Tuesday, July 25, 2006

In a previous post (July 6) I submitted that Scripture says there is a unique headship/submission relationship between husband and wife, and that that relationship is mandatory, but that it does not extend beyond marriage. That is, every husband is the head of his wife, whether the two of them like it or not—that’s inherent in the meaning of husband. But it does not follow that every boyfriend is the miniature head of his girlfriend whether the two of them like it or not; that is not inherent in the meaning of boyfriend (or if it is, Scripture has declined to inform of us this fact). I think you can see added support for this in the Biblical conception of courtship—essentially, there is no Biblical conception of courtship. The Bible seems perfectly okay with total strangers getting married, no evaluation period and no practice for headship/submission. If that’s true, then it seems to me that it must also be true that even though our society has instituted this evaluation and practice period we call dating, it must be okay to have a dating relationship without treating it like a miniature marriage. Dating is not a miniature marriage; that’s the whole point. Let me hasten to add a caveat: I think that a boyfriend and girlfriend can and should covenant to form a miniature headship relationship. I don’t think Scripture commands it, but I still think it’s a good idea. Sure, a man can go from boyfriend to husband and start being head then with no practice. A woman can go from not submitting at all to her boyfriend’s headship and start submitting to her husband’s headship cold turkey. But that just seems like making things a lot harder on both people than it has to be.

Such, at any rate, is my understanding of the Scriptural order of things as it stands right now. But in my last post I glossed over the question of what exactly we mean when we say that a wife should submit to her husband in all things and that a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. It is a question I find perplexing despite much modeling and much teaching, but I think it deserves to be addressed.

Let me start by observing (as did Thayet, if you go back and read the comments) that this is a very specific subset of human relationships. The general rule for relating to people, which I think is much more important, is to love your neighbor and be humble. Among Christians specifically, that means submitting to one another (Eph. 5:21). These things are far more important when it comes to how we ought to relate to one another than observations about husbands and wives—and, significantly, they apply to husbands and wives just as much as they apply to total strangers. A Christian husband is the head of his wife, to be sure. But he is still called to submit to her.

So let’s start with husbands. The husband, Paul tells us, is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, and is to relate to her as such. He goes on to discuss Christ’s death on behalf of the church and the fact that the husband and wife are (if I can follow C.S. Lewis in putting it this way) a single organism.

I hope that it is clear from what has been said so far that this is not an authoritarian picture, but in case it isn’t let me say so explicitly: this is not an authoritarian picture. Yes, Christ has complete authority over the church. But the analogy between Christ and husband will break down if we push it too far, just like any analogy, and Paul does not focus on Christ’s authority. He focuses on Christ’s sacrifice. That is the take-home point of the analogy. Husbands sacrifice for their wives. Husbands love their wives—they love their wives so much that they should place their very bodies, if need be, between their wives’ sin and their wives.

At the same time, Scripture commands wives to submit to their husbands “in all things.” Let me be the first to admit that this is a troubling passage. My goddesses are not damsels in distress. They are Alanna the Lioness, Cimorene, Honor Harrington, and Keladry of Mindelan—strong, independent, dangerous women who lead, inspire, kick ass and take names. And I still think that is what a woman should be: valiant, magnificent, and wise (I know I’ve mentioned this before and have still failed to elaborate. Maybe I will at some point in the future). Of course, at the end of the day my concern is not what I think should be. My concern is what Scripture says is.

At the same time, I think my opinion is consistent with the Scriptural picture. So here is what I think is going on here. I do think that Scripture is being literal when it says that a wife submits to her husband in all things. I don’t think we’re talking about submission in merely spiritual things. That would be silly if husband and wife are really as fully joined as Scripture says. If they’re joined for all purposes—and that, I think, is crystal clear—then there’s no basis for not taking Paul at his word when he says “in all things.” But I think translating hupotassô as “submit” may get us into trouble here. It’s not a bad translation, but in the marriage context specifically the English word “submit” carries a lot of baggage. Perhaps it would be helpful if I observed that hupotassô literally means “to arrange under.” And then let us remember that while the wife is to “arrange all things” under her husband, her husband is to sacrifice his last breath for his wife.

