You can’t afford to live casually, haphazardly.
No matter your age, you were born into a plethora of expectations of what it means to be a woman. How easily we assume impoverished views of womanhood as we hoist beauty and desirability above the more enduring traits of self-possession and dignity. We tend to live as divided and distracted selves, allowing our bodies and minds to drift to opposite poles while swapping our pursuit of God for tamer, lesser loves.
This collection of essays is more than a call to modesty or chastity. It is a thoughtful provocation to speak well, read often, make choices that reflect the character of God, and even to establish a theology of play or leisure. Being intentional with your choices, cultivating your intellect, and taking seriously your voice determines not only what kind of person you are, but also what kind of woman you will be.
“[Unseduced and Unshaken] raises the bar for young Christian women...It’s a call for all Christian women to examine their personal faith presuppositions, deliberately choose a life of Biblical ‘dignity,’ and to not be frightened to allow ‘theology to inform our choices.’”
Just Between Us, Summer 2013 issue
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About the Author
DR. ROSALIE DE ROSSET is a professor of Literature, English and Homiletics at Moody Bible Institute where she has been for forty-two years. She earned her M.A. in English from Northeastern Illinois University, M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Ph.D. in Language, Literacy, and Rhetoric from The University of Illinois at Chicago. In addition to teaching, she regularly appears on Moody Broadcasting Network programs as a guest and co-host, and speaks at conferences and seminars. She lives on the northside of Chicago.
Read an Excerpt
UNSEDUCED AND UNSHAKENThe Place of Dignity in a Young Woman's Choices
By Rosalie de Rosset
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2012 Rosalie de Rosset
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMINDING YOUR DIGNITY
"There is more to you than you know."
BY ROSALIE DE ROSSET
DIGNITY: Formal, grave or noble bearing, conduct or speech; nobility or elevation of character. 2-he quality or condition of being worthy, esteemed or honored; inherent nobility and worth; poise and self-respect; formal reserve or seriousness of manner appearance, or language.
She is clothed with strength and dignity.... She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. PROVERBS 31:25-26 (NIV)
THE DIGNIFIED WOMAN
In the spring of 2011, the newest movie version of Jane Eyre, based on the extraordinary 1847 novel by Charlotte Brontë opened in theaters across the country. Though there have been a number of films based on the novel throughout the years, many critics praised it. In earlier movies, some critics noted, the lead characters have often been too good-looking, the female heroine too mild-mannered, both of these representations not in line with Brontë's characterization.
I was struck by the words of two critics. Writing for Chicago's The Reader, J. R. Jones notes, "Casting handsome stars in the lead roles has been a chronic compromise in adapting Jane Eyre, whose heroine is repeatedly described as plain looking and whose hero is downright ugly." More important, however, he writes about Jane the following words: "[In Jane Eyre], Brontë struck a mighty blow for her gender when she created her title character and narrator, an orphaned girl who matures into a formidably self-possessed young woman; Jane's moral sensibility is so detailed, so fully realized that no reader could think her any less a person than the men surrounding her." In other words, here is a woman to be taken seriously because of her character.
"A formidably self-possessed young woman with a fully realized, detailed moral sensibility." That's a description that deserves attention. I decided to look at each primary word or phrase of the sentence to remind myself exactly what they mean. It's so easy to miss the beauty of fine language. The dictionary defines two of the words as follows. Formidable: causing great respect, even fear; self-possessed: someone who has control of her longings and attendant feelings and behavior especially when under pressure. Fully realized, detailed moral sensibility means that Jane has developed and refined her convictions, intellect, and longings to a great capacity. She is a woman of character, what one writer calls "the inner form that makes anyone or anything what it is—whether a person, a wine or a historical record."
