Bikram Yoga – not for Pansies

by Marie O’Toole

pansyAbout seven months ago, I started exercising again after a 22-year hiatus (I was a college gymnast) and a nearly-unused Planet Fitness membership. The form of intense exercise I chose (or rather, was introduced to by my boyfriend, the famous Amos Parker), is known as Hot Bikram Yoga. We go to Bikram Yoga Durham, in Durham New Hampshire, which also offers Inferno Hot Pilates and Hot Vinyasa Flow. (There are many types of yoga, and I don’t claim to be an expert by any means.) Bikram was founded by Bikram Choudhury, who synthesized various aspects of hatha yoga into an intense whole-body workout. (There is no chanting or spiritual aspect, but you are encouraged to “set your intention” for class and focus on breathing in life, positivity and affirmation, while exhaling negativity.)

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The designer “modeling” one of his creations

Usually as a beginner you are so focused on not having a heart attack and keeping the sweat out of your eyes that “meditation” during class would be elusive anyway, but it does rejuvenate you mentally and physically to the extent that stress is relieved and the exercise helps combat anxiety. As one instructor in Durham often says, “If you can do Hot Bikram, you can do anything. The little stresses in life will not bother you so much.”

True to its name, this form of yoga is performed in a 104° studio for 90 minutes. This from a girl who doesn’t like to sweat. (Seriously…perspiration has always grossed me out.) Yoga is never an activity I thought I would engage in, since I associate it with hippies, New-Agey types, and people who eat tofu and wheatgrass. Nor do I have either the time or attention span for mediation. Yeah, not for me.

Crunchy Therapy?

SwansonThe funny thing is, (there are probably several funny things about me doing yoga, and you really have to look for the humor when describing an activity so intense that you lose 4-5 lbs. of sweat in an hour and a half); but not long after my divorce ordeal an old school friend (who had similarly been through a traumatic divorce) specifically recommended yoga to me – along with good nutrition and avoiding sugar – as an excellent way of beating depression and keeping a clear mind and healthy body.

I remember thinking, “Sounds cool, Tony. Yeah. Yoga….I’ll add that to my list of things to do. Along with joining a commune and eating kale chips.” (I actually did try kale chips once…they are over-priced and over-rated. And one cult experience in my life is more than enough, thanks.) But I digress. Back to Bikram Yoga.

My first voyage into the studio was tagging along with Amos, who didn’t promise it would be “fun”, but hey – it was something healthy to do together, and I’ll try anything once. I quickly learned why students cover their yoga mtee2ats (which Amos loaned me) with a beach towel – the sweat is pouring off of you within 5 minutes. For the second class, I ditched the T-shirt and sweatpants for a proper yoga costume – spandex that covers just a bit more than a 2-piece bathing suit.

*Disclaimer: There will be no sweaty yoga pictures of me in the making of this post.

The Practice and Benefits

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The class starts with a series of deep breathing exercises, then moves into a series of 26 poses (“asanas”) focusing on flexibility and endurance. There are moments at which you think you are going to die, but Bikram is not a competitive sport and the instructors are very affirming of each person’s ability and effort – encouraging students to “take a knee” when necessary. It is extremely important to be well-hydrated prior to and following class, as water takes 45 minutes to enter the system and what you drink during class cannot compensate for the fluid and electrolytes you excrete during those 90 minutes.

The floor series takes the heart rate down, stretching takes you to the max, and the class concludes with another breathing exercise and a few minutes on the floor in bump5.pngrelaxation and meditation (“savasna”). Besides improving flexibility, endurance, and improving circulation, some of the physical benefits of Bikram yoga reportedly include alleviation of arthritis, better thyroid function, and increased bone density (much like any weight-bearing exercise). It is also extremely helpful for folks who are trying to cut down or quit unhealthy habits like smoking or drinking alcohol.

The primary physical benefit for me in the months since starting Bikram has been dramatically decreased pain from a soft-tissue injury that acts up when I am driving (I have a 2-hour commute, each way, every day, to work and back….and Amos and I live 108 miles apart. I do A LOT of driving.) Two years ago, I foolishly kicked up into a handstand in my living room – sans stretching or warmup – just to see if I still “had it”. Apparently I don’t. I felt something rip, and spent the next several days limping in excruciating pain, cursing the fact that I am no longer 17. Initially I thought I had pulled a hamstring, which was a frequent occurrence in my gymnastics days, but this refused to heal or allow me to stretch. I had torn a tendon, which do not completely heal on their own.

