Wandering the savage garden…

Who should we be?

This Sunday, our pastor spoke on womanhood, as per Proverbs 31. That makes perfect sense, as it was Mother’s Day, of course, and he had a lot of very positive (and instructive) things to say. Next week will be a sermon on manhood, which makes sense as a followup and because next Sunday’s the last day of our church’s men’s retreat.

He said out that Proverbs 31 wasn’t necessarily calling out every woman to be like this one woman, in all characteristics; such women would be dead by 30 from exhaustion. But instead, he pointed out the characteristics and their results, such as trustworthiness, honesty, industry, her relationship with God and her husband.

After the sermon, I told him I was looking forward to the men’s retreat next weekend, and he said that the next sermon was a tie-in with the women’s sermon – because part of what made being a proper woman difficult was the lack of proper men.

That got me thinking: what is the proper role of man?

I know I could always wait until next weekend to find out his thoughts, but I don’t like being that passive; I’d rather think it through for myself, and compare and contrast once I have further information.

I’ve always had to fight the tension between being an alpha male and a follower, a beta male; the alpha in me is the traditional “I am man, fear me” personality, and the more gentle side of me is (hopefully) kinder and gentler, more accepting, more of a peacemaker.

Yet many situations call for the warrior, the less gentle side; I’m supposed to defend my family and its desires. Yet how do I balance that with the desire to be gentle and loving to all around me?

More importantly, how do I gauge which aspect to emphasize in order to witness to others most effectively?

If I coerce others into doing right, whether by force or by dint of personality, that sends a negative message about God – it says that not only are His followers forceful, but they’re unbending.

If I yield to others, accepting their error and offering grace to them, then I run the risk of seeming weak and compromising.

For me, it goes back to the schools of Pharisaism, Hillel (הלל) and Shammai (שמאי). They were two rabbis in Jerusalem, a few decades before Jesus’ ministry, and they typically took opposing views of how to live.

Shammai was demanding; he expected full and strict compliance with the Law.

Hillel was milder; he advocated a liberal understanding of the Law.

Let me be clear: neither one discounted Torah. Neither one was “less of a rabbi” than the other; they just had different interpretations of how the Law was to be applied.

The way I see it, one should look at others through the eyes of Hillel: understanding of human flaws, kind, gentle in remonstrations.

At the same time, one should see himself through the eyes of Shammai: expect and demand the best from yourself, and brook no personal compromise.

It’s very difficult for me to find the correct balance between being accepting of others and yet offering a firm stance on what is good and right. I try, but I have not succeeded to my own satisfaction.

I don’t know how to compromise with others’ behavior without compromising my own. The tension between Hillel and Shammai is not easily resolved.

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