It’s not an easy thing to choose a blog name.
At least it wasn’t easy for me. While I don’t remember my rejected names, I acutely remember the pressure I felt about getting it right. After all, if you are intending to produce a blog for the long haul, and you hope folks engage with it, you’ve got to have a solid title.
And so, after much consideration, some 4 years ago I landed on Challenging Tertullian. And, thankfully, I haven’t regretted it.
Tragically, in choosing the name I had lots of options. Because, historically speaking, it seems like part of the job description for a key leader in the church has been launching patriarchal and misogynistic quotes into the culture. If you need a reminder, go here and here…and then go take out your aggression somehow. In the end, I landed on Tertullian because I found his “devil’s gateway” quote to be the worst of the bunch.
So the name was simple, but the adjective was tough. On one hand, I wanted a word that communicated confrontation. I mean, I was planning to take the theology espoused by Tertullian and his ilk to task. So it had to be a tough word.
On the other hand, it couldn’t be too tough. No Lambasting Tertullian, or Taking Tertullian Out Behind the Shed, or anything like that. For two reasons.
One, because I think dialogue is important. Anyone can (and does!) throw bombs, particularly in the social media age. I happen to think that tone matters, and that conversation marked by seeking understanding should be the goal. So, “challenging” felt like a good compromise; if Tertullian and I went to coffee, I’d express my opinion, hear his reply and we’d go from there. We’d have, you know, a conversation.
The other reason I didn’t want my adjective to be too tough is that no person is ever just one thing. As much as I might enjoy pummeling Tertullian into theological submission, I must acknowledge that he’s not wrong about everything, every time. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ll meet Tertullian someday in heaven. Too often, disagreement with someone in one area means we reject them completely. It’s another persistent problem in the all-too-toxic public square.
Case in point, this post, from Marg Mowczko. I’ve been reading Marg’s New Life blog for awhile now (you should too!), and in her latest post, she excerpts a quote from Tertullian about marriage. Here’s a portion of the quote:
How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice. They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in spirit. They are, in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit. They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake of God’s Banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts.
Awesome, right? Like, I could use that the next time I conduct a wedding!
If you read Marg’s post, you’ll get a bit of the backstory for this quote, and I’ll admit that I’m not totally sure how to reconcile Tertullian’s “devil’s gateway” stinker with this wonderful bit of prose. But I do know that, somehow, both sentiments came out of the same heart and mind.
So I guess I’ll do this: celebrate Tertullian’s vision for marriage…
…and continue to challenge the heck out of his posture toward women.
Mr. Phelps is great and all, but it looks like Tertullian has been working on some newspaper headlines…
Last week, I had the opportunity to teach on the topic of women in leadership to a roomful of saints at a church in Portland, OR. For me it is always a joyful privilege to challenge Christians to embrace an egalitarian understanding of the Scriptures.
It’s also a deeply personal experience, and I mean that in a couple of ways. On one hand, I’m on this journey of understanding both my male privilege and how men and women are meant to partner together in ministry. And teaching or training on that presses into what God is doing in and through me.
On the other hand, engaging around this topic hits me as a dad of three little girls. As I told the crowd last week, it matters to me a great deal what kind of a church these girls will eventually enter into. Will it be a church that is open to the gifts that God has sovereignly hard-wired into them, or will they face limits and barriers by virtue of their gender?
And so I’m desperate to help the church become the former.
A few years ago, our oldest daughter, Lucy, qualified for the fourth grade district finals in cross-country. It meant that she would compete against 120+ other girls in the big district race. As a runner, I was so excited for her to compete!
On the day of the race, I dropped her off at the start line and then went out to find a place to cheer her on, about halfway along the course. When I got to the perfect spot, I looked back toward the starting line, with my little girl somewhere in the masses, and…
Or, more to the point, I bawled. Like uncontrollable sobbing. It caught me by complete surprise, and so I started to ask myself why I was in tears. I had two conflicting emotions going on inside of me that day.
First, I knew Lucy was about to suffer. I’ve done enough racing in my day to understand the pain you have to endure if you want to be successful in a running race. And so there was this empathetic, fatherly thing at work in me. No matter the context, it’s hard for this old “feeler” to watch our kids struggle, and I knew Lucy was destined for about 4 minutes of suffering.
