Category Archives: Men and Women

Sarah Bessey and Me

Several years ago, a pastor told me that the Bible’s teaching on women implied that women should never supervise men at work. At the time, I supervised two, so I told him it was too late. So he said that I should give them preference over the women I supervised, just because of their gender. I kid you not. Fast forward a few years, and a woman in our small group opined that a woman’s main role in the workplace is to make the men there feel better about themselves. Try as I might, I cannot find this chapter or verse in my Bible. Furthermore, I think my employer would be much more pleased if I followed the Bible’s real admonition to employees, which is to work for your employer with a great attitude, as if you were working for the Lord, instead of other people.* Apparently, though, no one in the room found her opinion sort of creepy except for me. There was more, but you can imagine my state of mind.

Jesus FeministIn my line of work, book titles run past my eyes all day long every day, and one day that title was Jesus Feminist. I tend to turn away from the word “feminist,” since it is so often allied with the hard-left, pro-choice crowd, but this was just too provocative, so I took a look, read the description, logged into my Amazon account, and made my first acquaintance with this Canadian pastor’s wife, blogger, and mommy.

We all have visions of our future lives when we are young, and having a full-time career was not part of my vision. Mother, wife, and maybe writer, yes. But I believe in a sovereign God, and a decade and a half ago, we went through a life-changing chain of events, and here I am, doing what I sincerely believe is the right thing to do—the honorable, loving, and responsible thing to do—and I have found happiness there. All day, every day, I am surrounded by brilliant, hardworking women who find great meaning in their work. I believe in a God who gifts people with the ability to make other lives better, and who puts each person in place for the good of all. The universe is not random. So how can someone else who believes in a sovereign God say that the way I lay down my life is a sin?

I opened Jesus Feminist and wept in the introduction. I sobbed through the first two chapters. I found someone who had been here before me, and she dealt with her wounds by reading the gospels over and over. She reminded me that Jesus treated women like people. He talked to them directly, against the custom of the day, and never treated them as “other.” She reprinted a Dorothy L. Sayer essay that I read decades ago that is still one of the best things I’ve ever read on the topic of Jesus and women. Sarah Bessey reminded me, in her poetic, storyteller fashion, that Jesus truly loved me, and that’s all I really needed to hear. Some of the later chapters didn’t speak to me as much, but those first chapters were so powerful that this bright yellow paperback has sat on my desk, beside my laptop, ever since then. Not that I told anyone, though, because I knew how controversial she was, and I didn’t want to be met with either gasps or outrage.

Last summer was another life-changing time. Everyone knows that it was a summer of grief over my mother’s death, as well as months filled with unrelenting physical pain from the compressed discs in my neck causing nerve pain all the way down my arm, but I’ve never told the story of the deep wound gouged into my soul during this rough time.

David and I have moved around a lot in our lives. For the first twenty years of our marriage, we moved about every five years for David’s work. Sometimes the transitions were heartbreaking, but we met all kinds of people and learned a lot from them. We studied loads of theology, visited dozens of churches, and had long, intense discussions late into the night with some folks who are deeply lodged in my heart forever. By my best count, we have been members or long-term visitors of ten separate denominations, and more than one church for a couple of those. I feel old just saying that. We’ve hosted church in our house and helped to start a couple of churches from scratch. We’ve driven long distances to church for years a couple of times, just to be sure that the teaching and fellowship we were receiving were truly biblical. We knew of a small denomination that agreed with us that two seemingly opposing ideas were both Biblical, but we never lived near one of their churches until we lived here. We were passionately devoted members of this church for seven years—until last year. When my mother died last summer, my church did—nothing. I received sympathy cards from individuals, and I treasured each one, but as a church: nothing. No meals, no visits, not even a phone call from my most beloved church of my whole life.

In the year since my mother’s death, I have had time to reflect on what God may be teaching me through long nights of grief, pain, and loneliness. I have worked and prayed to forgive, and I have come miles down that road by his grace. I have learned that love, in God’s eyes, is the most important thing, and I’ve repented for the times I didn’t love others as I should have. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” I’ve realized that those first three verses of 1 Corinthians 13 cover all the kinds of churches in the world, from charismatic to reformed to legalistic to liberal, whereas I had only seen individuals in those verses before. The last verse of that chapter, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love,” has become my heart’s cry. I am doing my best to love now, having people in my home, supporting everyone I can, and praying for the most unlikely people. I will never be good at this—it is not my gift—but it is everyone’s calling.

