Life(style) Reviewer

#EmptyShelf 2016 #19: @SarahBessey: Jesus Feminist: God’s radical notion that women are people too (DLT, 2013) #IWD2016

jesus-feministLast Saturday I was on the train to/from ‘Gathering of Women Leaders‘ (GWL), which looks at the barriers to women in leadership positions, and the difference that we can each make… so Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist appeared to be an appropriate book to read each way – and of course today is International Women’s Day, so…!

On pp12-13 Sarah looks at what the notion of ‘feminism’ means, especially highlighting the mix of Christianity and feminism, and how much Christian action pre-dated modern secular feminism – with a focus on justice and human flourising:

Christians can give thanks for the good works associated with feminism, such as gaining of status for women as ‘persons’ under the law, voting, owning property, and defending themselves in a court of law against domestic violence and rape.

Before that, she had pleaded with the many women who have sought for a seat at “The Table”, where decisions are made about who is in/out, and huge theological arguments are thrown around making the case for women in/out of positions of leadership .. and instead suggests that we enjoy the great outside, focus our eyes upon the example of Jesus, and join the misfits, rebels, second-chance givers, the courageously vulnerable … I find p15 particularly depressingly recognisable –  more widely than the debate between complementarians and egalitarians that she highlights:

Both sides can treat the Bible like a weapon. On both sides, there are extremists and dogmatists. We attempt to outdo each other with proof texts and apologetics, and I’ve heard it said that there is no more hateful person than a Christians who thinks you’ve got your theology wrong. In our hunger to be right, we memorise arguments, ready to spit them out at a moment’s notice. Sadly, we reduce each other, brothers and sisters, to straw men arguments, and brand each other ‘enemies of the gospel’.

As the book continues, Sarah talks about the times that she took time out from the formal church – time to focus on God, and to lose the ‘performance anxiety’ that she had experienced, and as she talks about what she learnt from childbirth – how ‘leaning in’ to the pain, rather than running away from it has provided some of the deepest learnings/freedoms in life. Sarah looks at the core writings of Paul which are often used in debates, and then looks at those texts within context. As we consider the position of women (p80)

If a woman is held back, minimised, pushed down, or downplayed, she is not walking in the fulness God intended for her as his image bearer, as his ezer warrior. If we minimise our gifts, hush her voice, and stay small in a misguided attempt to fit a weak and culturally conditioned standard of femininity…

On p115 – we hear that if there were more women pastors/preachers, there would be more examples that would make sense to women… and I really enjoyed the chapter on ‘Reclaiming the Church Ladies’ .. the tongue-in-cheek laughs at what passes for ‘women’s ministry’ in so many churches – no I don’t want to knit, do crafts, or that kind of thing either … that’s why I love GWL – we share the true joys and difficulties of life, and we engage with issues of real social justice… which we can see on p132:


We look at what women can offer – including strategic leadership, wisdom, counsel and teaching – not just cupcakes – though that can have its place too!

On p141, again, I was drawn into the despair of what we think our churches are for – the story of a young girl who had suffered at the hands of everyone that she had met, then someone suggested church… and she was ostracised because of wrong clothes, haircut, language, and wasn’t pretty’ .. so she went home and committed suicide … how do we make our churches welcoming to all, rather than ‘The Table’ that all have to fight to reach… and how do we learn to open our arms more widely.

The following reminded me of conversations I’d had with @MarikaRose (check out her radio interview on Premier)


Another bit I really like, and a good point to pull for my last one, is learning to let go of the notion that everything we have to do has to be ‘big plans’ .. I like looking for changing the overall processes/structures, but Jesus would encourage us not to be overwhelmed by the need to do everything on a large scale – we are apprentices, and we can start small – a cup of water for the thirsty is as appreciated as multi-billion pound projects!

If I was going to only read one book by Sarah Bessey, I would read the more recent Out of Sorts, but both are worth a read for different reasons – this for a good introduction to feminism, and the other for whole-life living!


