Friday, 28 June 2013

Questions, Courage, and Vulnerability

Do we have the courage to ask the hard questions at the risk of sounding like a fool??

To me, there is something very exciting about a GOOD question.
Have you ever been in a class or meeting when someone raises one of those laser sharp, on the mark kind of questions that causes everyone to suddenly become alert with new energy?
All eyes are on the instructor.  There is a hushed silence, a pause, an expectation that this will be a defining moment.  This will be a moment of truth.

A similar situation is found in the story of the emperor who wore no clothes.

"A vain Emperor who cares for nothing except wearing and displaying clothes hires two swindlers who promise him the finest, best suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or "hopelessly stupid". The Emperor's ministers cannot see the clothing themselves, but pretend that they can for fear of appearing unfit for their positions and the Emperor does the same. Finally the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they mime dressing him and the Emperor marches in procession before his subjects. The townsfolk play along with the pretense not wanting to appear unfit for their positions or stupid. Then a child in the crowd, too young to understand the desirability of keeping up the pretence, blurts out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but continues the procession." [summary taken from Wikipedia]

Everyone close to the emperor had questions about what was going on.  They could see with their eyes that the invisible fabric was a hoax but  "for fear of appearing unfit for their positions" noone had the courage to voice the question.

Asking the tough questions of ourselves and others makes us vulnerable because noone wants to look foolish or unfit.  We're told "there's no such thing as a bad question" yet when we encounter avoidance and indifference to the questions we're wrestling with, it can make our questions seem as though they are insignificant, disqualified, and "unfit" to be heard.

Sometimes we need to be encouraged to use our voices like the little child in the emperor's story.

Brene Brown is a research professor who has spent the past 13 years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame.  She poses this question: "How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness?  How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough---that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy." [TEDX]

In a recent interview with Oprah, Brene discloses that she was an academic ruled by certainty, statistics, and facts but that she wasn't living and loving with her full heart.  Her best selling book "Daring Greatly" is about her journey into how we can make our lives more meaningful through vulnerability. (Reminds me of a previous post.)

Brene defines vulnerability as:  Being brave enough to "show up and let ourselves be seen". Vulnerability opens the door to intimacy....she claims it's the only door that can.

"My ego says to me:  'You have no inherent worth.  You've got to hustle for it, baby.  How fast you gonna run?  How high you gonna jump?  How many likes do you have on Facebook?'"

She also makes this astounding observation:  "The less you talk about shame, the more you've got it."
She adds this:  "Love and belonging are the irreducible needs of men, women, and children.  In absence of these there will always be suffering."

I've posted the TEDX link below because I think there is tremendous value for us as Christians in what Brene has to say here.  Towards the end of the video, she draws attention to the significance of being able to say "I am enough".  My initial response to these words was, "Wait, only El Shaddai is enough".
But as I tried to really listen to the heart of what she was saying,  I realized that what she meant by those words is actually true for all of  us:

We are each created in the image of God and as such we have immeasurable value just because we exist.
Each one of us is unique and special just as we are.  Unworthiness and shame often make us think we need to become like others in order to have value and worth.  When we don't love ourselves for who we are, we get pushed deeper and deeper into the crippling and fear-driven trap of "performance mentality".
Brene's point is this: Don't let other people define who you are.  You are who you are....and you are enough.

We are not complete until we find our completeness in the work that Jesus Christ accomplished for us on the Cross..... but we are enough just being and becoming all that God has called us to be. We have ALL we need in Him.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Anchored in Love

I recently had the privilege of partaking in a small group study of the book "Emotionally Healthy Spirituality" by Peter Scazzero.  There is SO much to be gleaned from both Peter and Geri Scazzero in terms of recognizing how our emotional immaturity manifests itself in various destructive patterns of thinking and behaviour.

One of the sections that made my own heart skip a beat and do a double-take was a section entitled The Gift of Anchoring in God's Love.  

Peter begins by saying that "Christianity is not about our disciplined pursuit of God, but about God's relentless pursuit of us.   Most of us believe this intellectually....Experiencing this infinite love in our hearts is another matter.   The sinister voices of the surrounding world and our pasts are powerful.  They repeat the deeply held negative beliefs we may have learned in our families and cultures growing up."

Peter identifies a few of these sinister voices/lies in List #1:

"I am a mistake.
I am a burden.
I am stupid.
I am worthless.
I am not allowed to make mistakes.
I must be approved by certain people to feel okay.
I don't have the right to experience joy and pleasure.
I don't have the right to assert myself and say what I think and feel.
I don't have a right to feel.
I am valued based on my intelligence, wealth, and what I do, not for who I am."

Peter goes on to describe in List #2 what the self-talk of an emotionally healthy individual would sound like.  To be honest, at first glance, I actually thought I was reading the bad list, the list of what we're NOT supposed to think about ourselves.  My gut reaction immediately categorized what I was reading as "Prideful" and therefore catering to the "entitlement mentality" so pervasive in our culture today.  Yet it was this reaction, in and of itself, that revealed to my own heart that I still have a ways to go in my journey towards emotionally healthy spirituality.

"I hold myself in high regard despite my imperfections and limits.
I am worthy to assert my God-given power in the world.
I am entitled to exist.
It is good that I exist.
I have my own identity from God that is distinct and unique.
I am worthy of being valued and paid attention to.
I am entitled to joy and pleasure.
I am entitled to make mistakes."

If we spend most of our time thinking, feeling, and defining ourselves according to the first list, it's no wonder that the love of God seems so distant and far removed from our souls.  It's no wonder that "freedom of spirit" alludes us.  It's only as I began to meditate on the second list, allowing those truths to filter down into the deep recesses of my soul that I caught a fresh glimpse of what Jesus meant when he said "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you FREE."  It was in my sheer acknowledgement, "Hey, these truths are true of ME", that my spirit found wings and soared right into the loving arms of God.

The command to "love our neighbour AS we love ourselves" will be better lived out if we can all learn to lovingly declare these truths over ourselves as well as over others.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Faith like Noah

Hebrews 11:7: By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.  By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

I've been thinking a lot about Noah.
And I've been thinking about how faith can sometimes feel like risky business.
Oh, I know, true faith in God isn't risky at all, at least not from His vantage point.
God knew He would finish the work He began in Noah's heart.
God knew His loving grip on Noah's heart would be sufficient to carry forth the work of construction to completion.
There was no Plan B, only Plan A...and Noah was it!!!
God had faith in Noah because God is Faith-ful!

