A Book for Those Who Struggle with Christianity

doubt

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

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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

pub

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

The Best Decision I Made All Summer

social media

I hate getting to the end of the day feeling like I accomplished nothing except scrolling through Facebook, pinning a few things to Pinterest, and binge watching YouTube. Even answering an email or writing a blog post feels more productive than checking social media.

Mindless social media absorption sounds like the perfect way to spend an evening after going to class and writing a thesis all day, but I graduated. I get the summer off. I can live now. I can do whatever I want to with endless free time.

Why on earth do I spend it stuck in front of a screen reading inflammatory online comments and not-so-funny memes?

But I just can’t convince myself to get rid of my Facebook account, that most notorious timesucker. I just can’t do it. All of my friends and family live in other states and other cities. I love seeing their photos, reading their updates, and sharing my own. Plus, I get all my breaking news on Facebook. (Remember that time when your Facebook feed was 90% Black Lives Matter and Pokemon Go? If anything else newsworthy happened during that time, I’ll never know.)

I made a smaller change with a huge impact: I deleted all my social media apps off my phone. All of them. No more instant access to Facebook or YouTube. I had to use the torturous mobile versions or get onto Facebook via my computer.

This made mindless social media usage mindful. I couldn’t just scroll through Facebook when I was bored or had thirty awkward seconds to kill. I had to be intentional about it. And apparently, I’m lazy enough that the extra effort to type in the URL deterred me from checking social media at an every-waking-moment rate.

Now I hardly touch my phone except to answer texts and calls. What a novel idea!

I did the same thing with my computer too. I log out of Facebook, adding a two-step checkpoint of entering my email and password every time I want to mindlessly hop online. And then, for extra measure, I turn off my computer. That’s another five minutes to contemplate my social media obsession. (My computer is like me in the morning: slow and cranky.) And I can’t kill the time by looking at Facebook on my phone, either.

Obsession: 0. Intentionality: SCORE.

How do you combat your social media addiction?

// Now that you’ve freed yourself from Facebook, enjoy your dinner time and go out and get dirty!

Stop an Argument in Five Seconds

car

The little stress monster inside of me loves to come out and play while Erich and I are driving. I don’t get road rage. I am a benevolent and good-humored driver. But when Erich gets in the passenger seat, all hell breaks loose.

“You were supposed to turn left.

“I did turn left.”

“The other left.”

“You’re twenty-two-years-old and you still don’t know left from right?”

“I’m not the one going back to kindergarten.”

“You know, I don’t appreciate your tone.”

“I’m not giving you any tone.”

YesYou are. Stop talking to me like that.”

“No, don’t turn there — great, now we’re going the opposite direction.”

“Hello? Can you please stop treating me like a kid?”

“Fine, do your own thing. You never listen to me.”

You don’t even know your left from your right.

Ad nauseam, car ride ruined.

I think, one, we both hate being in the car; two, it’s blistering hot and our air conditioning broke; and three, we’re new to the city, and we’re tired of getting lost going to places full of strangers and expenses. A missed turn triggers all of the sweaty exhaustion in both of us.

We’ve instituted preventative measures: purposing out loud to not argue during the entire car trip, sometimes by invoking the deity to aid our self-control efforts, and celebrating every five minutes we don’t argue. “I can’t believe we’re not arguing yet! High five, husband!”

And things are better now, even though we still don’t have air conditioning.

But when the heat and the exhaustion wears our self-control thin, we’ve found another quick, easy trick to stop our bickering cold: call a time-out.

Erich and I are both kind, loving people willing to be humble and apologetic. We’re also stubborn and proud and aware that our particular ideas are best and our particular motivations our pure, especially compared to the other spouse’s.

We feed off each other. If I keep responding like a jerk, Erich’s responses get shorter and snarkier. We’ll create an infinite loop of escalating sarcastic jabs until I storm off into the bathroom and realize how idiotic and unimpressive my response was. It’s hard to be humble and vulnerable in such a dog-eat-dog argument.

But if someone calls a truce, the tension snaps: “Look, let’s just stop right here. Let’s stop arguing, let’s change our tones, and let’s forget this happened, okay?”

It’s an invitation to be humble on one, two, three, go. Nobody’s being the goody-two-shoes. Nobody feels one-upped. Nobody has to even apologize. Both of us, at the same time, get a free pass to change our tones, attitudes, and words without negative repercussions.

And soon after the other person accepts the truce with a sullen, “Fine,” we’re overflowing with guilt, apologies, and sane conversation about the little thing that started up the whole dumb argument in the first place.

It takes five seconds, tops, to say, “Let’s just stop right here and forget the whole thing happened.” It takes five seconds to create an easy space for humility. We all want to be humble. We just don’t want to obey a self-righteous demand to be humble. We want the assurance that our loved one won’t continue to hate our guts if we do get vulnerable and apologetic. And, frankly, we want to see our loved one as equally apologetic and humble as we. “Let’s just stop right here and forget the whole thing” is the invitation that accommodates all of those things.

Even on the worst of car rides, we haven’t rejected that invitation yet. High five, husband!

Do you have any other advice for stopping an argument dead in its tracks?

// More on avoiding arguments and de-stressing

Would You Meditate?

destress

Everyone tells you to meditate. All the women’s magazines, all the pamphlets in the student health office, all the self-help books — meditate, meditate, meditate. It’ll relieve stress and make you happy! (Not that I constantly Google “how to de-stress” or anything….)

I didn’t follow everyone’s advice because I’m a skeptic, because it was faddish, and because it seemed far too Eastern mystic and far less Western Christian.

I finally broke down this summer. The anxiety and depression that hit me in my late-teen years came back with a vengeance during senior year. Then I got married. Then I moved to the middle-of-nowhere. Then a monster took over my emotions, and I said, did, and felt things that made me want to crawl in a hole and die. I felt completely trapped by my emotional outbursts and the resulting insomnia, relationship problems, and spiritual angst.

I wanted to get a grip on myself. I wanted to cultivate peace and stillness, both for my mental health and for my spiritual growth. Mother Teresa said,

The fruit of silence is prayer;
The fruit of prayer is faith;
The fruit of faith is love;
The fruit of love is service;
The fruit of service is peace.

— Where There Is Love, There Is God

All my favorite Christian saints agreed. I just never could quiet my mind enough to meditate on Scripture.

With those goals in mind, I decided to swallow my skepticism about mumbo jumbo heathen self-help and give guided mindfulness meditation a try — and I love it.

It’s not weird or heathen or even spiritual. It trains my mind to slow down, focus on one thing at a time, and reconnect with my body. It feels like cognitive behavior therapy, for me the most effective treatment of my depression and anxiety. I use an app called Breathe that recommends a guided mindfulness meditation depending on my mood.

It got lots of moods, let me tell you. Angry? Remember that the person who hurt you desires the same goals as you do. Depressed? Try a full body scan that relaxes even my insomnia to sleep. Sobbing uncontrollably? Listen to a calm voice tell you that you have the power to make choices for the better.

I felt empowered knowing there was something I could do when my emotions paralyzed me. Whenever I felt the anxiety or depression roll through, I popped in my earbuds, closed my eyes, focused on my breath, and got busy centering my mind on things that were true and good. From there, it was easier to transition into meaningful prayer.

Turns out, mindfulness meditation, the practice of experiencing the moment, helps me even when my eyes are open and my emotions clear — paying attention in church, falling asleep, even sex. Anything that requires a fully-engaged mind, mindfulness meditation helps.

So here’s one more voice telling you to give mindfulness meditation a try. Would you do it?

// De-stress some more and practice your new self-control