To Vote or Not to Vote? Help me decide!

VOTEphoto © 2008 Theresa Thompson | more info(via: Wylio)

Next Friday I’ll post some photos/video updating you on the biblical womanhood project—specifically my afternoon on the roof doing penance over the jar of contention (scheduled for tomorrow) and my first official etiquette lesson (scheduled for Monday). 

In the meantime, I’m trying to decide whether or not to vote in the upcoming election.  Here’s how the conversation has been playing out in my mind - 

Round 1:

Does the Bible say anything about women voting?
Well of course not.  Israel was a theocracy/monarchy. Nobody voted, not even the men. 

Right. So in order to simulate what life would be like for a woman like me in ancient near eastern culture, I probably shouldn’t vote. 
Yes, but I’m trying to focus the project on specific biblical commands and instructions.  I’m not avoiding electronics simply because they didn’t have TVs and computers in Bible times, so why should I avoid voting? (Round 1 goes to voting) 

Round 2:

If you vote, should you submit to your husband’s will and vote for his favorite candidates?
Probably. Ephesians 5:22 says, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

So how would Dan vote?
Dan’s an independent and I’m a democrat, which means I may end up voting for Republicans...or writing in "Google." (Round 2 goes to not voting) 

Round 3:

What would John Piper do? 
John Piper says that “praying women exert far more power in this world than all political leaders put together” so maybe you should stay home and pray for the election. 

But isn’t John Piper a Calvinist? Doesn’t he believe that prayer is incapable of changing God’s will?
You live in a red state, sweetie. The democrats are down 20 points in the polls. Even Arminians know this election is predetermined.  (Round 3 goes to not voting)

Round 4:

But what about your civic duty? Doesn’t that trump this little gimmick of yours?
IT’S NOT A GIMMICK! I’ve committed a year of my life to exploring and wrestling with every passage of Scripture that deals with women, painstakingly wading through commentary after commentary, struggling to figure out how to apply these passages to my life! This is serious stuff!

Whoa. No need to get testy! I just mean that you’re only doing this for a year and…
The folks who win this election will be in office long after the experiment is over. (Round 4 goes to voting) 

So it’s a tie. What do you think I should do?

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“Biblical Baking” Gets Controversial at Houghton College

cookies do not always wish to remain stacked.photo © 2007 Klara | more info(via: Wylio)

I’m a big fan of Houghton College, mainly because some of the nicest people I’ve met through the years claim it as either their employer or alma mater.  (I’m talking about YOU, Dave, Lori, Nolan, Andrew, and Kaylan!)  So I was interested to see that the “biblical womanhood” debate has really heated up over at Houghton.  

Apparently, a female student launched a club (and corresponding Facebook group) entitled Operation Domestic Diva in which participants bake cookies for the men on campus in order to fulfill the “Biblical principles found in Proverbs 31.” The initiative has sparked a campus-wide debate about biblical interpretation and the roles of women, as well as a second group called Students for Egalitarianism in Marriage.  

Reading the Facebook wall made me chuckle and groan at the same time. (I especially enjoyed the comic relief from the guys—“Keep baking!” “Glad you ladies are reading your Bibles!”) It reminds me a bit of my days as a student at Bryan College, when I first bumped into the concept of “biblical womanhood” after some students questioned whether women should be allowed to run for president of the student body. 

This only confirms my suspicion that, particularly among evangelicals, the debate regarding women’s roles in the home, church, and society is far from over. If you want to get a sneak peek at what the Christian community will be talking about in 5-10 years, just spend some time on a Christian college campus.From evolution to religious pluralism to homosexuality, the issues that play out on the national scene often begin in classrooms, late-night dorm room discussions, and chapel services.

I’m only a month into my year of biblical womanhood, but already I’ve deemed myself a bit of expert on the topic, so I have some advice for the students at Houghton College: 

Enjoy the diversity.
Everyone loves the idea of diversity until the reality of it becomes uncomfortable. The best thing about attending a nondenominational religious college is that you get to rub shoulders with people who come from a variety of backgrounds and theological persuasions. Enjoy the fact that you are eating lunch with both Calvinists and Arminians, sharing a bathroom with both complementarians and egalitarians, and learning history from both Republicans and Democrats. Unfortunately, we humans have a nasty habit of surrounding ourselves with like-minded people as soon as we have the opportunity to choose, so this may be your best chance to listen and learn from people who see the world a little differently.  Hopefully, you will develop a habit of it that will continue long after you have graduated. 

