Book Review: A Year of Biblical Womanhood – How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband ‘Master’ by Rachel Held Evans
Author: Rachel Held Evans
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
This review comes with a disclaimer. As I started reading this book, I knew early on that I wasn’t going to give it a high review. You will be able to tell that I struggled to get through this book and wanted to disregard it and move on to another so many times. Not because of what she was doing but more so why and how she handled it. While contemplating giving this book a DNF (Did Not Finish), I decided to research the author and found out she passed away the month before. I remember hearing about her death from the Christian community on social media, and honestly, that may be how her book ended up on my TBR list. But when I downloaded the book to read, I didn’t put two and two together. Learning more about her, how she ended up leaving the Evangelical church because she felt it wasn’t inclusive enough, fits with my struggles of this book. Her religion and the views presented did not match the God I know. But I could also see that struggle she was facing in her writing. From my research, this book was published two years before she officially left the church. Supposedly, her other books, speak more about that struggle and getting back to the authentic Christian church. Usually, with low rated books, I don’t add any of that author’s work to my TBR list. I’m making an exception because of how drastically it appears her views have changed in the last few years of her life.
*****BEGINNING OF WHAT MAY BE CONSIDERED A SPOILER*****
As you can probably tell by the title, this book is about Evans year-long journey to live her life following what the Bible says about women literally. Her journey starts by discussing what I think is every married woman with no kid’s dreaded question…when will you have kids? For those waiting, you feel judged for your decision, and it’s annoying because it’s YOUR decision and your business. For those trying, it’s just another reminder of what you have yet to accomplish. It’s already on your mind way too much, and having someone call it out is no fun. Can we all do each other a favor and stop asking this question??? My review is going to be in outline format based on each month and topic. This means this review is going to be a little longer plus I had quite a few opinions, so sit back and enjoy some time off your feet.
My thoughts on this book aren’t all bad. There were some items that I agreed with and things I were impressed with. For example, Evans says she is the type of person that sees something that intrigues her and then decides to go down a rabbit hole of researching. I have that same issue. I can research an idea to death when something pops into my head and interests me. I appreciated that Evans did extensive research for her journey. She didn’t just rely on her self proclaimed Evangelical Christian view but was able to seek other counsel from Jewish, Catholic, etc. perspectives. I think this also led to her including the right scriptures and context to her examples as some authors will only take one verse and spin it to fit their view. I loved that she included journal entries from her husband. After each chapter, she also highlights a different woman in the Bible.
She starts by giving us a list of commandments from her research of Bible verses towards women, that she will continuously follow. Then each month she gives us the main Bible verse that decides the theme for the month along with some to-do items. With her commandments, I expected her to spend more time explaining them so when she immediately jumped in talking about she covered her head during prayer, I was thrown off for a minute.
One question that I have for her is what about her biblical duties that aren’t just for women? It doesn’t appear yet that she is doing those and I wonder if she was before and only stopped to focus on what women should be doing? She mentioned that someone said she was making a mockery of God’s Word. I won’t go that far, but I’ll admit, I have a raised eyebrow on her why she is doing this and her methods.
She gave Proverbs 21:9 NASB for a background verse for one of her commandments: “It is better to live in a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman.” I wondered what the heck contentious meant? So I looked up the definition and decided I was a contentious woman. Decided this would be a good take away and action item for me…I needed to stop arguing. Finishing out her October, she found the peace that comes through prayer and meditation and I am happy she was able to see that. But again, it makes me question what she was doing before this. I know we all struggle but it’s almost like she wasn’t praying at all but said she grew up a Christian. Also, I wasn’t a fan of her sitting on the roof. She mentions that it isn’t biblical (because she twisted the verse if she thought it was), but it just seems it was something she was doing for a joke.
I never understand how people can admit to not cleaning but say they are clean or their place is clean. If you don’t clean it, who does? Are you hiring a maid to do the cleaning? Here is a hint, if you don’t clean your place and no one else does either, your home is dirty. Dust and dirt are on everything.
Just like with the previous chapter, what starts as a show of force against the role of homemaker, ends with Evans learning a lesson. Being a homemaker isn’t about your husband taking advantage or a woman’s place in the kitchen. It’s more about doing something for your family and friends, showing your love and entertaining them. You’re taking pride in your home and welcoming those you love into it.
Can I say that this quote is dumb but provides the perfect opening for this chapter? She lays out some tough laws from scripture that women had to follow at that time. I hadn’t yet had a chance to read them specifically since starting my sabbatical, which is when I feel like God has allowed my eyes to be open and better understand the Bible. I needed to read and study these chapters as a whole and pray about what I was supposed to receive from them because they are a tough pill to swallow. They don’t speak to my role as a wife or homemaker of biblical womanhood in my opinion. She celebrates the Israelite tradition for the daughter of Jephthah from Judges 11:39-40. It was a moment to pause and reflect and reminded me of why we do communion. She also makes a good point about Christmas. It’s usually the woman who is making everything run smooth, wrapping gifts, decorating the tree and cooking dinner. But a man, Santa, gets all the credit. Why not Mrs. Claus? I mean, even that’s more believable than Santa.
