Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My review of Rosalie de Rosset's book, Unseduced and Unshaken

Reading Unseduced and Unshaken organized and articulated many ideas that have been knocking around in my brain for decades. Here is just one example: I find it hard to look at photos of exercise coaches in health magazines. First—These personal trainers show embarrassingly more skin than any normal woman would. Do they not realize the women they hope to motivate to exercise do not want to see their breasts, or any airbrushed, bronzed perfection, for that matter? Couldn’t the coaches show they are physically fit in more modest workout gear?

Second—These coaches claim to want to empower women to become stronger and healthier. Do they not know they allow themselves to be exploited by the media when they bare most of their body parts to millions of viewers? Do they really think their “Be strong, be free” message shouts more loudly than the “Sex sells” photos of them?

These questions about exercise coaches have bothered me for a long time. Don’t get me started on the d├ęcolletage of brilliant, articulate TV news anchors or on movie costumes that turn intelligent actresses in serious roles into soft-porn stars. And doesn’t it break your heart to see what teen girls wear to school and the mall these days? They wear less and less. They reveal more and more. Which brings me to this book: Unseduced and Unshaken: The Place of Dignity in a Young Woman’s Choices in which Rosalie de Rosset and three other contributors share rich reflections in ten chapters.

De Rosset begins by defining dignity as “a strong, chosen, deliberate way of life, the result of the totality of a person’s choices and worldview.” Further, the Christian woman must understand who she is before God. Examples draw strongly on the strong character of fictional heroine Jane Eyre, who showed “the need for women … to fulfill their gifts, to use their creativity, to stretch beyond prescribed activities and passivity to true humanity. Dignity requires the development of principle and the use of intelligence.”

Pam MacRae writes about finding one’s voice in order to know and be known. She says, “… by humbly offering our voice and graciously accepting the voice of another, we reflect God’s pattern of relating. To know God and be known by God helps us understand our capacity to be known to each other.”

Linda Haines discusses the person divided “between who I think I am and who I really am.” Women long for wholeness and want to believe the culture’s promising-sounding paths to self-confidence. The Apostle Paul’s wisdom rings truer: It is impossible for us to manage fleshly impulses and thus unite our divided self. The fact is, what the culture touts lures women further from God, where true fulfillment and wholeness are found.

In building a historical case for modest dress, Stacie Parlee-Johnson makes a stunning revelation: “The need for clothing is a confession of our need for Christ Himself.” God originally gave Adam and Eve clothing to cover their shame better than their fig leaves could. Parlee-Johnson follows with comforting words: “God designed us for union, and we crave it still. This is why we desire to be naked, because we desire intimacy.” Nakedness within marriage represents holy unity. Outside of marriage, sexy or immodest dress perverts God’s best intent for us.

These are brief summaries of four of the ten chapters. (Each chapter has Discussion Questions and Suggested Reading.) The other six chapters give reasoned treatment to dignity-related topics as well. Not surprisingly, the empty temptations of our culture pop up often in this book. This resonates with me; in fact, my novel, Beyond Betrayal, could be a fictionalized account of the points in Unseduced and Unshaken. The young female characters’ dignity (or lack thereof) corresponds to their responses to varying voices in modern culture. Their choice of dress, leisure pursuits, reading material, and money expenditures reveals who they are. Although my heroine still searches for her voice, her heroines are dignified literary heroines like Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennet who value moral tradition.

Unseduced and Unshaken challenged me. It’s clearly written, but it’s deep, and I often found myself saying, “Hmmm …” and then rereading a section to think it through. I liked the book’s frankness about sex. When I was a young girl, I tucked a newspaper clipping under the glass on my desktop (the old-fashioned wooden kind of desktop). The clip was a quote from journalist Sydney J. Harris: “Don’t let the good things in life rob you of the best.” My understanding of his wise aphorism has deepened over the decades, of course. Reading Unseduced and Unshaken gave me a new appreciation for God’s best. And now I better understand that every decision a woman makes matters. Her respectability depends on it.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Tony Blair: Inspiring Change

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d5/WORLD_ECONOMIC_FORUM_ANNUAL_MEETING_2009_-_Tony_Blair.jpg/220px-WORLD_ECONOMIC_FORUM_ANNUAL_MEETING_2009_-_Tony_Blair.jpgMy husband and I had a rare opportunity yesterday. We got to hear former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speak about leadership in a Q and A format. Most audience questions focused on Blair’s experiences as a world leader, and his remarks were candid, witty, and wise. We laughed at his anecdotes about his first day on the job as PM, on his relationships with Presidents Clinton and Bush, and on why he never saw the movie The Queen, for example.

Stressing that an elected leader comes into office at his most popular and least capable and leaves office at his least popular, most competent moment, he revealed that what he longed to say to British citizens during his tenure was, “I’m still learning here.” (Alarmed at how the country might panic at their leader’s admitting this, his public relations people advised against his saying this while in office!) When Blair spoke last night of various world conflicts, he called leaders’ decisions extremely difficult and said as prime minister, he had to just do what he thought was right. It may or may not have been right, but it was what he thought was right after considering facts. What we saw was a very human side of a world leader.

Blair’s remarks both softened and sharpened my expectations of current world leaders. On one hand—hey, they’re only human. On the other hand, an honorable leader must act in the interests of all voters, not just his party base.

Regarding the current North Korean threat, Blair stated that to manage that situation to a place of stability, we need to be diplomatically smart and militarily strong. Also, we need to understand that extremist religions and rogue states present long drawn-out struggles that are not easily solved; and intervention and nonintervention both carry costs. He said very few countries are in a position to shape the world for the better.

Blair believes the key to narrowing the economic chasm is education—not just formal education, but open-mindedness and ability to adapt to change. He said that if business owners have passion, pride, and pleasure, they are more likely to have profit.

Although Tony Blair himself did not mention communitarianism last night, another speaker did attribute this philosophy to Blair. As I understand it, communitarianism is a middle ground between socialism, where the person is dehumanized and the state is personified, and individualism, where the autonomous self reigns. In this middle ground, individuals do not just pursue their own ends but they all contribute to the flourishing of a wider society. An individual’s role is for others; it is in service that one becomes his true self. I would like to further research the communitarianism philosophy, but so far, doesn’t it sound a lot like what God had in mind for us? It also sounds better than either socialism or capitalism.

Good food for thought last night. Thank you, Tony Blair.