Category: Faith

Let’s talk about Hobby Lobby

I hear your voices in the distance [on my newsfeed] supporting Hobby Lobby’s complaint that the company’s freedom of religion is being violated by the ACA/Obamacare birth control provision.  I have seen your commentary about protecting religious freedom in America.  I have also reviewed the documents, so I know that before mandatory full payment for women’s preventative health care became controversial, Hobby Lobby was paying for the now-objectionable emergency contraceptive coverage.  It only changed its plan once it discovered this was an issue.  And I’m not making any assumptions here – perhaps Hobby Lobby’s owners didn’t realize what they were paying for until these news articles came out and they took a look at their own plan.

I love shopping at Hobby Lobby, but I’m a little confused about why so many people are jumping on this bandwagon.  I’m not expressing a position on the nature of human sexuality or the social or moral value of contraception [not that I don’t have one, mind you . . .], but I do think we should examine an issue before choosing the side of “Devout Christians,” as the Becket Fund has classified its supporters.  I’d also like to support Hobby Lobby putting its 1.3 million dollars per day into the mouths of hungry poverty-stricken children instead of paying fines to the government while it fights against the violation of a right it may or may not actually have.

So, with that said, let’s talk about the Constitution.  Just for a few minutes, without checking all of my law books and citations and shepardizing cases and so on, let me just put some things out there.  The first amendment and the freedom of religion can be kind of tricky, but the basic principles really aren’t as complicated as they may seem.

I’ve pulled my bar exam notes for you, to talk about a few sticky bits but honestly handle only the very basic issues.  The bar exam is not exactly the most sophisticated or nuanced thing.  We don’t cite cases or prepare briefs – we simply apply basic principles to relatively straightforward fact patterns to show that we have a handle on how the law works.  So what you’re about to read is not exactly rocket science, and is certainly NOT LEGAL ADVICE.  [If it alarms you that this is the simple kind of analysis used to pass an exam that qualifies one individual to hold the personal freedoms and, sometimes, the life of another in his or her hands, don’t worry.  It shocked the rest of us too.  We aren’t entirely sure we are qualified to be lawyers either.]

So here’s one of the most important things you can know as an American citizen:  The constitution does not protect your right to do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want, no matter what.  I know, I know, THIS IS AMERICA.  But seriously, that’s just not how it works.

As a religious individual, you have two specific protections granted by the first amendment regarding your religious-ness.  There are other protections, like the freedom to associate with those you choose, that are also essential to religious expression, but let’s forget about those and focus on the “freedom of religion” piece of Amendment Numero Uno.

1)      The Establishment Clause.  This clause prohibits the government from making a law or operating a program that favors one religious faith over another or names one religious faith as the faith of the country.

2)      The Free Exercise Clause.  This clause prohibits the government from enacting a law or program that is based on hostility to a religious faith.

This second clause applies here, so let’s dig a little deeper.

The government is not prohibited from making a law that inadvertently inconveniences religious expression if the purpose of that law is something other than hostility to the inconvenienced religious expression.

For example, when the purpose of a law is to protect the health and safety of the citizenry and applies to the general public, there is no violation of the first amendment even if that law happens to prohibit a religious practice of a certain group.  There is certainly a limit to this.  If the religious practice is not merely inconvenienced by the rule, but the complaining party’s religious expression is substantially burdened by the rule, and the party shows this substantial burden, the rules change.  Once a substantial burden is proven, the law can only be upheld if it (a) furthers a compelling governmental interest and (b) is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.  This only comes into play after a substantial burden is shown.

What is a substantial burden?  That’s a hard question to answer.  There’s not necessarily a perfect formula for finding one.  What we know so far from this case is that the courts are not satisfied enough with Hobby Lobby’s argument to grant an injunction.  There are a few issues at play, which we will know more about as the case moves forward.

