Middle Names

baby

I’m thinking about baby names lately. I’ve kept an ever-increasing, ever-changing list of baby names on my phone for the past year, despite no plans of conceiving any time soon. I’m particularly in love with my current baby name trend — English surnames as first names and British schoolboy names. Also, tangent: I recently heard of a couple who named their beautiful son Aeneas.

Be still, my beating heart.

But I’m afraid Erich and I could never produce a child who fits such a name, so I’m not adding it to the list just yet.

First names come easily for me, but middle names, I’m lost. What are middle names for? Mine is Elizabeth, and while I like my middle name, I don’t use it or attach any significance to it. But a first name without a middle name seems sad and economical to a fault.

I’ve been thinking of alternative reasons for middle names besides just adding a second pretty name. Right now, I like the idea of First Name / Baptismal Name / My Maiden Name / Last Name — Aeneas Michael Bergmann Steger, for instance. It’s such a mouthful, but I particularly love the practice of giving my maiden name as my children’s middle names.

I never seriously considered hyphenating our last names, because if my daughter wanted to hyphenate her last name with her husband’s, it’d end up Bergmann-Steger-Smith, etc. — and that’s ridiculous. But as I’ve expressed elsewhere, I’m deeply connected to my maiden name. Maybe I’m still unused to married life, but I still see myself as a “Bergmann girl.” Bergmann is my last name, Steger is Erich’s, despite what my legal identification says. I’m hoping to at least come to see Steger as “ours” if not “mine.”

In any case, giving my children my maiden name connects them with my side of the family, the people I’ve loved the longest and deepest. It unites them to an important part of my identity.

It’s a common practice in the American south, in Spanish-influenced countries, and even Scandinavia, I hear. Many of our presidents have their mother’s maiden name as their middle name. I’m attending the wedding of a friend whose middle name is hyphenated between a “normal” middle name and what appears to be her mother’s maiden name. Her invitation gave me this idea in the first place. It would be a bold move in my corner of the world, but the idea’s growing on me.

What do you think? Would you give your child your maiden name? What’s your philosophy on middle names, either your own or your children’s?

Marriage Vows

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I didn’t become opinionated about marriage vows until after I got married and attended weddings where the vows weren’t done to my liking.

Take, for example, my biggest pet peeve about marriage vows — when ministers rehearse the vows during the rehearsal. After sitting through a rehearsal where the couple literally said “I do,” Erich got up and said, “Well, we don’t need to come back tomorrow.”

But seriously.

Another pet peeve is when the minister feeds the vow to the couple: “I, So and So.” Pause. “Take you, So and So.” Pause. It irritates me when the minister, who has talked too long and made too many lame jokes already, cheerfully and loudly says these sacred vows as if people ought to pay attention to him instead of the soft-spoken couple, who are, of course, never miced.

My friend says it makes her feel like the minister is getting married to the couple. I don’t feel quite the same way, but yes, it’s awkward. One minister got around the problem by whispering the vows to the couple. I loved that. All ears were on the beautiful couple, and the pauses emphasized the sincerity and commitment in each line of the vow. Well-done, minister.

Since I didn’t know about this whisper method, Erich and I read our vows. (Erich knew that if he tried memorizing his, he’d forget it right as he opened his mouth.) We chose to read traditional marriage vows for our wedding. Erich, the traditionalist who never considered an outdoor wedding as an option, wasn’t interested in writing personalized vows.

And me? Frankly, I was afraid of writing our wedding vows. Three reasons:

(1) I didn’t want to look back on my wedding vows and cringe at the writing style.

(2) I didn’t want to make promises I couldn’t keep. Promising to laugh at all his jokes, treat him with kindness, and greet him with a smile each day — well, I don’t laugh at all his jokes; I’m not always kind; and I definitely won’t be smiling all the time.

(3) I once attended a wedding where the couple declared their love for each other rather than promised their love to each other. I’m not sure that counts as marriage. Does that count as marriage? It might not count as marriage. I didn’t want to risk it.

So I ended up reading off a folded piece of paper, glancing into his eyes and back down, the words I had longed to say: “I, Bailey Elizabeth Bergmann, take you, Erich Michael Steger, to be my husband. I promise to be true to you in plenty and in want, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”

Chills.

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But that vow to my beloved came after a vow we made to God — a prayer we read together, compiled from Scripture. It made the point that our vows weren’t just to each other before God; our vows were to God before each other. Plus, it got rid of that long pause where the reader comes up, figures out how to turn on the microphone, and fumbles through 1 Corinthians 13.

We prayed,

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

We invoke your name and your presence over us as we make our marriage vows.

May we cleave to each other, transforming dust and bone into one flesh.

May we be faithful to one another, always intoxicated by the other’s love.

May we submit to one another out of reverence to Christ, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind; doing nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility counting the other more significant than ourselves; looking not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of the other; having this mind among ourselves, which is ours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

If you bless us with children, may we not exasperate them but bring them up in the joy of the Lord.

May we govern our household with wisdom. Bless our work; feed us with the food that is needful for us, lest we be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest we be poor and steal and profane the name of our God.

Whatever comes in our marriage and our future life, let our hearts say, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.” Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, yet we will rejoice in the Lord; we will take joy in the God of our salvation.

For this reason, we bow our knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of your glory you may grant us to be strengthened with power through your Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith—that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

“That’s too long,” Erich told me.

What can I say? I’m a writer. I’m wordy. Hence, I didn’t write my own marriage vows.

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What did or will you do for your marriage vows? I’d love to know!

Christianity and the Cult of Domesticity

nineteenth century woman

I’m reading Rebecca Traister’s book, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, and stumbled upon a historical movement called the cult of domesticity, or the cult of true womanhood (“cult” meaning “culture”).

I was hooked.

