Tag Archive | A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Notable News: Week of December 8-14, 2012

Whew!  It’s Friday at last.  I don’t know about you, but it’s been a busy week here in the Mitchell household.  My nine-year-old had strep throat (again!).  I had a big mom FAIL moment on Tuesday when I sent him to school.  He’d had a fever over the weekend, but when he went to the doctor, the quick strep test was negative.  I kept him home Monday, with no call from the doctor.  The fever had broken by then, although he was still saying his throat was scratchy and his nose was sniffly.  I sent him back to school the next day, since he seemed better.  Sure enough, the doctor called at noon on Tuesday to say it was strep!  Naturally, I picked him up from school, but not before he possibly contaminated his whole class.  Fortunately, he seems to be doing better now, though he doesn’t have his usual stamina back yet.

Anyway, we’re hours from the weekend and I’m ready to roll out this week’s best blog posts.  Enjoy!

1. My second guest post on Soul Munchies

This time out, I wrote about beauty.  Please also check out the posts by other bloggers participating in this project:

Rachel S. on obedience

MamaMely on valor

chickpastor on modesty

2. Two great posts from Dianna Anderson

Have I mentioned how much I like her writing?  First, she speaks to the damage modesty culture does to men by inducing shame, guilt and fear.  I find myself yet again reminded that patriarchy is bad for men, too.  In the second post, Dianna deftly skewers the Good Men Project and their sympathy for rapists.  I don’t doubt that there are some actual good men writing on that site, but the site itself needs to die a long, painful death.

3. A rape awareness campaign I can endorse

On the flip side, not everyone gets it wrong.  Most “rape awareness” is targeted at women on how not to get raped.  (This is a common theme with aggression; anti-bullying campaigns usually focus on how not to be a victim as well.)  This ad is exactly the kind of thing we need.  It gets at the root of the problem, which is not “women need to stop leading men on/putting themselves in compromising situations” but “people who have uninvited sex with others are rapists.”

4. A sad, sweet, beautiful Christmas short fiction

I like to feature the work of my fellow writers, whether it be social commentary, news, or original fiction.  This story, written as a guest post by Christine Royse Niles on The Daily Gallen, will ring true for many people.  The imagery is vivid and the emotions are genuine.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: “Defiant Domesticity” on Soul Munchies

I’m participating in a group blogging project over at Soul Munchies.  This is an excerpt from my contribution on December 3; you can read the other posts so far here, here, and here.

No one would ever accuse me of being too uptight about meal preparation and housework.  I try to keep things tidy, of course, and I make sure all of us eat our greens.  But I’m hardly a domestic overachiever.  Most days, I pray fervently that the laundry will miraculously wind up clean and dry without my input.  (These days, my prayers are answered in the form of my dear husband.)

It’s probably surprising, then, that despite my disinclination for homemaking, I am, in fact, a stay-at-home mom.  For the most part (National Novel Writing Month being the exception), I do take care of our household.  I wash, cook, clean, and even homeschool our daughter, even when I would rather be writing or reading.

Continue reading this post.

AYOBW: Mind your manners

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Have you ever gone into one of those homes that looks like something that should be featured in Better Homes and Gardens?  I would like to say that my house is like that, but it isn’t.  Today’s confession: I am insanely jealous of people who can get their houses to look like that.

There is some area of the brain that is probably deactivated in me which allows people to keep a beautiful home.  I don’t just mean clean; I mean artfully placed, tasteful nick-knacks, perfectly matched furniture and drapes, and not a hint of clutter anywhere.  My sister has this ability; her house always looks good.  She has a good sense of style, both in clothing and in living room decor.  My house looks nothing like that, of course.

I used to think this was something rich people with big homes do because they have staff for cleaning and upkeep of their miniature vase collections.  Now that I know a much wider variety of people, I know it’s not true.  Even people with little money and tiny houses can make them look picture-perfect.

What, you may ask, does any of that have to do with manners?

I always thought that it showed proper manners to keep a model home.  It showed respect for guests and a willingness to go out of my way to make sure my friends and family knew that I kept a clean house.  It didn’t matter that (my sister aside) some of the snootiest, most unfriendly people I’ve ever met have toilets you could serve dinner on.  I was certain that if I were a better person, specifically a better wife, I could have a home like that, too.

