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A YEAR OF BIBLICAL WOMANHOODHow a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband "Master"
By RACHEL HELD EVANS
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 Rachel Held Evans
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOctober: Gentleness
Girl Gone Mild
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 3:3–4
TO DO THIS MONTH:
Cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit, even during football games (1 Peter 3:3–4)
Kick the gossip habit (1 Timothy 5:12–13)
Take an etiquette lesson (Proverbs 11:22)
Practice contemplative prayer (Psalm 131)
Make a "swearing jar" for behaviors that mimic the "contentious woman" of Proverbs (Proverbs 21:19; 19:13; 27:15 NKJV)
Do penance on the rooftop for acts of contention (Proverbs 21:9)
My first mistake was to start the experiment in the middle of football season. First Peter 3:4 describes a godly woman as having a "gentle and quiet spirit," but if you've spent more than five minutes south of the Mason-Dixon during the month of October, you know that there's nothing gentle or quiet about the way a Southern woman watches college football.
I grew up in the great state of Alabama, which journalist Warren St. John deems "the worst place on earth to acquire a healthy perspective on the importance of spectator sports." In Alabama, the third most important question after "What is your name?" and "Where do you go to church?" is "Alabama or Auburn?" So soon after I learned to identify myself as a nondenominational, Bible-believing Christian named Rachel, I learned to identify myself as an Alabama fan. My little sister and I knew what intentional grounding was before we'd acquired the dexterity to play with Barbie dolls, and as kids we liked to imitate my mother, who had the habit of willing an Alabama running back down the field by moving closer and closer to the TV set the longer he stayed on his feet. By the time he danced into the end zone, the whole family—Mom, Dad, Amanda, and I—would be huddled together around the TV, screaming our heads off, nervously looking for any yellow flags on the field.
Now exiled together in Tennessee, where Volunteer Orange looks good on no one, we gather every Saturday afternoon at my parents' house down the street to wear our colors, yell at the TV, and consume inordinate amounts of meat. It's a tradition that my husband, Dan, married into a bit unwittingly, but has come to love, primarily on account of Mom's pulled pork roast.
I think Dan may have been a little caught off guard the first time he realized that something about the autumnal equinox transformed his wife into a raving lunatic for three and a half hours each week and that eleven guys running around on a football field in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, could directly affect his sex life. But he's grown into the role, and now every autumn we both look forward to Saturday afternoons at the Held house—windows opened to the crisp, cool air, the scent of dry leaves mingling with wafts of slow roasted pork, the dull roar of crowd noise humming from the TV. And this particular October was especially significant because Alabama was defending its national title on Mom and Dad's brand-new, high-definition, 42-inch TV.
"This is going to suck," I said as we approached their front door on game day, leaves crackling under our feet.
"Yup. It's going to be awesome," Dan responded without really hearing me.
"Well, maybe for you, but screaming at the TV doesn't exactly constitute a gentle and quiet spirit," I said. "I'm going to have to bottle all my fandom up inside. No yelling at the refs. No snarky remarks about the cheerleaders. No cheering or booing. It's so stifling."
"Yeah, you're really suffering for Jesus on this one, Rach," Dan teased.
I managed to get through the first few games of the season in relative calm, with a few exceptions the day Bama lost to the South Carolina Gamecocks (and Steve Spurrier, of all people) in a 35-21 upset.
That particular game we happened to watch at my sister's house in Nashville and afterwards went to Rotier's downtown to sulk over burgers, sweet potato fries, and country music.
I remembered to cover my head before the blessing, in keeping with my sixth commandment ("Thou shalt cover thy head when in prayer"). It seems the upside to starting a project like this in October is that hoodies serve as nice, inconspicuous head coverings. You can observe 1 Corinthians 11 at every meal and church service and folks just think you're cold, not a religious freak. Same goes for scarves, knit hats, and head-warmers.
"But aren't you supposed to pray without ceasing?" Amanda asked, ever the Sunday school star, even at twenty-six.
"Yeah, maybe you should keep your head covered at all times," Dan piped in.
"Well, I might try doing that in March when I focus on modesty," I said, "or maybe when I visit Lancaster."
I had this thing planned out, I swear, but sometimes it seemed like nobody believed me.
"You should observe kosher," they said. "You ought to visit a convent," they said. "You need to have a baby," they said. "You gotta get yourself a rabbi," they said.
I was pretty sure that rabbis didn't operate on a work-for-hire basis, and the baby thing had been settled by Dan right away.
"We're not having a kid as part of an experiment," he said. "No way."
But the voices that seemed the loudest came from my blog, where readers responded in record numbers to my announcement about the project.
"This is going to be epic!"
"My stomach just knotted in anxiety for you."
