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.

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

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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

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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.

Guest Post-How Many Lives Did I Come With?

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Our twenties aren’t the easiest period in our lives: we are grown-ups who still feel 18; we are new parents still scared of our own; and we are out of the plethora of friendships and relationships that college brings. We are trying to juggle life and all of its sharp turns and mountains through the screen of an Apple or Android, instead of looking up at the community around us. We are so scared of being alone that we would rather be glued to our iPhones than face the truth: we have boxed our community in a 4inch screen.

It is staggering how much I depend on my phone. I am in a constant state of communication between Facebook, Instagram, CandyCrush,  emails, texts etc. There isn’t a time where I am not aware of my phone. What if I get full lives on CandyCrush? What if Orange is the New Black comes back for season 2 on Netflix without me? It is my watch, my link to the world, my friend in time of need (lunch alone) and it is my crutch to the community and friendships around me. Going through this period of my life, I am becoming aware of the fact that I don’t have the community that I was used to during college. A few months ago I read a book called MWF seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche, and I realized that I am not alone with this feeling of friendship crisis. I am not in college anymore.

Truth be told, that college style of friendship isn’t what I want anymore. Call me old, but I can no longer handle late night coffee runs and all night extravaganza’s- I can barely stay up until 11 anymore. What I want is a community that is going through the same experiences and tribulations that I am. People to do life with. But, so often, we find out that life isn’t like college where your possible BFF is right next door, friends take a little bit more work to find. It is the talk in the grocery store to the person behind you. It is the mom who also brought their child to the park.  It’s the book-club down at the library.  It’s looking up from your phone for 1 minute to realize the possibilities around you. Set it down, my friends; embrace the eminent idea that life is happening all around you and take part of it, run with it, and for the love of all that is holy, get a life.

Awarded for Abortion Activism?

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We all have them, and we all place them on others.  In a previous post, I identified with three: stay-at-home mom, wife, and feminist.  While others may label me differently, those are the three that I chose  for myself.  Just because I identify with those labels, though, doesn’t mean that is all I am; I am also: female, heterosexual, egalitarian, Christian, friend, sister, daughter, writer, runner, coffee-enthusiast (and sometimes snob), dessert fanatic, Dr. Pepper lover, meat-eater… do you get where I’m going with this?

There is a lot that goes into making a person.  We are all very dynamic, complex creatures.  We have sayings such as, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, and “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes”; all because at some point in life, we’re supposed to realize that a person is so much more than what you see on the surface. Unfortunately, we continually fail at this.

In our culture, we have a tendency to focus in on one aspect of a person, and then forever disregard everything else about them, either because we don’t like that one thing, or because we don’t agree with it.  Some of you may have seen that I’m a stay-at-home mom, and decided I have nothing important to say about politics.  Some of you may have seen that I eat meat, and decided that I have no care for animals.  Others of you may have seen that I love sweets, and decided that healthy living is not in my vocabulary.  And then, there are probably some of you that saw I identified myself as Christian, and didn’t get past the first paragraph.

But isn’t one of the goals in maturity to move past this?  To acknowledge the fault in our perception of people?  To know that there is more to someone than meets the eye, and that we shouldn’t disregard them just because we do not fully agree with them?

Recently, I was sent an article about Gloria Steinem being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  The author labeled her as an abortion activist, which is true, but he reported as if Steinem was being awarded solely for her work with abortion.  The author even went so far as to say Steinem has dedicated her life to promoting abortion.

Only one aspect of Steinem’s life was focused on in this article, and it disregarded all the other parts.  The author’s disagreement with her personal stance on abortion took away from what was a pivotal moment in Steinem’s life.  I feel sorry for this man, because he was not able to recognize that the Presidential Medal of Freedom was, in fact, to acknowledge a woman’s incredible work in gender equality.

Gloria Steinem is a pioneer for feminism.  Steinem fought for women to have equal hire and equal pay in the work place.  She even fought for affordable childcare, so that women have a greater opportunity to work outside the home (if that is their desire).

Steinem has constantly been challenging our society’s perception of what it means to be a female–and what it also means to be a male, for that matter.  Just because someone is female does not mean they must be a stay-at-home mom.  Likewise, just because someone is male, does not mean they must work outside of the home.  Her life’s work is for ALL to have a voice and a choice in how they live life, and to not be held down by society’s gender expectations.

A part of Gloria Steinem’s life work does include abortion activism, which yes, is it at odds with my beliefs.  But, I am choosing to not disregard all of her other accomplishments, just because my beliefs do not 100% align with hers.

What I do believe in, is giving credit where credit is due.  And Gloria Steinem truly deserved the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work in gender equality.