Friday, March 10, 2017

Buffy the Vampire Slayer at year 20

HT to Mockingbird in particular.

What's stranger to think about than the idea that Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer is now twenty years old is that, for some reason, I feel as though time has not been that kind to the series. 

The basic premise of the show is a wry twist on a horror trope, that the ditzy blonde who is usually first to get killed off ends up being the victorious final girl.  It's perhaps clever in an inversely proportional relationship to how seriously people attempt to read socio-political significance into it. 

I kinda began to lose interest in the series starting in season 3.  Once the characters graduated from high school it seemed like the conceit of the premise was in some ways played out.  Cheeky riffs on how American high schools are rampant with a suffocating caste system and supernatural evil is funny and also able to be poignant but for me a lot of the charm of this premise depended on it staying within the insular confines of the American high school of the public school variety. 

From season 4 onward it began to seem that Buffy Summers was no longer a playful quip-as-character about horror genre tropes.  The characters grew and changed but there were things that were lost as well as gained.  Buffy Summers is a super-heroine and I'm afraid that as her series mythology expanded to approach the mythic aspirations and proportions so endemic to superhero narratives these last twenty years Buffy became ... more routine.

I've also come around to the thought that Whedon gets a disproportionately large amount of credit for creating characters that would not be what they are if he wasn't so fortunate as to keep being able to work with actresses who are better than the dialogue he writes for them. That the writers for Buffy began to cater to and tailor lines to the strengths and interests of the cast could be normal television writing.  Had Hannigan not been cast as Willow Rosenberg we would have gotten a completely, almost inconceivably different character than the one we got.

Now maybe back in the decade when Fukuyama could talk about "the end of history" the arch genre savvy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer could work in a way that it might not n the Bush 2 era of the War on Terror.  Without having the patience to explain on a late Friday night post exactly how and why, Whedon's creation was paradoxically easier to enjoy when it didn't take itself seriously and the more seriously the people making the show took themselves as to "what" they were saying the less interest I had in the show.  I didn't really follow it steadily after a few episodes in season 4.  Apparently for loyalists the show took flight between seasons 3 and 5.  Buffy died at the end of five but was brought back for two more seasons.  The comics, it seems, have us in a season 10 of some kind.

So Buffy is Batman or Superman at this point. 

The transformation from wry riff on horror tropes to self-serious superheroine seems to be complete.  It's not that there aren't fun episodes along the way ... but Whedon now seems like a one-trick pony.  It's a great trick more often than not but a super-powered vampire slayer in some ways set Whedon down an odd path.

I can't find any reason to like River Tam, for instance.  It's not about an aversion to strong or compelling female characters.  I enjoy novels by Jane Austen.  Joan Didion's been one o my touchstones as a blogger.  Rumiko Takahasi possesses what I regard as a gift for comedic genius.  I love the Powerpuff Girls.  Katara and Toph from The Last Airbender are wonderful characters.  I plan to see Wonder Woman. 

But Whedon deserves at least some, or even a lot, of blame for what's known as waif-fu.  River Tam embodies the waif-fu trope in a way that is easier to see as a trope.  Now tiny women wielding swords can work.  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ran with the fiery beautiful waif with a blade causing trouble.  But  the minute she dealt with seasoned fighters she was as good as dead and the story drove this home.  Jen's egotism and self-regarded led to the doom of the people she cared about and she took her own life as a kind of penance. 

Yes, we've had Kate and Milla doing a kind of waif-fu but a vampire and a super-powered guinea pig can break the rules of physics.  River Tam's a punchline about a 90 pound girl beating up a guy two to three times her weight that is not the Slayer but who is supposed to be able to kick ass just because. 

Can she manipulate the earth itself?  Nope?  Can she bend the water in your body on a full moon night to make you do what she wants you to do?  No.  Can she generate electrical bursts that can blow holes in your abdomen or blow-torch your hand off with fire?  No.  Katura, Toph and Azula in The Last Airbender are tiny girls who wield huge amounts of power thanks to the magical abilities they have in their narrative world.  But what they all do is manipulate the environment in ways that give them an advantage.  It's not the same thing as grabbing a blade, talking about how nothing in the universe can stop you, and then just magically winning off-screen aka Serenity

In comics fandom River has a collossal character shield.  Buffy's invulnerability worked at two levels.  She had magical super-powers for one, but at another level the joke that the blonde who would normally be killed off first can't be killed so easily sold the joke.

Buffy became a joke that wanted us to take it seriously.  The question the series has not necessarily answered is "why?"  Is there a feminist text or subtext that could give us a reason?  Well ... yes ... but then there's how Whedon and company put female characters in refrigerators, so to speak.  Whedon and company were reveling in torturing characters and killing them before they could get what they wanted before Martin's Game of Thrones became prestige TV.

