Book Review: A Year of Biblical Womanhood
Strong-willed and independent, Rachel Held Evans couldn’t sew a button on a blouse before she embarked on a radical life experiment—a year of biblical womanhood.
When I set out to write a blog post about “May: Fertility — Quivers Full of Arrows and Sippy Cups,” chapter eight of Rachel Held Evans’ book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, I found myself surprised at how fully I’ve transitioned from “Mommy” to “Nana,” and how irrelevant some of the practical information in this chapter had become to me at this stage in my life. Nevertheless, this chapter, like the rest of Evans’ book, is thought-provoking, delightful to read, and rich with spiritual applications.
Rachel’s to-do list for the month:
- Read a stack of parenting books
- Come clean about fear of motherhood
- Interview a Quiverfull daughter
- Babysit Addy and Aury for a day
- Care for a computerized “Baby-Think-It-Over” for three days
One of my favorite parts of the chapter was about Rachel’s Facebook experience (“all hell broke loose,” she says) after asking the question, “What books would you recommend for someone interested in learning about parenting? (And no, I’m NOT pregnant!)”
I also found the section on Chip (the name Dan and Rachel gave their infant simulator) quite funny.
Evans points out that as women, our “highest calling” is not motherhood (although being a mother is definitely a high calling), but following Christ. Here are a couple of quotes from the chapter that resonated with me:
Perhaps someday, all women, no matter their marital status or procreative prowess, will be equally honored by the Church.
Following Christ is something a woman can do whether she is married, or single, rich or poor, sick or healthy, childless or Michelle Duggar.
As I’ve said in other blogs, I appreciate the wonderful changes taking place in the world thanks to the advent of the Internet. One of those changes is the way in which a single-author book, like Rachel Evan’s book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, becomes a multi-author ongoing conversation. This short essay I wrote for my digital media class explains how this works:
I have first-hand experience with serial structure or “digital storytelling as ‘segmented art’” (41) as a blogger who gives voice to the de-churched ecclesia, one day at a time. However, my readers have the opportunity to “connect these [seemingly disjointed] moments and mentally construct a continuous, unified reality” (41) through the structural design of participation also known as the “blogosphere.” To demonstrate how this works, I will use the example of a chapter-by-chapter blog series book review I’m writing.
I got an email in October 2012 asking if I would like to be part of the launch team for Rachel Evans’ book, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood,” which became a New York Times Best Seller in November 2012. To me, being part of this team basically means, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. What’s in it for me? A free book and maybe a little bit of increase in blog traffic. What’s in it for her? Free marketing. I’m being totally transparent here.
“Biblical,” in my mind, is synonymous with “oppression.” I’ve seen and experienced first-hand some pretty stupid ideas about what it means to be a Biblical woman. “Biblical” is a hijacked word. In regular blog posts, I have been approaching this subject from a first-person autobiographical perspective, but as part of the launch team, I have the opportunity to write from a third-person perspective in a social framework involving other bloggers and their audiences. We’ve been linking to each others blogs, basically rewriting or editing Evan’s story within the frameworks of our own individual experiences in comment sections, on Facebook pages, Twitter, and other social media. In other words, Evan’s book is no longer just a book with one author, it has mutated (in a good way) into something more, becoming a “multiple proscenia” (42) experience. For example, I am only on chapter four, yet reading and viewing audiences across America have been exposed through People magazine, The View, CBC Radio, The Today Show, etc. My blog readers may be experiencing the “timeshifting” (43) effect of multiple proscenia as they follow along with Evan’s book at the pace I have chosen to set.
In digital storytelling, Evan’s story evolves according to the “additive and expressive” platforms of those who present Evan’s experience in their own time and way. The story evolves and expands in its many, varied retellings. At first, the plan felt contrived from the start, like a publicity stunt. I asked, “Is Evans REALLY trying to be that kind of woman? and if the answer is yes, SHOULD she? If the answer is no, then what’s the point of the book?” I feel differently now, as is evidenced in this excerpt from my most recent blog post in this series: “Some church-goers think all hell will break loose if women wiggle their way out from under the patriarchal thumb. It’s easy to forget that people still think, believe, and teach stupidity in little church-worlds that only allow people to think, believe, and teach said stupidity so that people like Rachel Evans have to endure a shit-storm of even more stupidity for daring to question stupidity. Pack that religious junk back into the box and put it by the curb, because even GoodWill doesn’t want it. It’s just a bad memory. Time to move on, ladies.”
