Friday, June 12, 2009

Self Definition--Oldie, but Goodie

Self definition

I just had a very successful bubble bath. During this bath, I drafted a letter to Dr. Fincher, Dr. Overman, and the GACS board about the fact that the heater/air conditioning in my classroom does not work. This letter was witty, succinct, articulate; in short, it would have changed the world, or at least fixed my air conditioner. In the midst of drafting this letter, I also read chapter 4 of Yellow Brick Roads: Shared and Guided Paths to Independent Reading 4-12 by Janet Allen (a must read for reading teachers). As I read this book, I created a curriculum for a new class in which reading would be the focus. Not only would this new class be instructive, but it also would be fun, fun, fun. After this class was created, I drafted a new letter to Dr. Fincher, Dr. Overman, and the GACS board. This letter still included my witty, succinct, articulate argument for a fixed air conditioner, but it also included an equally appealing argument for a new class at GACS and extra money to create this fabulous class that would aid GACS in recruiting students and satisfying current students. As if all of this letter writing and reading was not productive enough, I also spent some time defining myself as a woman--Whew! All of this and I emerged clean, relaxed, and refreshed. I LOVE BUBBLE BATHS!!

Now why am I suddenly posting a real blog? What subject has driven me out of the desert of blog fear and into the lush, green land of blog passion? Of course my pet passion--women's issues. Last week my delightful, smart, funny, awfully cute, and steadily shrinking husband (did you guys realize how much weight he has lost? I am so jealous) Bradley Scott Denton asked the question, "So what do you think a woman's role is in the church?" during our Sunday school class. This is an issue that has been bandied about for years in church circles with different religious groups coming to different conclusions. Some feel that women must remain silent, submissive; some feel some silence must occur, but women may occasionally stand up and pass the collection plate, sing alone, or read a scripture (usually if she is sitting down or flanked by men who are technically "in charge"); some feel that the flood gates should be opened and women can do whatever men can do, doggone it! Some feel liberal about a woman's role in the church but conservative about her role in the home. Women can do anything in the service, but they must be subservient to their husbands at home.

After a strange discussion about this issue in our Sunday school class (if you had not already guessed, all the above arguments were made to some extent with the conservative argument more or less being made more loudly), Brad noticed that I was quieter than usual on our walk to the church auditorium. I think he expected that his liberal-minded wife would want to revisit all the issues discussed in the class in a passionate way. I, however, was contemplative. This contemplative attitude remained all through the service (I had a hard time singing, listening, really doing anything). When he asked me after service what was wrong, all I could think of to tell him was this is serious business to me. Discussing a woman's role in the church is discussing my role not only in the church, but in society as well. Basically, if I mentally dismantle traditional female gender roles, then I have remantle something. This definitely is serious business. This debate does not just have to do with text explication; it has to do with who I am, who I am allowed to be, and how I define myself. It also has to do with who I have historically been allowed to be. There are scars that this debate exposes. Times when I have felt less important because I am a woman; times when my voice was not only not listened to, but it was considered shrill, offensive, wrong; times when I have felt patronized because of my gender.

So all of this comprises my past, but right now and in the future, how do I define myself? I could give the labeled definition: I am a Euro-American, conservative, liberal, Republican, Fundamentalist Christian, post-modern, intelligent, middle-class, heterosexual, married woman. But as most know, those labels do not mean diddly-squat; and is "woman" a label? In my very liberal grad classes, I am told that gender is socially constructed; there is no "real" male and female. The conservative, fundamentalist Christian side of me, however, cannot accept this. I was created woman by God, not by society, and thus I have unique properties that only God can imbue. I used to militantly rebuke the traditional idea of "wife." I returned the crock-pot that Brad and I had been given as a wedding gift because I most assuredly was not going to cook. When Brad I were first married, I did not cook, clean, and I actively rebelled against anything traditionally wifey. I told my mother I would not be having children, and if I did, I would not be a traditional mother. Why would I want to "give up" my identity and submit to the label of "mother?" "Mother" seemed like such a limiting label. As I have gotten older, though, I have begun to see "mother" as well as "wife" differently.

I did not expect to, but I have enjoyed being a wife. In the early years of our marriage, Brad and I had to define what "wife" meant together. I began to see that serving and loving someone else could be liberating and fulfilling, and my view that being a wife would stifle and repress me changed. I still would not traditionally define myself, but I have taken on some traditional roles. I now feel Brad and I could define "mother" together and that others' definitions of this term are good and valid. I have begun to appreciate traditionally female ideals, while redefining this ideal for myself. I see women around me who maintain and enhance their uniqueness while raising their children, and motherhood is looking less like a burden to me. I see the creative genius and importance of motherhood, and I can see mothers who stay home with their children as not giving up their identity but as adding another layer to their identity. Being a mother does not have to be a self-sacrifice; it can be an act of self-improvement while serving others. This idea is liberating to me.

The issue of a woman's role in the church is difficult for me because my seeking to define myself in all aspects of my life has to coincide with my seeking to fulfill God's will for me. The issue is not just about my role "in the church;" it is about who I ultimately am. And to be truthful, I am still trying to figure that one out.

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