Elsewhere: Her Face

 

I’ve been wearing her face my entire life.

Even before she died, people used to tell me: “Oh, you look so much like your mom!” I’ve never been quite sure what my response is supposed to be: Thank you? Once she died it became my job to wear her face around, to perpetuate my mother’s nose, her cheekbones, the way she laughed from deep inside herself, the way she stroked the rough skin of her elbow when she was thinking.

She was thirty-three when her body first betrayed her, when the lump formed in her breast. The breast was removed and replaced with a flat pink scar, but not before the lump sent cells scattering out into her bones, eating away at the infrastructure of her body like termites. Now I am nearly thirty-three, and I wonder if something is waiting inside me, if my body will betray me too. My mother looks at me from behind my cheekbones in the mirror as I examine myself braless, feeling for lumps, trying to imagine the shape of myself without my breasts, flat pink scars on my chest….

Read the rest in SheLoves Magazine

#FaithFeminisms: Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be “Allies”

This week I’m writing alongside some amazing women about our faiths, our feminisms, and the ways that they inform and shape each other. Here is my contribution:

—–

Earlier this spring I was chatting with my sons about the classes I was taking that semester. “What’s ‘Women in Film’?” one asked. I explained that examining the way women were shown in movies could tell us some things about how society thinks about women.

“But it isn’t fair to have a class about women in film and not one about men in film,” my son protested.

I took a breath while I thought about how to reply, but just then another of my sons said, “They don’t need a class about men in film, because in movies men are almost always the heroes.”

These are the moments when I feel like I’m getting somewhere as a feminist mom of boys – these moments when they show that they are beginning to internalize these proto-feminisms.

At our house, 101-level concepts have been translated into elementary school language: Consent means that you get a person’s permission before you start a wrestling match or pillow fight with them. Gender norms are when people say that boys aren’t allowed to wear nail polish, but we know that if someone likes wearing nail polish they can wear it if they want to and let’s practice some things you can say if people make fun of you. Racial, gender, and body diversity and different kinds of families are found in the library books we check out and the photos my friends post on Facebook and the people we go to church with.

But as my sons grow older, I desire for them to move beyond these basic proto-feminisms. I want them to identify structural inequalities and injustices, and be motivated to work towards making a more just world. I want them to understand privilege and recognize their own.

They are white, middle-class males*. The deck is stacked in their favor. They will be playing the game on the lowest difficulty setting there is.

I want my sons to be informed by feminism and intersectionality…but I do not want my sons to grow up to be “allies.”

 

Read the full post on FaithFeminisms.com.

Join us in talking about the interaction between feminist theory and your theology! Tweet using the hashtag #FaithFeminisms or add your post to the link-up. And check out the voices joining the conversation on the podcast 30 Seconds or Less all week long.

The morning after

Last night I wrote and wrote because I was angry.

This morning I woke up, and I packed the kids off to school and got a shower and drank some coffee, and I am still angry.

Listen. My relationship with both evangelicalism and my old church is like a relationship with an ex who shares custody of your kids and who also massively influences U.S. public policy. I don’t know how angry I should allow myself to be with someone I broke up with, and how much I should shake my head and say, Yes, this is why I left, and move on.

It has been eight months since I left my church. I left because it hurt like this nearly all the time. I left because I was angry more often than I wasn’t, and because I had to work so hard at being not-angry. I left because I couldn’t separate the things that frustrate me about white American evangelicalism from the specific culture that existed at that one single white American evangelical church, and because I didn’t see that one church making any effort to distinguish itself from the most toxic parts of the culture anyway. Walking away hurt, but staying there hurt more.

(In the eight months since I left, no one there has noticed that I’m gone or reached out to me in any way. That hurts, too, but it certainly reinforces my decision.)

But.

It has been five months since I went on my own to a service at the tiny Episcopal church that I first attended once last summer with a friend. Five months since I sat in the priest’s office after the service and cried, because I was lonely and lost and I didn’t know how to do church anymore or if I even could, and because for the first time I had hope that someplace new could feel like home. And five months since Mother Debra — an unmarried woman of color: exactly the sort of person who never would have been allowed authority where I came from — told me that I was welcome there, could call it home if I wished.

“But,” she added. “You should know that we have quite a few gay people in our congregation. I hope that won’t be a problem for you?”

