How do I do this without coming off as pandering or ignorant? Tell me, tell us men, if we are willing to tip these scales back, how can we do that in a way that actually helps you?

 

Panel 2

Freedom

When I was in high school I read “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran. It made little impact on me then, though I remembered some vague ideas.

I was young, and thought I knew everything, a terrible combination for taking in new ideas, especially challenging ones.

More recently I was reminded of this book, actually, of this epic poem, and so I decided to return to it. My first reaction in reading it now is simply to curse the foolishness of my youth! Reading it now feels a great deal like having a conversation with God, or at least a conversation with his cousin, Kevin.

You know that cousin, he is really great, and you like him a lot, but there are several conversations you’ve had with him when you are pretty sure he showed up directly after smoking a bowl. Alone. While watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Through a kaleidoscope.

Ok, so some of it is pretty ethereal and difficult to wrap your mind around. But in all seriousness, that only tends to add to the effect of the prophetic voice in which this epic poem is written.

And today, in 2017, sitting in suburban America, in the first term of President Donald Trump, there is one section of this poem that stands out sharply as being poignantly prophetic.

Its title? On Freedom. Here, check it out.

“And an orator said, Speak to us of Freedom

    And He Answered:

    At the city gate and by your fireside I have seen you prostrate yourself and worship your own freedom,

Even as slaves humble themselves before a tyrant and praise him though he slays them.

Ay, in the grove of the temple and in the shadow of the citadel I have seen the freest among you wear their freedom as a yoke and a handcuff.

And my heart bled within me; for you can only be free when even the desire of seeking freedom becomes a harness to you, and when you cease to speak of freedom as a goal and a fulfillment.

You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care nor your nights without a want and a grief, But rather when these things girdle your life and yet you rise above them naked and unbound.

And how shall you rise beyond your days and nights unless you break the chains which you at the dawn of your understanding have fastened around your noon hour?

In truth that which you call freedom is the strongest of these chains, though its links glitter in the sun and dazzle your eyes.

And what is it but fragments of your own self you would discard that you may become free?

If it is an unjust law you would abolish, that law was written with your own hand upon your own forehead.

You cannot erase it by burning your law books nor by washing the foreheads of your judges, though you pour the sea upon them.

And if it is a despot you would dethrone, see first that his throne erected within you is destroyed.

For how can a tyrant rule the free and the proud, but for a tyranny in their own freedom and a shame in their own pride?

And if it is a care you would cast off, that care has been chosen by you rather than imposed upon you.

And if it is a fear you would dispel, the seat of that fear is in your heart and not in the hand of the feared.

Verily all things move within your being in constant half embrace, the desired and the dreaded, the repugnant and the cherished, the pursued and that which you would escape.

These things move within you as lights and shadows in pairs that cling.

And when the shadow fades and is no more, the light that lingers becomes a shadow to another light.

And thus your freedom when it loses its fetters becomes itself the fetter of a greater freedom.”

Did you get Chills? I got chills on the opening two lines and they still haven’t gone away.

Kahlil here, in this short section of his greater epic (which you should read in full by the way, the link is above) deals a scathing reproach of America in 2017. And just as the title suggests, it is quite the prophetic act, seeing as it was written almost 100 years prior.

Two areas stand out to me most sharply here. first, this line.

In truth that which you call freedom is the strongest of these chains, though its links glitter in the sun and dazzle your eyes.

Freedom in America is something we are amazingly proud of. We have parades to celebrate it, we write books to commend it, and we take great pride in our defense of it. And yet, are we really a free people?

I see oppression around me everywhere I go here. The oppression of races, and genders. Ageism is a huge issue in our country, both for those to young and those to old. Where is freedom for the young couple trying to open a new business and feeling that they need to go toe to toe with our government just to get off the ground? Where is the freedom for a college or masters graduate saddled with 30-40-80,000 dollars in debt and only being offered jobs that pay 30% less than they were assured they would make as a starting wage? Where is the freedom for those trapped in poverty because as an 18 year their dad was caught smoking a joint and now has spent his whole life in and out of jail becoming leashed to a system that claims its desire is to rehabilitate? Where is the freedom for the black mothers and fathers teaching their children how to try to survive an encounter with a police officer, not an arrest, not even a altercation, just being under the gaze of the police now requires special training for several ethnic groups in our country.

