Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Hardest Part

Nothing seems to be going right these days. Behind every turn is another instance where I don't get to do what I want to do or even what I really need to do. But, you know the hardest part? The hardest part is accepting the fact that God is perfectly OK with this scenario. The God of Christianity--the God of the Crucified Messiah--doesn't guarantee my comfort, health, convenience, or success. In fact, God owes me nothing. I am loved: fully, deeply, completely, unconditionally loved--that is all. And, that has to be enough. That is the hardest part. With every trial, however miniscule, my deluded images of God--God as my therapist or God as my doting grandmother--are dealt severe blows. Every day my idols are dying a slow, painful death and leaving behind the stark realization that God doesn't answer to me. God loves me. That is all. And, that has to be enough--that is enough, if only I would believe. Christ, have mercy.

O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we will be saved, in quietness and confidence will be our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. - Book of Common Prayer (1979)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Women are Not a "Secondary Issue": Revised Edition

Is one's view of women's "proper place" a secondary issue?

I've written about this question before on this blog and that post was picked up by Ethics Daily here. But, the matter was raised for me again this week when I watched this book trailer for the new release, Unladylike: Resisting the Injustice of Inequality in the Church by Pam Hogeweide (Civitas Press, 2012). (You can read and learn more about the author here.) I have not read the book yet and I look forward to doing so. But, for this post, I want to comment on something that Hogeweide says in the book trailer.

In response to the common assertion that we shouldn't focus too much on non-essential issues like women in ministry, she says: "I think that women are not non-essential." My first response to this statement was a heartfelt and relieved, "Yes! Amen, sister!" And, indeed, she is absolutely right. Women are not non-essential. They are co-bearers of God's image, full recipients of the Holy Spirit, and full members of God's royal priesthood. Thus, the matters that pertain to them should be matters of import to the entire church. As I said recently in another post, "Women's issues are human issues."

Still, as I have mulled over her statement more, I can't resist the urge to nuance her point just a little bit. This doesn't mean I hesitate to support Pam Hogeweide's cause (or the cause of my others sisters working for the full equality of women in the church), but I think there is an important theological qualification that needs to be made. In what follows, I will make this qualification and then follow up with a couple more observations that (I hope) will fully explain my stance.

There is a sense in which one's view on the "proper place" of women (in the home, church, and world) is non-essential. This sense is when we are speaking of "essential" in such a way that it refers to the most central aspects of the apostolic faith, handed on to the Apostles and from the Apostles all the way to us. These central aspects of the faith are summarized briefly in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 and then, later, in the Apostles' Creed (and, if you like, even later in the Nicene Creed). The things expressed in these creedal statements are the tenets one would be expected to profess upon one's baptism--the truths that one asserts as one identifies with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and is then accepted into the Christian community.

These tenets do not include the place of women and, I think, rightly so. If we're talking about the minimum standard for orthodox Christianity, women's "proper place" need not be included. Ultimately, whether you believe Christ is "the Word became flesh" is more important than whether you believe women should be ordained. In this way, you might say that I can agree that the view of women's place in the church is non-essential when we are standing by the baptismal font. As it pertains to one's entrance into the Kingdom of God and the church, Christ's bride, one's view of women is non-essential.

Now, on the other hand, there is a sense in which one's view of the "proper place" of women really is essential. This sense is when we are speaking of "essential" in such a way that it refers to the immediate outworking of the Gospel of the Kingdom by the church. The way the church lives as the people of God on earth, seeking to abide in Christ and make his Way known, is no small matter. And, the way women are instructed to live as the people of God, and exercise their gifts within the Body of Christ is not non-essential, either. The confession of faith one makes at baptism must immediately work itself out in the world, on the ground. Like it or not, where women stand in the home, church, and world is a major part of this outworking in Christian discipleship. In this way, I can agree that the view of women's place is essential when we leave the baptismal font and proceed into the work of being the Church.

So, with these qualifications in mind, I want to illustrate my second assertion--that one's view of women is, in fact, an essential issue--with two points.