And I laughed. Which was probably not the best response. But I laughed, because here was this priest, telling me that I was welcome at their church but that making me comfortable as a straight person wasn’t a priority. That their church was a place where accepting LGBT people is the norm, and it is up to me to adapt to that, not the other way around.

And this is why that’s my church now. The church where I bring my children on Sunday morning, where my boys and I take the Eucharist alongside gay people and straight people and families and single people and people of different colors and ethnicities and people with autism and just people, and where it is expected that this is their church, and we are welcome to worship alongside them. A church where my whiteness and straightness and able-bodiedness isn’t privileged.

This is what unity in the body of Christ feels like. And it gives me hope. It makes me remember that white American evangelical Christianity isn’t the only Christianity. It makes me want everyone else to remember that too.

—–

If I could add to the canon of scripture, besides Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, I would include Flannery O’Connor’s short story “Revelation.” It’s about Mrs. Ruby Turpin, a southern woman who is very confident in her place in the hierarchy of God’s children, and how she has an epiphany about what it means for the first to be last. Here is the ending:

Until the sun slipped finally behind the tree line, Mrs. Turpin remained there with her gaze bent to the hogs as if she were absorbing some abysmal life-giving knowledge. At last she lifted her head. There was only a purple streak in the sky, cutting through a field of crimson and leading, like an extension of the highway, into the descending dusk. She raised her hands from the side of the hog pen in a gesture hieratic and profound. A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were tumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black n***rs in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They, alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces even their virtues were being burned away. She lowered her hands and gripped the rail of the hog pen, her eyes small but fixed unblinkingly on what lay ahead. In a moment the vision faded but she remained where she was, immobile.

At length she got down and turned off the faucet and made her slow way on the darkening path to the house. In the woods around her the invisible cricket choruses had struck up, but what she heard were the voices of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah.

Hellelujah. Lord, have mercy on us sinners. Hallelujah.

Mostly I am yelling.

This is the blog post you write because you’re angry.

This is the blog post you write because you’re angry at men. And you’re angry at evangelicalism. And especially you’re angry at white, American, evangelical men.

You’re angry because today, two days after they announced plans to begin hiring gay, lesbian, and bisexual people (I have no illusions about including the T of LGBT here – that would be a bridge waaay too far) who are in same-sex marriages that are sanctioned by their home churches, in addition to the celibate LGB people they were willing to hire before — two days later, in response to enormous pressure from pearl-clutching conservative evangelicals, World Vision announced that they’re dreadfully sorry for taking such a controversial stance (hiring gay people who aren’t even sorry for being gay! the horror!) and they’re not going to hire same-sex-married people after all.

You’re angry because scores of evangelicals pulled their support — their promised, life-giving support — from needy families and communities because doctrinal purity is more important than helping the least of these. Because making sure LGBT people know that they’re in no way welcome in the body of Christ is more important than helping the least of these.

Because feeding the hungry and clothing the poor and helping the sick — those are all well and good, but when it comes down to it, those children are really just pawns in the culture wars. 

And so you write because people you care about are hurt and angry and surprised (but not really surprised — this is not nearly as surprising as it should be) at World Vision’s reversal, and because when your friends express their hurt and anger on twitter and on their blogs, white evangelical men show up and tell them that they are responding too hastily. That their anger needs to be tempered by time before they are allowed to express it. That it’s okay to question this decision, but do it carefully, because unity. 

Because showing unity with people who are willing to further alienate LGBT people is more important than being angry at them for the injustice they are perpetuating. 

Because what’s really important — no one is saying it but it comes through loud and clear — is doctrinal purity. (Where doctrinal purity equals rigid gender roles and policing people’s sexuality.) Because God desires mercy, not sacrifice, unless there are gay people involved and then it turns out what God really desires is the sacrifice of hungry children on the altar of Law. Because mercy only triumphs over judgment insofar as we’re not judging (gasp!) sexual sin.

You’re writing angry because once again, you’re confronted with the inescapable reality that evangelicalism is a gendered religion. In evangelicalism, you’re subject to a specific set of rules and roles that change depending on your gender and your sexuality. Men are to behave like this, and women like this. Marriage is encouraged, idolized even (God help the single 30-something member of an evangelical church), but only if you’re straight; if not, suddenly celibacy is a high and holy calling, and all of those verses we trot out at weddings about love and marriage and cords of three not being easily broken don’t apply to you the way they do to everyone else. Searching the scriptures and studying the Bible are important, but if you are a woman it doesn’t matter how spiritually strong you are; you must have a husband to be your spiritual leader, and you must not ever, ever teach a man, nor — heaven forfend — presume that God is calling you to be a pastor.