To me, this makes things clearer. I do not think the picture here is of a wife asking her husband’s permission every time she wants to go out, or buy gas, or go shopping. Indeed, the very concept of asking permission seems out of place to me. The church does not ask Christ’s permission to do things. Christ liberates the church; he doesn’t restrict it—and so, I submit, it should be between husband and wife. Now of course at the same time the picture is not of a wife doing whatever she pleases without regard to her husband. This too is like the church: Christ liberates us, yes, but the church does what Christ likes because we love Christ (and if you don’t think that’s liberating … well, you’re wrong). The wife is the central [earthly] fact of the husband’s existence just as the husband is the central [earthly] fact of the wife’s existence.

I think this picture also clears up for me the troubling hypotheticals. One might ask, for instance, what a wife is supposed to do if her husband is abusing her—or abusing their children, perhaps. Let’s make the hypothetical even sharper: suppose a husband orders his wife to come over to him so he can abuse her. What then? Is she to obey, on the theory that she is to submit to her husband in all things? Or suppose that a wife is abusing her husband—is he to walk over, on the theory that he is to sacrifice everything for his wife? By no means! Mê genoito!

Now, let me make it clear that I do not think these relationships are conditional. A husband does not stop being the head of his wife because she refuses to arrange all things beneath him. A wife is not freed of that obligation because her husband refuses to sacrifice for her as he should. Scripture does not say that a husband is head of his wife if she submits to him, nor that a wife is to submit to her husband if he is her head. But I do think that what it means to submit—or to be head—changes as the other spouse’s behavior changes.

In the case above, for instance, I think the abused spouse should follow all of the usual procedures. The last thing s/he should do is walk over like a lamb to the slaughter, and I really have no problem with employing physical force in the protection of endangered children, if the situation should call for that. In fact, I would applaud the use of physical force in the protection of endangered children. That’s what physical force is for. But the husband should not give up on his wife, nor the wife on her husband. And (while keeping herself/himself safe, of course, and removing herself/himself from the abusive situation) s/he should do everything in his/her power to bring his/her spouse back. Maybe things are so bad that s/he can’t do anything but pray. The point is, whatever her husband is doing, she finds a way to arrange her life “under” him. Whatever his wife is doing, he finds a way to sacrifice, to interpose. The rebellious spouse remains the central [earthly] fact of the other’s life, even if common sense requires that they be separated.

This “central [earthly] fact of the other’s life” is, I’m pretty sure, the most important thing about how marriage is different from other relationships. As Paul says in 1 Cor. 7:32-33: “The unmarried man is concerned with the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord—but the married man is concerned with the things of the world, how he may please his wife; and he is divided.” And he goes on to say the same thing about the married woman and the unmarried. The centrality of the spouse’s existence in the other’s life can be seen by remembering the unmarried man is called to love all people as Christ loves them and to submit to all believers. And evidently Paul thinks the spousal relationship is significantly stronger than that. So we have centrality. I think that’s the most important thing. But there are two other things that I think deserve to be mentioned: authority and initiative.

First question: leadership. We might well wonder, does the husband have any unique authority in marriage? I don’t mean cultural authority; I mean Scriptural authority. Does the husband have any unique authority over his wife regardless of his culture’s conception of marriage?

I think the answer is a qualified yes. I’m willing to admit that authority is to some extent inherent in the concept of “head.” I mean, after all, it’s a pretty evocative word to use to describe the husband’s role. So yes, I think that at the end of the day the husband’s vote is deciding. But I think it is important to remember that even as the husband has this “authority,” he is first called to serve his wife, and is still called to submit to his wife as his sister in Christ. So the picture I get from that is still not authoritarian. It’s a little bit like a lieutenant who has a very close relationship with his platoon sergeant—sure, technically the LT is in charge, and yes, that does mean something, but a lot less than you might think if you’d never seen them work together. And along the same lines (lest we have any would-be chauvinist dictators out there), there may come a time when the sergeant will refuse a command—not in a spirit of insubordination, but out of love for the lieutenant and respect for the chain of command.