While I mourned the fact that I would never again do the splits on that side, the more annoying aspect began about a year after the injury: about an hour into driving, I would notice the tendon started to hurt. It became neuropathy, shooting pain all the way down into my right toes. The pain was especially bad whenever I would wear shoes with even a slight heel on them. Coincidentally, it was right about the time the referred pain started that Amos started bringing me to yoga – which involves a lot of straight-leg stretching. While I cannot even come close to putting my forehead on my knee without bending it, the continual stretching made the chronic-achiness-pain-while driving disappear by about 90% after the second or third class I attended.

 

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I can’t quite lock my knees. Well, not when my face is on them anyway.

Additionally, the post-exercise rejuvenation has a calming effect. Hot Bikram helps keep the mind clear and anxiety at bay – not a “magic bullet”, by any means; but a healthy option for stress-fighting and a good option for pursuing total wellness. Like many, I have found yoga beneficial both for physical and mental health. Since Hot Bikram burns approximately 400-450 calories per 90-minute class (for women – probably more for men), it is an excellent choice for anyone on a weight-loss regime.bump9 (I won’t be joining you in that – with my blast-furnace metabolism, calories are my little friends and I replenish them after class with a pure cocoa-and-protein-powder smoothie, courtesy of Amos).

Artwork for Merchandise

One creative endeavor Amos has recently started has been to design various T-shirts, bumper stickers, and similar products to extol the virtues of Hot Bikram in a humorous way. (See designs scattered around this post, none of which are “official” BYD merchandise; but rather thought up just for fun and potentially for individual order.)

I particularly like the tote bag, which should be lined with plastic in order to cart your mat, water bottle, and saturated-with-sweat yoga costume and beach towel home:

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Some cool water bottle designs too:

Additional T-shirt designs:

Hot Bikrim is a great way to blow off steam (literally and figuratively) while getting in shape and making new friends. Yoga really is for everyone – regardless of age or ability, there are tremendous health benefits to taking a class before or after the busy-ness of the work day. A demanding-yet-rewarding discipline, fatigue, pulled muscles and lethargy with certainly be banished after your first few classes.

Namaste!

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Grace, Gratitude, and Paying it Forward (Rather than “Paying it Back”)

receivingloveby Marie O’Toole

A clichéd saying goes, “It costs nothing to be kind”. This is very often true in a tangible sense; often the most meaningful expressions of kindness cost nothing to give in a material sense. Especially in our day and age of mass media and instant communication, with more people paradoxically feeling lonely and isolated than ever, a smile; a kind word; a conversation over coffee may be the most-appreciated gesture of generosity and individual could receive. In our busy-ness, giving of our time and limited attention seems to be a bigger sacrifice than opening our checkbooks, and it’s easy to under-estimate the effect of a simple gesture of attention and encouragement.

kindnessThis is especially true of friends (or even strangers) who may be struggling emotionally. As a social media meme goes, “Everyone is fighting some sort of battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always.”

But what about tangible help, gifts, “surprises-just-because”?  Sometimes accepting the generosity of others – even (or especially) of those closest to us, can feel awkward. Difficult to receive, for reasons stemming from our own wounds, insecurity, or pride. Humiliating, even, rather than humbling. I have been considering a few reasons this might be, and the faulty thinking/conditioning that might lie behind this very-human tendency to recoil from another’s generosity.

  • The “I don’t deserve it” mentality. Few people would actively say that they carry low self-esteem, or think of themselves as worms, but deep down many of us carry an inherent sense of unworthiness. We have been taught (rightfully) to put others first, and not to be selfish. Therefore, the subconscious reasoning goes, “I do not deserve this gift. I am completely unworthy; he must not give it to me!”

The flaw in this thinking, of course, is that the giver wants to be generous – to “grace” the receiver with something that would bless him or her. In the giver’s eyes, the person is special enough to warrant his or her generosity, and has even taken the extra step of considering what the receiver could use or enjoy. This thoughtfulness on the giver’s part alone should fill the recipient with joy – not embarrassment.

unworthyHave you ever noticed that children do not feel unworthy or awkward when receiving gifts? Of course, we teach them to say “thank you” and to feel genuine appreciation, but a feeling of unworthiness of others’ goodwill is not on their radar. Accepting a gift graciously is a child-like attitude that ironically comes with maturity.

