Grappling with Girls? Piper Says, “Just Say NO”

illustration-_wrestling_oubw3In the April 11th edition of WORLD magazine (a bi-weekly publication that contains news and commentary written from a Christian point of view), John Piper gives his views on the inclusion of girls in high school wrestling tournaments.

Piper, a Reformed Baptist theologian, preacher, and author of numerous books on missions, Christian world-view, and God’s sovereignty, urges fathers to make a stand, saying to their sons, “Over my dead body are you going to wrestle a girl.” Such a refusal, Piper says, represents a “bigger, noble vision of what it is to be a man. Men don’t fight against women. They fight for women.” He says of high school student Elissa Reinsma‘s participation as the first female to compete in Minnesota’s high-school wrestling tournament, “Some cultures spend a thousand years unlearning the brutality of men toward women. This is an odd way to make history. Relive prehistory maybe.” He alludes to Jesus’ description of women as “the weaker vessel.”

I’m afraid that while I respect Piper, and tend to agree that girls and boys shouldn’t be wrestling each other, I have to say, this argument just doesn’t ring true for me.

Before going any further, I must admit that I’m not a big wrestling fan; I’ve only attended one wrestling match, in which there were no girls involved. My son is not a wrestler (though I’ve seen him wrestle his sister plenty of times). I’m not really “up” on high school wrestling culture (I’m probably more acquainted with WWE/WWF type stuff, mostly from Project Runway’s Ring Divas” episode and the well done steroids documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster, which is something, but not much).

What I am acquainted with are countless movies and TV programs of my childhood, where girls showed no physical prowess whatsoever. More often than not, they’d end up on the ground, rubbing the ankles they’d just twisted. Or they’d complain of breaking a nail. Or they’d be on their knees, groping for their glasses. Or, heaven help us, they’d have no power, control, or say whatsoever in the man-heavy victim scenarios that the writers/producers had dreamed up. I don’t think that participation in wrestling is necessarily the answer to gender equality, but I do think that Piper’s idea of “manly gentleness” can certainly foster the kind of wrong-headed, helpless female caricatures with which we’re all so familiar.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think that coed high school wrestling encourages the brutality against women that Piper suggests it does—at least not in a sportsmanlike, supervised environment. And maybe I’m naïve, but last time I looked, there were plenty of men and women competing against each other in business, conducting military exercises side by side, plowing through crisis and tragedy together in government service, civilian roles, and their private lives. There are also boys and girls all over the world smacking tennis balls at each other, engaging in hard-core academic competition, and, yes, working together in constructive, community-enriching service projects. Do these sorts of things do nothing to offset the fears that Piper has articulated?

I don’t think that girls should be in the wrestling ring because, darn it, it’s just sexually inappropriate. Then again, so are non-married actors in a steamy love scene, I suppose. Adults are one thing…but, then again, perhaps they’re not. Food for thought…and a topic for another day.

Yes, boys should be willing to “lay their lives down to protect girls,” as should any Christian to lay down his (or her) life for a friend (or for the cause of the Gospel), but women have been put at a disadvantage for too long in the name of protection (think, among other examples, of the Taliban‘s oppressive, misogynistic rule in Afghanistan). I don’t think that coed wrestling is going to cripple boys’ attitudes toward women, just like it alone probably won’t cripple their attitudes toward other boys. By all means, we should take a stand against girls in the ring, and a stand for boys growing into men—but let’s at least do it for the right reasons.

Scheir Madness – On the Radio!

tcw

I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until Friday for the next installment of “Scheir Madness.” That’s because I’ll be busy today talking to Char Binkley, of radio station WBCL’s Mid-Morning program. The program has a partnership with Today’s Christian Woman magazine, where my article, “Capable, Called…and Exhausted” has just appeared. At 9:30 this morning, Char and I will be talking (live on the radio!!) about my article’s topic: women who do too much.

