Category Archives: Christianity
“I thought you told me we didn’t have enough money for vacation this year. I see you got a bonus from work but used it to buy a new camera,” said Jane.
“What?” Joe blinked several times. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re crazy.”
Jane dropped the issue, half-doubting herself. The camera was bought anyway.
Just what was going on in this exchange?
In marriage counseling, therapists talk about “gas lighting.” The term comes from a 1944 movie called Gaslight. In it, Ingrid Bergman stars as a woman who is made crazy for a time by her husband’s intention to make her question reality at every turn. He searches for hidden treasure in the attic with gas lights, for example. The wife often notices that gas lights in the house are flickering, and the husband denies it, always acting as though she is crazy.
So, gas lighting involves deception, insults or abuse, paired with the forceful denial of such. But it goes further. It makes the one questioning the deceiver or abuser doubt herself. I say “herself” because often the dynamic is between husband and wife. But it can also be between a parent and a child, or siblings, or boss and employer. Women can perpetrate as well as men, but the one being manipulated into self-doubt is often a woman. Society brainwashes women, via stereotypes, into doubting our own perceptions and emotional stability.
I recently read an article by a man who was once a gaslighter, entitled, “A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not ‘Crazy.’” He lists the things gaslighters (who can also be women) say to women who complain of feeling hurt, angry or frustrated with them.
“You’re so emotional.”
“You’re too sensitive.”
“Calm down. Relax. Stop freaking out!”
“I was just joking. Don’t you have a sense of humor?”
It might also be just a facial expression—squinting at you like you are nuts. Well-rehearsed body language that is all about putting you in your place for truth-telling. Or a verbal sleight of hand that makes you question your memory.
Another way of thinking of gas lighting is emotional manipulation, says the author. It’s a play on “the idea that women need only the slightest provocation to unleash their (crazy) emotions. It’s patently false and unfair.”
What is the key to getting out of a gaslighting situation? Learning to trust your own perceptions and stick by them no matter what. Refusing to second-guess yourself. It might also mean getting out of a certain relationship entirely or putting boundaries on it. Let’s revisit the first scene:
“What? I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Joe blinked several times. “You’re crazy!”
Looking him in the eye, Jane said, “I think you do know. You told me we didn’t have the money, but we did, and now the money is gone. We need to talk about this.”
And, perhaps, to make an appointment to see a marriage or family counselor who is sensitive to feminist issues. Or to see a lawyer if the gaslighter’s defenses are so rigid that change that change is unlikely and the oppression unrelenting. Or, as needed, to call a domestic abuse hotline and find a women’s shelter. Sometimes women cannot afford to truth-tell.
Bergman gets the last laugh in Gas Light, by the way, once a detective investigates and validates her perception about the gas lights. I hope this post is enough validation for you to be loyal to your own feelings and perceptions, whether you are a wife dealing with a controlling husband, a grown daughter still feeling manipulated by your mother, or an employee of a gas-lighting boss.
You are not crazy, and you deserve better.
Some of you may have heard about or attended a Love and Respect marriage conference at an evangelical church near you. Dr. Susan Biali, MD, blogged on psychologytoday.com about her and her husband’s transformative experience at one of these conferences. She learned that husbands mainly want respect, not love (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prescriptions-life/201304/relationship-advice-women-need-love-men-need-respect).
This was Biali’s summary of Eggerich’s recommendations to women:
A man feels respected when:
1) You tell him thanks for going to work every day and praise his commitment to providing for you and your family (I know, you very likely go to work, too – as do I – but to men it’s particularly important to have their efforts and dedication acknowledged)
2) You ask him to talk about his dreams.
3) You praise his good decisions (and don’t keep bringing up the bad ones)
4) You honor his authority in front of the children – and others in general – and differ with him in private
5) You thank him for his advice and knowledge (men love to help and advise)
6) You do recreational activities with him, “shoulder to shoulder”, such as watching the football game, going along for a drive, or going camping with him (here’s a kicker, though: apparently it’s a huge gift to men if women keep them company but don’t talk the whole time. I have been working on this one, it is not easy!)
7) You respond more often to him sexually (I think this one needs no explanation)
What do you think about this? I for one really enjoy the feeling of being deliberately, consciously respectful, of letting a man be a man and recognizing him for his “manliness” and his internal blueprint for leadership. Men really are very different from women, I think that’s pretty obvious to anyone.
Eggerichs and Biali are coming from a perspective that uses the Bible to support their position, that men mostly want respect in marriage, and women mainly want love. In light of that, I want to point out verses that command husbands to respect their wives, and encourage wives to love their husbands.