Alexander, Bryan. The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives With New Media. Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2011. Print.
Evans, Rachel Held. A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Hear, and Calling Her Husband Master. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2012. PDF.
As a blogger, I tend to bite off more than I can chew, because I love to write. I see new blog material in all my waking (and sometimes, sleeping) hours. Right now, I’m working on two blog series based on books. The first is “Erasing Hell: What God said about eternity and the things we made up” by Francis Chan, and the second is “What Shall We Say: Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith,” by Thomas G. Long. I would like to officially add a third book, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood,” by Rachel Evans. I’ve only read a handful of Evan’s blogs, so my approach to this book is not as a fan of her writing (although, I imagine that if I keep reading her work, it won’t be long before one could call me a fan).
When I heard that she was about to release this book, my first thought was, “Seriously?” I didn’t imagine it would be a book I would be all that interested in reading, since “Biblical” womanhood, in my mind, is synonymous with “oppression.” Please understand that I am very interested in living an abundant life with a clear conscience before God and that I do value the scriptures. But I’ve also seen and experienced some pretty stupid ideas about what it means to be a woman imposed upon unsuspecting people who haven’t really stopped to consider that there’s a huge difference between the words “God-honoring” and “Biblical.” You see, “Biblical” is a hijacked word, sort of like the word “Christian” is a hijacked word.
I got an email asking if I would like to be part of the launch team for this book, which basically means, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. What’s in it for me? A free book and maybe a little bit of increase in blog traffic. What’s in it for her? Free marketing.
I’m being totally transparent here.
And while we are on the subject of transparency, I have a confession to make. Last night, after I worked on the Kickstarter page for a while, I yawned and told myself, go to bed already. And then I remembered that Evan’s book released today, and if I am going to be a responsible member of this launch team, I better start reading. I’ll bet most of the other people on the launch team posted their blogs like three days ago.
Remember what I said about I didn’t imagine it would be a book I would be all that interested in reading? Well, scratch that. As soon as I saw the words, “Three-Thousand-year-old inferiority complex,” I knew that this wasn’t going to be one of those condemning churchy books. One thing that struck me, right away, is Evan’s humor. Humor isn’t my strong point, so it fascinates me when other people can write humor well. Rachel’s transparency is also refreshing. This quote is a great example of her writing style. She had just turned thirty, and someone had asked her when she and her husband Dan were planning on having a baby:
…the truth – that I’m absolutely, inexplicably terrified of motherhood – was too embarrassing to speak aloud. It crossed my mind that I could get away with a lie. You know: shrug my shoulders, conjure up some tears, and say something about God’s perfect timing to imply that we were trying, because, really, who’s going to conduct a thorough investigation into that? But instead I found myself saying, “I think I’d like to write another book first,” which came across a lot more smugly than I intended.
I’ll continue this series as time permits. If you get your own book, we could kind of read along together! <– shameless plug
In the meantime, here’s some information from the press package:
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.
Most of my spare time for the past two months has been spent in preparation for and promotion of a Kickstarter campaign for Alzheimer Chronicles: The Invisible Poets. At this point, it will take some serious Divine intervention for the project to successfully fund. In fact, by the time I finish writing this blog, the campaign will have ended. Perhaps I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Probably not. Anyhow, that’s part of the reason I’m only on chapter two of Rachel Evan’s book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood.
A few years ago, I packed all but the most basic kitchen supplies into Rubbermaid containers and cardboard boxes. In fact, my husband and I packed up all but the most basic EVERYTHING supplies and stopped fighting the fight to keep our first and only home. After twelve years of faithfully paying our mortgage, the housing market crashed, and along with it, my husband’s brand new mortgage title company. Since we started the business on a home equity loan, we were in double trouble. Shortly after that, I lost my job as administrative assistant at a church for doing what I’m doing right now – blogging. But that’s another blog for another day. My point is that as I read chapter two, entitled, “November: Domesticity,” it brought back memories of what it’s like to do the domestic thing.
