Egalitarian ways to hurt women

Mere Orthodoxy has a long, worthwhile read, Why We Should Jettison the “Strong Female Character”. The topic is, simply, female characters in movies. Less simply, and more accurately, it’s about how today we publicly talk about men and women.

The piece nudged me into writing this much shorter post about a thought I’ve had for a while – that ‘egalitarian’ moves to help women often undermine women.

Taking the lead from Mere Orthodoxy, we can see this at work in movies and TV shows. Modern video drama has to have dynamic, active female leads. Any category of film needs such women – be it kids’ flicks, teen stories, or adult drama.

These women will, often, be aggressive, rebellious, problem-solvers, sometimes reckless, gifted in combat … winners on all fronts. And they help women, it seems, by breaking the stereotype.

Except that they don’t break type at all.

Look at that list above. It’s as stereotyped as they come – it’s the (formerly) male pattern of dramatic behaviour. That is, for women to have success, they need to become more manly. How does that free women from oppression?

The supposed sin is in thinking there are two ways of being human, male and female. It’s beyond thought now to suggest that men and women are are different enough to be distinct. But the new orthodoxy suggests there is but one way of being a successful human –  and it’s the manly way.

The Mere Orthodoxy piece notes the change in Disney Princesses.

Within the kickass princess trope lurks the implication that, to prove equality of dignity, worth, agency, and significance as a character, all of a woman’s resolve, wisdom, courage, love, kindness, self-sacrifice, and other traits simply aren’t enough—she must be capable of putting men in their place by outmatching them in endeavors and strengths that naturally favor them, or otherwise making them look weak or foolish.

If equality means its not enough to be a woman, then equality has a problem, don’t you think?

And it’s not just the movies. Consider the sexual revolution. As a generalisation, the sexual revolution has produced an ethic that promotes wide-ranging experimentation and minimal commitment. Men play that sexual game, and women are ’empowered’ to do the same.

But that game is the stereotypical dream of the faithless male roué: easy and frequent sex, with no cost. The sexual revolution makes it easier for men to fulfil that dream, and tells women that it’s wonderful that they can be the same.

Welcome to the glory of freedom, where your equality is defined and measured by being a user, a Lady Casanova!

So we see a double insistence that women copy men: positive and negative. Movies urge the more positive characteristics, and the bedroom is where to copy the negative and selfish.

This places some expressions of egalitarianism in a mixed-up place: a good aim (honour women), with a poor method (be more like a man), based on a wrong idea (men and women are the same).

What should a Christian do? I’d say we should hold firmly to the right idea, and let methods and aims flow from that.

So, for instance, the biblical teaching honours the complementarity of male and female. There is difference, without separation. Male and female in Genesis 2 are both required, and not interchangeable – a reality that the Bible never abandons. The idea matters, because truth matters. As to a method of living out this reality … well, I promised a short piece – so that’s for another day!


 

Quick review: Captured by a better vision

Captured By A Better Vision: Living Porn FreeCaptured By A Better Vision: Living Porn Free by Tim Chester
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The prevalence of pornography in our electronic age is an important matter for the whole of society, and even more so for Christians who know that sexuality is a wonderful gift from God that can be awfully twisted into ugliness.

Chester is not all about ‘a technique’ to stop porn in one’s life. But he does not mock techniques, either, but places them in a better whole-of-life context. Use the skills (like accountability software, etc), but use them as tools in the bigger picture of life with Christ.

Chester’s five broad topics are, in my words: hate porn, love God, trust God, actively avoid porn, get help. As is clear, there are reasons why, and there are tips how. And both are important.

Chester quotes extensively from people who completed an on-line survey for him, and this illustrates his points nicely while introducing a chatty feel to parts of the book. This complements the parts which are more solid sections of thoughtful argument.

I have a few criticisms, but none of them are major.

    • Though a shortish book, about 160 pages, I think it could have been edited a bit more. The chapters seem to have long introductions before getting to the major point. And those intros don’t always really tightly connect to the main point, in my view.

 

    • Chester acknowledges that porn is a problem for both men and women, and can be expressed in ‘non-porn’ ways (like romance novels, or underwear junk mail). But I certainly had the sense this book was more about blokes with porn problems. If there was some editing out (above), then the book could edit in more on women’s experiences of porn.

