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The Rise of the Postmodern Feminine: Part I

At five feet one, Laurel has never escaped the petite section at the local department store. But one thing is certain: Her faith does not match her dress size. Here is a woman who immerses herself in the Scriptures daily and who prays regularly for acquaintances, loved ones, unloved ones, and imperfect strangers. Laurel's faith is plus size and growing.

At face value, Laurel would seem like the poster child for one of those large evangelical women's conferences. The necessary trappings of conservative femininity are all there. At church, she wears over-the knee skirts that gather at the waist with bright but shapeless linen jackets. She's devoted to her family. Most of all, she acts the part. At least on the outside, she evidences a quiet, diligent spirit and a comfort with "working behind the scenes." In short, Laurel doesn't seem to have anything, do anything, or say anything that calls attention to herself.

That trait alone would be enough to elevate her to sainthood in some religious circles. Feminine invisibility and inaudibility may have been the battleground on which millions of women fought over the last century, but those qualities remain prerequisites to acceptability in more churches than we would imagine.

Ironically, the real Laurel is hardly invisible or inaudible. Laurel's late-night co-workers who stock the shelves at Target know her as a powerhouse of a woman. Not only is she a hydrant of comedy, but the way she invests time in her co-workers, Laurel's lived spirituality makes the four spiritual laws sound like a multi-level marketing come-on. At 12:30 a.m., Laurel and Suzanne are doubling over in laughter about Suzanne's Match.com disaster on Saturday night. At 2:25 a.m., Laurel hefts big boxes of laundry detergent onto her motorized cart and tries to help 26-year-old Jennifer figure out what to do about her autistic son's latest bout. At 4:05 a.m., Laurel is stocking dog-food, engrossed in Bob's tirade about his alcoholic wife. At 7:33, she's punching out, heading to the pancake house for breakfast where the coffee, pancakes, teasing, guffaws, and conversation will be flowing non-stop. At 9:00 a.m., she's driving home to have a last cup of coffee before her pastor-husband leaves for work. Maybe she'll be able to catch a few hours of sleep before her grandson arrives at 3:30, but only after she checks out that quirky journal article on Kierkegaard she's been waiting to read. She's been a Kierkegaard fan since seminary days. Her seminary days.

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