Monthly Archives: November 2011

An Advent Reflection — A Guest Post by Michael Thompson

Michael Thompson serves as Director of National Associations & Strategic Planning for the Association Development Group (ADG), a communications and management company for non-profits. After studying Physics and Astronomy at Cornell University, he joined staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as Team Leader for New York’s Capital District. Michael is an active blogger at Perichoretic Life and most recently published with Comment Magazine.

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Advent Questions

Having grown up in the Baptist tradition, it took me many years to fully appreciate the depth of the Church Calendar. For starters, the Christmas Season begins with Christmas Day and continues for 12 days (thus the song). Right now, Christians everywhere are entering the Advent Season in anticipation and preparation for Christmas.

Advent is celebrated with four candles; one additional candle being lit each Sunday before Christmas. It starts with darkness and moves toward increasing light. Doubt leads us to faith as key questions carry us forward. Quiet desperation for God invites us to come and see “God With Us”. In many ways, Advent and Christmas mark the “New Year” for the Church.

How Long, O Lord?

Many ancient Jewish people spent centuries awaiting a Messiah (or Christ)–someone who would deliver them from oppression. Some of the imagery used was mindful of Moses who led his people out of Egypt into the Promised Land. Other imagery drew more from King David who finally established Israel as a nation to be feared and respected on the world stage. These were the stories they knew, and hope was rooted in the belief that history would repeat itself in a significant way with regard to the Roman Empire.

Advent begins with intense dissatisfaction in the status quo. We expect something different. While we have only recently moved past Thankgiving, expressing how satisfied we are with God’s many rich blessings, so much still remains to be set right.

Whether we identify with the Occupy Wall Street movement, scoff at the insanity of Black Friday, or simply dread facing the dysfunctional relationships in our own families during the holiday season; all of us can identify something more that needs to be addressed in our world. Maybe we hope for small gains in the New Year, but just perhaps there is a more universal solution.

Who Is This King of Glory?

We are really between two Advents. While we celebrate the first Advent of Jesus in the Christmas celebration, we are also mindful that he promised to return. History will not repeat itself as much as it will grow and move forward. Our hope is rooted in a story much bigger than we ever imagined as it keeps unfolding.

The first Advent caught everyone by surprise. This was not the Messiah everyone expected. He was a different kind of prophet who made no artificial effort to be king. He chose to live simply as the Son of the Father, and so came as a baby.

Still, he grew and spoke truth far outside our comfort zone and established the most significant Kingdom the world has ever known. Wisdom was disguised as foolishness. Power was found in humility. The invisible God was revealed to be “God With Us”.
 
But this was not the Messiah we thought was coming, so do we know what to expect next time?

No.

How Then Should I Live?

As many would-be prophets have shown time and again, we certainly won’t know “the day nor the hour” of Jesus’ return. I equally doubt that the many rationalized accounts of the Second Coming by Jack Van Impe and other televangelists drawn from news stories and Biblical proof texts have any weight.

Even so, we are called to wait with expectation…for something.

While we may not have a definite idea how the “unveiling” (or “Apocalypse”) will take place. We continue to be certain that the “Kingdom of God” is growing and will soon reveal a “New Heaven and New Earth”.
 
We live between the Advents: expecting a baby we didn’t know was coming, and anticipating the return of the King and His Kingdom still hidden from our direct view.

What we do know is that this Kingdom keeps showing up in unlikely ways in even less likely places. A world once completely ruled by violence is now more effectively overcome by non-violent protest. A social order once dependent on hierarchies of race and gender is now shown to be fruitless when compared with new organizations with equal partnerships. Increasingly, manipulative abuse may be resisted by simply draining its power rather than by the assertion of something more forceful.

A change has already taken place. And another change is coming. These glimpses of the Kingdom are partial and provisional, but will increasing shed light on a new horizon. So with each candle we wait with anticipation.

Are you dissatisfied? What are you expecting? Are you ready to live differently? Radically so? Even if Someone else is driving the agenda?

What are you waiting for?

Yet Some More Canadian Christian Blogs

Jeff Clarke‘s blog.

