"Captivating" Review: 113-129, "Romanced"


We’re halfway through the book! Also, Handsome is in the middle of reading Wild at Heart, and he’s putting his thoughts on it into a post, which I am pretty excited about. I read through some of his marginalia, and I think you all are going to enjoy what he has to say.

On today’s chapter, I think it would have gone a lot better for Stasi if she wasn’t so dismissive of feminism and if gender essentialism weren’t buried so deeply into all of her assumptions. There was a lot I enjoyed about this chapter, however; this is probably the chapter that I enjoyed reading the most because there was a lot in it that I think people need to hear more often. Basically anytime that someone dedicates an entire chapter of their book to how much God loves us, I’m going to be at least somewhat happy with that.

She does say a few things that I think deserve to be highlighted, though.

A woman becomes beautiful when she knows she’s loved … Cut off from love, rejected, no one pursuing her, something in a woman wilts like a flower no one waters anymore. She withers into resignation, duty, and shame.

Honest moment: that Handsome tells me, almost on a daily basis, that I’m beautiful hasn’t exactly hurt my ability to see myself as beautiful when I look in the mirror.

However, I am insulted that Stasi apparently thinks that I was ugly before I met him. She rushes to assure us that we don’t need to “wait for a man” to be beautiful– that God loves us, so that can make us beautiful, too!

Just … ugh.

The interesting thing about this section is that she pulls from pop culture– movies, like she usually does– to make her point, and one of the examples she chooses is Tulah from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. That’s one of my all-time favorite movies, so I was amused when Stasi got it so epically wrong. She says that Tulah’s beauty was “released” by the “power of romance,” except… that’s not what happened at all. She got sick of her life going nowhere, living under her patriarchal father’s roof, and decided to educate herself. She starts going to college, changes her job, and that’s when she starts seeing something different in the mirror. She owns herself and who she is and what she wants, and she goes after it.

But nope. Not according to Stasi. It was totes falling in love that did it.

What would it be like to experience for yourself that the truest thing about [God’s] heart toward yours is not disappointment or disapproval, but deep, fiery, passionate love? This is, after all, what a woman was made for.

Ok, so I see where Stasi was going with this: God made us so he could love us. It’s a pretty typical evangelical thing to say, and it’s a somewhat pretty idea. However, I disagree with this point of view because of what it says about God, because it turns him into Pygmalion. For example, there is the possibility for me to become pregnant, and I would be “making” another person, after a fashion. If the only reason I had a baby was so that I could have something to love, that’d be … well, in my opinion, that would be supremely selfish. But, that’s frequently something evangelicals say about why God made us.

Later, Stasi draws on the story of Mary and Martha, where Jesus says that “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.” Stasi argues that the “one thing” Jesus is talking about– the one thing Mary chose– is a “captivated, adoring heart, a heart that responds to the extravagant love of God with worship.” I feel that Stasi is doing a little bit of eisegesis here, since it’s incredibly convenient for her if that’s what Jesus meant– however, in verse 39 of Luke 10, the passage says that what Mary was doing was hearing his word. What’s notable about that was that Jesus welcomed a woman to hear his teaching, which was unusual, not that Mary was “captivating.”

The last problem I had with this chapter stems from Stasi’s inability to see how our Christian culture functions because she dismisses sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny. At one point in the chapter she is encouraging women that they matter because “women minister something to the heart of God that men do not,” and while that’s more gender essentialism, the real problem I have with this is that Stasi has to fall back on patriarchal gendered stereotypes in order to tell women that they matter while simultaneously denying the way that conservative Christian culture has utterly subjugated women.

I don’t matter to God because of my ability to fit into gender roles. I matter to God because I’m a person.

She closes out the chapter with this paragraph:

The culture of women in the church today is crippled by some very pervasive lies. “To be spiritual is to be busy. To be spiritual is to be disciplined. To be spiritual is to be dutiful.” No, to be spiritual is to be in a Romance with God. The desire to be romanced lies deep in the heart of every woman. It is for such that you were made. And you are romanced, and ever will be.

