Monday, October 22, 2012

I'm a proud Proverbs 31 failure: Why I love A Year of Biblical Womanhood

As I gaze at Proverbs 31, the supposed Biblical list of what a woman should be, a "Biblical Woman", I realize just how far short I fall. Reading it,  I feel like a failure, an outcast a freak.  I can't rise early, I can't sew a straight line, I can't cook gourmet food, and truth be told I don't want to.   I can't be a Proverbs 31 woman. What I can do is put together one heck of a mission trip, write awesome curriculum and preach a damn good sermon. Sadly in some Christian circles that in itself brandishes me a failure. To them it's sinful for me to be in a leadership, especially if men are involved and learning from me. Even the big "hipster" churches that would welcome my tattoos and my colored hair, would never let me on their leadership team, because I have a vagina. So like many women I could easily look at what the Bible has to say to and about women, see the way the church classifies qualities of leadership, and walk away feeling more broken, hurt and confused. Alternatively I could try and conform, trading the gifts, God has given me for things that make me miserable and crush my spirit.

It's not just the circles of Christendom that cause me to feel this way. Society puts pressure on me as a mom, my family traditions too. I went straight for the epidural. I served my babies mixed drinks of breast milk and formula.  I won't wear the high heels and make up that to my mom, symbolize a grown woman. I dye my hair colors that can't be found through Loreal or Clairol, and I have gone and covered up God's "natural Beauty" with a bunch of man made art. I have never sewed a Halloween costume for my kids. My house is only ever somewhat clean, and only when company is coming. I am a womanhood failure on many fronts.

It hurts to live with that idea of failure, and it hurts even more to realize that as marginalized and discriminated as I feel, there are women that are truly oppressed and enslaved, simply because of their gender.  I abhor this, and I despair at the thought that the Christian community is part of this. I want more conversation about women's equality, I want all churches to fight for it. This is why I was so eager to read, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. In this book Rachel Held Evans takes this conversation to a whole new level. I have been reading Rachel Held Evans blog for a while, and when the opportunity came to be a part of her Launch Team and read the book early, I was all over it.

Rachel Held Evans decided to challenge these scriptures and these ideas about the roles of women in her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. She does not shy away from them, or let her failure crush her spirit, she confronts them head on, and tries to put them into practice, literally.  From calling her husband master, to camping out in a tent during her period, Rachel wrestles with the Biblical mandates. The results of her experiments in Biblical womanhood are quite funny, and I identify with a lot of them, especially her struggle with sewing. This line sums my sewing frustrations up, "the skills required for sewing just happen to include four things I stink at - patience, cutting a straight line, working with machinery and fractions."(p.80).   As Rachel tries to live up to the ideals that some have extracted from scripture, it makes for a very fun read, that helps you appreciate just how entertaining the Bible can be.

Rachel also examines the roles women have taken on in different faith traditions, from Quiverfull, Amish, Orthodox Jewish and more.  With grace and humility Rachel finds that there is no right way to be a Biblical woman. She also learns from the women that she once judged and made fun of, and finds practices that she actually wants to employ herself. Rather than tearing women down, Rachel celebrates their faith, even if it weirds her out. As a sarcastic, snarky person myself, it was awesome to see Rachel find beauty in the practices of many faith movements that she had once made fun of.

Rachel's husband Dan adds a lot to the conversation too. Some of his journal entries from the project are included, and they reveal a husband who struggles with these things along with his wife.  His support and the challenges it presented to him, make this book a must read for guys too.

Some of my favorite parts of the book were Rachel's profiles of women in the Bible. On careful examination of some of the prominent and also lesser known women of the Bible, Rachel finds that they were all different, all flawed, and all used by God to reveal himself to others.  She forces us to look at these women and the story that God told in their lives, even when that story is ugly.

Rachel's honest and educated attempt to wrestle with challenging scriptures was a breath of fresh air. I love what she challenges us as readers of the Bible to do "For those who count the Bible as sacred, interpretation is not a matter of whether to pick and choose, but how to pick and choose."... "Are we reading with the prejudice of love, or are we reading with the prejudices of judgement and power, self-interest and greed?" (p.296). Rather than throwing Bible verses at us, she reveals what it means to chew on God's word.

Rachel also reminds us that the discrimination we face in American Christianity as women, is nothing compared to what women around the world face.  She gives an account of a trip she took to Bolivia with World Vision, and puts faces and names to these women. She reminds us that women everywhere are fighting for their lives and the lives of their children, and she calls us to action.