Second question: initiative. Do husbands have a God-given responsibility to take the initiative? I don’t mean occasionally; I think it’s perfectly plain that both spouses (indeed, all people) are going to have to take the initiative at least occasionally. The question is, does the husband have a responsibility to take the initiative most of the time? And if so, in what ways? Praying at dinner? Conversations about the family’s spiritual life? Planning dates? Maintaining the household? Initiating sex?

Again, I think the answer is a qualified yes. It is true, of course, that Christ took the initiative for us spiritually—that he died while we were yet sinners; that he loved us before we loved him. It is also true that in a sense Christ took the initiative for us with respect to our entire lives—because he took the initiative spiritually, our whole lives are changed. And to some extent, as we know, every action we undertake is a spiritual one.

But if you push that line of reasoning too far I think your claims start sounding absurd. Because Christ took the initiative spiritually, a husband must plan most of the dates with his wife? That seems rather silly. Because Christ loved us before we loved him, it is spiritually wrong for a wife to initiate sex most of the time? Come on.

I’m willing to grant you that a husband bears primary responsibility for taking the initiative when it comes to the family’s spiritual life. I think that flows pretty naturally from the analogy between Christ and husband. Most other things (including, in my opinion, who prays most often) are governed by the principle of loving one another. I think who plans what proportion of dates, or who does what proportion of household chores, and all things of that nature, should be determined by what is most loving. If a wife is best loved by her husband planning most of the dates, I think he should do that. If a husband is most loved by her doing most of the household economics, I think she should do that. And if their two preferences conflict, I think they should resolve them in a spirit of love and humility.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

One of the little pleasures I’ve had over the past year has been discovering Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia trilogy. For those of you who are more gaming-literate than I am, this is a new trilogy of games that bears no narrative relation to the original. I suppose if you’re a certain kind of fan that means they’re an abomination. I am not one of those kinds of people, and if you yourself are you’re missing out.

The new Prince of Persia titles (Sands of Time, Warrior Within, and The Two Thrones, in that order) have a number of things to recommend them. At the time Sands of Time came out, I think they were primarily touting the … er, well, the sands of time. You may remember them from the cautionary Penny Arcade comic—not to be abused. The sands give the Prince a number of amusing tricks, which can be categorized as rewinding time, slowing time, and slaying enemies in various ways the specifics of which depend upon the title you’re playing. Do not be fooled. As cool as it is to rewind time in the middle of a fight (and I won’t lie, on occasion that’s ridiculously cool), the sands of time are not the best thing about these games.

The best thing about these games is the movement system. For those of you who were enamored of the Aladdin game for the SNES, I might say it’s like that only better. These games are about running along this wall so you can leap to that column and climb to that pole so you can swing to that ledge so you can run up this wall so you can reach the switch. The movement is fast, fluid, and incredibly fun (nor have I found any problems using WASD and a mouse instead of a joystick, so don’t worry about that even though these were originally console games). There are lots of good things about these games but I think the movement is the most unique.

The other good things these games feature are their character interaction, their fighting system, their aesthetic, and their puzzles (the story is a coming-of-age, so I lump that in with character). You can get them pretty cheap and if you’re the sort of person who takes these kinds of recommendations I recommend you get all three and play through them in order, so as to get the maximum story benefit. If you aren’t, or if you just like reading my game posts, here’s a quick breakdown of the three titles:

Sands of Time is the first of the games and a stand-alone title I’m not sure they ever expected to support a franchise. Sands of Time is heavy on character interaction, aesthetic, movement, and puzzles. Well, none of these games is heavy on puzzles, but Sands of Time is heaviest of the three and its puzzles are most like real puzzles that require spatial visualization and the like. Character is one of the game’s charms, both in the Prince’s voiceover narration (which surprisingly I would rank high on the list of the game’s virtues) and in his Han-and-Leia bickering with his love interest. The love interest is a big part of the story here, and I think they do that whole bit with rather greater skill than video games normally do. The environments are creamy, alabaster-and-sandstone Arabian Nights, which I think works well with the whole tone of the game. The movement system, as noted before, is a lot of fun. It is not a big challenge, which can be both good and bad. On the good side, you don’t have to have mad twitch skillz to make the Prince do cool things; the actual gymnastics are pretty hard to screw up unless you’ve got time pressure or traps to avoid or the like. On the bad side, in my opinion at times the movement puzzles get a little too easy. The worst part of the game, in my opinion, is the fighting system. It’s not that it’s bad; it’s not. It’s just not as clever as the rest of the game, which in my opinion is highly clever. The Prince can use his environment in a fight somewhat (e.g., he can run up an enemy’s face and vault over him to attack from behind) but not as much as you’d expect from the range of movement options he has with his environment.

