What if I Wanna Be Wild at Heart Too?

In order to be a trendy teenager in my friend circle growing up, one was encouraged to read the twin books Wild at Heart and Captivating, if not by an adult, by peer pressure. I was actually given both books by different folks; the books were wildly popular during my coming of age years and still are to some extent in some circles.

Wild at Heart is written for men by John Eldredge and Captivating is written for women by both John and his wife Stasi; both books contain the subtitle: “Discovering the secret to a man’s/woman’s soul.” The books outline characteristics which differ between men and women and discuss what went wrong when those characteristics are not allowed to be fleshed out.

I offer some reflections on the books, but want to preface by saying, I am speaking not with counseling or psychological expertise, but rather from the expertise that comes from my experience as a woman. I should insert here that John is a counselor and has previously taught at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, with whom you may associate the name, James Dobson. So he appears to have some expertise that I do not have in certain areas, even so, I would like to offer a critique of the books. They both certainly remain vivid in my memory as they were influential during some impressionable years, whether unfortunately or not.

In an interview on beliefnet.com, when asked about the similarities and differences in the desires of men and women (which comprise the basis of the books), both John and Stasi describe them as follows:

“Well, they  are very similar, what a man desires and what a woman desires, and they fit together really well. And yet, they’re distinctly masculine and distinctly feminine. In fact, in Wild at Heart, I said every man wants a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue. And in Captivating-every woman wants to be romanced; every woman wants to play an irreplaceable role in a heroic adventure, not just to be useful but to be irreplaceable; and every woman longs to have a beauty that’s all her own to unveil, both an external beauty and an internal beauty as well. To be the beauty and to offer beauty.”

When asked about men not always pursuing women in today’s society, John and Stasi responded:

“That passivity on the part of men is not a good thing. That’s wounded masculinity, and that’s why “Wild at Heart” is trying to get guys to take initiative. Hello, give her a call, right? Buy a ring! Make a move, buddy. One of woman’s greatest powers is the power of invitation. Just by virtue of being a woman, the way she’s living her life, determines what she’s inviting others to. If she’s a very controlling, afraid woman, she’s inviting others to not risk anything and certainly asking them not to be vulnerable with her. If she’s driven, she’s inviting you to being driven. If it’s done with wisdom, there’s a very cunning way that a woman can arouse and lure a man to move, to become a man.”

In another interview that John gave beliefnet.com, John was asked: “You write that Christianity as it currently exists has done some “terrible things” to men. What do you mean by that?”

“Christianity has basically communicated to men that the reason God put you on this earth is to be a good boy. Mind your manners, be a nice guy. That’s soul killing! It’s not true, and for a man to hear the message that the greatest achievement of his life is simply not rocking the boat, not offending anyone, not taking any risks but just being a genuinely swell guy–that kills him.

His nature is made for something much more dramatic. Here’s how you can tell: look at the games boys play or the films men love. Boys want risk, adventure, danger, exploration. Why do men love maps? Women don’t love maps.

Look at the films men love, whether it’s Chariots of Fire, Schindler’s List, The Shawshank Redemption, the Die Hard films, Indiana Jones, or James Bond. They all involve a challenge, a great battle, something to be won, some deep hardship to be faced and overcome. That’s the soul of a man. To tell him that you’re really not made for that, that what God really wants is for you to be an altar boy, kills a man. It takes all the passion out of life.”

Let me be clear, besides the sweeping generalizations here, I believe that this kind of militaristic attachment to masculinity (especially Christian masculinity) is as damaging to men as it is to women. It’s especially damaging when paralleled with emasculation of Christ. This militaristic Christianity is that which landed Christians leading violent crusades; it also reinforces the principals of complementarianism which assert that the man is the head of the household and the woman’s role is to submit to the natural hierarchy of leadership instated by God. But I digress and will save that topic for another post.

