Archive for August, 2007

Do They Play Jazz in Heaven?

Friday, August 31st, 2007

Back home this morning from New Orleans where I went down earlier in the week to join thousands of others in commemorating the second anniversary of Katrina. It’s a wonder I was able to post the things I did here on this blog on gender, marriage, and the church this week. My heart was on the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region. But I wasn’t sure if those who read my blog had a choice between talking about New Orleans and talking about male-female relationships –well, let’s just say that I decided to stick with the story that’s been on the tongues of everyone in the church for the last couple of weeks. God forgive me.

“Enough is enough!” said Susan Taylor at the Essence Music Festival back in July. “It’s the shame of the nation that the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast have been abandoned and are suffering without the most basic necessary supports while our tax dollars are directed toward war.”

I follow my heart today by urging everyone to let’s put aside the gossip of this week and be about what we’re supposed to be about as people of faith: seeing to the needs of the needy, the naked, and the despondent. Two years later, thousands of Gulfport residents remain displaced. The city of New Orleans remains in limbo, the Lower Ninth War where the city’s black population once resided is a ghost town. The money to rebuild has been slow in coming from the government despite the president’s grand promises of two years ago.

Remember the citizens of New Orleans and the Gulfport region in our prayers and in our protests. Pray. And when you finish praying, phone your legislators urging them to release the funds needed to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulfport region.

Let us not forget the victims of Katrina. Let us not forget what we witnessed two years ago: the throngs outside the SuperDome, people camped out on their rooftops and bodies floating through the streets. Remember the tears we cried. Remember the music we lost.

Tell your churches: Yes, God sent the rain; but the nation failed its citizens.

And now for Friday’s quote:

How lonely sits the city that was once filled with people.
How like a widow she has become,
She who was once great among the nations,
And a princess among the provinces has become a slave.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
she has none to comfort her;
All her friends have dealt unjustly with her;
and have become her enemies…
(Lamentations 1:1-2)

Only because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning.
Great is Your Faithfulness.
(Lamentations 3:22-23)

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.

Wives, Obey Your Husbands

Monday, August 27th, 2007

Seizing on other women’s pain to make a point on my blog is not something I relish doing. But there’s a point to be made here as we watch the fall out in the media and blogosphere around the marital crises of Evangelists Juanita Bynum and Paula White. A point that’s been long time in coming. And I am a teacher at heart. So, take out your pencils and let’s get started.

The marriages of two highly celebrated women televangelists unraveled publicly last week. News broke last Wednesday about the brutal attack on Evangelist Juanita Bynum in a hotel parking lot by her husband of four years Bishop Thomas Weeks. Shortly afterwards, Evangelist Paula White and Rev. Randy White stood in the pulpit of their 23,000 member Tampa Bay, Florida church announcing the end of their 18 year marriage.

Ordinarily, marital strife (in Bynum’s case) and divorce (in White’s case) don’t make headline news. Not unless you’re a celebrity. Everybody divorces. Fifty percent of all marriages in this country go up in smoke (60% of black marriages, says some). Sad and staggering, but that’s our reality. What makes Bynum and White’s marriages attention-getting is that Bynum and White are women who have managed to climbed to the top of the otherwise male dominated profession of Christian ministry. Women who build megaministries that can rival those of the most successful men in their profession attract the best and worst attention to themselves. Their followers, those have been strengthened and helped by their ministries, urge folks to pray for Bynum and White, reminding us of their right to privacy and that they too are human. Others, those who loathe all things related to church, televangelists, and organized religion in general, take this time to blast the church, televangelists, organized religion and, those who are, according to them, their sniveling followers. Others of us believe that a window of much needed conversation has been opened up. Some good can come out of all of this, we pray.

Here’s the lesson to be gained, I believe.

Many of the news stories describe Bynum and White as fiery, gifted Pentecostal preachers who are known internationally for preaching women’s empowerment. Say what? Since when did Pentecostals preach women’s empowerment? That’s a non sequitur. You’re talking here to an Pentecostal, an ex-Pentecostal anyway. Believe me when I tell you there are things I miss about my Pentecostal past and continue to cherish about that tradition. But its teachings on women is not one of them. Bynum is a captivating evangelist. She’s talented. She’s masterful. Heck, the woman can preach! (As for Paula White’s preaching, I’ll leave that for another post.) But Juanita Bynum doesn’t preach empowerment, not outrightly, not consistently.

Since when did those who believe in women’s submission, men’s headship, and strict and proper roles for both genders start preaching women’s empowerment? I’ve sat and watched both women preach and host shows on the rabidly conservative TBN network, and not a word has come out of either woman’s mouth debunking the notion of women’s submission to men. To the contrary, both women have risen to the top of the neo-Pentecostal, charismatic, evangelical world in which they travel preaching fiery messages essentially keeping women in their places — waiting. Waiting on God to deliver them, waiting on God to send them husbands, waiting on God to reward them for their longsuffering, and waiting on their husbands to honor them for their submission. I don’t mean to caricature, trivialize or denounce the preaching of other women. After all, I’m a woman in ministry too. But as much as we would like for it to be different, your anointing does not protect you from scrutiny. I don’t mean to deny the many other good things about their ministries. But their messages to and about women are not the sort that challenges the notion of women’s subordination to men.

It can’t be empowerment if you’re still preaching wives’ submission and husbands’ headship. It can’t be empowerment if women are wives (or ladies-in-waiting) and men are priests, the “covering”, and the “head” of the household. It can’t be empowerment if your sermons keep women believing they’re incomplete and lacking unless they are married? It’s not empowerment if you fail to tell women that they don’t honor God by suffering through abusive marriages. It’s not empowerment if men are not challenged to see women as equals and if women are not made to stop romanticizing their subordinate role. It’s not empowerment if you don’t open women’s eyes to the way their devotion and patience are being exploited by their churches (not all churches, of course) and by their pastors (not all pastors, for sure).

