Friday, December 28, 2012

Frugal Family Fun

Our family is rather frugal. 

We’ve certainly been very blessed.  My husband and I are well-educated.  We’ve had good jobs in fairly lucrative professions.  We’ve had some good breaks.  We’ve worked very hard. 

But both my husband and I come from humble families.  As kids we weren’t poor, but money was certainly not abundant.  Our grandparents lived through the Great Depression in agricultural communities.  They were not fans of debt.  We inherited that aversion. 

I’ve always been grateful neither my husband nor I are big spenders.  We like to go out to eat and travel, but neither of us is into buying fancy cars, clothes or electronics.  Both of us have non-glamorous, dependable cars with over a hundred thousand miles on them.  We hope to double that mileage before relinquishing those vehicles.  We live in Arizona, but keep our thermostat at 80 degrees or higher at all times.  (Fans work well in the desert and we do consume a lot of iced beverages.)  Neither of us has a smart phone.  After having the same cell phone for about a decade, I just recently traded it in for a free phone with texting and picture taking capabilities.  Whoo-hoo!  It feels like decadence to me.

My husband and I simply do not like debt.  When one is indebted, one must work more to service the debt and one is more vulnerable to downturns in the economy.  That takes one away from one’s family and creates tremendous stress.  Financial problems are cited as the number one cause of divorce. 

Because my husband and I have been careful to take on as little debt as possible, and to pay as much of it off as soon as possible, we have had a lot more freedom than we might have otherwise had.  For example, we had the wonderful luxury of having my husband stay home full-time when our kids were little until the present time. 

My husband and I set a goal a while back of being completely debt-free by the end of 2013.  Throughout 2012, we have been even more frugal than ever to meet that goal.  We’re so excited about the prospect of being completely debt-free that we don’t mind the short-term sacrifices.

Though eating out is our favorite indulgence, we have not spent any of our income going out to eat in all of 2012.  We still enjoy trying new cuisines and different dishes, but this year we have been trying to get inventive in our kitchen at home.  It has gone better than I would have imagined.

We also love traveling, but we have not gone on any vacations all year.  We are middle class and run in middle class circles.  Last summer and over the Christmas holidays, our friends have been going to the Disney parks, the beach, and cabins in the mountains.  Meanwhile, we’ve been staying put at home.  Even during the scorching Arizona summer, we stayed put.  We have not been resentful and do not feel deprived.  Plenty of families don’t have a roof over their heads, so we’re very grateful to have a home where we can stay put!  As it turned out, last summer was actually our best summer in a long time.  We were not rushing anywhere.  There was no packing, no travel logistics.  We just stayed home and enjoyed each other’s company.

Lots of families have been facing tough times this year.  By choice or not, they do not have money for luxuries.  I wanted to share a brainstorm of the things our family has been doing to have fun this year without spending lots of money.  Maybe it will give others some ideas or otherwise be helpful. 

It is not meant to be an exhaustive list and I’d certainly welcome other ideas.  These are just things our family has enjoyed.

I began this list last summer, so some of these are geared more towards that season.  Perhaps they might be helpful in a few months if they cannot be adapted for the winter.  But plenty of these things are adaptable year round.

1.      Library Summer Reading Program.  Public libraries—LOVE THEM!!  And I’m not just saying that because my mom used to be a librarian.  Libraries are terrific resources all year, and they particularly do a great job of ministering to kids during the summer.  Several of my ideas on this list involve the library.  The first involves the summer reading program.  Our library, like many, had a program to encourage kids to read over the summer.  Our family reads a lot of books, so this is something our kids do every year.  They would read anyhow, but it is fun for them to keep track of all they read and then get little prizes for the books they’ve finished.  This past summer, my older child even won a random drawing of all the kids who had signed up for the summer reading program.  She got free passes to a local zoo and a bowling alley. 

