Let Me Womansplain Something To You

Is it officially a word because it made it into Merriam-Webster? Your guess is as good as mine. Either way, here’s the definition of mansplain: “(of a man) to explain something to a woman in a condescending way that assumes she has no knowledge about the topic.”

I was going to say that people either love this term (usually because it illustrates a frustrating reality they’ve dealt with their whole life) or hate it (usually because it sounds like whiny name-calling).

Except that’s not true at all, because you are allowed to have a more nuanced attitude toward something than either loving it or hating it. Hooray! Freedom from extremes! Also, you are free to read this post and disagree with me.

I’m sorry for everyone whose experience has been like this.

I’m one of those in-between people.

For starters, I’ve never been in an environment where men repeatedly treated me like I didn’t know or couldn’t contribute anything. Sure, I’ve had conversations where someone underestimated my knowledge, clearly wanted to show off, or made me feel like they were about to pat me on the head. But they were mostly one-off encounters, not repeated interactions with coworkers or relatives. For the most part, I’ve been listened to and treated with respect, but for the ladies out there who haven’t, the term “mansplaining” probably rings true—and gives a feeling of being understood.

I also know that the point of the term is general cultural commentary on a widespread problem: men are often in charge, women often don’t stand up for themselves, and sometimes the person with the biggest ego (and biggest mouth) doesn’t have the greatest knowledge.

I’m just not sure the term itself is as effective as a social critique as it should be. Accusing someone of mansplaining tends to shut down dialogue instead of starting it because:

  1. It’s an unclear term that’s easily misinterpreted. (“Oh, so if a man explains anything to a woman, it’s not okay?” That may not be what you mean, but it sure is what the word sounds like it means, and that matters when communicating.)
  2. It puts the other person on the defensive, which can be a good way to make a dramatic point but a bad way to suggest growth and change in a way that will get results. (Who likes to be name-called into personal improvement? That’s right. NO ONE.)
  3. It assumes a position of superiority that sometimes comes across as meeting condescension with more condescension…which is the kind of cycle I try to zip out of as quickly as possible.

But most of all, I personally don’t like using the word “mansplaining” because it focuses on the bad communicators—often a minority of arrogant/oblivious people—and doesn’t let us point to examples of how to do things right. Which is way harder and way more important.

Basically, when we complain about mansplaining, I think we miss the chance to celebrate something about women. (more…)

The Great British Baking Show on Self-Worth

As demonstrated by yesterday’s set of Valentines, I love The Great British Baking Show. I’ve lost all sense of season and episode numbers because of Netflix, but one of the most interesting moments to me was when a competitor, John, said the secret truth about bakers is that, however they appear, they’re really just “quite controlling people who want to be told that they’re loved.”

Which seemed pretty accurate. John had, in previous episodes, talked about how the judges’ feedback made him feel like he really was good at something, and interviews showed that his family seemed to have very little understanding of his talent or ambitions. They joked that if he won, they’d finally have a reason to be proud of him, and as they did, John laughed with a cringe I’ve seen before.

You have too, probably. In teens making fun of each other to subtly brag about themselves. After self-deprecating comments that beg to be countered with, “No, don’t say that, that’s not true at all.” In fully-grown adults who cringe at criticism, offered with or without a punchline. Because in their hearts they—sometimes even I—believe there must be a little truth to it. Or maybe even a lot.

Who knew a baking show could reveal so many deep-seated insecurities?

Another one of the show’s final was made up of three bakers, all settled with families and kids (I won’t put up a picture so as not to spoil it for those of you who are now adding this to your watch list). All their interviews showed loved ones who expressed how proud they were of their mum or dad or spouse, shared that they are fantastic human beings regardless of the outcome of the show, and named totally non-baking-related virtues they appreciated.

It was the least stressful, most delightful final I’ve ever watched. All three bakers competently and calmly…baked things. That’s it. Sometimes the bread/cake/pastry came out just the way they wanted, sometimes it didn’t. No nervous need for validation. No constant apologizing or overstating the significance of the event or breaking down into tears with every setback. You got the sense, watching them work, that they were all perfectly aware of their abilities without being overconfident. They had worked hard, but their worth wouldn’t be determined by the outcome in the tent.

It didn’t make for particularly dramatic filming, but it made me want to be just like them when I grow up.

