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It has been the rare woman I have met who engages her intellect on par with her emotion: who makes a fair fight of it. Most women I have known, including highly educated women, can be derailed from efficient pursuit of their goals by rushes of emotion: love, anger, disappointment, elation. We are creatures endowed with the qualities of our Maker, divinely blessed to experience emotion over a wide range. But we should not be a slave, in bondage to our emotions. We are charged to be disciplined, to subjugate our emotion to our intellect. To allow compassion to influence our choices but to make those choices prayerfully, soberly and with deliberation and focus.

Falling Down

There’s this great scene in the half-good Star Trek film First Contact where Captain Picard and Lt. Commander Data are approaching a hive of Borg which is assimilating the Starship Enterprise. Borg, for the two of you who do not know, are very creepy mechanical entities which assimilate technology and biological forms to create these hideous zombie-like creatures. It was a pretty good scene, hair standing on the back of your neck, when Data—an android—opts to turn off the processing chip which simulates emotion so he can better focus on the work at hand. That accomplished, Patrick Stewart, a fine Shakespearean actor again whoring his enormous talent in outer space jumpsuits, retorts, “Mr. Data, there are times I envy you.”

As humans, we all are subject to our emotion. This is the essential definition of courage: an overcoming of compelling if not paralyzing emotions of fear and anxiety in order to accomplish a goal. Military men and women going into combat and first responders racing toward danger immediately come to mind, but heroism asserts itself in many ways. Agoraphobics, who fear open spaces, commit acts of heroism just by going outside to get the mail. Military and law enforcement are vigorously trained to repress emotion, to, ironically, become somewhat less human in the name of serving humanity. Professional people, including corporate types, school teachers, judges, etc., are routinely encouraged to repress emotion. This is harder to do for some. I can do this for, about, ninety seconds. I am a creature of emotion, as are all human beings. But I experience emotion in a visceral and, at times, overwhelming way. Over time, I have come to realize that having emotion makes us human, but being emotional narrows our opportunities. Ironically, the less emotional you are, the more effective you can become. People who give their emotion free reign are usually a pain to deal with and are often less respected and taken much less seriously than the Poker Face types who come across as reasonable and rational.

An essential requisite for effective Christian ministry is sacrifice. Few of us are willing to sacrifice in any meaningful way. Most of our fasts are a joke: miss a meal here and there. A real fast is all day if not multiple days of sacrifice. Many of us struggle with money, so sacrificial giving presents a huge challenge. What saddens me is how few of us are willing to give of our spirit, to sacrifice some small part of ourselves. I know fairly few people and almost no women who have the inner strength and resolve to forego defending themselves when they feel accused. Having patience with someone is a rite of sacrifice. It is our gift back to God to just let things go, to not fixate and argue and defend ourselves. To recognize when we are dealing with an emotional if not irrational person, which requires both patience and maturity to effectively do. Maturity is not about not having emotion, it’s about subjugating our emotion to our reason, It is a choice to honor God by denying ourselves the visceral satisfaction of venting our emotion.

I used to write this comic book series about a super-hero who is constantly getting calls from his self-absorbed, histrionic mother nagging him about trivial matters. The hero is in a running gun battle while on his cell with his mother nagging him about his girlfriend (who lives with them) using up all the toilet paper, so Ma bought her own stash of toilet paper and is now refusing to give a roll to the girlfriend unless the hero—still running from bad guys firing automatic weapons at him—agrees to bring some home tonight. The hero agrees but ma keeps nagging, “Sure, that’s what you said last time, then you show up at God-knows-what hour and no toilet paper. I’m not made of money, you know…” Ma can hear the impatient distraction in the hero’s voice, can presumably hear the gunfire and so forth, but is concerned only with 99 cents’ worth of bathroom tissue. This, for me, is the mixed blessing of women: their innate ability to access their emotion while often becoming blinded by it.

It’s in every movie. They’re running from the scary monster. What happens? The girl falls down. You can see it coming a mile away. I have personally never observed this. Most sisters I know can dash. But this is how women are portrayed in the movies, as the x-factor, what we call in screenwriting, The Complication. Bringing in The Girl introduces an unstable element to an otherwise orderly progression of events. Unstable because she is unpredictable. She is unpredictable because she processes information through her emotion and she is usually less disciplined about that process than the hero is.

Every movie, the hero (usually a male) is doing fine. He’s building something, achieving some goal, making some progress. And, maybe a half-hour into the movie, he meets The Girl and everything goes to hell. His nose is so wide for The Girl that he abandons his own judgment or refuses to see how her vanity, childish meddling, interference, or capitulation to her own emotion is jeopardizing whatever his goal is. Or he becomes distracted from his goal in order to protect her. This is the plot of every movie coming out of Hollywood: The Girl as an impediment to the hero achieving his goal. It is an unapologetically sexist message, one absorbed by women and girls for generations: You Are Weak And Stupid And Part Of The Problem.

Chemical Reaction:: Hormones make us a little crazy but it's just a simple chemical reaction. Don't let it own you.

