Over the last couple of months, DSM was, along with other blogs written by women, asked to review some books. Because, like almost every other woman we know, we do about a million other things besides full-time Christian service and writing a blog and keeping our homes clean and taking care of children, we're doing two reviews in one, with the usual DSM irony, humor, and tongue-in-cheek. They were both published by Zondervan, which kind of surprised us. We got the books for free, just for full and fair disclosure. We'd have been mad if we paid for one of them. The other is priceless.
Reading books with discussion questions at the end of each chapter reminds us of our sixth grade social studies books: just in case you missed the points in the text because your Captain Obvious cape was at the cleaners, the author has included questions, which are rarely provocative. We wanted, really wanted, Half the Church to be provocative, to delve into the subtitle: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women. And perhaps it does, for a different audience.
The text itself shifts back and forth, rather disjointedly, between a glowing review of Half the Sky (a book worth reading, by the way), real-world examples from Half the Sky of women in extreme poverty and violent life situations, and Biblical examples of God's vision for women (mostly from the Hebrew scriptures, which we found interesting).
The book read as a, "You Go Girl!" cheer, which is certainly needed for women. Several textual criticisms from Genesis and Ruth particularly lifted out the value and role of women in those narratives. James works to prove her point through Biblical criticism, and mostly well-done Biblical criticism, although she makes no mention of Biblical accounts where women are victims of violent life situations.
James' failure to fully explore the controversy and plight of women in faith traditions almost overtakes the entire text. She does give one chapter to the issue of women's ordination, but settles back into the seeming safety of her previous Biblical commentary that women are part of God's creation. One line gave a hint at the provocative discussion questions which weren't asked. James says, "Everywhere we go, a line has been drawn establishing parameters for how much or how little we are permitted to do within the church."
One question: why is this statement in passive voice? Who drew the line? Who captured God's vision from women in the first place? Did aliens come down and snatch our dignity, our place in the church and the world? Did Klingons decide to interpret the Bible to denigrate the role of women?
James lightly touches the far edges of these questions when she notes that women are understood in roles of wife and mother. She frequently mentions that God envisions a world where women "do life" because there is "much kingdom work to do," but fails to address deeper issues of why are women prevented or limited in their work for the kingdom.
Perhaps this book review is a fine example of expectations: anticipatory disappointment. We hoped this book would explore the many facets of reclaiming God's vision for women, including recognizing that women, too, are created in the image of God and that women, too, were important children of God. James does this with a simple and basic approach. We hoped this book would fearlessly, like Jesus, name the evil that exists in prejudice and oppression. We were disappointed that James stops with the idea that all will be right with the world when women claim these truths, seemingly ignoring that there is a L-O-N-G history of oppression of women in the church...(okay, we'll say it) by men.
However, Becky Garrison in Jesus Died For This? blew us out of the water. Her satirical approach to the entire swath of faith and spirituality was spot-on. She fearlessly asks the questions, makes observations, and names the good and evil and all shades in-between in her self-named search for the risen Christ. She actually sums up the issue of thousands of years of faith: "Many of us see life through a faith fog; we're not so interested in having our vision corrected."
We want to be able to wrap our arms around cuddly, fuzzy Jesus, not the one who stared evil in the guise of self-righteouness, honey-butting religious types and said, "Not so cool." We want to ignore the Church's history of prejudice, of exclusion, of killing others because they didn't fall in line with religion de rigeur. We want, as Becky (we like to think she's a friend, even though we've never met) says, our Easter served on a silver platter, like peeps - soft and fluffy, without all the reminders that WE shouted crucify him.
What Becky does so flawlessly is exactly what Carolyn James failed to do: look at all sides of faith issues. Becky is a satirist, but she doesn't need to ignore the breathtaking part of Christianity to write about the flawed aspects of faith. She writes about them all. In the moments where even she is surprised by the truth that Christ meets us in our fragile, flawed, forgotten, and forsaken selves, we are surprised with her, holding our breath at such a remarkable and stunning truth. And when she nails hypocrisy and stupidity to the wall, she does it with the humorous elegance of a person who loves her faith (mostly), not as a mean-spirited writer.
Martin Luther's Theses would have been so much more fun if Becky had edited them. Or the discussion questions at the end of any book.
So there you go, all of our first-place pageant winners in DirtySexyMinistry Land. Our first book reviews.