One statement she made this month just again made me want to put this book down. “If I can’t have a civil conversation with my husband before 8 a.m., why should I expect to have a civil conversation with God?” Really??? Does she not realize that God is before her husband? The fight against this book for me was intense around this point. I wanted to know what happens and how she does, but she complains so much and its almost like she is trying so hard to convince us that she is the complete opposite of a biblical woman for this story. She also talks way too much about writing this book and the fact that she is an author in the book.
This is the point where she talks about the Proverbs 31 woman. At first, I was so thankful because the whole book wasn’t on this one chapter. And like most of us, she missed the point of these scriptures. In my opinion, this is the first one that she has taken so far out of context by taking so literally. Because she pulled a list of literal items from this passage, she felt like she failed. One of the things she admitted to failing at was multitasking, and it reminded me of someone I know. In my opinion, her plans aren’t truly multitasking. Volunteering one day a week doesn’t mean the whole house doesn’t get cleaned for a week. That particular day? I understand. You worked out today so you can’t remember to be kind to your husband? But she said she usually exercises five days a week. I think this whole section was supposed to get her some sympathy but I just can’t. I know everyone isn’t made to “multitask” or to be organized but in my opinion, she is holding onto her being an artist as an excuse.
This chapter firms up my belief that we need to read the Bible. The whole Bible. Full books at a time. Complete chapters at a time. Entire passages at a time. Most of the thoughts and opinions that say women must do this and do that can be disputed by reading more. Upset that the wife doesn’t have authority over her own body in 1 Corinthians 7:4? Finish reading the verse that says the husband doesn’t have authority over his body either. We believe so much of what we are told and accept it as truth. God’s Word is the truth. Not what people tell you about God’s Word. Pick it up and read it yourself. I’m thankful that Evans started this particular month by researching what the Bible has to say.
She tells a story about traditions sticking around well after you forget the reason you are doing the tradition. So basically they are just continuing to do it because they have always done it. I have such a problem with this. Isn’t the reason for the tradition to help you remember? We get so lost in the details, and we start to honor and glorify them instead.
Some of the stuff out of her mouth was just hard to swallow. For example, when she commented “the Jews”. Just so you know, she has a Jewish friend who has been answering all her questions and helping her through this experiment. Yet, she still made a comment that her husband had to tell her sounded racist. And yes, she decided to write about it. She observes Taharat Hamishpacha which I had never heard of. I noted that I wanted to do some more research on this tradition, but I think the overall concept is that you separate yourself from your spouse while on your cycle. She decided to stay in a tent. Why did she choose to have a tent in the front yard and not the back? She repeatedly mentions about being concerned with what others would think but does things in public that she could do in private and get the same results.
During this chapter, some quotes just had me shaking my head. Martin Luther wrote: “If a woman grows weary and at last dies from childbearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing, she is there to do it.”. Good God. Luther wrote, “that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes.” What the hell? How could someone so instrumental in ensuring that the Church followed Biblical truth, interpret something like this from scripture? She ordered a fake but seems real baby and also babysat for some friends. She barely had any help from her husband. My thoughts? Men! She is doing this experiment and having to adjust because she can’t just have kids for the sake of an experiment. So instead of helping her babysit, he assumes he doesn’t need to be present. Really?
Surprising, I didn’t have any comments with this month. But for the record, I have been looking at what actual submission means as a Christian and working on it.
My heart dropped while reading this chapter. While I get angry about injustice which impacts my actions and who I support day to day, there isn’t much thought to injustice outside what I hear from the news. Do I think about companies producing products I enjoy and if they are doing their part to protect women and children? If they are treating farmers fair so they can feed their families? Shamefully, I don’t. And that makes me sick. What is the money that I’m spending doing to these families? What changes can I make?
I’m thinking back to another book I read that has me rethinking what I do with my tithes. For about a year, when sending my tithes and offerings, I felt uneasy. Something didn’t seem right, and all I knew was I couldn’t stop giving my tithes. The updates we use to get slowly decreased. Projects were being announced that seemed amazing in general, but in the back of my mind, I kept thinking how much will that cost and why is that what we are doing with our money. I think about how much money we give to the church each year and now wonder could that go to an organization that does more for injustice?
My thoughts on being silent…I see the benefit. Lord knows I talk a lot and often. I take that back. I’ve been told that my whole life but as an introvert, I can spend weeks alone, not talking to anyone and I would be a-okay. I’m opinionated and strong-willed, so when I WANT to talk or have something to say, I do. Very passionately.
No comments for this month as I believe it was just a wrap up for her.
Towards the end is where I realized the book is starting to get better. I don’t know if it was a shift in my mindset after realizing she passed away or my determination to finish this book by any means because I wanted to see what she learned after. What I believe happened is, while she was playing and experimenting those first few months, through all her Bible reading and research, God started to move in her heart. Her approach and opinions and lessons learned changed. She didn’t approach each month and to-do with so much humor and disrespect. That is the only reason the book was able to get 2-stars from me.
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