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Entries in Women (38)

Tuesday
Mar282017

And this is why I don't identify as a feminist

Today, a news story was brought to my attention through a link which featured Al Mohler's "The Briefing." I confess I have only every listened to one or two of these broadcasts, and this morning, I simply read the transcript, but it alerted me to one of those things that gets me riding the rocking horse of indignation.

The story comes from Australia, where journalist Sarrah Le Marquand puts forth this view:

Rather than wail about the supposed liberation in a woman’s right to choose to shun paid employment, we should make it a legal requirement that all parents of children of school-age or older are gainfully employed.

I believe it is implied that "gainfully employed" means employed for financial remuneration. She bases this conclusion on economic reasons, saying that her country's financial health would be better served by women contributing through paid work rather than childcare. A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recently pointed out the shortfall of female representation in Australia's workforce, so the best option is to mandate all parents work:

Only when the female half of the population is expected to hold down a job and earn money to pay the bills in the same way that men are routinely expected to do will we see things change for the better for either gender.

I firmly believe that women are free to work after they have children. I am grateful for the work of many feminists in the past who worked to change inequitable and unjust situations for women. Their goal was to make life better for women. But in their pioneering to make work options more equitable did that mean removing their choice not to work? When a woman like Le Marquand tells me that I am not free to make my life's work my children, she is doing what feminists have long accused men of doing: exerting control. When feminist groups seek to dictate how other women live, they set themselves up as an elite (and sometimes, not a wise elite, but rather the elite who has been aggressive enough to be heard) handing down judgment. A women's boy's club. 

This is why I am not eager to embrace the title of "feminist." It's such a loaded word. I know women who identify as feminist who are godly women, who long to see women grow in the things of God, and to be seen as the equal heirs of Christ that we are. And then then there are extrapolations like this article. And when feminism begins to run to extremes as in this article, I don't want the title. I remain a committed Christian Theist, and I believe, if properly worked out and understood, it will necessitate equality of value for both men and women; including those who want to stay at home full time with their children for as long as they like.

Thursday
Mar022017

Married woman, do you have single friends?

There are five women in my theology class, including me. While two others have children, I am the only one who is married.

Recently, we got on the topic of the kind of teaching material that is offered to women in typical church settings. We all agreed that we would rather prefer to study a book of the Bible rather than a topic, especially books that are focused only on marriage and motherhood.

Over the years, when I have taught young mothers, I have taught specifically about those things, largely because there were many in my audience to whom those issues were pertinent. But in talking to my single friends, I wonder how often there was a single or childless woman in my group who was wondering when I would get to something else. Was I insensitive to the differences among women?

In getting to know these single women I have been reminded of a couple of things:

Ultimately, my identity is in Christ. It is not in my marital status or my children. At our group blog, a couple of years ago, I wrote a post called "Can I Love My Child Too Much?"  A lot of people didn't like it. I received some nasty mail over that one. I still stand by the principle, though: we can turn our family into idols. As I have got to know these single women and our conversation has focused on matters other than children and husbands, I have been reminded of where my ultimate identity is. It's something I'm learning daily.

My experience is not every woman's experience. It is natural for us to assume that others thing like we do, or experience life as we do. They don't. My life here in my comfy little corner of semi-rural Ontario, with a husband who has never laid a hand to me is nothing like the experience of the woman who struggles with an abusive husband while wondering how she will feed her kids. The gospel is sufficient to address every painful circumstance, but I have to be careful about thinking that the gospel includes replicating my circumstances. I think this also includes being sensitive to cultural differences. Trying to force a model of Christian womanhood that can only work in affluent North America may actually work against spreading the gospel. 

Married women, do you have single friends? If you don't, find some! Part of the beauty of the Body of Christ is its diversity. If we only ever stick to nurturing relationships with women exactly like ourselves, we will miss a great deal.

Wednesday
Nov232016

Women, we can still learn from men

Every now and then, I listen to other women, and I feel uncomfortable. It is as if in order to be fully supportive of women in the church we must abandon men entirely. There is a trend toward only reading books by women. Women read books written by women, about women, and for women. Maybe I'm a little addled, but to me, the best book isn't the one written by a man or a woman: it's the one that is simply the most helpful, the best written, and the best researched.