  • The “I must earn it” mentality. Inherent in human nature is the instinct to earn our keep. In daily life, this is a good attitude – it demonstrates a healthy work ethic, and integrity. Few of us would consider cheating on our income taxes, or misrepresenting our income in order to milk the state for welfare or social benefits to which we are not entitled.

A “gift”, by definition, does not represent anything we have earned on our own – if it did, it would be called “wages”. It is a no-strings-attached tangible expression of generosity. Even legal documents use the term gift to differentiate sums of money given from loans, which need to be paid back. Because we are proud by nature of being self-reliant, self-sufficient, and having “pulled our own weight”, it strikes at our pride to have unearned and unexpected kindness lavished on us.

(The extreme importance placed on self-reliance is a recent and Western value, by the way. In tribal and “primitive” societies, selflessness and communal service was assumed, necessary to survival, and the thought of “thanking” someone for assistance or a gift was actually considered rude. Read this excellent article by Christian Medium blogger Mallory Smyth, “Why Americans Have a Hard Time Receiving Love”.)

gift.jpgWhile appreciation should always be genuine, and expressed, it makes one wonder if our quest never to take anything from anyone in the name of autonomy has actually served to make us more prideful and isolated than God ever intended. Seeing the beauty of a gift through the eyes of the giver and receiving it in the same spirit should be humbling; not humiliating. Gratitude is appropriate – not self-recrimination. This is upside-down to our way of thinking, but it is part of the unique human ability to love (to seek the good of another, without reserve). Reminiscent of the Christian doctrine of grace, which is defined as “unmerited favor or undeserved gift”, something bestowed freely on us without thought of reciprocation belies the beautiful and caring nature of the giver – not how “deserving” the receiver is.

  • The “insecurity” mentality. In almost any human relationship except that of parent-child, there exists at least the possibility of fear or distrust. Sometimes, people who find themselves on the receiving end of generosity are so unaccustomed to kindness that it actually confuses them. Some might question the giver’s motives; some might fear that the relationship will end – and then feel morally responsible to compensate the giver for everything.

The knawing question of “where do I stand with ___? How can I accept this?” belies a certain amount of distrust. If one is secure in his or her identity, the fear of losing someone (or “falling from grace”) should not be on the radar, but unfortunately we often react out of our past wounds, worst fears confirmed, or feelings of worthlessness – often instilled in earlier relationships. The gentlest soul in the world may find his or her generosity rebuffed if the recipient is unaccustomed to kindness being shown to her, material or otherwise.

A gracious giver gives because he or she wants to, and cares for the recipient first and foremost as an individual. Generosity without thought of being re-paid is a Christ-like quality.

Paying it Forward

So many people who struggle to accept gifts or assistance from other people are, themselves, very generous and often go out of their way to help others. Done out of the goodness of their hearts and will a genuine desire to serve others, those who feel awkward about being on the receiving end would be horrified if those to whom they give were to react in the same way. “Someone else is deserving….it gives me pleasure to give….but I am not; and I am ashamed to receive”. Self-abasement, however, is not humility – it is actually a form of pride.

gratitudeWhat, then, is an appropriate and healthy way to receive another’s generosity? Graciously. A realization that the giver has done something purely out of the goodness of his or her heart lightens the spirit; brings a smile of delight; and makes the receiver want to show the same grace simply because being others-focused brings joy. Rather than trying to “pay back” the giver, a healthier response is to “pay it forward”. Or, as Jesus succinctly put it, “….Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matt. 10:8). There are infinite ways of paying it forward – sponsoring a child in a Third World country; calling a friend from whom one has been estranged; cooking a nice dinner for your parents with a beautiful cookware gift set. Even something as simple as a smile, a kind word or compliment to a stranger in the workplace can be meaningful…..many people are hungering for even a small touch of compassion.

While it may be more blessed to give than to receive, (Acts 20:35) receiving gifts and acts of grace from one another is an opportunity to grow in humility, appreciation, gratitude and joy – which benefits not only ourselves, but those closest to us.