At some point if you do that to female characters enough times shouldn't you ... say ... lose the empowered female card?  If we step back and consider how many female characters got killed off by the writers throughout the series just for the feels it seems that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was in some crucial respects far more retrograde about women as agents than an earlier show from the same decade, The X-Files.  Tropes abounded on that show, too, but The X-Files could send themselves up better than anyone else could. 

What ultimately feels off about Joss Whedon's approach to story-telling is that insistence upon life-and-death stakes while simultaneously quipping away.  Age of Ultron rolled out Arvo Part's Kyrie from the Berliner Mass and also gave us Hawkeye rambling in a trying-too-hard contrast between the epic destruction and his aspirations of domestic redecorating.  Qucksilver's inevitable death might have carried more weight if we hadn't seen Elizabeth Olson's Scarlet Witch dutifully falling to her knees and screaming in trailers.  As Honest Trailers put it last year (?) there's only so many times the villain's master plan can involve a beam of light with a halo of junk floating around it before the villain plots wear thin.  You can make fairly small adjustments to the villain arc and have it work.  Let's say the villain realizes that the heroes can't be defeated by the bad guys but you could try to get them to fight each other.  Civil War, there you go.  Or you could have a shadow form of an old villainous cabal infiltrate the team of the heroes and silently take over, Winter Soldier.  Part of what has made the Captain America series hold up a little better than the other franchises in Marvel is the stories, though they may have issues, take seriously the idea that many a villain recognizes that a straight up fight with the powers of good is likely to fail.  Why try to overpower when you can mislead? 

So it's interesting that with two Avengers movies in a row Whedon's stories were all about power against power with the heroes winning.  We're going to get Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet ... and Whedon's not going to be helming that project.  Since my feeling about Marvel villains is that they are interesting in an inversely proportional relationship to how powerful they are I might skip Infinity War. 

Nolan's films lack Whedon's witticisms but I admit to liking Nolan's Batman films more than I like the Avengers films (the first was fun and the second was frustrating).  While Christopher Nolan's Batman films have been scorned in some quarters as too grim, too dark, too nasty and brutish we might want to forego making this judgment by way of comparison to Marvel films, often too drunk on their own sense of wit to take themselves seriously at the points they need to.  Nolan's characters generally don't quip in the face of the death of innocent bystanders or their own potential demise.  Agent Coulson was belittling Loki with his putatively dying words in The Avengers.  That, too, would have had more pathos if not for bathos ... and since in Marvel there's this macabre joke that nobody stays dead except for maybe Uncle Ben ... death in the land of the super-powered isn't final.

Unless you're not a superhero and can die like anyone else.

But then Buffy got brought back from the dead.  Much like Superman in the previous decade, Buffy Summers' death was undone in a fairly short period of time. By the end of the TV series Buffy had distributed the power of the Slayer to an army of slayers-in-training.  The climax of the series involved Buffy questioning the foundational premise of the show.  Now perhaps this was intended to be profound and ... maybe ... it was for some people.  By the time I slogged through season 7 it seemed that straight up questioning the premise of the show could be taken as a sign that all the old rules that the early show's humor depended upon were being explicitly rejected.  Whedon and company wanted us to take Buffy seriously in the midst of proposing that the rules changed.  Okay, series finale ... and here we are years later with comics and Buffy joining the ranks of the super-powered ... .

I don't know.  At this point I might just stick with Batman or read some old Wonder Woman comics.  It's always the end of the world and the world is never really going to end.  Even post-apocalyptic futures depend on the assumption that this world isn't really going to end.  Maybe we could be mean and put it another way, we don't so much believe the world is going to end as much as we believe that a world without US in it is not a world worth living in.  Buffy was more fun to watch when she didn't exactly want to save the world but did it anyway because then she could go to the dance or hang out with friends at The Bronze.  When so much of the humor of a character comes from her demonstrable belief that she really has more fun and interesting things she'd like to be doing with her time than fighting the evil undead and saving the world can you really go all the way toward taking Buffy seriously as a character who faces shattering experiences when the foundational conceit of her character is regarding the apocalyptic as trivial and the trivial as apocalyptic? 

Whedon's really gone much farther on the good graces of actresses better than the dialogue he writes for them than he may have deserved.

And yet Whedon's not necessarily to blame for a culture in which so much discourse has trafficked in the apocalyptic and in which in the political sphere people are described in terms applicable to superheroes and supervillains.  We have not lost a capacity for apocalypticism in terms of surreal and exaggerated imagery but we may have lost the older sense of the apocalyptic as a revelation of what the world is really like.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer was fun in the first three seasons when it leveraged the insularity of high school experience and the expectations of horror tropes by anchoring them in the limited perspective of its teenage protagonists.  It was also a bit more charming when we had a Buffy who actively objected to and resisted all the weight and seriousness of the Slayer role Giles lectured her about.  She made a sympathetic Chosen One because she couldn't hide her feeling that being a Chosen One was really just super lame. 