But on the ground here, where the winds of doubt swirl and the storms of disillusionment and fear threaten, faith can feel pretty risky, even to the most stoic and courageous of heart.

Noah must have had his share of risky feelings.
Mankind had never experienced a single thunderstorm or rainfall, nor did they even know what rain looked like, yet God told Noah to build a boat, a vessel that would be carried by waters that no-one even knew existed.
Scholars can only guess how long Noah was busy building but the estimations range somewhere between 50-75 years.
That's a LONG time to be busy building something that everyone around you would consider absolutely useless.
The patient endurance required of Noah over the course of these long and lonely years is unfathomable to me.
The nagging questions and incessant remarks from onlookers must have taken their toll on him, likely making him the greatest laughing stock of all time.

And then perhaps the questions from the shadows of his own heart:

"Why bother, Noah?
Are you sure you heard God right?
Are you sure he meant for you to do this?
Doesn't it make sense for you to spend more time evangelizing these sinners rather than building a boat and leaving them to drown?"

Yet Noah obediently continued the unwanted and prophetic work he was called to do.
In holy fear, he knew God's warning was no idle threat.
His faith, obedience, and hard work prove that he and God were on the same page.
Change was coming and it was Noah's job to prepare the way of escape.

Noah's faithful life is a beautiful picture of what it looks like, and feels like, to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.

There is so much more that could be said about Noah and the theological significance surrounding this story.
For now, though, my focus is on the "risk" of obedient faith.
I think this poem captures some of the swirling feelings we often experience when we follow where God is leading.
We hear His voice calling but we can't see the pathway before us.
We walk by faith, not by step at a "yes" at a time!!

To Risk (by William Arthur Ward)

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk being called sentimental.
To reach out to another is to risk involvement.
To expose feelings is to risk showing your true self.
To place your ideas and your dreams before the crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To hope is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
That person who risks nothing, does nothing,
has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing.
He may avoid suffering and sorrow,
But he cannot learn, feel, change, grow, or live.
Chained by his servitude he is a slave who has forfeited all freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.
The pessimist complains about the wind.
The optimist expects it to change;
The realist adjusts the sails.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Following Family or Following Jesus?

It was April 1987.  I was in my mid 20's, married with 3 small children and recovering from a challenging and confusing season of postpartum depression.  After several years of struggling to grasp the reality of Jesus' presence in my life, God had finally broken through the darkness and made himself wonderfully real to my heart.  I felt like I had been born again....again!  With the help of a wonderful Christian counselor, I had recommitted my life to the Lord and was learning, for the first time, what it meant to focus my life on Jesus.

It didn't take long, however, before I learned that something within my internal compass still needed some adjustments.  As the Holy Spirit would teach and instruct my heart in the way he wanted me to go,  my mind always seemed to process the new information through a "family filter" that had apparently existed since my childhood.  This internal "filter" would subconsciously take the new data from the Holy Spirit and would direct my mind to consider how the most influential people in my life might respond to the news:
"What will mom and dad say if they knew I was considering this?  How will my siblings respond to these changes?  How will my church family feel about the new approach I'm leaning towards?"

The turmoil in my soul was overwhelming.  I felt the pull of the Holy Spirit calling me to trust him by putting Jesus first in my life but at the same time the obligation and expectation of family around me pulled me back towards what had always been "safe" and "comfortable" for me.

I was advised by a good friend to seek out the counsel of a very wise and gentle United Church pastor (who I'll call Bernie) known for his sensitivity to the Holy Spirit in how he helped others break free from bondages.

The particular issue that we dealt with, the one that relates to this post, was the need for me to recognize that I had formed "soul ties" to people in my family which were hindering me from freely and whole-heartily following Jesus.  The greatest command we are given is to love the Lord our God with ALL our heart, soul, strength and mind and then to love others.  The biblical order for our love and allegiance is always to be Jesus first, others second.  I was guilty of reversing this order.

Although I would have said that Jesus was my first love, my actions revealed that any decision I made always looked for the approval of family before I looked for the approval that comes from God alone.  This was at the heart of my problem and it explained why my soul was so vexed.  I was allowing other people to play the role of Holy Spirit in my heart.  I now echo the words of Psalm 119:  "It was good that I was afflicted that I might know your ways."

I don't remember most of what Bernie prayed but one key point is still crystal clear for me.  He took me to Hebrews 4 and explained that soul ties are formed when we allow ourselves to make unhealthy, sometimes subconscious, vows or commitments which links the struggle of our souls to other people's souls.  We set ourselves up with sayings like "If my parents or church leaders don't agree with it, then it must be wrong" or "Keeping peace in the family is more important than being honest and obedient to Jesus", or "I want them to love me so I better not do anything they wouldn't approve of".  (If both parties are operating with unhealthy soul ties towards each other, this disorder is commonly referred to as Codependency.)

Bernie then explained that, by the power of God's Spirit, we would pray to sever the unhealthy soul tie with the SWORD of  God's TRUTH.  By the end of this prayer, and by the grace of God, the Truth had set me free!

Ungodly soul ties should not be confused with the godly soul tie that is made between a husband and wife, linking their bodies and souls together as one flesh, "till death do us part".  But an ungodly soul tie is harmful in that we make vows and allegiances to people whose opinion of us becomes like an idol to our soul and distracts us from following God alone.  Instead of being helpful for our spiritual growth, these vows and soul ties actually choke our spirit and cripple us in our ability to hear and obey the voice of our Shepherd.

The words of Jesus in Matthew 10:34-36 clearly reveal that the SWORD of Truth in our relational interactions does not always reap peaceful and happy relationships, nor should we expect it to:

"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law--a man's enemies will be the members of his own household."

Matthew 10: 37 also warns us that if we love father or mother, son or daughter, more that we love Jesus then we are not worthy of following Him.  These are hard words for us to wrestle through as they challenge the most foundational relationships in our lives.  Yet we cannot truly understand discipleship until we have counted the cost of obedience as it relates to the relationships closest to us.  We are called to be living sacrifices and slaves of One Master, the One who bought us with His precious blood and loves us with absolute, unselfish LOVE!

There are times that we, as the Family of God, can also exert undue expectation and obligation over one another.  It can be in the form of what we call "legalism" or it can be a more subtle version of simply projecting a silent sense of disapproval towards someone in an attempt to make them feel guilty for thinking differently that we do.   We still have much to learn in regards to what it looks like to "agree to disagree agreeably" and in a spirit of love and grace.