Barbara Welter’s well-known essay, “The Cult of True Womanhood: 1820-1860,” defines “true womanhood” like this:

The attributes of True Womanhood, by which a woman judged herself and was judged by her husband, her neighbors and society could be divided into four cardinal virtues — piety, purity, submissiveness and domesticity. Put them all together and they spelled mother, daughter, sister, wife — woman. Without them, no matter whether there was fame achievement or wealth, all was ashes. With them she was promised happiness and power.

This sounds precisely like the patriarchal and complementarian rhetoric of my teenage years, but it comes not from today’s “back to the Bible, back to the family” movement but from the American cult of domesticity. In “Notes on The Cult of Domesticity and True Womanhood,” Prof. Catherine Lavender explains:

When husbands went off to work, they helped create the view that men alone should support the family. This belief held that the world of work, the public sphere, was a rough world, where a man did what he had to in order to succeed, that it was full of temptations, violence, and trouble. A woman who ventured out into such a world could easily fall prey to it, for women were weak and delicate creatures. A womanʹs place was therefore in the private sphere, in the home, where she took charge of all that went on.

Sounds familiar? This is the grandmammy of patriarchy and complementarianism — the separation of the “masculine” sphere and the “feminine” sphere. The woman dare not work outside the home because that placed upon her the burden of Adam’s curse. Her sphere was creating a home, a haven from the world for a work-weary husband and guests, made more beautiful and refreshing by her homemaking talents like bread-baking and crocheting.

I ought to know. I wrote for a site called Raising Homemakers as a stay-at-home daughter.

Speaking of which, do you remember patriarchy’s odd emphasis on feminine handicrafts? As a teenager, I went through a program called Keepers at Home, which was like a patriarchal version of Girl Scouts complete with sash and badges. We learned skills like baking (from scratch), quilting, and basketweaving. Other badges included macrame, crewel embroidery, and paper piercing — obscure handcrafts in need of Googling.

There’s nothing wrong with obscure handcrafts, of course, but it seems fishy to me that such obscure handcrafts are part of a young ladies’ homemaking program subsumed under a larger organization called Keepers of the Faith. For the longest time, I wondered why anybody would link homemade bread (homemade bread, mind) with ultimate feminine virtue.

Answer? The cult of domesticity. Women taught other women more elaborate feminine arts to occupy the free time afforded by modern appliances and conveniences:

Everyday tasks were made more time-consuming and taxing, so as to better fill the days of women who might otherwise grow restive and attempt to leave the house. As Godey’s Lady’s Book helpfully informed readers, “There is more to be learned about pouring out tea and coffee than most young ladies are willing to believe” (Traister, 45).

I felt that restiveness myself. Homemaking bored me to tears. I was far more interested in working with the abstract concept of stay-at-home daughters, the theology behind it and the apologetics of it, than with actually making a quilt or baking cookies. I never wanted to live in Jane Austen’s world like the majority of my stay-at-home acquaintances, because her life of chatting, walking, pouring tea, dancing, repeat, repeat, repeat seemed so meaningless.

I wasn’t alone. The second-wave feminists felt the exact same thing. Laura Turner, in “The Good Wife: How the Cult of Domesticity Still Reigns in the 21st Century,” quotes Betty Friedan on this kind of homemaking devoid of options for intellectual growth, work, or hobbies outside of the feminine arts: “What kind of a woman was she if she did not feel this mysterious fulfillment waxing the kitchen floor? She was so ashamed to admit her dissatisfaction that she never knew how many other women shared it.”

(I remember puzzling over one woman’s comment of how she identified herself as the “Queen of the Home” — which is equivalent to the cult of domesticity’s “Angel of the Home” — and felt the height of success whenever she gets her home in order. Now, I resonate with the sense of satisfaction that comes from crossing off a to-do list and making a stinky bathroom smell like citrus, but I wouldn’t publicly, proudly identify that as one of my personal successes. But then again, I see housework only as a necessary evil, not as part of my womanhood.)

Ironically, only wealthier women achieved this “true womanhood” of leisurely homemaking. As Jeanne Boydston points out in “Cult of True Womanhood,” the majority of women, even middle-class women who bought into the cult of domesticity, did just as much back-breaking dirty work as their husbands:

…wives cooked, cleaned, laundered, sewed, nursed sick family members, took care of their children, and performed a host of other labors. … But nineteenth-century Americans were eager to represent the “home” as distinct from the increasingly exploitative “work place.” With economic value calculated more and more exclusively in terms of cash and men increasingly basing their claims to “manhood” on their role as “breadwinners,” women’s unpaid household labor went largely unacknowledged.

There’s some truth to patriarchal homemakers’ claims: running a home is no small feat. Even in my own little apartment, I find myself constantly picking up, washing dishes, prepping meals, figuring out finances, and doing a host of mind-numbing necessities — and I do wonder how Erich and I will get it all done once both of us start working full-time. So yes, homemaking is hard work deserving of praise.

But the lie in patriarchal homemaking is that this work is, for women, somehow easier than Adam’s curse of labor outside the home — hard enough that nobody can replace a homemaker, of course, but leisurely enough that women find time to put on a fresh face of makeup, tidy up the house, and have supper and a happy countenance on once hubby walks through the doors.

Fact or fiction aside, the cult of domesticity found this sort of leisurely homemaking suitable for the fragile female sex: “It certainly cannot be affirmed, as a historical fact, that [the right to choose one’s profession] has ever been established as one of the fundamental privileges and immunities of the sex,” Justice Joseph Bradley argued against a married woman seeking to practice law apart from her husband on the basis of the Fourteenth Amendment (Traister, 53). “The paramount destiny and mission of women are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother.”

