12 December 2005

What's Good for the Goose...

While it was never my intention, I see that more than one post in this blog has been critical of women in one way or another. The thing is that what could loosely be called "gender issues" has been on my mind a lot lately; I'm not entirely sure why...but regardless of the why I want to set the record straight.
As I think about these issues, my most serious criticisms are directed at men, despite how previous entries might seem. In truth, many of my reflections on women are framed as I look at the manifold ways in which we men have failed our wives, our sisters, our daughters. What's more, in the last year or so I've had more than one opportunity to work with 'men's groups' as I see a movement inside the church where men are waking up to how badly we've botched things - usually through inaction. No small part of this rests on an evolving picture of what a genuine Christian male should be, what he should look like and how he should act. I've been trying to write this post now for about two weeks but find that I have so much to say that it gets unreadable. So instead, I'll focus this post on one thing - responsibility.

Gender roles are real.

Deeply real in fact. God-given even. As I say that I'm well aware of the hackles that kind of statement can raise. All the images of chest-beating, sloppy-joe eating "Men's Men" and the litany of evils that kind of man has foisted on the world through an abuse of power. But the fact that power can be misused is no excuse for neglecting to use it all. I'm talking about an honest look at what God says about men (and women) as well as what experience shows me. And I'm soundly convinced that it's no trivial detail that I am a male and not a female. That distinction is meaningful on many, many levels. Being a man, more particularly a husband (even more so for a father) includes a set of non-negotiable duties and responsibilities that we have mostly abandoned for the sake of avoiding conflict - all to the great harm of ourselves and our female counterparts.

We have let them down when they needed us most.

In the garden, Eve was sold a lie as Adam stood silent (Eve took the fruit, and gave some to Adam who was with her...). "Do this and you can be like God." was the pitch, which sounds pretty good. More recently, women were sold a far less interesting lie, "Do this and you can be like men." and for the most part we stood by again.

Guys - specifically Christian guys - it's become pretty "in" these days to say that a man is the head of his household (as if this were some fascinating new discovery), but what does that mean to you? Do you realize that according to God you are the head of your household whether you like it or not. You are leading your family whether you intend to or not, whether your wife is making all the decisions or not, whether you're any good at it or not. The role is granted not by merit, not by vote and not by committee. But solely by the fact that you are assigned those duties upon uttering “I do.”

Think about Strider (big LOTR metaphor ahead - reader beware) - here is a  man afraid of his legacy. Fearful that the same weakness that lead to Isuldur's fall was in his own veins. So he chooses a self-imposed exile where he may do a little good, but not risk doing great harm. The thing is - he is Aragorn, the heir to the throne of Gondor - and there is nothing he can do about it. Walking away from his role only leaves Gondor without any king and creates a power vacuum to be filled by far less noble pretenders. The stewards of Gondor were not power hungry usurpers, they only stepped in when there was no one to occupy to throne and the bills had to be paid.

Gentlemen, when you hear "A husband is the head of his household" does that strike you as a burden? An opportunity? A club to beat your wife with? Maybe it rolls off you back like so many other Biblical statements that are plainly anachronisms. As a husband, this is your job description - and you cannot quit.

I truly believe that one day I will stand before our Lord and I'll be held accountable for how I lead, or failed to lead, my family. I won't be able to say, "But Lord, Rebekah was better at doing the bills." "But Lord, I wasn't cut out to be a leader." "But Lord, those kids are so willful."

There is saying that there is no such thing as a bad student – only a bad teacher. It’s a statement about leadership and the burden of authority. We men have so deeply screwed up the job we were given that we barley even recognize the position exists any more. We’ve so completely abandoned our own authority that we routinely disparage all authority. We’ve so utterly forsaken power that we can barely even say the word without feeling a twinge of guilt. And with these have gone loyalty, honor, duty and pride. We’ve become the worst kinds of teachers – those that don’t even bother to show up – and we’re bitching about the students.