The issue I want to address here is the damage which I feel these ideas does to individuality. These books narrowly define men and women into categories which suggest the secret to distinct, deep longings for both sexes. But what if I, as a woman, am wild at heart? What if I enjoy Indiana Jones for crying out loud? Men aren’t the only folks who have a deep desire to be respected. We confine girls to these specific roles of waiting to be pursued and learning how to possess some kind of seduction techniques which help men be more masculine. I, as a woman, have no responsibility to help a man be more masculine. I do have a responsibility to love and respect my brother as well as my sister. I do not have a responsibility to wait around to be pursued by someone; I do have a responsibility to pursue justice, mercy, and kindness. What are we teaching our girls with books like these? I am afraid that it is a self-fulfilling prophecy situation. We tell our girls that their deepest desire is to be loved and rescued by a man and so they live into that. And they wait and wait in silence.

I would like to have a daughter one day and if I am given that beautiful honor, I do not desire to teach my daughter how to be a woman, rather, I want to teach her how to be a human. To give her a voice and confidence to use it to love people.

Hear me here, I am not advocating for the eradication of genders (mostly because I have no intelligent ideas to suggest here– hint, hint– if you do, hit up the comments section), but what I am saying with a loud internet voice is: I don’t want to be defined by my gender, but by my spirit. 

What if we celebrated our individuality based upon our gifts and passions, not based upon our gender?

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If you’ve read the books, feel free to jump in with your thoughts. What was your experience in reading one of both?

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The Nun Who Defied the US Government

If you are a Tennessean, you are probably very familiar with Oak Ridge, TN. When we say “Oak Ridge” around here, we are probably referring to the nuclear plant, which is a famous or infamous, depending on your stance, national laboratory which essentially was established in 1942 to develop the atomic bomb. It continues to be a site of scientific nuclear research and a housing facility for uranium; one particular lab at Oak Ridge is the Y-12 National Security Complex. This complex was originally used for electromagnetic separation of uranium and continues to presently be used for nuclear weapon production. Even as a scientist,  I am slightly unnerved to be sharing the same state with such a facility.

On July 28, 2012, an 83 year old nun, Sister Megan Rice, and two other members of Transform Now Plowshares, a movement which promotes active nonviolence and references the Biblical text of Isaiah which calls us to hammer swords into plowshares, broke into the Y-12 National Security Complex, creating the biggest security breach of this complex to date. The 83 year old nun and her two colleagues cut the wire fence and proceeded to spray paint verses and statements on the complex, spread blood on several surfaces, and read verses from the Bible. Hours later, they were discovered and arrested. This is not the first arrest for Sister Rice, in fact, it’s speculated that she’s been arrested over 30 times for acts of civil disobedience. Rice holds a BS and MS in cellular biology and spent the greater part of her life teaching children in Nigeria and Ghana.

Last week, on May 9th, 2013, Rice and company were convicted of sabotage and depredation of government property, which could result in up to a 20 year prison sentence; the sentencing is set to occur in September of this year.

What a brave woman…a humanitarian nun who called herself in the trial “a citizen of the world” and who said: “I believe we are all equally responsible to stop a known crime.” I can just imagine this frail, petite woman quoting scriptures over the voices of her arresters. I am in awe of a woman who has continued to sacrifice her freedom for the freedom of others.  A woman who realizes that violence begets violence and who calls evil what is evil: nuclear weaponry.

I wish I could sit in her company and hear the stories of the devastation she’s seen throughout her 83 years that was brought by nuclear weaponry. I wish I could ask her what it is that drives her to give up her life for peace. But I suspect I already know.

Her faith. Her God. The Christ.

I suspect that she cannot reconcile the development and use of nuclear weaponry with her faith. I suspect she understands that peacemaking is the work of legends; that peacemaking is much, much more difficult that making war, than dropping bombs, than releasing drones. I suspect that she believes, with all of her heart, that the peacemakers will be blessed, and that these people will be called the children of God.

I suspect she cannot accept the billions of federal tax dollars which are doled out to sustain this nuclear arsenal; I suspect she believes we are violating international law.

This woman may receive a sentence that would keep her in bondage till she dies; she accepts it because she knows this cause for peace is greater than her life. Her equals are Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Mother Teresa. She engages in civil disobedience because she believes by not acting to create peace and reduce nuclear weaponry, she is equally responsible for its violence.

