Category Archives: Sex and Gender Issues

Rise Up, My Love (221): A Heap of Wheat and Sweet Communion

monet-haystacks-dorsay-museumSong of Solomon 7:2 “Thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies.” We can’t leave this beautiful text yet, because there’s still a lot left to glean! During the fall harvest festival, piles of wheat decorated with flowers were often placed in parallel rows on the eastern threshing floors. At this time of harvest, the wheat was fully ripe and glowed with a golden sheen, and to these middle-easterners, a body the color of wheat was believed to be the most beautiful.* (Lloyd Carr. The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 554).sheaf-of-wheat-holland-miIt is easy to imagine Solomon thinking back to the beauty of an abundant harvest festival…noticing in his wife’s belly the same golden sheen and soft roundness that reminded him of “a heap of wheat set about by lilies.” Lilies—trumpets fragranced with an almost intoxicating scent— but the snow-white symbol of purity. “Set about with lilies” can mean “to be decorated with,” but it can also mean “to be guarded by.” white-lily-chateau-de-chenonceau-05-15-16Her belly, the overlay of her womb, was enhanced by an almost irresistible aroma but also guarded by her purity. The secret passageway to her womb was “set about with lilies”— wondrous, but kept only for him. And here, we are brought once again to the tabernacle door where we sense the glow of the Shekinah glory within. bread-and-wine-juiceHer navel like wine…her belly like wheat…wine and bread…the two staples of a feast…the two elements of communion. How often in marriage I have sensed the holiness of the marital sex and recognized it as the physical counterpart to spiritual communion. Truly the marriage bed is holy (Hebrews 13:4), and marriage is intended as the physical testimony in this world to the spiritual realities that exist in the marriage between Christ and his bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:21-32).  Is anything blocking your fellowship, or are you celebrating communion with joy these days?

High Teas and Birthday Parties: Killing Three Birds with One Party

high-tea               Well, hopefully we didn’t really kill any birds, bees, or bodies, quichebut we really did have fun last week with our annual high tea, and I wanted to share recipes for a couple of high tea staples: cucumber sandwiches and scones. lettuce-wraps      But first, the story, since if there’s anything I love, it’s to repeat a good tale! candle-in-a-tea-cupAfter meeting for several years to spoil each other on our birthdays, Cindi, Susan, and I started feeling a bit guilty for not including our spouses somehow,birthday-cake-flourless-chocolate-torte since they were always working hard to make it possible for us to be “at home” moms who could celebrate birthdays together (now that our kids are grown up).birthday-cakeSo, we started the tradition of a winter high tea (given that the way to a husband’s heart is half through his stomach). birthday-partyRex and Steve’s birthdays are exactly one week apart, so it’s pretty easy to celebrate both their birthdays by scheduling the tea on the weekend in between! korean-beef-kabobsWe each bring two savory and two sweet offerings, drink many cups of tea, savor the sweetness of a leisurely evening together, and go home feeling quite happy. sesame-seedWhen I was a young bride, one of my mentors said her theory on marital contentment was, “Keep him jolly from a little too much eating and groggy from a little too much lovin’.” sharing-a-high-tea-together     In forty-three years, I haven’t found a reason to dispute her wisdom!  🙂

Here’s my recipe for cucumber sandwiches, which I’ve eaten at every high tea from the great Northwest’s Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC, to the Southeast’s Garden View Tea Room at the Grand Floridian in Disney…to London’s Harrod and on many a Princess cruise sailing in the deep blue seas of the world. If you’re going to have an authentic high tea, you really need cucumber sandwiches, and they’re about the easiest thing in the world to make!

cucumber-finger-sandwichesCucumber Finger Sandwiches

1 cucumber sliced very (key word) thin, preferably in a processor. I learned this secret from someone married to an Englishman: Press the cucumber slices gently between paper towels to remove the excess juice.

8  oz. well softened creamed cheese. Stir together gently (not in a food processor).

truffle-saltFlavor with a pinch each of truffle salt (okay, sea salt or table salt works too), pepper, garlic and onion powder (powder, not salt; be careful not to oversalt), basil, dill weed, and chives. Chill.

