I’m not the biggest fan of Advent. Advent is the waiting time before Christmas in the church year (for Lutherans, most Protestant Christians) and it starts on Sunday, in two days. It is where we anticipate the arrival of Christ (the messiah, savior, and king), ironically who comes in the form of a vulnerable, non-shiny-king-man-like tiny baby, born to a teenager who isn’t married, in a farm/cave on the margins of society. This is a counter-cultural message if I’ve ever heard one – the God of the universe shows up in our midst, in a smelly, hot place somewhere in the modern-day Middle East, precisely to show us unconditional and redemptive love.
God comes to live among us in the form of baby Jesus. So in a few weeks – Happy Birthday, Jesus! I usually like parties. But waiting for this party can be a little exhausting, because we wait for three-or-more whole weeks. All this waiting makes me feel like I can’t do anything, like I’m powerless to the timing, to my circumstances, my life, my vocations. On bad days it sounds like “Why do I even try?” or “Why did today happen if it feels like I did nothing of any consequence?”
Advent is about waiting, stepping out of the way, surrendering. These are verbs to describe the Christian walk and listening to God’s call, mostly yes. Verbs to describe the walk of women, definitely yes – According to Suzanne Venker in “The war on men.” Venker writes that women have bitten off more than they can chew when it comes to feminists who “first took to the streets in the 1970s” (Please see “suffragettes” and first wave feminism that dates back to the 1800s). Women have strayed from their natural femininity (what does that mean? Anybody?), thus booting men off their pedestals to the point that 71% of single men from her research do not desire to get married someday. Women have become repulsive to the point where men do not desire them because as she claims “women aren’t women anymore.” Instead of sticking to our “angry” feminist agendas, Venker believes women are called to “surrender to their nature,” so “marriageable men will come out of the woodwork.” Women should revert to being passive, surrender to men’s desires, and step out of the way for men to lead us into the future.
This might be a slight characterization of Venker’s claims, but it is not far off from the core of her message. Women should wait for men to deem their actions/beliefs/attitudes/sassy walk appropriate, and women should suppress their will and surrender to passivity in order to submit to the male gaze and achieve their ultimate dream.
As someone waiting, not only spiritually in Advent, but in employment matters, I cannot read “The war on men” and not have the urge to scream. At no point during Advent, this very real “waiting time” do I feel I am called to be passive and submit my will and all authority in our relationship to my husband. I can’t even type that with a straight face. He would be so mad, because I know my strength, authority and sense of self are some of the key reasons why he married me, just ask him! So when an article comes along like Venker’s, that implores women to surrender and silence themselves so dominant male voices can drown them out – especially as we start Advent, a sacred waiting and surrendering time – I fear for women who don’t hear a message of hope, leadership, and strength that I am blessed to hear often from my spouse and those voices of which I surround myself with.
Try translating Venker’s definition of “surrendering/waiting for a man” to spirituality. It’s a dangerous slope. The rationale goes – “We are all indebted to Christ’s incarnation (and sacrifice), so we should wait and give up our will with no hope of making good, informed personal or public decisions.” A humble faith becomes a pair of pious shackles. Yes, waiting and surrendering is part of Advent. But giving up one’s will altogether is not. Venker’s personal deflation of a woman’s will (that have echoed loud and clear before Venker’s piece came along) feeds many of our perceptions of Advent and the spiritual practice of waiting. I do not believe we are called to surrender ourselves all together because – Christ does not call us to give up hope! We are not called to be hopeless! That is the opposite message of Advent – where we are hopeful for the coming of Christ!
The title of this blog post is “The War on Waiting.” I am at war with waiting – because it’s this sick pious Venker-inspired “surrendering” that fills my description of “waiting” as my faith cripples from the weight of “not enough” and “imperfections” and “if only I was more patient.” For the unemployed, for the survivors of medical ailments, racism, sexism and homophobia, waiting is not fun. But thank God we are given the gifts of reason, relationships, the capacities for dreaming, joy, and hopefulness. Waiting is not the opposite of these things, it’s the opportunity to find meaning in these things.
I do not believe God calls us, male or female, to be passive in our waiting. God calls us, even in this time of Advent, to bring our whole selves to the table – to use our gifts, including the gifts of our individual and collective voices, to serve our neighbor, even if that means speaking the truth in love. As we use our gifts, we instinctively dream of what could be, and hope for a future where we bring about positive change in our local and global communities. Waiting is not a time to put our brains on the shelf, for women to sweep their voices under the rug, or even for men to do the same. In this Advent time we are called to wait passionately, fervently, in love and in hope, out loud and in action.