Passion and Purity, chapter 10: Does God Notice?

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

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Passion and Purity, chapter 9: The Revelation (finally!)

Chapter 9 is the first time they actually USE THEIR WORDS!  This is a milestone, guys.

We walked half a block in silence.  Then, suddenly, “We’ve got to get squared away on how we feel about each other,” Jim said.  I was dumbfounded…the revelation I’d been hoping for–he had some feelings.  And he was assuming that I had some.

YES!  Way to be honest and open, Jim.  Elizabeth’s response is a little odd–she says she was a little piqued at his assumption that she had feelings for him, but I mean, whatever.  Who can really explain their overwhelming emotions in those heady days of courtship?  They are on cloud nine, and she floats back to her room:

Rainbows are made of sunlight and rain.  The sunlight, which turned my world into a radiance of color, was the knowledge of Jim’s love.  The rain was the other fact that he explained to me as we sat on the grass by the Lagoon–that God was calling him to remain single.  Perhaps for life, perhaps only until he had had firsthand experience [as a missionary.]

WHAT.  “I love you, but we can’t do anything about it.”  That sucks.

Older missionaries had told him that single men were needed to do jobs married ones could never do.  There were some areas where women could not go.

Ok.  Like, I get it.  You’re freer as a single person, for sure, and it’s better (I guess?) that he admitted his feelings rather than lead her on.  At least they can face the future together now instead of wallowing in longing by themselves.  But I also don’t see why they can’t, idk, get married and go somewhere that women CAN go.  That seems like the obvious solution here.  But never mind–he’s got his career ideas, and she has hers, and they’re going to sort it out.  I can get behind this.

I was afraid to articulate, even to myself, feelings I might have to get rid of.

This is refreshingly honest, and again, I find myself most enjoying her writing when she really opens up, rather than when she is pontificating on the Evils of The World.

So, all in all, we’re a step ahead: Jim used his words, they have something in common at last, and they can think about the future together.  Not a bad place to be, and definitely the most enjoyable chapter so far, because who doesn’t like being in love?!  Love is great!

Let’s see if this continues in chapter 10.

Passion and Purity, Chapter 7: The First Date

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

Passion and Purity: One More Thought on Unruly Affections

I wanted to save the last paragraph of chapter 4 for a separate post (page 37):

Each encounter strengthened the suspicion that I might be falling in love with this man.  A delicious feeling, but not very sensible for a woman trying to steer a straight course for the mission field, which, I thought, was supposed to be Africa or the South Seas.

Precisely how did one pour at God’s feet the “treasure store” of one’s love?  Well, I promised myself, I’ll find out when I really do fall in love.  There’s no such involvement yet.   [Emphasis mine]

There’s a tendency in evangelical culture to assign duties and responsibilities and challenges to distinct stages of life, whether or not that topic actually applies to you.  If you’re single, you’re probably worried about finding your life partner.  If you’re married, odds are you’re struggling with communication and submission.  If you’re a man, I’ll bet you struggle with porn.  If you’re a woman, it’s those emotions, isn’t it?

Particularly in the Christian subculture that prioritizes accountability partners and discipleship groups and taking every thought captive, there’s an undeniable social (if not spiritual) pressure to confess to each other your thoughts, actions, intentions, and sins.  If you are in such a subculture and you start dating someone, there are certain types of things you are supposed to confess to each other and discuss in bible study.  People start asking about how much time you’re spending together and do you think it’s too much and if you are holding this relationship with an open hand and have you talked about how you’re going to maintain your purity and have you talked about how he’s going to lead in the relationship.  This is intrusive, sure, but it’s pretty par for the course if you’ve signed up for an intrusive sort of Christian fellowship.  Fair enough.