We’ve been staying in my mother-in-law’s little guest house while I’m finishing school. The housing market has improved enough that, after two years of odd jobs and some intense job-hunting, Tim was able to find a job in his area of expertise. I actually have a kitchen now, but it’s only got three small cabinets, the breakfast bar serves as counter space, and there are two small utensil drawers. I’ve got 2 fry pans and 2 pots. I’d like to see Rachel Evans try her domestic experiment in my house! In January, my mother-in-law will be moving, and we are going to buy “the big house” from her. I’ll have a kitchen again! Yay!
My favorite line in this chapter is:
This line pretty much sums up the whole chapter for me.
A few paragraphs up, I said, November: Domesticity, brought back memories of what it’s like to do the domestic thing. But that’s not the only memories this chapter brought back. I also remember what it’s like to be told you’ll go to hell if you do ________, or if you don’t ________ (fill in the blanks with your choice of millions of different religiously unorthodox ideas).
Rediscovery can be such a wonderful or horrible experience, depending on what it is you’re rediscovering. When I open my boxes in late January or early February, and I begin unpacking my domesticity, it will be cause for celebration. Perhaps, I will prepare a Martha Stewart feast. When I open A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and I begin unpacking old religious concepts like the one below, it becomes cause for mourning. I mourn for my sisters who are stuck in a system that is STILL HAVING THESE KINDS OF CONVERSATIONS or worse, refusing to ever have them.
It’s easy to think, my God, what planet do they live on? Don’t they know that You are the Passionate God for Desperate Housewives? The apostle Paul wrote, “I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love which Christ Jesus our Lord shows us. We can’t be separated by death or life, by angels or rulers, by anything in the present or anything in the future, by forces or powers in the world above or in the world below, or by anything else in creation.” But somehow, the people who supposedly KNOW God more than anyone else seem to think that all hell will break loose if women wiggle their way out from under the patriarchal thumb.
It’s easy to forget that people still think, believe, and teach stupidity in little church-worlds that only allow people to think, believe, and teach said stupidity so that people like Rachel Evans have to endure a shit-storm of even more stupidity for daring to question stupidity.
If God calls you to be Mrs. Domestic Goddess, then bake and sew and clean and dote on that man, by all means. If God calls you to do something else, then do it with a clear conscience, no matter what the suits-with-news-anchormen-hairdos say. God’s heart is not made of paper and ink. He is Spirit, in us, teaching us. It’s time to start listening to God. Pack that religious junk back into the box and put it by the curb, because even GoodWill doesn’t want it. It’s just a bad memory. Time to move on, ladies.
When I read Rachel’s to-do list, I knew it would be an interesting chapter.
To Do This Month:
- Call Dan Master (1 Peter 3:1-6)
- Interview a Polygamist (Genesis 30; Exodus 21:10)
- Hold a ceremony in honor of the victims of misogyny (Judges 11:37-40)
This is the fourth blog post in a series reviewing Rachel Evans’ book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. (Here are the other three blogs, if you want to have a look: Three-Thousand-Year-Old Inferiority Complex, Girl Gone Mild, and Martha Stewart Theology.)
Rachel gives a laundry list of the horrors of biblical womanhood in ancient Israel. I won’t rename them all, just the one that makes me cringe worse than all the others:
Thankfully, Rachel reminds readers to embrace the discomfort in scripture instead of quickly explaining it away. There’s a reason why your conscience screams, “That completely screwed up! What the hell!?!” The story of how Jesus responded to stupid, immoral, dehumanizing Old Testament law should speak volumes to anyone who intends to use the Old Testament as a means to justify hateful or hurtful behavior. Rachel includes this story in her chapter on obedience.
Jesus went across to Mount Olives, but he was soon back in the Temple again. Swarms of people came to him. He sat down and taught them. The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him.
He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt. Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”
“No one, Master.”
“Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”
Rachel’s interview with a polygamist was rather uneventful for me. I think that I’ll stick with one husband, and if he wants to keep me around, well then, he’d better stick with just one wife. As for others? That’s between them and God. The woman Rachel interviewed made “Biblical” polygamy sound completely normal and pointed out that with the way families are so mixed and unconventional these days, their polygamist marriage didn’t really attract that much attention. Moving right along…
Rachel held the ceremony in honor of the victims of misogyny with her unique friend, Kristine. They basically went through scripture reading stories of women who were murdered in a culture and time period in which they were powerless to defend themselves. lighting a candle for each, and ending with the words of Christ, “As you have done unto the least of these, so you have done to me.” This portion of the chapter literally moved me to tears. Having just completed two UCF literature courses loaded with brutality (slavery and feminism), I felt overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility to join them in their intentional time of grief. It is important that we, the human race, don’t forget the terrible mistakes of our past. I wonder if anyone I know would be open to the idea.
