There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
~ Emily Dickinson

Literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious discourses of my book friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness. ~ Helen Keller

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Learning the Art of Charity in Emma

Emma has been my favorite Jane Austen novel since the first time I read it, because I immediately identified with the undisciplined, imaginative heroine. Thus, it's hardly surprising that I enjoyed Emsley's chapter on this novel most, but I was also surprised by how much this chapter of literary criticism "showed me to myself'. Although Emsely considers Emma less well-developed that P&P, I found the most striking insights in this chapter. Perhaps it is because it focuses on "the greatest of these" -- love.

Emma Woodhouse, who possess some of the "best blessings of existence" is yet in the position described by Paul in 1Corinthians 13 -- all her gifts profit her nothing, because she has a false understanding of love. This is partly do to her lack of self-knowledge. Emma is, of course, quite confident that she does know herself, telling Harriet, "If I know myself... mine is an active mind".  However, Emsley posits that Emma's pursual of company, even inferior company like Harriet's, proves that she fears lonliness or "the reality of being left with her own mind" (131). This was a moment of revelation for me. Although not as sociable as Emma, I too fear the solitude of my own mind, refusing to lie awake and think about my own faults and failures when I can distract myself with various forms of entertainment.

"Emma does, however see some things clearly, early on..." (132) Emsley declares. When she defends Frank for not visiting Mrs Weston she is "taking the other side of the question from her real opinion". She also cannot long pretend to be in love with Frank. More importantly, Emsley acknowledges something I've thought, but not articulated well: "In contrast to Elizabeth Bennet and Catherine Morland, whose revelations of self-knowledge come quite late in their respective novels, Emma has her first encounter with the pain of enlightenment relatively early in Chapter 16" (133). After Elton makes "violent love to her" she is very penitent and miserable. Does this mean Emma is the most complex of Austen's ouvre through making "conversion" (repentance/self-knowledge, whatever word suits) a repeated process? Perhaps this is yet another reason I love this novel best, because I too have never had one moment of change or even spiritual conversion, but learn slowly. The fact that Emma experiences not one but three epiphanies is also an argument against the idea that she does not change, since throughout the story, self-knowledge is a continuing process. (Can anyone tell me who the critic was who thought she doesn't change at the end? I may have read it in "A Truth Universally Acknowledged".)

Another vital point that Emsley makes is about the difference between "charity as love and charity as image" (138). As much as Emma despises Mrs Elton, she has been guilty of having a disturbingly similar conception of charity. Emsley says that "In [Mrs Elton's] estimation, charity is what those in power offer to those without power" (135). Emma too "has thought that it woud be charitable to be useful to Harriet (when in fact she uses Harriet as a pawn in her own matchmaking game), that it woud be charitable to Mr Elton to find him a pretty wife (when she has used him as the object of that game), and also, that it would be charitable to Frank Churchill for her to bestow her affections on him. This is charity conceived of as condescension. Emma Woodhouse, proud, elegant, and benevolent, might condescend to treat 'a Harriet Smith' as a friend, to arrange the local clergyman's love life for him, and to fall in love with a long-lost neighbor. But, as Emma needs to learn, charity is not about power"  (133).

This conception of charity as power is a common failing, perhaps especially among we Westerners who consider ourselves educationally and culturally advanced; and among we Christians, eager to spread our "good news" in condescending ways. A right conception of charity, Austen and Emsley imply, is based on respect for others' personhood and autonomy. Whenever we begin to use others -- to advance our positions, our reputations, or even our self-esteem -- we have abandoned real charity.

Emsley concludes her comments on charity with the statement: "In E, charity is not defined simply as either good works performed for other people, or as love offered to one's intimates; romantic love, the love of friendship, and the love of benevolent good works are all part of Austen's understanding of charity. The process of learning to be charitable, therefore, is more than an education in good works or social justice, as it can help characters work toward happiness as well as goodness" (140).