Check these out:
I Peter 3:7 “Husbands in the same way [as the women] be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” [Note that my commentary says that “weaker” is “not a reference to moral stamina, strength of character or mental capacity, but most likely to sheer physical strength”—TNIV Study Bible.]
Titus 2:4 “Then they [older women] can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children…”
Even the Biblical writers were flexible enough in their thinking about gender roles to include commands for women to love their husbands, and husbands to respect their wives. That ought to say something to us in the 21st century when women’s human rights are, in principle, acknowledged.
That said, I think that Biali and Eggerichs are right in one way: many men would love their wives or girlfriends to do all of those things. What neither seem to notice, or give value to, is that most of these suggestions, unless they are reciprocated to the wife, are likely to result in an unequal and unfair dynamic in a relationship. (For example, note the fact that Biali, as an MD, may surpass her husband in salary and skill-set, yet she is the one to express appreciation to him for working so hard for the family). If women follow Biali’s model of “being deliberately, consciously respectful, of letting a man be a man and recognizing him for his ‘manliness’ and his internal blueprint for leadership,” then what you have is not a partnership but a leader-followership. It is a reinforcement of hierarchy. That’s not what Jesus would do. If you want to see Jesus’ egalitarian approach to women, read the gospels. Or, at least, my book (http://www.amazon.com/Saving-Women-Church-Jesus-Divide/dp/1594980136/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367961697&sr=1-1&keywords=saving+women+from+the+church).
And do men, in general, really need more respect? The need for respect can be a bottomless pit when the fear of not meeting the standards of traditional masculinity has forged shame into the soul. But, the actual need for respect may, in fact, be strongest in those who don’t get as much in society: wives and mothers, for example. When I withdrew from a doctoral program to become a Stay-at-Home Mom, I realized with a shock that I dropped to the bottom of the societal value-meter. I had to consciously develop such a strong sense of self-respect that I don’t need any one to praise me for the valuable skills I have honed in my current position.
Many men could not function emotionally at all in a Stay-at-Home Parent role. (Let me emphasize that there are some wonderful exceptions to this statement). They have been raised to expect power, respect, status and praise both in the world and at home, more than women have. That expectation can leave them fragile, when it is not met. Note even the sub-title of Eggerich’s book, “The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs.” Should wives feed into this false sense of desperation, by emphasizing respect?
Biali’s final respect-over-love argument is the Mars/Venus one: “Men really are very different from women, I think that’s pretty obvious to anyone.” All our beliefs are obvious before they are tested. Let’s look at a 2013 meta-analysis of 13 gender difference studies (here: http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/02/05/men-and-women-may-not-be-so-different-after-all/51222.html). The review showed “that for the vast majority of psychological traits, including the fear of success, mate selection criteria, and empathy, men and women are definitely from the same planet.
“Instead of scores clustering at either end of the spectrum—the way they do with, say, height or physical strength—psychological indicators fall along a linear gradation for both genders.”
Men and women, because they are both human, more similar in their needs than different, need love and respect in equal measure. Those who say they want respect more than love begin to enter an abuse continuum where the greater power must be maintained in a marriage relationship. Abusive men appear to need no love at all: only respect and power. They are on one extreme end. On the milder end of the spectrum are the men whose self-esteem thrives on subtle and direct communications of wifely deference—the very suggestions Biali has suggested, in fact.
When these men don’t get what they need to feel good about themselves, they often stonewall, says Eggerichs—an adult, quiet version of a tantrum. Stonewalling is one of marriage expert John Gottman’s “Four Horsemen of the Apocolypse” for marriage—a divorce predictor (http://azgrowth.com/4Horsemen.pdf ). Yes, “respect” would end the stonewalling, but not in a healthy way, just as giving a child candy for dinner because he wants it keeps him happy but not well.
As Eggerichs says, respect and love are not the same thing. He notes, “You respect your boss, you don’t love your boss.” Exactly.
The first person I met who told me he was homosexual was finishing up a doctoral degree at Fuller, a well-known Christian university, in the 1990s. (I was there for a couple of months). He had become sexually active while there, due to all the opportunity for sexual encounters in the LA area. He frequently used 1-800 numbers to meet people. This man and I sort of dated for a bit. He liked me, but, he just wasn’t attracted to women as much as he would have liked to be. It must have been so hard to live two lives, as it seemed he was doing—a day time life and a nighttime life. He told me one time that he would have sexual encounters in bathrooms with men he had just met, and that he longed to say “I love you!” during orgasms sometimes. He wanted, I think now, a long-term commitment with one of these men, but felt constrained by the Christian graduate community of which he was a part.
