It seems that for the past six months my Facebook feed has been full of one contentious debate after another over topics relating to women. First there was the whole bikini debate, then the graceless-mom rant against teenage girls, and now the two articles double-timing Facebook called something like "Men and Woman Are Not Equal" and "Why Not to Educate Your Daughter" (full disclosure: I have not read any of the first and only parts of the second). It seems every time I open Facebook, some intense feud is raging between my friends concerning issues pertaining to womanhood.
My intention is not to address all of these debates right now. In general, I think they are all old, worn-out, and ridiculous. What I do want to talk about here is an observation I've recently made. It seems the vast majority of people posting these articles (and often writing them) are male. And what's more, they seem to always be posted with the express desire to get both men and women riled up. They are posted with seemingly benign introductory comments about discourse and soliciting opinions. After intense debate follows, the person posting makes an obligatory comment concerning his original good intentions and hoping nobody's feelings are hurt.
But I often wonder if that's really what is going - is the man posting these things is really aiming for meaningful conversation or is he really just trying to collect kudos for how many people pay attention to what he posts? I know many men who are intelligent, gifted in conversation, and think very carefully and respectfully about the issues facing modern women and none of them post divisive articles to Facebook. If they truly want to see what people think about something controversial they have read, they do what any other grown up person does and have an actual face to face conversation about the issue. They are not motivated by clicks or likes or comments, but rather by the desire to edify and encourage both the men and women who struggle with these issues.
Women, if you are wondering about modesty, education/career, family, and the millions of the other things that furrow our brows, please stop paying attention to the young male blogger or Facebook-er who just wants to see how many people he can get to stop by his page and turn instead to the person you respect most and ask his or her opinion. Please just pass over the pointless post because these men do not own the conversation on these topics. Honestly, they probably even barely had a voice in it until you helped give it to them!
Men, please consider your motivations in posting these things. Honestly, what do you hope to gain? Are you trying to actually act for the good of others or are you just using these difficult topics to create more traffic in your corner of the social media world? Are you treating these issues like the extremely serious and weighty issues that they are for women the world around or are you flippantly stirring up emotions and hurt? What are your motivations? Until your motives are servant-like and gentlemanly, please stay away from the post button. Please.
"(An) ...observation is this: Man and woman together are the image of God. We have already made the point... that man's having been created male and female is an essential aspect of the image of God. Karl Barth, as we saw, lays great stress on this point: man's existence as male and female is not something secondary to the image, but is at the very heart of the image of God. This is so not just because of the difference in sex between man and woman - since this distinction is found also among the animals - but because of far-reaching differences in personality between the two. Man's existence as male and female means that man as a masculine being has been created for partnership with another being who is essentially like him but yet mysteriously unlike him. It means that woman is the completion of man's own humanity, and that man is wholly himself only in his relationship with woman.
This implies that man is not the image of God by himself, and that woman cannot be the image of God by herself. Man and woman can only image God through fellowship with each other - a fellowship that is an analogy of the fellowship God has within himself. The New Testament teaches that God exists as a Trinity of "Persons" - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Human fellowship, as between man and woman, reflects or images the fellowship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And yet there is a difference. For persons as we know them are separate beings or entities, whereas God is three "Persons" in one Divine Being. Human fellowship, therefore, is only a partial analogy of divine fellowship - yet it is an analogy.
It is there unfortunate that the English language has no word like the German Mensch or the Dutch word mens, both of which mean "human being, whether male or female." The English word man has to serve a double purpose: it may mean either (1) "male or female human being" (the generic sense) or (2) "male human being." This double use of the word man seems to betray a typical masculine kind of arrogance, as if the male is the carrier of all that is involved in being human. But man can only be fully human in fellowship and partnership with woman; woman complements and completes man, as man complements and completes woman. When we use the word man in the generic sense, therefore... we must always keep this in mind.
The fact that man and woman together image God will still be true in the life to come. Jesus once said, "When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven" (Mark 12:25). The similarity to angels, however, means only that there will be no marriage at that time; it does not mean that the differences between men and women will no longer exist. In the final resurrection we shall not loose our individuality; that individuality will be not only retained but enriched, and our maleness or femaleness is the essence of that individual existence.
In the life to come, therefore, not only shall we continue to image God as men and women together, but we shall then be able to do this perfectly. We do not know how such fellowship and partnership between men and women will be carried out in a situation where there will be no marriage. But we do know this: Only then shall we see what the relationship between men and women can be like in its richest, fullest, and most beautiful sense."
- Created in God's Image, by Anthony A. Hoekema
I chuckled a couple weeks ago upon opening Facebook and finding Ruthie's post about calling. I've been thinking about writing a post on the same topic for the past month or so and was excited to see that my sister has also been pondering the issue. We must be going through times of transition.
A couple years ago, I was trying to think through how we discern calling in our lives. Life at that point was extremely confusing, feeling flat and directionless. I am convinced moments of enlightenment come at the most inconvenient times and clarity of mind always seemed to come while driving with the radio blaring or while in the shower - times when grabbing a pen to jot down thoughts was nearly impossible. So to remember the thoughts on calling coming to me, I had to tuck them away and quickly internalize beyond the moment.
We all struggle with calling, but I think at this time, women especially struggle with it. The paths of our lives are no longer limited, predicted. But with limitless options, comes limitless confusion and angst over what to do. For the first time in the history of the Western world, women can actively choose the things they will pursue in life. But often something so great as the ceiling being lifted feels like the floor being pulled out from under our feet.