A dear prof of mine, whose theology of women I don't fully agree with, often closes our discussions with these encouraging and loving words:  "Anne, let's keep the conversation going".  His words acknowledge that our dialogue together is still not accomplishing what we may have hoped it would but, because we are family, we are choosing to keep a door open for the Lord to merge our paths, perhaps a little further down the road....even if it takes till heaven to agree fully.

In our own family of 4 adult children, two of which are married, Martin and I have similarly tried to let them know that the decisions they make are THEIR decisions, between them and the Lord.  We may feel impressed to express our thoughts, views, and concerns to them but we have tried to intentionally release them from feeling bound or obligated to our approval as parents.  Of course we want them to take our advice...but, at the end of the day, I don't want them to feel bound to do so.   I want them to feel free to disagree with us and to do what THEY think is right.  Even if they know we're initially not happy with their decisions, I want them to know "Hey, we'll get over it!!!"  Our approval is not as important as God's approval and I don't want their souls to be in bondage to an unhealthy soul tie to us as their parents.

I love that the Bible includes stories of people like Paul and Barnabas who strongly disagreed on how the work of ministry should be done, leading them both to a season of separate, yet effective, ministry. Some time later, though, Paul seemed to have a change of heart.   It's not a sin to disagree or even temporarily part ways with family or other believers.  Sometimes these boundaries are necessary to allow everyone involved to accomplish the goals that each feels led to accomplish.  True Christian love is best recognized by the ability to extend such freedom to those with whom we differ or who simply need "space" to discover God's purpose for their life.  It's easy to love those we agree with.  The real challenge is loving those who genuinely love God's Word but simply interpret the data differently.

I'm not going to lie, maintaining a healthy tension within the broader context of the Church requires a rich supply of the Fruit of God's Spirit to guard our hearts against bitterness and discouragement.  Yet, with all my heart I do believe in the power of Jesus to fulfill the promise of his Word: "I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it."

So, as we press on in the sure hope of our Saviour's soon return, I pray that we will each prosper in the liberty of obedience, even as our soul prospers in the liberty of being FREE to become ALL that God has called us to be.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Trinity: Explaining the Mystery?

I recently learned about Steven Tracy, a complementarian who has written a book called "Mending the Soul" (a well-researched overview addressing the subject of domestic abuse within the church).   Although I haven't read his book, I just finished his 16 page lecture entitled 1 Corinthians 11:3 : A Corrective to Misunderstandings of Male Headship which he presented at the Evangelical Theological Society.

Let me first say that I commend Steven for the significant work he is doing to bring much needed attention to the abuse issue within leadership contexts like ETS.  Steven is aware of the many ways that "headship" and "male authority" are being misinterpreted and misapplied and he is therefore attempting to bring some much needed clarity to what headship is, and what it isn't.

I need to confess that I actually read Steven's paper backwards, starting on pg. 16 and working towards the beginning. (Hey, some people read their Bibles that way.)  That should help to explain why his concluding statement is what sounded my first alarm: "The most instructive model for male leadership is the headship of the Father over the Son".  [italics my own]

Steven's use of the word "instructive" is problematic for me since it is a word that is somewhat synonymous with the word "explain", something we've been taught NOT to do when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity.  We all know how teachers give "instruction" and "explanations" interchangeably and so we have to be very careful when applying the word "instructive" to how we talk about the Trinity.  Although the word "Trinity" itself does not appear anywhere on the pages of scripture, there are sufficient biblical references where God refers to himself in the plural form (such as "Us" and "We") to warrant its use by the Church.

Most theologians and teachers who tackle this subject first clarify 2 key reasons why the early Church fathers felt that it was important to establish the doctrine of the Trinity in writing:
(1) They wanted to protect the Doctrine of the Trinity from heresies that were infiltrating the church
(2) They wanted to "preserve the mystery" without trying to "explain" the mystery.

These clarifications are extremely important since the Church has always recognized our human incapability of fully comprehending the relational dynamic between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Can we actually instruct people on how the Divine Community functions?  Have the intimate details of this Divine relationship been revealed to us?  My answer is "No", and it's exactly because of God's transcendent nature that we are exhorted to preserve the mystery and not try to explain it!!!  We need to let God be God and stop trying to figure out the mechanics of His God-ness.  He forms an exclusive category all by Himself and the great mystery of His Triune-ness is what sets Him apart as God!

(I'm not sure to what extent the early Church fathers tried to make the same connections to gender roles that Steven is trying to make but, if they did, their "traditional" views of women would likely not even fit within what most complementarians would consider a biblical view today.  For more info on this, see my post:  Is the Traditional View of Women a Biblical View?)

In light of these cautions to "preserve" and "not explain", I came away from Steven's paper with a sense that "trying to explain the Trinity" is precisely what he was doing.  Although he was attempting to bring some necessary balance to the lopsided heavy-weighted patriarchy that still exists in the home and church, he kept a surprisingly big stone in his back pocket which he slid back onto the scale in his closing comment.  By saying that "the most instructive model for male leadership is the headship of the Father over the Son",  he caused the scale to shift dramatically back towards an ambiguous imbalance of male power, layering that imbalance with some pretty presumptuous and faulty logic.

When we talk about "instructional working models" for relationships, I think it's fair to assume that such a model should be clearly understood and defined.  That's what a "working model" is.  It is tangible, explainable, and therefore able to be reproduced.  However, we've already established that the Trinity's "working model" is one that cannot be explained in tangible terms that will make sense to our human minds.  Our limited information only takes us so far.  That's why we're supposed to leave the "explaining" part out of the discussion.

Yet Steven's argument seems to suggest that our relationships can indeed be "instructed" by a model that we cannot explain.  He is basically telling men that their "role model" is the Father and the woman's "role model" is the Son.  Ok, so what does that look like in human terms that can be "modelled" into our relational dynamics??  How does the balance of power and authority work itself out between the Father and the Son, the husband and the wife?  How does the the Son's usage of his authority "instruct" the wife how to use her authority?

To add to my frustration, after 11 pages of "fleshing out" a biblical interpretation of male headship and authority (by reminding men that women are their equals and are to be given delegated authority as the Father delegates authority to the Son), Steven's words suddenly drop off the page without telling us what a woman's authority actually "looks like".

On page 11 he writes:  "While it goes beyond the scope of this article to flesh out the full extent of female authority...."  Say what???  Why is he running out of words and paper right when it comes to a woman's part in all of this?  I'm holding my breath here, wanting and needing to hear what authority women DO have but the discussion gets tabled right in this moment.  I need to know how far reaching IS a woman's authority and power, which is apparently being modelled after the authority and power of the Son.