"Way to make a mockery of God's Word."
"A. J. Jacobs already did this, you know."
"I think you're out of your mind, but then, most creative people are."
You would think that after three years of blogging, I'd have developed some kind of virtual superpower that involved freakishly thick skin, but scrolling through the comments sent my confidence lurching up and down so violently I felt seasick. The influx of praise and criticism made me doubt myself, and the next thing I knew I was under the covers at 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, crying about how hard it is to be a writer. (In addition to being "out of our minds," creative people can be a bit moody ...)
I didn't have a lot of time for self-pity. The most immediate effect of my new "biblical" lifestyle came in the form of an adjusted routine that required that I make the bed before checking e-mail, cook Dan's breakfast before browsing Facebook, and finish the laundry before starting any new writing projects. This attempt to observe my second commandment ("Thou shalt devote thyself to the duties of the home") required a serious shift in priorities that proved a little disorienting for both of us.
The first morning Dan awoke to the smell of scrambled eggs, he assumed that pleased-but-cautious posture men get when they're not quite sure if they're supposed to be enjoying themselves or if the whole thing is a trap.
"Thanks, hon," he said after a second glass of orange juice. "I can do the dishes."
"No, you can't. That's my job now."
Dan looked doubtful.
"Yeah. You think the Proverbs 31 woman let her husband do the dishes? Go relax. I'll clean up."
Dan leaped from his seat with the excitement of Ralphie Parker receiving his Red Ryder BB gun, and I found myself confronted with a stack of greasy plates that, compounded with those from the night before, would most certainly not fit in the dishwasher.
It occurred to me then that a year is a very long time.
* * *
Dan's Journal October 15, 2010
I'm not used to reminding Rachel to make me lunch, but just now, we had a conversation that went something like this:
ME: Can you make me lunch?
RACHEL: Okay. Can you work on that picture for my blog?
ME: Wait. Are you telling me what to do?
RACHEL (SMILING): Well, you're telling me what to do.
ME (SMILING): Yeah, but isn't that what you signed up for?
We both pause.
RACHEL: Okay, I'll make you lunch, but would you mind if I dried my hair first? (It was up in a towel, as it had been for the last half hour.)
ME (IN A HALF-SERIOUS TONE): Well, I don't know; delayed obedience is disobedience.
Rachel got up to fix me lunch.
Wow. That conversation, or anything like it, would never have happened before the project started. We both knew this whole exchange was a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I still felt kinda bad. After all, I didn't marry Rachel because I wanted someone to make me lunch.
She's told me in the past that if her hair stays up in the towel too long, she'll end up with a bad hair day ... I'm going to go tell her she can dry her hair first.
* * *
When I told friends that my goal for October was to cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit, a few of them laughed. Not in a mean way, but in a sympathetic, knowing sort of way. This was partly because they knew me, and partly because a lot of us church girls had the "gentle and quiet spirit" thing rubbed in our faces at early ages. It seems the apostle Peter's first epistle to the Christians of Asia Minor serves as a handy deterrent for Christian girls whose pesky questions in Sunday school or enthusiasm on the kickball field made their mamas worry.
"I'm intrigued to see if you succeed at the gentle and quiet spirit," one of my readers wrote in. "I've tried and failed miserably, but I guess I'm just too loud and blunt and opinionated to fit the mold."
Another said, "It's sad that so many strong, gifted, 'feisty' women have been led to believe that they are to shelve that whole side of their personality because it is not 'gentle' or 'quiet' enough. I see women who could change their little piece of the world for the better, or perhaps an even bigger piece of the world for the better, sitting on their hands in this posture of 'gentleness.'"
A third added, "This verse has played over and over in my head as I continue to simply feel not good enough. Am I cut out for Christianity at all?"
I can relate. While Dan is patient and understated, I suspect I came out of the womb with an opinion about the delivery—and every intention of expressing it. Passionate, persuasive, and hyperbolically inclined, the Information Age has been good to me. I blog. I speak. I write books. I tweet. And every now and then, a reporter or representative from the Nielsen Company will actually ask my opinion about something.
In search of some direction, I looked to the book of Proverbs, a collection of wisdom sayings that gives us some of the most colorful quips, cracks, praises, and poetry about women found in Scripture. This preoccupation with the feminine should come as no surprise, considering the fact that King Solomon, the figure to whom the book is often attributed, had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines.
