Faith and Feminism: Rooted in the Spiritual

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Feminist.

 

When you read this word, what picture comes to mind?

More than likely, some of you have pictured an aggressive, angry woman standing beside a raging fire of bras with her fists clenched.  She is also covered in hair: hair on her legs, hair in her armpits–just loads and loads of hair.  There is probably a sign next to her proclaiming the inferiority of the male gender.  Gasp!

You may laugh at this extreme portrayal, but unfortunately this is a common perception of a feminist.

When I talk to others about feminism, many cannot see past this extreme image.  I tell them about my belief in the interconnection of faith and feminism, and they immediately are up-in-arms about it.

“A woman of faith should not find a friend in feminism,” some would say.

What I find to be so ironic about this statement is that many of the founding mothers of feminism were also great women of faith.  Their activism was simply an outpouring of the Divine at work inside of them.

These women did not find their belief in feminism and their faith at odds because their understanding of God propelled them into the realm of social justice.  (And just as a side note, these women were not “man-haters”.  The Abolitionist Feminists, as they were known, were fighting for the equality of both genders; they believed in the freedom for the male just as much for the female.  The Declaration of Sentiments, which many of these Abolitionist Feminists took part in creating, proudly states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal).

One of the greatest Abolitionist Feminists was Lucretia Mott.

Through her study of scripture, she found that part of Jesus’s identity was found in his actions; through meeting the physical and spiritual needs of the people around him.  Jesus sought to bring freedom to the oppressed, to bring good news to the poor, to recover the sight of the blind, and so forth.

Mott saw how God’s kingdom was brought to earth in Jesus‘ time through said actions, and acknowledged that we are vessels called to continue this good work in our own day and age:

In the same way that Jesus proclaimed the in-breaking of the reign of God to be possible and real in his time, Mott expected evidence of it in her time. Mott’s reference to proclaiming liberty to the captive was a repetition of the Gospel of Luke’s words describing Jesus’ mission. “. . . The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, . . . he hath sent me to . . . preach deliverance to the captives, . . .” (Luke 4:18ab KJV, in turn a quotation from Isaiah 61) By referring to this passage Mott implies that “we ourselves” may be the ones upon whom the Spirit of the Lord is. Those engaged in reform movements were to be as active as Jesus in ushering in the kingdom of God,” (Eppinger, Messiahs of Every Age: A theological Basis of Nineteenth-century Social Reform).

Lucretia Mott was known for making statements such as, “Let us not hesitate to aspire to be the Messiah’s of our age.”  At surface level, some may view this as heretical, but this is more of a call to action to all believers.  Through her own encounter and understanding of the person of Jesus, Mott realized that she must participate in lived actions just like Jesus.  And we must do the same if we call ourselves Christians.

Mott’s activism was a direct result of her faith.  Reflecting on Mott’s work, Helen LaKelly Hunt states:

We can infer that her sense of justice comes from her understanding of what kind of Creator is bestowing the gifts of creation.  In other words, her politics and her feminism stem from her faith in God-given equality, (73, Faith and Feminism). 

The stereotypical image of the man-hating, bra-burning, angry woman has somehow become the face of the “equality” movement, and therefore many persons of faith cannot connect their faith with feminism.  Historically though, feminism’s roots are grounded in the spiritual.  Women like Lucretia Mott were not a rare commodity. Many of the early feminists found a friend in the equality movement because of their understanding of their God.

For me, feminism is about the equality of and for all.  As I continue to gain a deeper understanding of the person of Jesus Christ and what it means to be Christian, I can’t help but feel myself propelled into this realm of social justice.

So as I pray and ask God for His kingdom to come to earth, and as I reflect on the actions of the Messiah to bring God’s kingdom to mankind, I find myself compelled to tangibly partake in lived actions, so that what I pray for may become a reality.

 

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Guest Post- Women: Jesus’ Forgotten Disciples

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by Justin Rose

 

James, Peter, and the Beloved Disciple.

Phillip, Thomas, and Andrew.

Judas Iscariot and Simon the Zealot.

 

These, and other names, comprise the men whose chief role in Christian memory is the recollection of intimacy with Jesus of Nazareth.  They are the faithful disciples who refuse to abandon Jesus (until his betrayal and arrest), the founding primates of the Church, and the martyrs who face the sword, the cross, the beasts, and the fire on account of their faithful witness.  These so-called Twelve make up the totality of Jesus’ closest circle of students and followers.

Any attention to the gospel and the epistolary texts, however, reveal that Jesus’ company throughout his ministry was not exclusively male.

