Welcome back to Tuesday, and to the first week of our Set-Apart Femininity review series. I’d like to think of this as sort of a long-distance book club. If you have the book and want to follow along that would be awesome; at the end of each entry I’ll let you know what section we’re covering next week. And if you don’t have the book, I’d still love to hear your thoughts in the comments so we can have a discussion on these things and learn from each other.
Sound good? Let’s get started with the introduction, p. 5-6, and talk about communication.
Does tone matter?
Leslie Ludy begins the book with a two-page introduction titled My Hope and Prayer, written to potential readers. She begins by acknowledging her first book, Authentic Beauty, and how happy she’s been with the feedback from the many girls it’s helped. Though I’ve never read Authentic Beauty, from what I can tell it covers many of the same topics as Set-Apart Femininity: beauty, Christian living, relationships to guys, etc. She goes on to explain, however, the difference she sees between her two books:
When I sat down to write my book Authentic Beauty: The Shaping of a Set-Apart Young Woman, I imagined myself sitting across from my reader in a quaint coffee shop for an intimate, personal conversation. . . .though Set-Apart Femininity is written in a personal style like Authentic Beauty, and I am honest and vulnerable in these pages, this book is not so much an intimate coffee shop conversation as it is a rousing call to arms–kind of like me standing on top of the table in the coffee shop and passionately proclaiming the truth to anyone who will listen! God has challenged me in these past few years. . . .to rise above the typical mediocrity of modern-day womanhood and walk along a road that is narrow, rocky, and misunderstood by the masses.
. . . .Set-Apart Femininity presents spiritual challenges in a blunt, pull-no-punches way that is uncommon in today’s soft-spoken Christian world.
When I was reading reviews of this book, I found a number of low-star reviewers who were there because they had liked Authentic Beauty but were disappointed that this book lacked the well-developed and artful presentation of the previous one. The on-top-of-the-table tone seemed to be a distraction from the points she had crafted well in her first book. On the flipside, there are many Christian pastors and writers who prefer the “screaming prophet” persona and believe it shows passion, fire, and authenticity. But is it really better for the message?
I actually had the experience of someone yelling at people in a coffee shop. My friend and I were chilling at a Caribou when a lady stood up in the middle of the room and started screaming about something (I think it was marijuana legalization). This lady was passionate, blunt, pull-no-punches, and definitely not soft-spoken. And how did people take her message? Not well. Most people averted their eyes and pretended she didn’t exist until the management asked her to leave. After the lady left, my friend and I had an even-keeled, rational discussion on drug legalization. Whose opinions do you think I considered more seriously: my friend’s or the screaming lady’s?
While some niches of Christianity favor appearing tough and passionate, I think this passion can easily slip into a pride that looks down upon normal (or “soft-spoken”) discourse. Communicate in a gentle and loving way? That’s weak and mediocre. Scream at people? That’s strong and on fire for the Lord. And I find this unfortunate, since in the rest of the world, losing your cool generally conveys a lack of maturity and intellectual integrity. Jesus himself did a vast majority of his teaching in this conversational style, rich with stories and rhetorical questions. What makes passages like Matthew 23 stand out so much is precisely because Jesus did not use this commanding tone as a default but saved it for dire matters, such as rebuking the religious leaders who were leading people astray for their own financial and power gain.
Finally, many people, through various life experiences, associate raised voices or domineering tones with power assertion, pain, and abuse, and hearing such a style from an authority figure claiming to speak on behalf of God can be, I fear, spiritually damaging. It doesn’t mean these people are too weak to listen to God. It just means they need to hear God’s words expressed in love and understanding to hear him well.
Conflicting perspectives or personal flaws?
Not only is extended, excessive volume distracting from content and not conducive to a well-rounded conversation, it can also seem rather like a cop-out: if someone doesn’t like your message, you can say it’s because they can’t handle your passion. Someone has different opinions? They weren’t up to my challenging style. Someone thinks you are wrong? They’re just too afraid. And I wonder if that’s part of what Ludy is doing here: purposefully setting herself up as abnormally passionate to create a protective coating against criticism. In the introduction she goes on with other words that seem to deflect criticism before it happens:
If you want to remain comfortably where you are in your feminine journey, this book won’t be your cup of tea (or coffee, since we’re in a coffee shop). . . .it may not sit well with those who dislike strong statements about absolute truth.
These statements seemed to me to be poor logic and poor form. When engaging in an intellectual discussion, one cannot assume that a naysayer disagrees because of personal flaws, such as wanting to remain comfortable or not seeking truth. That’s what we’d call an ad hominem fallacy. There are numerous philosophical and theological reasons a reader may dislike this book, but Ludy narrows down any critiques of her writing as being attributable to the personal flaws and lack of godliness in her readers.
Additionally, Ludy places her readers in a curious position: you are either assumed to agree with her, or are assumed to not care about “absolute truth.” Personally, I’m wary of any authority figure who feels the need to use such tactics to get readers to listen. I feel that if you have a strong message, you shouldn’t have to strong-arm people into listening.
Applications to broader Christendom
My reason for bringing up the “passionate prophet” persona and ad hominem fallacies are because I’ve seen quite a bit of such thinking in modern Christianity, and despite using these concepts to appear strong, I think they can be harmful to people who are seeking answers about God. Thoughts such as “anyone who disagrees with us is deceived,” or “anyone the Spirit is really working in would realize we’re right,” or “you only think that because you’re a new Christian or go to that church or just don’t know enough, etc.,” are so common and yet so quietly hurtful.
And I wonder: how many learning opportunities are we missing out on because we dismiss others with these personal attacks? How afraid of engaging with ideas do we have to be to shoot down the idea holders with ad hominem fallacies? How many conversations are lost because people are too afraid to be labeled for bringing up certain opinions? How many people are we turning away from the church because it seems like there’s just no room to talk about things honestly?
I think to have any growth, any connection, any relationship, we have to stop cutting down those who are different from us. We have to be brave and willing to engage. We have to be willing to admit that, “yeah, there are some cool, faithful, intelligent people who might disagree with me, and that’s okay.” We have to realize that a conversation is only part speaking, and mostly listening with empathy.
For our talks
As we begin this discussion, I want us to think about how we can communicate well with one another. How we can communicate in a way that upholds the honor and value we see in one another, and in a way that doesn’t let the fear of different opinions drag us down into the realm of name-calling and brushing others off for presumed personal reasons.
Let us not yell at each other or assume that any of us is the sole possessor of truth. Rather, let us move forward in humility and love, and think about how we can each show some humility and love to those around us.
For next week, we’ll look at the first chapter: “Sacred Intent: unlocking femininity’s spectacular purpose.” p. 7-29