Dangerous Women and Knights in Shining Plastic

Six girls…  I am the father of six girls.  Six wonderful personalities. Each special. Each growing and blossoming into a young lady unlike any other in eternity.

Being their dad is not something I desire to do passively.  The relationship I build with them now will shape how they see the world, how they will relate to their husbands and how they will relate to their own children. I want the bond to be strong between us–but at the same time, I have witnessed the damage some well-meaning ideas taught by our culture have had on people close to me.

What I am concerned about are pseudo-patriarchal relationships.  There is a popular idea out there that Christian fathers should “own” their daughters until they pass that “ownership” on to their daughters’ husbands.  This supposedly protects a daughter from being sullied or put into danger and delivers her into the arms of her awaiting Prince Charming fresh as a dew drop on a barely bloomed tulip.

Except it’s a fairytale.

 

Like most fairy tales, it has some basis in the ancient past. Yet, while we are rubber-necking at our glorious ancestors’ imagined lives, the present reality has begun to slip by.

This week, I read of two scandals at Christian colleges and the developing story concerning some forty years of alleged incorrigible behavior by an outspoken Christian legalist. One school in particular is full of brilliant home-educated students, many of whom have come from loving, protective and sheltering homes across America.  All of these stories have in common this pseudo-patriarchal style of parenting.  They are steeped in strict modesty rules for girls, chivalry for boys and an emphasis on puritan morality for both.

Just beneath the surface, however, it appears there are sex scandals, rapes and sexual harassment of the most unexpected sort. Why is that? In almost all of these cases, the people being taken advantage of are young, impressionable women; women who have been raised to embrace this view concerning father-daughter patriarchal relationships and labeled “dangerous.”  Could that possibly be the problem?

Now, I am certainly not against fathers and daughters having meaningful, loving relationships, but there’s something going wrong here. Maybe I can say it better with a word picture:

console

Looks like an old dresser or side table, right? …

Wrong.  It’s a brand new $1700 piece of furniture sold by Pottery Barn.

It is manufactured on a factory line from fiberboard (MDF) and particle boards and then purposely distressed to make it look perfectly old, misused, abused–and “original.”

That furniture looks great, but… it’s fake.  Maybe our culture is suffering from something similar.  When modern Christianity has cherry-picked historical memes and draped them over cultural practices as though they were straight out of the Bible, it may look authentic, but… it’s fake.

Here’s the problem: we want the appearance of age with little regard for authenticity.  So we have bought the fairytale version of courtship, but it comes at a costly price.  Eventually, when the book has been closed and placed back on the shelf, our daughters grow up and face the real world–where fairy dust doesn’t cut it.

What does that have to do with the father-daughter dynamic?

This idea that every girl can be a princess and every boy can be a knight in shining armor needs to be revisited.  This is a tough one since we’re Americans. We have no chivalric history of our own, so we have borrowed and cobbled one together.  Because USA!

The result is a mishmash of fairytale chivalry and a twisted view of ancient biblical patriarchy that does not consider the realities of history.

Let’s just look at the middle ages, where we get the romantic notion of princesses and knights in shining armor:  Realistically speaking, that wouldn’t be you.

Only a tiny percentage of the people were nobles.  Everybody else was a slave/peasant.  If you were a peasant, you didn’t worry about chivalry.  You didn’t have a Bible.  You couldn’t read.

You were poor. You had bad hygiene. You slept with your entire family in a one room house on a dirt floor.  There were no forks, spoons or cups in those days. You used bread as a plate and speared your food with a knife and hardly ever washed your hands. Everyone was dirt poor except those nobles.

You might have had one set of clothing and they wouldn’t be nice.  It was illegal for a peasant to wear the fancy clothes the nobles wore.  Well, how do you become a noble? You don’t. You had to be born that way.

If you were a boy, you were likely dirty, rough and rude. And if you were a girl, it’s not likely you were clean and beautiful and chaste.  It wasn’t knights in shining armor for everybody, and it is time to pour some cold water on that fairytale.

We have attempted to base our culture on something that never really was– just like that fake pottery barn furniture.

