Wednesday, January 8, 2014

that's a lot of snow

This is my second snow day home from school. It's been below zero for a few days and the roads are still basically just packed ice and snow. I can't imagine kids waiting for the bus or even staying warm enough in the bus. I'm glad they've called off school. The extended Christmas break has been very nice; it's coincided with some days off for my husband (the weather was bad enough to stop the mail!) and we've had a lovely relaxing time. We took one -13 degree walk in the abandoned streets to see what it was like. I had an enormous icicle hanging off one set of eyelashes for several minutes after I stepped inside again.

Matt asked me this morning what I was going to do with yet another day off and I have no idea. I don't really have any big projects left. Well, I could always clean the bathtub, but I think it's beyond the help of any pregnancy-safe hippie cleaning products. There's definitely enough food around here; we still have this big pot of borscht and I made like fifty delicious pierogis last night and froze a lot of them. I'm not going to share the recipe because it would take a long time to type out, and are you really about to make pierogis? Ask me if you want it. The process was pretty time consuming but every step was easy nonetheless, and I had fun filling the pierogis while I listened to the first lecture on the Good Husband. I downloaded the rest of the series just now. I doubt that my husband is going to listen to them because he's not really into Ancient Faith Radio like we converts are, plus he's already a Good Husband in my book. I have been talking to him about the Good Wife series and I think that's enough. He doesn't really have 10 hours to sit around listening to sermons and I'm not going to push them on him by making a CD for the car or something.

I have good things to say about the Good Wife series, but also some problems with it. I'll start with my two major difficulties.

First, in the first lecture, Fr. Josiah spends a considerable amount of time talking about the way that a wife can change her husband. He quotes St. Peter as saying that if a husband is disobedient to the Word of God, his wife can bring him back to obedience through her own obedience and submission to him. I have no quarrel with the apostle Peter here. Father Josiah goes on to interpret this as meaning that when a husband is being stupid or mean or crazy, his wife should not try to assume dominance over him or fight back, but merely submit to him, no matter what. Well, I still think that's pretty good advice, most of the time. But the way that Father Josiah words it is disturbing to me. He says that if a wife pities him, her husband will burn with shame as she triumphs over him in the spiritual life.

Father Josiah is definitely steeped in the language of the Fathers, so perhaps this very strong language comes naturally to him. I think it goes a little too far, especially since he's just been talking about how women can be better, smarter, and stronger than their husbands even at doing their own jobs. With that in mind, I think this kind of talk could lead to a silent, bitter sense of repressed superiority, which is never brought to light because it's never mentioned, although it could certainly show up as passive-aggressiveness. I don't want to make my husband burn with shame as I triumph over him. If he burns with shame because I'm doing the right thing and he's not, that's how the cookie crumbles, but should I really desire to triumph over him? It reminds me of that verse in Proverbs (?) which says that if you act kindly to your enemies, you'll heap burning coals onto his head. I always thought that was a little weird when I was a kid. Isn't that disingenuous and really sort of awful? Sorry, I know it's in the Bible. I just don't like it.

Another problem I have with this advice is that if my husband is upset on a fairly low level, I'd better just try to reason with him, because it makes him more upset when I clam up and refuse to engage. He's more reasonable, or maybe smarter, than I am, but I'm less thumotic/excitable in arguments so it's usually a pretty fair "fight." When he's really upset, it's true that I should respond gently, and I do find that helpful. He usually thanks me for it afterwards.

So, in short, I think the advice is good, but the motivation seems pernicious. Try to find a nicer reason to do what he says.

Secondly, I don't think Father Josiah knows much about feminism. I'm not a feminist, but I have a brain/sense of justice and I can see that he is making straw (wo)men left and right when he speaks on feminism. It's simply not fair, and I don't think Christians should participate in that kind of rhetoric. If all that Father Josiah's parishioners know about feminism comes from the ambo, they are ill-prepared to engage lovingly with non-Christians on the principles that undergird much of life in the first world. I don't fault him for speaking strongly against and disagreeing heartily with feminist ideas, because I do think there are extremely anti-Christian elements to feminism in all its "waves," but he paints with a very broad brush a vast and diverse movement. Also, much of his language about women's roles will sound "tone-deaf" and very old-fashioned to those who have spent much time in secular circles, especially intellectual or pseudo-intellectual (as the case may be) circles. Maybe that's okay. Just warning you. 

Okay. Now the good things.

