Tuesday, January 27, 2009

To Be and To Do

What if the whole debate over biblical gender roles is asking the wrong question?

A role is something all-encompassing, drawn out on every side. If you're playing a role, you must get inside that persona, forgetting yourself to become them down to the smallest detail. You must follow the script--and so must everyone around you. If you've studied for Portia and it turns out everyone else is playing Twelfth Night, confusion will reign.

But real life has an irritating way of not following a script. And the Bible doesn't hand out roles--individual character parts we must become. It gives examples and it gives commands.

Compared to a role, a command is both narrower and broader. Narrower in that it doesn't begin to try to define every aspect of your life. Broader in that it applies in every situation, not just a particular script. "Thou shalt not covet" applies to your neighbor's donkey and your neighbor's SUV. More than that, the fact that a command is given to some does not necessarily mean everyone else is exempt. (Although small children hold firmly to this theory as long as possible.)

Is it just a semantic distinction? I don't think so. If we go to the Bible looking for commands, they're pretty easy to see. We have freedom to apply them to the different situations of our lives; we also have freedom not to worry about the areas that aren't covered. We can give other people the freedom to apply them in their situations.

Also if we look at the specific commands to men and women, we can see they are all applications of broader commands that apply to everyone (we all are to love one another; we all are to be subject to one another and clothed in humility). We don't suddenly become exempt from a general command because we are following a specific application of another one. We can't turn up our nose and say, "Well, that's not my role" when something ought to be done.

On the other hand, if we are looking for a role, the commands alone will not give us nearly enough information. We must rip the book apart looking for every clue that might help us flesh out every aspect of our "role": taking analogies long past the point where they break down; trying to deduce duties from descriptive statements; following examples as if they were paint-by-number pages; torturing every obscure allusion out so that we can fully develop our role. And then when life doesn't follow the script we are expecting, we're at a loss; or when other people's situations don't fit the role we've developed, we're unreasonably critical.

Family life is not a play, and there are no roles and no script. Do what's right. Be the children of God.


Carrie said...

Well, for not having had a lot of sleep you managed to string together quite a few good thoughts.

Seriously, this is a great post and I have nothing to say other than, "I'll be thinking about this." A lot.

the Joneses said...

I don't think it's your role as a woman to be teaching on things like this.

Ha! I love this post.

-- SJ

Steve said...

I think you're learning to role with the punches . . .

Zippy said...

Good stuff here. Very good stuff.