Friday, January 25, 2013

Turn On the Light

Last night, Xander was piddling through his usual bedtime stalling ritual, and I was, as usual, becoming impatient with him.  As he dug in the closet for yet another pair of pajamas, because the ones he was wearing just wouldn't do, I flipped the light switch in an attempt to hurry him up.  Immediate darkness descended on the room, and a terrified squawk issued from the closet:

"MOM!  Turn the light on!  I'm scared!"

Isn't it funny how he had to have known that I was right there, in the room.  So was his sister.  Nothing had changed except that now he couldn't see us, and he immediately became scared.  The darkened room suddenly became a place where danger was hiding, and he (in his own mind, at least) was imminently vulnerable.  I flipped the light back on, and problem solved.

Last August, my entire family got together in the mountains for a long weekend.  We hadn't all been together for an extended period of time like that, my mom and dad, siblings, in-laws and kids, everybody, since Scott and I were engaged 11 years ago.  We'd spent a few hours here and there, but everybody was always too busy, us siblings with our jobs and families, and Mom and Dad with their ministry, to commit any more time than that.

We hadn't really been a family together, in fact, since the summer before my junior year of high school. That was the summer when our family split up, and we forgot how to be.  Mom and Dad, Anna and Matt went back to the Solomons.  Nathan and I stayed in America.  I was 16.

When my folks came back in March, I wasn't ready to see them.  The part of me that missed them, that needed them, that wanted them, had been pushed way, way down and locked up tight and shoved into a dusty, cobwebby corner of my soul.  The pain of separation had been locked up in there, too.  I shouldered a new identity, 'Danica, Responsible Adult', and shed the old, 'Danica, Daughter of David and Pam'.  When they came back, I was not about to pull out and dust off the old me.  That would mean facing the pain, the separation, the feelings of abandonment in the name of God.  It was much easier to bolster up my bravado and allow a crack to widen into a ravine, then a gulf, then a chasm between us.

I went off to college.  I got married.  I moved to another state.  I had kids.  All the while, my parents were throwing themselves into their work, and my siblings were living their own lives.  We all had perfected the art of packing the pain away in a suitcase and locking it tight.  We'd get together, and all of the things left unsaid hovered like malevolent poltergeists, charging the air and sabotaging conversations.

Then, a year and a half ago, my parents came back for an extended furlough.  It was really a Sabbatical, justly earned by two people who had given up everything, literally, for the cause of Christ.  Mom kept pushing for a family weekend, a time when we would all be under the same roof for several nights.  I didn't want to.  Extended family time meant that the tenuous hold I had over that dusty old suitcase in my soul would considerably weaken, and I didn't want to face what had been festering there for 15 years.  But I went along, we all did, because we love our mom, and we could see this was so important to her.

The last night of the trip, we all sat contented and full from an al fresco dinner, of enchiladas, guacamole, beans, rice, and beer.  The sun had long set behind tall mountain firs, and a few of the boldest stars had begun to prick holes through the velvety sky.

"I think we should all go around and say what we love about our family,"  Mom started in.  Bitter, angry, and cynical, I sat with my mouth stubbornly shut as one by one people piped up to share.  It wasn't that I didn't agree with what they were saying - I did.  But in my eyes, we were once again trying to paint a rosy coat on the pain I knew we were all harboring inside.  The junk in the suitcase rumbled, and I gave it a firm mental poke.

When the sharing time was over, we had a time of prayer.  Again, I didn't say anything.  I couldn't pray to God while pretending everything was OK.  He knew and I knew that the suitcase was becoming more insistent, now rocking out from its place in the corner of my soul and demanding attention.

My dad rounded up the prayer with a benediction.  He started with Nathan, the oldest, and began prophetically praying blessing over him, his wife, and kids.  Then he worked his way down the chain.  When he got to me, Dad prayed, "And God, thank you for Danica.  Thank you for her honesty and fire, for her boldness, for the way she never shrinks back from the truth ... "

By the time he had finished praying through the entire family, I knew what I had to do.  Reaching down into my soul, I flicked the rusty lock and opened my pain.  Beginning to speak, stammering, haltering, stumbling over tears, I gave voice to the insecurities, the rejection, all the difficult feelings I was experiencing.