His rule, no doubt, followed the practice of English common law called coverture, where “a woman’s legal, economic, and social identity was ‘covered’ by the legal, economic, and social identity of the man she married,” Traister explains (41). She quotes William Blackstone’s chilling interpretation of coverture here:

…the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing. … A man cannot grant any thing to his wife, or enter into covenant with her: for the grant would suppose her separate existence; and to covenant with her, would be only to covenant with himself” (41).

It’s just too coincidental that complementarianism and patriarchalism emphasize the headship of husbands over their wives and the necessity of “covering” women, married and single, with male protection and guidance throughout their everyday life and spirituality. Some patriarchal voices (I’ve forgotten who, but the Botkin girls are suspect) took this so far that they encouraged single women without a husband or father to take cover under their own brother’s protection. Yikes.

I give them props for following their beliefs to their logical conclusion, at least. Many patriarchalists and complementarians get stumped while figuring out how to apply a middle-class, married, white women’s paradigm onto single women.

The cult of domesticity had a familiar answer for that too — the cult of single blessedness: “The ‘singly blessed’ were presumed to be pious vessels whose commitment to service, undiluted by the needs of husbands or children, made them perfect servants of god, family, and community” (45).

Of course, their services were limited to the “feminine” tasks of teaching, nursing, and the like — which is ironic, considering in 1800, men made up 90% of teachers, even for young children (47). Even as unmarried, women’s destinies and occupations were wrapped around benefiting the family and aligning with a pre-determined definition of “feminine nature.”

As part of that “feminine nature,” the cult of domesticity encouraged a fixation on female purity uncannily similar to today’s purity culture. Welter notes that “the marriage night was the single great event of a woman’s life, when she bestowed her greatest treasure upon her husband.”

To protect this treasure, the cult of domesticity catastrophized the consequences of extramarital sex; in literature, loose women were shamed, punished, and portrayed as less-than-women. Anyone who has witnessed a youth pastor describing foregone purity as “chewed-up gum,” a “crumpled paper heart,” or a “defiled rose” knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Of course, women then, as they do now,

assured young ladies that although they were separate, they were equal. This difference of the sexes did not imply inferiority, for it was part of that same order of Nature established by Him “who bides the oak brave the fury of the tempest, and the alpine flower lean its cheek on the bosom of eternal snows” (Welter).

In no way, then, are today’s complementarianism and patriarchalism returns to culturally unbiased Biblical principles. They’re a defense of a white, middle-class, American concept of femininity, masculinity, and family. Much of Christianity’s complementarianism and patriarchalism seems almost identical to this cult of domesticity, from marriage advice to flower arranging. (Read Welter’s full article if you don’t believe me.)

As Lavender summarizes,

The middle‐class family came to look at itself, and at the nuclear family in general, as the backbone of society. Kin and community remained important, but not nearly so much as they had once been. A new ideal of womanhood and a new ideology about the home arose out of the new attitudes about work and family.

Focus on the Family, the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the Family Integrated Church movement — all zero in on the importance of the nuclear family and the roles men and women must fulfill in order to maintain it.

This explains the hysteria often surrounding the egalitarian and complementarian debates. To many complementarians and patriarchalists, egalitarianism breaks down the roles underpinning the nuclear family, thus destroying society and the church.

As Rev. Mr. Stearns put it back then, “Yours is to determine whether the beautiful order of society…shall continue as it has been” or whether “society shall break up and become a chaos of disjointed and unsightly elements.” Today, John MacArthur argues in “On the Subordination and Equality of Women,” “I think Satan is feverishly involved in upsetting the divine order any way he possibly can.”

That’s why Christianity resists egalitarianism, and that’s why women themselves, though their desires and skills may lend themselves to something other than being a wife, mother, and 24/7 homemaker, cling to even the most abusive forms of patriarchalism.

Welter concludes,

“Who Can Find a Valiant Woman?” was asked frequently from the pulpit and the editorial pages. There was only one place to look for her — at home. Clearly and confidently these authorities proclaimed the True Woman of the nineteenth century to be the Valiant Woman of the Bible, in whom the heart of her husband rejoiced and whose price was above rubies.

With this historical perspective, we get the opportunity of taking a good hard look at American Christianity’s teachings on gender and home life. Did they really come straight from the Bible — or were they ripped right out of a nineteenth century women’s magazine?

A Book for Those Who Struggle with Christianity

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Earlier this year, I found myself saying, “Christianity doesn’t make sense — not with itself, not with the Bible, and not with reality.”

I felt burnt out with trying to have a relationship with an invisible, omnipotent being that wasn’t too intellectual or too emotional, with nothing but “read your Bible and pray” as the guidelines for growth.

I was exhausted with attempting to reconcile to myself the capricious, genocidal God in the Old Testament with the God who became incarnate as Jesus Christ.

I gave up waiting for God to appear, in any way (but not too emotional or too intellectual) during my darkest moments of doubt and vulnerability. God did not show up. I was weary convincing myself that he did or would or had.

But I still wanted God, more deeply than ever. In my agnostic state, my whole being desired God.

This book allowed me to say things out loud that I was too scared to say but knew to be true: The Bible is hard to interpret. The attempts to know God via intellect or emotions only (or some odd balance between them) don’t work. The God of the Old Testament is often capricious, genocidal, and unlike the God of the New Testament. God appears unfaithful at times, especially when we need him most.

But this book also affirmed my desire for God in the person of Jesus Christ. It reignited my love for Scripture. It set aside the baggage of the Western tradition that elevated knowing things about God for certain over trusting and longing.

It’s called The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our “Correct” Beliefs by Peter Enns.