The scant attention to Jesus’ childhood is overtly characterized by the presence of his mother, Mary. The gospels make significantly more space for his friendship with the women in the sibling group of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  There is also the anointing at Bethany, the exorcism of the Syro-phoenician woman’s daughter, and the woman Jesus meets at the well.  Then, of course, there is the initial revelation of Jesus’ resurrection to the women at the tomb, which depict Jesus’ unusual affirmation of women and their proximity to his movement in first-century Palestine.

Despite these examples of the centrality of women in Christian origins, patriarchal  institutions have acted through the centuries to suppress the memory of these women. Even in the text itself, we witness the creeping in of anonymity and belittlement of the women who Jesus most likely counted as close to him, as he did the Twelve.

In the biblical narrative (Mark 14), a woman enters the house where Jesus is dining with Simon the Leper and anoints his head with a jar of alabaster. Though she is scolded for this expensive display of honor, Jesus rebukes her male critics and declares that whenever the good news is proclaimed in the world, her story would be told in remembrance of her. From the very mouth of Jesus comes the spiritual and ecclesial promotion of this woman.

This sign-action the woman performs is a priestly and prophetic gesture; signaling the suffering, death, and burial of Jesus. It is also an allusion to the Hebrew Bible’s tradition of the anointing of kings of Israel, thus making the sign-action a foreshadowing of Jesus’ vindication by God and ascendancy to his future as Christ the King.

In Luke’s gospel, however, the woman who anoints Jesus is remembered not as a friend of Jesus, but as a sinner. This, it should be noted, is not an uncommon tendency in the zeitgeist of patriarchal narrativity. That is, patriarchy consistently seeks to demonize or “other” women whose narrative function deconstructs or alters “traditional” roles of women, especially in antiquity. Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza points out in her book, In Memory of Her, that while Jesus, the head of the Church, champions the behavior and the memory of the woman who anoints him, her name is lost to us forever.

Another woman whose courageous engagement with Jesus in their patriarchal Greco-Roman context is relegated to anonymity is the woman with the daughter possessed by an unclean spirit.  She is also known as the Syro-phoenician woman.  (This biblical narrative is found in Mark 7:25-30 and paralleled in Matthew 15:21-28).

In this particular case, Jesus proffers a controversial response to her request that he deliver her daughter of this evil. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” Jesus says. While at first blush this might not seem the most compassionate of responses, it is in keeping with his earlier command that pearls not be cast before swine (Matthew 7:6). Jesus in the gospel texts, though radically inclusive, does caution his followers not to share the precious gospel so unguardedly with those who would have no use for it and thus corrupt it.  Mark and Matthew provide this story perhaps as a warning for those early Jewish Christians who might take such advice as justification for their exclusion of the uncircumcised, the Gentiles.

In any case, the woman demonstrates remarkable sophistication as a student of the great teacher and, as any lover of pedagogy will note, does not simply accept Jesus’ rejection as correct. “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

With this retort, the woman transcends the seeming daftness of the Markan male disciples and embodies the Matthean comparison of a Jesus follower to a faithful scribe. She is engaged with the divine teaching, wrestling with it, and allowing it to evolve into a helpful, nuanced part of Christian identity. This person, who exists outside the Torah sanctioned boundaries of inclusion, widens the table to make room for other Gentiles in the early Jesus movement. Her daughter is delivered of the unclean spirit and thus the work of liberation, which characterizes Christianity, is made universal.

At the heart of the Christian creed is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  Here is precisely where the agency and leadership of Jesus’ women disciples comes into play.  At this heart, we witness the timidity, the denial, the betrayal, and the failure of belief in Jesus’ closest male disciples. Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus. The twelve cannot remain awake during his agonizing vigil in the garden. Peter, upon whom the Church would be built, denies his messiah three times. Most of them flee before his execution. And finally, upon his resurrection, many are hesitant to believe the good news he had foretold.  But, there is no account of abandonment by his women disciples. No betrayal. No denial.

Mary of Magdala and “the other Mary” were the first to learn of his resurrection, the first to witness his resurrected estate, and in Luke, the first to communicate the good news to the male disciples. In fact, in Luke’s redactional transmission of the account, a wealthy woman, Joanna, is added to the initial witnesses. His redaction is in keeping with Luke’s curious interest in powerful women, which probably says a great deal about the role of women in Christian origins.

So, what is the responsibility of the Christian who calls herself or himself a feminist when it comes to this problem of memory and of anonymity?  Can our biblical texts be reclaimed so that the agency and leadership of early Christian women might take their places at the table?