My comfort level with homosexuality has slowly increased in the past twenty years (see my post “Middlesexed: One Christian’s Incarnational Journey from Fear to Acceptance”), but I have never been able to get comfy with the idea of any one having multiple sexual encounters with strangers, of any sexual orientation. I know that this approach to sex is increasingly common among young heterosexuals, as well. But it’s not healthy for any one, either physically, emotionally or spiritually. So for those people who long to be married, deeply desire to be committed to one person over their life time, I’d like to give my full-on support. Marriage is hard for heterosexuals or homosexuals alike, but nothing like a lifetime of emotionally empty one-time encounters, as my friend was aware of experiencing.
I think if heterosexual Christians want to increase the level of morality in our human community, we would do well to fully support civil unions or marriage rights for homosexuals. And if Christians want to be welcoming to those in the gay community, why not start with affirming their basic rights to stable, committed monogamy. Don’t some Christians still say that heterosexuals who live together are “living in sin”? Well, this is what we are encouraging among homosexuals when we say that two people who deeply love each other cannot have the legal rights of married couples. No one can change their orientation by controlling laws, that’s for sure. But a society in which homosexual people are finding deep and meaningful commitments which enjoy the protection of the law and the support of citizens can only be a more moral one.
Maybe we could bring some healing to people with varying sexual orientations just by acknowledging their basic human rights in this matter. I think about how I would feel if I were homosexual and were continually told by the church that I was sinful due to something I could not change, and that I should not be allowed to have the same legal rights as heterosexuals. I’d be very angry and I wouldn’t listen to anything the church had to say. Wouldn’t you feel the same? What if the issues were reversed and heterosexuality was considered the sin? I can’t see too many celibate-heterosexual-males-for-Jesus banging on the church door, that’s for sure.
Recently, George Barna found that “overall, heterosexuals are twice as likely as homosexuals to attend a church service, read the Bible, and pray to God during a typical week (31% vs 15%)” (http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/13-culture/282-spiritual-profile-of-homosexual-adults-provides-surprising-insights). Yet 58% of homosexual people in the survey “had made ‘a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today.’” It seems to me that people with a homosexual orientation have been pushed out of the church, left out of opportunities for spiritual growth, and forced into an individual rather than community-oriented faith.
I think Jesus wants everyone to come to him alongside other believers, to know they are welcome at the table of faith, and to be accepted as they are. As Christ-followers, why not begin by supporting homosexual people in their desire for a moral, legal, monogamous commitment to another person? To do otherwise is to unwittingly encourage a 1-800 number approach to love.
Last Saturday, I was at the A.C. Gilbert Discovery Museum for Children. I saw a display of clocks from antiquity, and above it, a quote from Einstein that said time and space are merely human inventions. They don’t exist except in our minds. Not that I can understand this fully, but it got me thinking. We organize our lives around the mere ideas of time and space. Later that day, I had a conversation with a mom who homeschools, who mentioned needing better time management at home. That brought to mind a recent George Barna survey of Christian women, where women were asked about sins in their lives. The top two confessions were disorganization (50%) and inefficiency (42%) (http://www.barna.org/culture-articles/587-christian-women-today-part-3-of-4-women-give-themselves-an-emotional-and-spiritual-check-up?q=women). While David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, wondered why women are not being honest about real sins like pride and envy (for some reason that blog post is no longer accessible), I think that honesty is not generally the problem of Christian women. Something else is going on.
This morning I googled “time management” and “Christian women.” I came up with oodles of not only articles but whole books on this topic with this audience. I found titles on amazon.com like Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much, and Life Management for Busy Women: Living Out God’s Plan with Passion and Purpose. In fact, I got sucked into reading about one of them. Writing this article has had me reflecting on my own relationship with my day. Why is it that Christian women in particular feel disorganized and like they are not using their time well? This isn’t something Christian men apparently feel. I googled “time management for Christian men” and though there was one book, after that what came up was articles on time management for Christian women.
In my own life, I am one of the other 50 percent of women who would confess one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Maybe that’s because I have more time to sin, who knows. But I do have a “To Do” list every day that I work on before I go to bed each night. If I don’t, things come to mind and I can’t get to sleep. And during the day, it can be hard to be in the moment, as my brain cells reach and connect to solve some problem for my family. My life is unbalanced right now, but leisure time means exercise and alighting here and there on Facebook for fifteen minutes, and pleasure is creative work like writing, and crossing off that one last thing on my To Do list. What about you? Sinfully lazy and self-indulgent? Probably not. So much to do that you feel stressed? Probably.