Or what about our freedom of speech? If I tell you I’m still not sure what I think about abortion, am I really free to try to think that through in our country? Publicly? What about guns? What if there was something I liked about Donald Trump? or Republicans? or the Black Lives Matter Movement? Or what if I like DC movies more than Marvel movies? What if my favorite Doctor was not David Tennant?! [I almost passed out just writing that last one, the horror.]

Am I really free to say any of those things? 

I mean sure, I get it, this isn’t communist Russia or China, so I can say those things. I just have to know that If I do I face the wrath of the almighty American internet. And that wrath is no small thing, it has ended carriers, businesses, marriages, schools, foundations, and peoples lives.

And let me just note. I actually live in Communist China (which is a misnomer I hear on a regular basis, but that is a thought for another day), And I feel a great deal more freedom to discuss all these ideas there than I do hear. 

But that’s the bling on the chain isn’t it? That we can brag ad nauseam about our freedom while still living under the constraints of an ever tightening chain.

Please, show me the freedoms that we are so famous for, that we are so proud of, that the rest of the developed world does not also possess…

These words can be seen as prophetic for us, because we have allowed our passion about and pride in our freedom to be a vale for the work of binding us to its ideal.

One more area really struck me here as well. 

And if it is a despot you would dethrone, see first that his throne erected within you is destroyed.

For how can a tyrant rule the free and the proud, but for a tyranny in their own freedom and a shame in their own pride?

Donald Trump is a scapegoat. He is not the problem.

My friends, until you and I can come to terms with the reality that WE are the problem, no amount of president saviors or villains will ever make a whit of difference. And let me just be clear here; by WE, I mean ALL, by ALL, I mean EVERYONE.

Now let me be even more clear

I am not trying to shame you in this. More than anything I want you to NOT feel shame at this. I want us to awake to this, so that we can walk out our doors into our worlds and not be this way. You see, I believe with everything in me, that if we can understand that we have accepted the role of being the problem, we can also make the choice to not be. I don’t mean here that we all need to be the solution, only that we need to choose, actively, to not be the problem.

This is how we remove shame from our pride, by letting go of both.

And that is the path to our freedom. When we can let go of our pride in, pursuit of, and defensive nature over freedom, all sought at the cost of love, dignity, and respect for each other, then we can actually be free, all of us, together.

 

 

 

Panel 3

Heretically Out of Touch

Now this is a difficult topic for me. See I find myself at a crossroads with the idea of Orthodoxy, and I am having a challenging time finding a way forward on even the most meagerly of established paths. Here’s my dilemma. I think Orthodoxy has a place in Christian Thought, and I think that it is still valuable today as we see ways to move forward in that faith. However, I think that there are well argued, well thought out positions of faith that are emerging, or re-emerging that ought to be reconsidered and should certainly not be dismissed because they are not orthodox.

In short, I do not want to dismiss orthodoxy, however I also want to be free to thoughtfully challenge and overturn it when needed.

What I tend to find in conversation is one side or the other of that debate. Either a total adherence to orthodoxy (usually a specific one is stated at that point; Reformed Orthodoxy, Catholic Orthodoxy, Russian Orthodoxy, what have you). Or there is a total dismissal of Orthodoxy. If you go one way you are labeled a heretic, if you go the other way you are labeled out of touch. But what if you want to walk a middle ground? Am I then heretically out of touch? Maybe.

And If I am going to be labeled as such well then fine. I am honestly ok with that labeling, I feel like everyone I hear talking about these issues is so into labeling that the labels have become just about as meaningless to me as Klingon, a language I do not know and have no intent to learn. but I also want to be honest with you about how I feel standing over here thinking of walking out into this sparsely trodden jungle; I’m scared. I’m scared that my thoughts will have no relevance to anyone but me. I’m scared I will loose even more friends as I journey farther from these paths, I’m scared that I am wrong.

I feel like I am standing on a cold Wisconsin road, somewhere in the Northwoods; to my right is a group of friends holding Hot-Coco, Amish quilts, and John Piper books, beckoning me to come and warm myself in the glow and tradition of Orthodoxy; While on my left there is another group of friends holding Irish Coffee, Finger-Knitted stocking caps, and Rob Bell books, reasoning with me to come and warm myself in the environmentally conscious glow of progressive thought.

But my path lies somewhere between them, and it looks cold, and dark, and lonely. Jesus was a man of many sorrows, must I be to follow him? This is a question that haunts me. Jesus was often found alone in quite places, was this because he was a meditating praying guru of faith, or because he his path felt lonely too? And those quiet places became his comfort, his warmth. Maybe it was both.

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