 

  • Chester takes the line of Genesis 2:18 – that it was not good for the man to be alone – to mean he was lonely, needing companionship. That’s a tempting preaching point, believe me!, but is probably not the point of the text.

 

But to finish with negatives would be way off – this is a good book, on an important topic, written with gospel-shaped truth, which shows love to all touched by the damaging scourge of pornography.

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If you want to be a leader, be negative

But if you want to achieve something, be positive.

Influence is easy when you’re a critic. Dissatisfaction spreads like an infection. Look at the way of social media – posts get shares if there’s a government to complain about, a group to parody, or an opinion to twist. Likewise, the comment section of on-line news items is the best place to find new and creative insults (within the flood of predictable and misspelled old insults).

But it’s not just the on-line world. I’ve noticed that ‘negative vibes’ get traction in almost any group: sporting, community, workplace. Unlike physics, negative attracts negative.

If youpath want to be negative, the great thing is that there are two ways to choose. The obvious way is to openly complain, ‘Our manager has no idea about the work we do.’ Not bad for beginners.

The second way, and far more elegant, is stealth. Say nothing, but be a black cloud hanging over the group. No gossip, lies or statements, just a grumpy attitude. It’s almost guaranteed that people will catch your infection. And they will go with you in negativity. Congratulations, you’re a leader!

Therefore if your desire is to lead, the easiest option is to carp and criticise. If you want influence – and nothing more than influence – be a cynic. People will follow you, you will be an individual of influence.

On the other hand, if you want to make something happen, you will need to be positive. You will need to communicate a direction and a pathway ahead.

It’s positive to say, “We’re going to make this orchestra even better,” or, “We can get some more funding for this charity,” or, “Let’s use more of the skills in the team.”

This involves leadership, but not leadership for its own sake. It’s leading for the sake of the team, for the sake of others. Leading is tool for love.

 


 

Non sequitur

This article from my local paper is about the Labor candidate for the federal seal of Indi. It’s a political free swing for the candidate, because it’s on same sex marriage (SSM), where opposition is forbidden.

The candidate’s opponents might be grumpy about the easy run he gets, but I am more interested in the incoherent argument. The conclusion in no way matches the points made: a classic non sequitur. It runs like this:

  • Eric (the candidate) has two mums. These mums have been together since 1980
  • One mum, Roslyn, was turned away from IVF in the early 1990s
  • Consequently, Roslyn went to Canberra for IVF, having to lie to get in. She had twin boys
  • The family was nervous about schooling, but “right through school there was never any issue”
  • Nowadays, things have changed and same-sex couples do get into IVF locally
  • The two mums don’t want to marry
  • THEREFORE Eric thinks the campaign for SSM very important

One of these points is not like the others.

The whole article makes it clear that the situation today, as understood by this lesbian couple, is accepting. Medicine, school, and society provide the safety they need. They are not in danger, nor excluded, but fit in well.

So, I would expect, the conclusion is that there is no need for changes in marriage law. Redefinition of marriage – which I argue is a great risk – is simply unnecessary.

But no.

On the basis of everything being fine, legal change is necessary. Couldn’t there be just one question from the journalist testing the strength of argument? Obviously not.

 


 

 

Ask me

What help do you (actually) ask for from Christians?
What help would you like to ask for?

I enjoyed visiting churches while on holidays – I always do. One sermon got me thinking about what help we seek from people in ministry.

(By ‘people in ministry’ I particularly mean people who prayerfully teach God’s word. Employed preachers, Bible study leaders, Sunday school leaders, etc. These people are paid and unpaid, ministering formally and informally. They all lead us to the Lord’s word.)

The preacher shall remain unnamed – because he too was a guest and I do not know his name. He spoke on 2 Corinthians 5, and finished with a great set of ideas for putting into practice this part of God’s word.

  • Practise telling your own Christian story in a way that explains Jesus more than it glorifies yourself
  • Memorise helpful Bible verses to share
  • Learn a simple way to explain the good news of Jesus, a gospel outline
  • Get training in how to lead a Bible study for a person who is investigating Christianity

Great ideas! And a good encouragement at the start of a new year. Thank you, anonymous preacher-man.

This where my experience as a paid minister kicked in. I considered the things people ask me to help with. The list is long, and has a huge range.

