We are delighted to have Rachel Held Evans as one of our speakers at the upcoming 2014 MidWinter Lectures. Rachel is a popular Christian blogger and author. Her writing accomplishments include the New York Times bestseller A Year of Biblical Womanhood, a reflection on her attempt to live by the literal demands for a female within the Bible for a full year. She has been featured on NPR, CNN.com, the BBC, The Washington Post, The Guardian (UK), The Huffington Post, and on Oprah.com. Her blog is widely read.
We chatted with Rachel and she offered thoughts on finding peace in a world of media pressures, eye opening moments within her research for A Year in Biblical Womanhood, and ways women can prepare to challenge gender inequality within the church.
THE REED: There's always a challenge to find moments of reflection while being inundated with peripheral noise from commercial outlets, social media, and the media at large. As a writer and blogger who embraces the presence of social media, how do you find those quiet moments amongst the noise?
RACHEL HELD EVANS: I was on deadline for my next book during this last Advent season, so I'm probably the wrong person to ask! I've been filling every quiet moment with frantic typing, fits of self-loathing, and way too much caffeine. But one thing I've learned about busy seasons is the importance of surrendering to divine interruptions. It's easy to feel like that knock at the door or that lessons and carols service or that little hand urging you to come outside and play in the snow are obstacles in the path to productivity. But when we make productivity our god, we tend to miss out on God's good gifts of rest, joy, whimsy, community, awe, and fun. We writers can't get so caught up in our own heads that we forget to live. Then we're left with no material!
What was one of the most eye-opening experiences you had while in your "year of biblical womanhood?"
One challenging thing I did was attempt to observe the purity codes from the book of Leviticus regulating a woman's activities during her menstrual cycle. For a total of twelve days one month I was considered ceremonially impure and was forbidden from touching any men at all - even my husband! It was especially awkward when we went to a wedding and everyone was dancing and having a great time. When our friends asked us to join them on the dance floor I had to shout above the music, "I can't! I'm on my period! I can't touch anybody!" It was so weird!
But what was eye-opening for me was that my friend Ahava, an Orthodox Jew from Israel, observes this practice every single month.Talking with her throughout the project, and getting advice from her on everything from celebrating the Jewish holidays to interpreting Proverbs 31 was enlightening and challenging. My year was really enriched by her experience and wisdom.
Your written rhetoric, at times, addresses the presence of gender inequality within the church. What advice would you give to a female who is looking to become a prominent voice within the church?
I would tell her to be herself, to not worry about trying to cram herself into some sort of mold or reach some impossible standard. We don't have to "act like men" to be respected, nor must we "act like women" to be accepted. In fact, I believe we are at our best when we're not acting at all! We're at our best when we're simply being the people God created us to be, following Jesus, and using the gifts God gave us to serve God's church with integrity and grace.
Unfortunately, just as in the rest of culture, people in the church tend to see things like ambition, intelligence, and leadership as honorable qualities in men, but off-putting qualities in women. So there will always be that extra challenge for women whose leadership or prophetic witness in the church will be challenged or ignored on account of her gender. I would encourage these women to keep going even when it's hard, and to remember that God has not called us to be successful, but to be faithful.
You can follow Rachel Held Evans on Twitter and read her blog at rachelheldevans.com. You can also join the Austin Seminary Book Club, in which Rachel Held Evan's book, My Year in Biblical Womanhood, is this month's feature book.
Click here to register for the 2014 MidWinter Lectures.