Friday, December 26, 2008

Havah: The Story of Eve- Book Review

In writing Ruby Slippers, I often imagined what life would have been like for the first women, what her experiences would have been of God, of Man, of the earth. For to understand Eve is to understand much of who we are as women, East of Eden, today.

Would she have been stronger? Would she have been fuller, richer, more fitted to this earth than her daughters feel now? Was did the judgement do to her?

Every once in awhile you stumble upon a book that holds all the hope and imaginative power that you longed for. I have found Eve's story in Tosca Lee's new novel, Havah: The Story of Eve. As sumptuous as Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, but distinct in that Lee is theologically accurate (she does not depart from the Biblical text--something so rare and exquisite to find in a well-written novel today). It is so good that I urge you to go out and borrow, buy, but by all means read this new book.

The story is rich with dignity for the first woman, Havah, a name Lee uses for Eve, a name that sounds like the gasp and exhalation of breath. Lee gives us the story from her perspective, how she awakes for the first time and is known by God and by Man. It is replete with her sense of being needed on earth, with the mutual partnership between the first man and woman and the total effacing power of the first judgment on their lives.

This book begins with these words,
"I have seen paradise and ruin. I have known bliss and terror.
I have walked with God."

This is an Eve that knows God, not just mediated through Adam's words, but through her own experience, her own walks and runs (as you'll see) with God. Lee draws on historical research, theological insight, apologetic depth to show us: how woman was meant to be, the romance between equals, the way the first Adam reflected her first love, God himself. How Havah could say after Adam "I knew then he was as much mine as I was his." How all creation constantly hummed with communication to one another. How man and woman could speak without words.

Lee walks us through Eden where we can understand how the serpent could have beguiled her so well, the attractiveness of his words, his wisdom. She shows how the Man was with her when she ate and how he could have eaten along with her. She explains the sinless hunger for each other's bodies and souls in the first time a man and woman made love, made a home together in Eden.

And it's all in a novel! So that means it was a delight to read. I scarfed it down in a week, making furious notes, noting how much really changed by the judgment. I particularly appreciated how subtly Lee shows us the beginning of sin in human society, relationships, how men began to use their wives and failed to see them as co-image bearers. How idolatry crops up, how Havah and Adam are afraid to speak of what they had lost. All of it, the first sacrifice, the first murder, the first marriage are understandable, relatable, horrible and yet we do not feel angry, only the pain and depth of the sin. We are living beyond the valley of Eden, we are thick in the sin, her judgment. In so many ways we are living Havah's story today.

And yet, a pin-prick of light remains in Havah's life, when Adam, even in his last days, buries his head in her neck and whispers, "I can still taste the earth of that valley in you." She is the last piece of paradies to her, and he to him. And yet for most of the novel, their silence, their broken communication will rend your heart. It clawed at all that I longed for for them, it tortures you as you read of their life outside the valley of Eden, this unbearable weight of separation. The two can rarely be one flesh. When Havah, in the last, pages, dies, still outside the garden where she was made to live in forever, you glimpse a hope. But I will leave that for you to discover.

Read this for a refreshment of how we were first made to walk, how we now limp and how we all hunger for the redemption of everything we know, our bodies, our souls, our relationships, our earth.

My favorite scene was near the beginning with Havah learns she can run with all the eagerness and bold self-knowledge of a woman who needs neither modesty or restraint,

"I raced across the southern hills, leaping rock and shrub and stream. I was a great runner. I lifted my knees high as I hurdled shrub and bush and stream. Laughter bubbled up from my belly as I took to the foothills, past the grazing onager. It brayed after me, and the sound was like laughter. I knew the adam watched me from below, and that the exuberance of my legs and quickness of my breath accelerated his heart. I knew, too, when he launched after me, but he was no match for my start or my speed. Only Levia, the lioness, was my equal.

I bounded down the hills toward the valley floor. It was midday, and the sun was hot upon me, and its rays loved me, warming the dark honey of my skin, beading sweat between my breasts and among the hairs at my nape. I was small-breasted then, lean as the new colts.

See me!
My soul shouted. Watch me run! I ran through the valley like the wind through the meadow in spring. I was tireless, euphoric at my great strength and with the One who had given it to me. I ran faster and faster--faster than I have seen any woman or man run since.

In my soul I heard laughter--first of the adam, from where I left him in the meadow--but more brightly and keenly--of God. Then--oh, great mystery, such a moment! There came a rush of wind and warmth that was not the sun. It was at my shoulder, in my ear and my face: the One that Is, running alongside me, his laughter honey in my ear" (Havah, p 38).

It made me hunger for my God and ache for the redemption of all things.

