I was talking with some friends this week about favorite childhood books (we’re still not over Sheftu. True story.) and I realized that reading good stories with strong female characters built a lot of subconscious mental structure which helped me see women as equal to men, and drove me to be skeptical of the soft patriarchy in complementarianism and question other elements of privilege or inconsistent treatment of people in the church.

I just needed to have the lights flipped on in my head to bring these two parts of my mind together and see how they didn’t line up. But before I realized that I was a feminist, I was the girl who ate up stories about strong women and female warriors and brilliant females from history.

Maybe my first awareness of feminism came from my fierce, academic grandmother, who halted me mid-sentence one day when I was 6 or 7 (and probably prattling on about how “we” didn’t like something as a family because dad didn’t like it), and looked me in the eye and said, “well, you’re entitled to your own opinion.” That idea stuck with me — I remember yelling it in fights with my sister when I was in middle school. “I’m entitled to my own opinion! Shut up!” (Sorry, Heidi.)

That idea gave me permission to enjoy the host of strong female characters in YA historical fiction, in the books on the Sonlight reading list, in the literary classics I gobbled up, despite my mother’s concerns about attitudes in books like Ella Enchanted. (Was I the only one who had to write a book report about that one with the expectation that I’d be critical about the negative portrayal of obedience to parents?)

But books were my gateway to feminism. Before I even knew the term “slut-shaming” and what it meant, I read The Scarlet Letter and I realized how inappropriate it is for the church to treat a woman like Hester was treated.

I read fairy tales and I learned how hard life is and how it’s possible for a woman overcome terrible fates if she’s quick with her mind.

I read Till We Have Faces and I learned that the agony of a woman’s soul can be beautiful. That a woman’s spiritual journey is deep and intense and full of meaning.

I read biographies of Mary Slessor and Amy Carmichael, and I delighted in how fierce and true they were, and wanted to be like them.

I read The Scarlet Pimpernel and realized how destructive a marriage can be if there’s no intellectual equality, honesty, or companionship.

I read the Anne books and learned that making mistakes and learning by experience is a valid way to live (and not everything has to be dominated by principles and ideals), that women in the “olden days” went off to college and were the better for it.

I read Little Women and felt a kinship to Jo and her misfit spunk and how she embraces her own huge personality, and most of all, I related to her as she grew into her writerly self and took courage from her confidence.

I read the Little House books and every time Pa called Laura “strong as a little French horse,” I wanted to be like that, too.

I read the Brontës and Emily Dickinson and Jane Austen and Louisa May Alcott, not so much for their stories and poems (though I adored them), but for their ability to do what they loved with their lives, despite gender norms.

I read The Ordinary Princess and loved Amy for her communion with nature and her spiteful attitude toward an arranged marriage.

I read Lord of the Rings and wanted to be Eowyn.

I read everything I could find by Madeleine L’Engle and coveted the intelligence and bravery of her heroines.

I read stories of women who disguised themselves as men and fought or spied or traveled. I read all the books I could find about female heads of state throughout history, and read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs for more stories of brave women who defied cultural standards. I wanted to be Joan of Arc, Hatsheput, Boadicea, Sacajawea, Margaret of Austria, etc., etc.

And I never wanted to be a feminist, because feminists hated men and were selfish.

But then I went to college and two things happened while this English major was just a baby English major.

1) My scary-wonderful-smart Brit Lit prof asked us: Could we name a book where a male author succeeded in creating an authentic and rich inner life for a female character?

And we couldn’t give her a single title. [She retorted that it was just as well, since the only one she knew of was Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis.]

2) I met feminist literary theory, in particular: I learned to read the absent female narrative in a text, starting with Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar on the madwoman in the attic (and damn, there was a lot of female silence in literature), and I became acquainted with the concept of semiotics and the works of Julia Kristeva and Hélène Cixous.

And I barely scratched the surface with those authors and theories before the light switch in my head flipped on after reading A Handmaid’s Tale.

