Book Review: A Woman’s Place by Katelyn Beaty

A Woman's Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the WorldA Woman’s Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World by Katelyn Beaty

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t want to feel like a burden. Try to imagine a man saying this—especially about his career—and it’s almost humorous. Try to imagine a woman saying it, and it seems like a mantra of femininity (page 215).

If you’re a working Christian woman, you’ve probably felt the tension. I know I have. There’s a sense in many Christian circles that for women, work is just a temporary thing you do until you get married and start having babies. Last fall, in a mostly good conversation with my older brother, he challenged my super-single self by telling me that being a wife was a calling, so if I had a strong sense of calling in another arena, that might be an obstacle to having a relationship. While I know his intentions were good in telling me that, the underlying assumption of his statement—that being a career-oriented woman is inherently incompatible with being in a marital relationship—is a symptom of a cultural paradigm that devalues the work of women out in the world and limits women to work within the home and family.

Enter Katelyn Beaty’s A Woman’s Place. This book has been on my list since it came out in 2016. I follow Beaty on Twitter and I found the book’s premise compelling. The premise: That God calls all women to work in some way and that work is a way of embodying the image of God.

A Woman’s Place tackles the cultural and historical factors that influence how we in the church see women and work in today’s western society. Key to her discussion are the Industrial Revolution, which separated work from the home (previously, men and women performed their trades out of their houses), and various philosophers and theologians who’ve reinforced the idea that women are somehow less than men. She also makes the point that the ability for a woman to not work for pay and instead just stay at home, keep house, and raise children is dependent on a certain amount of socioeconomic privilege. If you’re poor, you do what you have to do to survive; poor women have always worked.

At the same time that she elevates and supports the work of women outside the home, Beaty also affirms the work of wives and mothers within the home. Work is not just what we do to make a living. “Work happens whenever we interact with the created world, laboring to make it fruitful and beneficial to ourselves and others,” Beaty writes on page 89.

I love to work. I always have. Since my first summer job as a teenager, I’ve enjoyed going to a workplace (or my computer) to accomplish specific tasks. I’m the rare person who doesn’t light up about the weekend and dread Mondays. I look forward to getting back to the office or wherever it is I’m working. Ambition could easily be my middle name, and it has nothing to do with the paycheck. It’s the sense of purpose and the ability to look back at a job well done and say, “I did that.”

Because I enjoy working, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a Christian in the workplace, though not necessarily what it means as a woman—that question comes more into play within the context of the church (Beaty touches on this phenomenon). Beaty’s book wasn’t groundbreaking for me, but it put many of my thoughts into words while highlighting a lot of different people, groups, and initiatives that have done or are doing good work in the arena of faith and work for women Christians.

If you’re a working Christian woman, I highly recommend that you read this book. If you’re a Christian man who wants to better understand your own call in the workplace or the different obstacles that working Christian women face in the church, you should read this book. If you’re a church leader who wants to better serve women, you need to read this book.

View all my reviews.

Uncovering our shame: Vulnerability with the Creator, living in a world that snarls

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit and ate, and gave also to her husband who was with her; and he ate. And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.

And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, “Where are you?”

And he said, “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

(Genesis 3:6-10)

Ever since the Fall, humanity has desired to be fully known and fully loved — but has been afraid to be fully vulnerable.

This reality is perhaps most obvious in hookup culture, where individuals have ten-minute conversations before going to bed with each other, withholding any genuine intellectual or emotional vulnerability so that total physical vulnerability will have “no strings attached.”

They say it’s only about sex, but beneath the machismo and “no big deal” is an undercurrent of crossed fingers and held breaths hoping that one of these one-night stands will end up being The One — one of these people who’s seen, felt, and known everything physically will also want to see, feel, know and cherish the rest of the human being they’ve slept with.

We hide ourselves, because of our shame and because we’re afraid others won’t love us if they truly know us.

For the most part, we’re probably right. Just look at the media:

Gay Talese made an apropo statement with regard to Atticus being racist:

Well, don’t be surprised, because many people who on the front are defense attorneys, outstanding citizens, elected officials, have that other side, which does not exactly come out on all occasions, but lurks within their soul. And sometimes makes a rare public appearance, to the dismay of a lot of naive people.

We are naive toward the hidden sin and shame of others — and we’re dismayed when what’s hidden is brought to light — but if we’re honest, all of us are hiding something. The only difference between us and the people (and character) mentioned above are the sins themselves and our levels of fame. All of us present the world with a false self-portrait, our blemishes smoothed over. All of us hide our ugliness — our sin and the trembling shame it brings — beneath layers of faux confidence.