Stay tuned for next time, an interview with Tosca Lee.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Economy and Dancing with Dale

Men and women are facing the economic recession differently. Where men are hurting, women are finding their jobs holding, opportunities expanding. Last week, The Boston Globe's Robert Gavin wrote that the recession is predominately male (see "Losing Jobs in Inequal Numbers"). The job lost might be white or blue collar. Over 1 million men have lost their jobs, but 12,000 more women are working.

As a woman who loves her brothers, her fathers, her sons in the body of Christ I want to do something with this knowledge.

Yesterday was my husband's birthday. In honor of him and the many men we love beyond their ability to provide money for us, I want to focus on something unique about men. I want to show the way men provide themselves to us. I want to spotlight the way one man has given the best gift to me, a gift that is distinct from providing money, the gift of himself.


We've been married nearly 7 years, Dale and I. I've been regularly dazzled by the depth of this man, who he is, how he shapes me, how he is taught and changed by me, how love twines our lives together.


And love helps me both know and receive Dale for who he is, not what I long for him to be. I mean, the same guy I wake up next to, the man who travels and speaks alongside me, is the man who fails, listens, grumbles, creates, argues and loves me. Can I receive his gifts to me, the gifts that have much more to do with Dale's soul and body working in love than they have to do with money . . . .


Take our non-profit, Soulation. Dale runs almost everything. He is our accountant, travel-agent, resident researcher, sound technician (until recently he edited all our talks), video operator, web-technician, he updates our calendar, our new biographies, our pictures, he files for our non-profit status, he navigates the IRS law to ensure we're both writing off all true tax-deductible receipts, he writes all the code for our website (he'd say he's just a great copy-paster, but I know he has to hunt up that code somewhere and find the beginning and end--no small task for a novice and then integrate it into our Soulation site).


Dale intentionally invited me to do Soulation with him, wanting to share the spotlight with me on the stage, allowing his airtime to be cut in half because he believes in partnership on the road. This gift is beyond the diamond in my engagement ring.


In our home, I watch Dale keep spaces clear because he knows how clutter plagues my creativity. He shares in the task of walking our brood of corgis, the Ladies. He cleans alongside me, he researches and fixes items around the house, and keeps up on new projects. This gift is more than a cruise to the Mediterranean.


Take our friendships. Dale is an amazing conversationalist. I have a litmus test that if you cannot get along with my husband, you can't get along with anyone. He is full of grace and understanding, he knows how to listen, well. This gift means we can enter a room as a couple and find friends swiftly and pleasantly. This gift means more to me than a pair of deliciously sexy shoes.


In our marriage, I can trust that Dale really knows me, my interests and he knows how to add them to his own. He has watched and really liked the classics I keep adding to our Netflix list, he will switch plans last minute to go to a

restaurant I'd prefer. He consults me about absolutely everything, not that we always agree, but we always discuss it. Dale refuses to be less of himself in our argument, like when we talk about how I want to have children and he believes we must wait for the sake of helping care for souls in this world. I feel known by my husband, known and understood and this is why I can find deep satisfaction in what I do and who I am loved by, even here on the eve of the 1st anniversary of losing our baby.


I have a marriage where more has happened, more doors have been opened for me than I could have ever dreamed up.... and to think I almost married someone else.


Dale's only real fault is that he won't dance with me in public. And we go round and round about it. How I wonder if in my aging years, if God takes him from me, will I be one of those elderly women who sign-up for the community dance class, where I will be matched up with a young, pimply college student trying to earn some extra bucks teaching old ladies how to dance. Will my dancing debut find me with knees cracking and my figure sagging.


I've told Dale about my wonderings. And it troubles him every time we pass a senior citizen center that offers dance classes. He doesn't like the picture.


But, I tell him, you're the only thing keeping me from learning to dance now. And I roll him one of my insistent, pleading looks. He sits unhappily, unbudgingly.


And I sigh, dramatically. But soon lean over and kiss him on the cheek.


I really do think he is the world's best man.


This Christmas I want to learn to see our sparring matches about everything that matters to us, about philosophy and religion, about emotional health and investing, about designing our Retreat Center and Soulation and corgis as our dance.


Soul dancing with Dale...


As Christmas draws near, let me play the herald's role and sound the clarion call to women everywhere to honor the partners God has given them, to measure a man's success, not by his job, or by how well he meets our expectations, but to measure the man by his soul. May this recession help us accept the gift of the men who love us.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tidbits in My Tummy

Syndicated from Gifted for Leadership

Food, glorious food! It’s the time of year for eating. I imagine most of our Thanksgiving turkey gobbled up and the leftovers transformed into dishes like Real Simple’s recommendation: turkey barbeque sandwiches.


