Beauty Destroys the Beast

beauty destroys the beast

Beauty Destroys the Beast, by Amy Fleming. Published June 7, 2019; 208 pages.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll start this review by acknowledging that the author of Beauty Destroys the Beast is a personal friend, and I read this book in its earliest iteration, from the first draft. This review is offered after a second reading of the completed, fully edited version, which you can purchase at the link above. Nevertheless, this is an honest review as I know the authoress would expect nothing less.

Beauty Destroys the Beast is Amy’s earnest contribution to recapture what women in general, and Christian women in particular, have lost since we’ve ceded the ground related to feminine beauty and physical adornment. Her argument is that we’ve relegated beauty to the purveyors of glamour, with the result that our appreciation for true Beauty has been lost.

Unlike her first book, Wardrobe Communication, which focuses more on how to maximize the colors, fabrics, and styles which most accentuate us individually, Beauty Destroys the Beast is a letter specifically to the Christian woman. As such, it necessarily begins with reminding us of the importance of cultivating beauty from the inside. If we don’t, all of our outward efforts are tantamount to following the world’s pattern of chasing glamour. But glamour isn’t beauty, Amy asserts, and there is nothing at all wrong with displaying beauty in our person as we represent our Savior to the world:

Right now, Beauty is wearing chains. She’s sitting behind enemy lines, watching Glamour take her place, and weeping. But every story begins with the heroine in distress, doesn’t it?

After a wonderfully presented analysis about the battle between Glamour and Beauty which we can see in our favorite fairy tales, the challenge is issued:

As Christian women, we’ve been so frightened of becoming like the evil queen that we’re afraid to poke our noses out of the basement. But that fear is just another way the enemy keeps us off the battle lines. He doesn’t want us out there, being lights for Christ- we’re dangerous. Delight? Joy? Love? Glamour doesn’t use any of those things, only Beauty does. When we use the gifts of the Spirit we’re safe from the temptations of the flesh. Look outside- the world is dark. We need every bit of light that can shine, shining. No more bushel baskets, please.

This is not the first time a woman of God has been asked to use beauty as a weapon. Do you remember Esther? What did she have that was different from all the other girls who were taken for the king’s harem? She had the touch of God.

Laying out her argument with Scriptural truth, practical admonitions, and homework at the end of each chapter to encourage the reader to think -and pray!- deeply, Amy makes a powerful argument in favor of each of us presenting ourselves with as much beauty -and dignity- as we can, remembering that our ultimate aim is not to draw attention to ourselves, but to draw others to us so that we might have the opportunity to introduce them to our Heavenly Father.

Because Amy and I have been bantering about this particular topic off and on for the better part of a decade, I didn’t expect to find any new information or challenging admonitions. I was wrong. This book challenged me in new ways to remember that the compliments I receive should not be about me, but rather, should be seen as opportunities to shine for God in every area of my life, including the way I care for myself.

There is a some practical information in the book as well, so for those looking for concrete information about clothes, color, self-care and other health and fashion tips, there is both advice offered and direction to more comprehensive resources. But make no mistake: that’s not at the heart of what this book is about. It’s a challenge, and one that is sorely needed in a church where women are torn between two opinions; frump masquerading as modesty or beauty reproved as immodesty. This leaves many women feeling the best option is to ignore the physical and focus on being super spiritual, which defaults to something near slovenliness.  Beauty Destroys the Beast asks us to take a stand for Beauty because it is good.

Although I enjoyed the book, there were sections where the writing felt abrupt, places where I felt like a little more expounding would have smoothed an edge here or there, but the message connects nonetheless. Amy’s natural voice is very matter of fact, so I was able to decipher those parts, but a new reader will find that the best portions are those where her passion and excitement shined through. This is most evident in two areas. The first is when she’s explaining how we find our best colors. The second and most potent is when she implores us to be as beautiful as we can without feeling the pressure to be, have or do the things which may be assigned to our sister, but not necessarily to us:

No one woman can be all things beautiful. What we can be is ourselves, trusting God to use us for his purposes. Stop seeing your individuality as a flaw. You might be a rose, you might be a peony. One way or the other you’re offering beauty to the world. It’s the rose pretending to be a peony that looks ridiculous. Be who God made you to be.