Surely, the radical example of inclusion and table sharing in the life of Jesus and the call to participation in God’s proclamation that all things are being made new are sufficient validation for this endeavor.  The observations that have been made here are merely at the surface of what is a massive reclamation and indeed reconstruction of Christian origins, which prioritizes the lived experiences of early Christian women in the beginnings, development, and missionary activity of the Church.

A Christian feminist has an obligation to the Church, to women, and to those at the margins of society in general, to “excavate” these anonymous disciples’ biographies.

Guest Post: God as Mother

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“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.  You must be compassionate (wombish), just as your Father is compassionate (wombish).     – Luke 6:35,36 NLT

Words often fail me.  This is quite the problem, as my vocation demands my use of them. I am a pastor and a religion professor and thus I am tasked daily with communicating God to my church family and to my students in ways that are both relevant and truthful.   I fail all too often.  I console myself with the fact that to speak of God is an utterly impossible task.  To borrow the words of Augustine, “If you can grasp it, it isn’t God. Let us rather make a devout confession of ignorance, instead of a brash profession of knowledge. Certainly it is great bliss to have a little touch or taste of God with the mind; but completely to grasp God, to comprehend God, is utterly impossible.”

This confession of inadequacy did little to comfort me, however, when my friend Hannah walked into my office a year ago and confronted me with the following statement, “Nothing said from the pulpit applies to me.  Everything is couched in masculine language. What are you going to do about it?” Although initially taken aback by her bluntness, I had to admit that her claim was all too true and that I would do my best to ensure that we would be more intentional and inclusive with our language in the future.

In the weeks and months that followed, I would find myself reflecting on my discussion with Hannah and imagining how our faith community might actively explore the feminine aspects of God. This reflection prompted my sharing of the following in a talk entitled, “Jesus the Compassionate,” on this past Mother’s Day:

  • The church tends to think of God in masculine terms because the scriptures were penned in a patriarchal context and because of Jesus’ oft-employed image of God as Father.  (To name only two factors).
  • God is, however, neither male nor female but is instead beyond gender.  (See Alister McGrath’s discussion of this in his text, Theology the Basics).
  • Jesus emphasized that compassion was the central quality of God and the central moral quality of a life lived unto God.  We see this in Luke 6:36.  It is also important to note that the word translated as compassion, “rachmin,” stems from the word “rechmen” which means “womb.” Therefore, Jesus is stating that if we want to be like our Father then we must be wombish like our Father is wombish.  (Thanks to Marcus Borg for introducing me to this concept in his book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time).
  • To be wombish is to be life giving, nourishing, protective and embracing. Again, this is how Jesus sees God.  God is not only Father, but also Mother! (See Jeremiah 31:20 and Exodus 34:6).
  • I believe Luke 6:36 is superior to its corresponding passage in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” as it is more in keeping with the overall tenor of Jesus’ teachings and ministry.  (Again, see above for Borg’s discussion on these two motifs as it relates to Jesus’ attack on the purity system of his day).

I understand that this language might be hard for some to accept, but I believe that it is necessary for the church to begin to employ metaphors and models that highlight the feminine aspects of God as well as the masculine. In doing so, we might better avoid the incomplete and often chauvinistic image of God that is portrayed in so many of our congregations.

Faith and Feminism: The “F” Word

 

 

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Feminism.

Speak this word in a crowd of conservatives and you will instantly feel the tension rise.  You will see faces suddenly distort, and grown men shift uncomfortably in their chairs. I’ve never understood how a word I found to be so liberating and inspiring could cause such anger and discomfort among others.

If you read my recent post, “My Husband, My Companion,” you noticed that I identify myself as a Christian feminist.  For years I was told these two labels are a contradiction, and that if I tried to identify with these two labels, I would find my faith and my activism at odds with one another.

In my first couple of years as a Christian, I encountered some individuals who claimed women were subordinate to their male counterparts; implying that the differences in our sexual organs sets forth a hierarchal framework that I am to adhere to.

Then, as I began to explore the realm of feminism, I found some who felt religion had no place within the movement.  Because of the patriarch history, many feminists feel that this masculine side of faith disqualified the interconnection of the two.

After learning these cases against faith and feminism, I did find my faith and my activism at odds with one another.  The extremists for both sides were communicating for the entirety of each movement, claiming that there was no such label as a Christian feminist.

So then, who am I?