But, alas, there appears to be no more time or space left to "flesh out" this very important matter for women.  The ambiguity of silence strikes again!!

It is precisely this ambiguity and deafening silence related to "working models in marriage" that leaves the door wide open for inequality and the imbalance of relational power.  Interpretations and suggestions of hierarchy within the Trinity are now being used by leaders to argue why the female gender is ontologically subordinate to the male gender....both in this life and in eternity to come.

With all due respect, my reason for playing devil's advocate in this post is to help complementarians see the foolishness of trying to turn the mystery of the Trinity into a "working model" for marriage.  I am not a scholar and I will not even try to climb into the apostle Paul's brain to see what he was really trying to say in the 1 Cor. 11 passage.  All I do know is that it cannot mean what complementarians are saying it means.  They are trying to micro-manage a text that needs to remain part of a much broader and mysterious illustration. I feel they're trying way too hard to hold onto some illusive notion of hierarchy over their wives, and women in general, and they're using the "unexplainable" doctrine of the Trinity to stake their claim.

I'm assuming that this is why Steven Tracy has chosen not to "flesh out the full extent of female authority"....perhaps he realizes that his illustration can only be taken so far.  Any attempt to put a "working model" on a woman's authority, modelled after the authority of Jesus, will likely come back to bite him and so he has chosen to leave this instruction for another day.  It is perhaps in light of these "theological stretching tactics" that Gilbert Bilezikian responded with his well-known argument (from March 1997) entitled Hermeneutical Bungee Jumping: Subordination in the Godhead.

As much as Steven has tried to help the cause of women, his silence on the authority a woman DOES possess is a glaring omission on his part (and on the part of other complementarians who promote the same "working model").   Many complementarians seem to have forgotten that men and women, husbands and wives, are ALL being conformed into the image of Jesus Christ the Son.  Jesus called ALL of us to "love one another as I have loved you".  We are ALL called to wash one another's feet as Jesus modelled so beautifully for us.  Jesus is the God/Man that BOTH genders are to model their lives after.

Galatians 3 :28 completely levels the field within the Christian community as it declares so beautifully: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Our mutual status and position in Christ overlaps in profound ways as the Bible affirms that  every woman is a son and every man is a wife and a Bride.

I also find it rather significant that the verse just prior to the I Cor. 11:3 discussion describes the "working model" for ALL believers as being one that imitates the Son.  In  1 Corinthians 11:1  Paul says, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ."

I personally do not believe the Trinity can be stretched into an "instructional model" for the roles of men and women but if someone is able to flesh this out for me, it might help me make some sense of this argument.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Gender-cide: Why are 200 million girls missing?

The three deadliest words in the world:  "It's a Girl"

Film-maker, Evan Grae Davis, has dedicated his career to advocating for social justice and is the man behind the camera in the gendercide documentary, "It's A Girl."  In this TEDx talk, Davis describes Gendercide as "the deliberate destruction of a gender group" and "the direct result of a strong cultural preference for sons driven by centuries-old tradition that says that boys are more valuable than girls."

In India alone there are 5 million girls selectively aborted annually, the mortality rate is 75% higher for girls, and there are 107,000 dowry deaths of women/year.

In China alone (where male preference is combined with the 1 child policy) there are 37,000 more men than women and there are 1 million more boys than girls.
This severe gender imbalance has created an epidemic of sex trafficking and there have been 70,000 child bride kidnappings.

Here is a short preview trailer of what you can expect to see in the "It's a Girl" documentary:

Davis asks the question, "How do I respond to this?"

The thought that keeps reverberating on my own conscience is this: "The Church of Jesus Christ is called to be the hands and feet of Jesus, living out our lives as "good Samaritans" to this lost and broken world.  How will WE respond?"

Here are some of the powerful statements Davis brings to his packed audience as he follows up on his own question:

"It's those in authority who establish the standard of justice for every family, society, or nation."

"We as parents and grand parents are the ones who determine the generational patterns of behaviour that define the future."

"If we are ever going to see an end to this social evil of gendercide, it's going to require all of us to find a whole new way of thinking, to find a whole new way of education, to find a whole new way of defining and defending equality and justice."

"What might our role be in creating a new future for the girls in India and China?"

"Can we at least all agree to stand together against the devaluing of women in our cultures and become Culture Changers?"

"Would you consider lending your voice to the women of India and China who have no voice of their own?   Together we can make gendercide become a distant memory of the past."

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Heart of Forgiveness: "You Owe Me Nothing"

"Transitioning from the wreckage of abuse to the freedom of forgiveness will require honesty, courage, and an incredibly sponge-like capacity to CHOOSE to live in the light of God's healing love.  Do we REALLY want to be free? Do we REALLY want to be happy?  Then the journey towards our freedom and joy must begin at the Cross". 
(A continuation from my last post.)

The wreckage of abuse comes in many shapes and sizes.  How it manifests in our lives will depend on the severity, the source, and the secrecy of the abuse. Without exception, anger and hostility towards our abuser, and often towards God, is a symptom that we are still processing our pain, still trying to make sense of what has happened in our past.

The context of this blog is not a place for full disclosure of my personal story but let me just be honest enough to admit that anger has been a problem for me.   It wasn't until about 6 years ago that the truth of God's Word finally broke through and gave sweet release to anger's punishing grip.  Instead of love and truth, anger had become the defining filter that would determine my actions and propel me forward in one destructive direction after another.  

It was while reading 2 pages in Nancy Leigh DeMoss's book: Lies Women Believe and the Truth that Sets Them Free that I was finally brought face to face with my anger.  For the first time in my life, I recognized that my anger was directly related to my own emotional pain and frustration about people, about life, about my own insecurities and fears.  Getting angry was my way of declaring to the world and myself that "I have the right to get upset about this.  That person has hurt me and that person is going to pay".  In a twisted kind of way, I had given myself permission to behave like a 3 year old, to have a full blown temper tantrum,  and to just get the anger "out of my system" while lashing at others with my words.   My anger was MY entitlement and no-one was going to take that "right" away from me. 

Even as I write these words, within the context of numerous posts about abuse, I need to acknowledge that I too have been an abusive individual.  There were times in my past that I have used abusive words and actions to bring emotional harm to those closest to me.  As odd as this may sound, abusive personalities most often hurt those they "love" the most. 

The hardest thing about confession is that there is absolutely nothing we can do to erase the charges and offences against us. We are guilty as charged!  We can't pay our way out, cry our way out, over-achieve our way out, or even preach our way out. Our only hope, our only prayer rises from the ashes of a broken and repentant heart: "Dear Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner."