In the last few days, there have been quite a few articles about women's ministry. The articles which promote the reading and studying of Scripture are the ones I like best. But still, there seems to be a reluctance to recommend a "How to" Bible study book written by a man. I'm going to be honest here: I've read a lot of books about how to study the Bible, and the ones I have found the most helpful are the ones written by men. I wish they had been written by women. I would love to see women in seminary, studying the original languages, learning about hermenetical principles. That has not happened a lot at this point.

Here are some of the "how to" Bible study books I have read in the 30+ years I have been studying the bible and the 20+ years I have been teaching the Bible:

Understanding and Applying the Bible, Robertson McQuilkin

How to Study Your Bible, Kay Arthur

How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, Douglas Fee and Gordon Stuart

Bible Study: A Student's Guide, Jon Nielson

Bible Study: Following the Ways of the Word, Kathleen Nielson

Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin

Grasping God's Word, J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays

Journey into God's Word, J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays

Introduction to Biblical Interpreation, Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard

Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, Walter Kaiser and Moises Silva

The last two titles are more advanced, and I wouldn't recommend a beginner start there, but neither would I discourage her if she wanted to. We have a tendency to start women off small, and while that may be useful for a woman who has no experience with the Bible, women are able to read difficult texts. We are a fairly literate society, and if women can be doctors, teachers, nurses, politicians, and accountants, they can handle a more advanced text.

If I was going to recommend just one of those books, it would be Journey into God's Word. No, it is not written like a book directed to women, as if the author and reader are having coffee. No, there isn't a pretty, feminine cover, but Journey into God's Word is clear and thorough. It lays an excellent foundation before proceeding to discuss the various literary genres in Scripture. And it is not long; 153 pages. But it provides a great starting point that will ultimately lead a person further in her study. Journey into God's Word is the condensed version of Grasping God's Word, and if I had to recommend a second book, that would be it. It gives a student a goal to aim for. If I was recommending a book to inspire a woman into studying, it would be Kathleen Nielson's. What we want as Bible students and teachers is to get better at what we are doing, to be more and more comfortable with interpreting the Biblical text. That is ultimately what we are doing as we teach. It's more than leading a group of women in a study. We are interpreting. And there are principles to help us with that.

I am not famous, so the chances of someone taking my views into serious consideration is probably small. I am not affiliated with a big parachurch organization, a mega church, or a famous Christian figure. But I have been learning and teaching a long time. I want the best resources I can find, regardless of whether a man or woman wrote it. If my suggestion that we continue to read books authored by men means I have failed my gender, do forgive me. It wouldn't be the first time I didn't toe the party line.

Thursday
Nov172016

What women's ministry should have as a goal

In the past few days, I have read a few things about women's ministries. Despite the fact that I seldom read Christianity Today, there was an interesting article about women's ministry in light of some of the controversy over Jen Hatmaker. I have never read anything by Hatmaker. Sometimes, all it takes is watching how a woman treats others on Twitter to know that one does not need to read a writer's work.

Women's ministry is big business. Just think of some of the conferences that are attended; the books; the DVD curriculum; the teaching material. Someone is making money from the fact that women want to be ministered to. Women want to be challenged, to think theologically and biblically, and there are those who are willing to help. It is sad, however, that women have to go outside of their local church.

I have never been drawn to the big name speakers. The closest I have ever come to going down that road was when I was a Precept leader. I was trained by Precept, I taught studies, and I attended workshops and conferences. And after a while, I began to tire of it. I had learned what I needed. I began to want to do things differently than the way I had learned through Precept. It had served its purpose, and I moved on. Technically, that is what Precept envisions. It promotes people becoming leaders. And I think that principle of discipling someone in order to release her should be the goal.

This is the problem with some of the big name speakers. They attract fan girls. People flock to their conferences year after year. Women use their prepared curriculum year after year. Women hold those speakers up as authorities. Even women with smaller followings will eventually have women who look to them as authorities. There is certainly nothing wrong with soliciting opinions, but I have always been concerned about women givingso much regard to teachers who will never know them well.

Ultimately, women's ministry ought to seek to disciple women. And discipleship does come to an end. Look at the model of Jesus. He had the twelve with him while he was on earth. One of his goals was to prepare them for his eventual departure. It was never the design that the apostles would never be able to go out on their own. That is what building the kingdom involves: equipping people to stand on their own.

