Monthly Archives: October 2012

Biblical Womanhood: Fault Lines & Rachel Held Evans

If you’re going to talk evangelical, you should know that in addition to rickety clichés, there are a lot of big, loaded words.

They are fault lines that split down the middle of this whole thing and separate people into neat categories. (Arminian. Calvinist. Pre-millenialist. Post-millenialist. Egalitarian. Complementarian.)

The words are as heavy and theologically riddled as they sound. At their essence, they attempt to describe a particular way of understanding the words of the Bible. But we slap them onto each other and on ourselves like so many name-brand labels.

We define and dismiss – them versus us and us verses them – and the Truth we stand on is so fractured with deep divides these days that you can barely get your footing enough to walk.


The first time I met Rachel Held Evans in person, I was struck by how little she is. Her writing voice is eight feet tall, fiercely intelligent…but in real life, she’s not much taller than I am. (For the record, I’m 5’3” and, I suspect, shrinking.)

At the conference, she stepped forward to introduce herself and then gave me a quick, gentle hug when I told her who I was. She was wearing a cute jacket and jeans and (maybe I imagined it) was possibly a little bit nervous about her upcoming talk.

And what she talked about was the journey. She talked about what it felt like to try to do it all literally. About sleeping in a tent and sitting on a roof and baking the challah. She talked about failing and finding. About her wonderful husband Dan.

She read from her book, a beautiful passage about trying to come to terms with the darkness of the Bible.

In the book, she talks about the warrior Jephthah, whose story is told in Judges 11. Jephthah promised God that if he helped him to win a battle, he would sacrifice whatever came out of the house to meet him upon his return.

That something turned out to be his daughter, a girl unnamed in the pages of Scripture.

“Unlike the familiar story of Isaac, this one ends without divine intervention. Jephtha fulfilled his promise and killed his daughter in God’s name. No ram was heard bleating from the thicket. No protest was issued from the clouds. No tomb was erected to the place where she lay” (63).

There is no good way to rationalize this, to understand it. And so instead, Rachel chooses a posture of open-handed remembrance. She writes about holding a small ceremony with candles and poetry and art. She writes about darkness in a way that doesn’t detract from Light but gives it definition and weight.

And listening to her speak about that in an upstairs foyer at the Story conference, I realized that this book is not about labels or division. It wasn’t really ever about complementarianism or egalitarianism or fault lines in the earth.

She wrote it because she aches for the forgotten women. The lost ones. The silenced ones.

The heart-cry I hear from the pages is not Equality! Feminism! Rights! But rather love.


I could tell you all to buy this book. I could tell you about my favorite part, in which Rachel decides to take back Proverbs 31 for women.(You can see my particular baggage with that passage here and here.)

I could tell you about the humor and the insight and the grace in the book. The Baby Think It Over electronic doll and the intimate way Rachel lets readers in to her fears and hesitations about motherhood. I could quote some truly beautiful and poignant one-liners.

But what I really want to tell you about is Rachel. I want to tell you how kind she is. I want to tell you how this book is full to the brim and spilling over onto her blog, where she is doing beautiful things. She is giving voice to the voiceless, promoting peace by hosting interviews with those who understand the Bible differently than she does. She calls out injustice where she sees it. She calls for unity.

She is speaking loud into the culture wars and across the fault lines, and sometimes it feels intense. You might not always agree; you might have chosen to say it differently.

But if you listen, really listen, you can hear under all of it the beating of a broken heart. A heart for women. For a faith that doesn’t always make sense. For a church that so often feels inaccessible. Most of all, for God.

And we all need to get better at it, this speaking out not for a certain way of understanding Scripture, but for each other. Our differences are not the point. The point is where we’re the same. The point is that we belong to each other, belong to Christ, and when one of us suffers, we all do.

And what I’m trying to say is that there are all of these divides and lines and different ways of understanding the same ambiguous biblical passages. I know it’s complicated. I know that it’s important, but also? It’s a shoddy excuse for being unkind and for refusing to listen.