Don’t question one another’s integrity.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the majority of the students at Houghton College take the Bible seriously—whether they’ve joined the baking club or the career club.  Bakers, resist the urge to suggest that those who disagree with your interpretation of the Bible do not take the Bible seriously. Egalitarians, resist the impulse to make caricatures of those who perhaps apply Scripture more literally than you. This is not a faith issue; it’s an interpretation/application issue. And take it from me, we are ALL selective when it comes to applying the Bible to our lives. So cut each other some slack and begin with the assumption that even those with whom you disagree just want to do the right thing. 

Use the Bible as a conversation-starter, not a weapon. 
Simply throwing verses at each other will get you nowhere fast.  Raise the level of discourse by asking one another questions like these: How do we know which parts of Scripture apply universally and which are culturally constrained? Why do we “pick and choose” the way we do? What is the cultural context of the passages in question? How might our own cultural assumptions be affecting the way we approach Scripture? 

Be nice to each other.
Ladies, the only stereotype worse than women as doormats or women as power-craved is the stereotype of woman as backstabbers and gossips. Don’t let this incident perpetuate that! Be kind to one another and patient with one another.  Focus on what’s important—friendship, worship, tolerance, and that physics quiz in the morning.  

Gentlemen, enjoy the cookies and stay out of it. 

So, what advice would you give the students at Houghton College as they begin this conversation?

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13 Things That Make Me a Lousy Evangelical

So I suppose that technically I am an evangelical Christian.  I follow Jesus Christ. I think a personal commitment to faith is important. I read the Bible regularly. 

However, I consistently find myself in awkward situations among my fellow evangelicals, mainly because of these 13 habits: 

1. The word “inerrancy” makes my scalp itch

2. Sometimes I vote for democrats

3. When the kids choir sings about Joshua and the Battle of Jericho, I lean over to my husband and whisper something about genocide, drawing harsh stares from parents 

4. I’ve never read The Purpose Driven Life

5. I think the earth is 4.5 billion years old

6. When we’re stuck in traffic because there’s been an awful wreck up ahead and somebody says, “Wow, God definitely had his hand on us when we left five minutes late this morning,” I ask, “But what about the people in the wreck? Did God not have his hand on them?” (I think it is this impulse that most often puts me at odds with evangelicalism…and Christianity in general) 

7. I ask a lot of annoying questions

8. I have issues with authority

9. Since discovering The Book of Common Prayer, the evangelical tradition of “popcorn prayer” sends me into a complete panic

10. As a woman, I’ve been nursing a secret grudge against the Apostle Paul for about eight years

11. I support gay rights

12. Occasionally I have nightmares about Sarah Palin becoming president

13. I have vowed never to use the phrase “It was really good for a Christian movie"

What about you? Ever feel like the black sheep in the evangelical family? Why?

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On quieting the not-so-gentle spirit

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“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.” (1 Peter 3:4)

I have to admit that the jar of contention filled up a little faster than expected.  I’m up to 56 cents now, which translates into nearly an hour of rooftop penance at the end of the month.  (You guys were right. I should never have added snark to the list. On Tuesday I had to put a penny in the jar for simply retweeting someone else’s smart-ass comment!)

In fact, by the middle of the month, I realized the jar wasn’t really working.  Sure I was successfully avoiding some of the character traits of the “contentious and vexing woman” found in the book of Proverbs, but I wasn’t really cultivating a gentle and quiet spirit, which is the focus of the month of October.

My resolve was further tested when my big announcement about the project brought out some rather nasty comments on the blog. (Most were positive, yes, but every blogger knows that it’s the mean ones you remember.) Whenever I feel insecure, my heart curls up into a little ball and grows sharp porcupine needles out its sides. I become the opposite of gentle and quiet. I become frightened and whiny and mean.

I knew that in order to actually learn something from this month of gentleness I had to take another approach. So I began incorporating contemplative prayer into my morning routine, particularly breathing exercises, lectio divina,  and centered prayer. I focused on words, passages, and prayers that spoke of quietness.

The results were…amazing.

Until this week I’d always thought that cultivating a gentle and quiet spirit was a nice goal for thatother kind of woman— you know, the kind who doesn’t care about politics or theology or college football. But the images and words that flooded my mind each morning during prayer were not docile or weak, but rather strong, powerful, unyielding. As I meditated on Psalm 23, Psalm 131, and the prayers of St. Teresa of Avila, it felt as though my feet were extending deep through the ground and growing long, winding roots, while my torso stretched like a trunk and my arms and fingers like branches and leaves.