And while, yes, those are lies I’ve heard preached from a lot of pulpits, to separate those lies from the context they belong in means that you’re not going to be fixing the actual problem. Women are told that they need to be busy, disciplined, and dutiful because they are women, and are told that deviating from these things means that you can’t be a “true, godly, feminine women.”

I am sure that many men are told that traits like “discipline” are how one demonstrates spirituality– I’ve seen it happen. However, Stasi is divorcing these lies from how they are delivered to women, and women only.

Women are told to be ‘busy’ by being a “keeper at home” and occupying herself with homemaking and child-rearing. Women are told to be ‘disciplined’ so that she can maintain her youthful vigor and looks, to not “let herself go.” Women are told to be dutiful by “submitting in all things” to the “priest and king of her home.” Stasi is ignoring how these lies take shape in the life of Christian women because she can’t afford to– because admitting to that could eventually lead to her realizing that gender essentialism is inherently damaging.

And the next chapter is . . .

“Beauty to Unveil.”

Sigh. Again.

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  • I find it interesting that you posted about this chapter after that Buzzfeed article “14 Women Say Why They Don’t Need Feminism” started making its way around Facebook. I hate to be stereotypical here, but my friends who applauded it, insisting that the whole patriarchy thing is overblown by liberals, and women need to calm down, were all…evangelicals. Evangelicalism was my first introduction to Christianity, and it’s churning my stomach to see the curtain being pulled back and realizing it’s not a safe place to be.

  • I can’t help but feel that Stasi’s claim that “women minister something to God’s heart that men do not” is profoundly… unbiblical. I’m not even a Christian anymore, so I usually don’t engage in discussion of scripture, but the bible clearly says that, in the afterlife, there will no longer be male or female. In other words, to our eternal souls, gender doesn’t matter. So why is it that god would feel differently about a woman than a man or that women would reach his heart in ways that men would not? Is it just because he finds them to be prettier? Because that almost seems in line with her book, but also very creepy and weird.

    Also, I’m curious about your opinion on My Big Fat Greek Wedding, because when I saw it, I was highly disappointed in how much focus was put on her physical transformation (losing weight, wearing better clothes, better make-up, more hair product) as the major difference that changed her life. After all, her crush hardly looked at her or talked to her before, but after she became “pretty” suddenly he is doing a (rather comedic) double-take at her through the window of her business and wants to meet her. It is made very apparent that the only reason she had a shot with him is because she changed her appearance. I’m not averse to the idea of women changing their looks to gain confidence, but I felt the movie sold the “she was worthless until she decided to try to be pretty” line pretty hard, which I found very off-putting. Then again, I only watched it once and it was a long time ago, so maybe there was more to it that I just don’t remember. Thoughts?

    • To your first question: I think the passage your thinking about is Galatians 3:28-30: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” The context of the passage is Paul’s argument that all baptized Christians are heirs of the Old Testament covenant in Christ, not merely Jews and those who have been circumcised but all who have “put on Christ.” The idea of the passage is not that gender is being done away with but that God makes no distinction based upon sex (or nationality or social status) but saves and justifies all who believe in Christ and are baptized.

      There is another passage, Matthew 22:23-33 (it might appear in the other synoptics as well), in which Jesus reveals that, after the resurrection of the dead, there will be no more marriage. He does not, however, claim that gender will be erased.

      Stasi’s statement is a strange one, however, even from a complementarian perspective. Trying to get into the mind of God where He has not revealed Himself to us is usually not a very good idea. Its probably reasonable to make a statement similar to that one based merely on the fact that God created men and women differently (and you don’t have to subscribe to gender essentialism to recognize the general differences between the sexes) but the way she puts it is rather odd.

      • I think the Galatians verse is open to interpretation, but I can see how one might not interpret it the way I have.