I was a feminist. There were voices missing. Feminism wasn’t the feminism my parents had grown up with — it was much more mature, nuanced, thoughtful than the second wave feminists who scared them into complementarianism. This was a feminism that was intellectual and observant and, I began to realize, compatible with my Christianity in a way that didn’t just complement it, but reinforced it and made it more holistic and loving and thoughtful.

Then I went back and I reread the four gospels. And I sat on my bed and cried over how Jesus treated women, because it was so beautiful and tender and respectful. Because it was so very, very different from what I had seen presented for women in the church as I grew up.

And then I realized: I’m entitled to an opinion of my own. I’m a feminist.

[linking up for FemFest here!]


I love reading. When I was in third grade, my mom had me make a list of all the books I’d read in the last year. Once we got through the library loan records and my Sonlight reading list, I discovered that I’d read between two and three hundred books that year.

When I was in tenth grade, I fell behind and stopped working on most of my schoolwork for a lot of reasons–my mom had just had twins, I was babysitting for her a lot, I was stressed and probably depressed, I was socially isolated in unhealthy ways, and I coped by reading everything in sight. I read and drew and wrote lots that year, but mostly I read. Sometimes I think that books were my lifeline to sanity while I lived at home.

During college, people would ask me why I chose to be an English major. I’d jokingly tell them that it was so I could get good grades just for reading all the time like I would do anyway.

Paper writing intimidation, 2008.

Writing has always been part of who I am, as well. I wrote a historical fiction “novel” in high school, various short stories, and lots and lots of essays. In the last few years I have begun to explore poetry, write more fiction, and really focus on honing my craft.

But my favorite thing is still reading, challenging myself to read the greats and develop a good ear for quality language and voice and presence. To push myself to enjoy what I might not find easy in order to learn and stretch my own writing. And to just read for reading’s sake, savoring the presence of an author’s story and losing myself in someone else’s world and words.

Short stories are my very favorite of all. They fit well into a busy life. I love how they can be tight and focused like poetry, but the genre allows them to also be broader and more narrative. However, the form seems to be fading, and fewer authors are writing short stories and fewer schools are studying them. They’re not yet outdated, but there’s a slow fade happening for short stories in the publishing world. And that’s sad, because you’d think there would be a bigger market for them in the world of e-readers and online publishing venues and Twitter and blogs.

Inspired after attending a speaking event by Lorin Stein a few months back (promoting The Paris Review‘s new short story collection, Object Lessons), I decided I wanted to do more here with writing and promoting this great genre.

So here’s the plan:

During the first week of April, I’m going to host a short story week on Wine & Marble. 

And I want you to help.

I’d like to feature a short story every day from March 31st (Easter Sunday) to April 6th. 

That’s seven stories.

You write it, I’ll help you clean it up, and we’ll publish it here. 

I’ll be accepting submissions from now until March 23rd. Send them to me at wineandmarble@gmail.com. 

To kick this off, I’d like to give you a short story I wrote a couple years back. 

Click here to download Wine at Christmas.

 


I’m terrible about reading my Bible regularly. Reading the ESV or NASB still gives me flashbacks to sermons from my spiritually abusive church, or to high-stress mornings with my family during our years at that church.

But my relationship to Jesus hasn’t been stunted. It’s grown stronger, and I’ve stopped being afraid like I used to be.

Talking with a friend today, I realized that one thing that helped me to see God as a caring Father and allowed me to respond to Jesus without fear was when I chose deliberately to change the words I used in my thought and discussions of God and religion.

In Sovereign Grace Ministries, it’s common to say “God,” “Christ,” “the Father,” and in other circles I interacted with, people used “the LORD” (in writing) or “the Lord” (spoken), and even that phrase so often repeated like a verbal tic in oral prayer: “Father God.”

When I left SGM and spiritually abusive environments behind, I had to find a way to stand the idea of God, to reassure myself that I hadn’t believed falsely, and that God was kind, intimately caring, patient, loving, forgiving.

I left fighting panic every time I opened my Bible.  I found myself unsure if I could ever pray sincerely again.

