Archive | Identity

Be Like Christ: The Message of I Peter to Women

If I write another book, it’s going to be a study through I Peter similar to the one I did on Ephesians, entitled Be Like Christ: The Message of I Peter to Women. I usually decide on a title early on in the writing process, and that title drives the vision for the rest of the book. However, if I’m writing a Bible study as opposed to a topical book, I don’t get to determine the focus of the book, right? I need to stay true to the intent of the author of I Peter. Thankfully, it didn’t take long in my study of I Peter for God’s purpose in I Peter to become clear to me. Like Ephesians, I Peter is a connected, coherent book. The content flows from previous thought, and early on, Peter sets up the context – Be Like Christ. From that foundation comes some fairly specific words to women. While I have taken the content of those specific instructions to women seriously for myself, the foundational overview of I Peter to women to Be Like Christ is monumental. It’s life changing. It takes every other instruction to women throughout Scripture and puts it in its context. And proper context means everything.

I recently went to the Seattle Art Museum as a birthday gift with a much more artistic friend. I told her going in that I felt like the muscles in the art side of my brain had atrophied. Math and logic come easier for me, and hence I tend toward those disciplines. Subsequently, though I love art from afar, I do not have well exercised art muscles. Walking into the museum to see the special exhibit bequeathed by Edward Guinness, of Guinness Ale, to Kenmore House in London, I was ready to exercise those muscles for the first time in a very long time. I saw a Rembrandt of Rembrandt (one of his self portraits) and many other incredible works. But the exhibit came ALIVE when I put the museum’s narration telephone up to my ear and let the curators give me context for each picture. Pictures that simply drew my notice morphed into pictures that drew my serious examination and admiration. They became representations of much more in my head than what my eye alone could see. The social issues directly affecting the artist and his subject in each image. The historical context. The artistic culture at the time. Each added to the context of the image and morphed the image into something more than the sum of its parts.

And so it is when we understand the context of both Peter’s instructions to women in I Peter and Paul’s to women in Ephesians. Be. Like. Christ. Paul uses the phrase, “Be imitators of God” (Eph. 5:1) to set up the whole of his female specific instructions later in the chapter. Peter says that Christ has left us an example that we should follow in His steps (I Peter 2: 21) as the opening salvo in his applications to various specific groups in the church, including wives of husbands who are disobeying God. This isn’t Biblical rocket science. Men and women emerge on the scene of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 as image bearers of God. Imaging God is the entire point of the first woman being called a helper to the man

Yet, for some reason, the Be Like Christ foundation for women is not often the opening description when people, conservative or not, discuss Biblical womanhood. In contrast, Be Like Christ is clearly how the Bible opens the major descriptions of general womanhood and instructions to women in Genesis, Ephesians, and I Peter. I have my theories why that discrepancy might be, but I won’t explore them here.

Suffice it to say, Be Like Christ. It’s so simple at one level, yet so deep at another. Back up from the details of what you think it means to be a woman who obeys God. Whatever you think about your home, your job, your spouse, your kids, your church, or any other aspect of your personal/public/ministry life, back up and get that foundation. Be Like Christ. That’s the end goal.  That’s the purpose of every instruction to women from beginning to end.  There’s definitely some being like the Church for women, but even that is a second tier application that informs the more fundamental foundation of imitating God. After getting that foundation, reengage with the stewardship to which God has called you, whatever that may be. Reengage with Scripture about that stewardship. And reengage with the application in your own life. I trust that you, like me, will find that the context, Be Like Christ, changes everything.

An Imperfectionist in a Perfectionist World

I think I just made up the term imperfectionist. I do not fit into the perfectionist world in which I live. I am messy. I have tried Fly Lady and every suggestion Real Simple magazine has made, yet I am unable to change my genetic propensity toward messiness. My clothes are wrinkled. My sons have bed head most days. I don’t follow cooking instructions well. I eat too much. My workout routines fall short of my expectations. And so forth.

It’s only recently that I’ve come to recognize my coping mechanism. I anticipate that you are going to perceive me as messy, overweight, or irresponsible. So I compensate by saying it myself first.

Self-deprecation– belittling or undervaluing oneself; excessively modest.

The guests coming over for dinner are going to notice that my corn pie is runny. “Hey. Here’s some corn pie. Sorry it’s runny. I didn’t let it cook long enough.” You probably think my son is undisciplined. “Yeah, I know he’s doesn’t play well with others. I know I’ve made these mistakes with him (list mistakes), and here’s what I’m doing to fix it.”

I grew up in Christian fundamentalism, and sin and laziness were projected onto me with pretty much every mistake I ever made. I dropped my tray and made a mess because I wasn’t being careful. I am sick because I didn’t take care of my health, exercise regularly, or eat carefully. I made a bad grade because I didn’t study hard enough. And so forth. It’s been a long road unpacking all that baggage. I don’t have a category for things that are simply mistakes.

A friend pointed my coping mechanism out to me this week. I wrote down the wrong date for volunteering at my son’s preschool. I showed up Wednesday and was about to leave when the teacher reminded me I was scheduled to work. Horrified, I double-checked, and sure enough, I was supposed to work Wednesday, not Thursday as I had written on my calendar. I felt irresponsible. Surely she thought badly of me too. My immediate response was along the lines, “That’s totally my fault. Totally irresponsible on my part.” She interrupted me and said, “You don’t have to take that on yourself. It’s OK.” It was just a mistake. And we worked through it to fix it. She believed the best of me, and it was unexpected.