This woman, whether you agree with her or not, is an inamorata. A woman of valor. And if I was suffering from the health and economic repercussions of nuclear weaponry or drones, I think she would be my hero. It is my hope that a judge in September will agree.

You can find out more information about the story here and here.

Do you share my opinion that these acts of civil disobedience were warranted?

Anne’s Call To Mobilize: Thoughts on Anne Lamott’s Nashville Talk

Recently, New York Times bestselling author, Anne Lamott graced Nashville with her presence; more specifically, she graced the Nashville Public Library’s Salon series, which seems so appropriate as she is a relentless advocate of the necessity of public libraries. If you are reading and are not familiar with Anne, I would suggest you pick up the nearest Traveling Mercies available. With all due haste. Make it a date night to go buy this book then read it with your significant other…

ASC End celebration 006

I promised that I would share some of Anne’s thoughts, which are really, all of our thoughts, said in a profound and hilarious way…

Anne spent most of the night conversing with another NYT bestselling author, Ann Patchett, who co-owns Parnassus Books, one of Nashville’s last independent book stores. The two were just hilarious, feeding off of each other, with elevated dialogue laced with grace and introspection.

Lamott covered the gamete of topics ranging from her new grandson, Jax, to faith, to writing, to activism. In her dialogue about writing a good story, she stated: “If someone will write about the mess with a sense of humor, I’m all in. Tell me a story. We are a species who is fed and enlivened by stories.” She also noted the discipline of writing is where the joy comes from and that being published is not (publishing makes you even more mentally ill than you were before, according to Anne).

Informing us about her grandson’s most recent sagacity into her slight tendencies to become over-committed, she quoted from Jax: “Nana, you are carrying too much and you are going to fast.”

By far though, my favorite part of the evening was her discussion of activism. “Listen young women, we [older, female activists] have fought for you to have the freedoms you have today… and our backs are tired and our feet hurt and our vision is failing. We need you to mobilize.”

Ultimately the evening ended because we were out of time and Anne had to use the ladies room. But I left with a sigh of relief on my breath, gratitude in my heart, and the fortitude to persist.

So Millennial women, what do you say? Can we elicit change? Can we carry the baton which is extended to us by generations of oppressed women?

The Weathered Hands of a Nobel Peace Laureate

I apologize for my delayed posts as of late as I have been trying to meet other deadlines in a busy spring semester; however, ideas for posts and this blogging community are frequently on my mind.

It is my great pleasure to relay to you the sentiments of Dr. Shirin Ebadi. This past Friday night, Belmont University partnered with STARS to host the Mid-South Peace-Jam event. A human rights organization, Peace-Jam teaches youth  about peace, allows them to develop peace proposals for various topics, and then present these to Nobel Peace Laureates at an annual conference. Pretty cool, huh?! This year, Dr. Ebadi was invited to receive the youth peace proposals and to be the keynote speaker.

The night began with a techie-heavy video that defined the sometimes ambiguous term: “human rights.” The short video can be found here and is well worth your time. After video, Dr. Ebadi took the stage. In 2003, Dr. Ebadi, an Iranian lawyer, was  awarded the Nobel Peace Prize at a historic ceremony, signifying the first Iranian to have received this distinction.

Fall 2012 Beauty 100

Dr. Ebadi is a small woman with a big voice. She spoke of the disjunct between the Iranian people and their government, stating that many Iranians do not promote the enrichment of uranium in their country, even though their government will not back down from it. She spoke of Iran’s involvement in Syria and about human rights violations occurring within Iran’s borders. Two womens testimonies in court are the equivalent of one man’s; by law, the life of a woman is considered half of that of a man’s. If one is not a Shi’a Muslim, life is very difficult, and often results in religious persecution (even Sunni Muslims experience this in Iran).

She spoke of the harsh economic sanctions imposed on Iran by western countries (ie. the US), sanctions which have affected the citizens in many detrimental ways. She suggested this was not the best or most humane way to force the government to disarm; instead she suggested very specific political sanctions.