Because if you listen, you will begin to hear the marked silence of so many people who feel voiceless. You will hear the grace in Rachel’s words. You’ll hear Proverbs 31 not so much as a to-do list, but as a poem.

You’ll begin to understand that soundtrack to A Year of Biblical Womanhood, to the Christian life in general, is love.

What I Have to Give

Acts 3:2-3 & 6: Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money…Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”

If I had all the money in the world, I would fly to see you.

I’d leave the kids with their grandparents, and come to your house with a bag full of presents and chocolate and wine, and we could wander around your city until we feel a little less lost, a little more found.

If you were closer, I’d invite you over for sub-par coffee: Target brand, I’ll admit…but Fair Trade approved at least. I buy it already ground and run it through an old 12-cup Mr. Coffee instead of a fancy French press…but I’d make you some anyway.

You could sit down at my kitchen table, and you’d have to move the crayons and push Dane’s Halloween costume aside. But I’d close my laptop and we could just sit there and hash it all out. We’d stop only to feed the kids, go for a cold autumn walk, stop at Target, not so much to buy happiness, but at least maybe the $14.99 knit cowl version of it.

Do you ever wake up and feel like you’re so empty and tired that you don’t have anything to offer anyone? It’s like you’re a shell, and whatever used to be alive in you crawled away to find a new home.

In the early morning darkness, when the kids are wakeful, I am so aware of my limitations. The dark great need of the world closes in and it feels so heavy. I stand and hold Liam, swaying side to side, because he cries if I sit down, but God, I’m tired. I feel like my legs might crumble beneath me if I keep at it, this stand…sway…stand…sway.

And I can feel you all, pressing in against my heart. You are hungry, starving. You are dying of preventable disease, dying in childbirth. You are women who have been abused. Wounded. Lied to. Hurt. Or maybe you’re just tired. I want to rent out a spa for an entire day and get you all facials and massages. I want to make you feel precious.

You are adoptive parents and orphaned children, and I’d fund the whole deal if I could. Who knew this whole process could be so gut-wrenchingly long and hard? I’d send a nice fat check, and you could stop waiting and start letting your lives twine into each other in all of those normal, beautiful ways.

You are sad in your own hard, particular way, and if I had more time, I’d sit on the phone with you all day and just let you cry. Not say anything, just be there, at the other end of the line, breathing in and out.

But calling has gotten so difficult, and money is tight and time is so scarce with these children of mine, incessant in their need. Every time I pick up my phone, Liam has a fit because he wants to watch YouTube videos on it instead.

And there’s not just one guy begging at the gate, but all of us. The whole world broken and waiting for something miraculous. And sometimes the healing takes longer than one blinding moment: In the name of Jesus…Walk.


I am relearning to pray.

For a while I stopped believing that my voice mattered. I imagined it bouncing against the heavens and coming back down. I suspect this is a pretty typical swing, a reaction to those on fire days when I prayed day and night for things like REVIVAL and saw no change at all.

And prayer is mysterious, and mysterious things scare me. It doesn’t work like a math equation, where you plug in a name and a need and the answer appears on some cosmic screen…but that doesn’t mean it’s not working. To believe this, even a little bit, is what we mean when we say faith.

And so Andrew suggests that we write down the names of everyone we know, put them on the wall in our upstairs hallway. Remember. Pray. Watch. Wait to see what God does.

Every day I walk by those names, and I remember, and I speak your name out loud to God. And this is what I have to give. Not silver or gold or plane tickets or even a great big bear hug. Not always a listening ear or an afternoon uninterrupted, drinking coffee at the kitchen table. I am so limited, so empty these days. I am a shell. I am an echo.

And Lord knows if I could, I’d fly to you and we’d have a glass of wine and talk all night long. We’d prop each other up like a couple of wounded, tired soldiers limping home.

Instead, I have this. Jesus.

I have this fragile hope that somewhere my voice and His love will collide, and it will be grace and it will be healing.

It will be the beginning of a miracle.

It will help you get your footing, stand up, walk.