And in the humble acknowledgement of such a prayer, the precious blood of Jesus wiped away the stains on my blackened heart and washed me whiter than snow.  Jesus paid the price that I could never pay. His love canceled my debt completely and He set me free to love him, to serve him, and to follow him all of my days.

So the stage is swept clean and life is good....until a new character speaks out and I don't like the script.  Here we go again!!  I'm being ignored, misunderstood, and misrepresented. However, this time I can feel the brakes beneath my feet as my renewed "filter" searches for deeper truth than what my eye can see.  In light of the debt that Jesus canceled on my account, how will I move forward without lashing out in my old, familiar, and angry ways?

It's now that the parable of the unmerciful servant from Matthew 18 begins to tighten it's application over my heart and the anger that was quickly rising begins to subside.  This parable is all about how our sin is like currency.  The words of the Lord's prayer, "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors", conveys this same sense of a debt that is "owed" and a debt that needs to be "forgiven".  We have all either said these words ourselves or heard others say them: "I'm going to make them pay" or "It's pay-back time" when we want to get even with someone who has hurt us.

So as my anger rises, I am instantly confronted with this choice:  Will I demand full payment from my offender for what has been done to me?  Or will I release them into God's hands so that He alone, as a faithful and righteous Judge, will deal with them as He thinks is best?  
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[a]was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[b] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

Living in a world full of sin, brokenness, and abuse, we can be assured that our journey on this earth will be full of experiences with people who will disappoint us, people who won't meet our often faulty expectations of them, and even people who are actually intent on doing harm to us in one way or another.  There will be so many times that we will feel angered, we'll want revenge, and we'll desire to "pay others back" for what they've done.  Yet God's word makes it clear that we're not to go down that dangerous path of pay-back mentality.  We are encouraged to feel our anger, recognize it for what it is, sometimes let it motivate us towards making healthy changes, yet at the same time we are to dig deep into the Spirit's reserve of self control.  The warning against holding onto anger indefinitely is equally clear:  "in your anger do not sin, and do not let the sun go down on your anger".

There are 2 absolute essentials I desperately need working in my life if I'm going to survive this journey without bitterness and anger taking root in my heart:

The first essential for living in freedom is a solid, biblical understanding of healthy, relational Boundaries.  Townsend and Cloud have written some excellent resources on this subject for all ages and all types of relationships, including Boundaries in Marriage (highly recommended reading). Establishing healthy boundaries in my own life has helped me identify where my responsibilities begin and where they end and it has given me permission to say "no" without feeling guilty.

The second essential is actually more important than the first but it ties into my concluding thoughts, so I'm putting it last. The most influential truth that has kept my unhealthy anger from becoming a root of bitterness has been learning to prayerfully surrender the perceived "offences" of others over to the Lord while declaring to the offender, silently in my own heart, "You owe me nothing". These 4 simple words are spoken with the understanding that by these words I also mean, "You owe me no apology, no changed behaviour, and no kept promises".  By these words I also acknowledge to my own heart that my hope and expectation is in the Lord alone!!  I know that people will continue to disappoint and let me down, as surely as I will disappoint and let them down.  Yet I am to release the "debt" of others IN THE SAME WAY AS my own "debt" has mercifully been released.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled ALL that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’

Teachings on forgiveness, such as this one, should never be misunderstood as saying that every offence should ONLY be responded to with forgiveness. Forgiveness is all about keeping ourselves free from wanting to become the judge and jury over the one who has offended us.  Let me make it very clear that there are times when courts and justice systems MUST become involved and sins must be dealt with harshly and publicly so that the perpetrators will be stopped and hopefully brought to a state of repentance themselves. In the meantime, healthy boundaries need to be enforced to protect our own hearts as well as the vulnerable and the weak.  

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Selah's Song of Promise, Song of Hope

We were at a Selah concert just over a year ago when I heard this song for the first time.  
"Unredeemed" has become one of my all-time favourites as it reminds me again and again that EVERYTHING I bring to the Cross of Jesus is amazingly touched by His grace.

It's a beautiful follow-up to this morning's post.

Listen to these powerful truths:
"We live in the shadow of the Fall,
  But the Cross says these are all
  Places, where Grace is, soon to be so Amazing..."

A Defining Moment: Tears of Promise, Tears of Hope

Ever since I referenced the C S Cowles book "A Woman's Place" in my last post,  the memories surrounding this book have been stirring within.  (Cowles was encouraged by The Book Committee of the Church of the Nazarene to write this book as a biblical defence for women in ministry).  As this book was a catalyst for me, helping me understand and grasp my own true freedom in Christ, I feel a bit reluctant returning it to the bookshelf without explaining its significance to my journey.

It was about 13 years ago, while going through donation boxes for our church library, that I first laid eyes on it.  By the middle of the introduction I was already captured by the content.  I was not prepared for the information and knowledge that would eventually become one of the primary motivations leading me to become an agent of change on this issue.  This is just a sampling of what I read:

In General: "Women have constituted the most discriminated-against majority in every civilization, culture, race, nation, and religion. They have been relegated to second-class status and treated as subhuman species.  They have been treated as property to be bought, sold, or cast aside when they no longer served men's purposes."

In Australia: "An extreme but not atypical example of the oppression and brutalization of women in primitive cultures is reported by Robert Hughes in his definitive history of Australia.  [Cowles then describes the gruesome details of how aboriginal courtship would play out in 1802, taken from Hughes book.]  As overdrawn as this portrait might seem, courtship by violence and rape was not uncommon.  Aboriginal women had no rights at all and could choose nothing."

In Africa: In reference to Africa he writes, "Husbands are the undisputed monarchs of their households.  A man can have as many wives as he can afford while the woman has no choice in the matter.  In some tribes husbands do not even sleep with their wives except for purposes of procreation."

In Philosophy: "Greek philosophers not only bequeathed to the world the settled conviction that women were inferior to  men but taught that it was an indisputable fact of natural law....Aristotle taught that men are made for commanding and women for obeying and that this inequality is permanent. The difference between man and woman is like that of the soul and body: the man is to his wife like a soul is to a body,  commanding and guiding its members with intelligence and wisdom".

In Judaism: "Nowhere do we witness the dehumanizing and demeaning effects of religious and social patriarchalism more clearly than in the Judaism of Jesus' day.....The Mishnah [Jewish tradition of the elders] provided that a wife could be acquired 'by money, or by writ, or by intercourse.'  Marriage contracts were drawn up with wives considered as the acquisition of their husbands, as if they were Gentile slaves."