Food and Power


Food has power over our health. Earlier this week my husband, Dale, re-lived the poisonous side of food. His favorite meal, pizza, was ruined. It was, unfortunately, during the wee hours of the morning, at the start of our long drive from Los Angeles to home in Colorado. The food poisoning he experienced completely overhauled his body, leaving him weak, annoyed by the embarrassing inconvenience.


Food has power to unite us. Earlier this year Dale and I started a house church with another family. We have three rules, we eat together, we pray together and we share spiritual and financial resources together. The church has since doubled in size. Every week we rotate who will host, who will provide the main dish and who will cook up our “soul food.” So far, I’ve learned more about how to follow Jesus, more about love and unity than I’ve learned in years spent in my church pew. Even the kids participate.


Food and Gossip


One week after discussing gossip during house church, I was giving piano lessons to the youngest member, a ten year old boy named Peter. He told me a story about an annoying neighborhood dog, imitating the dog’s yeowl so convincingly that we both burst into giggles. Then, he paused and sheepishly looked up at me. “I guess I’ve just gossiped about him.” I explained that I wasn’t sure gossip applied to dogs, but I was glad he cared about speaking unkindly about others.


Our house church’s conversation of gossip took place in one of our first meetings. It was while we were polishing off these amazing crème brûlèe desserts. We ate and struggled together to come up with a definition for gossip. One teen daughter defined gossip as saying anything behind a person’s back that you wouldn’t say to their face. Two of the fathers agreed that gossip was that speaking when you’re not part of the problem or the solution. I read a few verses to share a Biblical idea of gossip.


One from Proverbs has since stuck with me, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts” (18:8 and 26:22). We batted around that “choice morsels” phrase trying to live in the metaphor. One twenty-something, made the observation that “choice morsels” of food go down into our bellies and are then distributed throughout our bodies. Just like food actually becomes part of us, so gossip becomes part of us. Gossip is often delicious. But like poisoned pizza: tasty when it goes down yet runs havoc through our veins.


When I gossip it changes me. What may have started as a small misunderstanding grows larger the more I share it. I become more vested in my point of view. Since that house church meeting, I’ve been using the Tasty Moral Test to watch my motivations before I speak of another person.


Tasty Morsel Test

1- Am I hungry for a treat or for a meal? I’ll often share or listen to something because I’m excited about a tasty little nugget, not because I’m really hungry to help, hungry to forgive, hungry to lay down my life for this person.


2- Will this knowledge sit in my soul as poison or nourishment? Once I share or hear this, will it help me love and sustain the people involved? Or will it leave me with a sour taste about them, poisoning my ability to help them?


3- Will I roil, churn and want to belch this stuff out? Crude as it may sound, one tried and true test for gossip is how quickly I want to unload it.



We need hearty soul food. With Christmas pressure to ramp up family and ministry activities we will be sorely tempted to put tasty little tidbits in our souls. Let’s nourish our souls with meals that sustain us so that we are healthy enough to share

Friday, November 21, 2008

When Perfection is Un-Human

There is a raging new interest in vampires this weekend, at least for those inclined to go see the new movie, Twilight, Stephenie Meyer's story that in book form sold 1.3 million. These 'paranormal romances' or 'urban fantasies' spin around human females falling in love with supernatural beings (vampires, gods, fairies, werewolves) .

The Perfect Man
I have not seen the movie, but I'd like to point out that a common theme exists in these vampire romances. The heroine is captivated by the perfect man: lovely body, rich, well-dressed and someone better than her, a man both strong and consuming. This is a formula the Bronte sisters introduced in the characters of Heathcliff (Wuthering Heights) and Mr. Rochester (Jane Eyre). Men who were passionate, gifted in lifting their beloved into irrational, but sumptuous heights of erotic love. Men who were powerful, rich, darkly handsome, mysterious, even controlling sometimes cruel, but so dang sexy. They were irrisistible.

Old-Fashioned Romance
And so is the vampire of today's tween and teen fixation. Laura Miller in the Wall Street Journal's article "Real Men Have Fangs" notes that vampires offer "old fashioned romance in the arms of an alpha male." Vampires are permitted some old-fashioned controlling and overprotective vices. Vampires are centuries old (this was news to me) and perhaps haven't adapted to the modern notions of equality between the sexes. And they are, after all, superhuman, so they can offer and demand more than a 'mere' human male should or even could now a days. Vampires let women enjoy a romance from the era of Jane Eyre, while living in the 21st century. As Laura Miller admits "the nagging longing to be plucked from the ashes and exalted by an exceptional, masterful man remains hard for contemporary women to exorcise."

