Monday, December 17, 2007

An Interview with Ginger Garrett: Desiring Beauty, Wanting to be Loved

I've met a woman named Ginger Garrett who has carved a niche in ancient women's history. She co-hosts the cable television show Deeper Living, has authored six books and in the last few months has championed my book, Ruby Slippers. Read her review of Ruby Slippers on her blog (Fri, Nov 9).

I met Ginger through an email correspondence, where she proved to be a great source to investigate that interesting connection between women, beauty and God. She knows our hunger for beauty, our lack of satisfaction with our own bodies.

A Unique Voice

But here’s where Ginger stands apart from other Christian speakers and secular speakers. Ginger values the beauty secrets that affect both the soul and the body. She is my source for new skin care ideas (like honey-Wed Oct 17) and high boots that are customized for each women's calves (Wed Nov 21)). She’s also my source for the history of women’s beauty treatments of the Bible. Her recent book, Beauty Secrets of the Bible, is available from her website. You might enjoy finding out by listening here that Biblical women had glitter eye-shadow, too. They weren’t quite as backward as we often think!

I caught up with Ginger to ask her some questions about the intersection of physical beauty and spirituality.

Interviewing Ginger

Hi Ginger! You once told me that there is a spirit/beauty connection. That piqued my interest. What sort of connection have you noticed in your writing and speaking to women?

Ginger: Americans spend about 150 billion on our appearance annually; that’s more than the government spends to cure AIDS, breast cancer, prostate cancer and diabetes combined. Yet, only 2% of American women would call themselves beautiful. We’re spending large sums of money to pursue something we don’t seem to ever actually get. This tells me the hunger for beauty is, indeed, spiritual, and cannot be satisfied with purchased products.

Have you found women who seek for beauty to also be more open to God? Why do you think that is?

Well, beauty is hard to define, isn’t it? It’s as much about a feeling as it is an appearance. It’s curious that the Bible references many beautiful women, and yet never describes what any of them look like. Even there, I think God’s message is that there is no one expression of His beauty. Diversity is His signature.

So the pursuit of beauty challenges every woman’s faith at some point. Is she, too, a wonderfully different expression of beauty? She must decide if she can love herself as she is, if she will be “enough.” That’s a scary risk to take, and prompts the natural question: do I trust God?

You mentioned that there’s a fabulous, but under-taught, story connected to the Exodus that talks about women and beauty. What is this story?

Ginger: When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, the men would go out and labor in grueling conditions, being whipped and treated like dogs. Jewish rabbis teach that the women used their beauty to “rescue” the men from the effects of slavery.

When men returned at night from the inhumane treatment, their wives greeted them looking like brides, sweet-smelling and lovely, without speaking a word, the women communicated to the men that they were honored, loved men, not worthless slaves.

Of course, God freed the people from slavery. But we see beauty re-surfacing in Exodus 38:8. When the time came to construct the first Tabernacle for God, the women donated their mirrors. The mirrors were a symbol to the women that their physical beauty had been used to honor God and defy evil.

I love the way you’ve given me new eyes to see the mirror donation as a way the women honored their God. It’s so different from what I have grown up believing, that mirrors are stumbling blocks and quick roads to vanity. I looked up Exodus 38:8 in my Bible and I had scribbled a sermon note into the margin. It read “women sacrifice vanity for a pure object.” How would you defend your interpretation if someone were to say that there is no “proof” that women were using these mirrors to honor God and defy evil?

Ginger: Like many sacred points of interest in Scripture, there is no further biblical teaching on the text. I rely on both Jewish midrash, (the traditional teachings of the Jewish faith) and what we know about this time in Israel’s history. They were leaving captivity in Egypt, a culture that venerated beauty and spent a great deal of their time and money cultivating it.

So the Israelite women were being set free from a culture that had enslaved them, a culture that worshipped physical beauty but not Yahweh. We can imagine that living in “the land of beautiful people” had only heightened their awareness of their own appearance.

That reminds me of the culture in most urban centers, where you must get "dressed up" to go shopping at the mall. I can see how the Egyptian culture could have been worked into the Hebrew women’s worldview and what a meaningful sacrifice the mirrors would be.

Ginger: Whether we rely on Jewish historical teaching, or simply apply common sense, we are left with the haunting image of women escaping this slavery who worshipped God by giving away their mirrors. The symbolism is rich and empowering, and I don’t believe it could be coincidental that this act was specifically called out in Scripture.

