Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Debating the Subjective

Part 3 in the "Men Behaving Badly" Series
Part 1 Part 2 Part 4

Someone once said that if you remove Christ from the equation, you have no Christianity. This is because Christianity is not about a bunch of rules. The essence of Christianity is wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. You can remove Buddha from Buddhism and still have the basic tenets of Buddhism. You can extract Confucius from Confucianism and still have Confucianism. But remove Christ and Christianity ceases to exist.

Women use personal stories as a way of connecting with others, including men.The same can be said for feminine empiricism. If I may use a broad generalization, men tend to value logic and reason over feelings and personal experience. Women, on the other hand, place a high importance on the subjective. This is not to say we value empiricism over reason, but in some cases, we give the two equal billing. You can talk facts with anybody. Remove a particular person from a factual conversation, and you can still have that conversation. But the only person who can talk subjective experience with you is the person who's had that subjective experience. Women use personal stories as a way of connecting with others, including men. Downplay her personal experience, dismiss it as unimportant, and you've basically erased that woman's reason for existing - whether it be in an isolated conversation, or in the relationship as a whole.

As stated in previous posts, I am writing this series because I believe men truly do not know how certain things they do can crush a woman's spirit. I believe many men honestly have no idea how their dismissal of a woman's desire to share thoughts, feelings, and experiences can literally leave her feeling like she's been erased. To illustrate this, here is a recent example from my own life where I felt a bit trampled on:

DOCTRINE vs. MY DEAD CAT

On Tuesday night, I was talking with "Vinny," a man from my church. We were in a very lighthearted, relaxed conversation. We were exchanging funny stories, and I began to tell Vinny about the time I asked my Home Group leaders for a small favor: I needed a backyard to bury my dead cat and I was wondering if they'd be willing to volunteer theirs. (They said yes, by the way.) I began by telling Vinny that because I live in a condo-style townhouse, I had no yard in which to bury my cat. Even if I did, I didn't own a shovel to dig a grave. As a Christian, burial is symbolically important to me, so I was on a quest to find a way to bury her.

Vinny interrupted me by saying that I could have thrown the cat in the garbage and it would have been all right because animals don't have souls. I acknowledged that Vinny was correct: animals do not have souls. But that wasn't the point. My intention at that moment was to share a funny story, not to discuss the spirituality of animals. I tried to return to my story but Vinny continued to challenge me on the issue. Nevertheless, I never got past the first two sentences of my story and the lightheartedness had been completely drained out of the conversation. The opportunity to connect with Vinny had disappeared. I was now in a full-fledged doctrinal debate with this person, and I am confident that had a few more men dropped in on us, I could have slipped away unnoticed while they discussed the issue amongst themselves.

I finally got Vinny to abandon the debate and we started talking about exercise. Both of us agreed that running was preferable to swimming. We began to list all the reasons why we didn't enjoy swimming as much (water in the ears, you can't work up a good sweat, etc.). I mentioned another reason that was of particular importance to me: I didn't want to get chlorine in my hair. In honor of 1 Corinthians 11, I have chosen to take great care of my hair because it is a symbol that is important to me personally. Vinny immediately began to protest that my decision to take care of my hair is not supported by 1 Corinthians 11. Again, this was not the point. I am not clueless; I know taking care of one's hair is not a prescriptive outlined in 1 Corinthians 11. The point was that this was a glimpse of myself that I was offering this man. Vinny had dismissed another opportunity to connect with me, and opted instead to place the focus on doctrine. For a second time that night, I could have left the conversation, had someone else take my place, and the discussion would have been perfectly intact. I was no longer a necessary element in the equation.

FEMININE REACTIONS TO THIS SITUATION

Men, let me stop here and say that I understand it is never your intention to hurt us in situations like this. If anything, you are trying to serve a woman by correcting what you may perceive to be theological error. We are grateful for that. We are grateful you want to lead us in the right way. We were created to submit to that leadership, and we appreciate so much your desire to protect us from error. And because we respect you so much, we want for you to know us better. If you know what's in our hearts, you will know what our needs are. This, we assume, makes leadership easier for you.

