31 December 2017

Auld Lang Syne

Well, people, I regret to say that 2017 is not going to break any records for excitement. (I guess you can't win them all.)

I have nothing to say about the early part of the year, except that January through March are the only months in which Beaufort ceases to resemble a hot Turkish bath in a swamp and starts to feel instead like a place that normal human beings might want to inhabit. Which I do feel is worthy of mention, since it happens so seldom.

In April, I spent a week on the east coast of Florida for the wedding of one of my best friends. Well, it wasn't really a wedding, since she's already married. A vow renewal, maybe? Except that renewing her vows wasn't her idea; in fact she was the last one in our group of friends to find out she'd be doing it, only a couple of days before the fact...

This is the wonderful thing about my circle of friends: If you elope, and then years later you happen to mention in passing in one day that you regret not having had a formal wedding, they will take it upon themselves to fix that. They'll spend months planning out how to throw you a "surprise wedding" -- like a surprise birthday party, but with more fuss. Meanwhile, there you'll be, thinking that you're going on a relaxing beach vacation with your friends, but, surprise! -- once there, the trap will be sprung and your relaxing week will fly by in a blur of shopping, decorating, planning, and general stress. Sounds like a dream, right?... Well, anyway. It was still a great time. The weather was perfect, and against all odds everything cooperated that was supposed to. Including the bride and groom, who promised to take each other as husband and wife... again... this time perhaps because they had no choice! 😏

Summer was largely uneventful. In August, the contractor building on the vacant lot next door to us put his house just a smidgen too close to our land for the county's liking. Faced with the prospect of having to tear it all down and start over, he had to offer to buy beg us to sell a foot and a half of our land on one side. Of course, our mortgage company very much wanted to be involved in this transaction, which has muddied the waters considerably. They told us would take four months to process the sale; we're now at five months and counting. At this point, I'm pretty sure the paperwork to push this deal through is sitting at the bottom of somebody's wastebasket somewhere. But of course, I can't prove it.

In September, we had a near miss from Hurricane Irma, although downtown Beaufort still took on enough water that traveling down the street by boat was a viable option. Beaufort has still not fully recovered from Hurricane Matthew last year. I do wonder what next year will bring -- but hopefully, I won't be there in person to see it. I do consider myself the adventurous type, but a major hurricane each year is where I draw the line of unpleasant things I'm willing to put up with. Another reason I'm happy to be moving to (inland) North Carolina!

Speaking of moving -- Since October, we've been in the process of trying to sell our house. I was led to believe (by certain parties who shall remain nameless) that the downtown property market was really taking off and that once the "For Sale" sign was in the yard, our house would sell like water to a man on fire. Well... this hasn't exactly been the case so far. At first I thought maybe it was because I haven't dusted my baseboards in awhile (okay, I haven't dusted them ever), but I've been reassured that it's not me: Apparently, there's a "moving season", and right now isn't it. Who knew? Everybody but us, it seems.

We did get a white Christmas this year, but we had to go all the way to Connecticut to see it! It was worth it. Having spent the last several winters on the West Coast and then in the South, I'm pretty sure New England is the only place I want to be for Christmas ever again. I never, ever want to make a 27 hour drive again, however -- or go through New York City and pay over $70 in tolls! Live and don't learn; that's how we roll!

So, that was our year. Hopefully, by 2018's "year end" post, I will have something more exciting to say. Or, more likely, I'll have thought of a more clever way to say that nothing exciting has happened!

Happy New Year, friends!

30 December 2017

Some Really Terrible Advice, Plus an Awesome Song

I'd like to draw your attention to the absurdity of a pithy little saying that I (and probably you too) have seen framed and cross-stitched and shared on social media:

"Live each day like it was your last."

Say what? This sounds to me like pretty much the most irresponsible advice ever. You know what I'd really do if I was actually living like today was my last day?

For one thing, I'd never, ever clean my house again. Ever. In fact, this would be one of the first things to go. Who willingly spends their last day of life dusting and vacuuming? Not me, that's who.

This naturally means we'd run out of plates and silverware after about a week, since washing dishes most certainly falls under the purview of cleaning and is therefore something I wouldn't be doing. I guess we'd have to buy plasticware and paper plates to eat off of. Of course, this would get kind of expensive after awhile, and it isn't great for the environment. But what do I care? I might not be around tomorrow.

I'd eat as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted. (Bottomless ice cream!) Yes, I know I'd be as fat as a walrus. However! Putting on weight takes more than one day, and I get to assume that one day is all I have. Works out beautifully, don't you think?

I'd also quit my job and get Wesley to quit his, too. Why should we be at work and apart from each other, right? Living it up on each potential Last-Day-Ever could get interesting when our house is foreclosed on and the utilities are shut off. But, oh well. Yay for not worrying about bills ever again! I'd put whatever I wanted on my credit card and not give it a second thought. Maybe I'd buy presents for my whole family.

Speaking of family, I guess I'd have to call each of them every night and have a long conversation about whatever's on my mind. I wouldn't be able to go and visit them anymore, since making travel plans requires multiple days. I wonder how long it'd take them to get tired of me calling every day?

You know... maybe this isn't such a fun idea after all.

In fact, it sounds kind of morbid. I don't think I really want to live like today is my last day ever. I'd like to believe I have many days ahead of me, thank you very much. I'm sure my mortgage, insurance, and credit card companies (and anyone else who makes money off me) would like to believe this, too.

And since I'm thinking of it, I'd like to share with you a somewhat-relevant song by the highly underrated Sim Redmond Band, which happens to be one of my favorites. Enjoy! (And go eat some ice cream.)

Now I'm off to start planning my to-do list.

For tomorrow, of course.

29 December 2017

Spiritual Leadership Myth-Busting

I hope you're ready to hear more about this, because I'm not done. Today I want to address a few of the most common arguments I hear in defense of male spiritual leadership in marriage. The first, and without a doubt the most popular, is:

"Somebody needs to make the final decision."

Or do they?

In a society that thrives on schedules and deadlines, I wonder if we have become conditioned to view delaying a decision as procrastination or indifference. But the fact is, in most situations, making a final decision is not the emergency most of us think it is.

Imagine that you and your spouse are facing a choice about something. While considering several potential options, your partner expresses reservations about one or more of them. But you see no cause for concern, and you get annoyed, thinking s/he's just being obstinate or maybe even paranoid.

Well, that's possible, I suppose. But you never know if God might be communicating through your spouse's objections: "This isn't the right thing to do." Or, "Now isn't the right time." And if it is, then that is not the time to push forward in spite of uncertainty. That is the time to stop, to listen, and to pray some more. (As the old saying goes, "When you're standing on the edge of a cliff, a step forward is not progress.")

It seems we prefer to forget that God is perfectly capable of revealing His will to both the husband and the wife if given the chance. Ironically, the Plymouth Brethren -- the church tradition in which I was raised -- are a great example of this. (I say "ironically" because they are completely on board with the idea that God reveals His will to the husband, and the wife's job is to follow.)

In the church I attended growing up, the five elders that oversee the church make their decisions unanimously. There is no voting, and no one's opinion outweighs anybody else's. If they're deciding on a course of action and even one of them expresses hesitation or disagreement, they take it as a sign that the Lord would have them wait and pray until they're all in complete unity. Sometimes the dissenting one "comes around"; sometimes the others realize he was actually right, and sometimes they have to scrap all their previous ideas and start from scratch. But at the end, everyone is 100% on board with the plan, whatever it is.

Here's my question. If God will bring five church leaders to agreement on something (and He does so regularly), why shouldn't we believe that He'll do the same for two marriage partners? (In fact, I think the latter requires less faith, because in terms of percentages, there's a better chance of two people agreeing on something than five people!)

And then of course there are the churches where things are decided by voting, because we have to have a decision, and we have to have it now! What about the leading of the Spirit? Well, sure, we're okay with that. As long as He does it before our Friday deadline.

In the church, in marriage, and nearly everywhere else in life, I wonder if our preoccupation with someone making a "final call" is less about being responsible and more about our impatience and our unwillingness to wait on the Lord. Because unless your house is on fire, you probably have some time to think and pray and consider your options.

"But every team needs a leader."

Yes, it does. But the leader may not be the person you think.

In 2 Corinthians 6:14, Paul tells us, "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers." Although we understand this to mean that we shouldn't marry someone who doesn't share our faith, I believe the "yoked together" analogy can teach us something else, too.

When two oxen are "yoked" together, they're working as a unit. Both are supposed to pull in unison. If they don't, they won't get anywhere.