Second, I had this fierce belief in Lucy welling up within me. It’s sort of hard to explain the emotion, but it felt like this intense conviction that Lucy could do this. Maybe it was some sort of vicarious or surrogate emotion, since I know she was full of self-doubt as she toed the start line.
When I think about our girls engaging a church context that I fear will be all too hostile to them using their leadership gifts, I feel these same two things. Simultaneously, I feel hope (“they can overcome!”) and fear (“they are going to suffer”).
And that’s one big reason why this stuff is personal for me.
Want to know the end of the story? Lucy finished 22nd that day, good enough to earn a district ribbon. Me?
I was crying the entire time.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of driving across the great state of Wyoming. If you’re a fan of endless miles of grasslands, punctuated intermittently with rivers, hills, and lovely rock outcroppings, that drive is for you.
Come to think of it, the 80 MPH speed limit helps too.
And then there’s the sky. It was glorious all day. Here’s a shot from out my window:
See? Amazing. And I know Wyoming’s neighbor to the north is nicknamed “Big Sky Country,” but clearly Montana doesn’t corner the market on that kind of beauty.
On the other hand, Wyoming has a pretty good nickname of its own. Turns out Wyoming is known as the “Equality State.” From the official state website:
Wyoming is also known as the “Equality State” because of the rights women have traditionally enjoyed here. Wyoming women were the first in the nation to vote, serve on juries and hold public office.
In 1869, Wyoming’s territorial legislature became the first government in the world to grant “female suffrage” by enacting a bill granting Wyoming women the right to vote. The act was signed into law on December 10 of that year by Governor A.J. Campbell.
Less than three months after the signing of that act, on February 17, 1870, the “Mother of Women Suffrage in Wyoming”-Ester Hobart Morris of South Pass City-became the first woman ever to be appointed a justice of the peace. Laramie was also the site for the first equal suffrage vote cast in the nation by a woman-Mrs. Louisa Swain on September 6, 1870.
In 1894, Estelle Reel (Mrs. Cort F. Meyer) became one of the first women in the United States elected to a state office, that of Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
In 1924, Mrs. Nellie Tayloe Ross was the first elected woman governor to take office in the United States. She took office on January 5, 1925, 20 days before “Ma” Ferguson of Texas (elected on the same day) took office. Mrs. Ross went on to become the first woman to be appointed Director of the United States Mint-a position she held for 20 years, from 1933 to 1953. In 1991, women held three of the state’s five top elective positions and a total of 23 women hold seats in the Wyoming Legislature, three in the Senate and 20 in the House.
Good for you Wyoming. That’s a history to be proud of. Keep on challenging Tertullian, Equality State!
Have I mentioned that I’m on sabbatical?!? It’s true. On June 5, I started a 6-month ministry sabbatical. The focus? Rest, recovery, renewal, and…
…Soccer. Lots of soccer.
You see, it’s been so good of the Lord to host not one, but two, international soccer tournaments here to kick off sabbatical. I’ve been watching 3, 4, sometimes 5 matches a day!
Which means I’ve watched a lot of national anthems. And there are some beautiful ones out there. I love the Russian anthem. The Mexican anthem is strong. And my Welsh blood was pumping on Thursday morning after a rousing rendition of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau!
But the thing that grabs me at the beginning of each match is the gusto with which the players and fans sing their anthem. Because at an international tournament, it’s not really about a paycheck, or sponsors, or the club you represent, or even your personal notoriety.
It’s about your country. So, sing on lads!
As it turns out, most national anthems are pretty old. The German anthem dates to 1922. The Guatemalan anthem was selected in 1896 from a government competition. And England’s God Save the Queen (or King, depending on who’s on the throne) dates all the way back to 1745.
And because they are old, they can sometimes use some tweaking, which is exactly what is happening with Canada’s anthem. The update?
Gender inclusive language.
According to this article, on Wednesday the Canadian House of Commons voted 225 to 74 to alter the anthem’s third line to reflect an inclusive term that captures both men and women. Soon, the Canadian Senate is expected to join the House in approving the change.
Now, I know you’re all trying to recall the Canadian anthem, perhaps from the last hockey broadcast you watched. Let me help. The 1908 version reads as follows:
Our home and native land!
True patriot’s love in all thy sons command…
Now, the updated lyrics read like this:
Our home and native land!