2.      Library Activities.  The libraries are always doing neat activities for kids, but we rarely go to them during the academic year.  There are too many neat things going on and we just don’t have time.  Sadly, when we do go, we’re often the only ones who show up!  One summer activity we always enjoy is the kids’ morning movie series at our library.  They used to provide the kids with popcorn, but I guess with budget cutbacks they cannot afford that anymore.  But they are nice to let us bring our own snacks.  I put some grapes or snack crackers in a Tupperware for each of my kids and that makes the movie experience more fun.  We could have watched The Muppet Movie at home, but somehow watching it on a big screen at the library with big office chairs is more fun.

3.      Reading Aloud.  This may sound a little dorky initially, but be open-minded.  In past eras, families didn’t have as many entertainment opportunities, and books were hard to come by, so they read together.  It is still a great way to spend time with family and to get kids excited about books.  In past summers, I’ve read to our kids from the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series, the Little House books and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Last summer, I read several of the Harry Potter books to our kids, who were quite impressed by my rendition of Hagrid’s cockney accent.  My husband cracked us up with his reading from the Bunnicula series.  This fall, I read to our kids Little Women and several books from the Chronicles of Narnia series.  Good stuff.  And the kids get involved too.  Our youngest child reads every day aloud to practice her reading skills.  That can be rather entertaining too as she practices proper enunciation of sentences with an exclamation point.  Our older child then likes to get into the action by reading to us story books with pictures.

4.      Borrowing Movies from the Library.  Our local library has a pretty good selection of movies that you can check out.  We’ve not had time to do that in the past, but we’ve done it several times last summer and during the winter break.  We introduced our kids to the wonders of family classics like E.T., Lassie and The Trouble with Angels.  And after reading the first few Harry Potter novels, we checked out the movie versions.

5.      Dinner Parties.  During the academic year, our family is super busy and so are our friends with kids.  Summer and winter breaks are a great time to catch up and entertain.  Last summer, we had friends over for dinner several times, and were invited to friends’ houses for dinner.  This winter, we hosted a Hanukah dreidel and latke dinner party among others.  And we’ve been invited to several dinner parties to celebrate my husband’s recent graduation from nursing school.  Whether or not there is a special occasion, it is a lot of fun to try new recipes and linger over a delicious meal with great company.

6.      Swimming at the City Pool.  When we decided to expedite the paying off of all debt, one of our economizing moves was to drop our beloved YMCA membership.  Bummer!  We really enjoyed it, but thought we could live without it, at least for the next couple of years.  One of the main reasons we joined the Y was to have a place to go swimming in the summer.  A frugal friend of mine tipped me off to getting a family summer pass to our local municipal pool.  Indeed, that was pretty darned economical.  A summer pass for our whole family to use the city pool was less expensive than just one month of our former membership at the YMCA.  The city pool had more circumscribed hours, so we had to plan more when we went to swim.  And the city pool is more crowded at certain times.  (Though it is almost empty at others.)  But the cost savings is so huge, we didn’t mind these things.  Our kids love the city pool.  And my husband and I swam laps in the lap lane when we went.

7.      Free Day at the Pool.  Several local municipalities have free days at their pools.  Last summer, we took advantage of several of those dates.  We had a blast!  Several such pools had fabulous water slides and several had diving boards, which our kids loved. At one municipal pool’s free day, the life guards even had relay races.  Our older daughter had a great time participating in a few—including a greased watermelon relay which was not quite as messy as I had envisioned.

8.      Movies in the Park.  Our city’s parks and recreation department always has a summer movie series.  They show family-friendly movies in a local park.  There is usually one per month.  Our kids love it.  We take some snacks and lay out on our picnic blanket.  The films are outdoors, but in the evenings when the sun has gone down.  The absence of sun at that hour--combined with sitting on damp grass--makes for a very comfortable temperature even in the most brutal of Arizona summers.  Sometimes our kids even get cold and need a jacket!

