Monthly Archives: May 2012
I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.
This week I read this book. First, let me say how immensely grateful I am for modern medicine’s contribution to childbirth. On other days you may have heard me saying the opposite, but I am aware now what a privileged position the fight for natural childbirth has been waged from. And what else to even say about the picture this book paints…? Did you know that during civil war in Liberia, 90% of women over the age of three said they had been raped? 90%! That if you’re a girl born in India you are 50% more likely do die in the first 5 years of life than a boy—not because you might be killed (although that does also happen), but simply because you will not receive the same medical care. Boys get shots; girls don’t. A sick boy is taken to the doctor; a girl lies at home and dies. That every year in China 39,000 baby girls die because of lack of medical attention they would receive if they were a boy. That on average, the death of 15 infant girls can be avoided by allowing one hundred female fetuses to be selectively aborted. (That’s not an argument for abortion, but evidence of female oppression—they die either way.) That 21% of South African women have been raped by the age of 15. The numbers of people currently being killed simply because they’re women or girls far surpasses any genocide we have numbers on. And the numbers of women currently being trafficked for sexual slavery far surpasses the numbers on the slave trade at its peak crossing the Atlantic to America and Europe. Women raped or mutilated by childbirth are often left to be eaten by wild animals—one 14 year-old, after enduring 7 days of labor entirely on her own (due to child marriage and an immature pelvis), her baby’s death and severe internal injuries and nerve damage found herself unable to even walk and left to die at the edge of the village. She fought off hyenas all night by waving sticks (since she couldn’t run), then at daylight dragged herself to the doorstep of a missionary she had heard of. On the flip side of these atrocities, it was joyous to read these (I assume) unbelieving journalists talk about the ubiquitous presence of missionaries in the most difficult places in the world. They said that the UN and WHO and big charity organizations are in the cities, often with lots of money but also often very ineffective in helping the people who need it most. In the rural areas where people have no access to basic quality of life and cultural abuses hold out longest, they kept running into Christians. To use their own words, these people (!) burrow themselves into the culture, (!) even send their children to local schools, and (!!) often stay for life. I was doing some festal shouting reading about a single girl who left a church in Minneapolis to go to the Congo where she educates and trains women to support themselves after childbirth injuries. And another Christian woman who buried her husband on the hospital grounds in Ethiopia and just kept on doing operation after operation day after day on injuries sustained during childbirth. I’m praising God for these women and for Karis, Barb, Carole and Beth. And praise Jesus who burrowed himself into our culture and gave his life so that we might live for others. And he is praised—by a woman in India who says that although she’s a devout Muslim she greatly admires Jesus Christ after her time spent working alongside a Catholic missionary. And I want to tell the feminist Muslims (yep, you read that right) about Jesus—that instead of fighting for the right of a woman to be in the same room as a praying man, they can meet One who pointed His disciples to a woman as an example of worship. One who told women to leave the kitchen and sit at his feet with the men. One who told women that it was not the children they bore that defined them but their obedience to His words. That the virtue of their love for husbands and children was found virtuous by the church not because it was obedience to their husbands or cultures but to Him. And then I wondered whether these women would meet Jesus in our churches and whether the men they grew up under would feel a little too much at home there. “The historian David Courtwright has argued that one reason America is relatively violent, compared to Europe, is the legacy of a male surplus. Until WWII, the US was disproportionately male, and the frontier was overwhelmingly so… The same analysis, while controversial, may also help explain why male-dominated Muslim societies have similar threads emphasizing self-reliance, honor, courage, and quickly resort to violence. All this is compounded when the men are young. In Western countries, the cohort aged 15 through 24 makes up an average of 15 percent of the adult population. In contrast, in many Muslim countries this share has been more than 30 percent… Youth bulges may be particular destabilizing in conservative Muslim countries, because women are largely passive and silent… Moreover, in other parts of the world, young men aged 15 through 24 spend many of their waking moments chasing young women. In contrast, in conservative Muslim countries, some young men make war, not love. In strict Muslim countries such as Afghanistan, many young men have little hope of every finding a partner. Typically in such nations, there are at least 3 percent more males than females, partly because females don’t