Who is actually directing the team? The driver! The driver of the cart commands the oxen. He tells them where to go and how fast, when to turn, and where to stop. And they do so together. In the "yoke" of Christian marriage, who do you suppose the driver is? The Holy Spirit!

The proponents of male spiritual leadership have (perhaps unwittingly) booted the Holy Spirit out of the driver's seat. Or they've decided that being "yoked" somehow means that one walks ahead and the other follows behind. This obviously isn't so, but to the degree that we believe that it is, our marriages will continue to suffer.

I think even complementarians know this somewhere deep down. A couple weeks ago, while hearing a sermon on marriage, I picked up on this oft-repeated line: "Men, God has given you special authority to make decisions for the family, but let me tell you, you had better ask your wife what she thinks -- and listen. I've ignored my wife's advice about a decision on two occasions in our marriage, and both times it was a disaster."

That statement right there, ladies and gentlemen, is your clue that it's time to rethink your assumptions about God's will for leadership and decision-making. If you believe that God wants a husband to consider his wife's thoughts and opinions and that there will likely be consequences if he doesn't, then it's really not so much of a leap to start believing that maybe -- just maybe -- God actually wants them to make their decisions together. Equally. Without tie-breaker votes, trump cards, or "special authority" on either side.

"I need someone to tell me what to do!"

No, you don't. You're a grown adult.

I have actually known women who, if someone invites them to go somewhere or do something they don't want to do, will ask their husbands to "forbid" them from doing whatever it is. Then they can say to the person asking, "Oh, I'm sorry, but I can't. My husband said no, and I have to obey him."

Although the above example is silly and perhaps a little extreme (though not fictitious!), the idea that women can't (or shouldn't) navigate the decision-making process on their own isn't uncommon in the church today. This is not a healthy way to live; in fact, it fosters dysfunction and co-dependence. Too many women think that a husband is a "Get Out of Decision-Making and Other Adult Responsibilities Free" card. Along the way, we've also picked up the notion that a wife's independence "emasculates" her husband, that it's demeaning to him somehow if she exercises her full mental and volitional capacity.

The reasoning for this still escapes me, but I do know it's not good for anyone involved. It denies the full humanity of the wife as a capable person created in the image of a highly intelligent God. It also places a heavy burden on the husband to do, by himself, work that was intended by God to be shared.

"But he's supposed to be a servant leader!"

I have to be honest and tell you: I don't have the highest opinion of the term "servant leader." It originally emerged in the 1970's as a secular organizational concept, but it's since been co-opted by the Christian subculture as a churchy nickname for "higher ranking person who cares about you, but still gets to tell you what to do." In this phrase, leader is the key word. Servant is just a modifier. Therefore, the focus is still on the position and power of authority, but wrapped in lofty terminology and benevolence.

The Bible doesn't mention servant leadership, although it leaves us in no doubt as to our obligations to others. We are to love one another as Christ loves us. We are to "wash one another's feet." We are to be faithful to our responsibilities. We are to encourage others toward love and good works. But -- according to Jesus -- none of that makes you a servant leader. It makes you... a servant.

If we're going to be honest, the authority aspect of this is really what most of us are about. How do I know? Re-brand any conference or training event for "servant leaders" as an event for "servants", and see how many people still show up.

"But my husband needs to lead me in my relationship with God."

"For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human" (1 Timothy 2:5). Most of us Christians have a pretty good grasp of the implications of this verse as it relates to salvation -- we understand that only Jesus can save us, and that we don't need to look to anyone else for help.

However, where sanctification is concerned, we're not too sure. Suddenly, depending only on Christ doesn't look like enough. We're convinced that making progress in our walk with God requires the good actions of someone else on our behalf: pastors, spiritual mentors, Sunday School teachers, devotional book authors...

Or husbands.

As I said yesterday, quite a few women are of this persuasion, and they're frantically expending emotional energy to ensure that their husband's spiritual walk is on par with or ahead of theirs. Or, if they're single, that they find someone who looks promising in this regard. But here's the thing: Even if you marry someone who seems perfect, who agrees with you on all matters of faith and practice, and who is "on fire for Jesus", it probably won't stay that way throughout your entire lives. After all, you're with this person for a lifetime. A lifetime is a long time, and time has a way of bringing about change. Sooner or later, one or both of you will experience a crisis of faith, or a personal revival, or "a season of wintertime in your relationship with God" (as I've heard some put it), or one spouse will catch a vision for something that the other takes longer to understand and accept.

The problem is that the traditional view of spiritual leadership makes no allowance for this ebb and flow of normal life. And it certainly doesn't account for the fact that disobedience to God is, unfortunately, the default state of being for some husbands. No, according to this school of thought, your husband is the next link in the chain between you and God, so if he fails somehow, then you're left stranded. Or, as some like to put it more delicately, "not experiencing God's best." Even more so if -- God forbid -- the two of you are separated through death or divorce.

This is not to say that we can go through the Christian life completely independent of anyone else, or that you shouldn't hope and pray that your spouse will seek God. But it will make a tremendous difference if you know that he is a fellow saint and sinner who is running the race alongside you, not in front of you. If he falls behind, you're free to see this event for what it is: his loss, and not something that holds you back. (I don't mean that it won't cause you suffering, only that his actions don't put a block between you and God.) Meanwhile, you depend on God -- and God only -- for His leading, for spiritual nourishment, and everything else. Trust me, there will be far less heartache and fewer unmet expectations that way.

Will the real Holy Spirit please stand up?

By way of summary I'll say that there is spiritual leadership in marriage, but the leader is the Spirit, not either of the marriage partners. And only God can bring about positive change. This, by the way, is my issue with the spiritual leadership definition I quoted in yesterday's post that says, "The fruit of a good biblically-based husband is a strong, confident, spiritually mature wife and family." In fact, spiritual maturity is evidenced by (you know the list): love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is the Fruit of the Spirit, not the Fruit of the Husband. It's high time to stop putting husbands in the place of God.

28 December 2017

The Mirage of Spiritual Leadership

The Complementarian Marriage Wish Lists reminded me that I had more -- a lot more! -- to say on the topic of "spiritual leadership" in marriage. No time like the present to get that out of the way!

The complementarian obsession with husbands "leading spiritually" is a belief that is both incredibly strong yet surprisingly unexamined. It's a lot like a mirage: If you've ever seen one, you know what I'm talking about.

Mirages look so real. Like smoke, they appear to have substance at first. When you see one, you almost think you could reach out and grab hold of it. But when you move toward it to inspect it up close, it disappears. Dries up, evaporates -- vanishes. Mirages are quite common in the desert, and many desert travelers have died of heat exhaustion or thirst while chasing after optical illusions that they mistook for a life-giving body of water. The mirage gave them hope, but it was false hope. They counted on something that looked good from a distance, but up close, turned out to be nothing at all.

The notion of "spiritual leadership" behaves much the same way as a mirage does. From a comfortable distance, it really looks like something. People stake their lives, their marriages, and their ministries on it. But move a little closer, subject it to examination -- and you'll see it disappear, fast.

So what does Scripture say about spiritual leadership in marriage? Well, the Biblical justification for this concept is kind of hard to pin down. It appears to be based on a conglomeration of (misused, misinterpreted and/or taken out of context) verses speaking of the woman as the man's helper (Genesis 2:18), the man as "the head of the woman" (1 Corinthians 11:3), and/or the submission of wives (Ephesians 5:22-23). There isn't really one single passage that you can point to and say, "This is where we get this doctrine." It seems to stem from an overall impression people get when they read the Scriptures through a patriarchal (male authority-based) lens. And that, unfortunately, is a worldview problem. As such, the process of debunking the spiritual leadership myth isn't quite as straightforward as simply talking your way through a few misunderstood Bible verses. If, however, we start to experience a shift in our thinking to understand that patriarchal rule and human hierarchy isn't in fact God's best plan for how His people should live, then "spiritual leadership" becomes a moot point almost instantaneously. (In the meantime, though, I've included some links to pages that explain the egalitarian understanding of the verses above.)

But there's another issue, one that nobody talks about: There's no widespread consensus as to what, exactly, a "spiritual leader" is. This isn't the first time I've pointed this out, but if you ask five different people for their definition, you'll likely get five different answers. In fact, you don't even have to go to that much trouble: Google "husband is the spiritual leader" and you'll see what I mean. Here's a sampling:

He must have a strong connection with his Heavenly Father, finding his happiness in Christ first, realizing that he can lead effectively only if he maintains an intimate relationship with the Lord. He must be balanced in his commitments and nurturing in his concern for the mental and emotional needs of each family member. He must be proactive, spotting potential challenges to the welfare of his wife and children and coming up with workable solutions to problems. And he must be characterized by integrity, seeking to be the safest, wisest, and most respected man his family has ever known. (Focus on the Family)

Leadership simply means influence. Therefore, a biblically-based husband should influence his family... They should exemplify, with their voice and their actions, attributes that bring glory to God and value to their spouse and family. The fruit of a good biblically-based husband is a strong, confident, spiritually mature wife and family. 