The chapter comes to a close with a thoughtful look at Mary from Catholic and Protestant perspectives. I personally believe that Mary was an ordinary young woman, who God chose, not for her merit, but because it’s God’s prerogative to choose as He pleases. It’s so easy to remember the glory of being chosen by God and forget the terrible consequences that accompany such a calling. Mary became an insult to her family and community for becoming pregnant before marriage. Mary had to endure any mother’s worst nightmare, seeing her son suffer an agonizing death, powerless to do anything to save Him. She deserves a special place of honor in the minds of believers, regardless of religious perspective. But so do so many other women throughout history.
This is another blog post in a series reviewing Rachel Evans’ book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. (Here are the other blogs, if you want to have a look: Three-Thousand-Year-Old Inferiority Complex, Girl Gone Mild, Martha Stewart Theology, Obedience: My Husband, My Master, and Bird’s Eye View of Rachel Evans’ Book.)
Evans begins her year of hell, I mean, year of Biblical womanhood in October, so by January, she’s learned a thing or two about “Biblical” womanhood. In this chapter “Valor: Will the Real Proverbs 31 Woman Please Stand Up?” Evans writes,
An empire of books, conferences, products, and media has evolved from a subtle repositioning of the [Proverbs 31] poem’s intended audience from that of men to that of women. One of the more popular books is titled Becoming the Woman God Wants Me to Be: A 90 Day Guide to Living the Proverbs 31 Life. No longer presented as a song through which a man offers his wife praise, Proverbs 31 is presented as a task list through which a woman earns it.
Evans puts herself in the shoes of a woman who takes Proverbs 31 in this a way and creates a to-do list, which includes, but is definitely not limited to getting up before dawn, avoiding “idleness” like TV, Facebook, and Twitter, and working until 9:00 pm. She learns to sew, praises her husband Dan “at the city gate,” and volunteers at a health clinic.
Evans writes her frustrations in such a cartoonishly funny way that reader’s can’t help but laugh along. For example, she writes,
There seems to be a universal consensus among people of faith that God is a morning person. The Dalai Lama rises at 3:30 am to meditate… my Proverbs 31 morning routine went something like this: wake up, make coffee, choose a centering word for meditation, fall back asleep, wake up again, feel guilty, drink coffee, lift my five-pound weights for three minutes, practice knitting, give up, write.
One very interesting tidbit I learn from this chapter is that orthodox Jewish husbands memorize Proverbs 31 so that “they can recite [the poem] to their wives at the Sabbath meal, usually in song.” (Eshet Chayil) How romantic! This puts an entirely different spin on that to-do list approach. The husbands apparently do this in front of everyone who has been invited into their home for the Sabbath celebration. Evan’s husband Dan said, “It’s like their version of ‘You go, girl!'”
Spouses should praise one another. It really helps the strength of a marriage to know that your spouse thinks highly of you. And this concept applies outside of marriage as well. Think about it. When was the last time you bragged about someone else’s accomplishments? Hopefully it hasn’t been long. You don’t have to take it to extremes (see the photo below), just a few words go a long way.
Rachel Evans certainly knows how to write attention-getting chapter bylines! My breasts are like towers, she says. Wait. What? That comes out of the Song of Songs, which is probably the most misapplied book in scripture.
This is another blog post in a series reviewing Rachel Evans’ book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. (Here are the other blogs, if you want to have a look: Three-Thousand-Year-Old Inferiority Complex, Girl Gone Mild, Martha Stewart Theology, Obedience: My Husband, My Master, Bird’s Eye View of Rachel Evans’ Book, and Eshet Chayil.)