Rachel researched, challenged and practiced just about all of it. She saw how impossible it is to live up to these supposed Biblical Standards, but she also saw there is no such thing as one set of standards for Biblical Womanhood. In her research she releases all of us to be the women that God created us individually to be.  She doesn't hold us to a standard, rather she shows us the standards are impossible. She gives us all freedom to be Proverbs 31 failures, and to celebrate the different ways each of us lives out our faith. I cannot say enough good things about this book. Whether you are a Christian or not, it speaks to our insecurities as women and forces us to confront the ideals and traditions that have been handed down to us. It is hilarious, inspiring, humbling and quite simply fantastic.

The official release date is next Tuesday, but you can already find it on Amazon, and in some stores.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Sticks and Stones, Jesus and Vaginas

"This CD has three songs that don't say Jesus, I want my money back", "They said butt on this cd, I want my money back", "they said sucks on stage, I want my money back for this T-shirt", these are all things I heard while working my husband's Christian band merch stand. Never mind the fact that we were touring the country in an Econo-van, spending our nights listening for hours to teens all over the country trying to encourage them, and have some good, "clean" fun. The guys in the band, us wives, we weren't Christians apparently because we didn't say the right words. Maybe they had never read the canonized holy scripture, that does not contain the words God or Jesus, the book of Esther. Words it seems are very important to Christians, and if you say the "wrong" words, or you don't say the "right" words, well, you don't get to be in the club anymore. It doesn't matter what the message is or how hard people are working to share the love of Christ, if the words are wrong, it's invalid. This CRAP infuriated me then, and it infuriates me now, and yes I know crap is an unacceptable word for Christians.

Now the exclusivity of acceptable words and Christians' ideas that they have the power to judge something Christian or not, is rearing it's ugly head again, over the word vagina. Rachel Held Evans wrote an amazing book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, in which she examines what it means to live out the words that scripture has in regards to women, literally.  I'm halfway through her work, and it is a wonderful examination of scripture that has been used to hurt and subjugate women for years.  Words used out of context.  Rachel examines different cultures within Christianity and how they live these words out, and she does so with grace, gentleness, and humility. She also does it with honesty and correct anatomical language, she says the word vagina. That word apparently disqualifies her work. The Christians at Lifeway have decided that her book cannot be carried in their stores because of the word vagina. They seem to care more about the offensiveness of that word, than the discrimination women have faced because they were born with a vagina.  The message of Rachel's book is lost to many because of a word.

Censorship in the vagina-gate form, or in the form of not accepting something as Christian because it doesn't say Jesus, is hurtful and has no place in Christian community. Worrying that we are going to offend someone in our presentation of the gospel just because we used a word, is limiting what God can do and is doing through us. I do not try to create controversy when I speak in front of groups of people, be they groups of youth or a congregation of people on a Sunday morning. I speak the message that God and I have wrestled with, the words he has laid on my heart.  I speak honestly in the language that comes naturally to me.  When speaking to certain groups, I do try to be sensitive to those that are hearing me. I try to know my audience and present my message accordingly.  I do not want my message to go unheard because I offended someone. If a word like crap slips out, or sucks;  I expect some grace, especially from a Christian audience. If I mention the problems of homelessness, the environmental crisis, people terrorizing abortion clinics, or my tattoos, I don't expect to be censored, and yet I have been.  The entire content of my message was lost due to these things, I was branded liberal by some and unchristian by others.  It seems we Christians have little tolerance for words or each other.

Jesus used a lot of words, they are the red ones in that book in the hotel drawer, in case you were wondering.  He used words that shocked his audience, because as a "rabbi" he talked in everyday language, so that every person could see and understand God.  He used words that turned his audience's way of thinking upside down, like when he said, "blessed are the poor". The words that Jesus said were not okay to say, were the ones used against another person, to hurt them. Calling your brother raca was elevated to murder. Elsewhere in scripture we are encouraged to use only words that build one another up and encourage. Jesus also talked about not judging. His emphasis seemed to be not on the words used, but how they were used, were they used hurtfully?

