Notes from the Patriarchs: Living in Sodom

It’s an issue that I think all Christians deal with: trying to live “in the world” without being “of the world.” The world bombards us constantly with the stuff of sin — greed, lust, pride, arrogance, deceit. Sometimes it seems like we fight all week against ourselves and our human nature and then find ourselves in worship on Sunday yearning for the day when we will be set free from this earthly battle. God’s word teaches us that we are to live as a people in the world and yet set apart from the world (1 Peter 2:9-10), sojourners and exiles wandering in the wilderness of a temporary existence. Christ calls us to strike the delicate balance between going into the world to witness and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20) while not being conformed to the world (Romans 12:2) or becoming unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). It’s a very difficult thing, actually.

In Beth Moore’s The Patriarchs study, I found her description of Abram’s relationship with Lot to be an amazing illustration of why God calls us to be separate yet connected to the world. We read in Genesis 13 about how Abram and Lot travel together until strife causes them to go their separate ways. Abram goes west to the land of Canaan, where God continues to lay out his blessing plan for Abram and his descendants. Lot goes east (historically not a good direction to go in the Biblical narrative), moving his tent “as far as Sodom” — a place whose people are promptly described as “wicked, great sinners against the LORD” (Genesis 13:13). How many times have we been conscious of a loved one who has chosen to move ever closer to Sodom in this life? A married friend who has become involved in an extramarital affair? A sister who has begun to gamble on-line? A college student who has abandoned his faith because it just doesn’t fit into campus life?

In Genesis 14, an escaped prisoner rushes to Abram to tell him that Lot has been taken captive in a battle between kings of the region. Why had Lot been taken captive? Because in the process of the battle, when the enemy kings took possession of Sodom and Gomorrah, they also took Lot who was no longer dwelling “near” Sodom, but was “dwelling in Sodom” (Genesis 14:12). Apparently, making the move from living near to living in Sodom disabled Lot from being able to save himself from the hands of the enemy. Abram, living peacefully in Canaan, proceeds to gather his group of 318 men and rescue Lot from the forces of 4 kingdoms.

Although we are called to be set apart from the “Sodoms” in this world, we are still called to be involved and aware. God shows us that in our separateness we will be strengthened so that we will be equipped to respond. In this way we can be sensitive to the realities of sin in our lives as well as the lives of others — we can more promptly try to intervene when we see a friend or loved one going down a path that will only lead to a quagmire of sin and destruction. As Beth Moore so aptly states, “After all, each of us knows a Lot in Sodom.”

Christian & feminist: not mutually exclusive

Issues of Christian feminism have been on my mind over the last several days. A friend of mine posted a blog entry recently regarding an article in our local newspaper about an academic program in homemaking being offered at Southwestern Baptist theological seminary. She included the following quote: Coursework will include seven hours of nutrition and meal preparation, seven hours of textile design and “clothing construction,” three hours of general homemaking, three hours on “the value of a child” and three hours on the “biblical model for the home and family”… Women also study children’s spiritual, physical and emotional development.

There were several comments on her blog entry, one of which noted that this particular program is open only to women, and the issue really got me thinking about the realities and challenges of this type of college-level course of study in today’s post-feminist world.

I consider myself a Christian feminist. These two words together may cause some evangelical Christian women I know to bristle, but it has never been a difficult issue for me. I’ve considered myself a feminist ever since I thought I knew what the word meant, thanks in part to my mother and the lively conversations we have had over the years concerning reproductive choice, women in the workplace, and women’s rights. I understand that many traditional elements of feminism don’t necessarily jive with what God tells us about the roles he has designed for both men and women, but that doesn’t mean to me that the notion of feminism or the fundamentals of feminist thought should be abandoned by Christian women. I think that Christian women can, and should, negotiate the definitions of feminism and find our own niche where we can address the issues that are important to us — issues that I think are very “feminist.”

First, the issue of the program in homemaking at Southwestern Baptist. How awesome that a seminary would recognize homemaking as a career path, worthy of inclusion in the curriculum and all the work that goes into defining course content, objectives, and outcomes. I think that this type of recognition is important and negates the notion that homemaking is a leisurely, uncomplicated undertaking prompting the thought, “Oh, she’s so lucky! All she has to do is stay at home with her kids all day while her husband goes to work!” People thinking that have clearly never seen the packed schedules, overflowing day planners, multiple to-do lists, cluttered homeschool classrooms, and piles of laundry and dishes belonging to some of the blessed homemakers I know.

I will never forget when my aunt referred to herself as a “household manager” instead of a homemaker or housewife. Amen! If one can major in business management in college, then I am all for a major in household management. Let’s just recognize that both men and women should be able to enroll in this type of program as I believe that God desires both genders to be caregivers and to do this job well.