To serve, slice the crusts off plain white bread and prepare them, but don’t fill the sandwiches until the very last minute, because they’ll get soggy in no time if they sit around. Make up your sandwiches and cut them in half  just when you’re ready to serve them.

gluten-free-blueberry-sconesGluten-free Blueberry Scones

Scones with clotted cream and jams are another classic staple of high teas. Susan needs gluten-free options, so I made these with gluten-free flour, but you can make them exactly the same way using regular flour:

gluten-free-bisquick2 cups Bisquick (gluten-free or regular)
1/2 c. (1 stick) softened butter
3 eggs
1 T. milk

Blend in a mixer only until all the ingredients are mixed. Don’t overblend, or it will make them tough. Add 1 pint blueberries, stirring them in very gently by hand with a spoon. The mix will hardly stick to the blueberries, but it needs to be coarse or the scones will be too wet when they bake. Form into 12 balls (flour your hands if you need to) on a cookie sheet. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 350° for 20 minutes. Turn up the heat to 400° for 5 minutes or until just starting to turn a golden brown.  Serve warm with whipped cream and jams. (The classic term is “clotted” cream, but I make mine “clotted” by whipping it until it’s almost stiff…but not yet butter, and I add 1 T. sugar per cup of cream, but I’m a sugar hawk. You don’t have to do that.)

plate-of-finger-foods-at-high-teaThere is nothing better for a man, than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor. This also I saw, that it was from the hand of God.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24)salami-and-pepper-roll-ups

 

Rise Up, My Love (219): The Beauty of a Full Wine Goblet

vase-of-lilies-chateau-de-chenonceau-loire-valley-franceSong of Solomon 7:2 “Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like a heap of wheat set about with lilies.” Verses 1 and 2 of chapter 7 begin a beautiful love song which offers very intimate, explicit details about the bride’s body…and it has been said that “God does not stutter” when He describes the sensual delights of marriage (Craig Glickman, A Song for Lovers, p. 83). louvre-mademoiselle-caroline-riviere-by-jena-auguste-dominiqueIn chapter 4, the bridegroom detailed seven features that He especially loved about his bride: her eyes, hair, teeth, lips, temples, neck, and breasts. If Solomon had been a sculptor, this would have been called a “bust” carving…just the head and chest. marble-statue-at-louvreNow, three chapters and many experiences later, he repeats (with some expansions) his original praises, but adds several more descriptions that were not mentioned in the previous sonnet, carving out an exquisite “marble statue” of her complete form, toe to head: her feet, thighs, navel, belly, breasts, neck, eyes, nose, head, and hair. Some commentators suggest that this fuller description would seem to indicate a greater knowledge…and a deeper love.

And yet, no one contests that the praises recorded in chapter 4 follow the wedding. Certainly the groom would have been able to behold his “Eve” in her entirety at that point. Why did he praise only the “top half” of her body at first, and now praise everything? It almost seems as if King Solomon delighted in “what worked”…in those aspects of her body that were actually functioning… fulfilling their purpose.

In a marriage, I believe this happens. A man is often attracted first to a face and figure, but what he grows to appreciate more deeply as the marriage progresses is all his wife does: her busy feet, the wonder of mothering their children…and then all the things he loved at first. Notice the model wife in Proverbs 31; it isn’t her great beauty that is praised, but her diligence and good works.

This seems consistent with the spiritual model as well. In the early season of our “marriage” (first years of salvation), the king delights to find us watching, submitting, learning, speaking, thinking, standing, and nurturing…and he praises us for these beautiful qualities. Later—after the anguish of learning how to treasure Him more than we do ourselves…to love him more than our own life…and learning to be fruitful for him— we find that he delights in our busy feet which carry the gospel of peace… our “jeweled thighs” that move to do his will with the precision of a master clock maker’s own, prized “seventeen-jewel” watch…and our navel and belly, from whence come spiritual offspring.

No, I do not think King Solomon was praising her more completely because he now had some greater knowledge of her physical body and its visual delights. I believe he praised her more fully because she had learned to delight him with her whole body, and he took pleasure in that.

