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The Crazy Cycle

March 1, 2012

A couple weeks ago, I was in a meeting with the leaders of our Sunday school class discussing this semester’s curriculum. It was decided (by people in a previous meeting where I was absent) that we would watch the DVD series for Dr. Emerson Eggerichs’ Love and Respect. I’ve read through the book (admittedly, while in bookstores or looking at friends’ copies) and some of the marital advice it gives is sound counsel. I say “some” because much of it is so entangled in gender stereotypes that it’s difficult to pull out those nuggets of truth that would be helpful to a marriage like mine. It’s also much more ado than one verse calls for since he bases all of his thinking around a very narrow interpretation (not necessarily an errant interpretation) of Ephesians 5:33:

However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

He determines, from this verse and a series of passages that could easily be viewed as proof texting, that what motivates men (what they need most from their wives) is respect and what motivates women (what they need most from their husbands) is love. I have a hard time sorting out those two concepts and the way Dr. Eggerichs defines them is wholly unhelpful. At one point, he cites secular surveys of men and women and one conducted by his ministry that say his conclusions are true because the people have spoken:

We asked 7,000 people this question: when you are in a conflict with your spouse or significant other, do you feel unloved or disrespected? 83% of the men said “disrespected.” 72% of the women said, “unloved.” Though we all need love and respect equally, the felt need differs during conflict, and this difference is as different as pink is from blue!

Pink and blue? For reals? This bit from historian Jo Paoletti about the pinking of girls fashions would probably blow his mind:

Before 1900, pink and blue were two of a range of pastels appropriate for babies and children, symbolic of gender to the same extent that shamrocks symbolized luck — in a light-hearted, fanciful way, not a moral imperative. From 1900 to around 1940, their modern associations were taking shape, but were often reversed in some parts of the United States, and still not taken too seriously. From around 1940 until the mid-1980s, pink and blue had their now-familiar associations, with regional exceptions and lots of other options. Since around 1985, pink has been not only a strong symbol of femininity, but neutral and non-pink options have been gradually edged out.

What is surprising about this is that a scholarly social student like Dr. Eggerichs is not asking whether those survey answers are naturally occurring and innately gender-specific or if (like the pink/blue issue of color) they are part of larger cultural messages: that men aren’t real men unless other men want to be them and women want to [Becky censored. We all know how that one ends], that women are all holding out for a hero to love them and save them from whatever. He even cites (albeit in tongue-in-cheek fashion) that age-old prophet of wisdom, Rodney Dangerfield, as proof positive that men really want to be respected.

See? That’s what men want! Because Rodney Dangerfield said so. Know who else said so? A whoa-man. Said it better, too, I might add. Even spelled that sucker out.

Would NOT catch this woman in a cheesy soccer movie. No ma'am. Unless there were a fabulous hat involved.

I plead the fifth amendment in even knowing this movie exists. I refuse to answer questions about how many times I've seen it because in answering I may incriminate myself. LAWYERED.

Dr. Eggerichs goes on with his premise to say that marital conflict often arises because the sexes don’t understand these things about one another (read: Mars, meet Venus, meet Jesus). He identifies a “crazy cycle” where a man does not demonstrate love, so a woman refuses to show respect, which makes him withdraw love and so on. It’s a cycle and it gets crazy. Again, I can see some element of truth in the idea that in a marriage, there are often two culprits and that conflicts can easily build up over chicken-and-the-egg kinds of stuff. The issue I have here is that these are topical problems. Problems of a marriage that lacks maturity. If we’re really at the “Well, well, she pushed ME first!” phase, then we’re probably not addressing the root causes of a conflict. It could be a loveless marriage. It could be a respect-less marriage. Working things out by adding love or respect in either direction could really improve the situation. At the root of either lovelessness or disrespect is some kind of sin: his, mine, ours. This series never really presses the button and calls it that. Everyone involved is “a woman of goodwill” or a “man of goodwill.” Most of the marital discord we’ve personally experienced comes from being a woman or man of ill-will. A grown-up would start by admitting that at least to God and themselves. Marriage is for grown-ups.

These are a few of the problems I have with the thing. So in that meeting of Sunday school leaders and teachers, I began to raise objections. It came out a total mess: “I just think fundamentally, it’s not as simple as pink and blue. And what does it say if you’re a woman who ‘thinks blue’ or a man who ‘thinks pink?’ Are you less of a man or woman? This kind of thing makes me feel like I am; and, my marriage doesn’t fit this model. It’s a good marriage that doesn’t live up to good marriage by these stereotypes.” I apologized several times because I couldn’t quite say what I meant in the midst of a crew of people celebrating the awesomeness of the series. One of the leaders, in an attempt to make me feel better offered, “No, I see what you mean…This may fit 99% of people, but you might be that 1% it doesn’t and that’s okay.” I said, “I know, but see? That ‘1%’? That’s the kind of thing that makes me feel like a weirdo. I hate feeling like a total weirdo. Even if I am, I don’t want to feel like that at church.” I think she saw that her help did more hurt, but her husband chimed in an said, “That’s why you should teach the second half of the video series. They need to hear that perspective.”

Game-changer. So now, my husband and I will be “facilitating” (that’s Baptist for “talking about what the video said”) the last three weeks of our time in the series. This seems like a good thing. We can speak for the 1%. Maybe we’ll find out there’s 2.5% of us. If there’s a moment, like there was this week, where Dr. Eggerichs goes on a nostalgia trip to the 1950s “when America was at its best” we can mention that segregation, etc. wasn’t our best by a long shot and apologize to history or the several black/interracial couples in our class. That like marriage, like our Christian life, this country is also a work in progress. Or we might leave that side trip alone to tackle the topic at hand. Who knows? I doubt we can recover the whole thing. What I’m most concerned about (and what my man is concerned about, but with less fit or flare) is that we will get up there and inadvertently firebomb the whole thing. After all, many people on our leadership team LOVE and RESPECT the thing. We want to redeem it, but it’s difficult when we see so many errors.