But, first, a personal (and true) anecdote to help with my illustration. Ronnie and I have a very good friend who is a long-time pastor and scholar. He is one of the most faithful and godly Christian men that we know. (No exaggeration!) We look to him for counsel in making major decisions, follow his (and his wife's) example in raising our children, and enjoy spending time with him and his family whenever we can, sharing, praying, and discussing the Kingdom of God. But, he and I have different views on the matter of male headship and women's place in the home and the church. While I affirm mutual submission in marriage and women's full equality in the church, our friend affirms male headship in the home and male-only elder/pastor leadership in the church. Does this disagreement affect our friendship or fellowship as Christians? Not at all. Does this disagreement have major consequences for our corresponding theology and worldview? I think it does.

First, our views on women lead to divergent approaches to the narrative of redemption. The truth is, my friends who believe in hierarchy tell the story of redemption differently than I do. While I characterize the subordination of women in marriage and society as a destructive and deleterious result of the Fall, they will characterize it as an often abused, but no less divinely ordained plan for the relationship of men and women. For me, the restoration of all things in Christ leads to a "new creation" in which male-female hierarchy is abolished (under the sole lordship of Christ) and all are free to function in the power of the Holy Spirit. For them, the restoration of all things in Christ leads to a Spirit-inspired ability to live out the divine plan of male-female hierarchy in a way that is loving and God-honoring. For me, the examples of female leadership in the Old and New Testaments are shining examples of what God intended to do all along--restore women to their proper place alongside men in God's Kingdom. For them, the examples of female leadership in the Bible are either places where godly male leadership failed to emerge or they are glaring exceptions to the general rule. I could go on and on, but I think my point is clear. One's narrative of salvation history differs significantly depending upon one's view of women's "proper place."

Second, our views on women lead to divergent approaches to the Christian tradition. Going back to my good friend, it is clear from our numerous conversations about theology and ministry that he and I take very different stances in relation to the Christian tradition. For him, the proper posture in relation to almost 2,000 years of church teaching is one of humility and thoughtful deference. Although he certainly wouldn't say that simply because Augustine or Aquinas said it, it must be right, my observation is that he proceeds with great caution when presuming to take issue with hundreds of years of church teaching on a particular issue. In contrast, because I have taken the stand that the Christian tradition has, by and large, been wrong about the matter of women, I do not have the same level of deference to the tradition and the "great thinkers" of the tradition. Certainly, I am not flippant with regard to the theologians, mystics, and other teachers of the church that have gone before us. Yet, because I have accepted the fact that they were mostly wrong about women (not to mention slavery!), I have allowed into my approach the very real possibility that they are wrong about other things, as well.

And so, there are theological "moves" that I make in my work that will make our friend uncomfortable. He may think I'm playing "fast and loose" with the tradition. And, there are theological stances that he takes in his ministry that will make me uncomfortable. I may think that he's being "too rigid" with regard to contemporary applications of the tradition. All of this is because we take our stand within the Christian tradition with two different postures. One you might say is characterized first of all by trust, while the other, you might say, is characterized first of all by caution. In the end, I don't think these differences necessarily mean that we end up looking all that different in terms of our overall theological perspectives. But, the way we arrive at our conclusions, the voices we consider in our argumentation, and the certainty with which we affirm our points of view differ significantly.

So, getting back to the original question: "Is one's view of women's 'proper place' a secondary issue? " My (revised) answer is, in short, when we are standing at the baptismal font, one's view of women's "proper place" is, in fact, secondary; but, when we proceed from there into the church and the world, one's view of women's "proper place" is most certainly not secondary, but essential to the outworking of the Kingdom of God. Moreover, the position one takes on the matter of women's "proper place" will have a significant impact, both on the way one narrates the story of redemption in Christ and the stance one takes in relation to the Christian tradition. As someone working for the full equality of women in the church, I hope neither to maximize or minimize the real difference my perspective makes on the way I do the work of theology and church ministry.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

