Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wear the Pants: Questions for a "Genderless Society," Part 3

Inspired by the new Dockers ad campaign, I've been writing about gender roles in society, the Church and the home. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. I'll be asking some challenging questions today, and I welcome your interaction. There's been a lot of conversation over on Facebook. You can read my blog there too, imported as "notes."

On Tuesday I talked about my conversion from complementarianism to egalitarianism. Tonight I want to talk about some of the questions I have related to gender and gender roles. As always, I write in story form... not trying to convince you of anything (necessarily), but letting you know where I am, why I'm here and encouraging you to share your story too.

Yes, I'm an egalitarian, but here's my problem. I don't know what to do with this pesky gender thing. I believe that women are (or should be) completely equal to men in family, cultural and Church roles and responsibilities - as they are called and gifted. BUT, and here's where it gets tricky, I absolutely believe that the difference between men and women is greater than their genitalia. By God's design. I believe there is real difference between that which is truly masculine and that which is truly feminine.

I grew up as many men do today, without a clear understanding of what it means to actually be a man. In fact, even into my late twenties, I rarely, if ever, even called myself a man. I was a "guy." I looked in the mirror and saw a little boy. Not being the "man's man" type (I'm very verbal, I don't watch or play football, I love musical theater), I just didn't think I "had what it takes" to be a real man. At the same time, I was raising not one, not two, but three boys. And I knew that I needed to deal with my own gender insecurities so that I wouldn't pass them on to my own sons.

My dad did a good job raising me. This isn't about my parents. It's about our culture. As a general rule, there are no markers in a man's life, no sign posts to guide us.

Enter John Eldredge and Robert Lewis. Their Wild At Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man's Soul and Raising a Modern Day Knight: A Father's Role in Guiding His Sons to Authentic Manhood, respectively, really helped shape the way I viewed myself and my role in the world and in my family. I was finally able to acknowledge that I am a man. God made me a man, and that is a good, good thing.

NOT that being a man consists of playing football or fixing cars. I know there's more to it than that. Robert Lewis, especially, gave me things to really grasp onto: He calls them the "four pillars of manhood" - rejecting passivity, accepting responsibility, leading courageously and expecting the greater reward (his terminology for delayed gratification).

But... and again, it gets murky to me here... Aren't those traits we want to see developed in our women, too? Do we want Christian women to be irresponsible? To be cowardly? Of course not. Are responsibility and courage, by definition, masculine traits?

Honestly, I think it's possible. But that's not to say that women can't or shouldn't have or use those traits. Here's my thinking:

God is not a man. God is Spirit (John 4:24). Genesis 1:27 says, "So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." God is neither male nor female. God transcends gender. All that is male and all that is female find their origins in the heart of God.

I believe that since God comprises all masculine and feminine traits, He is best reflected in men and women together. A faith community, for instance, made up of women and men, all exerting their masculine and feminine traits, would accurately reflect God. Or at least it would reflect God better than, say, a monastery full of monks. A marriage is a beautiful picture of God. Together, we reflect God better than we would by ourselves. But that doesn't mean I bring all of the masculine and Luanne all of the feminine. We are both a complex mixture of both feminine and masculine characteristics.

It seems to me that we all have masculine and feminine traits, regardless of our bodily gender. To some degree or another, we all have feminine traits. (Wikipedia lists qualities like nurturing, life-giving qualities, creativity and an openness, or yielding, to other people.) And to some degree, we all share masculine traits, like the aforementioned responsibility, courage, etc.

I think if I had to reduce my theory of gender to two words it would be these: INITIATION for true masculinity and RESPONSIVENESS for true femininity. Stick with me.

Even our bodies themselves display this design. In the sex act, the man's body initiates and the woman's body receives.

In our relationship with God, I believe that God plays the masculine role and we play the feminine role. Think about it. God initiates and it is up to us to respond. And what picture does the Bible use to describe the relationship between Christ and His Church? A bride and groom. Which one are we? That's right, the bride. It is our role to respond as He initiates His love relationship with us.

What do you think? Is there a true feminine and a true masculine? Is everyone, as I propose, a complex mixture of both masculine and feminine qualities?


Mochel Morris said...

Good blog entries. It is really important to reflect on things and not just react to them. Even as a feminist, I believe that there are differences between men and women. Those differences don't elevate one gender over the other. I love that I could nurse my baby boys while that is something your Uncle Jeff couldn't do.

I haven't read the books you refer to, and haven't particularly parsed complementarian and egalitarian in this context, but I would say that partnership must be both complementary and equal. It helps that we each have some strengths where the other is not quite as strong. The difficultly I have is when THEY say I have to have these strengths and not those strengths--whatever they are.

At home, I am a great cook (when I feel like it), but so is my brother because my mother raised both of us in the kitchen. I hate cleaning. Jeff doesn't really like it, but he's much better at it than I am.

At work, I am a good preacher & pastor, but so was Jeff when that was his calling. My leadership style, like many women (and some men) I know, is collegial. I invite persons into ministry together. We share the process of vision and discernment. I don't have to direct the whole enterprise.

Matt, I applaud how you are using your God-given brain to think through issues and beliefs. We certainly don't have to end up in the same place or position, but it is important to have true respect for each other. I am so tired of the level of discourse we see around us these days--blatant disrespect and hostility towards anyone who doesn't agree with us.

I am glad that I have been able to witness your compassionate and thoughtful reflective process over the past year or so via FaceBook and your blog. Now you are not just a 2D nephew-in-law who whooped all of us playing Encore, but a real live 4D companion on the way.

Peace be with you!
Your Aunt Mochel--a pastor for 30 years!

Mochel Morris said...

oops. your name is not embantiMatt. Those weird letters were from the word verification. I just obviously typed them in the wrong place first!

Matt Nightingale said...

Aunt Mochel,

Thanks so much for your affirming words. I love you, and I'm grateful to be on the journey with you.


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