I wasn’t surprised to read that Rachel Held Evans must have had some of the same associations.  In A Year of Biblical Womanhood, she describes her visit to a manners expert in order to—as she puts it—

…file down some of my rough edges and get a little closer to achieving that gentle and quiet spirit.

Rachel listened to readings from Emily Post, practiced proper Continental-style dining, and learned the etiquette for thank you notes.  She says this of her experience:

But had I achieved a gentle and quiet spirit?

The trucker who cut me off on the way home would probably have an opinion about that.  He cost me five cents [in the jar where Rachel had to deposit money for "contentious" behavior, pictured above].

In the end, after all her effort attempting to work at having a quiet and gentle spirit, it was in contemplative prayer that Rachel found what she was looking for.  It’s not in our personalities that we see this “quiet and gentle spirit.”  It’s not about restraining ourselves from yelling at the football game or having perfect manners or putting money in a jar for “snark.”  It’s about the way we still ourselves before God; it’s about the way we allow the Holy Spirit to minister to our spirits.

I will never have the kind of lovely, candle-lit, impeccably decorated home that gets featured in magazines.  I will never be soft-spoken or demure.  However, I can take the time to be still in the presence of God, listening for God’s voice.  That is far more important than who I am or what my house looks like.

AYOBW: Quiet and Gentle

Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I am neither quiet nor gentle.  In our household, my husband is very much the more natural nurturer, as well as being the more quiet and gentle of the two of us.  I admit that I went into my reading of chapter 1 of A Year of Biblical Womanhood with some trepidation.  I think I expected that Rachel really would discover that it really is better to have a personality more like Caroline Ingalls than like Roseanne Connor.

I was pleased to note that Rachel comes right out of the gate with the words,

My first mistake was to start the experiment in the middle of football season.

While I don’t relate to football fandom, I was at least glad to know that I’m not the only one who struggles to remain ladylike when emotions are high.  It also made me smirk to learn that Rachel’s football sensibilities come at least in part from her mother; reading that made me like them both immediately, and I’ve never met either Rachel or her mother.

I also enjoyed Rachel’s descriptions of her family’s advice on her project.  I can relate to that.  I should get paid for every time someone says to me, “You should blog about that” or “So, I had this idea for a story you could write…”  I think I should be grateful they’re not also giving me religious advice.  I can only imagine what would happen if someone suggested I write an Amish romance.  I’m pretty sure the fact that Rachel never told them where to get off qualifies just by itself as cultivating a “quiet and gentle spirit.”

This, too, was something I could relate to:

…a lot of us church girls had the “gentle and quiet spirit” thing rubbed in our faces at early ages.

For many years, I remained convinced that there was something fundamentally wrong with me.  Whatever thing it is in church women that makes them feminine, demure, and gentle seems to be broken in me.  I do not have that gene.  Perhaps there was some chromosomal mutation; perhaps it was growing up surrounded by women who didn’t do the whole “quiet and gentle” thing.  Whatever the reason, I always felt like I was lacking.

I suspect a whole lot of us feel this way.  We wonder if we’re somehow not good enough because we have opinions (strong ones, even!).  Church can certainly stamp that out of us.  I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance about a similar subject.  She had mentioned feeling as though women who work outside the home are often put down, and that she (like I) is married to a man who fits the “quiet and gentle” manner much better.  As we talked, I mentioned that I think that gets taken too far sometimes and that people’s personality styles or family needs are not taken into account.  Her reply to me was very telling: “But it’s biblical.”

I’m not convinced that it’s personality traits that are biblical.  There are women in the Bible with a wide range of personalities and behaviors.  Sadly, what often ends up being reinforced is the idea that all women should aspire to be Mary the mother of Jesus—not merely in her faithfulness, but in her perceived overall manner.

And therein lies the problem.  It’s not that the women of the Bible are all these mild, sweet ladies; it’s that we’re taught that they are.  In reality, we have no idea what Mary was like.  We know she was faithful; we know she sang a beautiful song; we know what God did through her and we know what sorts of things she herself did.  But we do not know what her personality was.  We have absolutely no idea whether she was sweet and gentle or full of life and fire.  What we’ve ascribed to her is the personality we think befitting of the Mother of God.