9.      Slumber Party.  Last summer we hosted our first slumber party for our kids’ friends.  I wasn’t sure what to expect and had some simple crafts lined up despite my ineptitude for all things crafty.  But it turned out the kids were pretty good at entertaining themselves with Barbies and Legos.  Later in the evening, we baked and decorated cookies with left-over sprinkles from Christmas.  The kids were very excited to get a decadent snack of chips and popsicles.  My husband had removed furniture from the living room to accommodate sleeping bags.  So later on, we set out bowls of microwave popcorn and popped in some DVDs from the library.  Eventually the kids conked out around midnight.  In the morning, I made them pancakes while they played a bit longer.  I even let them have the option of regular pancake syrup or chocolate syrup.  It was a wild and crazy time!  We hosted another slumber party just before Christmas.

10.  Vicarious Travel via Television.  Our family loves traveling.  We also love learning about different cultures.  Since we’re being particularly frugal and not traveling this year, a trip to Buenos Aires, Johannesburg or Hanoi is just not in the cards for us in the short-term.  Heck, we haven’t even gone camping locally.  But there are a ton of great travel videos out there.  PBS has some great shows: Rick Steves, Rudy Maxa, and Globe Trekker.  We don’t have cable, but some of the Travel Channel’s programming is available on DVD or streaming video from various sources.  Dhani Tackles the Globe is a neat concept that my kids enjoyed.  Pro football player, Dhani Jones goes to different countries to learn local sports in an effort to learn more about their culture.  Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations is similar but instead of using sports to explore various cultures, Mr. Bourdain uses the medium of cuisine.  Rudy Maxa and Rick Steves are older and less hip, but just as fun to our family.  We enjoy watching travel shoes like these.  It is a vicarious travel experience to places we aren’t visiting this summer, but might one day get to experience in person.

11.  Vicarious Travel Via Grocery Shopping.  Another fun substitute for travel is exploring non-mainstream grocery stores.  Last summer we began regularly shopping at a local grocery store which markets to Latino customers.  Not only do they have great sales on produce, but we feel like we’re taking a 30 minute trip to Mexico whenever we go to that store.  The kinds of packaged foods sold are different from those in our regular grocery stores, the announcements are often in Spanish, and the bakery has pan dulce.  Last summer, we also came across a grocery store that caters to Asian Americans.  It is not as close to our house, so we don’t go often.  But the store is huge and has a wide variety of goods from all over the globe.  When we go to that store, our family methodically goes up and down every single aisle looking at all the exotic foodstuffs.  We come home with a variety of items to try.  Shopping at this particular store has prompted me to cook different East Asian and South Asian dishes at home.  It has been a lot of fun.

12.  Celebrating the Olympics.  Our kids looked forward to the Olympics for months and we particularly made a big deal out of the opening ceremony.  Inspired by our watching of travel shows, we decided it would be fun to cook some meals indigenous to the Olympics host country.  Because I’m of English heritage, I think I am entitled to be blunt: my people have not developed a palatable cuisine.  My husband and I went on vacation to London years ago, and we experienced the awfulness of English food first hand.  The only decent food we had the whole time was when we went for tea and when we stopped in at a mom-and-pop Indian food restaurant.  We saw a BBC travel show last summer where British chef Gordon Ramsey traveled to India and described how Indian cuisine is the “national cuisine” of his home country.  As a result, our family decided to attempt butter chicken and saag paneer (two of our favorite Indian dishes) the afternoon of the Olympics opening ceremonies last summer.  It was delicious!  Beyond the opening ceremony, we also watched a fair amount of swimming and most of the women’s gymnastics. (Go, Gabby!)

13.  Household Projects.  Ok, this may not sound like fun, but hear me out.  During the academic year, my husband sorely neglects his honey-do list.  And I’ve had several design-type projects on my own to-do list, but never had time to do them.  Our older child is a Papa’s girl.  She truly enjoys helping him paint and pull up linoleum.  Our younger child is a Mama’s girl.  She loves flowers and aspires to learn to embroider.  So, actually tackling our household projects list is family fun.  In the tackling, we’ve even identified other projects we’d like to try in the future.

