Books

Read it!: Big Magic

I’m trying to get my writing mojo back, and a part of that process for me involves getting caught up on my reading. Simultaneously, I figure it can’t hurt to share what I pick up along the way.

Last winter I bought a ton of books, but didn’t have time to read them. Fortunately, in 2019, the tables turned.

Every now and then, I’m going to share with you my insights into the good, bad, and the ugly side of my reading material. And so, whether you’ve read it or not… This time around I’m covering Elizabeth Gilbert’s last book.

I know I’m late to get on the Elizabeth Gilbert love train. Last year my therapist loaned me her copy of Eat, Pray, Love. (I haven’t finished it, but I need to return it.) Prior to that, though, I first laid my eyes on Elizabeth via one of her TED Talks.

I thought she had a refreshing take on life and creativity, and when Big Magic was released, the hype was hard to ignore. The subtitle alone was enough to grab my attention: Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear.

Ohhhhhhh boy, I thought. I NEED this book. Although I think of myself as a creative person, I’ve let fear and procrastination keep me from creating anything substantial for years. (When I think of all the time since I first graduated that I could have spent writing a book, it’s a damn shame.)

As I approached Big Magic I was curious about Elizabeth’s approach. Within the first few pages, I found it incredibly easy to root for her premise. Regardless of your area of creative interest–whether you’re pursuing the arts, or your drug of choice involves math or science, when you create–when you MAKE something–you are taking a risk and daring to demonstrate your willingness to approach The Unknown. Putting yourself out there is scary. To dare to extend yourself is a powerful thing.

Ultimately, Big Magic is a prolonged pep-talk. Divided into SIX sections, and at 272 pages, the book’s length combined with its tone made it a quick, comfortable read. Throughout her book’s pages, Elizabeth encourages readers to boldly greet their creativity, embrace, and enjoy it.

She also includes a few curious concepts. For instance, consider The Shit Sandwich. Whether you’re pursuing your dream full-time or dealing with a day job, in the segment entitled, “Persistence”, Elizabeth asks the ultimate question: “What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?”

When I first read those words, I smiled both inside and out. I could truly relate. As my last full-time position came to a close, I found myself questioning everything. Among other things, I actually remember thinking to myself, “None of this is worth it.”

As the book went on, I found myself supporting just about everything Elizabeth has to say. But there was one exception: In the segment entitled “PERMISSION”, I found her usesing some that really bothered me. Actually, it was beyond bothersome: I found it offensive.

When it comes to making things, Elizabeth says, “…in the end, it really doesn’t matter that much. Because in the end, it’s just creativity.” I was on high alert after reading that. And that statement wasn’t the only anti-creativity bomb that she dropped.

Now, to a certain degree, I get it. There are times when people can take their creativity too seriously. As a result of their delusions, creatives can become overly stressed. And a part of me realizes that Elizabeth was probably trying to get certain folks not to worry too much and just enjoy the creative process. That said, regarding making music, Elizabeth wrote that, “Music is nothing more than decoration for the imagination. That’s all it is.”

And when I read those words, I nearly threw her book away.

Not only have there have been studies, but there are books that exist about the power of music and the effect that it can have on human beings. Regardless of which resources you choose, the authors’ statements are backed by science.

Plus there’s the fact that I’ve always taken music personally.

As a child, my mother sang in church. I remember very little about going to rehearsals with her. But one thing I could never forget is that I used to cry when she sang.

Music moved me that deeply.

That level of emotion stirred in my spirit again recently when I was watching a pianist on Instagram–of all places–playing Mozart. (Shoutout to Chloe Flower, Cardi B’s pianist.)

I’ll spare you from more ranting, but in a nutshell, when people say that art doesn’t matter, it makes my blood boil. And even when I’m not that angry, it makes me struggle to take them seriously.

Fortunately, after her comments on how unimportant art is, Elizabeth returned to her regular self. She discussed a few other relevant points, including the horrible myth that people buy into which states that artists can only create in the face of personal tragedy.

In general I felt comforted by Elizabeth’s words. These days, in spite of opportunities to shine brighter, creatives can be plagued with the temptation to doubt their own authenticity. Yet among other things, she reminds us, “…you are already creatively legitimate, by virtue of your existence among us.”

Overall, Big Magic offers readers lot of common-sense advice in a refreshing package. I enjoyed how Elizabeth framed various aspects of creativity. For instance, at one point she discussed the idea that one’s craft has to be formally studied in order to succeed professionally.

If you’re a writer, you know the drill. Supposedly, in order to be a writer, you need an MFA, or you MUST go to journalism school. Yet in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Would I read Big Magic again? If I have time to, maybe.

Would I recommend this book?

Eh…As I said before, It’s a quick, comfortable read. I like Elizabeth Gilbert. She’s seems like the type of person I’d go to lunch with. I like what she has to say about art and inspiration. Big Magic is light, warm, and mentally provocative.

Yet again, I can’t forget about the passages in “Permission” where she said art was useless. That section threw me off so much that I actually caught myself wondering about the kind of debates Elizabeth might have had with her editor.

Eventually, Ms. Gilbert encouraged her readers to “relax”. That’s very well and good, but I feel like she could have made her point without using statements that seemed to be so needlessly opposed to the book’s main objective. There are ways to tell people that they shouldn’t take themselves too seriously that don’t involve insulting their calling.

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Books

Review: A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans


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Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood is engaging. She brings her readers on a journey and shows us what can happen when someone decides to take some of the Bible’s commands concerning feminine conduct literally.