 A major Christian chain deciding not to carry the book of someone who has spent over a year researching scripture and earnestly trying to live it out with grace and humility, because they used the correct word for a part of the female anatomy, is hurtful.  Christians should be more offended by the fact that people are treated differently or badly because they have a vagina, than the word itself. This form of exclusivity is bullying.  It is saying, "you don't talk like me, so you don't fit in here, you are out". It's equivalent to sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting, "la, la,la" because someone is saying something you don't want to hear. When, when will we Christians be able to focus on living out the words of Jesus, and not the words we hear or don't hear from our family of God?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tattoo Story #4- It's got nothing to do with luck

All work done by Michael Facchini
at Blackhole Tattoo (West) in Beaverton,OR
As the phelbotomist put the blood draining needle in my arm on the claustraphobic bus turned blood bank, she asked me if 13 was my lucky number.  I get asked this question on a regular basis, as I knew I would. I have after all, an orange and yellow star emblazoned on my arm with a 13 in the center. That 13 has nothing to do with luck though, and everything to do with a good choice, covenant and a God who can get you through anything.

13.5 years ago, I made one of the best choices ever, I married Valentine. He made the same excellent choice in choosing me.  We continue to  make that choice everyday, and have for these 13 plus years.We had a whirlwind long distance relationship prior to that day in May, but we knew for certain that we had chosen well. Val and I met in line for the bathroom at a show that some friends were playing, and he happened to be in the opening act. We realized we had a lot of fun together. We could make each other laugh with our twisted, sarcastic, bitter humor. We enjoyed a lot of the same things, and we just loved to be together, though we were hardly in the same state. So we didn't wait year and years to get to know each other, we just knew and we dove in and made a choice. We got to know each other very quickly as we traveled in a van with 7 other people for much of the first years of our marriage, sharing a bench seat together. We moved in and out of various apartments.  We finished college, started our careers and most importantly, or life changing, had two kids. Over the years we learned a lot about each other, some good, some bad, but somehow we always managed to have fun.We made a good choice, but it wasn't just a choice.

We made a covenant. We made a covenant with ourselves and God that we would stick by this choice for good or bad. It is a sacred promise. Thankfully, we both made the same promise and commitment. Whether times are fun or not, we are in this together, till death do us part. We work at this choice, together. There were no easy years, every year had it's own joys and struggles.  Each year on our anniversary though, we both knew we had made the right choice in making this covenant and choosing each other. We are committed to that choice too, whether we happened to like each other at the time or not. Marriage is a choice, every day, to live with and submit to each other. Some days we are good at that, a lot of days we aren't, but we still choose each other. Some see that choice as a shackle, but to me it is freedom.  There is freedom and peace in knowing that I get to spend the rest of my, or his life with him, with the person I want to be with most everyday.  No matter what, unless it's death or debilitating brain injury, we have each other. Why would I not want to be with the person who loves me most in the world? We entered into this contract together and we both take it very seriously.

The God that we entered into covenant with has our back too.  He keeps up his end by helping us through, and between the two of us, we can usually see how he is working in our lives. He is there for us, so it's not just us alone. We have a third party, and intermediary, someone to turn to, when that other person is driving us nuts, or when neither one of us has the strength to encourage the other.

Work on the right done by Michael Facchini
at Blackhole Tattoo (West) in Beaverton,OR
On our tenth anniversary we got the sugar skull tattoos.  Sitting in a tattoo shop as two artists give each person a tattoo at the same time may not be romantic to a lot of couples, but that is part of what makes us perfect for one another.  To us it was special, it was a one of a kind (they match but they are each different) reminder to each of us, that we made the right choice for till death do us part. We had stars put on for every year of marriage, and each year we celebrate by adding another.

Our thirteenth year was particularly difficult. Deaths, Illness and floods made for difficult days together. Just as we would clean up the mess for one thing, we would get slammed by something else. At the end of the day though, that same sick sense of humor would get us laughing, and God brought friends to our rescue on more than one occasion. We survived all of it together and we wanted to celebrate that with a special star, a victory star.

I made a great choice over 13 years ago, and our marriage has nothing to do with luck.  I have an amazing husband who loves me.  I never make the bed, I leave messes behind me as I go about the business of workaholic youth pastor, and I continue to tattoo my body.  He may not like the messes, but he puts up with me, and he loves each new tattoo I get. While they turn some people off, well, let's just say for Val it's the opposite. He loves me, he makes me laugh, he fathers our children well, he works hard to provide for us no matter how hard, or annoying the job may be. He perseveres through depression and anxiety to be there for us.  He also gets ridiculous tattoos so that when he is old and decrepit we will still have something to laugh about, he lets me put swings up in the kitchen, encourages the addition of my dream dog/horse to the family and allows painted chalkboards on the walls. He encourages me to be my best self, he challenges me, and he makes me laugh, just about every day. I didn't get lucky, I made a damn good choice, and so did he.