Here are some highlights touching on the major exodus of Christian kids from church, the bajillion Protestant denominations, and the fragility of “knowing what you believe”:

[Christian kids] have heard sermons and lessons their whole lives where they were taught to think of the world in a certain “Christian” way, and then maybe in high school, maybe in college, they begin to see that life is more complicated and God doesn’t work according to the plan. So a major disconnect rises up between what they had been taught and what they see. Their faith is no longer a convincing way of explaining the world, and so they leave it. …

The long Protestant quest to get the Bible right has not led to greater and greater certainty about what the Bible means. Quite the contrary. It has led to a staggering number of different denominations and subdenominations that disagree sharply about how significant portions of the Bible should be understood. I mean, if the Bible is our source of sure knowledge about God, how do we explain all this diversity? …

[Preoccupation with correct thinking] reduces the life of faith to sentry duty, a 24/7 task of pacing the ramparts and scanning the horizon to fend off incorrect thinking, in ourselves and others, too engrossed to come inside the halls and enjoy the banquet. A faith like that is stressful and tedious to maintain. Moving toward different ways of thinking, even just trying it on for a while to see how it fits, is perceived as a compromise to faith, or as giving up on faith altogether. …

A faith that rest on knowing, where you have to “know what you believe” in order to have faith, is a disaster waiting to happen. All it takes to ruin that kind of faith is a better argument. And there’s always a better argument out there somewhere. …

When we think of “strong” faith as something that should be free of uncertainty or crises, I believe we have gotten wrong an important part of who God is and how the Christian life really works.

If you want to hear a less burdensome way to follow Jesus, read the rest of the book or check out Peter Enn’s blog. Let me know your thoughts!

// A prayer for periods of doubt and another great book

How to Buy Gifts for Anyone Too Old for My Little Ponies and Legos

birthday

I hate giving gifts. There’s just too much drama and angst about it: What on earth do I get them? What if they don’t like it? What if I see they don’t like it? How will my sense of self survive if I see that they don’t like it?

Or what if they know that I shop for everything at Walmart? Is it wrong to shop at Walmart when I can use my gift card to Target? Will that offend them? Will that give them some smug superiority over me? Will that give me some smug superiority over them to know they’re exercising smug superiority over me? Will our smug superiority ruin this birthday celebration?

People aren’t helpful with this, either. Unless they’re six years old or the most annoying person on the planet, they won’t email out their wish lists. They do this coy dance:  “I don’t know” or “I don’t really want anything for my birthday.”

They don’t understand. I have to get them something for their birthday because if I don’t and somebody else does, they will know I’m just a lazy ingrate who doesn’t take the time to appreciate our friendship. Gift-giving isn’t about them; it’s about assuring myself I don’t fail at the adult social scene as much as I actually do.

(Did I say that all out loud?)

Anyways, gift giving is hard. Gift receiving is hard, too, because it involves the impossible choice between giving the thing away to Goodwill or stuffing it in my closet, letting it haunt me, remind me that I lack the moral fiber to declutter my house of gifts from loved ones who might die today or tomorrow and then I’ll be sorry.

There’s a better way — a way without clutter and without shopping at Walmart: gifting activities rather than things.

I got this idea from a fellow college student whose divorced father, unused to picking out the birthday gifts, started taking his kids out for fun things like skydiving and sky boarding for their birthdays.

Isn’t that fabulous? There are many more cool things to do than to buy, I think, and far too few excuses to do them. Six Flags. Wine tasting. Swimming with seals. Dance lessons. Acroyoga. Riding horses. Broadway shows. Jet skiing. Canoeing.

Doesn’t that sound much more fun than running through Walmart last minute looking for something under $20? And you don’t even have to betray your terrible gift wrapping skills!

Since it’s my twenty-second birthday today (go ahead, sing the T-Swift song), my mother-in-law took me out for a mani/pedi — the perfect gift for a frugal girly-girl like me. Other than that, I’m hoping for a homemade key lime pie and some quality time with Erich!

Have you given or received an activity for your birthday? Tell me!

Introvert Makes a Friend

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I wrote it down in pencil: “Theology on Tap at 7 PM.” I wrote it in pencil because I dropped my pen behind the desk a couple days ago and don’t feel like searching for it. Also, I wrote it in pencil because, metaphorically, that’s how I view all social engagements — subject to random erasure.

I wrote it down on Sunday, when I was feeling extroverted and energetic. Today was Monday. I was feeling neither. I was feeling like curling up on our stained loveseat and reading the novel I picked up for fifty cents at an estate sale.

I wrote it down on Sunday, when I was an idealist who hoped 7 PM would spark the friendship of a lifetime with a hipster but orthodox casual theologian who used the word “ironically” after everything and wore her hair in messy buns. Today was Monday. I was a pessimist who knew nobody ever made friends at social events. Social events were things to be endured, not enjoyed.

“Theology on Tap at 7 PM.”

Throughout the day, I grew crankier with that social engagement written on the back of my mind. I grew annoyed with Erich’s cheerfulness and jokes — as if a social engagement wasn’t looming over our lives, threatening our evening’s happiness. As if.

Erich and I aren’t the most ideal couple for socializing, after all. Our conversations alternate between Pokemon Go and the problems with Protestantism, or occur simultaneously. We hadn’t willingly small-talked in ages. What do normal people talk about these days?

To make matters worse, we hadn’t talked too much to each other lately, either. I had fallen into into my introvert reverie, reading, writing, thinking, and staring off into space. I’m a horrible wife. Horrible wives don’t make friends.

I washed the dinner dishes to atone for it.

“Theology on Tap at 7 PM,” and it was 6:35 PM, and I spilt dishwater over my shirt. No. The last thing I needed was a reason to think about my wardrobe. Maybe I should have thought about it harder, though, because I ended up wearing black glasses, a brown shirt, and gray shorts. My black glasses tilt sideways, too. Classy.

