Monday, September 28, 2015

Why Men Should Propose to Women (and not the other way about)

I have never been a particularly huge fan of the so-called Sadie Hawkins dance, or "Morp" as they call it around here (prom backwards). I am not dogmatic about it, I just think that there is more virtue and value in men asking women to these events than the other way around. In order for young men to reach beyond their little "man-cave" mentality, they need to learn how to address and reach out to the other half of the species. Simply learning how to ask a lady out on a date is one of the first steps in a man's journey beyond the typical grunts and growls of their adolescent reality.

Call me sexist if you like, but men would never have dreamed of writing poetry, singing love songs, or behaving in a chivalrous manner were it not for the feminine. Indeed, this co-mingling of the sexes allows for the full expression of the Yin and Yang of reality, elevating both sexes according to their own respective needs. Boys are perfectly content to be catered to as long as the opposite sex is willing to do them the honor. The problem is if you only "do them the honor" they may never learn to honor you.

All I can say is the hardest/scariest words that I have ever uttered in my whole life were; "Will you marry me!" Not because my wife isn't wonderful and beautiful (she is), but because I knew I had to own them, and I didn't know if I was "man enough" to be a "man of my word". Yet how much more would I have doubted myself, or the situation, had those words not come from me; "You pressured me into this, I wasn't ready!"

Obviously it is easy enough to dispute this claim by simply pointing out that my circumstances are not the same as others, and that in such and such a case it might be just as "romantic" (and necessary) for a woman to propose to a man. Perhaps. But allow me to explain why, historically speaking, it makes sense that every woman (especially the feminist), should revel in the fact that it is a man's duty to propose to a woman.

In the ancient world the norm was not to honor power in its more subtle forms, but rather to emphasize personal or collective might (viz. "might makes right"). An individual's ability to impose their will on the rest of the world came- not from their value as an individual- but rather from their particular fate/birth. The recognition of an individual's dignity, or the idea that they were a part of some "underprivileged class", did not warrant you any special attention or sympathy. To the contrary, it re-enforced your destiny. The "fates" dealt you a particular hand, slave or free, and their wasn't much you could do about it, nor were you under the impression that you could (or should) do anything about it. This kind of fatalism was part of the air they breathed in the ancient world.

For this reason, unless a woman was born into nobility, she too was treated according to her physical power and influence. In other words, she was not "here own" in any sense of the word. Because women were presumed to be the "weaker sex" they were treated as such. That doesn't mean their weren't exceptional cases here or there, but on a general scale, no one presumed, including women, that they were free to do anything but obey. And servitude extended even to the bonds of marriage (both in choice of spouse and during the marriage itself).

If for no other reason than this alone, the symbol of a man proposing to a woman on one knee should be honored. Indeed, the above photo(s) do not suggest a new kind of liberation for women, but rather the re-establishment of the old order (however ironically it may be re-envisioned).

What tends to be honored today is more of a generic equality of the sexes, one which simply assumes equality involves only having a woman do everything that a man used to do, without any regard for what makes a woman unique in her own right. In other words, a woman (in my humble and right opinion) is not only valuable because she is capable of performing every task that a man can (whether that is true or not), but because she can perform many that he can't! I must admit I am for a higher equality in this regard, or rather a higher "inequality."

I am for the Christian revolution that turned the pagan world on its head, not by castrating men (see above photo), but by compelling them to use their swords in the service of their lady (as opposed to using it to subjugate them). A man genuflects when proposing to a woman, not as a means of diminishing her, but as a means of diminishing himself. He does this as a courageous recognition of her power over him. At this moment, the man is not only saying that he intends to place himself in her service, but even that she is free to reject his offer. There would have been no such choice for women in antiquity. And wherever this kind of chivalry is not embraced in the world today, we can see just how ugly the consequences may be.

There is so much in this gesture that is both a rejection of what was wrong with the ancient world, and an an embrace of what was right (if we truly wish to be truly liberal about the whole thing). In itself, there is nothing at all wrong with a patriarchal sense of duty, ruggedness, and responsibility. What this small gesture introduces into the narrative (in one fell swoop) is a shift in the balance of power from a kind of primitive Darwinism, to a story that is a little more like a romance. The king will reign, yes, but his power will come from his love and service to the queen… So much so in fact, that one will have trouble distinguishing who's reign it is in the end.

Incidentally, it is important to note that this shift in power is not a happy coincidence of history, but rather a direct result of the Biblical narrative. Christ triumphed over evil through his vulnerability to his bride as expressed on the cross. He won the battle over death and evil because he exercised a form of weakness that is more powerful than any worldly strength; a love, as it were, which is "stronger than death" (Songs of Songs 8:6). And thus as the curtain was/is lifted/will be lifted in the book of Revelation, it seems highly appropriate that we should find ourselves at a wedding ceremony, awaiting the sacred "yes" of a mysterious Bride, the veiled one who has such profound dignity, that even God must await her answer to his proposal. If that is not a higher equality, I do not know what is.
Thus, wherever you see a double standard with regard to sex and sexual behavior today, do not blame Christian theology for such a terrible misogyny, rather blame a culture that is backsliding towards the worst of paganism. Blame a culture that no longer recognizes the inherent worth and dignity of women,  and instead views them as chattel for consumption. Indeed, it was only with the advent of the doctrine of Christian dignity, coupled with the notion that as Children of God we all have the power to choose our own destiny, that people for the first time began to subscribe to any notion of equality of the sexes. In fact, in the beginning such a disparity apparently did not exist at all. For according to the book of Genesis, it was only in the communion of flesh between a man and a woman, that one was truly able to witness the face of God. (Genesis 1:27)

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Are You Saved? If You're Sure You Are, Then You May Not Be… Here's Why

Are you saved?! If you live in the south like I do, then at some point you have probably heard this phrase either directly or indirectly. In a more religious age, such a question might have more rhetorical punch. However, in a culture which is essentially post-Christian, the question might come off like a bizarre non sequitur. To put it another way, what does this phrase even mean in an age which is post (post) modern? "Why yes, of course I'm saved, after all, there's really nothing to be saved from..." or perhaps, "Of course I'm saved… I'm a good person!"

