Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical by Hannah Faith Notess (editor)
[September 2009; reviewed 12-29-2009]
Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical. The title made me think that the authors intended to spend most of their pages complaining about the treatment of women in evangelical Christianity, a “Festivus: Airing of Grievances” for evangelical and post-evangelical women. Here, I thought, I would find tales of heartache over bad teachings on submission, being silent in church, and hyper-modesty. Here attention would be given to how overwhelmingly androcentric evangelical thought, worship and life can be and how that can make women feel marginalized and undervalued. I could certainly sympathize with such a message, and perhaps my expectations say as much about my own biases as they do about evangelical culture in general.
The good news is, I was wrong. Delightfully, happily wrong. Jesus Girls provided a treat for the heart and soul quite unlike any work on evangelical Christianity I had ever read.
On May 2, 1998, Rachel Joy Scott recorded in her journal:
This will be my last year Lord. I have gotten what I can. Thank you.
On Tuesday, April 20, 1999, twelve students and one teacher were murdered at Columbine High School by fellow students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who later took their own lives. 17-year-old Rachel Joy Scott was among them. Today marks the ten-year anniversary of that tragedy.
I was a junior in high school sitting in the chemistry class which I hated when the news of the shooting was announced over the televisions in the classrooms. I was stunned, and I confess, my initial reaction to it was one of apathy. It just seemed so distant and far away, and I had already been much more personally affected by violent crime, so I had gotten over the fact that “these things” happen.
A few weeks later the “She said YES” sermons began making tracks through evangelical youth groups. We were told all about how Cassie Bernall had been asked by the gunmen whether she believed in God, and they shot her after she replied in the affirmative. Then a similar story evolved around Rachel Joy Scott.
Normally I’m quite the snob about pop evangelicalism. Kirk Cameron, the Left Behind craze, Testamints, you name it, if it’s popular and evangelical I’m probably snarking about it. I don’t like sentimental poems about footprints in sand or gushy anecdotes about starfish and I don’t like those weepy chain e-mails that always get forwarded to your inbox.
Except for this one.
This story was originally written in 1995 by evangelical author and speaker Josh Harris, who claims it’s based on an actual dream that he had. It became a popular chain e-mail in the late 90s and early 2000s, so you’ve probably seen it before, although it’s been attributed to different authors. Trust me, Harris wrote it.
In spite of its toxic popularity, it remains one of my favorite allegories for the atonement ever. If evangelicals believed in adding new scriptures, I’d canonize this.
So, here’s “The Room.” I hope it gives you something to think about as we remember what Jesus Christ did for us on this Easter day. He’s the reason we have clean note cards waiting to be written.
Gentile Girl: Living with the Latter-day Saints by Carol Avery Forseth
[January 2002; reviewed 02-21-2009]
There is no question that any person who attends Brigham Young University as a non-Mormon receives an automatic boost to enigma status, with Latter-day Saints and “Gentiles”1 alike curious to learn what makes such people tick. Why would anyone who is not Mormon want to attend a university that is 99% LDS, they ask, an environment where Mormonism quite easily permeates most aspects of one’s day-to-day life. The Mormons often want to know how anyone could spend so much time in such a pro-LDS environment and not become LDS, while the non-members are looking for someone to dish the dirt on what “really” goes on behind those pristine university walls. It is inevitable that those of us who remain non-Mormons at the end of the experience will find an audience for our tales, and so it is with Gentile Girl: Living with the Latter-day Saints by Carol Avery Forseth.
Forseth began attending BYU in the 1970s as a recent convert to the Baptist faith and Christianity at large. Her missionary-minded LDS friends had been coaxing her to choose BYU throughout high school so that she had applied and earned a scholarship to BYU prior to her Baptist conversion, and she decided to take the free ride in spite of her newfound misgivings about facing the overwhelmingly LDS environment. Gentile Girl chronicles the two years Forseth spent at BYU in which she helped found the school’s first ever Baptist Student Union (later becoming its president), organized on-campus seminars and television interviews about her beliefs, regularly dialogued with and repelled the conversion efforts of her LDS roommates, and nearly fell in love with a fellow LDS student. Her goal in writing is to both share her experience and provide a beginner’s introduction to LDS culture and doctrine.
