Don’t call me a feminist

Don’t call me a feminist

I’m sitting in a restaurant feeding my 7 month old some kind of Japanese appetizer from chopsticks and I hear the comments from several tables over…

Now I’m out at the library reading to my 4 year old and I notice the eyes and the whispers…

Now I’m playing in the snow with my 6 year old at the bus stop, waiting and I see the heads turn in cars driving past and the smiles. The smiles not directed at a child in the throws of joy only one unfettered by life’s weight can experience…

And now I’m lying in bed next to my wife. We’re an hour or so into a conversation punctuated by tears, by screams, by sighs. Then comes the illumination. The identification of the source (if not the main stream then at the very least a massive tributary) of so much hurt, pain, anger.

The looks, the comments, the adoration, all these come my way because of who I am. Not who I am in the particular, but who I am in general. A man.

It seems that cultural mythologies die hard. Myths are far more than simply quaint tales of pre-scientific understanding. They are foundational stories told to create and sustain civilization. Mircea Eliade writes:

the foremost function of myth is to reveal the exemplary models for all human rites and all significant human activity—diet or marriage, work or education, art or wisdom.1

We have a cultural myth about fathers that just won’t die. He’s either the well-meaning, but blundering idiot or the hard, distant man who puts work above all. In either one he works while the wife stays home and cares for domestic duties. Quite obviously these are caricatures, two extremes that bookend more moderate positions lying within, but that conversation is for another post.

What I want to focus on is the emotional damage done by these myths on women.2 Because of these myths and the realities they create I get praise for doing things my wife would not. I receive adoration where she would, perhaps, acknowledgment. Due only to my genetic makeup and temporal location I am seen as the ‘amazing dad’3 for doing only those things that in my estimation any good, loving parent would do.

Please don’t call me a feminist. To do so only perpetuates the catechetal force of the American Father Myth.4

Please call me a human being.

I work from home. My wife is a teacher and artist. We both take care of the kids. We both take care of domestic duties. How do we divide them? We ask the really hard question of, “Can you?” “Sure can,” is the usual answer. And when it isn’t we adjust accordingly. There is no gendered divide as to who does what work. I am a human being because I believe that the kind of praise I receive for how I parent ought to be lavished on my wife in the same quantities and degrees. I am a human being because I don’t think lower expectations are cause for lavished praise.

Perhaps it is a function of the communities to which I belong that I run into this sort of judgment. Maybe my experience is an outlier to what is happening in the larger view. It is possible, but I doubt it.

To see the look in her eyes as she tells me that for just once she would love to feel the same recognition and approval for her work as a mother as I do for being a father tears me apart. It also enrages me that what I do is considered out of the ordinary. The myth destroys us both.

I will never stop supporting my wife in her work. It is my joy to work the late nights and in the seams between the feeding, the cleaning, the playing, the disciplining, to see her explode into her giftings and abilities. Just as it is her joy to encourage my continued growth in work and talents and to support me in carving out physical and mental space from these four walls when I need it.

The myth needs to die. Even as most of us tacitly agree, our actions and attitudes perpetuate it. Only when we stop being surprised by things that a mother or father does because of their gender will its cultural grip begin to fail.

Would you join me in being human?


  1. Mircea Eliade, Myth and Reality, p. 8
  2. I am by no means a woman. I am writing as an outsider, simply attempting to put into words what I saw and heard from my wife.
  3. I have heard this phrase more times than I care to admit.
  4. In no way am I undermining or devaluing the need that women have had to rise up under the mantle of feminism to right the wrongs of patriarchy. I am simply making a statement as to how I see this term being used around me.
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a novice[‘s] prayer

[if you haven’t already done so, please see this previous post first.]