Obviously, it doesn’t always work this way. There have been contestants with the full support of friends and family (at least as much as you can tell from the staged interviews) who have very little confidence in themselves, and I’m sure the reverse is sometimes true as well.

Which is one reason I can’t end this post the way I wanted to. I was going to say that we have to be careful about the kind of jokes we make, about others and even ourselves. We should remind our friends and even acquaintances of what we appreciate about them instead of assuming they already know. We need to look past ourselves and see what lies those around us are believing—I’m worthless, no one cares, my life has been wasted, I’ll never get past this—and counter them with reminders of the truth, loudly and often.

That’s all true, and important to remember.

But.

It’s not quite enough. I’ve known people who are almost smothered with affection and encouragement and still have difficulty believing that they’re significant. I am that person from time to time.

We’ve all noticed the problem: there’s a near-constant barrage of fears and insecurities telling us we’re too much or not enough, and very few voices that take the time to disagree. But I don’t think we’ve arrived at the right solution.

The best that we’ve got, most of the time, is to tell each other to give out more gold stars to those around us, to be affirming and kind. That’s nice, but the problem with that is it still puts me at the mercy of others…and some days I haven’t done a single thing to earn any color of star. On those days, is it true that I’m not valuable or worthy of love? It would be easy to believe that.

Alternately, we’re told we can look inside ourselves for the confidence we need, striding forth in self-sufficiency, knowing that our own approval of our actions is all we’ll need. The problem with that is, it puts me at the mercy of…me. And there are so many days when I am not strong enough to be who I want to be, much less to cheer myself on to get there.

So what else is there?

As a Christian, I never quite understood what it meant when people would say things like, “Put your identity in Jesus.” Like, are we trading nametags? Am I supposed to treat all compliments like bombs and fling them away because accepting praise means I’m basing my worth on the wrong things? (I tried this for a while. It’s a bad idea.) Do I stop all self-reflection and development of my abilities and just meditate on Bible passages?

Probably none of these things. I’ll learn different aspects of what it means to be “in Christ” for the rest of my life, but one practical application I’ve been thinking through is that I don’t get to say who I am, what I’m worth, or why I’m here. I have to let God do that.

Then I can ruthlessly compare my feelings with what the Bible says is true of me in Jesus, tossing out anything that smells “off” as ruthlessly as my spring cleaning purge of expired food from the fridge. I can pray about what I should be doing next, and in the meantime, do the things I already know God wants me to do as faithfully as I can, while knowing that my accomplishments don’t define me. I can fail and falter and forget (again)…and know that none of those things mark me because I am chosen and called and deeply loved by God.

You can’t get that from a positive work evaluation or a compliment or a Valentine. It’s a more profound change of mind than repeating mantras of confidence and ability. And it will give you a more lasting joy than even the most delicious chocolate cake.*

*Although I have nothing against Jesus + chocolate cake. These are not mutually exclusive.

Great British Baking Show Valentines

It’s the week before Valentine’s Day, and that means…another set of handmade Valentines from my heart to yours. This set is based on the only show I actually watch on Netflix. (If you’re one of those who doesn’t quite understand the love…yes, the desserts look delicious and yes the hosts are funny and yes everyone has delightful accents, but mostly I just enjoy seeing people who genuinely love baking create beautiful and tasty things.)

So, here you go. Laugh at them, share them, print them out to give to the special people in your lives. Preferably with baked goods so fancy that no one really knows what they are, like mille fois or frangipane tartlets. In fact, if you have extras and would like to deliver some to me too, I will not say no. I’m not saying that the way to my heart is homemade bread. But I’m also not not saying that.

I was also going to include some serious British Baking Show thoughts on love…but we’ll save that for tomorrow’s blog post. Stop back if you’re interested. Here’s a sneak peek:

And if the Great British Bake-Off isn’t your thing (and it doesn’t need to be, because I’ve learned that not everyone has to have the same favorites that I do), you can raid past years for cards: Star Wars, “Love at First Fight,” Lord of the Rings, and Theologians.

Happy Valentine’s Day, all!

4 Terrible Kids Ministry Ideas

I have a lot of bad ideas, even when it comes to teaching kids about the Bible. In fact, some of them are so bad that they never get any use out of brainstorming sessions, so I decided to share them with all of you. Can’t let them go to waste, after all. (Except, surprise! They actually let me try one of these, which is proof that sometimes even the craziest ideas can sneak past and get approval.)

