From Tragedy to Restorations: Measuring up to practically perfect, Article 2 of 10

Measuring up to practically perfect
Article 2 of 10

By Elizabeth Lane Miller and Helene Fisher,

Gender and Religious Freedom (GRF)

This article is part of the series Pursuing Partnership: Men and Women in Ministry.

Mary Poppins famously assessed her new charges, Jane and Michael, by literally taking out a tape measure. Michael’s height read, “stubborn and extremely suspicious.” Not particularly flattering, and neither was Jane’s measure.

Ironically, the only person able to fully measure up according to her own tape measure was Mary Poppins herself! Her measure read “practically perfect in every way.”

But the fictional Poppins never had to contend with restrictions like many Christian women around the globe who live with hostility to their faith. In real life, many female Christian converts live with a husband who distrusts her and checks her phone to see who she’s connecting with online: the wrong people, or perhaps a clandestine affair?

He tracks her location, too. If she secretly meets Christian friends, it must be at coffee shops or in neutral homes. She faces the constant threat of being found out, especially since in her society this kind of monitoring of women is commonplace.

We might wonder how this woman’s church is helping, but what if it feels to her like the Christian community just adds more pressure to be perfect? “Be careful that you do not anger your husband. God hates divorce. Make yourself look good and cook him a nice meal.”

Perhaps this example sounds unrelatable to your circumstances. Yet, in our own lives, we all face so many expectations to be practically perfect. Other people in our lives seem to have secret (or not-so-secret) tape measures for us. If we are honest, we also use our own personalized tape measures to assess other people.

How can we check if we ourselves are caught up in this? It can be illuminating to take the time to reflect on five questions:

  1. What gives someone value in my culture?
  2. What does my society suggest different people’s primary purpose is?
  3. Who gets blamed when someone oversteps a limit?
  4. In what situations is someone allowed to hold authority? When and to whom are others expected to submit?
  5. What must people do to gain acceptance in my culture?

We know that societal tape measures are shaping our everyday beliefs about ourselves and others when we see:

  1. people being offered different levels of status depending on their appearance, number of children, role in the church, wealth, background, education, connections, believer background, ethnicity, etc.
  2. children and teens being guided to seek respect in life through their studies, family role, or careers
  3. boys and girls being allowed divergent freedoms, especially as they get older
  4. different groups being seen as either naturally authoritative or needing to submit to others’ authority
  5. strong shame or stigma attached to different people for different reasons.

Each set of expectations exhausts us more and more. They leave us with confusion, fear and insecurity. Almost every human fails and falls below that elusive “practically perfect” benchmark.

Like the persecuted woman’s Christian community, sometimes, we try to bring healing but, instead actually burden one another with yet another set of social expectations.

This is a tragedy because research shows that religious persecution of men and women is tailored differently according to what gives men and women value in their church. If we as a church use our society’s measures of value, purpose and acceptance, we are easy targets.

It can be cathartic to realize that God never intended humanity to live in societies where our inherent value or purpose had to be defended, or where blame and shame stalked our every interaction.

God created humanity to be defined by who He is and His purposes for us. Every essential part of humanity was made to be connected to the God whose image they bore. Our value, purpose,limits, authority and innocence were all connected to our God.

So, what happened?

It is Satan who introduced inequality, distrust, blame, control and shame into the world, not God. Satan’s broken patterns are what shape our social expectations today as well. Ever since the serpent won a mind-game battle with humanity’s first couple, we have been carelessly mimicking our Adversary’s character instead of God’s.

It is a tragedy when the church reinforces this brokenness and expects us to measure up to the world’s tape measures, but calls it biblical.

Whether in missional contexts or at home, the church is to stand apart, recognizing brokenness for what it is and offering, instead, oxygen and freedom found in God.The transformation that comes from the renewing of our minds requires us to let go of worldly tape measures we didn’t even realize we’ve spent a lifetime using.

The great news is that Jesus’ expectations sit well in our souls and bring peace to our spirits, and strength to our communities. He invites us to cast all our burdens on him, for his yoke is easy and his burden is light.

Next week in Culture Eats Theology for Breakfast, we will explore the first of five schemes used to undermine Christian resilience: the devious use of half-truths … within the church.

With permission: Throughout this series we will draw upon the church training material available through Elizabeth and Helene are the pioneering co-authors of Specific Religious Persecution reports published between 2018-2023 by Open Doors International’s World Watch Research.

This article is submitted by Wendy Wilson of Missio Nexus and of Women’s Development Track.  Women’s Development Track is a Missio Nexus member.  Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.

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