I was left asking myself this very question.  Instead of accepting the extremist perceptions of each movement and divorcing these two labels, I chose to search for further understanding.  I have found that many individuals who claim that Christianity and feminism are at complete odds with one another seem to have an incredible misunderstanding of themselves and each other.  I believe Dr. Helen Hunt stated it perfectly when she wrote:

“The more I thought about it, the more it became clear to me that religion and feminism are different expressions of the same impulse toward making life more just and whole.  When we cut the connection between spiritual values and values of social justice, we weaken both our vision and our power,” (Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance, xxiii).

I believe that we are doing ourselves a disservice if we try to sever our activism from our faith.  For me, faith and feminism are so interconnected that one simply cannot exist without the other.  Each movement propels me towards a further understanding of humanity.

If you have found yourself identifying with either of the extremes that I touched on, I invite you to join me as we further cover this interconnection of faith and feminism.  Many voices will be present, both male and female, covering topics such as historical Christian feminists, relevance of feminism in faith, Jesus the feminist, as well as personal testimonies of this interconnection.

My desire is that you, dear reader, will find further understanding of the two labels, Christian and feminist.  If, at the end of this series, you still believe in the separation of the two, my hope is that you will at least bestow grace upon those who believe in this “holy alliance.”

Writing Process Blog Tour

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Top bloggers always say that one of the keys to successful blogging is having blogging friends who serve as accountability partners.  These accountability partners are not there to keep you on the straight and narrow, but rather to encourage you in your craft.  I was lucky enough to find a blogging friend in Sam Land.  She helps push me when I just can’t seem to “land the plane,” and will always be the first to like my posts.  It’s nice to have someone like that in your corner!  If you haven’t heard of her, please go check her out here.  Sam asked me to participate in a writing process blog tour to tell others about how and why I write.  So here is my writing process!

1) What are you working on?

I’m about to kick off my next series which will discuss faith and feminism.  I’m quite excited to get this series started, even though it has already been delayed.  For me, my faith is so interconnected to my belief in feminism that one cannot exist without the other.  About a month ago, a friend referred me to an article telling Christian women that they are not to find a friend in feminism which has inspired this upcoming series.    It’s going to be a collaborative effort with a variety of voices discussing the relevance of feminism in Christianity, early Christian feminists, female disciples, and so forth.  It will begin next week, so be sure to come back and check it out!

2) How does your work differ from others in your genre?

At first glance, I probably fit into the genre of mommy blogger.  Yes, I am a mom.  And yes, you will read posts that talk about my daughter and motherhood, but please don’t think of me as just that.  I went through college detesting the traditional roles of womanhood.  But press the fast forward button on my life remote and here I am: a stay-at-home-mom.  I am a wife, I am a mom, and I am a feminist.  What you will find on my blog are posts covering these three roles in my life.  I know to some these three roles may seem at odds with one another, but I whole-heartedly believe that they can and do coexist.

3) Why do you write what you do?

I first began writing as a therapeutic avenue for myself.  I had just transitioned to being a stay-at-home-mom, and found myself lost in the world of postpartum depression.  I was struggling to remember who I was pre-baby, and blogging was a way to find my voice again.  As time went on, I continued to view my writing as therapeutic, but also began viewing my blog as a way to help others process the crazy aspects of life. Even though I sometimes write about controversial issues– such as the obsession of gender specific toys and egalitarian marriages– my desire is always to leave my readers encouraged and/or inspired.  My beliefs and opinions may differ from some of yours, but I do not wish to present myself in a way that makes others feel less-than.

4) How does your writing process work?

Just to preface, I constantly fail at my writing process due to extreme procrastination.  But, in an ideal world, this is how my writing process looks.  I typically listen to some podcasts to get inspiration.  If you haven’t heard of “Stuff Mom Never Told You” or “Virtue In the Wasteland,” do yourselves a favor and check them out.  Then, I take to the World Wide Web for some current events (we do not have satellite or cable in our household, so the closest thing we get to a TV news segment is Last Week Tonight on HBO Go).  I also have a myriad of books that I am always attempting to read while chasing after a toddler.  They cover topics I am currently interested in. For example: Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Half the Sky, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, are just a few that I am reading right now.  After reading and listening to a variety of authors and voices, I then sit down at my computer and see what comes to mind.  I try to post on a weekly basis, but as I’ve said before, procrastination is my Achilles heel!

So, there you have it! That is my writing process in a nutshell.  Make sure to check back in next week for the kick off to the series Faith and Feminism!

