Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Metaxas' "Seven Women" leaves many secrets to greatness a bit of a mystery

After reading best-selling evangelical biographer Eric Metaxas' 7 Men, I was so happy to see an excerpted chapter about Corrie Ten Boom for his then-upcoming 7 Women and the Secret of Their Greatness. Overall, this book has introduced me to the remarkable, difficult, impacting lives of seven women, some of whom I knew very little about. And, as with any book that includes stories of far-flung missionaries, holocaust survivors and martyrs, I was left pondering my own life's work.

And I was left with questions. Lots of them. Like, what is greatness, exactly? Is it maintaining your convictions to the end, like Joan of Arc? Is it a general measure of one's faithfulness, skill, or impact on others? Or is greatness something specific, like ministering to hundreds of thousands like Mother Teresa? Or like using one's God-given gifts to turn the tide of public opinion against institutionalized evil like Hannah More? Or simply learning to forgive staggering wrongs, like Corrie Ten Boom? Or is it all of these, in the form of doing what you alone can do in your unique situation in time and place with your unique set of characteristics and abilities and weaknesses? If you're familiar with my approach to life, you'll know I prefer the latter, open-ended possibility. I think in many ways, since Metaxas never really tries to synthesize all seven stories into one central "secret of womanly greatness," he might agree with or at least permit my foggy conclusion. For this reason, I found the book a worthwhile read.

There were also some ways the book didn't quite light my fire. The first two 20-page biographies, featuring Joan of Arc and Susanna Wesley left me feeling more depressed than inspired to love Jesus more... While Metaxas asserts that Joan of Arc's "voices," as she called them, were not indicative of delusions or some other mental issue, he doesn't make any effort to support his view. Likewise, Wesley's story includes rather tantalizing descriptions of the haunted rectory in which nearly every member of her massive family faced creepy sounds and apparitions in the night. What do you do with these kinds of details that don't naturally mesh with a sanitized Christian worldview? Metaxas just delivers them unadorned with any explanation or speculation. The stories got better further on, probably because they were organized chronologically, with more recent heroines of the faith coming to life with more intimate, primary source details.

Finally, I thought it was interesting that among all the women Metaxas chose, only Rosa Parks had a happy marriage (though no children.) Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc, Hannah More and Corrie Ten Boom were all unmarried. Saint Maria of Paris had two unhappy marriages before joining a convent. And for all her saintly domesticity, Susanna Wesley's married life was anything but a happy one. This leads me to two thoughts: First, it's good that "great" women do not need to fit the typical "keeper of the home," Proverbs 31 Woman mold being upheld by so many Christian marriage conferences, books and speakers. (For the record, I don't have a problem with stay-at-home moms; I am one.) On the other hand, as a married mama of three, I felt distant from these women and their experiences. This isn't altogether negative, of course! It's good to get a glimpse into the lives of others and see the multifaceted expression of Christ produced by the universal church's many members.

*Book Look Bloggers generously sent me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. It's an awesome program and if you like to blog and get free books, you should check them out.*

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