New West Anglican Blog (A blog from the Anglican diocese of New Westminister in B.C.)

After Orthodoxy by Spencer Boersma. (Spencer is doing doctoral studies at Wycliffe at U of T, and was born in my neck of the woods — The Greater Hamilton Area).

The full list of Canadian Christian Blogs can be found here.

Laundry, Dishes and Gender Roles — Part Two

Yesterday I posted about my reactions about the ongoing conversation related to Owen Strachan’s post on ‘Dad-moms’.

Today, it is Chuck’s turn.

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Complementarian? Egalitarian? Comgalitarian? Egalmentarian? Maybe I’m just confused.

In response to Amanda’s post concerning the latest round of cyber-debate over gender roles, I’ve been giving the matter a bit of thought. Bear in mind that this is coming from a Christian social psychologist; I am neither a theologian nor a biblical scholar.

Looking over the options that have been presented to me, I find myself in partial agreement with both camps, leaving me with my usual sense that I have a lot of reading to do before I declare myself an official partisan of either side.

Areas in which I find myself in sympathy with the complementarians:

1. Gender differences are inherent.
Actually, it’s considerably more complicated than that. We (social psychologists) have a boatload of research evidence that differences between the genders are biologically-based, involving differences in brain structures and functioning and differences in psychologically-relevant hormones. However, we also have a boatload of research evidence that our concepts of masculinity and femininity are cultural, and that gender identity is influenced by the messages passed on to us by parents, peers, and the media. What I share with the complementarian camp is the recognition that no amount of political activism or theoretical hand-waving will eliminate the role of biology in gender differences.

2. Gender differences should be celebrated.
In the 1970s and 1980s, certain psychologists argued that psychological androgyny (possessing equally-high levels of both masculine and feminine traits) should be held up as the ideal, and that parents should isolate children from any media messages that might cause them to develop a gender-specific identity. Research on gender and mental health, however, combined with the current influence of evolutionary psychology on the psychology of gender, has sidelined androgyny. The current approach more often takes the perspective that masculinity and femininity have their own strengths and weaknesses, which fits well with the complementarians’ position. For myself, I am a frequent reader of the blog The Art of Manliness, the intended audience of which is men who are not interested in media images such as the metrosexual or the manchild, but instead want to enjoy being manly in healthy and prosocial ways. Similarly, many women hold the position that becoming strong and capable does not require them to abandon their femininity. Complementarians often point to the great potential for happiness and fulfillment that can come when men are empowered to be manly, and women are empowered to be womanly.

Areas in which I find myself in sympathy with the egalitarians:

1. Gender differences are not categorical.
There is a tendency when discussing gender differences to interpret them in a rather absolute manner. If, for example, women are shown to be better than men at emotional communication, many people take that to mean that men are utterly incompetent in the emotional realm, while women are blessed with superhuman Heart Powers. The reality is far less dramatic. When studies reveal a consistent gender difference, what we see is a general trend in average scores, with a considerable amount of overlap between the genders.

So, perhaps, ON AVERAGE, women TEND TO outperform men on emotional tasks, but that does not mean that emotionally-competent men do not exist, or that emotionally-incompetent women do not exist. It also does not mean that emotionally-competent men are womanish men, or that emotinally-incompetent women are mannish women. This is an error that I sometimes see among complementarians; treating displays of behaviors at which the other gender more often excel as violations of the essence of their own gender (e.g., A man who changes a diaper is not just changing a diaper, he is acting womanish).