Not very romantic, is it?  While it is fun to read stories about adventurous knights and their ladies fair, it is foolish to think that in the 21st century, we should be treating our sons and daughters as though we live in a Disney-fied version of the middle ages.

There is a better way.

God’s principles are everlasting, but we have got to get off the “fairy dust” and we have to take responsibility for who we are–now.  Keeping our heads in the clouds and breathing in the fairytale fumes of past imagination does not allow us to focus on our own lives today!

God, in His wisdom, chose to place you and me and our families on the earth now–not hundreds or even thousands of years ago.

Is life so bad in the here-and-now? Must we require constant entertainment? Must we frame our existence on caricatures of ancient life?

Do we not have life ourselves?

What if we get there on Judgment Day and the Father says “What did you do with the time and talents I gave you on the earth?”

And we say “Well, we hosted purity dances.”

“We invited people to a church meeting.”

“We guarded our hearts.”

“We rendered unto Caesar.”

“We passed out tracts sometimes instead of tipping the waitress.  She really needed Jesus.”

“We prayed for the Republicans to win.”

“We bounced our eyes and made the girls wear denim skirts.”

“We dressed the boys up in plastic knight suits with plastic swords so they could pretend to be manly.”

“We only watched PG movies.”

And then, after our little song and dance, what will He say?

“Well done, my good and faithful servant?”  Uh huh.

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Do we want real life or the pottery barn version?  I don’t know about you, but I’m pinching myself back to reality.

There’s a world full of people out there bound in chains of depression, fear, suicide, and pain and Christians are talking about whether or not it’s ok for a bra strap to be seen. (Only 6.1 million results on Google!)

Men, what if we based our interactions with our spouses, daughters, sisters and any other women like Jesus did: with respect, courtesy and a recognition that they are made in the image of God, just like we are?

On that Day, He will ask us what we did with our talents and what we did with our time. Did we bury them? Did we look backwards and forwards and never present? Did we invest our talents in the here and now?

And how will we invest those talents?  It takes time to build a quality piece of furniture, just as it takes time to build a quality relationship.

Instead of harkening back to the imagined past, I want to teach my girls that God is the one who invented beauty. He said it is very good.  I am teaching them how to respect themselves and others without guessing which rule they might be breaking. I am teaching them how to shine their light before people without hiding it under a basket.  I  am teaching them that God did not make a mistake when He made them women. I am teaching them that they are loved regardless of what they look like or what they wear.

This is my plan to combat fairytale fatigue. What’s yours?

I Think, Therefore I Judge

old rugged cross

Old Rugged Cross (c) Jason Stern

This was going to be the one where I tell you about the book I’m writing…  It’s actually coming along quite nicely and I’d say is about half-way finished, but first…

Something more important.

I had a great coffee meeting with my church elders Saturday morning.  We talked about how quickly misunderstandings and lack of knowledge can lead to judgments and slander.

I think it’s safe to say that we are all guilty of this kind of behavior. We all do it.  First, we observe something that another person does or overhear something they say.  Then, based on our own predisposition and preconceived notions, we conclude that what we saw had a certain meaning, or evil intent.

Then we are faced with a choice.  Do we assume we are right, or do we ask questions?

The bravest of us ask questions; we seek understanding. Of course, when the shoe is on the other foot, that is exactly what we would hope others would do for us.

I recognize this problem in myself more and more.  And so as I seek to be understood, I, in turn, must seek to understand.

I could tell you a story about how I’ve often been misunderstood–because that would be true–but I think I’ll take the guilty-as-charged approach instead.  Here’s how I saw it:

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Years ago, I had a pastor who used a heavy-handed approach to dealing with people.  He thought it was loving to call out a person’s perceived sins and force them to come face to face with their flaws. I bristled at this approach.  I still don’t like it, but there came a point when I sought to understand him and his motivation, instead of judging its merits.

I took the time to listen to him. I heard him share his heart. And I learned that he treated people the same way he treated himself. He was so overcome with the pain of sins’ consequences in his own life that he felt fatherly tenderness and anger when he perceived its damaging tentacles reaching out for a member of his church.