At the same time, other things have become less important. I have started taking stock of the ways that I have fit myself into someone else’s mold, rather than reading the Bible without filters and living what it says. We live in a world full of noise, with someone telling us what to think about everything, and when we agree with one side about an issue, we’re thrown into a box with dozens of other opinions that we’re expected to believe as well. But I don’t, and it’s becoming bewildering to think that I’m the only one who holds nuanced opinions that don’t fit neatly onto a bumper sticker.

Out of SortsAnd along came Sarah Bessey again. When I saw her new book title, Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith, I thought, “Yes, that’s where I am.” Truly, if your faith is not evolving, you are just not paying attention, and considering the political events of the past year, I think most Christians are not thinking deeply enough about their faith. The idea that our religion can be co-opted into a political cause is tremendously disturbing in its own right. Combining the events of my personal life with the national, even global, turmoil has caused me to be discouraged and almost despairing for particular churches, but also for the universal Church. Heaven knows the answer doesn’t lie in creating yet another denomination.

Ms. Bessey is one of a growing group of believers who think that the church is ripe for a new reformation, and my heart resonates with that idea. She points out that a major upheaval happens about every five hundred years in the church. In other words, we’re due. We just can’t continue in the splintered, contentious fashion that we now tolerate. Who is for Paul, who is for Apollos, and who is for Jesus?** The world has changed since Martin Luther nailed a paper to a cathedral door to ask for a discussion. Thousands of discussions are taking place every minute on social media with no moderator whatsoever, and in the church, we have no leader. Pope Francis? Jerry Falwell, Jr.?

Sarah Bessey writes by telling stories, and every one is soaked with her passionate love for Jesus. I read this book like drinking a life-giving elixir. I consumed it. To paraphrase Roberta Flack, I felt she’d found my letters and read each one out loud. If I had time, I would go right back to the beginning and read it again. She pulls out one topic after another and encourages the reader to examine it honestly, leading us to be courageous by telling her own life’s stories. She has also been a part of different kinds of churches in different parts of the continent, and she has drawn truth and beauty from each experience, but she now realizes that she cannot fully assent to the beliefs of any one church. No one is right about everything, after all, but neither is everyone else wrong about everything. You may as well tell the truth about how you feel and what you think, rather than making yourself believe something in order to please someone else, because when it comes right down to it, if they don’t love you because you disagree, what do you gain by hiding the truth? The only one who matters already knows what you think, and he can take it. You may not agree with Sarah Bessey on every issue—or, like me, you may not know what you think about some of them—but she will take you gently through all of the things that need sorting out in your heart and mind.

I do believe that the future is hopeful for me and for the church, but I believe just as firmly that there is suffering ahead. The Lord has used my pain to force me to change, to let go of things I held dear, to work harder for the kingdom, to forgive and to love. As Switchfoot’s new album*** says, the wound is where the light shines through, where the grace pours in, where he reaches in to heal. Be courageous! Lean into the pain and love well.

______________

It was not my intent to hurt anyone with this post, but rather to tell my story so that others who have been deeply wounded can find comfort here. Scripture quotes are from the ESV Bible.

*There is a reference for this! Ephesians 6: 6 & 7.

**Riffing on 1 Corinthians 1:12.

***It always come down to Switchfoot, doesn’t it? I am here freely making inferences from the song “Where the Light Shines Through” and the album of the same name.

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7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness, by Eric Metaxas

7 WomenI am pleased to announce that Eric Metaxas took my advice and followed up his book 7 Men with 7 Women, as is only fitting. Alright, there may have been more requests than mine, but the point is: the book has arrived.

As soon as I got my hands on this title, I opened to the table of contents to see which women had made the cut. Some of the names, like Rosa Parks and Mother Teresa, could be expected, but Hannah More and Saint Maria of Paris are not among the usual suspects. Who in the world is this Elizabeth Pilenko/ Kuz’mina-Karavaeva/ Skobtsova/ Saint Maria, anyway?

In his introduction, Metaxas relates that he decided not to go with the usual list of women who were the first to do something that had already been done by men, such as Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, or Sally Ride, the first woman in space, etc. Metaxas writes that “… the problem with this idea is that it presupposes the tremendously harmful and distorting idea of a competition for power.” (p. xviii) And, may I add, a competition in which women continually come in second place! Rather, he chose women who often lived sacrificial lives and accomplished great things that could only have been achieved by women, with their unique, God-given gifts.