Excellent advice, but you need to read the book to appreciate the full weight of this exhortation.

4 out of 5 stars

 

 

 

 

Coming Attractions: Beauty Destroys the Beast

I encourage everyone who reads this blog to click over to Hearthrose’s Ramblings to find out how to get your copy of Beauty Destroys the Beast, by Amy Fleming.  I haven’t read it yet, but I will be reading it soon, and can hardly wait to give it a proper review!

Hearthie is a dear friend of mine with a deep passion for helping women be all that we can be, not just for ourselves or our families, but ultimately so that we can fulfill our eternal purpose:

Are you like me? Like most women? Do you have an aching hole where the pain and confusion about physical beauty and its place in your spiritual life have eaten into your heart? Does that pain stop you from grabbing your sword and getting into battle – does it keep you from doing the things that you know you’re called to do in this life?

Do you want to address the hard questions about how to deal with this body you wear? Do you need some encouragement to be who God made you to be? I wrote this book for you, Christian sister. I wrote this book for those of us who are walking wounded, but ready to take back all that belongs to our King. For those of us who are tired of listen to fear and lies. It’s meant to change your life, and by changing your life, enabling you to change the lives of others around you.

Beauty can destroy the beast of lies – it’s time to set her free.

Seriously, click here to find out how you can get this book in your hands. It would be so great to be able to have a robust discussion of it with those of you who read here.

Hope you’re having a great weekend.

 

 

Building the Benedict Option

building the benedict option

Building the Benedict Option: A Guide to Gathering Two or Three Together in His Name. by Leah Libresco. Published in 2018. 163 pages. Foreword by Rod Dreher.

File this one under, “What a misleading title!”

This book, inspired by Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option, offers ideas and strategies for building Benedict Option style communities on a small scale so that fellow believers can forge lasting and meaningful relationships of support in a world where Christian values are increasingly coming under assault or being discarded.

Overall, I really like this book. The spirit of community and fellowship this author taps into through her ideas and recounting of her experiences and struggles to build intentional community are a breath of fresh air. Nevertheless, I found the title misleading because what she describes and suggests falls far short of the proposition offered in The Benedict Option. In fact, I find that her prescriptions are more achievable, realistic avenues to community support than you’ll find in the original book, and here’s why.

The Benedict Option (BenOp, as it is referred to by those most familiar), is built on the idea of Christian families of like faith and values withdrawing from the dominant culture, building separate communities, and hunkering down to wait out the inevitable collapse of our current cultural and political house of cards. Those believers who remain when the dust settles will, theoretically, be able to rebuild on the foundation of a sane culture and a pure, robust faith.

At least, that was my initial understanding of BenOp, before I read and reviewed the book. The Benedict Option book provided a much less strict version of my original understanding, but it was still based on the idea of Christians’ near full withdrawal from the dominant culutre. It was more understanding of current reality, as well as our commitment to the Great Commission, but Christians were certainly called to be on the outside looking in as much as possible.

Building the Benedict Option, on the other hand, is more about building the kind of intentional community that provides believers a respite from the madness and a touchpoint with other Christians to pray, discuss matters of faith, and offer spiritual and emotional support. At no point does her book intimate that Christians should be completely withdrawn in a way that keeps them out of the loop of the world around them.

Libresco draws heavily on the idea of the beguines, Christian lay orders which existed in the 13-16th centuries. Although beguines were controversial at the time of their existence because the non-monastic orders were comprised solely of women, Libresco believes there is much we can learn from the model as we attempt to build intentional Christian communities. The basis of her idea is that we can start small gatherings of the faithful and watch our communities grow from there:

If you want to start creating community, look for examples around you to imitate, or even co-opt. If free pizza attracted people in college, maybe it will keep working now that you’re all (ostensibly) adults? If beguines shared their lives and had home-based trades, maybe you should take up…weaving. Or Etsy crafting. Or whatever it is the twenty-first-century equivalent that lets people be home and ready to welcome each other during the day. Branching out from what is already working or what you know has worked in the past isn’t a bad way to begin, but if you stop there, a lot will be occluded from your view.

