I’ve followed Rachel Held Evans’ Year of Biblical Womanhood project since she announced it a couple of years back. By that time, we had already connected on the Web. Since then, I’ve followed with interest, reading several blog posts about her journey. Shortly after the “year” had come to completion, I led a workshop at a conference where Rachel gave a general session talk. She spoke masterfully of the problem of Biblicism (of the wooden-literal-ahistorical variety) interweaving images and stories from the previous 12 months of her life. All this to suffice that by the time I started reading the Advanced Copy I was sent, that I knew the gist of the story.
With that said, when I jumped into the book, it was hard to put down. The only reason that I’m barely getting my “reflection” up on the blog now is that I had some stuff come up in my personal life that needed more of my attention (our car died on the side of the freeway necessitating that I find a new vehicle, amongst other things). After finally finishing the final section of the book, I realized that what spoke to me in the freshest way is how A Year of Biblical Womanhood makes me want to become a better man.
I realize that many others have already written excellent reviews about how this book liberates women to discover their own unique humanness, not based on specific cultural/historical gender-roles (often interpreted through a Victorian-esque grid), but as they come to know the God whom they image to the world. Much more could still be said about such themes, not to mention the humor and humility reflected throughout the book.
Clearly, others have cast stones of condemnation because of how a project like this exposes the blind spots in many conservative/fundamentalist schemes of interpretation, but I’m no longer interested in listening to voices that are more committed to their agenda than they are to the trajectory of the holy Scriptures. With these things in mind, I chose to read this book not as a blog reviewer, but as a friend of the author, a fan of the project, and a seeker hoping to find nuggets of truth to apply to my own life.
This is where the interactions of Dan and Rachel come in, or should I say: “Team Dan and Rachel.” I found myself imagining (not in a creepy way I assure you :-))that it was my wife Lauren living “biblically” for the year. How would I adapt?
In one way, having gourmet style meals every night, getting to “command” my wife in various ways, having a sign displaying my greatness at the city gates, getting a “SEX ANYTIME” coupon, and having my wife call me “master,” all sound like fun ways to spend a year. My first temptation, if my wife were doing this project, would be to take advantage of her vulnerability. A year of “not having to try” around the house superficially sounds like a good time.
But, as I saw Dan’s own struggle come through the pages of this book (for instance, feeling completely awkward about being called “master”), I began to identify with his “character.” His journals became my journals. My focus quickly became how reading this book affected my disposition as a husband.*
One journal entry that stands out to me is from the chapter, “June: Submission:”
It’s like I have a trump card. I don’t know how I feel about it. For the last decade our relationship has been built on mutual understanding. If disagreements come up, we work through the issues on a level playing field. I’ve always felt respected by Rachel, so I’ve never felt the need to have a final, conversation-stopping, decision-making catchphrase. In many ways, our relationship is continuing as usual… but just knowing that I have in my possession a “you’d-have-to-if-I-said-so” trump card makes things seem a little out of balance. It’s kinda like having a hidden weapon in my possession that only Rachel and I know about. It may not change how other people view me, but I still know it’s there. Not sure how I feel about that. I can see why a person would feel powerful having it, but I’m not sure that makes is OK. I don’t generally walk around with a hidden weapon in real life; I just don’t feel that insecure (206).
The idea that I should have some sort of spiritually ordained trump card in our marriage simply doesn’t compute with my experiences, my biblical beliefs, or my relationship to Jesus. In fact, I don’t see Jesus ever “trumping” the women in his life out of a patriarchal notion of superiority, but rather he defended women who were victims of such holy trumping (see: John 8 for example). Even in Paul’s letters, if we understand certain “trump” passages in their theological, social, and first century contexts, we see that mutuality has always been the biblical goal.**
The more I read about how Dan responded to Rachel’s Proverbs 31 valor, the more I was inspired to respond to Lauren with servanthood and respect. It reminded me that marital partnership (rather than patriarchy) is a choice one must make every single day. It’s not a romantic holy abstraction (well, it probably should include some romance), but a concrete privilege that takes humility and frankly, hard work. Some of the hard work is simply noticing the ways we men have been culturally conditioned to dominate relationally, even if we happen to believe in mutuality.
This means, in my life, that I should choose to do the dishes when I dirty them. It means that I get to choose to do the laundry, even though I loathe folding clothes. It means that I don’t simply get to zone out after a long day, but ought to give of myself to my wife. Default laziness leads to an implicit and practical patriarchy, so I must be determined each moment of each day to “love Lauren as Christ loved the church” and to “submit to Lauren out of reverence for Christ.” A Year of Biblical Womanhood reminded me of this in a wonderful way. A quote that captures this comes from Rachel:
[W]hen you realize that faith is not static, that it is a living and evolving thing, you look less for so-called “spiritual leaders” to tell you where to go, and more for spiritual companions with whom to travel the long journey. And when you learn that marriage is a slow dance, not a tango, you worry less about who’s taking the lead and instead settle into the subtle changes in each other’s movements, the unforced rhythms of each other’s body to life’s music (204).
So I want to say, thanks to Rachel and Dan for spending a unique year putting “Biblical Womanhood” to the test. Thanks to you both for reminding me through a book on womanhood of the invitation of God to become a better man. By humbly stretching the constrictive categories of gender-roles to their ridiculous literal extremes (at times), you’ve reminded us husbands that living in mutuality with our wives is a sacred objective. This partnership approach takes intentionality in a culture that still lends itself to putting men on top. Ultimately, mutuality requires of both partners: Christ-centered-self-sacrificial love.
My review in short: Read this book!
*To be clear: Lauren and I have a great marriage. This post isn’t a masked message about how my marital relationship is tanking. Things have not always been easy, but God has been gracious throughout our 5.5 years together. We are more in love today than we were when we first said “I do.”
**Here’s a series on Women in ministry roles that I wrote called: “Liberating Women for Ministry?“.