  • The court explained that Hobby Lobby’s funding of a group health plan that “might, after a series of independent decisions by health care providers and patients covered by [the corporate] plan, subsidize someone else’s participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiff[s’] religion” wasn’t enough to show a substantial burden at the injunction stage.  They wrote that the relationship between Hobby Lobby and the use of contraception was too attenuated — too far removed to be a substantial burden on Hobby Lobby.  We will see how this develops during the rest of the case.
  • The court also noted that a secular company does not have a right to religious expression that can be substantially burdened.  And that’s a new and interesting idea, which will most likely be hotly contested in the forthcoming litigation.  Read the opinion here, and skip to pages 10-12 for the corporate rights question.

So there it is, you guys, one of my first law-related posts in a pretty long while.  I’m interested in the issues from academic and religious perspectives, and hope this break-down is helpful without being too simplistic.  Feel free to leave comments and/or corrections to my hastily written summary.  And happy first-day-after-the-fiscal-cliff!


A Year of Biblical Womanhood: The Long-Awaited Review

Well, it is finished.  Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood, that is.  It took me approximately one week to (finally!) finish the book and have time to share my thoughts on it, but that is on top of working full-time plus mentoring two executive board members of a sorority during officer transitions, so you could definitely finish it more quickly.  This review contains spoilers, so if you’d like to read it yourself before encountering my commentary, feel free to stop here, bookmark this page, and return in a few days once you’ve finished the book.

YBW is a journal of the experiences of a theology-focused young woman, Rachel, as she digs deeper into what the Bible says about women.  Rachel is remarkably honest about why she began this journey, noting that she wanted to write a “good story” and that she wanted to write another book before taking on the challenge of motherhood as she approaches age 30.  Reviewers have criticized Rachel for having impure or profit-based motivations when writing the book, but I find her own discussions to be much more honest than anything others have written about this.  She explains that her book publisher thought this would be a good idea, and I’ve read bits and pieces from interviews and blog posts that this wasn’t the first format she had in mind when embarking on this journey.  Either way, Rachel is an over-sharer almost to a fault, telling us almost too much about why and how this “Project” started.  She wants to dig in to the passages that are an integral part of her upbringing and faith, have fun, and write an interesting book about the process.

The book is divided into twelve chapters, each containing a “virtue” or “characteristic” sometimes considered part of a good Biblical woman.  I note good Biblical woman here because, as Rachel points out, there are quite a few characteristics of women [or men, for that matter] found inside the Bible that none of us should emulate.  Just because something is in the Bible does not mean that it is presented as an example which must be followed in every context and culture.

Rachel’s selections for subjects during the project aren’t all perfect.  She has been criticized by American evangelicals for choosing to participate in some biblical customs that “everyone knows” are not actually part of a modern American theological evangelical understanding of the Bible.  But attacking the approach of one facet of one denomination’s teachings about the roles of women isn’t the goal of the project, so these criticisms appear to be missing the point.  Instead of attacking evangelicalism, Rachel examines bits and pieces from different faith teachings to try to understand better what the Bible is really saying to Rachel as she struggles to understand it and apply it in the best way she can.  She seeks out and follows Jewish traditions, meets with members of the Amish community and Friends from within the Quaker community; she reaches out to fringe groups and looks back with fondness and (sometimes) bewilderment at some of the evangelical teachings she was exposed to as a child.  Her experience can be a bit contrived at times, and sometimes the activities she completes feel overly gimmicky.  Even so, the responses that Rachel provides to the different pieces of her project are always honest and mostly interesting.

Instead of pulling out just a few highlights, I’ve chosen a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the book.  I’ve made this decision because too many reviewers have jumped to conclusions about the book without encountering the experience or explaining why the book was great or disappointing, and because leaving out any piece of Rachel’s transition might render it less effective.  It’s also a lot easier for me, and I’m guessing a lot of you won’t read the book in its entirety.  If this method becomes overly long or boring to you, please just skip down to the bolded quotation below, one of my favorite pieces of the book, and read it two or three times to make sure you are really getting the message.  That alone is enough to show the value, and the courage, of Rachel’s journey.  