  • Can you help us find more musicians?
  • I’m moving to the area, can you help me look for a house?
  • Can you alter my place on the roster?
  • Did you find my Bible after church on Sunday?
  • Can you conduct my wedding?
  • I’m about to have an operation but forgot to bring money – can you pay today and I will pay you back? (Only once!)
  • Can you help me move?
  • Can you witness me sign this government form?
  • Could you visit me in the hospital locked ward?
  • My son lives near you. Could you drop in to see if he is safe and OK?
  • Can you print my assignment?
  • Can you be my referee for a job/rental application?

It’s amazing to touch so many parts of people’s lives. I feel this as a privilege to accept, and a responsibility to honour with discretion and privacy. I don’t want these requests to stop. (If I can’t do them, I know how to say ‘no’.)

But what if people were limited to just four of five requests they could make? Or, to put it differently, what if I could specify the requests that I most want to hear?

If that were the case, my list would look like the conclusion to that holiday sermon. The requests I love to hear are these:

  • Can you pray for me?
  • Can you tell me more about this Jesus guy, I need to know about him?
  • I trust the Bible, can you help me with its teaching?
  • Can you help me grow in serving Jesus?

These requests bring a smile everyday of the week.

Since these are so important, my role is to make them happen more and more. That’s what ministry is. As for Christian maturity: that is the wisdom to ask for these things.

So go on – ask me!

 


 

Quick review: The search to belong

The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small GroupsThe Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community, and Small Groups by Joseph R. Myers
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wavered between two options when it came to choosing a star rating for The Search to Belong. Because there are some powerfully helpful ideas, I considered four out of five. But everything else moved me towards two from five.

No matter which way I went, I knew that I disliked reading the book – even the bits I liked. So that decided the matter: **/*****.

What’s valuable: Myers picks up the analysis of Edward T Hall that society consists of four “spaces”: public, social, personal, and intimate. Each space has its own character, strengths, and modes of operation. And each is valuable in its own right, not as a mere stepping stone to the “really real” relationship of intimacy.

So, applied to churches, Myers urges readers to make sure people have room to relate in any and all of the social spaces. Excellent!

What I disliked does not undermine the benefit of those valuable thoughts. But what I disliked I really disliked. Some examples.

Myers has an ear for how people feel. He frequently speaks of how he felt in different situations. That’s a wonderful skill. But Myers turns how we feel into obligations: “people feel this therefore we must act in the following way.” There is apparently no possibility of people feeling the wrong thing, or entertaining awful desires.

Similarly, we are told people at churches can only lead themselves. “Only you can lead you.” It’s imperative, therefore that ‘leaders’ in churches get out of the way. They can supply a framework for people to grow, but must refrain from trying to lead people. The irony: Myers forcefully tells us – leads us – to the only possible truth, that there is no such thing as forceful leading.

The irony is one thing, but more significant to me is the biblical insistence that there are leaders (in church, home, and society) and that these leaders have God’s commission to lead. (See all the biblical language of authority and submission, to investigate further.)

For a third and final criticism, I think the book is a touch confused. In the first two chapters, for instance, Myers frequently spoke of the need to define connection, or community, or belonging. But I never found the definition. So I was not surprised to read a free interchange of terms: with loose definitions it’s easy enough to use any term that feels close enough. But that’s not good enough if you are trying to present a clear case.

My recommendation, then, is to read this book but to pare back the emergent packing and enjoy the thoughtful idea social spaces.

 


 

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Quick review: The mind’s eye


 

The Mind's EyeThe Mind’s Eye by Oliver Sacks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another enjoyable read from Oliver Sacks, this time on sight and the brain.

Seeing is not merely – or even primarily – a matter of the eye, but of the brain. The eye may experience all sorts of problems, and this book represents a number of them through the cases described. But Sacks’ work here is the written record of his fascination with perception, distortion, neural processing, face recognition, depth of view, three-dimensionality, imaging, and a number of related issues.

The longest chapter is on Sacks’ own visual medical problems. Naturally he has more information on himself as a ‘case’, but I suspect his greater interest in his own case led him to extend that chapter more than required.

This book is not, however, a clinical guide. It is more of an exploration of questions raised by various clinical observations. What is perception?, How does the brain cope with visual disturbance?, Can we truly communicate subjective experiences?