When asked when she believes Iran will be a full democracy, she questioned the definition of democracy. Yes, Iranian citizens can vote, but do they all have basic human freedoms, such as a freedom of speech and religion? No. So, in her opinion, a true democracy does not exist in her country. She is hopeful that such structure will come through students and through feminists: stating: “The feminist movement is very strong in Iran, so is the student movement. I am sure that one day democracy of Iran will be brought through the youth.” I am happy to suggest the same is true for America, in that, I believe positive change is coming through students and feminism.

Asking the last question, a female student quietly inquired: “What can we do?” Shirin responded by saying: students must not be indifferent about what goes on in their country and the world. They must be informed activists. They must have larger goals for their life than achieving PhD’s or buying houses, (though these aren’t inherently negative), they must be real human beings.

Wow.

Though she is currently exiled to London, it is clear that Shirin is still fighting for the human rights and dignities of her countrymen/women.

Though this woman can’t be taller than 5’1, is Iranian, and does not speak my native tongue, I suspect she and I are a lot alike. We believe that equality is a prerequisite for peace and that we, as humans, have a social responsibility to each other to work for these human rights. She and I realize that when women are disenfranchised, so are children, and so are men, everyone is. That when Iranians and Syrians suffer human rights violations, we do as much injustice to ourselves as we do to the sufferers of it when we refuse to care or engage.

Her eyes told me she had seen much injustice; her hands showed me that she had fought it with ferocity, not because she was suffering its oppression, but because this was what “being human” meant to her.

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Is equality a prerequisite for peace? Are my standards too high, my thoughts too idealistic?

If In Doubt, Blame Feminism

Recently Denny Burk, a professor at Boyce College of Southern Seminary, wrote an article that essentially blamed feminism for Elizabeth Wurtzel’s fall from glory and arrival at a low spot in life.

I do not believe feminism is to blame for all women who find themselves single. Nor do I think that feminism alone accounts for all the moral pathologies on display in Wurtzel’s article. But I do believe that feminism has provided the social context for women to be congratulated by the culture for sad choices that they make. Third wave feminism in particular–and especially its tendency to ape male promiscuity–has left many women desolate and alone. As one feminist put it, these women have become the shocked victims of their own sex lives.

He did not make us unisex. He did not make us genderless humanoids with no direction for our intimate lives. He made us male and female. And for those to whom it has been given, He made us to give ourselves away to years of finding stale Cheerios in every hidden crevice of the minivan, to seasons of graduations and of anniversaries and of empty nests, to gray years with the love of your life who is your best friend, to lifetimes of covenant love.

Feminism is the killer of that dream, even though precious few seem to notice.

Burk, among other popular conservative evangelicals such as John Piper, is a complementarian. This term is defined in Christian-dome as someone who believes that the Bible requires women to submit to male leadership in the household, marriage, church, and possibly beyond. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is a complementarian group dedicated to promoting the idea that men and women are equal in God’s eyes, but have separate and complementary roles in the home and church. Men are to lovingly lead and women are to intelligently submit in the home AND there are some governing and teaching roles in the church which are solely restricted to men. There are many, including myself, who would classify this line of thought as patriarchy.

Burk’s post is not surprising coming from an outspoken proponent of complentmentarianism and anti-feminism, but it is quite troubling. It’s troubling that leaders in conservative evangelicalism have such disdain for feminism. Granted, the term “feminism” has encompassed many different faces through the years, yet at the very core of the definition, is female equality, not superiority. Burk seems to blame feminism for Wurtzel’s woes. It’s feminism’s fault that she doesn’t have a family, money, investments, real estate, etc. It’s feminism which congratulated and encouraged her to live such a life and it’s feminism which has left her alone and desolate in 2012. He then calls feminism the “killer of a dream”… the dream of seeing children graduate, searching for your kid’s lost cheerios in between the minivan seats, and going gray with the love of your life.