I think we have heard too much from radio programs like Focus on the Family or from pastors up at the front of the church about the importance of spiritual leaders, and giving the example of a man who leads family devotions after dinner or who gathers the family to pray. I am not saying this is wrong; I think it’s wonderful. But I think it’s set up this expectation that a spiritual leader is someone who does those particular things. And I don’t believe that is true... A spiritual leader simply means that he sets the tone for the family, and that ultimately he is responsible before God for the spiritual condition of his family. (Sheila Wray Gregoire)

Remember, it's a husband who ought to initiate this [reading the Scriptures and praying together]. "A man may not be a vocational theologian," says Doug Wilson, author of Reforming Marriage. "But in his home, he needs to be the resident theologian." (Cru)

That is the main issue, a sense of responsibility that moves the man to take initiatives in the family so that God’s will is done as much as possible by every member of the family.... It includes things like taking initiatives with lifestyle issues for the family, like what are we going to do with social media and television and entertainment and leisure and sports and vacations..... the husband should feel a special responsibility to lead the family in a pattern of prayer and Bible reading and worship. (John Piper)

My big mistake early on was thinking that spiritual leadership meant you have devotions each day. I didn't realize that a man can give spiritual leadership in all kinds of other ways just by the interaction he has with his children. If he is pointing his children to Christ, and to the Scripture, then he is giving spiritual leadership. It doesn't have to just be in a formal Bible study. (FamilyLife.com)

I could keep going, but I think you get the idea. And these are just the top half dozen Google search results! Here, we have several answers saying that the husband/father initiating family Bible reading and prayer is a nonnegotiable. We have several more answers saying exactly the opposite, that to believe this is a mistake. We have other answers staying in comfortably vague territory with terms like "intimate relationship with the Lord", "influence", and "exemplifying attributes that bring glory to God." We even have the suggestion that spiritual leadership extends right down to the nitty gritty of deciding "what are we going to do with" the family's social media and leisure time.

Why the confusion? If spiritual leadership is one of the critical absolutes for the Christian life, don't you think it's strange that it seems to be up to everybody to decide for themselves what it is? Is it really too much to ask that we define our terms before we use them (and build theological frameworks that are supposed to inform major life decisions like marriage)?

That said, there is a common thread of understanding in all the above responses: A husband has greater authority and responsibility before God than does his wife, despite disagreement as to how that should work out practically.

Here's where it's really necessary to slow down and think this through carefully.

Do we realize that if we give credence to this idea, then the next logical step is to accept that every married man's relationship with God should, ideally, be stronger and deeper than that of every married woman? (After all, a leader has to be "in front" in order to lead, doesn't he?) Furthermore, every Christian woman who is "single and looking" must ascertain that all prospective partners are more devoted to Christ than she herself is -- otherwise, it's really not advisable for her to get married.

Can I point out that quantifying the level of someone else's commitment to Christ is pretty much impossible, since it requires an inside view of their heart? (Yes, there are outward clues, but appearances can be deceiving! I'm sure we can all think of at least one person whom we thought was on solid ground spiritually, and then we were shocked to discover that was far from being the case.)

There are millions, perhaps billions, of Christians on planet Earth right now. A huge proportion of that population is married or of marriageable age. Can we comprehend that all of the men being stronger in their faith than all of the women is, at bare minimum, a statistical impossibility?

Ah, but you say, the husband doesn't have to be more spiritually mature than his wife. He is just the one held responsible. His wife might be the stronger of the two, but he is nevertheless the one whom God will hold accountable for his family's spiritual health. What about that?

Well, for the sake of argument, let's say that's true. In that case, since the husband is accountable to God no matter what, he has two choices: He can either act as a leader (rather than simply occupying the position of one in name only), or not. If he takes the first option, then it would seem that he does in fact have to be the stronger Christian, especially if he shares part of the responsibility for his wife's spiritual condition. I just can't see this working any other way, given what we know about how greater leadership responsibility entails being held to a stricter standard (James 3:1). Not to mention the mess that would result from him attempting to make decisions for his family and oversee their spiritual development, if he isn't putting in special effort over and above the rest of them.

So really, the only practicable option is for the husband to be stronger as the leader. I think there's good Biblical support for the idea that God requires much of those to whom He gives much (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 12:35-48), so simply hiding behind a title won't cut it.

This brings up the thorny problem of what the wife is expected to do if her husband isn't leading. If you're still unconvinced up to this point, here's where it gets really good.

My aforementioned Google search brought up a number of Christian "Q&A" type pages in which women write and ask, "How can I help my husband take on spiritual leadership?" and "How can I motivate my husband to get right with God and become the spiritual leader of our family?" The web page authors respond with helpful hints such as: she can place a Bible next to her husband's place at the dinner table, or she can suggest he lead them in prayer.

These women are in the rather interesting position of having no choice (in their minds) but to try to influence their husbands to be leaders. The advocates of male spiritual leadership are more than happy to provide her with suggestions as to how she can do this, which I naturally take to mean that they see nothing wrong with her asking the question. Yet according to the above explanations which state that a spiritual leader is the family's "person of influence", the person taking the initiative to "make sure God's will is done by every member of the family", then that would make these women... spiritual leaders! 

These wives are, quite literally, leading their husbands to be leaders, all because God (supposedly) has forbidden them to be leaders. 

And no one thinks this is the least bit strange or illogical. No one thinks this is evidence of a double standard.

It boggles the mind.

Or, here's an enlightening exercise. Take anyone's definition of spiritual leader and change the pronouns to make it about women -- for example, Focus on the Family's. Now it reads like this: "She must have a strong connection with her Heavenly Father, finding her happiness in Christ first, realizing that she can lead effectively only if she maintains an intimate relationship with the Lord. She must be balanced in her commitments and nurturing in her concern for the mental and emotional needs of each family member. She must be proactive, spotting potential challenges to the welfare of her husband and children and coming up with workable solutions to problems. And she must be characterized by integrity, seeking to be the safest, wisest, and most respected woman her family has ever known."

Aside from the bit about leading, would Focus on the Family (or any Christian organization or individual, for that matter) take issue with this statement -- for example, with a wife having an intimate relationship with the Lord, or nurturing her family? Absolutely not. However! A wife can exhibit the very same spiritual fruit as her husband, but -- for whatever reason, God only knows -- this does not make her a "spiritual leader." It makes her a godly woman, certainly, or a "virtuous" woman, or even "a good example"... but not a leader.

Or how about this one? "A biblically-based wife should influence her family...  She should exemplify, with her voice and her actions, attributes that bring glory to God and value to her spouse and family."

Again, no problem! The Christian book market is flooded with books for women that contain the same message in almost the very same words. But, as before: in a woman's case, these are evidences of salvation, not of leadership. In a man, they evidence both salvation and leadership. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. But I do know this: Fruit of the Spirit for Men vs. Fruit of the Spirit for Women is a distinction of which Scripture knows nothing.

Hopefully it's becoming apparent that the attempt to describe "spiritual leadership" in coherent terms is a self-defeating effort. I even have to wonder if all the complementarian hoopla about spiritual leadership is a smokescreen to distract us from the real truth:

A "spiritual leader" has but one primary qualification: he possesses external genitalia. I hate to be crass, but if we're going to be honest with ourselves, this is really what it boils down to. Which means that "spiritual leadership" has everything to do with a person's private parts and little or nothing to do with their character.

At this point, another group comes to mind. A group in the New Testament that was overly concerned with their... er... male members, shall we say, and the ways in which these supposedly afforded them special privileges. (Hint: it was the pro-circumcision Judaizers.) If you've ever read the books of Romans or Galatians, you may recall that the Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul, was not exactly affirming of this nonsense.

I can't help but wonder what he would say to our churches today.

26 December 2017

The Things You Will *Really* Learn from a Dog

You've probably seen that list "Things We Can Learn from a Dog." It's full of suggestions like: "When loved ones come home, always run to greet them" and "Delight in the simple joy of a long walk" and "When someone is having a bad day, be silent, sit close by, and nuzzle them gently."

