Monday, January 30, 2012

So I ran Mr. Gungor past my mom...

A little while back, my cousin sent me a link to the website of Mark Gungor, Christian marital counselor. I read about 10 posts and it bothered me...a lot. There's quite a bit of truth in his words...unfortunately there's a lot of questionable teaching mixed in. But...he is a marital counselor, and my being single, I acknowledged that there may be bias/lack of understanding on my part, so I decided to run it past my mom...devout Christian, married once, no kids outside of the marriage, still together after 30+ years...she lives what most Christians would consider the model marriage.

Her take...same thing...there's truth in what he says (there really is), but the rest is the scary part. To keep it simple, her list of "issues"...

  • He suggests people marry at 18. (She didn't elaborate on that, and honestly, I didn't need her to, stats both inside, and outside the church are a testament to how well that works (or rather, doesn't work, out)
  • He preaches marriage as the best solution to sexual temptation--that doesn't just magically go away after marriage. 
  • He seems anti-education, with a subtle bent against college attendance in favor of marriage. She didn't understand why, if education is a problem, he didn't advocate dropping out before college. Why even finish high school and not get married even younger?
  • He favors employment within the church, and gives little to no acknowledgement of the missional responsibilities of people who work in the secular world.
I was really curious to hear the opinion of someone who's lived a different relational life than mine.  I found she picked up on things I didn't even really notice. What I did notice though...

  • He responds to criticsm with "lighten up" (and his fans follow suit). This is one of those phrases that is almost never said in love, is callous, wholly unhelpful, marginally abusive and does nothing but add fuel to the fire of a disagreement. I'm sure anyone who's been in a relationship and used that phrase knows that it does nothing to help.  
  • He uses very little scripture: Go check out his reviews on Amazon and skip the 90 that gave him five stars for being funny.  "Laugh your way to a stereotypical Christian Marriage"..."seldom if ever uses scripture"..."He makes men to be complete idiots"..."a brilliant salesman who uses stupid jokes, annoying mannerisms and SOME scripture."  Other people have noticed too that, once you stop laughing, there isn't a whole lot that points back to Biblical teaching. 
  • He makes the same argument against singleness that people make against marriage. Basically, we're all too horny to say no for an extended period of time, so we have to do something about it...he advocates marriage, other advocate never constraining yourself with marriage in the first place. Same premise, both ignoring the ability to transcend the desires of the human body (no big deal for a non-Christian, a very big deal for someone who's supposed to believe in the power of God in individual lives.)
  • His message (marry whatever random "real Christian" you can find, don't divorce and just work through your problems) is a direct benefit to his bottom line...busted marriages that don't dissolve means an increased need for marriage counseling. 
I'm all for the concept of Christian marital counseling. I also believe that laughter is good, divine even, but I wonder about Mr. Gungor's humor, its intentions and its results. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Helpmeets, helpmates and introvert burnout

It's been a rough week as an introvert.

We've had visitors at work, which means non-stop interraction...I'm talking from breakfast to lunch to dinner eaten with 27 other people...14 hour days with no alone time on top of presenting, presentations and discussions. I came home Friday feeling traumatized. Too beaten to even sleep. I seriously felt like I'd been assaulted at some internal level. I skipped the gym, fearing additional injury to a back that had been brutalized with 10 hrs of sitting and looked forward to a weekend of isolation...then it hit me Saturday night. Church. I felt panicked. The idea of bringing myself to talk and say hello again just felt like too much to handle. I prayed and mustered up the courage to go, which I'm glad I did, because it gave me perspective on the whole situation. The world of the corporate is really a modern day Charybdis from which I'm generally and thankfully sheltered. I forget sometimes how it can be. One week down, one week to go.

So yeah...the term "helpmeet"...never heard it until reading the comments of some of Mark Gungor's enthusiasts. It sounded a lot like "help mate", which I haven't really heard since the days in the church I was raised in., and honestly, it makes zero sense as a term unto itself. I've been meaning to get into researching the issue of gender equality in Christian marriage, so I had to do some digging.

From what I can see, it looks like it starts with a misunderstanding of the definition of the word "meet". In the phrase "a help meet for Adam", "meet" most likely takes on its second definition (English) which is equal to "fitting" or "proper", so you instead have "a help fitting for Adam". Makes much more sense.

That said, there's a lot of debate around what that word "help" was translated from and whether it even connotes a subservient position. You have the word "help", taken from the Hebrew "ezer"  which can translate to "aid", "protector" or even "defender", followed by "neged" which can mean "in front of" or "parallel to" or a few other things. Having studied four languages in my life, I'm well aware of where debates over translation can go and this one has some decent legs online (Google "ezer kenegdo). I'm not going to make an argument either way on a language I don't come close to understanding.

...I'm not 100% opposed to the idea of the man being head of household, and that's mostly because I'm a strong believer in the concept of servant leadership...a direct result of my business studies, work experience and most importantly because  of the example set by Jesus (you know...the guy who washed his disciples feet?). I've never been one to equate "leadership" with "dictatorship". Servant leadership is a concept developed by Robert Greenleaf and is summed up well here...