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Today is the first day of the next stage of my life. I sit right now in my office. My office. It feels a touch weird to say that, if for no other reason than it connotes some sort of ‘adulthood’. I’m not sure at what point one passes through that ephemeral veil that separates child from adult, or if that is even a proper analogy, with the truth being closer to a series of small steps that looked back upon reveal a lifetime’s worth of travel. Perhaps there is not time at which one ‘flips the switch’ to adulthood. Perhaps you simply wake up one day realizing that you are one, have been for some time, and yet have simply not realized it until that moment.

Adulthood entails responsibility. Youth ministry entails responsibility. Responsibility entails faith, hope, and love. I say that because of the sign that has been hung over my desk. ‘These three remain,’ the apostle said once. After all has been stripped away and we are left with eternity, ‘these three remain,’ and you have called me to be a conduit for and participant in a ministry of faith, hope, and love.

You know I can’t do this job.

You know that apart from a supernatural working of your grace in my life I am going to thoroughly thrash this thing to pieces.

I hate that I struggle with the universal male issue of passivity and complacency. These things are antithetical to the call of the gospel. You have called us as believers to be salt and light in a world of darkness and death. I need your help. I need your forgiveness. Every day. I know myself. I know that I will do everything in my own power to try and force things to happen. I know that, given my faithless nature, I will look to the approval of others before I look to you for approval of my ministry. Even saying ‘my’ ministry sounds so like me. It is your ministry in which I participate. Orchard Christian Fellowship does not exist for itself, for the betterment of its own people, nor even simply for the betterment of those around it. It does those things, and rightly so, but its primary purpose is to glorify you in the world. When we worship you rightly, when we place our own desires down and pick up your own, when the name of Jesus is made great and our own names made small, then we are truly participating in the ministry of the gospel in southern New Hampshire.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Father, Son, Holy Spirit

Please guide me in all that I do. Please show me the vision for youth ministry at the Orchard. Please give me a heart that loves these kids as they deserve to be loved. Please give me a heart that breaks when the effects of sin and the attacks of the evil one and his crew tear through them as individuals and as a community. Open my eyes to the ways in which they are not currently following hard after you. Break their hearts for the sin which is ensnaring them. Help us become a community reaching a community. That students will feel free to allow others into their lives. That Orchard Youth will be a safe place for hurting people.

It’s only by your grace that this ministry can be fruitful. And fruitfulness is measured in soul care and life change, not by numbers and hype. Please keep this in the front of my mind. Please help me to rely on your strength every day. May the name of Jesus be made great and not my own.

Κύριε ἐλέησον, Χριστὲ ἐλέησον, Κύριε ἐλέησον.
[Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.]

the liminal edge of worship

So my friend Greg Willson and I are contemplating a new worship album project. Here’s the concept:

The issue that I’m wrestling with is the balance between lyrical specificity and ambiguity. I feel as if much of what passes for congregational worship is boring. I use the word boring purposefully. This is not to say that these songs are not lyrically true, musically sound, or even great vehicles for worship. It is to say, however, that they are “uninteresting, tiresome; dull.” Many of the words, metaphors, chord changes, and melody/harmony lines are tired and worn out.

I’m not the only one to think this way. The problem is in execution. There are several directions this could go. The first is what I like to call the “add crunchy guitars” method. You see this a lot when people try to update older songs/hymns. The thought goes something like this: “The melody line is familiar so we don’t want to mess with it. What we’ll do is add some guitar distortion to make the song seem more modern.” Songs tend to follow traditional CCM worship trends. The second is what we’ll call the “lowest common denominator” approach. In this method the songwriter/worship leader panders to the hypothetical lowest common denominator. It’s the belief that the melody lines and instrumentation must be simple. Now simple is not entirely a bad thing. In fact, simple can be excellent. But this method errs in saying that the necessity is simplicity, therefore the melodies will be very repetative, the musical arrangments either paired down or repetative in chordal structure, and the lyrics simple and to the point.The third possibility is what we’ll call, for lack of a better term, “indie-kid worship” approach. In this approach the songwriter/worship leader seeks to make the worship more ‘modern’ by copying the latest music trend. Indie-kid worship is headed in the right direction, but whereas “add crunchy guitars” dressed standard songs with distortion, the indie-kid worship leader in trying to be creative crafts/plays songs which tend to be either overly personal or lyrically ambiguous.

