Archive for the ‘submission’ Category

Let’s Fall In Love

Monday, September 24th, 2007

The success of television shows like “Sex in the City,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Wife Swap,” and “Trading Spouses” suggests that we are fascinated with marriage. We can’t get enough of peering into and speculating about what goes on behind closed doors between a woman and her husband. The drama playing out on our television screens, like the greater ongoing cultural debate on marriage, demonstrates that we are caught up in a clash between the myth of marriage and the reality of marriage.

It’s been over a month since the story of Juanita Bynum and Thomas Weeks’ marital woes hit the news, and there’s no sign of the public losing interest in the drama. Every day a new video clip, another news link, finds its way into my box. The details slowly emerging suggest that the marriage between Bynum and Weeks was anything but story book. Which only proves that marriage may be made in heaven, but it’s left to couples here on earth to work out the details.

With so many marriages ending (often in scandal and sometimes with violence) in divorce, and with those who remain married at a loss to be able to explain how they manage to hold it together, it’s a wonder anyone still dreams of getting married. But plenty women still envision themselves someday as a bride. After all, Mother Nature doesn’t give a twit about the divorce rate, or about domestic violence, or about marital drama. Mating is a powerful biological instinct. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated flees do it. It’s just that humans call it “falling in love.” And when we fall in love, we prefer to mate for life. Too bad Mother Nature didn’t equip us with a gene that could make the more likely task of “un-mating” simple and painless. That’s where birds, bees, and other creatures have one over on us. When humans fall out of love, break up, or divorce, there’s bound to be lots of finger pointing. We’ve got to come up with a moral behind our break-ups to make them make sense to us.

Now that Weeks’ rage has subsided and Bynum’s physical bruises have begun to heal, both parties are doing what they do best as televangelists which is to use the camera to paint themselves in a positive light. My friends who have never been married are eager to assign blame. Weeks makes that easy to do since he’s the one who threw the punches, and no thinking woman can overlook that fact. But those of us who have been married know that what makes or breaks a marriage is a much more complicated truth. Weeks insinuated at his latest news conference that marriage to an ambitious woman like Bynum was no stroll in the park. He’s probably right.

Marriage has changed drastically more in the last 30 years than in the last 3,000. Part of the drastic ways marriage has changed are embodied in the Bynum-Weeks marriage (um, divorce), which is why we can’t help picking over what we think we see.

It’s the story of a story book wedding that was supposed to be the story book reward to a woman who swore off her earlier promiscuous lifestyle and resolved to wait on God for her soulmate. Is God to blame? It’s the story of a marriage of a wife and husband who share the same profession in a culture accustomed to men selecting women of lower social rank than themselves to marry. Here the wife is an internationally known evangelist. How does a man raised in a tradition which teaches that women are subordinate to men pair up (mate) with a woman who is better known and more financially successful than himself?; and how does an ambitious, driven woman who claims to believe the same negotiate the delicate topography of the male ego? And finally, in recent days, it’s the story of the battered evangelist-wife sitting poised and well-coiffed before the camera, talking about God, resolved about ending her marriage, convinced that she’s found the springboard to launch the next phase of her career. Meanwhile on another side of town, the bishop-husband appears before the camera contrite, talking about God, looking somewhat befuddled by all that’s happened, confessing his love for his wife, and admitting that he wants his marriage and doesn’t want to divorce.

We’ve come a long way, baby. I think.

Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated flees do it. It’s just that humans call it falling in and out of love.

Woman Be Silent!

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

I had heard his voice before. The man in the third row accused me of being radical. It wasn’t what he said, but how he said it. He had had years experience of using his rich, baritone voice to his advantage. The lecture I’d just given on men and power, women and submission was, according to him, subject to lead women and men away from God. He went on to lecture me about biblical authority and the mysteries of domination and subordination, and concluded by suggesting that I spend more time in prayer before I get up the next time and presume to question centuries of teachings by the church.

Ten years ago I would have frozen when a man like him publicly questioned my piety and my orthodoxy. I would have shaken in my heels at hearing a voice like his say to me, “Get back in line.” “How dare you. Who do you think you are?” But that was ten years ago. I’m not afraid of men like him anymore.

We may not have grown up hearing this scripture, but it’s there inside us nonetheless. “Let a woman learn in silence, with all submissiveness” (I Timothy 2:11). A silent woman who holds her tongue is loved and applauded.

Chattering women evidently irritates the hell out of men.

“…a quarreling woman is like constantly dripping water” (Proverbs 10:13b)

“Constantly dripping water on a rainy day and a contentious woman are one in the same” (Proverbs 27:15).

Let’s face it: there are men who have a real hard time listening to women. Twenty-five years in ministry have demonstrated this point to me again and again. Eighteen years as a seminary professor reminded me of this. Sixteen years of marriage back this up. Seeing the world through a woman’s eyes is something most men spend their whole lives trying never to do. It hurts too much. It’s alien. It’s threatening. Silence women, and it won’t be necessary.