And feel free to comment with any ideas of your own that you’ve always secretly thought would be hilarious even if you know they sound more like a Babylon Bee article.

One: Ecclesiastes Blast-off: Stare into the Void with Solomon!

Want a truly original VBS theme for your church? Have we got the kit for you! None of this “he makes everything beautiful in its time” nonsense. We’re going to take the little tykes to the brink of despair only to provide hope on the last day about the ultimate meaning in life.

Here are the lesson themes.

Day One: Nothing Ever Changes.
Day Two: Wisdom and Foolishness are Meaningless.
Day Three: Power and Popularity are Meaningless.
Day Four: Money and Fame are Meaningless.
Day Five: Death Comes to Everyone.
Finale Night: Remember Your Creator in the Days of Your Youth (unless you broke down after Day Two and didn’t make it this far).

Suggested decorations: Lots of black and darkness. Possibly a ceiling full of stars to represent our own insignificance in the vastness of the universe. Have all of the leaders dress like the Grim Reaper for added flair.

Activities will include:

Work Projects: Need some landscaping done? How about some amateur parking-lot repavers? You can maximize your time by explaining to the kids that they’re exploring the meaning of “toil under the sun.”

Modified Snack Time: A few kids get a heap of overly-sugary snacks to “eat, drink, and be merry,” while everyone else gets nothing. Visual aid to reinforce the concept that both the very rich and very poor can’t find happiness in the pleasures of the world.

Endless Relay Races: Tell the kids you need them to bail out a pool of water using Dixie cups. Put a hose in the pool to add water as it is taken out. This will emphasize the futility of life found in Ecclesiastes 1: “All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness.”

Existential Crisis Tag: Everyone is blindfolded and stumbles around in the dark trying in vain to connect with another human being in a meaningful way. Occasionally have the game leader shout ominously, “But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” The kids will love it. (more…)

The Best of 2018

It’s the first Monday in the new year, at that means…time for a blog birthday party! It’s still crazy to me that the blog I started in January of 2014 has lasted this long.

5 cake

In 2018, I wrote 39 posts, which is less than any previous year. Before, I’d only give myself a week off if I was deathly ill or it was a major holiday. This year I let myself skip if I was working on another writing project or had a busy weekend or just didn’t have anything worthwhile to say.

Overall, I’m a fan of the change and the freedom to pause…which is also why I’ll be taking the rest of January off. I love exploring my faith through writing, but I also feel like it might be time to step away and spend more time with God without an audience. So I’ll see you in February!

Here are a few of my favorite posts of the year, in no particular order. (So yes, it’s a “Best of”…but according to me, so a little biased.)

What Matters More than Your Problems

Why: The great thing about doing a post reflecting on a great song is that you have most of your content given to you already, and Andrew Peterson’s “Is He Worthy?” is my favorite song of 2018.

Quote: “When you’re repeating back God’s faithfulness with dozens of your brothers and sisters, from all different backgrounds, suffering in a hundred different ways and still singing…you start to be able to feel the things you know in your head.”

Baby Dedications for the Rest of Us

Why: Basically any time I get a chance to talk to my generation, and myself, about how being a part of the church means serving others and not just being served, I’m in. Also, it was through the church that I realized I actually enjoy kids. Who knew?

Quote: “Here’s the thing, though: you don’t get a family—a real, beautiful, stuck-with-each-other sort of family—without sacrifice.”

Chase Your Ordinary Dream: Time Travel Edition

Why: I’m a history nerd.

Do I really need a longer explanation?

Okay, fine, contrasting two pre-Civil-war preachers was fascinating because it shows that not much has changed. You’ll always have your private-jet feel-good-gospel leaders…and the ones who do what’s right, even at great cost and without reward here on earth. Also I just really want to hang out with Leonard Grimes in heaven.

Quote: “Appearances can be deceiving. Faithfulness has a cost. And history sometimes exalts the unworthy and forgets the selfless heroes…but God does not.”

Judas and the Mermaids: the Seduction of Sin

Why: My annual Judas post almost always makes my favorite list, because it’s helpful in shaking up my perspective on important things, especially my own sin. Add an eerie mermaid song, and this is a lesson I’ve returned to a few times throughout the year.

Quote: “We have to start with ‘All sin is seduction, and it leads to death’—even our sin—before we can get to the glorious truth of ‘God’s grace is salvation and it leads to life’—even for our sin.”

