Friday, August 11, 2006

What (Not All) Women Want

I was looking at Christianity Today yesterday and ran across this article. It's a review of Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul, the book by John and Stasi Eldredge of Wild at Heart renown.

Here's a snippet:

I may not be an Eldredge kind of lady, but I know beauty when I see it. And the most regrettable failure of Captivating is its tame idea of beauty. "Beauty is core to a woman—who she is and what she longs to be," Stasi Eldredge writes. "Beauty is what the world longs to experience from a woman." She gives examples: "Pioneer women brought china teacups into the wilderness, and I bring a pretty tablecloth to eat on when my family camps. We wear perfume, paint our toenails, color our hair, and pierce our ears, all in an effort to be ever more beautiful." Sure. But there's so much more.

Beauty draws blood to the heart and speeds up the pulse; sometimes it evokes repentance. I wish more Christians were comfortable with its pull. Too often, beauty raptures us so forcibly that we fear it will lead to temptation. So we avert our eyes. What if we turned our ecstasy into worship?

With provocative hyperbole, a character in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel The Idiot predicts that beauty will save the world. Commenting on this line, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn imagined that "if the too obvious, too straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light," then "perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up to that very place and in this way perform the work of all three."

But it won't be the beauty described in Captivating. That beauty isn't wild enough; it's mere prettification, a tendency toward sentimental adornment. For some reason, the Eldredges restrict the source of beauty to women. Sorry, Rubens, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Bach, and men with stunning looks—you don't make the list.

True beauty is precarious, unbound.

It cannot be confined to pre-approved tastes or to one gender. It is wild at heart. Like Christ. And like the complicated men and women who follow him (some of whom room alone when they travel).

What do you think? Is the reviewer on the nose? Or is she so far off the mark that she might also think The Colbert Report isn't satire? More importantly, what does it mean to live as a woman and a follower of Christ? Is that answer different for single women and married ones?


Jeff said...

Thanks for the link to that review, Phil. My sister-in-law is reading that book and it really resonates with her, as she is one of those girls that longs to be the princess and get swept up by someone enthralled with her beauty. She is finding so much joy in planning her wedding and making it to be the event she's dreamed about. Is that good for her? Don't know. I do know with a daughter of my own now I want her to be focused on more than just how she looks or presents herself, and find joy in the relationship with God I pray she will one day have. Of course I want her to be beautiful, but (and this sounds so cliche) I want her to seek inner beauty.

Donna said...

You really think all of those questions can be answered in the comment section of your blog???

I agree with the author. Captivating did nothing for me but remind me of all the stereotypes I have tried to avoid all of my life.

A woman and follower of Christ should not be so different from a man who is a follower of Christ. Sure sometimes her ministry will be caring for precious children. But she will be seeking and questioning and serving her fellow-man/woman...

It is frustrating to be a woman, especially in the CofC and be assigned a limited role as to the ways you can serve and express your praise to our Father.

My 2-cents.

Joe Martino said...

I think the reviewer is pretty far off on this one. I've never met a woman who doesn't wonder, "Am I truly lovely?" I have three daughters and the one's that can talk all ask me, "Daddy, what do you think about this outfit...don't I look beautiful?" I've done more hours of counseling than I care to admit and almost every time the the haunting question in a woman's life who has made regrettable decisions with what to do with her body has been to answer the same question. I've worked with women who stayed in terrible relationships because the idiot they were with would tell them how beautiful they were and how much he really loved her after he beat her up or ignored her. My favorite quote of the article is "they enclose their statements with phsycobabble." Good Stuff.

TCS said...

well, first I was coming to N-ville this weekend, but just the rest of the family is now. so I guess I won't see you Sunday.

As to your question. I am pretty sure that John Eldredge would agree and disagree. He would agree that beauty is certainly not limited to that one description. That book is written to women and uses that generalization to try to get at a much deeper truth about beauty. Its following Willard's teachings on Eternal Life. Most analogies break down at some point.

In Wild at Heart he uses what to some are sterotypical male activities. Hunting, camping, Rock climbing... I have heard him explain that you don't have to be into any of those things... you don't have to have a Braveheart sword on your desk to be a Man. He's just trying to awaken you to a truer life, one dependent on God where you add to the beauty.

For the record I support them. I do think that they are better in person. The books have been hugely successful but I find most people struggle to keep going in the middle of them. That is they are hard to finish.

Elizabeth S said...

