Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Advice for Young People Considering College

I work a great deal with the High School kids in my Church; I teach on Sunday mornings and I am considering facilitating another small discussion group one night a week; so I am exposed to a lot of the issues, problems, and questions that young people today, especially in the Christian tradition, are dealing with. One issue that I am particularly passionate about is decision making, how one goes about making wise decisions.

This subject is especially relevant to high-schoolers as they are quickly approaching some major changes in their life, some major decisions that will have very real and serious ramifications for years to come, possibly for the rest of their lives. What do I do after high-school? Should I go to college? What school should I attend? What career do I want to pursue? Should I get married?

In this vein, a friend recently wrote me to ask how I had decided on pursuing (and eventually completing) my degree in Engineering. I would like to share my response, as I think it contains some good advise (if I do say so myself), specifically about picking a career, but also how to deal with life questions generally.

I got into engineering for two reasons:

  1. I liked technical drawings. I always enjoyed looking at technical drawings and I figured I would probably enjoy creating them too. It turns out that I was right, and that had I natural talent for it (I was far-and-away the top student in every technical drawing class I ever took).
  1. I wanted a career that would provide a comfortable income and relative job security. Engineering does both. Engineers are paid well and there is always a demand for them.

While I started with technical drawing classes, which I continued to love, I found that I also enjoyed most of the other engineering classes I that began taking (advanced math, physics, dynamics, testing, technical writing, problem solving, etc.). My enjoyment of the material I was studying and the potential for a solid, respectable career, confirmed the wisdom of the choice for me. That’s pretty much it.

Apart from that, let me give you some advice. I don’t have a very high view of going to college simply for the sake of getting a degree. I know too many people who have spent a great deal of time and money getting degrees in things like theater or “liberal arts” and upon graduating have no career prospects. Three years after completing their education they are working at Safeway, a decent job, but not what most people want to do for the rest of their life.

In my opinion, college is a tool to provide one with the resources that one needs to get started in the career of his choice. Think hard about what you want to do after college, and then take classes and get a degree that will help you achieve that goal. Maybe the career you want to have in 15 years doesn’t require a college education (there are plenty of great options that don’t), if your ideal career doesn’t require college then the 4+ years and all the money you will spend there are wasted. Start working toward what you want right now instead of waiting years and wasting money that could be better used in achieving your specific goals.

If you don't know what you want to do right now, then go out and experience real life for a while. Get a job, work, and see what it really takes to get by in real life. A year or two of doing this and most young people will discover what they would like to do with themselves. I cannot tell you how valuable this is! Until you know what you really want to do you'll just float in University limbo, or worse, spend a lot of time and money getting a degree you have no use for and setting yourself back four, or five, or six years.

My point is this: Decide what you want to be doing in 15 years, both in your working life and in your domestic life. Think hard about what you need to do to achieve those goals and make realistic plans. If you have an idea about a specific career, seek out people who work in that field and ask for their advise about what to do, most people like helping.

Once you have a plan, buckle down and get to work. Nothing worth having is going to be easy; I worked for nearly seven years in college before graduating, and even then I had difficulty finding a stable job. It’s taken me almost 4 years since graduating to get into a career I enjoy, want to continue in, and will provide my family with a decent living.

I hope that helps. It’s the best advice I can give you right now.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Bible and Women in the Church

Recently, I was asked by an acquaintance what I thought the Bible says regarding women teaching in church. This is one of the questions that elicits gut emotional responses in most Christians; I have known commentators on every side of the debate ignore information that needed to be dealt with and make dogmatic stands when they have no reason to do so. To the best of my recollection, I have only ever heard one commentator make a truly convincing argument on this Biblical issue. I hope that I did better in the letter to my friend, which is reproduced below:

The issue you raised of women teaching in regard to the Church/Bible being out of step with what we consider modern "human rights" is an interesting one. May women teach in the Church?

There are only three passages that I am aware of that are appealed to in order to make the argument that God doesn’t allow women to teach. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul spells out the requirements that one must meet who desires to be a leader in the local church:

1 Timothy 3:1-2
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…

Paul goes on and on. Clearly, this level of leadership is restricted to men, as that leader must be married to a woman. But this passage says nothing about whether women should be allowed to teach. We know there were a great many members of the local church who taught and yet were not members of the leadership; this is true today, I myself have held lengthy teaching positions in two churches, yet I would never have been considered a member of the Church leadership. Therefore, women cannot be excluded from teaching based upon this passage.