Gentleness:  This was perhaps my favorite chapter of the book, and what kept me going through a few chapters of gimmicks and Martha Stewart-inspired failures.  Rachel encounters gentleness and studies its origins, noting that the Bible teaches gentleness as a characteristic of all Christians, not just the female ones.  Gentleness is the result of a combination of integrity and self-control in the face of persecution, she learns, and makes our wild hearts useful and fruitful for God.  The same word for gentleness is used to describe a wild horse that had been tamed and could now be ridden.  Still fast, but with purpose and control.

Domesticity:  My notes on this chapter were “This is kind of stupid.”  For me, Martha Stewart doesn’t really have a place in a book about Biblical womanhood.  Also, I’m great at making pies but not as great at loving others or sacrificing or being gentle, so I couldn’t identify with this line of thinking.

Obedience:  This chapter begins slow but ends with a beautiful moment that I would recommend to begin a women’s retreat or a sisterhood weekend.  Rachel and a friend take an evening to retell the dark stories of abuse [read: rape, murder, incest, torture] of women in the Bible, and light candles to remember these women and their place in our faith story.

Valor:  Rachel’s chapter on Proverbs 31 begins feeling a little false – I mean, when you take on so many tasks at once everyone knows that you are going to fail, so pretending like you don’t already know that too isn’t very convincing.  Rachel’s message and her experiences could have been woven together seamlessly, but the set-up was a little too long for the subject at hand.  However, Rachel’s explanation of the Jewish tradition of using the Proverbs 31 passages as a blessing instead of an impossible measuring stick is beautiful.  Eshet Chayil, women of the church.  Live your lives with valor.

Beauty:  This chapter focuses on how evangelicals are weird and have messed up expectations about sexuality.  And I agree, evangelicals are weird and have messed up expectations about sexuality – both before and after marriage.  Rachel gets a little overly personal for my Southern Sensibilities here but a quote from her last few lines stands alone and is important enough to share:  If  Christians have learned anything from our rocky two-thousand-year theological history, it’s that we make the most beautiful things ugly when we try to systematize mystery.

Modesty:  Wow, this chapter should be read by every youth pastor and every father of young girls everywhere.  It is moving and funny and not overly serious.  Rachel studies the use of “modesty” in the scripture and explains that modesty is a warning against materialism, not sexuality, and that we seem to have missed the message here.  Which, to be honest, kind of reinforces that point about evangelicals being weird and messed up in this department, doesn’t it?  I want to print this on every church bulletin in America.

“. . . [T]rue modesty has little to do with clothing or jewelry or makeup.  The virtue that is celebrated in Scripture is so elusive we struggle to find words to capture its spirit — humility, self-control, plainness, tznuit, Gelassenheit.  And so we codify.  We legislate.  We pull little girls to the front of the class and slap rulers against their bare legs and try to measure modesty in inches.  Then we grow so attached to our rules that they long outlive their purpose, and the next thing we know, we’re adding leaves to our tables and cutting the ends off our roasts.  We cling to the letter because the spirit is so much harder to master.” 

Purity:  This chapter is about menstruation so basically it just made me feel awkward.  But, when Rachel describes how lonely she felt and then projects that loneliness on the lifetime of the untouchable hemorrhaging woman in Mark 5, it is a really nice moment.

Fertility:  “No role is too confining or too grand for a woman of valor.”  The rest was weird.

Submission:  Rachel’s discussion of the Greco-Roman household codes and Jesus’s pattern of turning hierarchy on its head is interesting.  But just that.  No goosebumps.

Justice:  Rachel spends some time here discussing the perils and torture faced by women in Bolivia today, and those in other places around the world.  Here we see how man’s misuse of “submission” can withhold justice from the women of the world, and also how women can change the worlds in which they live.  How really, we all need each other.

