Thursday, 8 December 2011
Week of Mutuality: A conversation with God, based on (mutual) respect
Heart pounding, I took a deep breath and tried to exhale out my anxiety. He’s just another college professor, I told myself, but I’d also been told he never has time and often shoos you out of his office without answering anything. Maybe he was having a good day, or maybe the mythology wasn’t based in reality, but he told me to stop apologizing.
“Your reputation precedes you,” came the teacher’s assistant’s wry voice from the corner desk.
“I can see that,” said Greg Boyd, with kindness (and frustration for the reputation) in his eyes.
I’d better get on with it.
“I’ve been researching issues of gender and inequality in scripture, and I’ve always been taught that women should submit to men in all things, but I’m not sure,” I raced through my rehearsed speech. “I’ve asked other people I trust, who have told me there’s scriptural precedent for it. But I’m not sure we’re reading it right. I was wondering what you think?”
He went over the usual points about cultural context, the time and place those words were put down, as well as a lack of a consistent message throughout the bible, and then, “It also doesn’t make sense, right?”
I blinked. No, it makes no sense. But what difference does that make?
In my confused eyes, Greg read my response.
“God gave us a brain to think about stuff like this,” said this religion professor with deep roots in philosophy. “Does it make sense to give people authority based on whether or not they have a penis?”
After getting over the shell-shock of a Christian college professor saying that word out loud (this was a very conservative Christian liberal arts school), I stammered, “No. It doesn’t.”
“You can trust that,” he continued. “It can’t be the only thing, but don’t discount it, either. It matters that it doesn’t make sense in your brain, and that has to be part of figuring it out.”
Learning mutuality from the master
It would be impossible to name all the instances I’ve used that advice in my life, or to even be aware of all of them. That day, I entered into a conversation with God that hasn’t stopped. And it’s a conversation based on mutual respect.
Although the irony was that I was given permission to pursue mutuality by a male in a position of authority, it’s God who shows me the way to its reality. He stoops low to be my servant. He shows me humility and patience and respect and love, what love really looks like. He never forces his hand, but is content to wait for me — even me, the fickle, irritatingly slow to understand, lost and untrusting woman I am. He waits for me to find my way out of myself into his design for me. In my clearer moments, I’m also creating it right along with him, changing his mind, forging this life together.
God himself, the composer of now, is the co-author (with me) of my story. And he invites all of us to dance with him, to watch him weave our story, to do a little weaving of our own as we understand his design, to share with him our deepest desires and then watch for what he’ll do.
Living mutuality with my other
Rewind a year or two before the Boyd conversation, when I was young and my marriage younger. Still a child myself in a lot of ways, those were the days of going along, with observing and imitating in an attempt to find our way. Those were the days when we thought husband-headship and wife-submission was the only way to have a Christian marriage.
I tried to do it all right and by the book, pushing our marriage into a kind of performance/accomplishment paradigm. God waited when we tried our very best at complementarianism, when we agreed that Nathan should be the leader (lead, I told him, and he followed my direction).
By grace, it’s not long until we looked at each other and said This Is Crazy (and makes no sense), and decided for ourselves. We gave it all up for something even crazier, something that matches the complexity of our faith, the precedent we now saw in scripture, and the love we feel for each other: the beauty and pain and struggle and love of mutual submission, of mutual leadership, of the side-by-side, walking together down whatever road we find ourselves on.
I look to him, he looks to me. Sometimes he’s right, sometimes I am. Our anatomy has nothing to do with our gifts, and we recognize one another as equals, both of us strong, each of us wise, both leader, both helper.
We’re creating this marriage all the time, co-creating with the Creator, and it is very good.
And it just makes sense.