Thinking Out Loud

September 29, 2017

Getting in Touch with my Biblical Feminine Side

Every once in awhile I do a feature titled “Currently Reading.” These are books for which I haven’t been given any review mandate and may or may not finish, but feel are worth mentioning. Sometimes they are books which aren’t new releases, and occasionally are completely out-of-print.

A better title might be, “Currently on the Bedside Table.” This describes the time of day I’m looking at them, though it’s actually a lie since the lamp base takes up most of the room. More like on the floor next to the bed, along with several unfinished crossword puzzles, which are a great way to unwind before sleep.

Have I put enough distance between myself and this book? I just don’t want people thinking I regularly choose my books in the women’s section of the bookstore. That’s because I’m currently late-night reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans (Thomas Nelson, 2012) the very same writer described by one site as “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing;” and one whose haters have their own Facebook group; and I’m thoroughly enjoying the book. (I chose not to include the links.)

The book is part homage and part spoof  (depending on how you read it) of A. J. Jacobs’ classic My Year of Living Biblically. It’s also a response to the CBMW (the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which could also be represented by COBMAW) the same people behind the infamous “Nashville Statement” earlier this season. Evans searches the scripture to gain a picture of the role of women in both Old Testament times, and also at the time of Christ, and what implications both have for Christian women in today’s world.

But you know what? There’s nothing beyond that synopsis that I can write that would satisfy those whose faith compels them to simply denounce and write people off. I’m the other way around. I may not applaud the rhetorical style of Nadia Bolz-Weber, the artistic license of Wm. Paul Young or the non-directive responses of Rob Bell, but I love all three of them. There are certain people who instead prefer to draw a circle and everyone who is not in that circle is simply out. If that’s you, do the rest of us a favor and stop reading here, because…

…because I want to say a few things I really like about the book, so far.

  1. Evans is a gifted writer. She’s basically writing some type of autobiographical Bible-study memoir thing — a genre, called “lifestyle experiments” which apart from the aforementioned A. J. Jacobs and a few others doesn’t exist — which is difficult to classify, let alone critique. She pulls that off with all the requisite color and humor and other words which have a u in them if you’re British. I have no commitment to this book or its issues, yet I keep turning the page. And I feel like I already know Dan, her husband. (Poor Dan!)
  2. She did her research. Actually a lot of research. In the Bible and elsewhere. She didn’t just write the thing off the top of her head. If anyone would simply take the time to take the book seriously, it’s an excellent treatise on the role of Christian women even if you land the plane on a different runway.
  3. She is in many respects theologically conservative. Okay, don’t tell anyone that, because it would spoil her entire shtick, but she comes from an ultra conservative background, in many respects moved on past that, and yet she hasn’t tossed the baby out with the bathwater (a faith image that always works better around Christmas.) I can identify with her background.
  4. Her book resonated with many, many women who find themselves constantly trying to meet impossible expectations. Six years later, the book is still selling.
  5. She has the pictures to prove it. The subtitle is How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on the Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master. My favorite is her “praising her husband at the city gates” which shows her under a “Welcome to Dayton” sign holding up one of her own stating, “Dan is awesome.” She took her project seriously. (My wife keeps reminding me that’s not exactly what Proverbs 31 is saying.)

This is a book about someone’s life and something they decided to do for 12 months as an expression of their faith journey. Being honest, blunt and transparent is at the very least the antithesis of the hypocrisy Jesus condemned, though it may get you banned at LifeWay stores.

Some people may not like it, but as the pictures make clear, it actually happened, and Rachel was the perfect person to make it happen and make it meaningful.


From the archives: The original cover.

March 27, 2012

Mark Driscoll Can Be Blunt, Rachel Held Evans Can’t

Warning: Today’s post uses a word that is that a heart of this week’s major Evangelical controversy.

So anyway, there’s my wife, sitting in church a couple of weeks ago, and the speaker is doing a two-week series on Song of Solomon and he explains that a particular phrase is referring to “her lady bits.”