In Educational Contexts: "Our generation can scarcely comprehend that one of the most basic of human rights, the opportunity to seek a college or university education, is a freedom only recently granted to women.   The first institution of higher education in the United States--or in history for that matter--to accept female students was Oberline College in Ohio, and that not until the 1830's.  Hillsboro College is proud of its record as the first in Michigan to open its doors to women, yet that wasn't until 1865.  Both were distinctly Christian colleges founded as a consequence of the great spiritual awakenings in the mid 1800's.  Such historic and prestigious universities as Harvard and Yale did not follow suit until around the turn of the 20th century.  The University of North Carolina grudgingly opened its doors to women only after they gained the right to vote in 1920."

Upon finishing the second chapter, "Women in History, Less than Human", something deep within me was shaken to the core.  I was shocked at the way women had been viewed and treated by men in times past.  How could this be? And how could the church have played a role in so many of these injustices?

The anguish, sadness, pain, and grief I felt for so many women before my time, women whom I had never known, gripped my heart.  I wept and I cried until there were no tears left to cry.

Somewhere within the mess of my brokenness, I lifted up my eyes and prayed with a fervency and compassion that was peculiar for me.  A new passion and determination had been awakened that had not been there before.  My soul was as desperate for the wounded and abused as the evangelist's soul is for the lost.  The essence of my prayer was this: "God, if you will help me, I promise to do all I can to bring change to this issue.  Here I am, Lord.  Send me, and use me, to bring hope to the hurting and healing to the wounded."

I knew then, as I know now, that a "bandaid solution" would not be sufficient for the discrimination that continues to preside over how the role of women is often defined.  A fundamental shift in our thinking is required to help us biblically redefine God's original intended purposes in creating women.  Church leaders need to grasp, once and for all, how the traditional ideology of patriarchalism continues to contribute to the restrictive climate still felt by many women in the pew, along with how the "traditional" mindset continues to fuel the rampant occurrences of domestic abuse in our midst.

Here is at least one reliable link that reports the issue of domestic abuse within a Canadian, Evangelical Church context:
Churches Failing to Respond to Spousal Abuse
(Note: In looking at statistics, it's extremely important to factor in the number of women who never come forward and admit domestic abuse.  Issues of shame and intimidation will find many women carrying the secret of their abuse to their graves.)

This book by Jeff Crippen A Cry For Justice: How the Evil of Domestic Abuse Hides in Your Church is also helpful in identifying what an abusive relationship, within the church, might look like.

As I look back to that holy moment in time, a moment etched in my memory as though it was yesterday, I know it was precisely there that the call and the commission to be a voice for the abused and broken was conceived.  This would become a defining moment for me!!  It would be years before I understood exactly how my own story would tie into the stories of many other brave women. It would  take even more years before my prayer of promise would find the wings of courage to give birth to words of hope. Yet the One who makes everything beautiful in His time has used the often agonizing years of waiting to prepare this wounded soul for taking baby steps of obedience towards His purposes and His plan.

The prayer that continues to define my journey towards hope and change is perhaps best heard in the words of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Transitioning from the wreckage of abuse to the freedom of forgiveness will require honesty, courage, and an incredibly sponge-like capacity to CHOOSE to live in the light of God's healing love.  Do we REALLY want to be free?  Then the journey towards our freedom must begin at the Cross.

( be continued).

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Updated Version: Is the "Traditional" View of Women a Biblical View?

(*Note: This post has been edited from its original format.  As I'm exploring online sites and learning more about the "do's" and "don'ts" of blogging (yes, there are rules in the world of blogging) I wanted to add more of my own content to this post while sending you to Sallie's site for more on her post. )

I am touched by the numerous gifted women who are courageously using their voices to speak out about the issues and concerns close to their hearts.  Let me just shout out my sincere gratitude to each of you whose blogs have had a visit from me in the last little while.  You are an inspiration to me!!  I may not necessarily agree with everything I read yet there are times when something just resonates with my own heart and I know I need to share it.

That's how I felt when I stumbled upon this post "The Complementarian Argument from Historical Precedence" by Sallie Schaaf Borrink.   Sallie has taken quotes from  "Ten Lies The Church Tells Women: How the Bible has been misused to keep women in spiritual bondage" which describe how prominent leaders in Church history viewed the role of women.  They are shocking reflections of the twisted theology that resided in the minds of many men as a result of the cultural and patriarchal influences surrounding them:

Out of respect to the congregation, a woman should not herself read in the law. It is a shame for a woman to let her voice be heard among men. The voice of a woman is filthy nakedness.
From The Jewish Talmud
No wickedness comes anywhere near the wickedness of a woman… Sin began with a woman and thanks to her all must die.
Apocrypha, Ecclesiasticus 25:19, 24
Do you not know that you are [each] an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of your lives in this age; the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil’s gateway: You are the unsealer of that [forbidden] tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. On account of your desert—that is , death—even the Son of God had to die.
Tertullian (155-220)
Men should not sit and listen to a woman… even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is of little consequence, since they came from the mouth of a woman.
Origen, Early Church Father (185-254)
What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother; it is still Eve the temptress that we must be aware of in any woman… I fail to see what use women can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.
St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
Take up a stick and beat her, not in rage, but out of charity and concern for her soul, so that the beating will rebound to your merit and her good.
Friar Cherubino in Rules of Marriage on what a medieval husband should do if his wife does not obey his verbal correction
Woman was evil from the beginnings, a gate of death, a disciple of the servant, the devil’s accomplice, a fount of deception, a dogstart to godly labours, rust corrupting the saints; whose perilous face hath overgrown such as had already become almost angels. Lo, woman is the head of sin, a weapon of the devil, expulsion from Paradise, mother of guilt, corruption of the ancient law.
Salimbene, Franciscan Monk (1221-1288)
Woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex, while production of woman comes from defect in the active force.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
The woman is subject to the man, on account of the weakness of her nature, both of mind and of body. Man is the beginning of woman and her end, just as God is the beginning and end of every creature. Woman is in subjection according to the law of nature, but a slave is not. Children ought to love their father more than their mother.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
[A woman] is more carnal than a man, as is clear from her many carnal abominations. And it should be noted that there was a defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed from a bent rib, that is, a rib of the breast, which is bent as it were in contrary direction of a man. And since through this defect she is an imperfect animal, she always deceives… Since [women] are feebler both in mind and body, it is not surprising that they should come under the spell of witchcraft.
Dominican Inquisitors Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger in a 1468 tract in which they argued that women are the source of all witchcraft.
Women are ashamed to admit this, but Scripture and life reveal that only one woman in thousands has been endowed with the God-given aptitude to live in chastity and virginity. A woman is not fully the master of herself. God fashioned her body so that she should be with a man, to have and to rear children… No woman should be ashamed of that for which God made and intended her.
Martin Luther, 1524
Men have broad shoulders and narrow hips, and accordingly they possess intelligence. Women have narrow shoulders and broad hips. Woman ought to stay at home; the way they were created indicates this, for they have broad hips and a wide fundament to sit upon, keep house and bear and raise children.
Martin Luther
Woman must neither begin or complete anything without man: Where he is, there she must be, and bend before him as before a master, whom she shall fear and to whom she shall be subject and obedient.
Martin Luther
It is an ascertained physiological fact that the actual capacity of the average male brain is considerably greater than that of the female.
M. Burrows in an 1869 article that argued against allowing women to attend college in England
Women have no creative power, inventive genius, or originality. Rather [they are] creatures of instinct and imitation, beautifully adapted to what nature intended.
Anonymous British Doctor, in an 1869 pamphlet opposing women medical students
Many women will be so busy about voting and political office that the home and children will have no attraction for them, and American mothers and children, like Christian charity, will be a rarity.
The Lutheran Witness, in an 1894 editorial opposing women voting
                                                           *     *    *    *    *
In reading the Friar's advice to husbands, "Take up a stick and beat her",  I trust you made the connection to my previous post The Gospel Coalition, the SGM, and the Subject of Abuse.  It should come as no surprise that within the psyche of some "traditional" men there may still be remnants of such thoughts which would legitimize a man's entitlement to exert, what he perceives to be, necessary power and "correction" over an "unsubmissive" wife.

