From the moment I met Rachel Held Evans at the Wild Goose Festival this summer, surrounded by throngs of believers from all ethnicities and sexual orientations and denominations, she redefined for me what it meant to be a feminist.
Because she didn’t look the way I thought a feminist would. The way I’d tried to look for years, with my dreadlocks and piercings and tattoos. The way Nadia Boltz-Weber looks, all tough and defiant and “I’m a woman, hear me roar”.
Rachel was dressed conservatively, and she had no tattoos and her hair was very much smooth and clean. She stood quietly in line to get her crepe, wearing sunglasses and texting someone or tweeting something on her phone (maybe about the weird Canadian girl in the red bandana who was creeping up behind her) and I asked if it was indeed, her, and she laughed and said yes, and her smile was so kind.
We talked about blogging and marriage and God. We talked about our mutual love for Sarah Bessey and then I asked her how she did all of it, all of this writing blogs and books for the right reasons, this promoting one’s message without promoting oneself, and she concentrated hard. And she said she thought if you did it for others, then it was okay. If you did it to share God’s story with others, then it was good.
And that is what Rachel does in her new book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. She shares God’s story with others. And it is good.
Biblical Womanhood ultimately defines for me what I want to be: a godly woman who finds her value not in what she does, but in what God has already done.
While this book (not due to be released until October 30th) is already shaking up a far too comfortable Christian culture, Rachel writes with the same kind of humility that I witnessed at the festival. The same kind of wrestling with the angels, the same kind of willingness to sacrifice her Evangelical self and her reputation for the sake of a cause that celebrates women everywhere, that inspires women around the globe to believe they can indeed change the world versus just do the dishes.
But she doesn’t knock doing the dishes. No, in fact, she does a heck load of them during her year of abiding by Biblical laws for womanhood, and she acknowledges in the manner of Brother Lawrence that God can be found in the kitchen as much as he can be found in the monastery.
“I’d made peace with the God of the pots and pans—not because God wanted to meet me in the kitchen, but because he wanted to meet me everywhere, in all things, big or small,” Rachel writes in her raw, insightful way (43).
I found freedom in the way Rachel approached each Biblical assignment. Each month she practiced a different virtue; each month she assumed the role of a Biblical woman and practiced domesticity, purity, gentleness, valor, beauty, fertility (in which she and Dan cared for a mechanic doll named Chip), justice, silence and grace.
I will admit, I struggled a bit with the section dealing with submission. While I agree with Rachel's point that it is grace when you can submit to one another not because of gender, but because of character and integrity, I am still seeking God further on this issue. But you know this already, because of my recent posts on A Deeper Family (here and here), so I won’t rehash. :)
One of the most moving parts of the book for me consisted of Rachel and her friend—an eccentric sort of girl—sitting in Rachel’s living room, honoring the women who’d been sacrificed throughout the Bible in what Rachel defines as “texts of torture.”
“They could not protect her life but they could protect her dignity by retelling her story,” writes Rachel, (63) of the Israelite women who hosted a similar ceremony to commemorate the life of the daughter of Jephthah, sacrificed by her father.
And even as Rachel and her friend Kristine read poetry and prose, and lit candles for the daughter of Jephthah, as well as Hagar and the concubine from Judges 19 and the Tamar of the Davidic narrative, I learned what God wants from us as women: to stand by each other, to uphold each other, to champion each other on and to mourn and laugh and celebrate the God we see, in each other.
This is true feminism, I realized. It isn’t about an angry tirade. It isn’t about tattoos and rebellion. It’s about embracing our sisters and loving the least of these amongst them, and remembering their names, long after the world has forgotten.
It devastates me that so many in the church have written off this book simply because they were afraid to open the cover.
“I guess we’re all a little afraid that if God’s presence is there, it cannot be here,” says Rachel (36).
But she goes on to remind us that we don’t have to obey our fears. We can sit in silence and wrestle with the hard parts of the Bible. (65) As Christians, we have been reborn out of perfect love, so we can be confident in our salvation, even as we work it out.
One of my favorites lines from the book is found at the beginning: “Peace and joy belong not to the woman who finds the right vocation, but to the woman who finds God in any vocation, who looks for the divine around every corner.” (30)
The divine around every chapter of this book.
No matter your opinions or background, I’d encourage you to read Biblical Womanhood. Because, while you may not agree with everything Rachel says, you’re bound to agree with the overriding message: that we have been redeemed, not by anything that we’ve done, not by anything that we can do or by any gender role that we fit into, but by the grace of God alone.
And that’s a message that bears repeating.
*linking with laura, michelle, jen, duane and jennifer
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