"The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature."
"The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?"

Greenleaf's book was required reading in a management symposium I took and I think everyone...yes, everyone, not just potential leaders, should read this. As a friend of mine says quite frequently "everyone's leading someone". On top of that though, you learn how to recognize those who are leading or want to lead to assuage and acquire. It's a good way to decide who's worth following.

The VP I work under now has been one of the best leadership experiences I've run across in my work life. I respect him and genuinely know he's on my side and will defend and protect my best interests (which he has consulted me on) when necessary. He's given guidance when he had insight and asked my opinion when he knew I had more experience in an area. I've been frank and open with him about my personality, concerns and fears and have been met with acceptance. He seldom tells me what to do...I say seldom, because I'm sure he has, but I don't remember ever actually being given an order...and I think that's because once a level of respect and trust has been established, his final say no longer feels like force.

Everyone in a household should be submitting to someone..children to parents, wife to husband and God, and husband to God and family. I'm always wary of any church, book, or, person that emphasizes the "help mate"/"head of household" teachings to the exclusion of a husband loving his wife as Christ loved the church. That emphasis, I believe reflects a bias that I have yet to see supported by actual Biblical teachings, and not just cultural extrapolations from ancient civilizations. While I don't think the Bible is totally clear on whether so called 50/50 marriages are the way to go, it is, I believe, quite clear, that all out domination is not the intended model. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Low expectations for men, low standards for women.

I'm going to do something I seldom do on this blog and write from an immediate reaction. Considering the serious and personal nature of my faith (and that of others to be honest), I normally let the topics marinate and stew. This one though...

So today someone close to me sent me a link to the blog at Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage...a marriage ministry headed up by Mark Gungor, something I'd never heard of until today. I'm not going to critique his advice to those that are married--his specialty. This though, was sent to me by a single friend and I WILL critique his treatment of women and men...and before anyone cries "You have to read his stuff and attend his lectures and watch his DVDs 20 times in slo-mo before you really get what he's saying!", I charge that if, after reading 10 blog posts, I don't understand the root of what he's trying to say, the fault is his, not mine.


The two posts that stuck out to me were

I'm not going to debate the role of a woman in marriage or how women should conduct themselves sexually outside of the marital relationship (or even within), because in this discussion, neither is relevant. What I want to discuss is the low expectations of men and efforts to lower the standards of women. Why is that bad? Because nowhere in the Bible does it say we're to settle for low standards. 

The first one. To echo a great point brought up by one commenter, how come when men go to the military to become neat, it makes them more manly but when it's at the impetus of someone they're supposed to love like Christ love the church, someone's trying to change their gender? Do we really think Jesus would take the stance that "I just wasn't raised to appreciate these things, so I'm going to ignore your obvious, emotional suffering that you've expressed to me multiple times."? Admittedly, he does, in a few other posts, say that men should pay attention to their wives' feelings and complaints, but what are these frustrated women supposed to do? Just stop feeling? Are they just supposed to ignore the issue because they "imagined" it or because they're "crazy" or just stop because they're wrong for trying to give their husbands the mental equivalent of gender reassignment surgery? I read that he gives techniques for handling these situations in his lectures and seminars, but if that was a commercial, it was in poor taste. 

The second...I...straight up, he doesn't even mention gender that is known to be the bigger proponent of sex. The gender that funds the prostitution industry. Are they not prostitutes too when they engage in sex outside of marriage? Perhaps a bigger deal than that though, the nature of the post makes me question his intentions. It's harsh. There's a disclaimer a bit of the way through, but even prior to that, the words and accusations are heavy ESPECIALLY considering that most of his audience will look very harshly on prostitution.

Me personally, I'm not easily offended and am far from one to shrink at satire. I freaked a former boyfriend out at my admiration of Swift's "A Modest Proposal"...which I kinda get...joking about roasting young children for dinner is pretty harsh...but through it all, I never doubted that Swift's extreme sarcasm was a direct and proportionate response to the horrible treatment of children in his time. Mr. Gungor though, I have to doubt his intentions. Why? Because he's admitted in other posts that women are sensitive and emotional. If you want to help someone out of a situation you see as damning, you don't do it with language like that. Swift was talking to his enemies. Gungor is speaking to his flock and I see no hint of concern for the heart of the women who may be reading.

After spending some good time on his site, I thought of a video I'd run across in the currently hot but fading "Sh*t X Says" meme. The one in question is "Sh*t Guys Don't Say". (Warnings on a bit of profanity and simulated sex.) Basically, men don't pick up after themselves, talk about their feelings and only eat unhealthy food...tired old stereotypes that I hope more men will be offended by. I also though, found a response from a man who supports breaking the presentation of male stereotypes in the media (both the video and response can be found here). I find the correlation disturbing...the secular and the sacred defending and supporting the same bad behavior.