Second, the issue of the definitions of feminism. I heard a great interview with Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and wife of congressman Sherrod Brown, on yesterday’s edition of Fresh Air on National Public Radio. Schultz discussed the challenges of campaigning, becoming a “Senator’s wife,” and situations in which she found herself that challenged her feminist nature. One issue in particular was being told at a gathering of Senator’s wives how they could order “Senate china” if they wanted. She was shocked that the women would be having this discussion in light of the critical issues related to war, terrorism, domestic poverty, and crime that their husbands would be tackling in their new jobs. Schultz went on to comment about the fact that today’s young women are hesitant to call themselves feminists because of the commonly accepted idea that being a feminist means neglecting home and family for career. Schultz believes, and I agree, that nothing could be further from the truth. Feminism is, and always has been, about choices and being able to make those choices.

Christian women should have a vital interest in securing choices about very important issues: affordable housing, the condition of schools and quality of teachers, securing reliable daycare, ensuring health insurance coverage for their children, continuity of family medical care from physicians in HMOs, protecting our children from predators and pornography on the Internet, etc. I would argue that these issues and many others are both Christian and feminist.

I think that ideally we would discuss and be in prayer with our husbands about these issues, mutually supporting each other as we strive to better live both in this world and in God’s image. You never know, you might find your husband calling himself a Christian feminist. Stranger things have been known to happen.

The Sabbath

For a long time I have totally depended on my weekends for “getting things done.” Saturdays are usually spent running errands, cleaning the house, and going to the grocery store. After church on Sundays I would almost look forward to doing the laundry and roping my husband into getting another “house project” done and ticked off of the never-ending list.

Which is why I wasn’t exactly sure what to think when, during one of our many latenight conversations, my dear husband suggested that we actually start resting on the Sabbath. Resting? On a Sunday?? I immediately started thinking of the things that weren’t going to get done on my carefully planned schedule. I immediately wondered if this was just my husband’s way of getting out of putting in the new kitchen sink and new bathroom faucet I had put on the house project list for next Sunday. I will admit that I was not happy with this plan.

I tried rationalizing the whole situation. After all, getting all of the things on my to-do list done on the weekend put me in a good mood (sometimes), helped me to be less stressed during the week (good for my husband, right?), and just made for an all-around Happier Me. But therein lies the rub. It was all about Me. Fortunately, I put my ego aside for a moment and asked myself the tried and true question: How do I respond to God in this situation?

How do I respond to God in light of who He is and what He says in His Word about the Sabbath?

I am happy to say that my husband and I are now observers of the Sabbath in every sense of the word. I no longer find myself thinking during church about the tasks I’m going to get done afterwards. The day seems longer, more relaxed, and I find myself looking forward to time spent observing a day that God designed for rest, both mental and physical. And the added joy of today’s Sabbath? I started re-reading one of my favorite childhood books, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. What a joy!

Notes from The Patriarchs: Abram’s Response

My hope for this blog and for Women In His Image is that these will be forums in which we can discuss the notion of “responding to God.” My greatest desire is to help women and girls come to see how events that happen in our lives are all opportunities for responding to God and that this response is essential.

Which leads me to the fact that I am a big fan of Beth Moore’s bible studies. If you have never done one you definitely should! If you live in the Houston area, Beth has regular teaching engagements at Houston’s First Baptist Church. Having sat under Beth’s teaching when she was my Sunday school teacher, I can tell you that she is the epitome of a southern woman and is even more engaging in person than she is on DVD. She is gracious, warm, and has a wonderful style of teaching that is Biblically sound and spiritually challenging. Currently I am going through her study “The Patriarchs: Encountering the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” As usual, I continue to encounter amazing things in this study of the Old Testament.

In one of the initial lessons of this bible study, Beth discusses Genesis 12 in which God calls Abram (Abraham) to a new and different life. During the lesson, I became fascinated with Abram’s responses to God in this situation. Beth points out something that I had never recognized: Abram’s family was polytheistic (Joshua 24:2). God called Abram out of a polytheistic culture and family and chose him to be in covenant with the one and only God. He gave Abram two simple commands: leave everything that you know and love, and go to a place you don’t know. In other words, he gave Abram the opportunity to respond.

In Genesis 12:4 we get to see how Abram chose to respond to God: “So Abram went…” (ESV) God asked Abram for obedience and Abram chose to respond in obedience. In fact, obedience appears to be the first part of God’s blessing plan for Abram. In Genesis 12:7(b) we continue to see how Abram chose to respond to this God that he had literally just met: “So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.”

First Abram responded with obedience, then he responded with worship.

The next time that God asks me to leave what I know and go somewhere I have never been (in my work? in my relationships? in my walk with God?), I hope that I can respond with an obedient heart and worship Him every step of the way.

Food for Thought

A contributor sent me this essay right after the New Year (2007). That was awhile ago, but these words are appropriate any day of the year in my opinion. And sometimes in the middle of the year I really need to hear these words.