By season four Buffy might as well have been Batman, even a Christopher Nolan style Batman.

But there was that loquacious cast constantly playing off each other.  There were all the inside jokes, the pop culture references, the banter.  Keeping that up on television season after season is no small feat.  As 1990s geeky specialists in stories about insular self-regarding loquacious people go Joss Whedon came into his own at the end of the Clinton years while in cinema Whit Stillman was confecting three films about what he called the doomed bourgeois in love.    It's a deliberately weird and impudent comparison to make, Joss Whedon's television aesthetic and Whit Stillman's stagey cinematic/literary aesthetic--but it might be a useful comparison to consider seeing as I've written for Mockingbird for years and Mockingbird has some love both Whedon and Stillman.

So I'm just going to throw this idea out--Joss Whedon takes characters seriously but not ideas.  Whit Stillman takes ideas seriously but does not necessarily take his characters seriously.  Maybe Whedon wants hope but it's hard to say on what basis he observes hope for humanity. 

Maybe Whedon wants to run with this idea that everyone who made it through adolescence is a hero but who in their right mind can honestly believe that?  Saying he wanted Buffy to be iconic is direct, but this gets me thinking about someone else who has been saying he wanted to create a potent mythology that would distill for a generation what friendship and honor and all that mean, George Lucas.  Has Buffy the Vampire Slayer found a niche in television comparable to that of Star Wars for film?  Apparently so, if the fan bases are any indicators.

So here we are at twenty years of Buffy. As super-powered girls from shows in the late 1990s go I'm finding that I like Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup now pretty much as much as I did back then.  Buffy, it's weird that for a show I enthusiastically watched in the 1990s I haven't felt much interest in going back to it.  It feels like Whedon had the advantage of being a third-generation screenwriter able to work with actresses who brought his ideas to life and while he might half-jokingly talk about how woke he is these days or fret about the narcissistic psychopath in the Oval Office, there's a sense in which generations of white male privilege were necessary preconditions for his brand.  And the thing is, a bit weirdly as I mull it over this weekend, Whedon's vision of his achievement may have been blinkered by looking at his legacy in televised terms.  Whedon's brand of progressivism seems to have been a precondition for the imputed greatness of his female-led action show. 

And yet he tries to separate politics from art.  Maybe that's a weakness rather than a strength.  Stillman, since I bothered to compare Whedon to Stillman, comes off like he's kind of a conservative Episcopalian sort in both religion and politics but it may be his work benefits from that.  Whedon's axiom of trying to keep his politics and his art distinct could explain why his second Avengers film felt like a slog.  If he thought he was saying the Avengers were rich peole out of touch that didn't extend to himself, apparently.  Which gets to the juxtaposition, Whit Stillman's whole cinematic career has been about lampooning just how extravagantly out of touch with the world rich kids are and Stillman's managed to do this while coming across like he's not a progressive about either politics or religion. That scene in Metropolitan where Audrey goes to Christmas mass didn't come off like the kind of scene that would have been written or filmed by a secularist.

So in a way I guess I stand by the proposal, that Whedon wants characters to be taken seriously but not ideas.  If he did want ideas to be taken seriously he'd be as unashamed as Stillman to build entire movies out of debates about the merits and demerits of ideas.  It might be, too, that Stillman recognizes his patrician stock in a way Whedon doesn't.

Well, in any case, I guess here's to twenty years of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Jen Smidt shares story with Pastor with no Answers on podcast

First, let's note that it was just slightly over five years ago this month that Mars Hill Church in Seattle, in response to escalated controversy surrounding the disciplinary procedures employed against some members, posted "A Call for Reconciliation". Since Mars Hill dissolved as a corporate entity at the end of last calendar year they don't necessarily have this up of themselves but there is an archival site that can be referenced if you don't already have a penchant for plugging things into The Wayback Machine.

Seeing as Mark Driscoll's still on schedule to speak at The Stronger Man conference perhaps people who go to the conference can give a listen to this while they wait a month-ish to hear what Driscoll has to say.

While we're at it ... anyone who read the following post:
Mark Driscoll to be a guest speaker at Stronger Men conference April 28-29 2017, plenty of time to ask Eric Mason how he's set to speak at a conference alongside Driscoll after signing off on booting MH and MD from A29

might be interested to know that Eric Mason's been on a leave of absence from being on the Acts 29 board.  So, technically, an Acts 29 board member is not, strictly speaking, speaking at an event where Driscoll's also a speaker.  So ... perhaps at a woodenly literal level, nobody from Acts 29 executive leadership is speaking at an event in any Acts 29 capacity, which is handy, since the Acts 29 board removed Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll from membership in Acts 29 citing that Driscoll had demonstrated disqualifying behavior.