Jones is not alone in his assessment. A. O. Scott, writing for the New York Times, says, "Jane Eyre may lack fortune and good looks— she is famously 'small and plain' as well as 'poor and obscure'—but as the heroine of a novel, she has everything. From the very first pages ... Jane embodies virtues that might be off-putting if they were not so persuasive.... She is brave, humble, spirited and honest, the kind of person readers fall in love with and believe themselves to be in their innermost hearts." Here in a secular venue is a reviewer who at once acknowledges that Jane is plain and poor and contends with admiration that she is a young woman who has "everything." The everything she has, Scott says, is that she is "humble, spirited and honest." Spirited is a word defined as "full of or characterized by animation, vigor, or courage." Scott also admits that her virtues are "off-putting if they were not so persuasive," a particularly intriguing phrase. How interesting that a contemporary, secular critic has found a plain woman to have "everything." And, I might add, how comforting and unusual. That he thinks readers "believe themselves to be [Jane] in their innermost hearts" has to be a mark of what many women and some men want to be since the reality is that few people today are like Jane. Even fewer quickly admire the Janes they meet in real life, a telling irony.
Over a period of thirty-five years, I have spoken at a great many conferences and seminars for women of all ages, but I have never seen advertised or heard a talk entitled, "How to become a formidable, self-possessed woman of fully realized moral sensibility." Although I have heard speakers and leaders stress the importance of humility and honesty for women, I have heard little or no admonition to them to be spirited, even though the definition of the word as noted above describes a commendable, even necessary attribute for a woman of character.
I can't help stopping on the last reviewer's words that Jane has virtues which are "off-putting if they were not so persuasive." I think what he means is that Jane knows her mind, a quality that is always startling, even threatening. In some Christian circles this would be seen as the proverbial "too strong." Jane is a person of great conviction, which sometimes means telling a hard truth when it needs to be said. What is persuasive is that finally, Jane Eyre is virtuous (another concept one hears little about) and dignified in the way that Elizabeth Bennet, the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, also is, with the difference that Jane's choices are influenced by God's overt action in her life. The foundational premise in these remarks is that it takes spiritedness and conviction and even telling a hard truth to be truly virtuous and dignified, a virtue and dignity that involves purposeful attention to one's mind, one's soul and its longings, and one's spirit, all of which affect one's physical life.
It seems possible to suggest that the average Christian girl and woman may learn more about how to do this from classic novels like those of Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë than from a Christian women's magazine, a Christian romance novel, a Christian-living book, or from some women's conferences. I can hear some readers saying—can't you find something more current than these books to illustrate your point with contemporary women? The definition of classic is a work that lasts, that is dated only in superficial detail such as particularities of dress and speech, but whose themes are universal and timeless. These novels are specific, hard-hitting, do not resort to pious clichés, and they show consequences. They show instead of just telling, one of the first principles any writing or speech teacher tells her students. They are also elegantly written. And, while profoundly moral (all truth is God's truth), this novel is not "religious," generally or specifically.
Beloved for years by women of every age and class, Pride and Prejudice and its various film takes show the contrast between silly women who make poor choices and a heroine who, while flawed, is nevertheless principled, modest, noble, self-disciplined, and dignified. Even non-Christian women whose moral code, philosophy of modesty, and dating behavior aren't remotely like those of the novels' characters appear to be engaged. One can only speculate, then, that women yearn for the very dignity and restraint they eschew by allowing themselves to be clones of the culture; they long to be respected and cherished even when they choose men who do neither; they want to be like Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre or at least to end up being loved as these heroines are by good men. Many of them, Christian and non-Christian seem, however, unable to navigate the paths to such conclusions.
Elizabeth Bennet, while having attractive features, is not said to be beautiful. What emerges far more clearly is her wit, her intelligence, her honesty in speaking her mind, her refusal to accept disrespect even from the man she loves, her willingness to be alone rather than compromise her soul, and her independence exercised with restraint. In summary, she is the picture of dignity.
And that is what seldom comes up today, the crucial role that dignity needs to play in the development of every woman who claims to know Jesus Christ as personal Savior. This is what needs to inform every facet of a woman's life, every choice she makes. I'm not even sure dignity is a word anyone has thought about for a long time.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
I have wondered through the years who Christian women's role models are and if they are getting the purposeful guidance they need from older women. I have informally asked groups of young women this question yearly in a class I teach. Depending on the year, three or four names come up. One or two of them is usually the latest well-known female author/speaker of the day; the others are historical figures like Susanna Wesley or Amy Carmichael. Or they name a grandmother, a mother, or a sister, something which usually has more conviction and specificity. The women I ask seem to have a hard time thinking of people or articulating what they are modeling themselves after.