I love the way Sacks is fascinated with people – not diseases or pathologies, but people. It is in facing illness that he seems to detect the uncovering of character, of humanity.

Sacks’ writing also reminded me that we can’t assume much about the people we interact with, or that when we do we will often miss what is very significant for those people. The guy on the footpath might be struggling with one eye almost blind and a correspondingly huge blind spot to one side: it does not have to be that’s he’s a footpath hog. The workmate whose habits are a joke to the rest of the office might just be employing strategies to survive a visual degenerative condition that would paralyse us.

We simply cannot know what troubles people endure. So why not make allowances, and ask them, and make room for all the odd people of the world? After all, someone as high-functioning as Oliver Sacks was once numbered among such odd bods.

Sacks says, essentially, nothing about God-stuff. Yet he is not rude or dismissive of these points of view. He quotes extensively from at least a couple of Christian individuals (about their insight into blindness, rather than Christianity), all the while allowing that their trust positively shapes their experience.

As a Christian, I hope I can demonstrate such person-focussed interest and practice listening to people no matter what their views. And, again as a Christian, I am convinced that the reason we value such behaviour is due to Jesus and his summary of the law into the two love commands (Matthew 22:36-40).

It’s not that behaviour gets us to God. It is that when God got to us, he told us that trust has its behaviours. He/Jesus told us this, and we can be sure it’s a powerful truth – because in Sacks we have the example of a fine Western mind steered (perhaps unconsciously) by the words of Jesus.

For those of us who do follow Jesus, let’s deliberately show such gentle, inquisitive love.

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Acts 10 & the importance of preaching

Acts 10 is at a revolution point in God’s wonderful work. It’s where the news of Jesus goes directly to a non Jew. The whole world has direct access to Jesus by trust – always God’s plan, now fully revealed because of the completed work of Jesus.

And God’s revolution comes by preaching.

Proclaiming the news of Jesus often feels and looks unutterably weak. Yet many indications of Acts 10 show apostolic preaching to be God’s chosen way. (Brackets for verse numbers.)

  • Cornelius needs to hear the gospel, so God sends an angel (=messenger) who says: send for Peter (5). Why not let the angel talk? Because it had to be the apostle. This is extraordinary preparation to hear preaching
  • Peter experienced a disturbing vision from God to show that all people have immediate opportunity to trust Jesus (15). God could have given Cornelius this vision. This is extraordinary preparation for the preacher
  • When Cornelius sent for Peter, the go-betweens specified that it was to hear what you have to say (22)
  • Even more than that, Cornelius himself knew that Peter had been commanded by the Lord to speak (33)
  • Cornelius is scared of the angel (4), but tried to worship Peter (25). Mistaken worship, but a right assessment of relative importance
  • Cornelius’ crowd already knew about Jesus’ ministry (37). This is not information transfer. They needed Peter’s preaching
  • The apex of Peter’s sermon is that God sent people to speak about Jesus (42-43). Beforehand were the prophets, and after the resurrection Jesus sent eyewitnesses to preach and testify
  • It was while Peter was speaking that the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius (44)

The major amazement of Acts 10 is that the benefits from Jesus are poured out freely “even on the Gentiles” (45). But along the way we read plenty of reminders that God’s chosen method of saving is by preaching the apostolic message.

May we never lose confidence in speaking the gospel of Jesus.

 


 

Wrestle the devil

Ephesians is full of memorable passages and memory-verse favourites. It’s a biblical letter chock-full of the greatness of God and his great plans for Christ’s church.

A common favourite is 6:10-20, in which believers are told to dress in the whole armour of God. Why do we need God’s armour? Because our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil. Why struggle at all? So we may stand, firm and unshaken on the foundation of Christ.

It seems to me that each item of armour shows us two things. Firstly, how to be strong in the Lord. Secondly, where our weakness lies.

What follows is a short look at each of the items, and what they say about Christian strength and weakness.

The belt of truth
The devil is a liar through and through, says Jesus (John 8:44). His character is to lie. So to hold to truth is to hold to God. Truth is not only a weapon against evil, truth is victory in itself. The category of truth is wonderfully rich. It includes such joys as: God is the creator of all; Jesus is the saving Son of God; Jesus died and rose again in victory over sin; Jesus is the final judge of all humanity.

