I've been thinking about writing this blog for a while. More deeply the last two weeks. But it's been sitting there blinking at me in the distance since I decided to start blogging again. And now I cannot put it off anymore, because I've eaten up all of my pre-written posts. The last one I have already written goes up tomorrow afternoon (7/20) and then I have no more runway. So, it's time to face these thoughts.
A little background -
I've identified as a Christian my whole life. I got baptized at a Baptist church when I was about 5 or 6 years old. I got confirmed in a Methodist church when I was 13. I worked on staff of churches, and volunteered at churches, and been part of churches my whole life.
I have memories of sleeping in the back of the church on Christmas Eve because we were at church for something like 12 hours (for the 5 different services we were part of). Even when my family went on vacation we usually went back to our church on Sunday morning. This has been my whole life. Until January of 2018.
What changed in January? I turned 31 and decided to be an adult about my feelings. #MeToo and #ChurchToo had been building up on me for a few months. I kept seeing all the places the modern evangelical church was (to me) falling apart at the seams with our current politics. Being at church began to hurt. Like a physical pain. And I felt useless. I love The Church, I love Christianity. I'm also heartbroken by it.
I mean, I was still volunteering, which I have for the majority of my life. For most of the time since I was 12 years old I've run the PowerPoint for a contemporary service (or whatever the software was at the time). Because of this, I felt a little outside of the church experience. I was in the sound-booth, away from most of the members of the church. And for the last several years I only really attended church on Sunday mornings. I wasn't really plugged in anywhere else.
And now -
Anyway, I stopped going. And decided to spend time working on these feelings of frustration and betrayal.
Because I'm me I was just mad for a while. And then just sad for a while. And I'd requested both of these books from the library. And they came through at the same time. And since Rob Bell and Rachel Held Evans have both provided words of comfort and shining light to me in this whole process, I decided to dig in.
I started with Rob Bell's book What is the Bible? Now, I know for some of you Rob Bell is a pariah. And the fact that I'd read him equates to you as me already being a lost cause. But I don't care. Because over the last few years, I've really struggled with the role the Bible plays in my faith. And this book saved me.
Rob Bell, in his classic published form, simply walks you through each aspect of the argument about the Bible. He crafts a timeline of how the Bible shows God's presence throughout history and how the role God plays is always pulling humanity forward to unity with Godself. The things we find barbaric in biblical accounts, were, at times, an advancement from the rest of the civilization. And each time God enters the presence of humans God sets new standards for behavior. You can watch this pattern play out from the very beginning, all the way through the life of Christ, and even after. One can extrapolate from this progression that that work is still happening in the world and in our lives today. God is still doing the work of pulling humanity toward Godself, still working to unite us, to raise us to a better way of life. This concept isn't new to me. But I'd lost it. I'd forgotten that truth. I'd allowed myself to focus on the pain and hurt inflicted by people using the Bible as a hammer rather than a guidepost.
I believe the Bible is still a complicated collection. That it's not an easy thing for the modern reader to digest, let alone follow. This book CANNOT be all things to all people. It cannot provide an answer for everything. It has inconsistencies and recounts some truly horrific stories. But I have a renewed interest in reading the Bible and discovering how to apply it to my life. Thanks to Rob Bell.
With my heart and soul fresh in some healing I decided to go right into Rachel Held Evans' A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Published in 2012, I'd heard about this book from my friend Lauren. She shared the concept of eshet chayal with me a few years ago. It is translated from the Hebrew as "woman of valor". But I'm getting a little ahead of myself here.
RHE and I have a lot in common. We were raised in similar circumstances, grew up with the church and faith as a constant part of our lives, went all in for a while, and then found ourselves disillusioned. Last year I read her Searching for Sunday and found it to be this beautiful thing. A path to rediscovering the beauty of what calls me back to this faith I'm finding so problematic and painful.
In AYoBW, RHE was only a little older than I am now. And she was thinking about starting a family. And wondering if she could hack it as a Biblical Woman. Similarly, at 31 and married 3.5 years, I find myself getting closer and closer to the arbitrary idea I had of when Daniel and I would start a family.
So, immediately I felt a kinship with her questions and time of life. The book follows her attempts over the course of a year to become a good cook, learn to sew, run a household, develop patience, and basically everything else in the infamous Proverbs 31 story.
The eshet chayil is how the woman in Proverbs 31 is styled. She is the woman of valor. And let me tell you. Lady set quite the bar. Well, at least a bunch of people will try to tell you that she did. Through the course of the book, RHE develops a friendship with an Orthodox Jewish woman. RHE runs all kinds of questions and problems by her friend via email. And one of their conversations, where the friend suggested that the Proverbs 31 woman is hyperbolic, she's not one perfect woman that lived, man it's like this million pound weight came off of me. The P31 woman is not considered an ideal to people of the Jewish faith. She's just a story. She shared that the honorific eshet chayil is something that Jewish women will say of each other for any good thing they accomplish. They encourage each other by saying, "You are a woman of valor! Yes, you. You the woman shaking your head while reading this because you don't believe your efforts are good enough, you are a woman of valor!"
I looked at so many parts of myself while reading this book. I was raised on Good Housekeeping and Martha Stewart and I have this constant desire to be a good homemaker, hostess, and organized woman. I love my husband and I want to be a good wife to him. I do want to have children, and I want to create a place for them that is loving and affirming. And sometimes all of these ambitions are overwhelming. And I cut myself off from starting because I believe I might fail.
I've been carrying a lot of actual shit around in my head this year. Bad beliefs. I've allowed the opinions of close family members to supersede what I know to be true about myself. I was blatantly told I am a bad Christian and have not received an apology for that. And it's been implied by other family members.
Reading both of these books set me on the path to give myself permission to let go of those perceptions and bad opinions. I won't let them define me any longer. I claim for myself that I am a woman of valor. I affirm that I am working on growing my faith and following the example of love and compassion I believe Christ set. I may not be attending church now, and I'm not sure when I will again, but that doesn't mean I've allowed my faith to go dormant. I am as invested as ever in my own spiritual growth. I am searching for the best way to live a good life and I will keep doing that. I will make every effort to do no harm, but I will not take any more shit.