From there she encourages Christians to go beyond things like books clubs or other types of events that have been done before, and to think more along the lines of events that can meet a real need that people across a wide life spectrum may have. It’s a great idea, and she does a great job laying out her case and examples. However, as I said earlier, this is not exactly BenOp in its purest form. Not as I understood it.

According to the parameters put forth in this book, our family has been steeped in BenOp activity for at least a decade, and especially so over the past three years. We have been cultivating deep friendships with other families, spending time in one another’s homes, celebrating and mourning together, and generally have a pretty tight social bubble even though our cadre of families attends different churches on Sunday. Which leads me to ask the question I’ve never quite been able to get a clear handle on, not even from its originator’s writings: What exactly IS the Benedict Option?

This book doesn’t answer that question, but it does do a good job of encouraging Christians to think more deeply about how much we need each other, even in our convenient, individualistic, atomized culture.

3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars

Leah Libresco, who authors this book, is Roman Catholic and the flavor of Catholicism is strong throughout the book. Rod Dreher, who wrote the forward for this book and the book which inspired it, is Orthodox. These are perspectives you should keep in mind as you read the book.

Girl, Wash Your Face

girl wash your face

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be, by Rachel Hollis. Published in February, 2018. 240 pages.

This book is burning up the best seller’s list, and a dear friend of mine really liked it, so I decided to give it a read. I figured going in that anything being read in the numbers that this book is would be a fairly quick read, and I was right. I think I read it in about three days.

I did something with this book that I rarely do when I read, but I almost always do when I read something that is current, popular, and marked Christian. I read reviews from other sources, starting with Amazon, and ending with a couple of reviews from Christian websites. Before I delve anymore into the whys and wherefores of that, I’ll preface it and my review with a short description of the book and its author.

Rachel Hollis is a lifestyle blogger turned motivational speaker and guru who savvily used social media to propel her brand into the mainstream. She’s the wife of a Hollywood distributor who recently left that job to run her company, which exploded in 2015. She’s the mother of four children, and is well loved in Christian cricles for her real talk and vocal profession of faith.

Girl, Wash Your Face is equal parts memoir, motivational pep talks, and self help advice. It was published by Christian publishing giant Thomas Nelson. This last bit of information sent me looking for reviews from other sources even while I was reading this book, because despite the occasional nod to faith and one or two Scriptures here and there, I wasn’t getting what I was expecting to find from a book categorized by Amazon as “Christian Living”.

None of this is to say that I ddn’t enjoy the book. There were parts I enjoyed quite a lot. Hollis has a funny way of telling her stories and an enchanting tone. There are also a few pieces of advice that I strongly disagree with, but overall, it isn’t a bad book. The problem is that it isn’t, to my mind, a “Christian” book.

I believed Hollis’ Christian testimony, so that wasn’t the problem. Mostly, the problem was that fully 90% of the advice in this book was advice any secular self-help person would dole out, because it put so much of the onus for your success, as it were, in your ability to be the hero in your own story. That was unfortunate, because the lies that Hollis induced women to overcome in each corresponding chapter are actually pretty good lies to be rid of:

  • The lie: Something else will make me happy
  • The lie: I’ll start tomorrow
  • The lie: I’m not good enough
  • The lie: I’m better than you
  • The lie: Loving him is enough for me
  • The lie: No is the final answer
  • The lie: I’m bad at sex
  • The lie: I don’t know how to be a mom
  • The lie: I’m not a good mom
  • The lie: I should be further along by now
  • The lie: Other people’s kids are so much cleaner/better organized/more polite
  • The lie: I need to make myself smaller
  • The lie: I’m going to marry Matt Damon
  • The lie: I’m a terrible writer
  • The lie: I will never get past this
  • The lie: I can’t tell the truth
  • The lie: I am defined by my weight
  • The lie: I need a drink
  • The lie: There’s only one right way to be
  • The lie: I need a hero.