On Doing "Tampon Theology"

I recall vividly the most jarring and insulting comment I've ever received on this blog. It came from an anonymous commenter during a period of time in which we (Ronnie and I) were dealing with some contentious issues at our local church. I imagine, but don't know for sure, that the person was a disgruntled parishioner. He/she called what I had written, "nothing but tampon theology." At the time, the verbiage hit me like a punch in the stomach. Whoever the person was, they picked an incredibly creative and offensive metaphor, one with destructive force that, I'm sad to admit, did some damage. I didn't publish the comment, but the accusation stayed with me--has stayed with me--to this day. So, why did the accusation of doing "tampon theology" bother me so much? I think it might be helpful to deconstruct this a little bit...

First, and perhaps most obviously, the imagery of the tampon is culturally weighted with the concept of uncleanness. Despite the proliferation of bright and bouncy tampon commercials attempting to say otherwise, I think it's safe to say that there is a visceral reaction of disgust among many (most?) in our culture to the thought of menstruation. This is not a new thing, of course. Menstruating women have been the object of scorn and derision for a long, long time. The Old Testament has laws concerning menstruating women, specifying rules to follow for the duration of their uncleanness, as well as rituals for their "cleansing" and restoration to full fellowship with the covenant community. The message is loud and clear: menstruation = unholy. As progressive as Westerners think they are, this perspective continues today. So, a vivid way to denounce something as dirty and foul is to call upon the image of menstruation--and not just the physical experience of a woman "bleeding" uncontrollably, but the mechanism by which a woman catches that blood for disposal (a tampon).

(I won't take the time at this point to talk about why the perception of menstruating women as unclean is so very wrongheaded and unfortunate. I'll just have to point out that the OT perspective of menstruating women as ritually unclean was tied to a pre-scientific worldview that saw all bodily fluids and abnormalities as signs of unholiness. Moreover, the biblical point of view on this matter later wedded quite well to Greek notions of female bodily weakness and, a couple thousand years later, the notion that woman = body and body = evil, is alive and well.)

Now in the context of my blog, the commenter referenced above obviously chose his/her metaphor out of this cultural milieu. He/she lobbed it at me like a grenade because I was presuming to do theology intentionally from a feminine point of view. I had recently revealed the fact that I considered myself a "feminist" (with a number of qualifications I have since made here and here) and that I thought the pursuit of theological reflection out of womanly experience was a worthwhile endeavor. Needless to say, my commenter did not agree. Theology of/for/by women = unholy, unclean, dirty, and foul. Of course, I disagree strongly with this assessment. So, why did the comment bother me so much? Why do I still think about this comment today? I have a few ideas...

When I was an undergraduate biblical studies student considering a future in theology, one of my early mentors warned me ominously, "Just make sure you don't end up doing women's issues for the rest of your career. You should be doing real theology." At the time, this characterization of "women's issues" as not constituting "real theology" was powerful. It seemed self-evidently true. "Women's issues" are things like marriage, family, children, sexuality, women's ordination, and abuse. These issues only apply to women, right? So, they can't possibly be significant enough to merit a lifetime of theological work. "Real theology," on the other hand, includes meaty (=manly) theological issues like christology, eschatology, ecclesiology, epistemology, metaphysics, etc. These issues obviously apply to everyone, so they're of sufficient import for my extended study. The point (again) is clear: "women's issues" are weak, relatively unimportant, secondary and tertiary issues for theologians.

Always a quick learner, I imbibed this perspective rather quickly. I took a dive into a variety of "big" theological topics that included God's providence, apocalypticism, suffering, and more. I don't regret any of the work I did in these areas, but I did so while intentionally trying to steer clear of "women's issues." Or, at least, not to spend too much time on them.