14.  VBS.  Our kids have been going to Vacation Bible School for as long as they were old enough.  Every year it is one of the highlights of our summer.  My kids love the games, crafts, skits and songs.  I help out and have been asked to play Biblical characters in the lessons.  One year I was an over-the-top Doubting Thomas sort of character who thought Mary was off her rocker as she told the kids about how special Jesus was.  Another year I dressed as a Babylonian-era woman who led the kids in a sort of Bible study with anachronistic (but attention-grabbing) props. 

15.  Advent Activities at Church.  This year we participated in several fun family church activities leading up to Christmas.  We participated in Las Posadas.  Our kids were shocked at how rude the volunteers were to the Holy Family seeking shelter, but they knew it was just pretend.  The participants then concluded with a feast of tamales and hot chocolate.  On another occasion, our church’s choir participated at an interfaith Christmas concert at a local LDS church.  The music was beautiful and it was neat to celebrate the season with folks from other faith traditions.  Our kids also participated in our church’s annual Christmas pageant.  The director had us say an extra prayer at the last rehearsal because the prior rehearsals had gone so poorly.  But on the day of the pageant, all went well.  The kids were adorable.

16.  Spending Time With Family And Being Grateful.  This is the best part of the summer or winter holidays.  During the academic year, we are all so busy and life is so hectic.  Just having time to hang out, not rush through a meal, take walks, play board games, or watch a DVD together is a lot of fun.  It is important to stop and smell the roses instead of always speeding by them.  Once you pass them, you can’t ever go back.


Mark 4:8
Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Crown Financial Ministry: “Who Deserves Credit for Your Success?”

We live in a culture where capitalist values are deeply entrenched.  Last summer, President Obama made a campaign speech that got a lot of attention because of what some perceived to be a swipe against business people.  The president said:

There are a lot of wealthy, successful Americans who agree with me because they want to give something back.  If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help.  There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges.  If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.  Someone else made that happen.

The last two sentences of that part of the speech were taken out of context and used to justify the assertion that President Obama is anti-business.  Political hyperbole aside, our president would be a huge hypocrite if he were actually a communist out to kill capitalism.  He currently has a net worth of over $10 million.  Most of that was earned as an author of two best-selling books.  The free market system--and our intellectual property laws--enabled President Obama to amass that kind of fortune. 

Prior to hitting it big as an author and being elected to national office, the Obama family was primarily supported by the impressive salary earned by his wife, Michelle.  She practiced law for several years at a preeminent law firm that specialized in affluent clients.  She then moved to the non-profit sector while also serving on the board of a public corporation.  These activities hardly evidence an embrace of Marxism.  This type of well-compensated work in the private sector helped both Obamas service their considerable student loan debt.

Regardless of your own view of President Obama’s views on capitalism, the brouhaha last summer over the quote in question led to an interesting policy debate across the country.  Are business people solely responsible for their successes?  Does it take a village?  Or is the truth somewhere in between?

From a Christian perspective, in my opinion, that debate missed the mark a bit.  I firmly believe that God is responsible for all blessings—and that includes the economic ones. 

Our family has been graced with material resources to meet our basic needs and cover many of our desires.  Certainly, my husband and I worked very hard to secure the vast majority of those material resources.  We worked hard to get good grades in school, to secure jobs and to be promoted in those jobs.  Nonetheless, my husband and I understand that we are not fully responsible for our own good fortune.  We thank and give praise to God for each thing that he has given us. 

We also take it seriously that we are given these things not simply to make our lives more pleasant and cushy, but to be a blessing to others in turn.  We are given things to share.  God’s generous bounty is not an excuse to get a swelled head and think we are more deserving or special than the next folks.  We realized that we’ve been given opportunities that most people on this planet have not.  It is our responsibility to make good on that.  But clearly, we fall short of the mark.  Nonetheless, that does not diminish our responsibility or give us an excuse to stop trying.

Expressing a similar viewpoint, I serendipitously came across the Crown Ministries’ “MoneyWise” radio show on October, 6, 2012.  The topic of the program that day was “Who Gets the Credit?”  The hosts Howard Dayton and Steve Moore delved into the question “Who deserves the credit for your success?”  You can hear their exploration of that question if you navigate to the October 6, 2012 show at the following website:  They have well-articulated an answer to that question.  It provides a lot of food for thought.