Because this is a memoir, each corresponding lie (chapter) begins with a story from the author’s life, relates it to the things many women similarly struggle with, and follows that with admonitions and advice. The advice is usually along the lines of:

“You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.”
Or:
“When you really want something, you will find a way. When you don’t really want something, you’ll find an excuse.”
And ultimately:

Your life is up to you.

If we can identify the core of our struggles while simultaneously understanding that we are truly in control of conquering them, then we can utterly change our trajectory.

God, your partner, your mama, and your best friends—none of them can make you into something (good or bad) without your help.

You need to prove to yourself that you can do it. You need to prove to yourself you are capable of anything you set your mind to. You have the power.

Being a gal who leans more towards duty and a perpetual battle to learn selflessness, it might just be that I was reading the whole thing from a wrong perspective, and I acknowldge that. However you cut it, this falls woefully short of Christian counsel. That isn’t to say there are no gems tucked away in this book, because there are. For instance, this was one of my favorites:

“Someone else’s opinion of you is none of your business.” Let me say that again for the people in the cheap seats.”

And this made me laugh:

“Our society makes plenty of room for complacency or laziness; we’re rarely surrounded by accountability. We’re also rarely surrounded by sugar-free vanilla lattes, but when I really want one, I somehow find a way to get one.”

As far as light reading goes, this was a nice diversion and in some cases, served as a humorous reminder of things I already know. But nothing about it deepened my faith or propelled me to go deeper into the Scriptures. That was the crux of the very few negative reviews this book received; that whatever it is, it’s not a Christian book. Most of the review, however, were overwhelmingly positive which is why this baby is selling like hot cakes.

For entertainment value and cute story telling, I’ll give it:

3 out of 5 stars

Bread and Wine

bread and wine

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter. Various authors. Published in 2003. Hardcover, 430 pages.

In addition to some Scriptural passages, I decided this year to add this devotional to my Lenten readings. In many ways, it was a great blessing to me. Many of the writings challenged and stretched my faith in unexpected ways.

Conversely, there were other readings that felt needlessly preachy and even social justice-y, for want of better phrasing at present. One reading which was staunchly anti-gun rendered me particularly confused. Thankfully, the readings of this sort were a minority, but when they came up, it was a distraction which I had to pray to overcome.

If the book was dominated with such writings, I would have abandoned it. However, the reminders of the importance of self-denial, as expressed by the poetic and convicting pens of such writers as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis and St. Augustine kept me returning to this book to be challenged further.

Because it is so theologically inclusive, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t well versed in the Scripture with a strong grasp of their Christian faith. There are also times when the new Christian might read and find a bar so high she fears she will never reach it. I welcome the opportunity for honest examination of the motives of my heart, but I am also mature enough to understand that the expressions of faithfulness as described in many of the readings can leave the impression that our efforts must always manifest a perfection of spirit and self-denial (as in denial of our humanity not denial of our will) that is nigh impossible to achieve this side of heaven.

I am grateful for what I read, and look forward to reading many of these writings again, while knowing that many of them are less than stellar.

3 out 5 stars.

 

 

Leisure: The Basis of Culture

leisure culture

Leisure: The Basis of Culture, by Josef Pieper. Originally published in 1952. 145 pages.

This book had been on my reading list for several years, but kept getting pushed down the queue. Thankfully, a friend of mine was reading it recently, and as she referenced what she gleaned, my interest in it was piqued enough that it moved to the top of my reading list. Before I offer my thoughts on this thoughtful book of essays, I’ll share the Goodreads promotional description of the book:

One of the most important philosophy titles published in the twentieth century, Josef Pieper’s Leisure: the Basis of Culture is more significant, even more crucial, today than it was when it first appeared fifty years ago. Pieper shows that the Greeks understood and valued leisure, as did the medieval Europeans. He points out that religion can be born only in leisure – a leisure that allows time for the contemplation of the nature of God. Leisure has been, and always will be, the first foundation of any culture.