It’s hard for me to believe that I’ll be on the radio giving “expert” advice, but if anyone knows about overdoing it, it’s me. In high school, I was the girl who freaked out so much about her schoolwork that the principal told me to play hooky once in a while. I’m the one who once set up tables and chairs for a missions dinner in the church gym almost singlehandedly—while I was pregnant. And I’m the one who used to think that you had to mulch the garden every time you expected visitors. Yup, that was me, but no more.

I know that tomorrow is Thankful Thursday, but I’m thankful today for the opportunity to share what I’ve learned from my perfectionist tendencies and my overachieving attitude. It has been exciting to see my article in print (it appears in TCW’s March/April issue—I can get you a copy if you’re interested). And I’m looking forward to the interview (it’s not a local Dover station, but you’ll eventually be able to listen on the station’s web archive at http://www.wbcl.org/programs/MidMorningTCW.asp; to listen click on “Click to Listen”—it’s today’s show, so give the station a little time post the recording).

Thanks everybody for your support and encouragement, and thank you, God, for showing me “the most excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31): that whatever any of us does is just noise if it doesn’t have the key ingredient, love.

Self-Denial for the Modern Age

lent-cartoonLenten sacrifice is very hot right now.

Recalibrating one’s behavior in preparation for Easter certainly isn’t a new practice; once the Council of Nicea (comprised of bishops assembled by the Roman Emperor Constantine) nailed down the 40-day Lenten season back in the year 325, it was bound to catch on. No doubt, the early Church’s emphasis on fasting, abstinence, and meditation-motivated self-deprivation have spawned many Christians’ current practices of penance, self-discipline, more God-focused thinking, and the Friday Night Fish Fry.

If the media is any measure, 2009 seems to be a real banner year for sacrifice. Consider the following recently reported stories:

1. When NPR listeners weighed in on their personal Lent-based self-denial spins, they said that they’re giving up more than just chocolate. Other Lenten sacrifices included walking instead of driving, limiting Target shopping to once per week, using time otherwise spent on the computer to volunteer or catch up on household chores (a sacrifice within a sacrifice, in my opinion), taming the tongue by avoiding gossip, and, my favorite, giving up alcohol, as it has the dual benefit of giving one a clear head with which to meditate on Christ’s suffering, sacrifice, and forgiveness.

2. Readers of beliefnet.com say they’re giving up everything from bad attitudes to Little Debbie snack cakes. My favorite self-sacrifice resolution is from a contributor named Ed, who writes this: “For this Lent…I’m trying to overcome a weird addiction I have–I love to make myself upset by listening to people whose politics and attitudes differ from mine, i.e., Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly…. In some perverse way I’m addicted to the feelings of smug superiority and righteous indignation that come up in me when these people spout their hateful nonsense…but it diverts energy and attention away from God by focusing it on my own ego.” Whatever your political persuasion, I think Ed has a good point. Many of us have someone (or many someones) with whom we disagree and possibly even love to hate. Why not shelve our own “smug superiority and righteous indignation” in favor of peace, prayer, and perhaps a more open mind? Give it a try, and if a couple Little Debbie cakes will help you feel better about it, then you have my permission.

3. According to a story from the Associated Press, Italian bishops have recommended recycling, proper disposal of chewing gum, and bio-powered transport (i.e., walking) as other Lent-worthy sacrifices. They’ve also proposed a high-tech fast for Lent, urging the faithful to set aside iPods, e-mail, text messaging, and online social networking, if only on Fridays. No mention of giving up your favorite blog (two points for me, yeah!!). Incidentally, if you haven’t given up all things electronic for the season, you may want to check out the Vatican’s YouTube Channel, where the Pope’s weekly Angelus messages (and other items) are available in a variety of languages. Really.