Hopefully without giving spoilers, here are my brief thoughts on each of these choices:

Joan of Arc. Such a young girl with so much courage. I never know what to think about Joan, as I am stubbornly skeptical about visions and voices and such. Apparently, I am a terrible charismatic. However, I am so impressed by her character in a time when women were completely powerless.

Susanna Wesley. Yes, she is known because of her sons, but what a force of nature this woman was! I am not sure that I would want Susanna as a friend because of her super-scheduled, ultra-driven mindset, but considering the trials in her life, her family would have fallen apart without her. Her advice to her son, Charles, concerning alcoholic beverages seems hilarious in this day when—at least in the South—evangelical Christians are often assumed to be teetotalers.

Hannah More. Metaxas wrote a bit about this friend of William Wilberforce in his biography, Amazing Grace, but it was satisfying to learn her own story. An independent woman who was a well-educated, influential writer, More helped the cause of abolition in creative ways before women were able to have any political power. Furthermore, this story led me to Karen Swallow Prior’s books, and I popped her Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me straight into an Amazon order cart. Check it out.

Saint Maria of Paris. A twice-divorced, liquor-drinkin’, cigarette-smokin’ saint? Oh, yes, gentle reader. This fascinating nun (you read that right) was serious about her faith, especially in World War II Paris. Proof that everyone can serve God, sometimes filling a need with gifts that no one else would have. Since I had never heard of her before, this was one of my favorite chapters.

Corrie ten Boom. If you do not know this Holocaust survivor, please let this brief introduction be a springboard to The Hiding Place and all of ten Boom’s own works, as well as the movies of her life. We are so blessed that, during her long life, she continually wrote and spoke about the meaning of suffering and living sacrificially for others.

Rosa Parks. She would not give up her seat on the bus. So, what else do you know about her? Until this chapter, I knew nothing but that one fact about this quiet, unassuming woman. She was chosen to be the catalyst for the Montgomery Bus Boycott because of her exemplary character, but that was not the end of her work for equal rights. She admitted, when she was an old woman, that she did get tired of being asked about that one single moment of her life over and over again.

Mother Teresa. What other single human being, besides Jesus himself, so exemplifies giving up everything for others? I only had a mental image of Mother Teresa as an ancient nun, but Agnes Bojaxhiu felt called to the religious life from the age of twelve, inspired to serve by her own mother. Her entire life was one of continuous and progressive voluntary poverty, seeking to live among the poor as one of them so that she could understand their needs and their souls. Her pure virtue was so famous that she could speak truth to powerful leaders without fear.

In a word: inspiring. None of these women were the fragile flowers so often pushed by Christian media today as examples of perfect Christian women. No pink hearts, ribbons, or china teacups. These women were tough, hardworking, often irritating, and not concerned with choosing the right outfit. Not that I don’t love a nice sweater or a good cup of tea, but this is the kind of Christian woman I want to be, and I am pretty sure that most of my friends would be proud to have their daughters emulate any of these heroines, as well. Well done, Mr. Metaxas.

Eric MetaxasIf you do not know Eric Metaxas from his phenomenal biography, Bonhoeffer, or any of his other works, you will need to remedy that promptly. He has a biography of Luther coming up in 2017—500 years after the beginning of the Reformation—and I have already set it on the top of my entire reading list for that year. You can hear Eric Metaxas on the radio, too. The Eric Metaxas Show can be heard on podcast at MetaxasTalk.com. He has terrific guests, some of whom you would never hear elsewhere, and each one gets an entire hour to talk. So nice to listen to someone without competing guests shouting over one another. If you listen to the podcasts, you miss the commercials and only hear the out-and-back bumper music, some of which is of highly questionable taste, but we bear it.

7 Women would make a great Christmas present for pretty much every Christian woman over fourteen on your Christmas list, so get it right now!