My Husband, My Companion

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As a Christian feminist, I often feel conflicted regarding how to view my husband.  As a feminist, I’m told to view my husband as my equal.  I believe whole-heartedly in this and I do view my husband as my equal. But I have found that among feminists, it is sometimes unpopular to praise your husband simply because of his gender.  So, I find myself reserved in communicating my admiration of him. On the other hand, I’m told by conservative Christians that I am to view my husband as my authority, my “head,” the protector of my fragile/weaker frame, and the ruler of our home.  So, for me to communicate that my respect for my husband exists outside of this hierarchal and patriarchal framework, I am deemed “not a good Christian wife”.  Thus, I’m left perplexed in how I should view him.

When I look at my marriage, I try not to view it through the lens of gender.

It is hard for me to type that statement because I do not believe the answer to gender inequality is to eliminate gender identity.  I do understand that it is difficult to determine what is male and what is female simply by looking at the surface of a person.  Our society is slowly learning that gender is determined by more than a person’s anatomical make-up.  Even though this difficulty exists, I believe that we will do ourselves a disservice if we try to eliminate gender identity all-together.  Within our gender identity lies more opportunity for diversity.

For some, acknowledging the differences in one another is negative; because the belief is that we are predisposed to ranking that which is different, thus creating a hierarchal system.  The claim is that some differences are good, some are bad, and some are better than others.  But, I believe these differences should exist solely in-and-of themselves.  I should be able to acknowledge that my husband is male and that I am female, and just let that be.  The fact that my husband is male does not make him superior to me, just as I am not superior to him simply because I am female. The same can be said of all differences.

With that being said, in my marriage, I do not believe our gender to be pertinent.  While, yes, the fact that my husband is male makes up a part of who he is, the overall enjoyment I receive from his personhood goes so far beyond his gender identity.

I believe I should be able to verbally communicate my love and admiration for him with the understanding that this exists outside of his identity as a male.  For me to withhold my praise and admiration simply because of his gender would mean that I, myself, am partaking in gender injustice.  Not to mention that I would be missing out on celebrating the person my husband is.

In the same way, I should be able to communicate that my respect for my husband can and does exist outside of the fact that he is male.  This does not make me a less-than-ideal Christian wife.  I believe that this actually makes me a better Christian wife, because my respect for my husband is not out of obligation or solely founded upon his gender identity.  My respect for my husband stems from who he is on the inside, which I believe to be Christ-like.

When I look at my husband, I view him through the lens of companionship.  What I see in him is the friendship we have cultivated. I see the daughter we co-parent.  I see the son who will soon join our family.  I see what sets fire to his bones.  I see what causes a frown on his brow.  I see the memories he has shared with me from his childhood.  I see the family that has helped create the person he is today.  I see him, Jonathan; the entirety of his personhood.  Not simply Jonathan, who is male, but Jonathan who is my husband, and my companion.

Angela’s Story: Choosing to Educate Differently

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Our culture has become increasingly polarized politically and I believe this polarization is crossing over into other choices we make for our families. This polarization, gives parents the sense that they need to defend their choices: full-time mom vs. working mom; public school vs. private school vs. homeschool; spanking vs. no spanking. We make these important decisions for our family and we want to think we made the righteous and best choice. As Rachel Held Evans says in her book Biblical Womanhood, “I guess we’re all a little afraid that if God’s presence is there, it cannot be here.” At the end of the day, we all want what is best for our children. My family has chosen to homeschool because it is what works best for us.

We first chose to homeschool for academic and emotional reasons. Our daughter was in public school and had been moved up two grade levels. And even with the advanced grade and gifted classes, we still felt like her needs were not being met academically and certainly not emotionally. That was fifteen years ago and our reasons for homeschooling have deepened and grown. These are some of the reasons homeschooling works for our family:

1. Academics- The best reason I have for homeschooling is that I get to be the architect of my children’s education. One of the benefits of homeschooling is teaching children at their level and focusing on their interests. My oldest daughter loved to read. She began reading Shakespeare at 11. I have another daughter that struggled with reading. I was able to design curriculum around their individual needs. If my children show an interest in a particular topic, we take time to study it. I believe this helps to instill a love of life-long learning. There are no state tests or Common Core telling us what to study and yet, my kids do very well on national standardized tests that they are given each year. I get to choose the curriculum we use. I get to base that choice around their individual needs. My children are being taught one-on-one. That alone helps them exceed what they would be able to do in a classroom. My first two children began taking college classes at 13 and 15 respectively. We are simply able to do more academically in a shorter amount of time.