But who sets the agenda for what we do? I tend to look at justice issues when I write about women. But it may be that there are a lot of women who are in the position of Home CEO, and no one sets the agenda but them and the most pressing need. An unpaid, unstructured job can be a real challenge—like being your own volunteer. How do you choose what is most important? And then, you do so many little things in a day that no one even notices. How do you know when you are doing well in your job? You won’t get a raise or Employee of the Year award. Maybe it’s easy to end up feeling a false guilt in a job like that, especially if you compare yourself to ideas about the ideal woman or mother.
On the other hand, other women probably have too much to do—a full-time job plus kids and housework. Women in this situation are still doing, on average, twice as much childcare and twice as much housework as their husbands (see this article about housecleaning). A recent survey suggests that husbands create seven extra hours of housework for wives a week, while wives save husbands one hour of extra housework a week. I point this out because the feeling of being sinfully out of control of your responsibilities has a justice backdrop to it. In a recent blog (“A Wife’s Tale: How I Stopped the Housework Habit and Started Living”) I wrote about research from a book with the humorous but telling title The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework, by psychologist Joshua Coleman. The author noted that married women tend to compare themselves to other women from the past and present who are busy from dawn to midnight maintaining jobs outside the home, then doing the “Second Shift” at home. They think of their mothers who baked homemade pies and mended their dresses. They think of their friends who start home businesses, and other friends with five kids with five schedules. Husbands tend to not compare themselves to us, but rather, to other men. Easy for them to think (or just sort of feel), “My 10 hours of housework a week is way better than my dad. And look at that guy over there drinking beer and watching football all weekend.” And many men aren’t going to care that much about how the house looks, unless they inherently value neatness, because no one is judging them on that basis. This happens, but let’s call it what it is–unfair.
Some unfairness may come about because women tend to care about so much related to family and home. The one who cares more in a marriage about any issue has less bargaining power about task completion, says Dr. Coleman. If we are the one who cares most about how the kids are clothed, for example, we are the ones noticing the ragged shoe laces or the sleeves-grown-short. That’s two more things on the “To Do” list. It can be frustrating to care about such basic things and to feel you are alone in that. On the other hand, sometimes, I think sometimes we need to be pickier about what we care about. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s said of women that many of us “re-do” when husbands clean. We could choose to care a little less, if that’s the case. It’s just going to get dirty again, anyway.
And in that non-micro-managing spirit, delegate. A request like, “Do you mind going online and finding some shirts for our son?” eases my load a bit, at our house. And now my husband has owned the task of ordering shirts, and I accept his choices. It didn’t take long for him to catch on, after a few repeated requests. He’s even taken on pants. This is a win-win. I have less to do, and my partner gets the experience of shopping and acquires a basic appreciation for the skills, time and money that takes. He has to start noticing the things I care about, even if it’s only by way of polite reminders and he never actually does it, which is sometimes the case. Who does everything that is asked of us? He has his own priorities, but I can still ask.
Since we can’t change culture, or our husbands, in one blog post, let’s think about how to make our lives a little less stressful in the interim by changing up some terms. I wonder if the ideas of time management and efficiency are hurting us more than helping us. We can’t really manage time, or space, as Einstein implied—and we can’t be in two places at once. The best we can do is control our thoughts and behavior. That resonates more for me when I think of what matters to God. I am interested, with regard to my own life, what would happen if I replaced “Time Management” with the phrase “Thought and Action Management.” Or, would it be more to the point to say “Priority Management” in the spirit of Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People? What really matters in our lives, when there is so much to do—including relax? What can we let go of? Anne Lamott said, in a recent Facebook post, that we should cross a few things off our “To Do” list right after we make one. Are there things that we feel compelled to do, but we can learn to let someone else do, with grace?
Boundaries are hard for us women sometimes, and we each have our own reasons—caring about a lot of people and things, caring too much what others expect of us, or having a hard time crossing traditional gender roles. But to be a woman is first of all to be human, which means we are glorious and limited at the same time. God said that was good, a long time ago. And God gets the last word on women.