Emsley then turns to a discussion of happiness, concluding that through practicing the virtues "Austen suggests, one may achieve something like perfect happiness, not happiness as an end result, but as a process open to revision" (141).  She asks, "Is it the aim of virtue to be in charity with one's self?" (141) While she does not explicitly answer the question, through examining the process by which Emma comes to understand the cruelty of her remark to Miss Bates, she suggests that a time of great self-reproach may be the first step to later self-charity. She shows that while Emma is not a reader like Lizzie Bennet (who is changed through her close reading of a letter), once Emma has had her error pointed out by Mr Knightley she is harder on herself than he has been, recalling all her "scornful, ungracious" private thoughts and remarks that led up to the open barb. Ultimately, "Emma has to learn to love her neighbor as herself, and to be in love and charity with her neighbors rather than simply with herself" (144). She has claimed it is not her "way" to fall in love, but has it been because her own self-love has blinded her to what it is to be "in love" as a way of life?

 (I'm doing a remarkably reprehensible [think Mr Woodhouse's voice in Emma 2006] thing and posting this in a great rush unedited. Will edit later, so for now I beg you all to show charity and forgive ;)

Friday, 19 July 2013

Fanny Price and the Contemplative Life

It's ironic that Fanny Price, one of Austen's most quiet and (seemingly) timid heroines, is the subject of so much contention among critics and readers. Here's where I make the dreadful confession that despite wanting to kick Kinsley Amis* out of windows** I have not always appreciated Fanny as much as the other heroines. As I began reading the chapter I jotted down these words: "I think my own need is for her to be a little more tempted in all points, perhaps as a reaction to Edmund's characterization of her as a creature of habit. He claims novelty has almost no power over her, but it has so much power for people like myself, and for other literary heroines, such as Emma Woodhouse, Jane Eyre, or Maggie Tulliver." Well, it turns out that a significant portion of Emsley's argument takes on Edmund's characterization and makes me ashamed to have questioned the sovereign lady's judgment.

Emsley's main thesis in this chapter is that Fanny is Austen's heroine who most achieves philosophic wisdom. She has been criticized as a weak character for her submissiveness and deference to others. In urging her to act gratefully and accept Henry Crawford, the Bertrams expect of her what Wollsonecraft called "spaniel-like virtues". However, it is the fact Fanny has been "long used to submission" yet still resists these urgings that proves her real strength. And while much is made of Edmund having formed her mind, in fact, we see her independent judgments growing more confident and more distinct from Edmund's as the novel progresses. This view is reinforced by her words to Henry describing a "better guide in ourselves" that all possess.

Emsley also brings out the fascinating metaphor, introduced in the chapel scene, of Mansfield Park as a nation. Edmund's moral failing, in not giving the example he has stated the clergy should, augurs ill for his model of a clergy-directed nation. Fanny, however, is an individual who departs from the stus quo in refusing to participate in the play. Austen's belief in the prerequisite of moral individuals is reinforced by Emsley's epigraph from "Catherine", which states that "the welfare of every nation depends on the virtue of it's [sic] individuals".

Here I return to Fanny's attitude toward novelty. Emsley proves -- especially through surveying Fanny's expressions about plants and the changing seasons -- that she is not without appreciation for novelty and change. In fact, it is those around her who stifle her rapturous expressions, through their indifference to "intellectual subjects" (121). For instance, Fanny attempts to engage Mary Crawford on the "wonderful ... changes of the human mind" but is met with silence. Nor does Fanny advocate habit merely for its own sake. In the scene in which Henry reads Shakespeare and discusses the art of sermons, Fanny approves of recent changes in the manner of their delivery.

Emsley has rendered the claim that Fanny is static invalid. Another character frequently criticized is Sir Thomas. Emsley sheds light on how we are to view Sir Thomas through comparing him with Mr Bennet. The former is "the longest to suffer" his family's disgrace due to "errors in his own conduct as a parent", while Mr Bennet acknowledges his family's disgrace as his "own doing", but is "not afraid of being overpowered by the impression". Sir Thomas and his son Tom are characters who have been morally indictable, but change. Fanny is a character whose consistent habit of contemplation -- both privately and in "community" when consulting her uncle -- has led to moral comfort (peace), and also to growth of personality and intellect.