In a sermon I listened to on Friday, Timothy Keller made the point that all of our good deeds — all common virtue or common morality — is rooted in either pride or fear, both sins in their own right. In doing good outwardly, most people are actually feeding their inward sin. They do good because it benefits them, not because it is the right thing to do.

Disguised by so-called altruism are pride and fear, the same attitudes that drive our wrongdoing. Pride and fear are also the reasons that we hide.

But we don’t need to hide.

The first thing Adam and Eve did after sinning was try to cover their shame. When their aprons of leaves left them feeling still too vulnerable, they physically hid themselves from God. When God asked Adam where he was, Adam, instead of answering the question, said he was hiding from God because he was afraid, and he was afraid because he was naked.

We know what happens next: the confrontation about eating the fruit, the shifting of blame from Adam to Eve to the serpent, the curse of sin laid out. But in verse 21, something beautiful happens:

And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin, and clothed them. (Genesis 3:21)

God sees their shame and He doesn’t shy away, He’s not dismayed. He takes it upon Himself to cover them. And then He sends His Son to take all of humanity’s sin and shame upon Himself and hang on the cross naked before the world, so that all humanity can be clothed in His righteousness.

We don’t have to hide our shame — not from God and not from the world — because when we stand naked before the throne of God, all of our sin and shame exposed, Jesus covers us with His righteousness.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)

Admitting the truth, practicing humility

Humility: noun. a modest or low view of one’s own importance.

Any number of things may come to mind when you read this word: Wilbur, the famed pig in Charlotte’s Web; small towns where various celebrities started out; the story of a man taking up a towel to serve his followers by washing their feet.

Humility.

We know it’s important. We know there’s a beauty in living it out, putting others before ourselves and denying our egos. But daily, even hourly, we fail to practice humility. From grumbling about the wait at Starbucks to yelling at the car that cut us off to writing death threats to individuals we’ve never met, it’s undeniable — humility is not our native language.

I could dig into the why. I could talk about the Fall of man and the corruptive power of sin, how from birth we’re prone to hate, to slander, to seek our own at the expense of others.

But this time, I’m not going to do that. Instead — without denying the truth that our hearts are rotten inside — I’m going to admit that I don’t know everything and there’s little reason for you to read what I write.

I’m not an expert in any area. I hold no certifications. My only degree is in writing, but I still break grammar rules. I was born in 1992, which means I’ve lived through very little of history. I still bite my nails. I’m hopelessly biased. And as much as I like to think I can figure everything out, I’m as likely to shut my computer in defeat as the next person.

I have no reason to be high and mighty, so please don’t take any of the following as self-aggrandizing wisdom-sharing. You have no reason to read what I write, but if you do, this is what I’d like you to know:

The best conversations in life happen between people who have vastly different views. Some of my favorites happened behind the counters of various places I worked with people who see the world through entirely different paradigms. Our conversations were some of the most challenging and stimulating I’ve ever experienced. If you spend most of your time with like-minded people, branch out. Find people who think differently and pursue those conversations with the objective of understanding.

Don’t be intimidated by things that are difficult to understand. The most important things in life are difficult to understand. Examples: water, light, God. People who think differently can also be difficult to understand. But difficult is no synonym for impossible.

Listening is key. If someone else is talking and you are composing your response or considering how ugly they look when frustrated, you are not listening. Reposition yourself. Place your entire focus on the other person. Soak up what they’re saying, and earnestly try to put yourself in their shoes so you can understand what they mean by their words. If you find this difficult, read more fiction.

Humility is less painful than pride. Despite its initial discomfort. Why? Because humility makes room for others, as well as yourself, to grow. Pride claims you’ve grown the tallest and no one will ever reach your greatness. Being a giant in a world of dwarves is lonely — especially when you think you’re a giant, but you’re actually just as small as everyone else.

When you don’t know, admit it. When you think you know but you might be wrong, admit it. When you realize what you said before was wrong, call yourself out. Practice humility. Because anything that doesn’t come naturally requires practice — not only when you’re out and about, but also when you’re by yourself, scrolling through Instagram and judging that girl’s selfie, this dude’s muscle tone, and that barista’s latte art. Are you really better than them? Not only in photographs but in essence, in life? The correct answer is no.

It’s better to admit when you’re wrong (or did something stupid) than to hold convictions out of pride. We’ve all had those moments when understanding floods our consciousness and we realized how stupid or off-base our previous ideas/thoughts/words/actions were. In these moments, embrace the freedom that comes with saying, “Well, I feel like an idiot” and explaining why.

