A Review of “A Year of Biblical Womanhood”

Though I am an avid reader of Rachel Held Evans’ blog and appreciate her perspective on gender issues, I must confess that I had given up the ‘fight’ as regards the equality and dignity of women, in home and in the church, and, for that matter, in the public sphere. Reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood has re-ignited a passion for women’s full flourishing.

As a college student, I fiercely defended both egalitarian marriage and women’s ordination. It seemed unfathomable to me that women could be relegated to submission and silence in view of what Jesus has done to empower us by the Holy Spirit. This view wasn’t entirely influenced by my pneumatology, which I am grateful to the Nazarene Church I attended in middle and high school for imbuing me with. It was also profoundly rooted in my social situatedness. I grew up in Northern California, certainly not a bastion of conservatism of any kind. I attended a church with a heavy emphasis on the work of the Spirit and with a history of ordaining women. I confess my view of women and their flourishing is also rooted in anger and ambiguity related to growing up in a largely single mother home. My father was – and is – not abusive, at least in the physical sense of the word. In any case, his less than stellar respect for and verbal treatment of my mother was in no wise motivated by his understanding of male headship, since he opposed religion and did not situate himself within the Christian tradition. My mother did an excellent job of raising my sister and I with very limited financial resources, a lack of social capital, and a disjuncture in academic training and past job experience. Indeed, a woman of valor! I don’t believe I was ever explicitly anti-male; rather, the environment in which I lived was filled with strong examples of strong women, which I celebrated, and so emphasized. I grew up in my formative teenage years without a father or male role model and without, ever, a brother.

As a result of these things, and perhaps, with a sense of my calling toward the Church and/or the Academy, I understandably defended women’s full participation in whatever spheres of life they find their vocation in. I was perhaps, at first, rather unsympathetic to female friends that wanted to become homemakers and homeschooling moms. I am happy to say that I have softened in this regard and indeed have deep respect for women who honor God in these spheres and find plenty to admire.

To complicate all of this, my mom became drawn into a conservative Mennonite community while I was in college and taking courses such as “Women in the Bible”. I composed a paper on the Biblical context of head coverings in an effort to prove to her how head coverings are culturally contextual, and not, ahem, biblical.

I was not sure when reading this book, what I would learn as I felt that I had exhausted this subject in previous study and conversation. However, I was pleasantly surprised with scholarship Rachel shared that I had not engaged with previously.

At the same time, she treats her subject matter and the people she interviews with profound respect and care. As someone who has lived in or near PA Dutch country, I especially enjoyed Rachel’s foray into the Amish world. I am always nervous when people come from outside, without a basic understanding of and care for the Amish community. I thought Rachel treated her Amish dialogue partners with much humanity and fairness, and it actually enriched my understanding of Amish views of ‘plainness’ and ‘honesty’.

This book also moved me profoundly. As Rachel recounts the ceremony she held for the ‘forgotten’ women of the Old Testament, I was struck by how many women are not ‘remembered’ either in and out of their suffering and in fact consigned to oblivion. Surely this was not our loving Creator’s intent, when He made male and female in His image and died to redeem what had been marred in the fall.

Held Evans’ chapter on the Proverbs 31, was, in a word, ‘liberating’. That eshet chayil is meant to be an unconditional blessing, and is routinely sung in Orthodox Jewish homes on the Sabbath from husband to wife, is a wonderful testament to the ‘warrior’ like nature of women and the diversity of literary expression in the Old Testament.

All this to say, I am grateful for what Rachel has contributed to the conversation on gender in the Church in her newest book. Her scholarship, humor, and grace are all evident in A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and I thus heartily recommend it.


In which blueberry pie is saving my life

I, the recent college graduate, find joy in making for others. Specifically, food.

When I know there is a chance I can make for, anyone, I jump at the chance.

I scan ravenously yet selectively punchfork, epicurious, and allrecipes for recipes-as of this summer, it has been pie.

There must be something in the process of the making that does the saving. I am creating, I am building. My mind and senses are engaged. I am doing, rather than merely thinking. I am pouring my blessing and desire to love and be loved into this act, this act of meeting of basic needs, this act of worship, this offering, all that I cannot express with words. As I scoop out mostly indiscriminate amounts of shortening and mix it up with the flour, and then the corn starch, and then the water, I find it, miracle of miracles, coalescing. There it is, a token of my affection.

Then I knead, I measure, I cut, I brush with egg, I drizzle with turbinado sugar. I set in the oven and wait as the crust does it work of hardening and the blueberries begin to bubble up and spill over the sides.

I cool it on the windowsill, if I can, and let it sit.

When it is time to eat, I cut it carefully. I anxiously (perhaps this is one component where I need the most saving) await to hear the verdict, believing that my goodness rests on my ability to make a flaky crust or that I must be too sweet or too tart, if the blueberries are.

My offering is imperfect, and stained with insecurity. I want to give, with grace,     the way Jesus has given Himself to us.  The irony of all this is, He accepts this offering, and cares little for its perfections or lack thereof. His grace makes this creating and offering possible.

And, at the Wedding Feast in kingdom to come, I hope that there is pie, and lots of it, berries dripping down our chins.


the good work of grace

The grace of God, in Jesus Christ, has, in a very real sense, gone before me, and, is now, going ahead of me. This good work is my cooperation with this grace, it is to live a life where my truest and hardest calling is to love and worship Jesus, and, trusting in His goodness, loving and serving my neighbor. I have been invited into the family of God and to the supper of the Lamb, present and future, a wide-open, joy-filled life in which, in order that I may move closer to Jesus, I must confront and renounce the sin that hinders my ability to love Him, others, and myself. I have chosen to attend seminary because this grace has gone before me and led me, most assuredly, to this place, to continue to grow in this grace and my ability to communicate and discuss what it is to lead a righteous life in pursuit of Jesus.