ArtPrize 8 Winners…and Tips for ArtPrize 9 Contestants

lizzie-checking-out-from-the-rising-of-the-sunAfter 19 days with hundreds of thousands of visitors viewing 1,453 entries from 44 countries at 171 venues here in Grand Rapids, 380,119 votes were cast to determine which entries were the best of the best! wounded-warrior-dogsAlas, I was not among that starry group, but I can definitely take my hat off to the winner of the public vote, James Mellick, whose entry was called “Wounded Warrior Dogs,” an exhibit designed to raise awareness and support for vets using wooden carvings of several canine warriors who were wounded in war.  xThe other (juried) $200,000 grand prize was given to Stacey Kirby for her “The Bureau of Personal Belonging,” which was a three-part installation hearkening back to 1968, interrogating visitors about their views on sexual identity and gender in order to determine if they were “valid” members of society. Ummm.  benedicts-visit-from-the-rising-of-the-sun-artprize-8Despite the fact that there are now fifty-eight gender options for Facebook users these days, under 2% of the population self-report as anything other than heterosexual, so I’m not sure why gender studies have become all the rage on college campuses across our continent, but I’m certain that how we answer questions about gender is not the proper litmus test for our validity as members of society. It’s my theory that if we are human, we are valid. Nevertheless, we are called to be law-abiding, not law-breaking, and countries differ widely on their laws, which (whether or not anybody’s willing to admit it) are all based on moral ethics. What is moral and what is not? What is so immoral that the society is willing to outlaw it? Tough issues, and obviously highly charged with emotion, as we each defend our ideas of right and wrong based on whatever makes us believe this or that is right or wrong. Right? And, those issues really never disappear. As William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”   meijer-garden-panel-from-artprize-8When Alan and I left a paneled interview of the artists that exhibited at Meijer Garden, I whispered in his ear, “Well, I have no worries of ever winning a juried award!” The popular vote is totally unpredictable and as capricious as people, but the juried vote is much more predictable and follows distinct patterns.   recycled-items-for-artprize-entryIf you’re after a juried prize for 2017, I have a few tips for you! Tips one and two: be sure your work is modern art, not traditional, and use recycled waste. ditch-liliesThe singular contestant who was ranked in the top twenty for both the popular and juried votes was a man who gathered dead day lily stems from ditches around Grand Rapids and lined them up in such a way that they cast interesting shadows on a wall. ditch-lilies-2Clever, and his play with light was creative, but when interviewed, it sounded like he came up with his plan and executed the project in a day or two after arriving in GR, and the fact that he was a finalist in both categories was a bit deflating for those of us who spent months or years preparing our exhibits. artprize-8-mural-with-armstrong-familyTip three: you’ll get the most positive attention if you can come up with some creative way to make a philosophical statement that reflects support for gender diversity. artprize-8-family-visiting-from-the-rising-of-the-sunOtherwise, (tip four) come to ArtPrize for the joy of it! Create to give, not to take, and like Eric Liddell, take delight in sensing God’s pleasure in what you’re doing.  artprize-8-kathryn-w-armstrong-with-helen-bI returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).monarch-butterfly-exhibit

Zootopia: Can Utopian Dreams Come True?

zootopiaBy now, probably everybody and their bunny have seen Zootopia, but it was so cute that I want to write about it anyway in case you missed watching because you thought it was just a Disney movie for kids. It is that, but Zootopia is much more. It’s complicated, and I think it will be a classic.

Zootopia looks into racism and stereotyping, and there’s definitely a call to understand and value everybody, whether they’re rabbits or foxes, but the overarching theme is about living your dreams, and that’s a salient topic for all of us regardless of our age. The question it raises is: Are you willing to live your dream, even though it’s going to be hard?

Am I? Are you? What is your dream? Have you thought about it lately?

Recently, I’ve being conversing with a friend who’s been dear to me for over 45 years. Not long ago, he left his wife to begin a new life. “Coming out” I think it’s called. Because this person (and his wife) mean so much to me, I’m trying to understand what motivates such behavior.