For those readers who are not aware, there’s a faction of Christianity that is obsessed with upholding certain standards among men and women. When people discuss Biblical womanhood they often emphasize things such as the notion that a woman should focus on bearing and caring for children, as well as being modest and submissive.

In light of this idea, what did some of Ms. Held Evans’ duties include?

Over the course of her year of experimentation, she did things such as alter her mode of dress and wear a head covering as a display of modesty. She also sequestered herself in a tent and avoided touching men during her “time of the month”. Although these changes may sound odd to our modern ears, one can easily find support for them in scripture. Which begs the question that I believe drove Ms. Held Evans’ work: When people say that they support Biblically-based gender roles, just how far are they willing to take things?

In my opinion, Rachel Held Evans’ book illustrates a flaw in a much-heralded system. It’s true that there are women who prefer domestic pursuits. However what about those who do not fit the mold?

I have a love-hate relationship with feminine virtues. I think that having a family is a blessing. If my time and budget allowed for it, I would welcome the chance to get married and be a homemaker. However, what if, after having children, I decide that I would like to go back to work? Or, what if none of my domestic dreams come true? There are Christian women out there who are single and/or childless whose existence does not deserve to be diminished.

It seems foolish to me to reduce femininity to a series of stereotypes. Yet many individuals and entire church communities have no problem displaying a bias in the way that they treat women who do not fit the mold of a so-called Biblical woman.

For challenging these notions, Rachel Held Evans will have my eternal respect and gratitude.

Apart from my regular review, in writing about this book, I believe I would be remiss if I didn’t address some of the controversy surrounding it.

Lifeway Christian Resources is an American bookstore chain that has decided not to carry Ms. Held Evans’ book. Although the official reason remains unknown, Ms. Held Evans has mentioned that she believes that their rationale has something to do with her use of the word “vagina”.

I disagree. I saw the dreaded v-word in her text. To be quite honest, I barely noticed it. (I believe my reaction was, “What? That’s IT…?”)

However, throughout Biblical Womanhood I saw items that I thought provided evidence of the real reason why Lifeway would not permit her book to be on their shelves.

The more I read, the more one thing became clear to me: The ideas that Held Evans expressed do not coincide with the conservative Evangelical community’s agenda*. And quite frankly, customers who follow said agenda are big-box “Christian” bookstores’ bread and butter.

Here are a few of the things that I believe fundamentalists might object to:

1. Rachel does not frown on Catholicism. (Among other minor indiscretions, in one chapter she spends time in a monastery.) In response to my mentioning this, I know many will say “So what?” However, in this day and age I still encounter people who believe that Catholics do not worship God.

2. Rachel mentions aspects of other religions in a non-judgmental way. When she says things such as how if she was feeling differently about a particular circumstance** she might read the Bhagavad Gita, she doesn’t offer any apologies or disclaimers. Mind you…I know that a person can be rooted in Christ yet respectful of other religions. However in most Fundamentalists’ minds, such a thing is impossible. In fact, if you admit to some folks that you can learn something relevant from another faith’s traditions, you may as well tell them that you are consorting with the devil.

3. Time and again she attempts to edify her readers concerning the content of God’s word. Her book contains references to historical context for certain passages, as well as little-known facts. Her writing does not discredit the Bible. Yet here I feel it’s vital to note something. I notice that there tends to be a rift between what some Christians think the Bible says, versus what is actually in the text. I admire the fact that Ms. Held Evans aims to close that gap. However I’m not sure that others will feel the same way.

4. Rachel dares to call a spade a spade. In light of her book’s general premise, Ms. Held Evans speaks openly about some of the problems related to Evangelicals’ gender bias. Along the way, she mentions one of Evangelical Christianity’s leaders–John Piper. In addition to being a popular author and speaker, Pastor Piper is one of the cofounders of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Some of his ideas are interesting–or troubling, depending on who you speak to. Either way, in her chapter entitled “Silence” Rachel provides interesting food for thought related to regulations concerning women speaking–and teaching–in church. I deeply respect Ms. Held-Evans for noting the potential flaws in a popular leader’s line of thinking. Nevertheless I also know that there are those who likely believe that John Piper’s ideas are above reproach.

Let me make myself clear: I do not have a problem with any of these points. In fact, Held Evans’ honesty is one of the things that I love the most about A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

However, I think that with her latest book, Rachel Held Evans may have reached her Rob Bell* moment. She has shown that she is not afraid to discuss ideas that are contrary to what the Evangelical establishment expects. Overall, I think this is wonderful. In spite of what critics may have to say there are scores of people like me who appreciate Held Evans’ bravery.

Women need to know that their faith communities recognize their worth—beyond the domestic realm. In that regard, Rachel Held Evans’ work is revolutionary. I look forward to reading her next book.

*Maybe I’m off my rocker for theorizing about why Lifeway isn’t carrying her book. But I think I’ve read enough Christian books and known enough Fundamentalists in my day to make a solid hypothesis. If you believe I’m being unfair, let me know in the comments below.

**I apologize for being so vague. (Rachel, feel free to correct me!) There’s a sentence where Held Evans casually mentions the Bhagavad Gita. It was a very simple passage, and I didn’t take proper notes on it. Suffice it to say it was as harmless as me saying that I’d consult the Koran if I was interested in learning about Muhammad.

***I haven’t read the straw that broke the camel’s back. Yet I know that Rob Bell is an author who has been slammed for not toeing the party line. I say that respectfully, in spite of the fact that I may not agree with everything that Mr. Bell may believe.

Book has been provided courtesy of Thomas Nelson and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Thomas Nelson.

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