Theology on Tap is a Catholic event, so obviously it’s at a pub. I never understood event planner’s obsession with hosting public affairs in ambiguous public locations. “Natty Oaks Pub.” Where? Are we sitting at the bar? Are we gathering at a table in the back corner? The front corner? Will there be signs? Please tell me there will be signs. Please don’t make me track down a service member and ask him where the Theology on Tap event is occurring, only to find out he doesn’t know, and we just stand there awkwardly, hoping someone in your group is comfortable enough in her own skin to ask every bemused person if they’re here for the Theology on Tap event. If you don’t have signs, please give me the courtesy of having a bubbly greeter. Deal?

There were signs. There were signs at every point where I wanted to stop and say, “Now which way?” I liked these people already.

There was also pizza, which I ate because I succumb to peer pressure at every social event, even when I’m stuffed from the potato, egg, and bacon scramble I scarfed down thirty minutes earlier.

There were also name tags, which is an unfortunate necessity of these sorts of things. I don’t mind baring my soul to people, but I do mind baring my handwriting. One thing about name tags, though — “Hello, my name is” tags automatically make you look friendly. I chose that type. Erich took the blank ones, because he is a confident man who doesn’t need a name tag to finish his sentences.

We ended up sitting at our own table, smack dab in the center front of the room. Smack dab in the center front of the room. (Erich chose the table. His excuse? “I didn’t understand the layout of the room until after we sat down.”) It was one of those four-legged tables that wanted to be three-legged at unexpected moments.

They gave us Starbursts we could not eat, which meant only one thing: forced socialization. “This is why you’re here, Bailey,” I whispered to myself. “This is a good thing. Small talk — good. Eating Starbursts after small talk — better. Taking the remainder of Starbursts home to eat in solitude — best. Endure.”

Find a person you’ve never talked to before and ask them the question that corresponds with your color of Starburst. Well, that left everybody. I made eye contact with the first female I saw. (You can take the girl out of evangelical youth group, but you can’t take away the gender segregation.)

I knew the drill: say inconsequential things through a huge smile that you felt in every word and every facial crevice (you know what I mean?), and they would say the same inconsequential things back, and we would laugh at those inconsequential things and pretend that interaction mattered, even though, as twenty- and thirty-somethings, we know it never did.

(If I was the precocious heroine of a mainstream novel, I would say that out loud to my jaded future husband. I am not the precocious heroine of a mainstream novel, and, frankly, do strangers really appreciate brute, sarcastic honesty? No. Not unless they’re your future husband. And I have a husband already.)

The red Starburst question made us pick between chocolate and cheese. Why do people assume chocolate is a safe subject? It’s not. I am part of a minority group of women who can live without chocolate and even prefer to live without chocolate. Instant social ostracism.

The yellow Starburst question covered one thing I wanted to cross off my summer bucket list, and I said, “Uhhhh” and cocked my head along the angle of my tilted black glasses (because I don’t have a bucket list because I’m too busy trying to figure out how to reunite the church and I’m scared of skydiving).

“I want to finish moving into my new apartment,” I said; “you know, get rid of all those extra clothes and things to Goodwill.” (Is that a grammatical sentence?) “Wait, that’s not a bucket list thing,” I panic. “That’s a to-do list. Sorry.”

This was not going well, as usual. And I instantly began preparing myself for the awkward silence to fall, that chill moment where we both chased after our runaway train of thought while covering with friendly laughter and said, “Yeah, that’s awesome” at the same time.

The awkward silence fell.

Think, think, think. Books! Books show you’re educated and thoughtful! “Have you read that book about the, uh, the, um, the magic art of cleaning up or something?” Dang it, woman, you just saw this book at Barnes and Noble! What is wrong with you?

“Yeah! I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard good things about it.”

“Yeah! Uh, I only read the first part, and then I don’t remember why I stopped reading it [who cares?], but [actually, I don’t remember anything about what it said — oh!], um, I loved the part where she talked about only keeping things that brought you joy, because there are some things I don’t want to give away because they make me happy [none of this is making sense]….”

“Yeah, I know what you mean. Some things are sentimental.”

“Yeah,” I laughed (why?). “That’s awesome.”

I liked listening to the speaker — a much safer social interaction, even though my four-legged table rocked across the concrete floor every time I touched it. When I wasn’t wondering whether everyone was looking at me when my table groaned, I was debating whether I should eat the Starburst candy in front of me, because chewing a Starburst is not a discreet matter. I decided to eat three.

It was also difficult to decide if I wanted to ask a question after the speaker finished. On the one-hand, speaking up as a newcomer might show intelligence, confidence, and genuine curiosity. On the other hand, who but a show-off, goody-two-shoes noob would ask a question the first day she showed up to new territory?

The speaker didn’t take questions. Instead, we received a set of discussion questions for our table — our table of two. Nobody invited us to pull over our rickety table and join them for a rousing discussion on third-world poverty, so Erich and I talked between ourselves.

You know, I felt like we really connected. We talked about things important to me — deep things, good things. He shared some interesting information on the difference between USA flags and German flags. We smiled and laughed. I felt at ease, like myself, accepted. I liked this Erich fellow.

I also liked having an excuse to book it out of the pub. “Oh, look at the time,” I said. “I’m late for my Skype date. Let’s go.” We took our Starbursts and smiled our goodbyes in a way that conveyed we were leaving because we had to, not because we were purposefully avoiding freestyle socialization.

“I made friends!” Erich said, in the car, breaking the silence.

“That’s nice! Who’d you talk to?”

“I don’t remember their names. I talked to a girl who’s been a teacher for three years.” (You talked to a member of the opposite sex? Serious respect, man.)

“Did you mention your wife was a teacher?”

“No. I wanted to give the appearance that I was single.”

I smacked him.

“I’m kidding. I didn’t think about that. I’m bad at talking.”