The Evangelical Wife by Susanna Krizo – (Review)

wife_imageSeveral weeks ago, while turning my time sheet in at the Interpreters Services office at work, I met a newly-hired Arabic interpreter from Saudi Arabia. My boss introduced me to her while she was in a friendly discussion with the Farsi interpreter, a woman originally from Iran who I know well. The Saudi woman, an artist, was describing her life as a feminist in the Kingdom. “I was forced into an arranged marriage at 20….it destroyed me inside, and my art suffered. I couldn’t create,” she said. From outward appearances – her close-cropped hair and professional pantsuit – I never would have guessed this woman had grown up under a repressive patriarchal regime where she was allowed no voice; no vision; no freedom to dream. We spoke for a few minutes about courageous young women to come out of the Islamic world such as Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who spoke out for girls’ rights to education, and I expressed sympathy that my colleague had been deprived of basic freedoms (such as being able to drive or dress as she wished) in Saudi Arabia. “Well, you experienced half that – it’s not so different,” my boss interjected ironically. I quickly demurred, saying “You can’t really compare American patriarchal oppression of women to Islamic…..and I didn’t really have it so bad compared to some women.”

A week later, Author Susanna Krizo sent me her novel, “The Evangelical Wife”. I had to retract part of that last statement – there is much basis for comparison between the two worldviews, as well as contrast. While we women in America may drive, eschew burqas and have no fear of flogging or stoning, the silencing, relegation to second-class status (on par with children) and denial of equality women in the conservative evangelical world Krizo depicts is the exact same spiritualized misogyny inherent in Sharia law. While more subtle and supported by unwritten rules (as well as application of Scripture from the Pre-Mosaic patriarchal period of the Old Testament to 21st century America), the lives of quiet desperation imposed on many evangelical/fundamentalist women in the United States is not a theme often addressed in either Christian fiction or non-fiction.

A Thoughtful and Sensitive Treatment

While I don’t usually read or review fiction, Krizo’s novel was worthy enough to warrant a thorough analysis. An excellent writer, Krizo brings the reader into the inner world of the fundamentalist American sub-culture by use of descriptive details and thought-provoking soul-searching in the main character’s daily life. What makes this novel so compelling is her insightful portrayal of the unfullfillment, despondency, and ultimately settled resignation that many women in patriarchal authoritarian churches experience (through the eyes of the main character, Hannah) without lapsing into clichés or stereotypes. Krizo effectively brings us into the world of a stay-at-home wife and mother, who is offered no other life choice, through the use of details and unanswered questions – without vilifying anyone. Far from an indictment of evangelicalism, the characters in this novel are sympathetic and likeable – cogs in a system that has reared them to think in absolutes. Krizo neither attacks the Christian faith nor demonizes those in power (read: the men), but as the days wear on and more is justified in the name of “authority”, we see the maxim “absolute power corrupts absolutely” very much at work in the church which dictates every detail of domestic life.

And domestic life can be difficult with multiple children; no reprieve from the demands of child-rearing and cultivating an image of familial perfection; enduring the ever-escalating demands of husbads who demand absolute obedience; and an ecclesiastically enforced single income:

“He worked so very hard to transform her into a godly woman. Too hard, in Hannah’s opinion, especially since he didn’t take care to do the same to himself. It was as if Jesus had thought about evangelical husbands when he talked about the speck and the plank. Sometimes they could be so blind.

No one at church talked about how they were supposed to make it on one income. It all sounded so great when the pastor talked about the life God wanted them to have. They all nodded in unison and smiled. They knew how to please God and it made them special. It was too bad that the power company didn’t think they were special too….. Perhaps if she prayed more their finances would improve. But why was she thinking about any of it? It was Michael’s job to worry about the finances, it was her job to cook and clean. She shouldn’t attempt to meddle in things that were none of her concern.”