The Daughters of Eve
Miller's words point to something that still plagues the daughters of Eve. "Your desire shall be for your husband and he will rule over you" (Gen 3:16). As modern and updated as we look, we still slide easily into living this reality. As I've said elsewhere, if this is a judgment of God then we do not need to enforce it. We'll find this state of things everywhere we look: women longing for their man and men ruling women, and neither interested in fixing the problem.

I have a theory that popular literature (be it Captivating or Twilight) feeds this zeitgeist by (respectively) dressing it up with Bible verses or entrancing us with eroticism. Both underscore our conviction that this is just the way men and women behave, these are the longings we have been dealt--and God means us to live this judgment. (For my argument against this conviction see the last chapter in Ruby Slippers).

Unequals

Deep down I believe most women struggle with a desire to be exalted by a man mysterious and otherworldly (be it Lydia's Wickham, Jasmine's Alladin or Bella's Edward in Twilight), a man worthy of joining, uniting to, a man stronger, better than us. The female captivation with men who are "out of our league" tells me more about the state of women's souls, than the reality of the number of good men on planet earth. It tells me that we're more in love with our version of romance, than we're in love with a real man of flesh and blood and soul.

My concern, here, is that these longings are not worthy of the image-bearers of God that we are. We cannot dream of a romance between "unequals", and then expect a marriage of mutual love and respect, of partnership, unity, sexual satisfaction and enduring warmth. If we expect that a man with the prowess of a Mr. Rochester or a vampire-powered Edward will appear in our lives, we can safely assume that 20 years into our marriage we will find ourselves much more like Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice than Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy.

The Perfect Woman
Across the Pacific Ocean, Japanese women are less concerned with concocting the perfect male hero and more attracted to embellishing the perfect female form. The latest fashion has women idolizing the old-world styles of European royalty, leaving their homes be-decked in fully costumed princess attire, frilly dresses, stiletto slippers with ribbons, tiaras, elbow-length gloves, huge bows embellishing their long, dyed hair curled in Pre-Raphelite ringlets. This style, hime gyaru or princess girl, can cost $1000 per outfit. Princess use tricks of the trade like speaking in soft chirpy tones, applying mascara to fake eyelashes and curling hair both outward and inward to get more volume. The appeal: a bit of escapism from the stress of work coupled with the longing for a happy-ending fairy tale. This style is for those who want to be, in the words of hime model and salesperson, Keiko Mizoe (pictured above), "perfect, gorgeous and feminine."

This is the femininity of style without the femininity of soul.


Beyond Human

You might guess that after endowing your own look with so much precision and premeditation, you would not deem most men worthy of a second glance.

So dress the part and this makes you worthy of a prince? (Similar sentiments float in our world during prom dress shopping) As one aspiring Japanese princess says of this style, "Their cuteness is beyond human, I'd like to be like them."

Interdependence
If we want feminine to be as simple (and complex) as elaborate embellishment, if we crave male heroes who make us feel bewildered by their perfection,prowess and masterful "handling" of us then we do not know what Man and Woman were created for in the first place. If we think the dance between the sexes is about our moves and clothing and the endless flirtation, then we forget that Woman was created to Help and Man created with Need.

We are interdependent in a way that will always speak of our vulnerability, not a game of cat and mouse, not a party to dress up for, not a seduction to dabble with but a created need that cannot be filled unless we acknowledge it with sobriety and grace. For the sake of men and women everywhere, we cannot lose touch with what our humanity, our gender, our sexuality means. "In the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman" (I Corinthians 11:11).

Our Real Selves
The Christian mystic, Thomas Merton, writes in his preface, No Man is an Island that "the life of the spirit puts us in the fullest possible contact with reality--not as we imagine it, but as it really is." True spirituality makes us aware of our real selves, and places these real selves in the presence of God.

What becomes of the women that Jesus wanted to redeem when she shrouds her body (and even her soul) in fashion that minces her steps? I have seen how woman's visions of romance limit her gifts being used in the body of Christ. I have watched my own dreams of a princess-type marriage breaking the community between two equals into a hierarchy of the leader and the submissive one. I believe much of our adolescent hankering for a man of perfection leads to the embittered comments of wives who've found they've married a mortal, a human, a man.

Whether you be 17 or 73, let's get into the fullest contact with reality, not as we imagine it, but as it really is. If you are united to a man, let's rejoice that he is human, and not superhuman. If you have crazy messy hair and wear jeans and sweatshirts (as I do tonight), rejoice with me that I am fully human--walking into my full humanity with Jesus as my companion.