After that, though I still disagreed with his methods, I had compassion for him and could better pray for him. I hoped that others would also see past his angry words and feel the love that was beneath the surface.

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We really never know what God is doing in one of His children’s lives unless we take the time to listen.  God sometimes asks His people to do strange things which could easily be misunderstood.  Check out the lives of Ezekiel and Isaiah for examples.

Rather than assume that someone who proclaims the name of Christ is acting sinfully, it’s best for me and for others to remember that Jesus himself was called a “friend of sinners.” He went places where few dare to tread.  He said it was because “the sick need a physician, not the well.”

So, do me a favor.  If you ever see me doing something you think is peculiar, come ask me about it. I’ll be happy to explain. And I’ll do the same for you.

The Prodigal’s Adventure

Wilderness    (c) Jason Stern

Wilderness (c) Jason Stern

My friend Bekah and I were having a discussion about “the prodigal son” today and considering the adventure he went on. You may know the story. It’s one Jesus told to a group of church people back in the day.

It is a compelling story – and always has struck me as an amazing word picture–which I love.

We learn from it that every detail is in God’s Hands, even when things don’t look they are supposed to.

So, there are two boys in this family. The eldest son–mature, responsible; he’s always doing what is right. He has earned his keep since he was little and knows his father’s business.

Then there’s that younger brother–wants to see the world, he does. And demands his inheritance now–why wait?

His father, without much commentary, gives it to him. No strings attached.

In freedom, the Father allows his son to leave.

Can you imagine Jesus telling this story? Sitting around listening to Him are a bunch of tax collectors, petty criminals, fundamentalists and religious puritans.

I’m certain many saw themselves as the oldest son.

…and as the tale got more lurid, you can just imagine their inner thoughts casting judgment on the younger:

that wicked boy.
got what he deserved!
cast him out
cast him into hell where he belongs
he was unclean
he whored. he gambled. he wasted. he touched filthy pigs.
and he ate with pigs.

and then Jesus paused.

and shocked the hell out of them. His listeners thought the Great Rabbi was going to affirm the eldest son and curse the younger. That’s what religious leaders do, isn’t it? They thought he would spit on this brat, this good-for-nothing swine-handling, whore-mongering sinner.

“But when [the prodigal] came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:17-20 ESV)

The Father ran to his son.

The younger son had squandered his inheritance, but then he came back… and was restored.

He was a son when he left and a son when he returned. When he returned he was given authority. He had come back to the place where he was supposed to be. When he came back–the Father ran to him and called for symbols of rulership to be placed upon his son. He said “Put a ring on his finger. Let’s have a party! My son’s back!”

Jaws must have dropped.

See, this is a message about who the real Messiah is and Who His Father Is. He came to save the lost sons–the ones who belong to Him, but know they cannot do it on their own. They are too bad to be saved. They are unworthy to be sons. The prodigals.

How many sons are out in the world today who know God the Father is good, but are afraid to return to Him because of fear and shame and unworthiness?

Come back, children. Come back. The Father is waiting.

What Can We Do for Forty Dollars?

Well, at the latest prices, $40 is about half a tank of gas for our 12-passenger van.  So we drove up to McCall, Idaho Saturday to have a little family adventure. It was the last day of the Snow Festival and we wanted to see the ice/snow carving competition.

I found myself counting to ten all day–no, I wasn’t angry. I was counting chickens children. 2, 4, 6, 8. 10.   2, 4, 6, 8. 10.  The last two were easy because I was carrying Miriam in a toddler backpack and Andrea had Iain in a baby sling. It was the other 8 that I had to keep my eyes on!

Actually, we spent more time on the road than in McCall, but it was a fun family outing. We really don’t get the whole family out often enough in public.

So, nothing really epic happened, but life with ten children sludging around in the snow looking at ice sculptures, breathing in the cold air, feeling the weight of a two year old on your back after missing a turn and hiking a mile and a half up a hill out of the way to get back to the van–this, too is adventure.

Seeing God’s handiwork in the living sculptures He has created and then seeing how creative people can be–with snow!–reminded us of how creative He really is.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  (Galatians 5:1 ESV)