Loving, Christian, but Inherently Unbalanced

Refreshingly, “The Evangelical Wife” is not a story of abuse. It is far more nuanced than that, delving into the gray areas between unmet dreams; guilt over having expectations; growing dictatorship at home (which, axiomatically, breaks down marital intimacy); and finally, Hannah’s husband’s increasing defense and justification of men in the congregation who truly are abusing their wives in plain sight. Her own experience is more dichotomous. Michael is a well-intentioned man who loves Hannah and their two sons, four and two, and is thrilled to learn a third is on the way. We see him spontaneously express affection to Hannah and bring their sons to the park – even offering to take them out to play so Hannah can get some rest – but only when the mood strikes. A hard-working provider, Michael is also prone to mood swings that cause him to rage at Hannah for an unwashed coffee cup (which he had left in the garage) after she has spent a day washing, ironing, cooking, and running after two toddlers. Hannah has long since learned not to defend herself when he demands, “What do you do all day?” or is accused of being “selfish”, as it will incite an angry lecture about “wives being submissive to your husbands”. She is usually to exhausted, physically and mentally, to endure his criticism.

The Search for Meaning

We first meet Hannah during a rainy day like any other, staring out the window at the gray drizzle as endless as the mountains of laundry produced by Michael, and her two little boys. Pregnant with her third child, Hannah remembers her childhood dreams of having a career and seeing the world, quashed by her strong Christian parents in the name of “godliness”. She, like many women in her position, years for something more outside the confines of the life dictated to her, but doesn’t know exactly what “something more” is.

“Accordingly, all women were expected to become homemakers as it was considered the godly choice, the only choice. Growing up, little boys were encouraged to play with swords, get dirty and be loud, while little girls were taught to dress their dolls, have tea time with their friends and dream of the day when they themselves would become homemakers. It was a beautiful dream filled with God’s light and pink glitter, but it was a dream that never crossed the border of childhood into adulthood. In the real world all the days began to look the same, the glitter ended up in all the wrong places, and the kitchen that had once appeared so bright and sunny began to feel more like a dungeon where the once hopeful young women tried to create something edible out of the few things they knew how to cook. Despite all of it most women accepted their role without much thought, having listened to stirring sermons on godly womanhood that dazzled them with the promise of romance and happiness. Becoming a wife and mother was the most important thing a woman could do. Only selfish women chose a life outside of the sheltering walls of the home. And as everyone knew, God didn’t approve of selfish women.”

Hannah had been allowed to attend Bible College – the only academic option available to women in her branch of Christianity – primarily for the purpose of finding a “godly husband”. An intelligent young women, Hannah met Michael studying Greek syntax and was shortly-after married to him. All of her life she had been taught that marriage was the fulfillment of her purpose as a woman (culminating in childbirth), but the illusion soon began to dissipate:

“Hannah looked at the rain and thought how women were like rain—needed yet despised. Women were at fault if anything went wrong, just as everyone blamed the rain that spoiled the perfect picnic. But if a woman ever tried to leave, suddenly everyone was invested in making sure she stayed. She had to be there, for without a woman there was no family, there was no home. Their pastor had waxed eloquent on more than one occasion about the role the wife played as the foundation of a home. Just as it was impossible to remove the foundation without destroying the whole house, it was equally impossible to have a family without a wife that stayed home. The real question was why everyone blamed the foundation for the poor condition of the rest of the structure.

All their lives they had been told that marriage and children was the “better” they had to look forward to and now suddenly there was another “better” to look forward to, one that didn’t include children and endless housework. What was the next “better”? Death? Without missing a beat their parents nodded and said, ‘yes, it is better to be with the Lord.’ The young people listened silently and wondered why they had been told to marry and have as many children as possible if it was better to be dead than alive. There was something wrong with the picture, but no one dared to say it out loud.”

Within the first chapter, the author takes us into the mundane details of the isolated female evangelical: starved of conversation, Hannah occasionally watches sitcoms just to hear adult voices (a choice Michael piously condemns as “worldly”, after returning from his office job). The women make homemade dish soap from recipes found on homemaking blogs – something, anything to give their daily lives purpose. Completely deprived of intellectual stimulation, Hannah’s soul begins to crumble and atrophy. She notices the lack of exhaustion and happiness apparent on the faces of other mothers she sees at the library’s weekly story-time hour, but quickly dismisses her dormant envy as the women’s skirts don’t go past their knees (making them “unbelievers” and therefore inferior).

Her few friends, all from the insular evangelical church they attend, all face the same struggles and guilt over admitting (even to themselves) that they struggle with the burdens placed on their shoulders. They must all keep their doubts and guilt to themselves – as if speaking it aloud somehow validated it This admission would be tantamount to heresy – because it would demand re-examining the worldview they had been taught all their lives – and threatened with hellfire if they ever dared question it.