The Warrior Within is kind of the redheaded stepchild of the series in my opinion. I agree with the Penny Arcade assessment: there’s a good game under there, but it’s obscured by some bad design decisions. For one thing, the aesthetic has gotten much darker and Castlevanian, which they have a good excuse for but can still wear thin after a while. Character is the big weak point in this game, as the Prince has no love interest to have witty banter with and the narration is inexplicably gone. The Prince himself, meanwhile, is either a generic tough guy (“I smolder with generic rage”) or a petulant child with a sword, depending on how you look at it. If you want to see the secret (and most interesting) ending, the one The Two Thrones assumes happened, you have to pick up all nine life upgrades hidden away throughout the game. Personally I had no patience for that, and consulted the internet. On the plus side, the already excellent movement system is essentially the same (with one or two minor upgrades), which is a huge part of the game’s appeal, so I can’t stress that enough. The movement puzzles are significantly more demanding, which I personally think is a good thing given that most of the movement puzzles in Sands of Time looked awesome but were virtually impossible to screw up. And the fighting system has been completely revamped, which is all to the good. Fighting in Warrior Within is much more on par with movement now in terms of fun and is about five times as fun as fighting in the previous title. Largely this stems from the fact that the Prince can interact with his enemies in many more ways. Two flaws in the fighting system remain: the Prince has an “I win now” move in one-on-one duels, and the most efficient way of slaying your foes is frequently dual-wielding. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like dual-wielding as much as the next guy. But given the choice between a six hit handstand combo and manhandling my enemies, my preference is for manhandling every time. One just wishes that hitting a guy six times with a sword wasn’t so darn effective. And then there’s the boss battles. As Archimedes has pungently observed on more than one occasion, giving a boss more hit points does not make it more interesting. Unfortunately, that’s essentially all there is to the boss battles in Warrior Within—more hit points. For a game that’s built on kineticism, you’d think their boss battles would be … I don’t know, clever. But they aren’t, and there’s just no way around that.

The Two Thrones is, in my opinion, the best of the bunch for a number of reasons. The aesthetic isn’t quite back to the dreamland of Sands of Time, but it’s gotten interesting again after the Temple of Doom drear of Warrior Within. And the character interaction is back, in the form of both narration (not as good as in Sands of Time) and banter (better than in Sands of Time). I also admit to being very impressed at the aplomb with which they managed to take the generic rage that suffused Warrior Within and turned it from crass marketing ploy to a genuine step on an integrated coming-of-age story arc that explores the Prince’s descent into and redemption from childish hubris. The fighting has more depth to it, and the automatic win move has been changed so it isn’t an automatic win anymore. In a stand-up fight dual-wielding is still the way to go, but they’ve added a “speed kill” mechanic that allows you to manhandle your enemies in satisfying, highly effective ways if you can sneak up on them. The movement system has been expanded in ways that make it less automatic but not more difficult (translating into more fun), and the lethality of the movement puzzles has been scaled back a bit to what I consider pretty much the optimum level. Spatial reasoning puzzles feature a bit more strongly than in Warrior Within, although I will admit the game could probably do with a bit more of those. Most satisfying from a design standpoint is that they’ve crafted boss battles that actually fit with the game’s overall feel. That is to say, the boss battles are actually interesting, as opposed to requiring mere staying power. While the final boss battle in Warrior Within was the most tedious, the final fight in The Two Thrones is the most satisfying in the game. In fact, it may be the best designed boss battle I’ve ever seen in any game of any genre.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Yesterday I made it to Friday Night Waltz for the first time in almost a month. It was a very happy time. Things that made me particularly happy:

* Thayet (on several levels)
* Infinite pivots with the TD (soooo good!)
* Trying out a new radvin polka variation with Anachoron
* An exhausted but very satisfying last waltz
* The aftermath, even if it wasn't particularly cold

Things that made me not particularly happy:

* Forwardness is appreciated in moderation in the context of a deliberate dating relationship. It is not appreciated otherwise.