It gets more difficult, though, when you start dating someone your fellow Bible Study-ers won’t approve of.  Maybe you know they’ll think you moved too fast.  Maybe you know they don’t think he’s Christian enough. Maybe they think you’re too young, or too busy, or too distracted by this new relationship.  Maybe they worry that your relationship with God will suffer.  It doesn’t matter what the reason is: the result is that you don’t want to admit to them that you’re actually dating this person because you don’t want to deal with the judgement.

And there will be judgement.  There will be gossip passed along as “prayer requests.”  There will be coffee dates where you awkwardly talk about everything else before your accountability partner says, “I wanted to talk about your relationship.  How do you think it’s going?”  There will be suspicions about how pure you are keeping this new relationship–do you really think you should be spending that much time alone together?

But there’s a very easy way to avoid this whole thing: just don’t admit you’re dating.  Say you’re hanging out or waiting for God’s timing or interested, but not rushing into anything.  Best of all, say you’re praying about it.  This will encourage solemn nods of understanding and encouragement.  “That’s so wise!” they’ll say.  Then no one can ask about your relationship because, officially, you’re not in one. Continue reading

Passion and Purity: More Unruly Affections

Happy new year! I took a little bit of a blog vacation (holidays, family, baking, you know) but now it’s 2014 and time to dive back into Passion and Purity.  Get excited!

To recap, we’re in chapter 4 of Passion and Purity, a chapter entitled “Unruly Affections”. Elliot has just told us that bringing anything at all into order involves time and expense, labor, toil, and sacrifice. She is now describing those early, heady days when she first noticed Jim Elliot and found herself increasingly attracted to him, noting that he seems to fit the picture of what she wanted in a husband:

He loved to sing hymns, and he knew dozens by heart. He loved to read poetry, loved to read it aloud. He was a real man, strong, broadchested, unaffected, friendly, and I though, very handsome. He loved God. That was the supreme dynamic in his life. Nothing else mattered much by comparison. He was a Greek major and so was I.

Later, she describes moments of early infatuation that I bet a lot of us can relate to:

Jim was coming in. He caught my eye and broke into a wide smile. I floated for the rest of the day. Jim Elliot had smiled at me.

Ah, l’amour! They take some missions road trips together, talk about things you talk about when you’re a young Christian falling in love. It’s all very sweet. I have a tiny problem with her checklist (reading poetry aloud? I mean…that’s nice, but not exactly a dealbreaker, right?) but let’s let that slide for now, because which of us hasn’t fallen in love and said something ridiculous like, “And we both like Chee-tos, lattes, and this one totally obscure band!!!! It’s obviously fate!!!!”

And then.

We sat in a booth in the [student recreation center]. Jim gave the order, then opened his Bible. I’ve forgotten the reference, but I remember the talk. It was about my reticence. Jim rebuked me as a “sister in Christ,” urged me to be more open, more friendly. Christ could make me freer, if I’d let Him. I was hurt a little.

But I was glad to see Jim’s forthrightness, glad I mattered to him, mattered enough for him to speak the truth to me faithfully. Another item on my “checklist”–this was the kind of man I was looking for.

Well. She takes this to heart and signs up to join a group of students would go “to talk about Christ to people in railway stations.” Unbeknownst to her, Jim is in the group. She’s nervous, but she goes through with it, ignoring him ’til the trip home. Let’s see how this little vignette ends:

We talked all the way back to Wheaton, and he walked to the dorm with me. Nothing we said has stayed with me except a general impression of encouragement. Maybe he saw that I had chosen what was hardest. He left with a breezy, “See you in Greek class.”

Let’s break this down. A guy that she’s interested in–but, notably, is not in a relationship with–sits her down under the guise of Christian discipline and rebukes (her word!) her for being too reticent. (Too reticent for what, I wonder? Too reticent for his liking? Too reticent for God? Too reticent for a good Christian woman?) She takes this to heart, assuming that he has only her best interests at heart, and chooses to do something that is, for her, scary. He sees this, they talk, and not once does he acknowledge with his words (only with a “general sense”) that he noticed her bravery. The best she can say is “maybe he saw that I had chosen what was hardest.” Yes, maybe. Or maybe not! How can you know unless he USES HIS WORDS and TELLS YOU? (Heads up: “use your words” is going to be a major theme in later chapters.)