The next is located in 1 Corinthians 14:33a-35, in which Paul writes:
As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

It seems clear, taken in isolation, but what is really going on in this passage? If you read the paragraphs above this section, and the paragraphs below this section, Paul is addressing problems that are disrupting worship in the church at Corinth. This section is only one small part of a larger passage in which Paul is attempting to promote orderly worship.

Look at the sentence that immediately follows verse 34 (the verse cited to support women not teaching):
If they [the women] want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.

Verse 34 provides insight into the specific problem Paul is writing to address in the previous verse. Apparently, women (who were generally far less educated at that time) were asking questions of each other, or their husbands, or the teachers during the service, and thus were causing a disruption of worship.

Paul doesn’t address teaching in this paragraph, he addresses talking during the service; much like kids today who disrupt the lesson for everyone else when they speak out of turn in class. If what Paul means here is that women shouldn’t be teaching, then verse 34 is a non sequitur. It makes absolutely no sense.

This leaves us with the final passage:

1 Timothy 2:11-15
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

I know this seems to be set in concrete, but let me put forward a possible alternative interpretation that I believe does complete justice to the text and to all of Paul’s other teaching.

The Greek word for ‘woman’ in this passage is ‘Gune.’ While 'gune' is the most common Greek word found in the NT for ‘woman,’ it also happens to be the most common word in the NT for ‘wife’ as well. The Greek word used for ‘man’ in this passage is ‘aner.’ 'Aner' also happens to be the most common word in the NT for husband. It was the translators’ decision to interpret these two words as ‘man’ and ‘woman’ because they believed that the context of the passage called for it to be this way.

But is this right? The vast majority of the time, when these two Greek words are found together in a passage, they are translated as ‘husband’ and ‘wife,’ unless there is very clear reason not to. Although I am not a Greek scholar, I don’t see any such reason in this passage, nor have I ever heard one presented beyond the personal beliefs of the interpreters on this issue.

So let’s insert the other linguistically acceptable translation and see if it works as well or better than the traditional one:

A wife should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a wife to teach or to have authority over a husband; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the wife who was deceived and became a sinner. But wives will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

This alternative works. It does justice to Paul’s teaching in other letters and it makes sense in light of the surrounding passages. What was the relationship between Adam and Eve, seeing as Paul is justifying his preceding argument upon the relationship that existed between them? Nearly all who point to this verse as a prohibition on women teachers say the relationship in view was the first man and women. Maybe. But, in my humble opinion, the relationship could just as easily be that of the first husband and wife! In fact, I find this possibility more likely, as this is how Adam and Eve would have related to each other.

It also makes sense in light of the following passages where Paul asks the Church in Rome to greet his fellow servants in Christ:

Romans 16:1-4, 6, 12, 15
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church in Cenchrea. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been a great help to many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them…Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you…Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord…Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas and all the saints with them.

(Aside: It is unclear whether Julia is a man or a woman. In every instance of this name in ancient texts but two the sex of the bearer of that name is unknown. In one of those instances the bearer is female, in the other the bearer is male. So without further information, it is impossible to say whether the Julia in this passage is a man or a woman.)

I don’t believe that when Paul is talking about the great work these women have done for him and the church, he is referring to baking food for the local meeting. These women’s names are mixed up with men’s names, men who we know were teachers.

Acts 18:24-26
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

In both the Old and New Testaments there were prophetesses, teachers of the people (I might also point out that prophet’s spoke with the authority of God, so when a prophetess spoke it would behoove both women and men to listen and learn):

Exodus 15:20
Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took the timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dancing.

Judges 4:4
Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time.

Luke 2:36-37
And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers.

Acts 21:8-10 On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses.

It seems pretty clear that there is no prohibition on women teaching, and even teaching men, but rather on women holding leadership positions in the church. So again, your stated opinion that the Bible in some way contradicts our ideas of human rights (at least on this issue of the equality of the sexes) is flat out wrong (I hope you’re pleased to hear that). Instead, the Bible was far ahead of its time.