Although I might be wrong, my guess is that most of us who are in heterosexual relationships and have been married more than a few years have gone through one or more cycles of feeling like the marriage was no longer (or perhaps never) fulfilling, and that life might be greener on the other side of some fence. I’ve heard people joke that married people are like flies: Those who are in want out, and those who are out want in.

I am thankful for my marriage, and I don’t mean to disparage marriage, but I will say that I’ve struggled a lot at times in my marriage, and if I thought I could somehow (anyhow) absolve myself from my commitment to marriage, I’m sure I would have quit at some point along the way. Marriage is tough. It isn’t always fulfilling. It’s probably never “the dream” that we imagine it’s going to be before we get married.

If we want to “live the dream,” then we’d better make sure our dreams are rooted in reality, and we need to be visionary so we can recognize our dream when it’s broken and becomes a different stained glass design from what we imagined. In a zootopian utopia, perhaps a bunny can become a cop (especially if teamed up with a wiley fox), but in this world’s present dystopia, I think the only implausibly possible dreams that come true are those backed by the steady hand of God, who can actually make “all things possible.”

Got a dream? Can you open your hand and give it to God? If it’s a good dream, He can make it come to life. If it’s not a good dream, He can help you let it go and show you the dream He’s dreaming for you. His dreams are best anyway! May we search and find the place where our dreams meet God’s dream for us.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:1-2, NIV).

 

Rise Up, My Love (201): The Second Grace—An Enduring Faith

SS 200:08.21.16Song of Solomon 6:9 “My undefiled.” To defile something is to make it impure or violate its chastity. To be undefiled is to be pure and holy, with untarnished luster and unsullied reputation. Ah, how my heart condemned me as I read this text! “Woe is my, for I am undone; because I am a (wo)man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts” (Isaiah 6:5). Every time I think an impure thought or utter a careless word, I am defiling myself. How can I ever think of myself as chaste and holy?? We cannot see our king without recognizing how utterly impure and unlovely we are…how repeatedly and horribly we’ve failed him, how unfit and unworthy we are to be his bride. Remember? “Look not upon me, because I am black!” Yet, even after our conversion, we fail. Still I am tarnished and impure, prone to wander and frustrated by my chronic weaknesses. How can our Lord praise us as his “undefiled?” I guess, for me, it will always remain a mystery. Perhaps because he is able to look ahead he see us as we shall be. Perhaps, because he is God, he is able to see us as pure and undefiled because we are washed by the blood of Christ moment by moment and dressed in his righteousness…so that what God sees is Christ’s perfection, not our sin. Perhaps he is able to look at our faith—as tiny a mustard seed as it may be—and see that it has never died, so that our faith has not become defiled in a sense, and we are purely “justified by faith” (Romans 3:28;5:1 and Galatians 3:24).

In marriage, I have been a woeful failure when measured against God’s standard of never having been tempted by another man, and yet it’s never gone from the realm of sinful thought to evil action in the physical world. I believe that is also true of my husband. If we look critically at the dark side of one another, we could soundly condemn the other person for their failures…and yet…with a heart of compassion and love, recognizing that our sinful natures are as frail as dust, we can also look at the bright side and say, “Yes, we have been faithful to one another. We have not defiled ourselves with others.” Could this be how King Solomon viewed his wife? Not that she was sinlessly perfect, but that she had kept herself chaste for him. Is this how the king can praise us? Not that we are sinlessly perfect, but that we have “kept the faith.” We may have been tempted by the gods of this world, but we have not truly gone after them and given ourselves over to them. Though we are frail as dust, yet we have clung to our Lord as ivy clings to an oak. Ah, and he holds us in his hand, too, and promises to never let us go, and to never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). We are his undefiled! May we ever cling to him in untarnished, unsullied faith! This is the second grace that will bring the praise of God and men. The first grace is a Spirit-filled, obedient life; the second grace is a deep and enduring faith.