Sadly, many men misunderstand a woman's desire to share her thoughts, feelings, and experiences to be trivial details that are unnecessary to the "big picture." This often results in the woman feeling as though the man thinks she is unnecessary.

Women, we need to be sensitive to the fact that while we may feel comfortable enough with a man to share with him, we do not need to blast him with a tsunami of personal anecdotes.In other cases, the woman is perceived as being self-absorbed if she shares too much. In fact, a man told me just today, "It seems like these past few months, all you've done is turn the conversation around and made it about you!" I was terribly discouraged by this statement. All these months, I felt comfortable enough in my friendship with this person to simply open up and talk about what was on my mind. To think that my attempts at sharing with this brother could be construed as annoying and narcissistic made me feel awful. It made me want to withdraw. It made me feel as though the decision to expose parts of myself to this man, and possibly others like him, is as unwelcome an intrusion as the one described in Proverbs 25:17:
Seldom set foot in your neighbor’s house,
Lest he become weary of you and hate you.

In my discouragement, I wondered today, "Is there any hope for men and women to understand one another?" Praise God, we have hope in Christ, who died to bridge the gap not only between us and the Father, but between us and our fellow man. Women, we need to be sensitive to the fact that while we may feel comfortable enough with a man to share with him, we do not need to blast him with a tsunami of personal anecdotes. Chances are if you are good enough friends and you respect one another, he already knows you better than you think.

That being said, I'd like to make a plea to the men out there to allow us to share our thoughts, feelings, and experiences with you, even if they appear at first to be doctrinally erroneous. When you find yourself in that situation, remember, we're not so much seeking a scriptural debate. We just want you to listen. When we share, we are (oftentimes) not being self-absorbed, either. On the contrary, we are being quite giving. It is our way of extending an invitation to you to discover what really makes us tick!

13 comments:

Natasa said...

Great post.

Elessar said...

This is very enlightening. I always appreciate ways in which I can understand women better. Having 6 sisters, 3 moms, and getting married in October, I can use all the help I can get!

I'm curious when and how is the correct way to bring up a doctrinal conversation about something like the cat. I can see clearly in your "Vinny" story that that was the wrong time. In what way could he have loved you better by pointing out what he felt was an error? It seems it wouldn't have been triggered in his mind until that conversation. Should he have waited until a normal pause in the flow of conversation, and then brought it up in a more sensitive way... would that have worked for you?

Jennifer said...

Elessar, How do you have 3 moms? Lol.

The animal topic is fascinating to me. I am not sure when would have been a good time. The problem of course was that time was not the right time. I guess the best time to bring something like that up is when the conversation is deliberately debate-focused.

In my perception, I've come across a lot of reformed men in particular that talk as though they do not know how to converse unless they are debating something. Debates can be loads of fun, but they do get old when all you want to do is simply get to know a person. I can imagine if I was a visitor, and I was trying to make new friends. I'd never learn anything about anyone if all we ever did was talk doctrine!

I guess what I'm trying to say is that people matter just as much as doctrine. Taking time to get to know people is a very Christian thing to do. :)

Ms. Modest Fashion Cents said...

Interesting post - I have to say though - I really think "Vinnie" missed the boat in a big way!

There are men who have dogs, horses and even farm animals where in they become attached to them. There is nothing wrong with that, just as in there is nothing wrong with a woman who's looking for a place to bury her cat!

Look at the story of the shepherd and the sheep. Granted this has a certain spirital message to it; but at the same time - the shepherd isn't looking at the sheep as just "souless animals".

If God has so stooped to love, care for and serve us, why should we not be willing to "stoop" to properly honor an animal who has graced our lives with companionship?

Is that not "good stewardship" in honoring God who gave that animal life to begin with? After all, the cat was a living thing - it wasn't a consumer product! Just the fact that God cares for the sparrows (and the cats) tells me that cat is worthy of more than just tossing it's body in the trash!

That's what I would have told "Vinny"!

Elessar said...

Well, 3 moms come from being the firstborn of in my dad's 3 marriages.