I was attending another church, where the pastor was pursuing a much safer study of Matthew 5, a particular teaching of Jesus which doesn’t contain any need to use the phrase, “her lady bits;” nor the V-word which my wife informs me showed up in the sermon also.

“I’m so glad I was not there for that;” I told my wife.

“Are you kidding;” she replied; “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world!”

I guess you had to be there. Or maybe not.

The V-word, which, we might as well be clear, is ‘vagina,’ also comes up in the manuscript for Rachel Held Evans new book, My Year of Biblical Womanhood; to be published, in theory anyway, by Thomas Nelson.

It actually appears twice in the text, and I’ve read both occurrences from a fringe website that claimed to be authoritative on this matter.

The publisher, Thomas Nelson, still intoxicated by the success of recent hits like Jesus Calling and Heaven is For Real, is now enjoying some additional press from this, and is hedging on the direction that Rachel should go. She can leave the words in, but have that adversely affect sales, or she can take out the offending (but not exactly slang) terms.

Earlier in the month she wrote:

They won’t let me use the word “vagina” in my book because we have to sell it to Christian bookstores, which apparently have a thing against vaginas. I make a big scene about it and say that if Christian bookstores stuck to their own ridiculous standards, they wouldn’t be able carry the freaking Bible. I tell everyone that I’m going to fight it out of principle, but I cave within a few days because I want Christian bookstores to carry the sanitized version of my book because I want to make a lot of money, because we’ve needed a new roof on our house for four years now, and because I really want a Mac so I can fit in at the mega-churches. I feel like such a fraud.

Then, last week, this:

I want to make it clear that it is not my editors at Thomas Nelson who are insisting that I take out the word “vagina.” I can stick to my guns, keep “vagina” in, and I suspect Thomas Nelson will still publish the book. The problem, as I understand it, is that Christian bookstores probably won’t carry it, and Thomas Nelson sells a lot of books to Christian bookstores.

So, as sad as it is, we have a business decision to make. Do we risk losing a bunch of potential sales in order to keep the word “vagina” in this context? Or do we decide to choose our battles and let it go?  And do I risk alienating myself from the Thomas Nelson team—which has been great so far—because I refuse to cooperate with Christian retailing, their area of expertise?

Blogger Tony Jones weighed in:

The problems with this are too numerous to enumerate. Among them:

  1. Many Christian (read, conservative evangelical) bookstores won’t stock her book anyway, because they’ll consider it “feminist.”
  2. Even if they do, they won’t sell many copies.
  3. Wait, there are still Christian bookstores?
  4. Wait, there are still bookstores?

Ha ha! Tony! Funny guy! But I agree with point #1, RHE is probably already too edgy for the conservative stores at issue.

But as I wrote at Christian Book Shop Talk, I’m not sure that its right for Thomas Nelson or Rachel or anyone else to presume on what bookstores are or are not going to carry.

…[I]t’s nice to think that the brick-and-mortar retail side of Christian book distribution still carries some weight. Guess we’re not dead yet.

But I also think they’ve been extremely presumptuous as to how prudish we really are.

Because the truth of the matter, is that this isn’t about you and me, the owners of independent bookstores and small chains; this is about LifeWay, because it’s LifeWay — or perhaps even more accurately, Baptists — who are going to raise the roof over this word.

Again, I’m not sure that this is about “Christian bookstores” as opposed to “a Christian bookstore chain.”

And as Rachel herself pointed out, this isn’t the first time:

In Ian Cron’s fantastic book, Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me, which was also published by Thomas Nelson, he writes this: “Did I mention that it’s cold? You have no idea how far a man’s testicles can recede into his body until you have jumped into the Dorset Qarry…My testicles were very, very angry.”

And in To Own a Dragon, the ever-talented Donald Miller writes, “I felt as though all the men in the world secretly met in some warehouse late at night to talk about man things, to have secret handshakes, to discuss how great it was to have a penis and what an easy thing it was to operate…”

Which brings us to Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk, who really puts this in perspective reminding us of that other rather blunt book which came out just a few weeks ago, Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll.