Here’s the lesson I take away from this sad news about my colleagues in ministry: If the marriages of women who preach submission fail, then rather than blaming it on the devil, perhaps it’s because submission doesn’t work. Never has. Certainly not in today’s world. Which explains why the first question I get in workshops for married women is “How do I submit to my husband?” Here’s what I’ve noticed in all my years of conducting marriage seminars: husbands never ask for tips on how to obey the scripture that says, “Submit to one another” (Eph. 5:21). Men don’t worry their pretty little heads about submission. They leave it to the women to get that one right.

The opposite of submission is not being a man-hater, as some would like to argue. The opposite of being submissive is being responsible. Responsible before God for having a brain. Responsible for hearing from God for yourself. Responsible for being accountable to God for your own talents and gifts. Responsible for negotiating equality in your relationships and for not settling for less. Responsible for teaching people how to treat you.

For too long women in the church have gone mad trying to obey the messages they’ve heard from society and from the pulpit, trying to figure how to live up to the script that expects them to be spiritually strong, but emotionally dependent (on men), economically self-sustaining (if you’re a black woman), but psychologically subservient (to black men)– and simultaneously physically chaste (if you’re woman of faith). We don’t question the script. We blame ourselves for failing to live up to the script.

When I’m feeling charitable toward the prophet Paul (which isn’t often) I give him the benefit of the doubt. Seeing how radically women took the gospel message and how eager they were to embrace the freedom that came with following Christ, Paul had second thoughts. He didn’t want this fledgling church movement to call too much attention from its detractors, and thus caved into pressures to prove that Christ follwers were not a cult, but decent and orderly folks. Urging “wives submit to your husbands” (Eph.5:22) should prove the point. The same goes for his fear that slaves hearing the gospel get the wrong idea and threaten the Roman stock market by seeking freedom from their bondage. “Slaves obey your masters” (Eph. 6:5-6) was meant to put an end to possible rebellion among Christian slaves. On my better days (which are few), I sympathize with the position Paul found himself in as a pragmatic theologian. But you don’t get to have it both ways, Paul and others. You can’t preach freedom and equality and domination and hierarchy simultaneously.

Here’s what Paul meant to say about relationships: we need a language for talking about the give and take, power and vulnerability, independence and dependence that come up again and again when two people fall in love and plunge heart long into the task of trying to live together in marriage.

Marriage is hard even when both parties believe in mutuality and equality in marriage. Sharing. Negotiating. Swallowing your pride. Censuring yourself. Finding a rhythm between the two of you. Trusting the other. Forgiving. Letting go of the hurts. Overlooking. Growing older and changing. Finding a new rhythm. Renegotiating. Starting over. It’s messy, bruising work that wreaks havoc on your self-esteem and ego. But you can survive the bruisi-ness of marriage when you know that you’re not the only one in the relationship “dying to ego.” Marriage is about mutual sacrifice, mutually giving and forgiving, and mutually surrendering one’s wants and needs for the sake of the other– not because of some preconceived notion about roles and gender, but because you love each other, and because forever is a long time to be sad, miserable, and subjugated.

Stay tuned for lesson Two on Wednesday.

Within the Quote

Friday, August 24th, 2007

Writing for is me one of those talents that doesn’t get easier with practice. Every time I sit down to write I feel as though I have to poke around to find a new vein to slice in order for the words to come. (With all the travelling, speaking and other writing that I do, not to mention the mommie duties that I perform, it’s a miracle that I’ve managed to find the time twice, sometimes three times, a week to sit down before my computer and write something for my blog.) It helps to be opinonated and constantly in a state of rage about all that’s going on the world. It also helps to be a reader. Reading other writers helps to make blogging and writing easier.

I’ve chosen to devote Friday here on the blog to some of my favorite writers. Instead of writing something myself, I will post quotes and excerpts on Fridays from writings and writers that inspire me. You get exposed to folks I think are the truly great thinkers and writers who may or may not have blogs of their own, but whose writings about matters of love, faith, values, intimacy, scripture, and hope will make you go “Hmmm….”

Friday’s column here on Something Within will be called “Within the Quote.”

In light of all that’s gone on this week, “Within the Quote” begins with an excerpt from one of my favorite books on male-female relationships, Communion: The Female Search for Love, written by my friend bell hooks.

After several years of living alone, I began to think seriously about my relationship to intimacy. Until then, I like many women in similar cirucmstances, felt that the problems in my relationships were caused by my male partner’s fear of intimacy. While I haven’t had many partners, it was not hard to see similar threads running through the pattern of my relational choices. I chose men who were quiet, reserved, private, who were loners, often witholding and emotionally unavailable. They were all the adult children of alcoholics. They had all been raised by single mothers to whom they were very attached.

Being alone and celibate gave me the psychic space to confront myself and examine my relationship to intimacy. Soon it was obvious that I had chosen partners who were not particularly “into” intimacy, because then I had never had to make a leap of faith, to trust, or to risk. Being with men who were not interested in offering abiding closeness meant that I never really had to be close. Yet I could have an image of myself as this open, giving woman who really desired closeness, at times feeling smug because I worked so hard on the “relationship.” Working to be close with someone who is not interested in sustained closeness not only depresses the spirit it makes you a perfect target for aggression. As John Gray endlessly tells us in Men are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, when withholding men do not want to be close, watch out, because they are likely to attack if you reach out to them seeking intimate interaction.