Each truth is a strong wrestling grip to defeat the devil. Therefore weakness is to be loose on the truth. To not know what God teaches us of his gospel is to choose weakness and danger. Any Christian unconcerned for doctrine, the teaching, and truth is a Christian in danger.

We can have the belt of truth, or we can be belted without the truth.

The breastplate of righteousness
Righteousness is of God (you can read about the Lord’s armour in Isaiah 59:15-18). Jesus saved his people in order that we share God’s righteousness. For believers, righteousness means saying no to angry sin, to greedy idolatry, and to immorality. Take the example of anger. In Ephesians 4:26-27, we see that we refuse the devil a foothold by refusing to turn anger into sin.

The devil hates righteousness. Therefore we become his prey when we go soft on righteousness. It’s not that (self-)righteousness saves us. It is that unrighteousness kills us.

Shoes of gospel readiness
The shoes that go and share the gospel of Jesus are a double-barrelled weapon in the battle against evil. Barrel one: love for neighbour invites that neighbour to forgiveness and eternal life. Barrel two: every person who then follows Christ is a loss to the devil, and is no longer following the prince of the air (see Ephesians 2:1-3).

In contrast, if we are Christians who refuse to share the gospel of Jesus, we’re like pacifist soldiers – dressed like an army, but refusing to fight. What a crazy waste!

The shield of faith
Faith is our deep personal commitment and pledge to the Lord whose truth we trust. Faith clings to God. God – being the rock – is life’s sure and stable foundation. We’re not pushovers when built onto Christ.

But weak faith is like trying to balance tall on one toe, with eyes closed, in a gale. It’s unstable and precarious.

The helmet of salvation
Salvation is safety. God promises his children protection. Specifically, we will not face punishment for our many sins because Jesus has already taken the punishment. The devil has nothing he can accuse us of.

So it’s a great battle weakness if we fall back from Jesus’ salvation and start to trust our own behaviour. When we choose our own works to save, we actually choose our own sins to condemn.

The sword of the Spirit
This sword is the word of God – God’s attack weapon against evil. Jesus grabbed the sword of the Spirit to defeat the devil in the wilderness, quoting the law of the Lord (Matthew 4:1-11). And when equipping the church, Jesus gave people who speak the word of God (Ephesians 4:11-12).

A Christian weak in the word of God is a soldier without a weapon. Enthusiasm will not cover that weakness. Such a soldier may be physically present, but unable to help the battle.

The armour of God is a wonderful gift from the Father. It is from him, and its power is his – that’s why the description concludes with extended call to prayer (verses 18-20). We accept the items as gifts, take them up, and then ask God to empower us as servants,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

 


 

Quick review: The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist

The Atheist Who Didn't ExistThe Atheist Who Didn’t Exist by Andy Bannister
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Science is the only sure method for knowing things.

Faith and reason are opposed.

People believe in God because they’re needy.

Atheism is not a belief at all – it’s just non-belief.

You can discover goodness without God at all.

If you’ve heard statements like these then you and I are living in the same world. They’re relatively common in the so-called ‘New Atheism.’

But if you’re convinced by any of these statements, then you’ve been duped. These arguments, and others like them, are all bad arguments, according to Andy Bannister. Note the alternate title for his book Or: the Dreadful Consequences of Bad Arguments.

This book is all about the arguments of people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens. And written in an accessible and light style. If you like quirky British humour – and I do – then you’ll find it even better (as well as find plenty of jokey distraction in the hundreds of footnotes).

Bannister is a Christian, but this book does not aim to present the Christian Gospel, I think. The news of Jesus is there, in brief snatches (especially the last chapter on Jesus and history). But the aim of this book seems to be what comes before presenting the Christian message: to convince us that it is worth looking at the message.

That is, Bannister urges readers not to prematurely write off the question of God and Jesus. And if it’s Dawkins and his buddies who have convinced you not to go near the God question, Bannister’s warning is that you’re really a victim of empty argument.

So The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist is apologetic and pre-evangelistic. Apologetic: for it gives reasons why it’s worth considering Jesus. Pre-evangelistic: because it opens the door to an honest reading of the Bible.

I loved the humour (except for Bannister’s disdain of goat’s cheese – he’s definitely wrong there). And I’d definitely give this book away to people entrapped by the empty arguments of Krauss, Dawkins, et al.

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