Let Go, Let God

let go let god

In the massage room, there is a crock pot full of warm towels and a framed card that says Peace begins with you.

The music is nondescript piano against ocean waves, and the whole place is dimmed to an orangey glow.

The therapist begins to work, and I can feel her arms shake a little as she presses, presses, presses against the concrete wall otherwise known as my neck. Finally she asks, “Do you get headaches?”

“Yes,” I admit.

She silently continues to work, and I finally ask, “A little tight in there?”

Very,” she says.


The massage was a gift from my Mama Friend, just one stop on the “spa day” Groupon she booked for me last week.

“Listen,” she’d said on the phone a few days before. “You’re going to need to get Andrew to pick up the kids from my house on Friday because you’ll be at your five-hour spa day until seven.”

“No way am I taking your spa day,” I said, easing my minivan to a stop at a red light.

“Oh shush,” she said. “Look, I was going to do it, but I don’t really need the haircut and you do.” (She was right. I hadn’t had a haircut since May. Possibly April.) “Also, you’re having A Week, and you need the massage.”

“So do you,” I point out.

“I’m hanging up now.” And she does.

And everyone needs a Mama Friend like this: that person you put down in the Emergency Contact spot on all of your forms, the one who will take your kids on a moment’s notice because you have a deadline and your babysitter bailed.

I’m talking about the person you call about 14 times on the Third Day of Potty Training. The one who has watched you ugly-scream at your kids and still tells you you’re a great mom. Who sees no problem with your feeding those picky eaters of yours pizza for the third time this week. The one who gives you a Look when someone says something infuriating in Mommy-and-Me class.

She’s that person who can tell when you’re having A Week. She the one who forces her Groupon on you because she loves you enough to make you take what you need.


In the room, the therapist is working out a knot in my back. Even though I told her deep tissue, the pain is so much that I feel like I might black out, and finally I have to say something.

“Sorry,” she says. “I don’t think we’re going to be able to get all this out in one session.” She puts the blanket back over my back and moves down to my feet. “You’re exceptionally stressed. You know that, right?”

“Mmm hmmm,” I say, and I think about all that I’ve been holding. These things that I’ve tossed up to the heavens in prayer – “Here God” – things that I genuinely want to give to him.

I love this idea of simply letting go of my thoughts and worries and anxieties and fears. Watching them disappear into the endless infinite like balloons, like lit Japanese lanterns, rising beautiful up to Him who is big enough to absorb them.

But it’s not really as easy as all that, is it?

It’s not as easy as just opening our hands because we’ve found other places to hold these things. The massage therapist is uncovering what I thought I’d let go, knotted muscle by knotted muscle.  They’re all still here, these questions and fears. They’ve taken up residence in my body, tight in my neck and back and shoulders.

In the end, the song is right and them dancing bones are all connected: the foot bone to the leg bone, the leg bone to the knee bone. The thing I grabbed hold of with my hands has worked its way into neck bones that crack a little when I roll my head from side to side.

And maybe the work of a faith community has less to do with telling each other to let go and let God, and more to do with helping release one another from the things that we can’t seem to shake.

Because I’m lying in the massage room and I’ve been sad for weeks. The massage therapist is working all of these knots, and it seems to me a kind of holy work. Church work. People-of-God kind of work.

She has learned by heart the feel of hidden sadness, anger, anxiety. She knows that it has to be worked out slowly and methodically with warm cloths and careful hands and soft-piano-quiet.

She knows that what we hold on to – what we can’t seem to let go – is stored in the unseen places. The neck. The back. The complex, cavernous heart.

And in the end, peace begins – not so much with me and my knotted, hard heart, but with the love of God always trying to work its way deeper into my soul.

With the people who will help me to see it, to receive what I need but can’t seem to grasp. People who do the long work of helping each other let go.

7 Things to Do When You’re Feeling a Little Sad

1. Go Anyway. Your mama group meets this week at a church, and you will not feel like going at all this time around. But do it anyway. Shove everyone in the car and grab that plate of cookies that you baked yesterday, and drive the 10 miles north into small-town Minnesota.