Fortunately for the rebelliously non-quiet among us, God doesn’t usually work through the people we see as perfect.  I’m sure we’ve all seen the lists of flawed heroes in the Bible.  While it’s kind of an annoying meme, and troublesome in that it reduces those people to their sins (not to mention extraordinarily judgmental), it does make some sense.  God is full of knocking down our assessments of who is or isn’t worthy.  We don’t get to decide that Mary was worthy because she fits our perception of the woman who bore God.

Women, I am going to tell you something you can rely on:  Your personality is not “biblical” or “unbiblical.”  You are who you are.  Being a person who likes to yell at the tv when watching football is no less “biblical” than being a person who likes to knit by the fireplace.  Neither the force of your personality nor your hobbies make you better or worse than any other woman.  Anyone who tries to define a “quiet and gentle spirit” by those measures needs to go back and read the Bible a little better.

AYOBW: The Original Villain

Originally, my musings on A Year of Biblical Womanhood were going to be limited to a baker’s dozen—one post each for the introduction and the chapters in the book.  But as I started reading through it again, I realized two things.  One, I don’t need to limit each chapter to a single post; each one is rich and deserves as much space as it needs to fully breathe.  Two, the women of the Bible that Rachel writes about at the end of each chapter also deserve their own space.  For those reasons, I’m extending this series as long as it takes.

First up among the Bible’s many women: Eve.

Well, now.  Isn’t that a topic to stir things up right out of the gate.  As Christians, particularly of the very conservative stripe, we’re taught early and often that Eve is the Original Temptress.  She’s the reason all of humanity is in such a mess.  (Note that in the artwork above, she holds a skull in one hand.)  It hardly matters that when it comes down to it, that’s not even what it says in the New Testament.  Paul explicitly says,

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man…

Right there, in black and white, Paul reminds us that sin came through Adam.  So why does Eve get the shaft?  Even way back in Genesis, God holds all three of the players in this drama responsible.  Yet one would hardly know that for the ways in which women have been blamed and judged accordingly throughout the whole of Christianity.

Rachel quotes Tertullian on this matter:

You are the devil’s gateway.  Do you not know that you are each an Eve?  The sentence of God on your sex lives on in this age; the guilt, necessarily, lives on too.

There’s a cheery thought.  Sadly, I think this is perpetuated far too often.  We are the ones who are held responsible not only for our own direct actions, but for the actions of men as well.  Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in matters of sexuality.  We’re told that we should dress modestly and avoid situations where we might become temptations for men.  Yet we’re also told that if we “let ourselves go,” we might lose our men to prettier women.  We must keep our husbands (of course, always husbands) sexually satisfied, whether or not we ourselves are satisfied.  Some of us are expected to pledge our virginity to our parents (particularly our fathers), with shame and guilt forthcoming should we fail to keep that promise.  The social consequences of sex before marriage are much more dire for women.

But we’ve forgotten one very important thing about Eve.

The association between Eve and guilt is so strong that we’ve forgotten who she really is.  Eve is the giver of life; in fact, it’s what her name means.  At the end of the section, Rachel draws the parallel between Eve “the mother of all the living” and us—not merely in the sense of childbearing, but in a broader sense:

We are each associated with life; each subject to the impossible expectations of men; each fallen, blamed, and misunderstood; and each stubbornly vital to the process of bringing something new—perhaps something better—into this world.

In a sense, Tertullian was right.  We are each an Eve.

I love those words, especially because we’ve been taught for so long that the only “new” thing we bring into this world is more babies.  Everything else is dependent on what men have wrought.  But we, as givers of life, have much more than our bodies to offer.  When we are given the challenge, we rise to it.  It’s not that we don’t need men, but that we ourselves are necessary for more than the duties of wife and mother.

It saddens me that when it comes to Scripture, we women are expected to learn from both the men and the women whose stories fill the pages, but the stories of women are nearly always solely for the purpose of educating and edifying other women.  There is a lot that men can learn from Eve, including that our mistakes may have consequences, but they don’t need to define us (her name is Life, after all, not Sin) and that through Christ we can all be bearers of life and light in the world.

May each of us, men and women alike, go out and be an Eve this week, bringing life everywhere we go.

AYOBW: What is this “biblical womanhood” of which you speak?

