As is the custom at our house, my wife and I are observing the Christmas season with theological disputation.
"When are you going to do your Christmas shopping?" she says in her opening move, the old assertion-disguised-as-question gambit.
We have a division of labor for Christmas shopping. I buy my gift for her and any grandkid toys I might like to play with. She buys the rest: gifts for me, the kids, grandkids (toys I might not like to play with), in-laws, nephews, nieces, great nephews, great nieces, and dogs of the extended family.
So when she asks me when I'm going to do my Christmas shopping, there's a little edge in her voice. She's been shopping every day since Thanksgiving. I haven't been shopping at all. My keen senses detect danger.
"Soon," I say. "Very soon indeed. Have you made a list for me?"
"You don't make a list for me," she says. "Why should I make one for you?"
"Because, my little cottage cheese blintz," I say, "I ask you to and you are my wife. According to Paul's letter to the Ephesians 5:22, wives are to submit unto their husbands as unto the Lord."
It just slips out. Usually I'm pretty good at covering up my divinely ordained status as head honcho, but this time it just slips out. There's a perceptible stiffening of her spine.
"Poor old Paul," she says. "There he goes again."
"Meaning what, m'love?" I ask. "Nothing blasphemous, I trust."
"Meaning," she says, "that poor old Paul is once again turning his hangups about women into Scripture. So that certain unnamed boobs can use Holy Writ to justify having their wives do the Christmas shopping for them."
I duck and cover so I won't get hit by the shrapnel from the thunderbolt. But no thunderbolt comes.
"You've gone too far this time, my little sweet patootie," I say, dusting myself off. "You can't call your husbandyour lord and master, your spiritual pathfinder and ethical lighthousea boob."
"Boob," she says. "Boob, boob, boob."
"But you're supposed to submit, honeybunch," I say. "Don't you remember that Paul says in the first letter to the Corinthians 11:3 that the head of the woman is the man?"
"O Lord," she says in a not very devotional tone, "Paul also tells the Hebrews to 'obey them that have rule over you, and submit yourselves.' He's got a thing about hierarchy and submission. He'd have us still singing 'God Save the Queen.' You don't see Jesus saying things like that."
"You don't?" I say. "Aren't they all singing from the same divine inspiration? Jesus, Paul, the Gospel guys, John the Divine, all those Old Testament dudes?"
"Not Jesus," she says. "Jesus wasn't into hierarchy. He made trouble for hierarchy. He was an agitator trying to overthrow the old order."
The Truth, Mainly
"Jesus Christ Superstar?" I say, my noble brow furrowed. "Where do you get that stuff?"
"The usual sources," she says. "Sermon on the Mount. Parables. The other red-letter evidence. You know why he doesn't sound like the others, don't you?"
"I suppose I don't," I say. "Why doesn't he sound like the others?"
"Different blood lines," she says. "Better gene pool."
"Hah?" I say.
"No testosterone pollution," she says. "No males involved in the production. Just an off-the-shelf woman who knew not a man, and the Holy Ghost. A man would have messed it all up with his hierarchy genes. A man would have turned the Beatitudes into the weekly power ratings. Who's number one? Who has to grovel?"
"But," I say. "But, but."
"Doesn't it seem a little strange even to your testosterone-besotted mind," she says, "that males perceive themselves anointed as family leaders by a religion whose founder was the offspring of non-testosterone carriers?"
"But," I say. "But, but."
"Sojourner Truth had it right more than a century ago," she says.
"Sojourner who?" I say.
"Sojourner Truth, and she said 'Man says woman can't have as much rights as man, cause Christ wasn't a woman. Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman. Man had nothing to do with him.' Put that in your patriarchal pipe and smoke it."
As if on cue, the radio bursts forth with "It Came Upon the Midnight Clear," and Ned, the one-eyed beagle with the headstrong personality and the mismatched jaws, bays in alarm.
"At least," she tells him, "you've been fixed."
When she starts to talk like that, I know the theological disputation is over and it's time for me to get out of the house for a while. I draw myself up in full patriarchal dignity, grab the car keys and hightail it to the mall to check out grandkid toys I might like to play with.
Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes
to salvage clarity from his confusion.
His column appears on alternate Mondays.