“… How many women really wanted a man to boss them around and how many men wanted to get stuck in a dead-end job just to support their families?…. What would have made her happy was help with the housework, time for herself, and a husband who didn’t always silence her, a husband who treated her like—like a person. Why didn’t they talk about that in these glossy marriage publications? But an even better question was why she kept on thinking about these things. Everyone knew men and women were so different that there could never be any hope of equality. Why didn’t motherhood elevate women to the same status men enjoyed instead of lowering them to the ranks of children? Children needed supervision for their own good and women were said to need the same, for the exact same reason. It would have been almost funny if it wasn’t so infuriating. A grown woman who made life possible was treated like a tantrum throwing toddler when she objected to the fact that she was being treated like one. If they said men should treat women with honor, then that’s exactly what they should do. There was no honor in condescension.”

When “Not Depriving” Each Other Becomes Assault

At a baby shower, Hannah learns that she is not alone in viewing marital relations as a chore, which must be done – like ironing – out of a sense of duty to one’s husband, regardless of her own emotional needs (which are to be “crucified” if a woman even acknowledges they exist). Using 1 Corinthians 7:4 as a proof text, evangelical women are universally taught that depriving their husbands of sexual relations is a sin against God and a sign of “unsubmission”, which causes Hannah to feel guilt over her feelings of violation when Michael brutally forces himself on her one night. (While cases of non-consensual relations are likely rare in Christian marriages, the trauma and misguided spiritual guilt Hannah experiences over this action is a painfully accurate portrayal of the conditioned thought process evangelical women go through in this sensitive area). It is a well-known fact than love and mutual respect cannot flourish in any adult relationship based on inequality; the closer a marriage approximates a master-servant dynamic, the less intimacy can exist. For all of the marriage conferences and endless Christian marriage books the devout feed on, this imbalance of power and its destructive influence of the marital relationship is never addressed nor admitted.

While taught to have zero expectations in the marriage relationship, Hannah and her friends – although they dare not discuss it openly and must cultivate an image of family bliss at all costs – notice the double-standard and outright hypocrisy that their husbands practice in family life. Michael plays basketball, socializes with his church friends at will, and regularly leaves town for business or church men’s conferences for days at a time; but Hannah is expected to focus all of her time and energy on “the family” (within the house), unless it means volunteering at the church (with two toddlers in tow).

The one outside social event she might be allowed to enjoy is the two-day church women’s retreat, which Michael grudgingly lets her attend, although it means his missing a basketball game. Hannah has learned that to “ask permission” to socialize (evangelical women are expected to “ask their husband’s permission” for everything) is not worth the price she will pay: days of sulking and moodiness from Michael, and being guilt-tripped for not being “a good wife”. While she does enjoy a two-day reprieve at the retreat, her friend Laura is not so lucky: while there, Laura’s husband angrily telephones her, demanding that she return home immediately and cook him a “real” supper. The casserole she had left “tastes like dogfood” and the children are a nuisance. Laura tearfully leaves, and we later learn, through a conversation overheard by Hannah in the supermarket, that Laura’s husband can cook quite well – he just refuses to, in order to “show Laura who is boss”. We also hear him instructing a single man on the perks of finding a wife from the eager ranks of women within the church – “You don’t even have to worry about keeping your woman in line; the Church does it for you. It’s a win-win situation.”

“It was all about the family, until it wasn’t. But why was it always men who got to choose when it wasn’t?

No one dared to talk about it, for no one wanted to admit that their lives looked more like the evening news than the posters they saw at church; posters that advertised summer camps and short-term mission trips that cost more per person than a regular vacation for an entire family. Neither did anyone talk about the feelings of disappointment, anger, and frustration.

Or the guilt.

The huge amounts of gut-wrenching guilt they all carried around for wanting more out of life than the dead-end drudgery of homemaking…”

Victim-Shaming and Gossip

Later, we learn that Laura’s husband is battering her. Hannah grows suspicious when seeing her friend’s black eye and the obvious shame in her demeanor, and speaks to the pastor’s wife. Already aware of the situation, the pastor’s wife curtly tells Hannah to keep the “secret” quiet and reminds her of the wife’s obligation to “submit” to her husband. After all, of Laura had obeyed her husband and been a more dutiful wife, her husband wouldn’t have had to “discipline” her. When he finally puts her in the hospital,  as “discipline” for breaking his bowling trophy while cleaning, Laura escapes to a woman’s shelter with her two children – but not before suffering a broken arm, and miscarrying her child.