 

Today I’m starting my chapter-by-chapter discussion of A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans.  I hope you all have your copy of the book in hand so you can read along with me.  I’ve already read the book once, but it’s definitely worth multiple readings; the text is rich from Rachel’s own experiences and sings with her unique voice.  This series is less a review of the book and more a conversation about the issues Rachel raises.  I’ve seen a lot of back-and-forth about whether or not she’s right, whether or not she’s done “proper” study, and whether or not she’s misrepresented the more conservative views.  Rather than hash that out (again), I’d like us to talk about what it might mean for us to be “biblical” women.  I believe that this is really what Rachel was after—not a treatise on her personal belief that a certain kind of woman is best, but a way for all of us to come to the table to talk.  Feel free to jump right in with your comments.

Rachel doesn’t beat around the bush.  She dives right into things in the first few pages talking about her conservative evangelical upbringing and her education on the role of women within the church and the family.  I have to admit here that I don’t relate to that.  I grew up among feminists; becoming conservative was my rebellion.  Until I was sixteen, I had never even heard that women were supposed to “submit” to their husbands.  I had to ask what that meant.

I did get the memo that women weren’t supposed to be pastors, however.  I learned from a pamphlet handed to me at church that when women take on any role higher than elder, the church is in danger of succumbing to fertility worship and rampant homosexuality.  It never occurred to me that it wasn’t true; false gods and Teh Gay were the Big Bads back then, and I wanted no part of things that might lead me astray.

Getting back to the book, Rachel says,

…I’d received a lot of mixed messages about the appropriate roles of women…each punctuated with the claim that it was God’s perfect will that all women everywhere do this or that.

“Mixed messages” is too polite, I think.  In some sense I believe it’s intentional.  Either way, though, I agree.  I’ve heard those messages too, and I’m willing to bet so have you.  I’ve heard the same people say that women were created not as inferior to men but to fit together like two halves of a whole—then turn around and use the exact phrase, “Women are not equal to men.”  Yes, literally.  Yes, in church.  I’ve also heard the same people say that biblical womanhood isn’t all about being a stay-at-home mom who cares for the household, while simultaneously extolling the virtues of doing exactly that and guilt-tripping working mothers.  I’ve heard it preached from the pulpit that women should not abandon their families for their jobs, yet I’ve gotten sneers from more than one friend for continuing to stay home.

This is exactly why we need people like Rachel to spark discussion about these things.  It’s not that there is anything wrong with staying home and caring for the household; if there were, I would not be doing it myself!  There is also nothing wrong with ambition and hard work outside the home.  There is nothing at all wrong about being married, being unmarried, having children, or not having children.  None of those things are the sole source of our identity.  Yet as women, there is constant pressure to define ourselves by what we do or don’t do, and there is judgment no matter what our choices are.

Just to be fair, men are often defined by their careers, and there is enormous pressure on men to be the wage-earners for the family; stay-at-home dads are unjustly judged.  The difference is, no matter where a man works, he is praised for making the effort.  Women are blasted regardless of their choice.  I recently found myself feeling the need to defend my two college degrees that I’m not putting to work in gainful employment; I was afraid of being labeled, yet again, as lazy.  I rarely talk about my passion for writing outside the context of “hobby” because it’s not a “real” job.  Yet many of my Christian friends who work outside the home have been unfairly judged as being terrible mothers for having ambition or for enjoying the productivity they feel at work, and still others have been blasted for wanting to remain single and/or child-free.  It’s a no-win situation.  (More on this when I get to Rachel’s chapter on motherhood.)

This is exactly why I appreciate when Rachel lists the various things that are technically “biblical” in terms of womanhood and bravely asks the questions about what we do with that information.  It’s what all of us should be doing in light of the confusing messages coming out of many of our churches.  Whether or not we ultimately agree on the role of women within the family and the church, it’s important that we work through these issues so that we have a clear understanding of why we believe as we do.  I consider myself just as “biblical” a woman as one who believes that she should submit to her husband and avoid leading/preaching to men at church.  But we both need to know why we stand in our respective positions with more of an explanation than “it’s biblical to do it this way”—on both sides.