As for me, my perspective on Lenten sacrifice has been skewed by my Catholic school classmates, several of whom used to give up cursing for Lent. I’m thinking that they could have made a little more of a stretch, but that’s coming from a girl who has 6 boxes of Girl Scout cookies floating around her dining room. Some of them aren’t opened (yet), but still.

Classroom Confessions, Next Time on “Cheaters”

A new Vatican study identifying the most frequently confessed sins, by gender, shows lust, gluttony and sloth in the win, place, show positions for men and pride, envy, and anger in the top three for women.

No mention of the most commonly confessed sins for children, but I suspect that cheating in school is probably somewhere pretty high on the list (followed closely by ditching your peas under the table and “cleaning up” your room by taking every last thing off the floor and cramming it into your closet).

I haven’t bugged any confessionals to back up my theory, but I know me, and I know my daughter, and that’s all I need to know to make a case for cheating as one of the big ones. I did it, she’s done it, and, her teachers tell me, she and I are not alone.

My cheating career was not long, nor was it glamorous. I’m not proud of it, but there was that time in third grade when I lifted the entire Henry Hudson chapter from an explorers book and passed it off as my own (attention, teachers: when a third grader hands in a 14-page paper, do some digging, will ya?) There was that time in fourth grade when, just to keep from breaking the chain of gold stars on the class spelling test performance chart, I cribbed off another kid’s test paper (my first real-life ends/means dilemma). And there was that time in my senior year of high school, when I faked my way through our class discussion of The Grapes of Wrath, the only book assigned to me for high school English that I hadn’t actually read (still haven’t, incidentally, though I did find Steinbeck‘s East of Eden pretty darn amazing).

Scandalous, yes, but awfully white bread, right?

Well, before Christmas, my daughter came to me boasting an incredibly high AR score—the month’s best in her class, in fact. (For those of you not familiar with it, AR, or Accelerated Reader, is a school program where kids read books, then take computerized reading comprehension quizzes; it’s great for goal-setting and achievement-tracking, and it’s a big educational component in many of the schools in my area). But while I cheered her sudden surge to the top of the charts, her dad was skeptical. Turns out his suspicions were confirmed: the printed AR report showed that she’d scored big for quizzes that she’d taken on several Harry Potter books—several of which she’d not actually read.

Her explanation? She’d read one of the books, and had seen the movies for the others, and just got “carried away” when she took the tests. Oh boy.

Thankfully, I’d learned long ago from a Leave it to Beaver rerun on Nickelodeon’s TV Land that the “I saw the movie, so that’s good enough” approach doesn’t work. Poor Beaver was supposed to have read The Three Musketeers, but on the advice of his dopey friends, he watched a televised movie version instead, which, as it seems, could have starred the Three Stooges in the title roles. Athos, Aramis, and Porthos or Larry, Moe, and Curly—same difference, right?

So, my husband and I set up a conference with the teacher, where my red-handed daughter presented a confessional note, complete with her own suggestions for punishment, which included no recess, lost points, and, of course, actually reading the books and retaking the tests. The teacher, God bless her, went for door number 3, and sent my daughter back to class with a stern “thank you” for her honesty.

Truth is, she said, that my kid is by no means the first of the cheater-pants; the other kids in the “gifted” class (the little rascals) have been gaming the AR system since the day it was installed.

My daughter may be a cheater, I guess, but at least she’s developmentally on par.

Fertile Ground for Controversy

The Nadya Suleman Octo-mom” controversy has many of us wondering about the ethics of providing fertility treatment to a dubiously-financed woman who is already the mother of six. We’re wondering how robust a treatment would have to be provided in order to result in such a high order multiple birth. And, in the most practical sense, we’re also wondering when Nadya, her parents, or anyone else she knows will ever dig out from under 14 children worth of laundry.