In our weight-obsessed culture, imagine if every woman on your street donated her scale so that the materials could be salvaged for building churches and shelters across the world. It would change the face of our culture and immediately put body image into its proper perspective. This is, in effect, what I believe the Israelite women did, and I can only imagine how sweet that final freedom tasted.

I like the parallel of donating scales. Even today, though, a “fast from mirrors” can be so helpful. When I’ve taken up that fast, even for only 24 hours, it has made a difference in how I view myself, other women and God.

What would you say is the reason women hunger to be beautiful? Do you find men hungering for this, too?

Ginger: A study was done by Joan Jacobs Brumberg comparing the diaries of Victorian girls to the girls of today.

In the Victorian Age, young girls believed the path to love and fulfillment was to be found in Christian deeds and morals. Appearance was downplayed in comparison to character. Today, Christian character is not the universal standard for gaining acceptance. As a result, girls funnel all their energy into their appearance, and a new generation of women dissatisfied with their appearance emerges.

Beauty is ultimately a quest for love. We think if were beautiful, we’ll be loved. When we’re standing at the cosmetics counter, we’re really trying to buy a feeling, not a product. That’s why we feel euphoric to find the perfect face cream, and six weeks later are scouting for a new one again. The high doesn’t last, and the cosmetics companies know this.

What we really want is lasting proof that we’re loveable and acceptable.

Men want this reassurance, too, of course. The pressure used to focus on their ability to provide a standard of living for women. Now women can provide our own finances, and we’re seeing men attacked more and more for their appearance. We’re seeing everything from calf implants to instant abs through liposuction, plus diet plans and “manscaping.” Poor men! They will rue the day we invented body wax!

Friday, December 14, 2007

A New Book Project

Susy Flory finished up her interview with me covering two questions. I wanted to share the last question with you. You can read the entire interview at Susy's Blog.

What’s next for you Jonalyn? Is there another book in the works, I hope?

A. I’m glad you want to read more. That’s so encouraging!

I want to write about how prejudice is overcome in friendship. I’ve been around too many women who are threatened by me and who shut the doors of legitimacy or support in my face because I’m too young, too thin, too articulate, too inexperienced, too whatever. I don’t fit theLored_shoes810680 kind of woman they want to meet and support. That’s a problem in them, but it’s also a problem in me. I have that same sort of tendency to pre-judge those who are different, the disabled woman, the single woman, the pastor’s wives, the perfect homemakers, the models, the old women, the young teeny-boppers, the missionaries, the house-keepers. It’s time for me to grow into seeing how God values all of us, in our differences.

So the next book project is about meeting these women we love to hate, getting to know why we hate them and how we can move into respect and love. The working title is Walking in Her Shoes. I’m excited to walk with God into this new territory.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Human Side of Prostitution: Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy

There are women who walk in the night, hawking their wares of body. Women who sell their bodies are often despised as debauched members of society or pitied as abused victims of society. Either way misses that these are humans who are drawn to the life of prostitution for similar reasons that a lonely woman is drawn to buy a fur coat, it helps her feel warm and valuable. I have not met an author (at least not since Dostoevsky and Tolstoy) who faces the fact that many women choose their victimization.

A New Book
I've discovered a book you must know about, Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy by Rumer Godden (1907-1998). Godden, a prolific author, writes beautifully of nuns. Not just any nuns, but nuns who were once women in hellish lives. Godden has shown me more of the nature of God by "wrapping it in a nun's habit and then unmasking it." (Introduction by Joan Chittister).

The Sisters of Bethany
This jewel of a story is built on the real story of a real convent, The Sisters of Bethany, a unique Dominican Third Order of the Congregation of Saint Mary Magdalen, nuns who come from prison to join the order. An order dreamed and built up by Pere Marie Jean Joseph Lataste in the 1860's. Godden's story, set in France immediately after World War II, follows the coming of age of Lise, a beautiful English girl, who finds herself compelled and attracted to the rich, smooth-talking Patrice. Lise's downward spiral is unique mainly because we see each step as willfully chosen, we understand her life as something Lise wants. The Catholic tradition of blurring the lines between Mary of Bethany (the one who sat at Jesus' feet) with Mary of Magdalene (the woman who had seven demons and was first to see Christ at the tomb) with the Mary who was a sinner and anointed Jesus' feet is worked throughout Godden's narrative. We see that Lise feels like all these Marys. We see that we identity with all the Mary's, the sinner, the first witness, the disciple, all longing for Christ's healing.

Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy is worth reading this Christmas, for it shows the significant depth a human can fall, it shows what it means to be human and horrid, and what it means to move out of abuse into life because of the persistent mercy of God.

For Those Who Love Women
It is a haunting story, but not gratuitous as it reaches into depravities of sex and violence. Godden opens up the darkness in the human soul, but always for the sake of understanding, compassion and hope. If you counsel, teach, raise or love young women, this is a must read.

Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy has been reprinted by Loyola Press. I found it in Bas Blue, (bä blũ French, blue stocking, a literary woman; a bluestocking) bookseller-by-post. Bas Blue is the self-proclaimed "champion of the odd little book." This odd little book will make an indelible mark on you. For purchasing information: Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy, I'd suggest that you patron Bas Blue, rather than Amazon, as it's a chance to promote a bookseller than hunts for good reads.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Was it God's Plan for the Church to Repress Women?

I thought you'd enjoy another question from the conversation I had with Susy Flory about my book, Ruby Slippers. This one covers a controversial question, "Is Christianity really good news for women?" Read her entire interview here.

Susy Flory's Q: Many of the women who are embracing goddess spirituality point to the church’s ill treatment and repression of women. Was this part of God’s plan? Where did we get off track?

Jonalyn's Answer. God never intended his people to abuse one another. I imagine his pain when he watched the Jewish people suffering during the Holocaust or the unnecessary pain women were forced to endure labor as anesthesia was withheld from them during birth to “enforce” the curse. God hates abuse. But we cannot judge a thing by its abuse, especially the church.

Part of the reason I’m so impressed with Christianity is due to the way its founder, Jesus, treats women. Put Christ up against any other major religion’s founder, Mohammed, Joseph Smith, T.C. Russell or Siddhartha Buddha and you find his dignity for a woman body and soul to surpass all of the others in life and teachings. Most religions either magnify the male over the female or the female over the male, or they emphasize body over the soul or the soul over the body. I find refreshment in the Creation Story of the Bible because God created men and women to both need one another in body and soul. It affirms my intuitions, my reason and my experience.

The reason the church and any of these groups “got off track” is due to either exaggerating differences between the sexes to the point of devaluing the gender (usually women) who were different, or flattening the differences so that we don’t need each other. We will not value someone unless we recognize we need them. Valuing a different ethnicity or gender is just political genuflecting unless we realize we are deficient in something this group offers. If we really believed women, for instance, would bring necessary insights to preaching or decision making we would not have to make laws forcing companies or churches to hire them. We would promote them out of sheer concern to “get the bigger picture” and to understand reality more fully.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ruby Slippers Blog Interview by Susy Flory

Christian author and speaker,Susy Flory's mission is "reflecting light into the culture's dark corners." She has written about the problems of Wicca and Goddess worship in Today's Christian Woman, "The Goddess Unmasked" and is currently working on a book entitled Unmasking the Goddess: What Every Woman Needs to Know about Goddess Spirituality.

Susy wrote me a few weeks back, enthusiastic about her discovery of Ruby Slippers and curious about the intersection of Goddess Worship and the Woman's Soul. Today (Dec 4th) she posted the first installment of her dialog with me. To read the entire post see her blog. Susy Flory writes:

Try on these ruby slippers!

"Christianity...endowed the human female with a soul." (Simone De Beauvoir, quoted in Ruby Slippers)

There's a buzz growing about a new book called Ruby Slippers: How the soul of a woman brings herRuby_slippers home. A blogger friend of mine recently voted Ruby Slippers the best nonfiction book of 2007. Why? The author, Jonalyn Fincher, fearlessly tackles the core question of what it means to be a woman, helping us to sort out the truth from the competing voices telling us that femininity is all about glass slippers, romances, modesty, submission, and babies. Yes...there is more! What does it really mean to be feminine? What are God's ideas about womanhood? What does it mean that Jesus redeemed women as well as men?

Although she's a busy writer and speaker, I recently caught up with Jonalyn for a few questions... Read more at Susy's Blog.