2. Socialization- I find it interesting that so many people claim socialization as a reason not to homeschool when in reality it is one of the major reasons we choose to homeschool. Who said that the proper place to socialize a child is by putting them in a 20 X 30 room with 20 of their same age peers, often from the same social-economic level, with one adult overseeing their interactions? My children get tons of social interactions with multiple aged people in different settings. We do field trips, soccer, ballet, gymnastics, church, youth, 4-H, community outreach, play dates and sleepovers. The beauty is that I am the guide of these social interactions. I often get to observe their interactions (especially when they are young), and I can help them maneuver through situations where they need to offer kindness or when they need to stand up to a bully. I can remove them from unhealthy situations and teach them how to interact with others, first hand. As they get older, they spend more time away from me but they have a foundation of appropriate social interactions.

3. Flexibility- Flexibility is one of the best reasons to homeschool. There is flexibility when we start and end the school year and flexibility when we start and finish our school day. There is flexibility in where we do school. We were able to go to Israel for a semester. We brought our books along, but what my kids learned being in Israel, traveling every day, certainly outweighed what they learned from books. We can spend our mornings at Disney, or do an entire school day at Epcot. We go to parks and museums when there are no crowds. One morning last week my kids begged to go swimming. It was 10:00 AM, but I let them and they spent three hours in the pool. I loved watching them have fun together. They had lunch, and finished their schoolwork in the afternoon. It was a great day!

4. Moral compass- The reasons I made the decision to sacrifice a second income and stay home with my kids when they were infants are a lot of the same reasons we choose to homeschool. I like my kids. They are smart, funny and delightful. I want to be the person that leads them, that teaches them the things that matter in this world. If we learn by example, I want to be that example. Faith, justice and mercy are very important to our family, and I want to share that with my children. I want to teach them about the love of God, family and the importance of helping the underprivileged and marginalized. I firmly believe that you assimilate to your surroundings. If a child spends at least half of their day, five days a week with others, whose values will they absorb into their lives? I don’t want to leave it to a teacher I don’t know and certainly don’t want to rest the training of the moral compass of my children on the shoulders of the kids in their classroom. I want to share my heart with my children, and I want to know what they are passionate about so that I can help them pursue that passion. I am not a pro, but have so far raised two teenage girls and they are amazing. I have beautiful relationships with both of them. They are respectful, they ask my advice, we talk, we laugh; we enjoy being together. They are strong, compassionate and confident ladies. They have missed a lot of the mess that so many other girls their ages have to struggle through. Peer pressure is real, and while my girls have had some peer pressure, the majority of their influence has been from their family, not friends. They do not spend their days trying to fit in and be accepted by others who are trying just as hard to fit in and be accepted.

After twenty-three years of parenting, I have come to realize that there is little black and white in the choices we make, but there is a lot of gray. And in that gray is a lot of room for grace, because God is in it all. God is with the mom that is at home with her children and with the mom working outside of the home. Homeschooling works for my family. For other families, public or private schools work best. As Rachel Held Evans also says, “be careful of challenging another woman’s choices, for you never know when she may be sitting at the feet of God.” We have the grace to make the decisions that work best for our families. There are multitudes of good choices to be made and multitudes of good reasons to make them. We need to offer grace to those who choose differently than us.

Socialization Can and Does Exist Outside of the Classroom

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The biggest push-back I receive when discussing the choice to homeschool is the issue of socialization.  Socialization can take on two different meanings; one  addresses an individual’s interactions with others and the second addresses how an individual is conditioned to behave in society.  As I have written in previous posts, it is a common notion in our society that socialization only occurs within a “regular” classroom setting.  Because of this notion, the general public seems to think that parents who homeschool are doing their children a disservice.  It is believed that parents who homeschool desire to limit their children’s social interactions with others, and are not properly conditioning them to behave appropriately in society.

What I’ve realized is that those who uphold this negative outlook are making the assumption that the desire to shelter one’s children is only found within the homeschooling community; as if homeschooling and sheltering are interconnected–impossible for one to exist without the other.  In reality, the desire to sequester one’s child can be found in all parents, not just those who homeschool.

The assumption is also made that socialization–in the sense of conditioning a child to behave appropriately in society–is a uniform standard for education.  Socialization in that sense of the word, is not a standard, but a philosophy that even some within the public school system do not uphold.  Not everyone views education as a means to integrate children into what society calls for and/or needs.