It is interesting because their answer does not sound that different to me from what President Obama said in his July campaign speech.  But I doubt anyone would say that Mr. Dayton or Mr. Moore is a Marxist.  In fact, in that same October 6, 2012 radio show, they expressed strong support of “free market capitalism” as the best economic system if Christ is the center of an entrepreneur’s motivations.  They emphasized that “if” part very strongly.


Matthew 6:25-26
“If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.”



Sunday, December 23, 2012

Debt, Policy and the Bible

Debt has made the headlines in a variety of ways in the last few years.  People, businesses and governments have taken on more debt than it turns out they could actually bear.  When people or institutions cannot service their debt, tragic things happen. 

My husband, my kids and I live in a part of the country where the real estate bubble and subsequent crash have had a huge impact on just about everyone.  Our family has known so many who have lost their homes.  We’ve known folks who’ve been out of work, sometimes for years.  Those are traumatic experiences to say the least.

It breaks my heart what has been happening in Greece, Spain and Ireland recently.  There is a huge human toil.  The suffering seems to be getting worse.  The young are giving up hope; some are going abroad to earn money.  I worry that the extreme austerity measures may bring about a political situation like the one in Germany after World War I.  Indeed, I’ve been reading about violence against foreigners in Greece; people who are different from the majority make easy scapegoats when an economy is in freefall. 

I also worry about our own country because we have too much debt as well.  What we see happening in Europe could come to our shores.  We’re currently focused on going over the so-called “Fiscal Cliff.”  Regardless of the outcome of that struggle in the next week, it is unlikely to be the end of our national debate in trying to close our budget deficit.  Regardless of when we close the deficit, we will be burdened with the accumulated debt for many years to come.

Racist xenophobia is not a uniquely Greek phenomenon of course.  It is no coincidence that Arizona’s S.B. 1070 was enacted at a time of extreme economic crisis in the state.  The Latino laborers who helped build the homes in Arizona’s red hot real estate market were vilified once the market soured. 

In the national media in recent years, I have also noticed a rise in the jokes and cynical comments made about the Chinese.  It is easy to blame the Chinese as their economy expands as ours falters.  In our country, violence against people of Asian ancestry due to economic frustrations could spike.  It has certainly happened before.  The context in which the Chinese Exclusion Act was adopted in 1882.  Violence against Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor.  Violence against Vietnamese fishermen along the Gulf Coast in the late 1970s and 1980s.  The murder of Vincent Chin in 1982 without significant legal retribution.  These are all examples of Asians in this country being made scapegoats when economic opportunity contracts.

These are serious, complex issues that inspire long papers and books.  But right now in my humble little blog, I just wanted to spend a bit of time focusing on the Bible and debt. 

In recent years, this is a topic on which more Christians are focusing.  Whole ministries have come into existence to focus on money management.  When our family lived in Houston, I used to listen to Crown Financial Ministries during my commute to work.  I really enjoyed their show and I learned some helpful things.  The Crown Financial Ministries website is available at:

Dave Ramsey is probably the most visible Christian in the area of financial literacy and financial responsibility.  I never listen to Mr. Ramsey, but have heard of him.  I hadn’t realized he was a man of faith; I knew he had a pretty blunt, abrasive radio personality.  To me, he seems reminiscent of the style of Dr. Phil or Bill O’Reilly.  But our church sponsors Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.  Our pastor is a huge fan of FPC.  My husband took the course a while back and did learn some helpful points.  The FPU website is at:

Some may be wondering why Christians care about financial stuff.  Some Christians may wonder too.  Many folks think it is just a ploy to get them to tithe or contribute more to the church.  Some are skeptical about financial ministries and believe they are just a money-making ploy of their founders.  I cannot really speak to these two concerns.  But I do believe that the Bible has important teachings about money.