I have so many questions about this. Would she have felt comfortable sitting him down and pointing out a flaw as “a sister in Christ”? (My bet: no.) Did she have the opportunity to talk back to him, to say, “Well, it might seem that way to you, but here’s what you don’t know…”? Or did she just accept his criticism quietly because she is “the weaker vessel” and it’s his job to lead, after all? Was reticence really a problem for her, or was it just something that he, personally, didn’t care for? Did she feel that Christ needed to make her “freer” or was she perfectly content with how she was?

My reaction to this, in other words, is, Who exactly do you think you are, Jim? Continue reading

Passion and Purity, pg. 33: Unruly Affections

Today we start chapter 4!

“Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners…” …I had been reading my Bible, I believe, quite faithfully, nearly every day through high school and college…It took no specially profound understanding of it to know that I did not begin to measure up to its standards.  As I grew into womanhood and began to learn what was in my heart I saw very clearly that, of all things difficult to rule, none were more so than my will and affections.  They were unruly in the extreme, as the diary entries attest.

Bringing anything into order — a messy room, a wild horse, a recalcitrant child — involves some expenditure.  Time and energy are at least requred.  Perhaps even labor, toil, sacrifice, and pain.

Let’s start with the second paragraph.  It’s true that forming new thought patterns and habits requires work, and this is good to keep in mind when you’re focused on self-improvement of any sort.  It’s very easy to be very lazy with yourself, to begin feeling entitled and self-righteous, and it takes a certain amount of discipline and self-awareness to identify bad habits, address them, and begin forming new, healthier habits.

In fact, I think that it takes time, energy, discipline, toil, sacrifice, and pain, to do most things–a project, a job, a career, a relationship, a dream.  Anything worth fighting for is, at some point, going to require work.

But here Elliot has gone beyond encouraging self-discipline and good habits.  She has characterized normal human emotions as sinful.

It’s normal to have intense crushes on cute guys when you are 19 years old.  It’s normal to stay up at night wondering if he’s The One.  It’s normal to go on mediocre first dates and wonder if you should bother with a second.  This is not what I would call “unruly in the extreme.”

Experiencing emotions is not a sin.  Wishing for a husband — or just a date! — is not a sin.  Feeling lonely and confused is not a sin.  Falling in and out of love is not a sin.

I realize that Elliot could also be implying that she felt she needed to control her emotions better in order to make good decisions about her relationships and her future.  Fair enough–but that’s not exactly what she says here.  She says that her will and affections do not live up to the Bible’s standards.  And as evidence of this, she provides diary entries in which she goes on dates and wonders about the future–standard young adult activities!

Couple problems here.  First: what are the Bible’s standards?  She alludes to them in previous chapters, although she only supported with a few verses: complete commitment to Christ and absolute sexual purity.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, these standards are fine, but hardly comprehensive, and the way Elliot interprets them is shallow.

And I’ll bet cash money that those “unruly wills and affections” listed in the Book of Common Prayer (which she quotes at the beginning) are not only sexual, but include greed, selfishness, gluttony, pride…you know.  Sex is not the only thing that tempts our wills.

Second, and most importantly, this evangelical tendency to think of even emotions as sinful is a really big problem.

It goes like this:

  1. Jesus said we are supposed to be pure in heart.
  2. Jesus also said that even thinking about sinning is the same as actually sinning.
  3. The Bible says that man’s heart (and that obviously includes emotions) is wicked and deceitful.
  4. Therefore, we can’t trust our emotions because they could be leading us into sin.
  5. Therefore, we should spend a lot of time and energy second-guessing our emotions and controlling our thoughts so that they are pleasing to God.

This line of thought is dangerous. Continue reading

Passion and Purity, pg 30: Unnecessarily Gendered, and a summary

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