Or, at least, they did a few years ago.  Good luck finding any signs of that without help from The Wayback Machine now.

It's necessary to remind ourselves that a couple of years after the Acts 29 board, which included Darrin Patrick, expressed concern that Driscoll needed to step down from ministry and seek help, Patrick himself ended up out of ministry.  This was the Patrick of whom Driscoll used to say "He's my pastor, you know?"

The question of why Mason considered Driscoll fit to be sharing a podium or event with in spite of the Acts 29 statement from a few years ago that Mason signed off which strongly indicated (if taken literally or seriously) he felt Driscoll was unfit for ministry, could be asked by someone ... perhaps at some other time.

The social wreckage seems broad-ranging enough that it's not a surprise former leaders still feel like things need to be said.  With that in mind, the podcast with Jen Smidt,which is slightly under 80 minutes long, more or less.

Given the often prolix nature of this blog there's no promise that the ensuing comments will be brief.

One of the things Smidt mentioned was a story of how she said something to an executive elder and the next day her husband received a tongue-lashing and a warning that he needed to, basically, get his wife in line.  That kind of story is not particularly surprising to hear or read about Mars Hill executive leadership.  Smidt's comments about women seeming to have a marginal role in general but that she, paradoxically, had a significant writing and even teaching role within the history of Mars Hill is something you can hear in the podcast.  What comes to mind, at the risk of still speaking too generally, is that one of the threads in the leadership culture could be described as a different set of standards for leaders and laity.  This seems alluded to somewhat in Smidt's conversation, how once branded "leadership" people within Mars Hill treated leaders very differently than ordinary members. 

Smidt's comments reminded me that in the Houston interview Grace Driscoll asserted that she never thought of her husband Mark as in any way misogynistic.

Brian Houston: “So when in Australia your visits started to rise to the floor in secular Australia that word misogynistic. Uh, started being thrown around fairly liberally. I looked it up in the Oxford Dictionary and it says, “dislike of, contempt for, or engrained prejudice against women.” Are you, were you ever misogynist?” (35:35-36:55)

Mark Driscoll: “No, but because of things I have said foolishly, that impression is entirely my fault, and I have no one to blame but myself. That’s now how I feel, that’s not what I think, um, but for certain, have uh, allowed that to become an impression.” (36:56-37:15)

Brian Houston: “Sure, and those are things you said when you were in your late 20’s.” (37:16-37:18)

Mark Driscoll: “Yeah, and I have a heart to see, part of this Pastor Brian is, young men aren’t going to church, young men aren’t going to college, young men aren’t marrying women young, young men are not raising their children, and I have such a deep burden and passion to see men. You know, 1 Corinthians 13 when I was a child I thought like a child I spoke like a child I acted like a child, when I became a man I put childish ways behind me. I want to compel young men to grow up to take responsibility and sometimes in doing that I have communicated that in a way that demeans women and that’s not helpful and that’s not right and in the grace of God I need to repent and do better at that. But I still want, I mean no one would say that young men are in the western world highly impressive and we’re all encouraged. There’s a lot of work to be done. And so, I regret the times that I have not communicated in such a way trying to compel them and up and it seems I’m pushing the women down and that’s my fault.” (37:19-38:20)

Brian Houston: “That’s how you feel. You can change moving forward?” (38:21-38:23)
Mark Driscoll: “I hope to with the Grace of God yeah, absolutely.” (38:24-38:27)
Brian Houston: “Good.” (38:28)

Grace Driscoll: “I mean, I’ve never seen him as a misogynist, and never even thought that him of that at all. So, I’ve witnessed the opposite and so, and I’ve known him 27 years And so I can say yes there were methods that were wrong in the beginning but I knew his heart.” (38:29-38:46)

Here's the thing, Mark Driscoll's 2008 spiritual warfare instruction session was a leaders-only message, not instruction made available to the masses until years later.  Now perhaps Grace Driscoll was not at that teaching session and didn't hear or otherwise come into contact with the following:
February 5, 2008
Pastor Mark Driscoll

Part 2: The Devil

How about this one? Idle gossip and busybodying. 1 Timothy 5:11-15. THIS one is amazing. Ladies this one is especially for you. Some of you say, "Oh, it's not me." Yeah, it is. [emphasis added] 1 Timothy 5:11-15, "but refuse to enroll younger widows for when their passions draw them away from Christ they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith.  Besides that they learn to be idlers"  Women learn how to make a lot of free time. Going about from house to house. Well now it would be from email to email and from phone call to phone call. Technology makes idle busybodying far more effective than ever.