Now, of course, I see the absurdity of my (sincerely) misguided mentor's advice. Women's issues aren't just women's issues. They're human issues. They're body of Christ issues. If women are imago Dei alongside men, co-laborers in the Kingdom of God, recipients of the one faith, one baptism, and one Spirit of God, then "their" issues are really our issues. To suggest that the matter of marriage and family, for example, is somehow only a "women's issue" is ignorant at best. Last time I checked, marriage and family involves men, too. Moreover, if the Kingdom of God encompasses all of human life, if God is making "all things new," then the Christian marriage and family (along with children, women's ordination, abuse, sexuality, etc.) are not marginal issues. If Jesus Christ is Lord of all, then all of life is included as the appropriate purview of our theological reflection. The drama of God's story of redemption is being played out in all of creation and the Church's theologians are right to reflect on all aspects of that story.

So, going back to my disgruntled commenter, it should be clear why the accusation that I was doing "nothing but tampon theology" was so very bothersome. Not only did it (wrongly) call to mind images of filth and uncleanness, but also struck at a deep-seated and long-held concern that "women's issues" don't constitute "real theology." He/she was taking aim at the core of who I am as a woman and as a theologian. And it hurt. A lot. But now, with a couple years of reflection between me and that offensive remark, I'm finally ready to put that anonymous commenter in his/her place.

First of all, tampons aren't dirty, my friend. Sure, the culture says that they are, but they are merely a tool by which women cope with a perfectly normal bodily process--a process, I might add, that allows for the propagation of the human race. "Be fruitful and multiply" would not be fulfilled without the womanly cycle of ovulation and menstruation. So, you can hurl "tampon" in my direction, but it doesn't hurt. (The only problem I have with tampons is that they probably aren't the safest or healthiest way for women to deal with their menstruation--not to mention the way the practice of using tampons contributes to women's understanding of their bodies. But, that's another post for another time...)

As for the matter of working with "women's issues," I don't have a problem with that either. In fact, I'm proud of the fact that I'm putting the concerns of women at the center of my theological reflection. Of course, as an evangelical theologian, I cannot make women's experience a normative criteria for doing theology. Scripture, tradition, and reason have to come first. But, I think holding the stories and voices of my sisters around the world close to me while I do theology is a very good thing. I think the issues of marriage, family, children, sexuality, and abuse are really human issues and that women concerned with such matters are calling attention to the fullness of what it means to be human. If the image of God is male and female, then the voice of our sisters is needed to fully understand ourselves as male and female in the drama of God.

So, there it is. A hateful epithet once intended for harm is the impetus for a revised vision of what theology entails. Whoever and wherever that angry commenter is now, I'd just like to say: Thank you. What you intended for evil, God intended for good. And, my vocation as a theologian is more clear to me as a result of your obnoxious and offensive choice of words.

"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen" (Eph 3:20-21).

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Holiness

When I was a new Christian in my evangelical youth group, I vividly recall singing the praise song, "Holiness": "Holiness, holiness is what I long for / Holiness is what I need / Holiness, holiness is what You want from me." It is clear from the Bible and Christian tradition that this song (however lyrically uninspiring) is correct: holiness is what God wants from us and holiness is what we need. But, what does "holiness" really mean?

I think the predominant understanding of holiness is something like moral perfection or a substantial lack of sin. I know for sure that's what I thought of holiness in my teen years. Holiness was about what you're not doing: not having sex, not doing drugs, not drinking, not smoking, not cussing, not wearing immodest clothing, etc. In the youth group, a holy person was a person untainted by the "world" and its many sins (especially sexual sins).

If I'm really honest, I have to admit that as a married adult with two young children, my view of holiness hasn't really changed much. It is still about what you're not doing, though I've added more mature and socially conscious things to the list: not taking advantage of those who work for us, not consuming more than we need, not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought, and more. There are also things that we do now, too: treat each other with kindness, intentionally instruct our children in the faith, participate in prayer and worship with God's people, pursue our individual vocations, and open up our lives and homes in hospitality.

I don't think any of the above is wrong. These are all good things, right? But, I wonder if that's really what holiness is all about. Is it really about what we're doing and not doing? This seems to fly in the face of the teaching of Jesus, who often emphasized who we are (i.e., the good tree vs. the bad tree) over what we do. In this way, I'm inclined to think that holiness is actually about who we are in Christ and not necessarily the sins of commission or omission that we battle on a daily basis. (Even though that battle is right and good.)