Silence:  Rachel visits a monastery in Alabama [wait, what?! I know, how unexpected] and a Quaker meeting and engages with a dialogue on Silence that is really getting back to the heart of the matter.  She explains the context surrounding sentences from Paul’s letters that are often used to silence women in church and in the home, and she finds her voice to advocate for the women who are silenced while also finding a quiet place for God to speak to her.  This is really wonderfully done here.

Grace:  This is more of a summary chapter, and the pieces of the book come together well.  Rachel concludes that there is no such thing as Biblical womanhood, in the check-the-box, don’t-do-this sort of way.  There is no one-size-fits-all formula for Biblical womanhood.  Instead, each of us encounter different circumstances and situations in which we must choose, as women of God, to live with faith and act with valor.

In encountering these passages, making new friends, and writing her book, Rachel has found that a deep, careful look at the scriptures – even the silly ones – has liberated her and called her to speak out for righteousness and to use her gifts with valor.  Personally, I can’t think of a better use of a godly woman’s time.

Domesticity in YBW and a Kitchen Disaster

I’m about half-way through with Rachel Held Evans’ recent book A Year of Biblical Womanhood.  I’m reading YBW this week and blogging about my experience.  This may actually bleed into next week, but I’m hoping to finish up this weekend… 

I finished the chapter on domesticity yesterday, and was feeling pretty amazing.  Not only am I a quite capable baker, but I can cook a mean ham and throw together a pot roast in no time.  If Rachel really wanted to be domestic instead of just make a ruckus for her book, I thought, she would have picked something easier than a homemade pie and she wouldn’t have baked it on Thanksgiving Eve.  She’s probably a fine cook under normal circumstances, I continued — she’s just choosing something hard where any number of things can go wrong as a gimmick, setting herself up for disaster.  I was feeling a little condescending about the whole process, until…

Today.  Today I decided to make a cake to celebrate a friend’s very exciting and wonderful good news.  She requested strawberry, so I found a recipe and headed to the store.  I needed a 15-ounce package and a 10-ounce package of frozen strawberries in syrup, but there was nothing even CLOSE to this.  I ended up buying the only berries in syrup they had.

Well, whoa.  Let me just tell you that whatever Paula Deen was asking for when she wrote this recipe, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a frozen red rock covered in freezer burn.  By the time it was defrosted even a little, it was more soup than fruit.  I tried stirring in some extra flour to thicken up the very wet batter, but who can really tell how that will turn out.  I’ve never been a huge believer in the philosophy that baking required “exact measurements” . . . but I’m not feeling incredibly optimistic.

So I’m eating a little crow and hoping for the best in the kitchen tonight (and thanking the Lord that H is out of town this weekend and won’t see the strawberry-cake-disaster that may or may not be coming out of my oven in the next two minutes.  And I’m also feeling a little guilty for jumping to conclusions half-way through the story of a woman’s experience with God and cooking and cleaning and righteousness.  It’s her story, not mine.

First Thoughts on YBW

I’m reading through A Year of Biblical Womanhood this week, and will be dialoguing with the book in this space.  I hope that you will join me and engage with it honestly. 

I’m up e-a-r-l-y this morning.  [And I’m using punctuation in an ironic, Emily Dickinson-esque throwback, not in a thirteen-year-old-girl-with-hearts-dotting her i’s kind of way.]  It wasn’t on purpose exactly, the early wake-time, but I’m glad that I am here, writing to you.  You see, Rachel too began waking up early when she started seeking to understand Biblical Womanhood.  (I’m calling her Rachel now, even though we aren’t exactly friends or anything.  After reading the first little bit of her book last night, I feel like we are starting to know each other.)