Come Quiet

Why: This is a lesson I’ve been kicking around for several years now, so it was fun to finally put it into words and share it. (Slightly ironic, since the whole point is that sometimes we don’t need to have everything spelled out and expressed? Maybe.)

Quote: “And maybe it’s good, sometimes, to remember that our words—that even my many, many words—are ultimately not enough. The best response to the hard times of life is not frequent check-ins with others for reassurance, more logical reasoning, a longer to-do list or a five-year plan…but silence in the presence of a God who is in heaven and in control.”

(If you’re interested in past “Best of” posts for some guidance in exploring the archives, here are: 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014.)

 

 

What Mary Did, In Fact, Know: A Comprehensive Checklist

Oh, you thought the questions in the song “Mary, Did You Know?” were rhetorical? Think again. The Bible has answers…and I’ve gathered some of them here as a handy reference.

To come to my conclusions, I ran each of the lines in “Mary, Did You Know?” through the following tests:

  • Did someone directly say it to Mary or someone close to her? Then she probably knew it.
  • Does the Old Testament, which Mary would have been familiar with, prominently feature the information? Then there’s at least a chance she knew it.
  • Was it not mentioned in either form, and/or totally illogical? Then she probably didn’t know it.

Ready? Let’s go.

Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day walk on water?

Answer: Probably not. There aren’t any prophecies I could find in the Old Testament relating to the Messiah walking on water (let me know in the comments if you know of one). You could maaaaybe stretch things and say that the Messiah was a “prophet like Moses” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19) and walking on water would be parallel to the parting of the Red Sea. But chances are good that Mary would not have predicted this particular miracle.

Mary did you know that your baby boy would save our sons and daughters?

Answer: Yes. In Matthew 1:21, the angel tells Joseph, “[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Since in that same dream, the angel told Joseph not to call off the engagement, and since angelic visitations were highly unusual and highly terrifying, you know Joseph told Mary every word. Whether Mary understood what “save his people from his sins” meant…we aren’t sure.

Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?

Answer: Maybe. The concept of deliverance that most people were expecting seemed to be a physical, beat-up-the-Roman-empire sort of thing, even among Jesus’s followers (Luke 24:19-21). Mary’s cousin Zechariah’s prophetic song in Luke 1 contains some amazing promises, but most are very Psalm-like in their praise: “that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.” And yes, Mary knew that Jesus would “save his people from their sins,” but would she have thought of a personal, individual spiritual renewal, or was she still thinking of corporate deliverance like the Exodus or the high priest atoning for the people in general? I don’t think we can say for sure.

This child that you’ve delivered will soon deliver you.

Answer: Not a question, but yes. But maybe not in all the ways that Jesus accomplished on the cross. See above. (more…)

Advent Stories: What Child Is This?

Amy Green

Warsaw, Indiana, 2002

According to my parents, there are no pictures of this Christmas program (I am not sad about this), but here’s me with my sister a year or so before this story.

Life isn’t fair, let me tell you. I’m not actually allowed to complain—my parents say that’s a “bad attitude”—but it’s my last year in kids’ choir and there was only one part I really, really wanted in our Christmas musical. And guess who got it?

My twin sister Erika, that’s who. She’s a member of the Fifth Grade Detective Brigade. They get to wear all black and sneak around to a cool theme song.

And guess who I have to be?

Chrissy. I call her Chrissy-the-Sissy, because she’s supposed to be all girly and dreamy. We’re performing tonight, and here’s my very first line: “Ooh, I want to be an angel! I just love wearing halos and big, fluffy wings.”

Really. I’m not kidding. Word-for-word, right there.

This is going to be so painful.

I wanted to ask to switch parts with Erika, but my mom said something like “Mr. and Mrs. Cox get to make the decisions, and they have their reasons.” But here are my reasons, for the record:

Why I Should Have Been in The Fifth Grade Detective Brigade

  • I can talk loudly enough that I don’t need a microphone. (Since the FGDB members walk around looking for clues, they don’t have any.)
  • Erika would be a better angel than me. Way better.
  • No offense or anything, but I’d be a better detective than her.
  • Anyway, she wants to wear a fancy dress and I want to wear sunglasses. Everybody would be happier this way.
  • Last year, I wrote a whole journal in code, an Ottendorf Cipher, where you pick a document and use numbers to substitute for letters. My document is a speech by Abraham Lincoln, but I won’t tell you which one, or where I hid the key to the code. Even if you found it, I put the key in another code, and you have to know twenty-four trivia questions about my life to break that one. So I have lots of practice at detective things and could really get into character.

