Sunday, July 24, 2011

Personal bias vs. a godly life

"Well, at least my intentions were good!" Have you ever heard that from someone who just spoiled a job or broke a relationship with an ill-fated attempt to help? 

"I just thought they should know that." Ever watch someone control another person with spiritual legalism or slice a frail person to ribbons with cruel facts?

"It's his/her job, not yours. Stay out of it." Ever seen a project fizzle without realizing its potential because a gifted person is overlooked by political correctness or stultifying hierarchy?

Most people land on both sides of the equations eventually. We act, speak, and delegate without thinking through the implications of our actions. And we've been knifed by careless words, undermined by bad "help," and refused the opportunity to use our skills.

When W was principal of a Christian school, we attended a conference where men and women were separated for some sessions. Since the articulate wife of the main speaker "could not" address men, the women attendees got the full blast of her teaching on Southern Baptist submission. All males were superior in position to females by God's decree, she told us. Whether or not women were smarter or more skilled than male peers, every woman had better knuckle under and let a man lead. No woman could teach a man anything, whether at home or in public. Oh, and no trousers permitted for the truly holy women of God.

W found me in tears in our hotel room after I'd endured three hours of lectures. "What's going on?" he asked, puzzled to find me sobbing on the bed, especially at a "how-to" Christian school convention. "What happened? Are you okay? Are the kids all right?"

"I can't do it!" I wailed. "I can't go into the bathroom, shut the door, pray God to give you direction, and let you decide everything for us. I will go crazy!"

"What are you talking about?"

"Patti-Belle said if her husband decided to move to Alaska, she would never cross him or challenge him, even if it was terrible timing for the family. She'd go into the bathroom, pray earnestly that God would give her husband good counsel through godly men, and come out smiling and ready to pack up the house. I don't think I could be that kind of a 'good wife,' ever!"

W looked at me with dismay and shock. "Why would God give men a marriage partner if he didn't intend a husband to benefit from his wife's counsel and interactions? In marriage, two heads and two viewpoints are better than one."

I dried my cheeks with a sign of relief. However, the trauma of that woman's attempt to foist on her listeners the spirituality of male dominance has stayed with me all these years. I'm delighted not to be in her denomination or culture! (Though admittedly, my mom, girlfriends, and family therapists confirm that even in the strongest marriages, a wife's advice is often heeded less than casual remarks from a husband's peers or boss. Oh well.)

Nothing I read in scripture tells me that God, usually referenced as male, thinks less of his daughters than his sons. He gifts them both through the Spirit, calls them to serve in dangers and challenges, to be faithful through good times and bad. He uses the values of each culture to emphasize his right to "the best" people acknowledge, own, or accomplish in their communities (such as the firstborn son, the dowry of a bride, or the tithe from the harvest).

It's amazing how God works to build his Kingdom in all cultures, drawing us to himself within all our worldviews and traditions. He stoops to listen to our prayers, to grant our petitions, with love that cherishes us more than we can love ourselves or each other.

How arrogant of us to read our finite understandings into Scripture, to presume that our tribe, our gender, our nation, or our Christian community pleases him more than all others. 

In contrast, Jesus assumed a humble and lowly position rather than arriving as a "somebody." He was born into a tradesman's family in an unimportant town, at a time in history when his nation was despised by their conquerors. As his servants, let's not pretend that we are more important than he through our personal bias and self-importance. How dare we ignore his call to imitate his humility with a godly life, no matter what our station or status.

Read more:
*"In times of trouble, may the answer your cry. May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm. May he send you help from his sanctuary and strengthen you from Jerusalem… May he grant your heart's desires and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God. May the LORD answer all your prayers." Psalm 20:1–2, 4–5 NLT

*"Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." Isaiah 41:10 NKJV

*Jesus replied, "And why do you, by your traditions, violate the direct commandments of God? For instance, God says, 'Honor your father and mother,' and 'Anyone who speaks disrespectfully of father or mother must be put to death.' 

"But you say it is all right for people to say to their parents, 'Sorry, I can't help you. For I have vowed to give to God what I would have given to you.' In this way, you say they don't need to honor their parents. And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, 'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.'" Matthew 15:3–8 NLT 

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