There is something very alarming in Burk’s logic and his words. Granted, in the blogging world you seek to create articles that will ruffle feathers, so I understand that aspect, but what alarms me is that he really believes this about feminism. And he is not alone. Patriarchy is a popular idea in evangelicalism and has spent many unfortunate years lingering in the moral framework of American households, businesses, and churches. It is a vile thing that continues to create imbalance in the places it pervades. The truth of patriarchy is that it doesn’t help men either. One person being the head of another based on fixed gender is equally as damaging and awful for the head as it is the foot. An imbalance is created when women give life through birth and men take it over. I strongly believe that gender equality is a prerequisite for peace. So to suggest that feminism (the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men) is to blame for this woman’s life choices and subsequent disenfranchisement is completely unfounded and actually, quite illogical. Her choices were her own and I cannot speculate on her life choices as I have very little knowledge of them. It is very possible for a woman to promote women’s equality AND have a loving, stable, egalitarian marriage with a man. AND have children in that marriage. Children who require her to clean cheerios out of the minivan and children who will eventually graduate from college and leave an empty nest.

Remember that it is possible for both a man and a woman to be feminists, to promote women’s equality. It seems like one Jewish man did it a few thousand years ago and he changed the world.

Does complementarianism/ patriarchy have a place in marriage, the church, or society? Do you agree that gender equality is a prerequisite for peace?

A Tale of Three Women

Recently, I had the distinct privilege of being called upon to drive for the Saturday morning yard-saleing festivities of my Nana, Aunt Fannie, and Aunt Mary. Three sisters. The matriarchs of our family.

These sisters span very similar heights… all slightly teetering between the 4’11 and 5’0 foot mark. Born in Macdony, IL (Macedonia to those of us who are not lucky enough to have been born there) in the late 1920’s into the mid-1930’s, they have seen much that most of us haven’t seen. Their family farmed as The Great Depression swept across America in what has become known as the worst economic crisis this country has ever experienced. When most everyone was lacking something, this family cultivated as much love as they did corn, tomatoes, and beans. Each going into differing sectors of the medical community, the three sisters moved multiple times throughout their careers though each ending up living within 15 minutes of each other upon retirement. For several years now, they have made the Saturday morning yard-saleing ritual a reality. This is a very important process. One sister will scan the newspaper and stake out the sales ahead of time; they will congregate at one house to drink coffee, trade vegetables from the garden, and dictate a plan. You see, strategy is very important with this kind of thing. One must hit the correct sale in such a time that the good stuff has not been bought and the sale not been deemed “picked over.” Once the plan is made and the routes established, the car must be cleaned out of excess junk to make room for more. The supplies must be gathered. With the money bag of quarters, dimes, and pennies in tow and any close-to-expiration grocery store coupons, they set out to sale.

On this particular Saturday morning, I was awakened from blissful slumber to drive the three sisters on their weekly enterprise. After the pre-sale rituals were performed, we congregated in my car… we were off! At the first sale we came to, a Johnny Cash CD was purchased for the wallet-breaking price of 10¢. So now we were set, four women hustling down the highway through the Burning Ring of Fire to the next sale, chattering away about what store has the best deals that week or who won the award for the most achy back that day. Our plan was somewhat delayed when each sister would see something that her grandchildren absolutely needed and an early- morning call had to be made. More often than not, the grandchildren didn’t actually have to have that very specific thing that day, believe it or not. So on we went to more sales, finding more bargains, making more new friends. We grew hungry after such an eventful morning—but not to worry—McDonalds had their sausage Mcmuffins on sale. This is a particularly wonderful sale item because the top can be removed and eaten with jelly while the bottom half with the sausage can be eaten as a sandwich. I was honored to have been included in the senior coffee deal– .55 cents off always helps.

As we sat eating and laughing, I took a second to reflect… I was in the presence of 80 years of love and faithfulness. They were steadfast. These sisters had been through it all together… the very happy moments and the very painful ones. They had learned lessons that I hadn’t yet. They had seen beauty that I can only yet imagine. They had fought and cried together. They had shared each others daily woes, responsibilities, and joys. They had cooked casseroles for each other through funerals and hospital stays. They had been honest with each other. They had hurt each other. And yet, they had held each others hands through life and leaned on each other when it was just a little too hard to stand alone.