In light of all those considerations, I was happy to hear yesterday’s Fresh Air broadcast featuring journalist Liza Mundy, whose 2007 book Everything Conceivable: How Assisted Reproduction is Changing Our World covered the medical challenges, ethical dilemmas, and social issues related to the relatively recent boom in fertility treatment-generated multiple births. I haven’t read the book, but I did listen to Terry Gross’s interview with Mundy, and, to be honest, I had no idea about the behind-the-scenes of fertility treatment.

Not that it’s morally wrong per se; it’s just, well, complicated.

The cost of fertility treatment ($12,000 per course for artificial insemination, according to Mundy) was not news to me. But the wear and tear on a woman’s body, the mortality risk of often premature and low birth-weight multiple birth babies, the risk/benefit analysis involved in deciding how many embryos to implant and whether to selectively destroy some, and the possible developmental and long-term medical impact on the co-carried babies themselves—these are curves on the roller coaster of infertility that were not even on my radar.

Sure, I knew that some of these issues were out there, but I never really thought about a couple actually going through the decision-making process that asks hard questions like, is the possible benefit of having one healthy child worth the risk of finding ourselves with triplets (or quintuplets) 9 months down the road?

Talking about it with my husband last night, I found out that he’s more up-to-date on the infertility front than I am. Turns out that a former work colleague of his, along with his wife, adopted an embryo a couple of years ago; the embryo was implanted in the wife’s uterus and grew into the little person who is now—and I guess always has been—their daughter.

It’s controversial, I know. And, believe me, I don’t want to sound glib. But having had 2 children myself, and not having gone through any fertility problems, I’m curious. So I’d love for you to comment…

If you’ve gone through fertility treatment, what tough decisions did you have to make?

If you’ve had a multiple birth as a result of fertility treatment (especially one on the order of 4, 5, or more), how did you adjust to (what would be for me) the incredibly overwhelming prospect of that many babies going through infancy—and beyond—all at once?

If you’re having infertility problems now, would you ever consider embryo adoption? What pros and cons do you see in that approach compared to “conventional” adoption?

Drop me a line—I’m interested to see what you have to say.

Recession-Proof Employment, $4.99 a Minute

Today on NPR’s “Morning Edition” I heard the story of Alexandra Chauran, a working fortuneteller from Washington state. Our economy may be plunging further into its death spiral, but for her, apparently, business is booming. “It’s a good sign when people come to me,” she says.

(This reminds me of a conversation I once had with a mortician. I asked what made him decide to pursue that line of work. “Job security,” he replied.)

Just who are the people who are paying a whopping $4.99/minute (up from the pre-bust rate of $2.50/minute) for a glimpse into Chauran’s crystal ball? It’s a lot of realtors, she says, some of whom call on a daily basis to cosmically vet their clients.

Sort of makes you wonder what kind of voodoo is going on at the investment houses.

For Chauran, fortunetelling is a full time job, and she’s definitely busy. She does face to face consultations and is available for parties. She also does some online work, which must be challenging now that dial-up has gone the way of the dinosaur (as the Psychic Friends Network used to tell us, psychic energy is stronger over the phone lines).

No matter what shows up on your Tarot cards, though, don’t worry about Chauran raining on your parade. She says that, no matter what the content, a reading from her gives people the opportunity to change their lives and their futures for the better. “I’ve learned ways to give people a positive outlook without shutting them down,” she says. In other words, I guess, no news is bad news.

Besides giving me a bad case of the willies, Chauran’s evaluation of her profession’s role in our current climate seems itself to be a fulfillment of ancient prophesy: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” That’s from the Bible, 2 Timothy 4:3-4.

No mention of whether the high cost per fable will be rising any time soon.

 

Tell Them What They’ve Won

There’s nothing that’ll take the wind out of your Valentine’s Day sails faster than coming in third in the Newlywed Game at the church’s Sweetheart’s Dinner.

Nothing except maybe coming in fourth. Or being led away from the Sweetheart’s Dinner in handcuffs. Yeah, that wouldn’t be so good.