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are solely my own, and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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Dude, Paleo Is So Rad

I spend my days, Monday through Friday, staring at books on a screen. Then I come home and stare at actual books— or Book TV, blogs, or other reading material that feeds my addiction. In the course of a day, the publishing world marketeers have great fun with me, sticking ads for all kinds of books in my face in the hopes that I will buy them— which I do, to the tune of almost a couple million dollars a year, but only children’s and teens’ books. However, the ads I see are for all kinds of books, and if I’m particularly interested, I’ll look them up.

wild dietLast week, a new Paleo book came out, and since I am a low-carber, I had to take a peek. Paleo is a diet and lifestyle that emphasizes eating food the way our very distant (as in, pre-row crop agriculture) ancestors did, as well as strength training, rather than aerobic exercise. The new book is called The Wild Diet, by Abel James, and as I continued to search, I saw that Mr. James has a website with a blog and a long series of podcasts. I sent a reminder to my home email so that I could listen later, since I doubt that my employer would be able to see a connection between Paleo bio-hackers and Pete the Cat.

Abel James is known as the Fat Burning Man, as seen on his website www.fatburningman.com, where he tells his life story and interviews all sorts of other health-conscious types. I listened to the podcast with Mark Divine, a former Navy Seal and founder of Sealfit, and they talked about de-stressing and the importance of life beyond biceps and burpees. I also listened to the one with Dr. Alan Christianson about thyroid, since hypothyroidism seems to be an epidemic among women these days.

Abel James

Abel James

The next day, I looked around at Paleo in general and found Robb Wolf, who wrote The Paleo Solution Diet five whole years ago, and who also happens to have a website with podcasts, called, very simply, www.robbwolf.com. When I looked at his latest podcast, guess what! It was Abel James. Apparently, it’s a very tight little world out there in PaleoLand. James has a great story to tell, though. He was a sickly child, but his mother, who was a nurse, understood nutrition and herbal medicine very well, and he grew up to thrive. Then he went to work in D.C. for the evil food industry and had to eat the foods he represented, and consequently, he became weak and sick. His doctor continued to give him more and more medication, until he didn’t know if his symptoms were caused by a disease or his medication. (This is uncomfortably familiar to me.) He was also placed on a low-fat, “heart-healthy” diet and felt worse every day. In the meantime, his brother, who was tall and scrawny at 140 pounds, started lifting weights and eating the high-protein and fat diet common to body-builders, and gained 60 pounds of pure muscle. Abel started to do some research, tried Paleo, and is in the best shape ever. I found it fascinating that he could not tell the whole story in his first book, because he was still under the non-disclosure agreements that he signed for the food industry! I think he got to reveal more in The Wild Diet, just because enough time has gone by. Can’t wait to get the scoop there.

These guys are so smart, with years of scientific information about nutrition and strength training, but their world is so testosterone-soaked it is hilarious sometimes. They can go from a meaningful exchange about some obscure chemical in the body to a conversation that sounds something like this:

“So, we were out there bouldering, man,…”

“Dude, that is so rad.”

“Totally.”

By the time we got to the end of the podcast this morning, I was wiping tears of laughter from my eyes, but my husband thought it was great, which is so terrific! Let’s face it, most diet and exercise books are for women/ by women, so getting guys into caring about health is an achievement. Granted, most of these men are on the radical fringe of health, bio-hacking with measured amounts of coffee with coconut oil or “intermittent fasting,” which is probably not a spiritual exercise. However, they are getting into the deep weeds of biological research, and we can benefit from their discoveries without all the discomfort. Furthermore, what guy doesn’t want to hear about mud runs and dead lifts and bouldering, whatever all that may be? Totally.

Ladies, the Fat Burning Man website does have recipes and articles on misleading food labels and such, so it really is interesting. But guys, there is also a podcast called “100 Awesome Ways to Eat Bacon.”

Haven’t you clicked over there yet?

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Reading Roundup

Although I set out to read like mad over the holidays, life got in the way, as you can tell by an earlier post, and I ended up with just a few books read. They are a wide-ranging lot, though! Here are four I recommend and two I had to give up.

Olive KitteridgeOlive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

Olive is not the most likeable protagonist. She’s not the sweet mom, the girl next door, or the Every Woman. In a series of thirteen separate, yet related, stories, we learn about this large, blunt woman from her husband, her students, her son, and her neighbors. Finally, toward the end of the book, Strout circles in to Olive herself, by this time vulnerable and sympathetic. Olive Kitteridge won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 and has recently been developed into a television series. Strout’s brilliant construction and fine writing make this a highly-recommended read.