First, in the Gospels, Jesus taught repeated about the poor and generosity.  Jesus expressed a lot of concern about those in society who were vulnerable and whose basic needs were not being met.  He also demonstrated in his actions and in his words that we need to use the gifts God gave us to take care of others’ needs.  Jesus also taught us about stewardship.  We need to use wisely what we have been given.  If we use our gifts wisely, we will have more to share with others.

Second, the Wisdom books of the Bible have great insights on debt.  Consider the following:

Job 22:6 “To guarantee payment of a debt, you have taken clothes from the poor.”

Job 24:9 “Children whose fathers have died are taken from their mothers as payment for debt.”

Job 41:11 “I am in command of the world and in debt to no one.”

Proverbs 5:9 “You will lose your self-respect and end up in debt to some cruel person for the rest of your life.”

Proverbs 6:3 “You will be under the power of other people, so you must go and free yourself.  Beg them to free you from that debt.”

Proverbs 11:15 “There’s danger in putting up security for a stranger’s debt; its safer not to guarantee another person’s debt.”

Proverbs 22:7 “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.”

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Perversion of Christmas

We are currently in the season of Advent, which is the time of preparation for Christmas.  As I’ve written in prior years, the secularization and perversion of Christmas is one of my biggest pet peeves.  It absolutely makes me nuts.

This is the time each year when Christ followers remember Jesus’s birth.  We celebrate his coming into our world to live amongst us and to teach us with his words and actions.  As Christians, it is a time to imagine how lost we would be if Jesus had not done that.  But for is earthy life and ministry, where would we be?  We Christ-followers become more grateful for the gift of his life—the greatest gift there could ever be given.

But over the years, the celebration of Christmas has become more secularized and thus less authentic.  In the United States, we have a federal holiday for Christ’s birth, many secular institutions have Christmas parties, and retail businesses have Christmas sales.  Even people who are not Christians “celebrate Christmas” or get into the “Christmas spirit.”  What this really means is they have a good time with the cultural trappings of the holiday, and maybe they act a little nicer to their fellow human beings.  Those are not bad things in and of themselves.  But as a Christian, I deeply resent a significant holiday in my religion being usurped to serve those ends.  Because Christmas has been so secularized in our culture, the real meaning has been horribly watered down to appeal to a wider variety of people.

Worse yet, the holiday has been so horribly perverted as a money-making endeavor.  Retailers depend on this one time of year to become profitable, thus the name “Black Friday” (or now “Black Thursday”).  People fight each other—sometimes to the death—to get marked-down merchandise.  Property crimes go up at this time of year, particularly near retail outlets.  Some stores even add extra security to ensure consumers can get their purchased stuff safely to their vehicles.  How ironic that the birth of the Prince of Peace in a humble manger has become the occasion for Americans to worship at the idol of stuff.

In the modern, secularized observance of Christmas, people spend obscene amounts of money in a fruitless attempt to buy happiness for themselves and others.  Parents worry about not being able to give their kids “enough” toys and gadgets, or not giving the “right” ones to satisfy their children’s appetites.  Kids stress about how their peers will judge their haul when school resumes in the new year.  And as a society, we are concerned about underprivileged children whose families cannot afford to give them a “proper Christmas.”  We invent whole organizations and ploys to get stuff to underprivileged children, in essence to justify our own continued orgy of materialism each year. 

Is all this what the celebration of Jesus’s birth should be?  At the end of this frenzy, I don’t think any of this really makes us happy beyond a short period of time.  Stuff doesn’t last.  It doesn’t satisfy that “God-shaped vacuum” in every human heart, of which Blaise Pascal wrote. 

Moreover, the harm from this perversion of Christmas does lasting harm well after December is over.  So many of us go into debt at this time of year.  It takes months, if not years, to get out of that debt.  This weighs heavily on my heart.  For that reason, I’m going to shift focus in this blog.  My next post will begin a series on stewardship issues.  That series will take us into the new year.

Luke 2:6-7 (The Message)
While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Jesus and Gender Roles

This is a blog about the intersection of secular law and Christianity.  Over the past several months, I’ve spent a lot of time on gender issues.  Gender issues in our culture (whether shaped by religion or secular influences) are reflected in our nation’s laws.  So the relevance of gender issues to secular law is pretty obvious, but the relevance to Christianity may not be.

