Raised in an evangelical home, graduate of nondenominational evangelical Bryan College and living in the evangelical culture of small-town Dayton, Tenn., Rachel Held Evans realized something several years ago about her nearly seven-year marriage.
Despite the assumption that she and her husband would fall into traditional marriage roles as espoused by almost everyone around them, they instead had a very egalitarian partnership and worked best as a team.
"That was one of the things that led me to question [traditional roles of womanhood]," said Evans, a writer and popular blogger. "I wanted to sort of challenge that the Bible prescribes one right way to be a woman of faith."
That thought, and the inspiration of A.J. Jacobs' book "The Year of Living Biblically," led her to live a year strictly following the Bible's instructions for women and write about her experience in "A Year of Biblical Womanhood."
The book, published by Thomas Nelson Inc., will be available Oct. 30.
During the year, among other things, Evans grew her hair out, wore a head scarf when she prayed, adopted the regimens of cooking and sewing, camped in her front yard during her menstrual period and called her husband "master."
Using both Levitical purity laws found in the Old Testament and passages from the New Testament, she structured her year to focus on one particular virtue a month.
For Evans, the longer hair was the worst. After a year, her contemporarily short hair tumbled down her back.
"I know it's trite and vain," she said, "but it was the hair thing. I know it's supposed to be a woman's glory to have long hair [1 Corinthians 11], but my hair was not made to be long."
Evans also said it felt "weird and awkward"
for her and her husband to assume more traditional husband/wife roles. As part of the focus, though, she stood on the side of a public road with a sign that said "Dan Is Awesome" and called him "master" for a week.
"We were both very weirded out by that one," she said. "There was no way I was going to do that for a month, much less a year."
When the year was up, Evans said, she was happy to set aside some things but was gratified at having learned others.
She, for instance, revisited some "difficult" stories in the Bible in which women deal with patriarchy, learned to love cooking, enjoyed travel to a Benedictine monastery, Bolivian pig farm and Amish school for various close-to-the-Bible experiences, befriended an Orthodox Jewish woman, interviewed a polygamist wife and grew to appreciate silence.
Many people who espouse the concept of biblical womanhood, said Evans, believe there is only one right way to be a woman of faith.
Unfortunately, she said, they're often "inherently selective, picking and choosing what parts of the Bible they want to follow." While insisting wives submit to their husbands, they don't ask them to wear scarves to pray, not wear jewelry and refrain from touching their husbands during their monthly periods.
Evans said even as she has changed her once conservative thinking about the role of women in marriage and in the church, she nevertheless respects any woman who chooses to have such a traditional lifestyle.
"True feminism is celebrating the very best gifts of women and how they use them," she said. "If that's what's best for them and their family, I applaud them. I think that honors God."
If her book does anything, Evans said, she hopes it will help people understand the Bible doesn't give "one right [definition] of a woman of faith."
"It celebrates many," she said. "None of their lives look exactly the same. None have carbon-copy lives. They all honored God."
For Evans, she said, she looks to Jesus, and his commandments -- "that you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. ... And ... you shall love your neighbor as yourself."
"I guess that's biblical personhood," she said. "That's the closest to an answer, if you had to boil it down. Love is a lot harder and messier, but there's a lot more freedom there. Freedom is scary. That's why we have this whole biblical womanhood culture. We wish the Bible was a blueprint [for everything], but it's not a blueprint."
Note: Rachel Held Evans worked as an intern in the Life department of the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2003.