The aftermath was particularly good. I don't know what it is about the aftermath of a dance that makes for such good God time. Maybe the utter exhaustion helps to lower some of my natural defenses, so I am less guarded. Maybe it's akin to the closeness that follows a good worship session ... after all, dance and worship aren't that different. Whatever it is, I'm not giving it up if I can help it.

Two of the things that happened on Friday got me thinking. One was trying out the genuflection transition with Anachoron (it almost worked ... I'll get it one of these days). The other was infinite pivots with the TD (by "infinite" I mean that we were canter pivoting a true 180 degrees each time. For those of you who don't know, most of the time even really good pivots don't travel 180 degrees so eventually you have to stop pivoting or you'll curl back into traffic and collide. In theory each pivot should be 180 degrees so you should be able to pivot indefinitely, but that almost never happens.). Anyway, both these events worked up quite a sweat, and made me wonder what I like so much about polka.

Polka is definitely my favorite dance (although if you count "waltz" as a single dance that beats it out). I think the reason for that is that it's ... exuberant is the wrong word. It's like this. The reason I never drive in Meilissa with the windows down is because I like to sing, and I like to sing loudly. I like to roar Disney songs so my stomach muscles quake. I like to let my body go to the limits of what it can do and ride that, like a hang glider riding an updraft or a surfer riding a wave. Or I like to act a song, let it carry me away so my eyes burn or my heart shrinks in sadness. I like to let go, but I like to do it privately. One day I'll find someone I can share that with on a regular basis, perhaps, but for now it's an intensely private thing.

Polka - or any athletic round dance - is kind of like that only less private. The athleticism is a kind of silent roar, the simple joy of stretching my muscles in the same way that singing can be the simple joy of stretching my lungs. There's more to it than that, of course, such as the musical interpretation, and goodness knows I have a fondness for things that are technically difficult, but I think the core of it is the simple joy of letting go. No other dance I know is so unfettered - even lindy hop is too, well, too intricate by comparison. It may be creatively unfettered, but polka is more physically free. It's still a fairly private thing, I suppose, but it's inherently less private. It feels good to share.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.
- Eph. 5:22-24

But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.
- 1 Cor. 11:3

Man is the head of woman … what does that mean? I don’t mean, “What does the Bible mean by submission?” which is a fairly rich topic in itself and one that perhaps does deserve a blog post at some later time. But that topic has gotten a fair amount of play already in various sources. What I’d like to discuss today is a topic that I feel has gotten significantly less play: when is man the head of woman? Or, more specifically, when should a woman submit to a man?

Hitherto I have generally held a vague and uncritical belief that because a wife should submit to a husband in all things (and, therefore, because a husband should lead a wife in all things), it follows that a boyfriend should lead a girlfriend somewhat less, and that any given adult male should lead any given adult female in lesser degrees according to their specific relational context; I would bear a greater leadership responsibility with respect to Blue Rose than I would with respect to a female attorney at work, to whom I would bear a greater leadership responsibility than I would with respect to a woman I met on the street. There is something kind of pleasingly intuitive to this kind of move, which tends to see male-female relationships on a more or less unbroken continuum of intimacy with “strangers” at one end and “married” at the other.

However, it is a move, an exegetical maneuver. Nowhere does Scripture inform me in so many words that I must lead my girlfriend somewhat less than I must lead my wife, and that I must lead my girl friends somewhat less than that. And while the move is somewhat pleasingly intuitive, it becomes less so if one considers certain scenarios. Rose is dating a man now, for instance – does the Bible envision her submitting somewhat more to him than she does to me, but submitting nonetheless to both of us? What about my own mother? One might suppose she falls closer on the intimacy scale than any of my female friends, but it is not at all intuitive to me that my mother should submit to me more than they should. The move from “wives should submit to their husbands” to “women should submit to men” has a fairly good pedigree, but it’s not the only position out there with a good pedigree, and I’d like to discuss whether that’s what Scripture actually teaches.