I understand the importance of getting to know somebody, and not always have the doctrinal debates. Turning, however, to somebody like my fiancée... I imagine I should allow a conversation like that cat one to continue as she's sharing herself with me. Then, later, as the conversation begins to change direction, could I bring up the Scriptural support for such things, etc.?

I mean, I think it's still important to have those conversations as it relates to the theology behind it, so when its appropriate is something good for men to learn.

Jennifer said...

Elessar -- Yes I think your idea of when to have that discussion is a good one, especially if you think the woman might be in error. But if she gives any indication that she has a correct grasp on the issue, then it comes across a bit insulting to perpetuate the matter.

I acknowledged that Vinny was correct on both issues (both the cat and the hair) and just wanted to get on with my story. When he kept pressing, what I really heard him saying was: "If you know animals don't have souls, then your decision to bury your cat was a stupid one."

Bobby Mosteller said...

Jennifer,

Another good one...

Oh boy, it seems that you ran into the theology police...they can suck the spirit out of about any conversation...I know because I use to be a member...

A few points I would like to make.

I think it is a maturity issue with "Vinny" as it is with a lot of men. I use to be like "Vinny" in some respects but marriage and/or chastisement will work that out of most Christian men (it is a pride issue). I have learned (and still learning) by God's grace, that our job as men is to point our wives, finacee, sisters in Christ, brothers etc. TO Christ - Not to be that for them or the Holy Spirit and attempt to take the place of their conscience. We also have to remember that the secular/sacred thing also applies in conversation. We have a tendency to think that if we don't theologize everything in the conversation then it is not glorifying to God. I think that is a mistake and does more harm than good many times.

We may be in a conversation and someone may say something that sounds weird (to us) or we may disagree with their statement but maturity/Christ likeness/humility tells us that the Holy Spirit is working in them and will reveal to them whatever they lack. It is not necessarily our job to police the conversation but in humility enter into the life, emotions etc. of the person. This builds trust and the person will see that you actually care about them. In time this will open up avenues to discuss your theological differences and/or maybe help the person see some error that is causing them problems.

I have found that when I am talking to my wife, or anyone for that matter, that the more that I invest in her and she sees that I am not broad brushing her, or waiting for her to slip up with her words, the relationship becomes much richer. I see her grow and in turn it strengthens her relationship with the Lord. A lot more then when I would just give her a lecture or throw some verses at her.

Just to sum up, it seems we have to live what we believe. If we are not attempting to do that women see right through it and our word as men becomes more or less just a dying wind.

Also it is easy to project our opinions on someone, at the wrong times, because we are so selfish by nature. We also have a tendency to place blame on someone for being selfish, in the conversation, because we ourselves are not getting anything out of it. In a sense we are just as guilty because we want our turn and we get tired of being the listener.

We tend to forget that we don't always have all of the information. There is always unknowns when we are conversing with someone. It is always better to take the 'this is not about me' approach and be the listener strictly for their edification.

If there is one thing I could say to all men is that women are very needy (this is not a knock it is just true). That is just how it is so we have to get over it and strive to die to ourselves.

BM

Jennifer said...

Thanks Bobby! What a great contribution to the discussion. I want to also say that men are not the only ones guilty of doing what Vinny did. Women can be "theology police" as well, however the reason I feel this affects men more often is because they know that they have an obligation to lead, and oftentimes, leadership involves teaching.

I will also concur with your assessment that women are needy. I think God made them to feel fulfilled when a man pays attention to them because the male/female relationship symbolizes Christ and the church. We as humans do not feel fulfilled unless God gives us His Spirit. As the church, we look to Christ for our fulfillment. As women, we often look to men for protection, provision, and an overall sense of acceptance. This is not limited to romantic relationships. As I mentioned in the comment section of one of the other posts, a little girl is crushed when Daddy does not pay attention to her.

The flip side is, when men are dying to self and paying attention to us, we need to show our appreciation. Reminding women to show that appreciation is the reason this blog came to be . . .

Penn Tomassetti said...

This was a very helpful post about the way us men so easily miss the point. I didn't even realize I was doing something similar to that until a month ago. When I found out, I was crushed. Now I am praying that God will change me.