*I've frequently expressed my hatred of Amis' essay "What Became of Jane Austen?" Emsley provided an excellent clue to where Amis went wrong. In her S&S chapter she points to Aristotle who "says that there is an important distinction between vice and moral weakness, the difference being that while vice is an imbalance of emotion that makes us unable to see that what we do is wrong, moral weakness is the state of knowing what is right, behaving wrongly, and being conscious of regret at falling short of practicing the virtues" (Emsley, 71) Isn't this an exact description of the difference between the Crawfords and Edmund?

**See "Frederic and Elfrida" (Seriously, what awful names, Miss Austen!)

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Pride and Prejudice and the Beauty of Justice

Growing up, I heard the word "judging" used frequently -- often pejoratively by those telling others in the church to stop worrying about other people's dress, adornment, and behavior. My mother would earnestly rejoin that while we cannot judge the heart, we must judge between right and wrong. What often got left out of these discussions was the necessity of careful judgment in pursuing justice. In Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues Sarah Emsley explores the role of judgment in treating others with justice.

Like Sense and Sensibility, Emsley views P&P as exploring the vital question of "how to be truthful and civil simultaneously" (83). However, the latter novel's dramatic plot combines Elizabeth's livelier personality  to heighten the tensions of the virtues, and to present what Emsley considers the best of Austen's "living arguments".

As "light, bright, and sparkling" as P&P is, it is a controversial novel. Feminist critics have devalued Austen's marriage plots as humiliations to the heroines and "complicit in bourgeois ideology" (85), while a host of male critics have been more appreciative. Nevertheless, every Janeite has at some point encountered the complaint that a novel set around the Napeolonic wars contains no politics. Emsley points to Aristotle's teaching that the question "How shall our life together be ordered?" is the "central issue of politics" (84). In this light, Austen is highly political in a way that trascends her time and touches the politics of our own. Ultimately, Emsley believes critics are a little too ready to take Austen's word on the "light, bright and sparkling" question, and fail to realize that this is actually "the most serious of Austen's novels..." (84). This view is reinforced by Plato's theory that the genius of tragedy is the same genius as that of comedy.

Emsley's explores righteous anger that seeks to "set things right"(89) and both enables, and springs from, the Christian love and joy displayed in the novels. Again, danger lies on both sides of the mean of good temper. Emsley contrasts Lady Catherine and Mr Collins as opposites -- he overreaches the mean with his obsequiousness, she with her cantankerous impertinence. Personally, I would argue that both are manifestations of their extreme selfishness, directed into seemingly opposite channels by their widely different social positions. An example of those who keep to the mean -- exercising judgment in their anger and civility -- are the Gardeners. They are willing to believe good of Mr Darcy quite readily, but are justly angry with Lydia when she arrives at their home, unrepentant and still-thoughtless.

Especially perspicacious is Emsley's explication of beneficial prejudice (perhaps comparable to proper pride) which leads Elizabeth to reject Mr Collins, while Jane, "apt to like people", might conceivably have accepted him. Elizabeth does not, after all, become so changed by her "just humiliation" as to become unjudgmental like Jane. Rather, Elizabeth and Darcy's early judgments are condemned because both both "judge others before they judge themselves" (95). Correct judgment involves looking closely at situations, judging one's self before judging others, and judging one's self more strictly. This process of correct judgment is an art, and therefore "harder to achieve than the correct execution of technical skill" (97). Emsley effectively demonstrates that "good judgment does not by any means come easily to Elizabeth" following her moment of discovery, but she does become less hasty in her pronouncements as the novel progresses (101).

