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Mutuality and Me (or….can I call myself a feminist?)

July 18, 2012

Evidently, there is a bit of question again about a woman’s role in church and family.  I am apparently a bit late to get this news too, according to the blogosphere.  From what I understand, there’s statements about husbands being responsible to get their wives to church and for their spirituality, not unlike a parent would be for a child.  The man is the head of the family, women shouldn’t talk in church, much less lead a church, and women are submissive.

Hmm.  Really??

I was telling Curtis about this and Rachel Held Evans in particular.  His response was similar to mine.  Really?  We attend a Methodist church in an urban area.  At our church, we have 5 pastors/seminary students on staff.  One of them is a man.  We know that we will not have a lead woman pastor appointed to our church any time soon(not that we’re looking for a new lead pastor), because that would leave us with a staff of all women.  It’s something we know.  The man is the lead pastor, however, not so much because he is the only one who can lead, since he is a man and all, but he’s the only one who wants that role.  In our Sunday evening service that we have once a month, Curtis has been asked to invite the congregation to share in the offering a couple of times because we needed a man in front of the congregation so it was a little more man/woman balanced.  This is the reality I live in.

So it was understandable that the talk of no women in leadership at churches surprised me and women in submissive roles at home took me aback.  That made me think a little more about myself.

As things often happen, as I was thinking about all of this through reading blogs, the next chapter in my book, In the Midst of Chaos by Bonnie Miller-McLemore, discussed mutuality.   I was glad.  I had seen the word mutuality thrown around a lot, but hadn’t really gotten a great definition.  From what I could tell, it was that men and women are equals in God’s eyes and work together instead of a dominant/submissive role.  I loved the quote Miller-McLemore used to describe mutual love–the basis of mutuality.  She quoted theological ethicist Beverly Wildung Harrison on pg. 86 of In the Midst of Chaos:

[Mutual love] is love in its deepest radicality.  It is so radical that many of us have not yet learned to bear it. [It is the] experience of truly being cared for [and] actively caring for another [in a complex rhythm of] take and give, give and take.

I loved the description of “a complex rhythm of take and give, give and take” (which is a combination of Miller-McLemore’s words and Harrison’s words).  That sums marriage up perfectly for me.  If each spouse is “actively caring for another”, each’s needs will be met.  I know that to be true.  It may sound cheesy, but I know that when I start thinking that things are unfair, I do more than my share of the work, my life is so much more____________(fill in the blank with negative word of the day) than Curtis’s, the best thing I can do is something nice for him, something to lighten his load.  As soon as I do that, I start realizing all the things he does for that I may not take the time to notice or I take for granted.

However, as Miller-McLemore discussed what mutuality looks like, it made me wonder if we really practiced it.  In Miller-McLemore’s family, both parents work and both parents share the indoor and outdoor household chores, the carting children to appointments, practices, conferences, etc.  It doesn’t work that way in our house.  I don’t work.  For me, I see that as a privilege given to me by the feminist movement in the 60’s and 70’s.  I have the right to choose what is best for me and my family.  Mutuality implies that Curtis and I decided that together, which we did, but really, when I made that decision to stop teaching and stay at home, it was my decision.  I had no influence from Curtis to keep working or to stay at home.  It was my choice.  Since I am at home ALL THE TIME, it hardly seems fair to ask Curtis to do the grocery shopping, the cooking, or the cleaning.  That doesn’t mean he doesn’t help out with those things when I need it.  When Isaac was younger, I checked with Curtis when I scheduled my doctor’s appointments and haircuts.  He could free up time on his schedule so he could watch Isaac while I went my merry way.  When Madeleine was in kindergarten, he was the one who went to eat lunch with her on occasion.  We have a system that works.  Unless I am feeling exhausted and/or Curtis has been out of town a lot, I think I am probably getting the better end of the deal.

Yesterday evening, after a weekend where I should have felt revived yet still wasn’t, I still felt like I needed more, I told Curtis that maybe I was getting ready to return to teaching.  I wasn’t greeted with a “No way, no how. Who will make my dinner then?”  Curtis.  Instead,  he replied, “We have a lot of to talk about,”  not in a patronizing way, but a “tell me what your dreams are today” sort of way.

I am sure some feminists would give me a hard time about staying home with the kids and loving to cook.  I am sure they would look at me funny when I say inclusive language in the Bible or hymns is not necessary for my worship.  However, when it comes down to it, Curtis and I are shaping a path that involves each of us looking out first for the other.  I am every bit as responsible for his spiritual life as he is for mine.  My time is as precious as his and my interests every bit as important.  He would say the same thing (as he encourages me to get out and do more things on my own, taking me away from the family for a bit).  Our system works.  I don’t need to it to have a label.

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