When I agreed to be part of the church Newlywed Game (cleverly renamed “Marital Blitz,” because, I guess, Bob Eubanks is such a royalties hound), I didn’t realize that the first question of the night—the one I should have been asking myself—is this: If you and your husband screw up royally in matching your answers to bogus made-up questions, then does that mean that (a) you’ve provided rollicking entertainment for some of your closest friends, (b) you look at life from different, but often complementary, points of view, or (c) you should whip out your BlackBerry because the church counselor’s only got openings on Thursday nights, and they’re filling up fast.

Consider question number one: If your marriage was a movie, what genre would it be? (a) romance, (b) family comedy, or (c) drama.

(I suggested “horror” but didn’t get nearly the laugh I was expecting. Wrong crowd, I guess.)

My marriage, like yours (and believe me, I hope it’s like yours, or else I’d better reserve my spot on the couch now), is a combination of all three. Really, it is. There’s romance, but my viewing of only one drippy, sentimental, emotion-manipulating Nicholas Sparks-based movie convinced me I was NOT going to answer (a). There’s drama, of course, brought to us by anything and everything (including myself, my husband, my kids, my dog, my furnace, my dryer, and, just this week, my local phone company), but without explanation “drama” sends the wrong message. Sort of like “diva” or “dictator.”

But I’m a family humor writer. So you’d think “family comedy,” right? I answered (b), but my husband said (c), and boy did the gang love that. I’m sure that this discrepancy was particularly enjoyed by the parents of the young engaged couple that my husband and I just spent six weeks mentoring.

This kind of thing, I think, is why neither of us is in politics. Needless to say, I’m putting Marital Blitz on that ever-growing list of “we won’t be doing THAT again.”

Last night at our pitch perfect Valentine’s Day dinner out (which almost didn’t happen because I was so wrapped around the axel about the ridiculous “What would your husband do if he unexpectedly had the day off?” question), we talked about the movie question more. I think that we’re square on our genre, so next time we’ll be more prepared.

If our marriage was a movie, it would be a rockumentary. Starring Brad and Angelina. Playing Sonny and Cher.

Because even after an embarrassing night at the church, I’ve found, the beat certainly does go on.

 

When the world’s about to end, the dishes can wait

Icky polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs has got me thinking. According to a story on NPR’s This American Life, Jeffs’ preaching often waxed apocalyptic, establishing then bumping out the drop dead date for the end of time about every six months. The story further reported that members of Jeffs’ FLDS community took his message so seriously that they stopped making repairs on their homes—with the end of time looming, they figured, what was the point?

I’m not sure what I would start or stop doing if the last days loomed, but in FLDS spirit, I present what I think are the Top 10 Under-reported Implications of Living in an Apocalyptic Religious Sect:

  1. The doorknob hole in the drywall outside the youth group’s meeting room just keeps getting bigger and bigger, and nobody does a thing about it.
  2. Unprecedented surge in end-of-time giving.
  3. Annual church rummage sale shows spike in inventory (and radical price-slashing) of “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”-themed items.
  4. Church officer’s rendition of REM’s “The End of the World as We Know It” while rolling eyes at Newcomer’s Dinner warrants immediate excommunication.
  5. You can kiss those unreturned loaner casserole dishes good-bye.
  6. Nobody tops off the gas on the church van—ever.
  7. If the end is near, then those nursery babies really have something to cry about.
  8. On day 7,482, clever church-sign slogan boy abandons series of pithy apocalyptic zingers in favor of pop-art portrait of skate-boarding Yoda.
  9. Among mothers, popular “If you died tonight…” evangelism tagline merits new rejoinder, “…you wouldn’t want to be wearing that sloppy, wrinkled shirt.”
  10. Thinking that, at this point, there’s nothing to lose, controversial contemporary worship minister accompanies the passing of the peace with Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train“; future possible selections include “Love Train,” the theme from “Soul Train,” and Gladys Knight’s “Midnight Train to Georgia.”