Well, as charming as "Things We Can Learn from a Dog" is, anyone who's ever owned a dog themselves can tell you that this list doesn't cover the half of it. If we're going to be completely honest, the lessons our dogs would teach us if they could would be a lot less tidy and charming. Things like:

1. Scratching inappropriate places is totally okay at anytime, no matter who you're with.

2. When you meet someone new, circle them slowly and sniff their backside.

3. Assume your loved ones will always welcome your violation of their personal space at any time, for any reason.

4. Do whatever it takes to get attention, even if you have to be annoying.

5. Make sure everyone knows when you need to use the bathroom.

6. When you're happy, jump up and breathe heavily in your loved one's face.

7. No need to bathe more than once or twice a year.

8. Also, fresh breath is highly overrated.

9. When riding in the car, stick your head out the window and smile at passing motorists with your mouth wide open.

10. Make as much noise as you possibly can when the doorbell rings or when someone knocks, even if you already know who it is.

11. When looking around in the kitchen for a snack, remember that the trash can holds all kinds of tasty possibilities.

12. If you haven't gotten what you want, whine a little louder.

13. It's important to maintain good flexibility. You should be able to scratch the top of your head with your toes, or sleep with your chin resting on your ankles.

14. When you're tired, flop down wherever you happen to be and go to sleep.

15. When someone near you is eating something, stand as close to them as you possibly can, gaze at them expectantly, and lick your lips.

16. When someone is making food for you, drool to show your appreciation.

17. Always be hysterical with joy at the prospect of playing with a tennis ball.

25 December 2017

A Christmas Post

You may recall that "Christmas survey" that was going around on Facebook some years ago. You know, the one that asked if you prefer white lights or colored lights or hot cocoa or eggnog. Well, I thought that was pretty clever back then. (It was a long time ago.) I'm loathe to numb you with such trivia here, however, so I decided to extract only the meaningful parts and use those to share some memories. If you're bored enough to be reading here today, you will have to listen to stories about my Christmases past. If you're very bored, comment and tell me some of yours!

Favorite family Christmas tradition? I have to have more than one! Decorating with paper snowflakes and evergreen branches and pine cones, a home-grown Christmas tree and antique Christmas lights, the storybooks and comic books and the model train set that only came out at Christmastime, baking Christmas bread for all the neighbors and of course enough pie, cookies, pastries, candied nuts and homemade fudge to sink a ship! I miss those days.

We also had one tradition that I don't miss quite as much: recording Christmas carols off the radio onto cassette tapes. Later, one of us would have to play through all of those many tapes, sifting through the commercials and the crappy songs and the songs we already had and transfer "just the good ones" to another tape. Which naturally took a ton of time (and many miles of cassette ribbon). It was all a matter of luck to catch "the right songs", and then most of them would be slightly cut off at the end when the radio announcer would start talking. And that was how we made our holiday playlists. Thank goodness we have Pandora and Spotify now! (Although I think my mom is still listening to Christmas 1993 on cassette.)

Most memorable gift you've ever given someone? You know, I'm not sure... if I have, I guess I've forgotten about it, which means it couldn't have been very memorable. Gotta do something about that!

We did gift my in-laws with an extremely rambunctious dog a few years ago. But that wasn't for Christmas; it was for Father's Day, and it was only because someone had given him to us first and he turned out to be too much for us and our tiny house. I know, we are so bad! Also, I blame Wesley, because it was his idea. There, I feel better now.

Least favorite Christmas tradition? Probably war cake. Apparently, it gets its name for being a holiday staple during the rations of World War II. Sounds like a winner already, right? Imagine a brick-sized lump of wet modeling clay filled with raisins, and you'll have a pretty good idea of how it looks and tastes. (I have no idea why we keep making this year after year.)

Best gift you've ever received? When I was in first grade, my parents gave me the Super MarbleWorks Raceway Set from Discovery Toys, and that made me really happy. That was the toy everybody wanted back then. As my mom and dad weren't in the habit of giving us trendy toys for Christmas, it was completely unexpected. It was my very favorite thing for a long time and I'm sure I got their money's worth out of it many times over. Also, I'm pretty sure it's still lurking around their house somewhere, and I may or may not be digging it out to play with when I visit 😁

Favorite Christmas memory: I have two: the first is the Christmas Eve my siblings and I spent at the cabin, oh, about ten years ago. The weather was perfect; it was crisp and cold and the moon was full and everything was covered with snow. You have never seen Christmas in a more beautiful place! But it was hard work getting the cabin warm enough to be comfortable, and when it was time to eat, we made the unhappy discovery that between the four of us no one had thought to pack any food for dinner. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately) there were a couple of (long expired) cans of baked beans and squash in the back of the cupboard. It's funny now, but it wasn't then! I have said that I would never eat beans and squash for Christmas Eve dinner again, and so far I have kept my word.

The second memory is my first Christmas in California, which was also my first Christmas away from home. I couldn't make it home for the holidays that year because airfare from L.A. to Hartford, Connecticut over Christmas week cost more money than I had in the world -- only slightly less than going to China, I discovered to my chagrin. I wasn't keen on staying in the house alone over the holidays, but it turned out one of my roommates was also staying, so then it wasn't so bad. Her family is from Korea, so we decided to have an American/Korean Christmas, and make and share whatever kind of food we would be eating if we were at home with our families. I made scalloped potatoes with ham (a big splurge since I had to shop at the much pricier American grocery for the ham and cheese and milk!), and Sarah made japchae, a meat and vegetable stirfry with glass noodles. Although we spent almost all day making a big mess in the kitchen and had so many leftovers we were eating them until we were sick of it, it's still one of my fondest Christmas memories.

Most sensational seasonal snack: Shortbread Stars from Trader Joe's in either mint or dark chocolate. They're to die for (and many times I've thought I would die from eating so many!) I'm not sure if they're actually chocolate covered cookies, or chocolates with cookie in the middle. I'm also not sure why they make me throw caution and self-restraint to the wind, because normally I'm a pretty conscientious eater. (It must be drugs.)

Last minute shopper or plan ahead? Plan ahead, definitely -- last-minute doesn't work too well when you do all your shopping online. (Even if you have Amazon Prime:).


I hope your Christmas is wonderful and filled with your favorite things!

24 December 2017

A Day in the Life, Episode III

7:45 -- Good morning from cold Connecticut! We are visiting my parents for Christmas weekend. It's a lovely 28 degrees here this morning, the way winter should be -- and I hear a white Christmas is in the forecast for tomorrow!

9:00 -- Wesley is sick this morning with a bad head cold, so I head off to church by myself.

10:30 -- The church has grown a lot since my last time here! There are lots of new faces I don't know. But there are still a good many familiar ones who remember me, and we have a great time catching up over coffee that's just as terrible as when I left. 😉 I realize how much I miss everybody here, and how much I miss the family atmosphere and the great support network of friends. It's definitely something I'd bring back to Beaufort with me, if I could.

11:15 -- Have I ever mentioned how much I love that my home church doesn't do "holiday sermons"? Not that I think all such sermons are automatically bad, of course -- it's just that sometimes going to church on Christmas or Easter knowing ahead of time what you'll be hearing about can feel... well, predictable, and maybe a little disingenuous. Knowing the Spirit doesn't always lead according to our calendar, the preacher this morning (who also happens to be my dad!) delivered a message on Haggai 1. I thought it was particularly good (not that I'm a biased relative or anything, obviously!) and I strongly recommend giving it a listen here, if you're so inclined.

1:00 -- Mom and Dad and I have Sunday dinner at Gisely's house -- her famous Brazilian chicken and rice which I have so often attempted (unsuccessfully!) to replicate. It's just so unnaturally good, and she has the magic touch it seems. I give Gisely her Christmas present, a Homesick candle that's supposed to smell like Brazil. (She confirms that it does indeed.) She gives me a present too, but I'm not allowed to open it until tomorrow!

3:00 -- Home again. The tickle in the back of my throat tells me that I'm coming down with Wesley's cold. It's true what they say, in marriage you share everything -- sickness included!

5:30 -- Sheba hangs around and begs for scraps while I warm up some dinner leftovers for Wesley and myself. We've been pleasantly surprised how well she's behaved on this trip so far.

9:00 -- Time for us sick people to turn in early and get some rest! (And to wait for Santa Claus and that white Christmas!)

23 December 2017

'Tis the Season

If the crass commercialization of Christmas hijacking the entire month of December gets you down every year, I've got good news for you. There is, believe it or not, something else you can celebrate on each day of the month, and none of it has anything to do with Christmas. (Well, okay, most of it has nothing to do with Christmas.)

Here are some alternative special days to consider observing:

Dec. 1: Bifocals at the Monitor Liberation Day. This is actually a thing -- a whole day devoted to celebrating the prevention and/or alleviation of squinting at your blurry computer screen. (But good luck getting the day off for an eye exam.)

