This post is part of the Five Minute Friday linkup. This community of bloggers writes on a one-word prompt every Friday for five minutes, then shares their post. You can read other posts from this week here and learn more about the Five Minute Friday linkup here. To comment on this piece, head over to my Facebook page.
Share your toys. Share your blanket. Share your space, your books, your pencils: I have 3 children in elementary school, so I constantly remind people to share.
And why do I fight this battle? Because I want my children to grow up to be generous and not miserly, clinging fearfully and angrily to what is theirs. I want them to give with open hands, to invite others in with open hearts. And if I lay that foundation now, with their family, I hope they will carry that generosity on into adulthood.
Because as adults, the temptation to hoard, to be greedy and avaricious, doesn’t fade. And sometimes, it’s difficult to tell if we’re being greedy or prudent: should I stash extra money in savings, or donate it? Do I need a back-up coat? How much really is enough?
It’s not wrong to have some things we don’t share; just as I don’t expect my girls to share their precious lovies, we all have things that are not for sharing with everyone.
But as I strive to cultivate generosity in my children, I’m pushed to consider where I can also share more — time, money, talent, material things. That urge to selfishly cling to what we want lingers, but it can be overcome by a counter-narrative of plenty and openhandedness rather than scarcity.
Have you ever been in a restaurant that uses cutesy or thematic names for their restrooms, and hesitated a moment before choosing the (fingers crossed) correct one?
Yeah, it’s annoying. And often just a bit sexist.
Apparently, though, these cutesy restroom names are yet more evidence of the essential differences God created between men and women. Brett McCracken asserted in a July essay on The Gospel Coalition website that we instinctively know who goes in the “Bread” room versus the “Meat” room, confirming deep-rooted differences between the genders.
Yes, that’s right: McCracken thinks we instinctively associate women with bread and men with meat because … I guess because women like carbs and men like protein? Or women bake and men hunt? Because something in the essence of women whispers “bread,” while “meat” belongs to the inborn nature of men?
McCracken’s whole article is problematic, but instead of addressing it specifically I want to talk about gender essentialism, since McCracken is asserting that the essence of men and women differs — and not merely their biology or their social conditioning.
In its simplest form, gender essentialism is the belief that women and men differ not just in their outward biology but also in their inner beings, their essential natures. Many people affirm some form of gender essentialism, not just complementarians; even some feminists are gender essentialists. The debate about how our biology (which everyone agrees is different) shapes or intersects with our nature is long and complex.
People who hold to gender essentialism may believe that women are more peaceful and men more violent; women more emotional and men more rational; women more verbal and men more computational. While most gender essentialists are more than willing to admit individual variation, they see men and women on the whole as having distinct, inborn qualities that go beyond biology.
I’m not a gender essentialist because I am not convinced that, absent social conditioning, men and women have different natures. But we can’t fully test these theories, and it’s certainly possible to be a gender essentialist without denigrating women (or men).
McCracken’s article seems to fall into this category of not particularly thoughtful but also not particularly damaging gender essentialism. I’m fairly confident that associating women with bread and men with meat is cultural rather than essential, drawing on stereotypes about the foods men love and women love but shouldn’t eat. But his point is that women and men, in their differences, complement one another and together form something greater, something better, than either alone.
And I agree. When God created Adam, God said it was not good for him to be alone, and so God created Eve: another human also created in the image of God, an equal and a co-laborer in the work of the Garden. Dissension between the genders is one of the oldest disruptions in human relationships caused by sin; as God’s people living in the already-but-not-yet kingdom, women and men should strive to work in harmony with each other.
The problem with the gender essentialism of complementarianism, though, is that it doesn’t stop with two binaries balancing and enhancing one another.1
Instead, the qualities often assigned to women by complementarians denigrate them and place them in an eternally subordinate position. Women are more easily deceived. Women are more submissive. Women are less capable of logic. Women are less skilled at leading. Women are nurturers, bound to home and family, while men are providers, able to move freely in the public sphere.
In short, in this view women’s natures make them followers and men’s natures make them leaders: a state far removed from two equals complementing each other.
I’m all for combinations in which the separate parts form a whole greater than any single part; I still dream about the most perfect turkey, bacon and avocado sandwich I’ve ever had. Vive la différence and all that. But when “different” places one gender above the other, we’ve stopped working towards a greater whole. We’ve instead made one part the whole, allowing the other part in only when it enhances the first.
If we’re going to rhapsodized about the beauty of complementary combinations in God’s creation, we have to create space for the complex dance as different flavors, different people, weave together an amazing new reality. As God’s people we are better together, creating harmony rather than dissonance out of our differences — whatever the origin of those differences. This is only possible when we value all the differences equally, not subordinating one and elevating another. And that can only happen when we wholeheartedly affirm that, in their essence, women and men alike reflect the image of their creator.
The idea of two binaries is also problematic, but beyond the scope of this blog post.↩
Week two of trying out a new thing: Five Minute Friday! This community of bloggers writes on a one-word prompt every Friday for five minutes, then shares their post. You can read other posts from this week here and learn more about the Five Minute Friday linkup here. To comment on this piece, head over to my Facebook page.
Complete is hard for me. I could write pages about incomplete: all the things I could do and haven’t, or have started but not finished; my inner critic (the gift — or curse — of being a 1 on the Enneagram) often delights in pointing out how very incomplete I am.
So what does completeness look like? Sometimes completeness looks like finishing, achieving: dinner is complete, or my tasks for the day. But sometimes completeness doesn’t come from checking items off a list or having everything arranged just so.