I didn’t give this list to our directors, because I know the only reason I got the part of Chrissy-the-Sissy-Angel is because I’m supposed to sing a solo in the first medley. “What Child Is This?” Just a verse of it before the rest of the choir comes in. That’s one of my favorite Christmas carols, and to be honest, I like singing solos. That’s the not the problem. It’s just…well…

Let me explain by going back to last week. Every year, the 5th and 6th grade girls’ Sunday School class makes Christmas cookies with Mrs. K, and we eat way more of them than our moms would let us if they knew. While they baked, we watched this really old movie—like, barely in color and where all the women have big hair—called The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

It’s about how six of the most terrible kids in the world, the Herdmans, end up being the main parts in a Christmas musical, and how they make everything better, but accidentally. In case you think that sounds boring, there are also fight scenes and attack cats and fire.

Come to think of it, I’d love to be a Gladys Herdman kind of angel during the performance tonight, if anybody would let me. Yell, “HEY! Unto you a child is born!” instead of singing “What Child Is This?” That would shake things up at Pleasant View Bible Church, huh?

I would probably also get in big trouble.

Anyway, that’s not the point. There’s this part in the movie where Imogene Herdman is studying a picture of Mary and Jesus, trying to copy it. Trying her best to look like something she’s not, and she knows it and everybody knows it too, with her dirty face and tangled hair and loopy earrings.

In the book—I read it after we watched the movie, it’s way better—the kids sang “What Child Is This” while Imogene is holding baby Jesus. The same song that I’m singing as a solo.

Later, Imogene looks at a picture of Mary and says it’s exactly right. And then the book says, “I think it meant that no matter how she herself was, Imogene liked the idea of the Mary in the picture—all pink and white and pure-looking, as if she never washed the dishes or cooked supper or did anything at all except have Jesus on Christmas Eve.”

That’s the way I feel, sometimes, being Chrissy the angel. Like a fake, who doesn’t look anything like one of those frilly tree-toppers. I didn’t put it on the list, because it seems silly, but I’m just not…the angel type. You know? I’m clumsy and I’ve got thick glasses and short hair that sticks out and I didn’t used to care…but I do a little bit now that I’m older.

Tonight’s the performance. I’m out of time. Soon, everyone’s going to be watching me, and maybe I can sound like an angel, sort of, if I breathe from my diaphragm like I learned in choir class. But I can’t look like one. Some days I think every other girl in my class would be better at that part.

But maybe that’s okay. That’s the whole point of the book and the movie. Imogene didn’t look a thing like the way we picture Mary. Gladys wasn’t exactly the most normal angel of the Lord, either. But there was something real about them, and anyway, what if we’ve been wrong all this time about what they’re supposed to look like? What if Mary wasn’t even pretty? The Bible doesn’t say she was.

Jesus sure wasn’t, because he was a human just like us, and don’t tell anyone I said this, but human babies are ugly when they’re just born no matter how much you lie your head off to their moms and say they’re cute. They’re just red and wrinkly and usually screaming.

I don’t know about the angels, but I’m guessing first off, they mostly looked scary, and also they probably didn’t care how they looked, so I shouldn’t either. People are supposed to think more about the song and what it’s about than me. “This, this is Christ the king, whom shepherds guard and angels sing.” It really is a beautiful song.

I’m gonna do it. I’m going to go out there and stand tall in my pinned-up baptismal robe with my tinsel halo that itches. I’m not going to think about my hair or my lines or which of the older girls would have been better at my part. I’m going to stare into that spotlight and stop trying to look holy or pretty and just sing like I mean it. For the Herdmans…and for Jesus.

And who knows? Maybe I can play a spy when I get into the youth group next year.

(This is the latest in a series of fictionalized narratives based on the true history of beloved Christmas carols…except since this is my last one of 2018, I broke the rules to include a true story about my personal interaction with a Christmas carol.  I have no links to biographical information, except that sixteen years later, I read The Best Christmas Pageant Ever each December…and I still can’t crack the code I wrote that journal in. To read past narratives, go here.)