And not only idlers but also gossips. They like to talk about people. How are you doing? What are you doing? And this isn't sisterly accountability, this is "I need to know what everybody's doing because I like to know what everybody's doing and then I can tell other people what other people are doing and then I can say, `Hey, you need to pray for so-and-so.' and I can make it sound spiritual so that when I'm gossiping and busy-bodying I'm doing so in a way that seems really Jesus-like." And busybodies, they need to know what everybody's doing. They need to know what everybody's doing, saying what they should not. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children and manage their household, right? Stay busy, and give the adversary (that's Satan) no occasion for slander. For some have already strayed after Satan. Hmm.

A woman who's a gossip and a busybody; a woman who has to put her nose in everybody's business and knows what everybody's going on; know what they're doing, she's working with Satan. Now I know most women would say: "No, no, no. I'm not Satanic, I'm concerned. I'm not Satanic, I'm an intercessor. I'm a prayer warrior. I'm not Satanic, I'm an accountability partner.  I'm not Satanic, I'm a concerned friend."  Okay, you're a Satanic intercessory prayer warrior accountability partner concerned friend but just start the whole list with "Satanic" so that we don't misunderstand your job description. 

Now there's a difference between someone inviting you into their life and saying, "I want to be friends, I want to have an accountable  relationship." and you pushing yourself into everyone's life, okay?  I'll tell you, in the history of Mars Hill, I mean, I have had to put up a firewall, a moat, guard dogs, and a high wall with barbed wire on the top, and snipers behind it, around my wife. There are certain women who, they just need to know what Grace is doing and they are determined, they say things like, uh, "Hey, we need to have dinner with your family."

[slight chuckle] No you don't.
"Hey, we need to have coffee."
No you don't. 
"Hey, phone number."
 What? Nope.
"Email." Nope. 

Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.

"Oh, come on." Nope.
"But I thought you were our pastor."

I am and my first lesson is to tell you you're Satanic.

"Oh, come on, in our last church the pastor's wife [sob] she was my best friend and I got to talk to her all the time."

Well, she was Satanic, too.  Give me her number, I'll call her and tell her. We'll help her out.

You ladies KNOW these women. Right? How many of you ladies know these women? They will try first with the hyper-spiritual, "Oh, praise the Lord! I'd love to pray for you. Let's get together. Let's do Christian community. Let's go to heart." If you decline, then they emotionally manipulate, [inhales, sobbing voice], "I thought we were friends, I thought you loved me. I don't have anybody to talk to." It's all manipulation. It's FEMALE manipulation.  Some of you ladies, right now? You think, "I can't believe he said that." It's all true. It's Satanic, Satanic.

Paul says, "Don't be a busybody, stay busy." Right? Your husband, your kids, your family, your home, Jesus Christ. You got things to do.

Busybodies stay busy inserting themselves into everyone else's life. In some churches there are certain women, if you call them, they'll know everything that's going on because, somehow, they know everything. There's a difference between being a woman who is invited into someone's life for friendship, prayer and accountability, and a woman who emotionally manipulates and is pushy and is sometimes hyperspiritual and demanding and forces herself in because she's a drama queen and has to be at the center of all the drama. That is a Satanic woman.

You need to believe that and the worst thing you can do is accomodate her. Okay, we'll have you over for dinner once. And then, the next month, it's "Okay, buddy, we haven't been together in a month. We need to get together again. I'm sure a lot has happened in your life and I don't know what it is and I need to know because I need to know everything. I have a God complex of omniscience. I want to know everything about everybody." And what you find with these people, Paul says, they tend to be gossips, meaning you don't just talk to them, then they talk to other people.  "Well, did you know their marriage is struggling? Did you know that she's depressed?  Did you know that  she's post-partum?  Do you know that, sexually, her husband's impotent?" These are the conversations I've heard in this building. Really?

Sometimes womens' ministry is the cesspool that this kind of activity flourishes in. Some have asked, "Why don't you have womens' ministry?" The answer is we do, but it's, you have to be very careful, it's like juggling knives. You put the wrong women in charge of womens' ministry, the drama queen, the gossip mama, all of a sudden all the women come together, tell her everything, she becomes the pseudo-elder  quasi-matriarch; she's got the dirt on everybody and sometimes the women all get together to just rip on their husbands in the name of prayer requests. Happens all the time. Happens all the time. [emphasis added] We have worked very hard so that the women who teach here are like Wendy Alsup who I really love and appreciate and respect. She's not like that. It is not that no woman should lead, that no woman should teach, that no woman should in a position of authority over other women  under the authority of their husband, Jesus and the elders it's just that the wrong women tend to want it. The wrong women tend to want it and they tend to want it for the wrong reasons. And sometimes it's the humble woman, who isn't fighting to be the center of drama, control and power; who doesn't have to be up front; she's usually the one who is most capable and qualified.  

