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Encouraging Girls to Become All Theyre Meant to Be
Copyright © 2007 Lisa Graham McMinn
All right reserved.
The Strength of an Image
GOD CREATED THE EARTH-with mountain streams, wooded forests, roaring oceans, open prairies, quiet jungles, and expansive deserts-and it was good, and it reflected God as creative maker of all. God created creatures of all sorts-giraffes and gerbils, cats and tigers, eagles and fireflies, rhinos and raccoons-which was also good and reflected God as creative maker of all. Then God created a special type of creature-these would carry his image within them, thus reflecting and mirroring his character and seeking after his heart as they went about ruling and taking care of the earth he had made. It was very good, and it reflected God as the most ingenious creative maker of all.
Then, of course, the image-bearing creatures sinned. Death and destruction came into the created world and began to destroy and pervert that which God had made. The ability of the special human creatures to accurately mirror and represent God as they went about their work of ruling and taking care of the earth also became distorted and perverted. But God set in motion a plan to restore creation, and part of that plan included sending Jesus into the world. Through the saving work of Jesus, God introduced thepossibility of renewing and reclaiming the God-image in humanity. And this too was very good.
This book is about reclaiming that which is good in human nature and how we can nurture the image of God in our daughters, helping them recognize the strengths God gave them. Katy, a college student, was unaware of the strong and good traits she carried within her. Katy's image-of-God nature was buried under years of doubt and shame. Academically, she could compete with the best students, but socially she was insecure, awkward, and had no close friends. Physically, she was attractive, yet she curled herself in as though to hide in her body. She could think reflectively about social issues, but lacked confidence in her ability to do anything good for the sake of others. Katy knew intellectually that God loved her but felt distant and unable to respond to his love emotionally. She needed to be set free from a paralyzing image of herself as unable, unworthy, unattractive, and unlovable. She needed to embrace God's picture of her, the image of God within her, and celebrate who God had created her to be.
Celebrating Our Natures- What We Never Lost
Then God said, "Let us make people in our image, to be like ourselves. They will be masters over all life-the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the livestock, wild animals, and small animals." So God created people in his own image; God patterned them after himself; male and female he created them (Gen. 1:26-27).
Being made in the image of God gave men and women the capacity to act as God's representatives on earth. However, the belief that men possess the image of God to a greater extent than women do emerged in part from Greek ideas, such as those suggested by Aristotle, who believed women were a mutilated or incomplete form of men.
Augustine in the fifth century and Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century attempted to reconcile Greek ideas about women's defective state with Christian ideas that women were created by God. Women were inferior to men, but as creations of God they could not be defective; rather, they were created to be secondary, weaker, and subject to men as a natural and divine act of God.
Our own ideas about how men and women reflect the image of God is perpetuated from within the context of fallen patriarchal cultures that, as a result of the fall, devalue women and women's contributions to the stewardship of creation. Subsequently our daughters' beliefs about themselves are also influenced by a ubiquitous and subtle acceptance of the belief that they are less than men and carry the image of God to a lesser extent than men do. The implications of believing women are not image-bearers to the same extent as men will be explored throughout this book, but it is fundamental to knowing how to raise strong daughters to challenge that belief and understand what it means that our daughters are image-bearers of God.
What the Image of God Means
Theologians such as Augustine, Aquinas, Martin Luther, and Calvin have worked to describe the unique aspects of being human that speak to the image of God embedded in us. They tell us that "image of God" as used in Scripture means a likeness, a mirroring of, a representation. It is not so unlike my habit as a little girl of getting out my toy iron and ironing board and pressing doll clothes alongside my mother while she ironed our household linens. As I represented my mother, albeit imperfectly, so we represent God, also imperfectly. Woman as she was created was like God and able to mirror God's character. Furthermore, she was able to represent God, so that when one looked at a woman, one would see something of God in her.
Marcile Crandall is an example of a woman who well represents God. I met her over fifteen years ago at Newberg Friends Church. She was my first exposure to a female pastor. I held her at arm's length for a while, unsure if being a woman on the pastoral team was okay. Ultimately Marcile became a dear friend, one of the women I most respect. One can see something of God in her gentle ability to tell people what they needed to hear rather than what they wanted to hear when they went to her for counsel. She reflected her directedness toward God in the graceful way she walked with God through the pain of losing her husband in a plane crash. She mirrored Jesus in her ability to minister productively and live independently for a number of years before she remarried. And God's image was reflected in the humble and gracious way she persevered in her serving and loving others in full-time Christian ministry in spite of some resistance because of her sex.
While we lost some aspects of our image-of-God-likeness with the fall, other aspects we retained, though they are often expressed in distorted ways. In describing that which was lost and that which has been retained, Christian theologians often discuss the image of God as having two elements. The element we've retained relates to our essence-the core of our being that sets us apart as human creatures. The element we have lost relates to our ability to behave consistently in God-directed ways.
Our God-image essence refers to all the abilities we have that allow us to interact with each other and oversee creation. That Martha could have a conversation with Mary is a result of being made in God's image. That Martha could now use an intercom, a telephone, e-mail, a fax machine, or the U.S. Post Office to interact with Mary is also a result of being made in God's image. That we seek community and are creative and inventive about how we build community reflects God's image.
The Essence Qualities of God We Have Retained
The essence of God that women and men retain as image-bearers in spite of the fall can be summarized in the following six statements. Our parenting subtly encourages or discourages the development of each of these essence qualities in our daughters.