In his book on marriage, The Sacrament of Love, Paul Evdokimov has the following to say of holiness: "Holiness is nothing but an unquenchable thirst, the intensity of the desire for God." Later, he goes on to say, "[T]he saints are souls of longing." I really, really like this definition of holiness. Here, holiness is depicted as a state of being, rather than a list of things one is doing or not doing. A holy person carries within herself an all-encompassing desire for union with the Trinity. Though sin befalls us and our flesh fails us, the person who desires God above all else is a person of holiness. Certainly, citizens of the Kingdom of God, members of the New Covenant, will not fail to present good works as proof of the Spirit's work in their hearts and lives. But, it seems to me, even in the absence of moral perfection, a passionate desire for union with God is the mark of a holy life.

Doesn't this work better in light of the stories of our faith, too? How is it that David can be called "a man after God's own heart" when he performed and allowed so many heinous things? He was a man of violence and murder, adultery and neglect. How is it that he is a hero of the faith? How is he really any worse than Saul, who was rejected by God? I think the key is the posture of the heart toward God. The key is that he was a "soul of longing."

And, the same is true of so many people in the story of God: Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Samson, Ruth, Solomon, Peter, Paul, and more. We could speak of the countless saints beyond the pages of Scripture, as well. Again, sin is never winked at in the Bible or the tradition. The failings of women and men of faith are real and not to be applauded. But, it seems that these people were still people of holiness: they possessed a desire for God that transcended their daily failings--even when they were failings with enormous earthly consequences.

In this way, a holy person is not one who longs for holiness, as such. (What the old praise song from my youth claims.) We are not to desire holiness, as such. Instead, a holy person is one who responds to God's abiding love in Christ with a deep desire for union with God--a desire that is never quenched or abandoned, a desire that grows and grows until it fills every corner of one's existence, so that even when sin occurs, repentance is swift and reconciliation is as certain as it is sweet.

And so, in pursuit of holiness, I must desire God above all. In this regard, I find a prayer from Saint Teresa of Avila particularly helpful. I think these words echo the brutally honest sentiment of many Christian hearts who long for real holiness--an unquenchable desire for God: "Lord, I do not love you. I don't even want to love you. But, I want to want to love you."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Writing is Like Childbirth

I've heard a number of male scholars make a comparison between writing and childbirth in the past. They always do so rather reticently, of course, since they're men and they've never given birth before. But, let me give my male colleagues permission to use the analogy. As someone who has has two natural, drug-free births, and experienced every difficult, excruciating, and joyful moment of labor and delivery, I want to tell you: writing is like childbirth. Here are a few of the ways, as I see it...

Preparation is always different from the real thing. No matter how much you prepare, no matter how much you read and study, no matter how many details you include in your "birth plan," the actual experience of labor and delivery is always different from your painstaking preparation. This is not to say that preparing for labor isn't good. It is! It is vitally important! But, the one guarantee, especially for first time moms, is that labor and delivery will not go as planned and will not feel like you expect it to. Surprises are a given.

Writing is similar, I think. You read and study and ponder your topic. You outline your ideas and design how the paper or book will be arranged. But then you sit down to write the darn thing and it just morphs into something else--something not entirely within your control. Like a flailing two year-old in the freezer aisle at Kroger, you just can't get your hands firmly around it. And so you wrestle endlessly with your project, staring wistfully at those neat little outlines and beautifully scribbled notes, wishing you could somehow cram what you've constructed back into that perfect package you had anticipated. It may end up being better than you expected or worse than you expected. But with writing, the real thing is always different from the preparation.