I found interesting what one young woman wrote about Emma Watson, who plays Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter film series. "When a young woman has grown up with millions of people watching her entire adolescent development, criticizing and controlling her physical appearance, and confusing her identity with that of a fictional character, the pressures make consistent dignity seem impossible. Emma Watson has lived this life with dignity and self-respect, prizing her education, maintaining privacy, avoiding scandals, conducting interviews and public statements with grace, and encouraging other women to have self-respect." Whether or not you agree with this assessment, it hits many of the right notes.
So, I ask you to think about the question: What do you think of when you hear the word dignity? Perhaps more specifically, who do you think of? What person comes to mind? Is it a popular singer, speaker, movie actress, or perhaps a friend or relative? And how do you picture dignity? Is it something you aspire to be? What would you change about yourself to be dignified?
Dignity: the word, again, deserves a close look. The first or second definitions of the word from a variety of dictionaries are as follows: "formal, grave or noble bearing, conduct or speech; nobility or elevation of character; the quality or condition of being worthy, esteemed or honored; inherent nobility and worth; poise and self-respect; formal reserve or seriousness of manner appearance, or language."
Dignity, it is clear, is not the same thing as poise; it is not the same thing as beauty, and it is certainly not the same thing as style though, of course, a dignified person may have any one or all of those qualities. Probably the characteristic most confused with dignity is poise, defined as "to be balanced or held in equilibrium: balance; freedom from affectation or embarrassment; composure." Little about this definition suggests much about the internal values of the person or about her character; instead, it describes an outward behavior that may or may not be influenced by internal stability and integrity. Many of the celebrities presented to us in media outlets have been poised, although admittedly, even that is becoming a thing of the past as one looks at the embarrassing and ludicrous behavior of so many who are having what Andy Warhol called their fifteen minutes of fame.
Probably one of the most famous individuals in modern history who consistently and deservedly has been called poised is Princess Diana, whose decisions, as she suffered disappointment and betrayal, were deeply flawed and led to undignified choices and the tragedy of her life. Interestingly enough, Mother Teresa, who died within a few days of Princess Diana, was probably seldom described as poised, but always seen as dignified, an issue of character. In recent history, Laura Bush was seen by almost everyone on both sides of the political spectrum as dignified and graceful. These were qualities that emanated from her person; while not beautiful, she was often radiant without being showy; when asked hard, even rude questions by her husband's enemies, she answered with gracious conviction, and sometimes a sense of disarming humor. She handled the duties of the White House without bringing attention to herself; she was modest and contained.
Dignity contains within it, as the definitions suggest, not only noble bearing, a facet of appearance, but also noble character which comes from inherent nobility and worth. That means the person is sure of her values and beliefs, she is sober and thoughtful about every part of her life. And, what this discussion is trying to do is to introduce to you dignity's importance, not to present yet another unreachable ideal. If you can see the crucial role of a quality, it is possible to begin the journey toward that quality because it promises a life of greater integrity. The truth of the matter is that most of us are in process, no matter what our age. It is easier for some of us to look dignified than others, but to truly be dignified is something different that has a number of components.
Just as I have never heard or seen advertised a seminar called "How to become a formidable, self-possessed woman of fully realized moral sensibility," I have also never seen one entitled "How to Be Dignified in Your Choices," though of course wise books and innumerable articles have been written and countless presentations made about making good choices. Oddly enough, given its importance, one seldom hears the word dignity discussed as a value for human behavior by non-Christians or Christians although it may be used to describe someone from time to time. If you do a cursory search of articles on dignity, besides random references in Christian blogs here and there, you'll find mostly pieces addressed to the medical and social services communities, articles about helping people to die with dignity and the disenfranchised to find dignity through a better life. John Paul II wrote about the dignity of women in one of his apostolic letters, arguing that Christianity, more than "any other religion" has given women special dignity and urges the church to use them in more significant ways.
When dignity is talked about among Christian women, it most often has to do with the passages about wives' behavior in 1 Timothy and the proverbial "quiet and submissive spirit," a phrase that is seldom correctly scripturally interpreted and is too often equated with passivity contributing to omen s voicelessness. Passivity, wrote one clinical psychologist, "is born of anxiety; it is a fear of using our energies lest we risk disapproval by others or risk failure in our own eyes.... It is a disowning of our nobler parts—our self-reliance, our courage under fire, our resolve to win, our determination to inspire others to greater heights."