From the standpoint of an Evangelical, things were never meant to turn out this way. The question was intended to be self-evident, and/or to lead to a deeper question about Jesus and the how one was to find salvation. Now in the most ironic mockery of the idea of being "saved by faith", the average person really does feel at peace about their eternal salvation, but not because of their faith in Jesus, but because, well, they just feel it in their heart. Yet between us folk who still think Jesus is necessary for salvation, what should we say about the specific requirements surrounding our eternal fate?  

According to some interpretations of Scripture, salvation is a relatively clear process. By grace you are moved to accept Jesus in faith, and by doing so you become justified in the sight of God... Signed, sealed and delivered. However, the minor (or major, depending on how you look at it) dilemma on this front, as acknowledged by many Christians themselves, is the fact that some Christians may not be sincerely saved in the first place (even when they claim to be), because they lacked the necessary sincerity at the moment when they claimed to have accepted Christ into their heart.

For those who acknowledge this fact, one Scripture passage may be particularly instructive; "Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my heavenly father" (Matthew 7:21). Consequently, it seems relatively clear, based on this passage, why it is not so easy to say who's in, and who's out.

Another reason for the lack of certitude in these situations has to do with the fact that everyone about whom we are speaking is still on earth, and is not as yet, in the strictest sense, saved. There is a reason why they call this life a valley of tears. And so, in truth, until "every tear is wiped away", we cannot really say that we are completely "saved". Thus, it may be more accurate to say, in all humility, "I was saved, am being saved… and God willing, I will let Him finish the job!"

However, rather than go down the circular rabbit hole of trying to figure out (on earth) who has completely filled the requirements for one who is saved, and who has not (including those who have done so in a phony or unsatisfactory way), let us go up to heaven, so to speak, and find out.

In Matthew 25 we get a description of the Last Judgment. Most people are aware that "sheep go to heaven and goats go to hell" (to quote the band Cake), but what is rarely mentioned is why the sheep are particularly heavenly, and why the goats are particularly infernal. The truth is the final judgment has very little to do with poor genetic breeding, or rather if it does, it has far more to do with our subsequent treatment of the ill bred.

Jesus states that our final judgment is directly proportional to our treatment of the most poor. In fact, in Matthew 25, Jesus identifies so completely with the "least of our brethren", that he practically calls them Jesus. There is no other group or person, apart from the Father, with which he identifies more.

Still, the fact that we appear to be judged based primarily on our acts of mercy (not simply based on our acceptance of Christ in our heart), isn't even the most interesting and ironic part of the passage. The "kicker" on Judgment Day, at least from the standpoint of Matthew 25, is the fact that the people who are saved/condemned are apparently confounded by the nature of God's decision. Not only is judgment day, not merely a re-affirmation of those who thought they were saved, but it is practically the opposite!

From the standpoint of grace, as well as virtue (as opposed to vice), this makes a lot of sense. Grace is fundamentally an unmerited gift. And in order for a gift to be truly a gift, it must have some element of surprise. The greatest enemy of surprise is presumption. Presumption is to gratitude, what parasites are to good wood. Hence, the devil is in hell (along with the rest of the goats), not simply because they deserve hell, but, more importantly, because they "deserve" heaven. Heaven is owed to him. He is confounded, like all the rest of the goats in hell, because this is not the way things ought to have played out. He is obsessed with being right, but funny, he is not so much interested in being good for goodness sake.

Consequently, the souls in hell are already saved! In fact, they are so "saved", that they never had any need of salvation at all. They are good people. Worthy people. God is the one who is unjust.

On the other hand, the sheep are both elated and confounded because they can't believe that God would count them worthy to share in such a sublime gift. They are like the ones for whom a surprise party has been thrown, or rather the one who has, in spite of all the odds, won the lottery. Like St. Matthew pointing to himself, they say, "Who, me?" How is it that the Lord might come to me this day!? One is surprised because holiness is never presumptuous, while the other is miserable, because "naturally," the wedding feast should have been celebrated in their honor. One believes themselves to be saved, and thus good to go, while the other is saved because "goodness" is the last word they would use to describe themselves. For them virtue is an act of justice, or rather it is the result of God's generosity towards them.

To put it in the form of a fable, saints are a little like the Tortoise. The Hare has, by his own estimation, already won the race, and thus he loses it. While the tortoise keeps his head down and "peddles" never assuming anything. Quite the opposite, because he assumes that he may in fact lose the race, "he runs so as to win" (to quote St. Paul), and thus prevents himself from being "disqualified."

However, in fairness to those who do claim victory before it is firmly in their grasp, perhaps their confidence is like a battle cry. Perhaps it motivates them to press onward, not because of their own prowess, but because of the love they have for the One waiting for them at the finish line. And so like a lover's boast, they too declare from the rooftops their "victory" even as they continue to woo her unceasingly. Nevertheless, this does not change the importance of having a humble disposition as it relates to the Lord, a disposition which is inclined to boast of the Lord's goodness, yet one that never takes for granted, or presumes, that salvation and victory are firmly in hand, until they actually are.    

"Oh Jesus, watch over me always, especially today, or I shall betray you like Judas."
                                                                                       -St. Philip Neri