I hope you’ll join me in this conversation over the next several weeks as we learn and grow together.  And please, please, please buy a copy of Rachel’s book.  Agree with her conclusions or not, you won’t regret reading her words for yourself.

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Just a note: While I was on the Launch Team for AYoBW, I was not paid and did not receive anything except an electronic reader’s copy of the book, in exchange for reviews.  I was not asked to do anything else.  It’s likely true that I was selected to participate because I was supportive of the project, but I was never told that I had to like the book.  I’ve been excited to read it since I first heard about Rachel’s project while she was still living it.  Don’t let the fact that I agree with Rachel prevent you from drawing your own conclusions; but don’t draw them until you’ve actually read the book.

A Year of What?!

Hooray, it’s finally here!  Today is the official launch day for A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans.  Today I’m celebrating by a) doing my happy dance, because it means I will soon have an actual paperback copy in my hot little hands and b) posting my initial thoughts on the book right here.  I would tell you all to stop reading my blog and get yourselves over to someplace that sells the book, but I like having you read this blog too much.  You can go buy your copy after you read what I have to say about it.

Here’s a little history:  I first found out about Rachel’s project almost a year and a half ago, while she was still in the midst of living it.  At the time, I was having a crisis of faith of sorts.  I was rapidly becoming disillusioned with the church and the way that, particularly, conservative evangelical Christians viewed the Bible.  It was during that time that I discovered the writings of Brian McLaren and was looking to read things written by other Christians who were ready to question the way things were done.  By clicking through various links, I came across a blogger (my apologies, I can’t remember who) that mentioned Rachel in a post and linked to her blog.

I liked Rachel’s style immediately.  She nurtures a much more gentle approach than I do, and that’s been good for me.  I have a tendency to just be kind of cranky, but Rachel invites discussion.  I’ve learned a lot just from reading her blog.  You can imagine, then, how excited I’ve been in anticipation of her book.  When I saw that she had an application on her website to be part of the launch team, I jumped at the opportunity.  Free copy of the book?  The chance to use my social networks to spread the word about a great project?  Making new connections with fellow team members online?  You bet I wanted in!

Which is how I ended up here.  Today, I’m going to tell you all the things I love about this book.  Over the next few weeks, I will be writing my thoughts chapter by chapter.  I would love if you all bought the book and joined in with me so that I don’t ruin all the fun for you of reading it yourselves.

I think I fell in love with AYoBW on the first page.  Rachel has a great sense of humor, something that is evident throughout.  Rather than complaining about how hard it was to live out a literal interpretation of the Bible, she pokes gentle fun at herself.  From her Jar of Contention to her ruined apple pie to her misadventures in sewing, she doesn’t ever take herself too seriously.

At the same time, Rachel clearly takes the Bible seriously.  She makes every effort to understand the original context of the Scriptures while not ignoring the modern-day applications.  In each chapter, she discovers a way in which she can honor God and the Bible without resorting to strict, legalistic readings of the text.  This view is refreshing, given the tendency of conservative Christians to decry the demise of “traditional” family roles.

Reading AYoBW is like sitting down with a friend for a cup of coffee and a chat.  It’s important to keep in mind that this book is what Rachel experienced.  The vast majority of what she’s written is her own journey and her reactions to situations; she talks about people she meets and places she visits.  This is not meant to be some academic dissertation on the theology of feminism.

When I finished the book, my husband asked if I thought it was only appropriate for women.  I said that I thought he would probably enjoy it as well, especially since we have been talking together a lot lately about women in modern American society.  I have seen some reviews that suggest it is unnecessary for people more liberal than Rachel and unwelcome by those more conservative.  I disagree; I believe there is something in this book for everyone.  Even when there are points of disagreement, there is room for conversation and clarification of our different views.  The only people who won’t benefit from Rachel’s book are the ones who won’t read it.

As you can probably tell, I loved the book; it exceeded my expectations.  My hope is that every Christian will read the book and use it as a springboard for discussion.  Rachel gives us plenty to think and talk about, as well as practical ways we can take action.  Let’s give this book a chance to help us connect at a deeper level: with God, with the Bible, and with each other.

You can read my other reviews of the book at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and CBD.  Stick around this week, there will be great stuff going on, including links to my fellow launch team members’ blogs.  Don’t forget to submit your essays for the contest, there are only 4 days left!