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.
It’s the end of the school year, which means it’s class parties, talent shows and awards assemblies, all day, every day. Note to self…take the last week of school off next year!
So I’ve been in and around classrooms all week, and this morning, in a 5th grade room, I noticed this poster on the wall:
What do you think stands out to me when I look at this poster?
Hint…it’s not the fact that Warren Harding’s middle name was Gamaliel…
Right. They are all men.
I’m aware that this reality isn’t news to anyone, that every day as they grab their backpacks a classroom full of fifth graders looks up at a poster full of 44 male faces.
So what’s the issue?
For me it’s about what the poster communicates, to both the boys and the girls in the class.
For the boys, in part the poster communicates that as a gender they belong in power, that the highest office in the federal administration is something that not only is attainable, it’s theirs exclusively. Surely, this is a message that Tertullian can get behind.
For the girls–and I have had a little girl in this particular classroom this year–the poster communicates that as a gender they belong on the outside of power, and that if a woman is going to make it into the highest office in the land, they’ll first need to overcome 200+ years of national praxis. Is it subtle? Yes. But it’s real.
Models are important, which is why, someday, I hope a classroom full of fifth graders, boys and girls, can look up at such a poster and see:
Last week I read this article, from my friends at The Junia Project, entitled “A Response to John Piper – What Does it Mean to be a Man?” It’s an insightful piece throughout, but here was one particular portion that caught my attention:
So to answer Piper’s question, according to scripture and observations of history and the current day, I believe one of the things it means to be a man in this world is to be privileged. Things tend to go easier for many men in contrast to women. Men tend to rule things – governments, businesses, families, churches. But this is a result of sin, and not God’s original plan.
And what are Christ followers supposed to do? They are supposed to “deny themselves“, they are supposed to consider others as better than themselves, they are supposed to “yield to one another out of reverence for Christ“.
Long-time readers of Challenging Tertullian won’t be surprised that I’m choosing to quote this particular excerpt. After all, it captures several of the core aspects of my message.
First, that the playing field is not level when it comes to gender and power. Just about every social metric confirms this biased reality. Need proof? Here.
Second, that this uneven playing field is not representative of God’s creative intent. Despite what you might have been led to believe, God didn’t create a world where men are meant to dominate and women are destined to be subordinate. Instead, we live in a “Genesis 3 world,” one were the manifest power disparity is the tragic result of human sin. And, as God’s agents on earth, a good part of our call is to advocate for gender justice both with individuals and in systems.
Third, I so appreciate the Matthew 16 and Ephesians 5 references above. Indeed, as followers of Jesus we are called to deny ourselves and to submit to one another. And, as a man who has received a measure of privilege in this world, I have come to understand that I have a particular call to leverage my power in a way that blesses the women around me, and in a way that balances out the scales regarding gender power.
The Junia Project post ends with a word about discipleship, about how women must be formed into disciples of Jesus, not of culturally-informed expectations around gender. Amen, and I will add:
May it be so for men as well.
All of the hubbub over Her Royal Highness Charlotte’s arrival last week reminded me of the run-up to her brother George’s arrival more than 2 years ago, and Great Britain’s messed up history with the (mercifully) now defunct rule of primogeniture.
I don’t understand the American obsession with British royalty. I mean, Princess Kate gets pregnant and we go gaga on this side of the pond. Sending American news anchors to report live from Buckingham Palace on the status of the princess’ morning sickness? Really?
After all, once upon a time didn’t we fight a war to rid ourselves of the British monarchy?!?
But I digress…
It’s not often that we read about male privilege being codified, but that’s been the reality over the centuries in Great Britain and in other countries as well. Denmark? Yep. Japan? Yep. Spain. Sure.
It’s called primogeniture, the right of inheritance according to birth order. Historically, the law of primogeniture has demanded that female heirs are excluded (or bypassed) from inheritance in favor or their younger brothers. Primogeniture has been the law of the Commonwealth in Britain for generations, and women, like Elizabeth, would ascend to the crown only in the absence of a male heir.