2. The descriptive is not the prescriptive.
Finding a statistically-significant difference between two groups does not necessarily mean that the difference becomes a moral obligation. This is an error in logic sometimes called the Naturalistic Fallacy. The difference might be celebrated and enjoyed, but the existence of that difference does not necessarily become a standard of evaluating group members’ goodness. Cross-cultural research has shown that, on average, members of Western societies tend to have a more individualistic self-concept, while Easterners tend to have a more collectivistic self-concept. Does this mean that a Chinese man must not have any sense of himself as an individual, or that an American must not have strong family ties? Geographical research within the US using the Five-Factor Model of personality shows that residents of North Dakota have the highest Extraversion scores, while residents of Maryland have the lowest Extraversion scores. Does this create a moral obligation for North Dakotans to be socially outgoing, while a Marylander is obliged to be introverted? (We actually have a lot of fun with this argument, since Alaskans had the lowest Conscientiousness scores. This would mean that Alaskans are morally obligated to be unprincipled? :) ) Similarly, the existence of gender differences does not necessarily create a moral obligation to act in accordance with those differences. Men tend to outperform women on mental image-rotation tasks (This and all following examples are drawn from this 1992 Scientific American article). This does not mean that a woman who plays Tetris is usurping a God-given masculine role. Women tend to have higher verbal fluency scores than men. This does not mean that men who want to honor God will stop writing books. If we use established gender differences as a part of an argument that God has purposefully equipped one gender for one set of tasks, and the other gender for a different set of tasks, then this means that God does not want women to do laundry (men outperform women on visual tasks involving folding), play darts (men outperform women on projective accuracy tasks), read “Where’s Waldo” books (men outperform women on perceptual disembedding tasks), or do accounting (men outperform women on mathematic reasoning). It also means that God does not want men to play matching games (women outperform men on rapid image-matching tasks), work on assembly lines (women outperform men on precision manual tasks), or analyze crime scenes (women outperform men on tasks that involve noticing when objects are missing). Why is it only the gender differences in agency and communion that are relevant?

Areas in which I remain confused:

1. Okay, there’s actually only one area. All the above is fine as long as I am looking at this as a social psychologist. Will anything change when I look at this as a Christian? Both complementarians and egalitarians claim to be grounded in the best-quality biblical scholarship, and accuse each other of letting social constructs (patriarchy, feminism) cloud their vision. I don’t know who’s right, and arguments in the blogosphere too often end up being nothing but a restatement of one’s own position and irrelevant character attacks on one’s opponents. I need better arguments than “Complementarians are right because we’re right and you’re wrong.” Diving into the literature on this topic is on my To Read list (along with all the other stuff that’s on my To Read list, a list that seems to be growing much faster than I can read my way through it). Where is the really good scholarly work on this topic? Whose books should I be reading? No cheesy polemics; solid scholarship.

In the meantime, I do the best I can to be a good husband and a good father. I take Jesus’ servanthood as my model (not that I always live up to it). If he emptied himself for our sakes, I should be emptying myself for the sake of my wife and our cheeselings. If that means that I take on some extra burdens, and encourage my wife to do what she is clearly gifted at (preaching and teaching in a pastoral role, being a grad student and eventually going into doctoral studies, etc…), then that’s what I should be doing.

Laundry, Dishes and Gender Roles

Earlier this month Owen Strachan posted about “Dad-Moms”, men who take up the responsibilities that are ‘biblically’ the responsibilities of women. I sat on it for two days, pondering, praying, yelling at the walls, getting frustrated, questioning my womanhood etc. Jon Coutts and a few others engaged Owen in the comments section, and I took a breath and said “I’m just going to let this be.”

This week, Laura Ortberg Turner responded to Owen over at Her.meneutics and Owen then posted a response. In light of the ongoing conversation, I think it’s time to work through some of the things I struggled with at the beginning of the conversation.

First, most of you know that I have been a pastor, and that I’m working on my graduate degree in Theology. What many do not know is that I am doing my degree while also caring for two little Cheese-wearers. The only way I am able to juggle both school and family is because I have a husband who is stepping up huge to help me out.

That being said, even before there were little Cheese-wearers in the house, Chuck was the more “domestic” one in our family. Those that know me know that I don’t do dishes. Period. I hate doing dishes, and won’t do them. When I was in college, I had one plate, one bowl, one set of utensils, one pot and one pan. That way I was forced to wash them each time I wanted to eat. If I had had to deal with a sink full of dishes in college, I would have dealt with them by throwing them in the garbage, which would have been stupidly expensive.

And so, as Chuck has stepped up to help me get through my degree, it’s not by taking on my “share” of the household chores for a season, so much as it is caring for the little Cheese-wearers so that I can go to class, do homework etc. So, most days, Chuck puts a full day in at the office and then comes home to do another several hours of ‘work’ so I can do what I need to do.