This is the blog post you write because tonight your son went to midweek programming at your old church (get it, programming as in what you do to a robot) and you came around the corner where his class was playing just in time to hear him yelling NO and crying, because one of the leaders had tried to pick him up without his permission and he said YOU’RE HURTING ME and the leader said, Whatever, you’re fine, you’re not hurt. Get up. Because it’s not enough to get in his personal space without his consent, but then when he tells the leader that he is hurt, when he tells the leader NO, the leader argues with him about what he’s feeling, doubles down on his own right to pick up a child without their permission.

Because what midweek programming is for is to teach boys how to twist themselves until they fit into narrow gendered boxes, and the box marked “male” includes nothing about bodily autonomy and consent and emotional vulnerability, and everything about wrestling and unwanted physicality and denying one’s feelings. The box marked “male” is the one where they tell boys to “shake it off” and “be a man.” Boys play dodgeball and go to wood shop, while the girls are off in their programming making crafts and planning their father-daughter dance.

And you are angry because when you confront the leader, instead of backing down, instead of apologizing, he ignores you and condescendingly tries to explain to your son what he meant. You are saying “consent” and “bodily autonomy” and “boundaries,” and the leader is talking past you to your crying boy about “I was just” and “all I meant was.”

And so you are sick to death of white, evangelical, cisgender heterosexual American men. Sick of patriarchy and condescension and those narrow gendered boxes. Sick, utterly sick of the evangelical idolatry of gender roles that is carried on the backs of hungry children and hurting children and children caught in the crossfire while the adult world of the culture war rages on around them. 

Because hell yes, you are angry. 

O Holy Flesh

There’s a collision that happens in my heart at Advent, this year more than ever. There’s the never-ending semester cycle when the busyness of the cerebral world of my classes crescendos hard into sforzando, there’s navigating the push-pull of family holidays, there’s food upon food — the pendulum-swing from ordering pizza too often because there isn’t enough time to cook, to flouring the kitchen with Christmas-cookie baking, to the too much food and not enough wine of extended-family meals. This year, too, as I’m wading into Episcopalianism, there’s the added sense of family-ness as I articulate the same beliefs and pray the same prayers week after week alongside the community of saints near and far, forward and backward through time; and the physicality of the Eucharist, gathering around the table of an embodied Christ, flesh and blood.

This Advent more than ever I am thinking about this God who became embodied: what it really means to believe in God with us and the Word became flesh and this is my body, broken for you. A God whose wounds you can touch, whose mother nursed him as a baby and comforted him when he was sick, whose tears fell salty in the dust and whose laughter rang loud and holy in the desert air. An infant God wrapped in cloths because his tiny body was cold, swaddled tight to soothe his startle reflex.

This Advent I am thinking about how if my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, then this flesh itself is sacred — this same substance worn by the God of the universe, and shaped into God’s image. If I really believe in the words I recite every week, the resurrection of the body, then this is not some temporary meat-costume I will abandon so my soul can flit off to an immaterial heaven, but the too too solid flesh that will dance in the hereafter.

And I am thinking about Advent in a physical, tangible world, a world where the days grow shorter and colder, a world of gray sky and gray naked tree branches and gray muddy snow. An Advent season that piggybacked onto the old ways, waiting for the solstice and lighting fires against the dark. I am thinking about a star that burst into the holy darkness, showing the way out of the night.

This Advent I am thinking about darkness and earth and skin, scratchy blankets and prickly straw, hot breath and cold night air, sacred incarnation, holy flesh.

A Benediction.

For my friend Aaron.

Blessed are the losers.

Blessed are those who can’t catch a break. Blessed are those who fight and fight and never get ahead, who feel the riptide pulling them backward no matter how hard they swim. Blessed are the Sisyphean.

Blessed are those who are too tired to fight, who feel the waters closing over their heads. Blessed are the drowning.

Blessed are the lonely, the forgotten, the invisible.

Blessed are the empty.

Blessed are those denied a seat at the table. Blessed are those who long to be seen, admitted, accepted, welcomed.

Blessed are those who know that if a table is closed to the marginalized it is not a table of communion but of the money changers. Blessed are those who overturn the tables.