receive the same medical care as males. Also polygamy means that the wealthiest men take two or three wives, leaving even fewer women available for the poor. Young men in such countries grow up in an all-male environment, in a testosterone-saturated world that has the ethos of a high school boys’ locker room.” In this part of the world, a young man may well have never once had a substantive conversation with a women except his mother. How many pastors and elders in our churches have never had a substantive conversation with a woman on theology or even the Christian life? How many of our seminaries and church offices have the “ethos of a high school boys’ locker room”? Fortunately every pastor I’ve had has had much more maturity than the image those words bring to mind, but the point is this: if the image of God is communicated by men and women working together, what kind of an incomplete representation are many of our church platforms and offices giving? I believe that 1 Tim 2 limits the office of elder to men, but this is only a narrow slice of the ministry and leadership gifts needed in the life of a church. And as the authors point out, focusing only on men doesn’t just hurt women but everyone: “To deny women is to deprive a country of labor and talent, but—even worse—to undermine the drive to achievement of boys and men. One cannot rear young people in such wise that half of them thing themselves superior by biology, without dulling ambition and devaluing accomplishment.” If more women were contributing to the theology, ministry philosophy and day-to-day decisions of our churches, would we have better churches? If you believe that women are equal partakers of the Spirit and the providential gifts of God, then you must say yes. The authors share the story of a girl born to poor farmers in a Chinese village. She went to the first few years of school and tested better than all her fellow pupils, but her parents were preparing to take her out of school because they saw no need for education when they needed her to work in the field (and all the money went to sons’ education). The authors were able to procure a donor willing to fund her ongoing education and her parents begrudgingly agreed to let her continue. She graduated, went on to college, now owns her own company, replaced her family’s one-room shack with a 6-room house, built a road to their village and continues to fund schooling for other children in the village. Her family’s vision of what she could help them with was entirely too small—they wanted two hands to pick rice and she wanted to build roads and schools. All over the world girls are denied education because it is considered more profitable to educate the boys. We do the same thing in our churches by educating men in theology because we think they can minister to more people in occupational positions. Not to mention what this communicates to the women needing ministry—why would we invest in someone who would be focused on ministry to you? As if there are not plenty of women needing Christ and growth in him and preparing women to minister to them would be unprofitable. Perhaps our vision is too small. Are we offering the unique grace of Christ to the world, including women and in contrast to false religions? “Although volume upon volume is written to prove slavery a very good thing, we never hear of the man who wishes to take the good of it, by being a slave himself.” Abraham Lincoln Except one. Who being in the form of God though equality with God not something to grasp at, but emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men and humbling himself even to the point of death on a cross. Have this same mindset, doing nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility of mind regarding others as more important than yourselves. Let each of us look not only to his or her own interests, but also to the interests of others.
David’s latest blog post:
Because there is so much that we can’t fight. When we are waiting we are often painfully aware that we are not in control. This agitation can push us into badgering others, anxiety attacks or the occasional misplaced obsessive compulsion. On our better days it pushes us into prayer. And in this waiting place, prayer can be like walking into an empty room, a conversational cul-de-sac. When you most need Him, God doesn’t show up. The God who spoke all life into being, from whom “every good and perfect gift” comes, who died to defeat death, pain, sin and hell for us—where is He now with His good gifts and power to save?
After the death of her mother and crumbling of her marriage, Lauren Winner describes her feelings this way: “When you find that God is absent, you do many things… You narrow your eyes at your absent God the way you would narrow your eyes at your lover, in a fight, when he has just said something awful and mean and true about you, the way you narrow your eyes before you say Fine, then! And storm out of the room. You are growing a carapace, to protect yourself from this absence. You begin to turn your attention elsewhere, to any elsewhere that might pay you some attention back.” My husband and I recently wondered whether we are getting more skilled in trusting God or just getting numb to the ups and downs of anticipation and delay. Are we just looking elsewhere for attention, distracting ourselves with more urgent concerns than an absent God? If so, then we are not waiting well.