Rain ReignRain Reign, by Ann M. Martin

Rose (rows) has high-functioning autism, or Asperger’s Syndrome, and is obsessed with homophones. The story is told (tolled) in (inn) Rose’s voice, so whenever she encounters a homonym, she puts all (awl) of the related words in parentheses, which gives the narrative a distinctive style (stile). Rose’s large, loving dog is named Rain (reign, rein), because her dad brought her home on a rainy night (knight). Most stories about children with Asperger’s are about boys, and they all seem (seam) to (two, too) have parents who are intensely involved in their children’s lives, working to get them the best care possible. Rose never knew (new, gnu) her mother, and her father deals with Rose’s problems by yelling, “Cut it out!” Thank goodness that Rose has a gentle, understanding uncle in her life. There is some (sum) tension in this novel, at least (leased) for the older reader, because we (wee) are always expecting Rose’s father to snap, and the crisis of the novel comes when Rain runs away during a hurricane. (Just to let you know—since I would want to: the dog does not die. It is safe to read the book.) Rose is such an appealing character, and although the reading is difficult at first, kids will soon get used to the constant homonyms. I would love to see this win the Newbery.

Rosie EffectThe Rosie Effect, by Graeme Simsion

If you read the sparkling Australian novel The Rosie Project last year, you will want to follow Don and Rosie to America. Spoiler Alert: In the very beginning of the novel, Rosie announces that she is pregnant. Don responds to the news by bolting out the door of their apartment in New York and running across town to the home of his friend. No matter what the situation with Rosie’s delicate condition, Don continues to react completely inappropriately. Perhaps he is trying desperately to be the best father imaginable, but between not knowing how to do that and wanting to keep Rosie from any stress, he puts his job, his relationship with his unborn child, and even his marriage in terrible jeopardy. As an Aussie Sheldon Cooper, Don is completely adorable and lovable. I must admit that I felt that The Rosie Project was a stronger book, but I will certainly read Don and Rosie’s next installment.

Man Called OveA Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman

As I have opined before, the wave of Scandinavian books and movies out there these days can’t help being so brutally depressing, considering the far north’s godlessness, six months of darkness, and starkly angular furniture. Can tragedy be funny? As this delightful novel opens, Ove is trying his best to end his miserable life, but he just can’t manage it when all of these pesky people need his help. Ove is a quintessential curmudgeon: grouchy, grumbling, and judgmental. As the story develops, we learn the reasons for Ove’s ornery nature, but it only serves to make us love him more. By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, this is a novel for everyone, men and women, young and old. Highly recommended.

Amongst these winners of my holiday reading, I must admit that I pulled my bookmark out of two others. I make it a policy not to review books I don’t like, so I won’t mention them by name. I try to read widely, but sometimes a book just doesn’t fit.

The first one was a teenage boy book. The mind of a teenage boy is just not a comfortable place for an old lady to hang out. Now, I loved Grasshopper Jungle, by Andrew Smith, earlier this year, because it was brilliant, hilarious, and shocking. However, when a bunch of us teen librarians got together a couple of months ago to chat about the year’s best teen books, we all agreed that we thought it was excellent but could not bring ourselves to recommend it to a kid. Notice that I didn’t write a review. That being said, if it wins the Printz, I will cheer. The writing was just spectacular. (Ava Lavender is still my top pick, though.) However, when I went to read this other teen boy book (by a different author) last month, I just couldn’t go there again. Soon, maybe, but not this book.

2014-06-28 17.29.21

Three of My Favorites

The second book I gave up on was supposed to be a cozy read for female literary types. Me, in other words. I was really looking forward to curling up with it over the holidays, but unfortunately, it turned out to be a man-hatin’ book. I don’t understand man-hatin’ books or Lifetime movies. I have been greatly blessed in my life to be surrounded by phenomenal men: father, husband, son, brother, brothers-in-law, pastors, church friends, co-workers, you name it. They are strong, hard-working, brave, honorable, handy, and able to reach high shelves. They are also loud, self-absorbed, blustering, messy, and, um, not always mannerly. I love that. How boring life would be if we were all the same. So, if a woman wants to live by herself in her fussy, little life where everything is always clean and quiet, and no one ever grunts or slams furniture into her walls (“Oh, sorry about that”), then she is welcome to do so, but I’m not going to read her books.

Whew! So that’s everything I’ve read since Christmas. Right now, I’m reading the Qur’an, so I think I’ll be there for a while. It’s something I must do. In the meantime, I’ll think of something else to write about. Maybe I’ll actually do some crafts in my new craft room!