Devin said...

I think that the Gondor-Aragorn metaphor for men's headship is the most deeply stirring appeal I've ever heard on the subject. You've convinced me.

This is an issue that, for most of my life, I hadn't given a huge amount of thought to simply because I chose the Aragorn route. I was content to let the woman make the decisions; I didn't want authority. I'm still uncomfortable with it, because I don't like to make big decisions without all available information, and I have a difficult time remaining focused long enough to gather and consider all of the needed information. So, while I explained myself as being "egalitarian" in gender roles, the truth of the matter was that I was both lazy and fearful.

Obviously, I've heard horror stories about men who use the idea of 'headship' as a club to beat their wives with, ordering them around and so on. However, one must ask, who is our model for headship? That would be Jesus. As the bridegroom of the Church, Jesus is the one we're meant to emulate. And we all know how he spent his time ordering his disciples around, making them bring him food, wash his feet...

Oh, wait. No, he didn't. Jesus showed us that having headship is a responsibility, and it means being a servant. It means sacrificing your own desires for the good of your bride, the health and well-being of your children.

I was discussing this with some of the girls at work yesterday, and one of them made a sound observation regarding those often-raised spectres of male chauvanism and abuse of authority: When the World attempts something Biblical, without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it ends up being tyrannical or corrupt. It's only in the light of Christ that such commands can be fulfilled according to the spirit of the command rather than the letter.

I don't suppose you've read anything by John Eldredge? He wrote Wild At Heart, which is specifically directed toward men; he urges men to reclaim their traditional role as males from a Biblical worldview (that is to say, a Realistic worldview), and touches on this subject.

Michael said...

I know Skaggs has read a lot of Eldredge--he's always hounding me to read the books (I have begun Wild at Heart, just for the record).

I am in full agreement with you and Devin on this point, and I have no doubt that men will be held responsible for the leadership of their families.

I do have a question, though--you use as an example case the plaint, "But Lord, Rebekah was better at doing the bills." Do you see some specific jobs within the household as being "male" jobs? That is, while I take care of bills currently, Joanna has in the past, and if she wished to again I would have no trouble turning the checkbook over to her. But the implication of the example is that bill paying is a "man" job. Am I reading too much into that? And if not, what jobs belong to whom? What do you think of working mothers and "house husbands"?

Just wondering.

Silverback said...

RE: Man Jobs and Bills: I don't think any particular job is a "man job", ex: bills, however my experience has been that many men dump the bills on their wives becauser they don't like to do the bills. In short - they abdicate that task as oppoosed to delegating, which woudl be a different question.

On a lower level, more like on the "best practice" level, I think it's good for men to ddo the bills because financial stewardship is an important leadership role. And one cannot manage something that one doesn't comprhend. I think it's good for a man's character to earn his living by th esweat of his brow and to know the value of a dollar, but I would never be legalistic about it.

So I think the more appropriate question is "What are you trying to get away with?" Are you avoiding any particular job, like doing the bill? If so, that isn't leadership or servanthood - it's fear.

John Sprague said...

I'm not particularly FEARFUL of doing the bills, but I am simply not very good at it. I don't have a financial mind. Anita, on the other hand does, she's got a degree in that sort of thing. Not to mention she simply has more time to dwell over it, being at home all day.
When it comes to dishes though, stand back! Dirty dishes are Sprague-bane and I will conquer them!

Devin said...

John Sprague? The John Sprague? Why, I haven't heard from you in a coon's age...

I hear you in regards to dishes. When Marilyn and I got married, she made it clear to me that there were three things she wanted me to handle, and she was content to take care of everything else: Taking out the trash, killing spiders, and...uh, there was something else. Anyway. I've added dishwashing to my list, since she's working full-time to support my art school career, and there's also the fact that her back often gives her trouble.

While she handles the bills - and I am happy with that arrangement - I do often have to remind her that before I met her I did do the bills...