What is (a) man?

My latest in the Christian Courier.

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Having explored the question “What is woman?” in my last column, it seemed only reasonable to follow up with the question of man. In asking about man, however, we quickly discover an interpretive problem that didn’t arise in asking about woman. In the case of “man” we have to clarify whether we are referring to the human in general (“what is man that you are mindful of him”) or man as a specific sexed/gendered being different from woman.

My interest is in the latter question—man as a specific sexed/gendered being. But this interpretive problem already points to an important issue in any conversation about the identity of man/men. Specifically, that for most of history man has been defined as representative of human being. To speak of men was to speak of the human, and vice versa. At one level, of course, this has been no burden since it has meant a privileging of men’s lives and experiences Yet it is a kind of burden since man must now learn to be himself without also the measure of the human.

Man is what my son is becoming as he learns to play the flute, forgets to shower after a soccer game, studies for an English exam, or talks and argues with his sisters. In these things and many others he is sorting out what he cares about, what he enjoys, what he finds difficult, and what matters to him (or doesn’t). And in all of this we, his parents, encourage him to seek the way and service of the risen Jesus, since we believe that his identity and ours are found in Jesus. Continue reading

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What is woman?

My latest column in the Christian Courier.

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What is woman?

This is a question we are not supposed to ask. And is certainly one I am not supposed to answer. But in these few paragraphs I will sin boldly, as old Luther apparently suggested Melanchthon should do on one occasion. As I answer, I will write from my own admittedly particular point of view, hoping that the reasons for my writing become apparent.

Woman is what each of my daughters is becoming – what they are and become through swimming competitively, playing the piano, throwing a football, completing math tests, or reading novels. They seem to do these things more confidently and competently by the day. Each is unique in temperament, in self-awareness, and in their approach to friendship, among other things. But they are both discovering  grace and growing in grace.

These two are also each becoming woman in the particularity of their bodies – gaining coordination and strength to test against the world, whether in playful jest or with compelled determination. As embodied, each is also becoming aware of the remarkable capacity to carry life and deliver life into the world, through and for relationship. How will they respond to this gift and gift-giving capacity is at least a question that is posed to them. And they must discern their answer against the backdrop of a culture that says, astonishingly, the body is irrelevant to (their) being/becoming women. Continue reading

Nail Polish and Parenting – muddling through

At the best of times, raising kids is a complicated business. In any given situation, multiple factors are at play: our own personalities, our children’s personalities, wider family dynamics, faith commitments, cultural assumptions, and the list goes on… and on… Very often, all we can do as parents is make our best guess at what we should be doing.

I recently found myself in a situation that gives almost perfect expression to the complexities of parenting – and this need to just muddle along. This particular situation arose when my eleven-year-old daughter decided that she wanted to put on some nail polish. Not that this was the first time that she had worn nail polish. She had done so in the past both for ‘dress up’ or as simply a fun thing to do with cousins or friends.

Yet this time was a little different. Most importantly, this was the first time she was putting on nail polish by herself, as an expression of who she was or wanted to be. It was sparkly turquoise nail polish she had gotten from one of her aunts. (Of course the aunts had to be from my side of the family – so I couldn’t even blame the in-laws for this!!)

greenBut as my daughter was putting on the nail polish, she very quickly discovered that while it is easy to put the nail polish on your left hand (when you are right handed), it’s not so easy putting it on the right hand! When she came down from the bathroom, the nail polish was, as you might expect, uneven. There were turquoise bits on the edges of skin around her fingernails. I responded with a wonderfully helpful, “oh, that doesn’t look very good.”

And in that moment the uncertainty and conflict about what to do arose. Continue reading