Yesterday I posted a rather rant-ish blurb (Modest is Hottest — Really?) regarding the plea of young North American men for sisters-in-Christ to dress more modestly in order to help them curb their sins of lust and temptation.
Thank you to those who responded with emails, tweets, and honest comments. You know what? The response has been 100% male. That kind of surprised me, but it was actually really nice to hear from men about what they thought of the video, the modesty movement overall, and the focus of outward apparel as the only answer to personal holiness. We agreed that we live in a hyper-sexualized culture, but that this culture affects both males and females deeply. However the church still seems to perceive that men are the chief perps in the lust-realm, and women's greatest service to guys is to dress better so they won't think lustful thoughts.
The argument, for me, was incomplete, one-sided and even misguided. Yet until we acknowledge better ways of addressing sexuality, we will continue to teach our girls that serving their brothers best is to keep them from stumbling sexually. It's a cleverly disguised throwback to the "men are heads; women are beds" doctrine. Yet it is difficult to explain the larger picture when many guys truly are fighting to see women as sisters. I am not denying the journey of guys who are seeking to serve Christ through their thought life or online life or "eye life", but… women are attracted through vision too. We just aren't allowed to talk about it because it's really more of a "guy thing". If guys are going to ask girls for help with lust, then the reverse needs to also be true and frank: girls struggle too. And guys can pressure girls to look good for them, before and after marriage.
Not only that, but the perception I received from guys is that girls who preach this message to 'support' our 'brothers' (tongue in cheek) are girls who do dress provocatively already. By preaching modesty while wearing cleavage-showing tops subtlely approve that their wardrobe is just fine. Anything WORSE than them is sinful, but their own skinny jeans, spiky boots or bikinis are totally okay. Hmmm… food for thought. Again, something pointing to the reality that there isn't a one-size-fits-all design for modesty. To expect it will lead to oppression.
Furthermore, when people around the world are dying because of our fashion clashes, modest or immodest, men and women need to halt and look to our marginalized siblings first. Okay, I'm repeating yesterday's stuff. By saying this war is all about personal holiness keeps it all about us (again), rather than about serving others. If we're going to serve others, let's look to those most vulnerable all around. Sorry about that. On to today's outcome.
My perception of the video was not altogether positive. In fact, I lurched. It wasn't without merit, especially if someone was really sharing from the deepest part of his heart; but I wanted there to be a a bigger picture rather than just girls be shamed about their dress. What, guys in tight jeans aren't to be dressed down too? Why not? It's a message the church has handed down for generations, in many denominations, and in many cultures. And I balk at it.
Evangelical churches especially like polarization — if you're not 'for' one way, then you're obviously 'against' it, and in the wrong. So to balk at something, even in part, is seen as rebellion. No wonder it's difficult to be honest with each other! We're afraid of being shredded from any side, so we remain constantly on the defensive from dawn until dusk.
I grew up in conservative evangelical traditions — kind of a Heinz 57 if you will. I'm not really tied to any denomination, even less so now, but my childhood faith communities preached many doctrines I would not agree with at all today. Flipping through the articles of Underground Railroad yore, re-reading tear-stained journal entries, recalling conversations with fellow exiles, I see that I have been and can be rather harsh with the conservative tradition.
Yet looking more deeply at the circumstance, this is to be expected. No, I ought not to sin in my anger (if anger there be), or judge (if judgement there be), but because this tradition birthed me for all intents and purposes, there will be a good measure of growing pains, crying, screaming and pushing away from my mother. This is true for Catholics seeking truth beyond their tradition, for Lutherns seeking truth beyond their tradition, for charismatics seeking truth beyond their tradition.
Wherever we come from, when we grow away from it, there will be some pain and breaking of doctrinal ties. My hope is that there not be a breaking of fellowship, but growth does demand some radical questioning, honest reflection and hard choices, redirection, pruning and pain. So if I sound overly harsh about the conservative interpretation of things, sometimes it is intentional — I will admit to that. It's what I know and where I've come from. Other times, people read harshness into it where there isn't any to speak of. And at other times, the harshness or pain comes out unintentionally because that growth is stretching me past what I think I can endure.
I guess this comes back to the meta-narrative we're all writing together — or trying to: critical thinking, sound judgement and Spirit-led lives point towards us disagreeing with each other, but demand we love each other pratically and spiritually. We can't avoid differences of opinion, especially when those opinions are turned into doctrines or interpretations taught as the single truth. Yet we can learn from each other, grow because of each other, and learn to love each other.
Is it hard?
Some ideas from conservatism make my teeth grind and stomach clench. Maybe I get frustrated too quickly in this place of growing pains. I beg patience of the people around me, and offer gratefulness to those who have encouraged the questioning, the realizations, the stumblings, the frustrations. May I be so gracious in return to all from now until eternity.