Each chapter in the book covers one month of the year. This chapter is entitled, “February: Beauty,” and Evans’ to-do list for the month includes:
- Find out what the Bible really says about beauty and sex
- Interview a couple who practiced “biblical courtship”
- Give Dan “Sex Anytime” coupon (1 Corinthians 7:4-5)
Evans notes the negative message that women in Christian circles often hear, that is, “the importance of keeping a beauty routine so that husbands will not be tempted to ‘look elsewhere.'” I remember when I used to believe this was true. In my early twenties, I attended a church small group study on the book, The Excellent Wife, by Martha Peace. I was the only one there under forty. I was also the only one there under 200 pounds. The room went silent when I parroted what I had been taught. I might as well have said, “You have all failed miserably as wives. Don’t be surprised when your husband finds someone better.” When I remember that moment, I shudder. What a terrible thing to say. What a terrible thing to believe.
There are a lot of reason a woman gains weight – hormones, genes, emotional eating, and let’s not forget that almost every food contains high fructose corn syrup, hormones, and insecticides. But that’s a blog for another day.
1 Corinthians 7:4 says, “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.”
This and other scriptures have been used and abused and twisted to the male advantage over the centuries. Evans does some digging in scripture and unearths a few interesting facts:
- The gospel writers never rated the hotness of Jesus’ female disciples.
- The majority of verses that include woman and beauty in the same sentence… appear in warnings to young men about the dangers of adultery.
- …there is nothing in scripture to suggest that a woman is expected to maintain a youthful appearance throughout all phases of life.
- The Bible consistently describes beauty as fleeting.
BTW, Evans quotes Mark Driscoll quite a bit in this chapter. Why? Because he is known for giving sermons on all things sex, as if a pastor should tell what you can and can’t do in your own bedroom. Again, that’s another blog for another day.
Regarding the Song of Songs, Evans writes,
…it presents us with the longest unmediated female voice in the entire Bible. Where much of the Old Testament seems to regard female sexuality as something to be regulated and feared, Song of Songs unleashes a vivid and erotic expression of woman’s desire. In fact, the female perspective so dominates the poem that some scholars believe it may have been written by a woman.
So what does the ancient, uninhibited female voice say?
To sum it up, she says she’s beautiful, and she knows what she wants. (Basically, the lyrics to Beyonce’s next hit.)
With that in mind, I looked up some lyrics for Beyonce’s songs. I don’t listen to her music much, but the one song I’m familiar with goes, “if you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it,” which seems like an empowering attitude to have, if you’re single lady just coming out of a dead-end relationship. I was a little disappointed to find that most of her lyrics have to do with the whole world revolving around some dude or about shallow, appearance-based worth – bling, cheap sex, etc. But I did manage to find a glimmer of inspiration here and there:
Yes sir i’m cut from a different cloth / My texture is the best fur, im chinchilla
And they listen to me when I talk cause I ain’t pretending / Took a while, now I understand just where I’m going / Now I’m growing into who I am / Bout time I show it
I want to say I lived each day, until I died / And know that I meant something in, somebody’s life / The hearts I have touched, will be the proof that I leave / That I made a difference, and this world will see
I’ve been rescued by the Savior / Don’t you wanna be in his favor / Yeah / My home / Your home / In His everlasting arms
Listen to the song here in my heart / A melody I’ve started / But I will complete… / I’m more than what you’ve made of me / I followed the voice you think you gave to me / But now I gotta find my own..
I’m a puzzle yes in deed / Ever complex in every way / And all the pieces aren’t even in the box / And yet, you see the picture clear as day.
A simple word, a gesture / Someone to say you’re beautiful / Come find this buried treasure / Rainbows lead to a pot of gold
I recently celebrated my 41st birthday. Yes, I have more wrinkles. Yes, I sag. Yes, I could stand to lose a few pounds. But beauty, true lasting beauty, isn’t about any of those things. And it certainly isn’t something one must attain in order to keep her mate from wandering. It’s amazing to me how people can conjure up the most unholy ideas, using the Bible as a weapon against a woman’s sense of worth.
Today, Tim and I took our dog for a walk. I asked him, “If there were no people or animals or bugs, would it matter that the universe exists?” My thought was that in being captivated by the beauty of nature, humanity somehow gives nature purpose. There needs to be someone or something there to enjoy the beauty in order for that beauty to have meaning. Yes, creation would still be beautiful, even if no one were there to experience it, but would it matter that it was beautiful?