I find his writing dangerous. Why? Because there are bits of truth mixed in with I think is an ulterior motive. I know there's a movement within the Church now against wives holding jobs (completely ignoring Proverbs 31) and I do believe that the subtext that set me on edge stems out of that same vein. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Support for the Strong

So I haven't written much about my grandmother's passing. I put one short post up on my jiu jitsu blog, but besides some short mentions, that's it. I haven't done it here because, well, there's just a lot. 

She was and is a lot of things to me, but I think most uniquely, she's an example I want to follow. That's huge for me. You know when you're a kid and people ask who your hero was? Yeah...I never had an answer, so I always just said Batman or Jesus or Wonder Woman or my mom because I knew that's what people wanted to hear. I still wouldn't say my grandmother is my hero, but she is simply the most amazing person I've ever met. She was one of the founding residents of her city and was somewhat of an advisor to a lot of the people in the community because of her life experiences and education (she attended some college which was uncommon for a Black woman then). I knew her as my grandmother, which was huge, but hearing so many others speak about her, I got to see how big her life really was.

We were studying James 2 tonight at small group and got the section on favoritism being forbidden. I found myself holding back tears because I immediately thought of her.

 1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. 2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. 3 If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” 4 have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

One recurring theme I saw in my grandmother's life and that was confirmed in the people who came out to say goodbye to her, was that she would help anyone. When I was young, she would wonder out loud as to why God had kept her alive for so long (she'd planned and paid for her funeral 20 years prior not expecting to live past 70 since so many of her relatives died young). She would say the only reason she could think was that it was to help people...and she always, always did. 

The drunks, addicts, ex-cons, murderers, foreigners, illiterate, lonely, frustrated and just generally unfortunate...I saw her help them all...and not just with money or food, but personally and equally she gave of herself.

One man got up to speak at her funeral. Through tears he talked of his struggles with substance abuse and how my grandmother was like a mother to him...and then he said something that I'll never forget. He said that she hurt. A lot. 

Her son, my uncle had died about ten years prior. She was the type who just kept going regardless of the pain. She was part of the never-let-em-see-ya-cry generation. To know that one of these people she felt God sent her had become support for her through what had to have been one of the most difficult losses of her struck me very personally and reminded me that even in those relationships where we think we may be the ones extending a hand to someone we could be discriminating against, we might just be the ones being supported ourselves. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Controling the Self

“Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.” Proverbs25:28 (NIV)
“Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.” Proverbs 16:32
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:13
“So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled.” 1 Thessalonians 5:6
“But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” 1 Thessalonians 5:8
“Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.” Proverbs 23:20-21
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

 Yeah…so self-control should be a big deal to Christians. 

I've always considered myself a pretty self-controlled person by nature. I'm not drawn to extremes, so I don't bump up against most of the usual culprits (anger, drugs, sloth and whatnot). My vice though, is food. I was an adult before I realized...really realized that I ate beyond the points of satiation or enjoyment. Throughout my 20s I learned how to pay attention to triggers and habits and change my behavior. At 21, I went through a bit of a personal overhaul...deciding that if I wanted to pursue a stint in culinary school, I needed to learn to control my eating and move more. Did it. Then, in an effort to not accumulate any more debt in grad school, decided I needed to control my spending and saving. Got better at that too. I'm very happy with how that decade in my life went. 

Now though, I look at my self control and I think I have a habit of deceiving myself. 

I've noticed a loop I can tend to get stuck in...I set out to eat less and better and start spending more on food. That loosening of the budget usually bleeds in to buying clothing. Then I see how much I'm overspending and tighten those purse strings...still eating ok and feeling like I deserve it, I begin to stay up to late at night (I loathe going to bed at night). I start getting tired at work and set alarms to get myself in bed on time. I then start to feel well behaved again and treat myself to a dessert here and there. I see myself eating more and decide I need to up the workout...that makes my day longer and the sleep slips again. It doesn't always happen in the same order and it's not always the same factors playing on the same habits, but in general, when I fall into that pattern, I think it may it's an exercise in that burns up a LOT of effort and resources. All that time I'm burning up will power trying to "be good" and resources when I'm "bad". Net result? Very little real improvement (which I tend to gauge by my "lows"), especially when contrasted to my previous decade of actual change. 

I think though, I've realized the difference between real improvement and me tricking myself through forced habits. 

I ran on that hamster wheel for about a year before I started training jiu jitsu. All of a sudden, just by making the choice to go to making the high level decision to let go of my current self and open myself up to being altered, I saw change. I didn't crave "fun" food. I wasn't as distracted by sparkly clothing or gourmet treats and I had a genuine desire to fuel my body for sheer performance. I had purpose. Something necessary for real, productive self control.

All that don't drink, don't smoke language in the Bible? Yes, it's pointless if we're not doing it to deny self and get closer to God, but I think it's pretty futile too. Will power is strange, fluid and entirely human. It can be forced for short periods of time, yes, but controlling self is much easier when doing so in an effort to spend time with God and not just "be good".