Disclaimer: I read library copies of Olive Kitteridge, Rain Reign, and A Man Called Ove. I read an advance reader copy of The Rosie Effect. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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A Call to Action, by Jimmy Carter

ImageI never thought I’d read a book by Jimmy Carter, since I still have vivid memories of those gas lines and hard times while I was in college. We had to get gas for our cars according to the last digit on our license plates, which makes me think that there were no vanity plates in those days. Besides that, David and I married while he was still president, and I bought my first car at a 16% interest rate. It was not the best of times; it was the worst of times. Then again, this man is ninety years old this year, and he’s still traveling around the world on mission trips and swinging a hammer for Habitat for Humanity. He’s sharp as a tack, and he and Rosalynn have racked up 145 countries on their passports. Pretty impressive. So, I think he’s earned the right to be heard.

The subtitle of the book is Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, and although most of the topics relate back to the oppression of women, they may not always do so all at the same time. However, the former president has been a witness to a lot of violence and suffering around the world, and he brings many of those cases to us in this short book. Mr. Carter opines that women are the most oppressed people group across all the nations of the earth, even though they make up a majority of the global population. Without regard to his own culture or beliefs, he sets out to delineate the many ways that women are subjugated or even persecuted in different places. Right now, in our country, we are seeing news stories about the lower pay scale for women, right up to the fact that the women White House staffers are paid only 88% as much as male staffers. In my own profession, even though all librarians have Master’s degrees and about 83% of all librarians are women, they account for only 65% of public library directors and make about 4% less than men overall, according to the American Library Association.

Yet this small frustration in the west pales in comparison to the genital mutilation and honor killings that we see in other parts of the world. For some reason, older women are often the ones encouraging cutting girls’ genitals in many parts of Africa, because of the belief that they are “purifying” them. The statistics are shocking: 98% percent of the women in Somalia and 96% of the women of Guinea have been mutilated, with similar numbers all over the continent. (p. 156) Furthermore, often the same countries encourage the idea that girls should be killed when they do anything to shame their families, particularly if the girl does not wish to marry the man her family has chosen. In Egypt, it is reported that 16% of all the homicides in 2000 were “family killings to ‘wipe out shame.’” (p. 153)

ImageJust this week in the U.S., Brandeis University refused to award a planned honorary doctorate to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a well-known advocate for women’s rights in Islamic countries. Ms. Ali experienced genital mutilation as a child in Somalia, but escaped to the Netherlands as an adult and has worked against persecution and honor killings ever since. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has convinced Brandeis to withhold the degree because they feel that she is spreading hatred against Muslims. Lest we believe that honor killings are solely a Muslim practice, however, Mr. Carter states that “[s]uch killings have also been committed in Hindu and Sikh communities in India, and by Christians within highly patriarchal cultures.” (p. 153)

Mr. Carter does not spare the Christian churches of which he is an adherent, either. He draws a distinction between the Biblical teachings of Jesus and Paul in regards to women. He considers Jesus to be the most feminist person in the Bible, treating women on a par with men in a manner that was highly unusual in that time. However, he feels that Paul is speaking to the surrounding culture, and that his instructions to one group conflict with his words to another church. The former president believes that Christian churches have wrongly emphasized Paul’s teachings, even interpreting them inappropriately. Whether one agrees with him or not, it is remarkable that Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter left their lifelong affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention over this issue, although they are still active in their local church.

ImagePresident Carter covers many other pertinent topics in this short book, including rape, female genocide, child marriage, human trafficking, and other shameful reminders that women’s oppression is both worldwide and ongoing.  It is hard to imagine that one person could have such a depth of knowledge on all of these subjects, but Mr. and Mrs. Carter travel for the Carter Center and have leadership roles on many global councils devoted to the cause of peace and justice. One reviewer opined that Carter detoured off into “folksy” stories too much, but I did not find that to be the case. He did ramble on occasion, it is true, but here is an example of one of his stories. In countries such as Ghana, ponds fill up during the rainy season, but then shrink the rest of the year. Whatever the water level, they are still the source of the village’s water, and Guinea worm larvae live in the water. When the people drink the water, the larvae hatch in their digestive tracts and grow into two-to-three-foot worms before leaving the body through their skin anywhere, but particularly through the legs and feet. When the women wade into the ponds to draw water, the worms on their legs lay eggs into the pond. It takes 30 days for the worms to painfully make their way completely out of the body, and if you try to pull them out and part of them breaks off, they will rot and you will have to have an amputation. There is no cure, but the Carter Center is working to dig wells for each village, so that there is no need to go into the infested pond. They are seeing tremendous success. Here in the U.S., I would be in an insane asylum long before the 30 days were up. I have already wondered if was legal to request a drug-induced coma for mental health reasons. If that is the reviewer’s idea of a folksy story, he is one hardened dude. In our family now, this has become the touchstone of suffering: Lost your job? Car won’t start? Best friend won’t speak to you anymore? Look on the bright side! You could have Guinea worms!