Now, finally, it appears that English primogeniture has run its course. As that tiny baby (Or is it twins? News at eleven!) begins to grow, British Parliament is working to officially change the law so that whether it’s a boy or a girl this future heir will one day become king OR queen.
It’s about time.
And yet here’s the thing: lots of people think that boy babies are more important than girl babies.
This is certainly true globally. This heartbreaking article, “It’s a Girl: The Three Deadliest Words in the World,” chronicles the global “gendercide” underway in many countries in the world. Here’s an excerpt:
“The statistics are sickening. The UN reports approximately 200 million girls in the world today are ‘missing’. India and China are said to eliminate more female infants than the number of girls born in the US each year. Lianyungang in China has the worst infant gender ratio on record with 163 boys born for every 100 girls. Taiwan, South Korea and Pakistan are also countries in which unwanted female babies are aborted, killed or abandoned.”
It’s a tragedy, but it’s one thing to see this brand of male privilege in far-flung places. What about closer to home?
Here it’s subtler of course, expressed more in how soon-to-be parents talk about their preference for a boy, or maybe in the slight sigh of relief when the doctor announces their new son. In fact, according to this Gallup poll, if they can only have one child, 40% of Americans say they would want a boy while only 28% would want a girl.
Why do you think this is?
Could it be that because in general our social convention preserves the family/last name though the husband the birth of a male child is seen as a guarantee that a name will perpetuate into the next generation?
Could it be because there’s a word on the street that tells young parents that boys are easier to parent than girls?
Could it be that because of the reality that we live in a society that favors men, we know that our boy children will have it just a bit easier than our girls?
And/or could it just be that as a culture we fundamentally have this internal bias that says that boys intrinsically have more value?
In the Dixon house, our son Josh is our firstborn, and over the years we’ve given him three little sisters. Our girls are perhaps a bit too empowered and I can’t remember the last time Josh got his way.
Come to think of it, maybe Josh should move to England?
Here at Fuller for two weeks, I’ve been looking at this picture every day, multiple times a day.
What do you see?!?
I walk by this piece all the time, and it seems like every time I see something different. It’s clear to me that it’s a man and a woman, but other than that, I see all kinds of things.
Sometimes, I see the woman breaking free of the man, as if it’s an image of triumphal escape from the bondage of male privilege.
Other times, I see him pulling her back, as if she has tasted freedom but is being returned to the systematic oppression embedded in our Tertullianized cultural system.
Still other times, I see the man pushing the woman forward, like he’s an advocate, sort of a modern-day Boniface to her Lioba.
And, other times, I see them moving forward together, as if they are somehow struggling to move forward as partners.
I’ll walk by it again today, and I’ll probably see something different. But maybe that’s the point. Good art speaks to you in different ways, at different times.
And it seems appropriate.
For on this journey toward gender equality, sometimes we’re victorious, sometimes we’re enslaved, sometimes we’re advocates, and sometimes we’re partners.
A couple years back I reflected on the social dimension of Easter, and how the cross impacts the relationship between men and women. Enjoy!
Yesterday churches around the world celebrated the most pivotal event in human history, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It’s the resurrection that brings life, hope and the promise of eternity. It’s miraculous and glorious, unprecedented and unparalleled.
As our pastor put it, “after Easter, death is dead.”
And I’m sure millions of lives were changed yesterday. According to a 2010 Barna Group survey, some 40 million Americans pledge to invite a non-believing friend to church for Easter Sunday. If even a tithe of that number follow through, that’s quite an attendance surge. And no doubt, many of those new attendees leave closer to Jesus.
For this I rejoice.
And yet I’m also bothered by how we do Easter. Because if I’m honest, I think we only get Easter partially right. And here’s the part we miss:
There’s a social dimension to Easter.
What I mean is that while the resurrection does create a way for an individual to come back to God, it also creates a way for individuals to come back, well, to one another. Indeed, resurrection power reconciles us to God, and it also reconciles us to others.
Here’s how the apostle Paul puts it in Galatians 3:23-29:
23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring,heirs according to the promise.
Over the years, some commentators have only seen a vertical reality to this passage. The thinking goes that Paul is saying that when it comes to salvation, God sees no difference.