The book, Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul, by John and Staci Eldridge offers an exquisite definition of the beauty of a woman:
Beauty is what the world longs to experience from a woman. We know that. Somewhere down deep, we know it to be true. Most of our shame comes from this knowing and feeling that we have failed here. So listen to this: beauty is an essence that dwells in every woman. It was given to her by God…
Beauty is powerful. Beauty may be the most powerful thing on earth. Beauty speaks. Beauty invites. Beauty nourishes. Beauty comforts. Beauty inspires. Beauty is transcendent. Beauty draws us to God…
A woman in her glory, a woman of beauty, is a woman who is not striving to become beautiful or worthy enough. She knows in her quiet center where God dwells that he finds her beautiful, has deemed her worthy, and in him, she is enough. In fact, the only thing getting in the way of our being fully captivating and enjoyed is our striving.
Perhaps God’s delight in us – and when I say us, I mean us beautiful women, all of us – is what gives our beauty meaning. And if God thinks we are beautiful, who are we, or anyone else for that matter, to believe otherwise?
At the very core of a woman’s uncertainty about her own beauty is the same lie that has created a “striving” in Christianity – the doctrines of eternal torment and annihilation. How is a woman supposed to believe anything positive at all about herself, if she believes God eternally torments or annihilates those who are beautiful, worthy, and enough? I could have ended this blog with the word “otherwise” in the paragraph above, leaving readers with a warm and fuzzy feeling. But I would rather point out and annihilate the root cause of the problem. Vital to our sense of worth, for both men and women, is this basic concept:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Perhaps this clicks for some readers. For others, I lost you after “otherwise.” Consequently, I just realized that I have another blog series to write – Captivating, and the companion book, Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul.
“In Judaism, the term used for modesty is tzniut, and it refers to both the inward traits of humility and the outward observance of laws pertaining to dress,” writes Rachel Evans. It’s more of a state of mind than a list of rules. Tzniut is about dressing so that “your inner self is allowed to shine through…”
(Here are the other blogs, if you want to have a look: Three-Thousand-Year-Old Inferiority Complex, Girl Gone Mild, Martha Stewart Theology, Obedience: My Husband, My Master, Bird’s Eye View of Rachel Evans’ Book, Eshet Chayil, and My Breasts Are Like Towers.)
Evans borrowed from a variety of traditions to create a temporary “Biblical” dress code and some behavior modification for herself:
- Wear a head covering at all times.
- Wear only full-length dresses and skirts; no slacks or jeans.
- No short skirts, short sleeves, or V-necks.
- No jewelry.
- Dress and speak plainly.
- Hang out with the Amish.
Evans explains how following these rules affected not only her but those around her as well. She notes that Biblical “instructions regarding modesty find their context in warnings about materialism, not sexuality,” and consequently she adds, “I’ve heard dozens of sermons about keeping my legs and my cleavage out of sight, but not one about ensuring that my jewelry was not acquired through unjust or exploitive trade practices.”
This is a beautifully written chapter, and without giving too much away, I’ll offer one quote that summarizes Evan’s sentiment:
We cling to the letter [of the law] because the spirit is so much harder to master.
More often than not, this backfires, and our attempts to be different result in uniformity, our attempts to be plain draw attention to ourselves, our attempts to temper sexuality inadvertently exploit it, and our attempts to avoid offense accidentally create it.
Perhaps this is why Paul encouraged women to “adorn themselves” with good deeds, why he instructed all Christians, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ,” and why the valorous woman of Proverbs 31 is praised because she “clothes herself in strength and dignity.”
My own experience with modesty began in elementary school at Pine Hills Christian Academy, where the dress code for girls was knee length dresses or modest blouses and skirts. For P.E. we wore our green and gold PHCA shirts with green”gouchos” – a combination of pants and skirt.
I didn’t mind the dress code too much, because we all had to adhere to it. It wasn’t as if I were the only girl wearing different clothes. But in 1984, my attitude about the dress code took a serious turn for the worse (or the better, depending on how you interpret my story). One day, I wore a shirt that had zippers all over it. One of the spiritual fashion police, I’ll call her Mrs. X, pulled me aside and told me my shirt was immodest. I couldn’t figure out why, though, because it didn’t expose any cleavage or midriff, and it wasn’t tight or see-through. So, even though I knew it would probably get me in trouble, I asked Mrs. X, to explain what in the world made my shirt immodest. She said something about how the zippers were a message to boys, that I wanted them to unzip my zippers! Admittedly, I did want one boy in particular, to find me attractive, but it hadn’t occurred to me until that day, that I might be able to get his attention by dressing a certain way.