Making Emotional Decisions

In the sixth chapter of Mark’s Gospel we find Herod Antipas, the governor of Galilee, had married Herodias, his half-brother Herod II’s ex-wife and his own niece (Herodias was the daughter of Mariamne II, third wife of Herod the Great who was Herod II's grandfather, which made Herod II Herodias' half-uncle. Lots of luck sorting that out). Herodias had divorced her husband/half-uncle Herod II, and Antipas divorced his wife Phasaelis so the two could be married. Although this is a fairly common practice today and largely accepted within our Christian churches as no big deal, remarrying while your former spouse was still living is a serious violation of Jewish law. John had embarrassed the governor by openly criticizing him for this abominable marriage, which was how John ended up in prison in the first place. At a feast for the governor's birthday Herodias’ daughter Salome performed what is largely interpreted as an explicitly seductive dance—later lionized as the Dance Of The Seven Veils, a tantalizing striptease over the course of which six of seven large sheer scarves are removed. Salome was, technically, Herod Antipas’s niece’s daughter, and must also have been quite young (if you figure Herodias, her mother, was likely early 30’s at most).

Salome's display got Herod’s nose open so wide the governor shot off his mouth, promising the young girl anything she asked for. This business is rife with icky implications for this guy Herod, who seemed to have a predilection toward not only much younger women but much younger women he was related to. The implication, here, is that Salome, most likely in her teens, seduced the governor and may have done so at her mother Herodias’s urging. Herod’s earnestness in seeking to reward the teenager suggests he may have begun thinking of ultimately replacing Herodias with Salome. This was, after all, not a fine arts performance from Lincoln Center. This was, essentially, a lap dance, likely approved and encouraged by the girl’s own mother. Given the opportunity to ask Uncle Stepdad Herod for anything her heart desired, Salome was coached by her conniving mommy Herodias to ask for the head of John The Baptist. It is unlikely Salome even knew who John The Baptist was. Someone her age would likely have asked for a car. Beyoncé tickets. This girl asked instead for the grisly decapitation of a man she did not know. A man who’d done absolutely nothing to her. The last thing Herod Antipas wanted to do was kill John The Baptist. He feared John, and he knew actually killing John would make the prophet a martyr in the eyes of the people and possibly inspire unrest. But Herod allowed himself to be trapped by the wiles of a woman. Herodias, whose vanity had been injured and insulted by John, wanted John dead.

It is this nonsense, a woman’s passion overwhelming her logic, that is the classic cautionary tale. I have seen this in real life over and over: our weakness for women destroying ministries, destroying lives. Yes, this sounds terribly sexist, but it is nonetheless true. Most women I have ever met think with their emotion. Most I’ve known are virtual slaves to their emotion. Their choices are emotionally driven and their passion dictates their action. The same can be said of the men who love them, who set aside logic because of their desire for or loyalty to these women. This is, in my view, weakness, an abdication of a higher calling. We set aside logic and complicate our lives by welcoming in these emotional, vain, often petty creatures, driven by impulses, by color and light, rather than by reason. We turn over important choices, made by sober and patient review, to persons whose logic is routinely overwhelmed by their emotion and whose values are corrupted by a lifetime of capitulation to their own vanity. This is Adam and Eve. Abraham and Sarah and Hagar. This is Jacob and Rachel, who neither knew nor trusted God. This is Samson and Delilah. David and Bathsheba. This is Job and his ignorant wife. Solomon and his ten thousand bedmates. Lot’s idiot wife, disobeying God and looking back. Ike and Tina Turner. Yoko Ono and The Beatles. Chris Brown and Rhianna. Amy Winehouse.

I am not anti-woman, I am anti-stupid. Sensuality is a kind of hypnotism, convincing us to do and say things we know we shouldn’t. I believe Herod was drunk with lust for Herodias’s daughter, which, rather than annoying his wife actually pleased her; it was likely her plan all along: get Herod to make Salome a public promise. Once Herod shot his mouth off, that would be that. Herodias, whom the record suggests understood nothing about the greater ramifications of John’s political status, simply wanted revenge. She thought about no one other than herself. Her energy, her intelligence, her wiles, were employed only to serve her vanity. Her vanity was the preeminent driving force of her life, and she was apparently a creature of emotion and not logic. She neither trusted nor particularly respected her husband, whom she manipulated seemingly at will. And this guy, Herod, was led around not by his vanity but by his lust, handing over a critical and delicate political matter to this person of selfish illogic and her equally clueless child. This made even less sense considering Herod, a man of considerable prestige and power in the region, could have quietly and discreetly bedded almost any woman he wanted. His willingness to buy Salome’s affection (if not specifically her sexual surrender) spoke of an obsessive and addictive personality. Addictions cause us to abandon our values, our logic and our commitments.

John The Baptist was a delicate matter, Herod’s Cuban Missile Crisis. Herod had neutralized John not by killing him but by removing him from the stage—something John himself should have done. The smart move would have been to allow John to live out his remaining days in exile and despair, John’s disciples withering to the faithful few. But Herod was weak. Herodias, who likely knew nothing of the intricate politics of the matter, simply wanted John dead, so much so that she was willing to prostitute her own daughter to achieve that goal. Herodias comes across as stupid and selfish and childish, The Complication that wrecks the story. Hers is a cautionary tale to sisters who become slaves to their passion and vanity.

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