 

Rise Up, My Love (199): Keep Your Marriage No Competition and No Contest

SS 198:08.14.16Song of Solomon 6:8-9 “There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number. My dove, my undefiled is but one…” For those of us brought up under the New Testament code of “a bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior…” (I Timothy 3:2)… “If any be blameless, the husband of one wife…” (Titus 1:6)—and, for those of us who remember the creation of Eve for Adam as a singular and complete helpmate for him…and who know the admonition for kings from the Old Testament law: “Neither shall he (the king) multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away…” (Deuteronomy 17:17)—for those of us who live in Judeo-Christian culture, verse eight hits at first like a smack in the face. Isn’t this supposed to be a description of perfect love? Aren’t Solomon and his bride a typological picture of Christ and the Church? Who are all these other women? Shouldn’t he just ignore the existence of other women?

Does your mind flood you with a jumble of such troublesome thoughts? Let’s consider each question:

1. Isn’t this supposed to be a description of perfect love? Yes and no…or maybe not exactly…at least not divine love as we see demonstrated between the Father and Son. Typologically, this is a description of Christ and his church, but it is also the love relationship between a man and a woman here on earth. We have traced separations, failures, and silences. This is not perfection; this is reality. The Song of Solomon is a description of real life…between a real, imperfect king and his imperfect wife. The Garden of Eden no longer exists. Reality and perfect, unthreatened, uninterrupted perfection do not coexist in our world at the present time.

2. Aren’t Solomon and his bride a typological picture of Christ and the Church? Yes, this is the widely accepted view. In the typology, however, only Solomon is the all-wise, all-knowing spouse (and only in this divinely inspired book…certainly not in the reality of Solomon’s every day life). The bride of Christ here on earth (his Church) is not yet perfect, and therefore her responses and behaviors are not always unerringly correct.

3. Who are all these other women? This is a much more debatable issue. Commentators’ responses to these verses land “all over the map” so to speak. Some suggest that Solomon was not speaking of his own wives, pointing out that the term for queen is melek, which is used elsewhere to describe foreign queens, and suggesting that possibly Solomon was just mentioning all the other beautiful women in the world—not necessarily in his possession but in his purview. Other commentators suggest that 60 queens and 80 concubines add up to only 140, and that by the end of his reign he had 300 wives and 700 concubines, so this was obviously early in his reign. Some who hold this view point out that harems were inherited, and it wouldn’t be impossible that this was the harem Solomon inherited from his father. One author even suggested that perhaps the beloved bride from the Song of Solomon died young and Solomon’s huge harem resulted from a desperate but unfruitful attempt to find someone to replace her in his affections.

Conjecturing aside…however this group of women came to Solomon’s notice, it seems most reasonable that they are intended to generically represent all the world’s most beautiful women—and definitely not simply a group of women with which he’d had a sexual relationship (which would have engendered terribly painful jealousy)—because he ends the list with “virgins without number.” In a broad sense, this list includes all the attractive women in his world: the “queens” (those who were chosen, married, and exalted); the “concubines” (those who were taken, but degraded by not being married); and the “virgins without number” (those who were as yet unchosen and untaken).

His comments are not meant to be hurtful reminders of “the other women” in his life; they were meant to be the backdrop of the world against which he portrayed his beloved…like a diamond displayed against a beautiful black velvet drape.

4. Shouldn’t he just ignore the existence of other women? Again, the answer lies in understanding reality. We no longer live in the Garden of Eden where Eve had no thought of another woman stealing her husband’s affection. The facts of the case were that Solomon was surrounded by beautiful women, and his bride could not have been oblivious to that fact. Even if Solomon had not addressed the issue, his bride would be silently dealing with it. She had just been searching for him, and all the “daughters of Jerusalem” knew how much she treasured him.

That in itself would be enough to make her feel threatened, lest they also desire…and try to obtain…her treasure! So, it is not unkind for the king to confront and address the issue. He was not trying to make her painfully aware of something she did not recognize; rather, he was articulating and answering her fears. He was not saying, “You are only one among thousands.” He was saying, “Among the thousands, you are unique…you are my special treasure…my choice…my prize! From the most beautiful queen, to the most sought out mistress, to the most highly esteemed virgin…out of the entire pool of the world’s most dazzling women, you are my unique beloved, and you outshine them all!” Now, that’s not a smack in the face; that’s the highest compliment a woman could receive!