Monday, February 11, 2013

Little Boxes



“Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same.”

I was a child in the 60’s and those words were part of that childhood. I remember singing it at school camp in 5th grade and wondering what it meant. (Of course, in those days it would never have occurred to the adults around us to explain what song lyrics meant – we were just given the songs and taught to sing them.) But I really couldn’t fathom why everyone would come out all the same ..

I spent my childhood amazingly oblivious to the pressure to conform. Because of the emotional emptiness and chaos of my home life, trying to differentiate myself and become myself was far more important to me than the approval of the herd. For a child who was so shy and timid in many respects, I was singularly unconcerned about fitting in. It didn’t worry me to say I didn’t care for the Beatles when every other girl in the class was trying to choose her favourite, or (a little older) to be the one who openly admitted that she didn’t know how to dance, wasn’t allowed to watch the ‘in’ TV shows and didn’t own any vinyl records of my own. And it was exactly the same with gender: growing up in an all-girl family and attending all-girl schools, I missed out on learning any rules. I still didn’t understand the little boxes, because no one had pushed me into one and thrown away the key.

Then I got married, and my education began. I learned that I was supposed to live in complete submission to my husband, bring up perfectly disciplined children, keep an immaculate house (who me? well, let’s just say that I am not a naturally tidy person) and be suitably ‘womanly’ on all occasions. Apart from dressing in a feminine way, I had no idea what that meant. 

Then I started to learn:
“Men don’t like women with brains.”
“Women don’t have opinions about the Bible – they leave that to their husbands”
“Why would you want to even speak to other men? Isn’t your husband enough for you?”
“Womanly women would rather work in the church kitchen to serve the men than be in the hall listening to the speaker.”

I was learning about boxes, and that if I didn’t fit neatly into one of the predetermined ones, the church would have to do their best to squeeze me into one, and, like Procrustes’ bed, lop off the bits that didn’t neatly fit inside – all my soul’s sake, of course! Though I could not name it yet, I was discovering a huge, yawning cognitive dissonance at the heart of evangelicalism: all the books and sermons inspire me, as a Christian, to stretch and grow and become all that I can be for Jesus, and yet, at the same time, as a Christian woman, I was to make myself small, smaller, smallest to honour Jesus. The song describes the little boxes as “pink ones .. and green ones, and blue ones and yellow ones” but in the church there were only pink ones and blue ones, and, given my anatomy, I’d better compose my limbs neatly and fit inside the pink one .. or else!

Little boxes are very safe --  look at those impermeable walls! – but oh you can get a cramp tucked up inside them if you haven’t managed to make yourself tiny enough!  Is that really what Jesus died for, so that there might be 2 neat rows of blue Christians and pink Christians, each produced by their respective cookie cutter and lined up with identical smiles?

If we are going to be all that Jesus has called us to be, both male and female, then the first thing we have to do is chop up those little boxes for firewood. We follow a Saviour who came to set the prisoners free. And if this means dispensing with a few man-made rules (like girls stay on the pink squares and boys stay on the blue squares), well it isn’t the first time in history that a few well-established tables have been tipped over in the church.

We are brothers and sisters doing the Kingdom together as the unique and amazing individuals God created us to be. Thirty-six years ago I said my marriage vows and they included the words “forsaking all others ..”. Did that mean that I was going to retreat into a little pink box marked ‘married woman’ and never relate to any other male again? Or did it mean, as I believe it did, that because I was committed to one particular man for all my sexual expression, that I was now free to relate to other men as friends and brothers, without fear of romantic misunderstandings? The boundary around my sexual intimacy has been set, I am free to enter into wholesome, life-giving spiritual and personal intimacy with anybody else, male or female, whom God calls me to befriend. To say that I cannot do that is to say that my gender and sexuality is the most important thing about me, more important than giftedness or character, more important than being a New Creation, who is a member of Christ, a child of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of God. I will stand at the foot of the cross and I will say that the greatest narrative of my life is Jesus, not ‘sex object’.

Jesus came to set us free, and that includes being free from the little pink and blue boxes that evangelical culture wants to lock us into.



This post is part of the February Synchroblog “Cross Gender Friendships”. This is the list of posts that people have contributed


Chris Jefferies – Best of both
Lynne Tait – Little Boxes
Glenn Hager – Sluts and Horndogs
Jennifer Ellen – A Different Kind of Valentine
Karl Wheeler – Friends at First Sight
Elizabeth Chapin – 50 Shades of Friendship

7 comments:

Marta L. said...

I believe that marriage is more than simply a sexual relationship. I'm not married myself, but based on the observations I've made of other folks' marriages it seems to be about a shared life and two partners working for common goals. But surely that doesn't mean you can't have any other friends? I mean, if it did it wouldn't just knock out crossgender friendship, but friendship full stop. And we all seem so much more complex than just our gender. That makes me believe that if a married woman can have a girlfriend, why not a guy-friend?

Your post puts this beautifully and gets in on the fun of idol-busting at the same time. Nicely done!

Chris Jefferies said...

Great post, Lynne!

You are right, we have been set free in order to be free in every aspect of our lives.

We should not be scared of cross-gender friendships, we should value them for what they are. But in doing so we must treat one another honourably - as we must in all things.

Liz said...

Lynne, Thanks so much for contributing and for pointing out that avoiding cross-gender friendships makes our life in Christ smaller than it should be.

PS Please add the list of links to the end of your post. You can find the list here:

http://synchroblog.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/link-list-february-2013-synchroblog-cross-gender-friendships/

kathyescobar said...

oh, i loved this post! thank you for sharing. i loved this paragraph especially: " If we are going to be all that Jesus has called us to be, both male and female, then the first thing we have to do is chop up those little boxes for firewood. We follow a Saviour who came to set the prisoners free. And if this means dispensing with a few man-made rules (like girls stay on the pink squares and boys stay on the blue squares), well it isn’t the first time in history that a few well-established tables have been tipped over in the church." here's to chopping up boxes and burning them up!

Jennifer Ellen said...

What a great post! It's amazing how much sin can enslave us through fear as much as through commission.

Amy M said...

I love the idea of the boundary around sexual intimacy being set by marriage, and that allowing a freedom that isn't available otherwise. A very profound statement, I love it, totally resonate with it. It puts articulation to my thoughts on the matter.

Thanks!

Carol Kuniholm said...

Thank you so much for this post!
The boxes are not just male and female, but married/single, young/old, parent/non-parent. I had a young friend, parent of two, tell me she felt excluded by friends who had three or more children. As if we can only find points of connection with those in the exact same narrowly defined demographic.
We have so much to learn from each other - let's chop those boxes up and burn them. thank you!