True patriot’s love in all of us command…
And there you have it. Two changed words and, all of a sudden, all Canadians are included in the anthem. From the article:
The status of women minister, Patty Hajdu, speaking before the vote, said the change was an important step toward ensuring inclusivity in Canada’s cultural symbols.
“I think it’s really important as a very strong symbol of our commitment to gender equality in this country,” she told reporters.
Props to you Canada. It’s not easy to change things like this. In fact, an effort to change the lyrics in 2010 met with failure.
But, as I’ve said before, language matters. And so as disruptive as changing the lyrics to a 108 year old national anthem might be, it is worth the effort. I agree with Minister Hajdu; changing the words makes a strong statement.
Now, to get some other countries to follow suit. Remember that line above about my Welsh blood?
Turns out it’s time to get my people in line.
The Welsh anthem’s title, after all, translates to “Old Land of My Fathers…”
Sometimes, folks will ask me about how I define masculinity. They’ll say, “so if male privilege is real, what exactly is masculinity?”
The other day, while sailing out of San Pedro, CA for Catalina Island, I found it. Eureka. If you look closely, you can see Tertullian at the helm…
I love taking communion.
You know what I mean? Communion is a sacred act of worship. More than that, it’s a sacramental act of worship, meaning that it’s something we do in the church because Jesus did it, and then commanded his followers to mirror his example.
Because of this, when it’s done, communion has to be well-pastored. You know, the instructions given have to be clear and compelling. Put simply, in order to glean maximum spiritual impact, the congregation should know what it’s getting itself into.
We took communion in church recently. And one part of the officiant’s instructions landed with a thud in my ears and in my heart. He said something like this:
“And after you get the bread and juice, feel free to take communion as a family. Husbands, fathers, you can lead your family in this…or anyone else can lead.”
If you ask me, a little bit of Tertullian there in those instructions…
As I’ve sat with our recent communion experience, I think there are three primary reasons why the meshing of a theology of male headship in the family with the act of communion sits wrong with me.
First, when Jesus inaugurated the institution of communion, he didn’t have anything to say about male headship in the home. For that matter, he didn’t have anything to say about male leadership in the church. Instead, here’s how Jesus framed the first communion instructions, from Matthew 26:26-29:
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
See, nothing in there about male leadership of the communion process.
The second reason why I think those particular instructions are unhelpful is that they presume a common theological understanding that male headship is the way of the Kingdom. And, obviously, if someone like me is sitting in the crowd, that understanding is anything but common or universal.
There are robust arguments to be had about male headship in the home, and, no doubt, Bible-loving, Jesus-pursuing Christians search the Scriptures and disagree. Because of this, it would be best to not just assume a baseline, default theology around headship.
If you do, you risk alienating, or distracting, someone like me, right at the critical and sacramental moment of communion.
Third, and finally, the instructions for husbands, or fathers, to lead in the communion-taking process is problematic because there is inevitably a good chunk of the congregation for whom those instructions will be either painful or irrelevant.
Because, of course, not everyone has a husband or father present on a given Sunday. Maybe the family has been broken apart by separation or divorce. Or maybe mom packs up the kids and brings them to church by herself every Sunday. Or, for the single folks in the room, where do those instructions leave them? Who will lead them into communion? And while I give the officiant props for tacking the “or anyone can lead” phrasing onto his instructions, I worry that the damage had already been done.
It’s not a book specifically about communion, but in her book Blood and Wine, Shauna Niequist talks about the Christian’s approach to table fellowship. Consider these words in the context of communion:
“We don’t come to the table to fight or to defend. We don’t come to prove or to conquer, to draw lines in the sand or to stir up trouble. We come to the table because our hunger brings us there. We come with a need, with fragility, with an admission of our humanity. The table is the great equalizer, the level playing field many of us have been looking everywhere for. The table is the place where the doing stops, the trying stops, the masks are removed, and we allow ourselves to be nourished, like children. We allow someone else to meet our need. In a world that prides people on not having needs, on going longer and faster, on going without, on powering through, the table is a place of safety and rest and humanity, where we are allowed to be as fragile as we feel.”
“The table is the great equalizer.” What a grand vision!
Now let’s not taint the sacrament by making it another place where power is unevenly distributed.