Don’t judge people by their opinions. Don’t decide whether or not you’ll be friends with someone based on their opinions. Opinions change. Issues come and go. People can’t be replaced. I am enormously thankful that my extended family has completely different views on practically every single political issue. It forces me to see “the other side” as human and challenges me to understand where they’re coming from with their ideas on abortion, gay marriage, the welfare state, etc. We don’t disagree because some of us are stupid, ignorant, or barbaric. We disagree because we look at the world differently. When we take time to understand each others’ worldviews, our own perspectives broaden and we grasp complexity beyond what we originally saw. And when we fail at that, we’re still family which means we have more chances to attempt understanding and love each other without seeing eye to eye.

None of us have everything figured out. Anyone who says they do is wrong. But that’s not a reason to write them off. Maybe they haven’t learned there’s nothing wrong with the answer, “I don’t know.” Take time to get to know them. Share where you are in this journey and practice being humble in their presence. Who knows, maybe they’ll catch your humility.

“I don’t know” is not a cop-out. It’s an invitation to begin an investigation. Is there a way you could know? How can you find out? We’re able to learn and reason and discover — the exact abilities necessary for knowing. So scour the libraries, consult the scholars, study Scripture and science and history. Heck, search Google. There’s no excuse to stay in the realm of unknowing once you’ve identified what you don’t know.

Whenever the opportunity arises, offer grace. But don’t let grace be an excuse to be walked over or to allow others to continue toward destruction. Grace identifies wrongs with the expectation that they will be corrected, but it doesn’t require those corrections in order to rest in its arms. This is straight out of the Gospel, so if you don’t know Jesus, here’s a taste: All other faiths of this world ask you to live up to a standard in order to enter some sort of paradise. Jesus, fully God and fully man, lived up to that standard because it’s impossible for us. The paradise is living in His presence forever. His sacrifice on the cross allows us to come before the throne of God in awe of what He’s done for hopeless sinners like us. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” When you turn to God, you don’t return to sin. He calls you higher. Sin provides only a counterfeit joy. Like pride, it provides satisfaction for a season, but soon enough it takes its toll and you’re bound to destruction. God is all about releasing those bonds so you can live in the freedom of humility with a God who humbled Himself so you could be raised out of the pit. How do I know this? I told you, I haven’t experienced much. I’m no expert on anything. But this? This I’ve experienced.

Sunset
Photo credit: Natalie Sell

Life is a journey. What are you learning?

Jesus > Religion, or I no longer need to write a book about the church

A friend has been on my case to write a book about the church, since I apparently have a lot to say on the topic. Makes sense, considering my upbringing as a pastor’s kid, my view of church as the people not the building, and my overall frustration at the people for being immobile and silent in a world that is dying.

But after reading Jefferson Bethke’s Jesus > Religion: Why he is so much better than trying harder, doing more, and being good enough, I have nothing to say. In ten chapters, Bethke speaks the truth on what differentiates true Christianity from any other religion (even faux Christianity). And in speaking—er, writing—his mind, he puts my thoughts on church (those knocking around in my brain and occasionally spilling out in conversation) into words.

I bought this book on sale for Kindle some time in the last few weeks, and I flew through it, reading it when I felt like reading (but not Fitzgerald). It’s jam-packed with metaphors and analogies from Bethke’s life experience, literature and mythology, and of course Scripture. Bethke expounds the truth of the Gospel and God’s unbelievable grace toward us, sinners. It’s a book of theology, biblical truth, and testimony as Bethke weaves the story of his Christian walk throughout each chapter.

Bethke writes honestly about sin and grace and doesn’t beat around any bushes. His straight-forward writing style makes him exceptionally quotable, and I, for one, scribbled down and shared quite a few of his words as I read. Here are a few of my favorites:

Sometimes people will hate us because we preach the gospel Jesus preached, and sometimes people will hate us because were jerks: Lets not do the second one and blame it on the first.

The biggest difference between religious people and gospel-loving people is that religious people see certain people as the enemies, when Jesus-followers see sin as the enemy.

Avoiding sin isn’t about us not getting in trouble; it is about us trusting that the Creator knows his creation best and has designed the world to work in a certain way. Everything outside of his creative order is a distortion, and when we follow that fractured path, we are implying we are our own gods and know better than he does.

Jesus didn’t come to lower the standard; he actually came to raise it. He took the issue from external to internal. If we are honest, we realize our hearts, our minds, and our actions are in direct opposition to our Creator. 

And that’s just a taste. Honestly, I can’t say much about this book because it’s one that speaks for itself and does so well. I do, however, recommend that you pick up a copy and read it—whether you’re a Christian or not.

Prepare yourself for a wakeup call, because books like this shouldn’t just prep you for engaging conversations, they should ready you for real-life action where you actually do love your neighbor as yourself and have an answer ready when they ask about the hope within you. Where you actually do engage the world around you—its good, bad, and ugly—seeking to redeem it for the glory of God. Where you don’t shy away from the person whom Scripture condemns, but embrace them and share with them the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Because ultimately, that’s what the church—and Christianity—is about. Not Sunday morning worship and flannel graph Bible stories.