“Me too,” I said. We sat in silence a while. “Should we go back next week?”

“Sure,” he said.

I wasn’t sure. “We’ll probably just end up talking to ourselves again.”

“That’s okay. We needed to talk to each other.”

We smiled, like people always do to conclude a story like this. I made a friend, after all.


What’s your experience making post-baccalaureate friends?

// More introvert awkwardness here and here

A Quick Way to Bless Your Husband

Bergmann-StegerWedding-191

I spent the weekend standing up in the wedding of two dear friends. During the homily, the priest enumerated 10 marriage tips, one of which included blessing each other when they went to bed and when they rose in the morning.

He demonstrated: you take your thumb, and trace a cross on your spouse’s forward — one stroke down, one stroke sideways. “I bless you.”

I’ve adopted this as another way to show physical and verbal affection to Erich. Before he falls asleep, I’ll kiss him goodnight and bless him. Before he goes off to work, I’ll peek out from under the covers (6:30 is too early for me), reach for his forehead, and murmur, “I bless you. I love you,” before rolling over and sleeping in till a decent hour.

I love the depth of “I bless you.” I love using the symbol of the greatest love. It reaches a different parts of our souls, blessing one another. And if I have kids, I want to incorporate this into our good mornings and good nights too. We all need blessing!

Do you have a specific way of blessing your husband?

// More love habits to form

Every Summer Festival, Ever

festival

If I posted the photo to Facebook (which I won’t, because I got the angle wrong and the lower left corner is nothing but the elongated blob of my face), you’d see a cute couple celebrating Bastille Day in front of an Eiffel Tower. “Adventuring it up on the weekend! #stegersrus,” the caption would say.

And you’d probably think, “Aw, man. Why didn’t I take a boy out through a downtown summer festival and snap a selfie in front of a little Eiffel Tower and enjoy a fun weekend instead of alternating between Pinterest and Twitter all of Sunday afternoon?”

And you might think, “Those Stegers got their newlywed game on — just randomly popping into a city-wide party on a Sunday afternoon, enjoying each other’s company, knocking out that once-a-week scheduled date night.”

Ah, those Stegers. Just another cute, cute, cute couple on Facebook making you question your life decisions and the health of your relationship.

In reality?

“What’s Bastille Day?” Erich asked as I loaded him into our Escape with no air conditioning.

“I don’t know. Let’s just do something,” I said, after spending a weekend guiltily contemplating my boring, plugged-in summer that never amounted to anything except late bedtimes to avoid going to sleep and late rising to avoid waking up.

We drove three times around the block to find the entrance to the public parking lot after I missed the right turn by being in a left turn only lane and then overcompensated by pulling into the ally instead of the parking lot entrance.

We paid $10 for two hours of parking for this free event.

Erich started crossing the street before the little white buddy flashed up. I chastised him for breaking the law right as our little buddy flashed up. Erich muttered something about me knowing nothing about big cities. I sulked, but grabbed his arm ten seconds later for pretenses as we walked into the festival.

The festival turned out to be nothing but lines of tents selling beer, overpriced food, and those drapey, crepey, colorful tunic dresses they always sell at festivals.

We walked past every single one of them for pretenses.

I stopped to look at the Celtic photograph booth for pretenses and let out an excited sigh for pretenses about how cool that one photograph was (even though it, honestly, wasn’t).

I prayed under my breath the entire time, “Please don’t let that vendor talk to me. Please don’t let him make eye contact with me. Please.”

I determined the fashion of the summer was simple shift dresses and half-buns.

I wanted fried cheese curds, but we didn’t have any cash. I wanted crepes, but we didn’t have any cash. I wanted Belgian waffles and lemonade and ice cream, but, “Bailey, we spent all our cash yesterday, remember?”

I realized Erich and I weren’t doing any happy summer lover banter and complained that he never said anything as I took his arm for pretenses again.

I dropped his arm because the humidity turned to sticky sweat between our skin.

Everyone else seemed to enjoy themselves immensely. I wondered why. I determined it was an incurable flaw in my own self.

I wanted to go home and be an introvert forever.

We passed the little Eiffel Tower, and I thought, “Let’s get a cute selfie in front of the cute Eiffel Tower to remember this great day by!”

I realized the irony of that statement as I snapped a bad selfie.

It was hot.

I stepped on a piece of gum and said I hated my life right now as I dragged my sole across the asphalt.

“What do you want to do now?” he asked.

“Do you want to listen to music and then go?”

“Sure.”

We walked to the other end of the festival grounds. “Wait, this isn’t the band with the washboard! Where’s the band with the washboard?”

“On the other side.”

“I bet when we get there, the band with the washboard will be gone.”

I was right. There was a French man teaching French. Finally, something fun to watch. “Do you want to sit in those chairs over there?”

“No, I want to sit in the shade.” So we stood in the direct sunlight.

The French man came into the audience and made them say Je m’apelle, and I said, “Never mind, let’s just go.”

And then we went to the mall, browsed through Barnes and Noble, and sat next to a fountain full of screaming happy children while splitting a large root beer float.

“I had a lot of fun today,” I lied, but only because the wind was cool, the Sprecher store accepted debit cards, and gosh dang it, we did something that weekend.

But I decided not to post about it on Facebook. For honesty’s sake.

Enjoy your weekend!

Poking Holes in Complementarian Arguments

talk

I said this in Understanding Complementarian Women:

If you try advancing an egalitarian argument, no matter how solid or convincing, it will most likely fall on deaf ears. Rather than arguing, respectfully poke holes in complementarian inconsistencies. (There are plenty of them.) It feels less threatening and requires more thought to answer specific questions than to rattle off the talking points.

I got several requests for a post explaining what “poking holes” looks like.