Dec. 2: Business of Popping Corn Day. Today we celebrate the invention of the first large scale commercial popcorn machine over 100 years ago. But as most of us aren't actually popcorn popper professionals, and we're unlikely to get (or even want to have) our own commercial popcorn machine, we just have to celebrate Business of Popping Corn Day at home.

Dec. 3: National Green Bean Casserole Day. But how good your green bean casserole is going to taste this many days after Thanksgiving is anyone's guess.

Dec. 4 National Cookie Day. In case you just can't wait for Christmas.

Dec. 5: Bathtub Party Day. I sure do hope this one is just for children under the age of five. I don't want to imagine a bathtub party involving anyone much older than that. I just don't.

Dec. 6: Put on Your Own Shoes Day. Yes, any day that I decide to wear shoes, I am generally putting them on myself.

Dec. 7: This is not only Pearl Harbor Day; it's also International Civil Aviation Day, Letter Writing Day, and Cotton Candy Day. But you should probably wait until you've made a safe landing of your airplane before trying to write a letter or eat cotton candy, both of which might obscure your view of the instrument panel.

Dec. 8: Take It in the Ear Day. I have very sensitive ears, so this one makes me a little nervous. I'd like to know just what it is I'm going to be taking in the ear if I observe this day. Piercings? Gossip? Loud music? A Q-tip? The suspense is too much.

Dec. 9: Weary Willie Day. From nationaldaycalendar.com: "Weary Willie Day celebrates the art of clowning and the impact that it has had on our lives." I'm sure all the sufferers of coulrophobia (the fear of clowns) are probably going to take a pass on celebrating that impact, however.

Dec. 10: Festival for the Souls of Dead Whales. You know, just knowing something like this exists and that there are people out there who think it's worth celebrating, sure makes me feel a whole lot better about all those Christmas parties I complain about going to.

Dec. 11: National Noodle Ring Day. What, pray tell, is a "noodle ring"? Is it like a counterfeiting ring? Is this when people make pasta that looks like pasta but isn't really? Does this mean that gluten free pasta should be considered a crime?

Dec. 12: Festival of Unmentionable Thoughts. I would really love to know more about this, but I'm not sure anyone will tell me. Can you celebrate unmentionable thoughts without mentioning them, in which case they're no longer unmentionable?

Dec. 13: Ice Cream Day. Also, Pick a Pathologist Pal Day. From nationaldaycalendar.com: "This day was created to encourage us to make friends with a pathologist or coroner because we never know what tomorrow holds." Ummm... I think I'll just stick to ice cream, thanks.

Dec. 14: National Bouillabaisse Day. I adore all things seafood, so I'm sure this is one I'd be interested to try. I've never had the chance to order bouillabaisse anywhere, come to think of it. Probably because I can never remember how to spell it, and I have even less of an idea how to pronounce it.

Dec. 15: Free Shipping Day. This must be for the poor unfortunate souls who don't have Amazon Prime and get to have free shipping every day of the year.

Dec. 16: Barbie and Barney Backlash Day. For all the moms and dads and babysitters who are sick to death of Barbie dolls and silly singalongs, I guess this one's for you. Oh, but it's also Stupid Toy Day, so everyone who actually loves Barbie and Barney can return the backlash with more backlash, I guess.

Dec. 17: National Maple Syrup Day. This doesn't make much sense, as maple syrup season doesn't start for another 2-4 months depending on where you live. Any day's a good day for eating it, though.

Dec. 18: Flake Appreciation Day. I sure hope they mean snowflakes -- real, literal ice-crystal snowflakes, and not Frosted Flakes (which are terrible for you), dandruff flakes (which are gross and annoying), or flaky people (only slightly more annoying than dandruff).

Dec. 19: Look for an Evergreen Day. If you live up north, completing this activity should take all of 0.02 seconds as you probably won't even have to open your front door.

Dec. 20: Cathode-Ray Tube Day. If you can still find one, that is. Maybe in an antiques museum.

Dec. 21: Don't Make Your Bed Day. Funny thing -- for me, this is every day.

Dec. 22: National Cookie Exchange Day. Remember those cookies you baked on National Cookie Day, almost four weeks ago? Well, today's the day you get to trade them with your friends! Yeah, I know they're probably kind of stale by now.

Dec. 23: HumanLight. I have no idea what this is about, but I hope it has nothing to do with human torches, because that's what it sounds like. [Edit: apparently this is a "secular humanist holiday celebration" similar to Winter Solstice. I'm thinking, why do we need this? Christmas isn't secular enough these days?]

Dec. 24: Today you have your choice of either Last Minute Shopper's Day or National Egg Nog Day. (I'd go with the eggnog, myself. It's not always that great, but it's definitely better than braving the rabid crowds and flu germs of last minute shopping.)

Dec. 25: Other than the obvious, it's also National Pumpkin Pie Day, in case you didn't get your fill of that at Thanksgiving.

Dec. 26: National Whiner's Day. For everyone who didn't get what they wanted for Christmas. For those who did, it's National Thank You Note Day.

Dec. 27: National Fruitcake Day. Yes, this sounds like the perfect day for that, now that everyone is thoroughly sick of holiday sweets and thinking about dieting.

Dec. 28: National Chocolate Candy Day. In case you still have room after yesterday's fruitcake... blech.

Dec. 29: Still Need to Do Day. I'm sorry, isn't this every day of the year? It is for me anyway. Maybe I'm doing something wrong.

Dec. 30: Falling Needles Family Fest Day. Pine needles? Sewing needles? Hypodermic needles? Do I want to know? It's also Festival of Enormous Changes at the Last Minute, in case you need some more stress in your life. This doesn't seem to jive very well with the fact that it's also No Interruptions Day. I bet people who try to celebrate Enormous Changes and No Interruptions today run into some trouble.

Dec. 31: Make Up Your Mind Day. In case you didn't get it together yesterday for the Festival of Enormous of Changes at the Last Minute, today offers you a new beginning. You have one more chance to make over your life before the New Year. Get it done today, and you don't have to worry about New Year's Resolutions!

20 December 2017

Chicken and Peppers

This is a family favorite that my mom used to make all the time. I'm not sure where she got the recipe, because honestly I've never seen this anywhere else. Which is odd, because it's so simple. This is a great dish because (1) it's very easy, (2) it tastes way better than you think, given how few ingredients it has, and (3) it's perfect for winter when you're low on fresh garden stuff. Oh, and because turning on the oven during any other time of year kind of sucks... a lot!  

1-2 lbs. boneless chicken breasts
2-3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (some provolone is nice too)
1 jar Mancini fried peppers
Salt and pepper

Trim chicken breasts, butterfly and pound to 1/4 - 1/8 inch thickness. (You can skip this step if you want, but I'm of the opinion that thinner is better for this dish.) Sprinkle salt and pepper on chicken pieces.

Place chicken pieces in a single layer on the bottom of an ungreased 8 x 8 inch casserole dish. Sprinkle with a thin layer of mozzarella cheese and a few of the peppers. Repeat layers several times, ending with a generous layer of cheese on top.

Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 30-40 minutes. Serve with rice. This recipe doubles or triples easily, and is very good as leftovers.

(The fried peppers are pretty much what makes this dish. You can use only a few or the entire jar, depending on how much you like them -- you just want enough of them between layers so that the thin pieces of chicken don't cook together into one giant mass!)

18 December 2017

7 Things I'll Never Say to My Hairstylist

1. I'm sorry I have really thick hair. Believe me, it bothers me way more than it bothers you.

2. Please don't feel pressured to make small talk the entire time. I'm not one of those people who thinks silence is awkward. It's only as awkward as you make it. No, I'm definitely a fan of silence. Silence is golden.

3. But if you're going to talk while running the hairdryer, please talk a little louder. I'm not the best at lip reading.

4. Why do you all have different definitions of what an "inch" is? In school they taught me that an inch is one twelfth of a foot: a standard measurement, the same everywhere you go (or at least, everywhere the English system is used). But I go to one stylist and tell them I want four inches off, and I look almost the same leaving as when I walked in. I go to someone else and tell them the same thing, and afterward my head looks like a hedge that met pruning shears in a bad mood.

5. I'm a captive audience, not a psychologist. I don't mind being a listening ear, but I'm really at a loss for what to say in response to your complaints about your hellion kids, your $#%!* ex, or how you walked into a wall after one shot too many last weekend.

6. I shouldn't need to know all the hairdresser buzzwords to get a good haircut. I know it helps if I can use jargon like "textured", "peice-y", and "tousled" when telling you what I want, but I shouldn't have to, especially if I bring you a picture.