For a taste of what you’ll find in the book, check out Bethke’s video, the precursor to him writing the book:

Six months in New York City: A reflection

Tomorrow, Im leaving New York City for an indefinite amount of time. A lot has happened since I moved here six months ago. Here‘s a glimpse into a piece of my journey.

Who would have thought I’d arrive to New York City struggling to hold onto my faith and leave with it clasped anew between my hands? Places like these are where people come to forget about God, drown themselves in self, and abandon any idea of a loving, sacrificial, holy Creator. But coming here has renewed my faith.

Six months ago, I came here shaking (quite literally) in my boots, terrified of what my future may or may not have held. I was coming to the city where dreams come true, and I was not at all confident I could handle it. Being here made my dreams — those at the time and those forgotten from years past — feel possible, tangible, things I could reach. Now was my time. Don’t screw up; don‘t screw up, I told myself over and over, stressing myself out and making screwing up inevitable.

But as time went on, the fear and nervousness fell away, making room for me to be my genuine self, not the worry-wart who’d taken over my body. This was especially noticeable in my interactions with my co-workers at tbsp. I typically start a job quiet and get louder as time goes on, but this was different. I was a Christian twenty-something from rural nowhere come to New York City, working food service in Chelsea of all places. If loud, pushy liberal down-staters aren’t enough, throw in one of the most polarizing moral debates of our time. And then me, who hates arguing and, at that point, was having a hard time calling herself a Christian.

I don’t know how many months it was until the truth got out: Meredith’s a Christian, and she’s not doing homework before work — she’s reading her Bible.

They noticed I didn’t swear, but that action plus the cross in the logo on my hat didn’t connect for a conclusion of “Christian”. In fact, no one ever suggested Christian as a possibility. Catholic, yes. Mormon, yes. Christian, no. So I had to say the word and note, “There’s a big difference,” prepared to explain what the difference was.

By the time those situations came about, though, God had already done some major work on my heart — through conversations with my housemates, straight-up Bible preaching at church two and sometimes three times a week, and regular Bible reading (not to mention the people at church and bits of encouragement along the way from Christians I randomly met in the library, with a running group, and at a soccer tournament).

With every moment and word of truth and encouragement, God pulled me back, whispering, “See? I am real and present and active. You can trust me.”

And though I see-sawed from letting go slightly and holding on tightly — and, indeed, still struggle to trust God with my future — today, as I prepare to leave the city where dreams come true and return to Indiana for my first using-the-degree job, I am not the fear-filled, shaky, skittish girl I was six months ago. I am excited about my future and whatever it does or does not hold. I know that God is in control and that He will do a better job with my life than I ever could do on my own.

Good Reads: Bionic achievements, hitchhiking moms, and rapping Christians

This is part of a semi-weekly series recommending interesting and well-written longform/narrative nonfiction articles.

This week’s picks:

The Dream Kickoff by Danielle Elliot, Grantland

Paralyzed. Not forever but long enough for walking to seem an eternal impossibility. Enter Miguel Nicolelis, a Brazilian neuroscientist with a passion to bring the paralyzed to their feet using an exoskeleton controlled by their brains. The goal: for one paralytic to kick off the 2014 World Cup. (Spoiler alert: They succeeded.)

(Not) A Runner’s Story: Three Miles A Marathon by Rickey Gates, TrailRunner

A half century ago, Rickey Gates’ mother hitchhiked from New York to Alaska and took second in a race running Mount Marathon. She was one of two runners and said it was fun. Last year, Rickey Gates retraced her steps. The resulting piece is an enjoyable narrative exploring the history of the race and how running is really another form of travel.

Andy Mineo Raps About Christ. Just Don’t Call Him a Christian Rapper. by Corrie Mitchell, Narrative.ly

The origin story of Any Mineo, a rap artist who also happens to be a Christian, and who seeks to meet the unsaved where they are. (If you want an idea of my thoughts on being a Christian artist, this will give you an idea. To quote Mineo: “Hip-hop itself is not evil, it’s just been the way that we’ve decided to use it . . . But that’s why we’re here, to try to shift the culture, to try to change it, to redeem a good art form that God has created and allowed us to use.”)

And if you’re too tired/lazy/impatient to read, check this out:

The Space Between (video) by Drew and Chelsea Mose, Narrative.ly

A short documentary about Maureen Seaberg, an author who has a rare neurological condition called Synesthesia (which I wrote about in high school after reading A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass).

What have you been reading?