My calling is to serve the Church through scholarship, through proclamation, and through advocacy. It is clear to me that I am called to serve the Church. This is a pretty broad statement and category; however, I can not escape this sense, this leading, this vision. It it is unclear to me whether this will encompass ordained ministry, non-profit or missionary work, or life as a scholar in the academy. I struggle with my “scholarly” temperament and the usefulness of such gifts. I long to more fully bring to bodily form what is formed mentally, and I know that I am not excused from the work of loving or serving simply because I am in possession of these tendencies. Yet I know and am sure that the Body of Christ requires a variety of gifts to enable its flourishing. It is hard, sometimes, for me to accept and embrace these gifts, yet I know that Jesus is honored when I do exercise them, whether for the purposes of exegeting Scripture or for discussing frameworks for Christian ethics, or any number of issues. I am unclear, though, about my niche in the world of academia, having diverse interests, including Christian treatment of mental illness, Christian frameworks of thinking about and caring for creation, and so on.

I am afraid of not living into the fullness of my calling, of being afraid to trust my future and security to God in the midst of my uncertainty about what this calling entails. I am unsure of how I may be received, as a woman, as an introvert, as an intellectual, and as someone who struggles with mental illness. I am afraid I may rely too much on my estimation of my own strength and capabilities and underestimate how God can use someone with my particular set of gifts to bring glory to His name and healing and good news to those who most need it. I get excited about my calling when I think about how God’s power in me has brought His grace near, through venues of teaching and preaching, and sharing how the fruits of honoring God with my mind have been woven into my life, enabling me to grab hold of the hope of Jesus’ resurrection with all the more confidence.

To be reminded that God is the One who will bring His own work to completion in me is to be reminded that I am part of a big, beautiful story, that, though sometimes terrifying in the face of the unknown, is in the hands of One who is reading me into it. This God, in Jesus, has offered us the Kingdom, and has provided us with all we need for life and godliness as we journey in and towards it. This extravagant promise is what draws me, and convinces me to keep going.


Introverts in the Church

A Rule of Life

1. Feel most energized mid-day, after initial set of tasks are completed, and have had lunch; also energized post-dinner.

Have in the past felt energized if I start my day with exercise.

2. Feel most tired when I first wake up and mid-afternoon (3-4)

3. Around 9 hours 

4. I am energized when I am able to spend some time reading or can go on a solitary walk, I even really like meaningful conversations with a small group of folks, when I engage in photography, I am not energized when I am with folks who have a lot to say or not much meaningful to say, when I immediately come home from work.

5. I most feel the need for solitude when coming home from work when I am processing that component of the day, and when I do make use of my mornings (I prefer not to be interrupted and to quietly process all I have to do for the day ahead of me). I also like to be alone right before bed– I need at least an hour to read or decompress in some other way.

6. I find soul rest in conversations with dear friends, in reading poetry by people of faith, by cooking, by listening to music that communicates grace.

7. I feel most restored to God through study and lectio divina, when I’ve practiced, but recognize my need for growth in the discipline of prayer and service.

8. Feel most refreshed in relationships that don’t always require a lot of talk, but communicate affection in some other way.

Feel drained in relationships where I feel I need to fight to be heard 


He who is alone with his…

He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, not withstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though the have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Affluence

…in a world of poverty, the lines between darkness and light good and evil, destructiveness and creativity, are much more distinct than in a world of wealth.

 

Wealth takes away the sharp edges of our moral sensitivities and allows a comfortable confusion about sin and virtue. The difference between rich and poor is not that the rich sin more than the poor but that the rich find it easier to call sin a virtue.

 

-Henri Nouwen


all is safe and in order.

The ESL teacher proceeded to pray at the beginning of the class, as she always has, and, in view of an extended summer break and change in the class make-up, cries. She cries, because these ladies have become her friends. She cries, because she wants their families to thrive. She cries, because she will miss those leaving for a more advanced class and the bond broken when this particular mix of women learned together.

She cries, because she is so grateful that they have all made it to a safe place, from their country, where all is not safe for those of Karen ethnicity and all is not in order. They have been granted refuge in the most unexpected of places, Buffalo, New York, in which nearly 6000 individuals live who have come from Burma, whether ethnically Burman or Karen, Karenni, or Chin.

Today, we looked at photographs at a field trip we took last week to a photography exhibit by Law Eh Soe, a Karen photographer who took famous pictures of the Saffron Revolution as well as life in rural Burma. Following this field trip, we took a picnic to Delaware Park where we enjoyed Burmese food: noodles, chicken and pumpkin, rice, bamboo, and, well, watermelon.

Today, at the end of class, as our final session for the year is tomorrow, a student suggested we have a party. She wants to cook for us again, as she had contributed a great deal of food to the picnic. She takes great joy in this, in sharing her culture, in blessing us with her skill.

This past weekend, I stayed at the home of a current housemate in the country. Her family’s home is safe and in order, open and desirous of welcoming all those who enter and visit.

I love this, because all of this, it reminds me, in a roundabout way, that we are all invited to the wedding banquet of Jesus in the kingdom of heaven, that, with Him, we have refuge, we are safe, our hearts and lives put in order and joy given in abundance.


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