Don’t put me on a pedestal…

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“I just love women. I put them on a pedestal.” A well-known author spoke those words to me the other night. We were at a social gathering, and I found myself the only woman in a circle of men. The author is someone who has presented insightful information about egalitarianism and the prominent role women have in creation, theology, and mythology. His writings and teachings are ones I appreciate. Yet, given the current status of women in this country, those words rankled.

“Women don’t want to be placed on a pedestal! They want to be equal partners!” Our discussion continued until it took a different direction, but the image of a pedestal remained with me. While we have a President who only wants women under him (literally and figuratively), we have a Vice-President who wants to place women on a pedestal. I am not surprised by the recent news highlighting Mike Pence’s refusal to dine or work with a woman without a man present, including business functions. (As a woman in the male dominated field of ministry, I would be essentially isolated if I followed such a rule in regards to my male colleagues.) Anyone who followed the election process should well comprehend his view of a “Christian theocracy,” a place presided over by very conservative men who have a narrow understanding of the Bible and Christian faith, and wish to impose this legally on the rest of the nation. It is this view that propagates placing women on a pedestal – supposedly raising them up to a place where they are honored, adored, and treasured.  People who follow this viewpoint use specific passages from the Bible to support their ideas, namely Proverbs 31. They claim it’s the greatest way to respect a woman.

Yet, when one is placed on a pedestal, it’s too easy to be knocked off. A woman is either the saint, residing just out of reach of ordinary mortals – or she is the whore, the fallen woman who tempts good men and leads them to destruction.

This idea of placing a woman on a pedestal took root in the early 1800s in the American South. It coincided with the view that a “real man” was a tough guy, aggressive, competitive, and master of all he surveyed. This included not just his land, wife, and children, but also his slaves. Placing women on a pedestal was a way to keep them caged so that a man could maintain control and power.

I don’t want to be on a pedestal. I want to be an equal with men, whether it is in personal or business relationships. Neither of the two men who are representing us in Washington have any concept what that means. While it’s more obvious in the President’s case, it is perhaps more dangerous in the case of the Vice-President. Claiming to honor and protect women (and supposedly his own virtue) is code for saying he doesn’t really trust them, and he certainly can’t trust himself. People who are not on the same level can never truly be equals. A pedestal is simply a jail.

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God Loves a Woman’s Body

Durer’s renowned portrait of Eve

I’m not a big John Mayer fan, but I do think one of the best songs in the past decade (okay, it was actually 2001 – but close enough) is Your Body is a Wonderland. It celebrates a woman’s body – the awe, delight, and glory every woman should feel about her body. Yet, every time I get a whiff of pop culture, there is another “scandal” about a woman and her body. Is Beyonce photoshopped in a bikini? Is Meghan Trainor’s new song, All About that Bass, dissing people who are naturally thin? How can I look as good as that Hollywood star who is the same age as I am? (even if she has never given birth, has a personal trainer and chef and assistant and stylist, and enough money that she never lies awake at night wondering which bill she can afford to pay…)

The simple state of our society is that when women think of their bodies, they overwhelming have negative thoughts. They don’t celebrate this gift from God, but find things to criticize and to improve. And I fully claim that I am one of these women. I have tried my best to model for my daughter a healthy body perception – to keep my negative thoughts on the inside or just to voice them to my friends – but it’s an everyday challenge. As much damage as our society has done in contributing to a negative body image, I believe the issue started much earlier.

I remind myself on a continual basis that St. Augustine was not a totally bad guy. Yes, he had issues with his mommy – he kicked out his common law wife of over a decade and kept their son – and he tried his best to turn Pelagius into a heretic (and was successful). Yet, it’s his use of Greek dualism in his early 5th century writings that marked the Church (and thus Western society) for many centuries to come. Augustine took a few key verses from the Bible, mixed them with some of his Gnostic tendencies, and purported that the soul was connected with the divine, and could only reach God when denying or negating the body. The soul vs. body split became entrenched in Western thought. A woman’s body was especially seen as evil, since it was derived from the first sinner, Eve. Women’s bodies came to be viewed as a temptation, keeping men’s souls from attaining the glories of union with the divine. A woman’s soul could never overcome her body.