The work advances in discernible stages that increase in intensity until the finish. In general, labor can be divided into three stages: early, working, and pushing. Early labor is exactly what it sounds: the earliest part of labor, when the cervix is dilating from 1-4 cms. Usually (and there are always exceptions) a woman will find this stage quite manageable. She can talk through and between contractions. She may be nervous, but she is excited too for what is to come. Working labor is also exactly what it sounds: the part of labor when the real work gets underway, as the cervix is dilating from 4-10 cms. This part of labor gets much more serious for the woman. She can't talk through contractions and often won't talk between them either. She has to really concentrate to work with her body as it labors in earnest to birth her child. This is the part of labor when women often experience self-doubt because the work is so very hard and the pain (most of the time) is increasing in intensity. The reward for a woman making it through the working labor stage is the realization that it is time to push. The pushing stage is definitely the climax of childbirth--it is "all downhill" from here. With proper support and encouragement (and no complications, of course), a woman can easily sense her body's rhythm and work with it to joyfully push her baby into the world. Finally it's over! You're not in labor anymore!

Writing is like this, too. Though not every project works in the same way, I think the writing process has some discernible stages (at least in my experience). For me, things start off optimistic and promising. I enjoy the beginning stages when things look clear, the words flow easily, and the sentences are beautifully crafted. This is the early writing stage. But, in my experience, the early writing stage gives way to the working stage rather quickly. In the working stage of writing everything becomes muddled. Anxieties rise and threaten my clarity of thought. I obsess over words and feel the defenses of my ideas slipping away. I begin to wonder if the project has any real merit and whether I shouldn't just ditch the whole thing and start over. But, by this point, I'm too far along and I just don't have the time or energy to give up. So, I have to press on. When the working stage of writing turns to the pushing stage, though, the exhilaration of being almost done combines with a newfound optimism that "maybe this paper isn't so bad after all." It feels like it's all downhill as the premises and arguments so painstakingly laid out several pages before now lead naturally and easily to the conclusion. And, when the last key stroke is made, there is a wave of relief that washes over you. I'm not writing anymore!

There is always a period of self-doubt and fear, especially in the toughest part. As I alluded to already, the working stage of labor is where women will experience their darkest moments of doubt and fear. I went through this with both of my children. Your body is working so hard and the experience is so overwhelming (and not really within your control!) that you fear you'll be overcome. The concentration that it takes not to tense up, fight the contractions, and lose focus is immensely difficult and it is in these dark times that most women request interventions (either for pain killers, an epidural, or something to hurry the labor along). (This is not a judgment of women who do so. At all. I'm simply pointing out that this is when the majority of women decide they need medical intervention to help them along.) In my case, though, my husband (the best birth partner ever created!) encouraged me and spoke truth to me in such a way that I got back on track and did not lose myself in fear and despair.

Again, writing is filled with similar moments of fear and doubt. You wonder if you're completely out of your mind. You fear that you're nothing but a charlatan masquerading as a writer. You imagine that your argument is going to be shredded by your readers (a professor, colleagues, a conference, etc). You doubt that you'll ever finish. I face these times with every paper I write. Every. Single. One. And, every time I have to do something to shake the fears. Sometimes I talk through my ideas with a friend, trusting in their intellect to spot my weaknesses and assuring me that I'm not crazy. Sometimes I just need a few words of encouragement from my husband (the best scholarly partner every created!) that I will be able to finish and that I'm not a faker. Whatever the case may be, I have to find a way to push through this stage of fear and doubt in order to finish the project.

There comes a time when you're between a rock and a hard place. In childbirth education, midwives will talk about the critical time when the working labor reaches an end and it is time to push. Often, women experience this part of their labor as something like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, you want to push the baby out because you want to be finished. On the other hand, you're afraid of what will happen, how it will feel, and what it will do to your body. Women can dwell in this difficult situation for as long as their baby (waiting in the birth canal) will let them, but often they need to be coached beyond it. "OK, you're almost there. You've done a wonderful job. I'm so proud of you. Now, let's meet your baby. It won't be long now." For me, this was the time of birth when I had to stop thinking and let my inner mammalian instincts take over. No one consciously, thoughtfully wants to push a several pound, 20ish inch object through their private parts. It just defies logic! But, it has to happen. There's no escaping it. Thankfully, once the choice is made to proceed, to work with your body and push the baby out, you are rather quickly rewarded for your efforts with your brand new baby. And, there's no greater gift than that.