Read the comment section of blogs by women, especially opinionated, head-strong women, and you are apt to find women who are the object of smut and intimidation campaigns by men in blogosphere who seem intent upon silencing women they disagree with. An article about the threats and vitriol posted against women bloggers appeared in the Washington Post last spring. I am reminded of a figure in Greek mythology whose story typifies that of the Silent/Silenced Woman.

While traveling to see her sister-in-law, Philomela is raped by her brother-in-law Tereus. When she threatens to tell her sister, his wife, what he has done to her, he rips out her tongue and banishes her to a tower where she’s forced to live in silence. Knowing that her brother-in-law would like nothing more than for her to die in silence there in the tower Philomela weaves a series of tapestries which become her voice and her story. Here’s where different versions of the myths offer different endings to the story. In one version of the story Philomela manages to enlist the help of an old woman in taking the tapestries to her sister who comes to rescue her and liberate her from the tower. According to another version, after making the tapestry Philomela is transformed into a nightingale, set free to sing the tale of her violation to all who would listen. The myth ultimately is about the loss of women’s voices and the extent to which men like Tereus will go to silence women. Fortunately, Philomela finds new ways to be heard. She will not be silenced.

I smile now when I think of the man in the third row who keeps showing up at my lectures. Same man, different face. One day I stopped being scared. I was no longer threatened by his invariable presence. Better yet, I stopped feeling the need to defend myself. I felt rooted from within. When I stopped being afraid, I started to admire him for standing and defending so passionately, so eloquently, the world he wanted to preserve. It was up to me and other women to figure out how to match his passion and eloquence when we stand to challenge his world. I started looking forward to his presence there on the third row, he was making a great speaker of me. Sure, he had centuries on me in knowing where to find one’s voice, and how to make it heard. But women like me are quick learners.

At the time, repositioning my feet, standing a little firmer, matching his penetrating stare with one of my own would do. I cleared my voice, “Obviously we see the world differently, sir. But thank you for your comments. Next.”

Wake Up Sleeping Beauty

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

“When Sleeping Beauty wakes up,” writes the poet Maxine Kumin, “she is usually almost fifty years old.” If not fifty, then she’s definitely over forty. It takes years for most women to wake up and face the truth that’s been staring them in the face. What truth? That Prince Charming isn’t coming. If he is, he won’t be what you’re expected. What truth? That you don’t get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate. What truth? That there are men out there who actually hate women, and there are women who love them. What truth? That there are men who don’t hate women, but do believe women are inferior and that’s the way God made it. What truth? That there are women who defend their own subordination.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was, by the number of women who sent emails to me protesting my blog piece the other week on submission, taking me to task for questioning the church’s teaching on women’s subordination. At worst, submission is a misdemeanor, not a crime. Sexism is mischief, not a sin. Racism? Now, there’s real injustice. The mind-numbing emails came from those in the deepest sleep possible for a woman, the unconscious state, arguing that what I fail to understand is that there is “good submission” and there is “bad submission.” A few emails came in from men, but I wasn’t surprised by those who defended the way things are. But the women who wrote accusing me of flouting the Bible and not appreciating the mysteries of submission were the saddest. Unconscious is the only way to describe a woman who stands up for her own oppression. She’s oblivious to the way she has been wounded by the tradition she defends.

It’s easier to flail at the person who’s disturbing your sleep than it is to wake up on your own. “Leave me alone, I don’t want to wake up.” “How dare you disturb my sleep?” It hurts to wake up from a deep sleep. I know. It’s disorienting. Everything is fuzzy. It’s frightening. The truth sets you free, but first it hurts your feelings. Sleep keeps the pain at bay.

I was nearly forty before I started noticing things around me. Why hadn’t I noticed when I was a girl that only men were in the pulpit? Why didn’t I notice that men led devotions and held the important church positions? Why didn’t I notice that even my father who didn’t go to church and berated my stepmother for going all the time, that even he knew that Adam was created before Eve, that Eve was the reason “man” was kicked out of the Garden, and that there were scriptures somewhere in the Bible that said that my stepmother had to submit to him? I’d read all the “great books” in black literature classes: (Baldwin, Hughes, Ellison, Gaines, Baldwin, X, ). Why had it never struck me as peculiar that they were all written by men? Why did it take years for me to notice these things? For the same reason that it doesn’t faze my daughter that Snoop, Diddy, Jay-Z, and Nelly are moguls in the music industry despite their mediocre talents, whereas talented women like Beyonce, Eve, Mary J. Blige Missy Elliott, and Mary Mary fade off the scene once they begin to show signs of aging and/or start asking questions about their royalty checks.

When a girl child is taught throughout her life to be submissive, sweet, silent, sexy, pretty but not too smart, she is put to sleep. Whether the lessons come to her from the pulpit or from music videos, the message is the same: shut up and lie down.

It takes turning forty and beyond to gain enough experiences in life and in love to see past the myths and fairy tales. Prince Charming ain’t coming, not on a white horse anyway. Somewhere between forty and fifty years old, a woman shows signs of beginning to rethink her life and dreams of taking back her soul. (I’ve written about such a woman in my book Showing Mary.)

