check out my guest post in jenny rae armstrong’s “equally yoked” series

I’m completely honored and excited to be featured this week on Jenny Rae Armstrong’s “Equally Yoked” series. Check it out, and check all her other fabulous posts, including last week’s “John Piper, Women in Combat, and How Gender Roles Fall Short of the Glory of Humankind.”

She’s fantastic.

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i’m a real man

Donald Miller says a real man is “a person with a penis.”

I kind of like that definition. It’s really a breath of fresh air.

I’m really sick of hearing all the stuff about what a real man is. I’m tired of the sermons. I’m tired of the books. I’m tired of the Bible studies. I’m tired of barrel-chested Seattle pastors telling me I’m not a man if I’m not my family’s provider. I’m tired of gentle people with hostile theology telling me I’m not a man because I submit to my wife as she does to me.

For a long time, I tried to conform. I read all the books, joined the study groups, tuned out the “worldly” and “liberal” Baylor professors. I superimposed the “Eldridgeman” (think Wild at Heart) over my slight frame and introverted personality. I finally gave up, exhausted and disillusioned, thinking I was a failure.

Until I discovered the truth behind Miller’s intentionally shocking and humorous explanation.

A real man is a person with a penis. A real man is a person who is male. I’m a real man by that qualification alone.

I don’t think there’s any such thing as a “biblical” man. Some of you may throw Pauline prooftexts my way and expect me to cave, but if we read those in context, Paul is breaking down those divisions. Yes, men and women are different. We’re different physically and we’re different because we’ve been raised to be different, but our calling is one and the same. There’s no biblical distinction.

The highest calling of a man is to know God and to follow Christ wholeheartedly.

The highest calling of a woman is to know God and to follow Christ wholeheartedly.

That’s it. There’s no such thing as biblical manhood or womanhood. There’s only biblical personhood, in which calling and gifting are the determining factors, not genitalia.

Men and women, be freed by this message. Stop trying to conform. Just give it up. It’s tiring and damn near impossible. Start adhering to the biblical pattern of personhood, instead.

Posted in faith journey, gender equality | 2 Comments

on fragility and equality

Girls are fragile.

I don’t really remember who told me this, but I heard it a lot when I was a kid. I mean a little kid. A kid just big enough to understand why he shouldn’t hit people. Especially girls.

This stuck with me.

Fast forward to May 2009. I’m in my first year as an elementary music teacher. I’m in a 1st grade class that is about to make me lose my salvation. It’s a small classroom. There are lots of children. And there’s a lot of, shall we say, physical contact.

And I remember one little guy, who got fed up with the girl next to him poking him in the ribs and decided to take matters into his own hands.

And I said it, too. I can’t believe I said it. God help me.

Don’t hit girls. Girls are fragile.

Fortunately, I have had many, many chances with those same children to tell them a different story, and hopefully, I’ve undone any damage.

Don’t hit girls. Don’t hit anyone, because they’re our friends, they’re our classmates, they’re our equals.

I don’t really believe girls are fragile anymore. I’ve encountered enough strong women since my childhood to know that. I even married one of them. And I mean she’s a strong woman in every sense. She’s strong physically. She’s strong mentally. She has strong character. Truth be told, most of the time, she’s a stronger person than I am.

The problem is that when we tell boys that they are; when we tell them men should be the leaders, the guides, the protectors, the providers, we’re not telling them to respect women. No, quite the opposite.

We’re telling them to see women as something less than, not quite, almost enough. We’re telling them women aren’t equal.

Unfortunately, this message isn’t any different in the church.

  • When the church tells women they can’t be leaders, it’s telling them they’re not equal.
  • When the church tells husbands they are the providers, we’re telling them their wives aren’t equal.
  • When the church tells fathers they are the spiritual leaders of their families, it’s saying mothers aren’t spiritually equal.
  • When the church tells wives to submit (not mutually, solely), it’s saying they aren’t ontologically equal. (Patriarchalists love to say women are “ontologically equal.”)

And all of these statements are contrary to the gospel.

My dog’s not my equal, and that’s why I need to do so many things for her. I have to open doors for her and carry her around and feed her. I have to lead her when we walk around the neighborhood. Am I respecting my dog by doing those things? No, I’m exercising my authority over her.

I would actually kind of like the church to take a stand against chivalry, and not just because I love my blazers and suit coats WAY too much to cover up puddles with them. (Evidently, chivalry holds that women are incapable of turning.) Because chivalry reinforces those subliminal messages of inequality under the facade of respect.

So let’s rethink the whole concept. Maybe it’s time we do things for each other out of kindness. Maybe men should open doors for women and men alike out of kindness. And maybe men accept the same kindness from women.

Some of you reading this might not understand all this chivalry stuff, but I’m from Texas. I was raised with the belief that my ancestors would come up out of the grave and get me if I didn’t offer a lady my chair, or open the door for her. It was my solemn duty as a guy. Well, I think duty is the least honorable reason to do anything, and doing chivalrous things out of a sense of duty doesn’t show respect, it assumes inferiority.

What do you think? Is it time we rethink the idea of chivalry? Should we instill in boys the sense that girls are equal instead of the sense that men have power over women?

Posted in gender equality, the church | 9 Comments

why the church makes me grieve: thinking isn’t allowed

I grieve because the church doesn’t like thinking people.

The church is no place for a thinking person. That’s been made perfectly clear.

