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.