We few, we happy few, we Janeites are especially fortunate in being able to enjoy Austen's balanced perspective on judgment. Characters in her novels who judge hastily and without humility are educated through their mistakes, but judgment remains vital to the heroines who navigate deceptions and pitfalls to achieve happy endings. Judgment is also the prerequisite to appreciating Austen's finely tuned sense of irony, which relies on the difference between what ought to be and what is. Lastly, judgment is vital to Austen's equally subtle sense of morality. Emsley concludes that critics Maskell and Robinson "are right that Jane Austen goes further than Socrates does in his suggestion that 'The unreasoned life.. is not worth living'; for Austen, 'a life without judgment... would not be a human life at all'" (105).

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues (3) Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility, Sarah Emsley posits, is about social virtues in tension with the virtue of honesty. Who among us can't think of some uncomfortable situation when we have been forced to speak, knowing honesty might wound? Emsley describes this problem thus: "In loving one's neighbor there is an inherent tension between respect and affirmation; that is, it is difficult to draw the line between being polite and sympathetic to someone, and being complicit with that person's behavior" (59). This is certainly true in S&S, in which it seems as if the Dashwood sisters are surrounded by the most vulgar, villainous, or cloying people imaginable. A balance must be struck through sympathy tempered by judgment.

Kind and friendly behavior is referred to in Austen's novels as amiability. Like the other virtues, it is a mean, with faults lying at both extremes. "The excess of amiability is obsequiousness... and the defect is cantankerousness" (62); S&S certainly has its share of characters - from Lucy Steele to Mrs Ferrars - falling on either side. In discussing the qualities of friendship and social life, Emsley brought my attention to a description of the Middletons that will now make me momentarily abandon my essay tone: "Continual engagements at home and abroad... supplied all the deficiencies of nature and education." Sorry if this is mean, but to me that's an exact representation of the Middleton family who feature so much in gossip columns today. ;)

 Emsley goes on to discuss whether virtue is best formed in contact with the world, or in isolation from it. In exploring this question she returns to the theologians à Kempis and Augustine who advocated separation from the world, but acknowledged that the monastic life is not for all. She then turns to "Areopagitica", concluding that Austen agrees with Milton that "knowledge and survey of vice... [are] necessary to the constituing of virtue." Austen demonstrates this belief in a number of ways. Elinor speaks to Colonel Brandon of Marianne's need for a "better acquaintance with the world".  Edward states that his foolish engagement to Lucy was the "consequence of ignorance of the world". This need for knowledge is, however, balanced by the conclusion "the world [has] made [Willoughby] extravagant and vain". Knowledge, therefore, is necessary to the formation of good judgment in the young, but utter license is destructive to their character.

One of my favorite insights in this chapter involves how Austen signals out Willoughby's seduction of Eliza Williams as the "origin" of all his other crimes. Emsley points out how "this is in contrast to [David] Hume's theory that a man's virtue can be more easily redeemed. Thus Austen's fiction might be seen as opposing Hume's double standard of virtue" (60).

Another striking, though simple, insight was the presentation of the virtues as a chain. "Self-knowledge may bring us to understand our faults, knowledge of how we have injured others may bring us to exert ourselves...[,] and the constant discipline... requires courage" (74). This idea of virtues that "cause and affect each other" (74) reminded me of 2 Peter 1. Perhaps that text is especially significant in the light of the foundation of religion in Austen's worldview: "Add to your faith virtue."

One thing I question is Emsley's conclusion that, unlike Marianne, Elinor is not "prepared to ask for divine grace" (81). Although it is true she does not do so as explicitly as Marianne, could it be because Marianne has "sinned" more publicly? To what degree must confession be public? (Emsley uses the term penance in referring to Marianne's behavior. Could this be a Catholic element in Austen, or is this merely part of Marianne's tendency to extremes?) These questions are very interesting, when we consider the fact that three heroines (Marianne, Elizabeth, and Elinor) experience identifiable times of repentance, while the less hasty heroines (Elinor, Fanny, and Anne) seem to have little for which to repent. Emsley explores these differences further in the following chapters, especially relating to Fanny, but perhaps part of the answer lies in a quote she cites from Alastair Duckworth suggesting that Elinor "does not so much evince a moral growth as a constant internal moral struggle" ("The Improvement of the Estates" 114).