1. Our daughters are immortal and spiritual beings with souls that have the potential to respond to God. When our middle daughter Sarah was about five years old she came up to me and said, "Last night I figured out how to hug God." I asked her to explain and she said, "Well, if God is everywhere, I figured if I wanted to hug him, I could just open my arms like this," she spread out her arms as far as she could stretch them, "and then hug the air and I would be hugging God." She brought her arms together, crossing them, and ultimately wrapping them in a hug around herself. Our daughters are created with a tender ability to respond to God, and in their childlike faith are able to remind us, to teach us, and to lead us into a greater understanding of who God is.
If our daughters (and sons) are spiritual beings with souls capable of responding to God, then the larger community would benefit from letting our daughters' simple faith draw us to God. And as our daughters grow, we would be wise to continue on as humble learners, eager to glean from the particular insights God gives them as women. We experience the fullness of God's nature as expressed through humanity when we allow other image-bearers, male and female, to teach and lead us. Our culture has led us to err and lose in two ways. First, we tend to be individualistic, and often assume we can achieve spiritual maturity in the absence of community. Thus we tend toward an arrogant self-taught spirituality rather than seek maturity as humble learners in community. And second, we have been influenced by a culture that disregards and silences women. Thus the unique spiritual wisdom women image-bearers could offer the community is underdeveloped, disregarded, or silenced.
2. Our daughters have a rational ability to reason, to take in information and draw conclusions, to be self-aware and self-reflective. Our daughters are as teachable as our sons, even though our educational systems have historically emphasized learning for sons over daughters. Before the 1800s, girls, if educated at all, were taught at home where they learned to play an instrument and were introduced to literature and foreign languages. It was not until 1832 that women were permitted to attend college with men, though it was still unusual for daughters to pursue a formal education. Following are a couple of explanations given then for why daughters should not attend college:
It was widely believed, for instance that women were naturally less Intelligent than men, so that their admission would lower academic standards. A second popular argument was that women were physically more delicate than men and that the rigors of higher education might disturb their uterine development to such an extent that they would become sterile or bear unhealthy babies.
Both of these myths have effectively been debunked. Educated women produce healthy babies, and the distribution of women with high IQs is comparable to that of men. God gave our daughters the capacity to be scientists, political leaders, and theologians who look at their social world and reflect on why it is the way it is. Marie Curie discovered radium and began the study of radioactivity. She won Nobel Prizes in chemistry and physics-the first person ever to win two Nobel Prizes. Sandra Day O'Connor was the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court-in 1981. Great Britain's Margaret Thatcher and United States Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, brought a giftedness to their positions that reflected both their uniqueness as women and the image of God characteristic that enables us to be rational, reasoning reflectors of God to our social world.
Sally Ride became the first female astronaut in 1983. Theologian Ellen Charry was selected by Christianity Today in 1999 as one of the new theologians. She writes about reclaiming spiritual nurture, connecting systematic theology (who God is) with practical theology (how we live).
Our daughters have powerful role models in all kinds of arenas. They need to be introduced so our daughters can believe that they too can do meaningful research and work to develop solutions aimed at restoring brokenness or exploring possibility, thus exercising their role as stewards over creation.
They can contemplate how social structures end up rewarding some groups of people with a huge slice of the pie while other groups get a sliver. They can develop theories to explain why those who receive so little don't rise up and revolt-and under what conditions they will rise up and revolt. Our daughters can do meaningful research on marginalized groups of people and work to develop solutions aimed at restoring their dignity and justice, thus exercising their role as stewards over creation.
Other strong women can contribute to our understanding of ourselves and our social world through the arts and literature. We learn something of our human condition in George Eliot's classic novel Middlemarch (Eliot chose a male pen name so that her work would be taken seriously). Alice Walker helps us understand the human condition through the eyes of black women who suffered much in her novel The Color Purple. Amy Tan teaches us about the brokenness Chinese women experienced in China and their struggle to relate to their Chinese-American daughters in The Joy Luck Club. Many women have used their reasoning capacity to be self-aware and self-reflective and have crafted stories that illuminate insights about ourselves and our social worlds.
God gave our daughters a capacity to reason and be self-reflective. And because God chose to embody that image in both females and males, our daughters' expressions of it will sometimes look different than our sons', bringing different emphases, raising different questions, offering alternative solutions. Creation has more balance when women are encouraged to use this ability alongside men.
3. Our daughters are intrinsically social (as God is, demonstrated by the Trinity) and are intended to be in community. This element is not difficult to see in our daughters. Women tend to be more focused on relationships than men, and are more naturally drawn to community. God made us to be social, to be interdependent in our need of each other. When this aspect of God's image is distorted for women it most often becomes an excessive dependence on others. When it is distorted in men it often becomes an excessive independence.
One of my friendship groups has been labeled "The Wild Women." Not that we deserve the tide. We still haven't done anything really wild. We talk about skinny-dipping in the quiet, isolated lake we sometimes visit-but so far it's only talk. I prefer calling us simply "The Women," because it has a stronger ring to it. One cannot take "The Women" as lightly as one can take "The Wild Women." We go away for an overnight trip once or twice a year and meet together a few more times a year for someone's birthday, a Saturday morning breakfast, or coffee at Starbucks. We have shared our deepest pains and sorrows as well as our greatest joys and funniest moments. Every year we talk about how God has shaped and challenged us and revise last year's prayer requests to this year's shaping and challenging tasks. I know I am prayed (or. I feel the power of God in these women. Together, hand in hand, we draw each other nearer to God and reflect the image of God as a relational God.
A number of theologians, Stanley Grenz among them, think we have gotten off track by talking about the image of God as something that is in individual people.
Excerpted from Growing Strong Daughters by Lisa Graham McMinn Copyright © 2007 by Lisa Graham McMinn. Excerpted by permission.
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