Jani Ortlund: If you have been listening to recent podcasts, you know, we’re in a series called “Fearlessly Feminine.” In this series of episodes, we’ve been discussing how to live with biblical, fearless femininity in the culture to which God has called us to serve Him. In our last few episodes, we looked at God’s answer to our fears. He tells us, you don’t have to just drum up more courage. The answer to our fears is faith—real, fear-shrinking faith—in the God who loves us and gave himself for us.
Cultural Norms of Today
Now today, we want to turn our thoughts to our culture, and how it fuels our fears, especially during this election period. Oh my goodness. How can we be effective for Christ in the midst of today’s culture?
Back in 1950…
Over the past 60 years, there have risen drastic changes in how we live our lives and raise the next generation. I was born in 1950. I know you think I’m ancient. You’re right. But I grew up in a very different world from today. The family had not fractured. Divorce was a rarity. I only knew one family who had divorce in it. The pathogens of stress and overload had not yet blossomed to wage war on us.
Did you know that when I was growing up, there were no R-rated movies? Because movies didn’t need to be rated yet. Can you believe there were no computers or video games or cell phones. In fact, I remember our family’s first TV.
Things are different today!
Now think of the differences in how we now view our roles as men and women. We’re constantly accusing one another and being put on the defensive. Think of the adversarial relationship between men and women today, versus back then in the 1950s. Think of how differently we view our sexuality. Some parents are being told to encourage their young children to decide which sex they want to be and feel like they are and then they’re to embrace that as a family.
What about the differences in our duties to family and community? The modern view is that the family is rather passe. “My” desires as an individual are to be the center of all decisions; what feels right to me, independent of how that might weaken or harm those nearest to me.
Think of the differences in how we view what we value and cherish and are willing to fight for, especially independence.
Here’s a quote I found in the Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. It says this,
“By any standard, it has been an extraordinary transformation. Thirty years ago, homosexuality was the practice of a small and virtually unseen minority, a marginalized sub-culture viewed with suspicion and distaste by society at large. How quickly things have changed. Within the span of a generation, our society seems to have moved from suspicion and condemnation, through grudging tolerance, to open acceptance and promotion, and now it seems to have gone all the way to suspicion and condemnation of those who speak ill of homosexuality.”The Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Vol. 5, Number 2
How are we affected by this popular culture? Well, those of us who believe the Bible and long to follow God wholeheartedly find ourselves almost overwhelmed. We sense that all is not right but we don’t have a convincing apologetic with which to engage our culture. And so we tend to withdraw and become all the more polarized and isolated. We live in a very unique time in history—a time that God has called us to. He’s not surprised that he’s asked us to live during this time period. So how can we be most effective for Christ in it? Michael Medved said this,
“To say that if you don’t like the culture, then turn it off, is like saying if you don’t like the smog, then stop breathing.”Michael Medved
You see, our culture is indeed the air we breathe. It’s impossible to completely withdraw into a Christian cocoon.
As Distracting as a Bird Flying in a Sanctuary
Let me see if I can illustrate it this way with a funny story from a Sunday evening service in one of our pastorates.
It was a normal Sunday evening service at our church in Augusta. Normal at least until the bird flew into our sanctuary. When it flew in, I must say, all normalcy flew out. The children’s choir had just finished singing, and they started pointing and giggling. There were some nervous coughs and shuffles as the congregation tried to discern the proper response to our newest visitor. And my dear Ray, who had gone up to the pulpit, was baffled as to how to remove this distraction from our midst.
Well, that bird seemed to be having quite a grand time of it. It was flitting from chandelier to candelabra to choir loft in our 30-foot high sanctuary. We either had to cancel the service or ignore the bird. So Ray asked us to try to ignore it. But we weren’t very successful.
Finally, during one of our final hymns, the bird flew into a recessed light in the choir loft. After a few seconds, it suddenly dropped straight down and landed with a soft thud near the organ where two have our alert deacons slipped in and removed it.
Now like that bird, the effects of popular culture have flown into the church causing a distraction impossible for us to ignore any longer. It’s flight from issue to issue has captivated us and diverted our attention from our God-blessed calling as women. I want to call you back. Because many of us have been left wondering why our lives often echo with the hollow sadness of divorce, disappointment, or depression.
In recent times, we’ve changed how we define our feminine heroes. In the not too distant past, a woman could receive honor and respect if she gave herself to her husband and children. She was esteemed and admired for her willing sacrifice for those she loved. She was encouraged to yield to her maternal longings to care for her husband and maintain her home and devote herself to her children.
These values today, however, are despised by some as worthless and degrading, or at least dismissed as limited achievements compared with the satisfaction of earning a regular paycheck, and being given power and respect outside the home.
Now, as a listener, I just want to ask you if you’re single: “Don’t stop listening.” You might be married someday, and even now, if you have married friends, they need your support. Hang in here with us please.
I believe that it’s safe to say that the feminist movement bears significant responsibility for dishonouring a woman if she makes her family and home her primary calling. As one critic explains,
“Feminism is not about giving women the freedom to choose. It’s about taking away choices of which feminists disapprove.”
And one choice they disapprove of is participation in a conventional family. Perhaps the most vicious aspect of radical feminism is that it necessarily criticizes and demeans women who choose to work primarily as mothers and homemakers. Who are your feminine heroes today? Will you become one for the rising generation?