When we continue to hear conservative churches complaining about the feminist movement and how it undermines the "traditional" views (which many believe are more "biblical" than the current trend towards egalitarian relationships), I'm left wondering what exactly about these quotes would make any of us want to go back to the not so "good old days"?

These  quotes are a stark reminder that the "reformation" often associated with Martin Luther did not address biblical reform as thoroughly as it should have.  In so many ways, relational and social "reform" did not even begin until certain courageous women were willing to lay their lives down so that you and I would know what FREEDOM in Christ was intended to look like, and feel like.  (Sallie's post goes into greater detail of how women in the early 1900's were tortured for wanting to be considered "persons", wanting to cast their vote, and simply wanting to own their own property).

"The greatest social revolution in the history of humankind has occurred in this century.  It is not so much the scientific, nor technological, nor any political revolution, but rather the radical change in the status of women relative to men." (A Woman's Place" by S.S Cowles)

I am so appreciative for the exhaustive work of individuals like Mimi Haddad,  and organizations like Christians for Biblical Equality, who have equipped many of us with solid theological teaching on the subject of gender issues within the Evangelical Church.  It has been such a blessing for me to glean from CBE's wealth of material and information over the last 15 years and I am looking forward to attending my first CBE Conference in Pittsburgh with my husband this summer.   

It's because of so many Evangelical leaders within the Body of Christ that woman are finally learning to see themselves as God sees them, through the redeeming and transforming work of Jesus upon the Cross.  The "traditional" veil was lifted as surely as the temple veil was ripped apart!!  God has made a way for all of us to enter into the very holy of holies where previously only the High Priest could stand.  The Royal Priesthood of ALL believers ( 1 Peter 2:9) includes BOTH men and woman and there is NO "New Covenant Priesthood" that belongs exclusively to men.  Woman in Christ everywhere are experiencing immeasurable joy as our hearts taste the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Free at last... and not ashamed!!!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Gospel Coalition, the SGM, and the Subject of Abuse

As one who is brand new to the world of blogging, I've been having tons of fun exploring the various icons on my blog page while learning some of the basic and beneficial skills needed to enable me to add a few more voices to the mix.  This could become an obsession for me....just saying'.

On yesterday's Gospel Coalition Blog, Thabiti Anyabwile posted an excellent video featuring Star Trek actor, Patrick Stewart, sharing his traumatic encounter with domestic abuse and his reasons for "lighting a match in the darkness.".  I especially appreciate how Stewart's anger towards his dad's violence has become tempered by his recent understanding of how the devastating effects of  Post Traumatic Stress  Disorder contributed greatly to his dad's abusive behaviours.

Thabiti followed that with another excellent video which tells a little more of Patrick's story:

On May 29, Thabiti also posted this video related to the abuse of women and children which features a powerful message by Jackson Katz, emphasizing the fact that "domestic violence is not a woman's's a men's issue!! And men need to own this!!".

Katz and Stewart have both stepped up courageously within these hugely public forums calling ALL men to use their male positions of leadership, power, and influence to bring greater awareness and exposure to these disturbing trends.  Without being sexist about it, they have identified the sobering reality that women have not been successful at getting men's attention on this issue because something within the male psyche "tunes out" when they hear the words "woman's issue".   On the flip side though, Katz and Stewart both believe that men WILL begin to listen IF some of their brave and powerful peers would at least begin to open their mouths and use their voices to make a BIG DEAL about this issue!!

Although I am so grateful for Thabiti's willingness to post these videos and draw attention to this issue within the Gospel Coalition context, I'm also left wondering why I'm not hearing any strong messages  against abuse coming from the Coalition leaders themselves.  It's one thing for Thabiti to give a thumbs up to men like Patrick and Jackson, applauding them from a distance and cheering, "Go preach it, you guys!"  But doesn't it seem strange that no-one in the Coalition itself is actually taking this issue to their own public platforms, putting their own courageous message out there on YouTube and Blog sites so the world can hear what prominent leaders within the Body of Christ have to say about abusive men and how to recognize them?  How is the Coalition identifying and responding to those men among us whose egos are obsessed with holding onto power and control over denominations, ministries, women, children, and even other men?

Remaining silent on these issues tells women and children that keeping them safe from abusive relationships is NOT a priority for the church.  The deafening silence within our churches reinforces the ongoing evangelical drift away from social action in favour of polishing our doctrines and playing the role of Pharisee.  In Luke 10:25-37, it is the Pharisee who saw the beaten and wounded traveler by the wayside but was too busy "doing church" that he couldn't be bothered to "be the church."  May God have mercy on us if we have forgotten what this parable was intended to teach us. May the Good Samaritan give us ears to hear the cries of the broken, the oppressed, and the abused....and may we follow through with our VOICES and with our ACTIONS to bring an end to these injustices.