Blessed are the wounded. The beaten-down. The jaded and the cynical. The anxious and the hurt and the angry. Blessed are the bitter.

For theirs will be peace. Theirs will be rest and quiet. Theirs will be family and welcome and, at last, joy. For they will be known, and they will be accepted. They will be filled.

Blessed are the losers, for they will be loved.

Telling God’s Story ch. 2: What the Bible Isn’t

So sorry this post is so much later than intended — it’s been a massive week, with a couple of late nights writing papers. The problem with going to school to become a better writer is that it doesn’t leave me with a lot of time for, well, writing.

Anyway. On to Chapter Two, “What the Bible Actually Is (And Isn’t).”

Enns’s argument in this chapter is a familiar one to me, as it’s one he covers in the first handful of chapters of Inspiration and Incarnation — albeit in much friendlier, less academic language, which is a relief. His point is this:

Christianity teaches that Jesus is, mysteriously, both God and human. He is not half one, half the other. He does not appear to be one while “really” being the other. He is both: all God and all human all the time.

Now think of the Bible by drawing a parallel: In the same way that Jesus is both completely divine and human, the Bible also has divine and human dimensions. (19, emphasis mine)

Don’t expect Jesus to be something he isn’t: a king dressed in fine robes, with servants and armies. He was lowly. He came to serve. Likewise, don’t expect something from the Bible it can’t deliver. Don’t expect it to be high and lofty, detached from the ancient world in which it was written. (21)

I like this analogy (and he stresses that it is only an analogy, and so it’s incomplete in some ways) a lot. For me it helps to bridge the gap between the idea I got growing up that the Bible was somehow dictated by God word-for-word and therefore contains only timeless, transcendent wisdom direct from the Divine, and the fact that the Bible is clearly a product of the very human times and cultures it came from. 

Enns writes about what we should, therefore, do with the Bible:

The first thing to keep in mind when we read the Bible is the hardest: Don’t go straight to the question “What does this mean to me?” . . . [We must learn] to ask questions that the text is raising. Our first struggle in reading the Bible is to move from the “What about me?” perspective to the “What does this tell us about God in that context?” question. . . . Before we can ask the hard questions — for example, “Is Genesis 1 in harmony with scientific thought? Or does Genesis 1 trump scientific thought?” — we must ask a more foundational question: What do we have the right to expect from God’s word as a book written in an ancient world? (18-19, emphasis Enns’s)

There’s a lot in this chapter about what not to expect from the Bible. And it’s important stuff. He knows that in some ways what we as Christians, and as Christian parents, want a Bible that will tell us what to do. Give me a road map, tell me what rules I need to teach my children to live by, give me a concordance that tells me everything I need to know about my finances and my marriage and my garden if I can just flip to the right chapter and verse.

Sarah Bessey writes about this expectation as well, in her new book Jesus Feminist:

People want black and white answers, but Scripture is a rainbow arch across a stormy sky. Our sacred book is not an indexed answer book or life manual; it is also a grand story, mystery, invitation, truth and wisdom, and a passionate love letter. . . . I’ve often heard the bumper-sticker phrase, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” But that’s not really true, is it? Whether we admit it or not, as people of faith, we sift our theology through [the pillars of] Scripture, Church history and tradition, our reason, and our own experience. . . . [And] we are relying on our own imperfect and subjective interpretation of those pillars, too. (56-57)

Okay. So. I’ve made — or am making — peace with what the Bible isn’t. (This isn’t an easy first step, since, as Enns writes, “There are many things about [the Bible] that we would not expect from a book called ‘God’s Word’ [21]. I’ve been wrestling with this aspect of the Bible for quite some time, and if this is a new perspective for you, I’d urge you to spend some time processing — and even grieving! — this shift.) What what do I do with what it is?

Bessey writes:

Since, admit it or not, we interpret Scripture through our own lens of context and history and culture, we must learn more about culture and context for the Bible. We need to read it in the way that the writers meant it and the way their immediate recipients would have read it. (59)

In order to do this, we have to educate ourselves about what the historical context is, and Enns recommends getting “a good, thorough study Bible” to help with this, as well as the books Old Testament Today by Walton and Hill; Encountering the Old Testament by Arnold and Beyer; The New Testament in Antiquity by Burge, Cohick, and Green; and Encountering the New Testament by Elwell and Yarbrough (18).