There will be all these baked goods on the table and someone will bring chips and salsa, even though it’s 9 in the morning. And the sweet pastor of that teeny tiny church will brew a pot of coffee and leave his office door wide open while he works, even though it is chaos, chaos, chaos with all of those kids and all of those tired mamas, all of you shoved together in that small place.

I know how you are: you get sad, and you want to crawl inside yourself and stay there. But go, and just sit there, because there is something powerful about the voices of women, loud and soft and distinct and beautiful.

2. Roll Down Your Windows. Turn the music up loud and sing those words that you don’t feel. The wind will rush in with a little bite on it as you drive, but it’s the last warm day, and some truth requires air.

If you need to cry while you sing, do it. Don’t worry about the kids. They’re so busy with the wind and the music that they probably won’t even notice, and if they do, then they do. It’s okay, I think, for kids to know that their parents cry.

3. Go Outside. At the apple orchard, there is still all this color. The apples are red and yellow and green or some mix of all three, and the pumpkins are their own special kind of orange, and the whole place glows in the late afternoon sun.

Walk aimless and slow. Hold hands with your people. Feel the soft ground beneath your boots and the kind sun on your face. Pull those late-season apples off the trees and see if you can taste the subtle differences in Goodness.

Sit for a long time by the goats, who are unbelievably fat, overfed all season by little hands. A big, white sign says, “Our vet says we’re full!” but the goats wobble up expectantly anyway.

Before you can stop him, your youngest son takes the pacifier out of his mouth, gives the goat a taste of it, and then – while you yell no! no! no! – sticks it straight back in his mouth. And how can you help but double-over, belly laugh at the whole crazy, beautiful, sun-tinged thing?

4. Play. The slide is long and metal and goes all the way down the hill, and when it’s your turn, do it. Climb up all those stairs and hold onto your baby and go all the way down.

Remember what it feels when your stomach drops a little and you’re going so fast that your hair flies behind you. Remember the simplicity of happiness, how sometimes it’s just a matter of climbing up those steps again and again to slide, slide, slide until the sun goes down.

5. Work. Do the things that you’ve been putting off. The bathrooms, the floors, the coat closet. There is something to this scrubbing. All it takes to get rid of the dirt, the grime, the dried toothpaste on the bathroom sink is a little spritz of cleaner and some water and a rag torn from an old towel.

Clean out the fridge and the freezer. Throw away that which is no longer good for you; feature the things that are.

Go through the hall closet and find your hats and your pretty scarves and your cute fall jacket and feel, for a moment, a little burst of expectation for another new season.

6. Read. There are all of these voices, books and blogs and poems and stories, and they’re saying the things that you can’t say. They’re putting words to the indescribable feelings in your heart. Find them. Breathe them in.

If you can, read the Bible, but don’t feel like you have to take down great gulps of it (unless you really want to). Instead, read slow and notice what stands out: A word. A phrase. A picture slowly coming into focus in your imagination. Read a little bit. Then read that little bit over again. Then read it again, just one more time, a wash-rinse-repeat cycle for your tired soul.

7. Notice. The light is muted, sure, and I know how you are. It does something to you when the light gets weaker and the days get shorter. But notice anyway. Notice the way the sun rises pink this morning over the pond. Stand there at the sliding glass door with all of its smudgy fingerprints and watch it until the pink disappears and the day is started.

Notice how the baby’s freshly washed hair smells when you bury your nose into it. How he absently grabs for your hand as you sit together on the couch. Notice the new words, the new phrases, thought sparking into sentence into conversation. Sometimes, you can’t see it change, but sometimes, if you’re looking, you’ll notice that change is everywhere, striking and beautiful.

The Minnesota lakes are growing quieter and colder; in a few months they will be solid ice, and when you walk on them, it will sound like drums beneath your feet.

Sit out on the last warm day and notice all that is good and all that is beautiful, and feel your heart rise just a little. Just enough.

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