And for you single men as well I would say be very, very careful because if you're on staff at Mars Hill  (everything I say sounds terrible, this will just be added to the pile) there are certain women who will tell you, "I want to marry a pastor." Really? You should want to marry a Christian who loves Jesus, loves you, loves your kids should God give them to you. I've lectured enough Bible colleges and seminaries, the young women who come up and say, "I want to marry a pastor"  my immediate default question is, "Are you a gossip? Are you a busybody? Are you a drama queen?" "No. No, I feel called to serve the Lord."  Well, you can serve the Lord without being called to be a pastor's wife in fact, take it from me, it's easier to be a woman and serve the Lord than being married to a pastor.   You single  guys, you gotta be careful, man. There are some women, they want to marry the pastor so they can be the center of power, authority; they can be the first lady; everybody knows them, everybody wants to be their friend, everybody wants to tell them everything; and they can be the center of all the drama. Run for your life. Run for your life. Run for your life. It's Satanic.

See?  I need you women to really search your own heart. Are you Satanic? Is this still part of your flesh, this sick desire in you to know everybody's business? I'm not saying you don't have friends but how much are you on the internet? How much time do you spend emailing? How much time do you spend crying and freaking out and knowing everybody's business and on the phone and having to meet with people because, "Did you know so-and-so did such-and-such and so-and-so is feeling this way and did you--?" Are you the center of LOTS of activity? Why? It's Satanic. It's Satanic. I think I've made my point. 

So on the best of all possible days NOBODY could have construed ANY of that as even POTENTIALLY being misogynistic? 

That Mark Driscoll regarded gossip as a uniquely or even singularly womanly vice seems simultaneously ironic and strange.  It seems ironic because Mark Driscoll has been more than happy to share stories of things he's said in pastoral roles that would seem best left never said, let alone conveyed to hundreds or thousands for the sake of a punchline.  Take the axiomatic observation that marriages improve when guys get more sex.

The Biblical Man
And most guys are just simply frustrated, that I have talked to, because they're not getting enough sex. I'll give you one story. Won't name his name, but I remember meeting with a--this is a lot of my marriage counseling. I don't think I'm a great marriage counselor but I do think I have one key insight that I'll share with you. Oftentimes I meet with couples and here's what I hear--the wife says, "I don't feel like we're connected. I don't feel like we're close. I feel like he's a little irritable." And then I ask, "How often are you having sex?"  And she's, "What does that have to do with anything?" [slight chuckle] That effects everything.  You know. Frequency is important. ...

"You guys have sex every day and then come see me again in a month and if there's still communication problems, he seems depressed, he's lethargic, THEN we'll talk because there's OBVIOUSLY a problem. But we're gonna start with what SEEMS to be the most obvious solution." 

I'm telling ya, ninety-nine percent of the time they come back a month later she's like, "He's just totally a different guy. [emphasis added] ...

and there's always that Scotland sermon

Mark Driscoll | Sex: A Study of the Good Bits of Song of Solomon
Edinburgh, Scotland on November 18,2007
about 23:05

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest,‖ she says, ―is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade and his fruit is sweet to my taste.‖ What is she talking about? Oral sex on her husband. That as he stands, she likes to be beneath him and his taste is sweet. It is a euphemism for oral sex, in your Bible. The Jews wouldn‘t even let men read this until they were married or thirty. Now you know why. You‘ve got Jewish boys under the blankets at night with a candle. [Laughter from audience.] Men, I am glad to report to you that oral sex is biblical. Amen? [Minimal response from audience.] No, you can do better than that. [Laughter from audience] The wife performing oral sex on the husband is biblical. God‘s men said, Amen. Ladies, your husbands appreciate oral sex. They do. So, serve them, love them well. It‘s biblical. Right here. We have a verse. The fruit of her husband is sweet to her taste and she delights to be beneath

I'll tell you a story if you don't tell anyone else of a man who started attending our church because of oral sex. Right? So many women go to church. In your country it's sixty or seventy percent. "My husband won't come to church. He doesn't have any interest in the things of God. He doesn't understand why church would apply to him." We had a woman like that in our church. She became a Christian. Her husband was not a Christian. He hated the church, wanted nothing to do with the church. She kept browbeating him about Jesus. "You need to get saved. You're gonna burn in hell."
He had no interest in that. 

And so, finally, I was teaching a class on sex and she said, "Oh, so oral sex on a husband is what a wife is supposed to do?" I said, "Yes." She said, "My husband's always wanted that but I've refused him." I went to 1 Peter 3. I said, "The Bible says that if your husband is not a Christian that you are to win him over with deeds of kindness." I said, "So go home and tell your husband that you were in a Bible study today and that God has convicted you of sin.  And repent and go perform oral sex on your husband and tell him that Jesus, Jesus Christ commands you to do so." [emphasis added] The next week the man showed up at church. He came up to me, he said, "You know, this is a really good church." That handing out tracts on the street thing, there's a better way to see revival, I assure you of that
--you say, "Won't that make me dirty?" No, it'll make you a good wife, and ladies, let me assure you of this, if you think you're being dirty he's pretty happy. [emphasis added]

So if you're a Christian wife and your pastor says the Bible says you should give your husband oral sex in spite of your reservations against it there's room to be concerned about that.  It's a puzzle particularly since, as we've established from "Mark Driscoll vs the Puritans" that actual Puritans would regard such a thing from a man, let alone a pastor, as depraved.  We can particularly turn to Richard Baxter on a very specific question:
let's look at page 445 in a section where Baxter discusses the duties of wives to husbands and considers various grounds for legitimate possibility for divorce.