        And hmm… as a transgender man, I find the “general differences between the sexes” (apart from physical generalizations like size/mass/shape etc) to be over-emphasized, poorly understood, and frequently irrelevant.

        • Over-emphasized in some circles and not in others, I would say. Or maybe not as much over-emphasized as misapplied. Acknowledging general differences between men and women both physically and psychologically is good science. Demanding that all people conform to those generalizations is bad psychology/sociology/theology.

  • Aibird

    This is about where I stopped reading this book when I first found it a few years ago. I don’t think I made it through the next chapter at all. So it’ll be interesting to see your thoughts on the rest of this book. (I still can’t bring myself to pick it up again to read it with you.) I find that I agree with you on just about every point, so it’s really nice to feel validated by another who read it the same way I did.

    Also, as an aside, I was given as a gift, Beautiful Outlaw by John Eldredge, and have been blogging as I read: http://someexplorations.wordpress.com/

    Don’t know if you’re interested in reading my thoughts on it.I like the idea of this book — experience the playful, disruptive, extravagant personality of Jesus — though we’ll see if I agree with how he presents it or how he goes about interpreting various passages. Have you read that one?

  • Unrelated to this, but did you see the front page story in yesterday’s (Sunday) New York Times about sexual assault at Hobart and William Smith College, Geneva, New York? The schools that you have mentioned aren’t the only ones with such problems.

    • This kinda puzzles me, because it’s phrased in such a way that assumes that we are not aware that horrifically shitty things like that can and do happen outside the evangelical subculture.

  • It’s telling that she misses the entire point of the Mary/Martha story, and why it was so *offensive* to the original readers. Mary wasn’t just neglecting the housework, she was “learning at the feet” of Christ himself. This wasn’t some neutral imagery like it seems today. Mary was receiving training from Christ in the same way as Saint Paul was “learning at the feet of Gamaliel.” That is, she was *training to be a Rabbi.* Not just failing to do housework: training to be a teacher.

    The problem was, she was stepping outside of her gender role – keeping house – and stepping into a future leadership role.

    It is a source of never-ending frustration to me that modern Evangelicalism ignores the fairly clear historical meaning of this incident because it conflicts with their foundational teaching of “woman, know your place!”

  • “A woman becomes beautiful when she knows she’s loved … Cut off from love, rejected, no one pursuing her, something in a woman wilts like a flower no one waters anymore. She withers into resignation, duty, and shame.”

    I don’t wither into those things you mentioned when I’m not being pursued. Which is currently the situation now.

    I become ashamed when my parents don’t want to see their friends because all they ask is “why haven’t you found someone to marry her”. Like that’s all that’s interesting about me. Like the very idea of me being single frightens them.

    I really look forward to hearing the commentary about the Wild at Heart book. A colleague tried to read it and he said it was terrible.

    • Hattie

      Just saw this. Thank you, DesiLady.

      And I’ll add to the chorus of people saying how grateful they are to see this book taken apart. It was big at my conservative Catholic university.

      I couldn’t bring myself to pick it up again, but I seem to remember how it reinforced my insecurities. As if to say- “You are correct in feeling insecure, because looks really are what it’s all about.”

      Nowadays, I have to wonder what the person who recommended it was thinking. She was prettier. Not insecure. How exactly was this book supposed to “help” me exactly?

      Thank God for growing up.

  • Was this the chapter that said “you know how people have a God-shaped hole in their hearts, well God also has a you-shaped hole in his heart” so God needs us (each individual person) to love him…? (So basically God is unable to function on a daily basis because there exist people who don’t believe in him….?) And there’s a story about a woman who quit doing so much busy stuff at church so she could just be alone and “minister to the heart of God”?

    I remember reading that and thinking it was bizarre.

  • I think God makes it pretty clear how we can minister to His heart in Matthew 25:31-46. 🙂

  • I assume that ‘Stasi’ is pronounced ‘Stacy’. Sould someone tell her that Stasi was the East German secret police?

    • It’s from Anastasia, but I imagine she’s heard that before.