#EmptyShelf 2016 #11: Out of Sorts (@sarahbessey)

sarah-bessey-out-of-sortsThis book is described by Sarah Bessey as being “for all who feel or have felt at some time ‘out of sorts’ – disorientated, bewildered and feeling that everything you once knew for sure has to be worked out all over again”. As someone who has recently moved cities, jobs, and hasn’t yet settled into a new church – this review copy arrived at a great moment. I finished reading it yesterday (Sunday) morning whilst I thought what step do I want to take next in finding a church (couple of places still want to go back to…) – but meantime, this is a different ‘season’, right?

2016-01-31 12.32.43-2I would describe the book as powerfully vulnerable – as always are the best stories – and the best sermons … and as I hope to research at some point – are also the most shared via ‘social media’. As we move on in our faith (“Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence“) journey, it’s natural to move on from early certainties, to much deeper questioning and doubt. As I read through this book, I turned down corners for pages I wanted to return to… as you’ll see, that was quite a few of them! As someone who decluttered for 15 years, on p17, I loved the reference to her parents decluttering as an act of love – to ensure that the children wouldn’t have deal with that on top of death.

On p30, Sarah brings us to the time when she gave up on church (even as a pastor’s wife):

The trail of hurt people, wounded souls, and even dead bodies was too great. It weighed on my soul, and I felt tremendous grief. I couldn’t align myself with this any more.

I could no longer reason away or gloss over the systematic abuses of power, the bitterness, the bigotry and hypocrisy, the sexism and racism, the consumerism, the big business of church that was consuming people and spitting them out for the ‘greater good’. Church became the last place I wanted to be. I didn’t trust Christians. And I was tired of pretending that those things were not real.

At no time in this did Sarah give up on Jesus, and in fact, in not being able to rely on (the structure of?) church, she had to pay more attention to Jesus as he took her through a 6 year journey in the wilderness – and it is clear that each of us will have our own journey – it may not be as drastic as this, but I know I’ve never wanted to be part of a faith that is not open to questions – any questions. I certainly don’t know all the answers, but I want to be in an environment where questions are welcomed – in fact encouraged – part of what I love about social media is the ability to connect with people from so many different places. One of Sarah’s emphases in the book is on the importance of place – and of settling into a local community … I do still think that’s also important, but I’ve spent a lot of time working with groups – faith is a global community – and sometimes we need to look outside our geographical boundaries too – the digital allows this too!

Having just spoken on TWR about whether it’s possible for Facebook friends to be ‘real friends’, Instagrammed the below – picked up a few comments on that on FB/Twitter:

We move through concepts of ‘theology for everyone’, not just for academics to ‘tell us’ as we grapple with everyday life, notions of discipleship as ‘being more like Jesus’, being human and being part of community – not something Christians are unique at, learning to re-engage with the Bible when you’ve effectively experienced spiritual abuse through it, we talk about the ‘veil between heaven and earth fluttering’, how she and her husband grappled with questions of was his non-ministry work ‘enough’, dealing with difficult questions on suffering – in which she discovers that ‘Sovereignty is redemption, it’s not causation’, and most powerfully, how we move beyond the over-programmed burnt out life of the evangelical that has become so common, and embrace the opportunity to live life to the full with Jesus – in whatever shape of church that is. On p277:

Scarcity tells us to work until we drop. We’ve got to hustle, hustle, hustle to get ours and then to keep it. But in the liturgy of abundance, we can practice Sabbath. Exhaustion and burnout are symptoms of fear of scarcity, but wholeness, joy, and rest are hallmarks of a life lived within abundance. In fact, Bruggemann calls the practice of Sabbath an act of resistance because we are saying no to ‘the culture of now’.

As we draw near to the season of Lent, I’ve been chatting with the organisers of Passionart, who are seeking to encourage us to find stillness in busy and hectic lives – to regain some equilibrium in over-burdened and over-busy lives, and this seems to fit well with that, and I intend to keep hold of this book – and have ordered Jesus Feminist – although I still have far-too many books already in the ‘to-read’ pile!

This book was provided to me courtesy of Darton, Longman & Todd in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Take the opportunity to buy the book.