Quest. XI. Is not the case of sodomy or buggery a ground for warrantable divorce as well as
Answ. Yes, and seemeth to be included in the very word itself in the text, Matt. v, 31,32,

which signifieth uncleanness; or at least is fully implied in the reason of it. See Grotius
ibid, also of this.

So Mark Driscoll can blather on all he want about how the Puritans are great and he loves them and how the Bible says oral sex is great and biblical.  You can still note that Richard Baxter advised that sodomy and buggery were grounds for warrantable divorce just as adultery would be.   Driscoll recommended to Mars Hill members way back in 2001-2002 so it's not like he could never look up Baxter's Christian Directory.

Driscoll not only said he told a woman she should give her husband oral sex he regaled a crowd about how he did so and what biblical prooftexts he was willing to employ.

While progressive and secular writers tended to misconstrue and misquote this one let's not forget that back in 2006 Driscoll :

Most pastors I know do not have satisfying, free, sexual conversations and liberties with their wives. At the risk of being even more widely despised than I currently am, I will lean over the plate and take one for the team on this. It is not uncommon to meet pastors' wives who really let themselves go; they sometimes feel that because their husband is a pastor, he is therefore trapped into fidelity [emphasis added], which gives them cause for laziness. A wife who lets herself go and is not sexually available to her husband in the ways that the Song of Songs is so frank about is not responsible for her husband's sin, but she may not be helping him either.

A series of Driscoll's more memorable anecdotes and axioms on women, marriage and particularly about sex can be read over here.

All that is to say that Grace Driscoll is free to believe what she likes about her husband having no history of having said or done anything she would consider misogynistic.  The rest of the world is free to suggest a different possibility. 

There really is a lot that could be unpacked from what Smidt shared but one of a few things that her conversation reminded me of was something I considered a couple of years ago about the nature of shunning at Mars Hill.

The tl:dr version is this--shunning activity seemed to be calibrated to the level of formal authority people were regarded as having.  This was probably most true about men and wives were only secondarily considered.  The scant advantage that might have had for women was that wrath from above would tend to be mediated to the husband first on account of headship (retroactive sarcasm alert).  The disadvantage would be that since women were expected to be under headship any concerns they had would be required to go up the chain of command.  So a wife who had concerns about a leadership decision or a policy would have to mediate that concern through a husband who might or might not get heard or who might or might not accurately or adequately convey his wife's concerns.

But there's another thing that's come to mind lately hearing Smidt's story.  If you've read this far notice how adamant Driscoll's denunciation of women as gossips was.  It's like he was denouncing what he regarded as a saantic underground church leadership culture within a church leadership culture.  Sure, Driscoll paradoxically embodied the kind of petty gossip-mongering mentality he claimed to find so loathsome in women as he talked about what stuff he heard; sure he managed to repeat and transmit the stuff he considered so shameful to other leaders in 2008 and then, again, to the entire inquiring world that may have downloaded the audio files later.  But there's an additional layer to consider.  The animus toward women regarded as gossips is the easiest thing to notice but there's a subtle and potentially divergent element within that concern. 

What Driscoll may have been concerned about was the possibility of informal networks of influence.  He may have, perhaps under the influence of covertly and overtly misogynistic biases, fixated on women as most embodying what he dreaded happening to Mars Hill, but there's nothing inherently womanly about a giant informal network of informal influence.  If at times leaders of Mars Hill made it seem as though tech systems had been hacked this might have been what some of them wanted to believe.  To go by the number of times (just a handful, really) WtH decided to stonewall leaders of Mars Hill it seemed that one of the conundrums Mars Hill leadership had was that they knew perfectly well who was able and willing to publish leaked content detailing policies and personalities in Mars Hill history.  What they couldn't figure out was who was doing all the leaking and how they went about doing it.  Who published what about Mars Hill is not that difficult to establish.  It's easy to look up.  Who conveyed what information in what way and at what time is another matter and may it remain opaque for a long time to come.