This is a thoughtful and revealing look at many forms of oppression against women, although for a deeper treatment of any particular topic, one would have to look elsewhere. There is an index in the back, but no notes, which I found disappointing. However, I would recommend this title to anyone interested in the subject, or to anyone wanting to take a look at the longest presidential retirement on record. You’ll be impressed.

Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer, my church, or anyone else.

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John Knox: Shaken, Not Stirred

Image“I meant to make a Presbyterian last night,” Michael announced one Saturday morning, “but then I fell asleep and I forgot.” Since I have positive feelings towards Presbyterians in general and am extremely fond of several Presbyterians in particular, I was quite unsettled by this Frankensteinish statement. Michael saw my shocked face and gestured to the coffee table. “It’s a drink.” Aha! A “Presbyterian” is the name of a cocktail in a recent alcohol-soaked issue of Garden & Gun featuring a chilled silver cup of Mint Julep on the cover. According to G&G, Presbyterians are made of bourbon or rye with ginger ale. Sure they are. Other offerings include a Dark & Stormy, with dark rum, ginger, and other secret ingredients, and a Spicy Shrub Paloma, with tequila, lime, and expensive-sounding things. This one looks cool and refreshing, and is topped with a big bunch of sage. Check ‘em out here. No lightning bolts required.

ImageWill Spring Ever Get Here?

I don’t think I’ve seen this much snow in one winter since we lived in Kentucky. Every year, I say that I won’t be ready to dig a garden until we have at least one snowfall. Well, I have been so ready for so long! We’ve had several snowfalls or ice storms that were significant enough to keep us housebound for a couple of days, although we have been fortunate to avoid power outages, unlike some of our co-workers.

Now that it is officially, legally spring, the Bradford pears are desperately trying to bloom, but the gray skies and cool temperatures were making it tough. We finally had an almost sunny morning yesterday, so I stopped to take a picture of these Bradfords, standing all in a row, valiantly trying to push those blossoms out. Since it is forecast to be in the seventies this weekend, I was starting to feel hopeful about that gardening.

Then I got to work and someone said: “Did you hear that we’re supposed to have ice and snow again Monday night?” It makes me want to push the blossoms back in for another week.

You Promised: No Island

ImageYes, David and I are the last people on the planet to watch the series Lost. So many people talk about it without explanations that I started to feel as if I were missing a chunk of cultural literacy. Happily, it is available everywhere, so we ordered up the first season from Netflix, but before we started watching, I asked Michael, “This isn’t one of those shows where they land on a deserted island, and people get voted off the island each week, is it?” He replied, “You’re thinking of Survivor.” So I felt better.

First episode: A plane crashes on a deserted island. Hey, wait! Michael said, “Give it three episodes.” So we did, and we really like it. No one gets voted off the island, although a few people have died, and there are surprises all the time. Each episode highlights one character’s back story, so we’ve gotten completely tangled up in everyone’s lives. We’re at the end of season one, and we look forward to season two, right after…

House of Cards! Since everyone is talking about this now, I thought we’d get our cultural literacy in a few years earlier this time. Michael assures me that I will not like it, because it has too much profanity. He’s usually right about these things, but don’t tell him I said that. I’ll let you know. For those of you who, like me, wondered if it was only on Netflix streaming, I can tell you that season one is available on disc, too. Queue up, as they say in Britain.

Turns out that our new knowledge was gained not a moment too soon. Now that there is another jet—I mean, a real jet—that has gone missing in the Pacific, everybody is talking about Lost again! This time, I can just nod sagaciously and make cool remarks. Of course, it’s like being on the other side of the television show, as if we’re the people looking for Jack and Kate and the gang. Since I don’t know how the show ends, I won’t compare too closely, but I do hope we can find the real plane.

ImageEven Boomers Are Geeks

My husband called me on my office phone this afternoon: “I’m in the Wal-Mart parking lot, and I can’t find an email or text with the grocery list on it.”

