Knowing Better than God: No Pink Bowling Balls for Boys!

“You’re not gonna use the pink ball. We’re not gonna let you do that. Not on camera.” Rick Santorum to a boy reaching for a bowling ball

I was never a particularly macho kid. Yeah, my brother and I played with cars and trucks. We even played the occasional vacant lot baseball game. Despite that, I never played organized sports. I was the last picked for teams in gym class. I chose the Drama electives instead of more manly subjects. Crying was not outside of my repertoire. Coming of age when I did, it was not easy to be the sensitive boy.  

“When are you going to get a real job?” –Cindy, about my work educaring infants and toddlers 

Spending my days nurturing and caring for infants and toddlers was not the traditional path for a man in the early 1980s. I knew it might be a lonely path when I became the 
first man to graduate from the early childhood degree program at Illinois State University. While blessed by a fully supportive fiance and now wife, I had also hoped—perhaps in vain—that my friends would understand. Some did. Cindy did not.

There were jobs I did not receive because of a cultural bias that any man who wanted to work with babies must be a molester. It was not easy blazing a trail. The joys and contentment I have always felt with humanity’s youngest is a clear sign that this was the Divinely-led path for me. 

As a bi-vocational minister, I still spend time working with babies and young children part-time. Things have gotten better or, perhaps, I’ve just gotten better at finding people who see my gifts. Nonetheless there are far too few men who work with young children. Our culture still has stratified roles for women and men. 

I felt anger rise within me. My eyes watered as I read of a presidential candidate discouraging a boy from using a pink bowling ball. I know how it feels to have who you are created to be dismissed by others. I am not alone in these feelings. Certainly women in traditionally men’s professions have a more difficult journey than I’ve had as a white man.

When we force boys or girls into rigid, culturally-constructed roles based upon their sexual organs, we deny their humanity. We deny their Divinely created gifts. In effect, we idolize – treat as a god – our own socially-constructed gender roles.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. 1 Corinthians 12: 4-11 NRSV (View this passage in context.)

When we discourage girls from studying the sciences or boys from nurturing babies, we teach our children to ignore the Spirit. We tell our children to pretend to be someone they are not. We tell God that we know better. 

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About Tim Graves

Tim strives to share God’s extravagant love for all–no matter what & without strings. Seeking to follow the lure of the Spirit, Tim writes about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in an era where Christianity has come to be associated with hatred and political wedge issues. “Heinous things have been said & done (& still are) in the name of the One who breathed in the Divine,” notes Tim, “but Jesus shows us that God loves extravagantly.” Following the teachings and life of Jesus is about inclusion not exclusion. It is about compassion, grace, and admitting no one has all the answers. It is about responding lovingly to the best of our human ability. It is about people not institutions. It is about social justice. It is about caring for creation. It is about being who we were each created to be. Tim is a former early childhood educator, a runner, a hiker, a devoted husband, father of two adult children and their spouses, and a grandfather of two perfect babies. The former pastor of the Condon United Church of Christ, Tim recently began serving the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Albany, Oregon. He writes from home, from the coffee shop, and wherever the trail leads him.

2 thoughts on “Knowing Better than God: No Pink Bowling Balls for Boys!

  1. Thanks, Tim.

    As a parent of a 2 year old boy, we do our best to let him explore what he is interested in. Right now, that means trains, blocks, cars, and puzzles. We also take him to art museums and try to encourage him to color and develop his creativeness. And when he puts on his mom’s dress shoes and walks around the house, we just smile. There is so much in the world to explore from his perspective – I’d prefer he have a wide range of experiences than attempt to be pigeonholed into some narrow understanding of what it means to be a boy.

    Unfortunately, those expectations also come from beyond our family, so no doubt, he will feel pressure to conform throughout his life. I hope all children have a safe place to come back to and express who God made them to be.

  2. As always, excellent reflection. Challenging, as a man who grew up and is still around such an arrogant ethos…and who still carries forth some of that. Inspiring, for one who seeks to create a space for young children to ‘be who they are, and be that well” (St. Francis de Sales). Humbling, for a friend who is learning more about your journey and discovering more and more how gifted you are! Thanks for your vulnerability, your courage, and your ministry of Christ in all of life’s varied circumstances.

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