Complete is when my whole family piles on the couch after dinner to watch the Great Brittish Bake Off, even if the dishes aren’t done.
Complete is when I get coffee with a friend, catching up on our lives and laughing together.
Complete is when I see friends or family I’ve missed, when distance collapses and we gather together around a table.
Complete is when I spend time in prayer, immersing myself in the vastness of God and somehow emerging even more wholly myself than when I started.
Complete comes in these moments of connection and times of worship, when I am reminded that it is not good to be alone.
I’m trying out a new thing: Five Minute Friday! This community of bloggers writes on a one-word prompt every Friday for five minutes, then shares their post. You can read other posts from this week here and learn more about the Five Minute Friday linkup here. To comment on this piece, head over to my Facebook page.
I normally don’t like crowds: the mass of people pressing around me, separating me from my companions, unconsciously bumping me, invading my personal space. I worry about getting lost, being trampled, losing a child.
And yet, sometimes, it’s powerful to be part of a crowd. Sitting in an audience at a play, everyone gasping at the same time; marching in a group against injustice; waiting in line for a new book or movie. The excitement and energy of the crowd contagious, flowing over and through me.
That’s obviously the power and danger of crowds: your individual voice swells to become a dozen, a hundred, a million voices strong — or, in the midst of the crowd, your voice disappears, crushed under the roar of other voices.
Let us pray for wisdom to know when to join our voices to the crowd or to stand against it, even if we cannot rise above the crush, so that we may not lose ourselves.
Part of a recurring series on subversion in scripture in which I highlight how the bible repeatedly undermines our expectations about power and authority, our notions of who is “in” and who is “out.” When Jesus became a helpless child and then died at the hands of a great empire in order to conquer a much greater power and evil than any earthly empire, he upended our comfortable notions about how power works. But if we pay attention, we see these subversions of power over and over in scripture.
For my first post in this series, I wrote about Tamar and Judah. Despite the fact that she tricked her father-in-law into getting her pregnant, Tamar is not only called righteous at the time but Matthew also includes her as one of only four women in the genealogy of Jesus. Tamar’s story reminds us that God cares about the marginalized and seeks justice for the wronged and oppressed, flipping our ideas of power upside down.
The next woman included in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, however, doesn’t point to the righting of injustices. Instead, this woman — Rahab the prostitute from Jericho — challenges our ideas about who can be a part of God’s people, subverting our tribal conceptions of insider and outsider.
Rahab’s story is straightforward: she lives in the city of Jericho, and she along with all the inhabitants of that city know that they are the next target of the Israelites — the people who are conquering and settling the land to the west of the Jordan River. When two spies from the Israelite camp enter Jericho, they stay at Rahab’s inn. Rahab hides the spies from city authorities and, in return, demands protection for herself and her family when the Israelites invade.
The spies and Rahab make an elaborate series of promises, and both sides keep their words: Rahab helps the spies escape and hangs the identifying red cord in her window, and when the Israelites attack and defeat the city they not only spare Rahab and her family but then allow Rahab’s family to live in the Israelite camp — where, the author of Joshua informs his audience, Rahab lives “to this day.”
From this story, Rahab comes across as savvy and opportunistic: she sees the writing on the wall1 for Jericho and she secures safety for her family. Which is good for her, certainly, and suggests that she thought the Israelites' God was stronger than her own. But she seems more interested in self-preservation than in theology, more motivated by her desire to live than by any encounter with the God of Israel.
In short, Rahab both by virtue of her profession (prostitute) and her opportunism seems an unlikely candidate for inclusion in the genealogy of Jesus.
And yet there she is, appearing in Matthew’s genealogy as the mother of Boaz, who himself marries another foreign woman, Ruth.2 Why might Rahab merit inclusion?
The writer of Hebrews gives us one clue: “By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient” Hebrews 11:31. Although the book of Joshua only has Rahab acknowledging the superior military power of the God of the Israelites, the writer of Hebrews credits this as faith in God, faith that God is indeed powerful.
Rahab’s faith, or belief in the power of God, results in her salvation as Joshua insists that she and her family be spared in the destruction of Jericho and also be allowed to live among the Israelites. It doesn’t matter that she isn’t an Israelite herself, or that her faith was spurred by her fear of death. She is not only saved from death but saved into the larger community of God’s people, ultimately appearing in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus.
And so Rahab challenges our notions of who gets to be part of God’s kingdom. To put it one (fairly Calvinist) way, God does the choosing, not us; from another point of view, God accepts all who come, rewards those who trust.
Rahab and her family are the foreigners, the all-too-often-feared Other. Although scripture records no reaction to the inclusion of Rahab and her family in the Israelite camp, it’s not hard to imagine that some Israelites viewed them with distrust or disgust. She betrayed her people once; would she do it again? She chose a new God, but what old practices did she cling to that might infect others?
But instead of being quarantined off from God’s people or treated as a second-class citizen, Rahab is instead lifted up and honored. She points us towards the inclusiveness of God’s kingdom, a kingdom that embraces the stranger, that transcends our fallen human impulse to exclude the Other.
Rahab’s presence in Matthew’s genealogy tells us that we must not assume that a person is an outsider to the Church, to God, because they do not fit our idea of what an insider should be. Let us be challenged by Rahab’s story and let us work to reflect in our communities and our churches the wonder of people from every tongue and tribe and nation coming together to worship God.