“I didn’t send you an email or text with the list.”

Silent confusion on the other end.

“I said it to you. “ Pause. “This morning. At breakfast.”

“Oh!” Pause.

Me: “Do you want to hang up and I’ll text it to you?”

“No, I guess you can say it and I’ll write it down.”

Remember notepaper tacked on to the fridge with magnets? Not any more.

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Filed under Family, Life's Travails- Big and Small, Men and Women

I Thought Wintry Mix Was a Snack Food

ImageEven for a snow lover like me, this has been enough winter. Temperatures cold enough to send my paycheck directly to Duke Power, several skids on slippery roads, and now, instead of toasted pecans and dried cranberries falling from the sky, we get ice. It’s February in North Carolina! Where are the daffodils?

Thanks to Facebook, I know that I am not alone. I read of my co-workers who ended up abandoning their vehicles by the side of the road in yesterday’s storm, being picked up by intrepid husbands or bunking down with friends within walking distance. For myself, I was pacing and praying a good bit until Michael drove in the driveway, his black car heaped with snow. After that, I was happy to watch the snow falling—until it turned into something else. We had to open the door and listen to the hissing sound to figure out that it was sleet. So far, though, we still have power!

Hard to believe that just last Saturday, I was pulling weeds in my garden boxes and dreaming of spring.

And Puppies Don’t Turn Into Kittens, Either

Lately, we have had the misfortune to be able to observe America’s mourning practices up close several times. So many of these rituals have developed over the years as a way to show respect and love to people—even strangers—who are going through the worst of human experiences. In the South, at least in small towns and rural areas, people still pull their cars over to the side and wait for a funeral procession to go by. This practice, along with the provision of endless casseroles, is a simple and beautiful way of acknowledging that we are all part of one community, and that we will all be in the chief mourner’s spot at some time.

ImageOn the other hand, pop culture can turn the gravest matters into misplaced kitsch with the best of intentions. The one thing that really makes me twitch—even more than teddy bears at a crash site—is the idea that people who die turn into angels in heaven. What a stroke of metaphysical macroevolution! In the Bible, people who are believers are called saints, and when they get to heaven, they are still called saints. Despite all the Raphael paintings of fat babies with wings, angels in the Bible are pretty terrifying. That’s why they’re always saying, “Fear not!”

Beyond the baby cherubs, though, I blame Hollywood for this misunderstanding. Oh, come on, let’s blame Hollywood for all misunderstandings! Think of the movies that have been made about angels earning their wings, starting with the beloved It’s a Wonderful Life. Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings? Does that extend to all of my cell phone notification rings? Perhaps cell phone dings earn the angel virtual wings. Pretty soon, this place is going to be full of fluffy feathers, though, so we must stop this nonsense. Forsake pop theology immediately, or I will smash all of your Precious Moments figurines.

So Why Did I Have a Flu Shot?

ImageIn our house, we had the flu.

Two of us had a flu shot, too.

What is the flu shot meant to do?

 

My poor husband was really sick with a bad cold for two weeks. After a bit, he complained of being achy, and I swore that he was feverish. Being the manly man that he is, he exclaimed, “Pshaw!” (or something equally dismissive) and declared that he was fine. When he went to his doctor for a regular check-up, his doctor said, “This is not a cold! This is the flu!” And being the wifely wife that I am, I said, “I told you so.”

After more than a week, though, Michael started sniffling, and a few days after that, I fell to the virus, too. The thing is that, unlike David, we had both had a flu shot! So we got Zippity Flu. Instead of having a fever for days, you have a fever for twelve hours. Aches are held down to a few hours, and instead of hacking up a lung, the cough is just incredibly annoying. I was only sick for a week, while David wasn’t completely back to himself for three weeks.

What is the deal here? Is the wrong strain of flu in the vaccine, or is the virus much stronger than usual this year? I am very grateful to have had a light case, since, as a reader and Downton Abbey fan, I know that people used to die of influenza regularly. Without the vaccine, our chances of survival are really no different today, since hardly anyone goes to the doctor to be treated with Tamiflu, the effectiveness of which is still considered iffy. So, I will queue up for the shot again next year, like the good government worker that I am, but I think I’ll encourage David to visit his doctor early in the season, too. I’m sure it will still be free. Maybe.

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Filed under Christian Life, Family, Life's Travails- Big and Small, Men and Women