It’s that time of year again. When diet gurus and fitness clubs attempt to capitalize on our champagne-induced New Year’s resolutions to lose those the same 20, 30, 40, pounds that we’ve resolved to lose for the past 10 years. I think I’ve noticed it more this year than others because this year I decided not to get on that ride again. As soon as this decision was made, terror struck. What on earth would I fill my days with if I wasn’t thinking about getting thin, or how to stay thin? The fact that I even had to ask that question was evidence to the sheer insanity of it all. This led to my next question, “what would life be like if I never passed judgment on my body?” One of my many answers was that the time I spend fantasizing about what life would be like in a perfect body could be spent learning who I truly am, and what my purpose is. That’s the question, isn’t it? Beyond my physical appearance and beyond the labels of wife, mother, daughter, sister, dental assistant…who am I, really?

I wonder what would happen if you posed the following scenario to Christian women. What if you were shown a photo of yourself from the past when you were 50 (or 20, or 15) pounds heavier than you are now. Let it sink in – you don’t like looking at yourself in this picture. Then, you are told that you have the opportunity to spend 5 minutes face-to-face with Jesus, but you will actually have to gain those 50 pounds (or 20, or 15) first. Your health won’t be compromised, but you won’t be able to lose them later. What would you do? What would you choose?

Of course, I know that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit and that being morbidly obese is not honoring that temple, nor is being anorexic. But what about the vast number of us who are physically healthy, but whose only motivation to lose weight is knowing we will receive the admiration of others? Even as Christians we want to impress people with our beauty, which in this culture translates to thinness. We want to turn heads. We want to worship at the “shrine of the perpetually thin” and have no one question our idol worship. The worshipers of the golden calf have nothing over us because we can carry our idol with us around in our head. I think of my idol first thing in the morning when I step on the scale, as I dress, before and after I eat, before and after I exercise, when I’m in public, as I watch TV, or thumb through the latest gossip or fashion magazine. I put my life on hold waiting for my idol to materialize before I start living my life. I do not even notice the snake curling up at my feet.

What started out innocently enough now has me in chains. The fact that the enemy works with such subtlety is perhaps the most frightening. And since everyone I know is chained to the same wall. We don’t even notice that the shackles are cutting off our circulation. Women bond over this issue and we have fooled ourselves into thinking this is normal. We have been in slavery to the societal misconception that there is something innately wrong with us if we’re not thin. We’ve been slaves to this desire to be thin over longing for our savior. 

Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings out the best of you, develops well-formed maturity in you…” (The Message) 

Yes, it is important to be healthy and care for God’s temple. However, in order to see what true health looks like we must get out of the dungeon and experience true freedom. True health does not look like the glossy images we are inundated with on a daily basis. Perhaps it is best if we remember 1Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things human beings look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Entering the stream

Rain is so refreshing in the upper Midwest this time of year. The ground is parched, days seem to grow hotter and longer, and the air is more humid and still. As I write, I can hear the storm gathering outside and I am so thankful for the noise of thunder and the cleansing gift of water from the sky.

Several years ago, the Lord (in his infinite wisdom) chose to redeem me from a dismal pit of sin. Let me be clear – we’re not talking about a sinner who had never before heard the call of Christ. I had been a Christian from a young age, having accepted Christ as my savior when I was a preteen. No, I was someone who had slowly but surely allowed my life to become a place where even I didn’t know I was capable of living. I had consciously turned my back on my faith so that my desires for my life could reign. God very surely brought people into my life at that time who were instrumental in turning my life back towards Him.

I am a woman who has struggled with depression for as long as I can remember. In addition, I have struggled with negative self image, perfectionism, and mildly obsessive-compulsive behavior ever since I was a young child. I developed an eating disorder early in college, only to finally get the help of a nutritionist approximately 8 years later and (finally!) the help of a behavioral therapist about 2 years after that. My first marriage unfortunately was not successful and was, I believe, a casualty of my choice to live a life outside of what God has ordained as good. The ending of my marriage was where the Lord came into the picture.

Part of the behavioral therapy with my eating disorder was keeping a journal. It was especially important to journal during my darkest mental periods, when my demon of self-hatred was at its worst, beating me into submission. The clarity of reading these types of journal entries after the storm has passed and I am back in my “right” mind has always been amazing. I am able to clearly see how my inner demons lie to me. I have written many times in my journal, “I just want someone to SEE ME. I don’t feel like anyone can see me.” This is a common feeling among people with eating disorders, especially anorexic behavior. They are slowly starving themselves out of the literal desire to physically become smaller and smaller, all the while wishing that someone could actually look inside of them and SEE them for who they really are.

Then we come to Genesis 16:13. Hagar, the Egyptian maidservant, has become pregnant by Abram and is fleeing the harsh treatment of Abram’s wife Sarai. Yet we read that an angel of the LORD (written in all capital letters in the Old Testament as a translation of the Hebrew word for “YHWH” or “Yahweh”) finds Hagar by a spring of water (“sees her”) and assures her that the LORD has listened to her affliction and she will be blessed. Hagar’s responds to God by calling Him “El Roi,” which can be translated as “You are a God of seeing” or “You are a God who SEES ME.”

Yes, and God saw me too. As part of His process of healing me from depression and disordered eating, he gave me the desire to start an educational ministry for women and girls called “Women In His Image.” And this is just the beginning.