In fact, it is possible to give a good haircut without me saying a word. One of the best cuts I ever had was from a stylist whose clientele were all Korean except for me. I brought her a magazine photo of what I had in mind. She spoke no English and I, of course, spoke no Korean, but she communicated with surprising precision via facial expressions -- a nod here, a small frown there, a raise of the eyebrows with the scissors poised ready to snip: Is this okay to cut? Right about here? I'll admit that at first I didn't have high hopes for the outcome, but you know what, my hair never looked better.

7. I think you're magic. It's all an unfathomable mystery to me, especially layering. I don't know how you do it, but I'm glad you do! Really. It means I don't have to do it myself, which might make me look even worse than when my mother used to do it at home (though admittedly that would be difficult). I rocked the lampshade impersonation (blunt cut with straight bangs) for most of my childhood. Those days are gone forever, thanks to you. You have no idea how relieved I am!

17 December 2017

Complementarian Marriage Wish List: An Egalitarian's Perspective, Part 2

Part 2, continued from yesterday. We're moving on to the wife's wish list now.

How to show love to the wife:

1. Values my opinion. Note that in "How to Show Respect to a Husband", the wife is asked to value her husband's decisions; here, the husband is merely asked to value his wife's opinions. The difference may seem subtle, but it's very telling as to where the balance of power lies: with the husband. The wife is expected to accept and abide by a certain course of action (a decision), whereas a husband is merely expected to consider his wife's feelings (her opinion). He has the option of refusal; she does not.

This shouldn't be the case. Both the husband and the wife should have equal decision-making ability, and both of their opinions should be equally valued.

2. Helps with house chores. If you have not read this gem entitled "I Do Not Help My Wife", I can't urge you strongly enough to do so. It captures extremely well what I want to say here.

Men, when you do house work, you are not "helping" your wife. You're just being a responsible grown-up. Laundry, dishes, cooking, and childcare are not "women's work." They're part of normal adult life and everyone has to do them (except for the childcare part, if you don't have children.) Saying that you are "helping" implies that running the household is your wife's job, and that you're going above and beyond if you deign to lend a hand. Except that that isn't true, because you're in this thing (home management) together -- every part of it. And I'd say the same thing to wives who do yard work or clean the garage or something else that's traditionally judged to be within the man's domain.

Incidentally, it's interesting to me that when a wife works a salaried job, no one says she's "helping" her husband by being a fellow wage-earner. She's just doing part of what it takes to keep the household functioning. Well, guess what. It's the same with housework!

However, all that aside, men... if thinking of doing housework as "helping" will ensure that you actually do it, then go ahead. It's still vastly better than doing nothing.

3. Gives realistic expectations, hopes ,desires, criticism... For some odd reason, the wives seem open to criticism, while the husbands are most decidedly not -- they want no pressure and no pointing out faults. What's up with that? The personal growth, iron-sharpening, provoke-to-love-and-good-works aspect of marriage is something the husbands can expect to opt out of at will? Real life is preparing to jar them with a rude awakening, if it hasn't already. And yes, I would say that "realistic expectations, hopes, desires, and criticisms" are all good and valid things to want, but as always, this should go both ways. And the key word here is realistic!

4. Wants me to grow without candy coating. As for what this means, your guess is as good as mine. (Some of us tend to grow from side to side if we eat too much candy coating -- caramel apples come to mind! -- but somehow that's not the vibe I'm getting here.)

In fact, this one is so incoherent, I think I'm going to skip it. Too many absurd mental pictures are suggesting themselves to me (a coat made of candy canes? a person dipped in chocolate?) that I don't think I could take a serious guess. Or maybe I'm just dense. Feel free to comment with the answer if you know!

5. Shares his heart - trust me with it. Yes. Hopefully you wouldn't marry someone in the first place if you don't feel they are able or willing to do this.

6. Is real with me. This one is a little ambiguous. Does it mean "He doesn't tell lies", or does it mean "He bares his soul"? The first one is a basic necessity, and the second is... well, I wouldn't exactly call it a bonus, but it is something that doesn't come naturally to everybody right away. For some people, this takes some growing into. It's a good goal to strive for, though.

7. Leads me/our family spiritually. I.e bible reading, prayer, washing me through the water of the word. For the love of all that's holy -- and I mean that quite literally -- why would a wife expect her husband to "wash her through the water of the word"? No one but Christ can do that.

This concept is loosely based on Ephesians 5:26, where Paul tells us that Christ cleanses (removes impurities from) the church -- all believers -- with "the washing of water by the word" (salvation). No seminary expertise is needed to see that it doesn't make sense to imagine husbands doing these things:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. 

The point, I think, is pretty clear. The self-sacrificing love of Christ toward the church is the part that husbands are told to emulate. But a husband can't "cleanse" his wife, and he certainly can't make her "holy and without blemish." Think about it: If he could do that, what need would there be for God to do it? And what hope would that leave for women with unsaved husbands, disobedient husbands, or no husbands at all? (And who in the world would be doing this for the men, anyway?)

Through a broken and faulty system, women have been encouraged -- sometimes overtly, sometimes without even realizing it -- to expect their husbands to be God. Not merely to imitate God's character, as we all should, but to be Him -- to stand in for Him; to do things only He was meant to do. (Which includes "leading spiritually", by the way; that's the Holy Spirit's job.) No man can be God to his wife, and no wife has any business expecting him to be.

8. Spends time with me and concentrating on me when he gets home from work when it would be easier (and maybe even more enjoyable :) ) to pop in a movie or read the news online. I don't think this has to be an either/or situation. Most husbands could probably pretty easily make time for both themselves and their wives. (Or they could watch the movie with their wife. That works too.) Regardless, I do think it's important for husbands (and wives) to have time to "decompress", if needed, when they return home from work. I don't know if the woman who wrote this expects her husband to "concentrate on her" every day instead of doing something "enjoyable." I hope not, though, because that's going to breed resentment on his part after awhile.

9. Makes time for his wife even after a long day at work. This one kind of breaks my heart, to be honest. If making time for your spouse isn't something that can go without saying, then you are probably better off not getting married.

Besides, many wives are at work all day, too. Does a wife have to be reminded to make time for her husband after her long day at work? Not usually. Usually she's the one coming home and waiting on everyone else hand and foot. She'll cook dinner and clean up afterward, and make sure everyone has enough clean clothes to wear tomorrow, and help the kids with their homework, and get them ready for bed, too. Pity the husband who wonders, after all of that, why his wife isn't in the mood for... well, you know.

10. Listens well. Yet another necessary activity for both spouses to engage in. This is a good place to be especially careful not to heed the stereotypes telling us that this is a lost cause because "men don't listen" or "women talk too much." And to remember that listening doesn't merely mean being silent while the other person talks. Real listening is active: It involves engaging, interacting, and taking to heart what the other person has to say.

11. Is affectionate through the day - simple things like a text to say, "I love you," etc. My husband does this, and it really brightens my day a lot. It's a good thing for the wife to do, too.

12. Understands the wife's needs and meet those needs through communication and support. This is fair, providing that no wife expects her husband to be a mind reader (although after you've been married for awhile, you should start to become pretty good at anticipating your partner's needs in a variety of situations).

13. Goes out of their way to spend time with their wife. Quality time is a big deal for many of us whether we are men or women. See #9.

14. Is spontaneous with affection. Affection defined as kind words, touch, and attention. Both spouses need this. And it shouldn't always have to lead to "something more", if you know what I mean.

16 December 2017

Complementarian Marriage Wish List: An Egalitarian's Perspective, Part 1

You'll recall that awhile ago I did a series of posts on the book Love and Respect. In it I shared a list compiled by members from one of my former small groups about suggested ways wives could respect their husbands and ways husbands could love their wives. (And you already know what I think about the love women/respect men dichotomy!) As I wrote, I had a hard time resisting the temptation to critique items on those lists. I decided to save that for its own post.

With this, it's my intention not to nitpick but rather to clarify some points of egalitarianism as it relates to marriage which are often misunderstood or misrepresented. I had to divide this up into two posts so the post wouldn't be a mile long, so you'll get part 2 tomorrow.

First up, the list of things husbands in the group said they wanted from their wives:

How to Show Respect to a Husband:

1. Values decisions and requests when made. I'm guessing that "values decisions and requests" actually means "agrees with my decisions and fulfills my requests." Assuming this is true, I'll address these two aspects one by one:

Agrees with my decisions: It would be nice if your wife always agreed with your decisions. However, don't count on this unless you can give a positive answer to these questions: Is this decision right for you and your family? Have you sought your wife's input from the beginning of the process, and considered her opinion to carry equal weight with your own (i.e., no hiding behind the "husband has 51% of the vote" BS)? If you're having difficulty agreeing, are you okay with holding off on making a decision until you both reach consensus?