So here’s the rub. How does one overcome these pitfalls? It’s possible, but difficult, which is why I think that I’m tempted to try (masochism anybody?). Though from a somewhat different genre, the song “Warrior”, out on the new Sojourn Music album “Over the Grave”, is a great example of a well crafted song. The lyrics are a tad straightforward, but the way they walk around the theme is catchy, to say the least.

While this example is moving in the right direction I think that our particular project is going beyond this. But to do so we’re going to have to be very careful. Congregational songs cannot be too vague or ambiguous lyrically, overly personal (by which I mean to say, the lyrics cannot be so specific to a situation that they are difficult to apply universally. I understand that some say the Psalms do this, but since I’m not Holy-Spirit-Inspired, I’m not sure how much we can transfer over. Though I’m willing to dialogue on it.), nor musically obtuse (that is, overly complex in either instrumentation or melody). Where does this leave us? I’m not sure, but we’ll see how this all plays out. There won’t be work on it for a bit, I’ve got to move and buy some gear first, but I just needed to get some ideas out of my mind and onto (digital) paper…

waiting for change

Tom Petty spoke rightly when he said, ‘the waiting in the hardest part.’

All I can say is that the next couple of days are going to be very, very long indeed. Waiting for word from the Orchard. Even though I pretty much know the answer, the official word will make me breath a huge sigh of relief. It means that the next steps can be taken and this season of waiting will be over.tree on a hill

Yet, I’m torn, at the same time, because of the thought of leaving all of our friends. Yesterday at church, discussing recent trips and God’s possible plans, this wave of ending swept over my soul. Orlando has always been a place of transitioning. From the moment we stepped foot out the open door of our then-too-expensive moving truck until now, looking a cross-country move in the face, we have been in transition. Orlando has never been a place which we’ve thought of as ‘home,’ in a long term sense.

Now, in the short term it has definitely become home. Having only been married 9 months when we moved from Safety Harbor we were still very much newlyweds. Ten jobs, five years, four moves, three cars, two degrees, and one child later, we are very different people. We have friends, a church and a family here. Our roots have been planted deep into their soil, the rending of which will leave indellible marks on all. But I know it’s time to go. That feeling from somewhere southwest of the spleen whispers words to heart that the time is right. To stay would be to take the easy way. To go requires faith. And faith has the pesky habit of requiring us to do things we don’t believe we either can do or should do. In our case the former seems the mountain we are called to climb. In either case faith calls us out of comfort and complacency into a life of movement, a life of transition.

Whether it is the small transitions we face everyday, the amalgam of which we call ‘living’, or the larger ones we might call watershed moments, we are unnaturally transitory beings in search of permanency. In a world of change our souls cry out for stabilty.

I’m still waiting for stability. I think I’m waiting for it to come with words this week. I know that it won’t. I may live some measure more into it, but stability, ultimate, unending, certain, stability still lies… just… out… of… reach……

thoughts on providence

I find that my life is a pasticcio of one ‘coincidence’ after another.

symphony

What do I mean by this? For some, it seems as if they have everything planned out and have the ability to follow through with those plans. For others, it seems as if they are free-spirits, floating on the wind of what ever may come their way. For me, I so want to be the first, yet experience some strange confluence of the two. For all my best efforts to the contrary I am dragged along, sometimes kicking and screaming, by the inexorable draw of providence. It is a feeling hard to describe, but one that I am sure everyone with eyes to see inherently knows.

Like I wrote in the previous post, there is a lie I believe which is ‘I can control my life’. I’m not entirely sure as to why I continually return to this idea. It’s never proved itself right. Even in those times when things go exactly as I planned there is always some wrinkle whispering the truth of the matter. Sometimes I can hear this whisper. Sometimes I’m sitting and listening like Elijah. Most times I’m running like Peter, all good intentions poorly placed. “Peter said to Jesus… He did not know what to say…”

Thank God I’m not in control.