My self deprecating coping mechanisms have also been highlighted to me over the years with my health. In 1995, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. It was actually a good moment for me. I had felt like such a loser. “Why am I tired all the time? I guess I’m just lazy. Why am I hungry all the time? I guess I’m just a glutton.” When the doctor told me I had diabetes, it was a relief to know that there was something truly wrong with me, and it wasn’t my fault. I had a similar response earlier this year when the podiatrist showed me x-rays of my feet with very pronounced bone spurs in each one. And again when the ENT showed me the CAT scan of my sinuses and pointed out the chronic infection and deviated septum. “Oh, I’m NOT a hypochondriac!” I almost cried in relief. I had believed it of myself. I felt so tired, but I kept trying to power through because asking for a break from my responsibilities or taking a nap when I needed to clean my kitchen seemed lazy.

The truth is that some people WILL think that my corn pie is runny, my son is undisciplined, and that I’m irresponsible for writing the wrong date on my calendar for preschool. Some people will think I’m a hypochondriac if I refuse to take on new responsibilities though I don’t have a physically obvious ailment. But why am I constrained by my fears of what they will think of me?

We live in a world of high expectations. People are easily offended and easily let down, within and without Christianity. And if we don’t constantly meditate on God’s words of affirmation said over us in eternity, we will be constrained and handicapped by the expectations of others, many of which are simply unattainable. I’m praying that God would give me an honest assessment of myself. I want to face my sins head on. But I also don’t want to over spiritualize things on which God has given me freedom and grace.

I have learned a lot from my friends who parent autistic children or other children with learning disabilities that are not physically obvious. How many of them get repeated looks from other parents like they are complete losers for not disciplining and controlling their kids? The answer for them/me is the same answer for everything. The first place I have to flee is the gospel—God’s words of affirmation over me and the lavish grace that fills my spiritual bank account. When it’s a mistake as opposed to sin, the gospel equips me there too. When I did my best and it still wasn’t good enough, there is something in the resurrection power at work on my behalf that allows me to deal with it without condemnation or self flagellation. And a great side benefit of my inadequacies is that, when I do succeed at something like my exercise routine, instead of applauding myself for my self-discipline, I look up to God in awe and praise Him for the gift of His grace (as I just did when I got off my rowing machine, marveling over the last 2 months of consistent exercise on it). I know good and well my imperfections, and I am free to receive success on an issue that has thwarted be for a lifetime as purely His love gift to me as He transforms me. My experience thus far with the gospel applied to my mistakes is that facing them without self flagellation and with confidence in who I am in Christ gives great testimony of the gospel, particularly to myself. And I’m not going to project the gospel to others very well until I get it for myself.

See also Theology of a Mistake.

MJ and the Imago Dei

Like all good stay at home moms who are too tired once the kids go to bed to do anything profitable, I have been watching CNN for a few hours and am well steeped in all the details of Michael Jackson’s memorial service today. It has made me sad. What is clear to me is that he was an incredibly talented child, then man, who never saw himself as created in the image of God in a way that should be valued. People magazine had a progression of his looks from childhood to his death, detailing the changes he made in his own appearance through plastic surgery. My theology teaches me that the depravity within him surely contributed. But it’s clear there were a lot of depraved forces working against him as well. He had an abusive father. And he entered a self-absorbed, sensationalist, narcissistic, eat-your-own-wounded culture at an age when he had no social, self-protective coping mechanisms. The result was a “freak show” that much of the world watched, gossiped about, and disected on talk television. I thought he was a freak too. Now, I’m convicted. He wasn’t a freak. He was created in the image of God. It was our “civilized” society that loves self and hates God that projected onto him something that fed weaknesses in himself.

He is not the first African-American child I have seen that hated their image, wishing for a smaller nose and lighter skin. He is not the first child star thrust into a spotlight they were too immature to handle. He is not the first adult I’ve known with such a warped childhood that they go to innappropriate lengths to recreate the idyllic childhood they perceive they have missed. It’s just that all these things came together in his life in very public ways, and we all watched the sensational spectacle with our own innapropriate fascination.

MJ was just one of millions of people who are pained and wounded, and whose efforts to relieve their pain and wounding only created new pain and new wounds. I’m reminded that there is only one hope for dealing with such pain and wounding–it is the Man of Sorrows who is well acquainted with grief. He alone is the cure for the depravity without us that wounds us and feeds the depravity within us.

I am in the midst of reading Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace, a collection of short stories from various Christian writers. I was asked to contribute a story and have enjoyed reading the stories of others. The big idea is that our wounding is like the grit of sand in the oyster shell that becomes a pearl of great price. Sometimes we wound ourselves through our stupid sinfulness. But many times, we are wounded by the very ones we should most be able to trust–spouses, parents, church family. Sometimes it’s sickness seemingly out of anyone’s control. Other times it’s a very specific, intentional act done for the very purpose of wounding the victim. Women share stories of both their wounding and God’s transformation of it in their lives. Not all of the stories spoke to me, but many really did. It was neat to hear woman after woman share how the goodness of God transcended the worst life had to offer. It’s by no means the final answer from Scripture on how to deal with abuse and wounding situations, but it is an encouraging supplementary read if you are walking that walk right now.