This moral struggle remains in evidence as Emsley ends her discussion of the tension between honesty and amiability. She concludes that "by behaving civilly to other people, Elinor is closer to practicing the virtues than Marianne, because a virtue is no longer a virtue when the practice of it is unjustly harmful to others" (71).

(A note on quotes: I'm providing page numbers for Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues because I may wish to use these in future essays. I'm not providing page numbers for Austen's works, as they may all be easily searched on the internet.)

Monday, 8 July 2013

Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues (2): Propriety's Claims on Prudence

In the second chapter of Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues, Emsley discusses virtue in Austen's early works - Northanger Abbey and Lady Susan. Of course, any good Janeite will be quick to point out that the eponymous heroine of Lady Susan is entirely without virtue - possessed of the kind of shocking amorality that in later novels Austen is hesitant to assign even to the rakes. However, Lady Susan makes a great show of propriety -- leaving the Manwarings' house, or being a model of feminine reserve to Reginald DeCourcy - to cover her selfishness and immorality. Emsley points out the ghastly degree of Lady Susan's immorality when she encourages her friend Alicia to bring on the death of the feeble Mrs Manwearing "through irritating her feelings".

Feminist critics have sometimes viewed LS as Austen's exploration of female power, a theme patriarchal influences forced her to discontinue pursuing in her later works. Emsey agrees "that Lady Susan criticizes female power," but posits "the heroine's pursuit of virtue in [the] later novels as a quest for a different kind of power. Given that older definitions of virtue (or vertu) had to do with strength and power, it is important to emphasize that the virtues are moral excellences, and therefore may be seen as more powerful than aggression or manipulation" (48).

Lady Susan is an inherently amoral character who uses propriety to cover her villainy. In contrast, Emsley views Catherine Morland of NA as an innately virtuous heroine, who must learn the proprieties of society. For example, Catherine would consider it a sacrifice to ride with the Thorpes rather than walk with the Tilneys. In contrast to George Eliot who once stated that "All self-sacrifice is good", in this instance Austen upholds the propriety of following through with the first engagement. For Austen "the morality of sacrifice depends on what the sacrifice is for... In Northanger Abbey... Austen tests sacrifice against loyalty, honesty against propriety, and authority against natural inclination" (54).

While I agree with the analysis of Catherine's innate sense of honesty as vital to her actions and character, I think there may be room for a little more exploration of her terrible surmises and consequent moment of shame. This chapter is Emsley's weakest (though I'd still give it an A), probably because it deals with works Austen wrote at a young age. Among Austen's ouvre, NA seems most influenced by contemporary sentimental novels and Emsley acknowledges that "later Austen heroines will have to think more, struggle more, and suffer for more than ten minutes or one dark night in a scary room" (55).   Emsley's analysis focuses primarily on a couple of Catherine's interactions with the Thorpes and Tilneys in Bath, without exploring the gothic elements introduced at the Abbey. Although something of an off-shoot from discussing specific virtues, the exploration might be expanded by a look into the moral implications of imagination and sentimentality.

Despite its slimness, this chapter also provides some fabulous incites into Austen's originality. For example, "That villains can be ordinary people is radical, just as the idea that heroines can be ordinary people is radical" (55). That's why NA is another wonderful examplar of Austen's lessons for us today. Today in my ordinariness, I can be a heroine. Like Catherine I can acknowledge my mistakes and then take comfort in Austen's declaration, "She had nothing to do but to forgive herself and be happier than ever."