DIGNITY LIVED OUT
To be a Christian woman of dignity, a woman must know who she is before God; she must have dealt thoughtfully with her personhood and made decisions about who she will be. Dignity is a strong, chosen, deliberate way of life, the result of the totality of a person's choices and worldview. Which takes us back to Jane Eyre, who is a model of that kind of living. Again, I chose this book, not because of its age, but because of its unusual central character, one whose strength and character stand out enduringly.
Jane Eyre endures oppression, starvation, madness, condescension, and coldness. She is presented with a number of women role models whom she observes, learns from, and departs from to become her own person. One of those models is too ideal, too compliant, though good. Another is too angelic, and still another sometimes passive-aggressive. Jane is too strong to compromise her convictions, and she is passionate, qualities which presented problems for Victorian critics and perhaps for us today at times. And, she dares to suggest that singleness is preferable to an inappropriate marriage.
If you know the story at all, Jane Eyre is the account of a young, orphaned British girl who goes to live with an aunt and cousins, all of whom treat her cruelly. She is then sent to a boarding school for poor girls, where a supposedly Christian director, actually a monster, treats the orphans abusively and tyrannically—many of them dying of cold-related illnesses and starvation. Ali of this has historical precedent in the times of the novel and was part of Charlotte Brontë's and her sisters' experience.
Jane, who does not have the advantage of good looks or good fortune, survives in spirit because she chooses the path her life (spirit, mind, and behavior) will take, often against cultural mores and corrupt authoritative voices, She has a sense of voice from the time she is a child and tells the truth in every circumstance, even when it could endanger her well-being. Though she must learn to refine her expression, she will not silence the voice of her intellectual needs or mute her moral voice by compromising her character with poor relational or sexual choices for the sake of fleeting happiness. She rises to a higher standard, a God-given understanding of righteousness.
Excerpted from UNSEDUCED AND UNSHAKEN by Rosalie de Rosset Copyright © 2012 by Rosalie de Rosset. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
About the Contributors Introduction
1. Minding Your Dignity: “There is more to you than you know.” Rosalie de Rosset2. Finding Your Voice: Knowing and Being Known Pam MacRae3. Longing: From Disparity to Desire Linda Haines4. “Everything Is Theological” Rosalie de Rosset5. Distracted or Dignified? : “Solid or Ghostly” Rosalie de Rosset 6. Mindful or Mindless: A Theology of Play Rosalie de Rosset7. Reading as a Spiritual Exercise Rosalie de Rosset8. Sexual Dignity: Not by Accident Linda Haines9. A Theology of Modesty: Naked yet Unashamed Stacie Parlee-Johnson 10. Is It Worth It? Is He Worthy? Rosalie de Rosset
Appendix 1: It Shouldn't Be Easy Appendix 2: "So Much from So Little" NotesResourcesAcknowledgments
What People are Saying About This
This is a call for all Christian women to examine their personal faith presuppositions, and deliberately choose a life of Biblical “dignity.” Our goal should be to be women known for spiritual depth and Biblical substance. Professor de Rosset and her fellow contributors challenge women not to be frightened to allow “theology [to] inform our choices.” As thinkers and readers, we should never stop wrestling with issues of truth that go way beyond gender. The author touches on making God-choices and being true to ourselves with behavior “driven by truth not desire.”
I love it! I endorse this all inclusive call to make time to ponder, pray, and above all think through to action the challenges contained in this excellent book: the people you lead will thank you for it!
—Jill Briscoe, LLD, serves at Elmbrook Church in Wisconsin and globally as minister-at-large with her husband, Stuart. She has authored numerous articles and more than fifty books.
Unseduced and Unshaken raises the bar for young Christian women by calling them to embrace the call to love God with all their minds, as well as their hearts, souls, and strength, and to embrace fully his calling on their lives. The world and the church need women like this, and I applaud these authors for sounding a message that counters the dumbing-down messages women are hearing today.
—Carolyn Custis James, Author, Half the Church and Founder of the Synergy Women’s Network, Inc., a national organization for women emerging or engaged in ministry leadership.