That's a pretty loaded question. I have read the book and wasn't as crazy about it as everyone else was. It was good, but it just didn't get me. Maybe I should read it again. My walk with the Lord is so much more than I can even comment about here, but I know that it does consist of loving the Lord with all of me, not just the parts I think are worthy. Not that there are any. Most days I feel completely unworthy of His love, but then I remember that God doesn't call perfect people, just people who love Him and want to serve Him with everything they have. That is a little of what my walk looks like.

Tiffany said...

I thought that Captivating DID describe the type of beauty the reviewer was looking for. That the china teacups and nail polish and all the rest are outward manifestations of a deep inner desire to create, feel, and be beauty.

The opening stories describe the author finding her own beauty through time spent in God's wild creation. The book emphasizes that most women desire to be the beauty in a great adventure - not to be the pretty princess sitting in a castle being patient.

As a pretty liberal feminist, who has fought against being forced into traditional conservative femininity, I found the book to be liberating - it allowed me to acknowledge that desire that I do have, no matter what I may have been telling myself for the last 20 years - while at the same time not demanding that that desire be fulfilled in any specific way.

I'll stop now, but that's my perspective. Not everyone will get as much out of that book as I did, but I think the reviewer missed a big part of the Eldreges' message.

Thomas+ said...

I like what the reviewer had to say. First, I like anyone who is willing to take on the Eldridge juggernaught. So, part of the reason I like it is because I have SO many problems with Eldridges stuff.

Second, though, the idea that real beauty is intoxicating and mystical is good stuff. It reminds of me Evelyn Underhill in her book "Mysticism" when she says that the mystical experience is brought on by one of three things: pain, religion, or beauty. If ind this to be quite true.

Tony Arnold said...

Tiffany wrote, "as a pretty liberal feminist.."

Was this an attribute or a matter of degree? :-)

Loved the pun, even if it was unintentional, but your pretty sharp, so it probably was intentional.


Anonymous said...

I stumbled onto your blog while Googling something in relation to this Christianity Today article. Perhaps if the Elredges and this reviewer were to sit down and hash out all of their perspectives and theologies about what it means to be a woman and follower of Christ, there would be a lot more overlap than they think. I think both would acknowledge that women have a unique capacity for beauty and a longing to be the Beauty that is distinct from men.

What is frustrating is when we categorize "types." Either you're the type of woman who is passive, sits in her castle pining for her prince, into pretty china tea cups, OR, you're this aggressive "domineering" type who "prefers to room alone when traveling," who isn't in touch with her real feelings in wanting to be beautiful and cherished. There is probably some unfair stereotyping on both side.

What I appreciated about the reviewer's article was the acknowledgement that we are complex beings. We cannot be stereotyped. Of course, the publishing industry, including Christian publishers, have made a killing off stereotyping and having a "formula," a framework that helps us make sense of the complexity of life and faith and people. It helps us cope. This is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. But sometimes I think it can cause us to look to books like the Eldredges have written and make neat categories that we "trust" in, instead of looking to Christ and trusting Him with the complexity of the world we live in, who we are as men and women, and what He is calling us to.

In the end, as the reviewer said, she longs to trust Christ always, no matter what happens. And to embrace her desire to fight a battle, and not just "play a role" in an adventure, but to know that as believers in Christ, both men and women, we are called to fight and to live an adventure, whether single or married or married with kids. Would we want anything less?

I hope that those who commented here have also had a chance to read the entire article, to give this snippet its due context and a fair reading. And I would venture to say that she is thoughtful enough to recognize that the Colbert Report is not satire.

My name is Christine, I live in New York, I don't have a blog and don't feel like signing up for one, but also didn't want to just choose "anonymous." As a sister in Christ, I appreciate this kind of dialogue that sharpens us and encourages us to live more faithfully for Christ. Thanks for letting me be a part of this discussion.

Phil said...

Thanks, Christine, as well as everyone else who commented. I get concerned about this topic because of Kinsey. I want her ideas of beauty to not be based on what society tells her. And that's not simply because she might not grow up and be beautiful by society's standards, but because she MIGHT grow up and be beautiful by society's standards.

I want her to know that beauty can be fleeting, especially by society's standards, but also that she doesn't have to rely on anyone but God to feel truly human or complete. When/If she does choose to marry, it's not to achieve a sense of completeness, but addition of something wonderful in her life. Her completeness is found in God and serving Him.

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