Indeed, many believe Christianity to be a sexist religion.  Some even believe it to be patriarchal and misogynist.  I can understand why that might be the case.  Jesus lived at a time and in a culture, in which women were very low on the totem pole.  Some Christians incorporate to varying degrees the attitudes of Jesus’s culture in their understanding of his message.

But it is important to remember that Christianity is not a homogenous faith.  The meaning of Christ’s life and teachings are interpreted differently by various groups.  From Roman Catholics to Mennonites, from Appalachian snake handlers to Christian Scientists, from Eastern Orthodox to Southern Baptists, not to mention the growing movement of independent, unaffiliated, Evangelical-leaning Christian churches.  We Christians have different understandings of what it is to “follow Jesus.”

I come from a family that was composed of people from a variety of different Protestant sects, as well as non-believers.  When I became a Christian, the Roman Catholic church was the right fit.  We were active, ardent Catholics for most of our adult years, but eventually my husband and I grew spiritually to a point that that church was no longer a good home for us.  We spent several years as regular attenders at different independent Evangelical churches.  But we eventually settled down and became members of an Episcopalian church. 

I mention this faith journey briefly because it has taught me to be humble and open in the discernment of Christ’s message.  I deeply believe faith is a journey and that we humans must constantly be seeking a fuller understanding of God’s truth.  My own journey and study has given me a better appreciation for Jesus’s attitude on gender issues.  This was not something I had as a child.  It is not something I appreciated immediately when I became a Christian.  It is something I’ve come to understand better over time with much study.  But I would certainly never claim to be an expert or to have a complete understanding of the issue.

Last summer I read a book called Living In Sin? By John Shelby Spong, which explores Christian sexual ethics.  Bishop Spong deals with the church’s attitudes towards homosexuality and premarital sex.  With a deep, scholarly understanding of the Bible and the cultures that shaped that tome, he explains in detail how the role of women was much maligned.  Reading that book has been very eye-opening.

But even before reading that book, I myself did not really understand how Jesus could be viewed as supportive of patriarchy or as being misogynist.  Those words were descriptive of his culture for sure.  But not the Jesus described in the New Testament.

My savior was not a big tough manly man.  In our gendered cultural perspective, one might say he was in touch with his feminine side.  I’m not sure that is quite how I’d put it.  To me, Jesus was simply fully human in every sense.  He did not hide behind a cloak of machismo. 

For example, we know that Jesus had female friends.  We have every reason to understand these were Platonic friends and not lovers.  He hung out with Mary and Martha in their home.  Moreover, he thought highly enough of them that he took time to teach them about the Kingdom of God.  When he traveled, there were women in his group.  At the end of his earthly life, only the women remained.  He was executed as a common criminal and seemingly exposed as a fraud.  But those ladies stuck by him and ministered to him until the end.  In my opinion, that demonstrated a deep love.  One would not have stuck by him like that unless such love was there.  Finally, he was close enough to Mary Magdalene that she became the first person to whom Jesus revealed his resurrection. 

I think it is important to take these facts in context.  It is remarkable that Jesus had such female friends at all.  That just wasn’t done in those days.  Women were reviled nobodies.  The men who wrote the Gospels didn’t even feel the need to tell us the names of some of these women.  But Jesus not only believed women worthy of his teaching and healing, he apparently had deep personal relationships with them as well.  Amazing.

Beyond the esteem he had for women, Jesus was notably not afraid to show what some might call his “softer side.”  He demonstrated emotion and tenderness.  He was not a stoic guy who never flinched.  When he arrived after Lazarus’s death, he cried.  Moreover, he did so publicly.  He didn’t try to hide it.  He was not ashamed.  Because Jesus then raised Lazarus from the dead, my interpretation of the crying is that Jesus was not weeping because Lazarus was gone.  He had the power to raise Lazarus from the dead, so Jesus had no reason to mourn his passing.  Instead, I believe that Jesus was deeply moved by the grief and sorrow his friends Mary and Martha were experiencing.  He loved them so much that he felt their pain, shared it and expressed it through tears.  In our culture, many people look down on men who express their feelings, who cry or who are empathetic.  Why on earth?  With Jesus as a role model, those are perfectly acceptable things for us to do—regardless of gender.