It was all so much easier during my previous life as Southern Baptist homeschooler. My parents and church told me exactly what God’s position on everything was and I wasn’t afraid to go out and blast people with the love of God which could reach anybody who knew all the answers and behaved themselves. Long story short, that lasted until college, when my faith was simply worn out. I just couldn’t hold on any longer.

My faith was transformed by a fresh encounter with grace. At that point, I had to turn loose of my black-and-white faith. It was so very rich, but it made me realize I didn’t quite fit in anymore.

I think teaching should be one of the primary responsibilities of the church, but not in the conventional understanding of teaching. As a teacher myself, I’ve had to learn that the job is not about disseminating information to young minds, it’s about turning young minds into minds that can think for themselves.

I’m not looking for intellectual elitism, I want a community where questions are allowed. I’m not just looking for “head” knowledge, but minds that are fully engaged with hearts. I’m not looking for easy, pat, black-and-white answers to every question, I’m looking for a place where questions turn into conversations.

When I look at the person of Jesus, I see a man who wasn’t afraid of skeptics, didn’t get squeamish around people with “gross” sins or emotions, and loved all kinds of people pervasively. But most churches I’ve been a part of are places where tough conversations go to die. Skeptics aren’t welcome. Questions are discouraged.

Here are things that I need the church to offer:

  • I want theology, not self-help.
  • I want be shaped by conversations, not indoctrination.
  • I want to be led by thinking people.
  • I want the church to stop calling my questions “bad” or calling me “bad” for even having those questions in the first place.
  • I want the church to stop trying to reach me where I am and call me into something greater.
  • I want the church to expect something out of me besides money and compliance.
  • I want to participate in the long, rich tradition of Christian liturgy, not Christianized variations on American Idol.
  • I want mindful sacredness, not accidental profanity.

I’m not saying we should be apologetic for our beliefs. We should just be holding them with an open hand. The God we serve will not be threatened if we leave the security of our faith up to him. In fact, I’ve found my faith has been made so much stronger when I’ve been willing to

Very honestly, this is not an easy issue for the church to encounter. It will run the risk of alienating some people who prefer being spoon-fed, but we won’t run the risk of alienating a generation that needs to ask questions. If the church is to actually be the church, we simply must be willing to think – and be willing to allow others that same privilege.

Posted in the church, why the church makes me grieve | 6 Comments

why the church makes me grieve

When the church of Jesus
shuts its outer door,
lest the roar of traffic
drown the voice of prayer,
may our prayers, Lord,
make us ten times more aware
that the world we banish
is our Christian care.
- Fred Pratt Green

There has been a lot of discussion recently about why young people are leaving the church.

I haven’t ever left the church. and it’s not because I’m a fantastic example of piety. I’ll freely admit that there have been times when the only thing keeping me in church was the fact I’m paid to be there (I’ve served a number of churches as a paid musician and music minister). I’ll get into my other reasons for staying at some point in the future.

I’ve never left, but my relationship has been strained as long as I can remember, so today I begin a series called “Why the Church Makes Me Grieve.” Some of the things I will explore will be very difficult emotionally to go into, but I hope by doing it I can connect with some of you who feel the same way.

I don’t want to start a big gripe session. This isn’t some Andy Rooney-esq whine-fest. It’s a conversation about an entity that is meant to be a bastion of hope, a haven of rest, and an impetus for growth, but hasn’t lived up to this for many, many people.

But seeing as how people from my generation are leaving the church in record numbers, I think it’s a conversation that needs to take place. If we want change, we have to start somewhere.

It’s probably going to be obvious that I’m coming from a white, primarily southern evangelical perspective, but hopefully this discussion can continue across these dividing lines.

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where cross the crowded ways of life

Where cross the crowded ways of life,
Where sound the cries of race and clan
Above the noise of selfish strife,
We hear your voice, O Son of Man.

In haunts of wretchedness and need,
On shadowed thresholds dark with fears,
From paths where hide the lures of greed,
We catch the vision of Your tears.

From tender childhood’s helplessness,
From woman’s grief, man’s burdened toil,
From famished souls, from sorrow’s stress,
Your heart has never known recoil.

The cup of water given for You,
Still holds the freshness of Your grace;
Yet long these multitudes to view
The sweet compassion of Your face.

O Master, from the mountainside
Make haste to heal these hearts of pain;
Among these restless throngs abide;
O tread the city’s streets again.

Till sons of men shall learn Your love
And follow where Your feet have trod,
Till, glorious from Your Heaven above,
Shall come the city of our God!

-Frank North, 1903

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where are the girl composers?

Female 3rd Grade Student: Mr. Aigner, how come there aren’t any pictures of girl composers on your wall?

Mr. Aigner: Blah, blah, blah….

There’s never a good answer to this question. Oh sure, I can tell her the usual story and tell her about Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn Bartholdy and Amy Cheney Beach, who now are on my wall (along with a few others), but that’s not really answering her question.

Here’s how I want to answer that question: “Well, for many, many years, back when Bach and Handel and Haydn were composing, women didn’t have the same opportunities to perform and publish their music. Women couldn’t have paying music jobs for royalty or churches, so their music wasn’t as well known. Fortunately, we’ve learned from our mistakes and today there are as many well-known women composers as their are men. Women can publish their music. Women can have all the same musical jobs as men, including churches.

Unfortunately, that’s still not true.

Wake up, Church. When we deprive women of equal opportunities, and when we refuse to encourage and enable them to achieve what’s in them to do, we are hindering the Kingdom of God.

What a grave offense.

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