October: Gentleness. Girl Gone Mild. It’s chapter one of Rachel Evan’s book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. The chapter begins with Rachel’s complaints and doubts about achieving the “gentle spirit” ala scripture during football season. She also tries to kick the gossiping habit, takes an etiquette lesson, and practices contemplative prayer. As if this were not enough, she makes a “swearing jar” into which she deposits pennies each time she catches herself being “contentious,” and at the end of the month, she spends one minute for each penny on the rooftop of her home, doing penance.
Somehow, the plan feels contrived from the start, like a publicity stunt. The year of practicing biblical womanhood is an “experiment.” It’s a book. Is Evans REALLY trying to be that kind of woman? If the answer is yes, SHOULD she? If the answer is no, then what’s the point of the book? I can see why Bible-worshippers are mad at Evans for making a joke out of scripture. I don’t think her intentions are to be sacrilegious. In fact, I applaud her for showing her audience how ridiculous it is to approach scripture with strict, literal, wooden-headed tunnel-vision.
If I hadn’t committed to review the book on this blog, I might have put it down after the first few pages of chapter one, but not because it wasn’t entertaining. Evans is a comical writer. Her narrative is rich and descriptive. It’s just that I’ve got this sick, disgusted feeling about ungodly transformation. I spent a decade and a half trying and failing to be the person that churchianity was trying to make me. Sure, godly behavior may look godly, but God’s kind of transformation doesn’t begin with behavior. He starts on the inside and strips away what is NOT you, so that you can be exactly who He created you to be, your created-in-Christ self. All the self-deprecation in the world won’t bring about the aionios zoe. A lifetime of a rooftop doing penance might transform a person, but not in a healthy way.
The bible is full of some crazy ideas about what it means to be a woman or how a woman ought to behave, because Judaism and Christianity arose from patriarchal societies. But the bible is also useful, because it’s Gods way of letting us, humanity, have an honest look at ourselves. The book reads us. Believers tend to make an idol of the book, try to conform themselves to the book, force themselves to abandon their own God-given reason in order to remain faithful to the most outrageous concepts in the book, and effectively shut God out of their lives in the process.
For example, Jesus explains to His disciples that He will be crucified, but that death will not be able to hold Him. They are all familiar with the prophecies concerning the long-awaited Messiah. Later, when He appears to them, after they had seen Him die, they still don’t get it. How can they not understand? He encourages them to examine Him and see that He is not a ghost. And they still don’t believe, “because of joy and amazement.” He even makes a point to eat something in front of them, to prove he is really there, flesh and bones.
But it isn’t until He “open[s] their minds so they [can] understand the Scriptures” that the truth sinks in. So it is with everyone. Unfortunately, spiritual “experts” put on a convincing show of having it all figured out. And most of their audiences fall for it, hook, line, and sinker.
Needless to say, I was very relieved to read the section in Evan’s first chapter about contemplative prayer. The Spirit of God explains “spiritual realities” that transcend the words on the page. Evans writes,
…the images and words that flooded my mind during prayer each morning were far from docile or weak… it felt as though my feet were extending through the ground, growing into long, winding roots… the image of a great tree returned to me again and again… I think maybe God was trying to tell me that gentleness begins with strength, quietness with security. A great tree is both moved and unmoved, for it changes with the seasons, but its roots keep it anchored in the ground… Far from connoting timidity or docility, gentleness is associated with integrity and self-control, particularly in the face of persecution.
These words really resonate with me and give me hope that I will be walking away with something meaningful each time I open this book.
Having said that, I must also say that I am disappointed that the chapter ends with a story from “one of the most violent and disturbing books” of scripture, “replete with gory accounts of war, plunder, disembowelment, and rape.” The story ends with 900+ people dead, under the military leadership of a woman. Oh, yeah, and a guy who dies at the hands of another woman, who drives a tent peg through his temple. Yay! Girl power!
I don’t think that this is what Jesus had in mind when He said, “Love your enemies.” Of course, this story is written 1000+ years prior to when Christ speaks the words of spirit and life that are still reverberating around the globe to this day. I don’t see how this story has anything to do with the revelation God gives Evans, that “gentleness is associated with integrity and self-control, particularly in the face of persecution.”
So that’s my honest look at chapter one.