You women are great helpers when you are guided by Biblical principles. One thing I want to suggest is that you don't give up on men too quickly, it can take some time for a guy to change, but he will if the Lord is showing him his errors through the help of his fellow Christian sisters.

God bless!

Ms. Modest Fashion Cents said...

Bobby,

I like what you said about doctrine bashing being a maturity issue. I agree also that most of the time we don't have "all the information" as to where any person is coming from in a conversation. I think it takes some grace to listen beyond the words.

As for women being "needy" - I have found men to be just as "needy" they are just "needy" in a different way. I think it behooves both men and women to treat everyone justly and with equal consideration - (is maybe the word I'm looking for?)

I don't think it's right for men to look at women and think - oh - they are weaker so I need to teach them... (or correct their theology at every turn that I think necessary). It's arrogant of a man to think that his theology is more sound than that of whom ever is standing if front of him - especially if it's a woman. I know several women who are far more theologically sound than a lot of men!

Jennifer,
As for the issue of animals "not haveing a soul" - I am not sure I'd be so quick to say that. I'd have to look a little more closely at Hebrew words - "soul", "spirit", "breath of life" etc.
Animals certainly are not created in the image of God - do they have a soul though? I guess that would depend on how you would define "soul".
Can only someone who has a "soul" be held accountable for their transgression? Can only someone who has a "soul" transgress? What does it mean to have a "soul"?

The reason I bring this up is because it's something I've always wondered about, but never came across any clear answer. Than one day I was reading something in my Bible and I just happen to stumble upon a passage that talked about God "requireing (the blood of human lives) at the hand of every beast..." (Gen 9:5)

Besides this - there's another passage in Ezek 13:14 that talks about "the land sinning" against God and He will cut it off (of plant animal and human life). Deut 24:4 admonishes Israel not to cause the land to sin.

So in other words - God will hold an animal accountable for killing a human being and will also hold a parcel of ground accountable for sinning against Him. How does a parcel of ground "sin" against God?

Now if we are the only ones of the created order who have "souls" - how does God hold creatures of lesser status accountable for sin?

So if being held accontable for your sin and having a soul and being created in the image of God all "go together" - what does that mean?

Apparently we know God does hold entities other than humans accountable for transgressing the order He's set up! Does this mean they have souls? Not sure; they certainly have wills of their own though.

So, as far as "vinnie's" need to correct your theology - I'm not so sure his was correct either. So who's he to pass judgement on you is what it really boils down to.

Just some things to think about I guess.

Elessar said...

@MFC - I don't think anybody's saying that men are the only ones who can help a women see errors in the theological viewpoints. I learn things from women all the time, and I'm glad I do!

I do think, however, that husbands (not necessarily all men) hold a responsibility to cleanse their wives by the washing of water with the Word, so the "how" of these delicate things become important issues.

Ms. Modest Fashion Cents said...

Elessar,

It's good that you are willing to learn from who ever the teacher is. Some "theological" lessons we get in very practical ways. I get those kind of lessons a lot from a particular Autistic 7 year old! :->
Not all men are like you though.

Another thing to think about too - when we look at the Word of God being "the Sword of the Spirit"! It's not the sword of the man, the sword of the husband or the sword of the preacher - it's the Sword of the Spirit. Who really is responsible for washing any of us with the water of the word?

Ultimatly, it's not my husband's responsibility to make me more spiritual or theologically sound - that's God's responsibility. A husband can point his wife toward Christ. (Just as a pastor can do for one of his congregation. Issues of dicipline though can be another matter - but that's a different topic.) He can say - hey - I found this (XYZ) thing in the Bible - have you considered these. A mature person will say either - no, haven't looked at those - I will - or yeah, I studied that and this is what I found.... What I've tended to experiance is that if both people are willing to learn; they generally come to a certain concenous as for their studies. If one (or both) is/are filled with pride though; the conversation tends to end there.

Latisha Grady said...

okay my last comment. I just want to say Thank You Jennifer! Thank you for articulating this.


Latisha Grady
Atlanta