When I was in seminary at Regent College, a man named Ron [not his real name] who was both homosexual and married to a woman came to speak to us in a class on Gender and Sexuality. At the time, Leanne Payne, an author who writes about inner healing prayer, predominated my thinking about homosexuality. It was a result of brokenness. It could be, should be, healed. I said this to Ron in a small gathering of students. Ron, never defensive, invited me for coffee in the Regent atrium, where he shared his story. As a Christian, he had decided to try to be celibate, and he had married his wife who was disabled and whom he cared for. But he wanted Christians to understand something important: he didn’t choose homosexuality, any more than any one chooses heterosexuality. It was not something he could be healed of, any more than a heterosexual person could be healed of heterosexuality. He asked me a simple question which at the time dinged off my defenses, but which stayed with me over the years as I reflected on this issue. It was, “What did you think of the slide presentation by Dr. Hui?” Edwin Hui, MD, is a professor who taught on bioethical issues at Regent. He had nothing to say about his views on homosexuality and the Bible. He just showed slides of a variety of chromosomal combinations—way more than I thought possible– which could result in varying sexual orientations. Ding. I saw the slides, heard the question, but they were meaningless due to my armored belief that homosexuality was a result of wounds from childhood.
But I considered my theology at Regent to be incarnational. Meaning, embodied. I needed to know people, to encounter the people I discussed and thought about ethically. Those people would provide the needed lens to read the Bible well. So, I was choosing to live near Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown Eastside where my neighbors would teach me good theology by letting me get to know them. One of the people I met was Jan [not her real name], who had had sex change surgery a few years earlier. She had engaged in prostitution in the past and so I wanted to interview her for a paper I was writing on ministry to sex trade workers. She invited me to her Downtown Eastside apartment to talk. When I introduced myself, she smiled slyly and said Susan had been her street name. We became friends for a time. She was a warm extrovert who sometimes came off as a kindly uncle type; the deep voice couldn’t be diminished by hormones. She said even though she had to have the surgery to feel comfortable with herself, it wasn’t a perfect choice, not a perfect fit. It was a hard life, too. Jan came to church with me a few times, but wasn’t exactly readily accepted. And the church usually welcomed a variety of people—those with schizophrenia, with disabilities like obesity or brain damage, people with addictions. But sexuality was a different matter. They didn’t reject Jan, but they ignored her.
Small dent, you could say, in my defenses. I was learning through people like Paul and Jan who were living what I was discussing. Would Jan really have chosen to go through all she had? Or, could she have been healed if she had only had properly trained inner healing pray-ers? And, what if she didn’t want healing in the inner healing prayer way? That kind of prayer is intense even for long-time Christians. My usual answers were getting a little fuzzier, like those chromosomes on the slides.
After I graduated from Regent, I read the book, Middlesex, intrigued by the title and subject matter. In that book, I met more people; fictional, yes, but possible still, due to the research behind the book. The main character of the book, Cal, is a hermaphrodite due to a genetic condition known as 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. Cal lives as a girl through her teen years, as the condition brings out feminine traits. Her condition is eventually discovered by the medical establishment, and they attempt to do genital surgery on her which she evades by running away. Cal decides to live as a man in his new life. Meeting Cal brought those chromosomal slides to mind once again. Sexual variety can be a biological reality. I finally got it.
In the first years of a doctoral program in clinical psychology, I eventually learned about the brain’s plasticity in regard to sexuality. Sexuality is inborn; it is also learned and shaped through our experiences. So, I do not reject the idea that a man or woman could receive healing from experiences that shaped sexuality in unwanted ways, whether homosexual or heterosexual. That’s a reality, too.
Speaking of heterosexual, let’s name the elephant in the room. Heterosexual people, heterosexual Christians, many of whom who are vocal about the sinfulness of homosexuality, are only finding new ways to reshape heterosexuality in unhelpful ways. A thousand Christians were surveyed about pornography use in 2007; half of the men and 20 percent of the women confessed to a pornography addiction. In 2003, 30 percent of 6000 pastors surveyed confessed to having viewed porn in the previous month. And that was ten years ago; wonder what it’s like now?
Yet pornography viewing is no litmus test for ordination or Christian ministry. What people do in front of their own computers is kind of thought to be their own business, just by virtue of the fact that no one asks. Heterosexual sins just seem more “okay”, somehow, even though no one would condone them outright. But the tiny minority of people with other sexual orientations are often looked at as choosing to live in sin and so are inappropriate for ministry. Or are ignored if they show up at church and are obviously sexually different. That’s the kind of hypocrisy that Jesus liked to point out in the gospels.
Back to me. I am now living far from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, ten years hence. I live in a suburb where people tend to all look alike, on the surface anyway, and sexual orientation is not up for discussion. I continue to need to grow further in my incarnational theology by simply knowing people like Paul, Jan and Cal and hearing their stories. Can any of you help me by suggesting books to read or people to encounter?