I realized that not many people understand that kind of commitment. We live in a day and age that it is very easy to give up on people who make us angry, who don’t share our views, who we are afraid of, or who we think just don’t make us happy. We hastily commit to them when the times are good and happy and easy, and we quickly abandon them when the harder times roll in. This sentiment is reflective of our society which generally discards something that isn’t pleasant, or fruitful, or immediately appealing. It’s the easier way to go, but I think it’s pretty detrimental. Detrimental to our work ethic… detrimental to our spirits… detrimental to our hearts. See, there’s something deep about sticking out that friendship, that relationship, that hard time… there’s something spiritual about not giving up on someone. There’s this connection that binds you together and helps you sleep in peace at night. It’s hard and it’s heavenly at the same time.

As we were leaving McDonalds with full bellies, a gentleman in a suburban who was backing out, almost hit me. Aunt Mary, who was in the co-pilot’s seat, addressed the man from the inside of my car, saying: “Well, mister, are you going to stop, or not?” I chuckled to myself because I knew that she had my back as she always had and always would.

I Am a Woman

I wouldn’t consider myself an expert at a great many things in life, like say, fixing a malfunctioning toaster, sewing a family quilt… or say, safely landing an airplane, or examining nanoparticles on a Scanning Electron Microscope. I’ll leave all of these things up to the experts… who knows, maybe I’ll muster up the wherewithal to attempt soon. But today, there is one thing I do consider myself an expert on. Women.

I have a pretty decent resume to support this. For starters, I’ve been one for a number of years. That’s got to count for something. I’ve felt the joys of womanhood. I’ve felt the pressures to emulate the front-page models of Vogue. For years, I sported long, glossy- brown hair that fell to the small of my back. Presently, as of last Thursday, half my head is shaved. I’ve taught women for years. I’ve been taught by women for years. I’ve been told (though I don’t agree) that motherhood is the highest calling of a woman. I’ve mentored and been mentored by women. I’ve felt the fears that women experience. I’ve held women’s hands and cried with them. I’ve stood behind women on their wedding days and held their newly born babies. I’ve fought for women who are sold into forced prostitution and trafficking. I’ve hugged women who have stories of bravery. I’ve been silenced because I am a woman. I’ve been honored because I am a woman. I’ve been taken advantage of because I’m a woman. I’ve been ignored because I am a woman. I’ve been through the good and bad of being a woman. I am a woman.

As I was driving my woman self through a neighboring city yesterday, I passed an electronic sign advertising what I thought to be a women’s self defense class. The sign belonged to a staunchly traditional, evangelical church and read: “Safety for Women: Come Thursday– 8:00pm!” As I read the flashing sign…the irony of it hit me like a truck. This church is not actually a safe place for women. Women can’t speak here. Women can’t lead. Women can’t preach. Women can’t even pray or teach in mixed company. Does that strike a nerve? Does something about it feel wrong in your spirit?

Well, it does in mine too.

Here’s what I know. I am a woman who is created, loved, and empowered by God, just like a man is. I follow the teachings of Christ, just like a man. I pray in Christ’s name, just like a man. I take communion–the body and blood of Christ– just like a man. I love in God’s name, just like a man.

I read about the women of scripture and I know they were not silent. I know when Paul proclaimed that women should be silent, the comment was contextual and not universal. I know that there were powerful women apostles and women prophets and that these women played a significant role in the early church. I know that women have much to offer in the ways of leadership and in the ways of making peace.

How long are we going to silence female bodied individuals? How long are we going to make the church an unsafe place for women to exercise their God-given gifts?

If you find yourself adamantly disagreeing with me, would you consider, just for a second, imagining yourself being ignored or silenced not because of what you had to say, but because of who you were biologically… something you had absolutely no control over. What if we’ve gotten this wrong? What if we’ve silenced generations of women who could have led us to the gospel?

Women, for your sisters and your daughters. Speak. Men, for your sisters and your daughters. Let us.

I’m not entirely sure that another generation will pass, letting this continue to happen. There are too many voices to be heard and no longer any ground to silence them. I know this. Because… I am a woman.

What is your story? You have a voice here on this blog and I would love to hear it.