At this point I’m still struggling a bit to pin-point a genre here, bit I’m leaning toward a diary with religious undertones.  There has been a lot of online “discussion” about whether her book is satirical or tongue-in-cheek or literal hermeneutical instructions [or heretical bible attacking], but so far I’m not really seeing these things.  I mean, I am still only on page 21.  There could be plenty of blasphemy in Chapter 2.  Certainly, there are pieces of satire, personal stories, self-deprecation and football references woven into the fabric, pushing the story forward.  But, for at least the Introduction and the First Chapter, the book is just a story — a story about the experience of a woman grappling with the difficulties of her faith, with the difficulties of being “the thing that they all talk about.” A self-reflective, often jolly, honest re-telling of an experience.

Did you know, dear reader, that Christians often struggle with doctrine, with theology, with the concept of inerrancy, with ethics and interpretation and truth?  Did you know that, even when we know Jesus so assuredly, sometimes the things said by others about us [insert: me] can separate us from the church itself?  Did you know that in every conservative evangelical community there is a little girl who is taught to grow up to be a great Deacon’s wife or — if she is so very blessed — a great Pastor’s wife who wonders: is this all God made me for?  And if it is, but my heart and my brain and my body crave more, maybe this isn’t the religion for me? 

Well, if you didn’t know it, now you do.  Reading Rachel’s book, so far, is like having a conversation with a stranger who ends up being quite like you.  And according to a few reviews I’ve read, this probably means that I am “already sympathetic to her undermining of the truthfulness and sufficiency and relevance of the Bible, . . . already suspicious of Christianity, and . . .  already prone to deny that God has designed a special and beautiful role for women in marriage.”  But I say: No.  You are missing the point.  There are thousands of women just like me who desperately want to fall back in love with the Church, with their faith — to come out of isolation and join a community of believers again — and if Rachel can still love the Church and desperately seek after truth, [even after the harsh reviews of her beloved brothers and sisters in Christ,] maybe there is hope for the rest of us.

Will you join me in reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood?

First things first: I’m sorry about the lame-o post I put online late last night so that I had “blogged” for the day. Since the moment I decided to try blogging every day in November [called NoBloPoMo by the BlogHer team], I’ve had the weirdest blogger’s block. And, I mean, I was just thinking that November will be an easy month for daily postings: it started with hurricane recovery, next week will be a presidential election, then veteran’s day, followed almost immediately by Thanksgiving and a trip to Tennessee and then Christmas preparations and decorating. But those are “BIG” thoughts, and none of the blogging ideas coming to mind for the past few days seemed to pass the threshold test of “November Things.” So I guess we’ve already learned one thing by the third day of NoBloPoMo — [interesting] blogging is hard, and once you commit to doing it regularly, it gets harder to do it well.

I will try my hardest not to post lame-o tiny posts in the future, but let’s not kid ourselves here. Okay, back to your regularly scheduled update on our silly lives…

Today was a different sort of day. We woke up late with a serious case of donut deprivation syndrome (DDS for short) and chose to avoid dressing, showering, brushing our teeth, etc. until the DDS was cured. We drove over to Takoma Park’s Dunkin Donuts because it had a drive-thru. Let me tell you — such a disappointment. This Dunkin Donuts had none of the good donuts (they were out of blueberry! Blueberry is the best kind!), and since we couldn’t actually see what donuts they had in stock because we were in the car, it was a little awkward. Also, there were some communication issues with the guy taking our order, as in he couldn’t understand that when we said “Glazed” we meant “not cake covered in powdered sugar.” Maybe the difference here isn’t important to you, dear reader, but holy jeepers is it important to us! So, we just couldn’t eat these dry powdery donuts. H took the plunge and went into Shoppers in his Holiday Polar Bear Pants (the polar bears have on red scarves!) and bought us real donuts. And honestly, they were DELICIOUS. So much better.

From top to bottom: Raspberry Filled (Glazed!), Chocolate iced cake, and … BLUEBERRY!!!!