From 1st grade through 6th grade, I had dreamed of being a cheerleader like my older sisters. I had been told that when I was in 7th grade, I would be allowed to try out for cheerleading. Unfortunately, the question I had asked Mrs. X was, in her opinion, evidence of a “bad attitude,” and since girls with bad attitudes weren’t allowed to try out for cheerleading, I had to kiss that dream goodbye.
Mrs. X’s intentions were good. She wanted to protect my innocence. The rule about cheerleaders having good attitudes was probably created with good intentions as well. But in making false assumptions about the intentions of my heart and then misinterpreting my skepticism as a display of rebellion and then punishing me for both, Mrs. X’s plan completely backfired. I became the exact opposite of who she wanted me to be. In the years that followed, I dressed provocatively on purpose and had an “attitude” problem that would give Mrs. X nightmares!
As an adult, I’ve found a comfortable equilibrium between extreme modesty and provocative attire. To some people, I might seem rigid, to others I might seem a little bit slutty. I just don’t care what they think. I wear what’s comfortable and appealing to my personal sense of fashion. Modesty is not really even something that I think about any more, so reading Evan’s chapter on modesty, for me, was a trip down memory lane, a reminder that there are still lots of people out there still struggling over what to wear, or what NOT to wear. Thankfully, God’s idea of modesty is Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ had a lot of things to say about what goes on inside a person’s heart but nothing at all to say about what to wear.
(Here are the other blogs, if you want to have a look: Three-Thousand-Year-Old Inferiority Complex, Girl Gone Mild, Martha Stewart Theology, Obedience: My Husband, My Master, Bird’s Eye View of Rachel Evans’ Book, Eshet Chayil, My Breasts Are Like Towers, and I’m Too Sexy For My Tzniut.)
The description of the book on Amazon is as follows:
Strong-willed and independent, Rachel Held Evans couldn’t sew a button on a blouse before she embarked on a radical life experiment — a year of biblical womanhood. Intrigued by the traditionalist resurgence that led many of her friends to abandon their careers to assume traditional gender roles in the home, Evans decides to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year. Evans learns the hard way that her quest for biblical womanhood requires more than a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4). It means growing out her hair, making her own clothes, covering her head, obeying her husband, rising before dawn, abstaining from gossip, remaining silent in church, and even camping out in the front yard during her period. With just the right mixture of humor and insight, compassion and incredulity, A Year of Biblical Womanhood is an exercise in scriptural exploration and spiritual contemplation. What does God truly expect of women, and is there really a prescription for biblical womanhood? Come along with Evans as she looks for answers in the rich heritage of biblical heroines, models of grace, and all-around women of valor.
There is much to write about this chapter, but you’ll have to read the book to find out. I picked just one item of interest to expound upon. In ancient Israel, a woman was considered unclean during her period and for seven days afterward. There were no exceptions for women with menstrual problems. In the New Testament, Matthew, Mark, and Luke record the story of a woman who suffered from constant bleeding.
Every time I have heard about or read that story, I have glazed right past something that is quite shocking. Both Jesus and the woman violated the law of Moses. She, according to the law, was not supposed to touch any man, even her own husband. Jesus, according to the law, should have washed his clothes and bathed after she touched him, but he didn’t. In fact, he should have been considered “unpure” until sundown. Had Jesus decided to go to the tabernacle, he could have been put to death, according to the law of Moses.
Think about it.
I did some research to see what theologians and pastors have to say about this and other times Jesus violated the law of Moses. They say things like, “Jesus is not contradicting Moses, but highlighting the moral law.” It smells like religious bullshit to me. I think that Jesus wanted to demonstrate that there is a law that is superior to the law of Moses, and in order to do so, He chose to violate the law of Moses.
So did Jesus sin?
I guess that depends on how you define sin. The word sin means “missing the target.” Before one can consider whether Jesus missed the target, one must determine what that target is.
Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
If the target is to love God and love others, would it not be wise to reexamine all of the laws of Moses in light of the target?
