Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Gospel of Fanny Price

I certainly hope this will be the last posting that has the unfortunate name “Jane Austen” written in it, but I can’t help it. For the most distasteful thing I’ve read this semester, Mansfield Park has sure had a lot of things for me to be listening to!

Fanny Price is the least-loved of Austen’s heroines, which is interesting for me because she is also the one I identify most with. I was almost hurt to hear the women in my class yesterday rail on this timid, sensitive, reserved girl who never fought back as various damaging outside forces pressed in on her (I’m sure many of you are amused that I would claim to identify with such a character, but you’ll have to just roll with me for now).

“I hated her!” one of my classmates exclaimed. “I just wanted to slap her. She never did anything to defend herself. Was I supposed to be feeling sorry for her?”

“I wrestled with that too,” admitted an ardent feminist. “But you have to remember the time she was living in. There was only so much she could do with society the way it was. Sometimes all you can ask for is baby steps, which to her credit she did at the end of the novel.”

It’s interesting that our cultural love of strong, independent women includes the inverse, a hatred of the mild, submissive one.

It’s interesting that even in our modern post-Christian western culture, a gospel of a God of the underdog is just as countercultural as it was when it was first introduced to humanity. A Gospel that asserts that it is the weak who are strong and the blind who see and the poor who are rich and the last who are first is just as upsetting as it ever was, despite our culture of humanitarianism. It’s certainly upsetting to imagine that we are supposed to be those people.

There are a lot of explosive theological debates about women’s ordination that I have absolutely no intention of addressing today. Whatever my theological stance, most people know that I at least attend a church that does not ordain women, so I obviously am not offended by that position. Submission to the authority of a Church who withholds certain positions of authority to me because of attributes I was born with does not feel degrading to me; I can actually receive it as somewhat of a gift. Submission is a very Christian muscle; I am not offended to be allowed the chance to use it.

In a culture of rebellion, we are pleased to hear that the Gospel is subversive, but we rarely think of it as being subversive to ourselves. Might the Gospel subvert my own principles and the traits I admire? Might it subvert my own values?

When it does, I pray that I respond as a weak, submissive woman who allows herself to be acted upon, in whatever way the Gospel chooses to act upon me.


Janathan Grace said...

Hey, Em
I started reading your blog when you first began, but it seemed too esoteric and impersonal, so I drifted away from it. I just popped back in to take a look and loved your last page of blogs... I copied all but one (the short one) into my files. I love them because they are personal and because they focus on redemption/grace. Thanks for the insight and encouragement.

Em the luddite said...

I guess I can [often] get a little [too] esoteric... but I'm glad you can bear with me anyway!