My quest to understand what sort of evangelical I really am has had me doing more than just pondering things like traducianism and preterism. Lately I’ve begun to question how we as evangelicals ought to approach God for our Sunday worship in dress and attire, and before you can understand my dilemma on the subject, you have to realize that I am, in so many ways, a product of both Mormonism and evangelical Christianity even if I’ve never been LDS. Evangelical Christianity captivated me as a teenager with its “come as you are” motto, its willingness to hand you a guitar and a fish necklace and let you worship God in your own way in your own place, its ability to reassure you that it’s the inside of the cup that matters and the heart God looks on when you come before Him. I was baptized at a lake in the mountains of western Washington that truly sparkled with the sky and the evergreen trees around it, while some of my best worship experiences have happened from blankets on beaches at night under a thousand effulgent stars while I sat clad in jeans and a flannel jacket. Those are experiences I treasure, experiences I suspect I would not have had if I had spent my high school years as a Mormon.
Mormonism, on the other hand, was a tradition that grew on me rather than impressing me from the start. I remember sadly packing away all of my sleeveless dresses, tank tops, and thigh-length skirts as I prepared to head off to BYU and thinking that I was about to spend the next four years pretending to be someone I was not. I could not have anticipated how my time spent conforming to Mormon culture would instill me with an appreciation for the spirit of what Mormons try to do when they dress up for church on Sunday, how they make an effort to approach God in their best and so set themselves apart from the world around them. Sure, no one wants to turn away the homeless guy who honestly has nothing to wear to church apart from jeans and a t-shirt, but why should the poor man’s best be the standard for everybody? If you are able to give God more, shouldn’t you give Him more? I still disagree with where Mormonism draws the lines on those standards—when I hear cases of shoulder-phobia and little girls being instructed to dress their Barbie dolls in accordance with church standards, I cringe—but I think it’s safe to say I’m won over on the spirit of the law.
Bad Girls of the Bible and What We Can Learn from Themby Liz Curtis Higgs
[August 1999; reviewed 08-28-2000]
(Note: I was 18 when I wrote this review for Tekton, under just my initials “J.J.” for Jack Jeffries. I cringe just a little bit reading it, knowing I could write a much better review now. Nevertheless, this remains one of my favorite devotionals ever. I won’t be reviewing the sequels I have read, Really Bad Girls of the Bible and Mad Mary, but they were also quite good.)
BAD GIRLS OF THE BIBLE: kind of grabs your attention, does it not? “Bad girls” and “Bible” aren’t really words that belong together in the same sentence When we think of the women of the Bible, we tend to think of Sarah, Rebekah, Esther, Deborah, or Miriam. Who in their right mind thinks of Michal or Potiphar’s wife?
(Note: I was 17 when I wrote this review for Tekton, under just my initials “J.J.” for Jack Jeffries. I’m surprisingly still pretty satisfied with this review today. The final line originally read, “… kindling for the fire in case the lights go out this Y2K,” but that was edited as the Y2K joke quickly became dated.)
The God Makers, both the book and the movie, has been very popular among evangelicals since its publication fifteen years ago. Several members of my church have been recommending it to me for some time. Even the cashier at the store where I bought my copy (yes, I paid money for this) told me it was a great book and I should see the movie, too. Unfortunately, the people who say this really don’t know what they’re talking about. The God Makers is probably the most horrible dissertation on Mormonism that I have ever read in my life. To say the least, this book is overrated.
My first post on the matter attempted to cover several things: namely, when it comes to miraculous workings of the Spirit, I have the heart of a believer and the mind of a skeptic. I believe in the possibility of speaking in tongues in the modern day, but so far I have not seen firsthand an example that I could not debunk. I believe in the possibility of miraculous healing, but so far I have not seen someone healed to the extent that science can not explain it. I’ve heard about limbs growing and cancer vanishing and people with deformed body parts being restored, but I have never personally seen it. (more…)
The charismatic movement. Speaking in tongues, laying on of hands, miraculous healing. Weird stuff with people claiming to be knocked down by the Holy Spirit or pinned down, held in a trance for hours. You know what I’m talking about. Folks who know little of the charismatic movement and are cynical towards it would add snake-handling to that list, but I try not to give nutpickers the time of day. I’ve been attending church with people who practice modern-day manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit for seven or eight years now, in part because my own study of the Bible has always lead me to conclude that there is no reason why gifts of the Spirit should not be practiced today. Yet for some reason, I feel ashamed to write that I’ve never practiced them myself. Worse, when my evangelical friends tell me so brightly that they can speak in tongues now or God healed them in some way, I don’t always believe them. (more…)