Once again, I think writing can be similar to this, especially toward the end of a project. On the one hand, you want to finish the paper so you can be done with it and move on to something else. On the other hand, if you finish it then you're, in a sense, putting your stamp of approval on it and offering it to the world (so to speak) for criticism. In this way, reaching a conclusion is a daunting and scary prospect. What if I've missed it? What if it doesn't make sense? What if someone sees the holes that I already see in it? Yet, despite these loud, clamoring concerns, if you are up against any sort of deadline (as I always am) you have no choice but to press on. You've got to finish, come hell or high water. You duck your head, grit your teeth, and push on through it. And, even if your doubts remain, once the final sentence of the conclusion is written, there is a momentous "high" of freedom and peace from being finished.

When you're done, you're so grateful not to be doing it anymore. The first thing I did after I pushed Emmelia Rose out and greeted her on my chest was to turn to my mom and say, "Oh thank God I'm not pregnant anymore!" Truly, the elation of that moment was overwhelming. An almost ten month process had been completed at last and the hard work of labor and delivery was over. Overall, I can honestly say that I enjoyed my two natural births. (Really--I'm not just blowing smoke.) No, of course the painful parts were not fun--and there were plenty of those. But, I truly enjoyed the control I had over the process, the work I did with my husband, the power I felt cooperating with my body, and the achievement I felt bringing the process to completion. Even so, I was soooooooo glad to be done. So very, very glad. For me, the best part of labor and delivery was the finish.

In my experience, the end of the writing process is very similar. Although there are parts of research and writing that I enjoy, often I find the overall process to be very tedious and difficult. It takes so much intensity and concentration, so much self-encouragement and self-promotion. Writing--at least the academic writing that I do every semester--is very hard work. And it drains you (and those around you!) of energy very quickly. So, when I finish a writing project, I am truly elated. I feel like throwing myself and my poor, long-suffering family a big party. Again, even though I like writing, I am always overjoyed when I'm finished with a project. The relief cannot be overstated.

You really should trust the process. I realize that my experiences of childbirth are not the norm. Most women don't choose natural labor and delivery. I affirm that, overall, Western medicine has made childbirth safer and ensured that the women and babies who have complicated labors will not die. Surely that's a good thing! Still, I think that many (most?) women are not taught to trust the process of childbirth. They are made to think that childbirth is a frightening pathology and pregnancy is some kind of sickness that needs to be cured. So, they approach the process of labor and delivery with fear and much apprehension--trusting in their doctor/midwife to rescue them from the scary process of labor and delivery (that, unfortunately, they don't know a lot about). Again, I am not passing judgment and this is obviously a very general statement. But, my real point is this: in childbirth, for the most part, you can trust the process. By and large, women's bodies will work as they are supposed to. Yes, there are exceptions. Yes, complications take place (and that's what doctors and hospitals are for!). Overall, however, the majority of women, with the right support, can successfully give birth naturally, without medical interventions. The process can be trusted, because it is the result of thousands of years of human development (not to mention, in my point of view, divine design). Endurance is the key--persevering through the waves of contractions until it is time to push your baby into the daylight.

In writing, the process must be trusted, as well. Although problems come up and unexpected things happen, writers have to trust their process to carry them through. Whatever that looks like. Word after word, sentence after sentence, paragraph after excruciating paragraph, progress must be pursued with confidence that endurance will win the day. Writers write. And writers should write as often as possible. By slowly adding to the given document day-by-day, eventually the end will be reached. And thanks be to God when that happens!

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You may or may not like my comparison between childbirth and writing. Maybe I'm a bit too hippy and granola about childbirth for your taste. Maybe there's something you think I've missed. Feel free to leave your comments and ideas below. I'd love to read them.