I began, for the first time, to speak the truth to my family.  I told them, "Everyone says we're OK.  We're not OK."  I told them, "I want us to be better."  I told them, "It really hurts me when ... "

This opened up a flood of confession, as one by one we spoke our fears into the soft night.  We spoke our hearts.  We spoke truth.  We turned the light on the past and saw it for what it was.  We heard each other.  We understood each other.  We healed.  And the gulf, the chasm, the gap between us suddenly shrunk down to a crack.

You see, darkness is scary because it hides our fears.  It is the darkness, it is the lies that separate us from true intimacy with one another.  It is the darkness, it is the lies that keep us in bondage, unable to even be true to ourselves.  By turning the light on, by allowing honesty and truthfulness into our lives and relationships, we experience freedom for ourselves and intimacy with others.

Your relationship with someone can only be as intimate as your ability to be honest with them.  Sometimes the other person doesn't want honesty, but truthfulness can still set you free in that relationship.  When you allow lies, even little ones like simply omitting the truth, to enter into your interactions with others, you run the risk of denying who you are, which is the very worst bondage to be in.

As Paul exhorts us in the book of Ephesians,

 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. 
... You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.  (Ephesians 4:15 - 27)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wardrobe Malfunction

The M.V. Baruku, although resting peacefully now atop a Southern Pacific reef, was the rust bucket that carried us to and fro from Honiara, to Ontong Java atoll.  The ship would come about every three to four months, laden with treasures of cloth, rice, canned foods, the occasional fresh produce that survived the three day trip, and as  many green-faced passengers as could be packed on deck without sinking the thing.

The advent of the ship was always heralded by a herd of pikininis, running naked from the ocean side of the island and screaming the news of, "Keva'a!  Keva'a! (Ship!  Ship!)", throughout the village.  From then, it was another good two hour's wait as the Baruku slowly grew from a barely distinguishable speck on the horizon, to the ship that it was, chugging along the reef with its passengers standing out in sharp relief against the sky.  The captain would carefully navigate it through the deep passage a few islands down from us in the chain, and into the lagoon.

Once the ship had settled its anchor in front of Luaniua, people would start out to it in their canoes and bright orange, fiber glass, outboard motor boats.  Kids would load up like bananas in a bunch on their little canoes, and swarm the ship.  New people and new things were are rarity on the island, and there was only a day, maybe two, to enjoy the novelty before it moved on.

One time, when the Baruku came to Luaniua, I went out to greet it with a group of friends.  I sat wedged between the legs of one friend and against the back of another, my butt soaking from water that had splashed into the bottom of the canoe when we all got in.  We'd recruited a little brother to paddle us out, and as he did his work, we excitedly watched the ship draw nearer.

It was teeming, like a mango that has been left overnight and is furry with ants by morning.  People were tossing cargo from the deck down into canoes below, those on the receiving end fluidly catching the bags of rice and boxes of tuna and rolls of bedding, then placing them in the bed of the canoes, all the while balancing as the waves kept both ship and canoes in constant motion.  When we got to the ship, our boy threw out a line to someone on deck, and we balanced ourselves against the boats on either side of us to prepare to board.  One by one, the girls in front of me stood carefully and reached up to grasp the hands that stretched down to pull them up to safety.

Then it was my turn.  I always felt like I had something to prove when outsiders came to the island.  To those on Luaniua, we had long since ceased to be a novelty,  and were simply Teveti, Pamela, Letani, Danika, Ana and Tiu - friends, enemies, rivals, adopted family members.  I became so comfortable there, that my own white skin would startle me when I looked down at it; I was so used to seeing brown.  But newcomers to the island saw our white skin and probably thought it was hilarious that we were dressing like, talking like, and acting like the villagers.  I was always conscious of eyes on me when the ship was there, and I was determined to not embarrass myself by acting like a white girl.

So when it came my turn to go from canoe to ship, I stood with confidence.  And forgot that my butt had by this time become saturated in the bottom of the canoe.  A wet lava lava stays on no matter how  you move.  But a lava lava that is wet on the bottom and dry around your waist will unravel, as the heavy, wet cloth sticks to your legs.  So when I stood, I could feel the cloth snake from around my waist, threatening to pull completely off and leave me standing there in my T-shirt and nothing else.  With desperate hands I grabbed at the cloth and held it to my navel.  Looked down to check.  Whew.  It was still hanging to my knees, and everything was covered.