Like I said above and elsewhere, complementarianism from the outside is an airtight argument, a closed circle, as solid as a fundamentalist’s belief in sola Scriptura. Don’t try arguing against complementarianism. You’ll fail.

Instead, make the complementarian argue against complementarianism, even after you exit the conversation.

Feeling backed into a corner, misunderstood, and attacked triggers walls and distracts from the real issue. It’s so easy for a complementarian to dismiss an emotional, rude egalitarian or the same-old, same-old argument against complementarianism. In fact, these sorts of ineffective tactics increase complementarians’ convictions in their beliefs. Persecution, defending the homefront, going off on pet peeve rabbit trails — all of these encourages talking points rather than genuine conversation.

We’re human. We save face. We defend the homefront at all costs against the enemy, even if we doubt the homefront altogether. In other words: No matter how much a complementarian privately doubts complementarianism, she will publicly defend it. That’s just what humans do.

The key, then, is avoiding those triggers that result only in talking points and defensiveness.

When I wrote a letter to a previously-attended church about allowing women more roles in the Sunday service, I framed it in two contexts: (1) Hi, guys, I’m Bailey, your Bailey, your sweet, smart, talented Bailey with sisters (females) who sing and read aloud better than most of the token male worship leaders. You all know me. You all love me. You’ve all respected me before. Listen up! Forbidding me from using my gifts hurts me, Bailey, your Bailey. (2) Our church has a shortage of qualified members. We have sub-par worship and ministry, and we know it. Let’s actually utilize our female members’ gifts, yeah? If we limit 70% of the members, we’re not only hurting me as a talented, stifled female member, we’re hurting our entire congregation. We’re hurting you.

I could have said, “Good morning, gentlemen of the deacon board. Let’s talk about the history and theology of women’s issues, shall we?”

But that wouldn’t have been at all effective. That would have immediately triggered the walls and the defenses. That would make it an “issue” requiring the regular talking points and put downs. Instead, I framed it in the context of a relationship between me and them and women and the church, and in the context of my life and my spirituality.

Of course, ironically, the man in charge of the meeting failed to mention anyone had written a letter, much less attached my name to it, and just announced at the next deacon board, “Let’s talk about women’s issues.”

Guess what? Anger and talking points ensued. By the time my letter and my name came up, they only saw me and my points through the lens of their personal feelings — and nothing changed.

Poking holes avoids that situation.

Poking holes produces what Peter Enns calls “uh-oh moments” — moments when those tough doubts sucker-punch you in the gut, and your talking points can’t save you now.

Uh-oh moments linger on in our conscious and sub-conscious. They connect to those deep-down, scary heresies we all have caged under our talking points and happy Christian smiles. They cause our spiritual crises.

Poking holes triggers the crises rather than the talking points.

Poking holes avoids using words, arguments, and approaches typical in an egalitarian/complementarian brawl. It demotes complementarianism from “the Biblical worldview” to “an interesting thought you personally have.” It engages the personfeeling, and opinions of the complementarian, rather than the complementarian talking points.

Poking holes is all about planting questions or comments of doubt, leaven that works through the whole lump until the entire ideology feels contaminated. Those questions or comments need to be kind, subtle, and blunt — kind, because nobody likes a know-it-all; subtle, because mounting a full-frontal argument results in walls and talking points; blunt, because they need to be noticeable and unnerving.

Exhibit A: I came across this bright, well-written woman who, in “celebration” of International Women’s Month, listed a depressing “8 Reasons Why Women Are Weaker Than Men.”

I wrote in response,

This breaks my heart, love. I’m heartbroken for you and for all the other women who believe this. All of these are lies that you have been told, and they fly in the face of reality and in the face of who YOU are as a woman. I used to believe many of these lies too, but thankfully, God freed me from the bondage of thinking I am weaker than and unequal to men. If you’d like to hear the alternative arguments to each of these points, I’d love to chat with you! My email address is linked in my profile. May God bless you richly, sister.

She said in reply,

Thank you for the feedback dear but I’m very convinced I’m in the right path. May the Lord bless you too and thank you for reading.

In retrospect, I wish I would have used 99% less pity and nixed the bondage/freedom metaphor to say this:

I can think of so many women, including you, who are exceptions to every single one of these reasons. Don’t you see the irony of an intelligent, well-spoken woman like you claiming to be weaker than all men? Other women may be weaker than some men, certainly, but from what I’ve read, you aren’t. Don’t sell yourself short, friend!

Kind, blunt, and subtle.

Poking holes takes friendliness, a willingness to engage with the individual instead of hurling a one-line zinger, and razor-sharp, uncomfortable comments, like these:

Using your familiarity or relationship with the person

Other Person: Oh, feminists. *eyeroll*

Me: *smiles* I’m a feminist, just so you know.

OP: …

Making a moral appeal

It’s disturbing to me that the words “exclude” and “prohibit” are still used in normal church vocabulary against women only.

If a woman applied to be CEO at a company and the company said, “Your application is not even being considered because you’re a woman,” is that not sexist and discriminatory? How then is it NOT sexist to tell a woman, “Your application for worship leader or head pastor or Sunday school teacher is not even being considered because you’re a woman”?

Pointing out bias

OP: In terms of women speaking, reading, and praying in church, I think that is a grey [sic] area that should be decided by each denomination or church. My conscience is such that I would take issue with a woman as the lead singer and one who prays to lead worship in a service.

Me: This might be a gray area for you, a man, who will never be told you can’t exercise your God-given spiritual gifts just because you’re male. But I can assure you it’s quite a big deal for us with female anatomy. ;)

Questioning the need for complementarianism

If complementarianism essentially boils down to the husband lays down his life for the wife and the wife submits to the husband, both seeking the best interests of the other, why is male authority in marriage even necessary?