But more than that, we must use “the single most important biblical  concept for living a Christian life, not only today but during any era: wisdom.” He explains: 

. . . [M]any of the decisions we are called upon to make every day we make, not because of a verse here or there, but because of the wisdom we have accumulated over the years. That wisdom is acquired through the study of Scripture, prayer, life in a Christian community (not just “going to church”), and plain old life experiences (otherwise known as learning from your mistakes). (24-25)

This part is tough for me. Because even though I know that the Bible, in itself, isn’t a rule book or a road map, what I really want is a road map rule book that will tell me how to read and apply the Bible. “Wisdom” is subjective and vulnerable to my own self-doubt (and believe me, as a person — a woman, no less — who did time in the “teach your children that they are deeply broken” branch of the church, I’ve had years of being conditioned to think that my own wisdom is untrustworthy). So I read this chapter thinking, Yes, okay, I agree, now tell me what to do.

Maybe he’ll get to that. After all, Telling God’s Story is supposed to be telling us how to teach the Bible to our kids, and we’re only on chapter 2, so I’m hopeful that the rest of the book will answer some of these questions that it’s raised for me. I feel like I’m understanding how the Bible doesn’t work; now I need him to tell me how it does. 

Telling God’s Story: Sunday Night Open Thread

I was planning to write a post tonight over chapter 2 of Telling God’s Story, but the day got away from me and now I’m crashing. I’ll hopefully have time to write about it in the morning, but this is a big chapter and I want to give it enough time to really do it justice. (And honestly, some of what Enns talks about in chapter 2 is sitting a bit uneasily with me; I think I need this evening to process.)

In the meantime, I’m putting this up as a Telling God’s Story open thread: What did you think of the first few chapters? Is this new information for you, or is Enns covering familiar ground? What have you been writing or reading lately?

How are you? How are your kids/pets/in-laws/dust bunnies? Do leave a comment – it helps my self-esteem.

***

Here are some Telling God’s Story-related links:

Kate Green – Telling God’s Story [ ch 1 ]

I’ve come to the idea that my goal in parenting my kids in regards to God and faith, is that I want to provide the tools with which and the environment in which they can develop and explore their relationship with God. This, of course, leaves me with more questions than answers….

TC Larson –  Teaching my kids the Truth about Heaven

I want to be truthful, but I want to give him security. How can I do both when I feel like there is such a broad cannon of interpretation within Christendom? How can I tell him the questions in my own heart about the strict interpretation I was trained to accept? How do I tell him what is true?

Kate also posted this link to the Telling God’s Story Facebook page: Donald Miller’s post, My Problem with the Word “Biblical”

Lately I’ve realized my conservative southern upbringing, while filled with the teaching of Scripture, nearly ruined the Bible for me. It was used as a comprehensive description of God, a voting pamphlet informing who I should vote for, a science book explaining why modern biologists were wrongly interpreting their findings and the ace card for anybody presenting their ideas. It wouldn’t be for years until I sat under a professor who I believed got it right.

What do you think? Talk amongst yourselves.

Marriage Isn’t Either/Or; It’s Both/And

The nearer Kim and I approached the decision to marry, the more I was filled with a paralyzing fear. Was I ready? Was I making the right choice? Was Kim the right person to marry? Would she make me happy?

Then, one fateful night, I shared these thoughts and concerns with my dad.

With a knowing smile he said, “Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. I’ll tell you,” said he, in the same hurried passionate whisper, “what real love it. It is blind devotion, unquestioning self-humiliation, utter submission, trust and belief against yourself and against the whole world, giving up your whole heart and soul to the smiter–as I did!”*

This is the money quote from this post, “Marriage Isn’t for You,” which is going viral on Facebook right now. The post is about a guy who learns from his dad that marriage is about giving yourself up for another person’s happiness, and — Wait, how did Miss Havisham sneak in there?

So listen. I think I understand what he’s trying to say with this post, and I appreciate it. There’s some useful advice about marriage here: Don’t throw in the towel at the first sign of discomfort in your marriage. Your marriage won’t always be actively making you happy, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad or can’t be improved. Don’t be self-serving or self-centered; be considerate of your spouse’s needs and how you can serve them.

This is good marriage advice, but it is not universal marriage advice; like most advice, stating it as something for strong universal application instead of a nuanced individual one turns it into something awful. 

