Friday, February 20, 2009

Coming Undone

Elberta Peach Blossom

Today I would be fooled into wearing my summer clothes if not for the crisp shadows of the trees and rosebushes and birds on the flat surface of the grass and the sidewalk. In the summer, in Alabama, shadows grow gray and diffused as if they are pressed flat under the languid brutality of the sun on the fields and the fruit trees and the insects. In the summer, not even the rupture of rain relieves the heat, but I still love the smell of the rain on the hot and oily asphalt. I love the syrupy indolence of the summer in the Southlands. 

But today is cold and my floor (long ago brutalized by termites) allows the chill of the basement to encompass my feet (five toes polished and five toes bare) and I realize that they won't again be warm until I tuck them under the quilt tonight. But I don't wear socks and I don't know why. And I've got a pair of cold feet in my mind, too. I'm constantly aware of how uncomfortable they are, but I'll tolerate their niggling chill until they break through the soil of my unconscious and force me to some kind of action. It's a fine balance of comfort and misery with which I am familiar. 

Lately, I'm finding myself on the periphery of a few conversations that overlap like Venn diagrams and raise more questions than answers. They're about something I haven't really delved into in a few months or years: the proper roles and positions of women in the Church and in the family. 

Two years ago I left the Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination that had nurtured me from babyhood, and the next year joined an Anglican congregation. I've been a closet Anglican since the first time I attended an Episcopal service at St. Dunstan's parish in my college town, and taking this step feels like getting off of an uncomfortable fence. And something I love about my parish is that we don't talk about women. Ever. There are no bylaws to circumvent or negotiate. There are no questions regarding the gender of the person serving you holy communion, yet the elements themselves are handled with much more respect and care than any Presbyterian would care to offer them. And it is such a welcome respite for me when I remember the months of negotiation and exegesis and debate that went in to making sense of what women can and cannot do in the Presbyterian church. But lately, I find myself back in the fray (at least in my own mind) as I struggle through issues of submission (oh, blast!) in marriage and community. 

I don't believe in the Biblical Submission of the Wife. I just don't. It's sexism in a fancy hat. And yet that realization begs new questions. Was Paul a sexist? (Because I still find his writings in Timothy troublesome.) And if the answer is yes, does this open up a fracture in the carefully wrought veneer of my Cradle Calvinism and allow for an error in scripture? (Gasp.) And I venture...oh so slowly and on trembling say maybe.

And yet, as I think of my own marriage – this union of  stubborn and sharp-tongued loners, really—  I start to believe that in order to allow Christ to move through it and make it wholly His, I must lie down and die. Die. That is what it has come down to. I must relax my grasp on my own right to single-mindedly pursue my own goals. I must become pliable and forgiving instead of rigid and demanding. I must choose to nurture the unity of this relationship at the expense of the chaff and chattel of my selfishness and ambition. And I realize that I've never been here before. Never before has life offered me the choice of self or family. It makes me boil it down to this: am I such a uniquely flawless human that the elevation of my own good over the good of my family is justified? Honestly, as a feminist who loves well myself, I have to answer no. No, it isn't. And then I start to wonder not only if I can let this part of myself die, but how I can help to kill it. 

God help me.