Father Josiah presents the ideal of marriage as something very beautiful and inspiring. Notwithstanding a few headscratchers, overall the Good Wife series made me feel that with God's help and my husband's I can make something wonderful out of my life as a wife and (God willing) mother. He quotes from Chrysostom saying that the Christian home is the fundamental unit of society, and the source of life for our culture. Creating that environment is the wife's calling, and he makes it sound like a very high one. Much of the advice he gives on caring for one's husband is very touching.

Even if you don't like everything about the way he talks, you can't fail to appreciate the beautiful passages on marriage that he reads from the Bible and the Fathers, especially St. John Chrysostom. They are like a fresh, sweet drink of water to someone like me whose Facebook feed is teeming with hostility towards Christian ideals (particularly on gender and marriage.) There were many Patristic passages that I had never heard before, and if I walk away with nothing else from these lectures, the inspiration to go read Chrysostom's homilies on Marriage and Family Life is worth $10. But I think that Father Josiah's teaching is basically true, and I am glad that I spent that $10. I gladly spent another $10 today on the rest of the Good Husband lectures. Those lectures were delivered first so I would not be surprised if they have more general wisdom on marriage than the Wife lectures, as well as specific advice for husbands.

I realize that I spent more words on my critique than on my praise, but nonetheless I recommend the lectures so far for both singles and married folk. Keep your brain plugged in; don't be afraid to question his advice and to discuss it with your spouse and/or priest as applicable. There is a lot of honey in this mix, but it never hurts to bring a strainer.

I think I will go and clean something while I listen to the next Good Husband lecture. I'll keep you updated.


  1. Great review, thanks for posting!

    1. You're welcome! Thanks for inspiring me to write it. I ended up sitting around and knitting today, listening to two more GH lectures, and I think they are much less "scandalous" than the GW lectures can be. If you've got the $20 to drop, listen to both of them.

  2. I've been listening to the GW series also and really really like it. With regards to the part about "burning with shame" - that part came across to me as tongue in cheek. I didn't take it that he meant that we should literally feel that way, or have that motivation.

    I can't say I know very much about feminism myself. I was extremely insulted by my husband calling me a feminist once, but I have since become much more aware of the influence of, ...well if not feminism then at least the wisdom of this day and age, .. which says it's ok to be disrespectful to authority and that men are great buffoons who don't know their right hand from their left and should be treated as such.

    It's interesting to think about all this. I have been able to very clearly see throughout my marriage that every time I try to step up and take the lead, things just don't work out, but when I step back and let him take that lead, things are blessed and that turn out much better than they would if I had been stubborn and persisted in my own way.

    I've been reading Arabian Nights with my kids and have been paying close attention to how Shahrazad treated the king and how she truly loved him and treated him with the utmost respect, even when she was doing her best to change his mind about killing her. I feel like there something important to be learned from that although I haven't been able to articulate it just right yet.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Lisa! I had forgotten the story of Shahrazad. I love it.

    I haven't read the important feminist texts myself, so I can't claim to have made a just attempt to understand them. But I agree with you (and Fr. Josiah) about many of the sick attitudes in our culture today, and am so glad that my parents tried to guard us against them with a more Biblical upbringing. I'm just not sure if feminism is the only culprit!

    Overall, I have found these lectures very inspiring, despite my small annoyances. I sort of live in two different worlds when it comes to attitudes about marriage and gender (and everything else, really.) I was raised in an evangelical homeschooling community, and I went to a secular college where I was the only evangelical-homeschooling type most of my peers had ever met (the college is far more conservative than most secular liberal arts colleges, but worlds away from the community I grew up in.) I have sympathies with and suspicions about the gender attitudes in both circles, and that's showing up in my reaction to Fr. Josiah. On the one hand, I'm sick of the self-centered approach to relationships that I see in my friends' lives, and yes, the fruits of feminism/the sexual revolution as well. On the other hand, as a result of my education, I value reason and fairness very highly and am turned off by teaching that's overly dogmatic and dismissive of its opponents. So I am relieved and inspired to hear Fr. Josiah say "Yes! Marriage is about sacrifice! Wife, it's good for you to pursue holiness at home with your family, and to trust and obey your husband!" while I'm simultaneously annoyed to hear him simply give a catalog of bad things that have happened in the last fifty years and attribute them all to feminism.

  4. Is this Fr Josiah Trenham, or another Fr Josiah?