Proverbs' cast of female characters includes the virtuous woman, the foolish woman, the excellent wife, the shaming wife, Lady Wisdom, and Lady Folly. Making multiple appearances is the so-called contentious woman, who seems to have the opposite of a gentle and quiet spirit:
"It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and vexing woman." (Proverbs 21:19 NASB)
"A foolish son is destruction to his father, and the contentions of a wife are a constant dripping." (Proverbs 19:13 NASB)
"A constant dripping on a day of steady rain and a contentious woman are alike; he who would restrain her restrains the wind and grasps oil with his right hand." (Proverbs 27:15-16 NASB)
"It is better live in a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman." (Proverbs 21:9 NASB)
The contentious woman gave me an idea for kicking some of my less-than-gentle habits.
I decided to make a swearing jar of sorts. Each time I caught myself in the act of contention, I'd put a penny (or nickel or dime, depending on the severity of the infraction) in the jar. Behaviors that qualified as contention included gossiping, nagging, complaining, exaggerating, and snark. The Bible includes no direct mention of snark, of course, but in a decision I would come to regret, I added this pervasive little vice of mine for good measure.
I labeled it "The Jar of Contention," and resolved that at the end of the month, each cent would represent one minute I'd have to spend doing penance on the rooftop of my house to simulate what it's like to share a house with a contentious woman, according to the book of Proverbs.
Within the first few days, The Jar of Contention held twenty-six cents and a crumpled note card upon which I'd scribbled a log of my transgressions:
10/6/10—1¢, snarky comment about Dan letting Commandment #1 go to his head
10/7/10—1¢, snarky comment about the president of the Southern Baptist Convention using three forms of the word "serious" in a single sentence
10/7/10—1¢, complaining about the Jar of Contention
10/7/10—1¢, complaining about the experiment in general
10/8/10—5¢, ranting about negative comments on my blog (four of the five vices employed)
10/8/10—1¢, nagging Dan about taking out the garbage
10/9/10—1¢, snarky comment about Steve Spurrier during Alabama game
10/9/10—1¢, complaining about lack of defense during Alabama game
10/9/10—1¢, swearing during Alabama game
10/9/10—1¢, complaining about how Dan arbitrarily added swearing to the list of vices
Apparently snark makes up a large percentage of my sense of humor, and I'm kind of a whiner. On the upside, I don't gossip a lot—a good thing, since abstaining from it was my ninth commandment.
Gossip is a surprisingly serious infraction in Scripture, and is listed along with wickedness, evil, greed, depravity, envy, God-hating, and murder as part of the apostle Paul's indictment against sinful humanity in Romans 1. Proverbs includes several warnings against gossip, and significant portions of Paul's letters to Timothy concern outbreaks of gossip among women in the early church at Ephesus. To qualify as leaders, Paul wrote, "women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things" (1 Timothy 3:11 NASB).
In fact, it was the sin of gossip, or loshon hara ("evil talk"), that took down one of the most powerful women in Israel. The prophetess Miriam, sister to Moses and a worship leader among the people, was struck with a skin disease, something like psoriasis, after making some pointed remarks about her brother's wife, Zipporah, a Cushite (Numbers 12:1–16). As exemplified in the story, to be guilty of loshon hara, one need not tell a lie, for even true statements when told in spite are considered evil. Interestingly, Miriam's brother Aaron was not punished though he was complicit in the crime.
According to the Talmud, loshon hara kills three people: the one who speaks it, the one who hears it, and the one about whom it is told. "Kill" may strike the modern reader as a bit hyperbolic, but when you think of all the friendships lost, careers stunted, and opportunities thwarted as a result of gossip among women, violent language seems appropriate. We cause serious collateral damage to the advancement of our sex each time we perpetuate the stereotype that women can't get along.
As Tina Fey put it, "Girl-on-girl sabotage is the third worst kind of female behavior, right behind saying 'like' all the time and leaving your baby in a dumpster."
I thought about this as I dropped a penny in the jar for gleefully passing along some not-so-flattering inside information about one of my female writing nemeses ... and then another three for complaining about how hard it is to have a jar of contention. I was determined to keep my rooftop penance to under two hours, but as soon as November 1 appeared on the ten-day weather forecast, I checked to see if I'd need an umbrella.
* * *
As a ring of gold in a swine's snout, so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion. —Proverbs 11:22 NASB
Of course I was late to my etiquette lesson.
By the time I pulled my sputtering little Plymouth Acclaim into Mrs. Flora Mainord's upscale Knoxville neighborhood, it was nearly 5:00. My appointment was for 4:30, but I'd gotten stuck behind a school bus after exiting the interstate, so I had to watch a bunch of rich kids trot off to their lakeside homes and private tutors before taking a wrong turn and getting lost in a maze of water-themed street names: River Trail, River View, River Sound.
I really needed to pee.
Excerpted from A YEAR OF BIBLICAL WOMANHOOD by RACHEL HELD EVANS Copyright © 2012 by Rachel Held Evans. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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