Let me put it this way. If Jesus and Moses played darts, Jesus would win, because He plays by a better set of rules.
Response to Rachel Evans blog, Why millennials need the church as much as the church needs them If you are not familiar with Rachel Evans, I’ve been (ever so slowly) writing a chapter by chapter book review of her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. (Here are the blog posts, if you want to have a look: Three-Thousand-Year-Old Inferiority Complex, Girl Gone Mild, Martha Stewart Theology, Obedience: My Husband, My Master, Bird’s Eye View of Rachel Evans’ Book, Eshet Chayil, My Breasts Are Like Towers, and I’m Too Sexy For My Tzniut.) Here is an excerpt from Why millennials need the church as much as the church needs them:
For a time, I counted myself among the spiritual but not religious, Christian but not churchgoing crowd. Like many millennials, I left church because I didn’t always see the compassion of Jesus there, and because my questions about faith and science, the Bible, homosexuality, and religious pluralism were met with shallow answers or hostility. At first I reveled in my newfound Sunday routine of sleeping in, sipping my coffee and yelling at Republicans who appeared on ”Meet the Press.” But eventually I returned, because, like it or not, we Christian millennials need the church just as much as the church needs us.
Rachel’s reasons for returning include: Baptism, confession, healing, leadership, communion, confirmation, and union with Christ. Before setting out to write this blog, I asked Rachel something: As I read Rachel’s blog, I have the distinct impression that Rachel is, for the most part, NOT addressing “the Body of Christ, present in Christ’s followers around the world.” The reason I get this impression is that Rachel begins the blog saying she used to be counted among the “not churchgoing crowd,” but that now, she has “returned.” In addition, she specifically references the church as a place. For example, “…the church is where we find them.”
As I’ve said before, it is unfortunate that there is only one word used to describe two completely different concepts. We use the word church to describe both a place and a glorious concept (as described by Rachel in the screencap above). The place, in my opinion, is a man-made attempt to control the glorious concept. If Rachel is writing about the place-church, then her blog post makes perfect sense. I might disagree with what she writes, but I am, at least, able to understand her view. If Rachel is writing about the glorious concept-church, then much of her blog post doesn’t make sense.
Sometimes Rachel moves from addressing the place to addressing the body of Christ. For example, Rachel writes, “The church, at its best, provides a safe place in which to wrestle with this story we call the Gospel.” Here she refers to the church as an entity, separate and distinct from the place. The church (believers) provide the place.
People, and in this case, millennials, choose to leave the place.
Should we assume that if they’ve left the place-church, they’ve left the glorious concept-church? If so, why? Does BEING the church not count unless it happens in some official ceremonious manner in a specific geographical location? When Rachel gave up churchgoing, was she no longer part of the body of Christ? When Rachel returned to the place, was she grafted back into the body of Christ?
I have no doubt that Rachel would answer these questions in the negative and offer beautiful explanations as to why millennial believers are still part of the church even if they don’t go to church, etc. But there’s no sense-making when the term church is not properly defined. If we are to run with the idea that millennials are still “the church” even if they don’t go to church, then how are we to make heads or tails of Rachel’s statement?
…millennials need the church just as much as the church needs us…
Translate the word church as a place, and it makes sense (that the statement is erroneous is irrelevant to this particular point). Translate the word church as the body of Christ, and it means that millennials stopped being the body of Christ when they stopped showing up at the place. I don’t think Rachel believes this. I have much more to say about this blog. I would like to address each point (Baptism, confession, healing, leadership, communion, confirmation, and union with Christ). But until the term church is clearly defined, it would hurt more than it would help. Hopefully, Rachel will take the time to make a distinction between the place-church and the body of Christ-church so that I can write a proper response to her blog.
In the meantime, let me tell you why I no longer live in Egypt:
Because people are systematically punished for being who God created them to be.
Because the hierarchical structure breeds apathy among those at the bottom, corruption among those at the top, and burn-out among those in the middle.
Because God’s reputation is dragged through the mud, the power of Christ is underestimated, and the Spirit of God is grieved nearly every week.
Because the system drains the time, energy, and resources of those who would be otherwise engaged in doing good in their circles of influence.
Because the system is designed such that true reform is impossible.
Because you don’t put new wine in an old wineskin.