Carefully, I planted a bare foot against each wall of the canoe and straightened.  I could feel the eyes of the Melanesian crew members on me, and also the islanders' family members from town.  I looked up to the strong hand that was extending to me.  I would have to let go of my lava lava in order to be pulled up.

Taking a moment to adjust my wrap-around, I cinched it more tightly around my waist.  Opened it a little to get more leverage.  And a breeze bounced up from a rising wave.  That rogue bit of air took the edge of my lava lava and flung it behind me.  The wet cloth stuck, and I looked down with rising horror as I saw the entire length of my thigh exposed.  A delighted, decidedly bass, whoop rose up from the decks of the ship.  This was a culture where breasts are bared, but nobody can see what's from your hips to your knees.  I'd basically done the cultural equivalent of flashing my breasts at a bus full of frat boys.

Burning, I snatched my recalcitrant lava lava back in place, tightened it with desperate firmness, and allowed myself to be pulled on board.  Oddly enough, even though I stayed extra close to my friends while we explored the boat, we seemed to come across an awful lot of crew members, all of whom were very interested in talking to us.  I let my friends do the talking.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Book Review :: A Year of Biblical Womanhood ::

I'd been hearing rumblings about this book for a while now.  A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Rachel Held Evans, was on my reading wish list, and I couldn't stop talking about it.  I'd heard that Evans, a popular blogger, had done an experiment in which she took all the commands for women in the Bible literally for a year, in an attempt to discover what true womanhood is, as defined by the Bible.  My curiosity was piqued, and I talked about the concept to anyone who would listen.  That's why, on Christmas morning, when I found it nestled in a recycled, pink baby shower gift bag, I was ecstatic.  I leaped to my feet and kissed Scott with tears in my eyes.

"What's this all about?"  he asked, referring to my watery eyes and delighted kisses.

"It's just that ... I love that you gave me this.  It means that you care about me, and my journey, and my continuous discovery of who I am."

I immediately posted a picture on Facebook, and was lost in the book for the rest of the week.

In her introduction, Evans says,
Now, we as evangelicals have a nasty habit of throwing the word biblical around like it's Martin Luther's middle name.  We especially like to stick it in front of other loaded words, like economics, sexuality, politics, and marriage to create the impression that God has definitive opinions about such things, opinions that just so happen to correspond with our own.  Despite insisted claims that we don't "pick and choose" what parts of the Bible we take seriously, using the word biblical prescriptively almost always involves selectivity.
After all, technically speaking, it is biblical for a woman to be sold by her father (Exodus 21:7), biblical for her to be forced to marry her rapist (Deuteronomy 22:28), biblical for her to remain silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34 - 35), biblical for her to cover her head (1 Corinthians 11:6), and biblical for her to be one of multiple wives (Exodus 21:10).
This is why the notion of "biblical womanhood" so intrigued me.  Could an ancient collection of sacred texts, spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own, really offer a single cohesive formula for how to be a woman?  And do all women of Scripture fit into this same mold?  Must I? (p. xx)
Evans set about her pursuit of biblical womanhood by identifying twelve virtues - gentleness, domesticity, obedience, valor, beauty, modesty, purity, fertility, submission, justice, silence, and grace - and focused on one virtue each month of the year.  In October, she cultivated a gentle and quiet spirit, as per 1 Peter 3:3 - 4, took an etiquette lesson, attempted to kick the gossip habit, made herself serve penance by sitting on the rooftop for every time she was contentious with her husband.  My favorite part about Evans' month of gentleness was her experience with contemplative prayer.  I have heard these words in various forums for a while now, but wasn't sure exactly what contemplative prayer is.  Basically, I learned, it is a form of meditation, where you still your spirit and listen, rather than spend your time talking to (at?) God.   Reading Evans' beautiful words about contemplative prayer inspired me to attempt to practice it on my own.
I don't know for sure, but I think maybe God was trying to tell me that gentleness begins with strength, quietness with security.  A great tree is both moved and unmoved, for it changes with the seasons, but its roots keep it anchored in the ground.  Mastering a gentle and quiet spirit didn't mean changing my personality, just regaining control of it, growing strong enough to hold back and secure enough to soften. (p. 16)
I was beginning to fall in love with this book.  I loved Evans' fresh take on 'biblical' virtues that I have heard about my entire life.  See, the thing is, for me, the words 'biblical womanhood' come loaded with lots of impossible standards and shame.  I hear the word, 'gentleness', and I immediately think about my own fiery nature, the passion and drive that are as much a part of me as my left pinkie toe.  For so much of  my life, I have thought that I have two choices - either conform to the standard of a 'biblical woman', thereby forsaking some core part of my passionate identity, or be true to myself, and forsake God.  Neither solution seemed to be acceptable, so I spent my life walking a tightrope between attempting to fulfill standards, and shame.  With this first chapter of A Year of Biblical Womanhood, I began to feel a weight lifted off my shoulders.  Here was someone who thought like me!  Here was someone who had the same questions I always have!