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues (Introduction and Chapter 1)

As every true bookworm knows, there are two kinds of books: the ones we read, and the ones that read us. Bronson Alcott described the latter kind when he wrote of The Pilgrim's Progress, "This is one of the few books that showed me to myself." Such a book is Sarah Emsley's Jane Austen's Philosophy of the Virtues. It's a work of literary criticism that I've long been eager to read. I owe my lovely friend Esther an immense debt of gratitude for lending her copy to me (and for not bugging me about why I haven't finished and posted sooner.)

Emsley's theses is that Austen participates in the tradition of "virtue ethics" developed by philosophers and theologians over the centuries. Especially prominent in the development of this tradition is Aristotle, for whom the telos [end or goal] of virtue is "human flourishing". This view is reinforced by the cardinal virtues of the early philosophers: justice, temperance, prudence, and fortitude. Combined with the Christian (or Theological) virtues - faith, hope, and love - these present flexible guide to living the good life. Emsley presents the primary concern of Austen's heroines not as "Who shall I marry? but as "How shall I live my life?" Contemplation and practice of the virtues will produce a flourishing life. However, such a life requires practice and effort, since "for Austen, as for Aristotle, virtue is a disposition and is chosen, acquired, and practiced through habit..." (Emsley 18)

Through presenting Austen as concerned with happiness attained through virtue, Emsley immediately confronts popular criticism that emphasizes the humiliation of the heroines as harmful, and strong Christian mores as antithetical to happiness. Gilbert and Gubar were among the feminist critics who spearheaded this view of Austen's universe, leading many subsequent feminist critics to maintain a strong interest in Austen, while disparaging the endings of her novels. However, I'm glad to say Emsley also shows herself sympathetic to true forms of women's equality, through her references to Wollstonecraft's criticism of the "spaniel-like virtues" expected of women in the 18th century.

While Emsley acknowledges the lack of much explicit Christianity in Austen's works, she points out that the tradition of virtues was expanded by Aquinas and Augustine. She suggests that since Protestants tended to "downplay Catholic catalogues of specific vices and virtues" (31), Austen's Catholic sympathies in "The History of England" might extend to her philosophical emphasis on the virtues. Despite her interest in the specific virtues, Austen does not see them as items on a list to be checked off. (An example of this type of thinking is Benjamin Franklin's list of 13 virtues - one to work on each week - which has been described as "secular Calvanism".) Nor does Austen view virtue in the narrow form it was equated with in her day - as female sexual purity, or a "state of being that could be acted on by others" (35). Rather, for Austen, individual deliberation and judgment are vital in all circumstances, for vice may lie on either side of the mean of virtue. "It is the right kind of actions, at the right time, and in the right way, that constitute virtuous behavior..." (40).

Reading the Introduction and first chapter of this book helped to acquaint me more intimately with several philosophers, but it also "showed me to myself" through making me think more deeply about my own judgments of virtues and morals, and about how I walk the mean of virtue.

On Rachel Held Evans' "A Year of Biblical Womanhood"

"If a woman was pastor of our church, I wouldn't go," my grandma declares over Sabbath-evening supper. "I'd stay at home for church."

"Then you'd be leading the service," I tease. "You'd have to get a man to read aloud to obey Paul."

"You know what that passage really means don't you?" Aunty L asks and proceeds to give the traditional Adventist interpretation of how in those days men and women sat in separate sections of the synagogue and services were being disrupted by women shouting questions to their husbands. Nobody acknowledges the irony as we put that injunction of Paul's firmly in its cultural context, but go on to declare we know that Doug Bachelor will present the "Biblical view" to the SDA ordination committee. (The "Biblical view" being that since no female priests served in the tabernacle, no woman should be ordained to gospel ministry today. To my knowledge none of the men ordained at camp-meeting last year were descendents of Aaron, or of the tribe of Levi.)