Sleeping Beauty stirs to a noise that disturbs a sleeping woman’s slumber. Sometimes it’s a noise loud enough to yank her awake completely. Infidelity. Divorce. Death. Cancer. Unemployment. Violence. Sometimes it’s a faint noise, but it’s enough to make her toss about and shift position in bed. Noise makes one woman bolt up in bed, disoriented but awake. Another stirs, but chooses to go back to sleep. After all, it’s just too painful to wake up. She isn’t ready to do anything about the noise and drifts back to sleep, but it’s a fretful sleep.

A few of you have written wanting to know why none of the well known male televangelists have come forward and spoken out against the physical assault upon one of their colleagues by her minister husband the other week. Good question. Good recognition. Good insight. That’s it. Come on. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.

Edited@2:00pm on Wednesday, September 5th: Click here to read Bishop T.D. Jakes’ “Domestic Abuse is Unholy” which appeared yestereday in the AJC.

Who Can Find A Virtuous Husband?

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

If only King Solomon had had the courage and good sense to marry the Queen of Sheba. If only he’d convinced the fascinating queen from the south to remain in Jerusalem as his wife.

If only the Queen of Sheba had let herself be convinced that King Solomon could change and be faithful to one woman. If only the queen could trust Solomon to not try to change her into becoming a conventional wife when she had come to him as a queen.

What a marriage between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba might have been! A marriage in the Bible of a man and a woman who were equals. He was one of the wealthiest, wisest, most well known kings in the land. She was one of the wealthiest, well-traveled, intelligent queens from the south. What a model King Solomon and Queen of Sheba might have left us.

Alas, it was not to be.

With the marriages of two well known ministry couples unraveling in recent days, everyone in blogosphere and the media seems to think that it must be impossible for a husband and wife in ministry to live together without competition. But this is not, in my opinion, about marriage between two ministers. This is about marriage between equals. Two lawyers. Two doctors. Two thinking people, period. Two people who want both to combine marriage and family with meaningful careers and vocations. Everyone seems to think it’s impossible for strong, intelligent women to marry and be happy? Why must one partner (always the woman) take a back seat in the marriage for the marriage to work?

Here we are centuries later, King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, still scrambling to make marriages between equals work. Worst yet, here we are centuries later, and our men (most of them, anyway) are still insecure about marrying women whose wealth, fame, educational background outstrip their own. Ah, if only…

Is it me, or has anyone else noticed that no one questions whether men can have it all? No one looks horrified at the man who expects to have a family life and a successful and satisfying career. But a woman who expects to combine family life with a successful and satisfying career is, supposedly, unrealistic. Women are expected to give up their careers for family in ways men are not. Any woman who has ever loved a man knows that she and her children are second to his work, no matter what he says to the contrary. But few men have been willing to extend this reciprocity to the women they have loved.

Until the last half of the 20th century women serious about their vocation or serious about their ambitions typically did not marry and have children. For many centuries, in fact, the cloistered, contemplative life of the nunnery was the only option women had to honorably avoid marriage and follow their spiritual and intellectual yearnings.

Take women in the Bible, for example. Putting off marriage and motherhood freed women like Mary Magdalene, Susanna, Mary of Bethany, and others from the tyranny of being subject to husbands who resented their work and children who needed them to be available. Imagine how intoxicating it must have been to meet a rabbi like Jesus who did not regard you solely as a sexual object, a man committed to building a community of equals where everyone is on equal footing before God. It’s enough to make you leave everything familiar and devote yourself to working with this man in spreading the gospel.

In contrast, of course, there is the Proverbs 31 wife. God bless her soul. But is she our only role model of what it means to be a woman? Who wouldn’t want to be married to a woman who exhausts herself staying up all day and night to make your work and home life comfortable and smooth going? (I need a wife like that myself.)

Contrary to what folks think, there are, and always have been, married women who have managed to be able to devote themselves to pursuing their intellectual and artistic vocations. Their secret? They married unconventional men. Men who understand themselves to be parenting, not “babysitting,” when they take their kids out to the mall. Men who are not “helping out” but pulling their load when they pick up behind themselves and other family members. Men who laugh it off when they are refered to by their wives’ last name (e.g., “Mr. Bynum”).
These are men I like to think of as “men after Jesus’s own heart.” A marriage between equals, King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, where both partners have talent and neither is made to stifle himself/herself in the name of gender roles, is a revolutionary marriage. And the one thing I’ve learned from experience about revolutionary marriages is that they have to be continually reinvented, renegotiated, and reaffirmed.

The second lesson this week is simple then: choosing an unconventional life for yourself, creating a life that runs counter to the norm, especially if you’re a woman, takes enormous courage. You gotta be willing to listen to your own soul, and prepared to invent the life you want for yourself (with or without a husband in tow). If you’re a man loving an unconventional woman is to be loved like you’ve never been loved before. Surrendering your ego and giving yourself over to the work of building a marriage, home, and vocation with a woman like the Queen of Sheba is like peeping into heaven.

Ah, if only King Solomon had had the courage and good sense to marry the Queen of Sheba.