That is what I find missing in most of the big name women's ministries, and some of the smaller ones. The church doesn't need groupies. It needs women who are equipped. Personally, I'd rather see the young women in my church begin to develop independence. Some of the women I have taught were once my students as teens. I have watched them grow and mature. I love it when I hear that a young woman is moving out on her own, or has read a book and come to her own conclusions that it was not a good book. I would never want to be responsible for the continual spiritual appetites of thousands of women. I would rather they had the ability to pick up their Bibles, and feast. I would like to see better "how to" Bible study material, but that's a separate pet peeve of mine, and not the point of this post.

As I said, though, women's ministry is big business, and as long as there are publishing houses, women who are willing to produce for them, and an audience who likes to see things done up bright and beautiful, there will be big name speakers. We live in a culture that is ripe for such a phenomenon.

Saturday
Oct292016

Changing our expectations of female friendships

Female friendship is something I have given a lot of thought to. My first very good friend was a boy, and I grew up with three older brothers. I had more male cousins than female cousins. In my middle school years, I was a tomboy, but I had female friends. That changed dramatically in 8th grade. I did have one or two good friends, but after I left Alberta in 1982, where I left the only close female friend I had in high school, I never really had many female friends until I became a mother.

In the past couple of months Tim Challies has linked articles about female friendships. The first was called When There is Unexplained Distance in a Friendship, and the other Lonely For a Friend? Here's One Thing That Might Help.

They got me thinking.

When I moved here in 1996, I did not want to be here. I had, for the first time, a good female friend, and I was sad to leave her. I found myself in sizeable church, but extremely lonely. Yes, part of it was my fault. I tried to fit in with the women, however, but it was not easy moving into a new church where one's mother-in-law is one of the most beloved members of the congregation. Everyone just assumed that she was taking care of me. And sometimes, friendship circles can be exclusive. I'll never forget attempting to join a group of women at prayer meeting (why must women and men pray separately? I'll never understand that) and being told that their circle was full, and I should join a different one.

I had my children, and I focused on them. But I was still very lonely. I observed the close female friendships, some which had lasted for many years, and wondered what was wrong with me. I reached a point where I prayed to God and said, "Lord, I don't have any friends, but I have my family and I have you, and if you want that to be enough, that's fine with me." And it was. And I did make a few friends, but something even better began: deeper study in God's Word. That was really when I began to study seriously.

One of the things that I did wrong was looking at other friendships, and I think that is a temptation we all face. Friendships between women on the cover of Christian magazines and advertisements for women's events may be real for some women. There are some women who have a circle of female friends and they tell each other their burdens, and they go on holidays together, and attend each other's dinner parties. But that is not everyone's experience. I think somewhere in there the idea that being more outgoing is more spiritual has convinced some of us that unless we have a circle of Christian girlfriends, we're failing somehow. In all honesty, being friends with women is rather frightening to me at times, and attending events designed for women leaves me anxious.

A couple of weeks ago, D.A. Carson was at my school speaking, and there were 500 people there. At the most, there were 50 women there. I felt less fear walking into a room of hundreds of men than a group of 30 women. When there are men there, there is no expectation that I must mingle and make a new BFF. I can just sit and be quiet and wait. And in a lovely turn of events, another woman saw me sitting alone and joined me, and lo and behold, I found out she knew my husband's grandmother. 

Part of me struggles to trust women. I have had a few bad experiences, and yes, that is something I need to get over. But at the same time, I don't think every woman has to have a large circle of female friends. I need to focus on the women God has placed in my life, regardless of age and circumstance, and without any thought of what is in it for me. Quite simply, I've been reminded to live out the truth that one must first be a good friend. One of the articles I linked above echoes those sentiments.

I cannot help but wonder if we're expecting too much. Compared to women even 75 years ago, we have so much time on our hands, and filling them with friends is a natural desire. But if we aren't traveling with an entourage of female friends, and are content with one or two, I think that's okay. And although people tell me that my husband can't really be my best friend, I'm afraid he is.

This past week, I was showered with love and care from three ladies at my church who brought food. Two of them arranged for me to be picked up and driven home from a hair appointment I'd had scheduled. We are good friends. I don't see my friends a lot. They are busy women, with aging parents, adult children, and jobs. To expect me to be the centre of their world is unreasonable. I'm learning to change my expectations of female friendships. And the changes, as cliché  as it sounds, start with my own attitude.