Bottom line: everyone is accountable for their actions, and no one has any business asking for unquestioned acceptance of their decisions.

Fulfills my requests: This is reasonable provided that the request itself is reasonable. I can't think of much that a good, loving husband could ask for that a good, loving wife wouldn't be happy to oblige, and vice versa. However! If the husband is asking for "no questions asked, just do as I say" obedience from his wife, then that is not acceptable. "Because I said so" is something we might have to say to our children from time to time, but never to another adult and most certainly never to our life partner.

2. Gives importance to things I find important. Yes. This is important to a marriage. Both spouses should value what the other one does. Ideally, you should agree on major matters (your faith, where you live, and how you spend most of your money, to name a few); otherwise, your preferences should be compatible, if not identical.

By the way, this means that your partner doesn't have to be into all the same hobbies and leisure activities you are. Some married people get upset because their spouse doesn't share their enthusiasm for, say, playing a certain sport or attending social gatherings or what have you. This really isn't fair. Your husband or wife is not a copy of you. They are their own person and they have their own interests. You don't have to share them, but if you can make space in your life, your home, and your schedule for them to pursue something they enjoy, that's usually all you need to do.

3. Speaks well of me to others. I don't know if this means merely "Refrain from saying bad things about me" or "Go out of your way to say nice things about me." The former is certainly something both spouses should be able to expect from each other, and the latter is icing on the cake.

4. Does not contradict me in front of the children. This is a tricky one. Some couples at the slightest provocation will engage in a war of words with their children as their audience. I'm most certainly not going to advocate for that.

However, there are parents who feel that they must always present a unified front on every issue, no matter how minor, so that they can save face or so that their kids won't feel insecure or won't have the chance to try to pit them against each other. I understand this. However, consider what's going to happen sooner or later if you let your children grow up thinking that you are both always on the same page about everything: They'll be in for the shock of their lives when they discover this isn't the case. I speak from experience on this one. Growing up, I never, ever saw my parents fight. In fact, the first time I saw them have a mildly heated argument about something, I had a nervous breakdown, thinking they were going to get a divorce.

Your children need to learn that a disagreement between mom and dad isn't the end of the world. They'll also need a model of healthy conflict resolution. You, as the parents, have "first dibs" on providing this! Don't pass up the opportunity.

Furthermore, if a "no disagreements in front of the children" rule is in place, this means that, more than likely, one person is always going to be the one biting their tongue and going along with something they really don't agree with (or pretending to agree, at least). This person will typically be the less headstrong one, or the one who always gets preached at to "submit". And guess who that would be? The wife. In a marriage of mutual submission and respect, this is not okay.

5. Praises me. Possibly a reiteration of #3, with more emphasis on "Go out of your way to say nice things about me." Perhaps this is a person whose love language is "words of affirmation." There's nothing particularly wrong with this, provided that (1) you are doing things that are actually praiseworthy, and (2) you don't fall into the rut of expecting recognition for every little thing, and then getting bent out of shape when people don't react the way you want them to.

6. Reciprocates love emotionally. I had a professor who, every time someone made a vague statement during a presentation, would interrupt them and say, "Unpack that for us, please." In other words: explain what you mean, and be specific.

If I could, I would say that to whoever came up with this item on the list, because it doesn't really make sense the way it's stated. It could mean either "When I do something nice for her she should respond in kind, with feeling" or "She should return my affection (hugs, kisses, etc.) with her own." Either one is plausible, I suppose, and either one seems reasonable enough.

7. Supports decisions. See #1.

8. She allows me to deal with things in my own way without pressure. This one is...well, not exactly a red flag, but a yellow flag, maybe: proceed with caution. It really all depends on what the "things" in question are, and also what's meant by "pressure." If it means, "Let me make all the decisions for our family on my own", then this is a bad idea (see #1 for reasons why).

Where strictly personal matters are concerned -- like how someone else dresses or what brand of shampoo they prefer or whether they keep a neat or messy work space -- I'd say, yes, more often than not, this is good advice. Your spouse is an adult, so give them the courtesy of handling their own affairs the way they think best. If, on the other hand, they are lazy, disrespectful, or neglecting something that will have a direct impact on the well-being of the family -- say, paying the bills on time -- a little "pressure" is probably exactly what's needed!

It does seem that men are consistently the ones to complain about their wives "pressuring" or "badgering" or the ever popular favorite: "nagging." But don't we see why this happens? In a marriage worldview that tells women that they have no vote in the way things go (or that their vote can be "vetoed" by their husband), that they should be submissive and obedient and "win him without words", they feel helpless. They have no recourse. They aren't the ones privileged with the ability to make decisions independently of their spouse (or override their spouse's decisions). What options do they have? Excessive verbal reminders, pressure (and yes, nagging), are often their only hope for effecting change of any kind at home or in the relationship. It's a faint hope, to be sure -- but as anyone who has ever been in what feels like a desperate situation knows, a faint hope is better than none at all. Eliminate that problem by treating your wife as an equal, and I'll just bet this will become a nonissue faster than you think.

9. Purposely seeking to meet my needs without pointing out my faults. I have a feeling that the gentleman who came up with this item had something specific in mind, but we, the uninformed audience, don't know what that is. It could be anything. Is it something like "meeting my need for a napkin while I eat messy barbecue without pointing out that I have a stain on my shirt"? If so, I guess that's fair enough. If on the other hand it's more along the lines of, "Just give me what I want without expecting any action on my part" and/or "Don't notice or point out my role in any problems I'm having", I'd have to say that one's a little less doable.

10. To be thoughtful of insecurities and encourages me in those areas. Harder than it sounds! "Encouraging" your spouse in the area of their insecurities means you are, on some level, drawing attention to the fact that those insecurities are there. Some people react badly to this -- for them, it's like poking a bruise. Doing this well is a really, really tough balance for a wife (or a husband) to strike. You want to inspire and motivate your partner enough to light a fire underneath them and be a catalyst for their personal growth, but not so much that they feel belittled or pushed into something they're not ready for.

I will add that if a wife doesn't choose precisely the words her husband wants to hear (and it's highly likely that she won't), it can come off as "pressuring" or "pointing out faults", which the husbands have said they don't want. This means, gentlemen, that you can't have it both ways. You will have to decide what matters more to you: making sure your wife never says anything that makes you uncomfortable, or accepting her help in areas where you struggle. And this nearly always involves discomfort in some form somewhere along the way. But that's a choice you will have to make -- no one else can make it for you.

Continued tomorrow...

14 December 2017

A Day in the Life, Episode II

7:20 -- (ringing alarm)... snooze button

7:30 -- snooze button

7:40 -- snooze button

7:50 -- snooze button

8:00 -- Okay, I really gotta get up now.

8:03 -- Lately, getting out of bed in the morning has been absolutely terrible. Even when I get eight hours of sleep. I'm not sure why.

8:17 -- At least I have my coffee to greet me.

8:30 -- And I am pretty lucky to get to work from home.

10:14 -- And to have a big, fierce guard dog to protect me from those oh-so-dangerous mailmen and UPS guys.

12:45 -- Not so lucky to have only 30 minutes for lunch, however...

3:15 -- Afternoon break and time for yet another load in the washing machine. When people ask me how Wesley and I divide up the housework, I tell them we split everything evenly: I do all of the dishes, cooking, and laundry, and he makes sure there is plenty of dishes, cooking, and laundry that need to be done.

5:00 -- And the weekend starts now... Ahhhh.

6:00 -- Wesley and I listen to "Education Spectrum" on WKWQ on Thursday nights during dinner. Much more entertaining than TV! Education Spectrum is, as far as I can tell, an hour long talk session about anything broadly relevant to the issues of public education in America. (Although other apparently unrelated topics, like why "sweet bitters" is the only acceptable addition to black coffee, or reasons why one should not buy a two-story house, are fair game for discussion as well.) The show is hosted by a "Dr. O" about whom I cannot seem to locate any information, online or elsewhere, except that his primary qualification is a doctorate in theosophy from the Institute of Divine Understanding. The first thing that comes up when I search for the Institute of Divine Understanding is this page on Yelp that appears to be for some kind of ladies' clothing store in Chicago, so it's fair to say my curiosity is piqued.

7:00 -- And the Christmas tree is finally decorated, except for the candy canes, which I can't seem to find anywhere. Oh well. I should buy some more; two years is probably too long to keep the same ones anyway.

13 December 2017

Please Buy My House

Dear People of Beaufort,

Please buy my house.