In reading the Gospels, I also see Jesus as a caregiver of sorts.  When I read about his interaction with the twelve, it strikes me as very parental.  Time after time, those dear fellas just didn’t get it.  They literalized figurative language, and they missed his central points.  He taught that the world’s values were the opposite of God’s, yet they still made dumb requests like having honored places above the other disciples in heaven.  Yet, Jesus kept teaching.  He didn’t give up on them.  Like a good parent doesn’t kick their kid to the curb when they have trouble committing their times tables to memory, Jesus didn’t kick any of the twelve out of the group for asking dumb questions and not understanding his teachings.  He loved them and kept on teaching.

After he was risen, Jesus cooked a meal for his disciples.  Cooking was lowly woman’s work.  But Jesus didn’t care.  His friends needed food, he prepared it for them.  He was concerned about their needs.  Jesus had just overcome the grave and changed human history.  But he then made time to fix breakfast for his friends.

I don’t intend for this post to be an exhaustive explanation of the relevance of gender issues to Christianity.  Whole books have been written on the subject.  But I note these few examples from Jesus’s life because some might argue that my blog’s focus last summer on fathering de-masculized men.  The same people might also argue the more recent focus on gender equality and “feminist” issues are misplaced in a Christian blog. 

Last summer I emphasized examples of men displaying traits that our culture through its gendered lens calls “feminine”: encouragement, devotion, vulnerability and caregiving.  But I think that gendered lens is simply an outdated cultural relic.  It prevents men from being fully human and engaged in their families. 

More recently, I’ve focused on cultural and structural issues that prevent women from succeeding in the work place.  Those issues impede women from fully utilizing all their God-given talents and from achieving a level of economic security for themselves and their families.

Per my reading and understanding of the New Testament, neither of those situations is desirable if one attempts to follow Jesus’s teachings.



1 Corinthians 12:17-26
If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell?  But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted. If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? But as it is, there are many parts but one body. So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary.  The parts of the body that we think are less honorable are the ones we honor the most. The private parts of our body that aren’t presentable are the ones that are given the most dignity. The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other.  If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Women in the Legal Profession

I recently read the December 2012 issue of the ABA Journal magazine.  A number of interesting articles were included, but one of the things that most stuck with me was a letter to the editor from a new lawyer named Jessica Wentz.  The letters are available at the following link:

Ms. Wentz was responding to an article about a trend that women are no longer going to law school as they had been.  I had read that same article in the October 2012 issue: “Clogged Pipeline: Lack of Growth at Firms Has Women Skipping Law School.”  The article had attributed this trend to a lack of advancement in large firms.  But Ms. Wentz attributed the problem more to the difficulties of trying to “manage both a legal career and raising a family.”  Ms. Wentz writes,

“As a recent law school graduate, I feel very daunted by the prospect of having kids while launching my career and repaying my loans. There are very few part-time opportunities, and almost every position available is incredibly time consuming and energy intensive. The entire profession needs to be overhauled to support a healthier, more balanced lifestyle for law school graduates. Both law schools and employers could undertake efforts to encourage this transition.”

She goes on to assert that we would have “more efficient and more empathetic lawyers (and policymakers) if we had more time to spend with our families, communities, etc.”  She concludes,

“Finally, maybe if we spread the work around there would be more jobs for people with law degrees. It is stunning how unemployment is such a problem for recent law grads, and yet those who do have jobs are completely overworked (and often overpaid). Why not have a system in which lawyers make less money but have more time? I’m sure we’d be happier overall, and the entire legal system would benefit.”

I don’t know Ms. Wentz, but she makes a number of excellent points.  Bravo!


1 Peter 2:17

Honor everyone.  Love the family of believers.  Have respectful fear of God.  Honor the emperor.