And then I started reading the Gospel of John in The Message, and I realized: God is a useful word, but it’s an abstraction. Abstractions are hard to connect with if you’ve been hurt.  So I did an experiment. I would use the name Jesus instead of all those other names. If I could bring myself to pray, I would pray to Jesus. If I talked about my faith or lack thereof, I would use his name. If I was journaling, I would write about Jesus, not God, not the Father. Jesus.

As I did that and as I kept reading in John, my anxiety eased up, just a little. Seeing Jesus as the man who loved women, loved the broken and hurting, who understood and was patient with those without strong faith–this is the same God I intellectually knew I worshiped. But just seeing him as Jesus, instead of Christ or God, helped me feel just a little bit safer, a little closer to healing.

If you’re hurting, if your Bible is terrifying, if prayer is deafeningly silent: take a step back and reintroduce yourself to Jesus.


Here’s your week’s list of reads. Discuss in the comments if something rubs you wrong or you’re curious about why I chose to feature a piece.

Some politician named Mourdock made a statement that, out of context, was highly offensive to feminists/rape victims. Basically he believes that Babies = Gift From God, so he assumes that while Rape = Bad, Babies (from rape) = still Gift From God. But what it sounded like was that he was suggesting that rape victims be thankful they got raped, because Babies, you guys! Here’s one of many posts on this from the perspective of the offended party. I posted it on Facebook yesterday, with this commentary, and we had a lively discussion:

I am consistently bothered by WASP men who jump on the comments about rape and pregnancy (like Akin and Mourdock) with their comments about no exceptions for abortion bans, because babies! Life! Imago Dei!

Yes. Technically these men are correct. Morally, they have the high ethical ground.

But there is a hollow lack of compassion in these over-eager attempts to comment on the correct moral choice for a rape victim, and it seems to me that their privilege in our society as straight white Protestant men has blinded them to the pain and anguish of such a situation and led them into turning these women into abstractions, useful for political gesturing. This is wrong. These women are real people, loved by God.

Can we give rape victims the respect of not making them abstractions for our political discussions? It’s not sweeping the issue of life as a gift from God under the rug to respect these women and let them grieve privately. It’s not endorsing abortion to respect their experience (and your lack thereof) to hold your tongue and not paint in broad strokes how you think they should act or feel. 

Life is a gift from God. Your ethical patronizing is not.

I highlighted this wonderful, wonderful post on relationship and obedience in parenting by my mom in the comments on my last post (which, oh my. Got so much traffic. Really blown away by you all. Thank you.) and everyone should go read it.

A NY Times blog addresses the horrific agricultural situation in America, and suggests a simple fix (which may or may not be the best option, but it’s worth reading).

My good friend Eric writes an essay against legalism as part of a series he’s doing. He suggests that labeling people (he jokingly calls those who habitually do this to organize their world “Labelists”) is contrary to God’s law of love, and undermines the gospel, and promotes legalism. Loving it so far.

The Diocese of South Carolina has broken off from the Episcopal church over longstanding differences of opinion on issues of orthodoxy. Our rector used to be part of this diocese. Pray for the Church.

A beautiful, beautiful essay on the Book of Common Prayer in the New Yorker. I love this so much, as I attended several evensong services at Salisbury, and it’s still my favorite cathedral I’ve ever visited.

For those of us who have been hurt by fundamentalist Christianity, here’s a reminder from Peter Enns on why we need to still love these brothers and sisters in Christ.

A funny way to teach yourself to detect the passive voice in your writing.

Random House and Putnam Penguin are considering a merger. This would be horrific for the book selling industry, and is largely the natural reaction to Amazon and da gubbamit. Support your local independent booksellers, kids!

There is a style guide for web typography. I’m in love.

I spell my name with an umlaut (keyboard shortcut alt+0228, fyi) and so of course I loved this little essay on umlauts and Volapük.

My 6,128 Favorite Books: an essay on reading in the WSJ. Lovely. Those who know, know. And if you know, you will love this piece.

fascinating article on memes in political journalism and what they do to the political discourse.

The State of the Short Story, by the editor of The Paris Review, Lorin Stein. I’m a sucker for short stories. Stein explores how we read and why we read short stories.

Happy Friday! I’ll have another post for you tomorrow, as part of the series on food