Dunkin Donuts, pay attention to this — powdered donuts make a mess all over your car and make your mouth feel dry and pasty. Glazed blueberry donuts with real blueberries inside? AH-mazing.

We spent the day hanging out, running errands, and watching football. [I actually didn’t watch football — I watched a Yale Open Course lecture and caught up on my Google Reader and a little Patheos reading. I had 2/3 of a french baguette that was going bad, so I chopped it into little pieces and made a quick cranberry-pecan bread pudding so it wouldn’t go to waste. Delicious. H was not disappointed.

During my reading, I kept coming across more and more negative reviews of Rachel Held Evans‘ most recent book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood. And while I did notice that a lot of the reviews were just plain mean, one of the recurring themes most shocking to me was that the reviews were often from individuals who had not actually read the book. And I hadn’t read the book either, so I couldn’t really say anything in response with credibility, but seriously America? Christian leaders will overlook surprisingly racist and ridiculous statements* by conservative evangelicals, but when someone steps outside and offers a more progressive criticism or point of view, our own people start questioning the devoutness of their Christian brothers and sisters? I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

I mean wait, let’s be real: I too grew up in a conservative denomination so I actually was not “shocked” at what I was reading or the repulsive tenor of the comments on many of the posts, but I did feel like I needed to say something in response.

So, we went to Barnes and Noble and I bought the only copy of the book. I’ll be reading it over the next few days, and would love if you would join me in doing so. It’s the bright yellow one.

*Need an example? Here’s one off the top of my head: Chairman of the Deacons leads entire congregation in an offertory prayer requesting that God please protect the Boy Scouts of America from “the gays.” True story.

Poverty Conversations from Jesus-loving Lady-bloggers

When I went on my issue-blogging hiatus (which was when my rotation began and which is continuing until the November elections have taken place), I started really soaking up the writing of other bloggers — in particular, Christian bloggers who write about women’s rights, mutuality in marriage and ministry, and poverty-related issues.  This experience has been refreshing to my soul:  it is nice letting someone else take the pressure, and I found that I’m not the only young woman with struggles who was raised in a conservative Evangelical tradition but who has gifts bigger than the box she was told to stay within.  So today, instead of writing about what I had for dinner (pork chops, green beans, and buttery delicious cornbread), I’m giving you a little piece of what has kept me going these last few months.

On being the “project” of Christian mission work:

Oh, and in other news:  I decided to do this thing called National Blog Posting Month or, for short, NoBloPoMo.  It’s a once-yearly effort by BlogHer to support and encourage frequent and creative writing every single day for the entire month of November.  I’ll try to keep it fresh but sometimes it is hard to be interesting every day (I know, probably not an issue for you, dear reader), so we’ll see how it goes.  If you  want to join the party, click here for details!

Apparently there is this scandal in the Southern Baptist Convention…

And apparently the scandal is about how to argue about theological differences OR maybe the scandal is about the definition of salvation or whether or not you can be Baptist and a Calvinist or something along those lines.  And apparently a lot of Christians care about this.  And I oftentimes love to study these kinds of philosophical arguments,  because they can show contradictions in our own theologies and make us seek answers for the very hardest questions — those questions that people ignore because they “don’t dwell on the details” or “don’t major in the minors” or whatever, but that really and truly matter to persons struggling with what it means to believe in God and seek his will in life.

But, today, when I started to think about what I thought about all of this, I stopped and thanked God for Sarah Bessey, for women, and for love.  Because, you see, there are moments when what really matters is grace, and forgiveness, and hope.  And when I read her, I forget that there is anything holding me back from living God’s calling in my life.  I read her words and remember that my God can do anything.  He is bigger than the rules and the pews and the limits that rich white southern fat old gray balding ivory-tower church leaders have put on my identity.  My God can take a little girl with big ideas and use her to house his children, to spread his gospel, and to share his love.

And seriously ya’ll, Sarah Bessey is from Canada.  So something good really DOES come from Canada.  ;)