The music playing, mixed from here and there, weaves a story of one who’s path is laid down already. Some might call this fate, I call it providence. Is there a difference? You better believe there is. The one is an impersonal, immovable set of events into which one falls without fail. The other is a dynamic, vibrant relational interaction between persons. Even at the etymological level providence implies personality, which is to say, having foresight or precaution requires the ability to interact with varied and varying situations. Though providence does not prove the Christian god, it does provide a context within which to discuss his interaction with ourselves, others, and the world. Providence could be considered the score with which our God is directing the symphony of creation.

I sometimes wish I could know what instrument I play…

I’d like to think of myself as a timpani or first-chair violin, either laying the tempo or leading the melody. But I get the feeling like my part to play is the fourth bassoon, a vital part but never noticed. I should be ok with that. During the interview process for a job I might possibly have in New Hampshire I was asked “Do you think you could be content in a small town place like…?” It was a question which I had thought about, but when asked point-blank by a member of the search committee it took me aback. I answered yes, which was true enough then as is now, but it made me stand up and stare providence square in the eyes. Who’s design for life will I accept? Will some self-wrote, 3 chord lullaby win out over the possible magnum opus? Will the amateur have contempt for the virtuoso? Is there really an option? The theological concept of ‘irresistible grace’ speaks just as well to every choice one makes as it does to the doctrine of salvation with which it’s usually associated. When given a choice between providential grace and our own mud-slung construction we are, thankfully, often gently prodded along by the Spirit. And by gently prodded I mean, grabbed by the collar and lovingly dragged in the right way.

I wonder what the next movement might sound like… something with a bassoon solo perhaps?

a cacophanous orchestral

You see, I’m convinced that idolatry is not merely an attempt to seek justification elsewhere, requiring immediate repentance and belief.  That’s theologically satisfying, perhaps, but psychologically simplistic.  No, I’m convinced we need to listen underneath, to give voice to those parts of us that crave and ultimately enslave.  So, I’ve often told my clients to do this:  Take a pen, and give a voice to that idol or that part of you, for example, that finds security through money.  What’s it saying?  Is a part of what it is saying legitimate?  (I suspect some of it is, because normally our idols are perversions of things that God created good).

If so, do something else (…and this part will really make you think I’m a nut).  Write or speak back to that part of you.  Thank it for desiring something good, and ask if it would be willing to let go of some of its power (repentance), to play its instrument a little lower and in tune with the rest of the orchestra, or perhaps even a little louder and in greater harmony if need be.  Tell it to re-focus its eyes on the Conductor, who wants it to join in the chorus of faith, hope, and love, of an un-divided heart, of shalom.

Dr. Chuck DeGroat

What are my idols saying right now?

  • you’re not good enough to hold your relationships together
  • someone will find out that you don’t work hard enough
  • you don’t/can’t love enough
  • it doesn’t matter what you do, you’ll screw it up
  • run away
  • do whatever it takes to keep the peace

I don’t know whether these are multiple idol voices or simply one multitonality singing its own harmonies. Whichever the case, I find it tragically ironic that the points in life where one finds the clearest expression of who one is are often those times when the cacophanous orchestral reaches a crescendo. I’m not sure why this happens. Perhaps because those areas in which we excel are often those which are the areas of greatest weakness as well. What then are the voices saying? What is it, which Chuck has said, that is legitimate and what is straight up the lie spoken to my heart by worthless idols?

Legitimate:

  • things worthwhile in life take hard, dedicated work
  • I, as a sinful human being, am incapable of holding all things together
  • peace is a good thing

Illegitimate:

  • I can successfully run away from my problems
  • I am a failure at those things which desire most
  • I do not have what it takes to be the man I’m supposed to be
  • I can control my life

God help me