One of the heartening things to hear Smidt relay was how in the wake of the loss of formal status the informal network of relations and goodwill she and her husband had inspired people to raise money on their behalf.  That may get to a point we should bear in mind about the power of informal connections, the informal power is dormant and not necessarily observable until a catalyzing incident or policy gets implemented.  When Pharaoh decreed the Hebrew male babies be killed the midwives defied the policy.  By broad analogy when Mars Hill formal leadership insisted on a rigid respect for formal chains of command as a way to obfuscate or dampen avenues of internal protest, this may have gone on long enough that it inspired people to vent their frustrations to the press or to bloggers or to all the above.  That was, actually, one of the things I mentioned to a former MH pastor back around 2009 as being a likely outcome of the policies and precedents that were taking shape from the 2007-2009 period.

Where I differ a little bit with Smidt regarding Jamie Munson is on the extent to which Munson was a "buffer" between Driscoll and the church culture at large. Where the term she used is "buffer" the term I'd use is "insulation".   Munson, and then later Turner, insulated Mark Driscoll from directly having to bear the animosity from the masses regarding policies and decisions in the normal or exceptional operation of governance.  That's not a semantic distinction, obviously.  Munson and those close to him may have felt he played the role of a buffer if the comparison point for Munson is Turner.  But if there's no grading on a curve and Munson's tenure as president beginning with the termination and trials of Petry and Meyer on the one hand and, on the other hand , a closing year of being involved in the Result Source contract agreement is considered, Munson's tenure as legal president of Mars Hill may have been bookended by two or three of the more disastrous leadership decisions in the history of Mars Hill. By being the president of the organization Munson managed to bear the formal responsibility for decisions that were made that, in the long run, seemed to benefit Mark Driscoll more than others.   Sometimes it can seem as if a person would have to interpret "buffer" as something like a bullet-proof vest.  After all, Driscoll used to say that when you're in ministry people like to take shots at you.  Perhaps, to extend Driscoll's analogy a bit, visionary leaders who know they are apt to get shot at invest in bullet-proof vests. 

Sutton Turner had a leadership style that, to put it delicately, alienated a lot of people at Mars Hill.  Smidt's conversation alludes to this.  But it seems that there are people willing to go on record saying that Turner's leadership, though it had controversies, saved Mars Hill from the brink of fiscal ruin. (there are some new entries from former MH staff if you haven't read this page in a while)

The consensus among those willing to endorse Turner seems to be that Turner helped Mars Hill get through a situation that was nothing short of a crisis.  If anyone were to contest the reliability of these accounts they would have to provide some evidence that Sutton Turner did not, in effect, salvage Mars Hill from fiscal ruin.  Sure, ultimately since in the wake of Mark Driscoll's resignation the entity known as Mars Hill dissolved Turner couldn't save Mars Hill but at that point we're arguably discussing the blowback from policies that Turner implemented regarding things you've probably already read about if you're coming to this blog for any Mars Hill related anything.

In other words, whoever disagrees with the account that Sutton Turner saved Mars Hill from running over a fiscal cliff currently has no evidence whatsoever to provide a counter-narrative.  It's also possible that both Munson AND Turner came to regard themselves as playing the role of buffer between Mark Driscoll as a leader and the rest of Mars Hill as a culture. 

Something Smidt mentioned about reconciliation is worth noting, that it was conveyed to her that it was not possible for the Driscolls to reconcile with her on account of Phil Smidt's role in leveling formal charges against Mark Driscoll.  It seems to be very easy for the Driscolls to recycle the bromides they introduced in Real Marriage over at their blog.

Sometimes the posts have content from Grace Driscoll, or at the very least Grace Driscoll is willing to sign off on the content

Smidt shared in the podcast she went through a demon trial.  I had to listen to the multi-hour 2008 spiritual warfare session because that was required of Theology Response Team volunteers.  To keep an already sprawling blog post shorter than it could be, I became an ex-Pentecostal because I didn't like the volatile mixture of recovered memory tropes and soul tie stuff that seemed like a bad mixture of the worst pop psychology fads with inadequate scriptural interpretation.  There's a long-form case to be made (and has been at this blog for those who want to trawl through it) that if Mark Driscoll's taxonomy of demonization were applied to what he's said about his own life it's an open question whether he's at some point been demonized himself. 

But it's understandable why people would be reluctant to share if they had been subjects to demona trials as Mark Driscoll described them.  Driscoll at this point might not be in a rush to describe conducting demon trials for a bit. 

So those are the only sort of organized thoughts of the evening having heard the podcast.  If you're a former Mars Hill member or leader it's worth giving the podcast a listen. 

It doesn't sound like either Mark or Grace Driscoll have deigned to make any significant contact with Phil or Jen Smidt as yet, at least by Jen Smidt's account.  Since Acts 29 leadership basically said Mark Driscoll had disqualified himself from ministry it seems like a live question why Christians would want Driscoll speaking at their conferences.  There's a range of possible explanations for this but it's not suitable to elaborate on them in so long a post as this one already has become.