Here’s where the nuance needs to come in: Depending on the power dynamic in the marriage, a marriage that’s all about what a person can give for their spouse’s happiness can feed condescension, codependence, or other unhealthy enmeshment. This attitude in a marriage says, “Look how happy I make my partner! They could never be this happy without me; I’m going to keep working and working to make them happy, regardless of what they think they need or their own self-actualization.”

And this attitude can feed abuse. Telling people that marriage isn’t supposed to make them happy can lead to people rationalizing away their spouse’s mistreatment of them because making their spouse happy is more important than their own suffering; and it feeds the narrative that’s especially prevalent in Christian culture that an abused spouse (specifically, an abused wife, although gender doesn’t come up in this particular post) has a responsibility to stay in the marriage and keep submitting. Telling someone that “a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love—their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, ‘What’s in it for me?’, while Love asks, ‘What can I give?’” is a form of gaslighting; it reinforces the idea that even if they’re suffering, well, happiness isn’t the point of being married, is it, and you don’t want to succumb to the “Walmart philosophy,” do you?

As for the author’s comment about the disposable-marriage mentality we supposedly have nowadays — “My father’s advice . . . went against the grain of today’s ‘Walmart philosophy’, which is if it doesn’t make you happy, you can take it back and get a new one” — well, the statistics don’t really bear this out. In fact, the divorce rate has been declining since the 1990s, and data indicate that 21st century marriages are lasting longer than they did a few decades ago. Anecdotally, I know a number of couples my age who have divorced, and not a one of them has made the decision lightly or because their marriage wasn’t sufficiently “all about them.” Rather, in every case, the choice to divorce has been a difficult decision that they made only after exhaustively trying to fix the marriage and ultimately concluding that remaining married was impossible. So I take issue with Seth’s insinuation that the world is full of selfish entitled people who flippantly give up on their marriages.

The truth is, even in a healthy, mutually respectful marriage, putting your partner’s needs above your own is an ideal that’s harder to live up to than you’d think.

I certainly try to sacrifice for Aaron and consider his needs and happiness as important; and I know he does the same for me. We do our best to submit to each other and urge each other to pursue the things that make us feel happy and whole. But I can’t do this for him, and he can’t do this for me, unless we are also considering our own needs.

We submit to each other, and we're Jesus Feminists.

We submit to each other, and we’re Jesus Feminists.

You know the advice — “Put on your own oxygen mask first.” If I’m not setting healthy boundaries and looking after my own self-care and well being, I don’t have the resources to meet his needs. And sometimes meeting his needs means that I have to say, This part of our marriage isn’t working; we need to find a compromise. I have to acknowledge that it’s not in Aaron’s power to meet all of my needs, just as it isn’t in my power to make him fully happy, either. Sometimes making him happy means urging him to invest in other relationships with people who share some of his interests in things that bore me, just like his making me happy has meant empowering me to spend time apart doing the things that I love that he has no interest in, like deconstructing Victorian literature. And sometimes doing what’s best for our marriage means saying and doing things that make your partner distinctly unhappy — like, Hey, I need you to find a therapist to work on this issue that’s coming between us. Or, No, I can’t work with this. Things have to change.

So no, Seth, you’re only partly right. Marriage isn’t just for you. But it’s not just for your spouse, either. Marriage is for both of you, and ideally, marriage means both partners working together to ensure their own needs are being met, while also doing everything they can to meet their partner’s needs in a healthy way. (And for heaven’s sakes, don’t marry someone that you don’t see yourself having this kind of partnership with. Telling “almost married, single, or even the sworn bachelor or bachelorette” not to base their decision to get married on whether their spouse makes them happy is utterly unhelpful, Seth.) It isn’t either/or; it’s both/and.

*****

*Edited to add: Just to clarify, the second half of the quote here isn’t from the original post, but from Great Expectations. I elided the blog quote into Miss Havisham’s speech because it seemed to more fully express the same unhealthy assumptions about what love and marriage are about; but people have pointed out that it was unclear that I did this, and they’re right. The original quote from the blog post says:

“Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.”

“Telling God’s Story,” Ch. 1: Don’t Panic

This is a very comforting book.

Beginning straight off in Chapter 1 (“Laws About Mildew and Dragons With Crowns: Why the Bible is such a difficult book to teach”), Peter Enns takes it as a given that for a parent to be able to teach their children about the Bible*, they will first have to make peace with it. And he’s right: I, for one, have a lot of peace that needs to be made with the Bible. And so that’s where Enns will go first in this book — to help parents understand what the Bible does, how it works.