The next virtue Evans tackled was domesticity.  I found this chapter hilarious, as she described teaching herself to cook and attempting (not very well) to clean via Martha Stewart's Cooking School and Homekeeping Housebook.  I loved this part:
After reading Brother Lawrence, I tried to go about my housework with a little more mindfulness - listening to each rhythmic swishing of the broom, feeling the warm water rush down my arm and off my fingers as I scrubbed potatoes, savoring the scent of clean laundry fresh out of the dryer, delighting in the sight of all the colorful herbs and vegetables and cheeses on my countertop.  And sure enough, I found myself connecting with that same presence that I encountered during contemplative prayer, the presence that reminded me that the roots of my spirit extended deep into the ground.  I got less done when I worked with mindfulness, but, somehow, I felt more in control. (p. 29)
In December, Evans focused on the virtue of obedience.  She addressed her husband as 'Master' (1 Peter 3:1 - 6), and would have the entire month, except that he grew uncomfortable with it and ordered her to stop!  She also interviewed a woman living in a polygamist marriage, and held a touching ceremony honoring victims of misogyny.  

Next, Evans addressed valor, and it was my absolute favorite chapter of the book, hands down.  Here she looked at the 'Proverbs 31 Woman', that ideal we are all held up to.  When I read Proverbs 31, I am inspired by the words, but also hear that nagging voice in the back of my head - "YOU don't rise at dawn" ... "YOU don't keep the house very clean (watch over the affairs of the home)" ... "YOU spend way too much time 'eating the bread of idleness'".  At the end of the passage, when the husband rises up and says, "Many daughters have done nobly, but you excel them all", I always feel a longing to be worthy of that praise, but know in my heart that I fall short of earning it.  So you can imagine how incredibly freeing it was to read the words of the wife of a Jewish rabbi, 
Here's the thing.  Christians seem to think that because the Bible is inspired, all of it should be taken literally.  Jews don't do this.  Even though we take the Torah literally (all 613 commandments!), the rest is seen differently, as a way of understanding our Creator, rather than direct commands.  Take Proverbs 31, for example. I get called an eshet chayil (a valorous woman) all the time.  Make your own challah instead of buying?  Eshet chayil!  Work to earn some extra money for the family?  Eshet chayil! Make balloon animals for the kids at Shul?  Eshet chayil!  Every week at the Shabbat table, my husband sings the Proverbs 31 poem to me.  It's special because I know no matter what I do or don't do, he praises me for blessing the family with my energy and creativity.  All women can do that in their own way.  I bet  you do as well.  (p. 87)
After valor, Evans spent a month on beauty, modesty, purity, and then fertility. (During which she adopted a computer baby.  Hilarious.)  And then came June, and the virtue of submission.  Here is where I hit a snag in the book, and found some things I disagree with Evans on.  One of the things I love (and love and love and love) about her is that she looks at the Bible with a fresh perspective.  She puts a female spin on old stories, pointing out things that I have never noticed before, probably because I hear most of my bible teaching from men.  After each chapter, she writes a short vignette about a woman in the bible, putting a real face and human emotions on what used to be secondary, sideline characters, who served as footnotes to to bigger stories.  I love this, and it has caused me to approach my own bible readings with new eyes and a fresh curiosity.