Why is this an issue, especially with all the triumphalistic chest-thumping lately in the Christian industrial complex about how courageous Mark and Grace Driscoll were to answer questions about various sexual practices with graphic detail in their book?

Oh sorry, I forgot. Mark is a man’s man, and the LEADER™ of a megachurch. He and his church are controversial. He swears for effect because he’s CUTTING EDGE™ and trying to reach hard core unbelievers. Driscoll is ANOINTED™. He’s MISSIONAL™ and he’s got satellite campuses and he goes on shows like The View and stands up for THE FAITH™ by saying that homosexuals need to REPENT™ and that sex is only for married heterosexuals and that wives should SUBMIT™ to their husband’s leadership in the bedroom and every other area of life.

Mark Driscoll is the Christian bookseller’s dream… There’s not an ounce of thoughtfulness, nuance, or mystery about him. It’s either blackest black or whitest white, expressed in monosyllabic, in your face, turn or burn PREACHIN’™. He can say vagina or penis or oral sex or anal sex or any word or phrase he likes because he is a Reformission Rev in pagan freakin’ Seattle and he is REACHING THE LOST™.

But Rachel, well, she has a vagina and it would be shameful for her to talk about it or even use the word in public. She’s not a pastor or LEADER™ (God forbid!).

140 people have signed a petition at Am*zon to have the word put back into the manuscript.  

Karen Spears Zacharias writes:

I suppose when they signed contract with Rachel it never occurred to the publisher that she would have the balls to talk about her vagina in a book about womanhood, heh? But then I suppose Thomas Nelson wouldn’t use the word balls either, heh?…

…And theologians argue over why people today don’t find the Church relevant to their lives. Perhaps the answer to that question could be found in the books Christians refuse to print, sell, buy and read.

Sometimes it seems that all Christians publishers really want us “good Christian” women to write about are Amish Vampires.

Suzannah at the blog So Much Shouting writes:

Yes, this is a ridiculous conversation to be having in 2012.  But I believe that it is symptomatic of a fear within the church of bodies and sexuality–especially female sexuality.

Are we not a people who worship an Incarnate God and believe that our own bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made?

Blogger Allison Buzard writes:

The big question I’m getting at is this: Church, are we willing to redeem our culture’s view on sex and sexuality?

It’s possible, but we have to get over our own awkwardness.  And it’s critical that we do because here’s the reality: There are lots of folks sitting in our church pews every week who are having sex.  Some of them attend your junior high youth group.  Some of them are in your college ministry.  Some of them are in your senior ministry.  Some of them are married.  Some of them are single.  But trust you me, sex is happening amongst your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and we out to be talking about it.

And then — if you haven’t had your fill of this already — there’s the Nazarene discussion forum, Naznet, which, if you really want to consider this further, has a number of comments which reflect the variety of views on this subject.  (Note to self: Visit this site again sometime soon.) 

Conclusion:

We live in a time when battle lines are being drawn between conservative Christians and progressive Christians.  I usually find myself standing somewhere in between, trying to build a bridge between both groups; trying to maintain doctrinal orthodoxy while at the same time recognizing that this ain’t 1949 or 1953 or 1961. It’s 2012 already.The world changed in-between; the world changed last year; the world changed last week.

We need to be mindful of the duality as we interact with the broader culture; as we live between two worlds; as we exist as aliens and strangers, having citizenship in another country; but having to live, eat, breathe, work and play in a world that’s not our permanent home. (See graphic below.)

To that end, we need authors and publishers who will translate our message into the vernacular of the day, or even the hour. We need books and book distribution networks that will illustrate Christian worldview in a way that people can understand. 

In the end, the books we create should, at times, make us uncomfortable.

UPDATE: MAY 10, 2012:

Another author, Karen Spears Zacharias faced similar resistance to explicit content and released her true story highlighting the impact of child abuse, A Silence of Mockingbirds through MacAdam Cage Publishing — in hardcover at US$ 25 — your local store can order it through Ingram using 9781596923751

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