She is shunned by the church; excoriated by the other women. Now a pariah, Laura, a victim of domestic violence, will forever be viewed as a “wayward women”. She is blamed for her husband’s sin, for not “trying hard enough”. The same fate befalls the leader of women’s ministries, whose husband is having an illicit sexual affair with a teenager. The women in the church decide it was the woman’s own fault; after all, if she had just been “more available” to her husband, he wouldn’t have had to seek gratification outside the marriage bed.

Finding the Light

Growing dismay over the hurt she sees inflicted on these women, as well as Michael’s justification of Laura’s husband’s abuse of her, Hannah grows increasingly disillusioned with what is practiced in a church claiming to preach “grace”. When a new woman joins, a biology teacher who – gasp – believes in evolution, she is subtly shunned by the other women who consider her not much more than a heretic. Friendly and very much walking with God, Jessy visits Hannah with a much-needed casserole (for all of her homemaking responsibilities, Hannah cannot cook – unthinkable for an evangelical woman) and we learn that she cannot bear children. This further alienates her in the Church Ladies’ eyes, and Hannah must keep her acquaintanceship with Jessy a secret, lest the holy tongues start wagging about her, as well. Jessy slips Hannah a book in the church ladies’ room about women in the Bible, which Hannah reads in secret. New hope fills her:  God had never dictated that women hide their gifts; be subjugated by the ones entrusted to love them; or to endlessly serve without reciprocity or appreciation. His intention for His daughters was the same as it was for His sons: to find their joy and identity in Him; while using their unique gifts and abilities.

Meanwhile, Jessy suggests Laura report the battering to the police, and ultimately gets her to the women’s shelter. Hannah asks herself, “How was it possible that the only person who cared about what was happening to Laura was the one everyone thought was a blazing heretic? Something was very wrong with the whole picture.”

Hannah’s disillusionment with the dead-end destiny of herself and other fundamentalist women, combined with her growing concern over the way women are treated and blamed for their husband’s sinful misconduct and the increasingly dominant attitude of her husband cause her to question whether this is really “God’s will” as she nurtures her newborn baby daughter.

“She knew the real question was why the church had done nothing to stop the violence. How could they defend the destruction of a child of God? The authority men had was supposedly given for the protection of women. That was what they all said. But in reality it was given for the protection of the man’s selfish refusal to regard his wife as a person, a real human being. Only a man who saw his wife as a servant, created to please him, was able to treat his wife with such contempt. The Bible didn’t allow for such a blatant disregard of human life. Love for one’s neighbor extended to one’s spouse as well. In fact, it began with one’s spouse, for who were as close as two people who slept in the same bed and ate from the same table? A deep rage began to build within Hannah. Not only had they lied, they had also refused to help a woman getting hurt because of the lies. They said resisting those set in authority was evil. But how could resisting someone who hurt you be evil? There was nothing godly about beating your wife and there was nothing godly about defending someone who did. It was evil.

Pure evil.”

Hannah realizes she needs to change her life, but knows very well that if she speaks up against the injustice, she will share the same fate as the women whose husbands were adulterers or wife-batterers. Her situation, while bleak, is far less dramatic and in optimistic moments she is conflicted. As a woman who loves her husband, her family, and her God, what should she do? What can she do, without facing dire social consequences, and being made to be an outcast in the only world she has ever known?

Susanna Krizo’s “Hannah’s Choice”, a soon-to-be released sequel to “The Evangelical Wife” promises to answer these questions. Order The Evangelical Wife here, and visit Susanna’s author page here: http://www.susannakrizo.com/ to check out her other excellent books!

Susanna“Patriarchy is as far from benign, as it is from being biblical. Nowhere does the Bible advocate for a model in which men are allowed to elevate themselves above women in the name of “godly leadership.” Either all humans are equal, or human equality doesn’t exist; if human equality doesn’t exist, we are not created in the image of God; if we are not created in the image of God, we can forget about Genesis and seek the truth elsewhere. It is my hope that we can all join hands in this historic moment and bring equality back to where it should always have been found, the church.

Peace and Grace,

Susanna Krizo