Monday, October 22, 2012

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

I first got wind of this book from Twitter as Rachel Held Evans is an author I started following this year. Her publisher was having this contest where 75 people would be chosen to be part of her Launch Team and given an advanced copy of her book to read. Being me, I jumped at the chance! It's the Singaporean trait in me, wanting to win, that coupled with the fact that I am a book-lover, made me quickly sign up on her website.

When they asked the question, "How do you think you can contribute?" I simply stated that I was from Singapore and being part of this tiny Southeast Asian nation, that I could provide an Asian perspective to the book. Yes, I played the nationality card. But it worked! Praise the Lord!

Back to the book. I finished the book on my iPhone (a first as I prefer the feel of paper) in 8 days as it was both extremely hilarious yet very relevant. As I told my friends, Rachel manages to add humour to such a serious topic - a difficult task indeed, if you ask this budding author.

I shall break up the rest of the review into questions that you (a potential reader) might ask.

What's the book about?
This book is about this author deciding to live one year literally living out what the Bible says about womanhood, thus, "A Year of Biblical Womanhood". But more than that, she does extensive research on how various denominations and religions do this, from interviewing the Amish, talking at length to a Jewish woman living in Israel and even attending a 3-day retreat at a Benedictine monastery.

How is this book structured?
As she lives out her year biblically, Rachel divides up the book into 12 different chapters, each one describing a month she spent, beginning in October. She chose to focus on a different virtue each month, in the following order:

October - Gentleness, November - Domesticity, December - Obedience, January - Valour, February - Beauty, March - Modesty, April - Purity, May - Fertility, June - Submission, July - Justice, August - Silence and finally September - Grace.

This is a pretty impressive list don't you think? On top of these virtues, at the end of each chapter, she highlights one woman from the Bible, someone that you might not have read about due to the lack of emphasis on women in the Bible.

What are my favourite chapters? 
Chapters May (Fertility) and June (Justice) are my favourite chapters by far. 

In the first, Rachel talks extensively about sex and the prevalent attitude about it. At one extreme, Christian women are told to submit to whatever their husbands want them to do in the bedroom and at the other, feminists fight against the seemingly oppressive patriarchal attitude that conservative Christianity seems to have. Rachel examines carefully what the Bible says, you can read it, and comes to this conclusion: Mutuality in the bedroom is key. I love it! Not just because I'm a woman, but because it makes sense.

Next, I saw the injustices that women all over the world suffer and my heart breaks for them. After reading the chapter, I am stirred to purchase what Rachel read in that month, a copy of Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, "a passionate call to arms against our era's most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls" according to I want to do my part (however little) to help lift the living standards of women and find out how to do that.

My Asian perspective?
To be honest, I just typed that in to improve my chances in winning the contest, because growing up in Singapore, I've been fed American TV shows and have consumed large quantities of US and Brit pop music, so how Asian could I possibly be?

But I was wrong. I do have an Asian perspective to offer. :)

I feel that living as a Singaporean Chinese Christian in an independent church, there seems to be an unspoken but very real rule that women are expected to submit to men. Now, we are not oppressed, with a couple of female pastors in our church, but with the senior pastor being male, there inevitably comes this attitude that Christian women are to obey their husbands no matter what they say. I supposed it comes with the strong patriarchal values we Asians were brought up with. Because in the 3 major races represented in Singapore, Chinese, Malay and Indian, all of them have familiar strains where the head of the household dominates, sometimes, even controls the entire family's thought, word and deed.

I could be wrong, being a single, unmarried woman in church, but this is just how I perceive things. 

So when Rachel describes her marriage with Dan as being one that is egalitarian (a belief in equality) and complementary, inwardly, I go, "YIPPEE!" And I do expect to find a partner like that, and I'm pretty hopeful actually. Haha.

My conclusion?
Go buy this book! Christian or otherwise, it's a HILARIOUS read and very informational at the same time. I recommend it not because I'm part of a launch team, but because I believe that even if you don't benefit from learning more about how different women around the world aim to live their lives biblically, you will almost certainly have a great laugh out of this entertaining read.

You can order it here!

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