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Video: Biblical womanhood: Learning to live by the good book

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updated 10/22/2012 7:45:37 AM ET 2012-10-22T11:45:37

Blogger Rachel Held Evans decided to get to the bottom of traditional resurgence by strictly adopting a Biblically-correct lifestyle for the course of a year. In “A Year of Biblical Womanhood,” she recounts her experience. Here’s an excerpt.

October: Gentleness

Girl Gone Mild

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.
—1 Peter 3:3–4

To Do This Month:

  • Cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit, even during football
    games (1 Peter 3:3–4).
  • Kick the gossip habit (1 Timothy 5:12–13).
  • Take an etiquette lesson (Proverbs 11:22).
  • Practice contemplative prayer (Psalm 131).
  • Make a “swearing jar” for behaviors that mimic the “contentious woman” of Proverbs (Proverbs 21:19; 19:13; 27:15).
  • Do penance on the rooftop for acts of contention (Proverbs 21:9).

My first mistake was to start this experiment in the middle of football season. First Peter 3:4 describes a godly woman as having a “gentle and quiet spirit,” but if you’ve spent more than five minutes south of the Mason-Dixon during the month of October, you know that there’s nothing gentle or quiet about the way a Southern woman watches college football.

Thomas Nelson, Inc.

I grew up in the great state of Alabama, which journalist Warren St. John deems “the worst place on earth to acquire a healthy perspective on the importance of spectator sports.” In Alabama, the third most important question after “What is your name?” and “Where do you go to church?” is “Alabama or Auburn?” so soon after I learned to identify myself as a nondenominational, Bible-believing Christian named Rachel, I learned to identify myself as an Alabama fan. My little sister and I knew what intentional grounding was before we’d acquired the dexterity to play with Barbie dolls, and as kids we liked to imitate my mother, who had the habit of willing an Alabama running back down the field by moving closer and closer to the TV set the longer he stayed on his feet. By the time he danced into the end zone, the whole family—Mom, Dad, Amanda, and I—would be huddled together around the TV, screaming our heads off, nervously looking for any yellow flags on the field.

Now exiled together in Tennessee, where Volunteer Orange looks good on no one, we gather every Saturday afternoon at my parents’ house down the street to wear our colors, yell at the TV, and consume inordinate amounts of meat. It’s a tradition that my husband, Dan, married into a bit unwittingly, but has come to love, primarily on account of Mom’s standing rib roast.

I think Dan may have been a little caught off guard the first time he realized that something about the autumnal equinox transformed his wife into a raving lunatic for three and a half hours each week and that eleven guys running around on a football field in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, could directly affect his sex life. But he’s grown into the role, and now every autumn we both look forward to Saturday afternoons at the Held house—windows opened to the crisp, cool air, the scent of dry leaves mingling with wafts of braised pork, the dull roar of crowd noise humming from the TV. And this particular October was especially significant because Alabama was defending its national title on Mom and Dad’s brand new, high-definition, 42-inch TV.

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“This is going to suck,” I said as we approached their front door on game day, leaves crackling under our feet.

“Yup. It’s going to be awesome,” Dan responded without really hearing me.

“Well, maybe for you, but screaming at the TV doesn’t exactly constitute a gentle and quiet spirit,” I said. “I’m going to have to bottle all my fandom up inside. No yelling at the refs. No snarky remarks about the cheerleaders. No cheering or booing. It’s so stifling.”

“Yeah, you’re really suffering for Jesus on this one, Rach,” Dan teased.

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I managed to get through the first few games of the season in relative calm, with a few exceptions the day Bama lost to the South Carolina Gamecocks (and Steve Spurrier, of all people) in a 35-21 upset.

That particular game we happened to watch at my sister’s house in Nashville and afterwards went to Rotier’s downtown to sulk over burgers, sweet potato fries, and country music.

I remembered to cover my head before the blessing, in keeping with my sixth commandment (“Thou shalt cover thy head when in prayer”). It seems the upside to starting a project like this in October is that hoodies serve as nice, inconspicuous head coverings. You can observe 1 Corinthians 11 at every meal and church service and folks just think you’re cold, not a religious freak. Same goes for scarves, knit hats, and head-warmers.

“But aren’t you supposed to pray without ceasing?” Amanda asked, ever the Sunday school star, even at twenty-six.

“Yeah, maybe you should keep your head covered at all times,” Dan piped in.

“Well, I might try doing that in March when I focus on modesty,” I said, “or maybe when I visit Lancaster.”

I had this thing planned out, I swear, but sometimes it seemed like nobody believed me.

“You should observe kosher,” they said. “You ought to visit a convent,” they said. “You need to have a baby,” they said. “You gotta get yourself a rabbi,” they said.

I was pretty sure that rabbis didn’t operate on a work-for-hire basis, and the baby thing had been settled by Dan right away.

“We’re not having a kid as part of an experiment,” he said. “No way.”

But the voices that seemed the loudest came from my blog, where readers responded in record numbers to my announcement about the project.

“This is going to be epic!”

“You’re nuts.”

“My stomach just knotted in anxiety for you.”

“Way to make a mockery of God’s Word.”

“A. J. Jacobs already did this, you know.”

“I think you’re out of your mind, but then, most creative people are.”

You would think that after three years of blogging, I’d have developed some kind of virtual superpower that involved freakishly thick skin, but scrolling through the comments sent my confidence lurching up and down so violently I felt seasick. The influx of praise and criticism made me doubt myself, and the next thing I knew I was under the covers at 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, crying about how hard it is to be a writer. (In addition to being “out of our minds,” creative people can be a bit moody . . . )

I didn’t have a lot of time for self-pity. The most immediate effect of my new “biblical” lifestyle came in the form of an adjusted routine that required that I make the bed before checking e-mail, cook Dan’s breakfast before browsing Facebook, and finish the laundry before starting any new writing projects. This attempt to observe my second commandment (“Thou shalt devote thyself to the duties of the home”) required a serious shift in priorities that proved a little disorienting, for both of us.

The first morning Dan awoke to the smell of scrambled eggs, he assumed that pleased-but-cautious posture men get when they’re not quite sure if they’re supposed to be enjoying themselves or if the whole thing is a trap.

“Thanks, hon,” he said after a second glass of orange juice. “I can do the dishes.”

“No, you can’t. That’s my job now.”

Dan looked doubtful.

“You sure?”

“Yeah. You think the Proverbs 31 woman let her husband do the dishes? Go relax. I’ll clean up.”

Dan leaped from his seat with the excitement of Ralphie Parker receiving his Red Ryder BB gun, and I found myself confronted with a stack of greasy plates that, compounded with those from the night before, would most certainly not fit in the dishwasher.

It occurred to me then that a year is a very long time.

This is an excerpt from A YEAR OF BIBLICAL WOMANHOOD Copyright (c) 2012 by Rachel Held Evans. Published by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive

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