Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female & Evangelical

by Ruminate Magazine September 11, 2011

[J]esus Girls: True Tales of Growing Up Female and Evangelical is a colorful patchwork of “un-testimonies” sewn together by editor Hannah Faith Notess, but not for our comfort. These stories have been published to challenge the once-was-lost-but-now-am-found pattern within which so many evangelical Christians struggle to fit. Notess has compiled the diverse stories of thoughtful, articulate women who all communicate this vital point: a genuine encounter with spirituality is more often than not “an unruly story, a story that refuses to conform to a simple before-and-after pattern . . . , may not have a tidy resolution, and may not lead to an earth-shattering change in our beliefs.”  Beyond addressing the untidiness of faith journeys in general, these essays aim to explore the particularly messy expectations of evangelical females. As a fellow evangelical woman sharing the struggles of faith and femininity, I found these voices echoing many of my own emotions. These women share my reflections on the evangelical church, which have ranged from the droll to the desperate, the endeared to the enraged. The sheer scope of these stories left me amused, encouraged and troubled. Anne Dayton’s “Going Way Against the Flow” left me in stitches with her apt yet surprisingly charitable description of evangelical kitsch and “the bubble of Christian pop culture.” Dayton creatively expressed her misgivings about the trappings of Christianity, however, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Jessica Belt, on the other hand, finishes a wrestling match with culturally embedded truth by simply stating, “As for me, I no longer knew what to believe.”  The potency of this collection is in such unadorned  honesty and pain; I have no desire to say it ought to be or even can be otherwise. However, while reading these “un-testimonies,” I did feel as though I saw a before-and-after pattern emerging. Within each of these tales there seemed a sense that if faith was encountered, it was not because of, but in spite of the Church. That may very well be the disheartening truth for many evangelicals, let alone evangelical women. However, I found myself fighting for a middle ground and landing behind Andrea Palpant Dilley’s open-eyed faith in “Why Isn’t God Like Eric Clapton?”: “If [Flannery] O’Connor is right, then my doubt is not a form of rebellion but rather a strong, catalytic longing, a desire to broach the distance between a finite human being and an infinite God, and my faith is a form of homesickness, a burden of desire that effectively defeats me in the fight and says to me, There is more than what I see, more than what I know, more than what I am.” To realize that our Christian kitsch had it wrong, that our former fundamentalism missed the mark, and that our gender ideas unfairly boxed us in—these realizations need not make us jump ship. Rather, realizing grace is outside of our definitions might well make that grace increase. While trying to defy a lost-then-found expectation, I fear Jesus Girls inadvertently creates a new oversimplified pattern— evangelical-then-intelligent. Besides the various levels of tone, I also admit I found varying quality and consistency in Jesus Girls. Some essays center on feminist questions while others seem to omit the “growing up female” half of the title altogether. Some essays contained less-than-memorable narratives, while others sparkled with imagery and fervor. Despite many mixed messages, however, this book is a thoughtful and compelling contribution to Christian dialogue. Each essayist triumphs in vulnerability and courage as she communicates her doubts as well as her faith, chronicling grace in all of its pattern-breaking glory—even if that is grace yet to come. Jesus Girls: True Tales of Growing up Female and Evangelical, edited by Hannah Faith Notess (Wipf & Stock, 2009). by Michelle Hindman


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