To me, the biggest problem of all with this study is that no one else seems to have a problem with it but us. Several of the people leading our Sunday school class lobbied for us to study this material. Most of them are outright excited to talk about the teachings in this series. We are not.

The real crazy cycle is the one I’ve been on this last week. I actually called my husband yesterday from the gym sobbing because now everyone will know I’m a feminist (yeah, ’cause that’s a mystery) and they’ll discount everything we have to say because I’m a mouthy woman full of error and he’s the man I led astray with my witchy ways. In the recent days, I have begun to question whether or not my judgment on the topic is sound. When so many people you trust buy into something nutty you begin to wonder if you’re the one who’s crazy because you’re the only person who hates the taste of the Kool-Aid. I’ve had ridiculous conversations with God and the hubs as I wondered any number of things (most of them untrue or just wackadoodle):

  • Do I even a gift for teaching anymore? Maybe the Holy Spirit took it away and gave me something else, like hospitality, because He thinks my house needs to be cleaner (as if that’s what hospitality is all about).
  • I used to be good at discernment, but if I’m the only one who doesn’t like this (in my panic, already excluding the husband and our mighty two-ness), I must have lost that, too. Crap! I hate cleaning!
  • Maybe we shouldn’t be members of our church because everyone thinks I’m an egalitarian and no one likes me there anyway.
It all spiraled out of control very quickly. This is the crazy cycle you can get on when as the black sheep, you start looking around at the furry white furor around you instead of keeping your eyes on the tall guy with the staff up ahead. This happens to me a lot. It’s hard to be the weirdo-in-residence. I also struggle with being a person who sometimes sees things before other people do (not in an ESP way, but in a solved-the-puzzle way). I can be obnoxious pointing those things out (again, no big secret).
When does critical thinking become just plain critical? When does satire or sarcasm to make a point become sardonic? I debate this every time I write one of these posts—especially the ones about widely-adopted published things or sacred Kirk Cameron films. This truth really sticks in my craw on a regular basis:
Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.-James 3:1-6

I have a high threshold for my own meanness, so I can’t always tell. I’ve gotten better at holding my horses, but sometimes, things do get away from me. And when they do, this is pretty much the scenario:

People create the strangest wallpaper images.

We’re hoping to talk with our Sunday school pastor about what he wants us to do (or not do) with this material. I’m calming down a little bit about it and trusting that through prayer I’ll recalibrate and say what needs to be said (and only that, God help me). I’ve talked to a pal and she told me that her marriage is also a 1% one, so that makes me feel a little better. She even offered notes from her small group’s study on Love & Respect and, from what I can tell, it was a lively conversation. Perhaps our poll numbers will go up and we’ll land a double-digit when it’s all said and done. Either way, I have to remain comfortable in the discomfort of being the weirdo. You’d think I’d be used to that by now.

Nope.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 1, 2012 2:47 am

    How does it feel to be in the top 1%?? 😉 I was reading what you were writing — and I couldn’t help but think of Joyce Meyers. (Personally, I love the story where she hits herself in the head with her hairbrush in frustration.) I have this thing, where I go to church, and they want me to be Donna Reed. They want me to bake cookies. They want me to be Betty Crocker. They think that if I just become truly “Christian” — I will be Donna Reed and Betty Crocker together as one. I don’t want to be either one of them.

    I’m Joan of Arc. I want to lead a revolution. I’m made for that. I want a sword in my hand. I want to be riding a horse. Like this: Revelation 19:11And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. 12His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.
    13And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. 14And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. 15And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.

    Folks want me to be 1950’s. I’m apocalyptic in my creed. I don’t want to go backwards. I want to go forwards. I want to break the “glass ceiling” that is the enemy in the 2nd Heaven who blocks us on this earth from re-entering Zion (Eden). I’m militant. I’m made for war. I’m apostolic. 🙂

    And, I hear you — being like me. You don’t fit the mold. They think perhaps you are an ugly duckling. And, you start wondering if perhaps you are an ugly duckling.

    But, like Joyce Meyers, perhaps you are a beautiful swan… in the top 1% of whatever category you and she find yourselves. Different from the pack. Unique. Made to be you.

    On love and respect, the Bible doesn’t command us to Respect God and Respect one another. The Bible commands us to love God and love one another. God has always taught me that respect and love are synonymous. Without boundaries, that comprises respect, love cannot be known. There are boundaries. Sometimes women are co-dependent. They “love too much”. They violate the boundary lines of their husbands “trying to be close”. But, to be close, you must let the other be who he is and speak for yourself letting him speak for himself and listening.

    Maybe you just already have that together.

  2. Elizabeth permalink
    November 2, 2012 8:04 pm

    I’m browsing your blog today after I noticed it linked in your instagram. Just wanted to comment even though I know this is an old post to say that it’s nice to see someone who’s thinking the things that are in my brain. We read this book in our small group, and I think it’s alllllmost offensive to both genders to boil all of this down to such simplicity. I agree that he definitely has some good points and helpful tips, but as a woman (who is perhaps filled with too much testosterone,) I would like respect dude.

    • November 2, 2012 11:23 pm

      Thanks. I forgot I linked to this from Instagram and I’ve been expanding followership there. Honestly a little nervous now that people know my bidness, but if someone’s going to wander over here, I’m glad it’s you!

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