The problem with this reading of the text is that it’s incomplete, that it fails to properly acknowledge that in the passage Paul chooses to use the three primary social divisions of his day: race, class and gender. It’s a rhetorical choice that brings with it horizontal implications to go along with the vertical.
Walter Hansen is a New Testament scholar at Fuller Seminary, and here’s how he interprets this text:
“the new vertical relationship with God results in a new horizontal relationship with one another. All racial, economic and gender barriers and all other inequalities are removed in Christ. The equality and unity of all in Christ are not an addition, a tangent or an optional application of the gospel. They are part of the essence of the gospel.”
At church this weekend, the kids learned the bridge diagram. I’ve used the bridge diagram for years. Indeed (and Hallelujah!), Easter helps humanity cross back to God.
But let’s not miss the fact that Easter also helps humanity cross back to one another. Spiritually speaking, the resurrection removes sin’s social consequences and replaces them with wholeness and reconciliation. And when it comes to the genders, there’s no room for male privilege when men and women are “one in Christ Jesus.” Join me in saying “hallelujah” for this as well!
Perhaps it’s time for a new diagram?
Yesterday was the International Women’s Day, or #IWD2015 for the cool kids. In honor of the day, I thought I would re-post a list of women that I am thankful for. First published in November of 2012, this list offers a glimpse of some of the women that God has used in my life. I was then, and am now, deeply grateful for each one of them!
In my 40 years on this planet, I’ve been blessed to be shaped by many amazing men and women, but on this Thanksgiving morning, I want to specifically acknowledge a few of the women that have formed who I am.
Nina Dixon and Betty Hughes, my grandmothers. There they are, flanking that handsome junior high devil there in the picture, with Betty on the left. When in 2 Timothy 1:5 Paul reminds Timothy of his faith tradition that begins with his grandmother, I really resonate. Betty, my maternal grandmother, came to faith later in life and showed us how to press into Jesus through some really difficult life circumstances. Nina, my paternal grandmother, taught her family the value of being steadfast in prayer.
Ann Dixon, my mom. Really it’s tough to narrow down what I’ve learned from my mom. For sure the list includes generosity, service and perseverance in suffering. Also, I first learned the importance of Kingdom hospitality watching my mom bless the foster kids and international students that we hosted in our home as I was growing up.
Una Lucey, my staff mentor. I’m the campus minister I am because Una signed up for a mentoring role in my life way back in my junior year of college. My 16+ years of fruitful ministry are Una’s as well.
Pat Sexton, my mother-in law. Steadfast, resilient, generous and hopeful. That’s Pat. Plus, she always has my favorite cereal on hand when we come visit!
Dr. Carolyn Stefanco, my college professor and adviser. Dr. Stefanconurtured in me both a love for writing and a concern for gender issues. In particular, she guided me through my senior project, a study on this amazing woman.
Ruth Haley Barton, author. If you are in ministry and you haven’t read Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, do so now. Kingdom leadership does not have to lead to burnout!
The Bleeding Woman, from Mark 5:24-34. This unnamed woman has been a companion on my spiritual journey, especially as I have sought Jesus for healing in my life. I love her risk-filled faith, first expressed as she pressed through the crowd to touch Jesus’ cloak but then taken to another level when she came forward publicly in response to Jesus’ question.
Enisa Dedic, General Secretary of the Bosnian IFES movement. What do you do if God calls you to lead a ministry that doesn’t yet exist? You say “yes,” you pray a lot, and then you start it from scratch! Enisa is a woman of courage and perseverance. I love planting new things, and Enisa’s example has inspired that passion in me.
Tina Loveridge, co-worker. I work with an amazing group of women, and Tina is one of them. In particular, Tina has become a partner as I’ve started to think about gender issues in the church. From Tina I’ve learned how to advocate, and she’s opened my eyes to the global injustices that women endure.
And last but in no way least…
Amy Dixon, the amazing soul who married me. 15+ years ago Amy took on this crazy and I’ve been learning ever since. If I’m more patient, less moody, more loving, less angry and more/less a million other things, it’s because God has used Amy to shape me, in word and by example.
What about you? Which women are you thankful for this morning?