I’m excited to introduce you to yet another amazing woman from our “Women in the Trenches” series, a look at inspiring women in the trenches of art, family, ministry, becoming . . . real living. Over the summer, you heard from Rickelle Hicks, Elaine Hamilton, and Erin Grayson. Do yourself a favor and go back and check out these interviews if you haven’t read them already. Beautiful, soulful, life-traveled woman. All of them. Their words will help you journey.
Today, is no different. I first met Rachel Held Evans at the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Writing in 2010. Her debut book, Evolving in Monkey Town, was just about to release. We were fellow Zondervan writers, introduced by our amazing editor-in-common, and I so appreciated Rachel’s not-taking-herself-too-seriously sense of humor and yet . . . YET, her sharp insight and intelligence AND her willingness to tackle very difficult topics with grace and wisdom. Hers is an important voice, so I wanted you to get to know her!!
I have been so challenged by her blog, www.rachelheldevans.com and am especially looking forward to the release of her second book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, based on an incredible project which she will talk more about in the interview. Available for pre-order here.
I invited Rachel to talk to us about blogging, writing, the Church, and so much more. Here’s Rachel . . .
How long have you been married? 9 years
Where do you live? What’s great about where you live? Dayton, Tennessee—home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 and the best place in the world to get fresh strawberries in the spring.
What is your job and why were you drawn to that particular field? I’m a full-time writer, working from my dining room table and the occasional coffee shop. I’ve wanted to do this since I was a little girl, and in fact dressed up as an author for career day in third grade. I wore a little suit jacket and fake glasses, with a bun in my hair and a legal pad under my arm. Of course, had I known the actual professional attire of a writer, I would have simply gone to school in my pajamas! So this has been a dream of mine for a long time.
You dive into difficult subjects on your blog, and sometimes take some heat for it. Takes guts! What do you hope to accomplish through your work? My goal is always to engage in meaningful conversations with my readers, to speak with them honestly and with vulnerability, and to listen to their own stories, questions and ideas. This is what I love about blogging. It keeps me in constant communication with my readers so I know what inspires and intrigues them. This helps me become a better writer. Ultimately, I hope my work helps people see the world in new ways. I hope it helps them pay attention. That’s the job of every writer I think.
When you write about theology, the Church, faith, doubt, and what it means to be a woman of faith in our culture, you’re inevitably going to wander into some controversial territory. I’m fine with that. There are injustices around the world and in the Church that we have to confront with courage. But I hope that I do so in a way that is civil, constructive, and in the spirit of grace. My readers help keep me accountable in that, and I am grateful to them for making our little community one of the most diverse, yet respectful, you will find online.
I appreciate your honest struggle with Church. Where is your relationship with Church now and where do you see your relationship with Church going? I love the Church so much, and I especially love the diversity of faith expressions that we see within her—from Orthodox, to Catholic, to evangelical, to Mennonite, to Anglican, to Quaker, to Lutheran, to Methodist. There are things I profoundly admire about each of these traditions. And yet I struggle to find my place in the Church, a place where I fit. Part of this is just a consequence of living in a small rural town where there aren’t many options. Part of it is my own selfishness and pride in seeking out a church that “meets” my own needs. And part of it is systemic problems within a lot of church cultures that restrict opportunities for women, excludes certain groups of people, and creates a fearful atmosphere that isn’t friendly to folks like me who ask questions and occasionally doubt.
My husband and I were part of a wonderful little church plant here in Dayton that ultimately failed due to lack of finances. Since that fell apart, we’ve been searching for a local church home. That has been a journey, but it’s one that is strengthening my faith and challenging some of my old attitudes and presuppositions…in a good way.
How do you schedule writing time, blogging time, other social media time? I’m pretty terrible at time management. (See Mike Hyatt’s blog for information that might actually be helpful!) But I’ve found that, in some ways, it’s easier to do something every day than it is to do something every once in a while. And so I try to post a blog every day, and have gotten in a good habit of knocking out a post or two in the morning before dealing with the onslaught of email, interviews, social media, conference calls, etc. for the rest of the day. If I’m working on a major project, like a book, I go into recluse mode and focus almost exclusively on that.
What are a few keys to creating a meaningful blog that also has longevity?
1. Write about things you care about. Don’t lock yourself into a single topic out of obligation, but give yourself room to change and grow. Most of your readers will follow.
2. Share your platform with others. Invite people to guest post, review other people’s books, conduct interviews. This not only brings new voices and perspectives to your blog, but also gives you a break from time to time!
3. Don’t obsess over stats. I used to check my Google Analytics every single day and then, when Google released a version that included real-time tracking, I realized I had to quit or else I’d get addicted and my self-esteem would rise and fall with every hourly rise and fall of pageviews. Now I check a couple of times a month and am much happier!
What voices are influencing you right now? Lately I’ve been returning to some old favorites from Barbara Brown Taylor, Madeleine L’Engle, Kathleen Norris, Anne Lamott, and Lauren Winner. When I’m feeling dried up creatively, the words of these ladies are like rain.
Your second book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, releases this fall. Briefly describe the project you did for this book. How has that project changed you? My next book describes a project I undertook about a year ago in which I followed all of the Bible’s instructions for women as literally as possible for a year. So I had to grow out my hair, cover my head whenever I prayed, remain silent in church, nurture a “gentle and quiet spirit,” observe the Levitical purity codes that made me ceremonially impure during my period, observe the Jewish holidays, and much more. (I even called my husband “master” for a week!)
Some of these experiences were funny (in deference to Proverbs 31:23, I literally praised my husband at the city gate with a homemade sign), others were rewarding (I learned a lot about contemplative prayer when I visited a Benedictine monastery one month), and others were terrible (I ordered and cared for a computerized baby named Chip, and he was a nightmare!). I got to interview all kinds of interesting women—from an Orthodox Jew to an Amish housewife, to a polygamist, to a woman pastor. And in the book, I also feature the stories of women from the Bible—Huldah, Jael, Deborah, Ruth, Vashti, Sarah, Tamar, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, Junia, Priscilla, Phoebe—each of whom honored and glorified God in her own unique way.
The point, of course, is to show that any time we talk about something like “biblical womanhood,” we are being selective. None of us are practicing “biblical womanhood” comprehensively, and like the women from Scripture, we are each called to honor God through the unique gifts he has given us. My hope is that the book will help liberate women from the notion that there is just one right way to be a woman of faith. It’s not about sticking to a list of rules or roles; it’s about living with character. It’s about becoming, as my Jewish friend Ahava likes to say, a woman of valor.
Any secrets for making time to fit all of life in? How do you order your life for work, play, rest, family time, exercise, etc? If I knew, I would write a book about it and make a gazillion dollars!
What fills you up or inspires you? Unplugging for a few days, road trips, the writings of saints from long ago, liturgy, football, fall weather, baked things, silence.
Where do you find God? In silence.
What is one product or item you use all the time that you love and think everyone should know about? I do enjoy my Kindle—not for every book (some you just have to be able to hold in your hands to revisit and underline and finger through) but for checking out new releases and talked-about books. Great for traveling.
What is your favorite book and why? I could never choose! But if I absolutely had to—To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
What is your one wardrobe staple? A good pair of dressy flats….for running through the airport, giving a presentation, or slipping on with your sweatpants to go check the mail.
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