He maintains that our bourgeois world of total labor has vanquished leisure, and issues a startling warning: Unless we regain the art of silence and insight, the ability for nonactivity, unless we substitute true leisure for our hectic amusements, we will destroy our culture – and ourselves.

These astonishing essays contradict all our pragmatic and puritanical conceptions about labor and leisure; Josef Pieper demolishes the twentieth-century cult of “work” as he predicts its destructive consequences.

This is book is a collection of essays exploring the meaning, significance, and implications of leisure on the soul of a culture. As I read it, I needed to keep that in the forefront of my mind. Rather than each chapter building upon the one prior, many of the ideas in the various essays overlapped. Once I was able to adjust to that, it was much more engaging and enjoyable to me. I was inspired on many levels as I read it.

In a culture as results oriented and productivity obsessed as ours, where the idea of the “Protestant work ethic” is etched into all of our DNA (even the most irreligious), Pieper offers a revolutionary thought:

The original meaning of the concept of “leisure” has practically been forgotten in today’s leisure-less culture of “total work”: in order to win our way to a real understanding of leisure, we must confront the contradiction that rises from our overemphasis on that world of work.

[…]

The very fact of this difference, of our inability to recover the original meaning of “leisure,” will strike us all the more when we realize how extensively the opposing idea of “work” has invaded and taken over the whole realm of human action and of human existence as a whole.

At first glance I questioned whether or not our culture, which seems thoroughly obsessed with being entertained, could ever be described as “leisure-less”. However, as I continued to read Pieper’s understanding and definition of leisure based on historical writings and philosophies, the situation became clearer. More than culture on a constant search for leisure, we are most accurately described as one in the grip of a sort of acedia; chiefly characterized by spiritual apathy and mental sloth.

The opposite of acedia is not the industrious spirit of the daily effort to make a living, but rather the cheerful affirmation by man of his own existence, of the world as a whole, and of God — of Love, that is, from which arises that special freshness of action, which would never be confused by anyone [who has] any experience with the narrow activity of the “workaholic.”

[…]

Leisure, then, is a condition of the soul — (and we must firmly keep this assumption, since leisure is not necessarily present in all the external things like “breaks,” “time off,” “weekend,” “vacation,” and so on — it is a condition of the soul) — leisure is precisely the counterpoise to the image for the “worker.”

The most fascinating bit of information that remained with me from this little book was the realization that the word leisure itself has its etymological roots in the word we translate today as learning, or more accurately, school. Whether one learns in most modern schools is a topic for another day, but it becomes abundantly clear that leisure, rather than an opportunity to engage in idle disconnection from work, was originally an opportunity to refresh our souls and expand our minds. Pieper put it this way:

Leisure is a form of that stillness that is necessary preparation for accepting reality; only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear. Such stillness is not mere soundlessness or a dead muteness; it means, rather, that the soul’s power, as real, of responding to the real — a co-respondence, eternally established in nature — has not yet descended into words. Leisure is the disposition of perceptive understanding, of contemplative beholding, and immersion — in the real.

Given our recent discussion here on the reality of leisure as something other than idleness or physical rest, having the added building block of Josef Pieper’s insights about the effects of leisure on the soul was an welcome addition.

I would give it 5 stars but there were moments when it took me longer than usually to piece together the direction in which Pieper was headed. Whether this was a result of my stunted post modern ability to focus or his writing style I do not know. Nevertheless, because of it I am giving this book

4 out of 5 stars.

Note: Beginning tomorrow (3/6/2019), I will be logged out of WordPress until at least 4/22/2019. It is my sincere prayer and desire that those of you who commemorate the Lenten and Easter seasons have blessed, worshipful celebrations.

 

As Our Advent Continues…

It’s Christmas Eve and I was contemplating, inspired by the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I thought of this reality:

As annual Christmas celebrations winds down, our season of waiting for that Great Day of His Glorious Appearing continues. Our Advent continues. May these words from Isaiah 9 add meaning to your celebration.

The people who walked in darkness. have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.

For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end…

Merry Christmas!