To begin with, then, it’s worth pointing out that Koine Greek has no distinct word for husband or wife. Once upon a time Greek did have such words, but by the first century those words had long fallen out of general use and surfaced only occasionally as archaisms in poetry. Koine expresses the concept of husband by using the word man in a way that makes the distinction clear from context, and similarly for the concept of wife being expressed by the word woman.

If you think about it, this is not especially strange unless you live in a culture with an appreciable number of single adults. Unfortunately, since we do live in such a culture, it presents certain interpretive difficulties for us. The key texts to consider, I think, are 1 Cor. 11:3 and Eph. 5:23. If you take a look at the Ephesians verse in context, I think you will agree with me that we are justified in translating the words man and woman in that passage as husband and wife. Without spinning a philological argument here, notice that Paul speaks of a man loving his own woman and a woman loving her own man in verses 22 and 28. He clearly meant husband and wife in those verses, and since he had to rely on context to make the distinction clear in the first place, it seems unlikely that Paul would suddenly switch back to meaning man and woman in verse 23. For the same reason, it seems rather unjustified to translate 1 Cor. 11:3 as meaning husband and wife. If you look at the rest of the passage, Paul doesn’t seem to give any linguistic clues that he means a specific man (i.e., a husband) or a specific woman (i.e., a wife). And the point he’s making is about propriety in worship, which certainly doesn’t seem like the sort of topic that’s unique to the husband-wife relationship.

And there, I think, is the rub: it is in 1 Corinthians that Paul says man, generally, is the head of woman. But he does not go on to elaborate what he means by that, except that it has some sort of implications for modesty. It is in Ephesians where he talks about submission, and he never says that women should submit to men. He only says that women should submit to their own men - and this despite apparently believing that man, generally, is the head of woman, generally. Whatever that means.

I admit the case is not airtight, but I see no explicit Scriptural warrant for the proposition that girlfriends should submit to boyfriends, and so on down the continuum of intimacy. I don’t see any explicit Scriptural rejection of that proposition either, but as Archimedes said, you’ll have to walk me through the argument. So far I can’t think of an argument that is more convincing than the plain reading that the only man a woman must submit to is her own. And since the idea that men should lead woman is implicit in the concept of submission in Ephesians, it follows then that the only woman a man must lead is his own.

This is not, of course, to say that these are the only men and women a man or woman can lead. Principles of leadership and submission are, I think, absolutely inescapable in social groupings. A supervising female attorney does bear a responsibility to lead me, and I do bear a responsibility to submit to her. But I submit that that responsibility is contractual, as it were, and not an ineluctable fact about the universe. If I want that responsibility to terminate, all I have to do is not be under her supervision. Nothing will terminate my responsibility to lead my wife. And when it comes to boyfriends and girlfriends, this isn’t to say that it’s not a good idea for a girlfriend to submit to her boyfriend in some limited capacity, and for a boyfriend to lead his girlfriend in some limited capacity. The entire boyfriend-girlfriend relationship is socially invented, after all, and if we’re going to defend it I think it has to be on the basis of preparing the dating couple for marriage. If that’s our justification, then it certainly makes sense for the two to start practicing leadership and submission to one another while it’s still voluntary. But that’s just good sense. Nor am I proposing that it is bad for people to relate that way if they are inclined to do so and they can do so without causing anybody else to stumble.

Why, then, is this relevant at all? I think it’s a question of expectations and demands. If it’s true that women generally are to submit in all things to men generally, then there’s something wrong when that doesn’t happen. Every woman I know ought to demand that I lead in our relationship; egalitarianism is not an option. And of course since every woman I know ought to demand that every man they know lead in their relationship, we will in all likelihood have to develop an elaborate and extra-Biblical system to govern who submits to whom in what circumstances. Now of course you can do that, and to a certain extent I think people already have. But if women are to submit to men generally, then it’s wrong if we haven’t. I mean, is that really what we’re called to? I’m inclined to think not.

Having left out the discussion of what it means to submit to a husband in all things, I think I have skipped over some of the nuances here – obviously there is a sense in which women are supposed to submit to men, inasmuch as we are called to submit to each other. But I think you get what I mean, and I’m curious as to what you think about the matter. I can’t promise to respond to everything (I’m not necessarily looking to get into a debate here), but I would like your opinions. And more importantly your Scriptural interpretations.