I met with a friend and former boss this past week to discuss the issue of socialization.  Her name is Christina Allen, and she has been homeschooling her children for years.  This is what she had to say:

“In today’s schools, recess is no longer a part of a student’s schedule, and many schools have turned lunches silent.  So, then that leads us to the classroom where students‘ desks are set up in a row facing the teacher.  This set up is not very conducive to socializing.  If the classroom is the only environment in which a student is expected to socialize, their socialization is going to be limited.”

Christina went on to explain that socializing, in the sense of interacting with one’s peers, is not inhibited by the educational path a parent chooses, it is inhibited by the type of environment the parent provides for their child.  If a child is removed from society and lacks community, then they are lacking  socialization.  This can occur in any educational path.

Christina also feels that parents put too much emphasis on the word “socializing,” forgetting what socializing leads to: relationships. If children are to only socialize in the classroom, then their relationships are typically going to be with children of the same age and same socioeconomic background.

“What our children actually need are relationships; relationships that extend beyond their generation and their socioeconomic background.”

We continued our discussion by addressing socialization as a means of preparing children for the workforce.  The common held belief is that if children are removed from the “regular” classroom setting, they will not be as well-prepared as other students upon entering the workforce.  Though Christina’s schooling may look different than the public school system, her children are still learning valuable lessons such as time management and individual responsibility.  But she does not see her role as teacher to be one of conditioning her children to do good work.

“I don’t want my children to be good at their jobs because they have been conditioned to do so.  I want my children to be good at their jobs because they have a passion for what they are doing.”

What I learned through my conversation with Christina is that to truly provide socialization in our children’s lives, we must stop solely looking to the schools.  Socialization cannot simply just take place within the classroom.  We as parents, regardless of what educational path we chose for our kids, have a role play.

For Christina, it’s all about living in community.

Christina and her family are intentional residents in a low-income neighborhood.  This simply means they are making the choice to be present and engaged in their neighborhood: making an effort to know their neighbors, to know their neighbor’s kids, and even to know their pets.  It also means they are working to be the neighbor someone can go to if they need a cup of sugar, an errand companion, or just an ear to listen.  The way in which Christina addresses the issue of socialization is through the environment she provides for her children, and that is an environment of community.

Christina’s children aware that when their school day ends that does not mean their socializing ends with it.  When their lessons are finished for the day, they go out into the community intentionally engaging with those around them

The problem with the notion that socialization solely occurs in the classroom is that parents are failing to see they too have a role to play.  Parents who expect the school to take on the responsibility of socialization are doing their children a disservice as well.  Our society needs to stop solely confronting the homeschool family on how they socialize their children, and start confronting all parents about this particular issues. It’s time that all parents face these questions.

Why We Will Homeschool

homeschool photo 1

I believe that education is not a “one size fits all” system. Every child is different, every family is different, and every school district is different. I whole-heartedly believe in the freedom and grace for each family to decide for themselves what the best fit is for their child’s education. It is my husband and my personal decision to choose the homeschooling route for our children. In no way do I believe we are making the more righteous choice in education, because I believe that there simply is no such thing as a righteous choice when it comes to schooling. With all that being said, here are our key reasons for choosing to homeschool:

1. I don’t believe in teaching to the test.

I grew up in the Florida public school system, so FCAT was god. FCAT told my teachers what was allowed on their lesson plans, which words were deemed acceptable for vocabulary tests, and that the only acceptable form of writing is a 5 paragraph essay. FCAT determined the educational future for all those who took it. We were given numbers 1-5, which then determined what classes we were allowed to take. I remember my senior year in high school, when FCAT was no longer required, yet our teachers were still forced to spend the first 10 minutes of a 45 minute class covering the FCAT vocabulary words of the week. Tests are inevitable no matter what course of education you pursue, I just believe that my child should learn more then what is on any given test, and that their educational career should not be defined by their score on a single test.

2. Contrary to popular belief, I believe school is for education not socialization.

There is a popular notion in our society that school is a great resource in socializing our children. This is one of many issues that the general public has with homeschoolers, because they feel that we are doing our children a disservice by not socializing them in the traditional school setting. My husband and I chose not to buy into this particular notion. First of all, we are limiting our thinking if we honestly believe that the public school system is the one-and-only appropriate source of socialization. The homeschool network can also provide interaction with one’s peers, discovering and pursuing one’s passions, and can help a child engage in diversity through co-ops, group classes, field trips, sports, clubs, church, etc. Second of all, what are we teaching our children if we present school as the only means to meet friends and interact with others? This is not reality, because one day school will end. Third of all, I believe the front-runner in my child’s education should be his/her academic pursuits. When it is time for school, I believe it is time for education. Upon entering college, I was amazed to find what could be accomplished within a semester, meeting 2-3 times a week. My desire is to be more efficient with my child’s education, removing the 8 hour time constraint, allowing them to work at their own pace. This will then open up more time for extra-curricular activities.