Most Americans have grown up being told they have the power to accomplish their dreams whatever they might be. Granted, not all Americans actually come from a socio-economic background where this is realistic, but still, we have all grown up hearing it in our media and education. We all want purpose in our lives. We all feel a need to be fulfilled. It surprises me how often the word "calling" is used in a secular context, but this shouldn't be because calling is more than just a Christian catch-word; calling is the idea that something can encompass us, lift us higher, and give us a direction in which to go. Who doesn't want that?
And yet, at the end of the day, we feel lost. The problem, I realized, is that I cannot understand calling unless I understand from whence it comes. Calling cannot be created within myself; its very nature implies an origin from outside of me. To be "called" is to heed an authoritative voice not my own. If I have a calling, I must find the caller and I must listen to what the caller instructs. As a Christian, it naturally follows that my caller is my Creator, the God who made me and understands what gives my life definition.
Understanding who I am at the hands of the the Creator is the beginning of all explorations in calling. In the lingo of my old alma matter, we all have a "Big C" calling - the calling that trumps all others and defines us to the core. This calling is non-negotiable, essential to our very existence. It's a calling from our origins. For in the beginning, God called us to know him. He is intensely, purely relational and this aspect of his nature spilled over into us as he created the world. He made his creation utterly dependent on him, so much so that should our relationship with him be broken, the central aspect of our existence is lost.
Furthermore, God's creative nature was infused in us, his creation. From the beginning, God burst forth with robust and breathtaking activity. He is not a God at repose, but rather a God delighting in exerting his abilities. And he directly tells us to follow in his footsteps. The one who is capable of calling us delights in working to create something good and he fundamentally exists in relationship. Ultimately, our "Big C" calling at all stages in life is to reflect these two essential aspects of the Caller back to him.
But understanding these big picture ideas of calling does not necessarily help me understand what job to take or who to marry or how to juggle the complex dynamics of life. It explains the purpose and significance inherent in my life, but it doesn't help explain the paths before me. It doesn't give me a nice list of dos and don'ts concerning normal decisions. We recognize here that after our "big C" calling, we all have "little c" callings, usually multiples of them. These callings are good, important, often necessary, and usually flexible. They may last a lifetime or they may stay for a day, but all are real and worthy of our careful thought and consideration.
What are they? Our little callings are particular ways in which we live out the big calling at various times in our lives. They are our work, our family, our friendships, our planet, our communities. They are big all-encompassing missions to further good in this world. And they are minute tasks that we do simply to remain faithful. Our perception, management, and ultimately, appreciation of them are vital to understanding the satisfaction God gives us. And in trying to comprehend them, there are 3 things I've noticed about them.
One - God gives us themes.
We often start our thinking about calling by asking the question, "If I could do anything, what would it be?" We try to view our lives as a blank page to be filled with steps towards an inflated view of some thing "to do." But nowhere in Scripture is calling described this way. Instead, we are presented with collections of stories that tell us about God’s calling on particular people’s lives.
The key to telling a good story is having a grasp on the themes it involves. What kind of story is it? If the universe is God's story, than no matter your place in it God has a role for you. So what are the themes God is weaving into your life, or probably more accurately, what are some of God's themes that he is weaving your life into?
Bringing this down to a really practical level - it is important to reflect on what has already been present in your life to help determine what you might be being called to in the future. Have you had success in certain endeavors in the past? Have you often found yourself involved in something? Are there people in your life that have required your focus? Is there a past sin or failure God has redeemed and is using for good in your or others' lives?
Do not think about calling in a vacuum. Give yourself time to reflect and consider where these themes might take you.
Two - We don’t come to know our calling in isolation from community and relationships.
As Americans, we live extremely individualistic lives. We might ask for and receive input from family or mentors concerning large and small decisions, but very rarely is the decision not ours. This is especially true among the younger generations where we are told from a young age that what we want to do in life depends on us and us alone.
As mentioned above, though, our Creator is intensely relational and he made us to exist in community. He is not going to ignore the people in our lives in the callings he gives us. Though not without its challenges, this point is often more obvious to married women and mothers. But it is very strange for a single woman to really consider relationships when thinking about calling. But is anyone truly "single"? You might be unmarried, but no one is free from relationships and responsibilities to them.
Three - Calling does not equal planning.
The bottom line is we have no right to demand clarity from God. There are aspects of calling that will always remain fuzzy. This is not to say we should not plan or organize (a gift to truly be valued!), but rather to constantly ask ourselves: where am I substituting planning for calling? In what ways do I need to listen before I act?
In my own life, I do not profess to have all of the answers concerning calling. I cannot predict, force, or plan my way into certain paths for the next five decades of life. But with all of that said, I do feel confident in saying I have some idea of God's calling in my life. I can look back and see the themes of internationality, thought-life, and hospitality that I feel confident will carry on into my future. I am clear on the relationships I need to be committed to. And while I like to plan and strive towards certain goals, I am constantly reminding myself that my planning is not what counts, but my faithfulness to listen.
Ultimately though, at the end of the day, I don't have peace for a single one of these reasons. I find peace because I know the God who made me capable of all the above. My true calling, my true sense of self comes from him and the knowledge that it is his image I bear.