When I was 16 I went to a conservative Adventist "family camp" that emphasized character building and family issues. The year before the speakers had taught what I later learned is an aspect of Christian Patriarchy - girls shouldn't hold jobs outside of the home. This year I covertly watched a family whose "patriarch" had decreed that the women of the family could not go to church during their periods. They were obviously fanatical. (Although three years before I might have agreed with them on the "Thou shalt only wear long skirts and dresses" addition to the Decalogue.*) I provide these anecdotes to show that in a conservative Adventist family, I grew up in a culture - like the larger Evangelical culture - very concerned with "Biblical womanhood", but filled with disparate interpretations and practices.

It is these baffling varieties of "Biblical womanhood" and the attitudes and assumptions that led to their formation that Held Evans' takes apart in her best seller. It's a hilariously funny book and her experiments in following various texts - from camping in a tent during her period to mothering a battery-operated baby - have laid her open to charges of mockery and attempting to destroy Christianity. However, like all good comedy, the book is gravely serious: the "burdens, grevious to be born" laid on women through unbending expectations, the theologies that foster abuse (i.e. Miachel and Debi Pearl's teachings), and the poverty experienced by women worldwide.

The book demonstrates that we all - fundamentalists and progressives, complementarians and egalitarians, alike - need to learn that God's dealings with humankind represent principles more often than rules. Any good Bible students knows the pronouncements and stories of the Old Testament condemning intermarriage between Hebrews and the heathen. But God isn't confined - He holds up the courage of foreigners Ruth and Rahab, and makes them part of the line of Christ. Or there's the fact that according to the Levitical code, the woman with the issue of blood was not allowed to touch Jesus, but He praised her counter-culture act of faith.

Held Evans also points out imperfect translations of Greek and Hebrew words that have influenced traditional understandings for centuries. For example, the Greek word kosmios translated as modest in 1Tim 2, is translated more perfectly as self-controlled when pertaining to the qualities of a bishop in the following chapter.

This leads me to why I'm a little afraid sometimes to speak my doubts on difficult scripture passages. I'm a Protestsant; I grew up on Luther's "Except I am persuaded by the testimony of scripture or by plain reason..." I don't want to take the Bible lightly, or to be seen as doing so. However, in that reformation statement is the twin of Sola Scriptura: The priesthood of all believers. From Luther pointing Zwingle to his HOC EST MEUM CORPUS on the tablecloth, to my suspicions of the centring prayer practises Held Evans - like many progressives - advocates, disagreement has not only been rife, but necessary. These disagreements, these "Where in the world did she get that idea?" moments as I read this book sent me flipping through my Bible. I'd consider that an indication of a book being worth reading.

Sometimes in the Bible's countless difficult texts we forget the unequivocal "The greatest of these is love." That's why Held Evans' chapter on her trip to Bolivia with World Vision was my favorite. In it she introduces us to Elena, living in a remote mountain village, sunk from poverty into indigence by her husband's disabling stroke. Yet, in conditions that would make most of us beg for aid, she has given aid. She shares with her adopted daughter, Arminda, her 'mite' - quite literally a dwelling with the pigs.

In conclusion, I will continue to question and agonize over scriptural interpretation, gender roles, and cultural responsibility. I trust Rachel Held Evans will too. (Although she was in contact with a practicing Jewish woman throughout her experiment, she may want to look into concerns about appropriation of Jewish language and customs before she continues celebrating festivals and blowing shofars in her home.) Yet despite differences and questions, I will continue to champion with her the healing truths that reach out to all - women, men, conservatives, liberals, Mary Magdalenes and Simons - as described in Held Evans' words:

What I love about the ministry of Jesus is that he identified the poor as blessed and the rich as needy... and then he went and ministered to them both. This, I think, is the difference between charity and justice. Justice means moving beyond the dichotomy between those who need and those who supply and confronting the frightening and beautiful reality that we desperately need one another.
 That's what I love about the Kingdom: For the poor there is food. For the rich, there is joy. For all of us, there is grace. 

* I still wear long skirts and dresses to church and camp-meeting. But now it's largely because they hide the hair on my legs, rather than because it makes me more holy.