There was a good bit of chatter on the interwebs today discussing a recent talk by the popular pastor / author / speaker John Piper. Piper, in his talk, spoke about Christianity as truly masculine, arguing that we should work to maintain this. He pointed to things like Bibilical language portraying God as King (not Queen), Jesus as son (not daughter), that Old-testament priests were all men, and that Christ's apostles were men.
(Notes: I own John Piper books, he says some good things. I'm married to a man, I like him. I do manly things like play sports, watch ESPN, drink beer and burp aloud -mostly b/c I'm pregnant right now - so I'm not anti-man. Many thanks to Rachel Held Evans for inviting responses and curating another good discussion.)
Okay, so to begin with, Piper's arguments seem sorely ignorant in cultural understanding and theology, but other smarter people can address the original Hebrew and Greek Scripture meanings, cultural contexts etc. And others can point more accurately to scriptures highlighting women champions of the Bible (for all those smart-people responses, keep an eye on Evans' blog or Twitter feed.) But I feel led to address Pipers point - that Christianity is Masculine.
It does seem an age marked by Eldridge's Wild at Heart, Driscoll and his anti-effette rants, and even Promise Keepers, which all, in some part, seem bent on reclaiming the manliness of being Christian. “Yeah dude, you can be an awesome Bible-believing Man of God, and go bow-hunting and zip-lining and brew your own beer. But hey, love your wife, too." Some of this dude-centric work is important. Statistics show that women are larger percentage of church attendees than men. And I know from experience that it is often women working behind the scenes (because that’s often where they are relegated) to ensure the smooth-running of many a congregation. Yes, men need to step up: too many kids today have absent fathers, or Dads who are just jerks. Christian guys still do drugs, hire under-age prostitutes and have porn addictions. Yes, men need Jesus and the community of church. But not to reclaim their rightful headship, but just because they need it, like we women do.
Yesterday I was listening to an Orthodox podcast about Holy Week (note: it’s called Our Life In Christ. Only the archives are available online, but it’s great. I’m not Orthodox, just an interested voyeur. ) The podcast highlighted one of the Orthodox services of Holy Week that focuses on the woman who annointed Jesus with expensive perfume, and washed his feet with her tears and hair. In the services and readings, this beautiful passage is juxtaposed with Judas’ betrayal. He who had been one of Jesus’ closest friends, yet poured nothing out at the feet of Christ, but sought his own gain at Jesus’ expense. Is it the man in this story who exemplifies the spirit of worship or the woman? (And to Pipers point that Christ’s appointed disciples were men, was is they who stood by in the vital hours before and after Christ’s death and resurrection? They betrayed, doubted, and ran. And the risen Christ’s first revelation was to whom? A woman.) But I digress, and my snarky rhetorical questions are a good segue to what the progam hosts explain as the point of the services. Highlighting these two stories during Holy Week is not to give Judas a bad rap, but to illumine the participant to the fact that the capacity to act as either character lives in each of us. We can be the annointing woman in one breath, and Judas in the next. God have mercy.
The notion of manly Christianity just seems so Western, so Davey Crockett American. I just can’t imagine it has always been thus. Again to the Orthodox Holy Week, which are probably the oldest recorded services in Christendom, miraculously consistent with Christianity’s earliest days. And here we see great honor bestowed on a woman, a woman who teaches us how to worship. And the veneration of women does not stop there. Several of the feast days that follow Easter are dedicated to women. And, of course, the Protestant-dreaded Marian doctrines of Catholic and Orthodox faiths were of huge importance in the life of the ancient church, as they are today.
Has Western, Protestant Christianity REALLY gotten back to the true manly meaning of Christianity by wiping itself clean of the Mother of God, highly honored from the earliest breaths of our Faith? A Faith that was so entirely counter-cultural as to list Christ’s geneology through his female ancestors in one Gospel. So as to say there is no male or female in Christ, that all are welcome. So as to say we should come to Jesus as Children, who at the time were seen more as nuisances than Facebook photo ops.
This peculiar, liberating, counter-cultural, enduring thing that I’m a part of, by the Grace of God, mustn’t be masculine or feminine. It is Trinitarian, cosmically relational, a Mother Hen and a scrawny shepherd. A caring Father and weeping Mother. It is I AM.
There seems so much more to say than this on the subject. Maybe I’ll follow up with some more later.