Yes, our life is chaotic as I gear up to be done classes by next Christmas. Yes, it sometimes feels like we don’t even have time to stop and take a breath. But it’s worth it. I’m good at being a student. I love learning, and I love writing papers. This is what I was meant to do. At least that is how I usually feel.

And then I read posts like Owen’s and begin to struggle and doubt. Is it really bad that Chuck is in many ways the more nurturing parent? Would our family receive more blessings from God if I just stayed and home and was the perfect little homemaker? Even though Chuck says he’s fully supportive of my academic ambitions and my career goals, is he really? What happens if one day Chuck reads posts like Owen’s and decides that that is the kind of wife that he wants?

Most importantly, Is our family being “unbiblical?” This is the one that really stings. I want to be obedient to God’s will. I want to live a holy Christian life. What if we really are being unbiblical? What does that mean? Someone will quote proof-text one bible verse that proves complementarianism is ‘biblical’, and someone else will quote proof-text another that proves egalitarianism is ‘biblical’. (Because admit it, both sides are guilty of doing it).

Could I even be that kind of wife? A woman, (quoting Owen), who is “not hindered by the domestic call; she is set free to pour out her talents for the flourishing of her children and home.” If that is what it means to be a biblical woman, then I am neither being biblical nor being a woman. So what does that make me?

Up next: Chuck responds with his perspective. Stay tuned!

Advent Reflections

Last year, there was an Advent Synchroblog, where I linked to a variety of Advent posts from around the blogosphere. This year, I’m planning to host guest posts throughout the Advent season. I already have a few people lined up to contribute, but am looking for more contributions from the Cheese-wearing community near and far.

Details:

Looking for Advent-themed reflections. It could take the form of a reflection on a specific Advent Scripture, a sermon, a poem, a reflection on why you like Advent etc.

Contributions should be between 350-750 words.

Email me your submission before December 1st.

Come and join the conversation!

Sunday Meditation

Discipleship very properly describes the relationship between Jesus and His followers as a history which in this way is proper to Him and to Him alone. Jesus goes, and the disciple accompanies Him on the same way. It is Jesus who chooses the common way, and treads it first. The Christian follows Him on the way which He has chosen, treading in His steps. He believes in Jesus, not in a theoretical and general way, as in a good leader alongside whom there might be others, but in such a way that He is the inescapable Leader who leaves him no options but to go after Him in the way which He has chosen.

Karl Barth, Aids for the Preacher, CD V.I pg 398

Psstt….Did You Hear?

Pssstt…Did you hear that Amanda is attending an ANGLICAN church?

Pssstt…Did you hear that Amanda is taking a class where she’s reading James Cone, Daphne Hampson and Rudolf Bultmann, and she’s ENJOYING it?

Pssstt…Did you hear that Amanda is writing a paper on the role of the church in Postliberal thought, and she likes the ideas that she’s been introduced to?

Pssstt…Did you hear that Amanda reads ‘emergent’ blogs like Rachel Held Evans, and that she’s also blogging with some wacky guys down in Texas?

Pssstt…Did you hear that Amanda hasn’t learned from her previous pastoral experiences, and SHE still thinks she’s called to be a pastor?

Pssstt…Did you hear that when Amanda is done her MA she’s going to go on and get her PhD, and Chuck’s okay with that?

Pssstt…Did you hear that Amanda not only took a class on that Neo-orthodox guy Karl Barth, but that she continues to read him in her spare time, and is probably going to do her thesis on his ideas?

Tsk, tsk. I guess we should pray for her soul. She should know better.

Sunday Meditation

The decline of biblical literacy is not to be confused with the growth of unbelief or of a secularized culture. The leaders of the Enlightenment were not believers, but they were biblically literate and biblically cultured. Conversely, Bible-believing fundamentalists sometimes know remarkably little of the content of Scripture.

George Lindbeck, “The Church’s Mission to a Postmodern Culture” in Postmodern Theology: Christian Faith in a Pluralist World, pg. 44.