Please! It's a matter of life and death. The death of my soul, my dreams, and all hope of being able to go anywhere worthwhile in life. You have no idea how badly I want to get out of here.

In regard to this, there are a couple of helpful tidbits of information that the real estate agency might not have thought to apprise you of (through no fault of their own, I'm sure; they're busy folks, after all):

This is my husband's and my primary residence, so that means we do, in fact, live here. I very much want you to come see the house, but I'd prefer you schedule a time with your realtor to do so instead of wandering around in my yard at odd hours of the morning. Mind you, it's not that my yard can't handle people walking in it, but when I see your face looking in my window, it kind of freaks me out a little. I'm easily startled, I know.

And when you make an appointment, please show up at approximately the time you're supposed to. I like to avoid being surprised by visitors while in a state of semi-undress if at all possible -- especially when they have a key to my front door.

Also -- in case I should need to remind you -- this is a very small house. The phrase "adorable cottage" in the online listing is your biggest clue there (in case the pictures and the given square footage leave you in any doubt). Please don't ask where the second bedroom is. The answer is that the second bedroom doubles as the living room. (As I said, this house is teeny tiny.)

As much as I want to encourage all potential buyers, please don't request a showing unless you are, in fact, a potential buyer. I've already gotten my hopes up one too many times. I can assure you I am not a fabulous interior decorator, nor will my Christmas decorations win any prizes, so there's nothing to see there. Also, as I said before, you needn't come inside to figure out that it's a small house. Please don't ask to see it because you think it'll somehow be magically bigger inside than outside, like Mary Poppins' carpet bag. I can already tell you, it isn't. We fit all our stuff in here simply by... not having very much stuff.

I know I've probably painted a rather bleak picture, but I am, after all, the one who wants to move out. This isn't the house for me -- that's why I'm leaving it. However, it could be just the place for you if you're hardcore downsizing and not prone to claustrophobia. Come see it! (And hurry, please.)


Desperate to Get Out of Dodge

P.S. I don't mind if you need to use the bathroom while viewing the house, but please at least put the toilet seat down when you're done.

11 December 2017

The Complete Comprehensive Guide to Nutrition and Well-Being

There's so much conflicting information out there about how to be healthy. Many of us are also trying to shed unnecessary pounds, so in honor of the upcoming holidays, which are a dieting minefield, I'd like to solve this once and for all.


1. Watch your carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates are starches, and starches turn to sugar, which quickly gets stored as fat.

2. Eat all the carbs you want, as long as they are complex carbs and not simple carbs.

3. Grains are bad for you, especially nowadays as they are genetically modified.

4. Make sure you get plenty of healthy whole grains.

5. Fruit is part of a healthy diet because it contains phytonutrients and fiber.

6. Fruit contains fructose, which is sugar, and sugar is poisonous to your body and should be avoided.

7. Honey and maple syrup are natural sugars, so they're good for you.

8. There's no need to go gluten-free unless you are genuinely gluten intolerant, diagnosed by your doctor.

9. Even if you think you aren't gluten intolerant, you probably are. There's no need to eat gluten anyway; it has no health benefits.

10. Limit your fat intake. Too much fat is bad for your heart.

11. Eat plenty of fat. Too little fat is bad for your brain.

12. Coconut oil is heart-healthy.

13. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat and is bad for heart health.

14. Drink 1-2 cups of coffee per day; moderate intake of caffeinated coffee has been linked to lower incidences of certain diseases such as diabetes and cancer.

15. Ditch the coffee. Caffeine stresses your adrenals.

16. Dairy products are a good source of protein and calcium. Make sure you buy organic, so that you're not exposed to bovine growth hormones.

17. Don't bother buying organic dairy products. They're pasteurized at such high temperatures that it kills off all the "good stuff" in the milk. Bovine growth hormones don't affect humans anyway.

18. Dairy products aren't intended by Mother Nature for human consumption. Use goat's milk and goat cheese instead.

19. Cardio is a necessary part of any weight-loss regimen because it speeds up your metabolism.

20. Skip the cardio; it ups your cortisol levels, and cortisol fosters weight gain.

21. A vegetarian diet is easiest on your body, and you can get all the nutrients you need from plants, so there's no need to eat meat.

22. You should eat 3-6 servings of meat daily in order to get enough iron and protein.

23. Dairy products should be fat-free or low fat if you're trying to lose weight. The fewer calories you take in, the better.

24. Dairy products should be full-fat if you're trying to lose weight. The less processed it is, the less likely it will be stored in your fat cells.

25. Calories in, calories out: You need to count calories if you want to lose weight.

26. Don't count calories. Practice "intuitive eating": eat only when you're truly hungry, and stop eating when you know you've eaten enough.

27. Your brain is easily fooled into thinking you're hungry, and your leptin receptors have probably been damaged by your intake of processed foods, so don't rely on feelings of hunger and satiety to know when you should eat.

28. Snack often throughout the day. This stokes your metabolism and makes weight loss easier.

29. Never eat between meals. Every time you eat, you raise the insulin levels in your blood, which signals your body to store fat.

30. For optimal health, the Paleo diet is best. We should eat like our ancestors did. They didn't eat bread and pasta and cheese and ice cream, so we shouldn't either.

31. The Paleo diet is nonsense. Times have changed, and we don't need to eat the way our ancestors did; after all, we've evolved quite a bit since then. Besides, our ancestors ate roots and wild berries and venison, not coconut flour muffins.


So there you have it. Just 31 simple rules to follow. Make sure you do all of them simultaneously for best results. What could possibly go wrong?

09 December 2017

A Day in the Life, Episode I

9:00 -- Good morning from the islands of Beaufort Lowcountry! This area is called the "Lowcountry" because here on the coast you are low, close to sea level. Also because your chances of finding a decent paying job or ethnic food are low, as well. Today it's drizzly and foggy with temps around 45°, which is definitely cold enough to get frostbite -- at least, according to people around here.

9:30 -- I put some stuff in the crockpot that was supposed to be ready for lunch, but since I failed to get it together sooner, I guess it's going to be my dinner instead. (Why can't I ever remember to start earlier on stuff that takes 4-6 hours to cook?)

11:00 -- Wesley left to take the car for an oil change and alignment. On the way there he realized he forgot his checkbook and came back home. He came in through the front door, which we don't use very often, nearly giving me a heart attack. I thought it might be a realtor. Too many of them have taken to coming on short notice and at a completely different time than they're scheduled for, which means lately I've been getting a lot of unexpected visitors while still in my PJ's. I shouldn't worry; seeing me that way is probably more traumatic for them than it is for me...

12:00 -- I suppose I can put off sweeping and mopping and cleaning out the fridge only so long today. Sigh. When I was a kid, my mom always made me spend my Saturdays cleaning, and I hated that. So much so that I swore I would never clean at all when I grew up. Haven't had a ton of success sticking to that resolution, needless to say. (Although it must be said that I did give it a fair try for a while.)

12:16 -- Sheba tries to make a break for it out the open door while I'm sweeping, but I catch her just in time. You know, I should talk to some of the parents I know, and ask if any of their children have been naughty this year -- and if so, would they like a very naughty dog to give to their naughty children...

2:30 -- Time to get out my cast iron pan and roast some coffee. The beans need 12 hours or so to rest after they've been roasted -- good thing I remembered to do it today, or I wouldn't have had any coffee to drink tomorrow morning. How terrible that would be! I don't even like to think about it.

2:44 -- I figured Sheba must really want to be outside if she tried to escape. So, I put her out on her dog run, and as soon as I go back inside, then what? She wants to come back inside. Silly dog.

3:02 -- It's been awhile since I've roasted coffee at home. I forgot how smoky the house gets when I do it. Phew!

4:30 -- Well, the crockpot beans have had seven hours by now, and they're still not quite ready. Too bad. I'm gonna eat 'em anyway.

6:00 -- Dinnertime! Sheba hangs around the stove where I'm working and waits for me to throw her the scraps from the chicken breasts I'm trimming.

7:00 -- I really need to put something other than lights on my Christmas tree.

8:00 -- I'm listening to Handel's Messiah and remembering that I've heard it said that God won't allow any man-made thing into heaven except the nail marks in Jesus' hands. I'm not sure I like this thought. Will He really make us live forever and ever without this great piece of music? It's Scripture after all, so maybe He'll allow it. I guess we'll see.

9:00 -- I've said I was going to cut back on caffeine one of these days, but I don't think today's the day. Gotta have me another cup of coffee...

10:00 -- I think there might actually be a FROST tonight! Now, this is what December is supposed to feel like! (Well... plus some snow!)