Passion and Purity bugs me for many reasons, the foremost of which is the bad relationship advice and iffy theology. But the first thing that bugged me about this book when I read it in my late teens was the style. The chapters all include poetry snippets, quotes from the Psalms and old hymns, and the romance narrative is frequently interrupted by paragraphs or even pages of introspection. I understand why Elliot chose to write this way–at each turn, she is deliberately trying *not* to rush into the next step. The halting writing style is fitting for a halting romance.
The problem is that we readers get to an interesting part of the story, end the chapter on a cliffhanger, and then begin the next chapter with a verse from a sober hymn or contemplative Psalm. There is of course a place for Psalms and hymns, but as a reader in the middle of a story, this is very frustrating. We’re in chapter 10! We are ready for action! In the first few chapters I read all the quotes because I was trying to get to the bottom of her argument. But now we know her argument, so the repetition of spiritual reminders seems redundant and, more importantly, gets in the way of the story arc. This chapter, for instance, has three long quotes over the course of 2.5 pages–easily half of the chapter. Later, in chapter 23, she takes a complete break from the epic romance to once again berate feminists for destroying romance. I can’t tell if she doesn’t trust her gentle readers to remember the argument she laid out in chapter one, or if she wants to continually remind us how different she is from The World. Maybe it’s both. Either way, it’s annoying. Continue reading
In the last chapter we had some unfortunate inklings of what is to come. Our two lovebirds went on a first date and then Jim sent Elizabeth an email apologizing for…something…and somehow making her think it was her fault. Instead of communicating (“Hey, what’s up with this vague apology?”), Elisabeth spent days in spiritual and emotional turmoil.
I mean, I get it: the relationship is young and you don’t want to say too much too soon. Butterflies are confusing! But this lack of communication, especially by the woman in a relationship? This is a feature, not a bug. We’ll see more later.
Chapter 8 starts with this charming sentence:
“But how can I find out what God wants me to do, if I don’t know what I want to do?” The logic of this question escapes me, but it is one I have heard more than once. Why not start by simply telling God you’ll do anything He says? You’re the servant. He’s the master.
I’ll say it again: why would God give us desires that we are supposed to ignore? Or, put in biblical terms: why would he give us talents He didn’t want us to invest? It is obvious to me that this is the heart of this “illogical” question: “How do I find out my talents? How do I best use my interests and desires to please God?” I honestly don’t know why Elliot finds this so baffling. Continue reading
This chapter is only vaguely about a first date. It is mostly about poor communication skills. Elliot doesn’t actually say much about the date, except that it wasn’t typical (who goes on a first date to a missionary meeting instead of dinner and a movie? Evangelicals, that’s who.) But let’s focus on what she says on page two of this three-page chapter: A journal entry:
I am wiling to do God’s will but I cannot tell if my desires are wrong and should be “plucked out”
And then this:
[In a letter, Jim] confessed to having been in some way out of line on the evening of our date. It was a bit obscure to me, but I felt I might have been at fault.
And then this:
More testing today. God is asking me insistently, “Lovest me thou?” and I find myself evading the question.
And then, finally this:
I was wishing that my wishes were what God wished, and if my wishes were not what God wished, I wished that I could wish that my wishes would go away, but the wishes were still there.
GIRL. Continue reading
I keep waiting for our narrative to pick up steam, but it looks like chapter five is not where that is going to happen. It’s called “Does God Want Everything?” I’m pretty sure, judging from the previous four chapters, that Elliot’s answer is going to be, “Yes.”
This chapter is a mere four pages. She reiterates Bible stories in which God asks a character–Abraham, Paul, etc.–for everything. She talks about how plants must die before new life springs forth. She says, “He gives all. He asks all.” She reiterates that she struggled as a young woman between wanting what she wanted and wanting what God wanted.
My question, as ever, is why can’t it be both? Why would God give you a desire for something and then tell you you can’t have it? Why is God, who gives good gifts to His children, after all, painted as such a selfish authoritarian? I understand that there is a great–the greatest!–spiritual principle of death to self and selflessness in love. This chapter simply reiterates that yes, you should definitely sacrifice everything. But what does that actually mean? Elliot is obviously not an ascetic–she’s married three times, after all. So how did she determine how much sacrifice was enough?
Since she doesn’t answer this question in chapter 5, let’s move on. Chapter 6 is called “The Snake’s Reasoning.” This should be good. Continue reading
This year I’ve signed up enthusiastically for Pajiba’s Cannonball Read 6, so approximately once a week (hopefully…) I’ll post a review of another, non-Elisabeth Elliot book. I’m looking forward to powering through 52 books this year, and hearing about the other Pajiban’s reads!
On to the first review, which is a bit of a cheat since it covers the same subjects I’ve been talking about here on my blog for the past month…
#CBR6 Cannonball Read #1: The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti
Rating: 4/5 stars
Feminism and modern evangelicalism, and the tension between religion’s “ought” and human reality, are some of my favorite topics (hence my blog) so I was excited to finally pick up The Purity Myth. I expected to find a book that succinctly examined our cultural and subcultural obsession with the virgin-whore dichotomy, the use and misuse of the concept of feminine “purity” in modern evangelical and American culture, and the political and personal consequences of our preoccupation with virginity. I was not disappointed. It’s an easy read, chock full of citations and punchy, convincing sentences. Continue reading
Passion and Purity, pg. 30
We’re moving through chapter 3, still laying the groundwork for the forthcoming romance between Elisabeth and Jim.
If times have changed, I see no signs of confusion having lessened.
Sigh. Again, the times didn’t change in order to eliminate romantic confusion. They changed to give women equal opportunity in life.
Women still dream and hope, pin their emotions on some man who doesn’t reciprocate, and end up in confusion.
Men do this too. Unrequited love is a human experience, not a female experience. Why does this need to be gendered?
The stories get very familiar. In the woman’s, always the ancient longing–“and her desire shall be for a husband”–the inextinguishable hope for recognition, response, protection. In the man’s story, always the restlessness to wander, experiment, conquer, even though inside there is a: “hunger not of the belly kind…but the gnawing hunger of lonely men for a home and all that it means.” (quote from a poem by Robert Service)
Again, this is unnecessarily gendered. Women also have wanderlust, like to experiment and conquer, and long for home “and all it means.” Men hope for recognition, response, and protection, too. Continue reading
Passion and Purity, chapter 3 pg. 29:
Chapter 3 is called, “Passion is a Battleground” and starts of with Satan himself! Let’s dive in:
If there is an Enemy of Souls (and I have not the slightest doubt that there is), one thing he cannot abide is the desire for purity. Hence a man or woman’s passions become his battleground. The Lover of Souls does not prevent this…He wants us to learn to use our weapons.
I’ll say it again: purity in this context means only “no sex outside marriage”. Despite the fact that the idea of purity can (and should!) be applied to other aspects of life and spirituality, Elliot is not using the word in any broader sense. A Christian can desire purity in many shades – a pure heart, free from materialistic distraction; a pure longing for God; a spirituality unmarred by selfishness –but that is not what we are talking about here.
The idea then is that Satan’s most reliable offense (against every man and woman) is in the realm of sexual temptation. Our sexual desires are so overwhelming and hard to control that many people simply choose not to, give into temptation…and then Satan has won the battle. As an added bonus, those who don’t fight the temptation have disappointed Jesus, for He’s one who wants us to “use our weapons.”