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Entries in Women (36)

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.

Wednesday
Aug312016

Even older women need older women

My son was engaged this summer. We are thrilled. We love his fiancée and see that she is just the right kind of woman for him. So, I am going to be a mother-in-law.

We have always enjoyed meeting our kids' friends. When they were still at home, their friends were always welcome, and some of those friends are still in our lives. We've never really confronted a friend of our kids whom we disliked. But being a mother-in-law is different. It's for life. Especially when the young woman has a good relationship with her own family, the boundaries need to be established. My son, this past weekend, was teasing his fiancée about calling each other's parents "mom" and "dad." She's not going to, and I'm fine with that. I call my in-laws by their first names. Some people have different experiences, and that's fine.

I have a good relationship with my own mother-in-law, but we have had our moments. It certainly has never reached those stereotypical proportions, but there have been times of stress and strain. As I contemplate this new addition to our family, I want to do it well. I don't ever want to be a source of conflict between my son and his wife, and I don't ever want her to feel that I think she lacks something or isn't "good enough" for my son. I want to know from someone who has "been there" how do to this mother-in-law thing. But I don't really know someone who fits that bill; at least not someone with her feet on the ground in my immediate vicinity. Internet friends are great, but unless we have spent more time with them, they simply are not the same as someone who knows us and sees us regularly.

I have occasionally bemoaned the fact that I've never really had an older Christian woman in life whom I have felt I could go to for those things. Asking my mother-in-law about becoming a mother-in-law feels a little awkward to me. I'm sure I've been a source of annoyance to her, and I wouldn't ever want to put her on the spot. I've thought of asking my own mother, but because she is not a Christian, we tend to approach human relationships a little differently.

Older women need older women, too. As I head into my fifties, I know there will be other issues that are new and a little scary, becoming a mother-in-law being only one of them. My parents are getting older, I am getting older, and my husband will retire. We may have grandchildren. I may become ill or my husband may become ill. How do I do this aging thing well? 

I'm a reader, and there are books about such subjects, I suppose, but sometimes, as much as I love books and tend to be a bit of an auto-didact, it's nice to have an in the flesh teacher. I have a copy of my Systematic Theology textbook, and I've begun the reading already, but I'm so happy that the class starts next week, because I already have questions I'd like to ask my professor. I'd like to have an older woman fill that need, that person we take our hard questions to.

Perhaps it is my own fault for not finding someone like that. After all, I attend a church with many older women; it's not like there aren't older women in my radar. Perhaps I have bought into the individualistic nature of our society and carried it into my life of faith. Maybe I'm not trusting enough.

I'm going to be on the lookout in the next few years. 

Monday
Aug292016

Women victimizing women

Recently, I watched a movie called The Magdalene Sisters. It was a compelling story. My curiosity piqued, after seeing the movie, I read a book called Ireland's Magdalen Laundries, which exposed how these laundries functioned as part of an attitude that wished to confine and contain elements of society deemed unfit, i.e., people on the margins of society.

The Magdalene Laundries

The Magdelene Laundries were run by four different female religious orders in Ireland. They were founded in the mid-nineteenth century as a refuge for prostitutes, but ultimately became a place where women from the fringes of society were placed. Some women had given birth to illegitimate children, were orphans, had been raped, or were viewed as "mentally defective." Some of them were put in those institutions by their own families, because they were viewed as being at risk for having sex outside of marriage. As one survivor said, other than having a baby outside of wedlock, the worst sin in Ireland was to have sex outside of marriage.

The Magdelene laundries were private institutions, which meant that officially there was no state intervention or accountability. The nuns in the laundries had free labour, but were really not responsible to any outside governing body. There was no recourse for the women in the laundires except the Catholic Church.

A Brutal Life

Life there was, in a word, brutal. These were not coin-operated, Maytag laudromats; these were industrial laundries, utilizing equipment that girls as young as 12 should not have had to use. The girls received no financial remuneration, nor were they given any education. Some girls were told they were being sent to the laundry to learn life skills, but the laundry prepared them for nothing but more of the same hard, demanding work. Having been in a Magdalen laundry was a mark of shame that no girl wanted to admit. Many never told others of where they had been. They were told they were not prisoners, yet they could not leave. And ultimately, with no education and no one to advocate for them, what was the benefit of leaving? They were not allowed to talk to each other while they worked or even in bed at night. There was physical abuse. Their names were changed. Their hair was cut off. They were told they were doing "penance" for sins they didn't understand. Some became so institutionalized that they found it difficult to function outside of the laundry once they did leave. 

While the book Ireland's Magdalen Laundries provided analysis of this situation, the book Whispering Hope shared personal accounts of five women who were in a Magdalen Laundry. I couldn't put it down. It was both riveting and disturbing. In one of the accounts, the survivor noted with bitter irony that the order she was placed with, The Sisters of the Mercy, had nothing merciful about it. One woman recounts how she watched one of the other girls, recently having been forced to give up her baby for adoption, try to escape one night by tying sheets together to climb out of a sixth story window. She ended up falling, breaking her neck, and dying. There was no mention of the girl again, and no funeral. 

The saddest story came from a woman named Nancy, who was an orphan. She tried to run away on a couple of occasions, but because she had nowhere to go, she ended up returning to the laundry, facing even harsher treatment. When she was about 16, the nuns sent her to work on a farm with a man who beat her brutally, and who at one point, hung her dog in the barn (where she slept) as a punishment. This woman eventually ran away, and was able to find work as a housekeeper and nanny. She remained with this family long after the children grew and moved away. She was never able to form any kind of relationship with a man, or most people, for that matter. 

Theology in Action

As I have read and thought about this matter, I am reminded that theology is evident in our conduct. The nuns had a particular view of God, sin, and humanity, and it is reflected in how they treated the girls. There was an overly punitive, harsh attitude toward them, despite the fact that not one of them had done anything to warrant being incarcerated. The nuns seemed to believe the premise that by making the girls suffer physical and emotional abuse, they were helping them do penance. The nuns clearly did not have a biblical understanding of sin or atonement or else they would not have presumed to dole out brutality in the name of penance. If a girl was born out of wedlock, it was cast upon her as her own sin and she was made to pay, and pay frequently. Anyone who has read the Bible recognizes that as an unbiblical attitude. The nuns were not kind. That says something about their belief regarding being made in God's image and loving others as we love ourselves. They reminded me of the Pharisees who were were preoccupied with washings and rituals, but were hard and unmerciful.

I don't know what kind of religious education nuns in Ireland were given, but from the way they treated the girls in the Magdalen laundries, it bares little resemblance to Jesus's attitude toward their namesake, Mary Magdalen, who was indeed shown mercy. I think it is an irony that the laundries bear her name despite clearly being such a harsh place. Part of me is a little shocked at women victimizing other women. It just goes to show that sin is in the heart of us all, and given the right circumstances, it can really run amok.

Recognition

In 2013, Enda Kenny, the then Irish Taoiseach apologized to the victims of Magdalen laundries. There is a group for survivors, and as their stories are being told, more seem to come forward with their own stories. It is such a sad story, and yet some of the women are so admirable, pressing on and surviving in the midst of something I cannot fathom.