Thursday, February 07, 2013

October/November of a Year of Biblical Womanhood (Guest Post)

The following is part two of a critical review of Rachel Held Evans's book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master”, Thomas Nelson, 2012 (see this link for a little more background and an index to all sections of the review). Ms. Evans's book starts with October and ends with September, thus this review follows Ms. Evans's order.


Ms. Evans is at her best when she describes tackling the dead Thanksgiving turkey, baking an atrocious apple pie, or taking her first etiquette lesson with a Southern protocol diva. This is her forte and she should stick to it. The beautiful ex-con Martha Stewart can be the butt of any number of jokes. (I’ve made a lot of them myself). These interludes keep the book moving. Without them this diary would be too short to publish as a book and too boring for anyone to bother reading. The feminist stuff has all been said before, and much more succinctly, if she doesn’t mind my saying so.

October was the month for Rachel to attain the gentle and quiet spirit the Apostle Peter talks about in 1 Peter 3:3-4. As she rightly points out, gentleness is something to which everyone should aspire. She says this as if most Christians have never heard of the list of the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:23), but she doesn’t seem to like having gentleness and quietness pointed out to women in particular. Her description of the book of Proverbs as a collection of wisdom sayings that “gives us some of the most colorful quips, cracks, praises and poetry about women found in Scripture” again shows her low regard for Scripture. She tells us that while her book was in progress, her blog readers informed her that she was making a mockery of the Bible, but it is evident such criticism did not faze her. She appears not to care that the Holy Spirit wrote the Bible -- either that or she feels qualified to take Him to task for what He wrote.

It was good to note her self-description as “hyperbolically-inclined”. She’s absolutely right and her hyperbole shows all through the book. She overstates things all the time. (I am hyperbolic as well). She describes Deborah the judge as exercising “complete religious, political, judicial, and militaristic authority over the people of Israel.” If that’s not over the top I don’t know what is.

She says that the book of Proverbs shows a “preoccupation with the feminine” (you be the judge of that) and attributes this to Solomon having 700 wives and 300 concubines. But she can’t blame the wives and concubines for Proverbs 31 which King Lemuel’s mother taught him. Yet she takes issue with his mother’s teaching (and that of the Holy Spirit) as well. With Ms. Evans, a Biblical writer just can’t win.

In order to hone her gentle spirit skills Rachel Evans decided to make a “Jar of Contention” to hold a cent for every infraction in this area. While a little self-imposed operant conditioning never hurt anybody, it didn’t really appear to help her. She quotes a Bible verse from Proverbs as her justification to roof-sit, as if that is a “biblical” idea. Technically, if she wanted to be literal, her husband should have been the roof-sitter. She knows that the language in that verse is figurative, but she can’t help but take it literally. Her decision to go sit on the roof for a while to do penance for her many infractions didn’t do much for her soul, but it did provide a good cover picture for her book. Remember, publishers will pay for this kind of stuff if it’s marketable.

Her next venture is her etiquette lesson, which provides a few more laughs. I was disappointed not to find any pictures of Rachel in a pig costume with a gold ring in her snout. Instead all I got was a picture of the domestic diva’s beautiful dining room. (So much for literalism).

Rachel still needed a calm spirit and turned to a bout of contemplative prayer. (As did Mormon Jan Riess in what I refer to as Chapter Two of this “trilogy.” It’s a small world). With some help from Lectio Divina and St. Teresa of Avila she makes a little headway.


It seems like Rachel really enjoyed the Martha Stewart approach to cooking and housekeeping. In addition to her good looks and ambition, Martha has the savvy to know that nobody really wants to live in squalor (as Rachel’s mother put it) and eat crummy food. And I note that most of Martha’s TV audience is female, no matter what Rachel thinks about feminism. With Martha Stewart’s cooking course Thanksgiving was a success, as was the dinner cooked for the Falzone family. High fives all around.

Ms. Evans felt more in control after reading Brother Lawrence’s classic, The Practice of the Presence of God, which led to thoughts about the other Martha (not Stewart). Rachel didn’t like the Precious Moments NKJV she had as a young girl, because it made the sisters into cartoon characters. (What’s worse, it probably did the same with Jesus, although I’ve never seen a Precious Moments Bible so I can’t be sure). Martha, sister of Mary and Lazarus, felt that Mary did not fit the mold. Rachel adds that neither did Jesus who healed an invalid on the Sabbath, nor did Rachel’s friend, Jackie, who became the first woman to preach a sermon from the pulpit of a megachurch in Dallas. If you like Mary the sister of Lazarus, you’ll love Jackie the preacher. Do I note a non sequitur here?

Each of the chapters of the book ends with a three or four page feature of a female Bible character. November’s feature is “Tamar, The Trickster.” As noted in the Introduction to this book review, Ms. Evans operates under the naturalistic fallacy: what “is” means what “ought” to be. So, the story of Tamar is summed up by the author suggesting that “Tamar joins a storied troupe of crafty and courageous biblical women who used trickery, sexuality, and manipulation to work the patriarchal system to which they were born and to survive to change the course of Israel’s history.” And “God prefers chutzpah to status.”


This is a guest post, edited by TurretinFan.

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