3. I get to fully know those who educate my child.

I grew up in the public education system. I’ve had some absolutely amazing teachers, and I’ve had some not-so-great teachers. I’ve had teachers whose passion was teaching and children, and then I’ve had teachers who chose their career path in order to match the vacations of their family. Believe me, you can tell the difference. The unknown variable of the teachers in the public and private school system is not something I wish to encounter. I do not want to hear myself every summer say, “May the odds be ever in our favor.” Through homeschooling, I am able to choose who will be teaching my children, and I have the opportunity to fully know those individuals with an influential role in my child’s life.

4. I am able to identify and cultivate my child’s talents and interests at a young age.

Electives do exist within the homeschooling network, contrary to what you may think. The beauty of this network is not being limited to what your specific school has to offer. Public and private schools are confined by budgets and what personnel they have on hand. If a student’s interests go beyond what is being offered, they must transform their interests to match the school’s options, or they are forced to look outside of their school to others avenues where they can dedicate what little time they have left in their day. A child’s options are even more limited in elementary school. Homeschooling allows my elementary-aged child to show interest beyond p.e., art, or choir, with curriculum to further cultivate those interests.

5. My husband’s and my philosophy in education is best met through homeschooling.

Our philosophy can be described through this quote:

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” – Paulo Freire

The way in which we see ourselves educating our children to deal “critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world” is through homeschooling.

Homeschooling is Not the Righteous Choice in Education, But Neither is Public or Private School

School Education

 

This should not come as a surprise to anyone, but there is quite the stigma attached to homeschooling.  Many individuals perceive homeschoolers as socially inept, incapable of interacting with their peers, having a degree of egotism, and not as well-rounded as those who attend “regular” school.  Then there is the perception of the parents who force their children down this path.  They’re seen as these crazy, fundamentalist Christians who are terrified of the big bad wolf known as the public school system. And so they sequester their babies, lest those terrible heathens negatively influence poor, innocent, and naive Johnny.

I recently viewed a documentary where all these stereotypes fit into one family.  I watched in horror as this freckled-faced little boy was being told the terrors of evolution from his mother (my apologies to those whose faith is founded on the concept of creationism, I just simply believe that Christianity and one’s salvation cannot be shattered by the literal or figurative interpretation of the creation narrative).  Then the younger brother enters the room, beginning his “science lesson” of the day and he states that he felt Galileo made the right decision  giving up science for Christ (I am tired of hearing all the cases against science from Christians, they can and do co-exist because all truth is God’s truth.  And on another note: since when is teaching the unimportance of science a science lesson?).  The scene concludes with the mother claiming that the godly and righteous path for education is homeschooling.

Just to clarify, there is no righteous path in education.  The only righteous choice is your decision to be an active parent in whatever path your child embarks on.

As I concluded watching this scene, I was filled with so many emotions.  Contrary to what you may think, I did not feel fear or hatred towards homeschooling, nor did I feel disgust towards the family.  What I did feel was that there is an incredible disservice being done to those who homeschool.  We watch documentaries such as this and assume all homeschoolers are the same.

Yes, people like those depicted in the documentary do exist within homeschooling, but as I have learned, it tends to be those with the most extreme views who are the loudest in our society.  These types of individuals always find their way to our television screens.  Why you might ask?  Because they create ratings, they generate traffic, and unfortunately our American populace has deemed the extremist entertaining.

But since when did we start whole-heartedly believing everything we see on TV?  Aren’t we supposed to come to a place where we recognize that not everything is as it appears to be? Yet, so many of us take the horror stories we hear from others, or the incredibly biased interviews and documentaries we see on our television screens and determine that this is a true representation of homeschooling.  And if by some miraculous act we encounter a “normal” homeschooler, we then deem them to be the rare exception.

But what if I were to tell you that these extremists are actually the rarity?  Would you believe me?

I ask that you cast your preconceived notions aside and join me these next couple of weeks as I showcase the real faces, the real stories, and the real reasons behind homeschooling.  As the French poet, Victor Hugo, once said, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.”  Within the realms of homeschooling, the school door may look more like what you walk through after a long day’s work, but it can also be a door being opened to education, opportunities, and possibilities.