A Litmus Test
Let me offer a final test to ponder on in the days to come. If a fashion, idea or romance mocks either the limitations or realities of our humanity, it is not worthy of imitation. Jesus never mocked our limitations, instead he embodied them, so that being human would be, once again, something glorious.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Distraction and Hope

There is this deep flurried, distraction feeling in my soul tonight. I just raced to the post office 21 inquiry letters rubber-banded in the passenger seat next to me, requests for Grant Applications from 21 different Foundations around the country. The sun was flushed with pink, but I could barely enjoy it.

Soulation is about to, hopefully, expand. We have hopes . . . like a travel budget to let us speak to the inviting parties that cannot cover our travel expenses, we hope to get more of our talks online for free, we hope to open our Soulation Retreat in the next 4 years, we hope to get the city permits and our neighbors permission, we hope to be able to pay our volunteers. A lot is determined by those letter that I popped into the mail slot, praying, "Spirit help us" as I saw them slip and disappear.

Thomas Merton says that hope empties our hands so that we might use them.

I feel Jesus' words in my life tonight, "Blessed are the meek, the poor in spirit" Why? Well the meek inherit the earth (a lovely thought when I think of the land we hope to cultivate for a cultural and spiritual center) and the poor in spirit? They get the kingdom of heaven.

I'd like nothing less.

My hands and mind have been very busy with hopeful projects this week. That dull, steady ache is growing in my temples. Today has been a very full Soulation day.

I feel empty and full of wondering. Not just about Soulation and our future plans, but about our country, about our first African-American president (something I'm pleased to be witnessing) who claims a more staunch pro-abortion record than any we've known. God give us protection to continue to be a culture that values life, regardless of the laws.

There is much work to be done, and yet much work is being done, all without my effort. His grace is poured out.

The sky was rosy tonight, and the corgis ran with abandon into the melting snow and my husband cuddled with me this morning luring me to stay longer in the warmth.

For chapstick and lemon verbena lotion
For a morning of writing
and Lady Victoria's brown eyes


For warm fires and hope to rest
For sealed and sent letters
and a door held open
For layers
and silk longjohns


For Dale's cup of tea
and a friends impromptu visit
For emails received
and sent.

Lord, I give you thanks.

Now, can I inherit the earth soon?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Helping other Women- Ruby Slippers Review

I picked up a Starbucks cup that had this pithy, gutsy little quote from Madeleine K. Albright (Former Secretary of State and Ambassador to the U.N.)

The Way I See It #287

"There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Have you ever felt like this? I have.

I want to share with you a woman who has helped me and who has reminded me of the two women who gave me a leg up (my editor and agent--you know who you are!). Thank you for helping another woman!

This, syndicated from Chaos-Jamie, the blog of Jamie Driggers.

LONG LOST TWIN
"Oh, man. I started this book and thought, "My, my it's my long lost twin. Her heart is (or was) just as dark as mine is!" (She uses the word "eyes" but I think we mean the same thing.) The whole judgy woman admitting that we are always comparing ourselves to every other woman in the room. (Did I just type that?) Not just physically, but mentally, emotionally. And after we've sized the other woman up, turn the criticism upon ourselves.

This is why I hate to pool. If I'm not envying someone else's abs, I'm envying their parenting skills.

GUTSY PUBLISHER
ANY-way I found myself thinking I needed to buy this book for every woman I know. If there are two of us willing to admit to these problems and a publisher willing to print the problems right out there in black and white, it can't just be ME.

As an aside: There were a couple sections in the middle where she almost lost me with the gender equality stuff, but by the end I could see where she was going. Should you pick up the book, hear her out. You might not agree with every word, but the premise is sound. I'm not even sure I don't agree with her, but I've been shoving my self and my thoughts into a certain box (or corset) for so long it might take a while for my thoughts to settle enough to say whether I am fully in her boat.

HOWEVER, there are also gorgeous chapters about finding and feeding our feminine soul, whether or not that soul is quiet and gentle--(once you get past the psycho-babble of why our feminine soul needs finding and feeding...and I use the term psycho-babble in its most loving sense. It's like Bringing Up Boys. I know I need to let my boys be boys...quit telling me why and tell me how! Many, many people need to know why before they can understand how. I know I have a problem. FIX ME!)--and as most of you know, quiet and gentle are words that decidedly do NOT fit me.

And oh, does she end it well."

Jamie's review makes me glad I've chosen this woman against woman problem for book number TWO, Walking in Her Shoes, which is all about women's dark eyes/hearts for other women and how to overcome prejudice with friendship. Walking in Her Shoes is out looking for a publisher this fall!