In the chapter on submission, Evans says that, "with Christ, hierarchical relationships are exposed for the sham that they are, as the last are made first, the first are made last, the poor are blessed, the  meek inherit the earth, and the God of the universe takes the form of a slave (p. 219)."  I like that Evans pointed out how Christ made us all equal, and it's true, he didn't care who a person was or what status they had.  But I disagree with her assertion that Christ was against any kind of hierarchy.  Christ Himself said, "I can do nothing on my own initiative.  As I hear, I judge; and My judgement is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me (John 5:30)."  Even within the Holy Trinity there is a hierarchy, with God at the head and Christ submitted to Him.  You see this concept of hierarchy and order repeated throughout the Bible.  It's impossible to ignore.  

In addition to this, in referencing the passages in the Bible about submission, Evans skipped over some parts that are, to me, important.  She quoted Ephesians 5:22, "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord," and never mentioned the verse right after it, which says, "For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body."  Evans says of the Ephesians passage (and the ones in Colossians and 1 Peter), 
The questions modern readers have to answer is whether the Greco-Roman household codes reflected upon in Ephesians, Colossians, and in 1 Peter are in and of themselves holy, or if their appearance in Scripture represents the early church's attempt to blend Christianity and culture in such a way that it would preserve the dignity of adherents while honoring prevailing social and legal norms of the day.  The Christian versions of the household codes were clearly progressive for their time, but does that mean they have the last word, that Christians in changing places and times cannot progress further?
A very good point.  But I would say that still does not answer the section where Paul compares the husband as head of the wife, to Christ as head of the church.  No matter what way I look at it, there is no way around that picture.  And I love the picture, because, as it says in verses 30 - 31, "we are members of His body.  For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh."  I love that Paul dignifies women in a culture where they had no voice or autonomy, by addressing them directly and even telling men to "love his own wife even as himself", a radical concept at the time.  

It's not that one is 'higher' or 'more important' than the other - they are one flesh.  And yet there has to be a head (since God seems to place so much importance on it throughout the Scrpitures).  It seems like a paradox - how can we be unified, equal, and one, and at the same time man be possessed with the authority of headship?  Paul agrees, saying, "This mystery is great."  (v. 32)  I don't think we will ever be able to fully understand it.  I have had to become comfortable sitting in the paradox. 

The problem I have with this whole debate, the debate of complementarian vs egalitarian, is that they represent two extremes.  I really do feel that they are both right, in a way.  As Scott said while we were discussing the topic later, "You can't cut an apple in half, throw away half of it, and still have a whole apple."  In other words, both concepts are important to the whole.  Yes, hierarchy is established by God for order in the world.  But that does not mean that men rule over women.  It does not mean that all women have to submit to all men.  The very big, very real problem with complementarianism is that it has been taken way, way too far to impose control and dominance over women.  I know, because I have experienced it first hand.  I know a single mother in her 60's who calls her son, 'sir', and will submit to 'obeying' him because he is a man and, in her eyes (and his), is the ultimate authority.  Scott has personally been told by someone of the complementarian mindset to 'get control of' me, his wife.  It is ugly, and it is wrong.  And it is a sad, sad shame that it is perpetuated by the church, in the name of Christ.  

At one point in my life, not too many years ago, I would have denounced the paragraph above that I just wrote as, 'feminist propaganda trash'.  I would have called the author, 'rebellious to her authority', and vulnerable to the 'Jezebel spirit'.  I was so sure that I was interpreting the Bible passages correctly.  Now, I have a different interpretation.  I say this, to demonstrate that just because I disagree with Evans' view on submission, I can't say that I have the definitive view on it, either.  I may be right, she may be right.  People a lot more knowledgeable than I am have been debating this subject for centuries.  All I can do is approach the text with a humble, open, seeking heart, and ask God for wisdom when reading it.  And then, give grace to my sister who obviously did the same thing and came away with a different interpretation.  I still love what she had to say about so many other things, I loved the way she fleshed out biblical characters, and I won't allow a differing view I have with her on one point, to negate the rest of what she has to say.  

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book to anyone, women especially, who are looking for a fresh take on what it means to be a woman of God.  It made me laugh, it made me cry, and most importantly it made me turn back to the Scriptures, searching them for myself to discover the truth God's heart towards His daughters.