I love writing. And I love reading. But more than anything I love reading great writing. And Sarah Bessey is a flat-out GREAT writer.
I’d been following her blog for a couple years now and have always appreciated how she manages to simultaneously speak with such passion and grace. She has a way of teaching through storytelling that makes you forget how much you’re learning and simply enjoy the lesson. [As you read her blog, you'll notice the "In Which" in this post's title is entirely unoriginal to me.]
Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women (Howard Books, released on November 5, 2013) is her latest project and it is a wonderful contribution to the conversations surrounding faith, gender, church, and the Bible.
She starts [as the title probably implies] with Jesus. She weaves her own narrative of growing up in an incredibly faithful, yet by most standards “ordinary” family. One of the first lines to make me laugh out loud was when she described her dad. She says,
My dad is a true Canadian kid, deeply distrustful of religion, Toronto, politicians, and the Establishment.
She goes on to talk about life growing up in the church as one where women were constantly confined to certain parameters based on the fact that they were a woman, rather than where their gifts may lie. In many, though certainly not all, churches women are consistently put into boxes within the church. They’re told they can be involved in children’s ministry, hospitality ministry, the women’s Bible study ministry, the quilting and sewing ministry, the keep the coffee warm ministry, and on and on it goes. Regardless of their strengths and passions, women are confined to certain boxes, and those boxes limit their participation in the broader Church. And Bessey’s point is this: the Kingdom of God is missing out on some seriously talented and passionate people because of it!
A favorite part of mine [perhaps because of my love of lists-as-evidence] is in Chapter Six when she goes through the narrative of Scripture through the history of the church describing the incredibly significant roles women have played in the history of our faith. Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Jael, Ruth, Rahab, Esther, Hannah, Tamar were a few of the significant women of the Hebrew Bible. Moving through to the New Testament women like Priscilla, Lydia, Mary, Martha, the Samaritan woman, Mary Magdalene, Euodia, and Junia. She then considers women of modern church history like Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa, and Harriet Tubman.
When we think about the impact that women have had throughout the history of the faith, it should be overwhelming evidence against trying to strictly define what women can or cannot do in the life of the body of Christ.
But so often it isn’t. And that’s where the feminist part of this book comes in.
I have to admit that I was ready and waiting for the unabashed feminism to come in with a hyper-aggressive, demanding approach. But:
1) That’s not Sarah Bessey’s style.
2) As Sarah points out, that’s not the way of the Jesus Feminist.
The wonder of this book is in its subtlety. I was barely aware that I was becoming a Jesus Feminist until I closed the book and I could feel the tension in my muscles when I considered the injustice of the Church telling women what they can or cannot do because of their womanhood.
It doesn’t necessarily matter where you fall on political lines or religious affiliations, this is an important book for everyone to read. The writing is both poetic and challenging, but espouses a kind of humility that is incredibly rare.
It’s available on Amazon or at your local bookstore. Even though I was given an advanced ebook copy, I still ordered my own copy. You should too. Buy it. Read it. Buy it for your friends to read. Buy it for your pastor to read. Then talk about it. These are the conversations that are worth having.
I received an advance copy of Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey from NetGalley in return for my review. There was nothing that stipulated that it had to be positive, only honest. No other compensation was provided.