What is one, non-biological trait men have that women don’t, without exception?

Why would God use gender, rather than gifting, to determine leadership?

Seriously, what’s the worst that could happen if a qualified, gifted woman stood up and offered a prayer over the offering?

Why did God pick men over women? No, seriously?

Exposing silly contradictions

So, it’s more preferable for a man, any man, to teach adult Sunday school than for a woman with a PhD in the topic on hand?

So, a mom can instruct her teenage boys during homeschool hours, but they magically become “too male” for her to instruct them and their friends at 9:30 AM on Sunday?

So, you’re encouraging men, who already suffer from the temptation of ruling over their wives, to take even more authority over their wives, who suffer from the curse of being ruled over? That sounds like an awful idea.

So, at what point do men stop laying down their lives for their wives, decide their opinion is better than their wives’, and make the ultimate decision? Are men just intuitively capable of knowing when they’re more right?

Why is it that women can be whatever they want to be everywhere except in the church?

Asking self-reflective statements

Are you happy?

Do you think, deep down, that God wants this?

Really? You really believe that about yourself? About me?

What drew you to complementarianism?

Why do you think women get turned off from complementarianism?

Why is this such a big deal to you?

Doesn’t it bother you that [blank]?

If you’re crying over it, doesn’t that mean something’s wrong with that idea?

Following up

I just can’t believe God is like that.

This just doesn’t make sense with the God I know/the gospel/who you are/who I am.

Hmm. That’s interesting, but it doesn’t seem to jive with reality.

That all sounds good, but it seems to be missing the heart of the gospel.

The most compelling hole an egalitarian can poke is being kind, thoughtful, and firm — no hysterics, no Bible verses, no smiling and nodding. That shatters negative egalitarian stereotypes and makes the question or comment more pointed.

Don’t argue, don’t preach, don’t implore, and for heaven’s sake, don’t be rude. Just poke your hole and pray the Spirit works.

Let’s recap: A kind, thoughtful, firm egalitarian asks questions out of curiosity with no ulterior motive; she appreciates the other person for sharing her perspective; and she genuinely, respectfully states her opinion in return:

You seem like a thoughtful person, and I appreciate hearing your opinion. Your argument sounds good, but I must say, it doesn’t seem attractive to anyone except a middle class American woman. Doesn’t it bother you that your “Biblical view” doesn’t include more real life women in different countries, cultures, and historical periods?

As a former hardcore complementarian, I can assure you: I would have thought about that question for years.

// For more help with initiating good conversation with complementarians, read the full article on Understanding Complementarian Women and How to Command Respect.

How to Command Respect

queen victoria

I always wondered why teachers thought yelling was an effective way of communicating anything. Yes, clearly, the screaming is supposed to put the living fear of God into those fourth-grade souls, but…it doesn’t. It just looks lame.

Kids will sort of look around at their fellow offenders, who are invisibly shrugging their shoulders and signaling, “Sorry she’s freaking out at you, man. Stay chill.”

Yelling never makes you look good. It makes you look like you lost your marbles. Yet teachers, parents, and angry girlfriends continue to use their raised voices and bloodshot eyes like the ultimate weapon.

The same thing goes for online altercations, too. Someone comes barging into the comments section, blasting accusations and f-bombs, while everyone else wonders, “Should I tell her she’s making herself look like an idiot?”

Good-natured people with a sarcastic bent will often try to deescalate the situation with humor, ad hominems, or a professional, “Don’t feed the trolls.” Those are nice gestures, but they can end up being bullying themselves or just plain ineffective.

As someone prone to using emotion as power and coming across as nothing but lame, I was happy to discover the secret of winning arguments and commanding children’s respect: a look of withering boredom.

In Tools for Teaching, Fred Jones argues that the most effective, intimidating response to shenanigans is a look of withering boredom. Kids goofing off in the corner? Stop dead in your tracks, turn slowly, and look at them with withering boredom. “Aw, teacher, we weren’t doing anything.” Continue the look of withering boredom. “You don’t have to be so mean about it,” they mumble. Continue looking witheringly bored. It’s so uncomfortable that kids will feel compelled to sit back in their seats and start working.

And don’t say anything, Jones warns. If you talk back, you lose. Period.

Think about it. The DMV worker who says nothing and just looks at you, completely unfazed — is she not intimidating? Does she not make you want to disappear into the face of the earth? There’s no arguing with someone who’s just staring at you with a look of withering boredom. It’s the ultimate argument-winner.

Queen Victoria mastered this look — zero expression, with no hint of humor or anger:

As the story goes, someone at the royal dinner table told a slightly off-color joke. Since Queen Victoria had little patience for such humor, she looked impassively at the would-be-comedian as the table fell silent. Then she coldly stated to the offending guest the immortal words, “*We* are not amused.”

— Tools for Teaching

This is how classy women come out on top.

I think back to some obnoxious people I’ve encountered and how I handled those situations. I thought blazing forth my vast array of emotions would impress them, knock them out, put the fear of God and myself into them. I thought my tears were powerful, my anger potent, and my sarcastic responses zinging.

Nope. I just looked silly. I played right into their hands and felt victimized. It’s like all those awkward, ineffective moments in The Bachelorette when the good guys tried to gang up on Chad, and Chad just stared at them with utter boredom. Chad’s got this withering boredom look down.

You can’t beat a bully by being vulnerable.

I’ve been working on my look of withering boredom for those few people in my life who say not-so-cool things about me, others, and the things I’m passionate about. (I practice on Erich, but I end up bursting out laughing and ruining the argument before I can perfect it.) I’m better online — the “delete” button is my look of withering boredom. And of course, I’m trying this out in my kindergarten classroom this fall.

Do you naturally command respect? Tell us your secrets!

// How to sound smart and how to sound understanding