The women’s movement has tried to ease a mother’s guilt if she decides to leave her children and give herself to the marketplace. Almost anything done in the name of a woman’s independence is celebrated as raw courage. Over and over again through TV commercials and sitcoms and talk shows, through books and movies, speeches, political movements, we’ve all been told (haven’t we?) that true happiness comes when we learn to enhance our self respect out of all connection with others, even those who naturally we should love the most.
I believe that living in this atmosphere of self-ism, we’re continually looking in the mirror, making lifetime choices on how we want to shape the reflection staring back at us. And contemporary culture ridicules any reflection of the traditional wife and mother devoted to her family. This scorn breeds a subtle antipathy towards family life. You may be caught up in that.
Our self-absorption has bred low birth rates, institutional child rearing, more promiscuity, more homosexuality, more abortion on demand, more divorce and more emotional distress. The thoroughly culturized woman today answers to no one but herself. She wants to be free, independent, successful and unimpeded, especially by men. The sanctity of self has permeated all aspects of our modern life. I’m sure you’ve seen it.
In Children’s Literature
It even has permeated the education of our children. I taught second grade for 13 years, and I was surprised at some of the children’s literature that rose to popularity in the elementary classroom during the end of the last century. When I was working on my master’s degree in curriculum development, I was admonished not to use the traditional family as a role model because for many students, it was passe. Certain books were acclaimed as “authoritative reading” in the elementary classroom to teach children a liberated perspective on women’s issues.
Oh, I have to tell you, dear listener, I found them in some cases very offensive. These books denigrate romance and love, manhood and womanhood, so that the sweet appears bitter, and the bitter appears sweet. Rather than be a glad celebration of womanhood, I found myself confronted with an acidic, ugly attack on men.
The Paper Bag Princess (1980)
Maybe you’ve heard of The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munch, it came out in 1980 (quite a while ago). In this book, a dragon smashes Elizabeth’s castle, burns all her clothes and carries off Ronald (Elizabeth is the princess, Ronald is the prince). Now clothed in just a paper bag, Elizabeth decides to chase the dragon and get Ronald back. She shows tremendous courage and cleverness—that’s good! Elizabeth plays upon the dragon’s arrogance to get him to perform great feats of strength and speed and finally worn out by braggadocio he falls asleep. Elizabeth then enters the dragon’s castle, and rescues Ronald who spurns her because of her “paper bag” appearance. Not to be outdone, the story ends with Elizabeth saying, “Ronald, you look like a real prince but you are a bum.”
Now, let me say, dear friend, that Ronald did spurn Elizabeth; that wasn’t nice, that wasn’t manly, that wasn’t good. But what is obnoxious to me is this ideal of female autonomy and the denigration of a happy, selfless romance and marriage between a man and a woman. The woman is seen as always being in charge, and the man is a petty, superficial jerk. This in-your-face attitude goes against godly, fearless femininity.
Princess Smartypants (1986)
Within the larger backdrop of our divorce culture, some children’s books portray marriage as a trap. One book that does this is entitled Princess Smartypants. It goes like this: “Princess Smartypants was a beautiful, rich princess who did not want to get married because she enjoyed being a Ms. and wanted to do exactly as she pleased.”
Well, when her parents and book insists that she marry, she sent all her suitors impossible tasks in which all of them were made to look like fools. The book says that just when she felt “safe,” Prince Swashbuckle showed up, and he was able to complete all her nearly impossible requirements.” Now instead of keeping her promise to him, she gave him a magic kiss that turned him into a gigantic, warty toad. This is how the book ends. Listen to this.
“When the other princes heard what had happened to Prince Swashbuckle, none of them wanted to marry Smartypants…so she lived happily ever after.”
The message comes through loud and clear: happiness is found in doing exactly as you please, as a woman. What kind of heroine is this for our young girls? What does this teach our daughters, nieces, students, granddaughters, about marriage, about how to live among men? About what should feel our dreams and drive our goals?
Minimizing THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN
We have grown accustomed to blaming men for wronging us through the centuries. Now we’re told it’s time to demand our fair share. The feminist mindset minimizes the differences between men and women in the gender blending games they like to play.
How did they do that? Well, I can give you one example. How about the uni-sex look? We have a family member who models, and she has been turned down for some jobs because she has too classic a figure. You see, we begin to think that our sexual differences are trivial, and that casual loveless sex is normative. We set our kids up for sex outside of marriage because pleasure is held up as a sacred ideal. Pleasure is our right—and nowadays, it’s almost elevated to our duty. We’re “duty bound” to please ourselves. We’re taught to pursue pleasure and minimize pain.
Oh, we have lost the mystery of our creation as male and female. We forget that our femininity is not a curse – it is a gift. Can you hear that? If you are a woman listening today, embrace your femininity. It is a gift from God, a heaven sent gift to be received with open hands. It was God’s idea to create us as men and women. Your femininity is not a problem to be solved. It’s a strategy straight from our Father’s throne room! Embrace it.
Deep within true women know how very different we are from our male counterparts, and how beautiful the union—the mingling—of those differences can be. The inner longings and passions of women haven’t changed—the desire to be loved and cherished and to leave a godly legacy.
What is it that makes young women feel ill at ease about expressing their God given yearning to make a home and bear and nurture children? I believe it’s all the feedback with which we honor or discredit their dreams.
A FINAL ADMONISHMENT
Let’s not be women who let the patterns of this world play havoc in the hearts of our future mothers and homemakers. We must nourish the fundamental God-instilled desires that feminism challenges and scorns. As God restores your soul, as he restores my soul, let’s be women who can bravely say along with Mary, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.”
And may He truly restore your soul.