With every prayer and every silence, the image of a great big tree kept coming back to me, again and again and again.

I don’t know for sure, but I think that maybe God is trying to tell me that I’ve got to stop reacting so much, that I can’t allow the little ups and downs in my day to affect me to the core. Gentleness begins with strength, quietness with security.  A great tree is both moved and unmoved—it changes with the seasons, but its roots keep it anchored in the ground.

We live in such a reactive culture.  Everything from Facebook to Twitter to the 24-hour news cycle rewards the loudest, most dramatic reactions.  And I’ve learned the hard way that this kind of environment can easily turn someone like me into a one-stop freak show—grotesque as a bearded woman one moment, light as a flying trapeze artist the next.  It’s easy to lose my identity in the midst of it all.

Contemplatives have long taught that mastering the volatile human spirit is the key to serenity.  “It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles,” the Buddha said.  “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city,” says Proverbs 16:32.

I think this poem from St. Teresa of Avila perhaps says it best:

Let nothing upset you,
Let nothing startle you. 
All things pass;
God does not change.
Patience wins all it seeks.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone is enough. 

Maybe cultivating a gentle and quiet sprit doesn’t require changing my personality, just regaining control of it—growing strong enough to hold back and secure enough to soften.  

Maybe it’s not as much about the pennies that are in the jar but the pennies that are not.

***

So what does a “gentle and quiet spirit” mean to you? Ladies, has that verse ever been used against you to suggest you have to change your strong-willed, fiesty personality? 

And have you ever practiced contemplative prayer?

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The Bible, Polygamy, and “Sister Wives”

While watching reality TV the other day, I asked Dan “Do you think this stuff should be on TV or do you think it’s exploitive?” 

“Yes,” he said. 

He was kidding of course, but the conversation highlighted the main reason we typically avoid watching reality TV despite its inexplicably addictive qualities.  

Lucky for me, I get to count my latest indulgence—TLC’s controversial “Sister Wives”—as research for my next book. The big season finale aired Sunday night, but you can catch a “Sister Wives” marathon tonight on TLC from 6 to 10 p.m. 

While contemporary expressions of “biblical womanhood” often focus on restoring the nuclear family, the reality is that biblical women were part of a radically different familial culture, one that looked a lot more like “Sister Wives” than “Leave it to Beaver.”  A glimpse at Abraham’s family tree reveals that a household in the ancient Near East might include multiple wives, handmaidens, slaves, and concubines…all under the same roof.  And not unlike “Sister Wives,” this arrangement produced considerable drama as women competed over reproductive prowess and the affections of their husbands (see Sarah vs. Hagar, Rachel vs. Leah, Hannah vs. Peninah.) 

Polygamy is one aspect of biblical womanhood that I am decidedly NOT interested in pursuing literally (nor is Dan; he’s got enough on his plate with one wife, bless his heart).  So instead I plan to read up on the subject, interview a woman in a polygamous marriage, and spend a bunch of time on the couch watching “Sister Wives” and “Big Love.” 

Polygamy is a hot topic right now, probably because of the success of these two shows as well as recent debates regarding the government’s role in marriage. In a way, the door was opened by the Dugger Family of TLC’s “18 Kids And Counting” (or is it 19? I can never keep up), whose lifestyle is indicative of Quiverfull, a religious movement which bases its principles on certain passages of Scripture regarding childbearing.  The best way to grow a large family is through polygamy, and if America fell in love with the Dugger family, who’s to say they won’t fall in love with the Brown family? 

In my research, I’ve found no direct condemnation of polygamy in the Bible.  1 Timothy 3:2 requires that a leader in the church be “the husband of one wife,” but the practice itself is not forbidden. Old Testament passages that chastise the men of Israel for taking foreign wives have more to do with the religious affiliations of said wives than the number of them.  In fact, some of the Bible’s most admired heroes—Abraham, Jacob, Caleb, David, Solomon, Gideon— had multiple wives and/or concubines. So why does polygamy strike so many of us as morally reprehensible? 

There are of course a lot of dimensions to this issue, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. 

From a biblical standpoint: Is it forbidden?

From a moral standpoint: Is it wrong?

From a legal standpoint: Should it be legal?

From an entertainment standpoint: Should we be watching reality TV shows about it?

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