Friday, September 6, 2013

These Women Preach: On Jesus Feminist and Pastrix

by Charity Erickson

I first encountered Sarah Bessey during a pregnancy scare in 2011, when she was still Emerging Mummy and I was on a Google bender. It turned out that I was not with-child, but rather with-paranoia (ladies—you know); nevertheless, my discovery of Sarah Bessey was a date with destiny. She introduced me to the Christian interwebs: Rachel Held Evans (who had just called Mark Driscoll a bully,) Christianity Today and Her.meneutics. It took a year for me to get on Twitter and experience the full glut of Christian internet content, but for that year, it was just Bessey and a few special others.

All that to say, Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women (Howard Books, releasing November 5, 2013) holds a special place in my heart, and I am excited for those who will discover Bessey’s distinctive voice in this important work.

I will admit, I was expecting Jesus Feminist to have more of an emphasis on feminist critique, but as I got more into the book I realized that such an approach would not be “Sarah Bessey.” Just as with her oft-imitated blogging style, her work in Jesus Feminist shines most when she is telling stories and issuing rally cries. Bessey is a lover of poetry and it shows in her creative word-coinage and interesting-noun-play-with-use-of-complex-hyphenates.

The third chapter is where things really pick up, when we learn that Bessey discovered feminism not in critical theory or a social movement, but in early experiences with a church where women’s leadership was highly valued. In later chapters she expounds a feminism that is rooted in kingdom theology, God’s love of justice, and the movement of the Holy Spirit. She doesn’t need theory to prove her point; her stories testify to the value of women’s service and leadership in the Church.

The chapters that do contain more scholarly analysis are interesting, but are not her strongest points; Bessey relies heavily on sources her readership may already know very well (i.e. Rachel Held Evans) and as a result, her distinctive voice gets a bit lost. But when she enters her métier, calling the Church to a better way—climaxing with the “Commissioning” chapter to end the book—her prose-y poetics explode into full-on prophecy.

Bessey characterizes her work “to build a prophetic outpost for the Kingdom’s way of womanhood” as “small ops,” but she is being self-deprecating. Jesus Feminist is on the vanguard of feminist apologetics in the evangelical world, and this initial charge manages to be both challenging and guided by Christ-like humility. Those who most need this book are the same ones who will find it most accessible, as Bessey’s voice is attuned to the needs and language of her evangelical and mainly female audience—though dudes with poetic souls will find much to like here, too.

Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint (Jericho Books, releasing September 10, 2013) serves as an interesting counter-point to Jesus Feminist. Pastrix is as straight-forward in its language as Jesus Feminist is lyrical. Bolz-Weber’s use of scene, dialogue, narration and straight-up sermonizing is masterful—and I’m sure, much harder than she makes it look. Here we have another author whose sharp, engaging voice has won her many fans—her voice, and her commitment to the Gospel. It surprised me to discover the strongest connection between these two works on the fringe of the Christian culture is that they are both unabashedly focused on the saving message of Jesus Christ. No embarrassment, no mincing of words. These are women who preach.

I can’t really say enough good things about Pastrix. I picked up a copy at Wild Goose and despite the fact that it got soaking wet (yes, I’m harping on that again), I couldn’t stop peeling back page after soggy page. On the way home I had the opportunity to chat up my heroes—Krista Tippett and the On Being crew, with whom I shared a long layover and flight back to Minnesota—but I couldn’t think of anything to say. I just wanted to stay buried in what were by that point dry, curled pages, my copy already showing signs of being well-loved.

The concept behind Pastrix is pretty simple—hard-living former fundie finds sobriety, God, and a call to ministry. Bolz-Weber tells her story, touching on themes of addiction, death, and failure—but always bringing the reader to a place of hope, even “defiant hope.” She speaks from a pastor’s heart, crafting her work for the sake of our ultimate edification, but dang it if she doesn’t just make it fun.

My only criticism—and I don’t know if this is a true criticism at all—was that I was left at the end wanting more. More stories, more creativity, more cranky insight from someone who we might lovingly call a curmudgeon-at-heart. Could we perhaps look forward to a Pastrix II: The Reckoning of the White Collar? I hope so. In any case, Pastrix comes out this week. You need to get it.

One final reason why you should check out both Pastrix and Jesus Feminist: They exemplify so much of what is going on in the world of young Christian culture. These authors defy any attempt at categorization. They do not toe party lines. They are inspired by a variety of Christian traditions and don’t see a problem with taking the best from new things they find. These books represent a moment in history when Christians who used to strictly adhere to denominational identities are busting out and finding exciting, confusing, and promising possibilities for their faith. And as my call for sequels suggests, I’m already excited to see what might come next.

Charity Erickson and her husband live and work together in the north woods of Minnesota. Check out her blog for more of her writing and follow her on Twitter @CharityJill.

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