Pelagius (Augustine’s nemesis mentioned previously) was the first British theologian. He believed that all creation was good, including women’s bodies. Women were made in God’s image, as was man, and could be trusted to follow the divine light. Various theologians have tried to reclaim this goodness of creation in recent years. This is such a powerful message for women in today’s world. You are made in God’s image – no matter your size, skin color, age, etc. Your body is not a temptation for men – the temptation comes from them and how they view women. Your body is not something to be scrutinized and analyzed – it is a gift from God that works with our souls so that we can be God’s hands, feet, mouth, and heart in this world which so desperately needs it.

God loves each woman’s body. We should too.

Sleepy Hollow, The Bible, and Women

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           Every summer I thoroughly peruse the promos for new television shows. One stood out this past August – primarily because I thought it was in the top 10 of ridiculous premises ever proposed. Ichabod Crane (of the famous story penned by Washington Irving) wakes from the dead in modern day Sleepy Hollow, NY. It turns out he was Gen. George Washington’s primary soldier in the fight against biblical evil during the Revolutionary War while history has only recorded the colonies’ fight for independence from the British Crown. Crane discovers he is meant to stop the horsemen of the Apocalypse, and is partnered in this battle with Det. Abbie Mills. Chaos ensues.

             This ludicrous premise led to my favorite show of the season – and ratings reveal that I am not alone in this love. The last of 13 episodes aired Monday night, and now we all wait impatiently and spout various theories concerning the cliff-hangers until next Fall. This show has captured the affection of viewers and critics alike. Gifted actors, compelling action, entertaining humor, angst and drama, surprising historical revelations, and unpredictable storylines have contributed to this surprise hit. It also helps that the guys behind the show are in the JJ Abrams circle, working on shows like Lost and Fringe. These guys understand spirituality and well-rounded characters, especially women.

             I love all these different aspects of the show, but two areas provide particular interest for me – the treatment of the Bible and the place of women in this world. First, in regards to the Bible, it is used as a guidebook for how Crane and Mills can combat the coming of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (see book of Revelation if this doesn’t sound familiar to you). I daresay Revelation has been the part of the Bible most appropriated by Hollywood. And of course, it’s never accurate, but that’s beside the point when someone is looking for good inspiration for a fictional story. The writers and viewers both are aware that this interpretation is fictional and outlandish, but I appreciate how the Bible and faith are treated with respect. The clergy are strong individuals, endeavoring to fight evil at whatever costs. Crane and Mills use their extensive knowledge of the scriptures to help in their quest.

             Second, it is such a pleasant change to see strong, independent, articulate, and smart women characters who are not defined by their relationship to a man. (Tom Mison, who plays Crane, even stated this was one of the draws to this show for him.) In addition to Mills (portrayed by an engaging Nicole Beharie), there is her sister Jenny, Crane’s wife Katrina, and Capt. Irving’s wife. What makes it even better is the fact that most these women are African-American. Abbie Mills’ defining relationship is not the past romance with a fellow cop, but the great love she has for her sister. In the season finale, she even tells Jenny – “I will not lose you again.” Tears came to my eyes – sisterly love is a beautiful and powerful thing. When a woman normally says these words on tv, it’s too her “soul-mate,” the romantic love of her life who completes her. (And please don’t get me started right now on the soul-mate/complete my life baloney that Hollywood dishes out. I’ll rant about that in a future blog.)

             On paper, this show shouldn’t work. But it has – in an overwhelming way. I hope other shows will follow suit. Be imaginative, respectful, and treat women as the well-rounded, intelligent, and independent people we are.

             I can’t wait until next September.