He begins with the illustration of helping his teenager organize their bedroom, then continues:

For many parents, the Bible looks a little bit like my child’s room. It’s a mess. . . .  And if your aim is to teach the Bible to your children, the mess isn’t just confusing. It’s stressful.

This book is for parents who want to do a good job with the important but daunting task of teaching the Bible. And just like the airplane oxygen mask that you’re supposed to put on yourself first before you put it on your children, this book is first and foremost about you. (10)

Then he asks the reader to consider their history of reading Scripture, and describes one very familiar scenario: trying to read through the Bible in a year. Enns’s imaginary Bible reader makes more progress than I ever did; on those half-dozen New Years Resolution-fueled Januaries that I tried this, I don’t think I ever got past Genesis. There are books of the Old Testament that I don’t think I’ve ever even seen. (Habakkuk, anyone? Malachi?)

Enns writes from a place of calm understanding; there is no judgment in his tone — he knows that this is what it’s like to grow up Evangelical, or perhaps to grow up Christian. He doesn’t, at this point, examine into the culture that feeds all of these failed, frustrated relationships with the Bible — the same culture that on one hand says it’s vital to have a Daily Devotion and Bible-reading time, and on the other leaves us with a very confusing sense of biblical literacy, so that the time we do spend reading the Bible on our own is often unfocused and frustrating; but he gets the Bible anxiety that so many of us have.

Yes, the Bible is a detailed, sometimes difficult to follow and understand book, especially the Old Testament. No reason to deny it or be embarrassed for saying it. The prospect of teaching the Bible to one’s own children, when one feels so untrained and even lost, is intimidating.

This book is an attempt to do for you what the closet organizer in my child’s room did for me: give some sense of order and meaning to the chaos. Rather than avoiding the Bible, you will find Scripture becoming a welcome place. (12, bolding mine)

Don’t panic. 

*****

“So what is the Bible, and what are we supposed to be doing with it?”

Don't panic, Arthur.

Arthur Dent is panicking.

Over the next few pages, Enns introduces the questions that he will help us answer for ourselves before we can begin teaching our kids. The fact that these are some giant, existential questions is oddly comforting; finding the answers will take some serious wrestling, but there’s hope that the answers, when we finally find them, won’t be hollow or simplistic.

These may strike some as two odd questions. After all, the Bible is the Word of God and we are supposed to read it and obey it. Fair enough, but that does not even begin to address the question of what the Bible is doing. Why does the Word of God say the things it says? Why does it look the way it looks? And is obedience really the essence of what we are supposed to get out of it?

Of course, the answer is yes – in part. But the Bible aims much higher; it teaches us to see ourselves and the world around us in fresh, exciting, and challenging ways. The Bible is not a Christian owner’s manual. It bears witness to who God is, what he has done, and who we, as his people, are. (13, bolding mine) 

He finishes this chapter with encouragement for parents. What if I make a mistake and ruin my child spiritually? his reader asks. “Remember that your children are God’s children,” he says. “It is your calling and responsibility to raise them in a godly way, but don’t think for one minute that their success rests on your skills and abilities. . . . Remember God’s grace is bigger than the best of your intentions. He really loves your children. Look on this not as a worrisome task but as a few precious, golden years of opportunity” (14).

Don’t panic. This is going to be exciting. Don’t panic.

*In the preface he expands the wording a bit in a way that I deeply appreciate, saying that the book is to help parents teach kids “the Christian faith to which our Scripture bears witness” (8). And he’s exactly right: My goal isn’t to raise Bible-literate kids, but kids who understand the God Whom the Bible points to — and to differentiate between this collection of literature we call “God’s word” and the Word made flesh.

*****

Since we’re starting off by working through our own relationships with the Bible, I’d like to know: What is your relationship with the Bible like? Do you have a system for Bible reading, or have you used one in the past? How has that worked for you?

Please join in the discussion in comments, using the Twitter hashtag #TellingGodsStory, or on our shiny brand-new Facebook page. If you write a post on your own blog, please feel free to link to it here; I’ll post a link round-up at some point. If you’d like to write a guest post — perhaps about what you do with the Bible personally, or as a parent, or things that have worked for you, or things that haven’t, or anything else related to this topic — I’d love to host it; contact me and we’ll work out the details.

Coming Up: I’m planning to post about Chapter 2 next Monday, 11/11, and about Chapters 3-5 on the following Monday, 11/18.