This silence within the Coalition camp is especially troubling in light of the recent scandal involving child abuse allegations against leaders within the Sovereign Grace Ministries, along with the alleged coverup by SGM leaders, all of whom are closely associated to the Gospel Coalition.

At first glance, one might wonder why I'm connecting the SGM scandal to Thabiti's response to the domestic abuse issue, but if you've watched the Jackson Katz video above, you've heard Katz clearly say that those men who are perpetrators in domestic violence are also those who abuse young boys and girls.  So that's the connection.   Katz reminds us that the real problem is not even about's all about power, the abuse of power, and the need for some men to strip away the power of those less powerful than themselves.

So where are the public voices and YouTube videos of SGM leaders speaking out on what has been happening under their watch?  Where can I find one of their leaders defining all aspects of the abuse issue in practical terms in order to alert congregations to the deeper issues going on in the minds of those who eventually become abusers?

Matt B Redmond has been following what's been happening in SGM for 2 years now and his blog entry on on June 7, 2013 "The Religious Leaders and the Least of These" seeks to wrestle with this ongoing silence. He writes: "The greatest human to ever walk this earth, the one through whom all humans were made, identified with the least of them. The ones most likely to be ignored. The ones most likely to be ridiculed. The ones who labored under the thumb of the oppressor. The ones most likely to have no voice against the wealthy, influential and powerful. That is who he chose to identify with.....If we side with those whose theology we agree with but have not love for the victims of abuse, we are nothing."

This underlying need for some men to exert their power, control, and dominance over women and children is nothing new to public and social service agents.  The attached diagram is used to help identify a perpetrator's behavioural profile:

Duluth Model
Take special notice of the wedge entitled "Using Male Privilege". The ambiguous definition we see in this category of abuse is strikingly similar to the definition used for "male headship" within a Complementarian/Patriarchal marriage model.  Both carry the presupposition that the man in the relationship always has the God-given "responsibility" to define what the woman's role will look like (in the home and the church) and it is the woman's primary role to willingly and voluntarily submit to the definitions and restrictions her husband (and her church) place upon her.  She is allowed to disagree and voice her feelings about these definitions but in the event of an "impasse",  the woman is taught to defer to her husband's decisions by submitting to his leadership "as unto the Lord".  The power, authority, and accountability involved in the process of "decision making" for all areas of home and church are said to be divinely and ultimately assigned to men.  All of this male gender entitlement related to "headship, authority, and responsibility", along with how these terms are being assigned to the "God-given role for men in the church and home", is at the very heart and core of the domestic abuse issue.

It's a bit of a strange evolution for women as I see it.  Young women and girls are diligently and rightfully taught by their parents to make responsible decisions for their future, to responsibly pursue an education, to responsibly develop their God-given gifts, and to not follow the crowd by "daring to be a Daniel and daring to stand alone". Parents also spend years drilling into their daughters and sons how to make responsible decisions regarding budgeting, time management, career choices, renting and purchasing a home, and how to find a local church where they can be of responsible service to others.  Then the woman enters marriage and she is now suddenly required to lay most these life skills, abilities, and character attributes aside.  Now she's told that her husband bears the primary responsibility for what happens in their home and that the weight of certain key decisions rests on his shoulders, not her own.  Am I the only one who sees something wrong with this picture?  As a married woman, I have learned that I am equally responsible for the decisions my husband and I make together.  We are partners in this journey, equally yoked to Jesus, the Head of our household, and the responsibility for our actions and decisions rests on both of our shoulders.

These gender role-ing waters can get very muddy especially when a husband who not only has power and control issues within his personality, also has explosive anger issues whenever he doesn't get his own way.  Abusive personalities do not always manifest with physical violence, though.  Complementarian husbands in particular may choose to use a more covert method of holding onto power and control in marriage.  They would likely be more prone to use manoeuvres such as passive aggression, manipulation, inducing guilt, playing mind games, messing with her mind and emotions, verbal abuse during fits of anger, voicing constant displeasure and disapproval, the silent "I'm not happy with you" look intended to intimidate her into submission, neglect of her emotional needs,...and the list goes on.

The greatest crime in all of this is that the church has absolutely no checks and balances in place to help couples (and leaders) measure when there is an imbalance of power and control in any given relationship. In one congregation there may be one "lucky" wife who has no restrictions at all while just two pews over is a woman who suffers silently under the oppressive rule of a controlling and extremely restrictive husband.  She doesn't dare to mention her story to anyone lest her condition become even worse.  So she bears up alone under this oppression with the misunderstood resolve that her submission to her oppressor is "as unto the Lord"....not much different than that of a slave.

One of my greatest concerns in our churches today is that the ambiguous definitions being placed on words like "headship" and "submission" are being enforced on the basis of a few isolated restrictive texts that even biblical scholars can't seem to agree on.  Unless we can climb into the apostle Paul's mind and discover exactly what he was thinking when he penned those words 2,000 years ago (which we can't do, by the way), we need to guard against becoming overly dogmatic,  recognizing that "our knowledge is in part".   In light of the glaring abuses and faulty interpretations related to gender role theology happening in our churches today, we would be very wise to allow the spirit of God's gracious law, (which leads to life and freedom) to be given a more preeminent  role and status over the letter of the law, which only leads to death.

In the 32 years that my wonderful husband and I have been married, the absolute greatest gift he has given me has been the gift of FREEDOM to live before my God as a unique individual who is responsible and accountable for the faith I am trying to obediently live out every day of my life.  Martin has never tried to push me where my heart has not wanted to go and he has never tried to compete for the affection and obedience that belongs to the ONLY Master of my soul, my beloved Bridegroom, who bought me with His blood and owns ever fibre of my being.

If we want to accurately expound on what it truly means for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (the often-quoted passage from Ephesians 5), we will first need a much better understanding of what Christ's love has given us.  I like to define His gift of love in this way:
We, the People of God, have each been given the GIFT of undeniable FREEDOM, through Christ's death and resurrection, to refuse obedience and allegiance to any other voice (including the voice of a husband or a pastor) if that voice seeks to compete with Christ's Headship over us as individual men and women.  We can only serve ONE Master!

I believe the complementarian marriage model, by its very structure, undermines a woman's allegiance to her primary calling as the Bride of Christ and I think it's time for Comps to rethink, redefine, and reform what they have been promoting as "biblical manhood and womanhood".  "Reformation" was never intended to be an event in time that happens only once.  The Spirit's work of "reforming" and "transforming" sinners (along with their theology) into the image of Jesus is as necessary for us today as it has ever been.