Psalm 22 is some good waiting: fully voiced despair, demand for God alone and unflinching, steely-eyed hope in Him. If the psalm itself doesn’t charm you, Jesus’ meditation on it through the cross experience ought to lure you in. And for both Jesus and the psalmist, declaring God’s victory was best done in the midst of apparent defeat. The timing of faith is crucial; it’s not faith when it’s over and the answer is clear and the pieces have all fallen into place—faith is most faithful when the object of its hope is utterly unapparent.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
The first irony here is that the psalmist is still calling out to a God that he accuses of absence. The Septuagint’s translation of the cry here is something akin to “why don’t you pay any attention to me!?” And his enemies’ taunts only prod his fear awake: Let Him rescue him if he delights in him… The implications of this unmet reality are devastating for one whose life centers on the covenant, who from birth has called on my God. We wonder… maybe He ignores me because I am insignificant to Him, because He disdains me and my inability to hold it together, my pathetic pleas.
In contrast to his forefathers, who were delivered, he is ashamed. Denied the security of the primary relationship of his life, he doesn’t even feel human: But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people… He feels eyes upon him, the discomfort of unanswered questions, the tsk-tsking as heads wag, the eventual vocalization of long-held suspicions and finally outright attacks on his integrity—this from his own community! Much like Job, he realizes that only the solidarity of God is useful.
He comes to this argument perhaps less nobly than Job. He is less convinced of his righteousness in his desparation, but desperation for God is still good. Sometimes our faith is little more than a shoulder-shrugged statement like Peter’s “to whom else would we go?” He fights doubts of God’s pleasure in him with something of a blameshift: I’m not sure how you feel about me now since you’re ignoring me, but don’t forget that you’re the one who made yourself my God! As you sit by watching me face death, don’t forget that you’re the one who brought me here in the first place. I have no one else besides you—for good or bad, you’re my God! His enemies are closing in, encircling him while God is nowhere to be seen—but his eyes are still scanning the horizon for a savior.
The psalm gradually turns from despair by way of several halting jerks back and forth: current absence but past presence, pragmatic but nonetheless loyal attachment to his God, and then a commitment to fully explain God’s faithfulness to a community that now disdains him. While still under the calculating eyes of his enemies, the psalmist envisions a day of praise and this is what he plans to say: That God doesn’t scorn the lowly. That He is not annoyed by the desperate pleas of the poor. That He doesn’t look away, averting his eyes from our pain. That when we cry, He is listening. That He saves.
He has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the LORD!
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD…All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.
The Gospels unanimously portray Christ meditating on this psalm throughout his suffering and finding its honest resolve fortifying. Even the accusers are painted with this psalm’s language—they wag their heads and echo “He trusts in God; Let God deliver him now if He desires him…” One scholar interprets Jesus’ cry of “It is finished!” (Jn 19.30) as a restatement of the psalm’s final phrase: “He has done it!” In light of the timing (pre-resurrection), it at least borrows its boldness. While still in his precarious position, the psalmist vows to God that he will someday tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you. Then Hebrews 2.7 tell us that we are those brothers. That when Jesus was on the cross he was gaining the voice of experience and planning to use it to convince us of God’s faithfulness. For it’s not angels that he helps, but people. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God… for because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Jesus waits with us. The One who could do anything, with all things at his disposal, chose suffering. God does not give into demands, but He stays by those who pray.
So here, in brief, are some waiting words:
– keep calling—stay loyal
– remember God’s goodness in the past and let those memories form your actions. This is not dishonest—it is accurate. (We know more about the past than the future or even present.) And then push yourself a bit more to use it to shape the way you imagine the future.
– Put the shame to shame, giving it no weight. You may feel shame before people, but never before God. He knows every sin, hears every cry, sees every impatient sigh, every shallow and easily frightened spot of our souls. And is still our God. If there are taunts, lifted eyebrows, and uncomfortable questions they are not from God. He does not squirm in the face of evil like the powerless do.
– If you are crying out to silence, assume it is the silence of One listening, hanging on to every word.
And, finally, it helps to imagine the devil writhing in agony over your well-timed faith. “Do not be deceived Wormwood. Our case is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.” (C. S. Lewis’s master tempter Screwtape)
Here is are family update:
After 5 minutes in the car leaving NYC this month, Clive was out cold–he wore himself out that weekend.